REVIEWED THIS WEEK:
- Of Bitter Souls #1
- Batman: Journey Into Night #1
- Rex Libris #1
- Hell Michigan #1 & 2
- Runaways vol. 1 TPB
- The King
- The Ride TPB
- Challengers of the Unknown Must Die TPB
- Green Lantern #3
- City of Heroes #4
- Detective Comics #810
- Seven Soldiers: Klarion #3
- The Goon #13
- Rann-Thanagar War #4
- Godland #2
The Winds of Change Doth Bloweth
Changes are coming to the column, starting…now. In response to the feedback we’ve been getting, we’re going to be reviewing more books – including reviews in a "digest" type of format. For the time being we’re going to call the new section “Rack Raid.” Think of a Viking raid – in and out with a fury, making sure all the important stuff is accounted for.
This will allow us to cover ongoing series better, as we generally spend the bulk of our reviewing time covering first issues, one-shots and original graphic novels. Let us know what you think.
“Of Bitter Souls” Has its Heart in the Past, Without Being Retro
There are those of us that would contend that the 1980’s were the real golden age of comics. There was the battle for the top of the charts between the X-Men and Teen Titans, there were the first big epic crossovers, Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths, and, of course, The Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, which changed comics forever. DC was experimenting with mature readers titles and alternative publishers were coming out of the woodworks, bringing us fantastic projects like The Tick, Grendel, Grimjack, Nexus and more. The wonders of the 1980’s set us up for the fall that happened in the 1990’s, where greed, speculation, “grim’n’gritty” and “bad girls” seemed to take precedence over good storytelling.
Of course, the 80’s being the era that I grew up in, I may be romanticizing things a little bit, but nostalgia will do that to you. Speakeasy Comics, much like the era’s also-ran publishers (like First, Eclipse or Comico), is a company that has superhero books but isn’t solely focused on them, opting instead to diversify its line-up and promote more creator-driven works.
Of Bitter Souls # 1, one of their latest releases, seems like a comic thrust from the 1980’s, a superhero book without superheroes. The characters, the storytelling, and even the artwork have the feel of a book that, like it’s setting of
Though Of Bitter Souls # 1 is pretty generic reading in some respects, what really pulls it up is seeing Norm Breyfogle’s art. Breyfogle, if you don’t know, was the quintessential Batman artist from the late 1980’s through to the early 1990’s. He had fantastic stints on both Detective Comics and Batman, as well as helped launch Shadow of the Bat. He moved on to
Of Bitter Souls isn’t caught up in trying to be modern and it isn’t intentionally going out of its way to be retro. It’s just a solid, entertaining, well drawn book which if you feel you’re missing from your regular reading, you could do worse than pick up.
THREE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Helfer and Eng Huat Take Batman on a “Journey Into Knight”
By Russell Paulette
…and they do so with an awful title and hideous cover. But you know what they say about judging a book and all that. Fortunately, Pat Lee doesn’t draw the interiors here, as those are left in the more-than-capable hands of Tan Eng Huat, proving his chops once again. And Andrew Helfer turns in a solid script, despite the fact that it’s under the banner of a Punnerific Title.
I know that’s a rather underwhelming lead for the first issue of the latest Batman mini-series and, to be honest, it’s a bit how I approached this first issue myself. Longtime readers of the column know that, if I’m a sucker for anything, it’s a Batman comic (And crack. But mostly Batman.), so it was almost compulsory that I checked this out. Between the uninviting title and the garish Pat Lee cover—who, honestly, looks like he’s perfected the Dark Knight Sculpted Out of Mashed Potatoes look—I was expecting to flip through some pretty Tan Eng Huat artwork and set the book back on the rack.
Color me surprised, then, when I was hooked by Helfer’s script. To be fair, I dug his stuff back in the day—there’s a Batman annual from 1989 that’s one of my all time favorites, and his run on The Shadow in the late 80s with Bill Sienkiewicz and Kyle Baker holds a special place in my heart—but his name didn’t exactly get my engine running.
