BATTLEFIELDS/ALICE IN WONDERLAND

BATTLEFIELDS: HAPPY VALLEY 1/COMPLETE ALICE IN WONDERLAND 1
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two new minis from the folks at DE…

Garth Ennis’ incredible World War II stories return for a second go-around as the first issue of BATTLEFIELDS: HAPPY VALLEY gets underway. This new mini focuses on a young bomber pilot added to a veteran squadron, and on how he blends in with a crew that doesn’t want him at the throttle. Rookie pilots were seen as a good way to die in the skies above Germany, and the crew that protagonist Ken Harding joins is close to being retired. As usual, Ennis finds a way to take a story you might think you’ve seen before and make it seem fresh and new. Harding is an interesting lead, with some surprising character traits that come out at intriguing moments, and the rest of the crew is simply a hoot. Funny guys that feel like Ennis regulars. Artist P.J. Holden does a strong job of getting detailed action on the page without forgetting to make sure the characters intrigue. The first volume of BATTLEFIELDS was one of the best books of ’09; I’ll be surprised if this one doesn’t contend for similar honors in ’10.

Fresh off of DRACULA, Leah Moore and John Reppion turn their adaptive eyes to Lewis Carroll’s THE COMPLETE ALICE IN WONDERLAND. As with Stoker’s book, they have dived back into Carroll’s text and began creating a fuller, more organic version of Alice than we’ve seen before. Moments usually stripped from the text or condensed are given room to breathe. As with Dracula, it’s done with precision and grace. But I think what makes this a much stronger book than Dracula is that ALICE is simply better suited to the graphic format than Stoker’s more cerebral work. Carroll’s wildly imaginative story rightfully explodes onto the page of a comic. Of course, it helps that artist Erica Awano and colorist PC Siqueira are easily up to the task; the work is a glorious mash-up of westernized manga and pastels, giving this book the unique visual look it demands. Throw in a tasty cover from John Cassaday (which is beneath a die-cut!), and ALICE is a must-read.

SILBER STUFF

SILBER MEDIA MINIS
Written by Brian John Mitchell and Drawn by Various
Published by Silber Media

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Another round of Brian John Mitchell’s matchbook-sized minis has arrived, along with an unusual bonus. Taking a look…

The biggie in this set is ULTIMATE LOST KISSES #11. Why? Rather than Mitchell’s traditional stick figure art, Dave Sim! steps in to handle art chores. Mitchell also tackles a serious story here, which hasn’t been the case in earlier efforts. A woman in her mid-30s receives a letter from the child she gave up for adoption as a teenager and goes to visit him on death row, and what she discovers is a grand loss of life in more ways than one. Even without Sim on the art, this is easily the best work Mitchell has produced in these minis, and I was pretty pleased to see it. Without some growth, this series was going to get stale in a hurry. And if you’re a fan of the artist? This might be the most unusual collectible out there where you can find his stuff.

Jeremy Johnson handles the art chores on MARKED, one of the more commercial concepts Mitchell has produced. A retired demon hunter (with a secret of his own) begins investigating the death of his girlfriend’s sister, which sets him back on a path for justice. This book is very high concept, and the ending leaves it wide open for further adventures of the main character. Johnson’s work is a little on the inconsistent side, vacillating between easy to follow and somewhat obtuse in its choices of angle and p.o.v. If there are to be further installments, that’s something that would need to be worked on.

WORMS #5 is drawn by regular series artist Kimberlee Traub, and as opposed to Johnson’s work, hers shows a real air of confidence about it. The story, involving a young woman imprisoned in a strange hospital and injected with strange alien worms, picks up the pace a bit, as she finally makes good (sort of) on an escape attempt. However, it’s how the story is told that makes it work. Traub’s art is blocky and heavy with its lines, and she defies the use of deep detail; however what she does perfectly is use the matchbook format to perfect effect. She’s adapted to the limitations of size and scope and tells the story as cleanly as possible. Not an easy task.

I received two new issues of JUST A MAN, numbers 2 and 3. When last we left our vengeful cowboy, he had killed the man that was responsible for the death of the cowboy’s wife and kids. Now he’s on the run, and he takes a gig as a hired gun to retrieve a young woman stuck in a brothel. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been told the entire truth… about the girl, and perhaps a great many other things. Either way, his sanity might also be at risk. Artist Andrew White uses thin linework and as much detail as he can fit into the small panels in order to set the mood and make sure the old west milieu shines through. The story here is also pretty decent. I’m liking this one.

