ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS #1
Writer: Mark Millar Penciler: Carlos Pacheco Inker: Danny Miki Colorist: Justin Ponsor Publisher: Ultimate Marvel Reviewer: Matt AdlerSo, here we come to the long awaited relaunch of Mark Millar’s THE ULTIMATES. Only this time it isn’t called THE ULTIMATES; the book now goes by the name ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS, which sounds kind of awkward to me, but there you go. And this go-round, Bryan Hitch is occupied with CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN, so Carlos Pacheco is the penciler. This is no downgrade by any means, as Pacheco is a top flight artist, but it is a change in flavor.
In order to understand what this relaunch is all about, we have to take a look at where the Ultimate line stands in a broader context. When it was first launched, the Ultimate line’s purpose was clear. It stood in clear contrast as an alternative to the regular Marvel Universe. Where in the regular Marvel Universe, Spider-Man was a married adult, in the Ultimate Universe he was a teenager in high school. Wherein the regular Marvel Universe, the Avengers were a wholesome, traditional superhero team, the Ultimates were dark and edgy. So audiences had a choice, and this set up seemed to work pretty well for a while.
But in the wake of storylines like “Avengers Disassembled” and “One More Day”, the line has blurred. The regular Marvel Universe has gradually become more and more like what the Ultimate Universe was originally conceived to be. And this is understandable; given the opportunity to start from scratch, this is what Marvel came up with in the modern day, so it’s not surprising that this was ultimately (sorry) the direction they wanted their main publishing line to head in. But the effect of this is to largely remove the Ultimate Universe’s reason for being; if the main Marvel Universe has co-opted its style, why would anyone want to read a spin-off universe that’s pretty much the same?
Add to this the inevitable creative attrition that occurs with all superhero books. Mark Bagley has gone over to DC. As mentioned, Bryan Hitch is otherwise occupied. And THE ULTIMATES itself underwent a complete creative overhaul when Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira came on the book for a run that garnered condemnation even from reviewers who are fans of both creators’ work. So it’s been a long, strange trip for this imprint.
Now, let’s pretend for a second that this book exists in a vacuum. Let’s say there was no critically-panned ULTIMATUM miniseries leading into this. Let’s say this is the only Ultimate book. Heck, let’s even say there’s no Marvel Universe, and Millar and Pacheco have just created a brand-new superhero book. Does this book work?
On that level, sure. The art, as usual for Pacheco, is excellent. Pacheco’s created a very creepy design for the new Red Skull, and he adapts well to the Ultimate penchant for borrowing the likenesses of film actors, particularly with Samuel L. Fury. And Millar pens a fast-paced script with plenty of visceral action, humorous dialogue, and some gratuitous T&A thrown in. And the issue ends with a reveal that sets up some intriguing possible dynamics for future stories.
But let’s be honest; nobody who reads this is going to be reading it in a vacuum. This book does indeed exist in the context of Millar’s past runs, as well as bearing the burdens of cleaning up from Loeb’s run, and comparisons to the now extremely popular Marvel Universe Avengers franchise. And even though this story works perfectly fine on its own, there’s just nothing to make it stand out from the tons of other product Marvel is putting out each month. My guess is that the series will start out strong, but suffer attrition much more quickly than Millar’s previous runs. Eventually there will be yet another attempt at an Ultimate reboot, but I think that’s a waste of time; the Ultimate Universe served its purpose in its time, but now it’s time to pull the plug.
In most places, Matt Adler goes by the name his mother gave him, but occasionally uses the handle "CylverSaber", based on a character he created for the old DARK FORCES II: JEDI KNIGHT game (one hint of his overweening nerddom). He currently does IT and networking support for the government of Nassau County, NY, but his dream is to write for a living, and is in the process of figuring out how to get publishers to give his stuff a look. In the meantime, he passes the time by writing for AICN, CBR, and a few other places. He has also written for MARVEL SPOTLIGHT magazine.
