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Pipeline, Issue #438

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Pipeline, Issue #438

HALLOWEEN A GO-GO

This is the second of a two part Halloween-themed Pipeline series of reviews. Sure, Halloween is already done and over with by the time you’re reading this. I’m sure most of you have already moved on to celebrate All Saint’s Day, but I’m not sure I have enough reviews to justify spending a column on that. What am I supposed to put together for that? PREACHER and BATTLE POPE? Nah. . .

Instead, we’re back with more demons, ghouls, werewolves, and monsters. If you missed last week’s column, I reviewed I LUV HALLOWEEN, THE LONELY TOMBSTONE, GIANT MONSTER, and two of Marvel’s new Monsters lineup of one shots. This week, I’ll look at the other new Marvel Monster books, check in on Springfield’s annual Halloween tour, scare up some werewolves, revisit cute monsters, and more.

SIMPSONS GO HORRIFIC

The new BART SIMPSON’S TREEHOUSE OF HORROR special is the eleventh in Bongo’s series. Every year, it delights in bringing non-Bongo artists together to tell scary stories featuring the Simpsons characters. The characters are often woefully off-model, but that’s OK. You want to see the artists’ styles shine through. You don’t ask Scott Morse to draw like Matt Groening. That would ruin the purpose of having him draw a story.

This year, the book is divided into two parts. The part that interested me the most is the ode to horror comics. It starts with a reunion of the classic TOMB OF DRACULA team, Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. Their story is a rambling mess of characters, meant to harken back to the classic 1970s monster title characters that they worked on for eight years together. Don’t look for a coherent story that makes lots of sense. Look at it for the great moments, cute gags, and wonderful art by Colan.

“The Sub-Basement of Dracula” portrays Mr. Burns as the title character, Smithers as Renfield, and a cast of Simpsons regulars as vampire chasers. (Carl is Blade. Homer is Harker.) Pay special attention to page seven, where Wolfman takes a jab at the comics industry in the middle of the story to great comedic effect.

Colan’s art is the star of the story. As always with Colan’s modern work, it’s reproduced directly from the pencils, which Colan uses to shade in areas and add depth and textures that any inker would lose. The Simpsons are drawn around their natural models, but I’m not going to quibble over that. I don’t want to see perfect renditions here, as I mentioned above. I want to see some of Colan mixed in with Groening here, and that’s what I got, complete with shadows under the eyes and on the sides of their cylindrical heads. Colan’s unique panel layouts, odd camera angles, and character poses are all there. It’s wondrous to behold. Gene Colan is 79 years old and still capable of putting together stories like these. But we’ll get more to the Colan Appreciation column next week. In the meantime, you can see some panels used in this book at Gene Colan’s art page.

The second part of this half of the book is “Squish Thing,” reuniting Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson to put Homer through the paces as the green muck creature in the Simpson’s backyard. Homer has drowned in a vat mixing beer and the local Quicky Mart’s new Lime Squishee, but is reborn as something not terribly unlike a swampy thing. Wein’s script focuses more on the story than Wolfman’s, working extra hard to make everything work in a logical way. (Your definition of “logical” will need to meet up with your definition of “suspension of disbelief” at some point.)

Wrightson’s art is mostly lost in the story. While there’s some nice heavy black areas you don’t normally see in a Simpson’s comic, I don’t see the fine line for detail or extravagant camera angles I would normally see in a Wrightson-drawn book. Instead, the characters are awkwardly off character without an injection of the Wrightsonesque school of art that would make it work.

Wein’s story makes up for the art’s deficiencies the way that Colan’s art drowns out any faults of Wolfman’s story.

Classic letterer John Costanza fittingly handles both stories. They would not have looked right with slick computer lettering, and Costanza’s style fits the tone of the book very well. (I know Costanza lettered TOMB OF DRACULA, but I’m not sure about those SWAMP THING tales. . .)

