Sunday, November 18, 2012

REVIEW: 47 Ronin #1 (of 5)

Writer: Mike Richardson
Art: Stan Sakai

"To know this story is to know Japan"

The tale of the 47 Ronin dates back to 18th century Japan, and is based on real events stemming from an incident involving a disgraced feudal lord and the quest of his loyal retainers to avenge his death. I'll not bog down the review with an in-depth history lesson and dissertation about the 47 Ronin, though I am sorely tempted to do so. Needless to say, it's a story about revenge, plain and simple. Samurai revenge.

This issue is all set-up for the main attraction, but is done in such a manner as to not bore the reader. The framework is laid with an (assumed) Ronin at a temple making an offering to the samurai buried there and telling his story to an inquisitive monk. Some years previous, Asano Takumi-Naganori, a daimyo, was summoned to entertain envoys who were visiting the shoguns court at the behest of the emperor of Japan. (daimyos were powerful territorial lords in feudal Japan, and the shogun was essentially a military dictator under which Japan was united. In a very generic nutshell). As Asano hails from a remote province and is largely ignorant of the intricacies of the shogun's court, he is to be tutored and thereby avoid dishonor as Japanese culture was (and is) steeped in etiquette and conduct. The problem facing our protagonist is his tutor, in fact, is a bag of dicks.

The tutor expects a hefty bribe for his efforts, and our Lord Asano refuses to pay the man for doing his duty, appointed to him by the shogunate. In response, the tutor endeavors to sabotage Asano's progress in hopes he will make errors in the intricacies of courtly etiquette in the face of the shoguns diplomats. In doing so, Asano will bring dishonor to his family, his lands, his name, his mailman, his dog, and anything else associated with him.

Because the Japanese take their courtly etiquette very, very seriously.

Matters boil over when Asano's tutor calls him a bumpkin country farmer, enraging the lord to the point he draws his blade in the shogun's palace and assaults the tutor. As the Japanese take their aforementioned courtly etiquette very, very seriously, this slight is punishable by death.

At this point, those unversed in the story should be able to divine why Lord Asano's 47 ronin embark on a mission of revenge, and on whom.

As I said, this issue is framework, merely setting the wheels in motion for the inevitable clash to come. Richardson, despite screenwriting Timecop, does a fine job here. From the opening scene with Asano and his daughter sharing a tender moment before his journey to his humble acceptance of his tutor's abuses until he finally snaps, you really feel for this hapless fellow. Richardson has a very blatant style, painting the heroes as heroes and the villains as villains without pausing for any grey areas to appear. Black and white storytelling will set the pace in this series, leaving no ambiguity as to who the good guys are and no sympathies for the bad guys.

Stan Sakai's art is, as always, excellent. I may be biased due to my adoration of Sakai's most famous work involving an anthropomorphic rabbit samurai, but I nonetheless find his art to be extremely expressive for it's seemingly simple line art style mixed with a look that is reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints. It was also a treat to see it in color, due to the fact that Usagi Yojimbo is a black and white book.

Both Richardson and Sakai have put extra care and detail into the historical accuracy of the setting and characters, complete with footnotes, and those familiar with Stan Sakai's work will notice his theme of weaving history into his art and stories.

Mike Richardson ends issue #1 with an editorial about his 25 year love of the tale of the 47 Ronin and how the book came to be published.

I'll stick with this one for the duration. It's more in the vein of Akira Kurosawa or the Lone Wolf & Cub comic than a Sonny Chiba throwdown, and the extra care that Richardson and Sakai are putting into the book show through. Although the story is somewhat folkloric, it's historical and cultural status haven't really been explored in American media thus far and it's high time Western readers were made aware of this classic tale.
"To know this story is to know Japan" indeed.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

REVIEW: Lot 13 #1

Artist: Glenn Fabry
Writer: Steve Niles
Colors: Adam Brown
Letters: Saida Temofonte
Review: Cody "Madman" Miller

