REVIEWED THIS WEEK:
- Rocketo #0
- G.I. Spy #1
- Green Arrow #53
- Justice #1
- Gotham Central TPB #2
- Dead West #1
- Smoke and Guns #1
- Wanted TPB

First Look: “Rocketo” Looks to be Comics’ Next Great Adventure

By Sean Fahey

 Rocketo is going to be the next great comic book series.  Even after one issue you can just feel it.  In a landscape currently dominated (once again) by “serious,” “dark” and “gritty” company-wide crossovers, Rocketo is a beacon of light, something truly unique and genuinely inspiring that can be enjoyed by everyone – man, woman, child…anyone with an imagination. 

Have I got your attention? Good.

If I had to narrow down to one word how I’d describe Speakeasy Comics’ new adventure series after reading the introductory issue # 0, the word would be “magical.”  Taking place two thousand years in a mythical future, where a natural catastrophe has dramatically changed the physical layout of the planet, the series follows the life of Rocketo Garrison, Lucerne’s (New Earth or “The Shattered World”) most renowned explorer and “mapper.”  The “mappers,” genetically altered men and women who act essentially as human compasses, are able to read the land, the sea and stars and are the only way to safely navigate the vast unexplored regions of the Shattered World – an expansive and exciting story setting, as imagined by series creator Frank Espinosa, that is equal parts Flash Gordon, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.  It’s a world colored by floating science observatories, talking animals, robot ships, sea monsters, ray guns, holographic world maps and mermaids…and that’s just the first issue.

Rocketo # 0 is a well-crafted framing device for the series as a whole, which is roughly designed as four twelve-issue arcs looking back on Rocketo’s most famous expeditions.  From the opening line (“It’s been ten silent years since the last great adventure…”) you get the sense that the series is not only going to be special, but epic.  Told through a series of flashbacks, this introductory story recounts Rocketo’s journey to The Isle of Sirens.  Along with his sidekick Spiro, a cigar chompin’ and quite salty beagle, Rocketo (naturally) discovers that the Isle is much more than it appears to be.  Though only fourteen pages long, the issue manages to establish the imaginative and adventurous spirit and tone of what this series promises to be, wetting the appetite if you will, and does so within the framework of an incredibly entertaining stand-alone tale.  I for one cannot wait to continue discovering the mysteries of this world. 

Lucerne and all of its wonderful inhabitants are beautifully rendered by Espinosa.  His style has a free and unrestrained vibe to it – the pages and the panels flow – that compliments the expansiveness of his world and this journey.  And the “widescreen” layouts are alive and make the most of each page.  There are clear influences at work here, golden age science fiction and Darwyn Cook spring to mind, but Espinosa is a true original.  Rocketo has one of the most vibrant and exciting visual schemes I’ve seen in a comic book in a long time.  It’s the type of book where anything that can be imagined could pop up and not look out of place. 

If I sound like a kid in a candy shop here, it’s because I am.  Rocketo promises to be the adventure of a lifetime, and if this introductory issue is any indication of the quality of the series as a whole it will be.  It’s adventure instead of just action.  Exploration instead of conquest, and a journey instead of a ride.  It’s imaginative, creative and inspiring – no joke, I read this and just wanted to explore the world.  I cannot wait until my son is old enough to read this.

(Rocket # 0 is scheduled to be released on August 17th, but given the incredible buzz that’s been building up around this book I wanted to run my review early to give people enough time to have their stores order them a copy should they desire.)

FIVE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

First Look: “G.I. Spy” is an Exciting Summer Action Movie

By Sean Fahey

 G.I. Spy is a summer action movie.  It’s a summer action movie starring Brandon Fraser as he globe-trots to exotic locales, smashes Nazis, exchanges double entendres with a sultry British agent, plays with some interesting gadgets and tries to save the world from an evil scientist.  If that sort of thing sounds like your bag, if you don’t need all-Blankets all the time from your comic book diet, then chances are you’ll have fun with G.I. Spy.  I mean honestly, who doesn’t like seeing Nazis get smashed (or sultry British agents for that matter)?

