Captain Comics' collection reviews from the Comics Guides

I'll be reposting Cap's Comic Guide collection reviews to this thread to make them easier to link to for the index.

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Posted in the August 19, 2015 Comics Guide

STRANGE NATION (TPB)

Writer: PAUL ALLOR

Art/Cover: JUAN ROMERA

TPB • FC • $19.99 • 128 pages

I had no idea what this was when I began reading, and even after finishing it was hard to put it into a category. It was sort of a cross between the old Secret Invasion book and Kolchak, the Night Stalker, with maybe a little of The Invaders tossed in.

Whatever it was, I was entertained. Confused, sometimes, but entertained. It's the story of a disgraced journalist working for a supermarket tabloid, who really does stumble on a genuine conspiracy, full of hidden aliens, intelligent yeti, aging espionage agents and secret societies. The story progresses beyond the limitations of its original genre, and if there's a fault, it's that the story is continued. But is it really a fault if that means there's more fun to come?

Posted in the August 19, 2015 Comics Guide

VAMPIRELLA: FEARY TALES (TPB)

Publisher: DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT

Writer: NANCY A. COLLINS, GAIL SIMONE, DEVIN GRAYSON, JOHN SHIRLEY, STEVE BISSETTE, ELAINE LEE, DENIS ST. JOHN, JOE R. LANSDALE, ERIC TRAUTMANN, STUART MOORE

Art: JACK JADSON, RONILSON FREIRE, ELMO EKLABUZ, BILQUIS EVELY, EMAN CASALLOS, MIRKA ANDOLFO, CHAD SHEPHERD

Cover: JAY ANACLETO

160 Pages / Teen+ / $19.99

This is a nice story on the surface, about Vampirella being pulled into a book of fairy tales with horror twists, where she must survive each tale to eventually get to the end and escape. So, you know, Hansel & Gretel try to eat her, and she has to battle Cinderella's evil step-sisters, and so forth. But what makes this book stand out a bit from that is the metatextual joke running throughout.

And what is that? Well, if you'll recall, Vampirella got her start as a host of a horror magazine, making corny jokes as she introduced one terror tale after another. In this book, Vampirella is trapped in a collection of horror stories, each introduced by a mysterious host who cracks corny jokes and ... oh, you've got it figured out? I thought that you would.

Posted in the August 26, 2015 Comics Guide

NEXTWAVE: AGENTS OF H.A.T.E. – THE COMPLETE COLLECTION TPB

Written by WARREN ELLIS

Penciled by STUART IMMONEN

Cover by STUART IMMONEN

304 PGS / Parental Advisory / $34.99

This was a realllly odd book, where Warren Ellis took a bunch of unused characters, gave them personalities representing their publishing history (Monica Rambeau was resentful of having her name constantly changed, Machine Man had given up humans and become the robot equivalent of an alcoholic) and set 'em loose on an adventure only tangentially serious. It's good, snarky fun.

Posted in the September 2, 2015 Comics Guide

ALIENS: SALVATION (HC)

Writer: DAVE GIBBONS

Pencils/Cover: MIKE MIGNOLA

Inks: KEVIN NOWLAN

Colors: MATT HOLLINGSWORTH

FC, 56 pages, $10.99

First, let me say this is a very good Aliens story. It would be worth reading no matter who drew it. 

But look who did: Mike Mignola and Kevin Nowlan! I love them both, so this was a treat that I savored.

As to that story, a religious man is stranded on a planet with very few other survivors and a bunch of bugs. In addition to the struggle for survival, there's also the guy's attempt to work all this horror into his theology. I'm not terribly religious myself, so I wouldn't have any idea how a believer would go about interpreting the aliens without Dave Gibbons to give me a tour.

All in all, a great show.

Posted in the September 2, 2015 Comics Guide

CONAN VOLUME 18: THE DAMNED HORDE (HC)

Writer: FRED VAN LENTE

Art: BRIAN CHING

Colors: MICHAEL ATIYEH

Cover: DAN SCOTT

FC, 152 pages, $24.99

As I've been saying about the current issues of this title, Fred van Lente is doing a terrific job writing the book. Conan is always Conan, of course, but what sets van Lente's work apart is that he takes the time to develop secondary characters and give their dialogue a lot of vitality and humor. It's almost as if he's writing a farce, with Conan the straight man who lets things go to hell for a while before stepping in to fix it all by main strength or sheer determination.

As to the art, Ching's work is a bit scritchy-scratchy for my taste, but it fits the subject matter. Everything looks a bit dirty and used -- even, or maybe especially, the people.

