REVIEWED THIS WEEK:
- Zombie Tales #1
- The Surrogates #1
- XIII #1
- Incredible Hulk: House of M

- Astro City: The Dark Age #1
- Bone Rest #1
- Daredevil vs. Punisher #1
- Ultimate Spider-Man #79

Thor Visits the Sunny Shores of San Diego for Comic Con International

 Has it been a year already? Wow. Well, in four days I leave my fortified compound and head west for Comic Con International, the largest comic book / television / film / toy / video game / science fiction / fantasy / pop culture convention in the world. If you’ve never been, it’s quite the sight.

It would be easier for me to list the comic book professionals that are not going to be in San Diego than those that will. But suffice it say to say that EVERYONE will be there – and when I say EVERYONE, I of course mean Dave Davis and myself.

In other words, no column next week.

It’s still not too late to make plans. (I myself only finally decided to go about a week ago). If you haven’t decided on whether or not to head out to San Diego, check out the Con’s official site for details about the events HERE. (http://www.comic-con.org/index.php)

Praise Odin.

No Matter What Your Taste in the Undead is, New Horror Anthology Series “Zombie Tales” Has Something for You

By Sean Fahey

 Zombies are all the rage these days.  You’ve got all kinds too.  There’s the traditional slow-moving undead type epitomized by the early Romero films, and considered the model for most zombie fiction including The Walking Dead.  There’s the fast-moving aggressive type made popular by 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake; and now there’s the type capable of cognitive thinking and even speech, as seen in Land of the Dead and the comic series Remains and Dead World.  There’s so much diversity and potential for unique storytelling that “zombie horror” has truly involved into a genre all its own, and the timing could not be better for Boom! Studios new zombie horror anthology series Zombie Tales.  

Like any good anthology, Zombie Tales uses its overarching theme as just a baseline – allowing the creators to bring their own vision, ideas and interpretations to the table without being handcuffed by a strict set of rules. The stories here range from humorous (“I, Zombie” and “If You’re So Smart”) to terrifying (“Severance” and “Daddy Smells Different”) to even heartfelt (“For Pete’s Sake”).  You get a little bit of everything; and no two stories are alike. I was impressed with the diversity of tone and setting here.  Zombie Tales makes it abundantly clear that there is a lot of material in this genre to mine.

There’s not a “weak link” in the chain here, (every piece is solid) which is rare for an anthology. That said, there are certainly a couple of standouts. “For Pete’s Sake,” by Johnna Stokes, is my favorite piece, an emotional vignette about moving on and finding something to live for in a post-apocalyptic world. Though a touch inconsistent in parts, overall J.K. Woodard’s painted artwork for the piece is fantastic, and reminds me of J.G. Jones’ cover work. “I, Zombie” by Andrew Cosby and Keith Giffen is by far the most amusing piece, featuring an undead loafer roaming around and talking like Superman villain Bizzaro (ex: “Me am so hungry, Me no can think.”). Quite amusing. “Severance” by Michael Nelson, Joe Abraham and Patrick Power is just cold-blooded in that 100 Bullets / “you have no idea what I will do to get revenge” kind of way. Quite disturbing.

The storytelling economy here is effective. Each creator is able to get in and get out and create the desired reaction – whether it be to make you laugh, creep you out, or just entertain. The roster of talent is impressive, featuring comic professionals like Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Dave Johnson and Ron Lim and pros from film and television like John Rogers and Andrew Cosby. No matter what your…taste… in zombie is (ehhhh) Zombie Tales delivers.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

4

Writer Venditti Explores Identity in His Sci-Fi Outing “The Surrogates”

By Russell Paulette

 You don’t know who I am.

Really, I’m just a lone, quiet voice pulsing out across fiber optic lines—and, technically, I’m not even a voice.  Just words on a computer screen, words that can disappear with the click of a mouse button.  I could be anyone, anywhere at any time—I could even be in your house right now!

References to lame campfire stories aside, this principle—the idea of our fast-paced, technologically advanced society and its mutable sense of identity is the core of writer Robert Venditti’s five-issue sci-fi mini-series, The Surrogates.  Coming from Top Shelf (!) of all places, this mini-series plays fast and loose with the notion, using it as the very foundation of the premise.

