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Saturday, September 27, 2008

King David - From 2002


D.C. Comics' newly released King David, by Kyle Baker, was something I, personally, had been anxiously awaiting, both as a comic fan, and a student of the scriptures. I have to say, I was pleased upon its release, from both vantage points.

First, as a comic fan, I very much enjoyed the art and storytelling techniques. Baker's art-style is very appealing; kind of a "rough take" on Disney. While it definitely has it's "cartoony" aspects, the line work possesses a course quality that fits the darker aspects of the story of David very well. The expressiveness of the characters is also quite enjoyable, especially David's righteous anger at Goliath's curses toward the Israelites, as well as the father-son sequence at the end.



Baker's pacing of this classic story is also quite good. As comics are content-limited when it comes to adaptations of long stories, it's important for plotters to highlight the important aspects of a tale, and Baker does this in fine fashion.

The treasury-sized format of this book compliments the artist's work greatly, and gives it a cinematic quality. While some of the colors used in King David seem a tad…bright, it is, all things considered, a visually stunning work.



Second, as a Bible student, and a Christian, it was comforting to see that Baker had stayed true to the scriptures with this work. While there are some instances of him taking artistic license, creating particular scenes or lines to enhance character, or create interesting dialogue, this is to be expected with an undertaking of this kind. While this is disconcerting for some, it does nothing to change or alter events as they are recorded in scripture.



King David is good comic work, and these days, that's saying something. It's recommended for teens and adults.

Find King David in your local comic book store; if they don't have it, they can order it.

To locate the comic store near you, call 1-888-comicbook. King David, published under D.C. Comics' Vertigo imprint, 160 pages, $19.95.

Review by Mark Allen.

Justice League: A New Beginning - From 2002


In the world of comics, there are those works that, since their inception, have been considered classics. One of those, a personal favorite of many older fans, yet surprisingly, unread by many, is D.C.'s late-'80's incarnation of the Justice League; and believe me, these aren't your father's Superfriends.

Justice League: A New Beginning is a collection of the first seven issues by writers Keith Giffen (who also supplied some art breakdowns) and J.M. Dematteis, and artists Kevin Maguire, Al Gordon and Terry Austin.

So what made this version of the League different from previous works, you ask? Most outstandingly, the in-your-face, laugh-out-loud humor. For what was supposed to be the D.C. Universe's flagship super team, co-lead by one of its darker characters, Batman, the constant in-jokes, snickers and occasional guffaws would seem to be out of place. But, somehow, it worked.

Maybe it was due to the writing prowess of Giffen and Dematteis, who seemed to flawlessly merge such serious characters as the afore-mentioned Batman and Martian Manhunter, with the likes of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, creating plenty of one-liners and straight-man appreciation. To their credit, the two even managed to occasionally give Bats a little of the comedic action, without at all damaging his "dark knight" persona.

Or, maybe it was the artwork of penciller extraordinaire, Kevin Maguire, who may well be able to draw any and every known human expression, while also being one of comicdom's masters of realistic musculature.

I guess it could also be that this League broke new ground, while staying true to the traditions of fantastic action and world-threatening villains that had always been a part of the Justice League.

Most likely, it was all of the above.

Justice League: A New Beginning is recommended for all ages, and especially for those who enjoy intense action with a healthy dose of good humor. Find it in comic shops, bookstores, or online auctions.

Justice League: A New Beginning, published by D.C. Comics, 190 pages, $12.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Jeremiah: Birds of Prey - From 2002


After nearly 30 years of reading comics, I just discovered European comic creator Hermann Huppen. Now I'm wondering what took me so long.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard about a new Showtime program that was being produced from a bestseller European comic work called Jeremiah. It sounded familiar, and after digging through some fairly forgotten comic boxes in storage, I found the two-issue reprint series Jeremiah: Birds of Prey, published by the now-defunct Adventure Comics.

The story is post-apocalyptic in nature, and deals with two young men who join forces to put an end to the evil of a slave-trader named Fat-eye Birmingham.

The story is as engaging as a reader could hope for, from the destruction of young Jeremiah's village by slavers at the opening, to the end, where…, ah, but that would be telling.

Jeremiah and his unlikely partner, Kurdy, have a very enjoyable character interaction. It's Jeremiah's sheltered naiveté, opposite Kurdy's world-wise, violent (but, still strangely heroic) tendencies that capture the reader's interest, almost immediately. Hermann's wonderfully base villains don't hurt, either.

