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MELTDOWN #1
Written by David B. Schwartz and Drawn by Sean Wang

A young superhuman faces death from within, his powers raging out of control. The only question left for him to answer, then, is how he will spend his final days on Earth and to what uses will he put those powers before he finds the grave. That’s the story behind MELTDOWN, a two-part miniseries that explores the final hours of “Flare”, a man once known as an upstanding member of the Hall of Heroes, but now known for a spree of dead villains reduced to ashes across the country.

Flare wasn’t always out of control, though. As a youth, he was simply Cal, a boy who loved baseball and his friend Amara (from afar). But as time passed, he discovered his powers, and watched Amara pair off with a string of jerks who treated her like dirt. Eventually, after his secret got out, he was banned from baseball and went into the masked crime-fighting business. But unlike many heroes who grace the comicbook page, that doesn’t make his life as grand as you’d expect.

Sadly for Cal, even as great as his power is, he never rises above second-string status, especially when compared to his teammates in the Hall of Heroes. But all of that changes when he discovers that his powers are growing exponentially and will consume him in a week’s time.

MELTDOWN succeeds on a number of levels, not the least of which is that Schwartz doesn’t overly rely on too many tropes to push his story forward. Midway through his story, we discover, unlike most, that Cal actually did get the girl and gain happiness. It’s the sort of detail that makes his story that much richer and that much sadder, knowing that there was more to him than being forlorn. But the most compelling aspect to the story is Cal’s choice to take his final battle to the doorstep of his greatest nemesis, knowing that either way, he will have spent his final moments trying to eliminate the largest problem he could wind up leaving behind.

Artistically, the book looks fantastic. Sean Wang shows solid chops on the page, and his use of varying styles to tell different aspects of Cal’s story is a smart one. Together, art and story work tightly, and MELTDOWN makes for an excellent read because of it. I’ll be looking forward to see what these boys do for a conclusion.

Marc Mason

OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE INVINCIBLE UNIVERSE #1
Written and Drawn by Various

After almost forty pages of the main book, three BRIT one-shots, a CAPES miniseries, and more, Robert Kirkman’s superhero universe has grown quite large and complex in a very short time. So this homage to the original MARVEL HANDBOOK (it’s even dedicated to Mark Gruenwald) comes at a good time.

Issue one (of two) covers letters A through K, meaning we get entries for Invincible himself, along with classic characters like Atom-Eve, Dupli-Kate, the Immortal, and Allen the Alien. The entries are written by a number of different folks (not Kirkman), suggesting that a group of writers were each sitting with the comics and choosing or being assigned to pull out and dissect different characters’ histories. And like the original MARVEL HANDBOOK, each entry comes illustrated with panels from the character’s appearances and a brand-new pin-up style picture drawn by an all-star roster of artists. The art team ranges from original INVINCIBLE artist Cory Walker to classic artists like Mike Zeck and Paul Smith.

Whether you’re a non-reader wondering whether or not to give INVINCIBLE a try or a long-time reader who occasionally gets lost trying to remember some of the details of a story from years ago, this is a good way of catching up quickly on the character and his eclectic world.

Marc Mason

DRAIN #1
Written by C.B. Cebulski and Drawn by Sana Takeda

Chinatsu would be a total badass under any circumstances: she’s a ninja, a master with the katana, a walking, talking deadly weapon. But just being a ninja doesn’t cover it; centuries ago, her family was attacked by a creature of the night, making her the planet’s only ninja-vampire. And it seriously doesn’t get much more badass than that, does it?

The death of her family has left her in the position of wandering the Earth, looking for the vampire who did them in and turned her. Rather a modern take on the heroic journey, I suppose. Of course, Chinatsu doesn’t spend all of her time brooding about these past events; she also uses her skills and talents to punish some of the more evil humans he passes along the way. This also serves to keep her skills, and her blade, sharp for that inevitable confrontation. Having arrived in New York, though, it was only a matter of time before other vampiric elements discovered her arrival and moved against her, and that’s where we pick up in DRAIN.

