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Sea of Red #1-2
By Richard Remender, Kieron Dwyer and Salgood Sam
Published by Image Comics, $2.95 USD

Salgood Sam (aka Max Douglas) is a rising star, whose work on the self-published Revolver, was among the best independent books of the year. Yet despite some initial positive reviews, I admit that a story premise centered on vampire pirates just sounded too clichťd and unoriginal to inspire me. However, Samís artwork, which at its best reminds me of Paul Pope, was too good to resist and to my surprise, I actually enjoyed the first issue. The story is well written, with an interesting hook in that the main character, Marco, is the sole survivor of a Spanish merchant boat rescued by a passing pirate ship. What at first seems like a hospitable crew soon turns gruesome as they attack another ship, feeding on their live human hearts. With sweeping red brushstrokes, the artwork conveys the nightmarish horror of this bloody attack so perfectly, itís disturbing and beautiful at the same time.

Yet as good as the first issue was, thatís how bad the second issue was. The script shifts forward almost 400 years, which in itself is a little jarring. Marco, who has spent that entire time chained to a masthead, alone at the bottom of the ocean, is finally discovered by a deep sea film crew, clearly meant to parody James Cameron and his recent Imax movie Aliens of the Deep. The problem is the characterization of the film crew. Theyíre all tired clichťs who continuously insult each other with over the top comments that sound unnatural. For example, hereís a typical exchange between the director and his beautiful assistant (who in the previous panel is crassly referred to as ďMiss D CupsĒ): ďItís Mr. Cameron, dear. P.A.ís earn the right to call me by my first name post coital. Got it?Ē Her reply: ďNo roll (sic) is worth that fate.Ē It only gets worse as the issue proceeds, and I can honestly say that despite Samís gorgeous artwork, this second issue was so off-putting, Iím not sure how long Iíll continue picking this up. The pacing was also rushed, as an entire attack scene is omitted and the reader left to figure out what happened to one of the crew members who is suddenly dead with little explanation. A truly schizophrenic series so far, but given the strength of the first issue, itís tough to say which way this one will go. Probably worth at least one more issue. Grade: 3/5

Invincible #0
By Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley and Bill Crabtree
Published by Image Comics, $.50 USD each

Iíve never read a single issue of Invincible, yet Iím an avid follower of Kirkmanís other success, The Walking Dead, so I guess that makes me the ideal target market for this introductory origin issue. The question is, did it do its job Ė did it make me want to start reading Invincible? The answer is surprisingly: YES. First, Kirkman does a good job at introducing the reader and putting them at ease that thereís no need to go back and read the previous 22 issues, all will be explained. The entire series is recapped in the framework of Invincible (aka Markís) confession to his girlfriend Amber of his secret identity. This is a pretty clever tactic. Long time readers will presumably enjoy seeing the reactions of Amber as she learns about Invincibleís origin, etc. while new readers are given a brief, somewhat verbose, but convincing recap of the heroís adventures to date. The bottom line is it works both as an introduction to an interesting character, and a continuation of the existing story. And Kirkman pulls it all off all in 12 pages. The best part is the inside back cover, which very clearly lays out to curious readers where they can go to get back issues (4 trades to date, or the upcoming hardcover), but also invites them to start with issue #24, ensuring them that they will not be lost even if they havenít read the prior issues. Itís a great marketing gimmick and a credit to Kirkman for creating a clever way to attract new readers midstream. For 50 cents, Iíd give this a shot and see if youíre not curious to see what happens next. Grade: 4/5

Solo #4
By Howard Chaykin
Published by DC Comics, $4.95 USD

With Solo, it all comes down to whether or not you like the creator featured. Like Sale in the first issue, Howard Chaykin delivers some strong visuals with very little depth in the fourth issue of this uneven series. The result is a little disappointing, especially on the heels of Paul Pope last month. Chaykinís stories all follow the old EC and Pacific Comics format, whereby each tale is introduced with a paragraph of narration, punctuated with some sort of pun introducing the title of the story. From there, itís basically a series of horror/spy/action sitcoms, all familiar, none particularly memorable. The one exception is the final tale in which Chaykin features himself in a rambling autobiographical story about his artistic influences. If youíve seen any of Chaykinís previous work, from American Flagg! to City of Tomorrow, you can pretty much imagine what his style looks like, though his women are particularly ugly in this issue. The highlight is the cover, which cleverly features a ďsoloistĒ playing a saxophone and is one of the best illustrations Iíve ever seen from Chaykin. Overall, though, this was a disappointing issue, but hey, the good news is thereís Darwyn Cooke to look forward to next month. Grade: 3/5

Desolation Jones #1
By Warren Ellis, J.H. Williams III and Jose Villarrubia
Published by DC Comics Wildstorm, $2.99 USD

