Monday, May 27, 2013

The Strain, Volume 2 by David Lapham and Mike Huddleston, based on the novel by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

 Dark Horse continues their adaptation of Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan's novel THE STRAIN with the imaginatively titled THE STRAIN, VOLUME 2. When we last saw our cast of characters (In THE STRAIN, VOLUME 1), things were looking bad.

 Things are now looking worse.

 The book starts off on a high note, as we are immediately introduced to one of the most bad-ass characters in recent memory:  Vasily Fet, a hulking Exterminator who is, clearly, the toughest Fet we've encountered yet, making Jango and Boba look downright anemic in comparison. (Don't start telling me that Jango and Boba have two "T's" in Fett...I know. Just roll with it.) As New York City is slowly and insidiously being overrun by Vampires, Vasily Fet stumbles on the center of the outbreak, at "The Bathtub", the construction site at Ground Zero for the September 11th attack. (As construction winds down on the nearly-complete Freedom Tower, I was struck by how Del Toro and Hogan had managed to totally date the story by choosing the Ground Zero construction site as the "Haunted House" of their tale....It seemed very cool, when the novel was first released, but now it really dates the story and pulls the reader out of the sense of "This is happening NOW!" that a story like this really needs.) Fet soon hooks up with Eph and Setrakian and Nora, completing our story's roster of "Fearless Vampire killers", and they set out to track down and destroy "The Master", the renegade Vampire Elder who is trying to take over the world.

 I had mixed feelings about THE STRAIN when I first read the novel...I thought the J.F.K. sequence was waaaaay too long, but the rest of the book more than made up for it. Dark Horse mercifully shortened that sequence in THE STRAIN, VOLUME 1, so this adaptation has been all meat, no filler. Writer David Lapham (Of STRAY BULLETS fame) keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace, and Artist Mike Huddleston does a good job with the artwork, although it is often too muddled-looking for my tastes. (His sketchbook section at the back is a knockout, so maybe my quibbles with the art are due to Dan Jackson's colors....?) The original covers, by E.M. Gist, are reprinted in the book, and they are amazing.
                               The Master, Eph, and Setrakian, by E.M. Gist.

 Dark Horse has been knocking it out of the park with their adaptation of THE STRAIN. I hope they can keep the team together through all three novels.

 Dark Horse provided a review copy.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Maximum Minimum Wage

 Where have you been all my life, MINIMUM WAGE....?

 Somehow, I've managed to miss out on Bob Fingerman's outrageously funny comic for the past (Nearly...) two decades, but thanks to Image Comics, that's all been rectified by their massive collection MAXIMUM MINIMUM WAGE.

 I really couldn't say just how much of MINIMUM WAGE was based on Fingerman's life, but everything in this book rings remarkably true. The saga of Cartoonist Rob Hoffman, his loopy girlfriend Sylvia, and his circle of friends and acquaintances is hilariously funny, brutally honest, and often deeply touching. I'm not the type of person who laughs out loud while reading a book, but there were probably 10 or 15 different sequences in MAXIMUM MINIMUM WAGE that had me howling. Your mileage may vary, but as someone who grew up in The Bronx and spent a considerable amount of time on the subway, I fell in love with this book as soon as Rob sees some random girls get punched by a jacked up Rastafarian who screams "BAM! I GOTCHOO, NIGGA!" as he wallops each girl. Yes, I laughed at a homeless loon punching teenaged girls. I'm a horrible person. But, as any subway-dweller can tell you: If it happens to you, it's tragedy. If it happens to someone else, it's comedy. Rob's journey through the jungle of freelance cartooning and his rocky relationship with the halfway-crazy Sylvia takes up the better part of 300 pages, and by the time you reach the end, you'll feel like you know these characters as well as your real friends. Fingerman's story and art work masterfully right from the beginning, yet somehow manages to improve as the book goes on.I was sorry to turn the last page....

 The book contains every issue of MINIMUM WAGE, as well as the script for the unfinished 11th issue, a cover gallery, and a huge selection of MINIMUM WAGE pin-ups by a stellar selection of guest artists.

