Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. We had a light week last week, but I managed to squeeze a few reviews from the guys. But first a word from your pal and mine, Optimous Douche.
Optimous Douche is heading to Wizard World Philly!
Attention big-booth guys, lunch table indie booth guys, and meandering wanderers, Optimous Douche is heading to Wizard World Philly on June 12th and wants to talk to you! Look for this wandering Douche to tell him about your latest projects, future projects or just shoot the shit about comics. It is Wizard World after-all.
Now, if you want to get all formal about things, you can also e-mail Optimous to set up a time to talk. As he puts it, “he’s in it to win it” for the whole day on Saturday.
You can also follow Optimous on Twitter @robpatey or #wizardworld
And now, on with the reviews!
AVENGERS PRIME #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Penciler: Alan Davis Inker: Mark Farmer Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Johnny DestructoWHEW! After not loving the last couple installments of the new Heroic Age, the first half of this issue actually reads like a contemporary comic! I found myself mumbling to....myself…"oh finally"! I was just stoked to be diggin' one of the new Avengers books. I fully admit that maybe I just need to let my inner IddyBiddy out to enjoy the new Marvel-Go-Lucky vibe, but I'm just not there yet. The past 7 years of Bendis' badassery just feels like it's come to an abrupt and shocking stop, but now everyone is buddy-buddy despite some of the tensions that have been building up for the past however long. Thankfully in this here issue, we finally see a bit of that sexual tension between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers come spurting to the forefront. This conversation is exactly what I've been wanting to read ever since Steve came skipping back into the present. I won't say too much about it, but for me, it was worth the cover price alone.
As for the rest of the book, when dealing with a portal in fallen Asgard that allows folks to travel between the nine realms, and said portal is kinda wonky from, you know...Asgard falling? Really, what do you THINK is gonna happen? Call it FunkyTown or call it Vanaheim...either way it's for sure they ain't in Oklahoma anymore. They each find themselves in a spot of trouble, and an old villian/ess? shows up at the end, but a quick word about Steve's ninja skills. Having been transported where and when, he has no clue...but when he sees a building, he decides to WALK THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR without really checking it out first? Steve, you're wearing your sillypants, clearly. But Steve's shorts o'silly are just a nitpick, really. This issue was pretty good stuff!
And the art! Alan Davis and Mark Farmer knock it out of Midgard on this one. Great looking panels with a clean, crisp line, plenty of thick inkwork without being too dark, and strong compositional work. Really strong stuff. Davis doesn't have the glitter but still shines plenty.
Excellent first issue, a solid followup to SIEGE and has the badass trilogy of marvel heavy-hitters. Check it out!
JD can be found hosting the PopTards Podcast, discussing movies, comics and other flimflam over at www.poptardsgo.com, graphically designing/illustrating for a living, and Booking his Face off over here.
WEREWOLVES OF MONTPELLIER OGN
By Jason Publisher: Fantagraphics Books Reviewer: Ambush BugA thief dresses like a werewolf and falls in love with a lesbian, drama ensues as a real werewolf shows up. I don't know how many times I have to read a story like that. Man, I wish comics could have some fresh ideas...
If you are in search for fresh ideas or even tried and true ideas presented in a fresh light, this is the book you've been yearning for. WEREWOLVES OF MONTPELLIER is one of those true indie gems that make me glad I took a chance reading something outside of the mainstream. One of the coolest things about doing the regular Indie Jones column here at AICN Comics is that I get to see new and exciting talent before mainstream corporations suck them dry. Then there are companies like Fantagraphics which consistently churn out quality indie material every year. WEREWOLVES OF MONTPELLIER is by far my favorite Indie Book of the Year so far.
As described above, WEREWOLVES OF MONTPELLIER is about a man in search of...something and going about this search in an offbeat manner. Mid-way through the book as our faux werewolf thief sits with his lesbian friend in the laundromat, he explains why he does what he does. He tells a story of a banal experience he had with a homeless person and how he saw something completely profound in it. Finding something profound in the banal is a good way to describe writer/artist Jason's style. He uses anamorphic humans that look like Disney characters on major depressants to tell stories of wonder and awe, yet the characters reactions to these events are about as maudlin as you can get. Jason's characters don't look twice at the fact that actual werewolves exist. They just do and then the characters go about their everyday lives. A smile is never cracked nor is it anything out of the ordinary for bird and cat headed people to be walking around. The drama comes in the interactions between these people and the themes of sorrow, loneliness, and despair that permeate every page of this book. But it's not all doom and gloom. You will not be able to read this book without laughing out loud. Some of the interactions between these characters are hilariously insane.
