Monday, June 9, 2014

COMIC REVIEW: Jug(un)dead

1.-5 Afterlife With Archie Vol. 1: Escape from Riverdale (Archie Comics, 2014) ****½
- originally published in Afterlife With Archie #1-5 (Archie Comics, 2013-14)
Writter: Roberto Aguirre Sacasa. Artist: Francesco Francavilla

Even if AWA wasn’t a zombie comic, it’d still be a dark little comic. There’s a sinister undertone running through the first five issues that could have been explored even if it didn’t feature an undead apocalypse led by Jughead (who becomes zombified after being bitten by his supernaturally revived dog - shades of Pet Semetary there).
All the unpleasant and just plain wrong aspects of the regular Archie universe are amplified here, making Riverdale like a four-colour Twin Peaks. Archie is pursued by Veronica and Betty, two BFFs who spend most of their time abusing and backstabbing each other to a sociopathic degree. Archie describes Reggie as his “bud”, even though Reggie is clearly a nasty guy (his initial act – killing Jughead’s dog Hot Dog in a hit’n’run – is the catalyst for the mayhem that follows), who later shows himself to be both unhinged and a homophobe.

Obviously, Riverdale's only openly homosexual character, Kevin Keller, is here. But there's other psycho-sexual shenanigans on display in the first arc. Chuck's girlfriend Nancy is revealed to be in a secret lesbian relationship with Ginger.
Betty and Veronica's rival for Archie's affection, Cheryl Blossom, has the most perverse subplot of all - she's seemingly in an incestuous relationship with twin brother Jason (although this is implied and could merely be Jason's wishful thinking. Even if it's only that, it's still pretty damn sick).
Speaking of sick, Veronica’s hatred of Archie borders on psychopathic, but maybe it’s justified. Archie seems brave on the surface, but he’s clearly a neurotic loser who loves sitting on the fence while two hot chicks war for his affection. A nicer guy would just make clear who he truly wants to date (or fuck) and let the other chick down easily. Archie’s such a wimp he leads both girls on – it’s cruel and even a little mean...except you suspect Archie’s probably more dumb than mean. As Veronica’s butler astutely states at one point, “Archie Andrews doesn’t deserve you.”
As for Sabrina the Teenage Witch, who uses necromancy to revive Jughead’s beloved pet, she is banished to a netherworld early in the piece as punishment by her two aunties and is unable to reverse or stop the tragedy that soon befalls Riverdale. As for Hilda and Zelda, their true countenances when angered reveal they are more demons than witches.
Once AWA settles into the typical zombie tropes – although, unlike The Walking Dead, these zombies run – it’s a little predictable and the only real surprises are which of our beloved childhood cartoon characters are next in line to be turned into shambling flesh-eaters and who will live to run another day. (Sorry, Principal Weatherbee fans, but he gets munched on in the first issue.)

This first arc ends with a motley crew of survivors fleeing a burning Riverdale as the zombie plague spreads throughout America and a somewhat sentient Jughead becomes more than just a crown-wearing buffoon, he’s now King of the Zombies.
The best way to follow this series is via the trades as you get to see the dozens of alternative covers drawn by Francavilla, a true artistic find.
Even if you’re sick of zombie comics, there’s much to appreciate in this series. But a part of me wishes Sacasa had dropped the whole undead motif and focused on the true sickness that lies festering beneath the surface of Archie Andrews’ world.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The problem with RACHEL RISING - an extra thought

