THREE NEWBIES

THREE NEWBIES
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Taking a look at three recent comics from three different publishers…

I’ve been enjoying LI’L DEPRESSED BOY (Image Comics) quite a bit, and issue five does a nice job of taking the character in an interesting direction. Writer Steven Struble and artist Sina Grace pick up where the last issue left off- with LDB discovering that Jazz has been playing him- and put him back in his proper, depressed funk. But the return of a friend who has been touring with his band sets our lead back on a proper path as the duo gather themselves for a road trip. The book continues to work well for a couple of reasons. One, LDB is an extremely relatable character- a good chunk of us have felt like him or been in his position before, and the creators keep it very emotionally real. Two, the book keeps it simple- it’s a book about music and heartache. No grand themes, no overreaching to make a statement. Every month this book has crept closer and closer to the top of the stack. A cover by CHEW’s Rob Guillory makes this package even sweeter.

Oni Press debuted SPONTANEOUS on Free Comic Book Day, but if you didn’t get one then, issues one (reprinting that offering) and two will be making their regular debut in San Diego this coming week. Writer Joe Harris and artist Brett Weldele present the story of Melvin Reyes, a seemingly normal kid in a seemingly normal town. But what Melvin knows and no one else suspects is that this city has an epidemic of spontaneous combustion going on. Now he is tracking the patterns and trying to identify future victims in order to stop it. When reporter Emily Durshmiller gets involved, though, Melvin begins to wonder if she will help him save lives or destroy his quest in her hopes of making a name for herself. The elements in SPONTANEOUS are thrilling- interesting conspiracy, good mystery, interesting characters- and the art by Weldele is note perfect (as with his work on SURROGATES, it’s hard to imagine the book done by anyone else). This has the look of a breakout hit.

I haven’t been very impressed with most of the recent output by Radical Comics lately but DAMAGED #1 is a step back in the right direction for the company. This is the first issue of their collaboration with Sam Worthington’s “Full Clip” imprint, and by bringing in writer David Lapham and artist Leonardo Manco, the company demonstrates just how seriously they’re working to make it a success. The story is clean and simple: Frank Lincoln- the toughest cop in San Francisco, the man that heads up their anti-organized crime taskforce, is being put out to pasture by the city government and replaced with a young idealist. But before Frank spends his last day on the job, he’s going to have to deal with two problems. Training his replacement? Easy enough. But the arrival of a vigilante who is murdering mobsters by the dozen? Considering that Frank is more than passing familiar with the identity of the shooter, that’s going to be a bit more problematic. Lapham is a pro at this kind of story, and his dialogue and pacing here are tasty, and Manco remains one of the best, most underrated artists in comics today. Recommended.


FCBD 2011

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2011
Written and Drawn by Various

Reviewed by Marc Mason

May 7, 2011 is this year’s Free Comic Book Day, and as always, almost every publisher in the game will have something to offer. Some of the free books will be pretty good, some of them will be total crap- and don’t let the name of the publisher fool you on that one. DC, in particular, has put out more than their share of awful FCBD books, while some of the indy publishers have struck gold year after year. Here are a couple of the better indy efforts you’ll have the opportunity to grab this year.

JAKE THE DREAMING from Radical Comics is something different for both the publisher and the usual FCBD offerings. JAKE is actually an illustrated prose novel from writers Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman and artist Andrew Jones. The story is a classic “hero’s journey”- the young boy at the heart of the story discovers that his daydreaming is more than just idle wandering; instead it turns out to be a genuine super-power that allows him to enter the dreams of others and protect them from evil. Jake is a good protagonist and the writers make him easily relatable and likeable. The prose is crisp and clear, and Jones’ illustrations are quite lovely. Having this book as an FCBD is an excellent decision- it will appeal to readers of all ages, and this comic book “holiday” is important is reaching out to the younger demographic that comics needs in order to survive and thrive. Pick it up.

The folks at Archaia know this very well, and their FCBD book reflects that knowledge. Their MOUSE GUARD/DARK CRYSTAL FLIP BOOK is an excellent introduction to two of their strongest franchises… and more. David Petersen’s MOUSE GUARD gets a nifty short story that introduces the world, shows off his incredible art, and gives ample reason as to why you’d want to read more. THE DARK CRYSTAL gives the reader a taste of how the publisher has been handling their Jim Henson franchise of books, as they prepare to publish prequels to the beloved classic film. But that isn’t all- the company is adapting an unproduced Henson screenplay into an original graphic novel this fall, and this FCBD book has behind-the-scenes material on its origins and the production of it. Think that’s enough? You also get a new DAPPER MEN short story from Jim McCann and Janet Lee that takes off from the ending of the best-selling graphic novel. If you walk out of your store on FCBD without this book, you’re crazy.

