Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, No. 55

Written by Books, Comics Reviews

Time once more for CoaCSJ, in which I opine upon a handful of recent comics and graphic novel releases, most of which should be just a comics shop visit or internet button click away.

AXE COP: BAD GUY EARTH #1
Script: Malachi Nicolle; Art: Ethan Nicolle
Dark Horse, $3.50

Everyone, at least internet everyone (and yes, maybe limited to people I follow on Twitter- @j_bacardi, if you’d like to follow me), is talking about this series like it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, toilet paper, indoor plumbing or previous internet darling Atomic Robo. Me, I smelled another tempest in a teapot, so I thought I’d see for myself. The very F*CK YEAH! AIRWOLF! title of the thing- AXE COP! more AWESOME than pirates, ninjas and Hipster Ariel put together!- triggers my kneejerk tendency to recoil when presented with things that are overwhelmingly popular- took me decades to work up a taste for Kiss, believe me- but really, I shouldn’t judge it like that before reading it. The first thing I noticed about it was that the scripting credit is given to a 6-year-old boy, which automatically makes this thing review-proof. I mean, if it stinks, then the defense is “Well, what do you expect from a 6 year old boy?”, and if it’s great, then wow, that’s the most amazing thing ever! Fortunately for all concerned, this doesn’t stink- far from it. I won’t even pretend to know what the dynamic is between older and younger brother, and how much script doctoring was necessary, but this silly book is so good-natured and gleefully imaginative in a what-the-hell kinda way that all you can do is, if your tastes favor inspired whimsical surrealism like mine do, just follow along, smile, shake your head occasionally, and roll with it.

I suppose the plot, if you want to call it that, gives us the Axe Cop (he’s not a real cop, you see, he didn’t even go to a legit academy!) and his dinosaur/human partner being pursued and harrassed by the “real” police for his actions in the previous miniseries. While he’s dealing with the “real” law, he’s also confronted with the menace of a giant evil planet (everything and everyone is divided into “good” and “bad” this or that; wonder what that says about our budding young Ditko) which is on a path to collide with the Earth. In the course of confronting this menace, Axe Cop enlists the services of other super-guys (some of which he creates himself via a machine which makes evil people into good ones), but his headquarters is broken into and his gear is stolen by a pair of “psychic” crooks who seek to transform our entire planet into one of bad guys. Believe me when I tell you that this is a simplified version of a story that, in one issue, has more going on in it that any half dozen Big Two comics put together- dinosaurs with machine gun hands and genius scientists with unicorn horns and… this nutshell summation doesn’t really do it justice. It’s wild and unruly and yet as simplistic as you’d expect a six-year-old’s story to be. Big brother does a fine job of illustrating all this madness; he’s got a loopy, loose (yet highly indebted to animation in its style) approach that compliments it very nicely.

I guess sometimes people on the internet know whereof they speak when it comes to this sort of thing; I should not let my strong skeptical side influence me so strongly. Maybe I need a dose of Axe Cop’s Good Guy Machine.

LOCKE AND KEY: KEYS TO THE KINGDOM #’s 1-5
Scripts: Joe Hill; Art: Gabriel Rodriguez
IDW, $3.99 each

Here’s another franchise that I let the title dissuade me from checking out; I’ve seen too many mediocre series with titles that feature the leads as phrases such as “Cinder and Ashe”, “Sachs and Violens”, “Pryde and Wisdom” (I like Pete Wisdom, though)…anyway, you get the idea. I pegged it as yet another wannabe clever gimmick title attached to yet another half-baked supernatural thriller story. I’m thinking that this is proof once again that I’m just not as smart as I think I am. And as a result, I’m WAY late to this particular party, having missed three, count ’em, three previous six-issue miniseries. Unfortunately for me, this means that I’m having to figure out who’s who and what’s what on the fly (a synopsis of sorts is provided on the inside back cover), and that proved easier said than done. The things I do to earn my comics sherpa badge. Anyway, it turns out after I got about 3 issues in that this perhaps isn’t the best place to start experiencing this particular series; little or no effort os spent getting the new reader familiar with the cast or the situation, other than a terse recap on the inside front cover. Still, this is not to say this supernatural tale of a family, having recently lost their father to murder and having relocated to the family estate in (of all places) Lovecraft, Massachusetts and dealing with menaces from without and within with the help of a set of mysterious keys that enable the bearer to do amazing things, is not worth your time. Hill, son of Stephen (American Vampire and one or two other stories here and there) King, doesn’t have a real strong writing voice of his own (at least when it comes to comics scripting; haven’t read any of his prose novels) but has concocted an interesting and not terribly derivative skeleton on which to hang his story, and doesn’t spend a lot of time having his characters recap and explain things either, which I do appreciate although in this case it might have helped a little. Star of this particular show, however, is Rodriguez; I flat out love his style, which is (to my eyes) a nice blend of Philip Bond, Mike Kaluta, perhaps even a little Charles Burns and Peter Snejbjerg as well. Thick lines, somewhat baby-faced people, showing a little manga influence as well- it’s a hard style to peg, but regardless, he’s a heck of a storyteller with great design and layout sense, and if needs must he is adept at homage as well, as borne out by #1’s excellent Bill Watterston tribute. About the only thing he can’t draw is an Oakland A’s baseball cap- the logo is WAY too big, dude. Anyway, as befits true collaboration, I don’t think this would be half as good as it is without his work.

