Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review: "Dark Horse Presents" #4-- Beasts of Burden, Criminal Macabre, Age of Reptiles, and MORE!

When it comes to comics, anthologies are the best place for beginning readers. Take for instance the most popular comic anthology in our nation: the comics in the Sunday newspaper. Not all readers dive into the comics section of their paper knowing they like Zits over Blondie, or Peanuts over Garfield. Not all readers understand the office jokes in Dilbert and the political laughs in Doonesbury (I sure know I didn't as a kid). And most indefinitely, not all readers are lucky enough to pick up their favorite comic-strip from it's first printing through it's entirety. But as devoted anthology readers we understand our tastes tend to vary in the comic medium, and without the pairing of the good, the bad, and the ugly, we could never understand just what we like. Continuing this ritual, Dark Horse Comics released their 4th issue of an on-going monthly anthology called Dark Horse Presents.

This 80 page full color comic features a number of different artists and writers with the added bonus of NO adds (eat that, you DC $#*t-heads). The first reason I picked up this copy was for the all new eight page Beasts of Burden story, written by Evan Dorkin and illustrated by Jill Thompson--I just can't get enough of those cute critters fighting paranormal oddities (click here for more Beasts of Burden). My second reason for the pick is Geoff Darrow's gorgeous cover illustration (just look at the cover pictured above, from his "Shaolin Cowboy" series, and the immense detail put into his work). Everything else in the comic was a complete mystery. New works by new artists and new writers. Just what any comic fanboy or fangirl needs.

Of course, with the obvious difference of opinion in anthologies, how does one go about critiquing it? Well, how about the orderly fashion of story by story "+" meaning good, "-" meaning bad.

"Beasts of Burden: Food Run,"
story by Evan Dorkin, art by Jill Thompson (+)

"Rotten Apple" Chapter 3,
story by Chuck Brown, art by Sanford Greene (-)

"The Adventures of Dog Mendoca and Pizzaboy" Chapter 1,
story by Felipe Melo, art by Juan Cavia (+)

"Number 13" Chaper 3,
story by Robert Love and Dave Walker, art by Robert Love (+)

"Resident Alien" Chapter 1,
story by Peter Hogan, art by Steve Parkhouse (+)

"Criminal Macabre: Die, Die, My Darling!" Chapter 1,
story by Steve Niles, art by Christopher Mitten (+)

"Marked Man" Chapter 4,
story and art by Howard Chaykin (+)

"Age of Reptiles: The Body,"
story an art by Ricardo Delgado (+)

"Finder: Third World" Chapter 4,
story and art by Carla Speed McNeil (-)

"The Protest,"
story by Dara Naragi and art by Victor Santos (+)

All in all, that's eight +'s and two -'s, giving this comic anthology an 80 percent. My only complaint is the price of this comic which happens to be $8, but if you look at it this way, you're actually getting your dollars worth and then some. Not convinced yet? Check out the following preview of five of the featured comics as well as two other variant covers by Fiona Staples and Michael Kaluta (all images courtesy of Dark Horse Comics).

For more information on Dark Horse Presents check out Dark Horse Comics website here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

San Francisco's APE (Alternative Press Expo) Returns this October 1st and 2nd

With all my heart-pulsing eagerness and excitement for Sac-Con and the 47th Annual Big Book Sale happening this week, I nearly forgot to announce another indie/comic/art/diy convention. Good thing I remembered because this event is coming up fast and you don't want to miss it! On October 1st and 2nd, APE (Alternative Pres Expo--a treasure trove of unique wonders and home-made gewgaws made for all fans of indie comics and art) returns to the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco, CA.

Special guests include:

Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant!)

Daniel Clowes (Ghost World, David Boring, Art School Confidential)

Craig Thompson (Blankets, Good-bye Chunky Rice, Habibi)

Matthew Thurber (1-800 Mice)

Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve, Scenes from an Impending Marriage)

Shannon Wheeler (Too Much Coffee Man, The New Yorker)
If you claim to be a fan of independent comic book writers/artists/publishers and have NEVER attended APE, I strongly urge you to check it out. You will not leave the show unhappy. If anything you will gain humility for giving these starving artists the desired attention they need. For more information on programming and how to order tickets check out APE's official website here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Chillerama"--A Grindhouse Inspired Film

"Watching Grindhouse in theaters wasn't merely watching a movie. It was an experience."

I remember reading an offering like this in a magazine (probably from those wise, old bastards at Horrorhound) upon the announced Blu-Ray release of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's 2007 double-feature Grindhouse. Chances are you heard of this film and may have watched a segment of it (it was broken into two films when it hit store shelves, Planet Terror and Death Proof) Remember the girl with a machine-gun for a leg? Ahh, there it is. It's all jogging back to you, I see. The film was Rodriguez and Tarantino's post-modern homage to '70's midnight splatterfest/exploitation films (some of the most vile, disturbing, and head-tilting films to ever exist) and landed a gorgeous NC-17 rating and 191 minute running time. Both rarely unheard of in contemporary American cinema. And for those lucky few who reveled it's cinematic debut in theaters (remember guys, this film actually tanked in theaters), as the quote suggests, it truly was an experience to behold.

