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Monday, March 12, 2007

Batman and The Monster Men, published by DC Comics, 144 pages, $14.99

I love a good Batman tale. I’ve also always loved the work of Matt Wagner. Batman and The Monster Men would seem proof of the belief that you can’t lose when the two get together.

Taking place one year into the Batman’s career, the story reintroduces Professor Hugo Strange. Strange is a scientist who truly seems to have mankind’s best interests at heart, desiring to better the species through genetic research. He is not portrayed as your run-of-the-mill “mad scientist” character, much to Wagner’s credit. His methods of improving said species, however, are chilling.

Wagner successfully conveys a sense of terror throughout the story, as Batman tracks Strange down and confronts his “Monster Men.” Proving his versatility, however, he also gives the story a definite “crime noir” sensitivity, and even includes one laugh-out-loud scene that takes place between Bruce and Alfred in the Bat Cave. Far be it from me to give it away, but it involves the Batmobile and demonstrates Matt Wagner’s talent and versatility as a writer.

As a writer and an artist, Wagner has proven in the past that he knows Batman, young and old. This is the former. Strong, confident and determined. But, still new to the game, still finding his role as crime-fighter. Still trying, and succeeding, in being the horrific “creature of the night,” striking terror into the hearts of criminals. The older Batman simply succeeds without trying.
Wagner’s art style is not ultra-realistic, but that of caricature. Well-suited for this story, as the characters perfectly express the horror, anger, shock, etc. so often called for in the course of the tale. This is, indeed, one of the instances when the characters themselves are integral in the telling. Again, to Wagner’s credit.

Batman and The Monster Men
is recommended for older readers, not youngsters, due to horrific imagery and language. Find it at comics shops, some bookstores and online retailers and auctions.

Review by Mark Allen

Even White Boys Get The Blues/186 pgs., Times Books/available from store-front & on-line books stores, and on-line auctions

The South has risen again, ya'll, in one of those rare anomalies, a comic strip that is actually funny. Kudzu is not about the South Bronx or even South America; it concerns the folks of the American South.

And Kudzu is now just minimally about Kudzu, a young Southern boy. Reverend Will B. Dunn has won the popularity war within the tiny, bordered kingdom of Bypass, North Carolina (a stone's throw from Mayberry and Andy Griffith), and left the strip's namesake in the dust.
This volume samples the first ten years of the popular comic strip and its nutty cast: a morbidly obese Caucasian who wants desperately to be black, a cheerleader refining the art of gold- digging, the ultimate 'bubba', and, of course, the right Reverend himself. All are a broad parody and satire of the nuances that characterize the South as imagined by anyone not living in it.

Cartoonist Doug Marlette also has a substantial knowledge as well as a healthy suspicion of religion. With Will B. Dunn as his spokesman, Marlette explores the world of the televangelist with his tongue firmly in cheek, and the result is a rare, insightful humor.Marlette does it all with a minimalistic style of art that distances a reader enough from reality to make the often distasteful downright funny.

Underneath all of the insight, humor, and skepticism about religion, lies a real compassion for his subjects. What ultimately makes Kudzu so wonderful is that you will find bits and pieces of yourself in its characters. And, in those rare moments of complete self-honesty, you will admit you are most interested

Even White Boys is highly recommended.

Michael Vance