Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Box Man

The Box Man
Drawn and Quarterly

I'll be honest with you guys. I've read a lot of strange things in my time, and I think I have a better handle on some of the oddities of Japanese manga than most, but...

this book is fucking weird.

A man drives a scooter while carrying a box on his back. He is accompanied by some sort of cat/turtle thing (it looks kind of like a cat, but has a shell... the back cover compares it to a mollusk, but it looked more like a turtle to me.) He is chased by monsters and the police. At one point a monster decapitates one policeman, then castrates another. At the end, the man arrives at the Sea of Decadence, where he leaves his father -- who has been acting strangely ever since his lower body became that of a crustacean, and who the man was carrying in the aforementioned box. The end.

Seriously? What. The. Fuck?

Don't get me wrong. I really liked this. The art is solid, especially the background and landscapes, and manga-ka Imiri Sakabashira does a good job of keeping the story going despite the odd happenings and the almost total lack of dialogue.

But still. I mean... really. Click on the cover above and you can find a 16-page PDF preview to see what I'm talking about. Be warned that it is probably Not Safe For Work. I think.

People bandy about the word 'surreal' a lot these days, and sometimes it leaves me feeling like Inigo Montoya. But The Box Man -- The Box Man is the real deal. It was like reading one of Rick Veitch's Rare Bit Fiends comics, without the narration, and focused through a completely different cultural lens.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Quick New Reads: Swamp Thing #4, X-Club #1

Swamp Thing #1 (Feb 2012)
Ongoing Series
DC Comics

The reintroduction of Alec Holland into the mainstream DC Universe continues on apace. I felt this issue wasn't as strong as the previous one, going by a little too quickly, but it's still an engaging story, and a series I recommend.

#1 (Feb 2012)
Limited Series
Marvel Comics

The Previews blurb for this series caught my eye, with its emphasis on SCIENCE and the like, so I decided to pick it up, even though I haven't been a big X-people reader in a long, long time. Like the Swamp Thing issue, I think this went by too quickly; there were some nice touches to it, but overall I think the characters are a shade too abrasive and the plot a titch too undefined at present. A good plot hook could draw me in even though I wasn't too keen on the characters, while compelling characters could make me come back next issue to see the actual plot develop. Unfortunately, neither really took hold, and I don't think I'll be back, at least not at cover price.

I wonder if I would've been more satisfied if I'd picked up the new Defenders series instead.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Night Force (1982) #1

Night Force #1 (August 1982)
Single Issue
DC Comics

Supernatural teams have been a recurring element of DC over the years, from the unofficial Trenchcoat Brigade to the Shadowpact to the new Justice League: Dark. The first one to get their own series, to the best of my knowledge, was the Night Force, in the early 1980s.

Unfortunately, despite a creative team with a fair bit of cachet (Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan), this first issue was rather disappointing. Wolfman and Colan never really seem to gel, and my gut is that the blame for this lies largely with Woflman's script: the transitions between scenes are awkward, made worse by the fact that they often take place in the middle of a page with no indication, requiring you to puzzle it out.

There's also not enough going on in the story -- it's a proto-example of what would come to be known (and, in some corners, derided) as decompression. You get introduced to the people who will make up the Night Force, the Baron (the fellow looking over the others on the cover) says something cryptic, unseen bad guys say something cryptic... The End.

Not really worth it unless you're a big fan of Colan or Wolfman.

Edited to Add: I neglected to mention when I first wrote this up, but I find it odd that on the second page of this code-approved comic, two of the characters are discussing open marriages. I guess I hadn't realized how progressive times were back in the early 80s.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: In The Service of Angels

Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels (2009)
Trade Paperback
Dark Horse

What better way to kick off the month of October than with a Mike Mignola limited series? Especially one that's as good as In the Service of Angels, the first mini-series about Victorian supernatural detective Sir Edward Grey?

In short, the story follows Sir Edward as he tries to solve the mystery of several inexplicable deaths in London in the late 19th century. The murders are connected not just to one another, but also, it turns out, to a privately funded expedition to the East, and to the remarkable find the members of the expedition brought back with them. By the end of the tale, he's dealt with a medium, two cults, a Victorian deep sea diver, and even a disfigured prostitute or two -- everything you need in a good penny dreadful adventure. Add on a couple of additional shorter comics and a few annotated pages of sketches from the creation of the series, and you get a pretty satisfying read.

I wouldn't hesitate to call Mike Mignola one of the greatest creators currently active in the comics field; he's carved out quite a niche for himself with his pulpy action/horror hybrid tales, starting with Hellboy and growing to include the BPRD and the rest of the expanded Hellboy universe -- of which Sir Edward Grey is a part.

Beyond his own creative abilities, Mignola's got a good eye for talent, and he proves it again with his selection of Ben Steinbeck to handle pencils and inks on this series. Steinbeck is no stranger to the world of Hellboy, having contributed to BPRD and Hellboy Animated prior to his work here, and his art is as well-suited to a Mike Mignola story as Mignola's own.

