PANG: THE WANDERING SHAOLIN MONK VOL. 1

PANG: THE WANDERING SHAOLIN MONK VOL.1
Written and Drawn by Ben Costa
Published by Iron Crotch University Press

Reviewed by Marc Mason

The year is 1675, and a young monk named Shi Long Pang is doing his best to learn his lessons and approaching the time whereupon he can take his vows and become a full member of his order. However, the world around him is in turmoil. Various factions in China are at war. Corruption is rampant across the land. Yet Pang knows nothing of it. Unfortunately, the shaolin are about to be declared the enemy, which will bring that war to the doorstep of his temple, sending Pang on a quest to preserve the books that contain the wisdom of hundreds of years of monks. Can this pudgy little monk find his way in a world he has never lived in and doesn’t understand? Can he find it in himself to fight, when his every instinct and all his learning says “peace”?And what happens when he meets a pretty girl for the first time and makes him question his devotion to chastity?
Ben Costa’s PANG began life as a webcomic, but he brings it to book form here in this handsome first collection with help from the fabled Xeric grant. Talk about a worthy recipient- this is a meticulously researched and stunningly drawn piece of work. A number of things stuck out as I read it: the use of footnotes to offer historical context or translation; the way Costa doesn’t stick to traditional storytelling, using arrows to guide you through some pages like they’re a maze; the role that color plays in setting mood and place; the genuine confusion that the author is able to express through Pang as he deals with conflicting emotions and personal missions. There are plenty of other interesting pieces to the puzzle as well, and any two would have made PANG an intriguing read. Having so many together under one cover made it a truly grand experience.

Oh, and let’s not underestimate the fact that it actually required reading it- PANG is a dense work, and the pages convey a ton of information. Other works of this length (188 story pages) seem to fly by these days as decompressed storytelling rears its ugly head, but Costa makes sure that you immerse yourself in the history he has brought to life here and it takes some time to do it. I greatly appreciated that.

Good, innovative work is still being done in comics, folks. Expand your worldview past Marvel and DC and into the back of the catalog. Books like PANG deserve your money and your support.

ROGUE ELEMENT 60

ROGUE ELEMENT #60: Welcome Back Home to my Heart, Wizard World Chicago!

By Avril Brown

This past weekend Rosemont, IL once again opened its arms to Wizard World Chicago, Chicago’s oldest non-Chicago based comic convention. Taking place in the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center ‘conveniently’ located off of the Rosemont stop on the CTA Blue line, WWC has come under heat from many comic book fans in the past few years. Too many random celebrities and not enough comic flavor, aspiring artists and major publishers are several of the loudest complaints, and while most of these objections have yet to be tended to, I personally had an absolutely tremendous time wandering the Wizard World and cannot wait for next year.

For me, comic conventions are synonymous with taking a trip to Narnia. Once I walk through those doors I am transported into a universe outside reality where comic book characters come to life in the form of cosplayers, the faces behind many fantasy personas are smiling for pictures and gracefully dealing with fans, and thousands of long boxes are patiently waiting to be thumbed through and picked clean by bargain hunting bookworms. In other words, everyone and anyone can feel like a hero.

Though I was admittedly somewhat dismayed at the lack of fan fervor surrounding Wizard World Chicago last year, not to mention the glaring hole on the convention floor left by the absence of the most prominent publishers of graphic stories (which was just as noticeable this year), I still had a skip in my step as I commuted on over to Rosemont. My veteran friends in the business consistently reassure me I will not always approach Cons with such ardent enthusiasm and one day I will find myself as jaded and bitter about comics and conventions as they claim to be, yet I honestly cannot imagine arriving at a Con, any Con, and not feeling a tingling in my nerdy nethers.

After ducking out of work early due to a sudden and uncontrollable urge to spend as much time at the Con as possible, I stepped off the train platform into the sticky Chicago humidity and made my way over to the party. More populous than I was expecting yet not as crowded as last year (thanks to widened aisles), I was pleased to find my favorite local talents seated comfortably in Artist’s Alley, keeping busy and chatting up potential customers. My wanderings were sporadic thanks to the familiar faces I kept running into and I couldn’t have been happier to have been halted in my progress. Besides, I had all weekend, and the advantage of attending a smaller Con is that it is smaller, meaning there is less surface area to cover (it took me at least twenty to thirty minutes to walk the San Diego Con WITHOUT pausing to peruse various shops and portfolios).

