ComicsAlliance reviews the biggest, best, and most interesting comics that hit the shelves this week. SPOILERS FOLLOW.
THIS CHILDREN'S BOOK CONTAINS GRAPHIC LANGUAGE AND IS ENTIRELY INAPPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN. AND AWESOME FOR EVERYONE ELSE - The Unwritten 12
Mike Carey and Peter Gross' series "The Unwritten" has, over the course of its eleven issue run so far, created one of the most fascinating ongoing narratives in comics right now. Ten of those issues have been involved with the main plotline, Tom Taylor's quest to discover his own past and the mysterious legacy left by his vanished father. In the book's fifth issue the series broke off from the primary story and told a one-shot tale focusing on Rudyard Kipling and his connection to the global conspiracy involving great books and writers.
That issue was recently nominated for an Eisner for Best Single Issue, and justifiably so. Which means that this week's twelfth issue, the title's second one-shot, has a lot to live up to. And while it may not achieve the intellectual and emotional heights of the Rudyard Kipling tale, it's no easy feat to accurately describe how much I loved this story.
"The Unwritten" #12 is a one-shot taking place in a children's book world of anthropomorphic, good-natured talking animals, not unlike the Hundred Acre Wood of A.A. Milne's "Winnie the Pooh" or the works of Beatrix Potter. With the notable difference that one of the characters walks around dropping f-bombs like a mobster in a Scorsese film. The reason quickly becomes apparent: Mr. Bun is not merely Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh, finally losing it after an eternity living in a community where everyone else has some sort of mental condition they're unwilling to acknowledge. He's actually a man who once attempted to steal something from the author Wilson Taylor and was trapped in this world by Taylor when the theft failed.
Now he's trying to escape but is met with repeated obstacles. First there's a narrator bent on making sure everything in the Willowbank Wood remains happy and peaceful, as intended, no matter what Mr. Bun tries to do to change that. And second the forest's friendly denizens themselves, who want to be helpful but seem concerned by Mr. Bun's often violent, foul-mouthed behavior. With the result being scenes that will probably be the closest the world ever comes to watching an intervention led by Piglet and Winnie the Pooh. Eventually Mr. Bun decides to stop trying to escape and instead confronts the author's avatar within the world, a young girl who watches over the woods and the animals. And their encounter becomes an examination of the nature of children's stories, one that adds a thoughtful finish to a thoroughly entertaining story.
Special mention should be made to the book's regular artist, Peter Gross, and to Kurt Huggins and Zelda Devon, who did finishes and colors on this issue. For this story to work, it needs to mimic the appearance of a children's book to make the stark contrast of Mr. Bun's actions and dialogue have the required impact. And the art team pulled it all off perfectly. If you're still not reading "The Unwritten", this is yet another good reason to start. And even if you have no intention of ever reading the series, you may find this one a hilarious, blasphemous trip through sacred childhood texts that works almost as well without any sort of context. BALD OFF - Cold Space 1 / Pantheon 1
This week two big names from Hollywood, both known for tough guy action roles and smooth, aerodynamic head profiles, stepped into the world of comics with premiere issues of new series they've created. Outspoken fan Samuel L. Jackson makes his first self-written appearance in comics with "Cold Space" from BOOM, while Michael Chiklis has "Pantheon" from IDW. Given the rather interesting similarities between the two books, I've decided to pit them against one another, Nick Fury vs. The Thing, Mace Windu vs. Vic Mackey, John Shaft vs. The Commish, until only one book is left, for lack of a better word, victorious. Premise:
"Cold Space" tells the story of a hot-shot space smuggler who crash lands on a sparsely populated, lawless planet. "Pantheon" is about a near future where generic bad environment/energy stuff has happened, which has either made God-like beings upset or they're upset anyway or something like that. It also has smuggling but it's not in space and therefore less cool.
"Cold Space" is credited as being written and created by Samuel L. Jackson and Eric Calderon. Calderon is a veteran of the animation industry who's previously worked with Jackson on the series "Afro Samurai." "Pantheon is credited as being created by Michael Chiklis with Anny Simon Beck and Marc Andreyko and written by Marc Andreyko. Andreyko's perhaps best known for his run on "Manhunter" and his work on the miniseries "Torso" with Brian Michael Bendis.
