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Victorian Undead #1

Written by Ian Edington

Art by Davide Fabbri

Cover by Tony Moore

Variant cover by Simon Coleby

Published by Wildstorm

Review by Troy Brownfield

As I expected, this one’s a good time.

We’ve been existing under a full condition of Zombie Zeitgeist for a while now.  With the impending arrival of the new Sherlock Holmes film, the Holmes Homage is in full swing.  Considering the recent mash-ups of Austen and the ambling unalive and the like, it should be no surprise to see the original World’s Greatest Detective taking on shambling corpses.  What might surprise you is how much fun it is.

Ian Edington invokes the colossus that is Romero early on by presenting a celestial phenomenon as the likely cause of the zombie uprising.  Fast-forward six months, and the first burst of the undead is underway in London.  Background characters deftly handle the exposition, noting that the street conditions of the city were certainly ripe for plague and pestilence of any kind.  We eventually join Holmes and Watson mid-mission, taking on a mentalist that’s more metallic than you’d expect.  Of course, their paths soon cross with that of the mounting zombie incursion, and things end on a mysterious note with other powers getting involved.

Playing on the usual tropes for both zombies and Holmes, Edington skillfully weaves some very familiar elements and one genuine shock (the nature of the Holmes’ first antagonist) into a fast-moving and appealing story.  He’s clearly studied the characters, as their mannerisms are spot-on in terms of how I envision “Classic Holmes”.

Over on the art side, Fabbri does a fine job, reminding me at some turns of Mike Wieringo.  It’s a smooth, action-oriented set of pages.  It’s a bit brighter than I prefer most of my horror, but that doesn’t blunt the pacing or the feeling that the Victorian citizens are completely outmatched by what they’re facing.

This looks to be a fun ride, and it gets off to a solid start.

Punisher #11

Written by Rick Remender

Art by Tony Moore

Colors by Dan Brown

Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

When it comes to Frank Castle, never say "die." Because while a one-on-one with Dark Wolverine would lead to the ultimate fade-to-black for just about any other man, Rick Remender and Tony Moore have other plans from the skull-wearing vigilante. Is Punisher #11 the ultimate off-beat story arc, or some Evel Knievel-level of jumping the shark? Either which way, it's a gorgeously rendered look at what lies beneath the streets of Marvel, and how not even death itself can stop Frank Castle's one-man war on crime.

In terms of the writing, Rick Remender has a difficult task ahead of him -- almost completely changing the tone of Frank Castle's solo adventures, including the ones he wrote. In the first two arcs of this rebooted series, Remender straddled the line between the street-level shoot-'em-ups of Garth Ennis, while firmly rooting the Punisher's new adventures in the mainstream Marvel Universe, as he took on enemies like the Hood and Norman Osborn with Avenger-level tech used in some gruesome ways.

With all that being said, there will be a lot of people who find the new status quo of the Punisher to be a little too out of left field for their tastes, with the newly supernatural supporting cast of "Frankencastle" replacing the crooked cops and upside-down government of issues past. I won't lie, it's a bit jarring even for long-time readers like me. But you have to give Remender points for shaking things up, and really stretching the types of stories he's been telling -- the new enemy is the techno-samurai of Monster Special Force, who throw out Morrison-esque phrases that both sound cool and remind us of their inhumanity. "Slay all monsters. Make the Earth clean. Complete our reputations."

Yet the real strength of this book? Remender gives artist Tony Moore all the weird, pulpy material he could ever want to draw some truly evocative images. Moore's vision of the Man-Thing is easily the highlight of the book, but he also manages to give a sense of emotion, fluidity, and strength out of all of his characters. And Moore's lead-up to seeing Frank's new status quo -- well, he certainly makes the most out of a fairly tight page, cramming every bit of panel with either expressions, new characters, or a flashback from the Punisher's untimely demise. Colorist Dan Brown is a great fit for Moore, as well, playing with a crazy amount of colors that always pop, and only rarely ever seem to feel out of place.

Of course, it's still a little early to say whether or not this story succeeds. In many ways, this issue rides off shock factor, and there will definitely be critics who will drop the book in disgust over the spooky new status quo. While I wouldn't go that far, the book does have its faults -- namely, Frank's rampage seems more goofy than menacing, due because of Moore's occasionally cartoony style and some surprisingly "off" dialogue by Remender. But then again, this is likely a story that's meant to be read as some black, black comedy, not unlike the sarcastic one-liners Remender has been tossing for the previous ten issues. Love it or hate it, this is a book that will certainly get people talking -- but one thing that's undeniable is that Tony Moore is a comic book craftsman with few equals, and this series lets him just tear out.

