Greetings, Faithful Talkbackers. Ambush Bug here proudly presenting the first column of Year Six for the @$$Holes of AICN Comics. It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since @$$Hole founder The Comedian, AKA Ali Knievel, sent his first review in to AICN. A few weeks later, on March 3, 2002, O@’s Buzz Maverik, Cormorant (now known as Dave F.), the Comedian, and myself put together our very first review column. Soon after, we were joined by the Village Idiot, Sleazy G, Vroom Socko, Jon Quixote, Superninja, and the original Indie Jones herself Lizzybeth and the League of @$$Holes was formed.
Throughout the years, @$$Holes have come and gone, leaving their own distinctive mark at @$$Hole HQ and on the collective consciousness of comicbookdom. Only a few of us originals remain, but @$$Holes: Generation Next have kept the good fight a goin’ and we’ve never stopped bringing you no-bullshit reviews straight from the heart, off the cuff, and full of that sweet @$$y goodness. So welcome to AICN Comics, Volume Six. We have some great things planned for the upcoming year.
Let’s start off by announcing the winners for our 28 DAYS LATER: THE AFTERMATH Contest. In upcoming weeks, the header will feature submissions from our five winners: The Heathen, Chris Othic, Samuel Johnson, Dr. Zeus, and The Great Gizmo. Thanks to all who participated. Winners, we will be in contact with you shortly and your copy of 28 DAYS LATER: THE AFTERMATH will be in the mail soon.
And now, on with the reviews!
Hey gang, Vroom Socko here. A little over two years ago, the first issue of a little book called ELK’S RUN was released. It was a creepy comic, about an isolated community a la THE WICKER MAN, and what happens when the son of the town founder discovers their secret. It was damn good, it was compelling, it played with narrative and perspective in fun and exciting ways…
Joshua Fialkov: Thank you. That's a pretty big compliment, considering how long it took.
And it only saw half the story published.
But finally, after two years and three publishers, ELK’S RUN is finally collected and completed, thanks to Random House of all companies. And the second half, I’m pleased to say, kicks as much ass as the first. I’m also pleased to say that after reading the complete story I had a chance to chat with its writer, Joshua Hale Fialkov. Here’s what was said:
Vroom: First of all, this was totally worth the wait.
How on earth did Random House get involved with comics? Did they call you, or...Random House has been doing comics in a couple different forms for a while. There's the Del Rey Manga line (which has some astonishingly good stuff in it), and then they've done comics here and there in the past. I think the idea of doing an adult graphic novel push (adult meaning mature, not porno, obviously), just suited the business at the time. Graphic Novels have never been as high profile as they are know, and with the success of things like THE END OF VIOLENCE and 300, it's no longer just about superheroes. There's a certain natural connection between pop culture and the sequential narrative form that seems to be cinched into just about everybody's brains.
Do you regret not seeing this finished as a monthly?I do, a lot. I created the book with the express purpose of having every issue be somewhat of a self-contained snippet of the story. I think it works really well in issue form. That being said, we got to go in and change a lot of stuff to get it to flow in a way that we were all happy with as a trade, which is something we'd probably not had time to do otherwise. And there's a lot to be said for having a nice pretty spine on the shelf.
I've described this book to a few of my friends as a cross between RUNAWAYS and RED DAWN. Would you consider that an accurate one sentence descriptive?I think we actually pre-date RUNAWAYS. And RED DAWN is something people put on us, more than I do. But, yeah, it's certainly got similar elements. For me, it was influenced more by things like Kurosawa's RASHOMON and Russell Banks's THE SWEET HEREAFTER. Between the dark point of view and the shifting narratives, those two things were really the dominant influences.
Well, if you're going to be influenced by something...Now that you mention it, I can totally see the influence of those two on this story. I haven't read HEREAFTER, but I did love the movie, and RAHOMON is Kurosawa for God's sake.
It's a story about family and community, and it's about what happens when you let beliefs trump morals.
How do you describe the book to people you give it to read?
Or y'know, it's about a town where the parents and kids are at war with each other. Either one. What we all tried really hard to accomplish with the book was to have it be much more than just a tag line or high concept, and, for good or ill, we accomplished that, I think.
I think so too. So after all the time and effort and publishers you've gone through with this book, you think the end result lived up to your expectations?Most definitely. I think Random House has really hit the book out of the park. In retrospect, this is what we should've done from the start, but, realistically, it took all of those starts and stops at other publishers to get the book in people's faces, and more importantly, into people's hearts. If it wasn't for the passion shown by our fans, the book would not exist today, and for that, I'm eternally grateful.
Without spoiling anything for new readers, what character do you empathize with the most: the one who set out to create his own world that abides by his own rules, or the one who tries to look for the place where he belongs in the existing world?To be honest, I think they both serve as a part of the same person. You have this idealism in the father that gives way to harsh pragmaticism, just as with the son you have idealism that butts up against reality, and literally forces the characters to deal with things in a pragmatic way. Someone much wiser than I once said that the only difference between the good guys and the bad guys is which side you're on. That's a powerful image for me, and it really served as the linchpin for the series creatively.
Just how surreal is it to walk into a Barnes & Noble and see a stack of books with your name on it?I worked in TV for a long while, so I get to see my name in the credits on shows from network to cable. The first time I saw that, it was a little weird. Seeing a book in the bookstores is probably a thousand times stranger, because, it's like a little piece of me is in there. For everyone to see, just sitting there. And not in the discount bin!
