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Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Ray Bradbury Chronicles - From 2001


Ray Bradbury. The very name will elicit memories of utter amazement and wonder for those who have thrilled to the words of his many fictional tales. To some, this man is science fiction, in all of its glory, and in all of the ways it is able to inspire, captivate, and completely absorb the reader. It's no wonder, then, that a three-volume set of graphic adaptations, or comic books, if you will, are at the top of this columnist's list of works that should be read by those infinitely familiar with the genre, as well as those who simply enjoy a good story.

My friends, allow me to introduce you to The Ray Bradbury Chronicles.



Chronicles is an anthology series, in which the stories are as diverse as the artistic styles used to illustrate them. Some of the greatest graphic story illustrators in the business, such as Tim Truman, P. Craig Russell, Dave Gibbons, Al Williamson and Wally Wood, get to express their artistic impressions of some of Bradbury's most unusual, and memorable work.

It is not, however, all science fiction, as the man whom many consider to be one of the greatest fiction writers of all time penned stories that were as chilling and macabre, as others were brimming with images of rockets, robots, space-travel and aliens. In fact, there may be no better way to experience and appreciate the diversity of Bradbury's work than with graphic adaptations. From his stories of colorful, nearly utopian futuristic worlds, to those futures where mankind's love for war, as well as his most base characteristics lead to utter ruin, Bradbury's sheer imagination shines through the medium of sequential art.



Comic shops, bookstores, and on-line auctions are all good places to look for The Ray Bradbury Chronicles. I have also seen them, in hard and soft-back form, at Amazon.com. For a comic shop near you, call 1-888-comicbook.

The Ray Bradbury Chronicles, volumes 1,2 and 3, published by Byron Preiss Visual Publications, Inc., 80 pages, prices vary.

Review by Mark Allen

Planetary - From 2001


How does one describe a comic book like Planetary? A mix of sci-fi, James Bondish intrigue, a dash of creature feature, and just a smidgen of superhero action is a good start. But it's just a start. This book has to be experienced in order to be truly appreciated.

Elijah Snow is one hundred years old (though he only looks about 40) and has seen a great deal of our world's "secret history" unfold. For that reason, he is sought out by an organization called Planetary (circa issue #1), which is dedicated to uncovering that history.

Writer Warren Ellis does a great job of making the characters (specifically Elijah Snow) "fit" whatever storyline or background he may throw at readers. And, as mentioned above, that's quite a feat, as there are many different ingredients to this delicacy of sequential art. Snow and his teammates, Jakita Wagner and "The Drummer," have been on cases involving a W.W.II quantum computer built by a secret society of superhumans , a literal monster island, the vengeful ghost of a Chinese cop, giant ants, super aliens, and some things that are better read than explained.

Through it all, the characters remain fresh and entertaining, never lost in what is happening around them. Most intriguing is the character of Elijah Snow, who, through flashback stories, has already been shown interacting with the likes of Sherlock Holmes, the Invisible Man, and the lord of vampires himself, Dracula.



The artist for the series is John Cassaday, who does a marvelous job of creating the perfect mood for the stories with his attention to detail, i.e. shading and texture. He also has a flair for characterization; faces and bodies are expressive without being "over the top."

A collection of the first six issues of Planetary has been published, and can be acquired through comic stores (call 1-888-comicbook for the one nearest you), some bookstores, or by logging on to www.wildstorm.com, and clicking on "backlist."

Planetary, published by Wildstorm Productions, 32 pages, $2.50.

Review by Mark Allen

Paleo - From 2001


For my money, only a few comic stories dealing with dinosaurs as subject matter have been fit to print. Masashi Tanaka's Gon, published by D.C. Comics' Paradox Press, comes to mind. Ricardo Delgado's Age of Reptiles (which I reviewed a few months ago), published by Dark Horse Press, is also a pleasing read for dino fans. And now, another title is added to my list, with Paleo: Tales of the Late Cretaceous by Jim Lawson and Peter Laird.

This is the same Peter Laird of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame, but don't look for any kind of karate-crazy reptiles in this six-issue series; the only reptilian creatures within these pages bear a much closer resemblance to the Jurassic Park variety.

The series tells a different story with each issue (as of issue #3), depicting the struggles of living in the cretaceous period; imagine Wild Discovery with dinosaurs. The stories have a very true-to-life feel to them, depicting the seeming cruelty of the natural world.

In the third issue, a baby stegoceras, having lost it's mother to a pack of dro-maeosaurs, seeks comfort from a nesting quetzalcoatlus, only to be tossed off of the nest, down a rocky embankment, to his death. So, this is not The Land Before Time for those seeking cute dino-comics for the wee ones.

Writer Jim Lawson utilizes narration to keep the story moving, which, I believe, detracts from the story itself. His pencils are excellent, brilliantly rendering the main characters in both action sequences and still shots. For this reason, I believe events could be satisfactorily depicted without the use of the narration box (see Age of Reptiles). This is still, however, a great series, worth picking up all six issues. Highly recommended.

Your local comic store should be able to order Paleo for you. Bookstore chains such as Waldenbooks may also yield results. Call 1-888-comicbook for the comics store near you.

