Best Shots: Toy Story, Uncanny, Robot 13 & More

Best Shots: Toy Story, Uncanny, Robot 13

Green Lantern Corps #37

Let’s open with this past week’s BSEs . . .

Batman #687

Red Robin #1

Trinity: Blood on the Sands

Buck Rogers #1

And the rest of this week’s books . . .

Green Lantern Corps #37

Writer: Peter Tomasi

Penciller: Patrick Gleason

Inkers: Tom Nguyen and Randy Mayor

Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb

Publisher: DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

You know what Peter Tomasi's super power is?

Giving heroes their proper send-off.

The writer of Final Crisis: Requiem opens Green Lantern Corps #37 with a powerful image, as Sodam Yat makes the ultimate sacrifice for the people of Daxam -- by reigniting their red sun into a yellow one, sparking their near-Kryptonian powers. "The universe whispers in my ear. And thanks me. Thanks me for giving one of her worlds a fighting chance," Yat says with a beatific smile. "And I tell the universe there's no need to thank me... I'm just doing my duty."

This is just one the first page of Green Lantern Corps #37, an issue which celebrates all of the awesome threads that Tomasi, along with his partner in crime Pat Gleason, have woven throughout the past few issues. Daxam rises; Lanterns Saarek and Ash meet at the Anti-Monitor's corpse; the Rookies defend their planet; the Alpha Lanterns strike back with a vengeance; and the Blackest Night begins to unfold. There's a lot of stuff going on, but Tomasi gives each scene significant "pop," making each of the subplots seem engaging and important.

A lot of the compelling parts of this book also come from artist Pat Gleason, who's been able to give a sense of creativity and dynamism to the nearly limitless potential of the Green Lantern Corps. Guy Gardner fends off a prisoner with a Lantern-fueled staple gun, while Lyssa Drax of the Sinestro Corps scales down a chasm with her florescent yellow chains. Colorist Gabe Eltaeb also does a great job in both making the art uniform as well as really gripping, with great uses of reds, oranges, greens, and blues. The art team's Alpha Lanterns are easily the highlight of the book, as we finally see what the Guardians meant with their pumped-up version of Internal Affairs. "Lantern recruits, please take position behind us," one says. "This is not a request."

If I have any problems with this book, they are fairly minor observations. The first is the dual inkers, Rebecca Buchman and Tom Nguyen. However, since the book doesn't label which inker did which pages, it's difficult to tell -- only that some images seem a bit more jagged and gritty (which I prefer), whereas others (such as looking at Kyle Rayner) seem a bit too smooth. The other issue -- which is difficult to surmount, considering we're now steering head-on into the mega-event Blackest Night -- is the abrupt ending of the book, which makes the last two or three pages a bit difficult to understand. But despite a shaky dismount, Green Lantern Corps #37 deftly gives action, emotion, and a smattering of sci-fi imagination, and it continues to live up to its reputation as the sleeper hit of the Green Lantern franchise.

Robot 13 #1

Robot 13 #1

Writer: Thomas Hall

Pencils: Daniel Bradford

Blacklist Studios

Review By: Jeff Marsick

It seems like a pretty simple tale. A fishing boat pulls in its lines, discovering it netted a creepy yet cool toy surprise inside: possibly a deep sea suit, with an unfortunate diver’s skull rattling around in the glass bubble helmet. But why would the skull have the number thirteen stamped onto its forehead? Suddenly, a Lovecraftian leviathan attacks the boat, and the suit springs to life as a spindly-limbed robot and leaps into the fray. The dragon vanquished, our knight in corroded armor becomes decidedly more Jason Bourne, unaware of who or where he is, which is when our story truly begins. Monsters and robots and intrigue, oh my!

Debuting at MoCCA last weekend, Robot 13 is such a professional looking book with such a well-drawn and well-written story that it’s hard to believe that it’s an indie, and not something with Dark Horse’s name on the cover. A quick perusal inside will give the reader a sense of Mignola, while the robot itself is certainly an Ashley Wood inspiration. The writing is sparse, which is perfect, because Mssr. Bradford tells a story in pictures with the panache of an industry veteran. But pretty pictures and oversized panels of monster fighting can drive a comic only so far, and that’s why it’s in the last six pages where this story really shines. It’s a glimpse into the titular hero’s past, a weaving of Dracula with Frankenstein to explain how Sir Machinery got his sea legs. I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say that Robot 13 may not remember that he has tangled with deep-sea monstrosities before. In the opening panels of the last page, however, his violence towards a lobster is a subconscious tell. It’s fantastic stuff, worthy of shelf space next to Hellboy and BPRD.

