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

Imaginary

From the random stack of unread comics. I skipped yesterday, so as of the publication of this review, I have 37 days to go before we leave Vietnam, and 31 comics left in the stack. Only six more "skip days" if I want to finish before we depart. And that's not counting graphic novels from my school library and from my unread books shelf that will also get reviewed here.

Title: Imaginary
Publisher: Radical Comics
Date: May, 2008
Writer: Sam Sarkar, Steve Moore, Steve Niles
Artist: Jim Steranko, Admira Wuaya, Alexander Alexandrov, DCWJ, Garrie Gastonny, Henryz, Jennyson, Junkman, Leos "Okita" Ng, Mr. B, Rub-A-Duck, Svetlin Velinov, Wraithdt, YJL, ZID


This is a Free Comic Book Day preview book, introducing the entire line of comics that are published as a collaboration between Radical Comics and Imaginary Friends. The book is standard comic format with full color artwork throughout. The dialogue and captions have been removed from the previews, presumably to let the art do the talking. This choice had mixed results for me. I got a bit frustrated not having more preview of the stories. On the other hand the artwork is all lovely and it helped keep my interest.

Previewed here are two stories from mythology: Aladin and Hercules. Both look like interesting takes on these frequently-retold tales, and both look to be visually spectacular.

Also previewed are the Arthurian western, Caliber, which sounds like a clever idea from the description, but whose artwork, while visually striking, seemed to indicate a fairly generic plot.

There is also a manga-influenced racing/mecha story called Freedom Formula, which seemed to be going for a mashup of Fast & Furious with Big Hero 6.

The remaining title to get some space here is Khrome, a dystopian SF story set in a world where imagination is discouraged, and religion outlawed.

As mentioned, the artwork is all beautiful, although it all looks to be similar in style, and it is all very dark. The editing on this book could have been better, but overall, this is a nice preview of books coming out of this collaboration

Rating: 6/10


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The League of Extraordinary Gentleman Volume One

From the school library.

Title: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Issue: Volume One
Publisher: DC Comics (Wildstorm)
Date: 2000
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O'Neil
Colorist: Benedict DiMagmaliw
Letterer: William Oakley
Editor: Scott Dunbier, James Lee, John Nee

Trade paperback collecting the first six issues of the original comic series.

This was one of the earlier arrivals in the current wave of steampunk, and as such, it can be hard to appreciate how original this was when it was first published. Bringing together 19th Century literary figures Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Mina Murray (from Dracula), Allan Quatermain, and the Invisible Man, this story is all-in over-the-top steampunk action, with a dash of intrigue and a ton of literary references.

The story is brutally violent in places, and darkly humorous throughout. It plays with a whole range of elements from British literature and pop culture.

The plot has some fun twists, but is also a bit predictable in places, but the overall flavor of the story and the richness of detail in the art and narration make up for much of that.

The backup prose story is (intentionally) densely wordy, but does a nice job of providing a prequel for the character of Allan Quatermain, while managing to smoothly bring together the works of H. Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, and H.P. Lovecraft.

Rating: 8/10


Sam: Fate Revolution #1 (Remastered Edition)

From the random stack of unread comics.

Title: Sam: Fate Revolution
Issue: 1 (Remastered Edition)
Publisher: Foongatz Studios
Date: 2007
Writer: Bill Gallagher, Alex Drinan, Ron Smith
Artist: Bill Gallagher, Ron Smith

The Alliance Shipping Federation, which has handled the galaxy's merchant trade for years, finds itself forced to turn into a military power when confronted by the threat of Rancor, a being of immense power bent on conquest and destruction.

Meanwhile, in the ASF capital city, a young man named Sam struggled to piece his life together after being found suffering from amnesia. As Rancor's forces gather to strike, Sam's efforts to lead a normal life with eventually lead him directly into the conflict.

This was a good mix of action, epic backstory, and character-driven comedy. The story took the time to introduce characters and to give them individual lives and some fun dialogue.

The anthropomorphic animal characters (mostly dogs and dinosaurs!seem a bit cartoony, given the serious nature long-term plot, but I found them to be compelling and fun.

The colors are vivid, and the action, when it occurs, is explosive, with good use of splash pages.

Overall a fun book with more going on than I had expected to see.

Rating: 7.5/10



Sunday, May 7, 2017

Castle Castle: Cold Heat

From the random stack of unread comics.

Title: Castle Castle: Cold Heat

So, every so often I go to an event or a convention, and I pick up some freebie which ends up in the unread comics stack only to become a total mystery by the time I finally get around to reading it. Such is the case with this rather minimal minicomic. It's one folded sheet of pink paper, with front and back cover artwork, an interior spread with a single piece of art, and a few words that don't hold any real meaning for me as I look at them now.

