SHRAPNEL 3

SHRAPNEL: ARISTEIA RISING #3
Written by M. Zachary Sherman and Drawn by Bagus Hutomo
Published by Radical Comics

SHRAPNEL returns in the third and best issue to date, delivering a massively entertaining mix of drama, conflict and romance. With the Alliance and the Venus freedom fighters at a temporary ceasefire, the war action is halted in this issue and character development takes the forefront, keeping up the pace of the book despite the lack of things getting blown up.

Issue #3 opens with Captain Sam Narayan showing Helot soldiers how to honor their fallen friends during war time. Her passionate yet practical speeches are more than enough to make her stand out in a crowd of warriors, both green and experienced. Her obvious skills on the battlefield as a military leader draw her into the central command room where she is offered the commanding position of an entire battalion. After a private conversation with her CG ‘sister’ and giving herself a G.I. Jane new ‘do, Sam finds the strength within herself to do what is needed of her. She leads.

From giving history lessons on battle equipment to orating inspirational speeches for the grunts under her command, Sam is developing into an amazingly strong female character. When faced with a Marine Colonel sent to offer the people of Venus one last chance to surrender, we learn more of Sam’s history with the Alliance and why she’s running from her past, making her even more of an endearing individual. Yet the conversation between these two soldiers will leave readers liking the ardent and intelligent Colonel as well, and wishing this conflict did not have to come to such a bloody conclusion.

Sherman goes above and beyond in this issue, providing excellent and heartfelt dialogue while keeping the story on an even, believable keel. The tension is successfully built in the necessary scenes, while bits of strategically timed humor and romance keep the book from diving too deep into the horrors of wartime.

As with any excellent comic, the art and writing need to be on the same wavelength, and never have Hutomo’s pencils and Sherman’s words flowed together so succinctly than in this issue. With his dramatic angles and grainy lines, Hutomo delivers beautiful panels well suited for such visceral story-telling. If there are science fiction, war story and drama comic fans out there who have yet to pick this up, now is the time to get into SHRAPNEL and enjoy a truly great comic.

Avril Brown

AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM 1

AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM #1
Written by Dwight L. MacPherson and Drawn by Grant Bond
Published by IDW

AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM is a fun, twisted tale of a demented little dwarf named Grimm, who decides he’s had it up to here with the traditional super-hero comic story. So he decides to take matters into his own gnarled hands and drags the audience into a classic comic book, only in this story, thanks to Grimm’s deliciously evil intervention, the bad guys will triumph over the good.

What was originally a videogame which combines fairy tales with guts and gore, GRIMM has successfully made a hysterical segue way into the world of comics. After an amusing and informative introduction given by our host himself, Grimm literally jumps into a comic book where the goody-two-shoes Freedom Friends have just finished delivering another ass-whooping to the not-so-intimidating members of the League of Super Evil. While the L.O.S.E.rs are still licking their wounds, Grimm shows up to save the day by super powering the baddies and leading them into a battle neither side was expecting.

Silly, clever and laugh out loud funny, GRIMM is definitely a worthy read. Any author who spins out lines like “Bloody shit balls, not again!” and “Killer Cock ain’t no chicken!” has got my attention. MacPherson delivers plenty of one-liners and witty banter, keeping the reader either smiling or in stitches nearly every page. Bond’s artwork is a perfect blend of vintage comic panels and Tim Burton-type darkness, and the dramatic curtain borders surrounding Grimm’s world give the book an old-fashioned feel. GRIMM is good for a laugh or ten, and if this is what the creative team can do with superhero comics, one of the easiest mediums to parody, I cannot wait to see what else they have up this curmudgeon-y creature’s sleeve.

Avril Brown

MISS DON’T TOUCH ME

MISS DON’T TOUCH ME
Written by Hubert and Drawn by Kerascoet
Published by NBM

Blanche is a tightly wound young woman working as a maid alongside her sister in 1930s Paris. Agatha, the fun-loving one, is all the family Blanche has in the world. But one night, Agatha sees something she shouldn’t have: the serial killer known as “The Butcher of the Dances” performing his grisly deeds. Bereft of the only thing she cared about, Blanche heads into the city to try and get to the bottom of the killer’s identity, starting by getting herself a job at the brothel where one of the most recent victims was employed. Of course, Blanche being a virgin and wishing to remain that way presents a bit of a problem for the girl’s employment prospects. But the madam has an idea for how Blanche can keep herself in pristine condition. And that will give her the space and time she needs to find her sister’s murderer.

