5 IMAGE GNS

NEW IMAGE GNS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics


Reviewed by Marc Mason

So I’m doing my best to get through my backlog- if you don’t know, graduate school keeps you kinda busy- and I thought it would be a good time to dive into the stack of recent trades and graphic novels from the folks at Image. Here we go…

UNDYING LOVE was one of the rare books in recent months that I found deeply satisfying on an issue-to-issue basis, so I have nothing but praise and excitement for the first collected edition. Daniel Freedman and Tomm Coker work together on the writing end, with Coker handling the art, and what readers get is a vampire story that actually feels fresh, exciting, and vital. John Sargent has gone on the run from the military after rescuing a woman who was to be sold as a sex slave. The kicker is that she’s a vampire, and as the two fall in love, it becomes abundantly clear that they will have to dive into her past and free her from the man who “turned” her in order for them to finally be together. This means a trip to Hong Kong and a shitload of violence. The story is starkly told, just enough layers to give it some meat, and keeps the dialogue to a minimum. That allows Coker to do what he does best, which is draw like one of the best artists in comics, which he has been for a long time. Sick of sparkly vampires and want to get back to sex and gore? UNDYING LOVE is for you.

I was dubious about MORIARTY when it was first announced, but writer Daniel Corey and artist Anthony Diecidue delivered a strong first issue and managed to keep the story interesting through the end. Now collected in one volume, I think it holds together even a bit better. The story finds the legendary Holmes protagonist twenty years after he caused Sherlock’s death, a man who is now rather bored. He would never admit it, but he misses Holmes, because without a good opponent he is somewhat lost. However, opportunity comes knocking in the form of a missing professor, a strange device, and a criminal mastermind who may be better than Moriarty ever was. Suddenly the old bastard is alive again. There’s a lot to appreciate here; Corey does a slick job with the story and in giving it a Doyle-esque flavor, and Diecidue’s art is different than anything else on the shelves right now. The book also looks more comfortable in its period setting that Guy Richie’s films do. I don’t know that it will be to everyone’s taste, but there’s definitely an audience for this, and more of it in the future.

Speaking of artistically unique books… Kody Chamberlain’s SWEETS gets collected, and you simply need to have it. In the waning days before Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, a serial killer is murdering his way through town, leaving only praline crumbs in his wake. Forced back early from bereavement leave, Detective Delatte must jump onto the case quickly before any hoping of catching the perp is lost in the storm. There’s literally nothing to like here. The story and characters are strong, and Chamberlain’s ability to make you “feel” New Orleans is impressive. The dialogue is spare and never descends into poetry. His art is detailed, lush, and beautiful. Chamberlain even does some nifty work in shifting styles for flashbacks. Even the colors are a knockout. Recommending this book is the easiest thing I can do this week.

Over on the original graphic novel side of things we have LOVESTRUCK from writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Kevin Mellon. A cynical young photographer named Kalli Monroe finds herself recruited by a man claiming to be Cupid himself. Her job? To follow his direction and use love to manipulate the stock market, music industry, politics… life itself. Together with her team, she does just that, her snarky attitude about love making her perfect for the job. But as she gets deeper and deeper into the organization, Kalli begins to be manipulated by other forces that want something different from her. Love? Who has time to think about love when the real question is one of destiny? I struggled to get into LOVESTRUCK at first, as the characters were so off-putting. But as I stuck with it, they grew on me, particularly Kalli, and I got invested in her story. One of the most universal things we all share is a vacillating perspective on love, and Hopeless’ story plays with this really well. He also peels away some layers on the characters to make them far more interesting. The art from Mellon is sharp and appealing, and he does some very interesting things with the storytelling and layouts. Surprising stuff.

