Category Archives: Reviews – Image

The Long Arm of the Raw

Strongarm #1
Writer: Steve Horton
Artist/Cover artist: David Ahn
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.50 CAN

There’s no denying that Japanese pop culture has taken Western society by storm. It only seems fair. Japan has had and continues to have its own fascination with our own pop culture. But nowhere in North America is the influence of Japanese culture more evidence than in comics. Manga hasn’t always appealed to me in the past; books I appreciated tend to be the exception rather than a rule. But there’s no denying the power manga has. I think I appreciate that influence when it’s more subtle, but that’s not the case with this original American comic that strives for a genuine Japanese feeling. The good news is that writer Steve Horton’s script cuts to the chase, getting to the core plot while offering an accessible tone. Artist David Ahn’s style is more than just inspired by manga but manages to achieve what I’d say is a convincing facsimile of Japanese comic art. My general disinterest in manga and Amerimanga actually didn’t come into play all that much when I read this inaugural issue. Instead, I found that the derivative nature of the building blocks of the story alienated me more. Horton’s rather basic story seems too familiar, and if a new title by an untested creative team is going to stand out, it needs to be different, to be unique, but Strongarm‘s debut issue doesn’t really stand out. The storytelling is capable and clear, but so far, it’s not compelling.

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The Big Cebulski (Apologies to the Coen Bros.)

Wonderlost #1
Writer: C.B. Cebulski
Artists: Paul Azaceta, Martin Montiel and Juan Castro, Alina Urusov, Khoi Pham, Jonathan Luna & Ethan Young
Letters: Randy Gentile & Jonathan Luna
Cover artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $5.99 US/$6.95 CAN

C.B. Cebulski is best known in the comic-book industry for his time as a Marvel editor whose familiarity with Japanese culture and language enabled him to recruit talent and develop manga titles for the top U.S. comics publisher. Now, he’s a freelance writer, but he still seems to be primarily associated with Marvel; he even has a super-hero title, The Loners, on the horizon. Hopefully, there will be some buzz about this autobiographical title, though. The strength of this personal and universal storytelling should get people who enjoy good comics to view Cebulski in a new light. The theme for this anthology is billed as Cebulski’s awkward dalliances with romance and sex, but what it’s really about is the cluelessness of youth. I didn’t have nearly as much luck with the ladies in my youth as Cebulski seems to have had, but it’s easy to see myself in the carefree and clumsy lifestyle that’s an integral part of each of the short stories making up this first squarebound volume. Furthermore, I enjoyed seeing such a diverse array of artistic styles, and more importantly, Cebulski, as he has in the past, introduces his readers to some new talent of which they have not have heard before.

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All in the Family

Dynamo 5 #1
Writer: Jay Faerber
Artist/Cover artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colors: Ron Riley
Letters: Charles Pritchett
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US/$4.05 CAN

Jay Faerber offers up some new twists on traditional super-hero storytelling with his latest project, Dynamo 5. It boasts all the fun of old-school comics with a slightly dysfunctional, modern quality. The writer wisely brings a darker edge into play by the end of the issue, and that harsh, concluding scene adds some real suspense to the mix. Artist Mahmud Asrar’s work on this accessible, inaugural issue elicits easy and favorable comparisons to the styles of such established industry talents as Mike (Fantastic Four) McKone and Carlos (Superman) Pacheco. The script is thoroughly accessible, which is vital for this book given that there are so many characters dressed alike and driven by the same motivations. Dynamo 5 is full of playful action, entertaining banter and slightly sordid details that will not disappoint.

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Dawn (in Vietnam) of the Dead

’68 one-shot
Writer: Mark Kidwell
Artist/Cover artist: Nat Jones
Colors: Jay Fotos
Letters: Jason Hanley
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$4.60 CAN

They say timing is everything, and that holds true when it comes to the business and craft of comics as well. Take, for example, the timing of ’68, a zombie-horror story set in the middle of the Vietnam War. A few years ago, this would have struck me as an innovative, clever and entertaining combination of the horror and war genres, worthy of the imagination of such writers as Garth Ennis or Warren Ellis.  But this isn’t a few years ago. Kidwell and Jones have released this story in the midst of a major zombie fad in pop culture; no doubt, this one-shot owes its existence to that fad. In that context, ’68 lacks a certain impact. I realize that when discussing a medium so dominated by the super-hero genre it might seem silly to complain about a small glut of zombie comics, but nevertheless, this felt like a minor float in a long parade boasting an undead theme. All the same, the writing and art are solidly executed. Though predictable, the story is somewhat diverting and definitely accomplishes what it sets out to do.