NEW RADICALS

RADICAL REVIEWS

By Avril Brown

Two new books from the folks at Radical Comics.

HOTWIRE: DEEP CUT #1
Created by Steve Pugh and Warren Ellis, Written and Illustrated by Steve Pugh

Readers were first introduced to Alice Hotwire, Detective Exorcist, in a visually stunning and wildly entertaining four issue debut last year. At the conclusion of that mini-series she went above and beyond the call of duty when she aided in disabling a Blue Light, essentially an electronic echo of a deceased individual, from successfully eliminating the entire police department. Half-charred but still alive, Alice and her reluctant partner survived to snark at each other another day.

In this sequel series, HOTWIRE: DEEP CUT, Alice has seen better days. Having spent the last six months growing her arm back and drowning herself in booze, video games and an ex-boyfriend who happens to be a Blue Light, Alice is somehow even more bigheaded than she was before, which is saying a lot. Yet we see another glimpse of her past, which in addition to her current companion’s unsavory influence begins to explain the attitude. Alice sobers up quickly (sort of) when she is unexpectedly thrust back into her workplace and once again faced with the unspeakable horror of bureaucrats and arrogant grunts.

The artwork remains the optical orgy which drew me in the first place. There are sharp, electric colors, noticeable contrasts, and a slightly hazy, ‘Blade Runner’ feel to the whole layout. HOTWIRE is truly an utterly unique book in terms of aesthetics while being supported by a solid script and an original futuristic story idea. Fans of the introductory series must not miss this addition to the HOTWIRE annals, and for those interested in science fiction/high-tech stories starring a kick-ass chick and somehow managed to miss the first series, now is the time to jump on the HOTWIRE bandwagon.

TIME BOMB #1
Created and Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, Illustrated by Paul Gulacy

TIME BOMB is a new limited series involving time travel, apocalyptic bombs and Nazis. In Berlin during the year 2012, a team of scientists discover, and accidentally trigger, a world-ending missile bearing a horribly infectious plague that will wipe out all of humanity in seventy-two hours. A specialized team of four individuals are sent back in time to prevent the launch, but instead of arriving two days in the past they land in the midst of World War II on the front lawn of Nazi POW camp.

With a decently dramatic introduction engineered successfully to get the blood pumping, TIME BOMB hits the ground running in terms of action before taking time to introduce a slightly predictable cast. The dream team has a standard arrogant, hot and dangerous white boy (though I do love his very noir first appearance), an attractive couple on the outs, and the other guy, a man of many talents. Though the plot is not overwhelmingly original despite its blend of material which includes an unexpected Armageddon, time travel, smart, beautiful anti-heroes and Nazis, TB definitely has an appeal for those addicted to end-of-the-world, race-against-time type stories. A few comedic nuggets pop up occasionally as well, livening up the script.

The artwork in this book really shines in the action scenes. The launch sequence was beautifully drawn; I loved the imagery of an entire building falling through cracks in the Earth. Gulacy’s pencils are spot on in terms of the wide angle views and explosions, but I am looking forward to seeing how he refines his talent with regards to his characters’ expressions as well as his transitions between scenes, both of which could use a bit more definition.

There is a lot of story here for a slightly larger price tag, and the mystery aspect will keep readers buying, but for those on a limited budget TIME BOMB is a book you could wait for in trade form. However I did enjoy this issue and I look forward to seeing how the series evolves, with hopefully the suspense maintained and added depth to the characters.



DRIVER FOR THE DEAD 1

DRIVER FOR THE DEAD #1
Written by John Heffernan and Drawn by Leonardo Manco
Published by Radical Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Alabaster Graves is the best there is at what he does… and what he does best is drive a hearse. Not the most scintillating concept for a comic you’ve ever heard? No worries- there’s plenty more going on in this book: voodoo, vampires, and plenty of other demons are at play in the bayous of Louisiana. Hired on to transport the body of a legendary magic man, and accompanied by the man’s great-granddaughter, Graves must make his way through a gauntlet of nasties just waiting to rise up and add him to the ranks of the dead. Can a man with an absurdly armored hearse beat back the bad guys? He’s damned well sure gonna try.

