Friday, December 22, 2017

True Believers: Guardians of the Galaxy: Galaxy's Most Wanted #1

I picked this one up at the Shanghai Comic Con.

Title: True Believers: Guardians of the Galaxy: Galaxy's Most Wanted
Issue: 1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: September 2016
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Valerio Schiti
Colorist: Richard Isanove
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Arthur Adams, Jason Keith
Editor: Kathleen Wisneski, Jake Thomas, Nick Lowe

After Peter Quill's brief tenure as the ruler of a planet came to a bad end, he finds himself on the run, along with Kitty Pryde (no, I didn't know she was in the Guardians either) on a prison planet with alien soldiers trying to kill them.

At which point they have an extended discussion about Kitty Pryde's fashion sense.

The idea here is that Quill has been left hopeless after recent events, and Kitty is trying to distract him enough for him to get his will to live back. I get what they were going for here, but it just didn't work for me. For one thing, there really wasn't any actual discussion of fashion. Nothing that substantive, anyway. And while this may seem like an odd complaint to make, the whole effect just came off as hollow, with no authenticity. It all felt like a big space-filler where little was actually accomplished.

Things picked up a bit when the action intensified, but the bad guys were generic, and the additional bad guys introduced at the end looked just as generic (if perhaps a bit more menacing) than the previous ones.

Kitty's rage as she describes the prison planet as a concentration camp packed some emotional punch, but would need more emphasis as the stories continues for it to really have an impact.

Rating: 4.5/10

Monday, November 13, 2017

Dog Man Unleashed

Bought this for the Kiddo at his school's book fair here in Shanghai.

Title: Dog Man Unleashed
Publisher: Scholastic
Date: 2017
Writer: Dav Pilkey
Artist: Dav Pilkey
Editor: Anamika Bhatnagar

This is a Captain Underpants spinoff, presenting the comic book hero originally drawn by the main characters in the Captain Underpants comics.

Dog Man, a cop with a dog's head and a man's body (and maybe a fourth of the brains of each) battles crime, feline crime mostly, all while trying to celebrate the Chief's birthday and attempting to remember not to get the Chief a dead fish as a present.

This all leads to a saga involving multiple villains and the expected amount of mayhem.

Lots of goofy slapstick and dog puns, but props for including both Dr. Seuss and Charles Dickens references.

The Kiddo and I both got a lot of laughs out of this one.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story #1

The Kiddo picked this one out at one of the Newbury Comics locations when we were in the US this past summer.

Title: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Issue: 1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: June 2017
Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Emilio Laiso, Oscar Bazaldua
Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letterer: VC's Clayton Cowles
Editor: Heather Antos

First of all, let me just say that I LOVE these action figure variant covers. So much fun!

This is the first issue of the official adaptation of Rogue One. It moves at a pretty fast pace to get to the point where present-time Jyn Erso is introduced and then takes its time a bit more from there.

The fight scenes look good, and the story becomes more focused in the second half of the issue, with the adaptation making some good choices in what to emphasize or cut.

This is competent and visually appealing, but there is a limit to what a comic can do adapting a film, and the result is something that never gets much past feeling like it's a competent adaptation

Rating: 5.5/10

Sunday, October 8, 2017

True Believers: Star Wars: Lando #1

I can now say that I've been to comic conventions in three countries! This past Friday, I attended the Shanghai Comic Con with the Kiddo. We had lots of fun, and I brought back a small haul (working on a somewhat limited budget):


Those two Thor comics are promos for the con, and they're in Chinese, so I won't be reviewing them here. I found a vendor selling recent American comics and picked up three Marvel books. I also bought comics from two small-press creators. Those were also both English-language (actually one is bilingual, with all of the dialogue in English and Chinese).

You may have noticed that I have not been reviewing much in the way of standard-format comics since we headed back overseas. This has mostly been an organizational issue. I brought a stack of over 100 comics with me from the US to read and review. Some of those were new purchases over the summer, while most are from my supply of unread comics in storage.

I've added these items from the Shanghai Comic Con to that stack, and I'll be starting to review them on a regular basis, beginning right now.

Title: True Believers: Star Wars: Lando
Issue: 1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: July 2016
Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Alex Maleev
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Alex Maleev, Edgar Delgado
Editor: Jordan D. White, Heather Antos

What a fun book! This is a Lando Calrissian solo story (without Solo! Ha!), and it really nails Lando's personality as he charms his way into not even having to perform the heist he's originally set out to do.

Unfortunately, debts in the underworld of the Star Wars Galaxy tend to add up, and Lando sets his sights on one more job to get himself free and clear. Not surprisingly, he finds that easy money is never really easy, as the ship he steals is going to cause him a lot more grief than he had ever planned for.

This had some good character development that never felt like it got away from the Lando we know and love. It also heavily featured Lobot, who gets some good screen time as Lando's partner-in-crime. The setup of the new heist flows smoothly, and the final complications at the end set up when should be plenty of fun in the issues ahead.

Rating: 8.5/10

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Rival Angels: Rookie Year Volume 4

A friend picked this up for me and got it signed for me at Anime Milwaukee 2017.

Title: Rival Angels: Rookie Year Volume 4
Date: 2012
Publisher: Rival Angels
Writer: Alan Evans, Justin Riley
Artist: Alan Evans
Colorist: Aaron Daly

As a WWE fan, this series continues to impress me with its clear love for pro wrestling. This issue tool place almost entirely at a single PPV show, the Rival Angels Federation's equivalent of Wrestlemania.

All four of the "Upstarts", who have been the focus of the comic, have matches on the card, with Sabrina "Ultragirl" Mancini pulling double duty. She's got her first title match, the finals in the TV title championship, followed by an "I Quit" match inside a cage with Hell's Belles faction leader Chloe DeSade.

Doing an entire wrestling card in comic form in a challenging endeavor, as the pacing of comics isn't going to work as well as video for capturing the action, and there is the danger that the story will seem repetitive with multiple matches needing to be covered. This volume does an impressive job of handling those challenges, making good use of backstage subplots to break up the action happening in the ring, and providing good variety in the matches themselves.

Plenty of classic wrestling tropes were on full display here, with matches won by outside interference, post-match beatdowns, and drama between the commissioner and the talent.

The dialogue could be a bit stilted at times, especially when going for humor, and the attempt to portray the announce team doesn't quite feel "real", but there is no denying the fun of this series.

The final match was a great climax to the Ultragirl's first really big rivalry, and the storyline following the ppv event set the stage for some new directions as the series moves into its second season.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, September 22, 2017

Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers

This was a gift to the Kiddo from his cousin when we were visiting family over the summer.

Title: Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers
Publisher: Scholastic
Date: 2012
Writer: Dav Pilkey
Artist: Dav Pilkey

The Kiddo and I read the first volume of this series and skipped directly to this one (the ninth), which was probably not the best way to approach this. This book relies fairly heavily on what has come earlier in the series to set things up.

Also, there is time travel involved. Complete with full-on time travel paradoxes that would make the X-Men universe proud. On top of that, this book serves as an origin-story for George and Harold.

And finally, the ending is pretty wild. That's all I'm going to say as far as that goes.

Unfortunately, the "origin" portion drags a bit, making the middle of this book something of a slog (to the extent that a middle-grade mixed-prose-and-sequential book can qualify as a slog).