Oh yay! Another new title from D.C. that will likely be about as exciting as watching the golf channel; that I will end up hating. It’s not that D.C. doesn’t have any good books out (I’ve been digging Talon and still pull Dial H on the monthly). It’s just that I’m a Marvel Zombie as Mr. Will “Brass Cannon” Dubbeld put it so eloquently in his last review. Not that I buy every title that Marvel puts out, because I don’t. It’s just that Marvel’s characters are nearer and dearer to my heart than the Supermans, Wonder Womans, and most certainly Aqua Mans of comicdom. That being said, for the most part Lot 13 was better than a kick in the balls any day..

I’d never even heard anything about Lot 13 until I went to my local comic book establishment and found it had mysteriously infiltrated my folder. Shawn, the resident comic book wizard and owner of said shop, Comics Cubed, is cool like that. Knowing I write reviews he’ll randomly put the odd new titles and other books he has given the thumbs up on in my folder. Most of the times he’s justified in doing so, but, once in a while due to insufficient funds or lack of interest on my part, I put a few back. But with his “If you read it and hate it you can bring it back” policy, it’s really a win win. Anywho, let’s talk Lot 13.

Well, I believe the best part of this book is undeniably the artwork by Glenn Fabry. I liked his work on Preacher and Daredevil/Bullseye so it wasn’t really a surprise that his art stands out here as well. Most pages wouldn’t need the dialogue or side notes to understand what is transpiring. Fabry's facial expressions tell all. That is a sign of a good comic artist. Adam Brown’s color wheel is spinning as it should; his color work really sets the mood throughout.
I can’t say much about Niles’ writing. It’s not that it’s awful.It’s just this story has been done more times than you can shake a dead cat.

We start out in 1670 in the new world Fair Fax County, Virginia; for the first five pages anyway. Which happen to be the best pages in this book in my humble opinion. A man named Robert Wyatt is being posthumously tried for his apparent suicide and murder of his wife and three kids. He is found guiltily in the eyes of the court and their bodies are mutilated and dumped into a mass grave.

Fast forward to the present day. A family of five is moving out of their apartment. They get to their new house and it is being fumigated. Sans a place to stay for the night, the family hops back into their RV and goes looking for a place to rest their weary heads until the toxic fumes have gone the way of the buffalo. Then and only then can our little clan enter into their newly purchased slice of heaven. Anyway, they end up splattering some poor short bastard with a bulbous head; complete with a forehead the size of a small family car. When the family gets out to check the carnage, the splattered fellow has vanished. Ooooh. So, yeah, they pack back into their murderous RV and end up finding a couple of rooms for rent in a rundown apartment building (In the middle of nowhere).

Sooner than later, there is a knock on one of the kids’ doors. He opens it and there stands the splatter victim with an extremely pissed off look on his face. That’s it. By the time I was finished reading this book, I was glad. Being the open minded person that I am, I will read at least one more issue. Unlike some fella who writes for HCB, I can’t condemn a book after reading just one single issue, no matter how hilarious the timeline on the last page is. The verdict is in……..meh…I’ll get the 2nd issue for two reasons…

#1 I know the art will be amazing.
#2 Guy with the bulbous head. We could all use a little more head…


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

REVIEW: Marvel Zombies Halloween One-shot

Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Alessandro Vitti
Review: Will Dubbeld

Well, it's that time of the year again. Leaves fall off of the trees, restaurants start offering pumpkin as an addenda to every confection, latte, or baked good. Little beggars scour the neighborhood for sweets and criminal mischief, and zombies overtake pop culture more than they usually do. Granted, All Hallow's Eve will have come and gone by the time this hits the internets, but I couldn't find a Marvel Zombie Thanksgiving one-shot to review, so hear ya go.

