Alex Toth

New to Comics? New Comics for You! 5/6/09

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?

Here’s some brand new stuff coming out this Wednesday (tomorrow) that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.

Disclaimer: Having not read these yet (’cause this isn’t Wednesday), I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, they just might appeal to you.

Public Enemy Volume 1 – $22.99
By Chuck D. & Adam Wallenta
Published by American Mule Entertainment

A must have for any true Public Enemy fan! 

To the general population, PUBLIC ENEMY is a world-famous, pioneering, revolutionary, HIP-HOP band that have toured the globe, selling hit records for over twenty years. Unbeknownst to most though, they are also members of a secret, global network of freedom fighters called the Underground Railroad, that help those in need and fight injustice, corruption and oppression wherever it may surface. 

In this first story-arc, collecting the first five issues of the hit series, our heroes must face an enemy unlike anything they have ever experienced. The evil Executives and their New World Order are about to unleash their master plan for world domination. Before they can succeed though, they must eliminate a young boy named Vincent who holds the key to their ultimate secret weapon. Unfortunately for the Executives, Vincent is a Public Enemy fan and he has sought out their help to expose the evil plans of the Executives. In a desperate attempt to destroy their enemies, the Executives devise a plan that will eliminate Vincent, Public Enemy and their Underground Railroad allies in one clean swoop as they set out to take over the world.

In this epic battle for peace and justice Public Enemy and the Underground Railroad fight for their lives and the freedom of the world, as they are torn apart, imprisoned and hunted down by the government in a desperate fight for their lives.

A hip-hop group as super-heroes? Sure, why not? It worked for KISS. (Uh, not that KISS is hip-hop.) Truth be told this type of crossover attempt in comics rarely works but there have been a couple of fairly favorable reviews. Plus its co-written by the group’s lead rapper Chuck D, which is kind of an unusual level of involvement for this sort of thing. So if you or someone you know likes their music, it might be a fun thing to check out.

walledinWalled In – $16.95
By Roger Mincheff & Denis Calero
136 pages; published by Ape Entertainment

The origin story of Malastraza, the brilliant, yet disturbed architect and sociopath in the upcoming feature film Walled In, starring Mischa Barton. In this chilling graphic novel of love, betrayal, and obsession the roots of his madness first take hold. From his humble beginnings as a precocious honor student in a Paris Academy, to his tutelage in the dark arts of occult architecture, Malastraza learns that many of the secrets upon which civilizations are built have been drenched in blood. When he is betrayed by his mentor and the woman he loves, Malastraza’s obsession to create the perfect structure leads him down a dark path where victims must be sacrificed in service of his grand vision. 

Another popular crossover angle in comics: the comic book tie-in to a new TV show, movie, video game or what-have-you. In this case the comic ties into a direct-to-DVD film, which itself is based on the French novel Les Emmurés (translated to The Trapped] by Serge Brussolo. As above, the results tend to be mixed depending on the source material and the creators involved in the adaptation, but for horror fans out there, this could be worth checking out, even if the movie isn’t getting the best reviews. At the very least, there’s some appropriately moody artwork to enjoy based on this online sample. (I’m not sure, but it looks like this can be read on its own without having seen the movie first.)

Plan 9 From Outer Space Strikes Again – $3.99
By Chad Helder, Darren G. Davis & Giovanni P. Timpano
28 pages; published by Bluewater Productions

Rated one of the worst films ever, Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space continues as Bluewater and Legend Films tell the story of what happens after the film! Fifty years after the alien invasion unleashed the unspeakable horror of Plan 9, a corrupt team of government scientists reactivate the zombie horde in order to lure the aliens back to Earth! Their sinister plan: steal the most hideous weapon known to intergalactic intelligence. Only conspiracy theorist, Eugene, and his mother, a former professional wrestler, can expose the shadowy agenda of the government as they fight off the growing zombie horde. This time, a new alien force invades Earth: the revolutionary followers of the martyred Eros. Eugene and his mother join forces with the last remaining heroes of a corrupt government. Together, they must thwart Plan 9 once again, with all life in the universe hanging in the balance!

