Sunday, 25 September 2011

Severed 1 & 2

Severed is a new horror series written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft, illustrated by Attila Futaki, and published by Image.  I have no idea who Scott Tuft and Attila Futaki are but Scott Snyder is the bloke who currently writes American Vampire, Swamp Thing and Batman, and this has received some very good reviews so far so I thought I’d check it out.

The story starts in the 1950s, with a one-armed old man called Jack Garron receiving a letter that prompts him to start recalling the story of how he lost his arm.  This takes us back to 1916, where the 12-year-old Jack Garron, a promising violinist, runs away from home and hops aboard a freight train headed for Chicago, hoping to be reunited with his musician father, who abandoned him when he was a baby.  Meanwhile, a creepy old man with razor sharp teeth, who claims to represent General Electric, takes another boy from an orphanage under the pretence of an apprenticeship, and then eats him.  Blimey.

The story unfolds at quite a leisurely pace.  By the end of the second issue, Jack still hasn’t encountered the razor-toothed man – or his father – but it seems inevitable that their paths will collide eventually and I think I’m interested enough to stick around for a bit.  I certainly want to know more about the razor-toothed man, even if Jack’s part of the story hasn’t completely grabbed me yet.  The writing and the art are both very good, but not so good that I am going to rave about either just yet.  I feel like this could develop into something, though.  The disturbing covers to both issues certainly indicate that there is something more to the razor-toothed man than sharp teeth (and some weird tattoos).  I want to know what that something is, so I will definitely give this at least one more issue, and am pretty sure that I will stick with it for a while.

Cost: These have a cover price of $2.99 each.  I downloaded #1 from Comixology and paid $1.99.  If I’d waited a bit, I could have got #2 for $1.99, too, but I got impatient (and a bit drunk) and downloaded it the day it came out for $2.99.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Harvey Comics Classics Vol.1: Casper The Friendly Ghost

I’ve decided to make more of an effort to tackle some of the older items in the mountain of unread comics and graphic novels that has built up around me over the years, and while this book is far from the oldest unread book in my collection, it has certainly been sitting around unread for a few years now.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I bought this sometime in 2007, the year it was published.  I was unable to resist ordering it back then, and I have never been able to bring myself to sell it unread, but I really had to force myself to start reading it.  Luckily, it wasn’t quite the chore I was worried it might be, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoyed it. 

Published by Dark Horse, this reprints nearly 500 pages of golden and silver age Casper The Friendly Ghost comics, originally published between 1949 and 1965.  Casper was created by animators Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo, who sold the character to Famous Studios in 1944 for $200 (Reit went on to become a successful writer, while Oriolo remained in animation and eventually went on to become the sole owner of – but not the creator of – Felix the Cat, so this isn’t yet another story of two young men selling the rights to an ultimately successful character and then dying broke).  In 1949, after a series of successful Casper cartoons, St John Publications began publishing Casper comics, with Harvey Comics landing the licence to produce Casper comics in 1952, and buying the rights to character outright in 1959.  These comics were produced by (un-credited) artists and writers from the world of animation, and the perfectly-inked pages have the slick, simple, professional look of animation cells. 

This is certainly a very nice looking book.  Published on glossy paper, mostly in black and white, these comics don’t look half a century old at all.  In fact, only the two short colour sections in the book look dated, and that’s because the pages have not been re-coloured and the old-fashioned colour reproduction techniques date these pages badly.  However, as much as I liked the look of this book, and the idea of reading it when I first bought it, the stories were aimed at readers so much younger than myself that it was hard for me to really enjoy them.  Had I been 35 years younger, I may have enjoyed reading this more, but the 42-year old, cynical me, spoiled by reading too many ‘grim and gritty’ comics in the eighties, kept wondering what a modern writer might make of Casper, and why a comic about the ghost of a dead child was ever such a hit.  Harvey editor Sid Jacobson apparently insisted that ghosts are purely fantasy beings, like giants and goblins, with ‘no past life beforehand’, but that is clearly bullshit.  I mean, I don’t believe in ghosts, so I guess they are fantasy beings to me, but everything I have ever heard about these fantasy beings implies they are the restless spirits (or something like that) of dead people, and Casper is the ghost of a dead kid if ever I saw one.  Also, I wanted to know if religious groups were anti-Casper.  These comics are almost sickeningly sweet, but most of the characters, even the good guys, are either ghosts or witches.  That had to piss off some religious types, right?  And I also wanted to know why Casper struggled to keep friends.  He would spend whole strips flying around desperately trying to find some friends, would eventually find some... but by the next strip he was friendless and on the hunt for friends again. 

