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Quick Hit Review: Orc Stain #2

Written, Drawn and Colored By: James Stokoe
Lettered By: Unlisted
Publisher: Image Comics

If the fantastical world, title or insanity of the artwork has not gathered enough attention; then, let me add that there is some actual subtext in development within the pages of Orc Stain.

With this second issue Orcs are no longer just a high concept but more of a metaphor – a metaphor for humanity and the typical male persona. We live in a world that prides itself on the ideals of the “macho-man”. The guy who can bench-press two hundred and twenty-five pounds and bong plenty of beer is the one who seems to rule the social atmosphere, and that is what Stokoe finds interesting to comment on. His commentary is not positive but more cynical. The character of PointyFace is a slime ball who prides himself on his ego and his loud attitude, and Stokoe uses that to show the reader that this “ideal” male persona…it is not such a great idea to be. It is more savage than anything. Just like the Orc is a savage creature.

Stokoe also begins to explore in this issue the idea that society will only accept the “ideal” male. You see, execution in this world is not death (in a literal sense) but (for lack of a better word) being neutered (when falsely accused, our hero One Eye is sent to the chopping block to have his “gronch” taken away). A man having his manhood taken from him is a worse punishment than death itself because a dude without his dick does not meet the standards of the “ideal” man. With this event in the book, and the extreme circumstances it is under, Stokoe is commenting on the fact that too many men, and society in general, focus a bit too much on that aspect of the body. In the world of Orc Stain, an Orcs’ “gronch” seems to be his soul, and without one, an Orc may as well be dead. I think that idea probably holds true in our world as well. How many times have we all joked with our friends and said, “Oh, dude, if I lost my dick, I’d kill myself!” Again, Stokoe wants us to see the oddity of this mindset: the idea that our entire person is in our dick, in our manhood.

The artwork is simply a beautiful work of cartooning. Imagination has run wild on these pages. Nuff’ said.

I truly loved this issue – pure imagination and a bit of depth. People, you must find this title and read it.
Posted by Max at 4:56 PM 0 comments

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Teenage Wasteland Episode 72 – Criminal: The Sinners #5 and More!

This week on Teenage Wasteland…

I deliver two announcements (the show is a changin’ in a teeny, tiny aspect). Also, a nice talk and review of two DC Animated features, and a wrap up on Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Val Staples’ Criminal: The Sinners.

Items Discussed
Green Lantern: First Flight
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
Potter’s Field
Criminal: The Sinners #5

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Quick Hit Review: Brightest Day #0

Brightest Day is not just the next event book, but rather a tale of characters. Characters who have a second chance and wish not to waste any time.

If any complaint, the ones that claim the majority are: “What is the point?” “Where’s the high concept? “Where are the werewolves and vampires and zombies?” Simply put, I do not see Brightest Day as that type of story. Like 52, Brightest Day will center around the structure and placement of a group of recently absent DC Characters and work to weave them into the current DC Setting. The Martin Manhunter sequence (my favorite one) not only offers rediscovery but also a new tone for the character. The J’onn J’onnzz presented is not the collector of data or the strategist; this Martian Manhunter is back to his roots, on his native planet, on a quest to rediscover himself as the audience does. Yes, J’onn has his “Mars mission” at hand, but the mission is more about the character’s own hope and sense of wanting to act rather than the high concept of “Hey, Mars may be resurrected”.

One example, but the same point can be pulled from all twelve: this is a collection of character arcs and not just the next status quo in the DC Universe. A point I can appreciate as long as the amount of characters are handled well. This will be a series centered on twelve characters for twenty-six issues, and I will say that this issue did make me feel the grind of that in some aspects. Every two or three pages the reader is thrown across time and space (ala Boston Brand) to a new situation with a new set of rules. Some situations are highly interesting, while others fall a bit flat and appear jarring in the grand context of the issue. An oversized issue, and I already feel a grind of “too much going on”. That makes me a bit wary for the following issues which will present twenty-two pages and at least eight different situations. Pacing is everything to me, and if I feel any sense of being rushed it can really affect my ability to sink into a story. For the most part, this complaint has been an issue with all of DC’s weekly publications; it is the nature of the product. I just hope Johns and Tomasi can finally work out the formula in this one.

Art. I was not crazy about it. Technically, it is good. Pasarin tells the story sequentially well enough. If Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner are flying around Mars, he captures it. Maxwell Lord falling backwards into a pool of water, his sense of motion is on. I just cannot get into the style. It is clean. It is straight forward. It is boring. I like artists who can provide a more unique eye when it comes to anatomy and line (Gabriel Ba, Erik Larsen, John Romita Jr., Kirby, Sean Phillips). That approach is not within these pages, and for that fact I was not head over heals. It is not bad, just not praise worthy or something to let your eyes rest on.