 I can't recommend this enough. Image Comics has produced a massive, beautiful compendium of comic wonderfulness. Do yourself a favor and discover MINIMUM WAGE. Or re-discover it. You'll be glad you did.

 Image Comics provided a review copy.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness

 I'm going to start this review off by listing my STAR TREK credentials: I grew up watching TREK reruns on Channel 11 in The Bronx. I was never much of a fan until the movies started coming out. I think it all really gelled for me in 1982, with STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. That's when I went back and actually started to watch the show, not just gawk at the cheesy effects. I grew to appreciate the rapport between the Enterprise crew, and I'll always have a soft spot for Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov. I've tried, oh how I've tried, to get into STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (My Wife loves Picard and his crew....), and never succeeded. They bore me. Needless to say, I've never sampled any of the post-TNG shows. And while Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelly will always be STAR TREK to me, I did greatly enjoy J.J. Abrams' 2009 reboot.

 So I have no ax to grind here. I'm a casual fan, at best.

 (There is no way to talk about this film without getting into spoilers, so be warned......)


 The film starts off with an amusing pre-credits adventure, a la James Bond. After that initial burst of action, we hit our first roadblock: The "Fake Jeopardy" cinematic crutch, which is used to pad movies and create unnecessary, and often unneeded, dramatic tension. Kirk is demoted from Captain, and The Enterprise is given back to Pike. This is all well and good, save for the fact that, within ten minutes, Kirk is stripped of his rank and demoted to serve under Pike, Pike is killed, and Kirk is reinstated as Captain. As soon as he is demoted, you know that there is no way that Abrams and his Writers will have the balls to keep Kirk as a First Officer, and have Spock serving on an entirely different ship, for the rest of the movie. So this whole contrivance is a waste of time.

 For the second time this Spring, London is destroyed by terrorism (For the first, see G.I. Joe: Retaliation), this time thanks to a rogue Starfleet agent named John Harrison. Like an Interstellar Osama Bin Laden, Harrison goes to ground on the Klingon homeworld, leading to another totally unnecessary scene, as Kirk and company lead an incursion into Klingon territory, a mission that could spark a war with the aggressive Klingons. After a battle that should, in all honesty, be the start of a huge war between Starfleet and The Klingon Empire, Harrison is taken into custody, leading to the "Prisoner Under Glass" scene. (Don't worry about that war with The Klingon Empire, though....the film ends with a "One Year Later" scene, and there's nary a mention of Klingons or war, so they must have gotten over the wholesale slaughter of a slew of their men fairly quickly.)

Yes, since it worked in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE DARK KNIGHT, THE AVENGERS, and SKYFALL, we have another scene where the villain, behind a glass wall, is interrogated by the hero.
And here is the momentous scene where the nearly albino Benedict Cumberbatch
reveals that he is really........
KHAN!!!! Or....
 Yes, Khan Noonien Singh is now, with no explanation at all, a white guy. I'm all for colorblind casting, hell, I'd love to see Denzel Washington or Idris Elba take a crack a Batman, but making one of the few legendary ethnic bad guys into a white guy....? Really? Did we need to go there?

 This revelation carries all of the dramatic weight of someone asking "What's for lunch?" In the new timeline, Kirk has never MET Khan, never HEARD of Khan, doesn't give a SHIT about Khan......It reminded me of the old Lee/Ditko SPIDER-MAN where someone finally knocks Spidey out and unmasks him, only to realize "He's just some kid." They don't know him, so his identity is meaningless to them. The beauty of the Kirk/Khan rivalry in WRATH was that it had the weight of years behind it. Kirk and Khan had already clashed. Kirk thought Khan was a distant memory, and Khan had spent decades nursing a near-obsessive hatred for Kirk. We had seen them clash before, and we know how lucky Kirk was to prevail could he beat Khan twice? INTO DARKNESS trades on our memories of the original rivalry in order to give this new one weight, and it doesn't work. But in case you see this scene and wonder "Who the fuck is Khan....?", Leonard Nimoy pops in for what must surely be the most gratuitous info-dump in cinematic history. He literally appears as a floating head to say, in not so many words "HOLY FUCK, DON'T MESS WITH KHAN!!!! HE'LL KILL YOU ALL!! SWEET JEEBUS, RUN!!!!!" (This after Nimoy and Abrams both said four years ago how cheap it would be to keep using old Spock as a cheat to give information from his timeline to the new crew.)

