The Beef #1 (February 2018)

The Beef #1

Honestly, is there time for The Beef? Shaky Kane’s art is all right, but it’s far from enough to hold up the rest of the book. It’s a middling indie book, juxtaposing this guy’s life with beef (his father worked at a slaughterhouse, he works at a slaughterhouse, everyone eats the slaughterhouse’s burgers in town) and his bad experiences with his bullies.

The bullies get more to do than the lead, because when it’s all the metaphysical exploration of man and beef, it’s nothing about the character specifically. He’s just there. So he can turn into The Beef, presumably. The Beef looks like the Hulk without any skin, just muscles. According to the cover and the single appearance on the last page.

Not sure if what the Beef is going to do to warrant a five issue comic book.

Richard Starking and Tyler Shainline’s script pretends being loose is the same thing as being nimble. The narration is overwrought, which is out of sync with Kane’s art. Of course, Kane drawing grown-up rich kid redneck gangsta bullies is pretty out of stylistic sense.

It’s kind of exhausting. And it’s only the first issue. The Beef is nowhere near as filling as its creators pretend.

CREDITS

Tainted Love, Part One: Fast Food; writers, Richard Starkings and Tyler Shainline; artist, Shaky Kane; letterer, Starkings; publisher, Image Comics.

Assassinistas #3 (February 2018)

Assassinistas #3

Assassinistas is starting to lose momentum, which isn’t good considering it’s just the third issue. Beto’s panels are getting sparer and sparer, he’s rushing through the action sequences. He slows down for the flashbacks and there are a lot of flashbacks. The flashbacks have the three Assassinistas in their prime. The present has the women separate, with Octavia having her son and his boyfriend as her sidekicks. The flashbacks are better.

But even they’re not without issue. There’s always an awkward transition as Octavia forgets she’s telling a story and then goes back to it. Writer Howard is dragging the revelations out–and playing with the idea of dragging them out–but Assassinistas can’t get stretched that thin. The boys are likable. No one else is likable. In flashback, the three women are funny and the action’s good, but they’re not likable. They’re still too thin.

And the whole thing about a kidnapped toddler just makes it feel forced. Like… we have to care, a child is (ostensibly but probably not really) in danger.

Also, for whatever reason, Beto’s expressions for the characters often doesn’t match their dialogue. It gets real noticable since there’s not just flashback, there’s exposition about getting to the flashback.

This issue’s a concerning turn (or concerning standstill) for the book.

CREDITS

Don’t Find Me — I’m Allergic to You!; writer, Tini Howard; artist, Gilbert Hernandez; colorists, Rob Davis and Robin Henley; letterer, Aditya Bidikar; editor, Shelly Bond; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Sax Rohmer’s Dope (September 2017)

Dope

Sax Rohmer’s Dope was originally serialized in the Eclipse anthology magazine in the early eighties, which makes a lot of sense. It’s not paced for a single reading, not with the final “reveal” (which isn’t pertenant by that time) and the long blocks of exposition.

The early eighties origin also makes the ickiness of the adaptation make more sense. Dope, the original novel, is from 1919. It’s British. Having not read it, I’m just going to go ahead and assume all the racism in the adaptation is from the original as well as the gentle misogyny of it all.

It takes a while to get to it–again, why it would read better serialized–but the story is about a police detective investigating a murder and a missing person. Dope’s very convoluted in the setup. This person meets that person, then visits that person with an acquaintance and on and on (there’s a lot of society stuff in it).

And adapter and artist Trina Robbins does great with that society stuff. She paces out these long conversations in a couple panels, word balloons crowding one another, the dialogue briskly paced. Not so with the exposition blocks, unfortunately. When Robbins is doing exposition, it all just hangs. There’s so much text. And none of it is particularly good. The source novel is mostly unknown pulp, after all. There’s none of the efficiency Robbins brings to the dialogue.

The second half of Dope, which reads a lot faster, is this police inspector investigating. I’m still not sure how he solves the crime. It’s on page, but there’s no explanation for how or why it works (or he would think it would work). He’s not a particularly likable character either. No one in Dope is particularly likable. The society men are all shallow jackasses, the women are deceptive dope addicts or unfaithful wives; there’s the one good woman, but she’s just a vessel for an exposition dump.

Dope is an interesting piece of work, but it’s too much for one sitting. The finale is this incredibly tedious (and racist) trip to London’s Chinatown so it’s not like the comic builds to anything. Serialized, it’d probably read a lot better. The ick factor wouldn’t be as relentless and the weak characterizations would play episodically, not as de facto character development.

It’s rather disappointing, actually. But clear from early on it’s not going to be able to overcome the source material. Or particularly interested in overcoming it.

CREDITS

Adapter and illustrator, Trina Robbins; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Love and Rockets #8 (September 1984)

Love and Rockets #8

Jaime gets a few more pages on Mechanics this issue and it changes the reading experience a bit. He has time to dawdle. This installment brings Rena Titañon in–it’s been a while since her last appearance (in present or flashback)–but also has time to give Hopey a whole subplot. And a whole other implied subplot because Izzy had an accident at Hopey’s apartment, a serious enough one to put Izzy in the hospital. Even though it doesn’t get explained.

There’s also enough room for Jaime to explore the band. At least, the bandmates gossiping about Hopey, Maggie, and whatever else. Jaime introduces some too obvious to be serious foreshadowing with the bandmates scenes too. It kind of works, kind of doesn’t. Similarly, Dot the reporter kind of works here and kind of doesn’t, as her seduction of Race (away from Maggie).

Then there’s the action finale, which Jaime executes beautifully.

Jaime’s not exactly stretching with the extra pages but he’s definitely exuberantly reaching. Again, he’s letting Mechanics get away from Maggie, which means more action maybe, but also less focus.