MISS DON’T TOUCH ME is one of the most interesting blends of wickedly dark humor and grisly gore in recent memory. The script makes no bones about its brothel setting and the goings on at such a place, reveling in some wonderfully smutty humor, and the interpersonal relations between the employees, friendships and jealousies alike, pop off the page with a razor-edged wit. Yet the underlying violence revolving around the terrible crimes being committed is never wavered from, nor is it downplayed. There is a serial killer of young women on the loose, and we must be reminded of that on occasion. But the key to both the blood and the sex is that not one single bit of it ever feels gratuitous.

Instead, Hubert’s story and script work overtime to make Blanche’s journey as a woman growing into herself and as a woman looking to right the wrong of her sibling’s death both remain at the forefront of the book. The husband and wife team of Kerascoet do a fantastic job of creating the world and defining the characters for the reader as the story progresses. This material couldn’t be much farther away from the DUNGEON series (where North American readers have seen their work previously) but it is powerfully effective in exploring Blanche’s life.

It’s almost ridiculous how NBM seems to keep finding brilliant work to translate for American audiences, but it’s a gift I hope keeps giving. MISS DON’T TOUCH ME is highly recommended.

Marc Mason

MASQUERADE 1 – DEAD IRONS 1

MASQUERADE 1-DEAD IRONS 1
Written by Phil Hester and Drawn by Carlos Paul
Written by James Kuhoric and Drawn by Jason Shawn Alexander
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Two new numbers ones from the folks at Dynamite…

Alex Ross’ PROJECT SUPERPOWERS universe continues to expand with MASQUERADE, which focuses on the resourceful female heroine introduced in the first PS miniseries. Written by the criminally underrated Phil Hester, Masquerade is portrayed as a woman whose bravery is matched only by her ability to think her way through a crisis. She’s clever, tough, and not going to stand idly by in the face of sexism from her fellow heroes, either. I was fairly lukewarm on the main series, and the first two ancillary minis haven’t set me on fire, but I really enjoyed MASQUERADE. Carlos Paul’s art is gorgeous, the script is sharp… and the story plays at a human level. It also avoids cheesecake, making it friendly for male and female readers alike. This was a very pleasant surprise, and it should find its way towards becoming top-of-the-stack rather quickly.

DEAD IRONS is a supernatural western, about as far away from MASQUERADE’s classic superheroics as possible. Three siblings that happen to be creatures of the night spend their time working as bounty hunters, enjoyably focusing on the “dead” in “dead or alive.” But as they do their work, they are pursued by a fourth sibling looking to end their adventures. What sets DEAD IRONS apart is Alexander’s art- this is very stylish work, flooded with malevolence and pain, well-inspired by the book’s art director, Jae Lee. Story-wise, it feels a bit on the slight side; not a whole lot happens here, and you have to parse what’s going on carefully in order to make sure you’re following what’s happening. It was a rare case when I’d have like to seen a bit more text and less subtlety. There’s a wealth of potential in the book; it just may take a bit more time to see it come to its fruition.

Both series have their merits, and could certainly find success in the market. But if I had to bet on one right now, I’d guess MASQUERADE will have an easier time finding its footing- superheroes and the Alex Ross connection are a tough combo to beat. Hopefully, DEAD IRONS will be able to find its fanbase quickly and start catching the buzz. If so, both should do long, health stints on the shelves.

Marc Mason

MISSING THE BOAT

MISSING THE BOAT
Written by Justin Shady and Drawn by Dwellephant
Published by Image Comics

The Churamane were perhaps the laziest species to ever walk the planet Earth. No matter how pressing or important something might have been, it always waited until a good, solid nap had been completed. So it’s no surprise that they became extinct. But the story of how they became extinct has never been told until now. And it all boils down to one simple sentence: they missed the boat.

