I have a bunch of graphic novels to review. I thought I'd split them up, though, to keep the posts from being longer than, say, War and Peace. Trust me, that sucker is long! First up: the Dwight MacPherson post!
Mr. MacPherson has been busy recently. Okay, one of these books is a collection of an old series, but still. Work with me, people!
Up first is Kid Houdini and the Silver-Dollar Misfits, which is drawn and lettered by Worth Gowell and colored by Kevin Conley. Viper Comics published this sucker, and it costs only 10 dollars.
You know, whenever people whine about there being no comics for kids, I wonder what they really mean. Do they mean there are no comics starring the "real" superheroes from their youth? I mean, there's even Marvel Adventures, which are charming and totally kid-friendly. There's manga, of course, but most old-school comics fans don't even want to admit manga exists. I wish people who whine about there being no comics for kids would, you know, shut up, because it's just not true. Case in point: Kid Houdini and the Silver-Dollar Misfits. The word "kid" is in the title, for crying out loud!
There's a lot to like about Kid Houdini. A pull quote on the back claims it's "a 'Scooby-Doo'-like adventure that is actually on par with the Scooby-Doo adventures you remember from your childhood." Man, I can't really improve on that. Let's move on!
Okay, I'll try a bit more. The story begins in 1886 with Harry Houdini running away from home. He jumps a train and falls in with a bunch of child circus freaks. Six months later, he and his buddies run a detective agency out of the circus, even though they live in cages. A girl hires them (for a silver dollar, hence their name) to find her father, who was mysteriously abducted soon after being given what looked like a treasure map. Not long after they take the case, the girl's mother is also kidnapped. Oh dear. Harry and the gang are on the case! The only clue is a broken pocket watch with the word "DEAD" etched on it - what could it mean????
This is a fun, fast-paced mystery that doesn't offer a lot of twists but holds together well. The bad guy is fairly obvious, but MacPherson does a good job keeping the book exciting without making it too tense. It's not about who the bad guy is, after all, because it's more about what the map leads to and how the kids get the girl's parents back. Houdini and his gang are nicely characterized - Harry flirts awkwardly with Lydia, the snake girl, while the tough guy of the group, Hans, has no legs but is still, you know, tough. The conjoined twins, Jacques and Joe, have different and fun personalities. The interplay between the main characters make the book quite fun. Gowell's slightly goofy and manic art veers wildly from bright to a little spooky when the gang goes into the dark house of their client and other places, and it fits the mood of the book perfectly.
For me, personally, the book is a bit too "young." I enjoyed it, certainly, but it's clearly aimed at a younger audience (MacPherson, for instance, skims over what I consider the most disturbing part of this book - the kids live in cages, for crying out loud!). It's very good for, I would think, the "tween" set, although I can't say that with certainty, not knowing any tweens. You can try to interest your kids in 40-year-old Scooby-Doo cartoons, or you can get this for them. It's totally hip, man! Don't be a square!
Our next MacPherson book is Book Two of The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo, which was illustrated by Avery Butterworth and lettered by Jason Hanley. It's published by Image under Jim Valentino's Shadowline imprint (actually, it's under the "Silverline" imprint of the Shadowline imprint - how many imprints are there?) and costs 13 thin dollars.
The idea of a series of graphic novels is something that has become a bit more trendy these days (well, in American comics, as the Japanese have been doing this for decades), and I wholeheartedly endorse it. Yes, you have to wait a bit longer for each installment, but the books are thicker, don't have to adhere to a monthly schedule, and can take their time getting where they need to go. This gives someone like MacPherson time to build on his original story, and it makes this novel a bit more interesting than the first book (which I reviewed here, by the way). I liked that comic, but it felt a bit too introductory, so that when we started getting to the meat of the plot, it ended. That's not a problem here, as MacPherson has already introduced the main characters, so he can get into the heart of the story.
The problem with these kinds of things, of course, is that this isn't a standalone issue, so if you skipped the first one, it's going to be difficult to get into this one. Of course, you can just go out and buy the first one, you know! If you bought the first one and were wondering if you should pick this up, that's what this review is for! We begin as our hero, Edgar Allan Poo, has been taken to a shaman to help him revive from a greivous injury. As he begins to understand his true role in the Dream World, a war against the Nightmare King starts in earnest, with the flashpoint being the city of Polyandrium, ruled by Queen Lenore. As the armies of the Nightmare King attack the city, Poo must confront the House of Infinite Doors, where each portal leads to a different nightmare. This leads to a showdown between Poo and the Nightmare King, which doesn't end exactly as we expect it to.
