Think You Have What it Takes to Be a Warrior-Scribe?

We’re going to be looking for another reviewer in the near future.  Details will be forthcoming.  This is just an early heads-up.  As was the case during the last go-around (when we picked up Graig, Russell and Rob) you’ll be asked to review about four comics (at least two of which will be pre-selected by us ahead of time so as to create a level basis for comparison) under a specific time schedule.  Just want you to be aware ahead of time of what it will basically entail.

We’re looking for someone talented, creative, dependable and proficient with either a battle-axe or a double-handed sword.  Frost Giants need not apply (unless their comic reviewing skills are top-notch, of course).

The wait is over… It’s Clobberin’ Time again as the Thing gets his own title once more

By Graig Kent

 I have a real affinity for the Thing.  Correction: the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed, idol of millions son of Mama Grimm.  I don’t know what it is about him, perhaps his cool look, or his resilient, never-say-die attitude, or his Brooklynite humility, or his penchant for hitting first, wisecracking second, and asking questions third.

I know I’m not alone.  The Thing was popular enough to have his own series, a long run with Two-In-One, and a shorter run with his own eponymous title following it, not to mention his 40 years with the Fantastic Four.  But come the late 80’s he sort of took a back bench as popular comics started steering towards darker, more violent heroes like the Punisher and Ghost Rider.  Good natured and adventurous heroes like the Thing have had a long struggle to find their ground again in the business, but he’s finally back!  And he’s being done right.

Thanks no doubt to his success handling She-Hulk in her own title, Marvel tapped Dan Slott to write an all new the Thing series, and he nails it.  The first page recaps Ben Grimm’s origin up to becoming the orange-rock monster, and even establishing him as the “Kevin Bacon” of the superhero set, and by page two we find that already “It’s clobberin’ time”.   It’s so evident that Slott has real affection for the Thing and the Two-In-One series; within this first issue there are no less than six heroes guest starring, first teaming with his old pal Goliath. 

Recent events in Fantastic Four had Ben discovering a great fortune he never knew he had.  All of a sudden his wealth has rocketed him from superhero to superstardom.  With his mainstay gal Alicia out of the picture, Ben is dating a “hot” actress, attending fancy parties and fighting a mechanized statue of himself.  Good to see some things never change.  The finale of the premier issue sets up the adventure for the second issue, and I, for one, am very excited as it’s going to be a whole lot of fun.

Slott is joined by artist Andrea DiVito who draws one of the finest Things I’ve ever seen.  I’m unfamiliar with his past work (primarily on CrossGen titles) but this issue shows off his solid storytelling structure and a classic handling of spandex tights… like vintage John Byrne or John Buscema.  What helps the art along even further is the fantastic colors of Laura Villari.  Though she does her work with computers, she gets a watercolor effect that looks amazing (reminding me of colors in the 90’s Milestone comics), especially on the Thing, making him look even more so like stone.

All the elements of this book come together amazingly well.  It has a classic Marvel superhero adventure story feel, with a modern writer’s sensibility and artwork that is just altogether pleasing. Ratings are all relative but I’ll be damned if this isn’t what a perfect superhero comic should be.  And it’s nice that the Thing is in it too.


“All Star Superman” Delivers

By Sean Fahey

 This comic has me excited about Superman.  I mean really excited.  While I’m enjoying Greg Rucka’s run on Adventures of Superman, I don’t know how much of that is the character and how much is Rucka’s prose.  But reading All Star Superman #1 reminded me of why I started reading comic books in the first place.  The larger than life heroes saving the day.  The cool science.  The impossible possible.  Reading this comic reminded me that Superman is indeed a great character – great in every sense of the word. 

With All Star Superman, DC promised an all-ages, continuity-free Superman title keeping in the finest traditions of classic comic book storytelling.  They deliver.  If you’ve never read a Superman comic book in your life, you can start here and not be at a loss for anything.  Superman’s origin is very intelligently and economically captured in one page…four panels…eight words…because you don’t need any more than that.  This Superman is the Superman that everyone knows.  The iconic champion of Metropolis masking his identity as a bubbling reporter for the Daily Planet.  Faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive.  The legend. 

