Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Shortbox 9/30/07

Amazing Spider-Man #543
writer: J. Michael Straczynski
artist: Ron Garney
Marvel Comics, released 8-22-07
This month, I kinda fucked up. See, I was going to write up reviews for five or six books, and I had them all picked out the first week of the month. But lo-and-behold it's now the last day of September and I still haven't posted. Tomorrow I'm supposed to get my new box-o-comics, so I have to write these up now. But there's only three of them this time because I've forgotten a ton of details and topic points of most of the ones I wanted to bring up.
Which brings me to this recent issue of Amazing. This is the last issue of this title that I am going to purchase, at least for the time being. I thought bringing back the Black Costume seemed like a cool idea despite being tied to the release of the third Spidey movie, but I was very wrong. Peter acting badass isn't really what I want to see. The best part of this arc was when he threw down with the Kingpen and beat him to a bloody pulp. The only bad thing about that was it was done way cooler about 50 issues ago in Daredevil by Bendis.
This particular issue finds Peter and Mary Jane forced to move a still-comatose Aunt May to a new facility. That would be interesting if this weren't a superhero book, but I just found myself not caring. A little action and humor please, JMS. I cared so little about this issue that I'm not even going to reread it so I can give it a proper review. It was dull, uninspiring and I can't wait for JMS's run to end. On the flip side, I'm glad I dropped the book now before having to pick it up three times a month once it goes into the hands of the convoluted new team system Marvel's developing for their flagship character. Just ridiculous. Avoid this one.
4 out 10

The Mice Templar #1
writer:Bryan J.L. Glass
artist: Michael Avon Oeming
Image Comics, released 8-29-07
This book was not what I was expecting. I had assumed for some reason that it would be a rather light-hearted romp of cute mice in the wilderness getting into trouble. I thought I'd be a great thing to give to my young cousins to get them to read something. I was very wrong and I can't tell you how happy I am about it. The Mice Templar was incredibly unique in the manner it shocked me, twisted my guts and made me care for characters I had only known for a few pages. Sure, you could give this book to a kid, but I doubt they'd fully grasp the gravity of what was occurring in it. It'd be like sitting a 5-year-old in front of Labyrinth who you would expect to enjoy the magic and wonderment in it, but then they got freaked out by Bowie's haircut and his baby-stealing ways because Ma and Pa didn't know that shit was in there. Or that was just me. Anyway, my point here is that this book isn't really for the younger crowd. This is a full-fledged epic. It just happens to feature mice in the lead roles.
Now, I've been raving about the concept of the story thus far, but I don't know that I would have enjoyed this book as much as I did if not for the astounding artwork. Oeming's using a style here that I've not seen from him before, and it's glorious. Keep in mind that I adore his work in things like Powers, too. But there is a fluidity here that his previous work doesn't contain. That said, I don't think a black and white version of this book would work. The coloring on The Mice Templar is what gives it that extra umph and takes it to the next level. Wil Quintana is to be applauded for his excellent work here.
I was intentionally vague as to what this title is specically about because I really think you should go in as green as possible before picking it up. Just be prepared to have a piece of your heart ripped out. You should get this one now. It's immediately apparent that this is a special book.
10 out of 10

Criminal #8
writer: Ed Brubaker
artist: Sean Phillips
Icon/Marvel Comics, released 8-8-07
Amazingly, I have not checked back in with Criminal here since it's inaugural issue. In that time, it hasn't disappointed. Because of this comic, I am now a crime fiction junkie, picking up every pulp novel and renting every film noir I can get my hands on. And what makes this one so great is that Brubaker is just rolling up all the best elements of the stories he grew up on and is smashing them together. The surprising thing about that is that the combination is actually fresh and has a great deal of character development in the stories thus far worthy enough of a college course discussion.
While the first arc concentrated on Leo, a quiet, seemingly cowardly thief, this new arc focuses on Tracy Lawless, a former special ops military man who is trying to find out what happened to his younger brother who he hadn't spoken to in years. Kinda like Get Carter with a heist angle. It's genius concept in my book and can't rave about it enough. Plus this arc has more action in it. Typically a plus.
One of the best things about Criminal is that, as a reader, we are never left with a story that is dragging out, as Brubaker fits into an issue what I expect him to do in an entire storyline. The other thing that I enjoy is the shear detail of the crimes. I'm a little lazy still in this post, so here's a page from this issue on the right that will illustrate what I'm trying to get across. See how Tracy knows how to make sure that the ATM camera won't even be able to film the perpetrator who rendered it useless? That sort of thing is all over the place in the book, and I love it. My brain doesn't work like that and I am amazed by those who are able to think like a criminal but are not actually one themselves.
As you can see, Phillips' art is great as always. This is definitely one of the best things on the stand right now. Unless you're sole interest is in the superhero genre, I can't imagine anyone not liking this book. Criminal has yet to disappoint me.
9 out of 10

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Shortbox 8/9/07

The Astounding Wolf-Man #2
writer: Robert Kirkman
artist: Jason Howard
Image Comics, released 7-5-07
The first issue was one of the features of this year's Free Comic Book Day, so hopefully you already have had a taste of this book. I felt that one went a bit by the numbers, essentially not giving us anything groundbreaking for a werewolf tale. But some aspects of the story, such as Gary's wife finding out that he's been bitten, were addressed right off the bat. This allows Kirkman to avoid dragging out cliche storylines. So I added the second installment to reward a promising new title.
In issue two, the Wolf-Man makes his first contact with other superheroes after finishing up his training with vampire Zechariah. There are some good action sequences from Howard, who implores a wonderful style in this comic book. You know it's a comic book when you open the pages and with Kirkman's sensibilities, that's a perfect combo. That said, this was a rather ho-hum issue overall until the final few pages. I won't spoil it for you here, but I'm sure issue 3 will certainly be worth buying.
7 out of 10