The art is very well done. Hermann's style is highly detailed, and expressive. The characters are not rendered in an overly stylized manner; the art is grounded in reality, which is refreshing in today's comic climate. In facial expressions and body language, Hermann's characters communicate at least as much as is contained in the word balloons.

The story is published in black and white, and, in my opinion, Hermann is one of those artists who does his best work in this medium, where his line work is most defined, and can be better appreciated.

Jeremiah: Birds of Prey is worth seeking out, especially considering many comic shops will probably have it in a discount box of some type. If your local shop doesn't have it, try online auctions and retail outlets, bookstores, or comic conventions.

Due to its language content, this comic is recommended for teens and adults. Jeremiah: Birds of Prey, published by Adventure Comics, 24 pages, $2.50 cover price.

Review by Mark Allen

Impact - From 2002


E.C. Comics was always known for quality stories and artwork. Even after some of their comics became the subjects of debate, criticism, and, ultimately, censure, in 1954, due to the publishing of Fredric Wertham's Seduction of The Innocent, E.C. went on to publish stellar comic work, even by today's standards.

Worthy of note among those works is Impact, all five issues of which have been collected in a large hardback edition.

Published in black and white format, the stories contained in the Impact package do exactly as they promise; they produce a twist at the end that, for the most part, the reader doesn't see coming. And, considering these tales are nearly 50 years old, that's saying something; most of today's comic stories don't accomplish such a feat. Though a few of the stories read like soap opera tales, these are, in truth, engaging human interest stories.

One of the most notable in the collection is Bernard Krigstein's "Master Race," published in 1955.

Before the public consciousness had grown accustomed to the horrible images of the Nazis' extermination of millions of Jews, Krigstein's comic story brought it out into broad daylight, not regarding the sensibilities of the post war reader. If ever there was an historic comic story, with a significant message, as timely as it was timeless, this is it.

The reprints boast such classic Golden Age artists as Jack Davis, Bernard Krigstein, Jack Kamen, George Evans, Joe Orlando, and others. Representing various art styles, all are reality-based and enjoyable to the extreme. From storytelling techniques to use of panel layout, these stories demonstrate why, sometimes, the old ways are the best ways.

The Impact collection is recommended for all ages, though it will probably be enjoyed most by adults who can bear the "culture shock" of decades-old stories, and, of course, who love a good yarn.

Find Impact at your local comic shop, comic conventions, bookstores, or online auctions and catalogues.

Impact, published by Russ Cochran, 164 pages, $20.00

Review by Mark Allen.

The Illustrated Left Behind - From 2002


How would the world react if millions of people suddenly just disappeared? Hundreds of auto accidents, plane crashes, and various disasters due to loss of key personnel. Countless individuals, friends and loved ones, gone without a trace, with many theories, but no immediately clear answers. We're talkin' "panic in the streets," here. This is the premise of The Illustrated Left Behind, a comic adaptation of the best-selling book series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins that deals with a particular interpretation of the Biblical account of the "last days."

But this isn't your father's Christian comic book. As a Christian and a comic fan, I can confidently state that in terms of entertainment via well-done comic fare, this work, adapted by John S. Layman, and artists Aaron Lopresti and Jeffrey Moy, is a step up from most forays into a very particular genre.

The writers have done a good job of crafting a tale that is enjoyable to people of varied points of view. It is a moving story involving conflict, action, political intrigue, suspense, and, yes, even some theological debate for those who get into that sort of thing.

All of this is true, not despite the passion of the authors, but, in this reviewer's opinion, because of it. In short, this story doesn't fail to entertain.

Pencilers Lopresti and Moy do a wonderful job of translating this epic into sequential art. Having read the books before ever seeing the comics, I can say the artists captured the characters deftly and believably. They convey the scenes of disaster and panic extremely well, lending the story much of it's power.

Hopefully, the unavoidable fear of some that they may feel "preached at" won't keep them from trying this well-done comic fare.

The Illustrated Left Behind, published by Tyndale House Publishers, 224 pages, $14.99. Available in comic shops, bookstores, online catalogs and auctions, or by going to www.leftbehind.com and clicking on graphic novels. Recommended for all ages.

Review by Mark Allen

The Gumps - From 2002


Andy Gump never took it on the chin. That is because through forty years of domestic, middle-class angst, the henpecked husband had no chin.

