Comic book reviews: Savage Dragon #188-189

I’ve mentioned before that my current financial situation, combined with the rising prices of comic books, has resulted in my following a greatly reduced number of monthly titles.  That, and there really isn’t all that much currently being published that I actually enjoy.  There is, however, one title that I continue to pick up each & every issue: Savage Dragon, written & drawn by the super-talented Erik Larsen, and published by Image Comics.  If it ever came down to my only being able to get just one comic book per month, Savage Dragon would be my pick.

Previously, the Dragon, after finding his people the Krylans a new home planet, decided to leave them to their own devices and return to Earth.  Unfortunately, he was arrested and placed on trial for the crimes that his alternate personality, Emperor Kurr, had committed.  The Dragon’s good “human” personality was eventually restored by the enigmatic Darklord, who then sent him back in time to kill Kurr.  Unfortunately there was still the matter of the hundreds of people Kurr had killed prior to that moment when history was altered.  The Dragon was found guilty of mass murder and sentenced to death.  And, as he sat in his prison cell, he learned via a holographic transmission from the Krylans that, in his absence, bereft of his leadership, they had been almost totally decimated by the invading Tyrrus Combine.  Oops.

Also in recent issues, Dragon’s son Malcolm has been trying to almost single-handedly fight superhuman crime in Chicago.  SuperPatriot was busy reforming the government Special Operations Strikeforce, and one by one the heroes of the Windy City have been heading off to join him in Washington DC, leaving Malcolm to hold down the fort against a second-generation Vicious Circle.  Meanwhile the monstrosity known as The Claw, who originally menaced the Earth back in the 1940s, has accidentally been resurrected by Malcolm’s half-brother Thunder-Head.

Are we all caught up now?  Good, good!

Savage Dragon 188 cover

The last couple of issues of Savage Dragon have been quite well done.  In #188, the Claw finally prepares to make his bid for world conquest, but Malcolm and the original Daredevil (the Claw’s old arch nemesis, who was also recently revived in the present day) are alerted to this by Thunder-Head.  What follows is a massive battle as Malcolm, Daredevil, the staff of the Rock House Diner and the military engage a giant-sized Claw & his swarm of winged minions.

Both Daredevil and the Claw were originally published by Lev Gleason Publications in the 1940s.  Daredevil was created by Jack Binder in late 1939, but was almost immediately after revamped by Jack Cole, who soon pitted the hero against his own villainous creation, the Claw.  Since then, both characters have fallen into public domain, although Marvel later trademarked the DD name for their “man without fear.”  As a result several publishers have revised the pair of them, although Daredevil often was presented under different aliases.  I thought that Dynamite Entertainment’s Death-Defying Devil had a pretty good take on their antagonism, with the Claw revamped as a hive mind terrorist organization, but then the whole subplot came to a rushed, unsatisfactory conclusion in Project Superpowers.  In contrast, Larsen’s version of the two characters is much closer to Jack Cole’s initial conceptions, but at the same time we get to witness their decades-old conflict come to a very riveting, dramatic finale.

Issue #188 also features the brutal murders of Daredevil’s sidekicks the Little Wise Guys by Dart.  Now, ordinarily I’d find a psycho femme fatale gutting a bunch of kids with a sword and drinking their blood to be much too extreme.  In this case, though, it’s been established that the Little Wise Guys, like Daredevil, had become immortal some time before, and so they were actually older then they looked.  That, and in general I just find comic book kid sidekicks to be really annoying.  Every time the Little Wise Guys showed up, I would sort of groan aloud.  In the lettercol, Larsen explained that back in the 1940s the Little Wise Guys gradually pushed Daredevil out of his own series, and history seemed to be repeating itself in Savage Dragon.  So Larsen decided to just kill them off.  He definitely did so in a memorable fashion!

Savage Dragon 189 cover

Moving on to Savage Dragon #189, Larsen juggles a number of subplots.  Dragon is still in jail, trying to avoid getting killed by all his old enemies who he previously locked up.  Malcolm is having relationship problems with his girlfriend Maxine.  Thunder-Head is in the hospital after nearly being killed by the Claw.  Dragon’s wife Jennifer, who is believed to have died years ago, seems to have reappeared.  Oh, and Dart is still going around slicing people up.

