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Dreams in Texture
By Tom Muzzell and Kevin Clorey
Published by Open Book Press and Smash Comics, $11.99 USD

Dreams in Texture is an anthology book containing some impressive artwork by two passionate newcomers. The 100 page book contains a mix of comics, poems, sketches and prose stories, all in the fantasy and horror genres. The artwork is definitely the selling point here, as both artists are fans of super-detailed black and white linework that would have fit right into the old Creepy or Eerie magazines. Muzzell’s artwork is strongly reminiscent of P. Craig Russell or even Phillipe Druillet, while Clorey’s is squarely from the Bernie Wrightson school, especially his classic Frankenstein adaptation. While clearly vehicles for the artwork, the stories were clumsy and somewhat predictable, but entertaining nonetheless. The scripts’ poetic language attempted to match the lavish artwork, but occasionally distracted from it. “Ryki,” the backup piece by Sarah Parr and Chris Sawyer felt out of place. The story segment, meant as a preview piece, lost much of its clarity taken out of context and the Mahfood-like artwork suffered by comparison to the 80 gorgeous pages that preceded it. Overall, though, this was a nice package, with some of the best black and white fantasy artwork I’ve seen in years. Grade: 4/5

Y: The Last Man #27-31
By Brian K. Vaughan and Gia Guerra
Published by DC Comics, $2.95 USD each

Just when this story was starting to stagnate a little, Vaughan gives the overreaching plot a huge jolt forward, establishing a new mystery and answering one of the others that began the series. It’s a satisfying progression for fans who have stuck with the series since the beginning two and a half years ago, and offers the promise of interesting stories to come. Pia Guerra’s artwork continues to sharpen and impress, and the title suffers when fill in artists, even those whose styles are similar, take over. Yorick Brown is one of the most consistently entertaining characters from Vertigo, at once humorous, sensitive and always frustrated with the unwanted burden of being earth’s last man. This title is still enjoyable, and this particular arc was perhaps the best since the series started. Grade: 4.5/5

Expiration Date
By Justin Curfman and Niki Price
Published by Tephra Media, $14.95 USD

This is easily the grossest thing I’ve ever read. It’s less horror in the psychological sense than a random group of disgusting ideas loosely strung together with a “plot” revolving around a father’s Christmas with his daughter. After decorating his wall with various dead animals, the nameless father discovers a box of dehydrated dead kittens which he gives to his daughter as a gift. Unfortunately, the mother, whose urine accidentally leaks onto the box of kittens, rehydrating them, kicks off a bizarre sequence of spousal abuse and murder that are laughed off by the daughter, before she too is killed and her eyeballs ripped out (hence the cover image) and dropped into a bowl of cereal. There’s no point to this story, other than to showcase Curfman’s twisted imagination. Niki Price does an excellent job bringing Curfman’s depraved vision to life while keeping a light-hearted tone that is paradoxically consistent with the narrator’s formal, sarcastic voice. Her great page designs, hand lettering and gorgeous painted cover make this worth checking out for the artwork alone, but overall I found this lacking the charm of other similar titles, like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Grade: 3/5

Queen and Country: Declassified vol. 2 #1
By Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett
Published by Oni Press, $2.95 USD

This story focuses on Tom Wallace’s initiation as a Minder, following his army service in Bosnia in the mid 90’s. The opening sequence shows Wallace’s troop encountering a mass grave, and Burchett does a nice job showing the horrified expressions of the soldiers. The story quickly jumps forward in time to Wallace’s recruitment into the Special Section, before finally establishing the mystery of his first case near the end of the book, an investigation into a murder that occurs during the diplomatic ceremonies surrounding the handover of Hong Kong from England to China. As with much of this series, it’s a fairly straight forward political espionage thriller whose strength has always been its ability to mesh fictional spy elements with headline political news, infusing each story with a sense of realism. Though Rucka has a tendency to overdo the dialogue at times, the conversations in this issue flow naturally and carry the story well and Burchett conveys the story well in the few silent passages in the script. His art is as good as any artist I’ve seen of the constantly revolving cast to illustrate this series, but admittedly, I haven’t read all the issues. At the end of the day, this is a fairly well executed, though hardly groundbreaking first issue. Grade 4/5

Grafenveer
By Wayne Sanders and Christian N. St. Pierre
Published by Smash Comics, $9.99 USD

This is a classic warrior coming-of-age tale about Ra, whose mother’s mysterious death leads him to train with the King of Denmark. I’m not a big fantasy fan, but I actually found this premise interesting enough to keep reading. The art is pretty clear with a couple unusual page transitions and nice varied camera angles. The comparison to Windsor Smith’s Conan seems obvious, although that may be an overstatement. It’s a familiar story, but well written, quick paced with solid dialogue and narration that never seems overdone. The production values are above average with good paper, thick cardstock cover and the slightly smaller than standard size works well. My only complaint was that at $9.99 for a 48 page black and white book with ads and an 8 page backup story, it seemed a little overpriced. Grade 3.5/5

JLA Classified #4
By Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubinstein
Published by DC Comics, $2.95 USD

If there’s one title I’m embarrassed to admit I love, it’s this one. The old Justice League International team from the early '90s was a favorite and though I was skeptical about the creators attempt to return to past glory, I really enjoyed the first mini-series, Formerly Known as the Justice League that came out last year. This opening issue re-introduces one of the best characters from the original series, the foul mouthed, smart ass Guy Gardner. This comic is just a lot of silly fun and definitely a breath of fresh air in a market saturated with angst ridden, navel-gazing superheroes. Kevin Maguire’s command of facial expressions has only improved over the years, and his ability to exactly mimic reactions such as shock, frustration, impatience and exasperation is a big part of the success of this book. I recently re-read the first 20 issues of the original series to see how these new incarnations compare and I honestly believe that Giffen and DeMatteis’ new stories are as good as or better than the originals. This is not great literature, but it’s a fun read, with great art, interesting characters and it had me laughing out loud. Grade 4/5

-- Marc Sobel



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