Monday, March 16, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 3/11

Gronk, A Monster's Story Vol.1
Story & Art: Katie Cook

Gronk is a little monster who doesn't want to scare anyone, so she moves away from the other monsters and in with a person, and starts to learn about life among humans. It's a pretty simple set up, no? It is, and the beauty of the stories of Gronk are in that simplicity. An all-ages webcomic now being released in print from Action Lab, Katie Cook's Gronk has the feeling of some of the best comic strips I can think of. Gronk is unintentionally mischievous, sweet, and adorable. Add in her geeky new friend, Dale, a sweet natured geek lady, who takes Gronk in, along with Dale's pets, a huge Newfoundland named Harli and a cat named Kitty, and Gronk's stuffed animal cat, Kitteh, and you have the cast of this first collection of the strips. In it, we see Gronk exposed to movies and pop culture, and take to it. There are hints of Gronk wanting to see a bigger world, like wanting to see the new Harry Potter movie, but Dale being too nervous to take her out in public for people to see, which is the closest to conflict we get in the stories. What we get mostly are strips about discovery and friendship that will warm even the coldest of hearts. A favorite of mine is when Gronk tries to figure out why Kitty loves spending time in a box, and we get to see the difference between the imaginative Gronk, and what she pictures, and what the, well, catlike thoughts of Kitty are. There are some classic strip tropes as well in how Dale, who clearly had a simple, sedate life before, now has the chaos of a new houseguest who is as inquisitive as a small child. Bonus geek easter eggs in strips about boardgames, where you can read different game titles in Dale's closet of games, and the constant string of geek references on Dale's t-shirts. In the back of the book there is some great background on how Katie came up with Gronk, and some strips from other cartoonists featuring Gronk, including the wonderful Jay P. Fosgitt (oh, please, oh please, find some way for Gronk to meet Fosgitt's equally adorable troll, Bodie!). On a personal note, I met Katie Cook at NYCC this past year, where she was absolutely as sweet as can be, and drew a lovely mini-watercolor of my pet bunny, Smoakey, that was a birthday gift for my wife and now sits in a frame on our mantle. For that alone, the kindness and the sweetness, she's a creator to support, and her work, that hearkens back to so much of the best of Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes, makes it a book to share with a younger family member, or just to enjoy to bring a smile to your face.

Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files: Down Town #2
Story: Jim Butcher and Mark Powers
Art: Carlos Gomez

After last issue, Harry Dresden is hot on the case of the monster that killed a pawnbroker, and so he's breaking out the magical big guns, in this case a skull. A skull named Bob. OK, so it's actually the spirit that lives in the skull that's named Bob, but still, Harry spends much of this issue talking to a skull. Harry and Bob make a great comedy duo; Bob is possibly the only character in the entire Dresden Files universe who is snarkier than Harry himself, and never fails to put Harry in his place. Harry also gets to fight the massive monster, and then gets to confront a consciousness possessing an entire pack of rats. I don't want to dwell on that, because I hate rats, but it made for a great visual in the issue. One of the things that makes these comic so different from the Dresden Files novels is that, while both have a first person narration from Harry, since comics are a more visual medium that doesn't depend on the narrator, we can cut away from Harry and see what the other members of the cast are doing. Thus we get to see Murphy staking out Gentleman John Marcone, Marcone revealing exactly why the crime boss and Baron of Chicago (according to The Unseelie Accords, the supernatural Geneva Convention) was interested in what looked like a simple magical muder. There's also a great moment where we see why Marcone is so clever a rival, with his knowledge that telling Harry to back off would just get Harry to dig his his heals harder. We also spend time with Molly, Harry's apprentice, as she trains, and the issue ends with both Molly and Harry in separate, but equally deadly, predicaments. Down Town is proving to be the widest in scope original Dresden Files comic, really feeling a part of Harry's life in his home town of Chicago. If you're going through withdrawal, waiting for the new novel, Peace Talks, then this is a great way to get your Dresden fix.

And Dan Grote reviews the first issue of the new series featuring Marvel's most famous fowl...

Howard the Duck #1
Story: Chip Zdarsky
Art: Joe Quinones

Steve Gerber takes ownership of Howard the Duck the way few other Marvel writers and artists have of their own creations. Certainly, there’s a tone and a meta-ness Gerber intended for the foul fowl that is hard to replicate. It’d be easy to write him as another fourth-wall-breaking character a la Deadpool or Harley Quinn. For Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones, the challenge is playing Howard straight, as a perpetually annoyed duck “trapped in a world he never made,” in what is still be a humor mag.

As such, Howard the Duck #1 is a tour of the Marvel Universe in three acts.

Act I is the She-Hulk act, and is written like a love letter to fans of Charles Soule and Javier Pulido’s just-canceled series. Howard has set up shop as a private eye in Jen Walters’ Brooklyn building. Angie Huang is there, as is Hei Hei the monkey. Howard grouses about why Jen, a character with whom he has a long history, won’t put him on the payroll as she does Hellcat. Jen refuses to bail Howard out of jail and otherwise looks for flimsy excuses to ignore him.

Act II is the Spider-Man act. Howard is hired to steal back something that was stolen by the Black Cat. Howard and his new sidekick, fellow cellmate Tara Tam, dress up as pizza deliverers and break into the Cat’s apartment and stumble around till they happen on the lifted jewelry, and the mistress of the house. The best part of this act – and of the book, quite frankly – is the splash page training montage, complete with lyrics to a fake ’80s training montage song.

Act III … sigh. So y’know how Howard had a pleasantly surprising bit part in the biggest movie of last year? Well, let’s just say that at the end of the issue, he ends up getting … Collected. And sharing a cell with a certain rodent-resembling rapscallion. And wearing the same G-D prison outfits from the movie.

But let’s not dwell on the Merry Marvel Marketing Mandates. I had high hopes for this book, given how much I’ve been enjoying Zdarsky and Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals. This book definitely delivers the humor, and as of the first issue has a 66 percent success rate at illuminating the right parts of the Marvel Universe. Hopefully they find a way to boost that rate during and in spite of Secret Wars.

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