cowboys (2)

By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


The Teetering Tower of Review Stuff is perilously high, so let’s bang through some of it:


12134133274?profile=original* I usually enjoy DC’s “Vertigo Crime” line of mature-reader graphic novels, but the latest needed some tighter editing. Cowboys ($19.99) features two different levels of law enforcement infiltrating the same criminal organization, a street cop from the white-collar side down, and an FBI agent from the street-level side up. Neither is aware of the other, and lethal mistakes are inevitable. That’s a pretty good concept for a noir-ish crime mystery, but author Gary Phillips takes waaaay too long setting it up, and since both cops are wife-cheating, smart-mouth jerks, and all the supporting characters are equally venal and unlikeable, and the criminals are the worst kind of scum, it’s hard to care what happens to any of these people. Fortunately, the art by Brian Hurtt is no-frills, crystal-clear storytelling, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of it.


12134133875?profile=original* Archaia’s Okko is about a band of demon hunters in a fictional place very much like Edo-era Japan called “Pajan” where the supernatural is very real. It’s a sort of cross between a samurai epic and Dungeons & Dragons, with our little team consisting of a ronin swordmaster; a drunken, magic-using cleric; a mysterious, seven-foot warrior who never removes his demon mask; and the cleric’s teenage disciple, who serves as the reader’s POV, narrating the stories from his old age. In the latest collection (Okko Vol. 3: The Cycle of Air, $19.95), our glum little group fights another demon-hunter who is virtually unbeatable for reasons I won’t disclose. It’s inventive and fun, although writer/artist Hub could be a bit more forthcoming with exposition; for example, it took three volumes for me to figure out that the gang was fighting supernatural agents on purpose! Also, the artwork – while very intricate, plausible and faithful to the historical era, is over-colored and very, very dark. So dark that my over-50 eyes struggled with the immense amount of detail, and I have to take the word of other critics that it’s as good as they say it is.


12134134479?profile=original* The “Hardy Boys: The New Case Files” series by Papercutz is meant for readers much younger than me, and yet I’m enjoying it probably more than I should. Full credit goes to author Gerry Conway, who has spent decades scribing comics and television. Conway’s as good as they come, and has a light touch that never lets the reader see the little man behind the curtain. The latest book, Break Up! ($6.99), is a case in point; friction between Joe and Frank has been skillfully foreshadowed, and you fully expect the boys to end their famous team. But Conway maintains suspense by keeping all his balls in the air, until the story seems to find an organic but unforeseen conclusion. I wish comics written for adults were this good.


12134135286?profile=original* Abrams ComicArts’ Empire State ($17.95) is subtitled A Love Story (or Not), and that pretty much sums it up. It’s the story of a mismatched pair of friends in Oakland, Calif., who both journey, for different reasons, to New York City. First it’s the boy, an unsophisticated but good-hearted dimbulb who tries out for a Google job he is grossly underqualified for; then it’s the girl, a chubby, intelligent, prickly, Jewish girl who moves to “the modern Rome” because she fits in better there. The boy, deciding he’s in love with what had been his best friend, again travels to New York, where the yawning chasm between the pair’s intellect, ambitions and values is thrown in high relief. Drawn in a cartoony style by writer/artist Jason Shiga, the storytelling is excellent and easy to follow, although Shiga alternates coloring everything in shades of red or shades of blue for no reason I can figure out. Perhaps I just didn’t care to figure it out; the ending seemed telegraphed to me from the first, and I found the journey to that expected conclusion to be rather dull. I did find the art interesting, and I bet readers of a more romantic bent will really dig Empire State. It’s good work, just not my thing.


12134136100?profile=originalI’ve already reviewed the second volume of Vanguard’s Frank Frazetta library, but I just received the first, and it’s worth a mention. But only a mention, as poster Jeff Plackemeier said all that needs to be said about The Complete Johnny Comet ($49.95) on my website. Let me just direct you there.


