Hot Damn 2 (May 2016)

Hot Damn #2

I’m still undecided on Hot Damn, which I wasn’t expecting. I was expecting to jump off with this issue–something about Ferrier’s writing style for this comic, he’s trying too hard to be flashy. He knows Ramon can really do up the Heaven and Hell scenery and Ferrier pushes it. There is actual nuance to some of the characters, Ferrier just doesn’t want to get caught up.

He wants to be sensational. He wants to do something blasphemous. He fails. Even with Ramon’s art, Hot Damn is just desperate for attention. I’m not even sure what zeitgeist it’s chasing, because Ferrier has original material and then he has tropes he goes through. Maybe it’s something with IDW editorial. Hot Damn is creator-owned but does have an editor.

So I guess I’m on for another issue. There’s some good stuff in the issue, some amusing moments, some very amusing sight gags from Ramon. There’s also a lot of lame stuff in the issue, lame moments, lame sight gags from Ramon. I’m far more curious to see if Ferrier gets anywhere, even somewhere tepid, with Hot Damn than I am to see how the narrative goes. While narrative’s barely passable, the execution’s bewildering.

CREDITS

Writer, Ryan Ferrier; artist, Valentin Ramon; editor, David Hedgecock; publisher, IDW Publishing.

HOT DDDDDDD

Hot Damn 1 (April 2016)

Hot Damn #1

Didn’t I just read a Hell series lately? Or was it a Heaven series? One or the other. Or it’s both. Hot Damn is sort of both. Ryan Ferrier writes, Valentin Ramon illustrates. It’s the story of some guy who ODes on coke and dies. He goes to Hell. Hell has thousand year twelve step programs (regular sinners promoted to demons), it has gross junk food, it has crappy apartments, it’s generally icky. With lots of fluids.

Ramon does a fine job with all the Hell stuff. He does a fine job with all the Heaven stuff (angels getting stoned, mostly). It’s detailed and never too icky. There’s far more implied grossness than actual.

But is Hot Damn any good? Eh.

It’s okay. It’s not the worst “slacker goes to Hell” story in the world. It’s not the best. Ferrier’s a problematic writer, but he actually doesn’t do much here. The jokes are all pretty standard, there’s nothing of particular note about the characters. I thought the Devil was going to be interesting, but no. He’s just a boring office guy so far. Sure, Hitler, Stalin and Mao are all in his office being tormented but it’s Hell. Stalin, Mao and Hitler in Hell are all tropes.

Maybe something interesting will happen next issue. But, sadly, I sort of doubt it.

CREDITS

Writer, Ryan Ferrier; artist, Valentin Ramon; editor, David Hedgecock; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Judge Dredd 1 (December 2015)

JudgeDredd_MC001_cvrJudge Dredd is a venerable British pop culture icon who’s only recently grabbed a toehold in American pop cultural consciousness. Doctor Who, another sci-fi icon as British as The East India Tea Company, has made far more progress towards American popularity. The two couldn’t be further apart in terms of personality, although the stewards behind both franchises have made worthy efforts over the decades to use the sci-fi genre as an exploratory tool for ideas and satire, in addition to being a platform for fantastical adventure. One entirely valid explanation for the disparity in popularity is that Dredd is an inimitable archetype while The Doctor is, superficially, more relatable to an audience despite his not being human. Dredd is both a hypermasculine power fantasy and self-reflexive critique of that fantasy’s fascist authoritarianism – not unlike the American film he inspired, Robocop, whose darkly humorous irony is also often lost on audiences taking the premise at face value.

Doctor Who, despite hefty volumes of back story across decades of adventures, is nonetheless what he appears to be: a nerd in a scarf. His cosplay won’t deplete your bank account, and his esoteric, extraterrestrial lack of communication skills are a gentle reassuring nod to the socially withdrawn. He is a genteel aspirational role model of science and justice, whereas Dredd is a living setup to rude and irreverent punchlines about how life in a dystopic future metropolis isn’t all that different from the present day.

The most significant cause of Doctor Who surpassing Judge Dredd in an American popularity contest, of course, is that today’s nerds have never been less likely to read a comic book. The BBC continues to produce Doctor Who shows. Dredd 3D tanked because 1995’s Judge Dredd was so bad that the stench lingered for almost 20 years. Word of mouth gave it enough of an American cult following that the character was no longer a joke, but short attention spans still dictate the consumption habits of geeks. If it’s not a TV series or movie franchise in 2015, it doesn’t exist. Witness the multitudes who’ve never read The Killing Joke blowing Heath Ledger’s mummified member, or the middle management drone who couldn’t tell you Judge Death from Judge Judy informing me that Dredd 3D “finally got it right.” I don’t expect people to pass some bullshit nerd test designed by the Eltingville Comic Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Role-Playing Club before being allowed to have an opinion – but could everyone please stop pretending to be an informed longtime fan just to state that they enjoyed some recent movie or Netflix original series?

