Hello and welcome back to Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I write a line or three about comics and/or graphic novel releases of recent vintage, hopefully on sale at a shop or online merchant near you, if you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.

Script: Dusty Hughes; Art: Van Jensen
Slave Labor, $14.95

Just like you can stick the name “Johnny” in front of almost any noun, adjective or adverb and get a cool-sounding name, these days it seems to be the chic thing to do to take a character or historical personage and stick “Vampire Slayer” on the end, the more incongruous, the better. “Little Lotta, Vampire Slayer”. “Wally Cleaver, Vampire Slayer”. My personal favorite, and I want to draw this someday- “Miles Davis, Vampire Slayer”. You get it, I think. Here we have the puppet made famous by Walt Disney- hey! “Walt Disney- Vampire Slayer!” Nah. I digress, sorry. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer. He’s but one of a whole family of sorts of puppets, who are joined by friends both living and undead in an Italy of an indeterminate timeframe in order to combat the evil machinations of Fox and Cat (remember them) as well as a whole legion of bloodsuckers, and there’s also talk of an even Bigger Bad behind them. Apparently Pinoch had to deal with a vampired-up Gepetto last time out, as in had to kill him (how charming) and is dealing with the grief through part of the narrative. When all is said and done this is nowhere near as cheesy as it sounds…when I first saw the title I kept seeing pictures of him telling lies, breaking off his nose, and poof- vampire dust! Oh. Right. Actually, that  happens. Well, anyway, what we have here is a mostly entertaining pastiche of Unca Walt and Auntie Anne Rice, whose overripe vampire lore with its secret vamp theatres and plotting cabals has to be an influence; I’m reminded a little of the recent Cirque Du Freak movie, as well as Hammer horror tropes- and of course, the whole Whedonesque Buffy dark humor ethos is on display throughout, with its anachronistic dialogue and slightly snarky tone. I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but that’s how it’s coming across to me. And then, as if the creators were determined to cover all the fandom bases, this shifts gears about halfway and becomes a pirate adventure, with the company stowing away on a ship and chasing Fox and Cat and their monstrous crew, who have kidnapped the apparent love interest, a human young lady who has a sweet spot for the boy puppet. Oh, and just before the piratey stuff begins, he gets transformed into a real boy by the Blue (haired) Fairy, a heavy set, elderly crone here. Yikes. Anyway, I don’t mean to spoil, but rest assured there’s enough plot threads going here for three volumes in just this one, and I’m only scratching the surface. The art is in a kind of angular Jhonen Vazquez-meets-manga style, with a sort of sketchy-looking Kevin O’Neill-type inkline- it’s not a style that yanks my crank per se but it must be very popular because I see it a lot. It does keep the story moving along in expedient fashion, though the smallish digest-size pages play hell with clarity. There’s an awful lot going on in Pinocchio Vampire Slayer, and the creators don’t lack for trying as they throw all these modern pop culture touchstones together in a blender and hit “puree”.  It’s a little absurd, but they’re taking it seriously and that helps make it worth a look. (Reviewed from a copy provided by the publisher)

Script: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning; Art: Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessey
Marvel Comics, $3.99

Marvel just can’t let go of this concept, can they? This is the third iteration of which I’m aware (they’re helpfully recapped in a section at the end of the comic), and while I can’t say at this point if it will be any more or less successful that the others, this one at least has the Abnett/Lanning team, fresh off revitalizing the Cosmic corner of the House that Stan and Jack and Steve and Larry and Don, etc. Built, and that’s no small thing right now. The basic setup is this- in the aftermath of the whole Shadowland hoohah, Misty Knight (one half of the Daughters of the Dragon) is now pursuing her crimefighting avocation via the whole shadowy-room full of computer screens coordinator thing a la DC’s Oracle. She insists on being called “Control” (shades of Janet Jackson!) by her charges, in this case, the Falcon, the Black Widow, and Moon Knight, all of which she calls in to first disrupt a shipment of some sort of Atlantean-based drug (another of the exclusive-to-the-world-of-comics fictional drugs) called “Hook”, then to trace the shipment back to where it’s being warehoused and presumably break up that particular location. Then, a settling of scores with the fellow behind it all, with another character (I don’t want to spoil), and a somewhat arbitrary fakeout ending that I sure didn’t see coming. It’s done with maximum efficiency in a fast-paced and exciting pair of scenes, especially the opener, in which Falcon and Black Widow attempt to stop a semi with the shipment on the city streets. Much credit to artists Walker and Hennesey; their figures are lithe and dynamic, reminding me of Phil Winslade here and Rags Morales there, and the staging and layouts are done for maximum kineticism- pretty much everything modern superhero comics storytelling aspires to.  I’m still not so sure I like that ending; it’s a trope that’s been used far too many times. I’m not crazy about this diminished (i.e., non-action) role for Ms. Knight (and neither is she, as she lets us know at one point). Still, this is a good beginning and could go a long way towards being your next guilty pleasure read if you’re looking for one. (I bought this with my own hard earned money. No publisher freebie here)

Script: Chris Roberson, Art: Khary Randolph
Boom! Studios, $3.99

Here’s another series based on, or so they say, ideas by Stan Lee, and the second one of the three that I’ve read. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the old-school superhero comics stylings of Soldier Zero, but this one differs in tone and emphasis, and that makes a big difference. The story itself is nothing terribly revelatory or groundbreaking; we meet struggling young writer Benjamin Warner, who works as an office drone (and has to look over his shoulder as he works on his stuff on company time, boy can I relate to that!), trying to get his Big Sci-Fi Action Epic Novel published. The narrative, about conflict between alien races, is something he’s been obsessed with most of his life, and it seems to be something he’s known about all his life, instinctively, even though his ideas are remarkably similar to another science fiction author that he’s never met. On the day he finds out his big magnum opus has been rejected, he dejectedly reports to work only to discover that, when confronted by a member of one of his supposedly fictional alien races in human guise, that his science fiction isn’t as fictional as he thought, something confirmed when a young lady comes to his rescue, a girl he had a childhood crush on and now works in the same building…only it turns out she is actually a shapeshifter. She pulls a Terminator move (“If you want to live…come with me”) on him, and we come to our cliffhanger. Obviously, there’s a lot more story to come, no doubt…and while we can probably predict where it’s going to go, it’s no less engaging mostly due to Roberson taking the time to help us come to like Benjamin more by giving us insight into the breadth of his vision, as well as his working habits and inner monologues as he does so. I found that part of it more interesting, actually, than all the space operatics. Randolph’s art is up to the task; it’s also got that manga look (kinda in the Humberto Ramos flavor) like most artists apparently must have these days, but it’s loose and flowing and expressive so it passes muster. Again, as with Soldier Zero, no new ground is broken- this is the same old SciFi-superhero stuff we’ve been getting for four decades now, but it is done with care and a bit of finesse, so it’s worth a look, I’d think, especially if you’re hungry for more of the same old SciFi-superhero inspired stuff. (Reviewed from a PDF provided by the publisher)

The All Purpose Review Writing Music List: Santana III; Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr.- Christmas with the Rat Pack; The Beach Boys- Ultimate Christmas; Rickie Lee Jones- Pirates; Jean-Luc Ponty and Frank Zappa- King Kong, Ned Van Go- Marry A Waitress, Bright Little FieldTreatment Bound: A Ukelele Tribute to the Replacements. Highly recommended.

Next week, my Best of 2010, then a holiday break. As always, thanks for reading and/or commenting. Send all review inquiries, love letters, and family homebrew recipes to johnnybacardi AT gmail DOT com.