The Order #1
writer: Matt Fraction
artists: Barry Kitson, Mark Morales & Dean White
Marvel Entertainment, released 7-18-07
I'm a big fan of Matt Fraction. I love pretty much everything I've read by him. However, after reading his new book set in the aftermath of Civil War, I realize I may have been expecting a bit too much. The Order is the California team of the 50-State Initiative, and it will have a constantly rotating cast of heroes, no one lasting more than a year. Other than Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, these are completely new characters.
First off, the tone of this book is on the serious side, more so than I was expecting from the hilarious Fraction. Also, I was fairly certain at least one member of the team we met would be gone in one way or another before the close of the first issue, given the nature of the book. Plus, there's a lot of talking in the issue, and while there is a fair amount of fighting too, they didn't seem to balance well. Adding all of these issues together, and I was pretty underwhelmed. The art was great, but not enough to overcome an un-engaging story.
Is there still hope for the book? Sure there is. I probably knew too much about issue one from podcasts and Newsarama articles. But I know a lot about many new books these days and am often pleased with a new book. I like Fraction, so this one will still get a shot.
5 out of 10

Last Blood #2
writer: Bobby Crosby
artist: Owen Gieni
Blatant Comics, released July 2007
Last Blood is another book that put out its first issue on Free Comic Book Day 2007. That issue was a complete surprise because I had never heard of the creators or the publisher beforehand. It's the best example as to why FCBD is a great idea; I would have completely ignored the solicitation page it was on had I not read that first issue.
The story began in a very familiar fashion. A small town decimated by zombies with only a small number holed up together with supplies and shotguns. I went through the motions with it until I reached the halfway point, at which time a couple of vampires take out the zombies, thus protecting the humans. It turns out that the zombies have almost completely taken over the world. The vampires need the blood of the few humans who are left in order to survive, otherwise they will become zombies themselves. But they don't want to kill the humans, just take a blood donation here and there to sustain themselves. I've never come into contact with a vampire/zombie premise like this before and was compelled to order the second issue.
This one is more of the same horror goodness. While it by no means contains the greatest dialogue I've ever heard, it is good enough to propel the story farther, which is all I want. Even things I feel like I should see coming, I'm not, which is the mark of a good storyteller. I hope Crosby has big plans for this book and I hope some of you out there order a copy soon, because I doubt Blatant Comics is selling a ton of books. It may go the way of the dodo.
9 out of 10

Star Wars: Legacy #14
writer: John Ostrander
artist: Jan Duursema
Dark Horse Comics, released 7-11-07
I haven't checked back in on this Star Wars title since it began last summer and I'm not sure why. It's fantastic. Issue 14 marks the start of a new storyline, a great jumping on point for all of you uninitiated. Cade Skywalker has now stopped hiding his jedi heritage, but is still lightyears away from embracing it. He's basically a rougher, angrier version of Han Solo with the skills of a Jedi knight. While he is the focus of the book, the real treats come from the expanded universe: the broken Jedi order, the bastardized legion of Sith, the Galactic Empire (somewhat separate from the Sith in this story), and the Galactic Alliance, not to mention the plethora of alien races and rogue groups already introduced (though I'm probably missing a few factions of the intricate universe that has been set up by Ostrander).
This issues brings us Cade's first solo missing as he attempts to rescue his former teacher, who has been captured on Coruscant. In the process, we get more interesting tidbits revealed about Darth Krayt (the big bad of Legacy at the moment) and members of an Empire's air fighting squad (aspects similar to the new Battlestar Galactica, particularly Starbuck). It's all fascinating to me because I never thought the Star Wars movies went deep enough into the seedy underbellies that exist throughout its universe. This book takes us there. Add it to your pull list; it's far from just another licensed property book.
8 out of 10

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Shortbox 7/12/07

The Boys #8
writer: Garth Ennis
artist: Darick Robertson
Dynamite Entertainment, released 6-27-07
I'm going to do my best not to make a Thin Lizzy joke for this review. That said, two issues into their run at Dynamite and I don't think these boys are back in town yet (okay, so I didn't try very hard). It's a pretty solid issue, however, and you do have to keep in mind that this was written before the creators knew they were going to be ousted from their initial home at Wildstorm. In other words, the second arc is probably going to move a little slower than the first.
The depiction of sexually dysfunctional superheroes continues, which one would hope isn't the only despicable aspect to this world's protectors (wow, I guess I actually want there to be something more appalling than that), but damn if it isn't interesting. Thankfully, Ennis does balance the homosexual perversions with more realistic issues, some that occur today and other more fantastic ones that likely would if we actually had powered people running amok. Although there isn't anything in particular to get excited over in this issue, it no doubt is setting things up down the line. A little more info on the Frenchman and the Female wouldn't hurt either.
7 out of 10

