The Beef #1 (February 2018)

The Beef #1

Honestly, is there time for The Beef? Shaky Kane’s art is all right, but it’s far from enough to hold up the rest of the book. It’s a middling indie book, juxtaposing this guy’s life with beef (his father worked at a slaughterhouse, he works at a slaughterhouse, everyone eats the slaughterhouse’s burgers in town) and his bad experiences with his bullies.

The bullies get more to do than the lead, because when it’s all the metaphysical exploration of man and beef, it’s nothing about the character specifically. He’s just there. So he can turn into The Beef, presumably. The Beef looks like the Hulk without any skin, just muscles. According to the cover and the single appearance on the last page.

Not sure if what the Beef is going to do to warrant a five issue comic book.

Richard Starking and Tyler Shainline’s script pretends being loose is the same thing as being nimble. The narration is overwrought, which is out of sync with Kane’s art. Of course, Kane drawing grown-up rich kid redneck gangsta bullies is pretty out of stylistic sense.

It’s kind of exhausting. And it’s only the first issue. The Beef is nowhere near as filling as its creators pretend.

CREDITS

Tainted Love, Part One: Fast Food; writers, Richard Starkings and Tyler Shainline; artist, Shaky Kane; letterer, Starkings; publisher, Image Comics.

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Assassinistas #3 (February 2018)

Assassinistas #3

Assassinistas is starting to lose momentum, which isn’t good considering it’s just the third issue. Beto’s panels are getting sparer and sparer, he’s rushing through the action sequences. He slows down for the flashbacks and there are a lot of flashbacks. The flashbacks have the three Assassinistas in their prime. The present has the women separate, with Octavia having her son and his boyfriend as her sidekicks. The flashbacks are better.

But even they’re not without issue. There’s always an awkward transition as Octavia forgets she’s telling a story and then goes back to it. Writer Howard is dragging the revelations out–and playing with the idea of dragging them out–but Assassinistas can’t get stretched that thin. The boys are likable. No one else is likable. In flashback, the three women are funny and the action’s good, but they’re not likable. They’re still too thin.

And the whole thing about a kidnapped toddler just makes it feel forced. Like… we have to care, a child is (ostensibly but probably not really) in danger.

Also, for whatever reason, Beto’s expressions for the characters often doesn’t match their dialogue. It gets real noticable since there’s not just flashback, there’s exposition about getting to the flashback.

This issue’s a concerning turn (or concerning standstill) for the book.

CREDITS

Don’t Find Me — I’m Allergic to You!; writer, Tini Howard; artist, Gilbert Hernandez; colorists, Rob Davis and Robin Henley; letterer, Aditya Bidikar; editor, Shelly Bond; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Sax Rohmer’s Dope (September 2017)

Dope

Sax Rohmer’s Dope was originally serialized in the Eclipse anthology magazine in the early eighties, which makes a lot of sense. It’s not paced for a single reading, not with the final “reveal” (which isn’t pertenant by that time) and the long blocks of exposition.

The early eighties origin also makes the ickiness of the adaptation make more sense. Dope, the original novel, is from 1919. It’s British. Having not read it, I’m just going to go ahead and assume all the racism in the adaptation is from the original as well as the gentle misogyny of it all.

It takes a while to get to it–again, why it would read better serialized–but the story is about a police detective investigating a murder and a missing person. Dope’s very convoluted in the setup. This person meets that person, then visits that person with an acquaintance and on and on (there’s a lot of society stuff in it).

And adapter and artist Trina Robbins does great with that society stuff. She paces out these long conversations in a couple panels, word balloons crowding one another, the dialogue briskly paced. Not so with the exposition blocks, unfortunately. When Robbins is doing exposition, it all just hangs. There’s so much text. And none of it is particularly good. The source novel is mostly unknown pulp, after all. There’s none of the efficiency Robbins brings to the dialogue.

The second half of Dope, which reads a lot faster, is this police inspector investigating. I’m still not sure how he solves the crime. It’s on page, but there’s no explanation for how or why it works (or he would think it would work). He’s not a particularly likable character either. No one in Dope is particularly likable. The society men are all shallow jackasses, the women are deceptive dope addicts or unfaithful wives; there’s the one good woman, but she’s just a vessel for an exposition dump.

Dope is an interesting piece of work, but it’s too much for one sitting. The finale is this incredibly tedious (and racist) trip to London’s Chinatown so it’s not like the comic builds to anything. Serialized, it’d probably read a lot better. The ick factor wouldn’t be as relentless and the weak characterizations would play episodically, not as de facto character development.

It’s rather disappointing, actually. But clear from early on it’s not going to be able to overcome the source material. Or particularly interested in overcoming it.

CREDITS

Adapter and illustrator, Trina Robbins; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Love and Rockets #8 (September 1984)

Love and Rockets #8

Jaime gets a few more pages on Mechanics this issue and it changes the reading experience a bit. He has time to dawdle. This installment brings Rena Titañon in–it’s been a while since her last appearance (in present or flashback)–but also has time to give Hopey a whole subplot. And a whole other implied subplot because Izzy had an accident at Hopey’s apartment, a serious enough one to put Izzy in the hospital. Even though it doesn’t get explained.

