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Issue #247

NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS:

REVIEW-O-RAMA:

BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE:

My apologies to Larry Young: I clean forgot last week to remind everyone that BADLANDS (published by AiT/PlanetLar Books) is being relisted through Diamond this month, and Larry's even picking up Diamond's restocking fee on it. (For those who don't know, this is my crime novel set in 1963 and starring the man who really shot John Kennedy, with lovely art by Vince Giarrano. A must for every bookshelf.)

Roy Thomas informs me that he's developing an issue of ALTER EGO as a tribute to Alex Toth, scheduled for December, and he's looking for reminiscences and appreciations by our fellow comics professionals to run alongside all the material he already has. I don't feel comfortable posting Roy's e-mail address here, so if you're a comics pro and you're interested in contributing, drop me an e-mail and I'll put you in touch with Roy.

Scattered throughout the column are the covers for this week's Comics Cover Challenge. Seven comics, one secret theme connecting them. Be the first one to tell me what it is in an email, and you can promote any website of your choice here. (We reserve right of approval, but that hasn't been an issue so far.) Normally I give some wonky clue to the theme, but in this case it'd have to be some obtuse like "John Waters" and I've got no idea how I'd fit that in, so let's skip it.

The WHISPER NEWSLETTER is now up and running via the Yahoo groups. If you want to subscribe, click here.

Available in pdf e-book form at Paper Movies and The Paper Movies Store:

TOTALLY OBVIOUS. Collecting all my "Master Of The Obvious" columns from 1998-2000, with still relevant commentary on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life, revealing many previously unvoiced secrets behind all those things.

IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS VOL 1. Collecting my political commentary of the early terror years, from Sept. 2001 through April 2005, revealing the terror behind the War On Terror.

HEAD CASES. A collection of comics scripts from work done c. 1992-1995 for various companies, including an unused script. Annotated.

No urgent issues in the comics world this week, so I'll cut it short now. On to the reviews.

From Del Rey Manga:

ES ETERNAL SABBATH Vol 1 by Fuyumi Soryo, 234p b&w trade paperback ($10.95)

A potentially interesting series, though this volume is largely introductory. A man with psychic powers roams Tokyo, controlling minds, inducing hallucinations so believable they have side effects, and borrowing other people's identities, until he crosses the path of a researcher he can't control. The book is interesting mainly for the psychic's lack of megalomania despite his amply demonstrated power, but the remoteness of his personality is reflected by decent but generic art and uninvolving pacing, though revelations of his origin give things a spark toward the end with the promise of an actual adversary next volume. Opinion on hold. (One thing, though: manga have provided us with yet another good rule of thumb. If you have to jump through hoops to justify a series title, as this book does, maybe it's better to come up with a different title...)

NEGIMA! Vol 10 by Ken Akamatsu, ~200p b&w trade paperback ($10.95)

More cheesy smut and fight scenes, though less of the former than usual. 10 year old teacher Negi remains the object of desire for the junior high girls' class he teaches while trying to become a master mage like his missing father. This time around a magical tree allows people to choose their lovers during a school festival, something completely forbidden, as Negi time travels back to relive the day over and over, a gimmick that never really pays off. Eh.

GACHA GACHA Vol 4 by Hiroyuki Tamakoshi, 202p b&w trade paperback ($10.95)

I haven't been kind to this series so far, but this was actually pretty good, as Tamakoshi drops much of the tease cheese and heroine Kurara loses her squirmier videogame-induced multiple personalities for four artificial intelligences which at first appear to be more of the same but then start influencing and aiding her budding romance with her hapless protector, high school student Kouhei. Which means the series is threatening to break out of its shell. We'll see, but this moves it up from a pass to a qualified maybe.

BASILISK by Futaro Yamada & Masaki Segawa, ~200p b&w trade paperback ($13.95)

A slightly oversized ninja epic set in the 1500s, this is Del Rey's first 18+ entry, though on the basis of this volume I'm not sure why, since so far it's not much different in approach from most other action manga. To solve the question of succession for his two feuding sons, the shogun orders two feuding ninja clans to battle to the death with each clan assigned to one son, and the winner of one feud determines the winner of the other. But the resumed clan war conflicts with marriage plans that were to have united the clans. It's an interesting set-up and, if played right (as it is here) the Romeo & Juliet theme never gets tired. The art's quite rich and interesting if occasionally confusing, and the writing's sharp and direct. Problem is most of the book is ninja battles with each ninja displaying their unique superpower - oops, I mean "ninja technique" - and after awhile it gets to be like reading the X-Men. The question isn't really who'll win but what will the lovers do, side with their clans or defy the Shogunate? It looks like they're nowhere near answering that question yet.

