Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Moving...

Just a quick note to say that the reviews are going to be incorporated into my blog over at www.carpaltunnelpress.com. It'll make everything a little easier to find and be a one-stop for everything.

The blog posts here will be duplicated over there as time permits.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

No, really, it was a vampire with no legs!

PREZ #4
March 1974

I must be out of my mind to put this one here, but my studio is a mess, and I've discovered a great cache of e-comics. I do own a copy of this gem, though. As a matter of fact, I have every issue of this series and only lack the comic that has Supergirl carrying Prez on the cover to have every appearance of this character. 

SYNOPSIS:

     A After returning from a state trip to the European nation of Moravia, where Prez's administration has helped build a billion-dollar canal for irrigation, Prez and Eagle Free (head of the CIA) remark on the Moravians' strange custom of wearing garlic wreaths. That night, the White House is unexpectedly visited by a bat shaped helicopter carrying Wolfman, the Transylvanian ambassador. It seems that the Moravian canal has drained the lakes of Transylvania. When Prez refuses to destroy the canal, the Wolfman delivers a formal declaration of war on behalf of his country's leader, Count Dracula. Wolfman storms out, with noone realizing that he has left his coffin-shaped briefcase behind.

Prez calls a meeting of the cabinet only to be frustrated by a lack of intelligence on the area other than the superstitions of legend. The next night sees Wolfman's briefcase open to reveal a vampire with no legs strapped to a small cart for mobility, wearing blocks on his hands to ease his propulsion. Dracula's attempt to turn the sleeping Prez into one of the living dead is thwarted by Eagle Free who fights off the vampire with a Indian hooked cross, which resembles a swastika.

The Monrovian Ambassador reveals that Dracula plans to release thousands of rabid bats over America. Prez goes before Congress for a declaration of War against Transylvania, but Congress doesn't believe him and launches an investigation. Eagle Free concocts a final solution against the Transylvanian plane (their only plane), using birds on a suicide mission to dive into the planes jets and cause it to crash, apparently killing Wolfman and Dracula who were at the controls of the jet.



REVIEW:

     This is just goofy, and for the time that it exists in, is wacky enough to make the various elements work in the genre of the story. As a reader, you cannot take this comic seriously. The absolute best part of this particular issue is the timelessness of it. If a young cartoonist produced something like this today, without DC having already done Prez, we'd all be talking about it. The fact that this was written by one of the co-creators of Captain America is a testament to the talent behind that creation and the range that is possible in comics, even with just one creator.

     The art conveys the story very well, and for its weaknesses, still is strong enough to add to the bizarre nature of the story, and not distract from it. Neither the story nor the art go into a wacky area that would be so easy with this issue.

     I'm serious, though, this series should be on the reading list for alternative comics creators. It reads like something that could have been published by any of the larger independent publishers or even self-published. 



NOTES:
     Everything I can find about this series shows it as uncollected. Finding it may prove tricky, given that because of the character's appearance in Sandman, demand went up and most likely now everybody that wants a copy has one. I wouldn't pay too much for a copy, since the collectability value of it has come and gone. You still won't find a Near-Mint condition copy in any dollar bins, but you should be able to get one for not much more than a new comic today. My advice is ultimately that if you think that a shop is charging too much for it, they probably are.

FINAL RATING: 8 (out of a possible 10)

     Well, I suppose that the real reason for no higher than a 8 would be the nature of the story itself. It's not the type of comic to change your life, but it has stuck with me.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Who needs new stories?


ALL-STAR SQUADRON #29
January, 1984

So, I was poking around the house and took out this comic to read while I relaxed. I remembered the first three years of All-Star Squadron as being good, especially when Jerry Ordway was doing the art on it. Jerry Ordway is probably best known for his run on Power of Shazam! but I was first introduced to him in the pages of All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc. where his art style was very organic and naturalistic. Over the years, my collection has been liquidated of these comics, but from time to time, I've tripped across an issue or two, and this is one of them. 

