Tuesday, May 31, 2011

DC: Now Number One?

Flashpoint has, for months now, been touted as the event. I was very curious about what it could do--it was an alternate reality, Flash-centric event. Sure, it was written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Andy Kubert, both industry superstars.
It spawned a host of spinoff titles, most of which are intriguing in either concept or creative team, if not both. And the finale was culminating with the end of story arcs across DC's line. But, really, how significant could Flashpoint change things?

As it turns out? A lot. Flashpoint may be the most significant DC event since Crisis on Infinite Earths. On August 31st, only two DC titles will be released. The first is the fifth and final issue of Flashpoint. The second is Justice League #1 (notably lacking an "of America" suffix) by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. Quite possibly the two biggest names in today's comics industry. And with such an all-star creative team, the title will feature, appropriately, all-star characters for the first time in years.



Superman, redesigned (and perhaps even younger) for a modern age. Batman--Bruce Wayne? Dick Grayson? Even Thomas Wayne? Who can say? Wonder Woman, in a new variation of her Jim Lee redesign. Hal Jordan and Aquaman, both written by Johns in other titles. The Flash--presumably Barry Allen, in an outfit I actually dislike quite a bit. And--rather than the Martian Manhunter, to round out the original Big Seven lineup for the first time since the Silver Age--Cyborg, spinning out of his incredibly prominent Flashpoint role. He was in the JLA as written by Robinson, but rarely ever seen--here, I imagine he'll have a much higher profile.

And after Justice League, DC simply goes insane. 52 titles total, all new number ones.

A Superman title, written by Grant Morrison. If he can recapture the Superman magic from All Star Superman, Superman Beyond or Final Crisis, I'll be on board wholeheartedly. I have a few caveats, however. The first is that it doesn't cut short Paul Cornell's brilliant run on Action Comics (but if it must, that Cornell gets another title he's equally suitable for--perhaps, dare I hope, a Lex Luthor ongoing?) The second is less of a caveat but rather a two-sided complaint:

Allegedly, Superman and Lois Lane may no longer be married, as part of the continuity changes that Flashpoint brings. On one hand, I absolutely understand why--the triangle of Superman, Clark Kent and Lois Lane is incredibly important to the mythos. And with Grant Morrison at the helm, I'm even willing to give it a chance. However, I've grown up with Lois knowing Clark's secret, with her being his equal partner. Despite that, I'm willing to accept that the writers know what they're doing, and Lois is so iconic that I doubt she'll be out of the books entirely. My real complaint is that there hasn't been any real focus on the couple at all. At least with One More Day, as controversial as it may have been, we'd just come off of a multi-year run stressing the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane, and the story in itself was (or at least attempted to be) a testament to their love. With Superman? This past year, he's been on his own walking around the country, and for the past two years before that, he was busy dealing with Kryptonians, on Earth and then on New Krypton. Before that, it was the Legion of Super-Heroes and Brainiac. The last time we really had a story that dealt with the two of them as equal partners? Probably when Kurt Busiek had them raising Chris Kent together. Flashpoint won't deal with Superman and Lois as a couple at all--if the relationship is dissolved without any real acknowledgement of their supercouple status, I'll be very disappointed.

Moving on: we've heard almost nothing about the Batman line so far. I imagine that Grant Morrison's plans for Batman, Inc remain unchanged, as it's one of DC's top sellers, and even if Scott Snyder is off of Detective Comics, he'll likely be a part of the rumored Bat-event that spins out of the Snyder-plotted Gates of Gotham (I hope so, at least--Snyder has achieved serious critical acclaim). We have, however, heard a bit about Birds of Prey--it will return with a new number one, without recently-returned writer Gail Simone. It's an interesting move, but one that might even cement Birds of Prey as one of DC's enduring titles. It moved from Chuck Dixon to Gail Simone fairly seamlessly, but sank after her first departure. If played right this time, it just might survive and acquire its next big writer. When a title becomes so associated with a single writer, it can survive in its own comfortable niche, but rarely grows beyond that, and suffers when they inevitably leave. Maybe it'll be good to let Birds of Prey survive, and hopefully even thrive, on its own.

Aquaman will launch by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis, while Green Lantern returns, again with Johns. These were expected, but the news that Green Lantern will retain its continuity bodes well for those that worried this linewide renumbering also meant a complete reboot. Given that Geoff Johns truly revitalized Aquaman in Brightest Day and has provided incredible superhero action for Hal Jordan in recent years, I'm happy with these announcements--the storytelling isn't brilliant, but it makes for firmly reliable and highly commercial comics.

Also of note for the Green Lantern franchise is news of a team book that will bring together one member from every Corps. No word of the creative team yet, although I wonder if this is a retooled version of the Red Lantern ongoing by Peter Milligan?

Hawkman by James Robinson and Philip Tan makes for a book that I can easily ignore, having not liked much of Robinson's recent DC work and having hated pretty much all of Tan's. But, hey, I guess somebody likes them.

Teen Titans returns with a new number one, written by Fabian Nicieza. He's always done best when dealing with team books (I guess I'd count Cable/Deadpool as a team book, of sorts, but I'm more looking towards his New Warriors, X-Force and Thunderbolts days). If he can get the creative freedom to really develop the Titans without editorial interference (it worked for his Marvel books because the characters were second-tier and largely unrelated to other titles, but in Teen Titans, the characters either have their own titles or are strongly connected to other franchises) then I can see the Teen Titans truly entering a great era for the first time in years. I just hope Nicola Scott sticks around on artwork! She's probably the closest thing we'll ever have to George Perez back on the book, and she's really made it her own. I do wonder, though--will any of the sidekicks be rebooted back to their original versions? It'll be interesting to see what comes next.

A new Legion series called Legion Lost. All I can imagine is that Flashpoint and the continuity changes that follow have caused incredible rifts through the 31st century, and the Legion is...well, lost. I was in love with the original series by this name, and even if there's no connection, I remain hopeful. I'm very curious, however, to see if Paul Levitz will continue to write the Legion's ongoing adventures, or if his faux-contract (arranged when he stepped down) is finally over. Truthfully, I don't know if I care either way--I've been enjoying his work the past two years, but it feels almost as if he's playing it safe. Maybe the Legion needs someone else to bring them back up on the sales charts. Meanwhile, Deadman will take over Adventure Comics--but DC did suggest that the title would become an anthology again, so maybe Deadman will be joined by some other stars of Brightest Day? Rob Liefeld has an upcoming DC assignment--maybe (and this is entirely speculation) he'll doing pencils on a Hawk and Dove feature for the title, if they're out from Birds of Prey (perhaps even written by Gail Simone, so that she can wind up whatever plotlines she had prepared for the pair).

Wonder Woman will have shed the Straczynski-inspired continuity changes of the past year, while Justice Society of America will gain a new writer following Guggenheim's departure. Given his claims of having serious long-term plans for the title, I'm actually rather surprised (and disappointed, I was really loving his take on the team).

