NEVER AS BAD AS YOU THINK

NEVER AS BAD AS YOU THINK
Written by Kathryn Immonen and Drawn by Stuart Immonen
Published by Boom Studios

NEVER AS BAD AS YOU THINK is a unique and eclectic collection of comic strips which were originally created as online episodes based on a random word choice. The author received the word, wrote a story surrounding that word, and then given that story foundation her artiste husband would draw the strip.

Given this type of story origin there naturally is no conceivable set plot line for this collection of strips, but NABAYT isn’t supposed to be a typical beginning-middle-end sort of story. You never know exactly what you’re going to get out of each strip, whether it’s a laugh, a scratch on the head, or a thoughtful introspection of ‘Huh, now THAT was interesting.’

As the introduction points out, the best parts about this book are the one-liners. Random, hilarious and occasionally incomprehensible, there are many jewels to be found in this collection, some of which should make the segue into standard conversation. Standing on a beach, a member of a mariachi band utters “Let’s find some half drunk drinks and some all drunk co-eds.” Riding shotgun in an ambulance, a man trying to have a hypothetical conversation with his paramedic partner can’t help but notice “Your left boob is talking to me” before the boob in question starts talking back. These lines, and many others, are clear evidence of a comic genius. Some are delivered by people, some are spoken by animals, and both can be found in a range of settings from relatively normal to anything but. A couple gets a cup of coffee and confronts a man’s hypochondria in one strip while in another a trio of birds take a bath in some running water before flying off while discussing how you can’t keep your eyes open when you sneeze.

Not every page delivers a golden zinger and it can be difficult to see where a strip is going, but the random hilarity never ceases, keeping the reader excessively amused. The art is naturally a flawless fit to the story given the way each strip came to be. The basic pencils and simpler stick-like figures are the perfect complement to the haphazard scenarios created on each page, and Stuart manages to include all the fundamentals of a well-drawn comic in his designs while excluding unnecessary flotsam which would only bog down the pace of the story.

NEVER AS BAD AS YOU THINK is a humorous collection ideal for anyone looking for a comical book a bit off the beaten path. If you are hankering for a chuckle and find amusement in the nonsensical and bizarre, this is the book to satisfy that craving.

Avril Brown

HERO SQUARED- LOVE AND DEATH 1

HERO SQUARED: LOVE AND DEATH #1
Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis and Drawn by Nathan Watson
Published by Boom Studios

Definitely meant to be taken as seriously as a million-dollar bill, HERO SQUARED is a tongue in cheek comic designed to deliver a few laughs wrapped up in tights and a classic superhero parody.

If unfamiliar with the previous story involving this cast of campy characters, the beginning of this book can be a bit perplexing, and it isn’t until almost ten pages in that new readers are brought up to speed. Milo, the pathetic protagonist, does an amusing job of delivering an encompassing plot summary. Apparently in an alternate universe some comic book characters are real, and one is a superhero version of Milo himself, Captain Valor (whom Milo refers to as Eustace, their middle name, which does help cut down on confusion when they are both in the same room). Defeated by the evil Caliginous, Captain Valor ended up in this universe and subsequently ruins Milo’s already dismal life. Of course Milo aids in his own destruction by shacking up with Caliginous, who is the alternate universe’s version of his girlfriend Stephie. The love quadrangle is completed when Eustace and Stephie end up falling in love, leaving Milo to figure out what the next step is. Instead of a battle royal between good and evil and mediocre, the characters decide the best way to save the universe is to seek therapy. This is definitely not your standard superhero book.

HERO SQUARED has a miscellaneous collection of characters and a droll distortion of superhero story line. ‘Weird’ is definitely a word which comes to mind when reading this book, but weird is good, especially when it adds to rather than detracts from the laughs generated by several scenes. The dialogue is certainly clever, giving the characters a livelier presence and making the whole book feel like an improv show.

The pencils are brilliant, and Watson does an admirable job of injecting just as much action in the characters conversations as there is in the few ‘battle’ scenes. He is also extremely talented at facial expressions, a skill which is mandatory when telling a humorous tale full of slap-stick comedy and amusing insults. The panel spacing makes it easy to follow along with the story (even though in the beginning the story itself makes that difficult).

