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Friday, May 16, 2008

Son of Samson and The Judge of God, vols. 1 and 2, published by Zondervan Publishing, 160 pages, digest-sized, $9.99


Anyone familiar with the Bible has heard of Samson, the last judge. The accounts of Samson and his adventures are some of the most entertaining to be found in Scripture. Those accounts are also the inspiration for a graphic novel from Zondervan entitled Son of Samson and the Judge of God.

Written by Gary Martin (co-creator of “The Moth” with Steve Rude), Son of Samson is the story of Samson’s progeny, Branan. Coming of age, he decides to travel Palestine, retrace his father’s supernatural feats, and hopefully discover the purpose for his own divinely-provided strength. Along the way, he gets into skirmishes, melees and amazing adventures, most of the time acting as a champion for the downtrodden.

Martin does an admirable job of injecting Barak with just the right amounts of youthful exuberance and naivete. His altruism is endearing, even if his anxiousness to hurl himself into the fray sometimes costs him. In other words, this is an interesting character.

As enjoyable as the story is, Son of Samson would not be what it is without the artwork of Sergio Cariello. It’s the reason the book caught my eye in the first place. For those who have been reading comics for a long time, imagine a style that is equal parts John Buscema and Joe Staton, and you will have an idea of what Cariello’s stellar work looks like. For those who have not, it should suffice to call this a style that is highly-characterized, highly dramatic, and as action-oriented as you could ever hope to expect. There is also, however, a flair for characterization and storytelling that is specific to Sergio, and that you won’t find anywhere else.

Son of Samson is recommended for all ages. Four volumes are currently available, with four more planned. Find it at Christian bookstores, some online retailers and auctions, and at www.zgraphicnovels.com.

Review by Mark Allen

Archie #s 575-581/20 pgs. & $2.25 each from Archie Comics


Stan Goldberg, art; various writers/available in lots of places and at www.archiecomics.com.

You know about Archie, Veronica and their gang, and that Archie comics are well-written and well-drawn stories about the complications of life for teenagers living in Riverdale. But do you know about principal Archie artist, Stan Goldberg?

Born in 1932, Goldberg began his comics career in 1949 as a colorist at Marvel Comics. He helped design the color schemes of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and other Marvel superheroes.

Goldberg also drew Millie the Model and Patsy Walker for Marvel. These teen comics laid the foundation for most of Goldberg’s career in comic books. He later drew Date with Debbie, Swing with Scooter, Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew, and Binky for DC Comics.

In the early 1970s, Goldberg began his long career working on Archie’s line of titles, including, Archie and Me, Betty and Me, Everything’s Archie, Archie’s Pals ‘n Gals, and many others.

One of his oddest titles partnered Archie with Marvel’s gritty vigilante, The Punisher in Archie Meets the Punisher in 1994.

Goldberg’s artistic style is a loose, minimalistic approach that draws a reader’s attention to his human subjects more than to the environment in which they live. But he is no slouch in drawing backgrounds as well. Riverdale is a visual stereotype of America’s best cities, drawn as a large, metropolitan city with all of the nuances of a small town.

In addition, you’ll never get visually lost in an Archie story. Goldberg’s storytelling technique is flawless; his art never overwhelms the story, drawing attention only to itself. This is the trademark of a true master of the comics medium.

Archie and the work of Stan Goldberg are recommended for teens and the young at heart.

Review by Michael Vance

Order Dark Corridor, a horror, fantasy, and suspense short story magazine at www.mainenterprises.ecrater.com. Michael Vance contributes the offbeat tales "The Zoo" and "Picked Clean". $4.50 per issue, USA.

More Suspended Animation From 1999

Knight Watchman

Do you want it good, or do you want it original? If good, Knight Watchman is the best Batman homage in comics.

Homage? That's when an artist or writer openly steals another's work or style because of love and respect. There's an exceedingly fine line between homage and plagiarism. Knight Watchman is love and respect...

Sure the art looks like Frank Miller's distinctive style, itself heavily influenced by high contrast artists like Alex Toth. The editor claims "while most Big Bang artists are trying to recreate someone else's art style, this IS Ben Torres style." Either way, this is some of the most dynamic, exciting art in super hero comics today.

This is good.

Sure the story reads like Frank Miller's famous The Dark Knight Returns Batman mini-series of ten years ago. But the editor claims "while we do tell stories in the styles of the guys who wrote and drew those heroes over the years, the characters themselves are not carbon-copied rip-offs."

This is true. And Knight Watchman is extremely well written.

This is also good.

So, what is its story? It doesn't matter, really. You've read it about ten thousand times. You'll read it ten thousand times more. What separates Knight Watchman from hundreds and hundreds of other superhero clones of Superman (there can only be one original, after all) is quality.

So, if you want original, read Superman. If you want good, read this comic.

Knight Watchman is arguably one of-the best superhero comic books on the market today.

Michael Vance


Comics Legend Stan Lee

Stan Lee was the most influential writer, editor and publisher of The Silver Age of Comics. Beginning as an office boy in the '40's, Lee rose through the ranks of Marvel Comics and elevated the company as he did so into the largest comics publisher in the world.

Lee's success is tied to the genius of artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. With them, he co-created or recreated The X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Dr. Strange, Captain America, Daredevil, The Silver Surfer and dozens of other superheroes.

Lee also co-pioneered the Marvel style of writing and drawing comics. Each title was drawn from a plot summary, then Lee added dialog and captions to finished art, strengthening the artist's role in the storytelling.

In addition, he demythologized a superhero genre in which characters had grown so powerful and perfect that readers had difficulty identifying with their adventures. Layers of subplots and personal problems revitalized Lee's gods-like-men and attracted throngs of new fans.

