Hey folks, Ambush Bug here with a special announcement before we start with the reviews. Mark Millar of KICK-ASS and ULTIMATES fame is auctioning off the name for the title character in his upcoming book NEMESIS to raise money to buy a bus for a school for the handicapped that Millar’s brother teaches at. Highest bidder will be able to go down in comic book history for naming the world’s greatest super-villain! The bidding is up on eBay now and closes Thursday night. Interested? Just follow the link here for more details. Good luck, Mark!
And now, on with the reviews!
ULTIMATE X #1
Writer: Jeph Loeb Artist: Arthur Adams
ULTIMATE ENEMY #1
Writer: Brian Bendis Artist: Rafa Sandoval Publisher: Ultimate Marvel Reviewer: Optimous DoucheIn 2000 the Ultimate Universe rose like a Phoenix from the dead ashes of what was one of the most hellish decades in comicdom. It was a salvation from dwindling sales and strangling continuity, promising to reinvent the treasured characters of the Marvel Universe for the modern age.
After ten years of exceeding expectations the decision was made to let it all end. Well sort of…because here we are in 2010 with three Ultimate titles again. Naturally there is Bendis’ 800 pound comic gorilla ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, and now two new offerings, ULTIMATE ENEMY and ULTIMATE X.
This resurrection feels different though, less like a Phoenix and more like a Central Park pigeon with a busted wing rising to lamppost height after wafting a hearty cloud of that sweet sweet New York crack into its lungs.
None of the offerings are bad; all are surprisingly palatable as a matter of a fact. They just don’t seem anywhere near as delectable as what once was. Is this because ol’ Optimous is a fangeezer as opposed to a cherub faced fanboy? I don’t think so. I love a lot of new stuff. This doesn’t feel new, though. More like a resurrection akin to your grandmother that’s been dead for 14 years showing up on your doorstep, rotting flesh and all. You're happy to see her, but then again, not really.
I’ll say part of this is akin to FINAL CRISIS syndrome: the art of leveraging an old name for something that is entirely different. A name (and, more importantly, a brand) sets certain expectations. You learn this day one of corporate communications boot camp. When FINAL CRISIS raped the nostalgia of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS is it any wonder there was a revolt in the kingdom of Dorktopia? Ultimate is a brand that has set the expectation of new beginnings, not merely hitting a reset button on a universe we all bid a fond farewell to six months ago.
All right, I will now climb down from my Ultimate pulpit to take a Douche-eye look at this week’s Ultimate offerings.
ULTIMATE X definitely deserves top billing. The cover pretty much alludes to the story’s grand reveal, so I’m not sure if SPOILER ALERT is warranted, but regardless you have been warned. ULTIMATE X is the son of Wolverine. Growing up in the middle of trailer park alley, Jimmy is a strapping young man that knows he’s different, but doesn’t learn just how different he is until he flips his car in a drag race and heals almost instantly from injuries. An appearance by Kitty Pride explains that Jimmy’s lineage. Apparently Wolvie and Jimmy’s Dad were army buddies in Iraq. Like friends tend to do, Wolverine gives Jimmy to his buddy…well because. What, like none of you guys ever got a child as a birthday present? Get some new friends -- I’m collecting them like Beanie Babies. Naturally, I’m being flip; we can assume that Wolverine gave up the child knowing that his own life would be one shit storm after another. When Jimmy pops his claws and sees bone instead of metal, he is confused. Kitty lets him know that the metal was an after market add-on because Wolverine just didn’t think he would look good with a moon roof. Then Jimmy grows metal -- and therein lies the mystery of Ultimate X – we know who Dad is, but who the hell is Mom? Probably the highlight of this issue was the interactions between the “adults” of the book. There was just a genuine authentic feel with all of the conversations between Jimmy’s parents, and between Jimmy and his Dad at the end. Probably my only complaint was the fact that Jimmy’s adopted Mom looked like she was born five years after Jimmy and had just entered Junior High. No way I’m buying the fact this chick is in her late 30s.
I wanted desperately for ULTIMATE ENEMY to be a known Marvel character that is generally considered one of the good guys so I could do my ULTIMATE FRENEMY joke. Sadly, no such luck. For now it looks like the ULTIMATE ENEMY terrorizing New York is some kind of sentient afterbirth. This book serves as less of an original title and more of a check-in on the fully recovered world after the events of ULTIMATUM (does it bother anyone else that Magneto destroyed the globe and now everything is back to fine and dandy after a mere six months? Bygones).
The book opens with Jessica Drew, Spidergirl, seeking retribution against the corporate overlords that made her. I’ve never seen a character so ungrateful to exist. Then she sees Ultimate Afterbirth and we are whisked away to the life of the Ultimate FANTASTIC FOUR.