Even though I have been following Savage Dragon since the very first issue back in 1992, sometimes I do have some trouble keeping track of the myriad characters and plotlines that Larsen has introduced in the last two decades.  I was scratching my head over the subplot of Jennifer’s apparent return, since it dealt with some really minor characters who, as far as I can recall, were last seen maybe 60 issues ago.

That said, the rest of the issue was quite good.  Poor old Dragon is sure getting the short end of the stick, to say the least.  But even after a major ass-whopping, he still manages to get in the last word, so to speak.  That final page was totally a killer.

Larsen’s artwork on these issues was, as usual, very good.  A few months ago, on #187, he was experimenting with a strict six-panel storytelling and a variation in his usual inking style, accompanied with a different sort of color palette.  I wasn’t sure if it was entirely successful, but at the same time I do appreciate that Larsen is someone who wants to continually grow as an artist, to attempt new things.  This is one of the things that separate him from many of his contemporaries.  In any case, on these following two issues, Larsen returns to a more standard style of illustration and color scheme.  Of course it looks great, with layouts that are extremely dramatic.

I was especially impressed with the covers of these two issues.  Savage Dragon #188 is a retro-styled piece with Malcolm and Daredevil fighting the titanic Claw.  In contract, #189 has a very unconventional layout, with the logo taking up much of the cover as the shadows of the Dragon’s fellow inmates reach down towards him.  The piece works very well in implying an atmosphere of entrapment and claustrophobia that encapsulates the character’s current predicament.

What’s next?  I don’t know.  Erik Larsen promises big changes are in store within the coming months.  Whatever happens, I will definitely be along for the ride.

Comic book reviews: Vescell #8

This past Free Comic Book Day, I discovered a very cool erotic sci-fi / supernatural comic book titled Vescell, which is published by Image Comics.  The book is written by Enrique Carrion and drawn by John “Roc” Upchurch.  Carrion was signing at Carmine Street Comics, and I picked up a copy of the latest issue, #7.  Although the purple prose was flying fast & furious in Carrion’s script, and I was a bit confused about the backstory, I did really enjoy the issue.  Soon after I found copies of #s 1, 4 and 6 as well, which I also enjoyed.  And issue #8 came out a few weeks ago.

Vescell 8 cover

Vescell is set at some point in the future (I think it is the future) some years after our Earthly reality became linked with a dimension known as Abdehenna, aka the Banerealm.  Set in the metropolis known as Icarus City, the protagonist of the title is Mauricio “Moo” Barrino.  A former police detective, Barrino is now an agent for Vescell, a multinational company which specializes in “V-trans” procedures, the transferring of a person’s mind & soul from one body to another.  Vescell is run by Barrino’s amoral aunt, and at times he finds that his desire to remain an honorable individual is at odds with his employers’ unscrupulous business practices.  That said, Vescell’s chief competitor is Cybercan, a truly ruthless corporation that engages in a fair share of blackmail, extortion, and violence.  So, at the very least, Barrino can regard himself as an agent of the lesser of two evils.

Barrino’s partner is a size-changing fairy named Machi who possesses a voracious appetite for food, especially pancakes.  The two have an unrequited love, made necessary by the fact that if they consummate their relationship Machi will lose her powers.  Barrino is also romantically involved with a woman named Avery who is trapped in the Banerealm, and can only be summoned back to Earth mystically for a very short time.  Avery seems to have a shady past, and a number of people have warned Barrino that if he continues his relationship with her, it will undoubtedly end badly.

Vescell 8 pg 11

In the newest issue, Barrino and Machi are asked by their friend Artaya to assist a woman in finding a new soul.  In a previous issue of Vescell, the artificial intelligence named K.A.T.I. was transferred into the body of a living woman.  K.A.T.I. wishes to truly be a mother to her host body’s young daughter, but without a soul she can only approximate human emotions.  Now obviously a soul isn’t something you can just go out and buy at your local K-Mart, but they can be found in the Banerealm.  A reluctant Barrino agrees to take on the mission, joined by Machi and Artaya.  The trio is joined by the Doc, who is an expert on mystic lore, and by Lieutenant Vega of the Paranormal Authority Agency.  Vega is suspicious of Barrino after her run-in with him back in issue #4, and is there to make sure he keeps his nose clean.