More unfortunately, a major subplot involves some very sexist tropes in which the bullies are repeatedly humiliated with things that get the rest of the school to perceive them as feminine. I'd really like to be past this sort of thing, but here it is again.

The Kiddo did laugh at most of the jokes, and the time travel stuff got him thinking a bit, but there was enough negative here that I'm not particularly eager to check out #2-8.

Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Salt Water Taffy 2: A Climb Up Mt. Barnabas

I picked up the first volume of this series at New York Comic Con in 2011, and reviewed it here. I proceeded to bring it as one of my recommendations when I was on a panel about all ages comics at Arisia the following January. The first volume was a fun story, which was very rooted in its coastal Maine setting. So I was rather amused to find the second volume on sale at Monument Books in the Aeon Mall in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. That's about as far from Maine as one can get!

Title: Salt Water Taffy
Issue: Volume 2: A Climb Up Mt. Barnabas
Date: 2008
Publisher: Oni Press
Writer: Matthew Loux
Artist: Matthew Loux
Design: Matthew Loux, Keith Wood
Letterer: Douglas E. Sherwood
Editor: Randal C. Jarrell

A leisurely family hike leads to a tale of an encounter with Barnabas, the monstrous hat-stealing giant eagle, who resides on the mountain bearing his name. And that mountain is a considerably less leisurely place for hiking.

Still, when their Dad's favorite hat falls victim to Barnabas, Jack and Bennie Putnam dare to make the ascent, encountering various unusual creatures en route to a confrontation with Barnabas himself.

This was a more linear story than the first volume, but there were sill plenty of surprises and twists. The setting blends fantasy and comedy nicely, and the Putnam Boys are fun characters with a comfortable interaction and distinctive personalities.

Matthew Loux's artwork is beautiful, and the pacing of his panels gives the reader a chance to appreciate the scenery, even when hiking up the most dangerous peak in Chowder Bay.

Rating: 7.5/10

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

You Can Never Find A Rickshaw When It Monsoons

Greetings from Shanghai, China! School is underway, so I've been pretty buried in day-job work, settling into my new gig and figuring my way around this city of 25 million (!) people. I brought a big stack of comics from the US, a few new issues, and a lot from the massive unread backlog in our storage unit. I'll be starting to read an review those in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here is a book of travel cartoons that I recently finished.

Title: You Can Never Find A Rickshaw When It Monsoons
Date: 2006
Publisher: Hyperion Teens
Writer: Mo Willems
Artist: Mo Willems

Some years back, I was selling used books online as a side gig, and I would occasionally shop the dollar stores to add to my stock, concentrating on SF, fantasy, and graphic novels. This was one of those purchases, and it never sold. So this summer when I decided to donate most of the remaining stock, since we've been living overseas for a few years now and it looks like we're going to continue that, I saved a few of the to-sell books that interested me.

Mo Willems is best known for his childrens books (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!), and as a writer for Sesame Street. This collection of travel cartoons was drawn during a post-college backpacking trip around the world.

I found the cartoons to be a bit hit-or-miss in terms of humor and in terms of insights, but I appreciated the honesty of the project, as Willems presented the image that most inspired him to draw during each day of his travels. There were some familiar scenes here: vendors and motorbikes in Southeast Asia, crowded trains in China, the seemingly endless lists of fines and regulations in Singapore (in Willems' words, "Everything fun ends abruptly at Singapore").

The book also gave me glimpses of plenty of places that I have not had the chance to visit, and even spawned a few travel ideas.

The restriction of one cartoon a day for nearly a year results in some inconsistency, but also in some unexpected insights and surprising revelations. There is a bit of a privileged vibe, as you're going to have with any account of an American's post-college adventures abroad, but Willems mostly manages to temper that with his ability to laugh at his own situation while looking for understand of the people he meets.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

I bought this at the Kiddo's school book fair in the Spring. Read it to the Kiddo during our visit to the US.

Title: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
Publisher: Amulet Books (a division of Abrams; series website at wimpykid.com)
Date: 2009
Writer: Jeff Kinney
Artist: Jeff Kinney

This volume tells the story of Greg Heffley's summer vacation, although his parents are the real stars of this installment in the series. Greg's mom's relentless and ill-fated efforts to have the "Best Summer Ever" in spite of a budget crunch lead to one disaster after another. Meanwhile Greg''s dad has a defining show of emotion that leads to the dog referenced in the title.

The jokes were a bit mixed. There were some funny ones, some that fell flat, and a few that the Kiddo thought were hilarious (Greg's dad mistaking the trash can at the fast food drive-through for the speaker).

In the end, I would have liked to have seen more from the dog storyline, and less of Greg's on-again-off-again (and borderline abusive) friendship with Rowley.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, July 14, 2017

Star Wars #33

Our travels in the US continue. We spent last weekend in Annapolis MD, where we attended my cousin's wedding. In addition to wedding-based activities, we toured the US Naval Academy, saw Spider-Man: Homecoming (loved it!), and stopped by Capital Comics, where the Kiddo picked out this recent Star Wars issue.

Title: Star Wars
Issue: 33
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Date: September, 2017
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Letterer: VC's Clayton Cowles
Editor: Jordan D. White, Heather Antos
Cover: Mike Mayhew

This takes place between episodes 4 and 5, with Luke and Leia are stranded together on an uninhabited island located on a mostly-ocean planet.

Making the wise decision to completely ignore any potential awkwardness resulting from this scenario, the story focuses on Leia, whose narration adds some depth to her character while at the same time explaining how the Princess ended up with some wilderness skills.

This is a nice interlude without a lot of major plot implications. The visuals are good and the insights into Luke and Leia are interesting. There are enough twists to make a decent self-contained story.

Rating: 6/10


 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Darth Vader and Son

This is what the Kiddo picked out on our recent visit to Million Year Picnic in Cambridge MA.

Title: Darth Vader & Son
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Date: 2012
Writer: Jeffrey Brown
Artist: Jeffrey Brown

Star Wars: Episode Three-and-a-Half. This collection of charming cartoons imagines Lord Vader raising four-year-old Luke Skywalker. The kid has all of the expected quirks of a four-year-old, and he seems a bit hesitant about the whole dark-side thing.

Cartoons cover a bunch of classic parenting scenarios, but the real cleverness of this collection is the author's knack for slipping in bits of dialogue from the Star Wars films into those parenting situations. There are also guest appearances by characters and creatures from across the Star Wars galaxy.

By blatantly avoiding any attempt at canon or continuity, this book manages to use familiar characters and images in some really funny ways.

Both myself and the Kiddo were laughing all the way through.

Rating: 8.5

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Alan Turing's Fairy Tales

We're officially back in the USA, with about a month before we're heading to China. As might be imagined, things have been busy. In the end, I managed to get the old unread comics stack down to five. Of course now, after a couple of weeks in the US, I've got a much bigger new unread comics stack. I've been to Newbury Comics in Hyannis MA a couple of times, and also had a chance to visit Million Year Picnic in Cambridge MA. I've picked up a few items that I had ordered over the course of the school year and had shipped to my US address, and I've gotten a bunch of comics out of my storage unit.

This one comes from Million Year Picnic, an excellent indy/minicomic-friendly store in the Harvard Square area of Cambridge MA.