Series writer Andrew Cosby (Damn Nation) breaks ranks with some of the traditional spy conventions here, and the change of pace is refreshing.  Jack Shepard has more in common with Jason Bourne than James Bond.  He’s not suave or dapper, and is extremely uncomfortable in a tux and completely out of place at an embassy cocktail party.  He’s not a martial arts expert either.  And his one-liners and “witty” banter…well, they’re just horrible (which Cosby is aware of, and draws attention to).  But Shepard gets the job done.  He certainly stumbles here and there, but he takes a lickin’ and he keeps on tickin’, he improvises – appropriate for a rookie spy.  (One of my favorite sequences in the book is Shepard’s “trail and error” battle with a Nazi Metal-Man.) It’s interesting to read a spy story about an agent who doesn’t start things off on top of his game, but is shown learning from his mistakes and adapting on the fly. It creates more narrative tension. 

G.I. Spy # 1 is one of those books that can be judged by its cover.  Shepard riding an atomic bomb with a swastika on it, as it sails toward the Statue of Liberty with Nazi rocket-troopers chasing after him as he tries to disarm it – that says it all, and captures the high-octane tone of this comic perfectly.  From start to finish, this is pure action-adventure, with a dash of The Rocketeer and a pinch of Indiana Jones, all rendered quite nicely by artist Matt Haley.  And on top of everything else, this is an all-ages read, which is something that (unfortunately) we’re seeing less and less of in the industry.  Queen & Country it ain’t, but Queen & Country it ain’t trying to be.

Pass the popcorn.

THREE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

3

First Look: Devon Asks that You Send a Message with this Week’s “Green Arrow”

By Devon Sanders

 Few creators can boast about compiling significant writing stints on such diverse-in-tone characters as The Flash, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Thor, Impulse and The Maxx. Few can say that they wrote them well. Bill Messner-Loebs can and he has every right to. During the 90’s, I was constantly amazed by the man’s ability to somehow interpret Sam Kieth’s perplexing “adventures” of The Maxx. I read his four-year run on The Flash where he, not Mark Waid or Geoff Johns, re-introduced many a new fan to the fabled “Rogue’s Gallery.” I was pleasantly amused in his attempts to depart on Wonder Woman humanity, by having The Amazonian Princess get a job in a fast food restaurant. While Messner-Loeb’s never appeared on Wizard’s list of “hot” writers, the people who read his work knew his voice to be one of the most unique in comics.

While these Messner-Loebs crafted comic stories are some of the more unique in comics, they pale in comparison to the uniqueness of this man’s current situation. The past four years have seen him cope with a life of near Job-ian scale. He has seen a comics market shift not allowing for his talent, resulting in the loss of the home he and his wife shared. His wife suffers with numerous medical problems and they have no health insurance to speak of. When word of his plight reached people willing to help, The Messner-Loebs’ received enough money to purchase a mobile home in 2002, one they unknowingly bought infested with mold, one the seller was unwilling to take it back. To make matters even worse, months later, thieves made off with it.

Through all this, in every interview I’ve read concerning his plight, he has exhibited no self-pity. Only a hope that the next day will bring better. Better days. Better stories. Bill Messner-Loebs is the guest writer of this Wednesday’s Green Arrow #53 and he’s brought along one of my favorite villains, Solomon Grundy.

The swamp holds many dark things, king among them Grundy. In an effort to bring him back to his “humanity,” Green Arrow’s been recruited to provide the muscle for a woman claiming to be Grundy’s great-great granddaughter. Slings and arrows fly in a quest to save the “lost soul” of Solomon Grundy.

Messner-Loebs writes a “true” Green Arrow, infusing him with even more dry wit, (Look no further than page 10, if in doubt.) showing flashes of immaturity and roguishness. He knows his Green Arrow. Most importantly, Messner-Loeb’s manages to capture something we haven’t seen in a Green Arrow comic for a good while: sensitivity, character and common sense. I say, “Bravo!”

