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AICN COMICS REVIEWS: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY! BAD KIDS GO TO HELL 2! SIMPSONS! MARS ATTACKS! X-O MANOWAR! & MORE!

The Pull List
(Click title to go directly to the review)

Advance Review: TEN GRAND #1
X-O MANOWAR #11
Advance Review: BATMAN INC #9
MARS ATTACKS #8
Advance Review: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1
RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #18
SIMPSONS COMICS #200
Advance Review: PLANETOID #5
CONSTANTINE #1
Advance Review: KILL SHAKESPEARE: TIDE OF BLOOD #2
NEW GUARDIANS #18
Indie Jones presents BAD KIDS GO TO HELL 2 #1
THE HIGH WAYS #3
Advance Review: WITCH DOCTOR: MAL PRACTICE #5


Advance Review: In stores in May!

TEN GRAND #1

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Ben Templesmith
Publisher: Image Comics/Joe’s Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


Layers…when you read a JMS book, the main story is never the whole story. TEN GRAND imbibes this Straczynski staple as it transcends planes both mortal and nether in nature.

Just when you think TEN GRAND is a book about the down trodden, it becomes a book of the damned. Just when you think you’re reading a story about a gun for hire, you realize there’s a much higher power at play. Just when you think this is a story of revenge, you realize it’s truly about love. Just when you think you have everything figured out in TEN GRAND, you realize you don’t know Jack…or, to speak more succinctly, you don’t know Joe.

No, I don’t mean Joe Straczynski. We all know him. SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE, SPIDER-MAN, RISING STARS, SUPREME POWER…if you haven’t read these books, go now. You’ve been missing good comics. Plus, you’ll have time since TEN GRAND 1 doesn’t drop until May. No, the Joe I refer to is Fitzgerald, the protagonist of TEN GRAND, who miraculously leads three distinct lives in this series opener. We learn about where Joe is now, where’s he been, and where he is going in perfect exposition form. Once a gun man for the mob, he now works on the side of angels — literally. Where’s he going? Some very very very dark places.

When Joe was “alive” he was in love. So in love he was ready to forego his chosen profession and start anew with his Juliette. Joe takes one last job to get enough cash to get out of town; unfortunately for Joe, but fortunate for readers, this last mark was much more than just a bad person. This mark was actually the embodiment of evil, a demon from the depths of hell that lays waste to Joe and his woman in seconds flat. Instead of crossing over, though, Joe is visited by an angel. An angel like we think of them; ethereal, beautiful and presenting Joe with an offer he simply can’t refuse.

Joe is allowed to remain on Earth even though his love is not granted the same stay of execution. However, the angel tells Joe that he can have five minutes with his woman every time he dies moving forward. Here’s the catch: Joe must die a virtuous death to be granted these five minutes.

But these are all events from the end of the first issue. TEN GRAND actually begins in the gutters of the city where the disenfranchised dwell. Before we learn one whisper about angels and secret pacts, we learn Joe is essentially a champion of the downtrodden. Now, even though he’s their champion he’s also a bit of an urban legend. His first client, a young woman trying to find her sister who recently ran off with a group of new-age religious nut bags, is honestly amazed that this man exists upon first meeting. Even more amazing is that her miracle worker is rife with the same salty comments most middle-aged people throw at the young instead of just gruff grunts and nods. This was a great scene to humanize Joe, as he applauds the young woman for not overusing the word “like” and also rides her for over-using her face as a pincushion. It’s a conversation I’ve heard a million times and truly works in humanizing the book before it goes off into the realms beyond normal human understanding.

So, why TEN GRAND as the title? That’s the price to hire Joe for help. Why ten grand as a monetary value? Because, as Joe explains to the young woman, it’s not too much to keep people asking for help, but just enough to weed out the nutjobs and those that might ask him to do a job of less than virtuous intent. He doesn’t count the money, because he doesn’t need to. It’s not about the money; it’s about ensuring the sincerity of the task at hand so if things go south Joe is at least guaranteed five minutes in paradise.

From here is where we start to learn of the angels and demons amongst us. Before things get too feathery, though, JMS does another great grounding moment by having Joe circumvent a dead end in his search for the cult by using the language of angels to unlock the truest Easter eggs the internet has to offer. Again, it’s not a big moment, but one more amazing beat to make all of the fantastic events feel real.

Templesmith’s art fits the morose tone of JMS’ words to a T. There’s really not much to dissect or analyze here; Ben is THE MAN to draw TEN GRAND.

Delivery dates have plagued a few JMS titles in the past. There’s no reason to hide it. However, Joe was never fully in the driver’s seat. Now, it’s truly Joe’s Comics: he’s not just the writer, but also the editor-in-chief setting the schedule, as he recently illuminated to me in this lengthy interview. I read this first issue of TEN GRAND way back in January – and I mean a completed cut of the book. You know what? I’ve also read issue 2, and issue 3 is actually already set in rough cut. So I can keep some wonderment from my childhood I respectfully decline reading anything but what’s going to the printer. For the scheduling challenged out there, this means that TEN GRAND is ready with issues today that won’t ship until August. I don’t know of any comic company this far ahead of the game.

I also give you a little whisper of a clue from issue 2. Remember that angels are first and foremost soldiers, and the only thing separating them from demons is altitude.

I’m a JMS fan through and through, but I’m an apologist for no man. I was as pissed off about THE TWELVE as everyone else. Again, though, to paraphrase a quote from the great Alex Karras in BLAZING SADDLES: “writers are but a pawn in game of life.” Hence, I think, why we see so many writers jumping the corporate ships to reach the shores of autonomous publishing these days.

