Single Minded for 3/5: Valiant Gets My Goat and Other Comics

Hello again, folks! I'm continuing my catch-up work with some comics that caught my eye from March 5th. It's highlighted by the third issue of Tobin, Coover, Clark, and Cogar's Adventure Time mini...

Adventure Time The Flip Side 3
Written by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover
Illustrated by Wook Jin Clark and Whitney Cogar
Published by Boom! Studios

Finn and Jake Wasteland no time trying to find a hare-brained way to wave the land of Ooo in yet another great issue of this mini-series that is the best use of the Adventure Time characters I’ve seen so far in a comic.

Refusing to be completely linear in the narrative, Tobin and Coover once again put us in the middle of the action, this time teamed with Marceline, whose vampire powers frequently save the day with amazing exaggerations by Clark. The plot of this issue is self-contained within a larger framework, and is filled with the usual collection of puns, silly jokes, and a few lines for the adults in the room (like Jake flipping through an unseen magazine quipping, “Oh, I’m Looking”). This time around, our heroes are out to see if they can find a lost pet to return the verve of the only person who can save everyone. To do it, they must venture into a land of outlaws and creatures that get sillier by the page.

Wook Jin Clark’s art is outstanding as usual, with his rubbery characters, little touches (such as drawing a rubble monster to share Marvel’s The Thing patterns while Finn complains about things being “grim”), and ability to sell the jokes that the writing pair come up with. I adore his Marceline, who freely ranges from pretty Goth to horrifying monster at the drop of a hat as the story requires it. There’s so many great touches, like Ice King losing out in a Princess stealing awards show or Finn trying to emulate Marceline and failing badly, that show the creative team working in perfect harmony.

Whether it’s hatching a really insane scheme, fighting an epic battle, or running away, this is Adventure Time at its best. There’s car chases, giant rabbits, a wily villain, and even a fart joke. What more can you ask for? If you haven’t gotten to read this one yet, stop hating yourself and do it.

Quantum and Woody 0
Story by James Asmus and Tom Fowler
Illustrated by Tom Fowler, Allen Passalaqua, and Matt Milla
Published by Valiant Entertainment

The secret origin of Woody's destructive goat finds it has closer ties to the boys than they realize in a one-shot return by Tom Fowler to the series he helped reboot.

Zero issues are a tricky thing, and not just for frustrated collectors who have to figure out how to keep their comics in sequence. Going back in time sometimes leads to unfortunate retcons and other problems. Not so here, partly because of how close this comes to the start of the series, and partly because Asmus and Fowler are the creators here.

As per usual, the issue is filled with as many comedic moments the creators can pack into a little over twenty pages. We open with our dynamic duo trying to get rid of the goat, who destroys everything it can. Soon, it's reflecting on its adventurous life, escaping from its farm and winding up in the middle of a scientific expo where their father and the villains from the first arc are both lurking. The ending gives us a hint at a future plot point which should be hysterical if/when Asmus gets back to it.

The fun and joy in this series comes from the fact that nothing is off-limits, and the horrendously racist things that the evil clone woman comes up with ("Ebony Tesla" at one point had me on the floor) are a highlight. Dancing on that razor's edge is no mean feat for Asmsus, but the fact that anything and everything gets lampooned (including the reader, if they don't know Spanish!) makes it work. The verbal interplay of the younger Woody (who wants to deathrace his goat against Eric's) is perfect, and the body language given to everyone in the comic by Fowler helps time the verbal gags just right. In some cases, he drives the entire comedy, such as when the goat encounters everything from a football team to bigfoot.

It's a winning combination that just keeps on going strong. I'm sure this ride will have to end as the series gets integrated into the wider, more serious Valiant world, but while it lasts, anyone who likes comics with humor in them absolutely must start picking this one up. It's comedy gold every time.

Starlight 1
Written by Mark Millar
Illustrated by Goran Parlov and Ive Svorcina
Published by Image Comics

When he was young, Duke was an Air Force pilot with a fantastic story of an alien world he could never return to, but circumstances change at the end of his life in this intriguing first issue that caught me by surprise.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about Mark Millar's work. For every perfect deconstruction of the Marvel Universe (the first two trades of the Ultimates are the best example of this I've ever seen), there's the veiled racism and ultra violence of Kick Ass. But if there's one thing being a part of Newsarama's review team taught me, it's to give everything a fair shake* so I figured I'd give this one a shot.