The other half of the book is an ode to DC Comics, complete with art from Mark Schultz, Al Williamson, John and Marie Severin, and Angelo Torres. The lettering even uses the same block lettering that the old EC Comics did. I haven’t read any of the old EC Comics, though I know I should someday. I can’t really review these stories, although there’s some very nice art in there, and not just for the way they ape the original stylings. John Severin’s drawing of Comic Book Guy muttering “Worst subcommittee ever!” next to Moe mouthing, “I’ll show you an ‘injury to the eye panel’!” is worthy of a laugh or five, though.

This year’s TREEHOUSE OF HORROR will set you back $4.99, but it’s a worthy investment. Seeing some of comics’ classic creators taking their shot at THE SIMPSONS is worth is weight in gold. I can’t wait to see what the nuts behind Bongo put together for next year.

MORE MONSTROUS MARVELS

FIN FANG 4 is a laugh out loud hilarious look at monsters in the modern world. It turns out that a judge has overturned the law allowing Mister Fantastic to “temporarily” exile monsters to their own island. Reed Richards, being the kind of guy that he is, gives four of those newly-returned monsters jobs at the Baxter Building. And thus does the chaos ensue. This book features “Googam, Son of Goom!” who we all remember fondly from Jeff Parker’s MARVEL ADVENTURES SPIDER-MAN #4. Fin Fang Foom, Gorgilla, and Elektro also make appearances for humorous effect.

Foom steals the spotlight in every scene he’s in, acting as the super smart straight man of the comic. Not only is he an activist for monsters, but he’s also a leader and a father figure, though it might be against his will. Goom reminds me a bit of Erik Larsen’s character, Glum, in THE SAVAGE DRAGON. He’s young, eager, and a bit too anxious, leading to trouble. Plus, he’s short and red. Elektro has a crush on the robotic receptionist, and Gorgilla leaps straight out of a 1930s MGM cartoon to do odd jobs around the tower, including window washing.

Roger Langridge and Scott Gray give us a creative and imaginative reimagining of these characters, with a great deal of love and respect for them. They provide a decent plot as a framework for all this craziness, mixing in modern sensibilities to characters meant for yesterday’s audience.

Jack Kirby’s original 1960 Fin Fang Foom origin story is included in the back for comparison’s sake. It’s 13 pages long to complement the lead 28 page story.

This is another winner in what has to be Marvel’s most successful “event” series in ages. It’s run you $3.99, but you’re getting 41 pages of story (plus an extra cover reprint) with enough material to be compared to six issues of a standard Marvel storytelling these days. Eric Powell’s cover homages — what else? — FANTASTIC FOUR #1.

The other Marvel Monsters book is MONSTERS ON THE PROWL, from Steve Niles and Duncan Fegredo. This one places a team made up of The Thing, the Hulk, the Beast (pre blue fur), and Giant-Man up against a treasure trove of unfortunately-released monsters in the middle of Manhattan. Like all the other books in this series, it’s a light-hearted look at the inherent silliness of giant monster battles, as every character is so self-aware in the book that it almost makes you feel guilty of not being more aware of your own place in the universe.

In the end, this is just more pure good clean fun. Niles is known for his horror work, so throwing a monster book at him seems like a no-brainer. What he comes back with here, though, is not a horror book. It’s an adventurous and funny fight story that just happens to have monsters. It’s not locked into any one particular spot of continuity, and in fact likely contradicts continuity set forth in other books in this series. That didn’t bother me in the least, though. If you hold on to that kind of stuff, you’re not going to be the type of reader who’s going to enjoy this book. It reads like Niles had a bushel of ideas he always wanted to use if given THE FANTASTIC FOUR, and he poured them all forth here. The scenes between Hulk and Thing as they share a sandwich are particularly choice. But when they hit the streets, it gets even better. “Where Hulk put bad monsters?”

