Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. We’ve got a full column this week with indies, webcomics, manga, cheapies, and regular old run of the mill mainstream books on tap to review. But first we have a special treat. Too often, we comic book readers and so called aficionados forget that comics are, in fact, for the kids too. And too often, while we like to dissect and intellectualize comics, we sometimes forget that they’re supposed to be fun; something that speaks to the kid inside all of us. Well, we’re lucky enough to have an actual, honest to gosh kid reviewing for us in this week’s first review. He’s reviewed for us a couple of times before and it’s always a treat to hear what he and his pop have to say. So let’s listen to the kid in all of us while Professor Challenger and his son, Prof Jr. take a look at the first few episodes of the MIDDLEMAN TV series for our first review of the week.
THE MIDDLEMAN EPISODE 1: THE PILOT EPISODE SANCTION
Writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach Starring: Matt Keeslar (The Middleman) & Natalie Morales (Wendy Watson) Creator/Executive Producer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach TV Network: ABC FAMILY Reviewer: Prof. Jr. (age 13)First of all, I already loved the "Middleman" comics long before I saw the TV show. This probably triggered my love of the show.
I thought the first episode was great. It was incredibly faithful to the comics, and at times, laugh-out-loud funny. I also enjoyed the subtle differences that helped to bring the comic book to life on screen. For example, Spanky being a gorilla instead of a chimp looked great on screen.
I thought the artistic medium known as the "bleep" was very cleverly used.
All in all, I thought it was very good.
THE MIDDLEMAN EPISODE 2: THE ACCIDENTAL OCCIDENTAL CONCEPTION
Writer: Sarah Watson Starring: Matt Keeslar (The Middleman) & Natalie Morales (Wendy Watson) Creator/Executive Producer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach TV Network: ABC FAMILY Reviewer: Prof. Challenger“What in the gosh darn heck!?!” -- The Middleman
Well, after a continuously hilarious and spot-on Pilot Episode adaptation of the original MIDDLEMAN story arc (collected in THE MIDDLEMAN: THE TRADE PAPERBACK INITIATIVE from Viper Comics), the second episode aired this past Monday on ABC Family.
The big questions from comic fans who may not have tuned in are “Does the second episode hold up to the promise of the pilot episode?” and “Is it any good all on its own?” To which I will say that it meets some of the promise and it is…good…but not great…yet. Hopefully, the suits at ABC will give the series the time it needs to really get into a tonal and pacing groove.
Neither of the two lead actors is at all who I would’ve chosen for the parts, but Keeslar’s take on The Middleman is endearing. MM in the comics seems a bit tougher, a bit more “Special Forces” than the aura Keeslar projects. But for this lighthearted series, it works. But Natalie Morales as Wendy Watson is the show’s find, for me. She delivers these long and complicated clever dialogue lines in this sort of clenched teeth, snarky, dismissive way that I just think is great. Wendy is the heart of the MM comic and Morales more than makes the part her own in the TV series.
This second episode is funny, but not as funny as the Pilot episode. It involves a complicated sequence of plot interconnection involving Wendy’s roommate and hee pseudo-PETA attempts at making the world a better place and a trip by MM and Wendy to visit a succubus played by that chick from BILLY MADISON. That chick looks even better now with some years on her than she did in BILLY MADISON, btw. There’s also a trip to the Underworld (which looks surprisingly like your standard, boring-ass business building) and a resurrected ancient Chinese warrior.
So, fulfilling the premise set by the vomit-monster in the Pilot episode, MM tackles those comic-booky things in the real world that nobody really wants to deal with.
However, it’s not all rosy-keen. There’s something of a pacing or production issue (not sure which) that makes the episode seem a bit more…I don’t know…almost Disney Channel-ish. Not WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE level, but still there’s something missing. It may be the fact that this is the first time someone other than Javier Grillo-Marxuach, the creator of THE MIDDLEMAN, has written the characters. So, even though the dialogue has that trademark snappy, snarky, steeped in pop-culture zing to it, it does feel a bit more stilted than in the Pilot episode.
Now, if the series gets some complaints from TV fans, I suspect it’s going to be about the degree of just plain…silliness…that pervades the show. But for fans of the comic series, that’s what we expect and want. Many folks out there will likely compare this show to MEN IN BLACK and BUFFY but I would say it veers more into the CHARMED arena. The tone of the show reminds me of that show.
I know that ABC Family is not the usual “must see TV” station for the comic book inclined, but I would encourage those comic fans with refined tastes and a penchant for silliness and men in monkey suits, to give MIDDLEMAN a try. Prof Jr. and I have thoroughly enjoyed what we’ve seen so far, to the point that we find ourselves quoting dialogue back and forth with each other at odd times much to the frustration of the wife and daughter in our household.
Check it out on Monday nights at 8 pm Eastern/7 pm Central on ABC Family.
Prof. Challenger is the proud father of the less verbose Prof. Jr. and very busy at his sanctum sanctorum in Central Texas but somehow found time to watch THE MIDDLEMAN and put together some thoughts. Check out what he’s up to as an illustrator, editor, and more at profchallenger.com.
WOLVERINE # 66
Written by Mark Millar Art by Steve McNiven & Dexter Vines Published by Marvel Reviewed by Stones ThrowWOLVERINE # 66 is probably the funniest comic I’ve read in the year thus far.