In the effort of full disclosure, I should put out there that I’m a huge fan of the two Dark Horse titles I just mentioned, so some may claim I’m jaded when I say that, thus far, this is the best book of 2009. Maybe (and the fanboy in me gets simply giddy contemplating how amazing it would be, were this a perfect world, if Robot 13 could ever team up with the BPRD team). But it’s such a refreshing story and so well executed that it makes much of the mainstream stuff pale in comparison, a book worthy of several re-reads. I can’t recommend this book highly enough, and Hellboy and BPRD fans can not be without it.

Boom Preview: Toy Story #1
Boom Preview: Toy Story #1
Toy Story #1

Toy Story

Written by: Dan Jolley

Art by: Chris Moreno

Boom! Kids (Boom! Studios)

MUPPET SHOW #1-3

Writer/Artist: Roger Langridge

Reviews by Jamie Trecker

Everybody complains that there are not enough age-appropriate comic books around anymore.

Folks cry: “Where are the Little Lulus, the Caspers and the Superman comics without major mutilations? Whatever happened to the days when any barber shop worth its salt was plastered with copies of Archie and Richie Rich?” But when companies bring out kids’ books today, they grow mold on your comic shop’s shelves.

The best selling kids’ title last month was Incredibles (also put out by Boom!), coming in at… 191 out of 300 on Diamond’s sales list. That’s admittedly better than Scooby-Doo (258), Marvel Adventures (270) Archie (296) and the Betty and Veronica Digest (330). But, and this is important: Many kids’ comics, like DC’s Johnny DC titles, sell mostly through other channels than direct market, so while comic shop owners might not move ’em, the rankings are not a good indicator of total sales.

Problem is, the direct market is the lifeblood of the industry. Right or wrong comic shops are also where buzz is made. Because of that, the perception is that kids’ comics don’t sell, and further more, kinda suck, too — unless, of course, they’re in fancy reprint volumes put out by Fantagraphics. (Then they’re “historic” and have to be treated as holy artifacts. Sheesh.)

So, it’s nice to be able to report that: 1) Kids’ comics still exist; 2) They do not suck; and 3) Boom! Kids is producing the best original kids material out there, thanks to a smart tie-in with Disney/Pixar and the Jim Henson’s Muppets Studio. You might not be able to find them on the shelves of your cool, hip comic store, but they’re worth seeking out, even if you are one of those, ahem, “older” children.

The best kids’ book on the market, bar none, is the wildly anarchic The Muppet Show, written and illustrated with an almost sinful glee by New Zealand-born, London-based illustrator Roger Langridge.

Langridge is best known for an Eisner-nominated strip called Fred the Clown, a riotous comic in exceptionally poor taste. It is not for kids (unless they are named Wednesday Addams) and it is shockingly, bafflingly inappropriate in the best possible way. Putting this guy on the comic adaptation of the best, most subversive all-ages entertainment show of the late 1970s is inexcusably reckless. It’s also a stroke of genius.

Boom Preview: The Muppet Show #2
Boom Preview: The Muppet Show #2
Muppet Show #2

Langridge’s Muppet Show books are gorgeous, and crackle with an almost shameful intensity. He gets more mileage out of one panel than most artists do out of an entire book, and some of the sight gags (especially those featuring limber hen Camilla) recall the antic glory of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. His writing is just as sharp, capturing the barely-on-the-rails silliness of the show and its gift for loving parody.

The latest issue is Gonzo-centric (previous issues focused on Fozzie Bear and Kermit) but the whole cast shows up in all its shaggy glory. Love Beaker? Miss Piggy? Animal? You’ll love ’em more after you see how Langridge teases them out on the page. (His Dr. Bunsen Honeydew is worth the price of admission alone.) And yes, the word “meep” is just as funny in black and white as it is on TV.

If I had my druthers, I’d chain Langridge to his desk and force him to pump out another fifty or so issues. Since I can’t, I’ll just say this is a rare must-own miniseries and hope Boom! decides to put out a follow-up.