Finally, there is now a LOST KISSES: MY LIFE IS SAD AND FUNNY DVD that holds the first ten issues of the book (along with a couple of other Mitchell matchbook works) and presents them as not quite a “motion comic” or cartoon, but does set them in motion and to music. Like the books themselves, the setup is simple, and it plays cleanly on screen. However, I had issues getting the menu to work right in allowing me to select the material and had to break it down by chapter pieces using Windows Media Player. Your mileage may vary, as it will with the content of the comics themselves; LOST KISSES, until #11, has traditionally been Mitchell’s weakest work.

 

GALLANT GIRL; ELEPHANTMEN

GALLANT GIRL VOL.1/ELEPHANTMEN #23
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

A couple of shorties about two recent arrivals from the folks in Berkeley…

I HATE GALLANT GIRL reprints the miniseries from writer Kat Cahill and artist Seth Damoose, and as much as I was charmed by it in the original floppies, I like it better here. The story follows a young heroine named Renee who would desperately love to win the pageant meant to fill the shoes of the superheroine Gallant Girl. Unfortunately, as a young Latina, she’s passed over for a classic blonde bimbo type. Undeterred, one of the heroes she meets takes her under his wing and helps her develop into her own hero, strengthening her own identity. So much here to like: an appealing female lead, a strong female villain, dialogue that stays away from some of the more egregious clichés, art that avoids cheesecake. Throw in a nice “hero’s journey” aspect and the book just works nicely. I’d like to see more from this team and with these characters.

Also dropping into the mailbox was ELEPHANTMEN #23, written (as always) by Richard Starkings and featuring original series artist Moritat on the art. This issue really sees the plot kicking into high gear. Hip and Miki investigate a break-in at the taxi garage, while Agent Vanity Case gets up close and personal with Sahara and Obadiah Horn’s organization in ways she never cared to. Both plots, thus, lead to tragedy. What stuck out to me here was not just the plot movements, which are strong ones, but just how much Starkings has developed as a writer. He seems so sure here, and the book has found a pace and tone that keep it exciting and brisk, yet which also embrace the more soap opera aspects of great comics (much in how Claremont did in X-Men and how Jay Faerber has mastered it in modern comics). I like seeing it here; it makes this book read as vital and energetic as anything on the monthly shelves.

JOHNNY HIRO #1

JOHNNY HIRO #1
Written and Drawn by Fred Chao
Published by AdHouse Books

Reviewed by Marc Mason

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

Pure, unadulterated genius. I don’t often get to say that when I finish reading a comic, but I did when I got through with JOHNNY HIRO. Since Maruca and Rugg finished STREET ANGEL, the shelves have been missing a well-executed absurdist action-comedy, but that void is now filled thanks to Fred Chao.

The plot is simple: Johnny and his girlfriend Mayumi are enjoying a night of dream-filled sleep when a super-sized lizard named Gozadilla arrives in Brooklyn and promptly kidnaps the girl by punching through the apartment building and snatching her from her bed. Woken by the event, Johnny gives chase, looking for some possible way he might be able to save the woman he loves. Falls from great heights, reminisces about battling giant robots, and a surprise motive for the giant lizard’s behavior follow, all culminating in New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg offering up the most plausible explanation for shitty public services that you’ve ever heard.

Besides being a clever writer, Chao also proves himself to be a terrific artist as well. In order to get the reader to buy into the book, the art must make the absurd nature of the plot and the monster blend together with the oddly grounded milieu of JOHNNY’s New York. He does just that; there’s a fluid grace to the humans, the background, and even to Gozadilla that give the book a look that’s just right. He also refuses to waster space; not only is every page in the book full of art and story, but the inside covers have pieces of the tale as well, bringing this up to a 34-page book for your three yanqui dollars. Believe me, that’s money you’ll consider more than well spent.

REPO #1

REPO #1
Written by Rick Spears and Drawn by Rob G.
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

As the inside cover blurb tells us, REPO is the future we were promised. Cars fly, space travel is simple… but the trick is: it all still costs a lot of money. So repo agencies are more in demand than ever; not just for cars, but for equipment, body modifications… you name it. It’s a cutthroat world, and being a “professional collateral manager” is a cutthroat job. However, for a pair of repo guys, the job just got a little more dangerous; taking a simple run on a car, they instead find themselves in the middle of a terrorist incident, a police action, and lots of people and stuff getting blown to bits. But these boys never fear or worry, and with good reason: a new contract comes in, a big one… and it offers the opportunity for revenge for their troubles, as well as a huge paycheck.