The Marvel Zombies phenomena launched in 2005, written by some Kirkman fella who I hear is peripherally involved in the zombie field to some degree. I dunno, I hadn't heard of him...
It seems that the Marvel Zombies idea may have started as a throw away miniseries that exploded into a monster all its own. Spawned from a story arc in Ultimate Fantastic Four (of all books) and spinning into 9 (!) minis, crossing over with the Army of Darkness comic book (which I did not follow due to my rabid hatred of inter-company crossovers) and finally plateauing with Howard the Duck battling Nazi zombies.

Boom goes the dynamite.

The whole thing is ludicrous, and I can't help but buy every stinkin' one. The term Marvel Zombie is doubly applicable here, as it is an endearing(ish) term of affection (I think) for Marvel's legion of fans who will unthinkingly buy every bit of newsprint the company produces, from the drek to the gems.

I, myself, have been a Marvel Zombie since 1990 or so...

Anywho, my neverending hunger compelled me to buy this book and it slaked the ravening, if only for a moment.

Scribe Fred Van Lente was a familiar name, having written some of the other Zombie series and a pretty solid run on The Incredible Hercules. A pretty funny run, really.

His undead momentum keeps up in this one-shot, opening with exploding zombie heads and panning out to a dilapidated farmstead. Our protagonists are introduced, a mother and son who are fighting the good fight of survival horror like so many before them. The boy (Peter) finds a black kitten is the walls of the farmhouse, and soon after is explained the meaning of Halloween by his mother and she even rustles up a Wolverine costume for him.

Because, y'know, dilapidated farmhouses are lousy with child sized Wolverine costumes...
However, the mother states that Wolverine was, "always my hero", so a fun-sized snikters to anyone who guesses her identity.

Mom then boogied into town to find some candy for Peter and while she's away, Deus Ex Kitten gets out of the house and wanders off. Consequently, what's a young, plucky lad in a superpowered zombie apocalypse to do in such a clearly dangerous scenario?
Why, he sets off to go rescue his wayward kittie.

In the dark.
In a Wolverine costume.
Well, it is a tried and true horror trope...

Young Peter makes his way to town, finding it strewn with corpses and abandoned automobiles such as you'll find in every zombie movie, and goes to the one house with lights on. The door is answered by a hook-nosed, gangly bearded fellow that you would expect to find introducing the stories in a Vault of Crypt of Terror Horror comic. Of Fear.

They have a brief exchange about how foolish young Peter is and how the man prefers Devil's Night over Halloween. He then slams the door in young Peter's face without so much as a "get off'n my property!" and that's when the real fun starts.

My most favorite part of the Marvel Zombie books is seeing the familiar cast of Marvel portrayed as horrible flesh eating creatures from Hell, and in the following page Peter is assaulted by a zombie squirrel.

Time for the crazy, people.

This time around I was treated to zombie versions of Karolina Dean (from the Runaways), Darkhawk, that metal guy from Avengers Academy, one of the Power Pack, and zombie Squirrel Girl.
Zombie. Squirrel. Girl.

Peter naively asks them if the horrid undead creatures have seen his kitty and then chastises them for being unloved dead selfish stupid heads. The zombie response is pretty much, "oh yeah? Well you're dumb, kid", and prepare for noms.

Mom shows up in the nick of time, and we are treated to the glorious image of Zombie Darkhawk getting his eyes stabbed out by a child in a Wolverine costume. That alone was worth the price of admission, folks. After a narrow escape, our heroes are cornered by a horde of zombie squirrels and all seems lost as the undead b-listers close in on the pair.

Luckily, as the clock strikes midnight, the Grumpy Old Man from before appears reciting lyrics from the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy For the Devil" and proceeds to smite zombie morts with hellfire.
urns out it was Mephisto.

Seems there are few souls left in the superhero zombie apocalypse and he seeks to preserve the ones that can still be corrupted, which I thought was a pretty deft storytelling move on Van Lente's part.

Our story concludes back at the farmhouse with mother and son back at the farmhouse, safe and snug. They share a tender moment and reminisce about the lad's father before embracing and reuniting with the wayward kitten.
Happy Halloween from Marvel Comics.

