Friday, December 20, 2013

Recommended Reading for 12/20: Jingle Belle

I think the holiday recommendation spot belongs to Paul Dini. Last year, it was dedicated to the Batman: The Animated Series Holiday Special, probably my favorite Christmas comic of all time, and this year, we'll be talking about Jingle Belle, his Christmas themed series about Santa's daughter. I beg your pardon if this is a bit short and lacking in my usual detail, but between the holiday and much of my collection remaining buried in boxes beneath boxes beneath yet more boxes since the move, I wasn't able to do a reread, so this is coming all from memory.

Jingle Belle (Jing to her friends) is Santa Claus's daughter. And while Santa is still the jolly old elf that he's portrayed at, Jing isn't like any member of Santa's clan you might have seen on a Christmas special. You see, Jing is a teenager (or about 220, which when you're an immortal is part of your extended adolescence), and that makes her a bit... difficult. And by difficult, I mean a nightmare. Jingle is spoiled (who wouldn't be if your dad was freakin' Santa Claus), entitled, and always up to something. And when you have access to Santa's various cool magical things, that something she is up to is usually a little more than breaking curfew.

Jingle's escapades often involve her trying to get out of working at Santa's workshop or just getting away to be a normal teenager; after all, it's hard to get away with anything when your dad's whole shtick is knowing whether you're naughty or nice. The best Jingle Belle stories work like a lot of the best Simpsons stories (There was even a crossover between the two in Simpsons Winter Wingding #1) with Jing working in the Bart roll: Jing does something naughty, gets caught, and learns a lesson. Of course the lessons don't really stick, and she gets into trouble again sooner or later, usually sooner.  Bit what also makes the series and character work is that under the bratiness, Jing really has a good heart, and will choose to do the right thing and help those in need.

Humor comics generally have a set-up/punchline thing that is consistent, which is true with most humor/comedy series; I mean, how many times could Elmer Fudd really go after Bugs Bunny and not expect to wind up getting shot in the head with his rifle that didn't seem to ever fire anything lethal? The trick is keeping that motif feeling fresh. Dini gives Jing all sorts of odd escapades that don't feel like the same thing over and over again. One time she could be trying to have a Christmas special made about herself, another time she could be trying to build a Vegas-based Christmas-themed resort , or tried to set up a reality TV show with her and her dad (all real plots).

The stories can also have a more action based tone at times, with Jingle falling afoul of some of Santa's wintery nemeses like The Blizzard Wizard, or she can befriend the Frankenstein Monster. But Dini never loses sight of the fact that at heart, Jingle Belle is a humor comic, and is always funny. There's even a story featuring my favorite piece of Christmas apocrypha, the Krampus, who is Jing's weird "uncle." Trust me, if you don't know who the Krampus is, go and find out. He's just wonderfully bizarre.

One of Paul Dini's great talents is world building and character creation. Looking at his Batman work, he created a bunch of excellent characters aside from Harley Quinn, including The Carpenter, Mr. Zzz, and he added levels of pathos to Hush, making him a far more interesting character than he was in his earlier appearances. So it's not surprising that he has populated Jing's world with an assortment of interesting and amusing characters. There are elves, like Jing's pal Gretchen, hipster elf Eddie, or brown nosing Cousin Rusty. There are Jing's girl friends, Polly Green, the Halloween witch, Ida Red, a superpowered cowgirl sheriff, and frenemy Tashi, a part girl-part snowleopard (sorta like a Thundercat, if that helps with visualization). And of course there's Santa and Mrs. Claus. It's a large cast, and each character is wrought well.

The publication history for Jingle Belle is a bit involved. Initially published by Oni Press back in its early years, and spawned two trades and a graphic novel, the series moved to Dark Horse for a bit, where there were some one shots and a four issue mini-seires that was traded, and then to Top Cow, where most of the stories were released as one shots, although there was one collection. The stories are mostly out of print, but I know they can be found, especially if your comic shop breaks out Christmas comics around this time of year like mine does. You can also find at least some of them on Comixology.