AS MUCH as I disparage Terry Moore's pricing policy for RACHEL RISING, I really want to reiterate how great this series is. I heartily recommend you pick up the first four volumes, which covers the first 24-issue arc. But I wonder how Moore will do now that the driving story of the first arc is now over. In some ways, it reminds me of David Lynch's TWIN PEAKS. The first season was awesome as it revolved around the search for Laura Palmer's killer and all the weirdness that surrounded the case. Once the killer (SPOILER: it was her father under the influence of the otherworldy demon "Bob") was caught, it seemed to take the wind out of the sails of the series. The second season just wasn't very good because there was no real reason for viewers to hang around and watch the general weirdness without a driving major plot being resolved. In RACHEL RISING, the evil of Lilith and Malus was defeated at the end of Volume 4. So now we're left with two undead friends, a sociopathic 50yo woman trapped in the body of a child and a doctor who fucks his wife's corpse at night. That's one step away from the cast of GOLDEN GIRLS! Anyway, Moore has begun a new arc where the Scooby Gang are looking for a friend's murderer, but it all seems forced. I really think the series would have ended perfectly at the end of #24, but Moore clearly wants to milk his cash cow a while longer. It'll be interesting whether he can maintain the quality of the first arc with this run.

COMICS READING FOR MAY: “Stray thoughts”


* NOW WITH STAR RATINGS (ala Wrestling Observer Newsletter PPV reports) *

*****     Watchmen, Miracleman, V For Vendetta
****      From Hell, Supreme, Swamp Thing, Fashion Beast, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (first two series)
***        Axel Pressbutton, Tom Strong
**         Promethea
*           LoEG: Century: 1969
DUD (or lower) any of his non-comics stuff

161 comics in a month? I will NEVER do that again.
1. Mouse Guard, Labyrinth and Other Stories (Archaia, 2014) ****
Writers/Artists: various
2. Zombie Tramp (Action Lab: Danger Zone, 2014) **
Writers/Artists: various
3. Help The CBDF Defend Comics (CBLDF, 2014) ***½
Writers/Artists: various
4. 2000AD (Rebellion, 2014) ***¾
Writers/Artists: various
5. Epic #0 (Comix Tribe, 2014) ***½
Writer: Tyler James/Artist: Matt Zolman with Fico Ossio and Vic Moya
6. The Dumbest idea Ever! (Scholastic, 2014) ***½
Writer/artist: Jimmy Gownley 
7. Guardians Of The Galaxy (Marvel, 2014) ***
Writers/artists: various
8. Courtney Crumrin #1 (Oni, 2014) ****
- originally published in Courtney Crumrin #1 (Oni, 2012)
Writer/artist: Ted Naifeh
9. Future’s End #0 (DC, 2014) ****
Writers/artists: many
10. Rocket Raccoon #1 (Marvel, 2014) ***¾
Writers/artists: various
11.-14. Giant-Size Action/Thrills/Adventure/Fantasy (Red Giant Entertainment, 2014) **** for the concept
Writers/artists: various
15. Teen Titans Go! #1 (DC, 2014) ***¼
Writers: Sholly Fisch, Merrill Hagan/Artists: Ben Bates, Jorge Corona
16. The Tick (NEC, 2014) ***
Writer: Jeff McClelland/Artists: Duane Redhead, Ian Chase Nichols
17. Atomic Robo (Red 5 Comics, 2014) **¾
Writers/artists: various 
18. Buck Rogers (Hermes Press, 2014) ****½
Writers/artists: various
Despite publisher Daniel Herman being a douchebag of the highest order, his reprinting of this seminal newspaper serial is superb, and this comic is a joy to read. But it still loses half a star due to Herman being a cunt.
* Listen to my podcast HERE for my thoughts on FCBD 2014.

19. Streets #1 (DC, 1993) **¾
Writer: James D. Hudnall/Artist: John Estes
Overly earnest, slightly overwrought and not-all-that-believable crime yarn – about a flawed cop trying to solve the murders of two teen runaways – from the usually reliable Hudnall. Este does a beautiful cover but his interior art is patchy.
20. The Great Society Comic Book #1 (Parallax, 1966) **
Writer: DJ Arneson/Artist: Tony Tallarico
Badly drawn, poorly written but this remains possibly the wackiest “satire” comic I’ve ever read. LBJ, Nixon, Robert and Ted Kennedy and more are depicted as superheroes. Any comic that uses the Ku Klux Klan for comedy is either pure genius or utterly inept.
21. Space Ghost (Comico, 1987) ***
Writers: Mark Evanier & Steve Rude/Artists: Steve Rude & Willie Blyberg

