Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. I just wanted to pop in and remind you all that there’s one more week to go for our “Send in your nightmares!” Fox Atomic THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY Contest. 10 lucky readers will win a copy of THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY autographed by horror-maestro, Thomas Ligotti. Good luck.
And now, on with the reviews.
Stones Throw on COMICS BRITANNIA
Like a comic but with sound and pictures that move!!! HomepageI know, the comic book is an American art form. But at the same time that ACTION COMICS and DETECTIVE COMICS were changing the American idea of what a comic could be, a puritan Scottish publisher called DC Thompson took inspiration from American comics to do much the same thing in the UK – only much more humor-based and bizarre. As the @$$Holes’ resident Brit, with a BBC4 series (which also hosted possibly the definitive Steve Ditko documentary, IN SEARCH OF STEVE DITKO on Sunday) shining some light on the subject, I thought it might be worth giving y’all a look at a comics tradition of another country.
Right, yer ponces - - sorry, lapsed into comic book Brit-speak there.
Ask any British comic book maker (and there seems to be a lot of ‘em) what their first experience of comics were, and if it’s not adventure books like THE EAGLE it’s likely to be two weekly humor comics archaically named THE DANDY and THE BEANO. That was certainly the case with me (and my bro and Pa), along with the Tintin and Asterix books - both European characters that I wholeheartedly recommend on their own qualities. THE DANDY and THE BEANO are a little different though. They aim young, and despite technically being comedy, they’re not exactly funny. Nick Park, creator of WALLACE AND GROMIT, is interviewed in the show and I think he puts it best when he says “I was always deadly serious reading them.” The humor’s mostly slapstick and although the stories all tend to follow a similar formula there’s very little conventional staging of a joke. However, what does make the comics a captivating read for the under-10s is the sheer off-the-wall quality and the intricate, madcap detail of the art. I know that watching the show last Monday I found myself chuckling more than a few times at the zaniness and energy of the strips. It’s humor that couldn’t possibly exist anywhere except comics, with a whole range of tools used, including innovations that I’ve yet to see repeated anywhere else. Instead of the traditional “light bulb above the head”, the words “CRAFTY PLAN” might appear, or ironically literal sound effects like “GUFFAW” or “GRAB”. One of the defining features of the comics is an impossibly detailed spread filled with dozens of sight gags, often labeled in a similar style. You don’t laugh because you’re too busy absorbing all the detail.
Before THE DANDY was introduced (in December 1937, making it the second longest-running comic in existence, behind DETECTIVE), British comics were just a step up from illustrated stories, usually featuring panels with text underneath. THE DANDY took the American innovation of speech balloons, creating a much more dynamic and involving read, and placed them in a half-tabloid format with color covers, starring a range of funny animals, mischievous kids and adventure stories. Understandably, amongst the impoverished 1930s youth it was a massive hit, and a second publication, THE BEANO, soon followed. The 1930s lexicon still existed even when I was reading the comics, with “grub” (massive platefuls of food) being the perennial reward (somewhat mystifying to me, but definitely relevant in the less well-off, hungry years of 1930-60) and slippers or canes as an all-purpose symbol of punishment.
THE DANDY’s signature character is DESPERATE DAN, who even has a statue erected in his honor in Dundee, home of DC Thompson. Given his unexplained and comedic strength (he’s often seen accidentally destroying property or eating “cow pies” filled with an entire cow, horns poking out of the pastry) he’s something of a British Popeye, a cowboy who lives in a curiously English Wild West, complete with red telephone and post boxes. The books at the time were written and drawn by older, established cartoonists like Dan’s creator Dudley D. Watkins, a consummate professional who died at his drawing board in 1969.
When WWII broke out DC Thompson got on the propaganda trail with strips like “Addie and Hermy” and “Musso da Wop” mocking the Axis leaders – though I can’t imagine Desperate Dan doing the “your country needs you” bit was quite as striking as Superman. The program tells us that Watkins was actually able to avoid the draft as his work was considered of such importance.
The next significant period began with the Baby Boom and the introduction of the second iconic character, DENNIS THE MENACE (who first appeared three days after his US counterpart) in THE BEANO in 1951, created by Davy Law. Let’s get this strait though – while the worst the American Dennis might do is, I dunno, steal some cookies, this Dennis really lives up to his name, beating up “softies” and generally terrorizing all figures of authority – parents, teachers, policemen, even war veterans. It’s kind of shocking how anti-authoritarian the strips were for the post-war days. The strip was such a success that it opened the doors for younger, more madcap and surreal artists like Ken Reid and Leo Baxendale (who Alan Moore has referenced and whose detailed, cartoony style has became the comics’ signature), who created similar characters like MINNIE THE MINX, ROGER THE DODGER and the BASH STREET KIDS, who must have really stood out in the gray, post-war 1950s. Reid also created the calamitous sailor JONAH, which as a kid I found a little disturbing with its detailed scenes of disaster and shipwrecks, while Baxendale created THE THREE BEARS and LITTLE PLUM (Your Redskin Chum). The 60s saw a boom in the humor comic formula, with a raft of imitators appearing.
