An Advance Peek & Review of JOKER HC GN
Writer: Brian Azzarello Artist: Lee Bermejo Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugJOKER opens on a pretty implausible premise--that the Joker, after crippling the Police Commissioner's daughter and countless others in Gotham City and abroad, is released from Arkham Asylum. But once you get past that, there's a pretty damn good story here.
Despite the far-fetchedness of the spark that causes this wildfire of a story, writer Brian Azzarello delivers what may be my favorite Joker story since THE KILLING JOKE. Is it better than THE KILLING JOKE? Well, that's debatable and I plan to pose my side of the argument here.
As I read JOKER, I couldn't help but feel as if I had read this story before. I'm not saying Azzarello is repeating himself or copying a previous Joker story, but I couldn't help but feel as if I had seen a film with pretty much the same premise. Sure enough, after a bit of research, it seems Azzarello may be paying homage to quite a few classic noir/crime films that you may still be able to catch if you're lucky enough to be flipping through cable some Sunday afternoon. Much of WHITE HEAT, Jimmy Cagney's classic gangster film, was paid homage to in this comic. Here, the Joker could easily be stunt cast as Jimmy Cagney or E.G. Robinson, not only in the way Azzarello writes him, but as artist Lee Bermejo draws (and sometimes paints) the title character. But much like Brubaker's CRIMINAL, Azzarello seems to be lifting some of the cooler moments from classic gangster films and fitting them into a new comic book story. Except in JOKER's case, I think even more so.
I don't want to say Azzarello's choice to do this was a mistake, but I do think that it was a minor distraction, seeing some of the characters Azzarello chose to work with act in and out of character as they seemed to fit into the writer's story. Even recent noir films like BRICK prove to be somewhat influential in Azzarello's re-imagining of the Riddler, who looks and acts like the twisted character The Pin played by Lucas Haas in that amazing film. The fact that KILLING JOKE was a story that never guided my attention elsewhere to ponder "what movie is that from?" gives it a leg up over JOKER.
But enough of the film noir retrospective, was the story compelling?
Yes, it was. Unlike Azzarello's previous villain opus, LEX LUTHOR, he chooses to stay out of the Joker's head and instead give the perspective of the book to a gangster hopeful by the name of Jonny Frost, an albino who idolizes the Joker so much that he wants to be him. Frost turns out to be a really cool character, someone you can almost like despite the fact that he is a criminal. He's the closest thing to a good guy you're going to find in this book.
Oh, did I forget to mention that Batman barely makes an appearance in this book? He factors in. Whether he's there or not, the Joker still references him with the type of adoration/respect/fear that is representative of the complex relationship shared by Batman and his arch nemesis. I liked the fact that this isn't the Batman's story, but the Joker's. It plays to the strengths of both characters to have Batman offstage for this one. The fact that Batman can still have a prominent role in this book without really making much of an appearance is a testament to Azzarello's writing.
The fact that Azzarello is trying to put his own stamp on Batman's rogue’s gallery is both annoying and intriguing. When the idea is good, like casting Croc as more of a muscle-bound thug gang-banger than a monster in the sewers, it's good. But when it's bad, as with the just-plain-weird look and change to the Riddler character as a twisted man with a bum hip and tattoos on his belly, it's bad. I get it. E. Nigma is twisted up like a question mark, a look that may be interesting if used on a big screen adaptation. But Azzarello's choice to re-imagine characters instead of telling a story with the iconic characters is yet another reason why this book falls shy of being better than THE KILLING JOKE.
There are some truly grisly scenes that will make this one of the classic Joker tales, though. Some of the stuff you see in this one, especially a horrific sequence that takes place in a strip club, will go down as among the coolest and most heinous comic book moments of the year. We often see the Joker battling Batman or teaming up with some other villains to form a secret society. Rarely do we get to see the Joker in his own environment when he's the Big Kahuna. Watching the Joker enact vengeance towards the vice lords he entrusted with his money while in Arkham is a gory and fascinating thing to behold.
Also strong is the relationship Azzarello sets up between Joker and Two-Face. One of the weaker moments of THE DARK KNIGHT film was the relationship between these two villains. Here Azzarello fully realizes the differences between the two, casting them as complete opposites of one another--Two-Face representing order in numbers, specifically two, while the Joker embodies absolute chaos. Two-Face has a great monologue with Frost in this book that is probably the most interestingly written treatment of Harvey Dent that I have ever read. Just a great, great character set up here and unlike Croc and Riddler, it's the iconic Two-Face we are seeing here and not some re-imagining of the character, which makes it all the more cool.
One of the more annoying things I noticed about this book is the Joker's insistence of calling the Penguin by the name Abner. Now, I don't know if this is some obscure reference that I'm not getting, or if maybe Azzarello just doesn't know that the Penguin's name is Oswald Cobblepot and the editors never caught it. Either way, the Penguin figures prominently in this story and to call him by a different name and not explaining it is simply annoying to no end.
