Here we go again with a long-gestating edition of Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I opine on various recently released publications of the sequential graphic nature, some of which may be sitting on the rack at a comics shop, or awaiting the click of a button on some online merchant’s web page, near you. If you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.
Script/Art: Richard Sala
Fantagraphics, $19.99 (scheduled for release in September 2011)
Richard Sala’s latest features everything you’ve come to expect from him- gnarly plot, idiosyncratic, easy-to-like art, and quirky horror movie homages; however, rather the some shuddery 30′s style Old Dark House/Ten Little Indians meets Nancy Drew style murder mystery that is his standard M.O., although there are elements of that here, we get what at first appears to be a kind of Five/The World, the Flesh, and the Devil post apocalyptic scenario, with two couples and a mysterious old man wandering through deserted, ruined cities to an ambiguous, and ultimately world-threatening destination. But this being Sala, he can’t resist throwing in yet another twist, and (this could be interpreted as a SPOILER, I suppose, so beware) this veers off into Frankenstein territory before it’s over. Of course, as so often is the case with Sala, we get characters that are little more than ciphers, with puddle-shallow characterization- providing the reader with deep, fascinating character studies is just not what he’s about. However, he does, and always has, been able to create a convincing world and an interesting enough scenario or scenarios to maintain our interest, and this is no different. It helps if you can illustrate your fever dreams as well as Sala can- lavishly watercolored in brown, saturated orange and yellow, punctuated by bright blue and (especially later) red, it’s beautiful to look at, and as usual, he gives us memorable grotesques and lovely girls in equal measure. Those who are fans of the artist’s previous work will find more of what they like here, and will be gratified by the deviation from his usual norm. Those who are new to his efforts will be entertained, I think, by the story, which is a bit of a page-turner, and will like his beautifully colored art. His best since he wrapped up Evil Eye a few years ago. (A PDF was provided by the publisher for review purposes)
Back about a thousand years ago, in the dim and distant past of 2004, I was privileged to get a review copy of Sonny Liew’s Malinky Robot: Stinky Fish Blues one-shot (although at the time I thought it was to be an ongoing series); I called it, and I quote:
… a very enjoyable little short vignette with some winsome humor, and it’s never dull.
Seven years later, Liew, whose work has been showcased in a lot of interesting places, including the Flight anthology series, Liquid City, DC/Vertigo’s My Faith in Frankie (inking Marc Hempel), Marvel’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, and others, has had his Malinky Robot shorts collected in one place, along with several sketchbook pages and the usual all-star tribute pinup section. Seven years later, and you know what? My opinion really hasn’t changed on the series. Liew’s art is wonderful; he gives us winning, likeable, expressively drawn characters in his loose, sketchy style, but also depicts the cities they live in in detailed fashion. The first story serves to introduce us to the principals, a kid named Atari who wears an old aviator’s leather helmet with goggles on top, and his mouse-headed looking pal Oliver, who live with a gaggle of other odd characters in a shanty-town section of what appears to be a city named San’Ya. Atari and Oliver catch a fish one day, which they identify as a “stinky fish”, an endangered species that eats sewage in the water and has apparently been on the wane, causing an increasingly bad smell in the air. Atari and Oliver endeavor to find out what they should do with the fish they caught, and yearn to go to school, presumably to get out of San’Ya. That’s it. The next story is a mini-epic of sorts in which Atari and Oliver “borrow” (steal) bicycles and ride to visit a buddy in another town. This one gets surreal fairly quickly, after an enjoyable interlude in which Atari and Oliver enjoy their ride through the countryside, as we get Liew’s versions of expressionistic “Indie” comics, Outcalt’s Yellow Kid (I remember writing that I thought Atari reminded me a little of that character…hmm…), 90′s style Image, and some imitation newspaper comics pages as well. The next story, titled “Karakuri”, deals with an elderly professor that lives in San’Ya, who has created a small robot out of spare parts, which leads to a lot of whimsical speculation on what robots “should” look like and do. Next up is “New Year’s Day”, which may be the best of the bunch- it shows us what happens when the little robot gets left behind after an evening of drinking by the Professor in a bar all the way across town, and what the robot encounters as he makes his way back home. Maybe I just was charmed by the little guy, who knows. Finally, “Dead Soul’s Day Out” gives us Atari and Oliver finding some money, then lets us follow them as they spend it, first watching old video movies, then hanging out with friends; it has a nice ending. None of this is exactly grab-you-by-the-balls action and thrills, but it is well-done storytelling just the same. Unless you’re just seriously deficient in your whimsy tolerance and have an aversion to art that isn’t inspired by Jim Lee, you’ll find this, I think, every bit as charming as I do. (A PDF was provided by Liew for review purposes)
