Category Archives: Reviews – Image

Cull of the Wild

Elephantmen: War Toys trade paperback
Writer: Richard Starkings
Artist: Moritat
Letters: Comicraft
Cover artists: Boo Cook & Ladronn
Publisher: Image Comics/Active Images
Price: $9.99 US

Reprinting the three-part War Toys limited series set in Richard Starkings’s world of Hip Flask, this story features a plethora of science-fiction elements, the powerful visuals of some well-designed anthropomorphic animal characters and unrelenting action that’s bound to grab the attention of many readers. But the more fantastic, over-the-top aspects of the book, no matter how many of them are, can’t hide the true nature of the story. This is a war story, and in many ways, it’s an old-fashioned war story, the kind of fare one would have found in DC’s Our Fighting Forces, G.I. Combat or Men of War decades ago. It’s about how a conflict that started out as political can become personal all too easily for those forced to fight. It’s about how each soldier is both a hero and a villain; the difference simply falls to perspective.

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Seasonal Work

In the world of television, production companies put together pilots, single-introductory episodes of new shows that they show to prospective buyers, hoping to get picked up for more episodes. With its Pilot Season line, Top Cow Productions, an Image Comics imprint, seems to be trying a similar approach, releasing single issues of new properties, but allowing the readership decide which ones will continue as ongoing series, as I understand it. I’m sure the gimmick is to pump out multiple first issues for the collectors’ crowd and reduce the chance of investing in titles that’ll fizzle. I’m not wild about the concept, truth be told, but the results are interesting. It’s allowed Top Cow to branch out beyond the fare for which it’s mainly known. Judging from the three 2008 Pilot Season books I review below, the experiment brings a little more diversity to the brand.

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Ottley’s Grubby Hands

Death Grub #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Ryan Ottley
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US

When I first glanced at this cover, the title did little to grab my attention. Mind you, there’s no cue that the hero depicted on the cover isn’t a “death grub;” rather, the title is derived from the cosmic threat that drives the plot forward. Still, the cover element that did pique my interest was the blurb on the bottom, proclaiming this to be a 24-hour comic crafted by Invincible artist Ryan Ottley. For those who don’t know, a 24-hour comic is one consisting of 20 or so pages that are written, illustrated and lettered in one period of 24 hours or less. They’re interesting experiments in the medium, and special 24-Hour Comic Days have been held on an annual basis at various comic shops the world over. Ottley’s crafted an entertaining, frenetic and even goofy sci-fi story during his 24 hours last fall. Viewed in comparison with other professional comics projects, one might think of Death Grub as being somewhat weak. However, when one considers the context of how this comic book was created, it’s a resounding success. The artist crafts a great sci-fi satire without relying much on words at all, conveying most of the information the reader needs with illustration and expression.

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Spaced Out

Studio Space
Interviews: Joel Meadows, Gary Marshall & Andrew Colman
Editors: Joel Meadows & Gary Marshall
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $49.99 US (hardcover)/$29.99 US (softcover)

This book of interviews, from the people behind Tripwire Annual, offers insight into the craft of some of the top artistic talent in comics today. There’s a nice diversity of professionals represented in this book, so there’s bound to be several creative voices profiles of interest to just about every enthusiast of the comics medium. Ultimately though, this book is clearly aimed at artists who admire these artists. The focus is on how these talents became professional comics artists and what tools they’ve used to create so many memorable images over the years. At times, I found that the subjects were speaking a different language. I’m not interested in doing illustration work myself, just taking it in and appreciating it (and occasionally critiquing it). Artists’ thoughts on particular brushes and software features didn’t really hold my interest. However, some of the artists are remarkably forthcoming about frustrations they’ve experienced over their careers and the disappointments (from within and without) that some career-making projects brought to them.