See what I mean?  I am just too old and cynical for this sort of thing, and the only strips in here I really liked were the strips about Casper’s cousin ‘Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost’ – Spooky being a little wiseguy ghost with a Brooklyn accent and a ‘doiby’ hat.  If I had a kid, particularly a very young kid, I wouldn’t hesitate to give this to them and I can’t think of any reason they wouldn’t enjoy it.  But if you are over 10 years old and didn’t grow up reading Casper comics, you might want to give this a miss.                                   

Cost: This has a recommended retail price of $19.95 (about £12.99?).  It seems to be out of print at the moment but there are plenty of new and used copies available on Amazon.  As I said, I bought my copy in 2007, and while I can’t remember exactly how much I paid for it now, I do remember buying it from an Amazon Marketplace seller and think I paid just over £6.00 (which may or may not have included postage).  

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Action Comics #1 (2011)

I wasn’t originally planning on buying this, as I am not a big fan of Superman comics.  I like most of the Superman movies a lot, even the most recent one, and even quite enjoy watching Smallville, but Superman comics have just never really done it for me.  I am generally not a big fan of any DC comics, have very little interest in the recent DC reboot, of which this is a big part, and as regular readers of this blog (I know there are at least two of you out there) will know, I am not even that keen on the writing of Grant Morrison.  However, one of the few Superman comics I have enjoyed in recent years is All Star Superman, which is also one of the few Grant Morrison books I really like, and as Action Comics #1 has received rave reviews pretty much everywhere, I thought I should check it out.  And – surprise, surprise! – I didn’t like it that much.

I do like the fact that Morrison has taken Superman back to basics, has made him less powerful, and has him tackling crooked businessmen at the beginning of the comic, rather than super-villains – which seems like a good / obvious move in this post-credit crunch era we live in.  However, I can’t imagine that Superman’s reduced power levels will last long and Superman versus big business didn’t even last until the end of this first issue, as the main villain was quickly revealed as yet another version of Lex Luthor.  Another positive is that, unlike many other comics written by Grant Morrison, this issue actually made sense to me.  Actually, I wouldn’t have guessed it was the work of Grant Morrison if it didn’t say so in the credits.  There were no really weird bits – nobody took acid, nobody hallucinated, nobody broke through any fourth walls – but there also weren’t any really good bits either.  It was certainly an action packed comic, but it was also kind of dull.

With better art, this might have seemed like a better comic.  Rags Morales is not a bad artist – he is certainly well above average – and I seem to remember quite enjoying his work on the couple of issues of the First Wave mini-series I read, but on big superhero books like Identity Crisis, and on this, his art just reeks of the old DC house style – not bad at all, but really quite variable (some panels appear to be the work of a superior artist, while many others look hurried) and also not particularly stylish.  Had this been drawn by Frank Quitely, I probably would have thought a lot more of the whole endeavour, but as it is, this just seemed like a an above average Superman comic from the 1990s, in which Superman wears jeans and throws villains off of tall buildings to force a confession out of them, even though said confession probably wouldn’t stand up in a court of law.   

This issue ends on a cliffhanger, but I must say that I am remarkably uninterested in what happens next, and won’t be buying the next issue – I feel like a bit of a sucker for falling for the hype and buying this issue!  I bought the digital version of this comic, from Comixology, and paid $3.99 (about £2.54) for it.  That was the full cover price, but it still worked out cheaper than buying the paper version of this comic from my local comic shop, as UK comic shops have to take into account shipping costs, etc., and I think my LCS charges £3.30 for a $3.99 comic.  Still, if I’d waited a few weeks, I could have got this from Comixology for $2.99 or less – in my defence, I was drunk when I bought this – and I really wish I hadn’t bought it at all. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Animal Man #1 / Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #1

Here’s two more digital comics that I downloaded while slightly drunk last week – both of them comics I was planning on downloading anyway, but had I been fully in control of my senses, I probably would have waited a few weeks until they dropped in price a bit.  Oh well.

