EVERYONE LIKES A TALKING MONKEY
No, this isn't Oddball Comics, although I might understand your confusion. Yes, this column features talking monkeys and gorillas and apes. No, I won't be making cracks about DC's go-go check covers. Yes, there are some hilarious comics to be discussed here. No, none of these comics are older than a year.
But do read Scott Shaw!'s column for some fun comics history lessons.
Now, on with the show:
SUPERNATURAL LAW is not a title I read regularly. I can't tell you why that is, exactly. I've picked up an issue here and there, and enjoyed it. I picked up SUPERNATURAL LAW #35 at one of the conventions this year and have to recommend it to you now. For those of you coming in late, SUPERNATURAL LAW is a comedic look at a pair of lawyers who take genre characters as their clients. This issue features the "Trial of the 800 pound gorilla." The humor is a mixture of groan-inducing puns (my favorite), loving satire, and legal humor. It's a bit wordier than your average "widescreen" comic book these days, but stick with it. It's well worth it. Besides, it's a humor comic. Of course it's going to use more words!
Batton Lash's black and white art is not anything fancy, but it's solid and tells the story well. It looks like something you'd expect in a daily adventure comic strip. It looks professional, and is aided by some gray tones to help add dimension to the art. (Trevor Nielson is credited with "art assists.")
The second story in the issue is a silent one, called "Words Don't Do It Justice." Our intrepid legal team supreme is caught defending the monster under a child's bed. The entire story is told using pictograms and thought balloons. It's only in the last couple of panels that words are spoken. It's effective storytelling, and works as an exercise. Could the story have been told better with words and dialogue? Perhaps, but it works for what it is.
There's plenty of SUPERNATURAL LAW to go around, including a string of affordable trade paperbacks. Batton Lash is a "cartoonist" in the truest sense of the word, and his dedication and skill shows on every page of this comic. It's a nice humorous comic set in a world filled with too much seriousness.
There's also a ton of information on the series available at the Supernatural Law web site.
WAY OF THE RAT features a scene stealing talking monkey named Po Po. So popular is he that t-shirts featuring him were seen at San Diego this year. Po Po also answers the letters column. In the comic, he mentors street thief, Boon, as Boon finds himself in a mess of trouble after stealing some powerful items without realizing the power they represent. Over the course of the first four issues, both Boon and the faithful CrossGen reader become aware of the power of the artifacts and the threat they might represent in the wrong hangs. Then everything threatens to go boom.
In many ways, this is your typical CrossGen (second wave) comic book. There's no sigil, per se, but there are items that grant awesome powers, a mentor to guide our unlikely chosen new hero, and a pace that requires a certain amount of stick-to-itiveness. The great thing about Chuck Dixon's scripting style is that while the overall arc might seem to move slowly at first, the stories never do. His style of including three action beats per issue holds true and carries the reader through each issue pretty quickly. By the time the fourth issue ends, some major arc action is taking place and you'll be on the edge of your seat waiting for the next issue. (Issues 5 and 6 are out now, and I'm sure a trade isn't too far off collecting them all. I'm just a wee bit behind in my reading.)
WAY OF THE RAT is set on the same planet as CrossGen's THE PATH. Whereas THE PATH follows a Japanese tradition, WAY OF THE RAT hews to the Chinese mythologies and martial arts, although not without traces of influence from its Japanese neighbors. If you saw IRON MONKEY, you'll get a bit of the flavor of the environment of this title.
The first issue contains extra story pages to get all the characters introduced and the plot set into motion. I admit to being a bit lost in the mix after it. A lot of names and situations are thrown out there, and it's not the easiest thing in the world to keep track of it all right away. Reading four issues in one sitting helped, though. I plowed through the issues and relationships fell into place as I went along. It gets easier to track with repetition.
It's like that with any new series or novel, though. You're thrown into a new environment in a new world with all new characters and you have to work just a little bit to learn them all quickly to get into the story. (This might help explain why the same old superheroes sit atop the sales chart month after month.) A good writer helps that along, but it's still work.
Artist Jeff Johnson (with inker Tom Ryder and colorist Chris Garcia) keeps the book clean looking. His style is not as photo realistic as Butch Guice's or Greg Land's, but looks clean since there's not a lot of noodling with his lines. There are areas of solid blacks, but he doesn't otherwise fool around with his art style. You don't see crosshatching or feathering in the art. Ryder keeps the lines clean. The details are added by the colorist with shadows and gradients, as necessary. I once referred to Johnson's art as "cartoony," but I think that might have been overstating it just a bit. There's remarkable detail in his long shots that display impressive buildings, and great energy in the third issue when one of the towers is destroyed.
Two other impressive things about his art: First, his characters don't all look alike. A lot of artists can only draw one or two Asian faces. Johnson doesn't have that problem with the cast of this title. He deserves a lot of credit for putting the work into differentiating his characters. Secondly, Johnson is a trained martial artist and has put that into this book. A lot of the moves used in the series so far are easy to read in the storytelling and seem natural enough to do, for someone trained in the right arts.
MY MONKEY'S NAME IS JENNIFER is, simply put, one of the most truly surreal and bizarre comics you can read today. It's obtuse. It's insane. It's nonsensical at times. But you can't help but want to pick every new issue up and pore over its pages with a kind of giddy enthusiasm. Creator Ken Knudtsen has created something completely different from every other comic book out there today.
Did you like Matt Fraction and Andy Kuhn's REX MANTOOTH? Imagine that with less pop culture references, more testicular jokes, and even more attitude.
Jennifer is a male monkey (actually, an ape, but why let details get in the way of a fun title?) whose the playmate of a little girl, Kaitlin. Kaitlin might remind you a bit of Elmyra, from Tiny Toons Adventures. She likes to dress Jennifer up in a pretty dress and have tea parties. Needless to say, this drives Jennifer nuts. All he wants to do is break out, hurt some people, and eat candy. This monkey is a bundle of angry energy that never ceases. Through internal monologue, we're lucky enough to be privy to such thoughts as, "Bite off your head. Like the mighty Pac-Man. Bite. Bite. Bite." And "I will kick you in your fleshy testicles. A lot."
It's also not a book for the kiddies. There is a moderate amount of swearing and a liberal amount of violent attitudes. I don't think it'll be a big problem, though. Nothing about the book screams, "kiddies." Knudtsen's art style is very sketchy and heavy on larger black areas. This is not a Disney comic book. (They don't even print those in this country anymore, but that's another diatribe for another time.)
The first two issues tell the story of a skeleton man who kidnaps Kaitlin and Jennifer's attempt to save her. The second two issues are the first parts of a story in which Kaitlin and Jennifer step out of the bath tub to find themselves on a ship of pirates as unwilling servants. Then the pirates are attacked by the Navy. A cannon battle erupts with little success. And monkey overboard!
Slave Labor Graphics publishes this outlandish series, in which reader mail is read and answered by your favorite angry simian. Each issue is $2.95 for 24 black and white story pages. Walter Simonson did the back cover art for the third issue, and Knudtsen paints Huey Lewis and the News on the back cover of the fourth.
Like I said -- bizarre. But an awful lot of fun. You'll be giggling for a long time at this one.
The promised review of THE PATH has unfortunately been pushed back to next week. The monkeys just took over this column. They send their apologies along with a handful of poo, no doubt. THE PATH is an exceptional addition to the CrossGen line and the first trade is recommended reading. More details next week, I promise.
Next week: More Pipeline. Just the way you like it. Updated Tuesday and Friday, like every week for the past three and a half friggin' years.
More updates to VariousAndSundry.com this week. You'll find new thoughts on DAWSON'S CREEK, MONSTERS INC., the week in DVD, the decline of FRASIER, and more.
More than 400 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.