Friday, June 28, 2013

BURIED TREASURE: Older books worth digging for

 

THE MARVELS PROJECT #1 – 8  (Marvel, 2009-2010)  Ed Brubaker, story.  Steve Epting, art.  Dave Stewart, color art.  VC’s Chris Eliopoulos, letters.

I’d forgotten what an absolute gem this series is until I pulled out my copies and read this again all in one sitting.  Brubaker is the perfect choice to write this re-imagining of the beginnings of so many of Marvel/Timely’s pre-WWWII heroes.

Back in August 2009, I wrote a review of Issue #1 and had this to say about THE MARVELS PROJECT“What better way to top off a year-long celebration of 70 years of Marvel Comics than with a limited series that details the beginning of it all?  What better writer to handle with care the heady task of plotting this event and treating these long=term characters properly than Ed Brubaker? What better artist to trust with maintaining accurate historical detail while creating some exciting visuals that Steve Epting?”

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Boy, do Brubaker and Epting ever deliver on that expectation!  In a highly entertaining narrative fashion THE MARVELS PROJECT explains the start of the Marvel Universe and reveals the hidden connection between the heroes.  Brubaker gets down to business in Issue #1 and starts laying out the groundwork and builds on his foundation in every succeeding issue.  (What a welcome relief from some current long-winded epics that are 50% padding/filler in order to stretch them out.)  The unifying theme that connects all these heroes is the beginnings of World War II.  Both the United States and Germany seem to be in a technological race to be the first country to develop a super-human.  The carefully detailed art of Steve Epting looks authentic, like it was taken from old photographs.  All the action takes place between 1938 – 1941 - - and Epting’s illustrations of cars, buildings, clothing, items of furnishing and street scenes look like the real thing.  It’s some of the best work from a highly under-rated artist.

The well-known characters are here in their early stages = the original Human Torch and Toro, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Captain America and Bucky, and Nick Fury.  Brubacker enhances the proceedings with some creations of his own along with some second-tier Marvel/Timely characters that get a showcase here = Dr. Thomas Halloway (the Angel), John Steele (the first super-soldier), The Destroyer (with links to the original Union Jack), Red Hargrove (Nick Fury’s buddy who inspired the Howling Commandos battle cry), and the Two-Gun Kid (via time travel).  My favorite is The Ferret, a non super-powered detective who doesn’t get much panel time but plays an important role in the proceedings.

Copies of THE MARVELS PROJECT were made available in both hardcover and trade paperback so these shouldn’t be too difficult to track down . Highly recommended.

RED SKULL: INCARNATE #1-5  (Marvel limited series, 2011)  Greg Pak, writer.  Mirko Colak, artist.  Matthew Wilson, colorist.  VC’s Clayton Cowles, letters.  David Aja, cover art.

What grabs the attention immediately is the series of cover illustrations all done by David Aja.  Each one looks like a realistic German propaganda poster (that is, if the Red Skull were an actual character in history).  Speaking of realism, writer Greg Pak has done an incredible amount of research (which he shares some of in the post-notes) evident throughout the story = settings, events, portrayals etc.

skull

We first meet the Red Skull as young Johann Schmidt, one of several orphans (mother died in childbirth, father unknown) abused by a cruel taskmaster at the Munich Home For Wayward Boys in 1923 Germany.  The beginnings of his involvement with the upstart Nazi party and his personal development start to play out in Issue #1, and the picture is grim.  It’s hard not to feel sad and depressed/disgusted by the end of the issue.

As Greg Pak relates in the afterword: “I took on RED SKULL: INCARNATE because, like countless others who have learned a little about the Holocaust, I’d struggled to understand how a nation often described as the most cultured in Europe could descend into the unfathomable barbarism of the Nazi regime.  To avoid repeating the horrors of the past, we desperately need to tell the stories of heroes who resist.  But we also need to struggle with the question of how everyday people can so willingly embrace evil.”

Pak’s attempt to answer that question is represented through the trials and tribulations of orphan Schmidt, albeit a very extreme example.  Events occur each issue that further harden his heart, bring out his cruelty and let it nurture, flourish and grow.  We see the turning points in his life that led to his joining the Nazi party in 1933, one of the youngest recruits.  Young Johann is an extreme opportunist always looking to move forward and willing to sacrifice friends and allies to get there.  His path forward leaves a shadow of blood, and as he says “nobody hits me and gets away with it”.  This series covers his life right up until the moment he achieves what he wants - - he gets the attention of Adolph Hitler.

Will you understand the core values of the Red Skull after reading this?  Well, at least you will learn how he developed them.  Will you begin to sympathize with the character?  Hardly - - he is too ruthless and cold.  Empathy?  Perhaps a few readers may, but that is also doubtful.  Will reading this disturb you and leave an impression?  I sincerely hope so, for all our sakes.

The next book reviewed isn’t buried as deeply as the other two mentioned here. However, with so many releases coming out it could easily have slipped your notice. I aim to correct that . . . .