Artist’s Alley was loaded with local and commuting talent. Independent books were for sale at bargain prices, web comics were being advertised, a handful of industry names were present for sketches and blasts from the past were back and better than ever (an artist who specializes in raunchy depictions of famous cartoons and film characters, whom I recognized from my very first WWC, was there with a gem of a sketch: the original core Star Wars crew, with shocked expressions, are surrounding Princess Leia who just gave birth…to a baby Wookie. On the left side of the picture is Chewbacca hauling ass towards the exit. I laughed until I cried).

Several shops were open for business, including classic comic retailers selling bagged and boarded Golden or Silver Age comics, as well as a few new faces, one of which was selling a baby onesie I simply have to acquire for my forthcoming niece or nephew (you will have to wait and be surprised, my beloved preggers sister). I purchased several new nerdy pins to proudly display on my messenger bag (major points go to those who understand the turquoise pin with three white seashells on it, or the black and red one which reads: ‘Back off man, I’m a scientist.’), several trade paperbacks and a few cards with the likeness of my Doctor (Nine aka Christopher Eccleston). I was also gifted with several independent comics, a few cocktails and a vintage sex novel from the 1960’s (“Left of Sex” – ‘Most girls are heterosexual. A shocking number are homosexual. And some – to their shame – are bisexual.’ I cannot WAIT to read this book).

No comic con can be complete without a healthy array of cosplayers (people who dress in costume). Many classic comic characters, such as Captain America, Wolverine, Rogue and Batman made a spectacular appearance (some even donned their outfits to the bars after the Con; total immersion, baby). There were many a Star Wars Stormtrooper, several Hit-Girls, and a guy (un)dressed as the recent pop culture commercial favorite, the Old Spice Guy, all of whom kept the cameras flashing and people smiling.

Of course, the entire weekend was not all happiness and nerd-a-licious goodness. The presence of recently impeached former Governor Rod Blagojevich was a blight on Saturday’s festivities and caused quite a traffic jam at the front entrance as people bottlenecked in an effort to get a shaky digital picture. I got it straight from the Wizard brothers’ mouth (the gentlemen who own and operate Wizard World): they approached him with the idea of appearing at WWC. Though local he and many of the attendees may be, my fellow Conners did not disappoint in their warm welcome of G-Rod:

PA System – “Attention Wizard World Convention goers: If you wish to receive an autograph or photograph of Rod Blagojevich, please begin lining up near the front entrance…”

Wizard World Convention Goers – “BOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”

Yea, that’s how we roll. Well, some of us, anyways. There was quite a crowd of people gathered to spend good money on an up close and personal photo with Blago and his hair. I’d accidentally wandered near his signing/photo area when trying to make a call on my cell and was quickly banished from the area by the violently waving arms of a dedicated volunteer who was determined to let no one sneak a side shot. A recently made acquaintance, who also happens to be a freelance writer for the Wall Street Journal, was able to snag an interview with the infamous peacock of politics, which can be enjoyed here.

I soaked up as much nerd essence as possible, frequently meandering through the celebrity aisles in hopes of finding a short line waiting for Nicholas Brendon (aka Xander from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’), who told me after an eavesdropped telephone interview with fellow CWRer and Chicago Red Eye columnist Elliott Serrano that I could pop by for a greeting. The only time he had a short line I had yet to grow a set of cojones, and despite reassurances from people I could pull this off, I could not bring myself to bypass the line to say a hasty ‘hello.’ I believe that was my natural survival instinct reminding me to never try and cut in line in front of people willing to wait hours to exchange a few words with a celeb. They may cut you.

Yet as the weekend progressed it was not difficult to pinpoint the true reason for my elation: People. Nerdy, intelligent, creative, hysterical and all around good people. I spent the entire weekend consistently surrounded by a wide variety of dyed in the wool comic book folk, some I just met but many of which I was already lucky enough to call friend. The most accomplished plastic surgeon would be hard pressed to wipe the smile off my face as I spent the entire weekend nattering on and laughing with some truly divine dorks. We walked the aisles together, mostly window shopping and exchanging drive-by commentary. We threw back drinks at overpriced hotel bars and lame Con parties (the WWC ‘after hours’ affair began at 9:30PM). We talked comics, movies, embarrassing moments and inspiring ideas. We snuck around the bowels of the Hyatt and did NOT act our age. We had a freakish amount of fun.

