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AiT/PlanetLar


GIANT ROBOT WARRIORS
Written by Stuart Moore and Drawn by Ryan Kelly

Thanks to the upcoming TRANSFORMERS movie and Ryan Kelly’s excellent notices for his work on LOCAL, Larry Young and friends have seen fit to re-issue GIANT ROBOT WARRIORS. However, rather than a second printing, the book now on the shelves is a first print with a shiny new dust jacket. I reviewed the book when it first came out, so rather than whip up a second “print”, I will offer you my “first print”, which ran at Movie Poop Shoot on March 2nd, 2004. It was part of a dual review with Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard’s CODEFLESH.

“On the flip side, we have GIANT ROBOT WARRIORS, or how it shall be known from here on out, GRW. When first announced, I got very excited- I love giant robots, and even moreso, giant monsters. I’d kill you and your grandmother for the opportunity to write Godzilla, and I’m not joking. So Stuart Moore’s little opus has been on my radar for some time, and it breaks my heart to tell you that I was colossally disappointed by it.

Outwardly a political satire of our current government, the media, and the fiasco in Iraq, GRW is meant to be a light-hearted look at these institutions, centered around, of course, America’s weapons program that builds GRWs. The general conceit is that GRW technology is somewhat akin to nuclear technology, and nations are slowly trickling in to figuring out how to make it work and elevating the world arms race. There’s obviously plenty of potential in the idea, yes?

But it unfortunately doesn’t get off the ground and go anywhere. Moore populates his story with obnoxiously boring characters, including his main character, robot scientist Rufus Hirohito. I can get behind making your lead character a turd in a book about GRWs, but in the end he has to do something interesting or out of the ordinary to at least be entertaining to follow. Instead, Moore seems to stick him in sitcom and low-budget film scenarios, and lets him find new ways to crack public fat jokes about his boss. Why? However, the real kicker is that the GRWs play almost zero role in the book. It takes almost two-thirds of the book going by before the GRW finally gets to engage in a battle. Imagine that. Can you imagine going to the theatre to see a Godzilla movie, and he doesn’t hit the screen and have some action until 80 minutes have passed by?

Moore says in his afterward that the book was written in the reaction to 9/11, and that he wanted it to be a lighthearted cautionary tale about what has happened since. But he leaves out the most important ingredient, which is the lighthearted. Fat jokes and a robot President do not a comedy make. And a viewing of any classic Japanese film that features a giant robot fighting something shows exactly how much fun this tale is missing. Stuart Moore is capable of brilliant work, both as a writer, and as an editor. This book doesn’t change my opinion about that. But I think perhaps he was too close to what happened over the last two and a half years to really pick and choose his targets carefully, and too often, GRW takes the easy way out. It isn’t until the final page that Moore seems to mesh perfectly with Kelly to get his point across in razor sharp manner, and that’s a shame. GRW just should have been better.”

To finish my dust jacket: a second look three years later doesn’t do much to change my original opinion. The satire isn’t as sharp as it should be, and the fact that we don’t see the GRWs in action until way late in the book feels like a cheat. I didn’t give the book enough credit for the craft involved back then; Ryan Kelly’s work is much better than I remembered. In my original review, I gave the book a “C”, but with my renewed appreciation for Kelly, I’d grant it a “B-minus”.

Marc Mason

FIRST MOON
Written by Jason McNamara and Drawn by Tony Talbert

Every kid has that moment when they think their parents are weirdoes, aliens, or monsters… but when a young boy named Ben comes home and discovers that something may be truly off about his folks, he sets off on a journey that takes him to the true explanation for the fabled disappearance of the Roanoke colony from the Virginia shores in 1587.

That explanation happens to involve a tribe afflicted with lycanthopy, and if you don’t know what that means, go grab a dictionary or pay closer attention to the title of the book. Interestingly, the storytelling in the book follows two tracks; in one, we follow the well-researched events (expanded upon) of 1587 and the mistakes made by the Roanoke settlers as they tried to establish themselves with the native population, and the creative team’s extrapolation and explanation for what occurred and ultimately led to the vanishing of over a hundred people. In the other Ben goes on the run from his family and finds himself being pulled towards a destination where he will find that his family might just be a whole lot larger than he could have ever expected.

Lycanthropy and the changes that occur in the body because of it have been used as metaphors for adolescence by film and prose for decades, so there isn’t much in the way of surprise in what Ben’s journey of discovery tells him. That means the book really has to place its bets on the sections following the Roanoke settlers. Fortunately for McNamara and Talbert, their work pays off. I found those sections to be strong reading, and even somewhat disappointed when the narrative flipped back over to Ben’s life.

Artistically, the book looks better in the Roanoke sections as well. The somewhat distorted and scratchy nature of the characters look more appropriate for those from centuries ago, as opposed to the somewhat disconcerting way it applies to the modern piece of the story. I would have almost liked to have seen a distinct change in the artistic style for Ben’s story, just for the purpose of flow alone.

FIRST MOON isn’t a work of greatness, but it isn’t a burn, either. These are clearly two talented creators continuing to find their footing, and as this is an improvement upon their previous work, so do I expect their next effort to build upon this one.

Marc Mason

SEVEN SONS
Written and Drawn by Alexander Grecian and Riley Rossmo

The story of the seven brothers is a classic fable in more ways than one; many of the versions originate the tale from China, but other versions refer to them as German or Turkish. In some versions, there are four brothers; in others, five. But the basic heart of the story remains the same: the brothers, each with a special power or “gift” finds himself in harm’s way due to the pain, fear, and paranoia of others, and because of one brother’s attempt to do right and having it backfire in his face to cause the deaths of children.