Joseph Patterson, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, created the idea for a comic strip about an average family and named it The Gumps. Patterson hired Sidney Smith (1877-1935), who had been drawing two comic strips, Buck Nix and Old Doc Yak, to write and draw this new 'baby'. The Gumps daily strips premiered in 1917, Sundays in 1919.

Smith breathed life to Andy Gump, his wife Min, son Chester, Uncle Bim, and Tilda, the household maid. The Gumps focused on family life, and 'matured' into a soap opera.

Andy's nondescript face descended into a mustache and neck. Smith forgot a mouth and chin, but not the artistic techniques needed to create a simple, clean line and minimalistic style that caricatured rather than mimicked reality, and won a huge audience for his Gumps.

In turn, Smith's characterizations, dialog and situations captured his readers through an exaggerated, almost vaudevillian, approach to the human condition.

The comic strip was immediately successful, winning national distribution and merchandising including sheet music (1919, 1923), a board game (1924), and toys. Andy's Dancing Lesson (1920) was the first of dozens of animated cartoons. The year 1929 marked the death of a major character, a first in the artform, and The Gumps became the first strip adapted for radio in 1931.

Cartoonist Gus Edson inherited the comic strip in 1935, but his version was not as successful and circulation declined steadily. The strip died in 1959.

Smith's comic book appearances included: The Gumps (1918-'31, Landfield-Kuper/Cupples & Leon #2); Merry Christmas from Sears Toyland (1939); Popular Comics (1936-'48, Dell), and The Gumps (1945-'47, Dell).

The work of Sidney Smith is highly recommended.

Some older comics are expensive or difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are good sources. Prices vary; shop around.

Review by Michael Vance

The Goon - From 2002


The Goon #1/22 pgs. & $2.95 from Goon Comics/sold in comic shops and at www.thegoon.com.

Life is messy. It needs a haymaker in the mush sometimes (or what passes for a mush on a ghost) to set thing straight. So believes The Goon, who is a bit mushy himself. He looks like an Italian dockworker smashed in the face by a waffle iron.

Intrigued? You should be piqued, bucko. Cartoonist Eric Powell is one fine writer and artist. Here's proof:

Samuel Loom stole eight million dollars worth of 17th century Spanish doubloons, but erred in stashing them in the old Decaster house (the old haunted Decaster house), therefore making his last mistake and creating an urban legend. The Goon, who is no one's idea of a superhero, wants those doubloons.

Not much of a plot, you say, and certainly no proof of your hypotenuse, er, hypothausse, er, claim, oh reviewer.

True. The proof is in the telling.

Artist Eric Powell uses a simple, bold line, minimal backgrounds, and color to create a dour, twilight atmosphere in this first, untitled Goon story. Each character is a visual treat and Powell's intense apparitions trigger real shudders. The words yuck and cool best describe an occasional exploded but still undead head.



Writer Eric Powell uses a matter-of-fact narration and simple, common dialogue that actually heightens the visual horror of his story. Subtle humor and unexplained anomalies hint at a world not our Earth, and the nuances of his characters are both eccentric and fascinating.

This Eric Powell guy rocks.

Kudos are also owed Powell because readers don't have to wade through sewers of profanity, sexual innuendo and nudity to enjoy The Goon, which comes highly recommended for everyone except preteen kids.

Review by Michael Vance

Gon - From 2002


Sometimes, you have to step out, break away from the norm, and experience something totally different.

This statement applies to comic readers as much as anyone else. Trying new genres, offerings from small press companies, or just delving into something you have never had contact with before will, at the least, give you a greater appreciation for the diversity of the medium; at the most, it may help you discover your next favorite comic creation. That's what happened to me when I picked up a book called Gon.

Already well known in Japan, Gon, a one-foot-tall tyrannosaur, is the creation of Masashi Tanaka.

Turning up in story settings such as the Australian outback, the Savanna, the South American Amazon River, and the wilds of Siberia, Gon experiences all kinds of adventures with the indigenous wildlife of those regions. The diminutive dinosaur also finds himself in more than one role. From watchful protector of orphan wolf cubs against a Siberian tiger, to hungry antagonist, mercilessly thrashing a North American grizzly for his stash of sockeye salmon, Gon's exploits drive home one very important point; this is NOT a "funny animal" book.



A true artist, Tanaka's animal creations display such incredible expression, that stories are clearly told, and messages meaningfully conveyed without the use of any dialogue. His amazing line work, used to create breathtakingly natural scenery and realistically portrayed wildlife, quickly inform the reader that this man is more than just a "comic artist." Yet, all of this incredibly beautiful wildlife and fauna seems not at all out of place when wrapped around a cartoon-like dinosaur.



