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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Speed Abater - A Review From 2003

Opinions are a dime a dozen. Here are two of them: The Speed Abater is the best graphic novel of 2002 according to the attendees of the world's largest comics convention in France. The Speed Abater is not the best graphic novel of 2002 according to this reviewer.

The back cover 'blurb' says that The Speed Abater is about a huge, ancient and obsolete boat, a destroyer. It is war, and the ship is dispatched to find an enemy submarine. Three novice sailors descend into the lowest reaches of the tub and discover its gigantic reduction gears.

That summary is true.

That same blurb claims that this is "a deeply human and highly unusual suspenseful tale by an exciting new talent". Uh-huh.

It is human, it is unusual, but it is not suspenseful, and this reviewer is not excited by this new talent. This graphic novel is interesting but flawed. It is ponderous, not suspenseful, and a touch boring. In addition, its art looks like a doodle on a canvas that is greatly enhanced by color. Intentionally or unintentionally, the art looks Impressionistic in style.

If, as suspected by this reviewer, this story is allegorical and one layer concerns Deism (the idea that God wound-up the world like a clock and then left it to run by itself), then The Speed Abater is also a flawed allegory about a flawed theory. The flaw is that the allegory is boring.

Boring is never good in literature.

To his credit, however, the author seems to debunk Deism.

If this review seems harsh, real potential deserves real guidance, and The Speed Abater, even with flaws, is more than worth a read.

The Speed Abater/78 pgs & $13.95 from NBM Publishing/by Christophe Blain/sold in comics/book stores and at

Review by Michael Vance

Solar, Man of the Atom: Alpha and Omega - A Review From 2003

Let's take a trip back to 1994, when the now-defunct Valiant Comics was still alive and kicking, producing fan-favorite material. Much of that work, though ridiculously over-priced in the back-issue market (yes, I thought so THEN, as well), was popular for good reason; it was great comics work. Case in point: Solar, Man of The Atom: Alpha and Omega. This was the "revamped" origin tale of the character originally published by Gold Key Comics in the '60's and '70's.

Phil Seleski was the man who designed the reactor at the Edgewater Advanced Fusion Energy Research Center, a distinction of which he was quite proud…until the day that the containment unit was breached, and radiation flooded the small town of Muskogee, Oklahoma. It also seared the flesh from Seleski's bones, as he sought to shut the reactor down. What it didn't do was kill him. Instead, Seleski was infused with energy, and bestowed great power; power that made him seem almost…godlike.

Writer Jim Shooter crafted a wonderful tale, with a tip of the hat to the original creators of the character, but adding a fresh "coat" of characterization. Possessed of such awesome power, Seleski wants to help people, while the government wants him and his power contained. Yet, underneath it all, there is something scary about Phil Seleski; like a powder keg, waiting to explode.

Artist Barry Windsor-Smith has a realistic rendering style that fits the story very well. While his range of character expressions could have been wider for this story (facial expressions often seem too "subdued"), his sense of anatomy and mechanical draftsmanship lend much to the tale.

I should add that this book is NOT just for fans of super hero comics, as there are no costumes or super villains to be found; just a fun story with a science fiction flavor.

Solar is recommended for those who enjoy action/adventure, sci-fi or superhero tales.

Solar, Man of the Atom: Alpha and Omega, published by Valiant Comics, 80 pages, $9.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Smallville: The Comic - A Review From 2003

The success of the WB television show Smallville is well-known to most, by now. What may not be known, however, is that D.C. has produced a spin-off comic.

Smallville: The Comic fits right into television continuity, following the life of a teen aged Clark Kent and his high-school friends. Containing two different stories, Smallville manages to be big on suspense, action, and even characterization.

In the first story, "Raptor," a young man is caught in an explosion at an excavation of dinosaur bones, which also happens to be infused with kryptonite. As a result, he begins a slow transformation into a human/raptor hybrid, and sets his sights on settling a family grudge with Lex Luthor. Though the story is standard "mutation of the week" fare, which was so common in the TV. series' first season, it is a well-paced story, with very nice artwork by Roy Allan Martinez.

In "Exile of the Kingdom," readers and fans get a peek inside the head of Lex Luthor. Why does the sole offspring of a billionaire choose to make a small Kansas town his home when the big business and nightlife of Metropolis beckon? This is the question posed by Lex's high society friends, as well as his less-than-loving father. Though John Paul Leon's thick lines and rather unexpressive art don't add much to the story, the examination of Lex Luthor, perceived by so many to be a "spoiled rich kid," is well worth the read.

Smallville can be found at comic shops, comic conventions, or online auctions and catalogs. Considering the loyal following of the television show, it's a shame it can't be found on newsstands, as well. Recommended for all readers.

Smallville: The Comic, published by D.C. Comics, 72 pages, $3.95.

Review by Mark Allen

Samson; Judge of Israel - From 2003

I'm a sucker for Biblical events translated to comic form. There have been so few done, and even fewer done well, that when a faithful and skillfully-crafted one sees the light of day, it's worth mentioning. So, I'll mention Samson; Judge of Israel.

Probably one of the most well-known stories in the Bible, the account of Samson, with it's awesome battles, intensity, and theme of redemption, is a perfect fit for a great comic story. Scripter Jerry Novick was obviously aware of this, as he decided to take little to no liberties in, or make any additions too, this engrossing tale. The only real difference from the scriptural copy is the method of telling the story from a first-person account, in Samson's own words. This is where Novick's scripting shines. A wonderful example is found in some of Samson's final words, before toppling the Philistines' temple: "You Philistines, always so full of pride. Never realize that the things most worth seeing are not seen with the eyes." Good stuff, that.

Most notable, however, is the artwork, by penciller Mario Ruiz, as well as inkers Kevin Conrad and Rich Bonk. I was not familiar with Ruiz's work before I saw this book, but, now that I am, I hope to see more.

He has a bold style that fits the character of Samson quite well. I believe it fair to say that his ability to convey action sequences is superior to the average artist in comics, today. Yet, despite an able hand at the more exciting aspects of storytelling, Ruiz also skillfully renders the more reserved beauty of Semadar and Delilah, Samson's love interests.

Kudos also go to the afore-mentioned inkers, who carry out their duties so well that it's nearly impossible to determine two different inking styles.

Samson; Judge of Israel, is highly recommended to all but the youngest of readers. Find it in comic shops, comic conventions, or online auctions.

Samson; Judge of Israel, published by American Bible Society, 72 pages, $7.95.

Review by Mark Allen