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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Christian Comics & Games and The Quasimodo Gambit, From 1999

Christian Comics & Games

Exclusive or inclusive. A thin line separates beliefs that welcome participation yet uphold standards, and bigotry. We all cross that line.

Christian Comics & Games welcomes participation to a world of adventure based on the Bible, and rejects comics, games and cards not founded on Christianity. It's their right and responsibility.

It's a marvelous package, filled with talented artists and writers exercising that right to create within the beliefs of their religion (and mine).

The trick in rejecting the beliefs of some people is to do it with love and respect. It's a difficult balancing act, and this editor straddles that separating line. Most Christians will find it wonderful, but some non-Christians will find its stands on moral issues very negative, and wonder why it should be found at all. It should.


Review by Michael Vance

The Quasimodo Gambit

It's a male bonding thing. James Bond, to be exact.

Fast cars. Beautiful babes always instantly attracted to the spy. Bombs, villains, macho adventure. The classic battle between right and wrong with a martini (is it stirred, not shaken?) casually added for sophistication.

So, who's going to breath new life into an old character? Don McGregor.

This is a true graphic novel, written rich with detail, lush settings, characterization, plot twists and sub-plots. Better yet, McGregor ignores much of the gadgetry and mad scientist silliness that, overused, usually mars Bond.

The painted art in The Quasimodo Gambit initially seems too abstract for such a realistic setting, but is quickly absorbed into the total reading experience, the mark of a perfect marriage of word and picture.

Highly recommended for fans of adult spy novels.

Review by Michael Vance

Bullettproof Monk and Comics Legend Roy Crane - From 1999

Bulletproof Monk #2 of 3

22 pages, priced at $2.95 from Flypaper Press. Co-plotted by Brett Lewis; co-plotted and scripted by R. A. Jones; pencils by Michael Avon Oeming. Sold in comics shops and by mail.

Kar is a young American and martial artist in search of a legendary Chinese hero, the Bulletproof Monk. The Chinese search for Kar through the wiles of a "cold, sexy assassin" named Flower. And Bulletproof Monk, the comic book, is in search of an audience.

Kar's search leads him to a West Coast gang, much whispering and teasing with a girl, and lots of kicking and jumping around. This does not lead him to the Bulletproof Monk. You may suspect that that is because Kar is the Monk. Only the third issue and, hopefully, a clever plot twist or two that will skirt that stereotypical "surprise", will tell.

A telling hint that the writer of this series escapes clichés is that Monk is well written with all of the tricks of the trade fully understood and realized. Those tricks are pacing, a plot that unfolds like a slow tease, interesting characterization and crisp dialogue.

There is a cliché or two. Does every young martial artist need a wise old mentor, grasshopper?

Monk's art is less concerned with realism than its writing. That means the artist gave minimal attention to anatomy, realistic buildings and consistent background colors. Some readers may find the intentional or unintentional poor anatomy jarring at times. But its visual timing is flawlessly wed with the story, and that is to it's praise.

Heavily influenced by Japanese comic books, Monk thankfully does not suffer from the slow visual pacing of most manga. But stripped of the very effective use of coloring, most American audiences would consider the art's simplicity and crude lines uninteresting and inferior.

Monk is recommended for those interested in intrigue.

-- Reviewed by Michael Vance

Comics Legend - Roy Crane

"Shaking their deadly blowguns at him, dozens of screaming headhunters surround Easy, cutting off all chance of escape."

He escaped, of course. Escape was Captain Easy's middle name before Indiana Jones was a gleam in the eye of Washington Tubbs, III. Created in 1924 by master cartoonist Roy Crane, Wash was the initial star of his own comic strip until Captain Easy joined the cast. Easy snatched center stage from tiny, pudgy, bespeckled Wash (who remained an important character) and turned this strip into the premier adventure continuity of its day. It remains one of the best comic strips in history.

As freebooters, hook-nosed Easy and Wash traveled to exotic locations all over the real and imaginary Crane world, living by fists and wits. Crane's brilliant and innovative art and his straightforward narrative and pace elevated Captain Easy to legendary status until the cartoonist left in 1943 to create a new strip, Buzz Sawyer. Easy continued under the pen of a former assistant while Crane returned to humor and funny noses with Buzz.

While Easy had wrestled life in Pandemonia and Shanghai, Buzz conquered domestic life at home and hearth. It is a powerful testament of the genius of Roy Crane that he breathed energy into both genres.

Sadly, Crane is becoming a forgotten American treasure. However, it need not be so now that you know the marvelous secret of hard-fisted Captain Easy and crafty Wash Tubbs.