SHADOWMAN GRAPHIC NOVEL VOLUME 1: BIRTH RITES   (Valiant, release date April 24, 2013)  Reprints SHADOWMAN #1-4 from November 2012 through February 2013. Justin Jordan & Patrick Zircher: Writers.  Patrick Zircher: Art.  Brian Reber: Color Art. Rob Steen & Dave Lanphear: Letterers.

Valiant Entertainment has been hitting a home run with every book they have re-launched since 2012, and SHADOWMAN is no exception.  What sets it apart from the rest of the Valiant bunch is its’ darker nature and flirtation with H. P. Lovecraft-flavored themes.  With Valiant reprinting the first four-issue arc in trade paperback format for just $9.99, there is no better time than now to pick up a sample and see if you enjoy the taste.

shadow

As a former fan of the original SHADOWMAN, I’m very pleased with what writer Justin Jordan and artist Patrick Zircher are creating and re-working here.  There are also some marvelous characters that I don’t recall from the original series; so they may be fresh from the brain of Jordan: The Abettors. The Brethren. Mr. Twist (a classic creation!).  I also welcome the return of Master Darque (the legendary Valiant villain).  I learned something new in that Darque is a former student (a very rebellious one) of the ethereal Universitas Divinum, eerily depicted in panels of primary red hues.

Jack Boniface is the main character, who learns of his inherited and unpredictable powers after discarding a protective amulet he had worn for years.  This updated version of Boniface seems to have an even tighter connection to the voodoo and mysticism that has a strong presence in New Orleans.  The supporting cast is fleshed out very well in the opening story arc, which leads into a soon-to-be classic confrontation once Jack gets a better handle on his powers.

This is by far the darkest of the new Valiant titles and has a different tone to it by comparison.  There is a Lovecraftian feel to it as it involves older and mysterious races and hidden secrets, and could easily become one of my favorite Valiant books for that reason.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Indie Creator Profile: ERICA J. HEFLIN

According to The Comic Book Data Base website, Erica J. Heflin has bounced between the fields of animal care and comics all her life.  She has worked as a screenwriter and producer for independent films, and in 2011 joined Grayhaven Comics as a writer and editor for their comic series THE GATHERING (with Amanda Rachels on art).  She is also the writer, editor and publisher at Felinx Publications (www.readwebcomics.com).  She most recently completed THE ENVY for Aazurn Publishing, to be released in August (available through the June Previews catalog).  A review of THE ENVY was posted on the BC Refugees website (see archives for June 14, 2013).  We had a short conversation with Erica recently regarding THE ENVY and her works . . . . . . . .

HEFLIN pix

ABOVE PHOTO: THE GATHERING creative team.                                                                              Amanda Rachels on the left.  Erica J. Heflin on the right

BC REFUGEES:  After doing a little research, I see that you have quite a hand in the indie comics business.  Is this a full-time endeavor for you, a part-time income producer, or just a hobby/dream?

ERICA J HEFLIN: I would consider work on my own indie comics as a part-time endeavor.  I love the collaborative process of comic creation, but also have a deep love for my main career which is rooted in animal care and rehabilitation.  With comics I've been graced with the ability to not just work on my own material, but to assist other indie creators with their projects.  Playing a part in helping make someone's dream become a reality can turn comic work into a full-time process, but the end rewards are undeniable.

BCR:  Anyone who wants to sample your work has several outlets to choose from - - your web site for Felinx, Alterna Comics through Comixology (digital) , and Chronographer through Grayhaven Comics (print).  Understanding that Beatty's (Gary Scott Beatty of Indie Comics) business model involves having the creators pay for the printing costs, etc.  - - what were the reasons that led you to publish THE ENVY through Aazurn? (Beatty’s company)  It seems like you had other options. 

EJH: I really enjoy getting my work out through different publishers.  In order to create a dynamic fan base, I think it's important to move to assorted publishers who employ different means of promotion, have different contacts, and so forth.  Additionally, I've published a story in ICM previous to publishing THE ENVY and had great success.

BCR:  I'm guessing that your favorite genre to work in is horror/dark fantasy.  Where did the idea for the story of THE ENVY come from?

EJH: Actually the concept for THE ENVY evolved from the concept of the monster.  The monster is rooted in classical mythology.  I'm a long-time classics fan I often revisit the masters, and thus a single line description of a monster was the spark behind the concept. 

BCR: Did you consider or try shopping THE ENVY around to various comics publishers before going the "semi-self publishing route" through Aazurn?

EJH: I did not. THE ENVY was produced to be published through Aazurn alone.  When Gary Beatty sent out the information regarding one-shot production I decided that if I had a solid concept that I would love to publish through Aazurn.  Our previous business relationship really encouraged me to take on the project.

BCR: Who do you consider your major influences on your work?

EJH: On this particular piece I would have to say that I was influenced by one of my favorite artists, Amanda Rachels, and some previous unrelated discussions we've had about the horror genre.  I'm also heavily influences by Japanese and Korean horror.

