TRADE PAPERBACK REVIEWS
I just saw GODFATHER for the first time ever last week. (So sue me. I didn't turn into a movie lover until I got a DVD player in 1998 and discovered the beauty of a widescreen presentation on your home television set.) It's a great movie and deserving of all the accolades it's received.
On something of a parallel note, I finally read the entirety of DC's BATMAN/HUNTRESS: CRY FOR BLOOD mini-series this past weekend. I'm glad I had the background of mafia practices from the aforementioned movie for the comic. Writer Greg Rucka does a good job of explaining it all as the story goes along, anyway, but it made me feel smarter to know this stuff ahead of time. A trade paperback collecting the six-part mini-series is due out next month. I can definitely recommend it now. It's smart storytelling that's a real page-turner.
It's the story of Helena Bertinelli, a child of the mafia and sometime heroine called The Huntress. The crossbow is her weapon of choice. She's got a darker side, though, and one that needs some explaining. Over the course of the six issues, Rucka puts the character through her paces, sets her against the Bat Family, and teams her up with The Question, of all people, to help sort things out. The story comes around full circle quite nicely, while tying up all of the important loose ends that the story set out to answer. This is relatively early comics work from Greg Rucka. It's amazing to see how quickly he adapted to the medium from prose novel work.
You'll get The Huntress' full origin story here, including the mafia side of the story and the unanswered question as to why she was left to live while the rest of her family was killed. It's a startling turn when the answer is revealed in the last issue. It makes Bertinelli an all the more interesting a character.
Rick Burchett's art is the best I've ever seen from him through the first four issues. The last couple of issues use Terry Beatty on inking duties, no doubt due to deadline pressures at the time. The style shift is noticeable. The subtlety of Burchett's softer ink line is replaces with the careful delineation of Beatty's. Beatty is not a bad inker by any stretch of the imagination. He does wonderful work, for example, over Tim Levins' pencils on BATMAN: GOTHAM ADVENTURES every month. His inks on this mini-series, however, are an awkward transition to make two-thirds of the way through the story. It seems strange to use an inker whose regular gig is on an animated-style book to ink over a penciller who's trying to move away from that style of art.
Burchett's got an interesting art style. You might remember him better as an inker in the Giffen-era JLA, or on Dan Jurgens' JLA work. His penciling is best recognized on issues of the animated DC Universe books. He's been doing a lot of fill-in work in the Bat-offices for the past year or so, to mixed results. His "serious" art style is superb when it comes to storytelling. The rigors of telling stories in the animated style pay off here. He even employs some Eisneresque tricks in using panels without borders for flashback sequences and montages.
His weak spot right now comes in some figure work. There are times when characters look stiff or lumpy, usually when drawn from odd camera angles. I know "lumpy" is not the best word in the world to use, but there are panels where characters look stiff and slightly more rounded than they should be. Look at page 4 of this week's NIGHTWING (#66) for a good example of a stiff and lumpy Nightwing. His other problem is that all his characters tend to have enormously full faces. Instead of manly heroes with square jaws, you have manly heroes with melon heads.
Nevertheless, this is an excellent story with nice overall art and great storytelling. Don't let these stylistic nit-picks drive you away from one of the best Batman-related mini-series I've ever read. (Another one of them, ROBIN: YEAR ONE, is being collected in April.)
The whole shebang is collected in the first week of March under one cover for the price of $12.95. I would say it's well worth your time if you're looking for a little mix of mafia politics along with mystery and superheroics.
VIDEO NOIRE is a 93-page story from the word processor of Carlos Trillo and the inkwell of Eduardo Risso. It's available at a comics shop near you now, published by Dark Horse under the Venture imprint, which reprints selected stories from Europe. Trillo seems to be a favorite of the line.
The lure of the book for me was Risso's art. Happily, that part of things did not disappoint. What you get in this book is prime black and white Risso material, complete with architectural detail, nicely weighted black areas, believable human figures with expressive faces, and an overall commitment to detail. The storytelling doesn't veer far from the three-tier grid approach. Risso shows some level of mastery here of visually telling a story. His "camera" zooms in and out at will when it makes sense, and he isn't afraid to pull back and show backgrounds and buildings and odd angles when appropriate. You'll never get lost in the detail, and the camera movements aren't so jerky that you'll get whiplash.
My problem with this slim $10 softcover volume is in the story. It's just not my thing. At first, it looks to be a private detective murder mystery, with some possessed children. It turns into far more than that, including a cast of eccentric and deviant characters. The whole battle of heaven and hell is being waged on earth again with a children's television host in the center of the chaos. You get sexually ambiguous characters, a one-hoofed woman, her manservant/beast of burden, a corrupt cop, and a whole range of possessed kiddies. It's all a bit much for me in the end. Like I said, it's not my thing. It might be yours. I hate to sound clich, but if you go for this kind of thing, I think you might like the book. All the plots are wrapped up by the end. The storytelling is soundly done. The art is gorgeous. It's got all the elements of a great comic book. It's just not my style of plot.
This book isn't for the kiddies. There's plenty of full frontal nudity, some cursing, and some graphic violence.
SKY APE: WAITING FOR CRIME is the second SKY APE graphic novel to be released from AIT/PlanetLar. It's a new 45-page story from the same creative team of (deep breath now) Philip Amara, Tim McCarney, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Russo. In this surreal adventure, Sky Ape travels back in time to determine why evil roofers are installing modern home furnishings in ancient Egypt. As this capsule description might suggest, the book is a hodge podge of pop culture references, obscure trivia, banalities up the whazoo, and non-sequiters. It's all designed to make your head spin while making your mouth laugh. Not an easy feat. It's as if the Zucker Brothers had a love child with Mel Brooks while Leslie Nielsen ran lines and Cary Elwes looked on. It's insane. It's lunatic. It's not something you'd use to explain the sheer joys of the sequential art form and its unique ability to convey a story. Truth be told, the plot is secondary, and a good knowledge of the first SKY APE volume is almost mandatory for full enjoyment.
The art is a bit crude at times, but is easy to follow and occasionally quite enjoyable. There's a nice variation in style for such things as flashbacks and
Just sit back, grab a beer, and read the comic. For only $7, you'll get a nice solid chunk of book to read and a few good chuckles along the way. You'll also probably scratch your head once or twice and wonder just what it was the creative team was smoking when they came up with this, but - It's an ape and his jet pack! What more do you want?
OK, there's also a series of really nice pin-ups in the back, from artists such as Mel Rubi, Paco Medina, Sunny Lee, and Cheyenne Wright. Apes, monkeys, and gorillas bring out the best in comics artists. I have no idea why that holds true as often as it does, but it's a fact.
Good news: There's a third volume of the series on its way. According to the official Sky Ape web site, the script is already completed and work is underway for a summer 2002 release.
For more simian madness, I'd like to recommend MY MONKEY'S NAME IS JENNIFER. It's a new comic by Ken Knudtsen that's coming out from Slave Labor in March. It's a wonderfully subversive and darkly humorous take on pet monkeys. It's set to be an on-going bi-monthly series. Judging by the first 11 pages of it that I've read, I think it stands a chance. It just needs all the readers it can find. Take a look for it at your store next month, or hit the Slave Labor web site to keep an eye on it.
There's time for just one last review. It's one non-trade oriented review that I've been delaying for far too long.
ZED is a self-published (Gagne International Press) bi-monthly black and white series about a smart little alien whose brilliant invention is set to save the galaxy an enormous amount of wasted energy. When it instead blows up a planet full of dignitaries, Zed finds himself alone in a galaxy filled with rising tensions and the unstoppable prospect of war.
Author/artist Michel Gagne is best known for his books of wild animal designs, such as INSANELY TWISTED RABBITS and FRENZIED FAUNA FROM A TO Z. It should come as no surprise, then, that ZED is most remarkable for its sense of design and imagination. The first issue is plotted at a very slow pace to allow Gagne to fit in a wide array of alien life forms. You'll find yourself lingering over pages to take in the oddball creatures and to see everything that's there. It's not necessarily a densely populated artistic style like Geoff Darrow's. It's rather spartan and cartoony, as a matter of fact. But there's a wonderful mix of things to please the eye. In the second issue, the story moves to outer space and allows Gagne to give us a look at his warped spaceship ideas. These are not flying buckets of bolts. These are strange concepts and designs that you'd expect to see at an Olympic Opening Ceremonies or a (theoretical) Frank Lloyd Wright science fiction gallery showing.
The black and white series is now three issues old, with a fourth on the way in the next couple of months. The story so far is just starting to ramp up to the point where you feel more than just pity or sorrow for the lead character. It's just about to the point where you can start hoping for Zed's exoneration. After all, something went wrong with his invention, but there's no reason it should have. Is there some other malevolent force at work?
ZED is an oddly whimsical series that's not an all ages book, despite its initial look. There's the matter of some language used in the book that would prevent me from recommending it to the little kiddies. This book is more for "mature readers" who are more interested in stylistic art. The story is simple and easy to follow, but looks to be picking up steam and complications.
It's not the most polished bit of writing I've ever read, either. Gagne makes some rookie comic writing mistakes. Coming from an animation background as he does, it's understandable that he includes dialogue to explain everything that's going on. That's what cartoons do. The animated often isn't expressive enough to clearly show what's going on, so the characters have to explain it to the viewers. That's not as necessary in a comic book, where the reader is already paying attention to the page in front of him or her.
The lettering could use a little help, too. I get the feeling lettering is a new art to Gagne. The font isn't so bad. It's better than Whizbang, at least. It's just that its size varies wildly sometimes, and the layout isn't always optimized.
Overall, though, ZED is a book to keep an eye on. It's a lot of fun to read, with a visual feast for the eyes.
For more information on all of Gagne's books, as well as preview art from the three issues of ZED so far, click on over to the Gagne International Press web site and let your mouse do the walking. The fourth issue is due out next month.
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