Tuesday, January 31, 2017

REVIEW: Dead Inside #2 (Dark Horse, Jan. 2017)

ISSUE one is barely cold and I'm already enjoying issue two of this enthralling crime noir tale. 
Detective Linda Caruso is up to her eyeballs in dirty business as her investigation into a murder-suicide in a prison turns out to be a double murder - and the killer may well be a prison guard.
This issue does a slow reveal as we learn that Caruso is more than capable of handling herself - both mentally and physically - which only makes it more mysterious why her superiors have so little faith in her abilities. Yet another subplot waiting to be resolved in a future issue.
And the final page provides an intriguing and somewhat shocking moment that had me wondering what the hell's gonna happen next.
Fejzula's art is really growing on me while writer Arcudi is doing some of his finest work to date.
You really need to get your hands on Dead Inside, published by Dark Horse. Issue two is on sale now and the first issue is probably still floating around in comic shops or on Comixology.

Dead Inside #2 (Dark Horse, Jan. 2017)
Writer: John Arcudi/Artist: Toni Fejzula (interior); Dave Johnson (cover)/Colours: Andre May

RATING: 9.5 out of 10

REVIEW: Dead Inside #1 (Dark Horse)

BEING a detective is a thankless job, I imagine, but being a homicide detective who investigates murders in prisons must really SUCK.
Linda Caruso doesn't want to be a detective in the first place, but if she's there she's gonna do the best job she can.
So why is everyone throwing up roadblocks when she investigates a bizarre murder-suicide? Why did a skinny little inmate gut a much bigger con, then kill himself afterwards when he only had a few months before parole? And why are the prison warden and Linda's boss so keen to sweep this crime under a rug?
This is one gritty, compelling noir tale and Fejzula's indie-ish artwork is perfect - making every scene feel off-kilter and dreamlike. Arcudi has crafted a thoroughly entertaining whodunnit that has me keen to seek out issue two.
I'd be stunned if this doesn't wind up as Netflix or Showtime TV drama in the next year or so.

Dead Inside #1 (Dark Horse, Dec. 2016)
Writer: John Arcudi/Artist: Toni Fejzula (interior); Dave Johnson (cover)/Colours: Andre May
RATING: 9.5 out of 10

Monday, January 30, 2017

REVIEW: Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire (Dark Horse, 2017)

IT'S a helluva mouthful of a title, but that just an early taster of Neil Gaiman's offbeat sense of humour in this yarn. Forbidden Brides... is based on a short story from his 2006 book Fragile Things.
It's an interesting concept: what if Edgar Allen Poe or Mary Shelley lived in a world just like the one they wrote about? A world populated with frail heroines, sinister caretakers, dark castles, talking ravens and all manners of ungodly creatures?
Would authors of the fantastic want to write about what was "normal" to them then? Or would they crave to write about a "fantasy" world where men and women sat around reading newspapers at the breakfast table and made toast?
If you carry through on that conceit, then you have scope for a very funny satire of "gothic terror" tales.
Shane Oakley's graphic novel adaptation is spot on - his artwork is moody and evocative, relying heavily on heavy black inks that effectively convey shadows that seem to hide greater horrors than depicted on the page. In fact, it's so effective that you almost forget that the story is in colour rather than B&W.
If you loved Gaiman's original story, then this is a worthy, respectful reinterpretation of the piece.
Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire is published by Dark Horse and goes on sale February 7.
RATING: 9.5/10

Thursday, January 5, 2017

COMICS READING FOR DECEMBER: “Wrapping up loose ends”

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

*****     All-Star Superman, We3
****      New X-Men (the early issues), Batman Inc., Batman And Robin, Dare, Arkham Asylum
***        Zenith, Seven Soldiers
**         Final Crisis, Flex Mentallo
*           Marvel Boy
DUD (or lower) Nameless, later New X-Men and any of his hippy-dippy, pseudo-mystical crap