It’s the start of Mark Millar’s “Old Man Logan” arc, set in the future of the Marvel Universe, which after some unspecified disaster has become an all-new Wild West. Y’know, sort of like THE ROAD WARRIOR. What this basically means is we get a lot of UNFORGIVEN riffs with an old guy Wolverine as the main character who wants to put his superheroing days behind him and settle down with his wife and two young kids. Like, Wolverine tending to the pigs. Wolverine telling his son off for cussing. Wolverine having heartfelt conversations with his honest, home-maker wife while the sun sets.
Wolverine saying “I am not selling my children’s X-Box to pay the rent” (paraphrase).
Start to see where the unintentional humor comes in?
I wouldn’t say the idea is unworkable. But Millar plays it as broad as possible, giving you every scene you’d expect in the exact right order, and adding nothing more than the usual adolescent interpretations on classic Marvel characters (in this issue: inbred children of a warlord Hulk. Enjoy!). Combine this with Steve McNiven’s ultra-realistic and yet kind of hammy art and you’ve got a pretty effective chuckle-fest.
Though I’ve got to wonder if Millar and co. do secretly have tongues in their cheeks and fingers in their backs or whatever. Remember that map of Gotham City from BATMAN: NO MAN’S LAND, showing which villains rule which parts of Gotham? Well, they rip that off here, only they couldn’t be bothered to go to similar levels of effort so even though infrastructure and technology has apparently broken down, the whole of America is divided into about four chunks, and it’s a computer-illustrated double page splash. But there are locations like “Paste Pot Creek” and “Pym Cross” along the route Wolverine and the blind Hawkeye are traveling. Is Millar the self parody type?
I can handle some corn if it’s countered by an action-packed, exciting story. But the reason this ultimately fails is its take on Wolverine. I just don’t buy the portrayal of a loving father and husband. Wolverine has always been a loner. So he hangs up the mask and gloves after this ghastly, traumatic event. What would Wolvie do? Go to Japan? Retreat to a solitary life in the wilderness? All seem reasonable. Settle down with a family somewhere everyone knows he’s Wolverine? Not so much.
How did he even meet this gal, anyway? “…so, after the apocalypse I guess I fell in with the other survivors from my town, and, well, here I am. What do you like to do?” “Oh, the usual… wander ‘round and kill stuff. Search for my memories. Pine for my psycho ex-team mate. Smoke cigars.”
Just as a parting shot, I didn’t appreciate the “WOLVERINE’S ALL-TIME GREATEST ADVENTURE” blurb on the cover of an issue where he literally does nothing either. This kind of hyperbole has been cropping up on a few Marvel books recently. When Stan Lee did it he would put “Another Marvel Masterwork!” or “A Milestone in the Marvel Age of Comics” or something. There is a difference. One doesn’t disrespect all the earlier Wolverine stories that paved the way for this issue and condescend towards the fans so much.
Still, I’m looking forward to future issues of this arc so I can see more of Millar’s fucked-up future versions of Marvel villains. Like an old, syphilitic Vulture or a child molester Venom. Should be fun!
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #22
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie Artist: Ed Benes Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: JinxoI think Justice League’s greatest asset can also be its greatest weakness. And that is the way Dwayne McDuffie doesn’t just show you the big heavy adventures but also takes steps to show you the day to day world of the League and its members. It’s an asset because it really goes a long way to establishing a believable reality the reader is invested in. But on the other hand, too much of that and not enough big ass epic adventure can be a drag. And it just feels like there has been a lag over the last few issues where we’ve gotten good character stuff but no “big stuff” of any note. I mean, we’ve gotten setup material for “big stuff”, but for stuff I’m not even sure will pay off in Justice League. So, whoopee, hanging out with the gang getting some character beats while nothing builds to nothing.
But with this issue I think things largely get back to form. The story picks up past plotlines. Red Tornado ended up having his robot body stolen and “possessed” by Amazo. His body was destroyed and Tornado’s consciousness was transferred to the JLA computer system where it has been living for quite some time. This issue finds various members of the League going about their lives with the main thrust being about the League’s genius types working to install Tornado into a new and improved body. This all builds nicely into what should be another arc of some importance. Important, in part, because of McDuffie’s investment in his characters.
But there is some of the bad too. I’m sorry but… can we kick this Vixen plot into gear already? Please. Vixen has the ability to borrow the abilities of animals. Only lately she has instead been borrowing/stealing powers from her teammates without their permission. Solid idea. But then there was a wait until they revealed that was going on. And then there was a stretch with her confessing what she’s done to certain people. So then we get to this issue. Big stuff going on with Tornado but we keep having to cut to Vixen to see her confessing to yet someone else! After that that plot does finally move forward in a more meaningful way but at that point… I didn’t care. I’d rather they had skipped the “one more confession” and cut right to the chase. It was that one personal character beat too many. And they better be bringing that plot to a full boil pretty damn soon, because I’ve gone from being interested to nearly not giving a crap. And I do want to give a crap.
But the slow Vixen slog aside, This issue is mostly McDuffie at his best starting off what should be a fun ride.
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.
IRON MAN #30
Writer: Stuart Moore Artists: Roberto De La Torre (pencils/inks), Carlo Pagulayan (pencils), Steve kurth (pencils), Jeffrey Huet (inks), & Andrew Hennessy (inks), Cover Art: Adi Granov Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugOK, I want to start off by saying that the acquisition of Stuart Moore as writer for the next few issues of IRON MAN is a great thing. Moore knows how to pace and deliver an exciting read and proves it in this issue. The story, about an old friend of Stark's who develops a weapon that seeks out and destroys nuclear weapons, is a pretty fun one, especially when the weapon is made from designs borrowed from Tony Stark. Sure it's got an "Armor Wars" feel to it, but Moore pulls it off with some slickly paced action scenes and a nice cameo by everyone's favorite merc for hire, Paladin.