I borrowed this trade paperback from the library this afternoon and devoured it, finishing it before I even got home. Highly recommended.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Haunt #1

Haunt #1
Ongoing Series
Image Comics

This is one of the "Image Firsts" line of first issues for a dollar, and it's a dollar well spent. It avoids most of the first-issue pitfalls displayed by Sleepwalker #1 (looked at in the last post) -- the lead characters are actually interesting, for one, as the issue follows a pair of brothers, one involved in covert military ops in the Middle East, the other a priest who hears his brother' confessions and has personal demons of his own to deal with. The titular figure doesn't even appear until the final couple of pages, but the issue never feels lacking, slow-moving, or decompressed because of it.

The art is a three-man job, with pencils by Ryan Ottley over layouts by Greg Capullo, finished off by co-creator Todd McFarlane on inks, and it's about what you'd expect from that combination of names -- although the fact that the bulk of the issue focuses on normal humans keeps the Spider-Man/Spawn-style posing and webbing/cape-accoutrements to a minimum. The real strength of the issue, though, is Robert Kirkman's script; while not perfect, it does a good job of involving the reader and overriding the occasional weakness in the art.

I'm not sure how many places are like this, but my local shop still had this comic on the current issue racks rather than in the back issue bins, so you should be able to track it down without much fuss. I won't be looking for more issues at cover price on the basis of this one, but I'll definitely be open to following the series if I can find it at similar prices.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sleepwalker #1

Sleepwalker #1 (June 1991)
Ongoing series
Marvel Comics

Many years ago, Marvel put out something called The Generic Comic (or, going by the cover, Generic Comic Book). It was a tongue-in-cheek example of paint-by-numbers superhero comics at the time, and let me tell you: if the title hadn't already been used by them then, "Generic Comic Book" would have been a great name for this first issue.

Sleepwalker #1 is a perfectly acceptable, inoffensive, unremarkable comic -- but it shouldn't be! The titular creature is a tall, gaunt, green-skinned, bug-eyed humanoid in a purple hood, who emerges into the real world and fights crime with a reality-altering medallion when our everyman protagonist Rick goes to sleep. This should be a can't-miss opportunity for mind-bending excitement, or at least weirdness. But instead we get most of the comic devoted to Rick, a Film Studies major, having mundane dreams and living his mundane life.

Rick might as well be named Peter Banner: he's got the college-student-with-cute-redhead-girlfriend life Peter Parker had, but adds to it a "I mustn't unleash the monster" side-serving once he far too quickly and easily works out that the Sleepwalker comes out when he's asleep (or concussed and unconscious, but hey.) It's bland bland band, and since creator Bob Budiansky penned almost the entire series, I can't see it getting much better.

It's disappointing to see a concept with such potential get off to such a mundane start. I've often felt that Sleepwalker, along with fellow early-90s Marvel properties Speedball and Darkhawk, got a raw deal when people dismissed it as lame. But that was before I picked this up for the first time. Now I'm hesitant to look at the others, lest I be further disillusioned.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Swamp Thing #1

Swamp Thing #1 (November 2011)
Single issue
DC Comics

I will readily admit that I have mixed feelings about the New 52 universe-wide reboot DC has undertaken. Part of this is because I'm bitter that Xombi got axed, and part of this is the fan's inherent resistance to change -- but part of it is also because I flipped through some of the relaunched titles this week and found them surprisingly grim. Still, when I saw a copy of Swamp Thing #1 sitting in the 50 cent bin at a local comic show due to a dinged-up back cover, I wasn't about to pass it up. And boy am I glad.

The first issue of this series focuses on Alec Holland attempting to adjust to being human again after some time being Swamp Thing and living an entirely different life. There are allusions to events in the past, Superman shows up and indicates that his own death-and-return is still canon in some form in this new version of the DC universe, a fossilized mammoth skeleton disappears, and lots of good old-fashioned comic book weirdness takes place. It reminded me, in places, of the aforementioned Xombi, the proto-Vertigo titles of the late 80s and early 90s, and even some echoes of Junji Ito's less gruesome work. It hooked me, and I went from being dubious about the whole reboot event to wanting to follow at least one of the titles going forward. Check it out, even if you're not lucky enough to find it in the cheap-o bin like I was.


I'd like to say a few more words about the New 52. Now, this is the only relaunched title I've sat down and read cover to cover, but I read through a fair bit of three or four other titles at the stand before deciding not to pick'em up.

Scott Snyder has a bit of an edge on several of his fellow writers in this relaunch, because, unlike Superman or Martian Manhunter, Alec Holland/Swamp Thing has been out of the mainstream DCU for a while. This means that there's less of a burden of previous characterization to deal with -- a reboot by necessity requires some changes to the character, but going to far afield can be problematic. For instance, when I read through Action Comics and Stormwatch on Thursday, the portrayal of the Man of Steel as a wanted-by-the-law urban vigilante seemed bizarre, and J'onn J'onnz trying to bully Apollo into joining his team seemed both wrong-headed and off-key to me. I recognize that, as the universe has been rebooted, the characters won't be carbon copies of what they were prior to the relaunch, but that doesn't stop me from wondering about the decisions being made.

(I was happy to see that the Superman who appears in Swamp Thing seemed more in keeping with what I expect from Supes, and I can only assume from comments made that the Action Comics story takes place substantially earlier.)

