Coming Attractions: Elektra Luxx

7 Mar

Sometimes you see a trailer for a film you’ve never heard of.  You’ll be surfing the web watching random videos or seeing what actors you like are up… and then you spot something that looks interesting.  So you give it a watch… and are floored.   Elektra Luxx is small movie that seems to have come out of nowhere and stars  a cast of superb actors that have been in some really big films lately and appear to have stopped by to guest in this one.  Carla Gugino, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Timothy Olyphant, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Malin Akerman headline what looks to be a very smart  comedy about life after the fame of pornography.  The trailer is tight and delivers laughs and spotlight moments for the actors without seemingly giving too much of the overall plot away.  There’s an atmosphere of classic Hollywood romance romps here (albeit with a more adult subject matter than The Apartment, etc) and there appears to be potential for Gugino to finally have a headlining role that shows her talents to a wider audience.

Synopsis: Recently retired from the adult film industry, superstar Elektra Luxx (Carla Gugino) is pregnant with the child of late rock star Nick Chapel. She is trying to make ends meet by teaching a community college sex education class aimed at housewives when a figure from her past, flight attendant Cora (Marley Shelton), approaches her with a proposition. In exchange for the (stolen) lyrics to Nick Chapel’s last record, all of which is about Elektra, Cora needs Elektra to seduce her fiancée. Elektra reluctantly agrees to do this favor, setting in motion a series of hilarious events which will see her come face to face with detectives, sex bloggers, emotionally unstable neighbors and the Virgin Mary herself as she wrestles with the prospect of motherhood and tries to become a person of substance.

Release Date:  March 11, 2011 (limited)

Why I’ll Miss Vertigo Crime

6 Mar

A long time ago, on spinner racks far, far away, there was a place where thin, musty paperback novels were a haven for people looking for a great detective noir story.  This genre of novel was known as “pulp fiction” and has since become extinct in literature unless you happen upon a mildew-smelling bookstore in a small midwestern town that has a great “five for a $1″ sale going on.

That all changed when Vertigo, DC Comics mature readers imprint, created their Vertigo Crime line.  Published in black and white, digest sized hardcover formats, Vertigo Crime’s mission was to tell great noir stories with some of the best writers in fiction and comics paired with fresh artistic talent.  While not every book was a masterpiece, even the worst of the line was a still a great graphic novel and showed that there was still room for the line to work out what worked and what didn’t.  Unfortunately the management shake-up that DC Comics went through last year has officially killed any expansion of this line and there are about a handful of titles that will be released in 2011 before the line is officially canceled. I’d like to highlight my favorite five books in the line as well as give some press to the last three books being released this year that I hope people will give a chance if for no other reason than their quality can hope to be as great as those featured here.

Filthy Rich:  If there’s anyone at Vertigo that deserves to spearhead this line, it’s Brian Azzarello.  After making a name for himself through his now classic 100 Bullets, Azzarello has established himself as a true voice in the genre of crime.  This particular book is almost like a highlight reel of his work: A flawed, failed anti-hero seduced by the promise of money and a gorgeous woman, wrapped up in a scheme that he couldn’t see coming… even the art by newcomer Victor Santos emulates Azzarello’s old partner, Eduardo Rios from his 100 Bullets days. Richard “Junk” Junkin goes from washed up football player to used car salesman to bodyguard and patsy all in the name of back-stabbing noir excellence A solid start to the line and a great done-in-one for fans of the genre.

The Bronx Kill:  Sometimes the search for the truth is the best motivatoin for a protagonist.  It’s a pure and eternal quest and in Peter Milligan’s entry in the Vertigo Crime line, The Bronx Kill, our protagonist, author Martin Keane, just wants to know what happened to his wife and why no one believes that he’s innocent in her disappearence.  What he ends up discovering will be more than the answers he’s prepared for. Milligan uses many tactics to get you to doubt the veracity of Martin’s cause just as he has trouble proving it to others and also utilizes a very neat framing device of using actual marked-up pages of Martin’s manuscript about his family’s life mixed in throughout the narrative.  Being a veteran of many Vertigo and Marvel comics including HellblazerX-Statix, and Shade the Changing Man, Milligan is aided in this genuine mystery story by James Romberger who adds simple but haunting visuals to a page-turning tale.