FF #’s 1-5 (Marvel): Dear Marvel: If I wanted to read Tom Strong, I’d buy Tom Strong. Kisses, Johnny B. C+
SOLOMON KANE: RED SHADOWS #’s 1-4 (Dark Horse): After a good script/fair art opening salvo, followed by a fair script/fair art follow-up, round three in Dark Horse’s Kane series is the worst yet- Bruce Jones, who gets slack for some mighty good Warren work back in the day, has never been more painfully on-the-nose and tone-deaf here, and the art is some sort of Scott Hampton-wannabe manga-tinged painted-looking crap that doesn’t do anybody- Jones, Kane, the reader- any favors. Go buy the book instead, or even Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin’s nutball take on this very same story in two 70′s issues of Marvel Premiere (and collected by Dark Horse in their big Kane compendium of a year or two ago). C-
HEROES FOR HIRE #9 (Marvel): The artist-go-round, which seems to just go hand in hand with this title, no matter what volume it is, has stopped and let Kyle Hotz (and inker Bob Almond, whoever that is) on, and while it takes some adjustment from the diet of generic superhero art we’ve been given so far, I like the change; Hotz’s style, while it’s all over the place, is at least lively and expressive. Scriptwise, Abnett and Lanning stick to their plan and this is flowing smoothly, despite being shoehorned into the Fear Itself storyline, which also certainly hasn’t hurt the consistently excellent Thunderbolts, either. B+
SCALPED #’s 49, 50 (DC/Vertigo): Things slowly are coming to a head in the big overarching plot; this remains the superior drama it’s become known for. #49 is as intense as we have come to expect, zigging when you think it’s going to zag and vice versa. The 50th issue adds some really nice pinups by some really talented people including Jill Thompson, Steve Dillon (I’d like to see him draw an issue, really I would) and Jordi Bernet, and its flashback history lesson might be tiresome if it wasn’t drawn so damned well by the overlooked and highly underrated Igor Kordey. A
THE SIXTH GUN #12 (Oni Press): Here’s another title which boils, but at low heat- somehow, it’s still always consistently interesting; Cullen Bunn certainly knows his supernatural lore, and he’s not afraid to mix and match his bogeymen, that’s for sure. He and artist Brian Hurtt (maybe it’s the two matching consonants at the end of their names), in his consistently engaging style, are perfectly in sync and it shows. Still worth your time. A-
CRIMINAL: THE LAST OF THE INNOCENTS #1 (Marvel/Icon): Brubaker and Phillips have shown that their noir homage is flexible enough to incorporate the Riverdale crew, and Phillips ups the ante one step further by drawing the flashback interludes in his best Jaime Hernandez style. My biggest complaint about noir and noir tropes is that it’s always the same old stuff; guess I should be careful what I wish for! Which is not to say that this is a bad thing necessarily; it’s more amusing than anything and as readable as ever, plus Phillips is his usual incredible self. But how far removed is this, pray tell, from something like Archie Meets the Punisher? You got me. A-
HELLBOY: THE FURY #1 (Dark Horse): In this latest chapter, promising to be the brobdingnagian grande finale to everything Mignola and Fregredo have been working towards for the last half decade or so, Mignola takes the odd approach of undercutting everything he keeps setting up for us to believe about his protagonist- is he descended from Arthur? Is he supposed to save the world? Why is his probably doomed girlfriend being led to pick up the slack? Wait, I answered that one for myself. Anyway, this is still tight and terse as only Mignola can do it, and Fregredo is a marvel. I’m fully invested and along for the ride, so I’ll take it as it comes. A-
ANNIHLATORS #’s 1-4 (Marvel): Against all odds (and in spite of some lackluster artwork on the lead) this extrapolation from the sadly-missed-by-me Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova got by simply by giving the reader, at least the reader who appreciates a good cosmic superhero throwdown, just what they wanted. The Rocket Raccoon backup was more ambitious, which is to say Starlinesque, but strangely not as entertaining, despite lots of two of the most colorful characters from that same Guardians. You never know sometimes with comics. I hope DnA stick around and continue to be able to do this for as long as they like, and fervently hope that they someday get the artist (or artists) they deserve. B
AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST #1 (DC/Vertigo): While we explore vampires in the Pacific Theatre of WWII in the main title, this spinoff gives us lots of Nazis and the art of Sean Murphy, whose praises I’ve sung on more than one occasion and whose I’ll continue to sing, even though I’ve noticed he has very little flair for period detail. Oh well, I’m sure he’ll get better…and come to think of it, I think I said the same thing about regular series artist Rafael Albuquerque. A-
The Exploding Plastic Inevitable All Purpose Review Writing Music List: Frank Sinatra- Ring-a-Ding-Ding!; Journey- Infinity; Camper Van Beethoven- Key Lime Pie, Joan Osborne- Righteous Love; The Beatles- 1; Jade Warrior- Elements: The Island Anthology; The Mahavishnu Orchestra- Birds of Fire.
As always, thanks for your time.