|Issue #29||Release Date: 10/24/12||Vol.#11|
(Click title to go directly to the review)
Advance Review: HE-MAN & THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: THE ORIGIN OF SKELETOR #1
THE STARS BELOW OGN
WOLVERINE MAX #1
LET’S PLAY GOD #1
CAPTAIN AMERICA #19
THE SHADOW #6
UNTOLD TALES OF THE PUNISHER MAX #5
MIND MGMT #6
Advance Review: LOT 13 #1
Raiders of the Long Box: Halloween Horrors!
Advance Review: In stores today!
HE-MAN & THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: THE ORIGIN OF SKELETOR #1Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art: Frazier Irving
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
It’s funny. As a kid, I never really wondered who Skeletor was or how he became the scourge of Eternia. I just thought he was a cool lookin’ character, though there was something off about the fact that most of the guys on Eternia wore fur speedos. But I didn’t think about it much because He-Man was always about the cool little gimmicks each of the figures used to have.
Luckily, Joshua Hale Fialkov wondered where Skeletor came from and via his cracked brainpan, we now have an origin for our skull-faced antagonist. Fialkov identifies Skeletor as Keldor in the opening page of this book, which is a close-up of a melting face. Anyone whoever loaded a circular round of caps into a Thunder Punch He-Man can figure out this guy is the future Skeletor and Fialkov doesn’t really try to keep that a mystery. What he does is allow artist Frazier Irving to go nuts with some amazing visuals throughout this entire book. Fialkov and Irving work well here, spelling out Keldor’s connection to King Randor and resenting Randor’s ascension to kinghood to levels which some may call Shakespearian, while comics savvy folks might say it’s a little too close to Thor and Loki’s relationship.
I also found the use of the terms “right hand to the king” was a bit too much like A GAME OF THRONES, but while there are similarities, what saves this book is some clever plot-play from Fialkov which twists the narrative to flash back and forth as Keldor’s flesh melts away through the entire issue. To Fialkov’s credit, despite the twists and turns of the narrative, he never lost me with this story.
Frazier Irving once again offers up a gorgeous issue as he is able to deliver the broad stroke action as well as some key, detailed emotional bits as well. His lineless style is absolutely amazing as he creates depth by layering colors and tones which has become his definitive style. His Geiger-ian version of Hordak is a genius reimagining of Eternia’s exiled big, big bad as well.
All in all, this is more depth and complexity of story that any MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE character has ever seen. Fialkov fleshes out Skeletor as his skin melts away through this issue and, like IDW has been doing with the GI JOE property, DC is handling He-Man with a level of sophistication that has never been applied before.
So if you’re like me and had all of those He-Man figures as a kid, you’re going to want to pick up this book to find out how and why Skeletor got so bony. Though there’s still no explanation as to what’s up with all the furry bikini man-pants action going on.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in late 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.
THE STARS BELOW OGNWriter: Zack Smith
Artist: Rich Ellis
Publisher: Monkeybrain Comics
Reviewer: Professor Challenger
“But the funny thing about New York is as small as you feel when you’re on the ground....when you’re higher up, everything else is at a distance. And the bright lights of the big city become something tiny and comforting. They become like little stars.” -- Zack Smith
I want to thank Zack Smith, Rich Ellis, and Monkeybrain Comics for making this available. It is charming from cover to cover and a feast for the eyes and imagination.
The story is simple and that’s part of the charm. Imagine a pigeon in New York City who has never seen the stars before but through an accidental venture indoors inside a planetarium looks up to encounter the wonder of the Heavens themselves.
Monkeybrain describes this comic by comparing it to classic children’s tales such as STUART LITTLE and A CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE. And the comparisons are apt. However, there’s more than just a fun adventure wrought with unexpected metropolitan dangers here. There is also a hero’s quest of sorts. There’s a bit of JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL to this tale as well. Where Jonathan strove to reach the Heavens, our little New York pigeon just wants to glimpse its beauty once again. And both birds are derided or ignored by the other birds who will not believe because they have not seen it themselves.
Whether he does and how he goes about it is the story in this comic.
You may be thinking to yourself, is this like MOUSE GUARD or just some illustrated kid’s book? To which, I would say “no” and “no.” There’s no real anthropomorphizing here, which also lends towards the JONATHAN comparison. As for it being a kid’s book. I could see this story having been told in a book rather than a comic. However, having read it 3 times, I believe this was the proper medium to bring the story to life.
