Here we go again with 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.

Writer: El Torres; Artist: Juan Jose Ryp
Image Comics, $2.99

As much as I was hoping we had some sort of Dante-meets-Ernie Bushmiller mashup going on, it turns out it’s not the case. Still, this does have its lowbrow charm- take a dash of 90’s chainsaw-toting bad-girl (Dead ringer for Pam Anderson, to be precise), mix it with a soupcon of the Aughts zombie comics craze, season with the Gaimanesque Hell concept as expanded upon by Carey (Hell is what you think you deserve; if anyone else came up with that, and I’d be willing to bet someone did, I’m not aware of who it is), and wrap it all up in almost-but-not-quite Geoff Darrow/George Perez-style maniacal hyper-detail stuffed pages…then you have this derivative and knuckleheaded but enjoyable ghoul-lash of a comic book. On page one, with no explanation as to how or why (well, we do find out she was a cheerleader eventually, and constantly refers to herself as a “scream queen”, a la Linnea Quigley, if that helps), we join our (of course) scantily clad heroine as she flees and fights off demons from hell (including a couple of saucy devil girls who have more carnal “tortures” in mind), eventually hooking up with a group of more “normal” types, souls not yet assimilated into the Hell routine, who spend their time drinking and fooling around in a literal-fantasy bar set up in the middle of the Infernal Regions, and venturing out from time to time to search for and rescue beings like Nancy when they’re not fending off “Braindeads”,  unfortunates who are somewhere in between and covet the memories and life force of the denizens of the bar. Unfortunately, this situation proves destined to fall apart, and our girl finds herself once more fighting to get out of Hell. There is a fair amount of speculation on the nature of life and death and the afterlife- there’s no Heaven, we’re told, how nice- and I can’t deny that it’s not more clever than I expected, but what Torres seems to be more interested in is telling a kewl story with a blonde cheerleader in daisy dukes and a chain saw, so that’s pretty much what we get, with a wordy infodump in between. Ryp, for his part, I’d seen drawing one or two of Warren Ellis’ Avatar Comics scripts; he’s certainly capable of drawing a lot of stuff, quite literally, and drawing it well despite a certain awkward stiffness in a lot of his figure drawings that I have to believe will work itself out the longer he pursues his trade. I don’t know how much more can be done with the subject; between Gaiman, Mike Carey’s Lucifer, Remender’s Strange Girl (which this reminds me a lot of), Horror and Sci-Fi writers like Clive Barker and Robert Heinlein (to name but a few) having their say on the subject of the afterlife…what can Torres bring besides tits and ass? Since this is only #1, who the heck knows what we’ll find out. If you don’t set your sights too high, this is enjoyable in a late-night Cinemax action thriller kind of way.

Script: Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden; Art: Ben Stenbeck
Dark Horse, $3.50

Even though, let’s face it, Mike Mignola knows he can do Hellboy and B.P.R.D. stories for the rest of his life and his fans will love him for it, you just know that once in a while he gets the itch to do something just a little different, something not connected to the big red guy and his world- and while this is not exactly the same thing as if he decided to do, oh, a western or a romance comic, well, it will do. Working in collaboration with writer Golden, who has done some of the Hellboy prose novels, he presents us with wooden-legged Lord Baltimore, vampire hunter, whom we join in 1916 France, in the process of laying waste to evil vamps in the storm drains and streets of a plague-stricken town. It’s a fast-paced and exciting start, and you get a good feel for what Baltimore’s all about right off the bat. After a wild finale involving an old witch woman that calls down lightning to strike the zeppelin that the vamps are trying to escape on, Lord B is taken in by the old lady (who’s been watching him, and can see his true nature) and her somewhat single-minded daughter (she just wants to get the hell out of town and doesn’t care how), and she gives him info about how to find the Big Bad that he’s seeking…but he soon is forcibly removed and arrested by the locals, who think he may be in league with the devil, and have summoned an inquisitor to get to the bottom of the matter. This is cinematic in the best way- makes you wish Mignola had been involved with the lunkheaded movie Van Helsing– plus we get a charismatic character in a novel setting, and the action is exciting rather than numbing. Big part of the reason is Stenbeck’s art; he has a solid, non-flashy style with a command of blackspotting almost as good as Mr. Mignola himself. I thought he was wonderful on last year’s Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels miniseries, and he picks right up where he left off with this. It’s still early, but right now Mignola (and his collaborators) can do no wrong, so that bodes well for this mini if they can keep the lead intriguing and the pace energetic.

Script: Jonathan Maberry; Art: Goran Parlov
Marvel Comics, $3.99

If you were wondering what it would be like if Frank Castle were to find himself in an Omega Man-type scenario, well, wonder no longer because that’s exactly what we have here, with Marvel going to the living dead (well, ok, more like The Crazies) well yet again. Frank busts up some sort of warehouse criminal transaction, as he is wont to do, and unwittingly gets doused with a chemical, designed to alter body chemistry in such a way that enables people to eat almost anything, from meat to cardboard, as a survival mechanism. The juice just makes him puke, but soon works its way into the water system, and proceeds to gradually change people, including superheroes, into cannibalistic monsters. Early on, we’re treated to a lively scene in which Spider-Man beats the crap out of the Rhino at a N.Y. Rangers game, the suddenly takes a big plug out of his neck- not only does the serum transform people into CHUDs, but it gives them superhuman biting ability as well! Anyway, the bulk of this first chapter deals with Frank’s inner monologue slash helpful infodump, telling us about how the plague spread and how Castle had to do what he had to do to deal with the transformed superpeople. He’s also aware of another entity, whom he calls Zero, and who seems to be goading him towards a confrontation of some sort. I’m not familiar with Maberry’s work; he does OK by Punny as well as reframing the  I Am Legend-like elements pretty well. His style doesn’t call attention to itself one way or the other, for good or ill, and I guess a somber, detached tone is called for when describing the Thing, sitting on a pile of skulls belonging to people he ate (artist Parlov incongruously draws two scantily clad women clinging to his legs a la a Frazetta Conan painting), and detailing how he finally was able to dispatch him. Frazetta homages aside, Parlov’s not bad; he’s squarely in that J.P. Leon/Batman Year One Dave Mazzuchelli/Mike Lark tradition, and he stages the events pretty well, all things considered. Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that yet another dystopian-future Marvel series with zombie-like creatures is worth your hard-earned money, but if this description doesn’t send you in another direction right away, I’d think that this is as well-executed an example of such that you can find.

A little Review Music, please, Maestro: Rilo Kiley- More Adventurous; Bryan Ferry- These Foolish Things and Another Time, Another Place; Mahogany Rush- World Anthem; Rick Wakeman- The Six Wives of Henry VIII; Billy Preston- Encouraging Words.

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