Sorry about the skipped week; various things going on squeezed out most of my writing time. I’ll try not to let that become anything like a regular thing, OK? Anyways, time once more for Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I opine upon a handful of recent releases of the comic book and/or graphic novel type, some of which may even still be on the rack at a comics shop near you, or available via the click of a button and the insertion of bank card information from an online merchant, if you’re lucky. Or if you’re not, as the case may be. Shall we?

Script: Trina Robbins; Art: Cynthia Martin
Moonstone Comics, $3.99

I was every bit of five years old when the Honey West TV series, starring Anne Francis as a sexy P.I. with a leopard-print wardrobe as well as a real leopard as a pet, aired on ABC. Of course, at that tender young age I didn’t really pick up on the more, shall we say, grownup aspects of the show, I just liked the action and look. Unfortunately, the ratings weren’t great and by the time I was set to start grade school the next year, it was gone and mostly forgotten by everyone except connoisseurs of genre television. Now, over thirty years later, here’s Moonstone Comics picking up the option and publishing the first comic series about the character since Gold Key put out an issue back when the TV series was airing…and it’s not half bad. When it comes to writers of hardboiled crime fiction, even the comic-book kind, Trina Robbins is not the first name that comes to mind at all, but she does a nice job of mimicking the tone-  mixing hippies with the more Rat Pack-era style West is something of an odd choice, but Robbins is more than passing familiar with both and it gives her script a bit of verisimilitude, something of a low-budget 60’s drive-in movie vibe (an actor analog of Peter Fonda doesn’t hurt). While the mystery itself (Go-Go Club owner suspects someone is trying to murder her) isn’t particularly compelling (I think I’ve got it figured out, but I’m hoping Trina throws a curve before it’s over) she gives us a very charismatic Honey, which helps a lot. Artist Martin is no Darwyn Cooke or Sean Phillips, but she does provide a mostly eye-pleasing mix of Gray Morrow and Amanda Connor, and she can draw lovely ladies very well, which is more or less the point of  the whole thing. She’s a little stiff in places, pose-wise, and there are some awfully skimpy backgrounds on a few pages, but by and large this is a good-looking job. Cooke, Ed Brubaker and Phillips pretty much have had the whole “Crime Fiction Comics” thing to themselves for the last few years, but based on this admittedly incomplete sample set, I’d say that they may have to make room for these ladies if this series continues in this fashion.

Script: Nick Spencer; Art: Joe Eisma
Image Comics, $3.99

Just in time for back to school, here’s a series set in a private school with a decidedly sinister bent for apparently gifted students, coincidentally with the same birthday, and no, it’s not exactly a copy of The Midwich Cuckoos, any of the X-books that feature teenage mutants (though this comes closest to that model than any), or Freakangels. When we begin, we see escape attempts by a couple of the older kids, and one of them eventually encounters a Lazlo type of a more deadly nature. Then, we abruptly meet the new group of students, and they run the gamut of the usual types that we’ve seen before in myriad books, movies, and TV shows. Things do get a bit more interesting as we see this new group gradually catch on to the malevolence of this institution; one gets a particularly nasty shock when she calls her father and he doesn’t know who she is, real nightmare stuff for anybody, especially kids. An even nastier surprise awaits another later in the story. Since this is only issue one, we will of course find out more about what’s going on, I assume, but at least for now we’re only given a taste of the bait, and they’re hoping we’ll take the hook. I’d be more likely to get reeled in if the art wasn’t such a mishmash of styles; the layouts aspire to dynamism and mostly succeed, but the figure drawing is sketchily inked and awkward, and they seem to have neglected to do any referencing of what real adult education professionals, or students for that matter, actually wear in the real world. Perhaps they subscribe to the Frank Bolle School of Fashion. Tight shirts, hair pinned up in a bun and glasses, plaid Britney Spears video-style skirts, etc., etc.- it all looks like visual shorthand, or a lack of desire to research, who knows. Eisma manages to tell the story, but doesn’t enhance it at all, he seems like an astute student of mid-90’s Image/Marvel artists, which is great to some but doesn’t excite me at all. Don’t confuse the interior art with the cover or the introductory page; it’s by someone named Rodin Esquejo, and they’re excellent. Mr. Esquejo has that certain something that makes his art much more interesting and his characters more believable.  I understand that this issue (which has been out a week or so) has sold very well. To me, I think it’s another series that will be readable only as long as the central mystery tantalizes; if they take too long to reveal or give it all away at once the appeal will be gone quickly. Also, it looks like another series I find enjoyable in spite of the art. Your mileage, as the saying goes, may vary.

Script: Garth Ennis; Art: John McCrea and Kevin Burns
Dynamite Entertainment, $3.99

It certainly has its detractors, but for my money The Boys is a pretty well-done look at superheroes, superheroics, and in a roundabout way the people that create as well as admire them; Ennis has created more memorable series and characters, no doubt about it, but I’m convinced that this one stacks up with Preacher, Hitman or any other you care to name, mostly because I think Garth is writing with affection as well as bemusement, no matter how sour or cynical the series may seem. The good guys, in many ways, aren’t much better than the megapowered reprobates and perverts they monitor, and I think that balance keeps him honest. This spinoff of arguably the most popular character picks up from where the last major story arc (which I haven’t finished yet, actually) in the main title left off, with Simon Pegg lookalike Wee Hughie going back to his hometown in Scotland to visit his foster parents and hook up with his old mates. Of course, it’s a mix of typical Ennisean weirdness (one of his old friends has such terrible body odor that everyone, him included, wears a gas mask around him, another is a transvestite) and melodramatic character study (the depressed Hughie does spend a lot of time walking around and brooding), including one of those scenes which we’ve seen Garth do many times before, where our conflicted protagonist encounters a respected/respectable figure of some sort and has a soul-searching conversation…it’s a well-worn trick, but he does it well. The last page of this issue, and I don’t think I spoil here, hints towards conflicts to come as a local crime boss of some sort watches our Hughie from his SUV, and its passengers discuss what his arrival means to their plans. All of this is written with everyone spouting what I expect is authentic and thick Scottish slang, and that sometimes makes it a little difficult to ken, if ye know what I mean, but it’s not that big a problem. Art is provided by Ennis’ old Hitman conspirator, I mean collaborator, McCrea, along with someone named Kevin Burns on both pencils and inks; I’m not sure where one begins and the other ends, but there’s a loosy-goosiness to this that takes a little adjusting to after being so accustomed to the tighter Darick Robertson art on the main book. Still, as with the previous mini Herogasm, they do a fine job, and they maintain s a great sense of wit in their renditions of the oddball characters I guess by now you know if you are or aren’t into The Boys, and if for some odd reason you’re on the fence about this, you can pick it up without fear of letdown. Ennis seems to like this character as much as any of them, and I think he means to do right by him.

The Review Writing Music List: Ringo Starr- Goodnight Vienna; Prefab Sprout- Jordan the Comeback; Prince- 1999; Gentle Giant- Octopus; Chuck Berry- The Great Twenty-Eight.

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