Too Many Barbarians!

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Groo vs. Conan #1

I just can’t resist the concept. I really loved the old Archie Meets the Punisher crossover from a couple decades ago, mixing serious comics with funny comics and meshing cartooning with dramatic art. So Sergio Aragones’ pea-brained barbarian Groo the Wanderer meets up with Robert E. Howard’s Conan of Cimmeria — “black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth” — that’s just so weird, and I just don’t care.

While Conan heroically scales a tower, defeats a wizard, and rescues a fair maiden, Groo ends up getting tricked into helping some corrupt politicos and associated troops rout innocent villagers from a beloved local bakery. And wrapped around this story are our writers, Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier, getting mixed up in a riot at a comic shop. Sergio is injured and taken to a hospital, where he’s injected with enough drugs to get him hallucinating that he’s Conan himself and fleeing the hospital to find some evil to fight.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a thoroughly weird story, which means I’m basically required by law to love it.

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Daredevil #6

In this Original Sin crossover, Uatu’s exploding eye has revealed a secret from Matt’s past — at some point, his beloved father Battlin’ Jack Murdock beat Matt’s mother, who is now a nun called Sister Maggie. When Matt returns to New York to quiz his mother about what happened, he discovers that she and two other nuns have been arrested after spray-painting peace slogans on the walls of a military base that was testing chemical weapons. But they haven’t been arrested for vandalism — in fact, no one is telling anyone what they’ve been arrested for. No one has read them their rights, and they’ve been given no legal counsel. And a military tribunal has ordered them extradited to Wakanda. Wakanda? What the heck? T’Challa is no longer in charge in Wakanda, and no one claims to know anything about the case. Matt ends up sneaking into Wakanda’s Manhattan embassy to find some evidence about what’s going on — and walks right into a trap.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The usual great writing and art. Thankfully, only a minimum of connection to the Original Sin series, as most of the emphasis is on the mystery of why Matt’s mother has been reasonlessly arrested. And it’s an excellent mystery — it definitely has me looking forward to the rest of this storyline.

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Axe Cop: The American Choppers #3

Everyone meets Axe Cop’s real father, who was a general on General Planet and who sent Axe Cop to Earth as a baby to escape the destruction of his home planet. He brings Axe Cop back to life, and the whole team returns to Earth to fight Captain Axe’s evil uncle and Satan himself. They kill Satan twice — and then throughout the universe killing all of the Space Satans.

Verdict: Sorry, but thumbs down. Too self-aware, it repeated too much stuff that’d been done before, Axe Cop’s new origin was a groaner. I thought the most interesting parts were when the characters, who’ve always been focused exclusively on chopping off bad guys’ heads, actually made inquiries about deep philosophical and theological questions. But those moments were few and far between.

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Mighty Avengers #12

Long story short: the Mighty Avengers of the 1970s take on the Deathwalkers, ancient wizard-kings, former wise rulers corrupted by human sacrifice. They want to destroy the world, and only our heroes stand in the way. But will Earth’s Mightiest Heroes stand a chance against impossibly powerful sorcerers?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s mostly a slugfest, sure, but it’s a good slugfest.

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The Doom that Came to Riverdale

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Afterlife with Archie #6

I’d initially skipped this series, ’cause it seemed like it was going to be nothing more than a publicity stunt series, but the buzz has been excellent, and I finally picked up the first trade paperback of this series. If you don’t know anything about it, the general idea is that Jughead’s dog Hot Dog is killed, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch decides to resurrect the mutt by casting a spell from the Necronomicon. Of course, this goes badly, and Jughead ends up being Patient Zero for a zombie plague. It’s a wonderful series, dark and grim and genuinely horrifying in all the ways a classic Archie story is not.

In this latest issue, we learn what’s happened to Sabrina since the first issue. Her aunts had learned that she’d dabbled in forbidden magic and cast her into a dimensional limbo as punishment. Here, she sees herself as an inmate at a mental institution, fighting delusions of having magical powers. Her fellow inmates include a musician named Erich Zann and an artist named Richard Pickman, and her counselors include Dr. Lovecraft and Dr. Machen — which is a really bad sign for Sabrina. Of course, they’re in league with the Great Old Ones, and as relentlessly pessimistic as this series is, there’s not much hope for Sabrina to get a happy ending…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fantastic art and story, with lots of gloriously creepy stuff going on, both before the camera and off in the background. As much as I’ve enjoyed the zombified terrors of the previous storyarc, I think it’d be really cool for the rest of the series to have to deal with the perils of the Archie Gang facing the mind-breaking horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos.

