REVIEWED THIS WEEK:
- Batman/Ra’s Al Ghul Year One #1
- Hawkman #41
- Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #192
- The Cisco Kid #1
- The Thief of Always #1
- Super F*ckers #1
- JLA #115
- New Warriors #1

Attention Comic Book Creators – Got a Book You Want to Submit to Us for Review? Fire Away, We’re Open for Business

From time to time we’ll get a book or two from a creator asking for a review, and from time to time we’ve reviewed them. Up until now it’s been strictly a casual thing. But I’d like to change that.

Why?

I want to give good material a chance, those hidden gems that you won’t read about in Wizard but that deserve the shot. I guess I think this column could take page out of Dave Davis’ Underground (HERE), where our favorite Bostonian reserves space strictly for small-scale creators – people who could get a real boost from the kind of exposure a site like CHUD can provide.

I want to bring back a sense of purpose to the column. I think we do a great job directing people’s attention to books they may not have noticed, but I think we can more in that area, especially for smaller and independent publishers.

So, you got a book that you want us to look at? Give me a shout at scfahey@yahoo.com and we’ll what we can do to help you out.

First Look: Grayson’s “Batman” Mini is Long on Title, Short on Art

By Russell Paulette

 Thankfully, DC has the same savvy marketing philosophy that Marvel seems to: produce superfluous titles that tangentially tie-in to movie releases and wait for the crossover potential.  This week brings us Devin Grayson and Paul Gulacy’s offering in Batman/Ra’s al Ghul: Year One # 1 which, in addition to holding the distinction of being an awkward title, is a solid opener to a two-issue prestige mini-series.

The Year One is a bit of a misnomer, though, as Grayson’s story is steeped heavily in some present Bat-events, namely following on the heels of Greg Rucka’s Ra’s mini from last year, Death & The Maidens. The front story involves a post-dated letter from Ra’s to Batman sent from beyond the grave, and filled with signs and portents.  In effect, Ra’s has done something to Gotham to make everyone in town not die.  Logic plays out the rest of the plot, and is counter-played against flashbacks of Ra’s in feudal Japan and a peach whose juices bear the secret of immortality.

No, I’m not kidding.  I’ll give you a second to re-read that last clause.

Back?  Well, rest assured, it’s not nearly as dodgy as that description sounds, as Grayson plays it all with a straight face and pulls it off rather nicely.  Ra’s takes center stage in the narrative—it’s the text of his letter that drives the bulk of the story, and the flashbacks somehow feel more important than the a-plot with Batman—and Grayson seems to have a good grasp of the character.  At this point in the narrative, I don’t see the benefit for Ra’s and his hair brained zombie-scheme, but it makes for some creepy moments overall and, I would wager, is going to be explicated in part two.

Gulacy’s art, on the other hand, is a bit of a stumbling block.  I’ve never quite been one to understand the allure of his artwork—he’s spoken of rather fondly in industry circles—and this issue does little to change my opinion.  His storytelling is certainly solid-if-under-whelming, and he’s obviously a competent draftsman, but there are little places here and there where things just look ugly and it baffles me why he gets so much attention.  It’s also considerably frustrating when, for every three ugly renderings, there’re one or two panels that are simply gorgeous.  I don’t know—maybe I’m missing something, but I just don’t get it.  A plus for his art, though, are that the flashback sequences set in feudal Japan are rendered with a delicate touch, and it’s perhaps here that most of the beauty of his art shines through. 

For an obvious tie-in, you could do a lot worse than this pairing.  It might just be the right answer to your Ra’s al Ghul jones after seeing the movie opening night, but don’t expect much tete-a-tete on the page since he’s, y’know, dead.  Of course, this is comics we’re talking about, so bugger all. 

THREE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

3

First Look: Latest “Hawkman” Makes a New Beginning for the Title and the Mythos

By Devon Sanders

 Any guy who repeatedly smacks Green Arrow in the head with a mace is aces in my book. Did mention that’s why I love Hawkman? You’ve gotta love this guy! Who can’t love a guy who’s been reincarnated as a pharaoh, a gunslinger, an archaeologist and an intergalactic space-cop who’s son just happens to be the current Doctor Fate and his also happens to be Daniel, the current King of Dreams, The Sandman. Hell of a family to marry into, huh? A former beat cop from the planet Thanagar, Katar Hol, Hawkman was usually portrayed as The Justice League’s “enforcer,” a role more often than not leading to internal conflict with his fellow Leaguers, especially the sometimes overbearing and oft-times condescending Emerald Archer, Green Arrow. I especially love this character because he’s the character I get compared to most of all. Like the current incarnation of Hawkman, archaeologist Carter Hall, I’ve been known to calmly speak of art and then the next minute, attempt to smack someone in the head with a hammer. (A true story. Sit me down and I’ll tell it to you sometime.) This Wednesday, with Hawkman # 41 the adventures of Hawkman come to an end, heralding the one constant in the Hawkman mythos: a new beginning.