Early Review: DEVIL’S HANDSHAKE OGN
Writers: Larry Hama & Ryan Schifrin Art: Adam Archer Publisher: Archaia Release Date: October 2009 Reviewer: Ambush BugThese days, taking chances on new comics is a hard thing to do. With the price of comics rising and money being tight all over, it’s no wonder when I talk to folks, they are reluctant to venture outside of the Big Two. But the thing is, now more than ever, there are comics out there that are so much better that venture outside of the superhero box comics has wedged itself into. Case in point: a new release that hits stores in October from Archaia called DEVIL’S HANDSHAKE.
The first thing I noticed about this book is the phenomenal art by Adam Archer. The action depicted is as varied as the colors are rich. Archer puts personality in not only the main characters of the story, but the background characters that would normally be overlooked by other artists. The scenery, which is a big part of this story, is vibrant as well. From the darkest parts of the jungle, to a volcano cliff, to a desert oasis, Archer fills each panel with variety and authenticity. He also draws some damn fine women.
The second thing I noticed about this book is the fact that it’s got some very cool characters in the form of Moebius and Basil. Immediately after meeting this pair of adventurers, I wanted to know more about them, how they first met, and what kind of predicaments they can get themselves into. Like most pairings, they couldn’t be more different. The best way of describing them is that Moebius walks between the raindrops while Basil steps in the puddles. Both characters work for an enigmatic character called The Collector, who sends the pluckish pair on adventures around the world.
The thing that appealed the most to me about this book was the fact that it read like an old school pulp, but it was set in modern times. There are definitely shades of Allan Quartermain and Indiana Jones at work here, but the mismatched buddy cop pairing brings an all new energy to it. The pair trots all over the globe in this 42 page graphic novel and like the INDIANA JONES films, the locales are as important as the stars. The intensity of the action is set high and this book doesn’t offer a lot of time to breathe. It just barrels through giving this reader exactly what he was looking for…fun characters doing exciting things I haven’t seen before.
Did I mention that there’s also a supernatural, Lovecraftian element at work here? Well, there is. The undercurrent of the weird flows through this entire story, never overpowering the book, but enriching the story all the more with its enigmatic presence. And the Ghoul Brothers, a rival pairing of thieves who appear to be zombie monsters in trench coats and bandages, are as spooky as they are cool.
Having read Schifrin and Hama’s last collaboration, SPOOKS, I knew the team could do action and the supernatural pretty well. The thing that differentiates this book from SPOOKS, though, is the element of fun that oozes off of every page. Venturing outside of the Big Two can be scary, I know. But when you get to read treats like DEVIL’S HANDSHAKE it makes the risk worth taking. With a debut as strong as this one, this is the first of what I hope to be many adventures for Schifrin and Hama’s Basil & Moebius. Highly recommended for adventure lovers who like their thrills served up with even helpings of fun and creepiness.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over eight years. Check out his short comic book fiction from Cream City Comics’ MUSCLES & FIGHTS VOL.3 and MUSCLES & FRIGHTS VOL.1 on his ComicSpace page. Bug was interviewed here and here at Cream City Comics. Look for more comics from Bug in 2009 from Bluewater Comics, including the sequel to THE TINGLER for their VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS ongoing series in stores September 2009 and VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS WITCHFINDER GENERAL and ROGER CORMAN PRESENTS DEATHSPORT to be released in late 2009/early 2010.
FRANKENSTEIN’S WOMB OGN
Writer: Warren Ellis Artist: Marek Oleksicki Published by: Avatar Press Reviewed by: BottleImpI picked this book up off the stand thinking that it was just another by-the-numbers horror comic. Glancing at the artwork as I flipped through (but not actually reading, ‘cause the guy at that comic shop can be a dick about that), I got the sense that Ellis was expanding on the classic Mary Shelley story—putting his own spin on it or writing a sequel or prequel or something—and that hooked my interest enough for me to plunk down the seven bucks. Once I got home and was actually able to read the comic, I realized that Ellis wasn’t expanding FRANKENSTEIN—he was filling in the gaps.
