ALBERT EINSTEIN, TIME MASON, ISSUE ONE

(Tony Donley/Marcus Perry; 31 pages; ACTION LAB COMICS, 2018)

I’d always heard that famed theoretical physicist Albert Einstein was the kind of guy that you’d like to hang out with. You know, a wicked sense of humor, a definite hit with the ladies and, of course, a time-traveling super spy with a mean right-cross. Wait… what? That’s right, folks, Professor Einstein was/is/will be a member of a secret group – the Time Masons – who have vowed to fight those pesky time anomalies that tend to mess with everybody’s past, present and potential future; simply put, Einstein is one of a team of agents charged with keeping the time-line straight for all humanity. If that means he’s gotta kick a little megalomaniacal butt in the process, so be it. ALBERT EINSTEIN, TIME MASON is a wicked cool take on one of the most famous minds this world has ever known. In Tony Donley’s concept, Einstein is a quick-witted quipster, dealing out scientific barbs that sting nearly as much as his fists. With Marcus Perry fleshing out the script, the action and the acerbic wit comes at the reader in a fast and furious manner, punctuating Donley’s own stellar artwork. And, while we’re talking art… how about that amazing cover by Dave Johnson, huh? Donley also provides an equally cool variant

ALBERT EINSTEIN, TIME MASON issue 1, page 1 (Written by TONY DONLEY and MARCUS PERRY, art by TONY DONLEY)

This first offering, “Brain Game,” finds ol’ Al traveling to the year 2214 to recover his brain, which was stolen shortly after his death in 1955. Did I mention the time anomaly thing? The professor’s grey matter has been heisted by a group of anti-socials calling themselves “Sci-Oscalists,” ostensibly to power a time robot which will enable their leader to enslave all existence. There are stereotypes a-plenty, but with everybody (including the characters) in on the joke, they are not hurtful or objectionable in the least. There’s a miniature mad scientist, suitably disorganized and bumbling henchmen and, of course, a large (as in tall, muscular and buxom) female, possibly of Aryan or Russian descent, acting as the madman’s personal body guard and second in command. Being outgunned, Albert does the only thing he can do: He surrenders… but, only until he can formulate a plan out of this weighty predicament. That plan is action-packed in a far-out Jim Steranko NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD kinda way, but with more jokes. No sexist, Albert is not hesitant to mix it up with the bigger-than-life woman and, if need be, to deliver a few cheap shots. Most ongoing series (as I believe this one to be) will build to such a confrontation over a few issues in a grand story arc, but not here. I’m not sure how Donley and Perry can continue such a furious pace for our erstwhile hero, but I’m certainly up for the ride!

ALBERT EINSTEIN, TIME MASON issue 1, page 6 (Written by TONY DONLEY and MARCUS PERRY, art by TONY DONLEY)

Now, about the art: Tony’s angular style is reminiscent of Steve Ditko at his best, with nods to Mike Zeck and the great Gil Kane along the way. The futuristic machinery borrows from both Ditko and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Jack Kirby. His colors are very old-school, flashy and bright, a style which lends itself well to the feel of the book. The lead character’s look is borrowed from – varyingly – Tom Selleck as MAGNUM, PI, Bruce Campbell, Ditko’s Doctor Stephen Strange and Bob Larson’s Tony Stark. The intricacy of the design and the artwork itself are actually more implied than fully realized; a stylistic choice that, again, works in the favor of the material. I certainly wouldn’t want to get lost in an overly busy panel to the extent that I lose the narrative and, therefore, the pure joy derived from taking this creation as a whole. By the time I arrived at the bottom of the last page and saw the “To be continued” line, I was salivating for the next installment. Very few books have ever made me feel that way. C’mon already, guys, with issue number two!


ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE

(Guido Nolitta/Gallieno Ferri; EPICENTER COMICS/SERGIO BONELLI EDITORE; 2017)
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What a magnificently bizarre book! The setting is kind of a Western thing (more on that later)… it’s sort of a tale of fantasy and magic… it’s basically your standard super-hero versus super-villain comic yarn (in a rather twisted Italian, anti-hero way). Call it what you will, from the beautiful Michele Rubini cover to the final panel, it is a wildly fun read! Even though I was totally unaware of the heroic exploits of the lead character, he’s been around since (depending on which website you’re checking out) either 1961 or 1965… I gather that he appeared in a regular comic STRIP in Italy until he was introduced into the comic BOOK world four years later. Whether it was ‘61 or ‘65, it makes Zagor a contemporary of Stan Lee’s Marvel universe (characters like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Doctor Strange) and the tail-end of DC’s super-hero universe rebirth (with updated versions of the Atom, Hawkman and Green Lantern… pretty much everyone outside the publisher’s holy Trinity). For reference points within those two publisher’s Western books, the character most closely resembles the long-running (1947-1972) DC hero, TOMAHAWK, as well as later creations like Marvel’s Red Wolf and DC’s mystical hero, the original El Diablo, both of which debuted in the early 1970s. That, however, is a rather short-sighted summation of the heroic Zagor; there are also elements of the Batman, Tarzan (or maybe Ka-Zar, Marvel’s ruler of the Savage Land), Francis of Assisi (the patron Saint of ecology, among other things) and Captain America. In other words, Zagor is sort of an amalgam of every heroic figure (both real and fictional) that came before or after… I wonder just how many American comic book heroes of the late ‘60s and beyond can trace their ancestry back to the Italian comics that spawned Zagor.

Poster included with ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE (art by GALLIENO FERRI and WELL-BEE)

Poster included with ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE (art by GALLIENO FERRI and WELL-BEE)

The massive – nearly 300 pages – ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE saga originally appeared in issues 122-125 of the hero’s book, published between September and December, 1975 and it features all of the hallmarks of every title published by Marvel, DC, Charlton and Gold Key from the mid-1960s through the early 1980s, including the artwork. Without getting into too many specifics, I can identify stylistic reference points to the highly underrated Herb Trimpe (who spent seven years drawing THE INCREDIBLE HULK), Sal Buscema (who followed Trimpe with a remarkable ten year run on the same book and is also known for long stints on THE DEFENDERS and THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, among others), Buscema’s big brother, John, DC workhorse Bob Brown, the legendary John Romita, famed SUPERMAN artist Curt Swan and Dell and Gold Key stalwart Tom Gill. That, my friends, puts artist (and Zagor co-creator) Gallieno Ferri in pretty heady company. The unidentified colorist is masterful, as well, in a retro-’70s kinda way; the original Italian books were published in black and white and this particular edition utilizes the solid bright colors of American comics of the time (as in, none of the major shading or gradation effects that have become the norm in this age of – admittedly superior – computer-generated color).

ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE, page 48 (written by GUIDO NOLITTA, art by GALLIENO FERRI)

ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE, page 48 (written by GUIDO NOLITTA, art by GALLIENO FERRI)

Guido Nolitta’s (the pseudonym of co-creator and publisher Sergio Bonelli) story is as rollicking and freewheeling as you would expect from any American-style Western comic (or movie) from the period immediately prior to such fare taking on much darker tones in story and character. In fact, the tale may have been a bit ahead of the curve, as the figure of Supermike isn’t really evil so much as he is conceited, boastful and arrogant regarding his abilities. Toss in Zagor’s frustrations and a willingness to cross boundaries he said he would never cross, committing several dubious acts that belie his humble, benevolent and utterly trustworthy nature and, suddenly, the heroic lead is thrust into the unenviable role of anti-hero; likewise, the villain of the piece takes on a more sympathetic role. These are things that I’m sure Nolitta and Ferri discussed and grappled with before (and probably, even after the story was published) going ahead with the concept. From what I’ve gathered from checking out reviews and comments online and from reading the three superb – though the translations may leave a bit to be desired – essays at the front of this edition (“Zagor Versus Supermachine,” “The Immortality of an Idea!” and, especially, Darko Mrgan’s “The Clash of Vanity”), this near-seismic shift in character for Zagor was not well-embraced at the time and continues to be debated to this day amongst longtime fans of the series. As a newcomer to the character, the shift was nearly imperceptible… or maybe it was a wholly American thought process that had me thinking, “Dude, it’s about time! I woulda plowed the guy right in his perfect mouth about 250 pages ago!” It does make for good drama, though, as Zagor and his companion, Chico (who acts as comedic foil and occasional whipping boy, much like Pancho, the Kid’s loyal sidekick in the uncompromisingly upbeat stories of THE CISCO KID), struggle with how to handle a man intent on destroying the reputation and good name of Zagor among his loyal friends and legion of protectorates. As our hero trails his nemesis, he is beaten and humiliated at every turn, losing the trust of the many Native American tribes he has vowed to protect, as well as losing face with the town folk in and around his “kingdom,” known as Darkwood Forest. His close alliance with the United States Army is also stretched to the breaking point.

ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE, page 53 (written by GUIDO NOLITTA, art by GALLIENO FERRI)

ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE, page 53 (written by GUIDO NOLITTA, art by GALLIENO FERRI)

Before delving into this particular saga, let’s take a quick look at the hero of the piece, Zagor. Born Patrick Wilding, the son of a retired Army officer, the youngster was witness to the slaughter of his parents (a plot device which also played into the development of Batman and so many other characters from the historic halls of fiction) by a rogue band of Indians; taken in by a trapper called Wandering Fitzy, young Patrick learns to wield a common hatchet as a deadly weapon. Fueled by a lust for revenge and curious to learn more about his parents, the boy soon discovers that his father’s hands were not clean of the blood of the innocent. Conflicted, the young man who would become Zagor vowed to set things right as the friend and protector of the downtrodden and misunderstood, regardless of the color of their skin. Many of his impressive athletic skills, as well as his great physical stamina, were developed through an association with an acrobatic family named the Sullivans (a nod to a certain Boy Wonder’s family, the Flying Graysons?). As the Native American tribes came to accept Wilding’s friendship and staunch support of their human rights, they gave him the Indian name “Za-Gor Te-Nay,” which translates into “the Spirit With the Hatchet.” All of this takes place, quite naturally, in the wild and wooly American west of the late 1800s, right? Well… not quite. While Zagor is considered a hero of the “Wild West,” that “west” is actually the Northeastern Woodlands of the early nineteenth century (around 1830 or so), specifically, an unsettled region of Pennsylvania. But, then, I suppose Pennsylvania is quite a bit to the west of Italy, so I’m not gonna dwell on that one too much.

ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE, page 136 (written by GUIDO NOLITTA, art by GALLIENO FERRI)

ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE, page 136 (written by GUIDO NOLITTA, art by GALLIENO FERRI)

So… anyway, here’s the basic plot of ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE: Things start off, as most good Westerns generally do, with a stagecoach barreling through a barren expanse of desert (in the Appalachian Plateau region!), our hero comfortably ensconced in the carriage. Atop the coach is an irascible driver intent on making his next stop on schedule. So laser-focused on maintaining his schedule is Buddy, the driver, that he refuses to stop even when a sharp-dressed dandy in a bowler hat (something that wasn’t even around until at least fifteen years later, but… I digress) appears in the middle of the vehicles’ path; this dandy is none other than Mike Gordon, who has dubbed himself “Supermike,” a true legend in his own mind. As Zagor, Chico and the other passengers question the driver’s motivation for refusing to stop, a very surprised Buddy comes flying past the window. The athletically gifted Mister Gordon, taking umbrage with the driver, had caught up with and climbed aboard the stagecoach, heaving the hapless Buddy over the side and, reigning in the team, begins to pummel the man before Zagor can step in and stop him. The boastful New Yorker regales his fellow passengers with tales of his expertise in many different areas, proving his point by playing a rare and expensive flute perfectly and schooling an elderly woman on the finer points of crocheting. Upon reaching their destination, Supermike makes short work of a local whose prime source of income is menial labor utilizing his exceptional strength. By that evening, Zagor has had quite enough of this Mike Gordon’s superiority complex, as he bests a table of local card sharps before returning their money and buying the entire saloon drinks. When a notorious gunfighter draws down on the town’s sheriff, Zagor is drawn further into Gordon’s web of conceit as the man makes no effort to stop the outlaw; wounding the sheriff, the miscreant is taken out rather handily by Zagor. Later, on the stage out of town, Supermike’s reason for not interfering with the gunman is made obvious: Gordon was merely setting up a confrontation for later to prove his mastery of guns by beating the unbeatable “Flash” Cadigan to the draw. For the King of Darkwood Forest, this is a step too far, leading to a confrontation with the braggadocious Gordon; a confrontation that sees Zagor losing his temper and having to be restrained, leaving Supermike battered, bloody and swearing revenge. That revenge – a total dismantling of Zagor’s life and world – takes up the remainder of the action-filled story. Without giving away any more of the story’s twists and turns, I’ll just say that ZAGOR VERSUS SUPERMIKE gives the reader everything they could hope for in a nostalgic look back at a simpler time in comic book storytelling. This digest-sized presentation is Epicenter Comics’ fourth omnibus offering of some of Zagor’s more epic adventures from this period, with more to come. I, for one, can’t wait.


HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE, ISSUE ONE

(Scott R Schmidt/Tyler Sowles/Sara Sowles; 32 pages; SOURCE POINT PRESS; 2014)

Hank_Steiner_Monster_Detective-1

Hard boiled film noir detective meets things that go bump in the night in the premiere issue of HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE; or, maybe a more apt description for the minions of the monster underworld would be “things that get bumped off in the night.”

HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE Page 5 (Written by SCOTT R SCHMIDT, art by TYLER SOWLES and SARA SOWLES)

HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE Page 5 (Written by SCOTT R SCHMIDT, art by TYLER SOWLES and SARA SOWLES)

Hank’s Tower City mirrors a world divided; there’s the Human Side and the Monster Side. Both communities would like nothing better than that the twain never should meet. This first issue begins with – as all great detective stories should – a body. The desecrated body of something… not human has been pulled out of the river that separates the two sides of the city. The police on the Human Side grouse and grumble about having to handle a suspicious death from the other side, especially during the playoffs; the detective in charge is not about to miss the playoffs, so he’s called in back-up from the Monster Side: “Stand down, fellas, that’s a pal of mine, Frank.” Well, close… “It’s Hank.” In true noir fashion, our hero delivers a running inner-monologue-as-therapy, beginning here: “I hate humans. Comedians, every one.” Detective Steiner quickly identifies the putrid remains: “Looks like you fellas got yourselves what used to be an imp.” Equally as quick, the human cops dump the case on Hank, telling him to “Take him with you when you’re done.”

HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE Page 9 (Written by SCOTT R SCHMIDT, art by TYLER SOWLES and SARA SOWLES)

HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE Page 9 (Written by SCOTT R SCHMIDT, art by TYLER SOWLES and SARA SOWLES)

Back across the bridge, we meet Hank’s operatives, including his secretary, Iris, and a human informant (and garbage man) named Gus. The garbage man’s trash talk (literally) leads the big guy to some underhanded dealings coming from the goblin underworld boss, a fat, cigar-chomping Mafioso called Madtooth. Action comes fast and furious, as Steiner confronts some of Madtooth’s underlings and a trio of vampiric babes in a pool room dive that serves as a front for the mob’s business activities. Of course, Madtooth’s intervention leaves more questions than answers, as he tells Hank that they’re merely the middle men for something far more nefarious than his boys’ illegal shenanigans. Like many of the finest films of the genre, things take a rather unexpected turn, leading to an apt justice being meted out to the criminal element; also mirroring those classic movies, that justice comes in the form of a too-quick resolution. This plot could very easily have been delivered as a multi-issue storyline, fleshing out the characters (recurring and otherwise), the historical background regarding the animosity of the two districts of Tower City and the origins of Hank Steiner’s world.

HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE Pages 14-15 (Written by SCOTT R SCHMIDT, art by TYLER SOWLES and SARA SOWLES)

HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE Pages 14-15 (Written by SCOTT R SCHMIDT, art by TYLER SOWLES and SARA SOWLES)

But… that’s a trifling complaint. Scott R Schmidt’s story and dialogue is fast-paced and quick-witted. One could almost envision Humphrey Bogart (well… maybe Raymond Massey) in the role of the Monster Detective. Tyler Sowles’ artwork is powerful and uncluttered, with his wife, Sara’s muted colors adding to the overall noir feel of the book (by the way, she is responsible for page layouts and lettering, as well). If Schmidt and the Sowles can deliver high quality stories like this in a consistent manner, the future certainly looks bright for the denizens of Tower City… or, at least as bright as things ever get in Hank Steiner’s world. I personally cannot wait for future installments, hopefully ones that will answer some of my questions about the whos, the hows and the whys of just what is happening in Tower City. HANK STEINER, MONSTER DETECTIVE is available at your favorite comics shop or, you can secure it digitally from DriveThruComics  or Comixology. Now… go ye forth and consume, comics lovers. The fun part of your brain will love you for it.


CHRONICLES OF TERROR: THE MONTHLY HORROR ANTHOLOGY, ISSUE FOUR

(Kim Roberts/Various Writers and Artists; 80 pages; WP COMICS; 2016)

cot-xmas-1

The English people are a weird lot. They have a very dry, wicked sense of humor. They have also given us some of THE most frightening tales of horror… ever! Their views on Christmas are… let’s go with “skewed,” shall we? It goes well beyond the fact that they maintain a stubborn habit of saying “Happy” rather than “Merry” when wishing one well during the season of goodwill. Many of those views have been engrained for centuries; well before, I’m sure, the Church usurped the holy days, celebrations and traditions surrounding the winter solstice. All of this is my wholly American way of introducing you to a relatively new comic from the UK called CHRONICLES OF TERROR and, in particular, the fourth issue, a collection of Christmas themed stories sub-titled “Santa’s Twisted Tales.” Now, to be certain, all of the pieces here do not come from the minds and hands of our stalwart British friends; in point of fact, a “Creator of the Month” feature highlights Ohio comics writer and publisher of Disposable Fiction Comics, Jack Wallace.

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: "Snowvenge" (written by KIM ROBERTS, art by HARALDO)

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: “Snowvenge” (written by KIM ROBERTS, art by HARALDO)

Starting with the magnificent, delightfully gruesome cover image by Haraldo (like Cher, I suppose, this artistic genius only needs the one name), this book takes on every traditional concept – both religious and secular – regarding Christmas, as well as the so-called “pagan” rites and rituals of more ancient (some would say “arcane”) holy days. Haraldo’s stunning artwork is back in an imaginative take on the old “revenge is a dish best served cold” proverb; with a brilliant story and script by anthology editor, Kim Roberts, “Snowvenge” is certainly setting the bar high as an opening salvo, as it hits on all cylinders, from concept to finished art. “The Never” is a cautionary tale from the twisted brain of writer Eric Gahagan… a warning from the Anti-Santa for children everywhere about peeking at their presents. Pietro Vaughan’s hard angular lines and thick black shadows are akin to the fever-dream sets used in the brilliant, century old German expressionist horror film, THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI. Ever wonder what the Jolly Elf’s reindeer eat to keep their energy up on those long Christmas Eve journey? Paul Bradford and artist Allen Byrns paint a very vivid picture in “Reindeer: Oh, Deer – Oh, Dear.”

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: "Charles 'Chucky' Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'" (written by GABE OSTLEY, art by GABE OSTLEY and CHRIS ALLEN)

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: “Charles ‘Chucky’ Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol'” (written by GABE OSTLEY, art by GABE OSTLEY and CHRIS ALLEN)

Gabe Ostley’s obscenely off-kilter “Charles ‘Chucky’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol” is eight pages of wildly gratuitous violence featuring the obligatory firefight between Death and Satan and his goat-minions, as well as Cthulhu, the festering corpse of the famed author of THE STORY OF THE GOBLINS WHO STOLE A SEXTON (if I’m not mistaken, he may have written some other fairly famous pieces, as well) and, of course, the totally unlikeable (anti-)hero of the story, a rooster named Cluck, appearing here as Scrooge McCluck; as Cluck is so repellant, I cannot wait for another installment of his adventures. Chris Allen’s vivid palette adds to the already surreal Hellscape. “The Ancestors” delves into some of the “pagan” beliefs and rituals that have become a part of traditional Christmas celebrations. MC Carper’s art has an old-world quality that fits Hunter Eden’s story perfectly, just as Chris Allen’s colors suit Carper’s line-work. As people of varying cultures and religions have migrated farther and farther from the homes of their fathers, the desire to break away from those familial and cultural bonds has grown, even as the need to remain grounded in those cultures and religions is instilled by the ancestral ways invariably follow (and, sometimes, haunt) the immigrant; this story follows one such tortured soul to his own inevitable conclusion. Though only three pages in length, “The Book of Eden Z: Come Gentle Christmas Angels” is… beautiful. The story is simple, elegant and sentimental; I’m not ashamed to say that it brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. What do the spirits of children who are the victims of some unexpected violence wish for on Christmas? J Christopher Greulich’s story is both heart-warming and heartbreaking and his magnificent black and white art is among the best in this volume.

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: "Bad Santa" (written by KIM ROBERTS and CHRIS ALLEN, art by BRADEN HALLETT); "Unwanted Gifts" (written by JAMES JOHNSON, art by JAMES JOHNSON)

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: “Bad Santa” (written by KIM ROBERTS and CHRIS ALLEN, art by BRADEN HALLETT); “Unwanted Gifts” (written by JAMES JOHNSON, art by JAMES JOHNSON)

Bad Santa,” from writers Kim Roberts and Chris Allen and artist Braden Hallett is a cautionary tale of greed and the importance of inspecting each and every package, making sure to read any and all warning notices… even hand-written ones from in-house quality-control engineers. James Johnson’s “Unwanted Gifts” holds the least appeal, story-wise, for me. I don’t know why… it has so many horror linchpins: Loving family set upon by demon spores/spirits/whatevers living in the limbs of the family’s chosen fir tree, each possession driving the inhabited family member over the edge and, as they succumb to their inhabitants, further into the world of ancient Solstice religious beliefs and secular Christmas traditions. Maybe that’s the problem: Johnson’s plot is just too chock full of thoughts and ideas and visions to be coherent enough for a numbskull like me. The blood and the guts (yards and yards of guts!) and the extreme mayhem are cool, though. A drunken stepfather, an uncaring mother and an alien monster all impact poor little Sidney as she awaits a visit from Santa Claus on “Christmas Eve,” though, maybe not in the way that you would imagine. Jojo King’s story does a fine job of exploring the young girl’s hopes and wishes, while the artwork of Alister Lee aptly relates the horror of the season. The ending is much more graphic but is still very reminiscent of this issue’s earlier “Reindeer: Oh, Deer – Oh, Dear.”