IDW, admirably, grabbed the post-Dredd surge of interest in the character with both fists, publishing Dredd artist collections, colorized reprints of classic stories like The Dark Judges and The Apocalpyse War, and most excitingly, a new regular title and various mini-series for the new American audience. The range of success has been inconsistent – Anderson, Psi-Division and Judge Dredd: Year One were forgettable, while Mega-City Two and Mars Attacks Judge Dredd were fun romps. The flagship series was a platform for selectively incorporating pieces of favorite storylines and characters, like Marvel’s “Ultimate” reboot, and maintained a fairy consistent level of quality across 30 issues from writer Duane Swierczynski and Nelson Daniel. Its only real shortcoming was the absence of variety in artists or writers that 2000 AD enjoyed; an unavoidable production difference between a weekly-produced strip and a monthly book.

When a series is relaunched, it’s sometimes hard to tell if the move is an act of desperation in the face of sluggish sales or affirmation in good faith of continued success – number one issues tend to sell well either way.

The all-new Judge Dredd 1 is a competently made, narratively risky point of entry for any new reader not already following IDW’s revival. It’s unclear if there’s meant to be continuity from the previous regular series (probably not) but it wouldn’t matter at the offset of this initial storyline anyways: Ulises Fariñas, the excellent illustrator of Mega-City Two and his co-writer Erick Freitas have gone all Crossed +100 on Dredd and flung him into the post-post-Apocalpse, a storyline entitled Mega-City Zero, where he finds himself at the moss covered remains of what might be the last Mega-Block on Earth. The concept is certainly intriguing, as is the business calculation that a casual fan of Dredd 3D will feel familiar enough with the character to begin investment in a story where he’s out of his element.

Or rather, it’s a refutation of what had to be a really underwhelming response to 2000 AD‘s own attempt to appeal to Dredd 3D fans directly.

The proposal is thoughtful insofar as Dredd 3D also stranded him without support from the Justice Department, though it also stands to reason that anyone picking up this comic in lieu of a Dredd 2 would want to see more of Mega-City One, rather than Dredd again bringing The Law to another block under control by a despotic ruler. Granted, the issue ends before any major antagonist is revealed, so it would be nice if the storyline isn’t as predictable as it seems. Anderson makes a pointless cameo at the beginning of the story, hopefully this tossed-off introduction isn’t solely so she can later save Dredd’s hash as she’s often done when Old Stony Face gets stranded in another time or dimension.

Plot aside, Fariñas & Freitas’ script has some nice contrast between Dredd’s by-the-book proceduralisms and the slang of the kid hoodlums he first encounters outside the perimeter of the lone Year Zero block. There are some world-building details in spite of the usual rules not applying – robot judges guard the block, humanoid animals are seen outside (the Mutant/mutie slur goes unuttered) and Dredd reviews the ammunition of his Lawgiver – as did Dredd 3D. I’m a little irritated that the trio of ragamuffin savages who are arrested by Dredd and thereby taken under his protection get almost as much of the spotlight as he does, in this new debut.

Dan McDaid’s art is less clean and precise than Nelson Daniel’s, which at least fits the grunginess of this particular story. The lack of detailing only really hurts peoples’ faces – it feels even sparser than Mega-City Two. His figure composition has a nice Mike McMahon-esque dynamism, including during the action sequences. Ryan Hill’s colors bring an appropriately lush earthiness to the outdoor meadows – I’d just like to know what their Mega-City One will look like.

The new Judge Dredd’s opening arc might not turn out to be the best initiation for new fans, but as Dredd adventures go, this one seems to have serviceable talent behind it.

CREDITS

Mega-City Zero: Part One, writers, Ulises Fariñas and Erick Freitas; artist, Dan McDaid; colorist, Ryan Hill, letterer, Chris Mowry; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW.

Back to the Future 1 (October 2015)

BttF01_cvrIt’s been less than a month since Back to the Future Day and now we are all, like David Byrne sang in “The Book I Read,” living in the future. The Back to the Future book I read marks a personal point of no return for Back to the Future fandom which I didn’t know I had; the moment the train finally jumps the holographic Jaws 19 shark right into Clayton Ravine. This isn’t a terrible comic, merely “meh”, but that mediocrity forces the question to even the most strident BTTF fan: when is it all enough?

With “(x) years until hoverboards” jokes stale forevermore and the first film’s 30th anniversary also in the DeLorean rearview, subsequent Back to the Future revivals are going to feel pretty redundant when fans have already been treated so well by the nostalgia factory of modern pop culture. In the immediate and intervening years after Part III  there was the cartoon spinoff, the Universal Studios ride, exhaustively spiffed-up DVD and Blu-Ray re-releases, frequent parodies and homages, and new official merchandise virtually every year since 1991. Fans who waited for some type of Back to the Future Part IV more or less got their wish with a very well designed adventure game by Telltale Games in 2010, for which Christopher Lloyd voiced Doc Brown and Thomas F. Wilson recently recorded Biff’s dialogue for the re-release. At some point, insisting on yet more celebrations and revivals of these characters starts to come off as obsessive and greedy. Ultimately there’s just not all that much depth to be plumbed with these characters. Marty McFly isn’t exactly Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Oedipal complexities notwithstanding.