One part detective story, one part a tale of love, and one part angelic mind-fuck, look for TEN GRAND special editions at C2E2 in a few weeks (lucky bastards--all I have is a goddamn PDF) and the full release this May.

Optimous Douche has successfully blackmailed BottleImp to draw purty pictures for his graphic novel AVERAGE JOE coming out in 2013 from COM.X. When not on Ain’t It Cool, Optimous can be found talking comics and marketing on robpatey.com and just marketing on MaaS360.com.


X-O MANOWAR #11

Writer: Robert Venditti
Art: Cary Nord
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Revewier: Mighty Mouth


X-O has nothing to do with hugs and kisses--who’d have thunk it?

My familiarity with X-O MANOWAR could be described as limited at best. I have a vague recollection of the original title published by Valiant Comics. I also remember Acclaim Entertainment’s acquisition of Valiant in the late 90’s. In earnest, most of my knowledge of the character comes from the PlayStation video game featuring Iron Man & X-O Manowar (yeah, I go that far back). I was perusing my local comic book shop (aptly named “The Comic Book Shop”) and came across Issue#11 of this title. Then I recalled a tête-à-tête with my fellow @$$hole Optimus Douche recommending I check out some of Valliant’s newly revived titles. So this week I finally heeded his advice, and he was right--I immensely enjoyed this issue.

In a nutshell, the story divulges the origins of both the world conquering race known as The Vine, and the sentient X-O armor. Having had enough of The Vine’s shenanigans, Aric decides it is high time he takes the fight from Earth to the Vine home world. Once Aric touches down, he initiates a slaughter that would make Jason Vorhees proud. When counterattacked, Aric finds the most unlikely of allies and learns that the fate of The Vine could spell destruction for his own people.

Normally when I review a comic I tend to talk about the story first. Contrarily, with this issue, I have to say that the artwork is what really drew me in. The first six pages depicting the history of the alien race known as The Vine and the origin of the X-O armor was what really got me vested in this story. These pages are beautifully laid out and are nothing short of a visual feast of near-flawless story telling. On the downside, the rest of the book’s art is a bit hot & cold, with some pages being excellently rendered and others looking a bit rushed. Still, the lesser pages are far from nauseating and do not detract from this title.

Now, as for the other aspects of this book, terms like excellent and captivating come to mind. The story is gripping from its onset and kept me absorbed page after page. In fact, the more I read the more I desired to know about Aric of Dacia and how the X-O armor came into his possession. Having not read the previous issues didn’t muddy the read at all. I could appreciate that Aric has a major axe to grind with The Vine (see that), and recognize the impact of the complication he is faced with by this issue’s end.

I think one of the best compliments I can give to a comic I never read before is to say that not only did this issue hook me for the next one, it also made me want to read what came before. Looks like I’ll be picking up some back issues this week. X-O MANOWAR #11 is an excellent jumping on point. So if you have a hankering for something new, give it a shot--you’ll be glad you did.

Oh and Douche, Mrs. Mouth thanks you for providing her husband yet another comic title to preoccupy his time so that she can have carte blanche over the remote control. Damn those gypsy weddings!


Advance Review: In stores this week!

BATMAN INC #9

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Chris Burnham
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


Now THIS is a requiem. We have an honest-to-God funeral, angst, conversations about Damian, you know…all the stuff you do to honor our flesh meat once it has expired. I wasn’t sure how we would get more action than Damian’s demise last issue -- the kid had more shit shot at him than Sonny Corleone in a Jersey tool booth – and that’s not even counting the brutal beatdown delivered by his clone self. But through some imaginative backwards and sideways storytelling we get just as much action and, as I mentioned a second ago, a book worthy of the “Requiem” moniker.

The more I read this title, the more I realize how truly integral Burnham has been to its success. It may seem like an obvious statement, but I disagree. Sometimes--many times, in comics these days--writer or artist can go on autopilot because of the immense talent of their counterpart. Normally I give all props to Morrison; as a comic writer myself, I get that the author is usually telling the artist what needs to be drawn. Burnham goes above and beyond those brief descriptions, though. Whether Bats and company are laying Damian to rest or fighting their way out of the Leviathan-occupied Wayne Tower, this issue is very sparse on words. Instead, Burnham aptly does the heavy lifting to show the disbelief, then fear and finally the ultimate rage Damian’s death has brought to the family. The escape from the tower is equally sans dialog, but rife with action as the Bat boys leverage some VERY heavy artillery to clear out a hole and bring Damian’s body back to the cave. Also, the fight scene between Bats and clone Damian had some very very clever moves.

I also loved this issue because it looks like the concept of BATMAN INC. is about to be dismantled as the Gotham PD decides to kowtow to Leviathan’s demands. I won’t rehash it here, but I’ve droned on for thousands of words in the past about my issues with Bruce Wayne publically funding Batman. It’s akin to Clark Kent doing advertisements for Pearle Vision: don’t call attention to something we have all decried in the past as a comic contrivance that would never fly in the real world. Also, we see a final toe tag being put on Great Britain’s Batman, Knight…sorta. Knight will return, and I like the direction much much better.

As for the family, the relationships are more tenuous than ever before. These events, compounded with “Death of the Family,” are pushing Bruce to a brink of solitary no return. If you don’t believe me, look at the interchange between Bruce and Alfred. You seriously want to give the old limey a hug after Bruce rails on him for letting Damian leave the cave.

You know who else I wanted to hug? Bat-Cow. I’ve loved the animal additions to the cave from day one. Titus became Robin’s Robin and Bat-Cow was a symbol of Damian’s desperation to live some of the magic childhood should be rife with. Finally Bat-Cow has her true moment in the sun as a final remembrance to everything Damian was before Bruce ends the issue in a barbaric yawp of emotional agony. I will say this final panel could have used a word bubble, though: without a high level of imagination, one might think Bruce is having a wicked back spasm.

