Archive for April, 2012

Western Wickedness

All Star Western #8

While Nighthawk and Cinnamon tear up New Orleans looking for the anti-immigrant terrorist group called the August 7, Jonah Hex goes deep-cover inside a fighting ring where he has to battle the deadly fighter Z.C. Branke. But Z.C. likes a man who can give her a good fight, and they end up spending the night together. And Dr. Amadeus Arkham, meanwhile, spends his evening getting buzzed out of his skull in an opium den and then arrested by the local police. Too bad Arkham decided to blab about Hex’s real allegiance to exactly the wrong cop. And in the backup story, we learn about Cinnamon’s hard life as an orphan, how she grew to become one of the West’s most dangerous bounty hunters, and how she and Nighthawk escaped from a collapsed mine.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Plenty of action, humor, drama, and some nice character moments. I sure hope this’ll finally allow us to be rid of Dr. Arkham as a character — there’s just no reason at all why Hex would let him keep tagging along.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – The Pickens County Horror #2

Agent Vaughn is stuck inside a mountain cabin. His host is an eccentric professor researching the local vampires. His partner, Agent Peters, is cooped up in the bedroom recovering from her injuries. And outside is a log of ugly green fog, a lot of messed-up vampires, and a lot of ominous mushrooms. Who will survive, and what will be left of them?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Truly outstanding creepy, claustrophobic horror. Go get the whole thing, it’s just two issues.

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Friday Night Fights: Football Frenzy!

Awright, it’s time to get the weekend started the fun way and jump in with some Friday Night Fights!

I’m not even sure if this one really counts as a fight — there aren’t any fisticuffs or shootings or stabbings or someone getting dropped into an oversized fruit juicer… but it completely kicked my butt, so that’s what we’re going with. It’s supposedly an undated “Peanuts” Sunday strip, though it doesn’t look a whole lot like Charles Schulz’s artwork, so I’m going to assume it’s all the work of John Romita, Sr. So let’s get right to it.

Featuring WHO?! Oh, this’ll be interesting…


Best Friday Night Fights ever.

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Curbstomping the Reboot

The Goon #39

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to the comic that is likely to win some Eisners and Harveys for Eric Powell next year?

Well, Powell, creator of “The Goon,” has finally decided to sell out. He wants money, he wants collector speculation, and he wants some mass-media controversy. So the Goon reveals his new superhero costume and his new overblown superhero origin, and he takes Franky as his scantily-clad sidekick. Then they change costumes and origins a few pages later, and a few pages after that, and a few pages after that. Will Powell finally get the media coverage he craves, even with the giant splash pages, the Thong of Nobility, angst-ridden monologues, vector graphics software, gratuitous ass-shots, multicolored Goons, variant covers, inevitable betrayals, and constant reboots?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a pretty sure bet that Eric Powell is never going to work for DC Comics again, not after completely savaging the company this way. From the perfect Dark Horse With A Band-Aid logo on the cover to the DiDioesque/Johnsian plot twists and Jim Lee costume designs, this was a joy to read from beginning to end. Seriously, it’s a near-certain shoo-in for awards next year.

My only question is this: Are we seeing the beginning of the long-awaited backlash on DC’s Reboot? Or just a brief flare-up of dissent?

American Vampire #26

A new storyarc, this time focusing on Calvin Poole, a character we last saw all the way back in Issue #19. Calvin used to be a member of the Vassals of the Morning Star, a vampire-hunting organization, and he ended up getting turned into an American vampire when he was infected by a broken glass vial of Pearl Jones’ blood. Now he’s wandering the American South and occasionally killing and eating racist rednecks. He learns of an integrated doo-wop group and gets recognized by one of its members. He gets warned off by some teenagers who say he and the doo-wop group will die if they stay in town, and he gets some protection from a group of veterans. But the danger for Calvin is that he really has no idea who his friends and enemies really are…

Verdict: Thumbs up. I was afraid Calvin Poole had been completely forgotten — glad we’ll get to see a story focusing on him — and with a setting in the Deep South of the 1950s, this story should be juicy in more ways than one.

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The Class Killer

My Friend Dahmer

So once upon a time, there was this guy named Jeffrey Dahmer. You might’ve heard of him. Back in 1991, he got caught trying to abduct a guy in Milwaukee, and police found a human head in his refrigerator, along with human remains stored in barrels and various severed body parts scattered around his apartment. He’s one of the most notorious serial killers in history.

Back in ’91, there was an editorial cartoonist called Derf Backderf working for a paper in Cleveland. His wife, also a reporter at the paper, calls him, tells him about this serial killer they’ve arrested in Milwaukee, and drops a bomb on him — Backderf graduated from high school with the guy.