Similarly, series writer Grant Morrison promised a radical examination of Superman’s powers – a close look at what makes the Man of Steel tick and all the incredible things he is capable of.  He too delivers.  The inaugural issue of the series finds the Man of Steel escorting a scientific expedition to the sun, the perfect setting for Morrison to explore Superman’s core – his relationship to the solar radiation from which he draws his power.  And explore Morrison most certainly does.

Morrison’s fascination with science is absolutely contagious.  Whether it’s the details of Superman’s biology, the nature of the solar expedition or the genetic engineering projects initiated by the enigmatic Dr. Leo Quintum, All Star Superman # 1 is infused with cool science-fiction elements.  Every page of this comic book is rich with out-of-this world concepts.  But that’s the strength of Morrison.  He makes the impossible seem possible.  He’s incredibly imaginative.  He thinks big – and “big” is exactly what this character requires.  This book is more about the “super” than the “man.”  And artist Frank Quietly’s rendition of the Man of Steel goes a long way toward helping Morrison achieve this result.  Superman is absolutely massive.  A tower of muscle with a neck that would make Henry Rollins jealous.  It’s iconic.

I don’t know how else to say it – this is a classic superhero comic book.  This is classic Superman.  The spit curl.  The Dailey Planet.  Great Caesar’s Ghost.  An absolutely sinister Lex Luthor.  A sassy Lois Lane.  Saving kids from oncoming trucks.  It’s all there and then some. 



Morrison’s Frankenstein may be a familiar spin, but it still delivers in swords and spades

By Graig Kent

 When I first saw the lineup of DCs characters Grant Morrison was bringing into his sandbox to play with and/or recreate in the “Seven Soldiers” project I was intrigued buy all of them, with the exception of Frankenstein.  I mean, Frankenstein’s been done… in the movies, in comics…. What could Morrison add that would make the man-made monster any different that what we’ve already seen?

Oh, me of little faith.  Decked out in a Sgt. Pepper-style redcoat in the 1870s, the monster takes on a horde of flesh-eating freaks, severs a man’s head with a single bullet, and derails a train.  And on the fifth page, the story gets started.

We meet “Uglyhead”, the pimply-faced, thick-glasses wearing nerd at an unnamed high school in an unnamed town.  Uglyhead has a superpower, not much of one however: he can read thought balloons (take that, Erik Larsen).  Not only does everyone hate him because he’s ugly, but he also creeps them out.  But Uglyhead is also being controlled by a Sheeda soldier, and manages to spread the parasites to other kids at the school.  In many respects I’m not sure how the sequences of events actually happen in this book, but a massive electrical discharge summons forth Frankenstein from his 130 year slumber.  Violence and death and sage sentiments ensue.

For many reasons I am reminded of Burlyman Press’ Doc Frankenstein.  Morrison, like the Wachowski Bros. has approached the monster with a historical perspective, introducing us to him in the time of steam engines, as if the two are twisted siblings walking different paths.  Both versions have that same rough and tumble attitude, the action of the go-big-or-go-home sort, and Doug Mahnke’s artwork certainly rivals Steve Skroce’s in the hyper detail department.   Morrison doesn’t take his Frankenstein as big as the Bros. do, but he certainly doesn’t shy away from brutality.  And there’s a total “f@#* yeah” moment in when Uglyhead tries to read Frank’s thought balloons.

Mahnke has been a favorite of mine since his Mask days, and here he’s doing some of his finest work in years.  There’s a tangible R. Crumb influence on Mahnke’s characters, especially Uglyhead, and he uses light and shadows to an astounding effect throughout.  His design of Frank looks like a zombiefied Hulk with a beat-generation sense of style.

This is a violent, unconventional, twisted, confusing, amusing, and highly entertaining book… in other words, quintessential Morrison.  I loved it.  In fact, I think this is my favorite single issue of the “Seven Soldiers” project so far.


By-the-Numbers Origin Story, “Books of Doom” Disappoints

By Sean Fahey

 As difficult as it is to believe, Doctor Doom wasn’t born bad.  And that premise is the focus (at least initially) of Ed Brubaker’s new six-part mini-series Books of Doom.  From poor gypsy child to Latverian dictator, the series promises to highlight the experiences, pain and tragedy that made the Fantastic Four’s “big bad” the man he is today.

