“What Were They Thinking?” Indeed, Writers Keith Giffen and Mike Leib Have Fun Dubbing Over an Old World War II War Comic

By Sean Fahey

 Take an old Wally Wood war comic from the 1950’s and add a healthy serving of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (as dubbed by writer Keith Giffen) and this is what you get – pure insanity from the inmates at Boom Studios.  Giffen and Mike Leib have the time of their lives “rewriting” this old WWII comic – and their enthusiasm shows.  It’s over-the-top.  It’s silly.  It’s outrageous.  But, like “Mystery Science Theater” it’s also redundant at times.  As such, the book’s greatest strength becomes its greatest weakness…and then – oddly enough – becomes its greatest strength again. Ahhh, such is the circle of life.

Understand that the jokes and themes in this comic are beaten to death.  Take for example “The Combat Crazy Cuties of Coyote Ugly Company,” which follows the aptly named Sgt. Mann as she (yes, she) rushes into battle after battle (eventually war after war, as her career spans both WWII and Korea) in search of a man.  It’s panel after panel of her pining after the better-looking enemy soldiers, while eliminating the less attractive (and married) ones.  Similarly, “Don’t Ask! Don’t Tell!” features just about every single “always watch your ass” / “never leave your man behind” gag you can imagine, changing direction only to throw in a few “frontal assault” jokes courtesy of the story’s protagonist PFC Harry Palmer.  Panel after panel. Page after page.  Still, it is brilliant in a way because it goes from being funny, to being not funny, and then back to being funny simply because it’s so relentless – the repetition will kill you.  But you have to dig that kind of comedy.

Though all four of the stories have their merits, “Hearts and Minds,” which follows the misadventures of a Navy commando tasked to help the inhabitants of Itti Bitti fight the Japanese, is the one that kept me consistently in stitches.  Outraged that the United States has sent only one man to help them in their cause, the natives set out kill the commando, and repeatedly fail.  The commando – who does not speak their language – is of course oblivious, and actually becomes quite arrogant because of his apparent invulnerability after so many close calls.  It’s good stuff, and Giffen smartly capitalizes on Wood’s depiction of the (seemingly frustrated) natives and the iconic and heroic posture of the commando to make his jokes work.

If, like me, you enjoy watching blocks of television with the mute button on to fit your own nefarious purposes, this book is for you.  Likewise, if you dig the kitsch factor of old comic book artwork (for example the fact that every single American soldier in these things looks like they are having the time of their lives), this book is for you.  If you like both of those things, well then avoid this book at all costs (kidding!).  There just isn’t enough humor in comic books today, and What Were They Thinking? definitely fills the void.  I wasn’t going to say it, but what the hell at this point – this comic puts the fun back in funny books!


New look.  New universe.  Captain Atom is reborn.

By Graig Kent

 When the last Crisis hit (that would be the “On Infinite Earths” one), the DC Universe was first introduced to the hero that was Captain Atom, one of many of Earth-4’s champions (along with other DC appropriated Charlton Comics characters like Blue Beetle and Judomaster).   Cap and the other primary Charlton characters had a good 20+ year history behind them, which was all wiped away by the Crisis.  The characters, after dodging the Alan Moore Watchmen bullet, were swiftly incorporated into the new continuity of the DC Universe, popping up in their own titles, mini-series, or as members of team books like Suicide Squad, Justice League, and, for Cap, Justice League Europe.

After a sub-par 5-year run in his own title and three years in the JLE, Cap was slated to turn heel and become “Monarch” in DC’s 1991 event: Armageddon 2001.  Well, that didn’t happen, primarily because spoilers reached fandom before its conclusion (and this was well before the internet, folks).  Instead Cap was robbed of his turncoat glory and became Monarch’s nemesis. They battled across the centuries in a pair of sub-par Armageddon mini-series and both the “new major villain” and Captain Atom descended into the relative obscurity of Extreme Justice.

