“Epic Kill” is a 2012 mini-series through Image Comics that tells the story of a woman named Song, who escapes from a mental institution to hunt down the man responsible for the death of her parents. He happens to be the new president of the United States. You’d think that would make it tricky, but Song is relentless. The story is a series of implausible and incredible action sequences that provides lots of eye candy: car chases, bullet time, machine guns, helicopters and brutal hand-to-hand sequences. While there is a plot in place to tie this all together, think of this more as a Saturday afternoon serial or popcorn flick than a Tom Clancy thriller. There are a couple of quieter character moments, but you’ll remember this book more for the spectacle, and that’s OK.
The book is the brainchild of Raffaele Ienco, a video game artist who occasionally dabbles in comics. He did another mini-series at Image, “Devoid of Life,” back in 2008. I’m embarrassed to admit I have no memory of that one whatsoever.
I love his style, though. It feels more European than American. (Ienco lives in Canada.) He draws very natural and realistic things in the comic, pushing his camera around to create the more extreme moments, rather than exaggerating or cartooning the objects, themselves. His fine ink line adds textures and details without ever overwhelming the reader’s eye. You could probably draw comparisons with his art to Steve McNiven’s or Olivier Coipel’s, if you tried hard enough. It’s beautiful work, only helped by the fact that he inked, colored, and lettered it himself. There’s a clarity in the presentation that such single-mindedness gives you. You can get lost looking for where the tensions are between artistic collaborators, but not here. It’s all one guy using colors that are bright enough to pop the art off the page, instead of miring everything in a muddy mix of murk.
It must be an occupational hazard for Ienco that some of his characters come across a bit posed or static, like screenshots from a video game. Part of me wondered in a couple panels if he wasn’t using a video game character as ‘photo reference.’ It’s not as bad as that makes it sound, but there is that stiffness here and there. The art is meant to look very matter-of-fact and realistic to help cover the ridiculousness of the situations. He gives just as much detail to the cars, helicopters, and big rigs as he does the people, creating an environment and an atmosphere that feels complete, and not just bolted on behind a character every few panels. It reminds me in some ways of the great “Largo Winch” by Francq. It isn’t quite as densely packed as that, but the overall feel is there.
The original five issue mini-series was published at Image earlier this year. The new trade paperback collects all of it, along with alternate covers and pin-ups, for a mere $12.99. Even better news: The series continues in comic shops with issue #6 next month. If you like what you see here, there’ll soon be more from where that came from.
In an industry that is almost monolithic in its political point of view, Doug TenNapel stands out. When Mark Evanier writes about how hard it must be for conservatives to be funny, TenNapel is a shining example of how it can be done, and not just in natural character-based humor but also with topical political humor. It doesn’t even show up in “Ratfist” until the last third or so, but it’s a refreshing change from the usual rote depiction of evil greedy corporations and an indictment of the feel-good solutions that too many stories revolve around. (Because, hey, if it feels good then it must be right and true. Logic is for textbooks and emotions are for escapist fantasy stories.)
Ratfist is a costumed rat superhero who stumbles into a situation where he starts turning into an actual rat. This causes some conflicts with his new fiancee, his friends and co-workers, and — well, there’s a wormhole-traveling Tiki God guy and a cat boss and enough weirdness to keep you on your toes. It’s a typical wild ride through TenNapel’s imagination, where stuff gets thrown on the page with the kind of energy and verve that most comics aspire to, but few hit. We need more of this experimentation, enthusiasm and humor in our comics today.
“Ratfist” started its life as a webcomic, and it shows in this collection. With each page being a separate update to TenNapel’s webcomic, you can feel the rhythm of the storytelling and gag progression working in distinct single page chunks. Sometimes, scenes shift between pages uncomfortably, as what you read as consecutive pages in a book started life as separate blog posts separated by a day or a weekend. Different formats require different mindsets. So long as you keep in mind that this is a webcomic, you’ll better appreciate its, at times, awkward pacing. Not all the jokes land as solidly as you’d hope, but the ones that do made me laugh out loud. (The Cat Stevens gag killed me. I loved the Bruckheimer sound effect. I could do without the fourth wall breaking, though.) In the end, the book might feel a little disjointed or meandering, but that’s a small price I’m willing to pay. TenNapel still has a story to tell here and does everything he can to get the humor to flow naturally across moments of rising tension.