Now, this is a zero issue, a premier, and I believe it does the job it should (introducing the basics), but within the next few issues it needs to quickly progress past the information we already know. Meaning: I do not feel I see anything new with this issue. The book just places the press releases we have all seen into the context of a story and makes them “real”. Again, a zero issue. It cannot give much away, but I do not wish to see Aquaman in issue #6 still asking, “Why am I alive?” The audience understands that question; it is the main question of the series, so do not shove it up front every scene of every issue. Move past, push the story to new territory starting next issue, and have fun.

Good start. I like the idea. I will read until I grow bored.

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Quick Hit Review: Shuddertown #1

Written By: Nick Spencer
Art and Colors By: Adam Green
Letters By: Thomas Mauer
Publisher: Image Comics

What have Keanu Reeves and Christian Bale been up to lately? Well, if you read this comic, you may get the impression that they have taken up law enforcement…or modeling. Issac Hernandez has a case to solve, like most cops do, but as he digs deeper into his mystery, it becomes apparent that all of his suspects of murder are well…dead themselves.

I found it funny that the same day I watched the movie Street Kings, I read this book because both share some pretty heavy similarities. The Keanu Reeves aspect obviously, but more of what I mean is that both lead characters share the conflict of doing their job. Tom Ludlow (of Street Kings) spends most of the film working his way past his own corruption, while here in Shuddertown, Issac Hernandez seems to have trouble focusing. He is a character, a cop who almost seems to not have a cause and instead appears irritated working cases and tries to drown his annoyances in pills. A reader could also say that the corruption angle works with Issac Hernandez as well – again, the drug use and the strippers.

Yet, even with that sense of “done before” against it, I still enjoyed Shuddertown #1 in terms of story because of the strong narrative throughout the issue. Spencer constructs the character right before the readers’ eyes very well with his method. Placing us right into Issac’s mind and story works as the best possible way to “get” this character because Issac, and in the way he thinks, tells us who he is himself…whether he knows it or not. Also, just as a first issue, I think this was very well organized and paced. Everything a reader needs to know for this tale is planted: the character, the conflict and the case.

The artwork this book presents is its main barrier though. I joked about Keanu Reeves and Christian Bale staring in this book, but in all seriousness, the book does really appear that way at times. To give a comparison, it is pretty obvious Adam Green takes a heavy influence from Alex Maleev – from the style down to the color palette. I do not mind when an artist takes an influence, but this was a straight “let me try to ape Maleev” situation, and I do not think it worked very well. In many cases I felt that the sequential aspect was pretty stiff (page 10 – car hitting guard rail), and again, the photo reference was not all too well covered. In many instances I felt that this was just a collage of actual photographs, pieced together trying to tell a story – it was just distracting. I do not mind photo realism as a style, but when you are producing comic book artwork, it is important that the photos also develop some sense of atmosphere behind them. That is something I think Maleev captures well, but Green does not.

Shuddertown is not a horrible comic book in any circumstance, and I am not claiming that Nick Spencer is ripping off Street Kings (for all I know, he has never heard of it). The artwork could use a makeover, but I think the character and the situation are good enough to give this book a pass. Not great, but still worth checking out.

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Teenage Wasteland Episode 70 – 100 Bullets, Adam Strange and a Thought

This week on Teenage Wasteland…

The big 7-0. Before I start the session of reviews, I have bit of a gripe to call with, wait for it…Vertigo (shocker!). Usually Vertigo is my safe-haven, but their Crime OGN Line…I am having some issues. Plus, reviews of three books that simply made me a happy reader in the past week.
Books Discussed
100 Bullets Vol. 1
Adam Strange: Planet Heist
Fantastic Four: Books of Doom

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Quick Hit Review – Hercules: Prince of Power #1

Written and Drawn By: Bob Layton
Colors By: Christie Scheele
Letters By: Rick Parker
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Before the Van Lente and Pak success, Hercules found himself contained in the 1984, four issue mini series from comics craftsman Bob Layton. This mini series takes the ancient, Greek god and contrasts him against the Earth of 2385, and shows to the reader how much of a soar-thumb Hercules can really be.  

The idea that I really enjoy about this opening issue is that it takes no time to explain why. Now, sometimes the ‘why’ is important, and failing to explain the ‘why’ is a fatal flaw (see my House of Mystery review), but with Hercules: Prince of Power…the ‘why’ is not needed. All this book is, all it desires to be is Greek gods in space, and that simple fact, that high concept is described by the cover alone. When you flip to that first page, after having the cover install that idea in your mind’s focus-point, you know what is going on and that allows Layton to skip the introductions and take the reader on an adventure.

This book provides your action and big punches, but it also supplies the humor. At first glance, the concept of this book (Greek gods in space) is pretty laughable, but Layton uses that to his advantage by placing Hercules into awkward situations. Take the idea of Hercules checking himself into a future hotel – a man dressed in seriously out-of-date clothes, speaking in ye’ old english and telling off a robotic bag boy…it is quite funny, and it provides a light tone to the book. Plus, I think, it also emphazies the specific quirks Herc has to offer as a character in not just a futuristic setting, but a classic Marvel Universe setting (Hercules could speak for Thor in the same aspect). 