But I don't really want to talk about that.
The art in this issue is decent as well. I'm not sure why it took five people to do 22 pages, but despite the expansive artistic cast, it was hard distinguishing who did what page. None of these artists are particularly well known to me, but all of them seem to have the same grainy/gritty style that excels at drawing tech and people reacting/running/operating tech very well. And those are good qualities to have in an IRON MAN comic. The art, although occasionally ethereal and loose, is pretty good in this book as well.
But I don't want to talk about that either.
What I want to talk about is the cover to this issue.
Adi Granov is a pretty good artist. He's made some iconic images of Iron Man and has provided a design to the armor that makes it look both cool and functional. He's also done some iconic covers. Iron Man smashing the ground is the one that comes to everyone's mind when Granov's name is always mentioned.
That's all well and good, but my beef is that when I picked up this issue of IRON MAN, I had to check and recheck the book's contents to see if this was a new issue or one I'd already bought. And that's a pretty sad fucking thing to have to do.
Sure Granov does a mean Iron Man, but it's the same Iron Man we've seen for about thirty issues now (and that's not including variant covers and promo art). All with the same muted background. All with the same gritty texture. All emotionless and robotic. And frankly, I'm kind of sick of it.
The saying "You can't judge a book by it's cover" should be true but sadly it's not. When you can't tell one cover from the next it's time to A) look for a new cover artist from time to time or B) maybe suggest to the artist it expand his palette a tweence. Now, I know Granov is a big name and they want as many covers as possible from the guy, but when you're getting carbon copies month in month out, it's bound to leave the reader as confused as I was and, more than likely, cause a lot of people to overlook the title thinking that they've already bought the issue.
Now, when the snore-inducing Knaufs were writing this thing, I would've thought it a benefit for people to overlook this title due to carbon copy cover art, but now that Moore is on the title, I thought it'd be a good thing to point out. If the confusion happened to me, it's more than likely that it happened to others. Granov's great, but the guy needs to show a bit of variation before he starts earning the nickname of One Trick Adi.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for close to seven years. Look for his first published work in MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 (AVAILABLE NOW!) from Cream City Comics.
TANGENT: SUPERMAN’S REIGN #4 (of 12)
Writer: Dan Jurgens Penciller: Jamal Igle Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: BottleImpI’ve come to the sad conclusion that comic books, with very few exceptions, are no longer geared towards kids. Whenever I go to my local shop to pick up some issues, the other customers without fail are people (men, mostly, although I have been surprised to see more than a couple of women shopping) in their twenties and thirties. On the rare occasion that I do see someone under 15 in there, that shopper is more likely to be interested in the latest trading card games or Heroclix figures than in any comics on the racks. It seems as if comic book publishers are caught in a catch-22 situation: as their readers grew older they demanded more sophisticated and “mature” stories; the publishers acquiesced and now you can’t pick up a comic book that DOESN’T feature a character getting decapitated, disemboweled, raped, or beaten to a bloody pulp. As a result, there are fewer comics out there that are targeted towards a younger audience—therefore, the number of younger readers dwindles, and publishers try to keep what circulation they have by pushing their titles further and further down that dark and bloody path.
Don’t get me wrong; I think comics can be a powerful medium for serious storytelling—Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN and SWAMP THING, Art Spiegelman’s MAUS, James Robinson’s STARMAN, Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN and JMS’s THE TWELVE are some of my faves. What I don’t like is the current attitude that a comic for “mature” readers means blood, guts, graphic violence and/or sex—but not the great story that weaves those elements into something deeper or more intelligent. And the superhero books are no exception to this attitude—the pointless killing off in this month’s FINAL CRISIS of the Martian Manhunter, a character who’s been around for over forty years, shows just how blasé comic book creators have become in using death (which used to be something important) as just another plot tool. Most comics just don’t seem to be much fun anymore.
Which brings me to TANGENT: SUPERMAN'S REIGN.
Dan Jurgens is one of the few writers that DC has left who seem to remember what a dramatic comic book storyline used to be, and he’s using that knowledge to fantastic effect in this title. It’s a universe-spanning crossover the likes of which happened every year back in the 1970s, as the Justice League tries to help the heroes of Tangent Earth stop their version of Superman, a psychically formidable global dictator (who is the spitting image of Avery Brooks, by the way—some nice art by Igle). There are some heavy issues to consider: this Superman has brought an end to poverty, war, inequality, and environmental harm, but at what cost? Is the Justice League doing more harm than good by trying to defeat him? But the best thing about this series is that the action is kept at a steady pace along with the story—we’re never bogged down in pages and pages of talking heads, unlike so many other comics these days. There are no narrative captions—if it’s important for the reader to know something, one of the characters will tell another, so again, the pace is kept swift. And I noticed something that I haven’t seen in a long time: the writing is such that a new reader could pick up any issue of this series (say, #4) without having read any of the preceding issues and be completely up to speed with the story after reading two or three pages.
Because this series is not really taking place within the confines of DC’s continuity—otherwise Batman would be R.I.P.ing right about now. Jurgens is bringing the medium back to a time when continuity wasn’t the be-all-end-all of a comic book universe, a time where a readers age eight, eighteen, and twenty-eight could pick up the same comic and read it with the same level of enjoyment no matter the age, a time when superheroes acted like superheroes and nobody (at least nobody important) ever died.
