GOTHIC IMAGES

GOTHIC IMAGES
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two new graphic novels from the Image gang, one common denominator:


DARK IVORY, written by Joseph Michael Linsner and Eva Hopkins, and drawn by Linsner is much more quick to embrace its goth roots. Ivory, a self-identifier, is stuck in a miserable family situation, her only respite the nights she sneaks off to the city and dances the night away. However, while goth culture tends to embrace the vampire aesthetic, it all goes horribly wrong when Ivory meets someone that actually just might be a real vampire. And when that threatens her family, things get even more complex, forcing Ivory to get her act together, gain some maturity and self-awareness, and start making good decisions with her life. The creative team, well-known for the DAWN series, delivers a gorgeous book here, and in a way that isn’t offensive. There are different body types, Ivory is never over-sexualized, and the pages are composed to best tell the story effectively. I didn’t buy into every aspect of what happens to Ivory- a couple of moments felt like they came out of left field. But I admired the execution and the passion behind it. Solid work.

On the other hand, HACK/SLASH: MY FIRST MANIAC never quite comes out and announces that Cassie hack is a goth girl turned slasher killer. Instead, writer Tim Seeley structures her story as simply one of an outsider who would like to fit in, but never will. This story is set back before she first met her partner Vlad, so her loneliness is much more prevalent as we open on her. When she, and the first real friends she has ever made, find themselves in the midst of a slasher spree, she is forced to reject her desires for normality and embrace her true calling. Seeley effectively uses the three-act structure of the “hero’s journey” to carry the character from the trauma she felt over her mother’s homicidal rampage to the confident, ass-kicking girl we read about in more recent HACK/SLASH stories. The only thing that didn’t quite work for me here was Daniel Leister’s art- it’s inconsistent. Some of the pages look absolutely fantastic, but many others feel loose in their construction, and Cassie’s face doesn’t always look the same from page to page. Still, I’ve never read this series for the artwork- it’s always been about the characters and the story for me. This is no different.




ROGUE ELEMENT 71

Rogue Element #71: Role Players, Holla

By Avril Brown

Last weekend I attended my very first role play gaming event. Until this moment, to me role players were like leopards, which I have seen and even touched though the bars of the Big Cat House at Lincoln Park Zoo, but I have never had the privilege of witnessing their lethal grace and beauty in the untamed wilds. Likewise with role players, I was familiar with their existence and have seen and rubbed elbows with them in other venues such as Comic Cons, but I had never seen a role player in his/her element; namely, in the midst of an actual game.

Honestly, despite being a self-professed nerd for quite some time now, I knew precious little about role playing games and I didn’t even fully understand how the game was carried out. Therefore, when the opportunity arose to bear witness to a game in progress, I eagerly jumped at the chance. My boyfriend Jesse (yes, I have a boyfriend; those who know me please do not die of shock. If you feel faint, take deep breaths and count backwards from ten) is the mediator of this particular group of gamers and sent me a document detailing the characters involved, the countries and governments rooted on this fantasy world, and the specs of what the general plot line was for this game. Armed with this newfound font of information, I was nevertheless still confused as hell as to how the game would be played.

Despite Jesse’s best efforts to explain it to me in small, monosyllabic words, the pieces still were not completely coalescing until we arrived at his house and the gamers began to play. Each had their own set of dice, a gaming sheet and one hell of an imagination, the fires of which were fed with pizza, beer and creative grey matter. This particular game was created from a GURPS gaming set (Generic Universal RolePlaying System) where there are elves, dwarves, humans and an array of beasties. The residents of this world travel and trade in airships, kept aloft with ensorcelled float stones and, depending on the ship, armed with cannons and pirates. Staying alive is a priority in this game, a goal not always achieved, as is acquiring wealth, physical strength and skills.