Eight books have been distributed to date: Gon, Gon Again, Here Today, Gon Tomorrow, Going, Going, Gon, Gon Swimmin', Gon on Safari, Gon Underground, and Gon Color Spectacular.

Some comic dealers will have these books on their racks, or would be glad to order them. To find the comic shop near you, call 1-888-comicbook. Highly recommended for all readers.

Gon, published by Paradox Press, page count and prices vary.

Review by Mark Allen

The Generic Trade Paperback #1 - From 2002


"This is a job…" says the clean-cut young man in superhero tights, "For a taxi!"

Yep, The Generic Trade Paperback (GTP) is parody of the industry that creates and merchandizes, and the fans that sustain, superhero comic books. So what makes this one different from all of the other parodies?

This one is funny.

Oh, it isn't as brilliant as Kurtzman's parodies of Superman, Plastic Man and Wonder Woman, or Grass Green's Wildman and Rubberroy, but GTP is bwahaha funny for anyone steeped in comic books. As example, from the cabbie who drives our superhero (who is a parody of Superman) to a lab confronts the madman:

"Let me get this straight. You're gonna destroy the world"?"

"The entire universe, actually," responds the nutcase.

"Right. The entire universe, just so everyone will know how great you are?"

"That's right," says the scientist.

"But if you destroy everything, who will be left to acknowledge your greatness?"

I will acknowledge his greatness.

Indeed, not only are the characters, writing and premise in GTP tasty, I acknowledge the art is pretty nifty, too, if you like what passes for the "realistic" anatomy and settings that now dominate the artform.

Now that you'd gotten the flavor of the prose and the style of the presentation of GTP, what more do you need to know?

Oh yeah, this superhero lives with his mom even though he is at least 25 years old, gets $5 a week for allowance, and spends it all on comic books. So run down to your closest comic book shop, or turn on your computer, and order.

Highly recommended for comic book geeks, er, fans.

The Generic Trade Paperback #1 (reprinting The Generic Comic Book #s 1-5)/ 104 pgs. & $8.95, Comics Conspiracy Publications/words: Doug Miers; penciller: Amilton Santos/ available in comics shops and at www.comicsconspiracy.com

Review by Michael Vance

The Flash Annual #1 - From 2002


The Flash Annual #1, published by D.C. Comics, 48 pages, original cover price $1.25.

File this one under "great works forgotten." I'm referring to the first ten issues and first annual of the 1987-88 run on D.C. Comics' Flash series, by Mike Baron and Jackson Guice.

Before Mark Waid initiated the concept of the Speed Force, Flash's inter-dimensional power source, Baron developed the concept that Wally West's (a.k.a. The Flash) speed came a hyperactive life force, or "chi." This was highlighted in the first Flash annual, in 1987.

The annual begins with the Flash foiling a hold-up at a Chinese restaurant. Having disarmed the crooks, he snatches the mask off of one of them, only to have him hit the ground, as if struck. Shaken, West confers with Marshall Lau, a former master of the "healing arts," who educates him on how the old masters used to project their internal power towards others, causing injury or death. A far cry from the "Speed Force" idea. Then again, there were quite a lot of things different about this Flash "run." Instead of the speed of light, the Flash had a top speed of about 700 miles per hour. Not an especially altruistic hero, Wally West was a bit of a womanizer. He was even a millionaire for a few issues.

One thing that was not different, however, was the entertainment value. Mike Baron's characterization skills shine brightly in this series. The character of West was not of the cookie-cutter variety, as mentioned above. He came across as just a "regular joe" with super powers, living very much in the shadow of his dead mentor.

Artist Jackson Guice also put his mark on the character. He drew the Flash long and lean, just as you would expect a runner to look. Where many older Flash fans consider Carmine Infantino the character's definitive artist, Guice gets my vote.

This forever-fresh take on a classic character is recommended for those who enjoy great superhero action and characterization.

Review by Mark Allen

Editorial - From 2002


Suspended Animation began publication on January 8th, 1989 in the Broken Arrow Ledger newspaper in Oklahoma. Created by Michael Vance who partnered with R. A. Jones, this weekly review column was based on the mutual belief that comic books and strips were legitimate forms of expression that deserved respect and attention from adults.

