Monday, April 30, 2012

The Zombie Simon Garth Trade Paperback Review

The Zombie: Simon Garth
Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
96 pages
$13.99 (2008)
ISBN 9780785127512

Contributors: Kyle Hotz, Eric Powell, Dan Brown, and Joe Caramagna

Reprints: The Zombie: Simon Garth #1-4 (of 4)

Synopsis: A disoriented woman awakens after a terrible car accident on a deserted country road.  Her daughter is missing and she desperately enters the woods to search.  She is set upon by a pair of disgusting in-bred hillbillies, but miraculously rescued by a shambling horror wearing a name tag reading 'Simon'.

When we last saw Simon Garth, the former bank teller experienced the worst day of his life.  His bank was robbed and he was taken hostage by a pair of bloodthirsty thieves.  Things got worse as the unlucky group stumbled upon an army experiment gone awry.  A highly contagious virus transformed a group of soldiers and any unwitting bystanders into mindless killing machines in pursuit of flesh.  Simon managed to stop the bank robbers, but was infected by the virus and evacuated by an army scientist.

Their helicopter crashes and the virus spreads again in an isolated small town.  Investigating the strange occurrence is the town's sheriff.  He finds a man who survived the car crash and also looking for a girl.  Hell descends upon the town and all of the players converge in an effort to survive.

The army scientist barely escapes the crash and manages to make contact with his superiors - will help arrive in time?  The man from the car crash knows the woman and missing little girl - what is his dark secret which endangers the entire group?  Simon Garth ambles through the forest - does he remember his former self or is he consumed by the insatiable violence of the virus?
Just another town hall meeting...of zombies

Pros: Art by Hotz is perfectly fit for this tale of zombie horror, story is logical progression from previous mini-series, ending was decent and left room for another sequel, retains the MAX rating with cursing and bloody gore, entertaining with a few plot twists

Cons: Characters are mostly one-dimensional, Simon Garth doesn't talk and his character really doesn't do much except react (must have been a helluva challenge to write), cannibal hillbillies, not as good as the first story (most sequels aren't), short - disposable entertainment

Mike Tells It Straight: Following up on the hidden gem Zombie, Kyle Hotz takes over the writing reigns (with an assist from Eric Powell - known for writing horror-comic The Goon) from Mike Raicht as well as his usual horror-tinged artwork.  You can really tell Hotz went all out for this story - he does a great job.

It's a logical continuation of the first mini-series where Simon Garth is reintroduced with a modern spin.  His original stories had him suffer a voodoo curse and be susceptible to control through a mystical amulet worn around his neck (yeah, it was the '70s).  The old modus operandi is cast aside for the currently popular zombie plague apocalypse.

If you liked the first mini-series then this is a decent continuation which brings Simon Garth back to his status quo as a shambling, mute-yet-benevolent zombie.  Hotz does a great job and shows some potential with his writing.  Overall the story is not as good as the first one, but is still a passable zombie offering.  I'm a sucker for an offbeat horror story and give this a fair recommendation.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

100 Bullets Vol. 2 Split Second Chance Trade Paperback Review

100 Bullets Vol. 2 - Split Second Chance
DC Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
224 pages
$14.95 (2001)
ISBN 9781563897115

Contributors: Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Grant Goleash, Clem Robins, and covers by Dave Johnson

Reprints: 100 Bullets #6-14

Synopsis: Somewhere along the way your life has been ruined.  All those hopes and dreams smashed to pieces by the cruelest fate.  Now you're a shadow of your former self and wallow in self-pity.  Along comes Agent Graves with an offer you can't refuse.  He gives you a briefcase containing an untraceable gun, one hundred untraceable bullets, evidence proving the person who ruined your life is guilty, and the sure fact you'll never be convicted.

  • Short Con, Long Odds - Chucky and Pony are two childhood friends who grow up on the wrong side of the tracks.  Chucky ends up being an expert gambler with a knack for dice, but he does a long stint in prison ruining his chance to make a lot of money.  Pony spends that time building a rep and getting paid. Now Chucky is out and trying to make a name for himself, but things aren't going so well.  Agent Graves shows up to reveal who is responsible for Chucky's imprisonment and make an offer he can't refuse.  Things get ugly.
  • Day, Hour, Minute...Man - Agent Graves meets up with an old friend and we learn a few details about his past.  He's not a man you want to cross.
  • The Right Ear, Left in the Cold - Cole Burns sells ice cream in the neighborhoods.  He also sells stolen cigarettes and is connected to the local mobster, Goldy Petrovic.  Another ice cream seller is trying to horn in on his territory, but Cole is too busy making time with his girlfriend.  Agent Graves shows up with a briefcase and evidence showing the person responsible for burning the old folks home his grandmother lived in.  Guess who?
  • Heartbreak, Sunny Side Up - A woman works in a diner and mourns for her lost little girl - she ran away to the city and never came back.  Agent Graves shows up with a briefcase and evidence revealing why her little girl ran away.  The truth hits close to home.
  • Parlez Kung Vous - Dizzy Cordova gets sent to Paris by Shepard to meet up with a man named Branch.  Seems like Branch got the same offer from Agent Graves that Dizzy acted upon (in the first volume).  We learn about a longstanding secret organization called The Trust and about the Minutemen. Dizzy meets Cole Burns.

