The Comic Queen

Zip ribbons and word balloons, Wednesday bliss and Previews dreams. If these phrases mean anything to you, then you're in the right place. But if they don't -- hey stick around anyway. You might just like what you see.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Dozen Ways to Spend that Holiday Dough

Still have some of that Christmas money or Hanukkah gelt burning a hole in your pocket? Here are a dozen suggestions (in no particular order) of how to spend that cash the comics way.

1. American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries of James Kochalka
Top Shelf; $29.95
This tome (520 pages) contains a whopping five years of Kochalka’s sketchbook panels. Each daily strip is a snapshot into the life and mind of James Kochalka: funny snippets of conversation, random thoughts, fears, loves, and everything in between. Although many of the strips are intensely person, the observations and thoughts expressed are universal, or nearly so. You’ll find this is a book that will not only take a good amount of time to read, but you’ll want to pick it back up again once you’re through.

2. My Faith in Frankie
Vertigo; $2.95 for each of the four issues
Writer: Mike Carey; Penciller: Sonny Liew; Inker: Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel
My Faith in Frankie is a fun, four-issue romp. Frankie Moxon, friend Kay Watson, and Frankie’s personal god, Jeriven, are the stars of this very entertaining offering by Mike Carey and Sonny Liew. Skip the trade recently offered and dig around for the full-sized, full-color originals.

3. Caper
DC; $2.95 for each of the 12 issues
Writer: Judd Winick; Artists: Farel Dalrymple, John Severin, and Tom Fowler
Caper follows the same California family through a handful of generations in three 4-issue story arcs. All issues are written by Judd Winick, with a different art team on each story. Ranging from gritty action to drama to caper comedy, this 12-issue series is something I wish the Big Two would do more. Like many items on this list, it wasn’t a runaway success, so I’m encouraging a second look.

4. The Comics Journal
Fantagraphics; $36 for five-issue subscription
The lengthy and very well-done interviews are why I originally subscribed to The Comics Journal, but features I especially enjoy now that I’ve got it coming to my door are the news and trend analysis, commentary, and reviews. Recently the publication went under a make-over and added a color section devoted to past comics greats. Ultimately, TCJ has turned me on to many creators whom I hadn’t known before, and taught me more about creators I already knew.

5. Persepolis I and II
Pantheon Books; $17.95 for hardcover editions, first book also available for $11.95 in softcover
I’ve reviewed both Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return here, so for glowing recommendations, I suggest you follow those links. These are moving books that won’t easily leave your thoughts.

6. Queen & Country
Oni Press; $2.99 per issue, trades various
Looking for intrigue and action, maybe? Or perhaps in-depth characterization and human drama? But you also want great writing and stellar art, right? Super, because I’ve got a series for you – it’s a little ditty I like to call Queen & Country written by Greg Rucka and a rotating cast of artists. Now through issue #28 (plus a three-issue special “spin-off”), there are several trades to pick up or you can track down the original issues. Out of 31 issues I’ve only been disappointed with a couple, which is an amazing track record.

7. Astonishing X-Men
Marvel; $2.99 each issue; The first trade is also out collecting issues 1-6 for $14.95
Writer: Joss Whedon; Artist: John Cassaday
I’ve gone on and on about this series. After I’d pretty much given up, it made me love the X-Men again. Joss Whedon has managed to write a comic that nods to long-time fans but is accessible to new readers. Cassaday’s art is like nothing I’ve quite seen in the X titles before – beautiful illustrations that are most definitely art.

8. DEMO
AiT/Planet Lar; $2.95 each issue
Twelve different issues, each with a new plot, new characters, no ties to each other. Each a graphic novella featuring various art and writing styles. Everyone will have a different set of favorite issues that worked for them especially. However, they are definitely all worth reading.

9. Runaways digests
Marvel; $7.99 for each trade digest
The first “season” of Runaways is over, with the second on the horizon. Now’s a good time to pick up the trades. Each is only $7.99 in the digest format – the first two are currently out and ripe for reading, the third is due out in February. This series about a group of kids who has discovered their parents are all members of an evil, super-powered organization. Like all teens and preteens, they’ve a lot to discover about themselves, only this group has even more than is typical! A great series for light reading.

10. Small Press Sampler
The White Elephant; Alternative Comics; $8.95; Damon Hurd and Christopher Steininger
Egg Story; SLG; $3.95; J. Marc Schmidt
Ninety Candles; Rant Comics; $5.95; Neil Kleid
Lunch Hour Comix; Alternative Comics; $4.95; Robert Ullman
This quartet of small press gems should be required reading as far as I’m concerned. The White Elephant is a heart-wrenching tale of one young man’s struggle with his sister’s sexual abuse. Egg Story is a light-hearted, humorous, yet still touching story of a group of eggs and their travails in the world. Ninety Candles follows the life and legacy of Kevin Hall told in 90 panels, one panel for each year of the story. Lunch Hour Comix was just released last week and will be reviewed on this site shortly. It’s a day-in-the-life collection of strips by Robert Ullman in a similar vein to Kochalka’s work but distinctly Ullman’s. Each of these books is more than affordable and the kind of books you’ll want to keep out for friends to read instead of storing them away in plastic.