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: "The 512th Day of Christmas" (written by JACK WALLACE, art by REINALDO LAY CONTRERAS and CHRIS ALLEN

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: “The 512th Day of Christmas” (written by JACK WALLACE, art by REINALDO LAY CONTRERAS and CHRIS ALLEN

The remainder of this fourth issue of CHRONICLES OF TERROR is comprised of special features and pin-ups, including a killer pin-up by Gabe Ostley (with suitably bright colors from Chris Allen) called “Christmas Turkey.” As mentioned earlier, a “Creator of the Month” feature focuses on Jack Wallace, writer and co-publisher (with the by-now ubiquitous Chris Allen) at Disposable Fiction Comics, who discusses his entrance into the comics industry, working with a wide variety of artistic talents and the pitfalls of self-publishing. Following this in-depth profile is a five page preview of Wallace’s latest graphic novel, THE 512TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, with magnificent art from Reinaldo Lay Contreras (better known as Rei Lay) and colors from… you guessed it: Chris Allen. More info about and ordering info for the book is available at Disposable Fiction Comics; plus, you can order your own copy (physical or digital) of this Yule-themed CHRONICLES OF TERROR (as well as the first three issues of the incredible anthology) here. Enjoy! And… Merry Christmas, one and all.


PUPPET MASTER, VOLUME 1: THE OFFERING

(Shawn Gabborin/Michela Da Sacco/Yann Perrelet; 67 pages; ACTION LAB: DANGER ZONE; 2015)

PUPPET MASTER VOLUME 1

I’ve never been a huge fan of Charles Band’s PUPPET MASTER movie franchise. Ever since my first viewing at age seven (yes, I watched rated R films as a seven year old child… thanks, Mom), I’ve always found the series to be overtly desperate without providing much quality to back up the undeniably ambitious plot. So, naturally when Unka D asked me to review the recent continuation of the PUPPET MASTER mythos from Action Lab’s Danger Zone mature readers imprint, my expectations were thoroughly embedded beneath the soles of my Vans sneakers. Luckily for me, I was pleasantly surprised.

PUPPET MASTER Issue 1 cover, page 3 (Written by SHAWN GABBORIN, cover and art by MICHELA DA SACCO and YANN PERRELET)

PUPPET MASTER Issue 1 cover, page 3 (Written by SHAWN GABBORIN, cover and art by MICHELA DA SACCO and YANN PERRELET)

Familiarity settles in quickly as the story kicks off at the well known Bodega Bay Inn. For newbies to the series, the aforementioned lodge has become a staple setting in the ten film (yes, ten film!) franchise. After a quick intro sequence involving an unlucky vagrant who meets his untimely demise, we’re introduced to the protagonists of the tale, a group of horny college students who, in typical ’80s horror fashion, have decided to get hammered and spend the weekend at the abandoned inn.

PUPPET MASTER Issue 2 (Cover by MICHELA DA SACCO and YANN PERRELET)

PUPPET MASTER Issue 2 (Cover by MICHELA DA SACCO and YANN PERRELET)

Script-wise, these books are topnotch. All the recognizable puppets make their triumphant returns (Blade being my personal favorite.). The narrative is paced like a horror film, which really keeps you immersed in the overall linearity of the story. Ladened with genuinely creepy moments, the tone of the miniseries-within-a-series (this collection features the first three-issue story arc of the current ongoing series) walks the line between black humor and horror very well. The artwork, courtesy of Michela De Sacco, really captures the dark, yet kitschy vibe that is so identifiable with the franchise. Chock-full of brutal death scenes, there is more than enough blood and guts here to please the gore hounds, as well.

PUPPET MASTER Issue 3 cover, page 3 (Written by SHAWN GABBORIN, cover and art by MICHELA DA SACCO and YANN PERRELET)

PUPPET MASTER Issue 3 cover, page 3 (Written by SHAWN GABBORIN, cover and art by MICHELA DA SACCO and YANN PERRELET)

Shawn Gabborin has done an admirable job of taking a brand that has been contrived (at best) for the better part of the last decade and breathing new life into it. This reviewer looks forward to seeing where the story goes from here. PUPPET MASTER, VOLUME 1: THE OFFERING is available at comic shops everywhere, as well as the usual on-line places, including digital download outlets such as ComiXology. For more on the PUPPET MASTER movie franchise, as well as signed, limited edition comics and more visit: Full Moon Direct.


BEHEMOTH, NUMBERS 1 AND 2

(Chris Kipiniak/JK Woodward; 24 pages each issue, digital; MONKEYBRAIN COMICS, 2015)

BEHEMOTH

My new addiction is BEHEMOTH. In a nutshell, BEHEMOTH follows a young girl named Theresa, who is gradually transforming into a beast. She is sent to a government facility and is led to believe there is no hope; nor is there a cure. Thank you, Chris Kipiniak, for writing something so intriguing, but also that hits me right in my heart strings.

BEHEMOTH, issue 1, page 2 (Written by CHRIS KIPINIAK, art by JK WOODWARD)

BEHEMOTH, issue 1, page 2 (Written by CHRIS KIPINIAK, art by JK WOODWARD)

I would like to begin by saying kudos to series co-creator JK Woodward for the beautiful artwork done in this comic. The characters are very well done and wonderfully random; mildly terrifying but, I’m willing to look past that. There is also enough gore for a mature reader but, not so much where it is grody. Also, the layout of each page made it easy to follow and the lettering – by Jesse Post – is easy to read. This makes each comic fast paced, with no frustration.

BEHEMOTH, issue 1, page 3 (Written by CHRIS KIPINIAK, art by JK WOODWARD)

BEHEMOTH, issue 1, page 3 (Written by CHRIS KIPINIAK, art by JK WOODWARD)

My only issue with the comic is a certain lack of character development and “real” feels. It appeared as though the protagonist accepted her new life as a beast too quickly. Also, a relationship is formed within the first two issues making me somewhat not want them to be together at all; I would have preferred to see more small, flirtatious interactions hinting at a relationship in the future instead of one right off the bat.

BEHEMOTH, issue 2, page 3 (Written by CHRIS KIPINIAK, art by JK WOODWARD)

BEHEMOTH, issue 2, page 3 (Written by CHRIS KIPINIAK, art by JK WOODWARD)

I cannot wait for new additions to this story and am pumped to see what happens next. Already, I have been given the conflict (actually on the very first page of the first book) and I have been introduced to some crazy, but strangely lovable characters. Also, the action is intense and oh so suspenseful and was able to capture and hold my attention. And trust me that is not easy to do… I have the attention span of a two year old. I may or may not have a heart attack from all this suspense. Jeez! I highly recommend this comic to any reader who enjoys monsters and fight scenes. Both issues of BEHEMOTH are available digitally for an insanely cheap price at the Monkeybrain site or at ComiXology.


BLOKE’S TERRIBLE TOMB OF TERROR, NUMBER 11

(Mike Hoffman, Jason Crawley and various writers and artists; SELF-PUBLISHED; 2014)

TOMB OF TERROR #11

I came to the Bloke’s tomb late in the game… didn’t know the throwback horror title even existed until I saw something on another site about it. After contacting co-creator (and the Bloke himself) Jason Crawley, he was kind enough to send me issues 9-11 for review. As sometimes happens, I fell behind for a variety of reasons that will only be meaningful to me and, I am finally – late to the game again – getting the chance to tell you about one of the best genre titles today, rivaling even Warren’s CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA for both storytelling and artistic excellence; the magazine-sized tome is blessed with the brilliant cover art of Mike Hoffman… sure, he ain’t Frazetta but, then, who is? The classic werewolf in mortal combat with what I’m guessing is an extra-large serpent (it has no perceptable beginning or end that I can identify) certainly sets the tone for the frights found inside.