Paleo; Tales of The Late Cretaceous, published by Zeromayo Studios, 24 pages, $2.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. - From 2001


"He's Mike Hammer and James Bond rolled into one, a tough-talking, shirt-shucking, gun-toting fireball of a secret agent who attracts bullets and babes in astounding qualities."

This is how Marvel Comics begins the explanatory text on the back of it's newly-released Nick Fury, Agent of Shield trade paperback, and it perfectly encapsulates the exciting exhilarating, and down- right FUN attitude of this book.

The trade collects the first six issues of the original series that began in 1968, and at a time when superheroes were Marvel's standard material, this was something quite different. In fact, it still is. The stories reprinted in this album present readers with a fair amount of action, suspense, science fiction, drama, and even horror. And they are all done in a style incomparable to anything else done at that time, and, unfortunately, to the following issues as well, as writer/artist Jim Steranko departed after the sixth issue.

Steranko kept the dynamic Marvel style alive, but gave it an extra kick by adding then-modern design concepts to characters and scenes. He borrowed from popular media, such as TV's The Avengers, and James Bond movies. Similarly, his page layout style showed great influence from modern graphic artists Andy Warhol and Peter Max. Events flowed through the page, as opposed to the stop-and-go of panel-by-panel storytelling. These innovations, even today, make Nick Fury, Agent of Shield as much fun to look at as it is to read.

Unfortunately, Steranko's early departure from the book gives the trade paperback an unsatisfying ending, leaving the reader to wonder at the identity of the villain, Scorpio. As a result, the book has a beginning and a middle, but no real ending. It is, however, still worth searching out for those who wish to experience what great work can be accomplished in the comic book medium.

Nick Fury, A.O.S., can be acquired through comic shops, bookstores, and by logging on to www.marvel.com.

Nick Fury, Agent of Shield, published by Marvel Comics, 88 pages, $12.95.

Review by Mark Allen

The Nevermen - From 2001


Different is good, right? Well, sometimes. Unfortunately, that can't be said in the case of The Nevermen, by Phil Amara and Guy Davis.

Primary problems with this book are a confusing plot filled with characters on whom no background nor motivation is given (so why should we care about them?), and which quickly creates the feeling that the reader has been dropped into the middle of a very convoluted storyline.

Let's begin with the main characters, the Nevermen; five crime-fighting individuals in hat, trench coat, and goggles, among whom it is impossible for the human eye to distinguish a difference. From the beginning, the reader is treated to various scenes in which one or two of the Nevermen engage villains in battle, for no obvious reason except that they are villains. In those scenes, it is nearly impossible to tell which of the clone-like Nevermen are even involved in the struggle. And, though the story does come together in the final issue, it is a long, baffling ride to a barely-satisfying conclusion. Now, since The Nevermen is supposed to be a mystery, many might argue the merit of this type of storytelling. But background and character motivation does nothing to spoil a good mystery.

Guy Davis' art is one of the few saving graces of this work. His dark, somewhat-sketchy style lends a very menacing atmosphere to the city and it's villains. High marks also go to the artist's conceptions of many of the characters, Manboulian, a chilling villain, much of who's skeleton is exposed, as well as The Murderist, a former Neverman himself, are both visually entertaining. The Nevermen themselves, with their trench coats and strength-enhancing/gadget-laden exoskeletons are an interesting visual blend of pulp detective and superhero.

The art of a comic is important. It is, however, secondary to the story itself. Those wishing to indulge in the empty calories of eye-candy, help yourself to The Nevermen. Contact www.darkhorse.com or your local comic shop for availability.

The Nevermen, Copyright 2000, Dark Horse Comics, 32 pages, $2.95.

Review by Mark Allen

The Mystery of Mary Rogers - From 2001


I love discovering great new things. Something that, upon finding it for the first time, a person muses, "Where has this been? I didn't know about this!"

That's what happened to me when I first read Rick Geary's amazing work, The Mystery of Mary Rogers. One of four true crime stories of the last century presented in sequential art form by Geary, Mary Rogers is a breathtaking example of what can be achieved in this art form.

A beautiful, and well-admired young lady, Mary Rogers' death has remained a mystery since the sunny, summer day in July 28th, 1941, when her body was found floating in the Hudson River.

From the moment of discovery, numerous accusations and scenarios made their way through various New York "news" publications, as well as the public mind, until the case was officially closed early the next year. Suspected of possible foul play were potential suitors, rowdy street gangs, even an unknown doctor, who, it was suspected, may have possibly botched an abortion.

Well-known writer/poet Edgar Allen Poe was even "dragged" into the mix, as he was also an acquaintance of Mary Rogers.

This story proves the statement that real life is sometimes more intriguing than fiction.

Geary does a wonderful job of telling this story in narrative form. As it is a true account, there is not much "creation" of a storyline to laud over, but there is much to be said of his artwork. Geary's art, though simple, is expressive and vibrant. The black and white panels are not muddled, due mostly to his clear line work.

Characters communicate volumes, even without the word balloons which normally accompany them in comic books.

This is a truly fine volume, and highly recommended. Geary's other true crime stories in this collection include Jack The Ripper, The Borden Tragedy, and The Fatal Bullet.

Check comic stores, book stores, and www.nbmpublishing.com for availability.

The Mystery of Mary Rogers is published by NBM Publishing Inc., 80 pages, $8.95.

Review by Mark Allen