Though the shops, artists and generally uplifting atmosphere to the Con would doubtlessly have been plenty to keep me elated and ecstatic, in the end it’s all about who you know, and I know some damn cool people. My endless thanks go out to those individuals; y’all know who you are. You let me into your comic circle of craziness, and what resulted was an unpredictable and highly gratifying vacation from actuality, which was exactly what the Doctor from Gallifrey ordered. I bid thee a fond farewell, my comic-y comrades, and will count the days until next year.

ADOPTED

ADOPTED
Written, Directed, and Starring Pauly Shore
Available from Hunta Films

Reviewed by Marc Mason

One of the hottest trends amongst the Hollywood elite over the last few years has been the practice of foreign adoption. Stars like Angelina Jolie and Madonna have made plenty of noise by bringing orphans from Africa and Asia into their homes and giving them new lives. But what happens when someone not on the A-list heads off to Africa and tries to adopt a child? That’s the question posed in this mockumentary by controversial comedian Pauly Shore.

Shore has always been a tough one to figure out. He comes from a family steeped in the comedy scene, and having seen him perform live eons ago, he isn’t without talent. Yet he’s never quite seemed to be able to isolate what makes him appealing and translate it into a grander career. Instead, he’s seemed quite content to live a life of non-stop partying, stopping only to occasionally do a stand up gig or make another schlock movie. ADOPTED, at least, is something of a step forward.

Here he takes a camera crew and heads off to Africa for a series of scripted and unscripted adventures. He alights at Oprah’s academy for girls in his quest to find a baby to adopt and exposes the ridiculousness of the staff’s behavior and panic, not to mention the bizarre way they are forced to kiss the media titan’s ass when she’s around. He explores the streets and meets people, using his repertoire of tics and mannerisms to have odd encounters with the African locals. He makes some amusing and sharp observations about what he sees, and you see the clever writer in Shore come out. You watch this stuff and think: this is the guy that we should have gotten more of after SON-IN-LAW, not the one that made BIO-DOME.

But Shore undercuts himself. The actual plotline, where Shore takes on three different African orphans in order to “find the right one” for him, falls flat. He shows some chemistry with the kids, but he inserts some artificial obstacles (including have one rob him while he’s attempting to set up a threesome with two locals) that grind the movie to a screeching halt. It feels obvious that he’s trying to take the piss out of his own image as a poon hound, but on film it just doesn’t play that way. It just feels douche-baggy.

Indeed, the over-arching sense one gets from ADOPTED is that Shore doesn’t trust himself enough as a performer. When he’s genuine, when he’s himself, Shore comes across as a clever guy, someone that has learned from his mistakes and is turning a corner in his life. But each time he steps back into the persona, the movie goes flat. It’s too bad, really. Shore is easily the kind of guy that could rehab his career for a strong second act. Maybe next time?

1 x FIVE

1 TIMES FIVE
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Five new number ones from the folks at Image…

NANCY IN HELL is written by El Torres and drawn by Juan Jose Ryp, and it arrived with some pre-notoriety, thanks to its cover. Ryp’s work is fine in its detail, and the crotch shot on the cover- well, Ryp’s pretty good at that, too. In fact, the whole first page is panel after panel of Nancy’s crotch barely covered by a table leg. It certainly isn’t going to attract female readers, but it’s so overdone that it almost becomes the point. Nancy describes herself as the girl that normally lives at the end of horror flicks, although this time she actually died, so right away we know: this is meant as an exercise in pure exploitation. She slashes with a chainsaw, drinks, turns down lesbian threesomes… just another day in Hell. Then she meets a hot guy in a loincloth and it all gets really strange. The script is pretty average, hitting all the exploitation clichés, but Ryp’s art is amazing, as always. The level of detail is absurd, and every panel is a feast. Certainly not a book that can be easily dismissed.

I don’t know quite what to make of JANE WIEDLIN’S LADY ROBOTIKA, which is written by the rocker and Bill Morrison with art by Morrison and Tone Rodriguez. She casts herself as the main character, name and all, and puts her at the heart of an alien abduction that sends her off across the galaxy, along with a guy she was enjoying a first date with. In the beginning we discover that she has become a Cyborg dominatrix of sorts on the alien world on which she’s trapped and has gained a reputation for dangerousness. Past that, we get a flashback setting up the story. Part of the trouble is in that we don’t get out of this issue knowing what the story really is yet. The other issue is that you can’t quite get what Wiedlin’s angle here is, period. She’s exercising her personal fetish proclivities here, which is fine, but placing herself, name and all, at the heart of it is distracting. If a comic is going to whip you with weirdness, it should require a safeword. This one, though, doesn’t. Too tame.

