HERCULES 2

HERCULES THE THRACIAN WARS #2
Written by Steve Moore and Drawn by Admira Wijaya
Published by
Radical Comics

Issue two of HERCULES: THE THRACIAN WARS really stands up to the first issue and continues to thrill with astounding artwork and excellent writing. The book picks up right where it left off, namely Hercules and friends facing the real King Cotys and his army. Rather being pissed off at finding fifty of his subjects brutally slain (and thanks to Tydeus, partially eaten), Cotys congratulates them on a darn good slaughter.

Right away you start to get a sense of what kind of man King Cotys is. He doesn’t disappoint when he gleefully admits to arranging the situation in order to test Hercules and his followers, and he could clearly care less at the loss of his people. After he buys the band of Greeks with gold bars and hot chicks, Hercules becomes the honorary general and attempts to teach the brawling Thracians how to fight like warriors. Once Hercules whips Cotys’s men into shape, the King proceeds to unleash his army, and the Greeks in his employ, onto every unsuspecting (and unarmed) village of his supposed enemies he can find. Hercules and his band aren’t overly pleased with their situation, but they were hired for a job and intend to see it to the end so they can get paid.

We receive a character background story in the history of Atlanta and Meleager, her stalker. Hers is a tragic tale, of course, we are talking Greeks here. In Moore’s take on Atlanta’s mythology, she is an excellent hunter and once was a proud virgin devoted to Artemis, but her maidenhood was unwillingly taken from her through trickery and nefarious means. Now she hopes to die a glorious death in battle so she can return to Artemis with honor. Meleager, who is hopelessly in love with the girls-only Atlanta, is determined to make sure that doesn’t happen, and thus far appears oblivious to the fact Atlanta can’t stand him.

Moore’s dark sense of humor appears often throughout the book, taking form in witty narrative and twisted slapstick comedy. One memorable scene shows Tydeus, the cannibalistic Greek, tossing his cookies after he realizes he’s been eating the brain of an actor rather than a king.

The art continues to be fantastic, the pencils as crisp and attentive to detail as in the last issue. The colors plus the different angles Wijaya uses make the characters and the battles look outstanding.

Rape, murder and human sacrifices, there’s no short of brutality in this book, and though you can smell the cliffhanger ending from a mile away, HERCULES #2 is a strong second issue in what promises to be a very entertaining series.

Avril Brown

ES ETERNAL SABBATH VOL 6-8

ES ETERNAL SABBATH VOL 6-8
Written and Drawn by Fuyumi Soryo
Translated and Adapted by Ikoi Hiroe
Published by
Del Rey

Isaac, the ES who never developed a conscience, continues to use his power in horrific fashion, leaving Dr. Mine Kujyou and her ES companion Shuro increasingly desperate to stop him before he destroys the city. But as they prepare for the final battle, Mine must deal with young Yuri and Yuri’s mother, and their own demons that Isaac has unleashed. As the blood on her hands threatens to overwhelm her, Mine must find something deep inside her that will allow her to face Isaac or her entire life and her sanity will be lost.

Whenever someone asks me what I like about manga, one of the things I always tell them is that it ends. One of the perils of longform sequential storytelling is the tendency to repeat or just make stupid stories (see: SPIDER-MAN ONE MORE DAY). And by refusing to put a period on things, you also get fanfic style comebacks like INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Manga rarely makes these mistakes, and the final three volumes of this excellent series demonstrate precisely why this can be a superior artform. In short, Soryo brings this book to a close in near-perfect fashion.

The arc between Isaac and Mine/Shuro was heading for a showdown from the beginning of volume one, and rather than stretch it out, all the characters, including the supporting cast, are put into place in order to bring the story to its natural end. And the ending that gets delivered to the reader is exhilarating, intense, and plays completely fair with the reader. In fact, as I read it, I honestly couldn’t think of another way I’d have preferred. I was very pleased with how my investment in the series was rewarded. I wish more creative talents knew how to perform that trick.

At only eight volumes, this is an easy series for someone to pick up and buy over the short or long haul, and the cash outlay doesn’t have to be ridiculous. For me, this one’s a keeper.