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The Goon: Occasion of Revenge #1

The Zombie Priests — yeah, there are more than just one or two — are moving in to Lonely Street, and the Goon, Franky, and all their allies have to face them down or watch everything get destroyed. Wrapped around this story is a tale of a beautiful but sociopathic woman and the vengeful spirit of a man who commits suicide over her love.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great to see a nice long Goon tale again. Some nice new villains. An absolutely excellent showdown scene. Wondering how all of this is going to end up getting tied together, but I also know I’m probably going to love the final result.

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Trees #3

Two little storyarcs in this issue, one focusing on Italy, where the tough-minded gangster girl is trying to track down the mysterious vanishing professor, and one in China, where the talented rural artist is told he must get over his fear of the big city and stop locking himself in his apartment.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yes, there’s actually a lot more to the stories here, but I’d really rather not spoil them. And yes, the entire issue is focused on people having conversations. It’s great to have interestingly talky comics from time to time, right?

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Revival #22

Lots of little things going on — Lester Majak catches a ghost; Em discovers her new reviver boyfriend Rhodey mutilates himself for online sickos and has been filming the two of them when they have sex; Dana discovers the secret society behind the troubles in New York and even meets up with murderous reviver Anders Hine; Ramin gets hypnotized; and Sheriff Cypress discovers that his grandson may be in danger from a teabagging militia terrorist.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of stuff going on, and all of it held my interest, moved the story along, and deepened the mysteries surrounding the revivers.

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Velvet #6

Knowing she’ll never discover who the mole inside ARC-7 while out of the country, Velvet secretly returns to London, collects a new cache of weapons, makes a few contacts, considers the likely suspects, and makes her move on the superspy headquarters.

Verdict: Thumbs up. More great espionage storytelling. Wonderful characters and dialogue, outstanding action, mysteries, and much, much more.

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The Monster Inside your Skin

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Soft Apocalypses by Lucy A. Snyder

I review Lucy A. Snyder’s books a lot, and that’s for a very good reason — I love horror, and she writes extremely good horror. She has a new collection out — let’s take a look at it.

This is a nice mix of new material and (slightly) older stuff. We start off with “Magdala Amygdala,” the story for which she won the Bram Stoker Award for last year. It starts out looking like a revisionist zombie story — until it suddenly isn’t a zombie story at all. After that, we get “However…” which originally appeared in a Hellraiser anthology in significantly altered form — the editors thought the original version was too extreme even for the Cenobites. Luckily, the original is what we get here. We get “Repent, Jessie Shimmer!” — a short story featuring the star of Snyder’s “Spellbent” novels.

We also get science fiction, steampunk, shorter slice-of-life tales, comedy — all of them shot through with Snyder’s special brain-skinning style of literary shock-and-awe. A couple of rednecks discuss corporal punishment — but they’re not talking about spanking. A serial killer stalks a new victim, unaware that he’s in more danger than she is. A future apocalypse means bizarre life changes for a woman and her bestial sister. We get plant monsters, haunted paintings, weightlifting vampires, zombie tigers, and much more.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is gonna end up being a fairly short review, ’cause sometimes, all you need to say is, yeah, it’s a really good book, and maybe you should shell out some dough so you can read it.

We hear a lot about edgy writers, and they generally come off like preschool kids who shock their classmates by repeating out-of-context cuss words. Snyder doesn’t do grade-school shocks. She doesn’t just tell you stories that get under your skin. She tells stories that start out under your skin, tunnel in deeper to chew on your nerve endings and hollow out a few organs, and only crawl back out into the sunlight after they’ve laid eggs inside your spinal cord.

You like horror? You like horror for grownups, willing to delve into the deeply forbidden corners of our psyches and societies, while still indulging in the occasional fun of exploding vampires? Yes, y’all are going to want to go pick this up.