There’s also enough room for Jaime to explore the band. At least, the bandmates gossiping about Hopey, Maggie, and whatever else. Jaime introduces some too obvious to be serious foreshadowing with the bandmates scenes too. It kind of works, kind of doesn’t. Similarly, Dot the reporter kind of works here and kind of doesn’t, as her seduction of Race (away from Maggie).

Then there’s the action finale, which Jaime executes beautifully.

Jaime’s not exactly stretching with the extra pages but he’s definitely exuberantly reaching. Again, he’s letting Mechanics get away from Maggie, which means more action maybe, but also less focus.

Then Beto has two Palomar stories.

The first one, The Laughing Sun, brings in the tween boys from the first Palomar story. They’re not tweens anymore, it’s ten years after that story (the first time–I think–there’s been an exact duration given). One of them attacks his wife and child, the rest reunite to track him down. Beto’s got all sorts of nods to the original story–or does he, because maybe it’s just how Palomar is going to progress. In temporal fluidity. But they feel like nods. With flashback, he can foreshadow past events for effect. And fun. Sometimes he just seems to be doing it for fun, which is nice because it’s a heavy story. And it cliffhangs because everything resolutionary is next issue.

And Beto’s second story is under the Heartbreak Soup Theater banner, On Isidro’s Beach. It’s a Luba story, more specifically, it’s a Luba’s daughter daughter Lupe story. She’s the second oldest (I think) and obsessed with Les Misérables (the book). And she’s a great protagonist for the story. Or the most pages of it. Because it goes back to Luba for the last three pages when the heaviness arrives. The sadness of life stuff.

Beto still gets in some good jokes, including a great finishing one.

It’s a strange issue. The stories don’t feel balanced, like Jaime’s going too long and Beto’s getting shorted. But not exactly because Beto’s pace on his stories is so good. They’re just breezy reads. Kind of too breezy. While Mechanics is full and good but clunky. But not exactly because Jaime can still get it to flow smoothly, full and clunky or not.

Punks Not Dead #2 (March 2018)

Punks Not Dead #2

So, yeah, Punks Not Dead #2 is smooth sailing. Barnett builds the characters, concentrating on Fergie’s daily life. School stuff, crush on the girl stuff, a little on the relationship with his mom. He and Sid try to figure out how their bond works, usually to comic effect. Barnett doesn’t play Sid for much but comic relief here, which is fine. It’s nice to have a little mystery.

Simultaneously, Barnett’s got Ms. Culpepper the government ghost hunter playfully tormenting her new hire while they’re on a mission.

It’s all set to Simmonds’s lovely art. There’s a static quality to the art–in a good way–where everything can sort of hang. Which is important since some of Fergie’s powers (he’s got supernatural powers of some kind now, maybe thanks to Sid, they don’t know) involves manipulating objects. Simmond’s panel composition is key; the way he paces scenes turns out to have less to do with actual space and depth and more to do with expressionist space and depth.

It’s a good looking book. And it just gets better as it goes.

Another Black Crown winner.

CREDITS

Teenage Kicks, Part Two: Turn It Up to Eleven; writer, David Barnett; artist, Martin Simmonds; colorist, Dee Cunniffe; letterer, Aditya Bidikar; editor, Shelly Bond; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Barbarella #4 (March 2018)

Barbarella #4

Barbarella #4 is a done-in-one and the best issue of the book so far. Like, wow, best issue. Carey runs a very tight narrative–Barbarella (and Vix, her fox who repeats words but isn’t sentient, unfortuantely) is traveling as a passenger on a “planet moving” ship. Not many other passengers, just a sexy blue empath dude who can projection feelings as well as read them. So they go to bed.

Unfortunately, the planets (there are five the ship’s dragging) start shaking and it means trouble.

In a normal book, here’d be your cliffhanger. Carey and new artist Jorge Fornés don’t stop there. They don’t even stop at the big reveal. They go all the way until the end of the trip. I kept waiting for it to cut off and it never does. It just keeps getting better and better.

Carey’s keeping some distance on Barbarella’s character development. The narrative follows her around as she encounters these aliens and those aliens and this adventure or that one and it’s always from her outward perspective. At least in this issue.

But there’s character development work going on. Carey’s writing on this book is real strong.

And Fornés art is great. His style is different than what the book had before. He’s got nice thick (digital) lines. Realism, but still personality. Especially during the action scenes.

So Barbarella. It’s still good, possibly now awesome. Fingers crossed Carey’s got enough ideas.

CREDITS

Pest Control: Fire and Sword; writer, Mike Carey; artist, Jorge Fornés; colorist, Celeste Woods; letterer, Crank!; consulting editor, Jean-Marc Lofficier; publisher, Dynamite Entertainment.