Bookstores, the world's largest publisher...do you think this is the future of comics?For certain types of comics, yes. I think that the buying patterns of most comic readers are pretty entrenched, and, if you're doing something that falls outside of that realm, then you need to get to a different audience. In any other medium, ELK’S RUN is mainstream. It's a suspense thriller. Yet, in comics, it's relegated to being "Indie." That's just baffling to me. Our medium contributed so deeply to pop culture, and not just by superheroes. If you look at the rich history of comics pre-Stan Lee, you see that EVERYTHING was coming out. War, Westerns, Romance, Horror, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Drama, and Adventure comics. And they all sold equally well. Sure, the superhero stuff really resonated, but even within that stuff, there was much more range of genre. I'm a staunch believer that unless that stuff becomes the mainstream of comics, our audience is going to continue to stagnate, or worse....shrink.
So, yes, book publishers and bookstores are indeed the future of comics.
So what do you have coming up next?Well, coming out in the next few weeks is my first issue of VAMPIRELLA, for Harris Comics. That's a chance for me to write one of my favorite characters from my youth, and it's been an absolute blast. Then, in Previews next month is PUNKS THE COMIC, which is sort of a cross between a comic and a zine, being created with Kody Chamberlain. It's this dada-esque love song to Punk Rock in sitcom form. You can check that out here. Then, the thematic sequel to ELK’S RUN, THREE RIVERS, is currently being syndicated online. You can get that, and info about everything else I'm working on over here.
You can buy your own copy of ELK’S RUN at your local comic shop, and at finer bookstores everywhere.
AGENTS OF ATLAS HC
Writer: Jeff Parker Artists: Leonard Kirk, Kris Justice, and Terry Pallot Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Dan Grendell"I just took on the most powerful covert agency in the world based on what a killer robot told me. I'm an idiot."
Why isn't this an oversized hardcover? I mean, seriously. Marvel's Premiere Edition line of hardcovers reprints recent storylines with no real extras, maybe some sketches. They aren't meant to be awesome, just hardbound for people who like that sort of thing. This volume is filled with awesome. It has a short expose on the online game Jeff Parker ran as the mini-series was coming out that involved secret websites and getting passwords from retailers and figuring out obscure puzzles and all sorts of other coolness. It has all six weeks of agent profiles and exposes from CBR. It even has reprints of the original issues where Namora, Venus, Marvel Boy, Gorilla Man, the Human Robot, Jimmy Woo, and the Yellow Claw first appeared, and the WHAT IF issue that first brought them all together in 1978. The damn thing is half extras! And who wouldn't want to see Leonard Kirk's work oversized, on good paper? Seems like it would have been a no-brainer to me.
That said, this is still a spectacular book. First of all, you get all that awesome for twenty-five bucks. That's a hell of a deal. Second, AGENTS OF ATLAS was one of the best reads of last year from Marvel. It may be my favorite Jeff Parker work so far, even beating out my love for his MARVEL ADVENTURES: AVENGERS work. The basic story goes like this: The story from that WHAT IF issue actually happened. Don't worry, it gets recapped quickly in the mini-series. Some forty years later, the heroes are scattered all over. Jimmy Woo and Gorilla Man both work for SHIELD, though they don't work together. Venus has disappeared, as has M-11 the Human Robot, and Marvel Boy and Namora are both believed dead. Then Jimmy gets a wild hair up his nose, forms an unauthorized mission to hunt down the Yellow Claw, and is horribly wounded. SHIELD can't do anything for him, so it’s up to his old buddies to help him and figure out what he was trying to do.
Enter Gorilla Man and M-11, who take on an entire helicarrier with help from Marvel Boy (don't worry, his being alive is explained) to rescue their boy. SHIELD agent Khanata goes along for the ride. You may remember him from Fred van Lente's Scorpion stories in AMAZING FANTASY a couple years ago, coincidentally also drawn by Leonard Kirk, but probably not. Anyway, from there the team heads out to investigate the mystery of what Jimmy was hunting, find their old friends, and more. Parker is at the top of his game with both the intrigue and characterization, and I for one never saw the surprises in the last issue coming. Kirk does a spectacular job of bringing it all to life, and some scenes, like Marvel Boy eating or Gorilla Man being carried by M-11, firing a gun with all four hands, just blew me away.
Even though I think an oversized hardcover would have been a better choice, this book is still a great choice to pick up. The story and art are fantastic, the extras are prodigious, and the price is right.
52 WEEK 50 & 51
Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Greg Rucka Breakdowns: Keith Giffen Art: Justiano & Walden Wong (WEEK 50) & Joe Bennet, Jack Jadson, & Belardino Brabo (WEEK 51)
WORLD WAR III miniseries event
Writers: Keith Champagne & John Ostrander Artists: Pat Olliffe, Drew Geraci, Andy Smith, Ray Snyder, Tom Derenick, Norm Rapmund, Jack Jadson, Rodney Ramos Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugWell, Marvel had a big event with WAR in the title, so it seems DC had to follow suit with their own little war. As usual, I found DC’s endeavor more entertaining and more character based, but no less convoluted and unnecessary. DC’s War has been building for a while in the pages of their weekly maxiseries 52 and since it’s been a while since any of the ‘Holes have covered 52 (it’s been since the halfway point, actually), I figured now, before this week’s last issue, would be as good a time as any to look back on the maxiseries and the event that it birthed.