HERO SQUARED is a fun read for the comic fan who enjoys a strange and wacky story involving comical introspection, alternate worlds and a dog dressed in a superhero costume. This is a book which gets funnier the more you read it, which is a good sign the subsequent issues will also deliver an enjoyable and off-the-wall narrative.

Avril Brown

NEW BRIGHTON ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY

THE NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY
Written by Mark Andrew Smith and Drawn by Matthew Weldon
Published by Image Comics

The New Brighton Archeological Society is an utterly adorable and fun-filled tale of magical escapades and good versus evil. Like many stories starring adventuresome children, this tale begins in tragedy. Cooper, Joss, Becca and Benny are the children of four great explorers who supposedly fell to their deaths on an expedition searching for a frozen city in arctic tundra. The youngsters are sent to live with their godparents, whom we later learn opened their doors to the children’s parents when they were little.

Being the progeny of world-famous archeologists, the kids immediately take to their new surroundings, which consist of an enormous and ancient mansion tucked away in an expansive forest landscape. From the beginning the kids prove themselves capable of getting into all kinds of mischief, just like their parents did. Soon enough they discover their parents’ old secret clubhouse and decide to fix it up in their memory.

When camping in the woods one weekend, the curious children make an astonishing discovery: goblins are real, and they’re very…polite. They meet Mitch the goblin who first befriended their parents years ago, and he invites them into the goblin kingdom and confidence, explaining to them their parents’ history with the goblins and their magical ways.

Smith and Weldon have created an amusing and fantastical world which is easily enjoyable for all ages. When goblins are the good guys, fairies are the bad guys, fat cats are vegetarians and islands can walk, it is practically impossible not to get swept up in the amazing adventures of The New Brighton Archeological Society. Younger children can enjoy the fresh and colorful exploits of the little explorers, and older readers can appreciate the clever humor and general light-heartedness of the book (aside from the whole parents-caught-in-an-icy-cavern thing). In one memorable scene where Mitch is explaining the on-going war between goblins and fairies, Becca says she doesn’t believe in fairies. The next panel shows a fairy sitting on a nearby branch and upon this declaration he clutches his chest and keels over.

This book is also an excellent example of the perfect match up between art and story. Japanime meets Saturday morning cartoons in a sharp and aesthetically pleasing style unburdened by copious amounts of background detail, which normally I welcome, but for a story like this would just be superfluous. The colors are bright and engaging, from the rosy redness of the children’s cheeks to the glistening tears in their eyes, all of which aid in delivering a beautiful story throughout.

With ghosts running an ice cream parlor, fairies getting bogged down in maple syrup and butterscotch-addicted goblins playing puppeteer, Smith and Weldon have delivered a highly enjoyable cast of characters and scenery that will have readers from ages six to sixty clamoring for more jaunty journeys of these insatiably inquisitive children.

Avril Brown

WHY I KILLED PETER

WHY I KILLED PETER
Written by Olivier Ka and Drawn by Alfred
Published by NBM

Olivier was a young boy raised in a hippy family. His parents lived a very free lifestyle, and kept their minds open to the world in the most liberal of fashions. On the flip side, his grandparents were deeply religious, to the point of near-absurdism, so he did have some sense of faith in his life. What made those two aspects of his life meet on middle ground, though, was the meeting of Peter. Peter, the very liberal priest, a man who helped hide political fugitives, a man who played the guitar, a man who ran the yearly summer camp for young children.

Peter, the man who would betray Olivier’s friendship by sexually abusing him at the camp when he was twelve years old.

Olivier Ka’s autobiographical tale of a childhood incident that only magnified over time is one that offers up a number of conflicting and painful emotions to its readers. We spend a great deal of time getting to know Olivier from a very early age, getting strong details about the five years of his life before the incident with Peter and coming to care for him a great deal. Of course, we also know what is coming, which makes it a very uncomfortable along the way, no matter how much happiness Olivier is experiencing in Peter’s company during those formative times.

What crushes your heart during and after the incident is the absolute perfection in how Ka and Alfred depict a child’s natural ability to compartmentalize and achieve self-deception about the terrible things they have experienced. I’ve seen any number of “denialers” about recovered childhood memories, but it simply takes a read of PETER to understand precisely why memory recovery is pure truth.