The boat in question being Noah’s Ark, of course. The letter giving them the directions to the Ark, the deadline for arrival, and all appropriate information arrived with plenty of time to spare. But for George and Gladys, the chosen Churamanes, that just quite isn’t enough. And this is their story.

This charming little hardcover genuinely surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. MISSING THE BOAT is a definite departure in tone for writer Justin Shady (a/k/a Wayne Chinsang), eschewing the darkly twisted vision of his books like THE ROBERTS and BAD IDEAS. Illustrator Dwellephant turns in some absolutely lovely pages, fit for a children’s book but also capable of engaging the adult reader with his use of color and gift for creating wondrous creatures. I was sucked in by both the script and the art very quickly, feeling warmed by how well they worked in concert with one another.

Ultimately, the best reason to pick up MISSING THE BOAT is because not only is it funny (damned funny, really), but it’s also heartwarming and tragic. The characters know what’s eventually coming for them, and you do as well, but the journey they take along the way is one I was pleased to be on. You will be too.

Marc Mason

PROJECT ELOHIM

PROJECT ELOHIM
Written by Rebecca Hicks and Drawn by Eliseu Gouveia
Published by Lunasea Studios

Caitlain Donald is pretty much your average Penn State coed. She goes to class, pays her rent, and tries to have a little fun here and there. You wouldn’t notice anything even remotely odd about here, really. Except, of course, her ability to use her mind to affect the emotions of others, including projecting emotions into them in order to change their behavior. But aside from that… normal. However, her normal existence is shattered when her old friend Brian shows up and asks her to join a little group made of up other folks with unusual powers. That puts her on the radar for a number of other people, people with questionable motives. Whatever will Caitlain do?

PROJECT ELOHIM is a book I found at Phoenix Comicon, one of those books we’re going to see more of over the next few years as Diamond gets stingier about what it will list in PREVIEWS. This is a fully self-published, print-on-demand book, which tends to be the type of thing I look for at a convention. Of course, many of these efforts can be a bit of a mixed bag, so the question is: how does PROJECT ELOHIM fare? And the answer is:

Better than I would have expected, to be truthful.

Don’t get me wrong: nothing about the plot screams out “originality”, and Gouveia’s art, while clear and concise in its storytelling, is rather stiff for an action book. Backgrounds aren’t a strength, either. But… two things jumped out at me as really working.

The first is the character of Caitlain. She’s funny, she’s smart, and she’s a realist about what’s going on around her. She stays strong in the face of the things that begin happening to her after Brian returns to her life. Going along with that, Rebecca Hicks’ script is actually kinda sharp. Her dialogue pops off the page (“You are bonafide man candy. What scary thing chased you into a gym?”) and serves to make you like the characters even more. I enjoyed reading PROJECT ELOHIM more than I enjoyed looking at it, if that makes sense.

This collection brings together the first three issues of the series, which has been coming out in pamphlet format. My advice to the creators: drop the floppies and head straight to the graphic novel at this point. Easier to sell a ten dollar GN with a complete story than four floppies with the hopes people will look you up on the net and buy more.

Marc Mason

CONNECTIVE TISSUE

CONNECTIVE TISSUE
Written and Drawn by Bob Fingerman
Published by Fantagraphics

CONNECTIVE TISSUE is a novella which has been described as the mutant offspring of several famously warped authors such as Lewis Carroll and H.P. Lovecraft, and it certainly lives up to its reputation. Reading like a pornographic children’s book on acid, Fingerman weaves a tale so twisted impossible to forget, even if you tried.

Meet Darla Vogel, a semi-bitter video store clerk who has carved out an interesting niche in life, complete with a permanently baked roommate and her cannabis-infused cat, a boss who is part Jackie Chan and part Kim Chan, and a nerdy, underage little Asian horn dog who likes to create meat flavored chews. No stranger to the phrase ‘weird as shit,’ Darla’s definition is put to the test as she embarks on a journey more fucked up than a David Lynch film.

