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AICN COMICS Reviews: Kirkman’s OUTCAST! SAVAGE HULK! Jim Zub’s WAYWARD! MIDNIGHT TIGER! & More!

Logo by Kristian Horn
The Pull List
(Click title to go directly to the review)

Advance Review: WAYWARD #1
SAVAGE HULK #1
Advance Review: FAIREST #27
MIDNIGHT TIGER #1
Indie Jones presents ADAM 12 Chapters 1-5
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #3
Indie Jones presents THE LAST WEST VOL.1
OUTCAST #1
Advance Review: TOM CLANCY’S SPLINTER CELL: ECHOES #1
DEATH SENTENCE VOL.1
Raiders of the Long Box presents RAI #5


In Stores August 2014!

WAYWARD #1

Writer: Jim Zub
Artist: Steve Cummings
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviwer: Optimous Douche


I find it hard to believe it’s been four years since I was first contacted by a lone Eastern Europeanish immigrant named Jim Zubkavich. Traveling by steamer ship from the same piece of shit country as Balki from “Perfect Strangers”, I received his telegraph requesting coverage of his book SKULL KICKERS, which would be his indentured servitude golden ticket to America.

Now he’s a shining example of the American Dream and how indentured servitude is really a great piece of currency, the Kavich has left the building and Jim Zub delivers another comic problem solver with WAYWARD #1.

That’s right, a comic problem solver. Anyone can write a story or lasso words around editorial edicts, but the ones worth remembering always stand at the ready to fill a void or vacuum.

Back then, with SKULLKICKERS Kavich showed us that comics could be fun as his nameless D&D characters pretty much kicked a bunch of skulls inside the story wrappers of every fantasy trope imaginable. 2010 was a bummer fucking year as the Big Two put their current universes in neutral and took all the top talent to the boardroom to usher in the Meticulously Measured Metrics Age of comics. Kavich said “no, silly Americans--do not be sad the beetle blues has been shot by the Lord of Foldgers, laugh at my silly dwarf man instead.”

Today, Zub fixes a problem that has been screaming at comics since the first bra was burned, and yet amidst that screeching there is still so little problem solving – that’s right, I’m talking about some lady protagonisting. Not only does Zub go lady, he actually goes teenage lady, and I’ll tell you that it definitely works.

Rori Lane is not only about to undergo a fantastic journey filled with comic booky stuff, but she’s also on a journey of discovery as a stranger in a strange land that I already find equally if not more intriguing than the fantasy. Her half Irish, half Japanese descent only lasted until her parents’ divorce. Mom gets Rori, so Rori gets to move to Tokyo.

Zub and Cummings paint the perfect balance of wonderment and fear in Rori as she navigates a land that many foreigners will never quite “get” until they actually experience it. However, the land of the rising sun also activates something in Rori that I can only best describe as Splinter Cell vision. Rori begins to see pathways, or when put to good use, a strategic line to overcome any point A to point B obstacle.

Now, where most assholes would simply use this ability to YouTube X-Treme Parkour, Rori’s mettle is actually tested her first afternoon in town by turtles in a half shell with big-ass slobbering teeth and, ironically, bird flu (OK I made up the last part), until a girl with an uncanny ability to summon felines and become catlike herself mysteriously saves Rori and then quickly abandons her, but not before getting some strange milk from a vending machine to solidify once more how strange Tokyo culture is to us Western world folks.

What this review is missing is how well Zub paints these moments--Rori’s journey, the loss of her parents’ love for each other, how batshit crazy Japan is for first timers--because he does it all in masterful and authentic detail. Steve Cummings is simply a new god of comic drawing; my jaw continued to lower to the floor page after beautiful page.

Sorry to tease WAYWARD so far ahead of release, but that’s comics, folks. Retailers must order now--they believe they are people too, and so they sometimes need a little help stocking the shelves before you consumer types start navigating them. There are a deluge of titles coming from every corner of comics and Image is certainly one of the most massive #1 producers in recent memory. Out of all those so many books of genesis I’ve enjoyed, WAYWARD is one of the first that I feel is as much needed as it is entertaining.

When Optimous isn't reviewing comics he is making the IT words chortle and groan with marketing for MaaS360, enterprise mobility management (link these three words to www.maas360.com). He also has a comic coming out sometime soon, for updates head to robpatey.com.


SAVAGE HULK #1

Writer: Alan Davis
Artist: Alan Davis
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man


Alan Davis is back at it again. Seems that every time you turn around he's working on a new pet project at Marvel. This time he has his very own Hulk comic book- a period piece, too, if you can believe it! In the SAVAGE HULK, he expands on a story from 1970 by Roy Thomas, when the Hulk first bumped heads with the X-Men.

