Did I scare you? Bet I did. You sure? Well, you shoulda seen the look on your face! You’d better go check your underoos for under-ooze anyway, my friend!
Ambush Bug here with an extra spooky AICN COMICS column. Along with this week’s normal pull of reviews, we’re dedicating this column to horror comics and dubbing it the…
We take advantage of one of our favorite holidays to dust off some old reviews of books that you might want to look out for if you’re in the mood for something scary to read. This is a column you don’t want to read in the dark! Because, well, that monitor glare will probably hurt your retinas or something.
So check under the bed, lock tight that closet door, and get ready for our spookiest column ever!
(Click title to go directly to the review)
UZUMAKI Vols. 1-3 TPB
ESSENTIAL TOMB OF DRACULA VOL 1-3
RETURN OF THE ELEPHANT/THE WHITE ELEPHANT
ALAN MOORE’S THE COURTYARD
CRIMINAL MACABRE: a cal mcdonald mystery TPB
I, PAPARAZZI TPB
JSA: STRANGE ADVENTURES #3
ESSENTIAL MONSTER OF FRANKENSTEIN TPB
GOON: ROUGH STUFF TPB
1000 STEPS TO WORLD DOMINATION
MIDNIGHT NATION TPB
UZUMAKI Vols. 1-3 (TPB)
Writer/Artist: Junji Ito
Published by Viz Communications
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
Okay, so I’m not quite as big a dork for the horror genre as my brother - that guy actually bought FANGORIA back in the day! – but I do dig on the genre, of that there’s no doubt. And if there’s one trend I’ve noticed of late, it’s the growing influence of Japanese horror concepts. Movies like THE RING, THE GRUDGE, and THE EYE are starting to make a serious impact on horror cinema, and likewise, Japanese horror manga are appearing to refute the notion that the genre is an uneasy fit for comic books. Alas, it’s too easy for the best of horror manga to get lost in the sea of androgynous girlie romance manga on store shelves, but don’t sweat it – I did the research for ya, and if there’s only one manga spook-fest you should be reading, this is it…
Junji Ito’s UZUMAKI.
Not only is it creepy as sin, not only is it drawn with a densely-rendered realism that I suspect will appeal to American tastes over the big-eyed manga that many dislike, but it’s only three volumes long, not one of those 36-volume LONE WOLF & CUB type epics! Here’s the description from the back of the trades that sucked me in almost instantly:
“Korozu-cho, a small fog-bound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral, the hypnotic secret shape of the world. It manifests itself in small ways: seashells, ferns, whirlpools in water, whirlwinds in air. And in large ways: the spiral marks on people’s bodies, the insane obsessions of Shuichi's father, the voice from the cochlea in your inner ear. As the madness spreads, the inhabitants of Kurozu-cho are pulled ever deeper, as if into a whirlpool from which there is no return...”
It sounded freaky as hell and vaguely Lovecraftian, and it was. Through stories drenched in an atmosphere reminiscent of John Carpenter’s mini-classic, THE FOG, Junji Ito reveals a town in which the inhabitants are constantly haunted by eerie phenomena rooted in spiral patterns. The perpetual whirlpools trickling in the nearby streams are unnerving enough, and the spiral patterns of smoke coming from the crematorium are downright eerie, but inevitably, things get reaaaaaally fucking weird…
*A ceramics artist finds that all the pots and plates he’s baking in his kiln come out with spiral distortions in them, ghoulish faces interweaving between the patterns…
*A woman cuts off her fingertips, convinced the spiral patterns of her fingerprints are the latest manifestation of the spiral phenomena…
*A boy struck by a car, his body wrapped around the wheel axel, makes a disturbing return from the grave…
*A strange lump begins growing on a schoolchild’s back, a curious spiral pattern etched into it. As it continues to grow into a hardened hump, he undergoes a vile physical transformation of the likes not seen since David Cronenberg’s remake of THE FLY…
In the first two volumes, almost every chapter (generally running thirty-two pages) is a standalone vignette involving some new iteration of spiral horror. I was somewhat put off at first that there was little connection between them beyond the presence of the two teen leads, and there’s no doubt that there’s an element of formula to these stories. Generally, one or both of the kids discover some new manifestation of the spiral pattern and try to stave it off, ultimately failing and simply trying to maintain their sanity as the manifestations reach gory fruition. Sometimes the townsfolk even witness these events too, leading me to wonder, “Why don’t they clear the hell out?!” But it becomes apparent before long that, like the doomed protagonists of many an H.P. Lovecraft story, these people have become resigned to their fate. They don’t like it – they’ll fight it – but there’s an inevitability to their doom that ultimately prevails. Ito uses the formula to batter the reader with the sheer morbidity of life in Korozu-cho, his ultimate effectiveness leading me to temper many of my initial misgivings.
The third volume takes the book in a different direction. These stories are all connected chapters, and over the course of 250 pages, Ito reveals the epic resolution to the hauntings that plague the town. Expect more new iterations of the spiral phenomena to emerge as in previous volumes, but on a much larger scale as the leads at last sum up the courage – however tainted with hopelessness – to try and escape the town now undergoing a total transformation into something truly not of this earth. Where the previous volumes often revolved around singular moments of shock, UZUMAKI Vol. 3 stretches an ongoing sense of dread over the course of an entire graphic novel to create the darkest chapter of them all.
Visually, UZUMAKI is powerful from the get-go. I’ve since looked at Ito’s first horror comic, TOMIE, and while impressive, it was clearly the work of a developing artist. With UZUMAKI, his experience comes to fruition, and his detailed, menacing artwork is sure to make readers nauseous (in a good way). He reminds me a little of Steve Dillon, in that he’s a consummate draftsman, seemingly unfazed by all the bizarre visuals his own scripts require him to draw. Look, too, for dense hatching reminiscent of the macabre art of Edward Gorey, and even a hint of Robert Crumb’s dense, queasy linework. Potent stuff.
UZUMAKI is a ways off from being perfect, but it’s as close as I’ve ever seen to translating pure horror to comic book form. With its mixture of high concept, doom-laden atmosphere, and occasional outright gross-outs, there’s really nothing like it. And that chapter in the hospital? The one with the plague of mosquitoes, the vast quantities of blood…the newborn babies…?
As Warren Ellis once put it:
“Tell me the last time any book disturbed you. When you give up, buy UZUMAKI.”