The primary goal of Suspended Animation was and is two-fold: to review comics that adults will enjoy, and to place the column in publications read by adults who don't read comic books. By reviewing the best and worst in comics, our intention was to expand the number of people reading this art form.

At its peak, Suspended Animation was featured in more than forty print venues including many mainstream newspapers and several radio stations. Slowly, however, the column began to appear on websites, and all but one newspaper dropped the column. No syndicate has shown interest in the column.

Readership peaked at two million and is now at about 250,000. More than 1,000 titles have been reviewed, and readership continues to grow on the Internet although it has remained static in print publications.

Comics writer Jones was eventually replaced by comics historian Dr. Jon Suter as a partner in the venture. In turn, Suter was replaced by our current co-reviewer, Mark Allen.

After thirteen years of publication, one truth is undeniable. We have all failed to realize our goal. Taken as a whole, the readership of comic books has continued to dwindle, not expand.

Does this mean that Suspended Animation will soon be discontinued?

Nah.

There was a third reason why the column was begun, and will continue.

We love comics and still believe that, within its own limitations, it has the potential for profound insight into humanity, and can provide a whopping dose of entertainment. Both are the real reasons for all forms of human expression.

Here's to another thirteen years of reviews, God willing.

Michael Vance

Dungeon #1 - From 2002


Bedecked with skulls and wielding a gigantic pike, Marvin is a principal guardian of a huge castle of monsters. Ababakar Octoflea is the fearless barbarian sent on a mission to thwart disaster.

Marvin is an alligator. Ababakar is a duck. Dungeon #1 from NBM Publishing ($2.95, 23 pages) is a first class piece of comic book fantasy.

Dungeon is a great deal like Groo The Wanderer, except that it isn't. Both are drawn in a style close to a doodle, but Dungeon is a bit more detailed and imaginative in the depiction of its monsters. Both parody the barbarian sub genre made famous by Robert E. Howard's Conan, the Barbarian. But Dungeon is also a parody of the entire genre of heroic fantasy. Both titles are also well written, but Dungeon lacks the formulistic plots that weaken Groo.

The strength of both series lies in characterization. The characters as written by Lewis Trondeim and drawn by Joann Star in this title are fully fleshed out and intriguing, often playing visual stereotypes against character traits that are very human.

A visual eyesore in the tradition of fantasy monsters, Marvin the alligator is levelheaded, slow to anger, dependable, and heroic. The gigantic quest initiated by Marvin's master will surely meet with success only by the hand, er, claw of Marvin.

The hero apparent of Dungeon, however, is a lying, sniveling coward of a duck thrown into this adventure by his own deceit and ineptness.

And, ah, what a thrilling adventure with swords, sorcerers, hooded threats and peril behind every stone. Bizarre creatures and talking belt-buckles. Is it any wonder that Dungeon is highly recommended for readers who love fantasy?

Review by Michael Vance

Decoy - From 2002


Decoy #s 1-4/29 pgs. and three covers for $2.95 each from Penny-Farthing Press/Buddy Scalers, writer; Courtney Huddleston, artist/sold at comics shops and at www.pfpress.com.

"Alternative" companies have published a large number of above-average and even excellent comic books in the last year. Alternative simply means readers wont find these titles sold on newsstands. Decoy has just increased that number.

This beautifully drawn and well written cosmic story set on Earth is about a cuddly little alien that is a raging monster, raging monsters that are cuddly little aliens, and a naïve, confused cop named Luck. On top of that, this comic looks and reads like a quality animation series for young readers (like the brilliant comic Bone) and will, therefore, be ignored by older readers who like superheroes who clench their fists and teeth, and angst a lot. (Yes, yes, yes, I know angst isn't a verb).

I also know that if older readers ignore this review and Decoy, it will be their loss. Tessa is Luck's partner and girlfriend (although neither of them know it), and becomes a pawn in a web of deception laid by a professor who looks like a mad scientist, but isn't. "He" wants Decoy, the cuddly little alien, bad enough to murder anyone who gets in his way.

If you detect a pattern of role reversals that play against stereotypes in Decoy, then I have done my job as a reviewer. It is almost time for me to ride off into the sunset. That, combined with a series of minor, unanswered questions that add an element of curiosity and intrigue to this series, leaves me with one unalterable conclusion:

Decoy is highly recommended for young readers (parental discretion is required; some monsters are visually quite disturbing) and for readers who are young at heart.

Review by Michael Vance