11. Y: The Last Man
DC
; $2.95 an issue, trades various
Brian K. Vaughan is at his best in this series. I love the series in individual issues, but reading them in one sitting as trades is a wonderful experience (four are currently out). It’ll get your pulse pumping and mind wheeling like few series currently being published. If you haven’t given this series a try, now may be the time to do so.

12. Superman: Secret Identity
DC
; $5.95 for each prestige-format issue; $19.95 for the trade
Writer: Kurt Busiek; Artist: Stuart Immonen
I think this four-issue series is one of the most overlooked projects of 2004. It sold poorly and hardly made a splash. I know there were complaints by some that the cover price was just too much. However, after cracking it open I have a feeling most readers would change their minds about that price. Superman: Secret Identity follows small-town teen Clark Kent as he discovers his powers, grows up and finds a career, a wife, raises a family, and into middle age. Only this isn’t the real Superman, just a “normal” guy who through chance gets the opportunity to imitate the comic character. Although the book contains Kent showcasing his powers, that’s not what the series is about at all. Instead, it’s about the universal experience of being human. Quite touching, really; and Immonen’s art is just pure eye candy.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Single-Panel Reviews 12/30/04

Well, since Diamond hasn't shipped any copies of the new Previews catalog to my regular comic shop for two weeks in a row, I don't have a Previews Review to followup Kerry's rundown. While I try to track down a copy, please enjoy these "Single-Panel Reviews" while you continue to wait.

The Losers #19
Vertigo $2.95
Writer: Andy Diggle; Artist: Jock; Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Damn. Just when I was saying that “The Losers” was starting to lose my interest a bit, they have to go and publish a heck of an issue. This might be the best issue yet, in fact. Finally Diggle reveals the way the Losers were “created” while opening the door to another mystery. The issue concludes a storyline explaining how Max set up the group to be terminated, ending in tragedy—just not for the Losers. The issue also ends with a cliffhanger involving one of the members of the group. You won’t be disappointed.
Bottom line: A-

What If … Aunt May Had Died Instead of Uncle Ben?
Marvel $2.99
Writer: Ed Brubaker; Artist: Andrea Di Vito; Colorist: Laura Villari
This week Marvel published a group of “What If” titles, and I wanted to pick up at least one, mostly because I’ve always liked the concept. The only problem was none of the premises really caught my eye. What did, however, was Ed Brubaker’s name as writer on this issue. Now I know I should have put the title back. I’ve really liked a lot of Brubaker’s stuff, but this was just bad. The frame for the story is that a comic shop proprietor is telling the premise to a friend. So as the reader, we are overhearing the idea being told and fleshed out as a “voice over” to the art. The execution on this is only slightly less annoying than many conversations I’ve actually overheard at comic shops. And I know y’all know what I’m talking about. The plot is just plain lame, there is really no better way to put it. The art at least makes the book palatable.
Bottom line: C-

Solo #2
DC $4.95
By Richard Corben
I know this is only issue two of the Solo series, but I’m going to go so far as to say this is one of the best-executed concepts DC has had in recent memory. This issue features the work of Richard Corben in five different stories of varying subjects and styles, but all with the distinct feel that is Corben’s. His stories remind me a bit of the old EC tales with a touch of Twilight Zone mixed in. Yet, there is so much that is just indefinably Corben’s that you really have to see it to appreciate it.
Bottom line: A

Trigger #1
DC $2.95
Writer: Jason Hall; Artist: John Watkiss; Colorist: Jeremy Cox
Trigger is a story set in a not-too-distant future, in part pointing out foibles of our current times, and has the feel of a Philip K. Dick story. Specifically in this first issue of a new ongoing series, readers are introduced to Carter, employee of Ethicorp, a huge corporation designed to “get the bad out.” Both Carter and Ethicorp seem to have intriguing secrets, though, glimpses of which are revealed in this issue. Ethicorp’s public face is that of benevolent guardian watching out for the public’s safety and well-being, but its real face is that of controlling censor ready to take down whatever doesn’t meet the quality moral standards of the company. Carter is a modern everyman, dissatisfied with work, homelife fitful at best, but with a hidden life we are just beginning to see by the end of the issue. The series looks to be a good one, but too early to tell how good. I’m looking forward to seeing where Hall and Watkiss take it.
Bottom line: B

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

January Previews Highlights: Kerry’s Picks

Pick of the month:
PS 238 #11

Dork Storm Press; page 279; $2.99; 32 pgs.

I’ve been meaning to check out this series for a few months now and this issue looks like the perfect place to start as it’s a new storyline. In it, the only mortal student at the school has to teach another student in the ways of humans.

Other Recommendations:
Cusp (one shot)
By Thomas Herpich
Alternative Comics; page 224; $3.95; 40 pgs.

This book looks very interesting and strange at the same time. The text describes it as including rainbow werewolves and donkey people among other creatures. I don’t know what they are, but I’m on board.

Skeleton Key Volumes 4 and 5 (new printings)
By Andi Watson
Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics; page 224; $12.95 each; 96 pgs. and 112 pgs., respectively.

