2 FROM NBM/PAPERCUTZ

TWO FROM NBM/PAPERCUTZ
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by NBM and Papercutz

Let’s take a look at a couple of new books from the folks at NBM and their Papercutz subsidiary, shall we?

I’ve been enjoying Papercutz’ resurrection of the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED books, so I had high hopes when the latest edition, THE RAVEN AND OTHER POEMS by Edgar Allan Poe arrived in my mailbox. Seeing the name of Gahan Wilson attached as the artist only whetted my appetite even more. So I was rather surprised to put the book down upon finishing and realize that I felt somewhat disappointed by this effort. Certainly, Wilson’s illustration work is excellent; the problem comes in that this book feels like a cheat to its format. The CI brand is known for turning into comics some of the great works of literature; however, Wilson does not do this at all. Instead, he simply adds evocative illustrations alongside the text of Poe’s work. If the book weren’t part of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED, I’d have had no problem with that; but because it is, I cannot give it my full endorsement- this is not really CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED as it is supposed to work. If you’re just looking for an accessible book of Poe’s work, this will work fine for you. But if you’re expecting a comic or graphic novel, you’ll be disappointed.

On the flip side comes a third installment from the Zenith Era of DUNGEON. “Back In Style” is written by the always amazing team of Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim and drawn by Boulet, and puts the focus squarely on Herbert the warrior duck. The Dungeon Keeper loses ownership of the facility, sending Herbert and Marvin on a mission back to the city of Herbert’s birth on a perilous mission… which is doubly more perilous since there is an order to behead Herbert if he ever sets foot in the town again. Throw in a funny love story, a powerful battle that finds Marvin up against impossible odds, and a fight to overthrow a Duke-dom, and you get one of the best DUNGEON books yet. The Zenith books have been my favorite in the series, though they are a bit lighter in spirit than the melancholy and emotionally more powerful efforts in the Twilight era. I’ve never done anything less than offer my maximum recommendation for any DUNGEON book, though, and I’m not about to stop now. These books are as good as comics gets.

Marc Mason

THE BOYS: DEFINITIVE EDITION VOL 1

THE BOYS: DEFINITIVE EDITION VOLUME ONE
Written by Garth Ennis and Drawn by Darick Robertson
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

I don’t typically review “premium” products here at CWR for a couple of basic reasons. One- I don’t get many of those types of products sent to me for review. And two- I don’t really have the money to purchase these types of products for my own personal collection. So it’s an odd, but extremely happy, occasion to be sitting here looking at and reviewing THE BOYS: DEFINITIVE EDITION VOL.1.

For those who don’t know, THE BOYS is Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s absolute literary sodomization of superheroes and their story tropes. In the beginning, we meet a nice gentleman named Hughie and the woman he loves. But their idyllic afternoon is shattered when a super-powered conflict leaves the poor woman as nothing but a bloodstain embedded in a wall and Hughie left holding what is left of her arm. That brings him to the notice of a man named Butcher, who runs a secret group of agents dedicated to putting rogue superheroes in their proper place, and Hughie, hoping to prevent anyone else from ever having to go through what he went through, joins up with the cause. Some raunchy sex and stunning graphic violence follows.

What makes THE BOYS so good can be hard to boil down to any sort of simple description. Is it Ennis’ palpable contempt for superheroes and the tropes that surround their adventures? Or is it his gift for creating characters you can genuinely care about? Hughie is someone you feel like you know, and he’s the moral conscience of the group- and let’s face it, since The Boys are just barely “better” than some of the supers they go after, the book can walk a very fine line. Ennis also has a sly gift for romance, taking Hughie through a new relationship gently and peacefully.

Or is it Robertson’s art? His talent for depicting people who look more real than you see in typical superhero books? The way he dives into the gruesome violence and sexuality of the story and makes you feel what’s happening on the page? One thing is for sure about his art in this DEFINITIVE EDITION- blown up to larger size and printed on this terrific paper stock, it’s never looked better. Robertson is the artist of my favorite graphic novel series of all-time (TRANSMETROPOLITAN) and I’ve been reading his work since he entered the field on APACHE DICK, and he still finds ways to astonish and impress me.

