Thursday, January 31, 2013

REVIEW: Punisher Nightmare 1-5


Writer: Scott M. Gimple
Artist: Mark Texeira
Colorist: Frank D'Armata
Review: William R. Davis Jr.

Who doesn't love a good, bloody, Punisher romp once in a while? Right out of the gate, props to Marvel for making this one a weekly release. I wish more publishers did this with limited series runs.

Now there have been some shit Punisher books in the past (Punisher in Space), and some serious classics (Punisher MAX Garth Ennis run), so where does Punisher: Nightmare fit into the Punisher mythos? And how many "Punisher"s can one man fit into a single sentence? Let's find out.

I wanted this one from previews right away because of the writer Scott Gimple. The Walking Dead AMC series has been on quite a tear, and this man helped pen the pages of those scripts, instant street cred. The first issue was great. Gimple threw in a lot of really believable pop culture references that helped develop Johnny Nightmare quite nicely. When the man said "Tiffany Amber Theissen at her best" I knew exactly where he was coming from. It's still a toss up for me between early college years Saved by the Bell and 90210 on that one, but for completely different reasons.

The similarities between Johnny and Captain America were pretty clear to me by issue two, and when ol' Cap popped up later in the series for a short cameo, it was definitely a nice surprise. I definitely liked the dichotomy between super soldier Cap and Johnny Nightmare. One goes on to be the comic book version of Uncle Sam and lead the Avengers, and the other grows into a grossly distorted killing machine, all from a government serum. What a deliciously narcissistic view of the Marvel Universe. And of course the similarities to Frank Castle are spelled out from the start. Both had their families murdered in Central Park. The writing became a little sloppy towards the end. Even a roided out Johnny Nightmare would know that there were five bricks of C4 on his back, right? But this is all typical, mainstream comic criticism. If you like Punisher, you should like the writing in this one even if you have to suspend disbelief an extraordinary amount.

What almost killed this series for me was the art by Mark Texeira. Texeira has always been a serviceable Marvel staple, his art has always been a little simplistic and distorted for my taste, but he's a really nice guy if you ever get a chance to meet him at a Con. I just realized what a super shitty compliment that was, but let's continue. When Johnny Nightmare and the Punisher decide to team up, the first panel of them walking side by side down a NYC street made me let out an audible groan even though I was sitting in a room alone. Johnny Nightmare was somehow wearing a matching, Punsiher skull, rhinestone studded t-shirt. That was just too damn much, even for a Marvel book. I just pictured Frank Castle pulling it out of a drawer while saying: "Your family was murdered. My family was murdered. Let's roll Johnny Nightmare." Tosses t-shirt. Where was the art editor on this one? I know that if I were in the big chair and that came across my desk, someone might lose their job over that shit.

If you are looking for a nice little, bloody, escapist Punisher tale than this one is definitely worth the money. This series is slightly above average in the Punisher universe. The writing is way better than the art. Both have holes, but nothing that completely ruined the book for me. I have not been blown away by a Marvel book in quite a long time. Some of them are right there, and then they go Phoenix Five on your ass. This one fits nicely into that category. Polite golf clap. Fin.

Monday, January 28, 2013

REVIEW: Harvey Pekar's Cleveland

Writer: Harvey Pekar
Artist: Joseph Remnant
Review: Will Dubbeld

I had been largely unaware of Harvey Pekar's work for most of my comic reading days, being only peripherally familiar with American Splendor until the biopic was released. I picked up a collection of Pekar's work that coincided with the film and was instantly smitten with it.

Harvey told tales of an everyman's life through his eyes, opinions and foibles, colored by a perpetually curmudgeonly outlook that lent an endearing tone to his work.

After a forward by Alan Moore, Cleveland begins with an illustrated history of the city and its environs beginning with the initial settlement up through the present day. He treats us to a recollection of listening to a Cleveland Indians game from the 40s that was piped through his elementary school PA system , and vignettes like these were at the core of Peker's work. Little slice of life anecdotes that lent the reader insight into his thought processes and nostalgic attitude towards day to day activity. Seemly written in a stream of consciousness approach, Harvey Pekar always managed to bring together full circle his narrative.