Now, if you are like me and you never read UNCANNY X-MEN #66 (which this comic is based on), no worries:Davis uses this issue as a set-up issue. All you really need to know is Bruce Banner managed to save Prof. X in the old comic. Now Xavier plans to return the favor and cure Banner. Ok, I did just say 'set-up issue', which is when a writer barely touches the plot and uses the issue to simply explain who is in the story and what they are currently up to. It's also code for: boring! And I can't deny it, this first issue is a bit boring. On the plus side, Davis does pack a lot into this issue, so the jumping around prevents things from getting painfully boring, and for the final page Davis brings in the Abomination, one of the best teases you can have for a Hulk book.

To break down the issue, not too much spoiling, just a bullet point list: it starts with the Leader, up to no good as usual. Then The Hulk mixes it up with the army’s Hulkbusters. Next we finally catch up with the X-Men (in their glorious 70's outfits), who discuss The Hulk and how they should try to cure him (insert “I don't need a cure” joke). Becoming Bruce Banner again, our hero befriends the typical salt of the Earth people before $h!t hits the fan again, as the X-Men try to track down The Hulk and The Abomination tracks them down. I'll admit, the whole promise of a Hulk/Abomination slugfest by Alan Davis is kinda all I needed to know to buy this series. It's all well written, with only “it's a setup issue” as a complaint.

Let's talk about the art now, as clearly the main reason to buy this series is A) you like The Hulk and B) you like Alan Davis' artwork. Myself, I've been a fan of Alan Davis ever since his work in the 80s on DETCTIVE COMICS. Here, Davis is joined by his favorite inker Mark Farmer, and the pages look just as good as you'd expect. Great looking figures, awesome gestures, storytelling--top to bottom, a solid-looking book. One curious note: I think Davis may be one of those rare fans of Ang Lee's HULK movie. The way he draws the emerald giant reminds me of Ang's version. I'm sure I'll get rapped in the mouth here, but I for the most part enjoyed Ang's film (though I felt the focus should have been more on Bruce and Betty than Bruce's dad). Davis was also trying to do some cute things with the Hulk's vision vs. puny Banner's vision. It's cute, but I wish Davis could have done it without the uses of photo backgrounds; I've never been a fan of that- takes me out of the story.

As I said, if you're a fan of The Hulk and/or Alan Davis, this book will not disappoint. Being a dreaded setup issue, others may wish to hold off until issue #2 and then go back to read this issue, as a flashback, if you will. Or, you know, wait for the trade, where the set-up issue is just chapter one, so who cares. Either way, this promises to be fun, and I look forward to seeing the Hulk mix it up with The Abomination and Professor X mix it up with The Leader.









In stores this week!

FAIREST #27

Writer: Mark Buckingham
Artist: Russ Braun
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


For the fastidious fans of FABLES who have forsaken FAIREST, you’re now missing story beats from the main stage. For the first 25 issues you were fairly safe; you denied yourself some awesome storytelling from Willingham’s hand-picked stable of craftsmen, but from a FABLES continuity perspective the stories didn’t hiccup the main universe.

Having fallen a bit behind on my comic duties, I digested 26 and 27 in one sitting. What I thought would be a simple wrap-up of the “Cindy & The Rats” storyline actually ended with a moment that reveals the answer to the biggest mystery since the unveiling of The Emperor. In one panel we learn where the last shard of Bigby Wolf resides, and it’s not where anyone from Snow White to the 13th Floor Wizards has thought to look.

Issue 27 kicks off a new arc that could or could not be instrumental in helping FABLES reach the finish line, but it is certainly a sideways glance to current events. Scooting from the artist to the writer chair, Buckingham is charged with bringing the same seeds of unrest to the Upstate Farm as Willingham is unleashing downtown.

When you get down to it, The Farm has always been the ghetto of the FABLES universe. Even without concrete and steel, it is a mass concentration of oppressed individuals who are being kept cordoned off from the beautiful people…the beautiful people. This epiphany, while probably striking readers ages ago, has finally begun to ring out amongst the anthropomorphic anarchists.

This revolution starts as most, from words and ideas of people (or foxes),who can no longer contain them. Even though in this case it is merely Mr. Fox’s ego aggrandizing his true contributions to New Camelot and the Round Table, there were probably a few real revolutions started the same way and rewritten to give the movement more purpose.

While Fox may be full of himself, his Ozma-granted glamour that turns him into a man is still a thing of envy for any talking flower or duck that has dreamt of actually interacting with the mundy world instead of squawking or mooing with extreme disdain. Fox’s soap box also stirred up a long forgotten campaign promise Prince Charming made to the electorate. He promised true glamour-based change during his tenure that would bring less transparency towards the true forms of all non-human looking fables. Jokes on the people, I mean animals though, because no one asked how the glamours would be paid for or if there are enough mages strong enough to deliver them all day long for nothing in return. I’m just happy that voters are only this naïve in comic books.