I’m a huge fan of Watson’s Love Fights and checking out his older work has been on my to-do-list for a while now. These new printings of Skeleton Key couldn’t come at a better time. Volume 4 covers issues 25-30 and volume 5 takes on the next four issues. The story revolves around young lady Tamsin and her best friend Kitsune and their adventures in their hometown, Garfield. I’m sure volumes 1-3 are still available and they are probably the best place to start.


Comics Journal #267
Fantagraphics Books; page 294; $9.95; 192 pgs.

An interview with Craig Thompson is the star attraction in this issue of the Journal and hopefully enough to tide me over until his next book comes out.

In Dream World Volume #1 and Visitor #1
Tokyo Pop: page 334 and 336; $9.95 each; 192 pgs. each

My manga-loving friends must have finally struck a chord with me, because I’ve got two picks from Tokyo Pop this month. In Dream World, nightmares aren’t just a figment of your imagination, they are actual creatures. What really sold me on it, though, is it is card-based like Culdcept or Cardcaptor Sakura. Masters wield elemental powers cards. The short text doesn’t explain much more, but I’m definitely going to be checking it out.

The second book, Visitor stars Hyo-Bin a girl with a tragic past. Everyone who has ever been close to her has been murdered. She also has supernatural powers that she doesn’t understand and can’t control. The book sounds creepy and mysterious and I’m going to check out at volume one.

The Imaginaries #1 (of 4)
Image Comics; page 149; $2.95; 32 pgs.

Tanner’s parents divorce and he stops believing in his imaginary friend Superhero G. What happens to G now that Tanner doesn’t believe? G’s story is covered in this four-part series. I love all-ages titles and I don’t see why this cute book will be any different.

Fierce TPB
Dark Horse; page 34; $13.95; 120 pgs.

I haven’t heard of this four-issue series, but the trade certainly looks interesting. Jonathan Fierce is a psychic FBI profiler who didn’t see and event that killed some fellow agents. Fierce can heard the voices of his teammates and uses them to help solve the case that killed them.

Hipira: The Little Vampire HC
Dark Horse; page 40; $13.95; 48 pgs.

This book is touted as “in the spirit of the Nightmare before Christmas and Monsters, Inc.” two movies I adore, so, of course, I’m interested. The art is bright, for a vampire tale and Hipira might be the cutest vampire to ever exist. It looks like a great kids’ book that will entertain adults as well.

Spellbinders #1 (of 6)
Marvel; page 4; $2.99; 32 pgs.

Marvel Next’s new mini-series Spellbinders is about rival gangs of witches and non-witches. When new girl Kim Vesco moves to town the groups fight for her attention and allegiance. The Marvel section of Previews has a one page art preview with one particularly cool panel of a strange creature. I’m hoping I like it as much as the Craft or Charmed.

Mary Jane: Homecoming #1 (of 4)
Marvel; page 20; $2.99; 32 pgs

Mary Jane, the doomed Marvel Age title that I enjoyed is back in a four-part series. Harry takes Mary Jane to the Homecoming dance, but Liz still thinks MJ and Flash are sneaking around behind her back. I’m just happy the gang is back.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Point Pleasant Review

Point Pleasant from http://www.ape-entertainment.com/Point Pleasant
Ape Entertainment $3.95
Writer: Chad Lambert; Artists: Ryan Scott, Jason Moser, Michael Gray, Dan Barlow, and Dennis Murphy

The area known as Point Pleasant, West Virginia, has been the site of more than its share of tragedies and troubling events. In 1777 many colonists and Native Americans fought against each other for power and revenge. In the late 1960s the legendary Mothman was spotted by and terrorized numerous residents, and M.I.B. reports peaked. And in December of 1967, 46 people died in the Silver Bridge collapse.

Writer Chad Lambert unites all these happenings in the premise that Point Pleasant itself is the epicenter of a paranormal rift. Agents of the Paranormal Preservation Society are sent from the future to investigate the rift that they believed was caused in 1777 and propagates throughout time in the Point Pleasant area.

The art is quite good, and although there are several artists, the feel is consistent throughout, no style is too different from the others to jar the reader. Michael Gray'’s work on the Mothman sightings stood out especially to me. The human stylization is a bit reminiscent of Tony Harris'’s penciling on “Ex Machina.” Gray'’s work in this part of Point Pleasant is amazing and has to be seen. The only art that didn'’t stand up with the others was that on the Silver Bridge chapter. These five pages show less skill and polish than the others, but still do their job and show promise.

Lambert'’s writing is engaging, the plot is very intriguing, and judging from a couple interviews with Lambert I’ve read, he did a daunting amount of research. However, I'’m left feeling as if there could have been more plot development in the pages. The 32-page book could have been expanded and the story filled out and told more completely. The idea was there, the writing was there, the execution was just lacking a bit.

Really, though, this is just a minor complaint for the book as a whole. Lambert’'s research alone tells me he gives great care and dedication to his craft, and it certainly shows in the book. I look forward to reading more from Lambert and the many artists of Point Pleasant.