To start out, I have been moderately pleased with this maxiseries. DC did it. They were able to publish a weekly serial for an entire year. Marvel couldn’t put out a seven issue miniseries in seven months. But DC can’t pat themselves on the backs too much with the many missteps they’ve taken with titles like FLASH, AQUAMAN, and the eternally late WONDER WOMAN. I have to give this maxiseries credit where credit is due, though. It was put out every week, without fail. So I’ll lob a kudo or two their way for that accomplishment.
The story itself in 52 has been hit and miss for me, mostly depending on which characters were being highlighted. A world spanning catastrophe was coming together and in issue 51, I guess, the meaning of 52 has been revealed, but in all honesty, the “big reveal” was more weird than shocking and after the events of WORLD WAR III, it was kind of anti-climactic, to tell you the truth.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Let’s talk about war…WORLD WAR III.
Out of all of the subplots that have been crissing and crossing through the pages of 52, the Black Adam story has by far been the most entertaining. The former and newly reborn villain went through quite an arc throughout the last year. He found love and even made a family, only to have it destroyed, causing the rampage that leads up to WORLD WAR III. And to tell you the truth, WEEK 50, the issue that depicts the events of WORLD WAR III, was actually one of the best issues of the maxiseries. Adam tears loose on the The Great Ten while the heroes, trying to avoid a national incident, gather and wait on China’s border for word from the Chinese government when they can enter the battle. This is a tense few panels as some of the more rowdy heroes get restless and threaten to jump the border. The build-up to the actual attack actually made me feel like I was reading a war story where rules of engagement are mapped out and battles are planned. This is no brawl between whining heroes on a few blocks in Manhattan a la CIVIL WAR. This is united front of super-heroes against an enraged and powerful villain. Whereas one might argue that a bunch of heroes battling a villain isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, the events that lead up to the skirmish were done in such a skillful manner than this battle did matter. From start to a finish I found that to be pretty damn inventive (although not entirely original), 52 WEEK 50 lived up to the hype and surpassed it.
Unfortunately, DC had to make an event out of this big issue and four WORLD WAR III one shots were published in conjunction with the release of WEEK 50. These issues were to fill in the holes of this massive war, offering a more intimate look at some of the moments that happened off panel. It also was a way for DC to fill in some of the plot holes left when they jumped ahead in continuity one year at the beginning of the 52 maxiseries (to quote Ben Grimm, “My head’s startin’ ta hurt, Stretcho.”)
I found these one shots to be a waste of my time and money. While Ostrander and Champagne don’t write an unreadable story, they are writing an unnecessary one. Pages were dedicated to Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, and Nightwing, but after reading a few issues of those ONE YEAR LATER series, I ceased to care. So why would I give a shit about them now? Basically, these one shots are an overblown explanation to why these titles and characters became as shitty as they are right now. They are more like an editorial afterthought, answering fanboy questions as to the hows and whys behind continuity details. This is DC’s answer to Marvel’s series of one-shots that did the same thing after CIVIL WAR was overwith. Aquaman’s a kid. Martian Manhunter hung up the tiny man-pants in exchange for leather. And Nightwing and Red Hood shared the same tailor for a while. Did I really need to spend ten extra dollars to find out why these bad ideas came to be?
Now back to 52 WEEK 51. Again, I feel DC misstepped here in hyping issue fifty so much. Now, everything else seems more like an epilogue. Animal Man makes an appearance and the Lost In Space story comes to a close. The mystery of 52 is revealed, sort of, and it all just lands off the page and into your noggin with a big wet thud.
The problem here, I think, is the fact that the actual “mystery” of 52 wasn’t really presented with much clarity. I remember reading the ads for 52 later on in the series, asking the reader if they have solved the mystery yet. I found myself asking, “What mystery?” I found this to be an interesting serial maxiseries with a large cast. Some of the individual stories were good, others were not. But as far as some grand plot that ties it all together, I think the writers are stretching it to make it all mesh together into something more meaningful than it was. Attempts to tie things up now, after the storylines sort of took off on their own (Dan Didio admitted in last week’s editorial that the storylines did this and that entire subplots were neglected in favor of stories more interesting to the writers), seem rushed and forced, and a little too little and a little too late to me.
52 was kind of a beautiful mess. It had some great storylines, a bunch of top talent, and brought some very cool characters back to the forefront. But after the phenomenal battle in WEEK 50, the unnecessary one shots, the lackluster reveal, and the clumsy way the book is ending make me think they should have ended the whole shebang two weeks early.
SQUADRON SUPREME: HYPERION VS NIGHTHAWK #4
Writer: Mark Guggenheim Artist: Paul Gulacy Publisher: Marvel Reviewer: JinxoOkay, the horrors going on in Darfur, truly terrible. A worthy topic to bring to the public’s attention. And it is possible to raise awareness on the topic through drama. ER did a hell of a job of it. The HYPERION VS. NIGHTHAWK mini-series does a less effective job.
Man, I feel bad saying that. The cause is so worthy but…doing something like this you need to tell a great story and drop some knowledge on the reader. The story does give us info but not in the most effective manner. We are shown the horrors, but sort of second hand. We see Africans being killed and abused but… we don’t know them, we aren’t invested in them. What is shown does convey some of the horror but not to the level it could have been.
The other problem is the amount of time where instead of being shown the problem, we are being told about it. Some of it I get. The big esoteric political stuff? The best way to get it across is with words. But pick your shots. The final giant battle is a political debate happening during a smackdown fight. “Don’t you see the socio-political ramifications of your actions?” he shouts while delivering a crushing blow to his foes solar plexus!!!!! Okay, that exact thing didn’t happen but it sums up the final fight.
