DARK REIGN: THE LIST – AVENGERS #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Pencils: Marko Djurdjevic Inks: Mark Morales Colors: Marte Gracia Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Matt AdlerTHE LIST is simply a new way of branding the ongoing Norman Osborn storyline; it’s probably a smart move, since with the proliferation of DARK REIGN tie-ins, a new brand was needed to say “Hey! Something is happening to advance the story here!”
What’s happening to advance the story is that Norman Osborn has made a “list” of the various superheroes who are impeding his plans. This list includes Daredevil (whom Osborn sees as a threat for his leadership of The Hand, and sends Dark Avenger/old nemesis Hawkeye/Bullseye after), Spider-Man (duh), The Hulk (presumably because he’s a rampaging monster), The Punisher (who has tried to kill Osborn), Wolverine (because clearly any character who can be in so many places at once is a major threat), The Secret Warriors (led by Nick Fury), and The X-Men (fresh from their recent battle with Osborn, and now ensconced in a separatist state off the coast of San Francisco). And oh yeah, The Avengers, whom Osborn has tried to replace, and who have been a continual thorn in his side.
This issue focuses primarily on Hawkeye/Ronin, who for the last few issues of NEW AVENGERS has been swearing that he’s going to kill Norman Osborn. The rest of his team, including his ex, Mockingbird, tries to talk him out of it, mostly for moral reasons, but also for practical.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do think it’s possible for a hero to be pushed over the edge, so even though Clint Barton has been shown to be firmly against killing on numerous occasions, I would not rule out his making an exception here. BUT, if you’re going to make that the focal point of the issue, and throw in Mockingbird arguing with him to boot… wouldn’t it make a whole lot of sense that the incident that led to Hawkeye and Mockingbird’s break-up in the first place, her killing of a super villain and his objection to it, be raised? It’s such a pivotal moment for both characters that when another such pivotal moment comes up, it just doesn’t ring true for it to not even be mentioned.
As in previous issues, Spider-Man is the main voice of opposition to Clint’s idea. It doesn’t really work for me though, because every time Spider-Man gets involved with an Osborn storyline, it serves to remind me how much of a mistake it was to bring Osborn back in the first place. Hawkeye makes a comment along the lines that Spider-Man should have finished Osborn off a long time ago, and therein lies the problem. The fact that Osborn is not only still around, but now has risen to the level of basically ruling the Marvel Universe, after having killed several of Spidey’s loved ones, terrorized the rest, and tormented and tortured him with impunity for years, makes Spidey look completely impotent and weak, as opposed to simply the hard luck underdog. Bendis made a similar point when Luke Cage took down Osborn back in THE PULSE, and I felt the same then. I’m not saying that Spidey should kill him, but Osborn got his poetic justice back in Gerry Conway’s original story, and the fact that he’s back kicking around completely undoes that. Spidey might as well take out an ad saying “Want to get ahead in life? Do whatever you want to me and my loved ones. There will be no consequences, and you might even get a promotion.”
The rest of the Avengers also get their chance to weigh in (Bucky/Captain America gets in a line about having personally killed Hitler, which is pretty funny, but as I recall in Marvel continuity, it was actually the android Human Torch who killed Hitler). But the end result is that Hawkeye goes off on his own to invade Avengers Tower and take down Osborn. While he missed the key moment with Hawkeye and Mockingbird, Bendis does remember Hawkeye’s fling with Moonstone and makes use of it, which is nice. The Ronin costume, with its bulky body armor and shoulder pads, will never look right on him, and it doesn’t feel right to see him using automatic weapons, but still, he’s pretty effective here, taking down most of the Dark Avengers through the element of surprise before things go horribly wrong. On a side note, Bullseye has a healing factor? Does anyone NOT have a healing factor? I assume Daken does as well, and we know Osborn does, because that’s how he came back to life. It’s getting ridiculous.
Marko Djurdjevic, Marvel’s current go-to guy on covers, handles the pencils for this issue, and his interior style is VERY different than his covers. Not better or worse, just very different. His covers are usually in the ultra-realistic painted style that is en vogue these days, while his interiors are much more stylized. But it works here; it sets the mood effectively for what is, of course, a very dark story.
Anyway, this is a 26-page lead story, followed by a preview for Daredevil’s “List” tie-in (which you’ve already seen if you read Daredevil #500), and then some very cool Alan Davis preview art for the X-Men “List” tie-in. So for $3.99, it’s a pretty good value. Bottom line, if you want to follow the overall “Dark Reign” storyline, this issue’s worth getting.
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.
ADVENTURE COMICS #2
Writer: Geoff Johns Artist: Francis Manapul Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheLast month I sincerely believed my time with Superman was once again drawing to a close. Over the years my fanman love affair with the big S has waxed and waned despite my usual Pokemon-like collecting mantra of “Gotta get ‘em all.” During the good times I have an almost OCD compulsion to collect and more importantly absorb every issue into my mushy cerebellum. During the bad times I quite simply walk away. That’s always been one of the joys of Superman: the ability to walk away and come back a few months or years later and be able to jump right back into the action.
