DYNAMITE WOMEN

DYNAMITE WOMEN
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Reviewed by Marc Mason

A couple of recent efforts from DE focusing on heroines…

RED SONJA: BREAK THE SKIN is a one-shot story that portrays Sonja in the way I vastly prefer: as a warrior of not only great skill, but unparalleled cunning and intelligence. You don’t survive as long as she has without being able to vastly outwit your foes, so stories that portray her more as brutish hold little interest for me. Fortunately, writer Jen Van Meter gets it- Sonja takes a job, accomplishes her task, but almost immediately smells a rat. Sending her men forward on the trail, she stays behind with her employer to dig into the mystery of what she has truly gotten herself into. Using stealth and intellect, she does just that. Mind you, she pulls her sword plenty, lopping off limbs and leaving blood splattered everywhere in her wake- artist Edgar Salazar’s work here is fantastic- but it’s the characterization of Sonja that carries this book into must-buy territory. Plus, you get a bonus: a reprint of a classic Sonja tale by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and Tony DeZuniga. Yummy.

Dynamite is teaming with IDW to produce DANGER GIRL AND THE ARMY OF DARKNESS, teaming up J. Scott Campbell’s action heroine and boom-stick wielding Ash in an adventure involving the Necronomicon and its terrible powers. Issue one (written by Andy Hartnell and drawn by Chris Bolson) is surprisingly good- particularly for what it does right: leave Ash out of it. Start to finish we follow Abbey Chase on a well-executed adventure across the globe and are introduced to the Danger Girl concept at ground-level. Of course, it turns out to involve the evil of the Necronomicon, otherwise no crossover. But the weakest link in every AOD crossover I’ve seen (including Darkman and Xena) has always been the AOD aspect of it. By keeping Ash out of the mix until late in the story here, the book builds up momentum and invited reader buy-in to the tale. Abbey Chase has always been a very effective heroine, and Hartnell shows her to be, by turns, smart, resourceful, and courageous. If the rest of the series can be this strong- and can blend Ash into the story without the character painfully “overacting”- then this book should continue to be a solid read.



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.

AISLE SEAT 2.0.60

AISLE SEAT 2.0.60: 10 FOR 2010

By Marc Mason

I wasn’t going to do a “best of” or “top ten” list this year. I really wasn’t. But my old pal Doc Beechler ran his own list, and when I saw it, I had to challenge it for what I felt was a very incomplete look at this year’s work. Then I realized that I could come up with ten great books (not necessarily the ten best published this year- I didn’t read everything, obviously) that I could easily point to and saw “people of Earth- READ THESE.”

So, people of Earth, if you’re looking for some awesome graphic novels to spend some time with: READ THESE.

The first thing that comes to mind is ALEC: THE YEARS HAVE PANTS from Top Shelf. This massive 600+ page omnibus collects almost every single bit of Eddie Campbell’s amazing autobiographical comics under one cover. I can’t think of a more consistently excellent autobiographical work ever produced in the medium- it’s deep and richly thought out without diving too far into its own navel and shows the growth of the man and the artist across a lengthy period of time. As usual, Top Shelf brings superior production values to the table, and that makes this book tough to beat.

If you’re looking for artistic ambition, go no further than RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN from Archaia. Janet Lee’s stunning art illustrates Jim McCann’s modern fable in a way never really seen before in comics. The success of this book demonstrates the strength of the graphic novel to challenge and amaze and succeed in the marketplace, even when it isn’t from Marvel or DC. Produce something that exudes greatness and the people will find you. If you haven’t found this on your shelf yet, get cracking.

Speaking of high sales, Oni Press’ SCOTT PILGRIM VOL. 6 (and the entire series, really) dominated the charts this year, and with good reason. Bryan O’Malley’s series had been growing in popularity with each new release, and having the last part arrive to coincide with the film adaptation was exquisite timing. Of course, it helped that the resolution we got was immensely satisfying. Scott finally pulled himself together, gained some self-awareness, and became a person worthy of love- not just worthy of Ramona. Readers’ patience was rewarded, and that’s a rare thing, indeed.

John Layman and Rob Guillory’s CHEW (Image Comics) is definitely a book that pays off for readers that stick with it and pay close attention. From Layman’s twisting and turning plot mechanics to Guillory’s gift for planting Easter eggs in the backgrounds of his wonderfully detailed pages, CHEW delights with wit both verbal and visual. It walked off with awards at both the Eisners and the Harveys this year, and they were well-deserved. No one else in “mainstream” comics is doing anything as challenging or unfettered. One of the few comics that comes out monthly that is legitimately worth your money.

That said, if I was going to steer you toward another book that came out monthly and was worth your time and effort, it would be the second volume of BATTLEFIELDS from Dynamite Entertainment. This year we got another nine issues of Garth Ennis’ incredible World War II comics, and while they weren’t the equal of volume one, they were still absolutely amazing. No one in the past twenty years has even come close to matching Ennis’ prowess at depicting aspects of that conflict and in finding stories with a rich emotional core that fit within its parameters. One of the gutsiest things an author must do is provide the ending that works and is deserved, not the one the reader wants. This book gives you the endings that are earned.

