Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Black Metal, Book 1
Written by Rick Spears; Illustrated by Chuck BB
As someone who’s not a fan of Black Metal the Music Genre, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Black Metal the Graphic Novel. I hoped I’d like it. I love Chuck BB’s (Secret Skull) art for one thing. I’ve also heard great things about Rick Spears’ Teenagers from Mars. Mostly though, while I don’t dig a lot of the music, I’m very entertained by the trappings of Metal: the skulls, the demon lords…the Vikings. If Spears and BB were able to just tell an awesome story with all that stuff, Black Metal would succeed.
Undoubtedly, readers will find more enjoyment in it the closer they relate to the music and the culture that Black Metal celebrates. There’s no false advertising in that title. Shawn and Sam Stronghand are an orphaned pair of junior high twins who’ve been shuffled from school to school and foster home to foster home. They also – as the book says – have “a penchant for the darkest of metal.” When they play an album by a hardcore band called Frost Axe, they hear the legend of a war in Hell between two Barons: a huge, horned bruiser called the Roth and the sinister demon named Von Char who defeated the Roth through trickery. Playing the record backwards, the twins are pulled to Hell where they recover the Roth’s Sword of Atoll and return to Earth with it.
Von Char doesn’t like this of course and sends minions to kill the boys. As the Stronghands (and their gross little foster brother) try to survive, they encounter a band of ancient warriors (action!), Norse gods (adventure!), and cute girls (romance!) only one of whom is human.
Beasts! Book 1
Curated by Jacob Covey; Written and Illustrated by 95 writers and artists
Beasts! stretches the definition of what a comic book is, but we’re adventurous folks, right? At first glance, it’s an art book. Ninety different artists each depict a cryptozoological creature in the style of his or her choosing. There’s also a paragraph about each by one of five different writers, but that sounds like the kind of thing you’d flip through once and then stick on the coffee table. It certainly doesn’t sound like a comic. There’s no story and that’s what comics are. They line up pictures to tell stories.
Except that this book does tell a story. Not a very conventional one perhaps, but it’s there.
The first clue is Jacob Covey’s title. He didn’t edit the book; he curated it like a museum exhibition. The book’s Introduction further reinforces that notion. It reads like a program, with a definition of Cryptozoology and notes about the artists, the creatures they selected, and the approach the curator took in putting the collection together. It also shares interesting facts, points out easily missed elements of the book’s design, and even suggests the best way for “the enthusiastic reader” to experience what’s to come. In other words, it’s not only a program; it’s a tour guide. By the time I was done reading it and ready to turn the page, I genuinely felt like I was entering an exhibit. Not just an art show, but a fascinating trip into The Study of Hidden Animals.
Boneyard, Volumes 1-7
Written and Illustrated by Richard Moore
Published by NBM
I’m trying to figure out how to use the words “Monster Decadence” to describe Boneyard without sounding mean about it. It’s a wonderful, fun, involving series, but there’s an element to it that reminds me of the problem with having Speedy beat crooks up with a dead cat or Guy Gardner vomit blood all over the cover of a comic. I’m not suggesting that Richard Moore’s done anything wrong – it’s his series, he created it; he can do whatever he wants with it – but on its surface Boneyard appears to be simply a cute story about an unlucky everyman who inherits a graveyard full of funny monsters. There’s something very Bone-ish about the concept and kids would love the creature designs and giggle at some of the jokes. But it’s not a kids’ book. At all.
Again, I’m not faulting Moore. He’s got an appealing, humorously animated drawing style, but it would be foolish to suggest that he should tone down his writing because of that. On the contrary, it’s very cool that he’s been able to create such a grown-up story with such attractive, endearing characters. And as much as I kept thinking, “My son would love this if only…,” Boneyard is a whole different creature from “adult” superhero comics.
This is ironic since Boneyard is a monster comic, but it’s nowhere near as bloody or violent as the Superhero Decadence crowd of books. What puts it out of kids’ reach is mostly its playfulness about sexuality. There’s plenty of cheesecake, but nothing graphic; just good, naughty fun.
Time for another trip through Previews to look for cool, new adventure comics.
