Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, No. 32

Here we go again with Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I opine upon a handful of recent releases of the comic book and/or graphic novel type, some of which may even still be on the rack at a comics shop near you, or available via the click of a button and the insertion of bank card information from an online merchant, if you’re lucky. Or if you’re not, as the case may be. Shall we?

DRACULA: THE COMPANY OF MONSTERS #1
Script: Kurt Busiek, Daryl Gregory; Art: Scott Godlewski
Boom! Studios, $3.99

Another modern-day take on the venerable vampire, this time spearheaded by Kurt (Astro City) Busiek, as solid a scripter as the come, but not one particularly known for his innovative ideas. That said, this is set up fairly well, with DaVinci Code and Raiders of the Lost Ark overtones. Teamed up with novelist Gregory, we get introduced to the cast in this first issue, including our POV guy (or protagonist for now, anyway- he may be destined to take the route Wolfman and Roy Thomas’ Frank Drake took in Tomb of Dracula, who knows) Evan, a slacker nephew of the head of a major “predatory” (according to the hype page) corporation who has managed to track down the remains of ol’ Vladdy daddy himself, for purposes I’m sure will make up the bulk of the next few issues’ storylines. A battle of wits between Drac and the Evil Predatory Corporation is promised, with Evan in the middle, and I’m hoping no one gets cute and deviates from this idea. Godlewski’s art seems up to the task; while his, like so many other newish illustrators these days, looks like it began and ended with his favorite 80′s and 90′s comic book artists, he avoids awkward poses for the most part and displays a nice expressiveness in his faces and gestures. He doesn’t seem to be afraid to draw backgrounds, either, and that’s always a plus. Vampires are still commanding interest these days, so one more bloodsucker-themed adventure story won’t hurt anything…I’m not so sure that this series’ subtle-so-far charms will attract more than a modest audience, but who the heck knows. I didn’t think Walking Dead would have legs either, and look how wrong I was there. (Reviewed from a PDF provided by the publisher)

SCIENCE DOG SPECIAL #1
Script: Robert Kirkman; Art: Cory Walker
Image Comics, $3.50

And speaking of Walking Dead…here’s a little opus that Kirkman cooked up before he got the idea to write a zombie soap opera, and now that he’s somebody he’s chosen to come back to this concept and do it up, presumably, right. So. Anybody remember Dalgoda? One of the first comics ever published by Fantagraphics. The lead of this story, a puppy given advanced intelligence and human form in a lab accident, is a dead ringer for that character. Also, he dresses an awful lot like our old friend Tom Strong, and fights weird menaces like big-brained people in robot fighting suits (which look like the big robot in Robocop) a la Strong, Hellboy or Atomic Robo, itself another Hellboy-inspired pastiche. Derivative it may be, but it’s not without charm; the dialogue is witty and breezy and Kirkman keeps the pace brisk. Walker’s art helps a lot; it, too, shows a lot of different influences- Sprouse, Mignola, Nowlan, and Maguire to name a few, and I’m reminded a lot of people like Craig Rousseau and the Robo guys also- but he blends styles well (that little puppy Science Dog is cute as hell) and does as good job on the talking heads scenes as well as the action sequences. This isn’t bad as far as it goes, but I stayed distracted as I read while my mind kept playing “spot the inspiration”, so I can’t say it exactly rocked my world. Those of you who have read fewer stories of this type, or who are undemanding Kirkman and/or Walker completists, will lap this right up.

Running a little short on books to review; nothing new came out last week that had me worked up in a writing lather, well, nothing I had access to anyway. That said, I did get new comics- my bi-weekly shipment from DCBS; featuring titles from last week and the week before. So, what say I run ‘em down and write a paragraph about each of them, some Short Takes if you will:

SCALPED #40 (DC/Vertigo): A charming little tale of the plight of the more-or-less protagonist of this piece, Dash Bad Horse, as he tries to kick another kind of bad horse and get his life together before someone kills him instead. At the same time, his pregnant girlfriend is trying to do the same using different methods, as well as come to grips with being pregnant again. Yep, another happy-go-lucky installment of, in all seriousness, one of the most gripping and dramatically solid sequential narratives you’ll find in print today. Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera are in perfect sync. Go buy the first trade and go from there. A

FABLES #97 (DC/Vertigo): This series has had a number of major plotlines boiling under for what seems like at least a couple of years now; some have gotten more attention than others. With this issue it seems like Willingham and Buckingham are finally going to let this thing go forward, just in time for the 100th issue in a few months. As consistently good (not always excellent) as this series is and has been, I know if most likely will not disappoint. Maybe. B+

ATLAS #4 (Marvel): As befits its lame duck status, we’re now getting a kinda rushed-up resolution to the whole 3-D Man storyline, and darned if Jeff Parker isn’t doing it very well. We get two artists this time out, and both are outstanding, even if their styles do clash a bit. A-

HEROIC AGE: PRINCE OF POWER #4 (Marvel): Since Marvel axed the Incredible Hercules ongoing, we’ve been treated to a succession of miniseries about Herc dying, being eulogized, and his young sidekick Amadeus Cho’s exploits as CEO of the new Olympus Group, as well as in a heated race slash battle (aided by Thor, who now appears in every Marvel comic being published these days. Movie? What movie?) with a young half-god adversary to gain an ultimate power that in Cho’s hands could bring his buddy back, and in the others could enable him to rule the universe or something. This has been enjoyable up to a point, but Cho on his own, while likeable, still functions best as Herc’s sidekick- solo he’s just not as interesting. This series and its characters haven’t come close to the potent action/humor blend of the Hercules series for over a year now, and I think at some point I will have to face facts and move on. I will wait and see, however, what happens when they bring Herc back as we all know they’re going to do. C+

MADAME XANADU #26 (DC/Vertigo): Another lame duck title (canceled as of #29) that started with high hopes and promises of real character development, but now has seemingly devolved into a sort of wheel spinning, waiting for the inevitable axe to fall. Lately, Matt Wagner has come full circle from her first 70′s appearances by giving us random stories, set in different time periods, in which Madame X gets involved with whatever problem-of-the-month we’re given, I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I tell you that this issue’s main character smells really bad.  The most notable thing this time out is the art of Chrissie Zullo; it’s a pleasing, unusual style probably best suited for children’s book illustrations, and for featuring it, I bump this issue’s score up a notch. B-

WEIRD WORLD OF JACK STAFF #4 (Image): Maybe it’s me, but it seems that Paul Grist has been telling this story for years now, and even worse, doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to wind it up and move on. At least he has his always-clever, often-brilliant art to fall back on. And Paul. Please. Give Becky Braddock a new outfit one of these days, OK? B+

HELLBLAZER #270 (DC/Vertigo): The conclusion of the multi-issue arc which saw Pete Milligan return to one of his most popular characters, the Vertigo version of Ditko’s Shade, the Changing Man. Enjoyable, even if the resolution seemed a bit out of left field. Wouldn’t surprise me to see another Shade series by Milligan down the road. B+

THE 6TH GUN #3 (Oni Press): Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s weird Western continues to refine and expand its concept and characters, providing imaginative and fascinating reading, even though there’s something of a lack of conflict in this particular chapter. An definite candidate for my best of 2010 list. A

Your basic review-writing music list: Bruce Springsteen- Born to Run; Steve Winwood- Steve Winwood (1977); Madhouse- 16; Coldplay- A Rush of Blood to the Head, The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale featuring Sun Ra- Batman and Robin.

Review requests, mash notes, unsolicited advice: johnnybacardi AT gmail