See, in this futuristic, urban setting, people have taken the idea of online avatars one step farther into the real world.  Corporations are building “Surrogates,” which are designer robots that people can control from the safety of their own homes, as a stand-in for themselves.  When a pair of Surrogates get deactivated in a “fryjob” during a thunderstorm one night, Detectives Greer and Ford take up the case.  They figure the case is cut and dry, until they manage to obtain the recorded video from one of the victim’s robots, and it follows that the attack on the Surrogates was no accident, and that someone is specifically targeting them for a purpose.

In a taught first issue, Venditti crafts a believable, universe whose salient features reflect our own modern concerns.  Like most good sci-fi, by harping on notions of identity and free will, Venditti is able to deliver these fantastic tropes through what is promising to be an exciting, original tale.  The dialogue is clipped but finely honed, and the friendly patter between the detectives is fresh and inviting.  There are a few minor hiccups—I had to scour through the book before writing this review to differentiate the names of the two detectives and figure out who was who—but, overall, it’s an interesting start.  In addition, there’s a nifty “artifact” article in the last few pages, from the January 2054 issue of Journal of Applied Cybernetics that gives an insight into this world and how it operates.

On the art front, Brett Weldele offers a likeable combination of minimalist composition, with an abstracted, painterly color sense.  Similar to his work on Couscous Express, Weldele shows a confidence in keeping the world and its figures pared down to the least amount of brushstrokes possible.  In the color work, he shows a deft command of hues to compliment the mood and emotion of each scene.  It’s a beautiful-looking book, and one that might not appear so at first-flush, but upon closer examination depicts the environs with precision.

An auspicious start to what looks to be an interesting exploration in post-Blade Runner futurism, this book is a more-than-worthy edition to your collection.  But who are you, again? 

FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

4.5

Popular European Espionage Series “XIII” Re-released as Monthly Series

By Rob Glenn

 Last year Ubisoft’s video game “XIII” for game consoles garnered generally positive reviews.  One of its draws was the hyper comic book approach to the first person shooter.  Similar to the 60s “Batman” television show, sound effects would appear on the screen accompanying action sequences (fitting since Adam West does one of the voices in the game).  Ironic really, as the book it’s actually based on has none of that level of camp to it.  The comic that spawned the “XIII” video game was originally published in 1984 in Belgium, and was a huge hit across the pond.  Twenty-one years later, Alias is re-releasing this collection on a monthly basis for the colonies to get a peak.

The first thing you notice when you crack open the book is the very sketchy look to the art.  You know when you’re watching old Bugs Bunny cartoons and you can see some of the pencil marks poking through?  It’s similar to that.  This look is sorely missed in the comics of today.  If you removed the color from XIII # 1 you would still have a piece of art.  Stippling and hatchmarks abound giving the frames a depth beyond the chroma.  In comparison, the computer pigmented books of today would look empty without the perfect color gradations.  Seeing a modern comic in this state would make you want to bust out the crayons.

The story is familiar to anyone who pays attention to Matt Damon’s movie career.  A strange man washes up on shore with a bullet in his head and a tattoo of the Roman numeral for thirteen tattooed over his trapezius muscle.  He’s nursed back to health by an elderly couple and an alcoholic ex-doctor who lives nearby.  When he comes to, he finds that he has one of my favorite story conceits: he’s an amnesiac who can remember everything except for whom he is and any personal information about himself.  Yes, the story so far sounds just like The Bourne Identity.  Keep in mind that this comic was originally published eighteen years before the Damon vehicle was released.  While you’re at it, though, also remember that the original Ludlum novel of Bourne was released four years before our comic.  There is still a chance that this is a blatant rip-off.  However, as our own Dave Davis has said, “there are no new ideas, just new ways of presenting them.”

XIII is an identity mystery.  We get a lot of clues and the plot really moves.  Between you and me, though, most of what he learns will become null by the next issue.  This is an exciting espionage whodunit (or rather “who-am-it”) that I wholeheartedly recommend.  Gunplay, a knife to the throat, and big-ass 80s hair.  This thing has it all!  And at the price of 75¢, you really can’t lose.  Although I can’t help but wonder why the heck they didn’t release more of the story in a trade paperback.

FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

4.5

David Plays Ball With “The Incredible Hulk” House of M Tie-In

By Russell Paulette

 For Peter David, line-wide crossover events like House of M must be old hat.  “Irrevocably changing the status quo of the Marvel Universe, huh?  What’re the ground rules?  Mutants are the ruling class?  Gotcha.  Let me rifle through the slush pile, here…”

David’s one of those writers I respect, not so much because everything he touches is gold—sometimes, like here, the stories fall flat or feel just plain uninspired.  He does, however, play ball.  He seems willing to put the breaks on whatever plans he has and take that off-ramp detour into Crossoverville, and he usually does it with much grace and much aplomb.

That said, his vision of the Hulk in the Magneto-run Marvel Universe is…having him hang out with Aborigines in the Australian Outback?  (Cue that record-needle skipping off the vinyl sound here.)

To be fair, it’s not as bad as it sounds—House of M: The Incredible Hulk # 1 introduces us to Bruce Banner hanging out with the True People tribe, earning his animal totem.  A snake, apparently.  Meanwhile, Australia is the one country/continent in the world that holds the harshest penalties for being human under Magneto-inspired mutant rule—they’re literally running people out of the country.  An AIM resistance group, led by that teenage Scorpion from Amazing Fantasy, is trying to escort the human survivors to freedom, but doing so infringes on the Aborigines’ land, and they send Bruce in to do the defending for them.  Cue fight scene, which involves Unus the Untouchable of all people.

All that said, everything about David’s story is fine but certainly not great.  It smacks of unimportance and, though possibly interesting in giving us slight insight into the title character, it just lacks gravitas—here’s a new status quo that will last us a few issues, then get wiped out of existence when the Big Cosmic Event ends.  The plus of all of that, though, is that David seems to be embracing all of it with as much gusto as he can muster.  Exodus.  Pyro.  Unus the Untouchable.  There’s a self-conscious absurdity here that’s, at the least, refreshing.

Artwise, Jorge Lucas is turning out some rather bland work.  If the story lacks the weight of importance, then the art lacks the weight of inspiration—it’s standard, it does the job, but a near-splash of the Hulk wrestling crocodiles should be stunning, and instead it just sits flat on the page.  A yeoman’s job, to be sure, but not one that warms the cockles. 

Overall, if you’re intrigued by Marvel’s latest stunt, then by all means this is an interesting wrinkle to the event.  But if the “hero in a radically different status-quo” premise does nothing for you, then give this a pass and wait for David to establish his own status-quo. 

TWO AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

“The Dark Age” Focuses on “Astro City’s” Tumultuous Past 

By Sean Fahey

 We try and steer clear of hyperbole at the ol’ Comic Column, but we also call ‘em like we see ‘em.  When it comes to writing about superheroes through a human lens, no one in the business does it better than Kurt Busiek.  He just has a knack for bringing a realistic “man on the street” perspective to his work.  His classic four-part mini-series Marvels, about a photographer covering the awesome dawning of the Silver Age of superheroes, was a beautiful and moving love-letter to mystery men – the sense of wonderment they bring, the hope they inspire and the fear they instill in the common man.  Busiek’s creator-owned series Astro City, allowed readers to experience a new superhero universe through the perspective of its citizens, and cemented his reputation as one of the industry’s more original visionaries.  Nobody does it better.

Busiek’s most ambitious Astro City project to date, The Dark Age is a sixteen issue maxi-series in four parts focusing on Astro City in the 1970’s and early 1980’s.  The first four-part story focuses on two brothers, Charles and Royal Williams, the former a police officer, the later a petty crook.  Through their eyes, Busiek shows us the effect superheroes have on the citizens of Astro City.  Like Charles, some believe they are helping to fight the good fight.  Others like Royal believe that the superheroes and villains create chaos, and that in turn creates opportunity.  Regardless of their philosophies though, everyone seems to agree that – for better or for worse – the superheroes have become so powerful that the common man is no longer “in charge.” Busiek intelligently uses the socio-political backdrop of the 1970’s to underscore this point well – the social unrest, the cold war paranoia, the distrust in the military and the government, in short the growing animosity and resentment of the institutions once thought to serve to protect us.  It all came together to create a feeling of helplessness, even hopelessness.

