There’s Strife After Death

Afterlife Vol. 1 original graphic novel
Writer: Stormcrow Hayes
Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Rob Steen
Editor: Luis Reyes
Publisher: Tokyopop
Price: $9.99 US/$12.99 CAN

This is my first Tokyopop book.

As best as I can recall, I’ve never read one of Tokyopop’s graphic novels. I am not a manga fan, and Tokyopop is known as a manga publisher, but more recently, it’s been branching out beyond Japanese adaptations. Afterlife is a U.S., homegrown horror graphic novel. It’s clearly inspired visually and conceptually by Japanese comics fare, but it stands up well on its own as an original and thought-provoking premise. Writer Stormcrow Hayes explores faith and ethics from a unique perspective, challenging his readers to question their own moral and social beliefs. The plot and characters are somewhat diverting, but the larger questions posed here stand out as the book’s greatest strengths.

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Adrenaline Junkies

Adrenaline #1
Writer: Tyler Chin-Tanner
Pencils/Colors/Cover artist: James Boyle
Inks/Letters: Fabio Redivo
Editor: Wendy Chin-Tanner
Publisher: A Wave Blue World Inc.
Price: $2.99 US

This small-press comic’s title tells the reader nothing of what to expect from it, and the cover art isn’t much help either. That makes the novelty of the premise to be found within all the more surprising. This first of eight issues is the setup for a competition between the villain and a reluctant heroine. The machinations to arrive at that premise are somewhat far-fetched, but I was surprised at how much I was drawn in by the international flavor and the strengths of the two main characters. This comic looks and feels like something we’d see from Devil’s Due Publishing, and honestly, I think it would appeal to that high-adventure, high-action fanbase. There’s potential in this book, but it’s not really in the premise. Instead, the potential lies in the skills of the creators and their room for development.

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 22, 2006

Civil Wardrobe one-shot (Brain Scan Studios)
by Rich Johnston & various artists

There’s a key reason why Internet comics columnist Rich Johnston’s satire of Marvel super-heroes and the publisher’s late-shipping crossover event is so successful: it’s more than a satire of super-hero comics. Johnston takes aim at pop culture, politics, big-box commerce, celebrity-sponsored spirituality and so much more in this one-shot. Some of the most biting satire is reserved for creations that sexualize children or force an artificial maturity and darkness into properties that were originally designed to amuse grade-school kids. The constant shifts in visual style make sense in the context of Johnston’s one-page-gag framework. It’s great that Johnston has managed to recruit the talents of some top industry professionals for this humor book, but the disadvantage is that the more polished, professional artwork makes for a sharp contrast with the more amateurish cartooning. While knowledge of Marvel’s Civil War event (both in terms of plot and publishing gaffes) will definitely add to the reader’s appreciation of this book, Johnston wisely broadens the book’s focus beyond that niche appeal. 7/10

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Challenge of the Super-Friends

DC’s year-long super-hero epic, 52, is a significant exercise in myth-building on the publisher’s part. The weekly schedule and the effort to incorporate continuity elements from DC’s entire super-hero line must be daunting for the series’s four writers, several editors and many artists. It’s a massive undertaking, but one that’s clearly paying off for the publisher, as is evident in the monthly sales charts from Diamond Comic Distributors.

One of the reasons the book is proving to be such fun is that writers Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid have included such a diverse (even odd) array of characters from throughout DC’s publishing history. The most recent issue features not only such well-known characters as Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter and Firestorm, but Ambush Bug and the Bulleteer.

After reading 52 Week Twenty-Four, it struck me that this title reminded me a lot of a guilty-pleasure comic book from my youth: DC Challenge. The brainchild of writer Mark Evanier, the notion was to tell an unpredictable, epic super-hero story, with each issue being penned and illustrated by different creators. Now, while, 52 reportedly has clear plans and plots to guide it from beginning to end, the challenge of DC Challenge was that each writer would have no idea what the previous issue’s scribe had planned. Each issue also ended with a cliffhanger intended by the writer to be seemingly impossible to resolve for the man at the helm of the next issue.