Reed Richards is living back at home. You know, like every other world-famous eighteen -year old. That is until the sentient afterbirth comes in through the Internet and blows up his house (I think that’s what blew up the house – I’m actually not sure, the blast was purple and so is the afterbirth so I’m making assumptions). That’s about all from Reed.
Then we check in on Sue Storm. This was by far the most memorable moments in this title and I would say one of Bendis’ top ten endearing moments. Sue is still being all sciencey in New York when she is visited by Air Force member Ben Grimm. I won’t do the moment justice so I won’t even try. Suffice to say, Ben professes his love for Sue and the unrequited glance she gives back was well worth the price of admission alone.
Given my natural negative tonality (grow up in Jersey and you’ll sound this way too) it would appear that I hated these books, which is simply not case. Both built mysteries that will bring me back for issue 2. While I’ll say this new kid friendly art style that seems to be permeating books is not to my liking, I understand the need for change. My real issue boils down to the same problem I had with FINAL CRISIS. Is it that hard to come up with new fucking names? Or, why did Marvel proclaim the end of the Ultimate universe if it wasn’t really the end? Ponderous, truly ponderous…
Optimous is lonely and needs friends. Even virtual ones will fill the gaping hole, join him on Facebook or he will cry like a newborn kitten.
BLACKEST NIGHT: THE QUESTION #37
Writer: Greg Rucka Art: Denys Cowan Publisher: DC Comics Guest Reviewer: KletusCasadyWhat do I know about the original Question? Not that much really. I know he’s kind of a detective type figure with no face…told you I didn’t know that much. One thing I learned about the Question is that his name (Charles Victor Szasz) is very similar to a certain Batman villain with a penchant for knives and self-inflicted pain. The new Question is currently featured in the back of DETECTIVE COMICS. I actually really like her story because it’s action packed and just enough filler to keep the story organically moving and the artwork by Cully Hamner (cool name) ain’t bad either. What I do know about the original Question, I learned from 52 and his story was pretty interesting. I’ve always liked heroes training someone to take on their mantle after they have passed on…I don’t know, it just seems like the right thing to do. I mean, you don’t want the legacy you built to disappear after you die, right? This is basically their story in 52: Victor Sage (the Question) was dying of cancer and had formed a close relationship with Rene Montoya, a cop from GothamCcity. He trains her to become the new Question before he dies of lung cancer thus making him a prime candidate for….drum roll please….a Black Lantern.
The story picks up with Renee meeting Tot (her intel/ Microchip/Oracle) who is apparently obsessed with life’s…wait for it…questions... I don’t really want to spoil the whole thing so I’ll try to do this with out falling back the synopsis. Basically they have a couple unexpected guests; the first is a certain female who trains people in advanced martial arts including one Tim Drake. The second guest is on the cover so if you can’t guess who that is then you probably shouldn’t be using the internet by yourself. Guest number 1 said they were there to fight the new Question and test Renee’s skills but when guest number 2 shows up, guest number 1 reveals their real reason for showing up which was to fight one of the undead Black Lanterns. Which I guess makes sense if you’re one of the best fighters in the world. You’d probably get bored kicking ass all across the globe and fighting a reincarnated hero with a black power ring is…well..something new so...what the hell?!? FIGHT!!! There are a few surprising moments in this issue, specifically a new way to deal with Black Lanterns that I haven’t seen explored in any other book, a technique that leaves the Black Lantern…well, I shouldn’t tell you that. The more Questions the better...get it...see what I did there…because it’s a book about a character called the...nevermind.
The artwork is done by Denys Cowan, who actually did the artwork for the 1987 series with Denny O’Neil (thank you wiki). I’ve always liked his artwork but it’s not the type of artwork that fits every book. He would be really good on DAREDEVIL or something similar where the tone of the book is very somber. Rick Leonardi (artist from VIGILANTE) has a very similar style with a lot of line work, which when done well gives the appearance that everything is moving, which is definitely cool during fight scenes. His style is sort of like a mix between Joe Kubert and Alex Maleev with a little more detail. A little known fact about Denys Cowan is that he did the artwork for one of the best hip hop albums (in my opinion) of the mid-90’s…who, you might you ask? (See, another question). Wu-Tang’s Gza: Liquid Swords, and he’s credited as Denys Cowan for DC Milestone Comics. Milestone coincidentally has a comic that comes out the same day. Did they do that on purpose or just a coincidence? Maybe that’s a question for…ok ok I’m done.
