Time once more for CoCSJ, now with an extra comma at no cost to you, in which I opine of comics and graphic novel releases of recent vintage, most of which should be available at a brick-and-mortar or online merchant near you.

Script: Adam Freeman, Marc Bernardin; Art: Javi Fernandez
Kickstart Comics, $14.99

Freeman and Bernardin, the team behind Monster Attack Network for AiT/PlanetLar, and The Highwaymen for DC/Wildstorm, both of which I found pretty darn entertaining if not exactly game-changing, are back with a brand new graphic novel for a brand new publisher (including Jimmy Palmiotti and Larry Young, read here for more). This one gives us the exploits of a young, idealistic, megapowered Superman type called “Captain Supreme” and his Arthur-like sidekick, who fights crime and evil in Constellation City. Problem is, he refuses to cash in on his notoriety, and on top of that is constantly being upstaged and made to look bad by Eclipse, a Batman-style vigilante, who always seems to get all the attention and credit for what the Captain starts. As a result, the Captain is having trouble making ends meet- he returns at one point to his supposed secret lair, the “Hall of Significance” (heh-heh) only to find a realtor showing it to a prospective buyer. Worst of all, he’s been invited to a class reunion, shades of Grosse Point Blank.  When he returns home to his parents, with sidekick “Geniac” in tow, he finds that not only has his old room been completely remodeled (his sister’s, by comparison, has been lovingly preserved as it was the day she left), but his Mom and Dad, as well as his old friends, think he’s in a gay relationship with Randall/Geniac. So you see what our guy is dealing with here; he’s getting no respect and no satisfaction from the life he’s chosen whatsoever. From here, and this is a bit of a problem, it goes pretty much exactly how you think it will go; no surprising plot twists or amusing revelations, and that’s disappointing. While this is fast-moving and pleasant enough, it’s awfully reminiscent of a lot of stuff that’s gone before; DeMatteis and Giffen’s Hero Squared and Justice League books; The Tick, of course. Any sort of sitcommish “woebegone superguys dealing with real-life problems” scenario you’ve seen in the last 40 years. The typically nice Amanda Connor cover is a bit of a bait and switch, too; once you open the book you get Fernandez’ earnest, but not-quite-ready-for-prime-time attempts to emulate Quitely, Dillon, and more than a few others. He tells the story, and tells it competently, but his style is generic. That said, I’m reminded a little of art by people like Stuart Immonen or Adam Hughes when they started out, so there’s room for improvement, I’d think. Kickstart Comics, as I understand it, are going to be distributed en masse in places like WalMart; and as such deserve attention as ambassadors to a whole new kind of group besides the comics-shop and bookstore-frequenting type. I just wish this was a little bit better than it actually is. (a PDF was provided by the publisher for review purposes)

Script: Brendon Small, Jon Schnepp, Jeremy Barlow; Art: Lucas Marangon
Dark Horse Comics; $3.99

The whole Adult Swim thing is awfully hit-and-miss for me; I’ve been watching it since the early days, when it was Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Home Movies, Sealab 2021, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and little else. And those were often very funny, audacious, and even sometimes groundbreaking in their way, but as the years dragged on, the nonsense, as Pete Sinfield once sang, made me numb. Not helping matters was an endless parade of done-on-the-cheap, semi-animated and all-random-nonsensical shows which of course found an audience here and there, but often came across as hitting the same note on an out-of-tune piano over and over and over again. That said, there have been a few gold nuggets that have panned out of the silt of the likes of Squidbillies and 12 oz. Mouse- Venture Bros., of course, one of the best series on TV right now, and Small & Schnepp’s Metalocalypse, another series by the same team behind Home Movies, a series which they thankfully had the good sense to end while we still wanted more.

Featuring the misadventures of a fictional Goth Metal group with the brilliant name “Dethklok”, it became a gory sendup of the likes of metal bands Metallica, Slayer and so on and the worship they inspire, not to mention the meaning and message behind the imagery they employ. It really has gone on to take on a life of its own, expanding and enhancing the basic concept- and providing not only a lotta laffs amongst the carnage, but also doling out some pretty good hard music as well, again courtesy of Small and Co. So here we have the inevitable comic book adaptation, and I’m pleased to see that it does actually evoke the TV show well enough to be a reasonably entertaining simalcrum. The merchandising arm of the band has decided to market a line of Dethklok frozen foods, and that’s the peg on which they hang a story which of course features the usual bickering and back-and-forth between the super-dense band members, along with a few stabs at targets like Twitter (Bassist William Murderface’s Twitter username: “cockslapper”), Facebook,  and Juggalos (TV series reoccurring character Dr. Rockzo and his former band). In fact, it seems like it was written with the notion that this was the only issue they were going to get; they seem to be trying to cram everything in there at once, and it becomes a lot to take in, and I say that being familiar with the show. I can’t imagine what a newbie to all this would think. On the visual side, I’m impressed with Marangon’s art; it’s a lot looser than the half-animated source, so we see facial expressions and human figures in a lot of poses and from a lot of perspectives that we usually don’t get to see. He does a good job of getting the likenesses right. All in all, I got pretty much the same enjoyment out of this as I do an average episode of Metalocalypse; my expectations weren’t high, so adjust yours accordingly.