Finally we come to MORNING GLORIES VOL.2 from writer Nick Spencer and artist Joe Eisma. From the beginning I’ve been one of the few real dissenters on this book, and I remain firmly in that camp after reading through this trade. The concept behind MORNING GLORIES- that these kids are trapped in a bizarre boarding school from which they cannot escape has stretched my suspension of disbelief pretty thin from the very start- and it only gets worse here. The final issue in this volume actually tries to offer up something of an explanation for why the kids can’t escape, and it’s so ludicrous that I couldn’t believe it. The issues preceding too individual looks at the “stars” of the book- the five lead students, and while they were executed well, the characters are completely uninteresting. That two of them are murderers stretches the book’s credibility further. Really, much of what is here feels like shock done strictly for shock value- like it’s a contest to prove how edgy the book can be. I’ve absolutely loved earlier work by Spencer (EXISTENCE) and Eisma (A DUMMY’S GUIDE TO DANGER) but this just leaves me cold. Though its Eisner nom this year suggests I’m in the minority there.






NEW ARCHAIA

ARCHAIA X 4
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Archaia

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Finally had some sunlight in my schedule, went through the recent stuff I’ve received from the folks at Archaia. Here’s the scoop…

The DAYS MISSING: KESTUS hardcover collection is a lovely package of a series I discussed as it was coming out. This second dose of DAYS MISSING was stronger across the board, with writer Phil Hester and artist David Marquez handling the duties for all five chapters. At the end of volume one we discovered that The Steward- the man who folds time and eliminates days damaging to the human race- was not alone in his immortality. Her name is Kestus, and though she is immortal, she lacks the power to fold. This sets her against The Steward, delivering him an eternal adversary. Smart move. It adds higher stakes to the series, mixes up things on the character end, and gives the book a strong narrative hook. This has proven itself to be a franchise-level title, I expect that we will see many more volumes of The Steward’s adventures before the series reaches a conclusion. One of the best sci-fi books on the market.

Writer/artist Giannis Milonogiannis’ OLD CITY BLUES is an interesting piece of work. Set in 2048 Greece after it has been rebuilt following a catastrophic flood, we meet Solano, a good cop with a level head on his shoulders. After a series of murders indicates that the company that rebuilt Greece is up to some shady stuff, Solano and his fellow law enforcers battle hacked vehicles, out-of-control robots, and potentially missing dead men to get to the heart of what’s going on. I liked OLD CITY BLUES up to a point; Milonogiannis’ art is interesting and edgy and his pages really catch the eye. There are influences here ranging from Europe to Asia, and together they deliver a look not commonly seen in comics. Yet at times he falters- the action becomes unintelligible, and the storytelling becomes rushed. Both of these problems were prevalent in the story’s climax, where I had zero idea what was happening. That said, artists tend to grow out of those things. I’d read a second volume, no question.

I had a very mixed reaction to MR. MURDER IS DEAD by writer Victor Quinaz and artist Brent Schoonover. Retired cop Gould Kane thinks he killed his greatest nemesis, Mr. Murder, but there’s far more to it than he could ever guess. As he retraces the dead man’s final steps, he discovers one last job was about to be pulled, and Kane decides to hire the dead man’s crew and pull it himself. Betrayals, bad guys, and booze follow. The book is done in a mixture of styles, part of it drawn in classic comics style, mimicking Chester Gould and Bob Kane’s work, as well as Lee Falk’s, and part of it is handled in more modern fashion, and I rather enjoyed the way the creative team put it all together. It’s quite admirable. But I never really got invested in Kane’s life or his plight. I know we don’t need to like the lead in a noir; that’s not the issue. It was the story of the last job that never really grabbed me. I never quite bought into why Kane chooses to do it. Your mileage may vary. Beautifully put together package, I should add.

The gem of the stack, and the buzz book coming out of San Diego this year, was Royden Lepp’s RUST: VISITOR IN THE FIELD. A young farmer named Roman Taylor rebuilds his farm after a world war, thanks to some recent help from a young boy with a jetpack named Jet Jones. Here we get the story of how Jet and Roman met- it was as a leftover robot from the war tried to kill Jet, and a ton of plot pillars being put into place for future volumes of the series. Everything here works; the world Lepp has created is intriguing- both sedate and filled with danger, the characters are fascinating, and the art is exquisite. He has a gift for depicting silence just as well as he choreographs action sequences. The colors are also quite striking. RUST will be a strong contender for year-end remembrance from me this year. It’s a must for comics lovers.






