THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN CARTOON SERIES
Supervising Producer: Greg Weisman Producer/Supervising Director: Victor Cook Network: The WB Reviewer: JinxoI’ll admit it. I love my super hero cartoons. Hell, there are some hero cartoons I enjoy more than some comic books. “Justice League Unlimited”? Good stuff. Even though some people loathed it, I actually enjoyed the anime inspired take on “Teen Titans” for what it was. And “Batman: The Animated Series” goes without saying.
This month has brought a brand new hero toon to the air, a new take on Spider-Man called “The Spectacular Spider-Man”. Wow, at this point it feels like Spider-Man has had more cartoons than almost any other hero out there. You have the low budget but iconic Ralph Bakshi original that gave us that unforgettable theme song. Then there’s the version I grew up with, “Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends”. Back in the day I loved that show and would not miss an episode. Having recently caught a couple of reruns on cable I realize I must have spent the better part of my childhood drunk and/or delusional. What a crazy mess. Example: Spider-Man is at a dance but ends up riding on the outside of a plane from New York to Transylvania, fighting assorted monsters (all bad stuff) and then returning to New York BEFORE the dance has ended. Okay, it’s a cartoon, realism is not top priority but…COME ON!!! Then most recently MTV came out with its digitally animated spin on the Wall Crawler. I tried to watch it, wanted to like it, but it just left me cold. Something about the digital look making it look more 3-D only to have heavy edge lines around the characters trying to give it a more flattened comic book look, I think. Again, there were another, what, 57 other Spider-Man series as well.
So how does “Spectacular” fare? Well, it’s not going to amass the acclaim that “Batman: The Animated Series” did. On the other hand, next to “Amazing Friends” it’s a masterwork. I actually feel better knowing that 20 years from now the kids of today won’t find themselves going, “I watched THAT?!? NOOO!!!”
“Spectacular Spider-Man” sets its action shortly after Spider-Man’s origin. He got bit by that radioactive spider and has spent the summer catching criminals. As the series starts he’s heading back to school and has to adjust to going back to being the class dweeb. The writing on the show is pretty damn good. The stories are mostly self-contained, but unlike many hero shows they actually do keep an ongoing continuity in play. Things put in place in one episode move and develop in later ones. It’s nicely done so that if you do watch a single episode you’re not lost but if you watch week to week you are rewarded. And from the first episode you know Peter is in for a tough run. You look at the supporting cast as they’re introduced and go, “Doomed, doomed, probably doomed…” The show starts with Gwen Stacey (no MJ yet) and Harry Osborn as Peter’s best friends. Right away, of course, Norman Osborn is introduced. So far he’s still just human scum. Peter and Gwen also get internships working for Dr. Curt Connors. Also working for Dr. Connors? Eddie Brock. Oh, and doing electrical work for the doc is Max almost-immediately-turned-into-Electro Dillon. The cast of characters alone tips you as to what’s to come.
The writing also does a nice job of putting a new spin on some of the old Spider-Man elements. As usual he’s a kid with a curfew. Back in the day that would mean after fighting Doctor Doom to a standstill he’d get dressed down by old Aunt May for being late. Today as Peter’s sneaking up on Doctor Doom it’s almost a sure thing that Aunt may will ring his cell phone to see what’s keeping him and almost get Peter killed. This looks to be a continuing bit and I actually like it. It’s right in line with Peter’s dumb luck vibe, and it’s also fun to watch him try to battle a bad guy while talking to Aunt May like everything is good. They also find solid ways to have Peter make mistakes without making him look like an idiot. Peter lays the smackdown on Electro because he assumes he’s evil when, in fact, at that point Electro is just a confused victim of circumstances. They even spin the whole “Peter sells pictures of Spider-Man fighting a bad guy” thing in a way I’ve not seen before. So many of Spidey’s potential villains are also Peter’s friends. Lets just say it’s not so cool to make a buck exploiting your friend’s misfortune.