Marc Mason

KING OF FIGHTERS ART BOOK

THE KING OF FIGHTERS ART BOOK
Drawn by Wing Yan and King Tung
Published by
DrMaster

I openly admit that the volumes of THE KING OF FIGHTERS manga series have never really floated my boat. I’m not a gamer, and had no investment fro the property in that direction, and the heavy emphasis on action and relatively low emphasis on character isn’t the type of manga that I enjoy. But one thing I could always appreciate was the art, and the amazing color palette used in the series. With this lovely art book, you get a chance to see more of that and in a very nice format.

Printed at 9×12, and on thick paper that saturates the colors brilliantly on the page, THE KING OF FIGHTERS ART BOOK is a really nice-looking work, and demonstrates the power of manga-style art in a way you can’t always get on the smaller, 5×7.5 page in black and white. These images show off the depth of the figures particularly well, and also bring them a bit closer to human; at this size and in color, the things you tend to associate with manga such as over-sized eyes, are given a blunt edge. It’s something of a surprising effect, really.

The book isn’t perhaps for everybody, but for those who are manga fans or who simply have a curiosity about ways the form can be done, this is a reasonably priced way to try it out.

Marc Mason

THREE SHADOWS

THREE SHADOWS
Written and Drawn by Cyril Pedrosa
Published by
First Second

Louis and Lise are a happily married couple, enjoying life in the countryside with their loving, inquisitive young son, Joachim. But on one fateful day, Joachim spots three Shadows looking down upon him from a distant hill, and they begin to draw closer with each passing day. Determined to keep his son from death’s clutches, Louis flees with Joachim in the hopes of putting him out of the Shadows’ reach. But as they undertake a perilous journey, the question of what price a man must pay to save his son demands a terrible answer from Louis.

Former Disney animator Pedrosa shows an adroit gift for natural storytelling in THREE SHADOWS, weaving an emotionally deep tale around his three characters. There is a definitive core to the characters that draws you in as a reader and commands your attention, and Pedrosa’s art style gives the story an environment that feels as much a part of the story as the characters themselves. And when he shifts the book into horror and gloom you feel it.

But the book is not perfect. I suppose the cheap way out would be to call it very “Euro,” but that’s unfair. What it is, is languid. Very, very languid. Pedrosa takes 268 pages to tell this story, but there aren’t 268 pages worth of story here. This version of THREE SHADOWS feels like a Director’s Cut where the 20 minutes of footage removed from the theatrical cut were added back in and you can immediately identify why they were edited out in the first place. Pedrosa would have been better served making some adjustments and carving his story down to 190 or so pages and the impact of what happens would have had a bit more power.

Still, I have no qualms about recommending what really is a very fine work. Discerning, intelligent readers will enjoy THREE SHADOWS.

Marc Mason

THE AMAZING REMARKABLE MONSIEUR LEOTARD

THE AMAZING REMARKABLE MONSIEUR LEOTARD
Written by Eddie Campbell and Dan Best and Drawn by Eddie Campbell
Published by
First Second

Etienne is a shit-shoveling peon, strolling through life heedless of its complexities. But when his uncle, Monsieur Leotard, the greatest acrobat and leader of the circus that the world knows, dies, Etienne plants a fake moustache on his face and dives into a new life, becoming something he truly knows nothing about. Floating along on the flying trapeze, he’ll contend with food shortages, fires, love, and a voyage on a very doomed ship, all in the pursuit of happiness and an existence that makes sense.

As I wrote the above, I struggled with it, because I did something that the book itself does not: make it appear as though there is a true narrative to the piece. I assure you, that’s not the case at all: MONSIEUR LEOTARD is one of the strangest, most artistically brave books I’ve read in recent memory, and I do it a disservice by suggesting that it makes some sort of sense.

Eddie Campbell’s latest makes very little sense at all, and while 99% of the time that’s reason to pan a book, in this case it happens to be the primary reason to recommend it. Campbell and collaborator Best take this odd character and his supporting cast and throw them into one absurdist situation after another, even eschewing proper chapter structure by calling each one “The Next Episode.” It speaks to the repetitive absurdity of what is going on and clues you in to their intention not to back down from their intentions to not make simplistic storytelling decisions along the way.

