THE GOON: CHINATOWN & THE MYSTERY OF MR. WICKER HC GN
Story and art by Eric Powell Published by Dark Horse Reviewed by Ambush BugMark my words, folks. THE GOON: CHINATOWN & THE MYSTERY OF MR. WICKER will be the thing that propels Eric Powell from “that dude who writes that funny comic about herky-jerky zombies, Spanish-speaking dragons, and retards with shit-filled diapers” to creative comic book powerhouse. This absolutely beautiful and original hardcover graphic novel is one of those books that deserve to be read and reread, then reread again: once for the story, then for the art, then once again to soak it all in.
For a few years now, Eric Powell has tickled our demented funny bones with the irreverent antics of the Goon (a street-tough palooka) and his smack-talkin’ sidekick Franky as they bound through a noir-ish town filled with horrific and hilarious creatures. So far, we’ve witnessed quite a bit of jack@$$ery going on in just about each and every issue of the monthly GOON comic. There’s poo-flinging, devil worship, knives to eyes, giant spiders, metal covered hero/villain/heroes, and what seems to be just about everything and anything the demented mind of Eric Powell has cooked up in fever dreams and hallucinations. It is a comic with no moral buffer, sure to offend the uptight and entertain those like me with a sense of humor and the understanding that no subject is beyond ridicule. One of the things missing, though, from THE GOON was heart. Sure there were a few moments here and there where the Goon would perform an act of decency, but for the most part the series focus has been on lowest common denominator, gross-out, purposefully offensive humor and gore.
That is, until now.
With CHINATOWN & THE MYSTERY OF MR. WICKER, Powell ventures into new territory, peeling off the hat that covers most of the Goon’s face to reveal some powerful moments that hit like one of the Goon’s oversized fists to the gut. Why is the Goon such a hard@$$? What happened to make him this way? Powell answers these questions here.
This tale pops between present and past revealing the plot with a sense of maturity and patience that Powell hasn’t shown until now. This is a sensitive tale of loss, betrayal, and redemption. A woman from the past reappears in the Goon’s life, and with her return long-buried memories for him. In this book, we get to see how the Goon gets his scars on the inside and out and what made him such a man of muscle and grit. The book is set up like a perfect noir film with flashbacks in monotone, while the present story is told in more vibrant, yet still muted (this is still a GOON comic, ya know) colors.
Powell has always been a powerful artist. I used to compare his artistic style to that of such horror legends as Bernie Wrightston and Kelley Jones, but in recent years Powell has come into his own, completely surpassing comparison with others. Powell maintains the iconic GOON imagery while venturing into new artistic territory with what looks to be watercolors and charcoals to add depth and mood. Having followed the Goon and Powell from their first appearances on the comics scene, it’s been a treat to see the artist develop into his own and become one of the most distinct and original artists we have in comics today.
With this hardcover, Powell has surpassed even his own phenomenal achievements. Here Powell’s images are more crisp in the present scenes and more textured and lush in the flashbacks. There’s a sequence of pages when the story reaches a crescendo where we are treated with a series of splash pages where the Goon unravels and goes completely mad before our eyes. It is fascinating to turn these pages simply depicting the Goon’s face and see the transformation he undergoes at this point in the book. The subtle changes to the facial features and the range of emotions conveyed make it one of the most compelling turns of the page I have read this year. In those five splash pages, we see the Goon transform from man filled with life and hope to the hard-nosed street rough we know and love today. It’s an excruciating thing to see and one this reader will not soon forget.
If you’ve never read a Goon story, this is the perfect starting point. It highlights the best aspects of the Goon Universe while making it all the more three-dimensional. To be honest, I was wondering where Powell was planning on taking the Goon. I always thought the character has much more potential than just being an excuse to draw poop and gore on a monthly basis. In CHINATOWN & THE MYSTERY OF MR. WICKER, we not only get to see how the Goon transformed into the man we all know, but we get the added bonus of witnessing the transformation of Eric Powell to funny book writer/artist to a force to be reckoned with in the comic book world. Be warned, as the first pages of this book exclaims in large letters: “This Ain’t Funny.” And THE GOON: CHINATOWN & THE MYSTERY OF MR. WICKER surely isn’t, but it is without a doubt one of the best books I have read this year.
