CALIBER 1

CALIBER: FIRST CANON OF JUSTICE 1
Written by Sam Sarkar and Drawn by Garrie Gastonny
Published by
Radical Comics

Set against the Expansionist Era of Early America, Caliber: First Canon of Justice tells a tale of violence and betrayal and the coming of a mystic Lawgiver to the burgeoning frontier. The story opens by introducing us to Jean Michel, a half French, half Native American shaman who is on a vision quest to find the heir to a mystic weapon. In the midst of his quest, we meet Captain Pendergon (a play on Pendragon perhaps?) an officer in the Union Army who tasked with keeping the peace among settlers and the local Indian Reservation. We also meet his son, Arthur, who is a kind young soul who rails at the injustices he sees in society. With this, all the elements are in place for an interesting origin. And for the most part, it is. Borrowing a page from Dynamite Enteratinment’s Lone Ranger series, writer Sam Sarkar tells an old-time story in contemporary fashion. He even goes against convention and keeps us from learning the French-native American shaman’s name until two-thirds of the way into the story. (Some other writers might have had the character giving some hokey third-person narrative like ‘I am Jean Michel…shaman and all around bad-ass.’

The art is fully painted by Garrie Sarkar of Imaginary Friends Studio and is simply stunning. There are some weaknesses in the rendering of faces, which tend to be rather bland and uniform, but the overall composition of each page and use of ice-cold blues help give the story a tone of near spiritual desolation on the frontier.

The ‘twist’ ending of the story may not come as a surprise to seasoned readers (I saw it coming from the moment a particular character was introduced) but it does set up an intriguing second issue.

It should go without saying; this is Radical Comics at the highest caliber!

Ok, so I said it, but c’mon…the title alone is a pun, so sue me.

And buy this book!

E. Ruben Serrano

HERCULES 1

HERCULES: THE THRACIAN WARS 1
Written by Steve Moore and Drawn by Admira Wijaya
Published by
Radical Comics

HERCULES: THE THRACIAN WARS 1 is a great introduction to what looks to be a very entertaining mini series. This is a well-rounded book, having both an engaging story and outstanding art.

The art of cover A by Jim Strenako is a bit trippy, and I do enjoy the whole there/not there effect with the cape. The colors look a bit too pastel at the bottom, especially when compared to the muted colors found within. One thing which was really annoying is the woman with the asscrack-less bum. If you’re going to draw a naked butt, that’s great, I’m on board with that. But if you’re going to leave out the important functional part of one’s posterior, it distracts from the art. All the reader is thinking when they see a butt with no crack is “How does she crap?” Cover B (done by Wijaya and Darren Tam) is simpler but matches the rest of the book.

Any story that opens with a corpse getting his eyes and intestines ripped out by scavenging crows definitely grabs your attention. The lines are sharp and clear, and there’s just the right amount of gore. As it pans out we see a room full of corpses and our narrator walking amongst the carnage. The entire first page is a post-battle scene to whet our appetite for the blood and guts to come, and it does a great job.

The characters are well drawn with clear faces and overwhelming detail. Thankfully that attention is paid to every aspect of the art making the background details just as stunning as the people. Individual blades of grass and cracks in the marble pillars are the kind of particulars which transport the reader into the story. Admira Wijaya and Imaginary Friends studios are a truly talented group and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them.

Great art in a comic book is just that without a story to back it up, but never fear for Moore really backs it up. I’m partial to the Greek myths to being with, and reading this book made me want to brush up on the ancient gods and heroes. With strong one-liners and not a word wasted, Moore’s off to a great start. The dramatic yet sarcastic voice of the narrator, Iolaus, nephew of Hercules, sets a solid tone for the book. I was intrigued by the bitterness that Iolaus seems to hold for the gods and mortals alike.

Iolaus and Meneus arrive in Thrace to inform “King” Cotys of Hercules’ forthcoming arrival with supplies. Iolaus’s demeanor, that of a hardened warrior who knows he’ll see more before his time is over, and who loves and respects his uncle, contrasts sharply to the manners and behavior of the Thracians. Rude and insulting of the help they requested from Greece, men passed out drunk at the dinner table, the Thracians certainly seem to be the barbarians our Greek heroes insist on calling them.