A little naïve? Of course. But in today’s marketplace that old-fashioned slam-bang comic book storytelling feels as fresh and inventive as THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS felt back in the 1986. If like me you’re getting suffocated by the waves of continuity-laden, murder-riddled, overly plotted (and plodding) crossovers and so-called “event” books, try TANGENT for a breath of fresh air, and remember what got you hooked on comic books in the first place.
Writer: Peter David Artist: Valentine De Landro Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheLet me just start by saying that this is the best damn X-book on the shelves. I will gladly fight a hulking mass of Whedonite or a razor-backed Brubakerin to defend this title’s superiority over ASTONISHING or the regular X-titles. Always on time and never too mired in editorial mandates for crossovers and upsells, this second stringer in X-continuity has consistently delivered sharp writing, complex characters and a new take on the hackneyed old mutant team dynamic by never getting lost in convention.
Some will call this latest series to don the X-FACTOR title a detective book; others might say it’s a representation (and perhaps a reflection) of a society in decay; and finally aging fanboys see it as a chance to revisit characters they fell in love with sixteen years ago. It’s the rare title that can cater to so many audiences without pandering to any one demographic group.
For anyone that has shunned this book and can’t afford trades in this trying economy, this latest issue is the perfect time to jump aboard as the team from Mutant Town gets a fresh start by ripping off the crusted purple scabs of old wounds.
I was terrified when this book was launched. I saw positioning Jaime “Multiple Man” Madrox as the story’s central character equivalent to building a million dollar movie franchise on the waifish shoulders of Corey Feldman. This was a fair impression considering the last time David helmed X-FACTOR back in the early 90s Jamie Madrox and Guido “Strong Guy” Carosella served as The Two Coreys of the team, never taking anything seriously and serving merely to interject quips during dire circumstances. While I loved these characters as a kid, even way back then I could only handle them in small doses, anxiously waiting for the panels when Forge or their government handler Val Cooper would squash the “funny” and interject some drama, tension and rising action.
Then David surprised the hell out of me. This new version of X-FACTOR was a complete 180 degree turn from the book I remembered, because somewhere, somewhen, Jaime Madrox grew up. Gone was the man-child that would pound his armpit to create doppelgangers to help him bang chicks and perform mundane life activities like taint hygiene. No, this version of Jaime Madrox is a man in search of his soul, wrought with all of the introspective baggage of a college freshman who just took their first intro to psych class, and now creating copies of him self to learn about the intricacies of life in the shortest time possible through osmosis.
As I stated earlier, X-FACTOR at its core was established as a detective book. After the mystical genocide of M-Day, Madrox and some of our old favorites like Strong Guy, Syren, Monet St. Croix and Rhane Sinclaire, set up camp in the ghetto that was Mutant Town to help keep the peace and in the process play Blues Clues for violent acts against current and ex-muties. While the cases have been entertaining, it’s truly been the character dynamics that have driven this piece. The insertion of the mystical and all knowing Layla Miller has been one of the new character additions that I found grating at first, but she has truly grown into her own as the issues progressed. What lies in store for her future and her relationship to Jamie Madrox is just one of the reasons this book is a “first read” when I get home from my LCS.
Issue #32 serves as a complete decimation of the old and offers a nostalgic new springboard for the series going forward. After the destruction of Auschwitz, I mean Mutant Town, at the hands of Arcade, Val Cooper descends from the cockpit of her metal mutant protecting machines to offer X-Factor an ultimatum and a job. Just when I had thought that the merry mutants would bite at this new offer taking us back to the government controlled X-Factor of yore, Madrox springs a coup d’état leaving egg on the face of our government and in the process completely closes the first chapter of this team that is now on the run.
I should also mention that De Landro’s chalky pencils add an additional noir vibe to the book without ever being too realistic or too esoteric. This book is about living underground and De Landro perfectly accompanies that theme without making the book too damn dark too see, which sadly seems to be the norm these days. Note to artists everywhere: the use of shadow does not absolve you from providing detail in each scene.
I pity the fool that is handed X-FACTOR if or when Peter David steps down. These are his characters and this is his substratum within the grand scheme of X-books. If this book were to survive within the hands of another writer, they would need to bring to the table biting wit and complex character introspection all within the context of a meaty story. None of these are easy feats and thank god for the time being we have Peter David, who can accomplish all of this with seemingly little effort.
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. Optimous is looking for artistry help, critical feedback and a little industry insight to get his original book AVERAGE JOE up, up and on the shelves. What if the entire world had super powers? Find out in the blog section of Optimous’ MySpace page to see some preview pages and leave comments.
DAN DARE: REIGN OF THE ROBOTS
Written by Frank Hampson and Allan Stranks Art by Frank Hampson, Don Harley and others Published by Titan Books Reviewed by Stones Throw“Dare you return to Mekonta, Colonel?”
While EC Comics and their knock-offs led to the Kefauver hearings and the creation of the Comics Code in the States, across the pond the dominance of American crime and horror comics provoked the Reverend Marcus Morris’ more subdued reaction of founding the EAGLE, a weekly comic magazine that would provide young boys with strong examples of Christian virtues and British industry. DAN DARE, PILOT OF THE FUTURE, the British equivalent of a Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, revived recently by Garth Ennis at Virgin, was the lead feature, running in two page installments on either side of the EAGLE’s cover. It’s set in the far-off 1990s, but as Alan Moore showed in THE BLACK DOSSIER, the strip never really left the ‘50s—Dan Dare’s not out of contemporary-style military uniform if he can help it, and conflict between humankind and the Mekon—or the United Kingdom and the outside world—is endearingly black and white. It’s the sort of world where you can drop in on a Bermuda Triangle of lost spaceships and an abandoned Scottish pilot will still be wearing a kilt.