ALL STAR SUPERMAN #9
Written by Grant Morrison Art by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant Published by DC Reviewed by Stones ThrowTwo years and counting, three more issues to go…Sigh.
I’m going to miss this book. Conceptually, Superman is probably the best super-powered character there is, but in practice he’s labored way too much in comic book purgatory. People say stuff like “he’s too powerful”. How is that a bad thing? Having unimaginable power yet still being susceptible to human emotions and desires sounds like a recipe for engaging stories to me. Or, “he’s too much of a boy scout”. What do you folks like so much about Spider-Man? Great power and great responsibility, right? Superman’s that to the max! He’s a guy with power so great that he feels he can’t let himself be less than morally perfect – the epitome of a hero’s struggle. And don’t even give me that “he’s too hard to empathize with” crap. Batman is hard to empathize with. Clark Kent is a guy who knows he has great power but can’t allow himself to prove it to others. No matter how many friends he has he’ll always feel slightly alone. Come on. An all-powerful alien who is at once intrinsically human but always destined to be other, come to save us but never fully join us. Someone who could rule over us but chooses to live as one of our meekest. A guy who’s simply trying to do the best he can with what he’s got. These concepts are gold, but somehow successive writers have gotten distracted by the trappings and have failed to live up to their potential.
Morrison and Quitely know how to do it though. The main thing to remember is that as an established character, Superman is fundamentally an adult who has got it worked out, occasional doubts aside. Internal soul-searching is all but pointless in a Superman story as it’s telling us what we already know. What a writer has to do is to present outside challenges to what Superman is. Case in point: the Kryptonian astronaut heroes who have made their way to Earth during Superman’s absence on Bizarro World. The character has probably wished more than once that he could have grown up on Krypton, but in this issue he has to face up to the fact that he doesn’t fully belong on Earth or Krypton and even question the way he’s protected Earth. Of course, this story is beautifully and surprisingly resolved within 22 pages. It says “to be continued” at the end but I was convinced it was a perfect standalone story.
The reason I’m talking about this specific issue when all the others have been equally fantastic is that not only is this a great ALL STAR Superman tale, but a great SUPERMAN tale full stop. This could fit seamlessly into the ongoing adventures (the worst feature of which is the number of Kryptonians other than Superman). And the thing is, what’s going to happen when this book is gone? Morrison and Quitely have presented us with the best, purest version of Superman since the first Christopher Reeve movie and have set the standard for which the other stories of comics’ best character should be held to in stories approaching high art. More importantly, they’ve shown us interesting, powerful Superman stories can be consistently achieved. Time for DC to raise their game. Geoff Johns’ work on ACTION COMICS is a step in the right direction.
HEROES FOR HIRE #15
Writer: Zeb Wells Pencilers: Alvin Lee, Leonard Kirk, Ale Garza, James Cordeiro Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoI have to say the WORLD WAR HULK crossovers into regular titles, generally, seemed unnecessary. A lot of them didn’t add much to the primary WWH story and just as often didn’t add anything to the title doing the crossover either. Mostly it was just an interruption in the regularly scheduled story. And then, after the crossover was done, the books jumped back to their regular tale without much dovetailing from the big war, mainly because most of them finished their tie-in before the end of the war was revealed.
HEROES FOR HIRE was on my list of pointless, “who cares” WWH tie-ins. Between tie-ins to CIVIL WAR and WWH, the book annoyingly hasn’t had much of a chance to actually run with its own premise. These heroes have been so busy being caught up in “events” that ain’t none of them been hired to do crap more than a couple of times. And WWH didn’t even have them involved in the main story. It had them involved with some of Hulks alien bug buddies. Okay, whatever.
So with all of that, I was shocked to find myself really impressed with the payoff of HEROES FOR HIRE’s WWH story. Seriously. Calling their shots and focusing in on the alien bugs, a part of the event they could grab and make their own, as opposed to being the one hundred and eighth group of heroes to fail to stop the Hulk turned out to be a good move. The bugs might have been minor to the war but Zeb Wells gave those bugs big consequences for the Heroes For Hire. Big big.
