CHINESE HERO VOL 1

CHINESE HERO: TALES OF THE BLOOD SWORD VOL.1
Written and Drawn by Wing Shing Ma
Translated and Adapted by Yun Zhao and Matthew Scrivner
Published by DrMaster

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

His parents murdered, Hero has gone on the run and taken the family heirloom with him: the Blood Sword. It looks like an ordinary crappy piece of metal, but when blood hits it… bam! It becomes quite powerful indeed. Aided by his mastering of multiple forms of martial arts, he now works to protect himself, the sword, and those he cares about… which isn’t always an easy task, even for one of the greatest warriors alive.

First things first: wow, is this a pretty book. Wing Shing Ma is a tremendous talent, able to meld action, character moments, and color schemes to create luscious pages. I was visually entranced by CHINESE HERO, as it provides more of a feast than most mangas do, because this is a rare one printed in color and at traditional Western comic size. That certainly goes a long way into making the book more accessible to an audience that may still be skeptical about manga.

Unfortunately, the story is almost completely impenetrable. First, it creates some immediate confusion; this is volume one, yet there’s a 23-page prologue catching you up on the story to date! Yet there’s no indication of where that story was originally told or if it actually was. And the design of the prologue is so scattered as to almost make it impossible to follow. By the time I got to the manga proper, I was hopelessly lost. I stuck with it as best I could, but I really had issues in following it and the characters at that point.

So ultimately, as nifty as this book looks, the design failure at its core prevents me from recommending it. DrMaster produces plenty of other terrific manga titles, so I’d recommend you try one of those instead.

Marc Mason

HIP FLASK VOL 2 CONCRETE JUNGLE

HIP FLASK VOL.2: CONCRETE JUNGLE
Written by Richard Starkings and Joe Casey and Drawn by Ladronn
Published by Image Comics

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

You aren’t going to find many more attractive packages on the shelves this year. CONCRETE JUNGLE takes two previous HIP/ELEPHANTMEN books and brings them together in one over-sized hardcover package. Printed on thick paper that makes Ladronn’s painted work jump off the page, this is simply amazing, gorgeous stuff.

The story follows two separate paths; in one, Obadiah Horn, the Elephantman who has gained a position of prominence in human society unmatched by the rest of his brethren, must grapple with business issues and the machinations of an assassin let loose upon him by his greatest rival: the human male whose daughter he married. In the other tale, Hip Flask takes on a case that puts him on the trail of that assassin. Both plots move along at a strong pace, keeping you involved and interested, and in a rare-for-comics thing, you actually find yourself slowing down and taking more time to get through the book, simply to absorb Ladronn’s abilities and what they can do to a simple piece of paper.

CONCRETE JUNGLE only really has one flaw, and it’s that the book ends incomplete. There’s a cliffhanger on the final story page, a doozy, and it’s disappointing to get to that point and realize that you aren’t done. The majority of trade paperbacks and graphic novels are collected as such because there’s a completed story involved. On the other hand, adding more pages to the book may have priced it out of the market, as it retails for $30 at the page count it delivers here. Another 50 pages could render it unprofitable.

I started out not really enjoying the world of the ELEPHANTMEN, as the monthly comic got out of the gate slowly. But as time has passed, I’ve seen real improvement. Plus, reading a large chunk of the story under one cover makes things much clearer. It isn’t at the top of my stack every month, but it continues to rise on the strength of products like this.

Marc Mason

POISON THE CURE 1

POISON THE CURE #1
Written by Jad Ziade and Drawn by Alex Cahill
Published by The New Radio

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

Alex Cahill has shown himself to be an indy creator to be reckoned with, so I approached POISON THE CURE with more than a bit of intrigue. This was the first project I’d seen from him that he didn’t write, but I was still certain that it would be an interesting and fascinating effort. Little did I know that it would also turn out to be one of the strangest books of 2007 to date.

