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