Saturday, September 29, 2012

REVIEW: The Judas Coin

Written and illustrated by Walter Simonson
Review: Will Dubbeld

Loathe though I am to admit it, I find myself enjoying DC comics more and more these days. I still despise their policy of rebooting the entire line every so often (5 times by my count. 3 crises, a Zero Hour, and a Flashpoint, kids). Imagine my chagrin as a youth trying to untangle DC continuity with only my wits and a stack of Who's Who of the DC Universe at my disposal.

It was not easy, but at the end of the day I knew my Earth-1 from my Earth-2 and my Calendar Man from my Calculator. Since then I've suffered through their Crises Infinite and Final, and have come to realize that the only constant in the DC Universe is Power Girl's bra size.
But certainly not her origin...

So once again, loath as I am to admit it, despite DCs jacked up history and editorial foibles, I'm enjoying National Periodicals a bit more than Timely Comics. I've tried to care about the mega-events and crossovers, but I just could give a Bamf less about AvX, Spider-Man's sidekick, or how many Cosmic Cubes are in play right now.
I think it's like three.
(caveat: all of the above is still better than Before Watchmen)

So this brings us, in an oblique fashion, to Walt Simonson's The Judas Coin. The basic plot follows one of the pieces of silver that was used to pay Judas Iscariot through history from Roman times to the far-flung future of the DCU. I'm going to dispense with an impromptu history/theology lesson and surmise that everyone reading knows the tale of Judas Iscariot, Jesus of Nazareth, and thirty pieces of silver. If any of you are ignorant of this story due to a neglected religious or historical education feel free to take a break and read up on the subject. I'll be here.

Back? Okay, so The Judas Coin starts off with a brief account of the story of Judas and follows up with six vignettes in different periods of history and six different characters gleaned from DCs library. All of the characters come into some sort of contact with the titular Judas Coin, and in various forms of Monkey's Paw-like plot twists, ill-fortune and tragedy befall them or those around them. Brief synopses are as follows:

The first tale takes place in Roman-occupied Germania and stars the Golden Gladiator, a character I was wholly unaware of. He was evidently a star in the Brave and the Bold comic from the 50s. Anywho, the Golden Gladiator runs afoul of Germanian rebels intending to assassinate Emperor Vespasian and through happenstance encounters his true love, long since lost.

The second and third tales star Viking Prince and Captain Fear, respectively. Viking Prince is a fairly self-explanatory figure and Captain Fear is an archetypical swashbuckling pirate. These fellows I was familiar with (thanks, Who's Who!). Our heroes are forced to deal with evil Celts and their Druish magics and mutiny on the high seas, again respectively.

One of my favorites was the fourth story. It featured Bat Lash, DC Comics favorite roguish cowboy and star of perennial favorites All-Star Western Cowboy Shoot-em-up Two Gun Comics!
Or something of the sort.
Bat gets himself into all sorts of trouble involving the trifecta of drinkin', gamblin', an' whorin' that seems to be omnipresent in fine tales of the Old West everywhere.

Story number five stars some character called The Batman, and he tangles with some other guy called Two Face who's trying to steal the Judas Coin from a museum. Fairly formula, but it strikes a familiar chord and manages to feel pleasantly different at the same time.

The sixth and final story takes place in 2087 AD and stars Starker, the Manhunter of 2070. Starker is a space bounty hunter and we find him Cowboy Bebopping around the galaxy after two green women that would make Captain Kirk envious and their stolen cargo of ancient coins.
One guess as to which coin is amongst the booty.
A particularly good bit in this story involves a telepath who gets a bit of a shock when he handles the Judas Coin, but the ending of this vignette is by far the best and even gave me pause as I read it. Well played indeed, Mr. Simonson.

I liked this book a great deal. Simonson was able to craft entertaining and at times thought provoking mini-stories within the context of an overlapping central driving force, the coin. With the exception of Batman, this is accomplished using archaic and seldom seen or heard of characters. This could turn off some readers, but I loved it and they can lure enough people in by displaying the Dark Knight prominently on the cover.