After a cross-dimensional journey via an ocean liner / dirigible, the group arrives in Abdehenna.  At first the quest to obtain a soul seems to be going smoothly.  But then Barrino spots his girlfriend Avery, still stuck in the Banerealm, in the arms of her old lover.  Next thing you know, the air is heavy with testosterone, followed almost immediately by a rain of bullets, as Avery’s demonic beau Nephestus & his gang have a shootout with Barrino & his allies.  And so the rest of Barrino’s quest is spent with his rival dogging his heels, ready to put a bullet between his eyes.

On the whole, Vescell #8, “The Heart of the Soulless,” was quite good.  Carrion and Upchurch have a really nice collaboration going.  Carrion pens some very dialogue-heavy sequences, which is great, because it means that it takes more than five minutes to read an issue.  As for Upchurch, his storytelling is extremely solid, and he does an excellent job “directing” the various talking heads sequences, giving them a great deal of drama.

Vescell 8 pg 33

Because Vescell #8 was a double sized issue, the art chores were split up among three people: Upchurch, Lorenzo Nuti, and Dave Acosta.  Upchurch drew the first half, Nuti contributed two pages in the middle of the book, and Acosta finished up the issue.  I really wish Upchurch could have drawn the entire book.  No offense to Nuti or Acosta, but their work, while nice, was just too loose and sketchy, at least compared to Upchurch.

Additionally, in the second half of the story, Carrion’s scripting became a bit sparse, with a number of pages that contained very little dialogue.  And, after a gradual build-up over the first half of the book, his plot then seemed to be rushing to get to a finale.  The pacing just seemed off on the later part of the issue.

“The Heart of the Soulless” does come to a somewhat hasty, abrupt conclusion, as Barrino completes a key part of his quest to acquire a soul.  The bottom of the last page indicates that the story will be continued in a trade paperback.  I have not been able to locate any information about when that is being released.  Hopefully soon, because despite a few missteps, I did enjoy Vescell #8, and I am definitely looking forward to finding out what happens next.  And I certain hope the series is able to continue beyond that.  Carrion is a talented writer who has devised a very intriguing world populated by interesting, multi-faceted characters.

Joe Jusko draws Tomb Raider

When I was in high school, I was a big fan of artist Joe Jusko.  He would create these superb painted covers for such titles as Punisher and Savage Sword of Conan.  And then in 1992 the Marvel Masterpieces trading card set came out, composed entirely of Jusko’s painted renditions of Marvel’s most popular heroes & villains.  That was really amazing.

At the time, though, I often wondered why Jusko never did any interior artwork, never drew any full-length stories.  Obviously back then I was a bit too young to realize that it is a very time-consuming process to paint an entire 22 page comic book.  But since then, I’ve always kept an eye out for those rare occasions when Jusko did illustrate an entire book.

Tomb Raider Jusko coverIt really came as a surprise to me, then, when I recently found out that Jusko had worked on just such a project, and it had completely slipped under my radar.  That book was Tomb Raider: The Greatest Treasure of All, which was published back in 2005 by Top Cow / Image Comics.  However, I was hardly the only one to miss out on it, though.  On his Facebook page, Jusko referred to it as “Probably the best work of my career overall and also the biggest disappointment since almost no one saw it.”  He went on to explain that he had worked on the book for several years, and had put a tremendous amount of effort & energy into it.  But once it came out, somehow it had disappeared almost without a trace, and many people were not even aware that it had actually been published.

Looking through Jusko’s scans of the original painted artwork that he’d posted on Facebook, I thought to myself, “This looks fantastic!”  I immediately decided that I’d try and find a copy of the book.  I was pleasantly surprised when I checked Ebay, because several different comic book dealers had copies of the issue for sale at cover price.  So, yeah, once you know to look for it, it is out there.

Tomb Raider: The Greatest Treasure of All is written by long-time Superman creator Dan Jurgens.  I’m a fan of his work, as well, so it was a nice surprise to see he had plotted & scripted this story.  Jurgens turns in an exciting, suspenseful, humorous tale that features Lara Croft and her associate Chase attempting to liberate a mysterious treasure from an ancient Mayan temple, all the while dodging trigger-happy guerillas.  And, yes, Jurgens does explain why there is a lion in the jungles of Central America!

