KICK ASS 1

KICK ASS 1
Written by Mark Millar and Drawn by John Romita Jr.
Published by
Marvel

In stores Wednesday!

Dave Lizewski is your typical teenage geek. His life revolves around comics, sci-fi, daydreaming, and pining over girls he has no shot with. Living alone with his widowed father, he trudges through his existence with little in the way of excitement or enthusiasm about real life. But one day, a thought comes into his mind that he can’t make go away: why doesn’t anyone ever really put on a costume and go out and do good deeds. After all, he reasons, you don’t need a traumatic family tragedy to motivate you to help people, only a good heart. So Dave hits the gym, buys a costume, and he’s suddenly out on patrol. Unfortunately, his first attempt at stopping some troublemakers goes horribly, awfully wrong.

KICK ASS is the latest release from Marvel’s Icon imprint, where their top talent gets to take their creator-owned work out to play. Millar has placed creator-owned work at places as varied as Avatar and Dark Horse, but as his most well-known works have shipped from Marvel, it was only a matter of time before he’d put a book in this particular playground. Joining him is one of the five greatest comics artists working today, John Romita Jr., and that alone is almost enough to make me recommend this book. JRjr represents consummate professionalism in this industry; great work, strong storytelling, and the ability to always hit his deadlines. If we cloned fifty of him, the world of comic books would be a far better place.

Is KICK ASS any good, though? Yeah- it’s not bad. It isn’t brilliant, mind you, but it intrigues enough to carry you through a nicely dense read- decompression is not a problem here. The opening two pages are absolutely terrific, a gag that you smell coming a mile away, but still get a laugh out of. But then we shift to a “present” Dave, and the writer dives into his black-hearted side. I don’t have a problem with dark humor or material; far from it. But Millar has a tendency to play sadism for shits and giggle, rather than let it serve the story as is. Here, though, the writer wisely stops short of hanging with the horror for too long, showing a nice bit of restraint.

From there, we dive into a lengthy flashback that serves as an “origin” sequence that would have worked a bit better with a little more “show” and a little less “tell.” Still, you can’t help but like Dave for the loveable sap that he is, even if you kind of think he’s so damned dumb in trying to do the superhero thing that he kinda deserves what’s happening to him at the beginning of the book. The other flaw in the flashback structure is that we lack a true timeframe; because Dave’s face has… issues… when we first see him, we don’t know how long he’s been wearing the suit and playing hero. Is he a mature man questioning his choices? Still a stupid young kid? It makes a difference in how you sympathize with his plight.

Already sold to Hollywood, I’d expect strong issue sales, but stronger sales on the trade side. Looks and smells like an evergreen for sure.

Marc Mason

COURTNEY CRUMRIN AND THE FIRE THIEF’S TALE

COURTNEY CRUMRIN AND THE FIRE THIEF’S TALE
Written and Drawn By Ted Naifeh
Published by
Oni Press

Courtney and her Uncle Aloysius have traveled to Romania to visit an old family friend, but where our intrepid young heroine travels, trouble is sure to follow, and this is no exception. There’s a werewolf (or a few) on the loose, and the locals are doing their best to exterminate it. Unfortunately, the mistress of the house where they’re staying happens to be in love with the human half of that wolf, leading Courtney to try and use her budding magicks to try and save the day. But what good is love in the face of bullets? Better yet, what good is love in the face of cowardice?

As he’s proven with earlier volumes of COURTNEY and the superior POLLY AND THE PIRATES, Ted Naifeh has a genuine gift for making American comics and graphic novels that are perfect for the young and teen girl demographic. Courtney is a terrific character, full of the real-life curiosity that a child her age would have and with a heart as big as the outdoors. She also has the sense of moral absolutism that children her age possess and lacks a concept of the shades of gray that color most adult lives. In short, she’s quite easy for the reader to identify with.

And what a lesson she learns in this nifty tale. FIRE THIEF is actually quite a dark little tale, with an ending that doesn’t back off on delivering the emotional impact. Indeed, the whole story is a bit on the grim side, but nothing so black that it risks becoming inappropriate for its audience. Listed as the first installment of a European adventure for Courtney and Aloysius, this is a strong start to what should be a satisfying read all the way through.

Marc Mason

THE PIN UP ART OF DAN DE CARLO 2

THE PIN-UP ART OF DAN DECARLO 2
Drawn by Dan De Carlo
Edited and Designed by Alex Chun and Jacob Covey
Published by
Fantagraphics

Dan De Carlo was one of my all-time favorite artists. As silly as Archie and his cast could be, I was always captivated by the man’s art, and by Betty and Veronica as drawn by his pencil. But my appreciation of the man grew deeper as I explored his career and was introduced to his earlier work, not only in comics, but also as a pin-up artist. His contributions to Humorama magazines in the late 1950s were completely different from the material that fans like myself grew up with, but they are a vital part of understanding who the man was as an artist. That’s what made volume one of this series so essential, as well as Bill Morrison’s INNOCENCE AND SEDUCTION: THE ART OF DAN DE CARLO.