I'm glad I did because at least in this opening salvo, there's a lot to like. Duke had an amazing adventure and a chance to rule with a gorgeous woman by his side, but he gives it up to return to the life he's always known, only to face derision for it (which we discover in an uncharacteristically subtle way by Millar, via a series of newspaper cuttings). The story picks up when the reason for Duke's decision dies of breast cancer, leaving him with uncaring children and a future of misery--until the unexpected ending, which sets up the series.

Parlov's a new name for me, but I'm going to be watching for him in the future. His style is perfect for this comic, mixing a heavy dose of Howard Chaykin with just a bit of P. Craig Russell for the science fiction elements. His characters emote well, and are drawn square and heroic--even Duke, despite his advanced age, looks like a character ready for action. His backgrounds set the scenes perfectly, whether it's fantastical spires and space ships or the mundane pictures framed in a bedroom of a longstanding couple. Combined with just the right unrealistic/realistic set of colors from Svorcina, the art on this one really pops.

Starlight is a potential sleeper hit, and I'm looking forward to more.

Archer and Armstrong 18
Written by Fred Van Lente
Illustrated by Pere Perez and David Baron
Published by Valiant Entertainment

Archer tries to shoot straight with Bloodshot but misses his mark in this first issue of a crossover that doesn’t play to writer Van Lente’s strengths but still works pretty well, all things considered.

This opening salvo in a crossover that pushes the diametrically opposite duo into Bloodshot’s crosshairs actually went better than I expected, as Van Lente is allowed to use Armstrong to keep the comedy flowing, as the immortal man kegs out while Archer gets down to business. It’s a great ploy that lets Project Rising Spirit go after the team by dividing and conquering, but because the rest has to be pretty darn serious, I miss the outrageous jokes and pokes at the various right-wing organizations of America and the wider world.
There’s some good plotting in this one, and Fred has a pretty good handle on Bloodshot and how his own history is going to make him sympathetic to Archer’s recently revealed origin. How this crossover uses that link will be key to its success.

Pere Perez is back, and I love seeing him on this book. His facial expressions match Van Lente’s dialogue perfectly, whether it’s a snide remark or a discussion in the heat of battle. He has some great panel structure work in this one, such as when Archer and Bloodshot mirror each other’s actions. Even the star on Archer’s chest is placed so that when he’s fighting Bloodshot, we notice the similarity to the red circle on the nanite-infused killer’s own shirt.

The battle scenes are just amazing, picking the right moment to highlight a punch or a firefight. In fact, Archer’s agility (he’s positively Spider-Man-esque here) really shines in a way I don’t think we’ve seen before.

I miss the old comedic style of this book, which seems to have shifted to Quantum and Woody. But if we do need to go darker, this is the way to do it. I’m looking forward to part two in the pages of Bloodshot soon.

Bad Blood 3
Written by Jonathan Maberry
Illustrated by Tyler Crook
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Trick and Lolly look for help to stop the vampires who are poised for a bloody return to humanity in a third issue that gives the overall story more depth and promise.

The first two parts to this story didn’t do a lot to wow me. I liked the idea of what happens when a leukemia patient is bitten by a vampire, but the rest of the story was so dire and, frankly, so stereotypical (still a problem), that I didn’t put it on the review pile before. Despite piling on the clichés again this issue (Lolly is a junkie who was abused by her father, which turned her to vampire worship), the idea that people perceived as broken by the rest of humanity might be their only hope against a rising vampire threat is enough of a neat idea to get me to keep going with this one.

Maberry’s plotting and pacing are decent, as there’s nice ebb and flow to the action here, and the build up to the climactic battle worked well for me. But the dialogue is really rough. The two characters are still pretty self-loathing, and the references to other vampire-hunting concepts doesn’t do it any favors. The Vampire speak in speeches that belong in old Bronze Age comics, and there’s just something overall that feels unnatural about the give and take between Trick, Lolly, and their world.

Crook’s vampires are pretty creepy looking, and he does a solid job of getting the atmosphere right for a dire story about broken people. His character designs are fluid and they wear clothing that fits for a visual impression of the underside of society. There’s some great expression work on the faces of his figures and some of the set pieces (like Trick holding Lolly in a dumpster after getting the crap kicked out of them by a vampire) are picture-perfect. Unfortunately, the coloring work is in the “bland brown” style, which mutes the impact because the general background visual is rarely different from page to page.

Bad Blood has its flaws, and they may be too much for you. I’ll see where it goes from here, but I’m open to it growing on me.

*Which I try to do. But there are a few creators who are on the permanent ban list.