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.


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!


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… ”


THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES: A SINISTER AURA

(Bret M Herholz/Rori Shapiro/Peter Simeti; 74 pages; ALTERNA COMICS; 2008) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULT

cover

In younger days, my parents and I would gather around the television on Sunday evenings to enjoy a PBS program called MYSTERY!, an anthology of murderous delights hosted by Vincent Price and, later, Diana Rigg. That sentence is relevant to this review on a few levels: First, this story is a murder mystery; second, it features artwork inspired, no doubt, by Edward Gorey, the creator of the original opening animation for the show; third, though the story takes place in Massachusetts, there is something very British – like most of the tales presented on MYSTERY! – about the style of storytelling used here. And, finally, of course, is the fact that the convergence of those first three, added to my already professed enjoyment of the MYSTERY! series, means that I really like A SINISTER AURA and would certainly like to see more of THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES.

THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES, page 1 (written by BRET M HERHOLZ, art by BRET M HERHOLZ and RORI SHAPIRO)

THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES, page 1 (written by BRET M HERHOLZ, art by BRET M HERHOLZ and RORI SHAPIRO)

The story itself is “loosely based on real events” that occurred in 1899, updated here to 1929 and featuring the fictional amateur sleuths Polly Plum and her very prim, very proper, very British valet, Montgolfier Handgraves. As befits such a tale, it is a dark and stormy night as the pair seek refuge from the inclement weather in a small town just outside Worcester. The intrigue is well underway upon their arrival, as the police have arrived at the Hampstead mansion across from the inn. It would seem that the Hampstead’s only son, Lionel, on the virtual doorstep of matrimony to Ivy Proust, the eldest daughter of the town’s other leading family, has committed suicide because, according to newspaper headlines, he was “to timid to marry.” Miss Plum is, apparently, much more than an amateur sleuth, as she begins to have visions of two men, one with a wound amazingly like the one suffered by the younger Hampstead. The visitors find the police to be vague, tight-lipped and just a bit shady. With minor subterfuge from Handgraves, Polly sneaks past the local constabulary and into the Hampstead home to investigate the scene of Lionel’s demise. Unfortunately for Polly, the one police officer who senses that all is not right, Detective Fiske, catches her moments before the man of the house walks into the room. Outraged, Mister Hampstead demands Polly’s removal. As the case moves into a second night, Polly has another dream of another supposed suicide, this time Ivy Proust’s mother; Fiske contacts her to join him at the cemetery, the scene of the… incident. Things begin to fall into place after Handgraves interviews a person close to both victims and Polly and Fiske confront Hampstead once more. The wrap up is quite satisfying without cutting any corners.

THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES, page 2 (written by BRET M HERHOLZ, art by BRET M HERHOLZ and RORI SHAPIRO)

THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES, page 2 (written by BRET M HERHOLZ, art by BRET M HERHOLZ and RORI SHAPIRO)

Herholz’ home town history and his imaginative retelling of the story goes a long way toward proving that much of the best comics and graphic novel material is coming from independent sources like the phenomenal Alterna Comics. Likewise, Bret’s art (ably aided by Rori Shapiro’s gray tones and the unique lettering style of publisher Peter Simeti) offers something beyond the Manga and drawn-by-a-five-year-old styles that are prevalent in some of the majors’ books (uh… cough, cough… Marvel!… cough). As mentioned above, his style reminds me very much of the masterful Edward Gorey; but, I also see elements of another master of the understated macabre… Charles Aadams himself (something about the eyes and the mouths and, of course, those creepy mansions). At first glance, the art doesn’t seem all that elaborate or complex but, dig a bit deeper and check out those odd perspectives and the minute details hiding in the background ink lines and cross-hatching. Miss Shapiro’s work on the original pen and ink adds a certain eerie depth to Herholz’ stark black and white art, a real plus on this particular story. Bret’s (and Rori’s) work is also on display in several other graphic novel titles from Alterna, including a Sherlock Holmes mystery and an anthology called CONFESSIONS OF A PECULIAR BOY.

THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES, page 3 (written by BRET M HERHOLZ, art by BRET M HERHOLZ and RORI SHAPIRO)

THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES, page 3 (written by BRET M HERHOLZ, art by BRET M HERHOLZ and RORI SHAPIRO)

As for this book, it does come with some “bonus material.” A message from Herholz regarding his desire to do something based around the 1899 murders in his hometown of Spencer, Massachusetts that became the focal point of A SINISTER AURA, in which he takes us through the creative process. Of note is the creation of the fictional members of the story, particularly Polly and Handgraves. It was always Bret‘s intent to make Polly the defacto leader of the pair, with Handgraves becoming, as he puts it, “the and… ” of the team. There’s also a bonus short piece called THE AUSTEREFIELD FAMILY REUNION, another bleak look into family dynamics. This time around, the story reads like a fairy tale and Herholz’ art is unadorned by the gray tones of the title feature, which seems to work best for this peek into the morally corrupt Austerefield clan. Unfortunately, the print version of THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY AND HANDGRAVES: A SINISTER AURA is no longer available but, you can still pick up a digital copy from ComiXology. Do it now… your eyes will thank you (and, by extension, me, so… you’re welcome).


EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE

(Brockton McKinney/Larkin Ford/Jason Strutz; 129 pages; ACTION LAB COMICS, 2014 – collecting EHMM THEORY, issues 1-4, 2013)

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE (from Action Lab’s Danger Zone imprint) collects the first story arc starring the recently murdered Gabriel Ehmm and his pet, a kitten named Mister Whispers, which died from starvation after Gabriel’s death. “Cat, Quantum and Contrition” starts, fittingly enough, in a cemetery filled with killer midget clowns, three days after Ehmm is shot by his jealous girlfriend. From there, the story starts to get weird. Gabriel – and by extension, Whispers – finds himself on a kinda existential journey of self-discovery involving talking animals (including the ball of gray fur sitting on Ehmm’s shoulder), murderous senior citizens, Saint Peter and his gas chamber teleportation device (except not really), deadly cyborg crustaceans, a team of oddball super heroes (who really aren’t), multiple realities and, of course, those knee-gnawing zombie midgets! In other words… What’s not to like?

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 1 cover, page 18 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 1 cover, page 18 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

After the brief introduction (which comes back around), writer Brockton McKinney brings things into focus where the whole thing started – Gabriel Ehmm’s origin story, if you like – as our intrepid hero returns home with a surprise for his girlfriend, Stacy; she, of course, has a surprise for him, too. Soon, Gabriel wakes up dead, with the adorable Mister Whispers sitting on his chest, asking “You okay, dude?” The befuddled pair are soon joined by a cigar-chomping Mafioso-looking guy, nattily dressed in white and sporting a well-trimmed white beard and perfectly quaffed and ponytailed white hair. Why would they question such a being when he introduces himself as God’s gatekeeper, Peter? Which brings us back to the beginning and the graveyard of tiny terrors. Gabe and Whispers are overpowered by the zombie horde and saved by an ax-wielding senior citizen, a woman named Alyona Tarasov who knew Gabe’s birth father and, so… the ride of Gabriel Ehmm’s young unlife is about to begin. A quick note about Larkin Ford’s artwork (and the besutiful color work by Jason Strutz) is necessary here: It is absolutely mesmerizing, especially the cemetery sequences and the murder sequence. This initial chapter (the first issue of the series) can be a bit confusing, with enough twists and turns to make your head spin but, with a promise that all eventually will be made clear, we move forward.

