Logo by Dw. Dunphy

Hello and welcome back to Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I opine upon assorted comics and graphic novel releases of recent vintage, and you read and presumably decide if I’m full of hooey or not, and then go (preferably) buy. And it goes like this.

CARBON GREY #’s 1,2
Script: Hoang Nguyen, Paul Gardner; Art: Khari Evans, Kinsun Loh, Nguyen
Image Comics, $2.99

I doubt the creators were aware of Sucker Punch while they began work on this in 2002, but upon first glance, that’s what immediately came to my ever-looking-for-comparisons mind. Of course, it’s not really all that similar, other than the whole bad-ass killer babes aspect, but I suspect I’m not the only one that thought that. Fortunately, this is interesting enough on its own terms to make such comparisons superfluous.

It seems to be taking place in some alternate reality World War I era in which Kaisers rule and bucket-helmeted soldiers fight in filthy trenches. The Grey Sisters (the aforemetioned badass killer babes) have been tasked with defending the Kaiser for decades; and the birth of twins in the current timeframe seems to have thrown the proverbial spanner in the works.  The Kaiser winds up dead at the hands of one of the sisters, and a fearsome commandant with a Rollie Fingers mustache is seeking to bring her to account for her actions. Also, there’s a soldier on the front lines who got a glimpse of Sister Mathilde, and was inspired to write poetry, and in another, seemingly unrelated plot thread, a female grifter and a adventurer imitating an officer cross paths. It’s a novel setting, one which I tend to like (at least one of my favorite novels is set in WWI- Mark Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War). The characters, even though we really don’t get to know them very well (except Sister Eva, who apparently would just as soon cut your head in half as soon as go fishing), are charismatic enough to make you want to know more about them.  This is lavishly illustrated in a painterly style by Khari Evans, whose work blew me away in a more conventional presentation via Marvel’s Daughters of the Dragon and Shanna the She-Devil miniseries and whose byline will always cause me to give whatever it is a look (hence my reading of this!);  Nguyen, who (according to the generous backmatter section in #1) did layouts and character designs, and Loe, who is, as I understand it, responsible for coloring this in such a oil/tempura-paints style. This is not by-the-numbers storytelling; the script, by Nguyen and Gardner, doesn’t spoon-feed the reader. We’re given a fair amount of expository dialogue, but it comes across as somewhat disjointed. I had to read both issues twice to get a good handle on who was who and what was what, which may turn many off but doesn’t bother me if I’m sufficiently interested in the subject matter.

I don’t think this will be for everybody, but I do think it may be worth your time unless you’re just blinkered off to anything but the latest superhero yarn from the Big Two publishers. It takes a little effort, like so many good ones do, but here’s hoping this will find enough of an audience to allow Nguyen and Co. to further explore the concept.

MALIGNANT MAN #1
Script: James Wan, Michael Alan Nelson; Art: Piotr Kowalski
Boom! Studios, $3.99

Unfortunate fellow has terminal cancer, is given two, maybe three weeks to live. He’s not a chemistry professor, so he can’t take up cooking meth; he’s pretty much resigned to his fate. On the way home, he breaks up a purse snatching, gets shot in the head for his trouble. When they cut open his head and expose his skull at the hospital to get the bullets out, they are amazed to see some weird freaky black tentacles sticking out of his brainpan. They aren’t given much time to dwell on this development, however, because as their backs are turned as they stare at the x-rays, an attractive young woman enters, grabs a skull stapler (I’m no Dr. Scott, I don’t know what those things are called), and wheels him out as she staples his skull shut. Meanwhile, a trio of Men in Black style agents takes up pursuit, literally bringing big knives to a gunfight, the gun being what the attractive young skull stapler whips out to facilitate their escape. No, I didn’t just recap the whole thing for you, there’s a little more to it than this. Apparently the tentacles belong to an independently intelligent entity, and there are whole groups dedicated to protecting and/or exploitating it. I’m sure we’ll find out more.

I’ve seen better written and better drawn comics, but this one does grab you at the beginning and keeps your interest as this nutball mix of Brain Damage, MiB and the vibe of the Matrix, perhaps- you kinda felt for the guy at the beginning as he lamented his condition, and I, for one, was caught up in the events as they transpired. Don’t know who to credit for the script; it always throws me for a loop when we get story by/script by credits. I suspect Nelson, who’s been writing for Boom! since the beginning, is mostly responsible. Kowalski’s art is fine, nothing sensational and his style is rather anonymous with some hints of Romita Jr. or Kubert Brothers coming through…it more than tells the story adequately, though, and is not without wit (note a cameo by Flo, the Progressive Girl early on).