The bold nature of the art is at times breathtaking. An early two page spread features the trapeze act being performed against the sheet music for “The Man On The Flying Trapeze.” External facts and narrative tools appear outside the panels, commentating at what has been happening and supplementing the readers’ knowledge. One section shifts gears and becomes an illustrated novella. Campbell never allows you to become comfortable or complacent in this odd world he’s created on the page.

It took a second reading for me to really find my footing in LEOTARD but that was time well spent. It’s a terrific piece, and a sweet return to form for Campbell after last year’s somewhat turgid BLACK DIAMOND DETECTIVE AGENCY.

Marc Mason

LAZARUS IMMORTAL COILS 1

LAZARUS: IMMORTAL COILS #1
Written by Joseph Gauthier and Drawn by Alex Lugo and Carlos Rafael Duarte
Published by
Markosia

LAZARUS: IMMORTAL COILS is the story of a true immortal; a man who was raised from his tomb by divine power and though technically he can be killed, he is unable to stay dead. Wandering the earth, Lazarus accepts there is a reason for his unusual nature and he fulfills his purpose by hunting down creatures that do not belong in our world.

This first issue is essentially three stories in one. The opening scene may not be original but still ranks pretty high on the creepy scale. A little blond girl is walking through a cemetery at night, hand in hand with what appears to be the living dead, while strange creatures dance around the gravestones. After a cliffhanger panel in which we’re left unaware of the fate of the girl, a letter from a young woman tells the story of what happened in this sleepy small town. The child is writing to Lazarus, asking him to deal with the mysterious force that has claimed the life of nearly everyone in the area. As the letter tells the background story, the art shows our hero, already swooping in to save the day.

When the letter transitions to the child talking about death and asking questions of Lazarus about dying, it becomes obvious this was a way to give the reader some insight into our hero and what he must struggle with every day. Although contrived and slightly cheesy, the dialogue is well done and is therefore an enjoyable third-party view into Lazarus’s head. We already see Lazarus’s immortality in action as he gets his guts ripped out by beasts before jolting back alive, tracking down the head vampire, making sushi out of him, and saving the little girl.

The second story is taken from the bible and shows Lazarus’s origin. After he spent several days entombed, Jesus succumbs to his human heart’s desires and raises his friend from the dead. The art was beautifully done in this section, and the colors were muted without being dull, thereby accurately representing the desert surroundings. The poignancy of this scene is touching whether one believes in the bible or not. Jesus acknowledges his actions stem from his desires and not God’s, yet he still cannot simply stand back and let his friend be dead.

The transition between the middle section and the concluding story was very smooth; the brown, shell-shocked eyes of the recently resurrected Lazarus in one panel, and the swirling blue, pupil-less eyes of a battle-hardened Lazarus some two thousand years later in the next. We get a very brief glimpse into the mind of this unusual hero, but it is enough to garner interest in the character. He may be tired, exhausted even, from dying so often and being dragged back into life, but he knows he has a purpose. As another unnatural creature makes a snack out of some tender human flesh in the concluding panels, we know what that purpose is.

LAZARUS: IMMORTAL COILS really hits the ground running. I enjoy the story within a story format, and with a protagonist who’s been around since they coined the phrase ‘before Christ’, it is almost impossible not to tell several tales at once. The art was a bit unbalanced with the strong, striking lines of the last two sections creating a more visually stimulating picture than the more heavy-handed art in the first section. Though decently drawn, the long, snaking tongues of the bad guys were a bit overdone, and in the first frontal view we have of Lazarus he looks way too cat-like. The lettering, however, is completely spot on. In the first chapter the boxes clearly show a younger child is dictating, and Lazarus’s dark and dramatic lettering perfectly matches his character.

Overall, this is a well-rounded introductory issue. The reader is given enough information about Lazarus to know what he’s capable of, what his mission seems to be, and even a bit about his beginnings, while still leaving plenty of questions to answer in the subsequent issues. There is an ample amount of action, drama, human emotions and otherworldly creatures. In other words, LAZARUS delivers a bit of everything, leaving the reader wondering what else is in store for the man who cannot die.

