Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. I have a special treat for you guys here at the top of the column. Check out this very cool preview of Zenescope’s new series from Raven Gregory, THE WAKING. Can’t wait to check this one out!
And now, on with the reviews…
DC UNIVERSE HOLIDAY SPECIAL ’09 One-Shot
Written and drawn by: A whole lotta people Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: BottleImpI’m not exactly sure why it is, but I’m a sucker for DC’s holiday anthologies. It’s definitely not because of the quality of the content—even at best, the anthology format doesn’t give the reader enough material to really get that satisfaction that comes from experiencing a well-told story. The price doesn’t help matters, either—for six bucks I could pick up a full-length paperback novel and get that “whole story” enjoyment that I mentioned. No, I think the thing that keeps me coming back to DC’s holiday specials is that for a brief moment those iconic (and not-so-iconic) characters can be stripped of the burdens of continuity and the gloom-and-doom tone that seems to pervade their titles during the rest of the year, and we get a chance to see these superheroes in a brighter, more positive light.
This year’s special, I’m happy to say, is much better than last year’s hit-or-miss Christmas anthology (and miles ahead of the half-assed Halloween issue). The quality of the stories is good across the board, if not spectacular, and the artwork showcases a wide variety of drawing styles. Here are a few of the standout chapters:
“The Flash Before Christmas,” written by Amy Wolfram and drawn by Daniel Leister. Wally West has always been the down-to-earth everyman of the superhero pantheon, and this quality lends itself well to this down-to-earth tale of a husband and father trying to get everything done that needs to be done in time for Christmas.
“The Christmas of Doom,” written by Sterling Gates and drawn by Jonboy Meyers. Though I’m not a huge fan of Meyers’ quasi-manga style, the overall tone works well in this telling of how Beast Boy became the adopted son of the Doom Patrol’s Mento and Elasti-Girl. It’s a sweet story without being saccharine.
“Reason for the Season,” written by Fred Van Lente and drawn by Nick Dragotta. J’onn J’onzz (aka the Martian Manhunter) is one of my all-time favorite characters, so I was glad to see him so well-represented in this Christmas tale. Van Lente brings us back to the Manhunter’s early days on Earth during the 1950s in a tale of the alien’s search for a sense of family and belonging. Dragotta, whose clean, graphic art brings to mind Darwyn Cooke and Eduardo Barretto, provides the perfect visual accompaniment for this story.
“A Peace on Earth,” written and drawn by Billy Tucci. Without a doubt, Tucci’s story is the artistic pinnacle of this issue, as he presents a moment when the American Sergeant Rock and a German soldier can lay their weapons aside on Christmas and celebrate their mutual humanity. I’m a little perplexed as to why the editors chose to follow this story with the almost identically themed “Stille Nacht,” starring the Enemy Ace, but I suppose the two differ enough in execution that it doesn’t come off as too repetitive. The Sgt. Rock story still wins, though.
Bonus points to DC for throwing in a couple of Jewish characters, too! In “Man of Snow,” written by Arie Kaplan and drawn by Nick Runge, Superman runs afoul of a snow golem. And in “Seeing the Light,” written by Rob Levin and drawn by Brian Ching, the Jewish hero Ragman muses on the history behind the traditions of Hanukkah.
Is it exciting reading? Not really. The best adjective I could use would be “comfortable.” You’re definitely not going to be challenged or shocked by anything printed on these pages. But as current continuity bogs down DC’s characters in death, despair and dreariness, it’s refreshing to look at them like a child, and recapture a little bit of the innocence that comic books used to have way back when they were still for kids.
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 here. He’s given up comics more times than he can remember. But every time he thinks he's out, they pull him back in.
NATION X #1
Writers: Various Artists: Various and Mike Allred Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheWell, this was a nice exercise in “unnecessary.” If the macroscopic view of the new mutant nation running through UNCANNY, LEGACY, X-FORCE etc. wasn’t enough for you, NATION X presents four “very special” microscopic moments in the lives of mutants. I don’t mean “very special” in the sense of Pa Ingalls trying to help Albert through his morphine addiction, I mean the other special, the one that goes right before Olympics. Ranging from the pedestrian to the illogical, die hard mutie junkies like me will give the book a collective “meh,” while newbies and the occasional mutie lover will just be down right pissed off they spent $4.00 on this grab bag.
“The Ghost of Asteroid M” — This one was so sugar coated, I believe I developed Type II diabetes by the time I hit the last panel. We all know how much kids love homicidal maniacs and how trustworthy Magneto is, so it makes sense that when the mutie kids discover a ghost in the subterranean layers of NATION X that Magneto is the one sent to check it out with them. Turns out the ghost was just a holographic warning Magneto left behind when the island was Asteroid M. Why he left this death message is not clear, since it basically states “I have been defeated.” Why kids that have been in space, stared down death and fought invaders from parallel dimensions are scared of a hologram is anyone’s guess. Why I’m still talking about this story is simply to save another fan of the comic medium from having to read this insipid tale. Really the only cool part was that one of the kids likes to curse. Since I’m not a parent I can still find foul mouthed children funny.