I recommend this book if you are into the BLACKEST NIGHT tie-ins or if you are into the Question and I imagine if you aren’t you’ll probably overlook this book. The story is interesting and easy to follow thanks to the all star team of Greg Rucka (Detective Comics, 52, Wonder Woman) and Denny O’Neil who has been writing DC comics since before I was born. The one thing I can say about Greg Rucka’s work is that everything that happens in his comics makes sense, meaning there is a logical progression to the actions his characters take without many “Well why would she do that if…” moments that some writers tend to over look. The artwork is pretty good, although I don’t think Denys Cowan’s art is as easily likable as some other artists, not that it’s bad, but his style is an acquired taste.
COLOR BLAST: VOLUME TWO
Writer: Jakob Westman Art: Jakob Westman Publisher: Strokirk-Landstoms AB Reviewer: Mr. PastyA funny thing happened this week on the way home from wasting my life. I found a large, black envelope waiting for me at my front door. The package was glossy and tightly wrapped and labeled with stamps that were clearly not United States issue. I immediately thought of the digital dump I took on DARK TIMES last week and wondered if shelling two straight STAR WARS books motivated ol’ Georgie to say thanks in a special way.
After convincing my mother-in-law to open it, I was pleasantly surprised to find a complimentary copy of COLOR BLAST: VOLUME TWO from Swedish Art Director Jakob Westman. For those of you new to the COLOR BLAST experience, it reads like a photographer’s portfolio -- assuming that photographer was on mescaline and taking screen captures of his mind. I’m not sure how Westman is able to create and sustain such lasting effects with such simplicity, but his creations are an exercise in synesthesia for the creatively impaired.
COLOR BLAST is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a blast of colors. But this isn’t some pretentious jack-off hurling watercolors at a jet engine, it’s more of a stained glass view of the real world. And I think that’s where this book triumphs. So many of the pictures, sometimes with little or no text to accompany it, leap off the page or even better, draw you into the book with an animated seductiveness not found in most of today’s “art.” One print in particular titled “Airport Vampires” astounded me with its story. Yes, story. A single page of art equates to several hours of deconstruction. That print in and of itself is why Westman has the gift, that eye for the fantastic in a world of mundane. I wasn’t sure I would “get it” at first, because I’m the kind of dope that stares at those 3D prints for hours on end with no clue as to what I’m supposed to be seeing.
Fortunately, COLOR BLAST is not a cheap gimmick or an experiment in ego. People tend to find value in art where none exists simply because they think they have to. Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar. But in Westman’s case, you see the cigar but your mind will see the humidor, the tobacco plant – heck, maybe even the sweaty Cuban who was forced to roll it up and ship it to some corporate CEO. That’s why I like COLOR BLAST. It’s like a collection of the best comic book covers all in one place.
There’s also an affection for women here that I found endearing. Lots of bright pink and confident tones. Wonder Woman has a surprise cameo early on and I must say I’ve never quite seen her in that light. I wonder what she’s trying to say? Another favorite has one of the better stout beers representing all that’s good in life (cute chicks and good beer if you haven’t figured it out). The art in COLOR BLAST is like nothing you’ve ever seen, unless of course you were lucky enough to snag VOLUME ONE. While this collection of prints will mean different things to different people, Jakob Westman was able to help me see the world in a more colorful way. And I can go back at a later date and it’s just as fresh as the first time I read it. I’ll be enjoying this book for a long time to come.
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.
SWEET TOOTH #6
Writer/Artist: Jeff Lemire Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeSometimes you have to sit back and be honest with yourself when something you are extremely hyped for plays out. Being the huge fan I am of Mr. Lemire’s ESSEX COUNTY work and his THE NOBODY graphic novel, his finally doing an ongoing seemed like a slam dunk. “Seemed” being the key word in that sentence. SWEET TOOTH started off solidly in trying to establish the setting and getting us familiar with Gus, our protagonist, and his condition and why it is going to mean a lot of trouble for him. But other than the first issue, there really has not been much of an emotional tether established so far, which is always the best and most glorious part of a Lemire book. There’s been some okay action, coming from would-be protector come turncoat Mr. Jepperd, but there was also some awkward pacing accompanying all of these elements Lemire has been playing with the first handful of issues for this series. Not bad stuff, but not the sure thing I was hyping myself up for.
But what a difference an issue makes…
To put it in the hockey terms Mr. Lemire holds so dear, while the first few issues seemed to be him taking some fanned on shots from the point, this issue is him crashing the net full speed. My hopes and expectations perked up a bit at the end of the last issue, when Mr. Jepperd ended up being not what he seemed as he turned in his young, antlered companion to some very unseemly types. This issue is quick to turn around that perception of what this would infer about Jepperd, and it is finally that emotional tether that I so crave from a Lemire work.