Rose Red taking some time from her Arthurian Duties, Snow White with a new suitor and an uprooting of some very cantankerous 13th floor mages for the open air round out the happenings.

Issue 26 is a definitive turning point for FAIREST, with its extra focus on real time events in FABLES. I hope this is merely the direction of this arc for FAIREST and not indicative of its loss simply because the elder property will be leaving this mortal plane in eight issues. Only time will tell, but in my opinion it would be like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. FAIREST can continue for as long as writers want to pay lip service to Willingham’s wonderful universe.


MIDNIGHT TIGER #1

Writer: Ray-Anthony Height
Artist: Dewayne Feenstra
Publisher: Action Lab Comics
Reviewer: BottleImp


Stop me if this sounds familiar: a teenaged kid, living with his widowed guardian, finds himself possessing remarkable superpowers. He decides to use his abilities to fight crime while trying to balance his costumed identity with the rigors of high school. Yep, that’s right, MIDNIGHT TIGER takes the classic Spider-Man formula (with a few variations) and runs with it in this new indie superhero series, and using one of the world’s most popular costumed characters as an inspiration has both its advantages and downsides.

On the plus side, by utilizing such a recognizable template for his character, writer Ray-Anthony Height makes empathizing with the Midnight Tiger relatively simple for the new reader. Though this issue is labeled #1, the character apparently premiered this past New Comic Day, where (I’m assuming) the hero’s actual origin story was told. But even though here I entered a story already in progress, the easy familiarity of the concept made it a simple matter to acclimate myself with the character and his world, the city of Apollo Bay. I also appreciate the changes that Height made to the formula--mainly the ethnicity of the main character and the majority of the supporting cast. In setting a comic in the modern day urban landscape, it’s refreshing (and much more realistic) to see a mix of black, white, latino and asian faces drawn on the comic pages rather than the usual spread of white people with the occasional black face peppered in as a token nod towards multiculturalism.

The art is also very solid here, and (dare I say it) very Spider-Man-y. Dewayne Feenstra draws in a slightly cartoony style that puts a lot of emphasis on the expressiveness of his characters, both in facial features and body language. His page compositions are fairly strong, and the linework is crisp and confident. To once again invoke ol’ webhead and those who have drawn him, Feenstra’s artwork combines the energy of Mark Bagley with the stylization of John Romita Jr. or Sal Buscema into a visually appealing package.

The drawback is that by basing the Midnight Tiger’s character so closely on the tropes associated with everyone’s favorite wallcrawler (there’s even a panel where the Tiger, in his civilian guise, has half of his face replaced by his masked visage, a la the classic “spider-sense” panels made iconic by Ditko and Buscema), Height runs the very real risk of making his character less of an homage and more of a copy. It’s too early in the game to tell yet, but Height needs to watch his step very carefully to avoid stepping over that thin line that divides inspiration from blatant knock-off.

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.


ADAM12 CHAPTERS 1-5

Writer: Gigio Longo
Artist: Nick Suders
Publisher: G. boTIC Productions
Reviwer: Optimous Douche


There’s something to be said for the special warmth one receives from comics set in your hometown, even if the time period, political climate and lead character present very different topographical and sociological maps from what you know.

ADAM12, a Wizard World Philly 2014 find, is the story of man stuck in the same malaise many succumb to as we leave behind early adulthood and settle into “ohhhh, fuck, this is life.” Surrounding that trumpeting of servitude, Longo and Suders create a most probable tomorrow for America given our absolute lack of direction and societal ambition. The US government files for bankruptcy, the Chinese now own us, and class warfare is a literal manifestation instead of simply a news bumper before commercial break.

Adam has accepted this world, but simply can’t bring himself to live in it. Many daydream during their day jobs; Adam, however, is daydreaming of all his past lives. Nagging girlfriend? No problem--he’s in Camelot. Boring bureaucratic paper pushing at work? No worries--there was always the Garden of Eden. These visions become more frequent and more vivid as Adam learns his visions are merely memories of his last tries in creating paradise.

There are many other kitschy sci fi trappings throughout the title, from mystical eggs of creation (felt a little like the Ukrainian blessing of the graves from when I was a kid), to killer damsels trying to unlock creation and force Adam’s cooperation in the process.

There’s a lot of fun in this book, and really the Philly stuff is just icing for hometown folks; you’ll still enjoy Adam’s journey through our near tomorrow even if you can’t tell a Pats from a Ginos.

I have but two suggestions for the creators to humbly consider for their sophomore effort. Suders definitely wields a more cartoon-styled pen, which gave me concern after his writing counterpart described the dark, dire and dank world he had authored. It works, though, in keeping the book from becoming too morose. All I ask of Nick is that he keeps his pencils tight and true. Page 1, chapter 2, if you get my drift.