Then Beto has two Palomar stories.

The first one, The Laughing Sun, brings in the tween boys from the first Palomar story. They’re not tweens anymore, it’s ten years after that story (the first time–I think–there’s been an exact duration given). One of them attacks his wife and child, the rest reunite to track him down. Beto’s got all sorts of nods to the original story–or does he, because maybe it’s just how Palomar is going to progress. In temporal fluidity. But they feel like nods. With flashback, he can foreshadow past events for effect. And fun. Sometimes he just seems to be doing it for fun, which is nice because it’s a heavy story. And it cliffhangs because everything resolutionary is next issue.

And Beto’s second story is under the Heartbreak Soup Theater banner, On Isidro’s Beach. It’s a Luba story, more specifically, it’s a Luba’s daughter daughter Lupe story. She’s the second oldest (I think) and obsessed with Les Misérables (the book). And she’s a great protagonist for the story. Or the most pages of it. Because it goes back to Luba for the last three pages when the heaviness arrives. The sadness of life stuff.

Beto still gets in some good jokes, including a great finishing one.

It’s a strange issue. The stories don’t feel balanced, like Jaime’s going too long and Beto’s getting shorted. But not exactly because Beto’s pace on his stories is so good. They’re just breezy reads. Kind of too breezy. While Mechanics is full and good but clunky. But not exactly because Jaime can still get it to flow smoothly, full and clunky or not.

Punks Not Dead #2 (March 2018)

Punks Not Dead #2

So, yeah, Punks Not Dead #2 is smooth sailing. Barnett builds the characters, concentrating on Fergie’s daily life. School stuff, crush on the girl stuff, a little on the relationship with his mom. He and Sid try to figure out how their bond works, usually to comic effect. Barnett doesn’t play Sid for much but comic relief here, which is fine. It’s nice to have a little mystery.

Simultaneously, Barnett’s got Ms. Culpepper the government ghost hunter playfully tormenting her new hire while they’re on a mission.

It’s all set to Simmonds’s lovely art. There’s a static quality to the art–in a good way–where everything can sort of hang. Which is important since some of Fergie’s powers (he’s got supernatural powers of some kind now, maybe thanks to Sid, they don’t know) involves manipulating objects. Simmond’s panel composition is key; the way he paces scenes turns out to have less to do with actual space and depth and more to do with expressionist space and depth.

It’s a good looking book. And it just gets better as it goes.

Another Black Crown winner.

CREDITS

Teenage Kicks, Part Two: Turn It Up to Eleven; writer, David Barnett; artist, Martin Simmonds; colorist, Dee Cunniffe; letterer, Aditya Bidikar; editor, Shelly Bond; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Barbarella #4 (March 2018)

Barbarella #4

Barbarella #4 is a done-in-one and the best issue of the book so far. Like, wow, best issue. Carey runs a very tight narrative–Barbarella (and Vix, her fox who repeats words but isn’t sentient, unfortuantely) is traveling as a passenger on a “planet moving” ship. Not many other passengers, just a sexy blue empath dude who can projection feelings as well as read them. So they go to bed.

Unfortunately, the planets (there are five the ship’s dragging) start shaking and it means trouble.

In a normal book, here’d be your cliffhanger. Carey and new artist Jorge Fornés don’t stop there. They don’t even stop at the big reveal. They go all the way until the end of the trip. I kept waiting for it to cut off and it never does. It just keeps getting better and better.

Carey’s keeping some distance on Barbarella’s character development. The narrative follows her around as she encounters these aliens and those aliens and this adventure or that one and it’s always from her outward perspective. At least in this issue.

But there’s character development work going on. Carey’s writing on this book is real strong.

And Fornés art is great. His style is different than what the book had before. He’s got nice thick (digital) lines. Realism, but still personality. Especially during the action scenes.

So Barbarella. It’s still good, possibly now awesome. Fingers crossed Carey’s got enough ideas.

CREDITS

Pest Control: Fire and Sword; writer, Mike Carey; artist, Jorge Fornés; colorist, Celeste Woods; letterer, Crank!; consulting editor, Jean-Marc Lofficier; publisher, Dynamite Entertainment.

Love and Rockets #7 (July 1984)

Love and Rockets #7

Love and Rockets #7 opens with Mechanics and with this haunting image of Maggie in front of the sea, looking out of the page, quietly crying. The action immediately cuts away; Hopey and Penny (with a new haircut, colored like a skunk, and looking nothing like Penny) read a letter from Maggie recounting her latest Mechanic adventure. There’s Rand Race, of course, but also creepy rich guy hiring them to work on robots. Jaime amps up the strange–lots and lots of strange–before closing on the Race, Maggie, and Dot the reporter love triangle.

Jaime mixes romance comic angles and comic strip pacing. It’s a breezy read, light adventure comedy. Jaime’s art gets it through the somewhat shallow depth. Race ain’t that interesting. At least, not yet.

Then it’s Act of Contrition, Part Three from Beto, which is breezy and sort of light and sort of comedy, but it’s still incredibly dramatic. Beto splits the ten pages between Archie and the Palomar residents. Actually, the point of view sort of progresses, because how Archie gets back with Luba is what it’s all about. Only there’s a lot going on. So it’s sort of about how Archie gets integrated into Palomar-proper.

It’s a nice chapter; Beto enjoys showcasing the humanity of the characters here. Even when they’re problematic people, he keeps digging.

The next story is Locos. Not Locas, Locos. Speedy gets his own story, though he’s really just telling his friend all about Izzy. Izzy, who really is Izzy Ruebens, who Jaime used as a pseudonym for the first Mechanics story and then gave her own story. As a mystery writer (so was I right about guessing it or did I just not remember this confirmation consciously). Nothing about nun stuff though. There was an Izzy Ruebens, a nun, narrator page once.

