Logo by Dw. Dunphy

Hello and welcome to my online comics confessional, in which I attempt to enlighten you about various comic book and graphic novel releases of recent vintage, many of which should still be on sale somewhere near you, be it online or brick and mortar. 

Plot: Steve Niles, Missy Suicide, Brea Grant; Script: Grant; Art: David Hahn and Cameron Stewart
IDW, $3.99

Anybody who follows pop culture-ish stuff and has spent ten minutes on the Internet is probably aware of the Suicide Girls website, in which attractive alternachicas get to fly their freak flag for all to see and even more if you pay and subscribe. I suppose it was inevitable that at some point it would occur to someone that they could branch out into other fields of endeavor, and convinced the other someones that comics (unsurprising because there’s a lot of overlap in the Venn diagrams of their audiences) would be a good medium to try. Here we have the results- and they’re better than you might think.

Set in some sort of bleak future in which the hateful forces of religion and corporate interests have combined to create “Way-of-Life” imprison and suppress all free-thinking, non-conformist and non-religious individuals, we meet one such prisoner, a lovely young lady called “Frank”, who’s been looking for her sister, “Xenia” and has been incarcerated for killing her way towards that goal. She’s giving herself a prison tattoo of the name of her latest kill when she’s rudely interrupted by her door being blown off the hinges- seems a covert group that calls themselves…wait for it…yep, the Suicide Girls- has taken interest in our young badass and wants to recruit her for the group, and we spend the rest of  the first issue meeting the others and the setup through Frank’s eyes. As with so many things these days, it’s a mishmash of many different sources; La Femme Nikita of course, Kafka, Orwell, name your own dystopian-future epic film (though, to be fair, we don’t see much of the outside world yet)…but more than anything it flies that freak flag high, condemning the evil forces of religion and government and societal conformity as they strive to suppress the rights of women, especially young, pretty girls with lots of tats and piercings, to do, say, and behave as they want. That, folks, is getting your brand identity up front and out for all to see. The script itself is rather on-the-nose and obvious, but Miz Grant does make the Girls interesting enough to help us care about what they have going on, and that’s the battle.

All this would be fine, I guess, but what really makes this as good as it is is the collaborative art of David (Bite Club) Hahn (pencils) and Cameron (Catwoman, Seaguy) Stewart (inks), whose somewhat similar individual styles mesh perfectly; they’re as capable of illustrating action-thriller scenarios as they are dystopian-prison settings and yes, beautiful women, something Stewart goes on to reinforce with some nice solo cheesecake work in the last few pages of the book…in fact, I’m reminded a little of a project Stewart did a couple of years ago that I hope he gets back to someday, The Apocalipstix. The art is what keeps this from coming across as a edgier, tatted-up version of Totally Spies! and makes it worth your attention, even if you don’t like to look at sexy pics of tattooed and pierced chicas. The fine folks at Comics Alliance have a writeup and preview, if you’d like to sample first. (A copy was provided by the publisher for review purposes)

Script: Mark A. Smith; Art: Armand Villavert
Image Comics, $2.99

I guess I’m getting to cynical to read comics anymore; first thing I think when I see this is “Another wannabe TV pitch”, and indeed, this would fit right in between Adventure Time and The Regular Show (both of which I really like, by the way) on Cartoon Network or The Replacements and Hannah Montana on ABC/Disney. What you see, from the title and cover, is what you get; it’s a school for wannabe super-villains, and this provides a generous amount of backstory about the school and how it was established, the recounting of which is probably the best thing in the book. For the rest of the issue, after the school history is done, we get introductions to the various would-be evil monarchs and their teachers, who in most cases were archvillians themselves. It all proceeds pretty much like you think- some get picked on, some get crushes on others and get embarrassed in class, lunchroom scenes, etc. The characters are likeable enough, and that helps make this as readable as it is. The art, which is clean and cartoonish and of course somewhat manga-influenced and reminds me a bit of International Internet Art Superstar Dean Trippe, does a good job with character design for the most part and doesn’t make a big mess out of the action scenes. I wish there was a bit more life and personality in the ink lines, which were probably done in Photoshop without the benefit of varying the brush widths. All in all, this gets a passing grade but I really wish there was a little more something special about it. Of course, this is only one issue; maybe the best is yet to come. This concept has been done many times before, but this particular case goes down easy, and it’s hard to dislike it.

Script: Tony Torv, Johnny Zito; Art: “The Rahzaah”
Red 5 Comics; $3.50

Script: Brian Michael Bendis; Art: Alex Maleev
Marvel Comics; $3.99

A couple of lunar-themed adventurers for your consideration this past week; the first is a relaunch of a public domain character that was one of the few superhero-type comics published by E.C. Comics, the second a relaunch (though he’s had several revivals over the last 20 years as well as numerous appearances in a handful of Marvel titles in that same period) of a character that seemed to be created as Marvel’s answer to Batman, right down to the art by Neal Adams acolyte Bill Sienkiewicz.