So the writing is good. What about the art? I’m less sold there. I don’t hate it but it is going to have to grow on me. It’s verrry cartoony. Okay, that sound silly since it IS a cartoon, but it is cartoony. It has the look of if Marvel Comics wanted to do a “Spidey” comic book aimed at really really little kids. Big geometric shapes to everything. Peter’s eyes are big brown circles inside big white circles. Head shapes can be exaggerated. Spider-Man’s odd shaped noggin still throws me. Don’t get me wrong--I’m not some kind of purist. I’ll go with different styles. Even though it wasn’t everybody’s cup o’ tea I actually enjoyed the “Teen Titans” anime-styled cartoon for what it was. I think they may be going for a bit of an anime look here too. The Vulture had a look right out of Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka’s sketchbook. For some reason “Spectacular”’s style is just hitting me slightly wrong. Victor Cook also worked on the “Hellboy” animated flicks and the similar style there didn’t bother me. It is distinctive and it does have a fun energy to it. But it just makes me think Spidey for toddlers. Again, hopefully the look will grow on me.
But most important: how is the theme song? Eh. It’s trying hard to rock the house but don’t expect to have it stuck in your head like the classic Spidey theme. Actually…pray this song doesn’t get stuck in your head. It could hurt.
So, bottom line, is it worth a look? I’d say yes. They clearly are laying out the groundwork in advance for what’s to come. It doesn’t feel like they’re going to go as serious as “Justice Leagu”e. I mean, hey, it is Saturday Morning and they are aiming for some of those wee little kids, but it does look like it will be fun. It does have a distinct energetic look most folks will likely dig. Don’t think I’d be waking up early on a Saturday to watch, but if you have a Tivo it’s worth giving a shot as a season pass.
Jinxo is Thom Holbrook, lifelong comic book reader, and the evil genius behind poobala.com. He may appear cute and cuddly but if encountered avoid eye contact and DO NOT attempt to feed.
WONDER WOMAN #18
Writer: Gail Simone Artist: Bernard Chang Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoWhen I’m asked for an opinion, I usually let it loose with varying degrees of tact. There are a very few writers and artists I’m quick to criticize, as they seem to make the same mistakes over and over. On the other hand, there are many that I’m slow to criticize, since they have proved themselves over and over, and deserve a one-off, or sometimes a two or three-off.
Gail Simone is one writer I’ve come to appreciate a “give it time” mentality, and I would take her “good” efforts over many people’s best efforts. That said, I was not so thrilled with the inaugural arc of her run on this book. It felt like a warm up, like the first few episodes of “Scrubs”, where Elliot’s hair was always combed, and Dr. Cox was not nearly as ranty as he later becomes. Everyone’s kinda figuring out the synergy, and the effect is more like a warning shot.
Well, it WAS a warning shot. The gorillas, the crazy renegade Amazons, the Nazis. All done. And here comes the main salvo.
Diana is being written with equal parts of grace, power and ferocity. Like Dinah Lance, but with less giggles, more biceps and more regality. In the space of an issue, she comes a’courtin to the hospital bedside of Nemesis, gets sucked into a battle royale, has to deal with a major fangirl who totally wants to be BFF, and leaves to solve a mystery on a another planet. Bernard Chang’s art is a very good compliment to the writing, able to handle combat and subtle facial nuance equally well.
Gail also pokes some gentle fun at her predecessor, invoking the dreaded “Stygian Killer Hornets,” which incidentally, is also ancient Amazonian for “cheese-laden.” It’s true. Look up the issues if you don’t believe me.
Regarding the journey into space, I kinda wanted to see what was going to happen with Diana and Nemesis, but I trust Gail’s instincts to weave and tell a great story. If I don’t love the rest of this arc and the one after it, I would be quite surprised. As it stands, however, this issue is a wonderful place to start. The art and the writing are spot on, and the surprise intro of an old character at the end will have many fans of THIS site slavering to see what happens next.
Dante “Rock-Me” Amodeo has been reading comics for thirty-five years. His first novel, “Saban and The Ancient” (an espionage/paranormal thriller) was published 2006. He began writing for AICN Comics in 2007 and his second novel (“Saban Betrayed”) is due 2008. He’s often told he has a great face for radio.
THE LAST DEFENDERS #1
Co-written & scripted by Joe Casey & Keith Giffen Art: Jim Muniz (pencils) & Cam Smith (inks) Publisher: Marvel Comics An @$$hole Two In One review by Ambush Bug & BottleImpAmbush Bug (BUG):I get the feeling that there are very few of you out there who remember the Defenders as I do. Sure, there are those who automatically think of the Hulk, Doc Strange, Silver Surfer, and Namor as the Defenders. And they were, but to me, when I first got into comics, the Defenders were something different. Sure, there are those who swear up and down that there is no roster to the Defenders. That it's a non-team of heroes that kind of just come together whenever a crisis arises. If Any Man, Power Man, Quicksilver, and The Forbush Man happen across the same world-threatening menace, then there you go. That's the Defenders.
