THE MARTIAN CONFEDERACY

THE MARTIAN CONFEDERACY
Written by Jason McNamara and Drawn by Paige Braddock
Published by Girl Twirl Comics

THE MARTIAN CONFEDERACY is a fantastically twisted futuristic story involving a corrupt cop, a couple thieves, and a several creatures somewhat to the left of human, just to name a few. Taking place in the year 3535 on Mars, which is now an abandoned tourist spot with less air than Planet Spaceball, this rag tag group of individuals come together (whether they want to or not) to save their world. With a dark humor that has you both laughing out loud and staring open-mouthed in morbid fascination, MARTIAN is a book which will not only be read, but remembered.

From the very first page it becomes clear this book is going to be something different. The black and white sketchbook-like artwork gives the story a rougher feel and at the same time hints there lies more beneath the surface, and whatever it is will surprise you. For as MARTIAN progresses it becomes more and more clear that minute details would be superfluous in this book, and would just get in the way of experiencing the full story.

The opening scene raises eyebrows, questions, hopes and shock levels all in the span of a few pages. A lawman, the Alcalde, and his assistant Sally (who initially appears to have hands for feet, but is actually the top halves of two women spliced together) pay a call to an overly eager professor who claims to have found a way to bring breathable air to Mars through genetically altered moss. This would eliminate the need for Phonet, a fascist company who distributes oxygen breathers only to those who can afford them. Unfortunately for the Professor, the Alcalde seems to lack any sort of compassion for his fellow Martian inhabitants. What he does have is stock in Phonet, therefore in order to protect his financial interests he destroys all of the moss and rather cruelly hooks the helpless professor up to one his own inventions, an anti-gravity balloon, and lets him float upwards to his death. But when Sally discovers moss samples missing from the lab, the Alcalde’s hunt begins.

Next we meet Spinner, a walking, talking bear who’s a fence for stolen goods, most of which are provided by his friend Boone, a thief who looks like (and has the libido of) Elvis and James Dean’s love child. Their relationship is that of strong male camaraderie and the extremely witty banter flows freely between them. Also introduced is Boone’s roommate Lou, a foxy female android who recaps the hilarious history of Earth and Mars (which explains why ‘shatners’ are a form of currency) for the children she’s babysitting. She is also a personal shopper for the rich folk on Mars and moonlights as Boone’s stealing sidekick. Turns out the Professor was Boone’s father-like figure, and when he learns of his death Boone seeks out the religious, belly-dancing fiancé of the Professor for answers. Everyone gets caught up in the Alcade’s whirlwind and some serious wackiness ensues.

Chock full of hilarious scenarios, creative characters and references to science fiction classics which probably had influence on some of the ideas in this book, THE MARTIAN CONFEDERACY is one piece of off-the-wall entertainment which will burn in your brain as one of the best bits of random available for your reading pleasure. One can only hope we’ll see more of McNamara and Braddock, because with a closing scene like the one found here the sky’s the limit for the amount of craziness they can come up with, and I can’t wait to see what’s coming up next.

Avril Brown

ORDINARY VICTORIES: WHAT IS PRECIOUS

ORDINARY VICTORIES: WHAT IS PRECIOUS
Written and Drawn by Manu Larcenet
Published by
NBM

Marco is struggling through one of the toughest times of his life. His father has committed suicide, leaving behind a broken brother and a barely stoic mother. His longtime partner is pressuring him to get her pregnant, and he doesn’t want to be a father. And while all of this is happening, his work as a photographer has finally gotten noticed and he’s about to have his first book published.

When I finished WHAT IS PRECIOUS all I could do is set it down and say “Wow.” Rarely does a graphic novel so deeply affect me on an emotional and intellectual level. Manu Larcenet’s tale wanders through Marco’s angst and triumphs like a silent observer. Every single bit of it feels dragged right out of reality and thrown onto the page. When Marco does become a father, the relationship he develops with his daughter is so achingly, painfully real that you gain instant empathy for the struggles he goes through in developing a balance between good dad/bad dad. I cannot remember the last time a creator so engaged completely me.

Of course, it also looks brilliant; Larcenet is a gifted artist as well as writer, and the book is full of one detailed, arresting page after another. Throw in that he completely sticks the ending perfectly, and this takes its place among the best graphic novels of 2008. Wonderful, phenomenal work.

