Time once more for Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I attempt to spotlight several recent works of sequential graphic storytelling that I find noteworthy, and think you might too- many of which may still be purchased for your very own personal enjoyment at a comics shop, bookstore, or online merchant near you if you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.

Script/Art: Tony Millionaire
Fantagraphics Books, $19.99

The world at large knows Millionaire for Drinky Crow, which came from his long-running Maakies strip and eventually became an animated show that aired on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Comics fans that know him from the aforementioned Maakies, of course, but also from the Sock Monkey series, in which he demonstrated his gift for woozy, deadpan turn-of-the-century-flavored highjinks and tomfoolery, often to hilarious results. The last couple of Sock Monkey series, though, seemed to me to be a bit uninspired, though, and perhaps Millionaire agreed, because lately he’s been devoting his time to the adventures of the title character, a diminutive homunculus created from garbage (he has hazelnuts for brains, hence the name) by mice to be their champion against farmers’ wives and cats, but eventually adopted by the farmer’s daughter Becky. The pugnacious little dude still has cat issues, though, and getting involved in a scrape between the barn cat and an owl ends up with Billy stuck with a baby owl who fell out of an abandoned nest. Bugger’s hungry, too, and keeps eating parts of Billy even as he embarks on a quest to reunite the baby with its mom. The pace of this tale is relentless; once Millionaire pushes you down the hill you don’t stop for many miles, and you’ll hit many bumps along the way…it’s one of the most fun stories I’ve read in quite some time, full of humor and odd characters and vividly realized by Millionaire’s art, described by someone at Publisher’s Weekly as “woodcarvings done by a madman”. Upon occasion I found myself pausing to admire a panel or two, something I rarely did with the Sock Monkey books- Millionaire’s grown as an illustrator, I do believe. Millionaire’s work may be an acquired taste for some, but if you like high-spirited and whimsical fun, I think this is as good an example of that as any you might come across.  (Reviewed from PDF provided by publisher)

Script/Art: Doug TenNapel
Scholastic/Graphix, $12.99

Let’s go ahead and get the obligatory-when-discussing-TenNapel Earthworm Jim mention out of the way right now. Yep, he created that character, and has done a ton of other work, mostly in the animation field. The Wiki, if you please. OK, now that that’s done, let’s get to the matter at hand- Ghostopolis. It’ss quite an involved read; TenNapel throws a lot of stuff out there, some of which is pretty clever, albeit borrowed and repurposed from films like Men in Black, The Frighteners, or Ghostbusters… not much you haven’t seen before, but arranged skillfully for the most part. Young Garth Hale is dying of a terminal illness; we see him and his mom after a visit to yet another doctor, who has the same doomed prognosis. At the same time, burned-out ghost hunter Frank Gallows is doing his job, pursuing spirits and sending them back to the titular city in the Land of the Dead, and while pursuing a skeletal horse-ghost, accidentally sends Garth there. Of course, this gets him in Dutch with his superiors, so they fire him. Determined to set things right, Frank enlists the aid of ex-girlfriend (in more ways than one) Claire, who also just happens to have a supernatural vehicle that will enable them to cross the barrier in search of him. As it turns out, when Garth is on the other side, he has powers, and those powers bring him to the attention of Ghostopolis’ evil ruler, Vaugner, who wants that power to add to his own and tighten his grip on the people of the realm. Probably the most interesting thing for me was the various subgroups of people living in and around the city; skeleton people, bug people, ghostly “Wisps”, etc. Problem is, and this is a problem we get in general here, is that there are so many characters and so much going on, that TenNapel doesn’t really take the opportunity to develop them, instead serving the ongoing storyline. He’s got enough here for a twelve-issue series of books, but it’s all crammed into one volume. Things that are set up at the beginning to seem important wind up getting resolved as an afterthought at the end, such as Garth’s terminal illness. Quibbles aside, I was still entertained by all this; it’s a fast-paced, breezy read, but I would have liked to have known more about some of these weird people and how they got along- the mysterious, godlike “Joe”, who helps ferry the more unfortunate (more unfortunate than being dead, anyway) haunts back to our side, kind of an underground railroad deal, the skeleton people, whose king helps Garth and Frank out in defiance of the evil ruler, the comedy-relief Troll people, and so on. TenNapel has an energetic, animation-rooted style; a bit scratchy line-wise but expressive just the same. 267 pages just isn’t enough for such a sprawling cast, and indeed I understand there’s a filmed adaptation in the pipeline. Myself, I’d prefer he revisit this ghost city in print.  (A review copy was provided by the publisher)

