Wish I had kept all of my early Star Wars toys and action figures. Kick me now, please. I deserve it. In the 1980s I came across a comic book shop that had all the original boxed toys, sealed, for 5 dollars each. Grabbed all of them. Then later I came across a collector who had the first issue action figures, and I paid around 200 bucks for them. Of course today all of it is worth much more; but the memories are still priceless.
Skinner Sweet, former hellion on horseback, is now hellion on wheels as he hunts down bad guys along the border. Pearl Jones, former aspiring actress, is now acting like a mother hen, gathering up orphaned vampire children. She lives in a comfy homestead, he lives in a train car buried in the desert. He also talks to a skeleton named Kitty. It's been a long haul since Sweet stopped being so sour and turned nice, so he's entitled to a few eccentricities.
Issue one of American Vampire, Second Cycle, starts off with a hint at dangerous things doing a lot of killing in the Mexican territory of Arizona in 1811, and leaves off with another hint that those things are still around in 1965, and have moved into the vicinity of Juarez. Pearl's newly-found orphan, May, has a large bite mark not even Pearl has seen before. When asked about it, May says cryptically "The Gray Trader." I hate prescient kids mouthing cryptic words. They're creepy little bastards who know and don't tell, but they're quick to tell you you're going to die, but don't press for any more useful information because this is only the first issue.
I expect Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque to reveal more in the upcoming issues, but this first one ably delivers the mystery and the menace to set up the coming action, flowing them across great-looking panels and well-balanced talk versus silence. Snyder has a knack for concise writing that blends expositive and persuasive words easily with well-placed cussing, making his vampire lore a compelling mix between the classic Gothic overbite, a 30 Days of Night viciousness, and an American Gothic mood sweeping across his time-periods. Albuquerque captures it, embellishes it, and refines it. His art isn't very detailed, but he energetically zooms in and out and creates a tense forward motion linking through every panel from first to last. He's one artist who zings with the right colorist because he leaves room for its vibrancy and shadowing. Dave McCaig knows how to take advantage of that room.
DC Comics provided a courtesy copy for this review.
Fabian Gray is a man possessed with both a mission and coterie of five ghosts: the wizard, the archer, the detective, the samurai, and the vampire. As you would imagine, this gives him a leg up--or ten legs up?--above and beyond his usual tenacious and resourceful self.
These wonderful reasoning and fighting abilities channeled through the ghosts were given to him by the Dreamstone, an ancient artifact--let's be polite and just say--he acquired . So what if Fabian Gray isn't all that clean and proper in his background? His ethics now seem to be on the up and up, so that counts.
But there are always complications when great power belongs to one man and others would have at it for themselves. Coming after it, and Fabian, are dark forces led by the devilish-looking Iago, a few big nasy spider-god things and their determined worshippers, and, as one character lays it out for him, "as with all things Mystical, there is a risk of danger."
But of course. Cue the drama. The Dreamstone itself is becoming a dangerous burden. Fabian needs to prove he's worthy to wield such power or it won't allow him to keep it. Isn't it annoying how that always winds up being the case?
Frank J. Barbiere's story is old-time movie serial paced (for you younger fans that means it's a lot like Indiana Jones in characterization and style), and the artwork is the Joe Kubert school of action and outline as energized by Chris Mooneyham. This team-up works hard and well to deliver the blow by blow encounters and the compact panels to build to a satisfying climax that leaves the door open for more rousing adventures.
And before I forget, there's the big eye-glasses wearing, steadfast but reluctant, why-do-I-continue-to-hang-out-with-you sidekick to provide contrast and levity throughout in key moments of terror. A dip in the purity pool for Fabian to fight old guilt demons rounds out his mysterious past, and a continuing thread to bring salvation to his sister promises there will be a mission within each mission goal to sustain the series.
Given all this, I'd say Fabian Gray easily has more than a ghost of a chance for adventuring onward.
DC Comics doesn't send me books to review on a regular basis, but I do enjoy receiving them when I do. Of late, I've a mind to not review a comic series until it has made its run: issue to issue can be spotty, but taken as a whole reading experience, a series can play out rather well. So I tend to wait until I've gotten through all the issues, single or in a collection, before forming a critical appraisal. But when I receive unsolicited issues for review I, of course, try to review them as soon as possible. One of two things usually happens: DC's trying to ramp up support for a memorable endeavor or they're trying to shore up as much support as possible for an iffy one.