ESSENTIAL TOMB OF DRACULA VOL. 1-3 TPB
Written by Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Gardner F. Fox, Chris Claremont, David Kraft, Steve Englehart, Roger McKenzie
Art by Gene Colan, Mike Ploog, Don Heck, Nestor Redondo, Steve Ditko
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
All the vam-pires, walkin' through the Valley/Move west on Ven-tura Boulevard....
Bless me, Talkbacker, for I have sinned. It has been a series of plea bargains since my last confession. I haven't reread all the stories in the volumes I'm about to review. But, to cop out, I own the entire Marv Wolfman/Gene Colan run of TOMB OF DRACULA and have read all those stories before. And I made a point to reread the stories in Volume 3 from the TOD black and white magazine. Not to mention that I've reread a lot of the stories. It's just that in the '70s they gave you a lot of story and artwork for your comic buying dollar because they knew that you still had to buy pot, eight tracks, and Slurpees.
Our friends at Marvel have given us three volumes of ESSENTIAL TOD in pretty quick succession. They must be selling well. Unlike other ESSENTIALS, TOD contains moody Gene Colan artwork that lends itself well to black and white. This is one series where you don't miss the color. You could buy these for the art alone, but you'll want to read the stories as well.
The success of this series also proves, to paraphrase Ray Charles, that there are only two kinds of comics: good and bad. TOD was the good. The very good, in fact.
Gene Colan is one my all time favorite comic book artists. Among other things, he had a great run on BATMAN, was the true definitive artist on DAREDEVIL, drew almost all of HOWARD THE DUCK, did some phenomenal DR. STRANGE (DOC # 14 is included here as part of a crossover with DRACULA), CAPTAIN AMERICA, DR. DOOM, and others. Mr. Colan was a true noir artist. He's giving us the Dracula movie we've always wanted but have never quite seen on screen (and he's also capable of giving us the kind of crime movies we desperately want to see again). You want to talk pacing? Within a single issue, Colan laid out maddening build ups and would finally give us the release of explosive motion. Nobody, but nobody, depicts rapid motion in comics like Gene Colan, whether it's Howard the Duck squawking his way into a fray, Daredevil slamming into Stilt Man, or Juno the Henchman driving his silver stake through Dracula's undead heart!
Marv Wolfman. Let's just say that comic book writers today, and for years to come,have much they could learn from Marv Wolfman. His work on TOD was so highly regarded at the time that it was even questioned whether he could do superhero comics. He could and did with his own creation THE MAN CALLED NOVA (if you only know the Erik Larsen crapfest/relaunch, seek out the originals), THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, THE FANTASTIC FOUR (although I preferred his work on his own insane creation SKULL THE SLAYER). At DC, you might know his work on TEEN TITANS, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS and many others.
But it was TOD where this writer's gifts were allowed to shine darkest. Mr. Wolfman depicted a Dracula who was always evil, never vulnerable, but still somehow had depth and dimension. In those days, no comic creators would have gotten away with keeping the title character out of the book (and they shouldn't get away with it today) but Dracula was usually given just the proper amount of on-panel time. There wasn't a formula to it. Some issues are all Dracula. Some center on his various foes.
Dracula's enemies. The traditional Harker and Van Helsing. Dracula's own descendent Frank Drake. Hannibal King, both vampire and detective. Brother Voodoo. Werewolf by Night. Dr. Strange. Dr. Sun. Lilith, Daughter of Dracula but not wife of Frasier. Satanist Anton Szandor Le Vey.... I mean Anton Lupenski. Your favorite will probably be the character whose movies saved Marvel Comics...Blade. Blade was always cool and way ahead of his time.
My favorite is hack writer Harold H. Harold, which was Marv Wolfman doing a self parody. Harold and the woman he adores (she thinks he's a nerd), his publisher's secretary Aurora Rabinowicz, run afoul of Dracula when Harold promises to bring in an interview with a vampire. Their burglary of a blood bank to help an ailing Drac is worth the price of admission.
It's too late for many of Marvel's current top writers, but I implore you future comic book writers, burn Robert McKee's STORY and instead turn to Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan's TOMB OF DRACULA. You'll be glad you did and those of us who have to read it will feel the same way!
Finally, some fanboys are getting their innards bunched up at message boards because of some changes made in the magazine stories included in Volume 3. Like anybody'd know the difference. The world has bigger problems. I say, get with the spirit of the times in which Marvel published their black and white mags. Smoke a couple of bowls, drink some Yukon Jack, listen to FOX ON THE RUN and you'll be in the mindframe to enjoy the mags and pass 'em on to your cousin when you're sick of 'em.
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: Stefano Caselli
Publisher: Devil’s Due Publishing
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
The last time a publisher stepped into the adventure ring as a serious challenger to champs Marvel and DC, its name was CrossGen and it went down bloodied and humiliated by the third round. Notable contenders before CrossGen have included Bravura, Dark Horse (remember BARB WIRE?), Valiant, and at least two or three other companies founded by Jim Shooter. Of them all, only the ever-impressive Dark Horse is still standing, its diverse line-up having served as its safety net, so can you blame me for being ridiculously skeptical of Devil’s Due throwing its hat into the superhero game?
These guys might not be fly-by-night, having bolstered their nostalgia titles (G.I. JOE, VOLTRON) with video game fare (STREET FIGHTER), cult movie spin-offs (ARMY OF DARKNESS), and a few original concepts (the quite-fun HACK/SLASH)…but really, pitting original superhero concepts against the Big Two?
Honestly, people. Do you want to go bankrupt?
And yet, for what it’s worth, the first outing of this insane attempt ain’t half bad. It comes courtesy of vet superhero writer Marv Wolfman (THE NEW TEEN TITANS, TOMB OF DRACULA) and Italian artist, Stefano Caselli, and reminds me of nothing so much as Marvel’s cult hit, RUNAWAYS. It’s a team book, its leads made up of a group of college students working on a group project involving radical genetic theory. Bit of the same ol’, same ol’ in that idea – “unlocking the untapped human potential” and whatnot – but Wolfman’s writing is surprisingly solid. I’ll be honest – I was expecting his stuff to come across as quaint and out-of-date, the sad fate of so many ‘70s/’80s greats, but he’s evolved pretty nicely. He stills veers a bit into melodrama and the occasional “old school” moment, but the guy’s clearly been watching his teen drama TV shows. In fact, his sensibilities seem uniquely suited to bringing a modern voice to an old-fashioned, plot-driven superhero book that’s approachable to younger readers.