The cover spells out that one of the gang won’t survive the issue. But amazingly Wells gives pretty much every hero a major troubling character turn in this issue. Considering the book has EIGHT characters to service, that’s pretty damn impressive. This is one of those team book issues where someone would say, “what’s happened to us? Everything has changed.” Usually, in groups with far fewer characters in one of these stories, half the team’s disillusionment is just a general one coming off of the big central shock of the issue. But here? Multiple critical moments, real specific turns for everybody without a generic “What’s become of us?” in the bunch. With eight characters! Sorry but that still floors me.
In addition to eight heroes, the issue also sports work from four different pencilers. What the hey? Did everybody just come in and draw one line each? That’s a lot of people chipping in on the art. But it was a surprise to me because I think all the art flows together pretty seamlessly. The style might vary a bit but not so much that you’d notice. And it’s solid work. Not the ultimate in comic art but solid stuff. And I really liked the visceral feel of the full page splash panel toward the end of the book. So very wrong it made me smile. Heheh.
But, seriously, can we get these damn heroes (the ones that are still functional) a JOB already? Damn man, I think in a year they’ve only had two or three jobs and one of those was paid for with a jar of change.
Writer: Marc Guggenheim Penciler: David Dumeer Publisher: Oni Press Reviewed by Humphrey LeeThis seems to be a rather good time for comics if you're into the whole "post-apocalyptic" world schtick. I barely remember a time where there was one or two books that used that kind of subject matter on the shelves, and yet there's been one introduced to the industry every year or two like clockwork since Y: THE LAST MAN hit the shelves about five years back. Continuing the trend and from Oni Press (who also produces WASTELAND, one of the other titles I was alluding to) comes RESURRECTION from Marc Guggenheim, a man who's been making himself a solid little following here and there with some stints on some big name franchise characters the past year now.
The main premise of RESURRECTION is that of a good old-fashioned alien invasion, the hitch though is this...wait for it...it starts after the aliens are gone. Dun dun dun!!! And now I kind of feel bad because that sort of undersells what I do actually think is a really solid approach to take to a storytelling standby that has been used forever down the line of various forms of media. Kind of like what Robert Kirkman went for with THE WALKING DEAD: I want to see more than just people surviving the immediate threat, I want to know how they deal with and live in a world that is forever changed to them. As the preview teaser I have for this book says, "Who ended the war? How did they do it? Where do we go from here?"--something I've often wondered while the final curtain draws on some of these stories I've consumed over the years. I would have been sold on this going in blind, let alone if I didn't get a chance to read an advance of the first issue which turned out to be rather solid.
This debut issue pretty much starts out like you'd expect something like this to: with a nice assortment of tidbits. There's a dab of establishing here, a hint of what might have happened to the invaders, a quick flash of what one of the invaders sort of looks like and so on and so forth, all promptly letting the reader know there's going to be a lot of information to come from the world this book takes place in. We're only given a few glimpses of characters that may be heavy players all said, or they could just be random people in a world that was complete and utter chaos for however long and are there simply to establish the mood. It's all kind of scattershot at this point, which is actually part of the appeal because already my brainspace is ready to soak up more info on this setting as it comes to me, even though there's not a ton of overall knowledge going on here at this point.
From both creative aspects, the writing and the art, this is a solidly put together book. The dialogue flows forth pretty smoothly, and the scripting does very well for alluding here and there as to what exactly has been going on during this "war". And, honestly, this issue holds a lot of poignancy despite it being more of a "cliff notes catchup" making me hopeful for exactly the kind of power it can pack when/if it becomes more focused. And David Dumeer's pencils do a great job of first and foremost doing exactly what they have to in a Black & White book: differentiating and diversifying the characters. I don't care whether a book is in color or not, but if you are going to go the B&W approach you have to realize the lack of color can sometimes mess with people's recognitions of the characters, especially if there's a lack in facial feature range and what have you. That is most certainly not the case here as Dumeer looks to have a large arsenal of features, expressions, body types, etc. at his disposal to go with a pretty skill to create background detail and good panel pacing. This already looks to be a very solid mesh of Writer and Artist, each with some tricks up their sleeves to spice things up.
