Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Coffin Review

The Coffin
Oni Press
Softcover Trade Paperback
112 pages
$11.95 (2001)
152 pages
$21.99 (2010) Hardcover
ISBN 9781929998166

Contributors: Phil Hester, Mike Huddleston, and Gary Peterson

Reprints: The Coffin #1-4 (of 4)

Synopsis: Dr. Ashtar Ahmad is obsessed with his research - to find the key to eternal life by capturing the soul before it can depart completely from the body.  His work causes him to neglect the other important aspects of his life - his research assistant wife and young daughter. 

Funding is provided by an incredibly aged and maniacal corporate magnate with the same goal of securing eternal life by any means possible.  Sending agents to secure Ahmad's research the good doctor is mortally wounded and his only hope - a prototype of his soul-sealing creation.  Now the doctor will learn the hardest lesson of all when the tycoon kidnaps his daughter as ransom to recreate the secret to eternal life (or death)!  Mhwa-ha-ha!!! (couldn't resist)

Pros: Decent art by Huddleston, good writing by Hester, interesting concept

Cons: Black and white, only four issues

Mike Tells It Straight: This story borrows heavily from Swamp Thing with a researcher and his wife working in a secluded research facility, they're both killed in an attempt to steal his work, and he uses it to be reborn as a powerful creature exacting revenge on his corporate overlords.  This similarity is no surprise since Hester worked on Swamp Thing near the end of the second series.  The message of the book is to cherish life and those who love you before it is too late.  Overall a good sci-fi/horror story with decent art and a compelling concept. 

2010 saw an anniversary hardcover (released by IDW) with 40 pages of bonus materials including a foreword by Guillermo Del Toro, story from the Oni Press Color Special 2001, sketchbook, pinups, covers, and the original concept proposal entitled "The Corpse"

TO BUY and Recommendations:

The Blackburne Covenant Review

The Blackburne Covenant
Dark Horse Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
104 pages
$12.95 (2003)
ISBN 9781569718896

Contributors: Fabian Nicieza, Stefano Raffaele, Elena Sanjust, Mike Heisler, and David Nestelle

Reprints: The Blackburne Covenant #1-4 (of 4)

Synopsis: Richard Kaine goes from publishing house drone to international sensation after his first book Wintersong is critically acclaimed.  Now he is pursued not only by fans, but a clandestine organization willing to kill him to learn whether his book is based on truth or fiction. 

Unfortunately, Richard doesn't even know the truth himself and keeps having visions of a plant covered world.  Who are the Blackburne Covenant and what secret did they erase from human history many centuries ago?

Pros: Mildly interesting and eco-friendly concept

Cons: Art is a little rough, story seems rushed

Mike Tells It Straight: I get the feeling Nicieza and Raffaele planned a much grander story than the meager four issues of this mini-series.  They probably had six to eight issues plotted out, but had to cut it down at the last minute.  This story is definitely not The Davinci Code and just wasn't very compelling.  The plant-based theme would have been an excellent Swamp Thing story, but doesn't make it as a solo series.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer Review

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer
Slave Labor Graphics
Graphic Novel
128 pages
$10.95 (2009)
ISBN 9781593621766

Contributors: Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins

Synopsis: Pinocchio is a wooden puppet made from enchanted wood and lives with his maker, Gepetto.  One night Gepetto is attacked and killed by vampires as Pinocchio watches in horror.  He tells a lie and his growing nose impales a vampire killing it. 

It's been years since Gepetto's death and Pinocchio is a hardened (wood puppet) vampire slayer.  He seeks the vampires responsible for Gepetto's death and attempts to warn the town of the impending danger of the undead.  No one believes him as the undead descend upon the town.  Lies are told, stakes are thrown, vampires die in bloody flames - what unspeakable horror waits for Pinocchio when he uncovers Gepetto's chilling fate? 

Pros: Pinocchio tells a lie, then his nose grows and he breaks it off to stake a vampire - that's the only cool thing, but it gets old *sigh*
Cons: Black and white, art/writing are very poor, it's too long, corny

Mike Tells It Straight: Yeah, I expected this book to be pretty bad after taking one look at the cover - it didn't disappoint.  The art and writing were weak, the story was too long, and the creators tried to validate their story by basing it on the original Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.  What's worse - there's a sequel.  Do not succumb to curiosity.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gloom Cookie Vol. 1 Review

Gloom Cookie Vol. 1
Slave Labor Graphics
Softcover Trade Paperback
240 pages
$18.95 (2001)
ISBN 9780943151342

Contributors: Serena Valentino, Ted Naifeh, Tristan Crane, Nikki Coffman, Eric Russell, and foreword by Caitlin Kiernan

Reprints: Gloom Cookie #1-6

Synopsis: Lex is a good goth girl - she dresses up in her best clothes and goes to the club every night to find her soulmate.  Unfortunately, she thinks her soulmate is Max, who is basically using her as a doormat (and wears a dress) while he searches for his own soulmate. 