Title: Alan Turing's Fairy Tales
Publisher: Mehitabel Glenhaber
Writer: Mehitabel Glenhaber
Artist: Mehitabel Glenhaber

This minicomic envisions what bedtime fairy tales might have looked like through the eyes of Alan Turing. The concept is brilliant. How is Pinocchio going to proved that he is a real boy after all? Turing might just have a method for that!

Turing versions of several other classic fairy tales are also included.

My only problem with this book is that it rushed to cover multiple stories, where really I felt like there was enough good material to go at a slower pace. A whole series of these would be great!

Rating: 7/10

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Adventures of Captain Underpants

Last item that the Kiddo brought home from school.

Title: The Adventures of Captain Underpants
Publisher: Scholastic
Date: 1997
Writer: Dav Pilkey
Artist: Dav Pilkey

I'm reviewing this here because it has parts in sequential art form. This is another recent kids book that blurs the line between prose and graphic novel.

Two school pranksters get caught on tape pulling off a whole series of pranks the day of the big football game. These kids also happen to be the creators of a comic book called Captain Underpants, which they sell to their classmates.

When the principal uses the video tape to blackmail them into doing all of his chores for him, they resort to hypnosis (in the form of a mail-order hypnosis ring from a comic book advertisement) to get the incriminating video tape back.

But when they use hypnosis to convince the principal that he is Captain Underpants, he rushes off to fight crime and actually finds a real supervillain to do battle with. Can George and Harold save the day with only slingshots, skateboards, and fake dog-poop?

This was way funnier than I was expecting, mostly because the writer knows his way around comic cliches. I was expecting all toilet humor, but that is surprisingly kept to a minimum, and the story delivers some pretty decent nerdy humor instead.

This was a pleasant surprise.

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Princeless Volume 1

From the unread book shelf, rather than the random stack of unread comics (which stands at 5 to go with less than 24 hours to departure). I bought this in the English-language section of one of the local bookstores here in Ho Chi Minh City.

Title: Princeless
Issue: Volume 1
Publisher: Action Lab Entertainment
Date: 2015
Writer: Jeremy Whitley
Artist: M. Goodwin
Colorist: M. Goodwin
Letterer: Jung Ha Kim
Editor:Shawn Gabborin

Trade paperback collection of the first four issues of this comic series.

What I loved about Princeless is that not only does it turn classic fairy tale tropes on their heads, it continually comes up with new, original, and surprising ways of doing so.

The story begins with Princess Adrienne. Growing up extremely cynical of the old tales of princesses locked away in towers, she finds herself in that very situation despite her determination to avoid it.

But rather than waiting for her prince to come and save her, Princess Adrienne befriends the dragon guarding her, fakes her own death, takes up a sword that she finds conveniently placed under her bed in the tower, and sets off to rescue her sisters from the towers they have been placed in.

This story is nonstop fun, slowing down only for a couple of tender moments before moving into more mayhem as Adrienne navigates the perils of impractical female armor, makes a new friend and ally, and finds herself on the run from her own father's guards.

Short backup story gives a funny view of the world from the Prince's side of things.

This was witty and amusing, and I look forward to reading more.

Rating: 8.5/10


Jesus Hates Zombies: Those Slack Jaw Blues #0

From the random stack of unread comics. We're about 36 hours from departure, with five comics left in the stack after this one. I'll be fitting in as many reviews as I can in between frantic packing.

Title: Jesus Hates Zombies: Those Slack Jaw Blues
Issue: #0
Publisher: Alterna Comics
Date: 2007
Writer: Stephen Lindsay, Michael Bartolotta
Artist: Jordan M. Dalton, Danilo Beyruth. Steve Willhite, Jeff McComsey, Lonny Chant, Lauren Monardo
Letterer: Jason Baroody, Stephen Lindsay
Editor: Erin Kohut

This pretty much delivers exactly what the title promises. There is a full-on zombie apocalypse happening. Most human life on Earth is either dead or undead. And Jesus returns to destroy zombies. Unfortunately for Jesus, He is seriously low on divine power, since His power on Earth is apparently proportional to the amount of truly faithful worshippers, most of which have been eaten or turned to zombies by now. So He must handle things the traditional way: by bashing zombies with baseball bats, bowling balls, or whatever weapon is handy.

The comic itself is an anthology, with the set-up story that explains the scenario followed by six more generally stand-alone vignettes. Jesus encounters survivors, downloads driving instructions from God to escape a zombie horde, goes fishing, goes bowling, discovers a truly-believing (and semi-intelligent) zombie, and faces down a horde of zombified rats.

There are some good moments in places, and there is a lot of brainless (!) zombie-bashing. Jesus is portrayed as a fairly generic guy, just out for his own survival and annoyed about the whole zombie situation. God is the disappointed parent who wishes his Son would get more done sooner on Earth.

It works for what it is, but there's a lot more that could be explored with this idea. Hopefully the story will gain more complexity beyond the basic joke of the premise as the series continues.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Jack the Rabbit #1

From the random stack of unread comics.

Title: Jack the Rabbit
Issue: #1
Publisher: Pandemonium Comix
Writer: Bill Gladman
Artist: Bill Gladman

Standard comic size, but all newsprint, including cover, and sixteen pages long.

Set in an alternate dimension, the story is established in a prose introduction linking the Tunguska explosion of 1908 with the Bermuda Triangle, and some cold-war politics.

The comic starts with the main character, a member of a humanoid-rabbit species in dimension known as the Territories (Stephen King reference, possibly?). He is trouble by dreams of a human boy who tells him that he is the "Chosen One" who will save the world. He is less than receptive to the idea.

There are a fair number of references to classic heavy metal music here, from the Kiss t-shirt worn by the dream character to a Ronnie James Dio quote.

The framing story was interesting, and I like the detail work on the art, even if it is hurt a bit by the newsprint format. The writing on the comic portions are quite verbose, and not a whole lot actually happens in this issue, in spite of the amount of words used.

Rating: 4.5/10

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Belles of Ball Point

From the random stack of unread comics. I'm pretty sure I picked this one up in Columbus at SPACE, but I'm not sure what year.

Title: The Belles of Ball Point
Publisher: Fridge-Mag
Writer: Suzanne Baumann
Artist: Suzanne Baumann

What's the biggest thing I've reviewed on this blog? It's Jeff Smith's Complete Bone, reviewed here.

But now let's talk about the smallest thing I've reviewed. That prize goes to this micro-minicomic, along with its companion piece The Birds of Ball Point (reviewed here).

This tiny collection of portraits presents six notable ladies of Ball Point (plus the cover illustrations), in a whimsical art style with a hint of political satire (Pat Riotact!).

Suzanne Baumann's work is always a lot of fun, and this was a very cute item presentation of a nice collection of sketches.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Blood Debt Chapter 1 Preview

Continuing to work my way through the random stack of unread comics.

Title: The Blood Debt Chapter 1 Preview
Date: 2008
Publisher: Swafford Creek Studios
Writer: Brent Bowman
Artist: Brent Bowman

This is a minicomic preview for a graphic novel based on Irish mythology.

Under the leadership of the newly-returned Lugh, the Tuatha De Danaan prepare for open rebellion against the Formorians, the monstrous race that had ruled over them.

But as Lugh's father sets off on a diplomatic mission, old blood-feuds threaten to destroy the unity of the Tuatha before the war can even begin.

This took a bit to get going, but the pace (and my interest) picked up toward the end. The artwork will look a lot better in the full graphic novel, than in this minicomic.

