Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wednesday is Bulk Rate Back Stock Dark Fantasy License-y Score For All I Care #181

Angel & Faith Season 9 #7
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #6
Crawling Sky #1
Robyn Hood: Wanted #1
Drew Hayes' Poison Elves #1 (2013)
Repossessed #1
Shahrazad #0
Son of Merlin #1
Vampirella #5, 6, & 8 (2011)
Spawn #220-222

Angel & Faith #7 (Dark Horse, 2012, $2.99)
I've seen maybe a third of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's 144 TV episodes, plus everything one gleans from nerd osmosis thanks to its vocal fan base. I'm reasonably familiar with that property. Of the spin-off series Angel's 110 episodes, I've seen... some? Maybe? I guess I'm kinda pretty sure at least one. J. August Richards is a guy I couldn't recognize on looks alone between his two episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is what I'm saying. So, jumping into the second comic book "season" of a team-up series with Faith seven issues in (and the second issue of a story arc,) I have to commend Christos Gage for a script that informed and engaged. There's a fair amount of exposition in the chapter to begin with, but that doesn't diminish interest in a look at Drusilla the (once) mad clairvoyant vampire's origins and altered life situation, as well as a returned figure from Faith's past. If I were more invested in this franchise, what I read here was good enough to warrant picking up the trade.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #6 (Dark Horse, 2012, $2.99)
In this case, I'm better familiar with the goings-on of a Whedonverse property, plus there's an amusing aping of '70s Blade comics, which doesn't hurt. This one was even more involved in backstory, as Buffy uses tales of the life of one slayer to help her reach a major life decision. Dark Horse has done an impressive job with this property, allowing a casual reader like myself to enjoy these stories more than the typical fare produced by the Big Two. Again, only my aversion to multimedia franchises keeps me from pursuing more.

Crawling Sky #1 (Antarctic Press, 2013, $3.99)
There was a time in the mid-to-late '90s when Joe R. Lansdale seemed like he was becoming a cottage industry in comics, and I'm sorry that wax turned to wane. I quite enjoyed most of those books, and while I didn't rush out to buy a $4 per issue black and white adaptation with his son Keith out of friggin' Antarctic Press, I've found myself pleased that the first issue came my way dirt cheap. This is quite the Texas jam, as everybody involved from publisher to talent are all from the Lone Star state, so there's some pride to be found in that. Appropriately and not unexpectedly, the tale is a horror western-- basically a well executed haunted house yarn. Brian Denham is an odd choice on art chores, as he plays with a more cartoonish style while still applying flashy Image flourishes. However, Lansdale stories have always been a bit left of center, and I'm pretty sick of the look of comic book horror being equated to Ben Templesmith. The first chapter satisfies, but I want for more, so I hope there's a trade forthcoming.

Grimm Fairy Tales presents Robyn Hood: Wanted #1 (Zenescope, 2013, $2.99)
Oh goody, it's time for me to carve a new nose on another Zenescope book! But wait-- a surprising twist-- I didn't hate this one! I know this is an unusually positive column, but I assure you that I haven't started doing heroin or employing Asian hookers to improve my reception. I just happened to have had a bunch of books lying around for months that didn't fit into review "themes" or my schedule overall. Anyway, the cover I got (one of three options) was by Stanley "Artgerm" Lau, about the only good thing to come out of the Red Circle line, and always a happy start in getting me to crack a cover. The interiors by Larry Watts are closer to serviceable, though Nick Filardi does what he can on the coloring front. You usually think of titillating cheesecake from this line, so maybe I need to keep an eye out for the exceptions. Pat Shand tells a solid introduction to the apparently continuing adventures of "Robyn Hood," a teenage runaway who finds her calling when she lands in a fantasy world in need of a thieving archer, but has since lost her niche by returning to a modern world where she's merely a criminal from the wrong side of the tracks. The dichotomy as played here is pleasing, since the "real" world undercuts the sillier, overblown fantasy one, while Robyn's shitty existence makes you root for her to escape again from her dreary circumstances.

Poison Elves #1 (Ape Entertainment, 2013, $2.99)
So much for that streak. Drew Hayes was a reasonably successful independently publishing cartoonist who moved his series (originally titled I, Lusiphur) to Sirius when it was flush with Dawn money and expanding. Seventy-nine issues later, Hayes halted production due to the health problems that eventually killed him at age 37. This series is a Frank Herbert sort of thing, where the creator's son handed over Hayes' story notes to new talent for a posthumous continuation. I sampled the Sirius series, and if it wasn't to my taste then, it's outright ipecac now. The whole issue is a host of unfamiliar characters expositing at one another reams of lore, including a narrator who should be parsing this shit out for us, but instead creates cognitive dissonance as his mere future tense presence is in conflict with the situations the past tense characters are wrangling with. It's everything I hate about fantasy storytelling with a veneer of kewl courtesy of cursing n' scars n' stuff. Just in case that didn't put you to sleep, there's another couple of text pages that synopsize the material referenced in all that painful dialogue. I have a headache and need to take a nap now.