Amazing Spider-Man #612

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Paul Azaceta

Colors by Dave Stewart

Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

When Wall Street is the enemy, who becomes your friend? When it comes to Amazing Spider-Man, the citizens of New York have taken "power to the people" literally, as Mark Waid spins some solid characterization around Max Dillon, the villain-turned-populist-symbol known as Electro.

Of course, it's interesting that I mention Electro far more than Peter Parker in the intro to this review. But I think everyone who reads this can agree that Dillon steals the Spider's show, even in his own series -- as opposed to the hard-core criminal that we've seen in the past, Dillon is now a broken man. The very first lines set up a great sympathetic status quo: "It stings when I drink." This is a guy whose very powers -- primal energies tied to New York City herself -- have isolated him from the most basic of human intimacies, and it hurts to watch.

That said, the art by Paul Azaceta is going to definitely split the readership. It's certainly an acquired taste, one that certainly flows well, but doesn't necessarily stand up under prolonged viewing. There's a hint of Mike Mignola and Rodolfo Damaggio at play here, with his block anatomies and geometric faces taking a more chiseled look under Azaceta's pen -- which means that the visual tone is all-important here. When scenes are moody, set in shadow, Azaceta is a great fit -- other times, such as in daylight scenes, the craggy lines get a little more noticeable.

Still, this issue does have its flaws -- mainly, that there will be some who will be turned off by the timeliness of Waid's themes, particularly those regarding the Great Recession. Will it be dated in five years? Ten? One can only hope. Additionally, Peter Parker himself kind of gets the short shrift for Max Dillon, with the facets of his life -- especially his roommate Michelle -- almost seeming more like plot devices than something we can latch onto. But despite some uneven attention, it is clear that Mark Waid and the rest of the Web-Heads are taking off the kid gloves when it comes to the Gauntlet -- if the first issue is any indication, it's a serious attempt to make some impact, and despite its warts, I'm excited to see where it goes next.

Thunderbolts #138

Published by Marvel Comics

Written by Jeff Parker

Art by Miguel Sepulveda

Color by Frank Martin

Reviewed by Kevin Huxford

I don’t think I’ve read an issue of Thunderbolts since they had Obama in the issue to talk to Norman Osborn. That’s important to note, since any shortcomings of the book might be due to my not picking up the previous serialized story.

As it stands, the issue reads like a bad 90s comic book. Everybody is a killer, it seems. They’re in a war torn country in South America (albeit a real one, instead of a completely fictionalized one like most 90s books had). Even the names of the characters cry bad “art-before-the-story” era work. Mr. X? Paladin? A guy named “Headsman” who wields a huge axe to, you know, chop people’s heads off?

Still, there is a point where Parker wins me over for a moment. When you start to get the inkling that a character is orchestrating some of what is going on for devious motives, you’ll find where my interest piqued. Of course, that is not long after followed by a very 90s like moment where another character spouts off with enough exposition about the events that transpired that I was immediately turned off again.

I’ve read other work by Jeff Parker, so I get the feeling that this was just the completely wrong issue for me to jump on with as an infrequent reader of the title. He’s capable of much more compelling work, so this is likely an issue that has much more appeal as part of the larger serialization or just a “necessary evil” issue where some bits need to be paid off or introduced to deliver on past stories or build for the future.

The artwork is effective. There are a few spot panels where the art was a bit muddied or the perspective or depth seemed off, but nothing that threw off my ability to follow the story. Sepulveda’s work is the kind where you can’t really tell whether he has the potential to become a name artist or will just settle into being a workaday penciler. He could just as easily go either way.

If you’re not currently picking up this book and are looking for an opportunity to try it out, I’d suggest picking up a different issue of the series. From the recap page, it seems that any of the past few issues might give you a better sense of what the title is truly capable of. From the ending of this issue, it seems like the future holds some twists and turns that, if executed well, could be interesting. This issue will more than likely just make you wish you had bought something from either of those other options.