The first issue of Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy's The Wake (a 10 issue series) isn't iffy. The art is full of well-angled scenes and interesting characters, although Murphy does have a fondness for straight lines and sharp noses and chins that's a little excessive; but his lively faces and movie-scene storyboarding stands out even more.
The story ends on a high note with a surprise revelation that eggs you on to pick up issue 2, but the usual shadows of Homeland Security Departments dabbling in secret undertakings, and a Dr. Archer who, with her soured past history, is reluctant to get involved when they need her expertise, keeps this issue at the let's-see-where-Snyder-takes-it stage. She is urgently needed because she specializes in cetological vocalizations and there is a recorded whale song that sounds suspicious--and which also reminds her of a catastrophe she hasn't quite gotten over yet--sparking Homeland Security's interest in getting her involved.
Other people Homeland Security has brought onboard for the investigation include Dr. Marlin, who's written Legends of the Ocean--and what a coincidence, Dr. Archer has read it!--Meeks, the standard-plot-equipped anti-social type who has apparently crossed paths with Dr. Archer beforehand--not in a joyous way--and running the secret show, Agent Astor Cruz, who is, true to form, revealing those secrets only when needed.
Who do you think will die first?
The story proper starts 200 years earlier, our present time, give or take the Carnaby Street clothes and hairstyle of Dr. Marlin, and the first 4 pages tease us with the 200 years later aftermath. There's a 100,000 years ago teaser too, but that ties to the last page's thing revelation. Snyder has a lot going on so he has a lot of explaining to do. Hopefully he does it well in the next 9 issues.
Dark Shadows, although it originally aired on network television beginning in the 1960s, still has a strong fan base and still remains a vibrantly brooding and evocative gothic tale of vampirism, witchcraft, and the supernatural realms. It's a love story, a ghost story, a werewolf story, a revenge story, and a story whose characters are damned or cursed or caught between the forces of both at any given moment.
At its heart is Angelique's unrequited love (or lust) for Barnabas Collins. This is the strongest element that comes through in Tim Burton's reimagining of the tale, and the only one worth our attention in his otherwise lame-o attempt at campy vampy self-indulgence--
--Which is why Dynamite's Dark Shadows Year One series is important. After the bad taste left by Burton's movie, and its sullying effect on newbies to this classic horror story, it's reassuring to see Dark Shadows reaffirmed as a serious entry in the gothic crawlspaces of terror.
And yes, the television series was bit of a campy hodgepodge, but that was due more to a low budget, little rehearsal time and no retakes, and a flair for the over-dramatic, rather than an intentional over the top scheming as seen in Adam West's Batman (which I still love, so don't snipe me on this).
Once you get past the annoying conceit of "Year One" used in comic book titles, and the gimmick of numerous first issue covers to boost sales while you (and me!) waste dollars buying each variant, Marc Andreyko and Guiu Vilanova pen and ink the background of Angelique's curse on Barnabas Collins and its deleterious effect on the Collins clan. Completing the effect is Josan Gonzalez's colors, giving the panels enough smoky lighting and dark spaces to bring us into the tight rooms of Collinwood and the gloomy climate of Collinsport. Dialog is suitable enough to the age without being ponderous and the smaller panel arrangements provide the necessary emotional momentum, if perhaps a little too quickly paced.
Barnabas's indiscretion is also potentially revealing as to his character before becoming a vampire. Just how much does he really love Josette? How much influence did Angelique's witchcraft play into it?
This first issue introduces Angelique's malevolence, but not precisely why she finds Barnabas so attractive. I'd like to see more of that in subsequent issues. What does she really want? is the question that drove the television series and will need to drive this series as well if it's to be successful at bringing us into the Dark Shadows ouevre; which appears never-ending, just like its fans.
In the never ending wishing well creators keep dipping into to keep zombies fresh, IDW's Chris Ryall and Drew Moss manage to get aliens mixed up with animated corpses in The Colonized. The aliens bring one up to their ship but never get the chance to go through their carefully rehearsed formal "greetings earthling" introduction because the dead guy wants to eat them instead of greet them. So much for superior technology in the face of adversity: the aliens have stun rods, but no cool disintegration rayguns. Bummer.