“Road Trip” — I was pretty harsh on Mr. Allred’s work on FABLES. Mike’s throwback sixties style just doesn’t work when trying to create “normal” looking people. As we learned on X-STATIX, though, mutants are his motherfucking wheelhouse. The art in this vignette was outstanding; welcome back, Mike. The story…was about a road trip. I know, big shock there. Apparently Wolverine and Nightcrawler need to get some sort of liquid to the island since they are driving a tanker truck. Wolverine gets in a fight, Nightcrawler acts as the voice of reason and the whole story ends with Wolverine admitting he actually likes and respects Scott Summers. Everyone with me now -- “awwwww.” How the tanker gets from the mainland to the island is left a mystery, or I guess we could call it a cliffhanger. Perhaps it will get there with a big BAMF, or maybe they will send the Blackbird to pick it up. Perhaps issue 2 will settle this mystery. Never mind, I just stopped caring.
“Cold Shoulder” — It doesn’t take a member of MENSA to deduce this one focuses on Iceman. Instead of “Cold Shoulder”, though, I think I would have titled this piece “The Iceman Careth.” We learn in the beginning that Bobby Drake is generally an aloof douche, with more bravado than brains. Unless this is the first X-Men issue you ever picked up off the shelves, I would call this the most unnecessary exposition I’ve seen since the first ten minutes of “Titanic”. Somewhere in the middle, a mentally unbalanced mutant named Stinger, who was once a bad gal, cries and whines about the current state of mutant affairs. Bobby tells her all will be well and kind of hits on her. End scene. End also any level of respect I once had for calling myself a comic collector.
“Testament” — Colossus is the one character who I always found to be way more interesting dead than alive. When he sacrificed himself to stop the Legacy virus, he transcended from being Mr. Kitty Pride to a Jesus-like status within the X-verse. But since his resurrection in ASTONISHING (damn you Whedon) he has been a vehicle for one morose tale after another. Fear not, “Testament” doesn’t disappoint in making you want to take a warm bath with a sharp razor. Piotr is working on the X-shaped version of the Vietnam Memorial when his sister Illyana (the only Rasputin I ever wanted to be brought to life) gets him to teach some of the junior X-Men how to work a plow. Yeah, that’s really the plot. Of course there is a moral and a lesson, but it’s one we’ve heard a hundred times over: live for today not in the past. Thanks, my life is so much clearer now.
Being an unabashed X-fanatic means I couldn’t have hated this tale. It gave me more time with characters I love. But keep in mind, I’m clinically insane. Unless you are both an X-fanatic and insane as well you will be thoroughly annoyed at this retread of stories past.
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."
Creative Crew: Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeSometime we humans are capable of such great things, but occasionally we just need a little nudge to actually accomplish them. Or, probably more commonly, sometimes we humans put up with the most mundane fucking shit in our lives and just need to find that little spark to push out of the funk that holds us down. Those themes are pretty recurring in other forms of media, but I’ve noticed tend to be relatively quiet in the world of comics. Sure, occasionally you find one of the Capes and Tights bunch having a bit of an existential crisis, but then they hop off their gargoyle and punch a mugger. And that’s why we have something like Vertigo. Thanks to it here we are with the wunderkind sibling pairing of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon to tackle such a tale, in this case of a man named Bras, who resents his father, mundanely writes obituaries for the local paper whilst trying desperately to crank out a novel, and is rewarded for his efforts with a bullet in the face on his birthday.
The real reason I think DAYTRIPPER pulled me in so much is the nonchalant way it pulls you into Bras’ life. Starting with some excerpts from some obituaries he has recently written we get the camera pulling out; the book then opens with our lead with a startled face and a large swath of crimson on his suit. It starts out very AMERICAN BEAUTY in a way, except there is no reason for us to know Bras too will be visiting his end shortly. From there we just watch as Bras goes about his daily life, and that is what really gets you at the end I think, and why Ba and Moon need to be applauded for their execution. Bras’ life is a bit boring, yes, but not any more so than any of ours, and all he needs is bit of continual nudging to get things moving a bit to make it a less mind-numbing existence. And then, just like that, there’s cordite in the air and Bras is no more. That is what really makes this a tragic piece of work, I think.