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 2 cover, page 11 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 2 cover, page 11 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

And, indeed, as chapter two opens, we find Gabe, Whispers and Alyona on the road, seeking the father he never knew, as the old Russian explains her relationship with Aaron Ehmm and why she didn’t bat an eye at the dead talking cat. It seems that she and her sister, Dominika, first met Aaron at college in 1982, where the brilliant young Ehmm was turning the heads of students and faculty, alike. A professor’s tale of a talking rabbit he encountered at the South Pole began to consume the elder Ehmm. Before Alyona could continue her story, the car is set upon by a giant, cybernetically-enhanced crab in another well-drawn sequence. The action comes fast and furious as, with the Russian being poorly over-matched, GODD shows up. Wait… who? The Guardians of Dimensional Defense, three super-powered beings and a pair of intelligent robots: Mindwolf, the team leader, who introduces GODD as “the good guys; the Thermal Ghost, a being of blue flame; Alchemist, who looks like a shabby, shaggy mummy; the Emp, a foul-mouthed, smart-aleck little robot, who’s kind of a cross between HERBIE (from those crappy old FANTASTIC FOUR cartoons) and Skeets (from the not-crappy BOOSTER GOLD comics), who has a serious problem with Mister Whispers (there’s a wicked funny exchange between the two); and an impressive looking female ‘bot called TAMMI (which stands for Technologically Advanced Mechanized Military Instrument). While Gabe and Whispers are dutifully impressed and more than ready to accept the team’s help, Alyona isn’t so easily swayed and pretty much tells ‘em to take a hike. The final two pages of this chapter reintroduces “Saint Peter” and the true villain of the piece… ah, but that would be telling, wouldn’t it? McKinney, aside from writing a really great fight scene, has begun to unravel the plot twists with more answers promised for the third installment.

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 3 cover, page 12 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 3 cover, page 12 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

That third installment starts with another beautifully rendered sequence, as Alyona relates more of the story: Aaron, Professor Lanny Crowell (who had seen the rabbit at the South Pole), Dominika and she had traveled to the Pole in search of a possible reason for the talking bunny. What they found was a dimensional anomaly… a portal to other worlds and other realities. Again, the story is interrupted, though not in a fashion as dramatic as a cyborg crab and a super-powered dust-up. The trio has arrived at their destination: Jon Kaye Town Hospital, where an old friend of Ehmm the elder currently resides. Spoiler alert: Tym isn’t the drooling husk in the wheelchair. So, Tym joins the group on their journey and relates more of the story, with more talking critters and the introduction of Gabe’s mother, the Princess Emera, from an alternate dimension… the very dimension the portal chose to spit Aaron into. Tym’s story ended, the four arrive at the last known residence of Aaron Ehmm, where Gabe has a total meltdown at the prospect of seeing his father for the first time. From here, things are brought into clearer focus as the good guys begin to separate themselves from the bad guys, with the unexpected return of Gabe’s girlfriend, Stacy (who has, by this time, gained an “e” to become Stacey), and another wicked fight sequence between GODD and Alyona and Tym, ending in what, I suppose, would be called a “double betrayal.” Another well-written, beautifully rendered installment ends with an exploding door, an injured Alyona and a shotgun wielding Aaron Ehmm.

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 4 cover, page 12 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: Issue 4 cover, page 12 (Written by BROCKTON MCKINNEY, art by LARKIN FORD and JASON STRUTZ)

So, the fourth and final installment (issue four, if you’re counting) isn’t the action-packed throw down that you would expect… not to say that there isn’t an action-packed throw down, there is and, all you really need to know is this: “Robeartopus!” It is every bit as mammoth and weird as it sounds. There is plenty of exposition, explaining the whys and how-fors of everything that has happened and is happening. But, even so, you will find yourself so engrossed in the story and art that you’re really not even aware that every third panel isn’t some scene of carnage and mayhem. This issue is so densely written, with everything explained (while also setting up the next story arc), that I really can’t reveal much without spoiling the end of one of the most adventurous story-lines in comics history. Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know… hyperbole much? Well, boys and girls, I suggest you pick up this collection and decide for yourselves. Now… here’s the one problem with EHMM THEORY, BOOK ONE: The story and art are exemplary but, for some reason that eludes me, EVERY page from the original single issues is included here. That means that at the end of each installment, there are pages of in-house advertisements for then-upcoming Action Lab releases, including the next issue of EHMM THEORY (a total of at least 12 pages over-all). A minor complaint, but one that really seems to annoy me with all of the company’s collections. Both physical and digital copies are available at the Action Lab site, at ComiXology or, even cooler yet, visit your local comic shop.


BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL

(Various Writers and Artists; 41 pages, digital; MONKEYBRAIN COMICS, 2014)

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL

The goofy anthology BOO! premiered in October 2013 as a four issue limited series, featuring stories populated by the usual monsters, zombies, vampires, ghosts and ghouls in classic EC Comics horror twist ending fashion… well, more like a MAD! magazine version of its bigger, scarier EC brothers. The title returned this past Halloween, as a one-shot and, now, because that Claus dude is so scary, BOO! is back with seven new Christmas-themed tales of the ookey, hidden behind a R Crumb worthy cover by Jon Morris.

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: "Humbug" (by KELLY TINDALL); "The Case of the Curious Claus" (written by DYLAN TODD, art by MATT DIGGES and PETE TOMS)

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: “Humbug” (by KELLY TINDALL); “The Case of the Curious Claus” (written by DYLAN TODD, art by MATT DIGGES and PETE TOMS)

Kelly Tindall’s “Humbug,” as the name implies, is a modern day version, a cynical update of “A Christmas Carol,” one of the most loved Christmas redemption stories of all time. The artwork’s a bit rough around the edges, but the story and the “shock” ending more than make up for any shortcomings in the art department. “The Case of the Curious Claus” is a take-off on SCOOBY DOO, WHERE ARE YOU? featuring a group of youngsters called the Creep Crew. The lighthearted script (by Dylan Todd) has an underlying message about the loneliness that many people (in this case, a young girl at a childrens home) experience during the holiday season and the predators who prey on the lonely. As one would expect, the jolly elf ain’t so jolly and… well… he ain’t so elfy either. Matthew Digges and Pete Toms team up for a passable job on the art.

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: "Up On the Housetop" (by JORDAN WITT); "Claus" (by MATT SMIGEL); "Secret Santa" (written by RJ WHITE, art by MANNING KRULL)

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: “Up On the Housetop” (by JORDAN WITT); “Claus” (by MATT SMIGEL); “Secret Santa” (written by RJ WHITE, art by MANNING KRULL)

Jordan Witt’s story and art blend nicely to deliver a tale about a Bear in the woods and a young woman alone on Christmas Eve when, “Up On the Housetop,” click, click, click! Which, of course, could mean only one thing: There’s something evil up on the roof! This story is probably my favorite of the seven on display here. “Claus,” by Matt Smigel, is a weird, wonderful ode to a dark lord and a woman scorned. Smigel’s art has a tripped out, REN AND STIMPY quality that is not unappealing in its own way; the story mixes the same whacked-out kinda cartoon vibe with just the right touch of Lovecraftian lore. After reading this one, you can’t help but feel the holiday love and cheer. “Secret Santa” (story and art by RJ White and Manning Krull, respectively) takes the classic Universal Monsters and turns them on their heads. The ultimately heartwarming tale also features cameos by Jack Skellington from THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and ol’ Kris Kringle himself.

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: "The Yule Log" (written by KARLA PACHECO, art by SEAN POPPE); "Forget Me Not" (by SCOTT FAULKNER)

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: “The Yule Log” (written by KARLA PACHECO, art by SEAN POPPE); “Forget Me Not” (by SCOTT FAULKNER)

Karla Pacheco’s “The Yule Log” explores the pagan celebration of the winter solstice and how we good Christians commandeered the festival to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. The manic artwork of Sean Poppe definitely conveys the brutality and the excesses of the early church. The story is absolutely the most horrifying of the lot because… it’s history; it forces each of us to look within ourselves and not allow our zealousness (for whatever) to override the real message: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” “Forget Me Not” is a disturbing science fiction story of an all-consuming space virus. Scott Faulkner’s story is well-paced, his simple pen and ink art (embellished with cool green washes) moves the narrative along nicely. Even though the ending isn’t necessarily unexpected, it is disturbing nonetheless. Okay, after Halloween and Christmas editions of this thoroughly enjoyable anthology book, what’s next? I mean, I wouldn’t mind a Groundhog Day special… April Fool’s Day… Arbor Day… hey, who says you gotta wait for a special holiday at all? I would seriously love to see what sort of non-holiday stories these people can come up with.


THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER, NUMBER 4

(Jamie S Rich/George Kambadais; 17 pages, digital; MONKEYBRAIN COMICS, 2014)

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4

Artist George Kambadais had an idea; he contacted writer Jamie S Rich with details of his idea. A young woman named Lindy Tuner has been murdered, in her superhero garb, as the Cat. Lindy’s spirit visits her younger sister Miranda, who, after digesting the fact that her sister was a superhero and… a dead one, at that, decided to pick up the mantle, hoping to give her sister justice. Rich was intrigued and, a few months later, the first issue of THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER was published by digital comics pioneers, Monkeybrain Comics.

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4, page 3 (written by JAMIE S RICH, art by GEORGE KAMBADAIS)

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4, page 3 (written by JAMIE S RICH, art by GEORGE KAMBADAIS)

Actually, now four issues into the series, this “origin” story takes center stage, as Miranda, with help from Lindy, closes in on the killer. To catch you up, the first issue was kind of a meet and greet, as we’re introduced to novice costumed hero Miranda, in mid-battle with a couple of super-baddies, part of a group known as the Blockheads. The Cat is up to her ears in toy building blocks (sorta like Legos) but, refusing her ghostly sibling’s aid, she works her way out of the problem. Unfortunately, she loses the bad guys along the way. The second and third issues, a two-parter called “If You Have Ghosts,” lays the official groundwork for this issue. These stories are fast-paced, exciting and a really fun read, written to appeal to everyone, aged twelve and up… especially girls. I’m not sure if it’s the subject matter or merely Kambadais’ stylistic art but, I find myself making comparisons to the old Hanna-Barbara Saturday morning cartoon, JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS; it’s sort of an odd style that evokes the work of the great comics and cartoon artist, Alex Toth (who designed characters and backgrounds for most H-B shows in the ’60s, including JOSIE… ), and the artistic team responsible for the amazing look of another animated series, SAMURAI JACK.

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4, page 4 (written by JAMIE S RICH, art by GEORGE KAMBADAIS)

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4, page 4 (written by JAMIE S RICH, art by GEORGE KAMBADAIS)

Kambadais is a master of odd angles and perspectives, as well as an overall intriguing page design; he, like Toth, does so very much with so few lines, allowing his color art (or, as on the “If You Have Ghosts” issues, the excellent color designs of Paulina Ganucheau) to do much of the heavy work. Rich, for the most part, never over-scripts; he seemingly manages to cram two or three pages of exposition into a panel or two… sometimes, in a line or two. To be sure, the premise of …MIRANDA TURNER isn’t a new one. Ghosts, spirits and mysticism of some sort have been a part of comics pretty much since that very first issue of ACTION COMICS (you know the one… the one that starred Zatara, Master Magician and that guy in the red cape and drawers): Deadman, the Spectre, Ghost Rider, Solomon Grundy and – DUH! – the Spirit, among about a jillion others. The difference here is the kitschy slumber party feel of the sisters’ relationship, a sibling rivalry that runs deep, even in death… until someone else starts messing with one or the other. Miranda is determined to find Lindy’s killer while forging her own path as the Cat; Lindy is determined to keep Miranda safe while helping her find the answer to her own murder. I must say that, so far, the experience has been a very pleasant surprise, especially for a guy who’s been reading comics since the early 1960s.

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4, page 5 (written by JAMIE S RICH, art by GEORGE KAMBADAIS)

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4, page 5 (written by JAMIE S RICH, art by GEORGE KAMBADAIS)

If there’s a pre- or early teen girl in your circle of influence, particularly those interested in Manga or Anime, you could certainly do worse than introducing them to THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER. My only complaint is that, in the nearly two years since the debut issue, there have (obviously) only been three more issues published and… well, that twist ending at the end of this issue has me looking for the next installment, like, NOW! All four issues of this great series, as well as the entire Monkeybrain digital library, are available for purchase (99¢ each) at comixology.com; you can check out previews of this and other books at monkeybraincomics.com. There are plenty of titles suitable for every age group. Monkeybrain is the perfect introduction to comics for kids of all ages.