Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 1/28 Part 2

Abigail and the Snowman #2
Story & Art: Roger Langridge

Friendship is an important theme in a lot of the all ages work I've read by Roger Langridge. It is a tent pole of the Muppet franchise, was the key theme in Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow, and it's the friendship of the Carpenter and the Prince and Princess that make the selfish Walrus become a better person in Snarked!. Once again, Langridge looks at unconventional friends in Abigail and the Snowman. After befriending the Yeti she dubbed Claude, young Abigail brings the Abominable Snowman only children can see with her to school. When the other kids see Claude, they begin to open up to Abigail. The sad, lonely little girl of the previous issue is happy, something her father notes. Abigail's dad is a wonderful character, loving and doping his best by his daughter while struggling to make ends meet. Of course then men in black from the previous issue are still hunting Claude, but a run in with Abigail's teacher, who will not permit people to wear sunglasses in doors (a little beat set up early in the issue, so when it comes up with the agents it makes perfect sense), has them remove the classes that allow them to see Claude, and we get a series of slapstick moments that are very funny. Langridge has a talent for balancing comedy and character, so we get scenes of Claude snoring away on Abigail's floor balanced with scenes of Abigail's father hustling to get work as an electrician. The happy scene of Abigail, Claude, and her new school friends at Burger Thing for Abigail's birthday is a picture of joy, and is shortly juxtaposed with the appearance of a new threat, a new man called to hunt down Claude who looks considerably more competent than his previous pursuers. It's high stakes without being scary; Langridge knows exactly how far to push the story and keep it all ages. Two issues down means the series is half over, and Abigail and the Snowman is another example that Boom! is publishing the best all ages line of monthly books in comics right now.  And , by the way, boy does Langridge draw an awesome Nessie. If that sentence doesn't pique your interest, I don't know what will.

The Dying & the Dead #1
Story: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Ryan Bodenheim

Ah, the Jonathan Hickman first issue... I'm a huge fan of Hickman's creator owned works, with both East of West and Manhattan Projects on my list of the best books Image is publishing right now. And Hickman is a master of giving you a first issue that has a ton of story and is loaded with potential. And that's even more clear when he has a first issue that's the size of two issues. The feel in this book is more fantasy than anything I've read by Hickman. While East of West has it's apocalyptic overtones, that fantasy is set in a very science fiction world. Here, we're dealing with a "real" seeming 1969 that has mystical ancient beings, artifacts, and magic sounding words. What I found most interesting about this issue is how it feels more intimate than any Hickman comic I've ever read. His series usually charge out of the gates with these sprawling casts. Here, while we meet quite a few characters, including a legion of identical women whose names all seem to begin with an A (Hickman's own Clone Club?), the mysterious Bah al Sharur, and the pale denizens of the mystic City, the Courier, the Bishop, and his Advisor, this is very much the story of The Colonel. Hickman has addressed this as the last story of the greatest generation, and the Colonel was a war hero of that generation, and is now about to lose his wife to cancer. But he is offered a chance to save her by the Bishop, who he has some past association with, by retrieving a stolen object. This is a classic story, a variation of sorts on Orpheus. This is going to be a series about love and about one man's attempt to save the one thing he loves. A Hickman comic is always full of big, crazy ideas, but this time it's more grounded in statements of what love is and means. Ryan Bodenheim's art fills the world with almost balletic violence, while designing a wonder in The City. A world of conspiracies, artifacts, and magic seems perfectly fit to Hickman's style, and I'm curious to see which direction he takes this new series.

