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Monday, October 06, 2008

Xenozoic Tales - From 2002

I really like dinosaurs. I think I've mentioned that in this column, before. And, I enjoy well-done comic book material on dinosaurs. So, allow me to introduce you to Xenozoic Tales, for my money, probably the best series ever done on the subject, from both art and storytelling standpoints.

Xenozoic Tales is set 600 years in the future, where dinos roam once more, and souped-up automobiles race alongside them. An odd combination, to be sure, but creator/writer/artist Mark Schultz makes it all work. Main characters Jack Tenrec (expert mechanic and all-around adventurer) and Hannah Dundee are as interesting as any comic characters out there today, and the storylines are fresh and engaging.

While an above-average storyteller, Schultz's real strength lies in his artwork. He is a student of the Golden Age artists, and it shows. His mastery of the human form, mechanical structure, landscape, and, of course, dinosaur physiology, are mutually impressive.

If it were possible for anyone to improve upon the work of such Golden Age greats as Al Williamson, Lou Fine or Wally Wood, Schultz would be the one to do so.The only snag is that Tales is an ongoing story, the newest issue of which came out over a year ago.

Schultz's production has ground to a halt, and whether the entire yarn will ever see the light of day is unclear, but the existing material is well worth searching out.

Xenozoic Tales is highly recommended for any and all who enjoy great storytelling and art. All are affordable, but early issues may be difficult to find.

The series was reprinted under Marvel Comics Epic imprint in the early '90's with the title Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (It even enjoyed a short-lived cartoon series of the same name). Hardcover collections have also been published by Kitchen Sink Press. Try comic shops, comic conventions, and online auctions for best success. Call 1-888-comicbook for the comic shop near you.

Xenozoic Tales, published by Kitchen Sink Press, 32 pages, $2.95.

Review by Mark Allen

(Dark Horse Comics is the first publisher to release a series of X.T. trades.)

The Witch King #1 - From 2002

The Witch King is a tease. Readers will leave the first issue of this new comic book series with more questions than answers. Of course, the secret to a successful storytelling tease is to leave the reader not frustrated and disappointed but wanting the answers.

After defending his castle from siege, Gavriel the Witch King commands his brother be brought from his castle dungeons to face him.

Do you want more? There is no more plot in this issue.

Gavriel and most of the characters look like elves or devils or gnomes, and backgrounds and architecture suggest Earth. Some of the characters are good, some evil, and all live in the past, present or future.

Do you want to know more? There is no more setting or characterization.

The art in The Witch King is dramatic, exaggerating everything from facial expressions to chest muscles. It smacks of fantasy. Do you want…Ah, you get the idea. But do you get enough plot, setting, and characterization to leave one hungry or angry?

Dialog is believable, although sparse, pacing is a bit slow, and almost all characterization is suggested by the look of each character and their actions.

You skirt the question, oh great reviewer.

The art has its own visual personality: big, flamboyant and gaudy. Some panels are so packed with images that it is difficult to tell what is happening. Everyone except the artist reads from left to right, and from up to down, so readers will be forced to work hard to visually follow this story. Forced labor is not good in storytelling.

The verdict, oh reviewer?

Did you notice this review is a tease like The Witch King? It doesn't give a thumbs up or down for this title.

Ain't that the pits.

The Witch King #1/$3.50 & 24 pgs. from Phosphorescent Comics/words: Christian Read; art: Paul Abstruse/ available in comics shops and at

Review by Michael Vance

Way of the Rat - From 2002

In the Imperial City of Shinacea, a thief named Boon Sai Hong (a.k.a. The Jade Rat) enters a humble library, seeking three objects of celestial power: The Book of the Hell of the Hungry Dragons, the Ring of Staffs, and the Phoenix Heart. He finds all but the heart, and barely escapes with his life.

Now, on the run from local king-of-thieves Boss Tiger, and the forces of Judge X'ain, the city's ruler, as well as enduring an obnoxious talking monkey telling him he's been "chosen" to bear the artifacts, Boon wants only to be rid of the scroll, and the ring that now refuses to be removed from his finger.

Will he leave them behind, or accept the role fate has thrust upon him, using them to dispatch the evil which infests the city? And, what happened to the Phoenix Heart? Thus, the stage is set, as chronicled in the first two issues of Way of The Rat, from Crossgen Comics.

The artwork, as is the case with most Crossgen books, is certainly above average. The talents of penciller Jeff Johnson and inker Tom Ryder are merged to produce crisp, clear, action-oriented art, which is perfectly suited to this high-octane story. Johnson also produces very expressive characters, giving them depth and personality. Even the deep, rich colors help set this work apart from other comics fare, thanks to colorist Chris Garcia.

Where the art thrives, however, the story fares not quite as well. Not that a fun read can't be found here, but it's another variation of the "reluctant hero" theme, which has been done to the nth power.

While there is entertainment value to writer Chuck Dixon's character interaction (especially between Boon and his monkey friend), it's still "less-filling" entertainment. I want to be filled up.

Way of The Rat is recommended for those who enjoy good comic art. Find it at comic shops, trade shows, or online comic retailers.