Sherlock Holmes: The Painful Predicament of Alice Faulkner – There’s a surprising amount of Sherlock Holmes stuff coming out this month, not that I’m complaining. In this book, Bret M Herholz adapts William Gillette’s 1899 play, Sherlock Holmes, or The Strange Case of Miss Faulkner.
The Killer, Volume 3: Modus Vivendi – The next volume in Matz and Luc Jacamon’s beautiful and thrilling series about an international assassin.
Lady Mechanika #1 – It’s with considerable discomfort that I’m interested in one of Aspen’s books. The company doesn’t have a great reputation for getting issues out on time or even always completing them for that matter. But I could really go for a cool, Steampunk adventure about a cybernetic detective.
Everything else, after the break.
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Big Book of Horror
Written by Steve Niles; Illustrated by Scott Morse, Ted McKeever, and Richard Sala
More this week about horror and all-ages comics, because I’ve found my next bedtime storybook for my son. The boy loves monsters, but he’s appropriately freaked out by serious horror. IDW’s collection of Steve Niles Little Books of Horror is the perfect middle ground.
Niles adapted three, classic horror stories for children, each with a different artist. They’re not comics so much as picture books, but comics fans will recognize the talent Niles worked with. Scott Morse (Soulwind) illustrated Frankenstein, Ted McKeever (Metropol) did War of the Worlds, and Richard Sala (Delphine, Cat Burglar Black) painted Dracula. Each page is a giant, gorgeous illustration overlaid with Niles’ text that summarizes the story.
As you may have noticed, we’ve been talking about Horror comics lately in this column. In keeping with the Season and all. Continuing that trend, I picked up a bunch of mini-comics at the Minneapolis Indie Xpo back in August, many of which were Horror-related.
Mini-comics are cool because they’re cheap and hand-made and usually put together without a lot of consideration for commerce. Not that their creators don’t care if they sell or not, but sales are a secondary concern to making something cool that the artist is proud of. That sometimes leads to the impression that mini-comics are self-indulgent and inaccessible, but as we’ll see here, that’s not always the case. Mini-comics can be – and often are – about fun, sexy topics as well.
The Midnight March
Written and Illustrated by Brent Schoonover
I’ve known Brent (Horrorwood, Astronaut Dad) for a while and the guy loves classic Horror. So when I saw the cover of The Midnight March, I knew I’d like it. And I did, though in a different way than I expected. It’s not really a Horror story, but a semi-autobiographical, slice-of-life story about some junior high buddies trying to track down a copy of Dead Alive before all the video stores close for the night. None of them have cars, so they walk from store to store, talking about girls, scary movies, and the future – like how they could totally get away with robbing the town’s one, armored car or open a combination bowling alley/strip club. The dialogue’s a lot of nostalgic fun and Brent’s art is full of humor and emotion.
Yetis and other monsters after the break:
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Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites
Written by Evan Dorkin; Illustrated by Jill Thompson
Dark Horse; $19.99
I know we’ve been talking a lot about comics for kids lately, so I’m going to give that a rest for a bit (except to point you to Nate Cosboom and Skottie Young’s latest thoughts on the subject). Fun and awesome comics don’t always have to be kid-appropriate. Beasts of Burden is an excellent example of that. Monster-hunting dogs and cats sounds particularly good for children, but not when the monsters are this scary. Your kids may be different from mine and more power to them if they are, but my eight-year-old would have nightmares if this was his bedtime reading. Doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy the hell out of it though.
As you may know, Beasts of Burden began as a recurring feature in the Dark Horse Book of… anthologies. There were four volumes – Book of Hauntings, Book of Witchcraft, Book of the Dead, and Book of Monsters – and one of the highlights of each was always Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s story about five dogs and a stray cat who get pulled deeper and deeper into the supernatural.
The Animal Rites collection includes those four stories as well as the four-issue Beasts of Burden mini-series. In the spirit of anthology tales, each of the eight stories stands by itself. There are no cliffhangers; no To Be Continueds. But there’s a larger story taking shape as the pets learn more and more about the paranormal and begin to figure out that the recent weirdness in their quiet, little, wooded community is being orchestrated by a single intelligence. What that intelligence is remains to be discovered by the end of Animal Rites, which is fine by me. There’s a slow build moving towards that revelation and I don’t want Dorkin and Thompson to rush it. Besides, I want more of these stories and it’s comforting to know that there are plans for that.