On the subject of war comics, Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons’ LIFE AND TIMES OF MARTHA WASHINGTON (Dark Horse) is full of terrible conflict indeed. This massive omnibus edition includes every story featuring Martha, including some stuff not previously collected. This book initially came out as a hundred dollar hardcover, making it way out of my budget, but we finally got a paperback version this year, a happy occasion indeed. MARTHA was a book that Miller wrote when he was still taking comics seriously, and Gibbons puts just the right amount of softness on the satirical edges. Violent, profane, sexy, and smart, this character’s adventures were always something to appreciate and treasure. I’ll miss her, but having this book around makes that much easier to bear.

Dialing back to material before Martha (who debuted in 1991), IDW delivered the best archival project of the year- of the past few years, really- with THE BLOOM COUNTY LIBRARY. These beautiful hardcover editions of Berke Breathed’s classic cartoon strip send me spiraling back to my teen years, smiling all the way. Using restored versions of the strips, the series lets us see the characters (Opus, Milo, Steve Dallas, Bill the Cat, and friends) in ways we haven’t seen since some of the strips actually appeared in newspapers. Material is uncensored and/or restored from edits made for previous print collections. Breathed pipes in with observations and to explain some story moments and jokes. Background work is reproduced. This series is essential for any serious fan of great strip work.

Few anthology series could ever be considered essential, because they’re usually way too hit-or-miss to merit serious consideration. Not so for FLIGHT VOL.7 (Villard) which continues to be the single best anthology on shelves today. Editor Kazu Kibuishi has a gift for bringing together talent and getting the best from it- and that includes his own work as well. FLIGHT offers amazing storytelling, stunning art, superior production value… no mean feat for a book on its seventh try. But a scan across the series shows that virtually nothing has changed since book one. They’ve all been this good.

Another series that has been good from the start and never wavered in quality is Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s DUNGEON (NBM) which saw a couple of volumes translated for North American audiences. The standout was DUNGEON: MONSTRES VOL. 3; the series turned its eye upon the female characters of the Dungeon world, and the results were powerful and moving. The pair put in the spotlight found challenges that were emotionally unsettling as well as violent and gut-wrenching, showing a darker side of the world that reminded us that it is not a world of light and happiness. These books have their amusements, but they are also full of war and death. I have repeatedly stated that I believe Trondheim is the world’s greatest living comics creator. Check out these books to find out why.

Amusement can be found, though, in massive amounts by looking in the right place. That place would be AFRODISIAC (AdHouse) by Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg. This book is a glorious tribute to many things- the history of comics, blaxploitation filmmaking… but mostly it’s just hilarious. The character, Afrodisiac, is shown in various incarnations, each drawn in the style of different eras in comics production, with multiple changes in name and origin, just as characters have been treated by their publishers across the decades. The results are stunning- few books this funny are this intelligent in their execution. The creative duo were the gents behind STREET ANGEL a few years ago, and this book demonstrates, once again, that together, they make material that is worth its weight in gold.

And there you go. Ten great comics and graphic novels for 2010. Click a link below and go buy a couple. Trust me- you’ll be glad you did! See you in 2011!












AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM 2

AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM #2
Written by Dwight L. MacPherson and Illustrated by Grant Bond
Published by IDW

Grimm, the least cuddly creature in comics, is back in action, and in this second issue he rips romance to pieces. After an amusing introduction where Grimm tries to read aloud from a romance comic and ends up losing his lunch, the Grimm fairy tale version of true love begins.

This issue has a bit of a slower start to it than the last one, but the laughs are certainly not lost once Grimm sweeps onto the scene and attempts to “help” Sally and Larry find a different kind of true love. From carnivorous Dodo birds to taxicab confessions, this ain’t your average love story. MacPherson’s bitter and ambitious Grimm will keep the reader in stitches from cover to cover.

Bond’s interesting blend of pulp comics from the ‘50s and noir color schemes and style continues to mesh perfectly with this off-the-wall comic parody. This is one hell of a creative team who has had an intensely hilarious beginning and shows no signs of slacking. The Wild West is up next, and I am looking forward to seeing what Grimm has in store for the classic cowboys.

Avril Brown

GROOM LAKE 1

GROOM LAKE #1
Written by Chris Ryall and Art by Ben Templesmith
Published by IDW

If you are an X-Files fan but like a bit more comedy with your conspiracies, GROOM LAKE is the book to buy. A tale of alien abductions, genetic experimentation, giant killer robots and a secret government facility, GROOM LAKE may sound like a standard UFO story on the surface, but the clever writing and the grim yet hysterical humor make this a more than worthy read.