So Backderf spends a few years wrestling with the fact that he was friends with a future serial killer and eventually sits down, does a ton of research, and creates this graphic novel, “My Friend Dahmer,” a retelling of his interactions as a teenager with this kid who everyone laughed at and no one really understood.

Backderf and his circle of friends discovered Dahmer after he’d started impersonating a person with cerebral palsy and throwing fake epilectic fits to get attention. Dahmer was a stone freak, but his antics were amusing in the juvenile way we all enjoy when we’re in high school, and they encouraged him as much as they could, even calling themselves the “Dahmer Fan Club.” Backderf remembers him as a really strange kid, sometimes disturbing, usually harmless, often depressing. He drank heavily in high school — a fact that a number of students were aware of, but that every teacher apparently missed — hiding beer and hard liquor around the school grounds so he’d always be able to sneak out and find something to drink.

Ultimately, it’s a really sympathetic portrait of Dahmer. Not to say that it’s entirely Dahmer-positive — Backderf says more than once that Dahmer is a kid he feels tremendous sympathy and empathy for — but that goes away when he crosses the line into murder. But Backderf knew Dahmer as a sad, strange kid with parents struggling through mental health issues and a very nasty divorce. Dahmer wanted attention, like a lot of kids, he was darkly funny, like a lot of kids, and he was conflicted when he realized he was gay, like a lot of kids. Of course, not a lot of kids also realize they’re necrophiliacs and have to struggle with urges to do violence to others. But even then, Backderf recognizes that Dahmer went through a very stressful high school career and kept himself together — admittedly with huge doses of alcohol — until after graduation.

Backderf says that he thinks Jeff Dahmer, the disturbed teenager, could have been saved if only the adults in his life had paid closer attention to him and cared enough to get involved. We’ll never know for sure, of course, but that doesn’t do anything to make this book any less fascinating.

Verdict: A very big thumbs up. This is a pretty thick book, and I burned through it as fast as I could, including the section detailing Backderf’s research and notes. Backderf’s writing about Dahmer is captivating and humanizing in all the best ways — this isn’t something that glorifies a serial killer, but instead asks us to look at how the serial killer was created, at Dahmer’s depressingly rotten youth, at all the ways this kid was failed by the grownups who were supposed to be helping him.

The setting is also pretty amazing — Revere High School in West Allis, Ohio in the mid- to late-1970s is a great backdrop for all of this to happen. Locked-down schools, zero tolerance, and No Child Left Behind were 20-30 years in the future, and the book is both stereotypically ’70s-ish and simultaneously timeless — we’ve all felt this way about school, we’ve all been freaked out by our adolescent hormones, we’ve all wondered whether we’d survive to get out of school and wondered what happened to the people we used to hang with.

This isn’t a horror story, at least not in the traditional sense. If you read it hoping for blood and gore and psycho killer mayhem, you’re going to be very disappointed. If we can call it horror at all, it’s more a matter of the horror of how one person can go from being a pretty normal kid to the kind of lunatic who’d kill 17 people.

Reading this book made me think a lot about all the people I knew in junior high and high school who were the Class Freaks. If I’m being honest with myself, I think there’s a pretty good chance that I was one of the Class Freaks myself. And we’ve all known the Class Freaks at our own schools — the kids who don’t fit in, the kids with weird senses of humor, who just aren’t sociable enough, who looked funny and were easy to target. Of course, most of the Class Freaks graduate, mellow out, get responsible jobs, and get normal families. Jeffrey Dahmer — and his 17 victims — had the bad luck to be the exception that proves the rule.

“My Friend Dahmer” by Derf Backderf. It’s a heck of a good story, and I think you should read it. Go pick it up.

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Sand Gets in your Eyes

The Amazing Spider-Man #684

The Sinister Six has put the smackdown on the Avengers, but Silver Sable manages to rescue Spidey and the Black Widow. The crew from Horizon Labs calls in to offer assistance — their labs in NYC are shut down, but they’ve got a yacht out in international waters where Mayor Jameson can’t stop them. Spidey and the other heroes travel to a secret satellite factory in the Sahara, armed with a little of Horizon Labs’ tech, but they soon find themselves ambushed by the Sandman — now empowered by all the sand in the world’s largest desert. Can three people stand against that much power?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Wonderful writing and art, excellent twists and turns in the story, and outstanding dialogue and action. Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos are doing comics right.

Dark Horse Presents #11

This issue features the usual wide variety of stories and creators: Francesco Francavilla’s “The Black Beetle,” Evan Dorkin’s “House of Fun,” John Arcudi’s “The Creep,” a short story by Andrew Vachss with illustrations by Geof Darrow, Neal Adams’ “Blood,” Carla Speed McNeil’s “Finder: Third World,” and much more.