Fortunately those good times appear to be had once more with a Grindhouse inspired film, lovely titled Chillerama. The film is broken into four separate segments, written and directed by four different Hollywood filmmakers (Adam Green/Frozen, Joe Lynch/Wrong Turn 2, Adam Rifkin/Detroit Rock City, Tim Sullivan/2001 Maniacs), and has a decent run time of 1hr 55mins. I've heard mixed reviews so far but if the film rings true to the tone of the trailer, I'm all in.

Chillerama is currently working it's way through select theaters (click here for venues) until Image Entertainment releases it to DVD on November 29th. Until then, enjoy the awesome poster art and more bonuses like merchandise at Chillerama's official website.

Friday, September 16, 2011

47th Annual Big Book Sale in San Francisco, CA

Dude, we're friends right? Like friend friends? Like a couple of young white boys from the early ninetiescalling each other "Brothers from another mother" for the first time? Yeah. We're friends. At least that's how I see it.

And since we're friends, and seeing how we've known each other for such a long time, I thought I'd share a little secret. Of course, I don't know how secret this is anymore, seeing how the wind knows how to carry a tune--dee dat dat dee dat dat doo...


Oh, you still want to know that little secret of mine. Well, sure friend. Pull up a chair and sit a spell. Everyone loves a story. Especially you my friend. My friend...

This is a story about the Friends of the Library and a little book sale they've put together in San Francisco, CA. Alright, alright... Maybe the word "little" is a bit of an understatement, seeing how it is the largest book sale organized on the West Coast. Well, this "little" group of friends managed to round up a clever amount of unwanted, donated, and perfectly reusable books and media items to appease its general public at bargain rates. So little as $1, $2, or $3. Yes? That's right. They are a mighty group of friends.

And for what reason have these friends come together? For what purpose do they share? Isn't there some feathered, maniacal shadow at work--for this must be a joke and some boogeyman waits to pounce. Or perhaps not? Perhaps things are as good as they sound? Because not all stories need a villain. And because all proceeds raised from this sale go to funding the San Francisco Public Library, where they are used to open new libraries, expand new and existing collections, benefit literacy programs and much more. But whomever--whomever in the world could this all be arranged for? Why non-other than you, my friend. My friend... 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: 'Batwoman' #1--Kiss Me, Kate Kane

Here we are. The third week in September and DC's new 52's continue to take the comic world by storm. Whether that's good or evil, I'll let you level headed readers decide for yourself or take it to the many discussion-boards devoted to such. Along with this week's batch of revamps comes one of the most long awaited series in the DC Universe, mainly because this character has yet to receive her own official run in a comic book. And yes, that character is a she. And that "she" happens to be non-other than Kate Kane, otherwise known as Batwoman. And (thank the almighty Cthulu!) she's back and ready for "action" in an all new five-issue starting series called "Hydrology."

After picking up a copy of Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III's initial run with Batwoman in Detective Comics #854-863, I knew I was in love with this character. No, not in some freakishly put-a-crimson-red-wig-on-my-girl-friend-in-the-middle-of-the-night kind of way (eww... what's wrong with you for thinking that?). But rather for DC's willingness to take a leap and spearhead the lacking attitude of homosexuals in mainstream comics. Of course this cultural issue is merely a small engraving in a greater landmark achievement and was helped drastically by Rucka's talented hand and the ever-alluring illustrations and mesmerizing layouts from Williams mind. However, when I first heard Rucka decided to work on more creator owned titles and left the helm of Batwoman, my heart plunged into an oxygen-deprived abyss to worry about the new series' rhythm and continuity. It helped to see Williams listed as a co-writer, but what about this W. Haden Blackman guy? In the world of comics, writers and artists come and go. Time to buckle up and take a ride with a new creative team.

Worry not. Batwoman issue 1 delivers.

Fans of the Detective Comics arc will be happy to know that this "first" issue is actually a continuation of Rucka's story. And what a story it is! Williams and Blackman continue to dabble in the paranormal/occult with the incorporation of Mexican folklore; the story of The Weeping Woman (aka La Llorona) as introduced to be a new Gotham villain. So far this villain is making quite the name for herself by kidnapping and drowning children by the masses. If this isn't haunting enough, then check out William's phenomenal artwork which is just pitch perfect for the eerie tone:

Of course anyone whose read Alan Moore's Promethea understands what to expect of Williams. But man-o-man is it great to see him work on a brand new monthly series! The seemingly simple story doesn't stop there. Other than the vile, ghostly woman, we are stolen for two pages to the Department of Extranormal Operations where Director Bones, a talking skeleton who smokes a cigar, gives Agent Chase orders to capture and unhood Batwoman. If there is anyone meant to depict Director Bones it has to be Williams--the plumes of smoke drifting from his eye-sockets is wonderfully executed. We are also given a glimpse at Kate's new role as mentor and trainer to Teen Titan's former member Flamebird, aka Bette Kane, who also happens to lose her costume in an "accidental" fire. Can this mean a new costume in the works? And to seal this comic with a kiss, we are left with a long overdue and most expected meeting between Batwoman and the Dark Knight himself. Bravo DC, bravo.