This over-sized, slip-cased hardcover collects the first fourteen issues of the book (the first two trade paperbacks, if you’re counting), plus a nice selection of extras: an Ennis script, a short story done for the CBLDF, character development sketches by Robertson, and Simon Pegg’s introduction to volume one (Hughie is physically based upon the actor). So while I don’t do much in the way of “premium” books, this is one that is well worth the money and will always have a place on my shelves. For mature fans of quality comics, I recommend it highly.

Marc Mason

2 FROM 407

2 FROM 407
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Studio 407

Catching up on the backlog…

HAVOC BRIGADE #1 is written by Neil Marshall Stevens and drawn by Rafael Ortiz. After an advanced battle suit helps put an end to conflict in a (future) war-ravaged Europe, the commander of the soldiers who wore the suits take the news of its planned obsolescence quite badly. Really, really badly. That leaves the one soldier who missed their final appearance alone against a madman with a death wish and the world’s most dangerous weapon. HAVOC feels like one of those properties which might have originally been thought of as a big-screen effort but needed a proof-of-concept via its comic book. It’s not bad by any stretch; it’s competently executed, the art is smooth, and nothing about offends. But you can’t deny a certain feeling like you’ve seen it before, either. I know that, even without any advanced p.r., I could smell what was going to happen from a mile away. Wouldn’t surprise me to see it optioned soon, if it hasn’t been already.

On the flip side, NETHERWORLD #1-2 are a perfect example of taking a tired formula and injecting some new life into it. Writer Chad Jones and artist R.B. Silva introduce us to a crew of futuristic soldiers on their way to investigate why an entire colony of their greatest enemy’s has suddenly dropped dead for seemingly no reason. Along the way they conscript a scientist and her partner in order to use her expertise about the bad guys. With shades of ALIENS and PITCH BLACK (to name a few) you know the drill going in, but the creative team does a solid job of giving you a couple of strong characters to care about amidst all the cannon fodder. One of my earliest reactions to this book was that it actually wouldn’t be that expensive to pull off a live-action adaptation, thanks to the enemy colony having very little in the way of infrastructure except rubble. Wannabe producers take note- that’s how you save a little more money for better special effects. Of all the Studio 407 books I’ve seen and read to date, this was the one I enjoyed the most.

Marc Mason

BUCK ROGERS 0

BUCK ROGERS #0
Written by Scott Beatty and Drawn by Carlos Rafael
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Buck Rogers exists as one of those classic iconic characters, one which, when you hear is name, you automatically have an idea in your head of what he’s all about: he’s the spaceman who woke up 500 years in the future. Most recently (and I use that term loosely), he starred in his own NBC television series in the early 1980s. Gil Gerard played the character with wit and charm, but network meddling and poor writing saw the production go down in flames. Buck’s earliest popular incarnation came as the star of movie serials fifty years prior to the Gerard effort. In short- while the character has survived and remained popular for decades, he hasn’t always been present. And with that lack of presence comes a lack of many pre-conceived notions.

Certainly, today’s fanboy will be reasonably familiar with the Gerard version. But as Dynamite takes on the property, they have an opportunity to do something truly new with the character. The question is: do they do just that? Or do they blow it? And the answer is: BUCK ROGERS is something completely different than what we’ve seen before. That’s a very good thing.

Chief among the improvements: a lack of budget issues to take away from making Buck’s future life a vivid and intriguing one. In this short introductory chapter, we meet Buck as he’s battling creatures from the Ganymedian Armada; the Ganymedians are amoeba-like creatures, lacking any form that we would recognize as human or bipedal. This alone would tax or break a television production. However, that isn’t all: this Buck is a father, he’s a bit more taciturn, and he has a look/design that make him feel contemporary and removes the excesses that Hollywood has placed on the character in the past.

Writer Scott Beatty and artist Carlos Rafael turn out a Buck Rogers who feels like someone we’ve never met before, though he seems familiar. This is sort of the makeover that Battlestar Galactica got, but in comic book form. If it can reach that series’ level of quality, Dynamite will have struck gold.