The book tries to balance the Darfur stuff with a more straightforward battle between Nighthawk and Hyperion. Nighthawk has somehow found a way to hurt Hyperion. With these two being more “real world” versions of Batman and Superman, that should be fertile ground. The horror of discovering that not only does Batman know kryptonite can hurt Superman but he keeps a gun loaded with kryptonite bullets handy! Only this is the Squadron Supreme universe! More off the hook. Their equivalent of The Joker pushed the limits of being a psycho. So how Nighthawk can hurt Hyperion must really be a corker. And for four issues we wait to find out the secret. Yeah…kinda not so amazing. Not even 100% sure I buy it. Sigh.
The whole point of Nighthawk finding the chink in Hyperion’s armour is part of Nighthawk’s plan to lure Hyperion to Darfur to help with the problems over there. Once they are both over they kick ass and talk political in the name of helping the region. The problem is, they never drop out of their normal mode of operation. Hyperion stays a God (only one who can be hurt by Nighthawk) and Nighthawk remains a millionaire vigilante trying to solve the world’s problems. This whole book might have done a lot better to break these characters more out of their normal mode, force them to see the world in a new way so that through them we also see the world in a new way. It tries. Hyperion feels pain but it has no direct tie to the problems at hand. And he does see the horrors, but still in that god-playing-tourist way. As upset as he might be, it is still a problem removed from him. This is where ER did a better job with this issue. It dropped the doctors right into the Darfur situation where its problems were THEIR problems. They were in the mix; they could easily die. Dr. Pratt, a cocky U.S. doctor in the area to save lives, ended up on the run and having to actually take a life. They gave you the feeling of a real guy who actually found himself suddenly a killer and who was part of the situation, not slightly above it looking down.
But, hey, these are heroes. Heroes are above it all, right? Well, then switch that up. Knock them down into that mix. Nighthawk thinks he can throw money and violence at the situation and fix it. Instead of just having him told it can’t work, really have it blow up in his smart guy face. Once he’s in Darfur and he’s away from his money, strip him of his war toys, put him in the position of being one more black guy on the run in the area. And he came up with a clever way to make Hyperion feel pain? Push it further. Why not have him have a way to turn Hyperion’s powers off? Maybe by remote? So Nighthawk’s getting all clever. He has Hyperion turned off and he’s in total control…until he’s not. One wrong move and he loses his toys, his advantages and gets his ass kicked around. Same time he loses his ability to repower Hyperion. Now you’ve got two guys really IN the Darfur situation and seeing the world from an uncomfortable new perspective. By the time they get themselves out of it they might have a deeper understanding of the problems.
But that isn’t what happens. As bad as they feel about what is going on, as much as they try to help, as much as they are more aware, I don’t think you see them changed in any deep ways. If the heroes aren’t changed, are the readers?
Oh yeah, also, the nonlinear storytelling is a bit out of control. The timeline is way out of control, every scene seems to be shown twice so we can see both heroes’ point of view on it…only there isn’t enough gained in the retelling to merit it. Too crazy. Initially I actually missed an issue and given the structure I initially didn’t even notice.
Huge points for the idea and the attempt. Good marks for solid art. But lower marks for the execution. As an action story it fell flat with too much political talk during the fights and a reveal on Hyperion’s Achilles’ heel that was sort of “eh.” As an attempt to educate about a real world problem, it was too much talk, not enough getting into the readers’ hearts. Entertain the hell out of me with characters I care about really enmeshed in the problem so that the teaching slips into my brain without me even being aware I’m being enlightened. As it was at the end I felt like I should see a star flying overhead with the words, “The more you learn, the more you grow!” trailing behind it.
Again, I feel jerky for dumping on an attempt to do something so positive but it just could have been so much more.
THE WALKING DEAD # 37
Written by: Robert Kirkman Pencilled by: Charlie Adlard Published by: Image Comics Reviewed by: superheroOK, at this point I think it's time to change the name of this book to THE TALKING DEAD.
See, there's a problem with this book. I know that for me the allure of this series when it first came out was the fact that it was about the survivors of a zombie holocaust. For me, that meant that there would be zombies. Lots of zombies. And along with zombies there would be action. Lots of action. Not only that, but it meant that the book would have a certain element of creepiness to it. I mean zombies, for the most part, equal creepy, right?
But for a long time this book has been coasting on human drama with overly wrought out scenes and overly written dialog and the zombies have gone…well, I don't know where the hell the zombies have gone. But I have to say that with the zombies missing this book has become pretty tiresome. Yes, I get the fact that in the best zombie fiction it's how the humans deal with the zombie threat that helps make the genre interesting, but with no horrifying zombie horde THE WALKING DEAD is really starting to come across as an apocalyptic version of a Mexican telenovella.
OK, maybe that's a bit harsh but I am so tired of this book just letting characters whine on and on about their feelings and how they're just struggling to cope with how hard life has become. I mean, seriously Kirkman, tighten up your dialogue. This whole issue just consisted of people standing around talking. A point that could be made in just a couple of succinct lines of dialogue is just dragged out to last almost several pages. I can't remember when I've seen word balloons this large or this crammed with words. But it's not just the fact that there's so much dialogue it's the fact that the dialogue is boring. Seriously boring.