Both of these are written by Jeff ‘Sweet Tooth’ Lemire, which is why I wanted to read them, and both are also part of DC’s current line-wide reboot, which doesn’t interest me that much at all.  Really, though, there isn’t much in either comic to indicate a new status quo, other than a line of dialogue in the Frankenstein comic which refers to ‘Supermen’ and ‘Batmen’ as if they were a new phenomenon.  Otherwise, both of these comics could have been – and appear to be – set in the old DCU.

Animal Man #1 is the better of the two comics.  It starts with Buddy ‘Animal Man’ Baker at home with his family, reading an interview he did with a magazine.  Buddy’s past as a superhero is openly referred to, so I guess this is the same old Animal Man, all the stuff that happened during Grant Morrison’s celebrated run on the title still happened, and this idea I had that DC were going to start again from scratch with all their characters was just a misunderstanding on my part.  Buddy’s wife thinks he was happier when he was crime-fighting, and pretty soon he is flying off in costume to break up a siege at a children’s hospital.  That dealt with, Buddy starts bleeding from the eyes, for no apparent reason, and then things get weirder.  This wasn’t necessarily a brilliant comic – all the stuff about Buddy’s love for his family, and the scene in the children’s hospital, seemed a bit heavy-handed to me – but I liked it more the weirder it got.  There was a nice creepy dream sequence towards the end and the creepy final page – which reminded me of parts of the new Swamp Thing #1, although I really hope the two comics aren’t linked – left me intrigued enough that I will probably come back for at least one more issue.  Oh, and Travel Foreman’s art, which has received mixed reviews elsewhere, was excellent throughout, but particularly during the dream sequence.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #1 isn’t bad either, it just isn’t quite as good as Animal Man #1, mainly because most of the issue is set-up.  It starts with some big monsters taking over a small town and then we head to SHADE (Super Human Advanced Defence Executive) headquarters, which are set inside a three inch wide, indestructible dome, currently hovering 2,000 miles above Manhattan Island, and accessible only using a combination of teleportation and shrink technology provided by Ray ‘The Atom’ Palmer.  Frankenstein (shouldn’t that be Frankenstein’s Monster?) arrives at SHADE HQ and then spends most of the issue getting filled in on the goings on at SHADE and the monster situation by the head of SHADE, who Frankenstein refers to as 'father', even though he currently wears the form of a ten-year-old girl (I may have missed something in another comic, or I may not, but whatever, I’m prepared to just go along with that for now).  He is then introduced to the new Creature Commandos – a werewolf, a vampire, a mummy, and a woman who looks like Abe Sapien / The Creature from the Black lagoon – and they all head off to ‘Monster Town, USA’ to kick some butt.

Although this issue is mostly set-up, it is at least a decent set up.  Alberto Ponticelli’s art – which is not too far removed from Jeff Lemire’s own style – is very good, and while I’m not that keen on the new Creature Commandos so far, I like the DC version of Frankenstein, I’d like to meet Frankenstein's wife (she’s stuck in ‘Monster Town’ and should show up more in the next issue), and I think this could turn into a fun series.  I’m just not sure if it’s the sort of fun I want to pay for, so while I would happily read the next issue for free, I’m not sure if I will be back for more yet.  I’ll have to see how I feel next month.

Cost: These comics have a cover price of $2.99 each.  I downloaded them from Comixology and paid $2.99 (about £1.90) each, which, err, may be the full cover price but it still worked out cheaper than buying them from my local comic shop, which would have charged about £2.50 per issue.  Still, if I’d waited a few weeks they would have dropped in price to $1.99 each, which is usually the most I will pay for a digital comic (no resale value, and all that) and if I do buy the second issues of either of these titles, I will definitely try and be more patient.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Swamp Thing #1 (2011)

A couple of nights ago, I got a little bit drunk and bought some digital comics.  Oh well.  I’ve done worse things when drunk.  They were at least all comics I was planning on buying in digital form anyway, I was just planning on waiting a few weeks, until some of them went down in price a bit.  Still, I paid less than I would have paid if I’d bought any of them from my local comic shop, and there’s no point feeling bad about it now – I may as well just read and review them!

First up for review is Swamp Thing #1, which is part of DC’s new line-wide reboot.  Not being much of a DC fan, I had very little interest in this reboot, and I initially wasn’t planning on picking up any of their new titles, but I like Swamp Thing, am a fan of Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s run with the character, am an even bigger fan of Alan Moore’s run, and as this has a decent creative team on it – Scott ‘American Vampire’ Snyder and Yanick ‘nothing springs to mind but he’s a very good artist’ Paquette – and has received some pretty good reviews so far, I thought I’d check it out.  And it is pretty good, actually, if a little confusing.