Script: Mike Mignola, John Arcudi; Art: Peter Snejbjerg
Dark Horse Comics, $3.50

While some would disagree, I’m sure, I’ve always been of the opinion that Hellboy’s pal Abe has always gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to solo showcases. Uninspired stories, grubby, lackluster art, you name it. Finally, however, I’m happy to say that I think they got it right for once this time. Big ace in the hole here is Snejbjerg, last seen bailing early on The Mighty for DC (but it was OK- they tabbed Chris Samnee to take his place there, and he was outstanding); he’s capable of doing justice to any kind of script with his Corbenesque style. He’s not called on for a tour de force here, though; the mood is low-key, pervasive creepiness as the BPRD is called in on a undersea salvage mission, to retrieve an occult (of course) Macguffin (in this case, an immortality-providing helmet) from a sunken Russian submarine that went down in the late 1940’s. Problem is, at least one of the crew doesn’t want to give it up. Fairly standard setup, but Arcudi, by now an old hand at writing the Bureau, handles it perfectly, setting up a mood that Snejbjerg amplifies nicely. Best of all, this isn’t really tied in (yet) to the myriad of plots and subplots going on in the other Hellboy World miniseries and one-shots, so this can be enjoyed as a stand-alone adventure. I want to make a special note of the Dave Johnson cover; typically excellent (he’s truly one of the best single-illustration slash cover artists in the business today) and continuing a mini-trend of being inspired by not only movie poster art, but the cover art for old Dell/Gold Key comics of the early 60s, as was Mignola’s cover for the trade collection of the first Solomon Kane miniseries. I approve of this stylistic choice, and I hope that it continues to be employed in the future! At right, one page of Snejbjerg awesomeness (to steal a term from CSBG…)- click to see all biggerer:

(Reviewed from a copy I paid my own hard-earned cash for)

Short takes and little fishes:

TURF #2: Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards’ vampires-vs-Prohibition-era gangsters-vs.-aliens opus finally gets its second issue out, and it’s every bit as involving as the first; it’s a hodgepodge, but Ross writes good dialogue, and in my book Edwards can do no wrong. A

NEW AVENGERS #1: You comics readers out there will know what I mean- there are some characters that you want to check out when they appear, no matter who does them or what paces they’re being put through by less-than-sympathetic creators. Daimon Hellstorm, aka the Son of Satan, is one of those for me, and he’s here, with no less than Brian Michael Bendis pulling the strings, which makes me fear the worst (I’ll never forgive him for Yelena Belova…). Although I’m dubious about Satan (after all, according to Ellis’ classic run, Daimon IS Satan, and I know, I’m being all geeky n’ stuff) being that easy to possess, the threat of a demon, or demons, powerful enough to possess not only Daimon but Doc Strange and Brother Voodoo is as good a test as any for this, the umpteenth Avengers team and the umpteenth Avengers title. I can take or leave the art, but it’s not a deal breaker. B+

WONDER WOMAN #600: The third of three special double-sized issues that simultaneously celebrate and attempt to re-establish DC’s iconic “Big Three” characters, this one’s at its best in the lead story, by departing writer Gail Simone and drawn in typically claustrophobic fashion by George Perez, featuring pretty much every DC female superperson in existence right now. Also outstanding is Amanda Connor’s short-and-sweet tale; she can truly do no wrong these days. It also serves as the introductory venue for the controversial new look and backstory for Wondy; further proof that those who do not learn from past mistakes are forever condemned to repeat them. But I understand where DC is coming from- I mean, everybody (especially DC) wants a successful Wonder Woman comic; it’s “good for the game”, to borrow a phrase from sports, but the model is flawed, and the execution is dismayingly shortsighted (has Jim Lee read a comic that came out before 1990?). I think DC as a company is, and has been for a long time now, more in love with the idea of publishing a Wonder Woman comic than they are with the finished product. Anyway, just look at this as a “What If” kind of story and relax; I suspect this revamp will last no longer than any others have. How long did Superman Red and Superman Blue run again? B-

BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE #3: Avast, it’s Pirate Batman this time out as Grant Morrison continues Bruce’s potentially fatal return from the past. Big surprise here is Yanick Paquette’s art; last time I saw it, he was giving us Mike Nasser impersonations in Codename: Knockout. B

Your Comics Reviewing Playlist for this week: Rod Stewart- Every Picture Tells a Story; Roger Daltrey- Daltrey; Bee Gees- Idea and Mr. Natural; George Harrison- Dark Horse; Sparklehorse- Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot.

As always, domo arigato for reading, and see you next week.

Review inquiries, state secrets, and compromising photographs to johnnybacardi AT gmail.