Artist Lee Bermejo is a genius. His dark lines slice through and smother all but the faintest slivers of light, giving every scene a dank, dismal feel. His quiet panels of the streets of Gotham are so filled with mood you can cut it with a knife. The aforementioned depiction of the Joker as Cagney and Robinson gives the Joker an ominous and dangerous tone, more so than the stretched grin of any artist that's drawn the character before. Yes, this is the Morrison/Ledger scarred face Joker, which is somewhat irritating since this seems to be the new status quo for the character, but nevertheless, Bermejo's characters, panel placement, and especially the angles make this an epic accomplishment. Bermejo also provides some very nice painted or softly colored panels here and there throughout the comic. If I have one criticism, it's that Bermejo teases us with this technique. I'm sure it would have taken forever, but I would love to have seen the entire comic done in this painterly style.
I know it's unfair to compare this book with THE KILLING JOKE, but given the subject matter and the hype surrounding this book comparing it to the classic Joker tale, these comparisons will inevitably be made, so why not address them here? I'm sure Azzarello doesn't really give a crap about the comparisons and wants the work to stand on its own. But if JOKER fails in any way it’s due to a need either by the author or the artist or maybe even the editor to put their own personal stamp on existing characters rather than using these icons themselves. That and the heavy influence of plot points of other gangster films cause this book to fall short of the accomplishment the much more original THE KILLING JOKE was. But that was one of the best comics of all time. This is simply one of the best Joker stories in years. In and of itself, JOKER is a fantastic read. The story is compelling, especially the gut-wrenching showdown at the end of the book, and the art is mouth-wateringly good.
Go into this wanting to read the best Joker story ever and you may be disappointed. Go into this one wanting to read a good story and you will be blown away. JOKER is available in stores today and it's highly recommend you seek it out.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over seven years. Check out a five page preview of his short story published in MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 (AVAILABLE NOW at Muscles & Fights.com.) on his ComicSpace page. Bug was recently interviewed here and here at Cream City Comics about indie comics, his own artistic process, the comics industry, and other shades of bullsquat. Look for Bug’s follow-up this Fall in MUSCLES & FRIGHTS!
LOCAL HC TPB
Writer: Brian Wood Artist: Ryan Kelly Publisher: Oni Press Reviewed by Humphrey LeeI've never really thought about it before, but I think this may be the first time I've ever reviewed a compilation of a series I was also reading and reviewing as it actually came out in singles. I doubt this means anything other than a little bit of extra endorsing for this title, albeit in a roundabout way, but it'll work as a pace-setter for the rest of this review because I'm about to lay out a big ol' helping of gushing praise on this work of Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly's. And now here's where I go on and on about how this is an "achievement in this age of comics" and why "this collection should be on everyone's bookshelf" and other some such utterances that tend to appear on a cover or dust jacket here and there. You have been warned, so let us begin shall we?
As I just said about LOCAL, when it came out (emphasis on the "when") it was easily one of those comics that either went immediately on the top of my reading stack, or made a damn good case for itself as it vied for that position. There was always this air around the book, an atmosphere that it carried that made it feel special compared to other comics. Watching the chapters in the life of Megan McKeenan - our somewhat impetuous and haughty lead - unfold was more an experience than just a story. From the approach the saga of her young life took as it developed, as Wood and Kelly took us through her life a year and a city at a time, to just the circumstances of where she was and how she was living and the visual and plot devices that encompassed LOCAL as a whole, this not only made for good "slice-of-life" drama or existential humor or whatever have you, but it also made for some unique storytelling with indie-style sensibilities - in a good way, as I know that tends to be scary to some. LOCAL and its creators always knew just how to pull at your strings and make you feel just what Megan, or whatever occasional "guest" lead, was feeling. It was one of the most encompassing reads I've had the pleasure of reading in my comic booking career.
Presentation was a huge factor for this series and why it worked, and also a big reason as to why I'm here to recommend this tome collecting its entirety for those of you who may have been on the fence about it or just simply never heard of it. Not only were the characters vibrant, but so were the locales as they took on such a life of their own and weighed heavily on the atmosphere of the book, even if it sometimes just boiled down to the place our Megan lived at the time. But between the cityscapes as backdrops and the way that Ryan Kelly could use them to turn a scene, as well as his command of the comic book page and panel with his uncanny knack for detail and emotional expression, really worked that extra fraction harder to make this book what it was. And this especially comes through in this volume here, with that extra bit of margin working for it to spread out the pages a bit to give everything more space to show off, and the heavy stock paper to really hold all heavy black inks that carried so much weight with them. Just as the presentation of the urban environment made the series as special as it was, the justice of this binding does wonders to give it that extra bit of allure. You really just want to flip through its pages over and over again and just breathe it all in.
LOCAL was indeed one of the best things going whenever it graced our presence. I know it was sporadic at best when it was coming out, hence the little parenthetical comment made earlier, but it was always worth the wait and now it's all collected here in one very well put together volume for those of you who missed it the first time, or were put off by its penchant for tardiness. This is one of those rare treats in comics, though--one of those instances that not only gives you a different vision on how the comic book form can be remade, but will also give you that extra-sensory perception into life itself - that little twinge to examine that around you, just like that little indie film that could. This is the quintessential "must own" indie comic and a piece of material that should grace every discerning reader's bookcase everywhere.
Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to Ain't It Cool comics for quite a few as well. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to - funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He's a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, The MySpaces, and a Blogger Account where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn't the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.