Prior to ADVENTURE resurrecting on the LCS shelves I had simply become fed up with everything Superman. I had remained loyal during 52, the craptacular Crisis build-ups, the Crisis countdowns and let downs and even all of the one year later activity, but in recent months nothing has felt quite right in the Superman titles. First off, a Superman title without Superman is like a hand job from someone without fingers. You’ll get the general pounding sensation, but all of the subtleties that make the experience worthwhile are completely lost. I outright hate ACTION with the likes of Mon-El (who I wish would get Mon-O), the ret-con clusterfuck known as the Science Police, and the gleaming golden dildo headed Guardian. Yes, I know I can get my Kal-El fix in the WORLD OF NEW KRYPTON and at first I truly believed I would find sanctuary in those crystalline halls. At the end of the day, though, Clark Kent really isn’t that interesting. When everyone has the same fantastic powers, what you’re left with is the equivalent of reading the life and times of Richie Cunningham.
Well, once again Geoff Johns comes to the rescue to squash my Superman malaise with ADVENTURE COMICS. The last time I was well versed in the dealings of Conner Kent was a long time ago during his “birth.” Like everyone else in America I religiously collected the entire aftermath of Superman’s death. I traveled back from time to time to catch up on his adventures in Hawaii and a few of his Titan escapades, but found the character was still that same petulant boy at heart. What Johns is masterfully weaving into this title is the duality of Connor’s being, exploring the Lex Luthor and Clark Kent sides of his DNA with equal interest. I know this doesn’t sound overly exhilarating at first glance (especially with Podunk Smallville as the backdrop), but remember Johns is the master of the subtle moments, the twists of dialogue that embrace what’s happening in the now while still holding reverence for all that once was. A perfect example is when Conner is talking with Wonder Girl and they mention his “fade” haircut that was sported by every teenager in the early 90s (including yours truly), the two have a brief laugh and the moment is over. Whether you’re old or new to the DC universe, you can appreciate this moment. It gives us old fanmen an “awwww” moment and all of the kiddies out there can laugh at how stupid things were in the 90s. See what I mean? Subtle…
The “kick in your face” opening panels of this second issue immediately let you know that the happenings in this title will have far reaching consequences within the Superman corners of the DC universe. The easy route for ADVENTURE would be to keep this story insular, injecting a mutant-of-the-week that needs some good old thwarting. However, Johns (or perhaps I need to give a kudos to editorial in this case) is bringing the Brainiac and Luthor partnership into ADVENTURE that started so many months ago when Kandor grew to full size and became its own planet. I’ve never held secret that I love how Johns has handled Luthor in the past by making the bald one’s mission one of virtue instead of eeeeevil. By painting Lex as someone that wants to raise humanity above our primordial animal beings and believing that Superman is hindering that evolution is ten times more interesting than the hand wringing “mwa-ha-ha” evilness Lex has exhibited in the past. Now by partnering Luthor with Brainiac, who offers Lex the whole of earth in exchange for helping recapture Kandor, sets this title up to be THE Superman book fans of Big Blue should be reading. Perhaps if the two are successful (OK, we know they will be, but let’s pretend for a second), ALL DC fans should be reading this title. Unless of course you prefer Kryptonian politics or Mon-O wanting to become a real boy…if that’s the case simply stay within in the confines of ACTION and the WORLD OF NEW KRYPTON and have a nice day.
I love where the DC universe is at right now. Instead of cramming titles down our throats they have learned from the mistakes of the past by charging each writer to allude to events in sister titles instead of making them mandatory reading to understand the book in your hands. It’s an a la carte approach that is not only appreciated by the wallets of your aged fanbase, but it also makes the universe ten times more accessible to the comic noob. Between Batman, Green Lantern and my recaptured love of Superman my comic spend is definitely planted within the halls of DC as opposed to the House of Mouse…I mean Marvel. At the end of the day the lesson I think is as apparent as the glasses on Clark Kent’s square head: let the readers decide when to crossover instead of making every title on the shelf a crossover.
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."
HAPPY HOOLIGAN HC TPB
Written and Illustrated by: Frederick Burr Opper Featuring an introduction by: Allan Holtz Published by: Forever Nuts Reviewed by: superheroI’m more than willing to admit when a book isn’t just for me. I’m big enough to say, “Well, this is great but it’s just not my thing.” For the most part that’s exactly what I have to say about this HAPPY HOOLIGAN collection. Which isn’t to say that it’s bad. Far from it. This book is really pretty interesting from a historical perspective. The introduction by Allan Holtz was very educational and well written and the art itself was very beautiful. My problem with the book is the actual strips themselves.