The second half of the show is something of a downer. The usual comic book story of underpaid, overworked artists who aren’t allowed to sign work or own the rights to their creations applies, and Reid even suffered a nervous breakdown from the amount of work he was taking on. Baxendale eventually quit THE BEANO, but was unable to find the same level of success elsewhere, although snapshots of some of his other creations looked pretty inspired in a demented way. LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN co-creator Kevin O’Neill is also interviewed, and his style probably owes quite a bit to Baxendale. The onset of political correctness in the 1980s prevented Desperate Dan from shaving with a blowtorch or chowing down on cows quite so much too. Although with a heavily diminished circulation, THE BEANO and DANDY and their most popular characters still continue, though THE DANDY has recently undergone a revamp to become DANDY XTREME, the first issue of which featured Bart Simpson on the cover.
I don’t expect anyone to go track these comics down, and honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it (they tend to lose appeal once you turn 11), but as far as I know it’s a uniquely British tradition that boasts some great art and I remember them being a lot of fun as a kid - - and, y’know, since this section is called AICN Comics I thought it might be interesting to take a look outside the more conventional coverage. Further installments of the COMICS BRITANNIA series will focus on more traditional older kids’ comics like DAN DARE and the British comics “revolution” of the 1980s, with contributions from Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and the like. Based on the quality of this documentary I would however highly recommend keeping an eye out for these shows, along with the Steve Ditko doc, on BBC America, or to fellow British readers.
SUICIDE SQUAD #1 of 8
Writer: John Ostrander Artist: Java Pina Inker: Robin Riggs Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoMany years ago, John Ostrander pounded out a monthly comic book called SUICIDE SQUAD, the kind of violent and somewhat nihilistic book that DC just didn’t do much of before the birth of its Vertigo line in 1993. I bought every issue, and occasionally still use the line “vicious but financially remunerative circle” to this day. I mean, how can you not steal a line like that? But the book ended too soon.
I’ve found myself missing them even more lately since Simone did such a bang-up job with the very similar SECRET SIX, because we all know that any team that has Deadshot on it is really a Suicide Squad (whether they know it or not, heh-heh.) But Catman is no Bronze Tiger. And Knockout and Vandal (though almost as hot and interstellar as Moondragon and Quasar) added a vibe that made it less “Magnificent Seven” and more “Charlie’s Angels”. Very well written, but not exactly what I wanted – which was the original SUICIDE SQUAD.
Well, this series starts with the original. With the original writer, no less! So I know what I expected, and I was not disappointed. I don’t know where it’s going, but I enjoyed the first issue.
You want a slightly younger Amanda Waller, aka The Wall, doing her thing? Check. You wanna see one or two D-tier super villains bite the bullet? Check. You wanna see the kind of dirty fighting that real villains do? Check.
I don’t think I’ve seen Java Pina’s work before, but it’s fresh and nice. There were several flourishes I appreciated, like the intro shot of one of the villains. I took one look and thought, despite his manly costume, “What is this guy, some kind of freaking dancer?” And it turns out that he’s ex-Bolshoi. Cool.
As for the Squad, the line-up is classic: Bronze Tiger; Boomer (the original Captain Boomerang, who somehow still comes across as a loser even when he wins); Eve Eden as Nightshade (before she went unavoidably Goth); and Deadshot, of course.
And though they’re dealing with some history of the Squad, you don’t have to be a continuity buff to jump in. Nothing to be afraid of but good old-fashioned storytelling here, folks.
SERGIO ARAGONES’ GROO 25th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL
By Sergio Aragones With Mark Evanier Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugOne of the things I love about stories is that they can be viewed through different lenses. A story can be enjoyed from a strictly straight-forward literal level, but if you look a bit deeper into more weighty stories, you can see a few more levels at work. Children’s stories, good children’s stories that is, often work on multiple levels. Many in criticism say that stories work to entertain children and adults alike, meaning that children can watch a film or read a story and enjoy it, while adults can read the same story and get something out of it on a deeper level. For example, as a naïve kid, I watched WALT DISNEY’S ALADDIN thinking how cool the animation was and the effects that went into the genie’s magic. But in retrospect, through the lens of my adult eye, the story of a kid and his genie changes into something a bit more complex. All of a sudden it’s a story about a kid who gets a girl by rubbing his “magic lamp” really hard. Of course, to me, that’s bit of a mixed message because I was always told that type of thing caused blindness. Now, I know almost anything can be sexualized when looked at through a Freudian lens, but that’s not really my point. The point is, that in great stories, there are many levels for one to enjoy.