It’s a strange story because it offers another take on Izzy, who Jaime usually uses for comic relief opposite Maggie and Hopey. It casts her as this sad, haunted person, who Izzy doesn’t exactly come across when she gets her own pages. It’s rather interesting how Jaime’s expanding the Locas “universe.”

He also uses Spanish to English translations at the bottom of each page; it’s similar, but different, from what Beto did on the first Heartbreak Soup story. Beto, of course, was doing Spanish proper noun pronunciations. You’d think Chelo sounded like cello but no. Or I would’ve anyway.

Speaking of Beto and Heartbreak Soup, the final story in the issue is The Whispering Tree. It’s another sidequel (to the main Palomar tale, Contrition) with Luba’s kids having a little adventure. Three pages. For laughs. Even though Jaime’s the one with the exploration of comic strip narrative principles, Beto can do it too. It’s a funny strip, lots of exaggerated action, a great–thoughtful too–punchline.

It’s a good issue. Light, happy, and good.

The Highest House #1 (February 2018)

Mike Carey and Peter Gross find a beautiful pace for the first issue of The Highest House. The issue’s full, but never too full–Gross’s pages sometimes have twelve panels, sometimes three, usually eight to ten. A lot of panels, a lot of story. And a lot of exposition.

In some medieval maybe fantasy world, a woman sells her son, Moth, into slavery. He’s off to Highest House, which he doesn’t know much (if anything) about. The guy who buys the slaves is an agent, not royalty. And he might he some kind of wizard (or hypnotist). He bonds with Moth because Moth’s got some perception abilities. Maybe. It’s unclear what they are or even might be.

So there’s the rural village, the trip to the city (with breaks), then the city itself. The palace. It just looks like a city. Anyway. Moth finds himself a roof repairer. He learns all about the tools, in this speedy, thorough page from Gross and Carey. There eighteen panels on the page and lots of text. Because it’s a full book.

Gross’s lines are a little looser than I remember, but he’s got gorgeous composition. And the loose lines usually make the characters emote better.

Carey’s writing is good. It’s interesting, it’s engaging, it’s not too complicated. Lots of panels, lots of text–Highest House could easily overwhelm. Carey doesn’t let it, even when it seems like it may. It’s that pacing. Beauty pacing.

Highest House is off to a strong start.

CREDITS

Obsidian’s Bargain, Part 1; writer, Mike Carey; artist and letterer, Peter Gross; colorist, Fabien Alquier; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Vampironica #1 (May 2018)

Vampironica #1 (May 2018)

Reading Vampironica, I sometimes thought maybe Greg Smallwood’s art would look better if it were a black and white seventies horror comic magazine. But no, I don’t think it’d make a difference. Smallwood has a very think line. It makes the comic look like someone’s zooming in on the art. It feels rushed.

The comic itself is very rushed. I think it reads in four or five minutes tops. It starts with Veronica as Buffy, then it turns out it’s Veronica as Blade. Lots of Archie cast cameos. Lots of solid jokes from Smallwoods Greg and Meg. It’s a breezy, fun five minutes.

But it’s just five minutes. Probably more like four. Because there’s no dawdling. The only thing Smallwood emphasizes is the expressions, but his staging is so rushed, they’re almost speed bumps. They work for emphasis.

Vampironica is completely readable and totally disposable. It’s an ongoing, which is sort of worse.

CREDITS

Writers, Greg Smallwood and Meg Smallwood; artist, Greg Smallwood; letterer, Jack Morelli; editors, Stephen Oswald, Vincent Lovallo, Alex Segura, and Jamie L. Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #3 (May 2018)

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #3

I think this issue the series’s best so far. But it has jack to do with Snagglepuss. There’s a TV interview bookend with he and Huckleberry Hound and Snagglepuss is in most of the issue, he’s just not important to any of it. Not when there’s a Marilyn Monroe cameo, a full-on Joe DiMaggio first person flashback, not to mention the implication Snagglepuss is responsible for Clint Eastwood’s success.

Oh, and he finds Huckleberry Hound a boyfriend finally; because gay bar. Where Snagglepuss pisses off his Cuban lover with some of his comments on the Cuban Revolution.

Russell’s writing is strong and anti-dramatic. It’s a tedious read, even when it’s just a scene. Like the DiMaggio flashback. It’s interesting, historically, but dramatically inert on its own and entirely puzzling in Exit Stage Left.

If Russell wanted to do some creative nonfiction about how McCarthyism hit New York, he should’ve just done it. Throwing the cartoon characters in does nothing for it.

Decent art from Feehan, who’s better at people than anthropomorphized dogs and cats.

And the Sasquatch Detective backup is odd. It’s got to be perplexing to readers not versed in the right pop culture trivia and, even if they are, it’s still unlikable and not funny.

CREDITS

<p style="font-size:11px;">Actors and Stars; writer, Mark Russell; penciller, Mike Feehan; inker, Mark Morales; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Star Wars: Thrawn #2 (May 2018)

One of the amusing franchise realties for Star Wars is Imperial officers aren’t bright. The movies established early on only Darth Vader had any brains. Darth Vader, then the Emperor. Otherwise, the Imperials were twits.

So Thrawn, which has a genius alien ascending the ranks of the racist Imperial Navy, has a somewhat peculiar problem. How can writer Houser show Thrawn’s ability to excel amid a group of twits. Even allowing for some intelligence, they’re still a bunch of racist twits. It’s kind of an interesting thing. Houser doesn’t really explore it because you don’t get to acknowledge a problem with a franchise in a licensed title. Well, whatever Star Wars is to Marvel.