Van Lente does an admirable job on this one, throwing several horror cliches into the book and keeping the gallows humor that was prevalent in the previous Zombie series. I especially liked the fact that the core of his story was the importance of family, which is an excellent narrative device in the survival horror genre (see Walking Dead, World War Z, et al). The use of Mephisto as someone fighting zombies to preserve souls for his later despoilment was also really clever. I'd buy a miniseries based around that premise alone.

Vitti's art isn't bad, I've never been to fond of his style as everyone the same nose and cheeks. Nitpicky, I know, but for $2.99-3.99 a pop, I can pick all the nits I want. I didn't mind his art in this one-shot, however, as the whole ensemble cast was mostly composed of emaciated, rotting, or otherwise gangrenous characters. The cover was also splendid, depicting Zombie Daredevil, Zombie Black Panther, and Zombie Power Man partaking in some gruesome trick or treating complete with jack o' lantern buckets full of brains.
And I'm talking 70s butterfly collar-chain for a belt-tiara wearing Power Man, too.

Hopefully next year we'll be treated to another zombie apocalypse tale from Marvel. It was a welcome short story that distracted me from a bevy of mainstream capes and tights books and graced the world of comicdom with the visual of Darkhawk getting stabbed in the face, a win in my book.

Plus, Zombie Squirrel Girl was a treat.

Marvel Zombie Halloween was corny and dripping with cheese in places, but I'm eagerly awaiting the next book like a good Marvel Zombie...

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Shotgun Blast

Review: Frank McGirk


Pick of the Week: Bedlam. Okay, I’m not really going to steal any headlines here. Great art, not your standard serial killer schtuff, and a lot of book (double sized) for the $3.50. The only reason not to pick this up is because you can’t. Went into a second printing almost immediately, and the first printing was selling for $10 on Ebay a day after it was released.

Holding Strong: A vs X Consequences #4. With the relative dreck of the Marvel Now line that’s been shat out, I’m still amazed at what a nice narrative this is. It’s not easy to jump around and just give two pages of story to a character like Colossus or Namor and let someone really feel like they know what’s going on, but Kieron Gillan has been doing just that. And really, who doesn’t like Magneto best when he is lacing up his shit-kicking boots.

Why Won’t People Buy This Book: American Vampire #32. Okay, I know why. I wouldn’t have checked this out had not my favorite, doughy, comic reviewer hadn’t recommended it. Vampires have been played out. But though I recommend to the three people who frequent my comic shop, no one has moved towards it. Tight writing, nice art, and a great retro feel...nope, not for me, they say.

Still Pretty, But Not Much Else: Happy #2 and Fashion Beast #3. Both of these are mini-series, so I’ve gotta cut them some slack. I assume the writers focus less on making each issue accessible, but these both have a real “connective tissue” feel to them, rather than feeling like a functioning muscle. Happy #1, besides being a pretty book, had a clever way of setting folks up to be an assassinated, and the introduction of the little blue horse, but issue two...well, I guess we had to see him escape. As for Fashion Beast, I LOVED the first issue, which could have been a stand-alone comic, and even the second was intriguing in where the plot was going. #3, well, it just didn’t tickle like the first two, but I’m still going to take the ride to the end.

What Now? A+X #1. Did anyone really lament the lack of a Marvel Team-Up comic? Mediocre Marvel. One complete story, and one ongoing arc...both about time travel, which I generally find to be lame outside of Dr. Who. However, it does allow two Wolverines and two Hulks to fight, and I’m sure Marvel’s mighty marketing machine thought that was a good idea.

More Mignolia: BPRD Hell on Earth #100. Okay, every Mike Mignolia comic seems the same. That’s awesome! Buy it. Read it. Love it.

Huh, You Don’t Say: The Origin of Skeletor #1. Not courting the kid market with this one, DC gives up a hand painted, lovely comic with a pretty thin story. But if you like your men with swiveling hips, I suppose you’ll be into this one