HALLOWEEN? BAH HUMBUG
I hate Halloween.
It’s the least of the holidays added to our calendars each year. It’s a stupid holiday. Kids dress up in ill-fitting costumes and run around neighborhoods begging strangers for candy by interrupting their quiet evening at home. Twenty years ago, you could almost pull this off without being freaked out that something bad would happen: razor blades, needle punctures, kidnappings, etc. etc. Today? It almost seems archaic.
Maybe I just watch too much CSI?
The one last bright shining beacon of hope for the holiday is that it gets the kids unglued from the TV and their PSPs for a couple of hours and forces them to do a lot of walking in the crisp fall air. Somehow, I don’t doubt I’ll see one playing his Gameboy as he walks down the street in his Spongebob Squarepants costume this year.
I don’t celebrate Halloween. Haven’t in a long time. Perhaps it has something to do with becoming diabetic as a child and having the last remaining vestige of fun sucked out of the holiday for me. Maybe I just don’t get why people would want to be frightened or scared. Isn’t that something we usually try to avoid? I don’t know. While I’ll be giving out comics with candy this year, that doesn’t mean I don’t have to think this whole thing is stupid.
Despite all of that, Halloween has one special benefit for me this year. It gives me a theme for a couple of columns. I was surprised to see how many Halloween-themed comics I have piling up at the Pipeline World Headquarters. It’s a big enough stack, in fact, that I’ll be splitting them up and reviewing them across two columns.
It’s also interesting to note that these comics all have a good sense of humor to them, even the ones that aren’t done strictly for laughs. That’s what interests me more than the creeps and the scares.
HALLOWEEN: A ROMAN HOLIDAY?
THE LONELY TOMBSTONE is a one shot comic from Steve and Nikki Niles, with art by Benjamin Roman. It’s a 25 page story book telling the story of a little girl who is shunned at school and finds companionship in the tombstone marked “Precious” she chances upon one day. The other girls make fun of her, but she holds her ground. It’s not the most original story, nor is it the most shocking or horrifying, but it is a breezy 25 pages with good art and a protagonist you can sympathize with and root for.
The art is from Benjamin Roman, who also did the art to I LUV HALLOWEEN, the TokyoPop book I’ll be talking about next. It’s loaded up with gray tones and a splash of pink for the girl’s shirt. The book looks great. Roman’s art is a natural for this kind of story. The kids look “off” just enough to make them uncomfortable; the kids are expressive and awkward all at the same time. Each page is one “panel,” if you will, and Roman makes them count. He has a very good eye for layout and staging. With the drawings in this book, it wouldn’t be hard to see a short animated subject staged directly from this book.
It’s a cute book, but I can’t really recommend it. It’s a five minute read, at best, and the cover price is an astounding $5.99, despite being essentially black and white and printed on digest-sized paper. (It’s about five inches square, I think.) If you’re a big fan of Roman’s or Niles’, I can see you adding this to your collection, but I don’t think it’s going to be filling enough for a casual reader, even though the story is perfectly accessible and entertaining. It’s not enough for that price. I need more.
Roman is also responsible for the art in TokyoPop’s OEL book, I LUV HALLOWEEN. The first volume of the new series is one of the weirdest, sickest, and most deranged comics I’ve ever read. Why doesn’t it surprise me, then, that Keith Giffen is involved in it?
This is the story of a small group of friends who go out trick or treating on Halloween night. It’s a simple premise, but it’s not nearly that simple a story. In the first chapter, we meet the little girl dressed as the tooth fairy who is busy picking the teeth out of the dead bodies sitting at her dining room table. The boy dressed as the devil is hinted at actually being a devil. The neighbor handing out apples for treats is taken care of in a brutally ingenious plan involving razor blades and the police. The kids hold nothing back, whether it’s revenge fantasies to sexual ones. The book is rated, properly, at “Older Teen” level, meaning 16+. There’s a lot of leering and ogling in the book in addition to the beatings and the disfigured animals and gaping head wounds. This is not a story for the weak of stomach.
It reminds me, in a way, of SOUTH PARK. These are some foul-mouthed kids, the likes of which you don’t see in most entertainment media. Usually, a book starring kids is aimed at kids. This one isn’t. This one features little in the way of redeeming morals or happy endings. Throw out all your preconceptions, expect something different, and enjoy the ride. Credit also has to go to TokyoPop for taking a chance on a title like this. It’s a three-volume project tying directly into one holiday, featuring a set-up that won’t be an easy sell in Hollywood, and a new artist without a long track record to back him up. Despite all of that, they’ve committed to three volumes of a genuinely entertaining if sometimes icky story.
