REVIEWED THIS WEEK:
- Serenity #1
- Mr. T #1
- Queen & Country Declassified III #1
- Solo #5
- Stray Bullets TPB #1
- Alter Ego GN #1
- Outsiders TPB #2

Win a Copy of “Elk’s Run # 1”!

 The good folk over at Hoarse and Buggy Productions have donated fifteen copies of the first issue of Elk’s Run to be given out to the Viking faithful. Elk’s Run #1 is one of the most surprising reads of the year so far – a suspenseful and intelligent character-driven story about a mysterious and depressed small town that no one ever leaves…that no one can leave. (READ OUR REVIEW OF ISSUE ONE HERE) If you’re a fan of Stephen King’s earlier work, then Elk’s Run is a must read.

Issue two was just released this past Wednesday, and the third issue is currently being solicited in Previews. So now is the perfect time to get on board with what is shaping up to be one of the better mini-series this year.

To learn more about the series go to www.hoarseandbuggy.com.

For a chance to win a copy of Elk’s Run #1, CLICK HERE!

First Look: Dark Horse Comics’ “Serenity” Adaptation Captures the Magic of “Firefly”

By Sean Fahey

 In the spirit of full disclosure, it’s only fair to tell you that I’m an enormous fan of Joss Whedon’s Sci-fi Western Firefly. Not only is it the best show that Whedon’s created, but it’s also one of the better genre shows of the past ten years – far superior to current “it” shows Battlestar Galactica and Lost. Firefly was a brilliant amalgamation of science fiction and Western conventions. It was incredibly well written – exciting, humorous and moving – and it was a hell of a lotta fun. Its premature cancellation gives me headaches to this day. Scanners kind of headaches. So, it goes without saying (but of course I’ll say it anyways) that I am excited beyond words about the upcoming Firefly film Serenity as well as the Dark Horse comic book adaptation. From where I sit, any Firefly is a good thing.

So…now you know where I’m coming from.

Knowing what you know then, you might be asking yourself, “Why would I want to read a review of Serenity # 1 from someone who is an obvious nut for the source material?” Well, because I have very high expectations. Being a fan of the series, knowing the strength of these characters and this setting, and knowing Whedon’s impressive ability to plot exciting stories and write smart dialogue, I had very high expectations for this comic – and can honestly say that it delivers. Serenity captures all of the magic of Firefly without missing a beat.

Serenity # 1 is an introduction. Its function is to grab readers and draw them into the “Firefly” universe while distilling the essence of the characters down enough for us to get to know them without any exposition. Mission accomplished. Whedon and writer Brett Matthews turn in an exciting action-packed script with plenty of Whedon-esque character interaction. The story finds Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his crew in a familiar spot…at the end of gun barrel; and things only get worse from there with the crew bungling a heist, on the run and being chased by the worst kind of people. Scanners worst kind of people.

As with any Whedon project, the highlight of Serenity # 1 is the character interaction. There’s no other way to put it, few people are as exceptionally skilled at creating textured characters and writing dialogue as Whedon. Reading this book brought back everything I loved about Firefly . Mal’s stoic and laconic remarks as he stares down certain death. Wash’s hilarious and off-the-wall commentary. Jayne’s simpleton tough-guy humor. Shepard Book’s enigmatic double-speak. It’s all there, as if we never left.

The only criticism I have (and it’s not really a criticism per se) is that fans of Firefly  will obviously get more out of this than those not familiar with the show. It’s not that Serenity # 1 is inaccessible, in fact quite the opposite. It’s just a more meaningful read for fans – so why not become one (and order the complete season of Firefly HERE).

FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

4.5

Though the “T” Doesn’t Exactly Stand for “Triumphantly”, Mr. T Returns to Comics

By Graig Kent

 In all honesty, I love Mr. T, and not just in that pop-culture/kitschy/retro-funkyness that many have pegged the man into.  I idolized the man in the 1980’s, often having my Clubber Lang action figure tag team with my B.A. Baracus action figure in combating injustice (I hadn’t seen Rocky 3 yet, so I didn’t know Clubber Lang was a bad guy).  Now, T may no longer be my idol, but I still revere the man.  His work with children and his successful battle with cancer are both inspirational, and Mr. T’s good sense of humor in appearances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Daily Show, and numerous commercials, amongst others, prove he’s still a powerful entertainment figure even if he’s not the most marketable commodity for film or TV.  Enter APComics, betting that the T-Force of fans is still in full effect and that they can make a successful launch out of a new comic book series. 

