Saturday, April 27, 2013

Judge Dredd, Volume 1 by Duane Swierczynski (Writer) and Nelson Daniel (Artist)

 I fell in love with Judge Dredd back in the early '80's, when Eagle Comics started reprinting the best of the 2000 AD strips. I thrilled to Mega-City One's war with The Sov Block, outbreaks of Block Mania, invasions by The Dark Judges, and broadened my artistic horizons thanks to Carlos Ezquerra, Brian Bolland, and a host of other 2000 AD luminaries. There have been a few attempts by American Publishers to get on the Dredd bandwagon, none of which have met with much success, which brings us to the latest, courtesy of IDW.....

 Judge Dredd would probably give IDW's JUDGE DREDD, VOLUME 1 five years in the Iso-Cubes.

 Writer Duane Swierczynski certainly seems to be trying, but his stories have a bland, instantly forgettable feel to them. His voice, to be fair, does seem to improve with each successive issue, but this is still real low-level Dredd, to be sure. The art is capable, if sometimes underwhelming, but my main beef was with the way that each issue featured a few short, interconnected stories that continued on into the next issue. It seemed as if IDW were trying to capture the feel of 2000 AD's shorter stories, but it just came off as annoying. (This may, for all I know, not be an issue in the collected edition: IDW provided a digital review copy, which consisted of the first four issues, without any of the print edition's bells and whistles.)

 This is not a terrible book.....Dredd newcomers may find it perfectly acceptable. Longtime Dredd fans will have seen much better.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Star Trek: The Next Generation- Hive

 I find STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION to be hideously boring. I tried, Lord, how I tried...I even ended up married to a huge Picard fan.....but I just cannot get into TNG, no matter how hard I've tried. I'm a Kirk fan, and anything after Kirk, Spock, Bones, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov is just a sad runner-up.

 I am, however, intrigued by The Borg, the spacefaring Hive-Mind that seeks to assimilate every race they come into contact with. (Kirk would eat them for breakfast, btw.)  Being almost totally unfamiliar with nearly everything presented in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION- HIVE, oddly enough, did not present any obstacles to either my understanding or enjoyment of the book.

 Based on a story by Brannon Braga, the guiding light behind much that is modern-day Trek, Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett bring us yet another Borg invasion, except this one is destined to succeed. The story flips between the start of the current Borg plot, and its aftermath 500 years later, when The Borg have assimilated everything, Time-travel ensues, with all of the attendant time paradox confusion, but the creators still manage to tell a ripping, straightforward tale that sees Picard, Data, and Seven of Nine deliver a Borg ass-whooping that would do Kirk proud. The book ends with what, I assume, would be a fairly huge event (Or two...) in Star Trek continuity, which really took me by surprise. HIVE was a fun, accessible read, even for someone whose Star Trek interests start and stop with the original crew.

IDW provided a review copy that included issues 1-3, and I purchased issue #4 digitally.


Godzilla: The Half-Century War, by James Stokoe

 Man, now THIS is some Godzilla mayhem I can get behind!

 IDW's GODZILLA: THE HALF-CENTURY WAR has a great premise: Ota Murakami, a young Japanese Soldier, is unfortunate enough to be on the front lines when Godzilla makes his first appearance in 1954 Tokyo. Murakami's heroic stand against the monstrous lizard gets him noticed, and he's asked to join a Monster task force, which enables the series to unfold over the next half-century with Murakami as the readers' eyes, as he is front-and-center for not only all of Godzilla's rampages, but also the arrival of other creatures of Godzilla's ilk, including a new breed of Monster lured to earth by a madman's demented invention.

 A big tip of the hat to Writer/Artist James Stokoe. I've been watching Godzilla movies, and reading Godzilla comics, practically since birth, and I've never fully appreciated the sheer enormity of Godzilla, until now. Stokoe's art masterfully showcases The Big G's massive dimensions, and makes you really appreciate how terrifying it would be to be at ground-level while he rampaged around Tokyo. Stokoe's destruction is wonderfully detailed, and really delivers a realistic vibe. At least as realistic as a Godzilla story can be. His Writing is also above average. He understands that, while we all want to see giant Monsters fighting, without a Human viewpoint to anchor us into the story and give us someone to identify with, it'd become boring and repetitive almost immediately.

 I'm a huge Godzilla fan, and this is probably the best Godzilla comic I've ever read, alongside IDW's excellent GODZILLA: GANGSTERS & GOLIATHS. Highly recommended.

