This Week’s Winners

Time for three quick reviews, although this first one came out last week.

X-O Manowar #1. Valiant was one of a few publishers that launched in the 90s and Naughties but didn’t last. Now, they’re back, with this title as the first off the rank, and familiar series Harbinger, Bloodshot, and Archer & Armstrong on the way in the coming months. Firstly, I’m not aware of Valiant’s past work, so the nostalgia appeal has no sway with me, but I picked this debut up thanks to its creators. Robert Venditti wrote the excellent The Surrogates, and The Homeland Directive. Artist Cary Nord has done great work on Conan recently for Dark Horse.

The idea behind X-O Manowar is a good one, and is deeper than “man in hi-tech suit goes on adventures.” This is more than Iron Man-lite. The main difference is the man under the armour. He’s a barbarian from 402 A.D. That’s a nice touch. We open with a battle between the huge Roman army and the unprepared Visigoths. Aric is a heroic blonde Visigoth who is up to the challenge of taking on the invaders and rallies the army with a Braveheart-like speech. Amidst the bloody battle, some aliens descend and genetically tamper with the villager’s babies, and take Aric and his mates prisoner aboard their space heading vessel. While there Aric sees a bizarre ritual which will lead nicely to next month’s issue. There’s not much made of the humans’ reaction to all the sci-fi around them, but the collision of these two cultures is an intriguing concept. We don’t even see Aric become X-O which is another good choice, as Venditti allows us to care about the man before he becomes the hero.

Nord’s art is great, although not as detailed as his Conan work, but his pencils on the battles in the first half are splendid.

See a 6 page preview of this issue right here.

Avenging Spider-Man #7. This is the first issue I’ve picked up of this new Spider-Man team-up series since the debut, and again, it’s due to the creators, writer Kathryn Immonen, and artist Stuart Immonen. This series is a more accessible, light-hearted approach that features Spidey going on adventures with different superheroes of the Marvel Universe. It’s a great intro to the bigness of Marvel’s roster of characters, much like Batman: Brave and the Bold is to the DC Comics Universe. This issue has a nifty recap page that tells you the basic about Spidey, this issue’s guest star She-Hulk, and umm…cats, because cats are important in this tail, umm…tale.

The story centres on Hulk’s cousin and the Webslinger fighting a big fishy creature in a sewer and then going to a museum where the Egyptian goddess Bastet shows up and things go nuts. The Immonen’s work very well together, with Kathryn’s script showing Spidey’s casual approach to crimefighting, and She-Hulk’s exasperation at the same, and Stuart’s kinetic visuals, including the fact that she’s taller than him is a great touch.

See a preview of this issue right here.

Frankenstein Alive, Alive! #1. Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson know horror and show it here in this premiere of the IDW mini-series. Under the cardstock cover are many awesome black and white pages brimming with moody, eerie and creepy darkness and danger. This is a sequel to Mary Shelley’s original novel and looks at what happened to Frankenstein’s monster after the events of the classic book that introduced him to the world. Here, he is an a attraction in a freak show, finding some sort of life, and family at the circus, although the bulk of the issue is an origin tale of sorts as the monster talks to the ghost of his creator, Victor Frankenstein. Also included is a chat between the creators about their experiences with old Frankenstein movies, and a few letters that Mary Shelley’s brother Robert wrote to her.

Niles gets the voice of the time period well, and the monster’s inner dialogue is deeper than his few words of grumbling dialogue, and of course it looks well, especially in the rich black and white, with all the vast icy landscapes.

See a preview of this issue right here.

Ninja Turtles Are Back-With IDW

Good news Turtles fans! Official details from IDW about their new series below, and here’s an insightful interview with co-writer Tom Waltz.

IDW Publishing and Nickelodeon today announced that the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series, featuring the beloved “Heroes in a Half-shell,” will premiere in August 2011. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be back in action and ready to fight off evil once again, with an impressive creative team led by TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman!