Tomb Raider Jusko pg 6

I don’t really play video games, so I don’t own a single one of the Tomb Raider games.  And I’ve never before picked up any of the various comic books featuring Lara Croft that Image Comics has published over the years.  Nevertheless, I really enjoyed The Greatest Treasure of All.  Jurgens did a nice job writing a fun, entertaining story.

As for the artwork, wow, Jusko definitely outdid himself!  This book really showcases his talents, not only as an amazing painter, but as a storyteller.  The thing about comic books, I now fully understand, is that it is not merely a matter of drawing pretty pictures.  It is also being able to illustrate the flow of action & events from one panel to the next.  There are many extremely talented artists out there who are simply not suited to draw comic books, simply because they do not have that crucial skill for sequential illustration.  With Tomb Raider: The Greatest Treasure of All, Jusko demonstrates that not only can he create amazing covers, pin-ups, and posters, but he can also illustrate a multi-page story in a very dramatic fashion.

What I especially liked about Jusko’s work on The Greatest Treasure of All was his depiction of Lara Croft.  He gives her a very lithe physique.  To be perfectly honest, from what I have seen of some other Tomb Raider comics published by Top Cow, many artists drew Lara as having this exaggerated porn star-type body, with huge breasts & a narrow waist.  Jusko, in contrast, renders Lara as an athletic figure.  She still looks drop-dead gorgeous, but in a realistic, believable manner.  A major part of this was undoubtedly due to the fact that Jusko uses models.  For Lara, he had Hollywood stunt woman Jasi Cotton Lanier pose for him.

Tomb Raider Jusko pg 19

There are ten pages of “behind the scenes” items at the back of the book.  On display are some pages from Jurgens’ plot, Jusko’s initial pencils & sketches, photos he took of his models in various different poses, and painted pages in progress.  It is a nice look at the creative process.

It is definitely unfortunate that Tomb Raider: The Greatest Treasure of All went pretty much unnoticed when it was initially published.  It features some really amazing art by Joe Jusko.  If you are a fan of his work, I highly recommend tracking down a copy of the book.

I also recommend heading on over to Joe Jusko’s gallery at Comic Art Fans where he has posted high quality images of the art from The Greatest Treasure of All.  His paintings looks even more beautiful when scanned from the originals.

Strange Comic Books: Savage Dragon #28-31

Choosing to feature Erik Larsen’s always-brilliant Savage Dragon in Strange Comic Books may seem an odd choice, simply because the majority of the time it is quite a weird series.  But even by its usual standards, Savage Dragon #s 28-31 are especially bizarre issues.

Savage Dragon 28 cover

Issue #28 opens with Sam Kieth’s quirky creation The Maxx showing up at Dragon’s apartment, looking for his friend Sarah.  He quickly settles down to watching violent cartoons with Horridus, one of Dragon’s friends from Freak Force.  Meanwhile, in the next room, Dragon’s girlfriend Rapture has announced she’s pregnant.  Dragon, who until this point in time believed he was sterile, puts his foot in his mouth by asking “Uh, are you sure it’s mine?”  Kicked out of the bedroom, Dragon discovers Horridus and Maxx making peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.  Dragon had a previously a run-in with Maxx in issue #6 of the latter’s series, and is surprised to find him here.  Maxx flees, the Dragon gives chase.  And then thing really get weird!

Dragon and Maxx slip into the other-dimensional dream world known as “The Outback.”  Because Dragon has his girlfriend’s pregnancy on his mind, this manifests itself as Rapture appearing as a gigantic naked woman, with dozens upon dozens of little kids sprouting out of her uterus to chase after Dragon, shouting “Daddy!”  As the pair flees from the horde of stampeding brats, Maxx comments “Cute kids. Randy little fellow, ain’t you.”  Eventually reaching a mountain of boxes, Dragon and Maxx climb up and begin chucking a crate full of mushy apples at the kids to get them to back off.

Suddenly, Dragon and Maxx get zapped back into the real world, where they discover they’re on top of a tree, surrounded by a bunch of barking dogs.  Maxx’s friend Sarah arrives to collect him.  At which point Dragon utters up one of the all time greatest lines of dialogue:

“I’ve got to start drinking more. My life wouldn’t make any more sense but at least I’d have something to blame it on.”