For Longo, I ask that he pockets a few concepts for future endeavors. There’s a lot packed into the pages of ADAM12, and while no concept was extraneous, I know I would have just been fine and dandy with a dude about to cycle through his 12th round of existence. Let Adam recreate the Garden of Eden in the here and now on South Street, because God knows we need it.


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #3

Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Humberto Ramos
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Mighty Mouth


It’s been three issues since Peter Parker reclaimed his life, and all is well again--except it’s not, and that what’s so great about this book.

Usually I like to lead off reviewing the issue’s narrative; however ( I do love a good however), with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #3 I feel compelled to discuss Ramos’ art first. To put it candidly, his work seems to have improved greatly since his time on SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN. His panels are considerably more polished, detailed and easy to follow. I hope Mr. Ramos will see to it that this good trend continues.

Now then, from a story perspective this book is having a lot of fun with its title character. Peter’s still on a learning curve when it comes to figuring out just how much Otto’s body swap impacted his life. He’s now Dr. Parker and CEO of his own company, Parker Industries. As if that alteration of the usual wasn’t enough of a kick in the head, Pete’s also dealing with a pint-sized ex-fiancé, a majorly cheesed-off friend with benefits aka Felicia Hardy aka the Black Cat, and Electro is out for blood thanks to Otto’s actions as the Superior Spider-Man. Evidently, with the return of the true Peter Parker so follows the inevitable Parker luck.

If you enjoyed what J. Michael Straczynski did with his run on AMAZING back in the day (man, I loved that stuff) there are some lingering elements from JMS’s work being woven into the current plot. No doubt this is building toward the upcoming Spider-verse event to hit later this year. Dan Slott has also found a way to reestablish J. Jonah Jameson in all his spider-hater glory by giving him a position with a television network. This is an ingenious way of restoring JJJ in a more contemporary fashion, rather than simply treading over the tired newspaper tycoon crap. (Someone should notify the good folks doing the NU52 that the newspaper biz has been in steady decline for some time now).

So far I’m really enjoying the corollaries caused by Doc Ock’s time as the Superior Spider-Man. Let’s face it: with comics it’s pretty typically after a few issues that the protagonist is returned to status quo after their homecoming. The final issue of SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN left me worried things were heading in that direction. Thankfully, Slott and the rest are taking AMAZING SPIDER-MAN down the path less traveled. It appears just about everyone in Peter’s life from his supporting cast to his villains have been altered in the wake of Otto’s ruse, and it’s creating a lot of mayhem for Peter.

If you are one of those disgruntled by the prospect of a Superior Spider-Man, your wait is over. The Amazing one is back.


THE LAST WEST OGN

Writers: Evan Young & Lou Iovino
Artist: Novo Malgapo
Publisher: Alterna Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


For anyone who thinks the Kardashians are the First Family of the end days, I would like to introduce you to the Wests, a take on Kennedy Camelot, except the Wests turned back the course of the 20th century while the Kennedys pushed us (and their pelvises) forward.

My three regular readers know that my appetite for alternate realities and view askew history is more voracious than Cookie Monster 10 years into Type 2 diabetes. When I met Lou Iovino at this year’s Wizard World Philadelphia, he asked me if it was the Xerox page power point slide with a thumbnail of Norman Reedus saying he was not at this booth that drew me in. Great lead-in line, which spurred Lou and I to have a great chat. What drew me in, though, was the haunting cover with atom bomb set against the falling sun. Once I knew that THE LAST WEST was also an exploration of what today would be like if the bomb never worked, I decided this would be my first read when I got home.

I appreciate every book that is given to me for reviews by creators, I like a few less, I covet only a fraction of that number. THE LAST WEST, I covet thee, because this book could have easily borne the Image logo (with one or two small caveats that I’ll get to). Big Kudos to Alterna for grabbing up this talented and smart property.

The Wests personify the human existence. We have never explosively propelled to our next evolution without first imploding on despair, tragedy and virtual oblivion of the species. It’s how I have always known God plays D&D--you can’t beat that kind of planetary class balancing.

While Lou and team chose to only focus on the Wests being the catalysts for Great American Fails like the Dust Bowl, WW I and the 1929 crash of the market, with VOLUME II already set in stone as you’ll learn in a second, I really see a world where the guys could serialize this bloodline. Pontius West, Columbus’ navigator, rat fucker West…you get the idea.

Now, where the Wests stop shaping history as we know it and start creating a Biff’s Casino temporal divergence is right when Robert Oppenheimer was ready to set the world on fire. It was in this moment the Wests said no more, sabotaged the blast, and then scuffled off into the realm of lore.