The characters in this crew are an eclectic bunch and include a saucy bar wench, a mage with fire magic, an arrogant captain, a socially awkward engineer and a hired thug. When creating a character, a player can utilize the character points given to them to ‘purchase’ specialties for their individual fantasy fellow, but there are only so many points to go around. The saucy bar wench, for example, has the looks of Marilyn Monroe, the fists of Mike Tyson and the liver of an Irish sailor, but she is one crappy shot. The mage is a big gun when it comes to his fire magic and has quite a few roasted corpses under his belt, but one good punch from a physically endowed character could be quite dangerous to his health. A lot of what does or does not happen to a character, however, is dependent on the luck of the roll. The dice determine whether you will reach the stars, fail on a colossal level, or fall somewhere in between.

Any literate individual growing up in the eighties and nineties should remember the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. I used to adore those stories. What a unique concept! You read a story for a few pages and then the book gives you the choice of where you want the character to go. Should you try and sneak past the angry pirates’ intent on stealing the gold you have discovered, or will you keep quiet and hide behind a barrel, waiting for them to pass? Choose your own adventure, flip to the page number indicated and discover whether your choice leads to more adventures or an untimely end. This role playing game was like one of those exciting books, only the decisions are largely a collaborative effort, and the success level of the choices and characters lie in the hands of the dice, and the mediator.

As Jesse explained to me, there are some people who head up these games and make every effort to kill off characters and create a very difficult gaming experience, but not my man. He wants his fellow gamers to have a good time, and from my perspective, fun was definitely had. The tangible camaraderie and infectious joy the gamers experienced playing this game and in each other’s company is worthy of a green eye. Sure they snark and get snippy at each other, especially as the night wore on and the pizza ran out, but in the end they are friends; brothers and sisters in arms. They are players, hear them roar.

I learned a great deal about what it means to be a gamer nerd, such as weapons efficiency:

“Which one kills better?”

“It’s hot flying shit being shot out of a cannon; it will kill the unholy shit out of any flesh being within its range.”

Nerdy calculations, such as how fast does a cannon ball travel?:

“9.8 meters per second, bitch.”

The joy, and usefulness, of a trip down memory lane:

“Remember what happened last time.”

“I killed a dwarf.”

“After that.”

“I dislocated my arm and broke four ribs.”

“THAT one.”

The importance of staying educated:

“I am giving a pirate-fighting class. Rule number one: don’t die. Rule number two: kill the other people. Rule number three…Darren, take it away.”

Not to mention the frequently unasked inquiry of what does a gamer nerd consider too nerdy?:

“This is not good; we are so nerdy we know whose dice is whose.” – Jesse

In my humble opinion, these people are just plain cool hand Luke. They have the balls do what they want to do, play whatever nerdy game they want to play, roll the dice and see what comes of it. They have the cojones to PLAY. If you were ever a child at some point in your life, then you have played a fantasy game and had one hell of a good time pretending you were Tarzan while climbing that tree, or a brave explorer gathering samples in an alien world while frolicking around the frozen tundra that is a backyard in a Chicago winter. We all dove into fantasy at some point or another, so what makes us think we have to give it all up when we’re “grown”?

Now that I understand more about the mechanics of the role playing world, I wonder why gamers are considered the ultimate nerd. No matter what social, political, racial and etc. circle you peer into, you will find discrimination. I have met gays and lesbians who turned their same-gender-loving-noses up at me for being bisexual simply because they did not believe someone can straddle the fence. Role players are viewed as top tier tools to the complete non-nerd, and extremists by many in the comic loving community…but why? When these people play the game, they can essentially become their character, as if they were reading an interactive, evolving script they are helping to write. Hollywood stars make millions doing exactly what role players do in their spare time to their own great enjoyment and zero monetary payment. The stigma, however, is there. Jesse even seemed reluctant when I expressed interest in attending the game, quick to warn me I may be bored given my ignorance of the gaming world and asking me not to judge his written game plan as it was a rough draft and something he does not normally show to non-game nerds (I attempted to assuage his fears by reminding him that she who pays hundreds of dollars to have Rogue and Gambit tattooed on her flesh shall not throw stones in a nerdy house).

