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A Bittersweet Finale – Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big In Japan

By Graig Kent

 The critical acclaim had been there from the start with Happydale: Devils In The Desert back in 1999, followed by 2001’s Green Lantern: Willworld, but with a recent stint on Legends Of The Dark followed by Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big In Japan, artist Seth Fisher was just starting to break into the mainstream consciousness.  Seth died on January 30 from an accidental fall.

I found this out the same day as I picked up my new releases, which included the final issue of Big In Japan, a whimsical, playful and metafictional mini-series in which, to summarize very briefly, giant monsters attack Japan.  The third book in the series was a delirious trip into breaking the fourth wall, with the introduction of two-dimensional characters that were aware that they lived within a comic book, their progression in life measured by panes and pages, not by time.  The end of that story saw the arrival of the Mole Man, and the Apocalypse Beast, a giant yellow humanoid-thing with eyeballs for elbows and knees, and a face in its chest.  Iron Man and Sue Storm had ventured inside the creature while Reed, Johnny, Ben and the Mole Man try to find the answer to stopping the creature from first destroying Monster Island, and then the world.

The series, as writer Zeb Wells has constructed it, is a marvel of ever escalating goofiness, but it is Seth Fisher’s artwork that brings it to life, and takes it beyond just oddball and into complete and brilliant irreverence.  I have been a fan of Fisher’s artwork since Happydale, and his style was always dedicatedly unique, jam packed with detail and his own sense of character construction.  Each project he’s worked on has been a little bit different, but Big In Japan is by far his most eccentric and liberated work.  Recalling some of Phil Jimenez’s work on Morrison’s The Invisibles, similarly Fisher often dispenses with conventional panel structure, the pages themselves taking on an oddly organic, fluid nature.  The boundaries of panels, when they are there, are frequently ignored, and in a most eclectic flourish, the characters often become something akin to a bobbin’-head doll. 

Fisher’s art is brightly and lavishly colored by Chris Chuckry, combining into a visually stimulating, appealing, and entertaining book, and yet knowing Fisher’s tragic fate, it’s a sobering read throughout.  He was an immense talent, and each page is a dichotomous happy/sad reminder of that.  His catalogue of work is a brief one, but each endeavor remains terrific and stands out on its own.  I invite you to explore the back issue bins and discover his all too brief legacy, each a treasure to behold.

Happydale:Devils in the Desert (with Andrew Dabb)– recently released in tpb
Green Lantern: Willworld (with JM DeMattis)
Flash: Time Flies (with John Rozum)
Doom Patrol #13,14 (with John Acrudi)
Vertigo Pop: Tokyo 1-4 (with Jonathan Vankin)
Batman: Legend of the Dark Knight #192-196 (with JH Williams III and Dan Curtis Johnson)
Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big In Japan #1 – 4


First Look: “Jeremiah Harm” is a Good Ol’ Fashioned Badass… Except, in the Future

By Sean Fahey

 If you’ve been missing Keith Giffen’s Lobo, then you’ll certainly want to check out his new Boom Studios series Jeremiah Harm.  In many ways, the titular characters from both series are peas in a pod…rather more appropriately, long lost twins from the same bastard father.  Hard drinkin’, cigar smokin’, tough talkin’, alien bounty hunters that get the job done by any means necessary – no matter how messy it might get.

When Jeremiah Harm # 1 opens, our man is locked down in a deep space maximum-security prison with the most villainous alien scum the universe has to offer.  But when a pair of the most villainous of the most villainous alien scum break loose and disappear without a trace, the prison warden has no other option (that is, unless he wants to draw attention to himself and lose his job) but to broker a deal with the bounty hunter.  Shades of Escape From New York? Certainly. But that happens to be a particular shade that I enjoy.

I appreciate characters like Jeremiah Harm – men of action.  Giffen’s not going to waste any time delving into this guy’s childhood, whether his daddy beat him, or what drove him to become a bounty hunter.  Jeremiah is what he is, a force of nature.  Someone who gets the job done.  Sure, some might consider characters like that one-dimensional.  But to be honest, in today’s market, it’s actually a breath of fresh air to have someone that direct.  You need a Punisher or a Lobo to help balance it out, and Jeremiah Harm is a bad ass tough guy in that tradition. 