Tame isn’t how I would describe MURDERLAND though. Writer Stephen Scott and artist David Hahn introduce us to Method, an assassin with more of an edge than usual. She doesn’t just go in shooting; she writes a “script”, creates a “character”, and then gets close enough to the mark to make her move. No one knows what she looks like, because she’s bald and changes wigs and makeup designs every time she leaves to do a job. In short, she’s brutally dangerous, and plenty of people want her stopped. This is how you do it: introduce your character, demonstrate what makes the character interesting, and lay out the story of what the character will be facing. In this case, Method and her boyfriend, the Arabber, are the target of law enforcement and of other assassins. Clear and to the point. The art is great, the script is lively and entertaining, and the pacing is brisk. MURDERLAND is exciting comics, the kind of stuff you want to read more of. Buy it.

WITCHBLADE: DUE PROCESS, however, is a frustrating comic. Writer Phil Smith and artist Alina Urusov deliver a one-shot that dives into Sara Pezzini’s distant past: as a rookie cop, she stood idly by while dirty cops framed an innocent man and sent him to prison. Ever since, she’s been working to collect evidence to free the man, but time in the joint has changed him- the innocent man no longer exists. He’s been co-opted by a white supremacist gang that helped him survive inside. The question then becomes: what happens when he rejoins his black wife and child after he’s free? What sort of price will the gang expect him to pay once he’s on the streets? And is there anything that the wielder of the Witchblade can do to keep the man on the straight and narrow? DUE PROCESS has a very good story idea at its heart. The character concepts are solid. Urusov’s art is absolutely beautiful. But the whole thing feels rushed. The ideas are never given room to breathe. Fascinating confrontations are cut short. Whole chunks of what happens feel abbreviated, and therefore they lack the emotional resonance they could have delivered. This book needed another ten pages, and it needed them badly.

Finally, we have writer/artist Kody Chamberlain’s SWEETS, and it’s the pick of the litter. A serial killer is prowling the churches of New Orleans, leaving behind only the crumbs of the pecan pralines he eats while doing his dirty deeds. In the meantime, a deadly virus has been stolen from a local government lab. And the men that have the brutal task of trying to make sense of it all are a pair of dedicated cops, one of whom just lost his daughter in an accident and is about to lose his wife to divorce. In a city of broken dreams and horrific death, that doesn’t make the potential outcomes any easier for the citizenry. What knocks you out begins with the complexity of Chamberlain’s plotting, and carries on through to his astonishing artwork. SWEETS is as pretty a comic as you could ask for. It doesn’t look like anything else on the stands, it doesn’t read like anything else on the stands. But it is better reading than most of the rest of the stuff on the stands.




CHEW 13

CHEW #13
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

The thirteenth issue of the Eisner Award Winner for Best New Series is now available for your literary dining desire, and as usual, CHEW does not disappoint. This third part of the five issue story arc ‘Just Desserts’ delves into the colorful history of former-FDA-agent-current-outlaw Mason Savoy and his old partner, Cesar Valenzano, revealing riotous scenes between the two ex-coworkers (though how close they were the ‘ex’ is still in question).

Any Tarantino fan will enjoy the numerous references to ‘Pulp Fiction’ contained within this issue, including, of course, Guillory’s brilliant cover. A potential new headache for Chu is briefly introduced in the form of one of his girlfriend’s coworkers, and a poultry substitute is on the market with bizarre and highly humorous origins. What is Fricken, you may ask? Well it is certainly not chicken…at least, not one hundred percent chicken. Montero Industries has been having fun with the genetic code and though Savoy and the FDA are already on the case (some longer than others) the future of Fricken will have to take a number behind the ensuing battle between Mason Savoy and the law.

I love it when Chu’s partner Colby is allowed to shine in all of his inappropriate and short-tempered greatness, and Layman delivered plenty of face time with our favorite bionic man. The ending was the same as last issue therefore slowing down the momentum of the story, but there was enough happening between the pages to buoy the reader until next month until we are treated with more of Mason. Guillory was once again on his game in delivering quality artwork with oodles of background diversions designed to keep people in stitches and pouring over every page. No doubt about it; the CHEW crew deserve their Eisner accolades.