Long forgotten villains from Hawkman’s Golden and Silver Age past have united for a singular purpose: the death of Hawkman. Reeling after being drugged by the rogues into beating Hawkgirl nearly half to death, Hawkman wants his revenge and he’s brought along the once thought-for-dead former Teen Titan, the high-flying Golden Eagle. With the odds against them, they fight back the villains among them, The Fadeaway Man, Lasso, Lionmane, Hummingbird and the grotesque halflings, the Manhawks. Mace and knife drawn, a final rush is made, one signaling a sea change and as crazy and clichéd as it may sound, nothing and everything will be the same, again.

Writers Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti (look for them with DC Comics’ upcoming re-launch of Jonah Hex) prove to be more-than-worthy predecessors to Hawkman’s former scribe, Geoff Johns. I commend them in their wise usage of Hawkman’s history in order to tell a story rich in detail and characterization, while heavy on action and surprises. Hawkman fans, new and old, will find something to be fascinated by with every turn of the page.

Artist Joe (Birds Of Prey) Bennett has the unenviable task of following former Hawkman artists, Rags (Identity Crisis) Morales and Ryan (Seven Soldiers: Zatanna) Soot. While not classically as beautiful as the above artists, Bennet’s art is exactly what this book needs. He draws some of the most ferocious imagery in comics and oddly enough, draws one heck of a gal. He lays out a page to its’ maximum benefit especially well when he shows a character in flight. He’s an artist who fully understands that it takes a different skills set to draw different types of action haracters in, well, action.

With Hawkman # 41 we get a comic hitting on all the right notes. With it’s ending, we get a new beginnings coupled with the promise of something bigger and greater and that’s what you want from a comic.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

4

Johnson, Williams and Fisher Cast a Cold Snap on Batman in “Snow”

By Russell Paulette

 Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight has always been strongest when the arcs fit that initial vision of premiere creators offering a unique and interesting interpretation on Batman.  Those first few years spearheaded by Archie Goodwin saw a lot of the same structural features in play—the one-word titles, the five-chapter structure, the unusual pairing of writer/artist, the reuniting of an old creative team.  In its heyday, LODK was fondly remembered, and with each new issue it seems to change format—shift, then shift back.

With issue #192, and the beginning of J.H. Williams, Dan Curtis Johnson and Seth Fisher’s arc, “Snow” (as well as a legion of editors, according to the credits box), the title’s back on that model—at least for the time being.  So, is it any good?

Well, my geek button was pushed when I heard that the team from the long-forgotten series, Chase, was being reunited—at least on the writing end of it.  Williams is facing an artistic renaissance these days, bouncing from this Alan Moore project, to that Grant Morrison one, so his nibs are busy on other stuff.  Johnson hasn’t seen much action since his Chase work, but it’s awfully nice to see him behind the keyboard again, particularly in this story, where he gets to show off some of his scripting chops.

The story, in classic Legends fashion, focuses on the Year One Batman era, with the Dark Knight still making mistakes and missteps.  Here, he was shot up while chasing a small-time hood, and after a quick sealant job by Alfred, retraces his steps.  Meanwhile, a certain doctor named Victor Fries, is developing a cryogenic project with possible military applications, all while learning of his wife’s terminal diagnosis.  Those with a minor in Bat-historiology will recognize these as elements of a Mr. Freeze re-imagining, and I’ve no doubt this is the route Johnson and Williams will be taking us.  The plus of the script is that it’s really sharp dialogue, really nice scenes, and some entertaining interplay between Batman and Gordon, Batman and Dent, and particularly in developing Fries as an interesting and tragic figure.  Playing on the audience’s expectations doesn’t hurt the script either, but if you’re coming at it with fresh eyes, I’m sure you’d be able to see the foreshadowed doom.

One of the real draws of this issue, though, is Seth Fisher’s artwork—which is a weird amalgam of Geoff Darrow-esque detail work, with some sixties psychedelia thrown in for fun.  From the bunnies on Alfred’s pajamas, to the curls in Scotta’s afro, to the stippled texture of Batman’s Band-Aids, Fisher seems to delight in these small, quirky, telling details.  Added to that are moments, like the panel of Gordon fuming at Batman so hard that streams of multi-colored smoke come pouring out of his ears, looking like a bizarre scene missing from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.  Fisher’s the real delight, here, no doubt about it.