It seems that at this point that Kirkman has forgotten what made this book popular to begin with: the zombie apocalypse. It seems to me that once Kirkman holed up all of his characters in the safety of a maximum security prison most of edge of this comic went right out the window. Now, instead of WALKING DEAD being about survivors of a zombie disaster it seems as if it's just about survivalists, and to me that's just not enough to sustain my interest in a comic book. Heck, Kirkman even says in an interview in the letter column that he'd like to get to a point where there are practically no zombies in the book and it's just about humanity trying to rebuild their world. Well, guess what Kirkman, you're already there! And you know what? It's gotten old really fast. Sure there have been some interesting and compelling moments in the past several issues, but every once in a while there are a couple of issues like this one that just drag on the human drama more than I’m willing to tolerate it. Issues like this one aren't fun to read, they're tiring.
A couple of years ago my wife and I discovered an old 70's BBC TV show called SURVIVORS that dealt with what would happen in the United Kingdom if a plague wiped out 95% of the human population. It turned out to be a really compelling (if a bit dated) little show and we were both enthralled by it. We managed to plow through the first season (or series as they call it in the UK) in record time and couldn't wait to get to watch season two. Unfortunately, when we did get to season two the whole tone of the series had shifted. Instead of the show being about the plague survivors struggling to survive against a society falling apart the series shifted to a small group of people trying to rebuild their own society from scratch. So what started off as a gripping drama in the first season became sort of a poor man's “Little House on the Prairie” in the second season. Sure, it was OK television, but it wasn't the same. The thrill was gone.
This is exactly what I'm afraid is happening to THE WALKING DEAD. It seems that the whole tone of the book has shifted and it's no longer as terrific a read as it used to be. Hell, I'd even be so bold as to say that the "torture" issue several months back may have been a desperate attempt to try and retain the book's edge, but I'd have to say that after this issue I'm almost convinced that THE WALKING DEAD'S best days are behind it. If I were going to give Kirkman some advice I'd say he should go back to the beginning of the book and see what made it so popular in the first place. Hopefully he'd be able to recapture some of the spirit that made THE WALKING DEAD such a great read. Unfortunately, for me this book is getting dangerously close to the point where I may drop it altogether. Even though it looks like there may be an interesting twist or turn down the line it may not be enough to keep me reading for much longer.
FANTASTIC FOUR #545
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie Penciler: Paul Pelletier Inker: Rick Magyar Colorist: Paul Mounts Publisher: Marvel Reviewer: JinxoI was really hopeful about Dwayne McDuffie taking over the Fantastic Four. He started right out reworking Reed Richards’ reason for supporting registration in The Civil War (actually I can see that reworking going further in a specific way I hope he has in mind). Then he took the unexpected step of adding Storm and Black Panther to the team. Now he’s two issues in to his first major story for the group and, well…he is bringing it. I like it a lot.
Now, Marvel is still hip deep in the fallout of The Civil War. At the end of CIVIL WAR I was disappointed and annoyed. But I will admit, grudgingly, it has made for some good plots. Of course, it’s also made for some less than good stuff. Characters who should just be involved in the plots they’re built for being forced to shoehorn in the registration BS. The end result is a darker Marvel universe.
The current FF plot does feel the impact of CIVIL WAR, the registration act, the Initiative, whatever the hell else it is now called. Reed and Sue’s leaving the group and Black Panther and Storm joining come right out of that. But beyond that, at least for now, that’s about the extent of the impact. McDuffie has the FF doing what they do best: flying to the edge of the galaxy on a cosmic adventure. And that, blessedly, means leaving the Marvel Mess far far behind.
The plot so far basically involves, with apologies to Ed Wood, grave robbers from outer space stealing the body of the dead hero Gravity and the FF flying off to get the poor guy’s remains back. Turns out the cosmic entity Epoch is involved in this body snatching. Next thing ya know the Silver Surfer is showing up, Galactus is on the way…ahhhh, good times. After so much super seriousness in CIVIL WAR, the social importance of the latest Squadron Supreme… heck, even the limb severing, chest exploding battles of 52 and WORLD WAR III it is just such a nice change of pace to go back to a simple, old-fashioned tale of grave desecration and the potential destruction of entire planets. It sounds crazy but it’s true. There came a point in this issue where I laughed out loud for the second time and I was brought up short. It suddenly hit me that I was actually having fun reading this comic and I realized…I haven’t had that feeling for a long time. I’ve enjoyed the comics I’ve been reading but I haven’t been having full on fun. The other books seem to get me more thinking about the deep significance of what is going on, whether what they’re doing is a good thing or not…on and on. With this book instead I was laying back and enjoying the pure escapism of a fun story. So great.
And there is just such intelligence behind the writing. First, good character stuff. Usually when someone leaves the FF, I’m used to them disappearing for the foreseeable future. Last time I remember Sue and Reed leaving they were just gone. But it’s clear that McDuffie doesn’t intend to do that, that Sue and Reed to some extent will continue to be characters in the book. I did not expect that. Then there is Storm and Black Panther. They are turning out to be fun additions to the group. I always liked Black Panther but he always seemed so forcibly serious. I mean, he is the leader of a country which forces him to be sort of proper and serious. So nice to pull him out of that mode and shoot him into space where he can, oddly enough, just be a normal kind of guy dealing with his friends and a wife who tells him what to do. Also fun to see the Silver Surfer’s friendship with the FF coloring the action of the book.
Damn, it sounds like I’m frickin’ gushing. But after writing so many negative reviews, it just feels so good to find a book I really really had fun with. The only negative I can even think of isn’t even a negative, and that’s that I don’t think McDuffie has even hit his stride yet. I think there are still even better stories to come.