BottleImp (IMP): I've always been a fan of comic book teams made of lesser-known characters. The first comic I ever subscribed to was Peter David's initial run on X-FACTOR, I have every issue of DC's B-List hero-filled PRIMAL FORCE, and I'm probably the only person in the world who hated it when Grant Morrison brought back Superman, Batman, et al, on the JUSTICE LEAGUE. Though I never read it religiously, I do have a bunch of old issues of the DEFENDERS kicking around. BUG: To me, the Defenders will always consist of Nighthawk, Gargoyle, Hellcat, Son of Satan, and Valkyrie. Sure some of you guys may be shouting "Who?!?!?!" I understand that half of those characters have been in comic book limbo for ages and the other half have been highlighted with miniseries and spotlights that have ranged from lackluster to eh (shrug shoulders) to bleh. That was my Defenders, though. Hellcat and Son of Satan rarely got along and their marital strife often spilled out to involve the rest of the team. Gargoyle was the loyal and noble lapdog of the two. Valkyrie was downright weird; a she-Thor with a penchant to wear giant metal bras outside her clothes (waaaay before Madonna caught on to the trend) and a flying horse. Finally, Nighthawk, who in my mind was always kind of douchey, was the Type A personality who tried to keep the team all together. Throw in Devil Slayer's kick-assedness and Moondragon's bald psychic hotness and you have one hell of a team of heroes. I can't count the issues I read and enjoyed featuring this cadre of weirdoes. And I loved every minute of it.
IMP: I came on a little bit later--Gargoyle and Valkyrie were there, but Hellcat and her hubby had been relegated to supporting cast, and Angel, Beast and Iceman filled out the roster. Gargoyle was always my favorite, purely from a visual standpoint-- I even own Mark Badger's 4-issue GARGOYLE miniseries. But one of the things that I liked about the Defenders (and many other non "X" Marvel supergroups, now that I think about it) was that the membership was pretty loose-- it wasn't just mutants, it wasn't the big solo stars, it was just a bunch of interesting characters.
BUG: So here we have THE LAST DEFENDERS. A miniseries, of course tied to the current INITIATIVE continuity, centering on Nighthawk and his request to Iron Man to lead a new Defenders. The first few pages were comic book crack to me. Imagine the tightness of my pants to see Nighthawk battling the Brothers Grimm with Gargoyle by his side. It was something I never thought I'd see again. A few pages later there's a mention of Devil Slayer and Hellcat. A page later and we have a cut centering on Daimon Hellstrom (Son of Satan to you newbs) making waves with the Ancient One. I thought this would be the Defenders team I had been waiting for. The comic gods had smiled upon me.
Then Iron Man jumps in for the cock-block.
Yes, Stark will grant Nighthawk his own Initiative team of Defenders, but wait...and I cringe when I say this...this ain't your daddy's Defenders. Yeah, Stark intervenes with his own roster for the team. It isn't a bad one--Colossus, She-Hulk & the Blazing Skull.
IMP: I'm on the fence about this series-- 'cause while I didn't hate the first issue, I wasn't in love with it. The thing I like about this new miniseries (so far) is that Giffen's characteristic humor is an element of the story rather than the focus. I was not a fan of Giffen's previous DEFENDERS series--I enjoyed the initial interaction between Strange and Namor, two of the biggest blowhards in the Marvel universe, but after that the plot was a bit of a letdown. This time around, the story takes off immediately, and the interludes are intriguing-- the Atlantean in the lair of the High Evolutionary and the retroactive continuity of Daimon Hellstrom seeking out the Ancient One.
BUG: We definitely have some strong personalities to bang off of each other and in true Giffen fashion, the heroes spend more time fighting each other than they do the bad guys. This was fun stuff. A strong first issue where everyone acted accordingly. There are no new characters crammed in so that the creators can leave their mark on the team history, and the pacing is fast and frantic. IMP: The structure is definitely more "old-school" comic-- like you said, we get into the action immediately without excessive exposition, and I love the fact that Casey and Giffen have gone back to using thought balloons rather than the oh-so-overused narrative captions.