The book provides an interesting cross-section of Cleveland's neighborhoods and racial demographics as well as the political and socioeconomic dichotomy of the city. He speaks of Cleveland as a decaying city, once great but since reduced to a level that will never recapture the glory it held when he was listening to an Indians game over the schools PA.

The book ends rather abruptly, without a sense of closure, which I noticed was representative of his body of work but did not ever leave me with an unfulfilled feeling. The book closes with some excellent photos and afterwards by the artist and Pekar's wife, Joyce Brabner.

It's difficult for me to adequately express how well Harvey crafted his comics, and I was frankly hesitant to tackle a work of this caliber. Pekar was mostly unheard of in mainstream comicdom, but deserves to be lauded in the same breath as Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, or Möebius Giraud, considering the work he did in pioneering alternative forms of graphic storytelling. As under the radar as Peker was, he kept his name and address in the Cleveland phonebook for his entire life, enabling fans to call or visit and this alone speaks volumes about his character.

Sadly, Cleveland was to be one of Harvey Pekar's final pieces, as he was found dead of an accidental overdose of prescription medication in 2010. He was 70 years old.
The world of independent/underground comics has yet to recover or find a suitable heir to Pekar, and I doubt that it ever will. He left a legacy and extensive body of work that I recommend to anyone, comic reader or not. Ignoring Harvey Pekar and his musings does a disservice to the medium and to the memory of a 70 year old file clerk from a Cleveland VA hospital who wrote some of the finest comics ever to hit the stands.

Friday, January 11, 2013

REVIEW: Morbius The Living Vampire #1

Writer: Joe Keatinge
Artist: Richard Elson
Colorist: Antonio Fabela
Review: Cody “Madman” Miller

I know as Spider-Man’s biggest fan boy, I should be writing up a review for #700. Don’t worry, it’s coming. I’d planned on smashing #700, Avenging Spider-Man and Superior into a nice little compact package, sort of like a dung beetle rolls his perfect little balls of poo. Does that mean it was a train wreck? I don’t know, does it? I guess you’ll just have to wait and see now won’t you? Calm down and chill people because I have other offerings for the four color gods.

Sure I was “excited” to gobble up the end of Amazing, but the first comic I grabbed out of my stack upon returning from my local funny book store was in fact not Spider related at all, but involved a different sort of tormented science geek.
The living Vampire is actually a scientist named Dr. Michael Morbius P.H.D. You probably already knew that, but do you know who created him? Stan Lee? Nope. Jack Kirby? Nope. Roy Thomas? Yes and no. You see Morbius first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man issue # 101 (which I own) circa 1971. Do you know why that matters? Well there are a couple of reasons that I will gladly fill you in on here.

#1. Issue #101 of Amazing Spider-Man happens to be the first issue of Marvels flag ship comic written by someone other than Spidey’s co-creator, the legendary Stan Lee.

#2. 1971 was the year the ass holes at the CCA (Comics Code Authority) lifted its ban on Vampires and certain other supernatural creatures of the night. Thus, my “man” Morbius was comicdoms first pointy fanged devil.

#3. Because I said so.

Morbius isn’t a “true” vampire so to speak. You see Morbius was a Nobel Prize winning biochemist who had attempted to cure himself of a rare blood disease with an experimental home brew involving vampire bats and large doses of electricity. And just like that, poof, pseudo-vampirism.

