DIE HARD: YEAR ONE #1
Written by Howard Chaykin and Drawn by Stephen Thompson
Published by Boom Studios
The theory goes that every hero has an origin, and perhaps the most lasting American hero of the last twenty years is John McClane, the rough and tumble cop from the DIE HARD film series. As played by Bruce Willis, McClane is half-bravado and half-wiseass, and when we met him in 1988, he was a jaded police detective. However, with this series, we’re headed back to 1976, where we meet McClane as a rookie beat cop.
And what do rookie beat cops worry about? Pickpockets. Crowd control for the Bicentennial celebration. The idiot they’re stuck with for a training officer. Things they shouldn’t have to worry about? Crooked cops, naïve young girls, and ruthless businessmen about to make a move for power. Too bad for McClane that the story is just about to put each of those things in his path.
I had a mixed reaction to DIE HARD YEAR ONE #1. On the one hand, writer Chaykin (a long-time favorite of mine) has clearly put together a lovingly complex plot that should make for interesting reading as the series progresses. He does an excellent job, along with artist Thompson, of rendering a New York City of 1976 that I believed in on the page. McClane’s character feels right to me, too. There was some comfort in the reading.
On the other hand, there’s way too little of McClane. He doesn’t really do anything of interest until he deals with a pickpocket late in the issue. None of his actions feel pivotal to this point. He feels like a secondary character in his own book. I’m not sold on that as a way to interest fans of the film series to dive into the comic.
Still, where Chaykin is concerned, I’m always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s spent a couple of decades racking up credit with me. So I’m onboard and curious to see where he’s going to take me.
HERCULES: KNIVES OF KUSH #1-3
Written by Steve Moore, Illustrated by Cris Bolson
Published by Radical Comics
Hercules is back and badder than ever in his second series, KNIVES OF KUSH, sequel to the fantastic and popular THRACIAN WARS. Steve Moore returns as the writer, bringing the same energy and intrigue he brought to the first series. The artwork has changed hands but lost none of its quality as Bolson delivers beautiful characters and over-the-top blood and gore.
When we last saw our ‘heroes,’ Hercules and his company had seen better days. They left the bloody conflict in Thrace with no coin and minus three members, one lost to death, two to follow different destinies. Their luck does not seem to be improving as the ship they are traveling on is set upon by pirates. Though they escape with their lives, they once again find themselves foreigners in a hostile land. Determined to earn an honest living as mercenaries, Hercules and his crew save the Pharaoh Seti’s Great Royal Wife from an attack by the Knives of Kush, loyal followers and fighters for the Pharaoh half-brother, Amenmessu, who is attempting to steal the crown.
Seti hires Hercules and his band of warriors to serve as bodyguards to one of his wives, and also to find out which of his supposedly loyal subjects is serving as spy to Amenmessu. Given the insider’s information he receives, plus the reportedly mystical powers over lightening his partner Khadis claims to possess, Amenmessu is winning the war against his brother. Amidst murders, betrayal and magics unlike any they’ve seen, Hercules and his crew are pressed for time to figure out who the spy is before they end up dead, or worse, empty-handed yet again.
Tydeus’s disgusting humor and putrid palate are greatly missed in this series, but there is still comedy to be found, both in classic and new forms. Autolycus’s greedy and self-sufficient ways have not changed since the last series, and neither has Atalanta’s distain for Meleager’s attentions, which she throws back in his face by taking a more personal interest in the Pharaoh’s wife. Moore also throws in a necromancer who prefers the scent of corpses over fresh air, several powerful and dangerous women and a drug-induced orgy party. What more could a comic fan want for? Admir Wijaya and Imaginary Friends Studio’s artistic work on the first HERCULES series set a high quality standard for the book, but Bolson does an excellent job in meeting that standard. The characters are lovely and the battle scenes are deliciously graphic as evident in one panel where Hercules’s club smashing a poor soul’s eye right out of the socket. HERCULES: KNIVES OF KUSH is thus far a worthy sequel to an excellent introductory series.
FEDERAL VAMPIRE AND ZOMBIE ASSOCIATION #1
Written by David Hine, Illustrated by Roy Allan Martinez
Conceived by Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson
Based on the website created by Richard S. Dargan
Published by Radical Comics
Combining two of the hottest mediums on the pop culture market today, FEDERAL VAMPIRE AND ZOMBIE ASSOCIATION is a unique take on two classic mystical creatures. Ditching the idea of romantic vampires and embracing the concept of becoming the ‘undead’ via a virus rather than unseen mystical force, FVZA is a book overloaded with fresh new horrors.