Guest artist Eric Battle turns in, perhaps, the best work I’ve ever seen him do. Gone are the unnecessary lines and “creative” anatomy that characterized his past work, replaced by stronger page layouts and improved musculature.

My aim isn’t necessarily to review this comic but to make people aware of a very talented professional. Not once can I recall ever hearing about him missing a deadline. Not once. The industry could use more men like this. So, I’m asking you to consider this man’s Green Arrow # 53 when picking up your comics this week. Cause a “blip” on DC Comics “radar” by helping ensure a sell-out at your comics shop. If you liked it, finish the job by causing a second by making sure your local retailer reorders Green Arrow #53 if it sells out. When its’ all said and done, consideration truly is all anyone wants. DC Comics has been good enough to have taken a good writer into their consideration. Wednesday and beyond, I ask you to keep momentum going forward and consider Bill Messner-Loebs.

Alex Ross’ New Mini-Series, “Justice,” is the Perfect Book for the Casual Reader and Obsessive Alike

By Graig Kent

 It’s rough to be a casual superhero comic book reader these days.  Decades of heavily intertwined continuity in both the Marvel and DC Universe often make jumping into any series a difficult chore.  The 2005 race to out-crossover each other with House of M and Infinite Crisis have thrilled the more diligent comic book fans, but they leave the casual reader scratching their heads in confusion or even outwardly frustrating them.  If you’re only interested in reading some solid Wonder Woman tales, you don’t want some “senses-shattering crossover event” interrupting the book’s flow, forcing you to purchase a half-dozen other books to understand the story as these company-wide crossovers have a tendency to do.

But, fret not occasional reader, for Alex Ross has come along with a book made just for you.  Justice is exactly that kind of series that allows you to take on without having to brush up on the current goings-on.  In fact, it seems to demand that you forget about current continuity altogether.  Crisis?  What Crisis.

Justice isn’t exactly out of continuity, more out of time, as Ross, with Jim Krueger devise a story involving the Justice League as it would have been decades ago, with the Barry Allen Flash, Hal Jordan Green Lantern, two-handed Aquaman and everyone else in their classic incarnations, in a period where if you were a superhero, you were in the Justice League (unless you’re a sidekick, at which point you’re a Teen Titan).  Even though there is a classic sensibility to Justice # 1, there’s still a contemporary feel in both design and storytelling.  Don’t expect the characters to exposit-out-loud, as comics of yore were so prone to doing, and don’t expect a lightweight, feel-good story either.  This one’s out to challenge and excite you, after all, the book opens with the members of the Justice League dying as they futilely attempt to save the Earth from an unseen attacking force.

For a second there, looking at Superman’s pained reaction upon realizing Lois just died, they had me fooled.  Naturally, the Earth blowing up isn’t events as they occurred, not yet anyway.  But, if you’ll allow me to spoil the set-up that consumes the first issue, it’s not the heroes that can save the world, but their greatest nemeses, the Legion of Doom.  Yes, this book goes so far as to reinstate the classic Superfriends’ villains collective, and it does this nod to the past and without a hint of irony. 

Doug Braithwaite has the thankless job of having his art covered over by Alex Ross’ paint embellishments, giving us that quintessential wrinkled-costumes and laugh-lined-faces Ross look.  I’ve heard the Ross backlash, people who feel he’s overexposed, and they’re tired of his work.  I can grant that, yes, he’s all over the place, but there’s no one else out there like him.  When you have people imitating Kirby or Kubert or Jim Lee or hot-artist-of-the-day, you realize there’s still nobody doing it quite like Ross does.  The book is beautiful, the heroes, with that heavy dose of humanity and individuality that Ross brings, never looked more heroic.

For readers less than familiar with some of the characters, there are bios of that issue’s major players, in this case Aquaman, Black Manta and Luthor.  It’s a nice touch that hopefully continues throughout the 12-issue run of the series.  Ultimately, if Justice has a failing, it’s that it’s on a bi-monthly schedule, and I’m just not sure if I can wait that long. 

