COMIC BOOK TATTOO

COMIC BOOK TATTOO
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by
Image Comics

If you were looking at a list of the most anticipated releases of 2008, COMIC BOOK TATTOO would certainly be somewhere towards the top of it. This 500 page anthology of stories based upon singer/songwriter Tori Amos’ work has been surrounded by mega-buzz since it was announced. So when it filtered in to San Diego during the con, there was an explosion of interest and buyers, the book almost flying out of Image’s booth. You could attribute this to two factors right out of the gate; one, Amos is a deeply beloved musical talent, and a known comics fan. That’s in part thanks to, two, Neil Gaiman and SANDMAN. Amos was not only a fan, but also the template for Delirium. Geeks take care of their own, and Amos is revered. But the one thing none of those buyers could be sure of was the most important element: was the book any good? After all, the Belle and Sebastian anthology that Image produced, PUT THE BACK BACK ON THE SHELF, was ultimately kind of a tepid effort.

COMIC BOOK TATTOO isn’t good.

It’s great.

I mean really great. In any year, FLIGHT’s latest volume is a good bet to be the best anthology to hit the shelves. But it will be hard for any anthology book in 2008 to top COMIC BOOK TATTOO. The material within hits a wide variety of formats and emotions; there are some stories told in straight-forward manner, and some done in experimental styles. Some tales take Amos’ lyrics literally in their storytelling, others use her words as metaphors and deliver stories that reach the lyrics solely on a tangent. Some of the art is extremely detailed, some is simple enough to appeal to a younger, less sophisticated eye. There’s something for everyone.

And the format? Some will love it, some may feel a bit iffy about it. I dig it- the book is the size and shape of a 33rpm record album and printed on heavy paper. It’s not an easy haul, but it’s a worthy one. From start to finish, for better or worse, this is the Tori Amos album that dozens of talented writers and artists have pictured in their heads. And it’s worth every penny.

Marc Mason

MESMO DELIVERY

MESMO DELIVERY
Written and Drawn by Rafael Grampa
Published by
AdHouse Books

It sounds like a simple job: Rufo will drive a large truck full of goods, along with a passenger, to a far-off destination. The only thing he has to do is promise not to open the truck and look at the cargo. Shouldn’t be a problem. But at one truckstop, it all goes to Hell- he gets challenged to a fight by a local that turns deeply bloody and violent out in the parking lot. Crimes are committed, and the local… the local is determined to open the truck. That can’t be good, can it?

This is Grampa’s debut graphic novel, and wow, is it a doozy. It isn’t so much that he’s put together a brilliant story on the page; most of the twists and turns here are fairly standard. But it’s the way that Grampa executes them that catches the eye. This guy can draw like nobody’s business! His figures and faces are dynamic and lively, exaggerated just so in order to give them depth and feel on the page. His “camera movement” is astonishing, giving you angles that you don’t feel like you’ve seen thousands of times before. And his design sense is fluid and graceful, putting together a package of pages that feels like something far more epic and substantial than what’s really here. If his comics work doesn’t pan out, he has a career directing films ahead of him.

The book will be solicited to hit shelves in November, so if you’re looking for something a little different to check out beyond the same ol’ crap, you might want to take a look at MESMO.

Marc Mason

JUNK VOL 5,6,7

JUNK VOL 5-7
Written and Drawn by Kia Asamiya
Published by
DrMaster

Hiro rescued the girl he has quietly loved from her captor and has now begun to wonder about his use of the Junk suit. And as he does, he gets a counselor from the company to help him begin to truly understand its power. In the meantime, as he puts aside the suit, a third Junk enters the fray and the man in the suit has extremely poor intentions. He murders without conscience, even taking on paid assassinations. But as Hiro re-assimilates to a normal life, he finds that his troubles are nowhere near over. He begins sleeping with the counselor, affecting his efforts to get a new girlfriend, and the company releases an even newer Junk suit, one that outclasses everything that has come before, and they want Hiro’s prototype back. But what if the final suit’s users are even worse than the assassin?

