Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs: The Cowl, Super Maxi-Pad Girl, and the return of Rooster Jack

With the convention season wrapping up, I'm taking a break from longer graphic novels this week to finish up some shorter works that I've picked up at recent cons.

The CowlWritten by Brian Azzarello; Illustrated by Benito GallegoBased on characters created by Joseph FinderJosephFinder.com; Free

One of the few highlights of this year's WizardWorld Chicago Comic-Con was Crimespree Magazine's booth and the focus on crime comics that it brought to the show. On one of my many trips to the booth I got handed a superhero mini-comic called The Cowl that was written by Brian Azzarello. The connection to crime fiction - other than Azarrello - is that it's a tie-in to Joseph Finder's most recent thriller, Vanished. Not an adaptation of Vanished, but a real version of a fictional comic created by one of the novel's characters.

It's only eight pages and mostly a teaser, so it's tough to review, but it serves it's function as a teaser very well. In some of the material that came with the comic, Finder talks about how he came up with the idea and asked a friend at DC for artist recommendations. After describing the style of art he wanted, Finder learned that he was looking for a modern-day John Buscema and was directed towards Benito Gallego. It was a good lead. I don't know if Gallego's intentionally trying to evoke Buscema for this project or if that's his usual style, but he does a fine job in the way he draws anatomy, poses his characters, and delivers action.

Even though the comic is essentially an ad for Vanished, Azzarello isn't wasted on it. The Cowl could have been - probably should have been, by all rights - a disposable superhero cliché. Certainly his costume is uninspired. But Azzarello gives him a couple of moments that are so cool - and a villain who's so immediately wicked and horrifying - that you can't help but hope to see him succeed. Only that's when you hit the cliffhanger and realize you're gonna have to read the novel. Nicely done.

Super Maxi-Pad Girl and Rooster Jack await you after the break.

Super Maxi-Pad Girl #1-2Written by Daniel J Olson and AJ Niehaus; Illustrated by Daniel J OlsonBewildered Kid Comics; $4.00 each

I didn't get these at a convention - they were mailed to me - but I did see them at FallCon last weekend and it reminded me that I needed to read them.

The title of the book makes you wonder how Olson's going to get more than one joke out of the concept, let alone fill two issues with material, but he actually pulls it off. Or, let's say he fills two issues with material. Whether or not he gets more than one joke out of it is debatable. The surprising bit is that he's able to retell that one joke with enough variation that it doesn't lose whatever humor you found in it the first time.

I'm being careful with my words here because Super Maxi-Pad Girl is either uncomfortably funny or just plain offensive depending on your perspective. More often than not, it was both at the same time for me. Olson's created a superpowered conflict out of the menstruation cycle, so your opinion of the book depends entirely on the amount of humor you're able to find in that specific physical process. The evil Period operates out of his secret Uterine Fortress with his minions Cramps and Bloating. About once a month the trio emerge from hiding - sometimes accompanied by Migrane and Acne - to menace women everywhere with the battle cry, "Make blood flow through the streets!" Defending the female population are Super Maxi-Pad Girl and the other members of the League of Feminine Products.

Olson's art is crude (in more ways than one), but effective. You can't always tell what's going on and he's unsubtle as hell, but there's obvious joy in what he's doing and if you're at all open to laughing about the subject matter, it's kind of contagious. There are parts that make you grin and parts that are even sort of touching, but Olson never lets you get too comfortable with any of it. As soon as you think, "Oh, that's kind of sweet. The mom used superhero metaphors to help her daughter understand menstruation," the daughter goes to school and hits a bully in the face with a used pad. Let's just say that I'm very glad the book's in black-and-white.

The Visible Rooster JackWritten by Adam Hansen; Illustrated by Ben Zmith and Sara WittySpace Race Comics; $4.00

I picked up Adam Hansen and Ben Zmith's first Rooster Jack comic at the Twin Cities' MicroCon last Spring and loved it. Checking out the sequel was one of the thing's I was looking forward to at FallCon. It wasn't exactly what I thought it was going to be - no flying whales or clockwork city yet - but in several ways it's better than I'd hoped for.

The immediately noticeable improvements are the quality of the art and the overall production of the book. Not that Zmith's art was bad on The Sad State of Affairs of Rooster Jack. On the contrary, it was very effective in making me chuckle. But even though there were 3D glasses and some fun activities, I commented at the time that there was a crudeness to it. It was a very funny book, but it was undeniably homemade. For Visible, Zmith has Sara Witty helping out and the result is a sleeker, polished look with some at times downright gorgeous gray-scaling that loses none of Zmith's humor. Add to that the nicer paper it's printed on and The Visible Rooster Jack is a damn attractive mini-comic.

By mini-comic though, I mean only it's dimensions. It's small in your hand, but there are 36 pages, all telling a single, self-contained story. That's another way in which it's nicer than I expected. If I understand correctly, Hansen's original plan was to make his comics more serialized with cliffhangers at the end of each, but Visible is a complete tale. It's open-ended in the sense that there are obviously more adventures to come, but it wraps up in a satisfying way.

The storytelling's way stronger on Visible than it was on Sad State of Affairs too. Sad State of Affairs was all about the gags as it introduced you to Rooster Jack and his cohorts. Visible is still quite funny (it can't help but be with these characters), but the jokes serve the story this time rather than the other way around. I don't mean that to sound negative about the first book, because I laughed and laughed at it. It totally did it's job. I'm just impressed that Hansen didn't decide to go for more of the same. He stretched out and told a real story and it's a good one. There may not be any flying whales, but there are goat-people and a crazy, old peasant woman who'd make Monty Python proud.

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