So if you're looking for something funny and not exactly what you'd expect from a Christmas comic, you should check out Jingle Belle. Your belly will shake like a bowl full of jelly, trust me. And with that, a merry Christmas to all. I hope to get some reviews up on Monday, but if not I wish you all a happy holiday.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 12/11

Batman #26
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo

"Zero Year" continues in this issue, with Batman dealing with Doctor Death and the GCPD. The deeper into this new version of Batman's origin we get, the more I like it. While it does borrow bis from earlier stories, it's not a greatest hits version, trying to strip mine elements from all the different Batman origins. Scott Snyder  is creating a new story that still stays true to Batman's history, and that adds some new elements. The big change this issue is the revelation of exactly what Bruce's problem with Jim Gordon is. After the fakeout with Lucius Fox from the end of the previous issue, and knowing Gordon and Batman's relationship is what it is in the present, I'm sure Snyder has something up his sleeve, especially especially since John Layman's Detective Comics "Zero Year" crossover focused on Gordon's incorruptibility. It's interesting to add this wrinkle into Batman's past, giving him a reason to distrust Gordon instead of Gordon distrusting Batman as in Year One. Meanwhile, the Doctor Death storyline is a great little Batman versus a mad scientist story, and using Doctor Death, the first "name" villain in Batman's history, is a nice nod; I also have to say the new visual for him is creepy, and something not seen in Batman comics in the past. The flashbacks to Bruce's journey to become Batman and the sensory deprivation ritual takes touches of Grant Morrison's run and adds them in; frankly, Morrison's work is usually so quickly retconned out of continuity or ignored, it's nice to see an element hearkening to it. I hope we get some resolution with Death in the next issue, so we can move back to the Riddler, but Snyder is playing with a large canvas, and that scope is part of what makes "Zero Year" an interesting Batman story.

Batman: Li'l Gotham #9
Story & Art: Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs

Batman: Li'l Gotham is proving itself to be more than just a way to read stories that feel like they could have taken place in the pre-Flashpoint DCU; it feels like a spiritual successor of Batman: The Animated Series. This struck me this issue not only because it featured a cameo by Simon Trent, the Grey Ghost, a character from one of the best episodes of B:TAS, "Beware the Grey Ghost," but also because it took that element and worked it seamlessly into the world that creators Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs have created. That sort of synthesis is what made B:TAS great; it took the best elements of Batman and mixed them together to create something uniquely its own. The first story in this issue has Batman and Robin chasing Clayface into Gotham Comic Con. There's a lot of con and fandom humor, but none that is mean spirited towards the fans. Damian's plan to draw Clayface out at the end of the issue is a hilarious moment, and perfectly suited to Damian's personality. Nguyen gives Batman a speech at the end to Damian when Robin is upset about changes made to his favorite comic character that perfectly reflects the best attitude one can have about continuity, one I share. The second story, a Labor Day story for The Carpenter, contractor to the supervillain set, is a cameofest, with appearances by most of Batman's rogues, plus some others from around the DCU. Paul Dini created The Carpenter during his run on Detective Comics and Batman: Streets of Gotham, and being a Dini creation, she fits perfectly into a world that is heavily influenced by his animated series work. This title is starting to wind down, with only three issues left, and I am going to miss this breath of fresh air every month.

Lazarus #5
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark

The second arc of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's dystopian future series, Lazarus, kicks off with the fallout from the first arc still being felt. Forever Carlyle is still regretting the death of an innocent man, something a Lazarus, a family enforcer, probably shouldn't, and her evil brother (More evil? More overtly evil?) is on the run. When Forever arrives at a border with another family's property where he might have fled, she is confronted by a group of serfs serving the other family as guards. They immediately begin to be verbally abusive, and Rucka makes a quick and very matter of fact comment about rape culture and rape threats; he doesn't dwell on it, but makes his point and moves on. As the scene ends, Forever is shot from behind by one of the men, and instead of massacring them herself, she uses her words, wits, and the fear of her powerful family to get the others to execute the man themselves. This level of intellect is part of what makes Forever such and interesting character. There are new characters introduced, and we get the first look at what it's like to be a person in this world who has no connection to the ruling elite, and its not a pretty picture. The other scene in the issue that left a strong impact was seeing a very young Forever sparring with a teacher, and the callousness with which her "father," the head of the Carlyle family, treats her. The world of Lazarus is being built brilliantly, and each issue gets us closer to a turning point for Forever. There are plenty of dystopian stories out there, but Lazarus is top of the heap, with a grounding in reality and characters who are well rounded.

