Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Time now to begin examination of the generous bounty which Mr. Planet Lar(ry) Young hath bestowed upon me.

First, though, indulge me in a brief digression. Back in my printing factory days, at good old R.R. Donnelley, we had a special designation for a correction or additional change order that was requested by a customer. Those were carboned sheets of paper called "additional instructions to..." sheets, or (as we referred to them) AIT's. So whenever I see the full name of this particular publisher, "AiT/PlanetLar", I always flash back to my Donnelley days. Which is often depressing.

But fortunately, it doesn't last long, and I had no qualms about diving into the contents of the FedEx box which I received back on Friday. I think that this is a wonderful gesture by Mr. Lar, I mean Mr. Young, and I sincerely hope more publishers follow in his footsteps. Hint hint. I've seen, already, a few reviews popping up here and there amongst my comics blogospheriverse brethren like shoots from the sowing of seeds, and I've tried not to read them yet, so as not to influence my judgement. I have noticed, though, that nearly everyone, save that rebel Mad Bill Sherman, has started out by reviewing what is probably the highest-profile AiT series yet, Demo...and I'm gonna get to that one real soon. But I think I'll start off with another instead:

If you've ever wondered what a pirate comic would be like that's written by Bob Burden, with Gilbert Hernandez on pencils and his brother Jaime on inks, well, seek help. Or buy this comic. Dogs is more of the Burdenesque straightfaced absurdity which has been making a bit of a comeback in the last couple of years, what with Street Angel, Sock Monkey, and others, and reminds me a bit of S. Clay Wilson's pirate stories back in the good old underground comics days. It's basically about a group of modern-day (sometimes, though the time frame often is blurred or thrown out entirely) misfit pirates who sail the Seven Seas in search of, well, mostly beer and plunder, it seems, and are never adverse to getting in a good scrap if necessary. They board a ship of lepers, believig them rich Portugeuse, then go out and try to get "real" jobs in issue one; run afoul of the King of the Hobo Mafia while hunting for Mike Nesmith (to avenge the Bosun on his birthday, who lost his hand thanks to Da Nez and his bandmates) in issue 3, and best of all brawl with monkeys, gloriously, hilariously so, in issue 2. Pirates are the new monkeys, the ad copy keeps telling us, and that may be true, but pirates and monkeys together- now that's something special! All seriousness aside, I thought Scurvy Dogs was a hoot and a half, and a worthy successor to such inspired Pirate opuses as Wilson's immortal Captain Pissgums. A

White Death is set in World War I, along the Italy and Austrio-Hungarian border, at the foot of the mountains. That's important, because the title refers to the occasional avalanches which sometimes occurred naturally, and sometimes with help from explosives. It's a grim tale of the conflict between two soldiers, one an Austrian named Pietro (I know, comics geek that I am, I couldn't help thinking about Quicksilver) who grew up in those mountains and chose to ally himself with the Italians- which causes him a great deal of inner conflict, especially when he kills one of his childhood friends who was on the other side at the beginning of the story. Another central character is a ruthless commanding officer who will let no one or nothing stop him in carrying out his orders and making sure he survives, no matter what the cost. Of course you know these two butt heads, but during the course of the relentless events of this story many other things happen that make it difficult to narrow it down to just that single plot device. Death is at its best when it gives us the camraderie (or lack of it) between the soldiers, and effectively garners our empathy for not only Pietro, but many of the other participants in what surely was a hellish experience. As I read Death I was also reminded often of Mark Helprin's novel A Soldier of the Great War, which dealt with similar subject matter...and darned if White Death wasn't nearly as effective. The art, by Charlie Adlard (boy, when I said I was unfamiliar with Adlard's work on the occasion of his taking over art chores on The Walking Dead, did I ever get a crash course- his work graces several of the AiT books I received) is unusual- it's done with charcoal and chalk on a grey paper surface, and the results are suitably murky and glum- but he doesn't take a lot of pains to distinguish between the rank and file soldiers, and often it causes a bit of confusion as to who's who and what's what. Not a constant problem, but there were several times I had to backtrack and sort it out. Adlard's style reminds me a lot here of Dan Spiegel, high praise in my book, and White Death would have made a nifty serial in Blazing Combat, that long-ago Warren war mag, or (dare I say) even Kurtzman's EC war comics. A-

JFK if Quentin Tarantino instead of Oliver Stone had directed. What we have here is another speculation on the lost-and-gone forever possible events leading to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This sort of thing has been done to death, but damned if Steven Grant hasn't come up with a fresh (at least to me, anyway- I'm far from a JFK buff) twist on it by giving us a possible candidate for the man on the grassy knoll in the person of a ex-con named "Connie", who seems capable and tough enough but just can't stay out of trouble. Badlands is well-written enough, although the story has a couple of places where the events skip around and threw me off for a second or two...probably more my fault than his. My biggest problem with this, though, is the terrible art by one Vince Giarrano, which is just poor- awkward figure drawings, sloppy inks, static action scenes, you name it. He seems to be striving sometimes for a Kyle Baker circa '88 look, but more often as not ends up with an Al Milgrom-inked-by-Josef Rubenstein result instead. But those fellas could at least draw the human body convincingly...Giarrano fails at this nine times out of ten and made Badlands more of a slog than it should have been. B

And finally...

DEMO 1-5
This is the one AiT title that I had actually noticed, when it came out a few months ago. Most of the time when I hear it mentioned, though, it's to compare it (favorably, I might add) to Marvel's thematically similar Nyx. For those who don't already know, Demo, (and I'll admit right up front that I have no clue what the hell the title is referring to) is a series of self contained stories about young people, some teens, some in their early 20s apparently, who have special abilities...powers, if you will. One causes explosions with her mind, and is fleeing with her boyfriend from an abusive mother. Another, a young tattooed dude who works with his father in the same factory, has super strength, and gets tested when the gang he hangs out with enlists his help in breaking in and robbing the company. Another young woman can appear to others as they want to see her, sort of reverse wish fulfillment. And so on. I didn't want to reveal anything about the surprising revelation in issue 3. While the notion of kids with superpowers is hardly fresh, author Brian Wood at least wisely plays it low key and as a result keeps it interesting. The only real reservation I have is that by keeping this as a series of unrelated short stories, I don't really have any clear cut feeling of any of this having a point. God knows I don't want them all to band together and don costumes and fight evil or any of that bullshit, but a glimpse into some sort of overarching purpose to all of this, if there is any, would be real helpful. And if there is no connecting thread, no sense of all of this having any sort of grand purpose whatsoever, it's going to devolve into episodic formula (already a bit of a concern- these stories tend to have a pattern to them) real soon, and that won't be so good. The somewhat manga-influenced art, by Becky Cloonan, seemed tentative at first- like she just couldn't get comfortable with her style. But by issue 3, she settled in with an ink line that made her pages look almost like woodcuts, and it gets better every issue. Demo is a book that has my interest for now, but I really hope that it transcends its somewhat limited subject matter into something more soon. A-

And that's it for now, more later!