The trilogy’s co-writer Bob Gale has been the guiding hand behind BTTF’s continued vitality, serving as story consultant on the cartoon, the adventure game and now (unsurprisingly) this four-part mini-series comic, all the while giving interviews to anyone who’s ever asked about the continued vitality of BTTF. On the last page before the ads he writes an editorial about his goals for the book, basically stating that since the franchise has already spun out maximum mileage on alternate timeline tomfoolery, this comic could best be utilized to tell new backstories about our beloved Doc and Marty. Prequels! They’re like sequels, only more unnecessary! He’s mostly right to acknowledge that people loved the movies because of the characters, but let’s get real, there’s only two types of Back to the Future fans. There’s people who like the quirky, magical love story of the first one and also have some affection for the sweet, sincere love story of the third, and then there’s people who like screaming UNLESS YOU’VE GOT POW-AHHH!!! and seeing Thomas F. Wilson play seven different versions of the same hilarious asshole. Everything Back to the Future related since the third movie has catered to the latter, partially because it’s the bigger audience but pragmatically because Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson are more expendable. Just ask Jeffrey Weissman.

Issue one of Back to the Future: The IDW Comic launches two storylines. One is Doc telling Clara, Jules and Verne flashback stories about stuff that happened back in the future – in this installment, how he met Marty. In the other, we join Doc circa 1943 apparently being recruited for The Manhattan Project by Robert Oppenheimer. They both read like middling fan fiction, which is really, really bad for stories conceived and partially co-scripted by the series’ original co-author. The biggest problem may be that the trilogy’s appeal is so intractable from its great filmmaking; the excellent cast well directed in a clockwork story seamlessly rendered with expert photography, editing and music. I turn the pages of this book trying to hear the actor’s voices speaking the lines with Alan Silvestri’s music cues behind them, but it just isn’t happening. Like licensed-property video games, comic books have come a long way, but the less spectacle in the franchise the harder the translation. Not that Back to the Future isn’t closer to Star Wars than Crimes and Misdemeanors, but without any time travel in the story, it quickly becomes obvious that we had already had all the facts we needed about Doc and Marty before they started their adventures.

The art on the second story is by Dan Schoening, one of IDW’s top talents who does routinely high quality work on some of their other licensed books like Ghostbusters. His character’s faces are cartoonish but solidly constructed, and set atop realistically proportioned bodies, which is an odd mix when Oppenheimer shows up. His backgrounds are well detailed, which makes the 1940s period setting convincing – Doc’s messy apartment, the Caltech campus, it all looks terrific, as do Luis Antonio Delgado’s colors. But it’s only 6 pages long. The 14 page opening feature story about young Marty breaking into Doc’s garage to steal something for Needles, and then getting offered a job…eh, the art by Brent Schoonover is just as underwhelming as the plot, and next to Schoening’s it’s kind of embarrassing. Kelly Fitzpatrick’s colors aren’t great either, everything is unnaturally primary or fluorescent. It manages to be garish and boring at the same time.

The back cover of Back to the Future is an ad for Back to the Future: The Card Game. An equally superfluous product, it may still be more inspired than this comic. At this point, Bob Gale should hang up the Flux Capacitor and instead redirect his efforts towards raising some long-overdue attention for his and Zemeckis’ abandoned children, Used Cars and I Wanna Hold Your Hand.

 

CREDITS

When Marty Met Emmett; story, Bob Gale; script, Bob Gale & John Barber; artist, Brent Schoonover; Inks, David Witt; Colors, Kelly Fitzpatrick; Looking For a Few Good Scientists; story, Bob Gale; script, Erik Burnham; artist, David Schoening; publisher, IDW.

Godzilla in Hell 1 (July 2015)

Godzilla in Hell #1

I’m curious how writer-artist-colorist-letterer (hah to the letterer credit but more on it in a bit) pitched Godzilla in Hell to IDW. Or did they ask him to pitch?

If so, did they ask him to pitch a comic with nothing but Godzilla walking around and fighting. If so, did they ask anyone else to pitch it, because I can’t imagine anyone but Stokoe making Hell a workable prospect.

The comic consists of Godzilla arriving in Hell. He walks around. He fights a couple monsters. He has to weather a huge storm of human bodies (presumably souls). He’s Godzilla. He kicks butt, he takes names, he uses his atomic breath.

There’s no narrative–it feels like a level in a video game, actually–but there’s gorgeous Stokoe art. Whether it’s the highly detailed damned storm or just Godzilla in a long shot, it’s a gorgeous comic book. Goes nowhere, doesn’t have to.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, James Stokoe; editor, Bobby Curnow; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Garbage Pail Kids: Gross Encounters of the Turd Kind (June 2015)

gpkgross

IDW has been on a terrific run all this year of bimonthly Garbage Pail Kids specials – not yet an official continuing series but they’re now up to their fourth themed installment, with at least one more on the way. The roll call of artists who’ve contributed to these humor anthologies is impeccable, and their renditions of the beloved 80s pop culture landmark are characteristically stunning. I never thought I’d someday read Garbage Pail Kids strips by Peter Bagge, Dean Haspiel, Bill Wray, Shannon Wheeler or any of the many stylistically diverse cartoonists who take these gimmick based spoofs of a long-forgotten saccharine 80s toy line and populate an insular comedic world out of them. The stories are all a few quick pages of inventively gross humor in the irreverently and subversively juvenile spirit of those original trading cards. It’s a perfect humor comic format and is far less horrifying than placing Mark Newgarden’s Basil Wolverton Babies into our reality, as in The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.