1.-2. Island #9, 12 (Image, 2016) ***½  
Writers/Artists: various
I picked these up for the first two chapters of Aussie Fil Barlow’s remastered, recoloured 80s classic Zooniverse. They’re the clear highlight of both issues.
3. Spider Island: The Avengers #1 (Marvel, 2011) ***½
Writer: Chris Yost/Artist: Mike McKone
I bought this because it had Squirrel Girl in it. The storyline – where everyone in New York somehow gain Spider-Man’s powers – is pretty stupid. But this one-shot is kinda fun, especially the fact that Hawkeye has Spidey powers and just keeps getting stuck to everything.
4. Sam Wilson: Captain America #15 (Marvel, 2016) ***½
Writer: Nick Spencer/Artists: Angel Unzueta (interior); Paul Renaud (cover)
My friend AW gave me this issue because it had wrestling in it. It was nice to see D-Man again, although I had no idea he’d been reinvented as a gay bear. Whatever. The wrestling action is quite authentic – it’s a throwaway stand-alone issue, but I enjoyed it.
5. Watchdogs (Platinum Studios Comics, 2007) ***
 Writer: Fred van Lente/Artist: Brian Churilla
This is a weird thing. I picked it up at a Kings Comics sale for five bux, mainly for Churilla’s Oeming-style art. A dumb white couple buy a house in a shitty crime-ridden neighbourhood – haven’t these dudes heard of things like the internet and...oh, I dunno RESEARCH before you buy a cheap home next door to a crack den? It’s not a promising start to this graphic novel, but the story pick up when Sam joins forces with fellow white neighbour Mark to clean up the streets as masked vigilantes. As you do. The self-proclaimed Watchdogs brutally put a hurting on the local (black) drug lord and his gang, but things turn nasty when Sam learns that Mark is actually a neo-Nazi and Watchdogs is being franchised around the country to other white supremacists. Sam is soon on the run – framed with the crimes that he committed with Mark – and must join forces with the drug lord to take down Mark and his neo-Nazi cronies before they blow up half of New York. It’s all a bit Fight Club – and politically more than a tad dodgy – and, in the end, doesn’t quite work as a yarn. But, hey! It only cost me five bux.
6.-11. Drax Vol. 2: The Children’s Crusade (Marvel, 2016) ****
- originally published in Drax #6-11 (Marvel, 2016)
Writers: Cullen Bunn and CM Punk/Artists: Scott Hepburn, Scott Hanna and friends
I thought this series was great. Shame it died. Nice to see Planet Terry all grown up and acting like an idiot jock. And Fin Fang Farmer was a hoot.
12.-15. Billy The Kid’s Old Timey Oddities And The Orm Of Loch Ness (Dark Horse, 2013) ***¼
- originally published in Billy The Kid’s Old Timey Oddities And The Orm Of Loch Ness #1-4 (Dark Horse, 2012-13)
Writers: Eric Powell and Kyle Hotz/Artist: Kyle Hotz
16.-24. Jack Staff Vol. 4: Rocky Realities (Image, 2009) ****
- originally published in Jack Staff #13-20 and Jack Staff Special #1 (Image, 2007-09)
Writer/Artist: Paul Grist
I thought about NOT buying this trade, then decided to go for it because it was on special for only $10 from Kings (www.kingscomics.com). I have most of these issues at home, but have never got around to reading them because (a) I was missing a few issues in this final run, and (b) reading Jack Staff an issue at a time was a uniquely frustrating experience.
Done as a homage to the UK weekly comics that I collected as a child (Eagle, Battle, Action, Valiant and Lion, Hurricane, etc), Grist weaved a complicated tale around a group of super-powered identities including Union Jack-style masked hero Jack Staff, Becky Murdock Vampire Reporter, The Claw, Inspector Maveryk and so forth (along with loving nods to classic British TV sitcoms such as Steptoe And Son and Dad’s Army).
He would leap from one character to another every few pages (similar to the 2-or3-pagers that filled the weekly anthologies), but they all kinda linked up together to make a cohesive comic. Or that was Grist’s plan. A diabolical publishing schedule – there was literally a YEAR between #13 and #14 – plus his ambitious storytelling technique only led to confusion, poor sales and, ultimately, the demise of Jack Staff. Reading the last nine issues in one hit made the experience a little easier, but not much. I had to keep jumping back and forth to work out which characters were which and how they connected to the others, but once I committed myself, Rocky Realities was a challenging-but-worthwhile read. It’s a pity that Grist has seemingly abandoned Jack Staff – it would probably work way better as an online comic.

