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First Last Call

Hello, and welcome to the first of what I hope are many, many columns for your reading pleasure here at The New Comic Book Galaxy dot com.

I'm Johnny Bacardi, your humble shooter here at the CBG bar, and while I can't really serve you liquor, what I plan to do here is hold forth on as many of the previous week's comics purchases (and books that find me via the US mail, God bless 'em) as I can find the time to -- what I bought and what I thought, so to speak, on every Friday of the month -- end of the week, y'see, hence the "last call" appellation.

Anyway, you don't have to go home but you can stay here long enough to read. So what'll it be?

Black Diamond On Ramp Black Diamond: On Ramp
Written by Larry Young, Kirsten Baldock, and Matt Fraction
Art by Jon Proctor, Fabio Moon and Steven Sanders
Published by AiT/PlanetLar; $2.95 USD

In which Mr. Young gives us a trailer for three upcoming AiT/PlanetLar publications: Black Diamond, Smoke and Guns and Five Fists of Science. First up is Diamond, which is the first series I can recall that features a highway as its titular character. What we get is a good idea of what the feel of the series is going to be, and what life is like for these people that have to live in a future where a superhighway is built high over people's heads, where people can drive at autobahn-esque speeds and much illegal trafficking of all sorts is carried out, and law-abiding citizens can live their lives in relative peace, if not necessarily safety, down below. How much you wanna bet that Larry has spent some time in Interstate traffic lately? While I don't know feasible this premise would be to execute in real life, here it makes for an intriguing premise and a good excuse for some Pulp Fiction-ish dialogue and action thriller-type scenarios. Proctor's art is a wee bit more problematic- he stages everything well enough, and sometimes reminds me of artists like Tommy Lee Edwards or Tony Harris in places, but there's an inconsistency in his ink line and figure drawing that is a bit troublesome. I have a feeling it will get better. It's kinda hard to tell exactly what Smoke is all about (besides gorgeous dames shooting at each other) from the brief taste we get here, but it was fun and Moon's art is superb- no figure drawing trouble here, and his ink line still reminds me more often as not of Will Eisner's. Finally, we get a two-page promo for Five Fists of Science, which features Mark Twain and is as amusing as it is intriguing. I remember seeing some preview art for FFoS several months ago, and I'm still looking forward to it very much. Looks like AiT/P's winning streak will continue in the months to come. 4 out of 5.

Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witchboy #2
Story by Grant Morrison
Art by Frazer Irving
Published by DC Comics; $2.99 USD

When Kirby created and drew the first two appearances of Klarion in his '70s issues of The Demon, he gave us a perpetually immature, petulant, and malicious witchboy, who seemed to act more out of spite and the urge to create mischief for Jason Blood and his demonic alter ego more than anything. But Morrison has taken this template and, as he is wont to do, given him subtle shades and dimensions which the definitely un-subtle Kirby couldn't have imagined. This issue, we also get more explicit tie-ins with the other books in the series so far, most notably the Manhattan Guardian (although I wonder if the die that he has ties in with the young sorceress in Zatanna) and a deeper look at the underground society that Grant concocted, showing us that there's more to it than subway pirates. The most impressive segment this time out, though, is the climactic scene when Klarion realizes that he's been betrayed by another character he encounters- his beatific smile, sarcastic asides and nonchalant malice are something to behold, and while he seems to shift from wide-eyed innocent to menacing adversary quite abruptly, it's no less than we've come to expect from the character and Irving does an excellent job of showing it to us. I also got a kick out of when Klarion's cat-creature familiar, Teekl, shows her true nature in an encounter with a rat king straight out of Tchaikovsky- eat your heart out, Charles Vess! So, while I was sometimes reminded of the story of Pinocchio, especially where he is kidnapped and taken to Pleasure Island, I think they've come up with the strongest Seven Soldiers chapter yet and reinforce the idea that this is the company-wide crossover event to be reading. 4.5 out of 5.