I think what made this issue hit home was a bit of a personal flavor. Not to make this any sort of weepy bullshit biographical piece on my end, but I find myself sometimes in the situation that Bras did with his life, as I imagine we all do. It’s not that I do not lead a good life not all too unlike Bras I’ve got a great family (but with no fatherly resentment on my end), great friends, a beautiful fiancée, but my god can it be so mundane. I know there just needs to be something a bit better, something pertinent. I too hate my day job, so that’s why I am working on a Master’s degree, probably even a PhD, might even become a professor to bring some relevance to my existence much like Bras hopes to with his book. And that’s why the end hit so well with me I would imagine, because the entire time I could not help but think, “Fuck, what if I die before I figure it all out?”, if we ever truly do make sense of this thing called life that is.
I honestly do not know where this book is going to go now, but no matter what I will be there and this book will be one of the most anticipated in my stack. Looking at the solicit for the next issue it almost seems as though nothing has happened, which either means maybe Bras doesn’t bite it in the end, or this becomes very ethereal, or fuck, maybe even goes towards a different movie and gets all GROUNDHOG DAY on our asses. Again, don’t care. Every bit of this book was perfectly executed, from the way the story was presented to the art chores to Dave Stewart’s ungodly coloring abilities and on and on. If any of the subsequent issues of can even match a fraction of the emotional resonance this debut issue brought to the table, then this series will be a rousing success all said.
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.
SOUL STEALER: BOOK TWO – BLOOD AND RAIN
Writer: Michael Eason Artist: Christopher Shy Publisher: DMF Comics Reviewed by Professor Challenger“True evil is when we refuse to recognize the weakness in ourselves.” --Vanth
Rarely do I begin a review by addressing the artwork. My usual course is background, followed by story, followed by art. But in this case I will make an exception. Even without a compelling story, SOUL STEALER would be worth owning and devouring simply for the artwork. Christopher Shy of Studio Ronin fame is the artist and the combination of photography and digital painting merge together to create a uniquely modern fine art approach to storytelling. Similar in technique to Dave McKean’s work, Shy uses colors and images to create mood and evoke emotion in the reader in a way I don’t often encounter in a comic book. Shy’s approach to this project elevates the graphic side of the SOUL STEALER saga to a level rarely achieved in the graphic novel form. His work astounded me.
So, beautiful artwork aside, SOUL STEALER: BOOK TWO is the second of three volumes to be published so far in this truly mythical and dark fantasy about a human, Kalan, with the power to bring souls back from the Underworld. Granted with a type of immortality, he wanders through the centuries on a quest to reunite with the love of his life, his similarly immortal wife, Oxania, who was lost to him because of the Faustian bargain he made to attain immortality.
There are so many thematic elements to this story that touch on mythic archetypes. There are elements of Frankenstein and Faust but also Icarus and Orpheus. Couple these mythic elements with the grand barbaric fantasy of Robert E. Howard and bring it all into a modern apocalyptic fictional fantasy world replete with preternaturally empowered assassins and automatic firearms and you have just a superficial glimpse at what writer Michael Easton has created here. There is both a simplicity and a depth to his approach here that eclipses many who delve into horror within the comic book field. None of the brutality and darkness within this story seems to be intentionally titillating or shocking. Yet, there is a true horror to it. The emptiness and self-loathing that drives Kalan is so profoundly human and relatable that the extremes of sadness, hatred, love, hate, and confusion that bombard him are felt by the reader.
I found SOUL STEALER to be an emotional read for me. The complex duality of the words and the art in imparting the story was moving on many levels. It is not a “feel good” story in any sense; though there are moments of triumph and love, mainly there is darkness and sadness. So, know what you are in for with the SOUL STEALER saga. It may be one of the most profound experiences you will remember in sitting back to read a graphic novel. The debate may continue to rage for many more years, but if any recent graphic novel qualifies to be labeled “literature” then SOUL STEALER surely merits the classification. I would recommend that if you haven’t read BOOK ONE yet that you read it first because the two books read much better together. The conclusion is scheduled for the spring of 2010 and I for one am anxiously awaiting it.
“Prof. Challenger” is secretly Texas artist Keith Howell and he resides in the Austin area. He likes spare time, but has very little of it while working for an educational publisher, teaching Legal Research & Writing, illustrating the occasional book or cover, and attempting to maintain a happy home with the wife and 2 kids. But hey, that’s just how it goes, right?
PUNISHER MAX #2
Writer: Jason Aaron Art: Steve Dillon Publisher: Marvel Max Reviewer: Mr. PastyLet’s start off by saying this review isn’t for the weak or timid. How can it be? PUNISHER MAX: KINGPIN #2 has someone getting fucked in the ass about midway through the story – and for once it’s not the reader, who usually bleeds green and silver only to be patched up with a poorly recycled band-aid. Fans were critical of the first KINGPIN offering because they didn’t feel it lived up to the MAX name. Well, if sodomy and patricide aren’t MAX enough for you, I suggest you go to Blockbuster and rent STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN LI. Outside of TWO GIRLS, ONE CUP, I can’t recall a film that made me feel so bad about humanity.