Along with DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN stands at the beginning of the long, honorable tradition of the Monster Story. In his nonfiction essay on horror DANSE MACABRE, Stephen King names Frankenstein’s creation as one of the three archetypes of horror (the monster represents The Thing Without a Name, while Dracula logically is The Vampire and Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde fills in for The Werewolf). Yet while the monster himself is well-known to the average man-on-the-street (regardless of whether or not he counts himself a horror fan), the actual novel and the woman who wrote it don’t get as much attention. I can claim to have read the book, but my knowledge of Mary Shelley is pretty much limited to what I saw in Ken Russell’s film GOTHIC (which is more than likely 99.9% inaccurate, but still a pretty good flick). So what would possess a young woman of the early 19th century to write a story about bringing the dead to life?
Ellis answers this question by setting Mary Wollestonecraft Godwin (not yet married to Percy Bysshe Shelley) to explore a strange castle in Germany, wherein she meets a mysterious, scarred stranger who shows her the castle’s history, as well as her own. As the stranger (Frankenstein’s monster, naturally) shows Mary her past, future, and the distant future of our own time, the reader is shown how the theme of life and death intertwined that permeates the novel can be traced back to the circumstances of the author’s own life.
I’m sure that this cerebral look at FRANKENSTEIN will turn off many readers who were hoping for more gore and less introspection, but I enjoyed it. This comic is more along the lines of those issues of Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN that delved into William Shakespeare’s life and how it influenced his work. And sure, in both cases the details of the lives of these iconic authors are not fully known, but that doesn’t stop Gaiman or Ellis from fleshing out those details that history has given us and making a damn good story out of it. Ellis also draws a wonderful comparison between the creation of Frankenstein’s monster in a lightning storm and the use of modern defibrillator paddles—it’s so simple and obvious now, but the parallel between the two had never before occurred to me.
Despite what the cover for this graphic novel would have you believe, Ellis isn’t solely responsible for the quality of the story—
(Don’t you just hate it when an artist doesn’t get cover credit simply because the author’s name is more famous and therefore more “important?” The same thing happens with those children’s books “written by” Madonna. Makes me sick to my ass.)
—Oleksicki provides the beautiful black and white artwork that gives this book so much of its atmosphere. His style brings to mind Tim Bradstreet’s sense of light and shade, and there’s also some of that hatched inking that reminds me of John Bolton’s early work on British horror comics. Oleksicki’s monster is close in appearance to Shelley’s description while evoking hints of the Hammer horror movie Frankenstein makeup. Those looking for the Universal Karloff monster with bolts in his neck are in for a disappointment.
Again, FRANKENSTEIN’S WOMB won’t be for everyone, but horror aficionados who are interested in the stories behind the stories they love would do well to give this graphic novel a try.
When released from his Bottle, the Imp takes the form of Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from the Northeast. You can see some of his artwork athere. He’s given up comics more times than he can remember. But every time he thinks he's out, they pull him back in.
ADVENTURE COMICS #1(504)
Writer: Geoff Johns Artist(s): Francis Manapul and Clayton Henry (2nd Feature) Publisher: DC Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeBarely a handful of years since rendering him deader than the public option for healthcare (ahhhh, political humor), the man that rendered Superboy post-mortem in INFINITE CRISIS has seen fit to bring him back to the world of the living and, more importantly, the DCU proper. After being revived in the events of LEGION OF THREE WORLDS the teenaged S-bearer is front and center of a new/old ongoing (seriously, the fuck is with all these number jumps with Big Two books these days?) and is trying to find his place again. Nevermind that he's coming to grips with his new lease on life, there's also the death of Jonathan Kent he now has to cope with and, as we find out throughout the issue, he's starting to come to a crossroads with himself, i.e. his shared DNA between Superman and his mortal nemesis, Lex Luthor. Who else could handle all this but Geoff "Captain Continuity" Johns...