FINAL CRISIS #4 (of 7)
Writer: Grant Morrison Artists: JG Jones, Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: BottleImp(with lotsa help from the rest of the @$$Holes)“I have been reading all of the ancillary titles for FC and guess what? You don't fucking need to. Just like we didn't need to read 52 or COUNTDOWN or any of the muppet baby crises that we were told we had to read. Here's FINAL CRISIS in a nutshell. The big three get sidelined. Darkseid first gets his ass kicked by Orion, becomes a nightclub owner and then broadcasts the anti-life equation. Libra was important, now I can't find him or what he's up to. Barry Allen returns to a world ruled by the broadcast anti-life equation. Yes, we waited this long for fucking algebra.” -Optimous Douche
“Yeah, FINAL CRISIS and DC in general is a mess. None of the titles reflect any of these big changes going on. Wonder Woman is a she-dog in FC, but fighting Beowulf in her own title. Barbara coming out to the Tattooed Man? Lower level crook or not, she would not just be out in the open like that. And what about Ollie introducing basically all of the Flash's family to the same criminal? Because it worked so well in IDENTITY CRISIS when criminals knew about the family of heroes. On top of that, we've got too much unexplained shit going on. Morrison is flitting around from Turpin to Tattooed Man to Ollie to Mister Miracle. No real cohesion. No care that the reader may not know these people. And the rest of DC is just suffering for it. They are cowering in fear that because of the negative feedback they received when the New Gods dies three times last year, they are telling stories that don't relate to this supposedly giant crisis. Why do we need a FINAL CRISIS tie in focusing on Geo Force or Black Lightning?” -Ambush Bug
“The irony for me is while you say why do we need a Geo Force/Black Lightening tie in, I actually found that aside more compelling than the main title, which I find sort of hard to get into. In fact I think most of the side light books are tons better than the main attraction.”-Jinxo
“It just looks like DC doesn't have a plan here. And can't have a plan, because Morrison doesn't have a plan. He may have one, but he's not telling anyone. That's why none of the main titles are referencing FINAL CRISIS and that's why the ties the other BATMAN books have with RIP don't go past the extent of "I don't want to talk about the Batman thing right now." To DC, that's a crossover mention that is worth putting a RIP banner across the cover. I call bullshit. DC needs to learn that you can't make a stable table with one or two legs. When that one leg fails to support the rest, the table topples over. That's what's happening with DC.”-Bug
“Come up with something original. Calling Morrison's book FINAL CRISIS is a laugh. What will be the "final" outcome of this? I can't see it. There's no way they are going to allow the entire DCU to be a dark cesspool. INFINITE CRISIS irrevocably changed things, this book will not. I'm not hating it, and I like to see the little guy shine, but you could have just as easily called the thing Darkseid's Revenge or something....”-OD
The preceding quotes were taken from @$$Hole email exchanges. Are you reading this, DC editorial staff? Do you see the problems that keep cropping up in regards to this “major event” book? ‘Cause even though the plot itself isn’t bad—always interesting to see heroes up against seemingly insurmountable odds—this title isn’t living up to the hype surrounding it. Events in FC have no bearing on the vast majority of DC’s comic titles…why should the reader be concerned about a character--say, Superman--when it is made perfectly clear in the three Superman family titles that he’s doing just dandy off on his own little adventure?
It’s this lack of cohesion that really kills this miniseries. No matter what good things may come out of it (personally, I find Morrison’s explanation of Kirby’s mysterious “Anti-Life Equation” to be fairly interesting, and at least makes it clear why Darkseid’s spent so much time looking for the darn thing), FC is doomed by poor planning and false advertising. As Optimous Douche wrote, FC is not the be-all, end-all of the DC Universe. It’s not going to change anything. Just take it for what it is—an overblown miniseries that’s been stretched over far too much time and far too many ancillary titles, and a story that is nowhere near as compelling as Dan DiDio or Grant Morrison would like us to believe.
Also, Kalibak now looks like a grumpy version of Mr. Tawny, the Talking Tiger. What the fuck is that about?
When released from his Bottle, the Imp takes the form of Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from the Northeast who's given up comics more times than he can remember. But every time he thinks he's out, they pull him back in.
THE REVENANT OGN
Story by: Shannon Eric Denton and Keith Giffen Written by: Rob Worley Art by: Mat Santolouco Published by: Desperado Publishing Reviewed by: Ryan McLellandThe team of Keith Giffen and Shannon Eric Denton have done it again. I’m a monster fan of their books like COMMON FOE, GRUNTS, and ZAPT! so I was quite eager to get my grubby little hands all over THE REVENANT. Denton and Giffen only play storywriters here, as the brunt of the book is on the firm shoulders of Rob Worley who comes on as the writer of the book.
Luckily Worley didn’t miss a beat with the writing and the book has a great Denton/Giffen feel to it while taking a great revenge mystery coupled with action and dark humor. The result is a hell of an amazing original graphic novel with the introduction of a great new character in the Revenant. He may look like Ghost Rider dressed in a snazzy suit, but this mysterious ghost figure has a lot going for him.