This book, which collects more of De Carlo’s single-panel gags from that era, doesn’t quite rise to the level of the two previous books, though I don’t really think it could. Here we get 200 more pages of art, most never seen or reprinted anywhere previously, and that’s a gift, definitely. Not a single panel here doesn’t look beautiful. But we also see signs here that, as a writer, De Carlo was an amazingly gifted artist. There are also some indications of De Carlo running out of steam for doing these bits, as panel layout starts to lose some style and similarities from bit to bit start to settle in somewhat.

De Carlo’s strength, unquestionably, was the way he drew women, and the women in this book are astounding from cover to cover. Unlike the sanitized view of the 50s we get from most of the era’s popular culture, people did have sex without being married, cheated on their spouses, seduced their way into money, and generally behaved like horny jackasses. It’s a nice reminder that people never really change, and the material printed here certainly does that with style.

Production-wise, the book is every bit the equal of volume one. Chun and Covey put together a terrific package, and at nineteen dollars it’s a bargain for any fan that picks it up. I suppose it’s odd to pick at the book because of De Carlo’s weakening skills at writing jokes- after all, who is really buying the book for the text? But I do think it’s fair to point out that even the greats have their Achilles’ heels, and this second volume puts this particular legend’s on display. It also would imply that a third volume could see a diminished return should Chun and Covey go that route.

Still- I’d want it on my shelf.

Marc Mason

PANDORA: A DEATH JUNIOR MANGA

PANDORA: A DEATH JUNIOR MANGA
Written and Drawn by Hai
Published by
Seven Seas Entertainment

The life of Pandora, Death Junior’s girlfriend, takes a turn for the strange one afternoon while the pair and their friends are playing near a local quarry. Pandora falls down into the pit and discovers a doorway that takes her far away from her friends. Not distance far… instead, she finds herself at high school age and in a future where she is believed dead from the accident in the quarry. Even odder, though all of the rest of her friends remember her and are glad to see her, Junior claims not to know her at all. And his over-protective girlfriend Meg is none-too-pleased to have Pandora back in the picture… even though she needs Pandora a bit more than she’s letting on. Now time is running out for Pandora to return to the past, prevent this future from occurring, and stop Meg’s evil plans from coming to fruition.

PANDORA is something of an oddity in the comics market; there have been two volumes of traditional graphic novels featuring the Death Jr. characters published through Image Comics, and to my knowledge they could still produce more. So seeing a second company deliver a book featuring the characters is very unusual. However, this turns out to be a very smart idea: Seven Seas is a manga company, this is a manga book, and it would have been inappropriate from a mainstream comic publisher. The experts were allowed to handle this, and they handle it quite well.

Hai’s story is, to be honest, a very common trope in speculative fiction dealing with time travel: prevent a terrible future from happening. And with that, his take on the characters’ fates in Pandora’s jump isn’t all that shocking or freaky, even considering how Junior has turned out. He’s been established as a gullible sap easily used by people with bad intent when Pandora isn’t around to keep him out of trouble. But that doesn’t make this a bad book by any stretch; it just makes it a little less imaginative as I would have liked.

That said, Hai does execute his story with good pace and fun character bits, and he does a very solid job of keeping everyone within their personality. The art is terrific, and the book looks great. It matches up with any manga on the stands, and unlike many OEL manga books, it’s actually done in right-to-left format. That alone gives it bonus points in my eyes.

PANDORA’s story is capped off with a very charming ending, one that feels earned and fair. I liked this book enough that I’d love to see more. This set of characters is strong enough to keep going ahead with more mangas, whether we’re also getting traditional comics with them or not.

Marc Mason

STUDENTS OF THE UNUSUAL GIANT SIZED MUSIC SPECIAL 1

STUDENTS OF THE UNUSUAL GIANT-SIZED MUSIC SPECIAL 1
Written by Terry Cronin and Drawn by Various
Published by
3 Boys Productions

Terry Cronin’s anthology of the odd returns soon with a new issue, and this retailers’ preview I’m working from shows off some of the fun that awaits readers who pick up the book. And much like his last effort, which offered a DVD alongside the comic (still only 3 bucks!), this one will have a CD with 14 songs that were sent in to the SOTU crew as part of a contest. Oh- and even with 48 pages in the comic to go with that CD, the consumer’s cost? Three yanqui dollars.

