STAN LEE’S THE TRAVELER 1

THE TRAVELER #1
Written by Mark Waid and Illustrated by Chad Hardin
Published by BOOM! Studios

Reviewed by Avril Brown

From the brilliant comic book minds of Stan ‘The Man’ Lee and Mark ‘He Who Writes Kick Ass Books’ Waid comes THE TRAVELER, a new superhero book about a mysterious cloaked gentleman who has the ability to manipulate time. The Traveler, also known as Kronus, just happens to arrive on the scene of strange, destructive happenings caused by people he calls the split-second men and rescues seemingly random bystanders from gruesome deaths utilizing his mad skills and a sarcastic wit.

When it comes to new superhero titles what truly matters is not necessarily fresh new powers, but rather novel and engaging protagonists and a script that can hold its own. With that in mind, THE TRAVELER has captured my attention. Starting with one of these supposed ‘random’ victims of the split-second men’s violent tendencies, it is clear from the beginning the villain is targeting her specifically and Kronus’s (a name the damsel in distress assumed was his due to a frayed patch on his costume) spot on timing is somewhat suspicious.

While the mystery surrounding the reason why Kronus and the split-second men are plaguing the people of Richmond, Virginia is intriguing, it is Kronus himself that will keep me coming back. Though he has the superhero tendency to monologue, an occasionally necessary evil (especially in a premier issue) in order to get the lay of the land, he also has no qualms about insulting the people he is rescuing and injecting a smidgeon of humor in the situation. Hardin’s artwork supports the story style as well, and the tricky time-warp scenes are done with clarity and finesse. The last, gruesome panel is a good cliff-hanger ending and a great way to kick off the series. I am going to keep an eye on THE TRAVELER to see how the mystery unravels and how this saucy new hero, who clearly knows more than he lets on, develops.

HARRY POTTY AND THE DEATHLY BORING

HARRY POTTY AND THE DEATHLY BORING
Written by Stefan Petrucha and Illustrated by Rick Parker
Published by Papercutz

Reviewed by Avril Brown

At the risk of point out the glaringly obvious, HARRY POTTY AND THE DEALTHY BORING is a graphic novel parody on the immensely popular ‘Harry Potter’ series by J.K. Rowling. Speaking as a rabid fan of the books about the boy wizard, I was initially hesitant when I began reading HARRY POTTY…until I got to the second page.

The silly, somewhat juvenile yet still clever humor laden on each page of this book is enough to tickle even a die-hard Potter fan such as myself. There are several running gags littered throughout the story which consistently earn a chuckle, and the modified names of the characters are worth a laugh as well (Don Measley, Whiny Stranger, Dumb-As-A-Door and Valuemart aka He-Whose-Prices-Can’t-Be-Beat are a few entertaining examples). The scar on Harry’s head, though not always visible, changes in almost every panel usually to compliment a joke relevant to the current scene, and the witches and wizards of Nosewarts are all sporting plungers rather than wands.

Admittedly you have to be a fan of the original series in order to fully appreciate the play on words and ridiculously warped scenarios HARRY POTTY presents. That is not to say a Potter-ignorant individual would not be able to enjoy the crass humor and cartoon style story telling, but like any decent parody, it is funnier if you have experienced the original. Petrucha does a excellent job of touching on all of the “Potty” books in a quick, witty summation of the previous novels which include ‘The Sorcerer’s Stoned,’ ‘The Secreting Chamber Pot’ and ‘Pain in my Asskaban.’

Though there is a prolific amount of nearly every facet of bathroom humor, HARRY POTTY is nevertheless smart enough to be appreciated by individuals over the age of twelve, particularly if one is a fan of both the ‘Potter’ series and absurd parodies. Parker goes the distance with his artwork, exaggerating the characters and their comical, extreme emotions, and his spreads offer plenty of Easter egg-type details to pour over. Petrucha and Parker make quite the demented dynamic duo, and I cannot wait to tackle their next foray into funning on popular series: ‘Breaking Down,’ a spoof on the insanely explosive ‘Twilight’ books. In the meantime, HARRY POTTY is worth a read for those looking to experience a different side of the wizarding world.

