Archive for October 12, 2010

RATING RECENT READS

❤ = LOVE

☠ = EXTREME DISLIKE

☃ = INDIFFERENCE

It’s simple: a GREEN HEART means I loved the book, a RED SKULL & CROSSBONES means I extremely disliked the book (I attempt to reserve the word HATE for things I truly hate– and I try not to hate on inanimate objects) and the INDIFFERENT PINK SNOWMAN is just a “Meh. Who cares?” moment.

I offer short commentary with very few– if any– spoilers!

I’ll leave it up to you to decide if it is worse that I dislike a book or worse that I don’t give a shit either way.

Please note that the books are not listed in any particular order.

RECENT READS

Cross your legs! You're a QUEEN now!

☃ Queen Sonja Volume 1 GN ($19.99, Dynamite) It’s no fun to read something that is mediocre– and Queen Sonja is mediocre. Like many of Dynamite’s fantasy/action books– the story just sort of wanders around– lamely attempting to fulfill its’ obvious predetermined destiny. You get no real sense of danger or gravitas or immediacy — just one mindless action sequence after another. Unfortunately, writer Joshua Ortega has also written a script that relies on a subtle drawing technique– with many panels sporting no dialogue or words of any kind. This is extremely problematic because the quiet– yet important–moments seem totally lost to artist Mel Rubi’s pedestrian art style. Rubi’s work is fine for all-out action sequences– but lacks the detail and finesse needed to get across the silent sections in Ortega’s script.

Dynamite’s Red Sonja has always been just a tick above bland… But Sonja’s ascension to Queen– obviously meant to inject a new wrinkle into the time-worn sword and sorcery formula– may actually make matters worse. To satisfy readers, creators will need to keep the action scenes frequent and in the forefront… Yet does it make sense for a Queen to risk life and limb every time an angry Minotaur or pissy Priest shows up for a grudge match? Wait. Check that. This is a Red Sonja book. Rational plotting doesn’t matter– nor has it really ever had a place– here.

And the whole barely dressed thing– now that Sonja’s spending days sitting on a cold, hard throne? Rubi still draws Sonja with less clothes than most artists do… But Nerd Alert™! Our fire-haired Hyborian Cocktease now spends half the book fully clothed! I don’t see that sitting well with Mr. Fanboy. But then, if you’re still buying this comic book for the Tits ‘n Ass Quotient™– then the review above isn’t going to help– or mean a damn thing to you– at all.

Snyder, Albuquerque & King: A Dream Team

❤ American Vampire Volume 1 HC ($24.99, DC/Vertigo) Been waiting for this collection since I first saw the comic released in floppy form. The great reviews only made it more of a lustful object. Now that I’ve had it in my hands, I can say American Vampire met all my expectations and then some. I always  that think when you read QUALITY comics, you should try to give the creators (if you can stand it) anywhere from 5 to 10 issues to hit their stride. Sure there’s shit out there that’s only going to smell worse with each subsequent issue (see the Lobo: Highway to Hell review below)– but I am talking quality work here. American Vampire is top-notch snuff. Snyder delivers a clever script filled with clever bits and Stephen King seems reinvigorated by challenge of writing in a different medium. The writer of Cujo and The Stand also does Snyder a huge solid by making certain that everyone reading his foreword knows that AV is Snyder’s baby– and King is just a happy hired hand. Rafael Albuquerque’s art is bold and straight-forward and not afraid to play in the sunlight. That’s important since most Vampire/Horror comics overdose on the dark foggy gloom and doom. It’s going to be a long, hard to wait for Volume 2!

Not much GOOD, a lot of BAD and the whole damn thing is UGLY

☃ The Good, the Bad and the Ugly GN ($19.99, Dynamite) I normally hate to do this because it seems extremely cheeky– but here I go anyway: Do you see the Queen Sonja review that starts off this post? Please go there and replace Chuck Dixon as the writer and Estev Polls as the artist– and that review works for this review because this Dynamite book suffers from the exact same problems. I like Chuck Dixon’s work but here it reads as if he threw in the towel when he saw the pedestrian nature of Polls’ art. As a comic book writer, one of the worst, most disappointing things that can happen to you creatively is to see your story turned into mush by an average artist. (The same curse, of course, can apply to artists who must struggle to elevate boring scripts with astounding art.) But make no mistake: Polls art is bland, bland, bland… Made even worse by Marc Rueda’s monotone coloring. Marc never sees anything in any these Old West tales he doesn’t want to color a nice shade of shit brown. And that’s a shame too. Polls and Rueda need to take a long look at American Vampire (also reviewed directly above). Not everything in the past need look covered in 2 inches of sepia-toned dirt.