The Wests are selfish assholes. 2014 sucks. No bomb, no unlimited energy, no other real interest in looking at the nanoverse that allows us to carry porn and video games in our pockets. Instead of Google we have Graham, where you have to call for a question and then wait days for an irrelevant answer (you know, like Bing). Instead of plastic cars, we still thrive on metal monstrosities. I would even guess that everyone still has copious amounts of pubes, because they dress like and have the same haircut as my grandmother. Time is essentially on pause.

As for why the Wests withdrew at that moment in time, it is a mystery best left unraveled by VOLUME I, and it is a nice and tidy little mystery as one ordinary Joe navigates this strange world searching for clues that the Wests existed, while powerful puppets of the family try to keep the family’s name and apocalyptic shame a secret.

I can’t spoil the end of this book because there isn’t one; Lou and crew skedaddle right at the top of Freytag’s pyramid. That’s OK, because THE LAST WEST VOLUME II (Apocalyptic Boogalo) is coming shortly, Kickstarter willing. And honestly, I would mark points against the book if there wasn’t another tale on the horizon. See, the book inventively counts chapters backwards starting at 10. I would think this was written by Zooey Daschanel after huffing Glade if the book consisted solely of chapters 10-5.

Now, I must offer two cautions with THE LAST WEST to ensure a flawless experience when they use my VOLUME III ideas.

The art needs to be as bold throughout the whole title as it was on the first few pages. Through clever panel layout and then stopping time, THE LAST WEST sucks you in with A-bomb implosion power. While I admit too many thematic panels like the atomic symbol on page one would get hokey, I would encourage Malgapo to try it one or two more times in an arc. Also, keep finding the subtle moments like when the ill-fated countdown fizzled. Focal points will help excite some of the more talky moments that are a necessity of alternate anythings.

The coloring needs a little more work. I get very uncomfortable around clowns and photo negatives of Al Jolson, so please for the love of God ease up the “light.” Thomas Kincaid stores are closing for a reason, and there does not need to be a comic equivalent of JJ Abrams’ lens flare.

I don’t think these two suggestions are big hurdles to surmount. It’s also a great compliment to a freshman effort that there are only two things to perk up. I have been much harsher on many books from more seasoned professionals with much larger budgets. THE LAST WEST deserves your time, and more importantly your contemplation, for what their fictional fable says about our real world circumstances.


OUTCAST #1

Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Paul Azaceta
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee


I come to you as a man who admits he doesn’t like the “horror” genre, whatever that is to mean in today’s media scene. Mind you, I use those lovely quotation marks around the term and am speaking to a generalized form of it, but it seems to me, now more than ever, that the word “horror” has become synonymous with “gore.” Now, I do not feel that this is always the case, nor has it always been that way, but over the years as our society has become more connected and viral we’ve become a people of one-upmanship, and instead of treading heavy on the suspense or tightening up the plotting or atmosphere, horror has gone the easy route of better-looking dismemberment, and lots of it. Again, this is all personal opinion and anecdotal ramblings from someone whose wife has made it her life’s work to watch ALL OF THE HORROR on NetFlix streaming and who won’t use her own profile to do so and thereby leaves my pages littered with this shit (because she actually hates me and lives to torture, much like her movies). So, yes, I do not like this modern “horror”, but I do enjoy a thriller and some suspense, and I think those aspects are the center of any good horror story. Give me a story that wraps itself around some characters that are facing something bigger themselves – whether it is supernatural, metaphysical, or even conspiratorial – and that has actual, visceral consequence told in a suspenseful or frightening manner, and then you have my interest. Copious amounts of blood need not apply, but if it works then go for it. Regardless, don’t appeal to my propensity to cringe, but enthusiasm to keep looking onward to see what happens in the story and the characters, and I will continue to consume your horrific tale.

Thereby, Sir Robert Kirkman of the Vermont Kirkmans (made that last part up), I declare my pledge to continue to read your OUTCAST comic from Image, at least for several more months until I can ascertain whether or not it is sincere in taking this approach toward the horror genre, because this debut issue done gave me hope.

There are two primary themes running throughout this OUTCAST premiere: its nature as a story about demonic possession and it being a family affair. What is presented here in this opening tale is a fantastically weaving tale that starts with the supernatural seizing of a young boy named Joshua and winds up pulling in one Kyle Barnes, a man whose adolescence involved a similar incident that completely tore his life and family apart. It’s a nice parallel that lines itself up to open, what with Joshua’s plight and its immediate, visceral impact and the glimpses and flashes of such events in Kyle’s youth. But it’s how those events shaped and shook Kyle’s life and the demons that grip him – literally and figuratively – that really takes center stage and sells this book.

