Jonah Hex #31 (DC)
by Sean Fahey

Jonah Hex makes me think. No kidding. That’s one of the reasons why I love the book. It actually makes me think, each and every issue, about the concept of justice. I’m a lawyer. I stand in front of judges and tell them why certain people should be put in jail, and why certain acts should be punished. To send a message. To deter criminal activity. Because society demands it. Punishment for punishments sake. Retribution. These principals guide us in how we punish. But when you work in a system that, by and large, only incarcerates and fines criminals, you wonder sometimes whether a result is just. How is it that an 18 year old can spend a couple of years in a maximum security prison for having a few joints on him, when predatory accountants and stock brokers get a few months at a country club for raiding pension funds and cooking their books, destroying the retirements of thousands of people?

I think about these concepts a lot, often frustrated by the lack of creativity in our justice system. So, in a way, Jonah Hex is somewhat cathartic for me. The punishment fits the crime — even if it’s as simple as a bullet to the head. Month after month, one and done tales about western justice…a very unique brand of western justice.

You could argue that it’s simple concept, but series writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray manage to keep it engaging with fully realized villains and secondary characters, and brutal, no-holds barred action scenes. The latest issue is no exception, and I was particularly knocked away by a savagely hard-core fight between Hex and a group of Apache, expertly rendered by guest artist Pauolo Siqueira. What’s more, this issue features the worst kind of villain – someone that steals from the downtrodden – so I found the resolution of this issue particularly satisfying.

A very good issue of a great series – DC’s best, actually.

Transformers Movie Sequel: The Reign of Starscream #1 (IDW)
by Max Patterson 

Before we go any further, let’s get a few things straight. Yes, I was a fan of Transformers as a kid and yes, I did have a ton of the toys (My favorite was definitely Dreadwing, a bad-ass stealth bomber who shot missiles, usually at my cat. Now that was a toy!). I also saw the new Michael Bay flick, and while it certainly had its problems, overall I thought it was a fine successor to what was in all honesty a pretty goofy series. I was fine with the new spiky look of the bots, and while the new movie obviously couldn’t hold a candle to the original (You’ve got the touch! You’ve got the pow-er!), it was a decent action flick in its own right. The point I’m trying to make is that when pointing out what an epic failure this comic is, I’m doing so solely on its own merits (or lack thereof).

Of course any reasonable person would realize the chances that this comic was actually going to be good were slim to none; after all, it’s a tie-in targeted at a ravenous fan base that would probably buy a transforming salad shooter if it had an Autobot logo stamped on it. The thing is though, it is possible for creative people to rise above even the hokiest license to deliver something worthwhile, and in some cases, exceptional. Look at the Lego Star Wars games if you don’t believe me. Unfortunately, that creative spark is missing entirely from this title. Lets start with the writing. Wonder twins Chris Mowry and Chris Ryall provide the jibba-jabba for this book, and considering this is the only title I’ve read recently with two writers, I figured it would obviously be twice as good as your average comic. Here’s a riddle for ya; how many Chris’s does it take to competently write a Transformers tie-in book? More than two apparently, as the writing here could charitably be described as workmanlike. It’s not terrible, but it’s incredibly stilted and does nothing to help the reader identify with the characters. Part of the charm of the original series was the unique, over-the-top personality of the robots, something that’s totally lacking here. All the characters blend together into a generic villain mash, and there’s nothing to differentiate one guy from the other. I loved the whining, conniving Starscream of the old cartoon, and while his new incarnation may be more competent, he isn’t half as entertaining.

Alex Milne’s art and Josh Perez’s colors are decent, but again suffer from a bad case of the generic. Part of the problem lies in the design of the bots, as to the untrained eye they all look very similar. In large part that can be blamed on the new look adopted from the movies; what worked on the big-screen doesn’t really translate well to comics. While the old cartoon’s style was much simpler, it made it a a heck of a lot easier to tell who was who. It wasn’t a big deal when these guys were splashed across a movie screen, but trying to cram a bunch of these insanely detailed robots into a single panel results in a lot of samey-ness. There’s also a real problem with portraying emotion, as the lack of human faces on the majority of the robots gives them a uniformly blank look. Again, the movies worked because emotion could be conveyed through movement, but here Milne is forced to rely on the writing to provide most of the emotional impact, a hopeless endeavor.