The artwork is quite intriguing. The girl with the katana on the front cover is an image that has me curious to learn more. But the lack of credits, contact information, or even anything in terms of coherent story consign this to the realm of mystery.

I hope I run into some more complete work by this artist at some point.

Rating: 3.5/10

Burma Chronicles

Another graphic novel from my school library. I'm trying to get as many of these read as I can (along with everything else I have to read!) before we leave.

Title: Burma Chronicles
Date: 2009
Company: Drawn & Quarterly
Writer: Guy DeLisle
Artist: Guy DeLisle

Cartoonist Guy Delisle tells the story of his year spent in Myanmar (Burma) under the dictatorial rule of the military junta that has controlled the nation since the 1960s.

Doing his cartooning and taking care of his baby son while his wife works for Medecins Sans Frontieres, he has time to explore the neighborhoods around him, as well as examining different sides of the NGO expat community in Burma.

The book is loaded with details, and the visuals are great, especially on some of the wordless sequences that he uses to show sightseeing trips around the country or little adventures walking or biking in Rangoon.

There are some politics, both the politics of Myanmar, and the political realities facing aid organizations attempting to work in the country.

There were also a lot of scenes that I could relate to as an expat experiencing life in Southeast Asia. Little absurdities and quirks are found on every page in the story and in the art.

The one area where I felt the book fell short is that it sticks so strongly to the expat perspective that there were times when the Burmese voices seemed entirely missing.

Still, there was a lot going on in this story and it was a fun and thought-provoking read.

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Trainstop

Brought home from the school library by the Kiddo.

Title: Trainstop
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Date: 2008
Writer: Barbara Lehman
Artist: Barbara Lehman

This is a childrens picture book, and might not fit into some definitions of "comic", but it is definitely an example of graphic storytelling, especially given that it is completely wordless.

A girl gets on a train and finds herself in a strange country where she is a giant, and the people there are in need of some giant-sized help.

This was a lovely and quirky, and wordless story. The illustrations convey the realistic train journey and the subtle-but-fanciful land where the traveling girl finds herself during the train's unexpected stop.

This was a fun bit of storytelling that worked well without dialogue and without any explanation beyond the events depicted in the illustrations.

Rating: 8/10

My Eyes Are Not Like Yours

From the random stack of unread comics.

Title: My Eyes Are Not Like Yours
Publisher: Buyer Beware Comics
Writer: Jason Young
Artist: Jason Young

This minicomic is an interesting twist on some classic superhero tropes. It deals with what happens to the villain after he is defeated and carted off to prison. Well, in most comics, the villain will soon escape to menace the hero again. But what if he doesn't?

This was equal parts sad and clever, with some good details, and all of it told without dialogue.

Rating: 8/10


Friday, May 5, 2017

Lackluster World #5

Another item from the random stack of unread comics.

Title: Lackluster World
Issue: 5
Publisher: Generation Eric Publishing
Date: February 2008
Writer: Eric Adams
Artist: Eric Adams

My wife and I have been following Eric Adams' work since we met him at our first time attending  SPACE., the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo, in Columbus OH. We got this issue at SPACE 2008.

This is the fifth issue in Eric Adams' saga about a young man named Fahrenheit (his siblings are names Celsius and Kelvin). This issue is almost entirely a flashback to Fahrenheit's childhood, dealing with abuse from his older brother and a bullying environment at school. It's heartbreaking, and there are some unexpected details and moments, as well as some insights into the characters that are central to the story as we get to see them as children.

This was powerful storytelling, and the artwork did an effective job of bringing out the emotional impact of the story.

Trigger warning for animal abuse (a necessary part of the story, and certainly not glorified, but still disturbing).

Rating: 8/10

Concepcion

From the random stack of unread comics.

Title: Concepcion
Publisher: Pretentious Comics
Date: 2008
Writer: Rickey Gonzales
Artist: Rickey Gonzales

Sixteen-page half-sized minicomic, labeled as "for mature readers" due to some non-sexual nudity.

A woman contemplates the concepts of age, mortality, and the nature of God. Framed around her taking a shower, the title character introduces her living son, as well as loved ones she has lost. She reflects on stories from the Bible and gives voice to the questions that she has developed about her own faith.

This is a nicely thoughtful comic that makes very effective use of the character's voice and her own uncertainty about the issues she is questioning. The secondary characters help to ground the story and to make it feel distinctive.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Blood & Justice #2

From the random stack of unread comics.

Title: Blood & Justice
Issue: 2
Publisher: Alien Head Comics

I believe this is actually just a minicomic preview for the full second issue of Blood & Justice, but the website is out of commission, and there are no credits other than the web address anywhere in this 4-page minicomic.