All-in-all, you’re just looking at the start of a really good Batman arc.  From the smart, intelligent writing to the strange, quirky art, all of it comes together to make an attractive package.  The other thing this issue does particularly well is accomplishing something that you wouldn’t expect from a Batman comic: and that’s being a comic first, and letting the chips fall where they may. 

FIVE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

“The Cisco Kid” Successfully Evokes the Best Elements of the Western

By Sean Fahey

 Guilt is a fascinating theme, and there are few vehicles better for an exploration of guilt than the Western protagonist.  His pathos is tailor-made for such dark excursions.  The tragic past that continues to haunt him, in large part because he refuses to let go of it.  The terrible loneliness that gets mistaken for independence.  The propensity for trouble that borders on a death wish.  He’s a classic archetype for a reason, and one that we could stand to see more of.

Though not without its faults, Moonstone Comic’s The Cisco Kid does a very good job of honoring the classic themes and archetypes of the Western.  Inspired by characters created by O. Henry, the story follows the later adventures of the mysterious gunslinger and his struggle to finally come to terms with the personal loss he has suffered and the guilt he carries with him. Typical of the genre, what begins as a quest for revenge becomes an opportunity for redemption, as The Kid stumbles upon a ring of kidnappers and slavers trafficking in young children.  Even an SOB as troubled as the Kid knows what the right thing to do is.  But can a man so consumed with the past and defined by a guilty conscious ever truly make peace with himself?

By their nature, Westerns aren’t usually plot-heavy.  They’re character pieces, and writer Jim Duffy skillfully conveys the depth and richness of The Kid’s dark personality without making the character too burdensome or overbearing.  There’s a great inner conflict there in that he almost wants to be perceived as reprehensible, but is instead morally ambiguous if not reluctantly noble.  Nothing new to the genre, granted.  But it’s well executed, and Duffy’s gritty, hard period dialogue is well crafted, helping flesh out the characters and contextualize the setting.

My only real complaint with the book is the pacing.  There’s no real sense of timing or distance, as the characters periodically seem to suddenly appear in new locales without any exposition or framing sequence establishing the transition.  It’s mildly annoying, but not so much that it detracts from the overall quality of the book or its visual aesthetic, which is impressive.  Artist Jerry DeCaire’s linework evokes the grittiness of Joe Kubert, and the majority of his page layouts are intelligently constructed – a fresh mix of splash pages, a diverse use of panel sizes, some nice close-ups and a good use of open space that conveys both the expansiveness of the West and The Kid’s own isolation.   Worth a shot.

The first volume of The Cisco Kid (“Hell’s Gates”) is currently available in comic shops and directly at www.moonstonebooks.com. 

THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

3 and a half

Maybe Clive Barker’s “The Thief Of Always” Will Jump Start a Second Career for the Famous Author

By Rob Glenn

 I have always said that Clive Barker should be writing for comics.  Not just comics in general, but superhero comics specifically.  His style lends itself perfectly to a moody vengeance-dealing vigilante.  If you’ve read enough of his work you tend to see a pattern of characters that are somehow on a level superior to most humans.  In his book The Damnation Game, characters have the ability to bend chance to their will.  Fans of Marvel will see a comparison to Longshot.  Cabal is about mutants born with amazing abilities.  Barker’s most famous work, the Hellraiser series, was originally about people who strive for the ultimate sensory experience.  If they were worthy enough they would be led to the puzzle box where inter-dimensional beings would help them with their goal.  Very comic book.

The three part miniseries The Thief of Always is based on the Clive Barker novel of the same name originally released in 1992.  It isn’t the superhero story I’m pining for, but rather an interesting angle on a Ronald Dahl style of story.  Children are always wishing that time would speed up for them.  Immediately after one holiday is over with, they long for the next.  That’s why Mr. Hood’s Holiday House seems like a children’s paradise.  In Mr. Hood’s mansion beyond the Mist Wall, every day is a full rotation of the seasons.  You can play outside all midday during summer vacation then dress up for Halloween and finish your day with Christmas presents.  Harvey Swick is a boy who tires of his life and longs for every day to be filled with adventure.  At first when he enters the Holiday House he is as ecstatic as the next child, but Harvey figures out that the magic comes with a price.  It doesn’t take much detective work to see what happens to you when every day is a compressed 365.