Savage Dragon 28 pg 15

Now, you may be thinking, how can subsequent issues of Savage Dragon possibly top #28 for strangeness?  Well, in the next issue, Dragon and the Chicago police department are dispatched to clear out a group of homeless super-powered freaks from the city’s “underground.”  Among those taking refuge there is Wildstar, the time-hopping hero created by Al Gordon & Jerry Ordway.  During a fight between the police and the freaks, Dragon grabs the starfish-shaped alien symbiote on Wildstar’s chest.  This causes the later to have a flash-forward vision where he, and the readers, see Dragon’s teenage son in a spacesuit crossing a desolate wasteland.

Yes, issue #29 was our very first look at Malcolm Dragon.  Fifteen years later, in issue #166, we would finally learn just what was taking place in Wildstar’s future vision, and how the now-teenage Malcolm figured into it.  It was a great pay-off for loyal readers who had stuck around for the duration.

At this point, the Dragon’s demonic enemy the Fiend crashes the party.  The Fiend irrationally believes that her daughter’s death was the Dragon’s fault.  Disintegrating his arms with heat blasts, the Fiend snatches up Dragon.  She delivers him into the hands of a sorcerer who conducts a spell sending Dragon’s soul to Hell.  Yep, that’s right H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks itself.

savage-dragon-30-cover

Dragon crosses over into the pages of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn #52.  Michael Simmons is stuck on the fifth level of Hell, attempting to get to Malebolgia, the demon lord to whom he sold his soul.  Spawn and Dragon meet up, and events lead back into Savage Dragon #30.  It’s an unusual team-up, because for most of it Spawn stands around raging aloud at how Malebolgia tricked him.  All the while, Dragon, who is an atheist, believes he’s hallucinating, and is cracking bad jokes left and right.

The Fiend, who wanted Dragon to suffer, is seriously pissed off that her enemy isn’t taking any of this seriously, and travels to Hell to deal with Dragon personally.  Spawn is finally able to move on to the next level of Hell, and the Fiend starts recruiting the souls of the damned to attack Dragon.  Unfortunately for her, Dragon quickly dispatches them.

It’s at this point, with #31, that the insane genius of Erik Larsen comes into full bloom.  The Devil, fed up with the Fiend fumbling the ball, decides to pop up and claim the Dragon’s soul directly.  And only one thing stands in his way:  God.  That’s right.  God Himself shows up to fight for Dragon’s soul.  Because he’s there unwillingly, Dragon cannot be claimed by the Devil.  And how does God back up His argument?  With a knuckle sandwich, that’s how!  Yep, God and the Devil get into a monumental fist-fight, a titanic rumble of, appropriately enough, Biblical proportions.

Savage Dragon 31 cover

When Savage Dragon #31 came out, I absolutely loved it.  You see, in superhero comic books, the Devil, or at least a reasonable stand-in, shows up quite frequently.  Mephisto, Satannish, Lord Satanus, Neron, and innumerable other infernal entities appear with alarming frequency to harvest souls, trick mortals, and sow chaos & discord.  You never do get to see any sort of hint of a higher, divine power opposing the diabolical machinations of these hell spawn.

I think things get even more muddied in the various Vertigo books, and in independent titles.  In these cases, God shows up, but he’s cast in a pretty bad light.  You have writers depicting Heaven as a corrupt bureaucracy, and God is either an egotistical jerk who demands unthinking obedience from the human masses, or an aloof entity totally disinterested in the concerns of his creations.

(The one exception to this that I can think of was when Tony Isabella introduced “The Friend,” a figure with a resemblance to Jesus who would show up from time to time in the pages of Ghost Rider to offer John Blaze advice and tell Satan to take a hike.  Unfortunately, Isabella’s story was later undone by Jim Shooter, who had the Devil claim The Friend was an illusion conjured up to give Blaze false hope.  Shooter supposedly did this because he felt it was offensive to Christians.  Myself, I think it’s more ridiculous & offensive to have a scenario where cosmic evil is totally unopposed by any hint of a higher power.  As far as I know, Isabella’s depiction of The Friend was very tastefully done.  I’m willing to write off Satan’s subsequent claim to Blaze as deception.  Why trust anything the Devil has to say?)