Since the launch of the new 52, BATMAN INC. has been more a second issue of BATMAN & ROBIN each month. That’s a compliment. It’s also a sign of what’s to come, in my opinion. Without Robin, without a huge amount of support both in story and in the real world for a publically funded Batman and finally without Morrison, I think BATMAN INC. is bankrupt. It’s been a great ride, though, and everyone involved should get their own Bat-Cow for a job very well done.


MARS ATTACKS #8

Writer: John Layman
Artist: John McCrea
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Reviewer: Masked Man


Now am I just crazy in thinking that Layman has named a character in this book, Ray Delvechio, off a character a character from the old TV show DUE SOUTH, Ray Vecchio? True, Ray is not Ray, in looks or profession, but I'm still gonna say no, I'm not crazy. Heck, I can hear David Marciano saying Delvechio's lines here.

Now while I can't say I'm enjoying MARS ATTACKS as much as I enjoyed DUE SOUTH (yeah, I loved that show), I can say John and John are knocking out a very fun and clever book. We are in the midst of the second story arc and Layman is doing a much better job of blending all the different character story lines together, thanks to Mr. Delvechio’s actions. The first story arc I felt had too many “well, isn't that convenient” moments. I'm also enjoying this cast of characters more than the first arc as well, from Mr. Delvechio to Tommy Bailey (read Amadeus Cho) to Professor Walters. A much more colorful and interesting group…to get killed by Martians! Along with a pretty good plot of betrayal and survival, Layman's narration helps elevate story and adds the humor one expects in a MARS ATTACK story. While McCrea is drawing someone getting their face blown off, Layman is relaying the thoughts of the characters at that moment, turning drama into humor--something I really wish more comic book writers would do, but then their comics would read like comic books instead of movies--which seems to be the goal these days.

Aside from a good issue of human and Martian cooperation (yes, I said cooperation), Layman digs deeper into the whole psyche of the Martian destroyers. In the first arc we learn the whole attack on Earth is pretty much one Martian's revenge plot. Here we learn not all the Martians are out for blood, and sometimes a soldier is just a soldier. This, of course, is then twisted so the carnage can continue, but it makes me wonder if Layman might actually have an ending in mind for this unending Earth/Mars war.

McCrea's art still works well for the book. As with past issues, it's a good blend of gory detail and cartoony fun. If I was to complain, I'd say I wish his work was a little tighter, as it can come off as too sketchy at times. But he certainly doesn't shy away from rolling up his sleeves to draw tons of action of Martians and hitmen and soldiers and lots of tech blowing the crap out of each other! And even though his characters are cartoony looking, they are not cartoons. Their style, as I mentioned in my first review, helps take the edge off the violence, so it doesn't come across like an AGE OF ULTRON issue. Just good bloody fun.

Lastly, I'll say I'm enjoy the trading cards that come with the comic much more than the AR in other books (though I suppose if I had iPhone I might change my mind). And I still love how Layman uses trading cards as the chapter markers of the story--great idea. So my final opinion is a trading card of a laughing kid reading MARS ATTACKS, with the caption “Reader amused by Martian Mayhem”.

Learn more about the Masked Man and feel free check out his comic book CINDY LI: THREE OF A KIND at www.Toonocity.com


Advance Review: In stores this week!

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Steve McNiven, John Dell and Justin Ponsor
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug


I’m not one of those readers who got into GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY because I found out that there’ll be a movie starring the team soon. I’ve been reading the book in mostly all of its permutations for decades. Long before Keith Giffen revamped the team for the new Millennium for ANNIHILATION, I loved the team when it was Charlie 27, Vance Astro, Martinex, Nikki, Starhawk, and Yondu when they premiered in MARVEL PREMIERE. I loved the concept of scientifically amped up human astronauts, tweaked to survive in the future colonies with diamond hard skin, dense body structures, and flaming hairdos. Don’t know what the hell I’m talkin’ bout? It’s ok--neither does Marvel these days since the original GotG have been all but forgotten and replaced by Starlord and his crew of scallywags.

But that’s ok. I’m not going to harp on the change. I loved what Abnett and Lanning did with the characters in the previous series, and though I am not too happy with the way Bendis thinks a one word balloon acknowledgement of the entire Cancerverse/Sacrifice storyline is enough, I am trying my best to look past it and pay attention to the story Bendis is telling instead of the one he is choosing to ignore. And the story Bendis is telling is a decent one. Cinematic as all get out, Bendis’ new version of GotG slows the story down to a crawl while highlighting what Bendis does best--that being dialog. There is some great wordplay, the highlight being a combative conversation between Peter Quill the Starlord and his father who is the Ruler of Spartax. For some, the Gamora scene fighting the guards or the space battle with Rocket Raccoon and Groot will be the highlight of the book, but for me, the interaction between Quill and his estranged father is what will get me to pick up the next issue.

The inclusion of Iron Man in this book is stupid to me. I understand Marvel may think that putting a popular character in the book will somehow bring in more readers, but his presence in the book is more shoehorned than a Wolverine cameo would be. And to top it off, the new Space Iron Man armor is the ugliest version since he used to wear roller skates.

Unnecessary cameos aside, this is an entertaining book made especially bombastic and dynamic with art by Steve McNiven, John Dell, and Justin Ponsor. This book has some nice space action (a must for any GotG comic), though I think the artists are still finding their way with how the look of Starlord is supposed to come off. As is, he looks a bit too much like a Nova Corpsman.