Taking place in a comic-book version of the modern day, Mr. T # 1 begins with a comatose teenaged boy found in an abandoned building.  It’s obvious the kid overdosed, but on what?  A local doctor identifies the boy and begins to probe the kid’s friends for information, and it turns out it’s the new designer drug called Shaz-8, and it’s taking the streets by storm.  It’s a steroid derivative, giving users extreme strength, but with some severely nasty side effects.  The police aren’t doing anything about it, so the doctor turns to the only man that gives a damn.  Guess who?  But T’s been out of commission for some time, framed for murder and put in jail, the world has only gotten worse since he’s been away.  Though his faith in his fellow man is growing ever dim, T still chooses to fight to make right.

Mr. T #1 pours T into the Luke Cage, hero-for-hire mold, only establishing the man as one with more internal conflict and he’s wholly socially – as opposed to monetarily-motivated.  T does what’s best for the community, and though we don’t get a chance to see it in the first issue, you can bet our man T will feel throwing some suckers a few gold knuckle punches is best.  Though not strongly written (a perplexing use of the song “Teddy Bear Picnic” pops up throughout the book), and writer Chris Bunting’s story set-up is rather trite, the art by Neil Edwards and Randy Emberlin is nice, inked with a thick, dark line and an apt use of shadows.  Most of all, they do a decent caricature of the main man.

I can’t fully recommend the book to a general audience, and the casual comics reader might be more than a little disappointed by the fact that T sees no action in this first issue.  But, I still think the general Mr. T fan will be more than pleased to return to the series month after month, so long as T dishes out of healthy dose of pity for the fools and is treated with the respect and dignity he deserves.

TWO AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

No Rucka. No Problem – Latest “Queen & Country” Mini-Series Works Just Fine with New Writer at the Helm

By Sean Fahey

 Writer Antony Johnston “gets” Queen & Country.  Though some fans of the comic initially expressed concern over anyone other than series creator Greg Rucka writing a Queen & Country story, Johnston puts those anxieties to rest with the latest Declassified mini-series, displaying a thorough understanding of the themes and capturing the tone of this phenomenal real-world espionage series.  The emphasis on character.  The smart geopolitical setting.  The emotional storytelling.  Yeah, Johnston “gets” Queen & Country.

As intelligent as the stories in the series are, Queen & Country has always been more about the players than the plot, and Declassified v.3 # 1 features a diverse cast of rich characters struggling to make sense of their lives in Armagh, the most tumultuous province in war-torn Northern Ireland.  In many ways, each of the three central characters is shaped, “born” if you will, from the violence around them. How they choose to confront it though is what separates them.  One, the victim of an IRA terrorist attack, has chosen the path of non-violence, advocating for change through the political process.  An other, an aging terrorist recently released from prison, is so consumed by hatred that murder and terrorism are all he understands and believes in, despite the shifting political climate within the IRA.  The third, SAS Commando (and future Minder Two) Nick Poole is caught right in the middle, simply trying to finish his tour intact. Though the series’ stated focus is on Poole, the story really is about how these three separate lives converge against the backdrop of a tragic and bloody civil conflict, and the ensuing emotional fallout.  It’s a very human story, told effectively by the contrasts that Johnston creates between the characters. 

It took me awhile to “get” the visual philosophy behind Queen & Country. Initially, I was a bit put off by the exaggerated, at times even cartoony, style of some of series’ artists given the hardened real-world espionage slant of the book. Now, I’ve come to accept that this style not only works but is a vital component of the series, as the focus of Queen & Country truly is on the interpersonal relationships between the Minders and their own individual development as characters – not necessarily conventional “action” (although there’s always plenty of that to go around). Declassified artist Christopher Mitten follows the tradition faithfully, and is quite skilled at conveying emotion and reaction. His style complements the human focus of this story well. Ultimately, Queen & Country: Declassified v.3 # 1 is a great book, a very thoughtful look at the events that would eventually transform Nick Poole from an SAS Commando into Minder material. 

FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

4

Darwyn Cooke is the Featured Artist in the Latest “SOLO”

By Devon Sanders

 To this day, I can’t quite recall the bulk of what I learned in elementary school. Like most kids my age, I assume I learned what they learned. Some math, some ABC’s, the difference between red and blue, how to hang my coat on a hook. I do recall being able to do my work faster than most. Not because I was some kind of “genius child.” No, I think I was more interested in getting the work over so I could daydream of adventures contained within my school’s playground. I wasn’t a wordy child. The greatest compliment I ever received as a kid was, “You can give him a box and he’ll be fine all day long.” Boxes were nice but in the school’s playground I saw all kinds of possibilities. In the jungle gym, I could see my friends, swinging across Gotham, Batman-like, watching from above for danger below, while I on the sliding board, by diving down head first, arms outstretched, became a Superman. In those brief seconds of “flight and fancy,” we kept story alive within the confines of the playground.

DC Comic’s anthology, Solo is designed to do so, as well. The premise of Solo is an intriguing one to creator and reader, alike. Take a creator and let them loose upon DC’s vast “playground,” so to speak. The creator is charged with 48 pages to keep story alive within the confines of the playground. Writer/artist Darwyn (DC: The New Frontier) Cooke is the creator-of-note for Solo #5.

The setting is “Jimmy’s 24/7,” favorite watering hole of ace detective Slam Bradley. Slam wants two things this night, a drink in one hand and the ability follow it with a good story. First up is “World’s Window,” a wonderful story recounting a young Darwyn Cooke’s early love affair with art. Next up, “King of America” a story set in pre-Castro Cuba circa 1965. CIA agent King Faraday’s charged with toppling a drug lord’s empire and in using the drug lord’s wife as a pawn, Faraday learns the hard way the new rules in a very old game.

“Everyday Madness” is the storybook love affair of vacuum cleaners and the men who love them…to death. “The Question,” is a four-pager, pitting the Steve Ditko creation, The Question against an unsuspecting terrorist cell.  “Déjà Vu” is a re-telling of the Steve Englehart / Sal Amendola Seventies classic, “Night of The Stalker.” Night in Gotham sees another young boy watch as his parents are gunned down before his very eyes. This time around, Batman is there to bring a young boy justice and with justice, must come remembrance.

With publication of DC: The New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke proved himself to be a master of interpretation. With Solo # 5, he again leaves little doubt. Cooke seems to be more in love with the unspoken, reveling in the mystery an arched eye can raise. That is a good thing. It’s the sign of a good comics storyteller taking advantage of the medium. While I don’t think every story is great guns, (“King of America” left me a bit cold with its’ “quickly becoming clichéd” revelation / ending) the overall mood mosaic Cooke builds within the confines of  “Jimmy’s 24/7” makes Solo # 5 more than worth your time.

When it comes to stylish art, no one does it better. Where I once saw Cooke as a Bruce Timm “protégé,” I now see a man come into his own. Art styles bend to this man’s will with every page. With Slam Bradley’s telling of a “big one,” imagery appropriately goes Tex Avery, while for a “true” Batman story, Cooke swathes Gotham in black and crimson, setting tones for bloodshed and mourning. Style coupled with Cooke’s substantive writing make for one dang good comic. With Solo # 5, Darwyn Cooke keeps story alive in fine manner utilizing the confines of one of comics’ greatest “playgrounds,” The DC Universe.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

4

 

Trade Center

“Stray Bullets” Volume One: Innocence of Nihilism (BUY IT HERE!)


By Graig Kent

 It’s been over ten years since David Lapham started Stray Bullets, the gritty suburban crime fiction that won him an Eisner Award.  Gaining notoriety with his recent stint on Detective Comics, Lapham’s publishing company, El Capitan has finally released new printings collecting the series.

The new Volume One contains seven stories (as opposed to the old Volume One, containing only four), each varying in length between 25 and 40 pages.  Lapham cleverly doesn’t restrict himself to page count, instead letting the story unfold to completion as it demands (the perk of self-publishing).  Each of the seven stories is stand alone, and yet they overlap and encroach upon each other.  Names and faces appear again and again, dates and times crisscross, and inevitably bad things happen to good people and good people do bad things.

