Monday, April 19, 2004

Time to dip into the box o'goodness provided by good old Unca Larry, and comment on the following AiT/PlanetLar titles:

Not being content with giving us a metaphorical road to perdition, with this writer Max Collins gives us a literal one. The term "psychotronic" gets used a lot in the descriptions of this GN, not only on the website, but also in Collins' introduction, and actually, it's a very appropriate way to describe this. Of course, the term originated with an obscure low budget sci-fi/horror film called The Pyschotronic Man, and was appropriated by Michael Weldon as the title of his successful self-published movie magazine and the two reference books he's published, which are absolute must-haves for any connisseur of craptacular cinema. A psychotronic film is "...commonly...identified by (its) use of explotation elements and (it's) interest in humanity's lowest common denominator" (from the back jacket blurb of The Psychotronic Movie Guide), and that's what we get: zombies, gangsters, hot dames, lots of liquor, retro 50's and 60s fashion and decor, Satan himself with horns and a goatee and a bitchin' tux, and the title character himself- a private dick with an eyepatch and a shady history, and a penchant for running afoul of the mob. It starts out as a fairly routine sort of tough guy vs. the mob type story, but then takes a deleriously nutball turn about halfway through, and becomes a absolute gas for most of the second half until the ending, which was a bit too ambiguous for my liking. Now, I was never a fan of the titles that Collins and artist Terry Beatty are most known for: Ms. Tree and Wild Dog, although I kinda liked Collins' Dick Tracy newspaper strips. Beatty's style never grabbed me much- I always found it stiff and mannered, almost awkwardly so. And it's still kinda stiff here, but he completely nails the period flavor, and invites favorable comparisons to his most obvious model: EC Comics, specifically the EC horror tales drawn by Johnny Craig. I read in the notes where Johnny has been optioned as a movie; too bad someone like T.V. Mikels, Larry Buchanon, or Al Adamson couldn't be tabbed to direct it! I really enjoyed Johnny Dynamite, a lot more than I thought I would. It appealed to the B-movie buff in me. A-

Abel is a glum tale of prejudice and murder set in a small Nebraska town in the World War II era. It strives to be Steinbeckian, but reads a bit more like Stephen King. Its protagonist is a young boy named John, who is saddled with a irredeemably horrible bully for an older brother (Phillip) and parents who are either blithely unaware or unwilling to see it, and in the case of his no-nonsense father, probably don't care. He lives in an isolated rural town, where everyone is apparently steadfastly bigoted, like most modern writers seem to believe everyone was back in those days. He befriends the Chinese manservant of a invalid old man, and soon he is helping out with the old man's garden, and getting paid a dollar to do it, a veritable fortune in those days. Of course, he has to keep his new friendship a secret, and of course his older brother finds out and uses the information to tighten his stranglehold on his sibling. One night, his brother sneaks out and hooks up with his buddies for some bad fun with one of his cronies' retarded sister, who is kept, Karl Childers-like, in a shed behind the house. They take turns having their way with her, until she bites back, and this sends Phillip into a rage which culminates in him beating her to death. They all agree to blame it on the Chinaman. Problem is, John has sneaked out as well, and has watched the whole scene from the bushes...and he is faced with a terrible choice: does he go warn his new friend, and get his brother in trouble, or does he do nothing? His choice, as it turns out, is a dreadful one indeed...and is a powerful one as well.

I was pretty much caught up in Abel after the early going, and did feel the impact from the ending, which surprised me a little. The Cain-Abel parallels here aren't really developed very much, and we're not really given much in the way of sympathetic characters here- of course, you feel for John, but at the same time he frustrates because he's so passive, and the manservant Mar has apparently devoted his life to the man who bought him and abused him for many years, even after he became too old and ill to mistreat him any longer. Everyone else is portrayed as stupid, bigoted, or just plain uncaring, and this becomes wearisome after a while. That said, I did care about what happened to John, which made the ending that much more troubling. Biggest problem I had with Abel was the art of Mark Bloodworth. Again working in sepia tone ( I think Larry must have gotten a great deal on sepia ink at some point), Bloodworth does a fine job on the backgrounds, composition and staging, but he has a total inability to draw the human figure, and this ineptitude just about sinks the whole book. I don't know what stage Bloodworth is in his career, but I sincerely hope that he takes some anatomy drawing classes. In all fairness, he does just fine with the period detail, and occasional scenes like the one on page 39 are striking and evocative. Unfortunately, for every page like that, there's a clunker like the full page illo of the town on page 30.

Abel works in spite of itself, and it was obviously a deeply felt endeavor by writer William Harms. A little tightening here and there, and a better artist, would have really pushed this over the top. As it is, though, it's still an engaging read, and I can recommend it with reservations. B

Wasn't too crazy about THE ANNOTATED MANTOOTH. While it was well-drawn in a Tim Sale-ish kind of way by Andy Kuhn with Tim Fisher, I found the exploits of this Simian James Bond just too broad, sophomoric and juvenile for my liking. I suppose that was the whole point of the thing, and if you like your humor crude and lowbrow, then you should definitely be all over this. Not that there's anything wrong, necessarily, with this sort of fratboy hijinx, but it's just not my thing. C

A handsome collection of digital photography by that noted technophile and proficient jacket blurb writer Warren Ellis, accompanied by a short story inspired by each image. Some are arresting, some are eh, but all are readable, especially if you're an admirer of Ellis' terse, no-nonsense style. I am, so I enjoyed it much more than others, I guess. Very nice, but difficult to get real evangelical about. A-

That's all for now...I still have Jennie One, Channel Zero, Astronauts in Trouble: Flight Plan HC, and a couple of others to go.

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