Ryall and Moss are going for a 1950s kind of alien sensibility, even if the local town being visited is going green, which seems to be annoying the local Cabela's shoppers, and the dead are rising faster than the aliens can say "take me to your leader."
The artwork is a perfect match for both the tone and mood of the storyline in issue 1: the zombies are decayed enough, but not too gooey serious, and the aliens act more like chimps dressed in spacesuits rather than predator warriors. The fishbowl helmets they wear aren't very good protection for them, especially when they trip over their own feet. Or whatever they call the things they have stuffed in their boots that work like feet.
No reason--yet--is given for the dead rising, and it appears the aliens didn't have a plan 9 for visiting earth. They're just a bunch of shlubs, like some of the locals, caught up in the moment. I'm not sure where it will go from here, but I hope the IDW team can keep the momentum going, or this could wind up being another Cowboys and Aliens.
(Note to Ryall and Moss: Come on guys, let's see some rayguns!)
The foldout cover is not the only good thing about the continuing saga of John Constantine in issue 2 of Constantine; the Spectre pops in to pass judgement on all those nasty happenstances that follow Constantine around, like the escalating body count of his too-close associates who tag along with him. Briefly.
It's a close shave, sure, but Constantine gets into more of a lather with bad people itching to piece together Corydon's compass. More sinister mayhem ensues, but the issue's 20 pages come a wee short of a pint, so you'll easily wet your whistle, but keep thirsting for more story. Still, the art is consistently appealing and Constantine's consistently unyielding in his steadfast refusal to ignore the sh*t rolling downhill along with him. Man's got nerve: must be the trenchcoat. How can you not act self-assured and hard as nails when dressed in a trenchcoat?
Or carrying it along to Myanmar, anyway, since it's too hot to wear it. Of course he manages to get knocked unconscious. Good timing, though, since he was about to light up another cancer stick. He also must fend off a certain blind sorcerer who doesn't want to hear his jokes, and then deal with the cold, accusatory glare of the Spectre, ready to smack Constantine's soul down hard.
The story moves fast, a tad too fast, and although the principal players are moving into their squares for the middle game to begin, more pages would have made this issue better than just good. What can I say, I'm an old comic book fan. I think 20 pages an issue is too little to tell a great story; but I'll settle for a good one anytime.
Funny thing is I'm hooked on Constantine since his rebirth. I still think he needs more British in him, and his trenchcoat needs to look more rumpled. But Fawkes and Lemire are hitting the right tempo, and Guedes panels are an eyeful. So far this New 52 incarnation of John Constantine is keeping his Hellblazer ghost around for old time's sake, and that's a good thing.
I'm not a big fan of artists who draw people with the same facial features, slightly altered, for every non-masked character, and who fill panels with heavy dark lines and even darker spaces. Remember the big-head makeup artist on Face-Off? He bored the judges because his makeups kept reverting to big-headed sculpts, so they looked the same. I was bored with Admira Wijaya and Daniel Sampere's art in the same way: too dark, obscuring detail without lending depth to the scene, and everybody looks like a cousin to everyone else. Except for Batman and Batgirl; they have masks.
What they also have is the same tired fists-and- wisecracks response in the face of supernatural catastrophe. Even John Constantine seemed bored by it all. Peter Milligan's dialog and story flow was like every DC Comic issue where "real" superheroes hook up with the occult fringe: predictable encounters filled with quips from caped crusaders who are out of their element, and the eventual reliance on some astral zones-worth of cosmic assistance, given with a brief show of reluctance, leading to ambiguous results (you know, the cop-out ending).
Did I mention I'm pretty bored by all this nonsense by now? At this point I'm thinking What's all this "next comic to sink your teeth into" BS from IGN quoted on the cover? When I turned to Fialkov's and Andrea Sorrentino's issues contained in this second volume, I got it. My recommendation is to breeze through the Justice League Dard issues, 7 and 8, and focus on the real deal, I, Vampire issues 7 through 12.
I reviewed the first issue of I, Vampire favorably because of Fialkov and Sorrentino's efforts, and these later issues headed by them show more maturity in the execution of characters, the panel-world around them, and the sticky situations they antagonize. After Cain works up all those vampires into a feeding, bleeding frenzy, shifting gears on them by moving them from Gotham City to Utah to go cold-turkey does provide enough tension to spill over into bedlam soon enough. The Van Helsings show up for a fight and they've got a nifty new tactic: resurrection. Andrew Bennett's shell-shocked sidekicks get in on the action, with the usual "more than they bargained for" portion of hurt. And even Mary, Queen of Blood, faces a new challenge.
