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Oni Press

Written and Drawn by Matthew Loux

Question: What do you get when you mix three videogame and pop culture loving dorks, a satanic cat, a talking scorpion, two stoner idiots willing to destroy property on a whim, a rock concert, the repressed homosexuality of a high school jock, a vengeful football team, and the cute girl-next door of a nerd’s dream? A: SIDESCROLLERS, a bizarre and amusing graphic novel that ultimately holds up better in pieces than it does as a whole.

From the above description, you can pretty much guess that farce is the order of the day in Loux’s story. The line plot is right out of an 80s movie: Amber, the cutie that nerdy Matt is afraid to even talk to, is dating a football jock who has made Matt and his friends miserable. So when the boys discover he has made a $400 bet with his jock buddies that he’ll get into her pants by the end of the night, the boys must rally and stop the big bully (who may not be as straight as he acts) and avoid his friends who are out to beat them up. The rest of the oddities, the devils in the details, lay themselves out over the scenes as the story progresses.

There are plenty of things to appreciate about SIDESCROLLERS; the characters and situations are appealing, and Loux has a gift for a good gag, especially visually oriented bits. His art also has a whimsical feeling, and he excels at presenting honest emotional reactions on his characters’ faces. And with the madcap pacing and constant weird shit rolling across the page, he has captured a flavor that feels quite familiar but goes the flavor one better; if there ever was a consideration by Kevin Smith to make a sequel to MALLRATS, he can stop. It’s been done by Loux, and I don’t think the filmmaker could top this book.

I would have liked the book a bit more if Loux hadn’t used some of the easy crutches that appear in the story along the way. For instance, showing the jock looking at gay porn wasn’t needed; his attitude and other actions would have given away that plot element in subtle fashion and the reader would have figured it out. But balanced against some excellent surprises (such as the development of the cat plot), it’s easy enough to overlook it. SIDESCROLLERS will never be accused of taxing your brain, but it is solid fun and satisfies the funny bone.

Marc Mason

Written by Jamie S. Rich and Drawn by Joelle Jones

I’m a sucker for a good romance comic, and no one seems to be doing better ones these days than Jamie S. Rich. 12 REASONS takes the reader on a tour of the relationship between Gwen and Evan, a young couple navigating the path to relationship harmony. However, as we all know, that path is littered with broken bottles, nasty bumps, and shattered hearts. And no one ever seems to have a map or compass to help get past those spots.

Told as a series of 12 vignettes, we see Gwen and Evan at various times in their story; we see their first date (not so great), their second date (a little better) and other high and lowlights as the road progresses. But what makes this book feel so fresh is that the story isn’t offered chronologically. Rich takes us back and forth in the timeline, building a layered, complex character study of these two people and why they are (and perhaps aren’t) a pair. What happens then, is that when you read a later chapter, it completely alters your perception of an earlier one, and you find yourself going back and re-evaluating what you saw and read. Not only is it surprisingly challenging, but it also makes the book a must re-read. Sort of the romance comic equivalent to FIGHT CLUB, if you will.

But Rich’s superb grasp of relationships and cute dialogue isn’t the only reason to buy the book. Joelle Jones absolutely shines in her first full-length graphic novel work, proving to be a very capable artist. She does well with facial expressions and body language, which is extremely important for a book of this nature. She also displays the ability to adjust her style to fit various emotional shifts in the book, sometimes tightening up her line to deliver a more photo-realistic look the page, and at other junctures adjusting towards a more impressionistic tone. Together, these two creators have made one of the better original graphic novels of the season, and it has the feeling of one that will be a perennial seller.

Marc Mason

Written by Cullen Bunn and Drawn by Bryan Hurtt

THE DAMNED is a promising genre-bender with the potential to be a breakout hit for the folks at Oni. The story is set during the Prohibition era; gangsters are running the cities, and war is out in the open on the streets. But the gangsters aren’t the only power to be feared. After all, even they’re afraid of something, and in this case, it’s the demon families controlling the traffic of human souls in the city. Sort of what you might get if you crossed THE UNTOUCHABLES and a Japanese horror flick.

But even the demons tire of war, so when two of the three demon families decide to come together, call a truce, and become friends, it’s big. But when the demon they hire to broker the deal disappears, it’s time to bring in an expert. And that expert is Eddie… a human man who’s been dead for three days. However, the touch of a living person drains their life force and re-awakens Eddie, meaning he will be put back to work in service to the demons once more… though all the while, more people will continue to try and kill him again.