Noche Roja:  Sometimes the best character for a crime story is the classic one: the washed up private investigator with a drinking problem.  It’s a go-to character for a reason.  In this south-of-the-border tale of murder and corruption, Jack Cohen is hired to track down a killer who is targeting factory girls in Mexico.  As he digs deeper into the case not only does he discover a personal connection to the killings but also a chance to redeem himself for the sins of his past.  Written by Ben Oliver who also penned the acclaimed Exterminators title for Vertigo as well as Gen 13 for Wildstorm and drawn by Jason Latour of the Image Comics The Expatirate and Scalped from Vertigo, Noche Roja is a solid story that lets its protagonist be more than just a cliche and elevates a simple detective story to a brutal action-packed climax.

Area 10:  One of the slightly sci-fi tinged entries in the line, Area 10 tells the story of Adam Kamen, an NYPD detective tracking the serial killer “Henry the Eighth” who is decapitating his victims for unknown reasons.  When Kamen is attacked and suffers an injury to his brain, he’s suddenly able to see another side to the killings and the investigation thanks to newly revealed sensory abilities.  The book is masterfully drawn by Chris Samnee (Thor the Mighty Avenger, Ultimate Spider-Man) and written by veteren Law & Order author Christos Gage (also the writer of Avengers Academy from Marvel) and manages to make you not only be drawn into the story but also doubt the innocence of the protagonist.  One of the best of the line due to its combination of suspense and twists.

The Rat Catcher:  Currently my favorite of the Vertigo Crime books.  Writer Andy Diggle (The Losers, Daredevil) sets up the pieces of a masterful suspense story packed with action as a washed-up FBI agent hunts down the urban legend of the FBI: The Rat Catcher.  This assassin has been a thorn in the side of the FBI for years, killing their best informants no matter how much security they’re under.  The story unfolds with pitch perfect precision as Diggle makes you zig zag through the plot and constantly second guess the motives of the characters.  Aiding him is Victor Ibanez who I hope gets more stateside work soon.  Ibanez’s character design and layouts are extremely fluid and detailed while not going overboard.  He and Diggle manage to craft what has been the best example of how good the Vertigo Crime books could have been and remains my number one recommended of the line.

Before the line ends with a whimper, the following three books will be released. I’ve included their solicitation text and covers.  I hope you’ll pick them and any of the other titles up because even if I didn’t list FogtownA Sickness in the FamilyDark Entries,The Chill, and The Executor here, they’re all great books.

99 Days:

Written by Matteo Casali; Art by Kristian Donaldson

99 Days is the story of Antoine Boshoso Davis, who is living the dream as a rookie homicide detective for the LAPD. But 12 years ago he was living a nightmare. As a young Hutu in Rwanda, Antoine was forced to become a child soldier with the rebel Hutu militia.Like so many others he was caught up in the slaughter of a country gone insane – murdering scores of men, women and children with a machete. Antoine fled Rwanda for LA, where he grew into a quiet, sensitive man with a deep need…

Cowboys:

Written by Gary Phillips; Art by Brian Hurtt

From the author of the “Ivan Monk” detective novels comes a riveting original graphic novel about violence and race in modern society. Cowboys revolves around a racially motivated police shooting of Deke Kotto, a young African American man, by Tim Brady, a white undercover cop, inside a swanky club frequented by hip-hop stars, gangsters, Hollywood celebs and the drug kingpins that finance the whole operation. But the victim is actually an undercover officer on the trail of the gangsters,…

 

Return to Perdition:

Written by Max Allan Collins; Art by Terry Beatty

A new chapter in the saga of the O’Sullivan crime family from the acclaimed movie Road to Perdition. The time is America in the early 1970’s and our third generation hero, Michael Satariano, Jr. is a Vietnam vet recently returned to the States. He doesn’t know that his father’s real name was Michael O’Sullivan, and is unaware of the confl ict between his dad, his grandfather and John Looney – the criminal godfather of Rock Island, Illinois. But when he’s recruited by the Mob as a hit-man, he’s going to learn the hard way that you can never outrun (or outgun) your past. (This is not the final cover design)