The book opens on an alien spaceship, one that’s surveying alien planets for signs of telepathic activity. What they find is the planet Earth… completely uninhabited, the population decimated and gone. Using their superior technology, they begin to reconstruct the use of telepathy by an unknown person twenty years prior that may have led to the destruction of Earth’s civilization. That takes us into a book-length flashback where we’re introduced to Miguel and his friends, activists against nuclear waste dumping. However, one night their attempts to sabotage the dumping grounds go horribly awry, and we’re given reason to believe that horrible power may have arisen that will end the world as we know it.

Even as lengthy as that explanation is, it doesn’t quite cover everything that happens here. This is a very complex 108 pages, and it’s only the first part of what will be four. And really, the stunning disconnect between the alien sequences and the earthbound material is hard to get past. But Ziade and Cahill both fully invest themselves in their premise and story, never once winking at the reader, and that pays off. You take the book as seriously as it takes itself.

The very human themes at the heart of the book, combined with a spare script and Cahill’s nicely rendered art, make POISON a success. The one real complaint I have is that the back of the book indicates that part two won’t hit shelves until the calendar reads 2008. That’s awfully risky on the creators’ parts. But I’ll be back for more, regardless.

Marc Mason

FIRST IN SPACE

FIRST IN SPACE
Written and Drawn by James Vining
Published by Oni Press

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

You won’t find a more unconventional love story in a graphic novel this year. FIRST IN SPACE is a fact-based look at the chimpanzees that NASA trained to make sub-orbital space flights, and about Ham, the one who wound up being first. But there’s more to it than that.

The chimps were each assigned code numbers and names, and given a handler for their training period. The code names and numbers were there not only as identifiers, but also as a buffer to prevent the handlers from becoming too emotionally attached to the animals. But that didn’t always work, so when Airman Beacham was given a chimp to watch, “Chop Chop Chang” became “Ham.” It is the emotional foundation of Beacham’s relationship with Ham that gives FIRST IN SPACE its real depth and sucks you in to caring about Ham’s fate… even when you know before you crack open the book that he made it.

But Vining smartly doesn’t always let the camera linger on the story we know will be a success. Instead, he takes time to break away and show us some of the more tragic results that occurred before Ham’s rocket launched. Many animals sacrificed their lives in the name of the American space program and its need to beat the Russians to a manned orbital flight. The balance that we get, that Ham ultimately survived and paved the way for man, still doesn’t take away your compassion and sadness for the deaths of so many other experimental animals. That’s a completely fair and honest approach, and one not always seen from a new creator to the business.

Indeed, nothing here really screams “newbie”. Vining’s art is clean and pleasing to the eye. His storytelling is solid. The emotional arc of the book actually eschews a simple and warm conclusion and instead delivers a cold, sad ending. This is well-researched, brave work, and easily recommendable. I look forward to seeing what Vining does next.

Marc Mason

GUY RICHIE’S GAMEKEEPER 1

GUY RICHIE’S GAMEKEEPER #1
Written by Andy Diggle and Drawn by Mukesh Singh
Published by Virgin Comics

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

Where VIRULENTS did a solid job of taking formula and molding it into something fresh and interesting, GAMEKEEPER falls short on that account.

The Glen Morgan estate in the Scottish countryside has a reputation for taking in homeless teenagers, so when a new one shows up, no one thinks twice. The Gamekeeper, who takes care of security, hunting, and other violent aspects of the estate’s grounds brings him into to meet the lord of the manor, and goes back to work. But when it turns out that there’s a breach, the Gamekeeper must slide back into his violent past and kick some ass/take some names/go back on his oath to chill out. That old chestnut, ya know?

Andy Diggle is unquestionably a talented writer, and his LOSERS was one of the best action-driven books of the decade. But he really isn’t given much to work with here; indeed, it really isn’t like Richie gave him anything to work with at all. An interview with Guy is printed in the back of the book, and he basically acknowledges that he knows or understands anything about comics and can’t really remember the details of how he really got involved with Virgin Comics. Editorially, printing the interview was really an error; it pretty much acknowledges that GAMEKEEPER is little more than a huge bait-n-switch. You don’t expect Richie to pour over the plot with Diggle, but expressing damn-near indifference isn’t the way to go, either.