BCR: Do you read any mainstream comics?   Any favorites?
EJH: I read entirely too many comics, but as of late I've been enjoying publications outside of the Big Two the most.  Terry Moore's RACHEL RISING is my current favorite book, while Image is pushing out a big pile of incredibly fascinating books.  I'm always willing to take a gamble on new and unusual titles that Image releases.

BCR: What are you presently working on?

EJH: I've had to dial back my efforts due to some medical complications, but I continue to work on assorted projects for Grayhaven Comics.  I've also recently seen the successful funding of FLESH OF WHITE Issue #2 via a Kickstarter campaign.

BCR: Do you have any advice to give aspiring comics creators?

EJH: I often see writers distressed that they have a grand idea that artists cannot tackle for back end payment.  My suggestion is that you start smaller.  Work on assorted anthology projects and get to know your collaborators.  You have to build relationships before you can build a comic, and you need to demonstrate that you have the drive and talent to tackle something on a greater scale.

BCR: Is there a question you are waiting and hoping an interviewer would ask you?  Here's your chance to reveal both question and answer.

EJH: I like to talk about other people's work more than my own, so I'd love to be asked "What other up-and-coming comic writers should we keep an eye on?"
I've had the pleasure of working with entirely too many talented men and women since stepping up to work in indie comics.  There are two writers, however, whose work continues to blow me away.  They're the writers whose names I'd stick on a pull list and say "anything written by them."
Their names are Travis M. Holyfield and Sean Leonard.  Both have one-shots that will be released through Grayhaven in the next year, but I am certain you'll see their names attached to a variety of fascinating projects through other companies soon.
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Sunday, June 23, 2013

HIDDEN TREASURES: Still finding books worth the search

Asylum

JOHN CARPENTER’S ASYLUM (Storm King, June 2013) www.stormkingproductions.com Created by John Carpenter, Thomas Ian Griffith and Sandy King. Written by Bruce Jones. Art and cover by Leonardo Manco.

A new book showcasing the fantastic art of Leonardo Manco would be reason enough to pick up this book.  There’s also a great story behind the gorgeous art, which continues the photo-realistic style employed by Manco most recently on Radical Comics DRIVER FOR THE DEAD.  The title of this series would seem to indicate that the story takes place within a mental institution.  Instead, this is a very good tale of satanic forces and exorcism.  John Carpenter’s text piece near the back of the book best describes it: “There is no greater villain than Lucifer and no greater challenge than the darkness of man’s soul to explore.”

If DC/Vertigo’s Hellblazer/John Constantine ever spent time as a Catholic priest, he would be Father Daniel Beckett - - who will remind you of the Hellblazer in several ways.  Beckett is a former soldier with Iraq War honors.  He was also an ordained priest prior to his armed service, and may have chosen to enlist to avoid a church-sanctioned trial for his role in an exorcism during which a child died.  Now he chain smokes, sleeps around, and works behind the scenes as a demon tracker with guidance from the older, wheelchair-confined Father Leone, his apparent mentor.  Beckett finds himself paired up in pursuit of a fleeing demon with Detective Jack Duran, a non-practicing Catholic who no longer believes in God.  Together they try to find and stop family man William Jackson (now possessed) before his demonic side causes serious harm to his wife and young son.

Despite the wise-cracking and cynicism expressed by both Beckett and Duran this is a serious story with many dark elements.  It’s a mature, adult-oriented approach to the subject matter that pulls no punches or sugar coats its subject.  Not for the squeamish or superstitious reader.

ASYLUM is the debut title from Storm King Production Comics, headed up by writer/artist/film producer Sandy King (also the spouse of director John Carpenter). No other titles have been announced at this time, although the bio does mention that Sandy King is a fan of comics who has been looking for an outlet for her art (animation experience) and storytelling skills and promises an expanding group of collaborators.

TALES FROM WILLIAM F. NOLAN’S DARK UNIVERSE #5 of 6 (Bluewater Productions, June 2013) William F. Nolan & Jason Brock, story.  James Bolton, art on The Pool.  James Croasdale, art on Starblood.

Dark Universe 5

          The penultimate issue in this mini-series arrives with two more juicy and unsettling tales.  This is going to make a worthy trade paperback after the final issue is released sometime in August.

  A veil of dread hangs like a weighty blanket of humidity over “The Pool”.  The art complements the mood nicely, with subtle and light coloring/shading to give things an unreal effect.  A couple arrive at their new home and discover a concealed but inviting pool near the back of their estate.  The short and simple message here is never buy a new property before a thorough inspection by professionals.

If you become confused reading “Starblood” just remember that the opening and closing pages are the framing device and contain the guts of this story.  Otherwise, the dialogue may confuse you as well as the jumping back and forth from various scenes.  The strange (but interesting) art from James Croasdale also challenges the reader to interpret what is seen.  Both story and art seem designed to induce bouts of madness.  It’s a glimpse of future society, a cross-section of social live and mores, in order to see how humankind has progressed (or not).  Trust us, it all becomes clearer on the last page.

