Catch-up time again!
Here's some recent and not-so-recent books I've read lately, and I really, really meant to write about many of them sooner- but plans happen when you're busy making other lives, or something like that. Anyway, time for me to redress that grievous oversight.
SPAGHETTI WESTERN by Scott Morse (Oni Press)
We're only 6 days into 2005, and I've already found one 2004 title I forgot to include in my "Best of '04" list. I've been somewhat disappointed in Morse's work for DC lately, his fill-ins on Plastic Man and his one-shot Batman book were not all that memorable...but left to his own devices, he does much better by me, and this book is proof of that. It's a rectangular-format book, one page equaling one panel giving it a "widescreen" effect, fitting because this is a movie homage at its foundation. Two men, one dressed like Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter or any Leone film you'd care to name and the other, elderly and terminally ill sidekick, attempt to rob a Savings and Loan using six-guns and horses. What happens next blends Dog Day Afternoon with Bronco Billy, and Morse's unusual style, all done in sepia tones, brings out the best in the story. I thought Spaghetti Western was great, if a little short, and should have been in my year-end list. Mea culpa.
THE TOMB by Nunzio DiFillpis, Christina Weir and Christopher Mitten (Oni Press)
Not to overdo the movie comparisons here, but what this is is Raiders of the Lost Ark meets The Mummy meets The Haunting as would-be franchise character and female Indiana Jones Jessica Parrish is hired to investigate a house, owned by an archaeologist and full of Egyptian relics- not to mention death traps- in which several people have disappeared. Also along for the ride is a character named Max who is the publisher of a tabloid-type newspaper; apparently writers DiFillipis and Weir intend for these two to be a Nick-and-Nora or Steed-and-Emma-style pair, and they allude somewhere in the introduction to having written other adventures featuring them. Anyway, throwing these kind of characters in a haunted-house scenario is a bit different from the usual Lara Croft-style exploits, and the story moves along at a pretty good clip, rarely straining credibility. I wasn't as crazy about Mitten's art- he has a style which is an unremarkable amalgam of about a dozen popular mid-80's and 90's artists, and doesn't do anything distinctive with any of them; but neither does he do anything that looks egregiously terrible either- no awkward anatomy or impossible perspective, so while I found his style completely unexciting it didn't hinder me from reading the story so no harm, no foul. All in all, I found The Tomb a diverting time-waster; I kinda liked that Parrish character and wouldn't mind reading further tales about her and Max. As long as I could get them free or borrow them from friends.
THE BLACK FOREST by Todd Livingston, Robert Tinnell, and Neil Vokes
Fables readers may recall that recently, Bill Willingham did a two-part WWII story which pitted his Bigby Wolf character against the Nazis and a Frankenstein monster of sorts, and almost immediately was called upon to acknowledge that someone had recently beaten him to the conceptual punch- and this is what did it. Written by Livingston and Tinnell, a couple of TV and Movie screenwriters, and illustrated by Vokes, this is another riff on those old Universal Studios monster-jam flicks like House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, or Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein in which the classic monsters (or their archetypes, anyway) get together for sanguine hijinx. Throw in intrepid US soldiers who have joined the French Air Force (the US hadn't gotten involved in the Great War yet), an British expert on the supernatural prone to narcolepsy, and just to be different, set it in WWI Germany instead of the WWII-era stuff we're used to, and you get a ripping good adventure yarn with many clever touches, marred script-wise only by the odd choice to make the nominal hero of the piece an annoyingly immature eager-beaver type. Had a hard time warming to him. No complaints about the art- Vokes has a lively style, kinda reminiscent of Leave It To Chance's Paul Smith or Bruce Timm, and I swear I thought I saw traces of Ernie (Richie Rich, Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld) Colon in there, too. He smothers everything in layer after layer of black ink and wash gloom, appropriate in creating the dark, oppressive mood needed to balance his cartoonish figures. Black Forest was a lot of fun to read and nicely done, and I hope the creators follow it up someday.
DOPE FIENDS OF THE ZOMBIE CAFÉ by Sean Frost and Rafer Roberts (Hula Cat Comics)
A mini-comic sent to me by Wendi Strang-Frost waaaaay back in the dim and distant days of September, and I swear I meant to write about it sooner, really I did, but things just kept gettin' in the way. Anyways, what we have here is an affectionate tribute/homage/pisstake on old cautionary films like Reefer Madness and Cocaine Fiends, merged with 50's drive-in grade-z monster movies. Wow- two cult genres in one! And it's mostly fun and fast paced, if a little heavy-handed. I wish I could be as positive about the art, which is really crude and amateurish, even for a mini-comic. Still, it didn't keep me from enjoying the idea behind the story, so all was not lost. A fun read, and thanks to Wendi for sending it my way.
TALES FROM THE BULLY PULPIT by Benito Cereno and Graeme MacDonald (Image)
Oooh-kay. Teddy Roosevelt and the ghost of Thomas Edison battling Nazis and martians across time and space. Well, why the hell not? After Street Angel, Scurvy Dogs, and the one-two combo of Grant Morrison's Seaguy and The Filth (wait- he was trying to be more or less serious with that one, right?), not to mention the recent return of the Flaming Carrot- there was a real wave of absurdist adventure and humor going along there for a while, and this wacky tale (released late last Summer, unless I'm mistaken) fits right in there. Pretty good for the most part, although I kinda began to lose patience with all the twists and turns the script took, plus I tend to have a low tolerance for time travel stories anyway. The art was certainly unusual, all sharp angles and thick black outlines- not a style I particularly love, but it was OK. Of course, the most obvious comparison to make here is the Bill and Ted films, but it's a little better than a cheap imitation. It's kinda pricey at $6.95, too. I borrowed the copy I read, but others might want to keep an eye on the quarter boxes.
Thanks to my most esteemed fellow Stupid Llama, Mik Cary, for the loan of several of these comics. I'll return them soon, I promise.