CHOKER 1-CHASE VARIANT

CHOKER #1/CHASE VARIANT
Written by Ben McCool and Drawn by Ben Templesmith
Written by Rich Johnston and Drawn by Saverio Tenuta and Bagwell
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Couple of new Image books on the radar…

CHOKER #1 has received an unusually high amount of pre-release press and hype over the last couple of months, which is something that tends to make me suspicious. However, upon reading, it turns out to be completely fair and earned. Set just ahead in time a bit, we meet Johnny Jackson, disgraced cop turned private eye, as he’s dealing with an obnoxious client (“Member of the general public turns out to be a douche. What are the chances?”). Stuck in a sad, pathetic existence, he’s a man going nowhere, and slowly, when he receives a phone call from his old employer. They’d like to see him, and they’d like to give him his job back. Of course, there’s a catch… and it’s a doozy. But Jackson is just stupid enough and desperate enough to take the job. CHOKER’s plot isn’t exactly a fresh one, but that isn’t the point; the book is here for two reasons. One, to show off Templesmith’s incredible art- he turns in absolutely stunning pages, with backgrounds full of wonderful throwaway gags (the Vacu-corpse 3000 being my favorite) and the trappings of the noir genre dripping down each page. The other is to allow McCool, a genuinely funny guy, to do what he does best. The book is full of tasty dialogue and narration, (“No thank you, Mrs. Gaynor. I’d rather fuck a faulty toaster.”) and has snark built into its DNA. I was down with CHOKER immediately and suspect that’ll hold up for all six issues.

Bleeding Cool’s Rich Johnston makes another appearance on the comics shelves with CHASE VARIANT, a one-shot bit of a wank that satirizes Image’s early output (especially Liefeld’s work) and gaming culture as well. Chase Variant is a four-armed assassin who happens to be quite difficult to kill as she takes on a variety of different super-powered bad guys and monsters. However, along the bottom of the pages, we get the background on what’s really happening- Chase’s story is simply a sequentially played out version of a collectible card game (Johnston saves his snark for the culture around such games, not taking it out on Wizards of the Coast). Thousands of gamers have imagined what it would be like to do comics or movies featuring their characters, and CHASE is a literal take on that desire. There are three separate Chase adventures in this one-shot, and the second two get a boost by having much better art- Bagwell’s work is more interesting and attractive visually. Johnston’s concept is really fairly simple, and taking shots at Image’s early stuff feels a little dated… right until you realize that those books influenced a large chunk of today’s top artists and that some of those excesses are still finding their way into modern comics. The card game element is executed with some wit and joy, which basically means that even though the book is a bit of a wank, it isn’t the kind that’s also a burn. I was entertained by it.

TALESPINNERS-SONJA-ZORRO

RED SONJA/LEGENDARY TALESPINNERS/ZORRO MATANZAS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three new series from the folks at DE…

Of the three newbies, LEGENDARY TALESPINNERS #1 is the most readable and enjoyable. Writer James Kuhoric mines the “Fables” field (as Nick Percival recently has at Radical with “Legends”) with his story of a young med student seemingly bereft of a sense of fun. Emotionally abused by her mother from a young age, Abby is all-serious, all the time. But when she’s assigned a patient who claims to be the actual Baron Munchausen, her life takes a wild turn, exposing a secret that suggests her imagination was denied her as a child for a deadly reason. Now on the run with the old man, and struggling to believe any of the nonsense he’s spouting, Abby’s life is about to get way, way complicated. Kuhoric’s story isn’t going to light the world on fire with its originality, but he effectively mines the tropes of multiple genres to make TALESPINNERS an enjoyable read. Plus, he has the perfect collaborator- artist Grant Bond has shown over the last couple of years that he knows his way around drawing the fantastic and the strange. He’s perfect for this book. In all, I was surprised at how well it played for me.

RED SONJA: WRATH OF THE GODS #1 by writer Luke Lieberman and artist Walter Geovani, however, was a book that should have come across better than it did. Sonja travels to the frozen north (again) and winds up getting involved in a local dispute involving a bit of racism. A few beatings later, and she has some answers, as well as a free beverage. However, she doesn’t have the chance to sit still, as the young boy she assists offers her a sweet bribe to help him find his way home. Unfortunately, once they get there, more trouble lies in wait. There are some good bits here; Sonja’s rampage through the local tavern is nicely executed, and the impishness of the boy is amusing. But a couple of things grate. One, even though she has traveled north, Sonja is still wearing her chainmail bikini and no full over-wrap. I realize that the character has a particular look, but she doesn’t have to wear it at the expense of the character looking stupid. She’s one of the world’s smartest and most cunning warriors. Showing her as someone that doesn’t know how to dress warmly is demeaning to the character. So is the gratuitous ass shot on page 17.