I know I wasn't exactly frothing at the mouth with excited praise at this book but it really is an intriguing work thus far. I just simply haven't seen enough of this yet to rabidly yell "GO BUY THIS NOW YOU DOGFUCKERS!!!" but that tends to happen with books like this. They either hit you right in the face with all sorts of random twists or shocking events or they just take the slow burn and lead you into the setting. This first issue did the latter and did it quite admirably. All I can say is that I'm looking forward to the next issue, and that more likely than not this little ditty is going to be worth your $3.50 to check and see if you dig what's inside when it hits the stands. What remains to be seen is if it'll keep being worth that on a monthly basis. Hopefully though, in three or four more issues I can come back here with all those lovely profanity-laced capital letters and say that indeed it is. Fingers crossed.
THE SCREAM #1 (of 4)
Written by Peter David Art by Bart Sears and Randy Elliott Published by Dark Horse Reviewed by Stones ThrowDo you ever get those little angel and devil versions of yourself on either shoulder? I do. Particularly when I’m trying to decide whether to give a book the benefit of the doubt and write up a bland, lenient review or to get my blowtorch kit out. Such a dilemma was Dark Horse’s THE SCREAM #1.
ANGEL THROW (AT): Cease thine prattle! THE SCREAM #1 was a good comic. It did a fine job of establishing the main character, premise and tone, while keeping some choice information back in the name of mystery. I very much enjoyed the kinetic, Erik Larsen-esque artwork from Bart Sears and Randy Elliott also. I support Dark Horse for letting a writer tell an original, one-off story. It had a good cover. The paper stock was --
DEVIL THROW (DT): Get off your friggin’ cloud, angel-face! We just paid £2 for a 22 page prelude to issue two. This was a premise, some set-up and nothing more. The main character is still a mystery. So’s the plot. All that happened was the stage was set. And who wants to see that? What are you, retarded?
AT: For your information, we prefer “angelically challenged”, and, uh, no. Be reasonable, Satan-spawn: it’s paced for the trade. This issue was part one and will read better when the other issues are released.
DT: Frick it! Then this should have come out as a trade paperback instead of single issues! We should be entertained now, not next month, because we paid for a story, not a segment of one - even if it does end with “to be continued”! Why didn’t David push himself and write a full piece of entertainment that would have got us pumped for the next issue? He can do it. He’s an old hand at this kind of stuff. He did it last month in SHE-HULK.
AT: Hardly anyone does that in a first issue anymore. THE SCREAM #1 was a fine comic for what it was. You’re setting your standards too high.
DT: That’s a frickin’ good thing! I refuse to deal with it! Know why no one does that in first issues anymore? It’s friggin’ hard work! But I tell ya, there might have been bad comics back in the day, but none of them left us feeling underwhelmed and indifferent like this.
AT: You’re living in the past. Don’t listen to him Stones Throw. Be kind!
DT: Negative review! Negative review!
AT: Eh, you’re just crabby because Stones Throw likes you least. He told me he purposefully washes that shoulder with less care.
DT: That’s not true! His arm gets tired! I’m comin’ over there!
AT: Ah! Not the nostrils!
DT: Hey! My pitchfork!
Guys, guys, cut it out. I’ve reached my verdict.
ACTION COMICS # 859
Written by Geoff Johns Pencilled by Gary Frank Published by DC Comics Reviewed by superheroHonestly, I couldn't give a flying fig about the Legion of Super Heroes. Yes, yes, I know that they're a solid part of DC history but I could never get into them at all. They just seemed more convoluted than Chris Claremont's X-Men could ever be. I've tried in the past to start reading their comic as the idea of the Legion is a pretty nifty one but I always felt lost in their books. Like I had to know fifty plus years of DC history before I could even begin to understand what the hell was going on in the Legion universe.
Despite my indifference for the Legion I actually thoroughly enjoyed this issue of ACTION COMICS. Johns does a great job of creating a future world that has turned the legacy of the Man of Steel to something horrible instead of one full of hope. It's a great irony as it's my understanding that it was Superman's (or Superboy's) adventures that apparently inspired the formation of the Legion.