Okay, that was misleading. While the events around his resurrection might have been a little confusing and very much a "comic book thing" the goings-on in this re-debut for Connor were actually very grounded and sobering. Like I said, right now this is a period of reintegration for the Boy of Steel. The opening was a great but simple opening piece of him doing farm work and playing with Krypto, as calm and antithetical an event as you can get from what he had just gone through to get back here. And the following pieces were very much "A Day in the Life of" as he starts to settle back into the land of the living, as well as being nice little character moments and setting up a bit of the story device of the issue as it compares his young life to that of Superman's. Life with the Kents, going to Smallville High, hanging with other teen heroes, and ogling a cute girl right as he has to save her from an incident where she falls into a river...okay, that one is more a Connor trait.
And bringing this thing full circle, we get a little bit of a sign of things to come in the life of Superboy. I mentioned the crossroads earlier, and what we get here is that while Connor spends most of the issue comparing his young life to that of his Kryptonian "father's" the end shows him lying to Superman, a Lex Luthor move, when he tells him he has no interest in finding out more about his other half and why he became the man he ended up. Now, of course this has been something that has begged to be written - and lord knows how many times someone has tried - in the decade and a half since this Superboy came on the scene, but if there's anyone to be trusted to angle and flesh this out right, it's Geoff "I Actually Made Hawkman Cool For a While" Johns. Given all the subtle emotions and those small character moments and how well he handled them this issue - not to mention the small introduction of the kid who looks to be Connor's own Lex Luthor - there's no doubt there's a heck of a journey in store for Superboy here.
Oh, and Francis Manapul's art was terrific here. I didn't know he existed until his and Jim Shooter's run on LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, but I was immediately a fan - a feeling that has been reinforced after having had the pleasure of making his acquaintance at a con last year (hell of a guy, that one). But pleasing personality aside, his art here really helps make this book shine. It's a very playful style, which is very accommodating to the character and what Johns was trying to convey here, and emphasized by the, y'know, the flying dog. But it really did help emphasize all the emotions at play, and it also has its own dynamic that made the sparse action sequences stand out as well. It's the perfect style for this book and I hope he's the regular on it as long as it's Connor's story. And I can't wait to see him cut loose on a big action piece as well.
Now, speaking of the Legion of Super-Heroes, who are our back up feature here, I don't know what the hell is going on. This first of LOSH backups this month basically could be boiled down to "Here's the Legion bio" then "Here's Starman being crazy" and finalized with one of those fun little "Here's a glimpse of all the random shit that's going to go down!" sequences. I'm all for these backup stories. I mean, if you're going to charge me an extra buck, at least give me something for it, but the Legion seems like something that shouldn't be relegated to an eight page backup feature. There's just so much going on whenever it comes to the Legion, it seems like a daunting task to make a monthly flow of stories out of in such a small space, even for Geoff "I Juggled 108 Characters Without Breaking a Sweat on JSA" Johns. We all know the man wants a Legion run; this doesn't seem the place for it though. I have to assume, and hope, this is just the groundwork of a new ongoing of some sort (and hopefully without a number count with an algebra equation behind it to figure it out).
This is the good stuff though. This is really what I think Johns does best. Yes, it's great that he can turn muddled continuity into something new and fresh, and he's pretty solid at the big fisticuffs, but I think he's at the top of his game when he gets to really flesh out a character and make something a little more out of them. To this day I still think his best work has been his run on THE FLASH, and what he did with Wally West and especially the Rogues, and hopefully he can work the same magic with Connor Kent. I think this is certainly off to a good start; I'd even go so far as to say this is better than anything I've read “Blackest Night”-related as far as great character building > space zombies any day. Johns may be a Jack of a good many trades, but the kind of skill he's unleashing in ADVENTURE COMICS is probably his best trick.
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, Facebookand 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.
THE FRO: ORIGIN
Written by: Chris Harden Pencils by: Alfa Robbi Published by: Arcana Studios Reviewed by: Ryan McLellandTHE FRO is really a very hard book to review – it is rare that I can actually say that about a comic. It’s a very mixed bag that comes from someone who is knowledgeable about Chinese culture yet seems to kill it with an inane plot.
