February 11, 2014

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Rob M's Single Minded for 2/5/14: Dredd and Adventure Time Keep "Flip"-ing for Book of the Week

Note: You may have noticed that there's more than one Single Minded column going up now. That's because James, the newest member of the team, is also working, for lack of a better term, the weekly comics beat with me. At some point, there may be some consolidation but for now, they'll remain separate. This past week, James found out that what starts as a short review can quickly run long (I know the feeling!) so this is the only one for the week of February 5th.  

Okay, let's move on to what was a very good week for certain comics, leading off with IDW's unbelievably good 2000AD spin-off mini-series...

Judge Dredd Mega-City 2 2
Written by Douglas Wolk
Illustrated by Ulises Farinas and Ryan Hill
Published by IDW

It's Judge Dredd as you've never seen him before--kinda--as he infiltrates a gang of bikers and discovers that Mega-City 2 is hiding secrets from its East Coast Cousin in another explosive, hysterical, and well-drawn issue of this mini-series.

I've already gone on at length about how good this series is with issue one, so I'm not going to repeat myself here. Farinas's art once again just blew me away with its attention to detail, such as creating an elaborate snake-like thing in the back of a splash page, just because it looked cool to do so. His Dredd disguise, which finds him on a bad-ass bike and dressed like a hipster's idea of a biker gang, is exactly what you'd expect the no-nonsense lawman to come up with. Ryan Hill helps a ton here, making the colors mis-matched to show just how off-kilter the pretense of Dredd-in-disguise is.

It works, of course, because it's funnier that way, and Dredd soon rises to the top of the heap--literally--after challenging for supremacy so he can wrap up the case as quickly as possible. It's bloody, explosive, and throws everyone off their game, which is exactly what Dredd wants. He's learning that criminals are hiding in Mega-City 2 and that the Judges there don't seem so concerned about that, a key plot point that's nicely layered into the out-and-out fun of the issue's story.

In a series with a lot to like (such as Matt Groening Easter Eggs or the Kirby-Ditko style breakdown of a Mega-City 2 traffic knot or that nearly every character in a crowd scene gets a face of some kind), that might be the best thing about this one so far: Wolk is telling stories in each issue as well as giving us an overall arc. That's a lost art in this age of "it will read better in the trade" and combined with the linework and coloring, makes this arguably the best book coming out right now. In fact, it's biggest competition is...

Adventure Time: The Flip Side 2
Written by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover
Illustrated by Wook Jin Clark and Whitney Cogar
Published by Boom! Studios

Finn and Jake and...the Ice King(!?) must find a way into a well-guarded museum (we know because it says so) to get a jewel to save the land of Ooo but despite some sweet moves things are just getting worse in this series that just keeps getting better.

Tobin and Coover, no strangers to caper comics, put their skills to work in plotting out this heist that goes horribly wrong, as the unlikely trio (along with Ice King's faithful penguin Gunter) weaves their way through extensive security after a set-piece that uses the old "What about me?" gag to great effect. Their dialogue feels like it came right out of the show, from sarcastic asides to over-the-top pronouncements that are laugh out loud funny.

Clark's art is unbelievable here. As good as the last issue was, this one's even better. His Jake is all over the place, doing everything from making ladders to just emoting vividly the words given him by Tobin and Coover. Giving no heed to proportion, Clark's panels explode out at the reader, bigger than life. Finn's eyebrows don't even stay on his head if he reacts in shock, and the scenes where the Ice King explains things to his young companions are one visual joke after another, whether it's feeding frozen cats or literally picking flowers.

Really, if you aren't reading this, you just hate yourself. Please don't hate yourself--pick up a copy.

Knuckleheads 5
Written by Brian Winkeler
Illustrated by Robert Wilson IV and Jordan Boyd
Published by Monkeybrain

Our band of unlikely heroes might not even make it out a diner alive, and it's not just the food quality as the visual and verbal gags mix with a new wrinkle in the plot in the latest issue.

While our super-powered loser drops trow, the pizza guy thinks quickly and we learn that tartar sauce is a deadly weapon. It's madcap and silly and totally fits the tone of the book, as Winkeler's comedic timing works well with Wilson IV's visuals. My favorite might be the homage to Richard Stark's Parker, when the British girl puts up her fists and calls them lethal weapons.

Once we wrap up with the criminals, the story moves out to a mysterious stranger with eyes that remind me of Rafer Robert's Plastic Farm, both because Wilson IV, like Roberts, uses wide, narrow eyes and the infinity that hides behind them. It seems that our rag-tag band is about to get involved in a major war--whether they want to or not!

As with the prior issues, Wilson IV's art is a lot of fun to linger over, whether it's panels of slapstick reaction shots in tight close-ups or seeing someone weird a condiment dispenser like it was a machine gun. With Boyd's realistic but bright colors, his linework shines, even if it is a bit stiffer than usual here. This one's beena  lot of fun so far, and I'm looking forward to more.

Lobster Johnson: Get the Lobster 1
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Illustrated by Tonci Zonjic and Dave Stewart
Published by Dark Horse Comics

A pair of wrestlers wreak havoc to lure out Lobster Johnson as this new story gets started in another corner of the Hellboy Universe.