Speaking of humanity, or lack thereof, the Kingpin is back and ready to make his big move by slowly positioning his pieces across the underworld chessboard. Everyone plays a role in his grand scheme including his boss and especially the Punisher. And that’s really why this book shines. Instead of a cover-to-cover retread of the Frank Castle Show, which is getting more and more like Dr. Phil with automatic weapons, the narrative follows Wilson Fisk for a day on the streets. Interspersed between those power moves are random flashbacks to not-so-random events in his life that better explain why he’s such a ruthless son of a bitch.
What’s also great about this story is how the Kingpin and Punisher are woven together like two men on the same journey in separate universes. For the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, I started to see Frank Castle in an unforgiving light. As his mission mirrors the mission of Wilson Fisk, so too, does his means of getting there. You talk, or you die. Sometimes you talk AND you die but for the purposes of these men it may be the only way to keep a secret. One thing that isn’t a secret is the blunt pencil of Steve Dillon. It has a matter-of-fact tone to it that is a departure from the standard MAX fare, but to me it fits the Fisk personality perfectly: Stoic, morose, eerily corpse-like in his demeanor. It’s almost like there’s nothing behind those eyes except a man who is already dead. Did I mention how closely he resembles The Punisher?
I’ve always been very fickle about my crime bosses. I normally detest them because they never seem to be anything more than one-dimensional cartoon characters. The Kingpin is not presented as a wise-cracking psychopath or a brooding menace, rather a man who wants to watch the world suffer. The fact that he tries to live like a “normal” person in an effort to cleanse himself of that burden makes the scenes with his unsuspecting son and fragile wife all the more engrossing. It’s going to end badly – it has to – but those extra layers make a case for sympathy in spite of the ever-climbing body count.
You can take Jason Aaron to task for the pacing because there are a few potholes along the way that seem to have been quickly filled in. But in the end, it really didn’t bother me because he’s managed to create a terrifying world populated by characters so despicable in their motives (both good and bad) that it’s not unforgivable to wish for a wooden ark and two months of rain. I like comics that generate real emotions. KINGPIN #2 is one of them.
Final word: PUNISHER MAX: KINGPIN #2 honors the MAX brand with a fearless look at one man’s obsession to destroy everything he’s come to hate -- and kill anyone who stands in his way. Oh, and it has a nice look at the Punisher too.
Web heads who can’t get enough of Mr. Pasty’s word vomit are encouraged to watch him operate as Nostradumbass over at here. MMAmania.com. Love, hate and Mafia Wars requests should be directed here.
TANK GIRL: SKIDMARKS # 1
Written by: Alan Martin Illustrated by: Rufus Dayglo Published by: Titan Books Reviewed by: superheroThere’s an old saying that basically says “You can’t go home again.” For the most part that’s very true but TANK GIRL: SKIDMARKS proves that maybe you can at least stop by for a visit.
I’ve been pretty much the Tank Girl whore amongst the @$$holes. With every new Tank Girl book that Titan Books puts out I’ve followed them up with glowing praise and an affection that isn’t necessarily normal to have for a comic book. I was a big fan of the original adventures of Tank Girl and mostly of Jaime Hewlett’s art. I’ve gone on record as stating that the Tank Girl comics opened up a whole new world to me when I needed something to save me from the tirade of X-Books that had swallowed up comic shops in the early‘90’s. Of course, Tank Girl wasn’t the only creation that opened my eyes to a world outside of Marvel and DC, but it was one of the most influential ones. Tank Girl made an impact on me that not many books did and that’s saying a lot because back in those days I read a lot of comics. A lot.
So does this new Tank Girl series live up to its predecessors? Is it as good as the Martin and Hewlett years? As someone who’s gone on record as saying that I just didn’t see any reason to read Tank Girl stories without Jamie Hewlett doing the art I can honestly say no, it’s not. But in the same vein it’s really not a fair comparison to make. It’s obvious to me that I hold the original Tank Girl stories up on a pedestal that can never be reached by any other creative team. Hell, even when Phillip Bond was filling in for Hewlett back in the day I almost went apoplectic. So is it fair for me to say that TANK GIRL: SKIDMARKS isn’t a good book because it isn’t Hewlett and Martin Tank Girl? No, it’s not. Because TANK GIRL: SKIDMARKS is a very fun read in and of itself.
