It's Wednesday again! This time around we've got a pretty odd bunch. A lot on the Dynamite side, and one from Dark Horse which is an interesting companion to our Featured Book this month Black Sad. Check them out before you leave your LCS, or while you're on your lunch break.
BEASTS OF BURDEN: NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH, ONE-SHOT
Story by Evan Dorkin, Drawn by Jill Thompson
This stand-alone issue contains three stories about animals fighting supernatural foes. Imagine "Lady and the Tramp: Vampire Hunters" and you're most of the way there. And unlike a lot of books where the artist seems to have never seen a dog, Jill Thompson's animals have a diversity of identity, and natural expression that is cartoony, and animalistic, but NEVER human. It's great to see an artist capture those characteristics with such clarity and in amazing watercolors that capture natural light, and mood as the scene calls for it. With plenty of modern monthly comics relying on basic photoshop flats, this book really makes you sit up and take notice of its craft. The addition of basilisks, ghosts, and goblins are just icing on the cake. Evan Dorkin's writing gives each animal a personality all their own and makes these suburban protectors a team to be reckoned with.
I'm not one for talking animals as a general rule, unless it's the "Adventures of Milo & Otis" or "Secret of Nymn," and this certainly brought those two films to mind. Honestly, this book is the kind of book I always want to see more of in the American marketplace. Well crafted art, excellent stories, and a concept that has no "readily apparent audience."
As with a lot of the books I've started reading since this column began, this is my first time reading something from this "universe." While snooping around to find out a little more about the series, I discovered Dark Horse has the first issue of the previous mini-series available for free. Along with a smattering of their other titles for you to try. If you are craving more Beasts of Burden, and can't wait to buy the hardcover collection, it will tide you over for a minute or two.
THE NINJETTES #6 (of 6)
Story by Al Ewing, drawn by Eman Casallos
I have a lot of issues with the Jennifer Blood series. It always feels like a lot of lampooning shock for shock's sake. Mark Millar on steroids, or an Eli Roth movie set on a Zack Snyder sound-stage. And sometimes I'm up for that as long as the plotting is tight and I'm never able to realize what I'm reading. Every character is horribly flawed, there's not much to root for, and everyone will die a terrible death. If I can't be strung along at break neck speeds, it tends to become a plodding mass of disinterest and I find my mind drifting off to other books about things might have something to say instead of one giant adolescent rape joke for 22 pages. If that's your thing, more power to you. BUT this issue (despite suffering from all of the above mentioned "problems") had an interesting idea that the Ninjettes concept is merely a brand, and someone else can simply take their identity for themselves and use it to their own ends. And not in an ernest "someone must cary on the Batman legacy" more of a "lets use their name to our advantage and get rich as hell." It's not high art, but I was a fun ride. Definitely made the other issues in this mini-series worth it.
THE SPIDER #4
Story by David Liss, drawn by Colton Worley
Dynamite has resurrected two pulp heros recently and it was kind of controversial that one of them didn't get to keep his 30s roots. Pulp heroes are pretty generic by today's bombastic standards. The old Spider (who Stan Lee has sometimes sited as a loose name inspiration for Spider-Man) was one of those ilk. He wore a trench coat, and fedora and solved crimes with a gun. And bringing these heroes back, much less bringing them into the modern era can be a tough sell. They don't get the benefit of their backdrop to round them out, and their fellow cast can feel immediately dated when updated for a modern audience (why are there so many web developer friends?). Pulp hero motivations also tended to be little more than "I am in a book where I solve crimes." And their identities were less important than reading about them shooting people. But this lack of characterization, presents a list of fun challenges for writers willing to tackle these lost or forgotten characters.
How do you make them stick with todays audiences? Their blank slate nature makes them quite difficult to deal with but also freeing. David Liss has given Richard a stock cast of cops and friends to play off of when he's not running around as the Spider, but they don't seem to rise above their type. Since he's got The Spider facing biological warfare perpetrated by someone running around dressed like an Egyptian god, I can see the "battling the supernatural with science" angle and that has a certain appeal. But it's not really pulling me in. It feels as though he doesn't want to put too many marks on the chalkboard just in case it winds up not working.
What has me really excited about this series is Colton Worley's art. The Spider has been rocketed into the modern era with art that puts him squarely in the 21st Century. Colton Worley digitally augments photos for every panel. It's very similar to Josh Finney & Kat Rocha's style, although it feels a bit flatter and at times like it is being drawn with chalk. Colton occasionally chooses the wrong photo for the character's action, an it can really pull you out of the moment, but when he does an action scene with the Spider in his crazy Alex Ross' "Venom of Earth-X" look, it reminds you why you're putting up with the sometimes dull characters. Last issue was particularly rough, but this time around Colton seems to be getting better performances from his actors which in turn, helps David Liss' scripts. It's certainly worth browsing just to see the art.
THE SHADOW #4
Story by Garth Ennis, drawn by Aaron Campbell
I am a huge fan of The Shadow. When I was little, my dad gave me a stack of issues from the 70s, and a bunch of tapes of the old radio drama, I've been hooked ever since. I've seen all six of the movies, and read at least a couple issues of every comic incarnation (except the Archie "masked hero"). So after a decade of absence from the comic book world, Dynamite announcing this series, got this fanboy very excited. His personae has always oscillates back and forth between being more like Batman or The Punisher with a supernatural bent, so having Garth Ennis' on the title truly seemed like a no brainer. The grizzly realism he gives comic book violence, makes him an incredible fit for this character. And Aaron Campbell's an excellent pulp artist. His characters costumes always immerse you in their era and his layouts bleed the supernatural into the Shadow's world. Ennis has been doling out information in this book at a rate of one jewel per-issue. It's been almost agonizingly slow as each month I learn one more small piece of the puzzle. Sadly, the puzzle seems to be "where is this all going?" Lamont Cranston wealthy young man about town, has been courted by the U.S. Government to go to China and help them stop Japanese officials and a Japanese warlord from getting their hands on a doomsday device. Little do U.S. officials know, Cranston is in reality The Shadow! And he seeks to ensure that Japan ally with Germany to ensure that WWII ends swiftly... Somehow.
It's a simple premiss, and Ennis uses the time frame to great effect. It feels like a pulp novel taken very seriously. The over-the-top elements have been scrubbed clean and his "evil warlord" is not at all what one would expect from a globe trotting tale of adventure and intrigue. The Shadow and his powers are the only arch and supernatural part of the series and he uses them very sparingly. Yet there is mention of the secluded mountain temple where ancient mystics seem to reform criminals and send them out to do good in the world... perhaps
As always, if disagree with me, then prove me wrong.