I know most of our readers are a mainstream crowd, so here's a test. Read the following blurb from a scene from WEREWOLVES OF MONTPELLIER.
"The escalator is the greatest invention of all time. When you are behind a girl and the escalator is heading up, you're on the same level as her ass. And when it's going down and you see a girl headed up the other way you've got a bird's-eye view of her cleavage."
That's an actual quote from the book from a conversation between a bird headed man and a cat headed man playing chess in the park. If you laughed at this observation, then this book should definitely be on your radar. If not, well, you probably already scrolled past this review anyway.
This isn't going to be a book for the 'splosions crowd. Jason's simple line work and deadpan delivery of word balloons are not for everyone. If you're a fan of the Cohen Brothers or David Lynch, it's a safe bet that any work by Jason is going to be right up your alley. I've read quite a few original graphic novels by Jason. Until WEREWOLVES, I always loved I KILLED ADOLF HITLER and LOW MOON. But in WEREWOLVES OF MONTPELLIER, Jason takes his style of irreverence and perfects it. I guarantee if you take a chance with this book you will not forget it and seek out more Jason. It's one of those stories that sits with you long after page last comes to pass. Hilarious, profound, fun, and meaningful. WEREWOLVES OF MONTPELLIER is filled with indie goodness.
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 in July, and the just announced vampire miniseries NANNY & HANK in August (and check out Jazma Online’s new interview with Bug about NANNY & HANK here). Bug’s latest comic is VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #21: WITCHFINDER GENERAL on sale July 2010. Fanboy Radio recently interviewed Bug about it here. Order VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #21 in May's Diamond Catalog order # MAY10 0828. Check out an interview on NANNY & HANK over at Comic Monsters.com (NANNY & HANK is available in June’s Previews Order #JUN10 0824).
SERENITY: FLOAT OUT #1 One Shot
Writer: Patton Oswalt Artist: Patric Reynolds Publisher: Dark Horse Reviewer: Optimous DoucheI’m going to come right out of the gate by saying that SERENITY: FLOAT OUT would be better described as SERENITY: FLOATER. This issue wasn’t bad, but I certainly can’t call it good either. It’s like when you take a hearty satisfying dump that is then ruined by one nagging buoyant turd that simply won’t flush. The SERENITY experience in my analogy is the relieving dump, a refreshing take on the sci-fi genre for the uninitiated. So I couldn’t help looking at FLOAT OUT just like I look at my floaters. And while no doubt engaging it is not something to say I’m proud to have looked at. Aside from a surprise ending, which I’ll be sure to spoil later in this review, the entire piece felt…lifeless, without a real purpose, and certainly not SERENITY.
I give Oswalt credit for courage and the ol’ college try. To try and emulate the style of Whedon is like asking a third grader to paint Van Gogh. Creators like Whedon are so unique and inspired, that any emulation comes across as a mere carbon copy. So while Oswalt does have panache for comic dialogue, SERENITY dialogue is simply not your ordinary fare. I fully believe it can’t be done to its fullest by anyone other than Joss (or perhaps Zack Whedon – it seems they share similar cerebral folds). Also, with Oswalt at the helm I had certain expectations based on his name and past work. Oswalt is a funny mother fucker. I love his stand-up, and whenever he would appear on the “King of Queens” or “United States of Tara” his welcoming gnomelike expressions alone would get my funny bone warmed up for later guffaws. Sadly, this book wasn’t funny, not by Whedon standards or what I would expect from Oswalt. If anything, this book was a little sad. I’ve had this feeling with past Serenity tales that have moved into comics, but the story was always able to compensate. During past comic excursions I was so elated to merely take another spin aboard the good-ship Serenity I was able to forgive the dialogue not being as shiny as it would be with a Whedon at the helm. This time though, even the story was merely a shell of the SERENITY we once knew and adored.
