Man of the Moment

Sean William Scott

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Manly by Dale Lazarov and Amy Colburn 

It's frustratingly difficult to find good, gay themed erotic comics. Oh, sure, there's a seemingly endless flood of yaoi titles on the racks, if you like your men adolescent and wispy and strictly conforming to heteronormative gender roles. There are some good European comics, but one of the few outstanding American contributions to the genre was Dale Lazarov's and Steve MacIsaac's Sticky. And so I was really pleased to find that Lazarov has a new work, due out in early November from Bruno Gmunder, Manly, a new collection of word-less short stories with collaborator Amy Colburn on art.

The challenge with word-less comics, primarily, is that the art must be especially expressive, to convey both emotion and plot clearly. Colburn's art is very expressive, with clear, nicely laid out pages that allow the story to flow smoothly. I'm particularly taken with her faces. She is very deft at portraying, in particular, lust and embarrassment in a way that makes the characters very relatable and recognizable. It's also very appealing that the character and body types are extremely varied throughout the work. This is typically my number one complaint about gay porn comics; that everyone looks the same. That is certainly not the case here, with a physically and ethnically diverse cast that seems certain to include at least one character that appeals to a reader with a specific "type" to look for in their porn comics.

The pairing of Colburn's art with Lazarov's stories is particularly successful. Lazarov displays a knack here for creating situations with strong erotic potential that nonetheless manage to resolve in a manner displaying a sly sense of humor. The characters are never mocked, but the slightly comic elements to their experiences is suitably explored, giving a human warmth to the stories and keeping them from being purely mechanical displays of position and technique. Not that those are skimped on, either. The stories, frankly, are hot.

Manly is an 80 page hard-cover to be published in November by Bruno Gmunder. It is available for pre-order at Amazon, with a retail price of $25.99. If you're looking for good gay porn comics, this is one of the best yet. Witty stories and sexy art combined in a fantastic combination.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dorian Talks About Comics He Is Reading 

  • I find it nearly impossible to say anything negative about the Superman books now that both Krypto and Steve Lombard are appearing at least semi-regularly in them.

  • There is a very simple way I can tell that Geoff Johns is a very good writer of super-hero comics: he got me to read Green Lantern comics starring Hal Jordan.

  • I'm buying Avengers/Invaders pretty much just for the Steve Sadowski art, so I'm happy with the book, but I really wish that either Marvel or Dynamite had hired an inker, as this "colors over pencils" approach looks wrong to me.

  • The current Zorro series from Dynamite is testing my love for the character and my appreciation for Matt Wagner with this long origin story told in flash-back.

  • The Dresden Files comic is very good and a fitting tie-in to the novels. The Doctor Who comic has been quite painful to look at, with art that makes it difficult to read.

  • I really want to like Caliber, as the notion of a cowboy retelling of the Arthurian legends appeals to me, but there is something about the art style that simply isn't working for me, pretty though it is.

  • The first issue of Madame Xanadu was very, very good looking.

  • I find myself enjoying Vinyl Underground a lot more than Young Liars. VU reads like a John Connolly or Phil Rickman comic. YL reads like, well, an attempt to create a Vertigo book.

  • The space opera stuff Starlin has been doing at DC, most recently in Rann/Thanagar: Holy War, and the Abnett/Lanning Guardians of the Galaxy at Marvel, are the best super-heroes in space comics put out since the 1970s.

  • That being said, Narcopolis is the best sci-fi comic of the decade. It features the best use of language as a world-building tool that I've seen since Burgess.

  • Huntress: Year One is much better than I think anyone expected it to be.

  • Blue Beetle and Manhunter are still very, very good.

  • Number of the Beast is a great way to bring an end to a super-hero universe. Unfortunately, it's acting as a spring-board to a reboot of the Wildstorm status quo. Yes, another one. It's a good comic, but I find myself wishing it really were final.

  • I think the thing I like about Dreamwar the most is that the DC characters are being portrayed fairly strongly as the bad guys. It's a welcome change from the moralistic, anti-Wildstorm tone of most previous cross-overs.

  • Every issue of Morrison's Batman makes me giddy as a school-girl.

  • The latest volume of Reborn takes a surprisingly dark turn for a series about a toddler assassin. I'm still not quite sure what to make of it.

  • What I said after reading Gantz: "The hell?" That actually is a good reaction for a comic to give me.

  • Cat Eyed Boy is completely bug-fuck insane.

  • Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and MPD Psycho are so, so very good they make me slightly worried that they might be warping my fragile little brain.

  • Buy me drinks when you see me in public, and I may explain my "manga is the new Silver age" theory to you



Friday, May 02, 2008

Free Comic Book Day 2008 Reviewed 

As I've done every year prior, I undertook the masochistic task of getting my hands on, and reading, and reviewing, every single Free Comic Book Day book available. This year I missed out on a few, as they failed to get to me in time. I've heard that I didn't miss anything. The review scale is the same as before. If I say Get It, that means that I think the book is worth your attention. If I say It's Free, that means either the book is good, but nothing exciting, and you should probably either be happy with it for being free or pass. Avoid, I would hope, is self-explanatory.

All Star Superman
The best Superman comic in decades, with fantastic art and a real sense of humanity in the writing? If you haven't already been picking up this book, read this, and lose all your excuses for not getting it.
Get It

Amelia Rules: Comics and Stories
An engaging cast of characters, in all ages stories, with suitably dramatic and emotive stories without being preachy, condescending or reminiscent of an after-school special. Oh, and also funny and well drawn.
Get It

Atomic Robo
The lead story here is a fun adventure comic featuring robots, crazy Russian scientists and explosions. It's a little reminiscent of Hellboy in tone, but in a good way.
It's Free

Bongo Comics Free-For-All
Several inoffensive Simpsons stories, mildly amusing at best, but nothing remarkable. The best thing in the book is the art on Nina Matsumoto's manga-fied Simpsons story.
It's Free

Broken Trinity Prelude
A text-heavy recapping of the last several years worth of Witchblade and Darkness comics. The art has a nice, painterly quality to it, but the story is simply dreadful.

Highly uneven in terms of subject matter and artistic quality, there's some momentary diversion to be found here, but nothing very compelling.
It's Free

Comic Book Challenge Showcase
A flip-book, with Hero By Night, a well-drawn but somewhat derivative super-hero comic, and Gunplay, a western with utterly undecipherable plot details, just based on this preview.
It's Free

Comic Book Diner
A collection of all-ages, and mostly very young-skewing at that, stories. As with most of the anthology titles, the quality of material is very uneven, but overall there's more good than bad or indifferent here.
It's Free

Comics Go Hollywood
A sampling of articles from magazines published by TwoMorrows about comic books and film. It's mostly interesting, but it's almost explicitly aimed at the older, long-time comic fan, and much of the material feels a bit randomly chosen and not particularly relevant to the interests of a new or casual comic book reader.
It's Free

Dabel Brothers & Del Rey 2008 Preview
A sampler of comics based on fantasy and sci-fi novels, overall of fairly good quality. The art on many stories is possibly too stylized to be of broad appeal, and the samples are a little short to be very effective, but not a bad package.
It's Free

Dan Dare/Stranded
What we have here is a not interesting at all science-fiction story and a revival of a decades long defunct British sci-fi property. It's hard to tell who the target audience for these is supposed to be, but since neither story is engaging in the slightest, it probably doesn't matter.

This is just horrible. Terrible art and a thread-bare concept that screams "buy me and turn me into a movie."

EC Sampler
It's free EC stories, so there's no question as to the quality of material or its value, but only one of the stories really stand out as an iconic example of the EC style. A good idea, but not the best selection for this purpose.
It's Free

Two excerpts from Drawn & Quarterly's mini-line of, for lack of a better phrase, "indie" manga books. It's good material, and the excerpts stand alone and create interest in the complete story.
Get It

Graphic Classics
A broad selection of artists adapt great works of literature into comics form. A stand-out collection.
Get It

Gyro Gearloose
A bit of a disappointment compared to previous Disney releases from Gemstone, as Gyro stories tend to be more than a little repetitive, even by the standards of Duck comics.
It's Free

Interesting supernatural adventure stories, but there's a strong suggestion here that you should probably already be more than passingly familiar with Hellboy and his supporting cast.
It's Free

Another uneven collection, this time with the added benefit of self-importance, in this sampler of books from Fantagraphics "Ignatz" line of comics. There are a few good stories here, in the few self-contained pieces, but overall there's little to impress.
It's Free

Impact University Volumre 4
Nothing but a glorified ad for pricey "art instruction" books.

Even by the standards of contemporary Archie comics, this is tedious and charmless, and the advertorial nature of the inclusion of the Geppi's Entertainment Museum is off-putting.

Kid Houdini and the Silver-Dollar Misfits
There's an interesting art style on display here, and the idea of a young Harry Houdini solving Scooby-Doo-esque mysteries with his gang of circus side-show freaks is quite clever. A complete story, however, would have been preferred.
Get It

Love and Capes #7
This is a real charmer, a funny super-hero romance book with a distinctive and appealing art style. If you haven't read this before, this is a nice place to start and a good introduction to the book.
Get It

This was fun, a bit too impressed with it's own cleverness, but an amusing take on the "super-villain" concept focusing on the guys who have to do the actual heavy lifting.
Get It

Marvel Adventures: Iron Man & Hulk & Spider-Man
Fairly inoffensive, but feels a bit to "talks down" to kids a bit. As far as introducing new readers to the characters, it's an okay effort, and it nicely capitalizes on upcoming Marvel movies.
It's Free

Maximum Ride
As a manga-style adaptation of a young adult novel, there really isn't anything here to recommend it unless you're already familiar with and a fan of the novels. There isn't even any kind of recap page to explain why people have wings.