Writer/artist Brent Bowman does a nice job with his designs for the mythical characters, especially the Formorians, which have something of a Lovecraftian flavor here.

Rating: 6/10

Pop Art Funnies #6

The Sunday review marathon continues! I found one more comic in my backpack that I had overlooked, so we'll be at nine comics left in the random stack of unread comics after this review. That puts me at two per day to finish the stack by Friday, if I don't do any more tonight.

I have no idea where I got this next one.

Title. Pop Art Funnies
Issue: #6
Publisher: MPH Comics
Date: 2006
Writer: Martin Hirchak
Artist: Martin Hirchak

This is a collection of short humorous stories in a traditional comic format. The art style is definitely 1970s underground-influenced, and it goes for the kind of countercultural irreverent vibe that the undergrounds were known for.

The first and longest story is the origin story for Super Bull, a superhero parody featuring a mild-mannered music fanzine writer getting transformed into a humanoid bull (minotaur?) following a rather complex accident involving plutonium, voodoo, and a bullfight. It's a good start, but it felt like it ended just when things were getting interesting.

There are two single-page Captain Scurvy the Pirate stories, and a tour of Philadelphia featuring a cranky ghost of Ben Franklin.

None of this was laugh-out-loud funny, but there were a few giggles to be had here and there. The drug jokes were a bit too obvious for my tastes, and the Captain Scurvy cartoons featured a lot of setup for a single simple joke each.

Rating: 5/10

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Locke & Key: Alpha #1 (Newbury Comics Retailer Variant)

Third book in today's review marathon. Nine to go to finish the stack. Four more to get me back on track for one per day to finish the stack before we leave on Friday.

Title: Locke & Key: Alpha
Issue: #1
Date: August, 2013
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer: Joe Hill
Artist: Gabriel Rodriguez
Colorist: Jay Fotos
Letterer: Robbie Robbins
Editor: Chris Ryall

Newbury Comics retailer variant cover!

This is a big climactic battle, and, having not read much of what led up to this, I was a bit lost in terms of who everyone was. No fault of the comic's. It even provided a quick recap on the inside front cover. I would just point out that if you are new to Locke & Key, as I was, this is probably not the best jumping-in point, in spite of the "issue #1" on the front cover (which I am guessing is why I bought this in the first place).

All of that being said, this was an awesomely epic good vs. evil confrontation, featuring a really horrifying villain, a seemingly hopeless situation for the good guys, and a heroic final stand. It was fun, with plenty of gore and horror elements, all used very well.

I wasn't even too bothered by the villain's excessive talking about his plans for world domination when he should probably just have been getting on with making good on his threats to the captive heroes. The villain here is so obnoxious that it's worth it hearing some of his over-the-top soliloquizing, even if he's playing into a classic trope.

I need to go back and read some of what lead up to this.

Rating: 8/10


Slice With Dice Part The First

The reviewing marathon continues. Looking through the random stack of unread comics, I discovered one duplicate, IDW's Beowulf Comicon Promo, which I have previously reviewed here. So with that one moved to the finished stack, I'll have ten to go after this review. This one comes to me by way of the SPACE (Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo.

Title: Slice With Dice
Issue: Part the First
Publisher: Killjoy Comics
Date: 2008
Writer: DOC
Artist: DOC

Twelve-page photocopied minicomic featuring a group of adventurers attempting to ambush a party of gnolls. The starts well for the good guys, but things soon go awry.

The action is all very D&D-based, even more so when the break-the-fourth-wall final page is considered.

The art is hurt somewhat by the printing process, but it's still a good fight scene with enough hints in the interactions between the characters to suggest more character development in future stories.

Rating: 6/10

Gulatta #3

And we're off with today's comic review Marathon! Let's see if we can get through the unread comics stack, or at least make enough progress to be on track to finish by Friday!

Title: Gulatta
Issue: #2
Publisher: Torc Press
Date: 2008
Writer: Joseph Morris
Artist: Joseph Morris

The third issue of Gulatta features a raid by OVERT agents on Big Town's graveyard, where the OVERT drill machine rudely interrupts a romantic liaison between  Medusatina (the Gorgon with a Heart of Gold) and Monsieur Namo (the Gentleman Monster). Mayhem follows, as the graveyard's guardians battle an OVERT giant scorpion robot.

This worked surprisingly well, especially considering that this issue used a cast of characters that mostly did not appear in the previous issue. The story still flowed in a nice coherent way that let me enjoy the ridiculousness of it all while still being entertained by the plot.

Rating: 7/10

Keenspot Spotlight 2007 / Wicked Powered

From the random stack of unread comics. This was the thickest book in the random stack. Tomorrow will be a catch-up-day reviewing marathon!

Title: Keenspot Spotlight 2007 / Wicked Powered
Publisher: Keenspot
Date: 2007
Writer/Artist: Chris Layfield, Pascalle, RC Monroe, Mark Shallow, Starline Hodge, Kel McDonald, J Grant, Mel Hynes, Dan Shive, Maritza Campos, Jeff Darlington, Teague Tysseling, Smith, Zuckerman, Risberg, Eisu, Thomas K. Dye, Ryan Smith, David Wright, Mike Rosenzweig, Owen Geini, Chris Crosby

Flip book. This is one of the more massive Free Comic Book items I've come across, weighing in at 104 pages.

I'll start with Wicked Powered, one of the two "cover features". This story reads a lot like Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, with a high school loser visited by time travelers (of the cute manga girl variety) who inform him of his future as a great intergalactic hero. The only problem is that the bad guys have send a monster back in time, and they're planning to assassinate him now, while he is decidedly unheroic. Most of the jokes in this fell flat for me, but the bit where the three girls from the future try to pass themselves off as typical 21st century high school students ("My name is Brangelina Tomcat, and these are my friends, Suri Obama and Snoopdogg Clooney.") was genuinely funny.

Flip the book over, and you get a massive sampler from the webcomic site Keenspot. Sixteen comics are previewed here, and it was as much of a mixed bag as you might expect. I particularly enjoyed the geeky comedy Out There by R.C. Monroe. Dan Shive's El Goonish Shive was a nice bit of light urban fantasy that had a lot of fun-looking subplots going on. Maritza Campos had a bizarre series of "What Kind of Roomie Are You" strips what got some laughs from me.Something Happens by Thomas K. Day had a pretty funny gag strip involving ants and an Etch-A-Sketch.And I loved the art style and dialogue on the high school drama Everything Jake by Mike Rosenzweig.

Most of the other stories had at least something that caught my attention, although a lot of the jokes failed to hit my sense of humor.

Still, this is a solid collection with a lot of intriguing samples.

Rating: 6.5/10

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Dark Signs

From the randoms stack of unread comics. I got busy with work stuff over the last few days, so I've fallen behind on my goal of finishing the stack by next Friday. I'll need to pull double-duty a few days in order to get it done, or else have one marathon day of reviewing this weekend. We'll see what fits in around the packing and paperwork.

Title: Dark Signs
Publisher: Against Studios / No Name Press
Date: 2005
Writer: Tom Lin
Artist: Tom Lin

This is a cop story set in a world with a problem of people spontaneously turning into monsters, and starring a couple of slacker detectives whose job it is to find the monsters and kill them.

They have a robotic boss with man-eating car and a very nasty incentive program. And their new mission involves a couple of psychics who can see the future well enough to know that the cops are coming for them.