There are several names attached to the evolution of this idea, but the end result is spectacular. The book opens with Landra, a lovely lady wrapped in tight black lycra, pointing a gun at her grandfather Dr. Hugo Pecos, a vampire and zombie expert. The mystery of why Landra is about to kill a beloved family member remains as the book immediately dives into a flashback of her and her brother Vidal’s upbringing. Raised by a man obsessed with the undead, Landra and Vidal know everything there is to know about the vampire and zombie viruses and the bloody havoc the outbreaks caused. Though the last confirmed outbreak was years ago, Dr. Pecos nevertheless diligently trained his grandchildren believing vampires and zombies still existed. Naturally, he was right.
There are no cuddly Cullen vampires or witless, wandering zombies to be found in this book. FVZA returns to the horrific roots of two well-known monsters with a story specifically designed to scare the pee out of you. The bleeding eyes and rotting flesh of those infected with the zombie virus are particularly gruesome as Martinez goes into a disturbing amount of detail. The artwork is hauntingly beautiful and the colors are simply breathtaking, and their combined effect make this some of the best art I’ve seen in a comic. Hine has written a dark and suspenseful tale of man versus monster (with some monster versus monster as well), and an interview with him at the end of the book explains a lot about the story and its origins. Nearly fifty pages of awesome, FEDERAL VAMPIRE AND ZOMBIE AGENCY is off to an excellent start.
VAMPIRELLA: SECOND COMING #1-2
Written by Phil Hester and Illustrated by Daniel Sampere
Published by Harris Publications
This is a decidedly different Vampirella story, one in which the famous swimsuit-clad vampire is conspicuously absent. Rather we are introduced to Kelly Witten and her husband, a couple about to embark on two radically divergent paths.
Kelly is a social worker at a center for abused women until she begins noticing Vampirella wherever she looks. Vampirella’s distinctive ‘V’ symbol, painted throughout the city, her image tattooed on a client’s arm, a video of her in the midst of battle. Kelly thinks she is going crazy, until one night it becomes clear who she truly is and what she must do to become that person…or creature. Her husband Frank, however, has had his own dalliances with a different sort of damned and is no longer in control of his actions, however gruesome they may be. Kelly’s best friend Lauren is refusing to abandon her friend, but the price she pays for loyalty is the end of her life as she knows it. She struggles with this newfound world until she is shown the way through blood and violence.
Chock full of lustful carnage, SECOND COMING really gets the blood pumping in more ways than one. There is a method to this gory madness, a mission at the heart of the slaughter and confusion, all in preparation for a war fueled by man, machine and demonic magic.
A darkly intriguing take on a familiar and classic character, SECOND COMING delivers a Vampirella story well worth looking into, especially given the surprisingly cheap cover price ($1.99). Sampere doesn’t skimp on the gore and displays the versatile ways one can view bloodshed. From curve-hugging waves to viscous streaks, the artist succeeds in molding the gratuitous slaughter into a piece of art. Hester in turn does an excellent job of creating a mysterious prelude to the upcoming conflict as well as believable uncertainty and conflict in the men and women (especially the women) involved. I’m on board this mystical, bloody train ride and I look forward to seeing where it goes.
Written by Mark Rahner and Robert Horton, Illustrated by Dan Dougherty
Published by Moonstone Comics
ROTTEN continues to sink to new lows of human decadence and rise to heightened levels of zombie gruesomeness in the third issue conclusion of the ‘Tracy Shilo’ story arc and the beginning of a new storyline in issue four entitled ‘Frostbite.’
Issue three concludes a chilling introductory story, displaying the unfortunate level of denial people can reach when it comes to something they cannot understand or refuse to accept. William Wade has found himself fresh out of options and trapped between a ‘miracle’ zombie and dozens of ignorant townsfolk. Tracy’s family are just plain creepy in their determination to keep their eyes shut in regards to what has happened to their beloved daughter, and their willingness to sacrifice an innocent man to feed a monster. There are several scenes in this issue guaranteed to send shivers down your spine, namely the unforgettable two page spread of Tracy’s grisly bid for freedom and food.
Issue four finds our heroes on an undercover mission where a reluctant Wade and John J. Flynn once again don uniforms of the US military in order to learn more of the evolving zombie menace. They are greeted by slovenly soldiers and a complete lack of discipline, but nothing can prepare them for what else they find. While getting these men and their post in order Wade and Flynn discover what these government-trained men have been doing with the zombies, forcing the reader to beg the question, ‘Who are the real monsters?’
A truly excellent zombie story is about more than just the ghouls who rise from the dead; it is about how the surviving people surrounding the horror deal with the nightmare they have found themselves facing. Rahner and Horton continue to deliver complex, honest and horrendous scenarios and characters which keep the blood pumping in between the sparingly used action sequences. Dougherty art is getting better with each issue and each sickening situation Rahner and Horton can come up with. The cover and two page spread in issue four are both packed with disturbing details and an overall feel of finality, as if he spent hours perfecting his work. This team is producing a top quality and unique zombie comic, a must-have for any fan of the genre.