Thunderbolts #115
writer: Warren Ellis
artist: Mike Deodato, Jr.
Marvel Comics, released 6-27-07
I added this book to my pull list on a whim, and while it's been okay so far, I haven't felt compelled to write anything about for LowBrowMedia until now. Deodato's art is phenomenal in the issue. It's been great all along, but now with the ridiculously awesome violence that was in this one, he's moved onto my "will buy a book just because it says 'art by Mike Deodato, Jr.' on it" list. Even though it's the Scorpion inside, the new Venom has some great scenes in this one (bring back Brock at any time, Marvel). But this issue truly belongs to Bullseye. Being one of my favorite villains (big DD fan, remember?), Bullseye really hadn't done much in the book thus far, which had been disappointing. Then, rather unexpectedly, Ellis unleashed the psychopath that Bullseye is, maybe crazier than I've ever read him before (and that's saying something). I'll stay spoiler-free for this review, but Bullseye's future is a giant question mark at the close of the issue.
Also, I really have to give props to Ellis for making me care about the F-list level heroes he's put up against the T-Bolts. I can't believe I actually give a shit about a guy called American Eagle and I was actually pissed when Jack Flag died a few issues back. For hating superheroes, Warren Ellis sure knows how to write them.
9 out of 10

Jack of Fables #11
writers: Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges
artist: Steve Leialoha
Vertigo/DC Comics, released 6-6-07
Five months after starting this two-part arc we finally receive some resolution. That said, I did love the little "don't worry, we'll fix it in the trade" line that they gave at the end of Jack of Fables #6. This is turning into a pretty good book. I had my doubts about it's longevity early on, but it looks like it'll be around for some time. The most interesting thing about this story has been yet-to-be-seen ramifications of Jack's recklessness with the Snow Queen. We certainly haven't seen the last of her. Willingham's plan for these Fables characters is extraordinary. Making Jack's actions the cause for her becoming the cold-hearted, evil legend we all know was brilliant. I hope at some point the events of this book are felt in the pages of Fables, though I think that may be a long time coming.
8 out of 10

Moon Knight #11
writer: Charlie Huston
artists: Mico Suayan & Frank D'Armata
Marvel Comics, released 6-20-07
The first six issues of this latest incarnation of Moon Knight were some of my favorite books put out over the past year. Since then, Huston has tied MK into the greater Marvel U again, which in theory is a great idea, but the execution has been underwhelming at best. We've had guest spots from Spidey, Captain America, the Punisher and now Iron Man over the past few months. Steve Rodgers was the only one that didn't seem forced to me, but it certainly did not have to be included. These have all been little scenes tying into Civil War. In fact, despite the proclamation on the cover that this is an Initiative issue, the events actually take place before CW #6. How long ago did that book come out?! Has it been seven months already? So add to the lackluster plot and forced tie-in elements the fact that the plot occurred so long ago that I'm no longer interested. We know Moon Knight didn't do anything in Civil War already, so what's the point of forcing it down our throats this long afterwards?
The truly saddening thing about all of this is that Huston is clearly a good writer and has the character of Moon Knight down. But this is also his first comic-writing endeavor, and he hasn't learned how to do a proper tie-in yet. I hope Huston comes back to comics after his Moon Knight run, striking a Brad Meltzer-like balance between his novels and comic work. In the mean time, here's to Marvel picking a strong writer to take the good that Huston's done with the character and make him great.
5 out of 10

Wasteland #10
writer: Antony Johnston
artist: Christopher Mitten
Oni Press, released 6-1-07
It's been almost a year since I last checked in with Wasteland here at LowBrowMedia and a lot has happened. The various fractions of the story are beginning to come together now, and what I suspected then I can now proclaim is true -- this is a great book. Yes, it's still just getting started, but with every issue that comes out, it's clear that this story is going somewhere. I can't tell exactly where yet, but I do know that Johnston has a plan for it, and as long as we, the comic-buying public, keep supporting it, we'll get there. The astounding piece of information we got in this issue is that Michael, Abi and Marcus all have ties to a world that (through Marcus' memory) is much more like our own than the "modern" world of Wasteland. How this all ties back to the America that we know is what keeps me repeatedly riveted each month.
Mitten's art is great once again, and his style appropriately evolves when a dream, flashback or hallucination is shown. The great thing about this book is that it is by no means too late to jump on it. If you agree with my reviews on this site, then you'll love this book.
9 out of 10

Iron Fist #6
writers: Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction
artists: David Aja & Russ Heath
Marvel Comics, released 6-27-07
Amazingly enough, I haven't reviewed this title yet for the site. As you can probably guess, I'm ecstatic for each and every morsel I can get on it. It's written by two of the most exciting guys involved in comics right now and drawn exquisitely by a bevy of artists. David Aja draws the present-day Iron Fist story, while the other artists take care of the flashback portions of the story, which there are a lot of. That process, while unorthodox, is great, not only because it will keep the book from going late, but the styles themselves compliment each other and the eras they are depicting. This issue closes out the first arc and guest stars the original Heroes for Hire crew kicking some Hydra ass along with Iron Fist and his grand-pappy, Orson Rand. It is wall-to-wall action this go-around, and it's just a great read. Taking the billionaire playboy down to nothing, then mixing classic kung-fu mysticism with modern-day sensibilities drives forth a compelling and riveting ride each time I pick up an issue. This is probably my favorite Marvel book right now and it has the potential to get better. Who knows if it will, but a kung-fu competition in the next arc is a great place to start.
10 out of 10