While neither the art or the writing is very impressive, I’m willing to give the team some credit for making the best of a bad situation. For some reason I can’t fathom, IDW decided to use this issue as a set-up for the entire series, and as a result we get both the lead-up to the movie as well as the movie itself, all condensed into a single issue. It’s nuts, and results in a bunch of disjointed scenes with zero cohesion or flow. I think it’s safe to say anyone buying this comic is going to have seen the flick, so this whole issue feels like a waste of everyone’s time. I’d say its unfair to even review the comic if this was some free giveaway for the actual series, but since IDW chose to slap a price on this bad-boy, it’s fair game. It’s a shame, because given the right team (and some room to work), this could have been an entertaining series. As is though, this is simply licensed garbage, and easily filed under fanboys only.


The Facts in The Case of the Departure of Miss Finch (Graphic Novel) (Dark Horse)
by Jeb D.

The Facts in The Case of the Departure of Miss Finch is the latest repurposing of an old Neil Gaiman story into a new graphic novel, in this case the original is a short story from his Fragile Things collection. The new script is an adaptation by letterer Todd Klein (that’s one way for letterers to get more of the credit they deserve!), with painted art by Michael Zulli (once one of Gaiman’s Sandman collaborators).

The story’s classic Gaiman: young moderns in London and their encounter with the spiritual realm that underlies the world they think they know.

Like much of Sandman, the story is not so much about questions and answers, as it is impressions, feelings, color. In its original story form, it has the matter-of-fact disquiet of one of Poe’s less sanguinary efforts (William Wilson, say); brought to life in Zulli’s lush paints, it loses some of its sense of mystery, but it makes up for that by presenting its ambiguous ending entirely straight-faced: Zulli’s work is most impressive in giving flesh and life to a concept that, once visualized, could easily have been bland or just too on-the-nose.

I won’t go into too much story detail, so as not to spoil the fairly slight plot: our unnamed narrator is a blocked American writer, in London to get away and restore his muse. He’s contacted by a pair of old friends who desperately need him to complete a reluctant foursome: he’s to be a sort of blind date to one of their acquaintances, the evidently unwelcome “Miss Finch.” Naturally he agrees, and when we finally do meet Miss Finch, she’s certainly difficult and abrasive. But as the evening progresses from cab ride to sushi restaurant to a visit to a most unusual and mysterious “circus,” Miss Finch begins to interest, then perhaps nearly charm, our narrator. And that’s when…

Well, as I say, I’ll let you read it for yourself. Even if you already know the original story, Zulli’s painting, which veers from the mundane to the macabre to the sublime and back again, will delight you. And while I’d always relish new original comics work from Gaiman, it’s hard to complain about an adaptation as well-crafted as this one.


Tor #1 (of 6) (DC)
by Sean Fahey

Come on. A lone caveman warrior. Dinosaurs and bizarre mutant creatures. All courtesy of the legendary Joe Kubert. If this type of pulp fantasy doesn’t get you excited, check your pulse. I mean, this is a self-declared “Prehistoric Odyssey.” Self-declared!

It takes an odd combination of cojones and camp factor to call your book a “Prehistoric Odyssey,” to have those words etched in a large rock next to the titular character as he walks by. It grabbed me. It grabbed me in a way that said – this is all you need to know about this book, and you’re either going to love it or hate it.

Well, needless to say, I loved it. I love that DC put this book out, on the same day they put out The War That Time Forgot no less. In a small way it shows a growing commitment to something other than superheroes. That’s not a slam on capes. That’s just a comment that there is a whole lot of room, and a very large appetite, for diversity in this medium.

There’s room for a prehistoric odyssey.

Kubert is really on his game here. The layouts. The pacing. The composition. The expressions captured in the titular character’s face. In fact, Kubert is so on his game visually here that I actually think the book would be more compelling without the narrative. Just the pictures. The images in this book are so visceral and compelling that they transcend the language.