Mr. Jepperd, one would have assumed from his badassed mannerisms, was some sort of armed servant or whatnot. Finding out he was once a great hockey player is unsurprising in that regard (and given Lemire’s writing tendencies). But his story presented in this issue, that of a fallen from grace star, a loving husband that finds himself fearful for the life of his beloved as the world starts to fall down around them, and how this all relates to his Judas turn was just fantastically executed. This is a turning point for this book in so many ways, most importantly for the characters. Now that we know what’s in the bad that Jepperd took as his thirty pieces of silver for turning in poor, innocent Sweet Tooth, you can get how torturous a decision that had to have been for such a man. And you can, given the violent streak we have seen from this man, almost feel bad for the poor bastards that put him in such a position because it has to be assumed that he’s coming back for them and for his young ward, hell or high water.
This issue also serves as a turning point for Gus, as one can assume his naivete is hopefully going to start to crumble. And maybe it will start to be a push towards the revelation of just why Gus and the others like him – most way more animalized than he – are what they are in the wake of the plague or whatever it was that set the world the way it is now. I’m guessing that’s more a long term mystery to be played out down the line, but at least it’s throwing out some more conceptions to work with. There are a lot of elements coming into play now, and this book is benefiting greatly from them as well as making the most of them.
All it takes is one defining issue to take a very competent book and make it a must read. This was that issue for me and hopefully Mr. Lemire can build off of the momentum this issue presents. It would seem a safe bet to me, now that I consider it, because his ESSEX COUNTY books started out like this. Not so much with all the, y’know, bloodiness and bullets flying, but by playing around a bit and getting some establishment work going and then BAM! there’s the personal hook to drive the momentum of the rest of the story. An ongoing is a little more beastly than an OGN though, so it will be the old “wait and see” on whether or not he’s able to hold pace from here on out, but this will be a lot of momentum to build off for a while. Trust in great talent and great talent will usually come through, and Jeff Lemire is a hell of a talent. Despite my initial reservations, my taste buds are warming up and I’m getting a pretty vicious SWEET TOOTH going myself.
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.
BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT SPECIAL #1
Writer & artists: Various Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: WilliamThis special was so distant from the usual orders that my local comic shop places for their store, that I had to put it in as a special request. I don’t blame them though for not ordering it in mass quantities. I mean seriously, how much demand is there right now for a collection of Batman stories from over 10 years ago? But my local shop was great in honoring my unique request, hence allowing me to review it here.
First off it’s such a breath of fresh air to be able to read stand-alone stories of Batman again. I received an overdue taste of it with DC’s recent Batman 80-page giant, which made me want to order this special afterward. Let this be a note to all comic book publishers out there. Sometimes comic book fans can get sick of all of these 40 issue epic events that simultaneously clog ALL of the rest of comics. Despite what the publishers seem to think, we won’t be turning away from comics if we’re not hooked into the latest multi-issue epic. Fans can still purchase smaller, character-focused issues and still stick to the industry. I can see though the rationale with comic book publishers these days. To paraphrase a great line from “Glengarry Glen Ross”, you don't sell one comic to a guy, you sell him 5 comics over five visits.
In any case back to this special. The selection of stories here remains an excellent pick in my opinion. You want interesting stories featuring Commissioner Gordon, Two-Face and the Joker, you have them here. Out of the bunch my favorite remains “Slayride”, done by writer Paul Dini and pencils by Don Kramer. Paul presents another great Joker story, this time from the viewpoint of Robin as he’s being held hostage within a car the Joker is driving. Writer Dini is able to truly convey the horror that is the Joker. Within each page you have no idea what he is about to do, and that in itself is terror. In one page he decides to call in an emergency to 911, the “emergency” being the hit and run he causes as he smashes his car into a woman pedestrian so hard that the car’s front grill caves in. In another page, he calmly shoots a fast-food manager in the face, as a teen girl coworker watches no less, because she couldn’t understand the order he had tried to place through the drive-thru. Throughout all of this a helpless Robin can only sit and watch as he tries to free himself. Again Dini creates a true sense of horror here, and makes you realize how truly horrible the Joker can be when written by the right author. The artwork by Kramer is phenomenal too. I love photo-realistic, highly detailed artwork, and Kramer provides plenty of that here. His Joker remains one of the best I have ever seen, even up there with Brian Bolland’s IMO.
