Logo by Dw. Dunphy

Here we go again with Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I opine on various recently released publications of the sequential graphic nature, some of which may be sitting on the rack at a comics shop, or awaiting the click of a button on some online merchant’s web page, near you. If you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.

Script: Paul Tobin; Art: Colleen Coover
Script/Art: Matthew Dow Smith
Monkeybrain Comics, downloadable for .99¢ per issue

New comics efforts from a brand new collective of sorts called “Monkeybrain Comics“, a digital-only enterprise that assembles many worthy creators at a reasonable price, doing comics of the type that the Big Two are reluctant to publish. A forward looking endeavor, for sure, and one would hope that by offering high-quality stories (another series, unread by me, is written by iZombie and self-exiled former DC scripter Chris Roberson) at a reasonable price, they would/should do quite well. The jury’s still out on that, but aesthetics-wise, at least, I think the new imprint is off to a good start.

Bandette seems to be set up as a sort of “What if Amelie were Catwoman” kinda scenario, in which we join the title character, dressed in an ill-fitting and rather incongruous mask-and-cape costume, pulling a heist which she’s been hired to do…but uf cuss complications ensue, and we find out, during the course of her escape, that she has a rather diverse and wide-ranging support system, and they help her out of the scrape. Naturally, it’s early, and there was nowhere Tobin could go but foreign-film cutesy as he does his introducing, but I really hope he has some more grounded destinations in mind, or the whole thing will float away like a Felliniesque ballon. Luckily, while we wait, we get to look at the utterly delightful and skillfully rendered art by Colleen Coover, who brings class and charm to every project she does. Even the ones with nekkid women. Especially those. A-

The October Girl is brought to us by Matthew Dow Smith, one of a few artists I recall first seeing in the late 90’s whose work reminded me of  Mike Mignola- the same approach to blackspotting, a tendency to imply more than he shows, and a representational rather than literal approach to depicting the human figure. Smith has continued to refine and develop his style, and now it’s less Mignola and more like a fellow named Teddy Kristiansen, who drew a whole buncha Vertigo comics back in the day and even got, if I recall correctly and I’m too lazy to check it, an issue of Solo before joining Pete Snejbjerg, Steve Yeowell, and Warren Pleece in the ex-Vertigian hinterlands. Now, please don’t misunderstand- I’m not saying Smith is copying anyone’s style…I’m just saying whose style his reminded me of when I see it, and since I forget where I saw it last (besides online, that is- I follow his blog- perhaps some video game tie-in? Razor’s Edge? Does that ring a bell?) I must say it’s good to see it again, and this time in service of one of his own stories. October Girl gives us a seemingly directionless and adrift young coffee shop worker named Autumn (as in October, get it? Get it?), who, as we find out via her narration which takes up most of the first couple of pages, had a few imaginary friends as a child. She lives with her mom, and works hard to help out since her dad left. When she steps outside at her job to take out the trash, she meets a most unexpected being who warns her that she’s in danger- end of chapter one. The reveal is mildly surprising, and Smith manages to achieve the neat trick of making Autumn sympathetic without having her seem whiny, and that’s not easy. I like Smith’s art, and the premise is interesting, so I think I’ll hang with this one for a while- it may go off on a tangent, and it might not. We’ll see, I guess. B+

Script: Joshua Dysart; Art: Khari Evans, Lewis LaRosa, Ian Hannen, Moose Baumann
Valiant, $3.99