The Moth
Nice art, but it's in service to a completely generic super-hero story.
It's Free

Owly and Friends
Nicely illustrated kid-friendly comics. Most of the stories are dialogue free, making this an excellent choice for pre-readers, and the art is simply lovely on almost all these stories, giving the book appeal to all readers.
Get It

Project Super-Powers: The Death-Defying 'Devil
Most of the book is actually taken up by ads, mostly focused on Dynamite's licensed properties. The main story is unremarkable, featuring characters that even long-time comic fans will probably have to strain to remember, and the format chosen, having the characters explain a past adventure, makes for an undynamic book. That the villain is one of the more egregious "Yellow Peril" characters ever produced does not help matters either.

Salem Queen of Thorns
I might have liked this more, if it didn't seem like it only existed in order to have something to hand off to potential film investors. There's probably still some good entertainment to be wrought from the fantasy/mystery genre, and this isn't terrible by any means, but it feels like a means to an end, rather than a finished product.
It's Free

Shonen Jump Special
A good over-view of several Shonen Jump titles, marred by the in media res nature of two of the stories.
It's Free

Sonic the Hedgehog
There is a certain charm to this, and the art is lively. It does definitely talk down to kids, though, and suffers from the same sort of going-through-the-motions quirks that most Archie adventure books have historically displayed.
It's Free

Tiny Titans
Pure, undiluted joy. Great art, cute stories, and fun.
Get It

Transformers Animated
I was actually looking forward to reading this, as I think the character designs for the new Transformers cartoon are fantastic...and then I saw this was a poorly designed fumetti using blurry screenshots instead of an actually drawn book.

Wizard: How To Draw
Wizard has a bad history of putting out completely inappropriate material for FCBD, but this is actually not bad, cover aside, with good drawing advice from talented artists.
It's Free

Worlds of Aspen
I've been reading comics a long time, and I can't tell what the hell is supposed to be going on in any of these stories. I even know the basic concepts of the books featured, and I still can't figure out what's going on. So either I'm a complete illiterate, or this is just inept.

A character I've never heard of, a new status quo for the X-books alluded to, but not really explained, and enemies that as far as I know haven't been seen since the seventies, and weren't very interesting then either. On top of all that, we've got the traced-over-porn art of Greg Land presenting all this to us. It's completely unpleasant to look at, but it's "slick" so I imagine it will go over well, so long as people only look at the pictures and don't try to read the damn thing.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Comics What I Read 

Comics What I Liked

Narcopolis #1, by Jamie Delano and Jeremy Rock, published by Avatar
A new sci-fi serial by one of the most under-appreciated writers in recent years? Yeah, I'm up for that. Delano creates a bold world, throwing readers head-first into it without context, forcing you to work to understand both the setting the clever language games he's using for dialogue. It's breathtakingly innovative work, with stunning artwork from Jeremy Rock. It's easily one of the most exciting first issues I've read in years.

Captain Billy's Whiz Bang, published by About Comics
This is a reprint of an "adult" humor magazine from 1922. I use scare quotes because it's neither particularly risque or off-color, just somewhat deliberately, even self-consciously, naughty and provocative. Given that this is an early Fawcett publication, that level of smirking smug schoolboy naughtiness isn't terribly surprising. It has a certain charm though, in a contemporary setting, as a reminder that the supposed innocent ages of the past weren't so terribly innocent.
(Yes, I know this isn't a comic.)

The Last Musketeer by Jason, published by Fantagraphics
Jason's work never really seems to prize narrative as a focus. There's an almost surreal sense of story on display here, a kind of "this happens, then this happens, then that happens" rhythm to events that is suggestive to me of the kinds of imaginative play that children often engage in. The ideas come quickly, and blend together disparate elements that don't suggest natural pairings; in this case, a Dumas-ian musketeer thwarting a Martian invasion by a disinterested Martian Emperor while his daughter smacks her boyfriend into doing what she says. The art is deceptively clever, and highlighted by simple flat coloring.

Incognegro, by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece, published by DC/Vertigo
Moral certainty is an easy out when dealing with stories set in the South during the segregation period, but Johnson's historical mystery goes beyond a simple black/white race-based conflict to incorporate issues of class and gender as well, set against the vital artistry of the Harlem Renaissance. It's a flawed work; the evilness of the villains approaches the one-note, lacking any nuance, but it's still a strong and compelling work. Pleece's work is expressive, and he takes full advantage of the symbolism the black-and-white format of the work affords him in his characterization.

Comics What Could Have Been Better

WWH Aftersmash: Damage Control #1, by Dwayne McDuffie and Salva Espin, published by Marvel
The title alone should give you a big hint as to what my major problem with this book was. On it's own, this was a good title: well written, well drawn and genuinely funny. Unfortunately, it's been over 15 years since a Damage Control comic was published, and this comic assumes I've read World War Hulk, Civil War and the issues of Wolverine that tied into Civil War. Even a release of a Damage Control trade featuring the original issues would have alleviated some of these issues, at least it would have gone some way towards reminding me who these characters are supposed to be. But in the end, this is a book that could have been good, but is crippled by the presumption that the only people who could possibly be interested in it are intimately aware of the minutia of Marvel's publishing output.

Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 by Greg Rucka and others, published by Oni
The plotting and character-ization here are top-notch, and it's a neat trick that Rucka has pulled off, creating a realistic espionage thriller that never feels like it's either pandering to popular political opinion or seeking to avoid causing offense. The significant problem here is that the change in art styles from story to story is jarring, and certain artists feel like extremely bad fits for the story. Steve Rolston and Brian Hurtt turn in the best work here, while Leandro Fernandez's contribution marks such a radical change in style, with grotesquely caricatured characters in comparison to the work that has gone before.

Diana Prince: Wonder Woman - Volume 1, by Denny O'Neil, Mike Sekowsky and Dick Giordano, published by DC
Oh boy, are these comics no good. The only reason these comics are even readable is that the passage of time has rendered their very rough to look at art and naive stories amusing when viewed with an ironic detachment. So the end result is that these are enjoyable to read, but by no means whatsoever any damn good. At all. If you're a Wonder Woman completist, a blogger looking for easy content, or simply entertained by well meaning failure, than this is a book for you.

Indiana Jones Omnibus Volume 1, by Various, published by Dark Horse
There is a trio of comics published shortly after the release of the third Indiana Jones movies reprinted here, from the period when Lucasfilm was trying to replicate the success of the so-called "Expanded Universe" of Star Wars to the Indiana Jones properties. The first, a comic adaptation of the stellar "Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis" video game, is yet another reminder of the fact that video games, even the plot-heavy adventure games which used to dominate the market, simply don't make good source material for comics. The second story, "Thunder in the Orient" is a twice as long as it needs to be piece of Steve Canyon fan-fiction, complete with sultry Asian villainess, disguised as an Indiana Jones story. It's simply dreadful, to be blunt. The last story, "Indiana Jones and the Arms of Gold" comes off well, simply by being competently executed and not insultingly bad. The book is more of a test of patience to see how much of an Indiana Jones fan you really are to get through it.

Comics What Were Good, That Failed To Engage Me

Lust: Kinky Online Personal Ads from Seattle's The Stranger by Ellen Forney, published by Fantagraphics
Forney's artwork is pretty, and there's a sly sense of humor on display in most of these pieces, but the nature of the project itself; single-panel adaptations of personals ads, doesn't lend itself to a big thick book. A few dozen or so in a pamphlet or in a magazine is one thing. One hundred and sixty or so pages of it becomes quite tedious. It doesn't help either that a good deal of contempt for the people placing the ads comes through from time to time. There's a certain "let's laugh at the sick desires of the loveless freaks" attitude that surfaces from time to time that's off-putting.

The Pin-Up Art of Dan DeCarlo Vol. 2, by Dan DeCarlo, published by Fantagraphics
While DeCarlo's art is as fantastic as it ever was, and the production of this volume is fantastic, with excellent use of limited color to accent the artwork, this was still an unsatisfying read. Frankly, it's because the cartoons really aren't terribly funny. The cartoons are reprints from men's humor and pin-up mags, and so the point is more to draw a really stacked dame, maybe with a hint of nipple showing if it looks like the Post Office might not be looking too hard this month for things to censor, than to show much originality or wit.

Krazy & Ignatz 1941-1942: "A Ragout of Raspberries", by George Herriman, published by Fantagraphics
Like the DeCarlo book, Herriman's art is amazing, and the production values on the book are excellent. Sadly, the work is too much of its time, and far too repetitive regarding the nature of the gag's, to really work successfully for a modern reader. It's an interesting curiosity of an earlier period, and an important piece of comics history, but in and of itself it fails to compel.

Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace 1955-1958 Box Set by Hank Ketchum, published by Fantagraphics
It's too much Dennis! I can't really think of any other way to put it. Ketchum's line work is still strong at this fairly early point in his career, and there is still an undercurrent of slightly risque humor that would disappear in later years on the strip, as it devolved into a mediocre "kids say/do funny things" gag strip. Dennis is actually more of a terror in these strips, which honestly doesn't say much for the parenting abilities of the Mitchell's. But then, given their seeming neglect of the boy and their own barely repressed anger towards each other and outsiders, perhaps it isn't too surprising that Dennis acts out. But that's over thinking the strips.