DRIVER FOR THE DEAD marks the comics debut of screenwriter Heffernan, best known for SNAKES ON A PLANE (which sort of gets a dark shout-out here), but he settles into the role of comics writer reasonably well. The only “off” thing here is the pacing, as the opening sequence runs a bit long for the comics medium, whereas the same material on-screen would feel just right. It’s the breaking of this story into three parts that makes it feel chunky. On the other hand, the book is just about artistically perfect. Two weeks ago I was telling a fellow comics friend how much I believed that a particular book needed “Leonardo Manco or at least a Manco type” in order for it to get top the level of success it truly needs. Now I have new Manco art in my hands and am certain of it. This book is beautiful, and Manco only gets better with age.

This being a Radical title, the book is definitely doubling as proof-of-concept for a potential feature film, and Manco helps that along by drawing some of the characters with a… resemblance… to some popular members of SAG. Still, it doesn’t come across as intrusive, which is a relief. That sort of thing can get old really quickly. In all, I was down with the proceedings here, captivated by an interesting premise and exquisite art. Recommended.

SHRAPNEL: HUBRIS 1

SHRAPNEL: HUBRIS #1
Written by Nick Sagan and Clinnette Minnis, Illustrated by Concept Art House
Published by Radical Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

On the heels of the successful futuristic military mini-series ‘Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising’ comes Radical’s next chapter in the ‘Shrapnel’ books, ‘Hubris.’ Vijaya “Sam” Narayan was a Marine on the run from her haunted, violent past until it caught up to her on the planet Venus. A young, liberal colony, Venus is the home to many a helot (non-genetically engineered human) and many other people looking to escape the oppression of the Solar Alliance. Sam once again donned her armor and led her men, the free people of Venus, into battle with the powerful and well-trained Marines, and won. Victory on Venus, however, was just the beginning.

Previously written by M. Zachary Sherman, this ‘Shrapnel’ series is written by one of the co-creators of the original concept, Nick Sagan, and newcomer to the series Clinnette Minnis, yet thus far has the feel of Sherman’s gripping and detailed storytelling. Their story picks up shortly after the events of ‘Aristeia Rising’ with war hero Sam working directly with the president of Venus in an effort to keep morale (and men) alive in the face of dwindling essential supplies. Colonel Rossi, who turned against the Marines to rejoin his favorite pupil in her fight for freedom, is by her side again as they plan a radical move against the Alliance which will undoubtedly take its toll on Sam, her men, and all the free people of Venus.

The ‘Shrapnel’ comics are a riveting blend of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Blade Runner,’ and though the price has gone up for this second series, ‘Hubris’ is a three-issue mini-series with over fifty pages per issue to peruse. Plenty of comic book companies charge the same price for less story, and if you enjoyed the fast-paced feel, military-jargon-laced script and occasional touching human moments from the first series, Sagan and Minnis have seemingly carried those elements into ‘Hubris’ while adding their own unique touches, such as Sam’s surreal dream sequence. Similarly, Concept Art House has taken over the reigns of illustration from Bagus Hutomo, and while keeping the foggy haze layering each panel which gives the book its otherworldly essence, CAH has sharpened the characters and given Sam a slightly more mature look fitting to what she has been through. Recommended to fans of the first series, and though a nice summary is given at the beginning of the book ‘Hubris’ is far more understandable, and enjoyable, for those familiar with ‘Aristeia Rising.’


FVZA 3

FEDERAL VAMPIRE AND ZOMBIE AGENCY #3
Written by David Hine and Illustrated by Roy Allan Martinez and Wayne Nichols
Published by Radical Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

FVZA wraps up its first story arc (with hopefully more on the horizon) in this third and final issue with a tear-jerker ending which will keep you guessing until the final pages. Hine manages to weave a terribly tragic tale which tugs at the heartstrings and leaves plenty of material for subsequent sequels as the background story, namely the zombies and the vampire high counsel, remain largely unexplored. Artistically speaking FVZA is flawlessly presented, and though the plot itself remains thus far incomplete the story as a whole is an emotional ride which is darkly delicious and difficult to resist.