For those not in the know (of which I was one), HAPPY HOOLIGAN was a newspaper strip that ran around the turn of the 20th century and was created by Frederick Burr Opper. During the time of its publication it was apparently a very popular strip and Opper himself was known to be one of the greats of cartooning at the time. I say “at the time” because, while his art still holds up, the content of the strips don’t. For the most part each strip is pretty much a repeat of the last with the main character, Happy Hooligan, trying his best to right a wrong and getting the blame for things having gone awry…again and again and again. Which is the problem with HAPPY HOOLIGAN. It seems almost as if each strip is practically a carbon copy (writing-wise not art-wise) of the last. Nothing is really different or changes from strip to strip. Which may have been fine at the time they were being published, but in a collected volume like this it ends up reading like the comic strip version of “Groundhog Day” or “Waiting for Godot”. Honestly, after about five pages of HOOLIGAN strips I had gotten the point and, unfortunately, the rest of the book had nothing new to show me about HAPPY HOOLIGAN or his cast of characters.
Which is fine, I guess, because to me this book is more about the history of cartooning than it is about the actual cartoons themselves. The reason I wanted to check this book out was because I wanted something different and I’d always been interested in this era of comics. HAPPY HOOLIGAN did shed some light on turn of the century comics for me; I just wish the comics in the book had been a bit more entertaining. But for someone who has an absolute passion for old world cartooning or comic strips I think this book is a must have. It just wasn’t for me but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience out there that would love this material…which I’m sure there is. It’s just that someone steeped in the more modern era of comics and cartooning (as I am) may not be as happy with HAPPY HOOLIGAN as the niche market of cartooning historians would be.
Discovered as a babe in an abandoned comic book storage box and bitten by a radioactive comic fan when he was a teenager, superhero is actually not-so mild mannered sometime designer & cartoonist, Kristian Horn of Los Angeles, California. He's been an @$$hole for three years. Some of his work can be seen at www.kristianhorn.com.
MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN #1-2
Writer: Fred Van Lente Art: Nick Dragotta (Issue 1) & Andrea Mutti (Issue 2) Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugYou know, I try to be open minded. It takes a lot to offend me. But upon reading the first two issues of MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN, I actually heard myself mutter, “Is nothing sacred?” Like I said, I try to be a pretty progressive. I’m open to new ideas, and Marvel’s had a lot of them in the last few years, but every now and then, they miss the boat and MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN is that miss. A massive miss.
I got into MARVEL ZOMBIES late. I’m a fan of Fred Van Lente. His INCREDIBLE HERCULES book is one of the best Marvel is putting out right now and Van Lente looks to be one of those writers I should watch closely. And I do. That’s why I decided to pick up MARVEL ZOMBIES 3 and 4. But being the completist that I am, I bought the trades for 1 & 2 just so I could know what’s going on first. Being a fan of zombie fiction, I thought I would like MARVEL ZOMBIES, so I dove in with three complete volumes and a couple of issues of Vol 4.
Right off the bat, I got that sick feeling in my stomach reading the first and second series. Seeing Peter Parker devour Aunt May and Mary Jane, their brains and stomachs dripping out of his torn mask…I have to say, even a devout horror fan like myself went “whoa. This is too much.” And not in a good way. You see, as much as I’m a horror fan, I’m also a Marvel super hero fan. I grew up on this shit and seeing Robert Kirkman, the writer of the original MARVEL ZOMBIES series, come along and shit all over characters I thought were somewhat sacred, even in this day and age, it didn’t sit well. After chugging through those two first series, Van Lente went in another direction. To me, the best of all four miniseries was the last one, MARVEL ZOMBIES 4, where the Midnight Sons fought back the Zombie Plague from getting loose in Marvel 616. Van Lente brought strong storytelling, cool characters, and most importantly a respect towards those characters to the table in that miniseries and it was a damn good one. While Kirkman may have started out this corner of the Marvel Universe taking retarded glee in dumping all over established characters like Millar and Ennis before him, Van Lente classed it up by giving us heroes to root for.
With Van Lente on board with this MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN miniseries, I thought he would continue the coolness that was started with the fourth miniseries. Imagine my surprise when I cracked open the first issue and saw, you guessed it, a recap of Peter devouring Aunt May and Mary Jane. And to make matters worse, it looks as if this series is going to focus on not just shitting on current Marvel continuity. Nope, this series is going to plop a greasy grimy one in the middle of some of yours and my own favorite stories written by some of the greatest comic book writers ever to put ink to page.
So we’re treated with zombie versions of Disco era Peter Parker in issue one and issue two brings us a zombified version of Tony Stark’s “Demon in a Bottle” story. And if that’s what Van Lente has in store for us in this miniseries, then I know for a fact it’s not for me. I’m sure Van Lente will, at least at first, show an accurate depiction of these famous eras in Marveldom because it really does seem like he loves Marvel history like few others at Marvel. But while seeing alternate reality zombie versions of Marvel’s greatest stories may be entertaining to read by some, you can count me out as one of those readers. I’m still a huge Van Lente fan and will check out any comic with his name on it, but these Zombie What If? stories just aren’t worth my time anymore.
And finally, what the fuck is up with Zombie Iron Man wind surfing on the back of a vulture on the cover of issue #2?
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.
