Welcome back to Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, that more-or-less weekly and rarely on-time feature 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 right now, if you’re lucky. Or of you’re not, as the case may be.

Script: Jim Zubkavich; Art: Edwin Huang, Chris Stevens
Image Comics, $2.99

Based on the buzz I’ve read here and there about this comic, it sure seems there’s still some room left for witty barbarian stories in today’s comics climate. Sure, we’ve still got Conan around, but there’s nothing remotely clever about the big guy, or any of the other Robert Howard creations…well, OK, Solomon Kane was at least subtle, but you can read his stories for weeks on end and never crack a smile. This is more akin to the adventures of Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd the Barbarian and his drinking, etc. buddy the Grey Mouser. Not that it’s anywhere near that level, but this is a surprisingly good, if not especially innovative, approximation just the same, even if it’s closer to Battle Chasers than Kull the Conqueror. The titular ‘Kickers are a pair of mercenary soldiers (one, big and bald, and it’s easy to imagine him with Patrick (The Tick, Brock Samson) Warburton’s voice, the other a dwarf with red hair and beard, quite Gimli-like) in some medieval-style fantasy adventure village town, hired by the of course untrustworthy city officials to rid the town of monsters, which they’ve been doing since they arrived. While they’re arguing with an antagonistic military lieutenant about the werewolf kill from the previous night, when they’re interrupted by the arrival of a visiting nobleman, who then promptly takes an assassin’s arrow to the eye, prompting our opportunistic (and curiously unnamed) duo to give chase, seeking whatever reward or glory there might be. It gets a little more complicated from there, though it does end abruptly and without a terribly compelling cliffhanger, which has the unfortunate effect of not exactly getting the reader pumped up for buying chapter two. It will be interesting to see what kind of drop-off we get between issues 1 and 2. This is my first time reading something by Zubkavich (that I recall, anyway)- despite some pacing problems his dialogue is sharp enough and the two big guys do have a scruffy sort of charisma. As usual, since this is only the first issue, I think it’s reasonable to wait and see what he’s going to bring to the table. Artwise, Stevens (who pencilled the first dozen or so pages) and Huang (who penciled the others and inked the whole shebang) blend well together- honestly, I can’t tell the difference between them, and I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or not. Overall, I’m reminded of Joe Maduriera (see, I didn’t mention Battle Chasers for nothing!)- it’s certainly dynamic, although it often looks distorted and overrendered. I enjoyed this first issue enough to want to read the next, although I can certainly understand if many don’t. We’ll see!

Script: Duane Swierczynski; Art: Manuel Garcia, Lorenzo Ruggerio
Marvel Comics, $2.99

I quite liked Swierczynski’s Immortal Iron Fist; when he took over from Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker, he could have simply perpetuated the brand, but he elaborated and expanded on what his predecessors had set up, and took it in interesting directions when lesser scribes would have coasted. When sales stagnated, it was decided to continue in a standalone miniseries featuring the supporting characters, known as the Immortal Weapons, as a backfeature that was surely the remnants of what would have been the next IIF arc. Of course, it didn’t sell well either, and now the Fist is back to supporting character limbo, appearing in the Shadowland crossover series and such, whenever someone needs a wall punched through of something. But I digress. I was hoping that Swierczynski would move on to another gig right away, and get the chance to refine his skills- he’s done a handful of things since that I didn’t care to buy, but this is the highest-profile gig he’s had lately- taking over the newly launched ongoing Black Widow series after Marjorie Liu moved on. I guess the mandate must have been to try and get closer to Scarjo’s movie version, complete with cleavage-revealing open zipper suit, because that’s what this first chapter seems like- add Jennifer Garner and you have an episode of Alias, all mistaken identity and disguises and kung fu fighting and death defying stunts. Where Liu attempted to get into the Widow’s psyche and incorporate elements from her past into her convoluted (but full of great individual character scenes) story arc, Swierczynski doesn’t seen to care about that, he just wants to do La Femme Nikita or maybe even DePalma’s Femme Fatale and that doesn’t ring true to me, at least not when considering the writer I came to like on Iron Fist. Perhaps he’s just happy to be doing a movie-associated property, with the attention it presumably brings, and doesn’t want to get too far off that model. Who knows. It’s still an efficient and not poorly written installment, but I just wish there was something there to elevate it above the run of the mill. Garcia and Ruggerio’s art doesn’t help much- it’s a real loose, Adams/Sienkiewicz/70’s Mayerik/Brent Anderson even-influenced style; there are enough extreme camera angles and foreshortened, gnarly poses to goose the action along, but it’s certainly not very pleasing to look at. Does the job, not much more, and it has a real annoying shakiness to the inkline that’s a bit offputting, and is light years away from previous arc’s artist Dan Acuna’s more painterish look. Maybe I’m dwelling more on what I wish it was rather than what it is, and what it is is slick, superficial entertainment that isn’t particularly dull, but isn’t terribly exciting either. And you know what? On a completely random note, this “Fatale” character could easily have been Yelena Belova. This is a kind of an ongoing thing with me, please bear with.