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “PK's Family Diner” (written by ROGER MCKENZIE, art by RON MORAN)

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “PK’s Family Diner” (written by ROGER MCKENZIE, art by RON MORAN)

The first story, “The Ice Shaman,” is a tale of mysticism, enfolding the Inuit’s reverence for the essence and being of the animals they hunt for food, clothing and basic survival. When an evil spirit inhabits a member of the Inuit community, he tears their belief system to shreds but, as is often the case in such tales, revenge comes from a rather unexpected source. Mike Hoffman’s story is very much in the vein of the classic Warren Magazines style, while his artwork is reminiscent of the work of EC Comics horror legend, Jack Davis. It’s a pretty good start to a very promising issue. Former Marvel, DC and Warren scripter, Roger McKenzie submits “PK’s Family Diner” for your consideration. It’s a short story of eternal love in a post-apocalyptic world where an anniversary visit to the diner includes a very special gift from the Johnstone family. Ron Moran’s line work is an odd, though not unpleasant, amalgam of the styles of both Reed Crandall and Basil Wolverton… if you can possibly wrap your head around that concept!

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “Set the Controls” (by TREVOR DENHAM)

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “Set the Controls” (by TREVOR DENHAM)

Blind dates, on a scale of “just kill me… kill me now” to “a pox upon you and your family for this set up,” generally tend to fall somewhere just this side of the zombie apocalypse. And then, there’s the “Date Night” set up by one of Belinda’s friends; apprehension turns to dread of being stood up turns to a pleasurable interaction turns to fear and pain and, then… David meets the kids. A wicked – if predictable – tale of an ill-conceived hook-up, “Date Night” is written by the Bloke his own self, Jason Crawley, and illustrated by Juan Carlos Abraldes Rendo, whose work is a bit pedestrian, though serviceable. “Set the Controls” is a descendant to one of those beautifully rendered (in a Paul Neary kind of way) science-fiction space travel stories that used to crop up occasionally in the pages of Warren books, particularly EERIE. The concept and story are almost always secondary because the art is just so incredible. In this instance, story and art are by the same person, Trevor Denham, with a basic premise that has a ship from Earth heading to another (presumably uninhabited) planet with an eye toward colonization. The locals, as usual, have a little something to say on the subject. The actual story may be a mite hard to follow but – Great Googley-Moogley! – that artwork is worth the price of admission alone… by far the best in what’s really a pretty good field.

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “Beware the Ripper” (by SAM ARGO)

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “Beware the Ripper” (by SAM ARGO)

The final story, Sam Argo’s “Beware the Ripper,” offers a new theory regarding the Whitechapel murders, as Constable Murdock comes face-to-face with ol’ Jack. Argo’s short piece is well illustrated and, believe it or not, features a definite sense of humorous whimsy. Aside from the 44 pages of story, there’s an update on the Bloke’s activities since the last issue, another amazing painting from Mike Hoffman on the back cover (this one featuring the Bloke) and two pin-ups from artist Nik Poliwko. This is a great jumping on point (there really isn’t a bad jumping on point, since there are no regular series) for BLOKE’S TERRIBLE TOMB OF TERROR and, after digesting this issue, you’re gonna want to check out the entire run. Crawley and Hoffman have made collecting all eleven (and counting) issues as tripping over a corpse in a foggy graveyard – they’re all available here, along with other gory goodies galore; you can also check out ComiXology, Amazon and the usual suspects for your horror fix. All issues are available in either physical or digital copies. Enjoy!


DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN’S HAND

(Shane Hensley/Various Writers and Artists; IDW PUBLISHING/VISIONARY COMICS/PINNACLE ENTERTAINMENT GROUP; 2015)

Dead-Mans-Hand

What an absolutely beautiful book this is! Anyone familiar with Shane Hensley’s DEADLANDS role playing game will recognize the characters and the concept and will be immediately drawn into this world of gun-play and spiritualism. Likewise, anyone who remembers THE WILD, WILD WEST (the 1960s television series or the updated movie version starring Will Smith) will recognize the science-fiction/steampunk feel present here (especially in the first story, “The Devil’s Six Gun”) or, if you’re familiar with the early ’70s DC comic, WEIRD WESTERN TALES (home of El Diablo, a spooky Zorro knock-off with awesome art from Gray Morrow and, later, Neal Adams; the pages of WWT also saw the debut of Jonah Hex, one of DC’s most endearing western characters), you will definitely want to check out DEAD MAN’S HAND, a book that is filled with demons, spirits, monsters and supernatural happenings aplenty. Of course, these new era stories are more violent, more graphic, with far more blood than those earlier creators could depict. With that in mind, allow me to amend my first sentence to read, “What an absolutely beautifully written and illustrated book this is!”

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN'S HAND: "The Devil's Six Gun" (Written by DAVID GALLAHER, art by STEVE ELLIS)

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN’S HAND: “The Devil’s Six Gun” (Written by DAVID GALLAHER, art by STEVE ELLIS)

The majority of the collection compiles the original four issue run of Image Comics one-shots, beginning with “The Devil’s Six Gun” by the award-winning team of David Gallaher and Steve Ellis. The tale follows the life of scientific genius Copernicus Blackburne, a man driven to explore the unexplained. When the sewing machine repair shop he works for is given a military contract to develop new firearms, Copernicus creates and refines the protean pistol, the most accurate and deadliest weapon known to mankind. His efforts draw the attention of an American benefactor, Samuel Tygian, who commissions Copernicus to further refine his pistol, producing the ultimate weapon. As Blackburne immerses himself into his work, a series of unfortunate events robs him of his family, his home and… well, let’s just say that you should always read the fine print before signing any contract. Gallaher’s story is taut as a bowstring, while still adding little bits of personal information that allows the reader to develop an empathy toward the lead character, even as we follow his walk down the path to destruction; Ellis’ artwork is intricate and filled with a life that very few of today’s comic artists are capable of producing. The story sets the tone nicely for what’s still to come.

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN'S HAND: "Massacre At Red Wing" (Written by JIMMY PALMIOTTI and JUSTIN GRAY, art by LEE MODER and MICHAEL ATIYEH)

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN’S HAND: “Massacre At Red Wing” (Written by JIMMY PALMIOTTI and JUSTIN GRAY, art by LEE MODER and MICHAEL ATIYEH)

Massacre At Red Wing,” written by long-time Jonah Hex scribes Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, is a story about a girl and her dog. The young woman’s path finds her seeking her past and fulfilling her destiny; Clementime is searching for her mother, an Indian woman, who thinks that her baby daughter was put to death by her rapist, a white man who may have more than a touch of demon blood coursing through his veins. Having gained certain information that may lead her to her mother, Clementime is traveling to a small town called Red Wing. Along the way, she comes across a community beset by demons. She considers leaving demon and human alike to their own fates, but decides to intercede, using her mystical powers to defeat the demons and, with her dog’s help, gain additional knowledge as to the whereabouts of her mother. Once she reaches Red Wing, the story reverts to a rather standard tale of rescue and revenge. In this case, though, “standard” doesn’t mean bad or even particularly predictable… the title pretty much tells you where this story’s going; it’s just a well-used plot in the Western genre, whether in comics, movies, literature or any other medium. For the most part, the story is character driven, with some fairly graphic violence tossed in just to remind the reader what kind of book they’re reading. The art by Lee Moder (with colorist Michael Atiyeh working with a palette that’s far brighter and more inviting than most would use for such a tale) is very much in the style of the great Gil Kane, with beautifully rendered figures and graceful action sequences. “Massacre At Red Wing” is one of the most visually stunning pieces of comics work you’re likely to see.