I’ll explain quickly: Tom’s a music wannabe who saves a Chinese monk and is given a super-powered afro as a reward. Tom creates a costume and decides to become ‘The Fro’ – and battles guys like a techno-nerd who creates sonic waves from his mouth/braces.
It’s a very silly plot but the story doesn’t really sway toward silly. The story itself is kind of serious for such a weird set-up. It’s not Spider-Man and it’s not the Tick. It’s seriously what happens when an American Idol wannabe gets a hold of a magic afro.
The good about the book is the writing. Chris Harden has some fun with the book even with the out-there origin story. You feel sorry for Tom like you did in very early issues of Spider-Man – he’s a dorky kind of guy who gets these powers and tries to do good. The plot is truly original – if you are looking for a superhero you’ve never seen before then the white guy with a ‘Fro is here! The artwork is pretty good as well with artist Alfa Robbi making a white guy with an afro look pretty damn good.
The bad about the book is the writing. Sometimes Chris Harden kills me with what he is writing. One bad guy, the aforementioned techno-geek, gets ready to blast some security guards when he says “You know what you get when you mix an extraordinary rapper with a software genius? A dizzying good time!” Yeah…I don’t get it either. There’s plenty of these moment interspersed within the book. Additionally, while Robbi’s art is pretty damn good some of these characters look very…familiar. The female interest Cymphony looks like she beat up Gen13’s Freefall and stole her clothes and hair. One baddie looks like Lobo dressed up with clown makeup while another is a dead ringer for Zartan.
So I reach a crux with THE FRO. I like it for a number of pages, then it makes me groan, then I like it again. The problems with the book could be, for me, the similar character designs or really lame writing that I just can’t get over. Some might overlook this and just glow in the fun of the book. THE FRO is truly original but if you like it or not really depends on what you think of a white dude with an afro fighting crime.
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. The first issue of his new WISE INTELLIGENCE miniseries can be found here.
THE BOYS: WE GOTTA GO NOW Vol. 4 TPB
Story by: Garth Ennis Art by: Darick Robertson Published by: Dynamite Entertainment Reviewed by: BaytorThere’s a certain irony in the fact that Garth Ennis has managed to run his own super-hero universe longer than John Byrne (whose NEXT MEN self-cancelled at issue 30), a man who cares so much about super-heroes that he’s been passionately arguing for years that Spider-Man’s costume is red & black in defiance of all of reality. Garth Ennis, on the other hand, seems to have absolutely no use for them, yet has been plugging away at his own super-hero creations for 30-odd issues.
The unanswered question is: why?
There are many who accuse Garth Ennis of being a one-trick pony (which would be a really impressive trick when you consider PREACHER alone incorporated farce, drama, & romance in a story that was sometimes a western, sometimes a war story, sometimes a supernatural horror story, sometimes a kitchen-sink soap); but he, like Frank Miller and John Byrne and most other comic writers, tend to stick pretty close to their comfort zones and endlessly repeat themselves. But I’ve come here not to praise THE BOYS, but to bury it.
THE BOYS is a one-trick book; and we’ve seen this trick many times before from Ennis. Once more, Ennis simply does not have the depth of knowledge about the genre to provide anything but the most superficial of criticism. Okay, we get it, you think super-heroes are stupid; but mocking the X-Men for being little more than marketing run amok is not the basis for a story. At some point, Garth Ennis should have asked himself if this all-too-fucking-obvious reality could sustain an eight part story; which, incidentally, is twice as long as the next longest BOYS story. The answer is no, although it might have been a fun check-your-brain-at-the-door story at half the length.
The plot, such that it is, has Wee Hughie infiltrating G-Whiz to investigate the very public suicide of one of the G-Men’s founding members. Like the X-Men, the G-Men are the world’s most popular outcasts, and have sprawled out into several different teams (G-Whiz is the New Mutants style school). Unlike the rest of the teams, the members of G-Whiz get along with each other and live in a college style frat house, where they spend most of their time jerking each other off and peeing on anyone too drunk to get off the floor. They’re also supposed to be likeable in a drunken frat boy sort of way, but mostly they’re too spastic to be anything but a bunch of monkeys hurling their poop at each other. Much of the “drama” (and those quotes need to be there) stems from Wee Hughie doing a stupid thing because he likes them.