Since this is the fourth of six miniseries, we fall right in to the middle of the overall events in issue #1, which as I said is a Bill Watterston tribute that gives us the principals using a key (some are in the kids’ possession, some seem to appear and disappear) to transform into animals and engage in conflict; this isn’t really an accurate description but it’s the best I can come up with…the youngest, named Bode, is the one that changes into a bird and interacts with a flock of same, all drawn Calvin and Hobbes style. It’s very winning, though its ramifications in the overall scheme isn’t immediately clear to this noob. #2 addresses the overall story a bit more as they encounter a madwoman who seems to be a) not as mad as she seems, and b) knows something about the family. Since she’s African-American, and seems to hate whites, Hill also takes the opportunity to have a key which changes appearances, so sister Kinsey and Bode can visit her in the hospital as black people; it comes a little too close to “I Am Curious (Black)” territory but it’s handled pretty well. #3 crams a ton of events into one issue, and shows the Lockes and Co. going through a lot of battles, both personal and supernatural; kinda dizzying but many fine character beats are shown, and hockey playing brother Ty’s subplot provides a nice opening and closing. #4 is perhaps the most serious issue so far, as a playmate of Bode’s encounters a soldier’s ghost who informs him of the plan and the identity of the Big Bad, a androgynous acquaintance named Zack who’s apparently insinuated himself into the family. It ends ominously for one of the supporting characters. #5 advances the plot further, as Ty begins to suspect who Zack really is, but there’s a reveal at the end which went right by me, because (everyone repeat after me) I haven’t read the earlier issues.

Regardless, this is one hell of an intriguing series, and you can bet I’ll get caught up as soon as I can. I guardedly recommend it, but I also advise starting at the beginning.

Shorties:

DARKWING DUCK ANNUAL #1 (Boom! Studios): This one’s gotten a lot of attention because of its cover, which references the Batman graphic novel The Killing Joke in rather incongruous fashion. I suppose, when you think about it, that since the real audience for this series is men and women who were kids when the original Disney show aired, then it’s mature-theme-by-association message isn’t particularly inappropriate. In short, I kinda doubt many actual kids are reading these anyway so all’s fair. Anyway, the insides are status quo; snappily presented and professional-looking adventures of the titular character, who I always assumed was based on the Shadow more than Batman, but here he’s Duckknight Detective all the way, especially in the Pal Ian Brill-penned story that leads off, with Darkwing facing a Joker analogue that has a device which changes people into toys. The downbeat ending is probably the most incongruous thing in the entire publication, don’t know what Ian was thinking there, but I’m thinking that he should be doing Batman: Brave and the Bold Adventures or whatever the heck DC is calling their all-ages Batman book these days. The second story isn’t by Brill, is much shorter, is much less compelling, and gives us a repurposed Atom villain called “Chronoduck”. B

GIANT-SIZE ATOM #1 (DC): Is that an oxymoronic title or what? Anyway, speaking of the Tiny Titan, here’s an out-of-the-blue one-shot that casts a spotlight on the character and his family and his struggles against a group of science-terrorists called “The Colony” (They have lots of soldiers in black skin tight battle suits, get it? Like ants! Get it?) who want to kidnap his ailing father to coerce him to turn over the white dwarf star meteor that is the source of his shrinking powers to them. Hawkman guests, as does Oracle. I’m sure most of this has been set up in other books that I don’t buy, but I wasn’t terribly lost, and I enjoyed the opening sequence, in which Hawkman is infected with a virus of little Colony soldiers, and the glimpses of what makes the current version of Ray Palmer tick- he muses on why he’s friends with the aggressive, reckless Hawkman, for example. The fanman in me liked that, especially because I’m old enough to remember when they shared a book in the late 60’s. There’s a fair amount of glum soap operatics here- this is DC after all- but overall I liked this one shot, not as much as I liked one previous Atom Special that I kinda consider a lost classic- but I liked it just the same. I was a bit surprised to see Jeff Lemire’s byline as scripter, I’m still thinking of him as an Indie guy only, I guess. All this said, DC really needs to do right by the Ryan Choi character; that colors any potential enjoyment of Ray Palmer now.  B+

ASTONISHING THOR #3 (Marvel): Even though the beautifully painted-in-Photoshop art by Mike Choi and Frank D’Armata consists of a lot of full-and-one-or-two-panel pages, there is a lot going on here in this umpteenth movie tie-in; a potential battle between living planets, some back-and-forth between Thor and the instigator The Stranger, whose station has progressed far beyond, I’ll bet, what Kirby originally envisioned for him back in the early 60’s; and the answer to the question of what would happen if a thunder god and wind goddess ever hooked up and did the nasty. Nice to see Robert (Codename: Knockout, which I liked a lot better in theory than in actual practice) Rodi’s byline again, as well. Better than I expected. B+

The All Purpose Review-Writing Music List: Kate Bush- Hounds of Love; Lucinda Williams- West; Alice Cooper- Pretties for You; Paul & Linda McCartney- Ram; Chicago VI; Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians- Element of Light; Robbie Williams- The Ego Has Landed.

Thanks for reading, as always. Correspondence: johnnybacardi AT gmail.