Finally, ZORRO: MATANZAS #1 is, unfortunately, a complete miss. That isn’t the fault of artist Mike Mayhew; his work here is, as usual, quite lovely. Unfortunately, he falls victim to a writer who has killed before: Don McGregor (see him overwrite on top of P. Craig Russell’s work in Essential Killraven). If you were to ask me which comic writer I have found to be the most consistent disappointment from the time I began reading those many years ago, I’d offer his name up without even having to think about it. The problem with his work, and it strikes here, is that he doesn’t seem to remember he’s writing comics. Instead, he clutters the pages with text boxes and word balloons full of florid and unnecessary prose, crowding his artists and/or eliminating their effectiveness entirely. The number of panels here that are more than half word balloon or text box is stunning. Good comics writers tell their story effectively and allow their artists to show what is happening. They trust the audience to understand the work without pounding them over the head with excessive verbiage. McGregor does none of these things, and it neuters Mayhew’s work completely.

FVZA 2

FEDERAL VAMPIRE AND ZOMBIE AGENCY #2
Written by David Hine and Illustrated by Roy Alan Martinez and Wayne Nichols
Published by Radical Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

The second issue of what is so far an intriguing story and fantastically drawn mini-series is a captivating blend of monsters, romance, mystery and horror, all wrapped up in a vividly illustrated book. Embracing the concept of unsightly, immoral vampires and gruesome zombies, FVZA delivers a fresh and scary story well worth following for any fan of either genre.

Finally Dr. Hugh Pecos’s obsessive training of his grandchildren Landra and Vidal in how to kill vampires and zombies is starting to pay off as the virus which causes the un-dead transformation is resurfacing. Pecos is heavily involved in both research and military training, and he proves to be hard as nails when he order a flash fry of several zombies displaying more human-like behaviors. Meanwhile, Nephilis, the Lord of the vampire court (his ‘snack’ is magnificently disgusting), feels as if their exposure is eminent and begins to makes plans to deal with the human race, and it is the human part of one vampire that gives the human race a fighting chance.

Hine does an excellent job of blending a human element story with a tale of science fiction monsters. Landra develops more in this issue (and also stars in a rather steamy scene) while her grandfather reveals a painful secret of his own. Love, and death, is in the air, war has begun, and zombies are dancing fools. In other words, Hine delivers a fun and freaky comic script while Martinez and Nichols deliver the story with amazingly detailed pencils nothing short of art. Landra’s sex scene in particular is intimate without being pornographic, making it all the more intense.

FVZA has proven itself to be an overall excellent comic, particularly for zombie and vampire fans who are in the mood for something a bit different. With consistently stellar artwork and intriguing storytelling, Radical and company have another concept which can carry beyond a mini-series.

DINGO 3

DINGO #3
Written by Michael Alan Nelson, Illustrated by Francesco Biagini
Published by BOOM! Studios

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Nelson continues to impress with his latest foray into the comic world of magic, mayhem and very large dogs. The third issue of DINGO carries the momentum gathered by the first two amazing issues and does not slow down in the slightest, only heaping on more action, mystery and creepy characters.

When we last saw Dingo he was taking an involuntary plunge into an icy river, courtesy of his ex-wife Darby’s hired help. With a little help from his furry friend, Dingo lives to fight another day, and this one could be the most important fight of his life. In order to reclaim the powers she surrendered in order to marry Dingo, the former Graeae is willing to exchange the powerful contents of a mystical box (which was entrusted to Dingo) to a creature who has the ability to restore Darby to her former glory. While readers are finally given a glimpse to the contents of the mysterious box, the real shocker of this issue is the buyer, Eunice Deveraux. Though she says not a word, she is without a doubt the most terrifying aspect of this issue, very nearly stealing the show from my two favorite characters: Dingo and his loyal pooch, Cerberus.

This issue is certain heavy on the action which allows less space for Dingo’s trademark smartass comments but allows for plenty of canine heroics. Plus, extra brownie points go to Nelson for the use of creative insults, including ‘motherless puke,’ and ‘douche nozzle,’ one I’ve never heard before. Biagini truly outdid himself with the delectably disturbing Deveraux, and, of course, the multitudes of great scenes involving Cerberus. Here is a pup who can gently swat an uppity feline without doing serious damage, he can disarm a goon by removing the arm holding the gun, and he may or may not be immortal. What more could a badly beaten, hopelessly outnumbered and down on his luck guy like Dingo want in a furry companion?

