NUNS WITHOUT GUNS

NUNS WITHOUT GUNS
Written by Jason M. Burns and Drawn by Erich Owen
Published by Viper Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

The Church has done many things to fight evil over the centuries, and has many great warriors do battle in God’s name. But Sisters Marie, Francis, Wendy and Bertha are different than most; the majority of religion’s staunch defenders have always been men. It’s a new era in doing the Lord’s work, and these four nuns are just the ass-kickers to do the job. However, when a cult takes a stab at raising the Antichrist, even these mighty soldiers might just have more on their plate than they can handle.

I’ve referred to Jason M. Burns as “master of the high concept” so many times that even I want to slap me, but he truly is and proves it again with NUNS WITHOUT GUNS. Like much of Burns’ work, it reads like a summer tentpole flick put to paper; catchy concept with a clever hook, characters that the audience can quickly and easily identify and root for, slow build to a pulse-pounding finish. All Burns usually needs is an artist that won’t get in the way of his story, and Erich Owen does exactly that. The pages aren’t flashy, the storytelling is solid (if un-dramatic), and the level of detail is mid-level. But nothing here offends the eye, either, and you can smoothly operate your way through the story for max enjoyment.

It’s also reasonably rare to find a modern piece of pop culture that approaches religion without a sense of irony or wariness; there’s a sincerity to NUNS WITHOUT GUNS that you might not expect from its title. That’s played out well on the last page of the book, when, given a chance to allow his leads to break character, they instead respond in the most appropriate fashion possible to their situation. Will this book challenge your perceptions or change the way you think about comics? Of course not. Will it entertain you for the time spent reading it? You bet. That gets my eight bucks every time.

HAT TRICK

HAT TRICK
Written by Jason M. Burns and Drawn by Armando Zanker
Published by Outlaw Entertainment

I like to refer to writer Jason M. Burns as “King of the High Concept”, and with HAT TRICK, he taps into that talent once again. Down on his luck magician Ray Kalpino finds his career near its end when he gets a message from a lawyer stating that he’s inheriting something from his (wildly successful) magician uncle’s estate. Shattered when it turns out that all he’s getting is the man’s stage-prop top hat, Ray tosses it away in disgust, but when the hat comes to life and sucks him inside and into a magical world… well, that’s when shit gets (un)real for poor Ray. He’s the “chosen one”, and it’s (supposedly) his duty to free the Magicverse from the evil entity at its heart: his deceased uncle.

However, Burns’ gifts let him down in far many ways with this one. The biggest one is that Ray never comes to life as a character on the page. First, his stage name is The Amazing Don Key. That’s right: Don Key. And yet even though he hates the name, and when people run it together as one word, and isn’t successful with it, he hasn’t changed it. It sets him up as a complete loser, and one you can’t quite believe in; because even the worst loser would have dumped that name early on… or never chosen it at all. Instead, it comes across as pandering to the younger demographic that the book is aimed at.

You also never quite feel like Ray’s character arc really gets moving. He perfunctorily moves from moment to moment, and when his “hero’s journey” gets moving, it reads in paint-by-numbers fashion. There’s nothing new or different about it, and when it comes to mastering magic and fighting a family-level evil, well, a lady named Rowling kinda cornered that market over the past decade.

Burns layers as much sincerity into the book, certainly; he never cracks the reality behind his story, investing it with all the belief in his characters he can muster. And artist Armando Zanker delivers some charming art. But these things aren’t enough to counter the deficiencies in the plotting and main character. We’ve seen much better out of Burns… and I’m certain we will again.

Marc Mason

CURSE OF THE WERE-WOMAN

CURSE OF THE WERE-WOMAN
Written by Jason M. Burns, Illustrated by Christopher Provencher
Published by Devil’s Due Publishing

Meet Patrick Dalton, coveter of women and Exhibit A in the chauvinistic pig show room. Looking good and getting laid is what he does best, though he also donates some of his time to ladder climbing at the advertising agency he works for. Nothing pleases him more than pleasing himself and his lucky lady of the night, until one evening he bags a babe who decides to teach the randy Mr. Dalton a lesson.