To no surprise really, Brubaker casts Doom’s history in a sympathetic light.  And while having the Latverian dictator narrate most of the story certainly makes that task easier, it’s clear that we are meant to at least understand the forces that transformed the man into the monster.  The relationship with his mother – a witch – and his early exposure to witchcraft.  The overbearing and overprotective father.  The pride and ego stemming from early genius.  The anger stemming from loss, and the need to avenge it.  The emotions here are real, and Brubaker conveys them well – particularly during a very powerful sequence where Victor first murders a man in cold blood.  Books of Doom has some substance.  It’s the style however that I find problematic.

Generally, I find Brubaker’s writing to be exciting stuff.  Sleeper, Gotham Central and Catwoman are some of the more thrilling and intriguing comics DC has released in the past few years.  And Brubaker’s current run on Captain America is explosive.  But stylistically, Books of Doom # 1 is somewhat tiresome and lackluster – a very straightforward and linear narrative that traces the “A to B” of Victor Von Doom’s formative years in the Latverian Alps.  While there’s nothing particularly wrong with this method of storytelling per se, most readers already know the origin of Doctor Doom.  A new angle at exploring this familiar material is warranted in this situation – something inventive – instead of a tired retelling.  To be fair, Brubaker does occasionally insert “testimonials” from people that knew Victor as a child, and this is different if not fresh.  But the purpose of and the framing device for these testimonials are not revealed.  As such, they feel out of place (at least for the time being).

Make no mistake, the story is there.  You certainly walk away with the information.  But it’s the exposition-style that I find tiresome.  Something more akin to the method of storytelling in Lost or The Godfather II – something more dynamic – might have been better suited for an exploration of (mostly) familiar ground.  Kudos are in order however for artist Pablo Rivera’s sharp looking painted cover that captures Doom’s tortured but awesome presence. 


2 Vikings


“Essential” Marvel Two-In-One

(Marvel Comics)

By Graig Kent

 In the latest One Fan’s Opinion column, Savage Dragon creator and Image Comics Publisher Erik Larsen mused over comics writing devices of old, namely captions, thought balloons, and expository and recap dialogue.  As is typical of Larsen’s column, he kind of lost focus of his point by the end, but the notion still remains: Are these writer’s devices sorely missing from today’s comics or are they thankfully obsolete?

The recent Marvel Essential compilation of Marvel Two-In-One (volume 1) collects over six-hundred pages of stories – nearly 30 comics – written by eight different writers, including Chris Claremont, Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber and Bill Mantlo.  Each employs the aforementioned writing devices, some to obscene proportions (check out the four-pages of exposition in the Spider-Man team-up…ouch).  If you read any one story from this compilation, you will notice that it not only takes you longer to read, but make you wince, just a little, and yet it also elicits a little grin on more than one occasion.

If you don’t know, Marvel Two-In-One was a 100-issue series running from 1974 until 1983, with every issue teaming the Thing up with a Marvel superhero, more often than not one of a lower caliber.  Plowing through 600 pages – with the Thing teaming up with everyone from Man-Thing to Ghost Rider to the Liberty Legion (?) to the Scarecrow (??) – is almost akin to punishment, if it weren’t so oddly fascinating.  The amount of exposition/pointing out the obvious that goes on in each issue is enough to make your eyes bleed (“They opened the bomb-bay doors!” Iron Fist shouts as he and the Thing fall from the jet to their apparent doom.), but at the same time the writers play into it (“That I kin see fer myself, Greenie. Only whadda we do now.”).  Oh, yes, and writers of old loved to write dialogue phonetically.  It’s humorous how frequently the Thing points out that his team-up partner is stating something obvious.  It makes you wonder why the writers wouldn’t just eliminate that dialogue altogether.

But then that’s the thing about comics from that era, you couldn’t just have a muted panel.  The Marvel style of writing (plot – art – script) dictated that the writer pack every inch of space with futile and redundant dialogue, describing the scene or the action involved in the panel, and if no dialogue was to be had, then captions addressing the reader or a character directly would fill the void (“Pretty impressive for the Golem’s first time at bat, wouldn’t you say?” after he belts the Thing with a telephone pole.).  At the same time, the writing style also caused some horrendously lop-sided stories, where the set up of the conflict takes up more space than the conflict itself, and often leaving the resolution blatantly truncated (Issue 16 or 17 for example).  These kinds of things are entertaining in a kitschy way, but it’s also a disposable, pulp esthetic that ruled most comic shelves at that time.  A Marvel Two-In-One story contained very little in the way of significance for any of the characters involved, there’s little exploration of legend or development of character within these books, and the villains are all jokes, barely threatening at all.  They’re old-school fight comic with lots of jibber-jabber, entertaining but fit for the trash like a candy bar wrapper once finished.  