FIVE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

Trade Center

Gotham Central Volume 2: Half A Life
(DC Comics) (BUY IT HERE)

 By Graig Kent

The police procedural has been a staple of television since the days of Dragnet, if not before.  They’ve undergone many transformations through the years, from the ‘70’s glut of detective series, the ass-crazy NYPD Blue ‘90’s.  Today’s current crop of Law and Order and CSI franchises make for entertaining viewing, but for all their cleverness, they lack something special: characterization.  Sure there are characters on the show, but we’re rarely exposed to their personal lives, and character growth involves leaving the program for an equally impersonal spin-off/unsuccessful movie career.

Writer Greg Rucka, with artist Michael Lark, have created a procedural set in the DC Universe that resists the urge to be larger-than-life without completely avoiding it’s less-than-normal surroundings.  What’s even more special is Rucka is as focused on developing characters as he is the crime story.  In Half A Life, Detective Renee Montoya is outed, and we see the repercussions it has in both her family life and her career.  Working in a boys club that has enough difficulty accepting women, never mind a gay one, is only the beginning of Montoya’s problems, as internal affairs investigates her, implicating her in a crime, and a dangerously delusional criminal lets his affection for her be known.

Half A Life reprints Gotham Central #6 – 10, a compelling and brilliantly constructed story, perfectly executed by Michael Lark.  It doesn’t shy away from meaty drama, nor does it disappoint on police-show action.   The trade paperback opens with reprints two previous Montoya tales by Rucka, which are nice additions to the Montoya’s back-story but impose upon the main story in a negative way… they should have been printed at the back of the book as additional materials.  My TiVo longs for a cop show of this caliber.

FIVE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

Dead West

(Gigantic Graphic Novels)(BUY IT HERE!)


By Sean Fahey

After reading Dead West, I’m genuinely beginning to worry that the whole zombie thing is played out.  It’s not that the concept of a group of strangers holding off hordes of the undead isn’t fun anymore…well, actually, with the complete saturation of video games, comic books and movies with exactly that premise it is getting to the point where it’s not fun anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I still think there’s plenty of room left for stories involving the undead.  But the “meat-grinder siege” story is tired.  I think for a zombie story to work today, it can not rely entirely on the conventions of yesterday.  It needs to either offer something unique, (visually, thematically or conventionally) like 28 Days Later, or use the zombie angle as a backdrop for a story about something else (like the horrors of man), in the way that The Walking Dead and Zombie Tales do.

By and large, Dead West is simply an amalgamation of conventions from two different genres – zombie and western – and that alone just isn’t enough to carry the day.  Admittedly, the story has an interesting supernatural catalyst that makes the most of the setting and works for the narrative.  But too quickly Dead West becomes just another blood n’ guts shoot ‘em up, as the townsfolk fend off a legion of the undead with help of the clichéd mysterious drifter.  It’s page after page of a couple of heads exploding and then someone getting bitten.  Unless this is a subtle allegory for the war in Iraq and I’m missing something, Dead West has none of the veiled social commentary or character development that has come to be the hallmark of good zombie fiction.  And though certainly a tip of the hat, Dead West’s creators (Rick Spears and Rob G) earn no points for originality by using as their two central characters “Joe” and “Tuco” from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. 

To be fair, it’s clear that Rick Spears and Rob G set out here to have fun and craft a fun and exciting action piece.  Even couched in those terms however, Dead West just barely meets that goal given the often confusing and excessively grainy artwork.  Perhaps Rob G is attempting to emulate “the fog of war,” but for much of the book it’s impossible to tell who is being attacked or where the bullets are coming from.  The action scenes are very cluttered.  It’s not that Dead West is necessarily bad, it’s just that it’s not particularly good.  It’s too familiar and too clichéd.  Still it is zombie fiction, which even when it’s not particularly good is still digestible.  At fifteen dollars though, you can get a lot more bang for your buck elsewhere.

TWO OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

2 Vikings

Smoke and Guns

(AIT/PlanetLar)(BUY IT HERE!)


