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The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 2/6/8

Fun! Fun! Fun! in the Sun! Sun! Sun!

Employee’s Pick

ICBINJL

[DC] JLA Classified #4-9 aka I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League

The first trade review I did for Hoss’ weekly column was Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire’s triumphant return to the JLI, Formerly Known as the Justice League, where Maxwell "not evil" Lord reformed the team as the Superbuddies. In 2005, the then-fledgling JLA Classified, whose purpose is to allow creative teams not currently working on JLA to tell a one-and-done story using the League from any era they please (like Marvel’s Unlimited books, only much, much better), provided the perfect opportunity for a sequel. Kevin Maguire, master of faces, puts on a clinic, with expressions covering the full spectrum of human emotion. Any artist would do well to study his work, or, you know, look at real people. Practically the same thing. It’s like watching a room full of John Cleese-caliber actors, and oh, they have such wonderful material.

Sue

The Superbuddies are minding their own business, being awesome, when who should show up but their old "friend" Guy Gardner. Seems he’s opening a bar with former villain Blackguard, right next door to the Superbuddies’ offices. Dun dun dun! Meanwhile, Mary Marvel discovers coffee and gets an apartment with Fire. Mary’s no Ice, but she plays off Fire splendidly as the innocent half of an Odd Couple. Mary has a run-in with Guy, former Justice Leaguer Captain Marvel objects to Mary being on the team, Beetle tries to recruit Power Girl, and Booster being Booster manages to send the whole team to Hell.

Boostered

Guy follows, dragging PG along, intending to rescue the Superbuddies and lord it over them for years to come. This story takes place before Guy regained his standing in the Green Lantern Corps, but we discover he has a different power ring. A yellow power ring. There’s plenty more plot, involving a mirror world, Ice’s trapped soul, and a giant G’nort, but the Giffen/DeMatteis League has always been about two things: comedy and characters. Plotlines exist so that characters can react, grow, change, or reveal hidden depths. That or to set up jokes, and there are hundreds of them. ICBINJL is among the funniest and saddest stories (issue 7 gets me every time *sniffle*) I’ve read. Like FKAJL before it, it takes the best parts of the JL/JLI/JLE and amplifies them until that era’s flaws are diminished into insignificance. Not having to take part in this week’s Big Event helps; there’s no Millenium or Invasion or Crisis of Crises to derail the story, to interrupt the funny. They don’t have to be the Justice League, DC’s premier supergroup. They’re free to be their own team and not save the world thirty times over. There’s also a good deal of character development, with Beetle maturing, Guy showing his sensitive side, and Booster maybe not being such an idiot after all. I wish they could have their own monthly title, but even with Tora coming back and Ted soon to follow, there’s no place for the Superbuddies in the current DCU. The best I dare hope is that Countdown doesn’t bork Mary and Kinda Sorta But Not Really the Justice League makes this a mini-series trilogy.

New-Type Books

Proof 1

[Image] Proof #1

Here’s another "anything you can do, I can do better" book. Like Perhapanauts, Proof is about paranormal investigators and one of the main characters is Bigfoot (the titular "Proof," short for John Prufrock). Unlike Perhapanauts, this book has redeeming qualities. There’s genuine humor and although the writer, Alexander Grecian, admits the book grew out of the offhanded suggestion that it would "be cool if Bigfoot worked for the CIA," it’s obvious that a fair amount of care went into this book. Our protagonists are Ginger Brown, the neophyte, who’s transferred to The Lodge after she has a run-in with the Golem of legend and refuses to go along with the coverup story, and her new partner, Proof, a veteran agent who’s basically a regular guy who happens to be a sasquatch.

Their first mission, set to span five issues, involves everyone’s favorite goatsucker, El Chupacabra. Sigh. I have to say, even handled well, as it is here, all this generic paranormality feels tired. Do all these books have Bigfoot and Chupacabra in them? The Loch Ness Monster? The Abominable Snowman? Jackalopes? If this were your first exposure to the paranormal, it’d make for a good introduction, but as it’s not kid-friendly you’re apt to’ve seen plenty of the like before. Proof gets by on its characters more than anything. So, right, this goatsucker – apparently a female of the species – is going about murdering people and wearing their skin, because it’s her nature. People, as is their nature, don’t like being killed, so it’s up to Proof and Ginger to put a stop to it. The plot’s a bit slowgoing so far, but this was the meet-the-cast issue, so it’s forgivable.

Art… yeah. It’s, uh, not good. Riley Rossmo’s a skilled storyteller and all, putting in neat background details and handling the emotion of any given scene appropriately. But, man, most people are going to take one look at this and put it back on the rack. I don’t know what is going on with the random lines he adds to everything, which are especially annoying on faces. It’s like anti-airbrushing; he takes a reasonably eye-pleasing illustration and uglies it up. The whole book has an "unfinished sketches" look to it. There are several panels where background figures have only been roughed out, and I could overlook that if the rest of the art were more than marginally better. It’s a decent book, all things considered (I’ll take Rossmo’s sketchwork over Greg Land’s porno tracings any day), but between the well-trodden conceptual territory and the unappealing aesthetics, I can’t see it finding a large enough audience to survive.