Comics What I Did Not Like
Hotwire Comics #2, by Various, published by Fantagraphics
Mome #10, by Various, published by Fantagraphics
Anthology titles tend to be a mixed bag at the best of times, and while that's certainly the case here, on the whole there is more material in both of these books that is simply bad, if not unreadable, than is good or merely mediocre. Hotwire's contributors repeatedly make the mistake too many of today's self-consciously "edgy" cartoonists make, which is that they're so busy showing off how offensive or outrageous or envelope-pushing they can be that they forget to actually create a comic worth reading. Most of Mome's contributors make a similar mistake, which is to be overly self-regarding to the point of laughable pretentiousness.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

I Review In The Nude 

Kurohime; by Masanori Ookamigumi Katakura, published by Viz

A book like this straddles the fine line between "parody of the form" and "completely sincere example of," the form here being your typical young man's "let's fight to become better fighters so we can win more fights" comic from Japan. All the ingredients are here; the eager young novice, the annoying side-kick, the ridiculously busty femme-fatale, the comic-relief villains, the Macguffin-quest, and the escalating stakes from battle to battle. It's the twists on the forumla that make this interesting to me. For example, the annoying side-kick and the busty femme-fatale are one and the same, the titular Kurohime, and the Macguffin focuses on her quest to have her curse undone. That her curse requires her to fall in love, and her apprentice/bodyguard/stooge is already in love with her, gives us our excuse for over-the-top violence, heroic self-sacrifice, and silly scenes of people shooting at each other with magic bullets with impressive sounding names. It doesn't take itself seriously, and it comes with an appealing style, to make a package that, while unambitious, is at least entertaining.

Devilish Greetings: Vintage Devil Postcards; by Monte Beauchamp, published by Fantagraphics

This is an appealing little collection of vintage devil-themed post-cards, assembled into an attractive book that showcases the artistry and kooky appeal of these older items of forgotten commercial artistry. That's what I think I find most appealing about this book, that it's focus is not on "high art" but on cheap and disposable commercial art, rarely if ever given a second thought in its own time, but elevated to something more now by age and a renewed interest in the study of cultural artifacts such as these. It's almost that these works become "Art" by the mere act of being bound together and presented as a collection of material worthy of serious study and inquiry.

XXX Scumbag Party; by JOhnny Ryan, published by Fantagraphics

To paraphrase what a better critic than I once wrote, if you like incest, rape, sodomy, cannibalism, degenerency, then this is the comic for you. However, it is not the comic for me. It's not that anything Ryan writes or draws here offends me. No, for me, Ryan commits a far greater sin; he isn't funny. At all. His cartooning is unremarkable and imitative of better artists, and while straddling that fine line that sick and gross-out humor must always walk, Ryan takes so much time trying to be as offensive as possible, to top the last outrageous thing he drew, that he completely forgets that he's supposed to be drawing a humor book.

Shortpacked! Brings Back the Eighties; by David Willis, published by Moral Team Asia

Shortpacked! is easily one of my favorite web-comics, especially of those that deal with geek-centric humor. Given that David Willis' strip holds no romantic fantasies about the basic goodness or rationality of "fandom", it shouldn't be hard to guess why. Willis is able to balance both character driven drama, and humor, and still manages to mix in brilliantly surreal jokes about Batman, Transformers, and other geeky obsessions. The primary emphasis is on toys and toy collectors, but there's more than enough comic and video game overlap to make those jokes enjoyable and appropriate as well.
Hey, look, bottom line: it's something I enthusastically and unreservedly dig. You realize how rare that is?



Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Short Notes 

Nearly Timely Reviews

Brewster Rockit: Space Guy, by Tim Rickard

I usually try to keep my eyes open for interesting looking collections of newspaper strips I've never heard of; which isn't that hard, given the sorry state of newspaper comics pages. The satirical nature of this strip appealed to me. Given that even the mildly geeky humor of something like Foxtrot was too much for most newspapers, I was curious as to what an out and out parody of typical sci-fi adventure comics and films would be like. It's...actually pretty much what you would expect. The characters are well tread stereotypes: lunk-head captain, lazy engineer, somewhat evil scientist, annoying child sidekick. It's a minor blessing that the only regular female character in the collection turns out to be the only half-way competent member of the crew. The geek humor works in small doses, but in one big book it tends to drag on a little too long, especially in the longer storylines. So, it's a mildly entertaining diversion at best, which still puts it miles ahead of most of the other strips in the newspaper.

Booster Gold #1, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz and Dan Jurgens, published by DC Comics

Speaking of mild diversions; the first issue of Booster Gold is darn near a textbook example of "harmless super-hero book." It's steeped in continuity, almost but not quite to the point of being about continuity, with appealing, easily defined characters. And while the book plays up a "the stakes are big" angle, it doesn't feel like a high-drama or high-angst book; it retains a light touch. The art is also the best work I've seen from Jurgens in years, bringing a suitably "heroic" look to the book.

In other comic news, Sticky writer Dale Lazarov and artist Delic Van Loond have a new adults-only web-comic called Fancy. It's a pantomime strip with beautiful line-work. The story so far could probably be called "gay barbarian fantasy" and if you're into that sort of thing you should definately check it out.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Quick Reviews 

Metal Men #1, by Duncan Rouleau, published by DC Comics

I'm not a particular Metal Men fan; the concept is handled poorly slightly more often than it's handled well, but Rouleau handles the concept well. With this book he plays with DC comics history and creates a new/old continuity approach to one of the admittedly sillier concepts to have been produced in super-hero comics. But rather than try to force the characters and concepts into a "serious" mode, Rouleau runs with it and just lets the book be silly and fun while keeping it within an action-adventure mode. His stylized yet cartoonish art helps with that method of storytelling immensely.

Black Adam #1, by Peter Tomasi and Doug Mahnke, published by DC Comics

I'm not usually one to fault the books that exist only to fill in "continuity gaps" and make sure that fans of a super-hero universe have all their questions answered. It's at times a necessary evil when you publish a large and linked-together set of titles. But unless it's a subject or character I really want to know about, I usually can't be bothered to get too worked up positively or negatively about those types of books. This book exists only to explain what happened to Black Adam between the end of 52 and the start of Countdown. Heck, the cover pretty much announces that. And it's not as if it's a bad book, though those who object to grim and serious uses of characters originally intended for children's stories will definitely want to avoid this book. But it is, at best, only a thoroughly competent book. It does what it is meant to do with a minimum of fuss.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007


Monster Attack Network by Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman and Nima Sorat, published by AIT/Planet Lar

Ever wondered who cleans up after those giant monster attacks? Or who is responsible for making sure the city gets evacuated? This is the story of the folks responsible for maintaining the safety of the citizens of the tiny island nation of Lapuatu. It's a decidedly high-concept book, with a beautifully calculated appeal to monster movie fans who don't take themselves too seriously in its premise. It's fast-paced, funny and has a frenetically expressionistic art style that's just enough this side of caricature to get the humor and energy of the story right. It's fantastic fun, escapist entertainment, to be brief.

Not going to Comic-Con. Not particularly interested in Comic-Con. Maybe if it were about two hours closer, about one-third to one-half the size, and actually about comic-books instead of selling games, movies and tv shows to nerds, I'd be interested, but everything I ever hear about it suggests that, nope, the closest thing the comics industry has to a trade expo is not for me.

I'm interested in what Bully has to say about it, of course, because it's Bully. I half suspect that little head full of fluff is the most sensible person down there.

Needlessly Cynical Reactions to Comic Book News

Virgin Comics finds a way to simplify their business plan of star-fucking low-rent celebrities by hiring a woman famous for fucking to "write" a comic. Did no one learn the right lesson from Tekno Comics?

I have absolutely no idea who any of the people hired to act in the Watchmen movie are. I'm fairly certain I can guess how much of the source material was understood by the people making the movie.
That would be "none."

DC to publish Heroes comic. And thus the Ouroboros goes on...

DC to publish World of Warcraft comic. Here's a dialogue excerpt from the first issue:
"wher mankirk wif?"
"lrn 2 ply n00b"

(Maybe someday I'll drop the name of my Tauren Hunter on's not hard to figure out...)

The State is finally coming to DVD.

Tuesday was Lynda Carter's birthday.
In honor of that event, here's a Wonder Woman panel that's not the slightest bit ironic, given later developments with the character:

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Mess O' Reviews 

Action Comics #851, by Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Adam Kubert, published by DC

For a long-delayed continuation of a story-line, there really isn't much in the way of forward plot momentum here. We get a cameo by Mon-El, a surprise villain team-up in the conclusion, and very brief check-ups on various cast members. But the bulk of the issue is devoted to Superman in the Phantom Zone, fighting enemies there, and seeing lots of, well, formless gray shapes. The real point of the book, though, isn't to advance the plot, though a tiny bit of exposition takes place, and there is an explanation as to how a child could be born in the Phantom Zone. No, the point of the book is to show off the "new and improved" Phantom Zone, updated for the 21st century, but strangely reminiscent of the design aesthetics of the 1970s, in eye-straining 3D.
It's pretty much style over substance, to be blunt. And it's another reason why I'm enjoying Kurt Busiek's Superman a lot more than this title.

All Flash #1, by Mark Waid and various, published by DC

So, DC broke the Flash. To put that statement into context, the last time DC broke a character so badly, it was Hawkman, in a book called Zero Hour. If we accept as true DC's assertion that the Bart Allen Flash series was a deliberate exercise in planned obsolescence, it's hard not to read this as simultaneously a "eff you" to the people who did enjoy that series, and a mea culpa to those who absolutely had to have Wally West back. It's not quite Flash: Rebirth, but the attempt seems to have been made. Of course, what many saw as the problem with the Bart Allen Flash was that the character's evolution was too much and too sudden. He went from an essentially optimistic teen hero character to an angsty and insecure adult. In many ways, it was reminiscent of the changes to Wally West's character when his title first launched. And what of Wally West now? He's gone from a former side-kick grown into his predecessor's role to...a middle-aged father of pre-adolescent twins, who, oh yeah, are also super-heroes, with extra bonus angst over the death of a relative and a new dark and grim and gritty and grim and dark and grim no-nonsense attitude towards dealing with criminals. With ironic torture.

Black Diamond #2, by Larry Young and Jon Proctor, published by AIT/Planet Lar

The second issue features lots of snappy dialogue and a big jump in exposition, as more characters come into play and the various factions at play get fleshed out. It's very good building on the world and filling in of back-story, but now I'm really eager to see some car chase action smash-em-ups in the book. For the back-up this time, we have a surprisingly sincere story from Ken Lowery, revealing that there's more to the Black Diamond than lawless gangs.