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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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Let Me Count the Ways

12 Reasons Why I Love Her original graphic novel
Writer: Jamie S. Rich
Artist: Joelle Jones
Letters: Douglas E. Sherwood
Editor: James Lucas Jones
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $14.95 US/$18.95 CAN

My girlfriend and I don’t have the best story about how we first met. Our relationship is the result of a happenstance encounter online, and even today, meeting someone on the Internet still carries a stigma for some. We’ve created a slew of memorable funny stories, romantic stories and sad stories in our more than three years together, and we know we’ll be creating many more in the years to come. In 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, writer Jamie S. Rich and artist Joelle Jones tell the stories of another couple, and Evan and Gwen’s are perfect. The banter between the pair is entertaining and perfect, but there’s also an awkwardness in the script at times that really drives home a genuine sound and brings credibility to the characters. Another pleasant aspect of the book is how it introduces readers to the talents of newcomer Joelle Jones. Her sketchy, flowing style is thoroughly pleasing to the eye, and the expressiveness of her characters really helps Rich to tell the story.

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 15, 2006

Annihilation #3 (Marvel Comics)
by Keith Giffen & Andrea DiVito

The series reaches its halfway mark, and the good guys’ war with the Annihilation Wave is over. Three issues to go and it’s over — talk about unpredictable. Giffen’s plotting on this event series is compelling, clever and perpetually climactic. The timing of the storytelling enhances the plot as well. At a time when the “Coalition of the Willing” is fighting an insurgency in the Middle East, Giffen offers up a story in which the heroes end up fighting a guerilla war rather than conventional methods. One problem with the book is that there is a multitude of diverse, unconnected characters running around, and it’s not easy to keep them all straight. Several of them are terribly obscure figures from Marvel continuity, and it makes for a slightly inaccessible quality at times. DiVito’s art is full of jaw-clenched, teeth-gritting macho men, but it works in the context of a war story. I love the color and energy of the cosmic elements the art brings out. DiVito’s performance falls short in one respect, and that’s in the depiction of the Galactus weapon. We don’t get a sense of its immensity, and therefore, the overwhelming, unimaginable fear it must instill in the heroes isn’t conveyed nearly as well as it could have been. 7/10

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Solid

Rock Bottom original graphic novel
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist/Cover artist: Charlie Adlard
Greytones: Charlie Adlard & Paul Peart
Letters: Josh Richardson
Publisher: AiT/PlanetLar
Price: $12.95 US

We don’t hear as much hype coming out of AiT/PlanetLar these days as we once did; perhaps publisher/propagandist Larry Young is busy with more pressing matters these days. Nevertheless, when I saw that the small publisher was releasing a new Joe Casey/Charlie Adlard project, I had to take a look. It’s too bad Young has dialed down the hype machine, because this project definitely merits the hullabaloo. It has the potential to appeal to a broad audience, not only to the fans of the industry’s dominant super-hero genre, but to supporters of strong, character-based, indy-comics storytelling. Casey’s script makes the idea of a man turning to stone more and more believable as the book progresses. Though this book boasts super-hero elements, it’s not a super-hero story. It’s about a man coming to terms with a health crisis and how the people around him see it as a tragedy and yet an opportunity as well.

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The Kids Aren’t Alright

Gen13 v.4 #1
“Best of a Bad Lot, Part One: And on the First Day”
Writer: Gail Simone
Pencils: Talent Caldwell
Inks: Matt Banning
Colors: Carrie Strachan
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Cover artists: Caldwell & Banning
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm Productions
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN

I am not a Gen13 fan. Never have been, and I’ve sampled the property at various points in its history, including the initial run. There have been a couple of entertaining stories, but those were the result of talented writers and artists using the title characters as generic super-hero characters. Now, normally I’d pass on a new Gen13 title, but anything with Gail Simone attached as a writer earns a look as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately, the second issue isn’t going to get a glance.

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 11, 2006

The All New Atom #4 (DC Comics)
by Gail Simone, Eddy Barrows & Trevor Scott

Original series penciller John Byrne is nowhere to be seen, replaced by relative newcomer Eddy Barrows. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Barrows before his name started turning up in the credits of 52. He does a solid job of the art on this title, and his style suits the comedic leanings in Gail Simone’s script. What Byrne did better than Barrows, though, was conveying the thoroughly weird nature of the two antagonists involved in this story — the other-dimensional aliens and the “cancer god.” Barrows’s art in this issue barely hints at those elements, even though they play significant roles. I do like his take on the title character better, though, and his style boasts an action-oriented, dynamic look that reminds me of Claudio Castellini’s art. Simone’s script is playful, entertaining and thoroughly accessible. New readers could pick up this issue and figure out what was going on with little trouble. Simone also brings real-world science into this science-fiction super-hero story, which is in keeping with the Silver Age property that serves as this book’s foundation. The influence of writer Grant Morrison — who provided the general ideas and framework for this title — is still strongly felt, but it’s Simone’s sense of humor and punchy dialogue that keeps me coming back. 7/10

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The Path Less Taken

Path of the Assassin Vol. 1: Serving in the Dark graphic novel
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Artist/Cover artist: Goseki Kojima
Translation: Naomi Kokubo & Jeff Carlson
Editor: Tim Ervin
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $9.95 US

I didn’t expect to enjoy Path of the Assassin. It’s rare that a sample of manga that appeals to me, and the very first English-language edition of Lone Wolf and Cub (issued in the late 1980s by First Comics and championed by Frank Miller, long before Dark Horse Comics reprinted the series in digest form) failed to make a connection as well. Since Path was crafted by the same creative team as Lone Wolf and Cub, I figured my reaction would be lukewarm at best. Mind you, I’ve grown a great deal as a human being and as a comics reader since then, which may have something to do with it. But to be honest, I think the nature of the characters and the subject matter made for a connection this time around. Despite the cultural gap between the audience and the characters, there are elements here to which one can relate.

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Follow the Loss Leader

TV could learn a thing or two from the business of comics.

A few years ago, I was immersed in television. There were innumerable sitcoms I followed, both in prime time and in syndication, and there were plenty of game shows and hour-long dramas on my list of favorites as well. But a couple of years ago, I found I was whittling down my TV viewing, with only four or five programs on my must-see-every-week list.

In recent years, it seems as though TV producers have realized that new ideas — and more importantly, smarter writing — can make for hit shows, and never has that attitude been more apparent with the slew of new shows that debuted this fall. But some of those shows are already in danger of cancellation, and NBC has announced that the intriguing Kidnapped is already kaput, and it had just barely begun telling its story. CBS has announced it’s turfing Smith as well.

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Mirror, Mirror on the War…

The Other Side #1
“If You’re Lucky, You’ll Only Get Killed”
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist/Cover artist: Cameron Stewart
Colors: Dave McCaig
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN

As a Canadian, my cultural connection to the Vietnam War is basically limited to knowledge of draft dodgers among my country’s population. I saw some of the movies — I never cared for Platoon or Full Metal Jacket, but I was fascinated by Hamburger Hill. I’ve read about the emotional scars left on the American psyche and how they reverberate even today. I’m obviously aware of Vietnam on a purely factual level, but I’ve never really felt it, not in the way Americans do. Writer Jason Aaron helps to bring the pain and even pride of this scar on the face of history by taking us into not only one American’s journey to and through the war, but a Vietnamese soldier’s experience as well. This two-pronged approach to the storytelling uses the cultural divide as well as the commonalities to really drive home the emotional and social significance of an unfortunate piece of the past.

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 7, 2006

Agents of Atlas #3 (Marvel Comics)
by Jeff Parker, Leonard Kirk & Kris Justice

It’s not hard to find super-hero stories from the industry’s Big Two that are mired in past continuity, focusing on obscure characters. Such stories are aimed at longtime comics readers and no doubt satisfy them. But for newer readers, they can be frustrating unless they’re crafted just right. Jeff Parker gets it just right. His plot hinges on the histories of these 1950s comics characters, but he provides plenty of exposition, which is made quite palatable thanks to the clever script and strong personalities injected into these campy characters. Parker’s imagination really grabs the reader’s attention, from the unusual first-person manner in which Marvel Boy’s background is conveyed to the character’s dining habits. Leonard Kirk’s art is fantastic. His soft lines capture these somewhat crude characters of yesteryear perfectly, but he brings maturity and credibility to the characters as well. The visual highlight of the book is Tomm Coker’s brilliant cover. These Agents of Atlas covers are some of the best work we’ve seen from him, and now I’m dying to see some Coker interior artwork. 8/10

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