What news will we get in the days ahead? One thing's for sure--these are very, very interesting times for DC, and Marvel knows what's best, they'll be preparing for the competition.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011 Lightning Round

There certainly hasn’t been a shortage of good reading lately.  Comics just keep getting better and more diversified with a fresh crop of talented artists and writers debuting every other day.  What’s a dedicated blogger to do?                                            One of my goals in writing for BC REFUGEES is to bring attention to the less-noticed but more-deserving quality work.  If I can help someone else discover something new and worthy, then I am accomplishing my mission.                                                                                                                                                                 I’ve been reading a lot lately and putting books that I feel deserve a write-up in a separate pile. The pile is growing faster than I can keep up with my writing.  Rather than wait far too long to give them some attention, I’m going to feature them in the “Lightening Round”.  Every book mentioned here is worthy of a longer review.  I’m forced to compromise with a shorter summary - - but, I hope you’ll check out some of these books.
DARK HORSE PRESENTS VOLUME 2  #1  (Dark Horse, April 2011)
dark horse prsents
Dark Horse revives one of their flagship titles in a big 80-page special featuring some big talent. Paul Chadwick’s marvelous and heartwarming creation CONCRETE leads off with “Intersection”.  During an evening walk, good neighbor Concrete spots a break-in and enlists the aid of a passing driver to call it in to police on his cell phone - - - with complications.  I love the way Chadwick sets up a scene.  His imagery is always just right. . . . .  In very graphic style, the fabulous Neal Adams begins the story of “Blood”, a crime noir thriller.  Wow - - his stuff still amazes me. . . . . .  “Finder: Third World Chapter 1” is my first look at the story and art of Carla Speed MacNeil and I’m impressed.  It’s an unusual and very stylish story about a man well-suited for a very different and quirky new job. . . . . . “Mr. Monster Vs. Ooak!”  reunites writer/artist Michael T. Gilbert with his infamous creation.  I've always enjoyed his Mr. Monster stories and this one is classic, although a little sillier than average. . . . . .  There’s a very short preview of “Xeres”, Frank Miller’s prequel to 300.  The art is similar to SIN CITY but not as complex - - - and a little disappointing.  Here’s hoping this is just a rough draft. . . . . .  Issue #1 also features some new work from Howard Chaykin and Richard Corben, as well as the opening pages from “Star Wars” Crimson Empire III” which looks epic. . . . . .   There’s an interview with Frank Miller, and a reprint of a very good Harlan Ellison short story from earlier in 2010. . . . . .  The issue wraps up with some silly comic strips by Patrick Alexander, which are thankfully short and not equal in quality to the rest of this book.  Ditto for “Snow Angel” with interesting simplistic art by David Chelsea - - but is story is a little confusing  - - maybe things get explained better in Chapter 2. 
INDIE COMICS MAGAZINE #2  (Aazurn Publishing, April 2011 - - - Indie ComicsMagazine.com)                                                          
This 64-page black and white comic-sized magazine focuses on independent comic book creators.  Issue 2 features seven separate tales, all with high quality script and art. . . . . .  The Vigil brothers (Tim, Joe, Jeff) present a hard-boiled detective investigating demons in “City Of Lost Souls”, a good story with strong 1950’s style crime comic art. . . . . .  “Spy Guy And The Case Of The Anunnaki Artifact” by Mike Kitchen features another hard-boiled detective, this one being funny and suitable for all ages.  It reminded me of Inspector Gadget - - story and art should be very appealing to younger readers. . . . . . “Omega Man: Current Events And Celebrity Injustice” by Alonzo Johnson/ Johnny Johnson showcases a positive role model blackindie comics mag superhero and deals with social issues. . . . . . My absolute favorite story of this issue is “Recalcitrant Jones And The Dead Beats” by Terry Cronin/Steve Mack.  In a very funny fashion, musician Jones promises more than he can deliver and lands a huge performance job.  In desperation, he makes a pact with the Devil who sets Jones up with a backing band featuring the dead Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Keith Moon, Lawrence Welk and Elvis Presley.  Rehearsals are a riot!  Trying to keep the band together and ready for opening night creates some thoroughly amusing situations.   . . . . . Gary Scott Beatty in “Jazz: Near Midnight Rockabilly” tells another musical story with art and captions inspired by 1950’s album covers.  If you enjoy GLAMOURPUSS, you will like this.  It very creative and a neat way to tell an engaging story that mixes in a little musical history as well. . . . . . “Billion Dollar Caveman” by Michael Marcus and George McVey tells a short science fiction tale with a twist ending and interesting art that reminds me of both EC Comics and 1970’s underground comic books.  . . . . . Blair Kitchen wraps up the issue with “The Possum – Monkey See, Monkey Kill”, a net little funny tale featuring his nerdy super-hero who uses pajamas with a hoodie for a costume.  This one is also suitable for younger readers, and contains some satire that adults will appreciate as well.       
THE MISSION #3  (Image Comics, April 2011) 
mission 3
I’ve previously written here about the first two issues of THE MISSION, which neatly wrap up the first story arc and reach a resolution.  But that respite is only temporary for protagonist Paul – – as he encounters an elderly and rowdy street vagrant carrying placards prophesying doom.  The beggar seems to know something of Paul’s encounters with the rough-mannered Gabriel and even has a few words of advice (before he starts asking for hand-outs.)  Paul’s marriage has begun to suffer due to his obsession with finding out more details about Gabe.  Paul’s wife feels he is hiding a deep secret and seeks counseling for them.  This book is much deeper than the surface content.  It’s about faith and belief and the contrast between those who will carry out a chore with no further information versus others who doubt and ask questions.  Paul’s probing angers Gabe, who warns him - -  “You don’t ever discuss your work with anyone.  You don’t ever discuss me with anyone . . . And stay away from the homeless guy.  He’s a friend of mine.”  I’m certain Paul is about to get a new dire mission in Issue #4.
SUPERBOY #6 + #7  (DC Comics)
superboy 6
Marco Rudy takes over the art chores in both of these issues, although his art style seems to change from issue #6 to #7 - - - perhaps adapting in response to the particular story. I may learn to like that.  Issue #6 (June 2011) features pages of six and nine-panel details and then explodes into four-panel and full page art when the battle ensues. . . . . .  I almost didn’t pick up this issue, realizing that it was a one-issue crossover with the Reign Of Doomsday story line continuing in Action Comics.  I figured Jeff Lemire would have to modify his story telling style in order to blend in/fit in with the Doomsday story arc.  He does.  But, he also manages to add in some great scenes like the opening pages where Connor seeks the advice of Tim Drake/Red Robin and some meaningful and revealing discussion ensues that make it worth picking up this issue.  . . . And, there’s another interesting two page multi-paneled interlude where friend Simon gets a little independent and considers a research assistant job with a certain Doctor Palmer at Ivy University. . . . . .
superboy 7
The art in issue #7 (July 2011) by Rudy is certainly different than what I’ve come to expect in this title - - but it suits the storyline very well.  The opening pages where Connor wakes from a nightmare only to find it didn’t go away is very stunning.  he changes up his style for the flashback sequences with Psionic Lad. . . . . . An alien plant life-form roots itself telepathically inside it’s victims minds and causes them to have waking hallucinations.  It the opening chapter in a new invasion story.  It’s the most frightening, disturbing and offbeat story as told by Jeff Lemire since he took over this series.  This book remains one of my favorite DC superhero titles.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #1  (DC Comics, January 2thunder agents011)
I’ve seen enough here to convince me to seek out the eventual trade paperback once it’s released.  The very talented Nick Spencer takes a so-so 1970’s Tower super-hero title (which DC now owns the rights to) and modernizes it, blending covert team/espionage/spy work/infiltration by moles/double agents with corporate politics to create one very mixed-up but super-organized covert agency running a group of power-augmented heroes into the ground with no scruples and no regrets.  Artist Cafu is especially skilled at using facial expressions to convey moods and intentions. 
UNDYING LOVE #1  (Image Comics, March 2011)
undying love
A lone wolf gunman.  Hong Kong.  Ninjas.  Secretive Asian societies.  Vampires. Magicians and sorcerers.  It sounds like a miss-match but the blend is tasty.  The gunman loves a beautiful Chinese vampire and wants to protect her from the gangs and cults that want her dead for ever. The only cure for her is to trace the problem back to the source, one of the most powerful and protected ancient vampires in the world.  Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman collaborate on both story, art and colors.  The script moves things along like a classic detective yarn.  The art is great and very rich in detail for the small panel style employed - - -  a  neat mix reminding me of Steranko and Gulacy’s best.