Marc Mason

THE BOMB

THE BOMB
Written and Drawn by Steve Mannion
Published by
Asylum Press

THE BOMB collects a four-issue anthology miniseries by Steve Mannion, along with a companion swimsuit issue. The four issues followed a series of characters through various adventures, including Fearless Dawn, Brownhole Jones, Jungle Chick and others.

Mannion adapts his artistic style and sensibilities to each tale, offering up a proper exaggeration for each type of story, and it’s no stretch to say that he obviously owes a tremendous debt to folks like Wally Wood; there’s a LOT of EC Comics in what’s between these covers.

The stories themselves range in quality. The best series is the Fearless Dawn one; on the flip side, Jungle Chick is an unfunny waste of time (thought it’s still better than Frank Cho’s JUNGLE GIRL series. Damnation via faint praise, I suppose.) As I read it, the feeling I got from the tales was that it was really only Fearless Dawn and Brownhole Jones that truly captivated the creator and he was phoning in the rest.

There are a number of pinups and one-page shots here, and Mannion completely excels at this sort of thing. His brush and pen show a great care, the detail jumping off the page. He’s very gifted in this sense. But as a storyteller, particularly sequentially, he’s lacking. The panels often look rushed, and body movement in service to the plot falters mightily.

If you’re a fan of the older style of comics, you might enjoy THE BOMB, but I think I’d have been happier to see an entire book devoted to Mannion’s pinup art and paints. THE BOMB just wasn’t for me.

Marc Mason

CITY OF DUST 1

CITY OF DUST 1
Written by Steve Niles and Drawn by Zid
Published by Radical Comics

CITY OF DUST is a slightly different take on a darker dystopian future and combines a ‘Big Brother is watching’-type world and a supernatural monster mystery. By drawing on several different past mediums, COD creates a new world with strong potential.

The opening scene is tantalizing, if a bit typical for creature-of-the-night books. A rich couple is out for a thrill or two on the wrong side of the tracks (metaphorically speaking; COD is a world of flying cars and champagne in pill form). The dashing gentleman is about to receive some special attention from his girlfriend and instead gets pulled into the dark by an unknown entity before being handed back to his lady love in bloody pieces. The sheltered aristocrat has just enough time to scream at the horrific sight before she too disappears into the dark, leaving only a pair of red pumps behind. A bit of lust, gore and hidden villains get the book started nicely.

Next we meet our protagonist and learn his life history. As a child he accidentally got his father arrested for committing an imagination crime: namely, Daddy dearest told young Philip Khrome a bedtime story. So Mr. Khrome was taken away, Philip was raised by the state and eventually became a cop dedicated to upholding the letter of the law. From here on the plot strongly resembles that of the movie ‘Equilibrium.’ An upstanding supporter of the system sees/does something which shakes his belief in the government, their mission and his part in it, thus he begins to think illegal thoughts. Perhaps it is because you find out later in the book that Philip has been coloring outside the lines for a while as evident by his ongoing appointments with a hooker, but it is a bit hard to get into Officer Khrome as a character. He doesn’t come off as very smart when he tells the man selling porn outside the brothel he subsequently enters that he’s a cop, and it appears as if his inner conflict is not very genuine considering his extensive, not-so-professional relationship with a professional escort.

However this does nothing to detract from the momentum of the book as Khrome is called into a disturbing and puzzling crime scene (‘Minority Report’ shows its influence in these panels as Khrome uses several spider-looking robots to analyze the crime scene), thus thickening the plot. Not to mention, the artwork is simply phenomenal. The clear, precise lines and detailed background paint a complex and engaging picture of this futuristic world, and the colors are absolutely stunning. There is a gradient and softness to both the art and colors which give COD a realistic feel and beautiful presentation.

CITY OF DUST is a visual knock-out and carries a basic, familiar plot line into hopefully uncharted waters. The unknown entity which is gleefully ripping people apart in dark allies is a new twist in a pretty familiar story. The boundless creative potential and the jaw-dropping art found within this book are enough to hook a reader for the entirety of the five issue run, especially if Niles does some more with Khrome and if Zid keeps drawing such a colorful world.

Avril Brown

THE ROBERTS 1

THE ROBERTS 1
Written by Wayne Chinsang and Justin Shady and Drawn by Erik Rose
Published by
Image Comics

The Shady Lane Retirement Center For Elderly Adults is pretty much your standard-issue old folks’ home. You’ll find randy old men, low-paid nurses trying to care, bingo tournaments, and a little bit of hooking up going on between those residents fortunate enough to have a Viagra prescription. It’s also home to Robert Sprunger, also known as “The Boston Strangler.” So why is a serial killer living out his days there? Because he’s no more immune to the ravages of age than anyone else. But even as he fantasizes about the occasional kill, his calm, natural routine gets disturbed by the arrival of a new resident, another man named Robert. Robert Steib, as a matter of fact, a/k/a The Zodiac Killer. Two men, two serial killers, one small community… something has to give, doesn’t it?

When I saw Wayne Chinsang’s name on this book, it gave me pause. On one hand, he wrote the absolutely brilliant HEAVEN, LLC. On the other, he was responsible for BAD IDEAS, the only Jim Mahfood-drawn book I’ve refused to let sit on my shelves. So I wondered about THE ROBERTS. Would it be good… or another pile of shit?

The verdict: it’s somewhere in-between.

Certainly, Sprunger makes for an interesting lead character. He’s a killer, but Chinsang and Shady manage to give him some depth and make a statement about the effects of aging and their refusal to play favorites: everyone dies. Even a killer. And the dynamic between the two Roberts, particularly before Sprunger discovers Steib’s real identity, is amusing. There’s a snarky homoerotic subtext to it. And Rose sells this stuff like his life depends on it, on every page. The book looks amazing.

But nothing happens. Aside from the arrival of Steib, the book is without any sort of plot movement. Like one of the folks living in the Shady Lane home, it desperately needs a laxative. With over forty pages of story, you expect more than what you get here. So the back half had better deliver.

Marc Mason

DUGOUT

DUGOUT
Written by Adam Beechen and Drawn by Manny Bello
Published by
Ai/PlanetLar

Cookie Palisetti might just be the worst manager in major league baseball. Stuck at the helm of the Los Angeles Pioneers, the worst team in the league, he isn’t going to get any better, either. In fact, thanks to his escalating debts to a local bookie, he may not have time to do anything but settle into a shallow grave. Life and limb on the line, though, he has an epiphany: everything went south for the team when star pitching prospect Billy Luther murdered his parents. If only he could get Billy out of prison, the team (and Cookie) could turn things around. But how to do it? Asking politely doesn’t help… so he’s going to have to break the kid out. And an exhibition game against the prison’s squad will provide just that opportunity…

AiT honcho Larry Young posed the question to me himself: “What’s more American that busting your sweetheart’s brother out of prison? Nothing!” And Beechen and Bello, the creative team behind one of the publisher’s best efforts ever (HENCH) come back strong with DUGOUT. The plot moves along at a zippy pace, the characters have just enough to them to keep them from shallowing out (excepting the love interest/sister) and the story covers enough classic ground from both literature and screen (It’s a prison movie! It’s a baseball movie! It’s film noir!) that it feels fresh. That’s a helluva feat considering everything that could have gone wrong.

It’s been a long time since HENCH hit shelves, and the duo has gone on to do many other things, but I’m glad to see them returning to the creator-owned arena. There’s an earnestness and delight in DUGOUT that you only get from an indy effort, the kind of emotion that doing work-for-hire tends to beat out of creators. I got caught up very quickly in DUGOUT, riding along with it at every turn. You will, too.

Marc Mason

THE NEARLY INFAMOUS ZANGO 1-3

THE NEARLY INFAMOUS ZANGO #1-3
Written and Drawn by Rob Osborne
Published by Absolute Tyrant

Meet the nearly infamous Lord Zango, the world’s laziest super villain! What began as a web comic has now been given comic book form, and geeks across the land rejoice. ZANGO is a highly entertaining parody done with the perfect blend of tongue-in-cheek and dark humor. From the very first page ZANGO gets you grinning and doesn’t let up throughout the book.

