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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Tom Strong - From 2002

Raised on a tropical island by his father, a brilliant scientist, Tom Strong was meant to be the perfect human specimen. Separated from the influences of society, and conditioned to be physically and mentally superior, he grows into a walking, talking, villain-beating bastion of scientific achievement.

With the addition of his beautiful island-native wife, and feisty teenage daughter, they become Millennium City's protectors and beloved first family. Such is the premise of Tom Strong: Book One, the trade paperback collection of the first seven issues of the series published by America's Best Comics.

Series writer Alan Moore may be one of the most prolific talents in the industry. This is the same man who wrote some of the creepiest, and most macabre comics ever done with his Swamp Thing work in the eighties; yet Tom Strong is almost...light-hearted, despite the malevolent inclinations of some of the villains.

Moore has also created something that could be enjoyed by long-time comic fans, as well as new readers.

Those familiar with comics' Golden Age will see it's influences within the pages. Those who are not, however, will simply find a great story with self-contained history, all laid out before them.

This book also features some of the most talented artists in comics today, which makes it a veritable feast for the eyes. Arthur Adams, Gary Frank, Dave Gibbons, and Jerry Ordway all lend their talents to help round out this spectacular collection.

Oh, and the series' regular artist, Chris Sprouse, reveals his spectacular talent, as well. I enjoy Chris' style, especially the way he represents the main character; more thick and barrel-chested, the way some of the Silver Age artists used to draw Superman. This gives the character a more realistic appearance than most super heroes, drawn like cut/ripped body-builders.

Tom Strong: Book One can be found at comic shops, some bookstores, trade shows, and online catalogs.

This book is highly recommended.

Tom Strong: Book One, published by America's Best Comics, 206 pages, $14.95.

Review by Mark Allen

John Byrne's Man of Steel - From 2002

Superman is an American icon. In fact, there is probably no better-recognized fictional character in the world. So, considering the fact that Krypton's favorite son has had at least one monthly comic published on a regular basis for about the last sixty-three years, it might be called ludicrous to attempt to pinpoint the finest Superman work EVER.

Well, leave it to me, because I know what it is. D.C. Comics' The Man of Steel reprints the six-issue mini-series in which writer/artist John Byrne redefined the super-powered Kryptonian for a new generation of comic-book readers.

Byrne took the burned-out (at least on the readers), demi-god, and turned him into a less powerful, but more three-dimensional character, with much more appealing and stimulating supporting characters and surroundings. Gone was the near-divine "I'll move this planet off it's axis myself" power, that made every threat or villain appear a mere momentary bother, if not a joke altogether. The new Superman, though stocked up in the brawn department, was much more of a thinking man's hero. He had to be, as it was not unusual for Supes to have his head handed to him by a villain on the same power-level.

Byrne's art style was perhaps the most suitable ever for D.C.'s flagship character. He seemed to be able to capture the strength and confidence of the character, while adding a certain fun, playful factor that Superman had not had since his inception. The range of emotions/expressions of Byrne's characters also benefited the book, allowing quite a lot of different types of stories to be told.

Most appealing about The Man of Steel, however, was the sense of "newness" it seemed to have. Origin, powers, stories, cast, it all seemed very fresh. No small task, considering the character's afore-mentioned history.

The Man of Steel is available wherever comics are sold. Easier to store, more pleasurable to read, and cheaper in trade-paperback form. For all ages.

The Man of Steel, published by D.C. Comics, 152 pages, $7.50.

Review by Mark Allen

Sojourn - From 2002

An epic is defined, in part, by Webster's as "having the nature of an epic; specifically, a) heroic; grand; majestic; imposing." The first Sojourn trade paperback collection, released by CrossGeneration Comics, is all of these.

The still-young Crossgen is no stranger to success in the comic market, and with this contribution, reprinting the first seven issues, by writer Ron Marz, and artists Greg Land and Drew Geraci, they continue their tradition of offering quality comic material in a market starving for such fare.

The villainous warlord Mordath is resurrected three hundred years after nearly conquering the world of Quin. Now, his evil is once again spread across the planet by his brutish troll armies, but without the help of Ayden, the savior who first halted his advance and is nowhere to be found.

Now, two lone warriors seek to stem Mordath's malevolent tide of destruction, aided by a mysterious woman, who imparts to them a mission; summon Ayden once again, that Mordath may be defeated.

A fairly straightforward story, but with an uncommonly heroic protagonist; Arwyn, who lost her husband and child to Mordath's reign of terror, now seeks revenge. Her quest, however, begins to pose certain questions about her motivation, and who she is, after all she loves has been stripped away.

Kudos to Marz, who accomplishes Arwyn's engaging character, as well as the especially disturbing presence of Mordath.

Land's pencils, along with Geraci's ink work provide the breathtaking visuals that help lend the term "epic" to the product. From the imposing heroic nature of Ayden, to the incredibly simulated chaos and horror of the battle scenes, the wonder of this story is accomplished due, in no small part, to the work of these two men.

Sojourn is recommended for those who enjoy epic storytelling, and beautiful artwork. Find Sojourn at your local comic shop, some bookstore chains, comic conventions, or online auctions and catalogs. To find the comic shop near you, call 1-888-comicbook.

