JOHNNY HIRO

JOHNNY HIRO
Written and Drawn by Fred Chao
Published by AdHouse Books

I’m a little jaded these days when it comes to comics, and frankly it takes a lot to get me excited. But when I went to the post office recently and saw a package of review books from Chris Pitzer’s always excellent AdHouse Books line, I got a little twinge. And when I opened it to find the trade paperback collection of JOHNNY HIRO?

Yeah- that gave me a charge.

A couple of years ago, when the first issue of JOHNNY came out, I fell head over heels in love with it. It was a masterpiece of pop art, combining giant monsters, romance, New York City cultural ridiculousness, and wrapped in enough charm to make even the grumpiest person smile. I referred to it as “pure, unadulterated genius” and I meant it. Issue two hit, and it was another smash, playing slickly off of chase flicks, Jackie Chan movies, rent control problems, and Anthony Bourdain. Fred Chao was clearly someone to keep a permanent eye on. A third issue rolled around, and then things went a bit quiet. Diamond jacked up its benchmarks, and I personally feared for the book’s future. But not to worry; Chao has brought together issues one through three and what would have been issues four and five, as well as some one-page strips in this indispensible collection.

What else does he deliver? Giant fish (“Smack My Fish Up”- oi!), car chases, sushi rolling, a rollicking parody of NIGHT COURT, David Byrne, the inspirational words of Gwen Stefani… the list goes on. JOHNNY HIRO is so full of pop that you worry it might explode. Yet what makes the book work is that its nature never consumes the story; Johnny has amazing adventures, but it is always about getting home at the end of the day and trying to build a happy life with his girlfriend Mayumi. Chao’s genius is that he knows how to avoid straying too far from the love story that defines who Hiro really is.

Packed full of wicked cool art, the wittiest (and driest) of dialogue, JOHNNY HIRO is likely to be as much fun as any one graphic novel will give you in 2009. Sitting down and revisiting the characters and their crazy adventures was the greatest of comics pleasures. This gets my highest possible recommendation.

Marc Mason

PROJECT SUPERPOWERS VOL.2 #0

PROJECT SUPERPOWERS VOL.2 #0
Written by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger, Art by Edgar Salazar
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

The second volume of PROJECT SUPERPOWERS was a book that I honestly thought I’d just let slide by. To be blunt, I didn’t think much of volume one; it got off to a decent start, but as the book went on, it got confusing, overstuffed with too many characters, and I couldn’t follow the plot after a while and just had to let it go. However…

After volume one came three miniseries focusing on the characters a bit more, and they were surprisingly strong. It was a good omen for the PS universe, but heading back in to a story that would once again encompass the entire character universe, I was dubious. Would the creators be able to keep the plot simpler and more directed? Would the focus stick to just a few characters so you didn’t feel overwhelmed by them? And for at least issue #0, the answer is: yes.

Helping matters to start, we are given a glossary inside the front cover reminding us who the characters are and what their powers can do. Then we get a well done recap of the first volume that pares things down to the basics. And after that, the plot gets put in motion, using just the right amount of exposition. Everything here is handled so much better than it was in volume one that it’s almost astonishing.

Salazar’s art looks terrific. The script is solid. And to the creative team’s credit, with the exposition and recap, they make the book easily accessible to someone who didn’t read volume one, and maybe do just enough to encourage that new reader to go out and buy the collection of that series. For a dollar comicbook, I’d call that pretty successful, wouldn’t you?

Marc Mason

SCIENCE FICTION CLASSICS

SCIENCE FICTION CLASSICS: GRAPHIC CLASSICS VOL.17
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Graphic Classics

A couple of years ago, ever so quietly, the Classics Illustrated line got its first major competitor in ages. Graphic Classics has been producing its own graphic novel versions of great literature, releasing books full of Edgar Allen Poe, H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, Jack London, and others’, adapted into comics format. With volume seventeen, they have taken some beloved science fiction literature and produced this nicely produced book.