When the story isn’t following the endless drunken exploits of a bunch of Animal House wannabes, it’s showing us the baffling members of the rest of the G-Men family. There’s actually a furry guy named Critter who wears a protective cone around his neck and boxing gloves (the latter seems to exist just so he can’t open a beer). Then there is the utter embarrassment that is the G-Coast/G-Style feud. When the high point of their presence is the racist members of G-Men mocking their gangsta speech, you’re in trouble. When they show up and speak only in stereotypical gangsta speech then you’ve just made the Ghetto-Bots of TRANSFORMERS 2 look like Nelson and Winnie Mandela by comparison.
Through it all, I see flashes of the Ennis I’m a fan of. The continuing relationship of Wee Hughie and Annie is a nice counter-point to the stupidity of the super-hero plots, although it does seem very odd that he’s unaware that he’s dating a very public super-hero. Mother’s Milk has a stand-out moment as he investigates the suicide of G-Men founder Silver Kincaid. And in the most surprising twist of all time, the relationship between The Frenchmen and The Female shows some depth and genuine emotion, which any guy who has befriended a manic depressive chick will recognize. Unfortunately, these moments don’t justify the plodding, over-long, embarrassing mess of a story they’re attached to.
I’m not the biggest fan of THE BOYS, although I do confess a certain enjoyment of it. I think it works best in short, controlled bursts and even then the unblinking focus on super-heroes brings it down. Ennis has worked this territory before with HITMAN (and to a lesser extent, his Marvel Knights PUNISHER run) and he does write some genuinely funny super-hero stories from time-to-time. But here he’s trapped by his own premise and there’s no escaping the very simple fact that with the exception of Homelander of The Seven, everyone is treated as a complete joke and there’s never any sense of a greater menace at work (although the executives of Vought-America show some potential). If Ennis had a greater understanding and appreciation of the genre, he might make the thought of these characters actually existing in the real world comic and terrifying. Instead, we’re left with a bunch of attention seeking celebrities in funny costumes and wonder why any government would allow them free reign. This is just a fundamentally flawed book and “We Gotta Go Now” has managed to limbo under the already low standards of this book.
THE MARVELS PROJECT #1 (of 8)
Writer: Ed Brubaker Artist: Steve Epting Color Art: Dave Stewart Published by: Marvel Comics Reviewed by: BottleImpSomething’s wrong with either me or this comic, because we’re not synching up that way I thought we would. And since I know that nothing could possibly ever be my fault, I’ll blame the comic.
All the ingredients are there. Brubaker’s script is solid, his dialogue never reads as false or stilted, and he’s setting up the hints of a juicy conspiracy story involving the creation of Marvel’s earliest superheroes. Epting’s artwork is clean, easy to understand and effective. I remember Steve Epting mostly from his 1980s and ‘90s work on Marvel’s AVENGERS, when he was being inked by Tom Palmer—who, though an excellent inker, had one of the heaviest inking styles around. No matter whose pencils Palmer inked—Epting, John Byrne, John Buscema—they all ended up looking like Tom Palmer. So it’s nice to finally see Epting’s artwork unobscured by the brush of another artist. As I said, the plot is good stuff, and the setting of just before the US entered WWII is pushing all my Golden Age buttons.
So why don’t I care about this comic?
I think it comes down to the fact that we’ve seen all this before, especially over the past year or so when the comic stands suddenly became flush with Golden Age-set titles. THE TWELVE, PROJECT: SUPERPOWERS, AVENGERS/INVADERS, the seemingly endless parade of “legacies” that Geoff Johns brought into JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA…maybe I’m just finally bored with the past and want to see something new.