It’s a successful issue. Maybe a little less impressive than the first; Houser thinks the big reveal is a lot more dramatic than it turns out to be. Thrawn is still all about Thrawn and his human flunky, Ensign Eli. Eli’s supposedly Thrawn’s handler (and is his assigned aide), but Thrawn’s really two steps ahead. Or ten steps. Whichever. Eli’s not too bright.

Decent art from Ross. Little too much with the computer shading, but decent art. He doesn’t do the action well. Like when there are fistfights and prison breaks and whatever. Those scenes, which are rushed in the script, are confusing on the page. Too little information and not the best panel subjects.

But a fine enough, sci-fi comic. It’s a little Star Wars, but not a lot Star Wars. It’s just the right amount.

CREDITS

Writers, Timothy Zahn and Jody Houser; artist, Luke Ross; colorist, Nolan Woodard; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Heather Antos; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Love and Rockets #6 (May 1984)

Love and Rockets #6

The first story in Love and Rockets #6–Beto’s Heartbreak Soup Theater: The Mystery Wen–brings back some more of the Palomar cast. But after the jump-ahead Beto did with the Luba story. Wen is about grown-up accordion teacher Heraclio having a bump on his head and freaking out about it. He’s now married to Carmen (who hasn’t gotten any taller).

It’s a six page story, all comedic. Beto plots it out like a series of strips. Little scenes with rising actions and resolutions, focusing on the bump plot. It’s fun. Carmen’s got some of the same traits as before, but Heraclio is pretty much a restart. But with the same history. The story starts the issue off quite well and will provide a contrast to Beto’s Luba story, which is featured on the cover.

But first it’s time for Mechanics. Jaime’s loving the art this story. There’s some noirish stuff, a lot of action, a lot of physical comedy, a lot of depth composition stuff. It’s eight pages–Maggie goes back to work, where a fetching reporter named Dot is trying to get Race for a feature article. She thinks she can make him a heartthrob. It’s mostly the physical comedy, though Hopey and Penny show up for a page. It grounds the story with Maggie, who isn’t involved with all the Dot and Race antics; she’s mostly bystander.

It’s a good setup. Some great art. The last panel–the teaser for the next installment–is both predictable and rewarding. Jaime’s established a tone for the story and promises more in the same vein.

Then it’s time for Act of Contrition, Part 2, Beto’s Luba story. The Palomar side of the story–even though it starts with townsfolk gossiping about Luba and her dance paramour, Archie–doesn’t figure in much. Most of the story is Archie’s. Beto reveals some things–he and Luba’s backstory, his hidden profession (mortician)–and gives him the big moments later on. It’s only eleven pages. Beto does a bunch in eleven pages.

The subplots from the previous installment sort of carry over but, again, it’s mostly Archie’s story. The first part’s B subplots go C here. They support Luba, it’s not Luba’s story this time. Good art. Great mood.

The last story is Jaime’s four-page “half chapter” for Mechanics. Penny is telling Maggie how she knows Race. It’s a lot of good art and funny scenes. Penny tells the story, which feels a little romance-y with the pace (and the outfits), but in a good way. Jaime handles the humor well between the flashback and the present; the tones are very different.

It’s a good issue. Of course it is. It’s Love and Rockets.

Kong on the Planet of the Apes #5 (March 2018)

Kong on the Planet of the Apes #5

Kong attacks Ape City in Kong on the Planet of the Apes #5. And instead of being some fantastic homage to previous Kong stories, that giant ape attack just shows how poorly Magno is able at visualizing a giant ape attacking humanoid apes. The Kong action panels are sparing–though there are some questionable close-ups–and even then way too much. By the end of the comic, when the Skull Island priestess hopes on Kong’s shoulder to run off and plan their escape? Magno’s burned through all the goodwill. And the book had just on surviving nostalgia fumes.

Until Kong breaks out, most of the issue is the movie regulars being awful to one another. Cornelius has betrayed Zira, Zaius is playing martyr, Ursus (the ape general) is trying to take down Kong. It’s tiresome. And the furry dinosaur monsters aren’t any better.

Kong breaking out gives the story some energy, even if the art doesn’t work out, and Ferrier writes the issue into a perplexing soft cliffhanger. A callback, again, to the first movie and an unexpected plot development. The development makes me concerned how Ferrier’s going to wrap it all up in an issue.

Unless Boom! has Son of Kong on the Planet of the Apes planned or something.

CREDITS

Writer, Ryan Ferrier; artist, Carlos Magno; colorist, Alex Guimarães; letterer, Ed Dukeshire; editors, Gavin Gronenthal and Dafna Pleban; publisher, Boom! Studios.

Mata Hari #1 (February 2018)

Mata Hari #1

Mata Hari is pretty boring. Writer Emma Beeby fractures the narrative to drum up drama, but even with that fracturing, there’s not much drama. Some of it is artist Ariela Kristantina’s lack of scale–Mata Hari feels incredibly cramped, both the panels on the page and the characters rendered in the panels. Maybe everything was small in 1917 France.

The promotional materials for the series mention the attention to realism (the writer and artist using actual MI5 files for reference). Still, it’s an incredible yawn. It’s not scholarly enough to be snooty compelling and it’s nowhere near dramatic enough to be entertainment.

It’s a history comic without a reason for being a comic (so far). The wikipedia page is probably more interesting.

Once again, the Berger Books imprint disappoints. Once again, it disappoints with material shockingly “not ready for prime time.” Kristantina’s style is too rough, Beeby’s exposition-only dialogue (and narration) is muddled blather.

If the creators are enthralled with the mystery of Mata Hari… well, it’d have been nice if some of that energy came across on the page.

Instead, it’s a tedious snore.