Whoever said nerds are anti-social and agoraphobic never met role players. It was like they were talking in code and I was the only one who didn’t have a translation manual. They could slip in and out of character as easily as donning a pair of panties. At one point two players left the table to discuss sensitive topics the rest of the crew could not overhear, whispering conspiratorially in the background and leaving the remaining players to caucus structural details of the all-important airship and loading of precious cargo. The grand master often rolled his dice behind the cover of a sketch pad, the numbers on the face of the red plastic cubes too hot for the table to handle. There were sound effects, hand gestures and dramatic statements; nerdy interactive theater at its finest. Jibs, jabs and jokes were flying constantly throughout the evening until the game was forced to come to a halt as Jesse did not anticipate all of the characters surviving to this point and needed time to come up with the next section of story. The players reluctantly parted ways with assurances to meet again soon for the next round of dorky debauchery.

“Anything You Want” are the enlarged words written on the back of the GURPS book, and I can think of no better way to sum up the point and pleasure found in role playing games. Will I eventually join the community of gamers? Perhaps, perhaps not, but I will always appreciate and respect role players for their immeasurable level of imaginative intelligence. Roll the dice, my nerdy brothers and sisters, and keep the fantasy alive.

GRIM REAPER: END OF DAYS

GRIM REAPER: END OF DAYS
Written by Steve Alten
Published by Variance Publishing

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Patrick Shepherd had it all: career as a professional athlete, loving wife, beautiful daughter… but he gave it all up to serve his country and came home a broken man. If he had his choice, he would live out his life in self-pity and despair. But that choice is about to be taken away. An insane scientist has just unleashed a genetically altered form of the Bubonic plague upon Manhattan, and thousands are dying. Aided by his shrink, Virgil, Patrick descends into the Hell that the city has become and faces his own version of Dante’s Inferno as he crosses the island, the only vaccine in his possession, in a desperate attempt to find his wife and child and save them (and himself) from the military’s “final solution”- perhaps the only way to truly save the world and prevent mankind from being eradicated permanently.

I’m a sucker for apocalyptic thrillers- the scarier the scenario, the better, and as far as that goes, GRIM REAPER is one of the most terrifying books I’ve read in quite some time. Alten’s premise is frightening in its simplicity- a psychotically devout American scientist decides to try and force The Rapture by unleashing the plague she’s been working on in her lab, and doing so with alterations that render the regular antidote useless. She makes her way to a vulnerable spot in the city, injects herself, and sets about spreading death.

It doesn’t take long.

Of course, to really engage the reader in even the grimly interesting scenario, you need characters that you can relate to and care about, and Alten provides those in solid amounts. Shepherd is a man we see every day deplaning from a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan- or anyone returning from a battlefield of any kind, really. He has questions and regrets about his actions and about whether or not the divine truly exists. Not just muscle, he is a walking existentialist nightmare. His journey, to find the only thing left he cares about, is something the reader can relate to. I think most of us would risk ourselves in the same way. That makes the book work.

Some readers may be put off by the overt spirituality of the book, and I was, on occasion, one of them. Alten wants to make his point and wrap it in theology, which I understand, but I think he loses balance on occasion and the book becomes polemic. When he backs off and lets the plot get rolling again, though, things fall right back into place and it becomes completely gripping. As far as the way he takes the final third of the book and turns it into a modern version of Dante, I think it mostly works. Alten’s observation of human behavior is strong and his comparisons are generally right on target.

This is potentially the first of a trilogy of books, but the author wisely gives the reader a strong ending, not leaving you hanging on important plot points. If you’re a fan of this genre, GRIM REAPER should have a lot of appeal for you, and it’s easy to recommend- it just simply works.

EMITOWN

EMITOWN
Written and Drawn by Emi Lenox
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

While superheroes may dominate the sales charts these days, the most interesting and impressive growth (genre-wise) in comics these days comes in autobiographical work. That said, a good chunk of it is unreadable and unpleasant. But not all of it- some artists are doing remarkable stuff in the autobio realm, and Portland-based cartoonist Emi Lenox’s first full collection of her work shows that she is among the very best.

