Zombie World: Champion of the Worms #3

 

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Comic book, 1997
 

There are three Pat McEwons known to us, and they’ve appeared in this order. Work for hire Pat McEwon, who, early in his career, turned out many issues of work for creative interests other than his own. Then came Pat McEwon the auteur, who released a few inventive short stories from anthologies such as Dark Horse Presents and Dave Cooper’s Weasel. Then came milk carton Pat McEwon, who’s been largely absent from the comics scene for years, apart from one short story (for the Madman 20th anniversary book) and one graphic novel (Hair Shirt). Zombie World: Champion of Worms #3 (the only issue of the series I’ve read) occurs at a bridge between work for hire McEwon and auteur McEwon, being a work he created for someone else while still possessing many of the hallmarks of his auteur work. In it he’s paired with an early instance of Mike Mignola as a writer only, and the result is a Hammer horror tinged take on Tintin. It’s a good match, but not a perfect one- McEwon’s layouts and characers pack the appropriate amount of whimsy, but his ghouls are too cartoony to be truly menacing. As for Mignola’s side of things, this is writer-only Mignola pre-John Arcudi, so seemingly all consideration is given to plot, with none apparently given to characters. But if you’be got a kid edging up on feeling too old for Tintin and might respond to something a little darker, I imagine this would work like a charm.

 
 
Super Inside Baseball, How The Sausage Is Made Bonus Round: Zombie World appears to be an attempt on the part of a comics company (Dark Horse) to create a franchise while sharing the rights with the hired talent (Mignola and McEwon), and the indicia is fittingly tangled, giving copyright for the text and illustrations to the creators and the publisher, the title trademarked to the publisher, the characters trademarked to the creators, and so on. It seems like Dark Horse planned for the series to continue without its original creators. From the editor in this issue’s letters page: “Thanks to Pat McEwon and Mike Mignola for getting this series off to such and interesting start. The books in coming months, from a lineup diverse enough to include…” continuing into a list of future contributors, many if not all of whch I believe were actually released. I’d be curious to check the indicia of future issues for McEwon and Mignola’s names. Interesting, and I assume an experiment on the part of the publisher in creating a franchise while keeping the creators properly in the loop. If this is true, their hearts were certainly in the right place. But, to go out even further on a limb, I’d guess that the franchise, concept and all, was publisher mandated. (“Make us a world of zombies, we’ll call it Zombie World!”) Catching lightning in a bottle can be tough, but you couldn’t hire two better creators to attempt it with.

Curse Of The Molemen

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Comic book, 1991

Charles Burns’s Curse Of The Molemen barters heavily in 50’s science-fiction and horror, not unlike another comic of its time I recently read, Clowes’s Lloyd Llewellyn. Curse Of The Molemen, by contrast, casts a decidedly more ironic gaze upon its subject matter, effectively launching a much sharper jab at the faults of that era. (Specifically as depicted here, domestic violence.) Because of this, and the heavy use of surreality, comparisons to Blue Velvet would be apt. The main difference, besides being a lot more direct about its heritage, is that its protagonist, Big Baby, is actually a part of the surreality. Or, perhaps he is the only true piece of surreality, as all other depicted aspects of it could be attributed to his imagination. To be honest, I don’t quite understand the meaning of the Big Baby character, but this is the only story featuring him that I’ve read, and I’m under the impression there are more.


B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth: Exorcism #2

Comic book, 2012

Due to a drastically increased output over the last bunch of months, with none of the added material holding much weight plot-wise, one might get the impression that the B.P.R.D. editorial staff is throwing a bunch of new artists at the wall to see which ones stick. Of course, they announced Tyler Crook as the new main artist after mainstay Davis’ departure, but the last few months have seen more artists draw B.P.R.D. than the few years before them combined. Some really work James Harren and Jason Latour’s styles maintain the savage, energetic personality of the series established by Davis. I find Crook and Cameron Stewart, artist of Exorcism #1, however to be too restrained and conservative. Stewart’s got chops, don’t get me wrong. Technically, he’s a marvel. But I don’t think he’s a good fit. (Additional complaint about Stewart and Crook- when drawing a figure that is far away, they alter their proportions making their subjects appear child-like.) And while I wouldn’t say Stewart’s writing is bad, there’s a fair amount not to like- his characters’ dialogue is often guided more by the needs of the plot than the characters themselves, and I found the protagonist, a plucky, eager to please, young go-getter who is insecure about her abilities, to be a personality more familiar to popular media than the very real characters this series normally hangs its hat on. The final nail in the coffin for Stewart for me was his monster design, another backbone of B.P.R.D. Most of the creatures looked no more threatening than Ninja Turtle villains. (I’ll give credit where credit’s due on that demon-goat though, that looked pretty good.) While I think he’s a super talented guy, I’m sorry to say that I hope Stewart’s jaunt into the world of B.P.R.D. is as short as the tangential nature of this series suggests it might be.


