Hello and welcome once more to Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I make with the opinions and stuff and junk on comics and graphic novels I’ve perused in the interval since the last CoaCSJ, most of which should be on sale at a brick-and-mortar shop or online merchant near you.

Script: Joe Casey; Art: Mike Huddleston
Image Comics, $2.99

This first popped up on reader radar via a late-2010 series of memorable teaser ads, which alternated rude with crude and offered proof that the Frank Miller Aesthetic (as expressed in, oh, Elektra: Assassin, to name the most obvious precursor) was alive and well. Looks like another spy/political thriller sendup, of course filtered through the Super Hero Comic Book prism, and if you don’t mind that chocolate in your peanut butter, then there’s much to like in this spirited entry. The titular figure, an oversized and oversexed Brock Samson type (actually, he reminds me of Master of Kung Fu‘s Black Jack Tarr) that seems to be a cross between Marshall Law, Captain America, Nick Fury, Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Burton, is recruited by Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney (the portrayal of both is about as good as the political satire gets here) to wipe out a diverse gang of super criminals while they’re ensconced in a superjail- the government is tired of providing these “goddamn deviants” with room and board and three squares a day, y’see. On the way,  he’s pursued by the sort of overeager redneck state trooper comic relief that has to be inspired by Clifton Lewis’ Sheriff J.W. Pepper from the Roger Moore James Bond days…since he appeared in the teaser ads, I have to believe he’ll return at some point. When BBtRM arrives and carries out his mission, after a brief diversion-via-rumination into some sort of multiple dimension thing with “Presidents of Reality” and whatnot that veers us almost into Casanova territory, he feels discontented somehow…and there’s our taking-off point, I suppose, for the rest of the series.

Joe Casey, as you may expect, takes full advantage of the opportunity to indulge in a lot of satire and tongue-in-cheekiness, especially of the political nature. Casey, even though I think he’s an above average writer, somehow remains too grounded writing voicewise to really coax this into true gonzo territory; you can sense him holding back where a Miller would have gone for the stoopid (as opposed to stupid). This is not necessarily a bad thing; Im not crazy about Miller’s writing, especially in the last 20 years or so. This remains a fast-paced and often amusing thrill ride, though, even if it doesn’t exactly make you sit up in your seat. Huddleston, whom I covered last week when I reviewed The Homeland Directive, reins in his tendency to use multiple stylistic choices and mostly sticks with a warmer Sienkiewicz vibe here, channeling his inner Ralph Steadman in a lot of places, and he colors it all up with his usual designerly painted style. I like his work a lot more here than I did on the more restrained Directive.

I’m sure that many will find this obvious, heavy-handed and stupid (as opposed to stoopid) and others will find this totally Airwolf. Typically, I fall somewhere in between; it’s about as subtle as a bag of hammers, but I was entertained, and somewhat surprised to be so, although I can’t help but hope that this will find another gear to shift up into before it’s done.

Script: Eric Powell, Tracy Marsh; Art: Phil Hester, Bruce McCorkindale
IDW, $3.99

You know, as much as I loved Godzilla movies as a kid, and I did dig ’em muchly- a Godzilla movie appearing on The Big Show (Nashville, Tn., Channel 5, weekday afternoons from app. 4-5:30 Central Time, 60’s-70’s) especially Godzilla, King of the Monsters (aka Gojira, you know, the moody, atmospheric first one) or Godzilla vs. the Thing, would make my week. And if something like Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster or Destroy All Monsters! hit the town drive-in, best believe I was there, dragging my poor parents along for the ride. Of course, as the years went by, I  grew kinda bored with it all, as the flicks devolved into an increasingly silly series of wrestling matches between actors in big bulky monster suits, stomping around in a series of fake countrysides and urban landscapes. Eventually, it dawned on me- this happened because really, what else can you do with Godzilla? There’s only so many times you can have him rise from the depths of the sea or from being buried in the sand and soil of the nearby shore and march inexorably towards Tokyo as the armed forces make a futile attempt to slow him down, which, coincidentally (or perhaps not so) is what happens in this, the debut issue of the latest attempt to bring us the four-color adventures of the Big G, as the Monster Times chappies referred to him back in the day.

It’s pretty much Godzilla 101, and unfortunately the been-there seen-that prevents this from really taking flight. The joint Powell (most notable for The Goon, which I’ve managed to avoid for the most part, don’t know why exactly) and Marsh script (don’t know who does what; I assume idea by Powell, execution by Marsh) hits all the expected beats. When Marvel tried to do Godzilla back in the 70’s, they had the bright idea to plop him down in the middle of the Marvel Universe and have S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Shogun Warriors mix it up with him (well, all right, they did that with nearly all their licensed properties back then, so it’s not so much clever as just the Marvel Way), but IDW doesn’t have that luxury. Perhaps this will go in an unusual direction and transcend the pigeon hole, but if that’s the idea, there’s no sign of it as of yet. All setup and no payoff, and sadly cavalier about people dying en masse, especially a couple of kids playing on the beach at the beginning, at least it’s dialogued credibly and the art by seasoned pro Phil Hester does a good job of goosing the proceedings along. Although Hester & McCorkindale can draw masses of people fleeing as good as anybody, I have to believe that Powell and Marsh have some other ideas that they’re keeping close to the vest so far…at least I hope they do. Otherwise, this is gonna get real tedious real fast. In June, IDW’s going back to the Godzilla well with another miniseries, written by John Layman, that looks to be set on Monster Island- so it looks like the IDW plan is to investigate all the facets of the Godzilla mythos. If you’re into Kaiju and don’t demand too much from your entertainment, this could be a series to keep an eye on.