Verdict: Thumbs down. I hate to do this to a series that’s been awesome far, far more often than not, but other than McNeil’s “Finder” and Dorkin’s “Milk and Cheese” and various other funny mini-strips, very little of this was particularly good.

Wonder Woman #8

Preparing for her journey to Hell to rescue Zola from Hades, Wonder Woman gets kitted out by Hephaestus — swords, daggers, shields, and even Eros’ golden handguns. She and Hermes arrive in Hell to find it looks, at least for now, like London, seemingly deserted — but in fact, Hell is literally made of the souls trapped there, and they occasionally burst out of statues, bloody and dripping as freshly skinned corpses, to attack people at Hades’ whim. Soon enough, they locate Zola — and while it’s only been days since she was abducted, in Hell, months have passed, so it looks like she’s at least eight months along. But Hades isn’t about to let Zola go without a fight…

Verdict: Ehh, I wasn’t so fond of this one. Cliff Chiang’s art is as beautiful as ever, and the action and dialogue are pretty good. But I just found myself fairly bored with the whole issue. Sorry — they can’t all be winners.

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Friday Night Fights: Spine Cracker!

Another rotten week down the tubes, another short weekend upon us. Will it be enough to wash the bad taste of the previous workweek out of us? Will it be enough to strengthen us for the week ahead? No one can know. The only certainty is that we have to start the weekend with… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle is from October 2008’s The Incredible Hercules #120 by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Rafa Sandoval, Roger Bonet, and Greg Adams. There’s this dude called Kly’bn, who is a Skrull god, and he’s bad news. Herc is fighting the guy off, and Snowbird has just happened to find the spine of another god. Gee, whatever will she do with that?

Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for all of us that we don’t get any divine spinal cords jammed through our torsos, at least for the weekend…

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City of Owls

Batman #8

The Court of Owls has sent out hordes of Talon agents — combat-trained assassins who can revive themselves as long as their blood isn’t too cold. A bunch of them attack Bruce Wayne in Wayne Manor, but he and Alfred manage to fight most of them off. Unfortunately, they’re also targeting almost 40 public officials throughout Gotham City. So Batman mobilizes the rest of the Bat-family — Damian Wayne, Nightwing, Red Robin, Batgirl, the Birds of Prey, and — ugh — the Red Hood — to help out in the crisis.

Verdict: Thumbs up. But not a real enthusiastic one. The action is excellent, and the rest of the plot is fine. But it’s still just an introductory issue for the upcoming “Night of the Owls” crossover.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – The Long Death #3

Johann Kraus failed in his attempt to kill Ben Daimio when he lost the magic knife that was supposed to do that job. Daimio actually has the knife and tries to commit suicide with it, but can’t follow through. He seeks out the wendigo — a good man trapped in the body of a supernatural killing machine — but can there be a winner in a battle between two seemingly immortal monsters?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent work all around — action, drama, and horror, with great art and writing. And the loss of one long-time character is handled pretty well.

The Defenders #5

The Atlanteans have discovered a giant door containing an image of the miraculous machine that the Defenders have obtained. Namor, Dr. Strange, Red She-Hulk, and the Silver Surfer investigate, and after the Surfer blows the door open, they discover a dead, armored giant with a huge, antique submarine rammed through his chest — and they’re attacked by squid-faced women who’ve been imprisoned in the tomb for hundreds of years. After they run the squid-women off, they investigate the submarine — and discover that it’s the Nautilus. And that Captain Nemo may have been Namor’s father…

Verdict: Thumbs down. It’s not just that this is a dull, confusing story, with weak action, mediocre dialog, and sketchy art. It’s that I suspect Matt Fraction is trying for all he’s worth to write a Grant Morrison story. And he just don’t have the chops. Honestly, I think I’m done with this title. I ain’t made o’ money…

Today’s Cool Links:

  • I bet some of y’all are fans of “PhD Comics,” right? Well, they’ve got a live-action movie, believe it or not…
  • Former Lubbockite Micah Ian Wright wants to get back into comics after he blew it all with a fake biography.
  • Speaking of Lubbock cartoonists, here are some Lubbockites making a webcomic about… knitting? Yeah, a bit off-the-beaten-path, but it’s still pretty good.
  • iZombie writer Chris Roberson has had enough of DC’s shenanigans.
  • John Scalzi discovers there’s something on the wing of the plane — and that there’s a serious iPad artist out there making monsters.