Ragemoor #2

Comic book, 2012

I fell in love head over heels with the first issue of this comic. It was like an Evil Dead-y Twilight Zone, with maniacal writing, disarming artwork and a gnarly atmosphere. The atmosphere makes it to the second issue intact (in this issue we learn that the living castle Ragemoor employs bare-skulled baboons to keep subterranean worm-monsters at bay) as does the writing (“Summon the servants! Arm them with knives from the kitchen! Tell them we are hunting baboon!”). But, while it was serviceable, I thought the art come down a notch. It’s not bad, but certainly lighter, like less time was spent on it. That’s a slightly bigger deal to me because I feel that the atmosphere of Ragemoor, both the book and the place, is served well by dense art, and I felt the protagonist lost a bit of definition. It’s funny, as I picked this up off the shelf I glanced over at Corben’s other book Murky World, then remembered his recent Hellboy graphic novel and thought “That’s a lot of pages, how does he do it?” Hm. Well. Still though, greatly worth the price of admission for the writing and atmosphere, and it’s got a killer, killer cover.


B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death #3

 

Comic book, 2012

My obligatory B.P.R.D./ James Harren rigamarole: James Harren draws perhaps the most visceral and entertaining monster fights I’ve ever seen depicted in comics, and kudos to the B.P.R.D. editorial staff for having the good judgement to provide him with scripts depicting, almost exclusively, them. Okay. My Harren caveat for this month is that his rendering of the black guy in this issue looks way too much like an ape. Now I’m just going to geek out on the story: I’ve suspected that Daryl killing Ben was going to happen since we saw Daryl towering over a naked, blood-stained Ben in 2007. It makes so much sense- Daryl finally gets peace, and Ben, becoming a wendigo in Daryl’s stead, is essentially no worse off than before. It finally happened in this issue. It felt a little anticlimactic. Don’t get me wrong, the sheer joy of reading the thing makes up for it, but if something you’ve been saying is going to happen for five years simply happens, you can’t help but feel at least a tiny indifferent about it. I realize that we’re told in no uncertain terms that there are other forces at work here (Johann asks us why Daryl didn’t kill Ben before now, and what did Ben mean when he said “I can’t” and “It’s all gone”?), but I think I could have used something a little meatier than more mystery to feel completely satisfied by this meal after being made to wait for it for five years.


Fearless Dawn: The Secret of the Swamp #1

Comic book, 2011

I bought this for the art, hoping the story would also embody its Mad Magazine-esque qualities, but was disappointed on both fronts. The art is fine, but seems a bit dashed off in most places. The artist, Steve Manion, is a great renderer, there’s no questioning that, but he seems to be in a hurry through a lot of this. And it’s not because he spent so much time writing it. What pages aren’t merely sketchbook material subject us to plots that forsake everything to throw tropes and some really bad jokes at us. This book does have it in two places where it counts, however. That’s with a really fun design for its lead character and some killer monster art.


B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death #1

Comic book, 2012

Hail hail, James Harren, new B.P.R.D. king! While he lacks the balance of Guy Davis, this guy’s strengths are tremendous, and the writers know just how to cater to them. Namely, monsters. This guy’s monsters move, really move, on the page, with such velocity and force, and their appearance holds such subconscious-triggering terror, that it produces an almost physical response from your body- what you’re looking at is coming for you, and it’s bad. Your survival instinct looks up from the paper it’s been reading since the day you were born and spits out its tea. It’s not all gravy however. While Herren’s skills at depicting simple conversation have improved markedly since his The Devil Does Not Jest days, he still makes some baffling decisions when it comes to human gesture. And although he sometimes pushes the boundaries of cartoonish expression too far, there are still a hell of a lot of other brilliant subtle touches, from Johann’s fat body and chicken legs to the U.N. monitor’s face looking like a messy bowl of spagetti. But let’s not forget the backbone of why this series works, the writing. It’s all about Johann today. B.P.R.D. isn’t always about character. Sometimes it’s driven by large, planet threatening forces. But it’s in issues like this, where the character flaws of the agents are propelling the events, that I’m really enthralled. Here, Johann shits the bed. Big time. Knowing Johann as we do, having been shown his passions, his strengths and his flaws for years, we know what drove him to this. Why a baker’s dozen of human lives were sacrificed so he could make an almost blind stab at personal revenge. The level of remorse he’s shown to feel over this is going to be very telling toward just how corrupted his soul, which is all that remains of him, has become.