After several unforgettably hilarious chapters of introductions to Darla’s life and her supporting cast members, the outright belly-laughs slow down a bit but are still intertwined with Darla’s peculiar tumble down the randy, Ritalin-laced rabbit hole. Transported to an unknown world via a claw-like hand reaching out from one of her wall posters, our reluctant, socially un-apologetic heroine attempts to navigate her way through a city of nudists, jellyfish sidekicks, literal blockheads and tentacles which sprout from vaginas growing out of the ground.

With two to three pages of text followed by one to two pages of art, CONNECTIVE TISSUE is structured like the books made for kiddies who are old enough to read entire books but still like/need to look at pretty pictures to get the whole story, which makes the gross humor and perverted imagery that much more potent. The exaggerated features on Darla in the illustrations perfectly match her literary picture, as does everything else described in the book; one of the perks of having immense talent as both author and artist.

CONNECTIVE TISSUE is a book with something for everyone who lacks a strong sense of Amish values. Chock filled with one-liners guaranteed to split a side or two, as well as enough sexual references to make Freud bite his tongue, this book will go down in the annals (pun most certainly intended) of literary/comic history as a perversely hysterical book which delivers a ‘shroom trip sans the nasty taste in one’s mouth, but instead leaves a dirty stain on one’s brain.

Avril Brown

SHRAPNEL 2

SHRAPNEL: ARISTEIA RISING #2
Written by M. Zachary Sherman and Drawn by Bagus Hutomo
Published by Radical Comics

The action-packed second issue of SHRAPNEL opens with Sam, a former Marine on the run from her bloody past, having a change of heart about ditching the battle and conveniently crash landing right in front of her drinking buddies. Like a true solider, she exits the wreck in warrior mode, immediately organizing the men and sharing information on how best to take down the invading Marines. The commanding officer on site recognizes her superior fighting skills and knowledge of the enemy, and before getting blown up tells her to seek out General Rowland if they want to survive.

Reluctant to re-enter the hostile world of war she’d tried to leave behind, Sam nonetheless has committed herself to the cause and futilely attempts to persuade the ignorant General Rowland to follow more modern battle strategies, ones she used countless times as a Marine. Not surprisingly the general dismisses her and leads his men into a trap while her shell-shocked friends, not entirely grasping the idea of Sam’s true identity, still respond to her authoritative tone.

Determined to deflect the upcoming slaughter, Sam takes her own contingent of men to the battle. Naturally it is almost too late before the dying general comprehends his folly and rectifies it by placing Sam in complete charge of the Venus resistance army, and despite her continued hesitancy to be a leader she becomes one anyway, and her decisive actions allow the rag-tag rebels a temporary victory against the invading Marines.

The celebration is short-lived as one of Sam’s secrets is revealed, forever changing the way Randall views his friend, lover and commanding officer. Samantha Vijaya Narayan is forced to take up the mantle of leader and face her former conflicts, while her current successful campaign has put the brains behind the attacking army on red alert.

Many of the plot devices in SHRAPNEL are pretty standard, with old conflicts affecting new relationships, overconfident conquerors and stubborn old men not acknowledging their mistakes until it costs them their lives. Standard does not translate to stale, however, and Sherman’s writing is working for this comic. He gives reference to wars of old, giving the futuristic book a grounding in reality, though he does need to be mindful of character consistency. In one scene Randall defends Sam’s secrecy and two panels later turns around and interrogates her with the slightest invitation. As with the last issue, Hutomo’s battle scenes are initially difficult to follow due to the lack of facial detail when the characters are in full body armor. After the second reading it becomes more clear as to who is getting shot to pieces, but the hazy colors draped over dramatic pencils still makes for immensely attractive work on every page. For those craving a classic tale of the bloody price of freedom, look no further than SHRAPNEL.

Avril Brown

CITY OF DUST 4

CITY OF DUST #4
Written by Steve Niles and Drawn by Zid
Published by Radical Comics

CITY OF DUST continues to deliver a creative and fast paced story illustrated with top quality artwork, keeping the reader devoted to the book as it unfolds. This issue opens with a room full of suits observing images from the grisly murders of several top council members, and discussing the best course of action now that a pattern has been established among the victims. The staunch members of the council, men who do their best to convince the world to live a bland and unimaginative existence, are forced to admit they are being stalked and slaughtered by fantastical monstrosities.