In any case, because of so many different stories like this, it was great to read Savage Dragon #31, where God steps up to the plate and kicks some major ass.  Dragon then has a discussion with Him about, well, life, the universe, and everything.  It’s simultaneously very thoughtful and humorous.

savage-dragon-31-god-vs-devil

I certainly recommend reading these issues of Savage Dragon.  They, along with several others, are collected together in the trade paperback A Talk With God.  The volume even has a witty introduction by legendary comic book creator Jim Steranko.  Even though I already owned copies of all these issues, I picked up the TPB anyway, so I’d have a back-up copy to read whenever I wanted.  Yeah, it’s that good.

Comic books I’m reading, part three: independent titles

It’s the Fourth of July, American Independence Day, and so today I’m going to do a rundown of what independent comic books I’ve been reading recently.  For the purposes of simplicity, I’m just going to consider anything that is not Marvel or DC as an independent.  And I’ll be covering graphic novels in a later post, because otherwise this one is going to be way too long!

I’ve already written an in-depth review of The Grim Ghost before, but I wanted to mention it again.  Written by Tony Isabella, with artwork from Kelley Jones & Eric Layton, for my money The Grim Ghost was the best superhero comic book of 2011.  This six issue miniseries published by Atlas Comics unfortunately ran into some distribution problems with the final issue.  As I’ve heard it, Diamond Distributors decided to cancel (or, as they would say, “re-solicit”) the shipping orders for a number of small companies at the end of last year, so that they could focus their resources on sending out the copious amounts of DC’s New 52 titles that were being ordered by comic shops.  That’s the problem when it comes to dealing with a monopoly, folks, you’re at the mercy of decisions like that.  Anyway, I was eventually able to obtain a copy of #6 by ordering it online from the Atlas Comics website.  It was a great conclusion to a fantastic story.

Grim Ghost 2 cover

As I’ve posted before on this blog, I’m currently following Erik Larsen’s long-running Savage Dragon and his revival of Supreme, both published by Image Comics.  Larsen is one of my favorite comic book creators, a total fountain of colorful characters & imaginative ideas, and I really look forward to seeing what he does next on each of these titles.

Additionally, there is another pair of books from Image, written by Joe Keatinge, that I’m reading.  The first is the re-launch of Rob Liefeld’s Glory, which Keatinge is doing with Ross Campbell.  The other is a brand new series, Hell Yeah, with artist Andre Szymanowicz.  That one is really interesting, as it looks at “the first generation raised in a world where superheroes exist,” to quote Keatinge himself.  The protagonist, Benjamin Day, learns that across myriad alternate realities, other versions of him are being murdered.  The identity of the killer is revealed within the first few issues, so it’s not a whodunit but rather a “whydunit,” so to speak.  Keatinge’s writing is very riveting, and I cannot wait to find out what happens next.  The artwork by Szymanowicz is very well done, having the feel of something out of Heavy Metal.

Steve Mannion is an artist with this incredibly wacky, zany, sexy art style.  His work is somewhat reminiscent of EC Comics, both Wally Wood’s sci-fi spectacles and the offbeat humor of Mad Magazine.  I first discovered Mannion’s artwork when he drew an utterly baffling, but nevertheless very funny, issue of Captain America about twelve years ago.  Mannion went the self-publishing route for a while, but in recent years he’s had his books coming out through Asylum Press.  His signature character, Fearless Dawn, has been featured in several books.  The most recent have been Fearless Dawn: The Secret of the Swamp and Fearless Dawn in Outer Space.  I haven’t had an opportunity to pick up the second of these yet, but The Secret of the Swamp was an insane riot, just lots of crazy fun.  Mannion continues to grow as an artist, and I cannot wait to see what he does next.