 (IDW provided a review copy of issues 1-4, which were good enough to get me to buy issue 5 digitally.)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Shark Attack: Maneaters and Men, by Richard Ellis

 Disclaimer: I am terrified of Sharks. My Mother was a little liberal about what she let me watch as a kid, and I was traumatized at an early age by both JAWS and THE EXORCIST. I was terrified of them both as a kid, and I'm only slightly less terrified of them now. (This actually was beneficial to me, because, aside from those two movies, there's not much else out there that scares me, both at the movies and in real life. Thanks, Mom!) I was also bumped by some form of Shark when I was 10 or 11 years old, while visiting relatives at The Jersey Shore. That was all she wrote for the Ocean. I'm done.

 That said, I love Sharks. As long as I'm not in the water with them.

 So Richard Ellis' SHARK ATTACK: MANEATERS AND MEN seemed right up my alley. The book is, theoretically, Ellis' case for the Shark as a integral part of the food chain, a noble creature that rarely harms people, and has no taste for our tender, tasty flesh.

 This point tends to get lost in the chapters where Ellis catalogs dozens and dozens of grisly Shark attacks, some by Sharks large enough to BITE PEOPLE IN TWO!!!!!

 IN TWO!!!!!

 So, while his chapters on the wholesale slaughter of Sharks by Asian fishing fleets who catch them by the hundreds, slice off their fins, and toss the still-living, helpless, crippled Shark back into the Ocean to die are heartbreaking, he doesn't exactly succeed in making this guy
 seem like something you want to ever, ever, ever EVER stumble across while out for a swim.

 Ellis has crafted a gripping, thought-provoking book, and hopefully it can, in some small measure, help the cause of Shark conservation. As for me, as long as they stay off of land, I'll stay out of the ocean, and it'll all be good.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black, by E.B. Hudspeth

Horror fans are always clamoring for something different.

"Vampires (Werewolves/Zombies/Demons/etc.) again?? Where's the originality? Give me something new!"

Well, put your money where your collective mouths are, Horror fans. Here's something new.

While not overtly horrific, E.B. Hudspeth's The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black created and managed to maintain a distinct air of unease and dread, almost from page one. I read a lot, and I read a lot of Horror, and I have to tell you, it's not often that I get that delicious feeling of chills crawling up the back of my neck. Hudspeth delivered that feeling, and delivered in spades.

The book is presented in two parts: The first part is a fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black, a renowned Surgeon whose life takes a turn for the strange in the late 1800's. Black becomes obsessed with the notion of mythological creatures, specifically with the idea that beings such as Centaurs, Dragons, Harpies, and others, did exist...He not only posits their existence, but suggests that they were offshoots of Humanity, and the secrets to their return could be locked within the Human body, waiting to be coaxed out by the right man...

Black shuns the Medical world, and begins to work in which eventually leads him to a traveling sideshow, where he creates his own bizarre, chilling exhibits.

The second portion of the book is comprised of "The Codex Extinct Animalia", which features a long-lost book that Black had published toward the end of his life, which catalogs his thoughts, complete with his extensive, painstaking illustrations, on a host of mythological (Or were they real....?) beasts.

I was expecting a jumped-up high-concept book that would be heavy on art (Which it is...), but I was really taken aback by Hudspeth's writing ability. He presents the first half of the book as a straightforward, if somewhat bizarre, biography, and never wavers from that format. It's what happens between the lines, what he implies, that carries the full weight of the Horror that Black's life is becoming, and Hudspeth does a phenomenal job of making the reader aware of his intent without bludgeoning his points home. I can think of few, if any, seasoned Horror Authors that could have done a better job. His artistic renderings of Black's creatures is nothing short of breathtaking...You almost feel as if Hudspeth had them on a table, in various states of dissection, while he created the sketches.

The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black is a rare treat for horror fans, and I can't recommend it enough.

Quirk Books provided a review copy.

Frank Cho- Women: Selected Drawings & Illustrations, Book Two

 I've been a fan of Frank Cho's since he first started publishing the much-missed Liberty Meadows comic book. I love that book, and I hope his increased profile at Marvel Comics doesn't mean we've see the last of it. Cho fans can, however, rejoice in the knowledge that 2013 brings us a follow-up to his 2006 art book Women, entitled Frank Cho- Women: Selected Drawings & Illustrations, Book Two.

 It's a rather slim (80 pages) volume, and there's a lot of repetition within the book, as Cho presents full-page concept sketches, pencils, and finished/colored art for many of the illustrations, which means one picture often takes up three pages, which seems like a waste of valuable space to me. The book is broken up into sections, including Cho's cover illustrations, a chapter devoted to Brandy, his cult Liberty Meadows character, and a section of nudes. The art, it should go without saying, is wonderful. Cho is one of the all-time greats, and his work here certainly shows it. He also manages to sneak his trademark sense of humor into almost every illustration in the book. My only complaint with the volume was that it was too short. Let's hope it doesn't take another seven years until we get Volume Three...

