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Image Comics

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Written by Mike Carey and Drawn by Various

Mike Carey is best known for his writing for Vertigo (LUCIFER) and Marvel (X-MEN, ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR), but the material I’ve enjoyed most from him has been creator-owned (MY FAITH IN FRANKIE). Continuing that trend is BARGAINS, a terrific collection of work originally printed by Caliber Comics along with a new prose short story.

The first piece in the book is “Dr. Faustus” a fresh take on the classic tale illustrated by Mike Perkins. Faustus’ helper, Wagner faces the Proctors of the university where they served and tells the tale of Faustus’ bargain with Satan and the results of that contract. Wagner is presented as a wondrously tragic figure, and Carey executes the pacing and emotional payoff of the tale with exacting precision. Partnered with Perkins’ amazing, detailed artwork, “Faustus” alone would make this book worth its purchase price.

But the good stuff doesn’t stop there. “Suicide Kings”, illustrated by Paul Holden, is a creepy bit of modern horror that delivers a simple, but apt message: the devil is always where you least expect him. I could see an end coming, but when Carey delivers it, even I was surprised at the true nature of what happened. Dark, nasty stuff, and delicious to read. However, as good as these two tales were, the prose story that concludes the volume is the real winner here. “Auszug” is the story of a critic faced against the writer; Auszug, having taken the narrator’s pan of his recent novel very personally, is now trying to kill the critic in ever stranger and more horrific ways. From shooting him to sending flowers in the hospital that the narrator has allergies to, to building an arena and turning loose hungry tigers, Auszug wants his pound of flesh… and every single bit of the horror is totally hilarious.

Carey is an excellent writer, and every bit of this collection proves it. For your six bucks, you aren’t going to find better value. Pick this up.

Marc Mason

Written by Mark Askwith and Drawn by R.G. Taylor

Set in the era of the first Gulf War, SILENCERS is one of the first predecessors to QUEEN AND COUNTRY, except SILENCERS is the Canadian version. While U.S. audiences may not put much thought to Canadian intelligence gathering, the nation’s unusual placement as an ally between France, Britain and the U.S. gives it a unique position in the way it works with those countries’ spies.

SILENCERS puts its focus on the hunt for a chemical weapons maker, even as it must battle for legitimacy within its own government and the loss of an agent on his fist solo mission. Part of what makes the book interesting is the focus it puts on the human element; bureaucrats aren’t faceless and uncaring in SILENCERS. Instead, they care, and they consider the effect of lost lives upon families even as they measure the need to possibly send someone to their death. We also get a look inside the partnerships inside the agency as well, as another agent with many years of experience must face what may be his last mission and what will happen to both him and those he works with. After all, he has no other life to go home to… what good will he be without the ability to go into the field?

The plot threads struggle to hold together at times in the book, some transitions feeling quite awkward, but there’s a balance in how interested and involved I got in the characters’ lives. Undeniably, some pieces of the tale are far stronger and more intriguing, but as a whole, this is pretty solid stuff. The art is very good (photo reference was used) and the package itself is attractive. A good buy for the smart reader and for those who love Greg Rucka’s later masterpiece.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Various

Image has been the home to a number of excellent anthologies over the past few years (24/7, FLIGHT, AFTERWORKS, FOUR-LETTER WORLDS, and more), but while LOW ORBIT contains some lovely material, it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors. It is ultimately a decent effort that never quite achieves the heights you were expecting going into it.

The stories in LOW ORBIT each fall into the science fiction or fantasy genres, wildly varying even along those continuums. The first story in the book “Bastion’s 7” (by Mark Andrew Smith and Sean Galloway) is a future Earth tale complete with flying cars and alien creatures, while a later tale, Michael Woods’ “Songs From the Gully” is pure faerie fantasy. There are also action stories and cyberpunk efforts, too.

The highlight of the book is Jonboy Meyers’ “Riot Grrrl,” a lightning-paced action piece that calls to mind the best in Hong Kong cinema. Meyers’ storytelling is a bit faulty here and there; his choice of camera angle kept some of the action from flowing, but his energy level never flags, and it carries the story home.

I think what keeps LOW ORBIT from really gaining traction and elevating itself is that it never quite settles on an identity. Many of the stories are “part one” and you’re not told where part two will be; in the next LOW ORBIT? Or is this a trailer for what may be a series of its own? Not having those answers makes LOW ORBIT difficult to read and to fairly judge.

Marc Mason

Written by C.B. Cebulski and Drawn by Various

I get exactly what C.B. Cebulski is supposedly going for in his autobiographical anthology WONDERLOST; the six stories depict various romantic entanglements and screw-ups early on his life, and I’m certain it’s meant to illuminate and entertain in that “Hey, we’ve all been there, right?” sort of way. But WONDERLOST never approaches any sort of universal epiphany, and instead reads as, well, bragging.