After Morbius’ debut, he more or less just appeared as a supporting character in various Marvel titles until 1992 when Marvel gave him his own title. It was a middle of the road series and only ran for thirty some issues (most of which I own). Morbius is just one of those characters that I feel compelled to follow. So needless to say, I was super excited for this new series and all that it entails.
The first issue was good. Damn good. The writing was more or less what I expected. I mean Keatinge was good in Hell Yeah, so I expected nothing less between these covers…..the art, which was my real concern. I mean let’s face facts; the early artist’s renderings of our beloved blood sucker were horrible. He looked way too cliché with his tattered half cape thingy, long black unkempt hair, red eyes, pale white skin, and his wack job fingers all bent at weird angles like some kind of 90 year old man with a serious case of arthritis. In fact my only real complaint about this book was Gabriele Dell’otto’s cover which has cliché oozing off of it.
But not here, not now. Elson really turned that around and brought Dr. Morbius into modern times and made him suck (get it) a whole lot less. Even though the writing is pretty damn good, it is really the art that sold me on the book as it has a new home on my pull list (having just dumped most of the Marvel Now titles I have ample room).

Other than that, it is what it is, If you’re looking for something heroish with a little bite (snicker snicker) pick this title up and support the fact that the living vampire is back in a big way…..Twilight fans need not apply. No glittery nipples or inter-species love affair……at least not yet.

Monday, January 7, 2013

REVIEW: Punk Rock Jesus 1-6

Writer and Artist: Sean Murphy
Review: William R. Davis Jr.

Punk Rock Jesus told me to go fuck myself. I never thought that I would get to use that phrase, or that it would make sense to people, but Sean Murphy has made my dream possible and for that I am thankful. If someone were to say to me that Punk Rock Jesus was the best series to come out last year, I couldn't really argue the point. There were comics that I like better, but this series was almost flawless. The art was dark and engaging, the story had well developed characters and it's commentary on organized religion was socially relevant. There were a few minor things that could have been changed for the better, and a few loose ends I felt myself pondering at the end of issue six, but these were some great comics, and from start to finish PRJ was solid throughout.

The subject matter itself isn't really that controversial in the comic world. The general demographic of comic readers tend to be against organized religion as a social norm. See Twitter. But the cloned second coming of Christ as the star of a new reality television show is some edgy stuff. The title alone tells one right away that this comic isn't going to be a love letter to the New Testament, but that was to be fully expected. The art was just brilliant on PRJ. Sean Murphy did a top shelf job on this one. The fundamentalist Christian fringe group seemed a little stereotypical, but the story was really well executed, a nice allegory of Christ in the modern world, sans divinity.

One of the things that really grinded my gears me were the presence of miracles in the book that went unanswered. The mother Gwen attempted to commit suicide and was saved by an Angel. When she woke after the incident there were hand prints on her shoulders resulting in a religious awakening. This leads her to join a fundamentalist Christian terrorist group? This part of the book made absolutely no sense to me at all. Both her miracle and Thomas's miracle went unexplained, but these occurrences were major life changing events for both characters. PRJ itself was a knock against organized religion, so why throw in legit angels. I was a bit disappointed. If I ever meet Sean Murphy at a con this will be the first thing I ask him while he's signing my mint condish copy of issue one. Yeah I know, hitting the man with a barrage of questions at a signing is super fanboy. Classy. But I'm willing to be that guy.

This is a must own series. If you didn't get in on the ground floor be sure to pick this one up in trade. All comics should be done this way. If they were, people would be way more into comics.Everyone wins. After PRJ, I will now be purchasing Sean Murphy comics on the reg in the future. The stuff he did on Joe the Barbarian and American Vampire was good, but PRJ is next level stuff. If I see his name on a future comic I must own that comic. Period. Sean Murphy is now a heavy hitter that can draw and write on par with the biggest names in the game. Hopefully his best work is yet to come.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

REVIEW: Star Wars Purge: The Tyrant's Fist 1;2

Writer: Alexander Freed
Artists:Marco Castiello and Andrea Chella
Review: William R. Davis Jr.