In this first issue, our cast of oddballs finds themselves manipulated by sinister, as-yet-revealed powers into working on the same lab team for a university course. They’re doing stuff with trendy nanotechnology, the sci-fi concept which looks to do for 21st century superpowers what radiation did in the 20th century: kick-start ‘em! Long story short, the kids work up all kinds of crazy theories, get drunk one night, experiment on themselves (some plot hooks never change…), then have a skirmish with a special ops team apparently sent to retrieve them. For a jaded follower of escapist comics like myself, it’s all pretty old hat, but if I were twelve or thirteen a comic like this would probably be a pretty cool change of pace from Superman and the X-Men. It’s superhero concepts without superhero codenames and costumes, creating that veneer of realism that’s so important to most kids (and plenty of adults).
And the series looks good. Lush colors give it the unique look of a European comic album, and Stefano Caselli’s slightly comical href=http://www.newsarama.com/Devils_Due/Aftermath/defex_04.jpg target=_blank>character designs are a pleasure to see. I first noticed his distinctive style on the tongue-in-cheek, nouveau slasher comic, HACK/SLASH, and he’s clearly going to be a talent to watch. He’s got an animator’s eye for facial expressions that reminds me of J. Scott Campbell’s art, all the more fitting since DEFEX has something of the original appeal of GEN 13 (minus the extreme T&A). At this point, no single character is strong enough for me to really care about them, but Caselli’s work at least makes me want to like them.
And so…a decent debut. I think it’s interesting that Devil’s Due is deliberately marketing their new superhero series (the line is dubbed “Aftermath”) with such retro tones. For instance, Devil’s Due president Josh Blalock writes as an afterword to the comic that he wanted every first issue to establish all the main characters, their powers, and their central conflicts. He also wants cliffhanger endings and is specifically promoting that these books are to be serials only – no initial plans for trades. It’s either audacious or suicidal – probably the latter - but I’m old-school enough to have to grin at the cajones behind it. I suggest at least giving this first issue a look if you’ve got any kind of similar old-school sensibilities. Alternatively…not a bad book for teen readers. While the storytelling is traditional, supposedly the Aftermath line will strive for realism of story…yet not at the expense of fast-paced fun.
We’ll see. I’m a ways off from thinking the line has a real chance, but Devil’s Due doesn’t need to pull in vast numbers or actually unseat Marvel and DC – they just need to survive and find their niche. Worked for companies like Valiant, at least for a time, and I’d say DEFEX is at least a match for Valiant’s output in terms of craftsmanship.
RETURN OF THE ELEPHANT
Creator: Paul Hornschemeier
Publisher: House Books
THE WHITE ELEPHANT
Creators: Damon Hurd, Christopher Steininger
Publisher: Alternative Comics
Reviewed by: Lizzybeth
People have been talking a lot of shit around here about Indie Comics; mostly it’s the sort of people who think Dark Horse is small press and stories about real people are boring and depressing. I feel that there is room for more in comics than escapism. You’d have a hard time finding a bigger sci-fi fan than me (try.) but still, I’d rather face the complicated, strange real world than focus entirely on fantasy. The comics medium has too much potential, too much power, to be limited to one genre only.
So here are these two comics. Not the easiest of reads, both pretty dark. But these guys are masters at expressing themselves through comics, all-stars of the emotional sucker punch. While these two projects have a lot in common, they also showcase some of the variety that is possible in comics. Both are published in a unique one-shot format – RETURN OF THE ELEPHANT is a tall, thin staple-bound book about 9x5 inches, while THE WHITE ELEPHANT is a wide, thick volume about 7x10 inches. RETURN is a simple, spare two-panel per page two-color affair, while WHITE is wordy white-on-black splash, with Sienkewitz-ish artwork boxing in the heavy type. One work is emotionally intense; the other is so detached as to be ghostly.
I have to suppose that it’s a coincidence that these two unrelated books with “elephant” titles hit my shelves in the same week, but it’s an instructive one. You all know the parable of the elephant in the room? The elephant is something that appears in your midst, where people are gathered in conversation that takes up enormous space in the room. It sucks up all the air. It’s a freaking living, breathing elephant, that’s not supposed to be there. And it’s so bizarre and troubling that everyone in the room pretends it’s not there. Even though everyone is enormously conscious of the presence of an elephant in the room, and it becomes in a strange way the focus of the gathering, it will never once enter into conversation. The old “If You Ignore It It Will Go Away” strategy. Both of these comics are all about the elephant in the room, and the elephant in both is something that almost nobody wants to talk about.
First, Paul Hornschemeier, who is one of the most exciting new artists to appear in comics for some time. His FORLORN FUNNIES (not funny, but certainly forlorn) produced a powerful graphic novel last year in MOTHER, COME HOME that has left me salivating for more. He’s just so good at getting to you. Reading his comics, you can feel cold fingers squeezing around your heart. His protagonist in that story, little Thomas Tennant, was a character you cared about even as you could see a harsh fate in store for him, because he was so good-hearted and sympathetic. In RETURN OF THE ELEPHANT, the characters are not sympathetic in the least, but you do feel something for them, a complicated mixture of disgust and pity that is never asked for but somehow earned. Hornschemeier’s artwork is so expressive. It’s very simple, but so masterfully designed that the most minimal scene can speak volumes.
It will be difficult to talk about RETURN OF THE ELEPHANT without revealing some of the discoveries that make it so effective, which means I will have to describe it in some maddeningly vague manner that won’t convince you of how good it is. So let me explain the effect that this comic, and much of Hornschemeier’s work, had on me. This comic bothered me. It left me with the unsettling feeling that, on some level, somewhere, it must be true. RETURN OF THE ELEPHANT is more of a character study than anything else, and the characters it studies are unlike anything you’re used to seeing. But it portrays them so effectively that I don’t doubt the accuracy. And when you’re finished reading the comic, it’s a necessity to turn back through the pages and see certain images with new eyes… and shudder. Skin care cream. Kids playing soccer. The worn, tired face of a man who deserves no pity. The boy on the back cover with an elephant mask and an inscrutable expression; I think he looks terrified. Who is he? Who is the “cousin” who comes to visit, who looks like a backyard animal with bags under his eyes? It troubles me. It’s not frightening in a Halloween sort of way, but in a deeply sad, incomprehensible way.