22.-27. Rachel Rising Vol. 1: The Shadow Of Death (Abstract Studio, 2012) ****½
- originally published in Rachel Rising #1-6 (Abstract Studio, 2011-12)
Writer/artist: Terry Moore
I’m sure that Moore is a tad pissed off that both Revival (Image) and The Returning (BOOM!) more than likely stole their ideas and his thunder – about the dead returning to life, with demonic intentions in mind – from Rachel Rising. Still, this is the first series that used the concept and it remains quite possibly the best. The only thing stopping me from giving this first trade a perfect score? The outrageous price for a 120-page book that took me 30 minutes to read. And I got it with a 20% discount on FCBD! Fuck! I’ll wait till someone gives me a disc of the other three trades in the series before I give it five stars. Damned if I’ll pay for a rip-off.

28. Twist #1 (Kitchen Sink Comix, 1987) ***
Writers/Artists: various
Clowes, Bagge, Wolverton, Friedman could this not be a hit? Well, maybe because it feels like leftovers. Like these guys had bits’n’pieces they couldn’t get published elsewhere, so they gave them to Twist. This underground attempt at a Mad-style comic just feels thrown together and too retro for the 80s. Really, it feels more like a zine than a comic.
29.-31. The Spirit #4-5, 9 (Kitchen Sink Comix, 1984-85) *****
Writer/Artist: Will Eisner & friends
The colour and printing is beautiful for #4-5, but drops dramatically in #9. I wonder why.
32. Siegel And Schuster: Dateline 1930s (Eclipse, 1984) ***½
Writer: Jerry Siegel/Artist: Joe Schuster
Lovely pre-Superman work by two seminal figures in the biz. Really, this is just a taster/sampling of what might have been when the duo worked on the first (never published) issue of Popular Comics. Ah, what might have been.
33. The ACME Novelty Library #1 (Fantagraphics, 1993) ****
Writer/Artist: Chris Ware
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth may well be the saddest (although exquisitely drawn) comic I’ve ever read. But with 759 panels in the one book, this is easily one of the hardest comics I’ve ever read. Pity the man with poor eyesight.
34. Anything Goes! #2 (Fantagraphics, 1986) ****¼
Writers/Artists: various
Featuring Alan Moore’s legendary ode to the comics of yesteryear, Pictopia (which eerily predicted the dark, grim direction mainstream comics would head before he inadvertently pushed it in that direction through Watchmen). Ther’s also Kirby & Sinnott, Spiegelman and Jaime Hernandez. Anthology gold!

35. Andre The Giant: Life And Legend (First Second, 2014) *****
Writer/artist: Box Brown
An amazing, highly readable trade paperback examining Andre's life. I came away from the book liking Andre more than I did in the past despite the book showing how flawed he was as a human being. Even non-wrestling fans would enjoy this TPB. 