Kia Asamiya’s JUNK series concludes in interesting fashion, these three volumes comprising a surprising shift in the series’ tone and plot movement. For two and a half volumes, Hiro doesn’t even put on the suit. Instead, we see him working on becoming a person for the first time. Part of what made the book so intriguing from the start was that he was such an unrepentant asshole about his use of the Junk suit, and also in sleeping with his girlfriend’s mother. No way you could like him, but he was interesting to read about. And Asamiya doesn’t overdo it, either- Hiro does’t go through these volumes and suddenly become a good person, but he does begin to learn something and gain some values. It’s not a traditional hero’s journey, but it is a journey whereupon he does become something of a hero. There’s some real bravery in how Asamiya-san handles it.

JUNK isn’t for everyone, but for those who want a complex action story, at a reasonable price and size (only seven volumes), they might enjoy this book. Ultimately, I appreciated it for what it was and what the author as trying to accomplish.

Marc Mason

THE REVENANT

THE REVENANT
Created by and Story by Shannon Eric Denton & Keith Giffen
Written by Rob M. Worley and Drawn by Mateus Santolouco
Published by
Desperado Publishing

THE REVENANT is a darkly humorous and thrilling tale that consistently keeps the reader laughing, guessing and horrified at nearly every turn. This books manages to blend the classic ghost-takes-revenge story idea, a whodunnit mystery and plenty of action sequences into a seamless, fast-paced and immensely enjoyable read.

THE REVENANT opens with a tried and true “Meet the Bad Guys” scene, which turns out to be quite the multi-cultural group of criminal overlords. We have both a chunky Asian pedophile, a slimmer Asian entrepreneur, a bad-ass Black gangster and a Hispanic car thief. “Captain Planet” meets the penal colony in Aliens 3.

The author expertly doles out clues as the story goes on that piece together a timeless tale of bloodshed, betrayal and revenge. Despite the seemingly clear signals of where the story with go, Worley still manages to keep the reader at least partially in the dark. By offering tidbits of history as REVENANT unfolds, we remained engaged in the story until the very end.

The gangster characters are not too far off the path from the type of villains mystery and comic fans have encountered previously, although some have definitely been tweaked (the pedophile has large she-males for bodyguards). The Revenant himself, however, is a bad joke/pun/wise-cracking smart-ass vengeful spirit, which translates into an extremely entertaining anti-hero. Note the anti, because The Revenant ain’t no Peter Parker. Make no mistake, this spectre is not here to enlighten the bad guys to the error of their ways, or to make sure they end up in jail. The Revenant is here to kill the men who killed him, and he’s going to enjoy every second of the carnage.

So this isn’t the type of hero you want at your kid’s birthday party, but he is still a good man in the sense he wishes to protect the innocent… as well as wreak bloody revenge on his enemies. Plus, he is immensely fun to watch when he’s taking down the evil doers of Sapphire City. He faces danger with the bravado and balls of a man who has already met death, and he wasn’t impressed. Yet things are not as straight-forward as they seem with several of the characters, keeping the mystery aspect of the book alive and well throughout the story.

The art is extremely well done and I hope to see more of Santolouco in the future on projects like this. If the comic world cannot hold onto a developing gem like him then Desperado needs to work on its benefit package. Sharp, clear lines detract from finer details in the faces of the characters, but add so much to the background and skyline panels. The characters nonetheless stood out, never giving one pause as to who was who (unless the writer desired such confusion). The only exception to that being the brunette eye candy who’s debut panel has her in an ensemble which mimics that of Jessica Rabbit, making the image of a red-headed cleavage-y hare-lover hard to shake from one’s head.

The colors are utterly outstanding, never missing a chance to really make the story jump out even more than it already does. The opening panels are coated with flame-like colors which immediately speak of the fire and passion contained within the book, just like the indigo blues support the dark, enigmatic scenes precluding the Revenant’s appearance. Not to mention the “hero” himself is adorned with an un-ethereal bluish-white glow whenever he faces his foes.