More recently Jeph Loeb brought Captain Atom back in Batman/Superman, only to blow him up again.  But he didn’t die.  No, oddly enough (considering his introduction into the DC Universe) he’s traversed dimensions into the Wildstorm Universe, where heroes are treated… a little differently.  If you’ve read The Authority (which I haven’t) then you probably know what I’m talking about.  Cap, though, is a little more than confused as he approaches some frightened citizens after fighting Mr. Majestic.  “Please… Don’t hurt us,” one man says.  Cap responds, trying to assuage fears, “I’m a Superhero”.  The man responds, “We know… Please…”  Cap realizes he’s not in Kansas anymore.  In this case Kansas = Earth Prime (to use a Crisis term).

Now, I’m not saying this has anything at all to do with the current Infinite Crisis, but ties can be made, however loosely.  But that’s not really the focus of the series, and as a non-Wildstorm Universe reader I’m not quite sure what the focus is supposed to be.  But this is a bridging series, designed to give the DC Universe fans a chance to experience a new universe through familiar eyes. 

Writer Will Pfeifer succeeds in providing the reader this angle.  Those unfamiliar with the Wildstorm universe will pick up its vibe quick enough, and those Wildstorm readers who don’t know who Captain Atom is will get a quick sense of his character as well.  The first issue is mostly set-up, with a classic misunderstanding leading to a hero-versus-hero brawl in a major metropolitan center.   It’s a very odd but successful merger of classic superhero storytelling with the grim-n-gritty.

The art team of Giuseppe Camuncoli and Sandra Hope are serviceable, providing good storytelling but I’m not incredibly fond of their line work.  It needs a thicker edge, and more definition.  And I’m not really digging the new costume design.  Largely inspired by Cap’s classic Charlton uniform, it just doesn’t work for me.  The silver and red was, well, classy.  Digressions aside, this is some enjoyable stuff.



The Old West Is Still Decidedly Different With Jonah Hex Around

By Devon Sanders

 In the future, a rocket containing a child will crash-land in Kansas, changing everything. In the future, a child will weep softly, kneeling in a pool of his parents’ blood. In the future, a woman will whisper a plea and receive the greatest of the gods’ gifts. A man of science will become one with the lightning.

Currently, in the world we live in, men who declare war get labeled as “cowboys” and “gunslingers,” awarding their cronies “patriot” status by the oiling of the political machine. I do not believe these men and women have come anywhere near earning their “titles.” Once upon a time in America, to be labeled a cowboy or a gunslinger came with the accepting of consequences. It meant you were willing to work hard, to play hard and when the notion hit, love hard. The gunslinger understood the consequences of not drawing his gun. The gunslinger understood that the better he became at his trade, the more orphans he’d make. A man should be cognizant of that. True cowboys and gunslingers, may survive only in fiction. I, for one, am both saddened and thankful for that.

In the west of old, a man will fill his hand in a world not yet ready for the super, the wonderful. He will simulate lightning, striking down those who chose to make of him an enemy. In a DC Universe not yet ready for superheroes, Jonah Hex is exactly what the universe needs: a man. Jonah Hex #1, on sale now.

A child is held for ransom, his life being something not up for negotiation, a father telegraphs for Jonah Hex. The trail leads to a carnival, one where men delight in more than children’s games. Held in the dead of night, men delight in a crime that isn’t yet, reveling in the defilement of God’s creations. A crime more than one young boy has fallen victim to. No more. Hex has seen all he’s needed to see and the game has to come to an end. Hex wills it so. In an attempt to save one child, Hex has a chance to save many. Will his talent for killing be a child’s Godsend?

Writers Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti (Hawkman) understand that a man’s actions speak louder than his words. Their Hex is steady, complicated, understanding the power of the bullet. Hex is the closet thing The Old West has to a Batman and every word and action is just as fascinating.

Luke Ross (Samurai: Between Heaven & Earth) is the perfect artist for Jonah Hex. Ross brings a strong sense of photo-realism without falling prey to stiffness. Ross’ art immediately recalls that of Greg Land’s but Ross’s sense of page layout wins hands down. Where Land tends to have backgrounds act as nothing other than backdrops for his light-boxed drawings, Ross bothers with rendering with relationship to his characters’ surroundings. Plus, his Hex just freakin’ rocks, recalling A Fistful of Dollars Clint Eastwood.