By combining the ninja and vampire elements together with Takeda’s beautiful and slick art, DRAIN feels like a traditional manga, even produced in the pamphlet format. The book is hyper-violent, sexual, and even manages to squeeze in some pathos, making it a very satisfying read. Cebulski keeps the dialogue spare and minimal, and Chinatsu is defined just as much by her actions than by her words. Not only is that a wise decision, it also reflects back to the manga sensibility that blankets the book. I must admit, when I read the solicitation copy for this comic, I was under-whelmed and expecting very little from it, but by the time I had finished reading, I was exhilarated by it. It’s nice to get that sort of pleasant surprise these days.

Marc Mason

RENFIELD
Written by Gary Reed and Drawn by Galen Showman

In Bram Stoker’s novel DRACULA, Renfield is an insane man confined to an asylum and serving as sort of a herald to Dracula’s eventual arrival in England. As portrayed by adaptations of Stoker’s work, Renfield has been seen as mostly a madman with very little else in the way of character definition. But Reed and Showman’s graphic novel takes the character and turns him into one of the more complex and developed pieces in the Dracula tapestry.

Much like ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD fills in the backstory blanks for HAMLET, RENFIELD does the same for DRACULA (without the comedy). Why is Renfield so completely bonkers? Why does he choose to serve Dracula? Does he have any comprehension of the evil the vampire will bring to the land? Does he care? About anything or anyone? These are the provocative issues that RENFIELD wrestles with.

Reed has clearly done his research and given a great deal of thought as to how the character of Renfield affects the Dracula legend, and as to how the man who is best known for eating bugs fits in the emotional picture of the story. His fascination and affection for Mina Murray becomes the central focus of Reed’s story, and it is through that focus that you begin to perceive Renfield not as a horrible man, but as a tragic figure whose heart was never able to reconcile his role in bringing evil into so many lives.

Showman’s artwork is amazing to behold, using the black and white format with grace and expertise to create a perfect melding of mood and storytelling. There is also a nicer package of extras at the conclusion of the tale that strengthen and enrich the reading experience, giving the book even more value to the reader. RENFIELD sits alongside BAKER STREET as Reed’s best work in comics and makes a very worthy return to print and bookshelves. Track it down.

Marc Mason

HAWAIIAN DICK VOL.2: THE LAST RESORT
Written by B. Clay Moore and Drawn by Steven Griffin and Nick Derington

The first HAWAIIAN DICK miniseries was a surprise smash a few years back, and the sequel was greatly anticipated. Therefore, when issue one of THE LAST RESORT shipped and it was equal in quality to the previous book, readers had their faith validated and all seemed pretty good in the DICK world. Then the delays came creeping in.


So, fans had to wait. And wait. And wait. Teens grew up. 20-somethings became grandparents. And approximately 35.6 years later, we finally had all four issues of the book in hand. Fortunately, the wait for the trade was far shorter and it is now on shelves.

This time out, Byrd heads off for a little vacation and finds himself caught between warring mobsters staking out their territory on the Hawaiian shore. One group wants to keep its hotel a solo act and protect the illegal casino inside. The other group just wants a piece of the local action. And both want to hire Byrd to figure out who is sabotaging their efforts. But the answer to those questions is never quite so simple in Byrd’s life; after all, he saw the dead come back to life in volume one, so who knows what could be doing the horrible things to the mob guys? Maybe it isn’t a “who”, but a “what”?

Kidding aside, the delays on the individual issues killed every bit of story momentum and enjoyment they might have delivered. But as with volume one, THE LAST RESORT reads much better as a whole. Everything is forgiven and you get to start from scratch once it all gets under one cover. And while the story never quite achieves any sense of dramatic heft, it still offers a pleasant diversion and worthwhile entertainment. And while Derington steps in to help with the art chores, the star here is Griffin. Not only does he deliver some incredible pages; his use of color is astonishing, and HAWAIIAN DICK stands out from everything else on the stands because of it. His stuff always makes me want to see more out of him; just, hopefully, the creative team will get a long lead before soliciting a third volume.

Marc Mason


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