The main story presented in SERGIO ARAGONES’ GROO 25th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL is such a layered story.
If I were to read this story as a kid, I would have laughed at the dumb barbarian as he beat up scores of heathens and lowlifes with his sword. And I did enjoy this story on that level. I still read these stories with unbridled glee simply for the fact that time and time again, Groo the Wanderer dives into battle, sword in hand, and not one person is actually cut in the melee. They all have bruises and black eyes. It’s as if Groo beats these opponents with his sword instead of slicing them. The fact that Groo is so stupid that he cannot even use a sword correctly makes me laugh every time.
But looking a bit deeper (not too deep mind you, because the allegory is pretty thinly veiled) and you’ll see a commentary about the class system and how medical attention can only be attained by those with power. That’s right. This issue of GROO is actually a cartoon version on Michael Moore’s SICKO. It’s a comment on the health care industry and how it benefits the rich while leaving the poor sneezing and wheezing in the gutters.
I enjoyed this story on both levels. Groo’s fascination with cheese dip and his choice for violence as the only solution for every problem make me laugh. Then again, the social commentary is quite pointed and entertaining as well. Aragones and Evanier have crafted a nice little modern fable that is as relevant to today’s headlines and enjoyable enough on a “guy gets kicked in the nuts” level too.
The rest of this book is a treat to read as well. There’s a bit of a Q&A section in the middle of the book where co-writer Mark Evanier dispels some urban myths about GROO and his enigmatic creator Sergio Aragones. There’s also a fun section where every letter of the alphabet is dedicated to a character from the GROO Universe. Lastly, there’s yet another tale about greed involving Little Groo, which makes me wonder if the Groo-myth dispelled in Evanier’s commentary about how all of Groo’s stories are relatively the same may be a little false. Two stories in one book about greed sounds like a common theme to me.
This is a slickly packaged, thoroughly entertaining read nonetheless. Having been a fan of GROO for quite some time, it was good to see the old barbarian idiot with a videocassette strapped across his chest go nutzo on a swarm of ruthless warriors. It’s been too long. Longtime fans of GROO will not want to miss this issue for the inside look at the people behind the creation of the Wanderer. Those new to GROO will enjoy this semi-veiled commentary, some damn finely detailed artwork, and an excuse to see Groo to kick @$$.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA WEDDING SPECIAL
Written by Dwayne McDuffie Art by Mike McKone and Andy Lanning Published by DC Comics Reviewed by Stones ThrowNumber #1 thing I want to say about this comic – Look at that cover! Introducing Superstripper! Makes a change from Supercrybaby-shoving-his-head-in-Wonder-Woman’s-boobies
Number #2 thing I want to say about this comic – Where the hell is the wedding? This thing’s called JLA WEDDING SPECIAL, right? Mike McKone could have at least drawn a wedding scene in the background.
Number #3 thing I want to say about this comic – Tigra (okay, Cheetah, but I’m a Marvel fanboy) objects to Dr. Light joining the new League of Injustice because “he’s a rapist and a murderer”. I’ll give her the rapist part (although I’m trying to forget it, Zatanna mind wipe-style…how does saying stuff backwards make it magic anyway?), but she’s sitting next to Lex Luthor and the Joker, fer chrissakes. Not to mention the League doing their best to kill Firestorm later on. Number #4 thing I want to say about this comic – It’s actually pretty good! Turns out the WEDDING SPECIAL bit is a misnomer and it should really have been JLA #13, given that it starts off Dwayne McDuffie’s run on the book. It’s not often that you see a writer working simultaneously for Marvel and DC these days, but if they’re turning in as good work as McDuffie is I for one applaud it! He plays it pretty straight here, but that’s okay since there’s few things as cool as the World’s Greatest Super Heroes versus its Greatest Super Villains. Maybe it stretches logic a bit to have a new Injustice League so soon after SECRET SOCIETY, which I haven’t read, but I’ll cut him some slack since it’s his first issue and I liked pretty much everything else I saw. Luthor’s in full-on green and purple (a color combination that’s shared by a lot of super villains, for some reason) power suit mode, while the Joker’s being played more “killer clown” than out-and-out killer, which I like because since the last twenty years of comics have established what a dangerous sumbitch he is we don’t need to be hit over the head with it. The ultra-violence with Firestorm was admittedly a bit off-putting, although filled with cool super-powered goodness, and as Hawkgirl reminds us (it feels silly typing that) he does have a healing factor - plus it establishes the gravity of the threat.