Also, it's been awhile since I last updated this blog, and I've noticed a little traffic coming from various places, so why not do another review? 

SUMMARY

The Shining Knight is fighting off Nazi Bombers over England. When he lands, Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives him a telegram from America where Liberty Belle is convening a meeting of the entire All-Star Squadron. This takes his thoughts to another group he belongs to, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, and he begins telling a story of one of their most recent exploits.

A mad scientist named Dr. Doome (really!) uses a time machine (really!) to snatch Napoleon, Attila the Hun, Nero, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great and set them on missions to steal five rare metals needed to build a greater time machine to send them into a future world that would be much easier to conquer. The first theft is interrupted by Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy, but he falls  before the overwhelming might of the five conquerors. Green Arrow summons the Seven Soldiers of Victory and using a stolen two way radio, deduce the plans of Dr. Doome. The Shining Knight thwarts Genghis Khan, the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripsey defeat Napoleon, Green Arrow and Speedy stop Alexander, the Vigilante stops Attila, and the Crimson Avenger stops Nero. However, Doome has given each of the conquerors a time-rod that transports them back to their proper eras when they're thwarted.

The Soldiers then raid Doome's Lighthouse hideout only to follow him as he escapes through time to the seige of Troy. Doome's cunning is thwarted by a test of truthfulness devised by King Agamemnon and he flees back to 1942. The soldiers follow him back using one of Doome's time rods, and Doome attempts to bribe the Shining Knight with return to Camelot into betraying his teammates. He refuses, and in the lighthouse, Doome flees into the far future, just as his time machine, unstable without all five metals, explodes.

This tale convinces the Shining Knight to stay in England during her hour of need, and not yet return to America with the All-Star Squadron, although not in so few words.


REVIEW:

The artwork is amazing, no doubt about it. Even with the coloring processes of 1983, Ordway has an attractive style that conveys dimension, mood and most of all, serves the story. Rick Maygar is the inker here and looking at the artwork, you could imagine it without any color, and it would still be worth the price of any color comic.

The story is taken almost verbatim from Leading Comics #3 (which you can download here). The major exception is that in the original story, Doome never tempts the Shining Knight, and is actually surprised when the heroes follow him back from Troy. I think Roy thomas served the story better with his addition. It's an excellent point of logic. The end of the comic is way too wordy and the logic added to the re-telling iwas apparently taken from here. The telegram was just for a meeting, and the Shining Knight has the advantage of a flying Horse and permission from Churchill to return for the meeting. The Shining Knight isn't being asked to abandon England for America, but his decision is apparently made as if he was.


NOTES:

To my knowledge, this has not been collected, but the original story has been reprinted in the Seven Soldiers of Victory DC Archive Edition. Since there's no heated demand for back issues of All-Star Squadron, you should be able to find this in back issue boxes if you're lucky, and bargain boxes if you're really lucky. All of the issues drawn by Jerry Ordway are worth dropping a couple of bucks for. I don't think you'd feel cheated by any of them.

FINAL RATING: 8 (out of 10)

Why not higher? It's a re-telling of a story that's not really considered a classic. Also, as I mentioned, the ending really doesn't make a whole lot of sense when simple logic is used.  Nevertheless, it's a good comic with solid art, but definitely not one of the gems of the title's run.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Opiate of the Masses


ELEMENTALS #22
February,1988

Yeah, I'm taking a while between these reviews, but I'll ask you to cut me some slack as I'm working on a special project and it was the Holiday season, after all. I decided that I was overdue to review some Bill Willingham work after all this time given that I've been a fan of his work since I graduated from High School.