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Death-Day, Part One
Written and Illustrated by Samuel Hiti
Edited by Joseph Midthun
La Luz Comics; $19.95
One of the coolest things about Sam Hiti’s work is his ability to tell insane adventure stories in a truly artistic way. His distinct, Latin-influenced style combines with his fantastically wild imagination to create unique worlds full of monsters and demons and fascinating tough guys willing to kill them. His previous graphic novel, Tiempos Finales was the story of a man named Mario for whom monster-hunting was a holy calling. Mario looked like he started in a Sergio Leone Western, but spent time with Hellboy before readers got to meet him. The seaside community he protected had Spanish architecture combined with ancient South American iconography. The monsters and other creatures in the book came straight from Hell. It was an amazing, imaginative book. And now he’s topped it.
Death-Day has a very different tone from Tiempos Finales (it’s much more sci-fi than spiritual fantasy), but there are similarities in the storytelling style that reminded me of what it was like reading Tiempos Finales for the first time. Both books take their time unfolding the story. The art is densely packed, especially in the beginning, demanding that readers spend time taking in the panels and exploring their details. Because of that, the world gets into your head and you enter it. By the time the prologue is done, it’s a real place.
It’s a horrifying place too: a completely alien world filled with six-limbed monsters and floating, invulnerable orbs. Both of which are hostile to the human soldiers who’ve been stranded there. Though the first book (there will be four total when Hiti’s done) is divided into a prologue and four “episodes,” there are three basic stories going on it. The first is about a massive offensive the humans are mounting against the orbs. Told mainly from the perspective of the officers coordinating the strategy in their war room, the scene reveals that the humans are assisted – or is that controlled? – by a computer called Mother-0. The story cuts away before the final results of the initiative are revealed, but success isn’t the only thing called into question in the scene. One of the officers accuses Mother-0 of being in league with the Black Orb, the entity that seems to control the other orblings. How much should the humans be trusting their computer?
We’ve been talking about comics for kids a lot lately in this column. I want to continue that conversation this week, but from a different angle. Let’s face it, we’ll never all agree about whether Marvel and DC superhero comics should be focused primarily on children or grown ups or if both, in what ratio. A lot of things complicate that discussion, including the origin of superheroes as children’s literature and the varying levels of nostalgia that grown-up fans attach to that.
But what if we flip that coin over? What if we take something with origins in grown-up literature and make it for kids? Does that change the arguments? Do characters created for one demographic always have to be written with that demographic in mind? I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s true for superheroes and I don’t think it’s true for Sherlock Holmes who’s the focus of Graphic Universe’s new series On the Case with Holmes and Watson.
To be sure, Sherlock Holmes isn’t the most dramatic example of a “mature audiences” character being used for a kids’ series. He’s not exactly Ripley from Alien or Ash from Evil Dead. But he’s also not standard reading for 4th to 6th graders, the target audience for the On the Case series. And if Holmes can be rewritten for 9-year-olds, why can’t Superman be rewritten for 39-year-olds? The question shouldn’t be whether or not it can be done though. I predict that we’ll read few if any comments advocating that Holmes is a grown-up character and that he shouldn’t be adapted for children. What we need to be figuring out is how to tell the story so well that neither group feels unwanted.
So, let’s see what looks good in new, adventure comics in this month’s Previews…
The Misadventures of Clark & Jefferson: Hairy Things – The cowboys vs. Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) series is collected.
Poe & Phillips – I’ve got precious little confidence that this will be any good. Mostly because of the solicitation copy that uses the future tense to describe activities that took place in the 19th century. But it’s an adventure with Edgar Allan Poe and HP Lovecraft looking for treasure in order to prevent the rising of an undead emperor, so it needs to be mentioned.
Flash Gordon: Invasion of the Red Sword #1 – After Dynamite’s announcement that they’d acquired the Flash Gordon license, the first comic out of the gate is by Flash’s other license-holder, Ardden. I’m curious now to see what Dynamite’s got planned.