SCIENCE FICTION CLASSICS offers up Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS, Jules Verne’s IN THE YEAR 2889, Arthur Conan Doyle’s THE DISINTEGRATION MACHINE, E.M. Forster’s THE MACHINE STOPS, Stanley Weinbaum’s A MARTIAN ODYSSEY, Han Christian Andersen’s IN A THOUSAND YEARS, and Lord Dunsany’s THE BUREAU D’ECHANGE DE MAUX. The anchor here is the Wells story; still his best work (and I’ll never forget the first time I read the novel), Rich Rainey and Micah Farritor breathe generous life into the Victorian era invasion from the red planet. The creators do a smash-up job of making the milieu more prominent than the Martians, which is perfect, because the book was never really about the invasion (beyond a surface reading). But this story is rivaled in quality by Tom Pomplun and Ellen Lindner’s adaptation of THE MACHINE STOPS. A cautionary tale about complacency versus human development, they mine more emotional gold out of the central character’s tale than you really would have thought possible.

There are a couple of duds here, but they don’t outweigh the good contained throughout the rest of the book. The production quality is solid, and the price is kept at a reasonable level. I’ll be keeping my eyes open to see what Graphic Classics tackles next.

Marc Mason

UNDERGROUND 1

UNDERGROUND #1
Written by Jeff Parker, Illustrated by Steve Lieber
Published by Image Comics

UNDERGROUND is a different type of comic which will doubtlessly appeal to comic readers looking for a book beyond the realm of super people in tights kicking other spandex-clad asses. The first issue of this five part series introduces readers to the historic and environmentally important caves of Kentucky and the players on both sides of the recent controversy surrounding these wonders of nature.

The opening sequence has a dreamlike feel to the panels, with the diluted colors, interviews with various people involved in the debate of whether or not the caves should be available as a tourist attraction and the disembodied hands reaching towards some unknown goal. When the dream ends, Wesley the Park Ranger awakens, and with a bit of a pickle on her hands. Seth, her fellow Ranger and current lover (as of the night before) is asleep in her bed, and her ‘rehearsals’ in the mirror before he wakes up was a perfect scenario of real life humor.

Despite the awkwardness, life goes on as usual, except for Winston Barefoot, local entrepreneur extraordinaire and profit-lover at heart, who breaks up their morning after breakfast with a camera crew and ornery locals in support of opening the caves to bring in more revenue to the town, regardless of the irreparable damage it would do to the ancient caves. Things, of course, are not as simplistic as the townsfolk would like them to be, and the action escalates as unsavory people take the fate of the caves, and innocent people, into their own hands.

UNDERGROUND is devoid of the drama surrounding typical superhero or action comics (so far), rather delivering a more realistic dramatic scenario complete with relatable characters and real life environmental situations while touching upon the ever-present complications which always encompass conservation movements. Parker has managed to find time in his busy schedule of revamping the EXILES book (which I am loving, by the way) to come up with this grounded and interesting story. Lieber’s art is more than decent; gritty and real without being too dark or jaded, synonymous with the script, and as stated before, the opening sequence hit a very haunting note. If you are interested in nature, be it human or earth related, UNDERGROUND is worth checking out.

Avril Brown

EXISTENCE 2.0 #1

EXISTENCE 2.0
Written by Nick Spencer, Illustrated by Ron Salas
Published by Image Comics

Perhaps one of the most incredible first issues ever written, EXISTENCE 2.0 is a guaranteed hit and worth its weight in gold. An excellent story concept backed by genius writing and wrapped up with a well-matched artistic style, Image has produced a winner in every sense of the word.

Sylvester Baladine was a scientist in his previous life. Now, he’s the hitman who ended his previous life. What may have been a somewhat puzzling introduction is actually an amazing page one, rife with clever humor, gore and action. Sly dies on this first page thanks to the sword sticking out of his chest, courtesy of the assassin who put it there, but this slippery scientist had been working on a project dealing with consciousness transference. When his life ended, Sylvester’s sense of self skipped on over to the slightly younger and more enhanced (as he finds out later) body of the man who killed him. Despite the unusual circumstances surrounding his most recent ‘birth,’ Sly adapts relatively well, until he discovers with a new body comes a new set of problems.

Within a few pages of action and flashbacks, Sylvester proves himself to be an unapologetic sort of man. Not necessarily a cold-hearted bastard, he’s just a man who knows what he’s good at and intends to do it, moral consequences be damned. Despite his infidelity, murderous tendencies and questionable ethics, Spencer delivers a leading character who is impossible to resist. The wit displayed on practically every page is tangible proof of Spencer’s skill, and Salas’s art is a nice compliment to this brilliant script. Not overly burdened with an excess of detail, Salas uses shading to his advantage and uses just the right amount of color to give the story emphasis without overwhelming the slightly thicker lines.