“Dare’s my second name, Mekon! I’m starting back -- now!” I can’t really think of a better way to encapsulate Dan Dare’s character than that line of dialogue above. While it’s undoubtedly a cool thing to say, showcasing Dan’s never-say-die attitude and stubborn defiance of hopeless odds, it’s not that cool. Of course Dan Dare’s surname is Dare. We know that. The Mekon, his green-skinned, swell-headed nemesis, knows it, too. So he’s kind of being an @$$ pointing it out. And this is a pattern repeated throughout the book. You want to like the Spacefleet colonel as he leads only a handful of rebels against an Earth overrun by the Mekon’s robots, but he’s no John McClane, or even James Bond. He’s a more English, middle-of-the-road counterpoint. In fact, his determined straight-lacedness in the face of adversity verges on the self-parodic towards the end of the collection, when he continually puts his team mates’ lives at risk in order to save his old shuttle. I swear he shows that ship more affection than any other character in the book.
“Where’s everybody gone?” “Not a soul in sight!” The opening of “Reign of the Robots”, which ran for nearly a year from the start of 1957 (the following serial, “The Ship that Lived”, is also included), is the coolest thing about it. Dan and his Spacefleet companions, tough Irish pilot Lex O’Malley, kid “Flamer” Spry, rotund comic relief Digby and his alien pet Stripey return to Earth to find almost ten years have passed and London is overgrown and deserted. While they were off-planet their Venusian enemies the Treens and the Mekon, their puny, hoverchair-bound leader, have conquered Earth and enslaved the inhabitants with their Elektrobots, taking shit back to a virtual stone age. The once mighty Spacefleet is now Spacefleet Underground. The only working anti-Treen ship is Dan Dare’s very first rocket, the Anastasia. I can’t think of a better way to turn things on their head while retaining what was liked about the strip in the first place.
“You dare question my orders, fat one?” That said, the Treens are pretty funny. We’re repeatedly told how despicable the Mekon is, and they’re evidently bad enough to conquer the entire planet, but you have to wonder how. You seriously don’t see them do anything worse than insult Digby and Stripey in the whole hundred-plus pages, and all it usually takes to turn the tables on them is knocking the weak-bodied Mekon off that damn flying chair (which is way,way easy). That and his comfortable rapport with Dan Dare makes the whole thing seem more like a large-scale playground game rather than a battle for stakes of the universe. Which, I guess with the EAGLE’s M.O. being clean, childlike fun over pulse-pounding adventure, makes sense.
“Duck! It’s raining robots!” “Grab the net, troops – and hang on for your lives!” But it’s the art that is the main draw here. The coloring is light years ahead of its time and approaches the psychedelic in the large opening panels on every other page. If you want to see geese and horses wandering through a crumbling, futuristic London, or deserted spaceships littered against a color-sprayed backdrop as far as the eye can see, then I would recommend REIGN OF THE ROBOTS, unless you know of any similar publications. Hampson’s (Dan’s creator) Dare is the beautiful cross-breeding of Milton Caniff and Hergé’s TINTIN, and it’s not hard to see the influence on British artists like Dave Gibbons or Brian Bolland, and even the current revival of DOCTOR WHO.
“Sondar! You’re a hero!” “You taught me to fight evil, Sir Hubert.” I’m trying not to repeat myself from my review of JEFF HAWKE, a similar newspaper strip hero of the early 1960s, a few months back, but it’s hard not to see this whole collection as some sort of colonial nightmare. Like, what happens when inhabitants of a land Britain has conquered (in this case Venus) fight back? This becomes pretty clear when the team pays a visit to a Spacefleet comrade on Venus, sort of a district commissioner dressed in Venusian costume and ruling over a group of natives rebelling against the Treens. The lone Treen hero is Sondar, quoted above, who ingratiates himself with his Spacefleet oppressors by betraying his countrymen. Still, it’s a pretty fun book.
“O.K., Digby! I’ll wear it, until we’re operational again…and I rather fancy that won’t be very long!” I’ve decided to finish with the last line from the book, indicating that the review is at an end. This probably tells you that Dan Dare and co. are successful and the reign of the robots is overcome in the course of the story. Sorry if I spoiled anything.
ULTIMATE X-MEN #95
Writer: Aron E. Coleite Art: Mark Brooks, Jaime Mendoza, Brandon Peterson Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoIn general I do enjoy the Ultimate line of books. But I have to say there are certain traps the books can fall into. Being a reboot of the original Marvel books, they by necessity find themselves retelling classic tales. If done right that can be okay. But, sometimes, it can also just feel like one more run over ground that has already been covered over and over already. I can start feeling restless to get to the point I know is coming. “Okay, let’s stop dicking around and cut to the chase, to where we know this is going?” If not handled right it can be a problem; ULTIMATE FF just started feeling like such a slow paced repeat to me that I dropped it. The Phoenix plot in ULTIMATE X-MEN wanders close to bugging me now and again too. In that case I think I’m just anxious to get to Jean Grey reallllly going mental.
All of that said, the current “Absolute Power” plotline in ULTIMATE X-MEN, for me, is a fun example of what the Ultimate Universe can be at its best. It’s about telling you a brand new story you haven’t heard before. It also often takes the preconceived notions you’ve brought with you from the 616 Marvel Universe and flips them on their ear instead of just tweaking them slightly. Really a bit of coaster ride where they really get you feeling like the car might be slipping off the rails.