One of my favorite scenes, a downtime moment at Green Arrow’s bachelor party, was Hal Jordan asking John Stewart to fill his spot on the team. Not because it’s an exceptionally strong moment, but because I’m hoping that McDuffie can finally develop the black Green Lantern into a well-rounded character in his own right. What with his starring role in the JLU animated series, DC would be stupid not to use him in some kind of prominent role. Sure, McDuffie’s tweaking the team to fit his needs but I like to give new writers a bit of leeway to do that, as long as the characters seem to belong - - looking at you, NEW AVENGERS. Team books are one of the few continuing titles where there actually can be significant change and growth, given that the team is the main character rather than any one star.
I sometimes find Mike McKone’s art can be a bit too understated for its own good but he really impressed me here. He can somehow draw something as bizarre as Luthor’s power suit like he would a glass of water. That sounds like a criticism, but it really isn’t – he’s great at grounding the fantastic in reality. I’d like to see him stick around on the title.
So McDuffie’s run is off to a good start for me. He’s not rewriting the rule book or changing everything you ever knew about the Justice League, something I find refreshing. And if he continues apace with more solid, fun superhero stories like this one, I don’t think it’ll matter.
THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS Vol 1 & 2
Creators: Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones Publisher: Checker Book Publishing Group Reviewer: SquashuaImagine living the life of a super-spy - fast cars, hot chicks, guns, intrigue, sex, violence, and danger. Now imagine that life never stopping for a moment: send the butler to take out the trash, he gets killed by ninjas; change the channel on the TV, and activate the bomb in the couch; go to a baseball game, and Iranians take the place hostage; arrive home to find three hot girls ready to bang your brains out.
That's what it's like for Lester Girls, 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week. Every day brings him the one-millionth-customer prize when he checks out at the grocery store, a baseball contract when he hits a home run into a crowded freeway and strikes a scout's limo, or the CEO position when he applies for a menial janitorial job. Lester Girls can do everything right. He always has. And yet, all he wants is a normal life with a plain girl and nineteen-fifties sensibilities. And to finish "The Red Pony". Hence, THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS.
From what I could tell, Lester isn't actually a spy: this shit just keeps happening to him and he takes it in stride; the extraordinary continually takes precedence over the ordinary, thwarting Lester at every avenue to hilarious results. I did fear that once I was done with the first volume, all of the same jokes would come back to haunt me in the second book, but the writers managed to keep it fresh and the adventure going. These two trade paperbacks bring together all of the action-packed, critically-acclaimed issues of this popular cult classic (through 1989), featuring more hot 1980's mullet-wearing women than you can shake your dick at.
Jacobs and Jones manage to satire every spy/adventure/thriller cliché imaginable, outdoing James Bond, Austin Powers and Indiana Jones combined. Even though the art is completely dated in a "b&w indie comic from the eighties" fashion, these books showcase a classic example of a b&w indie comic from the eighties. They're nostalgic, and some of the topics are a bit dated, but the humor is solid, still holding even today. THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS is definitely worth checking out.
WONDER GIRL #1 of 6
Writer: J. Torres Artist: Sanford Greene Inker: Nathan Massengill Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: (former Sgt.) Rock-Me AmodeoI was looking forward to this book without knowing who was writing it. I remember when this incarnation of Wonder Girl was introduced over ten years ago – she has a lot of history. When I found out it was J. Torres writing, I got even more excited, since I just praised his BLACK CANARY WEDDING PLANNER up and down last week.
Then I read it. Sigh. This review won’t be as pretty as the artwork.
Some of you know that I’m a published author of young adult fiction, stuff with a “Heroes” meets “Buffy” flavor, which is what one might expect from a grown-up fanboy. For the sake of anyone young who has followed me here, and for some personal reasons, I try very hard to keep a lid on my language and my temper. So for the sake of any of younger readers, let me summarize that I didn’t care for this book, and ask that you might skip to the next review. Really. Okay?
First off, there were some things that I liked: Sanford Greene is a fun artist with an anime flair. I never used to like that style, but after watching a few seasons of “Teen Titans” with my daughter, it’s kinda grown on me. This is Greene’s first real foray in a while (that I know of) into the main DCU, and I hope he comes back for more after this series runs its course.