A prehistoric warrior on his own. A man of action. His journey – both physical and spiritual – through a bizarre lands. His odyssey. We need more comics like this.


Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #50 (Broadsword Comics)
by Max Patterson

(WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! The following review contains descriptions of adult situations and themes which may not be appropriate for younger readers, elderly readers, discriminating male or female readers, conservatives, religious fanatics or the Amish. Also, I had to think of like 1,000 different euphemisms for boobs, so if that offends you, well, too bad. Oh, and I better not catch anyone reading this with one hand!)
Brought to you by Jim Balent’s Broadsword Comics, Jim Balent’s Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose – A Jim Balent Production, is the story of a woman scorned by the outside world, misunderstood because of her magical talents and unique appearance, forced to contend with the reputation cast upon her by an overzealous sibling, all the while struggling to deal with the machinations of a maniacal despot bent on ruling the enchanted land with an iron fist. Oh wait, that’s the plot from the popular book Wicked. Tarot is the story of a chick with huge ta-ta’s, who divides her time equally between being naked and being the world’s most ineffective super-hero. Look, I should probably point out that as a rule, I’m generally a fan of the kind of exploitative, low-brow schlock that Tarot tries to be. I read Heavy Metal Magazine, I’ve read all the Conan books, and I still have a huge crush on Julie Strain, Queen of the B-Movie. Sure it’s juvenile and often clichéd, but the truth is that sometimes it’s OK for escapist entertainment to aim for the lowest common denominator. Call me a chauvinistic bastard (whoops, too late), but sometimes I enjoy watching attractive women fighting monsters in skimpy clothing. Alright? I said it. And before I get any nasty e-mails from you ladies out there, just beware the pendulum swings both ways. I’ve read a Harlequin novel or two in my time (purely for research purposes), so I’m well aware that ogling the opposite sex is not a past-time reserved solely for men. We just don’t need a lot of fancy words. The thing is though, as trashy as that type of entertainment is, there’s certain redeeming values that make them appealing. Sometimes its great art, or a sense of humor; other times it’s a wacky aesthetic, or an interesting female lead. Tarot has none of these qualities, with a combination of horrifying artwork and bland writing which ensures that any fun to be had is of the unintentional variety.

Here’s an untouched excerpt from the book’s opening, a direct address to the reader from our buxom heroine: “Sex is not taboo to me. It is sacred, as well as pleasurable, whether by my own hands or those of others.” Wow, kind of takes the mystery out of the whole thing, huh? The problem isn’t the idea of a sexual liberated character; it’s that everything in this book from dialog to backstory is presented with all the subtlety of a brick to the face. See, apparently Tarot was given a deck of Tarot cards as a child, cards which now appear before her in times of trouble. Before you ask, yes, the cards feature naked women, which may explain why Tarot appears to be a practicing nudist and nymphomaniac (and why I still dress up as a Transformer before going on dates). Anyway, up pops the justice card, and low and behold, a moral dilemma suddenly reveals itself! What’s more, the card shows up a third time at the end of the story, in case you missed out on the underlying message here. It’s stupid, and what’s worse, it’s just one in a litany of stupid plot points littered throughout this comic. Take for instance the moral dilemma itself; a human family is being kidnapped by a representative of the fairy world, tasked with maintaining magical balance blah, blah, blah. Anyway, apparently the family’s deviant son has been snuffing fairies, and now it’s time to pay up. The parents refuse, claiming the killing was accidental, because apparently the kid thought they were butterflies. Bear in mind, this kid looks at least 14, so that’s a shaky story at best. What seals the deal though is when the kid actually hands over the glass jar with the fairy in it. Anyone see where this is going? That’s right, there’s a dead topless (though oddly, not pantless) blue woman, complete with wings, lying asphyxiated at the bottom of the jar. Let’s see if we can spot the ways that our junior entomologist could have told the difference:

1.The fairy has human legs, arms, hair and facial features, things noticeably missing from most butterflies
2.The fairy has tits, again something not possessed by your average butterfly (I think)
3.The fairy is wearing pants, and it’s a well-known fact that butterflies only wear kilts
4.The fairy is approximately 4-6 inches tall, and any butterfly that big is an affront to nature and decency