When Hercules arrives we meet the rest of the warrior clan. Of course the insults continue to flow from the Thracians, especially when they meet Atlanta, the only woman among the warriors. Sure enough, Hercules finally has his fill of the taunts of the Thracians and throws the first metaphorical punch in what turns out to be the bloody mess we were introduced to in the beginning of the book. Of course, the fun doesn’t end there, and the book concludes with what looks like a pretty tight spot for our heroes.

Moore does an excellent job of setting the stage for the series and getting the reader interested in the characters. A few of the tidbits of information he tosses out about the Greeks were a bit typical in their delivery (Atlanta, for example, shouts that she wants to die whilst she stabs a man in the back of the neck), but they do their job of attracting and holding the reader’s attention. Couple this with Wijaya’s incredible art and I’m certainly looking forward to the rest of the series.

Avril Brown

WHITE PICKET FENCES

WHITE PICKET FENCES
Written by Matt Anderson and Eric Hutchins and Drawn by Various
Published by
Ape Entertainment

The town of Greenview is a strange little place. Full of mad scientists, giant bug attacks, and other flights of fancy, it isn’t like most places, but it is a great place to grow up. For Tommy, Parker, and Charlie, it’s a place where their imaginations are never far from reality, and where adventure lurks in every basement. In this collection of three stories, they’ll have their courage put to the test, as danger lurks. But as you’d guess, this all-ages book is harmless enough to be fun for anyone who plunks their money down for it.

Story one, “The History Lesson,” finds the boys in a classic scenario: there’s a creepy neighbor to be spied upon, and a thrown ball into the yard seems like the ideal way to gather some information. But of course, we know how those sorts of things go, especially when the owner might just behind the wave of missing kids. The second piece, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” is a strong one that focuses on the boys’ dreams for the future and how they hope their lives will turn out. But it’s story three, “Beetle-Mania,” that sold me on the book. It finds the trio embroiled in an attack by giant bugs and the innovative solution that they and a new friend find to combat the situation. This is the sort of thing I would have eaten up with a spoon when I was a kid and it hit me on that level.

The art quality varies, as done the storytelling done by the art, with only Brian Mead turning in what I’d call work of distinction on “What do I want to be…?” But in an all-ages book, the art isn’t quite as important as getting a plot that captures the imagination on the page. So we’ll give the book a pass on that and call it recommended for younger audiences.

Marc Mason

DUMMYS GUIDE TO DANGER LOST AT SEA 2

DUMMYS GUIDE TO DANGER LOST AT SEA 2
Written by Jason M. Burns and Drawn by Joe Eisma
Published by
Viper Comics

When last we left insane detective Alan Sirois and his partner (and ventriloquist dummy) Bloomberg, they had been hired to go on a cruise ship with a “solve a murder mystery” setup to try and solve the crime. Little did they know, however, that there was a real murderer onboard. Now they find their cabin invaded by overzealous fans, Alan’s girlfriend Teri has had all of her underwear stolen, and the ship’s doctor has disappeared. Plus, the “fake” mystery has kicked into gear as well. How will a crazy man cope with it all? And how much longer can Teri put up with it?

Actually, Teri turns out to be the key here, as Burns uses her to hold the story together. Let’s be honest: it is extremely difficult to give Sirois any sort of love interest that could conceivably stick around. He’s a complete fucking whack-a-doodle, after all. And in the first miniseries, she paid a price for knowing and caring about the idiot. So when shit starts to meet fan here in issue two, it plays because Teri reacts in the most human way possible and grounds the story. She also begins to let her exasperation with her situation show, thankfully. If not, you’d really begin to lose your own place in the story.

Burns also turns in some nice dialogue in issue two, and brings some funny characters into the mix. The best are a couple that are actually in Alan’s fanclub! And they’re such nerds that he legally changed his name to Jean-Luc Picard. He also throws some cleverness into the mix as far as how the danger plays itself out, throwing a nasty curve at Bloomberg that I wished had worked a bit better. These things alone make issue two a much stronger effort than issue one, but when you throw in some improved artwork out of Eisma, I walked away from this one with a much better feeling than I did after number one.

Marc Mason

LONE RANGER 11

LONE RANGER 11
Written by Brett Matthews and Drawn by Sergio Cariello and Paul Pope
Published by
Dynamite Entertainment

The Lone Ranger pays a visit to a sheriff who isn’t quite the lawman he should be, and Tonto tells a story to a man waiting for the gallows, in LONE RANGER 11 which sort of ties up the second arc of the series and sort of starts the third. And while the book has remained A-level entertainment from the very first issue, this effort is extra notable. Not only does it offer up another great bit of story work from Brett Matthews, but the story that Tonto tells the soon-to-be-dead man is illustrated by the artistic legend Paul Pope. Buy a copy? Hell, that’s so cool you could buy two and it’d still be a bargain.