Thing I didn't like: I'm not a big fan of the artwork-- it's a cartoony sort of realism that doesn't really do it for me--maybe if it was pushed a little more in one of those directions (examples that come to mind are Kevin Maguire's work on the realistic end and Cory Walker's more stylized work on INVINCIBLE). Muniz likes to draw Nighthawk from a low angle, which has the unfortunate tendency to make his face and neck look like a cinderblock. The coloring also feels very sterile--all the backgrounds, whether in forests, military bases, or Atlantic City casinos, are the same palette of blue-grey--not very exciting. Maybe the idea was to let the superheroes and their bright colors pop out from the backgrounds, but that's a pretty lame way to go about doing it.
BUG: I thought the art was phenomenal; stretching perspectives when dynamic, posing people in non-photorealistic, yet believable ways, and especially nailing the facial expressions. It was great seeing the looks of disbelief, over-confidence, anger, angst, despair…a whole rainbow of emotions adding subtext to an already solid story.
IMP: Thing I'm puzzled about: I thought Nighthawk was dead...although I guess if I don't take it for granted by now that death in comic books is, at best, a temporary nuisance, I probably should stop reading them. BUG: I'm pretty sure Nighthawk has been pittering around THE INITIATIVE for a while now. That doesn't rule out that he is a Skrull and may have died at some point. Maybe you're thinking about Nighthawk from the original Squadron Supreme. I think he's dead. IMP: Hmmm. Well, by now I suppose every Marvel character has died and been resurrected at least once. I'll probably stick around for the next issue--the story is interesting enough; it's just the art that's lacking, in my opinion. And I guess we can all be thankful that this is one team that DOESN"T have "dangerous loner" Wolverine as a member. Though, I liked the Blazing Skull's line, "This whole Initiative thing...it's getting kinda OLD, isn't it...?"-- I'm sure that phrase can be heard coming out of the mouths of countless Marvel writers.
BUG: Yeah, I'm sick of the Initiative too, but the intervention of Stark is true to form and says a lot about the Marvel Universe we read today, for better or worse. I do know that this is definitely one of my favorite miniseries debut issues so far this year. I just wish I wouldn't have been teased so with the hint of a 70's-80's Defenders reunion..
IMP: Maybe after this Giffen will do the NEXT-TO-LAST DEFENDERS, and Hellcat and Gargoyle will get some more lovin'.
SALVATION RUN #5
Writer: Matthew Sturges Penciller: Joe Bennett Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: JinxoIS this a new trend in comics? Set up a group of characters in a book and then just start cutting through them like a hot knife through butter? Oddly enough…I like it. Nothing makes for better drama than a group that should be working together imploding. The uglier the chaos involved the better. The Thunderbolts are melting down in spectacular fashion. The Avengers Initiative are about to potentially blow Stamford to hell a second time.
And then there’s SALVATION RUN. It actually has a slightly different spin on things. I mean, those other books are about hero groups going to pot. Yes, The Thunderbolts are barely heroes, but the point is they are together as a group with the intent of trying to work together, But with SALVATION RUN we are talking about a group of scummy villains with no interest in being a cooperative group. They’re just a bunch of cutthroat individualists out to play nice only so much as it’s helpful to their own best interests. In other words, it’s the most awesome reality show EVER. SALVATION RUN is the “Survivor” of the hero books. As of issue five the contestants have divided into two tribes. Lex Luthor’s tribe is relying on mental gamesmanship to win while Tribe Joker is favoring physical power and ass-out craziness. Having watched way too much Reality TV I can say both tactics could work. This is the first time though I’ve seen both tribes try to kill Jeff Probst.
Seriously, what sets this book apart from the other books I mentioned is that sense of gameplay. It isn’t just things coming apart at the seams. It’s calculating bad guys playing a massive multiplayer chess game against each other. Watching Lex Luthor and Joker match off was already fun. They really should know that declaring yourself tribe leader is a sure way to get kicked right off the island…make that “planet”. But Catwoman’s plays in this issue put both the boys to shame. Very impressive.
Of course, none of them realize that very likely next issue everything is going to flip on its head. Have they never watched these shows? There is ALWAYS a twist. Of course, usually the twist doesn’t want to stomp you into a viscous goo.