Grecian and Rossmo have taken the story and transplanted it to a new environment in SEVEN SONS: the American west. The brother and their mother have left China in order to avoid getting used by either side in the Taiping Rebellion, and while they are able to live in peace for a long time, that peace is shattered when some local children fall through the ice which coats a winter lake. The first among the brothers has the ability to swallow the ocean for a short time, so he inhales the lake to try and allow their parents to save the children. But the parents take too long, and he must release his burden. That causes the death of the children and some of the adults, and it isn’t long before irrationality takes its toll and the townspeople come hunting for a scapegoat.

But each brother has his own power, and as the townsfolk don’t know there are seven different young men involved, the attempts to kill the man they blame for those dead children only wind up showing them a man with a different strange talent each time. Which, as you can imagine, is pretty frustrating for frontier rednecks. But eventually, even more tragedy rears its ugly head and the situation grows completely out of control

The creative team has done a really good job with this book, not only adapting the story with faith and reverence, but also in how they juggle some of the more unsavory elements seen in the classic versions (which can read as more than a bit racist) and made them logical, working parts that make the book something you can give to any level of reader without shame. The real kicker comes at the end of the book, where Grecian provides a text piece on the history of the original fable and notes on how he and Rossmo adjusted their version to fit time periods and to deal with some of the racist elements head on. It shows just how meticulously this book was researched and enhances the reading experience. SEVEN SONS is a quality book that could make for a good gift idea this holiday season for a reader who loves classic literature or westerns. Give it a look.

Marc Mason

SHATTER
Written by Peter B. Gillis and Mike Saenz and Drawn by Mike Saenz

SHATTER marks the return of a book that was ahead of its time, and yet isn’t quite the quaint relic you’d expect it to be. Like all good science fiction, Gillis and Saenz delivered a vision of the future, and they wound up doing a better-than-average job if it, both with their story and in how it was made.

The story itself follows Jack Scratch, a policeman in search of a mass-murderer. While that sounds normal, the first tip-off that the creators were seeing ahead clearly is that being a cop is a temp job. And not only that, but the cops have to bid against one another in order to get contracts to hunt down and bring in felons. While metropolitan police forces haven’t gotten quite this mercenary yet, you can look at the rest of the job force in a our society and see that mentality and lack of permanence creeping in.

Of course, Jack’s quarry turns out to be a femme fatale of the highest order, and there’s a lot more at stake than he could ever realize; she’s part of an underground dedicated to stopping the theft of individuals’ RNA. The RNA is being used to give buyers the talents of those who donated the substance, but the problems are that 1) the donator does not survive the process and 2) that the talent transfer isn’t permanent. And if you’re guessing that Jack might have a bigger role in this mess than he’d prefer, this isn’t your first crack at reading sci-fi.

The story behind the story is what makes SHATTER such a special story. It was the first comic where the art was created solely on the computer. Being as how it was 1984, the computer in question was an early Mac that had a total of 128KB of RAM. Then it was printed by a 72dpi dot-matrix printer and hand-colored. Primitive by our standards? You bet. But at the time, this was pretty revolutionary.

22 years later, and back in print, though, you have to judge SHATTER on its whole terms, not just in the advances it represented. Fortunately, the story holds up pretty well. Gillis and Saenz’ vision is strong, and Jack is a pretty compelling character. The story runs into some speed bumps with the villains of the piece, as they are ill-defined and don’t quite present a believable challenge- the main gentleman’s henchmen come off as more useless than Stormtroopers, and are worse shots to boot. But they do a better job with Cyan, the femme fatale, who is more complex than expected but still delivers precisely what you’d expect out of her character type.

Pure science fiction is rare these days, as even some of the better recent efforts such as VAISTRON are a bit more concerned with satire. SHATTER stands on it its own, regardless of decade, and entertains. That’s good enough, I think.

Marc Mason

CONTINUITY
Written by Jason McNamara and Drawn by Tony Talbert

Alicia Lock’s life sucks. I mean really sucks. She’s been kicked out of her parents’ house, is on the run from the law, is pregnant (without having had the requisite sex), and whenever she falls asleep, her dreams alter reality… for the worse. What is a poor young Goth girl to do?

We first meet Alicia as she works with a crew of other outsiders to rob a truck carrying necessary pharmaceuticals. Her last dream left the world as a fascist police state as it pertains to drugs and medicines, but she knows the answer to her predicament is out there: AOT40 is such a powerful stimulant that it could prevent her from sleeping and changing the world again. Of course, it all goes south, and Alicia finds herself explaining her situation to a very skeptical therapist after she breaks into the wrong home. The ultimate solution to her life is what CONTINUITY is really all about

I can applaud CONTINUITY in many ways. The conceit at its core, that Alicia’s dreaming is powerful enough to alter reality, is one that many of us have considered for ourselves. But McNamara wisely gives us the “Monkey’s Paw” version of this power; dreams are a potent force, and a dangerous one. Our nightmares are generally far more powerful, and that’s CONTINUITY’S playground.

However, where CONTINUITY struggles is with its depiction of the results of Alicia’s rest. It’s nifty that entire cities have never existed, but the trappings of the fascist state she’s created is under-imagined. We’ve seen it before, dozens of times, and it just doesn’t resonate with any real energy. I kept wondering where the manifestations of her inner demons were going to become fully realized in the story, perhaps by adding a tinge of the supernatural or something of that nature. But it remains fairly staid as the tale plays out.

For a first effort, I give the creative duo a tip of the cap for their results. There’s enough good here to make picking up CONTINUITY worth your time, though there’s plenty of room for improvement. It will be interesting to see if they can deliver upon the promise they show here.

Marc Mason


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