Starting in August, IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will kick off with a brand new installment of the original series, led by Eastman and co-writer Tom Waltz (Silent Hill: Past Life, Infestation: Outbreak). Phenomenal new-comer Dan Duncan will bring the Turtles to life with dynamic interior art, while Sam Kieth and Walter Simonson provide eye-catching covers for issues one and two, respectively. Eastman will also provide layouts for Duncan‘s art, as well as variant covers.

This first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series will feature new and exciting storylines that maintain the “turtle power” core beloved by millions of fans. Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael reunite to bring their ninja aptitude and teenage attitude in these all-new, action-packed adventures based on the original series. The first story arc will tell the origin story of the Turtles and introduce a new villain, the fearsome mutant alley cat, Old Hob. Featuring a cast of familiar characters, including Master Splinter, April O’Neill, Casey Jones, and true to the spirit of the original comics created by Eastman and Peter Laird, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are bigger and badder than ever, and ready to rock old and new fans alike.

IDW and Nickelodeon have a long-term partnership to offer an all-new installment of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics and graphic novels. IDW’s new comics are part of a larger initiative to bring Turtles to a new generation of fans, starting with these new storylines from the original series that recapture the magic of the original Turtles comics. Additionally, in fourth quarter 2012, Nickelodeon will premiere a new CG-animated version of the wildly popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise.

Andy Schmidt Interview

Editor, writer Andy Schmidt and I had a virtual discussion about his intriguing new series for IDW Publishing, G.I. Joe: Future Noir. It’s a bold take on the characters and the first issue (of 2) of the black and white tale is out right now. Check out the interview at Broken Frontier here.

Death and the Frenemy’s Claw

Here’s a quick look at some new indie series.

Death Ship from IDW is a 4 issue mini-series based on an untold story from Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula. Behind Cliff Nielsen’s spooky cover I was pleasantly surprised to some equally moody art. Being printed on slightly rougher paper, with muted colours by Dom Regan, means that Death Ship will carry you to its 1897 setting with ease. Stuart Sayger’s artwork is like a more refined Bill Sienkiewicz or Klaus Janson. His work is suitably sketchy, yet equally enchanting and fits beautifully within the old world setting, which is filled with tough as nails sailors with manly beards. Sayger knows when to fill the pages with simplicity, which adds great tension to Gary Gerani’s script. The first few pages initially seem like a bland tale of sailors vs the sea; the kind of film you catch in black and white on a lazy Sunday arvo on TV, but it soon reveals itself to be something more, as a sinister force lurks about their vessel. There’s a boy, a tough veteran, a wise captain and a scared priest, but it all works well, plus the art is awesome. I’m thankful for comic moments like this, when I pick something by blind faith and it proves to be better than expected.

The Claw and the Fang. This new series has great covers, and that’s what intrigued me. That, plus the preview art looked unusual – in a good way. Bluewater Productions have become known as of late for their bio comics on stars of the moment, but that’s not all that they produce. This issue begins with Justin, a hardcore gamer losing his job before crossing to Outer Mongolia where a witch summons a huge, hooded demon to serve her. From then on it moves quickly, as Justin gets fed up with the MMORPG he’s invested his life in, and the supernatural world and his dull existence collide. There’s a slight awkwardness, as this hurriedly takes place and it would’ve benefitted from an extra few pages, but this debut ish has laid enough seeds to hopefully bear fruit in the remaining issues. Michael Kutcher’s script is filled with great captions that carry the tale without revealing too much just yet, and Matias Basla’s angular art lends a refreshing design to the pages. The sparse use of colour is a great addition to the mainly earthen look too.

Frenemy of the State has its Hollywood tongue planted firmly in its cheek and is an unashamedly fun adventure. It’s written by actress Rashida Jones (The Office, Parks and Recreation), Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis and comes to us from Oni Press. Opening with a quick account of protagonist Ariana Von Holmberg’s life in the spotlight (via Twitter snapshots) as she attends an Alice in Wonderland theme party, we soon learn that she’s not just a dumb heiress, but a well educated woman. She also seems to know her way around hi-tech security systems, but with all those skills, she’s still not above seeking revenge on a cheating lover. The script is rather obvious from that point on, as she becomes a C.I.A recruit. The odd flashback transition comes from nowhere, when all that’s needed was a simple caption, but otherwise, the issue is fine. It’s not a remarkable debut, but the central concept leaves a lot of room for story possibilities. Jeff Wamester’s art is light, with a slight Kevin Nowlan approach and the simple feel adds to the bubbliness of the story. It’s not hilarious by any means, but fans of pop culture with an awareness of celebrity obsessed media will find this likeable enough.