SKIDMARKS is a Tank Girl that is very much the same as many of the original Tank Girl stories but very different as well. For starters, it’s attempting to present a coherent story within its pages. Anyone who’s read the original Tank Girl comics knows that there’s one thing that Tank Girl lacked and that was a straight narrative. Tank Girl stories, at least the books that I have and remember, were short bursts of inspired madness. Here Martin and Dayglo present a more standard configuration to Tank Girl’s adventures in that, well, there’s actually a story that spans the whole book…and looks like it’ll go through the whole run of the mini series. It looks like this TG tale will have some sort of structure to it, which already makes it a very different read from the stuff I’m used to. Which is fine as it’s still got the foul mouthed zaniness that Tank Girl is known and loved for.
In this outing Tank Girl and Booga are involved in a race to try and win a shit-ton of money for their friend who’s gone and put herself in a coma because of a skateboarding accident. It’s a race without rules and you can just imagine what kind of nonsense Tank Girl and Booga get into. It’s basically a version the old cartoon show “Wacky Races” on acid and if that description doesn’t appeal to you then I don’t know what will. It’s essentially a Saturday morning cartoon romp if cartoons had swearing and ultra violence and it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a Tank Girl adventure of old.
The one thing I’d like to acknowledge is Rufus Dayglo’s art. I stated earlier in this review that I thought a Tank girl story without Jaime Hewlett wouldn’t be worth reading…well, I could be wrong about that when it comes to Rufus Dayglo. Don’t get me wrong, Dayglo doesn’t approach the lunatic genius of Jaime Hewlett but he is a very talented cartoonist in his own right. I actually enjoyed his rendition of Tank Girl very much. It’s very much its own style but with a bit of nod to what’s come before. I think Dayglo is a talent to look out for and I hope that they keep him on board for any further Tank Girl comics. If Hewlett can’t do it then Dayglo is a fine replacement.
The one person that the creators of TANK GIRL: SKIDMARKS might want to think about replacing is their colorist…or their printer. I don’t know whose fault it is but to me the colors in SKIDMARKS looked muddy and uninspired -- almost oversaturated to the point of being overly dark. I’m fine with a darker color palette but the job here looks almost amateurish and rushed. Luckily it doesn’t ruin the art itself but it is a distraction. Obviously by now it’s too late to fix the problem but in future issues I’d rethink the color strategy for this book. Dayglow’s artwork is too good to be lost in a mediocre coloring job.
The other problem that I have with this book is the cover price. Yep, it’s another four dollar comic book. I guess it’s the new reality of the comics biz but that doesn’t mean I have to buy into it…no pun intended. Not to mention that Titan Books hid the cost on the back cover of the book. Shame on you, Titan Books, shame. As much as I enjoyed this book the cover price pretty much means I’ll just be picking it up in trade. But if you don’t mind paying four dollars for a comic book you could do a lot worse than spending it on this book. It’ll be hard for me to wait for the trade but when that day comes I look forward to reading this Tank Girl adventure and knowing that the old girl is in good hands again.
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.
JONAH HEX #50
Writer: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray Art: Darwyn Cooke Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugSimply put, this is the most consistently spectacular comic DC is publishing this year. I picked this book up a while back, but didn’t get to it until this weekend and damn am I kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. This anniversary issue is one of the strongest in a run of steel hard strong stories from the two guys who have been doin’ it like no other from issue #1, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.
Having just wrapped up a multi-part arc featuring just about every cur and cuss Hex has crossed paths with and let live, Palmiotti and Gray go back to the done-in-one format with this fiftieth issue. And boy, is it a doozy. This issue’s story is the kind of Western tale that could make Sergio Leone rise from the grave and say “God damn!” (although that’d probably be in Italian). It’s the kind of Western story that would even make the stone face of Clint Eastwood crack a smile. It’s the kind of Western that oozes grit and spits in your face fer lookin’ at it funny.
I don’t want to give too much away, but it revolves around the relationship of Jonah Hex and the one person in the whole wide West that may be even tougher than him, Tallulah Black. Black is a reoccurring character; a woman with a past as scarred as her face. One might say the relationship between Black and Hex was a physical one. Hex would say that too, but it’d be a lie. Deep down, Hex cares for her and her him. Their bond runs as deep as the scars on their faces, but they’re just too damn tough to admit it. So after a particularly rowdy romp in the hay, Black finds herself with child and sets off to settle down…without Hex. But Hex is a man that trouble seems to follow, and that goes for those associated with Hex too. What unfolds is as exciting and as tragic and as mesmerizing a story as you’ll come across this year.
This double sized issue is worth every 399 pennies. Filled from start to finish, I was transfixed to the page from cover to cover. And did I mention it’s drawn by Darwyn Cooke? Well, it is. Cooke infuses his cartoony characters with grit and swagger in this book, but never forgets the chance to toss in a little comedy. Many of the memorable tiny moments of this issue belong to Cooke, who fills panels with Hex’s cold stare one minute, then distracts us with a man fighting a dog for his hat in the background the next. Cooke’s power to convey motion is like no other and here he’s at the top of his game. One panel keeps popping into my head: the one where Hex blows a fleeing man’s head off as he runs from an outhouse and the splatter spurts in the direction he is running. Simply amazing and original. If not for the phenomenal story, the art alone makes this a must buy.
I for one can’t wait to see JONAH HEX on the big screen, but at the same time, I’m biting my nails in trepidation that it won’t live up to the phenomenal stories Palmiotti and Gray are churning out. Even if the movie is a stinker, I hope P&G stay on JONAH HEX for a long time. Their fifty issue run has been one of the most consistently knock-‘em-out-of-the-park reads for years now, but with this fiftieth issue, they truly outdid themselves. I can’t recommend this issue more.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over eight years and one of the original @$$holes. Check out his comic book shorts 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 and here and here about his latest comic from Bluewater Comics, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS: THE TINGLER #1-2. Look for more comics from Bug in 2010 from Bluewater, including VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS WITCHFINDER GENERAL, ROGER CORMAN PRESENTS DEATHSPORT, and the just announced vampire miniseries NANNY & HANK (and check out Jazma Online’s new interview with Bug about NANNY & HANK here).
A SECOND CHANCE AT SARAH #1
Writer: Neil Druckmann Artist: Joysuke Wong Publisher: Ape Entertainment Reviewer: Optimous DoucheThis right here is why I review for AICN. To get the opportunity to showcase indie books that otherwise would go unnoticed gives me satisfaction beyond compare. No, this is not a sequel to “Saving Sarah Marshall” nor is it paying homage to Sarah Conner, despite the fact the book involves time travel. What this title does showcase is the unwavering power that love holds over all of us and the sacrifices we must make in life for the ultimate greater good.
Time travel stories can be tricky. Not from a “Star Trek”, “Oh shit, looks like we broke the space/time continuum again” standpoint, but more from a narrative perspective. The few morsels of this genre we’ve had in the past few years have faltered for one simple reason — selfishness. When someone goes back in time to correct their own mistakes (like the horrid shows that were on Fox and ABC a few years ago), it’s virtually impossible to gain the sympathies of the audience. However, when time travel is used for a more noble cause (no, not saving the fucking whales) like love and saving one’s family, it elevates the story beyond the sci-fi device to make you actually care about the people involved. Sure you remember the Delorean from “Back to the Future”, but what kept you riveted was whether or not Marty could save Doc Brown.
Druckmann concisely introduces and makes you empathize with the two main characters right from page one. John is a new father; his wife Sarah lies comatose in a hospital bed after giving birth to their first child. We quickly discover that Sarah at one point made a deal with the devil that placed her in this vegetative state. By the opening of the book, John has already discovered the talisman Sarah used to contact Beelzebub and has made a deal himself to save her. After a few chiding calls from the devil, John is whisked back to his days in high school when grunge was king and the internet appeared to be the salvation to all of our woes.
Once back in the 90s, John has less than 24 hours to undo this twisted satanic mess. All of which would be easy, except he has yet to actually speak to his future wife, much less make her believe his fantastic tale. What I appreciated most about this title was that Druckmann didn’t lower the piece into a comedy of errors. In most time travel stories, the time traveler does not want to be discovered as someone from the future. They concoct intricate stories, madcap hijinks ensue and in the end you are left with a “Three’s Company” episode, but with time travel. John offers no bullshit or pretense -- I’m a man from the future and I came back in time to save the woman I love. Of course Sarah thinks he’s crazy, but that’s part of the charm of this book. Watching as John breaks through Sarah’s defenses, to make her truly believe that what he’s saying is true, is when I truly fell for this title.
John eventually does break through to Sarah, but that’s only by the book’s half-way mark. The rest of the story is John and Sarah’s attempts to escape fate and save their unborn child. Are there sacrifices? Of course there are. The devil can’t lose completely. But the sacrifices only help to strengthen the bonds of love.
Wong is a force to be reckoned with. In a style I can only call manga meets Arkham Asylum, each panel seems to ooze off the page. The color choices were bar none, the present day is awash in the emotions of the characters – blue, drab, depressing. The past is as vibrant as we all remember it, with a false Technicolor that can only be conjured in memories, and the future, well the future is bright.
Also, for any guy out there that’s been trying to get the women in his life to buy into the whole comic obsession, I can’t think of a better place to start than A SECOND CHANCE AT SARAH.