Also, on a side note just to artist Polls: Believe it or not, not every bandit of Mexican descent looked exactly the same back then and not every Apache dressed in the same pair of pants, vest and matching scarf/headband (with only minor variations). Your characters look like they came out of Central Casting on some old black & white 1950’s TV Western. In truth, there may be more subtleties in Polls’ art than we can see– but that’s what happens when somebody colors everything in the damn book the color of two-day old mud.

Another "TRICK" cover. Art is NOT half as good inside

☃ G.I. Joe Disavowed Volume 1 GN (19.99, IDW) I am relatively new to this whole G.I. Joe comic book thing. I was dragged in after reading several excellent stories by Chuck Dixon. (There’s that guy again– this time referred to in my usual positive manner.) Too bad– but this book wasn’t written by Chuck. The story in Disavowed– written by Josh Blaylock– seemed decent enough but I had to quit reading the book half-way through because of the cartoony art by Steve Kurth and Eric Wolfe Hanson. To me, when you’re doing this kind of stiff– where you ask the reader to suspend belief and agree that there  are actual military machines and various apparatuses that can do these amazing things– the artwork has to be grounded in reality. This art isn’t. It also gets a little more cartoony as the story progresses.. So I lost interest and stopped reading the book. I will avoid both of these artists in the future– unless their style changes significantly. If you like that crazy, lazy art that passes for Saturday morning cartoons now— maybe you’ll enjoy it. Just not for me.

Me like this Joe

❤ G.I. Joe Volume 3 GN ($19.99, IDW) This book– primarily written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Robert Atkins & S.L. Gallant– is the exact anti-thesis of  G.I. Joe Disavowed (reviewed above). Dixon’s story is well paced, laced with lots humor and seems to have a full understanding of the subtle esoterica deeply embedded in the G.I. Joe experienceand can effectively explain those points to new readers. (Like me.) Atkins/Gallant make for a potent art team– as they explore Dixon’s story across with professional clarity. Volume also has a back story by Brian Reed– who published some excellent work on the late, lamented Ms. Marvel comic.

How about calling this "We Will Disappoint You"?

☠ We Will Bury You GN ($17.99, IDW) Oh, I did not like this book at all. I always try my best to support smaller publishers (although IDW– like Dark Horse– is not exactly small any more). I also make a point of supporting new creators whenever and wherever I can. That’s why I buy 99% of the indie books that I do. But I also don’t throw my money around willy-nilly.  Every week, I attempt to at least glance at a few pages of preview art before making my final decisions on each of the books I buy– especially if I am not familiar with the titles or the creators. After all, this isn’t the Bank of Insideman.

These searches can be very time-consuming each week (depending on the number of hardcovers and trades released)… But I do reasonably expect to be entertained by the stuff I buy. That’s why story previews are crucial… I am able to weed out the few books that don’t interest me– normally based on art. (Story quality is very hard to determine in 4 to 6 pages.)

I’ve written it on the SAYL Blog many times before and I’ll write it again: If publishers make it near impossible for me to find a preview of a book I have NEVER even heard of before– there’s a 99% chance I will not be bothered to purchase it. My reasoning– if the makers/publishers are trying that hard to not show a preview… I’ve got to believe the book is bad news. Makes sense, right?

Well, I could not find a preview for We Will Bury You– but given its zombie story, I thought “What the Hell?”–  as I was partially taken in by the cool Ben Templesmith cover. Unfortunately (with the strains of The Who’s “Don’t Get Fooled Again” blistering the inside of my brain cavity), What the Hell quickly turned into What the Fuck?

The art inside this book was so stylized (in a bad way) that I stopped reading after only 7 pages. I quickly thumbed through the rest of the collection and saw nothing that would make me change my mind. Weirdly, I may have really liked Kyle Strahm’s art on a different independent book– say a Sherlock Holmes mystery… But the cartoony aspect of  his work here was an abysmal style choice by everyone involved: the artist, the editor and the publisher… Just irritating as hell.