Purchased on Wednesday: An Elegy for Amelia Johnson, The Question: Pipeline, Morning Glories vol. 1,

6 Mar

Morning Glories vol. 1: Nick Spencer has been a rising star in the comic scene for awhile now.  His mini-series for Image Comics,  Existence 2.0/3.0 and Infinite Vacation, his Jimmy Olsen co-feature and THUNDER Agents for DC Comics, and the just released Iron Man 2.0 all show his talent as a writer.   The one book I hadn’t been able to pick up was Morning Glories.  All I’d ever heard from people regarding it was how great of a title it was.  I have to say, I’m slightly underwhelmed and that’s most likely due to an unfortunate similarity to a popular TV show than weaknesses in Spencer’s writing.  See, Morning Glories IS a very well done comic.  The story follows six teenage prodigies who are linked by their shared birthday and their current situation of being trapped at the mysterious Morning Glory Academy with no idea how to escape or what the motive behind keeping them prisoners is.  The characters are unique, the scripts are well written, and the hook is definitely there to keep me interested as to what the secrets of Morning Glory Academy might be.  The problem is that there is no way around ignoring the giant elephant in the room:  if it wasn’t for the television show, Lost, this title wouldn’t exist.  Flashbacks, hidden rooms and dungeons, characters with surprising secret pasts that you didn’t see coming… It’s all something that I’ve seen before and while it’s currently being done very well here (and hopefully with a better ending in mind than the final season of Lost had), I just can’t shake that Spencer’s other works had less of a striking similarity to RECENT pop culture phenomenons.  I’ll keep following the title and I do hope it lives up to the hype generated by critics and fans, but for the most part, I really hope the “purple ghost creature” isn’t the Morning Glories version of the smoke monster.

The Question: Pipeline:  I loved the DC Comics character, The Question, the moment I first saw him in a random copy of DC’s Who’s Who back in the 80′s.  The blank face, suit and tie, fedora and smoke… All striking visuals coupled with the premise of a character out to find the truth no matter what the cost.  This comic, though, is not starring THAT version of The Question.  During DC’s maxi-series 52, Vic Sage, The Question’s alter ego, died of cancer.  Before his passing, he trained Batman supporting-cast member, Renee Montoya, as his protege and she took up the identity of the faceless avenger.  Author Greg Rucka was responsible for brining Montoya from her humble beginnings in Detective Comics to this resulting plot in 52 and he continued to write the new Question in the follow-up mini-series to 52, The Question: The Five Books of Blood and Final Crisis: Revelation.  Renee has shaped into a very interesting version of The Question and while she ran the risk of fan backlash typical in comics of, “Not my {insert superhero name here},” the deft hand Rucka used to tell her story and its sequels showed just how engaging she could be in the identity.  The Question: Pipeline is the collection of The Question co-feature that Rucka did with the amazing Cully Hamner (Red, Blue Beetle, Firearm) and follows Renee as she is pulled into a complex human trafficking ring and its ties to a larger danger looming from a classic DC villain.  The Huntress also appears and is given a welcome costume redesign by Hamner that unfortunately didn’t stick past this series.  This is also Rucka’s swan song for the character since he has sworn off DC Comics for the near future to focus on his own characters and novels.  His work on Montoya will be missed and I hope someone with the same love of the character continues to show just how great The Question can be with her as the protagonist.