On the flipside, the fact that Swamp Thing has been a part of the pre-boot DCU in the past makes blending him into the New 52 more straightforward than it is for characters from Wildstorm or Milestone. Swamp Thing fills a unique niche, while a character like Apollo has to go from being a Superman-esque figure in the Wildstorm universe to being a Superman-esque figure in the same universe as Superman (and Supergirl, and Superboy, and Martian Manhunter, and possibly Icon, and...) The world that gave rise to the Wildstorm characters was substantially different from the one that gave rise to the DC ones, and I'm not sure how the two will be blended together.

That being said, Swamp Thing has given me hope that at least some of the New 52 will be worth following. I may even go back and give some of the other titles that came out this week another chance.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Feature Film
PlanetMatt Entertainment

Those of you who follow Dollar Bin Blues regularly will know that I rarely take a look at films. But I'm going to make an exception for Conjure, the brainchild of critically-acclaimed artist/illustrator Matt Busch. Why?

Because this is one of the worst movies I've seen in my life.

Matt Busch produced this film through PlanetMatt Entertainment. Directed by Matt Busch, Conjure is based on a script by Matt Busch, and stars fledgling thespian Matt Busch as critically-acclaimed artist/illustrator Matt Busch. It also stars Matt Busch's girlfriend Sarah Wilkinson as Matt Busch's girlfriend Sarah Wilkinson, and features costume design by Sarah Wilkinson.

See where this is going?

The film starts with a lengthy documentary segment (narrated by Matt Busch) covering Matt Busch's life, from his childhood, through his days playing keytar as a rocker, to his turning to art and meeting his girlfriend. I wouldn't want to say director Matt Busch is self-indulgent here; after all, who could resist focusing on a subject as interesting as Matt Busch? The film proper then picks up with Matt Busch walking through a cemetery, where he finds a single photograph of a house (or castle, as they call it) resting against a tombstone. Matt Busch then does what anyone would do in such a situation -- he steals the photograph from the gravesite and takes it home with him.

Long story short, the photograph exerts some sort of eldritch power over Matt Busch as he paints it, transporting Matt Busch and his girlfriend to the house castle located somewhere in California deep in the South American jungle. The house is haunted by ghosts that want Matt Busch to finish his painting, which raises the question: why didn't they just leave Matt Busch alone? Matt Busch was going to finish it anyway.

When the painting is done, Matt Busch and his girlfriend are transported back to their house. The ghosts now want to kill Matt Busch, for reasons never made clear, but true love wins out in the end.

The film then ends with more documentary footage, including what appears to be the preamble to a Matt Busch sex tape (starring Matt Busch), followed by Matt Busch returning the stolen photo to the grave so that the next kleptomaniac artist can find it.

If you're the type who likes riffing on crappy movies like the crew of the Satellite of Love, then you can have a good time watching Conjure -- we did. But, in all honesty, it is not a good movie. Not good at all.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Left Bank Gang

The Left Bank Gang
Trade Paperback

Acclaimed cartoonist Jason's graphic novel The Left Bank Gang suffers from having one clever idea too many. The idea of the expatriate American authors who lived in Paris after the war being cartoonists rather than short story writers or novelists is cute; the idea of those same expats trying to alleviate their financial pressure by stealing the gate from a big prize fight is compelling. But the book spends too much time on the first idea to give the second enough room to breathe.

That being said, once the heist goes off -- and, naturally, goes horribly wrong -- things grab your attention, and I quite like the way Jason portrays the story of each of the characters involved in the robbery, gradually revealing the different strands of the narrative as he goes. Unfortunately, the sheer number of focal characters in The Left Bank Gang diffuses the emotional impact of the story.

The book is still entertaining, but I think it's the weakest of the three Jason works I've looked at this month.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Last Musketeer

The Last Musketeer
Trade Paperback

The second of three Jason graphic novels I'll be looking at here on Dollar Bin Blues, The Last Musketeer displays the same style bittersweet ambiance and lightly comic, almost dreamlike storyline as I Killed Adolf Hitler.

The titular Musketeer is Athos, who has lived into the present day but fallen on hard times, reduced to telling tales of his glory days for spare change, which he then spends on alcohol. It's a sad state for a man who once defended the kingdom of France from enemies both without and within, but an unexpected invasion from Mars gives him the chance to reclaim his honour and self-respect.

As in I Killed Adolf Hitler, Jason expertly mixes the fantastic and the everyday to tell a story everyone can relate to. While I liked that title slightly more than this one, they're both well worth your time, and I'm looking forward to reading more.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Killed Adolf Hitler

I Killed Adolf Hitler
Trade Paperback

I haven't been reading much in the way of comics since I moved, but I saw this on the shelf the university library, of all places, and figured it looked worth a shot.

I don't believe I've ever read anything by artist/writer Jason before, so I can't say if I Killed Adolf Hitler is typical of his work. But I can say that it's mildly sweet, mildly sad, mildly funny, and mildly bizarre. It's set in a world of anthropomorphic animals, a world where murder-for-hire is a legitimate occupation, and a world where time travel has (secretly) been invented. To go into more detail would be to risk ruining the fun of the book.

