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Thoughts From The Land of Frost:
Review Mania By Alexander Ness
Welcome to my column.
This edition is a special one of sorts. I am writing close to a double-length column with a specific purpose: give the readers of this column enough reviews so that they might go to their store, search the shelves and internet and then buy all that their dollar can purchase. Then find and free as much time, turn off the war news, find the most comfortable spot in the abode, choose a beverage served cold or hot, and read. This column is almost entirely of reviews. But first some commentary and a bit of news.
First the commentary, as I would like to respond quickly to something some sent via e-mail that folks have an issue with. There are some people who disagree with reviewers without even reading the reviews. They believe reviewers can just go to hell for saying bad things about their favorites. Point one of their disagreement is that you cannot quantify taste. Second is that your taste is yours and mine is mine. They believe critics and reviewers are fools for trying to say what is good or not.
Now I do not disagree that some reviewers have read or watched so much that they lose touch with the typical person reading comics or watching films. Or worse, that they read only what they already enjoy and give good grades to their favorites, and give bad grades to works outside of their tastes. And I know that some people think that there is a distinct difference between works of criticism and works of talent:
"Some have at first for wits, then poets passed, Turned critics next, and proved plain fools at last." Alexander Pope 1688-1744
It is my hope that in giving out grades and reviews, brief or exhaustive, that I am helping people find good works. I do not have any agenda save one, I want the readers of this column to find works that match their taste and enhance their enjoyment of that.
And briefly, some news: Antarctic Press and ONI Press joins the review process here and I say thanks to them for coming aboard. And now readers, to the reviews...
DARK BLUE TPB by Warren Ellis & Jacen Burrrows. Published by AVATAR Press, www.avatarpress.com, $8.95, duo tone.
There is a specific place, a template if you will according to a researcher, that all people go to when high upon a certain hallucinogenic drugs. Using this research as a foundation, Warren Ellis has created a story that is an amazing an intricate web of how the human mind works and how duty and honor are values that continue deep into our psyche even unto our unconscious state.
An officer of the law is faced with a criminal mastermind who is possessed of powers that allow that criminal to escape the consequences of his many crimes. The officer pursues him unto the shattering of his reality. Waking up in a hospital bed his reality is found to be absolutely untrue.
Going further would reveal too much, but this story worked very well for me. It is reminiscent of the movie series set to release two sequels (The Matrix) this year, but I am convinced that this is work is independent of influence from that film. In any event this was story that works in every regard. Read it.
Artist Jacen Burrows is at his best in this work, I enjoyed his work very much. Writer Warren Ellis, as always, delivers.
DARK BLUE SCRIPT BOOK by Warren Ellis & Jacen Burrows. Published by AVATAR Press, $6.95, duo tone.
A script book is generally useful to get insight into the writer's mind's eye or to see how an artist interpreted the writer's directions. In this specific case Warren Ellis is able to tell his story in the unillustrated medium of the typed word. That his writing is so able to express the story tends to show that with the best writers the comic book is less a collaborative process so much as it is a directorial project.
I am very content that this is a worthwhile product to purchase, but for the cost I would say buy one or the other rather than both.
STRANGE KILLINGS TPB (volume 1) by Warren Ellis & Mike Wolfer. Published by AVATAR Press, $9.95, duo tone.
Sergeant Major William Gravel is called in to quell an unusual uprising at Wessex Prison in the UK. He is being called in after the SAS, a very elite military force has been stopped by the prisoners and whoever else is within the prison.
A most evil sorcery has taken hold of the prison and the bodies and minds of the prisoners. Only Gravel has the knowledge of battle and sorcery to fight the fight.
I "enjoyed" this work as gritty and violent as it was. I am not a person to frown upon display of necessary violence but this was pretty damn intense.
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MOONSTONE BOOKS' THE PHANTOM
THE GHOST KILLER By Ben Raab & Fernando Blanco $5.95. THE SINGH WEB By Ben Raab & Fernando Blanco $6.95. THE TREASURES OF BANGALLA (although the indicia says the title is Bangalla the cover spells it BAGALLA) By Ron Goulart, Mike Collins & Art Nichols $6.95. All have painted covers by Joel Naprstek. Published by MOONSTONE BOOKS, www.moonstonebooks.com, color.
Since the 1930's the Ghost who walks, the Phantom as created by Lee Falk, has inhabited the fictional jungles of the nation of Bangalla. The Phantom is a descendant of a man who as a child was sent alone into the sea after the ship carrying him was set upon by pirates. And though he washed ashore alone in a strange fierce land he was taken in by the native people, taught the ancient beliefs and trained in ancient arts. When the first Phantom died he was replaced by his son, and he by his son, and so on. 400 or more years later Kit Walker walks the path of the Phantom and his descendants.
I am not able to be totally unbiased here. I love the Phantom. When done well I think this character kicks butt.
THE GHOST KILLER
A UN Disarmament official is using his connections with arms dealers to arm revolutions rather than disarm them. The Phantom is hunting down the trail of arms smugglers when the UN official and an associate attempt to have the Phantom assassinated to cover their tracks. The deadly assassin sent to kill the Phantom is as ruthless as she is beautiful.
The dialogue in this work was quite good, while the plot was somewhat less ably depicted. The major asset here is the art. Both in regard to the action, the beautiful women, and the major characters this is a wonderful looking story.
THE SINGH WEB
An ancient golden box said to release the power of the nether realms to a blood relative of the original leader of the Singh Brotherhood is found by a group of archeological explorers. They're first betrayed, then assaulted and lose the box. The Singh are the Phantom's chief antagonist and based upon the nature of the artifact and the reports from the explorers he pursues the Singh. A martial artist intervenes and the Phantom gains a new ally.