If that wasn’t enough to fry the little bastard, he’s also got three more of the things pinned to a frame, again all clearly not butterflies, and also clearly topless, which is really classy considering two of them are 95% skeleton (seriously Balent, wtf?). The whole thing’s dumb as hell, and if Balent’s trying to present a complex moral dilemma, it’s not working. It’s twisted, depressing and generally unappealing, and considering the most rational and intelligent character is ostensibly the antagonist, you have to wonder just what Balent’s goal is. It’s a little tough to address serious themes when your main character is walking around in a see-thru battle thong. There’s not even any action, as the sole fight scene is one panel of Tarot getting stabbed in the leg. The rest is talking and nudity, and considering how inept Balent is at both, it makes for a dreary read. When the main character starts talking about her sister’s teenage struggle with over-sized jumblies, you’d like to think he’s being factitious, but Balent plays the whole thing totally straight. Either he realizes the only people who buy this crap for the story are 15 year old goths, or he’s got his head stuck so far up his ass he can’t hear people telling him what a shitty writer he is. I mean it’s a cheesecake fantasy book for Pete’s sake, a chimp could write it!

To be fair though, Balent is primarily known as an artist, so at least the book scores some points there right? HAHAHAHAHAHA, no. When it comes to bad art, Rob Liefeld is usually held up as the shining pinnacle of imperfection, each drawing he produces a veritable laundry list of how not to draw human anatomy. Yet while Balent is clearly the superior artist, in many ways his work is far more unappealing than Liefeld’s mangled scribblings. How so you ask? Well, while Liefeld’s art may make a mockery of human anatomy, for the most part be viewed without a palatable sense of unease and revulsion. Not so with Balent’s work; every (and I mean every) human character is a terrifying abomination. The problem lies in the fact that Balent is able to draw people that are just realistic enough to avoid being cartoon, but not so realistic as to look, well, good. The end results are creatures that combine the features and anatomy of Real Dolls with the smooth, airbrushed look of a flesh colored marshmallow. The dumbass family are the worst offenders, a fact made all the more unsettling when it’s revealed they’re based on actual people (who I can only pray didn’t know what they were posing for when they agreed to this). Anyone who considers this arousing either has the world’s most active libido, or is blind. It’s like Balent has never actually seen a woman, and is drawing them based solely on description alone (“They’re uh, round and, uh kind of smooth. With big jugs.”). Yet as easy as it is to get lost in the larger horrifying picture, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the other special techniques Balent uses to make the art just that much worse. The women all walk on their toes (as if wearing invisible heels), joints bend at odd angles and yes, the classic broken spine technique is back in all it’s glory, all of which is obviously intended to keep the character’s assets and asses in view at all time. What’s really said though is that both Balent and wife/colorist Holly Golightly (who also poses nude dressed as Tarot, in case you’re interested), clearly have the ability to draw competently. Thornwic, the fairy lord, is actually quite well done, with actually shading and textures that make him look more like an actual character and less like a blow-up doll (although it’s hilarious that while Tarot prances around in her underwear, Thornwic wears enough clothes for three people). Sure Thornwic’s not perfect (with the exception of his rockin’ codpiece), but if the rest of the comic were drawn with a similar level of detail I might at least be able to call it decent. As it stands though, you’re best bet is to just close your eyes and try and gouge out your brain.

Look, I obviously never expected much from Tarot, but I at least thought there might be potential for some campy humor, or half-decent honkers. Instead what I got was a comic so devoid of appeal, it’s not even worth flipping through as a joke. This IS the bottom of the barrel, and while I’m sure this comic is going to go on and sell a bazillion copies, I’m begging you fellow nerds; don’t buy this crap. Go pick up Heavy Metal, or rent Barbarella or hell, even watch some Xena if you have to. Unfortunately the technology does not yet exist that would allow me to travel back in time and save my past self the agony of reading this garbage, but for you, it’s not too late.

One-half out of 5 Vikings.
(But only because it didn’t give me a paper cut while I was reading it)