STU BEAR

STU BEAR IN THE 25TH CENTURY
Written by Jeff Bushell and Drawn by Beware of the Art Studio
Published by Viper Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

The world’s laziest bear winds up with a hibernation he couldn’t have begun to imagine when an avalanche freezes him in ice and he isn’t thawed until 12,400 years in the future in STU BEAR, an odd new graphic novel from screenwriter Jeff Bushell.

Stu likes his honey and he likes his sleep, and that’s close to the extent of his life, much to the dismay of his brother Al. But as much as Al would like to bring Stu around to his way of thinking – that hibernation is unnecessary, and by eliminating it, bears could accomplish untold great things with those four months of their lives back – Al can’t argue too hard because he loves the big idiot. Plus, he has the best-trained and most accurate sense of smell for detecting honey and a built-up tolerance for bee stings. But it’s Stu that gets the surprise of his life upon waking up from deep freeze – his brother is now hailed as a visionary, and animals (particularly bears) have taken dominance over the earth while man has devolved.

There’s a lot of charm in the premise of STU. He’s a cute character, and you can see that Bushell has written him as he would the lead in a kids’ movie. The plot sticks close to family dynamics, even after Stu wakes up in the future, making it an all-ages read. And the art is harmless, if wanting. It’s a little stiff, and the colors make many of the panels and the depth of image look weird, even incomprehensible.

But my primary beef? The title. The interior of the book (page 11) says Stu wakes up 12,400 years later. That’s not the 25th century. The press release says he wakes up 500 years later. That’s not the 25th century, either. Only the back cover of the book gets it right, saying 400 years. A little proofreading goes a long way, fellas.

ROGUE ELEMENT 59

ROGUE ELEMENT #59: ‘The Expendables’ Review: Read and Be Warned

By Avril Brown

I recently caught an overpriced (fucking XD) matinee showing of ‘The Expendables,’ a blow-’em-up action film starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Jet Li, among other names from the action movie world. When I saw the preview of ‘Expendables’ a couple months prior I thought the movie looked ridiculous and completely marinated in testosterone…and I totally wanted to see it. Several of my favorite Hollywood action heroes starring together in a movie about a team of bad-ass mercenaries for hire sounded like a win to me, and a fairly difficult win to fuck up. I recently read and reviewed THE EXPENDABLES comic book published by Dynamite, and I really got a kick out of Chuck Dixon’s tale of these slightly damaged warriors on one of their mad missions. I SO wanted to love this exaggerated, star-studded excuse for enormous explosions and gratuitous violence, I truly did. Yet, after having viewed it in the theaters, I cannot.

This is a testament of how disastrous my week has been that one of the few movies this summer I was looking forward to turned out to be a disappointing waste of wicked cool battle scenes, sizable fiery fulminations and top shelf action acting talent. Dixon’s four issue EXPENDABLES mini-series had sizably more story substance and character development than Stallone’s one hour and forty-five minute movie. The plot of the film made little sense, making minimal effort to present plausible justification for killing a whole mess of people, and the personalities and histories of most of The Expendables crew were never fleshed out. Even Jean Claude Van Damme reportedly turned down the role of Gunnar, the strung out wild card of the group, because his character had no depth, and coming from JCVD that is saying a lot. Plus, he was right. And no one even got the girl! There was not ONE decent make-out session in the entire movie, only a few kisses between Statham and Charisma Carpenter (of ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’ fame) before they broke up (perhaps for good? Statham’s last words to her leave their relationship in the gray), and none between Stallone and the fresh, young object of his attentions.

Thankfully there are several slightly redeeming features about the film (though sadly not enough to warrant a twelve dollar ticket price…fucking XD), the core of which revolves around the very shiny action sequences. Jet Li is quite light on his feet, kicking ass as only a tiny Asian can, Jason Statham is sex on a well-cut stick, especially when he’s fighting, and Sly can still deliver one jaw-buster of a punch after another. The liberal use of glistening blood spurting from bullet holes, knife wounds and even decapitations gave the film an extra gory boost. Billowing clouds of conflagrations were frequent visitors and made more appearances in the movie than half the team. There were a few scenes (not nearly as many as I hoped) of good-natured banter between the boys which had me smiling, and from what I could hear of Mickey Rourke’s ‘painful past’ monologue (there were obnoxiously loud talkers in my theater) it was the most genuine and revealing scene in the film. Bruce Willis and The Governator had comical cameos as well, yet I wished Bruce would’ve stuck around for more face time.