The writing here is really good, and I really enjoyed how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. With the art being only slightly less successful, I recommend this book highly.
THE TREASURES OF BANGALLA
The story sees the Phantom and love Diana Walker intertwined in a web of antiquity theft, kidnappings and brain washings. A reporter is also involved. The Phantom hunts both the thieves of Bangalla national treasures and the kidnapper of his wife and her friend.
The writing in this work is just OK. I did not hear the characters speaking in their respective voices. Somewhat worse was the art which I did not think depicted the characters in a manner in which they were recognizable. This is regrettable as both Mike Collins and Art Nichols are good artists. The work looks very rushed.
Finally, the covers in this series are awesome and deserve special attention. If these weren't books contributed to my column for review I would have bought them solely for the Pulp homage covers.
POWERS #20-29, By Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming. Published by IMAGE Comics, www.imagecomics.com, $2.95, color.
Bring back a recently resigned detective, stir in a sexual dynamic, and have those characters attempt to solve a murder mystery involving costumed super powered individuals known to the police and government as the POWERS. The mix of Super hero and crime noir make this work unique and deserving of attention.
The police team of Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim are called to join together again to investigate the new spree of anti-Powers murders, with the gang of murderers using a calling card signature of red spray painting the name KAOTIC CHIC somewhere near the death scene following their murders. The investigation leads to a realization that a perceived failure of society is now responsible for the attack upon the POWERS. The underground movement seeks to return people to a sense of self agency and to stop relying upon powered individuals to police the city.
Following this, a tawdry sex tape bursts upon the media and brings attention to a former Power who has raped and abused his youthful sidekick. The investigators are watching the media/press sprawl of information when news comes in that the rapist/abuser has just been murdered, and it was also captured upon tape. Oh and did I mention a Nuclear weapon goes off in Utah and the Pope has been assassinated.
As a fellow who has interviewed Mike Oeming, twice, it should come as no surprise that I am a great fan of the artwork in this book. The writing by Brian Bendis is enormously effective. It is adult in content, but I am 39 years old. This work should be upon your buy list.
THE RESISTANCE #1-7, By Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Juan Santacruz. Published by Wildstorm/DC Comics, www.wildstorm.com, $2.95, color.
This work is good, really good. And its been canceled. Now if you are familiar with the humor of Yakov Smirnof you might see a similar theme. As a new immigrant to America he found himself angered by American advertisements. They said "BIG SALE LAST WEEK." Now, he said, I just found out that I missed the sale, but worse they are rubbing it in.
The RESISTANCE is a futuristic dystopia themed book with crisp intelligent writing and superior art. For a theme think SOYLENT GREEN meets BLADE RUNNER or perhaps LOGANĆS RUN. The main characters are attempting to turn the controlling power's overarching and controlling hand.
Buy the back issues if you can. Perhaps it'll someday be returned to, or not. Sigh. BIG SALE LAST WEEK. Indeed.
21 DOWN #1-7 by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Jesus Saiz. Published by WILDSTORM/DC, $2.95, color.
This book has an intriguing premise. Due to an intervention by a mysterious figure known as Herod a number of youths acquire super or other unnatural powers. Most use their powers with no sense of restraint but are unaware that at age 21 they die.
This work follows a main character who has the power of viewing another person's death, impending or in the past via touching their skin. He uses his power to help the police solve crimes. A rogue FBI agent seeks to use those empowered for a seemingly obscure reason. In the process they solve a series of murders.
I have some regrets here. The work has a X-Files feel and an intelligent premise. The art is professional and the plot solid. But I did not enjoy the story much and worse, the dialogue was rather thick. Regrets aside, I do recommend this work as I suspect some of my problems are more about style of delivery than anything of substance.
Score: 2.5 /4
PENNY FARTHING PRESS
ZENDRA 1.0 COLLOCATION $17.95 TPB ZENDRA 2.0 HEART OF FIRE $24.95 TPB Written by Stuart Moore with art by Martin Montiel and JC Buelna. Published by Penny Farthing Press, www.pfpress.com, color.
This is a work that follows the actions and events in the life of a being, a woman called HALLE , that is a genetic mix of the believed to be extinct human race's DNA and that of the Alien race of the Maker. The need for the DNA creation and mix came about due to the wars with a warrior race (of the Jekkaran Empire) that wiped out humankind, and many of the sentient races of three galaxies.
But on the legendary planet of Zendra the very last remnants of human-kind are rumored to exist. But do they? And are they the key to survival for those races opposing the Jekkaran Empire? ZENDRA 1.0 follows the quest of HALLE to find Zendra and its secrets, and her journey from a child's mind to that of an adult and mature understanding of her existence. ZENDRA 2.0 is the completion of one quest and legendary task of sorts, while it prepares the heroine for the next step in the defense of the galaxy.
This work is good. The art is attractive and the production standards are impressive. The writing is good with believable dialogue. The setting of the stage for the epic quest is very well done.
There are some issues I have: similarities this work shares with a certain CrossGen title, SIGIL, in the appearance of aliens and for the concepts of the Jekkaran Empire. However I do not know which company came upon these images and ideas first, and there are many differences between the two to make this only a small quibble (an inconsequential quibble at that.)
All comic publishers and creative talent are welcome to submit items to be reviewed. Send items for review, to:
Alexander Ness Land of Frost Box 142 Rockford MN 55373-0142
We are at war, and I am rather reluctant here to make any politically oriented comments regarding it. But I will say, that if you are horrified by the tragic losses of life, do something. Give blood, give time or give of anything you have to alleviate someone else's pain.