 Image Comics provided a review copy.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Merciless: The Rise of Ming, by Scott Beatty and Ron Adrian

 Beneath this unfortunate Alex Ross cover, which makes the floating head of "Old" Ming look like he has an Elephant Trunk Nose that is being stroked by "Young" Ming, lurks a fairly decent origin story.

 I say "fairly decent" because Artist Ron Adrian isn't really up to snuff as a storyteller. His art is nice enough, but he's not very good at conveying the rudiments of sequential storytelling, and there were a lot of pages that made me feel like I had missed something, a page, or a panel, something.....He really needs to worry less about the big splash pages and get the basics of good storytelling down, and he could be one to watch.

 Scott Beatty's story is a fairly straightforward "This guy was a lunatic since birth!!!" type of Super-Villain origin, but it's well-done enough that I didn't really mind. I know next to nothing about Flash Gordon (Who does not appear in this book, in case you were wondering...), aside from the campy 1980's movie, the cartoons from when I was a kid, and a paperback that reprinted some Al Williamson strips, so this was all new to me. Beatty's Ming is an unrepentant, power-hungry loon, and that's just the way I like him. It was great fun seeing Ming's rise to power...This guy has enough inventive kills to give Jason Voorhees a run for his money, and you have to love a guy that orders everyone on his Planet to shave their heads just because he has a receding hairline.

 MERCILESS: THE RISE OF MING collects all four issues of the Dynamite mini-series, complete with covers, and an Alex Ross sketchbook. (One other thing: Ross' Ming looks exactly like Sinestro. It was really weird seeing a yellow Sinestro plastered all over a Flash Gordon book.)
Dynamite provided a review copy.



Friday, April 12, 2013

Afrika, by Hermann

Kudos to Dark Horse Comics for bringing Hermann's brilliant AFRIKA to American audiences. Hopefully, it'll be the first of many such beautiful hardcover presentations. I won't spoil the plot of the book, which centers on Dario Ferrar, caretaker of a Tanzanian wildlife preserve, but I will say that the book provides enough mystery, intrigue, and chase-oriented action to satisfy most mature comic-book readers. The art is gorgeous, and the book would be worth the cover price just to see Hermann's lush representation of the African wildlife. Highly recommended.

Between Gears, by Natalie Nourigat

 Natalie Nourigat's BETWEEN GEARS was a bit of a surprise: I picked up the book expecting a more "comic-booky" sequential retelling of her final year of College, and instead found what amounted to a daily greatest-hits style illustrated blog. Once I got over that initial bump, I quickly found myself getting drawn into the day-to-day life of Natalie, her Family and friends, and her everyday trials and tribulations. Natalie has an endearing art style, veering between styles as the subject matter calls for, and she shows a great deal of courage by putting her life out there, warts and all. My only beef with BETWEEN GEARS was that it became a little too insiderish at times; There were things and places that she talks about (Such as JET....) that had me stumped. A little background information on some of these things/people/places would have gone a long way towards smoothing out the rough spots, but in her defense, I doubt she thought that her work would be collected by Image Comics in a few years. I also felt that, although I knew there was going to be one page per day for every day of her senior year, the book went on a lot longer than my attention span could tolerate. There are only so many times you can read virtually identical pages of Natalie agonizing over her Thesis. That said, Natalie Nourigat is a talent to watch, and I'm eager to see what she has coming up next.

Hemlock Grove, by Brian McGreevy

 HEMLOCK GROVE treads closer to Bizarro territory than I'm generally comfortable with. I'm not averse to the occasional odd or unusual element in my reading, but Brian McGreevy crosses over the "That's just a little too much" line almost immediately. The book is ostensibly about a small town plagued by murders that seem to be the work of a Werewolf. The main suspect, according to the local gossip mill, is a newcomer named Peter Rumancek, who, oddly enough, IS a Werewolf. McGreevy populates the small town of Hemlock Grove with a weird cast of characters, each more unusual than the next, but the one that almost made me put the book down is teenaged Shelly Godfrey, a Frankenstein's Monster-esque girl who stands over seven feet tall, glows in the dark (!) and wears huge plastic cubes filled with potting soil on her feet. (I can take a lot, but even I have my limits!) Peter and his sidekick, Shelly's mind-controlling Brother, Roman, become Hemlock Grove's Hardy Boys, setting off on a mission to find and destroy the murderous Werewolf before it can kill again. The book plays out as a Horror-tinged teen soap opera...I can totally see this novel coming to the CW network as a series...complete with unrequited teen love, a questionable immaculate conception, a mad Scientist conducting a bizarre experiment that is never fully explained, hints of an ancient evil lying beneath the town that is also never fully explained, and loads of parent/teen angst. HEMLOCK GROVE is not a bad book, but I've gotta tell you: Brian McGreevy has a writing style that sometimes verges on impenetrable. There were sentences that I had to read four or five times, sometimes OUT LOUD, before I could get a rough idea of what it was he was trying to say. I couldn't decide if these passages were amateurishly written, or pretentiously written. I tend to lean towards pretentiousness. He does manage to pull off a stunning last twenty pages, taking the various story arcs to some unexpected places, despite leaving a few story threads dangling in the wind. I'm sure there will be a sequel, and I'm just interested enough to give it a try.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars- The Enemy Within