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Krash Course

Krash Bastards original graphic novel
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Axel #13
Letters: Ryan Young & Rob Osbourne
Publisher: Image Comics/Man of Action Studios
Price: $9.99 US

This thoroughly American book takes a decided Japanese approach to comics storytelling, as this book reads back to front as genuine manga (as well as many Western editions of manga books) do. That’s a strong cue of what to expect from this action-oriented property. I’ve reached a point in my comics reading habits that that reverse approach to reading doesn’t faze me anymore. Unfortunately, this book is so focused on a certain cool factor that I felt completely alienated. Writer Joe Casey has crafted a sci-fi/action concept around the notions of celebrity and youth culture. It’s possible Casey means this as a satirical look at what passes for entertainment for youth today, but my sense is that it’s actually targeted at that demographic, explaining why I felt left out in the cold. Honestly, as I read through the pages of this book about a space-faring gang of sword-wielding good guys, I felt old — ancient, really.

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The Big Chill

The Last Winter graphic novel
Writers: Larry Fessenden & Robert Leaver
Artist/Cover artist: Brahm Revel
Layouts: James Felix McKenney
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $12.99 US

The importance of environmental issues has never been more prominent in the Western consciousness, which is surprising, since we’ve currently got American and Canadian administrations in power at the moment that seem, at times, downright hostile to green policies and practices. Storyteller Larry Fessenden has tapped into that heightened social and scientific awareness to arrive at this unusual eco-horror story. This is actually an adaptation of a 2006 film written and directed by Larry Fessenden. The writers used the storyboards from the film as the launching pad for this incarnation of the project, but it reads as though it was designed for the comics medium from the start. The mysterious and foreboding atmosphere that serves as a major draw here reminds me of the storytelling in such other comics as Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber’s Whiteout and Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s 30 Days of Night. The inclusion of a single color with the black-and-white artwork reinforces the cold, isolated nature of the backdrop, and the simpler tone of the artwork is nevertheless effective at achieving a realistic look and intriguing atmosphere.

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Causes and Effect

Noble Causes #32Noble Causes #s 32 & 33
“Family Dynamics” & “Meltdown”
Writer: Jay Faerber
Artist/Cover artist: Yildiray Cinar
Colors: Ron Riley & Ryan Vera
Letters: Charles Pritchett
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US each

You don’t hear people talking about it much these days, but Jay Faerber’s Noble Causes is a super-hero series that merits attention. The market is overflowing with titles featuring costumed crusaders, and it doesn’t seem to support new series without recognizable characters and/or talent. Just look at Marvel’s The Order, a superb super-hero title with strong social commentary and compelling characterization; it’s been cancelled after only 10 issues, and its lack of “name” heroes is no doubt a factor in its demise. Now consider Noble Causes. It features a wholly original cast of characters with no ties to even lesser icons of the genre. And it’s the brainchild of a writer who, although he’s been active in the industry for several years, could hardly be considered a creative star of comicdom. Nevertheless, Jay Faerber has kept his unusual super-hero soap opera going steadily for more than five years now. With his 32nd issue, he’s endeavoring to reignite interest in the book, employing a five-year gap to introduce new characters and shift the tone of the book slightly. After reading the new issue and the next one as well, I’d say Faerber’s got a good shot at boosting readership.

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Pax Mentality

Pax Romana #1
“Part One: Destroy the Past. Create the Future.”
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Jonathan Hickman
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US

Jonathan Hickman impressed with his debut effort, The Nightly News, another limited series from Image. His art, his layouts, his sense of design and his writing are all unlike the vast majority of output in the medium today. While I suspect many have yet to discover his work, his is a voice that will help to transform comics storytelling for the new century. While the biggest American comics publishers are embracing nostalgia in their storytelling, Hickman’s work challenges the reader to change his or her expectations. His comics look different, sound different and have a different impact on the audience. His compelling plots are immersed in relevance. His approach to sequential art leads the reader’s eye through the story in an unconventional but surprisingly natural manner. All of this was true of The Nightly News, and that remains the case with Pax Romana. Whereas before he took on the cultures of greed and the media, with Pax, he examines the cultures of religion and war. Oddly enough, while The Nightly News is set in a world clearly close to reality in America, it’s Pax Romana — with its future and past settings, men of the cloth and mercenaries — that’s more accessible while still challenging with its immense ideas.