On a side note: I do not want to give the impression that I  stop reading books on a whim. It is very unusual for me to quit reading anything that I have purchased. I try to enjoy every book I buy to end– considering I spent my hard-earned money on it. But when something like the art in this graphic novel is so wrong for the subject matter… Sometimes it is just better that I stop, cut my losses, make a mental note for the future and move on.

Losing Traction

Incorruptible Volume 2 GN ($16.99, Boom! Studios) It actually pains me to give this collection a so-so PINK SNOWMAN rating. Why? Because I very much enjoy Mark Waid’s Irredeemable series, and  I want Incorruptible to be just as good. The first volume of Incorruptible excited me on two levels: #1 it was good #2 I thought it was extremely ballsy to start another title that was the yin to Irredeemable’s yang… Especially so soon after the first series had just launched. Crapping out on the second series could harm the first series. Thankfully, I can report that nobody’s crapping out here… But the 2nd volume of Incorruptible was not as good as the first. The writing seemed a little rushed. The art even more so. None of this is so dire that I’ll stop reading it. I just want it to get back on track quick.

Another Tomasi Triumph

❤ The Mighty Volume 2 GN ($17.99, DC ) I liked Peter J. Tomasi before I even knew I liked Peter J. Tomasi. Weird, huh? Let me explain, as this happens to me every once in a while: I pick up a book and start reading it. The writer is a complete unknown to me. By the end of the book, I go,” Wow! That was great!” Then I don’t read anything by the writer for a while. Then I finally read another collection and I think the writer is great again. Normally by my third “literary surprise”– I  get the message and indelibly associate the great writing next to the great writer’s name. This is exactly what happened to me with Tomasi’s run on Green Lantern Corps.

I believe his GL Corps represents the absolute best Corps stories DC has ever printed– by far. That’s a roundabout way to simply state that Tomasi’s The Mighty is also a fantastic comic. It’s a different, fresh take… Just off-kilter enough to cement its position as another great addition to the growing Super-Hero with a God Complex genre.  If you are a little slow on the uptake (like me), remember Tomasi’s name. Even though he has written a lot of DC comics– I have a feeling he’s just getting started on the really good stuff!

Getting Better Every Time

Atomic Robo Volume Four: Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness GN ($17.95, Red 5) I tweeted Atomic Robo writer Brian Clevinger the other day to tell him how much I enjoyed Volume 5 of Atomic Robo. He politely (and very cleverly) wrote back that I must be psychic– as Volume 4 (not 5) was just released… And it would be a while before Volume 5 saw print– as all the stories had not even been written. I replied that I was, indeed, psychic and expected Atomic Robo Volume 5 to be the BEST YET. Of course, I can’t really see into the future– but I can say it is just this type of clever writing that makes Clevinger’s Atomic Robo sing off the page. Clevinger now fully understands the world he has created around Robo and he uses it extensively and gleefully.

You can tell that he and artist Scott Wegener are having an awful lot of fun. I have always advocated that the best Film and TV comedies come about because everyone involved– the writer, director and cast are having fun. Now that Robo is successful (and getting ever more so)– I really do expect more of the same excellent stories from Clevinger and Wegener. These two are at the top of their respective games and it shows. The other nice thing about Atomic Robo? Adults and kids can both read the book with equal enjoyment and abandon– as Clevinger writes on many levels throughout the collection. Score one for the good guys!

Beautiful in its simplicity

❤ Zerokiller GN ($16.99, Dark Horse) Strangely, I sometimes have more issues when I read a great graphic novel then when I read a bad one. When I begin reading a new series and realize that I really like it– I start wondering if the publisher is continuing the story in floppy form past the book I hold in my hands. It always sucks when you’re near the end of a great story– especially if there is no Volume 2 already sitting in your stack.

I seriously don’t know whether Dark Horse is still printing this book– and there is a simple reason: I don’t want to know. Especially not in advance of my reading the story. I don’t want the good or bad publishing news to sway my feelings on the story one way or the other. I don’t mind if I know details– but I also don’t actively attempt to find out. (Hopefully that makes sense.)

Even though Arvid Nelson’s story mimics some of the same elements in Warren Ellis’ FreakAngels (Zerokiller takes place in a post apocalyptic flooded Manhattan, FreakAngels in a similarly hobbled future London)– I still find myself very attracted to the simplicity of Nelson’s story. There are also some very entertaining text inserts in every chapter. Normally writers use these inserts to flesh out their future worlds– and I can find them to be extremely tedious. But Arvid’s futuristic pamphlets are a MUST READ for anyone who wants to experience the full Zerokiller story.

