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HERO SQUARED #5
Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and Drawn by Joe Abraham

What started out as an exercise in pure Bwa-ha-ha has now gained a lot of substance. HERO SQUARED, which focuses on slacker idiot Milo Stone and the alternate universe version of him, Captain Valor, who happens to be a superhero, has achieved a decided balance between the comedy and drama, and the book has become that much better for it.

It wasn’t as though the book stunk to start, though. HERO SQUARED has been one of the most consistently entertaining books on the stands since it first shipped. The fun hasn’t just come from Milo and Valor, however; the real intrigue has revolved around Milo’s girlfriend Stephie and her alternate universe counterpart Caliginous… Valor’s primary villain. This isn’t a love triangle, it’s a love square… and everyone’s motives are suspect and screwy.

I don’t review a lot of superhero books at this site- you’ll notice the lack of a page for Marvel and DC reviews. But that doesn’t mean that I hate the genre. I can get behind any genre, as long as the stories are good and the characters are interesting. The “Big Two” are simply failing miserably at producing those kinds of comics these days. Giffen and DeMatteis, however, are not. HERO SQUARED is compelling, entertaining reading. This latest issue finds Milo and Valor captured by the law, and Milo ultimately back in the clutches (and bed) of Caliginous again, progressing every single relationship in the book forward. Even more impressive: if you’ve never read the book before, you could still pick it up and understand it. I recommend doing so.

 

Marc Mason

WARHAMMER 40,000: DAMNATION CRUSADE #2
Written by Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton and Drawn by Greg Boychuk

Smartly, WARHAMMER gets an inside-cover recap, otherwise I’d have been totally lost trying to read it. I remember reading the first one and getting through it thanks to the glossary and extra materials, but those don’t add as much to the proceedings here in issue two, and it suffers for it.

The writers are trying very hard to create an authentic and intriguing futuristic society, and it’s a respectable effort, but the problem here is the characters. They take a backseat in order for the plot to get serviced, and I became un-invested in their plight. The action sequences are spectacular, no doubt; the opening sequence where we see Tankred go into battle is powerful and eye-popping, but all it delivers it the “wow” factor. You never get the sense of any danger or stake from it, only that it is supposed to be cool.

Regardless of story problems, the book still looks fantastic. Greg Boychuk is a find, his work vivid and exciting to pore over. The pages are full of life and panel elements that jump out at you, and I’d have no problem picking up this book to check out his development alone.

But ultimately, I’d like to see some balance back in the story and writing. A comic needs that in order to truly compel the reader, and issue two of WARHAMMER sadly does not achieve it. I’m not giving up on it by a long shot, but the book must recapture it over the next four issues to prove itself.

 

Marc Mason

TAG: CURSED #1
Written by Mike Leib and Drawn by Chee

Keith Giffen’s TAG was one of the more surprising and entertaining minis to launch in 2006. The story of a man who was touched by a random curse, it combined heavy character drama with modern horror in a new a fresh way that hinted at a larger palette for the concept. And now, that palette has a new set of painters taking a swipe at the canvas.

Ed is living a mundane existence. He runs a hardware store, eats the same thing every time he goes to the local diner, and generally repeats his every move daily. But he also has a secret in his past: he was once “tagged” and spent time as a dead man, before passing along the curse to the next person. But rather than be content to be back amongst the living, he is obsessed with the path of the curse and the possible future victims. Much of that is due to the guilt of having kept the curse alive to be sent onward, and he suffers for it. But when his mental state reaches its fragile he concocts a plan that he hopes will redeem his soul: to trace the curse and put a final stop to it by preventing the current holder from tagging the next victim.

I have yet to read the conclusion to the original series, but fortunately, that doesn’t matter. TAG: CURSED is written in perfect introductory fashion. Anyone could pick the book up and follow it. Leib does a terrific job of putting Ed on the stage, diving into his head and peeling apart his emotions, and explaining the actual curse, and none of it feels overly expository or annoying. That’s no mean feat. Matching him, Chee delivers some dark, moody art that gives the sense that no one Ed meets is truly alive in their drab little town. This is a very strong debut episode, every bit as entertaining as the first issue of the original series.

 

Marc Mason

FALL OF CTHULHU #0
Written by Michael Alan Nelson and Drawn by Jean Dzialowski

Spanning centuries, FALL OF CTHULHU tells the tale of Abdul Alhazred, a mystic with an eye towards the dark and unknown and a talent for writing: the man is the author of the Necronomicon. Left for dead after violating every law and natural order in the 700s, he is resurrected by a new form of his demonic master in modern day in order to complete his written work and observe the final fate of Cthulhu himself.

CTHULHU faced an uphill battle with me, as I am definitely not the intended audience for this book. I was never into the Lovecraft's original novels, and these types of stories are ones that generally don’t suit my taste buds. In fact, I panned the first CTHULHU anthology that Boom produced. But with that said, I must admit that I found this to be quite readable and easy to follow. Nelson lays out his characters and explain their paths with ease, and I was intrigued enough by their actions that I was drawn in to their plights. Alhazred is a fascinating fellow, and Nelson allows you to make your own judgment as to the quality of his character and intentions.

Dzialowski’s art is colorful and surprisingly adaptable to the various milieus that the story plays out in, and the storytelling is solid. I may never be a huge Cthulhu fan in any format, book or comic, but when the stories are executed this well, I will have no problem reading and enjoying the results on their own merit.

 

Marc Mason

WARHAMMER 40000: DAMNATION CRUSADE #1
Written by Dan Abnett and Ian Edgington and Drawn by Lui Antonio

I have never played the Warhammer game. Nor have I played Warhamster (hi, DORK TOWER fans). So I came to this comics adaptation with a clean slate and no expectations.

DAMNATION tells the story of the human empire of the far future (the 41st century, explaining the numerical title). We’ve basically conquered just about the whole known universe, and with the aid of space marines, (especially the finest group, called “Black Templars”) we keep it in our grasp. This book dives in to that world and shows how those soldiers are recruited and maintained for constant, horrific battle.

The story and set-up are rather thick, no question. It takes a while for the reader to adjust and parse out exactly what’s happening, but once you do, things make a decent amount of sense and you can enjoy the book. Certainly one of the more intriguing aspects of the story is that we are essentially following the bad guys; Earth is basically one galaxy-wide Spanish Inquisition at this point. And the only character we get to know who isn’t part of the Inquisition as of yet is on his way to joining. So there’s a real twist to the point of view, and I’ll be interested to see how it plays out over the six issues of the series.

There’s a story “set up” on the inside of the front cover, and a guide to the world of WARHAMMER printed at the back of the story, so when combined with a script that’s fairly lean and expository, CRUSADE works when maybe it shouldn’t. The only weak link is the art by Antonio, as it feels kind of stiff and posed in the action sequences and doesn’t flow well from panel to panel. I also have to admit that it was weird to see Dan Abnett credited as a writer alongside someone else besides Andy Lanning. In all, this should be a solid success for Boom, and perhaps a book that, when collected, will do excellent business in gaming stores as well as bookstores.

 

Marc Mason


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