MIGHTY AVENGERS #10
Writer: Boastful Brian Bendis Artist: Mighty Mark Bagley Inkers: Devilish Danny Miki and Amorphous Allen Martinez Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Retrospective Rock-Me AmodeoSo many aspects of this comic were extremely well done. Contrary to what some of you have come to expect, I will NOT regale the readership with tales of yore regarding comics in the 70’s. I will simply say how much I appreciated the brief trip back.
The four color separation. The advertising blurbs at the bottom of the page. The “Continued on next page.” The occasional bleedout of colors that left our four-color world in a purple hazed three-color chaos.
The only thing that might have made the trip complete would have been the inclusion of a Marvel stamp (remember the first run, numbered from 1 to 100?).
Okay, I lied about the “tales of yore” thing, quick story: back when Marvel Stamps first came out, I was very young and thought they were like coupons, worth money. When I cut out that #90, man, that was worth three comics plus tax! I had visions of getting all the rest of the comics that had 90s or at least any other comics that had stamps, and if I was lucky, I could probably buy that whole spinner. Alas, the checkout person at Eckerd’s informed me it was NOT a 90 cent coupon. Crushed, I was…
Anyway, back to the comic. I’m still very impressed with how well Bagley is drawing this comic, how mature his pencils seem to be. I’m also glad Bendis is growing more adept in his thought balloon usage, and how even his pacing was. Just excellent.
I did kinda laugh at him making up magic words. When Doom yelled “Blavatuni Mastalanata!” did anyone else think in their heads, “Do you want that on rye or whole wheat?” Maybe that’s just me, however. I was hungry when I read it.
Plot-wise, I’m more than curious as to why Doom capitulated so quickly to Stark’s interrogatories. Has anyone else ever heard Doom say, “Okay”? And how did he vanish so quickly at the end? Stinking Skrull!
Yes. Okay. This was another fine issue, and another classic Marvel title that seems to be getting it right. Another issue that was over too soon.
SERENITY: BETTER DAYS #1
Writers: Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews Art: Will Conrad Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheDon’t ever judge a book by its cover. Especially don’t judge this book by its cover. Because under the circa 1970’s Harlequin Romance novel exterior lies a resurrection. This is not a resurrection that will save all of humanity nor give children the false impression that bunnies lay eggs, but this resurrection will satiate the hunger of rabid Firefly/Serenity zombies everywhere.
Set somewhere after the close of the TV show Firefly and the chill inducing events of the movie “Serenity”, SERENITY: BETTER DAYS finds our favorite spaghetti western sci-fi Dust Devils still trying to survive on the outer planets as best they can. Holdups and whoring are the centerpieces of the first issue, while Kaylee still dreams of getting to that shiny place with the Doc. I should also mention, the Hero of Canton Strikes Back.
BETTER DAYS has everything Firefly fans would expect from the House of Whedon. Hold ups, shake downs, quirky ancillary characters, witty dialogue, and a return to a cast of characters that defective marketing numbers and simian program directors ripped away from Whedonites far too soon.
Joss did a masterful job of making me feel right at home from the very first panel, and I think any other fan will be hard pressed to disagree. However, and I can’t stress this enough, this title is not a jumping off point. It’s an inside secret, a brief sliver of time, a small part of a much larger whole. This is not a criticism; it’s merely a statement of fact when a story is forced to cross mediums.
Basically, if this review lost you at spaghetti western sci-fi, this book is not for you. The brief paragraph synopsis on the flip-side of the cover is nowhere near enough information to properly immerse you in Whedon’s original take on traversing the cosmos or the beautiful cast of characters that live aboard Serenity. Like most of Joss’s work, true enjoyment comes from knowing the characters that drive the action, rather than the action itself.
Sorry, but I know Ambush Bug will make me appear in the “I’m Fucking Corey Feldman” video if I use this space to explain all the details of the show “Firefly”. Plus, a half-assed synopsis would be an affront to the dedication given to this universe by Joss, the original actors in the show and the fans. The best advice I can offer any comic reader that is a fan of Joss’s writing style is to take the money you would have spent on the three issues of SERENITY: BETTER DAYS and instead rent the original TV series and the movie “Serenity”. If you like what you see over in those parts, I can guarantee that you’ll be right happier when you come back to read SERENITY: BETTER DAYS (you’ll also understand why I decided to talk like Yosemite Sam’s retarded brother Everglade Earl in that last sentence).