The Damned Horde is a complete story, mildly based on some of REH's jottings, but really just another day in the Hyborian Age, where nothing really ever goes according to plan.

Posted in the September 2, 2015 Comics Guide

LADY KILLER (TPB)

Writers: JOËLLE JONES, JAMIE S. RICH

Art: JOËLLE JONES

Cover: JOËLLE JONES, LAURA ALLRED (COVER)

FC, 136 pages, $17.99

I was really looking forward to this book for the art, which really captures the advertising style of the late 1950s and early 1960s (as I vaguely remember it). Aside from nostalgia, it's both clean and ironic, given what the main character does for a living (she's an assassin). The Mad Men look suits her better in the other half of her life, though, where she's a suburban wife and mother whose family has no idea what she does when they're not home.

So, yeah, I love the art. And what I knew of the story -- see above -- seemed sufficient. There would be violence, there would be irony, there would be black humor. That would be good enough.

But it turns out the story is more muscular than that, hinting at a bigger picture that we never quite see. What is the organization the protagonist works for? Who are these other women who seem to do the same thing? And, given the events of the book (which I won't spoil) what will happen to our star now?

These questions (and more) are deliberately raised and just as deliberately not answered. I'm thinking sequel, and that would be a fine thing.

Posted in the September 2, 2015 Comics Guide

LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME, VOL. 1 HC

Story: RICK REMENDER

Art: GREG TOCCHINI

Cover: ALEX MALEEV

JULY 15 / 184 PAGES / FC / M / $24.99

I'm not usually a Remender fan, but this is a very solid, enjoyable story.

There's some foofaraw about government mind control that technically makes this a sci-fi story, but you can safely ignore all that. It exists mostly to create a MacGuffin and a deadline for what is essentially a crime noir.

 What I found irrestistible is that Remender doesn't pretend that his four main characters won't betray each other -- in fact, all of them expect it (as does the audience). The question, then, is who will betray the others first, and who will betray them best? As the story races to its conclusion, more and more cards are turned over and it really is quite thrilling.

It's also quite sexy, as the cover would indicate. I don't often find comics sexy, as the pneumatic pin-up girls that populate most books turn me off. But Greg Tocchini gives us a realistic femme fatale that ups the heat factor throughout.

Posted in the September 9, 2015 Comics Guide

PIXU: THE MARK OF EVIL (TPB)

Writers/Art: GABRIEL BÁ, FÁBIO MOON, BECKY CLOONAN, VASILIS LOLOS

On sale Sept 9

B&W, 128 pages, $14.99

I wanted to like this book, but it didn't scare me even a little. And it even had all those elements so popular in scary cinema today, like the creepy little girl, the demonic pregnancy, the injury porn. Yet, I was unmoved.

The set-up is an apartment building where some shadow thing lurks ominously and terrible things are happening, so it's really a collection of stories about individual tenants that only occasionally overlap. But the thing is, the haunted nature of the building is never really explained, nor are the mechanics or motivation of the haunting really explained, although some of the tenants seem pretty aware of the particulars.

They don't share any of this information with the readers, and that's frustrating -- sometimes it seems like the evil is limited, while other times it seems able to physically manifest and do just about anything. Also, there's no explanation for why those aware of the problem don't just up and leave.

While some might find those unanswered questions an addition to the spookiness, this old comics hand needs a bit more to work with. I mean, if something is able to kill you outright and seems to want to, but simply doesn't in order to further the story, that's lazy writing. And if there's a reason it can't kill you, then tell me why so I know when a character is in danger and when he or she is not. As is often the case with stories involving magic, suspense evaporates if a set of rules isn't established to take the place of physics and logic, which magic ignores. Or as we like to say here, if anything can happen, nobody cares what eventually does.

The creative team on this is stellar, and I usually like this sort of thing. But this didn't do it for me, for the reasons outlined above. But if you're the sort who likes a spooky story and aren't as anal retentive as I am, this might be for you.

Posted in the September 9, 2015 Comics Guide

ZOMBIES VS. ROBOTS VOL 1: INHERIT THE EARTH

Writers: CHRIS RYALL, STEVE NILES, ASHLEY WOOD

Art: ANTHONY DIECIDUE, ASHLEY WOOD, VAL MAYERIK

Cover: ASHLEY WOOD

TPB • FC • $19.99 • 152 pages

It seemed to me that robots should beat zombies pretty handily, and that prejudice kept me from picking up this book. But I've finally read my first ZvR, and it's not at all what I expected. 

Turns out this is a great intro, answering all my questions and setting up a plausible conflict with no clear resolution in sight. If you like the work of Ryall and/or Niles, this is recommended. And, hey, when was the last time you saw some work from the always terrific Val Mayerik?