It doesn’t help THE MARVELS PROJECT that several scenes seem to be lifted straight out of earlier groundbreaking comics. The entire prologue with the elderly hero the Two-Gun Kid spinning stories of the future Marvel Universe to his doctor mirrors the Wesley Dodds/Reverend McCay opening of KINGDOM COME. And speaking of Alex Ross, Stewart’s color work on the Human Torch looks like it had been torn out of MARVELS and taped in place here. Not that it’s a bad thing—it’s the most effective vision of a flaming man that I think we’ll ever see in printed form—but again, this reminder of older, more iconic comics just serves to make this new series feel less original and more derivative.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad comic book. So far it’s just not a great one. Times were when I’d stick with a series like this for a few more issues to see if it’ll spark up into something more interesting, but with a $3.99 cover price, it’s hard to justify throwing money away each month on lackluster entertainment. Maybe just one more issue…
TALES OF THE STARLIGHT DRIVE-IN OGN
Writer: Michael San Giacomo Artists: Various Publisher: Image Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheOn first glance, TALES FROM THE STARLIGHT DRIVE-IN feels like an exploration of America’s forgotten age of innocence - the 1950s. While the opening chapters of this ambitious undertaking certainly start in the days of little Richie Cunningham, what follows is an exploration of the latter half of the twentieth century and the stark message about our collective societal loss of innocence.
STARLIGHT is another one of my eclectic Wizard World finds. Tucked in the back lunch table area of the con, San Giacomo had this piece front and center at his make-shift booth. Like most members of the Gen X –Gen Y middle ground, my exposure to drive-in movies is limited. For the most part they were always dusky relics awaiting demolition. However, for those that live inside the Baby Boomer –Gen X ether these cinematic passion pits were staples of their generation, providing an education in everything from celluloid to C-Cups. Mike definitely fits into the latter and his passion for the drive-in movie experience was readily apparent. As he told me the tale of traversing some of the last 500 still open today trying to spread the word about STARLIGHT, I could tell that these were more than a place, they were an experience--an experience I couldn’t wait to get lost in.
You would applaud this book making it to press simply based on the publisher shuffling Mike had to go through, but you gain respect for this book when you see all 31 stories come together. There are three basic tenets Mike had for this journey of the latter half of the twentieth century: each story had to stand on its own, each story had to gel with the overarching decline of the Starlight (cough, American society, cough) and each had to relate to the movie or movies on the Starlight marquee that started off each chapter. Also, being the shepherd to the multitude of artists on this project earns Mike a gold star in project management.
To review each chapter of STARLIGHT would do the book a disservice. Mike held true to his original intent; each chapter and epoch in history could receive their own little mini-reviews, but this would quite frankly (and no pun intended) miss the big picture. Since each chapter has a different artist and style, I’m going to use this space to go over a few of my favorites, and I hate to say one or two that just missed the boat for me. Keep in mind though as you read these mini-sojourns, even the stories I was less enamored with still help to cement the over-arching theme Mike was trying to achieve. Also, I think some of my criticism could stem from the realities of publishing versus stylistic choices.
1955 – I’ve never been a big fan of black and white books; generally I outright hate them. However, opening artist Seam McArdle has made me a convert. When done correctly with this much detail and careful shading one would think they were watching an episode of “Leave it to Beaver”. This tale introduces to a young man named Adam, who moves across the street from the Starlight. Aside from the drive-in itself, Adam and the movie projectionist are the two human protagonists in the book who appear and reappear with each passing generation.
1960 – By far my favorite story simply because of one small convention: the introduction of color. Granted colorized movies have been around since the 1930s, but if you ask folks when life truly became colorized the 1960s would win hands down. One part because of photographs, and no, I’m not referring to those sepia hued monstrosities that mimicked color, I mean true color. The other reason was television – the arch nemesis of the Starlight and countless other theaters until Hollywood started to up their game to compete. About half way through this story, as Adam has his first kiss, the panels become color symbolizing an awakening in Adam and once again America. Now, I was fully ready to make this turning point an exceptional choice for the entire book until I went to later stories that were once again presented in black and white. As I said earlier, though, I think this had to be a publishing constraint more than a stylistic choice. It’s easy to understand that sometimes sacrifices must be made simply to get the book on the shelves, and one less step in the process makes it that much easier.