Friends, we are in comics’ new Golden Age. Gray & Palmiotti smartly don’t have Jonah Hex preach justice, he is justice and justice is complicated. While superheroes twist and debate over uses of force, these writers totally understand that there no room for shades of gray in this corner of The DCU. Hex’s motivations for force are simply: bullets. At the end of the day, that may be all anyone will ever willingly give you. Gray & Palmiotti’s Jonah Hex #1 hits you dead-on.



The Bulleteer is a chip off the old, tired block

By Graig Kent

 Of the Seven Soldiers series thus far, Bulleteer is the first to enter the fray as an honest-to-gosh superhero story.  And that’s probably why it’s the biggest let-down.  It’s too pedestrian for Grant Morrison. 

Shining Knight was somewhat impenetrable, but pretty to look at, while Manhattan Guardian was just old-school romper room fun.  Zatanna was mysterious with heavy doses of trippyness, and Klarion:The Witchboy was equally manic and charming.  Mister Miracle so far is an intriguing reinvention of Kirby’s Fourth World, but Bulleteer, well, it’s just sort of status quo.

Busty Alix is married to a scientist working on developing a high-tech “smartskin”, his primary purpose for doing so is to turn himself and his wife into superheroes because, well, he’s a superhero fetishist.  When he finally tests the skin on himself he dies, but the smartskin infects Alix and she does become a superhero after all.

Morrison doesn’t really add anything new to comics with Bulleteer, except perhaps the concept of superhero porn websites to the DC Universe, but that’s certainly not much to hinge an ongoing character on, unless Alix begins to work for the site and Morrison exposes the seedy underbelly of superhero porno.  Alas, that’s not going to happen.  Like I said Bulleteer is just mundane and average, and while I surmise that’s partly the point, it doesn’t make for very entertaining reading.  Toss in Yanick Paquette and Michael Bair on sexy art detail and it would seem that the hope is the Bulleteer will stand out if not on interesting characters and story, than at least on T and A.

Hopefully the second issue gives the character something more promising to do rather than run around in lingerie and expose her shiny, metal cleavage, because while that may be able to help sales for Average Bad Girl Comic, the people sticking through this vanity exercise of Morrison’s are expecting a lot more out of him.


2 Vikings

 Zombie World: Champion of Worms TPB
(Dark Horse)

By Sean Fahey

Zombie World was a great concept that unfortunately met with limited success.  The idea was to have a series within the series, different short arcs by different creative teams exploring different themes all loosely connected by a shared zombie universe.  It lasted for about a year.  And until recently the only chance of reading any of these stories was to roll up your sleeves and start searching through those bargain bins.

The first Zombie World story-arc, Champion of Worms, has just been collected in trade format, and it’s worth a gander.  Written by Mike Mignola, Champion of Worms follows a team of supernatural detectives called in to investigate a series of strange happenings at an ancient history museum.  Seems that things just haven’t been the same in the museum since the delivery of an ancient sarcophagus rumored to contain the remains of an evil priest…with the power to raise the dead.  And when the priest awakens, the shit hits the fan in every imaginable way.

Champion of Worms is the narrative catalyst for the Zombie World universe, and the residual elements of this story are felt throughout the series.  In that respect, it’s probably the most “important” story in the series. Tonally however, Champion of Worms is extremely different from the other Zombie World stories – surprisingly upbeat compared to the majority of the other stories, which are disturbingly bleak.  Upbeat may be strong, but the story is undeniably slap-stick, almost to the point of seeming out of place. All that said, this is still vintage Mignola. A great combination of horror, adventure and comedic elements – a BPRD tale for all intents and purposes, only with a more classic horror movie / pith helmet bent. You almost wish that there could have been a spin-off series focusing on these characters alone. Visually, artist Pat McEown brings a classic sensibility similar to that of O’Neil’s work on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, only a bit more cartoony.  It compliments the story well. Though not Mignola’s strongest work, I’d still say Champion of Worms will connect with BPRD fanatics.


