Sunday, December 9, 2018

Madman Atomic Comics Volume 1

Madman Atomic Comics, Volume 1: Existential ExitsMadman Atomic Comics, Volume 1: Existential Exits by Mike Allred
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Madman Atomic Comics Volume 1 collections Madman Atomic Comics 1-7.

This volume picks up with Frank in a catatonic state as a result of the last volume. Frank, with Mister Excitement as a guide, struggles to escape limbo. Once he does, he goes off on a cosmic adventure to take on the Crimson King.

This was one fucked up collection. It reminded me of Jim Starlin's Adam Warlock comics from the 1970s. It was incoherent at times, as cosmic stories sometimes are, and I'm not precisely sure what happened or even if I liked it or not.

There was one sequence in limbo where Allred played with other artists' styles, drawing Madman and Mr. Excitement in the style of Archie and Richie Rich and others. I quite enjoyed that bit. Like I said before, I'm not really sure about the rest. The art in the rest of the book didn't feel like Allred's signature style and even the coloring was different. I hate to be a humbug but this didn't really feel like a Madman comic.

I'm not giving up on Madman but I'm not rushing out to buy the next volume. Two out of five stars.

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Usagi Yojimbo Saga Book 3

Usagi Yojimbo Saga, Vol. 3Usagi Yojimbo Saga, Vol. 3 by Stan Sakai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Usagi Yojimo Saga Vol. 3 collects issues 31-52 of Usagi Yojimbo.

The chronicles of Usagi Yojimo's adventures in feudal Japan continues. In this weighty tome, Usagi goes up against kami, spider goblins, warring ninja clans, warring gangsters, a killer in a demon mask, and is once again entrusted with Grasscutter, the sword of the gods. Quite a bit more than that happens, actually, but this thing is a beast at over 600 pages.

As per usual, Stan Sakai weaves lessons in Japanese history, folklore, and culture into the tale. Seeds are also planted for future tales, involving Usagi's old master, Katsuichi Sensei, Jei, and Chizu. The stories range from a handful of pages to epics spanning many issues, like Grasscutter II. Showdown seemed like an homage to Red Harvest/Yojimbo/Sanjuro with Usagi and Gen pitting the gangs against each other.

Stan Sakai's art is as masterful as ever. It would be easy to make an anthropomorphic bunny a joke character but Sakai makes him seem like a bad ass on many occasions. He's able to convey so much emotion with so few strokes of the pen. The backgrounds are surprisingly intricate at times. Sakai makes it all look easy, which means it's probably extremely difficult. In a volume full of great stuff, I think Kitsune's tale was my favorite, although Grasscutter II and Sasuke riding the giant frog and having it eat the spider mother were close contenders.

As I've said before, Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo is one of the best comics out there. Five out of five stars.

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of EvilSherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the heroes of Spiral City disappeared fighting the Anti-God, Lucy Weber, the Black Hammer's daughter, was left fatherless. Now, fresh out of journalism school, Lucy tries to track down her father's greatest foe, Sherlock Frankenstein, for answers...

I was wondering how Lucy eventually showed up on The Farm and this goes part of the way toward explaining it. Lucy goes tracking down her father's enemies in an effort to figure out if he survived the battle with the Anti-God. Her trail leaders her to super villains like Cthu-Lou and the Metal Minotaur before finally meeting Sherlock Frankenstein. It was pretty cool.

The background of Spiral City is further fleshed out as Lucy plays detective. Analogues of The Shadow, Doc Savage, and Tarzan are touched upon, and various super villains are introduced. Sherlock Frankenstein's look reminds me of Mr. Freeze from Batman: The Animated Series if he lived in Victorian times. Part zombie, part mad scientist, Sherlock Frankenstein proved to be an interesting antagonist, for what little screen time he actually had.

I didn't know what to think of David Rubin's art at first but I wound up liking it quite a bit, far from typical super hero art. It was cartoony and had a retro-horror vibe at times.

Much like Kurt Busiek has done with Astro City, Jeff Lemire mines the human side of a world of superheroes for some interesting stories. Four out of five stars.



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Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Living Mummy And Other Stories by Jack Davis

The Living Mummy and Other StoriesThe Living Mummy and Other Stories by Jack Davis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Living Mummy and Other Stories collects 32 tales illustrated by Jack Davis for EC Comics.

Most of the stories are written by Al Feldstein, although Ray Bradbury gets credit on one and another is a uncredited retelling of The Monkey's Paw. It's the usual EC conglomeration of cheating husbands, cheating wives, cheating business partners, werewolves, vampires, mummies, and even a conjoined twin or two. While that's all well and good, there are also a ton of "vengeance from beyond the grave" tales, my favorite kind of EC horror tale, and Jack Davis is the maestro.