Theoretically, this should be a runaway hit. It follows the exact same formula as Warren Ellisí other smashes Planetary and The Authority. Mix Ellisí depraved imagination with one of the mediumís top artists, in this case Promethea artist J.H. Williams III, and let them run wild, free of the editorial meddling that restrains many of the corporate controlled characters, and the results should speak for themselves. But something felt wrong from the start with this issue. None of the characters come across as particularly likeable. Unlike Elijah Snow or Jenny Sparks, Michael Jones doesnít have the same charm or mystery associated with him. Or maybe itís that he seems too familiar, too derivative of Ellisí other characters. Of course itís too early to tell if he will develop into a more interesting, unique character. My other problem with this book was that it felt like Ellis was playing for cheap shock value even more than usual. This story features as its primary plot vehicle, a search for Hitlerís home porn movies, something that I canít imagine anyone would ever want to watch and the prospect of J.H. Williams drawing this scene in an upcoming issue is disturbing. Combine that with a female porn mistress character named ďFilthy SanchezĒ who loves bukkake, possibly the most degrading act of pornography that exists, and it just felt like the story was too disgusting for my tastes. I can handle disgusting if thereís a greater purpose or interesting characters, but with this first issue, I donít get that sense. The artwork from Williams was typically outstanding, and perhaps better than ever when combined with Jose Villarrubiaís gorgeous colors. Iím usually willing to give new titles at least three issues before making a final decision, and given Ellis and Williamís track record, Iím cautiously optimistic, but this first issue was a disappointment. Grade: 3.5/5

HELL, Michigan - Free Ashcan Preview
By Dan Jolley, Clint Hilinski and Andrew Dalhouse
Published by FC9, Free

I somehow managed to get one of the 1,000 numbered, limited edition, ashcan previews of this new title schedule for June release. Strangely enough, I found it sitting alone on the shelves of my comic shop and the guys working there seemed to have no idea where it came from or why there were no other copies. The first thing that attracted me was the striking photo cover by Luke Ellison, which instantly gives the book the desired claustrophobic horror tone, and reminded me a little of a scaled down Dave McKean cover. Inside there are only 5 preview pages, presumably the opening two scenes from the first issue, in which a fairly generic murder mystery is established when a young couple moves into a new house and ends up dead. Itís actually not bad, and both the narration and the dialogue read mostly true, if a little stilted in one or two cases. The artwork by Clint Hilinski is a little reminiscent of Marshall Rogers, though his women look awkward and, as is the case in far too many comics these days, are so overly endowed with massive breasts that itís distracting, and totally unnecessary. Also, none of the characters or objects have shadows, which normally I wouldnít probably notice, but for some reason, it stuck out in this issue. The art is helped by the vibrant colors from Andrew Dalhouse, whose work is new to me, but who clearly knows how to recreate the color of blood. Overall, this is nothing special, but will probably provide a fairly entertaining, straightforward horror tale. Grade: 3/5

Freaks of the Heartland #1-6
By Steve Niles and Greg Ruth
Published by Dark Horse Comics, USD $2.99 each

Steve Niles may be the most recognizable horror writer in comics today, and his titles seem to be published by five or six different publishers. While I havenít read many of them, including perhaps his most well acclaimed series, 30 Days of Night, I was anxious to read this mini-series largely due to the artwork of Greg Ruth. Iíve been a fan of Ruthís illustrations going all the way back to his David Lynch-influenced mini-series Sudden Gravity from Caliber. His style has significantly evolved since that series, as now Ruth works almost exclusively with sweeping brushstrokes over pencils, using mostly muted yellows and browns, a distinctive style that bears some resemblance to Ashley Wood, though more in color scheme than in linework. The story focuses on a small, Midwestern farming town with a dark secret, children with horribly disfigured, monster-like appearances are shamefully hidden away in barns and cellars like animals. Trevor Owen, whose brother Will is one of these monsters, is forced to risk his life to save his brother from being murdered by his father and his courageous act triggers the liberation of all the monsters in the village. What I loved about this series was that Nilesí dialogue was extremely sparse, relying on Ruthís gorgeous artwork to carry much of the story. The effect was a sense of quiet throughout the story that felt very natural given the setting. The ending was a little dissatisfying as we never learned exactly what caused the monsterís mutations or how they were able to survive their newfound freedom. Still, overall this was well above average and definitely worth the price for Ruthís stunning visuals. With the trade due out in July, Iíd recommend this one, despite its flaws, as one of the better horror titles Iíve read in several years. Grade: 4/5

And finally, this week I have a very special guest crack shot, written by my wife Rachel, who was a Lynda Barry fan long before I met her.

One! Hundred! Demons!
By Lynda Barry
Published by Sasquatch Books, USD $24.95

I just love Lynda Barry so freakin' much. She is so wonderful. She writes with such soul. Oh, and this is a graphic novel, or more like a collection of short stories, and everything is beautifully illustrated in full color. Barry explores many of the demons of her past, some stories are hilarious and some are heartbreaking. She somehow managed to grow up and yet hold on to the wonder and pain of being a child. I highly recommend this book. Grade: 5/5

-- Marc Sobel



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