I’d also like to add something in here for the people who are reading these books in trade; you’re missing out. The “Kate’s in England” gag in this issue simply isn’t going to work when the DHP short they’re referencing is slammed up against the first issue of this series in the trade. I also remember Memnan Saa simultaneously debuting in B.P.R.D. and Lobster Johnson, in stories taking place a half a century apart. The monthly pamphlet schedule brings the timelines closer to your own, making it easier to feel involved in the stories.


Daredevil #9 (2012)

Comic book, 2012

Well, this is going to be hard to give up. I’m really enjoying Daredevil, but Marvel’s recent actions against Gary Friedrich have not only made me swear off Marvel Comics, but have made me decide to become more considerate about who I support with my money, and vow to stop supporting corporations altogether. (Or as much as I reasonably can, anyway.) Now, I was buying about ten Marvel comics a year. They’re not going to feel the sting of my departure, but I’m doing this for myself. I just can’t be in involved with such a malicious organization. A big bully. I’m really bummed I’m not going to be able to see The Avengers with my dad this summer, and I’m really going to miss reading the Paulo Rivera issues of Daredevil. Daredevil is a character I have no history with and no attachment to. I was enjoying this romp based on the silky smooth writing and art alone. This issue, through both the plot and the art, sets up highly effective claustrophobic and foreboding atmosphere. And Rivera actually comes really close to making superhero sex look like not the most embarrassing thing in the world, a step up from last issue‘s artist’s work in that arena. I don’t totally buy the characterization of Daredevil, however. He frequently points out his own flaws with a clear and comprehensive perspective that make you doubtful he could truly possess them. The writing has it where it counts for a book like this- fun action and ideas- but the characterization is pretty thin. Real characters have flaws that guide their behavior, Daredevil is trying to convince us he has flaws so Waid can hide the fact that he’s using the character as a fantasy avatar. But maybe I’m being a bit too critical here. After all, isn’t one of superheroes’ greatest uses as a fantasy avatar? Anyway, this book. Good time. Fuck Marvel.


B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Russia #5

Comic book, 2012

So you know, like, how once a year or so you end up in the “People You May Know” section of Facebook and you see a face you haven’t seen in years and never, ever would have thought of again until the day you died unless you had been reminded of it? And the feeling of disorientation, like suddenly falling backward in your char, that accompanies it? That happens with two comics. Love and Rockets and, now, B.P.R.D. The two guys, I don’t even remember their names, that pop up in the middle of this issue, I don’t think I’ve seen them since high school. I’m going to have to dig through my back issues to see how they went out, but knowing this book it was something along the lines of “We’re dying now, but not really, we’ll be back when everyone’s fucked”. There’s also a great gag on the last page, the type of thing you can show someone who’s never read B.P.R.D. and say “This is how great this book is” and they’ll get it right away.


Fatale #1

Comic book, 2012

I think I got off on the wrong foot with the Brubaker/ Phillips team, which is to say that I got off on TOO good a foot. The first thing I read by them was Incognito. I’m forced to wonder if seeing their work for the first time, as they’re one of those acts that only tells one joke, albeit really well, is the reason I enjoyed it more than anything else I’ve picked up so far. But I feel like it’s not. That series, the first half of it anyway, was so thematically strong. I didn’t see anything in Fatale #1 to get behind other than “this is a monster/ pulp gangster comic”. Which hey, Phillips sure can draw and Brubaker can write some fairly absorbing dialogue, so maybe that’s good enough. (Anyone who can write pulp pistache without it being mortifying for anyone who isn’t predisposed to like it, and I don’t include Frank Miller in that group by a longshot, has my respect.) But I think I’m always going to be looking for that magic I saw the first time, and I’m not sure I’m going to see it. Not to mention the fact that this is kind of a dull opening. You take an unexpected punch, but the promise of the cover is never delivered on- there’s no monsters!