From Wildstorm:

MANIFEST ETERNITY #1 by Scott Lobdell & Dustin Nguyen, 32p color comic ($2.99)

In the far future, when an oddly glib humanity has conquered and united the rest of the universe in one vast science-based empire, the union falls under devastating surprise attack to a parallel universe of wizards, dragons and warrior gnomes. I suspect this one is trying to evoke 9-11 resonances but the only discernable character so far, the infinitely smug, long-lived war hero "emperor" is so blandly unlikable and the pre-attack scenario so repugnant to the empire's citizens that whatever happens just feels like poetic justice. Which is the main problem: Lobdell's ironic distance from the material keeps it from being very affecting, despite good artwork and otherwise pretty good writing. Ironic distance is so last century, and I'm not sure most comics have enough lifespan to afford it anymore. Another book that needs at least another episode for an informed assessment.

From Boom! Studios:

WAR OF THE WORLDS: SECOND WAVE #3 by Michael Alan Nelson & Chee, 32p b&w comic ($2.99)

Crawling through sewers to escape new, improved germ-resistant Martian invaders. The story doesn't progress a lot, though it does introduce new wasp-design tripods that look pretty creepy-impressive, and for one long chase scene it works pretty well. The occasional sloppiness of Chee's art last issue is pretty much conquered here. Good.

HERO SQUARED #1 by Keith Giffen, J.M. deMatteis & Joe Abraham, 32p color comic ($3.99)

For those who came in late: Milo's a slacker ex-film student whose parallel world superhero alter-ego Captain Valor fled to Milo's world when Valor's supervillain ex-girlfriend who's the parallel world version of Milo's girlfriend destroyed their universe who has also come to Milo's universe to destroy Captain Valor and Milo's universe, except she has slept with Milo but Milo's girlfriend doesn't know. Mostly it's just an excuse - a pretty good one - for Giffen & deMatteis to toss off the trademark one-liners, cultural critiques and deconstructions of superhero comics that made their stint on JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA so memorable to so many. They don't have Kevin Maguire with them this time, but Joe Abraham substitutes admirably. After a mini-series and a special, this issue launches the regular series, and they've conveniently made it very easy for newcomers to understand. Or, at least, to understand as well as anyone understands it. It's very funny. But not just funny. Did I mention the girlfriend and her supervillain version have lunch? Get it.

TAG #1 by Keith Giffen & Kody Chamberlain, 32p b&w comic ($3.99)

Giffen put out a one-shot called TAG a few months back that was basically a BATTLE ROYALE knockoff. Surprisingly, this is a completely different concept with the same title: a man is "tagged" by a rotting stranger, and comes to realize he's dead. But not zombie dead. It takes awhile to get going but by issue's end gets fairly intriguing, with striking art. Check it out.

From 01Comics:

LUNATIC FRINGE by Chuck Bordell, 32p color comic (no price given)

Let me say it again: always put the price on the comic. The unluckiest slacker on earth - a paranormal researcher calls him a "weirdness vortex" - takes part in a poltergeist hunt. Bordell handles character decently and is a fairly good cartoonist, but the story just collapses; the lead character has zero role in what passes for the resolution and apart from providing snotty asides may as well not have been there. It's okay, if no payoff is okay.

From Dimestore Productions:

REDCHAPEL #1 by various, 44p b&w comic ($4.50)

Life at a girls' school for witches, as aptitudes are determined. Kid friendly comics, handled fairly well by Caleb Monroe, but Noel Tuazon's sketchy, almost impressionistic art wouldn't seem to appeal to kids very much, though it's not bad. The issue rounds off with a nice little prose story about the school, and a vignette like Stan Lee used to fill Marvel "mystery" comics with, explaining the Red Sox winning the World Series. Not bad, but who's the intended audience?

From Corey Bechelli:

SOLIDARITY IS NOT JUST ANOTHER SLOGAN by Corey Bechelli, 12p b&w mini-comic (price unknown)

A vignette about the difference between calls to action and action, with bad consequences. Not bad. Love the back page cartoon.

Parallel by Corey Bechelli, 8p b&w mini-comic (price unknown)

A one-joke pony, but it's a good joke, following two men through their day, coming together nicely in the final panel. Good.

WILLY WONKA: CANDYMAN by Scott Oliver & Corey Bechelli, 24p b&w mini-comic (price unknown)

Willy Wonka as drug capitalist, and the secret story behind the movie. Good sick fun.