FLOAT OUT is the first comic tale (to my knowledge) that takes place after the events of the “Serenity” movie. Past comic forays have always filled in the gaps from the show’s canon and time period when the entire crew was together. When I saw Washburne, the Serenity pilot who met his untimely (or perhaps it was timely after reading FLOAT OUT) end against the Reavers at the close of the movie, I had a good inkling as to what we were in store for…and I was titillated. Being a smart ass myself, I always felt a kinship towards Washburne as Serenity’s chief funny man. I thought for sure the book would be rife with laughs based on this fact alone, but with Oswalt at the also at the helm I expected to bust my appendectomy scar with belly laughs. As I said earlier this tale was simply not funny and the sad part was a regular old comic fan can easily see why. This tale was not told by Washburne, but rather about Washburne. This may seem trivial, but it broke the basic tenet of comic storytelling: tell me the story, don’t tell me about the story. Or if you are just going to tell me about the story, it better be a damn such a fucking unique yarn that space folds in on itself from the vortex of originality that is created.
Washburne’s life is basically being recounted by three friends he knew during his Pre-Serenity days. Three scallywags that have come together to christen their new vessel of fortune, The Jetwash (get it – in honor of Washburne – I’m glad you got it, I thought it was tangential at best). That’s really it folks, sorry it took me so much preamble to get here, but I wanted to give everyone their AICN money’s worth. These three guys we never met before recount three separate tales of how Wash saved the day. The big surprise I mentioned earlier was a guest appearance by Zoe, Wash’s widow, who is now apparently carrying his child. This gives us a nice context for the timeframe of this tale, as there is a final panel cliff hanger that I assume will be built upon in later books. This last pipe hiss also could have just been the Jetwash undocking. At this point I don’t know or really care.
Simple things really could have helped this book. For some reason Dark Horse or perhaps the licensing agents keep trying to stuff too damn much in these books. We saw this with SERENITY: BETTER DAYS as well. If each of the three tales in this book were simply their own single issues, Oswalt would have had way more room to capture the voice of Wash instead of merely telling a tale about the ships he flew. Also, if this was dissected into single issues, we could have cared more about the people telling the story, instead of them simply being three rejects from a Nirvana cover band. If only Whedon would commit to reviving FIREFLY like he has BUFFY in a seasonal comic format, fans like myself would be able to feast on a deep smorgasbord of FIREFLY instead of the scattered bi-annual morsels we have been satiating our hunger with over the past few years. If only…
I have hope for the future though…A SHEPHERD’S TALE (scheduled to be released later this year) is going to bring Serenity back into retro mode by telling the pre-story of Shepherd Book…also we’ll have the Whedons in the Serenity driver seat again. Until then, Browncoats…
Optimous' book AVERAGE JOE is being published by COM.X. AJ is a tale that explores what our world would be like today if everyone was gifted with super human abilities in 1938. The guys are looking for top shelf art talent to partner with on this project. Reach out to Optimous on FaceBook for further details.
JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #39
Writer: Bill Willingham Art: Jesus Merino (pencils), Jesse Delperdang with Ramos & Merino (inks)
JSA ALL STARS #7
Writer: Matthew Sturges Art: Freddie Williams II Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugI was really looking forward to the reboot of these two titles a few months back. Willingham and Sturges seem to be the team supreme over at FABLES, but as with Willingham's other mainstream DC work, these takes hit just off the mark. There are tons of reasons why these books aren't working (not enough room to elaborate on much in this review), but first and foremost is that even with splitting the team in two, there are way too many characters. And the main problem is that Johns did such an effective job of rebooting these characters that no one wants to kill them off or send them away. But the frustrating part is that there are too many cool characters in the kitchen and it appears that the writers at the helm don't know how to maximize the potential.
Over in JSA ALL STARS, depth of character is traded for multiple splash pages of the team springing into action. Check out any given issue and there are at least two splashes of this going on. And though there were some cool moments (like a few issues ago when Power Girl and Magog instruct the newbs how to take out an opponent in the most effective way and end up beating the crap out of each other), these blips of cool are few and far between. On top of that, in this issue, Sturges retro-fits a romance between Judomaster and Damage to add a bit more depth to a character who has gotten the shaft since Jump Street. This attention to character reads a bit too little too late in my book and only highlights the flashy splash page action replacing attention to character that has been going on since issue one.
I saved JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA for last because it is the most frustrating of the bunch. So the main reason for splitting the book (besides profit) was because there are too many characters. So in the second big arc, what does Willingham do? He kills off the entire team in an alternate universe story and focuses on Mister Terrific and the Justice League. This is insane! If I wanted to read about Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Robin, and the rest of the DCU, I'd read those books. I want to read about the JSA and they aren't even in this book save the final page of this issue. This could have been a down and dirty story focusing on how the old guard beats this new Fourth Reich with the same moxy they used in WWII. And dusting them off to do this in the last issue of the arc (which is next issue) isn't going to hack it, if that's what the writer has planned. Missed opportunity of the highest caliber.
