Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cheap Thrills - SYLVIA FAUST #1

Random Pulls from the Bargain Bin
This Column Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
In these economic times, finding inexpensive entertainment is difficult. Thank goodness for the local comic shop and a slew of comics nobody cares about anymore! Each week Daniel Elkin randomly grabs a comic from the bargain bin (for 50 cents) to see what kind of bang he can get for his two-bits. These are those tales.

January 18, 2011 – paid 50 cents for:
SYLVIA FAUST #1
Published by: Image Comics
Written by: Jason Henderson
Art by: Greg Scott
Colors: Leslie Ann Barkley
Letters: Ed Dukeshire

THAT IS THE CHERRY ON THE CAKE OF MY DAY.

Here's a quick rundown of some of the events that occurred in August of 2004:

  • The Summer Olympics were in Athens, Greece.
  • Governor James McGreevy of New Jersey announced he is “a gay American” and resigned.
  • Thieves with guns stole Munch's The Scream from the Munch Museum in Norway.
  • From a bridge in Chicago, the Tour Bus for the Dave Matthews Band dumped approximately 800 pounds of human feces onto a tourist boat.
  • Insane Clown Posse released Hell's Pit
  • Leviathan is released by Mastodon
  • Johnny Bravo is canceled
  • Video Game company Acclaim declared bankruptcy
  • Alien vs. Predator opened in theaters.
  • Rick James, Elmer Bernstein, Fay Wray, and Julia Child all died.


Normally I can take all these disparate events and get a general feel for the zeitgeist of the moment. This time, though, August 2004 eludes me. I can't see the pattern. I can't put the pieces together.

But I think I know why.

In August of 2004, Image Comics released issue #1 of Sylvia Faust and it pulled everything all together within itself and left us wanting more.

Seriously.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Review of ALPHA GIRL #1

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin.

I really don't know what to make of Alpha Girl #1. I think that's because it doesn't seem to know what to make of itself either. Ostensibly it's another “tough girl survivor of the Zombie Apocalypse” tale, and the background of the lead character in this book is certainly harsh enough to make you believe that, were there to be a Zombie Apocalypse, she would be one of the survivors. But it's also got this over-the-top forced “wackiness” aspect to it that is trying really, really hard to make you laugh – too hard, in fact. For me, the juxtaposition of the gritty and the goofy in this comic only detracts one from the other because neither of these aspects is strong enough to stand on its own.

The book is set in 1984, when a third rate cosmetics company creates a product that turns women into zombies. It's up to Judith, our 17-year-old hero, to … I don't know … save the world or something? This is not really made clear in this first issue. A matter of fact, other than smoking cigarettes while narrating the story of the cosmetic company's zombie byproducts and her own backstory, Alpha Girl doesn't really do much of anything in this first issue.

I guess the story is building up to something. Image has been pimping the book as the “action-packed gore fest that you've been waiting for!” I don't really see that. The whole issue sort of struck me as a Chew knock-off, where Chew is like The Replacements and Alpha Girl is like Chris Mars' solo career. It's just not the same. It's trying real hard to capture the sound of success, but in doing so, only shows it can barely keep a beat.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review of ARCHEOLOGISTS OF SHADOWS

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Archeologists of Shadows is beautiful to behold. The art in this “science fiction/fantasy/steampunk mash-up” is absolutely breathtaking. Artist Patricio Clarey has created fully realized worlds of such intricacy and depth that I found myself lingering over almost every page, taking in each and every little detail and nuance.


Argentinian born Clarey's art is certainly reminiscent of the work of Dave McKean or Menton Mathews III, but it has a life all its own. The publishers, Septagon Studios, describe it as a “unique style that combines drawing, sculpture, photography, photo manipulation and digital painting to create art that has a 3D quality.” Clarey's layouts, color palette, perspective, and pacing are innovative, elegant, and stunning. His art is a perfect match for the story the book undertakes.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review of THE WIDOWMAKER

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

The Widowmaker is a black and white gangster and horror comic. At the same time it is actually neither, yet it functions as both.

Did I get your attention?

The Widowmaker sure got mine.

 According to its creator, Frank Candiloro, this comic is about Don Taranturco, a mob boss in the 1930's, who, after burning down a local cafe, has an ancient curse put upon him. This curse begins his horrible metamorphosis.