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Glowing in the Dark

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The Wicked + the Divine #2

Lucifer has apparently murdered a judge with her godly powers — but she claims she didn’t do it, and only god-wannabe fangirl Laura believes her. She overhears Luci asking Amaterasu to get her someone named Ananke. Unable to learn anything about Ananke, Laura bluffs her way into the prison holding Luci and gets an audience. She learns that Ananke is an old woman who reveals to teenagers that they’ve become gods — and Luci makes Laura an offer: help her, and she’ll make Laura the first of her demons. And later, Laura goes to see an underground concert — literally underground, deep in the subway tunnels under London — by the Morrigan. But who they get definitely isn’t the Morrigan.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Beautifully illustrated from cover to last page, with great writing to go along with it. My favorite bits: Laura’s perfectly normal and fairly happy family life, which she apparently hates because she’s young and angsty, and young angsty kids hate the world if it’s not ending; the flashback of Lucifer’s deification, which is horrifying and beautiful and awe-inspiring; and the long, dark trip into the underworld to meet the Morrigan.

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Silver Surfer #4

The Surfer is returning Dawn Greenwood to Earth. They meet up with the Guardians of the Galaxy (Gee, they’re in every one of Marvel’s comics lately — it’s like they’ve got a movie coming out or something) who check them for contraband. The Surfer tells Dawn about the days when he was unable to leave Earth as he returns her to her home at Anchor Bay. Everyone is glad to see Dawn back and eager to show the Surfer proper hospitality, but something seems off — might be the way the furniture grows teeth whenever no one is looking.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Gorgeous retro artwork from Mike Allred, of course, and it really is very creepy when we realize something unseen is stalking Dawn and the Surfer.

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The Long Arm of the Law

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Ms. Marvel #6

The villain known as the Inventor wants Ms. Marvel dead, but Kamala Khan has more pressing concerns — her parents want her to talk to Sheikh Abdullah, the family minister and one of Kamala’s nemeses. And as seems to be typical with Kamala, he’s nowhere near the monster she’s let herself be convinced he is — conservative, yes, but more compassionate and understanding than she’d expected from listening to his youth lectures at the mosque. She confesses that she sneaks out at night because she’s helping people, and he advises her to find a teacher to help her help people better.

When Kamala chases after a report of alligators in the sewers, what she finds is a bunch of cyber-alligators, created and controlled by the Inventor. He appears to her in a hologram, revealing himself as a cybernetically-enhanced mutant parakeet who claims to be the clone of Thomas Edison. And there’s someone else tracking the Inventor — and Kamala is delighted to learn she’s going to get to team up with Wolverine! But this isn’t the unstoppable mutant badass Wolverine she was hoping to meet and be trained by — this is the guy who’s recently lost his healing factor, and fighting monster alligators in an absurdly spacious sewer means he’s quickly a badly injured mutant who Kamala has to somehow keep alive…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Jacob Wyatt takes over the art on this story, which can sometimes be a serious speedbump on a comic, especially one as young as this one, but nope, everything keeps firing on all cylinders. The story is great, the dialogue is fantastic, the art is fun. It’s a grand comic with wonderful action, drama, humor, and wisdom — and really great characters, too. Y’all better be reading this series, or we’re gonna have trouble.

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Rat Queens #7

Dee’s husband, a worshiper of N’rygoth, has come to Palisade — just in time for Gerrig to enact his mad plan to punish the city for his life’s unhappiness. He intends to call N’rygoth itself to the city, but without any bindings to hold it back. Dee is a former N’rygoth worshiper, but she’s an atheist now — how will she handle concrete evidence of the monster-god’s existence? Plus there’s a really fantastic fight scene between Lola — who I really can’t say I remember at all — and a whole team of mercenaries.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The main story has all the humor and snark and drama we’ve come to expect from this series — but Lola’s battle against the seven mercenaries is really something else. Punishing, brutal, painful, and shockingly brilliant action — there’s more ass-whuppery in this five-page fight scene than you’ll find in a dozen other comics.

