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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Blanche - From 2001

In the last 10 years, only three issues of Rick Geary's Blanche works have seen print. Despite this fact, it is one of the most intriguing projects in the business.

The first installment, Blanche Goes to New York, published by Dark Horse Comics, takes place at the opening of the 20th century, and introduces us to a young lady leaving her family for the first time, to tackle the big city and make her mark as a concert pianist. Not your typical comic book plot, to be sure, but believe me, there are twists and turns along the way.

Of course, the leading character is also far from the norm.

The story continues into the next issue, Blanche Goes to Hollywood, also published by Dark Horse, and brings us to the latest installment, Blanch Goes to Paris, by Craig McKenney.

Yes, Geary breaks the norm, as leading characters go, and he does it successfully, by injecting strength, imagination, and believability into his work. Blanche is as forceful a lead as has ever been seen in comics, thanks in part to her complexity and three-dimensionality. With this particular character, more than any other, the writer proves his intimacy with his craft.

What's refreshing about Geary as an artist, is his unique style. In this cookie-cutter world of comic art and "let's mimic the latest hot style" attitude, Geary's thick lines and textured, complex backgrounds (and fore-grounds, for that matter) prove him a shining star among many flickering, nearly burned-out art styles.

Also refreshing, his experience extends far beyond the world of comic books. With work for publications such as Rolling Stone, MAD Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and National Lampoon (to name just a few) under his belt, he brings a tried, and well-rounded style to his art and storytelling techniques.

Find these works at your local comic shop, trade shows, or online retailers.

Recommended for all ages.

Blanche Goes to New York and Blanche Goes to Hollywood are published by Dark Horse Comics, 32 pages, $2.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Astounding Space Thrills - From 2000

With so many comic book pundits heralding the seemingly inevitable collapse of the industry (any day now, some of them seem to believe), it's easy to overlook the fact that there is groundbreaking work being done in the field of sequential art. Case in point: Steve Conley's Astounding Space Thrills.

Found on-line as well as in comic book stores, Conley's strip conveys the exploits of young genius/adventurer Argosy Smith, and his faithful sidekick, human turned protoplasmic life form, Theremin. They reside on a future earth, where, as a result of the Milky Way galaxy entering a new region of space with far different laws of physics, our good planet has been given a second chance after hitting the bottom of a cultural decline.

Argosy's world is one of fast-paced sci-fi action, somewhat reminiscent of comic book stories done in the '50's, but with it's own flair and sense of originality. Conley's clean, cartoony art style perfectly compliments the book's fun attitude. The high-octane adventure is matched only by the tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Argosy's genius.

A statement made by Argosy to Theremin while under attack by enemy aliens is a good example:

"Assuming you're right about the aliens' weapon having an empathic charge, if we've got duct tape and elbow macaroni on board, I can rig a space suit to block the effect."

This is a comic that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Suggested reading, just to get a handle on the characters and their world, is "The Shift," which can be found in the archives of the website,

Check it out.

Two comic book series have been released; a three-issue story, published by Day One Comics, and a four-issue story from Image Comics. The Image issues will probably be easier to find at comic shops than the first three. All issues, however, can be found by visiting the online store at the A.S.T. website. To find your local comic shop, dial 1-888-comicbook.

Astounding Space Thrills is published by Image Comics. It is 32 pages and priced at $2.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Arena - From 2001

A mother and daughter on vacation run into more than one kind of trouble, as they confront a violent hill family, as well as…dinosaurs and cavemen? It all unfolds in the 1989 Marvel Comics graphic novel, Arena, written and drawn by Bruce Jones.

Sharon and her 12-year-old daughter Lisa are taking a trip through Missouri's hills, seeking to strengthen their relationship after a painful divorce. However, they drive into much more than they bargained for, as they become targets for kidnapping and other, more unspeakable acts, by a country family intent on using them in a scheme to produce and sell infants.

But help is on the way, in the most unlikely form of a female pilot from the future, who is forced to land, "out of time" in more ways than one. Now, due to a "time slip," the three women must work together in order to survive against modern day danger, as well as that of prehistoric origin. But what is the secret this woman from the future holds?