Ryan McLelland has worked in movies and comics journalism for the past several years before joining the @$$holes here at AICN. Ryan’s comic work has already graced comic shelves with Arcana’s PHILLY, WISE INTELLIGENCE, UPTOWN GIRL, and THE SENTINELS ANTHOLOGY. He rarely updates his blog but when he does it can be read at www.eyewannabe.com
FINAL CRISIS: SUBMIT #1
Written by Grant Morrison Art by Matthew Clark (pencils), Norm Rapmund, Rob Hunter and Don Ho (inks) Published by DC Comics Reviewed by Stones ThrowI’d say this was a pretty perfect rebuff to those who say Grant Morrison struggles with telling more succinct, action-led stories!
While some have found the wider story being told in FINAL CRISIS too diffuse, and for the most part I’d disagree with them, there shouldn’t be anything to put off those doubters here. It’s a pretty brutal action story that at the same time fleshes out some of the wider plot of FINAL CRISIS as we see just how far Earth has deteriorated since Darkseid unleashed the Anti-Life Equation, and develops a pretty interesting superhero/villain idea in the conflict between Black Lightning and the new Tattooed Man.
I have to say I like the way FINAL CRISIS is going. We’re kind of in DAYS OF FUTURE PAST territory, except it’s happening in the main continuity (though I will grant that the way most of the other books aren’t tying in can make it feel a little disconnected--not a problem for FC fans like me who aren’t following SUPERMAN or GREEN LANTERN every month). Urban wastelands with roving patrols of villainous henchmen are something we don’t usually see a lot of in monthly superhero comics, and it makes for a lot of fun here. The action feels more like a good dystopia flick like ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK or THE WARRIORS than the usual DC CRISIS stuff. Hiding out from patrols of Darkseid’s Justifiers, the Tattooed Man’s wife logs onto the Internet to send an SOS (which is a bad idea since the New Gods took control of broadcast media back in FC #3--and you thought Murdoch was bad). Black Lightning, on the run from those giant mutated dogs and carrying rare copies of the Daily Planet printed up in the Fortress of Solitude, gets rescued by the Tattooed Man and son, and together they stage a daring break for No Man’s Land.
Matthew Clark isn’t a name I’m familiar with, but the art is good stuff, from the opening shot of the Earth fenced in by that cool Green Lantern crime scene tape to a pretty spectacular panel of Black Lightning driving an electrically-charged school bus through half a dozen cop cars being driven by Darkseid’s Justifiers. If I had a complaint I might say the Tattooed Man’s tattoo powers could have been drawn a little clearer, but then he’s competing with J.G. Jones’ rendering of the effect in FC #1.
All of which leads me on to my final point—not only is this a cool action tale giving a bit of background to the larger story and leading into FC #4, but Morrison’s also considerate enough to add some subtext to the tense relationship between the Tattooed Man and a superhero like Black Lightning. It’s an interesting and unforced take on how race relations and criminal justice might play out in a super-powered world that thankfully isn’t too serious for its own good (“Know how many times I’ve been wrongfully arrested?”).
Unreasonably slow artists aside, there’s been enough good in FINAL CRISIS so far to keep me excited now that Darkseid has reincarnated. Still, whatever your stance on FINAL CRISIS, if you’re a fan of superhero comics with original action and a few ideas to boot, I’d recommend picking up SUBMIT.
G.I. JOE #0
Writers: Chuck Dixon, Larry Hama, Mike Costa & Christos Gage Artists: Robert Atkins, Tom Feister, Antonio Fuso Publisher: IDW Publishing Reivewer: Ambush BugG.I. JOE is a title that I so, so, so WANT to like, but so often do not for one reason or another. For one thing, it relies heavily on the nostalgia factor and nothing in print will compare to the Joe v Cobra battles I had during my youth that spanned the snowy terrain of our white rug room, to the desolate desert landscape of the tan rugged living room, to the thick and balmy jungles AKA my mother's flowers on the back porch. Simply put, the best GI JOE stories took place in my head and in the heads of many a fan like me who collected and ACTUALLY PLAYED WITH the toys as a kid.
That said, there have been some pretty cool attempts to bring the property to life. GI JOE has been passed around more times than a doobie at a Doobie Brothers concert.
Man, I love to say the word doobie.
Marvel did it best with Larry Hama's complex military soap opera that spanned over 100 issues. Image floundered with it. Did Dark Horse have the property for a while? The property proved to be too much for Devil's Due to handle. And now, the Real American Heroes are staking camp at IDW.
Each time Hasbro's military team had a first issue out, I bought it in hopes of this being the series that actually does the property justice. This time around IDW is doing an awful lot of things right. But it ain't all good. Read on, soldiers.
To start off they made this introductory zero issue a dollar. I can afford that. And given that the book offers three short stories that clue the reader in on what to expect from IDW's three new JOE titles, it's a worthwhile investment for those with even a shred of interest in the book. If you hate what you see here, you'll probably feel the same about the books. If you like it, there's more coming for you to sink your teeth in. I left the book somewhat intrigued and entertained, so I think I'll at least give the series a shot.
Story three is the most peculiar one for me. I'm not sure what to take of this short. Does this story really mean that Mike Costa and Christos Gage's title in this GI JOE trifecta, entitled GI JOE: COBRA, is going to focus on the Hawiian shirted con man Chuckles? Sounds like an odd person to focus on, but if this is an "inside man" style book where we learn about COBRA through the eyes of a GI JOE double agent, this may be the most interesting of the three titles for me. Christos Gage is a writer that I am quickly becoming a big fan of. Whatever he writes these days, it's sure to have gritty action and push realism to exciting levels. As I said, this book has me the most curious and seems to have the most potential of being a book we have not seen before under the GI JOE banner.