THERE'S NO PLACE by Scott Oliver & Corey Bechelli, 20p b&w mini-comic (price unknown)

Following THE WIZARD OF OZ, the Scarecow becomes a murdering despot. There's some sort of radical philosophy behind his actions, but Oliver's script is pretty fuzzy on details, not to mention the poetry's clunky. Bechelli's work is okay, but there's no payoff besides the ruination of Oz joke, which we get about two pages in. Eh. Time to reinforce that ban on all Oz references.

From Mam Tor Publishing:

LIFE IS HUMILIATION & MORE HUMILIATION!/ROBOTS IN LOVE by Matt Boyce, 16p b&w mini-comics ($)

Skewed, depressive humor, featuring characters like Hole In The Head Man (who has a hole in his head) and Happyman. A lot of it goes nowhere but some is quite good. Simple art, but not rudimentary. I'm ambivalent, but on the good side of ambivalent.

From Bohemian Press:

TAILS by Ethan Young, 32p b&w comic ($2.95)

Continuing the slice-of-life adventures of an aspiring comics artist who works at a pet shelter and keeps adopting animals. Much as I've been enjoying the series so far, this issue feels like treading water in the aftermath of the hero's breakup with his girlfriend. But Young's artwork, an intriguing cross between Mort Drucker and Steve Parkhouse, carries the issue.

From Approbation Comics:

MYRIAD #2&3 by various, 32p b&w comics ($2.99@)

Wow. This is a little parade of comics bad enough that I half suspect they're doing it on purpose. Dull concepts, mediocre artwork at best (to be fair, that's not quite true; by his second outing, Chris Tsuda's work starts falling into the not bad range) and I'm feeling especially obtuse today because nothing in either of these issues reads like coherent story development, particularly the brutal, pointless "kung fu warrior woman" strip, ChiSai, whose clumsy randomness borders on pathetic. The best thing I can say about these issues is that they're far better than the slew of "preview" comics Approbation sent, all of which left me dumbfounded.

From Alias/Forcewerks Productions:

SUPERTEENTOPIA by unknown, 32p color comic (price unknown)

Okay, once again: put your information on the comic, not on cover letters. Cover letters don't go into the review pile. Art seems to be by Gonzales Martinez, and is pleasantly Wally Woodish; in that regard, SUPERTEENTOPIA plays like a cleanly drawn, inoffensive offbrand '60s comic. Unfortunately, it reads like that too: not bad, but so bland it's instantly forgettable. What was I talking about again?

CBD by various, 48p comic (25¢)

Well, you can't beat the price, but the cheap newsprint format doesn't do the contents any favors. This consists of previews of REVERE, about a revolutionary war monster hunter that's not bad but doesn't go much beyond being a knockoff of the first ten minutes of THE BROTHERS GRIMM; the fantasy "epic" ARMORQUEST, which likewise isn't bad but, at least in the segment presented, doesn't bring anything new to a very overworked genre; and an introductory story of SUPERTEENTOPIA, which shares the pluses and minuses of the first issue, though the first issue is better written. Again, nothing bad here, but nothing memorable either, and nothing that inspires another look. Reading it's like having a déjà vu experience.

From Dakuwawa Productions:

HELIOS #3 by Jason Rand, Gabe Pena & Sven Dyson, 48p color comic ($4.95)

Military quasi-superhero shenanigans, kind of like someone's looking for a turf war with GI JOE. The covers, by Mike and Kenneth Choi, respectively, are quite lovely, and the story is... I'm not sure what the story is. The setup's so elliptical it's hard to figure out whether it's a government conspiracy story, an anti-government conspiracy story or what, and specifically or what anyone's after. The art's not bad, but unfortunately it's mostly faces and the faces were driving me to distraction; Pena & Dyson draw noses like everyone walked into a wall, hard. It's okay, but unsatisfying.

From Devil's Due Publishing:

HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH COMICS... NOT JUST CREATE THEM Vol 2 & 3 by Josh Blaylock, 32p b&w comics format magazines ($4.95@)

Not a bad little basic discussion of the nuts and bolts of comics publishing, including (in these volumes) finding and dealing with talent, handling contracts, copyrights and trademarks, royalty reports, marketing basics and coping with other parties in the process. Blaylock's approach is rudimentary (understandably) and fairly value-neutral; he's just presenting information, not trying to persuade anyone of anything. There are more elaborate books on the subject - check out Larry Young's TRUE FACTS - but for a quick introduction this series is pretty good.