 Anyway, Khan is pissed at Starfleet Admiral Marcus for stealing his frozen buddies from The Botany Bay, Marcus has been secretly trying to start a war with The Klingons, Scotty has resigned (But comes back, or course, just in the nick of time, in exactly the right place...), blah blah blah....then it starts to get downright offensive. The film becomes, for a brief time, a twisted remake of THE WRATH OF KHAN, with Kirk taking Spock's place in the reactor core, complete with touching speech and death by radiation. In a shocking twist, it's SPOCK who screams Khan's name this time around,

leading to a Spock/Khan chase/fistfight, where, considering the fact that Khan has been built up as Star Trek's version of Superman, Spock beats the fuck out of him. Further offensiveness is added by the shameless way that Abrams evokes 9/11 imagery, as a massive Starfleet ship is flown into buildings in San Francisco.
 I thought it was a tad distasteful to see such blatant 9/11 imagery used in the context of such a dopey piece of cinema. Your mileage may vary. I found it cheap and tasteless.

 The film ends on an up note, as the crew finally embark on their "Five Year Mission", but the unanswered questions have lingered in my mind....

 Weren't The Klingons a little upset that a Federation ship invaded their homeworld, and, as far as they knew, slaughtered three ships worth of Klingons?

 Why does Kirk listen to The Beastie Boys? That would be like a random, modern 25 year old listening to music from 1640 in his free time...It could happen, but probably not.

 Why does Carol Marcus have a British accent when her Father does not?

 Why is Bones so frantic to get Khan's blood, when they have 72 other frozen people that are JUST LIKE KHAN....?

 Why Does Bones just happen to have a dead Tribble?

Why must Abrams constantly use those fucking lens flares? It was VERY annoying this time out.....Please refrain from using them in your STAR WARS pic, ok? Please?

 STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS isn't a terrible film, but it is a sloppy, lazy film. I enjoyed the actors, especially Karl Urban, who seems to be the reincarnation of DeForest Kelly. Their chemistry carried the film for me, and I hope they'll be back for a third go-round. Maybe they'll bring better writers next time.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

X-O Manowar, Volume 1: By The Sword

 I never got into the Valiant revolution that took the comics industry by storm in the 1990's. I'm not tooting my own horn by saying this, but it seemed like a lot of overblown hype, and I was smart enough not to get swept up in it. (I can't toot that horn too loudly, because I certainly do get swept up in more than my fair share of hype, as witnessed by the tons of stuff lining the walls of my study.) I believe that, aside from the first issue of the dreadful Valiant/Image crossover, the only Valiant book that I ever read was my Cousin Rob's copy of X-O Manowar #1, with the Chromium cover. It was supposed to be able to put you and all of your ancestors through College.....Gotta love the speculator mindset of the 1990's. Rob was slick, though...He only bought it because he liked the way the Chromium cover looked.

                                  "Buy me, and all of your money problems will be solved!"

 So I approached the relaunched/rebooted/whatever X-O MANOWAR: BY THE SWORD with totally fresh eyes. If memory serves, the origin is basically the same: Aric of Dacia, a Visigoth warrior, is abducted by an Alien race known as "The Vine". He's enslaved, along with his fellow prisoners, aboard their massive ship, eventually staging an uprising worthy of Spartacus, during which Aric takes possession of "The sacred armor of Shanhara", a mythical suit of armor that has confounded The Vine for generations. Aric escapes, returning to Earth to seek vengeance against the Roman warriors who tore his Visigoth family apart, only to find that he's returned to a dramatically Earth than the one he left sixteen centuries ago.....

 The Visigoth/outer space stuff, which takes up the bulk of the book, didn't do much for me. The story really started to pop when Aric returns to Earth, and encounters modern-day Rome. This segment beautifully recalled the end of the Captain America film, and really had me feeling for Aric, something that hadn't happened until that point. Based on the strength of that sequence alone, I'm inclined to buy the next volume to see how Aric fares in his brave new world.