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Shortbox 5/5/07

Fallen Angel #15
writer: Peter David
artists: Kristian Donaldson & Rhonda Pattison
IDW Publishing, released 4-25-07
Although I haven't reviewed an issue of Peter David's Fallen Angel for LowBrowMedia until now, I've been an avid follow of it since its inception. In fact, issue #1 during its DC run was one of the first comics I bought when I began reading the medium seriously a few years back. Volume two's issue #15 brings the third artist to draw the world of Bete Noire, Kristian Donaldson. He's a nice choice, reaching a comparative middle ground between of previous artists David Lopez and J.K. Woodward. I don't think I ever would have tired of Woodward's work on FA, but the life-like detail of his work had to be one of the reasons the book would take a month off here and there. In any event, Donaldson art is excellent, instantly catapulting longtime readers into territory they have already been in, albeit with a fresh twist. As for the story, David once again delivers an intoxicatingly delicious new character to the book: the self-appointed protector of Bete Noire before Lee ever stepped foot into town. I'm a bit disappointed that a story I enjoy has a main character teetering between the world of the book and the "real world" inside a mental institution (there's even a panel referencing an episode of Buffy where she was told her world was all in her head -- one of worst episodes of the show's run in my opinion), but this does seem to be headed in a new path compared to most sci-fi, mental-patient stories. This is not a book for everyone, but it's definitely a book for me. Go out and pick up the trades to catch up on this one. You won't be sorry.
8 out of 10

Hellblazer #231
writer: Andy Diggle
artists: Leonardo Manco & Lee Loughridge
Vertigo/DC Comics, released 4-18-07
This issue concludes Diggle's first arc on the title. It was only a two-parter, but it looks as though the Vertigo editors have found yet another strong writer to take us on the journey of John Constantine. In the great tradition of many other Hellblazer tales, I never knew quite what to expect on the next page, but there was still an undeniable familiarity with this story. Perhaps that was due to Manco's artwork being just as gritty and dark as the previous arcs that he's been a part of, but I also feel as though Diggle has a dead-on conection with Constantine. Another two-part arc is on deck. Hopefully we'll get more of the same.
8 out of 10

B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls #2
writers: Mike Mignola & John Arcudi
artists: Guy Davis & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse Comics, released 4-11-07
I always have the most difficult time trying to sum up an issue of Hellboy or B.P.R.D., more so than any other title. Part of that is due to being a huge fan of all things Mike Mignola, and it is also partly because of the sheer depth of mystery surrounding every story in this series. Just the littlest things can mean so much in this book. Take the little girl on page 5 -- Davis' depiction of her may be the creepiest little girl in a comic I've ever seen, and when you keep in mind the sort of things I read, that's saying something. There is pure death in those eyes, but it's unlike any other evil-kid eyes I can recall; she's somehow soulless and emtional at the same time. In any event, Garden of Souls is delving deeper into the history of Abe Sapien, which considering he was created almost 15 years ago, it's about time. But judging on how intricately and delicately this mystery in unraveling, it's going to be completely worth it in the end. Just an absolutely stunning comic.
10 out of 10

Green Arrow #73
writer: Judd Winick
artists: Scott McDaniel & Andy Owens
DC Comics, released 4-11-07
With news breaking recently that the Green Arrow solo series is winding down, I realized that I don't care that much about it any more. It happened rather quickly, too. A few months ago I loved this book. It was hands-down my favorite offering from DC, full of action and surprises each month. All I can guess to why is that Ollie as Star City mayor has just gotten old. At first, I had hoped Winick was going to make Ollie battle just as hard in the political realm as he did on the rooftops and in the streets. Instead it seems as though everything is being laid to rest as quickly as possible in order to make way for the inevitable Green Arrow/Black Canary book that will be coming our way in a year's time. Who knows if this was Winick's plan for Green Arrow all along or if DC editorial has forced him to wrap everything up in one fell swoop, but I say it stinks of corporate interference, which is flat-out sad and all too common with that company these days.
4 out of 10

New Avengers #29
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artists: Leinil Yu & Dave McCaig
Marvel Comics, released 4-11-07
Man, am I digging this book. I thought I liked it pre-Civil War, but with this new lineup, I am just floored. The reveal of the new Ronin can't come soon enough for me (which will be with #30). The dialogue is off-the-charts good in this issue, particularly the Danny Rand and Jeryn versus Iron Man and Ms. Marvel conversation, but not excluding the team's banter throughout the remainder of the issue. Bendis is just running on all cylinders with this book right now, which makes the presentation of his companion title The Mighty Avengers come across as annoyingly dull. Plus, I can't speak highly enough of the addition of Dr. Strange to the team. Bendis is making great use of him thus far, although Yu could try to draw Wong look like he's younger than 70. One other minor complaint: where the hell is Night Nurse?!?! I know you love her, Bendis. If you can squeeze Jessica Jones in each issue, you can plop Night Nurse in there, too. I'm just saying...
9 out of 10

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Low Blows 02.18.07

“Crossing Midnight” #1-3
DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Jim Fern

Over the last year or so, I’ve become more and more aware of writer Mike Carey’s work. He’s probably best known for his work for Vertigo Comics’ “Lucifer” series, which was both a spin-off from and based upon Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” mythology. He’s now writing “X-Men” and “Ultimate Fantastic Four” for Marvel Comics, but with his new series “Crossing Midnight,” Carey has been granted the chance to create a mythology of his own, and explore a world solely of his own creation.

This book is set in modern Japan, though story elements tie back to the latter days of World War II at the bombing of Nagasaki, and even further into the past, with the dealings of the Hara family in feudal times with entities and powers beyond their reckoning. More specifically, though, it deals with twin brother and sister Kai and Toshi Hara, who were born on either side of midnight on a very important day. Now teenagers, they are confronted with the deadly consequences of a bargain which their father was not even aware he made before they were born. As Kai sees his sister plunge headfirst into an unknown mystical world to which she (to his horror) seems completely suited, he is himself confronted by powers which seek to control him as well.