UNKNOWN SOLDIER Vol. 1: HAUNTED HOUSE
Written by: Scott Joshua Dysart Art by: Alberto Ponticelli Published by: Vertigo Reviewed by: BaytorOne of the things that endlessly annoys me are movies that use the white guy as the in into a foreign culture. If you’re making a movie about the end of the Samurai in Japan, of course you hire Tom Cruise to play the lead. Doing a movie about the Navajo code talkers in WWII, Nic Cage is your man. And there’s been more than a few movies about the Civil Rights movement that have shifted the focus from the heroic, martyred leader to his white lawyer.
So right out of the gate Dysart gets some cool points by making the lead character a native of the culture we’re being introduced to. Like HOTEL RWANDA, it still slips in a few notable white characters in supporting roles, but keeps the heart of the story on the people who are most affected by the on-going tragedy of Post-Colonial Africa, a situation that has been getting fairly trendy of late, even with a movie about blood diamonds starring, you guessed it, a very non-African Leonardo DiCaprio. And the book is smart enough to know that and makes one of the supporting characters a fairly good-hearted (albeit attention whoring) Hollywood actress, and even seems to strike the proper attitude toward the character which is gratitude tinged with more than a little resentment; because while she’s embarking on a noble quest, there’s always the sense that her presence actually overpowers the real message.
In its debut collection, we follow Lwanga Moses, a successful doctor, who has returned to his home country of Uganda with his wife to try to fix the damaged caused by decades of Civil War. And in a very-nearly-out-of-place supernatural twist, he is also the avatar for the spirit of the Unknown Soldier, who seems to have been ripped from the pages of Garth Ennis’ interesting-but-not-quite-good revival from several years ago, which retooled the character as a man willing to commit any atrocity in pursuit of the Greater Good. Seems the soldier has been exerting a bit of influence on the good Doc, who is starting to have really disturbing violent fantasies. Then comes the fateful day when he runs into the bush to save a young girl from rebel soldiers. So disgusted with the violence he inflicts upon the child soldiers, he mutilates his own face and dons the bandages of the Unknown Soldier, thus beginning a cycle of violence surrounding the events of the kidnapping of several young girls.
This is one of the most brutal and uncompromising books I’ve seen in a long while. I don’t know enough about the situation in Africa to gauge how realistic this is. What I know is depressing enough without learning about young girls being forced into marriages with child soldiers by Christian Rebels. And the greatest tragedy of so much of this is that reasonably decent people get caught up in events and are forced into the role of oppressors…then five, ten years down the line, they’re just as bad as the ones who forced them into the life. All of which serves as a heartbreakingly tragic backdrop for a story of a man who is compelled to sacrifice everything to battle the system, even though he's not sure he's accomplished anything.
Artwise, I like. Ponticelli utilizes a fairly familiar style for Vertigo books, not miles away from Risso’s work on 100 BULLETS. Special mention should go to colorist Oscar Celestini, who completely failed to make everything a murky gray like far too many grim, realistic comics, demonstrating that you can do a muted color scheme without making it look like everyone is covered head-to-toe in mud while trudging through a muddy trench.
With so many of my favorite writers leaving Vertigo for other venues, I had lost touch with the imprint, so it’s gratifying to know that we have a new generation of writers who are taking the best of what came before while forging a different path. UNKNOWN SOLDIER (along with SCALPED) has renewed my enthusiasm for what I mistakenly considered an imprint long past its glory days.
Writer: Roman Dirge Artist: Roman Dirge Publisher: Titan Books Reviewer: Matt AdlerThis is the second volume of LENORE, now at new publisher Titan Books (it was formerly published by Slave Labor Graphics), which features the adventures of the titular little undead girl. Think “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and you’ve got the tone.
Dirge is a great cartoonist, and his caricatures nicely balance the creepy/weird with the humorous. This issue serves as a good intro to the character, as it gives us the story of how Lenore died and came back to life. Apparently she was a 10 year-old girl born around the turn of the century (not this one, the last one) who died of pneumonia. For as-yet unexplained reasons, as the mortician is filling her with embalming fluid, she comes back to life. He is so shocked by this that he simply stands there with his mouth gaping, the fluid continuing to pump into her as she balloons up and finally starts gushing embalming fluid, straight into the mortician’s gaping mouth. Lovely. Fortunately, it’s all done in Dirge’s cartoony, tongue-in-cheek style, so even those of you weak of stomach probably won’t be TOO grossed out.
Perhaps this embalming fluid has some special properties that are the secret to her resurrection, because having swallowed it, the mortician (Mortimer Fledge) becomes incredibly long-lived, if not immortal, though he doesn’t age too well. Now in the modern day, he’s gone completely insane from that initial experience, and has dedicated his life to hunting her down and finishing the embalming job. But to be honest, the plot isn’t really the point. It’s sort of like a Looney Tunes cartoon, where the adversary is given some motive to hunt down a wascally wabbit, but it’s really just an excuse for Bugs to make us laugh and make the opponent look ridiculous. Lenore isn’t quite as smart as Bugs; she’s a little loopy, but possesses the same powers of making anything happen as long it’s funny.
