Dracula: The Company of Monsters #5 (Boom! Studios)
by Kurt Busiek, Daryl Gregory & Scott Godlewski
I’ve been way behind on my reading, comics and otherwise, so it’s only been now that I’ve gotten around to checking out this new take on Dracula by Boom! Studios. With a concept and plot from celebrated comics writer Kurt Busiek, scripter Daryl Gregory delivers a compelling drama about the darkness of men’s souls. On the surface, this is about Dracula’s resurrection in the 21st century, but in reality, it’s about the human characters and the nasty things they’re willing to do in the name of ambition and self-preservation. Evan makes for an unlikely hero. He’s far from the most ethical man, but his shades of grey are swallowed whole by the blackness of those in his life, even his fiancee, who initially and deceptively comes off as the loyal partner. The corporate elements help to ground the piece while also serving to allow for a couple of moments of satire. I love that “the company of monsters” referred to in the series title aren’t literal monsters but ones in terms of morality.
Godlewski’s style is a relatively simple but effective one. His character designs tend to be angular, and those sharp edges are in keeping with the harsh qualities of the players in the drama. His elongated figures are also perfect for a story featuring lean, gaunt predators such as vampires. His style reminded me a little of that of Norm (Batman, Archie) Breyfogle. It’s also comparable to the work of Giancarlo (The Last Resort, Gorilla-Man) Caracuzzo. Most of the characters — and there are quite a few of them — are ordinary people, and the artist does a solid job of providing designs that distinguish among them clearly. 8/10
Earp: Saints for Sinners #1 (Radical Comics)
by M. Zachary Sherman, Matt Cirulnick, Mack Chater, Martin Montiel, Colin Lormier, Joe Benitez, Rod Pereira & J.K. Woodward
This series — featuring re-imagined, modern incarnations of such Western figures as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Jesse James — plants those wild heroes and outlaws into a not-too distant future and an economically ravaged America that’s teetering on the edge of collapse. At first glance, this sort of reinterpretation of these characters should come off as rather fun, but the plot and socio-economic backdrop are anything but fun. The heroes are corrupted or disillusioned. The plotting — which jumps around chronically — comes off as fairly scattered. That should come as no surprise, give the number of writers and artists involved in this project. The artwork is presented in the typical Radical house style — pseudo-realistic, painted-in-appearance visuals that boast a darker edge. Other than Doc Holliday, the character designs miss the mark. Without the script, it would be quite difficult to tell the characters apart. And as for Holliday, his character (and his superficial companion) is so reprehensible that it’s hard to cheer him on.
Long before this comic book was ever scheduled for release, Radical announced that Spider-Man and Evil Dead director Sam Raimi was on board to direct a big-screen version of this title. The committee approach to the comic’s creation — which includes concept creators, writers, breakdown artists and finishers — and the advance progress on other-media adaptation make it clear that this isn’t an exercise in storytelling. Instead, Radical is developing a product for mass consumption. That’s fine, but as a reader, I’m more interested in a story than a brand. I will give the publisher credit for providing a solid bang for the customer’s buck. This $5.99 US comic features 60 pages of story and art. To get that much out of DC or Marvel, someone would have to buy three titles at $2.99 US or more apiece. 4/10
The Infinite Vacation #1 (Image Comics/Shadowline imprint)
by Nick Spencer, Christian Ward & Kendall Burns
The concept that serves as the foundation for this story is the notion that people can visit other realities and either visit with alternate versions of themselves or replace them and live their lives for a while. It’s a clever concept, and at first, it reminded me a little of the concept that served as the catalyst for Total Recall. But the execution of the concept and writer Nick Spencer’s exploration of the concept is far more complex and intriguing than what we got in that Arnold Schwarzenegger flick a couple of decades ago. It’s easy to relate to Spencer’s everyman, slacker hero Mark and his quest to find excitement and purpose outside of his mundane existence. The murder-mystery plot is a great angle, and I’m interested in seeing where it’s headed.
Unfortunately, the book isn’t without its problems. Mainly, it’s not the easiest book to follow. One issue stems from the main character’s name. I kept confusing it with the term “mark,” as in target. Of course, it could be that the writer specifically chose the name because of that other element, but nevertheless, the multiple meanings threw me off. Furthermore, while Christian Ward’s psychedelic style, reminiscent of the art of Jon (The Black Diamond) Proctor, is attractive and suits the reality-bending qualities of the plot, it makes for dizzying moments as well. I couldn’t tell the weirder visuals and colors were meant to be cues for dimensional travel or some other sci-fi idea. I did appreciate Ward’s design for the main character, which seems to clearly take cues from another genre-fiction slacker hero (see Shaun of the Dead). The use of photographic elements for a key scene, in which the Infinite Vacation is explained by a corporate shill, makes for an interesting contrast to Ward’s loose linework and surreal color palette. 6/10
Thor the Mighty Avenger #8 (Marvel Comics)
by Roger Langridge & Chris Samnee
We gather here not to bury Thor the Mighty Avenger but to praise it. I won’t dwell on my lament that this all-ages, accessible super-hero title didn’t find its audience (or at least wasn’t given enough time to do so); others have written about these unfortunate circumstances and its cancellation. Instead, I’ll point out that this final issue is as strong as those that came before it. Writer Roger Langridge demonstrates how much fun a shared continuity can be, as he’s done with previous issues. His take on Tony Stark is consistent with other incarnations of the character, but slightly more fun. It’s a shame this series is ending here, but this issue really ramps up the intrigue about the mystery villain, “Mister K.” I can’t help but assume the “K” stands for Kirby, as in the late Jack Kirby, who illustrated Thor’s adventures during the Silver Age. What prompted the connection for me was the use of the familiar Kirby crackles and energy dots to make up the villain’s face on a monitor, which again added to the fun.
Speaking of the visuals, this unfortunately short-lived series marked a pinnacle in the comics career of illustrator Chris Samnee. He offers up a radically different interpretation of the Silver Age Iron Man. He opts to keep him in his big, bulky, grey armor, but he added a number of details to set it apart from what we’ve seen before. I love how he sometimes portrays Thor as fierce and grizzled in appearance, but later, he has a softness, even an innocent look to him. And Samnee achieves this while maintaining a consistent look for the title character throughout. 9/10
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