This New 52 version of the House of Mystery's I...Vampire shifts the storyline to vampires who can stand in the sunlight, but are weaker for it, and have the ferocity of those blood-suckers in 30 Days of Night. Andrew Bennett is also much older, though youthful in appearance (as is everyone in the New 52 Universe). This series is ending in April with I, Vampire issue 19, so look for volume 3 soon thereafter.
A courtesy copy was provided for this review from the publisher.
After a few hundred issues bollocksing about in Hellblazer, DC reboots a New 52 inspired John Constantine, after retiring his demon-tired bones in a lacklustre and poorly drawn finale (Hellblazer No. 300).
Constantine No. 1 brings a more youthful Constantine into the DC Universe and Renato Guedes art, which accentuates camera-angle panels showing Constantine at his best and worst--a normal day for him in the world of magic and shadow he walks in.
But Constantine is now in New York City, with spiffy new occult digs, down the stairs in Dotty's Pet store. His double-breasted trench coat looks less rumpled (more Prince than Columbo), his hair more fashionable, and his demeanor less like a cigarette aftertaste and more like a Jack Daniel's sipped over ice with a Heineken chaser.
Ray Fawkes and Jeff Lemire have a good handle on the bitter and the sweet of it, but make no mistake, this Constantine is more movie-ready, less foul-mouthed, and, so far, less British. You get the impression he went through the New 52 cleaners instead of his trench coat.
What remains the same is how he handles dire situations by relying on friends and close associates. Readers familiar with the death toll around Constantine know what getting close to him means to any long term relationships. That's where his morality comes into question, and it's a question that propels his old, and now, new series of trials and tribulations with black sorcery, Heaven, and Hell, and all those nasty, black squiggy places in-between points North and South.
At 20 pages, the setup brings into play an evil cult (aren't they all?) called The Cold Flame, an old acquaintance best forgot, and Constantine playing the odds, which always seem to fall in his favor--to some degree. This first installment of The Spark and the Flame is tight, neat, and delivered with as much assurance as even John Constantine can deliver.
And he still smokes. Let's hope New York City's Mayor Bloomberg doesn't notice, otherwise Constantine may have to face a real foe even he can't conjure away.
A courtesy copy was provided by DC Comics for this review.
Any Otaku worth his or her geeky cognomen knows about Toru Yamazaki's horror manga, Octopus Girl, the cute little girl who's head is bigger than her eight dainty tentacles. Know a horror fan who's a budding Otaku? Then this manga would make a perfect gift to give for any holiday occasion.
Taunted and abused by her classmates, and after having an octopus stuffed into her mouth--with her being allergic to octopi, and probably shell fish, too--Takako wakes up one morning to find she's turned into a little cephalopod. Of course, at first she's horrified and wreaks bloody vengeance on her tormentors, but after a swim in the ocean, she calms down, just a bit, to pursue her new life in a series of wild vignettes that will make you wonder how much drinking Yamazaki does before noon and after midnight.
Be that as it may, the explicit artwork (for gory illustration of entrails and dislocated eyeballs mostly) is a delightful journey of crass craziness with copious bodily fluids vomited as Octopus Girl alternates between playful and sadistic and homicidal. Pairing up with another unfortunate girl, Sakai, who had turned into an eel, and who, by the way, wants one or maybe two of Tako's tentacles to nibble on--hey, they grow back, right?--granny vampires, unrequited love with face-eating now and then, wicked sea witches, and other nasties keep these two bottom feeders quite happy, or insane depending on the time of day.
At one point Yamazaki has to put his big foot down and kick some sense into Tako, which he actually does in the comic. Yamazaki's quirky wit abuses the cultural and personal as Tako takes on contestants in Idol and teenage romance and monsters. What's sublimely offending to any sensitive soul is the lack of remorse, regret, or any moral compass whatsoever within Tako's world. Lovecraftian to the tee? Perhaps; most of horror manga is. It doesn't get any weirder than this (well, maybe it does, but I figured I'd end on a positive note because you can't go wrong with Octopus Girl anyway.