Davis' art is iconic, the art I picture in my head when I think of EC comics. His slightly exaggerated characters are grotesque at times and the black and white format of this collection is the perfect way to showcase his art. His heavy black inks really pop without color to hold them back. His shambling, rotting corpses are my favorites of all the EC artists' rotting corpses. And there were many.

That's about all I have to say. If you're only going to buy one of Fantagraphics' EC Artist Editions, The Living Mummy would be the one to get. When it comes to the classic EC artists, Jack Davis was the best of the best. Five out of five stars.

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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Voodoo Vengeance and Other Stories

Voodoo Vengeance and Other StoriesVoodoo Vengeance and Other Stories by Johnny Craig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Voodoo Vengeance and Other Stories collects 25 tales written and drawn by Johnny Craig for EC Comics.

Johnny Craig was known as the slowest of EC's artists, rarely able to manage more than one story per month. However, he wrote most of his own stories and most of those were pretty good. Craig serves up voodoo dolls, vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and a smorgasbord of cheating wives and double-timing husbands. The trademark EC "bite you in the ass" ending is in full effect.

Like a lot of the other volumes in Fantagraphics' EC Library, the black and white artwork does a great job showcasing Johnny Craig's talent. While I think Johnny Craig was better at crime and suspense comics than horror, he shows a mastery of perspective and panel composition. The opening shot of Nightmare, looking up out of a grave as onlookers await the casket, is brilliant. There's a meticulous attention to detail that may explain some of Craig's slowness.

The blurb on the back says "Cleanest Horror Stories You Ever Saw!" and that is very apt. Most of the time, Craig leaves the gore for the reader's imagination. While this approach works, I could have used more blood and guts. I think there were only two or three rotten corpses in the whole thing!

Voodoo Vengeance and Other Stories is another fun entry in Fantagraphics EC Library. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, December 1, 2018

Uncle Scrooge: The Seven Cities of Gold

Uncle Scrooge: The Seven Cities of Gold (The Carl Barks Library, #14)Uncle Scrooge: The Seven Cities of Gold by Carl Barks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Uncle Scrooge: The Seven Cities of Gold is a collection of Uncle Scrooge comics written and drawn by Carl Barks, originally presented in Uncle Scrooge 7-12 and 14.

I've seen Carl Barks mentioned as being influential time and time again, from sources like Jeff Smith and Bill Watterson. Since I grew up on the Disney Afternoon and Ducktales was one of my favorite shows, I finally decided to take the plunge.

The tales within range from comic-length adventures or 1-4 pagers detailing with the world's richest/cheapest duck, Scrooge McDuck. The stories are meant for kids but clever enough for adults to enjoy.

I mentioned Ducktales earlier and that's what this book primarily reminds me of. Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck, and nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, go on adventures around the world, looking for gold, lost cities, and the like. In fact, Barks created the nephews! And their damn Junior Woodchuck Guide Book! The money bin and Gyro Gearloose also make appearances, further making me wonder if Carl Barks was mentioned in the credits for Ducktales.

The shorter stories are mostly one page gags, usually revolving around Scrooge's cheapness. While treasure hunting and prospecting was his bread and butter at the beginning, Scrooge isn't above screwing the local diner owner out of a nickel every chance he gets.

The book itself is a gorgeous hardcover that's built to last. The colors aren't overly vibrant, which is how I imagine they looked on newsprint back in the 1950s. Between the Carl Barks Library and the EC Artist Edition Library, Fantagraphics isn't going to go broke on my account.

Superheroes are the first thing that comes to mind when people mention comic books but that needn't be the case. Uncle Scrooge: The Seven Cities of Gold is an enjoyable all-ages collection. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, November 30, 2018

Doctor Star & The Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows

Doctor Star & the Kingdom of Lost TomorrowsDoctor Star & the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jimmy Robinson is a super hero named Doctor Star, a cosmic adventurer since World War II. Now, his son is dying of cancer and Jimmy wants to make up for lost time...

While I love Black Hammer, I had some misgivings about this one going in. James Robinson's Starman run is one of my favorite runs of all time and I was afraid this one might stray from homage to ripoff. Hell, Doctor Star's real name is Jimmy Robinson! Fortunately, while it is clearly a Starman homage set in the Black Hammer universe, it stands on its own merits.

When scientist Jimmy Robinson taps the Para-Zone and captures a mote of its power, he becomes Doctor Star, super hero and space adventurer, shoving his family into the background in favor of fame and adventure. After a mishap shoves him 18 years into the future, he has to deal with a family that passed him by.