Beyond his own title, Easy appeared in FAMOUS COMICS CARTOON BOOKS (various publishers), THE COMICS (Dell), RED RYDER (Hawley, Dell), CRACKERJACK FUNNIES and 4- COLOR (Dell). This wonderful strip is being reprinted by NBM Publishing today. Buzz was released under that name by Standard Comics. Except for the NBM collection, all are from the late '30's and '40's.

These older titles are expensive and difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers will help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are best sources. Prices vary; shop around.

Review by Michael Vance

Suspended Animation Reviews From 1999

Green Lantern

One comic book essential to understanding the history of the universe created by DC Comics is Green Lantern.

In addition to the ongoing title, there are three recent series that will interest collectors. The first appeared in 1998 in three issues, Green Lantern and Sentinel, and is becoming difficult to find. Prices are going up. Even if it were not scarce, the Ron Marz script and Paul Pellitier art would make this a desirable set.

The second set, Green Lantern: the New Corps, appeared in 1999 in two issues at a cost of $4.95 each. They seem to be readily available. Chuck Dixon's plot and Scott Eaton's art are commendable. The ending was a surprise, but a rereading of the set reveals that Dixon played fair with readers.

Some of the characters introduced in this story will probably reappear. Particularly appealing is a Russian cosmonaut lost in space since 1964. Her plight reminds me of Marvel's Captain America and even more of Ripley, the heroine of the Alien films, who hibernated for decades at a time.

The third series, five issues of Day of Judgment, is a major disappointment. It had the potential to be a major epic. Geoff Johns' script is interesting, but the crude art dilutes its impact.

The basic concept was the rehabilitation of both Hal Jordon, the second of DC's Green Lanterns, and the Spectre. It is difficult to recognize this rendition of the Spectre as the same character handled so memorably by Tom Mandrake and John Ostrander.

The first two series get high A's for story and art. Day of Judgment gets a B for the script and a D- for the art. Since this plot will probably affect many DC titles for some time to come, it will be worth keeping as a reference. If there is a new Spectre series looming, let us hope for drastic improvements.

Review by Dr. Jon Suter

The Black Pearl

You must crawl before you walk, and walk before you run. The Black Pearl walks.

This new crime series is the first step for actor Mark "Star Wars" Hamill and his cousin as comic book writers. Their simple, stated premise is to pen a realistic superhero story.

Sorry, guys.

Their actual premise is that there are no heroes. Strippers and prostitutes are treated with the same 'respect' as are the police and The Black Pearl, who is a meek little peeping Tom reluctantly caught up in a web of murder and crime.

His portrayed 'sin' that makes him real is that he has invaded the privacy of a stripper. His sin, never mentioned by these authors, is actually an all pervading lust.

I'm tired of anti-heroes and of worlds where no one is good, decent or moral. This world and this hero are no more real than Superman and the X-Men. This nihilism diminishes what is otherwise a well written, interesting and entertaining Black Pearl.

I'm also tired of 'extreme' art in which everyone is layered with too much muscle (men) or too much flesh (women), where story telling is secondary to silly poses, jumping, teeth gnashing and clenched fists. You won't find most of that here. Story and art are well wed, the art is a traditional mix of half-realism and half-abstraction, and the men look normal.

The naked truth, however is that there is a lot of unnecessary nudity and every woman looks like the centerfold from a 'men's' magazine.

So, should you buy the gem? If you're an adult, crawl to your comics shop.

Just dont expect a jewel.

Review by Michael Vance

Batman Elseworlds

I have always respected Doug Moench as a writer. Two of his most recent efforts use the Batman characters in two very different "Elseworld" comic books.

The first is a two-issue series, Batman: Book of the Dead. In this version of the Batman mythos, Bruce Wayne's parents were archaeologists murdered because of their knowledge of dangerous secrets from the earliest days of ancient Egypt. Those who enjoy movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Stargate, or the remake of The Mummy will relish this foray into pseudo-history.

The double plot involves not only Batman but a hitherto unknown bat-headed deity from Egyptian mythology. As a story, this is good work, but some plot lines are not developed fully.

Barry Kitson's art is appropriate for such a plot. What bothers me is the attempt to document the basic premises of the plot. Not even the inclusion of a bibliography can validate the credibility of Egyptian "gods" being space travelers in weird helmets. (This notion has been around for some time. Even mystery writers such as P.C. Doherty in his recent Mask of Ra incorporate it into otherwise accurate stories.)

Give Moench and Kitson an A for story and art, if not for history.