I was unfamiliar with artist Rael Lyra’s work before reading this, but after just a few panels it’s clear why they wanted this guy on this book.  Lyra has an incredibly detailed and organic style that makes the page come to life. He’s the perfect science-fiction artist. His tech looks intricate, cool and out of this world, and his aliens look fascinating, bizarre and alive. This is a nice looking book.

Giffen rounds things out well.  The villainous alien scum that Harm is tracking are truly villainous, as in genocidal villainous. There’s a neat little plot twist at the end.  And there’s some terrific gritty tough guy dialogue here that resonates. (“What we’re negotiating here is the method, you follow?”) A fun read.



First Look: Eddie Campbell and Bart Sears Celebrate a Bicentennial “Legends of the Dark Knight”

By Russell Paulette

 I’ll admit, Eddie Campbell isn’t the first name you think when you think “Batman.”  Sure, he did a good turn in last year’s Elseworlds “Order of the Beasts” one-shot, but he’s not exactly synonymous with the Dark Knight Detective.  With the two-hundredth issue due out next week, DC chose him, his co-writer Darren White, and artist Bart Sears to tell a fairly straightforward, run of the mill Batman tale that’s mostly notable for being…well, not notable.

To elaborate, part of the virtue of a character like Batman is how difficult it is to read a story that feels both original while being cut from familiar cloth.  The been-there-done-that story that still maintains a feeling of newness.  The standard fair executed with effort.  What Campbell, White and Sears do here is provide a one-off, by-the-numbers Batman story that also happens to be quite good.

The story focuses on a Gotham emergency room overrun with victims of the Joker’s latest crime spree.  Seems he’s planted several bombs around the city, and one of them has already gone off, flooding the hospital with wounded.  In bursts Batman, carrying the limp body of the Joker, demanding his treatment before anyone else’s.  We focus in on a green intern by the name of Natalie Koslowski, and she brings us up to speed. 

The joy of the book, then, isn’t the originality of the premise—which stands fine as a story, with the feel of the familiar without having been done to death—but in the execution, which Campbell and White pull off.  You see Batman being a bit of a jerk in demanding the Joker’s medical attention, but then, late in act three when you see his rationale, it comes off much better.  The characterization on Koslowski is a bit bog-standard, middle-season ER, but she still comes off well, and the story contrivance for pairing her up with Batman is well reasoned.  Also, the sag of the middle of the story features some nice detective work from Batman, as well as a moment late in the plot where it seems the Joker has outsmarted Batman, only to have the writers position the World’s Greatest Detective into earning that title.  Again—not something we haven’t all seen before, but well done all around.

Sears’s artwork is a real draw with this issue, highlighting what can happen when he resists the temptation to over-render and over-accentuate.  His street-level characters maintain the realism and consistency one would expect from such an accomplished artist, and his wilder tendencies in the rendering on Joker and Batman are reined in by the contrast.  He’s taking some interesting approaches to the storytelling here—in particular, showing a fondness for a full page, profile splash of a character bordered by three or four establishing shot panels—and is pulling them off with a modicum of success.

Overall, it was a fun issue—and anyone itching for a good, solid Batman story for five bucks would be hard pressed to deny the strength of the issue. 



The Exterminators: It’s All Bugs, Drugs and Conspiracies

by Graig Kent

 Vertigo Comics likes to have their “Thursday Night Line-up”… you know, like how NBC followed up the Cosby Show with Friends and Cheers with Seinfeld.  They owned that evening and that’s where the cream of situation comedy sat.  Likewise, Vertigo, since the branding of the imprint, has had their standout performers: Sandman, Preacher, The Invisibles… real star-making vehicles and the label owned the “Mature Readers” market.  With the Losers, Lucifer and Fables winding down, the big V is seems to be testing the waters again for some accompaniment to 100 Bullets and Y:The Last Man.  Two issues into the Exterminators, and I’m quite sure it’s not “Thursday Night” material.  It’s not that it isn’t interesting, but it just doesn’t have the spark one would expect out of a must-read Vertigo comic. 