Written and Illustrated by Marian Churchland
Published by Image Comics
BEAST is an entirely different kind of comic book. Marian Churchland has created a mystical story about art, its creators and what it can create in the souls of those who would wield such a raw power.
Colette Alleine is a struggling sculptor in Vancouver who is offered a commission to carve a portrait out of marble for a wealthy benefactor. Given the promise of being provided all the materials needed for such an undertaking, Colette is suspicious this job is too good to be true. Shortly after her arrival at the slightly decomposing old mansion she meets the subject she is supposed to carve, but there are no words to describe who, or what, he really is. Beast appears as a dark Elvin prince, a solid shadow with misty tendrils for hair, dressed in an impeccably tailored suit. Despite her internal misgivings, the terrified feelings she can barely repress in the presence of such a creature, Colette finds herself taking the commission which in turns takes her places she never could have imagined.
Beast himself remains an enigmatic figure, doling out bits of history regarding the piece of marble Colette is to carve and the tragic past of all those who have touched this product of the Earth. His intimidating introduction is tempered by the sadness he radiates every time he graces the page, which fuels Colette to succeed in this project for his sake much more than hers. I found myself caught up in the conclusion, racing along each page along with Colette to find out how it ends, though I knew I still should be pouring over each striking panel.
The artwork is a series of stunning black, white and brown pencils, and as you dive into the book, it is as if you were thumbing through an artists’ well-polished sketchbook. The images contain an abundance of beautiful shading, detail and definition, giving this story its heart and soul. BEAST is about the passion which comes with true artwork, and it is successful due in large part to Churchland’s undeniable ability to take pencil and paper and create a masterpiece of story-telling artwork.
Written by Jeff Parker and Illustrated by Steve Lieber
Published by Image Comics
The second issue of UNDERGROUND finds two rangers, Wesley and an injured Seth, possibly trapped after an unauthorized detonation went off in the very cave Wesley is trying to protect. The hired goons of local profit-hungry Winston Barefoot have been secretly expanding the throughways in the cave to make it more accessible for the throngs of tourists he hopes to draw to the small town. Things get even more complicated as a misunderstanding (or was it?) between Barefoot’s men and the bruised and defensive rangers put everyone on edge and send them scrambling from one messy situation to the next.
UNDERGROUND provides a welcome relief from the standard superhero stories, and in the midst of explosions and flying bullets, Parker takes the time to explore his characters and keep them as real as possible. Lieber’s artwork helps with this goal as he focuses on their faces during the emotional moments, such as Wesley’s content smile as she looks upon the beautiful ‘ballroom’ of the ancient cave, and Seth’s look of appreciation of his partner’s obvious love for nature’s creations. The last page in this issue is reminiscent of Frank Miller’s style in his ‘Sin City’ comics with the white outlines of the characters set against a dark background, complete with the newest complication for both rangers and hired hoodlums scattered across the entire image. If you are as cheesed as I am that Parker’s magnificent attempt at revamping the ‘Exiles’ series for Marvel was cut painfully short, you can still find his fantastic words giving life to Image’s spelunking spectacular.
EXISTENCE 2.0 #3
Written by Nick Spencer, Illustrated by Ron Salas
Published by Image Comics
The mind-bending conclusion to this wonderfully fresh comic book takes the build-up from the previous two issues and rides it into an action-packed and unexpected ending which does not disappoint in the slightest.
Issue two left readers doubting whether EXISTENCE is a science fiction/action story or simply a mind-fuck tale of assassins and deluded scientists, while issue three answers all of those questions and more. Sylvester Baladine believed himself to be the man who created, and used, a consciousness transference technology capable of moving one personality into another body. However, the sister of Marko, the man whose body he had acquired, convinced him he actually was her mentally unstable brother. Yet the situation is far more complicated then a disturbed assassin off his meds, and more than one leading character finds something worth fighting for. An unlikely alliance brings about more death and destruction in addition to a new lease on life for at least one character, making EXISTENCE one of the more original and entertaining books created this year.
There are few anti-heroes quite like Sylvester Baladine, and there are few authors who would have a turning point in their book hinging on the line, ‘Focus on the cat’s vagina.’ The dark humor and intelligent writing I fell in love with in the first book carry over all three issues, keeping the characters very much in a moral gray area. Salas has a knack for keeping complicated action sequences simple enough to follow, which is exactly what a book like this needs to tell the tale to its full effect. Spencer and Salas have created a fantastic introductory story which can, and should, be enjoyed on its own by fans of sci-fi, action, and sinister comedy alike. EXISTENCE also has a perfect ending which concludes the current tale while also serving as a springboard for an innovative new series capable of so much more, and I cannot wait to read it.