Poor Barnabus Bauer got the short end of the stick when he pulled his truck over to the side of the road one dark and foggy night in New Hampshire. After being escorted into a Mork-style ride by several little gray men who say nothing but ‘do not fear you will not be hurt’ (which should have been his first clue), Mr. Bauer disappears from the planet Earth. Two years later, his woe begotten son is informed his missing father is alive and…not well. Flanked by a couple of gun-totting guards and a female fed with a stick up her ass the size of a pool cue, father and son are reunited in a memorable scene which is simultaneously disturbing and disgustingly funny.

When even the character introduction balloons have you in stitches, you know you’ve found a gem of a book. Ryall may go to an occasional dark and gory place with his jokes, but his dry wit prevails, making this one of the more entertaining books I’ve had the pleasure of laughing out loud at. Templesmith delivers detailed yet casual art which is in perfect synch to the feel of an alien conspiracy plot heavily laden with sarcastic humor. This is a story which does not need the flashy colors or etched backgrounds like many other books which compensate for their lack of story; the predominantly gray tones with hints of blues and reds make the panels pop more than if each scene was overloaded with more than which was necessary, especially considering the stellar writing it is paired with.

GROOM LAKE is a massively entertaining read, highly recommended for comic fans looking for some alien/general sci-fi fun who aren’t in the mood for excess drama, but would rather enjoy a sidesplitting book which replaces said drama with amusing lines and scenes impossible to erase from one’s memory, mainly because you don’t want to.

Avril Brown

AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM 1

AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM #1
Written by Dwight L. MacPherson and Drawn by Grant Bond
Published by IDW

AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM is a fun, twisted tale of a demented little dwarf named Grimm, who decides he’s had it up to here with the traditional super-hero comic story. So he decides to take matters into his own gnarled hands and drags the audience into a classic comic book, only in this story, thanks to Grimm’s deliciously evil intervention, the bad guys will triumph over the good.

What was originally a videogame which combines fairy tales with guts and gore, GRIMM has successfully made a hysterical segue way into the world of comics. After an amusing and informative introduction given by our host himself, Grimm literally jumps into a comic book where the goody-two-shoes Freedom Friends have just finished delivering another ass-whooping to the not-so-intimidating members of the League of Super Evil. While the L.O.S.E.rs are still licking their wounds, Grimm shows up to save the day by super powering the baddies and leading them into a battle neither side was expecting.

Silly, clever and laugh out loud funny, GRIMM is definitely a worthy read. Any author who spins out lines like “Bloody shit balls, not again!” and “Killer Cock ain’t no chicken!” has got my attention. MacPherson delivers plenty of one-liners and witty banter, keeping the reader either smiling or in stitches nearly every page. Bond’s artwork is a perfect blend of vintage comic panels and Tim Burton-type darkness, and the dramatic curtain borders surrounding Grimm’s world give the book an old-fashioned feel. GRIMM is good for a laugh or ten, and if this is what the creative team can do with superhero comics, one of the easiest mediums to parody, I cannot wait to see what else they have up this curmudgeon-y creature’s sleeve.

Avril Brown

C.S.I. DYING IN THE GUTTERS

C.S.I.: DYING IN THE GUTTERS
Written by Steven Grant and Drawn by Stephen Mooney
Published by IDW

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

I did a column for Comic Foundry back in 2006 called “Buy the Numb3rs” where I tried to predict a book’s sales ahead of time. One month, I chose the first issue of this title, and doing the research was a revelation. The direct market sales on the C.S.I. books had slipped markedly, but I suspected that this melding of the comics industry and Gil Grissom’s crew would change that trend. And I was right… but the real question would be whether or not the book would be a good read… and whether or not the sales and quality would translate into readers for the next C.S.I. book that IDW gets to the shelves. Now, we have an answer for one of those questions.

DYING IN THE GUTTERS turns out to be a pretty good read. Steven Grant, a Vegas local, has shown that he has a solid grip on writing the C.S.I. franchise, and he finds ways to give more local flavor to his stories than other writers. He’s also a veteran crime-comic writer, so this sort of thing plays right into his strengths. The story gets it start when comics rumour-monger Rich Johnston meets an untimely demise at a Vegas comic convention. The suspect list contains all of the biggest names in the business, but no one is a bigger suspect than Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada. It is at Quesada’s convention panel that Johnston gets electrocuted, and Grissom, on hand with Catherine and her daughter, finds himself on the scene and taking on the case.

Quesada, and many others such as Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Peter David, Marc Silvestri, Robert Kirkman and Chuck Dixon, allowed himself to be portrayed in the book in a very “good sport” fashion. The married-in-real-life Quesada is shown to be an obnoxious whoremonger, walking everywhere with bimbos on his arms. And of course, at least one comic creator might just be a murderer. So you have to tip your hat to the people who agreed to participate. The only thing that doesn’t quite work here is the ultimate solution to the mystery and the motivation. I wasn’t quite buying exactly why the crime was committed. Still, DYING IN THE GUTTERS is an entertaining lark, and one of the better efforts to roll out in the C.S.I. series from IDW. It’s fun for fans of both crime comics and mainstream superhero readers.

Marc Mason