I didn't find the two lead characters all that likeable, but things did improve in the last few pages with some additional characters and the potential for more interesting interactions.

The art style takes a bit of getting used to, but it works well for the chaotic world in which the story is set.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, June 2, 2017

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 2

Today is the final day for returning books to the school library, and this is the last graphic novel that I checked out.

Title: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Issue: Volume Two
Publisher: DC Comics (Wildstorm)
Date: 2003
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O'Neil
Colorist: Benedict DiMagmaliw
Letterer: William Oakley
Editor: Scott Dunbier, James Lee, Kristy Quinn

The second volume (compiling issues 7-12 of the original comic series) of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen throws the League into the midst of the martian invasion from HG Wells' War of the Worlds.

This is both a more complex and more tightly focused story than the original League arc, and it also involves the deaths of more than one member of the League before all is said and done.

The mixing of literature into the setting continues to be fantastic, and the character development, especially on Mr. Hyde, is great.

This is also a lot more violent than the first volume, with two scenes of particularly disturbing sexual violence.

The backup feature is a travelogue that serves to expand on the characters of Nemo, Mina, and Quatermain through their travels to fantastical places around the world. It also deepens the history of the League. But really, the sometimes dense prose is an excuse to drop as many literary references as possible (Herland! Five Children and It! Shakespeare! Tarzan! Beatles music!), blending them into a world where the strange and bizarre settings of literature coexist.

This continues to be a wonderfully detailed and intense story.

Rating: 8.5/10


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Freaky Creatures #1

From the random shelf of unread comics. No idea where I got this one from.

Title: Freaky Creatures
Issue: 1
Publisher: Abandon Interactive Entertainment
Date: 2008
Writer: Matt Saia, Jeff Mariotte
Penciler: Victor Negreiro
Inker: Verissimo
Colorist: Diego Nascimento
Letterer: Michael Thomas
Cover: James Ryman

The numbering is listed as "1/2". I'm interpreting that is "issue one of two" rather than "issue one half" but I suppose it could be either of those.

Based on a (now defunct) MMORPG, this comic serves as an introduction to the game world. Alexx Stargazer, a student in a futuristic college, awakens late for class. After a frantic run through multiple teleportation portals conveniently located around campus, and a few hurried run-ins with friends, Alexx arrives in class just in time to be volunteered for a match on the "Battle Matrix" against his professor.

This battle matrix is an interface with the "Freaky Creatures" of the title, monsters which compete in combat for their human partners. This is probably beginning to sound a bit familiar by now.

Yup, it's a Pokemon knock-off. The creatures are a bit bigger, and the battle matrix replaces gimmicks like Pokeballs, but the basic vibe of monsters competing for human trainers remains.

Also unfortunately, there isn't much in this short glimpse to make the main character all that likeable. He loses focus, even when the safety of his beloved creature is on the line, and he is generally defined by his inability to put his full effort into his training. There was a bit of backstory that helped some, but it wasn't enough to get me interested either in continuing with this comic story or in checking out the online game (if it were still available).

Just not enough originality here.

Rating: 3/10

Dabel Brothers & Del Rey 2008 Preview

From the random stack of unread comics by way of Free Comic Book Day 2008. After this review I have 17 comics left in the stack, which is convenient because we have 17 days until departure! A few bonus reviews are also on the docket. I've got one last graphic novel checked out from the school library and the final date for library returns is Friday, so that will be coming soon. I've also got 3 more graphic novels on the to-read bookshelf. These are lower priority compared to finishing up the stack of unread comics, but it would be nice to get them read in the next two weeks and start this blog with a clean slate when I get to the US. I'm looking forward to reading some current releases for a change!

Title: Dabel Brothers & Del Rey 2008 Preview
Date: 2008
Publisher: Dabel Brothers
Writer: Jim Butcher, Daniel Abraham, Dean Koontz, Chuck Dixon, Queenie Chan
Artist: Adrian Syaf, Eric Battle, Brett Booth, Queenie Chan
Editor:Mike Raicht, Brian Smith

Dabel Brothers specializes in comic adaptations of popular SF/fantasy prose. This collection previews four of their adaptations, featuring popular authors George R.R. Martin, Dean Koontz, and Jim Butcher.

Butcher is the only author who is actually writing completely original material for his comic series, and the only one of the authors who is doing the writing solo. Based on his Dresden Files series, the story involves a murder at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. Butcher does a nice job referencing Upton Sinclair's writing, which adds a nice bit of literary fun to a fairly standard crime/horror opening sequence.

Daniel Abraham scripts The Hard Call, set in the Wild Cards shared universe created by George R. R. Martin. In the world of mutant "jokers" and super-powered "aces" is a man who awakens with different powers and a different appearance every time he sleeps. The character is an interesting concept, and nicely introduced here. The apparent murder of his love interest as the story's inciting incident was something of a disappointing cliche. I did snicker a bit when the McGuffin (remember, this was written in 2008) turned out to be something called the "Trump Virus".

The last two stories are co-scripted by Dean Koontz, based on his novels. His modern Frankenstein story had some good dialogue, but not much in terms of plot here. And I liked Queenie Chan's manga art style for the adaptation of Koontz's Odd Thomas quite a bit.

Everything here was slickly produced. In terms of my interest to read further, the Jim Butcher story was the only one that really intrigued me, although everything here at least felt like it had potential.

Rating: 6.5/10

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Castle Waiting Volume 1

From the school library. This was a pretty awesome find, considering it's a high school library in Vietnam!

Title: Castle Waiting
Issue: Volume 1
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Date: 2012
Writer: Linda Medley
Artist: Linda Medley
Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Gary Groth

This is an amazing example of fantasy done without the need for epic battles, and really, barely any battles at all. Beginning as a clever retelling of Sleeping Beauty, Castle Waiting continues the story long after the "happily ever after", describing the fate of the residents of the sleeping princess' castle after she has left for a new life with her handsome prince.

The castle goes one to become a refuge for those in need and for those who don't quite fit in. Two stories then take center stage: The tale of Jain, a young mother-to-be fleeing a bad marriage and making her way to the castle, serves to introduce the castle's residents and sets up a bunch of subplots as the characters all interact with the newcomer, and eventually with the new baby.

From there, the story changes focus to Sister Peace, a nun who comes from a rather unique background and who went on to join an even more unique religious order.

The artwork is lovely, but an even greater strength is the dialogue, which is endlessly intriguing, and constantly taking the reader in unexpected directions. Classical fairy tale themes are nicely interwoven with some feminist sensibilities, as well as a good sense of humor.

This book is completely charming from its lighter moments to its more serious storylines.

Rating 9.5/10

Amelia Rules #1

From the random stack of unread comics. I've been a fan of this title for a while, but I've read the trade paperbacks more than the individual issues. Not sure where I picked this up, but it's nice to have it in my collection.

Title: Amelia Rules!
Issue: 1
Publisher: Renaissance Press
Date: 2001
Writer: Jimmy Gownley
Artist: Jimmy Gownley
Editor: Michael Cohen

This is the first issue of the story of Amelia, a young girl whose parents recently divorced. She and her mom have moved to a new town to live with her mom's sister.

Amelia quickly acquires a band of misfit friends (and sometimes enemies), and the proceed to have adventures involving freeze-tag, superheroics, neighborhood bullies, sneeze-barfs, and Saturday morning TV shows.