Told entirely without dialog. My favorite moment in the comic is when the pigeon is attempting to tell the other pigeons about his “vision.” Rather than a “Coo! Coo!” word balloon. We have an image of the Milky Way itself coming out of his beak. A totally visual way of selling the moment and extraordinarily effective. The artist, Rich Ellis, is the artist on Chris Roberson’s MEMOIR for IDW. According to writer, Zack Smith, Ellis knocked this thing out as a fresh graduate from art school and before working on MEMOIR. It is an impressive early effort by a strong talent. Smith, himself, has crafted a unique vision here that stands strong as an independent work in a crowded marketplace of super-heroes.
Monkeybrain is making this comic available digitally for only 99¢ at this link. At that price, everyone out there should buy a copy. And, hey, why not buy one for your nephew and niece as well. This is good for all ages and is excellent.
Prof. Challenger is Texas artist and writer, Keith Howell. You can read his stuff here and over at profchallenger.com. You can also get in on the ground floor of his new endeavor, "Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Comic Books" here.
WOLVERINE MAX #1Writer: Jason Starr
Art: Roland Boschi & Connor Willumsen
Publisher: Marvel MAX
Reviewer: Henry Higgins is My Homeboy
Not Going To Lie, It’s Incredibly Entertaining To Me To See Wolverine Yell “Fuck”...
The Marvel MAX line has been incredibly hit or miss. At times, it allows people the room to produce titles such as PUNISHER MAX and ALIAS. Other times, we get stuff like RAWHIDE KID or SUPREME POWER (am I the only one who just doesn’t care for this series?). So it’s always wise to take the new MAX titles with a grain of salt. The newest title, though, seems like it should have been an immediate choice for the imprint; Wolverine’s entire shtick is that he’s a rogue hero, the epitome of the uncontrollable badass. So having an uncensored title about the character seems incredibly obvious. WOLVERINE MAX takes the idea and runs with it, putting Logan into a more blatant adventure.
Writing: (3/5) Starr, to his credit, seems to know what makes Wolverine appealing: that underneath all the cigar smoke and gore, he’s a good man, a repentant man. But Logan seems to have forgotten all that, amnesiac and barely surviving a plane crash. Juxtaposed against this is Logan’s becoming the man he is, slaughtering across Japan before finding a semblance of peace. The comic plays more to the mystery of how exactly Wolverine came to be on that plane, and what he was doing there. It’s an engaging mystery, and a very solid initial part of the storyline. Starr also sets up the past escapades with Victor, and manages to write a genuinely interesting hook for the story. While not extraordinary, it is a very solid first issue of the comic.
Art: (3/5) The story follows two time periods, shifting art styles between the story lines. Boschi provides the art for the modern day scenes, giving everything a more realistic feel. Everything flows well, with the opening pages especially having a good control over the chaos and confusion during the plane crash. Everything is grisly and well defined, with expressive characters and a good sense of pacing. The comic moves well, with a clear sense of location and a solid distinction between the various locations Logan ends up in. The art shifts into a more gritty style when Logan thinks back to his past, which has its own strengths and weaknesses. The art becomes slightly muddled under Willumsen’s pen, but it’s more than made up for with his creativity and wonderful use of space. The framing is wonderfully constructed, especially in the latter flashback to Logan meeting Victor Creed.
Best Moment: I can’t get over how much I love seeing Logan yell “Fuck”.
Worst Moment: The art is simply offputting at times.
Overall: (3/5) A good first issue for a character well-suited for a MAX title.
LET’S PLAY GOD #1Writers: Brea & Zane Grant
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Reviewer: The Dean
I’ve gotten burned out after a few issues of many comic mysteries these past few years (with one or two exceptions) and I was pretty hesitant to give this one a shot at first. I’m nothing if not a sucker, though, so I decided to throw my better judgment aside and give another new whodunit a shot, likely to become just another unfinished series to be filed under “Misc.” in a long box. Now I’ve said this before, but I seriously think I’ve stumbled upon a good one this time. LET’S PLAY GOD #1 is a great setup to what promises to be a pretty cool murder mystery, with Brea and Zane Grant (WE WILL BURY YOU, SUICIDE GIRLS) creating an enticingly flawed central character and a super creepy murderer that’s sure to make you feel a little uneasy when you’re home alone.
After opening with a journal entry that may have been written by any of our grandpas, LET’S PLAY GOD moves quickly toward its inaugural killing with a few pages of introduction and development. The all-girl punk band Doomed Earth rehearses and converses, all the while being watched by a voyeur or two too many across the way from their Portland tenement. Mel, troubled guitarist of the band, discovers she’s being photographed, just before said photographer gets his eyes sliced form behind. Yeah, his freaking eyes! One more visitor shows up to the gruesome scene that makes police, and Mel, a bit suspicious of their knowledge of or involvement in the brutal killing, leaving trust and security in the wake of this growing mystery.