Way of the Rat, published by CrossGeneration Comics, 32 pages, $2.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Ultimate Spider-Man - From 2002

It would be difficult to find anyone who isn't familiar with Spider-Man. I mean, C'MON!! One of the most recognized comic book characters the world over, probably second only to Superman and/or Batman. He is, quite literally, a cultural icon, and has been for at least a generation. It is with these facts that I justify yet another of my superhero comic reviews that so vex those of alternative tastes.

But, seriously, this one is overdue. Ultimate Spider-Man, by Marvel Comics, is one of the best-selling, and most popular Spider-Man comics to be produced in years. When Marvel first announced their "updating" of the character, an attempt to make him appeal to today's younger audience, I was one of the blanching nay-sayers, denying the value and announcing the eventual failure of the endeavor. I've rarely been more pleased to be wrong, and with very good reason.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis has taken a product that had grown incredibly stale over the years, and made it interesting and exciting again, using nothing more than the original mythos, slightly tweaked. His portrayals of today’s teen culture, including speech, attitudes, motivations, etc., are closer than any comic adaptation I have ever seen (after 13 years working with teenagers). The stories are engrossing, and well written. The characters are immensely interesting, with a like-new shine that belies their decades-old history.

The art is no less pleasing. Probably the best modern-age Spider-Man artist ever, Mark Bagely's drawing style is incredibly suited to this book. He demonstrates his mastery of character expression on every page, deftly handling low-key, contemplative scenes. Then, he switches gears, causing the action to practically explode in the reader's face. His visuals are a big part of the book's appeal.

Ultimate Spider-Man is recommended for all ages, as it has helped put the "fun" back into superhero comics.

Find the two trade paperback collections Ultimate Spider-Man: Power and Responsibility and Ultimate Spider-Man: Learning Curve at comic shops, trade shows, bookstores or online catalogs.

Review by Mark Allen

Two Over Ten - From 2002


The reason underlying all forms of art is communication. Then why is it that after two issues of the new comic book Two Over Ten you will not know: 1) what is a "Given"; 2) why some folks posses a Given; 3) why it has special powers; 4) why it is bad that a Given has special powers; 5) why the comic's protagonist releases those Given; 6) who or what is "The Release"; and 7) who are the rightful owners of the Given. The potential length of this list was shortened due to the number of words allowed Suspended Animation. The breadth of the befuddlement given by this list may be measured by the depth of the dandruff produced by scratching your head.

You will know that the young Irish girl chosen by who-knows-who to rid the Earth of Given doesn't really know either. That is not a relief to readers.

You will also know that the art is serviceable, but not outstanding, and does add a layer of visual under-standing missing from the plot, prose and characterizations.

Oddly enough, the backup feature in both issues, "Far From Saints", is well written and well drawn.

For those tender readers who think this reviewer enjoys criticizing, let me make one thing perfectly clear. It is not pleasant to write a negative review because I have written comic books and know how difficult it is to even get one into print. It is agonizing for me to do so. But to do less would be less than honest and make questionable the honesty of opinions expressed about the hundreds of other titles reviewed in the past in Suspended Animation.
And, ultimately, you would not given a hoot about SA or Two Over Ten.

Two Over Ten #s 1 & 2/$2.95 & 26 pgs. ea. from Second 2 Some Studios/ story: Myatt Murphy; pencils: Chris Rhoades/sold in comics shops.

Review by Michael Vance.

Comics Legend Dik Browne - From 2002

Dik Browne was Richard Arthur and Hi and Lois and Hagar the Horrible. He was also a Comics Legend.

Born Richard Arthur in 1917, he was initially employed as a copy boy at the New York Journal newspaper, then as an artist for Newsweek, before starting a career in advertising. But a publisher who enjoyed his art in Boy's Life magazine brought Browne and cartoonist Mort (Beetle Bailey) Walker together and changed both of their lives. With Walker on scripts and Browne handling art, they created the comic strip Hi and Lois in 1954. The family oriented feature bore the stamp of both of their personal visions, and quickly won great popularity.

Browne created Hagar the Horrible, a comic strip featuring an uneasy melding of a Viking warrior and a husband worried by his family, in 1973. Looking remarkably like his creator, Hagar became even more successful than Hi and Lois.

The prose of both of his comic strips offered a light humor bordering on whimsy, and was always focused on a punch line instead of story continuity. Dialog was direct.

Browne's art was simple, using minimal backgrounds or settings that directed a reader's attention to his characters. In fact, Hi and Lois and Hagar were character driven in both word and art, which is a trademark of all successful literature.

Dik Browne won two Reubens and the Segar Award for his comic strip work, and was president of the National Cartoonist Society in 1965. He died in 1989.

Browne's comic book work included:Hi & Lois/Four Color(#s 683, 774, 955, Dell), Hi & Lois/Comics Reading Library (#11, King) Hi & Lois (1965-'71, Charlton), Hagar the Horrible/Comics Reading Library (#9, King). Many paperback compilations of both strips were published as well.

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.

The work of Dik Browne is recommended.

Review by Michael Vance