Well this is just silly. I guess the goal would be to be as bad as the movie? Morbid curiosity I guess, but I imagine fans of Ed Wood ought to get a kick out of this. (OK this kind of breaks my rule for this list of not having read or seen anything else but it was such an oddity I had to mention it.)

Boris Karloff: Tales of Mystery Archives – $49.95
By a whole host of talented folks
256 pages; published by Dark Horse Comics; available at Amazon.com

A circus performer terrorized by mysterious powers from beyond… a jade idol of a monkey that carries a curse on a South Pacific island drives a man to the brink of madness… an art gallery haunted by paintings that come to life at night… a dictator who sees enemies around every corner, but who can’t see the threat right before his eyes.

For nearly twenty years, the comic-book series Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery wove stories of intrigue, suspense, and macabre drama. Hosted by renowned actor Boris Karloff, the comic featured contributions from some of comics history’s most well-known creators: Alex Toth, Joe Orlando (EC artist and editor), Mike Sekowsky (Justice League of America artist), Frank Thorne, José Luis García-López, Arnold Drake, Len Wein (co-creator of Swamp Thing and Wolverine), Al Williamson, Jerry Robinson (creator of the Joker), Dan Spiegle, and many others.

* Originally published by Gold Key and unavailable for three decades, more than thirty spine-chilling stories are compiled in a new collection.

* Features a new introduction by Boris Karloff’s daughter Sara Karloff.

Classic old horror tales. A bit pricy but I bet it’s worth it.

The Eternal Smile: Three Stories – $16.95
By Gene Luen Yang & Derek Kirk Kim
176 pages; published by First Second Books; available at Amazon.com

A fantastical adventure through the worlds we live in and the worlds we create.

From two masters of the graphic novel — Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) and Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories) come three magical tales – 

The story of a prince who defeats his greatest enemy only to discover that maybe his world is not what it had seemed.

The story of a frog who finds that just being a frog might be the way to go.

The story of a women who receives an e-mail from Prince Henry of Nigeria asking for a loan to help save his family – and gives it to him.

With vivid artwork and moving writing, Derek Kirk Kim and Gene Luen Yang test the boundaries between fantasy and reality, exploring the ways that the world of the imagination can affect real life. 

These two award-winning creators produce great work, so this is kind of a no-brainer. If you can only buy one from this list, this is the one I would suggest you flip through first to see if it appeals to you. And it probably will. As an extra incentive, here’s a quick glimpse at this release, by way of a video by Derek Kirk Kim’s thankless assistant.

Oliver Twist – $14.99
By Charles Dickens, David Cerquiera & Philippe Chanoinat
64 pages; published by IDW Publishing; available at Amazon.com

Oliver Twist is the story of a young orphan who is subjected to ill-treatment in institutions in Victorian England. He falls into the clutches of the ghastly Fain and comes into contact with the seediest parts of London. The adventures of young Oliver are a story of fear, poverty and the darkness of the human soul.

This is the second book in a series of classic novel-to-comic adaptations this publisher has started to release. 64 pages seems a bit tight to adapt a 300+ page book, but I’d give it a try.

Pherone – $24.99
By Viktor Kalvachev, Patrick Baggatta & Jim Sink
104 pages; published by Image Comics; available at Amazon.com

Following Eve, a dangerously seductive woman on the edge of her sanity, PHERONE weaves a dark storyline filled with espionage, mystery, and suspense. Armed with a killer body and a killer’s mind, the femme fatale must hunt down clues to rediscover her own troubled past, bringing violence and danger to anyone who crosses her path.

The art looks pretty stunning. Hopefully the story matches, as this could be a great suspense/thriller. Not for kids, though.