Without a doubt, EXISTENCE 2.0 is a must read for anyone looking for a clever, somewhat dark and massively entertaining story that will have you clamoring for issue two as soon as you finish the first. Truly a magnificent blend of smart-ass humor and gory action, this is certainly a book to add to your comic queue.

Avril Brown

 

MIJEONG/ARLENE’S HEART

MIJEONG/ARLENE’S HEART
Published by NBM

Two new graphic novels from NBM to take a look at. Let’s dive in…

MIJEONG is a stunning Korean manhwa by Byun Byung-Jun. Rather than a full-length graphic novel, this is a collection of 20 to 6o page short stories, most dealing with strong emotional content. The best effort is “Yeon-du, seventeen years old,” which focuses on the unlikely friendship between an older man and a young girl who grew up in his neighborhood. As they take a drive across the city she begins to explain the circumstances of the first love of her life and how she has come to a point where she’s degraded herself and committed violent acts. The ending packs a powerful one-two punch and sticks with you far beyond when you put the book down. Each tale in the book has at least some merit to it, as even the weaker ones are accompanied by Byung-Jun’s stunning artistic talents- this is an amazing looking book. This is a versatile and talented creator and I’d be interested in seeing more of his work.

Even more visually stunning is ARLENE’S HEART by Victoria Frances. It’s a bit hard to describe; the story follows a young woman who battles breast cancer and has a mastectomy, leaving her chest scarred and emotionally feeling like her heart has gone missing. And as she propels herself through a second battle with the cancer, she imagines herself as a doll and enters a fantasy land in order to search for her heart. In her journeys she meets a diverse group of characters that represent the “outsider” in modern society. Thus, her quest becomes one of not only self-acceptance but of tolerance for others who have found self-acceptance and comfort in their own worlds. The metaphorical aspects can get a little heavy-handed here and there, but the message at the core of the book is one that shouldn’t be ignored. Frances’ artwork is astonishing to behold- there were countless pages that I couldn’t help but wonder how they’d look framed and on a wall. Quite an unusual reading experience.

Marc Mason

IRREDEEMABLE 3

IRREDEEMABLE #3
Written by Mark Waid, Illustrated by Peter Krause
Published by BOOM! Studios

If the second issue of IRREDEMABLE seemed to slow down on the outright horror, the third issue brings it back with a bang. Literally. The opening panel to this incredible mind-fuck of a book is exactly that as the Plutonian is shown standing watch over a couple in the throes of what would have been ecstasy if it weren’t for the completely insane former hero hovering nearby, issuing them instructions. The Plutonian weeps as the two lovers follow his orders, though be it for himself, the world or a yet unknown reason remains a mystery.

The Paradigm, the Plutonian’s former teammates, are scrambling to learn more about the god-turned-devil they used to call friend in an attempt to find a way to stop him, or at the very least, discover what it was that set him off. However, a band of super villains have formed their own thoughts about what is to be done regarding the Plutonian, and like true bad guys they seek to align themselves with the most powerful pissed off person on the planet. They break into a former hero’s sanctuary (under the watchful eyes of the Paradigm, who are no fools) and it is there the Plutonian strolls casually into their midst, using his eye beams to heat himself a cup of coffee. The Plutonian also is not a fool, and naturally the confrontation does not go as the villains had hoped, and exactly as the Plutonian had planned.

IRREDEEMABLE is the type of story you can’t shake from your head even days or weeks after you put the book down. Waid has created a disturbingly engaging tale which is as much clever as it is creepy, and the mystery surrounding each character remains fresh and enticing. Krause’s pencils are spot on, and coupled with Dalhouse’s blue-themed colors each panel comes alive in a haunting, noir-like fashion. Being this unsettled while reading a comic has never been so much fun.

Avril Brown

KONI WAVES: GHOULS GONE WILD

KONI WAVES: Ghouls Gone Wild
Written by Mark Poulton, Illustrated by Stephen Sistilli, Dexter Weeks and Mike Capprotti
Published by Arcana Comics

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I started reading KONI WAVES, an off-the-wall supernatural adventure book taking place in the tropic isles, but vacant expectations or no, I was still pleasantly surprised. Honestly though, a book rife with otherworldly creatures, magic, a dash of rock and roll and plenty of Koni Waves, a hot chick in a skimpy bikini kicking all kinds of ass, I’m surprised I was surprised I enjoyed this book.