And that is what this comic IS about, and yet it's not about that at all.

The most striking thing about The Widowmaker is Candiloro's art. It's got that whole German Expressionism, wood-block print, indy wonk vibe that is both off-putting and engaging at the same time. It is the perfect style for what Candiloro is up to in this book and sets the tone perfectly. His pacing is quick and moves the story along in a real unsettling way.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review of BLACK FIRE

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Come on, geeks. You know that you bandy about the term “Lovecraftian” just a little too much lately. It's almost as bad as when you sit in a Starbucks and listen to the hipsters talk about how “Kafkaesque” things are. It's getting to the point where the term has begun to lose its meaning. And that's a shame, because it's an evocative adjective that should carry with it some real power. I mean we're talking enormous inter-dimensional primeval horror here.

But I don't have another adjective I can use to describe Black Fire.

Black Fire is an Original Graphic Novel by Hernan Rodriguz and published by Archaia.. It is full of Lovecraftian horror.

This is a story set during the French retreat from Russia during the Napoleonic War. It is about starvation and frostbite. It is about an abandoned snowbound village. It is about evil. It is about a Russian god of death, fire, and darkness. It is about creating a mood of dread, fear, and paranoia (if paranoia is, in fact, a mood). It is about the nightmare that occurs with the juxtaposition of human failures and the malevolent forces of the universe.

It is a great story.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cheap Thrills - WHISPER #4

THIS COLUMN ORIGINALLY RAN ON COMICS BULLETIN
Random Pulls from the Bargain Bin

In these economic times, finding inexpensive entertainment is difficult. Thank goodness for the local comic shop and a slew of comics nobody cares about anymore! Each week Daniel Elkin randomly grabs a comic from the bargain bin (for 50 cents) to see what kind of bang he can get for his two-bits. These are those tales.

January 11, 2011 – paid 50 cents for:
WHISPER #4
Published by: First Comics
Written by: Steven Grant
Art by: Norm Breyfogle


OOOOOH BOY.

So, where the hell where you in December of 1986? All kinds of crazy, nasty crap was flying around then.

Remember what happened at Howard Beach? That was in December, 1986. Then there was that 5.7 earthquake that destroyed Strajica in Bulgaria! Desi Arnaz died! The Disney Channel started broadcasting 24 hours a day! We all were watching The Cosby Show! Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve featured appearances by Barry Manilow and the Miami Sound Machine! NBC canceled Search for Tomorrow! The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range was the number 1 single!

Fuck! The Golden Child was one of the top grossing films in December, 1986!

I swear, if you had buried December of 1986 in a lead-lined grave, it still would have figured out a way to crawl its way out to feed on your brains.

I'm sorry, but I can think of no shit-storm more perfect for the publication of Whisper #4 from First Comics.

On pretty much a weekly basis, I've been doing this column in one form or another for nearly a year now, and in that time I have come across some god-awful comics. Still, I do believe that none of them – NONE OF THEM – fucked with my brain as much as Whisper #4 by Steven Grant and Norm Breyfogle has. The irony of this whole thing is that my very first iteration of this column dealt with Prime #3 from Malibu Comics. (now archived here). The artist on that? Norm Breyfogle. Now a year later? A comic with art by Norm Breyfogle.

Don't get me wrong, I think Norm Breyfogle is a talented artist and a real nice guy, but I think he is trying to kill me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Best Erotic Graphic Novel of 2011

This piece originally ran on Comics Bulletin
Dave McKean – Celluloid

So I asked if I could write up my pick for the Best Erotic Graphic Novel of 2011, and, now that I'm actually writing it, I have to admit that I'm pretty uncomfortable doing it. My first problem is that everything I write in this context can easily be taken the wrong way (just look at the ending of this and previous sentence to see what I mean). This fact is causing me to second guess my entire thinking process.

Second, I'm not a big fan of erotica or pornography in general. In all truth, this stuff kind of makes me squeamish. It's not that I'm a prude, or have any sort of religious objections or anything, it's just... well... it's hard to explain. I was raised by nice Jewish parents in suburban Dallas, Texas – watching other people get off just doesn't do it for me.