For something I was afraid would be a straight up ripoff at the beginning, this was a touching tale at times. Sure, Doctor Star uses the Starman mythos as a base, it also combines the man out of time element of Captain America with a side dish of Green Lantern. While it could have easily been about the heroics, it was the human side of things Jeff Lemire chose to explore and it made for a great story.

Jeff Lemire's love letter to James Robinson's Starman wound up standing on its own as a touching tale of a man trying to reconnect with his son. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Lost And Found

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Lost And FoundAnt-Man and the Wasp: Lost And Found by Mark Waid
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Stuck on Xandar, Ant-Man contacts Nadia Van Dyne, aka The Unstoppable Wasp, for help. The two wind up stranded in the Microverse. Will Ant-Man be able to find his way home in time for his daughter's birthday?

The Ant-Man movies are my favorite Marvel movies and I loved the Unstoppable Wasp series from a couple years ago. This one should have been a slam dunk for me. It was not.

I didn't give this a 1 star rating because I didn't actively hate it but I did not enjoy it. The setup was fine but everything after that kind of sucked. Well, the artwork wasn't bad but it was a little too busy in some places.

My main issues with the book are as follows. Ant-Man was clearly supposed to be movie Ant-Man, not the Ant-Man of Nick Spencer's run or Matt Fraction's Fantastic Four run. Still, that would be okay except this version of Scott Lang is kind of a dufus and doesn't have Paul Rudd's charm. Nadia's character is inconsistent with the way she was handled in Unstoppable Wasp. She comes off being pretty cold instead of being in love with life. The Microverse was also inconsistent, much more in keeping with the quantum realm of the movies than any previous portrayal of the Microverse.

The story starts off okay but slowly devolves into a lot of quantum jibber jabber. I think it's a product of decompression. There was about three issues of material stretched into five. Another problem is letting the movies influence the comics but not going all in with it. Either let the movies drive the comics or keep them separate. The half-assed pseudo-integration doesn't really help either party.

Just so it doesn't sound like I'm humbugging the whole thing, I did enjoy Scott racing to exit Nadia's tear ducts so he didn't burst through her skull and cause a huge mess. Scott's heart to heart with Nadia about Hank Pym was also good.

Rather than being a fun adventure, Lost and Found was kind of chore. While I didn't enjoy this, I won't begrudge anyone that did. Two stars.

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Madman Volume 3

Madman Volume 3Madman Volume 3 by Mike Allred
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Madman Volume 3 collects Madman Comics #12-20 plus Madman King-Size Super Groovy Special.

In this volume, the saga of Doctor Boiffard's ever-expanding brain comes to a conclusion and Madman runs afoul of the G-Men From Hell and more giant robots and monsters than you can shake a stick at. He also finally learns his real name and gets further hints of his ultimate destiny.

While some storylines were wrapped up in this volume, countless seeds for future stories were planted. In the foreword, Allred said he altered his style to make a monthly book more doable but you can't really tell the difference at first glance. His art is as smooth and awesome as ever, a distillation of everything good about the comics of yesteryear with some modern updates.

The stories are all over the place and the supporting cast keeps expanding. Cheetahman is introduced and Mike Mattress and Dean Crept are revealed as the G-Men from Hell. The saga of Doctor Boiffard finally comes to a conclusion. Oh, and there are fishmen.

The zany adventures of Madman are some of the best comics out there. 4.5 out of 5 stars. Now I'll have to track down whatever volume comes next.

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Saturday, November 24, 2018

Madman Volume 2

Madman Volume 2Madman Volume 2 by Mike Allred
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Madman Volume 2 collects Madman Comics #1-11.

Despite wanting to like the "cool" books of the time period, I've been a fan of Madman since the 1990s. I've had this book on my shelf for quite a while and finally decided to crack it open.

In this volume, Madman takes on killer robots, aliens, mutant street beatniks, a man made out of vomit, The Blast, and his greatest enemy, his own hidden past.

Michael Allred's art is a combination of silver age art from the Big Two, Moebius, and other influences, giving it a unique retro yet modern look. If the book didn't have a story, I'd probably still buy it for the art.

Luckily, that is not the case. Madman's innocent outlook lures me back every time and the stories are a love letter to comics in general. Madman encounters comic trope after well loved trope, from shrinking to battling monsters, from jetpacks to rayguns, from secret government agencies to crazy aliens. There's a sense of fun, a sense of strangeness, and an unapologetic goofiness at times, making for a unique read. By the end of the book, some dark things are hinted at, making me eager to read the next book, as if I wouldn't eventually anyway.

Madman is a timeless work and this volume is a worthy addition to the saga. Four out of five stars.

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