SUICIDE RISK #1 (Boom! Studios, May 2013) Created & Written by Mike Carey.  Art by Elena Casagrande.  SUICIDE RISK #2 (June 2013)

suicide 1                    suicide 2

Trust Mike Carey to put a different spin on the standard superhero tropes.  It’s good to see what he’s capable of doing with a pure creator-owned property versus writing for a licensed property ( a team book) where he needs to be mindful of not making any serious changes to characters.

This starts out as an internal affairs investigation into a confrontation between super-villains and the local police force - - five criminals with powers versus thirty or more regular cops.  The casualties were “seventeen cops dead, twelve wounded and fourteen civilians murdered. . .”  Officer Daniel Leo’s father-in-law later asks “how can a beat cop throw down with gods and monsters?”  Leo’s feeling responsible for his partner’s losing an arm during the skirmish and his negativity towards the futility of the situation leads him to take decisive action.

That action being the major premise of this book - - a world where superpowers aren’t inherited, mutated, or the result of chemical or other accidents.  You want some powers you just pay for them. That’s exactly what Officer Leo intends to do.  This world is populated almost exclusively by super-powered villains.  Why no heroes, you ask? Because (timeout for a Carey message here) “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.  Those who start out with heroic intentions become corrupted and switch to the darker side.  Those whose intentions stay noble get crushed because they are vastly outnumbered.  So, why wouldn’t the police department recruit some members to get the super-powers so they have a better chance of winning against the super villains?  Couldn’t they offer some incentives and closely monitor their recruits to make sure they don’t turn? . . . . . . . . You know, you ask too many damn questions!  This is a comic book, for chrissake.  Can’t you suspend your disbelief a little to accommodate the story?

Ok, back to Officer Leo (let’s just call him Dan.  Ok with you?)  He wants the powers so he can take down the five who crippled the police force and left his partner armless.  To buy the powers you need to find an “enabler”.  Apparently, not everybody has the capacity to handle a power and buyers need to be “tested” first.  Daniel passes and gets what he wants, which is off-the-charts lightening powers (and then some).

But powers have consequences, and Daniel is no quick study.  He struggles to control his new abilities; and every time he attempts to use them he’s “a suicide risk.”  His nose bleeds.  Strange things begin to happen around him.  He’s having a hard time concealing this from his family, and feels guilty for not confiding in them.  He makes excuses for his absences while he conducts a one-man search for the five wanted super-villains.  He finds one of them in Issue #2 with near disaster results.  This is interesting stuff.  I’m sure Carey is going to play up the human element as things progress.  I also love some of his names for the villains and their powers.

X #1 (Dark Horse Comics, May 2013)  Story by Duane Swierczynski.  Art by Eric Nguyen. Colors by Michelle Madsen.  Letters by Richard Starking & Comicraft. X #2 (June 2013)

X1                    x 2

Just in case you missed it in the X #0 prequel, this debut issue opens with an elderly patrolman for Arcadia dock security discovering the scene of the carnage from #0 with lots of dead bodies and lots of blood.  The police try to cover it up and burn down the building.  After all, many of the crooks who grease their palms were involved and they’d prefer to keep it out of the press.  Too late.  A female web blogger, XOXO, “the last muckraker” has inside information on what happened and posts it online.

Her investigation continues as she tries to figure out who X will target next.  The police have figured it out and they set a trap for X.  More bullets.  More blood.  That’s what I’m starting to count on X to provide me and help scratch that itch on the dark side.  If you’re not satisfied with what THE PUNISHER is up too lately and long for the good old MAX days, then you can count on X for the blood and mayhem you secretly (or not) desire.  XOXO (a.k.a. Leigh Ferguson) and X meet and she helps him out of a tight jam.  Now they are both wanted.  But he’s not sharing his identity or plans with anyone, including her (and us).

Did I forget to mention the explosions?  The bleeding?  The human bombs?  Mutilation at knifepoint? Leigh gets an answer (of sorts) but it’s not a welcome sight.  Ok, that’s a wrap.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

MORE HIDDEN TREASURES: Recent books worth looking for

 

THE DEEP SEA one-shot (Dark Horse, May 2013) Jimmy Palmiotti + Justin Gray, story. Tony Akins, art. Paul Mounts, colors. Bill Tortolini, letters.

The-Deep-Sea-1-Cover

The year was 1958, during an unofficial descent by bathysphere into the Mariana Trench.  An accident occurs, and the bathysphere and its occupants are lost in the depths of the trench until a recovery mission succeeds in current time.  The occupants are miraculously alive and have spent fifty-five years without aging.  Sea monsters appear.

There is a large amount of exposition here in order to set the scene and tell the story properly. The art is still captivating in spite of there being many panels where characters are just talking.  And the colors and lettering really highlight this book very well.  I’m reminded of some of the good early 1950’s – 1960’s science fiction movies as well as the better issues of DC’s SEA DEVILS title.

This story was serialized in the pages of DARK HORSE PRESENTS and is presented in one complete form here.  It’s an interesting premise and a good set-up that is obviously a “pilot” of sorts for a potential mini-series or a continuing monthly title.  THE DEEP SEA is a solid read, and definitely whets the appetite for more.