Strange Girl 1
Story by Rick Remender
Art by Eric Nguyen
Published by Image Comics; $2.95 USD

I can't remember too many comics in my experience, anyway, that use the Rapture as a springboard to their ongoing storylines...so here's to novelty! And it looks like an intriguing and promising setup, as well, if writer Remender can keep a fairly consistent tone in subsequent issues. He's got a charismatic and likeable title character, a left-behind young goth girl named Beth who ends up as a cocktail waitress in a demon bar, and the apparent pupil and favorite of a very big demon named Belial, whom he writes with the requisite cynicism, but also with a hint of something more. Anyway, we shall see. he's also got an artist named Eric Nguyen, with whose work I'm totally unfamiliar with but looks like, at first glance, a collaboration between Jill Thompson and Duncan Fregredo after a fifth of tequila. Each. It's often way too sketchy and busy, and the often-garish coloring doesn't help, but in its convoluted way it has a certain energy and is likeable in spite of itself. Kinda like the heroine. A good beginning, I think. 3 out of 5

True Story Swear to God: This One Goes to 11 True Story, Swear to God: This One Goes to Eleven
Story and Art by Tom Beland
Published by AiT/PlanetLar; $12.95 USD

The ongoing saga of California Guy Tom Beland and his long-distance courtship of Puerto Rican Lily, complicated by Hurricane Georges and his decision to move to the Isle of Enchantment to be by her side- which causes much consternation among his family. Every time Beland threatens to get all sappy on us, he steps back from the edge by virtue of his whole-hearted wit and his graceful, expressive cartooning style, the line of which reminds me quite a bit of Al Hirschfeld, not to mention a generous dollop of self-depreciation, but not self-hate, and that is a huge positive. Especially well-done was his depiction of his relationship with his younger brother, which climaxes here with a newspaper-enabled trip to a 49ers game, in which younger Bro gets to join the photographers on the field, lucky stiff, and the look into his routine at the newspaper where he worked (which is somewhat similar to my own small-town paper experience- hope he got paid more) and the friendships- some close, some adversarial- he had there. I was a little at a loss at first, not having read the first collection or any of the singles (I have read the strip collection, 100 Stories, so I wasn't all that lost), and I hope that if he decides to draw any more football games, he practices a bit first...his NFLers were not so graceful. I'm sure that there are lots of people out there who have had as interesting a life as Beland seems to have had, but luckily for us, he has the ability to recount it for us in entertaining fashion. Docked a notch for being a 49ers fan -- can't stand the 'Niners. 4.5 out of 5.

Two Sisters Story and Art by Matt Kindt
Published by Top Shelf; $19.95 USD

This is my first exposure to Kindt's work; I did a little digging and found out that he's a graphic designer as well as an illustrator, and has a couple of other books out- Pistolwhip and Mephisto and the Empty Box, collaborating with writer Jason Hall. Sisters is an old-fashioned spy thriller, a historical drama (with pirates!), and a rustic family drama all at the same time and it's a credit to Kindt's storytelling abilities that he's able to weave all three together as skillfully as he does. His art style takes a little getting used to- it's very loose and very expressionistic, with hints of Paul Pope, Dame Darcy and Richard Sala (the wispy lettering style, sans word balloons, looks especially Sala-like). He's excellent at depicting the lapse of time, most notably in a six-page sequence early in which an ancient Grecian slave girl escapes her captors, slips away, barters an urn (which is also a recurring motif) for a horse, and makes her way to the sea. This said, he has a very slovenly attitude towards figure drawing that was distracting to my eyes more often as not- some of his faces and bodies are downright crude and primitive, and while I like can appreciate other artists who share this predilection, his is a taste I haven't acquired yet. The spy story, involving one of the titular sisters, is the centerpiece of the book and it's solid enough; his Elle is never really as likeable or as charismatic as you'd want from the central character of your story, but her tale is certainly full of twists and turns (although one big one was kinda predictable) and is certainly involving. The Grecian slave girl ends up getting involved with pirates, and it's fun but doesn't really get developed all that much- same with the story of Elle and her older sister, early on in her life, and their drunken, recently widowed father. It's this sister, and Elle's relationship with same, that informs much of the latter's personality and decisions later on. All three stories do eventually converge, but in a way that's quite logical and not contrived. When regarding Two Sisters (and Kindt's work here), as is usually the case with most artists that aspire to something more than the norm, one has to look at the big picture- the forest surrounding the trees so to speak- and upon reflection I can see that he has much to bring to the table if one can open themselves to it. 3.5 out of 5.

OK, the lights are blinking, so finish up and drive carefully, y'hear? And come back soon for the next Last Call.

-- Johnny Bacardi

The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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