Toy Story, scripted by vet Dan Jolley, is more straightforward and less ambitious, but no less worthwhile. Aimed at younger kids than the Muppet Show, this is a fairly sanitized take on the movie, with none of the bluster or tension brought by Tim Allen’s portrayal of Buzz Lightyear. The first issue, competently drawn by Chris Moreno in Disney house style, is a fable about paranoia and acceptance that happens to revolve around an air freshener.

It’s clever; the Etch-A-Sketch and the Piggy Bank get some of the best lines and gags, and the moral of the story is age-old (something about a book and its cover), but the big selling point for me is that this book will not have the same attraction for older readers that the Muppet Show does.

Good: Not everything has to be for us selfish adults. Too many “kids” books try hard to be hip and ironic, as if Mom and Dad are the intended audience. This leads many books (and movies) to overlook the basic, pure pleasures of a nice streamlined story for young people. The original movie had a wider reach, to be sure, but there’s no need for consumerist commentary here, and mercifully, Jolley, Moreno and Boom! steer clear.

These two books show what can be done when you have good characters and a good sense of your audience; to my mind they’re better than some of the half-hearted attempts made by Marvel and DC, and a lot peppier than the plonk coming out of Archie these days. Perhaps if there were a few more companies willing to actually publish comics for kids — instead of those “aimed” at kids — people’s perceptions of children’s comics would change. Boom! Kids is showing what can be done. I hope people take notice.

Uncanny X-Men #511

Uncanny X-Men #511

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Greg Land (with saving inks by Jay Leisten) with Terry Dodson

Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Brian Andersen

A lot of nail-biting stuff happens in this very engrossing issue of the Uncanny X-ers: deaths, near-resurrections, teammates with hurt feelings, girl on girl throw-downs, and lots o’ unanswered questions. I for one got my fanboy fever boiling with joy just by seeing many of the X-Women – Storm, Emma Frost, Karma, and the fabulously underused Dazzler – battling the dastardly “Sisterhood” of Evil - lead by the formerly dead Madelyne Pryor! Darn that Madelyne! Word to the wise people, never count on a clone of your deceased ex-wife who turned into a demonic wicked witch to stay dead. They’ll always rise back up and bite you in the rear every time.

The best part of this all-out, action-packed issue is how Fraction is able to imbue the story with palpable tension. I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen and I found myself eagerly turning each page to see how the storyline would play out. It’s rare to be invested enough in a storyline now-a-days in comics to be childlike in your excitement to see what’s around the bend. I’m happy to report that the Uncanny X-Men is just such a book (along with X-Force) that manages to keeps me on my toes. I especially enjoyed seeing former Z-Lister Dazzler step up to the plate and belt the evil Psylocke with a rainbow light show that would put Adam Lambert to shame. ‘Bout time Miss Allison Blaire had a starring moment to reclaim her former glory amongst the X-Men, and her little bio-intro was equally as fabulous: “Transforms sound into light. Seven top-forty hits. Really wants to direct.” Hah! Excellent. Fraction wit at its best. I also have plenty of love for the X-Men - and I’m talking about the X-Boys this time (yay, Northstar!) – and greatly enjoyed seeing the boys take on evil Maddie P, with the help of the albino-sexiness of Domino.

Despite the many positives I’m throwing out to the book, I will say I’m still a bit confused as to what exactly went down exactly in this issue. While I get that the original British body of Psylocke was restored to life so that the Sisterhood could transported current Ninja Psylocke back into her old British body (I think) I’m a bit unclear as to whether some other “restless murder-spirit” (what, huh?) assumed the British Psylocke body or if the real Ninja Psylocke was somehow corrupted by the evil magics of Maddie and her new minion Spiral. (Whew, and people say comics are too continuity confusing. Whatever!) My guess is that good Psylocke was corrupted by Maddie and Spiral, turning her bad. Thus, the new bad-Psylocke took control of her old Ninja good-self in the British body until Daz laser-lighted some sense into good Psylocke, buried back in the mind of the bad-Psylocke, giving good Ninja Psylocke the strength to fight her own inner bad-self, defeating said bad-self and allowing good-Psylocke the power to return back to her old (new) Ninja body. Sure, I’ll just go with that.