Elephantmen: The Pilot by various, published by Image

This is a cute little collection of alternative interpretations of Hip Flask and his world through pin-ups and "fan comics", presented as web-comics within the world of of Elephantmen. The material is of varying quality, though the intentions are good and appreciated. The stand-out of the book is a Hip Flask as Spirit pastiche by Busiek and Immonen.

The Programme #1, by Peter Milligan and C.P. Smith, published by DC/Wildstorm

Milligan's latest is an interesting science-fiction tale with "super-human" overtones that draws a connection between the competition for Nazi scientists between Russia and America post-World War Two and contemporary and Cold War-era conflicts in the Middle East. It's actually pulled off quite well; there's some meat to the premise and an intriguing cast of characters who are skillfully introduced through subtle characterization. Which is a bit of a problem, as the build up is a little too slow. There's simply not enough explanation of what is going on to justify a reader's interest. In a collected form, the book feels like it will read quite nicely, but as a monthly series, with information doled out slowly, there's not enough here in the premiere to get worked up about.
Smith's artwork is very good. He has a style which suggests photo-realism, while still making effective use of more expressionistic techniques. It grounds the visual look of the series, gives it a "realistic" edge, which does a good job towards selling the concept of the book.



Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Reviews Day! 

Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #13, by Marc Guggenheim and Tony Daniel, published by DC Comics

I'm hard-pressed to think of what the point of this comic was. If we are expected to take DC creative types at their word, that the entire point of this Flash series was simply to kill off Bart Allen so that we'd be grateful that they brought back the "one, true Flash," it strikes me as nothing more than proof that there is a death fetishism running rampant through modern super-hero comics. That interpretation certainly seems borne out by the comic, in which it is emphasized over and over again that Bart Allen isn't "worthy" of being the Flash. A more likely explanation would be that, rather than ignoring the fans, as super-hero publishers are often accused of doing, DC looked at the steadily declining sales of the title, replaced the creative team (a better creative team, that was actually starting to do something interesting with the title, in my opinion), and went out of their way to give the vocal message boarding and blogging fans what they seemed to have wanted: Bart dead, Wally back. Which leads to a final issue that's frankly a creative train-wreck.

The Highwaymen #1, by Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman and Lee Garbet, published by DC/Wildstorm

A near future crime-caper with snappy dialogue, slick art and action-movie ludicrousness that doesn't devolve into self-parody. In other words, a good, surprising little treat that appears to have snuck in under the radar. Two ex-, well, secret agents supposedly, but it's not quite clear, are activated when a (supposedly) rogue element in national security attempts to track down a decades old secret. There's just enough of a teasing and ambiguity in this introduction to make it plausible that we don't quite know who the good guys are supposed to be, but the tale is told so strongly and entertainingly that finding out more promises to be fun.
Garbet's art is new to me, and he has a very good sense of storytelling, with good action scenes, and unique and expressive characters. Visually, it reminds me slightly of a cross between Steve Dillon and Frank Quitely, without aping either of those styles, but occuping a kind of middle-ground between them.

Gintama volume 1, by Hideaki Sorachi, published by Viz

I was looking for something high concept, but not too serious, and I got it. Mostly. In an alternative Japan, aliens have invaded and corrupted the government. To secure their position, they've outlawed the samurai and confiscated all their swords. But, really, that's all just a pretense for allowing Sorachi to draw anachronistic technologies and funky aliens in his farcical samurai comedy. And farce it is, with broad characters and slapstick comedy, and an oddly literal approach to comedy and jokes that seems at odds with the surreality of the situation. Many of the characters are stock types to the point of stereotypes: ooh, the hard-bitten tough guy, the wacky nerd sidekick, the tough-girl side-kick, the crusty landlord with a heart of gold, the mysterious ally/enemy from the past, etc. It's hard to tell whether the characters are meant as parodies of the type, or simply the result of lack of experience as a writer. But there's the root of something there, and Gintama wouldn't be the first manga with a rough opening to improve in later volumes. The art, scrunchy and distorted, but with a careful detail, has some attraction, and between that and the potential in the work, I think I can give it the benefit of the doubt for a couple of books.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Look! Reviews! 

Black Diamond #1, by Larry Young and John Proctor, published by AiT/Planet Lar

The Black Diamond is the kind of high-concept, patently ludicrous idea you might have expected to see in a movie from one the less reputable production companies in the late 70s or early 80s. And I say that with love. I was a kid who grew up on Hawk the Slayer and Cannonball Run and Radioactive Dreams, and it probably warped me into the kind of person who, frequently, will value entertainment value over "logic." And so, this book, which suggests that American conservative movement would build a transcontinental highway and abandon it to gear-heads, criminals and filthy hippies in order to keep normal surface roads safe for family values voters. It's the next logical step to every car chase movie ever made. And while Young puts together a plot, something about a wife being kidnapped by terrorists, thus neccessitating the mild mannered dentist hero to embark on a cross-country drive, it's really just a pretext to set up the potential for mayhem. If there's a significant flaw in that, it is that this issue serves only as prologue: we don't get to see the mayhem. Though a short back-up strip by Dennis Culver provides a humorous insight into daily life on the Black Diamond. Jon Proctor's art on the main story is highly stylized and expressionistic. I suspect it's probably going to be too stylized for many readers, those accustomed to a slicker, more commercial style, but for me it works on this book.

Elephantmen #9, by Starkings and Moritat, published by Image

The outstanding sci-fi comic does a quiet, "day in the life" story about Hip Flask trying to get home with some groceries. It's a short seeming story, but it still is typical of the deft characterization and humanity that informs the Elephantmen series as a whole. In just a few pages we get a telling character sketch about Hip, a truck driver, some peril and an action sequence. It could almost act as a model for comics shorts.

MPD Psycho vol. 1, by Sho-U Tajima and Eiji Otsuka, published by Dark Horse

I'll admit I have something of a preference for the dark in my manga. I've been waiting eagerly for this series, particularly after the spectaculr Kurosagi Corpse Deliverey Service, also by Otsuka. This is a bit of a different beast from that series, though. While Kurosagi is ultimately optimistic, this is a much more pessimistic book, viewing humanity through a far more jaundiced view. It mixes the horror, sci-fi and thriller genres, with heavy elements of paranoia through a conspiracy sub-plot. Oh, and the protagonist is a detective with multiple personalites. One of which is a killer.
The brutality of the book probably deserves some special mention. It's shocking and graphic, but it never comes off as lurid or titilating or pandering. Thanks to Tajima's clear, smooth-line art style and carefully detailed work, the horrible nature of the crimes are presented almost dispasionately and analytically. It's that coldness that communicates the horror.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Reviews/Manga Catch-Up/Short Comments 

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg, published by DC/Minx

Being pretty far removed from the target audience for this book, both by age and gender, I wonder if that makes me a better or a worse judge of its quality. It reads a bit like some of the better shojo manga out there, with a dramatic, if not melodramatic, emotive approach to story, placing its emphasis on relationships between characters instead of plot. But a little more plot wouldn't have hurt, as new girl Jane, eager to reinvent herself in a new town after her parents fled the city in the wake of a terrorist incident, forms a new clique with three other girls named Jane. By the rules of high school cliquedom, that these four girls would so easily become good enough friends quickly enough to form an underground art collective that peppers the city with conceptual and installation pieces...well, it seems unlikely, and a bit too conveniently handled in order to hurry the plot along. But those quibbles of pacing and convenience aside, the story does have a nice emotional resonance that I suspect will mean more to someone not quite as old and jaded as I.
Although, if I can inject a small complaint over one of my pet peeves: the gay best friend character? Who adds nothing to the story other than to be the "gay best friend" type of character? Yeah, I don't need to see that character in anything anymore.
Jim Rugg's art is nicely matured here from his earlier work. He strikes a nice balance between a realistic and a cartoony style, which allows him to very clearly show emotion and action, but still caricature and exaggerate characters for whatever effect or mood the scene calls for. If there is a fault, it's the sometimes odd choices of "camera angle" which just call attention to themselves for their peculiarity. Just because Gil Kane could pull off an up-nostril shot, that doesn't mean they're always a good idea.

Countdown #51, by Paul Dini, Jesus Saiz and Jimmy Palmiotti, published by DC

Judging by online critical reaction, I seem to be in the minority in enjoying this comic. For what it's worth, it's not that I necessarily disagree with any of the more intelligent and perceptive critics who have been disappointed by this book. It's just that: what they call a slow story, I call deliberate pacing. I also can't get too bothered by the the somewhat insular appeal of this book. Let's be perfectly honest: this isn't going to be anyone's introduction to the DC universe. And while overtures to new and returning readers who aren't caught up with all the intricacies of contemporary continuity are always appreciated, I don't think a book that's designed specifically to appeal to the regular super-hero reading audience has to necessarily go out of it's way to pretend that "every comic is somebody's first." Even the much maligned scene from Justice League of America which reappeared in issue #50 works within that context, as it establishes a benchmark by which events in other DC books can be placed on a time line. Given that the title of the series is "Countdown" that seems like an acceptable use of a few pages every couple weeks.
All that being said, I actually do enjoy this book. Dini has a good ear for dialogue and the voices of the various characters, his plotting is very deliberate, and the co-writers and artists lined up for this series have all done good work which I've enjoyed in the past. No, it's not the super-star line-up of 52, but it's competent craftsmen who know how to tell enjoyable super-hero stories in service of the corporate properties.

Manga Catch Up: Some manga titles I've been reading, that I don't believe I've talked about before.

Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs, by Yukiya Sakuragi, published by Viz
A very, if not deliberately, cute comedy about a dog-crazy girl and the misunderstandings and adventures she gets into because of her infuriating naivete and love of dogs. It has good, if somewhat unremarkable art, with the exception of highly realistic and exquisitely rendered dogs. And in a really nice change of pace for a story about a naive girl in the big city, there's so far not a hint of any romantic subplots.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki, published by Dark Horse
A comedic horror/mystery series with engaging art in an original style, with a wacky cast of characters who, in any other title, would be really messed up, but just fit in perfectly and work here? What is not to love?

Mushishi by Yuki Urushibara, published by Del Rey
I was actually a bit underwhelmed. Oh, the art is lovely, to be certain, but the stories are so...vague and ephemeral. Yes, I understand that what we're going for here is more tone and "bigger picture" effects than any emphasis on plot or character would allow. But the end result is something that feels a bit hollow.

Reiko the Zombie Shop by Rei Mikamoto, published by Dark Horse
I can't even begin to adequately describe how much I've come to love this comic. I'm not sure if it's the super-cute artwork, or the utterly depraved over the top gore, the absurdist black comedy, or the intersection of those three elements, but it all comes together in a glorious totality of cute girls and horrific violence that puts the most ambitious torture-porn producing shlock producer to shame. And, to its benefit, unlike the torture-porn films, the women actually legitimately kick-ass and take no grief.

Welcome to the NHK by Tatsuhiko Takimoto and Kendi Oiwa, published by Tokyopop
Unlike the various iterations of Train Man that have come out in the last year, this is not the story of a nerd who comes out of his shell and discovers the wide world outside of fandom. No, this is the dark mirror of that story, about a shut-in who only falls further and further into more and more depraved and soul-numbing depths of misanthropic nerddom. There's a bit of "there but for the grace of" feel to the enterprise, especially as this is no gentle mockery of the foibles of nerds, but rather a vicious evisceration of all their negative personality traits.

I hate the kind of scuttlebut that says "if you don't support Book X it will be cancelled" because the suggestion that a book is on the cancellation bubble is usually enough to get it pushed over, but since there seems to be concern over the survival of Aquaman, I thought I'd take a moment and say that Tad Williams has been doing a bang-up job with the title since he's taken over, adding a nice, lightly humorous touch to a super-hero adventure title that retains the best elements of Busiek's revamp while bringing the title more in line with a traditional Aquaman book. It's good stuff, in other words, and you should give it a shot if you haven't yet.

Speaking of which...I've been enjoying Will Pfeiffer's run on Catwoman a great deal since the start...but if there are any dead babies in upcoming issues, I'm done with the book. I put up with Nazis buzzsawing children because I trusted that Johns was going somewhere with it, and y'know, Nazis are bad. But killing a baby we've known for over a year, who actually brought something new and interesting into the title character's, that's my limit.
Consider yourself on notice, Pfeiffer.

I love comic book fans. "Oh noes, a not very good picture has been released to the internet! Clearly the movie is going to suck! I'm going to go on every message board I can find and make a Brokeback Gotham joke to express my displeasure!"

Apart from Doctor Who, the only television I've been watching much of lately is the new BBC Robin Hood series. It's overall good, but the "family appropriate" heart it wears on its sleeve is very telling and overpowers the stories a good deal of the time. If anything, the series is a bit too bloodless. When even the villain of the piece is making metatextual comments about how the hero is stupid for not just killing him already, you've perhaps pushed your "the hero doesn't kill" rule too far.
But, apart from that, I enjoy it, and I'm continually fascinated that even the BBC was willing to put a children's show on the air that's basically a thinly veiled condemnation of the "war on terror" and Britain's and America's domestic policies in response to it.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Supernatural: Origins #1, by , Peter Johnson and Matthew Dow Smith, with Geoff Johns and Phil Hester, published by DC/Wildstorm

I'm honestly not sure whether coming to this book without ever having seen even a single episode of the television series it serves as prequel to helped or hindered my response to the book. As a stand-alone concept, it worked fairly well. But there was a certain sense of "sketchiness" about many of the characters and the central premise, that left me feeling throughout the book that I was missing certain fairly significant details and elements of back-story. There are moments that feel very much like foreshadowing that will only pay off in the television show, or bits of exposition that explain gaps in an episode. So, while it was a well put together story and entertaining in its own right, I felt like I wasn't familiar enough with the background to get as much out of it as I was meant to.
Smith's art, however, was exceptionally good, and reminded me a little bit of a mix of Duncan Fegredo and Mike Mignola. It's heavily shadowed and moody, which fits the tone of the book very well, and the stylized look to his art was quite striking.

Matt at No-Sword had a couple of brilliant posts up about post-war Japanese family planning guides. Here's part one and here's part two. It's really interesting stuff from an historical and sociological perspective, and as a comic reader it helps explain the "sister complex" I see so often in manga and anime.

Oh, and in reference to the current Man of the Moment, Topher Grace...I selected him because he was pretty much the only thing even remotely tolerable about the latest Spider-Man movie. How bad was it? Even Pete thought it was bad. I think the only other super-hero movie Pete didn't like was the third X-Men film. That's how bad it was.

A little bit of Subtext? What Subtext? for you, that I probably should have saved for Friday Night:
from Forbidden Worlds #125

To be fair, pretty much any panel with Magicman is subtextastic. I mean, the green turban, the pearl necklace, the sleeve-less unitard slit to the navel, the pixie boots...and his secret identity? He's in the Army. I don't think they need to ask in the case of Magicman.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Free Comic Book Day Reviews 

Somehow, as in past years, I somehow talked myself into reviewing every single damn FCBD comic I could get my hand on in advance of the event. This year it was pretty rough going. I think I worked off a couple of centuries in Purgatori if doing this manages to prevent anyone else being accidentally exposed to horrible comics. I usually eschew review scales, finding them overly reductive, but it's pretty much essential for an event of this nature. It's pretty easy to understand, too. Get it means I think it's a good comic and you should check it out. Eh means that it's not a bad comic, but certainly not a great one, but it's free, so what do you care. Avoid means that you're better off socking in the jaw any comic shop clerks who try to hand you a copy.

Activity Book: The phrase from my comics retail days which comes to mind when I attempt to read this is "they tell me it's good, but it's not." I know Lynda Barry has her fans, but this is one of the ugliest objects I've ever handled. I attempted to read it, but it was impossible. If anyone else out there can get through it, more power to you.

Amazing Spider-Man: It's always nice to see Phil Jimenez art, and Dan Slott is one of the very few writers out there, it seems, who can write an entertaining Spider-Man story without wallowing in emo whininess or character inappropriate mature themes. I'd probably have liked this more, though, if it wasn't quite so plainly set-up for events in the regular Spider-Man books and been a little more self-contained. Also a nuisance: a short preview of a Spider-Man comic by J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada, which in six pages manages to sum up everything I hate about Spider-Man.
Get it

Amelia Rules: Hangin' Out: It's a cute, silly, essentially throw-away little incident in the lives of the characters. The Amelia Rules books have been highlights of past FCBD events, but it still feels, slightly, as if the reader's familiarity with these characters is being taken for granted.
Get it

Ape Entertainment's Comic Spectacular: The over-all quality of the short stories and samples reprinted here is generally good. Even the works which didn't particularly appeal to me had a recognizable level of quality and craftsmanship to them. There's nothing ground-breaking here, but the works are solidly entertaining.
Get it

Arcana Studios Presents: Of the three short previews included here, Kade is by far the worst. Imagine a really horrible D&D campaign devised by a guy with nothing in his wardrobe but Iron Maiden and Dio shirts. This reads like a bad comic adaptation of that. 100 Girls has the feel of coming in at the tail-end of a longer story; I'm clearly meant to have a better idea of who this character is, yet I don't. Clockwork Girl has an appealing art style, but all we see here is seven pages of a mad scientist ranting.

The Astounding Wolfman #1: I like werewolves, but even I have my limits. Jason Howard's art is blocky and unappealing, and Kirkman manages to write a super-hero origin story that gives us no reason to care about or like the protagonist. In short, it's yet another by-the-numbers Image super-hero title, with just enough of an "edge" to appeal to comic fans who think they're too sophisticated to read Marvel or DC comics, yet still want to read stories about people in tights wrestling with each other.

Bongo Comics Free-For-All: This is one of the few "sampler style" comics that really works, mostly because we get complete stories. The stories are a bit more kid-orientated than the regular Simpsons and Futurama shows, but are still actually funny, which puts them ahead of the last several seasons of The Simpsons in any case.
Get it

Buzzboy/Roboy Red: The Buzz and the 'Bot: Cute, unassuming super-hero comics, very much aimed at younger children. It's a very good kids super-hero comic, in fact, but quite probably a bit too kid-orientated for anyone with their age in the double digits.
Get it for kids, Eh for everyone else

Choose Your Weapon: Tokyopop's FCBD contribution is a rather frustrating sample of Korean and American titles, all with rather generic sci-fi and fantasy themes, and mostly rather derivative appearing titles at that. That two of the titles are adaptations of on-line role-playing games doesn't help much either. Some of the art isn't bad, but it's in service to horrible stories.

Comics 101: There's potential in this collection of articles from various TwoMorrows magazines and books, but it's mostly wasted potential. A brief and reductive history of comic books has been included, but only after several workmanlike and wordy articles on comics art and writing. And, in usual TwoMorrows fashion, the intended audience appears to be people who have been reading comics for several decades. And so while the end result isn't terrible, it's still hardly to be recommended.

Comics Festival: Another brilliant sampling of the cream of the crop of Canadian cartoonists. I don't think there's a single "miss" story in here. Though it's a toss up between "Jett Vector" and "Moster Cops" for my favorite. Darwyn Cooke's featured piece, "The Alex" is particularly haunting and evocative as well.
Get it

Comics Genesis: An incredibly uneven compilation of web-comics. There's some good material here, some terrible material here, and a lot of mediocre material here.