This lead story is 16 pages. It’s followed by a 2-page non-Lenore short, called “The Parasol Princess”, and a 1-page Lenore short, both of which showcase Dirge’s flair for blending the sweet with the sick. There’s also a Lenore pin-up by artist Tara Billinger and a 4-page preview of Dirge’s upcoming graphic novel featuring the Lenore spin-off character “Samurai Sloth”, which looks to be slightly less macabre, but no less bizarre. Finally, there’s a 1-page autobiographical short, in which Dirge fills us in on his background and what kind of mind thinks this stuff up. All in all, it’s a pretty fun comic. If you’re looking for something off the beaten track, you really ought to give LENORE a shot.
WAR OF KINGS: WHO WILL RULE? One-Shot
Writer(s): Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning Artist: Paul Pelletier Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeJumping right into this review with a diatribe, I think I am personally going to label WAR OF KINGS, as a whole, as a mild success of a crossover. As much as I enjoyed the main series, which I thought was as action packed as we’ve come to expect from the Abnett/Lanning crew in these events, I kind of felt the main Marvel cosmic books, NOVA and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, actually became a little muddled and drug down a bit in the midst of it all. It’s just now that the brunt of the Saga is over that I think those titles are starting to find their way again and move forward. And it’s with this WoK epilogue in WHO WILL RULE? that I have already become fanboy giddy for what the Dynamic Duo have in store for this corner of the Marvel U that they’ve busted ass on for a half decade now to make exciting and relevant again.
I don’t want this to come as a knock against what Abnett & Lanning did with this series, but now that it’s over it definitely shows that this was more a stepping stone to bigger and better things than to be the next big cosmic event. Obviously shit done happened, lots of stuff blew up, and three major players in not only the starry side of the Marvel Universe but the whole of it went down in their own blazes of glory. With this issue though, and the most recent NOVA and GOTG ones I mentioned before, the implications for what are coming up are way more scintillating than this Inhumans/Kree versus Shi’ar one ever was, not that it didn’t get the adrenaline going.
I really did enjoy this fallout issue though. Outside of the last WOK issue, where the majority of the shit hit the fan I would say, this would be my next favorite out of the lot. I really enjoyed watching throughout the issue as Gladiator fought against the obvious decision to be made in the leadership vacuum created by Lilandra and Vulcan’s deaths. You know he’s going to cave eventually, but his staunchness holds so well through the brunt of the issue up until the trigger moment where he has no choice but to accept the throne for the good of his people. Watching some of the other figures that are likely to have big political roles in the future of this part of the Universe – Crystal and Medusa – was also quite enjoyable. Crystal’s depression over her assumption that she would be promoted into a place of authority she didn’t want, and combined with her developing feelings for Ronan, gave some depth to a character that more often than not gets lost in the shuffle. And seeing Medusa’s mourning finally boiling over into blind rage was a big sign the Inhuman/Kree kingdom is one that is not going to take any shit, and there’s plenty to come it looks.
Between this issue and, again, those latest NOVA and GUARDIANS issues though, the WAR OF KINGS itself almost pales in comparison given the implications of what’s ahead. We’ve got angry Inhumans, a weary Gladiator coming to power, a brand new Nova Corps with more focused (i.e. less crazy) leadership, and the last two pages of this gave us a hint of mischievousness by hinting at Talon (of the Fraternity of Raptors) figuring into the mix, and the mother of all Cosmic “Oh Fuck”s in the form of the return of Magus and just a great gash of “We’re fucking screwed” torn in the fabric of the Universe itself. I was already pretty engaged given what we’ve seen the past few months, but now that I see the full scope of what the crazy bastards writing this stuff have in mind, I am positively enthralled.
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.
TALES FROM WONDERLAND: TWEEDLE DEE AND TWEEDLE DUM #1
Writer: Raven Gregory Artist: Medellin & Navarro Publisher: Zenescope Entertainment Reviewer: Optimous DoucheFor fans of Zenescope’s twisted take on WONDERLAND, this tale of child abuse provides a refreshing oasis of content as you anxiously await the next chapter of ESCAPE FROM WONDERLAND. For anyone that immediately thinks Lewis Carroll or Disney when you hear the term Wonderland, I encourage you to go read one of the other lovely reviews we have provided this week. This isn’t a slight, merely the reality of the finite series.
I’m not sure whether to give Gregory credit or deep sympathy. One of the mantras of good writing is “write what you know.” As we have seen throughout this series that manifests our real world travesties into the construct of horror known as WONDERLAND, Gregory knows tragedy…almost too well.
TWEEDLE DEE AND TWEEDLE DUM follows three generations of child abuse and the ultimate “shoving through the looking glass” to move these horrid individuals from our world to the Wonderland horror world where they belong. Having seen child abuse firsthand (thankfully not my own), Gregory deftly captures the nonsensical nature of this form of abuse. Ultimately it boils down to resentment and jealousy. Even when the child does well, like hitting the game winning home run, these twisted individuals find an excuse to abuse their offspring. Once the third generation of abuse finally pushes his father through the mythical looking glass that has captured so many souls throughout this series, this vignette ends almost where the WONDERLAND series began, inside the island diner the story’s heroine Callie Liddle stumbled upon in her first foray into Wonderland.