If you chance upon it, check it out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Every Person on the Planet/Edmund and Rosemary Go to Hell

Every Person on the Planet
Simon and Schuster

Edmund and Rosemary Go to Hell
Simon and Schuster

Bruce Eric Kaplan is a cartoonist for the New Yorker, and it shows in both the art (simple but skillful line work) and the story. The lives of Edmund and Rosemary are upper-middle-class neuroses and anxieties writ large -- fables for a disconnected, discontented audience. The couple suffers through ennui, depression, and stress, while mundane issues become full-blown existential crises.

In Every Person on the Planet, Edmund and Rosemary decide to throw a party and wind up inviting, well, every person on the planet -- and everyone attends. The party becomes something of a microcosm of the world itself, while Edmund and Rosemary try to deal with the personal issues that arise while playing host to an event of that magnitude.

Edmund and Rosemary Go to Hell is, in fact, misleadingly titled, as what actually happens is that Edmund realizes that they are already in Hell -- hence the bad traffic and constant cell phone usage. He and Rosemary deal with this realization in their own ways, from speaking to their Congressman to trying to flee to Heaven.

Both books are short enough that to give any more detail would be to risk spoiling the enjoyment they contain. They're quick reads, both clocking in at a little over 100 pages with roughly one panel per page, and well worth the time it takes to read them. Sadly, as hardcover books they are rather exorbitantly priced compared to my usual fare, so I can't endorse them wholeheartedly, but if you can find them for a reasonable price in a used book store or, as I did, track them down at your public library, both books definitely deserve your attention.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Moving Day

Well, actually, moving weekend. But once it's all wrapped up, Dollar Bin Blues should be back on the air shortly.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Xombi #2 (2011 series)

Xombi #2 (2011 series)
DC Comics

I don't normally write about a comic the week it came out, but I have to share this with you. Because Xombi is probably the best monthly comic going today. It's even, based on these first two issues, better than the original series from Milestone. The first series was great, but the art at times was a little scratchy. Frazer Irving's art (and since there's no colourist credit, I'll assume he's responsible for that too) is absolutely gorgeous. The characters are expressive, lighting and shading is evocative - the colours are even used as a subtle storytelling element in a way few people can pull off.

On top of that, Rozum's script is bang-on and his ideas are, as always, excellent. There's a great supporting cast, intriguing mysteries, and of course a great plot-twist-cum-cliffhanger at the end. You get nuns with guns, haunted coins, and a bad-ass killer homunculus, all for only $2.99. Plus a special sneak-preview of a new Batman comic if you're into that sort of thing.

Sadly, in today's marketplace, this comic isn't selling well. People are too busy buying a dozen Flashpoint comics because it's the SUMMER EVENT, and passing this up because it's not connected to that or, even worse, "because it'll be canceled soon." I'll be honest: that pisses me off. Xombi is an excellent comic that deserves wide exposure and should be selling in the high five-digits at least.

Do yourself a favour: run down to the comic book shop, find issues #1 and #2, buy them, read them, and see that I know what I'm talking about. You'll be doing me a favour too, because the more people buy it, the longer the series will run.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The League of Super Groovy Crimefighters #1

The League of Super Groovy Crimefighters #1 (June 2000)
Ongoing series
Ancient Studios

This series, which ran for five issues (only the first one in colour), appears to be the only offering from Ancient Studios and the only comic written by Jan-Ives Campbell. I can sort of see why. It's not that it's bad, per se. It's certainly not the worst thing I've looked at here on the bin. It's just not very good.

Like the Heroes of Rock and Fire comic that I reviewed last year, reading this comic leads you to believe that the creator has much more of the world sketched out in his head than he's showing you, and it suffers for it. There's a bit of an origin/explanation of the League on the inside cover, but personally I found that more interesting than what actually took place on the pages of the comic. The story features a bunch of people in costumes going through some bland comedic bits, with little to no personality to differentiate them from one another. I'm not sure if this is because there are too many characters thrown in all at once, or because of the awfully generic c-grade humour. Probably both.

There's a back-up story about Sergeant America finding out funding for his superheroing has been cut (which will cost him his powers) and going on the run. This is much better, because you get to focus on a couple of character rather than a half-dozen, and also because the humour is a bit more original than "Superheroes cause so much property damage when they fight crime!" I actually felt kind of bad for Sgt. America when he discovered his girlfriend (whom he had admittedly left behind five years before when he became a hero) was sleeping with the supervillain the Sceptre.

I got this for 50 cents, and I guess it's hard to say I didn't get my money's worth because I did enjoy the back-up. Still, you're probably better off holding onto those quarters in case you need to make a phone call.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fractured Fables (Free Comic Book Day Edition)

Fractured Fables (Free Comic Book Day Edition)
One Shot
Image Comics

With 2011's Free Comic Book Day fast approaching, I thought it behooved me to check out more of previous years' offerings. Boasting a Mike and Laura Allred cover (her colours are as important to the finished product as his pencils and inks, I think) and with a "Kid Friendly" logo in the bottom corner, the Fractured Fables sampler seemed a good place to start.

Unlike the Asylum Press free sampler I looked at previously, this serves as a preview for a single graphic novel. Like the Asylum Press offering, however, it's a bit hit or miss. Nothing is outright bad this time, but it's still a mixed bag.

There are five takes on fairy tales and nursery rhymes in this comic, with the best being probably "The Real Princess", written by Alexander Grecian and illustrated by Christian Ward. It takes the story of "The Princess and the Pea" as its base, ties it in cleverly to a couple of other fairy tales, and wraps it all up in a beautifully-coloured package. I don't know what else these two have worked on, but I'll try to check them out.