On the art front, it looks to be in good hands as well. Tony Atkins, artist on Dixon's mainstream GI JOE title, seems to be the least developed of the three stories. The art in the first arc isn't bad, but presented as a bit rushed and cramped, as if the artist had difficulty squeezing so much action into such a small story. His character designs towards the back of the book, though, show an artist confident and capable of drawing dynamically realistic characters. Here's hoping that artist shows up to this series. Tom Feister is an interesting choice for GI JOE ORIGINS. Although somewhat cartoony, Feister's foot is firmly in the realm of realism and his work here shows a broad range of panel-work and camera angles. Finally, my favorite artist of the three once again shows up in the GI JOE: COBRA story. Artist Antonio Fuso is dealing with some dark material and responds with some heavily inked and moody images. Fuso is by far the most experimental of the three JOE artists and excels in conveying an ominous mood on the page.
One brave thing IDW did with this title is omit any appearance of Snake-Eyes in this issue. This is a ballsy move on their part, but since the book turns out to be pretty strong without the title's most popular character, one can only imagine how cool it'll be when the shadowy commando/ninja makes his first appearance.
My only complaint about this book is the fact that it spins off into three ongoing titles. Over saturation has been the downfall of many a GI JOE relaunch, and IDW is notorious for wearing a property to paper-thinness, currently exemplified by the 5,000 TRANSFORMERS titles on the shelves right now. My advice to IDW is to keep it small. Spin-offs, miniseries, one shots, and anything else deviating from the core title is going to distract potential readers. I for one am not so sure I want to fork over $12.00 a month for three $3.99 monthly GI JOE books. One book is understandable, but three is a bit much.
We'll see how it goes. Going by what I see here, GI JOE is in some of the best hands it's ever been in creative team-wise. Hopefully it lives up to the level exemplified in this issue. As long as they stay focused and keep the talent on these three titles, IDW may do what other companies have failed to do in the past: put out a good GI JOE comic.
Writer: Mark Powers Artists: Shawn McManus & Lizzy Johns Publisher: Devil’s Due Reviewer: Optimous DoucheI hate reading comics as PDFs or online. Call me a purist, a pulpophile or just an old curmudgeon, but I will forever cherish the experience of flipping, rather than scrolling through, pages. As an AICN reviewer I get a slew of links each week to online books or the PDF versions of books on shelves. Since I love the little guys, I do click every link and try my best to scroll through the pixilated pages as I adjust between 75% and 150% view in Adobe. However, the manual labor involved to just read the book does raise my scrutiny level. Basically, to get me to scroll through all 22 pages of an online title it better be a damn enticing read. Guess what kids? I found one. REST hooked me right from the cover, and getting to the final page was well worth every ounce of effort.
REST not only has an enticing premise, but it will redefine how you think of “super” humans. The protagonist John whittles away precious hours of his life as a cube jockey whose life’s ambitions have been squashed…well, by life. Lowering his aspirations from world renowned photographer to middle management has left him in a sleepwalking malaise that many of us who occupy desk jobs can relate to instantly. I’ve always believed that the trappings of modern society have forced us to lead an unnatural existence. Humans are not biologically wired to merely exercise our fingers at keyboards under the life-sucking glow of fluorescent bulbs for 8 to 10 hours every day. REST confirmed that I’m not alone in my belief that we are slowly killing ourselves with this work, sleep, work, sleep, rinse, repeat lifestyle, and it brilliantly offers an antidote.
Good comics take our current societal trends and extrapolate them out to the nth degree. REST is an examination of our current love affair of better living through pharmacology and asks the question, what would your life be like if you never had to sleep? What could you accomplish by recouping the time you spend counting sheep and recharging for the next day? What would you do with what equates to an extra 30 years of life?
There’s no doubt that virtuous individuals would find ways to use this time to cure the world’s woes. But this is not the story of the virtuous, but rather the every man. John is courted to become patient beta by his estranged college roommate Teddy, whose life appears just too damn good to be true after taking this modern miracle of science. Teddy has used the anti-Ambien to fill his days and nights with private jets, fast cars and even faster women. I have to say I liked this approach of the every man taking the drug over, say, watching Mother Theresa popping the pill to feed more lepers gruel. It makes the story relatable, and by focusing on the finite one man viewpoint for now the book can have legs for the future once more people start shunning snooze time.
The cover is brilliant in design despite my lukewarm feelings towards the art work. I always like a clever presentation of the “must have” information like the title, the issue number, date, etc. REST prescribes to presenting this information like a prescription label. The date is presented as an expiration date and Devil’s Due is no longer a publisher, but a distributor. Being a corporate branding guy for my day job, I applaud this ballsy approach to logo and name usage. My one word of warning to Devil’s Due is not to use an acronym in this approach, but stick to your full name. I know it will screw up spacing, but not being a DC or a Marvel you need all of the name-drop bludgeoning you can get in the marketplace.