Graveyard Shift #2
Story: Jay Faerber
Art: Fran Bueno

It's hard to find fiction nowadays where the primary purpose of a vampire is to scare you. Thanks to the likes of Anne Rice, Joss Whedon, and Stephanie Meyer, vampires are sex symbols, tortured souls who only need to be loved. And there's nothing wrong with that. I like Lestat and Spike as much as the next genre fan. But I do miss days where vampires were freakin' terrifying. Jay Faerber and Fran Bueno's Graveyard Shift is putting that terror back in vampires. After being attacked by vampires the previous issue, and finding his fiancee has been turned, police officer Liam runs from the collected vampires, dragging Hope along with him. Safe in a mausoleum, the two discuss what they should do next once she comes out of her vampire form. It looks like we're dealing with vampires in the mostly classic sense; they're vulnerable to holy objects as well as the sun. Bueno does a great job of making the vampires scary looking, and the action sequence as Liam and Hope flee the vampires is excellent. As Liam tries to learn more about the case that earned him the dubious honor of the vampires' attention, he tries to figure out what to do with his new status quo with Hope. We're still in the story phase where Liam is up to his neck in questions and doesn't have many answers. Horror has always existed closer to the real world than it's sister genres of science fiction and fantasy because the horrific encroaching on the real is part of what gives the genre its power. The ending of the issue is tragic but not unexpected, as it seems clear that vampires in this world are monsters, but ti's still sad when you realize the repercussions. Faerber is working a slow build this issue, after all of last issue's action. It's not drowning in exposition, but it spends a lot of time setting up the action that the series will climax in, which I think is the way a second chapter should work. It definitely has me hooked to see exactly what Liam is going to do as the vampires close in.

King: Flash Gordon #1
Story: Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Art: Lee Ferguson

This week saw the debut of the first two of five titles from Dynamite that will celebrate the centennial of King Syndicate, the company that published many of the great newspaper strips, by creating a universe where these characters will coexist. I've never read many of those classic strips, but with the creators involved in these books, I had to give them a try. Flash Gordon comes from Thrilling Adventure Hour creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker. Thrilling Adventure Hour is a throwback to classic radio, so it seems appropriate that they're writing something here that hearkens back to another classic form, but with their usual modern take. Acker & Blacker throw you right into the action on this one. There's no exposition to explain who Flash is or exactly who the people around him are, but the story does a good job of getting that across. You get to know Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov, and while Ming the Merciless doesn't have a large role in the action, it's not hard to understand his place as despotic dictator. The issue opens with Flash waking up in Dale's bed after a night of drinking, and him being sure they must have slept together, despite Dale never confirming it, and it's pretty clear there's more there than what is being said, but the joke of Flash just being, :Well, we're together now," is charming. The action of the issue has Flash and Dale infiltrating a mine to get a telestone, the substance that allows Ming's minions and governors to communicate over distance. Of course, things don't go according to plan and soon they're running from robots and Ming's men. Flash is a charming meathead, not stupid but always referencing his sports prowess and being a bit full of himself, while Zarkov is the egotistical jerk he is often portrayed as. If you read the 2014 Flash Gordon Annual, you could tell that Acker and Blacker love Dale from the short featuring her they wrote, and that comes across here, with her as the most together of the trio of heroes.This comic is classic space opera, full of the fun and action you can expect if you know Acker and Blacker's Sparks Nevada, only inverted, with a bit more action than humor. Oh, and at one point, one of the alien princesses says of Flash, "Will you save every one of us?" His response? "I'm just a man." You quote Queen, you've got me sold.

King: The Phantom #1
Story: Brian Clevinger
Art: Brent Schoonover

And the second of these King titles is The Phantom, coming from Atomic Robo co-creator Brian Clevinger. For a character who I only know from cartoons and that Billy Zane movie, I'm suddenly reading two books featuring him (the other from Hermes Press written by Peter David). Clevinger starts out by introducing a new Phantom, and by doing this has a good way to explain the legacy of the character. But the new Phantom is not a member of the family that has long held the name. Lothar Kehwabe is serving as a sort of Phantom regent, seeking out the person who should rightly hold the name. But he's capable, fighting modern pirates and warlords in Africa with the aid of Guran, his tech guy. We learn that Earth was targeted by an alien warlord (no details yet, but I can only assume it's Ming) and tech has been reset to pre-internet levels (think the early 80s). It does make for different story choices, and works well with the throwback feeling of these books. By issue's end, Lothar and Guram have to infiltrate the Vultures, a clan of pirates that numerous previous Phantoms have fought, whose leader has set himself up as a warlord. Along the way, we also meet intrepid reporter Jen Harris, who is also investigating the Vultures. Of course, being an intrepid reporter in comics whose name doesn't rhyme with Dark Trent, she is captured, and looks to be meeting our hero next issue. The comic has all the pulpy feelings you'd expect from The Phantom, action and excitement, something that is right up Clevinger's alley. Like everything Clevinger writes, it's a fun, action packed, engaging comic, and is well worth checking out, even if you don't know anything about The Phantom. This could make you a fan.

Rasputin #4
Story: Alex Grecian
Art: Riley Rossmo

Alex Grecian and Riley Mossmo's historical fantasy about the like of the Mad Monk Rasputin reaches the point where he comes into contact with the Tsarina Alexandra, the moment that sets him down the path that will lead to his eventual... I don't know what exactly. Going to the palace to attend to the ailing prince, Rasputin must prove his abilities by first healing the dog of little Anastasia, an act that costs Rasputin dearly. But Rasputin is a good man, although one literally haunted by his past. and he does it. But the animal nature enters him, and now part of the dog resides in Rasputin, a part that is in the fore for much of the issue. Rasputin snarls, snaps, and eats like a dog, a contrast to the soft spoken monk who we have seen in previous issues. And still, we know his fate is coming, as these scenes are flashbacks told from the moments of Rasputin's betrayal, as he flees after being shot, stabbed, etc/ I never imagined sympathizing with a monster like Rasputin, but the series has done it's job well, fleshing out a character who is historically known to be a vulgar glutton who dealt in the pleasures of the flesh. Riley Rossmo's art on the issue astounded me; his feral Rasputin is a terror. The wild designs as Rasputin using his abilities are aided by the tremendous colors of Ivan Plascenia, who has done impressive work throughout the series. Rasputin is an excellent character study, building a portrait of a man, not a monster.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Ghostbusters #4
Story: Erik Burnham & Tom Waltz
Art: Dan Schoening

The crossover of the century ends with a satisfying bang. As Donatello and Egon attempt to get the portal to send the Turtles home ready before the window to get them home closes, the rest of the teams must face the forces of Chi-You, the Chinese ghost/god. It's an issue packed to the gills with action, with possessed people, evil gods, and possibly exploding containment units. Burnham and Waltz again perfectly capture the voices of all the characters. I am really impressed with how they've written Winston of the Ghostbusters. In the movie, Winston was the straight man and the audience proxy, there to ask the questions so the big brains could explain the crazy technobabble, hence his classic, "Tell him about the Twinkie." But over the course of Burnham's run on Ghostbusters, Winston has been given the background as an ex-Marine, and the most steadfast of the Ghostbuisters. As an ex-soldier, he connects with the Turtles on a different level than the others, as one fighting man to another. But the Science Bros of Egon and Don have their own plot, and I like how the two, who spent early issues arguing over the existence of ghosts versus aliens, now come together to save everyone from getting blown up. This series seems to mark the end of the Ghostbusters line from IDW, probably in preparation for a big relaunch around the new movie, and I'm sad to see it go; especially under Burnham and Schoening, a lot was done to really expand the Ghostbusters universe and both flesh out the classic characters and add some new members. But if it has to go, this mini-series was a great send off.

And this week, Dan Grote gives us another book from Image

Bitch Planet #2
Words by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Valentine De Landro, Cris Peter and Clayton Cowles

We’re two issues in to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s women in prison in spaaaaaace tale, and already we’re going for the Hunger Games thing. But I have a sinking feeling we’re not headed for an on-the-nose ripoff.

The administration of the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost (aka Bitch Planet) has extended an offer to inmate Kamau Kogo, the central character, to participate in a series of brutal games called Megaton. She smells a setup from the start, but her fellow inmates try to talk her into it with visions of sabotaging the system, in a great multipanel sequence in which plus-sized inmate Penny Rolle wordlessly starts a riot in the background.

At this point, we don’t have a great handle yet on the individual women of Bitch Planet, but one face that’s already familiar is that of the author herself. The pink hologram that appears in different forms to the inmates is the spitting image of DeConnick, and I get a kick out of it every time, be it dressed as a Catholic nun, a workout instructor, a news anchor or a heretofore unseen member of the Hellfire Club.

We also meet the literal patriarchy that runs the government, headed by a man who insists on being called Father and who believes that pitting us vs. them is what makes a society work.

If you find the misogynist conspiracy in this book a bit overreaching (as if the concept of a prison planet for “noncompliant” women weren’t out there enough), definitely read the backup essays by feminist authors, who do a great job of explaining why the book’s message matters.

Also, the book’s ’60s pulp-movie covers and fake Silver Age comic book ads on the back are perfect works of pop art.

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