These three issues are very much the beginning of the story. By design, I’m sure, they offer very little in the way of resolution, but they make up for this in that they lay the foundation for all sorts of interesting storylines -- who exactly was it that visited the Hara family so long ago? Where is this new world which they have only been given glimpses over the years, and what has happened to their long-lost playmate that they left behind? To what faction does this dragon entity who has enlisted Kai into his service truly belong? And perhaps most importantly, what will be the end result of the sacrifice that Toshi makes in the end?

The atmosphere of this story is comparable to that of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” series or Hayao Miyazaki’s film “Spirited Away,” but with a greater sense of dread and horror underneath. Not going along with the wishes of these mystical beings has grave results, which is made viscerally evident at the end of the first issue. Imagine if “Spirited Away” had had a much darker ending -- say, in which Chihiro had failed to save her parents, and then you might have a little better idea of where this series seems to be heading.

Penciller Jim Fern did a great job a little while back on a two-issue “Fables” arc, and I was very happy to see him assigned as the regular artist on this book as well. His art carries a strong line which I really like, and really shines in its depiction of the otherworldly creatures which Kai and Toshi encounter, as well as the more mundane aspects of their life. I should also mention that J.H. Williams III has been contributing beautiful covers to this series that look like ancient Japanese woodcuttings and watercolors, which really sweeten the deal every month.

It’s a great feeling to stumble upon a new book with such promise. I missed out on the first issues of “Y, the Last Man,” “100 Bullets” and “Fables,” and had to scramble to find back issues. Not so with “Crossing Midnight” -- I was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor with this one. It receives my highest recommendation, and future issues can’t possibly come out soon enough.

[9.5 out of a possible 10]

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Longbox: Essential Moon Knight

Much like the groundhog of Puxny, Pa., "Graphic Novel Grab Bag" returns to Low Brow Media from nearly a year of slumber. Even though Phil did not see his shadow this year (meaning a shorter winter), it's still going to be cold outside. So what better to keep you warm than picking up a good collection of comics?

Essential Moon Knight vol. 1
writers: Doug Moench, Bill Mantlo, Steven Grant
artists: Don Perlin, Mike Zeck, Jim Mooney, Jim Craig, Gene Colan, Keith Pollard, Bill Sienkiewicz
Marvel Comics, released 2-15-06
Having greatly enjoyed the first few issues of Charlie Huston and David Finch's latest incarnation of Moon Knight, I decided to pick up the first volume in his Essential line in order to find out more about him. There was too much going on in those pages to be left to a quick scan on the Moon Knight Wikipedia page. I needed to know the real story about this character that was completely foreign to me.
For those of you unfamiliar with Marvel's Essential collections (as well as DC's similarly produced Showcase series), they consist of many classic issues reprinted in black and white on lower quality paper. Because of this, they are priced around $17, probably half of the price that colored, high-quality paper editions would run you. This may bother you; it doesn't bother me. I love a good, cheap comic. Sure, color would be nice, but as you know from reading this site, story is king in my book.
Though I've only read a handful of the Essential books that are available, I suspect that this assemblage is different than most of the others. For one, this only collects the first 10 issues of the original Moon Knight series. The majority of the books offer closer to 25 issues of a particular title. But Moon Knight's ascension to his own title took a different path than many other players in the Marvel Universe. He began as a guest character in a handful of issues of Werewolf By Night, followed by a few other similarly short appearances in other books, all of which are collected here. The first third of the book containing these stories was a little hard for me to get through. I am just used to the modern sensibilities of graphic storytelling and stories from the mid-70s seem a big quaint. While entertaining to a degree, the predictable and simplistic nature of these comics are one of the chief reasons why comics are still looked down upon by many people, which bothers me. On the other hand, I do have to remind myself that this was a different era, and the standards were very different then. Plus, Spidey and the Thing show up, so it's not a total loss.
Despite my criticisms of these early Moon Knight stories, I have to salute the talent of the pencilers, particularly Don Perlin, whose initial design for the character has only been altered over time, never completely overhauled as so many others have been -- even the Ultimate version of MK is very similar to that first panel in Werewolf By Night. I suspect the look of Moon Knight is one of the reasons he developed the cult he has around him.
Then came the stories from the Hulk Magazine. These are fantastic; probably the best stories of any kind that I've read from this era. The art is rich, even in the Essential format. I didn't know these reprints could look so good. At first, I was sure they had originally been painted panels, but I think the quality of art must have simply been better for the magazine than it had been for the standard comic back then. Regardless, it is an extraordinary effort by the reprint team and shows us that today's comics will be well-served in the black-and-white format someday. In addition to the great artwork is the grittier, racier, and more adult-themed storylines from Doug Moench. Moon Knight really came into his own character at this time, moving beyond the knock-off, Batman-in-white character he had largely been beforehand. Of particular interest of these stories is the three-part Randall Spector arc, in which MK is set up against his brother. I really did not think comics had reached this level of depth until the 80s, and this came a bit before that time.
Finally, the book closes with the initial 10 issues of Moon Knight's first solo series. All written by Moench and drawn by Sienkiewicz, these stories delved into MK's past and began to address the four personas in one man: Marc Spector, veteran marine and international mercenary; Steven Grant, the handsome, billionaire playboy; Jake Lockley, the common cabbie; and Moon Knight, the cloaked crime fighter. While the dabbling into multiple personality disorder is quaint at best, at least the creative team actually acknowledged it. Plus, it does set the stage for more in-depth analysis in later incarnations of the character.
These first 10 issues are pretty strong overall, if not perfect. The roles of MK's girlfriend and his sidekicks are all expanded during this period. No longer is Marlene just waiting around for Steven Grant to take her to a party. Frenchie actually has opinions while flying the Mooncopter. Crawley does more than merely divulge the word on the street to Jake Lockley. Gina and her kids do more than serve food and yell at Crawley. It's a fascinating group of characters and a more diverse supporting cast than most other heroes have.
As I've stated in various ways before now in this review, Essential Moon Knight vol. 1 is a solid collection. What really should propel you to take a look at this book, however, is how it ties so directly into Charlie Huston and David Finch's current run on Moon Knight. They've woven almost all of the characters mentioned here into that first arc. While you don't need to read this to enjoy the current adventures of MK, you will benefit from knowing both the history of what these characters mean to him and appreciate just how great a writer Huston is by successfully intertwining the past with the present for a cult character revered by many but unknown by most. If you're a Moon Knight fan, this truly is essential reading material.
8 out of 10