Okay, so what he gives on the story front isn’t all that spectacular—it’s a Year One kind of a story, with Batman still getting the ropes of crime fighting down, making mistakes, learning the methods. In short, he’s fallible. He gets caught on the trial of a new raver drug called Sanitiz, that leaves its victims in a vegetative state, and so he goes undercover to track it all down. Since he’s the inexperienced Dark Knight Detective, he wisely chooses the street-level guise of Bruce Wayne—a boner that, frankly, plays nicely into the book’s third act and adds an element of suspense to the cliffhanger, too. Either way, Helfer wisely plays the inexperienced card and does so without making Batman seem straight retarded or anything in his early days. Likewise, the emotional plot is a lot of similar threads—haunted by his parents, et cetera—but scripted in such a way that it retains a freshness without feeling overdone.
The real praise to be lavished here is on the artwork, with the talented Huat showing a wide range of storytelling and rendering skill here. He showed early promise with his first US work on the mumbleteenth failed relaunch of Doom Patrol—the one that neither Morrison (great!), nor Byrne (groan!) had anything to do with—but showed a willingness to bring an unrestrained, foreign grammar to his storytelling. Here, he reins it in, and the result is a refreshingly rendered world where everything old is new again. He has an open, loose style that compliments the story and the world of Gotham City with a nice, even keel.
Overall, if you’re looking for a solid fix for your post-Batman Begins blues, Batman: Journey Into Night # 1 is the start of a promising, stand-alone mini-series that gives you all the Batman for your buck. It’s not an amazing re-definition of the character or anything, but for a standard, by-the-numbers Batbook, it sure scratches that itch well enough for two bucks and two bits.
THREE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
You May Not Have Demanded it, But Now You’ve Got it: “Rex Libris”, Action Librarian
By Graig Kent
James Turner’s original graphic novel, Nil: A Land Beyond Belief (reviewed HERE), was one of my favorite reads so far this year. Turner steeped the book in eclectic computer-generated imagery, philosophic satirizing, and a delightful sense of both humor and adventure. I knew that Turner would be someone I needed to watch out for. Considering how much detail he puts into his stark black and white imagery, as well as his propensity for extensive monologues and dialogues, I wasn’t expecting another works out of Turner so soon, and yet here it is: Rex Libris Volume 1, Issue 1.
While Nil was a 200+ page in digest-sized format, Rex Libris is a standard format, 32 page comic, and Turner uses every inch of space afforded to him, including the inside covers. The inaugural issue, entitled “I, Librarian” is just a stunning, dense and richly constructed comic, kicking off with Rex taking on the samurai demon spirit Kurui-No-Oni in the annals of the Middleton Public Library. Yes, this is librarian action like you never seen before. Following Rex’s entanglement with the demon, we explore Rex’s history (he’s an two-thousand year old immortal from the Greek era) and we meet his chief nemesis (who resembles Inspector Gadget villain Dr. Claw in many respects). We also get metaphysical as Rex sits down with comic book publisher B. Barry Horst (and discuss the fictitious publishing of the very book we’re reading), and we get to meet Rex’s boss (an ancient deity) who assigns him his next mission, retrieving a book from the Warlord Vaglox on the planet Bezine Five. Yes, the Middleton Public Library will go to any expense to ensure its books get returned and its late fines get paid.
If that seems like a lot, well, it is. As highly entertaining as it is, this isn’t your standard ten-minute X-Men read. It’s a full-bodied tome compressed into such confined quarters, but it’s so well populated, and its absurd scenario of warrior librarian is played straight enough to carry you along with it. But that’s not everything, Turner also establishes Barry Horst’s publishing company, Hermeneutic Press as the publisher of the book (even though it’s really published by Slave Labor Graphics), “giving” Horst the inside front cover to do a Stan Lee-esque publisher’s ramble. Turner also includes a two-page promotional “interview” for Nil, and the last page explores the evolutionary cycle of the “Dadapod”, which reads like a lost Monty Python sketch. Inside the back cover, there’s an exploration of a newly “unearthed” glyph, which may, or may not, be a historical detailing of a coffee shop interaction. And finally, there’s a “commentary track” running across the bottom of the page throughout the main story, with Horst and series artist “Juame” in discussion. Horst contends, in this commentary, that comics are in competition with DVDs and that special features (which this book is loaded with) are essential to comic book survival. Of course, he’s not real, so what does he know.