An Elegy for Amelia Johnson HC:  I’ve always been a huge fan of independent graphic novels that feel like movies.  This is not to say that I enjoy it when screenwriters use failed screenplay pitches to sell a concept as a graphic novel.  I mean to say that when an author finds a truly qualified artist and works diligently to compose a visual narrative that has well realized characters and a plot that draws you, the reader, in so tight that it’s almost like the surrounding world has gone dark like a theater.  I’ve read a great many graphic novels at this point my life and I’ve got to say that while An Elegy for Amelia Johnson is not one of the best it’s surely one of the most emotionally resonant.  The book follows two mutual friends of the title character, Amelia, who are tasked to go out into the world and deliver messages to people from her past.  The duo, Henry and Jillian, have known each other as mutual acquaintances, but have never been truly close.  Their own lives seem to be missing something personal and the act of examining the life of their mutual friend brings them not only closer together but also closer to finding focus again as artists. Written by Andrew Rostan (who financed the project with his winnings from “Jeopardy.” True Story.) with art by Dave Valeza and Kate Kasenow, An Elegy… has some moments that are riddled with clunky dialogue and poor pacing whereas a climax seems to be missing or hidden within layers of melodrama.  While I can tell that Rostan has a desire to tell a very deep tale, those moments where he gets tripped up do have the tendency to make this work less than stellar.  Fortunately, Valeza and Kasenow bail out the story whenever these potholes occur.  While I’m not sure of the division of duties between the two artists, I’d commend them both equally for their ability to work within Rostan’s story to make the ending invoke an emotional response and be an almost cinematic finale.  Another hidden gem from Archaia Press.

Why I Like Bad Movies: Lucky Number Slevin

25 Nov

So a long time ago, a little movie called Pulp Fiction was released to theaters.  It was a good thing, too, because ever since critics have been able to say that they didn’t enjoy a movie because it was ripping off Pulp Fiction’s signature dialogue or it’s out of sequence story-telling or who the hell knows what else.  The point is that thanks to Quentin Tarantino (a man who has admitted that he pays homage to dozens of films in his features), a generation of filmmakers were inspired to rip off pay homage to QT and streamline the whole, well, “homage-ing” process for time’s sake.

Lucky Number Slevin isn’t anything like Pulp Fiction except for the hitmen, crime bosses, pop culture references, staccato-fast dialogue… etc.  The film opens with Bruce Willis in a wheelchair regaling a nameless man in a bus station with a tale of what a Kansas City Shuffle is: “A Kansas City Shuffle is when everybody looks right, you go left.” Then a flashback follows that is meant to set up the whole film.  After he’s done with his story, Willis kills the man, steals his body, and we’re greeted to a series of quick assassinations of random people and then the introduction of Josh Hartnett as Slevin Kelevra, our hero.  Slevin has just arrived in New York City and is immediately mistaken for his friend Nick Fischer with no way to prove otherwise since he was mugged prior to being accosted by the misinformed goons.  It turns out Nick owes money to The Boss (Morgan Freeman apparently needing a quick paycheck) and in exchange for wiping out the debt, The Boss will spare “Nick” (Slevin) if he helps kill the son of his arch-rival, The Rabbi (played by Ben Kingsley who is in need of a quicker paycheck).  Slevin agrees, but mostly because he’s in nothing but a towel and The Boss threatens his life (wouldn’t you agree to kill someone if all you were wearing was a towel and Morgan Freeman was giving you his evil eye?  Liar).  As soon as Slevin is returned to Nick’s apartment (still without Nick anywhere in sight), he’s picked up by The Rabbi’s goons (thankfully this time having been allowed to have dressed).   The Rabbi explains that “Nick” owes him a large sum of money as well and gives him 48 hours to pay up.  Slevin leaves and weighs all of the options put in front of him.  After his exit, Bruce Willis appears with The Rabbi and we learn that he is none other than the legendary assassin, Mr. Goodkat (strikes fear into your hearts, doesn’t it?).  Now during all of this, Slevin also meets Nick’s cute, bubbly neighbor Lindsey (Lucy Liu) and immediately falls for her which is good since this movie really needed a love interest and not a script doctor.  For the next hour and a half we’re greeted to tense situations with crooked cops, badass assassins, crafty mob bosses, hapless thugs, and Josh Hartnett showing that he can see just fine while squinting, thank you very much.  Double crosses, plot twists, and revealing flashbacks allow you to be surprised by absolutely nothing that happens in this movie.  The great moment where the protagonist plays his final hand and reveals all the details features only the only two people on the planet surprised by the outcome: the bad guys.