Digital Webbing Jam 2007: The E-Man story included here, with nice art by Joe Staton, is a brief recap of the heroes origin, while Fist of Justice is a Byrne-ish super-hero tale which appears to want to be postmodern but can't quite pull it off. There's a surreal gag strip called Punks which was...sort of funny. And then there was yet another damn zombie comic and a "hot" vampire babe comic.

Family Guy/Hack/Slash Flipbook: I want to like Hack/Slash. It's got a tongue firmly in cheek approach to horror that I can appreciate, but it just hasn't clicked for me. Although I did like the implicit criticism of the torture-porn genre of horror. Family Guy manages to be funnier and more original than the show it's based on. But then, that's not hard.

Gumby: An assemblage of talented cartoonists put out a just darn peculiar story of Gumby and Pokey going to the art museum. It's utterly bizarre, in a very, very good way.
Get it

Hunter's Moon/Salvador Flipbook: Both of these samples are short on plot, but what we see of Hunter's Moon is a promising start to an intriguing human drama. That lack of plot is a bit of a short-coming, however, because without knowing a little bit more of what's going to happen the the emotionally distant father/rebellious son team here, I can't tell if it's a story I'd want to read or not. Especially given how hard a sell I am on stories about characters with "daddy issues." Salvador has not bad art, but even less plot on display than Hunter's Moon, and so I'm given even less reason to care about it.

Impact University Volume 3: A very straight-forward sample of pages from instruction manuals, done in a (mostly) professional and straight-forward way. Since the whole point of FCBD is for stores and publishers to advertise themselves, it's hard to find fault with this package, but it's still incredibly dull.

Jack the Lantern: Ghosts: This reads like a throw-back to the kinds of material Chaos! Comics used to pump out, only with slightly better art. There's some kind of back-story here, and I know I've read previous FCBD editions of Jack the Lantern comics, but I couldn't honestly tell you what any of those were about, who was in them, or why anything happened. Five minutes after reading this one, I have the same feeling.

Justice League of America #0: AS the start of a storyline, this issue had faults. As a sampler, offering a wide-ranging look at the past and potential futures of the Justice League, it's not too shabby. The wide range of art styles works remarkably well in this context, helping to unify the book while making each "chapter" more distinctive.
Get it

Keenspot Spotlight 2007: More web-comics samples, and if anything the ratio of good/mediocre/bad is tilted more towards the "bad" end of the scale. There's a reason I read hardly any web-comics. Books like this drive home the lesson that I'm not missing anything.

Last Blood: I actually found this to be, if not clever, at least an interesting twist on the over-trod vampire and zombie genres. The art is a little rough, and the writing is more enthusiastic than polished, but the conceit of vampires protecting humans from zombies in order to maintain their food source is at least original.

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century: Well, this actually feels more like the "real" Legion to me than the regular title DC publishes, if for no other reason than the large amount of time establishing the fact that the members of the Legion are all total jerks. With this book you get nice art from Chynna Clugston, and what appears to be an abbreviated adaptation of the first episode of the Legion cartoon.
Get it

Liberty Comics #0: Four short stories of a faux Golden Age character with pedestrian stories and mediocre and inconsistent art. About the only thing of particular interest is an anti-environmental fable, the moral of which "plants have only themselves to blame for not adapting to environmental damage" which I'm still trying to figure out whether I'm meant to take as sincere or ironic.

Little Archie: Legend of the Lost Lagoon: Hey, how do you make Archie even less appealing? Kiddify it. While it's nice to see Bob Bolling art again, the story is just a bit too twee. I mean, Veronica sees an elf...and it's a two-panel throw-away gag. I'd have much preferred something a bit more comedic in focus, like a standard Archie comic, than a danger and suspense free "adventure" comic.

The Lone Ranger/New Battlestar Galactica: I haven't swallowed the "BSG" kool-aid yet, and this prequel story doesn't do anything to convince me I'm missing out. I do like the Lone Ranger, but I passed on the regular series for looking too much like it was being written for the trade, and while I liked the story well enough, it hasn't convinced me that was a wrong decision either.

Love and Capes #4: Thomas Zahler's super-hero romance comic is cute and unpretentious, and liberally littered with in-jokes for super-hero fans. He has a unique art-style and a good ear for snappy dialogue. About the only problems with the book are sometimes muddy colors and transparent word-balloons which are frequently hard to read. This particular issue's story, about a Superman-type hero's jealousy of a Spider-Man type's popular film is especially fitting given the timing of this year's FCBD.
Get it

Marvel Adventures: Iron Man & Hulk: What we have here are too inoffensive, continuity-lite approaches to characters in kid-friendly adventures. I'm always skeptical of the appeal of the Marvel Adventures line; they seem to be essentially "dumbed down" versions of the regular comics. In my comics retail experience, kids had a great sense of avoiding material they sensed was talking down to them. But these are certainly more pleasant presentations of these two characters than we've seen in their regular titles for some time.

Mickey Mouse: The Robin Hood Adventure: The Mickey Mouse newspaper strip looks a bit odd to modern eyes, as Mickey's behavior is frequently churlish, if not outright jerkish. It's probably a bit too different from what they expect for kids, but fans of classic comics should enjoy it.
A qualified get it

Nexus: A "greatest hits" collection, reprinting more or less random pages from more or less random past issues of Nexus. While it's entirely probably that there were enough Nexus readers a decade ago who still care enough about the property to find some value in a book like this, those people would probably be the only people value in a book like this. The property has laid fallow long enough that a more direct re-introduction to the character was probably warranted.

Owly: Helping Hands: Owly stories are always a treat, with their appealing art and sentimental stories. They're the best kind of all-ages stories. The short preview of Korgi included here is lovely as well.
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Pirates vs. Ninjas #1: I'm continually surprised to see that Antarctic Press is still in business. This book not only features unremarkable anime-inspired art, but the "cashing in on last year's ironic joke" theme smacks of desperation on the "Disco Dazzler" scale.

Sonic the Hedgehog: Kids love Sonic comics. I know that probably comes as a shock to the average adult comic fan, but trust me, a comic shop well-stocked in Sonic back-issues can blow through them quickly. The story is impenetrable, and the art is really only okay, but I suspect it doesn't matter to the target audience.

The Train was Bang on Time: This preview of Eddie Campbell's The Black Diamond Detective Agency is perhaps a bit too brief, but it does an excellent job of advertising the tone and plot of the graphic novel it's excerpted from. More of a sense of closure would probably have helped in a sampling as brief as this, but what we have here is still a strong introduction.
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Transformers Movie Prequel: Now, I'll grant you that it's been about twenty-five years since I really saw a Transformers cartoon or comic, but I don't remember them making as little sense or being quite so ugly as this. It's almost as if the creators are on some level embarrassed by what they're working on, and have forced oddly ill-fitting violent themes onto a children's toy property.

Umbrella Academy/Pantheon City/Zero Killer: "Inscrutable" would be the word of choice for this Dark Horse comics sampler. The only thing that even resembles a complete story is the Umbrella Academy preview, which spends far too much time trying to establish itself as "kooky" to bother being good. It's the sort of super-hero parody material that hipsters seem to love, but it's been done better, dozens of times. The only redeeming feature is the artwork by Gabriel Ba. The other stories on display, Pantheon City and Zero Killer are throw-backs to the kinds of material Dark Horse used to publish ten years ago. Both have a strong "Comics Greatest World" feel to them.

Unseen Peanuts: This collection of previously unreprinted Peanuts strips is probably going to go down as the best received book this year. Even though it's easy to see why many of these strips haven't been seen since their initial publication, there's still plenty of high-quality material with broad appeal.
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Viper Comics Presents Volume Two: Another uneven sampler of forthcoming material. The stories are a tad too brief to really give more than an impression of art and tone, and for myself there's nothing particularly compelling here. The strongest piece is a sample from Sasquatch by "Nicc & Drew."

Virgin Comics Special: Well, the art on these Indian mythology inspired super-hero books is pretty at least, but the writing is uniformly bad and over-dramatic. The only story with any charm is "Walk In" allegedly created by Dave Stewart, but the sample gives no indication of what the story is supposed to be about.

Wahoo Morris: The "relationship based indie comic" is a well-worn genre, and Taillefer's particular twist, introducing the supernatural and rock bands, is both familiar and sets the work apart.

Whiteout #1: Oni generally does an exceptional job of picking which of their past titles to spotlight for FCBD. Greg Rucka's mystery comic is exceptional, with a strong opening and the choice of location is unique and compelling.
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Who Wants to be a Superhero: Dark Horse apparently rushed this out to capitalize on...well, the fact that no one seems to care about this tv show anymore, apparently. Bad art, bad story and yet another example of Dark Horse wasting money on the wrong comics license.

Wizard How to Draw: Free Comic Book Day Booklet: As opposed to the outright offensive materials Wizard has provided for FCBD in the past, this short sampling of "how to" articles is rather benign. There's not much in the way of sophomoric humor and the typical Wizard obsession with mammaries is absent, save for the rather cheese-cakey cover. It's still far from an essential, or even particularly interesting, offer, unless you happen to be interested in buying any of Wizard's "how to draw" books.

