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Written and Drawn by Scott Kurtz

You have to give Scott Kurtz credit: web cartoonists have come and gone in waves over the past few years, a revolving door of artists who lacked the talent or the discipline to stick with it and establish a beachhead for their personal empires. But year after year, day after day, and month after month Kurtz continues to put new material on the web almost every day, put out new pamphlet comics collecting the strips every month or two, and gets them together in new trade paperbacks with regularity. So I tip my cap to him.

The secret to his success, though, isn’t just that he’s kept at it. It’s also that he’s kept at it and kept offering what readers want. His characters are well defined, his sense of humor is consistent, his art continues to improve and grow, and there’s an actual feeling of maturity and growth in the series, even as it embraces the juvenile. You can actually care about the characters in PVP and embrace their quirks and problems. Too bad more comics don’t work harder on that, eh?

Volume four collects a number of amusing storylines, but the most important one finds Cole, the owner and founder of PVP magazine, forced to consider allowing his rival Max Powers to buy the magazine in order to keep it afloat. Between the humor and gags you sense the pain of what Cole is going through, having to sell out in order to protect his employees and friends. It’s smart writing, something no one would have accused the creator of even two or three years back. But now, he’s comfortable, and he’s built his empire. Give it a read, and be grateful that the emperor is wearing clothes for once.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Kyle Baker

After an unfortunate and lengthy wait, the conclusion to Kyle Baker’s adaptation of Turner’s story has finally arrived on store shelves. However, unlike many projects that get bogged down with scheduling problems, you don’t walk away from volume two of NAT TURNER feeling burned by the wait; the power and potency of this story more than makes it worth the time it took to get it in your hands.

Using a variety of historical sources, Baker has put together a timeline and history for Nat Turner’s life and the slave revolt he led that feels as comprehensive and truthful as you could hope for. There’s no feeling of sensationalism at work in these pages; instead, the book reads as educational. This is a piece of history that isn’t commonly discussed at length in today’s curricula, yet its importance cannot be understated. That Turner was able to achieve what he did… that he inspired his fellows to rise up and fight back against those who had taken their freedom and tried to destroy their humanity... it’s remarkable. Yet Baker doesn’t spare you the details or put a shine on the event, either. It was a bloody undertaking, and the lives lost included many women and young children. Ultimately, you come to understand that Turner’s revolution was a matching of horrors: the degradation and suffering visited upon the slaves was more than enough provocation for the massacre of entire families.

Kyle Baker is one of the few creative talents who will earn my dollar, no matter what they do. NAT TURNER is certainly indicative why; it’s a smart, thoughtful, educational book, and I walked away from it feeling as though I had learned something important. Yet, his capacity for humor permeates many of his other books, like COWBOY WALLY. He is such a multi-dimensional talent that you never know quite what to expect next… only that it will be really, really good.

I think the two volumes of NAT TURNER are going to become perennial sellers; they are perfect for libraries, are easy to pass on to readers from teenagers on up, and would seem to be likely candidates for advanced history classes or ethnic studies classes to be reading. This is profound and intelligent work. Seek it out and see for yourself.

Marc Mason

Written by Steve Horton and Drawn by David Ahn

It’s the far-flung future, and twin brothers Rob and Nick are leading wildly different lives. Nick is a revolutionary and something of a domestic terrorist. Rob, on the other hand is a delivery boy. But Rob’s life is about to get infinitely more complicated when he witnesses… something… and the strange mechanical device covering the perpetrator’s arm leaps onto Rob’s body and melds to him, giving him great (but undefined) powers.

Call it “Witchblade with a Dude” and you’ve pretty much nailed it on the head. Even with the future setting, you still can’t help but see the parallels. Sure, plenty of other books out there have involved someone getting a weapon grafted to them; it’s become a huge genre trope. Even Image has published its share (beyond WITCHBLADE), thinking back to Robert Kirkman’s TECH JACKET. And manga… somewhere around ten percent of mangas seem to cover similar concepts.

What does that mean? Well, it means you’d better have a way of differentiating your series quickly out of the gate. Your characters and their look had better be distinct. The dialogue had better seem crisp and fresh, like nothing else on the shelves. And the art had better be brilliant.

Unfortunately, issue one of STRONGARM doesn’t quite overcome these humps. The characters don’t really pop off the page here, and the black and white art keeps the “weapon” from looking as distinct as it needs to be. The cover, printed in color, makes it look fantastic and interesting, but internally it doesn’t come to life.

Perhaps over time, as the series develops, these issues will be addressed, and it could certainly read better in collected format. But right now, I cannot quite recommend the book, at least not in its current format.

Marc Mason

Written by Joe Kelly and Drawn by Chris Bachalo

This issue of ELEPHANTMEN takes a detour from the primary plotline and succeeds for doing so. Hip Flask meets up with the little girl we met a few issues ago when she requests a hospital visit to see Ebony. However, Flask distracts the young girl by telling her a pirate story about Captain Stoneheart and the Truth Fairy. After the Captain captures the Truth Fairy (who delivers exactly what her name implies), they begin to bond in strange but warm fashion, which leads to changes in both their lives… and tragedy beyond belief.

As you might guess, there’s a moral at the heart of Flask’s tale, and it’s one that parallels the events happening in the book-proper, but that never obscures the joyous fun being delivered by the creative team.

I had sort of given up on Bachalo as an artist quite some time ago. He’s a very gifted and talented creator, but his love of experimentation on the page has very much obscured his actual abilities to tell a clear story on the page at times. Thankfully, he shows a load of restraint here, settling in and letting Kelly’s story unfold in a way that a younger reader could actually understand. I’d love to see him continue to employ this sense of discretion; if he did, I’d go back to looking for his work on the shelves, rather than shunning it.

Kelly has also been pretty hit and miss with me over the past few years, but this is a genuine score on his part, charming and entertaining. In all, this rivals the zero issue as the best issue of the title to date. Worth a look.

Marc Mason

Written by Jay Faerber and Drawn by Mahmud Asrar

Captain Dynamo was one of the greatest superheroes on Earth. However, upon his death, his widow makes an unpleasant discovery: the man was a master philanderer. And not only was he a cheat, he left behind five bastard children from flings with five other women. And those kids each inherited one of their biological father’s superpowers. Now, Maddie (the widow) has brought the five together in an effort to put their powers to use for the greater good. But first, she’s going to have to teach them to actually listen and come together as a unit… or they’ll suffer their father’s fate sooner rather than later.

DYNAMO 5 is a clever concept; the idea of “What if Superman was a playa?” is a good one, and Faerber has shown in NOBLE CAUSES that he has a solid grasp of how to work superhero tropes into real world situations in fun, soapy fashion. The book gets off to a decent enough start, for sure, throwing us into the mix at a sprint instead of just laying out boring exposition in linear style. The only glaring weakness right now is on the artistic side, as Asrar’s action sequences feel a little too posed as opposed to dynamic and energetic. That’s a skill that tends to take younger artists time to develop.

Faerber saves the best bits for last, offering up a conclusion that opens up interesting directions for the series to go. This could turn out to be a lot of good, clean, soap opera fun, and I’ll be keeping my eye on it.

Marc Mason

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