Quick word of advice though, Sanford – next time you draw military of any sort, could you drop the facial hair, stubble and goatees from the troops? Unless the script instructed you to draw them like slobs, that stuff just doesn’t fly. Maybe you could take a field trip to Fort Jackson and check it out for real. And though she looks real pretty, maybe Cassie’s mom could look like, oh, I dunno, Cassie’s mom and not her sister?
Next up is the writing. The plot basically is Wonder Girl taking care of unfinished business from the Amazon war (wisely, the cover doesn’t proclaim it to be an “AMAZONS ATTACK Tie-In!”…like THAT would sell any extra copies…) I’m curious to see where we’re going, because lately Wonder Girl has had a habit of punching first and asking questions never. I suspect this is due to Ares being her benefactor, but in any case, the trend is represented well here. But frankly, it doesn’t make for a very sympathetic character, and it’s not the girl she used to be, long ago. I hope both of these points are addressed. I don’t want to see her revert, I just want to see her GROW.
As for the delivery, Torres does better dialogue than exposition, and neither one is too shabby, though there are some cheese-laden moments. A TV commentator remarks on the Amazons, saying that women should be tending hearth and home and not invading the capital and slaughtering innocents. Uhm…yeah!
However, I can’t excuse the fact that he uses one device that I have never been able to stand: the artificial prolonging of tension by having two characters not finishing some crucial conversation. Oh, if only Cassie and Robin could have taken a few more moments to talk about that kiss! Angsty-angst-angst. And Cassie can’t stick around long enough to get her mom’s cell phone number. I can see that being written in to demonstrate the urgency of her getting to the next fight, but I swear, if that becomes a plot point…
But that’s not really what sticks in my craw. What got me was the casual, almost throwaway lines of the Reservists on hand to deal with a particular crisis. “The men are afraid…we’re just a bunch of weekend warriors. Sir.” Then Cassie destroys a jeep in front of them and they all run away like pansies.
I mean, there are so many other ways this scene could have been played and moved the story forward. But to have them cower in fear because they’re “just” weekend warriors? And it’s at this point where I must temporarily shed my Mr. Rogers-ish tendencies and cry, “WTF?”
You mean “weekend warriors” like the ones that are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan? You mean like the ones that have signed up for two and three tours of combat duty? Like the ones that get wounded, male and female, and don’t want to come home because they don’t want to leave their buddies out in the field? You mean like THOSE weekend warriors? Give me a damn break, and this has nothing to do with politics. Every wise soldier has felt fear. But incapacitating fear? Much less likely. And incapacitating self-pity? Never seen it. Never. What a dumbshit time in history to pull out one of the lamest, dumbshit, disrespectful caricatures of military reservists ever. I haven’t been this mad since that stupid-ass issue of the INHUMANS miniseries where Sentry turned his nose up at his comrades-in-arms, and a bunch of marines were shouting “Kill, kill, kill!” like brain-dead extras from a tragic retelling of “Alice’s Restaurant.”
Oh, and lets not forget the editor. FYI, when a corporal (two chevrons on his sleeve) says “sir” to another soldier, it sure as hell won’t be to another soldier who ALSO has two chevrons on his sleeve! Nachie Castro, I know there wasn’t anything you could do to save NIGHTWING under Bruce Jones’ run, but you were the editor here, did you take two seconds to check any of this out?
My bottom line: despite hating this issue, I really do like Torres as a writer and I liked Greene as an artist (if he can make this look a little less TEEN TITANS GO! and more WONDER GIRL, ya know?) So let’s see where this goes in next issue, and for me, that will determine whether I pick up the whole run, or just glance over the TPB in the aisle of Borders.
I now return to my regularly scheduled level of restraint already in progress.
FLIGHT VOL 4
Writers: Various Artists: Various Publisher: Villard Books Reviewer: Ambush Bug“If you could have one super power, what would it be?”
That was a question that popped up during a night out with non-comic book reading friends a while back. My friends came up with elaborate powers from super strength to x-ray vision. All of these super powers were tossed back and forth and discussed about and laughed at. When it came to my turn to answer the question I simply said, “I just wish I could fly.”
And I do wish that. It’s been a wish of mine ever since I was a little kid. I WAS that stereotypical kid with the tablecloth wrapped around my shoulders, jumping off of the couch or down the last ten steps leading to my basement, flapping away, and knowing that if I would just be able to get enough speed…well, I could actually take flight. I dream of flying when I sleep. I daydream of being able to put my gridlocked car in park, open my car door, and fly above all of the hullabaloo to get to my destination. I simply wish I could fly.