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Fight Club

Brawl #1
“Immortal” (featuring Billy Dogma)
Writer/Artist: Dean Haspiel

“Panorama” (featuring Augustus)
Writer/Artist: Michael Fiffe

Cover artist: Dean Haspiel
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.25 CAN

Billy Dogma: Though I haven’t many of Dean Haspiel’s Billy Dogma stories, I did have a passing familiarity with the property. I wasn’t all that taken with it though not entirely put off either. After reading “Immortal,” I’m convinced of the strength of Billy Dogma and of Haspiel’s craftsmanship in the medium. Warren Ellis’s cover blurb about Haspiel being the 21st century “heir to (Jack) Kirby” is right on the money. This bizarre but simple story about love and machismo is surprisingly engaging, and I find I’m really looking forward to seeing where Haspiel will take it.

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Elementary, My Dear Watson

Glister #1
“Glister and the Haunted Teapot”
“Rock Scissors Paper” (Skeleton Key story)
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Andi Watson
Editor: Jamie S. Rich
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $5.99 US

Andi Watson is a versatile creator who knows how to reach a wide array of readers with a diverse lineup of book. I’ve been particularly fond of his adult, slice-of-life comics, such as Breakfast After Noon and Slow News Day. Glister is a different kind of comic, though, and not just in terms of its smaller format. Watson tackles an old-fashioned approach to children’s storytelling here, and it’s thoroughly charming. Though it’s labelled as a book for “all ages,” it’s really more geared toward the younger set. I was amused, though, and I actually got a kick reading it aloud, adopting different voices for the various characters. I don’t have kids, but I was practising for a far-off, hypothetical time when I will. Sadly, my attempt to sound like a young British girl failed; instead, my attempt at Glister Butterworth sounded like an old woman, perhaps one of the three crones from Macbeth. In any case, I had fun reading the first story, mainly from imagining the reactions of a younger reader. The book also served as my introduction to Watson’s Skeleton Key characters. Though it wasn’t as accessible as I might have liked, I definitely see the appeal of the property. Overall, this was a cute book, and it should appeal to fans of kids’ fantasy literature and comics such as Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin.

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True Britt

Full Color original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Mark Haven Britt
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $15.99 US

This graphic novel appears to be creator Xeric grant recipient Mark Haven Britt’s first published comics project, and on that level alone, it’s impressive. Of course, Britt isn’t entirely a newcomer to the comics industry; he’s the director of marketing for Image Comics. One might think that position have him a leg up on other creators, that his bosses at the comics publishing company did him a solid and published his work regardless of quality. I think one would be wrong in that assumption, though, because Full Color is a surprisingly engrossing, suspenseful and odd piece of fiction. Full Color is part crime novel, part 20s, slice-of-life storytelling a la Singles or Reality Bites. At first, the reader really doesn’t know what to make of Britt’s unusual plot and characters, but the further one delves into this urban drama, the more interesting it gets. The plotting is solid, but what really draws one in is the characterization. The more grounded moments of the story boast dialogue that strikes one as wholly genuine. The convincing and entertaining tone of the script is a testament to the skill of this rookie creator. Like the story, I wasn’t quite taken with the art at first, but the creator’s inventive gritty style and strong eye for anatomy eventually won me over.

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You Can Handle the Truth

True Story Swear to God Vol. 1 trade paperback
True Story Swear to God #7

Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Tom Beland
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US/$3.75 CAN (comic) – $14.99 US (TPB)

When one writes comics reviews on a regular basis (which I’ve been doing since late 1995… oy), one tries to be mindful of the fact that the works being discussed are crafted real, flesh-and-blood human beings. Occasionally, I wonder how my comments — positive or negative — impact the creators who often hold their work near and dear to their hearts. I get e-mails from creators from time to time, and almost universally, they’re thankful and positive in tone, even in reaction to negative reviews. But I have to admit, this is the first time I’ve seen a reaction to my reviews actually in the context of a comic-book script.

With his latest issue of True Story Swear to God, creator Tom Beland has caught up to the publication of the comic-book title itself, and the story features a brief sequence in which Beland seeks out reviews of his work. The Fourth Rail, my previous review site with partner Randy Lander, is mentioned, as is Johanna Draper-Carlson, one of the most thoughtful and intelligent comics critics one can find online. Sure, it was a kick to see one’s name in a comic in such an unusual way, but what’s most striking about the scene is how honest Beland is about his reviews. Despite their glowing nature, he’s surprised and even a little bit puzzled by them. Honesty has always been the greatest strength of this autobiographical series, and the aforementioned example is just one of many to be found in the new issue and new collected edition.

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The Music Man

Phonogram Vol. 1: Rue Britannia trade paperback
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist/Cover artist: Jamie McKelvie
Letters: Jamie McKelvie & Drew Gill
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $14.99 US

Though lauded by many, Phonogram has also been the target of criticism. Writer Kieron Gillen’s been accused of immersing the plot in far too many music references, ranging from the somewhat mainstream to the obscure. I have to admit that I didn’t pick up on the majority of the band and musician references that serve as important elements when it came to the plot and characters. Nevertheless, that insider, inaccessible perspective didn’t deter me. Gillen’s powerful characterization and novel ideas, combined with Jamie McKelvie’s soft but solid artwork, make for an engaging read. This story isn’t really about Britpop, undiscovered bands or music as magic. Instead, it’s about art being corrupted, manipulated from something that inspires, something one loves, into something to be used for personal gain, for ego. We’ve all got our passions, things we love that, in part, make us who we are, and Gillen’s story is about what happens when a warm, soothing passion turned into a cold, hard weapon.

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Be My Valentino

Drawing from Life #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist/Letters: Jim Valentino
Editor: Kristen Simon
Publisher: Image Comics/Shadowline imprint
Price: $3.50 US/$4.15 CAN

I’m a fan of the slice-of-life, autobiographical comic, and I’m thrilled that Image Comics has provided my favorite title in the genre — True Story, Swear to God — with a much brighter spotlight in the industry. I wonder if Image’s decision to publish Tom Beland’s true-romance comic sparked Image founder Jim Valentino’s decision to put together this anthology of real-life experiences. In any way, Valentino is no stranger to the genre, having presented great work in A Touch of Silver several years ago. Well, Drawing from Life (an overly cute but effective title) is no Touch of Silver. The book lacks structure. There’s no common theme running through the various short stories, and the subject matter and tones of the segments are wildly diverse… random, really. Nevertheless, it’s fun to get a glimpse inside someone’s life, and there’s definitely an honest and genuine quality to the storytelling. I also enjoy the chance to get a look at Valentino’s cartooning (as opposed to the more conventional style one often sees in comics today). Those charms aren’t enough to really hold the audience’s attention, though. This first issue is an interesting experiment but not really a successful one.

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The Boy Who Tried Wolf

The Astounding Wolf-Man #1
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Jason Howard
Letters: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: Free

It’s time for a Free Comic Book Day preview. Of this year’s Free Comic Book Day selections, this looked to be one of the most interesting and promising selections. The only other FCBD 2007 item I was more excited about is the Comics Festival 2007 one-shot with which such creators as Darwyn (The Spirit) Cooke and Bryan Lee (Scott Pilgrim) O’Malley are involved. Image has struck upon a solid idea for its FCBD contribution this year: the first issue of an accessible new series written by Robert Kirkman. Not only will it appeal to existing comics readers, drawing them into the Image camp, but the story itself is reminiscent of an old-school Marvel origin… albeit with a bit more of an edge. Artist and co-creator Jason Howard boasts a style that’s in keeping with the general look of other such Kirkman collaborators as Cliff Rathburn and Ryan Ottley, but it also has a look that’s reminiscent of modern animation. The look of this boo is bound to appeal to fans of such shows as the current Batman cartoon and Justice League Unlimited. There’s nothing particularly fresh about the property so far, but there’s no denying that it’s solidly entertaining.

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