A group of young handsome people with powerful mental powers who are coveted by opposing groups for different purposes is hardly the freshest concept for a series out there, and that’s what this shapes up to be in a nutshell. Scanners, anyone, or The Midwich Cuckoos? If that isn’t enough, this is also another revamp of a 90’s Valiant title, a line which, to be honest, didn’t exactly excite me back then or now. Still, this is not without its strengths, and primary among them is the art of Khari Evans, who has impressed me several times with his expressive art style on such efforts as Marvel’s 2008 Daughters of the Dragon miniseries, as well as Image’s Carbon Grey. Evans is once again working as part of a group of collaborators; sometimes his style peeks out among all the noise, and other times it’s completely subsumed, which annoys me no end. I really liked Dysart’s work on B.P.R.D.: 1946 and 1947, but his subsequent revamp of DC’s Unknown Soldier left me cold, and so the jury’s still out as far as I’m concerned on him. So, I can hear you wondering by now, why the hell am I even bothering to write about this comic, since it seems like I’m predisposed to dislike it? Well…because in spite of everything, I did find myself Now, I didn’t read the original series, so I have no idea whether or not they’re just going nuts with the concept or if they’re staying faithful to the original, but based on the evidence at hand, they’re making this less than original premise interesting by providing some depth to the main characters- shadowy presumed benign Professor X type Toyo Harada, for example, who reaches out to young Peter Stanchek, who has powerful mental abilities (he’s referred to as a “Psiot” by Harada) but has to stay medicated to keep people’s voices out of his head and can’t think of anything better to do than squat in an abandoned suburban house with his pal Joe, who has a “borderline personality disorder with schizophrenic tendencies” and of course won’t take his meds, apparently so he can be the loose cannon. Eventually, Pete looks up Kris, a childhood girlfriend, who rejects him at first but then is “persuaded” by Kris to fall in love with him. Joe and Pete are on the run from another authority figure, a Mr. Tull, first name not Jethro I hope (“Person unknown/Organization unknown/Intentions unknown”, says a helpful caption box) who wants Pete for his own purposes, and when Joe gets taken in by the police when he steps out to feed pigeons in the park, Tull uses him to find Pete, and thus we get issue 1’s cliffhanger. I won’t recap the rest for you, but the whole premise is that Harada’s building a team of young people with paranormal powers, and I suppose Tull is opposing this or at least is recruiting a team of his own for his “unknown” purposes”. This is all presented in pretty straightfaced and straightforward fashion, like most comics these days that aspire to be eventual TV shows (whether they know it or not), and while it’s all drearily familiar Dysart does write well- good dialogue is his calling card- and of course there’s Evans’ art, filtered as it is. This won’t become your favorite comics series, but it may be a good read just the same. B

Script: Leia Wethington; Art: Weathington, Marco Aidala, Vanessa Gillings, Kelly McClellan, Konstantin Pogorelov, Jason Thompson, and Brinson Thieme.
Northwest Press, $29.99; Digital, $14.99

I don’t recall where I first heard of or saw Wethington’s Legend of Bold Riley when she was serializing it on her LiveJournal back in the day; someone recommended it, I’m sure, and whoever that person may be, I apologize. I followed it as best I could for a couple of years; posting was spotty thanks to art delays and so forth, plus I pretty much stopped monitoring my LJ feed, instead just subscribing to most of my friends there via Google Reader. Anyway, that’s no longer necessary anyway as the fine folks at Northwest have collected the story so far in a good-sized paperback edition that has everything published to date, and it’s great to have them all in one place.

“Bold Riley” is the nickname given to Princess Rilavashana SanParite, who has led a privileged life within the walls of her father’s palace…but she comes to realize that she wants more out of life than she’s had so far, and decided to saddle up and ride out to experience the world. Quick witted and quite good with a sword, she encounters a trickster god, men possessed by an evil creature, vampire women in old forgotten ruins, and several more fantastic friends and foes in exotic locations.  Wethington does a great job channeling this sort of Robert E. Howard-style pulp-flavored adventure story, adding a novel Rudyard Kipling-esque Indian flavor to it; her Riley is clever, right sexy with the right artist, and very charismatic. She makes mistakes, too, and Wethington is able to give her much needed depth by showing us how she deals with adversity. One especially memorable tale involves her encounter with a green-skinned woodland nymph of a sort, who is charged with keeping a large tree which seems to be central to the survival of a nearby village. Riley falls first in bed, then in love, with the nymph- did I mention that our Bold one appears to be resolutely lesbian? No? Well, it’s a big part of her characterization but it’s not an emphasis, so she represents by example rather than overtly and obviously though it definitely gets across what the Xena show kept under the covers. Anyway, the nymph, of course, has a secret, and we know from panel one that things probably won’t go well for our girl…but it’s to Wethington’s credit that she’s able to wring pathos out of the resolution anyway. Very nicely done.

I couldn’t help but find myself wishing, however, that she could have had the services of more, shall we say, accomplished artists to get her vision across…herself included. Crude inklines, awkward anatomy and a general lack of polish bedevil almost every illustrator. Still, each has his or her moments, only a couple made a favorable impression on me, i.e., made me wish I could see more- Vanessa Gillings did a nice job of drawing Riley, making her look as Indian as she’s meant to be, and she added a lot of good-looking, painstaking detail, reminding me of Becky Cloonan in places. Konstantin Pogolorov‘s turn on the longest adventure, “The Wicked Temple”, is probably the most frustrating- he’s clearly got some chops, but his style is so loose and sketchy, and strives for kineticism and animation to the expense of clarity in his storytelling. It’s really hard to figure out what the heck is going on in more than one instance. He’s a talent that I’d like to see more from in the future, though…one gets the idea that there’s a lot of art that’s straining to get out of him, and I hope he gets the chance.