*** Now that LBM has expanded beyond comics, I've retooled some of the columns for the sake of simplicity. This was originally part of a feature I did called "Graphic Novel Grab Bag." I only ever wrote five, so I've re-tagged them as Longbox entries. Enjoy the early days of LBM that I've somehow resisted the urge to purge. -- JA, 1/20/10 ***

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Shortbox 1/26/07

Powers #21
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Michael Avon Oeming
Icon/Marvel Comics, released 11-29-06
Because this book has been erratic with it's publishing schedule since moving to Marvel's Icon line, when I opened up the first page, I had no idea what was going on anymore or who was lying dead on the floor before Deena and Christian. Unfortunately, Powers has not been the same since bolting from Image to allow Bendis to sign his exclusive deal with Marvel. While I jumped on the series with the beginning of volume two, I've since gone back and read all of the Image issues. Those 37 issues are absolutely amazing -- filled with fantastic action, huge plot twists, hilarious and poignant dialogue, and the great talent of both Bendis and Oeming at the top of their games. You should all log onto eBay and buy them when finished with this article. Sadly, the pace has dropped considerably since the move to Icon and the jump in time in the Powers universe. Well, until issue #21. This one was full with as many visual twists as there were plot divergences, most perfectly timed with the turn of the page. I'm dying to detail them all, but won't. Let's just say the dead "power" on the floor on page one isn't the last by book's end. I hope this is a sign of more crazy goodness in Powers. It's been too long.
10 out of 10

Winter Soldier: Winter Kills #1 (one shot)
writer: Ed Brubaker
artists: Lee Weeks, Stefano Gaudiano, & Rick Hoberg
Marvel Comics, released 12-27-06
Since his reintroduction to Marvel continuity, Bucky Barnes has been shrouded in mystery. Appearing almost exclusively in the pages of Brubaker's Captain America thus far, we have only gotten a few extended glimpses into Bucky's life. Now known as the Winter Soldier, he's tapped by Nick Fury to take down a suspected Hydra cell on his own -- on Christmas Eve no less, his one night off on the year. Throw in a trio of Young Avengers out on Civil War business, and there's a nice mix witty banter, furious combat, and insight into Bucky's state of mind. This issue is a great byproduct of the Civil War delay, because it probably would not have been written without it. As much as a part of me would love to see a Winter Soldier series, I hope Marvel resists that temptation and hands us the occasional one-shot focusing on him or a well-placed guest spot in another book from time to time. Revealing too much of a character such as this too quickly will only kill the intrigue that has built up.
9 out of 10

Union Jack #4 (of 4)
writer: Christos N. Gage
artist: Mike Perkins
Marvel Comics, released 12-20-06
This mini-series spinning out of the pages of Brubaker's afore mentioned Captain America series has proven to be a fine gem each month in my stack. (It also began strongly. See here.) Gage has been easing into the realm of comics, as he's well established in Hollywood for his work on shows such as Numb3rs and Law & Order: SUV. After reading this series, I now have my eye on him. With Union Jack, Gage explores one of the less-popular Marvel heroes in a politically charged story full of classic comic-book goodness, and it doesn't come off as dated or contrived in the slightest. Joining the title character are a nice trio of D-list characters, all of whom were interesting choices to form a team with given their interactions with each other, even though I had never heard of a single one of them beforehand. Added to a very good story is artwork by Mike Perkins that explodes off of the page in nearly every panel.
I have a feeling this title got lost in the shuffle with all the Civil War brouhaha, which is unfortunate because it deserved more attention. I'd also like to see another mini with this cast of characters. I'm pretty sure both Gage and Perkins have another story with this crew up their sleeves. In the meantime, I hope this story will be collected in trade. If you see it, definitely pick it up.
8 out 10

Monday, January 22, 2007

Low Blows 01.22.07

“Snakewoman” #6
Virgin Comics
Writer: Zeb Wells
Artist: Dean Hyrapiet

“Snakewoman” is a relatively new series from an equally new publisher that I took a chance on a couple months back. And while the earlier issues had their flaws, I was pretty happy with a turn that the story took in the fifth issue -- one that I didn’t expect, and one that I thought would surely set up future stories that I’d be interested to read.