Overall I recommend this special to any Batman fan out there. If you’d like to be able to enjoy some short, self-contained Batman stories again, then this is the comic for you. One small complaint, though: I don’t know if it was DC’s or the printing company’s fault, but that Joker story had some pages completely out of sync. Page 56 was printed before page 52, and so on. It took a while to rearrange the pages in order (as some of the pages didn’t have numbers printed on the bottom), but that’s the only minor gripe.
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning Penciler: Mahmud A. Asrar
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #22
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning Penciler: Brad Walker Published by: Marvel Comics Reviewed by: BottleImpIt can’t ALL be nostalgia, right? I mean, I’m sure that the whole “good old days” mentality is playing a big part, and I realize and appreciate that there is some damn fine storytelling going on out there, but come on—is it just me, or do the majority of today’s comic books lack that special spark that made us all fans in the first place? Comic creators and publishers have spent so long trying to convince the general public (and perhaps themselves?) that the medium now has more to offer intellectually than the four-color serials of yore that they seem to have forgotten that this old sense of edge-of-your-seat adventure is a powerfully addictive drug. When used properly, a good cliffhanger can generate enough excitement to hook those kids for life.
That’s right, kids. It used to be the kids who bought comics, saving up their allowances so that they could exchange them each month for the latest exploits of their favorite characters. Kids don’t tend to have a lot of disposable income (at least, most kids don’t—those who do have a lot of scratch lying around are probably more likely to spend it on video games or illegal narcotics), so the purchase of a comic book would not be taken lightly. If the comic became less enjoyable, the kid would most likely stop buying it and spend his cash on more amusing fare.
Nowadays it has become increasingly (and somewhat depressingly) evident that the majority of comic buyers are those of us who got into the medium when we were kids, and we just kept on reading them into our twenties, thirties, and beyond. The older comic book reader DOES have more disposable income—hence the older reader would be far more likely than a child to continue spending money on a comic book that was no longer entertaining, merely out of habit. And since that monthly cliffhanging hook has become less of an essential component to tantalize the older comic reader, publishers have focused more of their attention on the inevitable trade paperback collections—after all, the adult comic reader usually has the money to plunk down $20 at a time, so why should he spend it a little at a time for individual chapters when he can just buy the whole book? Unfortunately this emphasis on the trade paperback market has led to writers who write monthly comic not as serials, but as chapters of the trade—in other words, the focus has shifted from bringing a sense of excitement every month to thinking only about the completed storyline. Now we have comic books out on the stands that end up providing little to no entertainment, containing only filler for the trade, without consideration of the integral serial nature of the medium.
(A similar medium is television, and a similar example of this shifted focus from chapter to gestalt can be found in HEROES from the second season on.)
And so it seems as if comics are doomed to slowly collapse under the weight of their own pretension, all the while desperately trying to assure us that this turgid style of storytelling is better and more “mature.”
There are still those comic book makers out there who remember the childhood thrill of following the monthly adventures of their spandex-clad heroes, and they succeed in producing the most entertaining superhero comic books on the stands today. I am speaking, of course, of Andy Lanning and Dan Abnett, whose titles featuring Marvel’s spacefaring heroes truly capture the best qualities of the medium.
In this month’s NOVA, for instance, the title character’s arch-enemy The Sphinx is locked in battle with a younger version of himself inside the space/time anomaly dubbed “The Fault” (currently the McGuffin of many of the “Realm of Kings” storylines). Nova and other heroes, including the recently-deceased Black Bolt and the less-recently-deceased Namorita, have been plucked from their timelines by the older Sphinx to act as champions in his fight against Sphinx Junior, who has summoned his own motley assortment of oddballs from the corners of the Marvel Universe. It’s a tip of the hat to an old Marvel standby, the Legion of the Unliving. Remember that? Every so often a villain such as Immortus or the Grandmaster would pit the Avengers against a smorgasbord of characters who had shuffled off Marvel’s mortal coil, the two sides would be separated so it turned into one-on-one combat, and chances were that at least one of the Avengers was going to end up losing (though that unfortunate soul usually found a way to be resurrected before the final page). This good guys-versus-bad guys, living-versus-dead contest was always a blast to read even if only to take a look back at some of the wackier characters that Marvel had introduced over the years, and the similar contest in this issue of NOVA is no exception. I mean, Bloodstone and the Basilisk? I never thought I’d ever see them in continuity again, let alone the Basilisk putting a smackdown on the king of the Inhumans. It’s a wonderful throwback to those old comics while at the same time retaining enough of its own identity to feel fresh. The reader can sense that Abnett and Lanning really love the world they’re playing in without the writing ever falling into the trap of winking at the audience, and saying “look how clever and post-modern we are.” There’s a sincerity to the work that elevates action/adventure to a higher level of art. Oh, and speaking of art, Mahmud Asrar’s pencils are pretty slick.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a little different, since the comic is less of the traditional superhero fare and more like a four-color equivalent of THE DIRTY DOZEN—a rag-tag bunch of misfits thrown together and fighting against impossible odds. But Abnett and Lanning are also practicing the Mighty Marvel Method of storytelling here. I know that it’s become standard for Marvel’s comics to have the one-page recap/credits in every issue, and I appreciate how that makes it easier for a new reader to be brought up to speed on the characters and plot, but if a writer is doing his job (as Lanning and Abnett certainly do theirs), all the information that a reader needs should be right there in the story itself. And in this issue, within the first three pages, we learn all about the Church of Universal Truth, the fact that Moondragon is a telepath, the fact that she’s a little bit preggers with a monster from inside the previously mentioned Fault, and that the Church thinks this monster is their new God. And this information is woven seamlessly into the dialogue; plot exposition while the plot advances rather than a clumsy, clunky “last issue” text box. This issue comes to an action-packed finale that neatly wraps up the current story arc (which clocks in at a brisk and breezy two issues) and ends with that classic comic convention, the cliff-hanger… and just like I’m a kid again, I can’t wait until next month so I can fork over my allowance to find out what happens next.