Richard Stark's Parker: Slayground
Story: Donald Westlake as Richard Stark; adapted by Darwyn Cooke
Art: Darwyn Cooke

I think I said about as much as I could about the excellence of Parker and these adaptations as I could in my recommended reading on Parker but a new volume is something to be looked forward to, and Slayground lives up to, and exceeds, it's predecessors. In an interview, I believe Cooke said that Slayground was one of his favorite of the Parker novels, if not his favorite, and from nearly the first page, I could see why. Not only does this put Parker in the place where he works best, behind the eightball with only limited resources, but it is a visually impressive story. Parker is trapped inside a closed amusement park with men hunting him, and so the set pieces that the story is set against work perfectly with a medium with a strong visual component. The mostly silent sequences where Parker slowly sets up traps for the mobsters and crooked cops that are going to come after him are some of the best Cooke has ever done, and it makes the payoff as Parker springs these traps all the more satisfying. It's a tour de force from both Westlake and Cooke, and it's probably my favorite graphic novel of the year. Also, this book contains the short story, "The Seventh," originally available only in the beautiful oversized hardcover collection Parker: The Martini Edition. You should still check out The Martini Edition for its gallery of extras, but its nice that if you don't have $75 to drop, you can get to read this gem too.

Sherlock Holmes: Moriarty Lives #1
Story: David Liss
Art:Daniel Indro

Dynamite Entertainment's newest Sherlock Holmes related series is one focusing on Holmes's archenemy, Professor James Moriarty. For a character who appeared in only one story, and who was mentioned in only one other, by his creator, Professor Moriarty has taken on a life of his own. He's appeared in countless movies, short stories, novels, and comics. I've read more than a few stories of Moriarty surviving his battle with Holmes on the Reichenbach Falls, but I was curious to see what writer David Liss would do with it. Liss impressed me with his Marvel work on Mystery Men and Black Panther, with a great noir sensibility, and while this isn't a noir, it is a well rounded portrait of Moriarty. Moriarty is brilliant, conceited, and the perfect match for Holmes. Told through his internal monologue, we see exactly to what degree of contempt and respect Moriarty holds his great nemesis; Holmes hangs over the action, despite not appearing. The story picks up directly as Moriarty pulls himself from the river after being swept away from Holmes, and he immediately sets out to return to power. He demonstrates his own skills of deduction, and his cruel calculating nature. But Moriarty seems to have a soft spot for a pretty face, and when he falls afoul of locals in protecting a pretty barmaid, Moriarty makes a pledge to protect her prized possession when she is felled by the local Baron, an alchemist. While the world of Sherlock Holmes is one of pure rationality, it is often mixed with the supernatural in pastiches, and so Moriarty versus an alchemist is not jarring. With the issue's end, Moriarty is on the run, and has a very different prize with him than he expected. The people pursuing the Professor should know that the prey with nothing left to lose is the most dangerous, and I have a feeling Moriarty will be far more than they can handle.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Recommended Reading for 12/13: Fairest In All the Land & Tommy Taylor and the Ship that Sank Twice

Today's recommended reading is a little different than usual, as it is featuring two books that are not connected by story, but by publisher. In the past couple years, it seems like DC's venerable Vertgo imprint, the mature readers imprint that gave us such seminal works as Sandman, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, and 100 Bullets, has been slipping away. There have been a few hits, but mostly the new series have come and gone in short order. The end of Vertigo's longest running series, Hellblazer, and the fact that many of its major creators are now doing their creator owned work through Image, seemed like a clear death knell. But there have been some signs of life recently, with a couple new hits, and this fall, two of the better received series of the past five years each released special hardcover original graphic novels: The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice and Fairest: In All the Land. I sat down and read them both this past weekend, and was very pleased. There will be some mild spoilers in this piece, but I'll do my best to not give away too much.

Fairest: In All the Land is this year's Fables special project. Since writer/creator Bill Willingham began his work on Fables, he has tried to do nearly annual special issues or tie-ins, whether it was an extra large anniversary issue, a special (The Last Castle), an original graphic novel (1,001 Nights of Snowfall and Werewolves of the Heartland) or even a prose novel (Peter and Max). This new book ties in with the ongoing Fables spinoff, Fairest, which focuses on the large number of strong female fairy tale characters that populate Willingham's world.

The book is tied neatly into the ongoing continuity of Fables and Fairest, so as a warning to people who are reading Fables in trade, DO NOT read this before you read Fables Vol. 19: Snow White, which comes out this Wednesday, and it might not hurt to read volume three of Fairest first, which is scheduled for a June release, but the spoiler there is nowhere near as big as the one for Fables. This book, more than either of the previous graphic novels, feels like it is hugely important for the upcoming arcs of Fables, and I believe is gong to be a major part of the lead in to Willingham's grand finale in a next year. Still, if you have no background in Fables, Willingham does a good job of using the framing sequence to explain everything you need to enjoy the book with no history with the parent series.