AMAZONS ATTACK! #1
Writer: Will Pfeifer Artist: Pete Woods Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: SquashuaLast time I was here, I reviewed WONDER WOMAN #7 and told you how downright awful it was, and tried to convince you to take a pass. So it was with great resolve on my part that when I walked into the store a mere two weeks later and saw issue #8 on the shelves, I gave it a pass. After the last several issues, WONDER WOMAN is off my radar and a waste of my money until Gail Simone picks up the pieces. Then again, I'm always a sucker for an event book and AMAZON ATTACKS! #1 was right there to coax three extra dollars out of my wallet.
What the hell was I thinking?
First, it helps to have read WONDER WOMAN #8 before this issue, but you don't have to; I didn't and I figured out that WONDER WOMAN #8 was all about Wonder Woman supposedly getting kidnapped and tortured by the government, Circe resurrecting Diana's mother Hippolyta from the grave, and convincing said mother to go bat-shit bug-nuts crazy ass on the US of A. At least, that's what I can infer from the differences between WW #7 and AA #1.
Much like this review, AMAZONS ATTACK! #1 is all over the place. It's got its good and its bad but overall it's just lousy. The whole thing didn't grab me. The Amazons jump into the middle of Washington DC with a bunch of World of Warcraft rejects they just happened to have had stashed somewhere during the year that Paradise Island was gone from the DCU. And they declare war on the US for, as a single panel explains, torturing Wonder Woman. And Hippolyta is alive and listening to Circe. Again with Circe. We've had months of this bitch and almost zero screen time for Wonder Woman. Circe may have a daughter? She might not be a one-note sorceress? This being a special fill-in series to take care of the weeks of late Wonder Woman issues? I don't care.
And what's with Everyman and the brand new villain? The guy has taken over Sarge Steel's identity, but he can act too? I guess not only can he take on Steel's body; he acquires knowledge of all the Nick Fury-esque protocols and procedures needed to help keep the Department of Metahuman Affairs running. It makes no sense to me.
The only good part is the reference to the JLA being stationed in Washington--and yet the only hero to show up is Black Lighting. Is he still the Secretary of Education or something? That was some ridiculous casting right there. This book involves Amazons beheading males (and sniveling boy children) in Washington, DC? Great, it's easier than impeachment. Will this get exciting? Possibly, eventually one would hope, but I won't be there for it.
BREAKFAST OF THE GODS #1 webcomic
Artist/writer: Brendan Douglas Jones Website: WebComics Nation Reviewer: Ambush BugThe cost of publishing one’s own comic is not cheap in the current market. Some creators have used their ol’ noggin and eliminated the middle man by putting out their books on the web. Now, anyone with a little computer knowledge, a bit of creativity, and the time to apply it can make their own comics these days. With the rise of requests to cover webcomics in my inbox lately, I took the idea of adding this new section to our weekly column to the table at @$$Hole HQ. After many rounds of downed shots and lobbed insults, dot.comics was born!
The dubious honor of “I’m first” in this section goes to BREAKFAST OF THE GODS. I found this to be a thoroughly entertaining and inventive comic. Much like FABLES before it, this book takes childhood icons (this time characters from breakfast cereal boxes instead of those from fairy tales) and casts them all together in an intriguing mystery filled with twists, turns, and magically delicious characterization. Anyone who grew up when actual cartoons were shown on Saturday mornings and not SAVED BY THE BELL spin-offs will appreciate seeing Tony the Tiger, Count Chocula, Captain Crunch, and Super Bear interact like you’ve never seen them before. The characters that leapt into action from your cereal boxes always looked as if they were heading out for some type of adventure. This story tells that tale.
And most of the representations of these characters look spot on. Creator Brendan Douglas Jones does a grrrrrrreat job of making these characters look like they did in all of those commercials back in the day. The best part about it is that this is a straightforward tale, more than just a parody or homage. There is real depth and story in this one. While the story itself is a parody, it takes itself and its characters quite seriously. Characters die, mingle in interesting ways, and bring you back to a time when you would whine to mom in the grocery aisle to get you that cereal you saw that morning during SMURFS with that worthless prize inside that you had to have. Reading this story was prize enough for me and well worth my time.
After browsing the site, it looks as if the creator can’t profit off of this comic because he is using licensed characters. Some of these guys haven’t been used in ages and it gave me that warm nostalgic feeling as I remembered them and the cereals they represented. Issue one was a solid read. Here’s hoping that despite the fact that profit from this story is out the window, the creator has enough passion to finish the tale. It ends with one hell of a cliffhanger bringing back yet another cereal box favorite. A debate about the legality of the usage of these trademarked characters has been rumbling around at @SSHole HQ the last few days. Artist/writer Brendan Douglas Jones clearly marks this story as parody, gives credit where credit is due at the end of issue one, and claims that he does not receive any profit from this story, so I think he’s ok legally, but some of the Holes think that Jones’ usage of licensed characters may be problematic. Here’s hoping that the long arm of the law doesn’t try to squelch this creative artist’s vision of fun and depravity.
Pissed that comic book prices are too high these days? Keep checking back to this section, folks. dot.comics will point you in the right direction for some entertaining comics that don’t cost a dime to read. BREAKFAST OF THE GODS is just one of them. Check it out!