It’s that type of simplistic imagination that surfaces in each and every entry in the fourth volume of the critically acclaimed compilation series, FLIGHT. I have been meaning to pick up one of these books, thinking that at the heart of every story was the theme of flight. Upon reading this book, I found out that FLIGHT has less to do with actual flying, and more to do with the flight of ideas crammed in between the soft-bound covers of this book.
Each of the 25 entries in FLIGHT are done by animators, webcomic-makers, and newbies to comic books and graphic illustration. This book showcases some highly talented artists and writers. Although there are too many to go through individually, I want to point out my favorites of the bunch.
The book starts out with what might be my favorite story by Michael Gagne, “The Saga of Rex: Castaway” which illustrates the adventures of a pink dog with one horn, Rex, who goes on a silent adventure. I love how this story plays with first impressions and how we are often wrong about judging a book by its cover. This theme is repeated a few times in this story. It’s a strong and resonant one. The playful and “cute” artwork makes the story all the more special.
“Cyclops” by Israel Sanchez is another favorite of mine. It’s another silent story about a Cyclops with the best of intentions who has difficulty communicating with a world that is much tinier and more judgmental than him. The artwork is simple and cartoony, but makes for a truly heartwarming read.
Kazu Kibuishi offers us “The Window Makers” and I challenge anyone to read this story and not have a smile on your face and a tear in your eye when you finish it. It’s a simply beautiful metaphor about life and coming to understand how to live it to its fullest.
“Igloo Head & Tree Head” by Scott Campbell is too batshit crazy not to mention, about a population of creatures with different things resting on top of their heads. The two main characters are out to purchase some hats. The banality of the conversation had between these two oddballs make this story all the more memorable and weird.
There was something simple and poignant about “The Rabbit Mayor: A Mayan Folk Tale.” It’s kooky fun illustrated with printmaking-style panelwork by Jon Klassen. The ending of this one had me laughing out loud at the absurdity of it all.
“Roomie-Pal!” by Graham Annable is freaking hilarious. Azad Injejikian’s “The Vampyres of Salem” was spooky as hell. And “The Storm” by Pascal Campion may be simple in story, but it had some of the slickest artwork of the book.
If I were to go on about the rest of the stories offered, we’d be here all night. Just trust me that you won’t find a weak entry in this book. It highlights some talent that I hope to see more of in the future. Initially, I may have been a little disappointed that this book wasn’t solely about the love of flight. But that disappointment faded immediately as the impressive amount of creativity in FLIGHT made my imagination soar. I will be sure to seek out earlier volumes of this series in the future. This book is highly recommended.
SLUGGY FREELANCE Webcomic
Pete Abrams: Creator www.sluggy.com: Website Vroom Socko: NiftyI’ve been reading online comics for years now, but for whatever reason they still seem like a new thing to me. That I now have family members that are younger than most of the comics I read is a strange thought. And I read plenty of online comics. I started with just two though. The first, Acid Reflux, died the slow death years ago. But the second has recently hit the ten year mark. That’s ten years of daily content. (Well, excluding the occasional No Content Saturday.) And the only word that can describe this decade of reading pleasure is, well… Nifty.
For those of you who haven’t read SLUGGY FREELANCE, it centers on Torg, an average twenty-something slacker who leads an ordinary life. Well, as ordinary as life can be when your roommate is a mad scientist. And your pet rabbit is a homicidal maniac. And your best friend is a shape-shifting alien being hunted by an evil corporation. Not to mention the vampires, demons, parallel realities, assassins, killer kittens, and the love interest who turns into a camel. Wait, let me start over…
If you were to plan out something like this from start to finish there’s no way in hell it would work. It shouldn’t work. This comic literally has something for everyone somewhere in the ten published years. How does creator Pete Abrams make it work? Mainly by being a funny sonuvabitch that puts the main emphasis on character. The cast in this thing runs into the hundreds at some times, and each one is unique and fully realized. There’s a minor villain in the comic called Mosp, for example. She started out as a rather humorous element of the demon-centric storylines, and ended up one of the most tragic figures in the whole of the Sluggy-verse.
Is the comic perfect? Well, no; Abrams has been on a bit of a long-winded alternate-reality kick the past couple of years, and while they read great as a complete arc, reading them as day to day installments can become a bit tedious if you’re not 100% involved. I usually am most of the time, thanks to the aforementioned characterization. Then again, every year or so I do a weekend long run-through of the entire archive to refamiliarize myself with the characters.
In any case, SLUGGY FREELANCE is one of the first comics I read every day. It’s a blast to go through, and if any online comic deserves longevity this is it. I fully expect it to last another ten years, and I’ll be reading it every step of the way.