Avril Brown

THE MIDDLEMAN PILOT EPISODE

THE MIDDLEMAN: PILOT EPISODE
Created and Written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Directed by Jeremiah Chechik
Airdate: June 16, 2008 on
ABC Family

Javier Grillo-Marxuach has an extensive background as a screenwriter and producer. His credits include SEAQUEST DSV, THE PRETENDER, CHARMED, THE DEAD ZONE, JAKE 2.0, LOST, and MEDIUM. But in the world of Hollywood, nothing is a given, no matter how good you might be. Javi discovered this many years back when he wrote a spec pilot called THE MIDDLEMAN that didn’t get off the ground. Undeterred, and encouraged by comics maestro Paul Dini, Grillo-Marxuach took the pilot to Viper Comics and turned it into a four-issue miniseries and graphic novel that became one of the biggest indy success stories of the year when it came out. Now, in a glorious bit of “full circle,” the book has been optioned by ABC Family and makes its debut on the home screen next month. The question is: how much of the pilot turned comic made it back into the actual pilot? And the answer is, much to my surprise, about 98%. It’s quite astonishing, really.

The basic story remains the same, of course. Wendy Watson, fresh out of art school, is working a temp job at a DNA splicing company when a nasty monster made up of human body parts escapes and threatens her life. Unfazed by that turn of events, she catches the eye of The Middleman when he arrives on the scene to take the monster down. At the end of her rope, she later finds herself offered the job of becoming his new sidekick, joining his crazy world of battling comic-book evil, bantering with his snarky robot secretary Ida, and keeping The Middleman from putting the moves on her roommate. And her first assignment involves a super-intelligent ape that wants to become a mobster.

What made THE MIDDLEMAN comic so glorious the first time I read it was its sense of fun and adventure; the characters had fun being who they were, and their dialogue was razor sharp and loaded with laughs. At that point, I think I somewhat assumed that perhaps those traits were embellished once the property made it to print, but this pilot episode shows that to be untrue; almost every single line of dialogue from the graphic novel appears here in this episode. At times that can be somewhat daunting, but it comes down to having actors who can pull it off. And Javier and his production team really got lucky- they cast the series very, very well.

As the center of the series, Natalie Morales as Wendy pretty much has to carry the entire enterprise on her shoulders and she proves capable from the first frame of film she appears in. She dryly funny, carries herself with a sort of “jaded” body language, and possesses the keen self-awareness of the absurdity of what happens to her life. She’s also quite adept at whipping through the large chunks of dialogue she’s given. As a somewhat unknown, she also doesn’t bring any baggage to the part, ultimately making her an inspired choice. She made this episode work for me, period.

The Middleman himself is played by Matt Keeslar, and he is an immediate perfect choice from the physical side of things- he’s a dead ringer for artist Les McClane’s take on the character. But early in the episode I had some doubts about him. In his first couple of scenes he seems uncomfortable with what he’s doing, and he struggles with the larger pieces of script he has to deliver, using an odd cadence. It took me a minute, but I realized that it sounded as if he was mimicking Brad Pitt’s mannerisms from the OCEAN’S films. However, as the episode progresses, he seems to become more comfortable and his performance becomes a bit more natural. He also develops some natural chemistry with Morales, making you believe these two really could become close friends and co-workers.

The direction by Chechik is solid, as he does his best to make the pilot look more expensive than it was. He uses a number of effective wide shots to set scene and take the eye away from details that a close-up might jar the viewer. And again, he gets good performances out of his actors, keeping the focus more on the characters than on the odd things that are happening to them.

What is missing or changed from the comic version generally comes down to budget, and nothing really alters the story or the humor, so it does no damage. I was entertained by the episode, as I have been by the three volumes of the graphic novel series, and I was pleased to see something that ages 10-70 could watch together and enjoy. The one real challenge (beyond the Nielsens) the series faces is maintaining the weird; we’re getting thirteen episodes of this wonderful nonsense. Should be a lot of fun to see if the creative team can pull it off.

Marc Mason

THE BOYS 18

THE BOYS #18
Written by Garth Ennis and Drawn by Darick Robertson
Published by
Dynamite Entertainment

Wee Hughie returns home to find the resurrected Blarney Cock in his living room and fucking his hamster. Meanwhile, Annie/Starlight continues to struggle with her role as a superhero and laments granting Hughie his “red wings” during their date. And lurking in the background through it all is Butcher, watching to see how Hughie handles the situation and re-disposes of the walking-dead foe.

