NORTH WORLD VOL 1

NORTH WORLD VOL 1
Written and Drawn by Lars Brown
Published by
Oni Press

North World is a world much like ours, except a bit more mystical. People practice magic, animals talk, and heroes walk the land battling monsters. On the flip side, families fracture over children’s vocations, ex-girlfriends cause heartbreak and confusion, and teenagers are total dicks. For Conrad, a traveling swordsman, it’s about to get even more painful that usual, however; his next job, stopping someone from raising a dark evil, is in the hometown he abandoned seven years ago. That means returning to the scene of many crimes, dealing with his overbearing father, and pondering the prospect of being the best man at his ex’s wedding. Killing things seems much, much easier.

NORTH WORLD is something of a maddening book, to be blunt. I liked it- there’s a genial attitude about it, the cast of characters is genuinely interesting, and the concept of the world is cool. But it also suffers from a couple of huge flaws. The biggest flaw?

Nothing happens in it.

Over the span of 144 pages, Conrad mostly travels from person to person in his old hometown, stopping to occasionally deal with some emotional turmoil or the teenage dickheads. He makes no headway into his primary purpose in coming to town, he all too easily handles his ex, and his conflict with his father feels a bit too pat. Plus, the few action moments in the book don’t really do much, because Brown doesn’t really show an ability for dynamics on the page. Taken objectively, the book is, well, boring.

Yet I zipped through it and didn’t really feel negatively towards it when I was finished. I don’t know if that says more about the book or my personal state of mind at the time. So NORTH WORLD gets a slight pass from me right now, contingent on how the next volume plays out.

Marc Mason

VAMPIRELLA QUARTERLY WINTER 2008

VAMPIRELLA QUARTERLY WINTER 2008
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Drawn by Noah Salonga
Published by
Harris Comics

Vampirella and her resurrected boyfriend Adam are being held captive by a mysterious woman, and being unwilling to speak to her captor, she finds herself at the mercy of a deadly hallucinogen that causes her memories to erupt in torment. Can her love of Adam give her the strength to snap her bonds? Or will she listen to him being tortured back to death?

After an unfortunate conclusion to the first VAMPIRELLA QUARTERLY arc, this issue is a welcome return to form for the book and the character herself. Fialkov has a pretty decent take on Vampirella; she’s smart, strong-willed, and owns her heart and her feelings. And unlike the previous artist he was dealing with, Noah Salonga is a terrific choice for the book. He draws a sexy Vampirella, but he doesn’t get carried away. No porn poses, ridiculous contortions, or panels where it looks like the dialogue bubbles are coming out of her ass. Salonga also did solid work on Xena that had similar merits, showing that he knows how to be a “good girl” artist without being a panderer. We could use more of those.

As with the past issues, there’s also a classic Vampirella adventure restored and reprinted here, and it’s another good one. Written by T. Casey Brennan and drawn by Jose Gonzalez, “Dracula Still Lives” is an excellent tale, and Gonzalez’ artwork continues to be enough of a reason to buy these books. He was churning out some amazing pages 35 years ago, and they really hold up.

Back on track, VAMPIRELLA QUARTERLY is readable once again.

Marc Mason

SNAKE WOMAN: CURSE OF THE 68 1-2

SNAKE WOMAN: CURSE OF THE 68 1-2
Written by Zeb Wells and Drawn by Virgin Studios
Published by
Virgin Comics

The Snake Woman is a vengeful deity who was created in the 18th century when 68 British soldiers desecrated and looted an ancient Indian temple. Back then she was a cobra who guarded a shiny emerald with her cobra husband, but when the soldiers stole the jewel, shot her hubby and set her temple on fire, she made a dying vow to be reincarnated over and over until she kills the 68 souls (who will also be reincarnated as long as she is) that committed those crimes.

At the conclusion of the summary page detailing the above history it states the following stories are those of the 68 souls being hunted. One must wonder if this is the case, then why have the premier title be ‘SNAKE WOMAN’ and the secondary title be ‘CURSE OF THE 68,’ rather than vise versa. Regardless, here’s a story idea that has a million different settings that can (and probably will) be used, as demonstrated in the first two issues.