1974 – Someone (not Mike) fell down on this one or developed cerebral palsy. “The Godfather” on the marquee in the first panel lets you know that a mob tale lies ahead. Well executed and a bold statement on the rampant racism of the time, it is shamefully downplayed by the almost illegible fuzzy lettering in the dialogue bubbles. Despite my guffaws, this looks like a printer hiccup. However, this was just one small snippet of the Starlight’s history and really the only egregious misstep in the entire book.
1998 – The movie playing is “Primary Colors” and Mike preys on our predispositions about Bill Clinton. When the theater is shut down for a VIP guest and that guest arrives with an attractive young lady you immediately know where this is going…or so you think.
2005 – I love a happy ending, and I don’t just mean at massage parlors. What I love more than a happy ending, though, is a surprise ending. In the darkest hour there is one glimmer of hope that appears on the last page. Anyone who has ever been a collector will love the twist of fate for the Starlight.
It’s very rare these days to see passion projects brought to fruition. More often than not the harsh constraints of reality will squash even the most stalwart of dreams. Even though this book wasn’t perfect from a balancing stand-point, it was enjoyable, brisk, and educated this young pup on the importance of a cultural phenomenon that will one day be a faint echo in the annals of Americana. I should also add to this close by giving Mike the upsell of the year award by having a comic collector in the STARLIGHT reading his other title PHANTOMJACK.
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. "What if the whole world had superpowers? Find out in the pages of Optimous’ original book AVERAGE JOE. Read the first full issue on Optimous’ New Blog and see original sketches by fellow @$$hole Bottleimp. If you are a publisher or can help these guys get AVERAGE JOE up, up, and on the shelves in any way, drop Optimous a line."
WET MOON BOOK 5: WHERE ALL STARS FAIL TO BURN
But one sitting is not nearly enough to fully immerse yourself in the lives of Campbell’s young girls who are college age but drawn to look much younger. A lesser artist might have exaggerated the breasts and buttocks of the mostly-female cast but WET MOON is made of girls that come in all shapes and sizes. They’re free to talk and behave within the confines of their universe instead of trying to find some globally accepted middle ground. One character snorts coke. Another lives in an apartment infested with roaches. Yet another is attacked as she walks alone at night. All this while trying to coexist as friends and sometimes lovers. Anyone in college or sober enough during those years to remember them can tell you that art is truly imitating life.
And what can I say about Campbell’s illustrations? They are the stroke of a master’s hand, erupting in a controlled percussion of mood and atmosphere. Dialogue is understated and realistic while diary entries interspersed throughout the book help advance the story without compromising it. What connection do the members of this clique have and why should I care? Finding out the answer is one of the joys of reading this book.
Just as there is a heightened sense of diversity within the characters, so too does there exist a complexity within the narrative that almost feels like you’re witnessing a reality show unfold before your eyes. That should not be taken as a disparaging remark but rather a compliment, as Campbell shatters the fourth wall that separates animation from real life. The girls are sexually appealing because they’re drawn not to be, if that makes any sense -- however this is not the type of book for a voyeur. There is a perversity here that is a conduit to the unfortunate correlation between sex and violence. In fact, the book has such grim and foreboding undertones that its grisly climax unsettled me like few books ever have.
I remember Marlo Chandler getting a knife in the back at the end of HULK #398 and I yelped “Oh No!” There is a similar incident here but there was no yelp. Instead I finished the book with a sort of uneasy feeling, like something terrible had just happened. A lot of people can watch “Friday the 13th” and have a few laughs but can’t bear to watch a documentary on Ed Gein. The same principle applies here. Despite its root in animation, WET MOON will strike you as nothing less than a real world filled with real personalities. It might not leave you dashing through your backyard wearing a mask and cape, but it will remind you why you read graphic novels in the first place.
Final word: You don’t read it. It reads you. An absolute must-have.
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