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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Fuzz & Pluck in Splitsville - From 2001


Fuzz is a cuddly bear. Pluck is a plucked chicken. Fuzz is reliable, hard working, quiet, and victimized. Pluck is erasable, defiant and victimized. Fuzz and Pluck are not characters in a children's book.

It isn't written like a child's book.

Fuzz and Pluck work at Lardy's, a dirty, fast food restaurant, as bus or delivery 'boys'. Their sordid lives take a turn for the worse as Fuzz is sent on a delivery and brutalized by a guard dog, and Pluck gets into a fistfight with an insulting customer. Pluck is fired from Lardy's only to be hired as a gladiator at a floating casino.

Is there hope for Fuzz and Pluck?

Despite the oddball and intriguing setting and talking animals, Splitsville is written as if Fuzz and Pluck live in this world. Dialog and characterizations are realistic. Most amazing of all, there is neither profanity, drug use nor graphic sex in a title that otherwise looks like an underground comic.

Splitsville isn't drawn like a child's book.

It is drawn with a scratchy, unsophisticated style that some readers will find interesting and others laughable. In fact, those who pick it up may put it back on the shelf because it looks like it is drawn "by a ten-year old on notebook paper". This quote came from my nineteen-year old daughter.



In short, Fuzz & Pluck is that most rare of all beasts, an original. And when something is original, it is either hated, loved or ignored. It is usually ignored.

Have you noticed, dear reader, how the words ignored and ignorant are very closely related?

Fuzz & Pluck is recommended for readers with an appreciation of the decidedly esoteric.

Fuzz & Pluck in Splitsville (1 of 4)/48 pgs. & $4.95 from Fantagraphics Books/art & story: Ted Stearn - available wherever comics are sold.

Review by Michael Vance

The Foot Soldiers - From 2001


Imagine a world where all heroes have been slain, all hope has been lost, and harsh law is enforced by human/mechanical hybrids. A dark vision to be sure, but also the setting for a very exciting, extremely different kind of comic book story, The Foot Soldiers.

Created and written by Jim Krueger, the tale is one of a bully, a liar, and a blind cripple, who are granted shoes and rags with unusual powers (keep reading), and with these new "weapons," they begin a campaign to free the people from the tyranny of the B.T.L., or Bio-Technic Law.

Sounds strange, I know. In fact, when I began reading the first issue a few years ago, before the collected edition was released, I didn't get it right away. But soon, I began to realize what the story was really about; ordinary people, with very human flaws, becoming heroes.

Some will call it a "super hero" tale. Fine. Do that. But if that's all you see, you don't see it all.

Foot Soldiers goes deeper, giving us a look at ourselves, and our own shortcomings, as well as how to overcome them.

As soon as the reader is introduced to the characters, you start to care about them. Johnny Stomp, the bully/hypocrite of the trio, is most worthy of notice. His brash fearlessness in the face of danger, coupled with his inclination toward intimidating his own "teammates" makes for very interesting, and complex characterization.

Readers will also be taken aback when they read Krueger's account of this particular character's ignoble beginnings in the back of the trade paperback collection.

Mike Oeming handles the art chores, and does what very few artists can; produces 150 pages of black and white panels in such a way that this reader never wondered what he was looking at. Great stuff!

The Foot Soldiers can be obtained through comic shops, or by logging on at www.jimkrueger.com, and clicking on "order."

The Foot Soldiers, published by AiT /Planet Lar, 152 pages, $14.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Off The Rails - From 2001


"There goes my little train, Mona," says the excited hobbyist as he maneuvers his model train. "Filled with lots of lucky, lucky little folks! All of their emotional problems are 1/48th scale!"

Wooo Wooo!! Such is the premise of Toy Trunk, a comic strip about the fictional characters of fictional characters!

Grumpy old Casey, the engineer, and idiot Jeb, his fireman, chug down their tracks oblivious to their quirky situation. That adds a nuance unique to this subtle but delightful on-line strip. You see, they are the lucky, lucky little folks. And they lack a clue because their brains are also 1/48th scale.

The cast includes Caddington Frink's bust, (Cad founded the line), Mrs. Withers, the current owner, and a string of wild guest 'stars'. A favorite is a Marxist bee that replaces Jeb as fireman while Jeb vacations. Mrs. Withers likes his caboose.

Drawn with a simple, bold line, this strip is as fun to look at as it is to read. Its only disappointment is that there is only one volume to buy.

Off the Rails is highly recommended.

Off The Rails has 156 pages and is priced at $12.95. It comes from Plan Nine Publishing and is written by Erik Sansom. It is available in bookstores and at www.plan9.ca.

Review by Michael Vance

The Fastrack Annual Report - From 2001


Birds have nests. Foxes have holes. Is it not right that Pocket Protector People have their own comic strip?

Too late. Fastrack is here anyway.

Cartoonist Bill Holbrook applies his satiric pen to the exploits of a tiny company of socially inept computer programmers.

Oops! Fastrack is littered with situations and computer terms that will leave many readers befuddled, and most geeks rolling on the floor. "Moat monsters". "Spam". Cyber-this and cyber-that.

This is good. Rolling on the floor is the only exercise most techno-geeks get. Well, that, and sticking "Byte Me" notes on the backs of fellow geeks.



Well-drawn and perfect for its specialized audience, file Fastrack under "for the computer literate".

The Fastrack Annual Report is 160 pages long and is priced at $12.95. It’s from Plan Nine Publishing and is sold in bookstores and at www.plan9.ca.

Review by Michael Vance

Daredevil: Visionaries - From 2001


Normally, I highlight other genres when reviewing comics, because the comic book industry is absolutely LOUSY with super hero tales, the vast majority of which are done badly. But this is different. Marvel Comics' trade-paperback collection, Daredevil: Visionaries by Frank Miller, is like nothing else ever done on the spandex scene.

Miller's work on Daredevil began in 1979 when he came on as the book's artist. Over the next few years, this second-tier character would become one of Marvel's brightest stars, as Frank moved on to write the book as well. Daredevil: Visionaries, volumes one and two, collect much of his run on the book, with volume three due out in a few months.

With this work, Frank Miller told a story of the seamy underside of New York's "Hell's Kitchen." It was gritty crime drama, which happened to involve a guy in red tights.

It was about climbing the ladder of the underworld, only to have your fingers stepped on by The Kingpin, the man at the top of that ladder. It was about Daredevil's alter ego Matt Murdock, discovering that his first love, from his college days, was now a hired assassin working for The Kingpin. It was about the heart of that assassin being turned, a new path chosen, alas, too late.



Intrigue, betrayal, tragedy. Only three of the many ingredients that make this book impossible to put down. An extremely moving story, that even allows the hero to have all-too-human weaknesses.

What you just read is a synopsis of Volume 2, the most highly recommended, as it is where Miller begins writing, and where most of the classic material is found. Volume one covers his first nine issues. While not bereft of the urban crime element, it contains much more super hero lore, and is made more enjoyable by Miller's dark, moody art style.

Find Daredevil: Visionaries at comic shops, bookstores, or by going to www.marvel.com, and clicking "shop." Daredevil: Visionaries, published by Marvel Comics, 174 pages, $17.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Crux - From 2001


It is 400,000 B.C. Before Christ. Or man. Or sentence fragments. Before most everything living except, of course, ape men and superheroes.

Old myths were about gods like Hermes and Juno. New myths are about Atlantis, crystals, and superhero aliens with superior intellects and powers who colonize earth and manage the "evolution" of those ape-men. Crux, the comic book, has melded both myths into aliens who have reached "the point of ultimate evolution." A transition that will take us to the next level of existence…a realm where we will be as one with a higher force".

A realm called New Age silliness.

For an old reviewer who likes to criticize, hates New Age silliness and is tired of superheroes, it is a shame that Crux is also well-written and well-drawn entertainment.

The art, which is influenced by past masters like Al Williamson, is especially impressive. Firmly in the school of realism, city and landscapes are vast and detailed, and set the stage for high drama and epic adventure. The WOW characters on that stage are appropriately grand, larger than life in face, form and dialog. No human speaks like these Atlantians, but, then again, these Atlantians are not human. No human stands in poses like these Atlantians (outside of war memorials), but then again….

You get the idea.

And once readers get past the silly ideas, they are in for a rip-roaring, continent-spanning, gut-wrenching war between good and evil on a massive scale.

Isn't it disappointing that most adults will never see Crux, let alone buy it? For them, superheroes are the crux of why they won't buy, despite excellent art and intriguing story.



Editors and publishers, take note. The vast majority of adults are uninterested in superheroes, no matter how they are packaged.

Crux is, nevertheless, highly recommended for comics fans and those who enjoy epic fantasy.

Crux #1/$2.95? and 28 pgs./ words: Mark Waid; pencils: Steve Epting/sold in comics shops, on newsstands, by mail, and at www.crossgen.com.

Review by Michael Vance

Crossing The Line - From 2001


Much lip service is paid by comics fans and professionals to the high ideal of originality. Each new publisher that enters the fray promises to stretch the creative envelope of the art form. Each new publisher fails to do so.

Why?