A near relative to Hornschemeier’s book, even though it looks nothing like it, is THE WHITE ELEPHANT by Damon Hurd and Christopher Steininger. This “thinly veiled autobiography” uses a dream sequence / morality play dialogue between a young man named Gene and his therapist to explain why he hasn’t spoken to his family in ten years. How thinly veiled? If you read Hurd’s MY UNCLE JEFF last year, you’ll know it’s not very. You’ll also know the terrible secret behind the white elephant that Gene sees whenever he tries to talk to his cousin Johnny. The two guys were once very close, but now the guilt is too overwhelming for Gene, making it impossible for Gene to even think of his mother’s side of the family without seeing the elephant. Even though it was never Gene’s fault, he feels responsible for the abuse that the family never speaks of, that he should have been able to protect his loved ones from.
If you have or know someone who has coped with a legacy of sexual abuse, THE WHITE ELEPHANT will strike a familiar chord. One of the lingering effects that this book deals with is the ongoing aftershocks that go through a family that has to choose sides between victims and the accused, and how painful it is to cut ties with people that they still love. Who may not have had anything directly to do with what happened. Who they may miss terribly, but are tied to such terrible memories that to see them anymore could be a threat to sanity. You can tell that the author is exorcising a number of demons here, and he conveys the experience so well that you understand just what he’s going through. I never had a chance to rave about MY UNCLE JEFF on this site, but that was a terrific real-life tribute to Hurd’s favorite uncle, done with great affection and insight. That volume demonstrates just how much family means to the author, and as a companion volume shows just how difficult it would be to sever ties, even with family members detrimental to his well-being. In a way, it’s a courageous book, honest and painful, that a great many people will be grateful for.
In conclusion I must suggest that, even if these two particular books don’t strike your fancy, there is still so much in indie comics for you to try. If you find yourself giving up on some of your regular titles, couldn’t that money go towards trying something new? At no loss to you, with money you would have spent anyway, whole worlds will open up to you. They may be worlds that look much like your own, but you will see them in a whole new way. It’s worth a try.
ALAN MOORE’S “THE COURTYARD” TPB
Writer: Alan Moore
Sequential Adaptation: Antony Johnston and Alan Moore
Artist: Jacen Burrows
Published by Avatar Press
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
Avatar Press is best known to me as the comic book company that produces material that makes me embarrassed for the whole medium. The biggest offenders in their line-up are “bad girl” books like Demonslayer, Threshold, and Hellina. Lately, though, the company’s been making a bid for credibility by bringing aboard the likes of Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, and yes, Alan Moore. You’ve got to wonder what Avatar’s offering ‘em that’s such an enticement. My guess? Total, unfettered creative freedom to write whatever twisted, outrageous stories they want with zero editorial interference. Now at a glance, the Ennis and Ellis stuff hasn’t been up my alley, and I’m still not fond of the murky gray-tone aesthetic that seems to inform all the Avatar art, but when funnybook deity Alan Moore makes a showing, I take notice. When it turns out that Alan Moore has actually penned an homage to the mythology of H.P. Lovecraft, I actually have to investigate…
First up, a mild disclaimer: While I consider myself to be a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, I’ve hardly devoured all of his material with the fervor of his most ardent fans. As a result, some of the nuances of this creepy little two-parter may have been lost on me. For instance, I didn’t know that the mini was adapted from an Alan Moore prose story featured in the 1995 Lovecraft tribute anthology, THE STARRY WISDOM. That info came from my consultant for this review, an esteemed scholar of all things Cthulhu, whom I shall refer to simply as “Reverend Nye”. The Reverend tells me that the anthology as a whole was pretty “eh”, but he thought the comic was an entertaining read, and so did I. There’s a peculiar kind of pleasure to be found in Lovecraftian stories as you’re drawn into a murky and bleak world in which no depth of paranoia is without merit. I’d even call it a voyeuristic thrill. The reader knows full well that the protagonist is going to go mad, get killed, or in some unutterably alien way, get fucked over - it’s just a matter of how…
The subject of THE COURTYARD’s descent into madness is Aldo Sax, an FBI investigator with a perpetual scowl and more than a passing resemblance to Lovecraft himself (well, a butched-up Lovecraft anyway). With Alan Moore, these allusions are never coincidental, so it comes as no surprise that the detective’s narration is also laced with racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic thoughts – an acknowledgment, presumably, that these unpleasant views were among the all-too-real demons Lovecraft never exorcised. Asshole or not, Sax is still good at what he does, and his specialty is “anomaly theory”, picking up on unusual patterns that others might miss in murders and the like. In the words of his own narration:
“…it’s like taking the leftover pieces from various jigsaws and seeing what picture they make when you put them together.”
The concept is very much up Moore’s alley. This is the guy who’s built an entire writing style out of finding ironic synchronicity between seemingly unrelated events, even taking the concept to metaphysical levels since he began exploring the world of magick.
In THE COURTYARD, Agent Sax is investigating a series of dismemberment-packed murders, and his investigation takes him to a drug-heavy music club. The band’s lyrics seem alien and indecipherable, there’s word of a new drug named “Aklo”, and what’s with the weirdo dealer who wears a yellow veil that obscures everything below his eyes? Here’s where the synopsis ends – after all, the descent itself into increasingly inescapable horrors is the appeal of Lovecraft. Suffice to say, Moore finds some innovative new ways to bring the horrors of The Great Old Ones into a modern setting, and he obviously had some fun aping the distinctively pulp sensibility of Lovecraft’s narrators:
“Club Zothique: a strange neon cancer grown out from the crumbling stone of a waterfront church…”
Or how about:
“Hypodermics crunch underfoot, frosting the cobblestones with glass in a scintillant Disney-dust.”
At two issues, the story felt a little on the short side and failed to cast that truly gloomy pall upon me that the best Lovecraft stories can do, but even a quick dip into that world yields some enjoyably grim rewards. Real gripes? Well, I still don’t think much of Avatar’s gray-tone shading. It lacks punch and tends to make entire panels look flat, but the actual penciller – Jacen Burrows – is no slouch. His detailed and wholly linear work reminds me of a Geof Darrow in training. I wonder if perhaps his style is too literal for some of the more hallucinatory sequences, but otherwise, no complaints.
My consultant, Reverend Nye, tells me that the only real problem he had with the book was that Moore name-drops references to Lovecraft stories, their inspirations, and the stories they inspired, at the drop of a hat. Literally dozens of references. Didn’t bother me much, as I only caught a handful of the obvious ones (like a painting from the infamous Pickman of “Pickman’s Model”), but hardcore fans may find it distracting like the Rev did. He likened the experience to “taking a Lovecraft bath”. I figure that might be fun for some folks, but I wonder if Moore is perhaps too enamored of showcasing his breadth of literary knowledge? Certainly I’ve found his work on LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN VOL. II to suffer a bit from that particular malady.
