Swamp Thing Annual 5 (June 1989)

Neil Gaiman sure does think he’s an inventive writer. The third person narration of the annual’s feature is exceptionally annoying but damn if Gaiman doesn’t write good dialogue. He tries too hard to show he’s familiar with Swamp Thing characters and situations, but when he’s got Chester sitting down and talking, it works. And Gaiman’s aloof, drunken secret agent guy is hilarious. Gaiman’s writing doesn’t actually matter very much, however. The artwork from Richard Piers Rayner, Mike Hoffman and Kim DeMulder is so lovely, Gaiman could write just about anything. He’s inexplicably got Firestorm showing up for a scene and, while there’s…

Ka-Zar the Savage 28 (October 1983)

Mike Carlin takes over the writing reins and does a fine job. He handles Shanna’s personal crisis well, though he doesn’t stick with it as long as Jones would have. And Carlin’s Ka-Zar is a far more assured protagonist than Jones’s. It might help this issue’s Ka-Zar has been maturing the last twenty-seven issues. Another Mike–Mignola–inks Gil this issue and the result is mixed. Mignola sharpens Gil’s pencils, giving them a good amount of shadow, but he also removes some of the life. Ka-Zar looks boring, even though it’s full of action. Carlin’s big problem is tying everything together, something Jones had…

Hellboy: Seed of Destruction 4 (June 1994)

Rasputin still doesn’t get identified by name—but based on all the expository dialogue, it’s surprising Hellboy couldn’t figure it out. I guess he never took any history classes. The series winds down with some more big action sequences, one involving Abe and Liz Sherman. Well, not exactly Liz Sherman. Mignola and Byrne had very little use for her (Hellboy talks about her in the narration more than she talks in dialogue). It makes her feel like a fifth wheel, only around because the comic book readers must have a pretty face. Also interesting is how passive Hellboy and Abe are in the…

Hellboy: Seed of Destruction 3 (May 1994)

Adams (sorry, starting with him again, I know) must intentionally draw bad faces. Everything else is so detailed… faces not. So it’s a choice. A bad one, but a choice. Mignola and Byrne get a lot of content into this issue. I don’t think Rasputin ever even gets named, just his history introduced—the majority of the issue, besides an opening fight scene, is expository dialogue. The best thing in the issue is a two page scene with Abe seeing these frog monsters take their human mother down into the bog. It’s the only time Byrne and Mignola take the time to do…

Hellboy: Seed of Destruction 2 (April 1994)

You know, if Adams stuck to the way he draws in medium long shots… he’d make a good comic strip artist. Sorry to talk about the Monkeyman backup, but I thought I should open with a nice comment about Adams. It’s probably never going to happen again. The Hellboy part of the issue is very strong. There’s the problem with the narration again, like Byrne can’t find a voice for Hellboy—also when they switch over to Abe Sapian’s narration and the narration boxes are the same format. And there’s some weak art from Mignola, but weak even in the Mignola sense. The…

Hellboy: Seed of Destruction 1 (March 1994)

All right, so Mignola and Byrne conceive Hellboy as sort of a hard boiled detective. Not in the content so much, but in the first person narration Byrne writes for him. It also doesn’t really match the way Hellboy talks in dialogue either. But the big problem is the way the story’s split. It opens with a mostly text (though illustrated) telling of Hellboy’s origin. Then it switches to a regular narrative (where presumably main characters is instead killed off before he can resonate). The modern day stuff is all action too—except the end reveal—and the issue wouldn’t feel like it had…

Dark Horse Presents 151 (February 2000)

Mignola’s Hellboy is inexplicably pointless. Hellboy’s sort of the main character, but it’s really this secret group of people out to… kill him? Study him? Mignola never specifies and it makes the ending flop. The first part is decent—it is nice how Mignola works out a three-act structure even in eight pages or whatever—but it quickly descends into pointlessness. Then there’s Armstrong and Doc Thunder. Now, Armstrong’s name seems a little familiar so I’m wondering if he’s become someone. Here, he’s doing a really bad Kirby homage. Armstrong can almost do the buildings and city skyline, but when it comes to characters his artwork…