Although the book is masterfully and entertainingly written, I found the highlight to be the art. Simonson illustrated each story in a slightly different style, making it look unique without deviating from his distinct method. The Golden Gladiator story resembled the Prince Valiant newspaper strip and the Viking Prince story looked like it was ripped from one of Simonson's old Thor comics. Marvel's god of thunder would have looked right at home amongst the panels, and the Viking Prince's longship is a fantasy/steampunk creation reminiscent of Simonson's Asgard. The Captain Fear and Bat Lash stories reminded me of the Western and Adventure books that Dell Comics used to produce, and the Manhunter story was drawn to look like a Japanese Manga or Korean Manhua. The Batman story stood out as the only black and white entry in the book, and the layout was panoramic (for lack of better term), requiring you to turn the book sideways in order to read it. Which I found slightly agitating...

The Judas Coin is a 96 page hardcover with dust jacket, brilliantly written, illustrated and colored, but I'm afraid the 22.99 price tag that accompanies it will discourage some potential readers. Hopefully the book gets a more modestly priced tpb in the future. In any case, I would highly recommend this book to anyone suffering from event fatigue, but still skittish about straying too far from the Big Two in their purchases. I also would recommend the book for fans of the Golden Gladiator or the Viking Prince, of which I'm sure there are one or two of in the world.

Monday, September 24, 2012

REVIEW: Wayward #1-4

Created by: JSB
Review: William R. Davis Jr.

Wayward is a 5 issue limited horror series that can be purchased on comixpress. Issues one through four are now on sale, with the fifth and concluding issue coming soon.

The world of Wayward takes place in a haunted boys dormitory, and this book is as dark as it gets. This is mainly due to the artist's style, that puts the story in an almost foggy, Orwellian, nightmare. There are barely any backgrounds at all, and the characters seem to float like apparitions lost in a pool of black. They are as cryptic as their creator, whose name changes from issue to issue. Although I met the creator of this book personally, he really has no discernible identity.

Until issue three, there are no solid backgrounds at all. It is an innovative concept, but ultimately distracting. While this is a unique book for all of the reasons listed above, the art detracts from the already confused, disjointed story. The book does not tow that fine line between great spartanistic style and a coherent story.

The characters lack development. After three issues I cannot tell you character names, or really anything relevant at all regarding their background. Good horror comics are able to get the reader invested in the characters, and then their untimely deaths actually carry weight. With Wayward there really isn't that much to love in terms of the story. But for the following reasons I will be purchasing ish 5 when it goes on sale.

One: Out of a morbid curiosity, and an appreciation for the uniqueness that this one brings to the table. Two: There is also that crippling OCD of having four issues in a five issue series that I am currently struggling to cure. Wayward is ultimately a dismal effort to date. The issues do progressively get better, but the improvements are minor, and the art was in the ICU unit from jump street. In true HCB fashion, I have to say that it's still not as bad as Before Watchmen. Fuck Before Watchmen.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Axe Cop: President of the World
Issues 1 & 2
Story: Malachai Nicolle (age 8)
Pencils, inks, and lettering: Ethan Nicolle (age 31)
Colors: Dirk Erik Schulz (age 29)
Review: Cody "Madman" Miller

Axe Cop first appeared three years ago as a web comic by brothers Malachai (age 5 at the time) and Ethan Nicolle. Dark Horse picked it up, and well, here we are.

Malachai creates the world, and the insanely wonderful characters, and his big brother brings his younger brother’s imagination to life. Is it funny or is it sad that an eight year old is a more entertaining writer than half the writers working for the big 2? Malachai never disappoints. In every issue, he throws a new fantastic hero or villain at you…and his big brother can draw a very good boss….
In the first issue of “President of the World,” Axe Cop is made; you guessed it, president of the world. We are graced by the first appearance of Goo Cop, a man made entirely of green goo. Goo Cop can turn his arm into a goo cannon that shoots mind controlling goo loogies. Goo Cop becomes the first member of Axe Cop’s bad guy bashing crew.

Next, we meet Junior Cobb. Junior is a talking Gorilla who happens to have robotic gun fists; can grow as big as he wants, and he can also shoot anything he wants out of the gun on his tail (awesome). He has already produced jet airplanes and a volcano, with said tail cannon. For villains, in issue #1, we get evil aliens and an army of evil robotic penguins...not a bad start at all.

In issue #2, we learn that over a zillion bad guys are attacking Earth. That’s a zillion vs. three, if you’re keeping score. Enter Chee-Rex, a giant, motorcycle riding monster that is half cheetah and half T-Rex who can shoot you into space with his spring tongue. Enter a pair of blood thirsty robot brothers that kill the devil and the evil aliens are back shooting up a “Wall Mart”.

