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.