Fearless Dawn: The Secret of the Swamp
Fearless Dawn: The Secret of the Swamp

Over at IDW, there are a few licensed titles I’ve been picking up.  The main one is G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, written by Larry Hama.  That’s the series which continues the continuity from the original comics published by Marvel back in the 1980s and 90s.  It seems like Hama is having a lot of fun writing this book, and it’s definitely an exciting read.  I’ve also been picking up some of the Doctor Who books, which do a good job of capturing the feel of the series.  Right now IDW is publishing the improbable but entertaining Star Trek / Doctor Who: Assimilation miniseries, which has beautiful painted artwork by J.K. Woodward.  This one is more of a natural fit than you might think, as the Borg are really pretty much the Cybermen with a bigger budget.  So it makes sense to combine those two cyborg menaces, and then have the crews of the Enterprise and the TARDIS come together to confront them.

IDW is also publishing Godzilla.  I bought the first few issues of their initial title, Kingdom of Monsters.  That had nice art, but the writing just never clicked for me, and I ended up selling them on Ebay.  I was much more impressed with the five issue miniseries Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths, written by John Layman, with artwork by Alberto Ponticelli.  That was an incredibly deft blending of the kaiju genre with a noir hardboiled crime story.  Layman wrote some very compelling human characters.  Ponticelli’s art was stunning, offering stunning giant monster action sequences, as well as more human moments.  Gangsters & Goliaths was published last year, but it has been collected into a trade paperback, which I highly recommend picking up.

Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths #1
Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths #1

I got the first two issues of the new X-O Manowar series published by Valiant.  So far so good.  The writing by Robert Venditti is very well done.  He appears to have done a great deal of research into the historical era that the initial story arc is set in.  The artwork from Cary Nord & Stefano Gaudiano is quite impressive.  I really enjoyed the original Valiant books in the 1990s, so it’s nice to see them return.  X-O Manowar is definitely a great initial title for their reboot.  Hopefully I will have the funds to continue picking this one up.

I certainly cannot close out an entry on independent comic books without mentioning Love and Rockets by Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez, published by Fantagraphics Books.  Since around 2001, I gradually began reading Love and Rockets through the collected editions.  And within the last four years, I’ve really got into the series, as my girlfriend is a huge fan of the works of Los Bros Hernandez.  Having someone I could discuss these stories and characters with really made them come alive for me even more so than in the past.  As I have written previously, the Hernandez Brothers have both created large casts of interesting, multi-faceted, nuanced, compelling characters.  I often find myself talking with my girlfriend about these characters and the plotlines they are involved in as if they were real people & events.  And, of course, both Jaime and Gilbert are incredibly talented artists who not only draw amazingly beautiful women but also know how to tell a story through pictures.

Love and Rockets: New Stories #4
Love and Rockets: New Stories #4

For the last few years, Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez have been releasing Love and Rockets as a giant-sized, hundred page annual publication.  Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 came out last autumn, which hopefully means the next edition will be on sale in a few months.  In New Stories #4, Jaime continued the story of Maggie and Ray’s on-again, off-again tumultuous romance, as well as the tragic tale of Maggie’s brother Calvin.  Jamie’s story had a really dark, heartbreaking occurrence, followed by an ending that seems deliberately ambiguous.  It reminded me of his classic tale “The Death of Speedy,” where Jaime left it up to the reader to decide exactly what had happened at the conclusion.

In his half of the book, Gilbert appears to be continuing his recent practice of creating graphic novel adaptations of the B-movies that his character Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez has acted in.  Fritz’s niece Killer (at least, I think that’s how they’re related… I’d love if Gilbert would put together a family tree for his characters, there are so many of them) follows in her aunt’s cinematic footsteps in New Stories #4, starring in a very strange vampire story.  There seems to be a great deal of subtext and symbolism to Gilbert’s recent stories, and they no doubt benefit from repeated readings.  I think that at times his work is perhaps too obscure.  But at least it does require you to think it through, and work to interpret it.

This is an aspect that both Gilbert and Jamie’s work possesses, that their stories are not something you can just breeze through.  There is a very substantive quality to their works.  Love and Rockets is not the easiest read out there, but it is worth taking the time to try and figure out what the Hernandez Brothers are attempting to articulate through their stories.  In other words, they really make you think, definitely a good thing.

There are obviously a great many more really good independent comic books currently being published besides the material I’ve covered in this blog post.  Unfortunately, financial and time constraints prevent me from picking up more of the books out there.  Just remember that those books do exist.  They may not be as easy to find as the latest big events from Marvel or DC.  But it is well worth it to take the time to seek out all the great stuff being published.  The creative future of comic books really doesn’t lie with the Big Two any longer, but with the creators working on new & exciting projects released through the smaller independent publishers.