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN'S HAND: "Death Was Silent" (Written by RON MARZ, art by BART SEARS and MICHAEL ATIYEH)

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN’S HAND: “Death Was Silent” (Written by RON MARZ, art by BART SEARS and MICHAEL ATIYEH)

The gritty, atmospheric “Death Was Silent” is an Old West take on the whole INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS scenario. Hoyt Cooper arrives in town on a bleak, rainy day, a body draped over his saddle. Cooper, whose tongue was cut out by “savages,” wears a slate board on his chest. The board has had a spell cast on it, allowing Cooper to “speak”; whatever he thinks, appears on the board. The slate announces that Cooper has shown up to kill everyone in the town, which is completely infected by an alien being. With a little help from an unexpected source, Cooper goes about ridding the earth of the alien mother and her offspring in a brutal display of violence. Series editor, Ron Marz’s story has everything that you could ask for in a western yarn laced with science-fiction elements and just a touch of voodoo; the artwork, by Bart Sears, matches the feel of the script perfectly… dark and moody. Atiyeh is back, using much harsher colors… drab and dreary, evoking the gloomy atmosphere of an inhabited town, as well as the weather conditions the story takes place in. Of all of the stories in DEAD MAN’S HAND, this one comes closest to the feel of those early Jonah Hex tales.

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN'S HAND: "Black Water" (Written by JEFF MARIOTTE, art by BROOK TURNER and C EDWARD SELLNER)

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN’S HAND: “Black Water” (Written by JEFF MARIOTTE, art by BROOK TURNER and C EDWARD SELLNER)

Black Water” is a tale of greed, lust and revenge, with equal parts Greek mythology, Scottish lore, ancient Chinese curses, TREASURE ISLAND, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT and THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. Harmon Rappaport, a rich and ruthless man, has been on a quest to find a woman he saw only once (and that, after being hit with a musket ball during the Civil War); after a visit to a spiritualist, where he learns that the woman is dead, Rappaport plans a voyage to the mystical maze of Shan Fen, where the seer says the woman can be found. The siren call of the woman leads Rappaport, his body guard Ian Fairfax and a gunslinger and self-professed “guide” named Lyle Crumbfine set out on a paddle steamer heading downstream, in search of the maze; also along for the ride are the vessel’s captain and several other interesting passengers. Three nights into the trip, the boat is destroyed by a waterspout, leaving the passengers to struggle toward the beach and safety. What lies ahead is an exciting journey of sea monsters, ambushes, death and revenge. Jeff Mariotte weaves a suspenseful yarn, exploring the extent and the deprivations that one man will go to acquire the one thing he cannot have; Brook Turner’s intricate art shows the influences of some of the legends of the field, including – most evident – Neal Adams, Joe Kubert and Rich Buckler. Visionary Comics honcho C Edward Sellner’s deft hand and astute eye turns in a brilliant color job.

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN'S HAND: "What a Man's Got To Do" (Written by MATTHEW CUTTER, art by ULISES ROMAN and DOUG SPENCER); "Vengeful" (Written by SHANE HENSLEY, art by SEAN LEE, MIKE MUNSHAW and C EDWARD SELLNER)

DEADLANDS, VOLUME ONE: DEAD MAN’S HAND: “What a Man’s Got To Do” (Written by MATTHEW CUTTER, art by ULISES ROMAN and DOUG SPENCER); “Vengeful” (Written by SHANE HENSLEY, art by SEAN LEE, MIKE MUNSHAW and C EDWARD SELLNER)

One of two new stories to this edition is called “What a Man’s Got To Do.” Written by DEADLANDS brand manager, Matthew Cutter, and illustrated by Ulises Roman (with colors by Doug Spencer), the short piece delves into Indian mysticism and spirit animals, as Lucas Pitt joins a posse that is, ultimately, massacred by the outlaws they were hunting. With Pitt, the only survivor, on the run from the villains, he and they quickly discover that Lucas is a completely different… animal when he’s sleeping. DEADLANDS creator Shane Hensley supplies the script for the other new story, “Vengeful.” A marshal’s idyllic retirement is shattered by an escaped convict, intent on exacting revenge on the marshal and his wife. As the outlaw and his gang sets fire to the couple’s home, leaving the bodies to rot, we are quickly reminded that, sometimes, even a righteous soul can want vengeance. The art, provided by penciller Sean Lee, inker Mike Munshaw and colorist Sellner, is spacious, befitting the wide-open land it depicts. Other unique bonus features include a roleplaying supplement for the DEADLANDS RELOADED game, character concept sketches from Steve Ellis, Lee Moder and Brook Turner and a preview of the first DEADLANDS novel, GHOSTWALKERS, written by Jonathan Maberry and due from Tor Books this fall. Whether you’re into the RPG or not, whether you’re into weird western comics or not, you are still going to love the storytelling and the magnificent art of DEAD MAN’S HAND… don’t miss out.


AMELIA COLE AND THE IMPOSSIBLE FATE, NUMBER 20

(Adam P Knave/DJ Kirkbride/Nick Brokenshire; 19 pages, digital; MONKEYBRAIN COMICS, 2015)

AMELIA COLE

The AMELIA COLE series follows the adventures of a young woman, raised in the magic arts by her aunt. Amelia uses her magic to cross between two separate worlds, one where magic is the norm, the other where science rules (the realm she believes to be her home world); in each world, the other discipline is unheard of. The series works in arcs of six issues each but, they are not self-contained… the finale of one arc leads directly into the plot and storyline of subsequent arcs. So, before getting on with specifics on this issue (the second chapter in the fourth story arc), let’s get a little bit of insight into the characters and the basic premise of the overarching story in this superb, tightly scripted series, shall we?

AMELIA COLE AND THE UNKNOWN WORLD (cover art: NICK BROKENSHIRE)

AMELIA COLE AND THE UNKNOWN WORLD (cover art: NICK BROKENSHIRE)

The first story arc, AMELIA COLE AND THE UNKNOWN WORLD, introduces Amelia, a young woman who suddenly loses everything she loves – her family, her friends, her world. She then loses her beloved aunt and another world and, now, she finds herself trapped in a third dimension that may or may not be her actual birth place. She quickly runs afoul of the law for using her magic powers in an unlawful fashion and, eventually, ends up fighting the authorities’ enforcer, a dark robed mage called the Protector. Defeating the well-meaning puppet hero, Amelia now finds herself the city’s new Protector.

AMELIA COLE AND THE HIDDEN WAR (cover art NICK BROKENSHIRE)

AMELIA COLE AND THE HIDDEN WAR (cover art NICK BROKENSHIRE)

Things really begin to heat up (as if the action in the first series wasn’t enough!) in AMELIA COLE AND THE HIDDEN WAR. As the new Protector of Otysburg, Amelia – along with her pet golem, Lemmy – goes about protecting and saving the populace, regardless of their social standing (mage protection is fine, non-mage protection is in violation of the city’s penal code), something that seriously ticks off the Magistrate, whose puppet strings are being pulled by a dark and mysterious wraith cabal known as the Council. Meanwhile, Hector Garza, the former Protector is fighting another war against other-dimensional demons with Omega Company, a military outfit he signed up with when he lost his job. Neither Amelia nor Hector realize that they are, in fact, fighting a common foe.

AMELIA COLE AND THE ENEMY UNLEASHED (cover art NICK BROKENSHIRE)

AMELIA COLE AND THE ENEMY UNLEASHED (cover art NICK BROKENSHIRE)

As the name emplies, AMELIA COLE AND THE ENEMY UNLEASHED sees the Council come out of the shadows and, after killing the Magistrate, begin to siphon off all of the magic powers on Amelia’s adopted world. Amelia (and Lemmy) and Hector (and the other two surviving members of Omega Company) team up and raise a valiant defense; ultimately, though, the two Protectors are thrown into the other two dimensions: Hector into the non-magic realm; Amelia back to the magic realm.