Bottom Line: B+

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Single-Panel Reviews 12/23/04

Queen & Country #28
Oni Press $2.99
Writer: Greg Rucka; Artist: Mike Norton

This issue marks the third and final chapter in the “Saddlebags” mission. In the previous two issues, an agent of the U.K.’s version of the FBI is suspected of dealing in oil with Russians. Minders Tara Chace and Chris Lankford are dispatched to St. Petersburg to find out exactly what he’s been up to; unfortunately things don’t go as planned. Rucka has done a good job in this series writing a balance of successful missions, disastrous missions, and just unsuccessful ones. This balance keeps the series fresh, unpredictable, and more focused on the characters than on the latest hijinks of the minders. This mission may not be successful, but Rucka and Norton were in showing, by the end of the issue, Chace at her most fragile. We’ve certainly seen her come apart at the seems, but this is different, and deeper. As I have said in the past, I highly recommend this series. For comparison, I enjoy “The Losers” but it just doesn’t quite seem to satisfy me like “Queen & Country” does. This series is more focused on characterization and intrigue (although there is ample action) than “The Losers.” I haven’t read the most current issue yet, but “The Losers” is starting to fall flat with me. Meanwhile, “Queen & Country” just keeps getting better.
Bottom line: A-

Astonishing X-Men #7
Marvel $2.99
Writer: Joss Whedon; Artist: John Cassaday; Colorist: Laura Martin

Speaking of getting better and better, “Astonishing X-Men” does just that in this second storyline of the series. I almost gave up on the X-Men, but Whedon and Cassaday have renewed my faith that superhero stories can be told well and look beautiful at the same time. The only part that didn’t quite do it for me this issue was the team up with the Fantastic Four. Don’t get me wrong, I like the FF, but it just didn’t seem to serve as much of a purpose as perhaps it could have. I won’t ruin anything, but the ending leaves even more promise that this book has a lot more to give the reader. This series, and especially this new storyline, is definitely worth a look-see.
Bottom line: B+

The Goon #10
Dark Horse Comics $2.99
By Eric Powell

Fair warning: While this issue consisted of a comic and short story, I’m only going to review the comic-book part of the issue (simply haven’t had a chance to read the short story yet). This time Powell takes his own Goon-like take on Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” While it was good, I can’t say I completely enjoyed it overall. I haven’t read every issue of this series, but of the ones I have read I always leave the book feeling that the art is by far the best thing about this series. In issue #10, the artwork once again outshines the writing. There are several funny moments, but I think most of the best parts of the issue are the panels without dialog. Powell shows he can be successful with many different styles of art, this time pencils and muted colors are employed to give the book an “old-timey” feel. That being said, the best part of the issue was the cover, which shows a giant Goon as the ghost of Christmas present sitting surrounded by a feast, including a Christmas boar so large the usual apple in the pig’s mouth is replaced with a pumpkin instead.
Bottom line: B

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Kerry Reads Manga! Culdcept Volume 1

Written by Shinya Kaneko
TokyoPop $9.95

Everyone has one: that friend obsessed with anime, manga or both. I’m lucky enough to have two such friends. They’ve been trying to get me hooked for a few years with medium success. I like Cowboy Bebop. I think Cardcaptor Sakura is cute and funny. I know too, that there are thousands more titles to explore and my friends have been pushing me to watch Azumanga Daioh and One Piece for ages. This month, though, I found a manga to read all on my own.

Culcept is based on the Playstation 2 game of the same name. The game is a combination of Magic: The Gathering and Monopoly blasted on to your TV screen. Players march around a board buying properties and placing creatures on them. To decide if a rent will be paid, two creatures battle it out with weapons and spells. The game is fun and highly addictive.

I heard about the manga some time ago, but didn’t find it until three weeks ago. Finally, I had found a manga to dig into without the advice of my friends. Maybe all their prodding was working?

The story stars young cepter (Culdcept player) Najaran as she battles through her very first tournament. She finds an archenemy in powerful, but snotty cepter Zeneth, but makes other friends along the way. The book ends with a big reveal and twist that is continued, of course, in volume two.

I didn’t have any trouble getting used to the right to left style of manga as an issue of Shonen Jump prepared me for it. Also, the translation was good. There was only one instance where I felt the word choice was odd. Overall, I thought the story and art was of high quality.

The most enjoyable aspect of the book for me was how it ties in with the videogame. The cards Najaran uses can be earned in the videogame. They have the same properties and powers. Also the game basically has the same rules. Goligan, a character from the game, also costars in the book. It is nice that the author stayed true to the game. This is what sold me on this story and future issues as well.

While the book follows and is based on the game, those unfamiliar with Culdcept will have no trouble becoming engrossed in Najaran’s life and game. This is what really makes the book so great.

Bottom Line: B

Monday, December 20, 2004

Samurai: Heaven and Earth #1 Review

Script by Ron Marz; Art by Luke Ross; colors by Jason Keith; Letters by Dave Lanphear
Dark Horse Comics $2.99

Samurai: Heaven and Earth gets started in a stunning first issue this month. Asukai Shiro, a samurai warrior, spends his last night before a battle in which he will most likely perish, with his lover Lady Yoshiko. They share a wonderful passion-filled night, before Shiro must join up with Lord Tokudaiji’s forces to fight in an unwinnable battle. Somehow Shiro survives and goes to escape with Yoshiko. He arrives at her chambers only to find them empty. She has been kidnapped. Now the real journey, to find his true love, begins.