Gross Encounters of the Turd Kind opens with some Topps-on-Topps violence as Mars Attacks Martians disintegrate a cityfull of Garbage Pail Kids with art by Hilary Barta and Doug Rice, who nail the balance of the two character designs. There’s a decent parody by Ryan Browne and Andrew Elder of The Thing, testing farts instead of blood. James Kochalka does a story starring Joe Blow – a GPK parody of Bazooka Joe, making this issue the closest Topps has ever come to a “Topps Comics Presents” comic book. For now they’ll have to be content with their precedent of having licensed the only two trading card based films in existence.

Kochalka’s talent for whimsy is in such typically pleasing form, one doesn’t even notice at first that unlike every other author in this series before him, he doesn’t depict anything grosser than ABC gum. Joe Simko, who’s contributed quality work in every special so far, does a quickie two-pager of snotty sneezing aliens. The closing story is Roger Langridge doing an astronaut and his robot sidekick on a turd planet of alien flies. It’s really touching to read a children’s cartoonist as accomplished as Langridge graduating to doody jokes with the Garbage Pail Kids.

IDW’s Garbage Pail Kids specials continue to be outstanding love letters to the phenomenon by a roster of amazing cartoonists, an absolute pleasure for longtime fans.

CREDITS

Writers and artists, Hillary Barta, Doug Rice, Ryan Browne, Andrew Elder, James Kochalka, Joe Simko and Roger Langridge; colorists, Jason Millet, Shawn Lee and Andrew Elder; letterers, Shawn Lee and Denny Tipton; editor, Denny Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Fly: Outbreak 1 (March 2015)

The Fly: Outbreak #1

Dear IDW, NOW Comics is calling from 1990; they want their Fly comic back.

The Fly: Outbreak is a quizzical sequel absolutely no one was asking for, but apparently there are some long-term likeness contracts in place through 20th Century Fox (so the comic “stars” Eric Stoltz and Daphne Zuniga in their parts) so it feels like a desperate cash grab from when someone thought The Fly II might warrant a comic book license.

Of course, it didn’t in 1989 (or 1990). Does it in 2015? Is Outbreak the sequel people have been waiting twenty-six years for? Did we really need to see Zuniga’s character as an S&M goddess, tying up Stoltz’s half-man-fly 50 Shades of Grey-style?

No.

No, we did not. No one did. Well, unless someone gets Stoltz and Zuniga to read this thing for a YouTube video.

It’s heinous, licensed crap.

CREDITS

Writer, Brandon Seifert; artist, menton3; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive 1 (December 2014)

Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive #1

It’s strange, but the best thing about Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Direction so far is Rachael Stott’s artwork. And her artwork isn’t particularly good. She does okay with people in action sequences, less with the spaceship stuff, but her talking heads are particularly interesting. She doesn’t go for photo referencing the cast of the original “Star Trek,” but she does capture the actors’ expressions.

And, given writers Scott Tipton and David Tipton are really good at approximately an episode of “Star Trek” in terms of dialogue, the talking heads scenes are rather effective. It feels as much like Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner crossing over with Planet of the Apes in the late sixties as one is going to get.

But what’s the point? So far, nothing. The Klingons go to Apes Earth and cause trouble. Big deal.

Apes is nowhere weird enough for “Star Trek.”

CREDITS

Writers, Scott Tipton and David Tipton; artist, Rachael Stott; colorist, Charlie Kirchoff; letterer, Tom B. Long; editors, Sarah Gaydos and Dafna Pleban; publishers, IDW Publishing and Boom! Studios.

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts 5 (May 2014)

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts #5

Not the strongest last issue, not at all. Though it probably does have Farinas’s most consistently decent art of the entire series. Well, in terms of detail and correct body proportions. His action composition is just terrible–Wolk tries to do way too much for the last issue, especially since he closes with a lengthy action sequence.

The finale goes a little too far with Dredd and trying to make him more complex (albeit briefly). One of the slight twists as things go along require almost some suspicion of Dredd, which is ludicrous. Even for an unfamiliar reader, Wolk has written an excellent Dredd until this last issue of Mega-City Two. Wolk tries too hard with the humor too.

Wolk also seems to set up one possible twist and then ignores it, even though it fits the series’s tone more appropriately.

It’s entertaining often but should have been better.