Big Dog Ink
Island Tales #1 – I’m not sure what to make of this. The solicit refers to a “contemporary exploration of a popular Hawaiian folktale,” romance, a “ferocious family legacy,” supernatural action, and sharks. I can only assume that it’s about a boy whose shark-people ancestors hate his hula-dancing girlfriend and he has to fight them. At least, that’s what I hope it’s about. But is this a stand-alone story or is it continued in issue #2? If it stands by itself, does the second issue feature a whole different island tale? I’m intrigued.
“A ton of guys who do super violent, adult books complaining about no books are made for kids. Odd trend. Me? I just go make a book for kids.” – Skottie Young, via Twitter.
I love this comment. Young doesn’t actually call anyone hypocritical, he just notes the strangeness of complaining about something that you have the power to change, but are choosing not to. I don’t know; is that the definition of hypocrisy? Maybe it is.
I think there’s a connotation though that hypocrisy involves willful deception and Young’s not accusing anyone of that. Without knowing exactly whom he’s referring to, I can imagine that a creator like that simply hasn’t thought through the disconnection between his words and actions. I don’t have to contribute time or money to the alleviation of world hunger in order to state correctly that it’s a horrible problem. And not contributing doesn’t necessarily make me dishonest. I can truly, legitimately believe that there’s a problem without taking a single step to solve it. And perhaps I believe that by drawing attention to the problem, I am contributing in some way to its solution. But – and I think that this is Young’s point – it’s a very tiny contribution and my complaining loses any power it had once people realize that that’s all I’m doing to help.
Like I said, I don’t know for sure whom Young was referring to, but I imagine that it’s at least indirectly inspired by Darwyn Cooke’s comments at Fan Expo. At the time Young wrote that, Twitter was all a… well, atwitter with folks’ responding to Cooke’s statement from a variety of angles. Even if Young wasn’t talking about Cooke, he was likely referring to someone who was. But since I don’t know, I want to be careful about how I talk about this. Young’s comment does apply to Cooke’s statement, but I don’t want to suggest that Young specifically had Cooke in mind when he made it.
After the break: So what was Young talking about and what does Cooke have to do with it?
Time once again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for awesome, new, adventure comics.
Salimba – Paul Chadwick drew a comic about a jungle girl fighting pirates? Seriously? It can’t be Christmas already.
Hereville: Now Merka Got Her Sword [Edit: That should be How Mirka Got Her Sword. It’s spelled incorrectly in Previews. Thanks to Tom for pointing that out in the comments.] – A “spunky 11-year-old” girl in a dull, Orthodox Jewish community dreams of dragon-slaying and meets a witch. Actually, I think I’d be interested in just reading a story about a plucky tween in a boring town with Orthodox Judaism as a backdrop (since I know nothing about Orthodox Judaism, but am sort of fascinated by it). Adding dragons and witches are a nice touch though.
Wonderdog, Inc. - A teen-aged boy and his grandfather search for the Fountain of Youth and – if the cover is to be believed – swing on some vines. I like it.
Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard – The Mouse Guard anthology by Jeremy Bastian, Ted Naifeh, Alex Sheikman, Mark Smylie, Gene Ha, Terry Moore, Guy Davis, Sean Rubin, Craig Rousseau, Karl Kerschl and Katie Cook is collected. It’s been a difficult wait.
After the break: I need to convince people to give me Halloween presents, because there’s no way I can afford all the stuff I want this month.
When I attended C2E2 earlier this year, I attended Moonstone’s panel and was especially excited about the announcement of their Zeroids comics. I never had those toys as a kid and knew nothing about them, but all writer Aaron Shaps had to say was “clunky robots” and I was interested. Then he explained how they’d be fighting space invaders and how the series would include all the ‘50s sci-fi movie tropes he could squeeze into it. I was hooked.
Now that the first issue is almost here (it should hit stores in a couple of weeks), Aaron and I got together to talk a bit more about the series, the toy line it’s based on, and all the other inspirations that have gone into it.
Michael May (MM): Let’s start off by talking about the Zeroids toy line. What can you tell me about that?