Moon Girl, whose actual creator’s credit remains a bit dubious though Max Gaines gets a lot of it, was assayed in her early years by good old Gardner Fox and Bob Kane ghost Sheldon Moldoff, but despite her pedigree her title only lasted about nine issues (the last of which was refashioned into a romance comic and given the admittedly neato title A Moon…A Girl…Romance). For the skinny, the dope, the  4-1-1 yo, may I direct you to Don Markstein, who also informs us of the connection M.G. has with obvious influence Wonder Woman. Most of that framework as I understand it remains here- she’s still nominally a princess of some sort, Russian no less and exiled in New York, who gets superhuman powers from a “moon stone”. There’s some oddball psychosexual stuff going on with not only archenemy Satana (I’m assuming that this Satana was created before Marvel’s), but also with another bad girl, Gaga lookalike “Sugar Plum Fairy”, who looks a lot like Batwoman’s Alice and gets to strut around, alternately come on to and beat the snot (and get snot beat out of her, literally) out of M.G. Her plot seems to involve zombies of some sort, it’s hard to say…because while the timeline is fairly clear for these events, we’re only given a modicum of expository dialogue and the action proceeds in choppy, haphazard form, and it’s entirely too much trouble for such a flimsy excuse for a plot. The art, by yet another artist with annoying pseudonym “The Rahzaah”  (hope I spelled that right) aspires to a painted look, all soft focus and Sky Captain-like, but workig on the the panel-to-panel nuts and bolts of the story don’t seem to be as interesting to him, so it just adds to the chaotic feel of the narrative. I’d say there’s room for improvement there. In interviews, Trov and Zito seem to take pride in writing strong female lead characters, but really it seems like they’re just interested in giving us vicarious thrills as voluptuous femmes dominate, submit and fist fight with each other. In the backmatter, there also seems to be an attempt to provide some sort of Watchmen-like approach via ads and text pieces. As usual, one issue is not a good sample set, so perhaps this will really get interesting around the middle of the five issue run…I hope so anyway.

Moon Knight, on the other hand, is in the proven hands of Bendis and Maleev, whose long run on Daredevil was of high quality, although a certain amount of ennui sunk in with me before it was done. While I do get annoyed at him sometimes, I know that Bendis knows how to tell a comic book story, especially one that’s set in a veneer of reality as series like Daredevil and Moon Knight (as well as Powers and Scarlet). Of course, a lot of this is set in motion via lots and lots of dialogue, which is more problematic for some than it is for me; Bendis can craft naturalistic dialogue that scans good- to my ears anyway. Knight has been a mercenary in the past- well, he’s been a lot of things- Avenger, Defender, etc., with an assortment of  Shadow-like secret identities and it’s always been insinuated (and probably out-and-out declared) that he has a few screws loose. Anyway, after conferring with Avengers Captain America, Wolverine, Spider-Man and Iron Man about the need for a crime-fighting Avenger in his current  home base Los Angeles, he tangles with Mr. Hyde, who’s delivering a cargo for pay which turns out to be a deactivated Ultron. As M.K. ponders what to do, we get an odd cliffhanger which calls much of what we’ve read previously into question. Kinda nifty, and I didn’t see it coming. Maleev does his usual cut-and-paste job, even does a little more actual drawing than in the past if I’m not mistaken…and while many don’t care for it I think he at least does it very well and adds a lot to the level of verisimilitude that Bendis aspires to. Marvel is putting out some awfully readable superhero comics these days, looks like…what they lack in freshness or surprise they make up for in skill and ability to deliver an acceptable product. For some,  I guess that’s a tradeoff they’re more than willing to make.

Other stuff, while I’m thinking about it: Saw Thor last Sunday; I thought it was very entertaining, with a likeable cast, some nicely-thought-out visuals and directed with a steady hand by no-stranger-to-the-grand-gesture Kenneth Branagh. While I’ve never been the biggest fan of the character, I have read and enjoyed both the Lee/Kirby and Simonson runs (some will be hipper-than-thou and tell you they loved the, oh, Ron Marz, Keith Pollard, or John Buscema years, but whatever), and I felt that this didn’t suffer too badly in comparison. I’ve always thought some of the best moments of the comics series were not necessarily the ones that featured the big celestial Kirby grandeur, but the ones in which Thor encountered the common mortal on the streets of New York, and how he learned to interact as well as protect them. This movie delivered a generous amount of that. I liked the fellow, Chris Hemsworth, that played the Thunder God; he knew when to be bombastic and knew when to be clever and delivered his lines to good effect in both instances. Tom Hiddleston as Loki was good too; the character required nuance and subtlety, and I thought he provided both. Natalie Portman sold the “Beautiful and Brilliant Scientist” bit about as well as anybody’s ever going to, I think, although Kat Bennett threatened to steal every scene they had together. Someone somewhere is ‘shipping her character and Fandral right now, I betcha. I also noted that Clark Gregg is doing a really nice job as even-tempered S.H.I.E.L.D. agent  Colson; he brings a detached sort of bemusement to the role, which I’d bet good cash money was written originally for Stanley Tucci. Sure, the script was kinda by-the-numbers Thor, especially if you’re among the minority who’s familiar with the character and his world; but as a vehicle for cosmic action and spectacle, it succeeded admirably and I thought provided a good crash course in all things Thunder God, or at least Marvel’s version anyway. It maintained the overall high standards of the Marvel movies so far.

The All Purpose Review Writing Music List: Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave.- Backatown; Paul McCartney- Press to Play; John Martyn: Bless the Weather, Electric Light Orchestra: On the Third Day.