WARRIORS THREE #3 + #4 of 4 (Marvel Comics, April 2011)
Another mini-series concludes, and another one that I’ve previously written about. As much as I liked Issues #1 and #2 - - - I absolutely love Issues #3 and #4.  It’s the best part of the entire story.  Writer Bill Willingham has definitely written a Tales Of Asgard for the ages, and one that will put his own indelible stamp on the Marvel version of Asgardian Lore.  What I appreciate is Willingham not just coming up with some revelations regarding the character background and raison d'ĂȘtre of the Warriors Three - - he also further develops the character and abilities of the Fenris Wolf (creating Willingham ownership again).   In addition, he also creates his own new addition to the ranks of Asgard - - the mortal female A.I.M. agent and narrator of the min-series - - an awesome character in her own right.  (And, possibly featured in a future story of the Warriors Four?) 
warriors 3 3          
warriors 3 4

Monday, May 23, 2011

Books I Read: Superstar: As Seen on TV

"He's Earth's greatest hero. As long as his ratings hold up." (from the back cover)

Cody Bridges is Superstar, a hero who relies on voluntary bioenergy contributions from the public for his power. It's not really ratings-based, though that makes a good blurb, it's that the more people like him the more willing they are to donate.

In lesser hands than Kurt Busiek's, this story would be about the technology and how it somehow went bad. But this story is about people: Cody's just a regular guy with a family that frustrates him and a job that gets him down sometimes. It's a good intro to Busiek's style of everyman hero, and if you like this you'll probably like "Astro City" too.

Stuart Immonen, whose work I praise often here, is one of those artists who makes the work look effortless. It really isn't, of course, and the sketchbook section in the back of the book is a really good example of that, showing how many iterations it took to get Superstar's jacket to look right. (As you can see from the cover, he figured it out.)

The tone is light but not whimsical: not as serious as Busiek's "Shockrockets" or as deep as "Astro City". I enjoyed the characters and the world, and it's too bad that this 96-page story is all there is. ("Superstar" was originally published in 2000, so it doesn't seem the creators have any plans to go back to it.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Books I Read: Trouble

"In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move." (Douglas Adams)

This book, Mark Millar's "Trouble", was pretty much reviled when it was announced in 2003. Collected now, distanced from the controversy, does the work stand on its own? (And why is it collected now? The large caption "From the author of Kick-Ass" on the cover answers that question.)

To refresh your memory, this is a romance comic starring teenage brothers Richard and Ben, friends Mary and May, and an unwanted pregnancy leading to a baby named Peter. Yes, at the time Millar stated that if the book went over well this would be the official history of Spider-Man's family. It didn't, and it wasn't. This new edition doesn't reference Spidey anywhere, and there's a cameo in the last few pages that makes it impossible for it to be a Marvel Universe story.

The problem for me is that without the tension of Peter Parker's parents (either set) acting in ways you wouldn't expect, there isn't enough drama in the story. It's too racy for young kids, and not sexy enough for older ones. There's only one real plot twist involving the pregnancy towards the end -- much less content than you'd find in a manga or a daytime TV drama -- and it doesn't even qualify as a teen sex comedy because it doesn't really try to be funny.

Except for a couple of places where the characters look similar enough to be confusing, Terry Dodson's art is great: I could look at his drawings of cavorting teenagers all day. Unfortunately, it's not backed up by a strong enough romance story to draw you in. There's potential here for something a new comics audience might be interested in, but without the initial hype the end product is too thin.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

NEW BOOKS = Red Spike: adrenaline-augmented army of two

RED SPIKE #1 (of 5):  (Image Comics/Benaroya Publishing)  Created by Michael Benaroya & Jeff Cahn.  Script: Jeff Cahn.  Art:  Salvador Navarro.  Color: Ifansyah Noor of Imaginary Friends Studio.  Lettering:  Josh Aitken.  Cover:  Mark Texeira.

Red Spike Preview-Cover

A smaller comics publisher (Benaroya) teams up with a larger company (Image) for distribution purposes to reach a larger potential audience.  They then offer the first issue at a bargain price ($1.00) and tie it into a Facebook promotion for additional exposure. 

Benaroya has developed  a new military action comic by utilizing some concepts from other popular series:  G.I. Joe, Robocop, A-Team, Josh Whedon’s Dollhouse, and the Cyborb film (to name a few).   Blend them together to create something that is fresh and new, yet familiar.   That’s RED SPIKE.  Is it worth your hard earned buck to check it out and see if you want to pick up this series?  Definitely. 

Like a well-made action movie - - RED SPIKE is just plain fun to read.  Several times.  I’m warming up to these two main characters  - - their hard-nosed attitudes are easy to accept  - - considering that some of their machismo may be intentionally integrated into their make-up - -  which seems implied here but I suspect will come to the foreground as this series progresses.

Matt and Greg are the product of years of federal government research, the first two involved in a project to create the perfect soldier.  Both have been surgically implanted with a cerebral regulator, adrenal gland augmenters, and a wrist meter that allows them to monitor their own adrenal levels during action.  They can produce large amounts of adrenaline in their bodies at will, enhancing their physical abilities  - -  especially speed, quickness of motion, and reaction times.

adrenaline-matt-character-final

As the issue opens the Red Spike team parachutes down into an unidentified military base, directly into a mass of armed soldiers - - in order to “wreck shop.”  As the team engage in their first assignment, the caption proclaims: “Most people would call this a suicide mission. . . . We call it Tuesday.”  It’s a fast-paced, detailed opening action sequence that allows artist Navarro to display his skills. He’s very good at combat scenes. The co-ordinated movements of the characters seem fluid and natural.  He’s also good at portraying the vast depth of a multi-leveled complex as the covert team moves inside for explosive results.

Cahn’s script is fast-paced, yet between the action he mixes in enough side plots and additional character reveals to keep the interest level high.  There is a romance brewing between Greg and agent Margaret Downing , which seems to be met with disapproval by the higher powers and may compromise her ability to perform her duties.  A deputy director in the White House has learned of the ultra-secret Red Spike project, which he considers “out of control” and aims to uncover and halt.  Greg is a little too competitive and aggressively impulsive during team assignments with Matt, and may have to receive a little  surgical “correction”.   These developments should keep readers returning for more.

Red Spike promotion May 04, 2011 001

All the covers for this series will apparently be painted by well-respected artist Mark Texeira.  The Facebook promotion will give the original cover artwork away, and reward a comics shop with some of the original production pages.  If you pick up a copy of issue #1 and post a picture of yourself holding the RED SPIKE book in front of your local comics shop to the RED SPIKE Facebook page, you’ll be entered into the contest/raffle.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

FCBD - - titles for younger readers - - - Part 8

Two smaller publishers put out worthwhile FCBD titles intended for children. Both are recommended. . . . . . . . . .

RICHIE RICH / KUNG FU PANDA  FCBD flipbook  (Ape Entertainment)

RICHIE RICH in “ERUPTION DISRUPTION” = Script: Jason M. Burns  Art: Tina Francisco  Colors: Dustin Evans  Letters: David Hedgecock  Cover by Jack Lawrence

STK-Richie Rich

This is not the Harvey Comics RICHIE RICH that I remember.   The storyline seems to be updated for a different generation of young readers.  Even Richie Rich himself has a different look and a change in his hairstyle.  The art seems to reflect current preferences/standards for young teen adventure books.

I didn’t read a lot of RICHIE RICH Harvey comics.  Mostly I read the Richie Rich back-up stories in the pages of CASPER, HOT STUFF, or BABY HUEY.  It was usually a short feature, always humorous in nature and related to Richie’s unlimited allowance which gave him freedom to do and attempt things ordinary kids lacked the finances to pull off.  The longer stories in his own book did have a little more substance and usually revolved around some adventure with dangerous (but still humorous) elements.  I just didn’t read many of them.  An advertisement page inside the FCBD issue proclaims “Richie Rich Returns!  . . . After 20 years away from comics, Richie Rich returns with all new adventures! . . . . . A mix of James Bond and Indiana Jones with the bank account of Donald Trump.”  That’s a concise and very accurate summation of this newest, modern version of the character.

Richie keeps busy all the time, between school and activity with Rich Rescue, the team of friends and associates he leads into adventure.  As the story opens with comic relief the Rescue team is taking a well-deserved vacation break in Hawaii. Reggie Von Dough likes to complain, and seems to have a rivalry (not sure over what) with Richie.  The other friend is Gloria, a cute little red-head who may be the source of the competition.  The lone adult on the team is Cadbury, acting in multiple roles as servant, butler, body guard and the muscle for the group.  He’s fond of speaking in alliterations in a very formal and proper manner. When things get hectic they rely on Irona, a female robot with a unique array of powers (flight, super-suction, etc) and high-tech tools.  Rounding out the group is Dollar, the family dog who is smarter than he acts.  Before they can have much fun, a new threat emerges in Dr. N-R-Gee who seeks to steal all of the world’s energy but jump-starting a volcano (don’t ask me how that accomplishes his purpose).   Richie defeats him in a non-violent manner that also incorporates a very brief science lesson (with explanation!) into the story. 