KONI WAVES: Ghouls Gone Wild is comprised of three separate stories, each one possessing its own special kind of wackiness. The first story, ‘The Island of Ghosts,’ introduces the band Adema of whom several members are old friends of Koni. Right away you get the sense that Koni is a force to be reckoned with, especially since despite her well-known semi-addiction to alcohol she’s still hired as the band’s security during their video shoot. Nothing stays calm for long around Koni Waves, however, as an old nemesis, Prince Hopohopo returns to unleash the Night Marchers (aka Zombies) upon the unsuspecting rockers. Koni steps up and hands the Marchers their rotting arses, saving the day with style.

In the second story, ‘The Monstrous Margin of Victory,’ Koni has to don her stilettos (and little else) and return to her old job as an exotic dancer in order to catch the Dread Succubus who is feasting on the local football players. What truly makes this story, as well as the other two, are the hilarious lines complimenting ridiculous scenarios. When the doctor examines the succubus’s first victim, he casually says, “Well, your friend has been drained of all his fluids,” and proceeds to explain he’ll be off the football team for several weeks while he recovers. The cavalier way everyone seems to handle a grown man being turned into a shriveled green pickle tells you there is way more going on this island than just luaus.

The third and final story in the volume of Koni classics is entitled ‘The Werewolf of Waikiki,’ and here we see how far from perfect Koni is as she ignores her friends’ sage advice regarding her new love interest, who turns out to be a werewolf. The book takes a darker turn here as one of Koni’s close friends falls victim to her lover, but it refuses to get too morose as Logan the lycanthrope finds humor in the horror, holding up the recently severed head of Krystal and says, “Don’t worry. I don’t think many guys looked at her head, anyways.”

KONI WAVES is without a doubt an immensely bizarre and cheese-tastic take on the ‘hot chick takes on the supernatural’ story concept, but the hokey-ness is taken in good fun since it is obvious that’s the whole idea. Plus, Poulton is clearly having a good time with these characters making it impossible not to enjoy his enthusiasm. The over-the-top plot lines and dialogue are reminiscent of the fifties pulp horror comics but flavored with a dash of modern story-telling, and the art perfectly reflects that feel. The monsters are tastefully tacky, the gore isn’t overdone and there are boob-a-licious babes a plenty. If you’re looking for a laugh you didn’t know you were missing and are up for trying something a bit different, check out KONI WAVES for a taste of tropical craziness.

Avril Brown

RESURRECTION VOL2 ISSUES 0,1

RESURRECTION VOL2 #0-1
Written by Marc Guggenheim and Drawn by Justin Greenwood
Published by Oni Press

What happens after the Earth has fought off the alien invasion? That’s the question at the heart of RESURRECTION, which returns to shelves this week with a second volume of stories and now in color. In volume one, we followed a handful of survivors as they navigated a new landscape of broken infrastructure, alien artifacts, and human brutality. Violence, distrust, betrayal, the machinations of forming a government… Marc Guggenheim delivered plenty of it in his taut, gripping scripts.

Volume two simply takes all of that horror to the next level.

Starting out with issue #0, which was a giveaway on FCBD, we begin to see more of the mystery behind what finally sent the alien threat away from Earth. We’re introduced to Dwight, a man who had been abducted and experimented on by the aliens in the months ahead of their invasion, and the British spook who ultimately is the one person that believes him. But that belief comes at a price, especially when it becomes clear that the agent knows far more than he’s willing to allow anyone to know about the extraterrestrial threat. This story gives you just enough of a hint about the human malice behind RESURRECTION and is an effective draw to get readers to sample the first trade (only six bucks!) and/or volume two.

And volume two gets off to an interesting start. The first few pages of volume one, issue one are re-drawn and re-presented as we open this new series, which is disconcerting for a moment. But that feeling fades as you see the logic behind it; when Sara strikes out on her own in the first volume, she leaves behind the group of people she’s been hiding with. This issue takes up the story of those she parted ways with. And their story is brutal, harrowing, and tragic. Certainly, this series will never qualify as light-reading.