See, on graduation night, I had gotten my diploma and was on my way to the county graduation party to have one last blast with friends, and so I stopped by the Mall to pick up a tee-shirt with the name of the University I was going to attend (I dropped out before classes started) and swing by Waldenbooks and grab a few comics. At the time, Comico had entered into a distribution deal with DC that got their comics into outlets like Waldenbooks. Entrigued by the cover, I picked up Elementals #2, the second series, not the first. I was hooked, as Willingham was writing super-heroes in a way that I hadn't seen before. 

This issue is from the first run from Comico, and it was the last for a long hiatus that Willingham had any hand in. Michael Eury told me that Willingham had upped and moved on them, but that's third hand knowledge, so take it with a grain of salt. 

SUMMARY

While the Elementals finish their battle against Chrysalis, we're treated to the story of Reverend Jeremy Skagg and a project he's started to recruit 1200 followers with military or police training to work against the perceived forces of evil, namely the Elementals.  As the project proceeds we're treated to the hypocrisy that Skagg is having an affair with the woman helping to run the project while arranging merciless abandonment of an adultrous son-in-law.

Skagg's project is at the behest of a glowing "angel." Who directs him to bring in torturers who find bizarre and unique ways to kill the follwers that volunteered for his project. This is done in the suspicion that a few will be resurrected with special powers like the Elementals were. Skagg takes a perverse religious pleasure in observing many of these executions, and indeed six emerge with powers and renamed after Bible verses and christened "the Rapture."

The Elementals, after capturing Chrysalis find  the scientist that led them to her that she had cocooned has been transformed into a pulpa form.


REVIEW:

Bill Willingham was known in the 1980s as the creator of the Elementals, one of the first superhero comics to be for grown-ups, and this is one those issues that points out why.The situations the characters found themselves in were mature, there was cursing and there was sex, and in this comic there's nudity and religion. Willingham took these particular shots at religion, and especially televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, whom Jeremy Skagg was obviously modeled after, at least visually. The story breaks between two scenes taking place at different times, completely unconnected, but it flows very well. I should also mention that Chrysalis remains, in my opinion one of the most original characters in superhero comics. The elements added in this comic only strengthen that opinion.

Willingham's artwork is very organic, and is at it's best when expressing the human form. When he pulls back and works less from reference, there's the occaisional slopiness, but overall, the art hits more than it misses. 

If the story has a problem, it's that it's not very nuanced. If the character of Jeremy Skagg has a redeemable quality at all, it's his devotion to his faith, but the Christians within the story are viewed as stupid or desperate enough to go willingly to a horrible death or participate in torture and mass murder.


NOTES:

Like most comics I've been reviewing, this issue has never been collected. It's very likely never to be reprinted, as the rights are tied up in the hands of the former owner of Comico who raises the price constantly whenever someone tracks him down and tries to purchase them. Look for this issue in back issue bins, as well as other issues of this fine series. Don't pay too much, as the series is not sought after too highly, as while it's done by the creator of Fables, it has nothing to do with the Vertigo series.

FINAL RATING: 8.5 (out of 10)

It'd be higher if the book was one of those life-changing issues. It's not, and the shots Willingham takes aginst irrantinally fundamentalist Christianity are heavy-handed and completely too easy. Today, I imagine he would do the story very differently. Then again, the Bill Willingham that did this comic is very different from the Bill Willingham that writes Fables today.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Could've been so much more...


POWER PACK #1
August 1984

It's been a couple of weeks, but I'm really trying not to waste time, so I've been slack in doing the review thing.

Once I decided to do one of these, I grabbed a handful of unsorted comics and looked for one to review. I've done three Legion comics already, and doing another one would be right after a glowing review of one, and just seem redundant. There were a few comics that were more recent, and I felt like revisiting my childhood. Ah-ha! Power Pack fits the bill nicely.

SUMMARY

There's a battle in space, just outside the Earth's atmosphere, and it's sevral ships attacking a lone white starship. It's observed by Katie, the youngest of the four Power children, whose father is desuigning a new energy source for the government. Their parents let them spend the night in their sleeping bags on the back deck of their beach house. Katie sees the attacked spaceship in the surf on the beach. She wakes up her siblings and they investigate. The oldest child, Alex waits by the ship with Katie while younger brother Jack goes with his older sister Julie to wake their father.