Worlds of Aspen: This makes absolutely no damn sense whatsoever, and the art is pretty uniformly horrible. It's like watching five minute segments of several different soap operas. In Esperanto.
Avoid avoid avoid

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Review Time Again 

Amazons Attack #1, by Will Pfeifer and Pete Woods, published by DC Comics

I'll just come out and say it: I kind of like continuity. By that I mean, I like it when creators take advantage of the shared universe nature of super-hero comics. It's an approach to storytelling that does, on occasion, create strange beasts, like this book, a title that seems to exist to bridge the gap between the tail-end of Infinite Crisis and the "One Year Later" relaunches and the forth-coming Countdown, with lots of ties to Greg Rucka's run on Wonder Woman, the current run of Wonder Woman, The OMAC Project and probably a few more titles by the time everything is over and done with. Pfeifer does a fairly decent job of quickly encapsulating some of the immediate build-up to this story, but in such a way that the suddenness and brutality of all out Amazonian war is still communicated. And it is a brutal war. After serving as the DCU's convenient cannon fodder for the last several years, the Amazons are fairly angry, and the book marks a noted change from the "protectors of enlightened peace" portrayal they've usually had in comic form to a more classical "remorseless female fury" portrayal. Pfeifer is especially good at subtly portraying the motivations for the war. Yes, there's the fact that Wonder Woman has been taken hostage, and yes there's also Circe's manipulations-an apparent desire to destroy the Amazons by giving the world cause to turn against them, but there's also the recently resurrected Hipolyta's desire to relive her days as a warrior-queen.
Pete Woods's art has usually struck me as work-manlike. It's your standard, contemporary approach to super-hero art, though he does have a nice hand at facial expressiveness and clear, unambiguous storytelling. It's a solid approach to take on a book that's meant primarily to appeal to the existing audience and it ends up fitting the book.

God Save The Queen by Mike Carey and John Bolton, published by DC/Vertigo

The thing I was most struck by with this book after I was done reading it was that apparently the phrase "The Sandman Presents" is no longer necessary to sell Vertigo hard-covers, or at least no longer perceived to be necessary. In this particular case, that's probably a good thing, as the cameos from the Sandman cast felt rather tacked-on and superfluous. And that, sadly, is a pretty good word to use for this book, "superfluous." It's not bad enough to be offensive, or even annoying, but the story of a girl who discovers her secret connection to a magical kingdom and must save it from a menace is so horribly cliche and over-used that, when I stumble across a book on that theme in the fantasy section of a bookstore I set it down quickly and walk as far away as possible. It's been done. To death. And adding a trendy heroin addiction to the main character doesn't make that old chestnut any more palatable.
Which is a downright shame, because the book boasts some lovely and lush artwork from John Bolton, whose work we don't see on shelves nearly often enough.

Justice Society of America #5, by Geoff Johns and Fernando Pasarin, published by DC Comics

Remember how I said I like continuity? Well, it's a good thing, because this latest Justice League/Justice Society/Legion of Super-Heroes cross-over is almost nothing but. And after a very rocky start, it's actually quite nice to see JSA starting to get back on track as a fairly well-written, well-characterized, "let's throw all the toys into the sandbox" type of title. It's very unfriendly to a hypothetical new reader, but I always have a hard time believing that Justice Society has been any one's first comic in the last sixty years. It's the sort of book that you have to be pretty invested into comics in the first place to even notice to pick up. And so, a fun read for DC fans, and a bit of a puzzle to everyone else.
Fernando Pasarin isn't an artist whose work I recall encountering before. In comparison to regular series penciller Dale Eaglesham, Pasarin's art seems a bit stiff. His faces are nicely emotive, but there's also a sameness to most of his figures, and many of them are only really distinguishable from one another by costume. It's journeyman work, in a way; the promise of better work in the future is there, but hasn't quite arrived yet.

The Last Sane Cowboy & Other Stories by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, published by AIT/Planet Lar

Goodbrey's collection of his Isotope Award winning mini-comics is a bizarre and confounding spectacle of surreality. It's genuinely funny, but you're frequently left with a nagging suspicion that the story wasn't meant to be funny, but heart-rending. And then the next story is strongly emotionally evocative, but you half-suspect the joke's on you for not seeing the joke. In either case, it's a good kind of cognitive dissonance that's created, as the dream-logic world of Goodbrey's stories is compelling in any case. The art, which is in a high-contrast, starkly black-and-white, computer assisted style, grounds the work in a recognizably realistic and consistent appearance, which gives the needed veneer of reality to contrast the strangeness of the stories against. Which, all in all, is a rather needlessly complicated way of saying "it was really weird, but really good, and I liked it a lot."



Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Captain America Free Reviews 

Doroty #7 by Mark Masterson, Ray Boersig and Greg Manino, starring Catie Fisher, published by Illusive Arts
The fumetti retelling of The Wizard of Oz brings together all of Dorothy's companions at last with the introduction of this darker Oz's equivalent of the Cowardly Lion. The digital illustrations and writing are up to the usual standard for this excellent series, and the "king of the beasts" provides a welcome comic counterpoint to the usual grimness and angst that frequently characterizes the series.

Elephantmen #7 by Richard Starkings, Joe Kelly, Chris Bachalo, Aron Lusen, Sophronius Moritat and Omar Ladronn, published by Image
The premise behind this issue, Hip Flask telling a fairy tale to the little girl who has befriended Ebony, and in doing so reveals a good deal about his past and his relationship with Savannah, is very promising, and the story itself is nicely done, but the art of Chris Bachalo has never particularly appealed to me, and his art on the fairy tale sequence just looks very muddy and unfinished to me. What otherwise would have been a very nice and light break from the regular story is rendered rather unpalatable for me as a result.

Giant Robot Warriors by Stuart Moore and Ryan Kelly, published by AiT/Planet Lar
I thought at first this was an actual reprint of the 2003 graphic novel, but no, it's simply the same edition with a new dust-cover. It's a fairly novel way to represent material that slipped under the radar of most comic readers during the initial release, capitalizing mostly on Kelly's recent prominence as illustrator of Local. The story is framed very deliberately as a satire of contemporary politics (well, post 9/11, pre-squandering of international goodwill politics, anyway), with turmoil in the Middle East and giant robots substituting for weapons of mass destruction. It's a very slight satire, more good natured than vicious, and that toothlessness doesn't do many favors to some of the jokes. In particular, the goofiness of the President' rather tame, and the joke, while fitting into the overall mood of the story, seems to stop just short of making the kind of political point Moore seems to want to make. But then, I'm a horrible evil leftist, so maybe I just want the joke to be more vicious than it is.
Kelly's art is excellent, with ample detail and a fine flair for caricature that suits both the political satire and the broadness of the humor. In many panels there's a frenetic sense of action and over-dramatization that also helps to accentuate the humor, though it does at times make for action sequences that don't flow very well from panel to panel, making the action difficult to follow. This, combined with Moore's story, makes the book a flawed but entertaining minor amusement. It's not a work destined to be regarded for years as a masterpiece of the form, but it's a well done distraction.



Wednesday, February 28, 2007

We Now Return to Normal 

And that's quite enough of that. I told Andy he could change one graphic, one. It will be awhile before he's allowed anywhere near the site again.

Although he did want to say that he was very put out by those of you who suggested that he's not real.
That was his actual phrase too: "put out."

My all time favorite stupid DC message board thread of late has been this one:
Obsidian: Radical Changes Needed!!
It might surprise you to learn that the "radical change" in question here is not "give him more screen time than three silent panels in two of three issues published so far." No, I'll let the original poster explain what the problem with Obsidian is:
For the past few years, Obsidian has fallen into decandence... in my opinion Obsidian was WAY BETTER in JSA: Darkness Falls!! From the time he quitted, his story became a huge nonsense... I'm not making discrimination, but I really think that him changing his sexuality was the biggest mistake ever made to this character! From there Obsidian was taken less seriously than he have been!! If there was a potential storyline in my mind, it'd be Obsidian with Nightshade (which will also help explain if the "World Of Nighshades" is or isn't the "Shadowlands"... Making Obsidian part of the JSA was good, but unnecessary for Alan Scott alredy has a place there. Obsidian was better off being evil...
I hope the DC Editors will think about it REALLY WELL for I've followed DC Super Heroes since I was 2 years old and I never got disapointed in the comics! I hope I won't ever get... Then again, this is NOT discrimination... but this character should have stayed the way he was before... He's the decendent of one of the earliest superheroes, he should not have been inflicted with such a decadence...
I hope you understand what I'm trying to say.

But lest you think that perhaps homophobia motivates this anti-gay Obsidian post, be assured that's not the case at all:
I was not discriminating by saying that Obsidian was better before... the best way to prove it is that Freddie Mercury is one of my favourite singers! The thing is that Obsidian should have gotten a better "base" (if you understand the term).And it was, most of all, the fact that Alan Scott would have no more succesor in his bloodline after Obsidian's death that bothered me... that's it!! If anyone has a problem with that than express your feelings... but calling me a homophobiac is the proof that you did not read and understood the sentence : I'M NOT MAKING DISCRIMINATION. I wrote this because I knew some people would understand what I meant in a different way that I expected. So if you can't read, quit comics!

I swear, the thread is a treasure-trove:
adreyenko said himself that he MADE obsidian gay in an interview, which PROVES that the hero wasn't always gay. adreyenko should have left todd rice alone. his run on manhunter led to only one thing: THE CANCELLATION OF THE TITLE!! wtf??!! obsidian had a relationship with harlequin III, why can't he stay the way he was?? it's not because he was shy or had mental illness (which were because of his mother's genes) and that his first relationship had a little difficulties that he is gay! and it's not because nuklon is his best friend and that he was avoiding homophobia and because he didn't have any relationship or love neither. don't call me narrow-minded because that's not true, it's just the damn truth!! the ones who say he's gay say it because they WANT him to be like that... but he was never meant to be!! PS: if he turned evil, it was because of his mental illness!!!!