Though fans of Giffen/DNA GotG may feel frustrated that Bendis isn’t really acknowledging the previous incarnation of the team, I ask them to understand as I did when Vance Astro, Starlord, and the crew were given the shaft in favor of a monosyllabic tree, a multisyllabic mammal, and a Han Solo wannabe. That version of the team turned out to be something pretty damn cool, and as long as Bendis decides to add some story progression in between the clever dialog, this new GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY might be good too.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.


RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #18

Writer: Scot Lobdell
Artist: Tyler Kirkham
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


Before I climb atop my high horse, let me say this is an amazing issue. I would say THE BEST issue of RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS to date. Lobdell peeled away psychological layers in Jason Todd that few writers have ever dared to explore. This issue fully redeems the once nostalgia-riding upsell tactic of Todd’s resurrection into an actual honest to God good idea for the Bat and DC universe.

Kirkham is a wonderful welcome change to Rockafort. I’ll miss the Rock--I’m on the hells yes side for his unique style. I’m also a bit upset I must retire my coined LobRocster contraction, because LobHam just doesn’t sound as good, but Tyler keeps the energy strong and fast, which is a staple of this book. His style brings a darker, less cartoony tone, which is exactly what was needed for the deep soul-searching Jason undergoes in this issue.

However, I have an issue. And it’s not aimed at Scott, Tyler or any of the other creators on the Bat books. Unless you just woke up from a coma, you no doubt know that Damian Wayne is no longer with us. To commemorate this event, the Bat-books following Damian’s demise have all come with the sub-brand of “Requiem” with a beautiful Robin-branded R leading the phrase.

Requiem is defined as “a mass for the dead.”

Makes sense, no? I mean, Damian did die. So why for the sweet love of Fisher Brothers Funeral Services have I read two books now that have the Requiem moniker and not an ounce of Damian?

I actually defended BATGIRL on our Spoiler Alert podcast this past week when the guys wanted to rail on this topic…until I realized I couldn’t. Yes, I laughingly tried to argue that Dick Grayson saying Babs he was too upset to talk right now counted as a nod to Damian’s death. I know I was reaching, but at least there was an attempt. RED HOOD, though, has not one mention of Damian. Not one.

Redemption. Regret. Hell, even rebirth would be very fitting R’s for this title as we watch Jason recoup from recent events in “Death of the Family.”

In his fugue state of recovery we see scenes from the monastery he went to after he was resurrected – a hallucination that crosses ever so gently into reality – interlaced with his lifeless body where Bruce and Alfred hold constant vigil. Between the words of the dead wise woman we met earlier in the series and Alfred’s tough but tender caring of both Jason and Bruce, a transformation occurs. Jason realizes he’s held grudges and those grudges have consumed whatever soul he was resurrected with. He comes to an understanding of self and, more importantly, the responsibility his gifts place upon him to live by some kind of ethical code. There was a tenderness and endearment to this issue that makes me glad it came so late in the series, because I think all the Mommy bloggers who came after this title simply don’t deserve this level of good storytelling in their lives (yeah, I’m still not letting that go). When Bruce and Jason hugged at the end, I was a little verklempt, and not once felt it was forced or hokey.

I’ve had a few even stauncher than I defenders try to say this isn’t a literal requiem. First off, no shit--I didn’t expect a cross-over comprised of Gregorian chants. When I probe further, these internet sages try to say it’s a metaphorical requiem for the “Death of the Family.” I’ll be honest: I was close to buying this until, once again, I look at the word on the cover and the R is clearly off of Robin’s costume.

This issue was a departure from the flippant norm (not a slight – I like the irreverence in which this book dabbles usually), but a great departure. It wasn’t a damn requiem for Damian, though.


SIMPSONS COMICS #200

Writer: Ian Boothby, Evan Dorkin, Tony Digerolamo, Max Davidson, and Dean Rankine
Artist: Phil Ortez, Evan Dorkin, John Delaney, and Dean Rankine
Publisher: Bongo Comics
Reviewer: Mad Mercutio


I decided to pick this one up and do a review of it for purely nostalgic reasons. I used to love the Simpsons. As I was paying for my weekly purchases, I glanced at the kid rack and there was the latest SIMPSONS COMICS clocking in at 200. I found that impressive. For one thing, I didn’t know that SIMPSONS COMICS were still being published. It had a hefty price tag at $4.99, but there was a definite heft to it when I picked it up. Flipping through it, I immediately got a fun and nostalgic feeling. I decided to pick it up, and honestly, it was the first one I read when I got home.

I was not disappointed. Flipping it open, I noticed the issue started with a forward speaking to the 20 years that Bongo Comics had been in business. Besides this making me feel very old, it impressed me that a humor comic had been going strong for that long. The opening and main story was a retrospective of sorts, where fellow Springfieldians shared their recollections of history. These little vignettes had some great little moments in them ranging from Comic Book Store Guy’s telling of the founding fathers represented as members of the Fantastic Four to Lisa’s sharing of Theodore Roosevelt finding a Bart Simpson-esque 1930s kid dressed up as a baby bear to scare up food, thereby inspiring the term “Teddy Bear.” That’s what made the comic work for me. Those little absurd moments that on the surface might seem just downright silly, but if you know a little history can actually come off as kind of clever (nevermind the time period was off by a little in that last example). There were also a few back up stories most notable among them one by Evan Dorkin of MILK AND CHEESE fame.

The art itself was pitch perfect. You pick up a Simpsons Comic and you expect Simpsons-style art. The art looked like it has for quite a while, so there were no surprises there.