Issue #1 takes place in the Old West, and Pradip Ingale’s art was perfect for that time period. The grittiness of his lines and his shading really captured the feel of the Wild West. The story seems pretty straightforward: two cowboy scoundrels are on the run from someone they don’t know. When Snake Woman (who’s tall, blond, definitely foxy but not overdone) finally catches up with them, there’s a bit of a twist. The two souls she claims are not who you think they are, and though it left me grateful for a surprise, I was a bit disturbed as well. I’m trying not to give up too many spoilers, but one of the men she kills seems to be a very decent man. He must die, however, because his soul is one of the 68. But neither of the men killed had any idea of the crimes committed by their souls decades ago. All they have are dreams of being bitten by a snake. Quite frankly it just makes Snake Woman look like a mindless killing machine, counting down how many she has left to kill as she scalps her latest victims and takes off on her pretty pony.

Issue #2 takes place in Russia during the fall of the Romanov family. Manu P.K.’s art was decent, but he needs to work on consistency in the faces of his characters, and the letterers should follow the precedent of having Snake Woman’s dialogue in green set in the previous book. In this comic we see the birth of the Snake Woman into a new body and a new hunt. Her kills this time are established murderers whom are aware of their nemesis the Snake God and seem to most certainly deserve their fate. Perhaps it was because of their awareness, or because Snake Woman was born from a wronged young woman, thirsty for justice, but I found myself liking this particular Snake Woman more so than the last.

This may be the aim of the author, to keep the reader unsure of what team to support, be it Snake Woman or the Cursed 68. Or maybe the idea is to show how each reincarnation can be completely unique, for both man and deity. Either way, I found it a bit exhausting. The end of the second issue possibly hinted at continuing the story of that Snake Woman, which would be cool, but if each issue is going to follow a different Snake Woman and 68 men in a different time period, then it’s just too much. How are readers supposed to get invested in these characters where there is almost no consistency in them from issue to issue? I can understand characters evolving and changing over time, and if Wells continues in a forward motion chronologically, then this might work. However, if we’re constantly going to jump around in history and watch a pissed off and/or Terminator-like Snake Woman kill both bastards and seemingly good men, then it’s pretty difficult to care what happens to who in the subsequent issues.

Avril Brown

INDIA AUTHENTIC 11: HANUMAN

INDIA AUTHENTIC 11: HANUMAN
Written by Saurav Mohapatra AND Drawn by Swapnil Singh
Published by
Virgin Comics

HANUMAN is the newest entry in the India Authentic line from Virgin Comics, bringing tales from the rich culture of the Asian continent to the West. Written by CWR’s own Saurav Mohapatra, HANUMAN tells the story of the deity that ‘is the most admired, respected and held with the most affection of all the deities in India Pantheon of 300.000,000 gods and goddesses.’ (Yow! And I thought the Marvel U had an excess of mutants!) In western terms, he’s looks like a cross between a monkey and He-Man, but with more muscles -if that were even possible. Issue #1 tells a grand, sweeping tale full of mythic elements and melodrama, with more than a few similarities to western/European mythologies, showing that we’re not all that different when it comes to telling tall tales. The climax involves a variation on the old adage ‘if Mohammed won’t go to the mountain, the mountain will go to Mohammed.’ It’s a fantasy full of swords and sorcerers and will feel quite familiar to those well read in the genre.

Outside of being part of the India Authentic line, there’s not much beyond that to distinguish it from any other swords & sorcery book. You have kings and princes, all introduced in the midst of a great battle. One of the princes falls when he becomes victim to treachery. Once the treachery is revealed, the title character goes on a quest to save his friend. Pretty basic stuff, really. If anything, the visuals in the book are what give it a distinct feel, with a colorful palette of purples and reds to give the drawings a lush quality. The hero’s journey takes him across a mythical land with panoramic vistas and strange creatures, sure to capture the imagination of a ten-year old reading of this character for the first time.