AMELIA COLE AND THE IMPOSSIBLE FATE, issue 19 (cover art NICK BROKENSHIRE)

AMELIA COLE AND THE IMPOSSIBLE FATE, issue 19 (cover art NICK BROKENSHIRE)

Which brings us to AMELIA COLE AND THE IMPOSSIBLE FATE. With Amelia back in the magical realm, it doesn’t take long for the gendarme to come a-callin’. Hector, trapped in a world where magic doesn’t exist, is enjoying the simple life with… Amelia’s best friend from that dimension. Back in the third realm, the Council has turned Otysburg into a war zone, with Lemmy, Omega Company and their friends the only resistance. So, now you’re pretty much up to date as we move on to a more in-depth review of Part Two of …THE IMPOSSIBLE FATE.

AMELIA COLE AND THE IMPOSSIBLE FATE, issue 20, page 1 (Written by ADAM P KNAVE and DJ KIRKBRIDE, art by NICK BROKENSHIRE)

AMELIA COLE AND THE IMPOSSIBLE FATE, issue 20, page 1 (Written by ADAM P KNAVE and DJ KIRKBRIDE, art by NICK BROKENSHIRE)

As the issue begins, Amelia is pondering the unavailability of magic tomes on audiobook; Hector is enjoying a quiet meal with Laura, Amelia’s friend; and their friends back on the blended world have come up with a plan: Since the Council are not too particular about their victims, the group will recruit the entire city – non-mage and mage alike – to wage war against their conquerors. While this issue isn’t as action-packed as most of the previous nineteen, there’s still enough action to keep things interesting: Lemmy and the rest are on the run from the Council and trapped in their own home; Amelia has a run-in with a police officer back at her Aunt Dani’s shop but, eventually, she wins him over to her cause, as they begin a city-wide search for Hector; Hector and Laura are assaulted and, while Hector ineffectively waves his wand at the guy, Laura takes control with some moves she learned in a self-defense class; later, however, Laura is amazed as Hector’s powers return full-strength and he saves a man from certain death.

AMELIA COLE AND THE IMPOSSIBLE FATE, issue 20, page 2 (Written by ADAM P KNAVE and DJ KIRKBRIDE, art by NICK BROKENSHIRE)

AMELIA COLE AND THE IMPOSSIBLE FATE, issue 20, page 2 (Written by ADAM P KNAVE and DJ KIRKBRIDE, art by NICK BROKENSHIRE)

The rest of the book deals with how everybody is handling being in a very different world than the one they woke up in earlier in the day. The characters, the worlds and the story created by writers Adam P Knave and DJ Kirkbride are all so vibrantly real (yeah… I realize that I just said that about magicians, evil wraiths, dimension travel and golems… but, it’s true), that you get caught up in the story and the lives of these characters and can’t wait for the next issue to get here. Nick Brokenshire’s artwork fits the story perfectly… look closely through all twenty issues and you’ll see sly little nods to some of the comics greats (there are several storefronts with names like Frazetta, Toth and Eisner; the heroic leader of Omega Company is named Kubert) and some very recognizable characters from the big and small screens (Wimpy makes an appearance on a Tuesday; Shaggy shows up in a scene, as does the Monopoly dude; Eddie Murphy’s character from THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and Gene Wilder as Frankenstein appear in a research lab). The supporting cast are each drawn with a specific personality in mind, with no short cuts, especially the brilliantly conceived Lemmy. The various worlds are all familiar enough that they could be this Earth, but with enough differences to let us know that we ain’t in Kansas anymore. Nick colors his own pages (with an occasional assist from Ruiz Moreno), working with a very bright… well, actually, more of a pastel… palette that is extremely effective on this strip, proving that a book like this doesn’t necessarily need to be dark and gloomy (though there are those types of scenes, as well).

AMELIA COLE AND THE IMPOSSIBLE FATE, issue 20, page 3 (Written by ADAM P KNAVE and DJ KIRKBRIDE, art by NICK BROKENSHIRE)

AMELIA COLE AND THE IMPOSSIBLE FATE, issue 20, page 3 (Written by ADAM P KNAVE and DJ KIRKBRIDE, art by NICK BROKENSHIRE)

And, let’s talk about the depiction of our title character. Amelia isn’t a typical female lead. She isn’t waif thin with an impossibly large bust. She’s just… beautifully average. Amelia Cole is the kind of girl next door that you always had a crush on when you were growing up and the kind of young woman that you could fall deeply in love with and want to be around as much as possible. And, that is definitely one of the things that makes this book so appealing… the fact that the lead character seems so utterly normal and approachable. With the major publishers killing off all of their characters and starting over every few months, you really can’t afford to become too invested in any of those books; the story and art of AMELIA COLE melds beautifully to create one of the best ongoing series that I’ve read in a good little while.

Individual digital issues of AMELIA COLE, as well as the first three six-issue collections are available from Monkeybrain and comixology.com; graphic novels of the first three story arcs, each with unique bonus material, are printed and published through IDW and are available there and from all of the usual suspects. I heartily suggest that you pick up this series from the beginning, in whatever form you like. As the title page of issue 19 says, “If you haven’t, read previous issues. This issue will be here when you’re done… ”


EMPIRE OF THE WOLF

(Michael Kogge/Dan Parsons/David Rabbitte/Chris Summers/Marshall Dillon/Doug Beekman; 125 pages; ALTERNA COMICS; 2014)

DIG030689_1

EMPIRE OF THE WOLF is a four issue limited series – collected here in one place – that explores historical aspects of the Roman empire, melding realities with the mythological story of Romulus and Remus, which, naturally, leads to the introduction of another European legend into the mix – the werewolf. Overall, the story is well constructed, though I did find it a bit confusing differentiating between the characters. I found myself re-reading pages and going back farther into the story to catch up on who was doing what and where they were doing it (and to whom); that problem, I feel, has more to do with the artists’ designs and execution than a jumbled script. If you’ve been around for as long as I have, then you probably remember Barry (Windsor) Smith’s early work on CONAN THE BARBARIAN, THE AVENGERS, IRON MAN and some other Marvel books, as well as Mike Grell’s earliest efforts at DC with THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, GREEN ARROW and, of course, THE WARLORD; while I have come to appreciate the art and storytelling prowess of both of these gentlemen, those early works featured rather stiff figures, with odd angles and extended torsos and faces. Dan Parsons, who pencilled the first two issues, has those same tendencies; David Rabbitte, penciller on the final two issues, suffers the same malady, though to a lesser extent (maybe that similarity is an attempt to retain continuity throughout the series). The colorists (Rabbitte on the first and fourth issues, Chris Summers on the middle two) worked directly over the pencil art, giving the pages a cool painted look, which smooths out some of the problems already alluded to. Don’t get me wrong… while the artwork may be an acquired taste (at least, for me), it is in no way inferior. In fact, both artists prove they are not without talent, as there are several absolutely brilliantly illustrated pages in each of the four issues (plus, Parsons handled the original cover art, which is certainly of a high standard). Also, special mention must be made of the other member of the original artistic team, letterer Marshall Dillon, who was handpicked by Kogge to give the pages the look and feel of those early ’70s Marvel books by such greats as John Costanza and Sam Rosen. His work does, indeed, add a special touch to the book.