 Robert Venditti's writing is hamstrung by having to tell an origin story that is not his own. His workmanlike script really picks up steam after the origin is established, and he'll hopefully make the character his own in the next volume. Cary Nord's art is great, even if the scope of his work seems a little too small for the grandiose subject matter.

 Valiant is off to a good start with it's initial offering, and I'll be watching to see how they follow this up.

X-O MANOWAR: BY THE SWORD collects the first four issues of Valiant's X-O Manowar series, complete with covers and variants, and an all-new introduction.

 (Valiant provided a review copy.)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Came The Dawn and Other Stories Illustrated By Wallace Wood

 Fantagraphics is quickly becoming THE go-to Publisher for historically important Comic Book material. Between their Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge collections and their EC Artists' Library, they're really doing their part, and then some, to keep important, classic works in print.

 CAME THE DAWN AND OTHER STORIES ILLUSTRATED BY WALLACE WOOD is Volume 2 of "The Fantagraphics EC Artists' Library", which presents a generous sampling of stories by the Artist in question, as well as Biographical material, features about the history of EC Comics, and an Introduction that recaps each story and gives them historical and social context, as well as providing behind-the-scenes information, both about Wallace Wood and EC Comics.

 CAME THE DAWN runs the gamut of Woods' work fro EC, spanning 1950-1954, featuring stories from The Vault of Horror, The Crypt of Terror, The Haunt of Fear, Crime SuspenStories, and Tales From The Crypt. Early EC comics are nothing to write home about...the art has a thick, chunky sameness to it, no matter who drew it, and the wordy stories often lead to clunky endings. The early work presented here is valuable as a historic curiosity, enabling the reader to witness the evolution of Woods' artistic technique. He really hits his stride about halfway through the book, with the start of the Shock SuspenStories "Preachies", stories that (Quite bravely, considering that they were published over sixty years ago...) boldly tackled racism, lynch mobs, and The Ku Klux Klan. The "Preachies" pack just as much of a punch today as they must have when they were originally published. This is when EC really hit it's stride, and began presenting material that was vivid, exciting, and like nothing that had been seen before. Six decades later, it's still the gold standard that other comic books aspire to.

 Wallace Wood was, by all accounts, a deeply troubled man. He took his own life in 1981, dying from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He left behind a massive body of work, some of it downright brilliant...CAME THE DAWN AND OTHER STORIES ILLUSTRATED BY WALLACE WOOD is a great place to discover the man and his legacy. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Something Dark Is Coming......

 Cemetery Dance Publications has a big announcement coming soon, and you can sign up to be among the first notified RIGHT HERE. I'm betting on it being something from Stephen King. If it is, expect it to sell out in short order.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Star Wars: Darth Maul- Death Sentence, by Tom Taylor & Bruno Redondo

 Obviously I am not alone in thinking that Darth Maul, the crimson-skinned Sith Lord, was the only good thing about STAR WARS: EPISODE 1- THE PHANTOM MENACE. Despite being gruesomely dispatched by Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sliced in half and hurled into a seemingly bottomless pit...), Maul has returned for expanded universe adventures, both on television and in print.

 STAR WARS: DARTH MAUL- DEATH SENTENCE follows the now half-cybernetic Maul and his equally cheerful Brother, the quaintly named Savage Opress, as they attempt to get some payback on the man (Creature?) that put a price on their heads. The trail leads the Brothers into conflict with The Jedi, of course, and much Lightsaber use ensues.

 This is actually all much better than I'm making it sound. Writer Tom Taylor does a good job with his two enormously hiss-worthy lead characters, and keeps the plot and action flowing along smoothly. Artist Bruno Redondo also deserves kudos, and Dark Horse finally manages to present all of the covers to the original four issues of DEATH SENTENCE in the paperback, hopefully overcoming their terrible cover prejudice once and for all. (The fact that those covers were done by the legendary Dave Dorman may have something to do with their desire to show them off.) Sith fans will eat this up. Recommended.