So what do I do? I guess I have to do the right thing and save a shekel or two by dropping these books. I love the characters. But they are being either ignored or glossed over by flashy art. I'd much rather see one book that had the entire team in it with a rotating focus on smaller units (kind of like a GI JOE book), rather than two washed out versions of the same thing. The faith I had in the teams behind these books is dwindling fast. These guys seem to be able to play in their own sandboxes with their own characters fine, but when using properties that are not owned by them, the result has been pretty lackluster.
HITMAN/LOBO: THAT STUPID “BASTICH” #1
Writer: Garth Ennis Artist: Doug Mahnke Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: WilliamAfter reading GREEN LANTERN #54 last week, and it finishing with the “Main Man” now in Green Lantern’s territory, it reminded me of another Lobo crossover that I had purchased a while back. For only one whole quarter, I had found this great one-shot within the clearance section of my local Half-Price bookstore. I still can’t believe why this was left to rot there, as this remains one of the best (and funniest) Lobo comics around.
Lobo is of course the epitome of male testosterone. Pure animalistic enjoyment at being the biggest and baddest “bastich” around. There’s just something so enjoyable about reading someone so vain, especially when everyone else considers him the ultimate douchebag. Add the fact that he enjoys bullying others around, and knows he can practically get away with it thanks to his nigh-immortality, and you have great conflicts just waiting to happen.
Enter Hitman. DC’s answer to the Punisher, he’s just sitting at his favorite bar when Lobo decides to barge in. Leaving him be at first, once Lobo begins messing with some of the local patrons, especially his friend Sixpack (a short, potbellied wisp of a man), Hitman decides that he’s had enough. He shoots Lobo in the eyes in order to instantly blind him, and then runs off as Lobo begins chasing him. And this is where the calamity begins.
I thought that Garth Ennis did an excellent job of writing Lobo within Hitman’s world. The writer most frequented with Lobo is the great Alan Grant. I had previously read a lot of Grant‘s work here, so I was a little wary of how Ennis might interpret him. It was surprising though to see just how easy the transition was. If anything Ennis (predictably) takes Lobo’s violence level up a notch, seeming to enjoy having Lobo take on anyone in the most blood-filled way possible. I had already been familiar with Ennis’s work on Hitman, so Ennis keeps him in familiar territory here. What was a sheer delight though was reading how Hitman manages to deal with someone basically on par with Superman. If he can’t beat him on sheer strength or invulnerability, I enjoyed Hitman’s improvisations along the way. You’ve got love an issue that involves double barrel shots to the eyes, beer scented clothes, a mob torn to shreds, car throwing, dog-welding, a baton carrying Frenchman, a wrecking ball, and a wedding to a guy named “Bueno Excellente”. To see just who Excellente gets married to, followed by his trademark “hehehe…bueno” was an absolute hoot.
Mahnke’s art remained perfectly suited for this issue. Simple, but effective nonetheless. His grossly exaggerated interpretation of Lobo remains one that others should follow (and by sheer coincidence, it’s good to see him working on Lobo again in that Green Lantern issue). If there’s anything that Mahnke is perfect at, it’s the emotions that he conveys on his characters. The “stare down” that he places between Hitman and Lobo by the end of this issue is just picture perfect.
I highly recommend this back issue if you can find it somewhere. It’s probably on Amazon.com somewhere, or maybe at the clearance section of some comic section somewhere in your town, but whatever the effort, the trouble of finding it will be well worth it. This by far remains one of the best Lobo one-shots out there.
RATMAN: THE SMALLEST HERO?! Vol.1
By Inui Sekihiko Released by TokyoPop Reviewer: Scott GreenIn WATCHMEN and TOP 10, Alan Moore posited that if costumed crime fighters existed, young people wouldn't be fascinated by them. Media like comics would instead be dedicated to pirates, lawyers...something other than costumed violence.