The original book was already illustrated in keeping with its all-ages appeal.  Barker is an artist with the paint and brush as well as the printed page.  This graphic novel in three parts is more of a Reader’s Digest version of the story with a reimagining of the visuals.  Gabriel Hernandez’s art is a sketchy pencil affair with what looks almost like watercolor overlay.  His version of the supernatural creatures that are employed at the house are creepy and just this side of disturbing.  It complements Barker’s work well.  Like the story, Hernandez’s art isn’t toned down for the kiddies but rather constructed with a more innocent look at storytelling.

Clive Barker’s work translates well into graphic novel form.  It would be really something if he shines to this presentation of his work and begins to write original stories for comics.

THREE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

3

There’s Nothing F*cking Super About “Super F*ckers”

By Graig Kent

 I can’t say whether James Kolchaka is one of those "Indie Comics" types that always puts down the mainstream for their copious amounts of superhero output, but I suspect that there are a few hundred indie comics snobs out there that took a collective Vader-esque cry of "Nooooooooo" when Top Shelf Productions solicited the artist’s Super F*ckers.  Yup, for all their praising and damning and complaining about the industry, it seems that every indie comic creator really wants to do superheroes (Warning: crass overgeneralization!).

The upside for both the mainstream and the indie kids is the book isn’t very good.  The Super F*ckers is another entry into superhero humor genre and the "behind the scenes of a dysfunctional superhero team" subgenre that Giffen and DeMattis perfected over 15 years ago.  It has been seen countless times since in movies (The Specials), TV (Teen Titans), and even other Top Shelf Comics (Less than Heroes) to better effect.  To say that what Kolchaka is doing is stale would mean there’s no blood left in doing superteam humor comics, but I think it’s fairer to say that Kolchaka doesn’t do it well, and that’s where the problems lay.

In this first volume (pray there isn’t a repeat) the Super Fuckers are holding a recruitment drive, reminiscent of classic Legion of Super Heroes, only people show up a day early and tensions mount as hopefuls begin to bicker over whose powers are better.  Meanwhile, inside, the Super Fuckers are swearing at each other and calling each other names that read like typical suburban white kid trash talk.  And that’s the book.  Putting curses and genitalia references on the lips of superheroes and passing if off as humor is as amusing as a Quiznos commercial.  Yeah, that was a dumb analogy, but it’s a dumb book.  There’s no creativity, there’s nothing clever, and there’s nothing redeeming about this book.  It’s like South Park without any of the social commentary and sly humor.  It’s like a Kevin Smith effort if every line in the script belonged to Jay and Silent Bob.  It’s like an Andrew Dice Clay routine 15 years later.  It’s not appalling, it’s not shocking, it’s definitely not funny, it’s just kind of sad.

On the back of his books Kolchaka emblazons the label "Kolchaka Quality" accompanied by the cartoon elf rendering of himself, and, well, if Super F*ckers is "Kolchaka Quality" I would hate to see what his "Not Kolchaka Quality" work is like. 

½ OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

Johns and Heinberg Uncover the Wages of Sin in “JLA”

By Russell Paulette

 You gotta admit—in comics, when the heroes screw up, they screw up big. 

Last summer, in Brad Meltzer’s controversial mini-series, Identity Crisis, he revealed a big secret members of the JLA had been keeping from the rest of the team.  Now that that plot has unraveled, the effects are being felt across the DCU, leading to this winter’s massive crossover and, ultimately, JLA # 115 is a big stepping stone towards that event. 

With DC mainstay Geoff “Listing What I Don’t Write is Easier” Johns, and comics newcomer, Allen “Young Avengers, Young Avengers, O.C., Young Avengers” Heinberg, the script is in good hands, and this issue lays out the big secret and the conflicts that are bound to come out because of it.  I’m doing my best to keep the plot details a little under wraps—if only for those of you who care but haven’t heard about any of it—but suffice it to say, there’s a line that’s drawn between Batman and, really, the bulk of the JLA and it’s what’s informing much of this countdown stuff, anyway.  Suffice to say, most of this issue is really exposition, with a little touch of the crisis coming to fruition, as some mysterious force is helping villains remember the big secret, and it all comes to a head by end of the issue with some heroes being confronted with their worst fears.

As someone who’s been enjoying this batch of unified, crossed-over DCU-centric stuff, I found this issue a hoot.  Johns and Heinberg are deftly weaving several different subplots from several different books, and tying them all together with the right amount of drama and pathos you would expect from such an arch-opera piece.  That said, I’ve been following this stuff all along, so I’m a little remiss in patently recommending it to someone jumping into the middle of things.  I do think the writers do a good job of laying the entire plot out on the table—they wisely use Martian Manhunter as the point-of-view character to whom the others can explain everything—but there’s still an awful lot to follow for brand new readers jumping in at this point.  That said, we’re all smart people (hey, we read CHUD), so picking out the players with the scorecard provided shouldn’t be too difficult.