Dizzy and Branch hang out in the park
Pros: Risso does a great job of artful storytelling, Azzarello's writing and dialogue are good, grander mystery of The Trust and Minutemen is revealed, covers by Johnson are interesting

Cons: Briefcase deal is a high-concept one-trick pony, many short stories, some implausible situations, no explanation on how Dizzy knows all sorts of martial arts, seems implausible Agent Graves would have carte blanche to perform his little tests - even if he has major connections

Mike Tells It Straight: I was a bit critical in my review of the first volume of 100 Bullets - a series with lots of hype which delivered a lukewarm start.  Well, I can say the second volume was an improvement as both writing and art kicked up a notch.  It helped to have a larger issue count in this volume and we get to slowly discover a few hints about Agent Graves' history.  The first volume was definitely missing a bigger plot which appears in this second volume.

Azzarello and Risso gel as a team in these pages and deliver some good storytelling.  I was genuinely interested in what happened next in the story arcs.  You must read the first volume to get a full understanding of the events in this volume.   If you liked the first volume then you'll enjoy the second (especially if you buy into the conspiracy backdrop).  I'll check out the third volume to see where this all goes and knowing the series ends at one hundred issues reassures me an answer will eventually be given.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Zombie Trade Paperback Review

Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
104 pages
$13.99 (2007)
ISBN 9780785119135

Contributors: Mike Raicht, Kyle Hotz, Dan Brown, Virtual Calligraphy, and Joe Caramagna

Reprints: Zombie #1-4 (of 4)

Synopsis: Simon Garth is having a bad day.  The bank where he toils away as a mid-level drone is being robbed by two bloodthirsty crooks.  They kill his boss and threaten his attractive co-worker (who he has a secret crush on).  To make things worse the police show up and the crooks snatch both bank workers as hostages.

The hapless crew of robbers and hostages run smack into a bizarre chemical disaster.  Soldiers and civilians have been transformed into deranged savages attacking anyone who comes near.  The infected are unstoppable unless their brains are somehow interrupted (like with a shotgun). 

Fleeing to a nearby rest stop the group seeks shelter from the ever-increasing crowd of shambling horrors.  They hook up with a soldier and scientist who know suspiciously more about the epidemic than meets the eye.  One of the group is bitten by an infected.  Can Simon keep it together amidst criminals and the undead?  Worst. Day. Ever.

Pros: Hotz's art is perfect for this dark thriller, great writing by Raicht - plot twists, pacing, dialogue, MAX book which allows appropriate level of gore and cursing (I'd be cursing up a storm if zombies were chasing me), nice revival of the The Zombie character (re-introduced in the '70s) for modern audiences, excellent ending which leaves room for sequel

Cons: Plot can be predictable (most zombie/horror stories are), characters are two-dimensional for the most part, short read
Just another day at the office throttling zombies

Mike Tells It Straight: Zombie was a pleasant surprise - good art, action-packed story, and it kept my interest throughout.  Hotz's art is dark and moody - a perfect fit for creepy zombie mayhem with some offbeat humor.  The MAX rating helps tremendously with a gore factor of 10 and plenty of colorful language.

Writing, dialogue, and plot twists by Raicht were well done.  Things got predictable at the end, but it was still a lot of fun.  The Zombie (aka Simon Garth) was originally created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett in a short story back in 1953 and was re-introduced with mild success in the '70s. 

This MAX series revives the Simon Garth character and takes away the voodoo aspect of his origin - also removing the amulet he wore which allowed others to control him.  Now his origin is aligned with the popular viral-plague-causes-zombie-apocalypse theme so prevalent in today's depiction of zombies. 

He goes on to star in a sequel The Zombie: Simon Garth which I plan to check out and review.  I was completely unfamiliar with the character in his previous incarnation, but recall seeing him appear in  Marvel Zombies 3 (cameo) and Marvel Zombies 4 (supporting character) which were previously reviewed.  I like the concept of the character and Zombie acts as an origin story (great jumping on point), but I'm not sure if his later stories will be as interesting.  The idea of a shambling, mute main character just doesn't seem very plausible for future stories.  Check this book out - it's a well-written and well-executed zombie story.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Question: The Five Books of Blood Trade Paperback Review

The Question: The Five Books of Blood
DC Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
128 pages
$14.99 (2009)
$19.99 (2008) Hardcover
ISBN 9781401223359

Contributors: Greg Rucka, Tom Mandrake, Matthew Clark, Manuel Garcia, Steve Lieber, Diego Olmos, Jesus Saiz, Jimmy Palmiotti, David Baron, Santi Arcas, Javier Mena, Steve Wands, and covers by John Van Fleet

Reprints: 52 Aftermath: Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood #1-5 (of 5)

Synopsis: After the startling events of 52, Vic "Charlie" Sage has passed the mantle of The Question to ex-cop Renee Montoya.  She first encountered the 'crime bible' in Gotham and ended up saving the life of Batwoman (her former lover).  Now she is obsessed with tracking down all of the copies of the accursed book across the globe.

