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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Revivals and Births - From 2000

Those who collect first issues of comic books have several new titles to consider.

Since the 1980s, DC Comics has owned the characters created by defunct Charlton Comics. DC's first two versions of those characters appeared in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Many wound up in their own series and enjoyed varying degrees of success; e.g., Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, the Question, etc.

A new Six-issue series, The L.A.W., brings the Charlton heroes together as a team including some DC has rarely used, such as Judomaster. (L.A.W.=Living Assault Weapons). The first two issues are good. The first has some good humor in comparing Judomaster to Marvel's Captain America. Give this an A or A-.

Another six-issue series from DC revives the title The Brave and the Bold for a series of Flash and Green Lantern teamup stories. These are the Barry Allen and Hal Jordan versions of the characters rather than Wally West and Kyle Rayner.

The first story seems to be set sometime after the events of the twelve-issue JLA: Year One series. Fans of the classic Flash-Green Lantern crossovers of the 1960s will be pleasantly surprised although the art is not as good as that of Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane.

Marvel Comics is also busy with new titles. Wild Thing is based on young Rina Logan, the future daughter of Elektra and the ever-popular Wolverine. Rina has popped up in several of Marvel's titles and has become popular quickly. Whether a character with such violent and amoral parents can fit into an American high school remains to be seen.

Galactus the Devourer is a six- issue series based on yet another attack on Earth by Galactus. There are some novel elements in the first two issues, particularly Alicia Masters as a super heroine, but we've been down this road too often.

The third new title from Marvel is Deathlok. This is at least the third version of this character. The art is interesting.

Give all three Marvels Bs.

Review by Dr. Jon Suter

The Rhinegold #1-3 - From 2000

Its official title must be among the longest in comics history: The Ring of the Nibelung, Book One, The Rhinegold. Chapter One: "The Rape of the Gold". With luck, it will also be long remembered.

To make a long review short, The Rhinegold is a powerful and entertaining adaptation of a Richard Wagner opera in which, thankfully, you won't have to listen to the fat lady sing. You will, however, have to read an engaging story of theft and adventure among Scandinavian gods, and enjoy some of the best art in the comics medium.

If you haven't seen the opera, you'll be surprised at how heavy a debt fantasy novelist J.R.R. Tolkein owes to Wagner for the inspiration for Tolkein's Lord of the Rings.

You'll also be amazed at how heavy a debt superhero comic books in general owe to Wagner and mythology, especially the work of the late artist and writer Jack Kirby. The melodrama of epic opera is no stranger to comic books.

That debt becomes obvious as Alberich of the Nibelungs steals a block of gold that holds a power awesome enough to frighten the god Votan (Odin). The dwarfish Nibelungs are masters of metalcraft, and Alberich makes a ring from The Rhinegold. Votan, with the help of Loge (Loki) and Donner(Thor) must steal that ring to ransom his wife's sister from a deal poorly struck with two giant brothers.

The deal struck between readers and this column has always been for your humble reviewers to find comic book titles that adults will enjoy. Our contract is fulfilled: we have struck gold.

The only criticism offered is that Russell needs four of six extra hands so that he can produce more of some of the best work in comics history.

The Rhinegold is highly recommended for all ages.

A 4-part series at 26 pages each. Priced at $2.95, published by Dark Horse Comics. Art: P. Craig Russell; text: Patrick Mason.

Michael Vance

Psychonaut #3 - From 2000

Published by Monster Pants Comics, an off-center collection of introspective thoughts from Serbian cartoonist Aleksandar Zograf.

Flip this magazine over, and it becomes a brief preview of an independent film called The Pursuers. You will flip over both.

Both features are drawn in a scratchy, abstract style reminiscent of 1960's underground comics. That means neither artist is as interested in an exact representation of reality as in an interpretation of reality filtered through the artist's life experiences. The same observation is true of the subjects and prose styles chosen.