Dark Horse Comics is certainly to be commended for it's steady production of Star Wars material geared towards younger readers. I have a three-year-old Son who is crazy about Star Wars, and I wouldn't hesitate to give him a book like STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS- THE ENEMY WITHIN to read in a few years. It's a decent entry-point into comic books for a younger reader, but it was substandard from an adult point of view. I realize that it may be unfair to judge it from such a jaded perspective, but I've read plenty of Dark Horse's Clone Wars comic digests that were intended for younger readers, and enjoyed them quite a bit. This one just didn't cut it. The story was beyond predictible, the art was nondescript, and the entire package just didn't work for me.

Axe Cop, Volume Three

 As the Father of a wildly imaginative three-year-old Boy, I totally get what's going on in the mind of seven-year-old AXE COP creator Malachai Nicolle. The wildly outrageous stream-of-consciousness adventures of an axe-wielding, gleefully murderous Cop, as interpreted and illustrated by Malachai's big Brother, Ethan, are just crazy enough to bring a smile to the face of even the most jaded comic-book reader. I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that I laughed out loud, on many occasions, when reading AXE COP, VOLUME 3. That said, I do feel that the AXE COP premise works best in small doses....after 160 pages of AXE COP, there tends to be a sameness to each page. I'm not overly fond of the actual stories that the Brothers cook up, but I love the "Ask Axe Cop" pages. By all means, pick up a copy, just don't read it in one sitting.

Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes , by Chris Roberson (Writer) and Philip & Jeffrey Moy (Artists)

 Now THIS is how you do a crossover!

 DC and IDW absolutely knocked this one out of the park. I'm a casual fan of both STAR TREK and THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, but I thought this was a phenomenal, clever, perfectly executed book. Chris Roberson's script is great, and really evokes the feel of a lost episode of classic TREK (The only one I can actually say that I enjoy....), as well as Levitz/Giffen era LEGION, circa THE GREAT DARKNESS SAGA.

 Roberson's deceptively simple story find the crew of The Enterprise and a small group of Legionnaires shunted into an alternate universe, ruled by a despot that fans of both franchises will find very familiar. (The way that Roberson handled the identity of the villain was extremely sly....I had a guess, which turned out to be right, but also turned out to be wrong. Well played!) There are appearances by characters from both the DC and TREK universes, and enough action to satisfy fans of both franchises. Roberson manages to keep all of his cast acting in-character, and I can even forgive him for leaving Scotty on The Enterprise this time around. The art, by Jeffrey and Philip Moy, suits the script well....everyone looks right, and their storytelling is spot-on. I never had to stop reading and try to puzzle out what was going on because the Artist couldn't tell a story worth a damn, which happens quite frequently with more well-known Artists.

 My only complaint with the series was how abruptly it ended. Granted, it ended exactly how it needed to, but I would have been happier if the ending had a bit more "Oomph!" to it, and if the characters had a few pages together to decompress and compare notes at the end. A small complaint, but one that keeps STAR TREK/LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES one digit shy of being a perfect 10.

 The STAR TREK/LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES hardcover collects all six issues of the DC/IDW mini-series, as well as all covers and alternate covers. IDW provided a review copy of the first issue, which was good enough to make me run out and buy the hardcover. Very sneaky, IDW...very sneaky, indeed......

Brian Freeman's

 Brian Freeman (Whose excellent collection, MORE THAN MIDNIGHT was reviewed by yours truly right here) also posts links to free or discounted Horror and Mystery e-books. I've already benefited greatly from his alerts, so I figured I'd spread the word. He's going to be relaunching the e-Mystery Bargains site in a few weeks, and you can sign up for e-mail updates here. Mystery fans are bound to find signing up well worth their while.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Warlord of Mars

Aside from a few stray issues of Marvel's JOHN CARTER, WARLORD OF MARS series that I picked up when I was a kid in the mid-'70's, I haven't really had much exposure to Edgar Rice Burrough's heroic Virginia soldier. The recent movie piqued my interest enough to give Dynamite's WARLORD OF MARS series a try, though, and I'm glad I did. Comprised of the first nine issues of the series, the first volume tells of John Carter's arrival on Mars, his initial meetings with future ally Tars Tarkas and future Wife Dejah Thoris, and features more outrageous adventures and gratuitous gore and nudity than you can shake a stick at.

Having never read the source material, I can't really say how faithful this adaptation is, but Writer Arvid Nelson and Artists Stephen Sadowski and Lui Antonio have really done an outstanding job. There are some things that are intrinsic to the John Carter story that just seem, to me, anyway, patently ridiculous.....The fact that almost everyone on Mars exists in a state of nudity or near-nudity, for instance, Carter's Superman-esque abilities, I could go on and on.....Nelson makes all of these things go down easier by telling an enjoyable, straight-forward story that reminded me why comics are so much fun. The book is INCREDIBLY Gory, so I wouldn't recommend this for younger readers. In addition to the first nine issues, WARLORD OF MARS, VOLUME ONE also features a complete gallery of every regular and variant cover, a small design gallery, and an extensive section featuring John Carter's journal entries regarding Martian life and civilization. An excellent read all around. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Dinosaurs vs. Aliens, by Barry Sonnenfeld, Grant Morrison, & Mukesh Singh

 Something told me to check this out thoroughly before buying it.

 But did I listen to my inner voice?


 So here we are, nearly a year after I bought it, and I've finally read this graphic novel, which was presented as a "Done-in-one" adventure, only to find out that it's basically a prologue to a movie that will, in all likelihood, never get made.

 DINOSAURS VS. ALIENS is the brainchild of MEN IN BLACK/ADDAMS FAMILY/WILD, WILD WEST Director Barry Sonnenfeld, who, in not so many words, tells you in his foreword that he was instructed to create a graphic novel by The William Morris Agency, so they could sell it as a film. The idea was handed off to Grant Morrison, who wrote a graphic novel (Of which this must surely be the barest fraction of...) and a screenplay. The graphic novel is illustrated, beautifully, by Mukesh Singh, which is a real bright spot and kept me from tossing this in the trash out of frustration when I encountered the cliffhanger ending. Singh's art starts out amazingly detailed, but gets less so as the book goes on...You get the impression that Dynamite wanted just enough done that they could package it up and sell it as a graphic novel. I have a suspicion that this was a casualty of the death of Virgin Comics, and was left unfinished as a result, and Dynamite picked up the leftovers, which they, for one reason or another, could not manage to get finished.

 What's here is good, mainly due to Singh's art. Morrison presents Dinosaurs like we've never seen them before, and he raised a lot of questions that don't get answered, such as how the Dinosaurs manage to make such nifty, intricate headdresses....

without the benefit of opposable thumbs.

 This could have been great stuff, if it was a complete story, which it's not. If this were a film, this book would probably represent the first twenty to thirty minutes.


 As a stand-alone graphic, it's incomplete, and a rip-off, especially since there has not been a peep uttered about providing a conclusion. Fool me once, Dynamite......

The Last of The Greats, by Joshua Hale Fialkov (Writer) & Brent Peeples (Illustrator)

 THE LAST OF THE GREATS is the latest in a long line of "What if Superman went bad....?" stories, and it is certainly one of the worst I've had the misfortune to read. The Writing is bland and predictable, the art is childish, and the plot, such as it is, is inane and ugly and pointless. To make matters worse, there's the threat of a Volume 2 on the horizon.........Avoid at all costs. If you really need to find out what it would be like if Superman went bad, read IRREDEEMABLE, A GOD SOMEWHERE, or Alan Moore's MIRACLEMAN. Don't waste your money on this junk.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode

 On the surface, THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE would seem to have a lot in common with KICK-ASS, but that comparison would sell this book short. Far more than a KICK-ASS pastiche, Creators Jordan, Moore, and Sobreiro have crafted a smart, funny, horrifyingly violent adolescent power fantasy that knocked my socks off.

Luther Strode is a scrawny, bullied teen who sends away for a Charles Atlas-esque self-help book that's more than an ad for an exercise program: It's a manual designed by an Eons old murder cult, designed to recruit, train, and unleash promising candidates on an unsuspecting world. Luther soon becomes a paragon of physical perfection, and like any good nerd worth his salt, decides to go out and fight crime. To say any more would be to do this book a serious disservice. I'll just say this: It gets really dark, and incredibly violent. And it blows KICK-ASS out of the water.
More, please.

Usagi Yojimbo, Volume 26: Traitors of The Earth, by Stan Sakai

 I've been a fan of Stan Sakai's Samurai Rabbit ever since Dark Horse started publishing his adventures, and the book's masterful blend of History,Fantasy, Folklore, and whimsy still hasn't lost any of it's charm. USAGI YOJIMBO, BOOK 26: TRAITORS OF THE EARTH features a more Horrific storyline than usual (A reanimated army of corpses!), but the book is stacked with Sakai's usual array of Japanese History and Mythology, all rendered in his impeccable, intricate style. The collection features seven issues worth of Usagi's adventures, as well as two stand-alone stories from other Dark Horse books, a one-page GROO vs. USAGI strip, story notes, and a complete cover gallery, as well as an introduction, complete with illustration, by the legendary Walter Simonson. Entertaining, educational, funny, touching, and all-around excellent...I can't recommend USAGI highly enough.