Benjamin Roman knows what he’s doing with this book. He has no problem drawing the nasty images or the quiet talking heads pages. His characters all appear very flat, but that’s an artistic choice. This isn’t a book meant to look photorealistic. This is much further on the iconic side of that art chart, with lines that don’t ever vary in weight and backgrounds that are often detailed in flat gray blocks. It’s perfectly suited to the tone of the story here, as it was in THE LONELY TOMBSTONE. The back of the book contains a few pages from Roman’s sketchbooks to show you the design process for these characters.
The hardest thing about reading this book is the lettering. The word balloons are out of order too often. This might be a cultural thing. A generation raised on translated Japanese comics might not have a problem with reading comics right to left, but that direction shouldn’t translate to individual panels in a book read from left to right. The trick is to learn that you need to follow the order of balloons from top to bottom, and not left to right. Often, the top balloon is much further to the right of the bottom balloon. If they overlapped more often, it would be easy to see which one goes first. That doesn’t happen here. In fact, there are balloons that overlap, but they end up backwards: the first balloon is overlapped by the second one. It’s counterintuitive and distracting.
The directions you’re reading balloons in individual panels is a crap shoot. I can’t figure out the formula, and I don’t know who to blame. I’m not familiar with the process by which these OEL books are put together. It could be Roman’s fault, for drawing the balloons on the page in that order, or it might be the credited letterer’s, James Dashiell.
If you can get past the awkward problems with basic sequential narrative techniques, though, you’ll find a book that’s worth getting into. It’s sick and it’s bizarre, but it’s entertaining, and will produce a malevolent chuckle or two under your breath as you read it. This book is 150+ pages of black and white story from TokyoPop for $9.99.
MARVEL GETS MONSTROUS
DEVIL DINOSAUR #1 is the first of the Marvel Monsters Group run of titles from Marvel this month. It’s drawn by Eric (THE GOON) Powell, with Powell joined by Tom Sniegoski at the word processor. There’s a long set up to justify sending The Hulk back in time to fight the Devil Dinosaur and upset two competing races of ape people. It involves the Celestials — clearly Kirby designed space oddities — arguing the finer points of intergalactic philosophies. In the end, Hulk goes back and fights a dinosaur for a good number of pages. A story like this in this day and age requires but one thing — a good sense of humor. I think it would be very difficult to tell this story with a straight face and expect your readership to buy it. Thankfully, Powell and Sniegoski have a great sense of humor for this story, from the interplay between Celestials (and their eventual fate) to everything the Hulk says and does.
“Space?!!! Hulk hate space!” Yes, the story does get that bizarre and that far out there.
Powell’s art reminds me of Steve Rude’s. It’s clean, crisp, and well rounded. It seems to be influenced more by a previous generation of artists than most of today’s comic book pencilers. The Kirby influence on the character designs stays in place, but he doesn’t go so far as to square off everyone’s fingers. Now more than ever, I want to sample THE GOON. I have a couple of random issues floating around Pipeline World Headquarters here. I’ll have to look into them. Failing that, I did see that Dark Horse released a hardcover collection of the earliest GOON stories recently.
The coloring from J.D. Mettler fits the art. He doesn’t revert to completely flat colors, but he does stay away from trying to sculpt the art with fancy coloring effects. The palette is simple, bright, and attractive.
To complete the issue, Marvel reprints a Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers monster tale, “I Was a Slave of the Living Hulk.” No green skinned behemoths here. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but thought I would include that in the review to help explain the $3.99 cover price.
The second of the Marvel Monster Group titles is WHERE MONSTERS DWELL. This is an anthology title, with three short stories from talented creators. Again, none take their material far too seriously.
The first comes from Keith Giffen (with inks by Mike Allred). It’s a sequel story to JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #60. I haven’t read the original. I doubt more than two people reading this column this year might have read it. Don’t worry about it; Giffen fills you in on all you need to know to follow this new story. Giffen riffs off the (assumed) slightly ludicrous nature of the original story to create something even more insane here. Lovern Kindzierski lovingly colors it in the style of an old Marvel/Timely comic, complete with the dot patterns in the solid blocks of colors. Giffen’s art style works beautifully with it, and his six panel grids approximate the storytelling tools of the day. “Bring on the Bombu!” works because it’s done for laughs, following up an old story in the same style with a few fresh jokes that work best in that time frame.
The second story is “The Return of Monstrollo, The Terror of Hollywood.” This one is an inside Hollywood tale from Peter David and Arnold Pander. What happens when a Hollywood executive finds himself on skid row? Thankfully, one of his past monster movie successes comes back to help his career. Unfortunately, anything else I could say would involve massive spoilers. This story is worth it for the punch lines on the last couple of pages. It sets up well and goes straight for the laughs.
I should also mention at this point that Dave Lanphear is lettering all of these books, and he does remarkably well on the titles for each story, using perfect fonts to convey an almost cheesy 1950s sensibility to the stories.
