Naked Brain #1
Pscythe/Industry of War #2
Dominion #1-2 (Image, 2003, $2.95)
This collaboration between Keith Giffen and Boom! Studios publisher Ross Richie was aborted rather hastily, and with good reason. The first issue was colored and "inked" by Lovern Kindzierski, the latter discipline poorly facilitated on this occasion. The book featured some of the roughest, ugliest art I've seen Giffen produce in his Post-Munoz style. Similar to the least accessible scripts by previous Giffen conspirators Bob Fleming and the Bierbaums, Ritchie intentionally obscures a promising concept.
Basically, Image Comics allowed these creators to "take over" the Australia of their shared universe and infect it with an alien virus. Random individuals had their personalities merged with those of extra-terrestrial soldiers, and were supplied with fantastic powers with which they waged war on one another. This conflict had raged for some time, ravaging one battlefield world after another. Also, the infected persons tended to be neurotic to begin with, so that this melding gave their personal dramas heavy collateral damage. Not uncommon for a Giffen project, that translated into a lack of sympathetic characters. In fact, they're downright repulsive, with their homophobia, misogyny, and so forth.
In the second issue, the coloring vanished, and new inker Dave Elliot shifted the look to the more "animated" style work Giffen's produced in recent years. The storytelling showed no such improvement, as the narrative crawled further up its own asshole, while increasing the severity of violence. As far as I know, that marked the end of this incarnation.
As I said, I rather liked the premise, and wished it had been better served in execution. Boom! Studios recently returned to the property with a five issue mini-series by Michael Alan Nelson and Tim Hamilton, now available in trade paperback. However, that story seems to have shifted its focus to the United States and humans caught up in the struggle, rather than the politics and personalities of the infected super-humans. Maybe one day we'll see the story played out as originally intended.
Pscythe #2 / Industry of War #2 (Image, 2004, $3.95)
I bought this book for next to nothing, and doubted I'd get much out of it besides art from one of the first pencillers I ever paid mind to, Mark Texeira. Here, Tex employs his wash style, which doesn't translate very well to black and white. The level of definition is dependant on what he's interested in painting, and given it's his story, you'd think he would just avoid scenes with automobiles and rescue workers. There's a sequence in which a bestial knight is fighting a SWAT team, with no more exposition than that. Another sequence features a female bounty hunter wrestling with a bond jumper, which has a decent script and something of a story. As far as I know, a third issue was never produced, so it all seemed like a waste of time.
Then I moved to the second story, Jordan Raskin's "Industry of War." Despite being a second issue, it felt like watching the beginning of a motion picture. The dialogue, involving Latino gangbangers picking up a brother from prison, was totally believable. The premise of military weapons unintentionally being sold into the private sector is introduced in a text piece, and seems to be followed through in a subplot that veers naturally into the main story. The line art and zip tones work perfectly for the format. A satisfying story with crisp, attractive art is told, while leaving plenty of room for a continuation. I believe this was optioned for a movie back in the day, and it seems to me a screen translation is a natural. Everything wrong with "Pscythe" is righted here, and certainly piques my interest for more. Check out Jordan Raskin.com for your own sample.
Naked Brain #1 (Insight Studios, $2.95)
I bought this book, signed on the cover in gold marker by the creator, out of a five-for-a-dollar bin. That about says it all. I generally like Hempel's art, and his humor tends to work in long form, but gags are in no way his strong suit. Hempel tries a variety of methods: multi-panel strips, spot illustration with text, repetition; they all fall flat. A six page sketchbook allows for four pages that really should have stayed outside of public view. The only portion of the book that works is when he returns to previously established characters TUG & buster.
Solo #6 (DC, 2005, $4.99)
I was introduced to artist Jordi Bernet through his politically-incorrect gangster series "Torpedo" many years back, and have enjoyed his work ever since. He seems to have reached more Americans with his work on "Jonah Hex" in recent years, and fans of that series should definately look for his spotlight issue of the "Solo" anthology series.
- "Back Bone," written by John Arcudi, is the best tale of the lot. Beyond the quirkiness associated with Arcudi's work, it's the only chance Bernet is given to draw a piece outside of his usual "tough guy" routine. To match the violence in his work, Bernet's art is often subjected to flat or garish coloring. On the contrary, Richard & Tanya Horie bring out a much softer and subtle side to the art, and they're beautiful combined.
- "Drive" is yet another Joe Kelly script where he tries to work "outside the box," but only succeeds in offering a perfectly typical Bernet story in a slightly atypical fashion, with no surprises and little of interest outside the art.
- "Old Dog New Trick" was also tailor made for Bernet, and opens with the reliably dark wit of Andrew Helfer. However, it jumps the shark at the halfway point, and ends with a wet thump. The colors by Jose Villarrubia are too limited and dreary, as well.
- "The Stalking Horse" is a western that provides Arcudi with his only competition. Chuck Dixon has devised a twisted tale of revenge that should satisfy any "Hex" fan. Actually, the flaw is in Bernet's art, which lacks the level of detail necessary to sell the graphic horror Dixon describes. I'd love to see this story recreated by someone like Richard Corben.
- "Poison" by Brian Azzarello is more of a character study than a proper yarn, and not a very well considered one at that. It's jarring to see DC characters Batman and Poison Ivy suddenly appear at the end of the book, as though they were tossed in as an afterthought. Bernet doesn't waste the pages, however, as he works in a smoother, cleaner style that is very appealing. His Dark Knight perhaps references Joe Kubert and sons a little too blatantly, but it looks so nice it's hard to take umbrage. Colorist Patricia Mulvihill contrasts earthy tones against the unnatural vibrancy of Poison Ivy to splendid effect.