I’m definitely more a superhero or fantasy guy who sometimes dabbles in the indie stuff than a humor guy, but I liked this dalliance quite a bit. There was just something refreshing about it. Maybe it was that there were no major epic events--there were no characters dying that I knew would be brought back in a year or two. The internets were not going to blow up with threats to the creators and rabid fanboys losing their shit about what went on in the pages between the covers. It was actually kind of nice to read something so simple. As a matter of fact, I’m going to go ahead and make a plea: someone should really consider making The Simpsons into a show. Maybe even an animated one. Who knows? Maybe it could gain some legs and last for a season or two.


Advance Review: In stores today!

PLANETOID #5

Writer & Artist: Ken Garing
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


The world loves a good Cinderella story, and PLANETOID is comics’ own fairy tale. Ken Garing shared issue one with me many moons ago when he was self-hosting the file share trying to get someone—anyone--to read his tale about spaceman Silas and his crash landing on, well, a planetoid. I reviewed the book and for a few months heard nothing. Then one day out of the clear blue I get another message from Ken asking me to review issue 2, now being published by none other than Image comics. It’s rare I get a good self-published book; it’s even rarer when I herald that book and it gets any notice beyond hard core fans; it’s the rarest of circumstances when I review a book that gets major notice and increases in quality with each passing chapter. PLANETOID is that rare space rock that deserves every stroke of luck that’s been bestowed upon it.

First off, Garing is the whole proprietor of this title, handling the FULL production. Normally artist/writers have a chink in their armor on one side of the house – not all, but most. Garing again is one of those wunderkinds who has it all. As we see this generational story unfold Garing handles all the quiet moments of our lone castaway with the same flair and intrigue as the grand sweeping moments on this futuristic mining colony time forgot.

When the series started I thought this would just be the tale of a stranger in a strange land - a spaceman from the civilized part of the galaxy trying to survive on the space equivalent of “Gilligan’s Island.” Garing did a greta job making Silas’ tech act as a secondary character, showing AI can be helpful, but it ain’t human. As the series progressed, though, Garing expanded quickly past this original concept and used this desolate hunk of rock to uncover themes like oppression, freedom, and the folly of war thwarted by the fortitude of life.

It helped that Silas wasn’t alone aboard this space equivalent of Western Pennsylvania. When the war between the humanoids and the calamari-faced alien with which we now battle moved to other parts of the galaxy, the slaves that were used for ore extraction were left behind. Also left behind was the machinery to keep those slaves a-slavin’ away. After years, both evolved, and left Silas caught in the middle of the two fractions.

From lone wolf to savior is a true heroes’ journey, and that’s what I’m left with at the close of PLANETOID. Yes the fights were spectacular with garish rusted-over mechanical monstrosities, yes the love Silas found for the inhabitants of PLANETOID and one in particular helped humanize those battles, yes the call to arms was stirring and the ultimate final battle to gain freedom was heart-lifting, but in the end it’s Silas’ ultimate fate that left me awestruck.

The denouement was somewhat expected, but again Garing surprised by capping it off with the ultimate message of PLANETOID – the only thing that matters in the entirety of the universe is the perseverance of life.

This was a great series and I was honored to report on it even below the ground floor. If you’re a completist like me and missed the first few issues, the trade will be coming shortly. If you’ve been following all along and wondered where the book has been, I have it firsthand from Ken he apologizes profusely for the delays on this final issue. I implore everyone who loves comics to give Garing a shot, if not on PLANETOID than on his next venture, which I am assured is a BIG deal. So big, Ken can’t even mention it yet to anyone. I’ve been doing the review gig for five years now, and when creators are lock-lipped about their next gig, 99% of the time they are gagged by legalities. When lawyers and NDAs are involved, there is something special a brewin’.


CONSTANTINE #1

Writers: Jeff Lemire & Ray Fawkes
Artist: Renato Guedes
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee


Indulge me for a moment while I ravenously regale you with my possibly unhealthy opinion of why John Constantine is pretty much the best character we’ve seen grace (well, more like bitterly snarl nicotine resin over) the comic book page. Honestly, my viewpoint on the matter in the near thirty years of his existence really comes down to one big factor: he’s a character that has no shackles. This is a character whose origin involves accidentally damning an innocent, pre-adolescent girl to Hell, whose defining moment was slashing his wrists to force the rulers of Hell to fix his cancer-riddled body before then giving them the finger, and has engaged all manner of fucked up individuals, demons, spirits, etc. The character works primarily because there are no bounds. He can shag a lesbian, be involved in some disturbing backwoods porno in the wastes of West Virginia (I lived there before, in case you think I’m being unnecessarily harsh with the “wastes” comment), kill his brother in the womb, and on and on with that “For Mature Readers” tag the Vertigo banner brought. Slap on a “The New 52!” logo, though, and you might as well be slapping on a muzzle.

That last part was what immediately came to mind when I heard the news that HELLBLAZER was coming to an end. Well, scratch that, what really came to mind (the cynical part of it, natch) was that between this and the decline in number of Vertigo titles in general that this was the real sign that the imprint is on its last legs. It’s been painfully apparent that Dan Didio and the current regime heading up DC Comics’ bullpen for the majority of the past decade have had little to no regard for that end of the publishing line, despite the vast majority of the company’s best material coming from its outbox. But, to be honest, I was not as morose about that title’s announced retirement as I thought I might. It had been a milestone 300 issues, issues containing an admirably high quantity of classic tales from the best writers the industry had seen for three decades, and it had another very solid run under Peter Milligan to hang its trench coat on and that, despite the quality of the material, had seen some pretty low monthly sales, even for a Vertigo book (hell, even I moved onto buying trades only a couple years back despite owning 90% of the run in issue form). The fanboy in me was saddened, the realist in me was not completely shocked, and the angry, ranty bastard in me was ready to throw down when it was also decided that PG-13 Johnny Boy would take its place.