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She-Hulk #6

Shulkie learns that discussing the mysterious Blue File case has a tendency to make people lose their minds, attack people talking about the case, and attempt suicide. She meets with Dr. Kevin Trench, a former superhero named Nightwatch (who I’m pretty sure is supposed to be dead in current continuity) who was one of the people named in the deadly lawsuit. They’re attacked out of nowhere by a bunch of demons. When Angie Huang finally gets back to New York after her near-death experience, Jennifer has apparently had her mind altered so she doesn’t care about the case anymore.

Verdict: Thumbs down. This is a case where a new artist on a comic can do some serious damage. Sorry, but Ron Wimberly’s artwork on this is just bad. Distractingly bad. It killed off any enjoyment I would’ve gotten out of this issue. And it’s likely to kill off any enthusiasm I have for this comic until he’s given the heave-ho.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Marvel may be beating DC right now when it comes to diversity, but they’ve still got a ways to go.
  • Among its other influences, Dungeons & Dragons has helped to teach many people how to become better writers.
  • Universal Studios is considering relaunching their classic movie monsters and making them consistent with each other — similar to Marvel’s Avengers-related films.

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Friday Night Fights: Evil Wins!

Awright, kids, it’s time for another dose of Friday Night Fights — this week’s fight comes to us from October 1990′s Captain America #378 by Mark Gruenwald, Ron Lim, Danny Bulanadi, and Steve Buccellato.

The Red Skull is muscling in on the crime business in New York City. The Kingpin tells him to lay off, and the Skull challenges him to a no weapons fight to determine who takes over the underworld and who leaves town.

And to make sure they’re not hiding any weapons, they both strip down to their underwear. Because apparently, what we comic book fans want is Nazis in their skivvies and fat guys in their skivvies. No wonder the industry is dying.

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So the bad news is that the Kingpin is a ruthless criminal mastermind, and since he’s won, he’ll continue to make life hell for New York’s superheroes. But the good news is that the Nazi lost, and he lost by being bearhugged and smothered under a sweaty shirtless fat guy — because everyone hates Nazis. Huzzah for our hero Wilson Fisk!

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Support your Local Robo

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Atomic Robo and the Knights of the Golden Circle #3

Robo is stuck in the Wild West, his atomic batteries burning out, traveling with U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves and outlaw dentist Doc Holliday. They’re tracking a bunch of bandits who’ve been kidnapping townspeople across the West for nefarious purposes — and after a wild shootout aboard a train, Robo learns that the Big Bad is none other than Helsingard, the villain who’s plagued Robo throughout his history, from an elderly Nazi to an undead cyborg floating-floating Nazi. What are Helsingard’s plans — and can Robo stop him before he dies?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Absolutely outstanding action — that running battle on board the train is a good dozen pages of the best swashbuckling Western you always wanted to see. Plus there’s a bit of humor, a bit of drama, and a little ominous foreshadowing for what the next two issues may hold for us.

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Manifest Destiny #8

Half the crew is stuck on a boat in the middle of a river, held fast by a gigantic tentacled toad-monster that’d like to eat as many people as it can. The other half is stuck on land, trying to find a safe place to camp, trying to figure out a way to rescue their stranded crewmen, and most likely, getting ready to get slaughtered by the monstrous wildlife of the American frontier…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Claustrophobic mood and rising tensions among the crew members. Plus we get one monster being carefully hidden from view, just to make us wonder what’s under the water — and another monster depicted in full technicolor gory, just for those of us who like to see some great monsters.

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The Witcher #5

Geralt the Witcher finally meets up with Marta and learns that she’s not a monstrous bruxa, but just a cursed woman, trapped between life and death after her husband, Jakob the hunter, killed her in a fit of jealous rage. Marta begs Geralt to kill Jakob, but he refuses — Witchers kill supernatural monsters, not human ones. But the question may be forced after all — Jakob is entirely mad and willing to kill anyone he thinks might come between him and his dead wife.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice end for the series, with most of the truly frightening bits reserved for the human villain rather than for the supernatural horrors — many of the monsters are themselves victims of a curse.

Today’s Cool Links:

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Thoroughly Bored

Sorry, y’all, I just didn’t feel like blogging anything Monday or Tuesday, and I don’t much feel like it today either. But we’ll do this anyway.