Medellin and Navarro do an accomplished job with this issue, but I found myself truly missing the pencils of Leister. While most focus solely on Leister’s ability to render the jiggly parts of the female form, when you look above the neckline Leister is able to capture raw rage and horror with every hyper-detailed panel. Fortunately Leister serves as the man of action on this issue’s back-up story that explores the demented mind of WONDELRAND ring leader Charles Dodgson.
I know this series is slated to end with the last issue of ESCAPE FROM WONDERLAND, but these little vignettes could in theory live on when the main series has drawn to a close. If they continue on the same quality as the past TALES exploits, this is one fan that will definitely stay lost in WONDERLAND.
Writer: Antonio Romero Art: Antonio Romero Publisher: ARTiCHOKE PRESENTS Reviewer: Mr. Pasty“I want it to matter…”
On the surface, FLYING SOLO is a story about the seemingly insurmountable task of creating a comic book from scratch. Sitting in front of a sketchpad with nothing more than an overactive imagination and a pencil scarred from bites of procrastination while trying to imagine a distant end result would ordinarily be enough to fell most would-be artists.
What struck me about FLYING SOLO was how the journey to create a graphic novel that could reach potential readers, how the desire to connect with a story about fantastic people and places, so closely resembled our everyday lives. Romero is stingy with his text, but the absence of a structured narrative mirrored the emptiness of a man on a quest to bring his self-worth to the world’s attention. Anyone familiar with the trials and tribulations of creating an original piece of art, in any genre, will feel the pain of Romero’s circular progress. Like the force of an oncoming wave, ideas crash and bully their way across the page, only to be sucked back into the mind of the creator just as quickly in moments of doubt or disapproval.
Serving as both writer and artist in a story is often a slippery slope, as few talents possess the chops to excel in both. Having said that, there’s a great sequence in this book that features a sharply drawn superhero with a tall, majestic frame. He’s born in sort of an Adam-ish way but upon his creation spends the next few panels just standing around in a vast, white void. What happens next? Isn’t he supposed to fly somewhere or fight something or save someone? Probably. But if he did, would anyone care? Sometimes trying to find direction in the pursuit of our goals is like trying to cross the highway in “Frogger” – and Romero captures that angst with an unusual visual style.
At one point the story shifts through sequences of animation and still-life photographs. (Think of Neo jumping in and out of the Matrix). The first time it happens is a bit jarring, kind of like a visual speed bump. Romero takes a huge risk here but in the end makes it work with a brilliant final frame, reminding us that most of what we need to advance ourselves can be found in the little things around us.
How do you classify a book like FLYING SOLO? Well, it doesn’t have faraway worlds with hard to pronounce names populated by colorful superheroes that talk like Pericles while fighting shape-shifting villains. Nor does it have bent-over beauties with bargain basement powers that randomly stand around looking hot. Romero didn’t need any of that to succeed in creating an engaging and introspective story that stayed with me for quite some time after I had digested it. What he did need was the patience to tell a complex tale coupled with the faith in his readers to understand it. The boys over at some of the bigger publishing houses should try it sometime.
Final word: Romero wants it to matter. By FLYING SOLO, he succeeds.
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THE MARVELS PROJECT #2 (of 8)
Writer: Ed Brubaker Artist: Steve Epting Color art: Dave Stewart Published by: Marvel Comics Reviewed by: BottleImpI was initially lukewarm on this series, feeling that the set up of the first issue was too derivative of other works (KINGDOM COME and MARVELS especially) to hold much interest for the reader. However, the basic conceit of THE MARVELS PROJECT—that the most famous superheroes of that era did not spring forth spontaneously, but were the result of a superhuman arms race between America and the Axis powers—was an intriguing enough spin on the familiar origin stories to make me stick around for issue #2. And I’m glad that I did, because now that the groundwork for the plot has been laid, Brubaker and Co. are plunging ahead with their own story and leaving the resemblance to those other comics behind.
Once again Dr. Thomas Halloway, the everyman character who was given a glimpse of the future Marvel Universe by the dying hero the Two-Gun Kid, narrates the comic. In this issue Halloway takes up the cape and the mask and joins in the emerging Mystery Man boom as the crimefighting Angel. That’s right, kids—Marvel had an Angel before the X-Men, just as they had a Human Torch before the Fantastic Four and a Vision before the Avengers…but more on that later. As the Angel begins his exploits, the Human Torch explores his abilities as well as his humanity, while young American soldiers Red Hargrove and Nick Fury “liberate” German scientist Professor Abraham Erskine from the Nazis. Any comics reader worth his salt should know what Erskine is going to end up working on for good ol’ Uncle Sam. Great twist on an iconic origin, and very plausible, when one considers the contributions made in reality by German scientists to certain industries after the war had ended.