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by Dave McKean

 If there's an Author that delivers more satisfying stories than Neil Gaiman, somebody give me their name, because I must really be missing out on some good stuff. Having already delivered what I consider to be a Master Class in long-form storytelling with DC/Vertigo's THE SANDMAN, Gaiman has gone on to pen various children's books (THE WOLVES IN THE WALLS, THE DAY I SWAPPED MY DAD FOR TWO GOLDFISH), young adult books (CORALINE, ODD AND THE FROST GIANTS, STARDUST), and a few staggeringly good adult novels (NEVERWHERE, AMERICAN GODS, and ANANSI BOYS). Gaiman excels at telling large stories, with seemingly unrelated characters and events seamlessly dovetailing to form perfect, flawless endings. His record remains intact with THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, a macabre spin on Rudyard Kipling's THE JUNGLE BOOK.

 The story starts off in a way most children's books would frown upon: A family is murdered in their sleep by a man named Jack. Their infant Son escapes his crib and crawls out the front door, toddling his way to the town's Graveyard, with the murderous Jack in pursuit. The deceased residents of the Graveyard band together to chase Jack away, and take in the baby, whom they name Nobody Owens, or Bod for short, to raise him as one of their own. Bod is given "The Freedom of The Graveyard", which enables to to see in the dark, pass through walls, etc., effectively making him a living Ghost. The story unfolds over nine chapters, each of which reads as a standalone short story, where Gaiman relates the significant events that shape Bod's life as he grows to young adulthood with his strange, loving extended family.

 As with CORALINE, Gaiman crosses several lines that are sure to freak out more sensitive Parents. To be sure, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is a macabre story, but therein lies Gaiman's brilliance. He remembers something most adults have long since forgotten: Children like to be scared. What kid doesn't like to pretend their Dad is a Monster, and have him chase them around the house, or watch monster movies, or read about Dinosaurs? Children love the feeling of being scared, as long as they know that they're not in any real danger, and that things will turn out alright. Children's entertainment these days is too sanitized and white-bread. Gaiman delivers a spooky, dark tale, but it's one that I would have no problem giving to my ten-year-old Daughter to read.

 The book features illustrations by Dave McKean, Gaiman's SANDMAN collaborator. I've never been much of a McKean fan, and his work here didn't do much to change that.

 Highly recommended, for both adults and children.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Criminal Macabre: No Peace For Dead Men

 I consider Steve Niles to be the luckiest man in comic books. Somehow, without a single, solitary shred of talent, writing ability, or sense of plot or pacing, he has risen to the top of the industry on the strength of one very good, if horribly executed, idea: 30 DAYS OF NIGHT.

 Niles keeps the books coming, I keep getting review copies, and the circle of abuse continues. I have never read a Cal McDonald story that I enjoyed, and CRIMINAL MACABRE: NO PEACE FOR DEAD MEN keeps that streak alive. The book collects a handful of Criminal Macabre one-shots, including a crossover with The Goon. I love The Goon, but Niles even manages to make HIM boring.....

 For the (Mercifully) uninitiated, Cal McDonald is a Detective that specializes in The Supernatural. He's also one of the most unlikable characters I've ever encountered. Not unlikable in a Snake Plissken kind of way, where he's an asshole but you still kind of like him. McDonald is just a perpetually drunk, surly twat not only has no redeeming qualities, but also has no charisma or personality, aside from being a drunk, surly twat.

 The stand-alone stories presented here are loosely connected by the threat of a upcoming "War" of an unspecified nature. Are the Monsters going to wage war on Humanity, or just McDonald? This is fairly terrible stuff...I keep reading Niles' books because, seriously, at some point he almost HAS to get better, right? I mean, anyone who does a job long enough is bound to become at least mildly proficient at what he does...Unfortunately, it hasn't happened yet.

 CRIMINAL MACABRE: NO PEACE FOR DEAD MEN contains five separate one-shots, and includes covers, pin-ups, and a sketch gallery. On a scale of 1-10, I'd give this book a 1, and that's just because a favorite character of mine makes an unexpected cameo.