As they near the house, one of the ships that attacked the downed ship landsby their house. Alex and Katie are greated by the ship's pilot, an alien nick-named Whitey, who then rescues Julie and Jack, but is too late to keep the attacking aliens, lizard-like beings named Snarks from abducting their parents. Whitey is injured in the rescue andas the Snarks leave with the Power kids' parents, he teleports himself and the children to his ship, Friday.

Whitey is dying from his wounds, and uses the last of his energy to transfer his powers to the children. When they are caught in the Snarks' trator beam, they discover their new powers. Jack controls his own gravity, Julie flies fast, leaving a colored trail in her wake, Katie disentigrates objects and then shoots off energy balls, and Jack can expand into a cloud. They use these powers to escape the Snarks and giving themselves codenames vow to rescue their parents before the Snarks can get the secrets of their father's Energy Converter.


REVIEW:

The kids have a natural feel to them. I once heard Louise Simonson complain that she'd gotten fan mail wanting her to have Katie talk like a toddler, using "me" instead of "I" and crap like that. Each kid has ahis own personality, and the powers don't match those personalities. Let's face it, does the person with fire-based powers always have to have a short temper? Does the person with shrinking power have to be shy? Louise did really well with this issue and the next two, but given that this was a first issue it was written very well and led brilliantly into the next while having a natural ending of its own.

This was June Brigman's first comics work and its absolutely great. The kids look like kids of their stated ages, and not a uniform age.  The scennes, despite being set at night, aren't too dark, although the flip side of that is that the scenes involving light aren't bright enough to convey that. For this, I primarilly blame colorist Glynis Wein, who colored it like an issue of X-Men or Avengers instead of the next generation comic it was.

Bringing Brigman, a first-time artist with no background in super-heroes, on as penciller is the giveaway that this comic is the beginning of a new era of comics. That's not because of the technology used in creating the comic, for it's produced for the most opart, in the same old manner. The characters aren't seen in their costumes at all in the issue, and the origins are based in the straight science fiction realm. While the kids mention super-heroes, it's not definite that they exist in the Marvel Universe, or if they know these characters from comic books. This book could've gone in a different direction entirely, away from New York and Super-Heroes and ventured into uncharted waters for a mainstream comic. It probably would've died a speedy death in the mainstream market of the mid 1980s, but it would have definitely been influential in the development of the comics medium.


NOTES:

Like I said, this could've gone differently. The issue has never been collected, but if you find this at a comic shop or convention, look for the next two issues as well. They make for a great closed storyline. Love and Rockets was being published by Fantagraphics at this time. Comico was getting started, and would eventually publish some of the first work by Matt Wagner and Bill Willingham. First Comics was going on and publishing some the greatest independent comics of the time, including Nexus, American Flagg and Sable. If Power Pack had been published anywhere else, it may have been a very influential comic book.

Also, I apologize for no scans of panels from the comic. This review has been sitting in edit mode for a while, so to keep from delaying it further, I decided to post it without scans. (sans scans?)

FINAL RATING: 7.5 (out of 10)

The limitations of the technology of the period, lumped together with a lackluster coloring job lowers the rating for this book. The premise is great, the writing is fantastic, and the art is extremely good, and shows Brigman as a top notch cartoonist.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Adam Hughes, Mermaids, and Girls in Bathing Suits


LEGIONNAIRES #7
October 1993

I'm stuck on the current phase of my project so I decided to talk about a good comic book.

Legionnaires #7 is a done in one story that takes place right after a six-issue storyline that was very heavy. At this point in time, when you needed a lighter story with a fill-in artist, DC went to Adam Hughes, most famous at the time for his work on Justice League America. This was before Adam Hughes worked with Wildstorm FX on Gen13 and learned Photoshop which revolutionized his artwork.