What sets Lenox’s work from others is a combination of things that grant EMITOWN its distinct style. The greatest autobio comic of all time- Eddie Campbell’s ALEC- is done in chunks of long-form storytelling. Lenox, however, produces her work as a daily diary. One page = one day in her life. While your initial reaction might be that it would be difficult to achieve a lot of depth in such a short piece, you’d be wildly wrong. Through a combination of varied storytelling techniques, she uses changes in artistic style, layouts, tone, and color to prevent the pages from feeling static and to carry you through her mental and emotional processes.

That helps immensely in making her relatable. She touches on her day job just enough to universalize her experiences. Her approach to a relationship going south isn’t to over-share the details, but to shift her style and tell us what is happening by turning herself and the guy into comic book characters and excerpting “panels” into the diary that slyly show the decline between the pairing. That, I think, is a real strength- she knows when to step on the gas and bury her reader in details, but also when to wrap and cover herself and protect her privacy while still being candid. It’s a fine line, and you have to be very talented to pull it off. Lenox is just that.

EMITOWN covers a year in the author’s life, four-hundred pages of work, and displays the work of an amazing young talent. I have little doubt that we will soon be seeing a lot of other work from Lenox, both in books she creates and from publishers snapping her up and putting her to work. Judging from her work here, I’ll be on the lookout to read it.

ROGUE ELEMENT 70

Rogue Element #70: Catching Up On the Classics

By Avril Brown

As discussed in my recent tribute to one of my favorite scribes Garth Ennis, ever since I decided to fully embrace the comic culture and actively make it a more visceral part of my life, reading classic, beloved and/or acclaimed comic books has become a priority. Well, as much a priority as one would expect given the sizable stack of monthly titles I already peruse, the books I regularly read and review for CWR and recent dabblings in my new favorites from Dynamite Entertainment. Not to mention finding time for my lamentably stagnant job search, my beloved fledgling Comics Slumber Party podcast and a social life outside of comics, I often wish I could pull an MIB and switch to Centaurian time. I would like to think I could handle a thirty-seven hour day rather than have a psychotic episode, but you never know.

Thankfully, with immersion comes expansion, and the more people I have met in the Chicago comic community the more access I have to books which would otherwise elude me. Lucky finds are always a boon as is a tendency to avoid more strenuous activities in favor of putting up my feet and taking an afternoon to relax with a good trade or ten. With these powers combined, I have begun to catch up on some classic stories.

Y: The Last Man – Written by Brian K. Vaughn and Penciled by Pia Guerra

Admittedly at the time of this writing I am still in the middle of this ten volume run, and I honestly cannot yet offer my decisive opinion on the entirety of the series. Whenever ‘Y: The Last Man’ was recommended to me, those singing its praises assured me I would enjoy this comic story following the trials of the last man left alive after a plague destroyed every mammal with a Y chromosome. What they neglected to tell me (or at least I do not recall this particular caveat) was this is a darkly comedic series. An unknown pathogen eliminates all the males on Earth, mysteriously leaving only one man and his monkey still breathing? Alright, when put like that I suppose I should have at least seen the potential for a humorous aspect, but it still took me by surprise when I began reading ‘Y’ and Yorick the protagonist began cracking cheesy jokes from the get go. Several trades in I am still trying to switch tracks in my brain that rather than another post-apocalyptic graphic novel about the horrors and heroics the human race is capable of in its darkest hour (though there is plenty of that as well), I am in fact reading a very tongue-in-cheek tale of the most immature man on Earth and his stool-slinging monkey. Aided by a government agent known only as 355 and joined by a doctor specializing in cloning research, Yorick and crew must face an entire world filled with lonely, horny women (alas poor Yorick, who is attempting to stay faithful to his girlfriend in the Outback), insane men-haters known as the ‘Daughters of the Amazon’ (they cut off a boob to aid in their archery) and all sorts of other crazy chicks. Like I said, I’m not finished yet, but this series is definitely starting to grow on me.

Comic classic on deck by Brian K. Vaughn: ‘Ex Machina,’ a series about a technopath who becomes Mayor of New York City in wake of his heroic actions on 9/11. I intend to borrow this series from my very gracious and generous Comics Slumber Party co-host, Wendi Freeman, who is a big fan of the book.