DRAGON HEAD #6
Words & Art: Minetaro Mochizuki Publisher: TokyoPop Reviewer: Ambush BugThis is the only manga book that I read on a regular basis. And I'm not sure why, because it is definitely one of my favorite reads issue after issue. I should be reading more. I know a lot of you guys stay away from the Big Eyes, but coming from someone who used to only read books from the Big Two, DRAGON HEAD is definitely the book to read if you want to be introduced to the world of good manga.
DRAGON HEAD started out a straight forward horror tale about a trio of kids on a train who see a mysterious formation of clouds just before entering a long tunnel. Pretty soon, all hell breaks loose, the power in the tunnel goes out, the train crashes, and the trio of kids turns out to be the only survivors. The first few issues had the children struggle to maintain their own sanity while trying to get out of the tunnel. Two issues ago, they did just that: after a grueling mental and physical ordeal, two of the three children seemingly survived and escaped only to find themselves facing a new obstacle as the world outside of the tunnel proved to be just as dangerous.
Since escaping the tunnel, this straight-up horror yarn has evolved into something more akin to a full-throttle action experience. The kids are on the run from human horrors and the cause of the cataclysm that has seemingly wiped out the entirety of civilization is still a mystery. Was it a nuclear war? Was it a scientific experiment gone wrong? And why is the term Dragon Head whispered and feared? Does it have anything to do with the looming dark clouds that are covering everything, raining soot and blackness and death?
DRAGON HEAD is like the best LOST episodes in that there is a mystery here, but the cause of all of this horror is unkown. We don't know if it is man-made or something mystical. All we know is that civilization is over and humanity has been reduced to its lowest level. This issue of DRAGON HEAD illustrates this wonderfully as a pair of the children survivors go on a desperate mission for medical supplies. As they rush to save a wounded survivor's life, the kids flee an angry black mob of insane survivors who want to kill anyone who cross their path. The jungles are filled with military survivors hunting the kids too. Basically, these kids are running from everyone. The action is sandwiched and intensified with every layer. Along the way, the children find new survivors to add to the cast. Again, similarities to LOST can be made in that the camera continues to slowly pan back to show the scope of the problem these survivors find themselves in the middle of. What started out as a simple survival tale set in a tunnel has now spread to all of civilization and maybe, the world.
Writer and artist Minetaro Mochizyuki is taking his time revealing the mysteries here. He fills each issue with so much danger that you don't find yourself frustrated with the snail's pace the answers come at. I found myself too wrapped up in the action to care. The last two issues of this series in particular have been a marathon of thrills and chills, never allowing the readers or the characters within to catch their breath.
Mochizyuki's art is breathtaking as well. Highly detailed and crisp, the panels make you scan the page for minutes after reading just to soak in the depth and time spent in making it. But despite the full surroundings, you never lose focus of the character in these panels. This is proof positive that the art in this book is the work of a master.
I know there are those of you who will skip over this review. You're the same folks who vow to never pick up a manga book in your life. But I urge you to think about giving this book a try on one of those light weeks where not too many books have been released. Instead of complaining about how one of the big companies are mischaracterizing a character, give this book or any indie or manga book a try.
JOHNNY HIRO #1
Creator: Fred Chao Publisher: AdHouse Books Reviewer: Dan Grendell"Oh, Hiro. You save me AND real estate market."
My favorite comics finds are the ones that come out of seeming nowhere. One day, some creator I've never heard of will put something out that just blows me away, and I'm happy for days. Well, welcome Fred Chao to that group. I don't know much about him, despite a google search, but I do know this - if he continues at the quality level in this issue, I'll be reading his work for years.
The basic story here is pretty simple. Johnny Hiro and his girlfriend Mayumi live in New York. Mayumi's mother used to be one of the five pilots of Super A-OK Robot, who defeated Gozadilla in the Seventies. Gozadilla's back, and he wants revenge - on Mayumi. When a giant lizard takes your girl, what's a guy to do? You put on your pajama bottoms and her Hello Bunny slippers (try not to stretch them out) and you rescue her. Well, you try. Hiro does his best, but it doesn't quite work out that way. Mayumi doesn't care, though - her man risked his life for her, and that's plenty.
Chao takes us on a fun-filled romp here, as good intentions don't really end up enough to succeed but prove to have a reward all their own. His art style, one that pulls from both manga and western influences to make something all his own, is energetic and strong. Somewhat cartoony, it delivers emotions and action with equal flair, and Chao pays as much attention to backgrounds as he does main characters. Pages are a well-done mix of varied panel layouts and splash pages, each feeling organic on the page, never forced. Impressive stuff.
Overall, this is a fun read, with a cool story and dialogue, neat characters, and great art, but what really intrigues me is that this is just the beginning for Chao. If he's starting here, how good is he going to get?
WASTELAND VOL. 1: CITIES IN THE DUST
Antony Johnston: Writer
The cover to this volume has the blurb “[This book] Kicks seven different kinds of ass.” I have no idea what that means, and I’m the one who wrote it. I do know that I said that in relation to the first issue, and haven’t reviewed an issue since. So does this little line still live up to the book? Oh god no.
Christopher Mitten: Artist
Oni Press : Publisher
Vroom Socko: Kicked
This book kicks a helluva lot more ass than that.
That first issue, with its town-destroying brawl, was a blast and a half, and it set up an interesting post-apocalyptic mystery. I said as much last year. But with the second of the six issues collected here, writer Antony Johnston brings us to a larger city, where the story ratchets up the tension along with a massive dose of political intrigue. Of course, he follows this up with some balls to the wall action. Next comes some religious allegory, then more intrigue, then an even more balls to the wall scene. Lather, rinse, repeat. And at no point does the story ever approach anything that resembles dull.