I also really enjoyed the fact that while the past is a place where Superman may be the most powerful being on the planet, Johns has made the future a place where he's just as vulnerable as your average human. It's a touch that makes this particular adventure a bit more dangerous for Supey-baby and therefore it raises the stakes…which is something that few Superman stories are able to do. While I'm pretty damn sure that The Last Son of Krypton will survive this particular jaunt through time, I doubt he's going to get through it unscathed. I mean, hell, the guy's already been shot through the hand. How often does that happen to Superman? I'd say never. Knowing Johns's track record I'd say that there may be some dire things ahead for Superman in the next couple of issues of ACTION COMICS. Heck, if you were writing a depowered Superman and had Geoff Johns' penchant for gore could you resist giving Superman the ass-kicking of his career? Probably not.
As for Gary Frank, well, what can you say? I've always loved his art but wasn't sure how it would jibe with the fantastic adventures of Superman. I can see now that I shouldn't have been doubtful in the least. Frank's art is fantastic and after seeing the past couple of issues he could easily become one of my favorite Superman artists of all time.
The Superman books are a real hit or miss for me most of the time. I love that character but more often than not the comics fail to live up to the potential of the character. So it's really a joy when an in-continuity storyline like this one comes along and messes with the character a bit. While I haven't liked what's been going on with ACTION COMICS lately this story is one that's got me interested in following through to the end of the arc.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK #111
Writer: Greg Pak AND Jeff Parker Artist: Leonard Kirk Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoIt’s not a bad issue. Just remember, I said that up front.
You know, I learned a thing or two last week, cruising www.Poobala.com’s spin-off page. Didja ever watch a TV show that seems to have been commandeered by a new character or two, only to watch those characters get their own TV show a short time later? It doesn’t happen much now, but I remember Mork was on ONE episode of “Happy Days”, and then the next day, he’s got his own show! And suddenly, you realize you were part of a test run and didn’t know it.
Well, here we go again, Marvel Style. We all knew it was coming. The Renegades are here, contrived reasonings and all. And since the story takes place between WW HULK 4 and the end of WW HULK 5, much of the plot is rendered moot. That always makes reading a book extra special. It reminds me of the part of an annual physical where you get checked for a hernia: you know you shouldn’t skip it, but chances are nothing exciting is going to happen. Cough, please. Thanks. And like the exam, I had to pay money for the privilege.
So what do we have here? Some good artwork, for starters. I think Kirk drew and inked the whole thing. It looks like he picked up inking tips from Tony Zuniga (that’s a compliment, BTW) and carries the issue pretty well. Solid art.
We have Amadeus Cho being his clever self (hey, with a first name like that, how could he NOT be clever, I asks ya?) and the rest of the Renegades being, uhn, renegadey. Angel, uhn, flies and Namora is, uhn, a tough chick who flies, and uhn…
Okay. I’m not digging it. Bottom line, this concept has a long way to go. Clearly, some effort was put into characterizing Cho and Herc, and I appreciate that. But the only time I felt a twinge of anything resembling an emotion was some possible flirtation between Herc and the flying fish. It’s not bad writing – the writing was fine. But Namora and Angel felt tacked onto the plot as if someone wrote their parts with a Mad Lib in one hand and a copy of MARVEL UNIVERSE in the other.
The Hulk appears a few times but is mostly absent. Didn’t we just have a practically Hulkless book a few issues ago in “A Tale of Two Sidekicks” or whatever it was called? I feel another attack of “the Bendis” coming on (you know, when you cramp from story decompression).
And the thing that really bothers me is the lack of commitment on Marvel’s part. They weren’t even excited enough to make it a mini-series. I mean, most of GAMMA CORPS sucked, but at least you knew what you were (and were not) getting – a book devoted to the title characters, not the character from whom they spun.
Consequently, this issue feels like a sucker punch. They placed another team in the center of a book that is, for all intents and purposes, about to be cancelled. Unless that book is AMAZING FANTASY #15, it’s not cool. Like riding in the back of a pick-up truck – no matter what you wear, no matter how you sit, you’re still riding in the back of a pick-up truck. No matter how you dress it up, some things always come off poorly.
And no matter how it’s been dressed up, this feels like a test market book. A contrived device to facilitate a spin-off. It’s not a “Laverne and Shirley.” It’s more like a “Joanie Loves Chachi” (or maybe even an “Out of the Blue”).