Yes, I was lukewarm to the art. Faces seem to be cut from the same pointy angular mold that was used when the X-Men were infested by the Tsunami manga approach a few years ago. The only difference between John and Teddy is hair color, and the only way to tell man from a woman is hair length and dress. The art wasn’t bad, if you don’t mind manga light, but it’s a definite let down when compared to the originality of the story.
I’m intrigued by the direction this book will take. The obvious foil is the head of the pharmaceutical company, based on his pencil thin moustache and ominous widow peaks. I’m also hoping the drug takes some toll on John other than the usual diarrhea, headaches and mild nausea that comes with clinical drug testing. Now that the exposition is out of the way, if issue 2 can deliver some drama I think DDP has a definite winner on their hands.
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.
Written by G. Willow Wilson Art by M.K. Perker Published by DC/Vertigo Reviewed by Stones ThrowI’ve spent a week in Egypt, and I’m not sure if I’d recommend the experience, but I can say that I got a (however limited) first-hand glimpse of the packed, sprawling nature of that country, and the rapid changes that are taking place. I think my defining memory of the week is standing at the top of the area where the pyramids are and looking down onto the city of Cairo under the morning smog, which literally does spread out further than the eye can see—just a maze of crumbling buildings, more being added to the outskirts all the time.
Vertigo’s CAIRO graphic novel goes some way towards capturing that febrile, bustling atmosphere--great fodder for fiction. It’s the story of a young lowlife called Ashraf who sells a stolen hookah (a giant, legal kind-of bong), which turns out to be of unexpected importance to a bunch of Egyptian gangsters, to a vacationing Lebanese-American kid. Meanwhile, an American woman who the kid met on the plane falls in with a local journalist friend of Ashraf’s, which leads to her getting taken hostage by the gangsters as ransom. There’s also a stranded Israeli female agent (like the ones in Y THE LAST MAN) thrown into the mix. I think my favorite part was near the end of the classic opening segment, which knits together all of these seemingly disparate stories, where Ashraf, the focal point of an increasingly calamitous chain of coincidences, sinks to the ground after just being told his friend’s been kidnapped and he’s got to find the equivalent of one pipe in a city of millions. The handgun that had been on the floor next to him disappears and in the next panel is held to his head. “In the name of all that is holy, what is it now?!” is his reaction to finding out that he’s also gonna have to sneak an Israeli agent, disguised in a burkha, back to the border.
That frenetic, almost slapdash energy of the opening (starting with Ashraf driving his truck into a camel) is the best thing about CAIRO. Not to say it gets worse, although the relationship between Shaheed (the Lebanese-American kid) and the genie that happens to be inhabiting the stolen hookah is a little Hollywood predictable, and maybe it overstretches a bit with the plot about the box containing the essence of the East, although it is a clever way to contrast the changing nature of today’s globalized Middle East with its older heritage. One thing I did think was that the book doesn’t really exploit the modern day setting of the city to its fullest extent with the way it settles into two-person scenes in deserted pyramids or city outskirts about mid-way through.
Overall, though, CAIRO is beautifully drawn in dense, coolly black and white panels by the Turkish cartoonist Perker and has some interesting things to say about the present situation in the Middle East. Well worth a read either in hardcover or the softcover, which should be coming out any week now.
In the meantime, I suppose I should be reading AIR, the ongoing series the duo are currently working on.
Every comic shop has them… battered long boxes jam-packed with dog-eared titles ranging from forgotten heroes of the 1970s to multiple copies of chromium-covered “collector’s item” comics from the Big Bust of the 1990s. But if you are patient, and dig deep enough, you just may find something special…
BottleImp picks up some horror comics
just in time for Halloween!
Since Halloween is right around the corner, I thought I’d take a look at some of the horror comics I’ve plucked from the cheapie boxes over the years. Horror comics are in something of a resurgence today, though the genre seems dominated by the two sub-genres of zombie stories (led by THE WALKING DEAD and Marvel’s seemingly endless parade of MARVEL ZOMBIES) and Lovecraftian horror (which is starting to get plowed into the ground by Boom! Studios). Sprinkle in the horror movie adaptations and spin-offs (HALLOWEEN, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, EVIL DEAD…) and the few comics that defy such blatant classification (such as Thomas Ligotti’s excellent NIGHTMARE FACTORY graphic novels) and you’ve got yourself a pretty good range of creepy comic book fare. But keep in mind that none of these titles would be possible were it not for Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein, and their groundbreaking
EC COMICS (TALES FROM THE CRYPT, THE HAUNT OF FEAR, THE VAULT OF HORROR) Written by: Al Feldstein and others Art by: Jack Davis, Harvey Kurtzman, Graham Ingels, Johnny Craig, Jack Kamen, George Evans, Feldstein and others Reprints published by: Gladstone and Russ Cochran When Gaines and Feldstein decided to stop playing follow-the-leader and give up jumping on the latest comic book trend (westerns, romance, etc.) in order to publish books they themselves would like to read, the age of the horror comic began. The funny thing about EC Comics is that…well…they’re not really scary. The first few issues tried for some genuine chills, but were pretty unsuccessful. But with the introduction of the series’ hosts, the Crypt-Keeper, the Vault-Keeper and the Old Witch, the horror became a lot more fun—more akin to a carnival funhouse where screams and laughter are heard simultaneously. These are fun comics to read, and today it’s hard to understand the furor that erupted over EC’s levels of gore and violence back in the ‘50s, seeing as how the average issue of X-MEN has more bloodletting, stabbings, decapitations and overt sexuality than the worst offender offered by CRYPT. The artwork is also tops, especially in comparison to the work being done at DC and Marvel during the same decade. Gaines fostered an atmosphere of friendly competition at his company, and the superb draftsmanship of the EC artists clearly is a result of the artists working to “wow” their boss and each other. One of these days I’ll pony up the cash and pick up the oversized hardcover black-and-white reprints that Cochran published, but for now I’m satisfied with the easily available reprints from the early 1990s, which I can usually pick up for a buck or less apiece. Don’t forget the sci-fi comics—WEIRD SCIENCE, WEIRD FANTASY—or the crime comics—SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES, CRIME SUSPENSTORIES—as they’re all good, clean fun (by today’s standards, anyways).