The art is vivid and appealing for younger readers.  In spite of being completely different from what I expected, Richie Rich seems promising.  It’s worth taking a look at; and I may be prompted to pick up one or both of the two issues debuting in May and June (undersea adventure, and dinosaurs/cavemen) to help make up my mind. 

KUNG FU PANDA in “Let The Fur Fly”  Writer: Jason M Burns. Art: Dario Mazara. Colors : VC Design.   . . . . and “Touch Of Destiny”  Writer: Quinn Johnson.  Art: Chris Houghton. Colors: Diego Rodriguez.  Cover: Rolando Mallada. Letters (both): David Hedgecock.

The ink and colors in both of these stories are very sharp and vivid, creating a sense of depth  - particularly when featuring main characters.  The effect is as if Kung Fu Panda (“Po” by name) is always standing in the foreground, regardless of what is going on in the background.  It’s very appealing and should hold the attention of younger readers/viewers.

STK435295

In “Let The Fur Fly” Po is sent on a mission to enter the Forest of Isolation and find a leafy antidote to the fever rendering Tigress unconscious due to a poison in her system.  In between the amusing comments from Po (usually related to food) a lesson is learned as Po must outsmart rather than out-fight his opponent to obtain the antidote.

The shorter backup feature - “Touch Of Destiny” is told only with pictures.  Only until the reader gets to the last three panels is there any dialogue which explains the activity the various forest creatures were engaged in.  It’s a puzzle for younger readers and is depicted very well.  I confess I wasn’t sure what was going on until I came to the last page.

This flipbook serves as a nice introduction to Ape Entertainment’s offering for younger readers.

INSPECTOR GADGET + JOHNNY TEST FCBD MAY 2011  (Viper Comics)  “Inspector Gadget” written by Dale Mettam. Art by Jose Coba. Letters by Tony Garza.  “Johnny Test” written by Dale Mettam. Art by Ivan Escalante.  Letters by Tony Garza.

One of the better cartoon programs from the 1990’s returns for new comic-book adventures - - and that’s an occasion to celebrate.  Everything that made the TV show such fun is here and stays true to form.  Inspector Gadget is like a cross between Inspector Clouseau and Maxwell Smart - - - a self-assured yet bumbling investigator/secret agent.   The art reminds me very much of the cartoon show - - especially the dynamic two-page full blown panel on pages 2 and 3.

Gadget, his niece Penny, and companion dog Brain get an apparent expenses-paid trip on the original Orient Express train.  No sooner do they arrive than the group get a new mission to safeguard a passenger on the train. Of course, the nefarious Dr Claw is also on board with plans to nab the VIP and dispose of Gadget at the same time.  It ends on a cliff-hanger - - to be continued in the forthcoming INSPECTOR GADGET ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

Inspector Gadget

The back-up JOHNNY TEST feature is my first introduction to this character.  Warner Brothers owns the rights so I’m pretty certain it exists as a cartoon show on some children’s TV network even though I’ve never seen it.  In spite of the distinguished ownership, the art is done in a minimalist simple style that reminds me of several recent cartoons.  But that’s not a flaw.  The story is very funny in a childish way, especially the bumbling midnight ninjas (a.k.a. “homework fairies”). 

Johnny is a game-playing, late-night TV watching slacker who neglects his homework and lives with a family of achievers, especially his inventor-father  (the latest creation - - apple and meatloaf cake.)  When he finally gets to sleep two teleporting heavyset ninja garbed “elves” enter his bedroom and complete his homework, which ends up getting Johnny perfect grades.   Later, a teleporting “Mary From The Future” arrives to show Johnny the future consequences of his perfect homework - -  he lands a job as Senator John Test  with his (talking) dog Dukey as chief-of-staff.    To save the future, Mary tells Johnny he has to stop doing his homework:  “Whoa!  Didn’t see that coming.”, he replies. 

This is a preview of JOHNNY TEST: THE ONCE AND FUTURE JOHNNY also upcoming from Viper Comics.   Both of these stories look like fun.  I wish I had some younger relatives to read this to.

Horror Hunter: A Glimpse into artistic interpretation

I enjoy learning how works are  translated from writer inception to artist visualization.  The link here provides some interesting background on an upcoming story I look forward to reading.

RE: MONSTERVERSE Story Process - From Cover to Page Art Design

PRESS RELEASE - MONDAY, MAY 16, 2011 - Immediate Release

(Los Angeles) MONSTERVERSE ENTERTAINMENT unveils the step-by-step process behind its recent BELA LUGOSI'S TALES FROM THE GRAVE #2 cover by make-up legend Rick Baker to create the book's horror story, STRANGE TO THE FINISH. Follow the details from conception by Monsterverse wunderkind KERRY GAMMILL to the (almost) finished page by top artist Kamil "Kurt" Kochanski at the MONSTERVERSE BLOG.

 

http://monsterverseblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/from-rick-baker-cover-to-lugosi-comic.html

Monsterverse publisher/editor/artist & story teller Kerry Gammill provides a character design for the "soul-stealing sailor" to be illustrated by Kamil Kochanski for the story, STRANGE TO THE FINISH.
Issue #2 of BELA LUGOSI'S TALES FROM THE GRAVE is currently being offered for order from Diamond distribution in its MAY PREVIEWS magazine and will be released in July for the San Diego Comic Con.
Fans are encouraged to inform their local or online shops that they wish to pre-order this highly collectible special issue.
In addition to issue two Diamond will be RE-LISTING issue one in a show of faith in the strong back-order sales since its release last October for Halloween.
Diamond pre-order # for BELA LUGOSI'S TALES FROM GRAVE # 2:
MAY111131 F BELA LUGOSI TALES FROM GRAVE #2
Diamond pre-order # for  BELA LUGOSI'S TALES FROM GRAVE #1:
MAY111132 F  BELA LUGOSI TALES FROM GRAVE #1
Diamond has re-listed the highly acclaimed first issue of the Lugosi horror comic with its CERTIFIED COOL rating (by the Diamond staff). With issue #2 of the horror anthology series hosted by horror icon Bela Lugosi MONSTERVERSE is continuing to keep that "cool" factor happening for this unique and praised book featuring the top talents in comic books and horror films.

http://www.previewsworld.com/public/default.asp?t=1&m=1&c=6&s=40&ai=12306

BELA LUGOSI'S TALES FROM THE GRAVE #2 with rare collector's cover by make-up legend Rick Baker is now available for PRE-ORDER from Diamond in its MAY PREVIEWS magazine (See page 305). Details on the cover at the HERO COMPLEX of the LA TIMES.

http://herocomplex.latimes.com/2011/04/04/rick-baker-sets-sail-with-tales-from-the-grave/

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

More guests added to Baltimore Comic Con - - August 2011

Celebrate Independents at This Year's Baltimore Comic-Con

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - May 16, 2011 - The Baltimore Comic-Con is happy to announce the addition of Indy comics creators Dean Haspiel, Thom Zahler, Brad Guigar, Tim Truman, and Neil Vokes to the line-up of this year's show, taking place August 20-21, 2011.

Dean Haspiel broke into the comic scene in the mid-1980s, working as an assistant to Howard Chaykin, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Walter Simonson. Haspiel sketch for PR 2011After graduating college, he made a career for himself as an independent artist working for such companies as Eternity Comics, Top Shelf Productions, and Alternative Comics. In addition, his artwork was featured in the Vertigo graphic novels, The Quitter, The Alcoholic, and Cuba: My Revolution. Haspiel is a founding-member of the webcomics collective, Act-i-vate and, in 2010, won an Emmy Award for his title design for HBO's Bored to Death.