Once upon a time, Lord Zango ruled Metrotown as the most feared super villain alive. Now he runs down the batteries on his television remote while clogging his arteries with too many bags of chips. His doting daughter, Nebula, is constantly reminding him of his awful diet and not letting him get away with ordering her around like a henchman. Zango’s second-in-command (so to speak) is Deacon Dread, who tries to get his lord’s spirits back up and running with monstrous creations and a few well-chosen comments. Van Freako is your standard issue not-so-bright softie who likes playing with bunnies and will smite down an enemy if it means he gets pie. With a line-up like this one you just know hilarity will ensue.

Several of the jokes have been done before; for example when Dread comes up with a simple yet brilliant evil plan, naturally Lord Zango claims he thought up the idea and Dread congratulates him on his genius. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Some jokes are still in operation because they are still funny. ZANGO has that familiar campy feel to it to the point where something would be lacking if Osborne did not include a few favorites. Plus, Osborne includes plenty of his own mad and amusing scenarios to keep the book fresh and original.

From killer gorilla assassins to mutated fruit monsters to a new super villain who chips away at Zango’s confidence by being wholly unaware of him, ZANGO is a must read for anyone who needs a good laugh. The art is perfectly suited for the story idea and really adds to the retro feel of the book. Black and white chunky lines are the perfect medium to convey Zango’s adventures, and Osborne includes the right amount of details to make each panel have adequate structure.

Though Zango’s arrogance and desperate need to be recognized are enough to make you laugh out loud, his possible daddy issues revealed in issue #3 begin to piece together the puzzle of Lord Zango’s descent into apathy. You wonder if Deacon Dread will finally let minx-y Nebula into his pants before he loses yet another body part, a nasty habit he can’t seem to shake. And will Van Freako ever be accepted as the man he is and not the monster he appears to be? In short, between the hearty guffaws you will find yourself becoming attached to these characters and curious over what happens next. Rob Osborne really hit this one out of the park on a number of levels. Here’s hoping whichever publishing company picks up THE NEARLY INFAMOUS ZANGO after issue #4, simply just kicks back and let Osborne do what he’s been doing, because it works, and works well.

Avril Brown

VAMPIRELLA QUARTERLY HALLOWEEN 2008

VAMPIRELLA QUARTERLY HALLOWEEN 2008
Written by Dan Brereton and Drawn by John Heebink and Mike Manley
Published by Harris Comics

This VAMPIRELLA quarterly starts with a classic scene which will forever remain in style; namely, there’s a bitch fight. In prison. Between a pretty chick and one built like a brick shithouse. Never failing to grab a reader’s attention, an unexpected prison fight is a great way to kick off a story.

The fact Vampirella is in a fight is not surprising, but what the hell is she doing in prison? Not to mention what type of prison could hold a creature like her? Before we receive answers to these intriguing questions, first we flashback to find Vampirella wounded and cornered by a few other demon ladies, later revealed to be bounty hunters. Soon enough the whole crew gets arrested by men spouting religious rallying cries and armed with some form of mace for hell beasts.

So that is how Vampirella gets stuck in a jail for she-devils in the middle of the desert. The fun continues as the fight expands and we meet a cornucopia of demon women and their diverse group of jailors. Naturally the creepiest character is the one in charge: a psychotic warden/priest, who’s on a mission from god. Caught between a swarm of angry hell bitches and an insane man of the cloth, all the while not operating at her best physically, Vampirella has her work cut out for her.

The roster in this book was just spectacular, greatly adding to the enjoyment of the book. Everyone from Helga the Hun prison guard, to a demoness bounty hunter dressed like a Catholic school girl, to the grotesque and twisted final ‘villain,’ DUNGEON EYES delivers several highly entertaining characters. Though the plot gets a bit cliché here and there, the occasional dash of humor and the diverse cast keeps the story fresh and engaging.

The art was definitely decent, getting the basics down while adding fun side details, such as the blood dripping down Vampirella’s chin for most of the book. In close-up panels it resembled the spray paint look you get on t-shirts at an amusement park, which may sound cheesy but the effect was undeniably attractive. Once again, all the different characters have their own unique look, thus creating several pages which give plenty of art to peruse without being overcrowded.