We’re treated to some great, quirky character moments, some very well directected action scenes by director Paul McGuigan (Gangster No. 1, Wicker Park) and ultimately the film ends up being a lot of fun to watch even though we’ve seen these third act “twists” a dozen times in better films (and many a Murder, She Wrote episode).  All in all, a worthy feature for a warm weekday viewing and another reason for why I like bad movies.

Blind Buys and Recommendations: Johnny Hiro

7 Oct

JohnnyHiroProbably the best part of being a comic fan is finding a diamond in the rough among trades as you’re perusing a shelf in a comic shop.  It’s truly great to have the subtle enthusiasm from a shop owner over a book met with your own skeptical raised eyebrow and then be proven wrong once you get through reading it.  My local comic shop owner sees me take home quite the haul over the course of a month and rarely tries to hook me up with a book he might think I haven’t heard about.  Johnny Hiro, though, was one of those books.  The book snuck under my radar due to the fact that it only had two issues published before being canceled and then had to be finished and resolicited as a trade paperback.  The book is worth the weight.  The title character is not a superhero or vigilante or warrior of any kind.  No, Johnny is just your every day average busboy who is trying to make ends meet while living in New York City and running afoul of everything from rival restaurant sushi samurais or giant monsters attacking the city.  At his side is his cheerful and loving girlfriend, Mayumi, who adores her boyfriend as much as she adores kittens and believing everything will work out in the end.  Writer/artist Fred Chao delivers a book that’s fun and engaging and completely entertaining for all types of readers big and small.  Guest-stars galore including NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg and the cast of an 80′s hit sitcom grace the same pages as Godzilla-wannabes fighting giant robots.   The art is in black and white but still dynamic and full of life between the panels.  The jokes come fast and furious but the humor is always overshadowed by the genuine charm of Chao’s writing of the Johnny and Mayumi.  It’s their relationship that holds the book together between hilarious skits and well-drawn action.   It’s like Chao knows this and makes every scene that he puts them in feel very realistic.  Even when Mayumi’s broken English is played for laughs, it never feels derogatory or childish.  He works it into the natural dialogue and counters it with Johnny’s own standard way of speaking.  Johnny Hiro is definitely a book that I’m glad was recommended to me and I’m passing that recommendation on and hoping that others pick it up.  It’s a great blind buy, I’ll tell you that.

Television’s Anti-Heroes

6 Oct

These days, we as an audience are appearing less and less interested in characters that play by the rules and follow a moral compass.  Back in the television days of yore, we weren’t allowed to have dramatic leads that didn’t follow the letter of the law and show us that doing what was right should be done the right way.  Perry Mason, Jim Rockford, Thomas Magnum, Joe Friday, MacGyver, and Ben Matlock are just a few of the classic icons that we as an audience came to love growing up (whether in release or in reruns).  Nowadays, though, the landscape is… a little different.

Currently, the shows that seem to draw renewals from networks and scores of viewers are the procedurals and whatnot.  We have our CSIs and our Law and Orders and they still keep churning out millions of viewers and millions of dollars.  Those kind of concepts always will.  But take a look at the other protagonists who are fighting for truth, justice, and Nielsen ratings.

house_md_poster4Dr. Greg House, MD:  He lies, he cheats, he pops pills and he risks lives all in the pursuit of being right.  But not being right in the moral and virtuous sense.  House just lives to be correct and manipulate people as if they were dancing to his tune.  They’ve made many attempts over the seasons to humanize the character and dull his edge, but at the end of the day House will always be House.  Hugh Laurie’s charming misanthrope will insult the strong and antagonize the weak, just to prove that everybody lies.  Even when you’ve just recovered from nearly dying of a crazy combination of once in a lifetime symptoms, House doesn’t shake your hand or tell you he’s glad you’re okay.  He mocks you and tells you to not be stupid again.  He’ll go over the spouse’s head, lie to the administration, and kidnap a patient.

