Thursday, November 5, 2015

On the Shelf: Spies, demigods, and destroyers, oh, my!

A ton of stuff has crossed my desk over the past week, so let's just take a look, shall we?

For openers, Cartoon Network's been doing more business with Boom! Studios' Kaboom! imprint of late, as well as IDW (Idea & Design Works), licensing some of their original series (i.e. Adventure Time, Uncle Grandpa). For a forthcoming [adult swim] series, however, CN decided that corporate sibling DC Comics would get to preview Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter, a 5-part live-action miniseries that will air December 7-11 on [as] and On Demand.

On a lark, I decided to grab the Neon Joe freebie. Nice story, and a twist on an old theme. Joe was at first raised by werewolves, who otherwise were an ordinary couple. Mom was a lawyer, for example, but when Dad ran off with the nanny, Mom went ballistic and threw herself into a hail of silver police bullets. So Joe went off and joined up with a pack of normal wolves, only to be their mentor instead. Yeah, as warped as you'd expect from [as]. However, the husband & wife team of Tom Mandrake & Jan Duursema create the perfectly atmospheric artwork that makes one wish this would be an ongoing comic book.

Rating: B+.

Marvel's latest reprint 1-shot collects some classic material with Blade, Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan's vampire hunter from Tomb of Dracula, who's been tried out as a solo act a couple of times in recent years with limited success. "Undead by Daylight" borrows its title from the last of three Tomb reprints, but we are reminded again that this version of Dracula is just how the vampire icon should be presented, not the silver-haired refugee from some RPG that the current administrative Marbleheads decided should be the personification of Dracula. Yeah, I'm looking your way again, Jose Quesadilla (Joe Quesada) & Jeph Loeb. The volume wraps with a reprint of the previous graphic novel, "Crescent City Blues", in which Blade teams with Hannibal King, the vampire PI, and Brother Voodoo. Colan drew all four stories, but the last one lacked the zip of the classic Tomb stories.

Rating: B.

Meanwhile, in the modern world, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby's itineration of Hercules returns in an all-new series, written by Dan Abnett. Gilgamesh, who was a member of the Avengers for about 2 hours in the late 80's, is along for the ride. Abnett's mission, aided by artist Luke Ross, is to make Herc more of a serious hero, instead of the playboy Lee had envisioned him to be more than 50 years ago. Of course, a certain TV show from 20 years ago also helped make this Herc look like chump change, but that's another story altogether. Abnett's got a lot of work to do, and, unfortunately, I don't see this going very far. We'll give this a little more study before assigning a rating.

After a short Thor story and an ode to his hometown Cubs earlier this year, CM Punk returns as co-author of Drax, which, of course, is part of the Guardians of the Galaxy line of books. Punk (Philip Brooks) is co-scripting with Cullen Bunn, and the first issue looks more like it was mostly Bunn laying the groundwork. Drax is off on his own on a break from the current Guardians lineup (Kitty Pryde as the new Star-Lord?!? How in the blue hizell did they decide to have her shack up with Peter Quill in the first place?), which includes Venom (Flash Thompson, not Eddie Brock) and The Thing, along with, of course, everyone's favorite odd couple, Rocket Raccoon & Groot. Punk knocked one out of the park in Strange Sports Stories, and while Bunn's teaching him the Marble style of storytelling in a monthly series, we wouldn't mind him doing a Star-Kitty solo story somewhere down the road, too. He just has to picture his wife (AJ Lee) as Kitty, and he's all set. I have faith this will work, and I shan't be surprised if there is the predictable crossover among the books in the line next year. Drax is hunting Thanos, of course, but that may be a mission impossible.

Rating: B.

A classic Archie Comics hero returns in Dark Circle's latest entry, The Hangman, which the company is hoping will end up more like DC's Spectre in how he is presented going forward. Writer Frank Tieri cut his teeth at Marble in the 90's, writing The Punisher for a bit, and will have a full plate as of next month, when he adds Catwoman (DC) and Red Sonja (Dynamite) to his schedule. This is the first Hangman series on its own, and it's a keeper. Seems there's a changing of the guard, not quite unlike the first arc in Black Hood. We're curious.

Rating: Incomplete.

Just in time for Daniel Craig's 4th go-round as Agent 007, James Bond surfaces at Dynamite, with one of England's best writers, Warren Ellis, at the helm. That's enough of a selling point. The recent changes with Ms. Moneypenny, M, et al, enacted in "Skyfall", are in place here. Like, do you really need any more incentive?