If for some reason I went destitute and could only afford to buy one comic book this month, Rex Libris would be it. Action, humour, history, absurdity, metaphysics, hyper-stylized art… what’s not to like? If you’ve been looking for something different, well, this is different. But it’s also pretty damn good.
FIVE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
EXTRA: Hell, Michigan Plagued by Evil — Truly Awful Artwork
By Graig Kent
Comics are an art form that requires a certain synchronicity between writer(s) and artist(s). Sometimes, when the balance isn’t there, the writing can make up for weak art, and vice-versa, but similarly, extremely weak writing or weak art can pull the entire work down.
Dan Jolley is a talented writer, a solid storyteller, even a fine craftsman of sorts. I’ve read and enjoyed most of his work (most recently his runs on Firestorm and Bloodhound over at DC Comics) and everything has been way above par in both planning and execution. He’s now once again focusing on more creator-driven endeavors, and Hell, Michigan, published by Funnel Cloud 9 (FC9), is the first effort to hit the stands, the second issue released this month.
Like Twin Peaks on television, or Stepford in the movies, Hell is a unique small town, where the people seem to live in a chaotic environment without truly understanding just how chaotic it is. People die mysteriously, children go missing, and quite frequently the town is blanketed in a strange red distortion. Something demonic is going on in Hell, and it’s obvious the irony escapes no one. Dixon and Diana Cole are husband and wife real estate agents. They’re the welcoming committee for Hell, but they’re also all too aware of what the town is about, as five years before their daughter went missing. The latest resident to come to town is Regina Lockridge, and with a name like that you know she’s gotta be a psychic. Her presence immediately stirs up trouble, exposing the Coles to a resistance movement as well as the evil cabal situated inside Town Hall. If Hell was nasty before, it just got worse.
Hell, Michigan is Jolley channeling Stephen King, building up its many characters, their oddball town and the strange events perpetually afflicting it. It would be a decent, enjoyable story, one that would have me coming back month after month if not for the horrendous art by Clint Hilinski. The photo-manipulated covers are really attractive, but don’t let them fool you into thinking there’s something pretty inside. Stilted is the nicest word I can use to describe Hilinski’s work, his characters look referenced from posed Barbie and Ken dolls alternated with department store mannequins. He drafts some of the most ungainly fight sequences I’ve ever seen published and injects absolutely no reality to any of these characters or scenarios in the two books of this series released so far. His faces and figures are inconsistent from one panel to the next (witness Regina’s breasts shrink and swell as issue two progresses), and generally expressionless: the people of Hell seem to have trouble using their lips to cover their teeth. Hilinski does his own inking which strives for a Gene Colan effect, but is thin and shoddy, cracking around the frames giving a flat feel and a sense that the figures are merging with their surroundings. What’s more, Andrew Dalhouse’s colors are generic, establishing no mood or atmosphere in Hell, and further exposes Hilinski’s weaknesses.
I would really like to carry on with this series, but I don’t think even an Alan Moore script could withstand this kind of painful accompaniment. Hilinski’s art makes Jolley’s words seem more awkward than they actually are, bringing the overall quality of the story, the characters and the concepts way, way down.
ONE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Runaways Volume 1 (Hardcover)
(Marvel) BUY IT HERE!
By Graig Kent
Brian K. Vaughn already has two highly (and rightfully) praised books in Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, but I still don’t think he’s getting enough love for Runaways. This book is completely unlike either of Vaughn’s other ongoing books, if only for the fact that it’s much more accessible to all readers. Runaways will appeal to an eight-year old girl as much as it will to a 29-year old man.