CREDITS

Bare Faced; writer, Emma Beeby; artist, Ariela Kristantina; colorist, Pat Wasioni; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Rachel Roberts and Karen Berger; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

The Gravediggers Union #5 (March 2018)

The Gravediggers Union #5

Gravediggers Union #5 is just as sturdy an entry as ever. Craig and Cypress have their story down; this issue the Union is investigating the Tom Cruise stand-in (a celebrity in a cult who may or may not bring about the end times). Only the reader knows he’s not going to bring about the end times because it’s Morgan who is the dark prophet.

This issue juxtaposes Morgan having a vision with the Union going into the celebrity guy’s mind to figure out what’s going on. This mind meld happens after the Union has to take out the guy’s army of zombies. Because why not.

Basically it’s just a bunch of awesome Cypress art, doing magic, fighting, dark gods, whatever.

Gravediggers is a hard book to describe. Yes, the art drives it, but Craig’s plotting and pacing gives Cypress the opportunities to excel. Quite good comics.

CREDITS

Writer, Wes Craig; artists, Craig and Toby Cypress; colorist, Niko Guardia; letterer, Jared K. Fletcher; publisher, Image Comics.

The Ruff & Reddy Show #5 (April 2018)

The Ruff & Reddy Show #5

The Ruff and Reddy Show continues. It continues to get more and more embarrassing for writer Chaykin, who apparently decided to add some commentary on Hollywood sexual assault and harassment. Only not really, just for the opening summary page.

Then the issue is a series of not funny scenes with Ruff and Reddy in various television pilots. They’re all terrible modern television shows. Chaykin handles it all dispassionately. He’s just churning through. The reader, the writer, they get to churn through the pages without dwelling. Poor Rey has to illustrate this nonsense.

Chaykin finishes the comic with an almost decent scene at Comic Con with Ruff and Reddy getting into a fight. It’s not a decent scene, but it’s almost decent.

Barely almost.

I can’t believe I’ve made it through five of these comics.

CREDITS

A Cautionary Tale In Six Parts, Part Five; writer, Howard Chaykin; artist, Mac Rey; letterer, Ken Bruzenak; editors, Michael McCalister and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Terrifics #1 (April 2018)

The Terrifics #1

I’m hard-pressed to find anything wrong with The Terrifics. It seems like a quirky DC series spun out of a major crossover event. They’d done a bunch of these series over the years. The Terrifics has a few different things going on, of course. Ivan Reis doing Plastic Man. Reis’s style shouldn’t work with the wackiness of Plastic Man. But it does, because it’s Ivan Reis.

And so there’s a varied principal cast–Mr. Terrific (hence The Terrifics), Metamorpho (the only time the issues stumbles is too much time spent with the Stagg family), a female Legion of Superheroes-looking hero. Jeff Lemire and Reis share a “storytelling” credit but I think one can still assume Lemire’s doing most of the writing. Lemire brings them all together in a witty, exposition-friendly style. There’s banter. Mr. Terrific’s the straight man, et cetera.

It’s perfectly good superhero comics.

It also is introducing Tom Strong into the DC Universe, which is morally problematic. Worse, given it’s Reis and Lemire and Terrifics is fine so far, what if they integrate Strong all right? If they fail, it’ll be just desserts. If they succeed, well. It’ll be a testament to the original creator’s ability to create characters.

I guess I’m curious enough to find out.

CREDITS

Meet the Terrifics, Part 1 of 3; writer, Jeff Lemire; penciller, Ivan Reis; inker, Joe Prado; colorist, Marcelo Maiolo; letterer, Tom Napolitano; editor, Jessica Chen and Paul Kaminski; publisher, DC Comics.

Gideon Falls #1 (March 2018)

Gideon Falls #1

Gideon Falls is a mystery. Some of it is urban, with a young man with a history of mental illness searching the city for bits and pieces of wood. And nails. The rest of it is a disgraced but not in that way priest reassigned to some rural town–Gideon Falls. There he finds himself in a mystery, involving the ghost of the previous priest and something related to the city guy’s quest.

So. It’s a mystery. It’d be nice if writer Jeff Lemire has it planned and plotted out and it’ll be a smooth read. Andrea Sorrentino’s art is smooth and moody. It’s got some weird digital texture lines thing going on but otherwise it works just fine.

It’s too soon to tell with the comic though. Is it a great hook? No, but it’s a fine one. There’s going to be a lot of religious imagery, which doesn’t seem particularly edgy so hopefully Lemire’s got a good backstory for the priest.

Who knows. Too soon to tell. As a first issue, it does its job. It makes you want to read the second issue.

CREDITS

The Speed of Pain; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Andrea Sorrentino; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Steve Wands; editor, Will Dennis; publisher, Image Comics.

Batman: White Knight #6 (May 2018)

Batman: White Knight #6

The issue starts a humdrum cops chasing Batman, with lots of fast scenes of the cops (including Nightwing, Batgirl, and the Joker) coming up with ideas and then cuts to the Batmobile. It’s a little obvious, a little tedious. The action pacing isn’t right.

Then the Burton Batmobile shows up and nothing matters for a few pages except getting to see Sean Murphy draw a Batmobile sequence with the Burton Batmobile.

Sigh. It’s like if DC had validated the movie fans when I was eleven.

Then there’s a weak fight scene between the Joker and Batman. Batgirl goes to Mr. Freeze and finds out Papa Wayne was just a secret agent who brought Nazis to the States for science. He’s morally bankrupt but not a Nazi. Mr. Freeze, however, isn’t morally bankrupt–he hated his father, who–retcon alert–hated Freeze’s Jewish wife, Nora. It’s an okay scene though, even if dreadfully cheap. Murphy should just do a Batgirl series.

The end has what ought to be an amazing Joker sequence but flops. Brian Bolland’s safe for now. The problem? Murphy runs out of space. He’s been too busy with his action movie back-and-forth exposition dumping again.