One review I saw quoted was that “there’s a lot going on here that stands on its own.” Well, why didn’t it? It should have. Instead, it’s standing in place of an actual Hulk story, like so many issues have lately. I simply want a story about the Hulk - FEATURING the Hulk. I’m tired of stories about people who know the Hulk and occasionally see the Hulk.
It’s not Pak’s fault. He wrote a good story. And the art was great. It would have been a grand third or fourth issue of its own book. But here, all it could be was another filler issue, because next month, the title changes to THE INCREDIBLE HERC. These stories deserved better than that.
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY # 3 (of 6)
Written by Gerard Way Art by Gabriel Bá Published by Dark Horse Reviewed by Stones ThrowMan, it is crazy how much I like this book! THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY is --
Huh? Oh, you got the picture already. Why, after two consecutive @$$hole raves, am I again offering plaudits to this title?
No, the answer isn’t sheer, blustering ego. Smart@$$.
I’ll get to the point. Firstly, I really didn’t expect to like it so much. I’m hardly the biggest fan of tween-mo popsters MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE (hey, if there needs to be a market for 13-year old angst, at least keep it off the airwaves!) and while that certainly didn’t predispose me to dislike the book, as with any venture from a celebrity into a medium they’re less well-known for it’s hard not to detect the slightest whiff of vanity project. The fact that THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY seemed to be another example of the over-used steam punk Victoriana style recently popularized by books like THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and the LEMONY SNICKET series was another alert to my internal bullshit detector (you should get one!). There are only so many times you can chuckle at cute, old-fashioned titles or character descriptions. What with the obligatory talking monkey and titles like “The Day the Eiffel Tower Went Berserk” I suspected this would be a book that was wacky for wackiness’ sake without any depth or complexity underpinning the weirdness.
But after reading reviews from Ambush Bug and Humphrey Lee I decided this might be a book worth checking out after all and picked up the first two issues from ye olde comic shoppe. After that, you can bet I came back for the third issue!
The book is weird and throws a lot of ideas out there, but Way also manages to keep the story focused and the characters resonant. Simply put, he’s got a load of writing chops. The characters are the main attraction for me in this miniseries and it’s hard not to feel for the various grown-up members of the former kids’ superhero team the Umbrella Academy, who have reunited now that their distant, neglectful “father” has died. Grant Morrison said “the 21st century’s superheroes are here” on a quote used on the cover, and while that statement may be a little hyperbolic, these characters are just as good a metaphor for adolescence and family as the X-MEN were. I’ve also got to admire the skill with which he’s been interweaving the adventures of the youthful Academy with the main plot in the present day and the lightness of touch with which he drops information.
As for the crazy ideas angle, the book’s not really on the level of Morrison or Alan Moore in that regard but then it’s not going for that. This is a character and plot-driven story, to which the action and crazy concepts (a kid who travels in time to the end of the world and stays there for sixty years without physically aging! A terminally ill scientist who can only remain alive by feeding off other living things! An astronaut who after an accident has to be grafted onto an artificial gorilla body! Erm, a talking monkey!) just add a richness and an oh-so tasty flavor. In his interview in this very column, Way said Hergé’s Tin Tin comics were an influence and that’s definitely a vibe I’m getting, although if you go in expecting that you’ll be totally bewildered. This is a rich read. Credit is also due to the art team of Gabriel Bá and the always excellent Dave Stewart. Bá is a master of his craft when it comes to tone and action and has created an involving world and some memorable character designs.
Honestly, I think this is hands-down the best new series of the year. I’ll be damned if there’s another comic with the same amount of energy, verve and ambition out now. I can even forgive the main plot – an evil musician who intends to destroy the universe by playing a composition at just the right vibrational frequency – being stolen from one of Alan Moore’s TOMORROW STORIES. I think it was a Greyshirt one.
ULTIMATE VISION #5
Writer: Mike Carey Art: Bandon Peterson Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoMaybe I’m getting Ultimated out. Aside from ULTIMATE SPIDEY, those books aren’t turning my crank of late. ULTIMATE FF bored me to the point of making the impossible happen: getting me to drop a book from my pull. ULTIMATE POWERS turned into a bit of a mess – an enjoyable mess but a mess – and it just seemed to go on and on and… Even ULTIMATE X-MEN is just hitting me as okay.