The sensitivity with which Ka and Alfred handle this real-life moment is astonishing. And the way the graphic novel plays out, with art eventually giving way to photographs taken of the actual spots where some of the story takes place, is powerful. There will be those who cannot get through the book, overwhelmed by the story and the emotional content, but for those who do, they are in for a unique graphic novel experience.

Marc Mason

SILBER MEDIA MINICOMICS

SILBER MEDIA MINICOMICS
Written by Brian John Mitchell, and Drawn by Mitchell, Melissa Spence Gardner and Kimberlee Traub
Published by Silber Media

In many ways, minicomics are the purest form of comicbook expression. Written and drawn in an artistic form of guerilla theatre, they are photocopied and stapled by people who genuinely love the artform and see it as a way to present their thoughts and ideas and not just as a way to make their name. Whenever I hit a major con, I always put aside a piece of my budget to find and buy new minis. But occasionally, I also receive some in the mail for review, and that was the case with these three minis from Brian John Mitchell. And Mitchell has taken the minicomic to an even more literal place; rather than the usual 8.5 by 5.5 inch mini, these are two inches by two inches, about the size of a matchbook.

XO #4 is the best of the three, a surprising and darkly finny piece of work. A man arrives home from the grocery store to find his female neighbor arguing with her lout of a boyfriend and intervenes against his better nature. What happens from there goes south in a hurry, and the ultimate resolution has a wonderfully black heart in the center of its chest. Melissa Spence Gardner does a terrific job of using the tiny amount of space on the page to its fullest effect, employing her inks diligently to maximize the panels’ ability to move the story forward. One recommendation- I didn’t read the PR about the story ahead of time, and I was glad because it contained a spoiler that would have taken some of the edge off the story. Should you choose to buy one of these, avoid any descriptive text.

Right behind XO in my preference would be WORMS #2. This story, which focuses on a young woman waking to find herself in a nightmarish hospital, fills its pages with tension and dread, and again finds a way to use the small format to positive effect. Artist Kimberlee Traub goes with a more minimalist look, allowing the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks as the girl tries to free herself from what appears to be a horrible fate on the horizon. Mitchell’s script is mining a rich vein of traditional sci-fi horror tropes here, but it doesn’t feel warmed over.

Lastly is LOST KISSES #6, Mitchell’s meditation on whether or not the woman in your life is right for you. It’s a flipbook, presenting the good things on one side and the bad on the other, and while I understood what Mitchell was trying to do (be funny and work out some issues he’s gone through in his past) it just never took hold for me. I felt that way in large part because nothing here felt surprising or revelatory; instead, it felt like old hat- like a supplement to “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Put up against his work in the other two minis, this is definitely the weak sauce in the Mitchell oeuvre.

Marc Mason

HEXED 1

HEXED #1
Written by Michael Alan Nelson and Drawn by Emma Rios
Published by Boom Studios

This is a wonderfully fresh and fun story of a female thief with more than just lock picks up her sleeve. Luci Jenifer Inacio Das Neves, or Lucifer for short, is a cute little Robin Hood-esque bandit who works for a kindly older lady whose jobs are not your average B&E’s.

The book opens with Lucifer heading to work, her internal monologue giving the reader insight into how she does what she does. In the case the title HEXED didn’t tip you off, there is a mystical aspect to how and what Lucifer steals, which we see when she purposely trips the booby trap surrounding her quarry. The amorphous ‘witch hound’ which leaps out of the seemingly standard safe is obviously something you don’t want to shake hands with, and the way Lucifer handles the scary monster is both clever and amusing.

The supporting cast looks to be worthy of a star like Lucifer, with the sharp-tongued yet kind-hearted Val serving as her boss and surrogate family. The villain, Dietrich, is someone from her recent history and shows up to drag Lucifer back into his employ. He’s creepy with just the right amount of bravado and information to rattle our heroine who is trying to escape her less than pristine past, as well as this mysterious hex she suffers under.

Nelson does an absolutely excellent job of injecting a fair amount of quick-witted humor, plus magical creatures and objects, into a classic story of a thief with a good soul who is forced to fall back into shady dealings to protect those she loves. Rios’s artwork is stunning, having a milder anime appearance with some scratchiness to it, while boasting a beautiful blend of colors. The final page achieves the rare prize of making the reader be simultaneously grossed out and completely awed at the bizarre idea, not to mention impatiently eager for the next issue.

Avril Brown

SHRAPNEL 1

SHRAPNEL: ARISTEIA RISING 1
Written by M. Zachary Sherman and Drawn by Bagus Hutomo
Published by Radical Comics

SHRAPNEL takes place in a technologically advanced future world, where humanity has perfected space travel and planetary colonization, thus spreading throughout the rest of the solar system. Due to recent and brutal wars, the Solar Alliance controls all planets except for Venus, which remains a free planet for both helots (non-genetically enhanced humans) and splicers (genetically enhanced humans), even if the helots are still treated like crap.

The book opens a bit differently than one would expect, introducing the reader first to the bad guys rather than the central protagonists. Marines of the Solar Alliance appear to be in the midst of battle, but it is a bit difficult to following the action. Figuring out which side was which in this explosive battle was nigh-impossible, even though the militia supposedly has different armor than the Marines. Eventually the ‘war’ is revealed to be an officer’s training session in the form of a virtual reality simulation to learn how to deal with the planetary militia. Here the reader sees the first glimpse of Sherman’s dry humor when the drill sergeant asks for a reminder of what USMC stands for: “You signed the mother-effin’ contract!”

After learning a bit more about the Marines and some of their fancy weapons with semi-useless acronyms, Sherman brings forth the stars of the book. Stap, Randall (aka Jammer) and Samantha are out on the town when a drunk and belligerent Stap gets insulted by a splicer, and fisticuffs ensue. The whole bar scene is rather amusing and a great way to learn more about the lighter side of the characters first.

Stap seems to be an up-front type of guy; namely what you see is what you get. Jammer is more level headed, while Sam seems to have something wrong with her head, hence the kind of creepy, psychiatrist-like hologram of a little girl she talks to behind closed doors. Sam is running from her past, trying to hide in plain sight, but her camouflage is threatened when the Alliance finally decides to add Venus to its ranks. The president of the planet is another interesting supporting cast member; a charismatic and pretty bad-ass character whom I hope to see more of.

SHRAPNEL is quite the mosaic of many sci-fi ideas, from the idea of a planetary Alliance (‘Firefly’ reference), to war machines borrowed from ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Terminator,’ to a genetic divide like in ‘Gattaca.’ The trick is to blend them into something fresh and original. On the whole this story is a solid concept, the writing is clever and the art is quite a pleasure to view, many panels appearing as paintings in comic book form. There are plot-device holes here and there throughout the story, nothing too unforgivable as long as they remain at a minimum and the things which can be explained will be as the book goes on. The creative team needs to work on scene transitions, and the action panels should have more direction and clarification in order to really pull the reader into the battle. Generally speaking, with Sherman’s wit and a blend of a haunted past, futuristic fights, and a potential romance in the heat of war is plenty to catch and capture one’s attention.

Avril Brown

HYBRID

HYBRID
Written by Peter Kwong and Drawn by Pablo Churin
Published by Studio 407

‘Aliens’ meets ‘Jaws’ in HYBRID, a classic tale of two young couples on spring break in Cancun. They head out for a pleasure cruise and instead encounter a dreaded mythological monster of the sea, intent on hunting down and feasting on every single one of them.

The story starts strong, setting a familiar and entertaining stage. The first two pages are a teaser intro to the horror which initially appears in the form of a deadly black ink cloud, equipped with razor-sharp tentacles and shiny objects to use as bait for unsuspecting divers. Then the two couples are introduced. They are a typical foursome: Ross is a rich, handsome, not-so-bright blonde guy with Carrie, his vapid, hot, blonde girlfriend. Ethan is the poor, good-looking, smart, dark-haired guy with Brooke, the smart, good-looking dark-haired girlfriend. Top it off with a scruffy boat captain full of sarcasm, hooch and well-earned attitude.

Once the crew hits the open water is when the gore really gets going. But first an appropriate level of terror is built up when at the boat of the disappeared diver, a policeman is pulled into the water and emerges missing a leg and some of his viscera. Soon the fun begins for the rest of the cast when they encounter a rusted, abandoned trawler (more than a little cliché). The men are lured aboard the mysterious ship, which is surrounded by an inexplicable cloud of octopus ink, by the sight of a little girl waving to them from the deck. The girlfriends and first mate are left behind, and therefore helplessly watch on as a ‘man’ dressed in loose black leather and holding a wicked knife begins to stalk Ethan, Ross and the captain.