This comic book couldn’t be any better looking. It is one of the most beautiful books of the year. Everything covered, from the love scenes to the battles is gorgeous. The battle scenes are especially rich with detail. Uniforms are colorful, bright and highly decorated. Ross doesn’t skimp on quality on any page. Each one is a delicious treat that rewards the reader.

The panel layout is striking as well. Each spread is different, with interesting sizes and shapes. Again, the battle scenes are especially cool with one larger panel and followed by a series of smaller panels that pull out individual pieces of action. Some pages look almost like stop motion animation. Each page is unexpected and different.

Although the story is just getting started and dialogue is thin, Marz really treats the reader well. There is just enough of the story introduced and just enough interaction between characters to get the readers hooked and clamoring for the next issue.

This is one of the most promising first issues in a long time. Waiting for issue two is already taxing and testing the patience of this reader in particular. The book is just that satisfying and I can’t wait for another helping.

Bottom Line: A

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Temporary #1 Review

Temporary 1 from http://www.sulfurstar.com/origincomics/Temporary #1: Cubes and Ladders
Origin Comics $3.95
By Damon Hurd and Rick Smith

I can’t believe I overlooked this comic for my single-panel reviews on Tuesday. Maybe it was subconscious – something in my brain telling me this comic deserved a review of its own. Because it most definitely does.

First off, the cover is ingenious, employing a three-dimensional use of the “Cubes and Ladders” play on the children’s game Chutes and Ladders. This cleverness spills over onto the inside front cover, where the “instructions” are given for the game that is “Cubes and Ladders” setting up the premise for the plot and introducing the characters.

The main character of the comic, and the series, is Envy Saint-Claire, a temp who each day works a new job, as the description says “sitting at someone else’s desk, drinking someone else’s coffee, talking to someone else’s friends, doing someone else’s job, living someone else’s life … Everything in Envy’s life is temporary, and that’s just how she likes it.”

This last statement is important, because the book isn’t about a surly day worker cynically taking on any job she can get. Envy comes into the job with a fresh perspective, no decided outlook or judgment. The comic is really about how, from this fresh perspective, a workplace can truly appear. And in this issue it points out just how insane office life can be.

Envy takes a job at the Calvin C. Nelson HMO, “a company where the inmates are literally running the asylum.” In this very funny look at office life, Envy mistakenly ends up on the wrong floor at the HMO, a place where email is hand delivered, data entry equals shredding, and humans are the fax and copier.

As the happenings at the office become more bizarre, the twist becomes apparent, but it says quite a bit that for awhile both the reader and Envy believe the HMO could be a believable workplace.

The real twist comes at the end of the book when Envy goes home for the day. I won’t ruin it for you, but Hurd sets up nicely that there is more to Envy that meets the eye, that this is a character that will develop as the issues go on. This says a lot for the direction of the comic. While the plot revolves around Envy’s changing jobs, she isn’t just the point the plots revolve around, she will develop as a character and be revealed to the reader as the series progresses as well. This is a lot to accomplish in a first issue, and Hurd does it well.

Bottom line: A

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Broken Frontier Offers Small Press and Independent Creators Free Advertising

I recently received the following press release via the ICAA. The website Broken Frontier will be running a promotion aimed at small press and independent creators. So, if you fall into one of those two categories, this may be an item of interest.

*************
Broken Frontier Offers Small Press and Independent Creators Free Advertising

Anyone who has made an attempt at publishing a comic – or any sequential story for that matter – knows how hard it is to break into the industry and put your name, and more importantly, your creation on the map. Every small company and independent creator knows that even though you have poured your heart and soul into creating the best book you possibly can, getting your work noticed by the masses is a daunting task when facing the advertising and marketing strategies of the large press competitors.

Popular online comic book website, Broken Frontier wants to help small press and independent creators looking to find their niche in today’s crowded comics market, and in the hearts of fans worldwide, by launching its GET NOTICED! Campaign for the second consecutive year.

Every publisher who earned less than 1% market share at any point during 2004, and every self-publishing/independent creator or creative team is given the opportunity to promote their books at Broken Frontier for free!! The program began on Wednesday December 8 and will run all the way through February 8, 2005.

All you have to do is create an ad that fits one of the following pixel sizes: 468x60 horizontal banner, 120x600 vertical banner and/or 120x60 button.

Each publisher/creator can send in one ad of each size for a total of 3 ads.

Ads must be either JPG or GIF files (animated GIFS are accepted) and should be sent to advertise@brokenfrontier.com. Ads will be accepted through January 30, 2005 and will be placed into rotation no later than 2 business days after submission and will remain in rotation until the end of the GET NOTICED! Campaign on February 8, 2005.