This stayed mostly in silly territory before getting more serious in the last segment with Amelia's aunt comforting Amelia while Amelia's parents argue on the phone.

The humorous portions were fast-paced and fun. Writer/artist Jimmy Gownley employs excellent comedic timing, and gets in plenty of laughs in each segment. The superhero jokes play nicely to the geeky audience.

The serious moments are tender and feel genuine.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, May 29, 2017

Thief: The Adventures of John Argent #11

From the random stack of unread comics. My memory is fuzzy on where I got this, but I believe it was at the Arisia convention in Boston some years back.

Title: Thief: The Adventures of John Argent
Issue: 11
Date: 2006
Publisher: Rainbow Bridge Productions
Writer: Rene Blansette
Artist: Rene Blansette

The cover rather loudly proclaims that we will see a "Good Girl vs. Bad Girl" battle for the fate of the Empire! Which is probably why I bought this to begin with.

As it turns out, this is the climactic issue of a storyline involving an evil wizard out to use a powerful magical artifact to take over the Medieval empire of Charlemagne. Opposing said wizard is the thief of the book's title, along Adele, daughter of one of Charlemagne's Paladins (and a trained warrior herself). On the bad guy's side is his daughter Morganna, a sorceress (not surprisingly, with that name).

So the battle depicted on the cover gets the issue started. It's a reasonably well-crafted extended fight scene, but unfortunately 1) sinks into borderline-fetishy catfight territory for a few moments in what is supposed to be a serious battle, and 2) ends in a rather unsatisfying draw.

From there we get to the actual main event, in which evil wizard Hildemar attempts to use the power of the Merlinstone and it's up to John Argent to stop him. This leads to an even more unfortunate trope, as instead of just disintegrating the hero, as he did with a guard a moment earlier, the villain instead decides to tell the hero his entire origin story, as shown in three pages of flashbacks.

Things get a bit better with the final bit of action and a couple of epilogue scenes, which end up being the best bits of story in this.

In addition to some of the problems outlined above, there is an annoying tendency to slip into anachronistic dialogue and narration. In particular, a football (American football!) reference in the narration makes no sense at all being in this story.

On the good side, there is a beautiful two-page spread of a big kaboom during the climax, and an interesting linking between Arthurian mythology and the later tales of Charlemagne that give the story some good flavor. Adele fights pretty fiercely, and Morganna is satisfyingly nasty and treacherous in the brawl, so the whole good girl vs. bad girl thing does kind of work. Like much else in this book, it simply wasn't as good as it could have been.

Rating: 4/10

Friday, May 26, 2017

Angel & Faith #18

The second of two issues of Angel & Faith that I got for free at last summer's MASSive Comic Con. The review of the previous issue is here.

Title: Angel & Faith
Issue: 18
Date: 2013
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Joss Whedon, Christos Gage
Artist: Rebekah Isaacs
Colorist: Dan Jackson
Letterer: Richard Starkings, Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Editor: Scott Allie, Sierra Hahn, Freddye Lins
Cover: Steve Morris

Second of two consecutive issues that I had a chance to read.

So, I didn't realize it until this issue, but in the previous issue, one of the villains was actually Giles. Well, it was his demon-possessed body, anyway. My excuses are 1) I'm not all that good at recognizing drawings of actors, and 2) I didn't watch all that much Buffy to begin with. Oh, and 3) no one calls him by name in the previous issue.

Anyway, this issue opens with a flashback scene, then cuts to the battle that was going on in the previous issue where the demon-possessed zombie types are overpowering the scrappy band of slayers. Angel and Faith join the fight, but the heroes are still pretty well outmatched, especially with Faith thrown off her game by the unexpected appearance of Giles on the enemy side. There's a clever bit of bait-and-switch involving Faith taking a wound, then a rather hurried escape as the fully-powered "Big Bad" enters the fray.

The rest of the book is infodump as the heroes figure out what their demon enemy is up to, plan their next steps, and get an additional ally, who appears in suitably dramatic fashion to end the issue.

This was all set-up for the major battle to come, and some of it was a bit dry as they went into detailed tactical planning. But that being said, it was helpful from my standpoint as a new reader jumping into the story in the midst of things, and it definitely left me interesting in seeing how this was all going to turn out.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Angel & Faith #17

Last summer at MASSive Comic Con, someone was giving away some issues of this series, and I ended up with two consecutive issues. This is the first of those.

Title: Angel & Faith
Issue: 17
Date: 2012
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Joss Whedon, Christos Gage
Artist: Rebekah Isaacs
Colorist: Dan Jackson
Letterer: Richard Starkings, Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Editor: Scott Allie, Sierra Hahn, Freddye Lins
Cover: Steve Morris

I really have no right to complain about this being hard to follow, given that I'm jumping into the series at issue #17, not to mention that it's an adaptation (continuation, really) of a show I've only ever seen one episode of. So this gets a pass from me on needing a scorecard to figure out who is who and what is going on.

There are basically two parallel stories happening. The first involves Angel and Faith doing some fairly standard detective work to try to figure out who stole the body of Giles during his funeral. This is with the intention of eventually resurrecting Giles.

Meanwhile, the second storyline has some sort of alternate-rules zombie bad guy deceiving a crew of young women (slayers?) with a promise to resurrect a dead friend of theirs. This half of the plot also features flashbacks to a group of young dabblers in the supernatural years back in London.

The interplay between Angel and Faith was strong, with some good dialogue, and nice progression on the unraveling of the mystery elements of the story.

Meanwhile, the battle between the bad guys and their (outmatched but scrappy) victims was enough to at least evoke some sympathy.

I wouldn't say this has me looking to go out and buy more of these, but I am looking forward to reading the next issue which I already have.

Rating: 5.5/10


Ape Entertainment's Cartoonapalooza

From the random stack of unread comics and Free Comic Book Day 2008.

Title: Ape Entertainment's Cartoonapalooza
Date: 2008
Publisher: Ape Entertainment
Writer: Kevin Grevioux, Brent E. Erwin, Chad Lambert, Matt Anderson, Christopher Mills, Joe Staton, Steve Bryant
Artist: Robert Duenas, Tim Lattie, David Hedgecock, Mark Stegbauer, Steve Bryant
Colorist: Diego Rodriguez, Brent Schoonover, Brian Mead, Melissa Kaercher
Letterer: David Hedgecock, Mike Hall
Editor: Molly McBride, Kevin Freeman

This is the 2008 Free Comic Book Day book from Ape Entertainment, and it contains samples of five of their titles.

First up is Monstroids, a humorous superhero story with a group of gorilla villains planning to change the entire human population of a city into apes, and a team of cybernetic gothic monsters out to stop them. This was a fun throwback to Silver-Age DC with their "all-super-gorilla" issues, but the actual product here was hurt by an overly-busy art style that was a challenge to follow. There was simply too much going on, and it was probably fine for readers who have been following the story, but this book's purpose is to hook new readers, and as I new reader I was having to go back over the pages to figure out who was who and what was going on.

The second story, continuing with the simian theme, was Go-Go Gorilla and the Jungle Crew. This was more in the realm of parody than Monstroids. I found the humor to be a bit uneven. An early joke about "terror bombings" seemed out of place and left me wondering who the target audience was supposed to be. The story felt like kids' fare, except that there was a lot of jokes that relied on breaking the fourth wall. The actual story, involving an anthropomorphic bear with a "Mister Freeze" gimmick, was more satisfying than the Monstroids story because it felt more complete.