These black and white tales are at times disturbing and at times curiously funny.  There’s always a streak of dark humor running through it, but the uncomfortable moments far outweigh them.  For some reason, I’ve always lumped Stray Bullets and Sin City together in my mind, though they’re at completely different ends of the crime fiction spectrum.  Lapham’s work is not nearly as artistic or flashy, nor is it as gruesome or perpetually violent.  Instead it retains the tangibility of realism, dialogue that could have come from anyone’s mouth, and characters that reflect humanity in all its shapes and forms.  There’s one story, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation…” which steps out of synch with the others, jumping into Outer Limits sci-fi territory, however Lapham fits it in with the rest easily by mere tone of storytelling.   Fascinating, engaging, densely structured and highly recommend.

FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

4.5

Alter Ego: The Graphic Novel (BUY IT HERE!)


By Graig Kent

 Roy Thomas is a writer I think fondly of.  His work in the 1980’s helped solidify the place of DC’s original 1940’s heroes in the company’s continuity and folklore.  Comics like JSA and Hawkman owe a lot to Thomas’ re-imagining of Golden Age stories and expanding themes of legacy in titles like All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc.  And yet, knowing his great fondness for the golden era of comics, his attempt to recapture that feel for Alter Ego, compiling the 1986 First Comics miniseries, just doesn’t work.

Alter Ego was built out of a magazine of the same name specializing in stories on Golden Age comics and creators, and which Thomas continues to write and edit for.  The idea was to develop a superhero based on the mask logo design of the magazine (which is as thin a reason to make a superhero as any).  The story intends to capture the 1940’s feel as a young lad is given an old comic book that isn’t listed in any price guide.  When he opens the book, out falls a mask, which, when worn, turns him into Alter Ego, the book’s hero, and is sucked inside its pages to participate in WWII-era adventures.  But when the comic book world threatens to impact the real world, things get serious.

Alter Ego unfortunately fails to capture the feel of 1940’s comics, instead reading and looking like a 1980’s extrapolation thereof.  In the intro by Thomas, and the outro by artist Ron Harris, both admit to failings in the creative process with Harris acknowledging awkwardness in the “plot-art-dialogue” Marvel-style of writing.  The bulk of the dialogue in the book has characters explaining what’s going on in the panel… art should, I think, speak for itself.  It’s not a completely unmemorable story, but not wholly enjoyable reading either.

TWO OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

2 Vikings 

“The Outsiders” Volume Two: Sum of All Evil (BUY IT HERE!)

By Graig Kent

 When DC relaunched the Teen Titans and Outsiders as sister books two years ago, it was evident the two would share similar themes, primarily family and heritage.   In Teen Titans, they embrace one another as not just a team of sidekicks, but a close-knit group of friends, each trying to accept their past and live up to their mentors’ expectations and reputations.  The Outsiders, on the other hand, were established by Nightwing and Arsenal to be just a team, a rag-tag group of people trying to escape their past and establish their own identities.  Their team is comprised of Black Lightning’s daughter, Thunder; Jade, the original Green Lantern’s daughter; a formerly villainous robot from the future, Indigo; a “clone” of Metamorpho, Shift; and Grace, a mysterious, trash-talking powerhouse, Arsenal’s lover, and the book’s breakout character.

In “Sum of All Evil”, the second collection of Judd Winick’s run on the title, Black Lightning, Huntress and Captain Marvel Jr. join the team, briefly, to help stop the Marvel Family’s old nemesis, Sabaac, a demon from Hell who may be more than even all of them together can handle.  Meanwhile, Arsenal is having a crisis of confidence after finally recovering from his numerous gunshots wounds (as seen in the previous trade).  He gets in shape just in time to join the team as a reassembled Fearsome Five threaten nuclear annihilation.

Winick writes some nasty, fun superhero action, with barbed dialogue and interesting character dynamics.  The Outsiders are a more proactive and violent team than their counterparts, which makes for amped-up action and some surprising moments.  It’s old-fashioned 1980’s comic book storytelling with the new millennium attitude.  There are a multitude of fine artists working this compilation, but the fantastic colors of Gina Going helps maintain consistency.  Highly enjoyable even if it’s nothing groundbreaking.

THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

3 and a half

So ends this accounting of valiant warriors and high adventure! Return next week to honor (maybe) Gotham Central, Villains Untied and Shanna: The She-Devil. 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