This series, at first blush, reminds me a lot of the sort of thing that Boom! started out publishing; vaguely sci-fi action thrillerish, ready for TV of course, drawn and written with a surplus of professionalism and a surfeit of spark. This is on the good end of that scale, and provided they don’t go all Resurrection Man with it, could be worth following. (A PDF preview was provided by the publisher- imagine Daffy Duck or Porky Pig saying that- for review purposes.)

BLACK DYNAMITE one-shot
Script: Brian Ash; Art: Jun Lofamia
Ape Entertainment, $5.95

As the National Lampoon illustrated so well in its glory days, nothing is sacred and everything is fair game for satire. What we have here is the graphic novel-style continuation of a movie which apparently came and went in the Autumn of 2009, a sendup/homage to the fondly-remembered “Blaxploitation” movies of the 1970s which I have somehow managed to avoid seeing or even hearing of until I downloaded the advance PDF and started doing some research. The film seemed to be quite well-reviewed; 85% positive out of 60 reviewers is nothing to sneeze at. I’ve seen a lot of Blaxploitation films, as well as a lot of the later sendup/homages of same such as I’m Gonna Get You Sucka!, liked many of them, and was amused by others that I found funny, unintentionally or otherwise. I’m not sure I  know what the hell to make of this, really.

It covers pretty much the same territory, with all the inherent clichés, that other Blaxploitation satires (such as the far more clever Afrodisiac, just to name one) cover: it seems to be set in the 70’s, although it’s not made clear exactly; of course the titular hero is a bad mother shut your mouth, superhuman in the amount of punishment he can take as well as dish out, and of course is a superhuman sex mo-chine to boot. The character’s resemblance to Richard Roundtree is no coincidence. BD is charged by a inner-city doctor named Alex Haley (Get it, ha ha) to find out what’s going on with a diabolical Fantasy Island style resort called “Slave Island”, which is pretty much what it sounds like- owned by the requisite fat, arrogant white Southern bigot, people pay to come there and be serviced by black people, who are whipped and shot if they try to escape. BD infiltrates, confronts, and eventually burns the resort to the ground, but not before he gets to do a little servicing himself, most notably a white woman who purchases him in a slave auction.

It’s all presented in what is apparently intended to be a tongue-in-cheek, mock-serious fashion, just like all good satire is supposed to be these days, but I just don’t think Ash is very good at it; it just doesn’t have the proper tone to make it clever, so it comes across as straightfaced, and when we’re watching people getting whipped and tortured and getting acid thrown in their faces and the like, I suppose we’re supposed to see how it’s all done with a wink, to show how evil these muthas are that are stepping up to the right-on brutha BD, but it’s so on-the-nose that there’s no fun in it. When the tone veers as erratically as this does, it throws everything off kilter, and that’s my main problem. It made me uncomfortable in several places- I don’t think that’s what you want in your homage/sendups. If you’re not laboring under that particular delusion, however, you may be able to really appreciate the nicely done pastiche of 70’s Filipino/Latino Studio artists such as Tony DeZuniga, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, Gerry Talaoc, Rudy Nebres, the Redondos, and others that Lofamia brings to the table; at practically any point in the proceedings you can squint your eyes and pretend you’re reading some old DC horror/war comic story. The cover evokes an old Luke Cage, Hero for Hire issue in fine fashion.

The satire’s too leaden to really work, but the art compensates a little. There’s an animated Adult Swim treatment on the way, I understand, so I suppose if you’re into such things, you can rent the DVD, buy or download the comic, and be fully up to speed on all things Black Dynamite. If the animated show is more Boondocks and less Minoriteam, I may check it out. I wish I could recommend this on its own, but I think you might be better off looking for Jim Rugg’s previously-mentioned Afrodisiac if you want some imagination in your homage/satire. (PDF provided by publisher for review purposes).

The All Purpose Review Writing Music List: Liz Phair: Whitechocolatespaceegg; A pretty cool mix CD that my friend Joe loaned me with the Rainmakers, Jim Phantom, Brian Setzer and the Bottle Rockets on it; The Alan Parsons Project- Eve; Frank Zappa- Waka/Jawaka; Tom Waits- The Heart of Saturday Night; What It Is: Funky Soul and Rare Grooves 1967-1977 disc 2.