dexter_posterDexter Morgan:  A serial killer who’s on our side.  Not sure if that’s as comforting as it’s supposed to sound, but it seems to work. The show is starting its fourth season of Dexter killing killers and then ritualistically carving up the bodies all the while providing his extremely creepy narration thanks to Michael C. Hall’s eerie intonation.  Dexter spends his time faking a personality he can use to get by his job as a forensic police scientist and a husband, but as he himself will tell you, it’s all just hiding his “dark passenger” who is constantly itching to get out and kill.  The only thing keeping Dexter on our side is his code of protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty set forth by his adopted father, a cop who saw Dexter’s impulses from an early age.  Even when Dexter thinks he’s found an ally in his cause in the form of another dark killer, he always realizes that without this code, anyone would succumb to the dark passanger.  Frankly, in terms of role models, I guess you can’t do much better than a sociopath who hunts the guilty.

mentalist_ver2Patrick Jane:  The Mentalist is a procedural that seems like it’s going to be pretty run of the mill.  A team of federal agents who work for the fictional California Bureau of Investigation solving high profile murders and kidnappings all over the great state of, well, California are aided by a former television psychic.  The psychic, Patrick Jane, was using techniques of the mentalist trade to dupe audiences and convince them he could speak with the dead and read their minds.  When a serial killer known as Red John showed up, Jane tried to curry ratings by “aiding” the investigations.  Red John killed his family out of sport.  Jane and the members of CBI take on the usual “case-of-the-week” and usually catch the bad guy, but the methods that Jane employs almost always break the rules of institution.  Like House, he’ll do whatever is necessary to solve a case and he isn’t doing it for justice since like Dexter, Jane is also a borderline sociopath thanks to the death of his family.  If the case happens to have anything to do with Red John?  Then you’d better get out of his way.  Instead of playing him in a dark brooding fashion, Simon Baker makes Jane charming, smirking rogue.  An interesting choice that pulls off the sociopath angle very well.

the_shield_season_6_posterDetective Vic Mackey:  “Mackey is Al Capone with a badge.”  With these words, you get everything you need to know about the character that Michael Chiklis played for seven seasons on The Shield, a gritty cop show that was loosely based on the actions of the infamous LAPD Rampart squad.  Mackey is an intense individual with a corrupted system of justice and morality that has him doing whatever it takes to enact justice while defending the interests of his family and partners.  This includes stealing from street gangs, providing protection for mobsters, and even killing fellow cops who have turned informant.  Mackey is a monster in the eyes of some, but the point to keep in mind is that he’ll also do whatever it takes to take down the worst of the worst in Los Angeles’ Farmington District.  He may not seem like he has any scruples, but there are moments where Chiklis shows that the character has a code of honor and will break whatever laws stand in the way of him taking down those responsible for violating that code.

l35ffd15c0001_1_15495Jack Bauer:  There are those that argue that Kiefer Sutherland’s protagonist from the hit action series, 24, is a shill for the Republican administration’s theories of “international relations” in terms of terrorists.  For a majority of the seasons, this is hard to ignore what with any character who was an Arab incidentally turning out to be a villain and Bauer torturing everyone (including his own brother) in the pursuit of trying to stop a terrorist threat.  Season 7 was, in my opinion, a great return to form for Bauer as he was forced to face the consequences of his actions and attempt to defend the nation against threats without resorting to old methods and old paranoia.  While Bauer kills, detonates, interrogates and, yes, tortures his way through seven seasons of action, his results can’t be denied as he will sacrifice his own life and safety if it means innocents go free and bad guys get the shaft.

There aren’t “good guys” anymore fighting the forces of evil out there.  They’re all anti-heroes, these days.  Somewhere along the line the only way to make a character interesting was to inject a little bit of evil in them.  You can’t argue the results haven’t been entertaining seeing as how these five characters have topped the charts in critics and viewers lists for years.  Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.

Purchased on Wednesday: Tom Strong Deluxe Hardcover vol. 1, Showcase Presents: Warlord vol. 1, Secret Warriors vol. 1: Nick Fury Agent of Nothing HC, Salt Water Taffy vol. 3: Truth About Dr. True, Sleeper Season 2 TP

3 Oct

Disclaimer: This is actually three weeks worth of books so that I can play catch up.