The Grants are off to a great job with this miniseries, and I can’t wait to see more carnage from their eerie little smiley faced killer! They don’t waste time forcing us to read through exhausting exposition about Mel and pals’ personal lives, but give you just enough to know that she’s pretty stressed without the burden of solving a murder, yet smart and tough enough to do it. There’s no jarring or distracting dialogue here, no forced puns or over the top portrayals – these are very real characters in a situation that feels as dangerous as it is exciting.
EricJ is no slouch either, and a lot of what works in this issue comes from the integrity of the character designs, especially of the whole punk scene. Punk is one of those things that’s too easy to overdo in comics (or any fictional portrayal, really), but EricJ provides an apparent punk fashion without being obnoxious or gaudy. It also helps that all the mystery is left to the plot, instead of confusing panel progression or muddled images. EricJ tells a great story by himself here, and builds a genuinely frightening scene with that eye-slicing murder, which easily steals the show.LET’S PLAY GOD is a very promising start to this 4 issue mini, which almost seems too short for the level of intrigue reached in its first issue. There are plenty of reasons to stick around for issue two, chief among them being who gets killed next and how, but the great character work and developing mystery keep this from becoming something like “1000 Ways to Die.” I’m dying to know who’s behind the murder, sure, but I’m just having a great time seeing it all unfold for now.
HARBINGER #5Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Khari Evans
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
I know some are going to bemoan my fossilization, but sorry, it’s virtually impossible for me to traverse these first New Valiant reviews without waxing a bit nostalgic. A good brand will induce a flood of emotions and memories. 20 years ago, Valiant was a distinct, unique, and great voice in comics. They were a salvation from the hyper-stylized popcorn of the early 90s. As we enter an early 90’s renaissance with folks like Rob Liefeld finding work again, Image characters collapsed into DC canon, and the ACTUAL resurrection of early 90s Image titles, Valiant is once again poised to provide an oasis of complex storytelling saving us from the rocky waters of these shallow pouch-laden ghosts of yore.
HARBINGER is Valiant’s answer to the end result of humanity’s dalliances futzing with the fabric of the universe when we entered the nuclear age. Think the X-Men 50 years ago without the bullshit sanitization of a comics code to water down the shock, horror and awe the world would have at someone who can control minds, fly, convert mass to energy…you get my drift. HARBINGER, while being about the next generation of humans who can do fantastic things, also plays on the much deeper level of change as each powered youth deals with growing up and discovering their place in the world. The travesty in coming of age, combined with the wonderment of humanity’s next phase of existence, is the perfect word-blurb nutshell for HARBINGER.
Valiant has always captured the zeitgeist of the time period. When I fell in love with Valiant twenty years ago, there was still a sense of Morning in America, an optimism left over from the Reagan years – or at the very least it was Brunch in America. Now, we are Mourning in America and Valiant expertly shifted the tonality of all their titles to stay relevant while still adhering to every staple that made their books a success so many years ago.
Gone are kids who are simply rebellious. Kids who took to the road, kids discontent with their future as kids have always been. However, they weren’t despondent over tomorrow like today’s emo fueled youth. Pete Stancheck, the protagonist of HARBINGER then and now, is the perfect case point for this change in youth culture. 20 years ago, Pete was weird, but mostly harmless. Like most odd ducks he was simply ostracized back in the 90s version, and mostly harmless (aside from the mind control thing). Keeping in line with our current culture, Dysart transformed Pete into today’s weird kid, complete with a menagerie of misdiagnosed mental disorders and a cornucopia of psychotropic substances to substitute parenting and a warm glass of “quit your bitching” from Dad. Right from issue one of HARBINGER 2.0 Pete was a much darker character, even going so far as to use his powers to mind control the girl he has a crush on. The old Pete never would have considered such a literal and figurative mind fuck. But again, we didn’t have a society 20 years ago where our favorite fetish could be broadcast on 14 devices in our homes in seconds. Dysart understands the instant gratification generation and extends this impudent impatience to Pete and all of the Harbingers we’ve met thus far. Back in the day, the book was way more about all the HARBINGER kids as they escaped being part of the evil Toyo Harada’s plans to rule the world. Harada, the baby-boomer first Harbinger, is explored much more deeply in this new version.
Part of this is a function of legality. In Valiant 1.0, Harada was introduced as a motherfucker supreme in SOLAR. Without this property in the stable, HARBINGER now becomes just as much Harada’s story as it is Stancheck’s and the rest of the kids. Dysart also does an excellent job adding to Harada’s creep factor with the introduction of The Bleeding Monk. As the name implies, he’s a monk that…bleeds everywhere. Outside of the creepy visuals this induces, the Monk is also symbolic of Harada’s quest to control…well…everything. The BM can see the future and Harada keeps this personal oracle captive to glean cryptic images of what might be.