ROGUE ELEMENT 67

Rogue Element #67: There is no power like Girl Power

By Avril Brown

I recently raved about the awesomeness of my new all-girl geeky podcast entitled Comics Slumber Party and how much fun it is to rock out with my nerd out amongst other fangirls. My degree of diversion with this project thus far has refused to diminish and has in fact grown in the past couple weeks thanks to our decent number of hits (we have a listener in Botswana!) and encouraging feedback (a gentleman commented on our third episode that we are a ‘vocal turn on’…that totally made my month).

Amazing how creative compliments and respectable ratings for our fledgling show can boost ones ego, is it not? I feel empowered knowing the opinions and crass humor of the Comics Slumber Party chicks are being heard around the globe. The satisfaction of feeling like we are entertaining someone beside ourselves (though that would be plenty for me) is sizable, long lasting and inspirational. We are bound and determined to leave no comic conversation topic unexplored, whether it be kid friendly, girl centric or practically a letter to Penthouse, and my heart swells like a Grinch on Christmas when I think people are listening in.

Thanks to our well received podcast and a brilliant, beguiling clip from ‘Batman: The Brave and The Bold,’ brought to my attention by fellow hostess Molly Jane Kramer, I began contemplating my favorite Girl Power scenes in animation. Though this is by no means an exhaustingly comprehensive list, the following are clips where cartoon chicks kick some serious ass, be it with fists, flashy powers or fantastic singing voices.

‘Shrek,’ for those living under a rock the past ten years, is a hysterically engrossing computer animated movie starring the vocal talents of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz. Though she initially seems to be a prince-obsessed damsel in distress, Princess Fiona proves she is more than a pretty face when a rather obnoxious Robin Hood attempts to ‘save’ her from the ogre she is traveling with. Right in the middle of his big Broadway style musical number, Fiona comes soaring in from the sidelines and silences the randy Robin with a flying kick to the head. She then proceeds to take out his Merry Men with Matrix-type fighting moves, throwing in a few rabbit punches and even using her braided plait of hair as a lethal weapon. You go, girl.

‘X-Men Evolution’ was one of the best animated series ever created, and though it enjoyed five seasons on the air, a lengthy amount of time for a cartoon about teenage mutants, I am still raw over what I felt was its premature axing. Second season is when the show really started coming together and producing consistently quality episodes, one of which, entitled ‘Walk on the Wild Side,’ focused mainly on the young women of Xavier’s Institute. After ripping Scott a new one for jumping in on a training session she was working through with Amara (“I was trying to teach Magma how to handle things that go wrong, which did NOT include looking for a big, strong man to save you.”), Jean, Tabitha, Rogue, Amara and Kitty discover the thrilling high of becoming bad-ass vigilantes. A catchy, addictive song and image montage of the girls taking out car thieves and purse-snatchers, not to mention trying on hot black leather outfits, makes this episode more than worth a look-see. As the chorus says: “Don’t mess with my kind, don’t play with my mind, I’m only a girl but I can rule the world.” Hell yea, girlfriends. The scene I’m talking about starts at the 9:50 mark. Check it out!

While I am a self-professed Marvel whore, Molly Jane is definitely in bed with DC, and it was she who posted this fantastic clip of a ‘Batman: The Brave and The Bold’ episode on her Facebook page. I am just starting to become familiar with the Birds of Prey, a team of several crime fighting superladies from the DC universe, but after this scene I am fast-tracking my education. If the characters in the comics have just a fraction of the cool-factor this chicks are boasting then I have definitely been missing out. Another aspect of this song and dance I really dig is the semi-subtle double entendres my gutter-loving mind cannot help but notice. I know this is a kids show, but am I the only one who thinks the line about Aquaman’s ‘little fish’ that is ‘less outrageous’ is a reference to what he may be sporting in his green skivvies? Regardless, these women are mob-busting hotties and they are not afraid to show it, either by introducing their foot to your face or singing your socks off. Some may say this scene is exploitative of women given its slightly sultry nature, but I firmly believe in women exercising their right to look and act stunningly sexy whenever they wish. Watch it, love it, and, like me, have this song stuck in your head for the rest of the week.