Five teenagers and one pre-teen discover that their parents are the heads of a criminal syndicate responsible for major crimes, and one night they witness a ritualistic sacrifice. The kids decide that they aren’t safe and, hence the name of the title, they run away. The parents’ secrets are explored, and their mission is foiled as the kids discover they too have superpowers. However, one of the kids is a traitor, and the entire series builds to an absolutely thrilling climax.
There are many atypical things about Runaways that constantly impress me. The book is skewed with more female characters than male characters, and they have the better powers. It’s a rare thing, and Vaughn has done a fantastic job creating different and real personalities for every one of them. Though the dialogue is sometimes awkward and the romantic entanglements seem a little forced, they still ring true if you consider what it was like to be a teen hitting puberty with both feet moving.
Art chores by (primarily) Adrian Alphona and Craig Yeung, with stunning colors by Udon Studios, are a fine bridge between manga and traditional North American sensibilities. Alphona does a wonderful job giving each character recognizably different bodies and faces, and nicely works most of the series with characters in plainclothes.
This massive hardcover collects the entire 18 issues of the first volume of Runaways, previously collected in three digest-sized volumes.
FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
(Top Shelf Productions) BUY IT HERE!
By Russell Paulette
I’ll be honest, I’m more of a Beatles man, myself. The mop-top pop sensation of the Fab Four does far more than the King’s rockabilly, blue-suede-swagger. That said, though (and to push the obligatory Tarantino hip-check aside), I do understand a thing or two about unblemished, slavish devotion. I am, after all, a comic book reader.
Writer-artist Rich Koslowski obviously understands a thing or two about it, too, and it’s what infuses his latest effort, The King. Taking a cue from his last graphic novel, Three Fingers, he wraps his new tale around another pop culture phenomenon—namely the effect young Elvis Aaron Presley exhibited on his faithful followers. But you know what? That’s just all that high-falutin’ thematic crap—question is, is the story any good?
Koslowski presents a gripping narrative framework in the story of his protagonist, Paul Erfurt. A washed up, ex-National Enquirer reporter, Erfurt lands the dream job: pitching an article to Time Magazine on the latest Vegas sensation, an immensely popular Elvis impersonator named The King. A familiar framework to be sure, Koslowski does it by the numbers—the further Erfurt digs into the King’s story, the further he spirals into a web of half-truths and misdirection, testing the limits of his beliefs and faith about the world at large.
What starts as a nifty little hook becomes a compelling meditation on the nature of faith and belief in a largely secular world, and Koslowski handles the transition from novelty to meaning with a deft hand. His writing is sharp and nuanced, with each scene working in concert with the rest of the book. This is a novel to absorb, to get sucked into, and I’m not ashamed to say it grabbed this member of the Lonely Heart’s Club Band.
In addition to the scripting, Koslowski provides the visuals for his novel as well, and they demonstrate the same sure swiftness that his scripting shows. The characters have a cartoony breeze to them that gives the book the proper mirthful tone, without undermining some of the greater themes buried within. Indeed, the art favors the book, particularly when the later plot-revelations turn out to be less sinister than we were led to believe. That said, art and story marry effectively at the heart-wrenching climax.
The King belongs on the shelf of anyone who finds the appeal in high-quality, contemporary literature, with a bit of a bent twist to it. Readers of novelists like Nick Hornby or Tom Perrotta will find themselves more than happy with Koslowski’s efforts. Uh, thenkyewverymuch.
FIVE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
The Ride TPB
(Image Comics) BUY IT HERE!