B- 

CREDITS

Everybody’s in Show Biz; writer, Douglas Wolk; artist, Ulises Farinas; colorist, Ryan Hill; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts 4 (April 2014)

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts #4

Wolk brings in the ex-judge with the Mexican wrestling mask–it isn’t too exciting as it looks just like a regular judge’s mask, only not a helmet–and Dredd has a team-up. In the second half of the issue, anyway. The first half of the issue is an introduction to Melody Time, which mixes Disneyland and anarchy. It feels like Judge Dredd meets Roger Rabbit, actually. It’s amusing.

Nicely, Wolk gets in stuff about the corruption plotline without stopping the narrative. Sure, at the end he sets up the final issue and the presumed big reveal, but he otherwise handles it rather deftly.

Farinas’s art, for the standard stuff, is better. Not many people without masks or helmets so he can’t mess up features. There are a lot of cartoon references in the story presentation (matching the setting) and they’re a little too simple.

Still, it works out.

B 

CREDITS

The Deterrence Machine; writer, Douglas Wolk; artist, Ulises Farinas; colorist, Ryan Hill; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts 3 (March 2014)

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts #3

Dredd gets a sidekick–temporarily, it’s like Wolk doesn’t want him to bond with anyone in Mega-City Two or something–and fights a giant sea monster. He also gets to see how the city turns away people back to the ocean; there’s a conspiracy going on or something. Wolk also promises a former judge who dresses like a masked Mexican wrestler.

There’s a little bit, with the conspiracy and then the setup at the end, about the main story, with the immigration scene an odd lull in the middle. There’s no action, even with one of Dredd’s camera crew (he’s a TV star) getting eaten by said sea monster.

Farinas does a little better than usual; there aren’t a lot of closeups. He flubs closeups.

The big action sequence with the sea monster doesn’t come off well–Dredd vs. kaiju–but Wolk has enough momentum to carry it through.

B 

CREDITS

Beach Blanket Justice; writer, Douglas Wolk; artist, Ulises Farinas; colorist, Ryan Hill; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts 2 (February 2014)

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts #2

Even though Farinas art gets a little worse, Wolk isn’t spending time setting up the comic, he’s just telling a Judge Dredd goes undercover with a West Coast biker gang of the future. They’re really into found art.

Dredd gets a sidekick in one of the biker gang and a lot of the issue is spent with their adventure to go get future beer. Work gets to concentrate on Dredd exploring the strange world–introducing it to the reader too–while still maintaining Dredd is in control of everything going on. It works rather well.

The end has a good fight sequence, with Wolk utilizing Dredd’s procedural abilities as well as his physical ones. It’s a rather nice finish. And even though Farinas is real light on the facial detail (and of people in general), there are some good visual moments in the comic.

Art problems aside, an excellent issue.

B+ 

CREDITS

Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream; writer, Douglas Wolk; artist, Ulises Farinas; colorist, Ryan Hill; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts 1 (January 2014)

Judge Dredd Mega-City Two: City of Courts #1

The back matter for this issue discusses the history of Mega-City Two, which I only briefly read. Writer Douglas Wolk has a nice structure for the issue–he drops the reader into Mega-City Two, with Judge Dredd as the anchor, and goes crazy. It’s a strange, Hollywood-influenced, happy place. Think the future in Wall-E, only a little more active.

Of course, no reader wants to see such a lame future and having Dredd around to kick things up is awesome. After almost half the issue of Dredd dealing with the dumb, extremely lax laws, Wolk gives the reader the backstory. He’s there on a secret mission, he’s supposed to like the chief judge; a quick recap then back to the story.

Ulises Farinas art is so-so. He does well on the Mega-City Two scenery, not so good on the figures.

Still, pretty good stuff.

B 

CREDITS

West Coast Swing; writer, Douglas Wolk; artist, Ulises Farinas; colorist, Ryan Hill; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland 2 (October 2014)

Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland #2

Shanower is really dedicated to giving Little Nemo a narrative and it doesn’t help the comic at all. Jimmy (or Nemo) is an annoying kid who Shanower has throughout the entire issue–he’s not having a little adventure and then waking up, he’s around the reader for page after page of adventure and he’s always got something annoying to say. Instead of turning these brief annoyances into the punchline, they’re the pulse of Return to Slumberland.

It’s a far from ideal situation.

Similarly, having this kid be so upset about having to hang out with a girl (the princess) is perfectly appropriate… if Shanower wants to fit into the sexism of previous generations. It would have been something if he hadn’t wanted to embrace that deficiency.

The gorgeous Rodriguez art, meticulous not just in detail but in functioning the same way as McCay’s originals did in reading style, helps immeasurably.

B- 

CREDITS

Writer, Eric Shanower; artist, Gabriel Rodriguez; colorist, Nelson Daniel; letterer, Robbie Robbins; editors, Michael Benedetto and Chris Ryall; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Winterworld 3 (August 2014)

Winterworld #3

Even with the Guice art and some solid writing in places from Dixon, his approach to Winterworld and its revelations is getting too annoying.

The protagonists have found a wonderful refuge from the ice, but it turns out the people living there have only read an Al Gore book and now they’re crazy about global warming and, apparently, crucifying the heroine.