36. Real Heroes #2 (Image, 2014) ***¼
Writer: Bryan Hitch/Artists: Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary
Better than the first ish. I’ll give it one more.
37. The Returning #3 (Boom!, 2014) ***½
Writer: Jason Starr/Artists: Andrea Mutti (interiors); Frazer Irving (covers)
38. Minimum Wage #5 (Image, 2014) *****
Writer/Artist: Bob Fingerman
39. Starlight #3 (Image, 2014) ****
Writer: Mark Millar/Artist: Goran Parlov
40. WWE Superstars #4 (Super Genius, 2014) **¾
Writer: Mick Foley & Shane Riches/Artist: Alitha E. Martinez & Puste
41. Protectors Inc. #6 (Image, 2014) ***½
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski/Artist: Gordon Purcell & Andrew Pepoy
42. The Royals: Masters Of War #4 (Vertigo, 2014) ***½
Writer: Rob Williams/Artist: Simon Coleby
43. Justice League 3000 #6 (DC, 2014) ***½
Writers: Keith Giffen & JM DeMatteis/Artist: Howard Porter
44. Krampus! #5 (Image, 2014) ***¼
Writer: Brian Joines/Artist: Dean Kotz
45. She-Hulk #4 (Marvel, 2014) ****
Writer: Charles Soule/Artist: Javier Pulido
46. New Warriors #4 (Marvel, 2014) ***
Writer: Christopher Yost/Artist: Marcus To
Not wowing my socks off. This series is dead to me.
47.-48. Deadly Class #4 (Image, 2014) ****¼
Writer: Rick Remender/Artist: Wes Craig
49. Black Science #6 (Image, 2014) ****
Writer: Rick Remender/Artists: Matteo Scalera; Dean White
50. Moon Knight #3 (Marvel, 2014) ***¼
Writer: Warren Ellis/Artist: Declan Shalvey
The weakest issue to date. I hope this is all leading somewhere substantial, Warren.
51. The Field #2 (Image, 2014) ***½
Writer: Ed Brisson/Artist: Simon Roy
And things just get weirder.
52.-53. Rover Red Charlie #5-6 (Avatar, 2014) ****
Writer: Garth Ennis/Artist: Michael DiPascale
This is leading to an ugly ending, but this miniseries has been pretty awesome so far.
54. The Auteur #2 (Oni Press, 2014) ****
Witer: Rick Spears/Artist: James Callahan
Deliciously demented.
55. Black Dynamite #2 (IDW, 2014) **¾
Writers: Brian Ash & Yassir Lester/Artists: Marcelo Ferreira & Sal Buscema
Evaporated while I was reading it. I’m not down with getting a third issue, brutha.
56. Tales From The Edge #15 (Vanguard, 1999) *
This Bill Sienkiewicz art special with exclusive interview is intermittently interesting and infuriating, primarily due to Vanguard’s poor design skills. Whoever designed their mags and books back then needs to be anally raped ’cos the dude had no idea how to design. Seriously, who did he blow to get the gig? The eye-destroying layouts totally ruin Bill’s artwork and detract from his interview. An all-round shoddy effort by Vanguard.

57. Dream Police #1 (Image, 2014) ****
Writer: JMS/Artist: Sid Kotian
An intriguing premise. Cops police people’s dreams battling nightmares, lucid dreamers and more. So why did one of the detectives change gender at the end of the first issue? Hmmm...I’m intrigued.
58. The United States of Murder Inc. #1 (Icon, 2014) ****
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis/Artist: Michael Avon Oeming
Alternative American tale about the Mafia winning the war against crime and capturing half of the USA. It caught my attention. A real return to form from Bendis.
59. The Woods #1 (BOOM!, 2014) ***¾
Writer: James Tynion IV/Artist: Michael Dialynas
A school is mysteriously transported to a hostile planet in another galaxy. Another interesting premise.
60.-62. Original Sin #0-2 (Marvel, 2014) ***¾
Writers: Mark Waid, Jason Aaron/Artists: Jim Cheung, Paco Medina, Mike Deodato, Mark Morales & friends
I don’t normally get sucked into mainstream crossover “events”, but this one looks kinda cool. Who shot The Watcher? I’ll try to stick to just the core issues and enjoy this murder mystery.
63. MPH #1 (Image, 2014) ***½
Writer: Mark Millar/Artist: Duncan Fegredo
64.-65. Southern Bastards #1-2 (Image, 2014) ***¾
Writer: Jason Aaron/Artist: Jason Latour
Good southern gothic crime tale, but I wish Latour had finished off his stunning first series Loose Ends before moving onto this one.
66. Trees #1 (Marvel, 2014) ***¼
Writer: Warren Ellis/Artist: Jason Howard
67. C.O.W.L. #1 (Marvel, 2014) ****
Writer: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel/Artist: Rod Reis

68.-86. Rachel Rising #7-25 (Abstract Studio, 2012) *****
Writer/artist: Terry Moore
A friend downloaded these issues for me off the net for nix. Instantly, they’re worth every penny I spent on them. A fucking fantastic series, made even better by the knowledge that Terry Moore isn’t ripping me off. Suck on that, Tezza.

