Comics Reviewed! Warlord, Strange Tales and more!
STRANGE TALES TAKES MARVEL EVEN FURTHER OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Strange Tales II #1 (Marvel, $4.99)
By Adam Prosser
The big superhero publishers have always recruited talent from the indie ranks, but lately Marvel seems to have gone wild with the idea, with the current generation of writers and artists at the House of Ideas including a record number of small-press and indie creators amongst their ranks. But of course, the talent in question, no matter how offbeat they are, is going to be expected to work within the Marvel style, right?
Almost as if in response to that challenge, Marvel created Strange Tales (or rather, revived it) as an anthology book for oddball comics talents to cut loose with their characters. The first three-issue run of this book leaned heavily on goofball parodies (with M.O.D.O.K., perhaps predictably, making several appearances). This new issue still has plenty of goofiness, thanks in particular to a number of webcomic writer/artists like Kate Beaton and The Perry Bible Fellowship’s Nicholas Gurewich, but there’s a surprising number of relatively straight-faced stories here. Which is not to say that this issue is more “mainstream” than the previous ones—if anything, it’s weirder and quirkier, just less outright humorous. Frank Santoro and Rafael Grampa stay faithful to Marvel mythology, but create atmospheric tone poems using their distinctive styles. Dash Shaw and Jilian Tamaki go even further, offering up borderline surreal stories. It’s one thing to couch your departures from the norm in the guise of comedy, but to offer “Marvel superhero stories” this weird, and then ask the reader to take them relatively seriously, is a relatively gutsy move on Marvel’s part.
This collection proves that the most familiar story can seem fascinating and fresh depending on how it’s told, and it offers a suggestion that Marvel might have a shot at once again becoming the edgy, creative powerhouse it once was. The future of comics may have room for superheroes after all.
“KNIGHT AND SQUIRE” SETS COURSE FOR BRAVE NEW OLD WORLD
Knight & Squire #1 (DC, $2.99)
By Adam Prosser
Superheroes were invented in America. For that matter, so was the whole medium of comics in their modern form. So it’s not particularly surprising that most of the well-known superheroes are US citizens, or at least residents, even though it doesn’t really make sense in the context of the DC and Marvel Universes—why should all the radioactive spider-bites and alien landings just *happen* to be in America? That’s why both of the “big two” have long since established that there are superheroes operating all over the world, even though they rarely play a major role in their comics. Which is a shame, because I’ve always thought there was something particularly charming about international superheroes—they provide a fresh perspective on a genre that’s always in danger of growing stale.
Case in point: The Knight and Squire, breakout stars of Grant Morrison’s Batman run. They haven’t even been particularly well fleshed-out yet—they’re essentially just the British Batman and Robin—and yet Morrison, and now Paul Cornell, writer of this miniseries, have done a terrific job of building an interesting, imaginative world around the characters. This particular issue takes place entirely within a pub, one where superheroes and villains can hang out together (thanks to “truce magic” that prevents violence), yet it introduces dozens of new characters to populate the Britain of the DC Universe. Of course, being able to create a whole new cul-de-sac for a superhero universe also gives Cornell a lot of freedom, and he and artist Jimmy Broxton take advantage of it, ditching the angst ‘n’ grittiness that’s plagued DC lately in favour of the wild, goofy fun of the Silver Age. Not only does this comic make you believe that these characters have a history as rich and deep as any other long-running superhero’s, it makes you eager to read about, say, the mid-60s adventures of The Milkman. In a time when superheroes seem crammed into a narrative tight place, Knight and Squire shows the value of staking out new territory.
LADY PICTURE SHOW
Lady Mechanika #0 (Aspen Comics, $2.50)
By Devon Sanders
Steampunk, corsets, guns, women and writer/artist/creator Joe Benitez. That's what sold on the new Aspen Comics title, Lady Mechanika #0. A monster terrorizes the East End and bounty hunter/detective Lady Mechanika is in hot pursuit. Weapons drawn and claws exposed, the monster rapidly proves to be something more. Secrets are hinted at and answers lost just as quickly. Making for a set-up well worth pursuing. Artist/writer Joe Benitez has always been something of a guilty pleasure of mine, whether on such titles as Supergirl, Magdalena, Justice League of America or Titans, you could usually count on one thing: the book would be well drawn, the women especially. And Lady Mechanika is no different. Benitez's art and design contains all of the proper steampunk tropes (Goggles, striped pantaloons, highly ornamented machinery and laced up boots) one could ask for. What Benitez manages to do is make it all seem fresh, using imaginative layouts, the idea of a half woman/half machine mercenary and in the script, you find intriguing dialogue and sensible plot progression. Lady Mechanika #0 will probably never be spoken of with the same reverence of a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or even the late lamented Cliffhanger title, Steampunk but what it has going for it is a definite wealth of storytelling possibility and beautiful art. And really, isn't that what comics are all about?