What with all the talk lately about finding a strong female action hero to presumably interest that elusive female reader, here’s one of the best I’ve seen in years. Everything about her is intriguing- her bravery, her motivations, her sexuality, her fighting skill, as well as the milieu she is in, with its aura of high adventure, folklore and magic…and yet, Bold Riley flies under most of fandom’s radar, and that’s a pity. This series deserves more attention than it’s gotten, and hopefully it will find its audience. A-


Rock-A-Rama! (Hey, CREEM‘s not using it anymore)

LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY: 2009: There’s been so much awful associated with Alan Moore lately that it’s kinda nice just to read a goddamned story with his byline, no more, no less… and fortunately for all concerned, this finds Mr. Moore more concerned with bringing this ungainly trilogy to a rousing close in satisfying, entertaining fashion, rather than trying to impress us with how clever he is or trying to expand our consciousnesses. Alan sees the entropy that is such a pervasive part of everything we hold dear- civilization and its entertainments, including what is and isn’t thought of as classic literature, and as is his wont, comments on it from a somewhat objective distance. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it, even jumped-up magic makers like Oliver Haddo and Prospero. Still, the finale is far from oppressive; we do get to root for Orlando, Mina, and Allen Quartermain and their big standoff is equal measures tense and amusing. Artist Kevin O’Neill, for his part, draws the hell out of everything, sprinkling Easter eggs with abandon; I will probably never like his style but the man knows what to do with what he has. The first two chapters were hit and miss, and I flat out thought the preceding Black Dossier was a convoluted mess…but this redeems a lot. (Top Shelf , $9.95) A-

LEGION OF MONSTERS TPB: Once in a full moon, something will jump out at you, all werewolf-like, and take you by surprise. This 4-issue series, which Marvel stealth-released late last year, caught my eye due to the presence of Eliza Bloodstone, formerly of the late, lamented NextWave, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Morbius, so I checked this out, and I’m glad I did, because it’s a ton of fun. Bloodstone, the badass monster hunter, is forced by circumstance to team up with Morby, Jack Russell the Werewolf by Night, the Living Mummy, and a Gill Man whose name eludes me to combat a biological threat that’s causing monsters to emerge from their underworld society and go on murder sprees. Daimon Hellstrom has a cameo, further ensuring my interest, and I hope I’m not spoiling too much when I mention Dracula shows up before it’s over as well. Dennis Hopeless, surely a name for the ages, scripts with wit and flair, only a little talky- his Bloodstone is almost as cool as Ellis’- and Juan Doe (what the heck is it with these names?) provides a loose, energetic, expressive and somewhat (to my eyes anyway) Oeming-inspired art job that is a million miles away from today’s accepted superhero art, and thank Heaven for that. If you like fun and monsters, especially Marvel’s monster stable, then you should look for this stuck in a corner of your shop’s TPB rack. I think you’ll be glad you did. (Marvel, $15.99)  A- 

ANIMAL MAN Vol. 1 TPB, FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. Vol. 1 TPB: Speaking of monsters, here’s two DC New 52 series which deal with that, moreso the latter, and they’re both also very good. A-Man benefits from some smart scripting by Jeff Lemire, which takes off from all the Parliament of this and that and the hidden forces with all lifeforms are part of and so on and so forth stuff that Alan Moore and Clive Barker in novels, just to name a couple, made hay with…it turns out that A-Man (Buddy Baker)’s daughter Maxine is in truth an all-powerful being with untapped abilities over all life, and the bad part, aka the Rot, wants her bad- and it’s up to Buddy to protect her. Frankly, he doesn’t do that great a job for the majority of the issues that make up this first collection, and his family is forced to take to the highways in an RV, fleeing for their lives from hosts of possessed animals and demons, and I’ll be damned if the whole thing didn’t take on a sort of 70’s drive-in movie-as-fever dream quality that kept me riveted. Less riveting, sorry to say, was the rather overwrought yet underdrawn art by Travel Foreman, who seems to be shooting for the sketchy look people like Esteban Maroto and Jose Gonzalez brought to Warren magazine stories like Vampirella in the 70’s…and he doesn’t succeed nearly as much as I’d like.  B+   Frankenstein, on the other hand, is just bugfuck crazy, full of squirrely mad Grant Morrison ideas (this all originated back with Seven Soldiers, if you’ll recall) and clever cameos (Ray “Atom” Palmer, O.M.A.C., in a crossover, the Checkmate organization) and lots of monsters and other extradimensional menaces. Frank unwillingly leads a Creature Commandos group at the behest of S.H.A.D.E. a la the Legion of Monsters mentioned above- a gill-person, werewolf, vampire, mummy, etc- that at least have fairly distinct personalities and are fun enough, I suppose (I get the impression that the braintrust at DC would really like to have these guys spin off in a series)…but most of the best stuff involves the rigidly righteous, high-falutin’ Frankenstein, who fights evil for the greater good and nothing else, and is pretty much damn near unbeatable, except perhaps by his six-armed estranged Bride, who’s also an agent and is just as adept at ass-kicking as he is. Gotta hand it to Lemire for writing two series that touch on similar scenarios, but they each have their own distinctive voice. I’m surprised that he maintains that balancing act as well as he does…can’t be easy. Matt Kindt, another indie stalwart now in DC’s stern employ, is now writing the series, but I haven’t read any of his issues so I can’t say what’s going on there at present. Art is handled by Alberto Ponticelli, who inks himself for the first six issues collected in this trade- it’s rather sloppy in places, and while that takes some getting used to, it has a lot of character and spark and really suffers when all the rough edges are sanded off by pro inker Walden Wong in the last featured here. I understand that others ink him in subsequent issues, and that’s kinda disappointing but again I haven’t read ’em so I won’t judge one way of the other.  B+ I haven’t been down with a lot of DC’s new 52 titles, though I’ve come across a few that were better than I expected…here are two that I think are worth your time.