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. He just finished the first issue and story arc of his comic AVERAGE JOE. Check out his MySpace page to see some preview pages and leave comments.
Writer: Warren Ellis Artist: Mike Deodato, Jr. Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoI genuinely did not want to have to review this book again.
First, I really loved Djurdjevic’s cover. It took me a second to appreciate the vantage and impact, but once I did, I was creeped out. Nifty.
Then I opened it up, and while I won’t give you a play by play, lets just say that Norm Osborn is bringing his special brand of house-crazy, and we may yet see him on a patented Goblin glider. He’s probably reaching the zenith of bat-guano crazy, but who knows if his particular psychosis will take that crucial left turn at Albuquerque? Not me.
Then we have some large-scale mayhem with no-name soldiers, and after it’s over, several of them will be singing “Yesterday.” They’re not half the men they used to be.
In a deft scene with Robbie and Doc Samson, Ellis does something I didn’t really think was possible. He made Samson cool. No, really—I’m not kidding. In fact, if memory serves, it’s like the second time this year.
And finally, in a fight between Swordsman and Venom, no matter who loses, I win.
Throughout all of this, Deodato makes excellent usage of panels, backgrounds, creative shading. He’s not an illustrator. He’s an artist, and no, he hasn’t sent me any swag (uhn, I do take PayPal, however.) I’m really impressed with just how much actual ART he squeezes into this book.
So you see, I didn’t want to review this book. They made me. But I will tell you the real reason I didn’t want to review this book for a long time, in truth.
For several years, I longed for the THUNDERBOLTS to recapture the magic of those first four golden years. After issue 50, I waited (and waded) through some alternately offbeat and mediocre stuff. There were, in fact, a handful of great issues, but most of them were simply good. Now we have Ellis and Deodato, and they have not recaptured that early magic I loved so much, either.
But they have made some formidable juju of their own. It’s not the book it used to be, but man, it’s a seriously good book. It’s pulp lightning. And until they start to suck, I suppose I’ll have to keep reviewing their work, because each issue has me shaking my head and going, “Wow. Didn’t see THAT coming.”
AVENGERS THE INITIATIVE #10
Writer: Dan Slott Artist: Stefano Caselli Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoIn classic comic book fashion, the cover of THE INITIATIVE lays out a grid of characters and declares, “One will die!” But don’t let that cover fool you. There is so much more to this book. It really isn’t just about the killing. It’s also about the dismemberments, the brutal guttings and, maybe…just a little bit about love. The twisted love of a mad scientist for his unholy creations but, hey, in a story like this you take the good where you can find it.
Things are going nutty. The hero known as MVP was killed due in part to failures on the part of Initiative trainers but has now come back as a clone, and come back as a clone, and come back as…let’s just say there has been some cloneage. They hooked one of the clones up with a dangerous weapon – because hooking up the clone of a guy whose death you had a hand in with a crazy dangerous weapon is always a good idea – and, oops, his cheese slid off his cracker. MVP becomes KIA and the Initiative is SOL.
The action really is brutal. Obviously all comics have action and violence but this book does a good job of really making it feel like there will be real consequences to the violence. On top of that, Slott does a great job of balancing the violence with quick human moments like Cloud 9 discovering she should really knock before entering a room. Ant Man and Taskmaster’s three panel scene together might be on my top ten list of scenes for the year. Just so odd and silly.
Stefano Caselli’s art really makes this book. He steps up to the plate and delivers on the action. But he also delivers on the emotions tied into that violence. The anger and madness fueling KIA are palpable. There are also a number of moments where characters do huge psychological turns and you can see it right there on their faces. And when someone is horribly injured, the impact isn’t just in seeing it happen but in the reactions to it. I mean, characters get injured in books all the time but usually we’re given the big epic, “Argh!” pain reaction. Here we get the more human look of in the moment shock. That half second of shock where a character can’t even process the horrible thing that is happening. That’s a powerful moment to capture that really makes things feel more real.
I do have to say, someone does need to reinvent the whole, “One of these people will die!!” cover. I mean, come on. You wanna show some guts, somebody needs to put out a cover with a ton of people on it with the caption, “One will live! Maybe!”