For example, part 2 picks up right after some trippy reveals on Ultimate Colossus. Very early on it was established that Colussus had a past with the Russian mob and was gay. He also has been dating the speedster mutant Northstar. Last issue found Northstar being kidnapped by his former super team Ultimate Alpha Flight, who beat the crap out of the X-Men. How? Alpha Flight is dosed to the gills with a drug called Banshee. Sort of steroids for super powers. The X-Men are shocked by this but even more shocked that Colossus is also a user and always has been. Seems his regular power is only to turn to metal but without the strength. So, basically his power was useless. He’d turn to metal and be unable to lift his own weight. So, pop some Banshee.
Now this should feel like a rehash of all the mutant growth hormone stuff in the main Marvel U. But for me it actually felt new and pretty different. The MGH plots always felt to me like stories about people using drugs for a cheap thrill. This Banshee plot, again, feels more like a steroids story. Colossus and the others on Banshee don’t start doing the drug for fun. They do it because they really want that extra edge. And not in some sport but, really, in what they see as their battle against evil. But it’s a slippery slope. Good stuff.
And you might go, “Oh, great Ultimate Alpha Flight. Whoopee.” I admit I went in amused but not expecting much. I was a fan of the original team back in the day. So in part one it was nice to see which original characters they chose to include in the group. But then there was the surprise of seeing folks in the group you wouldn’t expect. Jubilee? Sunfire? Okay, that’s interesting. But with part two I think they really kicked it up a notch. There are some reveals about several characters in line with the Colossus ones that really caught me off guard in a way I quite liked. They also dropped some hints that surprises are ahead in regard to Alpha Flight team leader Vindicator. Given how much fun the other reveals have been, I’m actually quite excited to see what they have planned next.
ULTIMATE X-MEN sometimes can leave me just a tad cold but I have to say, this plot has me really entertained with its crazy nutty goodness.
GHOST RIDER #24
Writer: Jason Aaron Artist: Tan Eng Huat Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeGHOST RIDER is a book I have a little bit of a past with. "Back in the day" as the kids are wont to say now, at a time where I was young and stupid and didn't know what the hell a good comic book was and didn't really care as long as it had Spider-Man or the Punisher in it, I fell into a little bit of a tryst with the Midnight Sons area of the Marvel-verse. Mostly I imagine that I was just all riddled with fanboy glee over the idea of a blazing skeleton with a badass chain and the leather get up and flame-tired motorcycle and everything, how could I not, but I also kind of dug the mythos it created in and of itself. The demon Zarathos, Danny Ketch's bloodline and his relations to Johnny Blaze and how everything conveniently synced up with each other. By the time the book itself was ending I didn't care much about it, but I didn't care much for comics at the time in general anyways. When I came back to comics a few years ago though, I was kind of hoping and waiting for Marvel to give me something with the character and a reason to care again about this niche little character I had a weird affection for.
Apparently, Jason Aaron has become that reason...
It's such a perfect fit really, I can't believe I never thought of it myself. If anything, a GHOST RIDER book needs to be written dirty, but with a sense of self-awareness in and of its own grime. The writer of the acclaimed SCALPED should know this well. What he's done so far, and I admit it took me a little bit of acclimation towards this, is taken a character that by nature is pretty "B-movie-ish" and put him in exactly that kind of comic book, but with more modern sensibilities. Grindhouse meets Vertigo (the comic line, not the Hitchcock classic that is). It's a perfect blend. And it helps that he writes it well too.
This particular issue is more of this "Bold New Direction" and I'm actually kind of giddy with how fun and badassed this book is in its almost over-the-top/tongue-in-cheek way. For those not following the storyline, basically it entails Johnny Blaze on a mission to find the being responsible for his bonding to the Ghost Rider entity, the rogue angel Zadkiel. Blaze sets himself in the middle of a maximum security prison to call out someone from within that can put him on the trail proper. Hijinks ensue. The twist of GR being responsible via an Angel instead of a Demon like Zarathos isn't terribly different thematically, but like I said earlier it's the gruffness and overly-violent and sarcastic B-movie tone Aaron and Co. are presenting us that makes this book stand out now. I mean, this issue starts with a maddened priest gunning down his congregation and ends with Blaze about to come face to face with a seven foot Mother of all Hard Assed Bikers covered from head to toe in tattoos of religious symbology and Biblical passages. Obviously, anything goes, as we also saw last issue with the re-emergence of the former host to the Spirit of Vengeance.
At the end of the day, sure, this is just a GHOST RIDER comic. It's never ever going to be something that you just have to read or you rush right out to the store to pick up. But that doesn't mean it still can't be entertaining as all hell, which it's succeeding at rather marvelously. It's the perfect "middle of the stack" kind of book, if you catch my drift. The story has a purpose and a direction, but overall is easy to digest and you're more in it to see the over the top action and brutality anyways so it's good not to get bogged down with anything needlessly complex. If Blaze versus basically what equaled the "Night Nurses from Hell" last issue was any indication of the amount of hardcore property damage that this book will go to, I can only imagine where this prison setting and the Hell's Angel from, uh, Hell or Heaven or whatever is going to lead. To use an unbelievably cliched turn of phrase, it should be one hell of a ride...
IN ODD WE TRUST GN
By Dean Koontz and Queenie Chan Released by Del Rey Reviewer: Scott GreenIN ODD WE TRUST sees THE DREAMING creator Queenie Chan adapt horror novelist Dean Koontz's popular necroglot ODD THOMAS for the manga/comic medium.
