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Written by Nat Gertler and Drawn by Various
Published by About Comics

LICENSABLE BEAR has served as Gertler’s satiric mouthpiece about the state of comics and more for the past couple of years. In an era where it’s more and more apparent that the larger comics publishers care more about selling t-shirts and coffee mugs than comics, the Bear has been there to make fun of the idiotic trends flowing down the pike. Plus, Gertler (who’s one of comics’ rare intellectuals) has offered up lessons in Intellectual Property Law as a bonus, making LICENSABLE BEAR the rare satire you can learn something from.

The first two BEAR efforts were really quite lightweight, keeping the jabs on a pleasant, unthreatening level. However, issue three steps up and bares its teeth a bit, offering up a sharper level of work from Gertler. The opening story, “Licensable Bear Perpetuates Freedom”, which tackles the issue of piracy and freedom of information has a nice razor-edged denouement that has the Bear engage in a bit of extra-snarky behavior. “Licensable Bear Presses a Suit” finds the bear tackling Santa Claus in court (in an amusing riff on MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET) and destroying the old toymaker on the stand. And the final story in the book, “Licensable Bear Forms a Union”, sees the character officiating a same-sex wedding. It’s all very strong material, and shows a side of Gertler I’d like to see more of.

The artists wisely don’t try and get wacky with their work and do solid work in telling Gertler’s stories, and there’s another intellectual property lesson included, which makes this a solid package. Worth your time to check it out, definitely.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Matt Smith and Tom Pappalardo
Published by Famous Fighters

FAMOUS FIGHTERS is a collection of parodies and satirical stories that unfortunately don’t really amount to much in the way of laughs. The creators stuff forty-eight pages pretty tight, whether with a recurring gag about a barbarian who kills everyone in sight or a bizarre parody that mashes together a western, a Hong Kong action flick, and RETURN OF THE JEDI. But quantity is never a sure sign of quality, and that holds true here.

The key to creating a workable parody is always in having a solid direction for the story to work in. Consider a film like AIRPLANE; while it’s stuffed to the gills with jokes, there’s always an actual arc lying below the surface still being serviced. Ted has to land the plane and regain his confidence. But FAMOUS FIGHTERS’ stories don’t go anywhere; there’s one that involves an evil character named Eclipso who’s head blocks out the sun. So that means he kills any flowers or solar-powered heroes who cross his path. The payoff? There isn’t one. Instead, the story goes into a flashback to explain why Eclipso looks the way he does. It’s as if the creators sat around playing “Wouldn’t it be cool?”, rather than figuring out how to make the ideas work on paper.

There is one story in the book that works, and no coincidence, it’s the one that seems like it took the most effort to figure out. It involves a character named Alec playing Satan at “Pong” for the right to rule Hell. It’s not only illustrated well, but it’s written in rhyming couplets. Plus, it has an ending that delivers on the promise of the story. Sadly, however, with only that one satisfying effort, I cannot recommend this indy.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Various
Published by 3 Boys Productions

One of the fall’s more ambitious indy efforts will be the latest STUDENTS OF THE UNUSUAL issue. The series, which so far has provided a consistently entertaining blend of serious and amusing horror tales, will not only release a new collection of spooky tales, but included with the book will be a DVD.

A while back, the STUDENT crew sponsored a fan-film contest. Entries were open format; both live-action and animated takes on the SOTU universe were involved. And to celebrate the best efforts, they’ve been collected and will be sent out with the full version of this book. That’s simply a great idea, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

Working from the preview issue the 3 Boys crew offered, it looks like the EXTRA CREDIT book could have some of their strongest material to date. The lead story in the book, “Womanatee”, combines both classic horror elements and yet a hint of hopeful romance, and is one of the better stories the series has run to date. Throw in the excellent production values that the book has made part of its calling card, and this looks to be a big winner. The final results, DVD and all, should be worth a strong look, especially at the bargain price of $2.99.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Ballantine Books

I loved the first two volumes of FLIGHT, so it comes as no surprise that I strongly enjoyed volume three as well. Editor Kazu Kibuishi has taken the series to its new home at Ballantine and landed successfully, as the series shows no signs of big-company interference and/or slowing down.