THE REVENANT is an exciting book which offers a titillating mixture of old-school mystery, head-busting gore, classic revenge and a sarcastic leading man. The fantastic ride is enough to make up for the disappointing villain who appears at the end of the epilogue. Not only does he bear an appearance and moniker that is more laughable than intimidating, but it relates to nothing previously referenced in the book. Other than the very last page (most of the epilogue was as gripping as the rest of the book), THE REVENANT has proved itself to be a truly entertaining introductory graphic novel.

Avril Brown

KICK ASS 4

KICK ASS 4
Written by Mark Millar and Drawn by John Romita Jr.
Published by
Icon/Marvel Comics

Young David Lizewski has continued putting on his costume and playing superhero, despite all the horrific injuries he has sustained. And now he’s reached a point where he has genuinely done some good. But there’s a flip side to doing those goods; David had hoped to inspire others to do positive deeds and make the world a better place. Instead, he has begun to inspire others to become costumed vigilantes. Two of those vigilantes pop up in the middle of his latest case, however, and they are something else entirely; one is a large man whop stays masked and behind the scenes, calling himself “Big Daddy.” The other is a ten-year old girl who packs a pair of swords and is unafraid to bloodily dismember those she feels are evil and need to be removed from living.

I genuinely want to like KICK-ASS better than I do. It isn’t that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with the book; Millar’s story and script are actually quite palatable, his work here leaps and bounds above the godawful WAR HEROES. Romita Jr’s art is phenomenal, really- the pages look absolutely brilliant, and he is one of the rare artists who can really make a sword-wielding 10-year old look dangerous and scary. But there’s something about this book that nags at me. And that’s weird, considering it’s technically a fine effort, and the most readable thing I’ve seen out of this writer in ages.

Perhaps it boils down to David as a character. In this issue, he spends a great deal of time on the sidelines, watching what is happening, and even when he tries to pursue something, it doesn’t go anywhere- he’s outclassed by what he’s dealing with. In his personal life, he’s helping his father write a personal ad and faking being gay to get closer to the girl he likes. In short, David doesn’t really come across as a protagonist the way you’d like in order to make him a compelling person to read about. Perhaps the ultimate point of the story is to get him to a point where he truly stands on his own two feet, but reading this singular issue (my first since issue one), that doesn’t appear close in the rearview mirror. And it hampers the book a bit, considering the amount of merit it possesses otherwise.

Marc Mason

MO AND JO/STINKY/JACK AND THE BOX

MO AND JO/STINKY/JACK AND THE BOX
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by
Toon Books

Most publishers at least try and pay lip service to the idea: we need to get younger readers picking up and enjoying comics. But few actually follow through. However, Francoise Mouly, art editor of the NEW YORKER, has done just that with the Toon Books line. These short hardcover editions are the very definition of solid kid-reader material, presenting solid stories and art aimed directly at those 4-years old and above. And the accolades have followed- the state of Maryland has incorporated the line into its “Comics in the Classroom” initiative.

This second wave of books features a diverse set of tales. First up is MO AND JO, written by Jay Lynch and drawn by Dean Haspiel. Bickering siblings Mona and Joey find themselves in possession of superhero The Mighty Mojo’s costume and promptly rip it in half fighting over it. Repaired into two suits, each one gives one of the kids a superpower- Mona gets the ability to stretch her limbs and Joey gains the ability to use his boots as magnets. With a supervillain on the loose and threatening the peace, the pair quickly decides they can outdo each other, but there’s a greater lesson to be learned. This book is really very good; the script is witty, but still speaks to the younger reader, and Haspiel’s art is simple but ornate. Solid stuff.