Fact of the matter is, Kyle is just an absolute emotional cripple of a man. The events of his past have left him a hermit that barely sustains himself--he won’t even come out to see his not too distant sister and niece. Wisely, we get just enough information involving this past possession to feel the breadth of why it was so traumatic for Kyle, but not enough detail to gather how long it chased him and why it continues to follow him. And as we find with Kyle getting dragged in on this latest possession, there is obviously a bigger web of underworld intrigue that revolves around him and that, combined with the emotional scarring that will threaten to reopen in the midst of this, will be the thrust of this book going forward. Given how well Kirkman has prodded out the damage done to Kyle in this issue and how deep and dark it could possibly get, showing more of what was done in the past and what could still come, I think there is a lot of potential for resonant stories to be erected from this groundwork, and that is exactly what I want to see in a work such as this.

From the artwork standpoint of this book, Paul Azaceta was a great choice for bringing Kirkman’s otherworldly vision to life. Mainly because it is such a moody and tonal style, it really sells the mental pain and isolation that Kyle is feeling as well as what is being inflicted on those involved in this new possession. It’s a very grounded and methodical piece of work, and that matches it up perfectly with those aspects of Kirkman’s scripting in this opening issue. Overall it just projects well. The fright on the faces of those wrangling with Joshua’s possession, plus the actual physical anguish when things do get a little actiony, and then the aforementioned fits of emotional pain that Kyle constantly fights back--all of it just comes to life in stellar fashion under Azaceta’s pencil.

As I arduously explained to start this piece, my opinion of a piece of horror fiction does not in any way hinge on the amount of blood spilled or the threat of it happening; it resides in my dismay over the idea of characters I have become invested in losing that precious red Karo syrup that pumps through them. OUTCAST is way ahead in winning me over in that regard with a character in Kyle who I genuinely feel for, given how much he antagonizes over past events that still remain somewhat cloudy to us the reader and his interactions with remaining family that believe in him enough they desperately want to draw him out of himself and his prison. The storytelling on both ends of this creative duo is moody, and really grabs you with the level of ferocity it can shift to as well. I expect a lot of that going forward as we dive deeper into these possessions, what exactly it means for Kyle to be this “Outcast,” and we get some more expectedly unpleasant insight into the past possession that put Kyle where he currently at in his life. Take this package of raw emotion with an intriguing, mystery-shrouded supernatural tale and wrap it up in a nice, visceral bow and you have exactly the kind of horror tale that not only will a self-proclaimed horror skeptic such as myself appreciate having opened, but will also push for others to unwrap themselves.

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.


In stores today!

TOM CLANCY’S SPLINTER CELL: ECHOES #1

Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Artist: Mark Laming
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Reviewer: Lyzard


Strong video game adaptations have eluded Hollywood for years. It is probably one of the few genres in which the women outshine the men, as the RESIDENT EVIL and TOMB RAIDER series have outperformed the male-driven works like PRINCE OF PERSIA, DOOM, and should I even mention that infamous Nintendo disaster. It is difficult to capture the sensation gamers experience while playing a game, the back and forth between man and machine, onto celluloid.

SPLINTER CELL, however, as a franchise has succeeded in adapting its series of video games to an even harder medium, in my opinion: novels. At least with cinema you get the visuals that are so intrinsic to games, yet somehow Ubisoft has successfully managed to maintain a literary following based on the strength of their characters and stories alone. But it still surprises me, with the rise of movie- and TV-based comic material popping up, that video game comics wouldn’t be on the rise as well. SPLINTER CELL probably has the best groundwork for it, having had success with both its games and in written format for a decade now.

Along with ASSASSIN'S CREED (which got a few comics of its own back in the day), SPLINTER CELL is one of Ubisoft’s key franchises. However, it doesn’t feature the crossover market, appealing to die-hards and n00bs, as well as say CALL OF DUTY or ASSASSIN'S CREED. It just came too late into the game to usurp the pinnacle of military stealth games, METAL GEAR SOLID.

But as I said earlier, the novelizations have survived on the strength of the series’ themes, characters, and plot alone rather than the visuals and gameplay. This comic isn’t trying to appeal to gamers, to adjust the visuals as to what they would appear on screen, but rather to just make a good comic.

As with all SPLINTER CELLs, ECHOES follows Sam Fisher, a top clandestine agent who at the moment is trying to adjust to a normal, humdrum, boring as f*ck life in the ‘burbs. He’s finally getting to spend time with his daughter, a chance he never got as she grew up with him flying all around the world infiltrating terrorist groups and taking down big bads via subterfuge. But we all know how these stories go. Friend from the good ol’ days pops in, says he needs a little help for a no big deal job, things go south, and our hero is back to playing an aging James Bond.