Duncan Fegredo is probably the least cartoony of the artists on these books so far. He’s drawing a book that fits closest to modern day Marvel comics. Even then, there’s a nice throwback feel to the book, as he uses the character designs straight out of the ’50s and ’60s for the characters. Niles packs each page with plenty of fun stuff to draw — and even a few splash pages — and Fegredo takes the challenge and produces some real eye candy. This is another great book.

One interesting side story about this comic book: Marvel’s taken a lot of heat lately for the increased number of ad pages in their books. It’s particularly bad when pages two and three are a car ad spread. This book doesn’t have any ads until the 11th page. Only three ad pages interrupt the story and never two in a row. Instead, all the ads are bunched up at the end. After the reprint of a seven page Kirby monster story, there’s a block of eleven straight ad pages. Interesting.

To sum it all up, then: The Marvel Monsters “event” is the most successful one Marvel has conjured up in as long as I care to remember. If you can’t scare up copies on your local comic shop shelves, cross your fingers for a trade paperback. I don’t think one has been announced yet, sadly.

CUTE GLOOMINESS

Amaze Ink. (think Slave Labor Graphics, but further up in the PREVIEWS catalog) treats us to the second issue of the fantastic THE SUPER-SCARY MONSTER SHOW FEATURING LITTLE GLOOMY. It has more of the trademark dark humor, cute characters, and short stories that made the first issue such a welcome surprise.

There are three stories in this one, each a terrific short comic story gem. Little Gloomy spends the first combating her returning foe, Evey. Landry Quinn Walker’s script is smart, aware of the conventions of comics and horror stories, and not afraid to turn them around at the drop of a hat. It works very similarly to Joss Whedon’s BUFFY scripts. Eric Jones’ art — inked this time around — is very cartoony, with lots of crosshatching in lieu of solid blacks. It gives the whole book a very sketchy feel, despite what could have been a very slick and polished presentation. He combines that with wiggly panel outlines instead of straight-lined boxes, for an overall look that’s consistent and attractive.

The second story has precocious little Gloomy asking a tree of knowledge a very telling question, and what happens when it turns out the tree can’t give all the answers. The back and forth between the two characters is cute, while the end is devilishly funny.

The final story follows Simon Von Simon to a mirror dimension of horrors the likes of which you’ve never seen. It’s the anti-Gothic dimension, and it frightens him. Again: more fun, more cute, more genre subversion.

This issue is available today at better comics shops for just $2.95. There is a trade paperback collecting earlier work on the series. I don’t know much about it, but I’m definitely keeping an eye out for it now.

WEREWOLVES – WHAT WOULD HALLOWEEN BE WITHOUT ‘EM?

FULL MOON FEVER is the recent original graphic novel from AiT/PlanetLar that would fit into this themed series of columns. SUNSET CITY is their other book, but it doesn’t fit the scary monster theme here, unless you’re deathly afraid of nonagenarians.

FULL MOON FEVER is Joe Casey, Caleb Gerard, and Damian Couceiro answering the ages-old question, “What would happen if werewolves took over the moon?” What, you haven’t asked that question before? The answer is surprisingly similar to ALIEN in tone and mechanics.

The book is scary, dramatic, and action-packed. It’s more effective than its high concept slug line might lead you to believe. It’s more well thought-out than just a simple “here’s the shocker, now let’s go with it.” This one works hard to explain itself and still be entertaining. It’s how it achieves all this that’s so interesting to me.

Casey had to have viewed a few movies before writing the book. ALIEN had to be tops on that list, but not the only one. There are scenes in this book that look and feel ripped out of a movie script. It’s a very visual presentation. The most memorable moment to me is when a character on the run for his very life has to take a moment to scout out the road ahead. It’s a quiet and tense moment. You can hear the blood drops plinking to the ground from the table above. You can smell the death in the air, and imagine the carnage that happened moments ago. Casey plays it quietly, from the point of view of the character. We don’t magically see around any corner. And when the character is reaching around in the dark for something, it’s at the end of the page. You expect the big shock to come when you turn the page, but that doesn’t lessen the moment one bit. It’s even smarter when Casey avoids that obvious shock.