Ted McKeever, one of my favourite artists, turns in an almost-wordless take on "The Cat and the Fiddle". I'm not sure if he consciously toned down his rather distinctive style for this piece, but I didn't recognize his art at first. It's short and, as I said, wordless, and thus avoids the trouble that plagues the three stories I haven't yet mentioned. "Red Riding Hood", "Rumplestiltskin", and "Raponsel" all fall a bit flat in their attempts at comedy, particularly "Rumplestiltskin" with its emphasis on the stupidity of the princess. That being said, the art in "Red Riding Hood" is nice, and the revelation of the true nature of Grandma's house was enough to bring a smile to my face.

A pretty good free offering, and even worth some of your hard-earned cash if you find it for sale in the lair of some unscrupulous and shadowy comics dealer. Sadly, it wasn't enough to tempt me into buying the actual graphic novel.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Badger Saves the World #1-2

Badger Saves the World #1-2
Limited Series
IDW Publishing

Darn it, I wish I had the rest of this series.

For some reason, I bought issues one and two when they came out, but didn't buy the rest -- maybe because I hadn't gotten around to reading them when #3 came out, or maybe because it sold out, or maybe because I fell and hit my head. It doesn't matter. Now I've got to add the series to my watch list for when I hit the comics shows, because these two issues are a pretty fun read.

I knew only the bare bones about Badger before picking this up today, but you learn everything you need to know as the first issue progresses: Badger is a veteran and martial artist who has multiple personalities, one of which thinks he's a superhero, and he works for a modern-day druid with real magical powers. The two of them appear to live together in an estate/castle, along with Badger's therapist. The book has a bit of a right-wing slant to it, but in the vein of The Naked Gun rather than the Tea Party.

The series involves Badger's druidic friend enlisting his help in fighting the Russian terrorist Pavlov, who is using trained dogs as suicide bombers on behalf of the Nihilist Anti-Civilization Hate Organization (N.A.C.H.O.) The druid wants to stop this because he's dedicated to world peace; Badger wants to stop this because it's mean to the dogs.

These issues aren't perfect: the art is a little wonky in places, and I almost think it would be better suited to being presented in black and white; the humour misses its mark sometimes; and transitions between scenes aren't always delineated clearly. But it made me chuckle out loud more than once, and the plot -- at least what we've seen so far -- is rather clever (in the way of the aforementioned Naked Gun.) Probably worth a looksee if you're interested in action-comedy comic books or superheroes outside of the mainstream. As I said before, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for the other issues next time I'm cruising the bins.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Arsenic Lullaby #16

Arsenic Lullaby #16
Ongoing series
AAA Milwaukee Publishing

If Cyanide & Happiness is just too uplifting for you, Arsenic Lullaby may be the comic for you.

From the editorial comments at the back, it appears that the short comics that make up this issue were originally exclusives to the trade paperbacks that collected earlier issues in the series. They're all black humour -- the blackest of humours -- but unlike many other comics that ply that particular genre, they're also well written and drawn. The art has a decidedly cartoonish feel to it, but you can tell that a good deal of care and effort is put into every panel.

To give you an idea about the contents, the last (and longest) story in the comic starts off as a seemingly pat tale about children finding out a donut company's donut-shaped mascot doesn't really exist. Only you quickly learn that he does exist, and was avoiding the children because he's suffering from terrible depression as the result of being a victim of a Nazi concentration camp. It walks the line between horror, humour, and absurdity, and does so with remarkable skill.

I got my copy for free, with a big sticker pasted to the front saying it was to be handed out to fans of "the Flamming (sic) Carrot, Lenore, Squee, and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac." I love the Carrot, and I can certainly see the similarities, although this is much more disturbing than most of FC's adventures.

Go check out their website if you think this sounds like something you might like.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #4

Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #4 (2008)
Ongoing Series
Marvel Comics

I'm in need of some extra space and extra money these days, and as I was going through my collection in search of comics to part with I stumbled across this one. I've had nothing but positive experiences reading the Marvel Adventures line of all-ages comics, and since the cover didn't ring any bells I thought maybe this one had slipped through the cracks unread.

After the first couple of pages, I realized I'd read it before, and in fact remembered it almost perfectly, but that didn't stop me from reading on to the end. Like every other Marvel Adventures comic I've read, this one is great fun and features the sort of oddball premise you're unlikely to find in a mainstream title: while standing outside a bank waiting for Iron Man to finish his banking, Spider-Man and the Hulk notice a poster advertising a country-and-western performance by super-villain Klaw. Convinced that evil is afoot, the heroic trio takes in the show, waiting for Klaw to tip his villainous hand. But he seems to have honestly turned over a new leaf, and Iron Man's over-reaction to an innocent act on Klaw's part makes the heroes look like jerks.

Is Klaw really reformed? What does the Hulk think of country music? You'll have to read the story to find out, but trust me, it's worth it. And it's not leaving my collection after all.

Highly recommended fun for the whole family.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sunday Funnies: Yotsuba&!