While the one volume story succeeds in serving as an introduction to Odd and his small town outside the Mojave, I chose to read the first two novels, "Odd Thomas" and "Forever Odd" to pick up some perspective. Not as an indictment of the particular novels, but I have to say, I did have to force my way through the books. As a general assessment, I don't dislike Koontz’s work. I read DRAGON TEARS in high school and I remember bits of the cop versus paranormally gifted sociopath novel more than I do many contemporary reads. I listened to an audio book of last girl chase INTENSITY about five years and a couple of apartments ago when I had a particularly long commute. The trouble is, like vampire novels and X-MEN comics, I developed an aversion to Koontz's brand of philosophical peril after consuming too much as a teen. Currently, I'm willing to accept that people like this kind of book a lot more than I currently do, because I used to like this kind of book a significantly more.
As my tastes currently stand, I don't have an abundance of patience for a thriller packed with local flavor and monologues. It takes some will to complete works Odd or the DEXTER novels. However, as a demonstration of authorial craft, I did find Koontz's approach to moralizing through the perspective and experiences of his hero to be interesting.
Queenie Chan's IN ODD WE TRUST is effective in introducing and visualizing Koontz's Odd and his environs, and the graphic novel is generally faithful to the prose incarnation. Laboring to fit people, premise and plot into the span of a graphic novel, it does not find the space to layer in the significance that Koontz works into his Odd thrillers. Despite the frequently successful effort to recapture the spirit of the novels, lacking that moral dialog, IN ODD WE TRUST is shallower than the original.
Koontz introduced his hero, whose birth name is in fact Odd Thomas, having already accepted his ability to see the dead (he can also speak to them, but they don't back), and having already been through various harrowing, life threatening situations while do-gooding in service of that gift/curse. The character is a 19 year old fry cook, living in the small town of Pico Mundo, dating the fiercely independent young woman named "Stormy" Llewllyn. He's a tremendously likable person, if you like likable people. In part this is because his ability to see the dead and compulsion to avert the disasters that these spirits portend requires the maintenance of a simple life and an upbeat attitude as defense mechanisms.
IN ODD WE TRUST is a prequel to the first novel, though not one of the cases to which Koontz alluded. Original character Sherry Sheldon is at the center of events. The young woman, who has shared history with Stormy, was working as the nanny/house keeper at a residence where a seven year old boy was stabbed to death. With the boy's ghost prompting Odd, worries turn to whether the killer is stalking Sherry's other charge, or Sherry herself.
At least in the two that I read, Koontz's novels funnel Odd towards the story defining confrontation. While there is an element of the amateur detective, with evidence gathering and deductive reasoning, and plots often utilize Odd's fallibility in this regard, Odd's progress towards the showdown always feels inevitable. Spirits and morality impel him to save lives. Then "psychic magnetism," which guides him to the people that he needs to find or vise versa sets Odd on a path that is often dictated by the quick thinking or preparation of story's villain.
IN ODD WE TRUST likewise keeps Odd busy through sleuth work, with Stormy fitting nicely into the firearm packing Watson role. As with the novels, the trail followed is less dictated by the investigation than it is by external factors, such as Pico Mundo's town parade, misdirection by the villain and psychic magnetism. Especially in this graphic novel where the one suspect is in fact the villain and the person who is explicitly threatened is in fact the target, the mystery accomplishes little more than providing structure. The method by which Odd finds and defuses the threat is ultimately less engaging than the character himself.
There is room to nitpick how closely IN ODD WE TRUST adheres to the novels. In the first book, wasn't the "Together Forever" card in Stormy's apartment? Considering that the local police officers acknowledge that Odd regards their chief as a father figure and know that the chief reciprocates the sentiment, but only the chief knows that Odd can solve crimes by seeing the dead, the officers probably should not be as deferential to Odd in the midst of a murder investigation/stake-out as they are in the graphic novel.
Queenie Chan rises to the task of handling the complex requirements of Odd's appearance. Because the novels are told from the first person, Koontz was never explicit in revealing exactly what the character looks like. There's the sense that he's a handsome California kid. Given his personality, he probably dresses respectfully, but casually. That's off looking, but not outright weird. Ultimately, the character in the graphic novel admirably fills out the complicated requirements.
In a more general sense, Chan's work is reminiscent of other manga, without outright copying it or falling into the uninspired realm of the "manga style". Characters in the graphic novel do look a bit like other, popular manga characters, but there's far more of Chan's specific style than anyone else's. One drawback of this style as it applies to this graphic novel, is that it does not lend itself to cartooning recognizable people. LBJ and Elvis make appearances. If you compare the two to photographs, the facial structures of the real individuals is evidentially duplicated, but with the angles, shaded, inked and on a page, the abstraction does not easily translate back to the real individuals.
There's a piercing quality to Queenie Chan's images. Character illustrations in comics and manga are generally oriented in such a way as to face the figure's body, or at least their head, towards the reader. Flip through a few random books and note how if the panel is not dead on to the focal character, unless there are contradictory requirements in the scene, characters are angled outwards or turning over a shoulder to face in that direction. Chan doesn't do much to twist this convention, but with gradient backgrounds and large, darkly outlined eyes, the characters noticeably project out through the page. This look of staring out at the reader, lends the work an impression of intensity that is well suited to its genre.