The club is filled with all sorts of interesting goth people and we get to see them fumble through social situations.  Some of them are not entirely what they seem and harbor deep, dark secrets.
  • Lex - adorable goth clubgoer looking for love in all the wrong places - specifically Max
  • Max - Lex's lover who is looking for love in all the wrong places while stringing Lex along
  • Sebastian - handsome young man with a secret - there's a monster living under his bed
  • Chrys - spunky girl with eyes for Sebastian, she's friends with Lex has a secret of her own
  • Isabella - she's the reigning queen of the club and everyone is her follower, Damion is part of her clique, manipulative and evil
  • Damion - Isabella's confidante and a brooding soul
  • Carnival Macabre - a bizarre carnival filled with freaks who have formed a semblance of a family
Pros: Great representation of the goth scene during the late '90s, incredibly accurate characterizations, nice art by Naifeh (deceptively simple), got some major street cred from other creators including Neil Gaiman, good balance of story with humorous asides, lots of neat extras
Cons: Black and white, everyone has pointy little claw/fingers, there were several typos - especially using 'your' instead of 'you're'

Mike Tells It Straight: If you've ever painted your nails black, were an avid Nine Inch Nails listener, or hung out at the coffee shop then Gloom Cookie will bring you back to the dark, angst-ridden days of misguided youth.  Serena Valentino's portrayal of the goth scene is so accurate it's more appropriate to call it an anthropological study than a comic book.  I was apprehensive to read an SLG goth comic based on some of their other one-note, strip-style comics (like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Squeee!, or Milk and Cheese), but was pleasantly surprised at the characterization and pacing.  It's a great portrayal of various goth archetypes from the club scene (Vermillion is the funniest) with a fairy tale undercurrent, and has a story!  Take a trip down the darkling lane of nostalgia with Gloom Cookie!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Smax Review

DC Comics - America's Best Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
136 pages
$12.99 (2006)
$19.95 (2004) Hardcover
ISBN 9781401202903

Contributors: Alan Moore, Zander Cannon, Andrew Currie, Richard Friend, Todd Klein, Ben Dimagmaliw

Reprints: Smax #1-5 (of 5)

Synopsis: Jeff Smax and his partner Robin "Toybox" Slinger from the Top 10 precint visit Jeff's homeworld in a fringe dimension where science doesn't exist and magic is the status quo.  Here fairy tale creatures live in a regular, bureaucratic society - where you need a permit to go on a quest to slay dragons, jobs are threatened by cheap Oompa-Loompa foreign labor, and industrial toffee sludge is dumped into rivers.  It's not somewhere over the rainbow you would want to live.

"Jaafs" returns for his uncle's funeral and is afraid he'll get sucked back into a life he tried to escape by coming to Neopolis many years ago.  He was a legendary dragon slayer and left some unfinished business behind involving an omniscient, iniquitous dragon.  Can Jeff face his greatest fear (and the origin behind the white hand print on his chest) to save his loved ones from a gruesome death at the hands of a malevolent force of nature?

Pros: Moore's writing is excellent - you can tell he enjoyed writing this book, portrayal of the fairy tale world is very amusing, sexual tension between Smax/Toybox is well played, continues Top 10 tradition of having cameos from different fictional characters (like Tron, Akira, Metropolis, Simpsons)

Cons: Cannon's art is a bit cartoony, Smax is very immature which seems a bit out of character with his tough cop persona from Top 10 (although Moore writes it, so it must be true), there is some implied incest which figures prominently in the plot

Mike Tells It Straight: Don't let Cannon's cartoony art fool you - this is a book for grownups.  All the cute cuddly characters from the bedtime stories your mama told you are here, but they ain't so cute and cuddly when they're serving you mermaid soup for lunch or you're walking through an alley filled with the spirits of semi-damned children.  I found this story delightfully fun, but I have a weird sense of humor.  It was definitely cool seeing the Top 10 characters again, but the book is a sidestep from the original series.  The art style is completely different along with the tone - it's light-hearted, but with a sharp, pointy edge here and there.  Great ending, but seriously not for kids.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Beyond! Review

Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
144 pages
$14.99 (2008)
$19.99 (2007) Hardcover
ISBN 9780785120131

Contributors: Dwayne McDuffie, Scott Kolins, and Paul Mounts

Reprints: Beyond! #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: A group of heroes/villains are abducted from New York on a space transport to Battleworld - the planet used by the Beyonder to test and observe superheroes.  The group includes Spider-Man, Venom, Kraven II, The Hood, The Wasp, Hank Pym, Medusa of the Inhumans, Gravity, and Firebird.  They are told "Kill your enemies and you can have your heart's desire!"