Psychonaut is an almost surreal but visual diary of Aleksandar's philosophical musings. Unlike similar American titles that whine about how life stinks, this title is saved from banality because it is not cheapened by self-loathing.

Also introspective and subjective, The Pursurers is more plot oriented, and effectively will pique reader's interest in seeing the film.

Both serve their purposes: to communicate the personalities and life observations of their creators in an entertaining and precise way.


Review by Michael Vance

Out For Blood - From 2000

The best writing and art rises above the conventions of its genre.

Prepare yourself for a leg up.

Out For Blood is about a tough-as-nails cop who fights vampires, and the conventions or clichés of the tough cop story and the vampire genre are certainly everywhere. Policemen in trench coats. A victimized, beautiful woman. Bats and blood. But this new comic book mini-series is much better than its premise, and bigger than its clichés. Out is intense, gripping storytelling.

One way it "rises above" or improves on genre conventions is through the mastery of technique. In a field cluttered with artists who fake anatomy, perspective, proportion, and the techniques of representational art, artist Gary Erskine flies above the maddening crowd. Except for several minor problems in the panel-to-panel story flow in the second issue, his visual storytelling is flawless, his style is distinctive, and his staging is excellent. Especially appreciated is his subdued approach to graphic violence.

In an art form cluttered with editors and artists who think art is more important than words, writers Michael Part and Steven Grant understand the real strength of comic bodes -- a flawless marriage of art and words in which one compensates for the weaknesses of the other. Their dialog is believable and crisp and thankfully mostly free of profanity. Their characters are also well delineated for the limited space available in comic books, and also believable.

Art alone simply cannot tell complicated stories, express complex ideas, or develop characters rich in detail. Words alone simply lack the visceral, immediate impact of art and the ability to convey tons of information in a single image.

Out For Blood is art for story's sake, and story for art's sake, and a fun read for fans of both the detective and suspense genres. It ain't Shakespeare, but it ain't Police Academy either, and Out is recommended for mature readers.

Review by Michael Vance

Scion, volume 6

Scion V. 6 (reprinting CrossGen issues 34-39)/153 pgs. & $17.95 from Checker Book Publishing, principal artist, Jim Cheung; Ron Marz, writer/sold in comics shops and at

Imagine the 'knights and damsels' comic strip Prince Valiant sprinkled with pseudo light sabers and aliens and you've pictured Scion, a comic book series that ran for thirty-nine issues before its original publisher went out of business.

Scion: Royal Wedding republishes the last six issues of the monthly series as a trade paperback. These issues recount the convoluted tale of a forced marriage between members of two warring peoples. But plot and subplots that verge on soap opera overkill are restrained by the author, and Scion reads like a fantasy novel.

Restraint is the key word is this review. If you are looking for long, epic, bloody battles laced with lots of preliminary action, you won't find it here. What you will find is lots of dialog sprinkled with a sword fight or two, solid characterization, and enough back-story to make everything interesting.

You'll also find reality-based art that well serves its story. It is, however, not spectacular art. Everything needed to tell a story visually is well done, but the artists, at least at this point in their careers, are not the next, hot-new-things in the fickle world of comics fandom.

If you've noticed that the terms "well serves" and "interesting" are average terms, you’ve understood the nuances of this review. If, however, you believe Scion is not here recommended for readers, you are mistaken.

Average is not bad. It means that half of the titles published are poor compared to Scion.

Although it lacks the original vision of a Tolkein, or an original point of view (i.e. style), Scion is a solid bit of adventure storytelling that deserves the attention of fantasy fans.

Michael Vance

Animated Marvel Madness

I found a must-visit site for fans of Marvel animation and Marvel history buffs. Marvel Animation Age tips the "Is it cool?" scales to "Unbelievably so!" With links to sites that deal with Marvel cartoons from the '60's to the present, you won't be disappointed with the sights (video clips of opening segments), sounds (downloadable theme music), episode guides, history lessons and interviews dealing with some of Marvel's most memorable animated ventures. Not to mention what looks like a couple of pretty active forums.

Be sure to check it out!