Like I said, the plot is really cooking now, and I’m digging the arms race theme, especially since Brubaker chooses to show both the Axis and Allied sides of the equation (how our narrator knows about all these secret government operations still remains to be seen, but I’ll ignore that for the moment). One of the most effective moments of the first issue was the scene of the Nazis fishing for the bodies of the Atlanteans that they had murdered with depth charges (now THERE’S a good reason for Namor to be pissed off!). In this issue we see that the Nazis have a superhuman from the last days of WWI frozen in suspended animation in their labs. The name “John Steele” mean anything to you? No? Well, me neither. And here I thought I knew my Golden Age characters. Oh, the mystery…
One of the other nice things about THE MARVELS PROJECT is that this series (along with THE TWELVE and the assorted anniversary one-shots that Marvel’s been publishing this past year) is finally giving a nod of respect to Marvel Comics’ long history. Obviously, some of these Golden Age characters have been active throughout much of Marvel’s publication history, Captain America and the Sub-Mariner especially, but most of the Timely heroes had been largely ignored, even when Golden Age fans such as Roy Thomas wrote about exploits of the Invaders. It is only recently that Marvel has done what DC has been doing for years with their characters in the pages of JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA, THE ALL-STAR SQUADRON, and other titles: building a richer tapestry for their universe by including all the threads that the company has woven. I, for one, applaud Marvel—as long as they keep exploring their history with good material like THE MARVELS PROJECT, rather than dreck like Ross’ and Krueger’s AVENGERS/INVADERS mini. Yech.
Great writing, great art—again, I’m blown away by how nice Epting’s work looks when it’s not being obscured by Tom Palmer’s inks, and Stewart’s color work adds wonderful moodiness to the linework—and all in all, a great treat for those of us who appreciate those obscure four-color characters from the days of our grandparents. I’m not usually one to buy into the hype machine that churns at either of the Big Two, but I’ve gotta admit, THE MARVELS PROJECT is some damn good reading.
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.
By Hiroya Oku Works. Released by Dark Horse Manga Reviewed by Scott GreenFor better or worse, GANTZ apparently comes into its own in volume 6, with its pop culture refracted focus set squarely on sex and violence. This outing opens with GANTZ's teen hero losing his virginity to a Laura Croft doppelganger (not an exaggeration of the woman's appearance) in the hallway before a mission debriefing. Then, the bug hunt alien stage in question turns out to be a showdown with stone kaiju Daimajin (stretching the point this time, the deity in question is Buddhist rather than Shinto).
While the manga still concerns brutalization by wish fulfillment, the worm has turned in favor of our protagonist. Volume one opened with its Holden Caulfield-esque hero mentally urinating on the commuters waiting with him on a subway platform. A chance meeting with a childhood friend ends with the young misanthrope guilted onto the track in an ill advised attempt to rescue an inebriated vagrant. From his death by oncoming express train, he's carbon copied and reconstituted in a room with a number of fellow recently deceased. The understandably bewildered teen is given guns, what Warren Ellis would call a perv suit, the mission to terminate some ugly looking "aliens" and the opportunity to prove that he is in fact smarter than the average bear. Instead, his power fantasy metastasizes, as he scrapes by, generally panicking or outsmarting himself rather than proving that he's more effective than the bullies, psychopaths, and victims who get mushed up by the alien targets.
GANTZ is still acerbic throughout its sixth volume. It offers its subjects little margin of error, with those who are stupid or act stupidly getting croaked in graphically nasty ways. What's changed is that the hero is now getting his way. His teenage hormonal drives are satisfied by a hot young woman who latches onto him moments after the pair meet. His ego is satisfied when he does succeed in becoming a brave, effective battle commander. GANTZ previously oscillated between "mature" - as in capturing a thoughtful, adult perspective - and "mature" - as in keep it away from the youngsters. If volume six is in fact a significant point in the trajectory, Hiroya Oku has committed to the latter. In early volumes, part of what was interesting about GANTZ was that its hero was the guy who showed an abundance of potential as a kid, who never realized that promise - whose most developed talent is making himself unhappy. With the guy now living up to his potential and getting what he wants, Oku has steered GANTZ away from serving as a critique of its genre.
The lead achieves his aims in this volume, but he has not grown up. If anything, the manga is rewarding adolescent behavior. Croft-san falls for the lead when she sees him crying. She accepts his childishly awkward, proposal for sex.
"If there's something worrying you, you can tell me...just think of me as your trusted older sister." "Let me...do it." "Huh? WHAT?" "You know...have sex with me."
She later finds his homophobia cute when he becomes uncomfortable with the joking insinuation that he's gay.
The combat effectiveness follows a similar pattern of power through juvenile behavior. The fight between copied dead people and aliens has always adhered to a game metaphor. There's mission objectives and points awarded. The equipment and weapons are decidedly game like. Despite the consequences, the hero now seems to be winning because he's figured out the game and used that familiarity to let loose.