Aaron Shaps (AS): The Zeroids were a line of robot toys produced by Ideal in the late ‘60s. Originally there were only three: Zintar, Zerak, and Zobor. Later on they added Zogg, the Zeroids’ leader, and Zemo, the “lost Zeroid”. The line was extremely popular for the better part of a decade, and then in the late ‘70s the line was re-imagined as “STAR Team”, to help cash in on the sci-fi craze that kicked into high gear in the wake of Star Wars.
There were a few new characters as part of the STAR Team line: Major Kent, a human astronaut; Zem 21, a humanoid robot; generic “alien” Zeroids that looked conspicuously like R2-D2; and a villain, the Knight of Darkness, leader of the evil Shadow Raiders of the Black Nebula, who bore more than a slight resemblance to Darth Vader.
Zombies, space invaders, sorority girls, buddy movies, and other influences after the break.
So last week Robert Kirkman made a statement that got some folks kind of riled up. Kevin already quoted the relevant bits, so I’ll just try to paraphrase it the way I understand it. Everyone remembers Kirkman’s controversial plea from a couple of years ago when he asked “top creators” to give up doing corporate-owned comics and concentrate on their own stuff, claiming that’s what it’ll take to save the comics industry.
At the time, I could sort of see what he was getting at, but disagreed with how he was getting there. If I understood him correctly, what he meant by “top creators” was older writers who are producing overly complex, dark stories that kids can’t connect to. The implication was that these top creators needed to move on to their own material and make room at Marvel and DC for new blood that – Kirkman assumes – will be better able to write the kinds of corporate-owned stories that kids want.
The problem with this was that he was dismissing the efforts that Marvel and DC were already making in that direction. He briefly mentioned Marvel Adventures – a much bigger endeavor in 2008 than it is in 2010, as was Johnny DC – and immediately blew it off it as an imprint that “talks down to kids” and said that “that’s not what kids want.” As a grown-up who loves Marvel and DC’s kids comics and the parent of a kid who loves them just as much, I beg to differ. And from all the stories I’ve heard from other comics-loving families, my son and I aren’t alone. I question if Kirkman had ever read a Marvel Adventures comic when he made that statement.
Guys like Jeff Parker, Paul Tobin, and Fred Van Lente were killing on those series two years ago and – no coincidence – they’re still killing on the “regular” series they’re currently writing for Marvel. The issue isn’t the age of the writers or whether they’re a “top creator;” it’s the kind of stories they’re telling. There’s a lot more causing the failure of Marvel Adventures and Johnny DC to thrive in the Direct Market than just “kids don’t like them.” In fact, since I know that kids do like them, I’m pretty sure we can eliminate that as a cause altogether. Far more relevant to the discussion is whether or not parents are willing to buy them for their kids, and there are all sorts of pieces we need to look at in preparation for that discussion. My point is that it’s going to take a lot more than new blood at Marvel and DC to fix what’s wrong with their comics. Which brings us to Kirkman’s comments this week.
After the break: Image vs. Marvel over who gets to keep the kids grown-ups.
I have a confession to make. It’s nothing I’m proud of, but I’ve learned to live with it. I don’t like Sci-Fi.
Sure I love Star Wars and Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy and I especially love James Turner’s Warlord of Io, which is the inspiration for this post, but I can’t get through an Isaac Asimov anthology to save my life. Not even when all the stories are about robots. I like a lot of Warren Ellis’ creator-owned stuff, but the only one I truly love is Anna Mercury.
When I first discovered this, I was a bit disappointed in myself. I’d grown up thinking of myself as a Sci-Fi fan. I loved John Carter of Mars. Killraven was one of my favorite Marvel characters. I didn’t realize that there was anything wrong with me just because no amount of Jack Kirby could get me interested in 2001: A Space Odyssey. (I was nine; I expect I’d have a different reaction today, but that would be all Kirby’s doing and none of the concept’s.)
Of course, it’s the hardcore Sci-Fi fans who are telling me that I don’t like their genre. Star Wars isn’t real science fiction. It’s fantasy. There’s no actual science to it. It’s just Lord of the Rings with spaceships and blasters instead of dragons and magic wands. But you know what? I’m okay with that now. Let the hardcore Sci-Fi folks have their label. I’ve found another one I like better anyway.
What it is and what’s the difference after the break.