When this book hit, I read a couple of reviews that took FLIGHT to task for its supposed role as a “re-definer of comics” and what they can be. Now, on that point, I can agree; I don’t think FLIGHT is reinventing the wheel or anything like that, but I think those critics may have been missing the actual point of what the book is supposed to be.

FLIGHT is an ongoing experiment in artistry. Perhaps nothing more, perhaps nothing less. The idea here is for these talents to work on creating worlds, or layouts, or scenes that crackle with life and creativity. The focus isn’t meant to be on delivering compelling characters or narratives. If those become part of the picture, that’s fantastic. Certainly folks like Michael Gagne and Tony Cliff do that in this volume. But what matters most in this book is the feast for the eyes and walking away from the book feeling sated in looking for fresh visual concepts and storytelling.

The book isn’t perfect by any stretch, but FLIGHT remains the single best anthology being produced in today’s comics market. In the end, it has more wonder between its covers than anything else you’ll see on the shelves. And that’s really what counts.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Various
Published by About Comics

COMICS JAM WAR begins with an intriguing idea: on April 1st this year, over 100 creative teams across the nation were given 12 hours to produce an eight-page story based on a theme that was secret until the beginning of the competition. The theme: “There’s an alien in the comics shop!”

The stories were then turned in and judged by a panel of comics creators: Barbara Kesel, Jim Ottaviani, and Joe Staton, and the proceedings were controlled by About Comics head honcho Nat Gertler. This book collects the tales that collected the top awards, plus a selection of judges’ favorites.

The results are a bit of a potpourri. The contestants interpreted the theme very broadly; some took it literally, including creepy-crawlies from outer space. Others took on the theme of “female as outsider” in the store. For the most part, the stories are cute and sincere in their love for comics, so it’s nice to see that. But it’s also a little difficult to pass any sort of deep judgment here; these pieces were done in 12 hours at the drop of a hat. You can’t really fault participants for a lack of polish, as there was literally no time for that. So as a perspective issue, you can really only offer up a grade on whether or not this is a worthy experiment… and it is. This collection makes the event look like a ton of fun, and makes you want to participate if they do it again. And that’s really what counts, I think.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Thom Zahler
Published by Maerkle Press

Thom Zahler, a creator who has made a name for himself in producing some of the more intelligently done action/spy comics of the past few years, does a full 180 with this surprisingly sweet romance comic. By adjusting his style, his sense of design, and adding color to his work, he demonstrates a lovely versatility, and a sense of bravery that I wish more creators possessed.

LOVE AND CAPES combines the sensibility of two classic superhero premises: SUPERMAN and (oddly enough) NOBLE CAUSES, but Zahler veers away from pure pastiche in order to make his universe and his characters stand on their own. Abby Tennyson, a delightful and charming bookstore owner, is dating the clutziest man she’s ever met: Mark Spencer. He seems like a nice enough guy, though maybe a little dull (he’s an accountant). But what Abby is about to find out is that the big guy is a lot more than he seems; Mark is also the Crusader, the most powerful superhero in the city. And now that she knows it, their relationship gains a few hundred more obstacles.

What sorts of obstacles? How about Mark’s ex-girlfriend Amazonia (a Wonder Woman take) who reminds Abby that she can be squashed like a bug? Or having to watch your boyfriend get the crap kicked out of him on live television? But the trouble runs both ways. After dating for months, is there ever a good time to admit you have x-ray vision?

By playing with some of the more classic Lois and Clark tropes, Zahler manages to modernize Mark and Abby’s plight, and yet slyly keep the book solidly in the realm of “drawn chick flick.” And there’s nothing wrong with that, because when those sorts of stories are done correctly, men will get drawn in, too. I sure did. LOVE AND CAPES delivers the goods. Give it a look.

Marc Mason

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