By Devon Sanders
I do not have a driver’s license. I live in a city with a wonderful public transportation system. I don’t know what a “manifold” is. I have never successfully changed a tire or changed my own oil. “Pimp My Ride” is lost upon me, as I don’t see how a fish tank in your dashboard helps you get anywhere faster. I noticed more homoeroticism in The Fast and The Furious, than I saw cars. I’m not a car guy. I do love art though, particularly the art of the guys of “Gaijin Studios.” At different points, this studio has contained the likes of Brian Stelfreeze (Matador), Cully Hamner (Red), Adam Hughes (Wonder Woman) Hughes, Karl Story (Tom Strong) and Jason Pearson (Body Bags), all favorites of mine. So, how does one go about making me read The Ride, a trade paperback involving the varying degrees of mayhem, thefts, deaths and general skullduggery revolving around a 1968 Camaro? You get Chuck Dixon (Nightwing) and Ron Marz (Star Wars) to write some of its’ stories and then have the aforementioned artists draw it. Clocking in at 128 pages with pin-ups and sketches from Hughes, Pearson and others, The Ride only has a price tag of $9.99. Today, with the price of gas, The Ride just may be the best deal you’ll find involving a car, nowadays.
THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Challengers of the Unknown Must Die TPB
(DC) BUY IT HERE!
By Graig Kent
Before Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale were “Loeb and Sale”, creators of Batman: The Long Halloween, Spider-man: Blue or Daredevil: Yellow, joined at the hip for eternity, they worked on a small-time prestige format mini-series for DC Comics, rescuing the Challengers of the Unknown from the (ahem) unknown for a short stint in 1991.
Loeb and Sale’s more prominent works together are revered because of their fresh perspectives on well-tread characters, however, with the Challengers, they not only got to put a spin on obscure characters, but also recreate them, and redefine who they are. In the Challengers of the Unknown Must Die, Loeb and Sale get free reign to do with the Rocky, Red, Ace, June and the Prof as they wish, and they do, first by blowing up Challenger’s mountain and proclaiming two members of the team dead. The government puts the heroes on trial for public endangerment, their unscrupulous lawyer pins the accident on the dead members, which, after getting cleared of the charges, sets the three remaining members free. However they each suffer a breakdown of sorts, which finds them in the oddest of places. A tabloid reporter investigates the explosion, discovers the truth, and brings the trio back together again for what could be their final adventure.
The series is a product of its times, working a harder, darker edge, however Loeb and Sale do not forget the history and spirit of the original Challengers. There’s a sense of discovery both in the characters and in the reader. The story explores idol worship and satirizes the media, while the characters are forced to explore themselves, their motivations, and their path in life. Sale gets particularly inventive with his layouts and serves up some powerful visuals. Loeb’s story isn’t completely focused, but is still very engaging. A solid read.
FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Green Lantern # 3 (DC) – Straight-up superhero stuff from the best in the business at that type of thing, writer Geoff Johns (JLA, The Flash, JSA, the upcoming Infinite Crisis). In this issue, the Green Lantern goes toe-to-toe with an alien killing machine bent on his destruction. Johns continues to explore the theme of courage against fear, not just with the newly resurrected Hal Jordan but with Coast City itself, which is reluctantly rebuilding years after being destroyed by Jordan. Unlike most DC superhero comics, this title has a cosmic feel to it – many of the characters and settings are literally out of this world – which is refreshing. I never read Green Lantern until this incarnation of the series, so for longtime fans this may all be old hat. But for a newbie, this is a fun superhero read and Carlos Pacheco’s line work is sharp. A great looking book. -Sean
THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
City of Heroes # 4 (Top Cow/Image) – Troy Hickman (Common Grounds) takes over the MMORPG-based comic from Mark Waid for a three-issue story. The focus of the book now clearly seems to be on a particular team of heroes, rather than exploring the populace of the city ala Astro City. Hickman references classic Justice League of America and splits the team up into three groups; each on their own quest serving a single purpose that will inevitably bring them together for the climatic battle. Fluffy but fun. -Graig