Said Haspiel, "If I could attend only one show a year, it would be Baltimore Comic-Con!" 

Thom Zahler is the writer and artist of fan-favorite Indy book, Love and Capes, which is currently being published by IDW. A graduate of the Joe Kubert School of Comic and Graphic Art, his artistic talents have been showcased through work for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and the Cleveland Indians. In 2009, Zahler was nominated for two Harvey Awards in the categories of Best Cartoonist and Best Letterer.

Cartoonist Brad Guigar is the creator of the webcomics Evil, Inc., Courting Disaster, Greystone Inn, and Phables. His work on Courting Disaster and Phables appear weekly in the Philadelphia Daily News as well as on the web, and he is also the co-author of the book How to Make Webcomics. In 2007, Guigar was nominated of an Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic. Following that nomination, he received a Harvey Award nomination in 2009 for Best Biographical, Historical, or Journalistic Presentation.

Tim Truman, who is the co-creator of the character Grimjack, began working in comics in 1983. A graduate of the Joe Kubert School of Comic and Graphic Arts, he is both a writer and artist having worked on such titles as Airboy, The Heap, The Prowler, and The Spider for Eclipse Comics, as well as reinventing both Hawkman and Jonah Hex for DC Comics in the early-90s. Most recently, Truman handled writing duties for Dark Horse Comics' Conan the Cimmerian.

Finally, Neil Vokes began his career in comics in 1984 with The Key Eternal from Comico. Since that time, Vokes' art has graced the pages of the graphic novels The Wicked West and The Black Forest from Image Comics, Hero Happy Hour from GeekPunk, and Jurassic Park from Topps Comics. Currently, he is working on Flesh & Blood from Monsterverse and Eagle: The Original Adventures from Moonstone Books.

"From webcomics to independent press books, these great creators add a depth and richness to the comic industry that helps promote comics to a wider audience through the diversity of genres in which they've worked," said Marc Nathan, show promoter of the Baltimore Comic-Con. "We couldn't be more excited to have these guys added to our guest list for this year's show."

In addition to Haspiel, Zahler, Guigar, Truman, and Vokes, confirmed guests for the show including: Jason Aaron (Scalped, PunisherMAX); Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead); Nick Cardy (Aquaman, Teen Titans); Cliff Chiang (Greendale); Frank Cho (50 Girl 50, X-Men: Schism, New Ultimates); David Finch (Brightest Day, Batman: The Dark Knight); Ron Frenz (Spider-Girl); Jose-Luis Garcia-Lopez (Wednesday Comics, Batman Confidential); Michael Golden (creator of Bucky O'Hare); Mike Grell (Action Comics, The Pilgrim); Steve Hamaker (Bone); Jamal Igle (Supergirl, Zatanna); J.G. Jones (Doc Savage, DC Universe Legacies); Barry Kitson (Secret Invasion, Amazing Spider-Man); Laura Martin (New Avengers, Thor); Mark Morales (Fear Itself cover artist); Kevin Nowlan (Wednesday Comics); David Petersen (Mouse Guard); Brandon Peterson (Ultimate Vision, Strange); Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo); Walter Simonson (Thor); Jeff Smith (Bone, RASL); and Nick Spencer (Morning Glories, Iron Man 2.0).

About The Baltimore Comic-Con
The Baltimore Comic-Con is celebrating its 12th year of bringing the comic book industry to the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area. With a guest list unequaled in the industry, the Baltimore Comic-Con will be held August 20-21, 2011. For more information, please visit www.baltimorecomiccon.com.
About The Harvey Awards
The Harvey Awards are one of the comic book industry's oldest and most respected awards. With a history of over 20 years, the last 6 in conjunction with the Baltimore Comic-Con, the Harveys recognize outstanding achievements in over 20 categories. They are the only industry awards nominated and selected by the full body of comic book professionals. For more information, please visit www.harveyawards.org.

This information taken from the official Baltimore Comic-Con press release.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

FCBD – what about the super-heroes? - - - Part 7

FCBD 2011 GREEN LANTERN FLASHPOINT SPECIAL EDITION 1 (DC Comics June 2011) “Green Lantern” Secret Origin Book 2”  Geoff Johns, Writer. Ivan Reis, Art. OClair Albert, Inks. Randy Mayor, Colors. Rob Leigh, Letters.  “Flashpoint Preview” Geoff Johns, story.  Andy Kubert, art.

Many of us know this story by heart.  However,  put a little spin on it, write an entertaining script and couple that with dynamic art - - - and no one minds reading it all over again.  The familiar becomes fresh once again.  I loved both story and art here  - - - and I’m not a diehard Green Lantern fan. 

gl

There’s a little bit of background on Abin Sur here that I don’t remember reading before  - - and Geoff Johns establishes a connection between his choosing to land his disabled spaceship on Earth and the much later advent of the “blackest night”.   It’s probably no coincidence that Hal Jordan as depicted here bears more resemblance to actor Ryan Reynolds (soon to be seen in green on screen)  than I recall of other artist portrayals.   Carol Ferris has never looked better, and never been more independent and assertive than in this new version (as least in my limited recollection from Green Lantern readings).

This book is more than adequate as an introduction to Green Lantern tales for someone who was prompted by the movie to check out the comics.  There is also much for long-time fans to appreciate, especially the full page and double page art panels by Reis  - - whose work just gets better all the time.

The same can be said for Andy Kubert’s work in the special Flashpoint preview.  There’s a new flashback to early toddler Barry Allen that hints that his single parent mom (Nora Allen ) may have some secrets in her past.  Then the next seven panels cover the origin and history of Barry Allen/Flash albeit incredibly briefly before Barry wakes up, realizes the universe is slightly askew/incorrect,  and seeks out Batman to help fix it.  What a tease!  (Followed by a checklist that lets you know in order to read the first two months of the complete epic you will have to purchase 24 issues).

FCBD 2011 YOUNG JUSTICE BATMAN BB SUPER SAMPLER 1  (DC Comics July 2011) Young Justice in “Feed Your Fears”.  Written by Art Baltazar And Franco.  Artist Mike Norton.  Colorist Zac Atkinson.  Letterer Carlos M. Mangual.  Batman and The Flash in “Let Me Tell You About Bruce wayne . . .”  Sholly Fisch, Writer.  Rick Burchett, Penciller.  Dan Davis, Inker.  Gabe Eltaeb, Colorist.  Travis Lanham, Letterer.

FCBD 10 DCKids

The YOUNG JUSTICE television show on Cartoon Network is very well done  - - one of the best youth-oriented superhero cartoon shows I have seen.  I was a little disappointed in the first issue of the YOUNG JUSTICE comic based on the same show.  It just didn’t seem to match the same level of quality as the book.  However, after reading the FCBD edition, I’m ready to revise my opinion favorably.  Maybe the writing team needed a few issues to really hit their stride and get more comfortable with this book.  Seems like it, judging by this issue.  The art also seems more closely aligned with the style and quality of the cartoon than I recall seeing in Issue #1.  Hats off to progress!

The main villain here, the Psycho Pirate, is an appropriate foil and allows for the writers to explore/explain some of the character traits/flaws of each member of Young Justice as they fall under the “self-doubting” influence of his power.   The ending shows the power of working together and leaves a nice little message for young readers as well.

The Batman story also covers a lot of ground and serves as a good introduction to young readers.  Batman and The Flash work their fannies off trying to thwart crime where it will appear next.  The action is framed/prefaced by an elaborate formal dinner party where the elite gossip about the missing Bruce Wayne and accuse him of many character flaws (all proven wrong by Batman and The Flash as their actions leave evidence to the contrary).  Even Alfred gets in a little commentary.  Well done story.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

FCBD Preview, Part 6: Radical Free Book Day at comic shops

JAKE THE DREAMING FREE COMIC BOOK DAY PREVIEW  (Radical, May 2011):  Created & Written by Adam Freeman & Marc Bernardin.  Art by Andrew Jones.  Art Direction by Jeremy Berger. Design by Baptiste Ringot. . . . . . A selection of passages from JAKE THE DREAMING Young Adult Illustrated Novel coming in December 2011.