Love and Rockets #7 (July 1984)

Love and Rockets #7

Love and Rockets #7 opens with Mechanics and with this haunting image of Maggie in front of the sea, looking out of the page, quietly crying. The action immediately cuts away; Hopey and Penny (with a new haircut, colored like a skunk, and looking nothing like Penny) read a letter from Maggie recounting her latest Mechanic adventure. There’s Rand Race, of course, but also creepy rich guy hiring them to work on robots. Jaime amps up the strange–lots and lots of strange–before closing on the Race, Maggie, and Dot the reporter love triangle.

Jaime mixes romance comic angles and comic strip pacing. It’s a breezy read, light adventure comedy. Jaime’s art gets it through the somewhat shallow depth. Race ain’t that interesting. At least, not yet.

Then it’s Act of Contrition, Part Three from Beto, which is breezy and sort of light and sort of comedy, but it’s still incredibly dramatic. Beto splits the ten pages between Archie and the Palomar residents. Actually, the point of view sort of progresses, because how Archie gets back with Luba is what it’s all about. Only there’s a lot going on. So it’s sort of about how Archie gets integrated into Palomar-proper.

It’s a nice chapter; Beto enjoys showcasing the humanity of the characters here. Even when they’re problematic people, he keeps digging.

The next story is Locos. Not Locas, Locos. Speedy gets his own story, though he’s really just telling his friend all about Izzy. Izzy, who really is Izzy Ruebens, who Jaime used as a pseudonym for the first Mechanics story and then gave her own story. As a mystery writer (so was I right about guessing it or did I just not remember this confirmation consciously). Nothing about nun stuff though. There was an Izzy Ruebens, a nun, narrator page once.

It’s a strange story because it offers another take on Izzy, who Jaime usually uses for comic relief opposite Maggie and Hopey. It casts her as this sad, haunted person, who Izzy doesn’t exactly come across when she gets her own pages. It’s rather interesting how Jaime’s expanding the Locas “universe.”

He also uses Spanish to English translations at the bottom of each page; it’s similar, but different, from what Beto did on the first Heartbreak Soup story. Beto, of course, was doing Spanish proper noun pronunciations. You’d think Chelo sounded like cello but no. Or I would’ve anyway.

Speaking of Beto and Heartbreak Soup, the final story in the issue is The Whispering Tree. It’s another sidequel (to the main Palomar tale, Contrition) with Luba’s kids having a little adventure. Three pages. For laughs. Even though Jaime’s the one with the exploration of comic strip narrative principles, Beto can do it too. It’s a funny strip, lots of exaggerated action, a great–thoughtful too–punchline.

It’s a good issue. Light, happy, and good.

The Highest House #1 (February 2018)

Mike Carey and Peter Gross find a beautiful pace for the first issue of The Highest House. The issue’s full, but never too full–Gross’s pages sometimes have twelve panels, sometimes three, usually eight to ten. A lot of panels, a lot of story. And a lot of exposition.

In some medieval maybe fantasy world, a woman sells her son, Moth, into slavery. He’s off to Highest House, which he doesn’t know much (if anything) about. The guy who buys the slaves is an agent, not royalty. And he might he some kind of wizard (or hypnotist). He bonds with Moth because Moth’s got some perception abilities. Maybe. It’s unclear what they are or even might be.

So there’s the rural village, the trip to the city (with breaks), then the city itself. The palace. It just looks like a city. Anyway. Moth finds himself a roof repairer. He learns all about the tools, in this speedy, thorough page from Gross and Carey. There eighteen panels on the page and lots of text. Because it’s a full book.

Gross’s lines are a little looser than I remember, but he’s got gorgeous composition. And the loose lines usually make the characters emote better.

Carey’s writing is good. It’s interesting, it’s engaging, it’s not too complicated. Lots of panels, lots of text–Highest House could easily overwhelm. Carey doesn’t let it, even when it seems like it may. It’s that pacing. Beauty pacing.

Highest House is off to a strong start.

CREDITS

Obsidian’s Bargain, Part 1; writer, Mike Carey; artist and letterer, Peter Gross; colorist, Fabien Alquier; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Vampironica #1 (May 2018)

Vampironica #1 (May 2018)

Reading Vampironica, I sometimes thought maybe Greg Smallwood’s art would look better if it were a black and white seventies horror comic magazine. But no, I don’t think it’d make a difference. Smallwood has a very think line. It makes the comic look like someone’s zooming in on the art. It feels rushed.

The comic itself is very rushed. I think it reads in four or five minutes tops. It starts with Veronica as Buffy, then it turns out it’s Veronica as Blade. Lots of Archie cast cameos. Lots of solid jokes from Smallwoods Greg and Meg. It’s a breezy, fun five minutes.

But it’s just five minutes. Probably more like four. Because there’s no dawdling. The only thing Smallwood emphasizes is the expressions, but his staging is so rushed, they’re almost speed bumps. They work for emphasis.

Vampironica is completely readable and totally disposable. It’s an ongoing, which is sort of worse.

CREDITS

Writers, Greg Smallwood and Meg Smallwood; artist, Greg Smallwood; letterer, Jack Morelli; editors, Stephen Oswald, Vincent Lovallo, Alex Segura, and Jamie L. Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

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