My biggest problem, though, is in the plot, the conclusion of which I’d rather not give away as it is the hook to the whole story. I will say this: if the voyage to the mountain -where the solution to the problem can be found – takes so long to make, then there’s no way the hero would have been able to make it back in time to save his friend, especially considering what he carries with him. But of course, this is a mythic tale and like many of its ilk, will have its plot holes for the sake of inducing gasps.

The book reads like a child’s fable, and I guess this would make it an ideal book to introduce younger readers to Indian folklore, but the Virgin line of books has always slanted more mature. So I fear that if the book is intended for younger readers, it may not get to them.

E.R. Serrano

LITTLE NOTHINGS

LITTLE NOTHINGS VOL 1
Written and Drawn by Lewis Trondheim
Translated by Joe Johnson
Published by
NBM

Anyone who has followed my reviews for any amount of time knows how I feel about Lewis Trondheim: I think he’s one of the greatest talents in the world today, and I’ll pick up pretty much anything with his name on it. But as good as Trondheim’s work can be (DUNGEON, MR. I), sometimes you get something from the man that’s transcendent. LITTLE NOTHINGS is such a book.

LITTLE NOTHINGS is the first collection drawn by Trondheim’s art blog, and it offers up a hug plate-glass window into the world of one of the great artists. By turns funny, paranoid, and self-effacing, NOTHINGS is a portrait of a man who is somewhat baffled by his life, yet intensely in love with simply waking up every day and enjoying the oxygen. In doing so, these single page strips run the gamut: in one, he argues with his wife about his choice of shirts; in another, he pulls out one of the collapsible light-sabers that were sold when the STAR WARS prequels came out and amuses himself by playing Jedi when his wife and children aren’t home, acknowledging the silliness of a man his age engaging in that kind of behavior. One series of strips focuses on a trip he took to the tropical island of Reunion and the paranoia he felt the entire time he was there, due to a mosquito-borne illness that was going around. Another series deals with his election to the Angouleme Festival’s Grand Prize for his body of work. Husband, father, paranoid, traveler, artist, child at heart… every bit of Trondheim is in these pages.

Unlike too many American artists, you also get a rounded picture of Trondheim as a man with a strong work ethic. This isn’t a written blog; this is done in pen and watercolors.

It’s rare for an artist to show his human side as Trondheim does here, which makes it all the more amusing that he anthropomorphizes himself and the rest of his world. Lewis himself is presented as a duck, making him essentially look like Herbert the Warrior Duck from the DUNGEON series. What makes that curious is that we know Herbert goes bad at some point late in the series. I wonder if that’s Trondheim’s quietest acknowledgement of his own insecurities, worried that he can’t keep up the standards he’s set for himself at this point. Whether or not that’s true, I can tell you only one thing for sure: there’s not a damned thing about this book that’s “bad.” LITTLE NOTHINGS is easily one of the best books we’ll see in 2008.

Marc Mason

GNOME

GNOME
Written and Drawn by Dave Dwonch
Published by
SuperReal Graphics

Andy thinks his life has gotten simpler when he inherits his uncle Lewis’ house in a bucolic small town. He’s away from the city, the lovely Marybelle not only bakes him cookies but also takes a liking to him, and he might even be able to get a job. But what he doesn’t know is that his uncle was a practitioner of the black arts, and he has unleashed a horrible other dimensional beast that will destroy the world if Andy can’t stop it. Fortunately for Andy, he has one thing going for him: it turns out that the original garden gnomes were actually a class of great warriors turned to stone until the world needed saving. And now, the final living gnome has taken up residence in Andy’s front yard and begun to train the boy how to be a warrior that can save the world.

GNOME marks SUPER REAL maestro Jason Martin’s first effort at publishing someone else’s work besides his own, and it’s a pretty charming effort. The idea behind GNOME is pretty cute, and it works: only one of the poor bastards is left because of the tenacity of teenagers that like destroying the statues in peoples’ gardens. The rest are phonies made because someone liked how the original warriors looked. It’s actually quite tragic the way Dwonch describes it on the page. Dwonch also does a nice job in growing his characters; it’s halfway through the book before Andy gets a clue about the Gnome and the danger, giving him plenty of time to develop on the page, and for his relationship with Marybelle to develop as well. He also leaves it wholesome enough that GNOME remains good for readers of all ages.