They fail for the same reason that Crossing The Line will not receive the attention it deserves. Originality requires risk for readers (I know I like superheroes; is this worth buying?) and for creators and publishers (I know they will buy superheroes; will this sell?).

Crossing the Line offers much that is original.

Admittedly, the plot of Crossing only nudges the envelope. A scientific experiment to stimulate brain activity accidentally envelops the earth. The intelligence of every living thing is augmented; higher animals can talk, mentally retarded humans are elevated to average intellect, and the average Joe now experiences visions.

It is the original style of Crossing that makes its envelope bulge. Despite its fantasy elements, this title has a startlingly real feel. Believable characterization and dialog, and an aversion to melodrama under gird its visual and verbal story. But it is its art that plants its literary feet on the ground.



Uncomplicated and clear visual storytelling, and a gritty art that belongs only to creator James Reade, are the first real tear. Reade wisely and thankfully ignores the current tend among comics artists to wildly exaggerate human anatomy and movement, smothering story with eye candy. The majority of Reade's peers would be smart to follow his probably unintentional but nevertheless heroic lead.

The final rip in the marketing envelope of Crossing is its magazine format. Comic book stores don't like magazine-sized comic books, especially black and white interior pages with only limited color on covers. But for those readers and retailers who are sincerely interested in originality, and are willing to put their money where their mouth is, Crossing The Line is much recommended.

Crossing The Line #1/32 pgs. & $2.95 from Rip Roarin' Comics/sold by at www.riproarincomics.com or by mail.

Review by Michael Vance

Political Suicide?

I don’t often discuss political topics on this blog, because it’s a comics site and I want to keep it “on topic”, so to speak. But, I also can’t help speaking up when something strikes me as interesting or unusual. Well, the media’s coverage of John McCain’s V.P. running mate, Sarah Palin, qualifies as unusually one-sided. Consider:

- Palin has been mayor of a city, governor of a state, and a business owner. Yet, she is being called completely unqualified to be veep. Obama has been a senator. That’s it. He hasn’t run anything, outside of a relatively small neighborhood group here or there, during his days as a “community organizer” in Chicago. Yet he gets a pass from much of the press, members of whom consider him imminently qualified for the most powerful office in the world.

- Obama has, in the past, been involved with a United States-hating “pastor” who spews profanity and racist-laden diatribe from the pulpit, as well as a former terrorist who remains unrepentant of his past crimes. But, the media doesn’t think those relationships are important. On the other side of the coin, Palin’s seventeen-year-old daughter has been discovered to be pregnant, and media forces are doing anything they can to twist this in such a way that it reflects badly on the Republican V.P. candidate.

*(Additionally, by making so much “hay” out of the direction a teenager’s life has taken, in an attempt to derail a candidacy, the far left and their servants in the media have forever waved their right to cry "foul" when the families of their own candidates/politicians are closely examined, whether appropriate or not. Of course, they will still do so, but the hypocrisy will be evident to all.)

What it all comes down to is that the far left is SCARED of Sarah Palin. She is a powerful, successful woman, but NOT a liberal, and they hate her for that. She has energized the Republican base in a race that was supposed to be an easy victory for Obama, so they also hate her for THAT. I also believe some of them may fear that her speech tonight will surpass Obama's in viewership; 38 million watched as the Democratic presidential hopeful spoke, and just the prospect that she could surpass that is anathema to them, no doubt. Ultimately, the actions being taken to smear her, driven by that hate, is going to end up winning the election for the Republicans, as many Americans blanche at the tactics the left employs.

All of that being said, I feel comfortable making a couple of predictions – mostly, because, despite my conservative political leanings, neither my happiness nor my success in life rides on any particular person winning the election, unlike many on both sides of the divide.

Prediction #1 - Barring any REAL scandal (not the non-issue of Palin’s pregnant daughter, or the supposed questioned maternity of the governor’s youngest child ), McCain/Palin will win the 2008 Presidential Election.

Prediction #2 - Following the Republican victory, much of the media, in their shock and dismay that THEIR candidate didn’t win, will begin asking the question “Is America racist?” Some will skip asking the question, and simply level the accusation on the air and in print, further pushing mainstream America away, and delineating themselves as tools of those far left of the political center.

Now, lest anyone mistakenly assume any glee on my part over all of this, let me just say that it’s painful to watch the Democrat party be taken over by the far-left, which is driving the Palin hate-bus. I mean, the whole “babygate” issue started on the Daily Kos, perhaps the most far-left site on the ‘net. I have many friends who are Democrats, and they greatly resent the direction in which their party is headed.

No, there’s nothing pleasant about what’s going on, especially for Sarah Palin’s family. Ultimately, however, it’s only going to hurt the Democratic party.

In my opinion.