Marc Mason

JAN’S ATOMIC HEART

JAN’S ATOMIC HEART
Written and Drawn by Simon Roy
Published by New Reliable Press

Set in the far off future in Frankfurt, JAN’S ATOMIC HEART is a rather tragic tale of war, rebellion, and the people who get caught in the middle. Although this is not necessarily a deep and detailed story, it is still very affecting and leaves the reader pensive and more than a little bummed out.

The book opens on Anders Stauad, out for a morning jog. He passes by dilapidated buildings, holes in the ground and police tanks parked on the sidewalks before meeting his friend Jan Nilssen for breakfast. Jan’s seen better days as he was recently in a car accident and is currently walking around in a robotic prosthetic form until insurance can get him a new human body. Robots are interspersed throughout the story as wait staff behind a coffee counter, or as co-workers in Andres’s case, and the casual conversation that flows between the two ‘men’ makes it easy to go along with the idea of robots as part of society and metal loaner bodies. When Anders points out the model Jan is currently sporting was recently used as a terrorist bomb in the latest skirmish between the Lunar Unionist Party and the United Nations, a nervous and suspicious Jan decides to do some investigating into his hardware. The more of the truth he discovers, the more he wishes he didn’t, and by the end of the story I felt my heart break along with Jan’s atomic one.

Although we are never given details as to the whys behind the politics and warring factions, the lack of history does not detract from the story. JAN’S ATOMIC HEART is not about why the Lunar terrorists rebelled against the government, or about good guys versus bad guys. This is a story of an innocent guy and his sheer rotten luck. Roy has created a story that is stunning in its simplicity, both in words and pencils. The casual artistry is beautifully done, at times resembling a watercolor painting in shades of gray. The almost haphazard lettering matches the art and story perfectly, helping to create the overall effect of a deceptively basic book with enough complexity between the covers to crawl under your skin and leave a lasting impression of sacrifice and sorrow.

Avril Brown

IRREDEEMABLE 1

IRREDEEMABLE #1
Written by Mark Waid and Illustrated by Peter Krause
Published by
BOOM! Studios

If you are looking for one of the most darkly disturbing ‘superhero’ books on the market today, look no further than IRREDEEMABLE. Waid has created a chilling tale of a hero gone wrong, and the damage he does to the lives and spirits of the people who once called him friend.

Waid holds nothing back as the book opens on a panicked man in costume, desperately trying to wake his family and get them to safety. His efforts are for naught, however, as the person he dreads arrives to incinerate his wife and infant before his very eyes. He makes a last ditch effort to save the life of his daughter Sarah and instead is burnt still pleading for her life. One of the creepiest parts I have ever read in a comic follows, as The Plutonian, former world famous and beloved hero, and current murderer, asks young Sarah if she knows who he is before whispering the answer in her ear: “I’m a superhero.”

A week has passed and The Plutonian’s former allies are gathered around a young man named Sam, trying to get him to remember as much as he can about his former partner and what could have possibly happened to bring about this ominous alteration in character. Sam’s memories are shaky and inconsistent, but enough flashback story is told to show how much they all loved and respected The Plutonian, and how fearful they are of the monster he’s become.

The art and coloring in this book are magnificent, each character has a stunningly unique look and ability which is captured beautifully in each panel. Krause’s amazing pencils add so much to Waid’s characters and dramatic story, giving them aesthetic pleasing shapes and scenarios. The soft, pastel colors of the happy memories of how The Plutonian used to be contrast sharply with the dark, noir color scheme of the opening pages and the unsettling cemetery scenes. Complete with an afterword by Grant Morrison who had a few choice words to say about this book, IRREDEMABLE is an enigmatically twisted tale which grasps your attention from the first page and refuses to let you go, dragging your willing mind along for one scary as hell look at a superhero who’s forgotten the meaning of the word.

Avril Brown

DYNAMO 5 #21

DYNAMO 5 #21
Written by Jay Faerber, Art by Mahmud A. Asrar and Ron Riley
Published by Image Comics

Generally speaking I tend to shy away from jumping into the middle of an ongoing series without knowing any of the back story, but thankfully in this case issue #21 is a good starting point for new DYNAMO readers.