I just finished reading Zerokiller and I thought it was very good. A promising start. I can’t wait for Vol 2. Given the last page of this volume, I hope there is– or will be– another one soon.

This ISN'T the Highway to Hell. This IS hell.

☠ Lobo: Highway to Hell ($19.99, DC Comics) Scott Ian, rhythm guitarist for Anthrax, is a self-professed comic book fan who admits to never having written a comic book before the 2 issue Prestige Format Lobo series that DC collects here. All I can say is, “Fuck man, it shows– because your repetitive story and simplistic dialogue really, really blows.” I found this to be the worst comic I have read in many years…. And I extremely disliked almost every frigging panel of it!

Naturally, I blame DC Comics for this debacle. I mean, what were they smoking when they asked the rocker to write this book in the first place? Did they mistake him for someone with actual comic book scripting talent? In the collection’s foreword, Ian states that he readily admitted his second thoughts to DC Brass– but was assured by various folks that they were assigning an excellent editor to walk him through the process. WTF? There are hundreds of more talented writers who would give their left nut (or ovary– I don’t want to be sexist here) to write any DC comic with any character… And they pick this guy?

Simply put, Ian’s story is rife with predictable crap, sophomoric jokes/ puns and one-note bullshit. Sam Keith’s art looks like he’s continuously drawing a rat’s nest on amateur night. Seriously. Monkey’s and elephants draw better than this. Still, I can understand a first time writer being captivated with it. I was taken with the art almost every time I saw one of my comic script pages come to life. Sure, I knew when I was looking at crap art too… But it was crap art drawn from my crap story– so I was always prejudiced… Just like Scott Ian is here.

But this shit? I am very familiar with Keith’s work. Given the premise of Highway to Hell– I fully expected something “out there” from the artist. What I didn’t expect: Keith scribbling like he forgot how to fucking draw. Or Keith deliberately seeming to turn in the shittiest art job of his life to see if  DC would be stupid enough to pay his page rate for it. On a good day, none of these scratchings remotely resemble what I consider to be Keith’s art work. In fact, every single page reminds me of what you would expect from an artist drawing while completely drunk, on a wet cocktail napkin with a bleeding black felt tip pen.

Here’s a couple more reasons I don’t like this… Whatever it is: #1 It depresses me that DC would even print this book. It’s existence shows a shocking lack of taste and good judgment, #2 It also upsets me that DC would then reprint this shit into a collection. Not content with just thoroughly butt-fucking their monthly customers, they also felt the need to ream their hardcover and graphic novel customers too (and at what must be a much higher price point than the original comics) and finally, #3 DC is known to possess many unpublished stories with one thing in common:  They were all pulled from publication (many at the last second)– with the overriding excuse being that the company found the completed works far too risqué or edgy for publication. Thankfully, it now seems that some of these comics will finally see print…But what really puzzles me– if DC can be so steadfastly against publishing a quality story because is supposedly contains objectionable content– why wouldn’t anybody take a stand and call Lobo: Highway to Hell an unprintable piece of shit and shelve it?

Just once I would like to see one of these companies step up and say, “Sorry creators but your story didn’t turn out as planned. In fact, it sucks. Here’s your paychecks– but don’t expect this to see print.”

I know it’s “pie in the sky” to even entertain the thought that something like this scenario might ever happen in a big corporation.

Would you pay $19.99 for a year-end collection of comics that DC deemed so shitty they couldn’t possibly print them as regular releases? Maybe one issue of each never printed book (two if a series was truly filled with horrendous shit)– just to show us what they could have published… But didn’t because they respect us too much? This way DC could recoup some of their money on these bad series/investments and we could reward them for not trying to force crap on us under the guise of quality.

Would you pay for a “Best of the Worst” collection like that?

Brothers & Sisters, People of Earth… I would gladly pay DOUBLE THAT $19.99 PRICE… Especially if it meant that I never had to waste my money or– more importantly, my time– on shit like Lobo: Highway to Hell.

By all that’s holy, if you have been fortunate to avoid this series so far– please stay the fuck away from this thing.

☞See you soon with another review column– if reading some of these craptaculars doesn’t kill me first!

Please remember to check my first Hardcover and Graphic Novel review column– where I review 30– count ‘em 30– recent collections.

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