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New to Comics? New Comics for You! 4/29/09

Comic books, graphic novels. They’re all the rage! Have you read one recently? There’s lots of stuff out there. Why not check out some of these new items that are getting released tomorrow?

Since I don’t live in the future, I can’t guarantee the quality of the below items, but based on word-of-mouth, early reviews, buzz and other intangible factors, I think these are safe bets. They should require little to no previous knowledge. You ought to be able to go into these stories cold and enjoy them just fine. Get yourself a copy by following the links below (the Amazon.com links will give a little to the “Help Corey Do What He Loves” Fund) or head over to your local comic book store.

If you pick any of them up, let me know what you think?

Archie: High School Chronicles Vol. 1: Freshman Year – $10.95
By Batton Lash & Bill Galvan
112 pages; published by Archie Comics; available at Amazon.com

Archie and his friends have forever been stuck in the latter portion of high school, but now, after many long years, the story of how “the gang” all met up is finally being told in this, the first edition of “The High School Chronicles!” This pioneering storyline, captured in issues #587-591 of ARCHIE and now again in this graphic novel reprint, brings us the beginning of the “eternal love triangle,” the introduction of Mr. Weatherbee as principal of Riverdale High, the formation of Moose and Midge’s relationship (and Reggie’s subsequent schemes to split them up), and other Archie staples! It’s all brought to you by fan-favorite writer Batton Lash of “Wolff & Byrd” and “Archie Meets the Punisher” fame, along with popular Archie Comics artist, Bill Galvan. So get your Homecoming dress, pack your brand-new backpack, and pick up your school map to find your way to the biggest Archie story of the year!

Some simple and clean fun with an American staple.

Female Force: Michelle Obama – $3.99
By Neal Bailey & Joshua LaBello
32 pages; published by Bluewater Productions; available on Amazon.com

This one-shot features the United States’ latest First Lady, Michelle Obama. A mother, political force, and now, wife of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, it’s obvious that Michelle Obama has lived a life many have only dreamed of. Continuing Bluewater’s examination of strong female figures in politics, this visual biography will examine Michelle’s life in detail to help find her context in modern history.

This one is recommended with some reservations. I’m always glad to see comics explore non-fiction genres like history and biographies but I can’t say I’ve heard much response to the publisher’s previous issues on Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin beyond, “Hey look! Comic books about modern day politicians! What a novelty!” Hopefully it’s a biography that actually digs in a little, but I don’t know if that’s possible in only 32 pages.

Star Wars Adventures Volume 1: Han Solo and the Hollow Moon of Khorya – $7.95
By Jeremy Barlow & Rick Lacy
80 pages; published by Dark Horse Comics; available at Amazon.com

No one ever said being a smuggler was easy!

Before they ever met Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca had already lived a lifetime of adventures. In this action-packed tale, Han and Chewie are caught between gangsters and the Empire, and their only help is Han’s former partner — who may be worse than either!

Star Wars Adventures is a new series of graphic novellas designed for readers of all ages!

I can’t say I’m a big Star Wars fan. Sure I enjoyed the original three movies and have a healthy amount of disdain for the prequel trilogy, but that’s kind of the extent of it. I realize there are many people not like me. And come on. It’s classic Han Solo and Chewie. It’s probably a safe bet if you liked those characters and want more without a huge boatload of overwhelming mythology to weigh it down.

Blazing Combat – $28.99
By Archie Goodwin, et al.
208 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at Amazon.com

A comic book classic with timely resonance. Blazing Combat was an American war-comics magazine published by Warren Publishing from 1965 to 1966. Written and edited by Archie Goodwin, with artwork by such industry notables as Gene Colan, Frank Frazetta, John Severin, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, Russ Heath, Reed Crandall, and Wally Wood, it featured war stories in both contemporary and period settings, unified by a humanistic theme of the personal costs of war, rather than by traditional men’s adventure motifs. As one letter-writer in the third issue put it, “Do you seriously expect to make money with a war magazine that publishes nothing but anti-war stories?”