In true superhero style, this issue opens with the Dynamo team descending on a skirmish between juiced up drug addicts and mounted police officers. I’m a big fan of heroes who look out for animals, so Bridget’s comment to the bad guys about how she understands getting violent with the cops but not the horses had me smiling. Once the baddums are beaten and the cops are safe, the team retreats back home as it is date night for some of the young superheroes. While things heat up between Visionary and his fiery lady, Bridget tries out internet dating and meets her blind date in a coffee shop. Things seem to be going well for both couples, but certain truths come to light which may be insurmountable obstacles for one of them.

Other secrets are revealed in this issue, and as a new reader some are lost on me, while the potential impact of others are clear as day. The big reveal at the end of the issue is like the theater masks, both dramatic and comedic. Perhaps if I’d known more about both the heroes and this (new?) master villain I’d have more respect, but without past knowledge I have to judge by my first impression, and his appearance leans more towards amusing rather than terrifying.

The art is in classic superhero style, clear and functional with a bit of extra pizzazz for the fight scenes, and complete with cute people in sexy costumes. Being new to the characters, Asrar’s detailed pencils for each unique individual make it easy to figure out who’s who, whether in costume or not. The coloring kicks ass as well, creating an appropriate mood and atmosphere for each scene. DYNAMO is a fun book which will appeal to many who enjoy reading about the lives and loves of a diverse team of super powered heroes.

Avril Brown

SUPER ZOMBIES 1-2

SUPER ZOMBIES #1-2
Written by Marc Guggenheim and Vince Gonzales and Drawn by Mel Rubi
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

A virus has begun to spread across the globe, leading to a new class of being called “Revivers.” But you and I would call them zombies, and they certainly act like the legendary creatures- particularly their taste for human flesh. But on this world, the problem is a bit more exacerbated- among those infected are the world’s superheroes. Some of those heroes embrace their new “gift”; others are doing their best to find a cure for the virus, even as they must sate their carnivorous desires. And in the middle of it all, there is one lone hero who seems to be immune, making him the key to a cure. If only he weren’t missing… and surrounded by a throng of cannibalistic killers who don’t care the slightest about “fixing” what ails them.

I can’t think of a book in recent memory that I’ve had more of a wildly varied response to. To be blunt: I couldn’t stand issue one of this title. There was too much plot, there were too many characters being introduced, and too many flashbacks and flash-forwards going on- none of it held together and made sense to me. Throw in zombie fatigue, and I was ready to write the book off quickly if issue two didn’t turn things around.

Funny thing- issue two is pretty good.

In fact, a good chunk of the exposition and plot we got in issue one is present again here in issue two. The characters are defined better, the world the concept is built upon is made more interesting, and the creators get right to the point rather than wasting time with a pointless fight as they did to open issue one. Issue two makes so much more sense than issue one and is so much more readable that I’ll make a statement that sounds bizarre: you can skip the first issue of this book entirely and you’re not really missing anything at all.

Believe me, it’s rare that I’d make that statement, but I promise you it’s true. Guggenheim and Gonzales use Jim Shooter’s oldest “rule” of writing a comic (“Every issue is someone’s first.”) and it works. You can jump right in with issue two and get what’s going on just fine. You wanna read about super-powered zombies? Start with issue two and you’re all set.

I should hasten to add that Mel Rubi’s work in issue two is also a bit less murky than it was in issue one as well, making the book look a bit cleaner on the art side as well. Honestly, after the first issue, I was expecting that SUPER ZOMBIES would be one of those books that’s a chore to get through. Now, it looks like it’s potential is wide open. Who’d have think it, eh?

Marc Mason

GET ANIMATED!

GET ANIMATED!
Written by Tim Maloney
Published by Watson-Guptill

“How To” books can be a bit of a mixed bag. Many of them allow you to walk away feeling stupider than when you started. But on occasion, you read one, put it down, and feel a bit more confident that you might actually be able to accomplish what the text was trying to teach. GET ANIMATED! is one of those books.