SHUT UP LITTLE MAN!

SHUT UP LITTLE MAN! AN AUDIO MISADVENTURE
Directed by Matthew Bate

Produced by Tribeca Films


Reviewed by Avril Brown

The year was 1987 and two recent college graduates decided to band together in their mutual desire to leave Wisconsin behind and start over in San Francisco. With no money and no job, Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D moved into an apartment Eddie described as a ‘shithole…the kind you’d be embarrassed to have people over.’ Due to the excessive pinkness of the exterior, the two young smart asses dubbed it the ‘Pepto Bismo Palace’ and signed the lease.

“By the way,” the landlady said as the ink was drying, “next door neighbors can be a little loud.” Very little time passed before Eddie was presented with audible evidence of the truth of her warning and after several consecutive nights of hearing two alcoholic elderly men verbally, and occasionally physically, abuse the shit out of each other, he woke his roommate to ensure he wasn’t dreaming. Both men were more than taken aback by the loud and colorful clashes between Raymond the redneck homophobe and Peter the flaming homosexual, and soon enough Eddie decided to try and confront the problem…though he quickly changed his mind when a rather large, drunk and angry man answered the door, repeatedly called him a skinny cocksucker and essentially threatened to kill him.

Self-preservation was the initial primary motivation behind Eddie Lee and Mitch’s decision to begin recording the verbal volleys between Peter Haskitt and Raymond Huffman; just in case Raymond did decide to follow up on his threat to end Eddie the skinny cocksucker’s life, they wanted evidence of who might’ve done it.

“Raymond, the next door neighbors are recording us,” said Peter the first night Eddie and Mitch began chronicling their deafening debates. Raymond proceeded to lean out the window and shout to them: “Peter is a worthless piece of shit thief, liar and a cheat, and the world would be better if he was never born.”

With that blessing of sorts, the recordings continued and the origin of the phenomenon “Shut Up, Little Man!” was born.

The documentary: “Shut Up, Little Man! An Audio Misadventure” covers the entire story of how Eddie and Mitchell became underground pop culture legends thanks to the nigh fourteen hours of arguments recorded during their stay at the Pepto Bismo Palace between Peter and Raymond. The only problem, or perk, depending on the point of view, of such a thorough documentary is it sheds light on nearly every aspect of the story, including the parts people may not want to know. Covering material that is often hysterical, occasionally tragic and frequently painfully pathetic, the “Shut Up, Little Man!” documentary raises several intriguing questions about the boundaries of privacy, the inherent nature of greed versus creative expression and the eternally altering definition of true friendship.

The first half hour is filled with nuggets of hilarity as the audience is treated to what is undoubtedly the best snippets of Peter and Raymond’s obscene and antagonistic arguments, which included plenty of inventive and clever insults in addition to Peter’s signature phrase, “Shut up, little man!” However the director Matthew Bate holds nothing back as he follows the trail the Peter and Raymond tapes left behind throughout the nineties. From a questionable retrospect copyright to friendships torn asunder by the possibilities of Hollywood movie deals, the films attempts to leave no stone unturned (there were several people involved in the later evolution of “Shut Up, Little Man!” that refused to be named). Tracking the progression of the tapes first being recorded to their gradual underground fame, development into comic books, puppet shows, songs, plays and of course the petty battle for film rights dominates a majority of the film time, but Bate concludes the film with the focus back on the unwitting stars, or victims, of this entire experience: Peter, Raymond and Tony, Raymond’s friend and frequent witness/referee to their squabbles.

“Shut Up, Little Man! An Audio Misadventure” is a documentary in the most honest sense, telling the story of Peter and Raymond and Eddie and Mitch in all its shades, both droll and dire. Offering insight and multiple viewpoints into the origin of one of the first ‘viral’ spectacles of the modern age, this film also raises questions of morality and paints a more complete picture of two lonely old drunks, an infamous odd couple who both hated and loved each other. Audiences ignorant of the paradox that is Peter and Raymond and the whirlwind of various mediums their disputes ended up in will find the story amusing, intriguing, trifling and somewhat sad. Though the narrative tends to drag in the middle and towards the end, knowing what happened to Peter and Raymond will satisfy the curiosity of those previously aware of their renowned rows, though perhaps not to an emotional level they were expecting. There is no happy ending to a story such as this, there is only the truth as people see it both from the in and outsider’s perspective, and “Shut Up, Little Man! An Audio Misadventure” provides ample amounts of both.