One thing I NEED to see from Valiant that I haven’t yet is a cross-pollination of characters in titles. It was a true benchmark of the original Valiant. Jim Shooter’s editorial fastidiousness kept all events in order and never allowed earth shattering events to remain self-contained in one title. Comics are about a complete universe, for me anyway. I don’t want to see New York destroyed in the X-Men and have Peter Parker swinging carefree the same month in SPIDER-MAN; it feels lazy to me (and this has actually happened more than once). The new Valiant stands poised to build just as cohesive a universe, if not better, since they are currently dealing with less titles and time periods than the original universe.
HARBINGER doesn’t let one spandex trope escape its grasp before slathering it with a dark pall reflective of our real-world fears and tribulations.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #19 (Final Issue!)Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Steve Epting
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Mighty Mouth
Typically when you see the words “final issue” splashed on a comic book cover it doesn’t mean much. Ordinarily it is an indication of a comic that started dissolving about 10 issues ago, or it means that an inescapable re-launch is in the works. Even with Cap slated to receive a fresh new start as part of the whole “Marvel Now” effort, this issue does not fit into the aforementioned reasons to end a title.
In fact, CAPTAIN AMERICA has been one of the finest books produced by Marvel for the past eight years. The reason can simply be summed up in two words: Ed Brubaker. It’s hard to believe that I’ts coming to an end, but CAPTAIN AMERICA #19 marks the conclusion of an extraordinary era for the super soldier courtesy of the mind of Mr. Brubaker.
What’s great about this issue is that in many ways Brubaker brings his story full circle. CAPTAIN AMERICA #19 touches on various elements of the super-soldier’s career, while still dishing out a fresh story that doesn’t feel like simply a summary of previous events. Ed manages to work up a finale that captures the essence of what it means to be Captain America and why not just anyone could or should wield the shield.
Artist Steve Epting also returns for the final issue. Epting was the regular artist on CAPTAIN AMERICA for much of Ed Brubaker’s’ remarkable run and I’m glad to see these two reunited. Artistically speaking, Epting really defined the look and tone of the comic over the past eight years, and his art is sharp as ever. The last panel alone contributes a flawless final impression and provides Steve Rogers with a suitable sendoff.
I can’t really recall anything I didn’t like about this issue. Even with the inevitable relaunch right around the corner, Brubaker and Epting demonstrate the same care for the character that made their stories such a success. Few comics creators come to mind when I think of treasured Captain America stories, and I’m happy to add these two gentlemen to that selective list. I feel for the team that has to follow this act; they have got their work cut out for them.
Ed and Steve, I salute you; thanks for making CAPTAIN AMERICA not just a good book, but a damn good book for all these years.
THE SHADOW #6Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Aaron Campbell
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Reviewer: Masked Man
Garth Ennis’s kick off for Dynamite’s new Shadow series comes to a close. As the story arc ends, so does Ennis’s involvement with the book, which is a shame because he did so well with it--I’d like to see more.
Of course there were some things that I found lacking. Being the first story arc you’d think Lamont (The Shadow) Cranston and Margo Lane’s relationship would be explained, but Ennis never touches on it. Margo does appear to have a rough personality, which blends well with Cranston, but she also appears to be dragged along for the ride, like Cranston is just showing her how messed up the world really is, for some reason. Cranston does mention that she is eye candy to help cover his actions as The Shadow, but I don’t understand why she is going along with it all. Also, as I feared from the beginning, the story’s Macguffin is uranium. Of course, there’s nothing really wrong with that, but it’s always uranium in these types of stories. Something different would have been nice. The story was a bit long and padded, too. Several scenes could have been cut, without much impact to the story--that is, aside from making it a tighter four to five issue read. But we all know how important it is to get the page count up for the trade book reprint (now in hardcover!).
Everything else about “The Fire of Creation” was pretty good. Set in China’s back country, during the pre-USA involvement of World War II days, the plot was well planned and compelling. The villains and heroes participated in cat and mouse games as well as a race to acquire the uranium. Most of the characters were colorful and well-written, with the Shadow as a ruthless clever bastard. This is well illustrated in the final issue, as he uses the mines he stole from the villains. His powers seemed to be expanded for this series: being able to keep the dead alive (for a while), read minds, foretelling the future, and mentally controlling people as well (or at least having them act on his mental suggestions). It’s a little too much for my taste, because while Ennis handles it all very well, it can be easily abused in the future. The trio of villains was an interesting group of characters, too. General Akamatsu is presented as an interesting fellow. While he’s fiercely loyal to the Emperor of Japan (which is odd, since the Emperor was pretty much a puppet of the military during this time), and he’s also a child rapist (all off ‘camera’), the man sees others around him as scum, when he himself is very much scum as well. Buffalo Wong, on the other hand, is a cruel, greedy man and proud of it.