This starts with a few pages featuring Superman, Batman, and Aquaman, which make it immediately clear that Swamp Thing is back in the DC Universe proper, rather than stranded over at Vertigo.  This shift makes absolutely zero difference to my life, as every Swamp Thing comic I have ever read was set in the DC Universe anyway, and it is only after Alan Moore’s run ended, and I, along with most other people, stopped reading the comic, that Swamp Thing became a Vertigo title.  Anyway, after a few pages of superheroes, we are introduced to Alec Holland, who died in an explosion way back in Swamp Thing #1 (1972 series) and never really was Swamp Thing, even though a mutated plant thought it was Alec Holland for a number of years.  Mysteriously, though, Alec Holland has returned from the dead and is working as a labourer when he receives a visit from Superman, who doesn’t look anything like he does in Grant Morrison and Rags Morales’ Action Comics #1 (from what I have read online, I believe that Action Comics #1, which I will review some other time, is set a few years before most of the other reboot titles, but there is nothing in either this comic or in Action Comics #1 to tell me this, even though this is supposed to be the start of a new-reader-friendly era).  Superman is worried about Holland – he knows how it feels to return from the dead – but Holland pretty much tells him to clear off.  Then the horror begins, with Swamp Thing himself (itself?) only appearing on the very last page of the comic.

The reason I said this comic is a bit confusing was not because I found the story confusing.  I am confused about why Alec Holland has returned from the dead, and why he has Swamp Thing’s memories when Alec Holland never was Swamp Thing, but I’m reasonably confident that Snyder will eventually explain all this.  I am also confused about why there are monsters running around, and why some people’s heads are turning 180 degrees, but as this is a horror comic, I expect to see monsters, etc., and I am even more confident that Snyder will eventually explain all that than I am that he will explain the return of Alec Holland.  No, what confuses me is why all this is considered a reboot.  I mean, there is nothing in this comic that couldn’t have taken place in the old DC Universe.  In fact, it does appear to take place in the old DC Universe.  Alec Holland’s memories of Swamp Thing seem to include Abigail Arcane and, presumably, all the stuff that went on during Alan Moore’s run on the title, at least, and Superman even references ‘The death of Superman’.  I was expecting all of DC’s titles to start again from issue one, with new origins for their various characters and no convoluted continuity so that they could attract new readers.  But really, this is just a new number one, apparently set in the same old DCU, where everything that happened before still happened, and everyone still talks about it.

Fortunately, this is a good first issue anyway, even if it isn’t as new-reader-friendly as advertised.  The writing is reasonably strong and I am intrigued by the circumstances surrounding Alec Holland’s return and by the horror elements of the story.  The characters whose heads twisted 180 degrees made me think of the Invunche, from Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run, which was presumably deliberate, although whether or not this was just a tip of the hat to Moore or an indication that the Invunche are returning is unclear (personally, I hope they are not returning, as I would like to see some new ideas and characters emerging from this ‘reboot’).  The only really weak part of the script – the part that made me cringe – was when Alec Holland told Superman that, after returning from the dead, he briefly returned to lab work and made another batch of bio-restorative formula, but then, disillusioned, threw it into the swamp behind his hotel.  What?  Hasn’t he learnt anything?  Even if he couldn’t remember what happened the last time some of that stuff ended up in a swamp, what kind of scientist throws discarded experiments into a swamp (note: if this isn’t the cause of Swamp Thing’s return on the last page, I’ll buy a hat from a charity shop and eat it)?  I’m pretty sure there are proper disposal procedures for that sort of thing, to stop the outbreak of plagues, etc.  Or am I just nit-picking?  Meanwhile, Yanick Paquette’s artwork was near-perfect and would have made this issue worth buying for the art alone, if I was the sort of person who bought comics for the art alone.  I’ll certainly come back for the second issue, at least.