POTTER’S FIELD #1 BOOM! StudiosA while back, I did a review/preview of this book. It’s one of the finest books BOOM! has published to date about an enigmatic detective who specializes in unsolved murders with John Doe victims. It’s strongly written by Mark Waid and ominously drawn by Paul Azaceta. It’s finally hitting the stands and I recommend you give this one a look-see. It’s good, mysterious fun and definitely worth checking out. – Ambush Bug
ATOMIC ROBO #1 Red 5 ComicsAlthough comparisons to HELLBOY are bound to be made, ATOMIC ROBO stands alone as one of the coolest new characters to hit the funny books in a long time. He’s not so much a smart-@$$ robot as he is a brutally honest robot. Writer Brian Clevinger has brought to life a truly original character made more real by the stylistic yet retro-simple art by Scott Wegener. Robo, an invention of Nikolai Tesla (boy, two Tesla robots in one month, after an appearance in last month’s JONAH HEX…kinda weird) has the simple desire of being acknowledged as a real person and will do anything to achieve this goal. And that means diving headfirst into battle as a secret agent for the government. This is a fun and goofy tale in the vein of THE GOON at times, yet unlike the Goon, there’s some real heart behind this character and you can’t help but root for this robot who would rather be anywhere else but in the thick of the battle. In this first issue, Atomic Robo battles Nazis, but the six issue miniseries promises to have Atomic Robo pop up throughout all of the major world events within the last fifty years. Can’t wait. – Ambush Bug
RADICAL PUBLISHING PREVIEW BOOK Radical PublishingI don’t really do promo book reviews, but this collection of pin-ups and one or two page previews of Radical’s upcoming line of books impressed the hell out of me. Artists and writers like Simon Bisley, Bill Sienkiewicz, Ian Edington, Vincent Perez, Warren Ellis, and Steve Pugh join some newcomers to bring a wide variety of high concept comics. The books look to be lushly painted and the concepts piqued my interests too. I’ll be looking for these Radical Publishing books when they come out in 2008 and so should you. With promising properties like HERCULES (a Greek mythology book), GALLOWWALKER (looks to be a western), HOTWIRE (sci fi stuff from Ellis & Pugh), and SOLITUDE and RYDER ON THE STORM (both spooky lookin' horror books) coming down the pike, it looks like next year Radical Publishing will be making comics to look out for. It’s got cool music on the website too. Check it out. – Ambush Bug
SLIP KID #1 Ronin StudiosI met writer/creator Sean McDevitt at the Chicago Wizard World Con and he was nice enough to slip me a copy of this first issue of SLIP KID. The book does a good job of making the archetypal “outcast kid who discovers superpowers” schtick fun and entertaining to read. McDevitt brings comfortable dialog to the table, making the characters easily likable and easier to relate to. This is an impressive first issue as well due to the subdued yet cartoon-like art by Rita Micozzi, which is definitely a treat, but maybe in need of a little more inking in a few of the panels to highlight some of the details and dimensions. Nonetheless, this is a strong first issue and one that does its job, which is to grab my interest and make me looking forward to future issues. – Ambush Bug
MOON KNIGHT #12 Marvel ComicsOkay, is anyone reading this book? How is it that a book with such seemingly pretty artwork is so hard to read? It could be that there are not one, not two, but three people running around whose faces are falling off. It could be that when there are two normal looking people having a conversation, the writer doesn’t feel obligated to tell me who EITHER ONE of them is. It could be that Moon Knight has a flashback to some pre-Civil War scene, which might as well have been a flashback to the “Heroes Reborn” universe in terms of sheer moot-ness. Or it could be that I don’t see how someone can seem to be having vertebrae pulled out of their back with a pair of pliers and then get up and kick bad-guy booty. I’m just not buying it. Literally. My advice – stay away from “Moot Knight” until it says anything of significance. - Rock-Me
BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL #7-9 DC ComicsThese comics, retelling the oft-retold origin of the Joker, bring to mind an amusing analogy from personal experience! See, every time the Stones Throw clan gets together, my dad, who used to be what you might call a K9 police officer, likes to tell this one story. One night ol’ Pop gets called out by two old folks who were dropping by their daughter’s house and saw signs of a disturbance and a woman running away - except their daughter and son-in-law were away and the house should have been locked up. So Pop and dog arrive and the dog starts tracing the scent, eventually into the large, bushy garden. He starts barking, Pa shouts “All right, come out!” – only to be confronted by a generously-proportioned middle-aged man in full drag. Dad recoils in horror, the dog’s barking wildly, the guy has to explain to his 80-year old parents-in-law he’s a secret cross dresser, and, erm, where was I?...oh, yeah. That story was pretty good. The first time. – Stones Throw
NOVA #6 Marvel ComicsThis is the one of the few books where I read the first page thinking, “Man is this going to be good” and then I get to the last page and go “Oh no! It can’t end there! That was too fast! Crap, crap, crap!” Every issue so far has reminded me of the way I used to feel when I was picking up copies of UNCANNY X-MEN off the rack, back when they numbered in the nineties. I’m excited when I pick up this book! I must be excited, just count the number of exclamation points I’ve already used. But seriously, this book is well-plotted, well-written, and the artwork… Hey, even discounting the extreme cuteness of Nova #0001, Gamora is just the cheekiest killer ever, and you know what I mean: for two issues now, she’s been putting the “ass” in assassin. But even without the eye-candy, there are larger forces at work, with ANNIHILATION looming large in the background. The thing is, I can’t believe how much I’ve vested in these characters in such a short time. If you’re not already buying this book, sign on quickly. - Rock-Me
(NOTE: The following was dropped off at @$$hole HQ by Vroom Socko at the absolute last minute. He was reeking of IPA and, when asked if he wanted to go over what he’d written with us, pulled out a Benchmade Vex and proclaimed, “Just run the fucker!” He then bellowed out “WE ARE THE TIMBERS!” and collapsed onto the floor. We have no idea what that means. In the meantime, we have decided to run this 90’s installment as-is. – Bug.)