JEFF HAWKE: OVERLORD HC GN
Art by Sydney Jordan (with Colin Andrew) Scripts by Willie Patterson Published by Titan Books Reviewed by Stones ThrowBarring a few notable exceptions, British comics as an indigenous art form are all but extinct by now, but from the 1950s though to the late ‘70s they were a force to be reckoned with. THE EAGLE magazine had the space adventurer Dan Dare, recently revived by Garth Ennis at Virgin, LOOK AND LEARN had the STAR WARS-like RISE AND FALL OF THE TRIGAN EMPIRE, while a range of sports, adventure and war comics appeared across multiple other kids’ magazines. Those years were also a time when home grown newspaper strips thrived.
Lots of these strips were produced by DC Thompson, a Scottish publisher that cranks out kids’ anthologies like THE BEANO and THE DANDY to this day. JEFF HAWKE, a sci-fi hero in the mould of Dan Dare, was among these, first serialized in the Daily Express newspaper. HAWKE and DAN DARE share a lot of common ground. Both are set in the far-off future of the 1990s, both star stiff upper-lipped English gentlemen as the action hero, both predict a future of space exploration and colonialism in which the United Kingdom is the dominant force. Warren Ellis dealt with the late ‘50s comic book themes of discovery and British imperialism spreading to space in his underrated MINISTRY OF SPACE miniseries at Image.
Jeff Hawke is all but unknown in English-speaking countries today, but it turns out he has a surprisingly enthusiastic following in Europe, particularly Italy and Sweden, where he was presumably syndicated in translated version. Make of that what you will. I certainly had little idea what to expect when I cracked open the handsome Brian Bolland cover of what they’re calling the peak years of JEFF HAWKE.
Well, I was expecting the art to be impressive, and co-creator Sydney Jordan (with ghost artist Colin Andrew) doesn’t disappoint. It’s amazing what these men can do in such a limited space. You’ll truly believe in the vast outer space panoramas, or Jeff Hawke’s London, or the lair of the Overlord. And looking at the second chapter in this hardcover, “Survival”, with its space suits and stations and tale of stranded, paranoid astronauts and impassive aliens, I’d be willing to bet Stanley Kubrick glanced over the comic pages of the Express on occasion.
I can’t say I’ve read a lot of DAN DARE either, but JEFF HAWKE won me over with its slightly weirder, more out-there feel. Case in point: visually, the villain in “Overlord”, Chalcedon, is straight out of FORBIDDEN PLANET or THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, but he hangs around in a dark cave with a floating brain with one large eyeball, a giant reptile and a dog-headed mutant. It almost feels like something from WALT DISNEY’S FANTASIA. Then in chapter three, Jordan and Patterson pull a hilarious screw-you to the audience when an invading race are only revealed to be gnats compared to humans when one of them gets trodden on after touching down at Heathrow airport. A similar idea was used by Alan Moore in a VEGA story he did for DC in the 1980s.
Something about the way JEFF HAWKE shifts between different genres strikes me as truly alternative. The stories open with two completely unrelated characters, Mephisto and the Troll, discussing philosophical points which lead into the main plot. After such a bizarre prologue, “Overlord”, the first chapter, kicks off WAR OF THE WORLDS-style with a rocket containing giant beetles heralding destruction for Earth. Jeff Hawke and his team are on hand, but only the token female can understand the telepathic signals the alien is transmitting. Then, when they head to Jupiter, it turns out the whole story was a trick by Chalcedon. You can tell he’s an @$$ because he says stuff like “render the primitives amenable to manipulation!”.
It’s hard to tell how humorous this stuff is intended to be. For example, Chalcedon tells his floating-brained lackey “Had you a fundament, I would kick it!”. But when you see how well Patterson and Jordan handle a more straight-up comedic tone in part three, “Wondrous Lamp” (Aladdin’s Lamp, actually an extraterrestrial artifact, is discovered by a kid and his grandpa. The kid asks his skeptical gramps to make a wish, gramps says “I wish the genie would spirit away a certain little boy!”, and ABRACADABRA, the kid disappears to another planet. Punk’d!) it seems like you can enjoy the book on its own terms and not in an ironic way.