The book’s centre is Henry James, a recently paroled ex-con who finds some honest work in his step-father’s Los Angeles-based extermination company.  Like patrol cops, Henry is partnered with a more experienced exterminator.  Unfortunately for him, AJ is a rat-faced pervert and borderline-psychotic… but he’s also damn good at his job.  The rest of the Bug-Bee-Gone crew isn’t much better however, with the only straight-wheeler being Henry’s step-father, Nils.  But Nils, along with his mysterious scientist associate Saloth, have discovered that cockroaches in LA have mutated, and that their new insecticide has other illicit, addictive, and grotesquely lethal applications.  An attractive single mother living in a mutant-roach-infested slum tenement rounds out the cast, crossing paths with Henry and Saloth in the first two issues, it’s her building where things will no doubt come to a head.

My “Thursday Night” analogy may be a little misleading, because I don’t mean to imply that The Exterminators is not a entertaining book, because it certainly is.  It’s evident writer Simon Oliver has an immediate handle on who his characters are, and a definite trajectory for the first storyline, but from my view I can’t see much beyond that first arc. 

The art by Tony Moore is a little atypical for a Vertigo book, though he does recall Chris Bachalo’s early Shade: The Changing Man and Death:The High Cost of Living days, only with a thinner inking line and an almost absence of shadow.  Moore punches in a lot of detail and his figures are fittingly distinct, but there’s a cartoonishness in his design that keeps The Exterminators one step away from an immersing, believable world. 

I’m intrigued by the current storyline and curious to see what Oliver and Moore can do with the characters and their situation beyond that.  It may not belong in the universally loved “Thursday Night”, but I can see a smaller, dedicated “Monday Night” audience is possible.

3 and a half

Black Hole
Pantheon (Buy it HERE!)

By Russell Paulette

 Twenty years from now, when everyone talks about Charles Burns’s graphic novel Black Hole as a reflective encapsulation of the fears and anxiety that teenagers hold about sex, it’s not going to be the perfect premise, the flawless artwork, or the narrow precision with which he told his tale they’re going to mention.  It’s probably going to be the ant-feet-across-your-skin creeps the book gives you.  Make no mistake: Burns’s book is brim-full of all the weighty, literary chops one would expect from such a seasoned cartoonist, while also being creepy as hell.

The premise, as I’m sure has been apparent in the decade its taken the book to be finished, concerns a handful of promiscuous teenagers in the late seventies getting it on and getting down.  Only, Burns’s reality skews slightly to the left, here, as his teenagers are marked with “the Bug,” which is a sexually transmitted disease that manifests itself in grotesquerie unique to every fornicator.  In short, you make with the nasty, and you grow a nasty. 

There’s Rob, with the vagina dentate inches below his Adam’s apple; Chris, our protagonist girl with the peel-away snakeskin; Eliza, the pothead artist who grew a vestigial tail; and many other teens, including an enclave living off in the woods on their own.  Drawn into this bizarre circle is Keith, a tag-along teen who’s madly in love with Chris, and caught up in his own desire to explore his sexuality like any normal teenager.  The lives of these four—and the regular townies, as well as the freaks in the hills—revolve around each other, until Burns leads us to a devastating climax that softens to a gut wrenching search for salvation in its final pages.

What’s most striking about the story—in addition to its mix of narcotic-fueled dreaminess, its grounded, emotional reality, and its baroque manifestation of teenage sexual anxiety—is how the story seems to veer off suddenly in its closing act from where it seemed to be going to its only natural conclusion.  Having been serialized over the better part of the last decade, Burns’s narrative holds together, for the most part, but what seems to start as an exploitative tale of teen violence, raw sexuality, and bizarre monster manifestations turns into a quiet, existential search in its final movement.  Pieces that felt important, or key, in its opening start to slough off like dead skin towards the middle, until, by the end, we’re left with the principle players positioned emotionally and physically where they all needed to be from the beginning.  It’s a remarkable work of craftsmanship—particularly in the way that it seems Burns was improving his writing abilities as he was writing the novel—and, in that way, his ability to both incorporate his original plan, while also staying true to the emotional demands of the new plan is truly measured in degrees of genius.