TenNapel’s art is as crazy and wild as ever in this book, with an animator’s eye towards character poses. Everyone is always just a bit off-balance, even when standing still. It gives the book an energy and a feeling that’s missing in so many other comics. TenNapel draws motion well. He knows how to use secondary actions, such as with the cut-off talking rat’s tail strapped on Ratfist’s chest. Yes, really. A talking tail stump. With an attitude. It’s gross and funny at the same time, like much of TenNapel’s humor. There’s plenty of humor that the kids will love. Bodily functions and silliness abound. But it’s all tied together with an interesting take on natural human behavior, the similarities between religion and atheism, the link between performance and incentive, and the true origin of cancer, which also leads to one of the funniest lines of the book. (It’s the gag on page 143.)
The price may sound steep at first glance. It’s $19.99 for 158 pages’ worth of story, after all. But the money is there in the package. It’s a heavy book, with solid white paper that prevents all bleed through of TenNapel’s splattered inks and solid black areas. This isn’t an attempt to grab the maximum audience for a longer series by discounting the first volume at any cost. This is a self-contained story that shows itself off very well.
As a special bonus, there’s a guest appearance from Earthworm Jim early in the book. Completists, you’ve been warned.
If the Amazon listing that Bleeding Cool dug up holds true, Marvel is planning a $25 hardcover for the first “Uncanny Avengers” collection. The book will contain the first four issues. That is not a typo, not an exaggeration, not a joke. FOUR. Four issues for $25.
The only thing that kind of price will do is guarantee that more people buy through Amazon, where at least the book will be heavily discounted. Actually, it won’t be that heavy a discount after you add state taxes in, which Amazon is regularly starting to charge now. In my home state of New Jersey, for example, that’ll be an extra 7%, or a little more than a buck. Basically, I’d get the hardcover collection for what should be the full price of the single issues. That’s only after the discount. (The comics shop charges taxes on books, too, but then the discrepancy widens, given the higher base price.)
I hold out hope that the Amazon solicitation text is incomplete somehow. Maybe there’s a gigantic sketchbook planned for the last 50 pages of the book? Would that be enough pages to do a gallery of all the variant covers? Or maybe they’re including a couple of comics that tie into the storyline? I hope they’re not charging extra on the collected edition to justify giving you a code for a digital copy with it, too.
There’s some hope in that the page count is listed at 120 pages, which leaves room for bonus materials. I’d rather just read the book for five bucks less, though. For four issues, the hardcover price should be closer to $15 than $20.
* If you missed the late week update, my review of the “Avengers” Blu-ray is over here.
* I am about an hour into the Joss Whedon commentary, and it’s every bit as informative and fun as I had hoped it would be. There are no periods of dead air. There’s plenty of “Working with this person was awesome,” but it was usually followed by a humorous story or something to back that up. It’s not just glad-handing or something said out of obligation. It felt real. Writers will enjoy hearing Whedon talk about the changes he had to make in the script along the way of the movie-making process. Directors will enjoy hearing about the real life problems Whedon encountered and how his team was able to work around or through them. And the Whedon-ites will squeal with joy every time he mentions “Serenity” or alludes to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Comic fans will rejoice with references to John Cassaday and Jim Starlin, amongst others.
* One of my regrets in comics is not buying more high end original comic art. When I was actively seeking out pieces about ten years ago, I stuck with the low end of the market. I wanted affordable pieces by artists I liked on books I loved. I accumulated a nice collection that way, rarely going up to $75-$100 for a page. Today, most of those pages aren’t worth much more than that (though some are), but the pages I skipped over at $200 have likely more than doubled in price. The higher the value on the art a decade ago, it seems, the faster the value has accelerated. I should have “invested” instead of “collected.” In the meantime, check out Don MacPherson’s interesting write-up on the issues with forgery in that part of the collecting world. Just about all of my pages came direct from the artist and are “lower end” pages, so their authenticity isn’t an issue. But it’s scary to think how many unscrupulous people there are out there who can convincingly fake it.
* I don’t know what else to say about this story, but it’s the kind of quirk the comics portion of the internet loves. So here’s a RollingStone.com article about Andrew W.K.’s convention appearance at the “My Little Pony” convention.
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