IT CAME FROM THE 90’S
By Vroom Socko
At first glance, this is the sort of book that I absolutely would not cover in this feature. Its bagged-with-extras-variants and multiple-covers, not to mention hype-over-story promotion and stunt-storytelling, are everything that was wrong with that decade. However, after perusing the recent omnibus publication of THE DEATH AND RETURN OF SUPERMAN, I have decided that this run should at least get points for trying. Anyway, anything with writing work from Roger Stern can’t be all bad.
Even if you weren’t reading comics fifteen years ago, you surely remember when DC decided to kill off Superman. It was on the news! I remember seeing Don, the owner of my comic shop of nearly two decades, being interviewed about it on tv. This was a big deal, a massively big deal. That there was no chance in hell of a gigantic cash cow like Superman staying dead didn’t seem to cross the minds of any broadcasters. (Although if Marvel decided to kill off Spider-Man and leave only the Ultimate title running, I honestly wouldn’t complain at this point. Wait, where was I?)
In any case, the whole DEATH AND RETURN angle isn’t the best of reads. There’s a lot that just doesn’t work. It’s overlong, it’s melodramatic by today’s standards, and since both Death and Return are in the title, there’s no real suspense to be had. But as I said, it gets points for trying.
First there’s the near-prophetic all splash page death from SUPERMAN #75. Back before insane splash pages were the soup du jour, there was this issue. The pages didn’t quite flow as well as they could have, it’s true, but there’s some stunning shit in that issue, which if any of you fuckers ever bothered to cut open the black and blood colored bag to read the damn thing you would know. (Where was I?) There’s also the then weekly publishing schedule the Superman books had back then, with the entire Death and Return storyline taking up roughly a year of published issues, again prefiguring the current trend of MEGA STORYTELLING!!! (If you haven’t read all of 52 and COUNTDOWN and everything with CRISIS in the title over at DC, you’re just as fucked as if you haven’t read everything with CIVIL WAR or THE INITIATIVE scrawled on the cover at Marvel, not to mention needing to read every fucking thing Bendis has written for the company just to follow one goddamn issue of NEW AVENGERS! Where was I?)
There’s also some great characters that came out of this event. Steel, for one, as well as the revamped Superboy (his shitty haircut notwithstanding.) There was also a lot of soul searching and rumination by the rest of the DC heroes about what a character like Superman means to the world today. About what his place is in a world that isn’t quite as black-and-white innocent as he would have us think. Of course, Joe Kelly managed to convey that same feeling in just one issue published ten years later, the famous ACTION COMICS #775. But at least they were trying.
So no, this particular look back at the 90’s isn’t that great. But it is an interesting read. And it was fun in places. And it clearly had an impact that we’re still feeling to this day.
(Oh, and FYI: The recent omnibus collection, like the Kirby FOURTH WORLD omnibus before it, is printed on a more newsprintish-textured paper. For those of you who think that this book, and the Kirby one before it should have been printed on heavier, glossier paper, I have this to say: kindly suck my nuts. I have seen older style comics printed on slick paper, and they look just as shitty as computer colored ones do on newsprint. These comics were made with this sort of paper in mind. Don’t like it? Then I’m sure you wouldn’t mind paying twice as much so they could be recolored, eh asshat?)