Likewise to my sobriety when it came to the end of HELLBLAZER, I understand that, inherently, a PG-13 Constantine might not be the ideal environment for the character but it can and currently does work, as Jeff Lemire is showing in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK. That incarnation works because now John is back to his roots, being the devious driver of the mystical elements of the DCU, just like when he was leading Swamp Thing around by the roots in the eighties. Mixing it up with these characters, leading them into danger that he may or may not be letting them know is coming, watching as these folks either loathe his presence and attitude or begrudgingly admit his bastardry is what needs to happen in order to combat the arcane forces they do is really the only thing HELLBLAZER itself could not do. Even saying this as a person who was all of ten years old when material like, say, BOOKS OF MAGIC was going on, I feel these types of team up stories have their place and were missed after a long enough timeline and Lemire has been doing a (pardon the pun) hell of a job telling them and reintegrating items like the aforementioned Books of Magic and Houses of Mystery and Secrets back into the new DCU. And (fucking finally, I know, I know, I’m sorry) that brings us to CONSTANTINE.

I will give Lemire credit here in two regards: one being his work on JL DARK convincing me to give this a try (not to discredit Robert Venditti, who was originally slated with the unholy task of this launch. but I knew exactly six issues of his body of work compared to what I’ve seen Lemire do for years now) and the second being that I appreciate the level of bastard we do get in this debut. In fact, it feels like the main thrust of this issue is to set up that bastardry and innate cunning of the character in these new digs to show that he (and Ray Fawkes, of course) will be doing the best that can be done to channel that vicious edge the previous book had. I hate to say it, though, but I’m still not entirely converted yet, not because of the writing that is here but because of the writing that isn’t present.

Much as HELLBLAZER was a character study of a man that by all rights seems to not give two tugs about anyone but is always there to help even if it takes your last drop of blood, it was also a dirty commentary on the world. What made that book and John tick were the shadowy side of things--the whores and the druggies and the thieves and the politicians and people society has forgotten or shunned that need a “savior” like a John Constantine, and god help them he’s all they have. Chances are, those people and that commentary aren’t going to exist in these pages and, being fair, they shouldn’t because Lemire and Fawkes will not be able to put the proper wordage and atmosphere behind them to sell it. That’s just the way it’s going to be, and I think they know it and they know we know it and here is what we got. And, for what it is, I’ll say it was satisfying enough; it’s just the hard part is letting go and you’re going to have to do that if you’re someone like myself who has been with this character for quite the duration.

So here is our new CONSTANTINE and our old Constantine. He’s still fighting mystical bastards and the “good fight”, but out of his own sense of self-preservation and, well, his own arrogance. He’s still sacrificing those around him as he does with some poor schmuck named Chris he promised he’d help with painful visions and ended up watching be pulped by the new Sargon (this time of the Sorceress variety) as he ran off with the magical trinket du jour. He’s cunning, he’s selfish, he’s again surrounded by some familiar faces, if you are that far down the DCU rabbit hole that characters like Zatara and Sargon and Mister E are “familiar.” He’s still John Constantine; it’s just that CONSTANTINE is not HELLBLAZER. And it never will be. Nothing will be; that’s why that series will go down as an all-time classic, and that’s going to be the problem hounding this book and perceptions of it, whether it’s fair or not (here’s a hint: it’s not). But given the short end of objectivity, Lemire and Fawkes and even Guedes and his artistic style are going to receive, I have to give them props for their tenacity here. And I hope they have a lot more of it, because it’s going to continue to take a lot to convert the still (and probably never will be fully) yet to be converted. Just like with what John does, it’s thankless fucking work, but someone’s got to do it. Cheers…

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!

KILL SHAKESPEARE: TIDE OF BLOOD #2

Writer: Conor McCreery, Anthony Del Col
Artist: Andy Belanger
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Reviewer: Lyzard


So here we are again. Almost two years since the first run of KILL SHAKESPEARE ended, but only three months have passed in the fictional world of Delphos. Our heroes (Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, and Romeo) have returned for another adventure, yet again on a search for their beloved William Shakespeare. Not the most original idea for a sequel, but this time there are new foes for the quartet and their Council of Thirty-Seven to face.

Replacing the royal Richard III as antagonist is the Roman general Titus Andronicus. I think of his play as the Elizabethan version of torture porn with its inclusion of rape, dismemberment, and cannibalism. Though I don’t expect McCreery and Del Col to delve into all of that, I do believe that Titus can live up to the villainy that was Lady Macbeth and her patsy Richard.

In the first issue we found Romeo trying to drown his unrequited love for Juliet with the drink. Last time he was in this state (in the original play), Romeo abandoned lusting after Rosaline and ended up falling in love at first sight with the other young Capulet, and we all know how well that turned out. Now self-deprecating Montague is at it again, having set his eyes on Miranda, the daughter of Prospero. It is her arrival that directs the Justice League of Shakespeare’s attention away from Titus’ advancing armies and sets sail for the isle of the great wizard in hopes of saving him and finding their creator.

Ironically, it was Julie Taymor’s promotion of her adaptation of “The Tempest” that brought KILL SHAKESPEARE to the attention of a much larger audience when she mentioned the comic to Stephen Colbert. Issue #2 begins on the magical island from the play, one inhabited by monsters and madness, spirits and spooks. Our heroes have gone up against such odds before, but are they ready for a rematch?