So why the hell am I writing about the Best Erotic Graphic Novel of 2011?

Two words: Dave McKean.

Dave McKean is a tremendous artist. He creates work of enormous emotional impact with a deftness and subtlety that is so often missing in modern art. McKean can tell an entire novel's story in a single picture, he's that good. Just look at the covers he did for Neil Gaiman's Sandman and you'll see what I mean.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Cheap Thrills - OUT THERE #5

This Column Originally Ran On Comics Bulletin

Random Pulls from the Bargain Bin

In these economic times, finding inexpensive entertainment is difficult. Thank goodness for the local comic shop and a slew of comics nobody cares about anymore! Each week Daniel Elkin randomly grabs a comic from the bargain bin (for 50 cents) to see what kind of bang he can get for his two-bits. These are those tales.

January 4, 2011 – paid 50 cents for:
OUT THERE #5
Published by: Cliffhanger!
Written by: Brian Augustyn
Art by: Humberto Ramos


SOMETHING FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN SOCIAL STATUS.

November of 2001 heralded a slew of releases into the American pop culture machine. Movies like Monsters, Inc. and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone came out. Both the Xbox and The Nintendo GameCube were released. The Facts of Life Reunion Special aired on TV. So Solid Crew debuted with their album They Don't Know, GWAR released Violence Has Arrived, and the Silver Jews released Bright Flight.

Hell, they even let China into the WTO in November of 2001.

Sure, we lost both George Harrison and The Angry Beavers, but I'm telling you – everything about November 2001 was full of fecundity.

Into this fructiferous month, Cliffhanger! released Out There #5 by Brian Augustyn and Humberto Ramos. At the time, Cliffhanger! was part of Wildstorm which was part of Image Comics. The imprint lasted from 1998 to 2004 when it became part of the Homage Comics line and formed the Wildstorm Signature Series. Out There was the fifth title produced by Cliffhanger!, and it is only fitting somehow that issue number five of this series ended up in my hands today.

Or something like that...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review of RESURRECTION

THIS REVIEW ORIGINALLY RAN ON COMICS BULLETIN
I was convinced after reading the first 35 or so pages of Resurrection, by Arwen Elys Dayton, that this Sci-Fi novel was written by a precocious teenager who had been raised on a steady diet of Star Trek reruns, Mountain Dew, over-reaching praise from his or her parents about the extent of his or her talent, and really good intentions. The first pages of this novel are bogged down in pretty lifeless exposition. I mean, for goodness sake, the first sentence of the novel is, “The feeling was gray, like dawn, but harder to define.”

Then I looked at the author's biography which reads: “Arwen Elys Dayton was born on the West Coast of the United States to a math professor father and a romantic mother, who named her after an elf in the Lord of the Rings.”

For the sake of this review, though, instead of tossing the book aside and attending to what I thought would be the better writing of my High School Freshmen's To Kill a Mockingbird Essays, I stuck with Resurrection, and let me tell you, this decision made all the difference.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Convenient Truths -- PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES

THIS COLUMN ORIGINALLY RAN ON COMICS BULLETIN
Sometimes the most universal truths can be found in the smallest slices of life. That’s what makes independent documentaries so powerful, engaging, and entertaining. Not only do they show you little worlds to which you’ve never had access, but they oftentimes also tell the larger story of what it means to be human. Armed with this intellectual conceit, a bag of Funyuns, and a couple of Miller beers, Daniel Elkin curls up in front of the TV and delves deep into the bowels of Netflix Streaming Documentaries to find out a little bit more about all of us.

Today he and his friend Jason Sacks found 2011's Page One: Inside the New York Times by Andrew Rossi and Kate Novack.


Are we, as this documentary posits, at a "dangerous moment in American journalism"? What are the repercussions of newspapers around the country succumbing to the financial realities of the moment and either slashing their budgets to the bone or shuting down all together? What is the result of 24 hour news cycles? What effect does the free-for-all of internet “reporting” have on the nation's understanding of the truth?

Sacks: Lately I've been hooked on watching old episodes of the classic TV series Lou Grant on Hulu. I've really enjoyed watching the show for a few reasons – there's some fine acting and some even better scriptwriting on the show. But more than anything I enjoy watching this show because it represents a lost era – a certain sort of bygone era when newspapers were the "voice of the community", advocating for the public good while also generating amazing profits. The character of matriarch Mrs. Pynchon on that show represented all that was supposed to be good about journalism – independence, insight, and the challenging of authority.