25. Eightball #7 (Fantagraphics, 1993) ****
Writer/Artist: Daniel Clowes
I think I might already have this issue somewhere in my spare room, but I haven’t read the issue in more than 20 years, so it’s basically brand-new to me again. The usual depressing Clowes brilliance.

26-29. Black Science Vol. 5: True Atonement (Image, 2016) ****½
- originally published in Black Science #22-25 (Image, 2016)
Writer: Rick Remender/Artist: Matteo Scalera
I nearly gave up on this series, but I’m so glad I didn’t. The last two arcs have really picked up the pace, even though the title is fucking bleak right now, but I expect things to get better come the next arc. I mean it has to, surely?
30.-34. Deadly Class Vol. 4: Die For Me (Image, 2016) *****
- originally published in Deadly Class #17-21 (Image, 2016)
Writer: Rick Remender/Artist: Wes Craig
Speaking of bleak, this series is about as dark as it comes. I mean, I’m not sure how Remender can keep the series going when the three main characters FUCKING DIED in the final issue of this arc. High school sucks at the best of times, but when it’s a school of assassins and the only way to graduate is to kill the non-affiliated freaks and geeks, it’s MURDER. Just love Deadly Class – top-notch art and storytelling. I’m genuinely looking forward to finding out where Remender goes from here.

35. Faith #1 (Valiant, 2016) ***½
Writer; Jody Houser/Artists: Pere Pérez, Marguerite Sauvage, Colleen Doran and friends
I’ve mainly kept clear of Valiant since its recent rebirth, but my mate AW passed this comic onto me and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a gentle tale of an overweight superhero trying to maintain her secret identity in a new city while battling her arch-nemesis (who turns out to be a stud movie star). I liked the fact that Faith is fat, but it’s not an issue to her or anyone else, it’s just how she is. Anyway, I dug this first issue way more than I expected and I may have to pick up the first trade when it comes out.

36. Fiction Illustrated: Chandler (Byron Preiss, 1977) ***¼
Writer/Artist: Jim Steranko
This graphic novel is legendary and I had a hard time tracking it down. But having read Chandler, I found it to be a mediocre, sub-Dashiell Hammett short story about a down-on-his-luck private detective hired by a man to find the person who killed him (by giving him a slow-acting poison). The ending is telegraphed. It’s meant to be cynical, but comes off as clichéd. Steranko’s illustrations accompanying the text are mainly perfunctory although a few are great. The poor quality of the printing on this once-cheap paperback novel doesn’t help matters. Still, it’s one of the first graphic novels and I’m glad to have it in my collection, even though it’s really not that good.

37.-41. Velvet Vol. 3: The Man Who Stole The World (Image, 2016) *****
- originally published in Velvet #11-15 (Image, 2016)
Writer: Ed Brubaker/Artist: Steve Epting
42.-46. Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10 Vol. 2: I Wish (Dark Horse, 2015) ****
- originally published in Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10 #6-10 (Dark Horse, 2014)
Writers: Christos Gage (with Nicholas Brendon for #7)/Artists: Cliff Richards, Karl Moline and Andy Owens (#6); Rebekah Isaacs and Richard Corben (#8-11); Steve Morris (main covers)
I got rid of all my old Buffys in a massive clean-up earlier this year, but Helen found this trade for 50 cents in a library book sale. Reading it in one hit made me realise why I loved the series so much. Gage is a fantastic writer who perfectly captures Joss Whedon’s take on the Scooby Gang – I’m really not sure why I gave up on Buffy. Ah well.
P.S. The cameo three-pager by Corben is exquisite, too.
47.-53. Jessica Jones: Avenger (Marvel, 2016) ****¼
- originally published in New Avengers #38 and 47, New Avengers Annual #3, New Avengers (2nd series) #8 and 31, What If Jessica Jones Had Joined the Avengers?, and material from Jessica Jones NYCC Comic #1 Amazing Spider-Man #601 and Marvel 75th Anniversary Celebration (Marvel, 2008-14).
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis/Artists: Michael Gaydos and friends

