Jem and the Holograms #1
Written by Kelly Thompson
Art by Ross Campbell and M. Victoria Robado
Lettering by Robbie Robbins
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
If you're not in the know, and haven't heard it a dozen time since the book was announced, but yes, Jem and the Holograms were truly outrageous. From their extreme rockstar couture fashion sense, to their power pop ballads, they were one of the 80's best fake bands. The story itself makes for a perfect comic concept, and when the book was announced, threw fans of the beloved 80's cartoon into a frenzy. Is the first issue a hot single or tone deaf on delivery?
Kelly Thompson is an active up-and-comer and treats the book as a relaunch to the Jem-verse properly. You don't need an entire Jem history lesson to get an idea of who these characters are and what they are and what they're up against. It's all spelled out for you and if you have no prior knowledge, you'll have no worries about feeling lost in Jerrica Benton's scientifically magical world of music, fashion, and fame. Jerrica Benton here is the shy frontwoman singer, but finding her deceased father's secret lair, his last gift to her empowers her to battle her stage fight. With the help of Synergy, a being of pure energy, she transforms Jerrica into Jem, making all of Jerrica's insecurities go away. Thompson made some good choices in streamlining the story and omitted a few things, but kept the core of the story: Jerrica and her sister/fellow bandmate Kimber lost their dad and is in an-all female rock band. It's not mentioned if Aja and Shana are also foster sisters or not, but at this stage in the game, it's not really important right now.
I do compliment her on not going too crazy with the exposition and letting things flow organically. If it wasn't for the minor language, I would put this right next to IDW's Friendship is Magic series. Jem and the Holograms does have some touching and sincere moments and tackles the "origin" story pretty well, though.
Ross Campbell has been a name to look out for a while now and this is a perfect launchpad for superstardom. Already a big name in his own right in the indies and an IDW house favorite with his works on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, his animated style meshes well with this world and these characters. The way how he handles the designs and fashion aesthetics to just charming with how what he does with the Jerrica/Kimber moment. It's close-up shots, but it's supposed to be intimate like that. Also, huge props for completely redesigning Aja and Shana to have one of the most diverse look for an ensemble cast in a long time. M. Victoria Robado adds a bit of sparkle and brightness to the pages with some, yes, I'll say it, outrageous colors. While not taking a page out of Rico Renzi's purple, teal, and magenta-swatched pages, it's cool to see the show's original palette still in place and possibly amped up some to a degree.
IDW's Jem and the Holograms isn't looking to reinvent Jem's sound, but give it a well-rounded remastering. The bits of the origin are all there and some of the pieces are falling into place. Thompson and Campbell are on their way for this to join IDW's other Hasbro-related comics in being one of the books to pick up for young female readers, but there needs to be some slight tuning before that happens. While it's a solid introduction, or reintroduction in some cases I'm sure, but there's a missing element or note that fails to spark a bigger applause. Surely once the Misfits (possibly the Stingers?) come along and add more of a clashing element, it'll pick up. They've mentioned a few other changes along the way, and I look to see how Team Jem make their footprint in this beloved universe.
Written and Lettered by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Dun dun dunnnnnnnn.
If that's not descriptive enough to describe this week's issue of Chew, here's more - stuff happens in this comic. And now just any old stuff. Yes, there's the typical procedural stuff that John Layman has perfected so well in this foodie crime series, but now that we're rounding the corner to this series' last dozen issues, Layman's also not afraid to keep raising the stakes. Secrets are held, enemies return, and at the end of the day, this series never loses its uniquely entertaining flavor.
Of course, for people who haven't been reading Chew, it may be a little more difficult to get into the swing of things. Everyone in this cast is reeling from something - Tony Chu, for example, is struggling with the fact that his daughter, Olive, is comatose and scarred in the hospital. Chu's ex-partner, Colby, meanwhile is struggling with guilt - namely, his role in the death of another one of his partners, a longtime cast favorite who I still won't spoil here. And that's all compounded by the fact that much of the rest of the supporting cast is either dead or in the hospital, following the botched raid on the Collector.