As it turns out, though, I didn’t enjoy issue 6 as much as the previous ones. A large part of this is probably due to the fact that this is the first issue without the participation of Michael Gaydos (“Alias,” “The Pulse”), whose name attached to the title page of this book prompted its purchase in the first place. Another reason I was a little disappointed with “Snakewoman” this month is that there was very little forward motion to the plot. While I’m certainly no “anti-decompression” activist, there had better be a dynamite story in an issue that spotlights a certain character whom I barely knew was in the previous issue -- and will in all probability never appear again.

Unfortunately, Zeb Wells’ script for this issue focuses more upon the cliché ramblings of a mentally unwell janitor than on the much more compelling theme of Jessica Peterson’s descent into the acceptance of a life of revenge and murder. While the Snakewoman does appear towards the end of the book, just in time to make a very difficult choice, I definitely prefer her to be in center stage, especially when the other story elements aren’t all that compelling.

I’ve never run into Dean Hyrapiet’s work before, either, but his penciling brings to mind Roy Allan Martinez’s art. It’s certainly not as polished as Martinez or his predecessor Gaydos’ stuff, but it does the job well enough. There were some awkward panels, but I’m willing to chalk that up to Hyrapiet still getting a feel for the characters, and not any deficiency in his abilities.

Now, I’ve been reading comics long enough to realize that every series has its hiccups, and I’m not about to give up on “Snakewoman” just yet, especially when I consider the strength of the previous issues. I can appreciate that Wells has tried to make each issue a unique experience, and one mediocre issue out of six isn’t such a bad record. Better luck next time.

[6.5 out of a possible 10]

“Iron Man” #14
Marvel Comics
Writers: Daniel and Charles Knauf
Art: Patrick Zircher and Scott Hanna

When I first heard that Daniel Knauf, creator of HBO’s “Carnivale,” and his son Charles were going to take over the writing reins on “Iron Man” once Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s six issues had been completed, I was a little disappointed. Not so much because I didn’t love “Carnivale” (I do!) but instead that Ellis was leaving a book that was so uniquely suited to him.

And when the Knaufs’ first six-part storyline ended up being yet another “somebody gets control of Tony Stark/Iron Man and wreaks havoc, thus creating self-doubt in Tony’s mind” story, I was even more disappointed. I’ve never been crazy about Pat Zircher’s art, and if I may be completely honest, it looked horrible on “Iron Man,” especially when compared to how pitch-perfect Adi Granov’s art was for the character.

Here’s the good news, though: the book’s getting better. I’m not crazy about the death of a long-running character in these pages, and the art still seems a little off, but we’re now starting to get some fascinating background for Stark’s mindset and actions in “Civil War.” In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that the character development beginning in issue 13 and especially this issue contains some of the best justification for Iron Man’s continued support of the Registration Act and the tough decisions he has had to make that I’ve read in the entire Civil War event. The meeting with Captain America, and how badly it goes, shows how Cap’s anger is clouding his judgment a bit, and how, like it or not, Stark is just doing the best he can in a difficult situation.

If this book keeps improving by leaps and bounds as it has over the past months, I have no doubt I’ll end up being very happy with it. Truthfully, I’m already feeling pretty good about it. And this is not to mention the addition in the coming months of incoming penciller Roberto De La Torre, fresh off of his great work on “Ms. Marvel,” which will no doubt address my other concern with the book, too.

I’m not sure where “Civil War” will leave Iron Man, or if Tony Stark will even be the bearer of the armor at all after the dust settles. If he is, in fact, going to become the head of SHIELD, as previous issues of “New Avengers” and this title seem to be hinting, that should be a real interesting direction for the character, and I assume, the upcoming “Mighty Avengers” comic. In light of the increasing quality of this book and these very interesting times for this character, my advice would definitely be to give it another chance -- even if you have just recently dropped it due to the Knaufs' lackluster opening arc.

[8 out of a possible 10]

Monday, January 15, 2007

Low Blows 01.15.07

"Sandman Mystery Theatre:
The Sleep of Reason" #1 (of 5)
DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: John Ney Rieber
Artist: Eric Nguyen

A couple of years ago, when I was just getting back into comics and trying to catch up on all that I had missed in the last seven or eight years, I spent quite a bit of time on Ebay chasing low prices on full runs of comics. One of sets I won was a near-complete set of Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle's "Sandman Mystery Theatre" series for around $30 -- an incredible steal. This is the series that made me a huge fan of artists John Watkiss and Guy Davis, and also tied into another favorite series of mine, James Robinson's "Starman," in some really cool and rather shocking ways. I was hooked, and over 70 issues, even after the departure of Wagner, "SMT" maintained its strong characterization, rich 1920s "period piece" setting, slight mystical undertones, and subtle yet thought-provoking and often violent storylines all the way through. What was perhaps most appealing was the relationship between Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman, and Dian Belmont, his girlfriend and sometime sidekick.

It's a relief, then, that this new miniseries, which ostensibly introduces a new Sandman, begins with Wesley and Dian in the twilight of their life, once again getting into trouble in the Afghanistan of 1997, of all places. John Ney Rieber, whom I know from his long tenure on Vertigo's "Books of Magic" years ago, does a good job maintaining the established characterization of the pair, and providing a clear connection between this and the previous title.