A review of JAKE THE DREAMING FCBD preview in the USA TODAY national newspaper implied that this could be the next “Harry Potter” in terms of popularity.  That may seem a little over the top, but if enough young readers were exposed to this it might just catch on.  It’s certainly worthy.  The art is fabulous, the story holds your attention, and the production values are extremely high.

STK434605 

Ten-year old Jake and little sister Ella are used to fending for themselves and staying occupied. Their single parent mother has her hands full after starting a new job and moving her family to a new town at the same time.  Jake and Ella adjust to life in quiet Lumberton and handle the time alone without parental supervision in different ways.  Ella enjoys homework and study, which seems peculiar enough. Jake has a vivid imagination and spends much of his waking hours absorbed in creative daydreams, often getting carried away and having difficulty separating fantasy from reality.

Jake’s imaginative creativity stems from a more elaborate and special skill, one which didn’t manifest as often but is starting to work it’s way to the forefront more now that Jake is in a new setting.  Jake has the ability to enter the dreams of others and effect events.  Soon after discovering his deep-seated ability, Jake learns that he is “The Dreaming”  - - chosen for this role because he is needed to save the world from an evil threat.  The evil creature Nocturnus patrols the dream realm and hopes to obtain enough power to put the entire world to sleep forever.

JAKE THE DREAMING is lavishly illustrated, and seems to follow a format where two pages of text are followed by gorgeous two-page spreads of colorful art.  Even the text pages have smaller illustrations in sepia tones and the manila pages are a little shaded and faded, even frayed at edges to give the appearance of a old, bound manuscript.  And, just as Jake views reality and bends it to his vision while day-dreaming the art is not strictly straight-forward but seems to be a little interpretive, which should be both challenging and rewarding to readers - - giving them pause to thoroughly scrutinize the art pages before moving on. 

Rather than just reprint the first chapter of JAKE THE DREAMING, the FCBD preview offers excerpts from seven different chapters - - allowing it to showcase the diversity of art here as well as reveal the complexity of the storyline.  I  think it may be a little more challenging for those readers who haven’t yet reached the third or fourth grade in elementary school  - - but I’m thinking they will still want to make the effort  (and some will get help from their parents we hope and believe).  I’m going to keep my eye out for this when it debuts in December.

fcbd

This FCBD offering may be a little more difficult to find/locate.  It wasn’t part of the “Gold” offering to FCBD participating shops so order quantities were smaller than many of the other books.  My local source, Captain Blue Hen Comics in Newark DE had just one copy.   That’s unfortunate, but maybe it can be rectified later if Radical decides to offer a second printing and Diamond agrees to solicit orders again. But, even though this should be of interest to comic shop customers, I have a feeling that Radical could attract even more attention to this upcoming book just by previewing it to some book stores as well as public and school libraries.  Even though it’s an “illustrated novel” rather than a graphic novel - -  the fabulous art as well as the fantasy story should attract a lot of new readers to similar fare in comics.  I’m thinking about offering my copy to Joe Murray, the co-owner of Captain Blue Hen.  He often works with local libraries to start up or expand their comics/graphic novel sections for young readers.  He just might want to show this around and see if any libraries want to order it.  Personal aside to Joe - - no pressure intended. Just thinking out loud and sharing here.   A book like this could be a door-opener for enticing younger readers into the world of comics.  I’m thinking of how the Harry Potter movies helped encourage even more young adults to pick up the books - - even though they had a good audience before then. Of course, that’s why they made the movies. Ditto for Twilight. 

Summer Movies: Thor


I think "Thor" is one of those movies that's going to depend on word of mouth for its success, so let me be clear up front: I thought it was perfect. It's as good as "Iron Man" and I wouldn't change a thing.

It largely works for the same reason that "Iron Man" did: casting. Just like Robert Downey Jr. was Tony Stark from the first scene, Chris Hemsworth inhabits Thor from the minute you see him. One of the things that's unique about Thor is that he needs to learn humility, and so Hemsworth's Thor is arrogant at first, but so instantly charming that you can't help but like him anyway and want him to be a better person. (Even the Avengers character that has a weapon trained on him during his cameo says he's rooting for Thor.) As the film goes on, and Thor learns the lessons he needs to, Hemsworth's performance slowly gains warmth until the audience is completely smitten by him just like Jane Foster. And of course for the large percentage of the population that's into guys, it doesn't hurt that he's super hot.

Tim Hiddleston is terrific as Loki, who's arguably the harder part to play. Loki needs to stay believable even when the audience knows he's lying through his teeth, or the other characters will seem stupid for listening to him. Hiddleston gives a wonderfully subtle performance, slowly becoming more sinister throughout without turning into a mustache-twirling villain. The great Sir Anthony Hopkins plays Odin as a quiet, wise leader instead of a bombastic one which could have easily gone over the top. Natalie Portman is great as Jane Foster, a theoretical physicist in this version, and Idris Elba is the most badass character in the film as Heimdall.

The gorgeous production design for Asgard has a bit of a sci-fi spin, which makes it look modern but still classic, and making it plausible that this is an advanced civilization and not just a bunch of medieval hippies in funny costumes. Kenneth Branagh's direction makes the Asgardians, including the Warriors Three and Sif, seem larger than life but not ridiculous.

I saw both the 3D and regular versions, and while the 3D didn't bug me like I thought it would, I didn't feel it really added anything either (except to the ticket price.) It seemed a little darker and fuzzier to me in 3D, but that could have been just the difference between the projection in the two theaters. There are three comic creator cameos that I won't reveal (Hint: One of them is Stan Lee, and one of them is in the banquet scene at the end) and also the aforementioned Avenger cameo. (Which has been all over the 'net, but I won't spoil it here.) Samuel L. Jackson is also on board for the now-requisite after the credits scene.

"Thor" is both an adventure and a romance, and an excellent one of each at that. I highly recommend it for both fans of the character and newcomers to the mythos.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

FCBD - - What about the super-heroes? - - - more previews part 5

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2011 SPIDER-MAN #1  (Marvel, May 2011) “The Way Of The Spider” Dan Slott, writer. Humberto Ramos, pencils. Carlos Cuevas & Victor Olazaba, inks. Edgar Delgado, colors. VC’s Joe Caramagna, letters.

If you have strayed away from following the Spider-Man titles for awhile  (as I have), then this FCBD edition is essential reading to bring you up to date with the present world of Peter Parker - - and serves as an excellent jumping on point.

Spidey FCBD

In the opening page  Spider-Man directly addresses the reader and recounts his latest mishap at Horizon Labs where his experiments/inventions caused him to lose his spider-sense.  As Madame Web the psychic observes a battle between Spider-Man  and Spider-Woman (controlled by the Mandrill’s powerful pheromones)  she obliges us with a brief but succinct two page account of Spidey’s origin.   Then, poor Peter gets his butt handed to him by Jessica until he comes up with a non-violent solution to the problem.  This leads to Spidey’s accepting the guidance of Shang-Chi - - who uses  martial arts knowledge  to help Peter learn some additional fighting styles to compensate for his new limitations.  As things wrap up Madame Web warns of some new competition as it seems everyone in Manhattan has developed spider-powers of one type or another.  This leads into the “Spider Island” story arc which begins in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #666.

It’s a fast and fun read  - - but it didn’t leave me wanting more the same way some of the other FCBD preview books have.  I haven’t read anything by Dan Slott in some time, but I was  big fan of his work on AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE and then the Henry Pym led MIGHTY AVENGERS (before Bendis re-booted everything).  This FCBD story is told well and reads easily enough, but the old magic I remember doesn’t seem to be there.  Even the wise-cracks and slightly engaging dialogue between Spidey and friends seems a bit stale.   I just may be jaded after decades of reading Spider-Man stories.

Also, it seems like Slott is trying to do too much at once with this book.  The loss of Peter’s spider-sense ought to be a good enough theme/background for several story arcs of good material.  I can’t see complicating things with the “Spider-Island” situation at the same time.