I was expecting another anthology of shorts tied together by a framing sequence, like 1001 Nights of Snowfall, but was actually surprised and pleased to see that this is actually one continuous story with various artists drawing each chapter. There is a framing sequence, narrated by the Magic Mirror; you know the one, the one that the wicked queen from Snow White had, that has been trapped in the pocket dimension when the business office of Fabeltown, the block in Alphabet City in New York where the fairy tale characters in exile reside, was lost. He is investigating a mystery, and also putting on a show for his fellow prisoners, a group of tiny women and some severed heads that still have quite a bit of life in them.

The story that he is showing is itself a mystery, connected to the goings on in the business office, but this mystery is  one of a more bloody sort. Cinderella, Fabletown's number one spy, is pulled into a situation where she must solve a murder mystery. As she points out, detective work and spycraft are two distinct skill sets, and she feels somewhat out of her depth. But Cinderella, as created by Willingham and expanded by Chris Roberson in the two mini-series that she starred in, is nothing if not resourceful, and so she goes out to solve the case, with a little help from Reynard the Fox and Little Bo Peep. Soon, the bodies begin to pile higher, and some of Fabletown's luminaries are among them.

The mystery doesn't seem to hard to figure out, especially if you've been reading Fables for any amount of time, but there are some great twists involved, and whodunnit proves to be less important than why and how. Other than giving readers more time with Cinderella, one of the best characters in Fables, we get to spend a little more time with Ozma, the good witch, a character who has been getting fleshed out a bit in the past couple years and who I find a lot of fun. A couple old favorites pop up, including Bellflower, better known as Frau Totenkinder the Black Forest Witch, and the Page Sisters from Jack of Fables. There is also some very interetsing stuff done with one of Fables male characters, Stinky the Badger, who is usually played for laughs. I wouldn't say his speech was poignant, but he makes a point that ties heavily into the theme of the book.

Dancing around the specifics of the mystery makes writing a piece like this tricky, as so much of what happens hinges on the mystery, but Willigham plays with a lot of interesting themes within a story that focuses on the most beautiful women in all of Fables. In a society obsessed with beauty like ours, is it really the most beautiful that get all the best? Exactly what kind of punishment is deserved by those who would enslave or use another? And what exactly does it take to rise up in a society? And aside from the interesting thematic pieces, the book ends with some Fables characters irrevocably dead, which is hard to do when your characters lives are fueled by belief. There are a couple surprising deaths, ones that may have some serious effects on the series as a whole.

While the story here is a lot of fun and well done, the art in this book is something that grabs you by the shirt and demands to be noticed. There are over a dozen different artists who worked on this book, and all of them are impressive on their own, but when put together, it's a murder's row of top talent. Chrissie Zullo, the cover artist for the two Cinderella minis, provided wonderful spot illustrations for Willingham's prose framing sequence. Single chapters are produced by luminaries like Adam Hughes, Chris Sprouse, Gene Ha, and regular Fables artist Mark Buckingham. Russ Braun, former artist from the Jack of Fables spinoff, contributes a couple chapters, as does Shawn McManus, who pencilled the Cinderella minis and is pencilling the current Cinderella arc in the regular Fairest monthly. And that's just a few of the names. Even if you've never read Fables or Fairest, if you're a fan of great comic art, this book is worth picking up.

The Unwritten is currently in between volumes, with the original series ending with issue 54 and the final year, subtitled Apocalypse, not beginning until next month. This has been one of my favorite comics since it began, and I intentionally saved the first Unwritten original graphic novel to help me get over the hump in between volumes. After the previous arc, "The Unwritten Fables" which was a crossover between the two properties (huh, see, I found a way to tie the two books together after all), it's good to be back firmly grounded in the world of The Unwritten.

The concepts behind The Unrwitten is a bit more complex than Fables, "fairy tale characters living in the modern world," one, so bear with me as I explain a bit. The Unwritten is the story of Tom Taylor, a young man whose father wrote a mammothly popular series of books about a bespectacled, young, orphaned wizard named Tommy Taylor (and yes, I know that description is familiar to pretty much everyone, but it's not like J.K. came up with the concept from whole cloth either, and all similarities are not purely coincidental here). Tom has spent his whole life dogged by his literary alter ego, but at the beginning of the series, things start happening to Tom, things that seem to connect him more to Tommy than he imagined, and he finds himself thrust into battle with a cabal that wants to control the world through stories and the collective unconscious.

Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice is the first book in the Tommy Taylor series, and this graphic novel serves as a full adaptation of that fictional book. Throughout the series, readers have been treated to bits and pieces from the Tommy Taylor series, but never more than a page or two. All the things we've seen in the series come together here: Tommy, his friends Peter Price and Sue Sparrow, his pet/familiar Mingus the flying cat, his nemesis the vampire Count Ambrosio, and the wand Glitterspar. And the world of the books, the ones that readers have heard so much about, makes a lot more sense and has a life that it lacked before.

In a recent episode of NPR's excellent podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, host Linda Holmes commented on how hard it is for a fictional work to live up to its hype. If you hear about a band or a book or a movie in a TV show that exists exclusively in that world, when the consumer of that media actually gets a chance to sample that much ballyhooed bit of culture, it rarely is anything near what you've been led to expect. I was a little worried about that as an idea before I heard the podcast, and after I did it crystallized my fears about reading this book: what if the Tommy Taylor story was dull, or just really read as warmed over Harry Potter? Would that throw me out of the world the series of books inhabits? Fortunately, I don't have to find out.

I won't say Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice is the greatest piece of fantasy I've ever read. Writer Mike Carey actually addresses that in the reviews we see of the book in the sequences in the graphic novel that take place in the "real" world. He acknowledges the failings of Wilson Taylor, Tom's father and the author of the Tommy series, as a writer, and that gives him a safe little out. But what we get is a very fun fantasy story.

Tommy's world isn't like that of Harry Potter. Magic is commonplace, and the world is controlled by mages. Tommy is rescued from the same watery grave as his parents in the ship Demeter by Leviathan, the great whale (an important figure in The Unwritten), and he is deposited at a school for magic, where he is raised in the kitchens. He has no magic himself, and so seems to be relegated to the life of a second class citizen. But Tommy is clever, and he makes friends, and when the Demeter is raised from the sea, it is his intelligence and grit that saves the day as much as the magic he discovers in himself. He proves himself a hero, and makes a difficult choice that makes him a savior, and sets him a messianic path.

That description could pretty well describe Harry Potter, and that's clearly intentional. It's the differences that make this book interesting. The more magical world and the fact that Tommy combines Harry Potter's grit and Hermione Granger's brain, gives the book a different flavor. Frankly, it feels closer to Garth Nix than J.K. Rowling, and there are healthy doses of Bram Stoker mixed in as well, with even a touch of Lovecraft for good measure. Carey knows his source material, and wears that on his sleeve, but in a book that is about humanity absorbing stories, and how stories effect the human mind and world, there are worse ways to be.

While the main part of the book is the story of Tommy, it is interspersed with scenes of the events surrounding the writing of the book and the birth and first year of life of Tom Taylor. These sequences are narrated through the journals of Wilson Taylor, so the view of events is somewhat skewed, but the reader gets a better understanding of what Wilson was doing. This does not make him any more sympathetic a character. In the regular comics, we've seen glimpses of Wilson's journals before, and they portrayed him as a cold, manipulative s.o.b., and this doesn't help. His treatment of Tom's mother, and the way he uses Tom, is nothing short of repugnant. But you get to see him as a pragmatist, doing this for "the greater good," and not a sadist, hurting people for no other reason than he can. The thorough process that Wilson uses to make Tom and Tommy one thing, despite them being inherently two (a little boy and a fictional character) is finally laid out, and it's brilliant in its Machiavellian design. Every step is laid out, from the moment of conception of both the book and child to Tommy's first birthday party, and every step he takes in between.

As with Fairest In All the Land, you don't really need to have read The Unwritten to enjoy this book. The sequences with Wilson won't have the same resonance, and you might really hate him if you don't know exactly what it is he's creating Tom to fight, but it's not like we don't live in a time where anti-heroes outnumber heroes in a lot of popular media. It also uses various artists, mainly Peter Gross, the main artist for The Unwritten, but includes works by other who have worked with Carey before. If you're someone who has enjoyed Tom Taylor's battles in the monthly comic, or someone who just enjoys a well told fantasy story, this is a great volume.

Both of these volumes are available now at both comic shops and book stores, and would make for excellent holiday presents.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 12/4

Ok, and here I am back from what will hopefully the last of these extended absences. House is squared away mostly, should be moving in this weekend, and then construction of the comic house will begin. But for now, reviews!