That accessibility is rather important as it pertains to this book. CWR’s Matt Maxwell is a professional who understands the kind of stuff that Tim Maloney is talking about and can do in his sleep. But for myself, who has always focused his creative endeavors textually, the book needed to carry me from the very basics of putting together an idea for animation all the way through producing the final result for others to watch.

Maloney does indeed start from scratch, first devoting time and pages to coming up with a solid idea to animate. Whether it’s free-writing, word clustering, dream journaling, or using pre-existing works in new ways, it doesn’t matter- at heart, your project must have a solid concept to build upon or the audience won’t pay attention to it. From there he dives into scripting, narrative elements and storyboarding; all things that must be done before you begin to animate a project.

In fact, it’s this level of detail that sets this book apart. Other books of this nature have been more prone to omitting the focus on having the written story in favor of diving straight into using software.

Later chapters discuss sound, timing, editing, layout, and finishing the entire product for viewing. What Maloney does not do is focus on any one software; wisely, he offers up some suggestions for different programs you might try, but he understands that various programs will work better for people depending on their personal computer and level of technical proclivity.

The icing on the cake for GET ANIMATED! is the inclusion of a tutorial DVD that demonstrates many of the techniques discussed in the book so that you can get a visual idea of how things should look on screen (the one that discusses camera placement and movement is particularly excellent). The DVD also contains a number of actual cartoons that show strong technique, as well as live links to various sites where you can download free animation software packages on the web.

So if you’re considering taking that next step as a creative force, you would be well-advised to check out this book. From start to finish it offers up strong guidance in helping you make the best possible project. Highly recommended.

Marc Mason

WOLVERINE: PRODIGAL SON VOL.1

WOLVERINE: PRODIGAL SON VOL 1
Written by Antony Johnston and Drawn by Wilson Tortosa
Published by Del Rey

As a kid, my favorite comics character by far was Wolverine. The “cool factor” surrounding the character and his mysterious origins was incredible, and Chris Claremont wrote him as a near-perfect blend of hero and edgy psycho so as to make him unpredictable and thrilling. Then the worst possible thing happened: he began guest-starring all over the place, and wherever he went, sales rose dramatically. So Wolvering began appearing in more and more places, his background got more and more confused, and the golden goose got cooked for Sunday dinner.

Need proof? Take a look at Marvel’s output these days and tell me how many books Wolverine regularly appears in. Go on- I’ll wait right here, though it may take hours to get an accurate count.

All this is to say that Wolverine is an over-exposed, uninteresting character as it pertains to Marvel Comics these days. I’d rather read a comic about the woman who makes his hair stand up like that than buy a copy of WOLVERINE. The only times the character works anymore are in the movies, where we get Hugh Jackman’s dead-on and charismatic take on the character, and…

Right here in this original English-language manga.

Writer Antony Johnston is freed from the Marvel labyrinth of continuity surrounding the character and allowed to start him from scratch. Here, he’s a teenager (and a rebellious one), learning how to fight at a martial arts academy removed from civilization. He’s keeping his claws a secret, in part because he knows nothing about his past. But like many young people, he’s anxious to discover his place in the world, which sets him up for a showdown with his sensei about a trip to New York City. This being Wolverine, of course there is great peril in store once he leaves the safety and comfort of home, both for him and for those he fights and learns alongside (including the girl he’s afraid to say he loves).

This fresh take on the character, missing all the baggage Marvel has piled on his back over the past twenty years, makes Wolverine feel almost like a new character. While some of his traditional motifs are present, many are not, and Johnston doesn’t seem obligated to use them. Instead, he goes about building Logan as a genuinely interesting youth trying to find his place in the world. You get a greater sense that the plot could go anywhere it wants, because the X-Men, Alpha Flight, and Avengers don’t have to be accounted for. Aided by some fine work by Tortosa, whose work looks so Japanese that it’s astonishing, WOLVERINE: PRODIGAL SON does something that I wasn’t sure possible at this point: make Wolverine (as a character) feel relevant and interesting again, and not like a cash cow being sent from pasture to pasture to mate with every animal in sight. For any fan who has been away from the character for a while, or for someone who likes the movie and wants to test the graphic waters surrounding Jackman’s work, this is $13 that will be well-spent.

Marc Mason