Issue1_Cover_Large_FINAL_Sml                   Preview_Page_10

HALF PAST DANGER #1 (IDW, May 2013) Created, written and drawn by Stephen Mooney. www.halfpastdanger.com   HALF PAST DANGER #2 (IDW, June 2013) Created, written and drawn by Stephen Mooney. Colors by Jordie Bellaire.

Stephen Mooney knows how to script a classic pulp tale.  He also knows how best to illustrate this via a six and eight panel page with the occasional half-page and full-page panel at appropriate moments.  He is apparently a well-schooled student of the classic adventure yarn (via print and film) and knows how to  create iconic characters as well as build suspense and keep his readers turning the pages.  Stephen Mooney is a resident of Ireland and has been working as a professional artist in comics, animation and gaming for ten years.  I don’t know anything of his previous work, but Mooney is a major talent worth watching and a great coup for Chris Ryall and IDW to sign him up.

The setting is circa 1943, and World War II in the South Pacific.  However, this is a South Pacific island not infested with Japanese soldiers as expected.  It has been occupied by Nazi forces, as a small squad of Allied soldiers led by our hero Staff Sergeant Tommy “Irish” Flynn soon discover.  They also discover dinosaurs!  Flynn later encounters Huntington-Moss (a mysterious and sultry British agent), Captain John Noble (a burly Marine) and Ishikawa Minamoto (a Japanese ally with serious martial arts skills) . All of these characters have traits that make then endearing and likeable.  They pull him back to the island to help get some answers on the Nazis and dinosaurs.  HALF PAST DANGER is a classic pulp adventure serial with modern day story-telling sensibilities.  Issues #1 and #2 have reportedly been sold out at the distributor level.  Check your local comic store now and ask about re-orders.  Find a copy for yourself and don’t be left out.

HalfPastDanger_02_Preview_2                    HPD_Issue2_Cover_Final_Sml

QUANTUM AND WOODY on the web . . . . . .

Leading up to the official July 10 release date for QUANTUM AND WOODY #1 curious readers can view a one-page weekly web comic with exclusive content.  IGN, the gaming and entertainment website, has partnered with Valiant Comics to present Quantum And Woody Weekly, a free web comic that will run for six consecutive weeks beginning May 29, 2013.

QUANTUM AND WOODY was originally created for Valiant/Acclaim by Christopher Priest and M.D. Bright and is being re-booted by writer James Asmus and artist Tom Fowler, who also worked together on the web comic.

Q & W

I’ve read the first three installments and they are funny and true to the spirit of the original. I f you are ready for some irrelevant, goofy satire on superheroes this may be a book you will want to check out. The web comic gives you an opportunity to preview it.  Go to . . .

http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/06/12/ign-presents-quantum-and-woody-weekly-june-12-2013?abthid=51b89b1264481aad12000005

six gun cover                   six gun cover 2

SIX-GUN GORILLA #1 of 6  (Boom! Studios, June 2013)  Created & written by Simon Spurrier. Art by Jeff Stokely.

This is high adventure of the most creative kind on an incredibly weird world that’s part of a wacky universe.  SIX-GUN GORILLA is a wondrous blend of diverse elements that would fit nicely in-between all the other off-beat science-fiction and fantasy themed serialized stories that flavor HEAVY METAL magazine - - except that it comes courtesy of BOOM! Studios and lacks the X-rated sex that also spices that magazine.  Who needs the sex when the story is this intriguing, anyway?  (Maybe the sex will come later.)

Creator Simon Spurrier described his work to Bleeding Cool magazine as  a “science-fiction western” and that’s an appropriate starting point.  The title character, a massive gorilla with huge guns, doesn’t actually get much panel time in Issue #1 but certainly makes the most of it.  So far he’s pretty cool (and not goofy) but not the most interesting character.  That would be the person we know only as Blue-3425, and we watch his battleground activities on an ancient desert world the same time that the lazy couch-potato Earthlings amuse themselves with this extreme reality television.  That is courtesy of a psychic tumor surgically implanted into Blue-3425’s head that allows the folks back home to experience everything live just as he does, including his anticipated violent and intentional death. Cheap thrills, indeed!

Blue-3425 is a part of the battle force known as Expendables, Earthlings with either suicidal tendencies or terminally ill who decide to get exterminated this way in order to get a big paycheck for their heirs in return for public access to the thrill of defeat and the agony of death.  They are assigned to the front lines (obviously) and take the brunt of the opponent’s attack while the regular soldiers advance behind them.  There is much more in this detail-packed first issue like giant armored turtles that act as battle transports, a huge mutated ox with the speed of a freight train, brain bombs, choirshot, the Blistergate, a rebel force that might actually be sympathetic, and deserters on both sides who become bandits that then plunder on either side.  It’s a world where guns and explosives don’t work, just clockwork and pneumatics.  So how does Six-Gun Gorilla have guns that fire?  Guess I need to get the next issue for more explanations.  Wow.