Though only one issue in, I think it’s safe to say that both longtime Astro City fans and new readers will enjoy The Dark Age.  Fans will enjoy cameos by The First Family, The Blue Knight, Jack-in-the-Box and The Silver Agent, and more importantly the promise of bridging some of the continuity gaps left by the first Astro City series; and new readers will enjoy an accessible introduction to a rich new superhero universe told from a unique perspective.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

4

Lapham Fires Some Stray Bullets Marvel’s Way With “Daredevil vs. Punisher”

By Russell Paulette

 First off, you are reading Stray Bullets, aren’t you?  The sordid, character-driven crime-epic by writer/artist David Lapham?  You are?  Good.  Wait, you over there, you aren’t?  It’s okay.  We’ll wait.

While we wait, why don’t I tell you about Lapham’s latest offering, a foray into the sordid underbelly of the Marvel Universe.  Reading like a greatest hits of Frank Miller-era Daredevil, Lapham’s Daredevil vs. Punisher # 1 is a throwback to the start of the “grim ‘n’ gritty” era comics of the early 1980s.

(And, for the record, can we all safely retire that phrase?  Even just typing it makes my skin crawl.  Right now, I’m going to go with “noirtastic.”)

The first issue of this mini-series is a classic setup and, as such, Lapham doesn’t disappoint.  Plopping this mini down seamlessly in between trades of the excellent Brian Bendis Daredevil arc, the story concerns how, with the latest toppling of the Kingpin, various mobsters are wrestling for control of the New York crime world.  Punisher, ever the opportunist, is here to take down some of them, specifically Hammerhead, who’s jockeying to be the next Kingpin.  Daredevil, with his stalwart moral code, won’t abide the Punisher killing anyone, including mob bosses, even though it sickens him to stop the gun-toting maniac.  Throw in a family running a diner under the oppressive thumb of a protection racket, stir, and you’ve got yourself a classic, urban tale of violence and vigilantes that is…you got it…noirtastic.

Make no mistake, though—in this first issue, Lapham quickly locks us into the Punisher’s frame of reference, letting Castle narrate the bulk of the tale, relegating Daredevil to third-person omniscience in his solo scenes.  We mostly follow the Punisher through a few set pieces, and learn the significance of his targeting Hammerhead specifically, and through his eyes meet the family and see the diner they own.  The pathos comes from the way the family triggers the Punisher’s memories of his own, slain family, allowing Lapham to tug the heartstrings.

As he’s shown over in his Detective Comics run, Lapham is quite the writer, weaving classy spot-on dialogue with some hard-boiled internal monologues for his urban protagonists.  Not to be outdone, he also shows his artistic chops well, giving us the same clean, clear storytelling he’s known for over in Stray Bullets, while also not pulling back on the arresting images.  Just look at the Punisher hunkered in the corner on the splash page, or walking through the glitz and glitter of Times Square to see what I mean.

An excellent example of a creator in full command of his wits writing and drawing a piece that is both an homage to comics from his youth, as well as infusing it with his own character and his own voice.  Buy it now, people.  Then go buy Stray Bullets too. 

FIVE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

Parts of “Bone Rest” Adaptation May Be Lost in Translation

By Rob Glenn

 The reason true movie fans want their foreign films subtitled rather than dubbed is because they want the least amount of filter between them and the original intent.  Part of the process of rerecording dialogue is the attempt of the new voice actors to try to sync their words with the on-screen actor’s mouths.  A better translation of a line may be discarded for one that has the same number of syllables.  Then there’s the question of the line reads themselves.  Not only does the audience have to deal with the translator’s version of the dialogue, but also inflection and subtext added by the voicework.  We don’t need these variables interfering when trying to extract as much as possible from a story originating from another country.  There are always culture-specific shortcuts in storytelling that are a given to audiences from the area of origin.  A good example of what I mean could be taken from the Reese Witherspoon movie Freeway.  How easy do you think it would be for a guy from an Asian country to figure out that the movie is a very thinly veiled Little Red Riding Hood allegory?  I mean, the bad guy’s name is Bob Wolverton, for crying out loud!  There’s a character named Chopper Wood!  She’s traveling across the countryside to get to her grandmother’s house!  Why don’t you get it, guy-with-no-frame-of-reference!?