Sam Kieth The Sketch Books Vol. 1 Review

I first became aware of Sam Kieth’s curious artistry when the animated series of his The Maxx comic was shown late at night on TV during my teens. I’ve followed him on and off ever since, most recently with his 2 issue Lobo: Highway to Hell series for DC. He’s also worked on The Sandman, as well as with Batman and Wolverine over the years. I guess he’s more known for the offbeat works that suit his unique sketchy style however, such as Epicurus the Sage and Zero Girl.

Unfortunately his website is inactive, so this attractive hard cover sampling of his work is a great place to start. IDW do have it in them to make well presented, stylish art books like this, as their Sparrow series of books (the latest one is centred on artist/designer Pushead) and their handsome tome covering the first decade of their own publishing history prove.  Their quirky series such as ZVR Aventure (no, that’s not a spelling mistake) show that the decision makers behind IDW are indeed brave enough to produce non-standard comics. So, a book on Sam Kieth then seems like a logical step. Whether this is part of a series as the Vol. 1 subtitle indicates remains to be seen, but if so, it’s off to a good start.

Sure, it’s only 48 pages, but the oversized format and replications of Kieth’s sketchbook, (with dirt, scribbles, and all) works well. One look at Kieth’s artwork is all you’ll need to know if you’re a fan. There’s much diversity in these pages, and some minor comments from Kieth on the odd page. There’s a few pages dedicated to fashion, some to Japanese inspiration and several visual ideas on a film called Four Women he was once going to direct.

The different media used include paint, watercolours and pen and ink. Busy pages are sandwiched by superb examples of minimalist landscapes and flowing lines. This is $10, sure, but it’s a book you’ll certainly look at more than once.

The Rocketeer Returns

Official press release below regarding a great collection of The Rocketeer’s adventures, from the late, great writer/artist Dave Stevens. If you like the film, you can see where it came from.

The RocketeerIDW Publishing is proud to announce the upcoming release of The Complete Rocketeer by Dave Stevens, collecting the classic series in its entirety for the first time ever.

After more than a decade out of print, The Rocketeer makes a triumphant return to stores this October with a comprehensive hardcover edition featuring artwork digitally re-mastered from Stevens’ own lovingly maintained collection of originals, and all-new coloring by Laura Martin, the Eisner-Award-winning colorist handpicked by Stevens himself.

The Rocketeer, a rollicking tribute to pulp novels and Saturday morning matinee serials, follows the high-flying adventures of stunt pilot Cliff Secord and his girlfriend Betty, after Cliff finds a mysterious jet pack and takes to the sky. The graphic novel went on to become a much-loved major motion picture directed by Joe Johnston.

In addition to the mass-market hardcover, a very special deluxe edition is planned. Presented in a larger format, the deluxe edition will be filled with behind-the-scenes material, a treasure of additional pages featuring previously unpublished Rocketeer designs, preliminaries, and sketches by Dave Stevens, many taken from his personal sketchbooks.

“It is an honor to work on The Rocketeer,” said IDW Special Projects editor Scott Dunbier, “I’ve been a fan of Dave Stevens and The Rocketeer since I first read it in the early 80s. It was a dream of Dave’s to see his creation return to the shelves in a complete collection. We are dedicated to making this the definitive edition, a book Dave would have been proud of.” This October The Rocketeer will fly once more.

Street Fighting Aliens

After my review of IDW’s Groom Lake #1 I interviewed the creators of the amusing UFO-centric series, Chris Ryall and Ben Templesmith over at Broken Frontier. I also just reviewed Street Fighter IV #1 from Udon at Extra Sequential. It’s about what I expected. Not a lot of depth, story-wise, but it looks great (as you can see below). Fans of the just released game should definitely pick it up.

Street Fighter IV #1