So adding Eddie’s hard-boiled private eye to the mix throws some MALTESE FALCON flavor into the broth as well. With that, I think you get the general idea. If not, well, you should probably skip buying the book.

Femme fatales, ludicrous violence, dirty deals, revenge… everything you’d normally loe and expect from a mob flick or a private eye flick is here in these pages. I have some qualms; I’m not certain I like the title, for instance. DAMNED, by Steven Grant and Mike Zeck, is one of the greatest crime/noir graphic novels of all time. And I’m not really sure how long the creators will be able to play with Eddie as a lead before his resurrection abilities play havoc with plot movement and creating genuine tension. But, this was entertaining enough that I’m intrigued to find out.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Andi Watson

Simon Adams wants nothing more than to be a good father to his little girl Cassie. So rather than be one of those men who only interacts with his child on weekends and for small portions of evenings, he works part-time and stays home with her for a couple of days during the week. But while he has achieved his goals of being an involved parent, and his wife wholly approves of his decision, he still finds himself restless and unfulfilled, and wonders if his choice has left him adrift as a husband and a man.

Watson returns to his explorations of the British middle class with LITTLE STAR, and while he slides into a smidge of extraneous naval gazing through Simon’s internal monologue, he still delivers the emotional and intellectual impact we’ve come to expect of him at this point in his career. Like BREAKFAST AFTER NOON, his peeling away at the layers of a relationship takes center stage here, but the relationship he’s concerned with is more Simon and Cassie’s than Simon and Meg (his wife). Cassie, being young, is really quite an obnoxious arse pain, which makes Simon’s devotion to her even sweeter for the reader, as you’re mostly ready to spank her yourself. The way we see Simon interact with his child is poignant, and I think mostly we all could only hope to have a parent like him.

But the story does suffer, here and there, because we don’t get enough of Simon and Meg’s relationship. Watson digs into it at points where he finds it pertinent to moving the plot forward, but it creates gaps that feel important and like they need to be filled. Still, the overall quality of the book is extremely high, and new work from this creator is always something to treasure. Recommendable in particular to non-traditional comics readers.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley

No question, this book is one of the three most anticipated graphic novels of 2006. Originally scheduled for late 2005, the next step in Scott’s quest to become Ramona Flowers’ boyfriend has seen more than a slight delay in reaching shelves. That tends to put extra pressure on a book, because at some point, the anticipation can become far greater than any sort of payoff the story might deliver. Indeed, I’ve seen that in some other reactions I’ve read to this volume. But I’m here to tell you that SCOTT PILGRIM AND THE INFINITE SADNESS delivers, and is the best book in the series yet.

In order for Scott to become Ramona’s boyfriend, he discovered that he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in combat. As we open volume three, Scott meets the third, but there’s a catch: this one is dating Scott’s ex-girlfriend, Envy. Making matters worse is that the ex-boyfriend, Todd, has super powers granted to him by his veganism. Plus, Scott hasn’t exactly erased the heartbreak of being dumped by Envy yet, which gives Ramona an extra stake in this round of fighting.

Taken on the surface, SCOTT can read like something of a comedic piffle; his fights with Todd are done in ludicrous, game-logic fashion, and have very little physical weight to them. Certainly, those traits applied to the previous two volumes, too. But sneakily, O’Malley has raised the stakes this time; INFINITE isn’t just about the silliness he does so well. Instead, by grounding Scott’s pain and dilemma by returning Envy to the scene, there’s a genuine emotion to the story. Both Scott and Ramona finally truly have something to lose; Scott faces not only the possible loss of Ramona if he cannot beat Todd but also his own weakness in his heart over how Envy dealt him. He also realizes that if he can’t get past it, he can’t give himself completely to Ramona, no matter the outcome of any fight. And for Ramona, she finally sees Scott emotionally vulnerable, and sees the reason why he’s as odd as he is. It feels like she finally takes him seriously and wants him to win the seven fights.

Of course, O’Malley doesn’t forget to shift gears and up the silliness quotient when the emotional moments are resolved; without the zaniness, it wouldn’t be a SCOTT PILGRIM book. His solution for how to defeat Todd is pure hilarity, and the byplay between the supporting cast as they figure out relationships and hook-ups amongst themselves brings a smile to your face. Balanced better than either of the first two efforts, the latest SCOTT PILGRIM was worth the wait.

Marc Mason

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