Sub-plots began to spill over from one title into another and a seemingly coherent "universe" was created in which all plots were related to and were affected by every other title. Following story continuity became a hobby in itself, increasing readership loyalty to Lee's Marvel Comics. These new fans were treated like valued, intelligent members of Marvel's 'family' through Lee's responses to their letters and through his editorial columns.

It would be difficult to overstate his influence on the entire art and industry of comics in the world today. And in the words of Marvel "True Believers", that's...'nuff said.

Among Lee's best are the first thirty-eight issues of The Amazing Spider-Man and the first one hundred and eight issues of The Fantastic Four. Stan Lee is highly recommended for entertainment.

Published over many years, these may be difficult to locate. A price guide or comics dealer will help. Comic book shops, mail order companies, trade journals and comics conventions are best sources. Prices vary widely; shop around.

Michael Vance


The X-Files

The silliness called Psychobabble is psychology based on faulty or nonexistent science. Now, there's a new babble in town. A confusion of myths from Atlantis to Zulus with wings-- our metaphysical beliefs from all times and nations--metababble is hot!

And metababble is kept in The X-Files.

Government agents Mulder and Scully investigate metababble on television and in the new comic book. In current issues, they travel to St. Elias, Alaska. Atlantis is buried under the ice there.

In Atlantis, someone has rediscovered that eating a person gives the eater the eaten's knowledge. This ancient myth of cannibalism is given veracity by the new discovery that all knowledge is stored in human DNA. Adding to the silliness, Aztecs and Toltecs have also become the Lost Tribe of Israel. This is metababble, fun unless taken seriously.

Taken with a grain of salt is the art of this series. It's clean, interesting storytelling with one major fault: Neither Scully nor Mulder look like Scully or Mulder.

Also salty is the written word. Stefan Petrucha has done his homework according to a long list of reference materials. He understands that adding layers of myth makes metaphysical confusion almost believable and a fun read.

In addition, unfolding plot, and characterization are intriguing. Much is promised in this half of the two-part "shocker", "Silent Cities Of The Mind".

But you wont be shocked. You won't throw this is the "round" file, either.

Taken with a large grain of salt is the price of The X Files, which follows the standard rules of packaging like page count and paper quality. Why is it so high?

The X Files #8 is 22 pages in length and priced at $2.95 from Topps Comics. Written by Stephan Petrucha, art by Charles Adlard.

Michael Vance


The Kingdom

In 1996, DC Comics published a major mini-series, four issues of Kingdom Come. The story was set in a future where Superman's withdrawal from human affairs because of personal grief led to dire consequences.

In late 1997, DC issued a single issue of Gog, which implied that more Kingdom stories were forthcoming. Now DC has issued a two issue sequel entitled The Kingdom. It helps to be familiar with the original, but new readers will catch on quickly.

Mark Waid continues as scripter, but Alex Ross, the original artist, is absent. Ariel Olivetti has drawn the first issue. Mike Zeck, the second. Olivetti's work is competent, but Zeck's is less pleasing. In some panels, his art distracts from Waid's script.

Supplementing The Kingdom are five issues based on the involvement of the children of DC's current heroes. Some appeared in Kingdom Come. All are written by Waid, but each has a different artist. All of them are better than Zeck.

"Kid Flash" is the daughter of Wally West, the current Flash. Mark Pajarillo is the artist. "Nightstar" is the daughter of Dick "Nightwing" Grayson and alien princess Starfire. Matt Haley's work is excellent, as is Brian Apthorp's in "Son of the Bat". This hero is the son of Batman and Thalia, daughter of one of Batman's greatest enemies. The parents are not thrilled with the romance.

The most humorous issue is "Offspring". Frank Quigley's art is a good blend of humor and heroics. The hero is the son of Plastic Man.

The fifth issue is set in the modern era. "Planet Krypton" chronicles the story of a young waitress in a super hero theme restaurant haunted by the ghosts of dead or vanished DC heroes. Barry Kitson's art is the best of the five issues.

Longtime fans will enjoy identifying the "ghosts". They and fans of DC's Elseworld stories will relish the climax of The Kingdom.

Give Waid and Kitson A's, and hope for better art in future Kingdom stories.

Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter


The Titans

One of the interesting comic hook events of 1999 has been the latest revival by DC Comics of the group once known as The Teen Titans and now called The Titans.

I had no respect for the earliest stories. The plots were infantile and the art was unsatisfactory; however the first series lasted long enough to prove that DC had found an audience.

The two later versions of the team enjoyed drastic improvements in stories and art but foundered. The fourth version seems to be off to a good start.

The new team is in a three-issue series entitled JLA/Titans in which the Justice League of America is drawn into conflict with almost every character affiliated with the Titans.

The script by Devin Grayson and Phil Jiminez starts off strongly but seems to weaken. Jiminez is also responsible for the art. At his best, he is comparable to artist George Perez but faces are often too cartoonish.

That series was a lead-in to a new continuing series for the Titans. The first six issues have been good. Grayson's Scripts are excellent, but the art has been passed around. Mark Buckingham, the current artist, does well, but I still have problems with his faces and anatomy.

If I sound too negative about the art let me emphasize that it is far superior to the earliest stories. Nick Cardy was popular for reasons I could never grasp. Two examples of his art can be found in a Teen Titans Annual that reprints five stories from 1964-66. The other three stories demonstrated the inanity of many DC titles in that era. Even after 35 years, this is embarrassingly bad material.

Two other items worth noting: issue 18 of Legends of the DC Universe explains some obscure points about the origin of the second group of Titans while Titans: Secret Files and Origins, fills in some gaps between JLA/Titans and the first issue of the new series. Get this and forget the Annual.

Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter