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Image Comics

Written by Kieron Gillen and Drawn by Jamie McKelvie

David Kohl might just be the most heinous lead character to debut in comics in recent memory. As the book opens, we find him dressing for a night out at an all-female music night called Ladyfest. Unfortunately, his motives are far from pure; everything about him is calculated for seduction, and that’s before he puts his particular talent into play: he’s a phonomancer, someone who uses music as the basis of their magic.

Of course, cocky bastards like Kohl tend to get overconfident in their powers, and it turns out that his arrival at Ladyfest might be the dumbest trap he could have wandered into. After all, when you’ve abused your powers to seduce and destroy a young witch who serves a Goddess, it’s only a matter of time before pain and punishment are going to make an appearance in your life.

There’s a lot about PHONOGRAM that works. Kohl, despite being every guy who makes things miserable for the rest of us, is compelling viewing. He can say things like “I’m a monster with a tumour hanging between its thighs” and get away with it, because you just shake your head and snicker at the absurd ego involved with it. And stuff like that means that Gillen is doing a solid job, because he’s defined as a character. Plus, McKelvie delivers some really solid art, giving PHONOGRAM perfect hipster look on the page.

What isn’t so well defined is exactly how “music as magic” really works. Men and women have been using music for seduction purposes for decades- that’s why Barry White is rich. But Gillen only scratches the surface on the magic itself when we needed a tighter glance. Still, with five issues to go, there’s time. Hopefully, as Kohl goes about his “redemptive” mission, we’ll see things clearer.

Marc Mason

Written by Gary Whitta and Drawn by Ted Naifeh

The first DEATH JR series was one of the surprise hits of 2005, so I’m pleased to see a new mini on the stands. We now find Junior beginning summer break from school and making his would-be girlfriend Pan quite sad. She and his friends are going to summer camp, but Junior’s backing out. Instead, he’s taking an internship for his Dad’s company, hoping to learn more about how to be a good grim reaper. Of course, we all know about what happens when you make plans, right?

Problems abound in DEATH JR 2. Pan and friends wind up at a summer camp right out of every kid’s nightmare (the head counselor refers to them as “the short bus brigade” and is wearing a uniform a little to close to the Nazis), and Junior is sent to work in the basement for his father’s most stoic employee. And his job? To adjudicate peoples’ afterlives. While many souls are easily sent one direction or the other, the majority must be evaluated for either Heaven or Hell status, and the backup of waiting dead is over eight million names long. Or… just long enough to take up the entirety of his summer and not have even the slightest bit of fun.

Like the first series, DEATH JR 2 is written sharply and packed full of wonderful characters. The dialogue is snappy, and there are enough jokes for both young and adult that any aged reader will love the book. When Death Sr. tells Junior that “Death isn’t just about wearing cool black clothes and posing for Metallica album covers”, you realize just how well Whitta gets it and gets what this book should be.

Naifeh is one of the more versatile and gifted artists working today, and the book looks simply fantastic. Overall, this is a great package, and a great start to what’s rapidly become a solid top-of-the-pile book. Seek it out.

Marc Mason

Written by Robert Kirkman and Drawn by Ryan Ottley

Kirkman’s superhero opus gets a second hardcover treatment with this effort, collecting issues 14-24 and #0. INVINCIBLE continues to gain in sales, making it one of those rare “little engines that could”, even after more than thirty published pamphlets, so you have to tip your hat to it. And this book does an interesting job of showing you exactly everything that’s right, and everything that’s completely wrong, with this book.

What’s right? Kirkman and Ottley consistently present one of the more entertaining “universes” you’ll find in comics. There are so many characters here that a sense of isolation is never going to be an issue. And because it’s so much fun to read INVINCIBLE, you get sucked in like it’s an addictive drug. Honestly, you wish all comics had that effect. Reading the book in a large chunk like this demonstrates just how committed the creative team is to delivering a satisfying experience that’s worth your hard-earned cash.

Yet, that’s also INVINCIBLE’s biggest flaw. Kirkman crams so many plots and subplots into this book that it is very easy to get lost when reading the monthly book. Unless you were reading nothing else on the stands, there’s no way you’d remember some of the one-page throw-away moments that Kirkman is obviously going to come back to next year. In an edition like this, there are no such problems, because it feels like a true novel, and it is a rich and rewarding experience to read through.

So I worry about that, about Kirkman wandering so far away from his subplots that the regular book becomes unreadable. Because the regular book still needs to exist and be successful in order to create special collections like this one. I’d hate to see this book become too much like Chris Claremont’s late 80s work, where no subplot ever met a resolution.

With loads of extras, like Ottley sketch and design work and some script pages, this latest ULTIMATE COLLECTION is a book worth a look. Just approach the regular comic with some caution and a strong attention span.

Marc Mason

Written by Erik Larsen and Drawn by Franchesco!

(The exclamation point is there in the credits, both on the cover and inside the book. Honest.)

Late enough to warrant near-legendary status, Larsen and Franchesco’s opus featuring the fate of the Savage Dragon’s buxom cohort has finally arrived. The question, after all this time, is whether or not it was worth the wait.

