Logo by Dw. Dunphy

Hello and welcome to my online comics confessional, in which I attempt to enlighten you about various comic book and graphic novel releases of recent vintage, many of which should still be on sale somewhere near you, be it online or brick and mortar.

Script/Art: Roger Langridge
KaBoom/Boom! Studios, $1

I’m still not sure that I really get what went down when Boom! lost the Disney titles, and I suppose it’s not all that important to me in the grand scheme of things- but one unfortunate result was that The Muppet Show comic, which Langridge was (by most comics blogger accounts) killing on, also ceased to exist. For those wondering what his next project would be, well, wonder no longer- he’s doing Snarked. Rather than the spawn of Henson and Oz, he’s repurposing Lewis Carroll, specifically the Walrus and the Carpenter characters, and this is a one-dollar loss leader designed to get people interested in the latest title for Boom!’s kids imprint.

The “snarked” of the title refers to the ruse used by the Walrus, played here as a conniving Ollie Hardy/J. Wellington Wimpy type, to get into the palace of the King, ostensibly to find something to eat. The King is out traveling, so the Walrus sees an easy mark and lets himself in, posing as a “snark inspector”. The young Princess is skeptical, but lets them in anyway, and the W and C would have gotten away with it if they hadn’t tried to steal a gold statue that they spied. Finally, at the end we get a clever callback to the original Carroll poem. Of course, since this is just the intro, there will lots more, I’m sure, from our dubious duo and the Royal Court, so this provides a very effective teaser for the main series. Langridge is right at home here, with slapstick humor alternating with laughs of a more low-key sort; he does it all with assurance and wit, both art and script.

One small quibble, and this is, I’m sure, something which bugs only me- the uncredited letterer, Langridge I’m assuming, chose a font that someone- Richard Starkings/Comicraft, I’m again assuming- designed to mimic the lettering by Abe Kanegson that was employed in the classic Spirit stories, and it distracted the heck out of me. More often as not, I don’t get too hung up over letterer styles, but in this case, this lettering and this type of story sit uneasily next to each other, to me, anyway. Sure, it’s expressive, and I’m sure that’s why it was chosen…but it just looks odd. Don’t let that stop you from checking this out (as if it even could)…Snarked promises to be an outstanding project by a creator who really has a break coming his way. Solicit now; issue #1 is due in October. (PDF provided by publisher for review purposes)

Script/Art: Chester Brown
Drawn and Quarterly; $24.95

Just for the record: I’ve never availed myself of the services of a prostitute. Not too many escort services operating here in the small town in which I live, that I’m aware of anyway…plus, Mrs. B would most likely disapprove of this action on my part. Nor am I aware of any ladies in my circle of acquaintances who are employed thusly. So really, I don’t have much of an opinion one way or another about the whole “legalization of prostitution” question, which Mr. Brown goes to a lot of trouble and time to elaborate on in his latest work, which basically is an account of how he learned how to sidestep annoying and tricky romantic relationship issues by soliciting prostitutes- tentatively at first, but soon becoming a regular customer and refining his choice in service providers. He recounts his experiences for us in a clinical, dispassionate fashion, leavened only by the occasional (not always) amusing interlude with friends and fellow alt-comics icons Seth and Joe Matt. Brown certainly makes a convincing case in his solipsistic way, providing tons of information both empirical (his own experiences and observations) and quantitative (there is a monstrous appendix, including observations from Seth, which follows the story, all written in Brown’s hand…and if you can read all of it in one sitting you’re a better man than I, Gunga Din), but kinda shoots himself in the foot via his reluctance to edit himself- I mean, I got his point after the sixth or seventh sexual encounter, but he drags on and on with page after page of watching Brown’s skinny ass boning that evening’s escort, then trying to engage her in conversation with varying degrees of success. And while he has proven to be an interesting storyteller in his Crumb-influenced style, Brown does not possess the stylistic panache to make his numerous experiences look anything more than cold and joyless, an impression not helped by his trademark self-portrait, which makes him look like classical Death himself without his robes. The ladies’ facial features are never shown, which adds to the distance we feel, and which I assume is an extension of his personality but would also seem to be at odds with the message he’s trying to proselytize for. That said, and almost in spite of itself, it becomes compelling reading, if nothing else but that one keeps expecting the other shoe to fall on our narrator. Whether or not it does, I’ll leave that to you to find out for yourself, but I can say that while it does try the patience, I think it achieves what it sets out to do and that’s a plus in my book. Whether or not it’s worth $24.95 is another question altogether…but look at it this way-  it’s cheaper than a hooker.