That’s not to say that Cariello is a slouch. The man has been doing brilliant work on this title issue in and issue out, and he’s no different here. Dean White doesn’t do the colors here, but Marcelo Pinto steps in and makes sure that the continuity of look on the book is intact. And the palate he uses on Pope’s material works nicely to “draw” the environment that the lead character (a wolf) finds himself traipsing through. Each issue on LONE RANGER feels like a tour through a land of nothing but quality, and it is still really Dynamite’s best and most consistent book. ZORRO may catch up to it, but it has to show it can stay at a high level over a lengthy period of time.

The upcoming re-start of a film franchise for the Ranger was in the news again recently, and while mention of this book was absent in those stories, you have to hope that intelligence will shine through and that the property will use this work as a foundation. The characters have never been this interesting or compelling, and the comic has been tailor-made for screen adaptation. If you haven’t read it, this is a pretty good place to start.

Marc Mason

HOLMES

HOLMES
Written and Drawn by Omaha Perez
Published by
AiT/PlanetLar

What if Sherlock Holmes was less “great detective” and more “batshitinsane drug addict”? That’s the question that Omaha Perez’ seriocomic look at the legendary resident of 221B Baker Street asks in HOLMES, a wildly amusing take on a literary legend. Aided and abetted by his best friend Dr. Watson, we once again see the man on the trail of the villainous Moriarty, though that quest is also tempered by the hunt for the skull of the legendary composer Haydn. Oh, and a brief stop for a little bit of whoring and drug abuse.

It can be risky, applying the conventions of parody and satire to a public domain icon, but Perez does a really terrific job of it here. He takes on the central conceit of the character’s “seven percent solution” drug use and then carries it out to an extreme. Here Holmes is a raving paranoid, but rather then being called on it or institutionalized, he is granted leeway and his behavior excused… even though there’s no rational reason for doing so beyond his reputation. What that leaves is behavior that would have made the detective an honorary member of the Go-Gos during their 80s heyday. And the results are goddamned funny.

Perez’ artwork can be a bit on the stuff side, but that fortunately doesn’t take away from your enjoyment of the book. You’re buying HOLMES for the laughs, not the looks. And you’ll get your money’s worth.

Marc Mason

HOW TO LOVE

HOW TO LOVE
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by
Actus/Top Shelf

The Israeli artistic collective Actus returns with another anthology volume in HOW TO LOVE, and as you’d expect from their earlier works (including Rutu Modan’s own EXIT WOUNDS), it’s an exceptional effort. Across six stories, the group dives into the topic of love with intellectual and emotional fervor, and there isn’t a dud in the bunch.

My favorite piece in the book is Mira Friedmann’s “Independence Day,” In it, a young girl looking to impress the boy she likes, crosses the border into Jordan and finds herself caught by enemy police. What happens there, and the resolution she gets from her actions, has a really fascinating truth about it, as she learns that sometimes bravery is not enough. A close second for me was Modan’s “Your Number One Fan,” focusing on a would-be singer off on a trip to England for his first overseas gig. Again, the work has a strong emotional core to it, and the ending packs quite a wallop.

Rounding out the package is, well, the package itself. The book is brought together in a very handsome hardcover edition, the cover reproducing a stunning page from Batia Kolton’s opening tale, “Summer Story.” In short, this is a highly recommended book, one for fans of quality indy material.

Marc Mason

AMAZING JOY BUZZARDS VOL 1

THE AMAZING JOY BUZZARDS VOL 1: HERE COME THE SPIDERS
Written by Mark Andrew Smith and Drawn by Dan Hipp
Published by
Image Comics

The Amazing Joy Buzzards Vol. 1 tells the story of Biff, Stevo and Gabe, a rock n’ roll band that has the types of adventures that would put the Monkees and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to shame.

In the 1st three chapters of the OGN alone, one of the band members is turned into a giant gila monster by a pink robot and rampages across the city; the band travels to a mystic island where they uncover the body of a banished angel from heaven; and go to Hollywood to film a motion picture only to become embroiled in solving the mystery behind the attempted murder of their favorite action hero. Oh wait, did I mention that they also hang out with a ‘mythic Mexican wrestler’ named El Campeon? Or Professor Yu and his nerdy-but-cute daughter Betty? Great googlie mooglie!

