Dungeons & Dragons #0
The Smurfs Vol. 2 #1 (2010)
Usagi Yojimbo: One for One #1
I had this really long and involved multiple paragraph review for AvP that encompassed twenty years of my personal reading habits, involved the histories of several comic companies, and even touched on the films. Not paying attention, I erased everything I just wrote over 3/4 hours time under the assumption it was part of the old template while starting the second review. Either bless or curse the fates, depending on whether those tangents sounded more interesting than the more linear and brief second pass below...
Cover to 1990 Edition
Aliens vs. Predator: One for One #1 (Dark Horse, 1990/2010, $1.00)
In the mid-80s, there was a boom in black & white small press comics exemplified by the boffo success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Dark Horse Comics came out of that era with its own stable of never-ready-for-primetime creators and forgotten properties (Black Cross? Roachmill? The Mark?) plus Paul Chadwick's Concrete. The boom busted, and Dark Horse's solution to the problem of becoming a sub-Caliber Press historical footnote was licensed properties.
Dell was the titan of the comics industry in the '50s & '60s on the back of media tie-ins, but the shrinking newsstand market meant by the '80s most licensed comics came out of the back end of the Big Two. Those books were basically retirement packages for washed-up freelancers looking to supplement their social security. Still, licensing cost beau coup bucks, as all the companies that have tried the Dark Horse model in recent years have learned through bankruptcy. The Dark Horse difference was that they must have known what a gamble it was, so they went all in, doing the very best work possible to show they had a place in this industry. The gambit paid off massively, with Dark Horse now a multi-media empire that shits out crap tie-ins just as well as the big boys used to, when they bothered.
What makes Aliens vs. Predator part uno such a blast from the past for me was the reminder that this used to be novel. That kind of cross-franchise pollination had never been done before up to that point,and this book inspired all of it, including the crappy AvP movies. However, what made this work was that it was actually quite good. Sure, the art is very much in that American indie Metal Hurlant vein Dark Horse was still heavily mining, but it gets the job dome. Randy Stradley's script is very cinematic, recalling the deliberate introductions of the miners and soldiers from the Aliens movies, so that they had a story of their own to tell before the massacre began. This time they're ranchers on an isolated planet, so it even gets points for the rare Outland style space western mash-up. After the first twenty-eight pages, you're involved in these characters and their mundane lives, which means introducing warring creatures into the mix will only raise the stakes, rather than being a sole draw. Hell, without even having read the rest of this series, I can pretty much guarantee that if a director had just shot this comic, those movies would have been better. Man, this makes me long for the days when dudes like Kelly Jones drew Aliens comics. That was boss!
Dungeons & Dragons #0 (IDW, 2010, $1.00)
Back when Dark Horse was showing the majors how licensing was done, DC started publishing a mini-line of books based on the roleplaying fad of the early '80s. This wasn't long after DC wasted years chasing after Marvel's success with G.I. Joe and Transformers through stillborn crap like Spiral Zone, Inhumanoids and Power Lords. While comic fans sighed at DC's unhipness, those D&D books turned out to be stealth gateway drugs, initiating a surprising number of D12 rolling dorks into the greater comics multiverse, not to mention developing creative talents like Rags Morales that would go on to great fame.
Regardless, when I think of role-playing, I get flashbacks to days wasted generated characters, or suffering through agonizing campaigns (or worse-- inflicting same on others.) Further, all that shit with the swords and armor hot points and leveling up? No. Never again. Final Fantasy VII made me vow to never waste another minute of my life leveling up through random fights with forest creatures. Worse, Tolkien can blow me, because I think all that elven hobbit buggery is queer in the most pejorative, John Waters wouldn't let you eat his dog's shit sense. One of the reasons I closed my comic shop was that people discussing role-playing and/or Lord of the Rings brought me close to the verge of battery charges. I am so not this book's target audience.
Here's the score: ten pages of pseudo-hip/comic dialogue by John Rogers involving the stereotypical band of paladin, thief, viking dwarf, elf archer and that creepy guy who always wears a flannel around his waist and reeks of cigarettes and weekly bathing. It's drawn by Andrea Di Vito, mostly known for his work on Thor and CrossGen, a line of books that read like a Dungeonmaster's Guide. It looks and reads better than it deserves, but it deserves to lick my boots clean. There's also a second six page preview that looks and reads like a teenage Conan pastiche. That's all I've got to say about that.
The Smurfs Vol. 2 #1 (Papercutz, 2010, $1.00)
I always liked the idea of the Smurfs, and my girlfriend loves them so much she sleeps with a stuffed doll I gave her. Still, actually sitting down and reading their comic adventure makes me totally root for Gargamel. Every fourth word out of cyanetic little pieholes is a variation on the term "Smurf," as noun, adjective, verb-- whatever. Their personalities are annoying and hinge on one defining trait. Most are indistinguishable from one another, and this story makes them seem like Jerry multiplied a few dozen times to confound Tom. I hated those cartoons, too. Further, the book's production is itself crude. The text font is funky and basic, while the coloring looks like someone just did fills on black & white scans in MS Paint (and I speak from experience.) I guess it's fine for a dollar, but I'd be afraid to give it to a dumb kid that would be hanging around me, for fear thay'd pick up that Smurf-talk thing. Finally, I totally read this thing months ago, and it was so forgettable I never got around to reviewing it then. Pass.
Usagi Yojimbo: One for One #1 (Dark Horse, 2010, $1.00)
I'm supposed to like/respect this book. It's been running for decades, and is supposed to be a fairly faithful anthropomorphized take on Japanese history, myth, and samurai cinema. Yeah, fine, I guess. For me, it was the first act of a lame episode of Kung Fu. There's this ronin rabbit, and his acquaintance the sneak thief keeps outsmarting the local corrupt sheriff. The thief's good-natured simpleton aid takes a fall for her crimes, and... to be continued. No really, that's it. Maybe Matlock the Turtle shows up for the defense. Take away Stan Sakai's cutesy animal art, and this shit is straight stock. I've got some other vintage comics floating around my house to give the title another chance down the line, but ennui will see to that being a ways away.