PULP NEVER DIES: 'WARLORD' REIGNS ONCE AGAIN
Warlord of Mars #1 (Dynamite, $1.00)
by Graig Kent
As a lifelong comics and sci-fi geek I'm almost ashamed to admit I've never read Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series of books, and, beyond that I've gleaned absolutely no outside knowledge about the books save that it's about an Earthman who finds himself on Mars, and there's something to do with a princess along the way. Truth be told, I'm not much of a reader. I get bored with text fairly quickly and my mind wanders. It's a lifelong condition. So despite the fact that I could, with no cost at all, read the John Carter stories from on-line sources I see the introductory offering of a $1 comic to a new graphic adaptation to be more up my alley (afterall, all it requires is time, money and patience). While I cannot attest to how faithful Avrid Nelson's adaptation is (from what I've read he's only changed some inconsequential stereotypes and minor points for readability), I can say it reads smoothly, involving plenty of dialogue and heavy narration bridging scenes. Artist Stephen Sadowski (of the recent Avengers/Invaders and JSA amongst others before that) is a phenomenal choice for the book, with his "realistic" sensibility bringing the characters and setting of the post-Civil War West to life with a heavy amount of detail, as well as lending even the double-torsoed inhabitants of Mars an almost natural sense of movement and existence. The various covers (all shown inside the back cover) from the likes of Joe Jusko, Alex Ross and Lucio Parrillo are all terrifically pulpy and made for a tough decision when picking up the book. All in all it's a solid package (especially for a buck) and a rather enjoyable read. I'm not sure if John Carter fans will be pleased, but not-yet-John Carter fans should.
"TINY TITANS/LITTLE ARCHIE" WILL MAKE YOU ROOT FOR THE LITTLE GUYS
Tiny Titans/Little Archie #1 (of 3)(DC, $2.99)
by Graig Kent
When I was a kid, I loved anything that was miniature versions of regular characters. Muppet Babies, Little Archie... okay, those are the only two that come to mind at the moment, but I'm sure there were others. Anyway, it's not hard to see why child-like versions of adult or teenaged characters would appeal to the youth, since kids don't generally understand the world all that well, or relate to the problems that adults or teens do, and the general attitude of "l'il" stories is light in tone and/or moralistic, rarely leaving the reader feeling bad or confused. There's not a whole lot of "l'il" for kids these days, so the combining of the two most prominent little characters, even if it's not even close to being a natural fit, is not just exciting, but the crossover event of the decade! Well, for certain kids anyway. Little Archie (and his pals) don't really look like I remember them (but it has been about 25 years, so I guess that's only fair), and I recall they had a lot of small-time adventures around Riverdale, but here they're firmly planted in Tiny Titans' realm (with the usual TT team of Art Balthazar and Franco handling the creative duties), full of the usual jokes and non-sequiturs. A mix-up at the dry cleaners finds Robin and Little Archie's typical uniform upon the others, the change eliciting excitement from their mutual group of friends. The two clans cross paths and become friends, and the Titans take a field trip over to Riverdale Elementary, where they meet Miss Grundy (whose last name they have a completely different association with). It's the usual Titans silliness with the added thrill of the Archie characters. A definite winner for the little ones (my 8-year-old is going nuts in anticipation for me to finish this review so I can hand the book over to him).
THIS WEEKS' TALKING POINTS:
Graig, dude: Tiny Toons. But seriously, there are some rotten "li'l whatever" characters out there ("Flintstone Kids" springs to mind). What are your most or least favourites?
...And what are some of your favourite international superheroes, i.e. Marvel and DC superheroes created specifically to be connected with other countries?
Steampunk. Good? Bad? The Devil's nerdwank?