Legacy was the last time I got into a Star Wars comic, but this one intrigued me. Why? The period between Episodes 3 and 4 is an interesting time in the Star Wars universe. I want to get as much information as I possibly can on the subject, so I decided to roll the dice on a comic franchise that I had long ago put to rest. Star Wars was due anyway. Three shitty movies, some dismal comic books, and a sale to the Disney Company later, I figured these guys might have a hit on their hands.

I have always found that comic adaptations of sci-fi shows and movies seem to be lacking a little in the art department. The Tyrant's Fist is no exception. The covers were pedestrian and uninspired. The first panel of issue one literally made me cringe. The opening was an overhead view of Vader's "enforcer squad". The four square figures in the distance are reminiscent of the little square pegs that you put in the cars when playing The Game of Life. Sigh. OK, so how about the story?

A two issue series. I like that idea. The art of the well executed one shot is almost extinct, so the format was intriguing. Some series only need three issues to get the job done. Others try to cram 9 issues worth of story into 6. This series did a great job with it's space. The story flows well. The narrator could have been a little better, a little too human of a face on the Imperial peon for my liking. Some of the her dialogue didn't fit well either. At one point she said: "Check the official report for the grisly details." Not very Star Wars at all.

It did wrap up quite nicely however. The ending was solid, and not what one would normally find in the Star Wars a good way. Overall, if you can get over the art, this one is worth buying. There are flaws in the story as well, and they are minor compared to the payoff in the end. Details would equal spoilers, and since the plot is the redeeming factor in this tale, I don't want to ruin anything. I will leave it at this: This force is slightly above average in this one.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

REVIEW: Mara #1

Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Ming Doyle
Review: William R. Davis Jr.

Happy new year Fanboys. There were a lot of great moments for comics in 2012, and a whole lot of controversy. The new 52 changed the way business was done at the big two. Both universes are now in full blown reboot mode for better or worse. One controversial part of the DC reset was the way that women were depicted in their comics. They all look like Tank Girl now. That's what people in politics call "appealing to your base."

Brian Wood (DMZ, Northlanders, Conan) has just stacked the rack (no boob pun here) with an all new anti-DC super heroine. His last release of 2012 comes in a busy year. It seems like his pen has touched every other book on the shelf these days, but hey, that's not a bad thing at all for comics. This guy can write. It's a safe bet that Image might have another book of substance in Mara. As far as content goes, they were tops in 2012.

The holidays made it a really slow week, and this release was definitely the highlight. There are a lot of dystopian future tales out there these days. You have to put this comic squarely in that genre. Last year was definitely all zombies and District 12, so maybe one more series that reeks of skynet leans more toward apropos, as opposed to cliche. That's entirely your call. The only thing I'm not buying is that volleyball has taken the place of the NFL in this bleak new future. Bear down for life.

It's a little to soon to completely wrap my head around what this one is about. Mara is the Michael Jordan of volleyball, the world's most popular sport. And this is a world that's war and sport obsessed replete with all kinds of corporate sponsorship. Before you say anything: No, this is the future and not present day America. Maybe Mara will wake up from a dream in issue six, like that really shitty season of Roseanne. I don't know. That's pure speculation at this point. She's also a lesbian if that matters to anyone, but with the gay pride parade that was 2012 mainstream comics, I don't think that aspect of the book is going to get a lot of ink from the reviewers out there.

Ming Doyle is on point with the art. It's definitely something different that adds to the enjoyment you're going to get from this read. 2012 was also a solid year for unique comic art, and you can definitely put Mr. Doyle up there with the front runners.

This one seems to be a superhero/sci-fi hybrid with some social commentary accoutrement. The last page takes this one to a whole different level, but you won't find any spoilers here. It's hard to say where issue two is going to take us, but issue one is definitely dedicated to character development so I would stay tuned for some action down the road. They got all of the exposition out of the way nicely without boring me. High five. With all the trappings of a solid series, Mara is probably a slam dunk.

Sports pun. Mission Accomplished.

Who knows what will happen next month. Maybe Mara is on the juice? Call the commissioner, and exchange money for comic today.