Jeff Parker writes the final story for this book, “The Shadow of Manoo.” It verges more towards the TWILIGHT ZONE side of monster stories. It’s done in the style of those original stories, with the humorous bits coming from what feels like a mashup of modern sensibilities merged with Marvel monster bits. This is an alien invasion tale with the feel of something written in the early Cold War, complete with suspicion and paranoia. Picture the narrator almost like one of those filmstrip voiceovers explaining nuclear attack safety to schoolchildren ready to duck and cover. Russell Braun and Jimmy Palmiotti handle the art, using a three tiered grid panel layout to keep things simple. It’s almost EC Comics-like. The entire story is worth it for the final page, though, which revisits the events with a new slightly sick spin.
The book wraps up with another Kirby monster tale I haven’t read yet. “I Was Trapped By Titano” runs seven pages. Like the first book, this one carries a $3.99 price tag.
Both books are worth a read. Your personal tastes should impact your final decision, of course. I can see wildly different sales numbers for the two books, given their divergent creators. Eric Powell does the covers for both, though, with his great pencil shading approach.
GIANT MONSTER gives us a slightly sympathetic new monster figure that makes you question just which side of the inevitable fight you’re going to root for. Is it the down-on-his-luck monster, or the guys with bigger guns trying to blow him out of the water (literally)? There’s not usually this much characterization in a monster comic, is there? If so, it’s not quite this subtle. GIANT MONSTER #1 sets up a strong character first and lets us watch the metamorphosis to giant sized stompy-and-kill thing. The rest is a glorious series of attacks and mayhem, throwing subtlety to the wind and letting chaos joyfully sweep over the reader.
GIANT MONSTER #1 is the first part of a two part series written by Steve Niles and drawn by Nat Jones, published by the fine folks at BOOM! Studios, who thought enough of me to include me with the entirety of the comics blogosphere in the comp list for this title. (Check out Boom!’s blog to see a smattering of other reviews.)
Oddly, this is a 40-something page first issue, and I’m going to run on the assumption that the second part will be just as long. Why not just package them together into one original graphic novel? The price on this first issue was $6.99. (It’s a steal compared to LONELY TOMBSTONE’s $5.99 cover price.) At that point, you’re going to want a complete story. I’m afraid some people might not like the ending to “book one” which has a “To Be Concluded” tag in the bottom right corner of the last page.
Nevertheless, the first issue is entertaining and occasionally very, very bloody. This is the story of an astronaut on a solo flight to the space station when things go horribly awry. A new monster lands on earth in his wake and mayhem and bloodshed follow. As always, that’s about all I can tell you without getting into big spoilers. Niles works very hard at the beginning to establish the lead character, Don Maggert. Over the course of the first four pages, we get all the exposition we need to set up his character with all his motivations. I don’t mind it too much, since Niles’ captions are easy to follow and entertaining, not strictly info dumps. Also, it ends fairly quickly and we’re right back to the action. Lots of the points set up are followed up on in quick order. That’s a good way to do it.
In addition, Nat Jones draws interesting stuff under all that writing. He even gets to draw the space station and the space shuttle. It’s not boring, even for all of its static nature.
The story is fairly simple after the initial push, as Niles lapses into some of the usual clichés of writers, including a bloodthirsty Army general and the scientifically curious-at-any-cost NASA men. But there are other moments in there to make the little boys in all of his stand up and cheer, including Monster vs. Sharks, Monsters vs. Divers, and a couple of dramatic full page reveals. Jones delivers on all of those moments, with an art style that occasionally looks loose and unfinished. That’s just part of the charm of his style, though.
I also have to give credit to Ed Dukeshire, who does a very nice job with the lettering in this issue. There’s a whole school of letterers coming out of his Digital Webbing web site. After awhile it can blend together, with many of the same faults and techniques being used. Dukeshire’s work here looks professional, clean, and attractive. He has a few large sound effects to deliver, and they look great. All of the dialogue and captions are well-placed and well spaced.
I might question GIANT MONSTER’s packaging, but the story inside it is gleeful in its mayhem and a treat to read. There is some bloodiness and gore in the book, but if you can stomach that and want to see a monster wreaking havoc and a whole lot of scared people in the vicinity, this is the book for you. I’m not a monster book fan, in particular, but I liked this one.
I also reviewed HAPPY HALLOWEEN, LI’L SANTA last week.
Next week I’ll look at BART SIMPSON’S TREEHOUSE OF HORROR. Yes, it is purposeful that I’m reviewing it after Halloween, since FOX never gets to airing that episode any earlier, either. I’ll also have a look at the latest LITTLE GLOOMY book, TwoMorrow’s biography of Gene Colan, and some werewolves in space.
Check the Pipeline message board for updates on the Pipeline Comic Book Podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes now, too! You can still hear last week’s podcast through the MP3 file. Sadly, due to computer issues, there will be no podcast this week. We should be back up and running next week, though.
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.
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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