The Week in Erik Larsen

This past week’s new comic book releases saw two issues published by Image Comics which contained work by one of my favorite creators, Erik Larsen.  The first was the latest issue of Savage Dragon, Larsen’s long-running creator owned series.  The second was Supreme #63, which was the first issue of that title’s revival after a twelve year absence.

I previously wrote up an in-depth review of Savage Dragon, covering the epic “Emperor Dragon” story arc.  Since then, Larsen has continued to write & draw some exciting, fun stories in the pages of Savage Dragon.  Nowadays the series is once again at the very top of my “must read” list.  At a time when financial considerations have forced me to drop a lot of titles, I purchase Savage Dragon religiously.

The latest issue, #179, features a long-running minor subplot, namely the space war between the Kalyptans and the Tyrraneans taking place at the opposite end of the galaxy, often alluded to but never actually seen until recently, exploding into life.  The Kalyptan hero Vanguard, a long-time cast member in the series, learned to his horror that the Tyrraneans had finally won the war.  They were now hunting down the last surviving Kalyptans.  Tracking Vanguard to Earth, they found a world ripe for conquest.  Cue massive alien invasion by a horde of unstoppable rampaging monsters.

Supreme #63 is quite a different book.  The character of Supreme was created by Rob Liefeld as a Superman pastiche.  Liefeld saw the character of Supreme as a way to examine what would happen if Superman was unencumbered by society’s laws and morality, if he felt he knew better than everyone else.  It was a grim, ultra-violent book.  To be honest, I never was a fan, and I own maybe two or three issues from the first couple of years.  I especially remember an issue of another Liefeld title, Bloodstrike, which saw Supreme violently dismembering the anti-hero black ops title characters.

But then a strange thing happened.  Liefeld approached award winning writer Alan Moore to take over Supreme.  Moore, who had written a few excellent Superman stories in the 1980s, re-imagined Supreme as a fantastical meta-textual examination of superhero comic books through the ages, featuring a number of whimsical Silver Age homages.  I did not become an immediate fan of the series, but I picked up several issues, which I enjoyed.

Moore’s stories appeared in Supreme #s 41-56 and Supreme: The Return #s 1-6.  Due to financial difficulties, the book was canceled.  I also suspect that Liefeld’s notorious short attention span, which has often led him to over-commit to various projects, may have played a role in his publishing efforts folding up prematurely.  In any case, after the end of Supreme, there were rumors floating about that Moore had written one last script for the series which was never illustrated.

Fast forward a dozen years.  Apparently conditions had come together for Liefeld to revive a quartet of his titles with new creative teams.  The books’ editor Eric Stephenson got together with Erik Larsen to discuss his taking over one of the four.  They eventually settled on Supreme.  This was an excellent choice, given Larsen’s unabashed love of using the tropes of Silver Age comics as a starting point and then putting modern, unconventional spins on them.

Larsen drew pencil layouts from Moore’s unpublished script, with Cory Hamscher providing the finished pencils and inking.  I really enjoyed Hamscher’s inking on X-Men Forever and other projects.  He has a style akin to legendary embellisher Terry Austin.  The collaboration between Larsen and Hamscher is very strong.  They go together very well.

Supreme #63 is a wild, incredibly cosmic story by Moore.  It also ends on a massive cliffhanger.  Starting next issue, Larsen is taking over as writer.  He has the unenviable task of following in Moore’s footsteps, but I cannot wait to see what he does with the series.  Larsen has one of the most ambitious, unrestrained imaginations in comic books nowadays.  If anyone can take the seeds planted by Moore and run with them in an interesting yet different direction, it’s Larsen.

By the way, I also appreciate that Supreme, along with the other three revivals spearheaded by Liefeld & Stephenson, reverted to the original numbering, rather than starting with a new issue #1.  Call me overly traditional, but I really like it when a comic book series has a long, uninterrupted run, instead of getting a rebooted first issue every few years for the sake of a brief spike in sales & publicity.

It’s also great to see Larsen on such a high-profile project.  I hope that people who read Supreme will give Savage Dragon a chance.  It really is a great series.