Script/Art: Emi Lenox
Image Comics, $24.99. To be released October 27, 2010.

I’ll tell ya straight up- the prospect of wading through a 400-page print collection of some precocious young lady’s webcomic daily diary pages sounded daunting at best, no matter how engaging the young lady in question’s work may be and no matter how much talent and storytelling chops she may bring to the table. I tend to be hot and cold on autobio-type comics; sometimes the subject isn’t as interesting as he or she thinks they are, nor do they have the artistic abilities to make them more appealing. Fortunately, this young lady (another former Periscope Studios intern, naturally) has a clever, inventive illustrative style, and this manages to make the pages easy to breeze to read through. If you’re like me, you’ll also find yourself going back to this or that page to see how she laid it out and led our eyes from point a to point b. She draws herself as a bit of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl you hear so much about (perhaps she and Jen Wang should cross over Emi and Koko!), and populates her accounts with some cleverly used characters- you really don’t know what you’ll be getting from page to page. I’ve found it fun to read in short stretches; you could easily kill an afternoon on this if you choose to. I’ll put up a couple of randomly chosen page thumbnails (see, there they are, at right!), so you can sample and decide for yourselves. Isn’t that nice of me? (a PDF was provided by the artist/publisher for review purposes)

Scripts: Ron Marz, Len Wein; Art: Bernie Wrightson, Kevin Nowlan
DC Comics; $4.99

Of course, it’s mostly forgotten now, especially in the wake of Alan Moore’s rethinking of the character, but when Wein and Wrightson dropped their Swamp Thing in 1972 it was, well, if not a revelation, it was a breath of fresh (if a bit moist) air- exciting repurposed Universal monster movie tropes, featuring an unusual character and sporting detailed, dynamic illustration work by one of the rising young art stars of the day. Sure the scripts were often derivative (even though Wein did deliver a fresh spin on the Frankenstein monster and Salem’s witch trials) and the dialogue mannered to the point of distraction, but they were never, ever dull. Problem was, Wrightson’s painstakingly detailed art took a long time to deliver, and even with the help of uncredited assistants was always flirting with deadline disaster. Finally, tired of the grind, he bailed. It’s a testament to how strong his mojo was that the tenth, and last, issue he did was as strong as the first. This two-in-one book delivers the seventh issue of that now-overlooked series; it was one that caused quite a stir in fannish circles because Berni was gonna be drawing the Bat- man, that is, and he had not done so previously except on the occasional cover, when he could get one in on his friend and studio-mate Mike Kaluta. While some, as I recall, protested the intrusion of the superhero into the monster movie goings-on, those delighted with the results far outnumbered the cranks, and Wrightson delivered the real stuff, apparent thirty-foot cape and fifteen foot long ears and all. Sam Keith and Kelley Jones were paying attention, you better believe. Anyway- how does this story hold up after all this time? Surprisingly well. It’s a continuation of #6, but you don’t need to have read the previous half dozen issues to know what’s going on… all you need to know is that bad men (and you’ll guess the main bad guy’s identity pretty quickly, no big mystery here) have kidnapped Matt Cable and Abby Arcane, and Swamp Thing has to come to Gotham City to rescue them. Of course, Batman isn’t far behind, and of course he comes into conflict with Swampy, and after a bit of plot contrivance justice is served. Wein’s no-frills plotting is as tight as piano wire, and really impressed me, as I’ve gotten used to the deliberately paced modern comic script. Classic stuff, and while I could have done without the new excessively-Photoshopped color job- it’s garish, and paradoxically makes the events depicted seem muddier than the original four-color process- I enjoyed revisiting it. See one of my favorite pages from this story, in which Swampy nonchalantly blocks a Batman punch, at right. Of course, the reason this comic exists in the first place is as a vehicle to showcase another Archie Goodwin-commissioned story (which tells you how old it is, since Goodwin passed on in the 90’s), one that many wondered if it would ever see print, in which the Dark Knight encounters another swamp dweller, Solomon Grundy. The connecting thread is Wrightson, who pencils this Ron Marz-written story, inked by Kevin Nowlan, and chooses to lay it out as a series of splash pages with text. Although Marz’ narration is a bit overcooked, Wrightson is up to the task, and even if he no longer has the smooth flow of his 70’s  heyday, he’s still more than capable of doing this type of tale justice, especially with the reliable Nowlan assisting. Those with the money who are looking for a nostalgia rush might want to consider picking this up; it’s a good showcase for Wrightson, and hey- what’s one more Bat-book in a sea of them?

The All-Purpose Review Writing Music List: Marianne Faithfull- Strange Weather; Elvis Costello- Spike; Mary Hopkin- Earth Song/Ocean Song; Fleetwood Mac- Mystery to Me.

As always, thanks for reading. Review inquiries, lottery numbers, prayer requests: johnnybacardi AT gmail.