Don't worry, new readers. If you're afraid to submerge in an ongoing story, the creators of this issue give a very brief summation of the Detective Comics arc in this issue. As for everything else in the comic, it's all new  and meant as a new starting point. I strongly encourage all comic readers to pick this issue up. The art alone is worth the three dollars. Don't believe me? Take a glimpse at this:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review: Swamp Thing #1--The DC Reboot Begins with its Roots

"It's raining in Washington tonight. Plump, warm summer rain that covers the sidewalks with leopard spots. Downtown, elderly ladies carry houseplants to set them on the fire-escapes, as if they were infirm relatives or boy kings. I like that."--Alan MooreThe Saga of Swamp Thing issue #21.

I like that too.

Before reading DC's reboot of Swamp Thing issue 1, I went back to good ol' Saga of Swamp Thing issue #21, Alan Moore's masterpiece origin story, to remind me why old Swampy remains a classic DC character. I can ramble on about the artwork... the writing... the presentation... but in all due respect, we only live once, and that issue is better experienced than discussed. So on to newer and hopefully better things.

Scott Snyder managed to make quite the name of himself recently; in the past few years he’s penned Detective Comics, co-authored American Vampire with Stephen King, currently writes Swamp Thing AND Batman, and introduced another creator owned titled from Image, called Severed. It’s probably safe to presume Snyder’s name will remain ever-present in comics for the years to come. Obviously someone in the industry is happy with his work. But I’m not.

There’s nothing redeeming about Snyder’s writing. There. I said it.

The writing is not touching, moving, or gripping. It does not attribute voice to the characters, but painfully leaves them hollow like the stale, abandoned husk of an insect or like a ventriloquist carrying dead air through a dummy’s head. Snyder lacks poetics. He lacks life. He lacks the many talents of melodrama.

Of course I am biased by the works of Alan Moore and realize no one can fight the great contender. Yet I still await the day someone dares enter the ring and give him a good fight or at least dances around a bit. But even the most technical writing or the most juvenile can make-up in ease or difficulty with a good story. And unfortunately issue 1 offers a humming-bird’s egg of story—little and delicate, just enough to say it’s there but not enough to feed a grown man.

For most of Swamp Thing issue 1, I hoped to see the most pivotal character in the series—The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Okay, that wasn’t a very funny joke. But neither was seeing the Swamp Thing on only TWO pages (including the cover) of this 32-page comic (filled with 8-pages of ads). Of course, we have to keep in mind this is a reboot issue which hopes to offer a starting point for new readers. But still, I guarantee fans of the Dark Knight would crap their pants to find out Batman only shows his hood on two pages of Batman issue 1. New reader or not, give us the goods. goddamnit.

The only redeeming factor about this comic is Yanick Paquette’s artwork. His cover is quite astounding and remarkably beautiful. His choice of combing Art Nouveau with the abysmal and overdone style of superhero pop-art is refreshingly unique. However, it is not done enough. Only a few pages are well stylized to report on but even those are nothing as gorgeous as the cover. I was half expecting Paquette to go the path of J.H. Williams III and abandon conventional panels all together but sadly this did not happen.

I think this will remain my final run with Swamp Thing for a while. I am curious where Snyder decides to take the green “machine” for a ride, but not for Snyder’s sake but for ol’ Swampy. Perhaps we’ll meet again one day in the Green. Until then, farewell friend.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review: The Goon #35

When I first heard Evan Dorkin was writing a new issue of The Goon I scratched my head in confusion. "Oh, crap," I thought. "Eric Powell just returned to work on The Goon and he's already too lazy to write his own material." Keep in mind this was before I read anything written by Dorkin--yes, before I read my beloved Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites. So after reading that collection and becoming a bit more familiar with his twisted little words I had nothing more than high hopes for The Goon #35. Why, you ask? Because Evan Dorkin has plotted some of the most entertainingly creepy tales I've read in the past year. Tales that could frighten the whiskers off a witches' chin. Tales that could revive Ronald Reagan from cryogenics. Tales that make you want to eat Arby's. And that's frightening.

But this issue of The Goon never reached that ark-of-the-covenant-melting-point that his other works had. The issue begins with the beloved duo Franky and the Goon driving in the midst of a "job" when all of a sudden a stumpy no-legged man rushes across the road. Much to their misfortune, the two discover their car wrecked and seek vengeance against the little freak. From here on I expected the story-line to pick up into something a little stronger. Unfortunately things turned out a little predictable. Not to ruin the entire story for you, I'll stop with the plot there.

In my opinion the most distracting feature in this issue was the expectation of Powell's story-telling. I waited for one of his enormous and insurmountable splash pages to come along but unfortunately Dorkin/Powell never delivered. Even the comedy felt slightly hindered, like this tag-team duo rushed the script without properly planning the comedic timing. When I read a Goon comic I expect to laugh out loud. This time I did not. I wanted to but the comedy is hardly worth sharing to friends. Who knows whose fault it is--but sadly, unless you are Goon-head that can't miss a single issue (like me), this is one Goon comic you can pass on.