Finally there’s Taro Kondo, the brains behind this uranium deal, and a worthy opponent to the Shadow. Just like Lamont Cranston, Kondo is suave, intelligent and a monster in disguise. Kondo (as well as Wong) has history with Cranston, too. The two men knew each other before Cranston became The Shadow. So while, Kondo doesn’t understand all the details, he knows Cranston is The Shadow and it all becomes a little personal for him. The twist of whether or not the uranium is really uranium gives the story some extra spice--especially in this final issue! The outcome of each villain is unique (well, maybe not Wong’s) and interesting, too. And while Ennis has tons of gun fights in these six issues, the final showdown does not end in that clichéd way. The only character I didn’t care too much for was The Shadow’s patsy, Pat Finnegan. One could argue that was the point of the character, but beyond that I found him uninteresting and not really needed in the story. As for Margo, well, Margo’s there. She’s a fine companion to The Shadow, but nothing too special on her own.
I’ve bemoaned Campbell’s artwork in the past for not being my cup of tea. That said, he’s a fine artist and does a good job here with detailed establishing shots as well as close-up shots of the characters. His storytelling is quite strong in this final issue, especially with the last few pages, and his rough inks work well with a character like The Shadow sd opposed to someone like Ed McGuinness (brilliant artist, but not really suited for the Shadow).
So Dynamite’s THE SHADOW kicks off with a bang (oh that’s a bad pun, read it and see why), and I hope the new creative team can keep the ball rolling, as this story arc scores a 4 out of 5.
DEADHORSE CHAPTER 6: THE CHILD IS FATHER OF THE MANWriter: Eric Grissom
Artist: Phil Sloan
Publisher: 215 Ink
Too many times have my predictions about a series ending on a high note left me underwhelmed. But DEADHORSE is not one of those comics. THE CHILD IS FATHER OF THE MAN contains everything I have loved about this series. Starting off of course with…
Sasquatch!!!! Edgar and Elise are being held captive by the man beast. After the death of Doctor Conroy in the last issue, William Pike is on task for the rescue. However, more awaits our hero than a mission to save his friend, but also a twist to the mystery of his father’s work at Deadhorse.
Obviously, having Sasquatch featured for half the issue is a personal plus for me. He is my favorite character of the series and it is the characters that I have come to love that make DEADHORSE work so well. Whether questions were answered in the last issue of the Dead Birds story I could have cared less. I have realized that I care more about our heroes and am more intrigued by the villains than the answers to what happened at Deadhorse. It wasn’t the mystery at the center of the series that kept on pulling me back, but the characterizations.
Eric Grissom executes the best dialogue of the series thus far. The fun of Sasquatch spawns a great deal from his broken English, an attempt to sound threatening from an animal-man with a child’s grasp of language. But the writing is consistent within the entire issue, with plenty of wit without a side of cheese.
Artist Phil Sloan transports us to an entirely new location. The cave within the Denali National Park in which Sasquatch has hidden Edgar and Elise is unlike any other set piece from the series, but it also exemplifies the mysterious nature of the comic. As the story has grown more enigmatic, leaning towards even the supernatural, this cave of wonders is a teaser to what DEADHORSE’s run in 2013 could be. There are also several visual clues planted by Sloan providing a bit of dramatic irony.
THE CHILD IS FATHER OF THE MAN may not satisfy those readers that wanted concrete answers. But the inevitable twist within the last few pages does move the plot forward, without coming out of nowhere or being forced.
The end of this issue brings us back to the beginning, reminding the readers of Pike’s original intentions and featuring the return of the antagonist Charles Gadsworth. DEADHORSE #6 succeeds on all levels as a conclusion to a series first run. Not only is this a quality book, a highlight of the Dead Birds story, but also it whets one’s appetite for what’s to come.
Lyzard is actually Lyz Reblin, a senior screenwriting major with an English minor at Chapman University. Along with writing for AICN, she has been published twice on the subject of vampire films.
UNTOLD TALES OF THE PUNISHER MAX #5Writer: Skottie Young
Artist: Mirko Colak
Publisher: Marvel MAX
Reviewer: The Dean
My being entirely invested in the lives of these unknown characters after just the first page was a pretty good indication that this was going to be a good one. Writing a Punisher story in which no bullets are fired certainly seems like a stupid idea, but Skottie Young and Mirko Colak put together a quiet little story of revenge here that’s still fitting of the ruthless anti-hero despite its heartwarming message. These “you don’t want to end up like me” tales are a dime a dozen for guys like The Punisher, Batman, or “Scared Straight!” prison inmates, but as always, it’s the execution that matters, and UNTOLD TALES OF THE PUNISHER MAX #5 delivers.