The story premise obviously has been done before, and Burns follows the basic outline to a tee. Guy does bad things, guy is cursed by scorned woman in an ironic and fitting manner, guy is forced to endure the curse but ends up learning from his experience, finds his soul mate and becomes a better person, thus breaking the curse. Patrick is used to treating women as nighttime toys, so Tessa, jilted lover and practicing Wicca, curses him to become a woman every night when the sun sets. Due to his sudden case of evening-onset womanitis, Patrick spends his time with his new neighbor Amber doing girly things. Unsurprisingly, Patrick finds himself becoming emotionally attracted to his recent acquired gal pal, and as his eyes begin to open to the error of his past ways, he begins to fall in love with a woman who only knows him as a woman.

There is nothing about the plot which is unexpected, but that is not to say WERE-WOMAN isn’t entertaining and occasionally funny as hell. This is supposed to be a comedic comic book, and it succeeds at that. Several scenes Patrick/Patricia (woman version of Dalton) finds him/herself in are worth a few belly laughs (Patricia’s first experiences with a thong, stilettos and a tampon are my favorites), and there are more than a few winning one-liners sprinkled throughout the chapters. You can’t help but crack a grin after seeing the very first panel, which shows Patrick admiring himself in the mirror and his introductory words of “My name is Patrick Dalton and I am an alpha male.”

Laughs are certainly had, but there were several parts of the script which simply screamed it was written by a man. Just because Patrick turns into a woman at night, does he have to automatically have to notice the cute purse in the window and want to pick out pastel drapes? Having his testosterone replaced by estrogen doesn’t mean he can’t muster up the rage to get into a fight, and not all women are seduced by overpriced handbags and sip Cosmos when they get home. Overlooking these and a few other stereotypical scenes, this book can be read and appreciated by both genders.

The art is like the story: familiar and not too complicated, but well-crafted and enjoyable. Though the artist certainly doesn’t skimp on the cup sizes, Provencher delivers tasteful and realistically attractive women in this book. Coupled with Burns’ amusing spin on a standard story of lesson well learned, CURSE OF THE WERE-WOMAN is a fun read good for a hearty chuckle and more.

Avril Brown

SERPO

SERPO
Written by Jason M. Burns and Drawn by Joe Eisma
Published by
Devil’s Due

A few years ago, UFOlogists around the world were astonished by reports leaked by an anonymous man who claimed to have been part of an interplanetary cultural exchange program back in the 60s. According to the releases, 12 U.S. men and women were selected to travel to the Zeta Reticuli star system and live on a world called Serpo by its natives. Over a period of years they lived, ate, and culturally integrated themselves with the “Eben” (as they referred to them), developing a special bond with them, even defending them from enemies. But upon the group’s return to Earth, they discovered that what they thought would change the world would be buried, and their journey and the knowledge it brought would go for naught. Various websites discuss and debate the Serpo story and its authenticity; this graphic novel is a mostly direct adaptation of what the documents contained.

There’s an inherent danger to reading a work like SERPO, and it’s this: the debate about the truthfulness of the tale. Google your way around the word “Serpo” and you’ll see plenty of debate about whether it’s true or a hoax. But you have to put that stuff away when you approach this book: the only question you can ask is: is it a good graphic novel?

The answer is… complicated. No question, the effort by the creative team is there on the page. Jason M. Burns, master of the high concept, steps back and adapts someone else’s story for (I think) the first time, and he does a solid job of turning it into a narrative. However, that hampers him in one respect: it’s all based on a first person account by one member of the group. Because of that, the other human characters never really come to life on the page, except for the “angry, untrusting one,” who comes across as almost a stock character. The only other character who jumps off the page is the Eben interpreter who becomes the narrator’s friend and confidant in the years spent on Serpo.

Joe Eisma’s work here, though, is solid. His recent work with Burns on DUMMY’S GUIDE TO DANGER: LOST AT SEA was weak sauce- SERPO looks like it was drawn by a different artist.