Zorro #17

Written by Matt Wagner

Art by Francesco Francavilla

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by George Marston

The fact that it has taken seventeen issues of Zorro for me to jump on board makes me feel a little ashamed. 

How could I have missed a title that is, at once, sublime in its simplicity, yet hints at a depth of character many recent books of a similar ilk have strained towards and failed at *cough*Batman*cough*  for sixteen prior issues?  Surely the names on the cover, Matt Wagner and Francesco Francavilla, should have been enough to draw me in initially, let alone the fun of a classic pulp character given new life at such masterful hands.  I was first introduced to Zorro in my childhood, when WLVI 56 in my native Boston offered as fine a two-hour block of television as has ever been programmed, featuring the 1950's Zorro series, The Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger, and the West/Ward Batman.  Reading this issue brought me right back to the fascination and fun I felt sitting on my living room floor with my dad, only to find myself outdoors after the credits rolled swinging a curtain rod like a rapier, and jumping out of trees at my neighbors.  Francavilla's fantastic art is the perfect blend of pulp simplicity, western grit, and classic sensibility to compliment Wagner's unassuming and charming storytelling.  Fans of Wagner's Batman miniseries of the last few years will be rewarded for digging into this title, this seventeenth issue of which presents three things sorely lacking in many mainstream titles:

1) An entertaining, self-contained story that manages to serve as a fine single-issue dalliance, while still hinting at a larger scope and continuity of story.

2) A fine jumping-on point for any reader of any age and sensibility.

3) Adherence to the mantra "Show, don't tell!" 

This issue feels like the first reel of a classic film, and Francavilla's fine hand has a lot to do with this.  At once his art is decidedly grounded in the classic style, and evocative of the current trend of "widescreen" comics.  Wagner and Francavilla work well together, using their combined mastery of the craft to present what is very likely a typical Zorro scenario (wealthy landowner mistreats his workers, Zorro intervenes) and make it feel fresh, engaging, and classic.  There is not a misplaced line in the art, nor an underused page in the binding.  Where many writers may inflate their wordcount explaining Zorro's morals, role, and deeds, Wagner simply let's the story speak for itself, trusting the reader to intuit what are obviously the traits of a classic hero.  Zorro embodies the typical cunning adventurer; confident, mysterious, resourceful, and dangerous, with the counterpoint of a secret identity given to flighty, privelidged behavior.  His enemies, not the colouful rogues one may expect, play just as well to our innate sense of right and wrong.  

Needless to say, I highly recommend this issue as a perfect jumping on point for this title.  I will certainly be seeking out the first sixteen issues of this ongoing series, as well as staying on to enjoy the further adventures of The Fox.  If the creative team isn't enough of a selling point (and if isn't, shame on you!), the fact that this title fills a niche long since abandoned by modern comics while maintaining an up to date feel should be. 

Zorro Double-Shot by Russell Burlingame

Francisco Francavilla’s art in this book is spot-on for the type of title that it is (this and “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” are two of Dynamite’s best—and month in and month out a couple of the better titles based on licensed products in mainstream comics), but frankly the script leaves a little bit to be desired. The narrative boxes that pervade the first half of the book violate the basic rule in comics, TV and movies: they tell rather than show, giving readers an overview of the story but frankly leaning a little too much on the crutch of it. In this case, they have a number of nicely-rendered but rather clumsy splash pages.

It’s an interesting problem to have, given that this issue is almost exactly what you’d expect of a Zorro comic (so this much exposition doesn’t seem like it should be necessary)—a rich, morally questionable landowner is taking advantage of the peasants and Zorro steps in on their behalf. Here, he imposes his own unique interpretation of a Hawthorne classic on the man.

This issue, then, can be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in Zorro. After all, it’s more or less a blueprint for all Zorro stories. That said, it’s clear that Wagner and company have a greater plan at work, as the last couple of pages features a man and his son who, upon hearing the events of the issue related to them, take it pretty hard.

Nola #1

Written by Chris Gorak and Pierluigi Cothran

Art by Damian Couceiro

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Robert Repici

Revenge is sweet. Good revenge stories are even sweeter. And after reading Nola #1, the first chapter in a four-issue miniseries that chronicles and explores one woman's quest for vengeance in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, it seems like we have another winner. Right off the bat, we realize that this is going to be a gripping and poignant revenge story that will ultimately work to blur the line between right and wrong for a vengeful masked woman named Nola in a city that is now a flooded wasteland.