I wouldn’t have expected SPLINTER CELL: ECHOES to score any points on creativity. Sam Fisher has already avoided death in seven games and seven separate books. Writer Nathan Edmondson takes to the task a bit heavy-handed, playing around with stock characters in an almost paint-by-numbers methodology. However, it is well-painted. If you are gonna do a tried and true storyline, you might as well do it with some quality. Your typical stone-cold b*tch villain has plenty of metaphors sitting in her back pocket, waiting for the opportune moment so show off her razor-sharp wit. You’ve got the new guy who sounds like he was just recruited out of some college comp sci lab. All the characters are in place and they all work, as they have for dozens of other stories, but never coming off as lazy writing.

Same goes for the artwork: it is well done, if not copy and paste characterization. The steel-eyed steel color-haired villainess, the ex-best bud who has gained a few extra pounds, the hot daughter all the guys would go for until they found out the damage her daddy could do.

But maybe all this recognizability ain’t such a bad thing. In a way it saves time, the stereotypes working as a shorthand in order to save room and then fill the book with much more action and exposition than some other first issues would be able to fit in. It took me awhile to get through the 21 page issue, and not because of overly-written dialogue or confusion caused by bad writing or indistinguishable characters as I have experienced in the past, but because the world of SPLINTER CELL is truly engrossing.

In the end, SPLINTER CELL: ECHOES #1 succeeds because by the end I still wanted to read on. It is a pure example of suspense over surprise. A good thriller isn’t just about shocking twists. It is about the suspense, achieved by making you invested and caring about these characters, and that sense of dread that unlike in a video game you can’t change the fate of what is to come.

Lyzard is Lyz Reblin, a graduate student at the University of Texas pursuing a master's degree in Media Studies... which is just a fancy way of saying she plays a lot video games, watches far too many horror films, and then tries to pass it all off as "research."


DEATH SENTENCE VOL.1

Writer: Monty Nero
Artist: Mike Dowling
Publisher: Titan Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


We all contemplate the question “why am I here” eventually in life. But the question becomes even more poignant when it is posed with a definitive expiration date set upon our exit. As normal humans, the majority of us create our benign bucket lists with a few outliers trying to make one final mark in the foolish belief their actions will be remembered against the vast backdrop of human existence. DEATH SENTENCE flips this model. People infected with the G+ virus will eventually see system shutdown before they check out six months after infection, but prior to that they get to live the life of pure comic book fantasy with a burst of greatness before they are finally extinguished.

Even though G+ is a global virus, we are told the six chapters of the OGN are those that will be most remembered when alien archeologists go through the records of this time period. Where most will get powers on the level of Grant Morrison contrived mutants, Weasel, Verity and Monty transcend the ordinary and in the process raze the world. What you unleash from G+ is tied to imagination, essentially in how and what ways can you see and manipulate the atomic kaleidoscope of the universe. Through these characters, Nero not only fucks up the Western Hemisphere on grand comic scale, he does it through the looking glass of those that torture themselves by creating.

Verity is by far the sympathetic epicenter of DEATH SENTENCE because she is most like us before the plague. I know a million Veritys, artists who sell their soul to graphic design jobs and sweat shop printers by day so they can keep food on the table at night. Her story is the most tragic because all she really wants is to have a life of normality. Weasel and Monty were special in our oh so Kardashian sense of the word prior to contracting G+. Weasel the rocker and Monty the Russell Brand type comedian/personality are distant from us, but Nero wisely chooses to show us snippets of their lives before and outside of the celebrity so we are fully vested in the end of days.

Most artists are slightly crazy; it just seems to be a side of effect of seeing into the string of the universe where they can pluck ideas and give them tangible form. Monty is the hyperbole of the hyperbole. Since his career was based upon the shock of his words and sexual exploits, his was the most dangerous contraction of the disease, a man essentially whose bucket list had but one line item: anarchy.

Before you hate too much on Monty, though, his rise to power is hilarious and his control of London, though quite cruel, was also hilarious in the darkest sense of the word.

Weasel and Verity become the task force to take him out, but not before there own more personal trials and tribulations inside a facility meant to cultivate the finest of G+ powers to their fullest potential. DEATH SENTENCE is one of the truest representations of superpowers appearing overnight. The class lines would be instantly divided, the powerful would overcome the weak (even for a laugh) and, like any other time in history, there would be a culling before a new age could dawn.

I read the first issue of DEATH SENTENCE many moons ago and remembered loving the raw humanity almost more than the superpowers, like I was embarking on an “Angels In America” type journey without all of the bad Flock of Seagulls haircuts on the dying. What I realized after absorbing all six issues, and the bevy of extras like a Q&A with the team dissecting pivotal moments, was that DEATH SENTENCE was going to transcend death to also unveil the meaning of life. Mission accomplished, gents.