Adventure Time Vol.2: Pixel Princesses TPB
Story: Danielle Corsetto
Art: Zack Sterling

One of the best parts of Adventure Time, both the animated series and its comic book adaptations, is the large and quirky cast. There are characters who appear only in the background, but you can just tell that an animator put a lot of work into making that character and has a whole crazy backstory for her or him. Pixel Princesses, the second original Adventure Time graphic novel, does not feature a single appearance by either of the series leads, Finn the Human or Jake the Dog. It doesn't even have their closest associates and enemies, like Princess Bubblegum, Marceline the Vampire Queen, or the Ice King in more than a couple of panels. No, this is a story featuring the "C-List" characters (hey, even Finn calls them that in an episode), headlined by the always amusing Lumpy Space Princess (LSP) in all her snotty glory. LSP wants to throw herself a surprise party with all the other princesses of the Land of Ooo as guests, but when only a handful show up, LSP throws her usual fit, and when BMO, the artificially intelligent video game system, spies on them and wishes he had what it took to be a princess inside him, the wandering mischief maker known as The Magic Man casts a spell to pull the princesses into BMO's game world. From there, it's a classic "people must fight there way to the end of the video game to escape" plot, but featuring the princesses. We get a good look into the personalities of Breakfast Princess, Skeleton Princess, Embryo Princess, Muscle Princess, and Turtle Princess, character who have only appeared in a handful of episodes, and usually with little to no dialogue. There's even a lesson at the end about being who you are and that everyone is a princess in their own right, but you're not reading this for the lesson, you're reading it for the sheer kooky madness of Adventure Time. Where else are you going to find a skeleton destroying cute baby animals with pointy teeth with a sword, monsters distracted by pancakes, and a gender neutral video game system deciding to be a mommy or a pretty princess? This is the kind of thing that is par for the course in Adventure Time, and creators Danielle Corsetto and Zack Sterling capture all of it perfectly. And if that isn't enough, you get a back-up story featuring Gunter, the Ice King's pet penguin, throwing a party for the other penguins. If you're not familiar with Adventure Time, there's no real previous knowledge needed here, and it reads very well as a standalone story, so give it a try as your first journey into Ooo.

Hellboy in Hell #5
Story & Art: Mike Mignola

It's been a few months, but Hellboy in Hell is back, and Mike Mignola hasn't missed a beat. Not exactly surprising, since anytime Mignola step up to the plate for a new Hellboy story, he hits it out of the park. After the first four issues of this new series, all of which were heavily entrenched in the mythology of the series, " The Three Gold Whips," is a one off that feels like those classic Hellboy stories where Hellboy stumbles onto someone in trouble and winds up quickly over his head. Inspired by the Grimm Fairy Tale, "The Devil and His Grandmother," Hellboy finds a soldier wandering the streets of Hell who has one last chance to save his soul by answering the riddle of the demon who he bargained with. Hellboy and the man go to where the man was directed, to the grave of the demon's grandmother where she agrees to hide them so they can hear the answer that will save the man. There are hints to the bigger plot of the series, with another reference to Hellboy's bloody knife hand, but the story mostly stands on its own. As with any work by Mignola, the story is as much a visual masterwork as anything else, with Mignola's design for the devil and his grandmother, and the trippy bits of a shrunken Hellboy and his companion dropped into a skull to hide them standing out in my mind. This story was a nice Christmas gift to all Hellboy fans; there might not be any Santa, but the other guy in red does his best to lift all our spirits.

Herobear and the Kid: The Inheritance #5
Story & Art: Mike Kunkel

For a series that's ten years old, I was pleasantly surprised to not see the twist coming at the end of this, the reprint of the original Herobear and the Kid series. You'd think somewhere I would have stumbled across it, but nope, and the new stories that have appeared over the past year seem to have almost intentionally avoided that big reveal for people like me, who didn't read the series the first time through. So, in deference to that, I'm not going to reveal it either. The story itself wraps up the threads from the previous issues in a way that leaves it well open for a new set of stories featuring Tyler and his teddy bear/best friend/superhero bear, but its a perfect story on its own. The final issue is about belief, and the kind of belief that all of us who have grown up have a hard time wrapping our heads around, the pure innocent belief of a child. Herobear and the Kid  have a final battle with the robot of Von Klon, the archenemy they don't realize they have, and Tyler gets the final piece of his inheritance from his grandfather, something that made my heart grow three sizes when I read it. Herobear and the Kid, more than any other comic book I can think of, perfectly captures the wonderment of being a child, when anything is possible. Tyler is so likable, but at the same time perfectly human, not some idealized perfect kid. I hope that, with this material back in print, Kunkel doesn't make us wait another decade for more of these wonderful characters.