 By Sean Fahey

I used to smoke, and when I did I absolutely loved it.  And I wasn’t one of these “social smokers” either.  Sure I’d light up when I was drinking, but what I really enjoyed was camping out on the University quad with a good book, a coffee and a pack of smokes.  Nice cool breeze. The fall leaves.  The quiet solitude.  It was a little slice of heaven, and I miss it.  But literally and figuratively, smokers are a dying breed – and the general societal animosity toward smokers now days, quite frankly, makes me want to shoot someone.  (I love it when some obese SOB with the 72oz corn syrup Big Gulp gives a smoker that “tisk-tisk” look for lighting up) It’s for that reason that Smoke and Guns struck a cord with me.  Although I’m probably reading too much into the book, I loved Smoke and Guns in-your-face attitude and the subtle commentary of writer Kirsten Baldock’s hyper-realistic vision of a world where the only smokes for sale are from organized gangs of cigarette girl with guns, lots and lots of guns.

Smoke and Guns owes a lot to Frank Miller’s Sin City, both visually and conventionally, but also has its unique – and more comedic – imprint.  Baldock and artist Fabio Moon’s world is not unlike Sin City’s “Old Town” – a dark landscape populated by beautiful women with something to sell and the means to protect themselves.  Moon’s shadowy black and white artwork is atmospheric, very noir.  And Baldock’s dialogue smacks of the clever “tough guy” (or in this case “gal”) language of classic crime fiction.  But the comparisons to Sin City stop there as Smoke and Guns is at its core an over-the-top blaze of glory romp of John Woo proportions about the rivalry between two groups of cigarette girls, The Broadway Belles and The Grand Avenue Puffs, with a sense of humor.

I will mention that Smoke and Guns is a bit unrelenting.  Don’t let the fact that the narrative focuses on beautiful women fool you into thinking this book is going to be “cute.”  These femme fatales have no problem whatsoever unloading an Uzi into one of their rivals, or putting one right between the eyes for that matter.  There’s carnage, massive carnage here, which is part of the fun to be honest.  But, as I mentioned before, it’s all done in a hyper-realistic over-the-top manner.  Add to that the humorous banter between the two leads Scarlett and Annie and the camaraderie they share, and Smoke and Guns elevates itself above a pure action piece.  Smoke and Guns is rich with attitude and atmosphere, and it certainly doesn’t hurt matters that the book also has one of the hottest covers of the year.

THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS

3 and a half

Wanted
(Top Cow/Image) (BUY IT HERE)

 By Graig Kent

In Mark Millar’s Wanted, all the superheroes are dead – the villains have finally won.  Years after the cataclysmic battle all the villains are operating as a part of a secret society consisting of six factions controlling a different portion of the planet.  When the Killer, one of villainy’s most infamous and powerful, not to mention richest, members is murdered, he leaves his fortune and legacy to his son, a wimpy nobody named Wesley Gibson.  Gibson goes through extensive training to bring out his innate killing ability and unleash his inhibitions and desires to the point where he becomes as good a villain as his father – perhaps even more dangerous.  When one of the factions decides its time to split from the society, it’s all-out war, and naturally Wesley’s the equalizing force.

It’s all very crafty, uber-violent, sadistic and depraved, which is equally what’s enjoyable about Wanted and what’s not.  The book, by its nature, deals with characters that do despicable things, are remorseless and unforgiving, and that makes it hard to sympathize with any of the characters.  The only reason we support Wesley’s side in the villain war is because the status quo has order, whereas the opposition wants chaos.  On the one hand it’s a highly entertaining book, as there is definitely something visceral about it, yet on the other it’s intentionally provocative and distasteful, hitting all the right buttons to put you off.  It’s hard to reconcile the two factors, although, if anything, it’s JG Jones’ art that pushes this book into the “good” category.  His spectacular use of shadow, his depth in character design and his mind-blowing action sequences are perfect for the book, and (as always) a treat to behold.  Not for everyone (especially the young ones).  The collection features the Wanted: Dossier, character designs and deleted scenes.

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, Winter Men and Captain America. 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