Overall, it’s a nice issue, and I will finish the mini series to see what other character moments Bob Layton has to offer with good ol’ Hercules.

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Teenage Wasteland Episode 69 – I Dig Ragman

This week on Teenage Wasteland…

It is all reviews and comic talk! To make up for last week’s lacking, I am bringing the heat this time around and talking about a variety of books. Ragman, mini comics, Jeff Sandquist on The Sandbox….that’s only half of it. Dig in!

Books Mentioned
Ragman #1-8
The Deformitory
Lower Regions
Batman: Dreamland
Detective Comics Annual #7
Hellblazer: Pandemonium

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Quick Hit Review: House of Mystery #22

Written By: Matthew Sturges, Bethany Keele, William Keele and Peter Keele
Pencils By: Lucca Rossi and Farel Dalrymple
Inks By: Jose Marzan Jr.
Colors By: Lee Loughridge
Letters By: Todd Klein
Publisher: Vertigo

The House is under “new management” in part two of this four part tale, but the formula of this book still feels just the same.

As someone who gives Vertigo the benefit of the doubt on many occasions, it is now time for me to face facts – I have stuck with this series probably longer than I should have. But before I hit on that point further, let me talk about the actual single issue at hand. I did actually like this one particular issue. As a twenty-two page comic book I cannot find fault on Mr. Sturges or the crew. There is a nice flow for this issue, and the balancing act between the head story and the frame is actually pulled off nicely for once. I understand what the creative team has been going for with the frame stories (the frames act as a way to comment on the said theme or main situation of the main story through use of metaphor), but I think in very few instances they have pulled it off. The frame does work in this issue though because the frame is actually more of a flashback (possibly a metaphoric flashback – need more information) and connects to the main story; the flashback gives a look at a major event in Fig’s childhood and explores what happened to her long, lost brother. For the fact that Sturges is not trying to stretch and get a bit fancy with the frame, and leans more toward the flashback angle, I think he is able to make it work with the overall story.
I would also say that there were a few nice character moments in this issue. There is a nice opening scene with the troll Tursig in which Sturges focuses on his issues of being a homosexual troll in a world not so tolerant – a well done scene all around. I also quite liked the scene between Algernon and the two ghosts for the fact that it creates some conspiracy and humanizes what has been a pretty two-dimensional character.

So, all around, a pretty good issue…but that’s just one issue. As mentioned, I have been reading this one from the start. For the most part I have stuck it out because, “Oh, it’s Vertigo…it’ll pick up”. Honestly though, I have not been satisfied by much of this series because with every other issue I felt I was getting more of the same thing, and by that I mean too many questions, too many scene changes and story concepts met with average execution.

Look, for a series to have the reader questioning, it is not a bad thing. I usually like when a series builds questions because those questions are what draw me back each month to continue reading. But, in the case of House of Mystery, I feel that the questions present are ones you do not want to have. Namely, what is the purpose of this book? Is it to explore these characters? If so, not doing a great job…more there in a second. No, seriously though, what is the point? Whenever an ongoing story begins – especially a Vertigo story – I like to have the point or the direction somewhat labeled within the first story arc. That idea, that destination factor allows the reader to see where they are going and build a connection to that final idea through the action of reading the comic every month. The sense of direction a series has gives a reader a point to read because it gives them something to set their mind on and build towards. That has not happened here. I feel like after twenty-two issues I have a very limited idea of the series purpose, and without that sense of direction my care for the project seems to lack.

If the point is character study, then the characters may want to be defined a bit more. Another major heartbreak this series has had for me is that I do not get what makes these characters tick, and when they finally take some action (and that takes a while) I miss the reasoning or motivation behind it. This issue alone has one of those moments (Fig kissing Jordan), and it appears to me completely random because no sense of motivation is hinted at. Maybe if the book had an opportunity to slow down, instead of jumping from the main story, to the frame, back to the main and then covering the entire cast, the author and the reader would have a chance to define the characters and the series itself and build a connection.

Yes, number twenty-two was good, but at this point in the game, after plenty of poor attempts, I have lost my overall interest. After twenty-two issues I feel like I barely know the characters, the situation and the point. After twenty-two issues I feel like this series has lacked some serious steam. After twenty-two issues, I am calling it quits. Next time I will put into action that “six issue” rule on a Vertigo book.

So, as an overall series, eh…

2.5/5

But, on issue twenty-two alone, my rating will be…

4/5

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Teenage Wasteland Episode 67 – Choker, Ultimate X and a Bit of Business

This week on Teenage Wasteland…

J. Michael Straczynski is set to take on both Wonder Woman and the Man of Steel, and I find it interesting. Plus, a small observation on comic sales and the direct market and a run down of reviews on plenty of Number 1 issues.  And, last but not least, Mr. Sandquist stops by to talk all things Sam Kieth.

Books Discussed
Ultimate X #1
New Ultimates #1
Demo #1
Human Target #1
Choker #1

Download / iTunes / Forum

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