Of course those days are long past, if they ever really did exist. Newspapers are hanging on by the skin of their teeth these days, but is the decline of "the fifth estate" a real threat to our democracy?

Elkin: Page One: Inside the New York Times raises these questions. Unfortunately, I don't think it does a very good job of answering them.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Classic Comics Cavalcade: THE ESSENTIAL DEFENDERS vol. 2

THIS COLUMN ORIGINALLY RAN ON COMICS BULLETIN

In this episode of Classic Comics Cavalcade, Daniel and Jason follow up their previous chat about Steve Gerber's amazing comics with a look at some of Jason's favorite Gerber comics – his amazing run on Defenders.

Elkin: So. Gerber. The Defenders. Tell me about your first experience with this.

Sacks: Oh holy crap. So I was a mere tyke barely out of diapers when I first read this stuff, in 1975 or '76 when I was in elementary school. I'm pretty sure I was attracted by the fact that the Hulk was one of the featured Defenders and like a lot of kids I loved how he would get giant and green and strong as hell when he was mad. I always wish I could do that when I was mad at my friends or my parents.

So I picked up my first issue of this series when I was about 9 or 10 and it was Defenders #24.

Elkin: The one with Sons of the Serpent?

Sacks: I remember it distinctly because the secret hideout with the Sons of the Serpent stuck in my head for years. I thought it was so cool how the Serpents trapped our heroes in giant serpent-shaped shackles, which is of course completely absurd to me now as an adult in a whole bunch of ways.

I had no idea what all that stuff was about racism, but as I got older and started rereading them, I realized how smart and insightful and unique all that stuff was. Of course #24 has a great cliffhanger too, so I was dying to read the next chapter, which of course has the amazing revelation about the head of the Sons of the Serpent that totally blew me away.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Let's Meet: ELF WITH A GUN

Elf with a Gun

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Elf with a Gun is a fictional character in the Marvel Universe. The Elf first appeared in Defenders #25 (July 1975), and was created bySteve Gerber and Sal Buscema.

The Elf received an entry in the All-New Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #4 (2006).

Fictional character biography:

The Elf with a Gun is a small humanoid who commits murders for no apparent reason. The elf first appears in Defenders, killing Tom and Linda Pritchett.[1] Over a series of issues, he kills Charles Lester and his spouse in Las Vegas[2], Stu and his girlfriend at the Grand Canyon[3], and a woman hiding from the Hulk in the bathroom.[4]

He seemingly meets his end outside a house (owned by Nighthawk) in upstate New York. Preparing to kill a newspaper delivery boy named Greg, and his dog, Elf with a Gun is run over and killed by a Mac Ray moving truck. Greg notices nothing.[5]

The Elf finds himself in the 'Land of the Lost', a realm where iconic characters re-live the sixties. He encounters the rock band KISS but does not kill them, only pretends to. He gives them valuable information so the band members can make their way back home. One member, Starchild, wishes for the Elf to be hit by a truck.[6]

Friday, January 6, 2012

Let's Meet: ARTHUR NAGAN

Arthur Nagan

From Wikipedia

Publication history

Dr. Arthur Nagan first appeared in Mystery Tales #21 (September 1954), and was created by Bob Powell. This story was reprinted in Weird Wonder Tales #7 (December 1974). Steve Gerber created the Headmen after reading the reprint issue.

The character subsequently appears in Defenders vol. 1 #21 (March 1975), 31-33 (January–March 1976), 35 (May 1976), Defenders Annual #1 (October 1976), Power Man/Iron Fist #68 (April 1981), Marvel Age Annual #1 (1985), The Sensational She-Hulk vol. 2 #1-3 (May–July 1989), Avengers: Deathtrap: The Vault Graphic Novel (1991), Web of Spider-Man #73 (February 1991), Marvel Comics Presents #97 (1992), Defenders vol. 2 #5 (July 2001), 7-10 (September–December 2001), and Heroes for Hire #6-8 (March–May 2007).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cheap Thrills - CATALYST: AGENTS OF CHANGE #1

Random Pulls from the Bargain Bin
THIS COLUMN ORIGINALLY RAN ON COMICS BULLETIN
In these economic times, finding inexpensive entertainment is difficult. Thank goodness for the local comic shop and a slew of comics nobody cares about anymore! Each week Daniel Elkin randomly grabs a comic from the bargain bin (for 50 cents) to see what kind of bang he can get for his two-bits. These are those tales.