If there is any one man who carried on the EC style of horror and science fiction, it is Bruce Jones, in his ALIEN WORLDS and…
TWISTED TALES Written by Bruce Jones and others Art by: Richard Corben, Al Williamson, Mike Ploog, Bernie Wrightson, John Bolton, and others Published by: Pacific Comics, Eclipse Much like the TALES FROM THE CRYPT television series did in the 1990s, Jones took the standard twist-ending formula EC stories and “updated” them with more gore, nudity and sexuality. Some of these stories are great, especially when they have top-notch artists like Wrightson or Corben providing the visuals. The problem I’ve found is that Jones’ scripts tend to either A: be so much like the EC stories that they end up feeling like rip-off rather than homage, or B: rely so much on T & A that they end up feeling like a porno comic rather than a horror comic. However, when the balance is just right, there are some wonderful horrific tales to be found. One of my personal faves is the Corben-illustrated “Infected” from TWISTED TALES #1, which puts a whole new spin on sexually transmitted disease. I first discovered these titles at a flea market for a dollar each, but have since spent more (averaging $2 to $4 each) on further issues gleaned from back issues boxes.
I’ve found some other assorted flotsam and jetsam in my searches for cheap horror—here’s some of the better stuff that I’ve found:
JOHN BOLTON: HALLS OF HORROR #1 Written by Dez Skinn and Steve Moore Art by: John Bolton Published by: Eclipse A reprint of some black-and-white U.K. horror featuring an adaptation of the Oliver Reed flick “The Curse of the Werewolf,” newly (and somewhat poorly) colored. Grabbed it for fifty cents.
WEIRD TALES ILLUSTRATED #1 Published by Millennium Apparently the first issue of this series was also the only issue. Featuring an adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s “Shattered Like a Glass Goblin,” with less-than-stellar art by Kelley Jones (you can really tell the few panels that Jones worked lovingly on; the rest of the story is pretty half-assed-looking), a very disturbing 7-page story called “Party Games,” scripted by Faye Perozich and illustrated by John Bolton, a spot illustration for Poe’s “Annabel Lee” by P. Craig Russell, and a well-executed adaptation of Frank Belknap Long’s “A Visitor From Egypt,” with art by Eddy Newell. Got this one for a buck.
And if you’re an EC fan and like your horror flavored with humor, try getting your hands on these two titles:
SUPERNATURAL LAW Writer/Artist: Batton Lash Published by: Exhibit A Press Online comic at www.supernaturallaw.com. This series follows the cases of Wolff and Byrd, lawyers on behalf of victimized monsters. Take equal parts “Scooby-Doo” and “Law & Order” and add a healthy pinch of artistic stylings from ARCHIE comics, and you’ve got this series of innocent monster fun. Finding this issue in a buck-each bargain blowout was the first time I’ve ever seen this series, but collected TPBs as well as individual issues can be found at www.exhibitapress.com.
I FEEL SICK 2-issue limited series By: Jhonen Vasquez Published by: Slave Labor Graphics If you haven’t read I FEEL SICK (or Vasquez’s SQUEE or JOHNNY THE HOMICIDAL MANIAC, for that matter) do yourself a favor and go down to the local comic shop (or Hot Topic—Slave Labor stuff sells well to goth/punk teenyboppers, I guess) and check it out. This two issue series combines a horror-movie plot with frenetic artwork, absurd humor, and not-so-subtle social satire in a charmingly disgusting way. Be ready for the phrase “lumps of assmeats” to become ingrained in your vocabulary. I picked up this series at full cover price ($3.95 each) like a chump but later found multiple copies clogging a box at a dollar each.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s out there, so if you’re lamenting the current state of the horror comic genre, roll up your sleeves and dig into some moldy old boxes at the local comic shops and flea markets—you might unearth some loathsomeness that is just dying to be read.
So I haven’t written one of these since…wow, it’s been months, hasn’t it? A short reminder seems to be in order, then: the 90’s was a great time for comics. Most consider this time to be the nadir of comic book publishing, but that’s simply not the case. The problem wasn’t the comics themselves, but with too many creators modeling themselves on Todd McFarlane, DC publishing confusing crap miniseries that span the whole of the DCU, changing everything forever until next year’s mini, and Spider-Man having a bunch of clones. (This, of course, stands in stark contrast with today, where too many creators are modeling themselves after Brian Michael Bendis, DC is publishing Crisis after Crisis miniseries that span the whole of the DCU, each one changing everything forever, and Spidey selling his soul to the Devil. Unless that was actually a Skrull. Oh sweet Christ, why wasn’t it a Skrull…)
IT CAME FROM THE 90’s: STARMAN
By Vroom Socko
The point being, the 90’s was a source of great, fun, daring, challenging comics. Even the ones published by the two superhero superpowers had some shining standouts in their roster. Take, for example, James Robinson’s STARMAN. The story of Jack Knight, son of the original Starman, was one of the titles to come out of the DC Zero Hour event, along with…god, who in their right mind would remember? I do recall Doctor Fate becoming some sort of Liefeldian nightmare, but other than that I’ve blocked it out. Probably because I didn’t buy any of them.
Yes, that includes the title being discussed today. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but I judged all the new books by what happened in Zero Hour, and that meant a pass. When I finally did get my hands on the collected editions, I hit myself in the head. Had I known that I was ignoring the superhero book that would set the stage for the 21st century, I’d have read it sooner.
The sort of superhero storytelling on hand here really does set the stage for the books being published today. The Bendis-Millar-Ellis school of superhero deconstruction that currently rules the roost can be traced back to the characterization of Jack Knight. Here’s a hero that doesn’t do the “patrol the skies” thing that eschews a colorful costume that would rather work in his vintage store than fight the Mist. He only takes on the job after he makes his father promise to help incorporate his cosmic rod technology into everyday life. In one of my favorite moments in the series, a hired thug breaks into Jack’s shop looking for a long-lost mystical item. After a brief Mexican Standoff, Jack simply tells the intruder that the item in question is fifty bucks, and could he please come back during regular business hours.
So yes, there is much deconstruction to be had of Golden Age storytelling and characterization in this book, with the modern Starman and Mist given a more complex and (in the case of the Mist at least) darker spin than their antecedents. But where Robinson differs from many of the writers taking this tact today is the manner in which he also glorifies and reconstructs the tropes of the Golden Age. The highlight of this aspect is the long trek through the stars that Jack goes on in search of another prior Starman, featuring encounters with the likes of the Legion of Superheroes and Adam Strange. There’s also a long running plot thread about the connections between the various different heroes at DC to go by the Starman moniker, linking every age of comics together in a way that the other legacy characters from the company seem to take for granted.
I could go on and on about this book forever, talking about the O’Dare family, or the masterful use of classic villain The Shade, or the balls out citywide dénouement. But I wouldn’t dare spoil any of the plot twists that permeate this story. What you really need to know is that STARMAN the book and Starman the character are all about presenting the ideas and ideals of the past in a way that is invigorating, stylish and fun. This intent on the part of the storytellers is made manifest in Jack’s day job. He runs a vintage store, buying the best stuff from the mid-20th century and selling them to people who weren’t around when they were new. That’s what Robinson and artist Tony Harris did with this book. They took the kitsch of the past, and they gave it back to us as a treasure.
Vroom Socko, aka Aaron Button, spends the time he isn’t reading comics walking the streets of Portland, Oregon. Some say he’s looking for an honest man, but really, he just needs the exercise.
RISERS VOLUME 1 TPB
Writer: Martin Fisher Artist: Kurt Belcher Publisher: Alterna Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugI’ve written much praise for Martin Fisher’s take on zombies. From day one, I touted this as one of the more original zombie stories on the shelves today. I think I’ve reviewed every issue of this series so far. I’ve covered this book so much that the writer even asked me to write a forward for it, which I gladly did (something I’ve never done before and wouldn’t do unless I was fully behind my recommendation for this title).
For those of you suffering from zombie overload, you may want to check this trade paperback which collects the first RISERS miniseries. The premise is fascinating in itself. Like many zombie stories, the dead rise, but in RISERS there’s a reason for all of that. The cause of all of this undead-ness is due to the fact that something has been left undone during the zombie’s lives and they hang around just long enough to fulfill this deed before passing away fully. It’s definitely a new way of looking at zombies. It gives the book a real world feel that other zombie books don’t have. How many stories have you heard about an elderly man or woman living just long enough to finish a project, be it making sure a loved one is ok without them or just finishing a project like a painting or a story? Here Fisher sets that in a genre that is just begging for something to revitalize the genre.
The other thing that sets this book apart from the rest is that it is placed in a world that is no longer shocked that the dead are living. Fisher shies away from the clichéd shock of first coming into contact with zombies. This world is used to the idea that the dead are shambling around and have developed means to deal with it. There are religious groups bent on killing the zombies and calling them blasphemous. One of the more intriguing ideas in the series is a sort of crisis/social work zombie group home that helps the zombies fulfill their unfinished business and pass on peacefully. All new concepts. All fun ideas.
Fisher writes with a soulful touch, really tapping into emotions of loss and acceptance of death, and how those feelings are disrupted when a family member, once thought dead, comes back as a Riser. Artist Kurt Belcher does a great job of making each panel moan with zombie woe with thick and emotive dark lines. All in all, this is a wonderfully original comic.
This is a zombie comic that has an eye for death that is much more mature than what is normally seen in the genre. Bug approved; you should do yourself a favor and seek this trade out.