Reed Gunther, Volume One: The Bear-Riding Cowboy, by Shane & Chris Houghton

 I'm a fan of weird western stories, so I was all over REED GUNTHER, VOLUME 1: THE BEAR-RIDING COWBOY when it was released. Shane & Chris Houghton's cowboy hero is a great all-ages creation, and by all-ages, I mean a great story that anyone can enjoy, not "A kid's book that an adult could read, if he had no taste at all." Reed and his Bear sidekick, Sterling, befriend a tough-as-nails cowgirl, Starla, and end up traveling cross-country trying to retrieve a magical amulet that can create monsters. The art and story work in perfect harmony, and I was reminded of, at various points in the story, the work of Jeff Smith, Guy Davis, Carl Barks, and Mike Mignola. That's high praise......REED GUNTHER is a cross between GROO and USAGI YOJIMBO, with liberal amounts of HELLBOY and BONE thrown in for good measure. I absolutely LOVED this book, and I'm counting the days until the next volume.

Killer Move, by Michael Marshall

 I'm generally not a fan of "Massive conspiracy somehow involves every single Human Being you know in an attempt to destroy your life" stories. KILLER MOVE is definitely one of those books. I found the first half of the book absolutely preposterous for just those reasons. I mean, if a co-worker pissed someone off, and that someone approached me to involve me in their weird revenge fantasy, why would I go along with it? Or how about if I went along with it and slipped the poor slob that was being targeted a note telling him "Hey, man.....(Fill-in-the-blank) is trying to destroy your life!" These massive conspiracies just defy belief. That said, Michael Marshall managed to convert me around the halfway mark. His conspiracy makes a kind of terrible, twisted sense. KILLER MOVE is the kind of book that you really need to go into with no knowledge of the plot at all. You can read the book's synopsis for that, if you're so inclined. I will give you this small warning. KILLER MOVE is ultimately tied very closely to Michael Marshall's STRAW MEN series, which I did not know going in. I own the books, but haven't read them yet, so I felt a little blindsided. I think Marshall did a great job of filling in the uninitiated....I don't feel like I missed anything, but just be prepared for a "Wha...?" moment, if you haven't read those books.

Nerves, by John Palisano

 The back cover copy of Nerves, John Palisano's debut novel, features a blurb by John Everson, which advises the reader to "Think X-Men meets Lovecraft", and that immediately had me drawing comic-book analogies: Generally, a comic book will start out with an origin story, where we learn who the various characters are, how the Hero gained his powers, how he ran afoul of the Villain(s), time and place and purpose are established....going forward, the comic-book and it's creators will assume you have at least a passing familiarity with the characters and the plot, and they generally get more and more difficult for a new reader to penetrate. If Nerves were a comic-book, it wouldn't be a first would be issue 324.

The book starts off in the middle of the action, with a character named Josiah, who can extend his nerves out of his body and use them as weapons, killing his enemy, Ogam. Then we zip over to Istanbul, where Ogam recruits Josiah's Brother, Horace, in a plot to kill a man named Leyke. Leyke and Horace team-up and kill Ogam. Leyke dies in the battle, as does Ogam. Horace, who can kill people just by being around them, hits the road with Leyke's girlfriend, who can bring life to dead things. Meanwhile, Josiah has abducted a washed-up Singer named Minnesota Flatts, and taken him on a road trip to sing to his ailing Mother. Interspersed with all of this are interludes about a guy named "The Fish Man". There's a big flood, and Josiah, Minnesota Flatts, and The Fish Man are attacked by giant, Psychic, sentient Shellfish, who give them all mysterious powers.

That's the first half of the book.


I didn't leave out any characterization, plot, backstory...nothing.

That's IT.

We are given no backstory, no context, no reason why these people act the way they do, what they want, where they're going, nothing. There are no descriptions of the characters, so they're all blank slates....Josiah and Horace are written young, but then Horace is described as old, bald, and fat. Why is this guy called "The Fish Man"...? Where did these Fish, who seem to be Lobstrosities that have wandered out of Stephen King's Dark Tower books, come from? Where did the FLOOD come from? Why do characters just drop their existing lives and go on dangerous road trips with crazy, violent people they've just met? If some guy that was just attacked by talking Fish told me "Come with me!", chances are I wouldn't go.

I have honestly never read such a perplexing book.....I was constantly flipping pages to see if my copy was misprinted, or printed out of order. It literally seemed like there were three or four books that preceded Nerves, and I was totally in the dark. It was amusing seeing how crazy Palisano could get with the characters and the situations, but after hundreds of pages of escalation without explanation, it really got tiresome.