At the end of the last issue important and life-altering revelations were made on both sides. Tess and Jules, recently created vampires, both realized what they needed to survive eternal life, yet neither could obtain it. They barely appeared thorough the three books yet their appearances are burned upon my brain and they remain two of my favorite characters. Hugo Pecos, scientific leader of the human defense against the diseased threats, confessed one of the vampire leaders used to be his wife. His grandchildren Landra and Vidal have trained their whole lives to combat against such threats, and now their skills are being focused towards their grandmother. More old secrets are revealed, loyalties are question and lots of monsters and people are blown up, but what really carries the story is the human element, which is raw, visceral and painfully beautiful.

Martinez and Nichols have created a visual knock out with FVZA, not only drawing nightmare-inducing zombies and vicious vampires, but conveying intense emotion in their characters faces and eyes, adding so much more subtly to the story. The sharpness of each panel and the effort put into the detail on each character, be those facial wrinkles or torn throats, gives FVZA an universally appealing and unique look.

There is an overwhelming amount of material to use for following books as so much was left unanswered about the vampire counsel and the zombie virus itself. Example include: ‘Will the elder vampires retaliate,’ or ‘Is the zombie virus slowly evolving?’, amongst others. FVZA is a heartrending tale starring monsters yet featuring human pain. Betrayal and hatred, or love and loneliness? Which is the worst punishment? An excellent and magnificently drawn story, FVZA initially appeals to monster lovers, then to angst addicts, and ultimately (with the addition of more books) will continue to draw on both crowds.

FVZA 2

FEDERAL VAMPIRE AND ZOMBIE AGENCY #2
Written by David Hine and Illustrated by Roy Alan Martinez and Wayne Nichols
Published by Radical Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

The second issue of what is so far an intriguing story and fantastically drawn mini-series is a captivating blend of monsters, romance, mystery and horror, all wrapped up in a vividly illustrated book. Embracing the concept of unsightly, immoral vampires and gruesome zombies, FVZA delivers a fresh and scary story well worth following for any fan of either genre.

Finally Dr. Hugh Pecos’s obsessive training of his grandchildren Landra and Vidal in how to kill vampires and zombies is starting to pay off as the virus which causes the un-dead transformation is resurfacing. Pecos is heavily involved in both research and military training, and he proves to be hard as nails when he order a flash fry of several zombies displaying more human-like behaviors. Meanwhile, Nephilis, the Lord of the vampire court (his ‘snack’ is magnificently disgusting), feels as if their exposure is eminent and begins to makes plans to deal with the human race, and it is the human part of one vampire that gives the human race a fighting chance.

Hine does an excellent job of blending a human element story with a tale of science fiction monsters. Landra develops more in this issue (and also stars in a rather steamy scene) while her grandfather reveals a painful secret of his own. Love, and death, is in the air, war has begun, and zombies are dancing fools. In other words, Hine delivers a fun and freaky comic script while Martinez and Nichols deliver the story with amazingly detailed pencils nothing short of art. Landra’s sex scene in particular is intimate without being pornographic, making it all the more intense.

FVZA has proven itself to be an overall excellent comic, particularly for zombie and vampire fans who are in the mood for something a bit different. With consistently stellar artwork and intriguing storytelling, Radical and company have another concept which can carry beyond a mini-series.

LEGENDS: THE ENCHANTED 0

LEGENDS: THE ENCHANTED #0
Written and Illustrated by Nick Percival
Published by Radical Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Classic characters from well-known folklore have never looked so cool, as Radical and the impressively talented Nick Percival launch LEGENDS: THE ENCHANTED, a new comic guaranteed to change the way you look at fables.

In a bizarre and violent world of magic, industry and really big knives, The Enchanted are in a class all their own. These supposedly immortal beings are in possession of powers and skills which turn them into social outcasts as well as rather efficient mercenaries for hire. Issue #0 opens with Jack the Giantkiller, high on magic beans and spouting arrogant one-liners, doing what he does best: killing giants and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. Readers are also introduced to Red Hood, the sizzling, Sarah Conner-kind-of-cool version of her naïve namesake, who can take down a pack of wolves with her wicked looking sickles without breaking a sweat. Yet despite their obvious ability to take care of themselves, The Enchanted are being targeted, and eliminated, by someone and/or something who holds the key (and the nefarious desire) to end their immortality.

The advantage of having someone as multi-talented as Percival both writing and illustrating a fresh new book is the reassurance the world created within the pages looks almost exactly as he pictured it would. The London fog-type haziness which envelopes the entire book channels the ethereal quality of the story, the colors are a total acid trip and the characters themselves are a perfect blend of smoking hot and total bad-ass. In short, this is one damn fine looking book.