Alright, maybe Obsidian's mental illness wasn't revealed until Darkness Falls, but come on guys... it's more coherent for him to have this as a hertitage from his mother than his change of sexuality!!!!!! Darkness Falls was one of the only stories that made Obsidian important, and his decadence started from the time he came back! Now he's just a shadow doing nothing exept when Jade died!! Give me a break... this dude needs RADICAL CHANGES so that he can become better!! He looks pathetic now... and if writers don't do anything about it, he'll soon be useless and so he won't be used that often... AND HE'S THE BLOODY SON OF ALAN SCOTT!!!! Come on... it looks like the death of Jade didn't affect him that much, for they only made him furious in 52... but he's not carrying the sadness, while he should, for it would go on well with his darkness. This character could use alot of work, which would fortunately pay well amd make his popularity increase. He should also get closer with his dad. And can anyone answer me this question: Is the shadowlands the land of nightshades??
I hope you understand that Obsidian is not taken seriously AT ALL right now. The Infinity Inc. should also get worked up, and have a more important role in the DCU. I hope that the JSA title will CORRECT Obsidian's MISTAKES, and make him have an important role in the team that just being a useless shadow security guard. Make the true POWER of his powers come out, for he's VERY powerful, the writers just don't use all of his qualities, and rather make him gay for some stupid unknown reasons (exept for Andreyko's Manhunter selfishness). Remake him te way he was before, and add all the things I said in this post... then come up with an amazing story... and there you'll have the REAL Obsidian.

Now, most of the other posters take "goldenagebat" to task for his attitude, but there's at least one other poster, "dixon64" who has his back.
At any rate the character is not being as well received as he was and it is precisely because of that change that he isn't. How is that good for a company if their goal is to sell as many copies of that title to consumers as they can ? It is not. But if I had a political or social agenda sales would not matter to me. But the idea that we are going to cry on the internet because of it is foolishness. DC and you are assuming we will continue to buy the book. I love "The Justice Society of America" . For years and with it's return I have stated vehemently that it is hands down with no close competition the best title on the market, but don't let it fool you into believing that I wont leave that and every other DC title on the shelf if I see it that DC doesn't hear my voice for the $3.00 I pay for their title. The character of Obsidian has been diminished and DC shouldn't suffer the loss of that asset nor should they suffer it on the consumers who purchase "The Justice Society of America"

Now, setting aside that Obsidian really only became interesting as a character when he came out, what I love in that last excerpt is the notion that negative fan reaction to Obsidian is having an adverse effect on the Justice Society book. And here I was thinking that the vast bulks of criticisms I've heard about this latest relaunch is the over the top violence. Silly me.

I'm not actually overly bothered by the violence in Justice Society to be honest, but nor am I overly concerned with the pace of Justice League, so clearly my taste is suspect. My concerns for the book are born out of pure fan entitlement selfishness. I don't like the bitter and mentally scarred Damage, especially since it seems to be broadly telegraphing a heel turn, especially with the introduction of his "father" Vandal Savage into the storyline. I don't like a suddenly emo Wildcat who resents having to train younger heroes, something he's been consistently portrayed as enthusiastic about in the past. I don't like the apparently Alex Ross mandated sidelining of Obsidian. And I really hate the masturbatory insertion of elements from Kingdom Come into the book.

It's small comfort to learn that at least Obsidian might be facing a better fate soon.

Speaking of DC comics that are failing to meet the expectations of their audience, I've noticed, here and there, a number of people who feel that the tone of Trials of Shazam is excessively dark, especially in comparison to Jeff Smith's Monster Society of Evil title. Which is a fair enough exception to make. My own response to that is that I've been thinking of Trials as more of a Captain Marvel Jr. story, and Freddie Freeman's adventures have always been a bit darker in tone than those of Billy and Mary. Let's compare their origins for a minute.

Hey, Billy, how'd you get your powers?
"A wizard gave them to me!"
Cool. How about you Mary?
"A wizard gave my brother powers."
Okay...And you Freddie? Where did your powers come from?
"Nazis killed my family and crippled me."
Wow...aren't you a bright and shiny figure of escapist fun for little children.

I have it on reasonably good authority that the third season of Doctor Who starts March 31st. And, look, here's a list of episode titles, writers and directors!

Not that I have any idea how a good, law-abiding citizen of the United States could watch those episodes in anything resembling a timely manner.

Carla's tale of trying to find a contemporary Iron Man comic for a kid reminded me an awful lot of my days working comics retail. Marvel used to have this peculiar knack for capitalizing on their film release dates with wholly inappropriate material in their promotional comics. Such as a twenty-five cent Hulk comic with an attempted rape but no Hulk. Or an X-Men comic featuring graphic crucifixions when the second film came out. They've gotten marginally better about it, though I do sort of wonder why there was no general audience appealing Ghost Rider comic this month.

Patrick Fillion has some preview pages up for his forth-coming gay barbarian comic, Zahn.
I shouldn't have to tell you that the link above is not safe for work, but be assured it is.

There's also a DC produced web-comic starring John Waters in promotion of his new Court TV television show, 'Til Death Do Us Part. This qualifies John Waters to be a character in Sandman now, right?

Destructoid profiles a game I enjoyed far too much, Pokemon Snap. It was the best puzzle/photography game I ever played. It was the only puzzle/photography game I ever played.
I would absolutely download it if it became available for the Wii Virtual Console.

The Brave and the Bold #1, by Mark Waid, George Perez and Bob Wiacek, published by DC Comics

I'm an unashamed fan of the concept of The Brave and the Bold. There's something very satisfying, on an intrinsic level, about super-hero team-up adventures. It's a great joy and delight for the little kids hidden inside super-hero comics fans. And this latest iteration of the series captures that perfectly. It's big dumb super-heroic adventure, but without the melodrama that has come to dominate the genre of late. Mark Waid's penchant for exhaustive continuity based story-telling is well suited for the concept, and he writes the characters, in this case Batman and Green Lantern, in a way which makes them familiar to long term fans of the characters and sketched in enough for those unfamiliar with a particular character to get an idea of what they're about. Perez was an inspired choice for artist as well, having a broadly appealing style that looks, importantly, suitably super-heroic. His figures "act" well, being very expressive and detailed, yet loose enough to still possess a sense of dynamism. The final product is an unpretentious book which revels in the fun of the shared universe concept.

This is all the fault of Chris Sims, you know.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kid Friendly Reviews 

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil by Jeff Smith, published by DC Comics

It's no exaggeration to say that this is one of the best comics of the year so far, and easily one of the best super-hero comics of recent memory. Smith manages the extremely difficult task of retaining the innocence and child-like charm of the original C.C. Beck Captain Marvel comics, while maintaining the gravitas readers have come to expect from contemporary super-hero comics. The result is a book which feels both nostalgic and modern.

The story is the by-now familiar retelling of Billy Batson's first encounter with the wizard and his bonding with the mighty Captain Marvel. Smith does an excellent job here of portraying the misery of Billy's existence, the horrible conditions he must live in while still possessing an optimistic innocence. A suggestion is made, briefly, that Marvel and the wizard are fantasies of Billy, which only serves to heighten the wish-fullfillment aspect of his transformations into Marvel.

Smith's art is also exceptional here, a nicely detailed work that doesn't stray far from the friendly, rounded world that Beck created. Smith isn't afraid to let the art carry the burden of the story-telling either, going for several pages at a time without words, letting Billy soak in the strangeness of his experiences just as the reader soaks in the art.

The strongest recomendation in the book's favor, though, is that Smith has created a fun, innocent comic for all ages that doesn't shy away from the kid-oriented origin of the material. Smith doesn't try to inject any false notes of seriousness or importance, or attempt to make the work more than a charming fable for adults and children.

Yakari and the Grizzly by Derib and Job, published by Cinebook

I've been filling a gap in my comics collection: I simply don't have enough European comics that aren't attempting to be "high art" available to me. And since I don't care for rampant heterosexuality of Heavy Metal-style comics, and since Trondheim doesn't appeal to me, and iBooks and Humanoids in limbo, what I've been scrounging for are interesting European kid's comics.

Yakari is a Native American boy who can talk to animals and helps them when they're in trouble. In this particular adventure, he helps a group of animals who are being forced to gather food for a bear. It's a very simple story, with a not very threatening menace, and everyone turns out to be all right in the end and very friendly with one another. It's cute, but is clearly on the extreme young end of the kids comic spectrum. It would be a very good book for the younger brother or sister of a child getting into comics with super-hero or manga titles, as it's straight-forward story makes for good practice in reading, and the conflict resolution is handled in a clever and non-violent way.

The art is attractive, and about on a par with other European kid's comic. If you've ever read any Asterix books or Peyo's Smurf comics, you know what to expect, art-wise. The animals are cute, and everything is appealingly stylized against more realistic backgrounds. Again, if you're looking for something for younger children and you want to avoid any potentially problematic content, this is an eminently suitable choice.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Monday Night Reviews 

Elephantmen #6, by Starkings, Moritat and Ladronn, with David Hine and Rob Steen, published by Image Comics

The emphasis is on Sahara in this issue of the sci-fi series. As per usual, a great deal of background on the character is revealed through deft understatement and careful and deliberate plotting. Sahara is a character that, until this point, we've mostly seen in flashbacks, and her portrayal here, as a rather passive fiance to a figure who has largely been made out to be a villain, is in contrast to the assertive personality we've seen in flashbacks. The difference in portrayal is compelling, as it serves as another example of the subtle characterization that marks this series: more is clearly going on here than is being told on the surface level.

First Moon by Jason McNamara and Tony Talbert, published by AIT/Planet Lar

As a follow-up to the same creative team's Continuity, which I found to be an accomlished and impressive debut work, First Moon doesn't quite live up to my expectations. There is a good story here, about teen angst and connecting with seemingly monstrous parents, with a very clever lycanthropic metaphor, but the transistions between that story and the parallel tale of the fall of the Roanoke colony are awkward and forced. It's an intriguing historical mystery, granted, but the tale doesn't quite fully mesh with the teen werewolf story at the heart of the book. That emotional core is strong, though, as in Continuity, and the art, particularly in the action sequences, has an appealingly frenzied and chaotic quality, as well as very impressive and loose character designs which are strongly emotive, but the disparate story threads never quite gel together satisfactorily.



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© 2007 Dorian Wright. Some images are © their respective copyright holders. They appear here for the purposes of review or satire only.