 Dark Horse provided a review copy.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Down The Mysterly River, by Bill Willingham (Author) & Mark Buckingham (Illustrator)

 I've been a fan of Bill Willingham's since his aborted masterpiece COVENTRY. His Vertigo series FABLES is consistently brilliant and never less than entertaining, and he continues his streak with his new Young Adult book, DOWN THE MYSTERLY RIVER. The book follows the adventures of a young Boy Scout named Max (Nicknamed "Max The Wolf") who wakes one day to find himself alone in the woods. Not just any woods, but woods inhabited by talking animals. Max befriends three of these animals, Walden the Bear, McTavish The Monster (A grizzled barn cat), and Banderbrock the Badger, and the quartet discovers that they are being pursued by "The Blue Cutters", a brotherhood of men and women who wield powerful blue swords capable of inflicting cuts that can mold the victim's body and personality into whatever the Cutter wishes them to be. Max and company follow the course of the Mysterly River, hoping to find sanctuary at the Castle of the Wizard Swift, encountering new friends and enemies along the way.

Willingham's story serves as a great adventure for young adult readers, and as a scathing indictment of censorship for adults. He brilliantly presents the struggle of creative people against Editors, which is especially relevant for a Writer like Willingham, who has been at the mercy of Comic-Book Editors and suits, who constantly tinker with character and continuity to suit their own untalented vision. DOWN THE MYSTERLY RIVER is a brilliant, heartbreaking book....I'm going to be saving my copy for my kids to read when they get a little bit older. Highly recommended.

Honey Badger Don't Care: Randall's Guide To Crazy, Nastyass Animals

Since no one is ever satisfied with just a small measure of fame, internet sensation Randall seeks to shake off the shackles of narrating funny animal videos by branching out into the literary world, with HONEY BADGER DON'T CARE: RANDALL'S GUIDE TO CRAZY, NASTYASS ANIMALS. While the book does provide a few chuckles, reading Randall's outrageous comments isn't the same as HEARING Randall's outrageous comments......The voice is 90% of the joke.. HONEY BADGER DON'T CARE is an amusing time-waster, but I wouldn't really urge anyone to spend money on it, especially since all of his videos are available for free, and are funnier.

Super Dinosaur, Volume 1

 I'm not sure how to react to this book....Is Robert Kirkman doing a po-faced tribute to the 1980's toy comics (G.I. Joe, Transformers, Masters of The Universe, etc.), or is he making a bold-faced attempt at creating a character that will spawn children's merchandise?

SUPER DINOSAUR is not a good book, by any stretch of the imagination. The art, by Jason Howard, is very nice, but the story is pure by-the-numbers Kirkman. (I don't think Kirkman's really done anything special, aside from THE WALKING DEAD.) I could probably accept this as a kid-oriented adventure book, but Kirkman kept slipping in new outfits and accessories for Super-Dinosaur to wear, and breathlessly giving the new accoutrements cute names that would look great on a toy box......I dunno, it all seemed a bit too blatant for my tastes. I have nothing against children's literature, and kids will probably eat this up, since it has Dinosaurs fighting each other while wearing massive suits of armor, but it just doesn't seem to have anything to offer adult readers. (I did, however, love how Super Dinosaur controls his armor by using joysticks manipulated by his little tiny arms....clever, funny touch.)

Who Is Jake Ellis?

 WHO IS JAKE ELLIS? opens with what would make a great cinematic moment: Mercenary Jon Moore is in a bad situation, as a business deal is going south, and his associates are about to kill him. Talking to himself the whole time, Jon springs into action, fighting his way free in a blaze of glory. The entire scene is then shown again, this time from Jon's point-of-view, where we meet the titular Jake Ellis, a mysterious figure who may, or may not, be a figment of Jon's imagination, a brilliant, omniscient tactician who watches Jon's back and helps keep him alive. To say any more about this book would risk spoiling too much. I pretty much guessed who Jake was early on, but that doesn't take away from this engaging, brilliantly-told tale in the least. Great fun, and I'll be watching to see what the duo of Edmondson & Zondjic have up their sleeves in the future.