As always, look at the subtext: Jeff Hawke is the blonde-haired, blue-eyed English leading man fighting off all variety of freakish interlopers into his traditional world, often dividing comrades against each other. Politicians and bureaucrats are portrayed as bumbling and ineffective. But the overall tone is optimistic, suggesting confidence and hope.
Stones Throw says: Enjoy Jeff Hawke as a historical artifact, an example of a lost tradition of graphic literature (British sci-fi strips), a simple pleasure, or just plain old exciting, well-drawn comics.
BIZARRE NEW WORLD: POPULATION EXPLOSION OGN
Written by: Skipper Martin Pencilled by: Christopher Provencher Published by: Ape Entertainment Reviewed by: superheroWhen BIZARRE NEW WORLD premiered last year I was wildly enthusiastic about the book. I called it the best new book I had read so far in 2007. As a matter of fact, if I had been able to participate in the @$$ies this year I probably would have chosen BIZARRE NEW WORLD as my pick for Best Newcomer. Almost a year later I feel that BNW exemplified everything that a good indie book could be. It had a heartfelt, human based story with a touch of the fantastic to it. Not only that, but it was fun. Everything a good comic book should be.
So how does the sequel, BIZARRE NEW WORLD: POPULATION EXPLOSION, hold up to the original? I mean, as we all know sequels generally suck. Not only that but when a first chapter raises the bar so high could a second chapter ever hope to capture the magic of the original? Is POPULATION EXPLOSION the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK or the GODFATHER 2 of the BIZARRE NEW WORLD universe?
Well, I wouldn't go quite so far as to say it lived up to the greatness of those sequels but it does contain a greatness of its own, that's for sure. In POPULATION EXPLOSION we are treated to the tale of what happens in the first twenty four hours after all of humanity gains the ability to fly, and it's not a pretty picture. The fit actually hits the shan pretty hard in this installment as a human populace that has no experience in taking to the air suddenly finds itself zooming into the sky like everyone's favorite Kryptonian visitor from another planet. And not everyone's able to handle it as gracefully as Kal-El has all these years.
Writer Skipper Martin treats us to a world gone apeshit (no pun intended toward the publishers) and brings a very creepy, almost “Night of the Living Dead” feel to humanity's first day in the skies. Martin takes a very unexpected turn with POPULATION EXPLOSION as a moment that you would think would be humanity's greatest triumph becomes one of its most ridiculous tragedies. Everyone thinks that it'd be a great gift to fly, but did anyone ever really think what might happen if everyone were suddenly to take off at the same time? This is where the genius of POPULATION EXPLOSION's tale really lies and it's pulled off really, really well by Martin and co.
Admirers of the first series will be happy to see that despite all of this chaos POPULATION EXPLOSION still remains a story with its heart very much intact. PE retains Paul Krutcher as its central protagonist and he is able to provide readers with a real everyman view of a world in chaos. Not only that, but Krutcher is provided with a crisis of his own which propels him to not-so-superheroic action. Despite the fact that in this chapter of BIZARRE NEW WORLD things take a more dramatic and crisis driven turn, Martin never loses the crux of what made the series such a great read in the first place: Paul's normalcy. It's this aspect which keeps the story unique and adds a hint of humor to a tale of a world gone suddenly topsy turvy.
The art and coloring of POPULATION EXPLOSION are still of the same high quality as the original series. Provencher's pencils (say that five times fast) remain smooth and detailed and the storytelling here is top notch. Wes Dzioba's colors pop off of the page and add dimension to the already impressive artwork. It's nice to see that POPULATION EXPLOSION retains the same high quality production value that the original series had.
As far as I'm concerned this is another home run from Skipper Martin and Ape Entertainment. From what I've heard the original series' sales numbers weren't all that great. That's too bad, because original quality comics like BIZARRE NEW WORLD and POPULATION EXPLOSION deserve more attention than another junked out crossover from DC or Marvel. Hopefully the comic book scene can become a Bizarre New World of its own and embrace the great material within the pages to this fantastic new chapter in the life of Paul Krutcher and a world where man and bird take to the sky with ease.
Great book. Can't wait for the next one.
Discovered as a babe in an abandoned comic book storage box and bitten by a radioactive comic fan when he was a teenager, superhero is actually not-so mild mannered sometime designer & cartoonist Kristian Horn of Los Angeles, California. He's been an @$$hole for three years. Some of his work can be seen at www.kristianhorn.com.