So, submit those banners today and make sure your creative efforts GET NOTICED!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Single-Panel Reviews 12/14/04

Street Angel #4
SLG $2.95
By Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca
This issue Rugg and Maruca emphasize the “street” in Street Angel. The story “Down in the Dumpster Blues” is a very low-key issue – no fighting or wild antics. It’s just Street Angel searching out some food. I’m very torn on this issue. The penciling and inking is as skilled as I’ve seen in the series – beautifully done really. And both covers were great, as well. Part of me likes the breather from the crazy action, but the other part of me says “yeah, but that’s why you pick up this series – to be wildly entertained by insane happenings.” And that didn’t happen this issue. I’ve read quite a bit of criticism of this issue – one point of which I’d like to respond to. Some have said they don’t buy that Street Angel couldn’t find something to eat or is homeless because she’s so resourceful. Well, this may be true, but, to be fair, after reading earlier issues no one was questioning her ability to fight pirates from the past or team up with Jesus. Anyway, I liked it, and yet it wasn’t quite the Street Angel I know and love.
Bottom line: B-

Gotham Central #26
DC $2.50
Writer: Ed Brubaker; Artist: Jason Alexander; Colorist: Lee Loughridge
A new two-part storyline “On the Freak Beat” begins with this issue. The Gotham Central team continues to create a solid book. This is one I look forward to each month, and this issue gives me even more reason to with Catwoman making an appearance. Josie (Detective MacDonald, that is) has a secret, which is revealed to the reader and an eavesdropping Catwoman, who, of course, swiftly decides to use this knowledge to her own advantage. Note to self: never reveal secrets outloud while talking to a gravesite of a loved one.
Bottom line: A-

DEMO 12 from http://www.ait-planetlar.com DEMO #12
AiT/Planet Lar $2.95
By Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan
That’s a wrap, kids. This marks the last issue of DEMO and the conclusion to an outstanding experiment. The main story in this issue “Mon Dernier Jour Avec Toi” is poetry set to pictures, showing a young couple’s last day together. The artwork is a blend of styles and uses the photographic treatment of backgrounds much like issue #10, but even more so. And interestingly, although each issue of DEMO has been a one-shot, not touching on any other issue, there's a short comic “Marie & Mike” at the end of this book doing this in a way. Marie and Mike are the two characters from the very first issue, thus bringing the series around full circle. A nice, classy ending to an entirely enjoyable series.
Bottom line: A

Bear #7
SLG $2.95
By Jamie Smart
Bear makes me giggle. I know I’m going to laugh whenever I pick up this comic about Bear, a talking teddy, his stoner owner, and Looshkin, the deranged cat they both live with. Bear is bizarre, in a good, entertaining way. If you were disappointed in the non-action of Street Angel this month, do yourself a favor and grab this comic for a fix. And if you are someone who is disappointed that comics take too short a time to read – good luck breezing through the ever-dense Bear. Although I enjoyed the last issue more, I still recommend this comic. I’m just hoping I get some cash in my stocking so I can pick up the trade.
Bottom line: B

Monday, December 13, 2004

Single-Panel Reviews 12/13/04

She-Hulk #10
Written by Dan Slott; Pencilled by Paul Pelletier; Inked by Rick Magyar
Marvel $2.99

Finally, Titania, She-Hulk’s biggest rival makes an appearance in the title. Slott and crew make up for this oversight by having her star in the issue. The story, the first in a three-part tale, sets up Titania’s back-story and her hatred of She-Hulk. Her hatred seems a little weak here. We already know that Titania despises the good Jen Walters, but it just doesn’t seem strong enough. Still, it’s great they use the character for this issue and the next two. It’s a good way to end “season one” of the series.

Bottom Line: B

Fables #32
Written by Bill Willingham; Penciled by Mark Buckingham; Inked by Steve Leialoha
Vertigo $2.50

Prince Charming’s transition into office continues to go poorly. Fabletown residents are already beginning to protest. Boy Blue is still missing. Snow, however, is enjoying life at the farm with the babies. I’m afraid that with the arrival of a new guest that will all change. The story was great this issue, but I thought the panel layout was strange. Each page has a special border, but on some pages, it feels like something is cut off or missing. I’m not sure why they went with this layout, but I don’t like it.

Bottom Line: B

Spider-Girl #81
Written by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz; Art by Sal Buscema
Marvel $2.99

A real feel good family oriented story comes from DeFalco and Frenz this month. Spider-Man and Spider-Girl help Electro make contact with his daughter Aftershock. It’s a very touching story and it’s great that Peter and May spend time together not fighting. The story is not cheesy even though it had the potential to be and comes off as very sweet instead.

Bottom Line: B

Y: The Last Man #29
Written by Brian K. Vaughan; Penciled by Pia Guerra; Inked by Jose Marzan Jr.
Vertigo $2.95

It’s another cliffhanger issue of Y, this month. Somehow I figured that some questions would be answered this issue, but it’s an edge-of-your-seat story with no payoff. Yorick isn’t healthy and hasn’t seen his sister Hero, who is currently hung up with 355. Dr. Mann hasn’t figured out the plague and it’s killing me! The suspense is horrible and the book is great.