THREE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Detective Comics # 810 (DC) – Part three of the four-part "War Crimes" crossover. Generally, I don’t mind crossovers that much. More often than not they’re mildly entertaining (albeit mildly annoying as well), but they help maintain an internal continuity between the books of a particular line. This crossover however I actually find offensive, as it seems entirely designed to clear Batman’s name (and conscious) for his role in the death of Stephanie Brown (who served as Robin for a short time). I think it would be much more interesting to see Batman have to deal with the guilt rather than conveniently be absolved of it, especially now that Jason Todd is back. There’s more drama and character development in that. Still one issue to go, but this reads like a "quick fix." All that said, I have been impressed throughout this crossover with the way that Bill Willingham writes Batman’s dialogue – short, forceful commands and threats. No exposition. No chit-chat. That’s Batman. -Sean
TWO OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Seven Soldiers: Klarion # 3 (DC) – My favorite of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers titles so far, this issue sees a sinister force manipulating Klarion to gain access to his hometown of Croatoan. Meanwhile, Klarion and a wily group of orphans conspire to steal from a superhero museum. The art by Frazer Irving is so good I could cry. -Graig
FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
The Goon # 13 (Dark Horse Comics) – To think, there was actually a time when I was going to cut this title (not because it wasn’t any good, buy because I buy too many books). For shame. Month in and month out, The Goon is one of the funniest comic books on the market. Dark humor stuff, sometimes of the potty variety. The dialogue is hilarious, as is the situational comedy. This issue sees The Goon incarcerated and making a jailbreak with the help of some local kids. Eric Powell pulls out all the stops with respect to the prison humor, and though some of it is cliché it’s all too damn funny to matter. Throw in a 1940’s pulpish tough-guy feel, a good serving of the macabre, a nice creepy vibe and incredible painted artwork by Powell and The Goon becomes one hell of a book. -Sean
FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Rann-Thanagar War # 4 (DC) – As the countdown to Infinite Crisis continues, things get ever more convoluted in the Rann-Thanagar war. The new villain introduced this issue is, well, pure cheese and macaroni, and whatever was going on with Tigorr and Price Gavyn was rather pointless. Reis and Campos are still delivering with the art, but, man, this book is all over the place. Captain Comet is totally cool though. -Graig
TWO AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Godland # 2 (Image Comics) – Russell wasn’t kidding when he rained much praise upon this book last month. After only two issues, Godland has become one of my most eagerly anticipated titles. Why you ask? Is it the cool, cosmic superhero vibe? Is it the retro feel with the Silver Age-esque tale of an astronaut returning to Earth with superpowers? Tom Scioli’s tripy Jack Kirby inspired visuals? That’s all part of it, but mostly it’s Basil Cronus – the main characters’ arch-nemesis, and a character who is bound to become a cult sensation. Hilarious character design (that’s him on the cover), hilarious dialogue and (as we learn in this issue) hilarious reason-for-being – to mainline the blood of aliens in order to get high. Cronus has an entire operation to support that goal. There’s much more to this book than that. But let’s face it, that alone is enough. This is some of the smartest writing Joe Casey has ever done. A must read for fans of The Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer and Dr. Strange. -Sean
FIVE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Marv Wolfman is Going to DragonCon and So Should You!
Although primarily thought of as a science fiction and fantasy convention, there will be an eclectic group of comic book personalities at Dragon Con this year, to be held in Atlanta, Georgia from September 2rd through September 5th. Among the personalities are Howard Chaykin, Tim Bradstreet (cover artist for The Punisher), Ethan Van Sciver (Green Lantern), Eric Powell (The Goon), Adam Hughes (cover artist for Wonder Woman and Tomb Raider), Bob Burden and comic book legend Marv Wolfman to name just a few, as well as an army of comic book dealers eager to peddle their goods. Here’s a link to their site for all the details – www.dragoncon.org.
So, why not Dragon Con it this Labor Day weekend and pick up those 100 Bullets trades you’ve been meaning to get after giving Marv Wolfman a big high five!
So ends this accounting of valiant warriors and high adventure! Return next week to honor (maybe) Conan, Adventures of Superman and The Walking Dead. Praise Odin.
HAVE A COMIC YOU WANT TO SUBMIT FOR REVIEW? Contact Sean at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To discuss this column and all things Nordic, you may contact Sean at email@example.com , Devon at firstname.lastname@example.org , Dave at email@example.com , Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org , Rob at email@example.com and Graig at firstname.lastname@example.org.