Of Christopher Mitten, all I can say is this: where the unholy hell has this guy been hiding? Each page, every single damn page is haunting. The desert-dwellers, the city of Newbegin, every single appearance of the Lord Founder…there are plenty of reasons I voted this guy the best artist of ’06, and these are only a few of them. Just touching these pages can cause your adrenaline levels to spike.
This book contains the whole of the first six issues, with seven and eight still readily available in any decent comic shop. (Issue #7, by the way, features guest artwork from the great and powerful Carla Speed McNeil.) I’d pick them up when you get this book if I were you. And you should definitely get this book. It kicks fifteen different kinds of ass.
I still don’t know what that means, but who cares. Buy this damn book.
JOSH HOWARD PRESENTS: SASQUATCH
Writers: Various Artists: Various Publisher: Viper Comics Reviewer: Prof. Challenger"Nobody cares about Bigfoot anymore. Bigfoot is the new Tarzan. You think there's any Tarzan fans left in the world? Of course not. And there are no Bigfoot fans left either." - Morris (sleazy Hollywood agent)
One of the best things about this thoroughly entertaining anthology is the massively different artistic styles on display throughout the entire 250+ pages.
Artist Josh Howard, creator of DEAD@17, corralled over 30 different contributors to this huge anthology with a single thematic focus - SASQUATCH. All permutations of Sasquatch are fair game including Bigfoot, Yeti, and others. The contributions run the gamut from pure insanity to gag strips to sci-fi to lush fantasy.
I find it difficult to give this book a thorough review because there's just so much quality content for the money. So, I'm going to quickly spotlight a few of my favorites and hope that will give potential readers a taste of what they may find to enjoy in this volume. Of the bunch, from a purely artistic perspective, "Memoirs of a Bigfoot," by the folks at Blink Twice (creators of the unbelievably entertaining MALCOLM MAGIC) is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. I seethe with jealousy at how effortlessly amazing the art is in this clever and fun story.
"Little Bigfoot" is larf-out-loud funny. Constructed with minimal text and zero dialogue so the story is told entirely through pictures, it's a great little twisted bit. "The Sasquad" is a series of one-page gags of a super-team of Sasquatches. The gags are scattered throughout the volume with each one constructed to look like a DC comic cover circa early 80s. I loved the picture accompanying the tag-line "Watch the Horror!" as the Yeti member of The Sasquad has grabbed the Mummy's wrapping and is dragging it back and forth in his crotch! Har!
Josh Howard himself produced a gem called "The Hunt" featuring Sasquatch as a member of the U.S. Special Forces getting called in to take out Osama. Nice. "Smallfoot" is a winner that's a nice sendup of the whole Bigfoot-hunting craze. Wes Molebash contributes a nicely hilarious "Sasquatch and Timmy" which is strangely reminiscent of Syd Hoff's classic children's book "Julius." Finally, the funniest thing in the whole book is a series of gag strips called "Yeti Another Day." Check out this sample.
Those are my favorites, but every story had something solidly entertaining about it. I really enjoyed seeing what a number of artists I had never seen before did with this opportunity. Artist Josh Boulet, is a real find. The story he illustrated, "Top of the World", was written by Matthew McLean and could easily have seen print in one of the old DC horror and mystery anthologies. The art was solidly professional and appealing. "Pitch-Forked" is a scathing commentary on the idiotic behind-the-scenes dealings that go on in Hollywood. It features some art by a guy named Tone Rodriguez who demonstrates a strong natural talent for story-telling. Blatant Neal Adams and early John Byrne emulation at times, but still very good at storytelling.
I only have one complaint, and it is a minor one. But it has to do with a marketing and sales perspective. I definitely understand the goal of someone like Josh Howard to not want to hinder any of his the contributors in their individual artistic visions. As a result, the book runs the gamut from all-ages type of stuff (like Wes Molebash) to older juvenile (like a couple of stories that are clearly homages to the old E.C. horror comics). The blood and gore is minimal throughout and the language is largely limited to minor profanities and a bunch of dingbats. Then I got to the last story in the volume and there was the "F-word." And I kind of sank a little in my enjoyment. Not because it overly offends me. I'm not a prude. It'd be a lie to say that has not crossed my lips or jumped from my keyboard before. But here's the thing. When I pick up something like this SASQUATCH anthology, my mind automatically goes to evaluating the book as to whether it would be a book I could feel good about donating to a school library as a way of hooking new comic book readers. The simple presence of that word in a "funny book" virtually kills its chances of making it into the hands of the audience who would probably enjoy it the most - middle/jr. high school-aged kids. These are the future of the comic industry and like it or not, school libraries and uninformed parents are not the sort to respond favorably to a graphic novel that looks like it's intended for juveniles but then sports the king of all bad words - the one that got Ralphie's mouth washed out with soap.
I want comics to succeed and grow, but to do that everyone, including the Indies, have got to stop a moment occasionally and see if the merits of the work might be worth cleaning up the language slightly sometimes so that the work can have the maximum exposure. I challenge anyone to read that last story and honestly say that the story would have been creatively diminished in any way by a substitution of another euphemism or dingbats in its place.
For the audience here, though, I can't imagine anyone who's a regular reader of this column who would not thoroughly enjoy this anthology cover to cover. One of my favorite comics of the year so far.