Shhh. I’m going to tell you a secret that Garth Ennis has quietly snuck past most of the people reading this book. Ready?

It’s no longer just an exercise in how much fucked up shit he can write into the book. No, by engaging the (what will ultimately be horrifically fatal) romance between Hughie and Annie, he has re-grounded the book by giving it a heart and romantic spirit. Each of them is living a horrible, shitty existence on a team that neither really has anything in common with, and they compliment one another, providing a human center to this piece of pop candy. Sure, the outer shell is still hard and crunchy (see the “red wings” sequence from last issue), but now when you bite into an issue of THE BOYS, you’re getting a lot more substance than when the book first got underway. And Ennis just snuck that right past everyone.

Of course, it helps that the incredible Darick Robertson is continuing to do amazing work on the art chores, and the production values on the book remain top notch. But ultimately, issue eighteen shows that there is now more than one reason to read this book (beyond figuring out what a twisted fucker Garth Ennis is): it’s a terrific character piece that stands on its own with or without the “wrong.”

Marc Mason

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THE MAN WITH NO NAME 1

THE MAN WITH NO NAME #1
Written by Christos Gage and Drawn by Wellington Dias
Published by
Dynamite Entertainment

Clint Eastwood’s iconic character returns to life on the comic book page, of all places, in this new series. And much like in the classic films featuring The Man, he finds himself on the wrong end of a lot of bad guys’ bullets. Accused of treason, he’s being hunted by soldiers from the Blue and the Grey, but there’s a lot more to their reasoning than mere anger or politics; our gunman manages to collect a tidy sum of gold along the way, and everybody wants their hands on it.

I’m really of two minds about THE MAN WITH NO NAME; it’s well written by Gage, a veteran of both TV and comics, and the book moves along at a brisk pace that keeps the reader engaged. It’s also a very good-looking book, as Dias shows a nice gift for drawing the western milieu and the requisite action contained in the story. And certainly, added with LONE RANGER, it shows Dynamite to be the pre-eminent publisher of the genre.

However, the book does have one fatal flaw, and it’s one I think it will struggle with. It’s this: The Man is not a compelling character. He shoots, he rides, he speaks very, very little… there isn’t much else there. And that could prove to be extremely difficult to build a series upon. Perhaps as the book progresses Gage will begin to be able to flesh him out, but if not… MAN will lose steam very quickly, taking the opposite tack as RANGER. It’s an okay start, but the real test lies ahead.

Marc Mason

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BROTHERS IN ARMS 1

BROTHERS IN ARMS #1
Written by Mike Neumann and David Wohl and Drawn by Davide Fabbri
Published by
Dynamite Entertainment

A group of young soldiers meet, become friends, and prepare for their parachute drop over Germany on D-Day in BROTHERS IN ARMS, the latest videogame adaptation from Dynamite Entertainment. Focused on the adventures of two lifelong friends who joined the fight against the Axis together, BROTHERS takes us through the bonding, the fighting, and the fear as death begins taking many of their comrades.

Adapting a videogame into a comic can be a tricky endeavor; the main problem is that the game is focused more on the pure action, while the comic must deliver character and compelling plot to succeed. DE’s MERCENARIES worked because it delivered interesting people and put them in an interesting situation, and it felt fresh. BROTHERS IN ARMS isn’t quite as lucky.

It’s certainly competently done, no question about it. The writing and art are solid, professional work. But the plot and characters never quite (pardon the pun) get off the ground. We’ve seen these archetypes before: the stout, all-American kid, his wise-cracking best friend, a motley crew of soldiers they’re thrown together with, an accident that gives one guy new responsibilities, and the perils of flying in a bomber. Dozens of films alone have covered this ground, which means you have to work doubly hard to make it feel fresh.

Unfortunately, it just doesn’t get there. Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, that may change quickly, but that remains to be seen. Issue two will be pivotal in determining if this series will succeed on its own merits or fall by the wayside and fade from memory.

Marc Mason

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