Which is not to say that the writing is where his strength lies.  From his page design, to his rendering, to his use of shadow and light, Burns is truly a master with a ink nib in his hands.  True, his character design is a little weird—there’s a quirk, whenever he draws anyone straight-on, they seem to have a pig nose—and some of his characters run together, but it’s hard to deny the skin-squirming power of his rendering pseudo-vaginal openings over and over in the book.  His storytelling is superb and, remarkably, considering the duration of the book’s creation, consistent throughout the novel.

You honestly won’t find a better read anywhere, in any form.  



Sexy Chix: Anthology of Women Cartoonists tpb
Dark Horse Books (Buy it HERE!)

By Graig Kent

 It’s fairly safe to say that the world of comics is a boy’s club.  Sure it may not be as elitist as professional sports or executive big business, but if you look around the industry you’re not going to find a lot of women in the forefront.  Comparatively speaking, there havn’t been and still aren’t many female artists or writers in the medium, and really that’ll probably never change.  What can change is the acceptance of women as creative force in this predominantly testosterone driven format, and headway is being made, but victory is by no means imminent.  Thus there’s Sexy Chix, spearheaded by editor extraordinaire Diana Schutz as a rallying cry to the industry, calling attention to industry pros and newcomers alike whom all too many might overlook.

Over 20 writers and artist are featured, with stories ranging from pretend to personal to punk to poetic.  To categorize them all under one unifying label would be inaccurate and inappropriate.  With the exception of the gender of their creators, these stories as a whole share little in common, which is to say you’d find as broad a range of styles, perspectives and techniques as you would find in any anthology, and that’s the point.  Sexy Chix is about exposure and diversity, reviewing each story would defeat that point, but I still had my favorites and a few surprises.

Chynna Clugston’s satire of her working day inside the front cover delightfully goofy, while in “Yellow Fever” Colleen Doran’s portrayal of an Asian-boy-crazy acquaintance falls under the too-funny-to-be-made-up category, and is visually dazzling.  Sarah Grace McCandless story, “The Art of Letting Go” is wholly relatable, and I absolutely adore Joelle Jones’ artwork (she would be fantastic for a run on Queen & Country).  There are definitely more than a few names I’ve pulled out of the book to keep an eye on in the future, and I hope this anthology isn’t just a one-off.  There are more female talents out there deserving of exposure (Trailers’ Julie Collins-Rousseu for one), and next time it would be great to get some of the colorists like Laura Allred or Noelle Giddings in on the action as well.

3 and a half

 10 (Boom! Studios) – Writer Keith Giffen’s new one-shot 10 is an intriguing premise that could have been better executed.  Ten randomly selected contestants are mailed a handgun with ten bullets and the name of one of the other nine contestants. A kill gets you another name. Participation is mandatory, lest you want to get “disqualified.” Using any firearm other than the one you are provided also gets you “disqualified,” as will telling anyone else about your “participation” in the contest.  Last man standing is the winner.  10 has the makings of a great two-part Twilight Zone episode, or even a cool flick (Ed. note: Yeah, like Series 7, which came out years ago).  But as a forty-eight page comic book it feels rushed.  We don’t meet all of the contestants, only about half of them, and we don’t get to know who any of these people are, making it difficult to truly appreciate the fear and anxiety they are experiencing (which is only touched on).  It’s just off to the races.  For the most part, these characters aren’t humans, they’re merely victims (which is probably the whole point).  To his credit, Giffen does establish the theme of “the randomness of violence” well with a few select scenes.  But that said, the visual style of this book ultimately clouds how we should interpret the violence – the violence is brutal (people are shot, chocked, stabbed, clawed at, plead for their lives, and are murdered in cold blood), but artist Andy Kuhn (though talented) has a very light, almost cartoony, style that seems out of place here.  The art just doesn’t compliment the story the way it should. – Sean


 Rex Libris #3 (Slave Labor Graphics) – Our favorite warrior librarian is back on the case.  After last issue’s disappointing lack of progression, this is exactly what I wanted to see: Rex Libris in space, even if it is only five dialogue heavy pages of our man chatting to his bird friend on the ship before departing on more terrestrial based adventures.  On the path to collecting a late book from an alien warlord, Rex must freefall to the alien’s planet from his transport ship.  Thankfully a snowman breaks his fall, unfortunately, the snowman was the leader of a race of snowman-people armed with threatening looking guns.  Meanwhile, back at the Middleton public library, we learn how the fabled Circe became a librarian, just before the Spanish barbarian, Gaiseric, King of the Vandals, invades the reading room.  A little bit cerebral, a little bit madcap, Rex Libris #3 is very entertaining.  Creator James Turner has honed his vector graphics illustration style so that it carries the story well.  Even if the pacing can get a little off at times, the sense of adventurousness this book has is wonderful.  Graig