3 and a half

 Capote In Kansas
(Oni Press)

By Graig Kent

It was expert timing on Oni Press’ part to release Ande Parks’ Capote In Kansas, what with the high-profile and critical rave movie Capote starring Philip Seymour Hoffman hitting limited theatrical release at the same time.  The film and the graphic novel share the same story, that of Truman Capote’s time in Kansas researching for his “non-fiction novel” In Cold Blood, but both are distinct in how they tell the story and what they bring to legend.  While the Hollywood version tries to pawn itself off as a biopic, the graphic novel is admittedly a work of historical fiction.  Parks does his research and gets much of the historical details as accurate as possible, but he punctuates the story with fictional elements which serve to add a unique context on the situation and the people involved.

Doubtless to say that anyone curious in this book would be curious in the film, and vice versa, and really I’m amazed at how differently the stories are told, while at the same time both hitting the same punctuation points.  The film focuses more on Capote’s persona, while the graphic novel pays more attention to the town and Capote’s task.  Parks’ does a better job at showing Capote’s progression from outsider in the town to a practical member of society.  It also builds Capote’s relationship with murderer Perry Smith at a better pace, and Capote’s relationship with his boyfriend Jack Dunphy seems truer than the cold, serviceable relationship between Hoffman and Bruce Greenwood in the film.  That said, where the book doesn’t quite succeed, and where the movie nails it is in capturing Capote himself.   It’s not until about two-thirds of the way through Capote In Kansas that I finally began to understand Truman Capote, his motivations, and his egocentric nature.  Interestingly enough, the book and the movie each experience initial pacing issues, which I suppose is a part of telling a true story and getting to the meat.

Ande Parks is probably best known as Philip Hester’s longtime inker on Green Arrow and other works, but like Hester, Parks is as adept a writer as he is skilled an artist, if not more so.  Art chores are handled in starkly contrasted black-and-white by Chris Samnee.  There’s a similar feel to Frank Miller’s Sin City artwork, but Samnee manages a softer edge, an almost serene beauty in the yin-yang of shadow and not.  Capote In Kansas may not have the power of Hoffman’s performance to prop it up, but it’s contribution to Capote’s story and its influence from the man himself make it genuine.


3 and a half

 The Losers #29 (DC/Vertigo) – It’s been a fun ride, but Vertigo’s hyper-kinetic espionage series The Losers is now winding down; and this issue kicks off the series’ final story-arc “End Game.”  Though the title is known primarily for its summer blockbuster scale action sequences, this issue tones it down a bit as writer Andy Diggle sets the stage for the big dance number – recapping major events from the series and setting the Loser’s final operation in motion.  Consider it the calm before the storm, as no doubt things will get explosive before this is all over.  And the stakes could not be higher, as Max – the rogue CIA agent that betrayed the Losers – threatens the entire Middle East with nuclear weapons.  Only the Losers (would you want it any other way?) can stop him in time.  Though I’m not generally one for page after page of exposition, Diggle does shed light on exactly who Max is and why he does what he does.  It’s disturbingly topical, especially for those wary of the neo-conservative philosophy that influences our Middle East policy.  As always, series artist Jock’s highly stylized line work leaves little to be desired.  Granted, his kinetic and angular style is better suited for over-the-top action than the talking heads stuff.  But his use of shadow creates the requisite cloak and dagger mood.  An exciting series that will be missed. – Sean