Still. Burton Batmobile alone makes it worth it. For an exceptionally select number of readers.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Love and Rockets #5 (March 1984)

Love and Rockets #5

Hopey gets to headline her first story in Love and Rockets #5. She’s been sidekick up until now. The story’s straight comedy, with Hopey tempted to return to her graffiti days; the fresh white wall across the street is proving too hard to resist. Maggie and Izzy just want what’s best for Hopey and best is tagging the wall.

There are cops to avoid, paint colors to choose, all sorts of little things Jaime touches on in the eight page story. Lots of good monologues. Lots of good laughs in the dialogue, lots of mood. It’s not an ambitious strip, but it’s still an excellent one.

Then comes Beto’s Fan Letter. It’s a first person narrator talking about his favorite band, “Twitch City,” also the name of an unrelated Beto strip in a previous issue. It’s the story of a punk band’s rise and fall, in mostly text. Beto paces it beautifully, the momentum of the text paying off in the art. It’s excellent. And kind of ambitious.

Jaime’s Penny Century strip isn’t ambitious but it’s beautiful. Three pages of comic humor.

Then comes Act of Contrition, Beto’s return to Palomar. It’s a few years later and Luba’s the main character. None of the last Palomar story’s principal cast return. Some get a mention. Some previous supporting cast cameo. But it’s a new thing.

All but three pages of it is about Luba rediscovering herself thanks to a horny acquantiance and a new dress. It’s kind of a fairy tale setup (a box of dresses magically appears, enabling Luba’s night out). Beto grounds it though. He’s also got a lot of exagerrated humor, which ungrounds it. But the characters are all so real, which grounds it again.

Contrition is glorious comics.

Then Beto’s got Errata Stigmata again. She was in the first issue of Rockets and a comic book character in the fourth (or third). Now she gets an initially heady, then jokey strip about her boyfriend only being in it for her stigmata. Great art, great pacing of the characters through the panels (Beto and Jaime showing off the comic “strip” skills in different ways this issue). Great punchline.

And then Jaime’s got a lovely Rocky and Fumble. It’s their origin story. The art is beautiful, not a lot of backgrounds, a lot of mood. Perfect summary storytelling on the flashbacks. It’s lovely. Jaime’s style is always clean but it’s a little cleaner here than in Locas, giving the strip its own feel.

Jaime also shows off his ability to deftly tug the heartstrings, pacing the strip just right to get the most effect.

It’s an outstanding thirty-two pages of comic books.

Redneck #10 (February 2018)

Redneck #10

This issue of Redneck is mostly one of the vampire familiars in an FBI interrogation. Lots of flashbacks to how he met the family and became a familiar. And why he stayed with them.

Otherwise, there’s not much to the issue. Cates takes the action back to the family for the last few pages, to set up the cliffhanger, but it’s filler. It’s good enough filler–Estherren’s art is awesome, particularly in the flashbacks. They’re to Vietnam, they’re to sixties and seventies small town United States. It gives Estherren a new setting; he excels.

The flashback also makes the character–the familiar–more likable. Younger he seems like less background. In the present day stuff, the FBI agent gets far more to do.

Redneck’s a sturdy book. Even when it has filler issues. Cates imaginatively spins his wheels while Estherren visualizes these fast, distinct scenes.

CREDITS

Writer, Donny Cates; artist, Lisandro Estherren; colorist, Dee Cunniffe; letterer, Joe Sabino; editors, Arielle Basich and Jon Moisan; publisher, Image Comics.

Fu Jitsu #5 (February 2018)

Fu Jitsu #5

It’s a fine finish to the arc, which then turns out to be the series. For now. Apparently Aftershock is being conservative in how many issues they give a series. So Fu Jitsu comes to its end. Hopefully to return.

Nitz and St. Claire do almost an issue-long fight scene between Fu and his nemesis, Wadlow. Rachel, Fu’s android ex-lover, cheers Fu on. She also tells him a big secret, which gives the story some immediate layers as the showdown between Fu and Wadlow goes on.

It’s a fast, surprising, smart comic. St. Claire’s art is good–the visuals on Fu’s kung fu and all the mystical but science tech are cool. Nitz knows how to write the talking fight scene too, the adversarial banter.

If it weren’t for the warning there might not be any more Fu Jitsu, even with a more serious than expected finish, the comic would go out swimmingly. Nitz includes a teaser, presumably to encourage interest in a second series, but it’s way too extra.

Other than that inclusion, Fu Jitsu #5 is everything it should be.

CREDITS

Curse of the Atomic Katana, Part Five; writer, Jai Nitz; artist, Wesley St. Claire; letterer, Ryane Hill; editor, Mike Marts; publisher, Aftershock Comics.

War Stories #26 (January 2018)

War Stories #26

War Stories #26 is the last issue. Ennis and Aira go out strong. Most of the issue is a dramatic action sequence. Ennis has to keep it interesting, Aira has to keep it moving. Both succeed. Thanks to the omnipresent narration, Ennis is able to lay groundwork for the finale. Even though there’s still one last reveal.

Or maybe not last reveal but first. This story, “Flower of My Heart,” is some of Ennis’s most saccharine, but most humanistic work. The character study of the protagonist as he watches this foreign country change around him–as Italy goes from being fascist to Allied occupied–and how war changes or doesn’t change him.

Because protagonist Robin is a warmonger. Only he’s not. He’s forever scarred with what he’s seen, but he’s still naive. He only can exist for the one thing. Or can he?

It’s an excellent finish. War Stories has had its ups and downs, but Ennis really brought it together for the last two stories. And, while Aira is rushed with the talking heads here, he’s got the emotions of the characters down. Their faces, rough or not, intensely convey their feelings.