Photos, from top:
1. Cowboys is the latest mature-readers graphic novel DC's "Vertigo Crime" series. Courtesy DC Comics
2. Okko Vol. 3: The Cycle of Air is the third collection of the series combining samurai epic with the supernatural. Courtesy Archaia
3. Hardy Boys: The New Case Files: Break-Up! is a clever little story keeping the title's meaning a mystery until the end. Courtesy Papercutz
4. Empire State features a would-be lover and a disinterested second party. Courtesy Abrams ComicArts
5. The Complete Johnny Comet" collects the failed newspaper strip by the legendary Frank Frazetta from the 1950s. Courtesy Vanguard Productions


Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at

Read more…

By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


'Cowboys & Aliens' movie lifts graphic novel's high concept


Another comic-book concept makes its movie premiere July 29: Cowboys & Aliens. And therein hangs a tale.


12134110490?profile=originalCowboys & Aliens debuted as a standalone graphic novel from Platinum Studios in 2006 by writers Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley, penciller Luciano Lima and a host of inkers. The story involved an expansionist alien species crash-landing in 1870s Arizona and annexing it while building a transmitter to contact their fleet to finish the job. Apache warriors, gunslingers and pioneer settlers joined forces to battle them, stealing alien equipment where they could to equal the odds.


While the thrust of the story was action, action, action, there was some social commentary too. One gunslinger remarked that the aliens had no right to conquer our turf just because they had better weapons, which resulted in a sheepish “Oh” after a stern look from the Native Americans. The “all men are brothers” theme was underscored by some cross-racial romance, as a gunslinger and a (female) alien science officer fell in love, as did a (white) female gunslinger and an Apache warrior.


None of which seems to apply to Cowboys & Aliens the movie. Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde, the film seems to take very little from the graphic novel except the name and the high concept.


But what a concept it is! It’s almost impossible to look at the GN cover, the movie posters or movie trailers and not have a thrill of anticipation. A cowboy shooting at a UFO with a sixgun? That begs the who, what, why and how response.


Which answers in part this question I hear a lot: How come Hollywood has come to rely so much on comic books as their source material? This is especially remarkable when you consider how comics were once fiercely snubbed by pop culture in general, especially the much-maligned superhero genre. For this 40-year comics reader, it’s a 180-degree turn from my youth, when I had to hide comics to avoid getting beaten up.


So what’s changed? A recent “Simpsons” episode depicted Bart explaining, “Hollywood has run dry of ideas.” While that may be partly true, I think some other things are going on here:


  • Comics have really grown up. And I’m not just talking about more sophisticated themes in superhero comics (which are also on display in the X-Men and Spider-Man movies). What I mean are terrific non-superhero comics that have been turned into occasionally terrific movies like 300, Constantine, Kick-Ass, Ghost World, Hellboy, A History of Violence, The Mask, Priest, Men in Black, Red, Road to Perdition, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Sin City, V for Vendetta, Wanted and many more. Regardless of their medium of origin, these are just good stories.
  • Movie F/X have caught up to comics. It used to be that if you wanted to see an exploding sun or a plausible space ship, you’d read a comic book (or a science fiction book and imagine it). Now the movies can do it – which means they can finally do comic books and science fiction right.
  • Comics concepts come pre-vetted. If you’re writing a Batman movie, for example, you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. The Dark Knight has appeared in hundreds of thousands of stories over more than 70 years, and has had hundreds, if not thousands, of writers. That means all the mistakes have been made; those authors have found what works and what doesn’t, and have discarded the dross. They’ve already done the focus groups, involving millions of readers over decades. If a concept is still in a long-running comic book, that means it’s popular and it works and movie writers should use it. No thinking required.
  • Comics are basically movie storyboards. Comics do all the work for a director. The pacing, camera angles and storytelling have all been thought out in advance.


Movies that ignore these lessons do so at their peril. When you compare a list of the worst comic-book movies with a list of comic-book movies where the writers jettisoned or fundamentally altered the existing mythos, many names appear on both. (See: Catwoman, Elektra, Jonah Hex, etc.)


That deviation from source material is happening with Cowboys & Aliens, but here we’re talking about a single graphic novel, one which was a a fairly pedestrian take on what is clearly a cool concept. This time, the movie-makers might be right to start over.


And, honestly: Cowboys shooting at UFOs! How can you go wrong?


 Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at

Read more…

Blog Topics by Tags

Monthly Archives