[DC] Highwaymen #2

Highwaymen 2

I’ve sorta run out of new comics. Was hoping to catch up on a few titles at a local comic-con last weekend, but no such luck. So, here’s a book from some months back, with more of the like on the way. Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman write, while Lee Garbett draws. Although this is issue two, and I haven’t read #1, I never felt lost. The writers drop you into the story with the barest of explanations, and that suffices. Part of that’s good writing, and part of it’s that there’s not a whole lot to the story. Our main characters are a pair of couriers and, because the number of spy books I read is in inverse proportion to my love for the genre, apparent former agents for one organization or another. They’re tasked with delivering a woman, known alternately as Grace Anderson and Baker Thirteen, to the Center for Disease Control for an as yet unrevealed reason.

Also, there’s opposition, in the form of CIA agents and superwomen who might also be Bakers of varying numbers, genetically modified humans (or androids, or who knows what) designed for specific tasks. Like jumping really high or having infrared vision. I say there’s little to the story, but I’m only assuming based on the action movie trappings. We move along at a furious pace with a healthy dose of explosions, dodged bullets, and not-so-dodged bullets. In the wrong hands, this sort of thing can grate on me quickly, but the writing here is charming and witty, the escapades of our heroes not wholly unbelievable. The art’s wonky in parts, but overall good. Characters with lines on their faces have them to signify wrinkles, while younger characters have smoother skin. The strength is in the action scenes and the depictions of gory violence, though I can’t say Garbett’s among the elite in that regard.

Eleven dead bodies. One dead bull. No breasts. Use of hydraulics to dodge rocket fire. Gun Fu. Tire Iron Fu. Septuagenarian Fu. Car Fu. With apologies to Joe Bob Briggs, I say check it out.

Back Issues

Murder most fun

[Slave Labor Graphics] Murder Can Be Fun #7

People say comics aren’t fun anymore. Well, here’s one with "fun" right in the title! You can’t go wrong. Why, the first story is co-written by American legend William Bradford himself! The history! The posterity! The buggery!

This issue spotlights kids, those adorable scamps we all know and hate love, starting with The Tale of Thomas Granger, put to death in 1642 ere his eighteenth birthday for multiple counts of bestiality, or as Bradford puts it, "for buggery with the mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey." True story. Technically no murder in this one, unless you count the animals, who were put down along with Thomas on account of the Bible said to. Garret Izumi converted the story to comic form, and… Well, bestiality is bestiality no matter how well you draw it. Ick.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! tells of Anne-Marie and Julia May Smith, whose fibs got their aunt and her neighbor/lover sent to prison. Crazy. Ed Steckley has a caricaturesque style that works well in small doses.

In King of the Skimmers, Andi Watson relates the story of nine-year-old Johnny and six-year-old Milt, who got bored and drowned a baby. Boredom kills, friends. Remember that. Watson has a distinct, almost 2D style. His figures are stiff and lay flat on the page. As with Steckley, his style works well enough with certain stories (good ones, like this), but it’s not what I like to see from the interpolated words and pictures that are the comics medium.

Gregory Benton’s linework in Choo Choo Bang Bang!! is so crude as to inspire in me wistful remembrances of the halcyon days of Steckley and Watson. Even the horse buggery was more pleasant than the migrating noses and wobbly lines found here. The story’s also the weakest of the issue; it’s not clear whether the boys’ subway derailment is based on actual events, and lacking that "truth is stranger than fiction" vibe, the epilogue feels forced.

Like Watson, Gabrielle Gamboa has a definite style. Unfortunately, it’s an ugly style, and however much of it is deliberate, there’s little skill here to bury. Gamboa’s plainly titled A Very Naughty Girl is the story of Hannah Ocuish, who was picking strawberries with some other girls and decided to steal all the strawberries picked by a girl half her age. That is Lex Luthor-level evil. Not being a supergenius, Hannah is caught and punished. As retaliation, she finds the little girl she stole from (and who presumably ratted her out), and bashes her skull in with a rock. Kids, if a mean old bully steals your strawberries, just… just shut up. Don’t say anything. They’re only strawberries, and the numerous psychological problems you’ll develop by kowtowing to bullies won’t be half as unpleasant as living (or more likely not) with a hole in your head.

John Marr, the book’s creator, writes and Jim Hill draws the final story (sort of), Drive-By Shooting, ’40’s Style, about a boy who tries – and fails – to scare his teacher into letting him pass an algebra test. It’s the least disturbing of the six stories, as no one is harmed and the delinquents are only sent to reform school, but it’s good for a laugh. Marr also contributes an informative essay about the history of killer kids.