Serious H.P. fans should pick this up. Even if the name-dropping gets to you, well…it’s still a mind-bending Alan Moore story! Casual fans should seek it out, too. You might find it a bit slight, but…it’s still a mind-bending Alan Moore story! And for those of you completely unfamiliar with the works of Howard Philip Lovecraft, consider it your first sample of his peculiar brand of madness, then check out his own stuff to really mess up your head.
CRIMINAL MACABRE: a cal mcdonald mystery TPB
Story: Steve Niles
Art: Ben Templesmith
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Those who follow my reviews know that I rarely venture outside the realm of straight-up, standard, super hero books. A book outside of the Big Two companies has to be something pretty special for me to read it. Currently, outside of Marvel and DC, I read Eric Powell’s THE GOON because there’s nothing more fun on the shelves today. And SLEEPER and EX MACHINA are a few other titles I pick up, thanks to the advice of my fellow @$$holes. All of these books provide stuff that I just can’t get from the Big Two companies. One thing I found lacking on the comic racks of late is a good old scary comic. Well, I think I found a book to whet my appetite for horror done right. CRIMINAL MACABRE is that book.
I’ve said it before. Horror is probably the toughest thing to do in comics. For me, the thing that really gets me—the thing that really scares the bejeezus out of me—is the unknown. It’s the thing that makes me pull my covers to my nose at night when I think I hear a sound in my apartment just as I’m teetering on the edge of sleep. You know the feeling. Your eyes weigh. You start to breathe steadily and heavily. Everything starts to drift away…and then something shifts in the corner of your room. You open your eyes. Try not to move. Hold your breath. You strain to see through the darkness, wondering if those half-shadows that line the walls are moving. Is that breathing you hear? Is someone there, in the dark, holding its breath, knowing that you’re awake, watching you, and waiting?
The problem is, comics are a visual medium. You can’t draw the unknown. If you could draw the unknown…well…then…it wouldn’t be unknown then, would it? Because fear and the unknown are so inextricably linked, it is very hard to convey scary things in little four color panels. I believed this. I thought this to be true. I couldn’t remember one comic that truly scared me. And then I was introduced to the twisted works of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith.
With 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, this team of storytellers showed me that you could, in fact, be frightened while reading a comic. I’m talking about real, spooky, shouldn’t be read alone type of scares. Niles slick pacing and fresh and twisted ideas kept me guessing and fearing what was to come around the next corner. Templesmith added to the mix by creating an atmospheric and mysterious world filled with truly horrific creatures.
CRIMINAL MACABRE: A CAL MCDONALD MYSTERY introduced me to Cal McDonald, a cocky private dick who has seen and done it all. In an interview at the end of issue #1, Cal explains his view of the world. “To me there really isn’t any ‘unknown.’ It’s all real.” Cal knows that supernatural things walk the earth. He fights werewolves in museums and tracks vampires in singles bars. He takes cases involving severed heads and blood-drained corpses. His partner is a ghoul. The thing is, he’s the only human who believes they exist. Every other person on the police force thinks Cal is off his nut. But he solves the tough cases, so they put up with his “eccentric” theories. Cal is Kolchak rated NC-17. He’s Fox Mulder unleashed, without the level-headed Scully to ground him and tell him that his theories are scientifically improbable. Cal knows the supernatural exists and to him, their sole existence seems to be to cause him a lot of trouble and a bottle of painkillers full of pain.
What I like about Cal is the fact that he is never shown without some form of bandage on his person. He’s a fallible hero who can and most assuredly will get hurt while fighting these supernatural forces. He’s real in that he feels the pain as he dives face-first into any ghoulish gauntlet to solve a case. Cal McDonald is a truly human hero fighting against unknown terrors with only a bottle of cheap liquor, a shotgun, and a boatload of cynicism.
Niles and Templesmith have developed an entire world for Cal to shuffle around in. They treat werewolves, vampires, and the undead as different races, warring for supremacy, and slaughtering humans if they get in their way or if they get hungry. Issue two has a nice bit of exposition with Cal and his “ghoul-friend,” Mo’Lock. Mo explains the differences between werewolves, vampires, ghouls, and zombies. The dialog is quick and crisp.
Cal: Any idea where all this started? You know, where you all came from?
Mo’Lock: Do you know where your kind comes from?
Cal: Do you have to answer every question with a question?
Mo’Lock: As long as you ask questions that I have no answers.
Cal: You mind it? Being a ghoul, I mean?
Mo’Lock: As much as you mind being a human, I presume.
Great stuff. Even when the page is filled with word balloons, Niles makes the dialog interesting and fun to read. At the heart of this book is a mystery, and every conversation unravels it just a bit more. As I read this book, I found myself conflicted because I want to see the mystery solved, but I don’t want this miniseries to end. Cal McDonald is the best new character I have read in comics this year and I hope to see more of him in the future.
And about those scares. Without Templesmith’s amazing artwork, this book would not have the visceral impact that it does. The art is gritty and grainy. You have to search a bit to fully understand what is going on. Everything is not defined. Things are deeply shadowed and obscured. Those unknowns that I talked about earlier? The ones that cause the chills? This book is filled with them. The scary stuff isn’t what you see in the panel, but what you don’t see. Templesmith’s art harnesses those deep unknowns without diminishing the impact of a mouth full of teeth charging at you or a form in the corner whispering your name. The art could be compared to Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mack, Ted McKeever, or even Gene Colan, but Templesmith has really come into his own with this series. His characters are more consistent and legible from one panel to the next (a criticism I had with the 30 DAYS OF NIGHT book).
The mystery is swirling. Cal is getting the shit kicked out of him in every issue. The monsters are scary and the dialog is sharp. Anyone who gets that little smile when they get scared will love this book. Check this series out. Savor it. Soak it in. Niles and Templesmith know horror. They know the detective genre. They know mood and atmosphere and noir. I’m sure Marvel is dying to snap these guys up to do some kind of watered down version of one of their horror properties. Don’t jump on then when inept editorial advice hinders their raw talent. Catch these guys now while they’re ripe and hot. CRIMINAL MACABRE is top notch comics entertainment. It takes the genre seriously and introduces us to a world that is rarely done correctly in comics. CRIMINAL MACABRE is horror comics done right.