STINKY is written and drawn by Eleanor Davis, and is the best of this second series of releases. Stinky is a swamp-dweller that loves his smelly, unpleasant environment, his friend Wartbelly (a toad), and he’s nothing short of pleased that humans avoid his area like the plague. But one day a young boy wanders into the swamp, determined to build a treehouse. This sits poorly with Stinky, who sets out to discourage the boy by any means necessary. That leads to a terrific comedy of misunderstandings and silliness, setting up Stinky to finally get over his own fears about how he will be received by others. Davis’ work is amazing, from her wonderfully colored panels to her razor sharp script. This has the broadest appeal of any youth-oriented graphic novel I’ve seen in a while.

Strangely enough, the weakest link in this trio is Pulitzer-prize winner Art Spiegelman’s JACK AND THE BOX. Artistically and script-wise, this story of a young boy who receives a jack-in-the-box that has more personality than most feels… too simple. There really isn’t a story here, per se, only a succession of events, and at thirteen bucks cover price, I’d ant and expect more than what’s here. This will only appeal to the very bottom age end, as even kids at age 6 or higher will find this unchallenging.

Overall, this series of books looks really good. I was impressed by the production value and by most of the work between the covers themselves, and I’d definitely recommend two of the three. That always plays as a “win” in my book.

Marc Mason

THE BLACK DIAMOND

THE BLACK DIAMOND
Written by Larry Young and Drawn by Jon Proctor
Published by
AiT-PlanetLar

In 2016, the U.S. President suggested his own way of alleviating some of the issues with air traffic and highway traffic: the Black Diamond, a superhighway 150 above the ground, stretching from one coast to the other. No rules, no speed limits, no problem. But now the government has decided to crack down on the random fiefdoms that have taken control of the Diamond, bringing about one odd form of protest: the kidnapping of Kate Maddox, daughter of the Diamond’s designer. Now, Dr. Don McLaughlin (who is quite content with his dental practice on the ground) must take to the highway in an illegal car, because no one is going to help rescue his wife. No one except him. It’s a cross-country race for love, but the question is whether or not that particular emotion remains strong to survive when you’re being set on fire or skidding down the asphalt on your back.

Writer Larry Young’s love of pulp entertainment certainly doesn’t hide from anyone; this book is a direct throwback to 70s exploitation films with a bit more of a romantic heart. Don is your classic everyman, enjoying a traditional suburban existence, thrown into a situation where he has no foundation or control and given a singular goal. That is certainly what gives THE BLACK DIAMOND its story appeal. But what draws you in once you’re inside is Proctor’s art. It’s amazing stuff, cinematic in a way that surprises. It isn’t the “widescreen” approach favored by a guy like Bryan Hitch, but a mixture of astonishing panel composition and eye-popping applications of color that are as important as any other element on the page (including the dialogue). You can lose yourself in some of these pages.

And that’s good… because the ending lands with a thud. It comes on very suddenly and feels rushed and incomplete. There’s a romantic element to it, but it gets a bit overwhelmed by your bewilderment – “That’s it?” Yep, that’s it. Still, 85% of a good book is still awfully damned good. I’ll take it. Will you?

Marc Mason

THE INVISIBLE MAN

THE INVISIBLE MAN
Written and Drawn by Rick Geary
Adapted from the Novel by H.G. Wells
Published by
NBM/Papercutz

A stranger wrapped in bandages arrives in the countryside of a small town, mystifying the local populace. Curiosity grows as he tries to maintain his privacy. But eventually, the façade cracks and the secret is out: the man is invisible, seen only when he wears garments draped off of his transparent body. His name is Griffin, and his aims, while they once may have been somewhat simple, have grown horrible. Now he has murder and terror on his mind, and it remains to be seen if anyone has the courage or cleverness to stop him.

This is the second in the hardcover series of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED reprints from the Papercutz line, following on the heels of Geary’s adaptation of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. And while this book is not the equal of Dickens’ treasure novel, that’s no slight on Geary- he’s so good at these that it’s almost scary. It’s remarkable how well he is able to distill the exposition and plot twists of a novel into a tightly plotted and scripted graphic novel. This book only suffers in comparison to GREAT EXPECTATIONS because Wells’ novel is an overrated piffle. The characters in it never come alive and entice the reader past the novelty of its lead character’s special circumstances, and there’s nothing Geary can really do about it.