Repossessed #1 (Image, 2013, $2.99)
Another one of those comic strips that reminds me of the stuff I churned out myself in notebooks during seventh grade math class. There's guns and tits and tough guys with indistinguishable personalities battling stock supernatural monsters with souped-up uzis (in 2013?) plus crude art and writing that makes me think English isn't JM Ringuet's first language. If that wasn't bad enough, I now have the theme song from a terrible 1990 Leslie Nielson vehicle stuck in my head.

Shahrazad #0 (Big Dog Ink, 2013, $1.99)
Seriously just a bunch of double page splashes barely linked together by some caption boxes. The "story," which contains no characters, dialogue or appreciable plot across ten pages, is appended with editorial content that attempts to convey the premise about as poorly.

Son of Merlin #1 (Image, 2013, $2.99)
This book was packaged by a minor production company and then trotted out by Top Cow is some sort of partnership likely meant to sniff after a movie/TV deal, so by all rights it shouldn't be the least bit good. I'm glad it was at least a bit good. Merlin and a bunch of other Arthurian characters are still getting up to shenanigans in the present day, until the famed wizard is compromised and his oblivious bastard son inherits his magic book. Nothing remotely groundbreaking, but Robert Napton's dialogue is pithy and Zid's digitally painted art suits the material.

Vampirella #5, 6, & 8 (Dynamite, 2011, $3.99)
I have been trying since "Morning in America" (and since before I realized that wasn't a Supertramp reference) to get into Vampirella, and it never takes, but some attempts come closer than others. This isn't one of those close ones. Eric Trautmann has mostly written ancillary Didio era DC titles (including event tie-in books and two Red Circle series) and books for Dynamite, whereas I as a reviewer use that type of material as a punching bag. He seems to be trying to do the serious Warren magazine take Archie Goodman made his name on, but it's too over the top and heavily influenced by later corny horror movies where it needs a comparatively subdued Hammer Films vibe. Wagner Reis recalls the same era's Neal Adams and Filipino Invasion artists, but owes as much to Harris' gritty cheesecake stable (Small/Buzz/Altstaetter/etc.) Reis tries to be scary or gross, but there's a glossiness he doesn't come close to overcoming, like Angie Everhart and Erika Eleniak in Bordello of Blood. #5-6 wrap a storyline where the heroine teams up with Dracula against a super-creepy-Lovecraftian-threat that comes across as a bunch of stale old horrors sewn together. Vampi is in (decidedly not) plainclothes like a trampy Kolchak having metaphysical discussions with her old bikini'd self, and it's the fully dressed Vampi that seems more ridiculous. #8 is the second part of some Japanese kabuki vampire bikers thing, with superior art by Fabiano Neves, by virtue of his calling bullshit on respectability and getting them titties in a Wonderbra. Vampi's still dressed like an urban cowgirl brandishing a gun though, so there's only so much the man has to work with. Trautmann's scripts seem embarrassed to have been married to this character, so you end up with a slut-shamed Vampi in a Buffy movie as directed by a Robert Rodriguez acolyte. I know that doesn't sound so bad now that I read over it, but go watch the From Dusk Til Down sequels on basic television and you'll see what I mean.

Spawn #220-222 (Image, 2012, $3.99 & #2.99s)
I took a long, hot, wet, steamy shit on Spawn #200, but I'm a glutton for punishment and novel cover homages, so I bought these issues cheap from my mail order distributor. Has any book as terrible as this ever lasted so long? I'm seriously sending a call out to the entire internet for someone to contact me for verification that a single solitary person on the planet Earth who does not bear a strong resemblance to the Bill Murray character in Little Shop of Horrors is receiving some measure of unironic, non-vindictive enjoyment out of the current run of Spawn. I found these three issues led to the unimpeachable diagnosis that this book suffers from creative leprosy. Sydney Mellon could come out of retirement and try to top the bottom this book has sunk to, and couldn't compete by sheer virtue of attempting to mine anything resembling a vein of storytelling that might appeal to himself, if not anyone else. I cannot believe that even Todd McFarlane and Szymon Kudranski derive any satisfaction from their culpability in producing this aesthetic hate crime. I imagine them like deranged Vietnam vets wearing necklaces of Cong ears, self-loathing and barely functioning, but still lethal due to their crushing fear of the eternity in Hell that awaits them for the atrocities they've committed. McFarlane's reputation is so toxic that in the current writer-driven industry, he's the the only person he could get to script this glacially-paced sludge. I imagine Kudranski in a Polish "hostel" bound in a Jigsaw Killer death trap and being forced to churn out page after page of hideous, barely comprehensible comic "art" on a com-poo-ter by tracing photographs from Google image search in MS Paint.