Rating: A.

And, yeah, a review of "Spectre" will appear here at The Land of Whatever this weekend.

Also from Dynamite is a little oddity, Cage Hero. A troubled high school wrestler finds himself recast in a very different role that he might not be ready for. Kind of like "The Karate Kid" crossed with "VisionQuest" and some science fiction. We'll hold on a rating for now.

More Marblehead silliness. Somewhere along the way, some alleged genius decided that Timothy A. "Dum Dum" Dugan's consciousness would be kept alive in a series of Life Model Decoys (LMD's), similar to the THUNDER Agent No-Man, such that it allows Dugan to be the leader of a new set of Howling Commandos. No, not like the original Nick Fury & Dugan's bunch from World War II, but a group of monsters, including Man-Thing and something called Teen Abomination (Say what?). Yeah, I get it. A ripoff of DC's Creature Commandos, which actually had better writing back in the day. The "Vampire by Night" merits a spinoff series all by herself (naturally), but we are so not digging, and we don't see it lasting a year, though we'll see if we're right about the spinoff.

Rating: C.

We'll close with some entries from last week's Halloween ComicFest:

Doctor Strange: The Oath previews a forthcoming trade paperback compilation by Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin, and is not attached to the new Jason Aaron-Chris Bachalo monthly that debuted a couple of weeks prior. Wong has taken ill, and Dr. Strange literally may have to go through hell and high water to find a cure. The Oath had been published as a miniseries some time back. This might be of interest, but we'll pass.

Rating: B--.

Meanwhile, Marvel pimps out two of their DisneyXD cartoons in one single issue, trying for the old school format of, say, Tales to Astonish, which some readers would be if they realized the toons aren't as good as Marble thinks they are.

Dr. Strange factors into the Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors tale, as Peter Parker is dealing with Strange's old nemesis, Nightmare. Unfortunately, and, predictably, Jim Zub's script doesn't mesh very well. What did you expect? The Avengers Assemble story leads off, as the Avengers are in Latveria to help Dr. Doom, of all people battle Dracula (the silver-haired goof I referenced earlier). Nice art by Ron Lim saves an otherwise dim script.

Rating: C.

As for the rest:

The Adventures of Psycho Bonkers (Aspen) is equal parts comic book and activity book, but not quite in the way of Marvel's old Fun & Games monthly from the 80's. In catering to different demographic groups, it fails. Rating: D.

Zenescope's Grimm Tales of Terror reprints its 2nd issue for the 2nd time. Three writers collaborated on the plot, with one writing the final script, which is meant to be a homage to old school horror (think EC), which means plenty of blood & gore. Meh. Whatever. Rating: B.

IDW serves up Donald Duck's Halloween Scream. You'll scream, alright, with lots of laughs. The two tales are 25 year old reprints from Disney's own imprint, published by Gladstone, as memory serves, and they're a real hoot. Too bad IDW can't be bothered to lower the price on the current Disney line and other kid-friendly series, as all of their titles are licensed, and carry a uniform $4 cover price.

Rating: A.

Stan Lee's Chakra the Invincible, created & produced for India, apparently is a digital first book from Graphic India. The 1-shot here is a series of short stories that fly by way too quickly to suit. You need to slowly turn the pages to process the action. Rating: B.

Finally, from Action Lab, we have two manga-inspired mature titles in a single 1-shot. Vampblade & Zombie Tramp can be dismissed as little more than nice ideas ruined by bad writing. Actionverse features Molly Danger and Dog of Wonder (not to be confused with Hanna-Barbera's Dynomutt by any stretch), and the writing of former DC scribe Jamal Igle. Lots of fun, to be sure.

Ratings:

Actionverse: A.
Vampblade/Zombie Tramp: D-.

We previously mentioned the miniseries that DC will roll out beginning in January. Seems they've had a change of heart on Katana, as the Mike Barr-penned storyline will be paired Deadshot and linked to Suicide Squad, all to tie into the forthcoming movie. Katana's last book bombed out after 8 issues, so DC wants to cut any chances on another failure. Len Wein is back writing Swamp Thing, which is, of course, good news, but the bad is that it's being drawn by Kelley (Along Came) Jones, whose artwork is a cross-section of Berni Wrightson and Sam Kieth, leaning toward the latter, and not in a good way. We're more interested in the Poison Ivy miniseries, having seen Clay Mann's artwork.


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