Cost:  This has a cover price of $2.99.  I downloaded my copy from Comixology and paid, err, $2.99 (about £1.90), which is technically the full cover price.  However, as I live in the UK, where retailers have to pay more for their comics to take into account shipping costs, etc., this does constitute a saving on the £2.50 (or thereabouts) my local comic shop would have charged for this item, and I didn’t have to pay for petrol, parking, etc., to get it – I just got drunk, sat on my arse, ordered it, and got it within seconds.  I love digital comics, me (although I like ‘em more when they are $1.99 or less)!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Invincible Iron Man - Unmasked

At our now legendary 'Comics - On The Ration' panel at Caption, Paul mentioned that 'The Works' was a good place to look for cheap trades, whilst Rol mentioned that Panini's pocket books were bargain collections.

Last weekend, these two coalesced for me when I popped into a branch of the aforementioned bargain bookstore and discovered a collection of pocket books at the price of £1.99 each or 3 for a fiver.

Naturally, I ignored the collections of modern stuff, which is why I'm reviewing a collection of Iron Man from, oh, 1968, or thereabouts. This book collects around ten issues from this era, written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by George Tuska.

The stories are nothing special - identikit Marvel fare in which Tony Stark wrestles with the guilt of having a secret identity and how he wants to share his secret with somebody but he can't so he ends up pushing them away whilst he really wants to pull them closer yada yada yada.

However, I've never really been a fan of George Tuska before but that may be because I've only been exposed to the odd issue of his work here or there. His is a crisp cartoony style which reminds me of Frank Robbins, but it's one that lends a charm to Shellhead's Rogues Gallery, and is the major appeal of this book.

Is it value for money? Well, it's probably value for money at £3.99. I paid £1.66 so it would be churlish to grumble.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Popeye Vol.3: 'Let's You and Him Fight!' HC

This third oversized collection of E.C. Segar’s Popeye-era Thimble Theatre strips collects all the daily strips from June 1932 to December 1933, all the full-page, colour Sunday strips from October 1932 to November 1933, and twelve never-before-reprinted strips that were produced to promote the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair.  And like the previous volumes in this series, apart from a very tedious introduction, it is brilliant stuff.

This volume features the first appearance of Popeye’s adopted son ‘Swee’pea’ (although Popeye actually christens him ‘Scooner Seawell Georgia Washenting Christiffer Columbia Daniel Boom’ by tipping a bucket of spinach over his head) and the first appearance of Bluto (although Bluto was the main villain in the animated Popeye cartoons, his appearance in one of the storylines in this book marked the only time he ever appeared in a Segar Popeye strip).  In the dailies, Popeye sails the ‘eighth sea’ in search of treasure; returns to Nazilia with King Blozo and helps him fix an election; becomes king of Popilania, thought deserted but actually populated by ‘wild men’ and, even better, ‘wild women’, which gives Olive Oyl cause for concern (Popeye: ‘Can’t a swab take a bath, comb his hairs, shine his shoes, trim his nails, wear a flower, an’ use a squirt of prefume without you thinkin’ sumpin?’) and causes all the men in Nazilia move to Popilania; becomes star reporter for the Daily Blast; and after getting hit in the face with a baseball bat so hard that it drives his head through a wall, is diagnosed with a terminal case of ‘bonkus of the konkus’, spends what must have been a few months’ worth of strips wandering around convinced he is a lonely cowboy (Popeye: ‘I yama lonely cowboy.  Me horsh is gone.  Me horsh run’d away – I ain’t got no more horsh.’), and then makes a sudden, unexpected recovery (Popeye: ‘Nothin’ can kill me ... I am immoral.’  Doctor: ‘You mean immortal?’  Popeye: ‘I means what I means – tha’s what I means.’).  Meanwhile, nearly all of the Sunday strips focus on the antics of arch-scrounger J. Wellington Wimpy.  In the best of these Sunday strips, Popeye pretends to be Wimpy’s grandmother to prove to someone that Wimpy would not choke his own grandmother for a hamburger, and loses his bet, as Segar’s Wimpy is such a greedy bastard that he would do pretty much anything – other than pay – for food.

These books are great value for money.  There is at least as much reading material in one of these volumes as there is in your average Marvel Omnibus book – admittedly on fewer (larger) pages – but at a fraction of the price.  This volume has a recommended retail price of £21.99 / $29.99 but Forbidden Planet International have it for just £13.79 (plus £1.00 P&P) at the moment.  I didn’t pay a penny for my copy, as my wife bought me for it as an anniversary present.  I am tempted to order the remaining three volumes in the series right now, but if I don’t, I know what I’ll be asking for this Christmas!