Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Here's the opening salvo of the
In which I cast my swinish opinions before my pearly readers about various works of sequential fiction I have read from November 5 through 20, some of which may still be on sale at your friendly neighborhood comics shop, if you move quickly!

S/A: Tim Truman. (Dynamite Entertainment, $19.99)

Come with me now, waaay back to the dim and distant 1980's, when several independent companies rose up and dared to challenge the almost complete hegemony of the Big Two (there were still Archie comics, although Gold Key and Charlton had pretty much expired by then) when it came to mainstream comics publishing. Eclipse, First, Kitchen Sink, Fantagraphics, Pacific- all had worthy titles, some more than others, and while the actual content varied wildly, from the Clowes/Hernandez/Crumb-led Fanta to First's mostly superhero offerings, none were putting anything out like Eclipse's Scout- which married Native American mythology, good old fashioned Reagan/Bush Sr.-era political cynicism, Soldier of Fortune-magazine style weapon worship, the macho biker ethic and a strong Texas blues-rock flavor to create the story of one Emanuel Santana, an AWOL Apache killing machine who finds out, through peyote-induced visions, that the Powers That Be in his near-future America aren't what they seem to be...they're really incarnations of evil Native American deities who mean us no good, and it's Santana's mission to kill them before they ruin our country any further. And that's pretty much what he does, in violent and explosive fashion, throughout this collection of the first seven issues of the ongoing series, which ran from 1985 to 1987. And while there's seldom any real suspense in any of these chapters- we all know that these dastardly creatures will get what's coming to them, it's just a matter of how gruesome their demise will be-, this still becomes engrossing reading simply because of Truman's commitment to his character and his attention to detail throughout. He was still very much learning his craft as he went along in regards to art as well; as he is quick to point out in the short interview at the end of the book, there is a lot of clumsy anatomy throughout. But his storytelling choices were usually always sharp, and his gritty, highly-Jaxon-influenced style really suited the material well, as it did on his later Jonah Hex books for Vertigo. Although I collected this series back in the day, I let go of my original issues and it was fun to get to read them again for the first time since 1987. I really hope they get around to collecting the rest of the run someday. One other note: most Eclipse titles had six-page back features in them, and Scout was no was paired, quite incongrously, with Fashion in Action, about globe-hopping mercenary soldiers who also happened to be supermodels, by J.K. Snyder III- and FiA was tons of fun, with Snyder's kinetic, angular art style adding a lot of pizazz. I'd love to see them collected someday, yes I would. A-

Creators: John Paul Leon, Trevor Goring, Tommy Lee Edwards, Sean Chen, Bernard Chang (Boom! Studios, $15)

Longtime readers will recall that I am always quick to heap praise upon the artwork of Tommy Lee Edwards, who I think is simply of of the very best illustrators working in comics today. Ever since I first saw his work on the late lamented (by me, anyway) DC/Helix title Gemini Blood, I've been a fan and usually will go out of my way to pick up anything his work appears in. So when Bernard Chang, in the course of some correspondence about his How to Make Money Like a Porn Star, mentioned that he was part of a collective called "the BLVD" along with Edwards and John Paul Leon, and wondered if I'd be interested in seeing a sketchbook they had just put out, well, I just couldn't say YES fast enough! And if you're a fan of these artists (Leon is another favorite of mine), then you'll want to get this as well- the work throughout is uniformly excellent, from the loosest pencil sketch to the tightest inked page sample. Leon's varied section boasts several pencilled layouts from Winter Men, as well as a lot of his other mainstream work; Chang's stuff (which I really haven't seen a lot of) shows his ability to change his style to fit the material but still maintain a dynamic, contemporary, and cohesive look; Edwards' blocky rendering enlivens a multitude of subjects, from mainstream Superman to some of his own creations, which I hope we get to see more of. His section is the highlight of the book, but I'm a little biased. Goring and Chen I'm less familiar with; can't quite put my finger on who his work reminds me of, but sometimes I'm reminded of the loose and sloppy (in a good way, of course) stylings of Tom Mandrake, and Chen's much tighter work often reminds me of Gil Kane, perhaps, crossed with Barry Smith (there are some Wolverine illos that are dead-on Smith homages) perhaps. If you're a fan of good art, then you should consider checking this out. If you're a big fan of Edwards, then you MUST. A-

S: Jim Massey; A: Robbi Rodriguez (Oni, $3.50. Reviewed from B&W preview.)

The misadventures of Doug and Manny, who are janitors at "TerroMax, Inc.", an evil science laboratory/think tank- they probably got this gig after henching for the Monarch. Venture Bros. joke there. Anyway, this is mostly amusing and often clever, with a nice art job by Rodriguez, whose style reminds me a lot of Disney's hand-animated TV output these days. Based on this first issue, this looks like a grower- while most of the story is spent getting acquainted, I'm thinking perhaps Massey will take this concept in subsequent issues and may just run with it a while, and might just come up with a sleeper success before he's done, aesthetically, if not finacially. If you're speculating on the next under-the-radar good read, then you might want to place a bet or two on this one. B+

S/A: Keith Knight (Keith Knight Press, $12.95)

Here's another talent worthy, I think, of a larger audience. It's a collection of one-panel strips, dealing with politics, race relations, and other subjects, and he's pretty good at finding the ironies and inherent humor in all of them. His cartooning style is a loose mix of John Kricfalusi and Peter Bagge (and others which don't come to mind), and suits the material just fine. The hit-to-miss ratio of the shots he takes at his various targets is pretty high, and if topical humor's your thing, you should check this out. B+

S: Garth Ennis; A: Chris Sprouse, Karl Story (DC/WildStorm, $2.99)

Boy, that Garth is a master of subtlety, isn't he? Everybody's favorite gay Batman analogue is captured, placed in a presumably hopeless situation (will he give in to the dark side?) and now we'll get to ponder this for the next five or so issues (this is a limited series, right?). This is the sort of scenario that Ellis and Millar took to the bank, with the seemingly unstoppable hero being set up to succeed against insurmountable odds, and Ennis does all right, I guess, even though the very secondhandedness of it all elicits yawning more than anything. Fortunately, Ennis (and the reader) have been lucky enough to get the dynamic duo of Sprouse and Story to draw it- that great missile-kicking scene wouldn't be half as satisfying if Sprouse hadn't drawn it with his usual dynamic, fine-line finesse, and that's just one example. Once more, for me anyway, good art will carry the day. And hopefully the next however-many issues we have. A-

S: Bill Willingham; A: Tom Derenick, Wayne Faucher (DC, $2.99)

Figures. Just when I find something that piques my interest in this sleepwalking comic, namely the art of Cory Walker, the artist-go-round spins once more and we get the earnest-but-dull JurgensOrdwayisms of Derenick, who absolutely calcifies what was a pretty stiff script to begin with. A hex on all of them- I'm out of here. C

That's all I have time for tonight...later, I'll post some covers and also drop a few lines about Seven Soldiers 1, Catwoman 61, Planetary Brigade Origins 1 and Jack Staff 12, among many others.

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