“A return to form” isn’t often a phrase that’s used in conjunction with comics, but it works quite nicely with REPO. The creative team’s last full-length graphic novel, DEAD WEST, didn’t live up to the standard of excellence set by their earlier work like TEENAGERS FROM MARS. And Spears’ other Image series, PIRATES OF CONEY ISLAND, has been nearly completely unreadable. But REPO has the goods; sharp sense of design and well-defined world; interesting characters; a fantastic vocation for the characters to be involved in; an intriguing mystery behind the huge repo assignment they’re given at the end of the issue. Plus, the dialogue is strong, giving each person on the page an individual voice, and Rob G.’s art, presented in a muted color scheme, jumps off the page.

It was really only a matter of time before these two very talented gents put it back together on the page and turned out material that ranked with their best work. I’m glad to see it has happened, and I’m looking forward to seeing the next four issues of what looks to be a terrific series.

BLACK DIAMOND #1-2

THE BLACK DIAMOND #1-2
Written by Larry Young and Drawn by Jon Proctor
Published by AiT/PlanetLar

Reviewed by Marc Mason

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

In the year 2016, in an effort to curb bad driving on the nation’s traditional highways, the government built The Black Diamond, a coast-to-coast superhighway with no rules except one: step on the gas and go. Hard. But now, five years later, the government’s feelings have changed, and they’ve decided to send in the Army and clean up the Diamond… maybe even shut it down. But the lawless culture that sprung up on the Diamond over the years isn’t having that- at all. So they decide to take a hostage, a woman named Kate Maddox. Kate’s the daughter of the Diamond’s designer, giving her some value. However, the Army doesn’t give a shit about collateral damage, which means her husband, Dr. Don McLaughlin DDS, is going to have to brave the Diamond himself, crossing the country in record time in the hopes of saving the love of his life. No plan, no talent for fighting, and no special love of driving fast… the Diamond isn’t something he can give a root canal. It looks like Kate’s kinda screwed.

THE BLACK DIAMOND ON-RAMP shipped nearly two years ago, so saying this book was long in the making would be an understatement. Fortunately, it’s solidly worth the wait. The setup is pure pulp: this is a 70s exploitation flick brought to life. Fast cars, lawless madmen, uncaring government… we’ve seen these pieces before, and we like them. This is exactly the kind of story that Rodriguez and Tarantino were homaging in GRINDHOUSE. Young offers just enough exposition to give you the gist of things, and then steps back and lets Proctor take over, a wise move. Proctor’s stuff reminds me very much of Tony Harris’ early work, which, for those uninitiated, means it’s damned easy on the eyes.

Issue one is all Don and exposition, but issue two gets to the heart of things. We meet Kate and her captors, get introduced to the man who is truly behind the move to clean up the Diamond, and get introduced into a secondary plot that looks like it will provide Don with a traveling companion. Even with new-father Young falling a little too much in love with his dialogue, the pacing and interest level jacks up immensely, and demonstrates quite well that the next four issues hold a lot of promise.

There’s also a back-up story in issue one by Dennis Culver (whose mini-comic work I’m very familiar with) and one in issue two from Ken Lowery and Benjamin and Marlena Hall, each telling an amusing tale of life above on the Diamond. In short, a strong effort that I look forward to reading more of.

DORK DECADE

DORK DECADE: THE 10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY COLOR COLLECTION
Written and Drawn by John Kovalic
Published by Dork Storm Press

Reviewed by Marc Mason

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

For those who have followed me as a reviewer over a long period of time, you already know that I’m a long-time champion of the great DORK TOWER. Nobody has captured the ins and outs of geek culture the way John Kovalic has managed to, and his writing and cartooning started out impeccable and has only gotten better. There may be many comics at this point that tackle similar subjects, but DORK remains the king.

This collection brings together the past ten years worth of strips that have appeared outside the DORK comic book. The series itself actually started as a one-page strip in SHADIS magazine, and was later added to the pages of DRAGON magazine as well; and while some of the strips have been collected here and there in previous TOWER trade paperbacks, this is the first time they’ve been reprinted in their original color format.

What makes DORK TOWER work is those moments when Kovalic finds a universal truth and plays it note perfect; an early SHADIS strip became the calling card for the series’ greatness when depicting the outside world’s horrified curiosity at gamer culture, culminating in the classic line, “Hey Marcia! Come and see the Satanist!” Other moments dealing with women who date gamers and how they survive it, threats to bring soap to a convention, critiquing the 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN’S miniature painting skills, and other sharp gags, show off Kovalic’s rapier sharp wit and unmatched gift for punning his way through a page. The only times that the gags fall flat is when they go too deep “inside” and lock out those readers who aren’t hardcore into gaming.

The back of the book also has a little bit of commentary from Kovalic on the making of the strips contained within, making this an extra special value for those thinking about picking it up. Whether you’ve read DORK TOWER before or not, this is a perfect place to jump onboard and see what you’ve been missing. Congrats to John Kovalic on ten excellent years; I hope the next ten years bring strips of equal quality.