I love Yotsuba&!. From manga-ka Kiyohiko Azuma, creator of Azumanga Daioh, Yotsuba&! follows wide-eyed innocent Yotsuba as she finds joy in the simplest of things, from getting ice cream to going to the beach. It's fun, sweet, and at times laugh-out-loud hilarious. This one-page excerpt gives only a hint of what's in store for you if you pick up a volume. I highly recommend it to anyone, regardless of whether or not they're a fan of manga.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Don't Be A Fool

Although I've never, to my recollection, read a comic with the original Foolkiller in it, I must admit that I found his story as related in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe rather intriguing; the psychologically unbalanced moralist seems like a natural for the vigilante schtick, and it's interesting to see which vigilantes get the implicit approval of the publisher (Punisher, for instance) and which do not. Also, maybe it's just my age showing, but I think he had a pretty striking costume:

It's certainly better than the outfits of the two who followed in his footsteps:

Foolkiller also got re-envisioned for the 2099 world, and the concept was revived for a Marvel MAX series. I don't know what the character concept's status is in the 616 universe.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

And Let That Be a Lesson To You

I was visiting the 50-cent bin at one of my local shoppes today, as they periodically restock with comics that are sitting in their "warehouse" (which I believe is code for "basement".) I tend to think of them as a pretty well-run shop, with friendly and knowledgeable staff, so I'm a bit surprised by how many copies of recent comics make up the bulk of these bins. And while people often talk about longboxes full of Youngblood #1 or The Death of Superman turning up in these places, one title stood out to me as I was flipping through box after box:

Superman/Batman #5 had forty-one copies in just one box. FORTY-ONE. At fifty-cents an issue, you could walk into the store with a $20 bill and still not be able to buy all the copies of this comic that are sitting there.

Draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nightveil #1 (2003)

Nightveil #1 (2003)
AC Comics
One Shot

A while ago, one of my local comics stores briefly changed their dollar bins to a quarter bin. At the time, the bins was chockablock full of AC Comics like Femforce and its spin-offs, so I grabbed a bunch of them since the price was so cheap and I was intrigued by an independent superhero comic that's managed to maintain such longevity. One of my main purchases was Nightveil, since I enjoy the mystic hero archetype and thought that she had a nice costume design.

This particular issue, which is slightly smaller than your average comic, appears to be a one-shot designed to... um... I'm not sure what the purpose of this comic is. It starts off with Nightveil visiting a cemetery at night, only to be disturbed by Satanists whom she makes quick work of. Then it cuts to another story, which begins with a recap of previous events, shows Nightveil making quick work (again) of one of her enemies, then goes into a flashback/origin story for a page or two. Then, only a matter of pages later, it jumps back in time again to relate a story that's as much about Nightveil's teammate Synn as it is about Nightveil herself. It finally returns to the present(?) day and sets up an extra-dimensional adventure, then ends.

It's ultimately a choppy experience that doesn't really serve as a good introduction or stand on its own, which makes me wonder why it was released as a one-shot in the first place. There are a couple of entertaining moments in the dialogue, and some of the art is pleasing enough to look at, so it's not like I feel I wasted my twenty-five cents. But it does make me worry about what I'll be getting from the other AC offerings I have on deck.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Funnies: Action Philosophers All-Sex Special

Want to learn about history's great thinkers and have a laugh at the same time? Why not check out Action Philosophers, from Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey? You can saunter on over to their website to check out some preview stories.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fearless Dawn/Asylum Press Sampler

Fearless Dawn/Asylum Press Sampler
Asylum Press

Oh dear. This isn't very good at all.

Well, that's not entirely fair. Of the seven previews included in this Free Comic Book Day special, one is actively interesting, and one is borderline-good. The others, though...

The comic starts with a preview of Fearless Dawn, the lady gracing the front cover. The art is stylized (to put it nicely) and cartoony (to put it nicely a second time.) If you like ladies with excessively exaggerated curves and pouting lips, you might like the look of this. If you like a grasp of how human beings do things like stand or point guns, or you expect your artist to be able to keep a tattoo consistent from panel to panel (and not, say, change it from a heart to some text and then back again), move along. Likewise, if you want a writer that knows how to use punctuation marks and takes the time to get their foreign languages right, this isn't the comic for you.

Up next is Warlash: Enter the Bladeviper. Now, aside from the title -- which sounds like something my fictional six-year-old nephew would come up with -- this is an improvement over the previous offering. I suppose if you pine for the early days of Image comics, it might do something for you.

Black Powder had potential at first, but then it became painfully obvious that the art is all based on Poser models, apparently with some filters or digital painting layered over top. Poser is a great tool for getting an idea of how the human body would look in a given position, but it's not so hot for sequential art -- everything looks, well, posed. Plus, the facial expressions (particularly the eyes) make everyone look a little shocked, whether they're having a casual conversation or seeing someone stabbed to death before their eyes.

Poser: It's a privilege, not a right.

Finally, we hit something good. The preview of Farmhouse was intriguing enough that I went and downloaded the first issue from the publisher's website -- which I just realized is odd, because the supplemental material all indicates that Farmhouse is supposed to be a graphic novel, not a series of issues.