IN ODD WE TRUST has less of a problem contending with the concrete details of the novels than it does the nature of the originals. This work has less than 190 comic/manga pages to work in. In that time, it has to introduce Odd as a person, his abilities, his context and tell the particular story of the book. However, the model laid out by Koontz is neither economical nor terse. The graphic novel doesn't have the room for the richly detailed conversations and thought processes of the prose. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but in the case of the novel, it's all filtered through Odds first person narrative. The novel's details and descriptions are vehicles for Odd's view of the world. Frequently, this takes the form of judgment. Odd illuminates the special attributes of the people of Pico Mundo, while condemning the crimes and excess of the world. Serving as a mouthpiece character, in FOREVER ODD, praising the handsome face of a friend whose body is damaged by bone disease, Odd contrasts his friend’s depth with vacuous minds of the similarly handsome men of Hollywood.
IN ODD WE TRUST does feature statements of Odd's insight, such has when he comments on the depth of the bond formed by Stormy and Sherry's shared experiences. The graphic novel similarly does have some of the novels' verbose, evaluative dialog, as when Odd and his two parent figures, the police chief and the owner of the diner that employs him, meet at breakfast. "Thought I'd stop by and bask in the warm aroma of Odd's fluffy egg batter." However, the graphic novel can't afford to present too much of either. A little of that goes a long way in comics. It doesn't have the pages and it isn't the right medium for long, explicitly written out descriptive thoughts.
In the adaptation to comics/manga, the graphic novel picks up what that medium instinctually has to offer a story like IN ODD WE TRUST. Queenie Chan does utilize the effect of revealing something in the transition from one panel to the next, or one page to the next: in one panel a silhouette is seen in the driver's seat of a car, on the next panel, the characters , and ideally the reader, are startled by what the shadows were obscuring. From one page to the next, Odd launches himself over a fence, and as the flip of the page resolves, the reader sees what Odd has landed on.
Trading prose's ability to present long, first person passages for a comics/manga's ability to intentionally stagger the reader's progress between images does not favor an Odd Thomas story. The notion of a heroic spiritual medium in and off itself is too familiar to be a winning high concept. As such, the driving force of the Odd stories is the morality play in which Odd, as the ultimate nice guy, is tested to his limits by the human capacity for cruelty.
Despite some demonstrations of respectable biblical recall abilities, Odd also expresses religious irreverence and describes himself as a "man of reason." Even if it's not a dogmatic view or a religious faith being tested, Odd is almost a Job figure. What is emphasized in the main narratives of the novels, as well as the other, prior, situations referred to in those novels, is the personal danger and unpleasantness, if not outright physical and emotional torture of Odd's work. Stormy tells Odd that she sees this life as boot camp to prepare for a next life of service. However, it is evident that Odd has a role to perform in this world. In each of Koontz's Odd stories, Odd has a mission to perform, he does the right thing, and he suffers tremendously for it. More than his ability to see the dead, or the time bomb situations, Odd's account of his experience as his moral fortitude is battered, worn out and stripped bare under the assault of people who are as evil as he is good drive the novels. As good as Queenie Chan is at visually representing Odd, little of this dimension is fit into the graphic novel.
IN ODD WE TRUST serves as an effective introduction to Odd and a satisfying visualization. Beyond that, trying to reproduce an Odd Thomas novel in manga might be a self-defeating proposition. Weighing it against other graphic novels, operating like an Odd novel, with the character lead by his psychic magnetism into danger, the chase is too prescribed to measure up to the best thrillers. On the other hand, the novels rely on Odd's monologues, which aren't fitting for comics/manga. Not able to equal the top manga and comics of its genre or the original novels, IN ODD WE TRUST does not have the opportunity to be great.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for close to seven years. If you like what you see here and love anime & manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column here.
By David Menzies & Robert Pinero Updated weekly here. Reviewer: Ambush BugVENDABLE is one of those uncategorizable stories that is fun to read because you just aren't sure where it's going. It's a slice of life story about the struggles of being young and in a dead end job and looking for a perfect match in the love department. It's also a nice socio-political commentary on life, race, gender, etc. It also has some bits of oddness such as a guy who chooses to walk the earth with a wooden samurai sword strapped to his back and a business meeting led by Cupid. Like I said, it's not a story you can predict where it's going.
It's also quite a fun read. Sure at times the writing can be a bit wordy and the makers of this webcomic should watch for tiny errors such as words and sentences barely fitting within the word balloons, but these are all tiny little nits not even worth picking. All in all, this is a well written story that pops about at a brisk pace, following one cast member, then leaping into the head of another.
The art is pretty impressive as well. Sure it's cartoony, but emotions are represented well and tiny details are never shirked upon. Occasionally, I had difficulty distinguishing one character from the next, but for the most part, the artwork was top notch.
This is a webcomic that definitely makes you think. The art is fun and the tone is both quirky and meaningful. VENDABLE deals with some very common issues that many can relate to and does so in a way that's fun to read. The webcomic is just getting started with about 18 pages finished so far. It's free, so check it out and see if it's the type of story you'll want to revisit when new pages drop.
RASL # 2
Written and drawn by Jeff Smith Published by Cartoon Books A poetic appreciation by Stones Throw
I personally don’t mind, because this issue of RASL Was as full As fifteen dabbles Into Bendis’ DAREDEVIL.
I can’t wait to unlock the puzzle Of the many parallel Universes visited by Rasl (the main character of RASL).
At the moment I’m baffled But it’s not too much hassle To wait for subsequent issues of RASL.
In this issue the rascal (Called Rasl) Reunites with his girl, Maya, and gives her an alternate world Picasso.
He also visits a place where women dance with tassles And further explores the mystery of the minstrel Who created Street Legal.
Oh RASL Your second issue still dazzles And I eagerly await the next where it looks like Rasl Gets even more rattled.
I wonder what’s happening in the last panel? I counsel All readers to sample The next periodical Of RASL.