Maybe if there were more grand action from Guice and not so much of the settlement, which looks like the Greek island from Mamma Mia!, the comic would be more compelling. But without any great visuals and such deceptive, manipulative plotting from Dixon, he gets tired fast.

There’s an unnatural stop and go to the pace–Dixon revs up to get to the cliffhanger, for instance, while dragging through other scenes. The comic always comes off too controlled; Dixon and Guice know what they’re doing, maybe even too well.

C+ 

CREDITS

Writer, Chuck Dixon; artist, Butch Guice; colorist, Diego Rodriguez; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, David Hedgecock; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Ragnarök 2 (September 2014)

Ragnarok #2

Why do I even talk? Why do I ever say nice things like Ragnarök isn’t going to be some non-Marvel Thor knock-off?

Because I then end up with egg on my face when Simonson does the big reveal this issue. No, the comic’s not about the lady elf who kicks butt or whatever, it’s actually about a zombie Thor resurrected in a strange land after the Asgardian gods have fallen.

Yawn.

And Simonson spends the entire issue setting up the reveal of it being Thor, even after he brings the hammer back into it. So the entire comic is one scene, the resolution to the previous issue’s cliffhanger. There is a talking rat, however, and I like rats. But a talking rat is not enough to make this comic–or this series–worthwhile.

Maybe Simonson think it’s his great last Thor comic but the deceptive narration kills it.

C- 

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Walt Simonson; colorist, Laura Martin; letterer, John Workman; editor, Scott Dunbier; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe 3 (September 2014)

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #3

Something very bad happens this issue of Transformers vs. G.I. Joe. It becomes inane. Writers Scioli and Barber don’t exactly stop giving characters arcs of their own, they just get rid of having the overall issue story have anything to do with characters.

It’s full of annoying big action moments too, where Scioli lets the art get too confusing and never takes his time with anything. The issue gets worse as it goes along too, as Scioli and Barber continuously make bad choices.

It’s unfortunate. But maybe the concept just couldn’t work out to an actual comic book series. The characters are all so obnoxious, only the end of the world from the attacking Megatron would make them sympathetic. And, even then, not because of any work the writers do, but maybe Scioli could make it work.

As is, however, the comic has prematurely run its course. It’s a shame.

D 

CREDITS

Writers, Tom Scioli and John Barber; artist, colorist and letterer, Scioli; editor, Carlos Guzman; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe 2 (August 2014)

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #2

Even though I can remember having some of the toys–or wanting them–I can’t remember the name of the Transformers planet. But all the action takes place there, with Lady Jane leading an attack force of Joes who are trying to green the planet to take out the evil robot aliens.

Barber and Scioli’s script takes the regular G.I. Joe and Transformers mythology into great account, but there’s also an element of humor involved with how they present the absurdity of the situation. It creates a fantastic tone–it’s never realistic, but they throw in seriously vocabulary to show they know it can’t be taken too seriously.

It’s an all-action issue, with some big reveals at the end–but still no Autobot team-up with the Joes–and Scioli has some wonderful art. My favorite has to be Lady Jane zooming on a motorcycle, jumping off a Transformer.

B+ 

CREDITS

Wheeljacked; writers, Tom Scioli and John Barber; artist, colorist and letterer, Scioli; editor, Carlos Guzman; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever 3 (August 2014)

Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever #3

The bottom falls out this issue. Given nothing compelling to illustrate–unless one counts the various odd jobs Kirk and Spock perform–Woodward is left with talking heads, where he seems to be painting panels directly from pauses of old “Star Trek” episodes. The result? Terrible, static figures. Even worse, he’s rushing, so there’s a lot of loosely rendered, terrible, static figures.

As for the writing, there’s some angry banter between Kirk and Spock. It’s real bad; either from the original Harlan Ellison teleplay or the Tipton brothers adaptation, the characters have no chemistry. Combined with the static faces, it makes for terrible comics.

Even worse is when the love interest arrives. The flirting scene between her and Kirk is atrocious, but Woodward’s so insistent on the Joan Collins reference, the character never fits in the environment.

Edge has been a consistently problematic effort, but this issue really tanks it.

D 

CREDITS

Writers, Harlan Ellison, Scott Tipton and David Tipton; artist, J.K. Woodward; letterer, Neil Uyetake; editor, Chris Ryall; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland 1 (August 2014)

Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland #1

In Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland, writer Eric Shanower includes something very strange, something Winsor McCay never bothered with. A narrative. This series's Nemo isn't just a kid who has amazing dreams and wakes up when he falls on the ground, he's the kid chosen by Slumberland to be the princess's playmate.

If it sounds like a Wizard of Oz-type thing, don't worry, the opening scenes in Slumberland feel like Oz too. They don't look like it; Gabriel Rodriguez does a wonderful job mimicking McCay's style. And Shanower makes up for a bland inciting action too. Once the issue itself starts mimicking the McCary's strips–each ending with Nemo waking up and getting back into the existing dream narrative the next night–it's fantastic. Shanower gets it, Rodriguez gets it.