Chris Batista on the artwork is a suitable choice, since he’s competent without being flashy, and certainly handles the capes ‘n’ costumes component to the book well enough.  Ultimately, he seems like much more of a “get the job done” kind of artist, which is well-and-good, and most of the book’s going to hinge on the character interaction and all the soap-drama going on, rather than arresting us with the cool image.  That said, there’s some nice dynamic shots of Hawkman in the opening pages, and the reveal of Star Sapphire (did I just hear you ask “who?”,. or was that me when I read it?) is awfully nice.

The major plus of this issue, I suppose, is that it’s awfully fun to see a machine so well oiled as the Justice League begin to creak and show some wear and tear.  And, really, that seems the entire aim of this whole event—starting with the JLA and continuing up and down the strata of the DCU.  And, really, there’s some good drama to be had out of that. 

THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

3 and a half

Wells Wears Marvel’s Albatross, “New Warriors,” With Grace and Aplomb

By Russell Paulette

 Bet you never thought you’d read “aplomb” in a New Warriors review.  For that matter, I never thought I’d write it in one.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself looking forward to the first issue of Zeb Wells and Scottie Young’s revitalization of Marvel’s never-going-to-work franchise, The New Warriors.  A hold-over from the days when everything that they threw against the wall stuck, The New Warriors was always Marvel’s seeming answer to The Teen Titans, in that they were a team of teen sidekicks loosely modeled on an adult team.  Sure, they had their heyday, but several attempts later have been met with a din of indifference.  Fortunately, we’re starting to see cycles again, and since Everything Old Is New Again, Wells & Young bring us their interpretation of a ragtag team of also-rans and amazingly…

…it kinda works. 

I mean, don’t get me wrong, the joke might run old soon, but Wells’s conceit is that the team is capitalizing on their also-ran status by inviting camera crews into their lives and being the latest reality show.  Stated boldly and cleanly on the first page, in a universe where super-villianry regularly effs up the major cities, what happens in the small towns when they’re faced with capes ‘n’ tights™?  Well, now there’s an answer, and it’s in the form of the team that no one cared about in the first place.

That’s the high concept, and the first issue really just spells it all out in a “pilot” adventure for the network to pick up.  The team fights Z-list villains, Armadillo and Tiger Shark, and they trade quips and demonstrate the use of their various powers and abilities.  Speedball, he moves fast; Nova flies, punches stuff; Namorita does the same, but also functions as the team’s moral center; Night Thrasher is the Dark, Mysterious Bad-Ass; and new member—and brand new character—Microbe, um, is a fat guy that talks to germs.

Wells’s script is light, fresh entertainment, playing with the logic and rationale of the concept, while not getting too bogged down in things that don’t go blooey.  And, in all fairness, he’s crafted this first issue to the strengths of his artistic partner—basically, he’s made it fun, fluid, and very, very kinetic.

Which is the phrasing I would use to describe Scottie Young’s art.  Coming from that Humberto Ramos school of bubbled, exaggerated cartooniness, Young has really come into his own in recent years, especially when given a chance to shine, like he is here.  He was, perhaps, miscast on the moody, atmosphere of the first six issues of the Venom series, but this first issue fits him prophylactic-snug, as he’s given the chance to draw crazy, colorful characters doing crazy, colorful things.  He’s also proving particularly gifted to the comical moments, and his panel of Speedball reacting to a massive punch is worth the three bucks alone.

All in all, I know you won’t really give a toss, but this first issue is a lot of fun and worth checking out.  Really, for anyone who’s looking for good, light-hearted entertainment with an Adult Swim kind of vibe, then this six-issue mini’s for you.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
4

So ends this accounting of valiant warriors and high adventure! Return next week to honor (maybe) Black Diamond: On the Ramp, Adventures of Superman and Street Angel TPB. Praise Odin.

To discuss this column and all things Nordic, you may contact Sean at scfahey@yahoo.com , Devon at thedevonsanders@yahoo.com , Dave at dave@chud.com , Russell at inadvertent@mail.com , Rob at poprob@gmail.com and Graig at graig@geekent.com.   

HAVE A COMIC YOU WANT TO SUBMIT FOR REVIEW? Contact Sean at scfahey@yahoo.com