RAI #5

Release Date: July 1st, 1992
Writers: David Michelinie
Artist: Joe St. Pierre
Publisher: Valiant Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man


Valiant comics is currently rebuilding its empire, recently relaunching another one of its classics, RAI (defender of Japan in the distant future), so I thought we'd wind the clock back to 22 years ago this week, when the original run of RAI was still going strong.

By the summer of 1992 the world saw BARNEY AND FRIENDS mesmerize its children, Euro Disneyland (aka Disneyland Paris) opened its gates, Los Angeles survived the Rodney King riots, and Johnny Carson finally ended his tenure on the TONIGHT SHOW. “Unforgettable” by Natalie Cole and her long deceased father, Nat King Cole, was song of the year, UNFORGIVEN won Picture of the Year and MURPHY BROWN won for Best Comedy Program, with NORTHERN EXPOSURE taking Best Drama. In the world of comic books, the biggest thing since Timely became Marvel hit the scene with Image Comics. Creators all over were bucking for more control and compensation than ever before. Even Marvel's one-time king, Jim Shooter, was looking for more respect, so with Bob Layton he launched Valiant comics a year earlier. Originally Valiant licensed the Gold Key characters (Dr. Solar, Magnus Robot Fighter), but in 1992 they started producing original concepts like HARBINGER, X-O MANOWAR, and RAI.

Holy crap. That pretty much sums up my feeling towards this latest issue of RAI. Now if you haven't been reading RAI, here's a quick snapshot of it. In the year 4001, Japan has become a giant techno landmass, run by an omnipresent computer called Grandmother. Working with Grandmother is the human defender of all Japan: Rai, a hyper-powered martial artist with chi-created weapons. But life is far from perfect, as an organization known as the Anti-Grannies wish to destroy Grandmother and return to human rule. Oh, and Rai's wife is an Anti-Granny.

Now as we move into this issue, life has yet to slow down as Grandmother shot Japan into space and 'died'. Meanwhile, the Anti-Grannies took over and crushed the Healers (people wanting to bring Grandmother back) rebellion. And as if that wasn't enough, things get even more messed up in this issue! Here come the spoilers: with Rai being blamed for the deaths caused by the Healers rebellion, he has decided to go into self-exile (back to Earth) with his infant son. His wife, armed with her XO-Man Of War type suit, has all but replaced him as Japan's defender. But as these political ideology wars go, there’s always someone in it for themselves, trying to grab power before the dust settles. This would be Isao. As he helped the Anti-Grannies take power, then set the Healers up for a failed coup, he's now killed the President to make himself supreme leader of Japan. What about Rai? Well, Isao has sabotaged his spaceship to a one way ticket to nowhere. What about Rai's wife, Kazuyo? Well, Isao chopped her hand off, 'cutting' her off from her power suit, and frames her for the President's murder. Now you know why I say “holy crap!”

Overall, writer David Michelinie is doing a damn fine job putting this all together. Ever since the series launched (after sharing space in MAGNUS ROBOT FIGHTER) Michelinie has prevented any type of status quo taking hold. And with neither side (Grannies or Anti-Grannies) being really wrong or right, Rai has a tough time trying to do the right thing. As you may recall, he never wanted to be Rai in the first place, so all the double dealings and conflict between Rai and his wife and in himself are all done really well.

Unfortunately, Joe St. Pierre's art is still the weakest link of this series. Now the guy can draw, no doubt about it, and inker Sal Velluto does a good job of making it all look like Bob Layton's work, which I assume is some kind of company mandate. But his layouts and storytelling are so boring! They often look like illustrations from a cheap children's book. Static shots that illustrate the story, but don't add anything to it. They don't draw you into the action or help you feel the emotion or anything, really--they're just nice drawings.

Looking forward, I can't wait to see what happens when Rai finally returns to Japan. Of course, he has to survive this whole UNITY thing that Shooter is throwing at us next month, but if you need a better indication of how crazy things got in this issue and why I can't wait for payback, just check out the cover. Yup, Rai was actually going to go through it, like any good samurai out of options. RAI is a solid action book that keeps you coming back for more.

Back to 2014, Joe St. Pierre has all but left comic book work these days. Like many creators, if you don't become a fan favorite, you are pretty much out on your ear. Aside from RAI, he drew issues of SPIDER-MAN 2099 and various VENOM miniseries in the 90s. These days he works as a commercial illustrator.

David Michelinie is probably most famous for writing the IRON MAN arc “Demon in a Bottle” and creating a little known supervillain named Venom! After his friend Bob Layton got him to do some work for Valiant, he moved over to DC for a long run on ACTION COMICS in the 90s (after Superman returned from the dead). After a lengthy career of three decades in comic books, he is semi-retired now, writing comics and books every now and then.


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

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