As an aside, my copy is signed by Adma Hughes, probably at a time prior to his adoption of Photoshop as a primary tool, taking his talent to a different level entirely. If you check out Adam Hughes' origins for Wonder Woman and Power Girl in 52, you know how even his panel to panel work has been transformed by his evolution.

SUMMARY

Inferno, Triad, Matter-Eater Lad, Brainiac 5, Andromeda, Apparition, Ultra Boy, and Shrinking Violet are taking a vacation to the Atlantis dome of New Earth. They check into an inn run by an Atlean family complete with a cute mermaid daughter with a crush on Inferno. Operating under the assumption that everything is being comped, Inferno and Matter-Eater Lad indulge in play, and Matter-Eater Lad tries to put the moves on Shrinking Violet, who's interested in just being friends.The Legionnaires get caught in the crossfire of Atlanteans and alien Devil-Fish, and discover that the Devil Fish secretly settled on Earth, and thought the Atlanteans were responsible for the deaths caused when the domed cities of New Earth fled the destruction of Earth.

The Legionnaires leave, much to the disappointment of the hotel owner, and among them all, Shrinking Violet realizes that they were supposed to pay. Inferno returns and learns that the hotel owner was ashamed to embarrass the Legionnaires by correcting them. Despite their pleading, the other Legionnaires refuse to pony up more credits to Inferno and Matter-Eater Lad who ran up the highest bills while on vacation. Meanwhile Violet does admit that Matter-Eater Lad is cute.  


REVIEW:

Tom & Mary Bierbaum were known for scripting some of the darkest stories in Legion history. It's nice to see it contrasted with this story. It's light and fun, and it would have been great to see this tone continued for years and years. However, DC Editorial felt the need to reboot the Legion so that it could attract new readers. This is now being tried for the third time. Enough about current DC Editorial policy, this is one very well written story. It's simple, cute, and concise. There's nothing here that doesn't need to be there.

The artwork by Adam Hughes is excellent and could only be better if it were done by the Adam Hughes of today. The Adam Hughes of fifteen years ago was an exceptional artist. The Adam Hughes of today is a phenominal artist. The best example of this in this story is when the hotel owner says good bye and violet looks back, realizing their mistake. The empty space on the page shows more skill than any line put on the page. Sometimes being a good artists is all about what you don't draw.


NOTES:

Again, this issue has never been collected. I'm sick of saying that about really good stories when crap like that issue of Spider-Woman gets collection treatment so people can be reminded of how crappy comics can be. Look for this issue. You might pay a little more because it's an Adam Hughes comic, but you shouldn't pay too much.

FINAL RATING: 9 (out of 10)

The highest rating I've given so far for a comic. It'd get an extra half point if it were a life-changing story or the inker and colorist blended better with Adam Hughes. I'm really looking forward to All-Star Wonder Woman.

Okay back to trying to figure out this page.

The Ratings So Far

Because things are now starting to archive, here's a rundown of the rankings for the comics reviewed, from highest to lowest, and in the event of ties, most recently reviewed.

  • 8.5 Legion of Super-Heroes #92, Twilight #1, New Mutants #18
  • 8.0 Legion of Super-Heroes #305
  • 7.5 Minimum Wage #2
  • 7.0 Legion of Super-Heroes #26, Starstream #3
  • 6.0 Namor the Sub-Mariner #8
  • 3.5 Spider-Woman #5
I'm really surprised that I haven't done a 9 rating yet, and I've given thought as to what a 10 would be. I'm really trying to steer away from anything published within the last couple of years, because sometimes some distance does take away the initial emotional impact of the experience, and makes for a more academic review. There are some series that I don't have copies of individual issues of, such as Watchmen, and so, I can't review those. I am limiting myself to those comics that I actually own, so I do have a restriction on myself.