I liked Singh’s art and the color scheme he used, and he really seems to be stronger in quiet, personal moments versus the action bits, which is surprising these days. I’d like to see him develop a bit more fluidity in his characters’ movements during the action sequences as he progresses, but it isn’t something I would expect immediately. In all, GAMEKEEPER is a book that just doesn’t get it done and instead falls kind of flat. There’s room to grow, but it will depend on how much Diggle can take the concept and make it his own.

Marc Mason

VIRULENTS

VIRULENTS
Written by Shamik Dasgupta and Drawn by Dean Ruben Hyrapiet
Published by Virgin Comics

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

Few books hit the stands more film-option ready than VIRULENTS, and even the front matter admits to that, discussing what the logline for the book is (“vampire terrorists”). But that doesn’t play out as crassly as you might imagine; even with many of the characters drawn from central casting, the execution of the concept is handled very well, and the book is an entertaining and worthy read.

A group of soldiers, half from India and half from the U.S., work together in the desert near the India/Pakistan border in the days following 9/11. A previous group of soldiers has gone missing, and this crew has been charged with learning their fates. Plus, the Indian contingent has a second, very secret, mission that could render the purpose of the primary mission completely moot. Unfortunately, they run into what could be considered creatures of legend: the Raktaveej (“blood demons”), nasty beasts who could clone themselves from drops of their own blood. In mythology, the goddess Kali was able to stop the creatures with her mighty powers; however, these poor bastards only have the dwindling ammo on their backs.

VIRULENTS follows formula, setting the groups against each other racially, then uniting them for the traditional picking off one-by-one scenario, but Dasgupta really does a nice job of making the beats very enjoyable. And Hyrapiet delivers some terrific pages, doing something that many artists struggle with mightily: make the two ethnic groups look different, not just like the same archetypes dressed in different clothes. The ending, like any good action franchise, leaves the door wide open for a sequel. In all, a solid success.

Marc Mason

MUSHISHI VOL 1

MUSHISHI VOL.1
Written and Drawn by Yuki Urushibara
Translated and Adapted by William Flanagan
Published by Del Rey

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

What are mushi? Mushi are strange, horrible creatures as old as life on Earth itself. They possess awful, terrible powers. And they live inside of people.

However, for those afflicted by mushi, the answer to their prayers might just be a young man named Ginko. Ginko is a wanderer, passing from town to town and village to village, stopping to aid those who are afflicted by the mushi. Whether it’s a mushi that causes everything one man draws to come to life or another that brings to life a man’s dreams, Ginko makes his presence known and works to contain the ancient, evil creatures.

MUSHISHI is a book that I struggled with. Conceptually, I love the idea; the story possibilities are nearly limitless. And certainly Urushibara invests heavily in the drama and characters being affected by the mushi, grounding the danger element in hard reality. Yet, I also didn’t feel like the danger presented by mushi was necessarily as genuine as it could have been. It felt very…localized, for lack of a better word. The book won the Kodansha Manga of the Year recently, and I’m guessing it did so based on the third story in the book, “The Pillow Path”; Pillow is the one story in the book where everything comes together in perfect fashion. Stakes, characters, story path… it’s so good, I’d recommend this volume on the strength of it alone.

But I’m hoping for more from future volumes. I want to see Ginko developed more as a character. I’d like to be made to feel a bit more for those who are afflicted by these nasty little creatures. And I’d like to see a bit more in the way of dynamic storytelling from someone who is obviously insanely gifted as an artist. MUSHISHI has the potential to be a must read; time will tell if it fully reaches it. I’ll be reading.

Marc Mason

FLYTRAP EPISODE 2

FLYTRAP: EPISODE TWO
Written by Sara Ryan and Drawn by Ron Chan
Available from Sara Ryan

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

This one was a long time in coming. The first installment of FLYTRAP came out about a year and a half ago, and it was easily one of the best minicomics I’ve read in recent memory. Now, her latest novel seemingly completed, Ryan returns to the world of publicist Maddy and the bizarre little circus she’s taken on the task of promoting. And as with the first mini, this is more than worth the wait.