Though my adoration of this book stems partly from the strong resemblance Dingo and Cerberus bear to Harry Dresden and his dog Mouse, I am also a fan of Biagini’s slightly surreal artwork and Nelson’s unwavering ability to tell a truly entertaining story. Fingers crossed the fourth issue conclusion will be everything readers have come to expect from Nelson, and the creator will be inspired to carry these characters into at the very least another mini-series.

JESS KNOWS BEST 20

JESS KNOWS BEST #20: Olympic Fever!

by Jess Blackshear

This is my second Olympics with a DVR, and I will never watch it any other way.

While I have seen a few comments here and there from people “left wanting” by NBC’s coverage, I find myself unable to identify with their reasoning.

Here are the top 5 things I love about watching the Olympics via DVR:

1) NO commercials. Period.

2) I only watch the back-story stuff that I want to watch. For example, I liked seeing Shaun White’s story about how he stayed in a long-term care home as a child with heart problems — and then was able to give back to Target House with the “Shaun White Great Room” as an adult. I find it the epitome of the Olympic Story to hear about atheletes that have overcome REAL obstacles. However, I really could give two craps about privileged kids who sob about how they had a “rough time with a coach and had to hire a new team with just under a year until the games.” Waaaah.

3) I get to completely skip the events I’m not invested in!

4) I still have time to watch my “other stories”! On a night where I’m only interested in one or two events, I don’t have to put up with the “main event” being interspersed throughout the 3 hour broadcast (ie, the way they feature figure skating now). Fast-forwarding through commercials and other events compresses the feed so I don’t feel like it took 3 full hours to get through one thing…and I still have time to watch Lost and Tosh.0!

5) NO BOB COSTAS!

 

ROGUE ELEMENT 47

Behold, the Power of Previews!

by Avril Brown

Previews can have a great deal of power over how people feel about a film days, weeks or even months before the movie is even available for viewing. A properly put-together preview can send horrific chills up your spine, it can pitch you into side-splitting hysterics, or it can have you so jazzed you feel ready to don your armor and join the battle for Middle Earth yourself.

Or, as in the case of the recent release ‘Wolfman,’ a preview can throw you completely off the trail.

Admittedly I was exposed to only one or two previews of ‘Wolfman’ before my sister called me and told me I simply had to see this movie. “It’s so bloody and violent; it’s awesome,” she promised me. I was already sold on seeing it in the theater; I mean, Benicio Del Toro and wolfies? That’s all I needed to hear, but the promise of blood, guts and gore were added incentives.

What the previews originally impressed upon me was a dark, slightly serious take on the standard Wolfman story: man gets bitten by werewolf, undergoes painful and confusing transformation, terrorizes town and himself. What ‘Wolfman’ delivered was an uber-campy, gratuitously gory and massively entertaining movie filled with funky-looking werewolves, tons of amputations and eviscerations and a holey plot. In other words, completely engaging if that’s your thing, and it’s definitely mine. My date swears I was the only person in the theater laughing when the head doctor of the sanitarium was chucked out of a hundred-foot window and impaled upon a wrought iron fence (superfluous violence just isn’t the same without a good impaling). In short, despite being led astray by the previews, I still enjoyed the movie.

Sadly, this is not always the case.

The theatrical preview for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was one of most kick-ass previews ever created and had Lucas loyalists drooling on their Yoda shirts. The dramatic music, the wide-angled CG shots, the glimpse of that nerd-gasmic Jedi fight; all of it combined sent Star Wars fan scurrying for tickets.

Of course, we all know how well that movie turned out. ‘Disappointed’ is by far too weak a word; ‘disturbingly aghast’ is more accurate for what most fans, including this one, felt upon seeing that movie. The preview, however, remains an excellent example of its kind. It pushed all the right buttons and dragged even non-Star Wars fanatics to the theaters, the poor bastards.

I am not a fan of Ben Stiller nor of Cameron Diaz but I will admit even I was laughing my ass off when I saw the preview for ‘There’s Something About Mary.’ Everyone loves a ridiculous bit with a dog and there were plenty of chuckle-worthy slapstick scenes. When I finally saw the film in its entirety at a friend’s house I realized the dark truth: nearly every funny bit in the movie was in the preview, and everything else was just filler. To be honest I didn’t even watch the whole movie, and that is a rare occurrence. This was the one of my first experiences, and it would not be the last, of a preview which was essentially a clip show of the best parts of the film.