Through the darkness, though, is the book I grew to really enjoy in volume one. RESURRECTION is intelligent comics, keeping your brain active and functioning well within its story logic. In fact, it works better when the shit hits the fan, because in the world of RESURRECTION, logic is the one more things that humans really don’t have left. My only qualm about volume two of this series so far is that I’m not entirely sold on new series artist Justin Greenwood. His work’s a bit stuff and he doesn’t differentiate between the characters as well as you’d like at times. That said, I had the same issue with Dave Dumeer in volume one, and he eventually grew into a far better artist as the series moved forward. Guess we’ll see how it works out this time around.

Marc Mason

5 FROM IMAGE

5 FROM IMAGE
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics

Still working my way through the Image pile. Let’s take these in size order, as they’re all quite different.

G-MAN: LEARNING TO FLY is written and drawn by Chris Giarrusso, printed in digest format. This charming bit of all-ages fun focuses on two young brothers who are budding superheroes: G-Man, a sweetly naïve boy that uses a magic blanket to make a cape and get get his career started, and his slightly dumb (and deviously rotten) older brother who mocks G-Man’s costume and name by copying it in better colors and calling himself Great Man. The stories range from very simple (one superhero kid is a bully and must be taken down a peg) to surprisingly complex (the kids start traveling between alternate realities), but the one thing they all have in common is that they make you smile. Giarrusso has a clean, distinct style and knows how to play to his audience. Lots of fun.

Printed at 6×9 is the SPECIAL FORCES collection by the great Kyle Baker. FORCES is a razor sharp satire aimed at the Iraq War, but it would be a mistake to say that he’s taking a party stance on the mess. Instead, Baker is satirizing some (true-to-life) of the more egregious practices used by military recruiters. Felony, a “three strikes” young woman, and “Zone” a mentally disabled young boy, are the sole survivors of an ambush and are faced with a nasty road to surviving their predicament. Felony does her best to watch over Zone, and the bond between soldiers is played without laughs. But with the enemy closing in, and ruthless American mercs offering her a job if she’ll just walk away, she has to make choices about her immediate and long-term futures she’s not quite prepared for. Really, what else do you need to know beyond “it’s by Kyle Baker, the most talented man in comics”?

PERHAPANAUTS: TRIANGLE, written by Todd DeZago and drawn by Craig Rousseau, is printed at standard comic size. This thick volume collects the series’ annual and first five issues of the Image run. I was unfamiliar with the book in its previous incarnation, but was able to catch up quickly. Cryptids (Bigfoot, Chupacabra, Mothman, etc.) work as a group to stop intra-dimensional incursions and monster rampages. (PROOF, also from Image, plays in this sandbox but is much darker.) There’s a wealth of terrific characters and situations to be found here, lots of humor, and Rousseau’s art sings. If you’re a fan of monster books, you can’t do anything but grin at a two-page spread of gremlins fighting mothmen.

Jumping over to film noir, PHERONE follows the trail of an agent who is missing her memory and doing some very lethal things on the path to figuring out who and what she is. Written by Patrick Baggattam Jim Sink and Viktor Kalvachev, with art by Kalvachev, you get a number of situations that feel very familiar: the seduction, the narrow escape from a motel, the double crosses… if you’re reading the noir handbook, it’s all here. So story originality isn’t exactly a strong suit here. What does work, though, is the art. Kalvachev’s stuff is quite keen, and printed on glossy paper at 8×10, it really pops off the page. This is a great-looking graphic novel. So if you don’t mind the story flaws, you’ll be pretty pleased.

Finally, Frank Cho’s APES AND BABES is the latest over-sized hardcover art book from the LIBERTY MEADOWS creator. Cho’s spent the last few years doing mostly work-for-hire for Marvel, so you get an impressive selection of MS. MARVEL and AVENGERS covers here, along with other various works (which does include the creator-owned series he co-writes, JUNGLE GIRL). It’s easy to poke at Cho and his proclivity for drawing women who are completely buxomly unrealistic, but looking at this book, I think you have to sort of give him credit. He does it very, very well. And unlike some others who are well-known for their cheesecake, Cho’s women have curves and rear-ends. The book production is handsome and does demonstrate some versatility that you don’t always associate with this artist.

Marc Mason