Stephen Molnar's art for "Pantheon" has a simple but effective look to it with a muted color scheme by Moose Baumann. For "Cold Space", Jeremy Rock's called upon to provide a variety of settings and costumes and keeps them varied, for the most part. Action scenes tend to rely on manga-style speed-line backgrounds, which I'm not big on, but overall "Cold Space" has a more distinctive feel to it, and its artwork drew me into the world more than was the case with "Pantheon."
"Cold Space" stars Mulberry, ace intergalactic smuggler who bears a striking resemblance to a certain man who once memorably demanded a certain Oedipally-accomplished group of reptiles exit his certain airborne method of transportation. What's somewhat surprising is that, despite the resemblance to Jackson, Mulberry doesn't behave in the sort of intense, over-the-top action hero manner I'd expected him to. Mulberry only yells angrily once, and it's at a computer, not a human being. He keeps a cool head in most of his fight scenes and avoids combat if he can help it. That's not what I thought I'd be getting with Mr. Jackson's comic book stand in, and I was a little disappointed, to be honest.
As for Chiklis? He's Zeus. The Greek God and lord of Mt. Olympus, not the character Jackson played in "Die Hard with a Vengeance." He doesn't appear much, but when he finally makes an introduction on the last page his line is "I have been known by many names over the years. But you can simply call me . . . Zeus!" Which he says with electric blue eyeballs shooting out lightning. What's additionally odd about the image is that Zeus' disinterested posture and frown convey exactly the opposite attitude of the pause followed by large text with exclamation point that announces his name. Oh, and on the next page there's a teaser of next month's cover, which features a photorealistic musclebound Chiklis shooting lightning from his hands.
"Cold Space" follows Mulberry as he evades capture by space police only to have to ditch his illegal space cargo and carry out an emergency space landing on a mostly uninhabited world, where he and his ship are promptly picked up for salvage by a gang that look like the bad guys from "Mad Max", if they got all dressed up to go clubbing before getting on their Akira motorcycles. The last third of the book sets up what looks to be the plot of Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo"/Sergio Leone's "A Fistful of Dollars"/Walter Hill's "Last Man Standing", but (say it with me) in space. There are two rival gangs, one under the command of Mario, who runs the local saloon & casino, the other following GK, who runs the town's restaurant & sex simulator. The book's not clear on the technical details of how that works, and I'm just hoping for the sake of cleanliness those two things aren't simultaneous. If I had to guess about where the plot's headed, I'd say it's likely Mulberry will end up playing both sides against each other before walking away with a high body count and a tidy profit. And, to be honest, I won't say that couldn't make a good story.
"Pantheon" is somewhat more complex. It's the near future. We're out of oil. But we found some under ancient monuments in Greece. So we're going to drill there. But someone's unhappy so they blow it all up. Meanwhile outside Miami, which is underwater now for some reason, a boat full of people is about to dive into the ruins to salvage priceless artifacts. Because we moved a bunch of those to Miami before it sank, I guess. Only the government stops them from doing that for some reason. Using guns. But the young guy who wasn't in it for the money survives, only to be double-crossed by the sexy girl in a bikini who's also an undercover government agent. Oh, also the site that blew up in Greece blows up again when the people investigating the explosion find an ancient carved box that promptly explodes and shoots magic lights of destiny around the world. Which may be why young guy meets Zeus, who saves him after he's bitten by a shark. This is all exactly as unnecessarily confusing as it sounds. I would have thought, going in, that Andreyko's involvement in this book would have resulted in a more structurally sound story than "Cold Space", but, solely based on the respective first issues, this is emphatically not the case.