In #220, McFarlane tries to force the current narrative to fit into a rigid approximation of the page layout to Spawn #1, in honor of himself, and fuck the gimp who has to provide a loose approximation of "drawerings." My favorite section was the retrospective editorial material in the back, which reprints pages from Spawn #1 so you can see what a putrid shell the current incarnation is by comparison, as well as a four page timeline of highlights across the twenty years of publishing that effectively illustrates the steady decline, most glaringly through the absence of anything notable on the second two pages. #221 has Amazing Fantasy #15 cover swipe number seven-hundred-sixty-five, and continues a "letters page" motif where Todd answers random AMA questions instead of fielding letters of comment on the actual issues currently being published. Todd's "do-over" would be the David Hine run, since he felt it went too far afield from his preferences for the Spawn Universe by telling actual stories with resolutions instead of drifting endlessly without ever definitively addressing anything unless real life lawsuits force him to get rid of Chapel/Angela/Al Simmons/etc. I haven't wanted to slap the guy this bad since he became the worst ever guest on Talking Dead until Spawn Motion Picture Original Soundtrack recording artist/train wreck Marilyn Manson took that dubious prize like it was Mark McGwire's 63rd home run ball. McFarlane swipes one of his Venom covers from the '80s for #222, and there's a "become a character in Spawn" winner who's an Eminem looking motherfucker a decade and change past its freshness date. The overarching story is that White Spawn finds some file folders and gets some exposition from the action figure Tremor and might have been the head of the Spawniverse's Weapon X and everyone shut the fuck up right goddamned now!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Wednesday is Seconds of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents For All Anyone Cares #180

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (1966)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Vol.2 #2 (1984)
Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (1985)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (2011)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (2013)

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (Tower, 1966, 25¢)
As much as I enjoyed the debut issue, the game steps up here. With all the exposition dispensed with, Dynamo visibly leaps into action from the first page. A romantic subplot is introduced, and Len Brown gets dressed down in a way unheard of in period comics. The Warlord is revised by Wally Wood into a darker, more mysterious foe. Wood also takes back his crown as master of beautiful women with the smart and capable Alice Robbins. The physical threat is presented by Dynavac, his garb alluding to medieval torturers/executioners, marking his as a creepy, intimidating presence. He also strongly recalls the initial appearance of Doomsday to such a degree that I'd be surprised if DC hadn't taken a cue from Tower in his design. An exciting story with a twist ending uncommon even today.

NoMan continues to be my favorite strip, thanks to the wildly inventive application of the hero's powers and vulnerabilities. It's also tough to go wrong with an army of "zombie" soldiers for NoMan to toss about like he was channeling Kirby Captain America. My only complaint is that the art by Ayers, Orlando and Wood removed the shadowy dread of Crandall's initial strip.

There's no writing credit on Menthor, but I wouldn't be surprised if Mike Sekowsy was learning his craft on the script himself. There are a lot of amateur mistakes and crazy logic leaps, but the overall feel is reminiscent of his later DC work on Wonder Woman and "Manhunter 2070." It's still fast moving and fun, just with an element of Axe Cop insanity.

Dynamo triumphs in the second half of his story, with striking imagery and a major reveal that thankfully wasn't drawn out, though the resolution was a tad pat. Then there's a text story, "Junior Thunder Agents," which offers a flimsy manual for kids to form their own local fan club and immediately begin having irresponsibly violent adventures involving teen gangs running protection rackets. The big book wraps with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad taking on a straw Cuba and cavalierly losing a member who surprisingly wasn't one of the two brunette males who happened to be rendered nigh-indistinguishable in the story by gas masks. That would haunt them later, not least for it spawning decades of morbid self-pitying monologues from Guy Gilbert. My favorite part was the random inclusion of a nuke-spawned gillman. Well, that and Kitten in yoga pants. She also had the. best. hair.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Vol.2 #2 (JC Comics, 1984, $1.00)
The second and final issue of this incarnation picks up and more briskly advances the story from the debut. Dynamo battles a big purple monster type thing that never gets explained, then teams up with Iron Maiden in the most predictable fashion, given the "couple's" history. Wally Wood's Agents meet Wally Wood's Mars Attacks giant insects, plus some weird celestial overlord works from the shadows, recalling Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. Ronald Reagan worshipers may want to check out his notable cameo. The female Menthor continues to be teased, and would be the worst copyright infringing element once Deluxe and Solson Publications tried their bootlegs. Vulcan was properly introduced instead, as a sonic blaster slowly growing deaf, and a second whiny bitchboy love interest for Kitten Kane, the poor dear. Most of the Agents have a spotlight of some sort, but I got the biggest kick out of the grizzled Squad, with Weed getting the best comic relief moment. To be continued eight months later in an Archie Adventure Series anthology...