RATMAN isn't exactly an Alan Moore comic. Shuto Katsuragi lives in a world in which individuals in flashy costumes, often backed or promoting some business, do battle with villains, and yet he's a wide eyed enthusiast. To the chagrin of his younger sisters and classmates, he mimics the postures of heroes, reads up on them, and otherwise declares his adoration. Though is short stature is supposed to underscore how unprepared Shuto is to actually be a hero, his mock hero theatrics rises to the level of accidentally provoking local toughs. One day, a female classmate who had humored his eccentricities is kidnapped, propelling Shuto into a situation that allowed him to realize his fanboy dreams. Meeting up with a waylaid hero, Shuto is given a transformation watch, allowing him to become costumed, super powered Ratman and rescue the classmate. Thing is...it was all a ploy. Shuto was set up by his classmate’s elder sister and her cadre of mad scientists and skull faced Jackie minions to become a henchman of the secret, evil organization JACKAL. Though, even if it doesn't mesh with Shuto's expectations, maybe it's not a bad thing to be bad in the world of Ratman. While the ostensible heroes are compromised or outright greed-heads, JACKAL folks have a quirky self-defining appeal to them.
The frequent comment is that RATMAN is a manga take on American style super-heroes. Really, the formula is closer to tokusatsu live action special effects driven series of the TV variety. Power Rangers is still the most readily available point of reference. Think of the scheming master villain. They stay off the battlefield and ready monsters to attack. That's the classmate’s sister. Then, there's the army of masked, non-individualized, easily defeated foes. That's the Jackies. The episode based foes haven't showed up, unless you count some of the heroes. Then, there's the reoccurring henchmen, and that's Ratman. It's not a superhero parody. There's shared history in genres. But, the joke is more specifically based on the tropes of those tokusatsu shows than Spider-Man, Superman and the like.
Tell an anime/manga enthusiast that a tokusatsu parody is getting released in North America, and they'll probably ask "why not ASTRO FIGHTER SUNRED?" Though neither the anime nor the manga have been licensed, it has an excellent reputation. The joke there is that its title character guards a river side suburb while exercising the minimum effort required. He ignores his girlfriend. He half asses his work. He shows up in a t-shirt over his red Power Rangers-like masked outfit, cigarette and hand, and gets by with his ability to thump foes without breaking a sweat. In contrast, his evil looking adversaries, General Vamp and Florsheim's Kawasaki Branch are generally considerate and fine citizens. ASTRO FIGHTER SUNRED runs in Square Enix's Young GanGan (thus, if it were to be released in North America, it would probably be from Yen Press). It's for a kind of older audience. And that's why I'd be mildly surprised it were licensed. While seinen has dominated the Eisner nominations for manga, commercially, a manga about a masked twenty something listlessly stamping out cigarettes and having a contentious relationship with the cohabitating girlfriend is a bit of an iffy prospect commercially.
RATMAN runs in SHONEN ACE, home of also Tokyopop recently release DEADMAN WONDERLAND. This anthology is known for its many anime tie-ins, mostly of the mecha variety such as NEON GENESIS EVANGELION, 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).
Sunred's a bum, and probably will continue to be one through the course of his non-narrative comedy serial. As much praise as ASTRO FIGHTER SUNRED gets, selling that sort of work is tricky. In contrast, RATMAN is driven by Shuto's perspective. For a SHONEN ACE action comedy, written with the expectation of hitting a geek audience, the manga mixes an appropriate cocktail of aspirational idealism, hormones and cynical distrust. Without entirely dismissing Shuto's hero enthusiasm, it sets him up via his fumbling with female peers such that he crashes into the feet of clay beneath his idols. The consequences are light comedy with a bit of rebelliousness. He gets the chance to distinguish himself, even if the delineations of the world weren't were he thought they were.
Inui Sekihiko is a concept guy, especially remixing the familiar. Before RATMAN, his big work was MURDER PRINCESS, a fantasy in which a princess and mercenary woman swap bodies, leaving the sword wielding foe-smasher in a gown and crown and with the former princess serving as the warrior's maid for the good of her kingdom. In the execution of these concepts, he works through visual, mostly physical humor. The gangly, puppy dogs in skull masks Jackies are good for a smirk. The martial artsy-bits of RATMAN are generally a solid it. The daughter of a trainer to the heroes springing onto the shoulders of a bully then leg tossing him onto the pavement was better looking action than might be expected from a parody focused series. The appearance of a Billy Banks doppelganger combines this with a nice sight gag. You've probably seen funnier manga and more exciting manga. The teen geek perspective, the action and the humor complement each other well enough that RATMAN succeeds in being entertaining. No element is transcendent enough to be memorable, but as read it, and don't think too much more about it manga, RATMAN does the trick.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for over nine 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.