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Monday, September 29, 2008

Ripley's Believe It or Not! - From 2002

Ripley's Believe It or Not! #1, published by Dark Horse Comics, 24 pages, $2.99.

I don't normally review a comic after seeing only one issue, but in the case of Ripley's Believe It or Not, by Dark Horse Comics, I'm willing to make an exception. Why? Primarily due to the fact that the format of the book allows it; self-contained stories, with no cliffhanger endings or ongoing character development. Additionally, because I believe Dark Horse has produced a great comic.

What's good about this book? First of all, the stories are of actual events.

Throughout the '40's and '50's, there were many a comic series dedicated to numerous amazing (and some not so) events of history. Today, however, such works seem to be extinct, at least in the mainstream.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like the escapism of fiction as much as anyone, but I also believe that the medium of comic books is a great way to relay historical information. There is, indeed, something to the saying that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. It's certainly the case in this comic, and, thanks to script man Haden Blackman, the content between the covers also tends to be more entertaining than many offerings of today's comic industry.

The art also helps make Ripley's attractive. Cary Nord, who has done much work in the superhero genre, does a masterful job of dramatically illustrating the stories, in glorious black and white, no less.

"Glorious?" You betcha! Not many artists can pull off the "colorless" work, but Nord not only does it with fine depth, his panels are never obscured; the reader doesn't have to "study" the picture to figure out what's happening.

Tales of "history's mysteries" (Amelia Earhart, D.B. Cooper, the crew of the Mary Celeste) have never looked so good.

Ripley's Believe It or Not is suggested for all ages. (Insert a slightly "breathy" Jack Palance voice; "Believe it…,or Not.")

Look for this comic at comic shops, trade shows and online catalogs.

Review by Mark Allen

Rail - From 2002

It is the future, and the earth is still reeling from a number of past conflagrations known as the "Iron Wars". The wars were orchestrated by the "Rail Barons", eight powerful individuals who control the primary means of transport in this part of the world (rails, duh!) and have served to totally dishearten the population of Mortal City.

A leader must be found to rally the people and defeat this evil alliance, and it appears ranger Edgar Wallace is chosen to find that champion, when a mysterious woman rises out of the lake and bequeaths to him a powerful sword.

Another retelling of the Aurthurian legend? Yes, and so Rail starts with one strike against it for some readers, as they will perceive it as not being "original", but, simply derivative of what has been done before. And, while I don't believe borrowing creative concepts automatically dooms a story, there is, unfortunately, nothing terribly original here, save the incredible artwork of creator Dave Dorman. The story reads like a very straightforward, post-apocalyptic tale, though the revelation of Excaliber (it's never called by that name) is a surprise.

Rail was first solicited two years before it finally saw light of day; I know, because I waited for it on pins and needles, being a fan of Dorman's work. The problem with this is that it would be understandable for fans to avoid it, for concern that they may begin a story, only to have the end never see print.

The art of Rail is, of course, top-notch. Dorman is one of the most accomplished artists in comics today, and it's nice to see him do an entire story for a change, rather than just a cover for a Star Wars comic. The art, however, is the sole reason I recommend this work.

Rail is recommended, and can be found at your local comic shop, or by logging on to

Rail is published by Image Comics, with 48 pages at $5.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Oddballz - From 2002

Ou la la! Oddballz reprints an introspective, witty style of humor first published in Poisson Pilote that offers a French perceptive on life. Two serialized features dominate even as new "strips" are promised for later editions. Although writers and artists are uncredited, both features are not without merit.

A cat, dog and rabbit pad onto the paper stage of "McConey Foils A Scheme", written and drawn by Lewis Trodheim.

Wait a minute, dude. You said the creators were uncredited! I queried the publisher by email, Einstein.

As was stated before such a rude interruption, cat, dog and rabbit debate swimming pool etiquette, the complexities of relationships, and accidentally discover a wad of money in the first installation of "McConey". Although the break between this and the future second installation is abrupt and clumsy, believable dialog, interesting characters and engaging art recommend the first half of Oddballz.