But be warned: Yamazaki embraces the brutal and the heartless in his Grand Guignol artwork. Laughing one day and dying horribly the next sums it up quite tidily I'd say.
Zombos Says: Good
Unfortunately, I can only give you two reasons to pick up Vertigo's one shot, Ghosts: the unfinished story by Joe Kubert, The Boy and the Old Man, and the Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire story, Ghost-For-Hire. Reasons for not picking up this anthology would include the remaining stories, although Run Ragged would have been a treat if the whole story was here and not just the first part.
Comic anthologies usually are a mixed bag of trick or treat. Either you get a unified series of stories around a theme, or you get a bunch of stories searching for one; Ghosts lies somewhere in the middle. The stories that fall flat and fail to "terrorize" (or fit uncomfortably) within these nine tales are: Wallflower (beautiful artwork, worn-out storyline); A Bowl of Red (half-baked horror concering a bowl of hellfire hot Chili); The Night After I Took the Data Entry Job I Was Visited by My Own Ghost (artwork matches story mood perfectly, but the "message" story itself has been done to death ); Bride (will someone, anyone tell me what the hell this story's about?); and Treasure Lost, which is lost in this anthology themed around ghosts, although I get the tenuous allusion.
The poignant The Dark Lady fits in with the anthology's theme well, but it is incomplete, a mere slice of a larger storyline. The same problem occurs with Run Ragged, part one of a Dead Boy Detectives tale. Part two will appear in the next anthology. Running a continued story in separate anthologies seems awfully gauche to me.
As for the two reasons to stick around, Kubert's The Boy and the Old Man is more a curiousity piece, and one that doesn't fit well within the ghosts theme. But for fans (like myself) who appreciate seeing his last work, this is worth a look, not so much for the story as for the art. Here you can see Kubert's first draw-through, laying out the action and positioning, which he would later embellish. Ghost-for-Hire is a predictably scripted plot, but the characters keep it humorous while adding depth. This would make for a solid series on its own.
Reading various comic anthologies these days, you may get the haunting sense they were loosely put together with stories that had no clear publishing intentions. Ghosts suffers from this and I expect more sweetness-kick from my Halloween treats than this saccharin anthology provides.
Here's a key take-away: name talent isn't enough to make an anthology; you need to do something consistently worthwhile with it.
A courtesy reviewer copy of Ghosts was provided to me for this review.
Driving a muscle car hearse called Black Betty, always dressed appropriately for a funeral, and keeping the glove compartment well stocked with potent charms to ward off evil, Alabaster Graves deals with death's life-problems in Driver for the Dead.
A recurring dream may hint at his true nature (dead people keep reaching out to him in expectation) but his day job keeps the pace moving in this graphic novel by writer John Heffernan, and penciller and inker Leonardo Manco. Paints are applied by Kinsun Loh and Jerry Choo. I'm not a fan of the painted comic format, but here the panels are lively and the scenes are toned well for the grave situations Alabaster always seems to find himself in. Except for an occasional panel where the characters appear "photographically posed," Manco executes the storyline with a wide-screen, cinematic approach that runs the action in 6 or so slabs each page. The most exciting and vivid scenes come when people lose body parts and the bayou's foggy swamp churns up its decomposing and loup garou residents for one hectic night.
In Shreveport, Lousiana, Mose Freeman, extractor of nasty supernatural problems, makes his final house-call. His dying words are to have Alabaster Graves pick up his body before something else does. Hitching along for the ride is Freeman's granddaughter, who, like Alabaster, doesn't realize her true nature, either. The get-to-know-you chit-chat is supplanted by encounters with that something else, driving hard with a few biker deadbeats looking the worse for death. Freeman's body has potential since its sopped up a lot of magical energy over the years, and one long undead necromancer wants it for his own purpose. How the stiff finds out about Freeman's body (a vision) is a bit B-movie script convenient, but since it leads to butting heads with Alabaster, I'm okay with it.
Alabaster takes a licking and keeps on kicking vampire, werewolf, and witch's butt with heavy firepower and lucky charms that go beyond a little graveyard dirt and High John the Conqueror's root. The backstories for him and the necromancer, well placed in the action so they don't break it up and slow it down, mix Styx and Marie Laveauprovenance, giving Heffernan's hoodoo framework a rich pedigree to work from.