These comics aren’t literature. You’ll never have to read NOVA for a college course, unlike, say, almost anything by Alan Moore. But in a time when so-called “comic book superstars” are churning out storylines that drag on for months and even years, when publishers are looking to the trade collection sales and Hollywood deals as the ultimate goals, and when you realize (as I have done not once, but several times over the years) that you’ve been throwing away money month after month on bland, insipid material out of sheer routine, you’ll come to realize that comic books shouldn’t work so hard to be taken seriously. Don’t forget about that little thing called fun.
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.
RED ROBIN #9
Writer: Christ Yost Art: Marcus To Publisher: DC Comics Guest Reviewer: KletusCasadyEver since I was a kid I’ve always loved Robin; there is just something about being the sidekick to one of the coolest heroes ever that appealed to me. I mean I couldn’t be Batman because I was just a kid and Batman was obviously an adult and frankly Batman has a lot of responsibility, which to this day I’m not sure I could handle. But Robin was a kid and so was I and so it seemed totally feasible that Batman could come to my window and say “I need a new sidekick…let’s roll,” which I don’t think Batman ever said but you get where I’m coming from. Not only that, Robin was always smiling! He was having fun for god sakes and he was fighting crime, saving lives and hanging out with Batman and his awesome toys. That being said, Tim Drake is my favorite Robin (one of my coworkers would fight me for this, he loves Nightwing). Not that I don’t like Dick Grayson but in my opinion he never really wanted to be Batman (and still doesn’t) and Tim Drake, no matter how much he fights it, wants to be Batman deep inside and after every issue he’s more and more like Batman and I like it.
When all the “one year later” stuff came around I was excited. I liked the fact that there were actual repercussions from some wild cosmic crisis event. Everything was not ok, everything was different and really this, to me, was better than INFINITE CRISIS. Enter Robin with a new costume and a new creative team to boot. Beechen and Williams II (Freddie not J.H. who is the III) were that team and I liked their run. Robin was on the lam from the cops, he had to escape the police station at one point with out hurting anyone and the art work, while at first I didn’t like because of its cartooniness, grew on me. He had a different attitude because of his Dad’s and Conner’s death (two factors that largely contributed to the more Bruce like Tim), and the stories were fun, well drawn and you could see that Robin was becoming his own bat (sorry I couldn’t resist). Then the creative team changed again, Chuck Dixon wrote one or two issues then had some snafu with DC and left the book, then Fabian Nicieza was on for a hot minute and his run wasn’t bad it just seemed as if he had to pick up the pieces from the Dixon fallout. One FINAL CRISIS and “Battle for the Cowl” later we are at the most current incarnation of Tim Drake as Red Robin. This book is awesome! Tim is his own man now and he’s searching for Bruce Wayne because he believes…no he knows he’s alive and he IS going to find him. What I like about this book is that Tim is smart as hell and it’s really a joy to see his cunning as well as his determination in finding his surrogate father. I don’t know if Chris Yost (of X-Force fame, another bad ass book that constantly has me saying “HOLY SHIT!” every issue) always had a desire to write Robin but it seems like he was destined to write Robin at some point in his life. Tim Drake not only manages to stay alive while working for Ra’s Al Ghul (long story...pick up the trade…trust me its good), but he fights off a group of assassins called the Council of Spiders (they are cool as hell!), saves his lady friend and cripples Ra’s Al Ghul’s computer infrastructure all over the world…whew!