The weak spot here is the art. Dwonch’s work is inconsistent, and his panel-to-panel storytelling isn’t particularly strong. That makes the motion and action feel pretty static on the page. Still, it is very typical for a beginning graphic novelist to be stronger in one area than another, and there’s plenty of room to grow. On the whole, GNOME is a decent start.

Marc Mason

KITCHEN PRINCESS VOL 5

KITCHEN PRINCESS VOL 5
Written and Drawn by Natsumi Ando and Miyuki Kobayashi
Translated by Satsuki Yamashita
Adapted by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Published by
Del Rey

Najika has moved forward in the national confectionary competition, but the road towards becoming the youngest-ever champion only gets bumpier from where she’s standing. Problem one is Daichi, the brother of the boy Najika loves, Sora; Daichi has just unexpectedly planted a kiss, a very good kiss, on Najika. Her first kiss, actually, and to say that she’s a little torn and confused would be undercutting it. Plus, round two is about to start, she’s lost her lucky utensil, and she has to create a dessert that satisfies all five senses. Throw in an underhanded plan by the boys’ father to use the young girl as a publicity stunt, and Najika is in danger of being completely overwhelmed by it all. Fortunately, she has one thing going for her: when she focuses, the girl can out cook all comers. And she’s going to need every single bit of that focus in order to win and stay enrolled at the Seika Academy.

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally a series that starts off poorly truly can make a solid turnaround, and KITCHEN PRINCESS has accomplished it. Honestly, I loathed the first few volumes; bad melodrama, uninspiring characters, and art that was extremely generic. But this has gradually improved, and volume five starts pulling the mix together nicely. The drama feels tighter and more real, the characters have gotten a bit more complex… the book reads a bit more breezy and involving now. The art is still the weak spot- the storytelling is stiff and un-involving and the characters could have been pulled out of any number of other books. But the story works hard to gloss past those issues.

My one major issue is the cliffhanger at the end of the volume; you could see it coming from a mile away, and it feels kind of cheap. You don’t doubt for a minute that things will be resolved in the positive, and indeed, the preview for volume six leaves no doubt. Still, if the quality can be maintained, KITCHEN PRINCESS could be one to keep an eye on for a while.

Marc Mason

CONSTANT RIDER OMNIBUS

CONSTANT RIDER OMNIBUS
Written by Kate Lopresti
Published by
Microcosm Publishing

Kate Lopresti is either completely nutty or a hero to anyone who wants to make the environment cleaner. Her self-published zine, CONSTANT RIDER, details her adventures as a traveler on public transport, whether on the local buses in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, or taking a passenger train across the country. Facing the crazy, the stinky, and the stressed out, most people would fold up their tents and stay home. But Kate chooses instead to plop down and start writing… as well as to keep riding.

As a person that uses public transportation quite frequently, I was immediately sucked into Kate’s prose, recognizing the world she was describing immediately. But even if I hadn’t, she has the skill to describe the people, places, and scents with such detail that anyone reading the book will have no issues in visualizing what she’s talking about. Me, I know the people she’s talking about; I see them almost any time I board a bus. Apparently, city buses (and other forms of public transport) truly are universal. (People are people, right?) I also found myself impressed by Lopresti’s descriptions of herself; she has a healthy sense of travel paranoia, including one amusing incident where she fears that she is the source of a horrific smell during a train ride and tries to do something about it. (If only others were as self-conscious!)

Other nifty parts of the book find Lopresti offering tips for how to properly wait for, board, and ride a bus; dealing with a bus-stop Romeo who won’t take “no” for an answer; and discussing how to deal with drunks. She even throws in seat-moving etiquette when the bus clears out. This is really a charming little book, a true gem, and I have no qualms about recommending it to anyone, especially those who live the public transportation lifestyle.