54.-63. I Zombie Vol. 4: Repossessed (Vertigo, 2012) ****¼
- originally published in I Zombie #19-28 (Vertigo, 2012)
Writer: Chris Roberson/Artists: Michael Allred, except J. Bone (#21) and Jim Rugg (#24)
I finally read the end of this series after several years’ delay. Scored it for $15 at a Kings Comics sale. It took me a bit to suss out all the characters, but it was fun to read the end of this series in one hit. The last issue ending is a bit lame, but the rest of the trade is pretty damn terrific.
64. A.D. After Death Book One (Image, 2016) *****
Writer: Scott Snyder/Artist: Jeff Lemire
One of the most extraordinary, moving comics I’ve read in some time. Beautiful. I can’t wait to read the next book.
65.-70. Chronicles Of Wormwood (Avatar, 2007) ****¼
- originally published in Chronicles Of Wormwood #1-6 (Avatar, 2007)
Writer: Garth Ennis/Artist: Jacen Burrows
71. Chronicles Of Wormwood: The Last Enemy (Avatar, 2007) ***¾
Writer: Garth Ennis/Artist: Rob Steen
 72.-76. Invader Zim Vol. 3 (Oni Press, 2016) ****¼
 - originally published in Invader Zim #11-15 (Oni Press, 2016)

77. Big Fat Little Lit (Puffin Books, 2006) ****
- various selections originally published in Little Lit book series (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2000-03)
Edited by Art Spiegelman & Francoise Mouly
Writers/Artists: Gahan Wilson, Neil Gaiman, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Ian Falconer, Jules Feiffer, Walt Kelly, David Sedaris, Maurice Sendak, Joost Swarte, Basil Wolverton and more
Jones and I were in a second-hand bookshop in Adelaide during the Christmas holidays when I found this amazing book. “Want me to buy it for you, Jones?” I asked. “No,” she replied. So I bought it for myself. How could I resist a roster of literary and artistic talent like the names I listed above? Anyway, it was a steal for $8 and a joy to read. And guess what? Jones enjoyed reading it, too. Some of the stories scared her younger brother Dash, but you can’t have everything, I guess.
78. Hotspur Book For Boys 1985 (D.C. Thomson & Co., 1984) **¾
Writers/Artists: unknown
This hardback annual of the classic English weekly comic came out in the mid-80s but it could have been published in the mid-60s – it’s very British and very old-fashioned. There are two superhero strips that caught my eye – King Cobra and, of greater interest to me, Spring-Heeled Jack – but they’re pretty lame and the costumes are practically identical. The rest of the strips are a mish-mash of action and sporting strips, all of them featuring the curious English comic convention of alliterative titles: Flying Fury (WW2 fighter pilot), Dim Dan (thick working class stiff), One-Minute Murphy (a lazy soccer player who does nothing for 89 minutes, but is a goal-kicking match-winner for 60 seconds), Medic Muldoon (WW2 soldier), Handsome Harry (aspiring boxer), etc. The writing and B&W artwork is uninspired. One oddball strip – Cast, Hook and Strike – is set in the Australian outback and strives to be reasonably accurate with place names, flora and fauna, etc. The only glaring problem is the unknown scripter’s belief that Australians use the expression “Flaming Ada!” all the time. Weird.
79. The Avengers #14 (Newton, 1976) **
- originally published in The Avengers #18 (Marvel, 1965) and Tales Of Suspense #66 (Marvel, 1965)
Avengers: Writer: Stan Lee/Artists: Don Heck and Dick Ayers; Iron Man: Writer: Stan Lee/Artists: Don Heck an dmickey Demeo
Don Heck has to be the worst mainstream artist of all time. The B&W artwork here is abominable. Lee’s writing is functional and not much else.
80.-81. Super Adventure Comic #68 (Planet Comics, 1974) ***
- JLA story originally published in JLA #107 (DC, 1973)
82. Superman Family Adventures #11 (DC, 2013)

Writers: Franco and Art Baltazar; Artist: Art Baltazar