The art by Humbertos Ramos is fun to follow and appears to have improved since the last time I’ve looked at anything by him.  His figures don’t appear to be quite as “manga-ish” as before, and I’m also noticing that he’s learned not to exaggerate every males’ forearms quite so much.  I especially like the web-strands used as frames on several two-page montages.  But I can’t get used to the way the characters look so awkward and un-coordinated in the action scenes.  Just look at that cover - - Spider-Man is going to get a hernia twisting himself around like that. 

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2011 THOR & CAPTAIN AMERICA: MIGHTY FIGHTING AVENGERS  (Marvel, May 2011)  “Once And Future Avengers!”  Roger Langridge, writer. Chris Samnee, artist.  Matthew Wilson, colorist. VC’s Rus Wooton, letterer.

Cap Thor FCBD

Both art and story here are deliberately oriented towards a younger audience, but this story is delightful enough for all readers.  Unlike the Spider-Man FCBD preview, this tale left me wanting to check out more of Roger Langridge’s work at Marvel.  I’d heard his THOR: THE MIGHTY AVENGER books recommended several times and now I know why.  This is both light-hearted and entertaining while it hues tightly to the mythic structure of Thor (and Captain America).

During a lull in action during WWII, Captain America unknowingly picks up a mythic drinking cup while exploring the artifacts within the Red Skull’s secret laboratory.  In present day, Thor handles the same drinking vessel/chalice while unpacking and examining stored items at a War Memorial Museum.  Both are transported via the cup back to the days of King Arthur, where Loki has been impersonating Merlin while trying to learn his secrets.

Thor and Captain America meet some of the fabled Knights of the Round Table and accompany them to Camelot, where they thwart Loki’s machinations before returning to their former locations/times.  During the process, they strike up a friendship and compliment each other very well during the fighting.  I hate to use the words “old-fashioned storytelling” here but Langridge scripts  a superhero story like I fondly remember them.  It’s  a fun and refreshing read.

There’s a lot of detail and dialogue to work into 22 pages, most of which are crowded multi-panel affairs.  Nevertheless, artist Samnee does a great job detailing the action in these smaller panels in an appealing style that reminds me of a blend of early Don Heck with Mike Mignola, the main difference being the colorist uses a much brighter and broader palette than is used with Mignola’s darker works.

Friday, May 6, 2011

FCBD Preview - - Part 4 - - - worthwhile books for kids

GERONIMO STILTON AND THE SMURFS  (Papercutz, May 2011) 

geronimo

GERONIMO STILTON: DINOSAURS IN ACTION  Script by Andrea Dengri.  Interior illustration by Giuseppe Facciotto and Color by Giulia Zaffaroni.  Based on an original idea by Elisabetti Dami. www.geronimostilton.com.  Translation by Nanette McGuinness. Lettering by Ortho.

This is an excerpt  (the opening 18 pages) of GERONIMO STILTON Graphic Novel #7 - - DINOSAURS IN ACTION  - - published in the United States by Papercutz.  I had forgotten about this company since their short-lived revival of EC’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT etc. some years back.  They are now concentrating on publishing graphic novels - - and judging from this example - - high quality works for younger readers.

GERONIMO STILTON novels focus on the adventures of a society of civilized mice (they wear clothes, build cities, and go to work everyday just like us mundane humans) on Mouse Island.  The action centers around Geronimo Stilton, editor of The Rodent’s Gazete, his family and friends and their association with professor Von Volt and his time machine invention.  The time machine allows them to visit different periods in history, making the Stilton novels an amusing blend of fantasy and historical information.  The graphic novels each cover a different period - -  the discovery of America, the secret of The Sphinx, the Roman Coliseum, Marco Polo,  the Ice Age, the Mona Lisa, and now the dinosaur age.  Sprinkled throughout the story are bits of factual and informative data - - for example, a short paragraph on the Cretaceous Period.

Geronimo and his fellow mice are always being menaced by a group of pirate cats, who continually seek to steal the secrets of the time machine and other inventions.  Not all of the pirate cat band are competent foes, and their constant slip-ups and failings keep the humor level high.

The story has a lot of detail and may be a little too complex for the youngest readers.  But it would certainly be a worthy book to read to them and discuss and share the experience together.  Readers from the third grade level onward should have no problem and ought to be interested enough to keep reading.   I’m impressed at the level of quality here, from paper stock to vivid colors and good detail in the art (while still maintaining that younger reader ease of accessibility).  I’m reminded of the consistent quality always found in WALT DISNEY’S COMICS & STORIES.

THE SMURFS: THE SMURF SUBMARINE  Written and drawn by Peyo.  (Belgium)  English translation by Joe Johnson.  Lettering by Michael Petranek.  www. smurf.com

Just in time for the upcoming Smurf movie, Papercutz has been publishing THE SMURFS graphic novels with six released so far, and three new books not far behind.  These are all translations of the original works.

I have long felt that the original Smurf material was far superior to the officially licensed U.S. adaptations in various formats.  I especially found the old Saturday morning SMURF cartoon shows to be tedious.  However,  I must admit that the TV show takes most of the credit for their former popularity in the United States. 

The story here in  the FCBD edition shows a much higher level of artistic achievement in both art and story.  Peyo is the master.  It’s a very amusing story of the creation of a Smurf submarine and inferior attempts by their nemesis, Gargamel the sorcerer, to duplicate it.

Just like Geronimo Stilton, this Smurf story just begs for parents to read it to their grateful children.  Check it out. 

FCBD Preview - - - books worth seeking out - - - Part 3

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY: BALTIMORE - - A PASSING STRANGER (Dark Horse, May 2011) Story by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden. Art by Ben Stenbeck. Colors by Dave Stewart.  Letters by Clem Robins. . . .  NOTE: This is a FCBD Flipbook, backed up with . . . . . . . . . . . . . . FREE COMIC BOOK DAY: CRIMINAL MACABRE - - CALL ME MONSTER   Story by Steve Niles.  Art by Christopher Mitten. Colors by Michelle Madsen.  Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot.

As the cover blurb claims, if you like “supernatural horror” this is a double dose of the good stuff “at it’s finest!”

BALTIMORE: A PASSING STRANGER

STK434697

I’ve often wondered if I should check out Mike Mignola’s latest creation - - Lord Henry Baltimore - - and this book provided me with a quick and inexpensive way to do so.  Now, my wish list just became bigger as I realize I want to read more of his adventures, including the novel.

More intense than Mignola’s HELLBOY and B.R.P.D. tales, the 14-page BALTIMORE preview here spreads a darker tone over its somber atmosphere as a prelude to even blacker days to follow.  Stenbeck’s art nicely enhances the mood that scripters Mignola and Golden have established.  Stewart’s color work here is a study in grays and darker tones, with usually just variations on a single hue on each page.  When some light is let in or blood flows, it really pops off the page.  Dreadfully effective.

Amidst 1916 World War I, the town of Tulingart is beset by a plague with contagious evil elements, as seems to be the case with the entire country of Germany. Those survivors of both war and plague now conceal themselves to hide from a vampiric infestation.  “Only old folks and women and children are left in Tulingart.  We have no one to protect us.”   The townsfolk gather what provisions they can and hide away in groups in shuttered attics.

Young Maxie and his friend Rolf dare to venture out at night, scampering across the rooftops and daring to spy on any activity in the streets below.  They see a lone stranger (Lord Baltimore) as he investigates several suspicious sites, presume he is a hunter of vampires, and secretly follow his trail.  During the process Maxie learns a valuable lesson regarding trust and sees for himself the depths of evil in the town.    Grim, grim and grimmer - - - it’s a nice (but grim) introduction to the world of Baltimore.  I want and dare to see more.

CRIMINAL MACABRE: CALL ME MONSTER

crim mac flip

Cal McDonald is a character I am familiar with, and very happy to read this original short story.  Cal is a supernatural detective /vigilante, an amalgam of Ash from Evil Dead, Phillip Marlowe and other hard-boiled detectives, and a little similar in his choice of drugs and vice as well as smart-aleck outlook a la John Constantine / Hellblazer.   His stories are always first—person narrations so you can always count on a good dose of McDonald’s grim and cynical worldview every time.