After a rough crash-landing on the planet they meet Michael Collins, the original Deathlok.  He has been witness to countless groups brought to the planet with no survivors after each battle.  Something isn't right on Battleworld and the group of heroes/villains must uncover the mystery despite their vast differences in character.  Not everyone will get home alive!

Pros: Story has lots of twists and deceptions to uncover, Kolins art is unique and somewhat interesting, ending is pretty wild

Cons: Story gets a bit convoluted, Kolins art style may not be for everyone, mostly D-list characters - watered down version of Secret Wars

Mike Tells It Straight: This book is only superficially related to the epic Secret Wars storylines from the 1980s.  Whereas the original tale had A-list characters battling it out - this story is filled with a mediocre cast and Spider-Man.  Readers need to know some history on the characters in order to get the story completely, for instance: the Venom symbiote is now attached to the Scorpion, Firebird and Hank Pym have some romantic feelings which is awkward since The Wasp is his ex-wife, et cetera.

Gravity had a major role and his story progresses from the events of this series when McDuffie writes The New Fantastic Four.  If you know and like the characters the story isn't half bad, but overall it doesn't get a high recommendation.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Living with the Dead Review

Living with the Dead
Dark Horse Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
88 pages
$9.95 (2008)
ISBN 9781593079062

Contributors: Mike Richardson, Ben Stenbeck, Clem Robins, and covers by Richard Corben

Reprints: Living with the Dead #1-3 (of 3)

Synopsis: A zombie plague has destroyed society and the only humans left are those who can adapt to the new status quo - blending in with the undead and staying unnoticed.  Two such survivors are "Whip" and "Straw" who live together and watch each others backs.  They're also a two-person rock band playing incredibly loud and obnoxious music from their rooftop every night. 

During a foraging expedition they rescue an attractive young lady named Betty.  She throws a major wrench into the two bosom buddies' survival plans for obvious reasons (i.e. she could be the last living girl on the planet). Now it's two guys, a girl, and seven billion living dead!

Pros: Funny take on zombie apocalypse aftermath, covers by Corben, good ending

Cons: Very quick read, story has some holes - how is playing loud rock music from your rooftop not going to attract every nearby zombie right to your doorstep?

Mike Tells It Straight: This story is a light take on the old favorite 'zombie apocalypse' theme.  It's meant to be more comedy and less horror than your typical zombie tale (i.e. not taken too seriously).  Overall it was simple, quick and funny although a few of the plot points felt glaringly wrong.  I'd place this squarely in the middle of the pack for zombie stories.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Pro. Review

The Pro.
Image Comics
Graphic Novel
56 pages
$5.95 (2002) OGN
80 pages
$14.95 (2004) Hardcover
$7.99 (2007) Softcover
ISBN 9781582408507

Contributors: Garth Ennis, Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Paul Mounts

Synopsis: A hooker is granted super powers.  She's a struggling mom with an infant son and walks the streets at night to make ends meet.  One morning she wakes up with powers and gets recruited into a super team uncannily similar to the Justice League

They are shocked and appalled by her behavior during superhero fights and back at the lair.  She calls them hypocrites for perpetuating inane superpowered battles while completely ignoring everyday problems in society. 

Pros: Signature offensive comedy by Ennis, decent art by Conner, hilarious concept, some very funny situations, mild nudity and a superhero mystery solved - "What if Superman got head?"

Cons: She is not a good mother, some jokes are in very poor taste - be warned!  Why is there a period at the end of The Pro.?

Mike Tells It Straight: Ennis crafts a superhero satire piece meant to offend and amuse in equal measures.  Remimiscent of Hitman in terms of cartoony art, but mature sexual themes akin to Preacher.  His lampooning of the JLA is particularly funny and this book is a quick laugh.  You'll need a high tolerance for crude humor and it still may not be enough. 