Friday, June 14, 2013

ADVANCE INDIE PREVIEW: Don’t ENVY the creators, just read the book

THE ENVY (Aazurn Publishing, August 2013 - - available only through pre-order in the June PREVIEWS catalog, black and white horror/dark fantasy $2.49)   Written and Lettered by Erica J Heflin.  Illustrated by Rom Friere.  Edited by James O’Callaghan.  Cover Colors by Diana Martinez

untitled

What happens when envy gets taken to the next level?  Can initial and casual envy lead to greater jealousy?  What are the consequences if envy and jealousy are allowed to fester and grow, building up to a boiling point?  These are the issues that THE ENVY explores as family relationships and friendships alter and change in different and darker fashion.

The little independent company that could - - Aazurn Publishing - - takes another step forward with THE ENVY, the first time that Aazurn has published a book-length work from a single creative team. Up to this point (aside from TALES OF FEAR, founder Gary Scott Beatty’s solo anthology) everything from INDIE COMICS MAGAZINE and INDIE COMICS HORROR has been a collection of short works from a variety of creators.

The cover illustration indicates one of the terrible consequences and possibilities of out-of-control jealousy and envy.  However, upon reading the opening pages readers may think they have wandered into a tribute to the old school romance comics from the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Three attractive women get together over dinner with a single male companion.  He introduces Indivia (a sultry and exotic looking woman with an equally intriguing name) as his new girlfriend to his sister and her best friend.  The casual look to the art and clean lines remind of the friendly Archie Comics style and help lull the reader into a false sense of comfort.

Envy art

Danielle, the best friend (and narrator of the story), takes to Indivia immediately and remarks of her classical beauty.  Sister Natasha, on the other hand, is a little more wary and protective of her brother David’s feelings.  As the relationship between David and Indivia continues to nuture and grow the character of his sister Natasha begins to change for the worse as she becomes obsessed with worry and anxiety.  What starts out as a friendly tale of new friendships and new love blossoming takes a darker turn as Natasha’s strong feelings have intense psycho-somatic consequences.  Readers may stop feeling they are witnessing an Archie or romance comics tribute and instead remember how they felt the first time they read an issue of TALES FROM THE CRYPT or similar fare.  There is a mounting sense of dread that circulates throughout the remainder of THE ENVY until it’s finally released in the concluding pages.  This is a story that would feel right at home in the pages of the recently revived CREEPY and EERIE COMICS. If you enjoy that type of story (I sure do) then you will be most comfortable here once the shocks abate.

Writer/Letterer/Creator Erica J Heflin is very active in the world of indie comics.  She is the writer, editor and publisher at Felinx Publications at www.readwebcomics.com.  Some of her other works, such as THE BLACK HAND are available via Alterna Comics at Comixology (digital) and CHRONOGRAPHER through Gray Haven at www.grayhavencomics.com (print).

The REQUIEM storyline continues . . . . . . . .

 

BATMAN AND RED HOOD a.k.a. BATMAN AND ROBIN #20 (DC, July 2013)                 BATMAN AND RED ROBIN a.k.a. BATMAN AND ROBIN #19 (DC, June 2013)

batman 20

After the heart and soul was cut out from this book, you might think that the creative team would just meander around after its’ central theme was so abruptly removed. Surface appearances (the cover logos with changing titles monthly) would certainly indicate that BATMAN AND ROBIN has been reduced to a simple team-up book with a new guest and new quest each month. That is not the case with the creative team of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason (assisted in Issue #20 by Cliff Richards). They have ramped up their game, and certainly appear to be up to the challenge to keep this an engaging and meaningful book in the Bat-family. I fear too many readers have dropped this from their pull list after the death of Damian. They are missing out on what remains one of the best Batman titles in a long time.

The heart of this book remains Damian Wayne; and it deals with how the body continues to function after the heart has been removed. Rather than just move forward and bury the memories of that fatal event (as so many comics titles seem to treat the death of core characters) Bruce Wayne continues to grieve for his son, to revisit old memories, to turn a little harder and isolate himself a bit from the outside world, and to seek outlets for his rage against those who plotted to bring down a young boy. It’s gripping drama; and it’s done very well. The art team heightens the mood with somber shades of gray, black and aggressive red. Throughout most of Issue #20 we never see Bruce’s eyes - - they are buried in pools of black or gray.

Issue #20 sees the return of the quick-witted and perky Carrie Kelley, Damians’ former tutor, who encounters a blunt and abrupt Bruce when she comes to return part of her retainer and ask about Damian’s welfare (she’s lied to). She seems to charm both Titus (the great dane) as well as Alfred, and gets a job offer from him. I have a feeling she will be playing a bigger role in future issues. (The new Robin? That could be interesting.) There is plenty of action this issue as Batman enlists the help of Red Hood/Jason Todd to disable a nest of international bounty hunters and then takes him on an unexpected side journey. (Batman using bullets? You’ll have to see for yourself.) Upon finding out the purpose of this, Jason feels used and vents his hurt feelings to Bruce. This leads to an angry back and forth confrontation that reveals the core of Bruce’s current actions and motivations and is sure to lead to some interesting stories as he pairs up with other Bat-family members in future issues. This is leagues removed from the standard team-up book. You should continue to read this title.