Though you will not see me burning my bras (especially the fancy ones; those fuckers are expensive) or swearing off shaving anytime soon, I believe in many aspects of the feminist movement and women empowerment. I find it refreshing and encouraging when mediums such as successful film franchises and Saturday morning cartoons are willing to put powerful women in the spotlight, showcasing them as fighters rather than floozies. We have come a long way since winning the right to vote, and like any other equal rights movements we still have a long way to go, but with moments such as these hitting the internet as well as the big and small screens I believe we can at the very least enjoy the journey.

ARCHAIA X 3

ARCHAIA x 3
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Archaia Entertainment

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three new ones from the folks at Archaia…

Phil Hester returns to write the adventures of The Steward in DAYS MISSING: KESTUS #1, and it’s a very welcome return at that. The first DAYS MISSING series introduced us to the character, a man with the ability to “fold” days out of existence, allowing history to run its proper course and various potential apocalypses to be thwarted. Now there’s a new element in the mix: an adversary capable of undoing The Steward’s work. That person is Kestus, and this issue gives us the background on exactly who Kestus is and why she has it out for The Steward. Artist David Marquez does a lovely job of illustrating this tale of swords and immortals from 2500 years ago, and it sets up an intriguing game-changing way for the series to function. Hester wisely has taken the series away from its procedural roots and upped the stakes without losing some of the pieces that made the book so much fun the first time around. Solid stuff.

Chandra Free’s THE GOD MACHINE is one of the most unusual books I’ve come across in recent memory, and as I write this, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. The story follows Guy Salvatore, a young gothboy overwhelmed with grief over the death of his girlfriend, Sith. Then along comes Satan, who explains to him that his girlfriend isn’t really dead and that his life has been subject to the whims of the two Gods (Good and Evil) that really run the universe and that they are responsible for Sith’s disappearance. The question is: has Guy completely flipped his lid, or is something happening outside the natural realm that will allow him to traverse the strange lands and find the love of his life again? I was completely enthralled with Free’s art- it’s unique and full of vivid life and color, and I did get invested in Guy and Sith’s love for one another. Yet the (mortal) supporting cast drags the book (and Guy) down and aggravates. I was also less than pleased that the book ends on a cliffhanger. That said, enough here kept my interest that I definitely want to see volume two.

Few graphic novels in 2010 have come with more buzz and excitement behind them as RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN by writer Jim McCann and artist Janet Lee. Trying to easily sum up what it is about is nearly impossible, but I’ll give it a shot: in a land where time has stopped, the children and the robots that live there have forgotten who came first and how to truly live. There is no questioning, no curiosity, with the exception of one boy named Ayden and his robot friend Zoe. Enter the Dapper Men, 314 beings that fall from the sky and begin the process of correcting a reality gone wrong. But what happens to the people when time starts moving again and such concepts as darkness make their return to the world? DAPPER MEN is a fantastic fairy tale, cleverly written and overflowing with emotion and passion on McCann’s part. Ayden is a wonderful protagonist and the boy we all imagined being at that age. But as good as the story is, it wouldn’t be nearly as successful without Janet Lee’s tour-de-force artwork. This is one of the most visually striking books I’ve ever seen. Page after page, Lee delivers work that should be hanging in a gallery for the world to see. No question, this book lives up to, and surpasses, the hype. Easily one of the year’s ten best.



GREEN HORNET 10/VAMPIRELLA 1

GREEN HORNET 10/VAMPIRELLA 1
Written by Kevin Smith and Drawn by Phil Hester and Jonathan Lau
Written by Eric Trautmann and Drawn by Wagner Reis
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Reviewed by Marc Mason


GREEN HORNET 10 brings to a close the adaptation of Kevin Smith’s unused film script, and it deserves special note for more than one reason. First, this makes for ten issues in ten months- Smith’s longstanding reputation for lateness made the fanboy set skeptical about this book, but there was no need. The job here got done and it got done on time. As an added bonus, this turned out to be surprisingly good. The Green Hornet was never really a well-defined character, but Smith worked hard to change that. At the end of this story, he has purpose and direction, as well as a definitive villain. Most great heroes are defined by the quality of their opponents (Lex Luthor, Doctor Octopus, Doctor Doom, etc.) and that was something that this character had always lacked. The climax here also plays with a very standard action movie trope and resolves it in a way that’s funny and clever. Start to finish, this has worked. Going forward with Phil Hester writing, I expect more of the same.

Next up on the pulp fiction character revamp is VAMPIRELLA 1, which sees the ol’ girl relocated to Seattle and wearing pants while on the trail of Dracula and his minions. It’s the pants part that’s caused all the controversy amongst the fanboy set; Vampirella is considered the original “bad girl” and her skimpy costume was a badge of honor. But ultimately, the character is only as good as the stories she is written into. Here Trautmann takes her to a new locale, adding something different to the mix- we’ve seen her in New York City for years upon years, and milieu adds new textures and challenges for a character. Smart move. It also justifies the long pants- In New York, crazy people run around in fucked up clothing as a matter of normal. In Seattle, in order to blend amongst the populace and achieve her goals, Vampi needs to look a bit more like everybody else until the fangs come out and she starts kicking ass. Oh, don’t worry- plenty of ass gets kicked, from gangbangers to corrupt vampire cops, to waltzing into a den full of nasty vamps that want her dead, the action is all here. Good start to the new phase for the character.








STAN LEE’S HOW TO DRAW COMICS

STAN LEE’S HOW TO DRAW COMICS
Written by Stan Lee and David Campiti and Drawn by Various
Published by Watson-Guptill
In Conjunction with Dynamite Entertainment

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Most of the how-to books I’ve been sent for review lately have been manga-focused, so it was a breath of fresh air to see one devoted to the art of superheroics pop up in my mailbox. Then I saw the title and had a bit of concern- Stan the Man writes comics, not draws. How well would the book translate his knowledge of storytelling techniques so that a young artist could use the book for practical knowledge? Also, with more than a few disputes between Lee and some of his early collaborators publicly known, how would he handle discussing their contributions to his success?

The answer: pretty well on both accounts.

What stuck out to me about this book is that it takes a different approach to how-to than I have seen recently. Very little time is spent on talking about the tools artists use; instead, the book dives right into technique. The first lengthy chapter covers concepts like perspective and foreshortening, and it isn’t until after that where the book actually covers drawing anatomy and action. The idea, I think, is the remind artists that fights are only a small part of being a good artist. Flow, movement, and storytelling matter most.

Later chapters cover backgrounds, layouts, and the book even dives into lettering and coloring. There’s even a small section on preparing a portfolio as well as a list of suggested reads and schools that offer comics art training. In short, if you or someone you know are considering becoming a comics artist, having a copy of this book on hand is a pretty good idea.

CRUMB-Y COMICS

CRUMB-Y COMICS
Drawn by R. Crumb and Sophie Crumb
Published by W.W. Norton

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two new books from two generations of Crumbs…

THE SWEETER SIDE OF R. CRUMB is a different kind of book from the old master. Fresh off his smash hit adaptation of the Book of Genesis, R. Crumb throws the medium another curveball, and it’s a dandy. SWEETER SIDE brings together work that shows another side of his talents. Here we have material like beautiful life-drawings of jazz musicians, detailed takes on French locales, a portrait of his cat sitting on his chest, reverent representations of his wife modeling different dresses, and even some cute little comics detailing some of the more amusing moments in raising his daughter Sophie. The work itself is uniformly lovely to look at, but what astonishes most is the depth of style that Crumb displays here. I only wish he had offered some commentary about the origins of the pieces printed here. Whether he is producing simple cartoon pieces, rough sketches, or life-drawings that look like photographs, his hand never seems to falter. This is Crumb giving us a glimpse of who he is in a more rounded sense. He isn’t just anything. He’s an artist.