Battlefields – Written by Garth Ennis and Penciled by various artists

I have issues with war. No, I am not a stuff-a-rose-in-rifle hippie chick (not judging, though; to each their own). I understand there are various reasons, some valid and some not, for countries to take up arms, but details of the horrors and unspeakable brutalities which commonly occur during wartime I find difficult to read and/or watch. The gory, gratuitous violence in a fictional story such as ‘Preacher,’ another Ennis story I adore, is one thing, but World War II actually happened, making it scary, and sacred, territory. Ennis’s collection of stories entitled ‘Battlefields’ which take place during WWII treads upon this territory with educated, respectful and passionate storytelling. Ennis is a WWII history enthusiast and his interest and knowledge shines though in every tale, from his fictional characters birthed from the non-fictional crew of female Russian pilots known as the ‘Night Witches’ who flew during the war, to the immaculate details given about Tigers, Panthers and other types of tanks in ‘Tankies.’ His story entitled ‘Dear Billy’ about a British nurse who found a dark way to cope with her rape and near murder at the hands of a Japanese contingent makes me cry every time. Often painful to read, ‘Battlefields’ is nevertheless one of my favorite comics and is truly moving.

Comic classic on deck by Garth Ennis: his renowned run on Marvel’s ‘Punisher’ title, not to mention keeping up with Dynamite’s ‘The Boys,’ ‘Highland Laddie’ and anything else he cares to write, which according to recent news is a new title called ‘Jennifer Blood’ starring an unstoppable assassin. I am so there.

Planetary – Written by Warren Ellis and Penciled by John Cassady

I first found ‘Planetary’ in San Diego the summer of ’09 and spent the flight/train/bus ride home devouring the first trade of the series, the only book I had discovered for sale. Unlike anything I ever read in comics at that point, I was captivated by the unique story idea of super-powered archeologists who travel the world unlocking the ambiguities conventional science cannot explain, brought to colorful life by none other than the great John Cassady. The man may have a reputation for dragging his feet in terms of deadlines but DAMN does he know his way around a comic panel. ‘Planetary’ is probably my favorite of Cassady’s work, and perhaps my favorite of Ellis’s as well. He created such a rich world with so many creative options and mysteries to unravel, and he goes anywhere/when with these immensely entertaining characters. Unfortunately, I have yet to finish the series as ‘Planetary’ has been coming to me in pieces. I found the second trade at C2E2 last year (which unfortunately seems to have gone on walkabout; anyone see a thin, paperback trade with the word ‘Planetary’ written across the front and the number two underneath lying around somewhere?) and I was lucky enough to find the third trade in hardcover for half-off at a random little shop in Boston’s Jamaica Plains when visiting some college gal pals. Thus far, however, the final pieces of ‘Planetary’ remain out of my grasp, which, in a way, is tantalizing. Normally I must consume an entire series in as little time as possible, so this extended quest is dragging out my enjoyment of the series.

Comic classic by Warren Ellis on deck: ‘Transmetropolitan,’ a dystopian future type book about a journalist (fashioned after Hunter S. Thompson) who is determined to prevent the President of the United States from making the world worse than it already is.

Though I am clearly making progress in my mission to become a well-rounded comic book nerd, there are always more books to absorb, a fact which is as exciting as it is exhausting. Thankfully, this is part of the beauty of comics: they keep on giving. There are oodles of talent in the market today, most of which show no signs of slowing down, and the classic stories are not going anywhere. As difficult as it can be sometimes, I am nevertheless going to pace myself because a good, classic comic is like a fine wine: it should be examined from all angles before being savored, and though some are period pieces which do not taste the same in different time frames, the memory of their first impact will never fade. I have said it before and it shall be reiterated time and time again: Lift a glass, my fellow fans, and take a moment to enjoy a good book.

SALVATORE

SALVATORE Volume 1: Transports of Love
Written and Illustrated by Nicolas De Crecy
Published by NBM

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Dive into SALVATORE and be introduced to some of the most endearing and off-the-wall characters in comics today. Light-hearted and wacky yet charming and inspiring, SALVATORE is utterly original and truly wacky. You never know where the story is going to go, and you love every bump in the road.