Bottom Line: A-

Friday, December 10, 2004

Dogs and Water Review

By Anders Nilsen
Drawn and Quarterly; $9.95

Dogs and Water is the thick story of a boy and his bear. Together they enter into a dream, but sometimes nightmare, of a grand journey with no beginning and no end. The presence of a large pipeline and vast wilderness leads me to believe that the story takes place in Alaska, but the precise location is never expressed. The journey switches locales from the aforementioned wilderness to a small boat in a large ocean and back many times. The boy and bear travel together until their paths finally separate.

I completely forgot that I ordered Dogs and Water, so when it showed up in my pull box, I was surprised. Actually, I didn’t remember anything about the book, so I entered into it with no preconceptions. I was a clean slate, if you will. Now that I’ve read the book though, I’m still a clean slate. As I often said in Mr. True’s precalculus calls, “I just don’t get it.”

Now my lack of cognitive skills is in no way a detriment to the book. Nilsen draws a beautiful story with both disturbing and touching moments. The book is a study in opposites highlighting love and hate, desperation and contentment, and peace and war. Nilsen uses these emotions and images to weave a powerful tale leaving the reader exhausted and confused.

Even after a second read, I didn’t know what to think. Was the journey real? Did I even like the main character? Was I supposed to? The answers to those questions, both yes and no at the same time, are also a study in opposites.

I don’t know the answers, but I do know that I enjoyed the ride.

Bottom Line: B+

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Frank Ironwine Review

Story by Warren Ellis; Art by Carla Speed McNeil
Apparat (from Avatar Press) $3.50

I’m always skeptical when something, no matter what it is, is advertised with the creator’s name first and listed over the product name. This always seems to indicate that the product is inferior and only marketable because an important name is attached to it. For this reason, I was concerned when I read about “Warren Ellis’ Frank Ironwine” in Previews a few months back. Still, it was the concept that grabbed my attention and pushed me passed that initial prejudice.

As Ellis explains at the end of the issue, Apparat was created to serve as a kind of “what if?” Mainly it is what if superheroes didn’t take over the comic industry. What if crime pulps had remained? The Apparat line is to put out the first issues to imaginary series that would answer these what if questions. Frank Ironwine is the 21st century crime pulp that never existed.

Ellis and McNeil do a great job updating this genre. The book isn’t as transparent as they were back in the day. The story type has matured with our culture and the book captures that by using plot devices and character twists that never would have been used in a pre-Jerry Springer and reality television world. The case that Detective Ironwine must solve this issue isn’t one that uses regular CSI technology either. It harkens back to a time when Columbo had to catch his suspect in his mistakes, not rely on DNA or fingerprints to catch the criminal. As Ellis explains in the afterword, he prefers this approach and thinks that this more personal style is how crime pulps would have evolved in a world without Spider-Man. I agree that this works well in the story, but I’ve always been a Columbo fan.

Frank Ironwine himself is a pretty likeable guy, even though he shouldn’t be. He isn’t bumbling, but definitely could use a turn of good luck. He is tough, dirty, even gritty, and makes a lot of enemies. Despite this rough exterior, he knows how to win over a suspect or witness and get what the needs out of them without their knowledge. He is a little unsavory and that suits him.

McNeil’s artwork is great here and fits the storyline’s style. She captures Ironwine’s cool demeanor, especially on the cover, where he, disheveled, smokes a cigarette. Frank’s new partner, Karen de Groot is also well portrayed. She is dismayed that her partner is so seemingly insane, but can still solve a case with ease. Her expressions show her incredulity. The backgrounds are also nice, but the characters take the center stage.

Happily, I was proved wrong about Frank Ironwine and my initial skepticism was unfounded. I wish there was more to come or at least more stories like this.
Bottom Line: B+

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Tales From Fish Camp Review

Tales From Fish Camp from http://www.ait-planetlar.comTales From Fish Camp:
A City Girl’s Experience Working in an Alaskan Fishing Village

AiT/Planet Lar $9.95
By Danielle Henderson

“Tales From Fish Camp” is the prose story of the author’s seven months working at a fish camp in a remote area of Alaska. So what am I doing reading a prose book (or a book book as I like to call them)? I mean why should I waste my time on a book without “pictures”? Because, first, the refusal of some to read the genre of comics because they contain “pictures” really does sound as ridiculous when reversed, and, second, this is a very entertaining read.

Henderson says it herself in the last chapter: “I had fun, dangerous, mind-boggling experiences. And let’s face it, I have stories to fill awkward pauses at parties for the rest of my life.” That’s exactly what this book feels like, too. Henderson tells her stories in a straightforward but conversational and familiar way. Feels like I should be sipping on a whiskey myself while “listening” to these tales.

When I read the solicitation in “Previews” awhile back, it piqued my interest, but I somehow got it into my head these would be darker tales. Not so – Henderson shares her experiences in a humorous vein. Experiences such as the time she took a man who’d been impaled in the eye with a herring to the clinic, hitching into the nearby small town for nights of drinking, and conducting job interviews with scores of ex-cons. The description of her daily life at fish camp, even the housing horrors and mind-numbing hours, are made interesting as well.