Marc Mason

AWAKENING 1-3

AWAKENING 1-3
Written by Nick Tapalansky and Drawn by Alex Eckman-Lawn
Published by
Archaia Studios Press

Park Falls tends to be your ideal mid-sized city. Low crime rate. Basic economic structure. But suddenly things have gone off the rails. There’s been a series of disappearances and murders… seriously gruesome murders… and the cops are baffled. Retired Park Falls detective Derrick Peters finds himself dragged back into the mix one afternoon when Cynthia Ford, the town crazy, shows up on his doorstep and claims she has vital information about the killer. “Zombies,” she says, and even though Peters kicks her out, the bite marks on the bodies and missing bits are a bit on the freaky side. She also claims it’s the work of her former employer, Cline Pharmaceuticals, the company that essentially disappeared overnight just a couple of weeks before the attacks began. Sharing information with Doctor Daniel Howe, sent to the city by a mysterious governmental agency, Peters has to put together the pieces before more people are killed… or he becomes a snack himself.

AWAKENING is a solid, intelligent crime/horror thriller, one that doesn’t play its audience for being stupid. Tapalansky keeps his script spare and tight, not drowning the reader in exposition and avoiding some bad clichés (Derrick’s former boss doesn’t go out of his way to impede Peters’ work; instead, he encourages it in the hopes of cling the case sooner). Tapalansky also keeps the pace moving along just right, not stopping to decompress or speeding past the important stuff, and he uses time judiciously, moving back and forth in order to serve the story (and again, keep a pace that works).

Eckman-Lawn is a terrific talent; he can paint and design at a very high level, making AWAKENING a very pretty book to look at. His weakness, though, lies in the storytelling; his style can get a bit dark and grimy on the page and it can be difficult to figure out exactly what action is taking place in some panels (to be fair, I am working from a PDF and the printed version may come out cleaner). He can also be a bit inconsistent on the level of detail he’s providing in his backgrounds and on the characters’ faces and clothing.

This book is pretty much what you’d expect out of Archaia, which has a well-deserved reputation for smart, high-quality material. These are the first three chapters out of a total of ten, and I’d not hesitate to guess the rest of the journey will be one worth taking.

Marc Mason

METRO SURVIVE 1

METRO SURVIVE VOL 1
Written and Drawn by Yuki Fujisawa
Translated by Stephen Paul and Adapted by Ailen Lujo
Published by
DrMaster

Mishima is spineless wimp. His boss runs roughshod over him, regularly emasculating him. His wife is on his ass about working too much overtime because of the shithead boss. But he swears that today will be different- he will make it home in time to celebrate his son’s birthday. That plan quickly goes by the wayside, though, when he gets stuck working late again… and then a mega-earthquake hits Tokyo, stranding Mishima and a cast of scumbags, liars, and opportunists 60 meters underground in a subway station with no way out and no way of alerting the upper world that they’re down there. Now he has to find some courage, grow some stones, and become the man his wife wishes he was, in order to survive the dangerous conditions… and the dangerous people he’s stuck with below the surface.

Plot and art-wise, METRO SURVIVE is a decent little thriller, putting a group of people in an apocalyptic position and seeing how they manage to sort it out and attempt to survive. The conceit is clever, and by making Mishima a professional maintenance man, it gives him a role to play that would not have worked to put him in the lead. Fujisawa’s art is attractive, simple, and tells the story well, missing character with devastation nicely.

The weakness of the book, though, is the cast. With perhaps one exception, every single one of the people here is venal, self-absorbed, scummy, or pathetic. The one magnificently good character doesn’t make it through the volume. You don’t feel sympathy or empathy for anyone- frankly, you start hoping they’ll die, and damned quick. That’s not exactly what you’re hoping for when you crack open a book.

So that’s one hill for the creator to climb. Still, I’m not so turned off that I’m uninterested. I’ll be curious to see how she gets her cast out of the situation they’re left in at the end of this volume. I just hope she can also make me care.

Marc Mason