Script: David Lapham; Art: German Nobile
Avatar, $3.99

Well, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve pretty much used up all the historical figures for potential comics series when we spotlight the notorious Roman Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, known more commonly as Caligula. Of course, I assume most of us have seen the equally-notorious flop feature film which served as a blight on the CVs of Malcolm McDowell (who wasn’t all that bad in the role, actually, when he was given something to do), Sir John Gielgud, and Peter O’Toole, who seemed to be heavily medicated in his scenes. If I understand correctly, I think the fictional versions of accounts of the fellow have ramped up and sensationalized the sordid details of his reign in favor of extreme sex and violence; not that I doubt he had his kinks and barbarous side…that’s pretty well documented. For what it’s worth, I’ve tried to watch the film twice; first time, I just couldn’t hang with it- it was so monotonous and cheap-looking, and the sex even grew tiresome after a while. A year or two later, I did manage to make it to the end; I won’t do it again.

Anyway, this is certainly more restrained than the motion picture, that’s for sure, and it’s deadly serious, none of the camp touches some tend to want to bring to the character. Unfortunately, when you deal with this subject matter, that raises a certain level of expectations for what you will find…and except for some off-screen stuff, you won’t find it here- an odd choice, and probably market-driven more than anything. If you’re going to do Caligula, for heaven’s sake don’t be half-assed about it! Besides, this isn’t as much of a feature for Caligula himself as it is for the farmer boy whose family had the misfortune to entertain the Emperor and his entourage one evening. After walking in on the aftermath- you know, rape, sodomy, beheadings, eviscerations, par for the Caligulan course- he swears vengeance, and most of the rest of the story assays his efforts to infiltrate the Emperor’s court in Rome and get close enough to kill him. As revenge-plot narratives go, this isn’t so bad, because, well, Lapham is a seasoned vet at this stage of the game. I will say that there’s a heck of a surprising and weird cliffhanger at the end, and I have no clue about what direction it promises. Unfortunately, the visuals don’t do the story justice at all; they’re sloppy and sketchy looking, all muddy browns and greys and dark blues, and look like they were done on an iPhone or something. That said, the actualy storytelling techniques Mr. Nobile employs, though crude in places, still manage to maintain the story’s readability so that tells me there may be room for improvement as he goes along. I still can’t help but wonder what, oh, the Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon team, to name but one, might have brought to the party, but that’s not what we get. Whether or not you want to pay four bucks for Nobile’s growing pains, as well as some R-rated violence and non-explicit sex, is another thing altogether.

Script/Art: Des Taylor
Slave Labor Graphics; $12.95

I swear, I don’t mean to turn each week’s column into a lecture on good girl/cheesecake art and how to do it right/wrong, but I can’t help it, I keep getting examples of both. Thankfully, this week I have an excellent example of how to do it correctly. Amaze Ink/Slave Labor describes this as “Half art book, half storybook”, and that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. British illustrator Taylor lavishly and lovingly (not least because the name “Vesha” was inspired by real-life girlfriend Weisha Radwanska) brings us the story of the titular young lady, who works her way up from the backstreets of Paris to burlesque dancing to motion pictures and worldwide stardom…but of course things don’t go quite as smoothly as planned. It serves primarily as a vehicle for Taylor to give us a recreation of 40’s and 50’s styles, rendering recreations of still photos, movie frames, posters, etc. He has a smooth, rich, sinuous line, which lends itself to its animated-film look; it’s very reminiscent of Tex Avery’s Red Hot Riding Hood or the voluptuous women of Playboy cartoonist Doug Sneyd. Another illustrator whose work I’m reminded of is Spanish artist Jordi Bernet, who’s been doing a lot of Jonah Hex lately for DC. Spot the influences aside (and I’m sure there are a host of influences in the world of commercial illustration that come to bear that I’m nowhere near familiar with enough to even cite), Taylor celebrates his lovely heroine; sure, there’s a generous amount of pinup girl posing all through the book, but it’s reverent rather than crass, affectionate rather than exploitative. He puts a lot of the comics world’s current so-called “good girl artists”, with their preoccupation with impossibly twisted backs, thrusting hips, and boob socks to shame. But don’t take my word for it; you can find a preview here at the SLG website. It came out in early February; hopefully you can find it at a store or online somewhere, because if you love classic film, classic fashion, and yes, good girl art, done with flash, panache, and elan, you really should own this for yourself.

The All Purpose Review Writing Music List! Teenage Fanclub- Bandwagonesque; Jellyfish- Bellybutton; R.E.M.- Collapse Into Now; Ron Sexsmith- Long Player Late Bloomer; Shelby Lynne- Suit Yourself.