So who wins? To be honest, you do, but only if you choose to buy neither of these books. If I had to pick one that shows more potential at this point, I'd go with "Cold Space", if only because, as mentioned above, it seems to be headed towards imitating an oft-repeated story I'm fond of. Of the two, "Cold Space" isn't by any means terrible, but neither is it particularly noteworthy or entertaining. Sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised by a book with a celebrity on the creative team. But that's not the case here. STILL REHABILITATING THE VAMPIRE'S IMAGE - Chew 10 and Fevre Dream 1
Vampires, while popular, are not at a high point in our culture as far as respect goes. If a pallid, fanged creature of the night were to suddenly appear on a network news broadcast, rip the anchor's throat out and drain them of their blood in front of a live television audience, the most likely reactions would be one of two possibilities. First, jokes about sparkling. And second, an outpouring of support from teenaged girls, most of whom would hold the opinion that if only someone (them) were to show the monster true love, he would change.
Admittedly there are two problems with that scenario. First, there is no such thing as vampires. Second, no one, least of all teenaged girls, pays attention to network news broadcasts anymore. But the problem remains. What were once supposed to be figures that elicited deep, soul-wrenching horror about our own fears of death and decay have become melancholy anti-heroes most commonly dwelling in romances so hackneyed and devoid of human emotion they may as well have been written by George Lucas. Reclaiming the vampire as a creature to be taken seriously is likely to be a continuing project, made somewhat easier thanks to the fact that publishers are jumping at the opportunity to publish books to capitalize on the vampire craze of the moment.
The first of two big name vampire books this week is "George R. R. Martin's Fevre Dream" published by Avatar, with art by Rafa Lopez. Martin's best known for his "Song of Ice and Fire" series of fantasy novels, soon to be a major television series on HBO. Martin doing a vampire book sounds exciting, although it's somewhat less thrilling when it's pointed out that this series is actually based on an old novel that was originally published in 1982 and that has been converted into a comic book by Daniel Abraham, a writer who's frequently worked with Martin in the past. Add in the fact that the series takes place on the Mississippi River near New Orleans in the 19th Century and the book takes on a decidedly Anne Rice-esque quality to it.
Lopez's art certainly favors the pretty vampires over scary vampires style of depiction. But there are some nice touches. I kind of get a kick out of the "how often can we hint the characters are vampires without saying it outright" style of storytelling. Animals get scared when characters show up? Check. Lead who likes wearing a flowing black coat with red interior trim? Check. Side characters speaking in ancient indecipherable tongue? Check. And constant ominous drinking of viscous red beverages in wine glasses? That's a major check. So while admittedly I'm chuckling a little at this one, it does build an ominous tone as it introduces its two rival factions, one who's certainly monstrous and the other whose motivations remain unstated.
Interestingly, what may be the scariest vampire to appear in comics this week isn't a vampire at all. And he shows up in a book more known for its sense of humor. John Layman and Rob Guillory's "Chew" finally gives readers a good look at a villain who's been merely hinted at before. We've already seen two cibopaths in the series, people with the ability to learn the history of any organic matter simply by eating it. And both Tony Chu and Mason Savoy used their abilities reluctantly. Not so much the case with the newest cibopath to be introduced, a man who plays up the vampire image by filing his teeth into fangs and wearing black suits with splashes of red. He also has no qualms about killing and eating people in order to steal their memories and skills.
It's an entertaining twist on what makes the vampire as a predator of both a person's physical body and their essence, neatly fitted into the already enjoyable world created in "Chew". That the villain admittedly plays up the image himself, creating doubt as to whether he truly is a vampire, is another nice touch. The rest of the issue, which concludes the "International Flavor" arc and sees Tony starts to develop something with love interest Amelia Mintz, is the kind of reliable fun I've come to expect from the series. As the title's second arc comes to a close, I'm once more excited to see where it'll go next. OH, AND ALSO . . .
And while "Atomic Robo and the Revenge of the Vampire Dimension" #2 came out this week, that's not really a fair inclusion in the vampire discussion, as it doesn't actually involve any vampires. That's the official title for the book's fourth volume, although since this series is a collection of one-shots it only applies to the content of the previous issue. Which shouldn't stop you from picking up this week's edition, a giant-monster and Power Ranger look-a-like filled trip through Tokyo, complete with all the damage to real estate you'd expect from that combination. The title once again delivers a lot of laughs in a great one-shot.