What’s good here? Pretty much everything. The story finds Maddy taking pictures of the motley crew of performers as part of creating a website for the group. But the photo session quickly spirals out of control when the two male performers she’s shooting begin trying to one-up each other in the hopes of impressing and seducing the woman now controlling their fate. Ryan’s script not only allows each performer to strut their stuff, but also to grow as characters through their interactions with one another and Maddy. Plus, is also gives Chan, stepping in for the great Steve Lieber, plenty of room to stretch his legs; there’s a ton of action here, yet it never overwhelms the character moments, and he can pull off both with ease.

My only real complaint is that we only get nine new pages of art and story after all this time. Still, that’s nearly offset by the inclusion of an excerpt from Ryan’s new novel THE RULES FOR HEARTS, the much-anticipated sequel to EMPRESS OF THE WORLD. Do yourself a favor and track down a copy of this terrific mini; heck do yourself two favors and make sure you get both episodes.

Marc Mason

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA CYLON APOCALYPSE 1

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: CYLON APOCALYPSE #1
Written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Drawn by Carlos Rafael
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

LOST, MIDDLEMAN, and SUPER SKRULL scribe Grillo-Marxuach turns his pen towards CLASSIC BATTLESTAR in this action-heavy
and fast-paced story. The Hatch/Benedict version of Apollo and Starbuck find themselves observing an incredibly bizarre battle between the Cylons themselves. In the meantime, the main crew has discovered a transmission that has passed through a nearby wormhole, and it might just be from the lost colony known as earth. Unfortunately, there’s a planet inhabited by nothing by Cylons blocking access to that wormhole… and a rogue faction of the Cylon empire isn’t going to let anything survive who saw that battle between raiders and basestar… including the fleet’s best pilots.

Whew… this is more like it. The regular, ongoing CLASSIC BATTLESTAR series got off to a good start, but began losing steam quickly, and there was always one problem that I couldn’t put my finger on. APOCALYPSE helped me figure it out right away: budget. Where Rick Remender’s main book settled in for the more talkative type of story we saw in the back half of the series’ one season, Grillo-Marxuach takes the exact opposite approach. There’s no episode budget to be spent, so he’s pulled out all the stops and ratcheted up the tension, action, and spectacle. When a dozen Cylons reconstitute themselves as a single form thanks to some sort of strange bio-goo, you see something you’d never get on TV because of what it would cost.

A terrific cliffhanger and a genuine element of mystery make this maybe the best issue of GALACTICA new or old that we’ve seen since Dynamite acquired the property. More, please.

Marc Mason

THE KILLER 2

THE KILLER #2
Written by Matz and Drawn and Translated by Luc Jacamon
Published by Archaia Studios Press

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

Issue one of THE KILLER was fairly quiet and introspective, at least relative to issue two, as the book really kicks into high gear here. Our antagonistic protagonist continues to sit and wait for his prey to show up, but while he waits, he reminisces about kills past, and the bloody, action-packed way in which they played out. Then, finally, his target arrives, and it’s time to bring out the rifle and start creating fresh corpses. But will his ennui cause him to get sloppy and acquire the kind of attention he desperately wants to avoid?

This Euro import again impresses on all fronts. Matz’ story is tight and dramatic, and the quickened pace enhances the enjoyment of the reading experience. Jacamon’s art is not only dynamic, but he shows himself to be a force to be reckoned with in how he uses color. In a sequence detailing how one kill went wrong, he uses a palette that shades darker as the panels progress, matching the mood of the situation. In another flashback, he eschews color completely and shifts to grayscale, matching the neutrality of the killer’s emotional state. Later, as the killer watches TV, he uses ridiculously bring colors, contrasting with the reality of his world. It’s terrific work.

As good as this is, I can only imagine that THE KILLER will be at its best once it’s collected. Check it out, whether you want to wait or not.

Marc Mason