87. Guardians Of The Galaxy Prelude #2 (Marvel, 2014) ***½
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning/Artists: Wellinton Alves & Manny Clark
88-89. Miracleman #5-6 (Marvel, 2014) *****
- originally published in various comics (1954-55, 1983)
Writers: Alan Moore, Mick Anglo/Artists: Garry Leach, Alan Davis, John Ridgway, Mick Anglo, Don Lawrence
90.-93. Deadenders #1-4 (Vertigo, 2000) ***½
Writer: Ed Brubaker/Artists: Warren Pleece & Richard Case (interiors), Philp Bond covers)
94.-99. Wisdom #1-6 (Marvel MAX, 2007) ***½
Writer: Paul Cornell/Artists: Trevor Hairsine & Paul Neary (#1-2), Manuel Garcia & Mark Farmer (#3-6)
Pete Wisdom was Marvel’s desperate attempt to copy DC’s John Constantine. He doesn’t quite make it, but this is still an entertaining, off-kilter and ultimately bleak “superhero” tale set in the UK.
100.-102. The Extremist #2-4 (Vertigo, 1993) ***
Writer: Peter Milligan/Artist: Ted McKeever
A deeply unpleasant miniseries.
103. All-New Doop #2 (Marvel, 2014) ***
Writer: Peter Milligan/Artist: David LaFuente
A far cry from The Extremist.
104. Velvet #5 (Image, 2014) ***¾
Writer: Ed Brubaker/Artist: Steve Epting
105. Silver Surfer #2 (Marvel, 2014) ***½
Writer: Dan Slott/Artist: Michael Allred
106.-110. The Damned: Vol. 1: Three Days Dead (Oni Press, 2007) ***½
- originally published in The Damned #1-5 (Oni Press, 2006-07)
Writer: Cullen Bunn/Artist: Brian Hurtt
Before they hit a home run with their supernatural western yarn The Sixth Gun, Bunn & Hurtt did this 1930s supernatural gangster yarn that DIDN’T hit a home run. A lot of the ideas used in this short series were clearly recycled for The Sixth Gun. Nothing wrong with that. Practice makes perfect, right boys?
111.-113. Superior Showcase #1-3 (AdHouse Books, 2008) ***½
Writers/artists: various
Indie creators tackle superheroes and the results are extremely off-key. My favourite short stories were Ace-Face by Mike Dawson, The Awesomest Super-Guy, Hollis by Farel Dalrymple  and Roger Langridge’s cover for #3.
114.-117. Future’s End #1-4 (DC, 2014) ***¾
Writers: Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens & Keith Giffen/Artists: Patrick Zircher, Jesus Merino, Dan Jurgens, Dan Green & friends
Set five years in the future, this intriguing crossover examines a future Batman’s attempt to try to change the past and stop Mister Terrific from inventing OMAC, who we know (from #0) goes on to conquer and destroy Earth. Can I stick with a weekly series. Well, I’ll give it a go. It’s been strong so far.

118.-158. Stray Bullets: Über Alles Edition (Image, 2014) *****
- originally published in Stray Bullets #1-41 (El Capitan, 1995-2005, 2014)
Writer/artist: David Lapham
159.-161. Stray Bullets: Killers #1-3 (Image, 2014) *****
Writer/artist: David Lapham
Fuck me, this is very, very good. Lapham - whose mainstream work can be hit and miss - does a dark, twisted noir tale that reads like Twin Peaks meets Love & Rockets. The giant collection strained my neck and back muscles as I read it, but it was totally worth the effort. The new series - which really just continues the old series - has already gripped me. You don't need me to tell you anymore: just fucking buy the book AND the new series.