HYBRID is pretty much comprised of bloody action from here on out as Ross escapes the ghost ship and, naturally, proves to be a complete coward. He attempts to ditch the captain and Ethan by outrunning the boat from hell which is a fruitless endeavor as the ‘man’ follows them and is revealed to be a red, scaly, spiky monster of the sea, who proceeds to hunt them down one by one.

Story-wise, HYBRID does not stay as strong as it started, the wit that was present in the early pages somewhat fading as the book goes on. The monster has a local mythical history which does not amount to much aside from it used to be worshipped as a god and fed sacrifices. But it is pretty handy with a harpoon, it can turn into a fish and it seems to alternate between eating its victims and using their parts to decorate its bizarre and gory den, which seems to grow its offspring.

The art is more than decent, and the colors are masterfully done, especially when it came to the ghost ship. The murkiness surrounding those scenes gave them an evil ambiance, allowing readers to get the full creep-factor. The artwork on the chapter title pages really stood out, adding an elegant beauty to the book.

HYBRID is a standard creature feature which delivers pulse-pounding horror thrills that last throughout the book. Further expansion and explanation of the monster character could have added more to the story and added to the general air of terror, but this is still an entertaining read for those who are craving a simple, retro-style, genetically freaky fish tale.

Avril Brown

THE LAST SANE COWBOY

THE LAST SANE COWBOY AND OTHER STORIES
Written and Drawn by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey
Published by AiT/PlanetLar

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

I had the privilege of reading most of this material when it first appeared in Goodbrey’s award-winning minicomics, and I’ll say the same thing now as I did then: if you’re a fan of mind-challenging surrealism, or just like discovering new talent, then you must buy this book. Yesterday. It’s just that good.

While many creative talents like to believe that they are producing surrealist works, a good chunk are deluding themselves; they’re just producing drivel. Goodbrey has it figured out; his work is still penetrable as long as you can match your mind level to his and understand that there’s a genuine idea at the core of his stories.

For instance, take “The House That Wasn’t Her,” which finds a young man coming home and realizing that his home has been replaced by an exact duplicate. As he challenges whatever entity he believes has shifted this part of his existence, you believe him to be mad until suddenly he is proven quite right and is thrust into a place where he can confront his new “demons.” None of it feels even remotely “right”, but it does feel real and lives at peace within its own logic.

Goodbrey’s art is delicious in stark black and white, and his use of photo reference only heightens the reality within his odd ideas. He has also added some “director’s commentary” at the end of the book, explaining some of his choices and the origins of some of his tales. This is AiT’s best release since ROCK BOTTOM, and one I recommend very highly.

Marc Mason

MOUSE GUARD 6

MOUSE GUARD #6
Written and Drawn by David Petersen
Published by Archaia Studios Press

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

The smash miniseries concludes with a bang, as the Guardsmen converge to battle against the forces of the Black Axe and protect their kingdom, Lockhaven, and their matriarch, Gwendolyn. But with three free mice, and one captured, how are they expected to defeat an army?

Early in the series, my one consistent complaint about MOUSE GUARD was the plodding pace at which the story was moving. However, with issue six, Petersen shows that he does know how to pick up some speed and push the story forward at a blistering rate. This issue features a castle siege, a guerilla war within the castle, and multiple sword battles, not to mention a very rousing and fitting conclusion and an ultimate fate for one character that feels like a perfect resolution for the book. Whew! If Petersen can aply these lessons to the coming sequel it should be something amazing to behold.

Like the rest of the series, the book looks incredible. Petersen is an amazing artist, and his use of color continues to only improve. It is also doubly important in this issue, as we have two forces of mice, creatures without a great deal of physical differences, battling one another. The color sets their uniforms apart, as well as the shadings of their respective furs. I still had to pay close attention to detail as I read the book, but it was made as easy for me to do so. It made a huge difference.

Looking back, you’d have to say that this was as unlikely a success as you could imagine. Unknown creator, small indy press, book printed in a non-standard format, animal characters, and a story set over a thousand years ago. But that just goes to show you that sometimes, the odds get defied, and the cream does rise to the top. So hats off to David Petersen, MOUSE GUARD, and Archaia Studios Press for striking gold in a vein that looked very, very dry.

Marc Mason