In other words, it can be a lot to take in. In order to remedy that, Layman isn't afraid to go procedural, to give readers a little bit of familiarity to latch onto amidst all these changes to the cast. And as Chu and his new partner, the surprisingly effective D-Bear, investigate a belching bandit, it's perhaps no surprise that the action beats in this book truly shine - Layman's sure gotten plenty of practice, riffing variations of a theme these past 47 issues. It's short but sweet, and at the end of the day, the action feels like the sugar-infused treats you deserve to get after dutifully processing all the narrative.
Yet while Layman's narrative has evolved over the past 47 issues, one thing that has remained constant is Rob Guillory's cartoony, kinetic style. From the little in-jokes he throws into his backgrounds ("Hospitals are like airports to Heaven!!" he writes in one sign) to Savoy's bandaged butt hanging out of his hospital gown to the hilarious expressions he gives a nurse angry for being interrupted while she's reading the latest issue of Teen Queen, Guillory is a consummate comedian. Which makes his action work all the more impressive - not only does he emphasize these moments with big bursts of bright colors, but the cartoony design of his characters lend themselves well to moving with some real fluidity.
Like I said before, in Chew #47, stuff happens, and that stuff leads to some real complications down the line for our heroic everyman. If you're new to the book, well, it might behoove you to start from the beginning and catch up - but for longtime readers, this is a nice bit of familiarity alongside some potentially big status quo changes, as Layman and Guillory ready themselves to launch readers into their last couple of arcs.
The Michael Moorcock Library: Elric of Melniboné
Adapted and Scripted by Roy Thomas from the original story by Michael Moorcock
Art by Michael T. Gilbert and P. Craig Russell
Lettering by Tom Orzechowski
Published by Titan Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Michael Moorcock’s Elric has been in many comics. His first American appearance was a bit misguided as Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith had him guest-star in an issue of Conan the Barbarian as a pointy-hatted sorcerer. There would be a few other comic stories featuring the albino prince but it would be Roy Thomas again who would write the definitive comic version of the character in Pacific Comics’ adaptation of Elric of Melniboné (now republished by Titan Comics as The Michael Moorcock Library Volume 1: Elric of Melniboné.) Even by 1983, when this was originally published, adaptations of movies and novels were nothing new but they usually felt incomplete or inferior to the original work. Thomas and his artists P. Craig Russell and Michael T. Gilbert had the unenviable task of remaining faithful to Moorcock while recasting the fantasy and richness of his words into a comic book.
Thomas’s script about the albino prince on a magical quest of power to save the love of his life Cymoril and his beloved city Imrryr from his conniving cousin Yyrkoon is full of the usual fantasy trappings; royal bloodlines, gods, magical swords, mystical dimensions, etc… Too many fantasy novelists learned how to write fantasy from reading The Lord of the Rings and just regurgitating that over and over again. Moorcock’s novel and Thomas’s adapted script have the elements of fantasy but strongly focus on the failings of the characters that inhabit this world. These are not noble or honorable or particularly good men and women but they are more defined by their failings and that makes them far more compelling than characters who are defined solely by their quest or by their plot.
As Thomas reshapes Moorcock’s prose to work in a comic book, he doesn’t simplify abridge Moorcock’s writing. Remaining surprisingly faithful to the source material, Thomas’s script is an amazingly dense story, retaining almost all of Moorcock’s characters and settings. As Elric searches for the power to defeat his evil cousin and return his decadent city to some semblance of its past glory, Thomas makes the story about a sickly prince bargaining with gods and demons work completely as a comic book. His focus on the bargains Elric makes in the hope of achieving good gives this adaptation a strong moral center in a world and characters that are often amoral.
The artwork of Russell (layouts, inks and colors) and Gilbert (pencils and colors) still looks as dreamy in 2015 as it looked in 1983. These two artists are very different; Russell is a classicist while Gilbert is what you get if Jack Kirby was an EC artist. Together, they stage the story in this otherworldly reality. It’s easy to read the original novels as if Elric exists in some Robert E. Howard world of barbarians and warriors. Russell’s layouts and fine lines are just as decadent as the city Imrryr that Elric is trying to protect. They’re intoxicating because Russell’s inks not as refined as they are now. His work here isn’t clean. It’s rough but each line is far more descriptive and has so much more character than his current clean image-driven artwork. It captures a society and a world that’s in its last days. This is an old world and Russell’s layouts and lines show the glory that once was and the creakiness that now exists in Elric’s people.