Dark Horse Presents Annual 1999 (August 1999)

It’s a “theme” annual—characters in their youths. It opens with Wagner, Chin and Wong on Xena. The art’s a little rough, but Wagner’s writing is solid. Mignola’s Hellboy is adorable (as young Hellboy stories tend to be). It’s a cute couple pages. Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo drags. It’s way too didactic. Sakai’s art some okay moments and some not okay ones. Shockingly, the Ghost story is good. Zanier and Mariano’s artwork is excellent and Kennedy’s writing isn’t bad. It’s confusing for a new reader, but quite decent. This issue also has the first Groo I’ve read. Though Aragones’s art sometimes gets a little…

Dark Horse Presents 142 (April 1999)

Presents does Lovecraft homage; they do it well. The weakest is Mignola’s Dr. Gosburo Coffin (with Sook on art). It’s basically just standard Mignola (sure, there’s some Lovecraft influence, but the whole thing plays like an 1800s B.P.R.D. to some degree). Also, either Sook started out as a Mignola mimic or he’s just really good at matching styles. It’s not bad, just not particularly special. The Devil’s Footprints from Allie and Showman is the strongest story in the issue. Allie manages a first-person narrator, getting a first act in for his story, and comes up with a decent plot. Showman’s artwork is…

Dark Horse Presents Annual 1998 (September 1998)

The annual opens with Mignola doing a retelling of Hellboy‘s origin. I guess it’s all right. Kind of pointless, but fine. Weissman finally gets a two page Phineas Page and shows why he should have stuck to a page. Van Meter and Ross team for the first comic book appearance of Buffy. The writing is more lame than not, but it’s maybe the best Ross art I’ve ever seen. Watson’s Skeleton Key is a fairly charming little story about a witch and a little kid. I’m assuming the character’s a witch, otherwise it’d be pointless. Some wacky art mistakes though. The Ark…

Dark Horse Presents 107 (March 1996)

I’ll start with the worst—Devil Chef. Pollock threatens a second installment. He can draw, this story shows, he just choses not to. It’s an unfunny strip with a lot of details and zero charm. On the other hand, Purcell and Mignola’s Rusty Razorciam is quite a bit of fun. Mignola’s not a good fit for sci-fi (it’s hard to tell what he’s trying to convey, action-wise, at times), but Purcell’s got an amusing set of characters. The protagonist narrates an incomplete adventure. It’s really rather nice, even with the art problems. French’s Ninth Gland is weird and ominous. Not much happens this…

Dark Horse Presents 100 2 (August 1995)

The opening Hellboy story has, just on the surface, one major problem. Hellboy wrote Abe a letter, the text of that letter is the story’s narration. Hellboy writes letters where he sounds like an expository narrator. How uninteresting. Then it turns out the story’s actually Hellboy’s secret origin (he’s the son of a demon and a nun). Should be interesting. Isn’t. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t have any dramatic oomph. Campbell’s got a sort of creepy, sort of not Alec story. It’s well-done if somewhat pointless. Apparently Dark Horse thought they needed some cartoonists in Presents so they get three. Pollock’s…

Dark Horse Presents 100 0 (July 1995)

This teaser for Dark Horse Presents 100 has some great stuff in it… but it also has some unbearably long entries. Chadwick’s Concrete—though it’s always fun to read Concrete assuming the worst about humanity—goes on forever and turns out to be a prologue. It’s a little lame, though Chadwick’s art is decent. LaBan’s Emo and Plum is relatively painless. It’s short, anyway. However Musgrove’s Fat Dog Mendoza is awful. Paul Pope’s got a couple pages and it’s lovely (kind of an interactive discussion of Picasso). Some great figure work. Brubaker and McEown tease their entry in 100, as does French. The Brubaker…