FROM THE NOTEBOOKS OF DR. BRAIN

FROM THE NOTEBOOKS OF DR. BRAIN
Written by Minister Faust
Published by Del Rey

Reviewed by Ericka Strole

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

When a superhero is having “issues” he or she needs resolved, where do they turn? To Dr. Brain of course. She’s the psychologist to the superheroes. In FROM THE NOTEBOOKS OF DR. BRAIN, a group of superheroes have to go to counseling. Now that the fight against evil has been won, office politics are wrecking havoc on the super powered crew, young and old. The six heroes range from those who first put on the costumes to newbies, but they all have one thing in common: dysfunctionality. However, hopefully through therapy and simulations they can confront their issues and get back to being happy super friends.

On the surface, I can see where some might find this book a little on the slow or dull side, but I ultimately found it to be entertaining and built upon a very interesting concept. It’s written as a self-help book for super heroes, so it takes a little time to get used to reading a fiction book that doubles as self-help pastiche. Faust’s characters are fascinating, even if they have cheesy names like The Flying Squirrel or Omnipotent Man; there are characters that you love and ones that you love to hate, but they all hold your interest. For an easy read that is at times humorous, and which for me made me realize that even the super-powered have mental blips too, I would recommend this. As someone who has read her fair share of self-help books, it was enjoyable to see someone else being analyzed or a change.

TRAIN MAN: THE NOVEL

TRAIN MAN: THE NOVEL
Written by Hitori Nakano
Published by Del Rey

Reviewed by Ericka Strole

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

Boy saves girl from old drunk on train. Girl sends boy Hermes teacups. Boy freaks out. What is a techie geeky boy to do? Turn to his comrades in arms of course. TRAIN MAN tells the story of how a sweet, gentle young man helped protect some women on the train home from work from a drunk, and how he eventually found the courage to completely change his life and win the woman he loves.

The true-to-life based novel, which spawned at least three different mangas and a smash hit feature film, is written as a log of postings from a message board; the actual message board that the real Train Man participated in during this process. It is the advice he receives from his fellow board posters in how to dress, where to take her to dine, and how to finally (gulp) tell Miss Hermes (as she becomes known on the message board) how he feels about her that propels the book (as well as the boy) forward through this heartwarming romance.

Hitori Nakano shows how the Japanese court in a relationship. For a helpless romantic like me it is filled with those “Aaaaahhhhhhh” moments that makes a girl wish American men would read this book. It took the characters five dates before they even kissed! That is most unusual to hear about, let alone think about putting in to practice. It is wonderful to see, in this charming book, how love can blossom, and how one awkward boy found himself in the position, aided by his fellow nerds, to beat the odds and get the girl of his dreams. Every girl who is a romantic at heart, and every guy who wants to be, should read this book.

GOATS: THE CORNDOG IMPERATIVE

GOATS: THE CORNDOG IMPERATIVE
Written and Drawn by Jonathan Rosenberg
Published by Del Rey

Reviewed by Marc Mason

This is the second collection of Jonathan Rosenberg’s popular webcomic, and if at all possible, this one is even stranger and more indescribable than the first. Mind you, in volume one, the two barfly idiots at the center of the book met God and wound up eating him, so that should tell you something. Now, stuck in the Axis Pub, a bar which bridges the multiverse, they await the end of existence, as it turns out that all reality is running on a laptop computer somewhere, and it has a virus that will end everything in 2012. But rather than peacefully drink themselves stupid, Philip and Jon are instead kidnapped and transported to different realities, each believed to be the “programmer” prophesized to be able to prevent the universe’s end.

Honestly, that’s really the closest I can come to making the book’s “plot” make sense. But for once, that isn’t a bad thing. Because massive absurdity is precisely why I love GOATS. That and some of the strangest, funniest dialogue of any comic out there right now.

“You will be provided a last meal before your executions. Do you like cupcakes?” “You’re a corn lesbian.” “I’m the most worthless hostage since Ann Coulter.” “3.5 Gigahitlers.” “I suppose we shouldn’t tell him about ‘Toddler-torture Tuesdays’ yet.” “As a liberal New Yorker, I’ve always secretly sympathized with terrorists.”

“Great. Now I’m going to think of genocide every time I listen to Kansas.” “I feel the same way about Billy Joel.”

GOATS is funny, weird, insane, nonsensical, blasphemous, crude, clever, and completely necessary if you have a fucked sense of humor. Don’t try to make sense of it, just go with it, and I think you’ll enjoy it.