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War of the Monsters

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #8

Behind the breakup of the marriage of Frankenstein and Lady Frankenstein lies a tragedy — Father Time figured out how to combine their DNA to create a child for them. But the baby woke up in his test tube terrified and angry. He lashed out and almost killed Lady Frankenstein before Frankenstein put a bullet through its brain. And Lady Frankenstein has never forgiven Frank for not giving her a chance to calm the child down. But against all odds, the baby, who was hidden in cold storage inside the S.H.A.D.E. headquarters, is alive and has escaped back to Earth, where its holed up inside Castle Frankenstein. They’re not happy about Father’s deceit — and neither is the rest of the team. Ray Palmer, in fact, is so angry about it that he decides to recommend to the UN that they pull all funding from S.H.A.D.E.

Anyway, when Frank and Lady Frankenstein find the child, now grown up to adulthood, she makes him promise that he’ll give the child a chance this time. But the kid is still homicidal. Will Frankenstein be able to keep his promise? And what will be the final effect on S.H.A.D.E itself?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good character work, fun art, and a nice break from the series’ mostly non-stop action. The story of Frankenstein has always been more tragedy than horror, so it’s cool to see that acknowledged this way.

Demon Knights #8

In the aftermath of the siege of Little Spring, we get a cool-down issue. The question is put to Madame Xanadu — how did she ever get into a dual relationship with both Jason Blood and the Demon? The story stretches from the golden age of Camelot through the dawning of Xanadu’s and Blood’s immortality. When they became lovers, the Demon eventually found out and was infuriated that the human he was bonded to would have any respite from his torture and unhappiness. But Xanadu convinced him that she would use her magic to find a way to separate him and Jason, and eventually decided to tell the Demon that she loved him. But is she telling the truth now?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good writing, good art, and a cleverly told story with a few nice twists.

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Aliens and Sedition Acts

Saucer Country #2

Arcadia Alvarado, Democratic Governor of New Mexico, has just announced she’s running for president — mere moments after realizing that she’d recently been abducted by aliens and that they are definitely not coming in peace. Harry, her chief-of-staff, and Chloe, the Republican consultant who’s helping troubleshoot her campaign, don’t really believe her, but Harry’s loyal to his boss, and Arcadia offers Chloe permission to write a tell-all book about her if her campaign fails. They hire Professor Kidd, a disgraced academic who can talk to the invisible spirits of the Pioneer 10 couple, to see if he can assist on the quest. And Arcadia’s ex-husband, who apparently has a past history of seeing weird stuff, goes to see a hypnotherapist to help him straighten out his head — and gets it messed up worse than before.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This series has just barely started, so there is still time for you to jump on board and enjoy this one — so go get it. The story is fantastic, the mystery is developing excellently, and the entire thing is even more fun than I was expecting. Go get it, people, go get it.

The Unwritten #36

The Tinker, elderly Golden-Age superhero, wakes up from being dead to find himself on an endless, decaying staircase. Eventually, he falls off — and falls and falls and falls — before landing on a great plain where a vast number of refugees — all from various forms of fiction — are fleeing something they call “the Wave” that will completely annihilate anything it reaches. Soon afterwards, the Tinker meets up with our old pal Pauly Bruckner, furiously foul-mouthed storybook rabbit, still desperate to regain his human form. The superhero and the bunny wander the countryside, encountering a castle of Pauly’s children, going through the Tinker’s inventory of legendary swords, and withstanding a stampede of the most famous locations in fiction. But do they have any chance against the Wave itself?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s great to see both Pauly and the Tinker again, and just as fun to watch some of the great elements of fiction track past, too — the Lone Ranger, Alice in Wonderland, Sancho Panza, Stormbringer, the Eye of Zoltec, the House of Secrets, the House of Leaves, and so many more. I think I love these once-a-year visits with Pauly more than anything else in this comic…

Batwoman #8

Once again, we’ve got several different stories told around different characters and time periods. Batwoman fight off a bunch of Gotham’s urban legends, Agent Chase pressures Kate to use her relationship with Maggie Sawyer to get info for her kidnapping of Sune from police custody. We also get to see the Hook’s origin, Jacob Kane keeps trying to rouse Bette from her coma, and Batwoman gets an unexpected ally in the fight against Medusa.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great story, great art, loads of creepy stuff and excellent action. My lone complaint is that this is the last issue we’ll get to enjoy Amy Reeder‘s fantastic artwork.

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Friday Night Fights: Dino Damage!

I don’t know about y’all, but this has been a rough week — and I’m pretty sure next week is gonna be a heck of a lot worse. So let’s live it up while we can and enjoy a quick dose of… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us all the way from April 2010’s Atomic Robo: Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #3 by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener. BEHOLD! The epic battle between our hero Atomic Robo and our other hero Dr. Dinosaur!

Dr. Dinosaur is the greatest comic book character in history, and if you say otherwise, it’s just because you filthy mammals are jealous of his reptilian genius.

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