 The Flying Friar (Speakeasy Comics) – No joke, Joseph of Copertino, the patron saint of pilots, is said to have been able to levitate and lift incredibly heavy objects.  Rich Johnston, the patron saint of comic book rumor-mongering (in his popular weekly Lying in the Gutters column) saw the potential in exploiting this intriguing legend of the flying friar, using the medium he’s so familiar with to combine religious history with comic book archetypes to make something quite different, if perhaps a little frustrating.   Incorporating fiction with the historical is nothing new, and for the most part it works for this story, I just found it unfortunate that he developed it into an obvious Superman/Luthor allegory instead of something more unique or meaningful.  In the end I found it more cheap than clever.  The dialogue, as well, is a little stiff and I found the black and white art by Thomas Nachlik a tad clunky, abstract and sparse.  Regardless, the bulk of the story is engaging and the pacing and progression from youth to death is handled very nicely.  I enjoyed even more reading up on the real legend of St. Joseph and finding out what Johnston changed, exaggerated, or simply made up for the story.   Though Johnston does close the book with a few paragraphs on the actual legend, a more thorough document of St. Joseph’s background would have made a nice addition to the book.  Enjoyable but far from perfect. – Russell

RATING:  3 out of 5 Vikings

 Ares # 1 (Marvel) – This is one of those comics that I wish I had read right away, before being exposed to all the buzz, the reviews and the hype.  My expectations were raised a bit higher than they should have been.  Still, Ares has the making of a good story.  Writer Mike Oeming (Hammer of the Gods, Thor, Red Sonja) clearly has an interest in comic books with a sword and sorcery / mythological bent, and his enthusiasm shows here.  That said, I wasn’t completely convinced by the father-son relationship that forms the emotional center of this story, as well as the narrative impetus.  Oeming was more in his element during the battles sequences, and fleshing out the character of Ares – who is compelling (he bails out the other Gods of Mount Olympus in the opening sequence only to have them turn their backs on him, and in disgust chooses a life of exile).  Being a big fan of artist Travel Foreman’s work on Cla$$War, I’m happy to see him continue getting high exposure work at Marvel, and he does a good job here.  The backgrounds can be a bit skimpy at times, and the best work is during the kinetic seven-page prologue / battle sequence (which is nice), but overall this is quality stuff.  I like that Marvel is looking to its stable of mythological characters again – and rumor has it that Ares will be joining one of Marvel’s superhero titles after the mini-series wraps.  An interesting Marvel “superhero” comic. – Sean

RATING:  3 out of 5 Vikings

 Infinite Crisis Special: Rann/Thanagar War (DC Comics) – Too many ideas, too many characters, too much going on… this is only how I can describe the Rann/Thanagar War Special.  Part of the problem with the prelude mini-series’ that led-into Infinite Crisis is none of them reached any sort of satisfactory conclusion, and Rann/Thanagar War was the worst offender.  The intent of these specials is to help carry forward and wrap up the prelude storylines since there’s just not enough room in the main Crisis issues to fully develop and resolve.  But the problem is the special still doesn’t accomplish its goal.  It’s a thoroughly unsatisfying story as the titular war between planets takes a backseat to meandering superhero banter, the death of one hero and the transformation of another.  Not only are the characters from the Rann/Thanagar War mini-series involved, but so too are the Return of Donna Troy characters.  Writer Dave Gibbons seems to have the blueprint to where everyone is supposed to wind up and what information is supposed to be revealed, but with such a glut of divergent storylines culminating in one place and characters to incorporate, one can’t really blame him for how awkward and messy it ended up.  Ivan Reis and Joe Prado share penciling duties, and they try their best, but there are only so many superheroes, spaceships and explosions you can pack into a panel before it becomes a blur of nonsense.  There’s a nice turn for Kyle Rayner fans but there’s nothing that’s essential reading here.


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