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The cover to Issue #19 poses a teaser question and then flips open to the inner side (a two-page cover) to reveal the surprise (lending further credence to my speculation above). The opening pages of this issue also feature the Shakespeare-quoting, fun-loving Carrie Kelley. There is an incredibly ironic moment (which I cannot spoil) when Bruce visits the Kelley residence to pay her bill.

There’s an unexpected but very effective meeting of Batman and Frankenstein that reveals the reason for Batman’s current isolation (even keeping his whereabouts and movements away from Alfred). The grim look of determination on the unshaven face of Batman helps to reinforce the sentiments. Red Robin does make a presence this issue but not in the way you might expect. A further appreciation for the wonderful invention of Mary Shelly’s imagination occurs as a side benefit of the creative way that Tomasi weaves that classic tale into the webbing of Batman’s current endeavors. Two misguided intellects. So sad.

It bears repeating. You should continue to read this title.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

HIDDEN TREASURES: Recent Books Worth Looking For . . . .

 

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A-1 #1 (Titan Comics, July 2013 www.titan-comics.com )

The London comics company invades U.S. shores with a fresh new science-fiction/fantasy themed anthology of serialized stories edited by the wondrous Dave Elliott.  Great stuff here!  The Weirding Willows by Elliott with luscious art by Barnaby Bagenda is a fantasy land inhabited by characters and creatures of classic literature.  Dr. Jekyll visits Dr. Moreau regarding a contract for flying monkeys. Moreau’s daughter, Alice, talks to rabbits and they talk back.  We learn what a “gammy kanurd” is.  And is that Mogwai showing up in the last panel?  A good beginning. 

An unlikely assemblage of seven heroes/agents make up Carpe Diem as they gobble up the scenery in the satanic kitchens of Aaron The Iron Chef.  A potluck supper of superhero/secret agent/covert team a la G.I. Joe, Carpe Diem is funny and quirky.  The agents are named for days of the week.  Their version of the “Avengers Assemble” call to arms can be easily guessed if you think about it a little.  Hey, it’s a one and done episode here.  Hope there is more to come.  Written by W. H. Rauf with art by series creator Rhoald Marcellius. 

Odyssey, with story by Elliott and sepia-toned photo-realistic art by Garrie Gastonny (of DISCHORD fame) starts out seeming very similar to the Captain America origin but takes a twist soon after.  There is an attempt to inject a serum into an American soldier to help with WWII efforts, but the purpose is to prepare a vessel for habitation by a supernatural godlike force.  It seems like a pentagram, a Black Mass, and satanic rites are a part of the formula.  To be continued, obviously.  Issue #2 debuts on July 3.  Cool! This book takes a welcome place beside DARK HORSE PRESENTS and other current anthologies.

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ALL STAR SUPERMAN 1  SPECIAL EDITION (DC, June 2013, free)

 

This free comic, released to coincide with the opening of the MAN OF STEEL movie on June 14 reprints the first chapter/first issue of 2006’s epic ALL STAR SUPERMAN.  This makes me want to dig up and re-read my hardcover copy.  Grant Morrison scripts a fresh look at both Superman (noble) and Lex Luther (ruthless!).  Fantastic art by Frank Quitely.  Superman flies too close to the sun on a rescue mission and gets sunburned along with side effects.  Free!  What else could you possibly want? Get your butt to your local comics store and get a copy before they are gone!  A super way to get ready to see the new movie!  Fun to share!

 

BLEEDING COOL #4 (Avatar Press, May 2013 www.bleedingcool.com) $4.99 per issue

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Any readers who want to stay up to date on comics publishing news, interviews, articles, previews, etc. only need to get on their computer and go to any one of a multitude of websites dedicated to those interests.  Those of us who are a bit more tactile and prefer a printed copy that can be paged through now have BLEEDING COOL magazine to keep us informed.  Every issue published so far has contained at least one or more informative and detailed articles and interviews that make it worth the trip to pick this up at your local comics shop.  This is not a fanboy-infused slab of eye candy like the former (and unlamented) WIZARD magazine but a serious publication dedicated to our favorite hobby.

Some of the highlights of Issue #4 include story details and art showcasing John Byrne’s recent burst of creativity for IDW Publishing; a lengthy but enlightening and entertaining piece where authors Simon Spurrier & Mike Carey interview each other about their newest works (SIX-GUN GORRILLA and SUICIDE RISK, respectively) which has prompted me to check out their debut issues; a cool preview of Max Brooks’ Extinction Parade plus interview; an in-depth interview with IDW Editor-In-Chief Chris Ryall that is highly informative regarding their rise to prominence in the crowded comic book marketplace; and the usual gossip and rumors from the pen of Rich Johnston (the most infamous BC scribe).  For those who despise Johnston, there is less of him this issue and more of the other talented writers for BC, specifically James Kuhoric (very good work, especially interviews).  For those who admire Johnston (it’s a mix of both for me) there is a very good serious article by him regarding the early days of censorship.