So what about the finish of ULTIMATE VISION? It’s… okay. The thing that disappointed me is I wanted to like this book more than I really did. I mean, the book really tries. It’s got some interesting ideas and it tries some things, but in the end it just didn’t all come together for me. The Vision and the little robot girl Dima’s have a nice robot version of the Aliens Ridley/Newt relationship going on. Liked that. Like much of the character work. I enjoyed the Ultimate Falcon. Crazy Dr. Tarleton and his having to throw in with his enemies for the sake of the world, his making of unique decisions…all good stuff.
But the book runs into trouble with some of the practical plot points. The form of the Vision’s attacks are very ballsy and interesting in theory but in practical application just didn’t work for me. I mean, really, she just has typical attack abilities with a fancy back story. If you’re going to go with such a unique concept for an attack, make the actual execution of the concept just as interesting. If a writer sets up that a character’s attack comes in the form of farts, I want some sonic boom farts. Or farts that reek you to death. If you set up a fart attack and then the character just shoots lasers out his ass because, “That’s how they fart on Mars,” that’s weak. Not that Vision farts around.
And I had to roll my eyes at the scene where they hatch their big plan to destroy the Gah Lak Tus module. First they call for some incredibly specific element for the plan to work which, luckily, they just happen to have. Now, I’ll go there. No problem. I’d rather they got there by saying, “Hey, we have this element and, wow, I know how we can make it work for us,” but still. But then the payoff is stupid. Doing it right would be taking that item and spelling out an inspired plan to use it. But in this case the plan is just a bunch of technobabble as opposed to something real. Bringing up technobabble let me put it in STAR TREK terms. What you want is Kirk turning a pile of nothing into a fighting chance to survive. What this issue gives you is lazy, “If we can influx the conbobulator…it just might work!” Come on.
It was a tough call for me but in the end the stuff that fell flat just outweighed the stuff that worked. I so wanted the whole thing to work like gangbusters. I really did. But in the end the flat stuff just took the fizz out of the bits that did work.
MUSCLES & FIGHTS VOLUME 2
Stories and art by various Edited by Bud Burgy & Amado “AREX” Rodriguez Published by Bud Burgy/Cream City Comics Reviewed by Ambush BugWhen we last saw MUSCLES & FIGHTS, it was muscling and fighting its way into the Midwest American independent comics scene. That anthology, with the simple concept that each story had to somehow be about muscles and/or fighting, was a surefire, bonafide hit by my standards. I found the concept to be a winner, the talent to be truly impressive, and the stories and art within to be pretty damn entertaining. With my frustrations on high with all of the decompression and static storytelling going on at the Big Two, it was refreshing to see a comic so joyously embrace what most great/classic superhero stories boil down to…two guys beating the living snot out of one another. Well, collaborators/artists/storytellers Bud Burgy and Amado Rodriguez are back with another dose of fists and fisticuffs, tendons and tumbles, kicks and kinetics. In other words, MUSCLES & FIGHTS. Vol. 2 unabashedly delivers more of the same stuff that made me fall in love with the first volume…except this time, as the cover exclaims, they’ve made it more musclier and more fightier.
The comic industry could learn a thing or two about an anthology like this. Lately, there’s been an overabundance of people taking comics way too seriously. Sure, comics can be a high art form, but there’s something to be said about shedding all pretences and peeling away all of the intellectualization that bogs down many a modern comic. That’s what this comic does. This isn’t to say that the stories are all light and fluffy. There are some pretty hefty themes dealt with in this volume in some of its chapters (called rounds to keep in tune with the fight theme).With a guideline as broad as “Stories must have muscles and/or fights in it.” that leaves quite a bit of legroom for the artists and writers to go nuts. There are some pretty smart and insightful entries in this volume, yet there are more breezy yarns peppered in to keep things rolling. The ringleaders of this operation did a good job of sandwiching the stories of this volume with insightful chapters on top of straightforward brainlessness to keep the readers on their toes and make the entire reading experience a reading equivalent of a loop-di-loop.
There are close to twenty chapters in this big beast of a book, so I can’t talk about all of them, but I will touch on the ones that stood out to me.
