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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Moby Dick - From 2001


There is no simpler plot: obsession and revenge. Yet Captain Ahab's final voyage to settle a debt with God and a great white whale is one of the great American novels.

There is no simpler style of art: uncluttered and minimalist. Yet Will Eisner remains one of the most influential cartoonists of the 20th century. At its creative peak, his innovative visual storytelling was unmatched, and Eisner's technique continues to teach artists and writers as it entertains his legions of fans. His adaptation of Moby Dick even succinctly points out why comic books and strips will never equal the depth of the novel.

Huh?! You disrespecting comics, boy? Why, you…..

Melville's novel is not held in high esteem for its plot, but for its depth of characterization, philosophical and psychological insight into the human condition, and for its meticulous and accurate historic detail. All three are missing from Eisner's adaptation in various but obvious degrees.

Why? Is it because this master cartoonist simply hasn't the under-standing or ability to transfer these things to the written page?

No.

It is because the number of pages needed to delve into complicated ideas in a comic book is financially restrictive. Despite the central importance given to art by most comics fans, art alone cannot quickly convey an intricate idea.

Oh, yeah!! Sez who!



Sez me. Draw this sentence, art obsessed fan-boy. “The belief in objective, absolute truth is dead.” You had better give yourself lots of pages of art to do what those eight words conveyed. Every art form has its limits. Because he had 32 pages to tell his story, Eisner correctly focused on plot.

Moby Dick is a minor work from a major talent that is still recommended as an introduction to a magnificent novel. For all ages.

Moby Dick/32 pgs., $15.95, cloth-bound from NBM Publishing/written by Herman Melville, adapted by Will Eisner/sold at comics/book shops and by mail at www.nbmpublishing.com

Review by Michael Vance

Lex Luthor - From 2001


I make no secret about the fact that I am a huge fan of the super hero genre. However, I also realize that the comic book industry cannot survive on the spandex scene alone. Surprisingly enough, one of the best Superman stories ever done has no super hero material whatsoever. Though it features the premier comic character’s alter ego, Clark Kent, and the villainous Lex Luthor, Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography, by James Hudnall (writer) and well-known comic artist Eduardo Barreto, is much more gritty crime story than super hero prose.

The story revolves around Peter Sands, a down-and-out writer looking to score his big break with an unauthorized "tell-all" book on Luthor. As he tracks down and interviews individuals who have "dirt" on the man most of the world considers a benevolent businessman, Sands begins to receive danger signals that he is getting too close to the truth. He receives threatening phone calls, and warnings from sources, before eventually becoming a target for assassination. Desperate, he contacts Clark Kent, and asks him to get an S.O.S. to Superman.

Sands’ story is told as a flashback, while Kent is being grilled by the cops as the main suspect in Sands' murder, having means, motive (the police think he killed for the Luthor story) and opportunity.

Sands' and Kent's stories are told in tandem, in a very entertaining "back-and-forth" film noir style.

Hudnall's creative juices take readers for an exhilarating ride into seedy apartments, grimy back alleys, and dimly-lit interrogation rooms, as he weaves one of the most thrilling crime stories penned in the modern age of comics.

Barreto has an artistic flair for bottom-feeding, street-level crime stories. His illustrations lend a morose, depressed quality, which is wholly appropriate for this story.

Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography can be acquired through comic shops or bookstores. Checking with www.dccomics.com does not seem to yield results, but there are many on-line comics dealers. Call 1-888-comic book for a comic shop near you.

Lex Luthor:The Unauthorized Biography, D.C. Comics Inc., 48 pages, $4.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Herobear and The Kid - From 2001


Losing your Grandfather and moving to a new town are challenging in and of themselves, but doing them simultaneously can seem nearly impossible to a child. But that's the lot in the life of young Tyler, the main character in a new comic book called Herobear and The Kid, from Astonish Comics.

The book has garnered quite a following, as well as being nominated for two prestigious comic book awards. Oddly, however, only two issues have hit the stands in more than a year. What sort of comic work could draw such critical acclaim from fans and professionals alike, with so little done? One that encapsulates everything good about comics; the escapism, the humor, the wonder, the adventure, and the very sense that the reader is right there experiencing everything with the main character, because so much of what Tyler endures is familiar to us all.