Wisely, Larsen gives the reader a fair chance at the outset. She-Dragon was tossed into Dimension-X by Dragon foe Mr. Glum sometime around a year ago in real time. So even if you read SAVAGE DRAGON on a regular basis, you’re pretty much in need of a primer as to what is actually going on. We get one in the first two pages in the form of a lengthy internal monologue that reminds you of some of Stan Lee’s classic blurbages from the early Marvel era. From there, we dive right into the story, as She-Dragon winds up enslaved on a planet in this bizarre dimension where she must fight her way up from pack mule to concubine to rebel, all the way following the classic “hero’s journey” formula.

It’s safe to say that the draw here is Franchesco’s work. This guy clearly has a near-disturbing love for the curvy green heroine, and he lets his fetish shine like a beacon, page after page. Equal parts Adam Hughes and Larsen himself, he never adds rough edges to She-Dragon, even when she is at her nadir. She radiates sexuality and attractiveness, whether moving large concrete blocks or representing in a slinky teddy when forced into the harem. However, I don’t begrudge him any of this; while excess cheesecake can ruin a book, it is important to remember that the character herself was created by a deranged lunatic in SAVAGE DRAGON (based on John Byrne, by the way, making her a riff on She-Hulk) purely to be his fetish toy. It then feels appropriate for the character, as she battles this inner demon, for the art to portray her in this manner.

The elements of this book that I struggled with were really more towards the story side. Some of the transitions between present and flashback are very rough, and I got lost on a couple of occasions. Also, there are other elements of the DRAGON series, other characters, that arrive and play a role in the series, and I had zero clue who they were. Larsen provides an excellent essay in the back of the book that explains not only who the characters are, but also the last fifty issues of DRAGON continuity, and that became invaluable in a second reading of the book. While I know the whole thing couldn’t be placed up front, it would have been helpful to have some of it before reading the story.

Also included is a sketchbook showing Larsen’s layouts for the first 26 pages that Franchesco worked off of, plus a number of sketches, cover designs, and other pieces from the artist. That makes this a package that, while late, is more than worth your money and time, especially if you’re a fan of SAVAGE DRAGON or good-girl art.

Marc Mason

Written by Brian Wood and Drawn by Toby Cypress

Moss seems like a decent fellow on the surface. When he wanders into a small coastal town in northern Scotland looking for work so he can buy passage back the U.S., his motives are surface enough. Enough, that is, to stir the heart of local café owner Julie Tucker. But when he begins making mysterious runs early in the morning and strange men arrive in the town looking for him, it becomes apparent that Moss isn’t exactly the man he’s pretending to be.

That’s the set-up for THE TOURIST, and while it plays with the trappings of the standard thriller, it’s still pretty entertaining. Why? One, you really like Moss out of the gate; you know he’s a wrong guy, but his inner voice is at least driving him to be less of a bastard than his nature requires. Two, Julie Tucker’s character takes on more life than the standard “girl put in peril” usually gets in stories of this nature. A single mother, she’s fierce and demands respect. When Moss leaves before she wakes up after their first night together, she informs him that she doesn’t appreciate feeling like a one-night stand. I also enjoyed Cypress’ art, though it was difficult for me to figure out why. It’s very rough and scratchy, and his figure-work is very loose. But then I sort of realized that it held a certain sort of “Euro-appeal” for me, sort of in the vein of a less-experienced Paul Pope.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Brian Wood, but with his recent work on DEMO and LOCAL, my esteem for his talents has grown a bit. I think he’s begun to really find himself by focusing his energies on his writing, whereas his early CHANNEL ZERO work felt overindulgent, doing a lot of showoff stuff as a designer. Plus, with THE TOURIST, he takes a classic cliché plot and makes it very readable. No easy trick.

Marc Mason

Written by Matt Fraction and Drawn by Steven Sanders

Ahh, Matt Fraction. Fraction is clearly a writer with ideas fairly bursting from his skull. Take his new Image series, CASANOVA; it’s loaded with wacky concepts and wild scenarios, yet he holds it together well by keeping the oddities grounded within the story framework and keeping the main character interesting.

FIVE FISTS OF SCIENCE is quite an idea book. Mark Twain and his close friend Nicola Tesla band together to use Tesla’s giant fighting robot to battle an evil satanic cabal led by J.P. Morgan and Thomas Edison. That just reeks of clever fun. But unlike CASANOVA, FIVE FISTS never quite gets off the ground.

The fatal flaw in FISTS lies in the Twain and Tesla characters. Each is only defined in the story by their quirks; Twain is a blowhard salesman, Tesla is an obsessive-compulsive. But we never get much below that, and when your leads are carrying a full-length graphic novel, the “clever” can’t be expected to continually carry the day. Then comes the issue of motivation; Twain first suggests that they market the giant robot to every country on Earth so mutually assured destruction rules the day. This makes no sense in the grand scheme of things, as Twain is smart enough to realize that doesn’t really work. That leaves the potential for Twain to simply be all about the money, and that doesn’t quite fly, either.

In the end, FIVE FISTS OF SCIENCE feels like an idea that came out sounding great, but the creators never really figured out how to use it appropriately, which is kind of a shame. However, special kudos go out to the book design, which is impeccable, and the art of Sanders. He’s a find, and I think we’ll see big things from him in the future.

Marc Mason


Clerks II - July 21, 2006

The Important Stuff!!!

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