, published by CrossGeneration Comics, 188 pages, $19.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Secret Messages - From 2002

Flying Saucers are a silly pleasure of mine. They don't exist, but I love them. Film Noir gumshoe detectives fall into the same category. So, how do I resist Secret Messages, the newest title in a four-story-arc comic book about a stubble-jawed detective in search of 1950s spaceships and aliens?

I don't.

Secret Messages joins Silent Invasion, Suburban Nightmares and New Frontier as my latest silly, and highly entertaining, pleasure.

The visual answer to why is its art. There is nothing like it being published today, and that in itself is an amazing accomplishment. Artist Michael Cherkas has created a moody, minimalistic and chunky style with thick lines and broad areas of contrasting black that is entertaining, technically flawless, and unimitated by his peers. In addition, Cherkas seems to effortlessly recapture the decade of the 1950s through illustrating its fashions, architecture, and gadgets.

The other answer to why is its plot, characterization and '50s dialog, all by Larry Hancock. Ya see, in 1959, a reporter named Matt Sinkage tried to kill a candidate for the position of President of the United States. He believed the candidate was a pawn of a clandestine government organization that "was about to allow an alien invasion of Earth".

But FBI agent Phil Housley killed Sinkage. Now, it is 1965, Housley is a PI, and guess what's back.

Flying saucers.

Phil is hired to find a missing husband. But what he may find instead was shot by his own Roscoe (that's Film Noir for gun) in 1959.

If this sounds like television's X-Files, this story arc both predates that series, and lacks the confusion and silliness that has plagued X-Files for many seasons.

Comic books don't get much better than this. That is why Secret Messages and its sister titles are highly recommended.

Secret Messages #s 1 & 2/$2.95 & 23 pgs. from NBM Pub./available in comics and book shops and at

Review by Michael Vance

Scout: The Four Monsters - From 2002

Emanuel Santana is troubled. Troubled with visions, and spirits who visit him in the form of animals, and monsters which only he can see, and whom he must kill.

Who wouldn't be troubled? As a young Apache man on a mission to rid a futuristic world of four legendary beasts disguised as humans, while simultaneously dodging military authorities, he certainly has a full plate. I'm referring to the work entitled Scout: The Four Monsters, by creator, writer and artist Timothy Truman.

Released in a trade paperback collection of the first seven issues in 1988, Scout was set in the close of the twentieth century. While this futuristic America was a bleak place, it was, refreshingly, not due to nuclear war. Instead, it was a U.S. shut off from most of the world, the once-great nation's allies having bled her dry of resources and turned their backs. Now, only a few of the rich fare sumptuously, while the majority starve and waste away.

This is not an uplifting story, even considering a somewhat positive ending. In the beginning, Santana is a hero by compunction, driven by his spirit guide, or "Gahn." He appears to the other characters, and even, at times, to the reader, to be less than "stable." Toward the end, however, the character begins to evolve, to act for deeper reasons; not altruistic, but something like it. Truman keeps the tone dark and morose mostly through use of his distinctive art style.

Though I have never been a big fan of his art, he has gained an impressive following over the years, beginning with this work. This, coupled with the fact that Scout is far removed from typical comic fare, makes it recommended for older readers. Intense violence and some nudity rule it out for children.

Look for this book at your local comic shop, comic book conventions, or online catalogs or auctions. For the comic shop near you, call 1-888-comicbook.

Scout: The Four Monsters, published by Eclipse Books, 136 pages, $14.95.

Robin Hood and the Minstrel - From 2002

Robin Hood and the Minstrel, published by Joe Gentile and Dave Ulanski, from Moonstone, 48 pages, $5.95.

Allan-a-dale is a "humble minstrel" who has lost the most important thing in his life; his true love. His fair Ellen, to whom his whole heart belongs, has been promised to wed her father's less-kind, and much less-youthful, overlord Sir Stephen of Trent. Just when all seems hopeless, however, Allan makes the acquaintance of Robin Hood and his merry band of (more or less) do-gooders.

As Robin and his crew hear the minstrel's tale, sympathy gives way to resolve, and resolve to a plan to rescue Ellen from her fate, and have her joined with her beloved Allan. This, by the way, gives way to a great example of comics entertainment for the reader. Paul Storrie crafts an engrossing, romantic, and just plain FUN tale within these pages. The characters of Robin Hood and assorted merry men don't come off as stale, despite their longevity and the number of mediums in which they have appeared. The intended groom, Sir Stephen, is made into a finely dis-likeable villain, as the "old man" with his eye on the "young girl," and his mind on one thing; and it's NOT love.

Rich Gulick handles the pencils in a very clean-lined, fine style. His Robin has a playful, almost impish quality about him, which, I believe, is the way the bowman should be portrayed. Inker Steve Bird and colorists Ken Wolak and Dawn Groszewski nicely round out an art team that ultimately makes Robin Hood as much fun to look at as it is to read.

Another selling point, I believe, is the fact that the story is self-contained. No need to buy a second issue, no "bait" to get the reader to purchase a "sister" title. Ideal for those tempted to start reading comics.

Robin Hood and the Minstrel is highly recommended for all ages. Look for it at comic shops, comic conventions, online catalogs, or at

Review by Mark Allen