I think the ultimate issue with SERPO is that it almost feels too much like a fiction story. So many things fall into place in tidy ways that it takes away your sense of alienation at being on another planet and within another culture. It’s good sci-fi- but something about it feels like it could have been great sci-fi.

Extras include copies of the original “documents” produced by the returned survivor and pin-ups.

Marc Mason

THE RABID

THE RABID
Written by Jason M. Burns and Drawn by Guy Lemay
Published by
Viper Comics

Kevin usually has a fairly easy job; he’s a small town sheriff whose day usually revolves around minor paperwork, the occasional auto accident, and perhaps a stray dog. He also has to deal with the fact that he knows his wife has been sleeping with his best friend. But on one fateful afternoon, that ol’ stray dog starts biting the townspeople and the other dogs, turning all of them into raging, marauding, rabid zombies. Now Kevin has to find a way to not only keep his family together, but to actually keep them alive, as the population of rabid folks is exploding and no help is in sight. One by one, the remaining people gets bitten… so how long can they possibly hold out?

Master of the high concept, Jason M. Burns, strikes again with THE RABID, this time seeing him dabble in the horror genre. There truly seems to be no end to Burns’ ability to come up with screen-worthy plots. If I had a studio shingle, I’d put him on retainer and chain him to the keyboard. It seems to be Burns’ gift that he understands how to hit the beats on any number of genre stories, never limiting himself to one type of tale, and he never repeats himself. Certainly, THE EXPENDABLE ONE and DUMMY’S GUIDE TO DANGER bear no resemblance to THE RABID. Burns can extend himself.

This time around, he’s aided and abetted by Guy Lemay, who is another terrific find for Viper. Lemay is a true oddity in newer artists; when you look at his inspirational roots, it’s pure Paul Grist- something I really haven’t seen in anyone else. That give the book a really unique look and keeps the storytelling simple and moving at a solid pace.

My one complaint is that the plot to THE RABID sometimes feels a little too paint-by-numbers. Burns can rock the high-concept like nobody’s business, but the character depth here, and the conflicts, don’t set my world on fire. I want to see him stretch a bit more and show me some different tricks on the character end now.

Marc Mason

DUMMYS GUIDE TO DANGER LOST AT SEA 2

DUMMYS GUIDE TO DANGER LOST AT SEA 2
Written by Jason M. Burns and Drawn by Joe Eisma
Published by
Viper Comics

When last we left insane detective Alan Sirois and his partner (and ventriloquist dummy) Bloomberg, they had been hired to go on a cruise ship with a “solve a murder mystery” setup to try and solve the crime. Little did they know, however, that there was a real murderer onboard. Now they find their cabin invaded by overzealous fans, Alan’s girlfriend Teri has had all of her underwear stolen, and the ship’s doctor has disappeared. Plus, the “fake” mystery has kicked into gear as well. How will a crazy man cope with it all? And how much longer can Teri put up with it?

Actually, Teri turns out to be the key here, as Burns uses her to hold the story together. Let’s be honest: it is extremely difficult to give Sirois any sort of love interest that could conceivably stick around. He’s a complete fucking whack-a-doodle, after all. And in the first miniseries, she paid a price for knowing and caring about the idiot. So when shit starts to meet fan here in issue two, it plays because Teri reacts in the most human way possible and grounds the story. She also begins to let her exasperation with her situation show, thankfully. If not, you’d really begin to lose your own place in the story.

Burns also turns in some nice dialogue in issue two, and brings some funny characters into the mix. The best are a couple that are actually in Alan’s fanclub! And they’re such nerds that he legally changed his name to Jean-Luc Picard. He also throws some cleverness into the mix as far as how the danger plays itself out, throwing a nasty curve at Bloomberg that I wished had worked a bit better. These things alone make issue two a much stronger effort than issue one, but when you throw in some improved artwork out of Eisma, I walked away from this one with a much better feeling than I did after number one.

Marc Mason