12161_400x600Tom Strong Deluxe Hardcover vol. 1:  I own trade paperbacks in a variety of formats.  There’s the standard trade format, digests, hardcovers, Absolute Editions (DC’s oversized slipcase collections of classics), etc.  These formats range in quality from poor and flimsy (standard trades) to cumbersome and epic (Absolute Editions, but damn are they pretty) and that can make it hard to read them in a casual fashion.  One format that has always stood out to me as practically perfect is the deluxe hardcover format that both Marvel and DC use for larger collections of classic works.  Marvel did it with Runaways and Astonishing X-Men, for example and DC is doing it with Gotham Central and Grant Morrison’s JLA.  This is why I’m glad I’ve waited so long to begin buying Tom Strong in collected editions: I just knew DC would find a great way to present the series for consumption.   For those that haven’t read it, the series is Alan Moore’s take on the classic science heroes of pulp times like Doc Savage and Tom Swift with a bit of Tarzan thrown in for good measure.  Moore takes these classic pulp icon tropes and updates them for the new millenium (Tom Strong’s hometown is even called Millenium City) and shows off some great art, amazing story-telling and endearing characters.  Whether Tom is fighting his own rogue’s gallery of foes like the Modular Man or the Pangaen or traveling to distant worlds populated with a collection public domain superheroes from the 1940′s or having guest artists send him to the afterlife via a phantom autogyro, the series maintains a level of quality and charm throughout every chapter.  Great collection of a great title.

cover-largeShowcase Presents: Warlord vol. 1:  Ok, I have a confession to make:  I’m kinda a hypocrite with my proclamations regarding genre likes and dislikes.  What I mean is that I can be known to swear up and down that I hate a particular type of material because I’ve never actually read anything in that genre that I liked before.  Sword and Sorcery is one of those genres that I just can’t stand because I’ve never gotten into any of the material that people have told me was the creme de la creme of published works in that field.  Lord of the Rings, for example, just didn’t do it for me.  Neither did Conan the Barbarian.  Hell, He-Man and Thundercats even left me cold.  So you can imagine how red my face was when I discovered Mike Grell’s Warlord series from DC circa 1975.  Now, in this case, what drew me to the book was the fact that it was Mike Grell working on it.  I’m a huge fan of the man’s work including Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters and his own character, Jon Sable: Freelance.  When I’d first read about Warlord in an old Who’s Who comic, nothing about it really intrigued me.  It seemed like yet another “warrior against sorcerers and demons, etc” story and I didn’t go out of my way to find any issues.  Then the Justice League Unlimited cartoon did an episode on this bygone character and suddenly, I was slightly interested.  Lo and behold, after digging up a couple of freebie issues in a back issue been from the 70′s, I was hooked.  Thank the reprint heavens that DC included this comic in their Showcase Presents series of black and white collections because it’s a great read.  The book follows Travis Morgan, an SR-71 pilot and Vietnam war veteran, who accidently finds himself sent to the mystical land of Skartaris when his flight plan goes awry over the North Pole.   Once he becomes familiar with the enchanted land, he learns that there is no one who will fight for the freedom of the besieged indiginous people and takes it upon himself to become their defender, thus earning the name Warlord.  The book is packed with action, terrific art by Grell, and one of DC’s hopefully not forgotten characters.  Currently, the company brought Warlord back for a new series written by Grell and drawn by Joe Prado.  Once you’ve made it through this collection, go give that series a shot, too.  Especially if you’re into this sword and sorcery stuff.