Meet Salvatore, a gifted dog mechanic with a secret, passionate mission: to be reunited with his lost love Julie, who moved to South America years ago. Determined to follow his heart south of the equator, Salvatore decides to build a vessel that will take him over land and sea to Julie, and he uses parts stolen from his many clients to achieve his goal. His heart is filled with love and his intentions are pure, but with the increasing number of obstacles between him and Julie Salvatore’s methods begin to descend into questionable territory. If it is all done in the name of love, however, how can they be wrong?

Amandine is another major character whose story originally intertwines with Salvatore’s but quickly branches off to become her own quest of love and devotion. A widowed, pregnant sow, Amandine also suffers from a severe case of myopia and ends up driving down a mountainside after visiting Salvatore’s exclusive garage. One very wild and unintentional adventure later, Amandine ends up on a rooftop in Paris and promptly gives birth to her thirteen piglets. Unfortunately, one youngling is lost along the way to the hospital and Amandine swiftly sets off to locate her missing progeny. An interesting sense of propriety, a myopic view of the world and twelve piglets in tow are all creative obstacles to Amandine’s heartwarming goal of finding her lost child.

There are a plethora of innovative characters which pop up in both stories, adding extra surprises to a book which is already pleasantly bizarre. De Crecy’s dry, well-timed humor is the main reason these characters are inexhaustibly entertaining and often quite amusing. Amandine’s misguided philosophies are the result of a mad genius, and Salvatore’s reliability upon love as his excuse for theft and deceit is the product of a hopeless romantic. Essentially, De Crecy gives his characters realistic life in a satirical setting.

His artwork perfectly compliments his whimsical storylines offering gallons of gritty detail in each panel while keeping the pages balanced and not crowded. De Crecy knows his settings, from the mountain tops to the streets of Paris, and his adoration of his locations shows in his work. His characters manage to be deceptively simplistic and overwhelming expressive, making each panel stand out on its own. This fun, heartfelt and blithe book is a joy to read and one of the best and most imaginative books NBM has published in recent years.

KILL SHAKESPEARE VOL 1

KILL SHAKESPEARE VOL. 1
Written by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery and Drawn by Andy B.
Published by IDW

Reviewed by Marc Mason

“To be or not to be?” is hardly the question for Hamlet in this fascinating graphic novel. The melancholy Dane must instead ask himself if he’s simply gone insane. Attacked by pirates on his journey of exile, he winds up in the clutches of Richard III, who convinces the young prince that he is the only man that can find and kill the leader of the rebellion against Richard’s crown: William Shakespeare. Torn between two factions and uncertain of the truth, Hamlet winds up on a strange journey, at various times making the company of Falstaff, Iago, Juliet and Othello.

Sound confusing? It really isn’t.

KILL SHAKESPEARE follows a very simple conceit: all the characters from the great author’s works are real and they live and exist in the same universe. The immortal bard himself remains in the background, unseen, a deus ex machine whose existence moves the pieces around the board. It is amusing to realize that even in Del Col and McCreery’s universe, he remains very much the author, though an author of inaction. Yet there is no question of his presence having a palpable effect; the characters feel it as they pursue their own agendas pertaining to the plot, and the reader feels it, your own personal connection to Shakespeare and his works coloring your perception of the characters on the page.

Would you trust Iago? No matter how much he may have seemed to reform?

The story here isn’t so much clever as comfortable. Once you accept the basis of this universe, it is very easy to slide in and enjoy the ride. Where it is headed isn’t perfectly clear, which is a nice feeling; surprises lurk at every turn and it never feels like a rote retelling of the classic works. What struck me most, though, was the art. The characters are brought to life beautifully, the panels are full of detail, and the storytelling is excellent. The pages rarely feel static or uninteresting, and panel construction seems to be something that Andy B. delights in experimenting with. If you’re a fan of the original works, or if you’re just interested in trying something new and off the well-worn superhero path, this might be the book for you.