I look forward to BLEEDING COOL magazine every month and recommend reading it on a regular basis.  It’s the best print source that is readily available for comics news, etc.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #3 (Marvel, August 2013)

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None of the current Marvel books have clicked with me except for this one; the only one that I am following monthly. It seems very fresh and unpredictable, and filled with little funny asides and light humor that entertains without resorting to silliness. The cover is a homage to a classic Wolverine cover and I love it (but I’m not in love with the featured character).

Issue #3 picks up at the end of the prior issue.  After the Guardians saved Earth from a war ship loaded with the alien Badoon, they were arrested by the Royal Guard and taken to the Spartax prison planet. While the Guardians try to figure a way out, the Galactic Council debates what to do with them.  While the Council is scratching their heads and appendages, some of the prison guards speculate and debate on their own.  It’s interesting and funny to compare and contrast the two different levels.  It seems like the guards have realized something that the big all-important Council has apparently overlooked.

The art by McNiven and Pichelli is spectacular and really enhances the scope of the cosmic epic that scripter Bendis is building.  There are more two-page panels and more of the narrow wide-screen panels that have been really effective at indicating scale in this book.  The ink and color team does a super job with backgrounds.  Just take a look at the one-page spotlight on Tony Stark as he contemplates the next course of action.  I have never seen bigger guns in use than right here in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.  How can some of the smaller characters possibly hold and aim them with any accuracy?

The weakest part of this book for me are the two most shallow characters - - Rocket Raccoon and Groot. Groot is featured here repeating his three word mantra over and over again, each time more annoying than the one before.  Rocket just likes to make sound effects for his weapons and boast about how many soldiers he has murdered during the battle.  Sigh.  I can tolerate this only as long as these two characters don’t dominate the book.  There are only two more issues before Angela and Neil Gaiman show up in Issue #6.  I’m really looking  forward to that.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Valiant Panini? I'll try one, might be tasty!

From the official press release . . . . . . . .

VALIANT and PANINI Partner For Foreign Language Print and Digital Publishing in France, Italy, and Beyond



This fall, the greatest heroes of the Valiant Universe are taking Europe by storm!

Valiant is proud to announce that it has partnered with Panini, Europe's leading publisher of comics and graphic novels, for a new line of foreign language comics, translating Valiant's smash hit monthly series into French and Italian for the very first time.

The first Panini-published issues of X-O Manowar by New York Times best-selling writer Robert Venditti and Eisner Award-winning artist Cary Nord, and Harbinger by New York Times best-selling writer Joshua Dysart and Harvey Award nominee Khari Evans will debut in France and Italy in September/October 2013 with more Valiant series to be added to the publishing roster in subsequent months. Panini will also distribute Valiant's foreign language content digitally with both launch titles being made available as day-and-date digital releases in France via comiXology Europe, Hachette and most major French language e-tailers. In Italy, digital editions of Valiant's Italian language releases will be available through Amazon.it and Simplicissimus.

"Panini is excited at the prospect of being Valiant’s partner in bringing its array of heroes into key markets such as Italy and France, and beyond," said Panini Publishing Director Marco Lupoi. "Valiant stories are an amazing blend of action, adventure, mystery and socio-political intrigue which resonates strongly with the local comic book culture, and mix exciting modern artwork with storylines which defy genre and are able to intrigue readers with bold new storytelling ideas."





"Since day one, getting the Valiant heroes back into the hands of loyal fans in France, Italy and beyond has always been a top priority for Valiant," said Russell A. Brown, Valiant's President of Consumer Products, Promotions, and Ad Sales. "Panini has a fan base and hard-earned reputation that speaks for itself and, with so much quality storytelling to draw upon, Valiant's European fans can look forward to finally engaging with the all-new Valiant Universes in their native languages."

Headquartered in Modena, Italy, the Panini Group is a world leader in the collectibles and trading cards market, as well as one of the leading publishers of children’s magazines and books, comics, manga and graphic novels in both Europe and Latin America. In addition to Valiant, Panini's other international publishing partners include Mattel, Hasbro, Blizzard, Disney, Nickelodeon, Marvel Entertainment, DC Comics, Dark Horse, Viz Media, Image Comics, Kodansha, and many more.




Valiant is a leading character-based entertainment company with a library of over 1,500 characters. Since its summer 2012 relaunch, Valiant has returned to the fore as one of the most highly regarded publishers in comics, winning a 2012 Diamond Gem Award for Comic Book Publisher of the Year. Valiant’s current titles include X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Bloodshot, Archer & Armstrong, and Shadowman with a sixth title – Quantum and Woody – scheduled to debut this July.

For more information, visit PaniniComics.com or ValiantUniverse.com.

PGHHEAD NOTES: It good to see the growth of Valiant this way. They just may find a more receptive market in Europe. I just hope they haven't over-extended themselves. Best wishes for a successful launch in France and Italy!


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