Kids are the devil!

None of the interior art is as good as Troy Nixey’s gorgeous front cover illustration of a lad switching the train tracks at an inopportune moment, though Evan Dorkin’s back cover acquits itself well; Dorkin adapts several chilling stories of miniature murderers from 1896-1960. Among the reasons a kid might kill you if you give him/her half a chance: biting, being a sissy, boredom, impulse, and of course, their own gross stupidity. Avoid children at all costs. They might have rocks.

[Slave Labor Graphics] Milk & Cheese #1

Milk. Also, Cheese.

More good-natured fun. Evan Dorkin presents the adventures of the most hateful dairy products you’ll ever meet. Puns, random violence, and dated references (remember Nipsy Russell?) reign supreme as Milk and Cheese rampage through New York City in assorted shorts, most of them one to two pages long. It’s pretty simple stuff, with a make-it-up-as-you-go feel to it, bu that’s its strength. This is Dorkin at play, and the fun he injects the pages with is infectious. There are little doodles and notes here and there, and jokes come at you rapid fire. Aside from a few places where a black background makes the text hard to read, it’s a far more professional effort than you’d expect from a comic that originally appeared in such celebrated publications as Greed, X-Magazine, and Munden’s Bar. Dorkin’s a skilled cartoonist, his art easily a match for his writing, the combination producing fine comic bookery.

Trade

Hedge Knight

[Dabel Brothers] The Hedge Knight

Loopholes are great, don’t you agree? There’s an edition of this trade out from Marvel, publishers of its sequel, Sworn Sword, but Image and Devil’s Due combined to publish the original miniseries and the collection I hold in my hands (or would if they weren’t occupied). The Dabel Brothers apparently don’t work well with others. Halfway through Hedge Knight‘s six issues, they ditched Image, and within a year their relationship with Devil’s Due was over. They didn’t stick with Marvel, either, losing all their titles in the process, and are currently independent, which seems to be their preference. Not dead yet, DB are gearing up to adapt the Martin-edited Wild Cards series, among other licenses. Reminds me of a small market baseball team; they get all these big licenses, make a commotion without actually becoming competitive, and the best licenses run off to other teams for more money and an easier time making sales quotas. Then the cycle starts anew.

The question is, are these adaptations any good? I don’t know about Anita Blake or the rest, but having read the short story and the comic both, I can say the Dabel Brothers’ version of Hedge Knight is faithful to a fault. Martin wrote a great story, set a century before the events in his critically-acclaimed A Song of Ice and Fire trilogy series, so the comic has a great story. But it’s just Martin’s words with pictures added. And fewer words. Ben Avery, who adapts the work, does too much telling when he should be showing, using captions to describe what you can see plainly on the page. Martin writes excellent description, but he has to, working in a pictureless medium. There are ways to set a scene in a comic without words, and Avery forgets that in spots. Still, it deserves credit for not straying from the original, and is almost as enjoyable a read.

For those not familiar with Hedge Knight, the story concerns a young man named Duncan (Dunk for short), squire to one Ser Arlan of Pennytree. When the aged Ser Arlen dies on the road to a tourney, Dunk dubs himself Ser Duncan the Tall and enters the tourney in his stead, taking up the hedge knight legacy. Hedge Knights are akin to mercenaries, or ronin; they’re as honorable as any knight, but they’ve no permanent master, instead drifting from castle to castle, serving whoever will take them. Duncan enters the tournament, picking up a squire along the way, but before he can ride in the lists he runs into a villainous sort bullying a comely puppeteer. Dunk does the obvious, punching the lout out. Problem is, this lout is a prince, and striking him leaves Dunk with only one course of action: he must submit to a trial by combat. Specifically, a trial of seven. Seven on the side of the prince, seven on the side of the Hedge Knight. Duncan is left to find six knights where few familiar faces lurk, or forfeit the trial, his good right hand, and a foot to boot.

Next to Martin’s words, the strength of this adaptation lies in Mike Miller’s pencils. Team Kandora’s coloring does the art no favors, leaving everything with a glossy sheen, but it’s still pretty, almost photorealistic. I hadn’t heard of Miller before this, though he’s worked on several titles, including a few creations of his own. Might be worth a look.

Truncation

JLA Classified – Funny, cute, and single. *drool*
Proof – Worth reading if you’re not the type who demands attractive visuals from your comics.
Highwaymen – Another surprisingly good Wildstorm title that no one will read.
Murder Can Be Fun – Children are evil. You’ve been warned!
Milk & Cheese – Anarchist dairy products. A fun time for the whole family! Assuming you’re part of the Manson family.
Hedge Knight – Decent adaptation of a great short story.


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