Flash forward a few years, and embedded photojournalist Kieran Marshall is abducted while attempting to secure an interview with a terrorist leader. A subsequent meeting with the aforementioned terrorist goes sour, but also results in an encounter with a certain gas mask and sleeping-gas gun of interest to readers of the 1990s "Sandman Mystery Theatre" book. A compulsion takes control of Kieran, and he retaliates upon the terrorists who have captured him while bellowing the familiar command "SLEEP." (It's actually a lot cooler than it sounds.) Now, the present-tense story is compelling enough, but I assume the story of how Wesley Dodds' equipment came to rest in a madman's tent in Afghanistan for ten years' time will be told over the course of the miniseries, and I, for one, can't wait to read it and find out.

I found that Eric Nguyen's pencils and inks in this book were an acquired taste, but not entirely unlike that of Guy Davis when I first encountered his art -- and that is intended as a compliment. I ended up really enjoying Nguyen's quirky linework and slightly askew perspective in combination with Lee Loughridge's muted colors. There were a few times when I found myself a little less than positive about what was going on in a panel, but upon reading the book a second time, I found the fault lay more in too-quick reading on my part than any artistic inadequacy on-panel.

I'm not entirely sold on this new character yet, but the promise of seeing more of Wesley and Dian, and the potential that the strange dreams experienced by Kieran before even encountering the mask are evidence that Dream of the Endless (whose story is told in that one other "Sandman" series you may have heard of) may have a hand in this, as with Wesley Dodds before him, definitely intrigues me. The first issue of "The Sleep of Reason" certainly merits checking out the next issue, if not the entirety of the miniseries.

[7.75 out of a possible 10]

"Loveless" #14
DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Danijel Zezelj

I'm a fan of Brian Azzarello's work, and I buy pretty much everything he puts out. But I'll be the first to admit that he can be pretty inscrutable at times. Most of his comics require two reads, minimum, to fully appreciate. His characters speak in a profanely poetic street verse, puns wrap themselves around page transitions, and callbacks to events in the series that go way back can be a real barrier to the casual reader.

And while Azzarello's other Vertigo book, "100 Bullets," has a healthy life on the graphic novel market, I'm a little worried about "Loveless." I was pretty shocked when the character which the book had been focusing upon for the majority of the previous issues was killed in issue #12. I was even more shocked that this was barely even touched upon until the very end of this issue, #14. It's brave, nearly crazy, choices like this that make me love this book. I just hope other people feel that way, because I can see how this would be a challenging read, to say the least.

For one, "Loveless" lacks the playful humor which humanizes and endears the bloodthirsty criminals of "100 Bullets" to the reader. In this issue, for example, the recently-deceased Wes Cutter's wife Ruth spends most of this issue cruelly killing members of the town who stood by while she was raped by Federal troops when the Southern town of Blackwater was taken over after the Civil War. She holds literally everyone responsible for this, and her husband's apparent death seems to have pushed her to take some very final action against those who have wronged her.

Artwise, I will say that series co-creator Marcelo Frusin is missed, but only because I love his artwork so much. I'm not sure what's happened, but he hasn't done anything but "Loveless" covers for quite a few issues now. The very talented Werther Dell'Edera and Danijel Zezelj have been trading spots every couple of issues providing the art, and I have no complaints about their work except that it is sometimes difficult to keep their individual representations of Frusin's characters straight. For instance, I'm pretty sure that's Wes' body which appears on the last page, not quite dead yet after all, but I'm not 100% sure.

If you're into "Deadwood" or hardcore western movies like "Unforgiven," this series is for you. There is a racial element brewing that is also fascinating, but which I don't completely understand yet -- and that's fine. There's plenty of time for Azzarello to bring those characters into play later. This series is slated to run about 36 issues long, assuming Vertigo is good enough to provide us with them. I have heard that many readers gave up on this series in earlier issues due to the difficulty in keeping the complex story and characters straight. I don't blame them, but this series is rewarding to the reader who is, frankly, willing to be confused for a bit and just go along for the ride. I have a feeling that the second half of this series is where everything will fall into place, and I'm impatient to see what is in store.

[8.5 out of a possible 10]

Friday, January 05, 2007

Newsflash -- LBM Quoted on Wasteland #5 Cover

Much to my surprise in this month's comics delivery, LowBrowMedia has been quoted on the rear cover to Oni Press' Wasteland #5. Mike and I had no idea this was going happen, but we are thankful to the folks at Oni for bestowing an up-and-coming site like this one with such an honor. This follows the two references of LBM in the blog section of Boom! Studios after they appeared in some our recent reviews, the first acknowledgements of the site from an outside source.
If you've come across our site by way of Boom! or Wasteland, welcome. Here at LowBrowMedia, we review comic books from all over the industry, not just Marvel and DC. We hold comics to a high standard. We want to tell you where a great story can be found, as well as where to avoid an underwhelming one. We try not to get too spoilery, and warn you if we do.
If there's something you want us to take a look at that we haven't reviewed yet, let us know in the comments section. I'm always looking for another great book, but my budget has its limits, so I can't pick up everything that looks tempting. However, a push from a devoted fan of comics certainly will spur me to find a copy.
Also, if you are a creator or a representative from a comic company and would like us to review your book, contact us at We can even post a review of it before the book is released if given ample time to read it.
On another quick note, I apologize for not posting in December, but the holidays got in the way. That said, discovering that our site is on the radar of members of the comic industry has inspired both Mike and I to take our little hobby to the next level. That means regular posting of reviews. I also hope to bring back my "Longbox" and "Graphic Novel Grab Bag" columns soon, which haven't been touched in some time, as well as some other ideas I've been toying with.
Happy New Year, everyone! We've certainly gotten off to a great start and hope you come back often in 2007.