But then the issue's over and has nothing to show for it; Shanower can't do a narrative and not have any progression.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Eric Shanower; artist, Gabriel Rodriguez; colorist, Nelson Daniel; letterer, Robbie Robbins; editors, Chris Ryall and Scott Dunbier; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Star Trek 36 (August 2014)

Star Trek #36

I love how static Shasteen draws all the faces. It looks like he's going through either publicity photos or maybe screen grabs and picking the ones he thinks are closest to the emotions the characters should be feeling.

Actually, I do not love anything about Shasteen's art. I was being sarcastic in an attempt to feign enthusiasm for talking about this comic book.

It is barely a Star Trek issue in terms of being about the new movie franchise crew; it's more of a "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" comic it turns out. Is it a good "Deep Space Nine" comic?

No.

As a writer, Johnson continues to confuse concept with imagination. Just because the Paramount rep okayed crossing over with the "Star Trek" shows isn't reason enough to do so.

Johnson can't even get any mileage out of Bones and Spock banter. It's pedestrian and pointless with lifeless art.

C- 

CREDITS

The Q Gambit, Part Two; writer, Mike Johnson; artist, Tony Shasteen; letterer, Neil Uyetake; editor, Sarah Gaydos; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Godzilla: Cataclysm 1 (August 2014)

Godzilla: Cataclysm #1

I wanted Godzilla: Cataclysm to be good. Not before I started reading it, but as I read the first few pages where writer Cullen Bunn sets it all up. It’s got an intriguing ground situation–after the monster war, humans have to make do in their wrecked world. So it’s post-apocalyptic but not futuristic.

And there’s no attempt at explaining the monsters.

Dave Wachter’s monster art is decent too. Giant monsters fighting, lots of detail in the panels. It’s good stuff.

Then the issue gets going and it gets worse and worse as it goes along. Like Bunn not establishing characters; characters need to be interesting even if giant bugs don’t attack them. The bugs would’ve been an adequate menace for the issue, but Bunn can’t help upping it.

Only Wachter doesn’t want to up his game–instead of detail, he does huge sound lettering as backgrounds.

Cataclysm indeed.

C- 

CREDITS

Writer, Cullen Bunn; artist, Dave Wachter; letterer, Chris Mowry; editor, Bobby Curnow; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever 2 (July 2014)

Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever #2

Not only is Janice Rand back, she kicks butt.

There are a few more big changes in this issue, with Kirk and company beaming up after time has changed to find themselves on a mercenary freighter or some such thing. It’s where Yeoman Rand reveals her fighting skills.

It’s very hard to take City seriously with this sort of distraction, although it does feature some decent action art from Woodward. Not great, because painted fight scenes just don’t move, but decent. Yeoman Rand kicks butt and all.

The rest of the issue has Kirk and Spock going back in time and getting into some trouble with thirties rabble rousers. This comic shouldn’t be made just for people familiar with the original episode, but the creators certainly aren’t making it accessible otherwise. The whole soft cliffhanger hinges on that familiarity.

It’s a mediocre comic and its curiosity value is waning fast.

C 

CREDITS

Writers, Harlan Ellison, Scott Tipton and David Tipton; artist, J.K. Woodward; letterer, Neil Uyetake; editor, Chris Ryall; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe 1 (July 2014)

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #1

Scoli and Barber’s madness continues and amplifies. What I love is how they put in some sense of a narrative–there’s a subplot involving Snake Eyes and what he’s been doing since he left G.I. Joe, not to mention how the Joes’ plan doesn’t get revealed until it’s already underway via flashback. Because the rest of the comic is a madhouse–Scoli gives the big non-action story scenes small scale panels to save room for more action. The result is big dramatic moments in small panels.

There’s one crazy full page spread where the characters move down the page, without much visual hinting; Scoli’s intentional lack of depth just makes Transformers vs. G.I. Joe even more gorgeous.

The comic doesn’t require any enthusiasm about the franchises themselves, just how Scoli and Barber are approaching the subject matter. A pseudo-simplistic illustrated toy commercial; it’s like a new genre, but not.

Scoli’s rocking it.

A- 

CREDITS

Writers, Tom Scioli and John Barber; artist, colorist and letterer, Scioli; editor, Carlos Guzman; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe 0 (May 2014)

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #0

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe is not serious. It is not a realistic examination of an elite international military organization battling sentient robotic beings from another star.

It is Tom Scioli capturing the sensation of being a six or eight year-old boy watching afternoon cartoons, getting excited for that cartoon’s toys being advertised during commercial breaks. Seeing as how it’s a comic book and a printed medium (sort of), Scioli even integrates nods to action figure packaging. Even though this issue is just the promotional zero issue of a subsequent limited series, Scioli has done something no one else has done. At least not sincerely.

Because the visible sincerity of the comic–just look at Scioli’s amount of detail and thoughtfulness of panel composition–is what makes it singular. If Scioli were doing it all as a joke, it wouldn’t work. He and co-writer John Barber are masterfully realizing boyhood fantasy. It’s breathtaking.