Overall, however, ‘The Expendables’ was big on blasts and short on a serviceable script, instilling me with a craving to watch other movies starring these same faces in more satisfactory films. When I think ‘ridiculous’ Stallone, I always think ‘Demolition Man,’ one of my favorite craptastically entertaining action flicks which is ‘ridiculous’ yet still funny as hell, or ‘serious’ Stallone always has me jonesing for a good ‘Rambo’ or ‘Rocky’ fix. Statham is one of my most beloved Hollywood hotties and thankfully was given several opportunities to shine in ‘Expendables,’ including taking on at least five douchebags at once in an unarmed fight (and winning without breaking a sweat, of course) in addition to straddling a bright red Ducati bike on his off hours. However I still prefer him in basic British, such as the classics ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘Snatch,’ or when he has a ‘Job’ to do, such as ‘The Italian Job’ or ‘The Bank Job,’ the later being a more serious role which I felt he pulled off spectacularly. When it comes to tiny, kick-ass Asians I follow Jackie Chan more than Jet Li, so all I can associate Li with is one of the few films I have seen him in, which is unfortunately Lethal Weapon 4, a film already on my shit list even before Mel Gibson ousted himself as a Nazi. Therefore I vow to watch more Jet Li action flicks if only to have more positive associations with such an adorable, pint-sized martial arts machine.

‘The Expendables’ delivers in the action department in spades, but the few moments where noise decibel levels were hovering around normal could, and should, have been loaded with wittier lines and snippets of scenes revealing more background information on the crew. In Dixon’s comics we learn how much Barney Ross (Stallone’s character) cares about his vintage 1956 Ford F-100 truck, several of The Expendables speak various languages fluently, and Hale Cesar has more on his brain than bursting bullets. In short, see the movie as cheap as you can if you get off on seeing colossal explosions on the big screen, but pick up the Dynamite books if you want a better story with the same characters, minus the auditory and overwhelming optical stimulation (Esteve Polls’ art on ‘Expendables’ is decent, but quite frankly it’s no fucking XD). ‘Expendables’ is more evidence that despite a shit ton of money, flammable material, talent, and good ideas, this holy combination can still fail to produce an all-around fun film without a halfway decent script to help deliver the goods. But given the current, and certainly continuous (at least for a few weeks) box office success of the movie, I am confident the reported sequel will become a reality, hopefully offering more than this ‘Expendables’ did. In the meantime, you will have to pardon me: I have a date with Bacon, Balboa, Turkish and Spartan.

BRAIN CAMP, KOKO BE GOOD

BRAIN CAMP/KOKO BE GOOD
Written by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan and Drawn by Faith Erin Hicks
Written and Drawn by Jen Wang
Published by First Second

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two new ones from the folks at First Second…

BRAIN CAMP is a bit of an oddity. The writers behind First Second’s recent CITY OF SPIES dive back into teenage angst with one of the genre’s best tropes: the summer camp gone wrong. In Kim and Klavan’s tale, though, there’s an odd twist: campers really are going missing, and the adults running the place really do have a hidden agenda. That’s up front. The twist comes in the revelation of what that agenda is hiding and why the kids must be hidden away. BRAIN CAMP has a pair of enjoyable characters at its heart, matching an underachieving girl and a wannabe thug boy that must learn to rise above their own self-perceptions and perceptions of others to learn to co-exist, and I really dug that. I also dug Faith Erin Hicks superlative art- the book looks phenomenal. But I wasn’t exactly sold on the aforementioned twist. It was almost too strange. Still, I’d have no hesitation giving this book to a reader the age of its protagonists- I think it’d play well with that demo.

The characters in KOKO BE GOOD are a few years older, and facing far different problems. Jon has just graduated from college, and he has decided to leave his life behind and move to Peru to be with his girlfriend, who is older than him. However, he’s having trouble reconciling moving to another country where he doesn’t speak the language, no matter how much he loves her. On the other hand, we have Koko, a free spirit (or a fuckup, depending on your perspective) that finds inspiration in Jon moving to a far land in order to help his girlfriend aid the less fortunate. Having been an ass for most of her life, she no decides to try and be good. Of course, she has no idea what the entails or why someone would even want to do good, making it a challenge much more difficult than she could have ever imagined. Wang’s art is stunning, and her characters are intriguing, though I could never quite get past Koko’s obnoxiousness when Wang was trying her best to lead me through it. Still, a wonderful book for intellectuals and grownups.


