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Tuesday, August 15, 2006
The Savage Brothers #1, by Andrew Cosby, Johanna Stokes and Rafael Albuquerque
Boom Studios publishes another dark-humored zombie comic, this time focusing on two, well, for lack of a more polite term, redneck zombie bounty hunters, dispatching the undead for money and beer. And while I'm for the most part fairly weary of zombie comics, this one brings a tongue in cheek sense of comedy to the enterprise that avoids taking the enterprise too seriously. The book also wisely strays from a zombies only apocalypse, incorporating weird fortean phenomenon, government conspiracies, lakes of fires, talking heads in jars, and virgin strippers, broadening the comedy as it goes. The end result is something a bit manic and preposterous, but that is it's charm.
Deadman #1, by Bruce Jones and John Watkiss
In this new Vertigo series all the baggage of the previous Deadman character is jettisoned in favor of a new character with a new origin and purpose, but the same basic premise; he's dead, but not yet moved on to wherever his soul is supposed to go. To be frank, that core concept works much better when it's stripped of a silly spandex costume and the need to cross-over with Batman from time to time. (As much as I like those Deadman/Batman team-ups, they do rather strain the limits of suspended disbelief for both characters.) There is, perhaps, a little too much time spent on establishing that something strange and mysterious has happened to the new protagonist, a romantically wronged pilot named Brandon, than on establishing why we should care about Brandon.
Jones does manage, in the end, to make Brandon just interesting enough to make us want to know why he's in a half-dead state, and the mystery of why the plane was crashed is presented in an engaging way. There's some meat to the story, in other words, and my only hesitation would be fear of having the story go on without answers or resolutions for too long a period. John Watkiss's art has a moody, heavily shadowed appearance that accentuates the tone of the story. His figures are angular, even abstracted at times, giving them an unearthly look that emphasizes Brandon's disconnection from mortality. It's a solid opening issue, but the real test of this new iteration of the character will be in the follow-ups.
The Boys by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson
The book is almost review proof. If you like Ennis's gross-out black comedy, then this is for you. If not, you're better off looking elsewhere for your entertainment. Ennis revisits many of his favorite tropes here: super-heroes are idiots, the government is keeping sinister secrets, and ordinary people are taken advantage of by all those with power over them. It's more deliberately funny than much of his work has been of late, and you can easily detect the glee he is having in depicting horrible things happening. Frankly, it's the kind of material that warms my black little heart.
The combination of Ennis and Robertson is superb as well. Robertson's style has some very strong cartoony elements, but it is very expressive and retains a sense of reality. It's a style that doesn't shy from depicting how horrible the things that are happening really are, but is still able to communicate the comedy to the reader. It's easily Robertson's best work since Transmetropolitan. It's probably, on the strength of this first issue, one of Ennis's best works as well.
Malmont's debut novel is a tribute to the writers and the stories of the pulp age. It features Shadow creator Walter Gibson and Lester Dent, creator of Doc Savage, in a story set in the days of the Depression, at the height of the pulp magazine era, both becoming involved in strange mysteries that build towards a larger and more far-reaching conspiracy. Malmont does a good job with the period details, and he fills the book with supporting characters and cameos from the era, giving it a lived in and familiar feel. Those with knowledge of the personalities and period will get more out of it than others, but Malmont never assumes the reader knows who these people are supposed to be and fleshes them out.
The story is also, apart from the believable inclusion of real life figures, a good adventure yarn as well. It's briskly paced, and moves along with a great energy. Set pieces and motifs pay homage to the pulp period as well. Malmont even pulls off the tricky task of partially rehabilitating the "yellow peril" theme so prevalent in pulp works. He takes advantage of it, but avoids the overtly racist overtones and recasts the plot into a workable and realistic political angle that fits the mood, the era and modern sensibilities. If there is any particular flaw in the novel is that too many of the characters are too likeable and positively portrayed, even though history has shown that many of them were quite unpleasant people in reality. In the cases of at least one supporting character the difference between his portrayal in the book and his actual history are quite jarring. But that quibble aside, the book is entertaining, and for fans of the pulp heroes a must read as both a tribute and a recreation of the period.