Next we catch up with Khrome, who is getting the full history of the machine men and bloody thirsty monsters straight from COD’s version of Dr. Frankenstein, the supposed founder of modern society, Henry Ajax. The good doctor explains his motivation to create fairy tale creatures and cyborgs as protection from the evil council members hell bent on destroying his life and career. In addition he reveals himself to be not one hundred percent human, his brain being the only living tissue in his synthetic body. Given what he’s faced in the last couple of days, Khrome handles all of this relatively well, yet a man can only take so much. When Ajax admits to having sent his creatures after the men responsible for his exile, Khrome decides he’s heard enough from the mad scientist and seeks answers from his own past by visiting the father he landed in jail many years ago.

The father/son reunion is absolutely perfect for the tone of the book, brief and to the point with a dose of the sarcastic humor prevalent throughout the series. Khrome gets enough information from his father to set him on the path of discovery, while in the meantime Ajax gets a lesson in logic from his one of his own creations. The irony of this world is brought into focus in this scene as the monster is the voice of reason and the ‘human’ continues to cling to twisted and vengeful thinking.

Niles continues to spin a darkly amusing tale and does an excellent job of fleshing out the character’s history while setting the stage for an explosive upcoming climax. Zid continues to put his talents to good use, creating beautiful spreads and aerial views of this technologically advanced world. The two page spread of the council conference room, filled will several glowing screens floating and/or mounted around the area, creates a futuristic and multi-dimensional feel to the book. The only flaw in this issue was the major faux-pas of misaligned panels. On several pages the words bubbles were cut off, an annoying mistake but thankfully the only blemish marring this fantastic series.

Avril Brown

BLAZING COMBAT

BLAZING COMBAT
Art and Scripts by Wallace Wood for “The Battle of Britain”, Art by Russ Heath and Script by Archie Goodwin for “Give and Take”, Art by Joe Orlando and Script by Archie Goodwin for “Landscape”
Published by Fantagraphics

BLAZING COMBAT is a collection of war stories from the 1970’s Warren magazine, two taking place in WWII and one set during Vietnam, and each one with a different view on war and its consequences. Poignant and tragic, inspiring and depressing, BLAZING COMBAT gives an insightful glimpse into the bloody battles that have plagued this world.

‘The Battle of Britain’ introduces us to a young RAF pilot, about to see his first action in war. Initially he lets his fear of combat affect the squadron, but he gets another chance to fight for his country, and what first appeared to be an English defeat turns into the first major loss for Germany. The RAF is saved by the temporary cessation of German invasion, and England, charged with renewed confidence, takes the offensive.

‘Give and Take’ is a story of a skirmish in the mountainous terrain of Italy between a group of American soldiers and Nazis and begs the question: What is worth dying for? While attempting hold a farmhouse against the Germans, an American soldier finds a rare bottle of wine but accidentally leaves it behind when forced to take cover from an assault. He goes back for it, attempting to leave with both the wine and his life. Both fell, one to enemy fire, the other to the rage of a comrade in arms who was unable to save his friend from the Germans or himself.

‘Landscape’ is perhaps the most difficult story to read in this collection. An old man wants nothing more than to tend to his rice paddy and live his life in peace. Even as war in its many forms is repeatedly thrust upon him, he continues to try and grow his rice. Bit by bit war takes everything he has: his village, his family, and eventually, his life and his rice, which to him were one and the same.

Three stories of struggle in dark times, of hope when hope was thought to be lost, of the devastation as well as the liberation that war brings to the people and the land. The slightly corny dialogue in ‘Battle for Britain’ and the general overabundance of exclamation points is representative of the times and does nothing to distract from the elegant honesty in all of the scripts, particularly in ‘Landscape.’ The artwork on all three stories is ageless, Heath’s work especially given his skill with shading and facial details. Significantly moving, this book is a painful and necessary read for those sensitive to the atrocities and realism of war and should be required reading for high school history classes.

Avril Brown