A 

CREDITS

Writers, Tom Scioli and John Barber; artist, colorist and letterer, Scioli; editor, Carlos Guzman; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Star Trek: Flesh and Stone (July 2014)

Star Trek: Flesh and Stone

Was someone out there desperate for a really bad team-up of all the doctors from “Star Trek” shows? The only regular medical officer the writers don’t include is the new continuity McCoy, which is just as well–the issue is heavy on McCoy anyway.

The important events, at least as how writers Scott and David Tipton show them, all take place in the past. The “Next Generation” doctors, along with all the other doctors, are just around to find McCoy and get his story. None of it’s interesting and the medical condition is less a condition as something they lost the solution for beating. The story is about finding that solution, not creating it or discovering it.

I didn’t have many hopes for Flesh and Stone, but it failed to meet any of those. It’s a lame comic and the David Brothers’ lifeless art doesn’t help it much either.

D 

CREDITS

Writers, Scott Tipton and David Tipton; artists, Joe Sharp and Rob Sharp; colorist, Andrew Elder; letterer, Neil Uyetake; editor, Sarah Gaydos; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Ragnarök 1 (July 2014)

Ragnarok #1

Someone, either at IDW or Walt Simonson himself, is doing everyone the great disservice of suggesting Ragnarök is some kind of Thor rip-off IDW is doing just because the character is a Norse god and in the public domain.

It isn’t. It’s some barbarian comic where a blue snow witch or some such thing sees armageddon approaching and takes one last job as an elite assassin to save her kid. While her husband stays at home to watch the daughter. And I didn’t even like the comic while Simonson was going through these scenes. It was okay, but I kept waiting for the dumb Thor reference.

It never came. Instead, the comic got increasingly more distinct and good. Simonson doesn’t write his protagonist particularly well on her own, but amongst the mercenaries she eventually hires? Those scenes are where the comic comes to life.

Unfortunately, the cliffhanger’s lame.

But still….

B- 

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Walt Simonson; colorist, Laura Martin; letterer, John Workman; editor, Scott Dunbier; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Squidder 1 (July 2014)

The Squidder #1

Ben Templesmith has a fairly interesting setting for Squidder. Imagine Cthulhu does come to the world, what happens when people fight back through technology and modern (or futuristic) warfare. It’s post-apocalyptic but after an inter-dimensional demon invasion. Why only fairly interesting? Because besides the vocabulary and details, it’s not much different than The Road Warrior.

There’s some really cool art in the comic. It’s not great, but it’s iconic and cool. Templesmith’s abilities as an artist are not in question. His writing, however, leaves a lot to be desired. His first person narration is mostly mediocre, sometimes worse. Templesmith can’t figure out how to make his protagonist sound cool while still revealing something about himself.

I don’t remember the protagonist’s name. I think it does come up once or twice but it’s not worth the effort to look it up. Or remember.

Squidder looks great and reads tepid.

C+ 

CREDITS

Writer, artist, letterer, Ben Templesmith; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The X-Files: Year Zero 1 (July 2014)

The X-Files: Year Zero #1

I’m not a big “X-Files” fan; I have not watched many episodes but I have seen the movies. And I do not recall atrocious banter being part of the formula. Karl Kesel writes inane dialogue for his protagonists, who artist Greg Scott questionably visualize. They aren’t going for photo-reference–there’s a decided lack of detail–but everything is so static they might as well have done it.

The story has the agents investigating a case about cat people. Is it scary? No. Is it interesting? Not really. The Year Zero in the title refers to the comic flashing back to the first FBI team investigating the supernatural. So flashbacks to the late forties. The flashback art, by Vic Malhotra, art runs hot and cold. Just when Malhotra does something good, he flops something else.

This comic doesn’t offer anything worthwhile to anyone outside an “X-Files” memorabilia collector.

D 

CREDITS

Writer, Karl Kesel; artists, Greg Scott and Vic Malhotra; colorist, Mat Lopes; letterer, Robbie Robbins; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Star Trek 35 (July 2014)

Star Trek #35

I’m having a hard time trying to figure out how to talk about this issue of Star Trek. Not because the comic is all of a sudden doing well or good–and not because new artist Tony Shasteen is doing anything special–but because the comic has finally given in to itself.

Here we have the new Star Trek franchise crossing over to the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” franchise and, if one can guess from the cliffhanger, its spin-offs. In other words, Star Trek the comic has become the desperate cash grab it was always meant to be.

This issue has Jean-Luc Picard in a small role. Johnson writes him great. You can hear Patrick Stewart. Similarly, Johnson writes Q great and he also writes the regular cast better than his usual too. He’s finally excited; he’s not updating something old.

Sadly, Shasteen’s photo-referenced, static, nonsense art can’t match the enthusiasm.

B- 

CREDITS

The Q Gambit, Part One; writer, Mike Johnson; artist, Tony Shasteen; letterer, Neil Uyetake; editor, Sarah Gaydos; publisher, IDW Publishing.

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