Like I mentioned above, I was ready to praise this issue after page one, but the impressive character work builds on itself page after page until our moral prize is at last delivered in the end. Opening with the freshly black-eyed youngster begging of his dad “teach me how to fight” is an almost instantly relatable draw that should connect and resonate with a vast majority of comic readers. At that young an age, becoming a superhero was still a perfectly probable future for us, and that first act of revenge against a bully was as good an origin story as any (all of this summed up perfectly in the cover art from Mike Del Mundo, by the way). Fortunately for the boy in this story, he’s got a wise father who can tell him from experience that vengeance isn’t a path he wants to start down, and it just so happens that this was a lesson taught to him at a young age by The Punisher himself. The how and why of the father’s crash course in revenge from Professor Punisher I’ll leave for you to read, but it’s a really cool read with a fun twist that makes this issue enormously satisfying.
The art in UNTOLD TALES does a fantastic job bringing the story to life, and a great deal of the emotion that fills these pages comes through Mirko Colak’s pencils. Skottie Young wrote a great story, but this one is easy to follow even without the words, and much of what gives this one its lasting impact beyond just the final pages comes from the memorable scenes conveyed by this art team. The way The Punisher is shown as nothing but a looming shadow (skull emblem still visible, of course) gives those panels in which he’s present a tense, ominous feeling, and make his fully lit appearance much more meaningful in the way it’s played against Young’s script at the end.
This series has been pretty fun so far, and it’s a great way of putting out consistently good Punisher stories that feature the MAX version of the character and his world. Having a complete story in one go is always a nice respite from the six part norm these days, but it’s been the quality of these isolated issues that’s brought me back each month, more so than the one-off format, with Young and Colak’s “A Little About Revenge” bringing about a new highpoint. Whether you’re new to The Punisher, or maybe just looking for a quick fix in between trades of Rucka’s series, UNTOLD TALES OF THE PUNISHER MAX #5 is a great read, and proof that it’s more than guns and violence that make Frank Castle such an enduring character. Still, he probably should have smacked that kid around a little just for having a gun.
MIND MGMT #6Writer/Artist: Matt Kindt
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee
Like many comic book readers these days, I have found myself becoming somewhat price-averse when it comes to making my selections. Honestly, as much as I would like to pretend I’m some sort of raging against the machine type on this, it has more become a kind of an opportunity cost situation in my stupidly over-analytical mind. Yes, there are plenty of good books at the $3.99 price point, but compared to the plethora of books still out there that cost $2.99 (or even $3.50 from Image and Dark Horse here) I’m going to fill my budget out with quantity AND quality for as long as there are there are worthy books in that price range. Exceptions beg to be made, though, and that’s when the principled aspect of my mind takes over. As a consumer, I don’t really buy into the whole “we charge more because we can” aspect of some of the Big Two’s pricing strategies, though the MBA in Business carrier in me gets it (as if it is hard to understand “gots ta get paid!”). But both of these parts of my overly-complex mental state of media consumption sometimes understand that a) the smaller companies HAVE to charge more to meet overhead on lower sales plus no advertising revenue and b) sometimes books are just REALLY FUCKING GOOD and should be bought no matter what the cost. And now we come to MIND MGMT.
What’s a good time to pay more than the usual market price of an item? When that item involves unbridled brilliance, and indeed MIND MGMT is full of that. For six issues now Matt Kindt has taken his special brand of storytelling and started unfolding an unusual and deep tale of subterfuge and deceit and a world being run from the shadows by those with extraordinary ability. It’s been a fantastically well-developed story thus far, taking an intrepid writer named Meru and entangling her into a world where basically humans do the superhuman due to highly intensive mental training and shaping the way things – perception, physics, etc. – work with those abilities. Basically, this title is what Kindt does best; he takes a concept that plays in the shadows, grounds it in human emotion, and then isn’t afraid to get a little crazy with the events that play out.
The real brilliance in MIND MGMT, though, is in the execution and presentation. This is where the talent of the man behind the book becomes hugely apparent and, yes, the book shows you how you earn your price value for assholes like myself who break this shit down. Not only is the caliber of storytelling at a top notch level here, but every issue is absolutely jam-packed with goodies to lend a little “value-added” besides just being very useful and influential in fleshing out the world of MIND MGMT and putting the reader in a mindset fitting of the book. Much like with his graphic novel REVOLVER, Kindt has been proficient at loading up the page margins with all sorts of goodies that have gone from a monthly field manual from the MIND MGMT organization to a slow decent into a fourth wall-breaking running commentary on the books’ events. Meru’s journey so far has been odd to say the least, harrowing at the most, and the payoff of her tale as it winds down in this final part of the first arc is the epitome of bittersweet, as the panels unfold and the margin material drives home the shitty turnaround that she endures and of which only the audience is privy. Between these border excursions, the front and back flap material that has also been fleshing out the history of MIND MGMT, and the twenty-four pages of material we get in between those flaps every month, this book is absolutely earning every cent of its price tag on both the quantity and quality of its contents.