The VAMPIRELLA book has gotten a nice kick in the creative ass, giving the stories more depth and amusement and expanding into new territories. A stand-alone story has many perks, one of them being a chance to have a bit of fun with the title character. Vampirella’s boyfriend and mentor were completely absent in this book save for a line explaining their absence, giving Brereton a chance to ignore the baggage that comes with supporting characters and concentrate on telling a tale of a hell bitch doing what she does best.

Avril Brown

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA ORIGINS 9

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA ORIGINS 9
Written by Seamus Kevin Fahey and Clay Carmouche and Drawn by Jonathan Lau
Published by
Dynamite Entertainment

She’s the best pilot in the fleet, not to mention a hard partier and walking disaster. He’s the most morally upright man in civilization, the man willing to stick by his pregnant girlfriend, even though she was one of the enemy. The two couldn’t be much more different, but they’ve always been close, close friends. Now we begin to learn just how Starbuck and Helo met and became comrades in arms. Of course, it wasn’t easy; in their own ways, they’re remarkably stubborn, even for soldiers. But the hardest metals are forged in the hottest fires. So it also seems to have been for the friendship between Kara and Karl.

Three words came to mind as I opened the first issue to this third arc in ORIGINS: It’s about time. The series got off to a good start by focusing on Gaius Baltar, the series’ most interesting and complex character. But the second arc focusing on Admiral Adama was a bit on the dry side. I wondered why the focus hadn’t immediately shifted to the most popular character on the show, Starbuck. Now, though, it’s happened, and it was worth the wait.

But what makes this story interesting is the inclusion of Helo. The character represents one of the more intriguing aspects of the show: Ron Moore’s willingness to use something unexpected simply because of a performance. When Helo was abandoned on Caprica in the original miniseries, sacrificing himself to save Baltar, it was such a powerfully acted moment that Moore went back to follow up on the character in the ongoing series. And that decision has led to many of the show’s most important overriding plotlines.

However, while the show has given us healthy doses of Starbuck’s past, the origins of pilot Agathon have gone largely un-discussed. So this book makes perfect sense: squeeze in some more Starbuck action, but balance it with a deeper look at a favorite character who has not quite gotten his due on the show… even though he represents its moral center. This initial offer from Fahey, Carmouche, and Lau stirs the interest and whets the appetite. Can’t wait to read more of it.

Marc Mason

TBIRD AND THROTTLE 0

T-BIRD AND THROTTLE #0
Written by Josh Howard and Drawn by Josh Howard and Otis Frampton
Published by
Viper Comics

Mitchell Maddox is America’s greatest hero. Once, he was merely a brave astronaut, but after a confrontation on the moon with some nasty natives, he wound up with a piece of alien machinery attached to his chest. And upon his eventual return home and a period of intense scientific examination, he was left with a dead wife and a shattered daughter. Now he uses the power of that alien hunk of metal to battle evil and safeguard the world from those that would cause harm. But before he can deal with a potential new threat to the planet from the moon men, he has to deal with something far more difficult: his daughter has just read the comic book they made telling his story, and dad had left out a few details over the years… particularly what really happened to her mother.

If you had to pick the five people who have defined Viper Comics’ actual comics output over the years, you’d pick Josh Howard, Jason Burns, the pairing of Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClane, and Otis Frampton. So seeing two of them on a project together sort of reads like an all-star effort for the company. What surprises is the nature of the project; this book is far from Frampton’s charming kid-friendly magic series ODDLY NORMAL and miles away from Howard’s goth-horror DEAD @17. Instead, it’s a science fiction family adventure, a genre that neither creator has really worked in before. That alone makes it enough of an oddity that you want to keep an eye on it: how exactly will these two men do outside their established genius zones?

On first reading, I wasn’t completely sold on T-BIRD AND THROTTLE, as I thought it read a little too pat, too safe for my taste. But a second reading gave me a bit clearer look at it. There’s a certain sense of emotional ruthlessness revealed through Maddox’s actions and inferences over the final pages that hint at some depth waiting to be tapped. And the final page’s secret is a whopper. Ultimately, there’s a lot of room for this book to go in the wrong direction and be simplistic and dry, but on the flip side, these two talents have built up more than enough credibility to buy my faith and continued readership.

Marc Mason