Even better is the moment that I think the entire graphic novel should be sold on the basis of. Forget “werewolves on the moon” for a minute, and think about the fun you could have with “werewolves in Zero-G” or “werewolves in space.” If you’ve seen ALIEN before, you pretty much know where this scene takes place in the book. It’s not a big surprise when you get there, so I’m not afraid of spoiling the book on you here. It’s another terrific set piece that has a purpose to it. It’s not just a moment that a writer includes to show how clever he can be.

Caleb Gerard and Damian Couceiro produce high contrast black and white imagery. It’s a little distracting at the beginning of the book when the cast is still large. I had trouble keeping a couple of the characters separated visually, though Casey’s dialogue did a good deal of work in the regard. Once the cast is whittled down a bit, it becomes easier and the art shines even more.

For $13, this isn’t a bad slab of literature for someone looking for a few thrills. It’s unapologetically high concept and action packed, good to take your mind off the day’s woes and point you towards space for a bit.

Correction: Caleb Gerard was co-author of the book, not co-artist. So everything I wrote about Casey above you can tack “and Gerard” to. Everything I wrote about Gerard and Couceiro you can subtract “Gerard” from. Sorry, guys.

AND FROM JAPAN. . .

The worst reviews you can have to write are the ones you have nothing to say about. Second to those are the books you have no strong opinion on. Books you loathe and books you love are slam dunks. Outline the high points and low points of the book and get out. The books inbetween strike fear into the reviewer’s heart. Such is the problem with HIPIRA, a new children’s horror picture book from Dark Horse Press.

Released back in August or September, HIPIRA is a book about a vampire boy and his little friend, Soul. It is something truly bizarre. I can’t tell you what age range this is appropriate for, because I know it’s not for everyone. There are some disturbing cartoon images in here — from an emaciated frog to some dementedly cute purple demons who feast on an alien vacuum and more. Possibly more disturbing is the way Soul looks like a glowing bit of sperm, separated from a whirlwind of spirits representing the human soul.

Yeah, this is high concept stuff. If you loved SPIRITED AWAY, this might be just up your alley.

The book is comprised of several short stories, all of which end not with a plot bang, but with a character moment or revelation. School is fun, friends are made, etc. If you like manga for the way it staggers around a story, you’ll likely recognize some of the storytelling concepts here.

This shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Mr. AKIRA, himself, wrote the book. This is the handiwork of Katsuhiro Otomo, painted by Shinji Kimura. The art is faithful to the story, beautifully painted with mostly green and blue tones. It’s often dark without being obtuse. I’m just not sure how young a child this book would be appropriate for. Some of the images are bound to give the younger kids a scare. And some of the older kids are bound to think this book is too easy for them. I’m confused. On the other hand, I am neither a teacher nor a parent. Take me for what I’m worth.

The book is in hardcover form, and runs $13.95 from “DH Press.” It’s entertainingly cute in a weird sort of way, but I’m not that sure there’s much more to say than that. You’re going to have to judge it for yourself if you’re buying it for a child.

SPAWN’S SESQUICENTENNIAL

One thing I am completely sure of my opinion on, though, is SPAWN #150. This is the start of a “bold new direction” for Todd McFarlane’s long-lasting comic book character. I don’t know where the character has been for the past 100 issues, and after reading the book I’m not terribly sure I know where the character is supposed to be going. This book is, in the end, all set-up, complete with two text pages to bring new readers up to date. It ends with the promise of a “Trial of the Hellspawn,” hardly a new concept to the world of comics or even high concept genre storytelling, in general.

It just takes forever to get there. The book is filled with page after page of visuals that seem inserted for the sake of the artist and writer getting to draw all the stuff they thought looked scary in high school. It’s bugs swarming around humans, and demons from hell marching through fire. It’s the stuff that an 80s teenager thought was really cool as they listened to their latest death metal cassette tapes and waited breathlessly for the next Jason or Freddy movie.