Speaking of his daughter, Sophie Crumb is a fine and fascinating artist in her own right, and SOPHIE CRUMB: EVOLUTION OF A CRAZY ARTIST aims to demonstrate that as loudly as possible. I’ve never seen an art book quite like it; her parents began keeping her artwork as soon as she started producing it at the age of two, and fanatically archived it from that time forward. Thus this book truly is able to show her evolution. There are almost 60 pages of material drawn by her between the ages of 2-8. Ultimately, those aren’t very compelling, but once she hits the age of ten you can really begin to see her talent coming out. About that time she develops a true style of her own, and the light bulb is coming on. Within five years, she begins to develop the skills to work in multiple styles. From there it snowballs, and she starts setting herself apart from contemporaries and from the long shadow of her parents. The level of sophistication is impressive, and Sophie’s notes about her own life and how it influenced her art are a welcome addition in giving context to some of the work.


ROGUE ELEMENT 66

Rogue Element #66: Chicago Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!

By Avril Brown

I recently began recording a podcast show with two other Chicago nerdy women, Molly Jane Kramer and Wendi Freeman, and we call ourselves ‘Comics Slumber Party.’ The name could not be any more accurate considering I typically had a blast at slumber parties growing up, and I am currently having the time of my life recording our CSP podcast.

Female friends, at least locally, are a bit of a novelty to me. I adore my college gal pals, however they are mostly on the East coast and not readily available to grab a drink on a Sunday afternoon. Work friends I tend to see in pack form and not often in smaller groups of two or three. Plus, none of my girlfriends are as into comic books as I am, so the time I have spent geeking out over comics with another girl has been limited.

Until now.

Recording this show has been something of a revelation for me. Wendi, Molly and I have spent hours just yammering on about comic books, plot lines, characters, costumes, the list goes on. Not that I haven’t conversed extensively of such things with other comic nerds, but this time I am chatting with chicks and it is a whole new ballgame.

We talk about what superheroes we would bang, how hot Ryan Reynolds, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth’s abs are, which hairstyle of Rogue’s looks best and our favorite costumes. We talk about girl stuff as it pertains to comics, and it is so much fun. Admittedly the drinks consumed at our gatherings are partially responsible for making this a no holds barred type of show, but for me at least, I just can’t help myself. I have so many nerdy topics I want to talk about with other women, and yes, some of them are pretty raunchy. For years my desire to discuss such things with someone of the female persuasion has been building, and now that I have found a release there is no stemming the tide.

Therefore, while I in no way wish to discourage people from listening to our show, a disclaimer must be given for those may not want to hear me sharing my thoughts on which superhero I would do the nasty with in a heartbeat. I say the word ‘penis’ and yes, I drop the f bomb as it is one of my favorite words despite its negative reception. Basically, I’m me with little to no filter. Some people can handle an undiluted Avril Brown, and some cannot. I judge not lest I be judged, so please, feel free to do what you will with the information given.

If you want to tune into a few foxy chicks talking about comics from all sorts of angles with varying degrees of MPAA ratings, then check us out and prepare to be entertained. I refuse to force feed my forays into extreme nerddom on the unwilling, occasionally racy content or no, and I am not the type to bust out the puppy dog eyes and guilt trips for anything other than chocolate or shiny objects. Listen to ‘Comics Slumber Party’ or no, it is entirely up to you. I am going to be over here, sipping from my Watchmen flask and having a laugh with two of the coolest comic-loving chicks I have the fortune to call ‘friend,’ for as long as we have shit to shoot. Methinks my standing date with the gals of ‘Comics Slumber Party’ will be an event I will looking forward to for a lengthy time to come.

You can listen to Molly Jane, Wendi and I go full geek in ‘Comics Slumber Party’ here or find us soon on iTunes.