Third, and my favorite in this collection, was White Picket Fences, about a group of kids and a deadly race with a ghost car. This was a fun creepy story in the vein of Stephen King's It, and it definitely left me intrigued by the characters and their world.

Fourth was Femme Noire, about a female pulp-adventure vigilante. This introduction didn't really get into plot, but the story has an awesome look to it, and the little glimpses of the setting shown in a series of flash-vignettes were definitely fun. If this has a story to go with its look and feel, it could be great.

Last up was Ursula Wilde, the story of a second-generation jungle adventurer character. The sample here focused on backstory and origins. It was interesting, but wordy and slow, and it didn't really give enough of a look at the title heroine, instead focusing on flashbacks to her parents. It has potential if it can pick up the pace a bit.

So this was a mixed bag. I liked the serious stuff here better than the attempts at humor, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for more of White Picket Fences.

Rating: 5.5/10

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Farlight Saga Ethos #3

From the random stack of unread comics. No idea where I got this one. We had an internet outage for part of the weekend, so I missed doing a review yesterday. So as far as the goal of finishing the stack before we leave for the US, I have (after reviewing this comic) 25 days, and 23 comics to go, plus two graphic novels I've checked out of the school library that will need to be returned by next Friday.

Title: Farlight Saga Ethos
Issue: 3
Publisher: Nemonet Studios / Tears Under Starlight
Date: July, 2006
Writer: Jared Koon
Artist: Sarah Hebblethwaite
Colorist: Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Letterer: Jared Koon
Editor: Kris Simon
Cover: Sarah Hebblethwaite

A pair of wilderness messengers encounter the remnants a ra'th (a tribal, woodland species with tails) village that has been burned by raiders. They attempt to comfort the one survivor, but her hatred of all humans has left her unwilling to accept their offer of aid.

This had a classic fantasy feel to it. The events of this issue focused on the aftermath of the devastating raid, and the story did a nice job of taking its time to explore the feelings of the characters as they respond to the tragic situation. Some flashbacks helped to develop the characters, and a very emotional confrontation set the stage for the continuation of the story.

The setting for this story uses a lot of familiar fantasy tropes, but it is developed in a nice level of detail, and it makes good use of familiar themes to set up a story with plenty of internal as well as external conflict.

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Oh My Goddess Volume 1: 1-555-GODDESS

I picked this one up in the final fill-a-bag-for-a-dollar moments of the Falmouth MA Public Library book sale last summer.

Title: Oh My Goddess
Issue: Volume 1: 1-555-GODDESS
Date: 1996
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics (Studio Proteus)
Writer: Kosuke Fujishima
Artist: Kosuke Fujishima
Letterer: L. Lois Buhalis, Tom Orzechowski

College student Keiichi dials a wrong number and summons a goddess who promises to grant him one wish. Smitten by the goddess Belldandy, Keiichi immediately wishes for a beautiful goddess like her to be with him forever. Let's just say that Keiichi's life is about to get considerably more complicated.

And it becomes even more so, when Belldandy's rogue-goddess older sister (with greater powers and quite a bit less good judgement) arrives on the scene.

From wish-granting boardgames to exam-taking clones, everyone's best intentions end up going repeatedly and badly wrong.

This was amusing in a sitcom sort of way. It didn't really appear to be going anywhere after the arrival of evil-sister goddess Urd, so it felt like the story was spinning its wheels a bit in the second half. But it was still funny and entertaining all the way through.

Rating: 6/10


Friday, May 19, 2017

Akashik

From the random stack of unread comics (technically this one was not unread; I just hadn't gotten around to reviewing it). I got this issue directly from one of the creators, Katrina Joyner, who I worked with on numerous projects in the past.

Title: Akashik
Publisher: The Writers of the Apocalypse
Writer: Katrina Joyner, Rebecca Pinder, Jenny Anderson, Halona Brooks
Artist: Katrina Joyner, Rebecca Pinder, Jenny Anderson, Halona Brooks

This is a humorous space opera, beginning with a woman trapped in space on an unworking spaceship. She has a mechanic aboard, but it's becoming clear that he may not be up to the task of getting the ship fixed up. And he may not be able to put up with her long enough to get the job done anyway.

There are bounty hunters, an elite warrior-team known for killing off entire planets, and plenty of snarky dialogue. There is also a flashback the connects the two main characters in a really interesting and unexpected way.

This story jumps right into things, and moves at a quick pace. The humor works well, and there is good chemistry between the two main characters.

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Chroma-Tick Special #1

From the random stack of unread comics.

Title: The Chroma-Tick Special
Issue: 1
Publisher: New England Comics
Date: 1992
Writer: Ben Edlund
Artist: Ben Edlund
Colorist: Bob Polio
Letterer: Bob Polio
Editor: George Suarez, Larry Boyd

This is the very first full-color comic featuring New England Comics' The Tick. The Tick battles ninjas, meets up with some mysterious strangers at a late-night diner, and even has an encounter with a familiar-looking mild-mannered reporter.

This was fun. Lots of good jokes, some clever references, and plenty of unexpected twists and turns. The Superman parody was particularly nicely done.

Bonus features include a set of trading cards, with a prose story in four chapters split between the cards, and an amusing interview with writer/artist Ben Edlund with some insights into the b/w comics boom of the 1980s, the origin-story of The Tick comic book, plus a bit of discussion about Pez.

This was particularly fun for me, as I was getting into collecting comics in the time period when The Tick was first being published, and I was also a regular at the New England Comics stores during that era.

Rating: 7.5/10

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Little White Duck: A Childhood In China

From the school library. This Friday is the last day to check out books, so I'll probably grab one or two more graphic novels and/or manga.

Title: Little White Duck: A Childhood In China
Publisher: Graphic Universe (Lerner Books)
Date: 2012
Writer: Na Liu, Andres Vera Martinez
Artist: Andres Vera Martinez
Letterer: Na Liu, Andres Vera Martinez

This is a collection of stories from the writer's childhood in China during the 1970s, beginning with the death of Chairman Mao Zedong. Events of the Cultural Revolution and the beginnings of China opening up to the world are seen through the eyes of a child who is focused on the day to day events of her life more than on the large scale events around her.

The stories are charming and the illustrations beautiful. There is family drama, and glimpses of both the traditional lifestyles and the transition into a modern economy.

The stories vary in tone quite a bit. One has the main character and her sister embarking on schemes to hunt rats after their school has demanded each student bring in a quota of four rat's tails as part of the campaign to eliminated the "four pests" (flies, mosquitoes, rats, and sparrows, which were later removed from the list and replaced by roaches).

Another story retells the traditional Chinese New Year myth, and then presents the New Year preparations and celebrations in the main characters family.

This is meant for a middle-grade audience, and it includes some basic Chinese vocabulary, maps, and a simple timeline of the history of China. Some young readers my be disturbed by some images of animals being killed (mostly for practical reasons, but there are some abusive behaviors involved).

I found this to be a well-written personal insight that was full of interesting detail. The individual vignettes don't have a lot of thematic connection, but they feel like the kind of things that an adult looking back on childhood would pick out when telling their story.