Though not very familiar with the work of Bruce Jones, my first impression is that of his artwork. His realistic style demonstrates a very competent grasp of the human form. A fine sense of shadowing in his work, he also successfully sets the mood for what is ultimately an incredible, but very creepy story.

Admittedly, however, the diverse elements of the story seem to clash, somewhat. A reader may wonder if a tale of kidnap and rescue may have been sufficient for entertainment's sake, the envelope being pushed a little far with the time travel and Jurassic content.

Still, from an artistic point of view, and taking into account the ease with which Jones establishes his villains (those you love to hate), Arena is well-worth seeking out.

Arena is recommended for adults, due to language and sexual situations. Find it at your local comic shop, bookstore, or online auction.

Arena, published by Marvel Entertainment Group, 48 pages, $5.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Area 52 - From 2000

Six people pulling less-than-thrilling "guard-duty" over the most sophisticated military facility in history, in a part of Antarctica that's so cold, even GERMS can't survive. Doesn't sound like the setting for a very exciting sci-fi story, you say? Well, needless to say, things heat up rather quickly in issue one of the four-part mini-series Area 52, by Image Comics.

And, of course, this being a science fiction tale, the "heat," as it were, involves a rather large menacing alien, bent on conquering the Earth. Sounds hum-drum, I know. But the strengths of this story aren't found in the plot as much as art and characterization.

Writer Brian Haberlin delivers the goods with his well-written characters as their interactions with each other, as well as a murderous alien, draw the reader in, while also eliciting a few chuckles. Our "heroes" are cut more from the cloth of "real people," and their exploits, while sometimes heroic, are as often a comedy of errors.

The pencil and ink work of Clayton Henry, while obviously influenced by the Japanese manga style, still manages to keep an air of individuality and uniqueness. Henry has a flair for character expressions and mechanical design; some of his tech is superb.

I suppose the "total fantasy" aspect of this story is also an attraction. I mean, how great would it be to find that, in the midst of being hunted by an alien nightmare, you are sitting on a storehouse of dream-weaponry the likes of which no fanboy has even seen! Sentient alien weapons, enhancement armor, matter converters...the Hammer of Thor! What monster stands a chance? How the U.S. Government ever obtains the likes of the Shield of Perseus, however, is never addressed. Details, details....

The long-and-short is, Area 52 is worth a look. Parents might want to look before the kiddies, however, as there is a definite gore factor.

Call 1-888-comicbook for the comic shop nearest you. Area 52 is published by Image Comics and weighs in at 32 pages and is priced at $2.95.

Review by Mark Allen

2024 - From 2001

Indifference has replaced "Big Brother" in 2024, a new graphic novel that updates George Orwell's classic book, 1984.

Orwell's Big Brother was a world government that monitored and controlled every aspect of life. Indifference and self-absorption is the fruit of the control wielded by massive multi-national businesses in 2024.

That rule so permeates each employee's life that losing one's job guarantees death by starvation. This is a very subtle, familiar and frightening layer that author Ted Rall slathered onto Orwell's vision.

Rall's plot is simplicity itself. Winston endures the grinding sameness of life by occasionally buying illegal electronic games and other items banned by his government and employer. Real danger adds a thrill to his mundane existence when Winston begins a loveless affair. But his world collapses when even sex becomes boring, and Winston buys a black-market freeware that links him to old TV shows. When the authorities arrest him, Winston confronts the shopkeeper who informed the authorities of his purchase.

"Thanks a lot, dude!" says Winston, flustered. "Now I'll NEVER be able to pay back my student loans!"

Yes, humor does occasionally relieve the relentless ugliness.

Many readers will find the profanity in 2024 tasteless and unnecessary. Profanity is always tasteless, but is used here to show the baseness of lives lived like animals in this spiritually dead world.

Rall's art is minimalistic and abstract, one step above a doodle, and may be enough to place wallets back in the pocket or purse of casual browsers. But it sets his stage perfectly, its simplicity even blunting some of the cold, hard and dead nastiness. It removes titillation from sex and excitement from violence, his simple lines and flat grays painting the unending, numbing sameness of Rall's bleak, unromantic, godless future.

This graphic novel is a bummer, man, a downer, depressing, and highly recommended for adults.

2024/$15.95, 96 pgs., hardback from NBM Pub./available wherever comics and books are sold.

Review by Michael Vance