Now that I have vented my spleen let me praise with far fewer reservations Catwoman: Guardian of Gotham.

The title is self-explanatory: in this Elseworld, Catwoman and Batman have switched roles, but this Batman is far more murderous than the "real" Catwoman.

Jim Balent and Kim DeMulder provide excellent art for Moench's script. I do have trouble taking the female villain Two Face's costume seriously. It just does not work.

Another minor problem is the seeming failure of Catwoman to guard "stately Kyle Manor" against intruders. The ease of entry enables the felonious Batman to discover her secret identity, an essential plot element, but out of character. I have not yet seen the final issue of Catwoman, but I am eager for it. I suspect Moench has surprises in store.

Dr. Jon Suter

Big Blown Baby #'s 1-4

Published by Dark Horse. A nasty, puerile and perverse satire of comics artist Jack Kirby's work, this degrades it, isn't funny and fulfills its cover warning: "For Immature Adults Only!"

Review by Michael Vance

Browser and Sequoia

Published by SaberCat and marketed for youngsters. This pseudo-American Indian folktale about gentle sky spirits, cute animals and evil hunters portrays Creation as more important than Creator, and culture as more important than truth. The truth is out there, and this is not it.

Review by Michael Vance

Justice Society of America

After a fairly dull summer, things are looking up, at least for DC Comics.

The first issue of JSA comes as no surprise to those who followed the two-issue revival of All Star Comics earlier this year and the "Crisis Times 5" storyline in JLA.

JSA and JLA are, of course, shorthand for the Justice Society of America and the Justice League of America.

The first JSA story is well written and well drawn. If James Robinson and David Goyer can maintain the intriguing scripts and Stephen Sandowski can maintain his initial art, the future looks bright. (There have been other bright starts in the JSA's history that have not held up.)

The new JSA has some returning members from its earliest days: Wildcat, Green Lantern (now known as Sentinel), and Flash. Many of the new members are children of early members: Black Canary, Atom and Starman. There is a promise of a new Hawkwoman and a new Sandman.

The first issue begins with the funeral of the original Sandman and the death of the latest version of Doctor Fate. It ends with a mysterious summons to recreate the JSA in order to save the world. There are hints of other menaces to appear in later issues. All in all, this is an auspicious blend of old and new.

A very desirable reprint of the 14 "Cataclysm" stories from the various Batman titles has appeared. Although those stories are barely a year old, demand has been so high that back issues are very difficult to obtain. Reading the stories at one setting certainly increases their impact although there are small glitches in continuity. For $17.95, this is a bargain.

DC has had stories about similar catastrophes, but they rarely affect subsequent plotlines. The impact of the "Invasion" series soon faded. The destruction of Coast City in Green Lantern has surprisingly few ripples. That dilutes the impact of such stories, but "Cataclysm" may be more significant.

Review by Dr. Jon Suter

Guns of the Dragon

In late 1998, a curious four issue series from DC Comics slipped into comic book stores. At first, I was rather aghast at the concept behind Guns of the Dragon, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The hero should have been dead before the time of the story.

I still remember the impact in 1965 of DC's Showcase #'s57 and 58. Joe Kubert's first "Enemy Ace" stories were unlike anything my generation had seen. The brooding hero, a German pilot of W.W.I, quickly became a legend but was never able to generate a long running series.

It was hinted many times that the Enemy Ace, Rittmeister von Hammer, would perish in the closing days of the Great War; therefore, it was a shock to see him on the cover of Guns of the Dragon with Bat Lash (a disreputable, humorous character from DC's westerns), and a dinosaur.

I did buy all four issues, partially because of the artist. I have always respected artist Tim Truman.

The story, set in 1927 Asia, is deeply influenced by Terry and the Pirates, a classic comic strip of the 1930s, and Steve Canyon. Some of the political intrigue also reminds me of Mr. Moto novels, but this story is far more fantastic. The flavor of pulp magazines in the 1930s is strong.

Remember that dinosaur? In the 1960s, long before Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, DC's Star Spangled War Stories featured stories about Dinosaur Island. In Guns, von Hammer, Bat Lash, and others agree to find the legendary isle.

The cast includes Vandal Savage, the immortal villain; Miss Fear (a rewrite of Caniff's Dragon Lady) and a Japanese werewolf. Even Mao Tse-tung and Chian Kai-shek figure briefly in the story.

The story holds together better than I expected, but purists will probably protest the use of Enemy Ace in such a context. Even if you don't care for or want this story, you should have some of Kubert's original version in your collection.

Review by Dr. Jon Suter