I’m also a bit confused as to what the heck happened with Maddie Pryor and her attempt to assume the body of Jean Grey. I understand that Domino was able to switch out the body of Jean Grey before Maddie could try to take control of it, but it’s never really explained why Maddie wanted the body in the first place. Would she be more powerful in Jean’s old body? Would she be able to gain access to the Phoenix force? And who’s body did Domino switch in place of Jean’s? One of the Cuckoo’s? As much as I enjoy Fractions writing and his crafty dialogue - filled with mystery - and his ability to build a strong, interesting story, some plain and simple answers every now and then would be nice. I’m not against a villain monologuing to clue us clueless readers in as to what their motivation is. Some old timey comic tropes still work today when used right. I say a pinch more exposition and explanation and this book could be perfect.

Aside from these lingers questions, all in all, this issue had lots going for it. Not the least of which, team strife - Cyclops feeling all mad and mopey over the fact that Wolverine kept a locket of Jean Grey’s hair - and the continuous exploration of the deeply held secrets being kept by Emma and Cyclops - thanks to X-Force and Dark Reign. The good news is that the X-Men are fun, fresh, and thrilling again. It’s about time too!

Army of Darkness #21

Army of Darkness #21

Writer: Mike Raicht

Artist: Scott Cohn

Colors: Rael Sidharta

Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment

Review by David Pepose

Army of Darkness #21 is an interesting book to review, only because it really feels like two different books put together.

The first segment of the book deals with Brad Fenrison, better known as the Wolf-Man, squaring off against Ash, who has been possessed by a being known as "Hell's Prophet." It's a decently written fight sequence, albeit it lacks any sort of context besides the issue recap to really give the sequence weight.

That said, Cohn has a nice clarity with his art, which is helped nicely by Sidharta's colors -- in certain pages, there's almost a Mike Wieringo-style cartooniness, even if on others limbs seem distended and wrong. But both the writing and the art gets better as Ash breaks free, and the Wolf-Man has to stop him from committing a killing spree, culminating in a nice shot of Ash looming over his lupine compatriot.

Just over half into the book, however, Army of Darkness #21 basically switches gears, in a massive tonal shift that really gives the issue a nice shot in the arm. It's a Raimi-ism to have Ash done in by his own wayward limbs, so to have the Hell's Prophet punch himself out is just comedy gold. Yet Raicht also has Ash's sense of humor fully intact: when a nude Brad carries the woozy Ash on his shoulder, the Chosen One snidely says "I bet my naps would be more pleasant if you didn't carry me around with my face next to your bare ass." That said, Raicht also makes Brad a supporting character who can keep up: "I could have draped you over my shoulder the other way."

The book concludes with a decent amount of exposition, with three pages of largely prose. But the claustrophobia that's induced when Ash is locked in a holding cell -- with the Hell's Prophet scratching to get out -- is still a nice capper for the issue. All in all, this is an above-average issue whose characterization makes up for much of its indulgences.

The Dresden Files vol 1

The Dresden Files: Storm Front vol. 1: The Gathering Storm

Based on the novel by Jim Butcher

Written by Mark Powers

Illustrated by Ardian Syaf, Rick Ketcham and Mohan, with Bill Tortolini

Published by Ballantine Books/Del Rey

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Can I start with one logistical problem with this book? Collecting the first four issues of a previous serial adaptation of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novel, Storm Front: The Gathering Storm spotlights one of my personal pet peeves in current collected editions of comics – the utter disregard for endings. I hope that one day – preferably a very soon day – an industry built on serial publishing recognizes that book publishing typically involves an ending. Nobody likes to get to turn the last page and find a whole lotta nothing. No cliffhanger, no “to be continued”, just a cessation of story without any emotional satisfaction or piquing to inspire a reader to actually pick up the next story.

As for the story itself, it is what it is. Harry Dresden is a wizard/private investigator with a penchant for speaking like a refugee from a marginal noir story. Scripter Mark Powers, working from Butcher’s novel, does a solid job introducing the players and setting up the conflicts, and the pacing moves quickly and effectively through the plot. Dresden’s abilities and limitations are laid out clearly, always a plus when working with the deus ex machina tendencies of magic. The characterization is spare, but works.

On the art side, Ardian Syaf’s layouts are effective most of the time. There is a sequence where blowhard Morgan slugs Dresden in the jaw, which is awkward considering that Dresden was walking away from Morgan in the previous panel, but otherwise, Syaf communicated everything that readers needed to follow the story. The coloring, unfortunately, does Syaf no favors. The shading and detail seen in the pencils shown in the book’s art gallery section is completely washed out by the overpowering, over-slick color art.