So, MIND MGMT is not only a standard bearer for quality in comics today, but in how to give the reader the most content for their dollars as well. If anything it’s a much needed kick in the ass that you do not just reduce business models to less for the same as before or, even worse with the case of some $3.99 books on the market, less for more than before. You take what you have, rework it and see where you can make gains with your space, and you offer the consumer a more complete package. With MIND MGMT, that package just happens to be telling an excellent tale unlike anything else on the stands. As more and more $3.99 books come out, this title, quantity and quality-wise, should be where all those crazy opportunity cost analyses start and stop.
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 blog 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.
Advance Review: In stores today!
LOT 13 #1Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Glen Fabry
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Reviewer: Optimous Douche
Before I get into the frights and delights of LOT 13, I want to give some credit to the unsung heroes of comics: the editor.
Make no mistake: editors are bosses. As such they get labeled as “the man,” especially in light of all the recent writer meltdowns in the big houses and the easy access Twitter gives them to spill their vitriol to the masses. I’m not saying these feelings are misplaced; an editor steers the ship and we have seen some comic ships crash into very rocky shores as of late. However, one editor I have never heard nary a bad word about is Executive Editor of Vertigo Karen Berger. Whenever I talk to Vertigo writers for interviews, in tweets, or just the occasional Facebook exchange, the words used to describe Karen are “inspirational,” “Insightful” and “champion.” And quite frankly, it shows in the work. I have read and reviewed almost every Vertigo title this year and I can only think of one that left me less than thrilled. It wasn’t even a bad book, it just wasn’t for me.
LOT 13 continues to show Karen’s acumen for green lighting comics that show fantasy and fantastical events are best served with heaping doses of morose reality.
LOT 13 is simple in premise, but 10000 leagues deep in execution, story development, characterization and creepiness. The best horror writers know that it’s the whispers before the scare that get the pulse pounding waiting for the next BOO. It’s a balanced juxtaposition that the SAWs and HOSTELs seem to forget as they simply revel in gore. I don’t fault anyone who likes copious amounts of blood and entrails, but I personally don’t find that stuff scary - merely disgusting.
Niles’ LOT 13 uses gore, but never EVER forgets to make us care about the characters who are about to meet their probable demise in later issues. It’s like AMERICAN HORROR STORY on the page, and just like the show I can’t wait to see what happens next in this five issue miniseries.
Our story opens in Fairfax, Virginia circa 1600’s when America was still under the rule of King Louis XIV. Being a pop culture junkie, my only knowledge of old Louis is Mel Brooks’ insistence that “it’s good to be the King.” Apparently old Louis, though, had some peculiarities when it came to the laws of man and nature, one such law being that suicide and murder would be tried as a crime against God. So our story opens with a family of corpses on trial: a father who murdered his wife and kids, then took his own life. Fabry paints this ye ole court scene with just enough rotted flesh in the dead and lack of hygiene in the living to present scare without becoming stomach turning. The mob desecrates the corpses and then we flash forward to modern day.
In the present we meet Ron, his wife and three teenage children. Here is where Niles’ panache for making the familiar interesting shines. As the family prepares to leave their small apartment for the greener pastures of life in (wait for it) Fairfax, Virginia, they are a family exactly like mine with the exception of the kids. I’m almost 40 like Ron, my wife five years younger and when we moved we had the exact same debate on whether my comic boxes were heavier than the ornate furniture she fills her home with. This was just one moment of realism amongst many that kept my willing suspension of disbelief firm and in place once the fantastic began to transpire.
The family finds their home in Fairfax is not quite ready yet as Walter White and his crew cook meth for another week under the fumigation tent. Salvation, though, isn’t far as Ron and crew find a lovely unoccupied apartment building in the heart of town, LOT 13, the same place I’m guessing that ye olde corpses were desecrated 400 years prior.
So where is the scare and horror in present day? All I’m saying is it comes in the form of a ghost boy, a creepier than most child who starts to haunt Ron and his family individually and then collectively as the book progresses. Is there a tie to the massacre in olden times? You betcha, but I’m not going to spoil it. It’s subtle, perfect and still leaves a slew of mystery that makes me wonder if it can be resolved in just another 4 issues.