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If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

Meltdown: Book 1
Writer: David B. Schwartz
Artist/Letters: Sean Wang
Colors: Guru-eFX
Cover artist: Chris Bachalo
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $5.99 US/$6.80 CAN

The title of this two-issue limited series doesn’t refer to the protagonist’s super-hero identity but rather what the heat-based hero is going through. David B. Schwartz is just the latest new writer to offer up a realistic, mature and dark vision of a super-hero. We see so many of these stories these days, it’s difficult for new ones to stand out, to come across as something more than cliched. Schwartz’s story manages to stand out, just a little. This isn’t a typical super-hero story. It’s a tragedy about a man who’s been denied his dreams, his desires and a dynamic destiny. The grounded narration is compelling. The artwork is well done, but it’s inconsistent. Of course, this is purposeful, done for the sake of the storytelling, but I don’t think the approach works as intended.

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National Treasure

Outlaw Nation trade paperback
Writer: Jamie Delano
Pencils/Cover artist: Goran Sudzuka & Goran Parlov
Inks: Sudzuka & Sebastijan Camagajevac
Letters: Robert Solanovic
Editors: Karen Berger (original series)/Joe Pruett (collection)
Publisher: Image Comics/Desperado Publishing
Price: $15.99 US

I remember Outlaw Nation‘s original episodic run as a series from DC/Vertigo. I remember being intrigued by the intellectual and socio-political elements writer and co-creator Jamie Delano brought to the book. I also remember I didn’t follow the series the entire way through to its conclusion. After reading this new, black-and-white collected edition of the complete series, I think I robbed myself of a smart and entertaining reading experience. Dysfunctional family dynamics, conspiracy theories and symbolic characters converge, and the amalgam makes for an occasionally arduous but ultimately fulfilling read. Delano’s vision of a Broken America — past and present — is illustrated with great detail by artists Goran Sudzuka and Goran Parlov, whose eyes for distinct design more than compensate for the removal of the color art from this thick reprint.

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That’s News to Me

Nightly News #1
“Chapter One: I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take This Anymore”
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Jonathan Hickman
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.35 CAN

I’m a journalist by trade, and I don’t mean my comics criticism writing. I cover the court/crime beat for a daily newspaper, one that’s owned by a corporation that owns every English-language newspaper in the province. People often ask me about my work and how that corporate, regional monopoly affects it. I tell them it doesn’t. But I’m not naive. Though it hasn’t occurred in my experience, it’s a global reality now that the media is sadly subject and vulnerable to manipulation by political and business interests. Nightly News is about lashing back against that corrupted information network. Creator Jonathan Hickman — whose work on this new title holds him out as the comic industry’s new Brian Wood — makes a bold statement by telling a story of homegrown terrorists fighting against the co-opted conscience of democracy.

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Dead Men Wear Kimonos

Zombee original graphic novel
Writer: Miles Gunter
Artist: Victor Santos
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $12.99 US

Man, there are a lot of zombie comics hitting the stands these days. Is it due to the success of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, I wonder, or is it indicative of a resurgence of the genre in pop culture in general? In any case, one could argue we’ve got a glut of zombie fare piling up these days (tough to argue, though, given the predominance of super-hero stories in comics), and it would be easy to dismiss the newer stuff as offering the same old tales of gore and survival. This new graphic novel manages to offer a new spin on the undead standby by taking the action, horror and humor back a few centuries to feudal Japan. Still, it’s not the unusual setting that makes this story an entertaining read but the banter among the three heroes who fight against the forces of decay and destruction. The book is plagued (pardon the pun) by one main problem: for a full graphic novel, it’s a rather light read.

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Heading Towards Coney Island

Pirates of Coney Island #1
Writer: Rick Spears
Artist/Colors: Vasilis Lolos
Cover artists: Vasilis Lolos/Becky Cloonan
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.35 CAN

Everybody comes into every reading or entertainment experience some kind of preconceptions; I know I certainly had some when it came to Pirates of Coney Island. With Rick (Teenagers from Mars) Spears and cover artist Becky (Demo, American Virgin) Cloonan involved in the project, I expected it would feature young, hip characters, and I expected an urban backdrop. Both of those preconceptions turned out to be accurate ones. But the title itself led me to believe this would be more upbeat and irreverent, and I was surprised to find a much darker, edgy and intense script about street crime and runaways instead. Spears really grabs the reader’s attention with the punishment he inflicts on the central character in this debut issue, but the script does go awry. It’s not that it doesn’t match expectations. It’s that we’re offered little in terms of plot and nary a glimpse of the title characters.

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