Script/Art: Shari Chankhamma
Slave Labor Graphics, $12.95

For years now, I’ve trawled the internet for young artists whose work I like; for no particular reason, mind you, other than I like looking at the purty pictures. Vera Brosgol, Becky Cloonan, Jen Wang (I’ll be reviewing Koko Be Good eventually), Erika Moen, Dylan Meconis etc., etc…some of them are even male! Anyway, I’ve bookmarked an awful lot of talented people’s websites. At some point in this process, I came across and added Ms. Chankhamma; her manga-influenced style would not seem to be my kind of bag baby, but I must have seen some of her other, less Eastern-influenced work at some point or another. Anyway, here she is, with a full-length black and white graphic novel epic about twin sisters, one who has all the luck in the world- steals it from others as a matter of fact (“luck” looks like a lot of ropey twisty ethereal floaty stuff, and it emanates from the young ladies) – and is a famous and wealthy singing star. The other, who is so unlucky to be around that people have died after coming in contact, a real Bad Luck Schleprock with cute manga eyes. Things are only in balance when the pair are in close proximity, because their powers cancel each other out, but the successful sister isn’t having any of it; she doesn’t want anything to do with her twin so she can keep her success going. Complicating things are a pair of spiky-haired fellows, one who is a manager or confidant of sorts to Lucky Sis, and another who assists Unlucky Sis. Turns out there’s more to both of them than meets the eye, and the conflict between the four makes up the bulk of the book after the introductions are complete. The ending would seem to point to a continuation; guess we’ll see what happens. Chankhamma’s story is earnestly written, if a bit superficial and juvenile; she’s trying to establish this world and the beings that live in it, but keeps her focus narrow and never lets us really get to know what makes her characters tick. Chankhamma’s a very talented artist, though (again) she’s working in a style that I’m not fond of; only once or twice does she let the action get away from her and slip into chaos, and overall I’m reminded a bit of other artistic chameleons like the aforementioned Ms. Cloonan. She uses lots of extreme blackspotting and swooshy brush lines to depict the goings-on, and is often quite effective. I found much to like here, though by and large I’m not attracted to this sort of book; if you are that sort, you might like it even more than I. I do hope she continues this and expands on it a little.

It’s been a trying week, hence the lateness (I try to get Confessions up on Wednesday if at all possible)…so I’m cutting this short this time. Hopefully I’ll have more next week. Thanks for your patience, and as always for reading.

The All Purpose Review Writing Album List: Traffic- When the Eagle Flies; Todd Rundgren- Todd; Jefferson Starship- Dragon Fly; T.Rex- Electric Warrior, Mick Jagger- Wandering Spirit.

Review inquiries, love letters, chili recipes- johnnybacardi AT gmail.