If you love to laugh and to be entertained, then you NEED to read this book. It’s true, the only reason I pre-ordered the first issue was because it was written by an 8 year old, but the reason I ordered the second issue and added it to my pull list was because it’s damn good. Just in case you are not convinced to spend the $3.50; cleansing the Before Watchmen stench off your soul, let me recap. Cop with an axe, talking gorilla with gun fists, evil aliens, evil robot penguins, the devil, gorilla with gun fists………… gorilla with gun fists………gorilla with gun fists.

“Not right now, Goo Cop. Right now I need you to turn into a Goo rocket and fly us to planet Weird Gorilla”…..Axe Cop



Monday, September 17, 2012

REVIEW: Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #12

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Alberto Ponticelli
Review: Will Dubbeld

In the wake of DC's most recent ctl+alt+del reboot of what can loosely be called continuity, I've discovered a few gems (Suicide Squad, Shade) amongst the chaff (Stormwatch, Deathstroke). Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is one of these gems.

The current incarnation of Frankenstein in the DCU is based on Grant Morrison's reimagining of the character from his Seven Soldiers of Victory maxiseries mixed with the Creature Commandos feature from the old Weird War Tales book from the 80s. Having been a lifelong fan of Universal Monsters I immediately took a shine to this book. Frankenstein leads a team of monsters that consists of an archetypical werewolf, vampire, ancient Egyptian mummy, and a female Creature From the Black Lagoon-like gillman (gillgal?). The mummy is a wise king-priest sort of wizardy fellow, the gillgal a scientist, and the werewolf and vampire round out the team as roguish front line fighters along with Frank, who wields the sword of Archangel Gabriel or somesuch as the team roots out otherdimensional evils and supernatural weirdness under the auspices of the S.H.A.D.E. organization. I was initially drawn to the book due to the similarities with Marvel's dearly departed Howling Commandos series from the early 2000s that operated under a similar premise of monsters working for a clandestine organization. Having come to terms with the fact that the Big Two continually ape each others plotlines, I proceeded undeterred.

Buying this book is as good as buying a one way train ticket to Wackytown, I kid you not. The first arc found the team waging war against mountain-sized otherdimensional critters on their home turf and the book hasn't slowed down in the slightest. The current arc (titled 'Son of Satan's Ring) has Frank and Company on the trail of an agent of S.H.A.D.E. who has gone rogue and is hiding out in a community for secret agents that is in the belly of some sort of biblical leviathan.

As I said, Wackytown.

Sword in hand, Frankenstein throws himself like so much Jonah (or perhaps more accurately Pinocchio) into the belly of the beast and sets out to find the traitor.
Allow me to share a passage from the issue:

"The leviathan graveyard has been the mystical resting place of dying leviathans for millions of years. The enchanted marrow from the thousands of leviathan bones creates a wet-membrane that generates a perfect underwater paradise within its protective bubble."

Admittedly, this book is full of oblique commentary and dialogue like the above passage, but it spins it in such a way as to not alienate the reader. Peppering the pages with scenes of Frankenstein's Monster cutting a swath of destruction through mobs of giant insects (called Scare-ebs) helps to counteract the sometimes sluggish narrative. Interspersed throughout the book is panels of Frankenstein having flashbacks to the past lives of the donors of his various pieces-parts, providing an interesting facet to the character that I'd not seen previously. The book ends with a full page spread showing Frankenstein at the head of a S.H.A.D.E. army on it's way to wage war against Victor Frankenstein and The Rot. I'm lead to believe this is the harbinger of some sort of Frankenstein/Swamp Thing/Animal Man love triangle crossover, and I'm fine with that.

Once more, my spirits are snatched from the gnarled talons of horrid comic limbo by an off-the-wall treat like this book. In the current status quo of Watchmen prequels and Marvel's bright idea to give Spider-Man a sidekick, it's a breath of fresh air to find a book that isn't reliant on mega events or super gimmicky storylines to drive the plot. Granted, I'm a sucker for monster books and supernatural goings-on, but I'll recommend this Frankenstein comic to anyone looking for a break from the regular capes and tights routine.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

REVIEW: Abe the Aborted Fetus

Creator: Z.M Thomas
Review: William R. Davis Jr.

Today I am writing a book that goes beyond controversial, and celebrates in middle school, adolescent, button pushing. Abe the Aborted Fetus is the only book to ever be banned from Facebook. And while the title rightfully foreshadows subject matter most heinous, the tale contained within has something to offend people on both sides of the argument.