And it's no wonder that this comic is so..... well, enchanting (I can't believe I used that word). After all, creator Mike Kunkel has had quite a lot of experience working in the "magical kingdom" as a Walt Disney animator, which can be seen when viewing his cartoon-board art style.

The only things that subtract from the experience are a couple of lettering goofs and occasionally confusing panel arrangement. I'm sure, however, that these will be improved as Kunkel cranks out more issues.



And, while it's been many months since the first print of number two first hit the stands, second prints of one and two are now available, and the third issue has been solicited through Diamond Comic Distributors. Most encouraging is the fact that Kunkel has taken his leave of Disney so that he can devote all of his professional time to his comic.

This book is very highly recommended.

Herobear and The Kid can be found at comic shops (1-888-comicbook, for the one nearest you), or at www.theastonishfactory.com. It is published by Astonish Comics and weighs in at 24 pages and is priced at $2.95.

Review by Mark Allen

The Hanged Man - From 2001


Adam Cadman is a condemned man on his way to the gallows, long after the death sentence has been abolished on English soil. A cold-hearted man, with seemingly no redeeming qualities or value, fate has decreed that he meet his end dangling from a rope...or has it?

At the end of said rope is not what would be considered Heaven or Hell, but a realm called Mazeworld. Cadman, still donning the hood and noose of the condemned, is mistaken for "The Hooded One," a missing hero of a group of rebels battling a tyrannical ruler. Here, Cadman will undergo a transformation; he will begin this adventure as a coward, and a fool, and emerge a hero of the oppressed. This is the premise of The Hanged Man, a two-issue series by Caliber Comics.

Writer Alan Grant draws the reader in by presenting the possibility that such an ignoble character could be changed for the better. In the story, Cadman is directly confronted with the terrible deeds he has committed, and even experiences a tightening of the noose around his neck when he is caught in betrayal, cowardice, or the like. As a result of his sins being ever before him, a part of Cadman begins to emerge that has long been buried, if it ever existed at all. Grant's fine characterization is to be commended, as is the clever twist at the story's end.



Artist Arthur Ranson's work is amazing! I have never seen better, more detailed line work in any artist's production, in or out of comics. The book is black and white, and Ranson is a craftsman who's work is best viewed as such. Colorists usually tend to take away much of the detail of such a project, even when they are very good.

The Hanged Man can be acquired through comic shops, or from Caliber Comics, by logging on to www.calibercomics.com, clicking "ordering list," and then clicking "H," or calling 1-800-22COMIC.

The Hanged Man, published by Caliber Comics, 32 pages, $2.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Mighty Eightball - From 2001


Why aren't comic books funny?

Some comic books were never meant to be ha ha humorous, some try for laughter and fail, and then there is Mighty Eyeball. It is meant to be fun, not funny.

Need proof? Driven by profit, a research firm conducted bizarre experiments in Burgerville. "I'll keep a eye out for you," said a scientist as he left his office. Lightning struck, destroying the building. Weird creatures, including the scientist's eyeball with new legs and arms, crawled from the rubble. Boy, was that scientist embarrassed.

Okay, not really. No scientist, no "I'll keep an eye…" stuff. Obviously, Suspended Animation isn't meant to be funny either. Lightning struck, and monstrous creatures created by disaster must now choose how to live their "lives" for good or bad.

"All Action! Hardly any plot!" screams a cover blurb. The cover blurb is true. What would you expect from a giant eyeball battling a huge robot with a head the size of a pellet?

If you expect excellent art, you do get that. Energetic and creative visual storytelling dominates, although the art does occasionally look flat. That is because of a scarcity of shadows that create the illusion of depth.

Is there nothing else to criticize? Yes, there are two weaknesses.

Another cover blurb promises "a gigantic trading card with a fun little story inside". My guess is that the cover is the trading card. That doesn't work.

In addition, the first issue is one long fight utilizing an incredibly irritating comics cliché. As they try to kill one another, Mighty Eyeball and his opponent talk…endlessly. That doesn't work either. When people fight, they grunt, moan, and spit blood through broken teeth. They don't dialog.

Nevertheless, Mighty Eyeball is recommended as the inspired lunacy it heralds on its cover.

Mighty Eyeball #6/16 pgs. & $2.69, Big Card Comics/art and story by Rurik Tyler/sold in comics shops, by mail, and at www.mightyeyeball.com .

Review by Michael Vance