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Arcana Studio

Arcana 1

Written by David Rodriguez and Drawn by Jon Bosco

Alexander Starkweather is your classic slacker. He lives in his grandmother’s basement, works as a line cook at a pancake house, and seems to have very little going on for himself. He’s also a real, live witch… though not necessarily a good one. But lately, it seems like his destiny is creeping up on him: his dreams have been filled with visions of a woman named Dany Golden, and in them, he doesn’t prevent her death, which causes reality itself to unravel. Now he’s going to have to seek her out, get his shit together, and save the world. However, even with a talking (and quite unpleasant) iguana helping him out, that looks to be pretty much impossible.

STARKWEATHER is an incredibly frustrating book at its core; on the one hand, it has a protagonist who feels real and is immanently likeable on the page. Alexander, and his attempts to keep Dany amongst the living, is fun. You root for him, and that’s no mean feat. Rodriguez did a fantastic job of putting his character together on the page.

On the flip side, the plot rolls along smoothly for the first half of the volume, and then becomes a genuinely absurd mess on the downhill crest. There’s a large religious conspiracy (attention all pop culture makers: ENOUGH ALREADY), a magical conspiracy, and Alex and Dany get stuck in the middle… even though neither one really makes a lick of sense. At one point, there were so many characters running around on the page that it became impossible to determine who was who, and I just threw my hands in the air, frustrated. Artist Bosco doesn’t help Rodriguez’ story there, either, as faces aren’t his strong suit… many characters begin to blend.

So… half a good book, which is still quite better than none, frankly. And there’s huge room for a sequel, which should allow Rodriguez to iron out some of these issues. I’m more than willing to keep an open mind on it.

Oh! One other amusing note: there’s some extra material provided at the back of the book, including an unused cover by the godawful Mario Gully (producer of comicbook travesty ANT). What’s hilarious is how the description of why it went unused dances around Gully’s inability to draw anything but cheesecake crap that has nothing to do with the actual story. Truly, a great laugh.

Marc Mason

Written by Shannon Denton and Drawn by Matt Jacobs

A Pentagon worker pulls a dusty file from the cabinets. 1944, a squad of American soldiers is patrolling the French side of the German border when they find themselves in a situation beyond horror: occult creatures dressed in the uniform of the enemy. Strong, fast and nearly unkillable, the American group faces a mission that may mean their deaths. But, this being comics and all, maybe courage, wits, and old fashioned American ingenuity will win the day.

There’s been a rash of World War Two stories that involve the occult and monsters over the past couple of years (COMMON FOE, among others), and GRUNTS acquits itself just fine for the genre… at least for the first two issues. Denton makes sure that the characters play to their archetypes well; the way they handle the super-powered baddies makes sense in the context of the story and is actually clever in each instance. And Matt Jacobs does a solid job of putting the tale down on the page. Nothing wrong at all with how the book looks.

But the third and final issue confuses. It is obviously set some fifty to sixty years ahead of the first two issues, but the Grunts are still working and in the field. How? Are we meant to ignore the jump in time? Was their exposure to the toxin being made by the baddies in issue two something that rendered them immortal or at least slow to age? We don’t get any explanation, and it erases your suspension of disbelief.

So: two out of three ain’t bad. GRUNTS entertains for two-thirds of the way; just stop at the right point, and you’ll be fine.

Marc Mason

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