She learns of a monk from the crime faith (where he teaches brutal martial arts and torture techniques) selling a rare original bible in Gotham.  He baits a trap for her and she must chase him across Europe.  In order to gain information she goes undercover as a patron at a brothel and ends up falling for her escort. 

Is her obsession with the crime bible evidence of something deeper and darker in her soul?  Will she succumb to this dark side or remain the untouchable hero?  A final showdown with the monk puts her to the test!

Pros: Neat digital covers by Van Fleet, Rucka's depiction of Montoya is excellent, extra 'journal of Renee Montoya' included in collected edition

Cons: Too many artists, the crime religion is kind of hokey, ending felt rushed and final showdown was hard to believe

Mike Tells It Straight: Rucka brings us the next stage of Renee Montoya's adventures after becoming the Question II and saving Batwoman's life.  She continues to search for the crime bibles and is almost consumed by her obsessions.  You must read the entire 52 series as a prerequisite to this book in order to understand the shift from Vic Sage (Question I) to Montoya.

This mini-series was originally run as a 52 Aftermath book titled Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood, but it got a name change to promote The Question character (which is a good idea). 

I found this story to be passable with some decent character writing, but I just never bought into the crime religion thing.  The wide cast of artists was jarring from issue to issue as well.  If you really enjoyed The Question parts of 52 then here is your next installment.  Otherwise, as a standalone storyline, this book is run of the mill.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Blood: A Tale Trade Paperback Review

Blood: A Tale
DC Comics - Vertigo
Softcover Trade Paperback
192 pages
$19.95 (2005)
ISBN 9781401202637

Contributors: J.M. DeMatteis, Kent Williams, Jon J. Muth, George Pratt, Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh, and Gaspar Saladino

Reprints: Blood: A Tale #1-4 (of 4)

Synopsis: An aged king roosts in his deathbed and refuses to die.  He is visited by a spirit who tells him the tale of Blood.  The tale begins with a baby found by a young woman and an old crone.  The young woman raises the baby as her own until she must give him up to be educated by monks.  Life in the monastery is rigid and cruel, but the boy learns.  
Blood becomes a vampire

He eventually leaves the monastery and ventures into the world.  It's a bleak and depressing place with no real answers to any of his questions.  Blood continues to search and discovers the world is dangerous as he runs into a pack of vampires.  He turns.

Now Blood's short life is over and his long un-life begins, but he refuses to give up without a fight.  Continuing to search for answers he gains two companions - a female vampire who becomes his lover and a crippled, floating man called Little One.  They form a bizarre family and continue on Blood's vague quest.

Can Blood find answers in this mad world and how far can one fall before giving up?  What of the un-dead king and his refusal to accept death?, yeah.
Pros: Some very nice painted art by Williams - particularly the nudes and scenes of intense emotion, good overall story concept by DeMatteis, makes the reader think and ponder with several layers of storytelling

Cons: Dis-jointed story, weak narrative at times, both art and story suffer from inconsistencies, murky and hard to understand, touted as a 'vampire' story yet has very little to do with vampires, Little One character is odd (looks like a Sienkiewicz knock-off design)

Mike Tells It Straight: DeMatteis crafts an existential, mythical tale with a passing familiarity to vampires.  His storytelling impressed me with its multiple layers (the old man being told the story of Blood and the events of Blood's life) and metaphor for the phases of life (Blood's learning process as he stumbles through life and un-life).  Reminds me of tribal folk tales - like how primitive cultures explained how the moon came to be or fire was discovered. 

Vampires live in packs in the woods -
kind of like wolves
Originally published as a mini-series by Marvel in 1988 through their Epic imprint (for mature readers), Blood: A Tale was again published by DC's Vertigo in the mid-90's and finally collected into one volume.  The story is out there and challenges the reader to think about the metaphors presented.  It has some interesting moments, but I felt the narrative style and Williams' art were too inconsistent to make a lasting impression.  It reminded me more of a really good art project than an epic graphic novel.    

The tag line "A vampire story unlike any other" was misleading - sure, Blood becomes a vampire and does a few vampire things, but it's not really about vampires.  It's about a boy's journey of discovery and finally finding peace in life.  Good art, confusing story, dated at this point (over 20 years old), and pretty low on the recommendation list.

TO BUY and Recommendations: