Looking To The Stars 12.1.03: The Best Books In Life Are Free

What a difference it can make being a member of the free press! Or at the very least, a member of the staff of a highly respected (?) on-line periodical like 411 Mania. I was somewhat amazed at Wizard World when a number of the people I met and mentioned 411 to said that they had read the magazine. More impressively, nobody spat on me or called for security when I mentioned that I wrote for it.

Indeed, it was almost embarrassing how friendly some people became when I did mention that I wrote a regular column. Indeed, the amount of free swag I got threatened to overfill a backpack already packed to the brim with autographed books, action figures and various other sundries for the friends who couldn’t spare the cash to attend themselves.

Now, I am under no disillusions that all of these people were being nice to me purely for the sake of it. True, we do get quite a few of the “aww shucks”, Southern hospitality types down Texas way but you can also spot a phony a mile away. And it was pretty clear that a lot of the people throwing free comics my way were hoping for a quick, positive mention in my writing. Of course there is no such thing as bad publicity and even a negative review from a critic of note can attract attention. Last I checked, I had a number of people of people who were basing their reading lists entirely off “what that hack likes.” With that in mind, I present my quick thoughts on the three books that stuck most with me, good or ill.

Wanted #1

“Sex. Money. Super-Powers. Costume.”

(Now that we have your attention, please buy our book!)

The above quoted text does come directly from the cover of Wanted #1. Perhaps one of the most anticipated #1 titles of recent memories, this book boasts a dream team of Ultimates writer Mark Millar and Wonder Woman: The Hikketeia artist J. G. Jones.

The action centers on Wesley Gibson; a twenty-something Eminem look-alike, trapped in a dead-end job with a horrible “African-American” boss. (This fact is mentioned no less than three times and yet has no real barring on the story.) His girlfriend cheats on him constantly, his best friend is one of the cheatees and he has developed a case of hypochondria so severe his free time is entirely devoted towards researching whatever diseases he might be getting. All this changes after Wes is kidnapped by a gun-toting maniac, informed that the father who abandoned him is a super-villain and that he is now expected to fill the void that his recently assassinated daddy dearest has left.

There is much to admire in this book. Unfortunately, upon closer examination I find that everything admirable has been borrowed from something else. The general tone of the book, like much everything else Millar has written in the last year, is a faint attempt to recapture the magic of the final issues of The Authority with more curse-words and violence thrown in to replace the missing ingenuity and creative ideas. Wesley is, as a character, totally unsympathetic and in serious need of a kick in the ass to take some direction in his life instead of sitting around and moaning about it; a bit like Clerks, but without the humor. The appearance and modus operandi of Wes’s father “The Killer”, seems to have been lifted almost entirely from Alan Moore’s “Comedian”. And the whole idea of an organized super-villain syndicate working under the collective nose of society has been done to death and done better in Ed Brubaker’s “Sleeper” and Geoff Johns’ “The Flash”.

Thankfully, what this book lacks in originality and interest in the story department is almost made up for by the artist. Jones has a highly-detailed style, reminiscent of Bryan Hitch but much cleaner and less cluttered. I enjoyed his work on Grant Morrison’s Marvel Boy and his work here is easily the equal of all his past works I;ve seen.

Sadly, the best thing about this book besides some pretty pictures is the preview of a new superhero comedy book on the last few pages called “Common Grounds”, about the donut shop where some of the heroes and villains break between gigs. While this kind of thing is quickly becoming overdone (Formerly Known as the Justice League, Capes, Heroes Anonymous and PS238 come to mind off the top of my head), this book looks promisingly amusing and the art by Dan Jurgens is suitably cartoonish.

Call this one 4.5 out of 10.0, and that’s mostly for the artwork.

Between The Cracks #1: The Bride

This book reads like a graduate film student’s final project movie and I mean that in a good way. Written and sketched by Harris O’Malley, the book’s art has a deep film noir feel to it without being overly shadowed or gothic. Indeed, the art is a perfect complement to the story which is a modern take on some of the more ghastly ideas of Shelly and Poe.

The plot is pretty simple stuff, but gripping nonetheless. We walk in on a lab as a scientist is just bringing a patchwork Frankenstein’s monster to life. No sooner does he get the chance to scream “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!”, the cops are beating down the door and this unnamed undead woman is out on the streets left to fend for herself.

There is more to it than that, but I cannot say more without giving away the whole plot. I was delighted to find that this is in fact the first book of a four part series and I encourage all of you to join me in purchasing the rest of the series from Studio Underhill (http://www.studiounderhill.com/comics.html )

Call this one an 8.0 out of 10.0, for being too short by half.

Halloween-Man

This is quite possibly the damn silliest comic I’ve ever read. And bear in mind this is coming from a guy that owns every single Ambush Bug solo-title ever. Also bear in mind that the words “Damn silly” are high praise coming from yours truly.

Written and created by Drew Edwards, with a rotating roster of equally talented though visually different artists, this book is a treat on so many levels. If you are a fan of cheesy horror movies, Sam Raimi flicks, the old Ghostbusters cartoons or have not yet reached the point where you say “I don’t read comic books… I read graphic novels” whenever anyone asks about your reading habits, then you will love this book.

It’s a timeless story. Boy meets vampire. Boy is drained by vampire. Vampire is slain by good wizard. Good wizard invokes the powers of various horror filmmakers to bring Boy back to life. Boy awakens as intelligent, well-mannered (if still brain hungry) half-man/half-zombie. Boy keeps Girl, who sees his undead status as just one more thing to work through. Boy takes oath to protect his city from the dark forces that plague it as Halloween-Man. Same old stuff.

Edwards is obviously a fan of the Silver/Bronze Ages of comics when no gimmick was too silly and nothing too improbable. His comics utilize all types of humor from reference-heavy in-jokes (The President of the United States is modeled on Vincent Price) to simple sight gags (the Vampire wearing a “Give Blood” button), running all the way to cliché-breaking (the discovery that said Slavic-accented vampire is actually a Texan by the name of Ronny MacGwire who had some identity issues), gamer-humor (Plus 2 Shovel of Butt-Whoopin’) and straight one-liners. (“Good bye, cruel world. My only regret is that I never got to have ugly monkey sex with Cindy Crawford.”) This is balanced by a heavy dose of action that allows this title to stand proudly stand alongside Keith Giffen’s JLA or Joe Kelly’s Deadpool.

As I said earlier, a variety of artists with differing styles worked on the compilation book I received, but all of them bring some good work to the project. Though is unfair to compare them to other artists, I must say that each artist did remind me of another favorite artist of mine. Jeff Wood has a spooky, sketchy style eerily like Steve Ditko’s early works on Amazing Spider-Man. Terry Parr’s work resembles John Romita Sr, having a similar clean and cartoony style but with a darker sensibility that bears just a hint of the old EC comics. Joe Singleton’s work maintains this gothic-edge, but looks closer to Mike Allred’s work on X-Statix than anything else I can put a name to. And the final story, illustrated by Kevin Atkinson is uniquely exaggerated in a way that I think only Kyle Baker could equal.

More information, as well as the latest strips, are at Halloweenman.com (http://www.halloweenman.com ), along with plenty more “lame jokes, bloody death, and zombie romance”.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10.0, and that’s just because I can’t read the whole series for free on the website. Stupid starving artists and their instance that I pay for their work… *grumble grumble grumble*

I’m just kidding. It’s well worth it. Remember folks; the starving artist you help today will not be the guy spitting in your food at McDonald’s tomorrow.

Tune in next week. Same Matt Time. Same Matt Website.