December 21, 2011 – paid 50 cents for:
CATALYST: AGENTS OF CHANGE #1
Published by: Dark Horse Comics
Written by: Eddie Campbell and Pete Ford
Art by: Tim Hamilton and Steve Carr


IF YOU BOYS DON'T ZIP IT, THIS “SKIRT” WILL HAVE TO REMIND BOTH OF YOU WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE.

Jack Kirby died in February, 1994. This event, as far as I am concerned, was probably the most significant thing that happened then.

Sure, Jeff Gillooly plead guilty for hitting Nancy Kerrigan in the knee with a pipe. Sure, Edvard Munch's The Scream was stolen in Oslo. Sure, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 introduced the world to Knuckles, sure Ace Ventura: Pet Detective opened in theaters. Sure, Dakota Fanning was born.

But none of these events were as culturally important in February of 1994 as the loss of “King” Kirby.

Except... maybe... just maybe... the release of Catalyst: Agents of Change #1 by Dark Horse Comics.

Then again, I may be overstating this. I did just find Catalyst: Agents of Change #1 in the bargain bin, after all.

This comic was part of Dark Horse's attempt to create a shared universe between a number of titles. The concept itself did not last very long. Mostly, it seemed, because the majority of the titles sucked.

But still, I have high hopes for Catalyst: Agents of Change, if for no other reason than the title alone is awesome. If nothing else, all catalysts ARE agents of change. Deal with it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

STUART IMMONEN - TOP TEN OF 2011

Originally ran as part of Comic Bulletin's Top 10 Artists of 2011
It wasn't until 2004 that I got my first taste of the work of the artist Stuart Immonen. I was reading Marvel's Ultimate Fantastic Four from the start and enjoying what was going on through issues 1-6. Suddenly, in issue #7 a new creative team took over, Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen. When that happened I thought to myself, “my isn't this nice.” The next time I really paid attention to Stuart Immonen was when he and Ellis teamed up again, this time for a series called NextWave: Agents of H.A.T.E. It was during this 12 issue run that my love affair for all things Immonen really and truly began.

Monday, January 2, 2012

WITCH DOCTOR - TOP 10 OF 2011

Originally ran as part of Comic Bulletin's Top 10 Miniseries of 2011 Column

Witch Doctor is a four issue mini-series written by Brandon Seifert and drawn by Lukas Ketner. It was published through Robert Kirkman's Skybound imprint at Image Comics.

It is thoroughly and completely awesome for the following reasons:

1. You got your medical drama.
2. You got your supernatural/horror action sequences.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

ROCKETEER ADVENTURES - TOP TEN OF 2011

Originally ran as part of Comic Bulletin's Top Ten Miniseries of 2011 Column

What would you do if I told you that Mike Allred, John Arcudi, Kurt Busiek, John Cassady, Darwyn Cooke, Lowell Francis, Dave Gibbons, Joe R. Lansdale, Joe Pruett, Jonathan Ross, Ryan Sook, Mark Waid, Tommy Lee Edwards, Gene Ha, Scott Hampton, Tony Harris, Michael Kaluta, Brendan McCarthy, Ryan Sook, Bruce Timm, and Chris Weston were working on a mini-series together?

What would you do if I told you that this mini-series would be celebrating the further adventures of the late (great) Dave Stevens character The Rocketeer, one of the all-time great comic book heroes?

You'd wet yourself, right?

Well, in 2011 I wet myself.

In 2011, IDW published a 4 issue mini-series called Rocketeer Adventures which gave some of comicdom's best talents the opportunity to play in the retro-world of Cliff Secord and his pin-up girlfriend Betty. The series was obviously an homage to the talent and influence of Dave Stevens, as well as a love letter to the genre. Each issue was comprised of vignettes, allowing each creator to put their particular stamp on these characters and let their love shine.