That leads us to issue #9 and it’s really just Tim going back to Gotham but now he’s got to worry about Ras Al Ghul’s revenge which is really a testament to how good Tim is. I mean for Ra’s to crawl out of his hole, come to Gotham and hunt down people that Tim cares about shows how deeply Tim burned him. Ra’s even called Tim a “very dangerous young man,” and that’s a complement and a half coming from the Demon’s Head. He fights an old villain from the first appearance of Batgirl, runs into an old non Black Lantern friend, and talks shit to Ra’s Al Ghul. Basically, the meat of this book is Tim getting reacclimated to Gotham and lamenting about how he missed it. The thing that makes this book awesome, besides the stellar art work by Marcus To not Raymond Bachs as printed on the front of the cover (come on DC the guy hasn’t been on the book in 4 or 5 issues!), is the internal dialog which, to me, can make or break a Batman book (see Batman 692-current..for the make..not the break) and Tim’s dialog is spot on. Last issue the scene where he’s sizing up his opponents was sooo cool: “Remember everything your teachers gave you. Don’t be any of them. Be all of them.” This is the dialog of a confident person who knows what to do but also knows they can’t just cruise through a fight with deadly assassins…awesome! Chris Yost and Marcus To, I thank you, you have made Robin even more awesome, despite how much my friend Josh makes fun of me for liking him. Now lets hope they stay on this book for…well…forever!
DEADMAN WONDERLAND Vol.1
By Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou Released by TokyoPop Reviewer: Scott GreenIn the wake of the Great Tokyo Earthquake... err... pop entertainment with earthquake tie-ins are a bit tough these days. I wonder if anyone was looking at licensing TOKYO MAGNITUDE 8.0 and how Haiti's tragedy effected that.
In the wake of the Great Tokyo Earthquake, Japan built the privatized prison/tourist attraction Deadman Wonderland. Despite this transformation of Japan's geographical and social landscape, middle school student Ganta Igarashi grew up under recognizably familiar circumstances. This mundane life was shattered in his early teens. In a normal classroom setting, Ganta looks out the window and sees a red, rag covered figure floating, trailing chains and dripping blood. The shocking presence unleashes a spray of hexagonal planes, slicing up Ganta's classmates. In the bloody wake of the event, Ganta is arrested for the killings and sentenced to death, to be carried out at Deadman Wonderland.
It's Wonka's chocolate factory with brutal beatings. Walking through the death's head emblazoned Magic Kingdom gates, Ganta is lined up with other newcomers and given a bit of an orientation by a shapely young woman in a fascist flight attendant number. "Any questions?" she prompts... "Yup... how big are those cans." "G cup."
Another young inmate bumps into Ganta. After the clumsy prisoner helps Ganta up, the curvy officer warns this pick pocket to return what he stole. Without giving him much time to respond, the woman draws a sword, slices into the chest of the thief, then steps on his head with her high heeled boot.
In the midst of the brutal inmates, brutal administrators and brutal death spectator sports, Ganta finds an ally of sorts. Pale peer girl Shiro, outfitted in a skintight number that manages to make her look both naked and restrained, crawls through the installations rafters and utility tunnels, coming to Ganta's aid. Her regard for the hero is bewildering. Her manner is that of a young child. However, it certainly appears that there are few she can't overpower.
There are elements of the shonen power progression tournament here. And, childish/physically impressive Shiro does possess characteristics of the kind of girl on which anime/manga rest their appeal. Neither of these is the hook of the series.
DEADMAN WONDERLAND is unusual. It doesn't conform to a simple "if you like X, you'll like it" pattern. However, even if the recipe of elements is a complex one, whether it receives a cold reception or an embrace is dependent on a connection to its particular constellation of points of comparison.
On one hand, DEADMAN WONDERLAND is the quintessential SHONEN ACE title. This anthology is known for its many anime tie-ins, mostly of the mecha variety such as NEON GENESIS EVENGELION, various GUNDAM and various MACROSS. As the name implies, it's for a shonen, teen boys, audience, but it skews older than periodicals like SHONEN JUMP or SHONEN SUNDAY, as it features darkly disturbing, and/or violent works, often populated by older characters such as GOTH (teens investigating murders due to their pathological fascination with violent crime), ANNE FREAKS (a teen on the run after killing his mother combats a terrorist cult), MPD PSYCHO (a police detective/criminal profilers/serial killer with multiple personality disorder, adapted for TV by the infamous Takashi Miike), and KUROSAGI CORPSE DELIVERY SERVICE (underemployed Buddhist college grads find work transporting corpses to where the dead need to be).
DEADMAN WONDERLAND hits both SHONEN ACE notes. It's not anime adapted, but it's certainly anime ready (and to be adapted into anime). Beyond its colorful vision of prison theme parks, this impression is enhanced by illustrations from Kazuma Kondou, the artist who adapted mecha anime EUREKA 7 into manga (published in SHONEN ACE). And it's violent. Late in the volume, Ganta is revealed to have a tool to facilitate his survival. It's a decidedly gruesome concept for a super power. Apart from the massacre of Ganta's class, DEADMAN WONDERLAND is not one of the more graphic manga you'll find in SHONEN ACE. The two elements find a away to complement each other in DEADMAN WONDERLAND in a way that they don't in the violent SHONEN ACE manga that have or would lend themselves to live action. It doesn't have the spilled organs of GOTH or the exposed cadavers of KUROSAGI CORPSE DELIVERY SERVICE. More often, DEADMAN WONDERLAND operates with cartoonish attacks and windshield spray gushes of blood.
Beyond DEADMAN WONDERLAND's SHONEN ACE-ness, it applies a mind for social satire to silver age comic extravagance. Ganta is set to fight for his life on the raised platform of a Ninja Warrior obstacle course at the behest of cruel institutions, for the amusement of the crowd. The occasional bits in which we see the spine of an anonymous inmate as he's sliced up by a pendulum blade might not pass Comic Code muster, but the situation is strikingly like ones in which a super hero is dropped into a death trap. With institutions, schemers and violent elements threatening him, the odds are against Ganta to a dire extent. Terrible circumstances and violence are afflicted on the desperate Ganta throughout. Even if there is pointed cultural criticism implied, it's too exaggerated to get too exercised about the ideology. That's not necessarily a flaw. It does skew young. A dose of jadedness can easily poison the fun of DEADMAN WONDERLAND. Still it has the right amounts of transgression, spectacle and attitude to enthrall readers of the right mindset.
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.
Ambush Bug here. Enjoy these comics that celebrate the awesomeness of independent graphic literature. Take a walk on the wild side and check them out…
THE ARGONAUTS #1 Timeless Journey ComicsThe second offering from new publisher Timeless Journey Comics has a great premise as warriors are gathered from across history to battle a common threat. Sound familiar? Sure it does, but there’s something to be said about old school super-heroing seen through a modern lens. Though more questions are asked than answered here, this first issue does its job by introducing the reader to a cast of lost heroes and a premise that reeks of old school without the musty stench that usually accompanies those qualities. The makers of this book know comics and know how to make fun comics. I especially like the character designs; original and iconic. This book is worth a look.
THE ORDER OF DRAGONET #1-2 THE ORDER OF DRAGONETThis is a satirical and entertaining read. It’s got a Monty Python feel mixed with a bit of HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY as the modern world is overrun with magical creatures and an unlikely group of humans are knighted by Merlin as humanity’s last hope. The story by Jeremy Whitley is something original and fun with a tone that juggles light humor with dire consequences. The art in this one is especially nice by Jason Strutz. His panels take on a more chalky feel than anything else, though I guess it could be categorized as oil pastel. All in all this is an off kilter and offbeat take on an age old knights’ tale.
INTREPID #1 Crucial Crisis Comix/Graphic Illusions ComicsThis is a very cool story about a not so distant future where heroes are no longer looked up to and it’s up to the military to take on super powered villains. What happened to make the populace lose faith in the heroes? Where are all of these villains coming from? And how frikkin awesome is the art in this comic? I can answer the last question easily: pretty frikkin awesome. Reminiscent of art you may see in a 2000AD book (very Kev Walker), the one-named artist Montos doles out some truly unique and gritty looking art that booms off the page as the villains and military clash. I’m going to be keeping a close eye on this book. So far, so good. Can’t get over how awesome the art is on this one. Fantastic stuff.
DEAD MAN’S HOLIDAY #1 www.deadmanholiday.comLike magnets of the same polarity, as I read this book, the closer I come to understanding this story, the further away it goes. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a TWIN PEAKS disconnected vibe going on with this story that is all too intriguing as a lone hero boats through a city with rivers for streets and battling a costumed skeleton and a haunted pile of rags. This is a very dreamy, very surreal adventure/horror comic that will induce just as many chills that it does questions.
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 comic from Bluewater Comics, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS: THE TINGLER #1-2. Look for more comics from Bug in 2010, including 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). Bug’s latest comic is VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #16: WITCHFINDER GENERAL on sale February 24, 2010. Fanboy Radio recently interviewed Bug about it here.