In fact, that feeling is almost overwhelming in the final story in the volume, “Make Up”. In an earlier tale, he had destroyed a friendship with a female friend by making stupid boasts about her to friends and her overhearing it. But in this story, Cebulski describes how they got back in touch for friendship healing and then almost hooked up anyway. Meaning what, really? It reads like the author is saying, “See? I was right earlier: she did want me.”

Personally, I’ve never enjoyed hanging around people who love talking about who/how many/etc. their sexual conquests have been, because it comes off as obnoxious, and that’s ultimately the problem at the heart of WONDERLOST: Cebulski was obnoxious in his younger days, and it reads as obnoxious now in writing his version of “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”

The one huge saving grace here is the art gracing Cebulski’s stories. Jonathan Luna, Alina Urusov, Khoi Pham and others deliver some terrific looking pages, and even when I wasn’t enjoying their story content, I was at least impressed by the visual treat they offered. I was particularly impressed by Urusov’s work; definitely a real find.

It may sound like I’m being mean or coldhearted towards WONDERLOST; after all, I am judging a person’s life here. While that may be true, the book still has to deliver as a satisfying piece of entertainment, reality or not, and it sadly doesn’t. If Cebulski is planning further volumes, I hope he moves into deeper, more complex aspects of his life and maintains a bit more objectivity in depicting them.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Joseph Michael Linsner

One thing about Joe Linsner: the man can draw. Whether it’s his signature character, DAWN, or the material in this book, his output is uniformly beautiful. But ANGRY CHRIST COMIX, a collection of his horror strips, takes you a lot deeper into the creator’s head, and it turns out to be a bit of a scary place to be… in more ways than one.

The stories aren’t what you would call traditional horror, necessarily; instead, they mostly fall into the realm of psychological terror. In one story, a man contemplates the unhappiness of his existence while babysitting his infant son, hating what his life has become and that his wife wouldn’t have an abortion. In another, a man who has been sexually restrained all his life contracts AIDS through a one-night stand and takes out his anger by embracing his inner player and purposefully trying to infect other women. A third story chronicles how an artist wound up losing his eye to an occult-obsessed woman he was tattooing. In each story there’s an obvious struggle playing out on the page in how Linsner was feeling about women and sex at the time, and clearly the man was struggling to find healthy ground with the fairer gender.

By the same token, you can’t deny that the stories are, for the most part, also executed pretty well. Where DAWN stories are steeped in the fantastic, Linsner actually seems to have a stronger gift for telling tales in the real world. And it is also fair to note that not every one of his male protagonists escapes cleanly or on top of their situation. Each one of them pays a price for their actions or at the least never recovers from the initial damage done. It isn’t about “winning” per se, but the journey.

There’s a ton of material in the book, and while it isn’t all genius-level stuff, the bulk of it is solid and readable, and again, looks brilliant. Linsner is a talented creator, and I’m really not sure he’s tapped the true depths of what he’s able to do as of yet. ANGRY CHRIST COMIX isn’t the pinnacle of his career, but it represents an intriguing step along the way and is worth checking out.

Marc Mason

Written by David B. Schwartz and Drawn by Sean Wang

When last we left Flare, he was dying, thanks to his own powers reaching overload. But before he was to shuffle off the mortal coil, he had decided to take the worst of the worst bad guys with him. Unfortunately, it looked like his crusade was going to end with his worst enemy, Maelstrom, killing him first. Picking up where we left off, MELTDOWN offers up the resolution to that battle, as well as the rest of what moments Flare has left.

It won’t come as too much of a surprise that he survives Maelstrom’s attack, but it’s where the book goes next that make it an interesting read. There are other lingering, emotional ties in Flare’s life that he has to deal with, especially those with his ex-wife. And there’s one more emergency, one that he hasn’t planned on, that will arise to put his heroism to one last, ultimate test.

MELTDOWN delivers a very satisfying conclusion to its story, nicely balancing character content with strong action sequences, and playing fair with its audience as far as its premise goes. Flare doesn’t fly around looking for deus ex machina cures or 11th hour reprieves; he puts his mind to the fact that he is checking out and lives his final days with that in the front of his mind, shaping his goals and guiding his direction through his final moments. It’s only when he faces his last challenge that the book feels off-kilter a bit; the last person he encounters presents a little too much of a soap opera plot twist. But even then, Schwartz uses the character to good effect in the final pages to offer a nice ray of hope and purpose to everything Flare does. Wang turns in another strong job on the art chores as well, making MELTDOWN a solid success.

Marc Mason

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