NEW STUFF

NEW STUFF
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various


Reviewed by Marc Mason

To say that my life is jam-packed right now would be an understatement. As a side effect to that, the review pile has been growing massive, and my time to read and write about comics has shrunk. These short reviews represent my first effort at making my way through the pile- a look at some books I’ve gotten through and liked.

Editor Tom Pomplun has put together a new GRAPHIC CLASSICS volume, the twenty-first of the series. This one focuses on EDGAR ALLAN POE’S TALES OF MYSTERY, and it represents the typically strong work we get from these books. The volume leads off with a terrific adaptation of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” but the real surprise here is Ronn Sutton’s post-modern take on “The Telltale Heart.” This series is always produced in a manner that is friendly for teen and younger readers, and the production quality remains solid. Information about this and previous volumes can be found at the Graphic Classics website.

Fans of Robert Crumb’s work have to be ecstatic at the material that W.W. Norton has been producing lately. This fall will see the release of R. CRUMB: THE COMPLETE RECORD COVER COLLECTION, which brings together not only album covers, but other musically-related Crumb art as well. Crumb got his start when the great Janis Joplin asked him to do a cover for her, and he would go on to do an astonishing number of other covers going forward. He also did artist portraits, advertisements and catalogue covers. This is a nifty slice of pop culture history, shedding some light on work that could easily get forgotten when discussing Crumb’s career, which would be a mistake- this stuff made an impact. Truly an impressive collection- see for yourself when it hits shelves in November.

Dynamite has released a couple of high-profile books over the last couple of weeks in WAREHOUSE 13 #1 and BIONIC MAN #1; both turn out to be well worth their hype. WAREHOUSE 13 adapts the hit Syfy series to the comics page, and it does so in the smartest way possible: by bringing in a couple of the show’s writers to handle it. Of course, it helps that one of those writers is Ben Raab, a man who has a ton of experience as a comics writer. The story, which finds Pete and Myka tackling earthquakes in Brazil, does what a comics adaptation should do: give the reader a “budget-free” taste of the series. This story simply could not be told on the show. Artist Ben Morse does a nice job of keeping the characters on model as well. BIONIC MAN is Dynamite’s second go-around with adapting a Kevin Smith movie script into a comic, and this is just as good, if not better, than how GREEN HORNET turned out. Phil Hester breaks it down for artist Jonathan Lau, and the results are excellent: Steve Austin is a test pilot ready for his last flight, but as he makes his final voyage, all kinds of hell breaks loose. The characters feel fresh, yet are instantly recognizable. Good stuff.

And new from the folks at Image… It reads like a film pitch adapted to comics, but writer Sam Sarkar and artist Garrie Gastonny sucked me in with THE VAULT #1-2, the story of modern archaeologists attempting to solve the mysteries of the Oak Island Pit. I’ve always had an affinity for the legends surrounding the Pit, so that caught my eye, but I was also intrigued by what they reveal is really hidden there. Gastonny’s art goes a long way towards making this work- his characters are nicely designed and he knows how to use them to get an emotional point across, yet he can also deliver strong action when needed. One issue to go; should be fun to see how it finishes out. I also liked VESCELL #1, though I would have a harder time explaining why. Trying to explain the whole thing would be impossible, and I’m not really sure I should- the basic gist of it, though, is that in the future being portrayed here, a company exists that can help you switch your consciousness into another body. Being as how some of these cases can be high-profile, Agent Barrino is often called upon to use subterfuge to protect clients on their way to the process. That idea is solid, and writer Enrique Carrion definitely revels in his concept- it just doesn’t always jibe. Artist John Upchurch makes it all look very pretty. Again, I’m not entirely certain why I bought into it the way I did, but when I was done, I wanted to read more of it. Guess that’s all that really matters.