It's a high adventure story, a tad bit darker than the first book (the first one had its moments, but this is still a bit bleaker) and certainly less surreal, as we get the answers we didn't have in the first book, which naturally means it has to be less surreal. I called it a Grail Quest in my first review, and that's what it is, basically, as Poo needs to figure out what's going on, why he's special, and how he can defeat the Nightmare King. MacPherson doesn't do anything all that spectacular with the somewhat disturbing subject matter, but he does tell a good story, and we zip along from scene to scene with some haste, always either finding out new things or getting treated to big fights. It's a fun read, with lots of good character interactions and solid action.
Butterworth's art is slightly less cartoony than Thomas Boatwright's, which graced the pages of the first book. That suits the book, and Butterworth does a good job with the Nightmare King and the leonine General Gallux, to name two of the odder characters. As the Nightmare King's influence spreads, the art becomes more terrifying, and Butterworth does a good job with the evil dreams Poo comes across in the House of Infinite Doors.
I'm not sure if this is the end of the surreal adventures of our little friend. It says "The End" on the last page, but so did the first book, so that's not a good indicator. It certainly could end, but there are some loose ends that MacPherson might want to tie up. It will be interesting to see where, if anywhere, MacPherson goes with this.
Finally, we get MacPherson's pirate comic, Dead Men Tell No Tales, which came out a few years ago but is only now getting collected. It's published by Arcana and will set you back $14.95 ("different in Canada," as the back reads). It's a four-issue mini-series with a prose story in the back, so it's not a bad value. MacPherson wrote it, and then the credits get complicated. Mike Fiorentino, Fernando Acosta, and Jeff Austin are all credited as pencillers, with Tony DeVito and Edgar Midian as inkers. Michael DeVito and Jon Conkling are the colorists, with assists by Don Pielert, Brian Sandow, and Josh Norwood. Finally, Kel Nuttall lettered it. Man, that's a lot of people!
MacPherson has a nice hook for this comic. We begin in 1719 with an old man named Tobias Kibble. Kibble was the first mate for Captain Kidd in 1698, and we flash back to a night when Kidd attacked a ship and discovered a huge treasure in the hold. Kibble, however, found a small silver trinket that he coveted, and when he opened it, he found a treasure map. We don't know what the map leads to, but it takes over Kibble's life. Just when we think we're going to find out what's going on, we're back in the present, and Edward Teach - Blackbeard - shows up at Kibble's house. He kills him and steals the map. But Kibble, surprisingly, gets up and starts shuffling around. That can't be good.
So what's the treasure? We find out soon enough that it's the Holy Grail, which is kind of a nifty thing to look for. Ultimately, it's a bit of a MacGuffin, because the book is really about how the quest affects the people who are searching for it. We get the story of how the Grail ended up in the Western Hemisphere (it's somewhat plausible, but by 1398, the Crusaders hadn't been in Jerusalem for well over 100 years, so the idea that the knight got it there is a bit far-fetched), and we see how it turns good men into maniacs. Plus, there's the fact that everyone connected with the Grail seems to turn up as a zombie. MacPherson tells a bleak tale of betrayal and sudden death. After what happens to Kibble, we're never quite sure who's going to survive to the next page, much less the rest of the story.
It's quite a gruesome tale, but MacPherson has a lot of fun with it. This is a horrific book with a lot of death and depravity, as every man who comes near the Grail is affected negatively by it. But MacPherson doesn't get bogged down in the death and depravity, and that's what makes it a fun comic to read. We've been writing a lot about "mature" comics and "fun" comics recently, and this is a good example. It's "mature" to the point that there are a lot of horrible corpses in it, but it's like a trashy B-movie, in that it has a serious veneer but certainly doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a dark, somewhat disturbing book, but any book in which every corpse gets up and starts walking has a slightly goofy edge to it.
Come on, it's a pirate comic! Who doesn't love pirate comics?
So that's the Dwight MacPherson post. I would say that Dead Men Tell No Tales is the one I liked the best, but I think The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo is the "best" in terms of writing and artwork. And Kid Houdini is charming, but not aimed at me. I'll read it to my kids when they're a bit older, however! They're all worthwhile, though!