Rating: 8/10

Sam: Fate Revolution #6 Preview

From the random stack of unread comics. This is the last of three issues of this series that I had a chance to review.

Title: Sam: Fate Revolution
Issue: 6 (Preview)
Publisher: Foongatz Studios
Date: 2008
Writer: Bill Gallagher, Alex Drinan, Ron Smith
Artist: Bill Gallagher, Ron Smith

Ashcan-format preview freebie for issue #6 of Sam: Fate Revolution. The covers are formatted like a flip-book, even though the story only proceeds in one direction. Both covers are shown above.

Sam joins special forces team infiltrating the flagship of Rancor's fleet. In addition to their primary objectives, Sam wants to rescue his friend Bronto, who is being held prisoner on the ship.

Sam's scenes were reminiscent of Star Wars as his team sneaks aboard the command ship of the evil forces. Meanwhile, Bronto, who is literally a captive audience, is on the receiving end of a large infodump from a fellow prisoner. This gives us an origin story for the villain, Rancor.

The lengthy exposition is not well-suited to the purpose of a free preview, and this book suffers from its lack of action.

A good cliffhanger does end the book with some tension, but in general there is not enough going on here to keep exciting.

Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Understanding Comics

From the school library.

Title: Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
Publisher: Harper Collins
Date: 1994
Writer: Scott McCloud
Artist: Scott McCloud
Letterer: Bob Lappan
Editor: Mark Martin

This is another one of those books that I have been familiar with for many years, and only just got around to reading. I had high expectations going in based on all I head heard about it, and the book managed to exceed those expectations.

As someone who has read comics since I could read, and someone who has been involved in comics fandom (at various times as a fan, a creator, a retailer, a collector, and a reviewer) since I was a teenager, I was impressed about how much this book got me thinking about comics in new and different ways.

And as someone without any formal art education, I was equally impressed by the conversational flow and accessibility of Scott McCloud's writing style.

Understanding Comics puts comics into the context of not only the history of art, but the history of communication. It examines the ways in which we perceive images, symbols, and storytelling, while delighting with a feast of visuals and references to classic comics from all across the genre.

This is a great introduction to comics for someone wondering what it is all about, and it's even better reading for someone acquainted with the comics medium.

Rating: 9/10

The Chimera Strikes

From the random stack of unread comics.

Title: The Chimera Strikes
Date: 2007
Publisher: Satyr Play Productions
Writer: Mike Indovina
Artist: Paul E. Schultz
Editor: Melissa Rogalla

This is a fun b/w pulp adventure story with a character taking on the identity of an old pulp hero and donning a mask to fight crime in modern times. It's all told from the point of view of his girlfriend/sidekick, who is really the star of the story. Or rather I should say, it's the interplay between them that steals the show here.

The action is crisp throughout, and the dialogue is a fun mix of sensible and over-the-top pulp. The story provides a nice introduction for the characters and sets the stage for further adventures still to come.

Rating: 7.5/10

Sunday, May 14, 2017

FCHS Free Comic Book Day 2009 Edition

From the random stack of unread comics.

Title: FCHS Free Comic Book Day 2009 Edition
Publisher: Adhouse Books
Date: 2009
Writer: Vito Delsante, Lamar Abrams
Artist: Rachel Freire, Lamar Abrams

FCHS (Forest City High School) is a high school soap opera, resembling a slightly more mature-readers version of the Archie gang. The story begins on the last day of junior year, as students make summer plans and look forward to being seniors when school starts back up.

There are a bunch of subplots going on, but the story doesn't focus enough to give much depth to any of them in this sample, and the changing character perspectives happen so rapidly that it wasn't until toward the end that I felt all that engaged with the story.

It doesn't help that characters are mostly shoehorned into stereotypical roles, and that there's not much diversity in the cast. This high school class is white, good-looking, and straight, and that makes things a bit dull.

The dialogue had some good moments, and I liked the art style. Hopefully this will develop a bit more of a personality as it gets going.

The backup story is Lamar Abrams' Remake, starring a robot boy named Max Guy, who is having issues with making friends that he doesn't want to shake hands with (one is made of lava, the other is always sick and dripping snot). This had some amusing moments, especially the bit with Max Guy getting frustrated with his video games, but it also had a tendency to drag out the same couple of jokes over and over.

Rating: 4/10

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Gulatta #2

From the random stack of unread comics. I skipped yesterday, so after this one I have 29 unread comics (not counting assorted graphic novels in the to-read books pile and a couple more from the school library) and 34 days until departure. Five more skip days available.

Title: Gulatta
Issue: #2
Publisher: Torc Press
Date: 2007
Writer: Joseph Morris
Artist: Joseph Morris

The city of Big Town is populated mostly by freaks, geeks, and masked weirdos. A couple of local weirdos are blue-collar monster Johnny Primitive and white-collar monster Cubicle Shark. They're having a good night of skee ball when they decide to go have their fortunes told.

The fortune teller predicts that they will be caught up in an attack by OVERT agents. Unfortunately, she predicts that this will happen only a few seconds in the future. Mayhem ensues, and it's up to Mr. Dark and the Puzzelor to come to the monsters' rescue.

This is a photocopied book, slightly bigger than standard comic format. The lettering and reproduction quality is a bit rough, but the story is entertaining, and the fight scene was a lot of fun. Things in this world are ridiculous, but they make sense within the context given.

Rating: 6.5/10

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Shonen Jump Special: Free Comic Book Day 2009.

The second of two Shonen Jump Free Comic Book Day specials that ended up in the random stack of unread comics. I reviewed the 2008 special here.

Title: Shonen Jump Special: Spring 2009 Edition
Issue: Vol. 2 Issue 1
Publisher: Viz Media
Date: May, 2009
Writer: Stan Lee, Hiroyuki Takei
Artist: Hiroyuki Takei
Editor: Elizabeth Kawasaki, Yuki Takagaki, Grant Lowery, Joy Ma, Alaina Yee, Urian Brown, Michelle Pangilinan, Joel Enos
Cover: Hiroyuki Asada, Masashi Kishimoto, Tite Kubo, Eiichiro Oda, Kazuki Takahashi, Hiroyuki Takei, Yoshihiro Togashi

Unlike the previous year's sampler from Shonen Jump, this special focuses on just one series: Ultimo, the collaboration between Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee and manga artist Hiroyuki Takei. As with most Stan Lee collaborations from this time period, he is given "original concept" credits rather than having a hand in the detailed script.

Ultimo is the story of a pair of shapeshifting robots, awakened in modern Tokyo after a thousand years in limbo, and emerging to do battle. The sample pages are well executed action scenes that have a familiar feel to them, with similar sequences seen in the introduction of many, many super-powered beings in various stories over the years. I can see the Stan Lee influence in the style and pacing of the story, which wouldn't be out of place in an early issue of Fantastic Four, or one of the old Marvel monster books from the 1960s.

The artwork is definitely manga, though, and the shapeshifting gimmick of the two robot characters is visually interesting, especially in a sequence where the evil robot sees a modern gun for the first time and responds by simply copying it, and then some.

In addition to the sample story pages, this volume contains a brief interview with Stan Lee, conducted by Hiroyuki Takei, as well as checklists and descriptions for Shonen Jump's separately published manga volumes.

Ultimo looks like it could be fun, but it will need to find some ways to be more original to distinguish it from the rest of what's out there.

Rating: 6/10