I’m going to miss this comic. Well, War Stories but not so much #26; I resent Ennis when he makes me cry because I know he knows he’s doing it.

CREDITS

The Flower of My Heart, Part Four; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories #25 (October 2017)

War Stories #25

Ennis’s gentle story continues. Robin, the British WWII flier, reflects on his life while flying missions in Italy. Italy’s just capitulated, the Allies have taken Rome, everything’s going fine. Except Robin doesn’t have anything else going on except the flying.

His Italian pal, whose life is fairly destroyed, maintains a more positive outlook. He encourages Robin to try to meet a woman, which Robin does. So a bunch of it is nervous Robin preparing for his date.

Aira’s art is rushed, but he takes the time on the expressions in close-up. There’s a very stylized feel to the talking heads scenes, the characters’ expressions, how much the visuals focus on them and nothing else. Some of it is probably just less backgrounds, but the emphasis works. Ennis is doing a character study, after all.

It’s good. Ennis doing this non-battle oriented War Stories arc has excellent result.

CREDITS

The Flower of My Heart, Part Three; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Peanuts: A Tribute To Charles M. Schulz (October 2015)

Peanuts: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz

Peanuts: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz. “Over 40 artists celebrate the work of Charles M. Schulz.” It says so right on the cover. And Tribute is a fine celebration of Peanuts. There are some great cartoonists who contribute pieces for the collection. It’s 144 pages, which means contributors average less than three and a half pages each.

Collections of Peanuts strips, like the Fantagraphics Complete Peanuts, have three strips a page. So Schulz would have ten or eleven strips in similar page count. It shows just how magical he was with pacing those strips day-to-day.

There are some good strips, some okay strips, some cool strips. The Paul Pope Snoopy and Schroeder strip? Very cool. But given the whole grab is Pope doing these realistic looking Pope characters and them still operating on Peanuts logic. When Schroeder worries Lucy’s going to show up… well, Snoopy’s cute and all but I’d much rather see Pope Lucy. Beautiful art, though. Because Pope’s a lover.

There aren’t any strips non-Peanuts loving strips in the book. There are even strips just about loving Peanuts.

A few strips after Pope is Roger Langridge, who does a Snoopy the flying ace strip from the perspective of enemy pilots. It’s cute. It’s not great. Raina Telegemeier does a one page thing right after. Langridge got four pages. Her’s is cute. It’s not great. But she does it in one.

Stan Sakai and Julie Fujii do one of the best longer strips in the book, Escapade in Tokyo. Charlie Brown gets separated from the class on a school trip and spends the day with a cool Japanese girl. It’s anti-crap on Charlie Brown (most of the book, if not all of it, is anti-crapping on Charlie Brown) and it’s a nice story. Sakai and Fujii give it just the right amount of nostalgia and sentamentality without sacrificing the humor.

Terry Moore does something similar. Lucy vs. Charlie Brown only this time Charlie Brown’s going to kick that football. Moore mimicks Schulz’s style but sort of not enough to get away with the strip. Charlie Brown winning has to be perfect, like Sakai and Fujii did.

Chynna Clugston Flores does a “Why I Love Peanuts” strip. It’s good. It’s just a “Why I Love Peanuts strip”. There are some more in the book and Clugston Flores’s is probably the best but… Tribute is just a tribute. Sometimes the cartoonists interact with the characters, sometimes with the media itself.

Evan Dorkin and Derek Charm do a “Cthulhu comes to Peanuts” long strip and it’s inventive, beautifully illustrated (the style homage ages like Schulz’s did as the strip goes on), and kind of thin. Not many contributors do a riff on Peanuts without staying in Schulz’s constraints.

Except then there’s Melanie Gillman’s beautiful Marcie strip addressing her relationship with Patty. Liz Prince had a nice Patty strip earlier, but nowhere near as ambitious. Shaenon K. Garrity’s long, color strip about Patty taking on Lucy is good. It’s mostly in Peanuts constraints, just with some visual storytelling differences.

Peanuts: A Tribute is a good book for a Peanuts fan. To check out from the library. It’s a great proof of concept for a more ambitious project. I didn’t realize I wanted other cartoonists doing Peanuts until I read it. But I want them doing more, trying harder.

I also wish, given it just being this assortment of homages, Boom! had printed it more coffee table size.

CREDITS

Contributors, Mike Allred, Art Baltazar, Paige Braddock, Megan Brennan, Frank Cammuso, Derek Charm, Colleen Coover, Evan Dorkin, Chynna Clugston Flores, Shaenon K. Garrity, Melanie Gillman, Zac Gorman, Jimmy Gownley, Matt Groening, Dan Hipp, Keith Knight, Mike Kunkel, Roger Langridge, Jeff Lemire, Jonathan Lemon, Patrick McDonnell, Tony Millionaire, Caleb Monroe, Terry Moore, Dustin Nguyen, Molly Ostertag, Lincoln Peirce, Paul Pope, Hilary Price, Liz Prince, Stan Sakai + Julie Fujii, Chris Schweizer, Ryan Sook, Jeremy Sorese, Raina Telgemeier, Richard Thompson, Tom Tomorrow, Lucas Turnbloom, Jen Wang, and Mo Willems; editors, Alex Galer and Shannon Watters; publisher, KaBoom!.

Vinegar Teeth #2 (February 2018)

Vinegar Teeth #2

The first issue of Vinegar Teeth made the protoplasm cop visually reasonable so the second issue goes all in with the writing. Nixey and Gentry explore the strangeness of Brick City, from its music clubs to its boy scouts turned bank robber.

There’s also a framing device (for a page), with lead copper Artie in trouble in court. The issue doesn’t come back to it; there’s some more with Artie in trouble, like when Vinegar Teeth gets assigned to be the lead detective, but not the courtroom. The courtroom’s a memorable scene. It sets the tone for the issue.