I, PAPARAZZI TPB
Writer: Pat McGreal
Artists: Stephen Parke and Stephen John Phillips
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
I love conspiracy stories. From sci-fi angles (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS), to reality-based paranoia (THE INSIDER), to outright nonsense (Oliver Stone’s JFK), I can’t get enough of the creepy-cool vibe that occurs when good people uncover things that they shouldn’t. Except…they don’t have to be good people, right? In I, PAPARAZZI, the lead character happens to be a scumbag named Jake McGowran, a hardboiled paparazzo who tracks his celebrity prey so relentlessly that he’s earned the nickname “Monster.” He digs through celebrity garbage bins for incriminating evidence, takes amphetamines to give him the energy for the brutal stakeouts, and as the story opens, is riding high after photographing a supposedly straight actor kissing his gay lover.
Nice guy, huh? Truth be told, he is kind of likeable in the story’s context. To begin with, his first-person narrative is so over-the-top that it’s borderline hilarious. Take, for example, his defense of his profession to the reader: “How would you feel if you had to spend your life chasing after a bunch of preening fuckheads while your dreams got so moldy you could cure the clap with ‘em?” Raymond Chandler, meet Andrew Dice Clay. McGowran also earns a few sympathy points as we learn about his mysterious past and what led him to such a vile living, and there’s just the vaguest, most ephemeral hint of “white knight” about him. Mostly, though, he’s an entertaining scumbag to watch, compelling in his relentless drive to bring down celebrities with his camera. Credit writer Pat McGreal, the innovative writer behind such undervalued Vertigo projects as CHIAROSCURO, a Leonardo da Vinci biographical sketch, and VEILS, an erotic Victorian melodrama.
The first thing that’ll grab you about this original graphic novel isn’t the story, though, or the characterization or even the high concept – it’s the visuals. I, PAPARAZZI sidesteps the traditional storytelling tools of pen, brush, ink, and paint, opting instead for a series of sequential photographs overlaid with text. It’s a technique often referred to as “fumetti,” and sometimes disparaged for its artlessness. This is a fairly well-crafted use of the process, though, with substantial Photoshop tweaking for mood and special effects. It certainly fits the subject of the story, even if it’s a little ways off from being perfect. The characters within often look posed, and extremes of emotion on faces that would look fine as drawings seem a little silly when frozen in photographs. On the other hand, it’s a suitably gaudy approach for what surely can be described as a gaudy story – you just have to work through that initial barrier against comics-by-way-of-photos. In the same way that you become acclimated to the initial strangeness of, say, animation on the big screen, I suspect it won’t take more than a few pages to be drawn into PAPARAZZI’s surreal, weirdly vivid world.
And surreal it is. After being introduced to a trio of rival paparazzi, all of them entertaining and oddball characters, we follow a night in McGowran’s life as he sets out to find the most incriminating shots possible of a pretty-boy celebrity who’s garnered his hatred. Events take a turn for the bizarre when he tracks his quarry to a members-only shindig, stakes out a nearby stairwell, and begins snapping photos of party-goers that include Drew Barrymore, Salmon Rushdie, Matt Groening, and…Andy Kaufman?! But wait…isn’t he supposed to be dead? And what about that glimpse of Bob Crane from HOGAN’S HEROES? He’s dead too. Suddenly McGowran’s thoughts drift back to the previously ignored rantings of his fellow paparazzo, Ollie Beck, whose conspiracy theories of secret societies and power elite cabals are tinged with supernatural goings-on in the traditions of H.P. Lovecraft. I’d been enjoying the book’s sleaze-laced melodrama up till this point, but the appearance of an utterly unexpected conspiracy hook marked the point when I was officially won over.
The twists and turns to follow I won’t spoil, but I will say that they’re a mixture of high points and disappointments. Paranoia stories inevitably peak during their rising action, as the protagonists first begin to piece together clues to whatever mysterious forces are at work around them, and consequently, some of them fall apart in the last act when the cards are finally placed on the table. I, PAPARAZZI is one of those stories, but its fall is more like a bad landing after an otherwise stunning gymnastic routine - a mild letdown that’s still worth the price of admission.
After enjoying Pat McGreal’s work on CHIAROSCURO, VEILS, and now, I, PAPARAZZI, I’ve officially found a place for him on my writers-to-watch list. Unfortunately, he remains an unknown quantity for most readers because his work is offbeat even for Vertigo, and DC’s marketing of his work hasn’t been the best. If I hadn’t picked up the book on a total whim, I’d have had no idea that what appears to be a straightforward melodrama on the surface is actually tinged with both paranoia and the paranormal. And that’s why I’m spreading the gospel to you guys ‘n’ gals. PAPARAZZI isn’t the Second Coming, but if you’re a fan of celebrity culture, conspiracy theories, hardboiled assholes, or the works of H.P. Lovecraft, there’s a good chance you’ve missed out on a graphic novel that’s up your alley. Give it a look.
JSA STRANGE ADVENTURES #3
Writer: Kevin J. Anderson
Artists: Barry Kitson and Gary Erskine
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Sleazy G
I wasn’t sure quite what to expect of this series. I haven’t read any of Anderson’s work in comics, and the only novels I’ve read from him were some STAR WARS novels that left me unimpressed a decade ago. Still, I’ve always enjoyed stories involving the original JSA, and have ever since I encountered some of the characters in a 1970’s giant-sized reprint of the November 1940 ALL-STAR COMICS #3, in which the JSA first formed while sharing a Thanksgiving dinner. I’d never heard of these characters at the time, but they caught my attention immediately. There was action, sure—but there were also some surprisingly weird segments as well. Each of the members relates a little story of some menace they defeated. The Hawkman one, which one would expect to be straightforward action, turned out to be much creepier—strange molten creatures tied to the eruption of Krakatoa, if I remember correctly. The ones from Dr. Fate and The Spectre really stood out as well. It was the first time I’d run across this type of supernaturally slanted character, and it opened up my mind to the potential these stories had in comics. It still didn’t completely prepare me to have my young mind blown away by Dr. Strange’s adventures, but it certainly laid a lot of groundwork and cemented a love for these characters that has lasted a lifetime. I’ve kept up with various members of the JSA ever since, and they remain some of my favorite characters.