What will readers find in the new issue? A new “Recalcitrant Jones and the Dead Beats” tale, a new “Uncle Pat” story that marks my favorite in the series to date, a creepy installment of “The Flame of Faith” and lots more. Special note to the “Uncle Pat” tale, by the way; “The Water of Life” shows a grasp of mixing the scary with absurd humor that Cronin has really refined quite well over the past couple of years. One thing about the STUDENTS OF THE UNUSUAL books is that they continue to get better each time around, and I respect that- it takes hard work and dedication to craft to do that, and when it comes to indy publishers, it isn’t always that common.

This preview copy did not come with the CD, so I cannot speak to its quality, but I look at it this way: 48 pages of comics and a CD for three bucks is a bargain even if you only like a couple of the songs. SOTU: always recommended.

Marc Mason

FOUNDATION 1

FOUNDATION 1
Written by John Rozum and Drawn by Chee
Published by
Boom Studios

What if you knew the future? How would it guide your moral compass? For one man, the protagonist of FOUNDATION, that question eats at him on his latest assignment. His job is simple: to prevent one man from boarding a plane. That particular passenger’s destiny is meant to be a great one, and it has been foreseen that his flight will crash and kill all onboard. But what about the rest of the passengers? Knowing that they will die, and having that information beforehand, does not saving them constitute a greater crime against humanity? Is it moral to only save the one man? Is he truly worth it? And what is the cost to your soul when it comes to the lives of those you let die?

FOUNDATION is the story of a man who works for an agency that has on simple goal: to see to it that the prophecies of Nostradamus don’t come true. And while that’s a very solid bit of high-concept, which you expect from a Hollywood-friendly publisher like Boom, it is also an unusually philosophical bit of work as well. Few books in recent memory have pondered the moral cost of a “hero” and their actions the way this book does. Rozum’s script gives the lead character an internal monologue that avoids cool and clichés and instead gives us insight into the psyche of a man whose job requires him to do things that would crush the spirit of just about anyone that chose his path. Lots of books have conflicted protagonists- few have better reasons than this guy.

Artistically, Boom regular Chee turns in some strong work, and manages to make a story that has relatively in the way of action and movement feel very exciting on the page. This is one of the stronger efforts from the publisher in recent memory- and I’d be stunned not to see it in development somewhere soon, now that the WGA strike has ended.

Marc Mason

A DUMMY’S GUIDE TO DANGER: LOST AT SEA 1

DUMMY’S GUIDE TO DANGER: LOST AT SEA 1
Written by Jason M. Burns and Drawn by Joe Eisma
Published by
Viper Comics

In the annals of comicbook protagonists, Alan Sirois is one of the most unusual to come down the pike. We’ve seen private eyes before, sure, and we’ve seen characters that are kinda nutty. But Alan takes the cake: his partner, Bloomberg, is a ventriloquist’s dummy, and Alan is so completely batshitinsane that he doesn’t understand or recognize this fact. In fact, he’s so far off the reservation that the opening to this sequel series finds him and Bloomberg sitting in a therapist’s office trying to work out their differences. However, being nuts never prevents people from getting work, and awaiting the pair in their offices is zillionaire Templeton Lieberman, the owner of a “murder mystery” cruise line, and he has an offer for the pair: go on the inaugural cruise, test Lieberman’s puzzler, and the boys could take home up to $2.5 million. Even Sirois isn’t crazy enough to pass up that offer.

Returning to perhaps my favorite of his works, Burns puts his characters into a classic type of mystery, a “locked room” in the form of the cruise ship, and that’s a smart move. It imposes some limits that keep the proceedings intimate and that makes for a better, stronger story. He also keeps Sirois’ (much put-upon) girlfriend Teri in the mix as well, giving Alan a bit more at stake in his efforts on the boat. In short, this is the most appropriate next step for the series I can think of.

The only place where the book stumbles is on the artistic side. Eisma turns in competent work, but it lacks any sort of pizzazz; the book looks bland, to be blunt. Backgrounds are lacking or non-existent, and facial expressions and body language are hit-and-miss.

Full of humor, and just as much fun as the first go-around, LOST AT SEA is a solid, if unspectacular effort. Should be intriguing to see where the story goes.

Marc Mason

SHOJO BEAT FEBRUARY 2008

SHOJO BEAT FEBRUARY 2008
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by
Viz Media

I’ve never picked up an issue of SHOJO BEAT (or SHONEN JUMP, for that matter) that wasn’t easily worth the six-dollar cover price, and this issue is no different from any other. Let’s get that out of the way. I happen to think that, conceptually, Viz’ magazines are just about the perfect way for a larger publisher to approach releasing their comics and graphic novels.

Why? Examining this issue of SHOJO BEAT, here’s what we get: an interview with J-Pop sensations Puffy AmiYumi. A feature story on J-Pop, along with the magazine’s own music awards. A column on fashion and beauty and another one on how to make your wardrobe look expensive on a small budget. Pieces on trends, purification rituals, and how to draw. Good, solid magazine material. Then you add the seven manga serials presented in the book, including the first fifty pages of a new series hitting shelves soon (MONKEY HIGH), and thirty to fifty pages of the other six.