While I do not necessarily condone the content, I did have a chance to meet Z.M Thomas and discuss this project with him and get his opinions. And even after all of that I feel like Abe the Aborted Fetus has some pretty effective satirical moments, but is deeply flawed.

As a reformed Catholic myself, the book centers around the inherent hypocrisy of the Catholic church, a repetitive, forgotten dogma whose literal translation eludes even the most devout Catholics. In addition, the corruption of the childhood sex scandal and subsequent coverup will never fade, as did the once all encompassing tableau and political machine that once ran the medieval world. Both have made the church much less relevant today. This is a work that aims an arrow at the absurdity of the modern day Catholic Church. That might have been the only part that I had no problem with when I finished reading the final panel.

Abe the Aborted Fetus saves himself from "Dr. Choice", and then donning Men in Black style spy wear, catches himself in the middle of a very real abortion war between the right wing of the United States Government/ the majority of Christian religious sects, and the political left. I find myself conflicted, and I'm not even sure if that synopsis even makes any sense to someone who hasn't read the book. To slightly stray into politics a bit, I am pro-choice, but not a fan of abortion. This one went a little far in it's juvenile one liners about a subject that causes real women very real pain. The condescending sabre rattling got old quick here, but as a fan of dumb humor I felt that the jokes themselves were solid. There were in fact moments where Z.M Thomas got in some nice digs on the left as well, but those were peppered with a few "Dixie Normous" toss outs that kept this one from ever getting close to the next level.

The truth is that I hate discussing this issue because women will never relinquish control of their own bodies regardless of legislation. It can be argued that writers like Garth Ennis are way more controversial in terms of their content, but the difference between Ennis and Thomas is that they're both actively trying to offend the reader in different ways. While Ennis is page after page of sick, twisted, sex and violence, the political overtones in this work do not seem to accomplish their goal. I understand that opening a dialogue with Jesus Camp attendees may seem to be a fruitless task, but there is a tendency to bash Christianity in all forms in America, and for that to be acceptable to the liberal masses. These are the same people that would be enraged if the subject were switched to a book about the absurdities of the Muslim religion, or the Jewish one for that matter.

Dr. Choice uses a coat hanger as a medical tool in the first few panels. That I found to be in extremely poor taste. Depicting doctors that perform abortions in this manner fuels the ignorant views of the right wing, and is extremely hurtful to the writer's cause here considering that before this medical procedure became legal this was how abortions were frequently performed.

And here I am talking about the story the entire time for obvious reasons, but I have to say the art was excellent, almost Guilliory-esque. There are panels here that are hard on the eyes though due to the subject matter. I could have lived without Abe waking up in a garbage can of aborted fetuses. Yeah, caveat emptor on this book. While the book was well thought out, masterfully drawn, and had a few redeeming factors, I could have left this one on the shelf. I am even filled with hesitation to post the cover on our website, but the work deserves a review, however milquetoast. If you like humor that reads like Weird Al without a soul, than this book is definitely one you want to buy right away. Anyone standing up and willing to debate ideas deserves respect, but this book does not do that. Z.M. Thomas seems more concerned with prodding the religious right/Catholicism than making a valid and cogent argument. If you want to debate abortion on any level, you need to have respect for the subject matter. Period.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man #692

Alpha Part One: Point of Origin
Writer: Dan Slott
Pencils: Humberto Ramos
Inks: Victor Olazaba
Colors: Edgar Delgado

“Spider-Man for a Night”
Story and Art: Dean Haspiel
Colors: Giulia Brusco

“Just Fight”
Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art: Nuno Plati

Review: Cody "Madman" Miller

So the web slinger has turned the big 50. In this day and age of throw away entertainment, that’s quite an accomplishment in any medium. Amazing Fantasy #15 is where it happened, Aug 1962 is when it happened. As a die-hard Spidey fan, I am damn glad it did.

This double issue is jam packed full of good times.
We are introduced to a new face in the 616, Andy Maguire. Andy is an outcast bottom feeder at Midtown High. Andy’s science class is on a field trip to Horizon Labs to watch a demonstration by none other than Peter Parker. He is demonstrating a clean, affordable, near limitless hyper-kinetic form of energy, thoughtfully named “Parker Particles.”