And the issue’s got those boy scout bank robbers and Artie’s interest in music, which are strange enough on their own. There’s also the green and yellow colors of Brick City. Guy Major does them. They make it all seem like spoiling vegetables, which means Vinegar Teeth is working.

There’s a soft cliffhanger for Vinegar Teeth and Artie, but also the end implication of an interstellar threat.

The writing also pushes against the fourth wall a couple times, which comes as a surprise but ends up being a fine fit. Vinegar Teeth can get away with a lot.

CREDITS

Writers, Damon Gentry and Troy Nixey; artist and letterer, Nixey; colorists, Guy Major and Michelle Madsen; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Evolution #4 (February 2018)

Evolution #4

Evolution #4 shows off the possiblities of the format–multi-writer, one artist. Each writer has a subplot they do, while artist Infurnari gets to draw the gross.

People are evolving only into monsters and there’s some Cthulhu-ish undertones of course. Because there are always Cthulhu-ish undertones.

The comic opens with a talking heads scene between Claire, who’s the protagonist of one of the subplots (and writer’s contributions), and her mysterious benefactor. I think she just saw this guy kill a monster a couple issues ago. Now he’s doing a backstory exposition dump and giving her a check. Infurnari gets the mood just right. It’s creepy but maybe not dangerous. But maybe dangerous.

Then it’s off to Rome to check in on the nun-on-the-run. She’s just seen the Church cover up some of the monsters. Her story is the most sympathetic, if only because Claire (who’s in L.A.) doesn’t realize the danger around her. The nun gets it. She goes off to see a priest who’s left the church (maybe he’s left, it’s unclear). And then there’s her backstory exposition dump.

The only story with an exposition dump is the scientist. He’s already had his backstory reveal. Now he’s just ranting to himself about how he’s going to stop the evolution and the monsters. His subplot is Evolution’s weak link. It makes sense–in that disaster movie sort of way, you need someone to do exposition dumps as things happen–but he’s an unlikable character. You can be working to save the world and be unlikable, apparently.

Evolution’s gross–Infurnari does blood, guts, and tendons enthusiastically; he also does general creepiness well–but almost a pleasant reading experience. None of the writers try too hard. It’s a methodical, “anthology” horror comic. The writers embrace the constraints to decent result.

CREDITS

Writers, James Asmus, Joseph Keatinge, Christopher Sebela, and Joshua Williamson; artist, Joe Infurnari; colorist, Jordan Boyd; letterer, Pat Brosseau; editors, Arielle Basich and Jon Moisan; publisher, Image Comics.

Maestros #5 (February 2018)

Maestros #5

Willy goes to Hell! To ask for help. Hell gives Skroce a lot to draw. Some gross stuff in terms of blood and guts, some gross stuff in terms of dick and fart jokes. Maestros has such an excellent balance between those two interests.

Skroce splits the issue between Willy negotiating with the Devil–I think he’s got a name, but I can’t remember. The Devil hates Willy’s family because Willy’s dad–the previous maestro–gave him all sorts of weird curses. Skroce goes for sight gags and he goes for jokes in the dialogue. Everything in Hell is very, very good.

The stuff with Willy’s mom and his love interest being attacked by the evil elf wizard? While at a CostCo? Not as good. It’s fine, but it’s not as good. Skroce doesn’t have any humor for it; in fact, most of it’s just distraction given the evil elf’s plan, which gets a cliffhanger reveal.

Good issue though, as usual. Some great art, as usual.

Maestros keeps on truckin’.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Steve Skroce; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Fonografiks; publisher, Image Comics.

Kid Lobotomy #5 (February 2018)

Kid Lobotomy #5

Kid Lobotomy seems about ready to have a “Milligan moment.” There’s no exact definition to a “Milligan,” it’s just when Peter Milligan does one of those Peter Milligan things and the comic never recovers. Sometimes he makes it twenty issues. Sometimes he doesn’t make it one.

Did he make it five on Kid Lobotomy? It’s a great issue, for the most part; even the ominous material is good. It’s just the end of a story but not the end of the arc. Milligan’s got one more to go and he’s just introduced the idea of the writer as interactive creator. i.e. the characters can interact with the writer.

We’ll see.

But otherwise it’s one of the best issues in the series so far. Fowler’s got a lot of different stuff–an action sequence in a mental hospital, some flashbacks, lots of bugs. Great visuals.

Kid Lobotomy just needs to survive its writer’s more extravagant impulses.

CREDITS

The Boy With Two Hearts, Part Five of A Lad Insane; writer, Peter Milligan; artist, Tess Fowler; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Aditya Bidikar; editors, Chase Marotz and Shelly Bond; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows #1 (March 2018)

Ds1

Doctor Star and The Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows is a Black Hammer tie-in book–more a sidequel, with the WWII setting showing Abraham Slam and Golden Gail in their respective youths. It starts out a Starman homage (I assume, I’ve never read it but the protagonist’s name is James Robinson and his outfit is similar so… it’s pretty obvious).

Robinson narrates. Writer Jeff Lemire lays on the melancholy, which artist Max Fiumara visualizes quite well. Doctor Star never looks better than when it’s about some intense sadness and desperation. Not even when there are superhero things going on.

So the intense sadness should be the best part. And it’s not. It’s just intense and sad, something Lemire does exceedingly well with on Black Hammer and exceedingly poorly with Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows. Just think about that title. It’s so sad. Everything is so sad.

Other than being sad, being Starman homage, and having minor Black Hammer tie-in… there’s nothing to Doctor Star #1. Not good when there are only four issues.

CREDITS

Star Child; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Max Fiumara; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Nate Piekos; editors, Brett Israel and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

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