Sunset, by Christos Gage (Writer) and Jorge Lucas (Illustrator)

Christos Gage's geezer-noir SUNSET would make a great Clint Eastwood vehicle. The story of an aging Mob thug who is drawn back into a life of violence after three relatively peaceful decades of living off the radar is just made for the big screen. On the printed page, it comes off only slightly less impressive than it would on film. Gage's writing is spot on, especially before it becomes a Senior Citizen's version of OCEANS 11. The main problem that I had was the art, by Jorge Lucas. The entire book is composed of photographic backgrounds, overlaid with photoshopped bodies, topped by crudely pasted in Celebrity heads. Nick Bellamy is Jason Statham with added wrinkles, Nick's Son jarringly alternates between Ben Affleck and Vince Vaughan, with a side of John Favreau. The most distracting character is Mob Boss Gianelli, who is illustrated using a variety of Jack Palance photos. The cobbled-together collage look of the art REALLY distracted me from the story, and lost a lot of points for the book as a whole. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Monolith

 About halfway through THE MONOLITH, I could see pretty clearly why DC canceled this book the first time around. Creators Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, with Artist Phil Winslade, have crafted a modern-day retelling of The Golem myth, set in a New York City slum, populated with hookers, junkies, thugs, murderers, and pimps. This should have been a no-brainer, but the story unfolds painfully slowly, to the point where the sheer wordiness of the book becomes nearly unbearable. Phil Winslade is a wonderful illustrator......His art does a lot of the heavy lifting by SHOWING....we really didn't need giant blocks of text to TELL us what we're seeing. Image's hardcover collects the first three issues, and I cannot for the life of me imagine the thought process behind a massive hardcover that collects three issues of a twelve issue canceled series, especially when a huge chunk of those twelve issues CAN'T be collected, due to their featuring DC's Batman. As it stands, THE MONOLITH is an overlong curiosity that is sure to disappoint new readers......Even if you like this first volume, subsequent volumes will only re-present part of the tale. Go hunt through the back-issue bins, and you can get the whole series for a fraction of the price of this hardcover.

 Addendum: I posted this review on last Summer, and a few months after I posted it, I received an e-mail from Amazon alerting me that Monolith co-creator Jimmy Palmiotti left the following comment about the review:

"To correct, it is over 80 pages of story since the first issue was a double issue. It is printed in a larger size for feature the artwork and has the highest quality printing and cover stock . The rest will be collected in Volume 2 and without Batman, since the story has been reworked. The price point is equal and even less than other hardcovers of this size and page count."

 For some reason, the Palmiotti post vanished from Amazon the next day.....I'm not sure if Amazon took it down for some reason, or if Mr. Palmiotti himself removed it. Either way, I don't see anything wrong with his comments, and I certainly appreciated his response. I still stand by my initial review: I thought it was extremely overpriced for the page count. To date, there has been no Volume 2, so I'm probably not alone in my thinking. Interested parties can get the back issues dirt-cheap on Amazon or e-bay.

Conan: The Daughters of Midora and Other Stories

 CONAN: THE DAUGHTERS OF MIDORA AND OTHER STORIES collects various odds and ends (A One-shot, a mini-series, and a story from MySPACE DARK HORSE PRESENTS, as well as a story from (!!), and one brand-new tale), to varying effect. The art ranges from barely suitable to atrocious, and the writing isn't much better. I've been reading CONAN since the mid-1970's, and everything here has that "Been there, done that" feel to it, and I've certainly seen it done better. The opening story, by Tim and Ben Truman and Marian Churchland is probably the best of the bunch. The titular DAUGHTERS OF MIDORA reads and looks like a Marvel Comics fill-in issue from the mid-'80's. I've always enjoyed Mark Texeira's art, but his storytelling ability is as atrocious as ever. The next two stories, by Ron Marz and Bart Sears, fare slightly better...I've enjoyed Marz and Sears' work before, and Marz spins a fun couple of stories here. Sears has evolved slightly from his early '90's musclebound style, and his storytelling is greatly improved. That said, their two stories were decent, but seemed better due to the poor company they were in. The book is rounded out by a new Michael Avon Oeming story, which was decent, but suffered from the same malady as the rest of the book: CONAN, especially in the comic-book format, has been done to death. We've seen it all before, and unless you bring your A-game, you're going to get lost in the shuffle. This collection is standard, workmanlike CONAN......a decent time-waster, but nothing to get excited about.


 WIZZYWIG: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL HACKER has hacked it's way into my heart as the best Graphic Novel that I read in 2012. Writer/Artist Ed Piskor's amazingly engrossing account of Hacker Kevin "Boingthump" Phenicle's rise and fall is hilarious, touching, scary, educational, informative, and above all, masterfully written and illustrated. Piskor starts the book by dedicating it to the reader, who are "literally and figuratively, holding my past, my present, and my future in the palms of your hands." If WIZZYWIG: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL HACKER is any indication, there won't be much to worry about in the future....I predict Ed Piskor will become one of the biggest names in independent comics thanks to this book, and I can't wait to see what he has in store for his fans next.