EMPIRE OF THE WOLF: Issue 1 cover, page 1 (Cover by DAN PARSONS; Written by MICHAEL KOGGE, art by DAN PARSONS and DAVID RABBITTE)

EMPIRE OF THE WOLF: Issue 1 cover, page 1 (Cover by DAN PARSONS; Written by MICHAEL KOGGE, art by DAN PARSONS and DAVID RABBITTE)

The first issue (or Book I, to be more accurate) is sub-titled “The Savage North” and introduces the two protagonists, centurions of the Second Augustan Legion, Canisius Sarcipio, a former slave, and Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, nephew to the emperor, who are leading their forces through Britannia, convinced that the only way to civilize the Celts is to conquer them; failing to civilize the Celts, nothing less than their utter destruction will do. As their general, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, joins them, it would seem that their decision has been made for them: Genral Vespasianus has discovered the eviscerated body of a fellow soldier, the work of a Druid sect under the leadership of a giant named Caradog. As the general and centurions lead their armies, intent on destroying everything in their path, they encounter Caradog, a killing machine who quickly dispatches over a hundred Roman soldiers as well as Vespasianus, all in the name of his ancestor, Remus. As the general lies dying of his wounds, he gives his command to Canisius; Lucius and Canisius pursue Caradog, eventually catching up to… something that definitely isn’t human. At home, in Rome, Canisius’ beloved, Lavinia, a Virgin of Vesta, is troubled by dreams and visions of death and defeat. Her visions prove to be right; as Lucius is bitten by the monstrous Caradog, Canisius forces the fight, allowing his friend to escape back to the Roman encampments. Meanwhile, Lavinia, cursing Vesta, vows that if Canisius does not return, Rome will burn. There’s a lot of groundwork to digest in “The Savage North,” and much that needs to be explained. The story is off to an action-packed start but, for it to be told properly, it cannot maintain this break-neck level.

EMPIRE OF THE WOLF: Issue 2 cover, page 1 (Cover by DAN PARSONS; Written by MICHAEL KOGGE, art by DAN PARSONS and CHRIS SUMMERS)

EMPIRE OF THE WOLF: Issue 2 cover, page 1 (Cover by DAN PARSONS; Written by MICHAEL KOGGE, art by DAN PARSONS and CHRIS SUMMERS)

However, with Book II, “The Mark of the Beast,” even though the action doesn’t slow appreciably, the story does advance nicely… so, what do I know, huh? Canisius’ battle with the beastial Caradog leaves them dead or dying – the former from a vicious bite from the latter; Caradog from his own weapon, a mystical sword called “Moonblade.” By now, we all know what’s happening here, right? Caradog and his followers are werewolves, a fact that can only mean… Canisius isn’t dead, just weak from loss of blood, with the added bonus of the lupine infection passed on from his foe’s bite. In the meantime, Lucius (who is also infected) claims sole command of all Roman forces in Brittania, seeking the glory that will make it possible for him to ask for the hand of the lovely Lavinia; he didn’t necessarily seek the death of his friend but, he certainly intends to take advantage of it. Canisius awakens, naked and freezing, as a Druid sorceress named Ambrosia appears. Ambrosia, knowing the warrior’s fate, has purposed to bring out the beast in Canisius, thinking that he may be the chosen one, who will lead the Celts to ultimate victory. Upon Lucius’ homecoming, he is – naturally – rebuffed by Lavinia. There’s a nice bit of Royal Court intrigue, as the “conquering hero” is feted by his uncle, the emperor, and his ambitious mother. I guess if you wanna call the last few pages of this chapter a “surprise ending,” that works as well as any. Differentiating between the two primary characters is a lot easier in this issue, mainly because they’re never together. Again, the writing is crisp; the artwork features flashes of brilliance but, still, the characters occasionally suffer from a… uh… stiffness, I suppose, is the best word. Parsons’ action scenes seem to be more fluid here than in Book I, so that’s a definite plus.

EMPIRE OF THE WOLF: Issue 3 cover, page 1 (Cover by DAN PARSONS; Written by MICHAEL KOGGE, art by DAVID RABBITTE and CHRIS SUMMERS)

EMPIRE OF THE WOLF: Issue 3 cover, page 1 (Cover by DAN PARSONS; Written by MICHAEL KOGGE, art by DAVID RABBITTE and CHRIS SUMMERS)

An origin story of sorts opens Book III, subtitled “The Blood of Remus.” The legend of Romulus and Remus, sons of the Roman god of war, Mars, born of a virgin, unfolds in the first six pages of the chapter, offering insight into the main tale of EMPIRE OF THE WOLF. Mythology buffs will remember that the twins were raised by wolves and, eventually, Romulus’ lust for power led to the death of Remus at his brother’s hand. David Rabbitte’s art and Chris Summer’s use of subdued earth-tones to color these pages are the best of the series so far; the opening splash page alone is a thing of compositional beauty, boding well for the rest of this book, as well as the final chapter of the series. As the Druid Ambrosia relates to Canisius the legendary tale, he begins to understand and accept what has happened; his memory also returns and he is determined to return to Rome and Lavinia. Upon entering a Roman outpost, he is met by an old friend who is surprised to see him; it seems that Lucius has declared him dead and has become the cruel emperor Nero. Now, Canisius has another reason to return home: To liberate Rome and his beloved and to seek revenge on his traitorous friend. As his plans now seems to dovetail with that of the Druids, a plan is formulated and the group boards a Roman galleon returning to Rome. While on board, a Roman officer attacks Ambrosia, triggering the lupine change in Canisius. Meanwhile, back in Rome, the desire of two great leaders, Lavinia, witnesses a brutal attack by the beastial Lucius, sending her fleeing from the city. From that point, things get a bit muddled, with shipwrecks, vengeance-seeking corpses and some very confusing scenes taking place in a cave; originally, Canisius appears to be under the thrall of a sibyl who has taken the form of Lavinia but, suddenly, the scene shifts to another cave where Lavinia is hiding from the wrathful Lucius, who has managed to hunt her down. As long as you pay close attention to the captions, you’re gonna know what’s going on but, now that both Lucius and Canisius are basically in the same situation, the identity problem has, again, reared its utterly confused head. Our heroes simply look too much alike for a casual reader to browse over this part and not come away scratching their head. The pencil art throughout the cave scenes would have benefited from some inks, as the shading leaves the faces looking a bit muddy; other than that minor complaint, the artwork is, overall, a vast improvement over the first two installments. With a little more exposition mixed in with the action, Book III has set up what should be an exciting and eventful finale.

EMPIRE OF THE WOLF: Issue 4 cover, page 1 (Cover by DAN PARSONS; Written by MICHAEL KOGGE, art by DAVID RABBITTE)

EMPIRE OF THE WOLF: Issue 4 cover, page 1 (Cover by DAN PARSONS; Written by MICHAEL KOGGE, art by DAVID RABBITTE)

Book IV is “Empire of the Wolf,” an epic culmination of Michael Kogge’s two decade journey to tell this story. It begins with Canisius’ journey through Hades, searching for the soul of Ambrosia; the Druid, however, did not perish in the shipwreck and she – and several surviving members of the sect – are saved and brought to Rome… entertainment for the emperor. Lucius, allying himself with Lavinia’s father, has taken her as his reluctant empress and, as the brutal Nero, sends Ambrosia and her companions to certain doom, facing a menagerie of wild beasts in the gladiatorial ring. When Canisius appears from the depths of Hades, the two old friends battle for supremacy, with a fight that rages throughout the city. With Rabbitte now coloring his own pencil work, the art takes on a more atmospheric tone, especially the scenes at the River Styx and in Hades and the fight scenes. I’m really not the type of person who enjoys delivering spoilers, so… I’ll just tell you that, in this version, the historical burning of Rome definitely does not happen while Nero fiddles. The finale of EMPIRE OF THE WOLF also features reversals of fortunes, acts of revenge, scenes of comeuppance, historical references that give the story a vibrant ring of truth and a very satisfying ending. I don’t know if Kogge has any plans for a sequel, but if he does… sign me up. By the way, how about that brand new, awe-inducing Doug Beekman painting that appears on the cover of this collection? I would stack that up against any (non-Frazetta) cover to ever grace an issue of CREEPY or EERIE.