DOMINIQUE LAVEAU: VOODOO CHILD #’s 1-5: Cancelled as of issue 7, this is being held up as one example of why people aren’t excited about/buying Vertigo comics, and that’s not fair. Former Source magazine editor Selwyn Seyfu Hinds hasn’t done a lot of comics scripting, it seems, and once in a while it shows, mostly in the dialogue, which is functional but betrays no real style about it. He’s paired with veteran Denys Cowan on art, and while his scratchy, Ernie Colon meets Bill Sienkiewicz style doesn’t excite me any more in 2012 than it did in 1986, he does know how to make a story move along and is up to the task- he seems invigorated to be part of such a project. Hinds has an agenda with his concoction of a young would-be Voodoo Priestess in post-Katrina New Orleans, combined with a generous and imaginative helping of voodoo folklore, and that makes me wish that he could get as long to expand his vision as, say, Jason Aaron did with his perpetually low-selling but high-quality Scalped. Be that as it may, 7 issues are all we’re going to get, and this will make a dandy trade paperback that I, for one, will encourage everyone to buy- if it ever gets released. You guys missed the boat with this one. (DC/Vertigo, $3.99) A-

HYPERNATURALS: FCBD SPECIAL, #1: What we have here is Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning on autopilot, recycling ideas from their better efforts like Legion of Super-Heroes and Guardians of the Galaxy, brought to a semblance of life by a group of artists that deliver a professional looking product, resulting in bland, clichÁ©d utterly generic comics geared to satisfy those who don’t expect much from their sci-fi superheroics. Only the goodwill engendered by DnA on some fine titles in the past keeps me from F-bombing it. Derivative I don’t mind. Lazy just pisses me off.  (Boom! Studios, $3.99)  D-

DRACULA WORLD ORDER #1: Ian Brill’s back, out to prove that yes, he can write something besides funny animals…and he’s putting his money where his mouth is, distributing it himself through Comixology (see above- isn’t it kewl when we go full circle?) and through select retailers. It’s another present-day extrapolation on the Dracula legend, reminiscent of the sort of thing Hammer tried to do before it ran out of money in the 70’s- i.e., spin off from its gothic Dracula adventures, but with a modern tone for a youthful audience. Here, Drac’s plotted and schemed and set plans in motion and has taken over the world, converting the world’s richest 1% and leaving the other 99% to live as prisoners or food or subjects of arcane experiments. The spanner in Dracula’s works, however, is his son Alexandru, who’s been doing some plotting himself and plans to lead a revolt against dear old dad in the name of his long-dead mother, whose death Alex never got over. Ian hit the artist lottery with this (so-far) one-shot: Tonci (Who is Jake Ellis?) Zonjic, Declan (Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers) Shalvey, and Gabriel (Agents of Atlas, etc.) Hardman all contribute to different chapters, and they’re not slumming, either- it’s some great-looking work. I think sales have been decent, so hopefully we’ll get to see more. Go here to buy it digitally from ComiXology, only $1.99.  A-

The San Diego ComicCon was this past weekend; many announcements and pronouncements were made, and I’m not even going to try to put ’em up here for you. Fortunately, the fine folks at sites like Tom Spurgeon’s Comics Reporter, Heidi MacDonald’s Beat, Comic Book Resources, Comics Alliance, and Bleeding Cool are up to the task and I hope you check them all out to get the skinny. I was regrettably unable to attend for the 42nd consecutive year. There wasn’t much that I read about that excited me anyway…but I’m hardly your typical comics fan these days.
I will say this- once again, Mort Meskin, peer of Kirby and influence on Ditko and many others, was not named to their frigging Eisner Hall of Fame. This is a gross injustice. Jesse Hamm makes my case very well.
As always, thanks for reading, and hopefully I’ll see ya sooner rather than later!