Dark Horse Presents 91 (November 1994)

You know, Mignola doing a fight scene isn’t particular impressive. In fact, Hellboy had a fairly boring finish. Mignola tries to maintain the minimalist tone for the fight and so the fight is lame. There isn’t even any resolution to the story itself. It’s just Hellboy versus a big werewolf, who may or may not turn into leaves when he dies. It’s a weak finish… somewhat harmless, but weak. Baden has its conclusion too. It’s McCallum’s best art on the story, some really nice panels. Too bad Alexander’s script is confusing and dumb. I think it turns out the whole thing is…

Dark Horse Presents 90 (October 1994)

Mignola looks good in black and white. There are some very effective panels in Hellboy. The writing helps. He knows when to write and when to just let the art do its work. Up until the end of this issue, it’s almost like Hellboy is a passive force in the story. He’s an unknown quantity. Then he starts kicking butt at the end. Oh, and horrifying werewolf transformation sequence. It’s short, but amazing. As for Paleolove, the only thing Davis is worse at writing than narration is apparently scenes between two men. It’s hard to believe these cavemen could even follow what…

Dark Horse Presents 89 (September 1994)

This issue features something I never wanted to see… a Paleolove pin-up from Davis. You can tear it out and put bad art up on your wall. His artwork is really weak for the first half, maybe his worst ever. It gets a little better for the second half of the boring installment. The writing is absolutely awful (Davis goes on and on about the “manly arts” here—basically hunting). He brings in another old character, but at least gives this one something to do. The Hellboy story is good. It’s amazing how Mignola can make them spooky but generally mainstream. Hellboy’s barely…

Dark Horse Presents 88 (August 1994)

Is this issue the first appearance of Hellboy? I think it might be my first full Hellboy (not B.P.R.D.) story. It’s good, but Mignola does something weird with the conclusion. He sets the whole thing up, then has Hellboy come in and reveal it all before the first installment’s done. Makes all the setup a little unnecessary. Then Lang and Lieber have another of their charming Nanny Katie stories. In this one, she’s revealed to be—at least I assume—an immortal storytelling nanny. It’s a gentle story about an old man waiting for his sons to arrive at his deathbed. Nice art from…

B.P.R.D.: 1947 5 (November 2009)

Ok, so the whole thing was all about the Professor paying more attention to Hellboy? I mean, obviously, it can’t have been, what with little Hellboy only appearing in four of the five issues… oh, wait. The final issue features an utterly useless battle between a priest and the two vampires who messed up the Professor’s agent. Except the vampires were, near as I could tell from them being staked to the wall, dead as of last issue. But now they’re not vampires, they’re demons. Why are they demons? So the priest can imply the Professor should kill little Hellboy and the…

B.P.R.D.: 1947 4 (October 2009)

It’s almost over. I’m going to make it! (I never thought I’d be making that comment about something Dysart wrote). This issue has less to recommend it than the previous one and it moves even faster. The pacing is accelerating. There’s even a lot of little Hellboy in this one and, while he’s cute and all, it’s not the comic book I bought. Not having the Professor be the protagonist–not really having a protagonist–is doing this series in. I can’t remember the story of the sort of protagonist now, just because the guy who’s been kidnapped by vampires has such a better…

B.P.R.D.: 1947 3 (September 2009)

I wish I’d timed how long it took to read that issue. I’m sure I’d be disappointed. Here, at the end of issue three, I’m to where the first issue should have been ending. Now the actual story can kick off. Maybe. This issue kind of ends the story’s dramatic vehicle, so I guess maybe not. The issue ends on a reference to the first series, which is why it should be where the first issue, not third, closed. It’s such a slight story, however, it’s hard to imagine the final two issues provoking any interest. I was excited for 1947 and…