I've spoken before at Newsarama about how I think Mignola is a bit over-extended, and this is a good case of it. This issue, despite having the bloody action of the wrestlers on a crime spree, just felt extremely padded to me. They're clearly just fodder for the bigger plan, which we don't get enough of to start guessing about, unless there's a clue missing from not having read every prior Lobster Johnson adventure, in which case that's a problem in and of itself. The Lobster doesn't seem all that different from any pulp-era crime fighter, either, which doesn't help.

I did like Zonjic's art, which strays very far from the Mignola style and allows him to work freely without trying to emulate the iconic artist's work. His wrestlers are bold and menacing (I was gonna say "big" but one is a midget) and Stewart's coloring on the red mask is stark compared to the muted pallet used for the rest of the comic. He also has one character look like Peter Lorre, and I fully approve of that.

Whenever we see the wrestlers, this one really pops, as Zonjic's layouts are varied, creative, and pick the best moment to show the reader (such as the larger one ripping through the roof of a car). But that's just not enough to make this one worth recommending to all but the most hard-core Hellboy-reading fans.

Haunted Horror 9
Writers Unknown
Illustrated by Vince Napoli, Cal Massey, Jack Abel, Iger Shop, Lin Streeter, and Bob McCarty
Published by IDW

IDW publishes a different kind of Mars Attacks story than their ongoing series to lead off a set of reprints that were not as good this time around, either in plot, art, or both.

Ghosts from Mars, from Dark Mysteries 3 (October-November 1951) features panels that are just too busy to get a clear picture of what was going in the story as artist Vince Napoli just isn't up to the task of portraying thousands of Martian corpses "invading" Earth. There's just no life or variety, despite a rather creepy premise.

Absent-Minded Professor has a great splash page from artists cal Massey and Jack Abel, with its narrator sitting on a pile of well-detailed skulls, but this story, from Horror from the Tomb 1 (September 1951), is horribly sexist from start to finish, which is a shame because the art team really nails the implied terror of watching your new husband slowly peel himself apart. But the dialogue is tin-eared and covers too much of the illustrations.

Journey into Fear 15 (September 1953) included Return of the Ghoul, about a man who rises from the grave only to find he's going to be hounded until he gets back where he belongs. There's some dark comedy in scenes such as the Beatles-hair coiffed skeleton tapping a lady on the shoulder asking for help and I liked the way he tries to create a body for himself. Overall, though, this one's just okay, with the constant rain drawn by Iger Shop making it a bit hard to read.

The Survivors! from Tomb of Terror 6 (November 1952) is just plain awful. Joe Certa must have been under horrible deadline pressure on this one, because it's just really rushed, with little sense of inking and extremely stiff, almost stock panel construction. Props for making the monsters look a bit like Tor Johnson, though.

The Beyond 22 (September 1953) takes us to a greedy coal mine owner, who kills his crew but gets his own reward when it turns out unsafe conditions aren't the only thing plaguing the shaft. Lin Streeter's art is distinctive here because of the thickly inked lines that are in every panel, whether as explosion lines, cave walls, or flames. The problem is that since they're in every panel, there's no variety, and the use of so many medium looks keeps the reader away from the action.

Horror-Go-Round, featured in Strange Stories from Another World 2 (August 1952), is an extended story featuring a ghoulish merry-go-round and two brothers who become overly fascinated with it, much to their everlasting regret. There's some really strong art on this one, as Bob McCarty changes from close-ups to long shots, moves the reader's eye from place to place in each panel, and makes the "horses" on the ride truly horrific. It's easily the best story, even if the reveal is a typical Golden-Age Gotcha.

Overall, this one was okay, but probably just for the hard-core pre-code horror fan.

Shadowman 15
Written by Peter Milligan
Illustrated by Roberto de la Torre, Al Barrionuevo, Brian Level, David Baron and John Rauch
Published by Valiant Entertainment

Jack Boniface is coming apart at the seams, fighting the rogue Loa in his head and those who wish to kill him, both from the human race and that of the spirit world in an issue that's a bit overly dark visually but otherwise is very strong.

Normally I'd complain about how there were five artists on a single monthly comic, but they actually come together pretty well here, partly because the coloring from Baron and Rauch is a bit heavy-handed, so seeing the details of the linework is impossible. That's a backhanded compliment, I admit, but I really do hate it when a comic that's supposed to be taking place at night or in the shadows is colored like this. A comic needs to be clear for the reader, with darkness used as a plot point, not just to invoke a mood.

It's a shame, because what we do see is very well created. The designs on the spirits are creepy, and the magical whip that's made out of the backs of runaway slaves is about the most horrific thing I've seen in a comic this side of an Alex de Campi-penned tale. Milligan's description hits all the right notes, giving it a credible history and a horrible present.

Meanwhile, Jack struggles to keep it together, and this latest attack might be all he needs to give in completely, no matter how much Alyssa cares for him. She's played for a fool here, but there's so much misdirection and deception going on in this title now that it's hard to blame her.

Shadowman is working within the darkest edges of comics, but doing it well, and fans of horror would do well to check it out. Once the art settles in, this has the potential to be a strong run from Milligan and de la Torre.

That was what stood out for me last week that I didn't hit for 'Rama. How about you?