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Welcome to the first installment of Loose Staples, a bi-weekly look at various comics, mostly in floppy form, though there's sure to be the occasional trade or graphic novel, and sporadically a back issue or two.The column will appear every other Wednesday here at Comic Book Galaxy, from now until the end of time (or until Alan tells me I'm fired, whichever comes first). I'm an admitted superhero junkie, so don't be surprised to see a lot of capes books popping up, but unlike most I'm not demanding that my adolescent power fantasies dressed in spandex be taken seriously, all I ask from my disposable entertainment is a good time.
Writing a column is new for me, but I've been reviewing here at Comic Book Galaxy since November of 2004, and I've been a reader of the Galaxy almost from its inception. I'd like to say that I have a body of work as a journalist that speaks for itself, but my journalistic credits are those solely found in the CBG archives, and with any luck, you'll never see me at any other site [Editor's note: I agree entirely! -- ADD]. Not that there's a problem with other comics news and reviews sites; there isn't, you should be reading all of them! Just that I'm quite comfortable here.
I could bore you with my history of collecting comics, but I won't. Instead I'll just say that there are probably two men directly responsible for this column. The first is Alan David Doane, likely the most passionate comics reader you'll ever find. The second is Rob Liefeld. It's true, I swear. Okay, so maybe I can bore you a little.
Alan and Comic Book Galaxy came along at a time when I'd all but given up on comics. My interest in mainstream books was waning, and while I knew about independent and underground comics, I'd never been much interested in them.
I happened upon the Comic Book Galaxy Forum (the old Delphi one, not the new snazzy one) in a happy little accident after a friend of mine abandoned his forum, leaving me with no place to discuss comics that was somewhat free of the usual comic message board fodder. To say that the gang at the Galaxy opened up a whole new world to me might be the understatement of the century. The first comic I bothered to pick up on Alan's recommendation was Rob Vollmar and Pablo Callejo's The Castaways (still available from Absence of Ink!). I was blown away.
Some of you that have grown up in religious households may be familiar with the term "born again Christian". What it means is that you've lived a life of sin, recognize that and have been baptized and rededicated your life to Christ. I grew up in church, and while I understood the meaning of that phrase, I never really understood what it meant to feel that way.
After reading The Castaways, I knew that feeling. It was my re-introduction to the world of comics. What they could be, what they could symbolize, the emotional depths they could reach. It was like being born again, my eyes were opened. And while I continue to buy the superhero books that have a stranglehold on the industry, (yes, I am hypocritical, why do you ask?) I've invested as much or more money in following my new passion for small press comics and books that don't feature men and women in spandex.
After The Castaways I discovered books like Eightball by Dan Clowes, Mother Come Home by Paul Hornschemeier, Blankets by Craig Thompson, Seth's Palookaville, and even a few mainstream titles I'd likely have passed over, like Alan Moore's classic Swamp Thing run, or Brian K. Vaughan's excellent Vertigo series Y, the Last Man.
In short, as a Galaxy reader I felt pushed into seeking out books that I enjoyed rather than just washing my hands of the comic book industry. Now, as a reviewer I can only hope that my thoughts and infrequent insights help shape the industry into what it should be: shelves full of diversity, not just one single genre. I can think of no other art form that voluntarily limits itself the way that comics do, and for the life of me I can't figure out why.
Which brings me to Rob Liefeld.
Rob might be a shining example of everything that has been wrong with comics for the last fifteen years. The height of his career came during the speculator market of the 90s, where he co-created X-Force and co-founded Image Comics with the launch of his Youngblood book.
My first comic book was X-Force #8. Sure, I'd read comics before then, but this was my first comic. I bought it, on borrowed money I'm sure, I was just a kid after all, but it was the book that I picked out. It was at a Wal-Mart store, back when comics were still sold on newsstands, in Phenix City, Alabama, my dad was urging me to finally decide on something (I've always been indecisive), and I'll never remember what the other book I was debating was, but I picked X-Force #8. It was what I wanted, it was what I got.
I'm not exactly sure what attracted me to the book, looking the cover now it looks like an early attempt to try and capture some manga qualities in an American book. There is no background, only speed lines, and while I still like Rob's Grizzly better than anyone else's, the other characters on the cover do nothing for me now. I suppose as a kid I found the depicted action fascinating.