RECONCILERS

THE RECONCILERS #1
Written by Erik Jensen and Drawn by Shepherd Hendrix
Published by Viking Warrior Press

Reviewed by Marc Mason

It’s 2165, and humans have finally given up warring amongst themselves. Of course, it isn’t quite that cut and dry- nations have been replaced by corporations, and to settle disputes, those corporations send their best fighters into gladiatorial combat to the death, the winners taking the spoils and the money. Into that mix comes a small engineering company that has the misfortune of finding a deposit of the world’s most necessary mineral, which means that the biggest company is going to do anything (by hook or by crook) to get their hands on it. Good thing they have Sean Hexhammer on their side, the one man capable of rising above his tiny employer’s humble resources and background and leading them to potential victory.

That’s a bit of a mouthful.

THE RECONCILERS was a frustrating read for me. So much of what is here should work better than it does. The creative team put a ton of effort into creating a very vivid and fully realized world, and for the most part they succeeded. Shepherd Hendrix’s art is terrific- they layouts and storytelling is effective and does a solid job of getting the milieu across to the reader. The cover, by the great Neal Adams, is eye-catching.

So what bothered me?

Ultimately, THE RECONCILERS doesn’t quite reach what it aims for. That fully realized world never took hold of me and got me interested in it. As an avid sci-fi guy, I’ve read countless stories of corporate-run Earth, and this one didn’t give me something truly new and exciting. Adams only does the cover, but the book plays up his name for all its worth- it’s on the cover. It’s on the spine of the book. It almost feels like false advertising, and I’d scream louder if it weren’ for the single character sketch page by Adams at the end of the book.

Indeed, the credits issue bugged the hell out of me. Adams’ name is on the front cover, along with Jensen’s two co-creators of the concept. But when it comes down to it, this book was done by Jensen and Hendrix. That’s it. This isn’t a movie where you can arbitrate credits- the writer and artist belong on the front cover, and no one else.

The final sequence of the book is executed in clever fashion, and the last few pages do their best to give you an emotionally resolute climax to the book- it comes close to overcoming my hesitation about the rest of the story. Future volumes are planned, and going forward, I’d like to see more focus on truly developing the characters. Only Hexhammer gets any real play here beyond individual quirks. There is stuff to be mined here. Time will tell if the creative team strikes paydirt.

HATTER M VOL. 3

HATTER M VOL.3: THE NATURE OF WONDER
Written by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier and Drawn by Sami Makkonen
Published by Automatic Pictures

Reviewed by Marc Mason

It is six years into Hatter Madigan’s journey to find the lost Princess Alyss Heart, and his travels have now taken him across the ocean. The royal bodyguard now stands on the grounds of the White House itself, a building inhabited by one Abraham Lincoln. It is 1865, and the United States is at war with itself. But as the North enters its final days of defeating the rebels, Lincoln faces a new threat, one made up of Black Imagination, a terror unleashed from Wonderland itself.

But for Hatter Madigan, such aggression will not stand. And in stopping it, he may be able to put the full resources of the U.S. government to work in finding Alyss.

When last we left the HATTER M saga, I was feeling a little disappointed with it. I gave volume two a middling review, in part because I felt like it was difficult to give the series true stakes when the reader knew that the title character would ultimately succeed in his quest. Merely filling in the details of his thirteen-year quest could get boring quickly. That said, volume three addresses my concerns and addresses them well; if each succeeding book in this series is as strong as this one, that’d be very good news.

What works? Madigan’s quest dovetails with the lives of others, and those others do have huge things at stake. You know Lincoln is doomed, but the new characters introduced here have wide-open fates. That wouldn’t matter if they were uninteresting or uninvolving, but they are- Beddor and Cavalier do a terrific job of populating volume three with people you want to see more of. They also introduce a terrific subplot about Madigan as a boy and his older brother- this is independent of the novels and gives the graphic novels something fresh to play with- smart move.

Makkonen’s art looks terrific here as well- there is definite improvement over the work in volume two. Throw in some excellent extras, and you have a series that is firmly back on track. Can’t wait to see volume four.

ALSO: HATTER M VOL.1: FAR FROM WONDER, drawn by the great Ben Templesmith, is now back in print, and with that new printing comes a couple of new short stories drawn by Makkonen and some new extras that were previously not available. Volume one was uniformly terrific and set a high standard for what this series should be- check it out.