The demonstration goes horribly wrong and Andy is bombarded with Parker Particles and instantly becomes superhuman……de ja vu? Sound familiar? Horizon’s top dogs bring in the world’s greatest super-human specialists: Dr. Henry PYM (Giant Man), Tony Stark, Dr. Hank McCoy (The Beast), and of course, Prof. Reed Richards…..Mr. Fantastic himself. After studying the MU’s newest super, Reed Richards reveals that Peter’s Parkers Particles have indeed transformed Andy into the Marvel Universe’s first known Alpha-Level super-human. Greater than the Hulk. Greater than the Phoenix’s puny Omega ranking. Andy Maguire is the Alpha.

Alpha becomes, in effect, Spidey’s side kick. He learns the in’s and out’s of the super hero biz. The issue closes with the Fantastic Four sending out a call for help to Spider-Man. When Spidey shows up, the F4 are battling Giganto, whom Alpha takes out with one punch. The last panel of the last page gives us a glimpse of devilish things to come. Enter the Jackal (possibly the scariest villain in the Spider’s stable. Not that he’s an Alpha or even an Omega, it’s because he’s the “clone maker”).

All in all, very good issue. Ramos’s art was great as usual and Dan Slott’s writing was refreshingly engaging.

We were also blessed with two shorts at the ass end of this book. The first “Spider-Man for a Night,” takes place right after Spidey throws his costume in an alley trash can in ASM #50. A bank robber, running from law dogs, finds it and uses the Spidey duds to elude the police. He wears the costume on another failed robbery. In the end, we learn that he’s really trying to get enough money to pay for surgery for his granddaughter. He ends up putting the costume back where he found it. Meh……they could’ve left this one out.

The second short, “Just Right,” is better than the last, but in the end just another “feel good” piece. Spidey and a young boy just tooling around a bit. The Thing shows up and makes a few funnies about a pigeon dropping a bomb on Spidey’s head. That and Nuno Plati throwing in the Spider Buggy on his two page spread being the highlights. After reading the letters page (which is very good in this issue) I found myself wondering if Spider-Man would be around for another 50 years. I truly hope so. Happy Birthday Spidey.

Monday, September 3, 2012

REVIEW: Pecos #1

Writer: RJ Casey
Artist: Eric Roesner
Review: Will Dubbeld

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Wizardworld comic book convention in Chicago with the rest of the Hammond Comics Blog crew. This was the first 'con I'd attended in quite a few years, and I made up for lost time by spending way more money than I should have.

Numerous booths were present, highlighting the artistic efforts of talents ranging from luminary Neal Adams to those unheard of by the general populace. One of these booths belonged to an independent publisher called Yeti Press. I have a soft spot for indy books (although many of them are admittedly horrid) and the young lady hawking the wares at the booth convinced me to purchase the first two issues of a book called Pecos, described as a 'comedy western'.

Pecos spins the yarn of American folklore figure Pecos Bill. For the uninitiated, Pecos Bill is prominent character in tall tales from the turn of the last century, similar to Paul Bunyan or John Henry. The comic seems to paint Pecos Bill as less of a folkloric hero and more of an outlaw cowboy who would fit right in to the finest Spaghetti Western. The first issue finds Pecos around a campfire with three other cowpokes who take turns telling tall tales about Pecos Bill in exchange for the remainder of a can of beans. Exploits ranging from killing over a hundred men to robbing a bank during a tornado are told to the reader, and at the end of the book our three storytellers are left to share the remainder of Pecos' supper (consisting of a single bean) as he finishes out the cowboy trope by walking into the sunset.

Pecos was a rather short (16 page) book, but this is understandable considering the artist and writer are probably paying for it out of pocket with whatever money they can cobble together. The book is oversized with a color cover and black and white interiors, and the penciling quality is fairly good. It isn't up to the caliber of most books, lacking a true understanding of depth and shadow, but it has an endearing cartoonish quality that puts it head and shoulders above many other independent books that have a slapdash, almost lackadaisical approach to the art. There's some fairly good gags in the book also, my favorite involving Pecos lassoing a bullet out of the air during a gunfight.

According to the Yeti Press website Pecos only has two issues available, but it did have a smattering of other titles available that might bear looking into. Although the art and writing aren't as sharp as what you might find in a larger press book, I found myself enjoying Pecos much more than several books I could mention from world famous publishers.

Namely the Before Watchmen prequels...