We’re talking just short of 300 pages of manga, and considering that an individual 200 page volume is usually at least $8, that’s a hell of a value. But the smart thing is how it works as a platform. Looking at PREVIEWS, I’d have likely ignored MONKEY HIGH, but reading this sample here makes me take notice that it’s kind of cute and could be worth my time and hard-earned yanqui dollars.

I’m not sure there’s a smarter way to get people hooked. God knows, if Marvel and DC went this route, they might actually make inroads into that mythical goal of attracting new readers. Right now, personally, I read one DCU book. Maybe if I had an option like SHOJO BEAT for their product I could be enticed to buy more.

The magazine material is pretty fluffy, but as it’s meant for the ‘tween and teen girl audience, it reads at just the proper level for its audience, and this one will be passed on to the ‘tween in my life as soon as I’m finished writing about it. Really, SHOJO BEAT is a terrific idea, and a terrific idea that delivers terrific results. Be on the lookout for the new one with the Bryan O’Malley cover. Should be one not to miss.

Marc Mason

ZORRO 1

ZORRO 1
Written by Matt Wagner and Drawn by Francesco Francavilla
Published by
Dynamite Entertainment

Diego de la Vega was a precocious child. The son of a Spaniard nobleman and a Tongva warrior woman, he grew up with the best of both worlds at his disposal. Alongside his best friend Bernardo, he gets an education in his teens that covers both sides of his heritage, learning not only about the injustices of class inequity and how they affect his fellow men, but also about the spirit quests of his mother’s tribe. Intelligent and cunning, he will grow up to use that knowledge to become one of the greatest heroes of all: Zorro.

ZORRO represents another terrific launch for Dynamite over the past few years, and added to a lineup that includes Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s THE BOYS, Alex Ross’ PROJECT SUPERPOWERS, establishes the company as perhaps the go-to place for top talent who want to do projects away from the three largest publishers (Marvel, DC, Image). Having Matt Wagner at the keyboard here is simply a huge deal; the man is one of the giants working in the field today, and has basically produced “prime”-level work for going on 20 years now. If you don’t believe me, take a look at his track record and find a bad dud over the past two decades. I’ll wait- but trust me, it isn’t there.

Wagner’s take on this new incarnation of ZORRO is done just about perfectly in this first issue. We get an introduction to the main character as an adult, but we also get a compelling origin story woven throughout the book, and it all works in a lovely balance. It also helps that Francavilla possesses the skills to get Wagner’s story across on the page in solid fashion, and he doesn’t try and overwhelm the plot- he gets that Wagner is the star attraction and plays his part exactly as he should.

The book is accompanied by the usual high production values the company typically delivers, and overall lacks even the tiniest thing that would give me pause in recommending it. Matt Wagner on ZORRO? Three bucks well spent.

Marc Mason

STRANDED 1

STRANDED 1
Written by Mike Carey and Drawn by Siddharth Kotian
Published by
Virgin Comics

Imagine, if you will, that a number of people you know aren’t who they really say they are. Of course, you’d be appalled, maybe even frightened. Imagine then, that you suddenly find out that you aren’t who you think you are. That in a moment, a flood of memories returns to your mind and you begin to understand that you are an alien with powers beyond those of humans, one who fled a brutal opposing force and went underground on another planet. So deep underground, actually, that your very existence has been buried with it. Now, one of the aliens who does have her own memories, a woman named Tamree, is faced with the reality that the opponent has found earth. And a choice must be made whether to fight on her own… or wake up those who have spent over a decade asleep.

STRANDED marks the first full collaboration between Virgin Comic and the Sci-Fi Channel, and it reads pretty much how you’d expect that pairing to read. Mike Carey is one of the better mainstream comics writers working in the field today, and his instincts as a strong storyteller with a solid grip on action and adventure are on full display here. That’s a very typical hire for Virgin, and they have indeed used Carey before for that very reason. On the flip side, you also have a brilliantly wide-open concept to play with, one that could easily be adapted for television and on a reasonable cable series budget. It looks like a win-win scenario for both entities out of the gate.

The one real surprise about this book comes from the art by Siddharth Kotian. STRANDED is the most traditional looking western comic that Virgin has produced when not using an American artist. Kotian is up to the task, delivering some nice pages with a fluid feeling to them; there’s nothing stuff at all to distract the reader. Throw in some lovely color work, and the book is really quite solid.

One other thing- in an age of long arcs written for the trade, Carey does do his level best to provide a very packed story to give the reader their money’s worth. A strong start to a book with some promise.

Marc Mason