That attitude is immediately conveyed on the opening page when Cal is visited by a new (but familiar to monster lovers) client.  McDonald’s words reflect his mood better than anything I could summarize here:  “I heard the client coming about two minutes before I saw his broad silhouette in my door window.  His footsteps were like cinderblocks dropped on wet carpet.  I knew he was trouble.  I could feel it rush like a limp tingle over my alcohol-deprived, dehydrated brain.”

It’s “The Monster”  (as in Frankenstein) and he’s tired of running for two hundred years and seeks Cal’s help.   A humorous exchange ensues between the two before McDonald decides to help him.  He  thinks twice before lighting up another cigarette, and asks The Monster  - - “You’re not going to freak out if I light this, are you?”   Reply:  “That is a myth . I do not fear fire”.  Cal: “Good. Because I was going to give you endless crap about it.”  Reply: “No need. Fire good.” 

The descendents of Victor Frankenstein consider The Monster to be family property and have been hunting him.  In deadly fashion, McDonald convinces the family to abandon their pursuit.  CALL ME MONSTER is a fast and funny eight pages of macabre mirth.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

FCBD Preview - - books worth seeking out - - - Part 2

PEP COMICS FEATURING BETTY AND VERONICA, FREE COMIC BOOK DAY EDITION # 1  (Archie Comics, May 2011)  “You’ve Been Clubbed!”  Script & Pencils:  Dan Parent.  Inks:  Jim Amash.  Letters:  Patrick Owsley.  Colors:  Digikore Studios

NOTES:  A year ago I tackled a huge stack of FCBD titles and wrote about them, using a critical 7-point ratings scale.  Those books that seemed to best attract the intended audience and provided a good story that would encourage more reading received the best ratings.   I’m not going to attempt that this year because it no longer seems necessary.  Every 2011 FCBD title I’ve looked at so far seems to “get it” more than ever before.  Each one presents an original story (no reprints) or at least a new spin on a familiar story (origin tales) and does a fine job of engaging the reader with good scripts and art.  Bravo, comic book publishers!

One of the many pleasant surprises I received was the ARCHIE SUMMER SPLASH FCBD 2010 EDITION #1, also scripted and penciled by Dan Parent.   Then, I wrote that Parent “takes some liberties with the characters and puts a little stamp of his own on them.”  You can read more about that here - - - http://bcrefugees.blogspot.com/2010/05/fcbd-what-about-books-part-eight.html     Dan Parent has impressed me all over again with his work on this new FCBD issue.

STK434707

          If PEP COMICS FEATURING BETTY AND VERONICA, FREE COMIC BOOK DAY EDITION #1 is one of the titles offered to you when you visit your local comics store on Saturday, May 7 - - - please do yourself a favor and take it.   I know for certain that I would have paid a lot more attention to the Archie Comics titles during my impressionable youth if they would have been as good as the work that Dan Parent is doing here.   In addition to updating the characters and bringing them into the 21st Century for modern readers, Parent also incorporates simple “life lessons” into the tales in a very entertaining and non-preachy fashion.  Just as the Aesop’s Fables of classic literature entertained and instructed at the same time,  Parent seems to be pursuing the same purpose in his scripted stories for Archie Comics.  (Hey, why not call them “Archie’s Fables”?  - - or “Parent’s Fables”?  - - or better yet work them into the self-help section of bookstores under the category of “Parenting Comics”.)

         First, Parent manages to work in almost all the main characters from the Archie canon into the story - - and then very quickly establishes what makes them tick through the use of flashbacks and current incidents that bring out their peculiarities and motives.  Someone who’s never read an Archie book before can pick this up and get comfortable with the characters and understand the story with no difficulty whatsoever.  That takes skill  - - but Parent is so smooth you might never pick up on that.

“You’ve Been Clubbed!” begins with Betty and Veronica re-visiting a childhood playground and finding the old tree house where “The Archie Club” was formed during their elementary school days.  That leads to a funny and entertaining flashback tale about exclusive “members-only” clubs and early socializing (“getting along” with others).    Veronica gets trapped in the tree-house with no apparent exit until Archie and crew come to the rescue with a ladder.  This leads to a very funny segue that runs throughout the rest of the story involving cell phones and ring tones/ video images.  (Along with accompanying subtle life lessons.) 

This amusing situation  leads to Betty and Veronica realizing how much fun clubs were, and their joint  decision to create a club to develop some friendly and helpful inter-action between the more mature Archie crew and their younger (and some disadvantaged) neighbors.  How best to do that is then debated, resulting in the formation of two separate clubs.  One is somewhat simplistic, centered around Pop’s dairy/refreshment store - - and the other meets at Veronica’s home with all the accompanying toys and gadgets to amuse the youth (high def TV, video arcade games, etc.)   Surprisingly, the club at Pop Tate’s is preferred over the Veronica mansion. What the Archie crew learn from this experience is, as Betty so succinctly states it, “these kids crave one-on-one attention!” 

God bless you, Dan Parent.  This book is recommended for all ages.

Dan Parent is scheduled to appear during Free Comic Book Day at Captain Blue Hen Comics in Newark,  Delaware.  You can learn more about him here . . . http://www.danparent.com/

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Free Comic Book Day preview - - books worth seeking out – Part 1

ELRIC: THE BALANCE LOST  (Boom Studios, Free Comic Book Day edition May 2011)  Written by Chris Roberson.  Art by Francesco Biagini. Colorist: Stephen Downer. Letterer: Travis Lanham.  Elric created by Michael Moorcock.

Elric_FCBD_CVR

Among the many benefits of participating/supporting Free Comic Book Day by visiting a local comics shop on May 7, 2011 is getting to network a little with like-minded individuals who share our fascination with this original American art form.  (We are legion!  That’s reason enough to be there. )   Obviously, the primary purpose is to entice new readers to our hobby by giving them a free sample.  For those of us already converted, it’s a chance to explore a little beyond our regular reading choices and see what else might attract our attention.  I certainly hope that comic shops have ordered enough copies of ELRIC: THE BALANCE LOST because this is a book that everyone should sample.

     Writer Chris Roberson has already demonstrated his ability to adapt and create new works from classic genre literature  (DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?: DUST TO DUST mini-series/prequel) and I definitely expect the same high quality and attention to detail with his handling of  Elric, the philosophical self-doubting reluctant adventurer from creator Michael Moorcock.  The highly literate Moorcock  raised the bar for sword and sorcery epics with these stories back in the 1970’s.

With just 12 pages to work with in the FCBD edition, Roberson capably lays the foundation and touches on the main points of this epic,  managing to entertain us at the same time while whetting our appetite for more by hinting at a bigger picture/universe.  Roberson plans to incorporate elements of Moorcock’s greater creation, the Multiverse.   Here there are similar heroes to Elric  (Eternal Champions) all taking different stances /approaches to the infinite clash between Law and Chaos, and the balance of the universe.   I can’t wait to see how he handles Corum and Hawkmoon, as well as the dream-plagued Eric Beck of more modern times.

A quick summary of the main points for the uninitiated:  Elric is the albino prince/emperor of Melnibone, a fantasy world amongst the Multiverse, who is physically linked and partially nourished/strengthened by the use of his black blade Stormbringer, which steals the souls of all he slays.

Elric_FCBD_rev_Page_4

    I admit to rushing through this story a bit, and not dwelling on the artwork - - which is absolutely fabulous.  The art and coloring on this book by Biagini and Downer is both vivid and fluid and worth lingering over in admiration.   I can’t wait for the main book to begin this summer.

The back of the FCBD edition contains a nice written piece on 40 YEARS OF ELRIC:  SEQUENTAL ART that traces the history of prior adaptations of Moorcock’s work from Marvel to Heavy Metal to  Dark Horse and DC as well as some long-lamented former publishers in First, Pacific, Topps  and Windy City Comics.   The book wraps up with some gorgeous concept sketches by Biagini.  Yes, this one is a keeper   --  and free to boot  (for now).   Grab your copy on 5/07/11.