Where I was once intrigued by GANTZ' seeming indictment of the stories and characters that it was working with, I'm now a bit uncomfortable with its implications. Yet, while my estimation of GANTZ might be falling, I am still a sucker for reading a manga tear things up, and GANTZ will continue to be a series that I anticipate volume to volume.
Oku has smeared his faced with the blood of the deceased short time cast members and launched into a ramming speed charge towards grisly glory. The Otaku Encyclopedia talks about kichiku-kei, "extremely brutal or sexually violent" works, considered to have been born from the pen of dirty uncle of manga GO NAGAI. Oku seems set on trumping prior works from this kichiku-kei tradition. The momentum of GANTZ is carrying it towards producing the biggest, nastiest action manga spectacle possible.
GANTZ did not entirely drop its intelligence. The resurrected returnees that make it back to the bare apartment that serves as a waiting room between the often fatal alien hunting sorties include protagonist Kei Kurono, along with peers Masaru Kato, a big, buff, handsome and noble guy who at least initially possessed the moral certainty that Kurono lacked, and Kei Kishimoto, a busty girl who previously shacked up with Kurono out of necessity. "When I saw you crying... my heart skipped a beat." With that, Kurono has an in with Sakuraoka Sei, the Tomb Raider body double. This is not a hidden moment of lust and Kishimoto finds them in the act. With Kishimoto stomping off, it's not exactly Lev Grossman's THE MAGICIANS with its character dynamic, but it is provocative. Kurono's about to go into a desperate battle. Not that Kishimoto is a willful or confident character, but survival dictates that they should work together. You have to wonder if Kurono's emotional recklessness introduced a fatal flaw into the bond between the few combatants who actually might have cared about each other.
Also in those opening pages, Kato debates a Buddhist priest who interprets the predicaments as a pre-eternal destination purgatory. It's not a brilliant discourse, but it is understandable and interesting to see people in this extreme situation question their problems in this way. At least for his males, Oku has a knack for openings his characters' heads and offering a view of how they react to stimuli. Caged in demonstrably desperate situations, the subjects question their decisions, arrive at optimal solutions, maybe trade morality for survival and in some cases, embrace folly. You might rage for them or rage at them, but at least it's involving.
Provocativeness aside, this is primarily an action volume of an action manga. It's also the "not-victims" go around in the horror grinder. With two missions under their belts, the heroes are now veterans of these sadistic bug hunts and have some sense of how to handle the situation. Previous missions teamed the above mentioned heroes with corrupt politicians, school teachers, grannies, ineffectual yakuza toughs and ineffectual biker gang toughs. The latest group is a bit more business-ready. In addition to the teen trio, a dog who improbably survived the prior missions, a Sadako-like loner who hovered in the background except for a nicely played save in the last outing, Ms faux-Croft and the Buddhist agitator, there's few everymen who for the most part at least adapt to the situation intelligently, a guy who's either military or more likely someone who died playing military otaku, a sniper and a number of species of martial artists, including a burly karateka in his gi (how all these young, healthy people might have died on this night is a bit of a conceit), a presumably MMA grappler dressed like he's been out pimpin' and a wild haired kicker (I can't identify the particular niche of this last one). The black Gantz sphere instructs the would-be hunters to "finish off" the "Berserker Alien" and the "Ill Tempered Alien" - a pair of Buddhist statues in the throes of divine rage. And, after Kuruno's hallway tryst and Kato's metaphysical debate, he ad hoc crew of the kindof-undead gather their gear (the smart ones at least) and are tossed onto the gates of a shrine where they're soon at battle with a pair of monumental statues. Given the disorganized slaughter of the previous fights and the argumentativeness of the crowd, it's amazing, but not entirely unbelievable, that Kurono is able to marshal these inglorious basterds for a bit of angry statue pulverization.
Oku employs a process of digitally inking 3D models in the manga. Something similar is seen in the ninja death match manga Basilisk. It's not a great strategy for creating talking scenes, with characters seeming to speak directly at the reader. It is useful for adding an extra impression of dimension to the depiction busty of young women. Oku actually has a fair amount of self control when it comes to not twisting how he frames panels to sexualize his female characters - he addresses that directly in between battle circumstances and pin-up illustrations for chapter title pages, featuring characters in suggestive poses divorced from the tone or events of the internal material.
The technique also pays dividends in establishing the scale and physicality of the manga's action set pieces. Manga is a medium capable of capturing almost anything an artist can visualize. That represents a challenge, and in Oku's case, the dare becomes gleefully embracing the "mature" tag and piling on the biggest, bloodiest, weirdest cataclysm possible. He's not the first manga artist to play with the idea that a person or being with super powers could really mess up an opponent, but with those 3D models, he gives himself a visceral advantage in the rend, splat and boom department. While earlier volumes largely featured extravagantly unnerving beasties doing their worst, volume six commences with human beings in super suits (hi, G.I JOE: RISE OF COBRA) and sci-fi weaponry giving as good as they get. I'm no longer convinced that this is going anywhere meaningful, but that doesn't slow GANTZ's wild ride to hell.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for over eight years. If you like what you see here and love anime & manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column every week on AICN.