Script: Jonathan Vankin; Art: Marco Castiello, Vincenzo Acunzo
DC Comics, $2.99

For the record, I’ve always thought it was asinine to segregate the DC characters from the ones which came to be published under the Vertigo imprint; many, many memorable pre-Vertigo moments (the meeting of the Justice League and the Doom Patrol in front of the Painting that Ate Paris, Swamp Thing’s encounters with Batman, Morpheus and the 70’s Kirby Sandman, John Constantine and “Squire” Batman) took place before the edict went down, and in a lot of ways it was the cross-pollination (and yes, the desire to give Gaiman, Moore, Ennis and Morrison their own private sandbox to play in) that led to the creation of the imprint in the first place. So when it was announced that Swamp Thing and John Constantine would soon be reappearing in DCU proper titles, I was all thumbs up. Until I actually saw this, one of the initial reintegration efforts in the wake of the Brightest Day finale.

Now, I’m sure Vankin has a lot of talent, and in fact have heard good things about his previous miniseries for Vertigo, two of the Vertigo Pop! series. And I’ll also concede the benefit of the doubt since he is, after all, just following someone else’s outline of what this whole Swamp Thing thing is about. But not since poor novelist Denise Mina spectacularly failed to even begin to grasp the character of John Constantine has someone flopped so badly in trying to write the character. It’s not so much that he’s a magic user; I’ve seen this brought up in other places. John does use magic when it’s convenient, but he doesn’t rely on it exclusively, preferring to outwit when possible. Heck, right now Pete Milligan is in the middle of an excellent run on the character, and he’s casting spells right and left. It’s the amazingly hamfisted attempts to define a character that everyone already knows is British by having him spout all sorts of comic-book Brit slang- this John is all “bollocks” and “bloody” that, and while many fine writers have had the same hackneyed dialogue coming out of JC’s mouth in the past, none of them have been so on-the-nose obvious about it. OK, sure, this is the fresh new DCU Johnny C, as I understand it, and  it’s no crime, not really, but it totally takes you out of the story- and this is a story which doesn’t need the distraction. Not that it’s a bad idea per se, but so far the execution is clumsy. The art isn’t much better; the Castiello/Acunzo team seem to be striving for a Jim Lee-meets-Jock-meets-Michael Lark look, and those are about as compatible as oil and water. On top of that, Castiello has a hard time connecting point A to point B; that whole scene in which Constantine appears in the Batmobile and bickers with the Caped Crusader is hard to follow- are they in the Batcave now? Does he really have a bank of computer monitors in his car? Is like a Tardis?- it really made the story grind to a halt on several occasions.

I’m sure all concerned are capable of better work, and may begin to show it the very next issue, but I thought this was just awful despite the mostly well-done Zatanna cameo. For the record, Superman doesn’t even appear. Wein, Wrightson, Moore, Bissette, and Totleben have absolutely nothing to worry about.

One Short Take:

SANCTUARY #1 (Slave Labor): Very animation-influenced story of an experimental zoo of some sort in which the animals all communicate with each other in the best Disney tradition. We see how the various animals interact; lions, gorillas, giraffes, etc., and react to the new inmate, a smart-ass panda who, by the end of this preview issue, turns up dead. Scripter/artist Stephen Coughlin sets up a decent enough premise; some animals seem to know why they’re there, others, especially the young ones, don’t. The panda’s murder will, I’m sure, set off a chain of events that could potentially be very interesting. Coughlin the artist works in a loose, exaggerated typical-of-animation style; it works overall but sometimes it’s so exaggerated that it’s hard to tell who’s who and what’s what and what’s going on.  Hey, it’s free to check out the first issue; why not download it and see for yourself? (Ashcan copy provided by publisher for review purposes)  B+

The great illustrator Gene Colan passed away last week; he was truly one of the titans of comics- from Iron Man to romance comics to Warren magazines (with stone gorgeous inkwash) to Daredevil to Tomb of Dracula to Howard the Duck to Brother Voodoo to Batman to Don McGregor’s Ragamuffins to  J’emm, Son of Saturn for goshsakes, he drew everything with with imagination and verve with one of the most idiosyncratic styles in the history of the industry. Nobody before and precious few since have had a style similar to his. There have been many wonderful, heartfelt tributes to him all over the Comics Blogosphere already; Heidi provides a helpful roundup of some of the best. I encourage you to Google Gene Colan RIP to find others; perhaps my own at the Johnny Bacardi Show will be up sooner or later. Another of the greats is gone, and it’s, as always, so true what Wayne Coyne wrote: Everyone you know someday will die, and “You realize that life goes fast/It’s hard to make the good things last”. Thanks for everything, Mr. Colan.

The Exploding Plastic Inevitable All Purpose Review Writing Music List: Neil Young- Chrome Dreams (Rust Version); Utopia- Deface the Music and Utopia (1982); Heart- Private Audition; Deep Purple- Come Taste the Band (Tommy Bolin for the win).

Thanks for your time, see you next week.