Charlie Boatner's dialogue doesn't improve much on Chris Adames', but the overall tone lightens to make the mayhem more of a romp in the vein of Woody. Lou Manna and Paul Bonanno split pencil duties, but the art star is Willie Blyberg, who keeps the look consistent and enriched by lavish inks. Murphy Anderson supplies a nifty centerfold "poster," there's a fun gag image by "Maurizio," but my favorite was the unsigned back cover featuring Iron Maiden.

Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (Deluxe, 1985, $2.00)
David M. Singer offers even more editorial text this month, with both candor and pomposity. The personality sure set the line apart, though.

Dann Thomas' Raven script was better this time, as it toned down the purple prose and focused on providing the origins of the hero's relationship with the nefarious Phoenicia. It was difficult to read for a new reason-- production errors rendering some of John Workman's lettering nigh indecipherable. I like Craig Lawson's design more than Raven's, as he recalls Adrian Chase. The art was more consistent, with Bill Wray doing a decent job over Perez's layouts, but their styles weren't the most compatible.

Tom & Mary Bierbaum made their writing debut on the Lightning story, and for a character history summation with transparent foreshadowing, it was okay. Since there's virtually no action and a lot of repeating panels, Rick Bryant has an easier time with Keith Giffen's pencils. The interaction between the two featured characters is inorganic, but the story does begin to pay off a long in waiting subplot.

There's an ad for "The Deluxe Comics Line of Designer Posters" that you could send away for, but in an example of slitting one's own throat, the Perez Menthor one is a pin-up in this issue, and George's Iron Maiden is used as a centerfold. I'm sure the full sized posters were nicer, but these would do in a pinch, right?

Finally,the team story by Steve Englehart and Dave Cockrum, which remains the weakest link. It's improved by focusing on Lightning, though it covers much of the same ground as the Giffen story. There's no line of dialogue spoken when it could be shouted hysterically at other characters. The story has tonal issues, since it seems to be taking Lightning's deterioration seriously, but then drops in a moment of broad comedy in the midst of the heavily whipped pathos. The result is neither sad nor funny, just kind of dumb, and the grandstanding on display wore out any enthusiasm I had going in.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
Wildstorm in their heyday produced the Vertigo of super-hero comics. This is what that was. Nick Spencer does a great job of painting a portrait of the new Lightning, CAFU is better at being John Cassaday than the real one's been in years, and I especially liked Chriscross' work on the flashback sequences. It was an exceptionally good story for the dollar I paid to read its thirty pages. However, had I paid cover price, I'd be less congratulatory. There are two spreads of a guy running fast with minimal background. There are numerous virtually silent pages. Most pages consist of 3-4 panels with a caption box or a dialogue balloon each. It's an eight page back-up spread across an extra-length issue. Quit writing for the trade, motherfuckers.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (IDW, 2013, $3.99)
This multi-incarnation review project got pushed back by this issue shipping late, so I'll try not to hold that against it. The second outing of the latest iteration digs deeper into Wally Wood's toy box, but then reconfigures the components differently. Guy Gilbert and Lightning are more properly introduced, as the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad starts to fill in. I didn't mind Kat Kane's being excluded from that line-up by being promoted up at first, but a major alteration to her backstory bends my nose out of shape. The tone strikes a weird balance between snark (which to be fair was part of the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. formula) and nostalgia (this reads like what you would expect from a Bronze Age issue of Marvel G.I. Joe if it had more period-appropriate art.) Part of what I liked about the Tower and Deluxe Comics series was that it was on the bleeding edge of the four color forum for its time, where IDW is more like JC Comics in recalling an earlier time and properties only contemporaneous to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. In short, it's a competent, mildly amusing book I'm buying more for the property's past glory than any present one, exactly the sort of thing that would have kept me reading DC Comics pre-New 52, but the opposite of what my better inclinations should support.


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