Working over Russell’s layouts, Gilbert gives real shape to all of these characters. From the weak and gaunt Elric to the devious Yykroon and to devious gods like Arioch, it’s Gilbert’s details that that shows the weight of these characters’ choices. Russell’s usual lithe character type would work for Elric but he’s the abnormal one in this world of warriors and mystics. Gilbert’s draws all types of characters and some even seem more heroic than our true hero and that’s one of the great twists to Elric’s story. Gilbert gets Moorcock’s idea that Elric isn’t a true warrior prince. Instead he’s a sick man who needs his medicine and his magic to get through his battles. He’s a man who can be as dangerous as he is sick. Together, Gilbert and Russell create opulent yet decaying worlds and characters.
This wouldn’t be the only Elric adaptation for Roy Thomas, P. Craig Russell and Michael T. Gilbert but it’s the only one all three of them would work on together. Other Elric comics would feature maybe only one or two of these creators and would contain elements of this book but nothing else could feel as complete as Elric of Melniboné. The sword and sorcery outer wrapper of the story gives this creative team the room to craft a story about a flawed individual who has to make choices that harm him while protecting and maybe even saving his world and his lover. Working together, these three creators made an adaptation that remains faithful to the original novel but never feels like a mere adaptation or retellling of the source material. They made Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné novel into their great comic book.
Written by Bryce Carlson
Art by Vanesa R. Del Rey and Niko Guardia
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
Hot on the heels of the critically acclaimed Hit: 1955, Bryce Carlson and Vanesa R. Del Rey fast-forward to 1957 for the continued grisly adventures of Bonnie Brae and Detective Harvey Slater. An evocative pink and black cover hits all the familiar noir beats with an almost-supernatural spin: A shadowy ink-blotted figure grabs the arm of a femme fatale in a bright red dress. On the lower and darker half of the image, a square-jawed, pistol-toting heavy smoulders with a lit cigarette in his mouth. It's striking stuff, but the interior doesn't quite match up to the promise of its cover.
Detective Harvey Slater is a man with a mission: to take down Domino's notorious Crime Syndicate. Meanwhile, Bonnie Bray has successfully escaped her sordid past. Finding a new name and a new life on the shores of San Clemente, she's finally free. Until, of course, mobsters capture her and take her to Las Vegas: hardly the place for a woman whose name is synonymous with trouble.
Carlson writes a dingy take on the well-trodden topic of Italian mobsters; objectifying, strangling, and hitting women with impunity. Carlson makes heavy use of narration boxes, choosing to tell instead of show in order to hastily set up the complicated hierarchy of mobsters. This heavy-handed approach often slides into cliché; “They call it the City of Angels” begins one narration box. “But everyone has their demons.” These narration boxes pervade the entire issue, telling us point-blank how all the characters are feeling and exactly what they're in panel for. It's classic comic book over-writing, and it feels like Carlson has zero faith in the artwork to appropriately communicate the tone of the book. Considering the quality of Del Rey's artwork, it's almost insulting.
There's also some sexually violent content here that comes across as more juvenile than hard-boiled. There's a limit to convincing depravity before it ends up feeling like a Mortal Kombat-esque game of teenage gross-out one-upmanship, and an elderly man with multiple stab wounds that have been... penetrated is definitely well past that limit.
On the artwork side of things, Del Rey's rough, sketched style complements the dark nature of Carlson's verbose script. She draws refreshingly realistic bodies; Bonnie is as equally imposing as the nastiest mobsters, and Del Rey refrains from over-exaggerating certain attributes in a few panels that veer towards cheesecake. As is par the course for the noir genre, Del Rey certainly objectifies the female form, but she doesn't distort it in order to do so.
Colorist Niko Guardia cloaks the issue in almost-total blackness, unleashing stark flashes of color during conflict. Shots ring out in hot pink and one particular page shows more creative flair than most colorists can bust out in an entire run; as Bonnie escapes from the trunk of a car and dispatches the mobster guarding her, the entire panel changes hue to illustrate the escalation of violence. From the deep blue of the criminal opening the car trunk to increasingly brighter pinks as she explodes from the trunk and attacks, a burning orange as she gains the upper hand and then finally red as she gruesomely dispatches of her captors. It's a unique and creative approach to storytelling, a great example of the colorist affecting real change in the book's tone through an understanding of effective dramatic coloring.