GI JOE: AMERICA'S ELITE #10, GI JOE:SIGMA 6 #4 &5, GI JOE/TRANSFORMERS: THE ART OF WAR #2 by various, 32p color comics ($2.95@)

Joe Casey, on AMERICA'S ELITE, can still spin a decent story even within the claustrophobic, incestuous GI Joe milieu, I'll give him that. But this isn't that story. The Wolverine of the group, ultimate ninja Snake-Eyes has died (it smells like he's to be resurrected as a Cobra assassin, since his Cobra opposite number has reformed and joined the Joes) while the team hunts for his missing body, another Joe has been captured by a third party enemy, and a mystery enemy mounts an attack against a dictator. Water treads, nothing much happens. In SIGMA 6, the "kid friendly" cartoon companion book, the moral's rule, as Scarlett learns in one issue to keep personal bias out of her assignments, and in the other two "lesser" Joes get over their inferiority complexes to take on Cobra Commander. Most people associate "kids comics" with "predictable," and SIGMA 6 will show you why, but they're not horrible. The team-up with the Transformers is basically one big fight scene, which will likely please fans of either group but it's more motion than story.

LOST SQUAD #4 by Chris Kirby & Alan Robinson, 32p b&w comic ($2.95)

This WWII tale of military monster hunters is still pretty good, though the action is more INDIANA JONES than THE LONGEST DAY as their mission to destroy a German future-reading machine takes an amusing turn. Kirby keeps WWII as lighthearted as possible and Robinson's semi-cartoony art fits the material well. An entertaining book.

BLACK HARVEST #4 & 5 by Josh Howard, 32p color comics ($3.25)

One mystery involving goth abductee Zaya is cleared up while another deepens. I'm still not terribly enamored of Howard's Keene-esque art style, but it's interesting to see how much more confident his storytelling has become since his earlier work, as all hell starts to break loose. Good job.

From Fantagraphics Books:

ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL: A screenplay by Dan Clowes, 190p color trade paperback ($14.95)

When I was back in film school, publishers regularly issued screenplays, and one publisher (I forget which) issued a number of studies of film directors in this great 6"x6" format. And here's Clowes' screenplay for Terry Zwigoff's recent film, packaged in that format, with the usual topnotch Fantagraphics production values. The film reads even better than it plays, with the original "Art School Confidential" strip, newly colored, included, plus design art, stills and production art from the film. Well worth it.

THE LEFT BANK GAME by Jason, 46p color trade paperback ($12.95)

I'm of mixed minds. On the one hand I think Jason is an excellent cartoonist. On the other hand, his identikit hangdog funny animal characters are starting to wear on me. It's like he got hit in the head as a baby by a copy of MAUS or something. On the other hand, THE LEFT BANKE GANG is a both cutting and loving exploration of the Lost Generation in Paris between the wars - if, say, Hemingway was a dog and a cartoonist. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound and Joyce, down on their luck, decide to rob a boxing match but a more profound presence crashes the scene. I'm not sure what the point is, but very enjoyable anyway.

OUR GANG 1942 1943 by Walt Kelly, 104p color trade paperback ($12.95)

Let me put this caveat up front: I hate THE LITTLE RASCALS AKA OUR GANG. Always have. Nothing to do with the comic book version. That said, Kelly's work on the comic is much more enjoyable than anything done with the crew on film, and the art is excellent, though for those who know Kelly primarily from his brilliant POGO, the borderline photorealism of it is a bit unnerving, though he simplifies things in later episodes. By the end you can almost see him straining against the constraints of realism. This volume is mostly interesting for historical reasons, but Kelly's work is worth looking at in any case. Get it.

From Here There Be Monsters Press:

ELEISON #1 by Elena & Jaime Carrillo, 32p b&w comics format magazine ($2.95)

I have to say they kind of lost me with the cover blurb, "The Battle Between Good And Evil Begins," because, y'know, I'm sick and tired of battles between good and evil. They're to the point now where they're just bloody annoying. That said, this is an illustrated story rather than a comic book and Elena Carrillo's straightforward, clean prose is very good, evoking a horror that beging in ancient Rome before jumping to the main staging ground of the American West, and Jaime Carrillo's photorealistic painted illustrations are spectacularly good. Check it out.

From Caldwell Comix:

KILLER DILLER IN "PICKLE PRESS" by Jim Cracchiolo & Chris Caldwell, 16p b&w mini-comic (price unknown)

A silly but fun little story about a Martian with female robot sidekicks tracking down a murderous giant demon pickle. Lots of pickle jokes, naturally. The bigfoot art's pretty good, while the writing, though unambitious, also isn't bad. Amusing.

Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They're no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don't really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC NOTICE OF COLUMN POLICY: any email received in response to a piece run in this column is considered a letter of comment available for printing in the column unless the author specifically indicates it is not intended for public consumption. Unless I check with you or the contents of your e-mail make your identity unavoidably obvious, all letters are run anonymously.

Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

I'm reviewing comics sent to me - I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them - at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

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