At times, I think Henderson could have given the reader more – more detailed stories, and perhaps just more stories. I would have liked her to describe some of the people in more detail, because when she describes people and experiences, she does it well. I put down the book wanting a bit more. Maybe it’s partly because the writing is so personable and positive, no matter what the situation, that it doesn’t bog the reader down.

The style, the tales themselves, and the bite-sized chapters, all make “Tales From Fish Camp” a light, entertaining, and recommended read.

Bottom line: B+

Friday, December 03, 2004

Pick a Comic Any Comic: Demon Gun #1

Written by Gary Cohn; Penciled by Barry Orkin; Inked by Peter Palmiotti; Lettered by Kurt Hathaway

At the Vancouver Comicon, Erin challenged me to reach into a long box, pull out a comic, buy it, and review it no matter what it might be. Of course, I reached in and grabbed a $16 book and decided then that our new game needed rules. The price had to be reasonable and I could put back any book that was, for example, part three of a four-part run. My second draw, Demon Gun #1 fit our guidelines perfectly.

Demon Gun is a three-part story that was published by Crusade Comics in 1996. It tells the story of Preacher Howe, a man set on getting revenge on a gang of bad guys, the Comancheros, who ransacked, pillaged, raped, and murdered in his town Temperance, New Mexico. The good reverend was shot and left to die. He prayed to God to let him live and get vengeance on those who had hurt him. God listened and Howe transformed into a strong, hard religious Punisher of sorts. He spent the first issue of the arc catching up with some member of the Comancheros gang.

The cover of Demon Gun is very cool. Howe is portrayed as a sort of typical western Clint Eastwood, only living dead style. He has a snarl and his gun is cocked and ready. From the cool cover, I thought this book was going to be a good pick and a fun story.

It’s not that the writing was bad, and the plot was interesting enough. What I couldn’t stand, though, was Howe’s dialogue. He recites Bible passages nearly every time he speaks. I know Howe is a religious man well learned in the bible. He is an expert on any passages relating to vengeance and getting your due. This is rightfully so, as he has, in essence, sold his soul to get out this revenge. This reciting gets very tedious about half way through the book. I was hoping for some regular dialogue, but it just isn’t there. By the end I was tired of Howe’s endless quotes. This was very forced at times.

I googled Demon Gun today and found that the three issues were collected into a trade paperback. The trade was released in both English and French language editions. Also, back in 2003 the movie rights were sold. We could see a Demon Gun movie sometime in the future.

Demon Gun is a typical revenge western with a biblical bend. The art is good and the story fine. It is only the dialogue that drags it down. It’s a decent little niche title, but I won’t be rushing out to find issues two and three.

Bottom Line: C+

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

December Previews Highlights: Kerry’s Picks

First off, I must note that Erin and I picked quite a few of the same choices this month. I echo her picks of Runaways #1 (I didn’t believe Marvel when they said they would come out with a second season.), Strange Day, The Expatriate #1 and La Perdida #5. We usually pick a few of the same books, but never this many. Besides Erin’s wonderful choices, I noted a few more in this great Previews issue.

Pick of the Month:
The Clouds Above
By Jordan Crane
Page 276; Fantagraphics Books; $16.95; 300 pgs.

This all-ages fantasy surely earns its pick of the month status. “All-ages fantasy” is usually a tag enough to grab my interest, but the production values sound amazing as well. The artist, Jordan Crane, has hand silk-screened the cover. Then it was relief stamped during binding. I’m a sucker for fancy packaging, but the description of the story touted as a cross between the Wizard of Oz and Where the Wild Things Are drew me in as well.

Little Star #1
By Andi Watson
Page 306; Oni Press; $2.99; 32 pgs.

After Love Fights, I’m sold on Andi Watson. This next project, the story of the average suburban dad sounds right up Watson’s alley. He makes something great out of the ordinary and even mundane story.

Owly: Just a Little Blue
By Andy Runton
Page 340; Top Shelf Productions; $10; 112 pgs.

The second Owly graphic novel, “Just a Little Blue” tells a story of sacrifice and friendship. Owly is entirely too adorable and is utterly charming. Owly should be made into movie. Go Mr. Runton, get a movie deal now. Please.

Krachmacher GN
By Jim Campbell
Page 213; $6.50; 48 pgs.

This Xeric grant winning book contains three stories “At the Shore,” “Unsere Freund,” and “Shipwrecked Hopes.” I’m most interested in the second story, a series of are they or aren’t they real flashbacks.

Vimanarama #1
Page 115; Vertigo; $2.95; 32 pgs.

This book, by Grant Morrison, looks like a Bollywood movie in a comic book. Ali is about to be married to Sophia through their parents’ arrangement. All goes well until an army of fossil demons is released and only a 15,000 year-old super-man can save the world. The story sounds wacky and completely original. There is a three-page sneak peek in Previews and it looks great.

And finally, I’m also interested in checking out the Marvel Weddings TPB, a compilation of all the important Marvel Universe Weddings, like Peter Parker and Mary Jane, Sue and Reed Richards, and even Bruce and Betty, Catwoman: When in Rome #5, and the Rockets and Robots (two of my favorite things) compilation from Komicwerks.