Though Percival needs to work on pacing himself in certain scenes (there is something to be said for dramatic and comedic pauses, in both dialogue and artwork), Jack’s egotistic attitude and Red’s altruistic intentions should prove to be more than enough to draw in readers even remotely curious as to what Radical is willing to do with these famous childhood protagonists. Toss in the absolutely stunning scenery and unique, visceral lettering and you have a recipe for another best-selling hit from Nick Percival and Radical Comics.

LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME 1

THE LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME 1
Written by Rick Remender and Drawn by Greg Tocchini
Published by Radical Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

In the not-too-distant future, plans are afoot for the American government to begin broadcasting a signal that will engage a neurological reaction in people that will prevent them from engaging in any sort of criminal behavior. In addition, steps are underway to eliminate paper money on a permanent basis, meaning every transaction a person makes is traceable. Not only has this begun to create a surge of people exiting the country for parts north and south, but it has also set a deadline for those that live outside the law. And before lifelong criminal Graham Bricke makes his U.S. exit, he has one more big score in mind, one that will make the new system work for him. All he needs to do is find the right safecracker and right hacker and he can pull it off before the signal fires up in two weeks. But in a world where criminals are about to become extinct, finding the right ones to play on your team is harder than ever.

LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME is a juicy bit of genre fun, full of sharp dialogue and brimming with artistic zest. Remender, who has shown himself capable of writing solid material in almost every genre, demonstrates here that crime might just be where he’s most adept. The plotting here is tight, using a cross-genre convention (putting the team together) effectively to not only propel the story forward, but to inform the reader about the specifics of this future society without bogging down in exposition. His protagonist is a classic “older guy looking for a final score”, and his secondary lead is a classic femme fatale. All the pieces are here, and for me, they worked. I was engaged by LDAC from the very beginning and got hooked by Graham’s quest.

The art, by Tocchini, is really something to look at. It has a sort of impressionist look to it, effectively using shadow and color to suggest movement and mood. It gets detailed when you need it to, and it softens when the story makes moves into different emotional places. Backed by some strong production values, and with some sketchbook work and a Remender interview at the back of the book, this is a strong read and a solid value at 64 pages for five bucks.

HERCULES: KNIVES OF KUSH 4,5

HERCULES: KNIVES OF KUSH #4, 5
Written by Steve Moore, Illustrated by Cris Bolson
Published by Radical Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

The final two issues of the second Radical story arc starring the Greek demi-god Hercules and his merry band of mercenaries offers plenty of battles, blood and back-stabbing. A satisfying conclusion in a popular and bottomless series gives a sense of closure for that particular story arc while leaving the characters free for another money-making sequel, and HERCULES: KoK delivers such an ending.

The war between Pharaohs erupts as a murderous Seti seeks to squash his brother Amenmessu’s rebellion and sorcerous army. After somehow dragging themselves away from an orgy behind enemy lines, Iolaus and Autolycus deliver important intel to their current boss, who decides to meet his brother in battle. With the power of Khadis, horny weather witch extraordinaire, Amenmessu is confident in his victory, until Khadis turns her power on the son of the Greek god of lightening, with unexpected consequences. Lives are lost, wars are won, all of the Greek kick some serious ass and gratuitous violence is the name of the game. I cannot reveal one of my favorite parts of the series without belying the big reveal of who the spy in Seti’s house is, but I will say this: the final rant of one of the most amusingly amoral characters is hilariously detailed and truly a thing of beauty. This person knew exactly what they wanted and even in the face of horrific and painful death, gave no apologies for doing what was needed to achieve those goals. Amen to that.

Moore has once again authored a comic surrounding the adventures of one of the most famous Greeks to grace mythology, and once again he has proved himself worthy of accolades. Blood, sex, money and war comprise the general theme of KNIVES OF KUSH, which would make any Greek poet proud. Moore remains true to the template he established for all of his main characters while also throwing in exciting new faces and scenery, and though lacking the volume of dark humor the first series boasted (Tydeus is sorely missed), he does make a point to includes comedic bits which keeps things light. Bolson’s artwork is absolutely magnificent, making each blood-splattered battle scene just as beautiful as the faces of the Royal Wives. Definitely campy and at times somewhat cheesy, HERCULES is a series for those looking for an action-packed good time with a bit of something for everyone, and fans of the first series should not miss this next great adventure of Hercules and colorful crew.