ADVENTURE COMICS #5
Writers: Geoff Johns and Sterling Gates Pencils: Jerry Ordway Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: JinxoWhile I have generally enjoyed the “Blackest Night” event I do side with those who say the tie-ins are a bit repetitive: someone close to the hero is revived as a Black Lantern, they become excessively emotional and distraught, slapping ensues, the Black Lantern is usually stalemated. I mean, yes, it is their loved ones, but...if someone dead I knew came back looking all rotted and nasty, the "Oh, but I love them!" stuff would be out the door. Another problem I have had is that the best way to resist the BLs is to be utterly unemotional. Comics are all about over the top emotions. When the plot requires them to confront the villains with self-imposed apathy, that's just odd.
Taking all of this into account I kept thinking, man, I want to see a story oozing with emotion, where I buy the heroes being really distressed. I wish they could just come up with more variations on this theme. Like the Psycho Pirate's mask. That was a solid and different concept and, actually, a plot idea that needed to be dealt with. But the minute they said that the key to the Black Lantern's destruction was to hit them with the power of all the rings, of all the emotions, I instantly thought, wow, what they really need then is to have someone who can turn all their own emotions up to 11 at the same time, to become the living equivalent of merging the rings lights. But, ha ha ha, how could you do that. I mean, for someone to be able to have ALL those emotions firing at maximum simultaneously, why, he'd have to be an insane headcase!
Ladies and gentlemen, I present Superboy Prime. Ha! This is the crisis he really was made for. Stuck on house arrest on his own Earth, one like ours with no super heroes except in the pages of comics, the previous issue had the Black Lanterns hunting his therapy-needing ass down on his home world. This issue is the big throwdown and it knocks it out of the park. This is maybe my favorite moment of this event so far. It's a solid rollercoaster ride that is utterly unique from any of the other “Blackest Night” tie ins I've read. The start with Superboy Prime deciding to destroy those REALLY responsible for his pain was a very funny idea. Funny! In “Blackest Night”! Nice.
Then comes the main throwdown which fully sells and exploits the emotions and pain of the hero. Superboy Prime has forever been a raw nerve and in this book I buy the Black Lanterns getting to him. More than any other title, again, I buy his pain and emotional struggle.
I also like that while the other heroes have all seemed to pussyfoot around trying to figure out what best angle to take to fight the Black Lanterns, Superboy Prime is the one guy who just thinks WAY outside the box and makes dangerous choices in his fight. And as emotionally charged as the battle is, unlike the other books, in this story I got the sense of a real underlying chess match going on with moves and counter-moves. The Black Lanterns’ final move is one similar to what they've tried in other books but in this instance they set it up in such a way that I buy into it working so much more. It worked on me in a much stronger way. This book actually made me feel some sympathy for Superboy Prime. That alone is amazing.
Jinxo is Thom Holbrook, lifelong comic book reader, and the evil genius behind poobala.com. He may appear cute and cuddly but if encountered avoid eye contact and DO NOT attempt to feed.
The flavor is Indie. The reviewer is Ambush Bug. The losers…those who scroll past this section. The winners…those brave enough to check these slices of indie goodness out!
MACK TURNER: SLAYER OF THE DEAD #1 Timeless Journey ComicsMack Turner is one of those hard luck heroes that can’t seem to catch a break. Though he wants to fight crime like all the other cops and maybe get a chance to be Top Cop in the city, due to a series of events, he’s stuck patrolling the burbs. His glory-hound girlfriend just left him and if he had a dog, it’d probably get run over. Well, Mac’s luck is about to change…from bad to worse. Outside of the city, evil in the form of a zombie horde is forming and it seems Mac is destined to be the hero to take them down. Writer Kevin Powers seems to be going the Bruce Campbell route with this book. The tough talking hero isn’t afraid to use whatever blunt or bladed object handy to take on the undead beasties. Israel Gonzalez offers some strong art and seems to take his grue and gore seriously. Powers puts together a pretty fun adventure in this introductory issue and debut book from new comic company Timeless Journey Comics.
HAIRY THINGS: THE MISADVENTURES OF CLARK & JEFFERSON #1 Ape EntertainmentThere’s s a whole lot of pulpy Saturday afternoon matinee-style fun going on in this book. I was a fan of the previous miniseries featuring the brave Sheriff Clark and his cowardly deputy Jefferson. This issue reminded me why. Mixing the supernatural with a tale of the old west may be high concept, but it works amazingly well here. This time it isn’t aliens bothering our crusty cowboys. Looks to be some creatures of the Sasquatch variety are about to cross paths with our misfortunate pair of do-gooders. Along for the ride is Giving Bird, a Native American with a penchant for breaking middle fingers. One of the highlights of this book is the eye-popping art. Every panel is rich in tone and texture. The coloring is top notch as well, giving depth and a rich shine to every inch of the panel from background to foreground. This is a fine read -- one fans of pulps, old west stories, and the supernatural can all enjoy.
