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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Aliens: Mondo Pest - From 1999

Question. What is the making of pleasant discoveries by accident? Answer. Serendipity? Nope. It's Aliens: Mondo Pest.

The plot to the Alien movies was simple: girl meets alien, alien kills almost everyone, girl kills alien. The alien in question is the one with the cucumber head and the second set of slavering jaws hidden inside the first set. The plot to most of Dark Horse Comics' long-running Alien series has been a variation on who meets the ugly bug.

Just when this premise seems milked dry, leave it to DH to find another udder.

What is, utterly amazing about Aliens: Mondo Pest is that humor has been successfully added to horror in a way that has never succeeded on film. The comic plot is also simple. In quiet homage to the film Shane, Mondo arrives on an agricultural planet to rid its colony of aliens.

Then why is this comic book such a hoot? It's the style, stupid.

Its humor is subtle; most of it visual, but not slapstick. The art is clean, powerful, understandable and fun. But the characterization of the "kid", the kid's mom, Simon Plowright and Mondo is the real meat in this giant cockroach stew.

Mr. Mondo is a hulking slab of meat who owns Mondo Pest Control and an (subconsciously) utterly subtle sense of silliness.

As I watched Mondo's ship disappear into the emptiness of space at the end, a tear came to my eye, and, uncontrollably, I Found myself crying, "Mondo, come back! Come back!" Believe me, that's funny if you saw Shane.

Not for pre-teens. Highly recommended.

Aliens: Mondo Pest costs $2.95 and is 40 pages. From Dark Horse Comics, the art is by Ronnie Del Carmen with story chores by Henry Gilroy. It's available in comic shops or by mail.

Michael Vance

Gil Thorp - From 1999

If Jeff Millar's Tank McNamara emphasizes satire in athletics, Jack Berrill's Gil Thorp stresses the dramatic.

Gil began in 1958, and maintained a high standard of storytelling and character development. Even those who don't care for sports can enjoy this strip.

Gil is a high school coach, but the stories are more concerned with the teenagers he encounters. There are four major stories each year. Berrill may take three years to resolve a plot and not all have happy endings.

Berrill may spend several episodes on one football or basketball game, and then cover three more games in one panel, but his timing is superb.

Adult characters are aging slowly, but teenagers appear to age normally from 15 to 18 and to go through most of the stresses of adolescence.

Some of the most memorable stories have dealt with youngsters who resolve severe domestic conflicts through participation in athletics. Sometimes, the resolution is partial.

A recent storyline seemed to involve a girl's attempt to play on the boys' basketball team. She was being manipulated by a publicity hound whose lazy friend, Joe Sharky, was revealed as a "natural" hitter who had no motivation to develop his skills. Sharky was forced to decide how much he wanted to play and whether he wanted to maintain his friendship with the manipulative Harvey. Long-time readers will recognize this as a repeat from 1971. Harvey was originally named Yale Cody, but, apart from updated hairdos and clothing styles, the story is unchanged.

Will Joe Sharky's later adventures also be recycled? In 1972, he dabbled with a cult; in 1973, he played for the Detroit Tigers' farm team; in 1976, he lost Part of his hand, but Thorp taught him to pitch. Supposedly, he retired in 1979. The Sharky story and its "liberation" subplot are as timely in 1996 as they were in 1971.


Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter

Nocturnals: Witching Hour - From 1999

Nocrurnals: Witching Hour/48 pgs, $4.95/by Dan Brereton/sold at comics shops and by mail.

Whenever a comics artist proclaims that "writing is important, but the art is everything", know that you have read a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That's what Rob Zombie wrote in his introduction to Nocturnals: Witching Hour. Its artist must agree. Brereton's art is terrific. Distinctive, well executed, visually exciting story-telling is too rare in comics, and Brereton is blessed with an extra helping of talent, and a deep understanding of cartooning techniques.

Visually, this is a fun Halloween romp as real monsters mix, undetected, with kids in costumes But there is no real story or deep characterization. Brereton stands in good company. Most comics writers and artists do not possess both talents in equal dregs. And when art is isn't comics.

Michael Vance

Frank Miller's 300 - From 1999

300 #s 1-3 (of 5)/27 pgs. & $2.95 ea. from Dark Horse/sold in comics shops and by mail.

Three hundred Spartan warriors march to defend Greece against invasion by Persia. Frank Miller revisits that famous historical battle with distinctive and powerful minimalist art, candid dialog and fast-paced plot. For some readers, that is not enough. Story content is also important.

I am among that some.

Miller has a reputation for "preserving our First Amendment rights". For him, that means the right to depict nudity, promiscuity or sexual perversion, profanity, graphic violence, drug use and the dirty side of human nature.

It seems odd, not surprising, that defenders of those rights rarely explore modesty, marital fidelity and sexual normalcy, decent language, conflict resolution without violence and the noble side of human nature.

Apart from male nudity, some violence, and profanity in his letters section, 300 is atypical of Miller's content through its third issue. Nevertheless, readers who think those destructive activities need airing will continue to buy Miller's work, and will enjoy 300 anyway.

Readers who do not will yawn.

Michael Vance