All in all, Hit: 1957 #1 is a stylish issue, hampered by a tired script that feels like it would rather be a novel. Vanesa Del Rey's fantastically styled artwork is expertly colored by Niko Guardia, but Hit: 1957 #1 can't quite be recommended on eye candy alone.
We Can Never Go Home #1
Written by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon
Art by Josh Hood and Amanda Scurti
Lettering by Jim Campbell
Published by Black Mask Studios
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
There's nothing quite like teenage love and rebellion. That is, unless there's superpowers and handguns involved. Taking a dark spin on the tried-and-true "boy meets girl" trope, We Can never Go Home #1 is a promising debut thanks to some up-and-coming comics talents.
What works best about We Can Never Go Home is that writers Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon takes many things you've seen done to death in comics and pop culture - super-strength, secret identities, teenage lovers from different ends of the social strata - but they're able to arrange it in such a way that it feels surprisingly fresh. It might be because Duncan is a hooded creep with a loaded gun on the side of a highway. Or it could be powerhouse Madison, who proves in short order that she's way more dangerous than any handgun. Tonally, there's an ominous feeling that swirls around the traditional high school magnetism - and that winds up exploding in a big and unexpected way for the cliffhanger of this book.
But that's macro-level stuff. Looking down at the nitty-gritty, Rosenberg and Kindlon channel writers like Brian Michael Bendis, as he breaks down a fast-paced, awkward teenage conversation into a 25-panel page (extra kudos goes to artist Josh Hood for pulling that off - more on him later). There's a lot of great one-liners here, but more importantly, Rosenberg really sets up the high school setting well, and he uses some very time-honored traditions, whether its Madison suddenly realizing she's beyond the high school cliques, or Duncan getting pounded by his deadbeat father.
Like I said, however, this duo's script is pretty traditional - and if they didn't have a solid artist to work with, they'd be up the creek, with a script that's not quite punchy enough to overcome bland visuals. Thankfully for them, "bland" is the last word I'd use to describe Josh Hood and Amanda Scurti. Hood's artwork is lushly linked and very expressive - while sometimes his characters veer a little off-model, his beautiful take on Madison in particular reminds me a lot of Ryan Sook. Something that Hood particularly excels at is his panel layouts, which is a skill you really can't teach - the storytelling is expansive and easy to follow, whether its a bone-crushing action sequence or a 25-panel talking head page. Scurti's colorwork eschews a lot of hard rendering, instead utilizing a lot of olive greens and bold purples.
The recurring mix tape that flickers in and out of this story really evokes the philosophy and ethos I'm picking up from We Can Never Go Home #1 - these are not big-name characters or creators, they're coming from humble backgrounds and just making the best damn work they can. And like the best mix tapes, We Can Never Go Home will likely surprise you - there's a lot of heart and hunger to this book, and while it's not the kind of high-concept darling that will have Hollywood calling, it's quite the solid start for all involved.
2000 AD Prog 1924
Written by Rob Williams, Pat Mills, Dan Abnett, Arthur Wyatt and John Wagner
Art by Henry Flint, Simon Davis, Mark Harrison, Jake Lynch and Carlos Ezquerra
Lettering by Annie Parkhouse, Ellie De Ville and Simon Parkhouse
Published by Rebellion Publishing
Review by Oscar Maltby
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
2000 AD. Often ignored by the comic buying public at large, its influence is undeniable. The original stomping grounds of comic book royalty such as Grant Morrison, Alan Moore and Mark Millar, as well as where modern Marvel writers Al Ewing and Dan Abnett cut their teeth, the unashamedly British science fiction anthology has been consistently putting out 30-odd pages of comic book a week since 1977.
Enter Prog 1924. (Yes, 2000 AD calls issues Progs. Because it's vaguely futuristic. I know, we're living in 2015 AD already. You've just gotta roll with me on this one.) Forever aware of its incredibly long run (which has always retained continuity: Judge Dredd's aged steadily since his debut), publisher Rebellion have striven to keep 2000 AD accessible with regular jumping-on points for new readers, featuring all new stories with an eye for converting the masses to the worlds of Judge Dredd and company.