THE SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS OF ROOSTER JACK / THE VISIBLE ROOSTER JACK Space Race ComicsThis is a pretty fun tale featuring a band of flawed adventurers from creators Adam Hansen and Ben Zmith. Rooster Jack spends most of his time assessing his sorry crew and complaining about their inability to do anything, which is fun, but occasionally stalls the story a bit. Still, seeing the Thinkster silently judge folks never gets old and after reading through these two stories, I’m intrigued to find out more about Rooster’s mysterious rooster claw hand. THE VISIBLE ROOSTER JACK is the more recent of these two, signifying a large leap in quality between the books. But even though THE SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS isn’t as well written as its sequel, it does come with 3-D glasses, so it gets some points for that. Both are worth checking out. Hansen and Zmith offer up some laughs and some thrills along with a memorable cast of misfits.
NEW AVENGERS ANNUAL #3 Marvel ComicsPreviously on in the DARK REIGN: THE LIST: AVENGERS ONE SHOT, without telling the other New Avengers, Clint Barton set out to kill Norman Osborn. That didn't work out so well for him. This book picks up from that story with Clint in the custody of The Dark Avengers and The New Avengers discovering they have some rescuing to do. Essentially this is one more go round of the Born Loser Avengers squaring off against the Evil-But-Kinda-Dumb Avengers. Which, hey, is all good to me. I like watching these two teams of wanks beating the crap out of each other while they both also make just stupid stupid mistakes. It's fun. But at the same time, it does make you hanker for the return of solid kick-ass heroes of the past, for one of THEM to return and start setting things right. This issue sees the return of such a hero. Yes, Jessica Jones suits back up as the heroine Jewel (actually, since Jewel was retconned into continuity this was, in a way, her debut)! Ahem. Hey, they could have brought in Gem. That would have been truly outrageous. Stop throwing things at me!!! Wasn't that bad a joke. Anyway, as Avenger/Avenger rumbles go this was an enjoyable outing with some real consequences for the future. And, I must say, the end of the book got me more pumped than anything I've read in quite awhile. Really good last panel. - Jinxo
BATGIRL #5 DC ComicsI’m not saying that BATGIRL is one of the best bat-books out there, but I have to admit, the book did throw me for a loop when I found out it’s focusing on everyone’s favorite Gotham troublemaking girl, Stephanie Brown, aka The Spoiler. Props to DC for going unconventional with this new direction for Batgirl. So far, these first five issues have existed to establish the strained relationship between Barbara Gordon and Brown. They were necessary issues establishing the status quo. But it wasn’t until this issue that I felt as if the creative team became comfortable with the characters. Seeing Steph interact with the pre-teen Damian (Robin) was a treat. And as an added bonus, since we no longer have BIRDS OF PREY, we get some good Barbara drama as well with Dick in full Batman gear. There’s something cool about seeing Dick and Barbara trying (and failing) to act like wizened adults in this book as they try to be appropriate role models for the bickering Stephanie and Damian. This definitely isn’t my number one read, but it’s growing on me as the issues drop. I’m definitely rooting for this title because the potential for greatness is there. Miller is adding enough characterization to make Stephanie likable and seeing a blossoming relationship between the old and new Batgirls is pretty cool. Maybe this book can be more of a STARMAN like book where the book focuses on all Batgirls rather than just one (mainly because like Damian in this issue, I kind of long to see Cassandra Cain again). Until then, there’s definitely a lot to like about this title and hopefully sales will allow the series and the characters to grow into the big shoes Stephanie is trying to fill. - Bug
DEADPOOL #18 Marvel ComicsI have a real love/hate relationship going on with Marvel Comics’ most overexposed character. When the Deadpool book started with Deadpool playing Marx Brothers to the Skrull Empire...I loved it. Then they just kept putting out MORE and MORE titles. Oy! And then this particular book did that Deadpool Pirate story? Yikes. That one caused me to just say, "I'm out. No mas!" I didn't buy the next issue...at first. But then I spotted the NEXT issue and saw that he was annoying the hell out of the X-Men and...I couldn't help myself. I was intrigued. Thank God I was not disappointed. For me the whole story was worth it just for the madness of Deadpool's use of a chicken to terrify an X-Man into inaction. I...there are no words. I enjoyed the hell out of that. And I have to say I also really love this issue's cover. Using Domino and Deadpool to form a yin/yang, happy, gun standoff just seemed really fresh to me. So used to so many covers being a general action shot or a reworking of an existing known cover. I don't think I've seen someone use this concept before. And plotwise, I like the idea that while Deadpool is INsane, it is possible he's an insane genius and actually several moves ahead of the "smart" characters who underestimate him.
Next issue he's butting heads with Spider-Man. I'll see how that goes but, I swear to God, one more story like the pirate one and...that's it. - Jinxo