Since most of the characters were established in the previous run, TIDES OF BLOOD has been moving at a swift pace, even with an improvement over the first issue of this run which overemphasized the Romeo, Juliet, and Hamlet (unrequited) love triangle. This conflict is also evident in the second issue, but to a much darker and more complex extent. It may be due to a certain book/cultural phenomenon that shall not be named that I am jaded towards love triangles, but this time my patience has been worn thin not by an indecisive girl, but by the boy that can’t take a hint. Romeo has usurped the theatrical Hamlet as the poster boy for Elizabethan emo. He can’t have the girl, and every time he goes after one, it inevitably leads to danger. Danger. That is where KILL SHAKESPEARE shines. Not when focusing on the romance, but on the action/adventure element.

Before I conclude, one cannot discuss this issue without mentioning the work of artist Andy Belanger. Of course, it had to be the issue entitled “To Hold the Mirror Up to Nature” that Belanger chose to recreate the famous WATCHMEN #5: FEARFUL SYMMETRY, an issue built upon mirroring frame layouts. I am prepared for the angry e-mails following this statement, but this choice of style contextually fits in better with KILL SHAKESPEARE’s story than that of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work. This issue tells the tale of how the island unknowingly drives some of the characters mad, leaving them unable to trust their senses. Belanger’s special layout isn’t noticeable until the halfway mark, and from then on it slowly dawns on the reader than something is different within these pages.

So far KILL SHAKESEPARE: THE TIDES OF BLOOD has lived up to its predecessor. McCreery, Del Col, and Belanger seem to have stuck to the old adage of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, except for Romeo’s heart. Please mend that soon so he can move on to a more violent, external conflict.

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.


GREEN LANTERN NEW GUARDIANS #18

Writer: Tony Bedard
Artist: Hendry Prasetyo/Jim Calafiore/Javier Pulido/Wil Quintana
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: The Writing Rambler


As we reach the 7th chapter of the “Wrath of the First Lantern” story, we unfortunately seem stuck at this point where we are continuously being reminded that the First Lantern, Volthoom, has reality-shifting power. This ability to alter the lives of our favorite Green Lantern characters is interesting and serves for some fun What If/Elseworlds style storylines, but due to the repetitive nature of these tie-in chapters, it’s quickly becoming stale. Generally, I love a good "what if" story--it's always fun to explore new versions of a character we know and love. To see them as a powerless creature or have a villain play the hero is always a fun read, but what's happening here is that we've reached the point where it is just dragging along way too much for even the most loyal readers.

I can have fun with these stories, but when you look at it in the frame of understanding that this is the last big event of the Geoff Johns era you really expect a lot more. The event had an exciting start, and I generally enjoyed watching Volthoom play with the lives of some of the greater Green Lantern cast, but it has become nothing more than each new issue of this story being who Volthoom will mess with this week.

Another problem is that with each issue we see Volthoom altering the lives of characters only to revert everything back at the end of the issue, blaming the fact that his power has not yet reached its capacity. This is all understandable to build up to the climax of the event, but with each passing chapter of this story Volthoom comes off less like a world-conquering being and more like a mischievous cosmic player, the likes of Mr Myxzpltyk.

Nonetheless, there were some some fun moments in NEW GUARDIANS #18, especially those dealing with Larfleeze's unrelenting abilty to not be able to give up his greed. As a fan of the Orange Lantern it made me smile, but still, if I am to believe Volthoom is this all-powerful being, yet he becomes frustrated and gives up when faced with Larfleeze's stubborn personality, seriously, how scared are we really supposed to be of him? I think this issue, more than any so far, diminished the power we have seen on display throughout these first 7 chapters.

The art in the issue was was enjoyable, though having three different artists handle Star Sapphire, Larfeeze and Saint Walker's different stories respectively was a little distracting to say the least. I would like to commend Wil Quintana for his job as colorist, as in this issue as he found a way to take the 3 different styles of art and actually make them feel like one story. If anything kept the constantly changing pages from taking me out of the story it was his work on the issue.

Overall it just seems that a lot of time is being wasted telling this final story. If it’s simply a business choice and DC is trying to cash in with filler content on this one final Johns-era event, then I understand ( I don't like it but I understand). What I am more concerned with is that not enough time is being spent fleshing out the story, and when it comes time to close out everything we will get a rush to the finish line like we so often see in the comic book world today. I'm on board either way for this series (so yes, I'm part of the problem) but I truly hope that this event actually gets moving along with a story and not just some fun bonus content, which is what the majority of this event has been.

You can follow The Writing Rambler on his blog here and follow on Twitter @Writing_Rambler !


BAD KIDS GO TO HELL 2 #1

Writers: Matt Spradlin & Barry Wernick
Artist: Alex Williamson
Publisher: Antarctic Press
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


In my review of BAD KIDS GO TO HELL part Un, I described the story as such: “Have you ever wondered what would happen if the script for “Poltergeist” decided to grudge-fuck the script for “The Breakfast Club” and didn’t pull out? Well, wonder no more, because BAD KIDS GO TO HELL is the demon seed that epitomizes this unholy act.”

The BKGTH guys are going to make this a really easy review for me because my slugline still holds. This feels all 80s in the themes of copious gore fused with high school sex- and drug-fueled drama. The kids have changed (slightly), but the upper-crust Crestview Academy is still the place where pampered brats meet untimely fates one Saturday detention at a time.

While the kids are still the same thematically, their grab bag of petulant issues has been tweaked for differentiation. There’s the bad girl who thumbs her nose at convention by shitting in the top of a convertible, the freak who lets her freak flag fly by stripping down at a school soiree, the one who seems like overkill since she only pushed a girl into the pool at the same soiree, the drug addict who is also shamefully rejected by his parents for being gay and finally a senator’s son whose mouth seems to be his best weapon and worst enemy.