Kevin Smith's The Bionic Man, Volume 1: Some Assembly Required

 Dynamite continues in the vein of their GREEN HORNET series by adapting another unfilmed Kevin Smith screenplay. This time it's THE BIONIC MAN, VOLUME ONE: SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, with Phil Hester and Jonathan Lau adapting Smith's screenplay into a perfectly serviceable Michael Bay-style action thriller. Fans of the seventies TV show will find a lot of familiar bits here, as Smith hits all of the expected bases: Test Pilot Steve Austin is nearly killed in a plane crash, and is rebuilt using Bionics. (He's still a "Six Million Dollar Man", except now it's six million PER DAY....) He's drafted into Government service, and soon runs afoul of his deranged predecessor, Avery Hull, who has concocted a plan to use bionically-enhanced corpses to conquer the world.

Thumbs up to Dynamite for collecting Smith's entire ten-issue run in one volume, rather than going for the cash-grab (Which they did with GREEN HORNET...) and splitting it into two volumes. This is a massive book, and includes all ten issues, all of the covers and variants, and a good-sized Alex Ross sketchbook in the back. That said, the story didn't do much for me. I was a little taken aback by seeing all of the gratuitous cursing and extreme violence that Smith included. I would have expected a more PG-13 type of book, considering how THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN used to be a very kid-friendly show. It seemed very out of place. Smith's story is almost slavishly by-the-book, hitting all of the beats of the TV show, and including a ton of winking in-jokes. I had a real problem with Jonathan Lau's artwork.....he is NOT a very good storyteller, and there were quite a few times that I found myself staring at the art unsure about what was going on. His figures and faces all have a sameness to them that makes it difficult to tell characters apart at times. Kevin Smith's BIONIC MAN wasn't a terrible book, but it veered closer to terrible than it did to readable. Mediocre stuff, at best. A talented Director could have made a good film out of this....on the page, it just kind of lies there, a book barely alive, wishing it could be rebuilt into something better, stronger, faster.....

Peter Panzerfaust, Volume 1: The Great Escape

 The concept of PETER PANZERFAUST is a solid, intriguing one: Peter Pan, retold during World War II. Devoid of Fantasy elements, THE GREAT ESCAPE tells how a group of young orphans fall into the orbit of a young American boy named Peter, who will eventually mold them into a fighting force to oppose the German war machine. The book hits all of the familiar notes, from the appearance of The Darling Family to a run in with their own Captain Hook. (The book almost seems like something Jack Kirby could have cooked up to go along with THE NEWSBOY LEGION...) The downfall here is the atrocious art, by Tyler Jenkins. Literally everyone in the book has THE SAME LONG, NARROW FACE....differentiated only by hairdos. Peter has a huge ducktail, there's afro-kid, blonde-kid, kids with various shades of brown was impossible to tell the characters apart, and by the end, it was tough to keep slogging through the book, which is a shame, because it has a great premise and good writing. A real missed opportunity.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

MORE THAN MIDNIGHT, by Brian James Freeman

 Brian James Freeman is the Managing Editor of Cemetery Dance Magazine and the Publisher of Lonely Road Books, as well as being an accomplished Editor and Author. His novella, THE PAINTED DARKNESS, was met with critical and commercial acclaim a few years back. Cemetery Dance published a collection of his short stories late in 2012, MORE THAN MIDNIGHT, and there's not a dud in the bunch.

 Beneath the beautiful painted cover (By Vincent Chong), you'll encounter five short stories, all previously published between 2003 and 2011, that showcase Freeman's mastery of the form. (While all of the stories have already seen print, Freeman has revised them all for this collection.) Each story features an accompanying illustration by the great Glenn Chadbourne, who is probably best known for his work on Stephen King's illustrated SECRETARY OF DREAMS volumes, also published by Cemetery Dance. Freeman's stories run the gamut from Ghost stories ("What They Left Behind") to dark revenge fantasies ("The Final Lesson" and "Pulled Into Darkness"), but they all feature Freeman's usual excellent characterization. His characters are not just pawns moving through the stories, but living, breathing people that you can't help but care about, which is a real accomplishment for stories that average about twenty pages each.

 Cemetery Dance published MORE THAN MIDNIGHT in two states: A 750 copy hardcover limited edition, and a 26 copy lettered edition; Both states are signed by Freeman, Chadbourne, and Michael Koryta, who provides the introduction. The book is sold-out from the Publisher, but Amazon currently has 2 copies available, and you may be able to find some for sale by Bad Moon Books or Camelot Books.

 Highly recommended.