"Astronauts of the Future" is written by Trodheim and drawn by Manu Larcenet. Therein, two preteen kids are convinced that all human beings are otherworldly aliens or robots.

Hold on, dude. That is not an outrageous premise. Most Americans think the French are otherworldly aliens or robots.

Gilbert, the new student in school, and Martina, who dominates him, are also extremely believable as Trodheim explores the awkward relationships between young boys and girls. "Astronauts" is full of believable dialog and characters and entertaining art.

The art in both features is abstract and cartoonist, more representational than realistic. And the art in both clearly illustrates one of the wonderful distinctions of comic books and strips when compared to other media. Although the art in both Astronauts and McConey is cartoonish, it is also dramatically different, offering a variety of visual style impossible in film, television and prose.

Viva la difference, or however the French say it!

Oddballz #1/$2.95 & 24 pgs from NBM Pub/sold in comics and book stores and at

Review by Michael Vance

Mystic: Rite of Passage - From 2002

Unintentional is not a flattering word. It implies error or oversight, not excellence. But it is also descriptive of Mystic: Rite of Passage, a collection of the first seven issues of an excellent new series from Crossgen Comics.

Uninformed is why unintentional is only implied in this review. Only the writer and artist know their purpose, and apologies are offered if this uninformed review is unintentionally wrong. For you see, Mystic sends mixed messages.

It is written for a young audience and drawn for more sophisticated readers.

Young, beautiful and silly, Giselle has devoted herself to hedonism. Genevieve, her older, beautiful and serious sibling, has dedicated her life to the study of occult power. But during Gen's initiation into a clutch of sorcerers, Giselle mistakenly receives the arcane powers meant for sis.

Yes, this series is set on a world where magic is as common as cute, and therein lies the rub.

Picture, as did the artist, a hellish, shark-fanged demon that, while trying to abduct Giselle, pauses to say: "I'm not a bad guy! No more so than the next infernal minion. But I got a family to feed, so..."

Picture this mixed message over and over, with minor variations. Cute. Serious. Cute. Serious. Cute. Serious. You have pictured Mystic.

And mixed messages lead to mixed feelings, like finding out the beautiful, sexy woman who just winked at you actually has a hair in her eye.

Mystic looks like an exciting, suspenseful, fantasy novel and reads like a sanitized, Saturday morning TV cartoon. That is why it gets a mixed review.

Review by Michael Vance

Mystic: Rite of Passage/$19.95 & 182 pgs./writer: Ron Marz; principal artist: Brandon Peterson/available wherever comics are sold and at

Maxim: Piper Crossing #1 - From 2002

Maxim: Piper Crossing #1/13 pgs. & $2.95? from Comicaze/story: Scott Large; art: Dove McHargue.

Some guys or dolls will go to any length to break into the field of comic books. Some writers and artists will produce samples pages and submit them to publishers by mail or at comic book conventions. Others will self-publish their work. A few even create a complete and professional sample comic book at their local photocopy shop like Maxim: Piper Crossing.

Ulysses S. Briggs is a hard-knuckled reporter at the New York Sun newspaper. Aubrey Merlin is an eccentric scientist, and the "Old Man" is a renegade archeologist. Together, they form a band of '30s adventurers in the grand pulp magazine tradition of Doc Savage and Weird Tales: super men, monsters and cults. What a soup. Umm, Umm good.

Indiana Jones beware! Ulysses Briggs is here!!

Good plot and dialogue means a trip to a weird, remote town on the edge of a swamp and madness. Interesting characterization aided by the shorthand of archetypes, a crisp pace and the tiniest hint of humor make for a rollicking bit of adventure. Of special fun for those who remember "operatives" in pulp magazines like Doc Savage and The Shadow is the use of 'fellow' Sun reporter Joan Weathers.

Good art means excellent visual storytelling, distinctive style and an uncanny understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of creating black and white interior pages. Of special note is using reversed art (like photographic negatives) to wrench Briggs and cast from this into an alien reality.

Maxim is recommended to publishers and readers. If you are interested in hiring Scott or Dove, or in buying Maxim, send an email to or to

Review by Michael Vance