Written by Chris Gorak and scripted by Pierluigi Cothran, the first issue of this Nola miniseries revolves around two distinct narratives that effectively run parallel to each other. Naturally, the first narrative focuses on the early stages of Nola's quest for revenge in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans as she confronts two policemen who are blocking her way back into the city on a barricaded bridge. The second narrative, on the other hand, works to show us what Nola's life was like in pre-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, when she was just a normal woman trying to live a normal life. In other words, whereas the first narrative is all about Nola's revenge story, the second narrative centers on her tragic origin story that details how she became a belligerent and badly burned vigilante hellbent on revenge. It's an interesting choice for a first issue to focus on two separate narratives, but fortunately, the structure of the story works wonders here from beginning to end.

Without a doubt, juxtaposing Nola's post-Katrina revenge story with her pre-Katrina origin story is this issue's most effective storytelling device. Not only does it work to emphasize the two extremes of Nola's life in New Orleans, but it also works to provide us with a compelling comic book portrayal of the city both before and after Hurricane Katrina hit. Suffice it to say that this book successfully captures the vivacity that defined New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit as well as the havoc that plagued the city in the months afterward. Thus, in many ways, Nola is a character that seems to symbolize and even embody the essence and nature of New Orleans both before and after Katrina. After all, I don't think it's a coincidence that the name "Nola" is also a well-known acronym for the city of New Orleans.

Damian Couceiro's absorbing artwork is another one of this issue's praiseworthy strong points. His visuals here are extremely detailed and dramatic, and he masterfully utilizes the juxtaposition that permeates through the script to highlight the stark differences between pre-Katrina New Orleans and post-Katrina New Orleans. Indeed, whereas his take on the city before the hurricane hits is vibrant and full of life, his take on the city after the hurricane hits is dark and extremely apocalyptic.

All in all, the juxtaposition that plays a pivotal role in Nola #1 functions as a powerful hook to entice readers to come back for the second issue. At the same time, however, this first issue still feels like it's nothing more than set-up, and I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see this issue's strongest storytelling device become somewhat of a hindrance in this miniseries' three remaining issues. Still, that doesn't change the fact that Nola #1 is an incredibly compelling comic book. And, yeah, it's a great start to what's already shaping up to be a thrilling revenge story.

Dr. Horrible One-Shot

From Bad, I mean, Dark, Horse

Writer: Zack Whedon

Penciller:  Joelle Jones

Colorist: Dan Jackson

Cover Artist: Kristian Donaldson

Review by Russell Burlingame

While there are some funny moments in Dark Horse’s first Doctor Horrible one-shot (“first” because, let’s face it, there’s likely to be more of them), there’s a definite lack here. I think it’s the absence of the lead actors, who are both spectacular in the Internet shorts featuring the Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer characters. Without music, and without NPH, the whole thing feels a little like every other superhero parody. It’s got more cleverness and less absurdity than something like “The Tick” or “Super Human Resources”, and it’s a little better crafted than something like “Lava-Roid” or “Lethargic Lad”, but the reality of it is, these characters aren’t particularly deep or profound; it’s like doing a comic based on “The Simpsons,” if “The Simpsons” had only ever been a series of animated shorts and never actually gotten any kind of character development. The actors who portrayed these characters are what gave them most of their personality and magnetism, and without that element, the whole thing deflates a bit.

As origin stories go, it’s pretty satisfactory, though. It certainly gives a reasonably believable reason as to why a fairly sane, intelligent person like Dr. Horrible should choose to be “evil.” While the romantic subplot of the Internet shorts is hinted at here, it’s not played for anything much in terms of actual plot—that’s probably for the next issue.

Irredeemable #8 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose): After watching the Plutonian wreak havoc for the past seven issues, seeing him finally take a pounding is exceedingly cathartic. Mark Waid manages to give both the Plutonian and Charybdis some great moments -- he excels at portraying almost limitless rage and self-loathing. Something else worth noting: artist Peter Krause and colorist Andrew Dalhouse have been making enormous strides the past few issues in making everything look cleaner, more powerful, more exciting. While this book might not be great for new readers -- and to be honest, I think the new information about the Plutonian felt a little too pat -- this issue of Irredeemable looks great, and really hums with power. Definitely a book to read.

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