C112659Secret Warriors vol. 1: Nick Fury Agent of Nothing HC:  I love a good espionage comic.  This is probably why I’ve been such a huge fan of Marvel’s classic super spy character, Nick Fury.  The best part about Fury, to me, was that he wasn’t your usual dapper secret agent like Patrick McGoohan or Pierce Brosnan.  No, Fury was a grizzled Word War II veteran who was still kicking ass in modern times with a cigar and a laser pistol.  Fury’s charms came from his tough-as-nails nature and had little to do with the idea that this guy could be sly or sneaky.  Imagine Kurt Russell doing a James Bond movie except he’s playing a character who’s a combination of his classic John Carpenter characters, Jack Burton (Big Trouble in Little China) and Snake Plisken (Escape from New York).  Now for a long time Fury ran the largest espionage network in the Marvel universe, S.H.I.E.L.D.  The acronymn has gone through many definitions.  When last defined, it stood for Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage Logistics Directorate.  Currently in the Marvel universe, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been shuttered and Nick Fury is on the outs with the federal government.  After watching former supervillain, Norman Osborn (the original Green Goblin), put in charge of national security, Fury goes underground and assembles a team of young and inexperienced superhumans as his team of agents to perform missions that S.H.I.E.L.D. would have taken on had it still been in existence.  Y’know, defending the world from the scum of the earth and such, since Osborn is really just making life safe for supervillains while he’s in charge.  The series is written by Jonathan Hickman who is one of my personal favorite up and coming comic book creators.  He’s had four books published through Image Comics, the first of which, Nightly News, is an amazing mixed media work showing off Hickman’s skills at characterization and suspense.  Hickman brings those talents to writing this comic and it makes the twists and turns the plot takes work excellently alongside the expertly-rendered action scenes handed in by artist Stefano Caselli (Hack/Slash, Avengers: The Initiative).  All in all, this is a great title filled with brand new characters (thus, you never know if they’ll survive the issue and genuine suspense is created!) and classic heroes and villains, side-by-side in the classic Marvel manner.

iswt3Salt Water Taffy vol. 3: Truth about Dr. True:  There really aren’t that many comics for kids and adults.  For a long time in comics, it was seriously either/or with very little that could be enjoyed by both sets of readers.  Then writer/artist Matthew Loux showed up with Salt Water Taffy, his series of graphic novels from Oni Press.  The series follows two young brothers, Jack and Benny, as they’re begrudgingly dragged to the New England coastal town, Chowder Bay for the summer.  During their time there, Jack and Benny discover that there is a great deal of adventure to be had against the sleepy beach town.  All of the volumes released so far are full of innocent and fun tales of taffy-stealing lobsters, hat-loving giant eagles, and, with the release of volume 3, ghosts with a mystery to solve.  Loux’s art is fluid and dynamic while his story-telling style is both charming and well-paced.  You never feel pandered to or patronized as an audience member mostly due to the fact that his art carries a very innocent and yet witty comic timing that can translate very well in sequence.  It’s great to read a comic and then realize when I’ve finished it that I could pass it off to a friend’s kid and know that they’d enjoy it also.

sleeper_2_tpb_coverSleeper Season 2 TP:  Ed Brubaker is one of the better writers working in the mainstream today.  His Captain America is hailed as one of the best takes on the character to date and his run on Daredevil was one of my personal favorites.   He can find the voice in any character and can add a genuine flavor of noir to the darker books he chooses to write.  Sleeper, to me, was the best example of why Brubaker is an expert at his craft.  The book takes place in the Wildstorm universe of comics which I’ve always felt peaked with Warren Ellis’s Authority series and has since been coasting on characters and concepts that need to come to a calm and satisfying conclusion.  Within this world is an intelligence agency called I/O run by veteren spy, John Lynch.  Lynch is a master puppeteer of espionage and had decided that the best way to take down a villain known as Tao, rising star in the world terrorism trade, was to send in Holden Carver, a deep cover operative armed with superpowers.  In the mini-series, Point Blank (which can be picked up along with the two Sleeper trades), it’s revealed that Lynch was the only person who knew of Carver’s existence, but through the manipulations of Tao, Lynch is put in a coma and Carver is left in the cold to fend for himself.  This is where the Sleeper series picks up.  DC has made the wise decision to collect the series into two “seasons” (the story-telling is very similar to a television show) and has released them both as 12-issue trade paperbacks.  The book’s art by master artist Sean Philips is dark, gritty, seeped in noir flavor and the writing is rife with twist after twist as we watch Carver try to get out of the mess that he has become stuck in while trying to serve the mission and his country.  Sleeper is a great read for fans of Graham Greene-style spy novels and modern espionage comics.

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