Now, after getting that far, as a reader you have little choice but to do one of two things: 1) drop the book and give up on its ludicrous plotting and characterization or 2) just smile and surrender to it.

I chose to do the latter. As I said, the band has a series of adventures that evoked my memories of watching The Monkees on television as a kid. I even spotted a few tips of the hat to The Brady Bunch, Evel Knievel and even From Here to Eternity in the silly-but-entertaining plot. The book is just plain goofy, but has a lot of energy and is fun to read.

Mark Andrew Smith’s dialogue is snappy, although sometimes tries to be too clever. Dan Hipp’s artwork is…uh…what’s his last name again? Is this guy for real? Is there some kind of joke in there? His surname is just a bit too on the nose for an artist on a book about a rock n’ roll band, if you ask me.

Oh well. Joke or not, The Amazing Joy Buzzards will tickle the fancy of comic hipsters everywhere. It’s The Monkees meets the Venture Brothers meets a dream you have after eating a late night taco dinner.

And a fun one at that.

E. Ruben Serrano

DARK IVORY 1

DARK IVORY 1
Written by Joseph Michael Linsner and Eva Hopkins and Drawn by Linsner
Published by
Image Comics

Ivory is sort of your traditional goth girl. She has a dark sense of style, loves to get her dance on, struggles to deal with her mother, and loves all things vampire. She shares all that with her best friend, Samson, who happens to be her sister’s ex-boyfriend. But that steady, predictable life is about to change quite drastically, when, on Thanksgiving night, she witnesses the aftermath of what just might be a real vampire attack. And stranded in the city without a way home, trouble looms, particularly from the silent figures watching her from the rooftops.

If there is one thing about Joe Linsner that you can never question, it’s that he is a stunningly gifted artist. From the DAWN graphic novels to his series of painted prints, the man delivers luscious work to pore over and appreciate. However, his one Achilles heel has always been in story and character; his earlier work has never truly delivered a character that we took the time to get to know in-depth and grow to enjoy. DARK IVORY, though, is quite different. I suspect that elevating longtime Linsner-collaborator Eva Hopkins into the co-writer’s chair is at the root of the change, and it’s a brilliant decision. By the end of issue one, we have seen how Ivory reacts to school, the intriguing structure of she and Samson’s friendship, her frustration with her family life… the vampire stuff takes a bit of a backseat while we explore who she is. And that makes IVORY a very good read.

The only artistic qualm I have is that Ivory doesn’t always look as young as she should. She’s supposed to still be in high school, but Linsner’s gift for drawing spectacular women sometimes cannot be denied. Still, overall, this is easily the best thing I’ve seen out of the Linsner studio and have some decent hopes for the rest of the series.

Marc Mason

FLIGHT EXPLORER VOL 1

FLIGHT EXPLORER VOL 1
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by
Villard

The magnificent FLIGHT anthology gives birth to its first “child” with FLIGHT EXPLORER, a shorter anthology from many of the usual FLIGHT creators aimed at the younger audience. Now, that may sound a bit strange, and nothing in the first four FLIGHT volumes actually contained sex, graphic violence, or bad language, so you might be wondering how EXPLORER would be different. I think the easiest way to explain it is that this book contains some simpler storytelling. Some of the bits in the main series can be a little obtuse in their storytelling or require a taste for existentialism. Here, we pare away those stories and come up with ten short tales easy enough for the youth set to follow.

And as per usual for FLIGHT, they’re pretty damned good. Editorial director Kazu Kibuishi contributes a nifty “Copper” tale, Kean Soo drops a new “Jellaby” bit, both which you’d expect to be good, but it’s stuff like Johane Matte’s “Egyptian Cat: Perfect Cat” that really brings the goods to the table, along with Steve Hamaker’s “Fish N Chips.” There were a couple of bits towards the back that didn’t quite work for me, but not the ten stories is an out-and-out dud.

My one concern about FLIGHT EXPLORER is whether or not doing these additional books will spread the “brand” too thin. The annual release of FLIGHT is something that fans eagerly look forward to, and I’d hate to see some of that enthusiasm eroded away. That’s something that Kibuishi and company will have to keep an eye on, but for now, they have another winner on their hands.

Marc Mason