Quick note on editions - the first edition of this (back in 2002) was a regular graphic novel and had a few reprints.  The 2004 edition is an oversized hardcover with a bonus backup story "The Pro meets The Ho" and 2007 was softcover with the backup story included.  Yes, you want the newer edition with the backup story, but buy the paperback version (the hardcover is rare and goes for serious $$$ these days) 

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Complete Major Bummer Super Slacktacular Review

The Complete Major Bummer Super Slacktacular
Dark Horse Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
384 pages
$29.99 (2011)
ISBN 9781595825346

Contributors: John Arcudi, Doug Mahnke, Tom Nguyen, and Carla Feeny

Reprints: Major Bummer #1-15 (of 15)

Synopsis: Lou Martin goes from 90-pound slacker weakling to 400-pound slacker studmuffin overnight thanks to the meddling of two alien college students.  They're studying the phenomena of superheroes in Earth culture and imbue a group of ordinary humans with extraordinary powers.  Unfortunately, they're completely inept and give Lou powers instead of Martin Louis, young lawyer and philanthropist.

Now Lou is saddled with an incredible physique, genius-level intellect (only accessible through his subconscious mind because he is so lazy), amazing recuperative powers, and uncanny magnetism for trouble.  All he wants to do is play video games and drink Mountain Dew Code Red, while the other folks similarly granted powers attempt to recruit him into their half-baked superhero plans. 

Even worse, the aliens take offense when Lou won't give back the powers they gave him (because it would kill him) and grant a bunch of low-life criminals powers so they can kick his ass!

Pros: Great writing/art by Arcudi/Mahnke in every single issue, funny premise, good characters/humor, lots of extras including sketchbook

Cons: Main character is not entirely compelling, self-contained since it's a creator-owned book with zero DCU interaction

Mike Tells It Straight: Originally published by DC Comics in the late 1990s this short-lived series finally gets a collected edition over ten years later.  Arcudi and Mahnke put a lot of effort into this cult favorite, but it just never achieved a sustainable level of sales to keep going.  I believe its creator-owned status and lack of interaction with the rest of the DCU really killed the book during a time when superhero hype was at its highest.  Comedy is incredibly hard to accomplish in comics (despite the name!) and this book was genuinely funny.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Secret Review

The Secret
Dark Horse Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
112 pages
$14.95 (2007)
ISBN 9781593078218

Contributors: Mike Richardson, Jason Shawn Alexander, and Clem Robins

Reprints: The Secret #1-4 (of 4)

Synopsis: Tommy Morris is not part of the in crowd.  He doesn't fit neatly into the fake high school social hierarchy and plans to skip town for college after graduation.  He somehow gains the attention of the very popular Pam who is attracted to his attitude and sick of the jock/cool guy mentality.  Tommy is invited to a party at Pam's house and all the kids are playing a prank phone call game.  

They call up a random number and tell the person who answers "I know your secret".  The prank backfires when a truly disturbed individual answers the phone and now the kids are the target.  When Pam goes missing all fingers point at loner outcast Tommy.  Can he clear his name and save Pam in time?

Pros: Painted art by Alexander is well done (reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz), Richardson's story is spot on for genre piece

Cons: Predictable

Mike Tells It Straight: Essentially an I Know What You Did Last Summer premise - excellently done by Richardson and Alexander.  It reads like a movie pilot and could easily be translated to the big screen with little or no differences.  Story itself is somewhat interesting, but mostly predictable.  It's a well done genre piece (teen thriller) and leaves opening for a sequel.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

The Nail Review

The Nail
Dark Horse Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
96 pages
$14.95 (2005)
ISBN 9781593071738

Contributors: Steve Niles, Rob Zombie, Nat Jones, Jay Fotos, Nate Piekos, and Simon Bisley

Reprints: The Nail #1-4 (of 4)

Synopsis: Over-the-hill semi-pro wrestler Rex "The Nail" Hauser goes on a camping trip with his family, manager, and another wrestlin' buddy outside the scenic town of Devil's Hills.  Things take a turn for the horrific when they are beset by a legion of bikers-from-hell acting out a curse related to the Salem witch trials.  Their only hope is the badass-ness of Rex and his buddy along with a tourist book they pick up telling the story of the Devil's Hills.  Can Rex protect his family and survive the most unholy night of his life?

Pros: Opening scene of guy with girl at make-out point has great dialogue, nudity, covers by Bisley, likable characters and gruesome bad guys

Cons: One-dimensional story and characters, art is weak/unpolished, typos in issues 2 & 3

Mike Tells It Straight: Simple and straightforward horror movie fare from two master creators in the genre.  They deliver a creepy story with good characters and some nice moments.  The art is crude and the editor missed two glaring typos, but overall a successful effort for what it is - a gory slash-fest with demon/zombie monsters.  Take it at face value or not at all.

TO BUY and Recommendations: