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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Will Elder: 9/22/1921 - 5/15/2008

Superman - From 1999

DC Comics has, of late, published three Superman specials worth noting.

The first appeared in late 1998: Superman: Silver Banshee. I suspect it is a tryout for the Banshee to have her own series. I almost passed this two-issue set up since I didn't care for the covers, but the content makes up for the covers. That's ironic since the cover artist is the writer, Dan Brereton. Joyce Chin's illustrations are very good for this Halloween story.

Since Superman is vulnerable to magic, such stories can be effective. The original cost of $2.25 an issue is reasonable, and I still see this title on sale in shops. B+.

If you prefer a single issue story on a similar theme, try Superman: the Last God of Krypton for $4.95. The title is ambiguous since the deity in question could be Cythonna, an ice goddess who survived the destruction of Krypton, or Superman himself since he is described as resembling Rao, Krypton's major deity.

Walter Simonson's script is unusually interesting. For once, Lois Lane saves the day and rescues Superman. The art is also remarkable. Give Greg and Tim Hildebrant very high marks (even if Clark and Lois do resemble certain television actors too much). A.

The third item is Superman: the Odyssey. Written by Graham Nolan and Chuck Dixon, the story takes place a decade ago, between Clark Kent's college graduation college and before his public appearance as Superman. Nolan also provides the art.

The story revolves around Clark's encounter with the future spiritual and political leader of an Asian nation similar to Tibet and Myanmar (the former Burma). The young lady has to choose between personal freedom and obligation, romance and duty. She also finds time to help Clark understand his adult responsibilities.

Bruce Wayne makes a brief appearance. (The Himalayas must be over-populated with aspiring heroes and villains). The story reminds me of Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon comic strip, particularly the princess Snowflower stories. An A for script; B for art.

Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter

Xena: Warrior Princess - From 1999

Nothing is harder than watching someone you love self-destruct.

Comic books are self-destructing. They are expensive and difficult to find when you wish to buy. The quality of art and story is too uneven and even shoddy. Even while the competition for each entertainment dollar continues to escalate, poor decisions are being made by comics publishers.

Prepare yourself for more bad news. Despite the obvious power of tapping into an extremely popular television show, the new comic book, Xena: Warrior Princess, will do nothing to stop the downward spiral of comic books.


Unless you are familiar with the premise and characters of the television show about a female barbarian, you will have no clue why Xena and someone named Gabrielle are being crucified by Roman soldiers in the opening pages of the first issue. Nor will you know much about where or when the story is set. All of these problems could have been easily solved instead of writing the new title as if only existing Xena fans will buy the comic book. Ignoring these important story elements just about guarantees that no new reader unfamiliar with the television show will buy the second issue.

It is also odd that an artist could not be found who could draw Xena in the comic book to look like Xena on the cover and in the television show. Faked anatomy does nothing to strengthen what is meant to be a realistic style either.

Xena is not a poor comic book and not the only title guilty of these foolish mistakes. It is simply another missed opportunity to attract new readers to an industry and artform that desperately needs new readers.

Review by Michael Vance

R.I.P.D. - From 1999

I can't say enough nice things about R.I.P.D., the new mini-series from Dark Horse Comics. But I'm going to try.

Sheriff Roy Powell patrols Purgatory, that cosmic halfway house between Heaven and Hell. His R.I.P.D. job is to send escaped Hellspawn back to Satan.

Nick Cruz is a Heaven bound ex-cop who is sent to Purgatory to help Roy stop an escaped demon named Speck. If he succeeds, he'll return to Earth to find his assassin.

Vicious little Speck is on a mission from... himself. He searches for an angelic weapon to depose Satan and ascend the throne of Hell.

If the premise doesn't grab you, how about punchy dialog that doesn't drag the intriguing plot and perfect pacing down into the realms of Campiness? Example:

"Go to Hell," says Roy over the barrel of a nasty looking gun to a demon clutching a hostage.

"Post te..." answers the demon. Translation: "After you."

"Latin?" responds Roy. "Am I supposed to be impressed?"

"No. You're supposed to be hanging over my fireplace."

Yet unconvinced? Another of many nice touches is the black-market piece of pizza that Speck uses to bribe Cerebus, the three-headed guardian of Hell, to look the other way.

Heavens!? You say it's your last $2.95 and must be wisely spent?!?

The art and visual storytelling is flawless. Every human and demonic character is visually distinctive and interesting, every setting is powerful and captures just the right mood, and artist Lucas Marangon has a style "to die for".

The icing on the visual cake is that Marangon uses restraint when blood and gore are needed to tell his story.

So, what are you waiting for? The End of the World? So go buy already!!

It's nice that Dark Horse saved their '99 best for last.

Review by Michael Vance

Mysterymen Comics & Mystery Men #1 - From 1999

Ah, the Mysterymen. Mysterious. Men. A movie.

Lower than The Snake's belly among superheroes, they are a weird team of costumed blue-collar workers who tackle dirty jobs with mediocre, chaotic, or no powers at all. Some are more screwed up than the villains they battle. Some are insane. In one way or another, they are all Bob Burden, one of the most original minds in comic books.

In Mysterymen Comics, The Strangler, Metro Marauder, The Hummer and The Spleen track a monster in a Champion City junkyard.

Well, almost.

The Strangler and Marauder find The Hummer drunk in a bar, and The Spleen is next to useless as these three normal, sincere but inept men in ridiculous costumes wander into trouble. They do so with all of the dedication and enthusiasm of millions of men and women who trudge to work on Monday mornings.

In the movie adaptation, shamed by the success of Captain Amazing, the three Mysterymen on call decide to hold a pool party and recruit new members. Mr. Furious (he gets super angry), The Shoveler (swings a mean shovel) and The Blue Raja (master of silverware) are only successful in adding Invisible Boy (who can only turn invisible when no one is looking), The Spleen (super-flatulent) and the daughter of Carmine the Bowler (complete control over bowling balls).

The art in both titles is distinctive, and there are real chuckles in both books. Burden's dry humor is present visually as well as in his deceptively mundane dialogue. However, Burden's broad, slap-stick, satirical madness is played with complete seriousness and that is the genius of his insanity.

You will either love or hate the Mysterymen. As for me--I'm in love.

Mysterymen Comics #1 is 26 pages and costs $2.95. Written by Bob Burden, penciling by Stephen Sadowski. Mystery Men #1 (of 2) is 24 pages and costs $2.95. It is adapted from the motion picture by Bob Fingerman with penciling by Chris McLoughlin. Both titles are published by Dark Horse Comics and are sold at comics shops and by mail.

Michael Vance