The main storyline in STRANGE ADVENTURES details the arrival of a new nemesis for the JSA named Lord Dynamo. He’s hanging out around New York, commandeering the airwaves, and telling everybody he’s a benefactor of humanity. He’s offered to cure disease, end hunger, supply weapons to defeat the Nazis, write new symphonies…the usual bad guy stuff, y’know? While the public is willing to accept Dynamo’s offers at face value, the JSA is a little less convinced of his good intentions. This is probably because they keep running into cyborgs built from the reanimated dead hanging around Lord Dynamo’s zeppelin, trying to steal power and commandeering crucial communications systems like The Shadow’s radio show. Meanwhile, in the backup story, Johnny Thunder is finally getting the big break he always wanted: to write for a pulp magazine. One of the editors over at AMAZING STORIES has decided that Johnny’s got some great material, thanks to his experiences with the JSA. Unfortunately, he’s got no real writing talent, so the editor hooks Johnny up with a ghostwriter to show Johnny the ropes. Johnny’s as enthusiastic and clueless as ever, of course—but still manages to find a way to shine, just like he always does.
Lord Dynamo has asked one simple thing from the people of New York before he goes out and single-handedly saves the world: give him Green Lantern’s ring and Starman’s cosmic rod. The heroes know they can’t trust Dynamo, but haven’t figured out what he’s up to yet, and the clock is ticking—they have to make their decision soon and give it to him before he’ll move forward with helping everybody out. With limited options, and wondering if the tradeoff might not be worth it, GL and Starman agree to give up their items. Before they get the chance, though, Johnny Thunder crashes the stage and stops them, with exactly the kind of stirring speech about the nature of heroism that Johnny can always be counted on to contribute. His words convince the people that Dynamo’s promises come at too high a cost, but that causes Dynamo to lash out and take what he needs, draining the city of electricity.
This is the kind of story that has to be handled very carefully. There’s a great deal of potential for modern-day cynicism or for retrofitting elements into the story that don’t quite belong there. So far, though, we’re halfway through the miniseries and there hasn’t been a hint of that. Admittedly, there’s a little commentary going on in Johnny Thunder’s back-story—the decline of the pulps as they lose popularity and its affect on the writers can be viewed as a parallel to the conditions of the comics industry, I suppose. It’s not really a focal point, though. It’s just a quiet little moment in the background, and it’s not handled in a heavy-handed or preachy manner. It’s just a tiny bit of bittersweet subtext for those looking for that sort of thing.
The story contains all the elements fans of the JSA want. It’s got a huge cast of great characters that were the inspiration that everything that came after them. It’s got adventure, it’s got science, it’s got a hint of the supernatural, and it’s got a pointed reminder of what the heroes mean and why their values are important. I know it’s got a daunting price tag at $3.50, but it’s also got 30 full pages of story, though, instead of the usual 22 we get nowadays for 50 cents or a dollar less. The longer issues don’t feel like filler either—it feels like more meat being added to the story. It’s well worth the extra money to get to spend a little extra time with these classic characters. We’re only three issues in, which means it’ll be easy enough for anyone who wants to give the series a shot to track down the couple of previous issues. It’s great to see this kind of traditional storytelling told so well, reminding us all of why we liked comic books in the first place.
ESSENTIAL MONSTER OF FRANKENSTEIN TPB
Writers: Gary Friedrich, Doug Moench & Bill Mantlo
Artists: Mike Ploog, John Buscema, Val Mayerik, Don Perlin & Bob Brown
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
Always been a fan of ol’ Frankie. Talkin’bout the one with the bolts in his neck, not the Chairman of the Board (though he’s alright too). And I suppose I should say “Frankenstein Monster”, not Frankenstein, because it’s not the monster’s creator that generations of young monster fans have learned to root for – we want the behemoth with the stitches! That particular bit of name confusion always struck me as analogous to the whole “Captain Marvel/Shazam” mix-up, being one of those mistakes even fans make sometimes.
But the real question I had in approaching ESSENTIAL MONSTER OF FRANKENSTEIN was…am I fan enough to read twenty-five damn issues of his tragic wanderings? ‘Cause that’s what you get in this bizarre tome of black and white reprints, the first serious challenger to ESSENTIAL ANT-MAN for the greatest abuse of the word “essential” in a Marvel comic collection. That’s right, twenty-five issues of various Frankenstein-themed Marvel comics and magazines from the horror boom of the ‘70s. It’s a sort of companion piece to the ESSENTIAL TOMB OF DRACULA series, though the writing is rarely up to Marv Wolfman’s standards, the art, while strong in spots, can’t match the shadowy genius of Gene Colan, and the Monster as a character just isn’t the charismatic personality that Dracula is.
So how the hell do these stories work?
Somewhat shakily, as it turns out, though the first third is quite a bit of fun. The series, originally titled MONSTER OF FRANKENSTEIN, opens with four issues that retell the Mary Shelley goth classic that started the legend. The concept writer Gary Friedrich came up with is that in the year 1898, an arctic expedition is mounted by the great-grandson of the ship captain who witnessed the final struggles of Victor Frankenstein and his monster in those icy wastelands. Flashbacks to the original novel (real history in the comic) give readers a pretty good Cliff Notes version of “what came before”, even as the great-grandson and his crew of course discover the monster frozen in ice…yet still alive! I swear, if the guy who first cooked up the notion of frozen suspended animation had copyrighted the idea, he’d have died a rich man…
I’ll cut some details here, but suffice to say, the creature awakens, inadvertently kills some crewmen (in the first of dozens of such misunderstandings – it’s almost comical how often this ostensibly “good” monster kills!), and after the ship goes down, the monster and a handful of survivors make it to shelter. What’s coolest about these early issues is that this is so clearly the Monster of the novel – hideous to look at, but unlike the Monster popularized in the Karloff flick, fully capable of speech and surprisingly articulate. Still, the keynote of these stories is tragedy, and while the Monster makes his peace with the great-grandson of the last man to know his creator, said great-grandson dies as surely as every other halfway decent person the Monster meets. And so the monster begins his tragic wanderings, his goal to find and kill the final descendant of Victor Frankenstein, though predictably he ends up trying to help people along the way. It’s all a bit shamelessly reminiscent of the Hulk’s wanderings, ironic as hell since FRANKESNTEIN is surely second only to DR. JEKYLL AND MISTER HYDE in having inspired Stan Lee’s monstrous creation.
Beyond the creature’s intelligence and the novelty of adventures in turn-of-the-century Europe, the most notable hook of these early issues is the dense, detailed art of Mike Ploog. Ploog might not be a name to many readers nowadays, but he was one of the stalwarts of Marvel’s ‘70s comics, especially in the fantasy and horror genres. Happily for those genres, Ploog was also one of the rare artists who wasn’t notably riffing off of Jack Kirby’s larger-than-life superhero style. His stuff seems to be more from the Burne Hogarth school of dynamic realism and the Will Eisner school of noir. He’s the only artist in this collection who really captures the sad droop of the Monster’s face, and he puts so much detail into his backgrounds that when the legendary John Buscema takes over for him, Buscema’s stuff ends up looking notably throwaway. It’s just too bad Ploog only stayed onboard for six issues, having apparently decided to leave when the decision was made to bring the monster into modern times.
Check out Ploog’s splash page of the Monster guiding a raft on a storm-tossed sea – pretty nice, huh?
Propelled by Friedrich’s purple prose, the Monster wanders Europe for several issues, encountering every staple of classic monster yarns in the book - gypsies, werewolves, giant spiders, dungeons, and cleavage-baring maidens. There’s a certain doomed, dismal quality to these stories that reminded me of the morbid “Tales of the Black Freighter” pirate comic that recurs throughout WATCHMEN. The monster tries to help the locals and does find brief moments of acceptance, but inevitably ends up manipulated, inevitably ends up leaving a trail of dead bodies, inevitably ends up moving on. The writing’s not great, but it has its moments of hyperbolic fun, especially when the Monster’s whuppin’ ass:
“As the villagers stare in disbelief, a huge arm swings backward and then rapidly forward with the strength and speed of a crossbow, hurling a single limp form into the crowd as if it were a man-sized arrow! Bones break in that awful impact! Men DIE!”
On the other hand, as with so many over-written old comics, half the time you want the writers to shut the hell up and let the pictures do more of the storytelling. These writers surely never envisioned these comics being collected, though, so you have to forgive them a bit for their excesses and repetition of themes (I swear to God, the phrase “paroxysm of violence” must appear at least a half dozen times). On a monthly or bi-monthly release schedule, the stories probably stood alone just fine, but taken as a whole – though the stories are connected by continuity – reading ‘em in one sitting can get painful.
A little over half of the trade is devoted to the Monster’s adventures in the modern world, and these were the ones I had the hardest time plodding through. The Monster loses his capacity for speech in these stories and essentially becomes just a hokey plot device. He’s manipulated by mad neurosurgeons, tricked into murder at a costume party, and even finds himself on a train where assassins are out to kill the President. A big chunk of these stories were from Marvel’s adult-oriented black and white horror magazines of the era – translation: grislier violence and many more glimpses of half-nekkid chicks – but the plotting by the likes of Doug Moench is really just as dopey as the plotting in the comic stories. Thing is, it somehow seems worse since the monster’s so useless and really doesn’t fit into a modern setting anyway.
On the plus side, the art in some of the magazine stories is quite nice. John Buscema redeems his hackwork on previous issues and Val Mayerik’s becomes the series’ regular artist, outdoing Ploog when it comes to sheer line density and bringing at least a sense of maturity to the concept with his impressive gray-tone washes.
All told, I leave the collection with very mixed feelings. About half the stories are fun, but you really need to appreciate the art and/or have a love of the Frankenstein Monster to enjoy them, and there’s not a single one that’s great. They’re definitely interesting as cultural artifacts, though, with a certain enjoyment to be had in watching Doug Moench combining gothic themes with bad 70’s dialogue (“Damn! He smashed the dude’s skull! Now I won’t be able to use his body!”), and the final story by Bill Mantlo is just plain weird with its robot antagonist that talks like the Recorder robot from Marvel’s cosmic-themed stories.
Looks like the ideal melding of comic art and Frankenstein themes remains Bernie Wrightson’s out-of-print illustrated edition of the original novel, but for a mere seventeen bucks, ESSENTIAL MONSTER OF FRANKENSTEIN does have its moments…strange though they are.
THE GOON ROUGH STUFF TPB
Writer/Artist: Eric Powell
Publisher: Albatross Exploding Funny Books
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
In 1999, Bill Clinton was cleared of all charges in his impeachment trial. George Harrison was attacked and stabbed in his Oxford mansion by a loony loon bird. The world lost Joe DiMaggio, Stanley Kubrick, Oliver Reed, and John F. Kennedy Jr. Teletubby Tinky Winky was outed as a homosoexual role model. And I was sitting face down in a plate of pistachios after downing shots of Tequila at Schlepy’s International House of Pig Innards right off of Route 95 beside the Burning Knuckle Hooter Bar and Cafe. Some things never change. 1999 was also the year that Eric Powell first unleashed the Goon and his pal Frankie on to the comic book world. THE GOON ROUGH STUFF reprints the hard-to-find first Goon miniseries. I wasn’t lucky enough to pick up this series when it first came out, but was delighted to find out that these issues were available again in this slick new trade.
I’ve reviewed THE GOON a lot. In my previous reviews, I’ve told you all how much fun this book is. I’ve told you all how seamlessly the horror and the humor in this book are melded together. I’ve told you all about my fascination with the Goon’s sidekick, Frankie, and how cool of a character that spindly-armed shit-talker is. And I’ve told you that this book is the comic book equivalent of the EVIL DEAD 2. It’s a great read. The black and white art is beautiful. The story is not heavy, but still entertaining. It is what it is – a gory, exciting romp with characters who don’t take too much seriously written and drawn by a creator who doesn’t take too much seriously.
Eric Powell seems like a humble guy. In the foreword of this trade, he almost apologizes for what unfolds in the rest of the book. He says that the art and the story of first mini are not up to snuff with what is going on in the current GOON series. This may be true, but it is still a hell of a lot of fun to read and above par with a lot of the other stuff out there on the racks today. In an industry full of egos the size of… uhm… Ego the Living Planet, it is refreshing to see this talented young creator grow from issue to issue, becoming confident with both his words and art, while staying down to earth enough to rip on his own stuff every now and again. Still, I think the guy is being hard on himself.
The stories and art are, in fact, pretty good. As we follow the Goon and Frankie through a gauntlet of drunk werewolves, giant reanimated gorilla-monsters, zombie gangsters, and poofy-shirted vampire fops, we also are witness to the evolution of a talented writer/artist. From issue one – where the Goon and Frankie take on Joey the Ball, a guy who has had a bowling ball stuck to his hand since he was a kid and now has one gigantic, over-developed arm, through issue number two where our pair of adventurers take on a hook-handed, Admiral Akbar-lookin’ sea beast, to issue three where we learn the secret origin of the Goon – the stories beco