The inside though, is a completely different story. Being a kid, and an infrequent comics reader, I had no idea about things like guest pencilers, or why one would even be used. Other than the cover and two pin-ups, Rob's art is only present on the books first and last page. The rest of the book was done by Mike Mignola. His Cable is still my favorite to this day.
Reading the story of this time-lost man from the future, sent to the past to seek out the one person who could save the human race, riveted me. I didn't know you could find things like this in comics. I thought it was all Spider-Man beating up thugs, or the villain of the week. Not here. Here some kid (Cannonball for those who care) was dying in this man, Cable's arms (One of which was metal! Holy Cow!), while he reminisced about his mission and the others in his group tried to hold off the unseen bad guys. Sure, it's mutant melodrama now, but as a kid I ate it up.
So, while Rob Liefeld's art isn't really responsible for my love of comics (believe me, knowing that I dug Mignola early on is one of those things that always makes me relieved; I'll never forget seeing Hellboy and thinking how familiar the art was…), he co-created the series that drug me into this crazy world of floppy books, and plotted that particular story as well, if I remember correctly.
So, here I am, and while I'm happy to take your praise and criticism, should you have any, all other thanking and/or blaming can be placed on those two. I'm sure Alan will happily accept your thanks, and well, Rob gets blamed for a lot, even by me, so he can probably shoulder a little more.
So, on to the reviews!
Death Jr. #1
Death Jr. tries to be a dark humour book akin to Lenore and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, but while those books tend to be biting and at times overly dramatic to reinforce their point, Death Jr. takes a different route. While not exactly kid-friendly, the book has entirely too much heart to be considered true "goth" material. Essentially it's the story of the Grim Reaper's son as he is initiated into the public school system. Most of the humour comes from Death Jr.'s inability to recognize that he is not like the normal children, with a few visual puns thrown in for good measure (Death Sr. holding a coffee mug that reads "world's Greatest Dad" being the best of those). It's a good enough read with a bit of a forced twist to try and add some suspense to a very simple story of a boy's first day at school. Naifeh's art is great however, outshining the story, particularly the sequences involving the other "freaks". His Pandora (who gets into all kinds of trouble opening things, imagine that…) is charmingly creepy, as are the conjoined twins, Smith and Weston. Some of the written jokes are too forced though, resulting in a few eye-rolls and the occasional sigh. Whitta lacks the bitterness that most of his peers in this genre have, which might lead to fans of those books shying away from this title, but anyone looking to get a small taste of those comics could do worse than Death Jr., but ultimately much better as well, especially considering the five dollar cover price. Grade: 3/5
Hero Camp #1
Hero Camp is full of ambition, but unfortunately that isn't always a positive thing. Simply, it's the tale of a boy named Eric, the son of superhero parents, who is sent away to camp to learn to use his superpowers to be a hero. The only problem is that Eric doesn't have superpowers, too bad no one believes him. The book stumbles when a group of villainous types come from nowhere to attempt to kidnap Eric, and the plot accelerates too fast to really be enjoyed. There's also a back-up story as well as a few bio pages. Rodriguez art at least makes it enjoyable to look at, his characters are distinct, and while there's nothing groundbreaking about the panel layout, the story flows well enough. It's nice to see a comic book on the stands that doesn't feel the need to drag the plots out at a snail's pace, but this book just overreaches the mark. In the end the story is ambitious, but flawed and not nearly as enjoyable as it could have been. Grade: 2.5/5
As noble a task as bringing Beowulf into the 21st century is, Augustyn's script doesn't have enough originality to set it apart from the already over-crowded superhero market. There are hints at some bigger scheme at work, but in the end we're left with more questions than answers, and anyone not familiar with the characters origins may just feel lost. We don't get to see much of the world Beowulf lives in, and the few character we're introduced too appear to be nothing but clichés of their professions; Detective Kenyon, the naïve cop who thinks he can still do some good; his gruff but good natured boss; and Gauchere, the government operative who's up to no good; even the throwaway rookie superhero, Powerhouse. While it's hard to call a character that likely helped define his specific traits a cliché, that's also how Beowulf himself feels. A loner, the grim and gritty anti-hero, doing a job he doesn't exactly enjoy for a somewhat greater good. The art, by the man simply known as Dub, is very appealing, mostly due to the coloring of Pierre Andre Dery. Every panel has a sort of radiance to it, a watercolor-type effect, which feels appropriate for the tone the book is aiming for. In the end the book's lack of character dooms it to mediocrity. Not only are we left with too many questions about what exactly is going on in this world, but anyone unfamiliar with the history of Beowulf will likely find the character formulaic, if they're not completely confused as to exactly who and what he is. As it stands, Beowulf is just a pretty read and not an interesting one. Grade: 2/5
Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities #1
Eric Powell has made a bit of a name for himself writing his Eisner-winning title, The Goon, also published by Dark Horse. His latest offering, Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities, is similar to The Goon in that it is dark comedy, but here Powell has added touches of history, both factual and fictional, to great effect. The story is very interesting, mixing so many American mythologies with a sort of mystical plot that involves Frankenstein, and one can only assume his Monster won't be far behind. In fact Powell lays the groundwork for that introduction through the artifact they're after, the Golem's Heart. It's not often you get to see a unique take on the American West, and it will be interesting to see these characters in contrast to the events and people they're sure to encounter in Europe. Fortunately Powell is able to infuse the "oddities" with enough character that Billy's lack of anything remotely new in that department is at best a minor note. The revelation that Fineas Sproule is something other than normal is presented so subtly as to be almost unnoticeable. Powell's dialogue is good enough to distract your eye while Hotz's pencils slowly reveal Fineas' extra appendages, resulting in a bit of a double-take. Hotz does a great job with the other characters; even the background figures that don't have any dialogue are captivating and almost beg to have their stories told. There's one section in particular, a two-page spread, when Fineas and Billy arrive at the camp; Hotz's pencils are so active that the spread is dangerously close to being overdone. Though their version of Billy the Kid may be nothing new, and strangely right-handed, Powell and Hotz capture everything essential to his character, as well as surrounding him with a world he's both unfamiliar with and unaccustomed to, making for a pretty interesting fish out of water story. Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities promises to be a unique and exciting read, melding the history and myth of one of America's most notorious citizens with literary history and characters who would make P.T. Barnum proud. Grade: 4/5
Cable & Deadpool #15
This book has a few good things going for it; Nicieza is comfortable with the two stars of the book, having co-created Deadpool and worked on Cable's various books more than any other writer; he also knows his continuity, and he plays fast and loose with it most of the time. For anyone familiar with the history of these two, this will be a funny and exciting read, but if you are not, most of the jokes will likely be lost on you, and the sudden appearance of other characters either from the X-franchise or other parts of the Marvel Universe will probably just be confusing. There is an introduction to the new arc on the books first page, which at least acknowledges that some readers may indeed get lost, and there's definitely plenty of humour that's not based on some sort of in-joke. The art does its job well enough, nothing too fancy, the action scenes are clean and comprehendible and there's plenty of visual humour. I love the fact that there is a letters page and that they are answered by Deadpool adds both to the charm and silliness of the title. It's a great read for fans of the characters who don't demand to have their comic book superheroes taken seriously, but it might be alienating itself from picking up new readership by including so many continuity jokes. Grade: 3.5/5
Tales of the TMNT #10
The best thing about Tales of the TMNT is that each issue can be infinitely different from the last, focusing on various periods and characters throughout the Turtles existence. Unfortunately that also means the quality fluctuates as well. The main feature in this issue centers on Donatello's encounter with a Golem who is stealing food and medicine from local shop owners in an attempt to care for a dead child. The story is a bit bogged down in Jewish history and numerology, but makes for a good, emotional character piece. D'Israeli's art is beautiful and Murphy's script does a good enough job of both informing and piquing interest about the numerology involved and how it fits into Jewish history. The back-up story, also by Murphy, is a bit too philosophical for my tastes. A young child asks a Utrom what happens when you fall off the universe, and we watch as the Utrom goes to great lengths to answer the question. The fact that it's inspired by an actual event makes it a little less grating, but in the end it just feels like a time-killer. Lawson's art is always a pleasure, but the script doesn't give him a tremendous amount to work with. Fortunately, there's always the promise of something new next issue, which makes this book infinitely exciting, and occasionally disappointing, but never predictable. Grade: 3.5/5
All of these books should be available at your local retailer, should you decide to seek them out. If you don't know where that is, you can go to The Comics Shop Locator, enter your zip code and you'll find a list of retailers closest to you.
That about does it for this, the first Loose Staples column; comments, complaints and suggestions are welcome and can be emailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I expect to see you all back here in two weeks, same Loose time, same Loose channel!
-- Logan Polk
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