Anyway, in the preview the art is moody and dark for the most part, but uses brighter, more dynamic colours to good effect at times. The concept, about a guard at an asylum that uses art therapy on its patients, is intriguing, and the scripting doesn't let that down. I'll be looking at the issue I downloaded later on, and if I like it enough I may spring for the whole shebang.

The next preview is also the next-best preview. From what I can tell, EEEK! is a retro horror anthology, à la Eerie or DC's various House... titles. Unlike the rest of the sampler, the art here is all done in black-and-white, which gives it an appropriate atmosphere. The style is more faux-70s-comix than 50s-horror, but it meshes well. Also unlike the other samples, what you get here is a series of two-pagers, each setting up what looks like classic Tales from the Crypt-type stories, from a jealous comic book artist to an unethical realtor scamming the elderly out of their homes. Aside from Farmhouse, this is the most promising piece in the comic.

Penultimately, we come to another title seemingly born out of my nonexistent nephew's fevered brain: Warlash: Zombie Mutant Genesis. This may seem a touch hypocritical coming from someone who contributed to the soundtrack to the Zombie Commandos From Hell! comic, but... do we really need another zombie comic? I'd kind of hoped that dead horse had been sufficiently beaten by now. It's better than the other Warlash preview, at least.

Then there's Undead Evil. Utterly forgettable, unlettered preview. I'm not even sure why it was included, since it's pretty obviously unfinished. I guess they had to fill up those last few pages.

If you find it for free (or download it for free from Wowio, I guess you could flip through it for the Farmhouse and EEEK! previews. But you'd probably be better off just checking those out firsthand.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Avengers Two: Wonder Man and Beast

Avengers Two: Wonder Man and Beast #1-3
Limited Series
Marvel Comics

This is a mini-series that wouldn't be published today -- not because it's a lighthearted buddy comedy, but because it's loaded with footnotes.

In my youth [As seen in Stone Age Funnies #1 -- Ed], footnotes in comics were seemingly de rigueur. They were your guide to following plot developments that happened outside the comics you read, and they were a way of maintaining the feeling of a shared universe without relying on a constant stream of crossovers. While Marvel has its recap pages at the beginnings of its comics right now, these take up far more space than the footnotes ever did, and are generally more limited to recapping what's happened in the few issues previous. The footnotes, on the other hand, could refer to something that happened in a decades-old comic just as easily as it could something happening in another comic hitting the shelves that same month. Ah, those were the days...

But I digress.

Avengers Two, although starring both Wonder Man and the Beast, is really Wonder Man's story. At the time of the comic, he's just come back from the dead at the second time -- this time at the hands of his new lover, the Scarlet Witch -- and is trying to reconcile himself with all the things that have happened in his life. You see, getting a third chance at life has made him very self-conscious, bringing all of his perceived failures and shortcomings into sharp relief, and he wants to make amends.

Here's a problem, though: I'm not really sure what he intended to do. He flies out to California, sure, because that's where he was based for much of his career. And then he... sulks. Don't get me wrong, this isn't page after page of melancholy -- the Beast's presence and his chemistry with Wonder Man make sure of that. But most of Wonder Man's time is spent either reacting to outside forces (to his old agent, to a plane hi-jacking, to It! The Living Colossus) or berating himself for his past indiscretions. He does track down some old acquaintances of his own volition, but you really get the feeling that he didn't think of that until after he was already out there.

There's fun to be had in this mini, and there's a nice slobbernocker between Wonder Man and It! The Living Colossus at the climax, but it's not going to knock anyone's socks off. I picked it up for $1.50 total, and for a price that low you could do worse.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Funnies: The Tick FCBD

From the upcoming Tick comic being released for Free Comic Book Day 2011. I always liked the Tick cartoon, but I've never gotten around to checking out the source material; I think that may change this year.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Unwritten volume 1
Trade Paperback

Well, this was disappointing.

I must admit I perhaps had built my expectations up too much for this first volume of Unwritten. A lot of critical plaudits have been heaped upon it, and it was recommended to me by sf writer/editor Leah Bobet. Perhaps, if I had come into it without any preconceived ideas, I would have enjoyed it more.

Unwritten's premise is intriguing. The protagonist, Tom Taylor, is in a Christopher Robin/Christopher Tolkien position as the son of a best-selling fantasy author and the inspiration (and namesake) of said author's epic series. After his father disappeared many years previous, Tom has had to grow up in the literary spotlight while remaining in the shadow of Tommy Taylor the character. This all changes, however, as a convention Q&A session leads to Tom being accused of being an impostor; soon he's facing protesting mobs clamoring for his head, kidnappings, and stranger things still.

My problems with this first volume are multiple. To start with, the Tommy Taylor series is the Mary Sue of books; more popular than Harry Potter, with something like 40% of the world having read it, a movie franchise, and thirteen books in print. If a book could have flashing violet eyes, this would be the one.

And the excerpts from the book, which take up a sizable portion of each issue, aren't much to write home about. Admittedly, I'm not the target audience for YA fantasy fiction -- but then, I didn't pick this up expecting YA fantasy. I picked it up expecting "one of the most interesting comics of the year", since that's what it says on the front cover. By the end, I was skimming these portions, because I found them outright boring and wanted to get back to the body of the story, which I actually found intriguing.

The final issue of the collection is even worse in this regard, as it breaks up the flow of the entire story to relate a narration-heavy flashback about Rudyard Kipling and the shadowy conspiracy that helped make him (and, by implication, Tom Taylor's father) successful. It amounts to a 20+-page flashback about a historical character not previously shown in the series, and did absolutely nothing for me; I think Carey's writing is weakest in these prose-like sections.

I had other issues as well:

1) Since this story heavily involves YA fantasy, I'm not sure if it was wise to name one of the shadowy conspirators Pullman, the surname of a rather successful real-world author in the field. I suppose if other characters in the cabal turned out to be named Lewis, Rowling, and Nix, it could be thematic, but even then, it would be in questionable taste.

2) The shadowy conspiracy is too shadowy. I've carefully avoided calling them "evil" throughout this review because I'm not really sure what they're conspiring for. They certainly seem to wish the protagonist harm, but that alone doesn't make them evil, just antagonists. Heck, the people who are in on whatever's going on (which doesn't include the reader by the end of this volume) all seem to be rather sketchy, regardless of whether they're involved in the conspiracy or not.

3) The characterization of the secondary characters is spotty. In one issue, we're introduced to a group of horror writers who've gathered together for a retreat, and they're pretty much all one-note stereotypes: the torture-porn-writing jerk, the Laurel K Hamilton stand-in, and so on. Even the better-fleshed-out primary characters move about more like playing pieces than characters.

I'm torn. I don't think it was worth the cover price, so I can't recommend it, but I know other people have obviously enjoyed it, and I'm intrigued enough to pick volume 2 up from the library when it turns up. So flip through it if you get the chance, I guess, and decide for yourself if you think it looks worth your while.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Xombi #1 (1994)

Xombi #1
Regular Series
DC Comics/Milestone

In honour of tomorrow's release of Xombi #1 from DC, I thought I'd take a look at Xombi #1 from DC/Milestone.

I've written about Milestone Media before, so I'll spare the history lesson this time. And focus on the comic.

It's great.

When people talk about John Rozum's writing on Xombi, they usually refer to it as the "Vertigo title" of the Dakota Universe, but with the way that Vertigo has changed over the years, this might confuse some people. It's like early-period Vertigo (Pollack's Doom Patrol, Nocenti's Kid Eternity, Milligan's Shade, the Changing Man) -- an offkilter tale that blends philosophy, religion, and the trappings of something like superheroics.

This is evident right from the first page, where a hospital staffmember has enlisted the help of special Catholic agents Nun of the Above and Catholic Girl to investigate the sudden appearance of frogs in his hospital. And not just normal frogs, either. Frogs who are drawn to the use of teleportation magic, and who apparently repeat fragments of overheard conversations instead of a simple "Ribbit."

After a couple of pages devoted to this bit of foreshadowing, the rest of the issue is spent chronicling the origin of the title character. Although "xombi" isn't so much a name as a descriptor, as we learn throughout the series; the protagonist's name is David Kim, a Korean-American medical researcher working with nanotechnology.

Unfortunately for Kim, his research is of interest to people outside of the medical community. People who are capable of creating beings called "rustling husks", murderous homunculi made from the bodies of insects that died trapped between panes of glass. They're foul creatures that have no problem killing anyone who gets in their way, and proceed to do just that.

As much as I love the comic, though, it isn't perfect. JJ Birch's art leaves a bit to be desired at times -- for the most part, Kim looks Caucasian rather than Korean, and some of the facial expressions are a bit off. He is, however, spot on with the more outlandish pieces, such as the husks and their weaponry, and he does some very nice things with page layouts. He pencilled and inked the entire series (except for the 0 issue which preceded the series proper by several months), so it will be interesting to see how his art progresses over the 21 issues.

On the whole, this issue is highly recommended, as is the new #1, also written by Rozum, set to come out on March 16th. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

The Obligatory Charlie Sheen Gag Post

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Funnies: I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space!!!

This is a two-panel extract from the first issue of I Was Kidnapped By Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space!!!, which was put out in print for 99 cents as part of a six-issue mini-series in 2008. Now I've discovered that the whole series, which is up to three volumes so far, is available on-line. I'm hoping to find more issues at a local con in April (you can't buy them from the website, apparently), but if not reading them on the web will be a good alternative.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dream Police (2005)

Dream Police

Here's what's wrong with comics today. Dream Police came out from Icon, the Marvel imprint for creator-owned works. The same imprint has put out Mark Millar's Nemesis and Kick-Ass, Ed Brubaker's Criminal and Incognito, and Brian Michael Bendis' Powers. And yet whlie those titles have, with their grit and grimdarkness, kept going over the years, we only got a single Dream Police one-shot back in 2005.

Written by J. Michael Straczynski with art by Mike Deodato, Dream Police deals with a Dragnet-like pair of cops on the titular police force, charged with keeping the peace in the dream-world of humanity. It's a fun glimpse into a day -- well, a night -- in the life of the two cops as they deal with crimes that are uniquely oneiric in nature, from tracking down the source of a nun's erotic dream to helping a woman whose dream of her son has gone missing.

The comic has a nice Bronze-Age-meets-Vertigo feel -- aside from the sex dream, it wouldn't have seemed out of place sharing the spinner racks with Kilraven and the Phantom Stranger. Definitely worth your dollar, if you find it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011