As is customary, Prog 1924 opens with Judge Dredd. Written by Rob Williams, "Enceladus New Life Part One" sees the Justice Department of Mega-City One start to rebuild the destroyed Titan Penal Colony: a one-way trip for the most malevolent of bad-guys. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Dredd tackles a crazed mad-man who wears a dog's head as a hat. As far as set-up strips go, "Enceladus New Life Part One: is solid stuff. Equally weighted between action and set-up, Williams quickly establishes current events for new readers (aided by a helpful “previously in Judge Dredd" panel) and makes sure to introduce Dredd himself as an imposing figure of fear. Artist Henry Flint's intricate backgrounds and grizzled characters help sell Dredd's dystopic universe as a battered world of chaos, leaving readers anxious to see where this story takes us.
Next up is the Celtic Warrior Slaine, a Conan-style head-smasher who wanders the mythical land of Tir Nan Og. An exhaustive two-paragraph synopsis gets us up to speed on the first part of "The Brutania Chronicles Book Two: Primordial." 2000 AD veteran Pat Mills gets right to it, pitting Slaine against the aptly-named Lord Weird. Simon Davis' digitally-painted artwork is certainly eye-catching, although it tends to look a little static during action sequences. Still, there's a nightmarish quality to his work that fits Slaine perfectly, especially in an abstractly terrifying final page. Even with the comprehensive synopsis, new readers might feel a bit lost, although everyone will surely enjoy the insane gothic fantasy visuals on offer here.
For the third strip of Prog 1924, Marvel Cosmic writer Dan Abnett and artist Mark Harrison take us to Grey Area: an alien segregation zone in the Arizona Desert set in the near-future of 2045. After the Exo-Control team flew into a wormhole at the end of the last volume, they emerge in an all-new Grey Area on an unidentified alien home-world. Abnett immediately immerses us into the alien culture of the alternate exo-immigration zone with a pair of workers talking shop, complete with their own curse words and job-specific language. Mark Harrison's artwork is light on detail but big on character, and Abnett writes a punchy script full of amusing moments.
It's back to Judge Dredd's world next, for the black-and-white stylings of Orlok: Agent of East-Meg One. A Sov City (Read: Russian) secret agent, Orlok is responsible for countless acts of espionage and treachery against Mega City One (Read: America). After completing his most recent mission in Oz (You guessed it: Australia), Orlok is handed tickets to an art show in order to persuade the disaster predicting artist Jiri Rasputin to join Orlok's cause. Jake Lynch's monochrome penciling is the artistic highlight of Prog 1924, his deeply shaded panels the perfect accompaniment to Orlok's shady duties. Writer Arthur Wyatt keeps his tongue firmly in cheek here, writing "The Rasputin Caper: Part One" from Orlok's calloused perspective. The first few pages are filled to the brim with classic 2000 AD black humor, with the final page offering up my new favorite sound effect: “WOOB!”
Finally, from Dredd co-creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, comes their second most enduring series: Strontium Dog. In the aftermath of Earth's Atomic Wars, millions of unlucky citizens find themselves horribly mutated by Strontium-90 radioactive fallout. Despised by the 'norms' and with nowhere else to turn, many mutants turn to bounty hunting. Johnny Alpha is one such mutant, a Strontium Dog whose eyes emit rays capable of telekinesis and x-ray vision. After leading a mutant uprising, Johnny is imprisoned. When a volatile politician is abducted by unknown forces, there's only one man who can bring him back... John Wagner's script is solid, although his North Korea-analogues of Jim Jing Jong and Jim Jong Jing are a little lazy. Still he writes Johnny Alpha as well as ever; Alpha is Clint Eastwood in space, with every word he spits covered in bile and attitude. Some eye-searing coloring doesn't do Ezquerra's 70's styled artwork any favors, and a flick through issues of old confirms the fact that Ezquerra's work is best in black and white.
All in all, 2000 AD 1924 is a hugely enjoyable and varied anthology that retains a high quality of artwork and storytelling. There's a few low spots here (Namely Slaine's incomprehensibility and Strontium Dog's gaudy coloring), but they are mere niggles in the grand scheme of things. If you've never jumped into the weird world of 2000 AD before, maybe you should finally take the plunge.