Along with the paperback series of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED books that Papercutz has released, this has proven to be an excellent move by the NBM offshoot. When you look at how awful their revival of TALES FROM THE CRYPT has been, this series has been the exact opposite: brilliant in every respect and at every turn. Highly recommended.

Marc Mason

YAM

YAM
Written and Drawn by Corey Barba
Published by
Top Shelf

Yam is an odd little boy who lives on the island of Leche de la Luna, having many unusual adventures. In one, his dessert cupcake comes to life and stymies his desire for a sugary treat. In another he appears to gain super powers, playing a sly prank on a scientist friend. One adventure takes him into a scary tube that turns out to be a clever trap set by a monster, while a different finds him becoming jealous of the friendship between his plants. And in one very large story, he falls for a girl who is much too old and simply wrong for him. In short: Yam lives in a very silly world and lives a very silly life.

Told wordlessly in pictograms, YAM collects material previously printed in NICKELODEON MAGAZINE as well as new material by Barba. It’s obvious why Top Shelf snagged the material; the storytelling is reminiscent of the (much superior) OWLY, and Barba is a clever cartoonist. But examined on the whole, YAM comes up wanting.

Ultimately, the issue here is in Barba as a writer. There are two flaws buried in the foundations of YAM: he is not a compelling character with a defined personality, and the stories told about him (excepting the longer tale involving that older girl) don’t capture the imagination. Cupcakes coming to life and jealousy over plants are cute ideas, but they aren’t enough to create an interesting scenario. In contrast, a huge part of why OWLY works so well is that the character is strongly defined on the page, and Andy Runton has shown a genius for plotting (and consistency). These are areas where Barba needs to apply himself in order to strengthen his work.

I’m not slamming the book; for very young readers, I suspect they’d gloss right past some of these issues. But for the book to find a crossover audience… I don’t see it right now. It’ll be interesting to see how Barba develops from here.

Marc Mason

THE BOYS 21

THE BOYS 21
Written by Garth Ennis and Drawn by Darick Robertson
Published by
Dynamite Entertainment

The Legend continues to tell Wee Hughie the secrets behind The Seven in part three of “I Tell You No Lie, G.I.”, and if this comic drew some polarizing reactions before, this one will surely make any prior controversy seem like a drop in the bucket. In this issue, we discover what happened in the THE BOYS’ version of 9/11, and it ain’t pretty; this world’s President was ahead of the curve in knowing what was happening and in shooting down the hijacked planes. Except one- we’ve known from early on about “the Brooklyn Bridge” and we find out exactly what that means, as The Seven are allowed to test their powers in attempting to save one of the four planes.

It goes badly.

Just how badly, I’ll leave unspoiled, but to say it will set some sensibilities on edge would be putting it mildly. There’s a level of gruesome violence that will disturb some, the death of one particular innocent that will shake others, and the use of horrible racial slurs that will turn off others. But there’s no denying that THE BOYS #21 is a powerful and memorable piece of storytelling, diving in to the book’s psyche and offering up a tale that literally would not or could not have been done anywhere else. If DC/Wildstorm hadn’t chickened out of publishing the book after the first six issues, this arc would have surely seen the book’s exit anyway. Few companies would have the courage to let Ennis and Robertson go this route, and bury their book in such intellectual and visceral horror. Dynamite’s hands-off approach allows it to thrive and props up your interest in seeing just how far the creative duo can really go with their impulses.

Whether you enjoy THE BOYS or not, I think you have to respect the vision behind it. Ennis and Robertson are doing something completely different than anyone else in comics and setting the superhero genre on edge (and on fire) with each succeeding issue. Beautifully written and drawn, it remains one of the few books that offers something unique and exciting with every succeeding issue.

Marc Mason