The problem is that I’m feeling almost completely bored by comics right now. Maybe it’s just the stuff I got last week, but almost everything felt like it was just marking time, putting together another 22 pages so they could sell another comic. I know they can’t all be works of perfect art every week, or even most weeks, but almost everything felt dry and dull.

My set of horror comics last week felt like the worst of the lot — they were all long-running series, and nothing particularly scary happened in them. Seems like a problem you get in any horror longer than a short story. Short stories are almost perfect for conveying horror, but once you start working with horror novels, or with long-running horror series, you gotta work a lot harder to get the scares in, and you gotta keep bringing your A-game to keep your story scary and creepy and shocking. And none of last week’s horror books were bringing their A-game.

And I was gonna go ahead and review the two other comics I had that didn’t bore me — but then I started reading them again, and I thought, ya know, they were really kinda boring, too.

Am I gonna be bored with comics from now on? I hope not. I hope it was just last week’s comics, I hope it’s just summer doldrums, I hope it’s just me feeling apathetic and unproductive.

But for now — ehh, I’m gonna go read a real book.

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Friday Night Fights: Wonderland Warfare!

I’m pert-near exhausted, and I ain’t got no time for clever intros this week, so let’s get straight into the Friday Night Fights action.

Tonight’s battle comes to us from April 2008′s Detective Comics #841 by Paul Dini, Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs, and John Kalisz. Tweedledee and Tweedledum pressured the Mad Hatter into participating in a Wonderland Gang — and it’s ended the way most criminal enterprises do in Gotham City: beaten down by the Batman and shipped off to Arkham. Luckily, Jervis Tetch is willing to forgive and forget…

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That’ll do it for me this week. Y’all get as much rest as you can manage this weekend, and with any luck, I’ll see y’all back here on Monday.

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Scouts’ Honor

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Lumberjanes #4

The Lumberjane Scouts are enjoying a nature hike in the weird spooky woods around their camp and trying to figure out a way to slip away from their cabin leader, Jen, so they can explore the mysterious tower in the distance. Then they run into a yeti. No, no mere yeti — judging from that handlebar mustache and doofus tattoo, this is a hipster yeti. He scares the whole bunch of them into running down a slope and straight into a huge patch of poison ivy.

Luckily, they meet up with the very wholesome and very orderly Scouting Lads from the exceptionally clean Mr. Theodore Tarquin Reginald Lancelot Herman Crumpet Camp for Boys. They have skin ointment for the girls, as well as freshly baked cookies. The girls are a bit disturbed by the Scouting Lads, but they agree to distract Jen while the Lumberjanes go explore the tower. Will the girls be able to get past the hipster yeti guards? Will they learn the tower’s secrets? And what horrible secrets are the Scouting Lads hiding?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is so wonderfully funny and weird. Probably the single funniest thing in this whole issue is the Scouting Lads’ camp director, who is so overflowing with machismo (and cookie-hatred, which is how you know he’s evil) that when he leaves, he shouts that he’s “going to catch a fish by wrestling it away from a bear.” But the rest of it is also remarkably and creepily weird, particularly the odd artifact in the tower and the terrifying tranformation of the Scouting Lads. This series is getting more and more interesting the more I read it.

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Captain Marvel #5

Carol discovers that the Spartax Empire is secretly mining Vibranium from the planet Torfa, and the symptoms so many of the residents are suffering are caused by Vibranium poisoning. And the Empire is prepared to invade and wipe out or imprison everyone on Torfa as soon as possible. Can Captain Marvel save everyone? With no backup? Against a full alien fleet?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The Vibranium discovery was a nice surprise, and what really sells the issue is the interplay between all the species on Torfa, as they try to work out how much of this disaster is their own fault, and try to figure out whether they can resist against the imperial forces. And the art remains just plain dandy.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • I do really love the look they’re planning for Batgirl – but I’m still not planning on reading it. Can’t trust DC Comics anymore…
  • If you read and love “Mouse Guard,” you may be interested in this Kickstarter for the strategy game the mice play in the comic.
  • The horrible Rick Perry continues to be horrible, but at least this time, we get the chance to laugh at his buffoonery.

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