 Rex Libris #2 (Slave Labor Graphics) – I absolutely loved Rex Libris #1, and I think anyone willing to give a black-and-white, computer vector-graphics illustrated, text-heavy book a chance would too.  But issue two falls apart and failed to capture my attention and imagination in the same way that issue one did.  Ignoring the fact that the oddball “commentary track” is missing from the footer of the page, it just seems that this second issue of Rex Libris is one big transition scene.  The opening page provides the promise of our Librarian hero traveling dimension and space to retrieve an overdue book, but we never quite get to that premise in this book.  It’s all tease.  And while much of that tease is highly entertaining, the promise of action and not getting any is highly frustrating (a typical “guy” comment if I’ve ever spouted one).  It doesn’t mean I hate it, but I’m just not satisfied with it right now.  Hopefully that’s something creator James Turner fixes for issue three.  The book is still fun, with the introduction of new, quirky supporting cast members, but the story it holds just feels stagnant.  Graig


 The Keep #1 (IDW Publishing) – “Creepy” is the best way I can describe writer F. Paul Wilson’s comic book adaptation of his own best selling novel The Keep (previously adapted to film by Michael Mann).  This comic is downright creepy.  Though the whole monster v. soldier marriage of ideas has become all the rage in comicdom lately, The Keep is more appropriately described as straight-up horror.  Yes, it takes place on the eve of World War II.  Yes, it centers on a company of German soldiers being terrorized in a mysterious Romanian Keep.  But it’s far from the in-your-face blood-bath typical of so many modern comic books. The threat here is unseen. Hidden in shadows. Cerebral. Artist Matthew Smith’s page layouts are brilliant, as is his visual pacing.  As a result, the soldiers’ growing sense of fear and anxiety genuinely comes across.  My only complaint is that things become – at times – a bit muddled.  There are four distinct character arcs here (the German officer at the Keep, a mystery man trying to reach the Keep – reason unknown, an old man and his daughter, and an SS Major tasked to quash “the partisans” attacking the Keep), and unless you’re already familiar with this story the relevancy of some of the scenes will be lost.  Wilson’s story and character transitions could work better.  Otherwise, this is a very well written horror comic book.  And the opening scene, featuring a German commander reviewing a telegram from the Keep that reads only “Something is killing my men,” immediately draws you into the dark mystery of it all.  It sets the mood perfectly. – Sean


 Flaming Carrot Comics #4 (Image/Desperado) – If you thought Flaming Carrot was weird before, well… it still is.  Yes it’s yet another insane-o-matic issue of the vegetable alight from Bob Burden.  After getting double teamed by a pair of college co-eds, Flaming Carrot enters a fugue state of “zen stupidity” and a messy pie fight ensues. The fun over, the Carrot takes a bath but loses his precious “ducky soap” out the bathroom window.  As he mounts his retrieval effort, he gets sidetracked trying to find his buddy Sponge Boy.  This leads FC into a mysterious mansion where ghosts party and babies have knives.  From here the story enters into a boffo fumetti sequence (that’s photo comics, kids) that’s, well, bizarre, to say the least.  The Flaming Carrot is neither retro, nor ahead of its time, nor is it a comic of now, it’s just a product of delightfully deranged lunacy, and if Van Gogh taught us anything, that’s a timeless commodity. –Graig


 Captain America #11 (Marvel) – The latest issue of Captain America is for all intents and purposes twenty-two pages of exposition. Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  I hate exposition.  But I’ll make an exception when it’s warranted, especially for purposes of a much larger story.  And here, it’s warranted – and stories don’t come much larger than this.  Via a series of documents in a dossier, writer Ed Brubaker lays his cards out on the table, and explains how Captain America’s former side-kick (former long thought dead side-kick that is) became The Winter Soldier – a former Soviet secret agent now in the employee of a rogue Soviet General.  It’s a lot of information.  But what’s most interesting is not necessarily what’s said, but what’s hinted at. That is, not the A to B, but the psychology of where Bucky is now.  Completely unstable.  Although I think emotion and psychology is best conveyed through situations and dialogue, the “dossier approach” works here.  It’s clear though that Brubaker wants to get the background stuff out of the way and move on with the larger story though.  As for the visuals, what can I say – artist Steve Epting is a powerhouse.  Sean


So ends this accounting of valiant warriors and high adventure! Return next week to honor still more comics. Praise Odin.

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

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.