B.P.R.D.: 1947 2 (August 2009)

There’s no setting. It’s messing up the pacing. As much as I dislike comparing one thing to another for the purpose of a “review,” it’s pretty clear this series is breezing by because there’s no setting. It’s some guys in France. There’s nothing to the town–nothing about the French recovering from the war, for example; in fact, this issue, I don’t think a native gets any dialogue. There’s interesting plotting–the hero in peril speaks his mind, without thinking, and it promises to be interesting–well, next issue it’ll be interesting, this issue it’s just a cliffhanger. Except it’s not at the end of…

B.P.R.D.: 1947 1 (July 2009)

I don’t have an opinion yet. Of the story, I mean. The art is wonderful, obviously, it’s Bá and Moon. But the story… is a pickle. It’s not the Professor’s story, it’s the story of his agents, his agents who are very likely expendable. So we open this new story knowing the four men we meet may all die by the end. A sole survivor situation seems likely as well but five issues isn’t enough to bother trying to guess. So what do the writers leave us with? There’s a cliffhanger, a couple really, one quiet, one loud, both adding up to…

B.P.R.D.: 1946 5 (May 2008)

Mignola, Dysart and Azaceta pull it off. They don’t exactly pull it off the way I expected (I’d forgotten the conclusion) but they still come through. Instead of doing something collected, they go all out with a Nazi space rocket and vampires fighting robot gorillas. Let’s not forget the cybernetic Nazi monkey, he was kind of my favorite. I can’t believe a monkey being a Nazi though. They must have brainwashed him. In other words, they go crazy. It’s a big lunacy absurdist piece. The craziest thing in the comic might just be the decapitated Nazi mad scientist flashing back to loading…

B.P.R.D.: 1946 4 (April 2008)

I’m going to have a hard time on this response. There are monster gorillas at the end. Monster, cybernetic, Nazi gorillas. It must have been murder waiting for the final issue. The thing I like most about this issue is when the soldier, the regular soldier, finally loses it on the Professor. He gets knocked down by his CO and all, but it’s been a couple issues coming. There’s a lot of emphasis on reality in 1946 as evidenced this issue with the Nazi general who reminds his interrogators the Nazis were a working class revolution. It’s a convoluted issue–not in a…

B.P.R.D.: 1946 3 (March 2008)

And, after the glorious response to the previous issue, this one…. It’s a very confusing, all action issue. The writers now expect the reader to remember all the disposal army guys, but additionally some Russian ones too. There’s still a lot of content for Azaceta to make fit. But he has to sacrifice establishing panels, which means there’s little frame of reference. Except the utterly disposable, soon-to-be-dead soldier. I try to be an attentive reader, but I can’t tell a bunch of guys who look alike (the sergeant’s balding and mustached) apart from a bunch of other guys who look alike–when the…

B.P.R.D.: 1946 2 (February 2008)

The cartography of this issue is simple. It opens in this secret Nazi asylum, then they go to a bar, then they go to a house, then they go back to the asylum. However, a whole lot happens at the bar, even though it’s all in conversation (the army guys come to respect the Professor), a whole lot happens at the house (the series’s hook, Nazi vampires, is revealed) and then a lot happens on the way back to the asylum (the history of the Nazi vampires, the history of the “little girl” who runs the Russian investigation team). It’s a full…

B.P.R.D.: 1946 1 (January 2008)

I’ve read this series before and mostly remember it (no, I don’t), but I’m shocked how little reaction there is from the Professor over his Russian counterpart, Varvara (who’s apparently a little girl). It’s a strange scene, the most striking before the last one and the last one is a lead-in to a cliffhanger. Seeing as how 1946 is the only B.P.R.D. series I’ve read, it makes me wonder if this kind of strangeness is common in the franchise. The issue’s incredibly solid–I love Azaceta; it’s really traditional too. It’s a first act, an introduction. The cliffhanger comes as a surprise even,…