What’s also different this time around is the lack of curses and mystical injun burial grounds that I felt slowed down the first tale. It was a fun red herring, but now that the veil has been lifted we need evil to take on a more tangible form. For mystery, though, the gents did a backward story tell this time with our last remaining student at the end of the day brandishing a flamethrower against police.

Will she be the culprit of demise this time? Doubt it. Too easy and apparent. There’s a host of other characters that could be behind the poisoning and smoosh smoosh that takes out two students in this inaugural issue. Everyone from the school’s second in command to the headmaster himself could be responsible; only time will tell.

One artistic note to be mentioned here: the cover is a complete 180 from the material inside. It’s a ballsy move to go this polar opposite. The inside is nowhere near as Scooby Doo as the front art. Williamson has a very representational style, which is exactly what a book like this demands given the debauchery. I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever want to see the Cartoon Network version of a coke whore.

I also noticed that headmaster Nash has been transformed to bear a striking resemblance to actor Judd Nelson, who ended up playing the part in BAD KIDS GO TO HELL the movie, available now….everywhere it seems.

Is BKGTH 2 a deep book? No. Ground breaking? Hardly--my hands were green from the pastiche-ios in this book. But is it fun? Yes. Cathartic watching the douchebags you hated in school meet their untimely demise? Hells yes! A complete unleashing of the male id on to the written page? Indubitably!


THE HIGH WAYS #3

Writer: John Byrne
Artist: John Byrne
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Reviewer: Masked Man


Attention all planets of the Solar Federation, attention all planets of the Solar Federation: if you're a sci fi fan, you should be picking up this book. Seriously, this is a good book. I know John Byrne has got a rep that makes some peoples’ skin crawl, but I'm far more creeped out by Rob Liefeld or Frank Miller. And THE HIGH WAYS is proving John Byrne still has it, though I'm not sure Rob ever did.

Now, if you were apprehensive about this series after the first two issues, which were standard fare, this is the issue where the plot kicks into high gear. Byrne starts laying into character motivations that are as surprising to other characters as they are to us. Who knows what, and what the heck is really going on, is the name of the game here. And there are a lot of cool things going on: back room deals, sleeper agents, mad scientists, space marines’ flashbacks, and an explanation of the creepy-@$$ 'alien' - and for the John Byrne haters, some creepy @$$ sex. All this stuff works together well, as Byrne creates a mystery that doesn't come off like lame plot devices--which is pretty important to me, because one of my biggest problems with stories like the show LOST isn't the unanswered and unanswerable questions: it's the forced feeling of the plot. You can just feel the writer pulling strings to preserve the mystery, as opposed to actually telling a story with a mystery. Fortunately, Byrne knows how to tell a story with a mystery--no chain yanking here (well, except on page 11, I guess). Now with all this crazy stuff going on, Byrne still keeps true to this being a sci fi book. He never misses a chance to explain what life is like in this near future. Attention to details like this is why THE HIGH WAYS is superior to most near future sci fi books. Where many writers spend time creating the future twitter/facebook and/or mass transit systems, Byrne simply states the reality of physics and how people are dealing with 'em.

To be sure, this book doesn't look anywhere near as good as his stuff did back in the mid-80's. Back then Byrne had a sleek style that could get dirty (making it pop) when he wanted to. Nowadays he's just dirty all the time, removing his work from elite status to just good work status. But with THE HIGH WAYS, you can see glimpses of that old Byrne magic. This is the closest thing to Byrne's 'A' game that I've seen in a while. From all the SPACE 1999-looking spaceships to the story-telling, action sequences and good looking character, this is good stuff. Now aside from wishing Byrne still had the slick look he had in 1985, one thing I would like to see more of is color in the tech shots. I appreciate the realism colorist Leonard O'Grady is going for, but seriously--everything is a bit too white and too boring. This also risks flattening out the depth of the panels. Not that I want everything as tie-dye as Marilyn Jones's spacesuit, but a little more push and pull in the background spaces would be nice--though the effect of the black spaceship is very cool.

So in this old-school near future sci fi adventure, John Byrne has started kicking off a lot of crazy cool things and you might be sorry if ya miss it.


Advance Review: In stores today!

WITCH DOCTOR: MAL PRACTICE #5

Writer: Brandon Seifert
Art: Lukas Ketner
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug


Brandon Seiftert continues to do magic in a wholly new and entertaining way with this latest WITCH DOCTOR miniseries. This time around, we focus more on Dr. Morrow’s personal life as he contracts a magically transmitted sexual disease and must operate on himself in order to survive. Last issue ended with the doctor in astral form deep inside his own body in a twisted version of THE FANTASTIC VOYAGE, ridding himself of the mystical malady. Things don’t go particularly well, though (shocker!) Morrow does survive the operation.

This issue begins with an amazing recount of what the doctor’s malady exactly is. Seifert describes it in such detail that one would imagine the mystical disease actually exists in real life, bringing medical explanation to mystical methods. But that’s been Seifert’s specialty throughout this series--making magic fun again by applying it against the template of medicine.

Continuing to knock it out of the park as well is Lukas Ketner on the art duties. A style made for horror, even during the more goofy parts, Ketner’s lanky characters and creature panels make this all feel spooky, as if you’re reading an old EC Comic.

Though late in the series, if you scrounge deep enough you may be able to pick up the rest of this six issue series now before the final sixth issue hits next month. Or maybe you should wait for the trade if the single issues aren’t handy. Either way, you really should do yourself a favor and check out comic book magic and mayhem done right with WITCH DOCTOR: MAL PRACTICE!


Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

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