While most stories took place during World War II, they ranged in settings from the 18th century to the present-day. Some dealt with historical figures, such as Revolutionary War general Benedict Arnold and his pre-traitorous victory at the battle of Saratoga, while “Foragers” focused on a fictional soldier in General William T. Sherman’s devastating March to the Sea during the American Civil War. “Holding Action,” set on the last day of the Korean War, ended with a gung-ho young soldier, unwilling to quit, being escorted over his protests into a medical vehicle.

What proved to be the most controversial were stories set during the then-contemporary Vietnam War, particularly the classic short “Landscape,” which follows the thoughts of a Vietnamese peasant rice-farmer devoid of ideology, who nonetheless pays the ultimate price simply for living where he does. While writer Goodwin evenhandedly portrays the North Vietnamese Army’s brutal summary executions of village officials, and a well-meaning U.S. Army fatally bludgeoning its way through the village in a counterattack, the story caused key distributors to stop selling the title.

Fantagraphics is proud to present a deluxe, hardcover edition, magnificently printed and bound, of these stories, superbly reproduced from the original printer’s film negatives.

Considered by some to be the best war comic. Or is it the best anti-war comic?

Mister Universe – $3.50
By Vassilis Gogtzilas & K.I. Zachopoulos
32 pages; published by Image Comics

Everybody needs Mr. Universe -– the superhero whose adventures ring throughout the cosmos! Day and night, he watches over the city, offering help to the helpless! Without the luxury of a secret identity, unable to remain invisible among the crowds, he continues to fulfill his duty! Mr. Universe! The restless superhero! At least, that’s what Tommy thought…

There probably won’t be too many super-hero comic books in this column because most of them require a lot of knowledge about their world and history, which is frequently near-insurmountable for casual readers and of mixed quality. But every so often the people that make comic books remember that super-heroes don’t have to be done that way. I really hope this is one of those.

Second Thoughts – $9.95
By Niklas Asker
80 pages; published by Top Shelf Productions; available at Amazon.com

Jess is a novelist without a novel. John is a photographer running away to New York. Though it lasts only a moment, their brief encounter in Stansted Airport will transform both of their lives.

How do you measure the distance between satisfaction and settling? At what point does wishful thinking take on a life of its own? In Second Thoughts, the clean, emotional ink-work of Swedish newcomer Niklas Asker guides two characters, in two worlds, through modern city life and love. Reality and fiction overlap in this haunting, deceptive, and inspiring graphic novel about the lives we imagine for ourselves, the lives we imagine for others, and the lives we ultimately must live.

Top Shelf Productions is accurately named. They consistently put out high quality material.

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed – $14.00
By Brian Cronin
256 pages; published by Plume; available at Amazon.com

Fascinating and often bizarre true stories behind more than 130 urban legends about comic book culture

Was Superman a Spy? demystifies all of the interesting stories, unbelievable anecdotes, wacky rumors, and persistent myths that have piled up like priceless back issues in the seventy-plus years of the comic book industry, including:

· Elvis Presley’s trademark hairstyle was based on a comic book character (True)
· Stan Lee featured a gay character in one of Marvel’s 1960s war comics (False)
· Wolverine of the X-Men was originally meant to be an actual wolverine! (True)
· What would have been DC’s first black superhero was changed at the last moment to a white hero (True)
· A Dutch inventor was blocked from getting a patent on a process because it had been used previously in a Donald Duck comic book (True)

With many more legends resolved, Was Superman a Spy? is a must-have for the legions of comic book fans and all seekers of “truth, justice, and the American way.”

Not a comic book but an entertaining and informative book at those wacky comics and the even wackier stories behind their creation. Plenty of the content is brand new, but a percentage of the book collects favorites from Brian’s column Comic Book Legends Revealed. Some of it might be too enmeshed in the convoluted super-hero mythologies for newcomers, but it should be great for anyone returning to comics.