These are the kinds of things that run through my head as I read the translated version of Bone Rest # 1.  The book was originally printed in Italy and is now being released through Image Comics on a monthly basis.  Adam Boon is a man pulled from another dimension into our own and somewhere along the transference he loses the pigment of his skin.  And his mouth.  And eyes.  Boon’s face looks like one of those porcelain masks that girls used to hang on their walls in the 80s.  He enters our world through the emergency exit of a movie theater and takes instruction from the moveable typeface graffiti on a nearby wall.  Boon meets a girl named Peace and her friends Peek-a-boo and Violet and he then garners the nickname of “Bone”.  Elsewhere, a man borrows a book from an apparently evil library that transforms him into a one-eyed, cane-wielding, mime-like guy who talks like Yoda and thinks that people are nothing more than cages for their blood.

See what I mean?  There’s a lot of seemingly random stuff.  Now, simply reading the first issue isn’t much of a help.  There’s most certainly a load of plot points that have been touched on but not explained that will be more thoroughly investigated later in the series.  Don’t let my ugly American viewpoint dissuade you from this book.  Although parts may seem incomprehensible to me, everything flows well.  The art by Giuseppe Camuncoli (The Intimates) is strong, confident and very cinematic.  Rows of frames showing the bobbing top of Bone’s hat conveys one of my favorite sex scenes ever put to paper.  And a repetition of images creates a slow zoom effect that is just plain neat.

I am absolutely positive that I am being too impatient with this series.  Explanations will come in their own time.  The way I see it, though, my impatience is a good sign.  I’ve just got to know where they’re taking this.

THREE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

3

Bendis and Bagley Dutifully Push Forward on “Ultimate Spider-Man”

By Russell Paulette

 I’m going to go out on a limb here, be a little contrarian to the contrarians, and say that I like Brian Michael Bendis just fine, thank you very much.  No, I don’t think he’s writing too many books each month, no I don’t think he’s sold out, burnt out or anything else.  And no I don’t think he’s run out of ideas for Ultimate Spider-Man.

Has everything he’s written been a winner?  Nope.  Of course not—law of averages and all of that.  But to his credit, we’re eighty-odd issues in to his run on Ultimate Spider-Man and, though it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind blur, it’s been consistently entertaining and consistently fun (yes, fun!) to read.  (And I even count that whole “Switching Bodies With Wolverine” story as fun.  So there.)

With last week’s issue # 79, Bendis and Bagley embark on a new storyline called “Warriors,” and it’s depositing Bendis into comfortable territory—namely, mobland stuff.  The Kingpin has suffered from Federal attention that has forced him to lie low, opening up the playing field for a lot of other small-time mobsters and heavies to position themselves as a major player.  Much of the issue is devoted to Hammerhead leading the Enforcers on their bid for underworld supremacy.

Over in teen Peter’s world, he’s broken up with Mary Jane for her sake, kvetches about it, and webs around town to clear his head.  Y’know, ‘cause that’s what he does.  He manages to see an explosion caused by the Enforcers down at the docks, and when he investigates, stumbles into the Ultimate Universe’s Moon Knight for that tantalizing final page cliffhanger.

On the writing front, Bendis displays his usual flair for dialogue and character interaction, and here is the main key to his success this far into Ultimate Spider-Man.  He’s got me hooked on the Peter/Mary Jane relationship strife and, though it takes up barely a third of the real estate in this issue, it’s what’s got me coming back for more next month.  Don’t get me wrong, all the superheroics are fun—and to his credit, there’s plenty of eye candy going around on these pages.  But, for me, it’s the way he’s turning up the heat on the soap opera stew of the title that is, frankly, sucking me in.

Unfortunately, Mark Bagley’s art isn’t sucking me in.  The last few months have seen his work take a bit of a tumble and, though this issue is an improvement, it’s still not his best work.  A few shots here and there really sing with the verve and vivacity I’ve come to expect from Bagley, and it would be nice to see that consistently carried through the whole book.

If you’d dropped away from Bendis and Bagley’s run on Ultimate Spider-Man, now might be a good chance to duck back in and see if it’s to your liking again.  Not a perfect comic, but certainly a good comic.  Rest assured, the boys with the B-Names are churning out some consistently entertaining work that is, Odin help me, actually arresting from time-to-time. 

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) 100 Bullets, Zombie King and JLA. 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