The story has a bully menacing some kids, shaking them down for money. Another kid intervenes, and gets the better of the bully, making some intimidating threats once he has the bully down.

That's pretty much all that's here, and the story is hurt a bit by the fact that the bully is shown tripping when he goes after the new kid, so it's not clear whether the new kid is the better fighter or just got lucky.

I really prefer to see more in the way of credits, even in a giveaway minicomic, if only because domain names can expire and it's good to have a hard copy record of who the creators are. As a promotional device, this mini wasn't as effective as it could have been.

Rating: 3/10


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Everything You Wanted To Know About Killjoy Comics... But Were Afraid To Ask

From the random Stack of unread comics. We got this one at the SPACE convention in Columbus OH in 2008.

It's now two days into May, which means 45 days until we head back to the US. And after today's review, 38 comics left to go in the stack. I'm also trying to read a few more graphic novels, some that I own, and some from my school library. 

Title: Everything You Wanted To Know About Killjoy Comics... But Were Afraid To Ask
Publisher: Killjoy Comics
Date: 2008
Writer: Todd Swanson, Daniel "Doc" Holiday, Mark Anticole, Rick Antolic, Tony Schiffbauer
Artist: Todd Swanson, Daniel "Doc" Holiday, Mark Anticole, Rick Antolic, Tony Schiffbauer

This is a minicomic containing samples of five comic strips. Todd Swanson's Killjoy pairs two girls in a classic optimist vs. pessimist dialogue, that felt original and entertaining in spite of its fairly straightforward premise.

Martin Molotov by Daniel "Doc" Holiday features some good geeky science humor in a college setting.

Lab Rats by Mark Anticole also goes for the geeky humor vibe, but stumbles a bit more on its premise. It has some amusing moments, though, especially when it breaks the fourth wall.

Rick Antolic's Slap of Reality Man repeats the same joke every time. The things that annoy the creator coincide with a couple of my pet peeves, so I found myself laughing along, but I do wonder how sustainable this concept is.

Last up is Tony Schiffbauer's Garbanzo, which mostly focused on food and vegetable puns.

There were funny moments in all of these, and I thought at least the first two had some potential to work long-term. The print quality of the minicomic itself could have been better, as I found myself reaching for the magnifying glass a few times to read the dialogue.

That being said there was plenty in here that amused me.

Rating: 6.5/10





 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Comics Go Hollywood: Free Comic Book Day Edition

From the random stack of unread comics.

Title: Comics Go Hollywood: Free Comic Book Day Edition
Publisher: TwoMorrows Publishing
Date: 2008
Writer: Mike Manley, Danny Fingeroth, Roy Thomas, John Morrow, Peter Sanderson
Editor: John Morrow, Danny Fingeroth, Robert Greenberger, Jeph Loeb
Cover: Mike Manley


Not actually a comic, this is a magazine printed in standard comic book dimensions as part of Free Comic Book Day 2008. TwoMorrow Publications produces books and magazines on the comic book industry and the history of comics, and this volume is a sample of articles from across their line of publications. The theme here is the intersection between the movie and comics industries.

There is an introduction to storyboarding by Mike Manley, which gives some insights into how he broke into storyboarding for some of the DC animated features.


Next up is an interview with writer Jeph Loeb, focusing mostly on his work on the TV series Heroes. Danny Fingeroth conducts the interview.

A second interview feature sees Roy Thomas interviewing Gerry Conway about the script that they collaborated on in 1984 for an X-Men movie that didn't end up happening. It includes a nice synopsis of the plot, and provides a funk look at what might have been.

John Morrow gives an overview of Jack Kirby's contributions to film and TV, including his work on Thundarr the Barbarian.

Last up is a retrospective on the character of the Joker over the years written by Peter Sanderson.

This was enjoyable reading, and I learned quite a bit that I didn't know. Even the article on the Joker, a topic which has been discussed quite a lot over the years, provided some insights that were new to me. I'm not a fan of either Heroes or the DC animated universe, so I probably missed out on some revelations in the articles concerning those, but they still held my interest. The interview about the old X-Men script suffered a bit from Thomas and Conway not remembering some of the details that might have made the story better, and the Kirby article probably could have been expanded considerable from the couple of pages it got here.

All of the articles had accompanying bits of classic artwork from the respective properties under discussion, but the print quality on the artwork reproduced here varied quite a bit in quality.

Still, this was a good read for anyone with an interest in fandom or comics history, and it did leave me with a good impression of the types of articles I can expect to find from TwoMorrows' books and magazines.

Rating: 7/10