Posted in the September 16, 2015 Comics Guide

2 SISTERS: A SUPER-SPY GRAPHIC NOVEL (HC)

Writer/Art/Cover: MATT KINDT

Colors: MARIE ENGER

On sale Sept 16

FC, 344 pages, $27.99

I read this twice, and there's still a key mystery I don't fully understand. It's not the spy stuff, which is pretty convincing and well done. It regards the "2 Sisters" of the title, and about which I'd rather not say any more. Part of the reason for my uncertainty is that Kindt is very spare with dialogue, and doesn't reveal anything of the characters' internal lives. And part of it is the art, which is of the primitive school and is sometimes hard for me to follow. (For example, a character is shown burying a red dress, which I thought was a dress shown in the previous scene, but on second reading I realized was a dress seen later. Not being able to tell which dress it was threw my timeline out of whack the first time.) That's one reason I'm not a fan of the primitive school, another being that it looks amateurish to me.

Is that a good or bad review? I can't say, because I don't know myself. I'm not sure I can recommend 2 Sisters, but then again, I did read it twice.

Posted in the September 23, 2015 Comics Guide

THE NEW DEAL (HC)

Writer/Art/Cover: JONATHAN CASE

On sale Sept 23

FC, 96 pages, $16.99

I was really looking forward to this, and was a little disappointed. The '30s give you a lot of meat to work with: Artistically you've got art deco architecture and elaborate Myrna Loy-style fashions, and story-wise you've got one of the most dramatic backdrops in American history. But this story features a (white) bellhop who is irresponsible and a (black) hotel maid who is not, and they do almost nothing -- which is more than the "star" of the book does, who wears the fashions mentioned above. Really, The New Deal was a pretty empty exercise -- more set-up for a sequel than an interesting story in itself.

Posted in the October 7, 2015 Comics Guide

BOB POWELL’S COMPLETE JET POWERS (HC)

Writers: STEVE RUDE, JAMES VANCE, JOHN WOOLEY

Art: BOB POWELL

On sale Oct 7

FC, 200 pages, $49.99

I hate to be Mr. Negative, but here's another example of my mantra that "not every old comic book needs to be reprinted."

I always thought of Bob Powell as a decent draftsman who was a bit of clumsy with execution, who was only well regarded in his time because he was a level above the usual Golden Age artist, most of whom were terrible. This book falls in line with that assessment, as the layouts/storytelling are good, but faces change from panel to panel, legs and arms are often out of proportion or positioned oddly and the overall effect is uniform blandness.

Jet Powers is a particularly uninspired lead character, essentially Captain Midnight without the goofy sidekick. Oh wait, he gets a sidekick, a generic, cliched Oriental beauty of the 1950s vein, whose change in loyalties from her evil father to the heroic good guy is such a cliche that Powell doesn't even bother to depict it. She's his murderous prisoner in issue #1, then his wiling assistant in issue #2.

There are some oddities about Jet that should be mentioned, mainly that his hair style is an odd one, a cross between a crew cut and Norman Osborne. And it's entirely white. This odd look reminded me of nothing so much as Steve Ditko's first take on Captain Atom 10 years later. In addition, Jet wears a blue shirt with an atom symbol on it -- which, again, appears on Captain Atom 10 years later. Have I caught Steve Ditko in a swipe?

Anyway, I only read halfway through my digital review copy of Jet Powers, because it was so boring. Maybe I should amend my slogan from "not every old comic book needs reprinting" to "a notch above terrible isn't good."

Jeff of Earth-J said:

I’m going to have to disagree with your assessment of this one, Cap, although it’s going to end up being a case of “horseraces.” The stories may be somewhat bland by today’s standards (or even by the standards of the day), but it presents a time capsule of the era, both in terms of comic books and American pop culture. I also find it interesting that the original concept lasted only four issues (Jet Powers #1-4), then they completely revamped the title (The American Air Forces) and direction of the series, yet used essentially the same main character! I wonder what fans of the day made of that?

Interestingly, Steve Rude’s introduction discusses only the first four issues, although the essay by James Vance and John Wooley discusses the entire series and gives it more of an historical context. Did the preview you read online include the editorial material? One advantage Jet Powers has over, say, the Crime Does Not Pay archive series is, one volume and you’re done! You now have the complete set! I’m not trying to talk you into buying it. If you’ve read more than the first story you’ve read more than I have. I just wanted to present an alternate view from a kind of historical perspective.

And, yes, I think Steve Ditko’s Captain Atom is quite similar to the earlier Jet Powers.

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