STARGATE, EXPENDABLES

Reviews of two new books from Dynamite Entertainment.

By Avril Brown


STARGATE: VALA MAL DORAN #1-2
Written by Brandon Jerwa and Illustrated by Cezar Razek

This being my first foray into the world of “Stargate,” I had no idea what to expect, either from the title character or from the general plot. Though I have yet to immerse myself into the wide world of “Stargate” I have always been curious about the show and I was looking forward to learning more when I picked up this book.

The science fiction element of the show had me interested but the very first page of this book got me hooked on Vala Mal Doran. Jerwa opened with one of my favorite introductory sequences: a cute thief literally caught in the act of pilfering with her hands up in the air…or in this case, closer to the ground as she was still hanging upside down. Smart, skilled and sassy, Vala is one badass thief with big ideas and an unapologetic mouth. Definitely my kind of girl.

Taking place “several years ago,” which being a “Stargate” ignoramus means ‘pre-series’ to me, readers are given a glimpse into Vala’s life of crime in addition to being treated to quite the eclectic cast. True to the rules of sci fi diversity, Vala assembles a multi-talented crew consisting of a tiger man, a woman with a monkey and a stretched out pale green dude, each with their own specialties useful to this highly lucrative and dangerous job…which, naturally, goes awry, leaving Vala to pull something out of her sleeve in order to save herself and her bad of misfits.

Brett Booth’s covers are exquisite, and though I wished the interior matched the exterior I can find no fault in Cezar Razek’s work save for my own personal desire to see a tad more refinement and finer lines in the characters and background details. Razek does not skimp on the surroundings, filling in panel space with particulars that keep the entire story well rounded, visually entertaining and easier to become engrossed in.

Though I am still reluctant to dive into “Stargate” given my laundry list of books to read and shows to watch, if and when I do decide to take the plunge it will likely be due to this fabulous introduction to the indomitable Vala Mal Doran, and I look forward to reading onwards.

THE EXPENDABLES #1-4
Written by Chuck Dixon and Illustrated by Esteve Polls

With the movie release of ‘The Expendables’ coming up in only a few days, THE EXPENDABLES four-issue mini-series is recommended to those chomping at the bit for a taste of what’s to come in what should be a blockbuster of an action flick.

In what seems to be an accurate preview of the upcoming film, The Expendables, a motley crew of military men with varying specialties and levels of psychosis, are up for almost any gig as long as the price is right. Though they smell something amiss about their latest job opportunity, this crew of battle-hardened guys nevertheless suit up to save the day…and to collect a two million dollar paycheck.

Polls artwork is somewhat dark for my tastes, making it difficult to differentiate between some of the characters in the evening scenes, which is compounded by the fact most of the series takes place at night. Yet there was improvement in this as the books continued, and the plentiful action sequences are each given their dues and proper pacing. Though the focus is clearly the team and their explosive high jinks, I am a fiend for expressive background detail, something Polls could have laid on thicker throughout the series.

One of the things I love about THE EXPENDABLES is Dixon never tries to make the book something it is not. This is a shoot-‘em-up, testosterone fueled action comic laden with plenty of explosions, heads getting snipered and bad guys receiving beat downs they’ll never forget. There are plenty of corny one-liners peppered throughout the script and the on-going banter between the team members kept a smile on my face. Those looking for a deep, meaningful, character-driven tale of emotional evolution clearly have not seen the movie preview and should look elsewhere, but for those who cannot wait to see Stallone, Statham, Li and crew kicking ass and taking names should get a kick out of their comic counterparts doing the same in this highly entertaining mini series.

AISLE SEAT 2.0.59

AISLE SEAT 2.0.59: THE CHARLES YU INTERVIEW

By Marc Mason

A few weeks ago, I was sent an advanced readers copy of novelist Charles Yu’s HOW TO LIVE SAFELY IN A SCIENCE FICTIONAL UNIVERSE (reviewed here). This excellent book made me curious about its writer, so when I was offered the opportunity to meet and chat with Charles at this year’s SDCC, I jumped at the chance. Download or listen to this podcast to hear what he had to say.