“Supermarket Vigilante & Bagboy in Second Strike” is a fun wink and nudge to comic book tradition. This one centers on a misguided thug who misreads an ad for a supermarket clerk job application and thinks he is the protector of a supermarket joined by his very own overzealous sidekick. There’s a whole lot of craziness going on as Bagboy falls for the new cashier. The story earns its indie cred for the amount of angst and talkity tossed around, but doesn’t forget to dole out the violence when necessary. The comment at the end about closure is hilarious. Very funny stuff from Danno.
Marcus Muller and Michael Roanhaus provide one of the slicker looking stories of the book. “King of the Unknown vs. The Mighty Skunk Ape” pits Elvis against the southern equivalent of Bigfoot. Fun stuff that seems a bit too professional in such an indie book, but then again it fits the criteria because there’s a whole lotta fighting going on in this one.
Leith St. John gives us a pair of short stories: one debuting the Fabulous Four (a homosexual team of heroes including Mr. Fabulous, Miss Thang, The Flaming Torch, and the cleverly absent Unseen Woman who do battle with the diabolical and straight Doctor Butch) and another about lesbians in jail. Both are fun spoofs on comic book and B-movie clichés; well drawn and damn funny.
Bud and Fud Burgy bring us another episode of Meatfist & Gronk, this one taking place in a shopping mall. The art is a bit R. Crumb-like. The characters are semi-Steinbeck-ian. But in the end, what matters most is that it’s all fun. From Gronk’s innocent obliviousness to Meatfist’s penchant for wanton violence, this is a strong story supported by equally powerful art. The fact that this is a direct continuation from the last MUSCLES & FIGHTS volume adds to the fun. It’s a non-stop action sequence full of laughs.
Bob Lipski offers another brain filling dish of “Uptown Girl”, this time commenting on the relationship between violence and the media. This is a clever and insightful take on the issue that doesn’t so much offer up answers to this problem, but presents an unbiased and unblinking look at the situation. Lipski is a fun yet relevant and weighty voice to be heard.
Alberto “Ponbiki” Rios once again brings some very stylized and kinetic fun in a silent tale called “Buster”. I love the way Rios stretches lines and inflates images to extreme proportions to suggest movement and action, all the while paying close attention to clear panel to panel transitions. Rios’ art is distinct and fresh.
Amado “AREX” Rodriguez himself contributes to the volume with “tales of the Goon Squad” highlighting his talents both as a character designer and an artist. AREX displays simple linework with fresh surrealism. His characters are always distinct, as is the way he ties one panel to the next. This, a Walter Mitty-like tale, is the most linear story I’ve seen from AREX and a highlight of the book.
I loved the simple yet fun “Tales of the Cursed Coin” by Daniel J. Olsen that unravels like an insane ball of yarn as a fight over a single coin leads to an explosive conclusion. Matthew Kriske has fun with a confrontational conversation between two Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots in “Rock Me Sock Me”. And “Stupid Girls” by Ryan Dow was a nicely structured and probably all too true tale of one man’s obsession with comics and the women around him.
The last two tales were by far my favorites of the bunch.
Earl Luckes returns bringing the sleaze and the violence with him in “The Brutalizer”. Set up like a preview for an action flick, Luckes does a great job of topping the term “over-the-top.” Gratuitous is the flavor of this story. Guns, violence, knives, violence, sex, violence, and bears fighting gorillas are all a part of this epic movie trailer that must be seen to be believed.
The book ends on a highly positive note from Bernie Gonzalez. His “The Rage of Andy Warhol” is one of those spoofs that will immediately appeal to both art aficionados and comic book fans by smelting the Incredible Hulk with Andy Warhol to birth the artsy mayhem of Warhulk! Fun stuff of dynamic proportions. Although the story starts off slow, its one of those gems that you don’t want to see end.
As far as anthologies go, you won’t find a better selection of up and coming talent than MUSCLES & FIGHTS VOL. 2. Reading the index of this book, I found myself wondering which of these great contributors will make it into the big leagues first. Entertaining throughout, this anthology is a great showcase for Midwest American talent. Burgy and AREX have done it again, proving that the concept of muscular guys fighting each other is a comic book tradition that will never grow old.