The Dresden Files: Storm Front vol. 1: The Gathering Storm is what it is. That’s really the best way to put it: if you’re into plot-driven, noir-lite, magic/fantasy, The Dresden Files is a workman-like effort that could benefit from expanding its horizons somewhat, but it’s certainly harmless enough fun. If it’s not your thing, there’s nothing here that’ll change your mind.

Syncopated

Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays

Edited by Brendan Burford

Written & Illustrated by Nick Bertozzi, Rina Piccolo, Brendan Buford & Jim Campbell, Tricia Van den Bergh, Josh Neufeld, Alex Holden, Richard and Brian Haimes, Greg Cook, Nate Powell, Dave Kiersh, Sarah Glidden, Victor Marchand Kerlow, Paul Karasik, Alec Longstreth, Paul Hoppe, and Burford

Published by Villard

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

If you can get past the phrase “picto-essays,” which seems like a silly way to side-step the phrases “graphic novel” or “comic”, Syncopated is a pretty solid book. A great essay is certainly one of the most moving reading experiences one can have, and Syncopated collects some pretty good ones.

As all the contributors seems to be New York-based, the focus on the city isn’t surprising. Being local myself, I certainly enjoyed it, though I wonder how other readers will appreciate some of the strips. There’s a good range of material here: Nick Bertozzi has a very engaging essay about growing up in the country, specifically about the process and necessity of bailing hay. The best of the strips is Alex Holden’s study on the graffiti artist Chris Pape and his work in the train tunnels underneath the West Side Park. Holden’s research into the history of the times and personalities is obvious, and his ability to capture the artists’ styles lends credibility to the narrative.

As with most anthologies, many strips will be to one readers’ tastes, and others will work better for another reader. Fortunately, all are laid out effectively and present their information clearly. Nate Powell’s “Like Hell I Will” discusses racial riots in Tulsa over a hundred years ago, and it’s unfortunately one of the less effective pieces, racing through moments without giving any context or backdrop or personal investment. However, Tricia Van den Bergh and Victor Marchand Kerlow do effective work using what is essentially their sketchbooks to capture the essence of a place (Washington Square Park in Van den Bergh’s case) or culture (subway musicians seen through Kerlow’s pen). Relying purely on visuals, each focus the reader on the environment or the people as they recognize it in their daily travels.

Alec Longstreth’s piece about the Dvorak keyboard, Paul Hoppe’s “A Coney Island Rumination”, and editor Brendan Burford’s discussion with seventy-year-old Washington Square Park chess player Richard Peterson are additional highlights, with plenty of details and personal insights into their subjects. Readers will come away feeling that they’ve learned something and experienced something more of the world. Hopefully there will be more books like Syncopated that allow cartoonists to explore their worlds and perspectives in essay form, because it’s not a new idea, but it’s one that has room for lots of creative and commercial growth.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Sherlock Holmes #2 (Dynamite Entertainment; review by David): If you haven't read the first issue -- and liked the first issue -- this probably isn't going to be your cup of tea. Leah Moore and John Reppion's script is dense, focusing on Watson's efforts to exonerate the Great Detective for murder. There are a few nice moments -- including Watson lamenting to himself that he isn't smart enough to save his friend -- but otherwise, there's a lot of talking and not a lot of hooks to get you into the story. Holmes himself seems like an interesting enough character, but the fact that he's largely not in the book just hurts this issue terribly. The art by Aaron Campbell doesn't really do this script a lot of favors, either, as it is fairly muddy with not a lot of compelling elements. You could probably sell Campbell's work with a muscular writer like Brian K. Vaughn or Grant Morrison or Alan Moore -- or Moore and Reppion's script with a Tony Moore or Roger Robinson or Steve McNiven -- but this particular team is like peanut butter and jelly in reverse: a bland combination that is really tough to swallow.

Anna Mercury 2 #1 (Avatar; review by Troy): I absolutely love the subtitle of this volume, “Ultraspacial Dreadnaught Vanaheim”, because it means everything and nothing. There’s great anime/old-school s-f flair to it, no matter the story connection. And that’s appropriate, because AM happens to be one of the more stylish books on the racks. As last time, it’s a supremely enjoyable little roller coaster, rocketing along with wit, action, and about a dozen juggled concepts at any moment. Warren Ellis is doing great work on all of his Avatar titles. And while they all have different manners of intent and different approaches, Mercury, for me, is probably the most fun.

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