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Thursday, July 03, 2008

All Star Companion Volume 3

All Star Companion Volume 3/238 pages & $26.95, TwoMorrows Publishing/Roy Thomas, editor; various writers & artists/ available at comics shops and at

There have been pivotal events in the history of comic strips and comic books. Among them are the creation of the first superhero, Superman, of the first non-super powered costumed hero, Batman, and the first female superhero, Wonder Woman.

Each of these firsts is debatable. As example, some think that Popeye was the first super-powered character in comics. But the first super team was unquestionably the Justice Society of America that debuted in All Star Comics in the 1940s. (No, no, no, Mr. Marvel Zombie, it wasn’t the X-Men.)

If you’d like to learn everything about the Justice Society and its spin-off characters and titles, there is no better source than the first three volumes of All Star Companion. If you want to learn everything about the editors, writers and artists who brought the Justice Society and its spin-off characters and titles to life since the 1940s, that information is also there.

The third volume has just been released. Inside this volume are hundreds of art examples, creator photographs, biographies, and interviews of various lengths, and just a huge chunk of comics history fact and debunked fallacy.

These volumes are literally hog-heaven for die-hard comics fans, and those looking to die-harder than they’ve been in the past. Because there are very few current characters whose creation and history are not rooted in the first and related super teams, you are certain to find fascinating information about your particular favorites as well.

It will be a cold meal, however, for casual comics readers who have no favorites.

Each volume of the All Star Companion is highly recommended for any fan of comics interested in the history of the genre.

Review By Michael Vance

Bone: Old Man's Cave - From 2000

Replace Frodo the Hobbit from Tolkien's fantasy masterpiece Lord Of The Rings with Pogo (the comic strip) Possum. Now picture Tolkien's epic drawn by Will (The Spirit) Eisner. You have imagined Bone, possibly the finest comic book published today.

Bone is an epic adventure of three odd little creatures who are chased out of town and separated until each finds his way into a valley filled "with wonderful and terrifying creatures". Those creatures are the remnant of two great peoples who, after having almost destroyed one another in war, are busy trying to finish the job.

Layers of subplot, intriguing characters, believable dialog, perfect timing, and an eye for detail are what make this story excellent.

As example, the visual focus in one scene shifts away from the conversation of two major characters until the reader is staring into the mousy face of a minor one. Without a written word, the reader knows this "bit" player will become important, and by his expression, owns a secret.

The devil is in the details, and writer and artist Jeff Smith knows how to bedevil his readers.

Equally flawless technique and singular style are what make Bone's minimalistic art excellent.

Minimalistic simply means that no line is added that is not needed to visually tell the story. In itself, minimalism is no better than any other approach to storytelling. It is the mastery of every aspect of any style that elevates one artist over another. Smith has ridden the style elevator to the top floor. (Sorry, I know that's awful, but I could not resist.)

In particular, Smith's use of big slabs of black or white in his panels is impeccable, adding contrast and mood in a way seldom matched by other cartoonists.

Stripped to the bone, this comic book is entertaining, intriguing and exciting, and Bone receives my highest recommendation for readers of all ages.

Review by Michael Vance

Bone: Old Man's Cave is 112 pages and priced at $15.95. It's available as a trade paperback collection from Cartoon Books and is sold in comics shops and by mail.

Blood and Sunder - From 2000

Pure and simple, this comic book is a paper Creature Feature.

You remember those 1950s movies about giant birds or bugs or lizards that used to light up drive-in theaters and now flicker on television screens at three o'clock in the morning. Them. It. The Creature From Somewhere Else. This is like one of Them, those movies you either love or hate.

What it isn't like is other comic books. The pages of Blood and Sunder are oversized.

The artist uses an air-brushed, raw style that looks like colored chalk on a sidewalk or on corrugated paper. Subtle, vertical lines run the length of each page, and an over-abundance of a flesh-tone too deeply pink creates a look that is startlingly different.

Straight-forward and unadorned, the story is unabashedly fun. And just like Godzilla or The Tingler, you will either love or hate it.

Blood and Sunder #1 $4.95 & 22 pgs. from Rip Roarin' Comics/words: Neil Atwood; art: James Reade/sold in comics shops, by mail and internet.

Review By Michael Vance

Blair Which - From 2000

If you missed the horror movie The Blair Witch Project, this is what you missed: over fifty minutes of unrelenting profanity that made you want the four principle characters to die, about three or four minutes of suspense, and a really terrific, horrifying ending that did not make enduring the rest of the movie worth your time or money.

If you miss the comic book Blair Which, this is what you will miss: lots and lots of fun and undeniable proof that you can see the forest for the trees because artist Sergio (Mad Magazine, Groo) Aragones and writer Mark Evanier are great at stripping the bark off the bite of the movie. (Yeah, I know that does not make sense; just repeat 'It's only a comic book review, it's only a comic book review...').

You doubt, oh pilgrim?

Page one sets the tone by opening on Burkittsville, a town where even the postal workers aren't disgruntled

"How are you today, Mr. Kravitz?" asks a lady cleaning a window. "Still gruntled!" replies the postman.

That tone is further defined by an amazing and delightful surprise. Blair Which is not a parody of the movie. It is about the rumors created from the town's anticipation of a film crew coming to shoot a movie. In another twist, it is those rumors that create the legend that the film crew has come to document.

Indeed, the only thing that does not work in Blair Which is a running gag about The Forest in which the movie will be filmed. Effective at first, it is definitely unfunny by about the fifth repetition.

So, which comic book title is recommended this week in Suspended Animation? Why, Blair Which, of course.

For those of you who do not agree with this review or the comments on the movie, the dunce cap over there is for you, pilgrim.

Go stand in the corner.

Review by Michael Vance

Bettie Page: Queen of the Nile - From 2000

The smut of yesteryear has become the "glamour art" of today simply because it is so tame compared to the raw pornography peddled in the 1990s.

That statement alone will enrage many readers, but it should surprise no one. Unlike many reviewers, this rapscallion does not believe art should be judged without considering subject matter. As example, the best painting of dog dung ever done is still not worth the canvas on which it is painted. And since Suspended Animation is a review column (i.e., opinion), my criteria for judging comic books is just as valid as anyone else who writes.

Bettie Page posed for smut magazines, acted in low-budget smut movies and sat for private photography sessions in the 1950's. Now I've also enraged Bettie Page fans. They like to call her work "glamour art" so that they can pretend it isn't what it is, smut. That they feel the need to pretend speaks volumes.

She was almost always as naked as the law would then allow, except for her private sessions, and specialized in bondage poses. In her private sessions, Bettie was as raw as most of the pornography of today.

Bettie Page: Queen of the Nile is Bettie as the visual tease of the 1950s. Compared to the sexual excesses in art today, this comic book is extremely mild and beautifully drawn. There are also lots of fun references to characters and settings from the '50s which saves a silly plot and sillier dialog from being just boring.

That doesn't change the fact that this book solely exists to showcase Bettie running around in her underwear, taking showers, dancing in scanty Egyptian garb, and stirring up lust.

Oops. I meant stirring up glamour.

If you still dislike this review, just think of it as "glamour opinion".

Review by Michael Vance