I once watched a brief television special on previews, particularly the ones for ‘Godzilla,’ the Matthew Broderick version. Some of the most successful brains behind cinematic advertising were consulted after the movie opened to poor box office ratings and dismal reviews. Did the promotion team and their ‘Size Matters’ preview theme drop the ball? The general consensus: no, the promotion campaign was fine. The movie just sucked that badly. I wholeheartedly agree with said consensus for I remember being entertained by the vague theatrical previews for ‘Godzilla.’ One was a brief clip showing a student group standing in front of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton while being educated by their teacher on how this was the largest, cold-blooded land predator known to exist. Seconds later, a big honking Godzilla foot stomps through the museum ceiling and crushes poor Sue to smithereens. Definitely cool. Of course it wasn’t until years later when I was bored at 1AM and caught the second half of the film on HBO when I realized how right that program was, for ‘Godzilla’ truly is one god-awful film with a couple of shiny previews.

Previews can whet our appetite for a film, they can get the blood pumping and our hearts racing in anticipation of the main event. They can be hints at even greater scenes to come, or they can be collections of the best a movie has to offer. They can be uplifting, exciting, scary as hell or a false representation. In the end, however, previews do not make the movie, and moviegoers must remember the old adage of not judging a book by its cover applies to previews and their feature-length partners as well. Enjoy a preview and take from it what you will, but unless your instincts and basic common sense are screaming to run in the other direction, judge not a movie by its two-minute brother. You may yet be surprised, for better or for worse.

 

AISLE SEAT 2.0.51

AISLE SEAT 2.0.51

Written by Marc Mason

MY FAVORITE COMICS

As aggravating and frustrating as comics can be these days, it helps to be able to dive back into the well and bring to surface the reasons why I love the medium so much. Thus, we’ll call this the first in a series of columns I’ll be writing over the next few months on my favorite comics ever.

Up first: AVENGERS #223.

Writer David Michelinie and artist Greg LaRocque team up on what was ostensibly a fill-in issue of the title as it was shifting creative teams and gears. The only regular member featured was Hawkeye (who had just come back into the book), and the story took him back to the carnival where he had learned his skills as a bowman. Unfortunately, the carnival’s new owner, a young woman whom Hawk had brushed off romantically when she was younger, has been supplanted by the evil genius known as the Taskmaster.

This book came out in 1982, so the first thing to know about Taskmaster then is that he was a totally different character at that point. And by that, I mean he wasn’t completely over-exposed yet. It wasn’t until the early part of the 2000s that Taskmaster began cropping up all over the place, ruining the character’s mystique and his fun nature. In this issue, he’s still wearing his garish original costume, and frankly, once Marvel put him in a different one, Taskmaster was over. They just didn’t seem to realize it.

Hawkeye versus Taskmaster wasn’t the only piece of the book, though. Scott Lang’s Ant Man made an appearance here as well. Lang, splitting custody of his daughter Cassie, has taken her to the carnival for a little parental bonding, but seeing Hawk in trouble, he figures out a way to keep his kid occupied while he costumes up and joins the fight. In Ant Man’s case, Marvel managed to do right by him for most of his career as a costumed crime fighter, up until Bendis got a hold of him.

You had a good run, Scott. Sorry about that.

What you get inside are multiple fights between Hawkeye and Taskmaster, a kick-ass rescue by Ant Man involving him wrestling a lion, a wicked cool denouement featuring Lang riding one of Hawkeye’s arrows to a flying bomb, some Michelinie’s best dialogue (“Deader than a Monday night in Des Moines.”), fun art from LaRocque (one of my favorite artists of the 80s), and more. Plus, it was all done-in-one.

Oh, and it has one of the most iconic covers of the entire series, drawn by the amazing Ed Hannigan.

I remember buying this comic, reading it, getting something to drink and then reading it again. And again. And again. My run of Avengers comics would stretch out to almost 400 consecutive issues, probably due in no small part to just how much I loved this one. To 12-year old me, this was what comics were supposed to be like- always.

To 39-year old me, I still feel pretty much the same way. AVENGERS #223 is one of my favorite comics ever. If you can find a copy, I think you’ll love it, too.

SOUL KISS/ART OF GREG HORN VOL.2

SOUL KISS/ART OF GREG HORN VOL.2
Written by Steven T. Seagle and Drawn by Marco Cinello
Written and Drawn by Greg Horn
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Modern horror seems to work best when creative talents have found a fresh new take on the mundane, and that’s the secret to why SOUL KISS works so well. Seagle and Cinello have on their hands a deceptively simple story: a young woman, about to be sexually assaulted after her car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, makes a deal with the devil in order to prevent the ordeal. Unfortunately, her memory of the deal is a bit fuzzy, which leads to her kissing her boyfriend the next morning and inadvertently sending him straight to Hell. Freaked out, she recalls Satan and he’s more than willing to amend the deal- she can have the boyfriend back if she kisses ten other souls to his domain instead. She has ten days to do it, and the clock is running. Working as a thriller, a horror story, and a wicked parable about the nature of intimacy, SOUL KISS exhilarates. The main character, Lili, is complex and interesting, and you can’t help but root for her, even when her mission gets morally gray; the dialogue is crisp and spare; and the art from comics newcomer Cinello is an absolute treat. The hardcover edition is available now, and it’s a worthy addition to my shelves.

THE ART OF GREG HORN VOL.2 is one of the most confounding books to cross my desk in a long time. You see, I remember a time when Horn was merely an up and coming sequential artist, and his work was pretty solid. But as time passed, he became the go-to guy for covers, and what happened was that his notoriety outstripped his actual artistic abilities. This book demonstrates that aspect of his career quite well.

The main issue that Horn’s detractors have with his work is the plastic, cheesecake-looking women that have made him famous. Seemingly photo-referenced from nothing but fashion magazines and porn, these characters have graced so many covers over the past few years that it’s amazing. Drawn from angles meant solely to emphasize breasts and butts, much of the work has been a turn off to the fangirl eloi as well as comics readers of more discerning tastes. However, that said, the regular fanboy element has fallen in love with it. And no one has ever gone broke by pandering to the lowest common denominator.

What depresses about that is that is has overshadowed the fact that Horn really can draw and do so quite well. As you page through this book, and you see some of the art that doesn’t involve women with huge tits, the guy whose work I noticed so long ago comes crashing out. His heroes are heroic. His portraits of real people, such as in advertising campaigns featuring folks like Lebron James, are rendered with power and precision. He even shows off a gift for drawing creatures straight out of magical fantasy. This material is strong, and it makes the book far more compelling reading, a statement from the artist, saying “Hi- I have more than one dimension, and I’m pretty damned good at those other dimensions!” And yet…

…the cover image is one that he did for Penthouse magazine (showing a gamer using his joystick to make a woman remove her clothes), easily the most sexist and demeaning image the book has to offer. So you tell me- who is the book meant to convince? Who is the intended audience?

NUNS WITHOUT GUNS

NUNS WITHOUT GUNS
Written by Jason M. Burns and Drawn by Erich Owen
Published by Viper Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

The Church has done many things to fight evil over the centuries, and has many great warriors do battle in God’s name. But Sisters Marie, Francis, Wendy and Bertha are different than most; the majority of religion’s staunch defenders have always been men. It’s a new era in doing the Lord’s work, and these four nuns are just the ass-kickers to do the job. However, when a cult takes a stab at raising the Antichrist, even these mighty soldiers might just have more on their plate than they can handle.

I’ve referred to Jason M. Burns as “master of the high concept” so many times that even I want to slap me, but he truly is and proves it again with NUNS WITHOUT GUNS. Like much of Burns’ work, it reads like a summer tentpole flick put to paper; catchy concept with a clever hook, characters that the audience can quickly and easily identify and root for, slow build to a pulse-pounding finish. All Burns usually needs is an artist that won’t get in the way of his story, and Erich Owen does exactly that. The pages aren’t flashy, the storytelling is solid (if un-dramatic), and the level of detail is mid-level. But nothing here offends the eye, either, and you can smoothly operate your way through the story for max enjoyment.

It’s also reasonably rare to find a modern piece of pop culture that approaches religion without a sense of irony or wariness; there’s a sincerity to NUNS WITHOUT GUNS that you might not expect from its title. That’s played out well on the last page of the book, when, given a chance to allow his leads to break character, they instead respond in the most appropriate fashion possible to their situation. Will this book challenge your perceptions or change the way you think about comics? Of course not. Will it entertain you for the time spent reading it? You bet. That gets my eight bucks every time.