I certainly enjoyed reading through this “Essential” collection (although there’s absolutely nothing essential about it).  There is something charming about the comics of old that no doubt appealed to many of us as kids, but at the same time if you attempted to write a comic like that today, it just wouldn’t fly (the current “Demon” series anyone?).  We’ve since developed a greater appreciation for our popular culture, and an expectation from it to deliver something of redeeming and lasting value for the money spent.   We can debate the writing styles today of Ellis or Bendis or Simone or Dixon, whereas there was little of distinguishing nature to a comic written by Claremont or Wolfman or Len Wein at that time.  But then the Marvel Essential collections are about feeding nostalgia, and less about validating the artistry of eras past, and on this basis I can certainly appreciate it.



(Boom Studios)

By Graig Kent

 This past Thanksgiving weekend, I had much to be thankful for (even though I’m Canadian – we do our Thanksgiving in October) in this, the year of the Giff.  From Hero Squared and new Justice League, to Drax the Destroyer and Common Foe, it’s been a very good year.  But it hasn’t been without its blemishes, namely Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos.  Oh sure, the idea was great, but, damn the art was UH-glee.

In my review (RIGHT HERE) of Howling Commandos, I blamed the failure of that book on artist Eduardo Francisco’s design sense and storytelling capabilities, well, Giffen trumped himself with the Boom Studios collected edition of Trencher, his failed 1994 Image comics series about a violent repo man who collects souls that have somehow gone missing following their earthly demise.  A more stoic and modest (and higher concept) version of his Lobo creation, Trencher certainly had something going for it, but the art wasn’t it.

People who remember the early days of Giffen’s career will recall he got his start as an artist, most famously on Legion of Super Heroes, and subsequently getting his reputation for a master of humor creating Ambush Bug with Robert Fleming in the early ‘80s.  His style at the time was very distinct, his characters thinned out, elongated version of Kirby’s, but for Trencher (preceded by the Lobo:Infanticide mini-series) Giffen loosened up his style, to the point where it’s a mess of lines, sometimes forming characters, or backgrounds, or objects, and sometimes just being an indistinguishable mess.  Using no shading, every page needs close observation to fully understand the action that’s happening.  There are no credits in the collection, but I imagine long-time Giffen mainstay Lovern Kindzierski did the coloring, and quite frankly, I don’t know how he did it.  I couldn’t discern a buckle from a fist in that mess even with color.   It certainly doesn’t help that the book appears to have been scanned from the printed comics giving the art and color a messy, muddy look, streaks of blurriness trickling down the occasional page.  Some of the panels don’t even fit within the parameters of the page, being cropped at the side or bottom.

The story itself is almost beside the point – sharply humorous but cartoonishly violent to that 90’s extreme –the fact that Giffen’s experimental art style makes it illegible coupled with the cheap reprint quality make this trade paperback the equivalent of pirated, camcorder-in-the-theatre Chinatown DVD.


 Godland #5
(Image Comics) – The surprise hit of 2005 and rapidly becoming one of my favorite ongoing series.  Godland follows the cosmic adventures of Commander Adam Archer, a former astronaut endowed with mysterious powers after a mission to Mars who now protects Earth from threats both local and inter-stellar.  It’s classic old-school comic book storytelling with a contemporary sense of humor.  Equal parts Jack Kirby, the Silver Surfer, the Fantastic Four and LSD.  In this issue, Archer struggles to free himself from the confines of a Null Field Cube trap and save his sister Nella and popular superhero Crashman from the clutches of the sadistic Discordia and her Torture-Bots.  Come on! You gotta love it!  Throw in some instantaneous physical transportation, the
Infinity Tower and some NASA (yes NASA) combat training and you’ve got a recipe for excitement my friend.  Series writer Joe Casey has crafted an insanely fun and entertaining cosmic comic book read, and is in the process of creating the next great rogues gallery of superhero villains.  And artist Tom Scioli literally channels the spirit of Jack Kirby.  In the growing movement to bring back the cosmic awe and wonder of the Silver Age comic books, Godland is spearheading the charge.  Sean


 Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #4 (DC) – Okay, it’s *only* 6 weeks late, but holy crap did Ryan Sook ever make good use of his time.  The art on all of the “Seven Soldiers” books has been great, but I think that Sook’s work on this issue – with Mick Gray’s smooth inks and Nathan Eyring’s vibrant colors – made this the best looking book in the line.  Or perhaps I’m just completely distracted by Z’s fishnet swimsuit.  Wowza.  With the long break in between issues, I’d almost completely forgotten what was going on with Zatanna’s story, but dueling magicians is always a good thing, and coming from Morrison’s mind, it’s a really good thing.  Like the other three concluded “Seven Soldiers” mini-series, the ending of Zatanna’s mini is a cliffhanger, but it’s more akin to the teasing end of Back to the Future than the totally-leaves-you-hanging Shining Knight or Manhattan Guardian.  Nice, very nice.  Graig


 Zombie Tales: Oblivion #1 (Boom! Studios) – Following the success of their first Zombie Tales anthology, Boom! Studios returns with another collection of bite-sized stories about the undead.  Much like the previous volume, the talent is given a great deal of creative latitude, and the stories range from thought provoking (Mark Waid’s “Luther” asks what value material objects have in post-apocalyptic environment) to gut-busting (Andrew Cosby’s “I, Zombie: Part Two” follows the continuing adventures of the Bizarro-esque zombie Ted).  Though solid from start to finish, generally the material in this volume is not as strong as in the first.  That said, writer John Rogers’ (aptly titled) “Memento Mori” is my favorite Zombie Tale from either volume – a very clever piece of writing with an interesting twist ending.  As always, the economy of writing here is impressive (having to tell a complete story in eight pages) as is the creative lineup (which includes Keith Giffen, Mark Waid and Ron Lim among others). It’s a six-pack of Chicken McNuggets – not necessarily a full meal, but each little bite sure is tasty. – Sean

RATING:  3 out of 5 Vikings

 The Perhapanauts #1 (Dark Horse) – How many kinds of these books are we going to get?  Paranormal investigation teams are all over the place, some more successful than others.  On TV, in movies, and definitely in comic books, it seems that even in a post-X-Files world, creators, if not fans, certainly can’t get enough of them.  The Perhapanauts is the product from the minds of Todd DeZago and Craig Rousseau, and it’s, well, sort of like a light version of Hellboy’s BPRD, complete with the monsters investigating the monsters.  There’s not really a whole lot to distinguish this from other titles of a similar nature.  It’s played for fun and is, indeed, enjoyable, however I just can’t escape the feeling reading it that it’s being done as well, if not better, elsewhere.  It certainly doesn’t help that Rousseau has a notable Mike Mignola feel to his work, although without the same shading sensibility.  A book like this will stand out based on the strength of its characters, and, although somewhat cliché, I think there’s something to Big, Choopie and the rest that can make this book stand out, if only they’re developed properly.  A nice start. –Graig


 X-Men: Deadly Genesis #1 (of 6) (Marvel) – This mini-series picks up after the events of the House of M mini-series, and focuses on establishing the new mutant status quo.  Post-House of M Professor Xavier is missing and there are only a handful of mutants left, the rest have become everyday humans.  But every action has an equal and opposite reaction right? So what of the energy of those millions stripped of their powers? Where did it go?  It appears that Marvel is genuinely interested in changing the X-landscape, and I’m intrigued (if not yet completely sold) on the idea.  Being a mutant is once again a unique – and quite dangerous – thing in the Marvel U.  With the exception of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, I’d given up on the mediocre X-line awhile back.  But Deadly Genesis writer Ed Brubaker has piqued my curiosity.  Could this be a genuine new beginning for the X-Men, or just another “event” comic book? Regardless, I’m happy to see artist Trevor Hairsine (who worked on the exceptional but sadly underrated Cla$$War) get some high profile work at Marvel. – Sean


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


To discuss this column and all things Nordic, you may contact Sean at , Devon at , Dave at , Russell at , Rob at and Graig at