It took three people to write this mess: Brian Holguin, David Hine, and Todd McFarlane. Angel Medina and Philip Tan penciled it. Danny Miki inked it. Tom Orzechowski lettered, and Brian Haberlin colored. The lettering and coloring are the strongest parts of the book.

Avoid this one. A new direction and a new writer don’t look likely to save it.

ON THE BRIGHTER SIDE. . .

ZOMBIE TALES OBLIVION is the next zombie book from Boom! Studios. There are six all new short stories in the book from the usual gang of Boom! creators, along with a few new ones. There aren’t many anthology titles left anymore, and one that can show up with such high quality as this one is a welcome sight to comics racks everywhere. If the $6.99 price tag doesn’t scare you off, this is a fun zombie-filled book.

John Rogers — Hollywood writer and blogger extraordinaire — writes the first story, “Memento Mori.” It’s no direct relation to the X-Files episode, though it might offer a clue to those with a Latin background. It’s a snappy eight page short story with a bit of a shock ending and a solid zombie explanation. This is a story about why naked people are roaming the ice fields and how that zombification occurs. The art from Tom Fowler is particularly good, with a bright open feel, and hand lettering that maintains the overall shakiness of the zombie genre.

“Riot Grrrrl” is a brief action story written by Michael Alan Nelson. This is only marginally a zombie story. They are there and they do propel the action, but this eight page is meant more to be a brief action piece. In that, it succeeds. Andy Kuhn draws and letters the story. I love his style, which also suits this story just fine.

“Luther” is Mark Waid’s character piece set in a zombie apocalypse. The title character is a retarded guy with a heart of gold. Mark Badger, whose art normally does nothing for me, works well here with his looser style. There is a bit of a twist ending, surprising the reader in the middle of a book filled with stories that go in different directions.

“I, Zombie: Remains of the Day” pairs up Andrew Cosby with Pipeline Halloween mainstay, Benjamin Roman. This is one twisted tale of a mother and her two children following a zombie and his pet cat around town. It has a nice sense of humor, with Roman’s twisted art giving the whole story a most freakish tinge.

“Deader Meat” partners up Keith Giffen with Ron Lim again, for a zombie hunter let loose in the wilds of fallen Washington D.C. The politicians are responsible for the zombie plague here, but Giffen isn’t using this story to make a political statement. He’s using it to give us a different kind of environment for another horrific zombie story.

Finally, “Bakemono and the Cranes” is a bit of a high concept zombie story, relying on analogy and fables to tell the tale of two girls who follow different paths in a world ravaged by the walking dead. CBR’s own Johanna Stokes writes this one, but it’s Giffen’s artwork that shines the brightest to me in this story. It’s done without panel borders and with a beige colored background. Matt Webb does a great job digitally painting over Giffen’s pencil work. The story is also available online, here on CBR.

ZOMBIE TALES OBLIVION is an enjoyable variety of short stories, all neatly self-contained and professionally put together. The $6.99 cover price might be a bit of a scare, but that’s the only barrier to entry I could think of here. Once you get past that, you’re in for some fun reading.

That’s it. And, really, isn’t it enough?

Looks like next week will be the monthly Pipeline Previews column. The promised review of TwoMorrow’s Gene Colan biography will appear in this space in the weeks ahead. Sorry I ran out of time and space for it this week.

Check the Pipeline message board for updates on the Pipeline Comic Book Podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes now, too!
With any luck, this week’s podcast will show up over here this week. Computer issues of the last week are still unresolved as of this writing, but I’m hopeful that everything will be back up and running by Wednesday night.

Don’t forget about the VandS DVD podcast, while you’re at it.

Various and Sundry continues its link dumps, with lots of TV talk, music links, and more.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 600 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically.

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