LOT 13 is perfection on page with scare aplenty, but enough human drama to make even horror haters keep turning the page.
Every comic shop has them… battered long boxes jam-packed with dog-eared titles ranging from forgotten heroes of the 1970s to multiple copies of chromium-covered “collector’s item” comics from the Big Bust of the 1990s. But if you are patient, and dig deep enough, you just may find something special…
WRATH OF THE SPECTRE! #1-4, 1988
A couple of years back in this column I took a look at DC’s SPECTRE series of the 1990s, written by John Ostrander with art by Tom Mandrake. Their vision of The Spectre became (at least, before the “New 52” nonsense) the accepted, gospel version of the character as a spirit of divine vengeance. But when I found this miniseries in the bargain box, I realized that Ostrander and Mandrake took a great deal of inspiration from the Spectre stories of the 1970s, originally published in ADVENTURE COMICS and reprinted in WRATH OF THE SPECTRE! These short stories (usually no more than ten pages) pitted the green-cloaked ghost against an array of more earthly villains—usually gangsters, petty criminals and such—though the occasional supernatural menace did stick its head in. Much as in the later ongoing series, these various evildoers were meted out the Spectre’s swift, grim and horrific justice. Writer Michael Fleisher gave these stories an almost EC-like flair in the ironic manner in which The Spectre punished the wicked; the punishment nearly always fit the crime. Jim Aparo (along with Neal Adams, the go-to Batman artist of the 1970s) did some of his best work on these compact and energetic stories, utilizing dynamic panel designs and creative compositions to maximize the storytelling power in this truncated format. Thanks to DC’s decision to reprint these comics in the late ‘80s, these horror-tinged tales can be easily found in the cheap bins of the local comic shop.
CURSE OF THE WEIRD #1-4, 1993
It’s easy to forget that before Marvel forever changed the comic book landscape with the introduction of the Fantastic Four and Spider-man, the publisher was more in the habit of playing “follow the leader” with whatever trends seemed popular in the marketplace. Hence, when EC struck it big with their horror titles, Marvel (and its predecessor Timely) followed suit with horror comics of its own. Many of these early stories were lost to obscurity, but in recent years more attention has been paid to these horror comics that labored under EC’s long shadow. However, nearly two decades ago Marvel published this short-lived series dedicated to reprinting these early gems. There’s a broad range of quality here, ranging from the wonderfully eerie stories of Basil Wolverton and pre-Spidey Steve Ditko to lesser works by relative unknowns. But even the cruder stories offer an unusual sense of the macabre that was sometimes absent in the more tongue-in-cheek stories from the more famous TALES FROM THE CRYPT and its fellow EC titles. The best part is that CURSE OF THE WEIRD—like most Marvel comics from that hectic period of the pre-bust 1990s—is easily found in most cheap back issue boxes.
SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING #21 Special Edition, 2009
Though the “Watchmen” movie turned out to be kind of a big turd (in this viewer’s opinion, at least), some good did come out of it. In an effort to cash in on the movie’s premiere, DC reprinted a mess of comic books that could be considered related to WATCHMEN (some much more tenuously than others) under the banner of: “After Watchmen…What’s Next?” Though a blatant money grab, this attempt at synergy did make some great stories readily available on the stands…and later, when local comic shop owners cleared out their massive stock of WATCHMEN-related merchandise, these comics became readily available in the cheap boxes. One such comic is this reprint of Alan Moore’s groundbreaking re-imagining of the classic Swamp Thing character, as Moore revealed the half-man, half-vegetable’s true origin in the classic “The Anatomy Lesson.” I’m not going to rehash the actual story here; most readers already will be familiar with it (and those who aren’t—shame on you! Go find this issue!). What I will point out is how firmly this comic is set in the horror genre (as was much of Moore’s initial work on SWAMP THING). The title character displays none of the philosophical leanings that would mark later issues in the series; the Swamp Thing herein truly hearkens back to his roots. This connection with older horror comics (especially EC’s seminal titles, and especially the dripping, grotesque artwork of “Ghastly” Graham Ingles) is strengthened by the meticulously hatched lines laid down by Stephen Bissette and john Totleben. It’s a great first chapter of an important comic book work, but it can also be appreciated as a stand-alone story. And though SWAMP THING trade collections will almost certainly never go out of print, discovering this one reprinted issue in the bargain box was a pleasantly horrific find.
When released from his bottle, the Imp transforms into Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from New England. He's currently hard at work interpreting fellow @$$Hole Optimous Douche's brainwaves and transforming them into pretty pictures on AVERAGE JOE, an original graphic novel to be published by Com.x. You can see some of his artwork here.
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