Nov 262014
 
Winterworld was a 3-issue miniseries by Chuck Dixon and artist Jorge Zaffino, originally published in 198- by Eclipse Comics. A post-Apocalyptic tale of survival, set in an unspecified future where the world is covered in ice and snow, the series featured some pretty savage action and brutal storytelling by Dixon & Zaffino.

The original miniseries - along with a previously unpublished sequel, Wintersea, by the same creative team, was recently published in trade paperback form by IDW Publishing, and Dixon has followed  that collection with a new, ongoing Winterworld comic book series. I've only read the first issue, but it was terrific, and I wouldn't hesitate to highly recommend both the trade collection and the new series to fans of hard-hitting action and adventure tales.

Here are the original Eclipse miniseries covers by Zaffino.


Nov 192014
 
In 1993 DC Comics published a 4-issue revival of their 1950 spy comic, Danger Trail. The '93 miniseries was written by Len Wein, and illustrated by Carmine Infantino and Frank McLaughlin. The story was a fairly shameless rip-off of various James Bond movies, and featured DC superspy King Faraday in an adventure pitting him against the supervillain Kobra.

It was enjoyable stuff, but highly derivative. Fortunately, DC had the good sense to hire comicdom's premiere spy artist, Paul Gulacy, to draw the dynamic, eye-catching covers. Check them out:

Nov 142014
 
Written By Chuck Dixon
Illustrated By Victor Toppi
3-Issues, B&W Comics Format

Eclipse Comics, 1992


Chuck Dixon has written a lot of crime comics. Most of them, though, have headlined such spandex-clad characters as Batman, The Punisher and Catwoman.

Mad Dogs, however, is a straight-up, no bullshit crime story; dark, brutal, action-packed, and with nary a cape nor cowl in sight.

Guy Brennan, an ex-cop booted from the force for rule-breaking and excessive force, is charged by the Philadelphia D.A.'s office with forming a special, quasi-official anti-crime unit. He proceeds to recruit four more loose cannons like himself and one sexy "Dirty Harriet," before setting his sights on bringing down an Asian drug dealer named Billy Lin. Without badges or warrants, his team swings into action, and before long, bullets are flying, blood is spraying, and it looks like his new team's days are numbered.

This is some hardcore stuff. When we first meet Brennan, he's sucking on the barrel of a .45, about to eat a bullet. Pretty much every member of his team is responsible for at least one dead criminal before they even join his squad, and the depiction of gang violence in the series is disturbingly realistic. Dixon's dialogue is tough and convincing, and characters are skillfully and economically established in a minimum of pages, leaving plenty of space for the elaborate action sequences.

Toppi's art is the very definition of "gritty," with intricately detailed linework bringing considerable texture and atmosphere to the urban jungle setting of Dixon's tale. The crumbling slums and dilapidated crackhouses are so lovingly rendered that you can almost smell the rot and decay.

On the down side, Toppi's storytelling can get a little muddled at times, and in a few places, poor placement of word balloons by the letterer made following the dialogue a little confusing. Overall, though, the book is nearly as satisfying visually as it is narratively.

According to Dixon:  "The genesis of this series is interesting.

"I was creating new properties for a Swedish publisher and they specifically asked for a very violent police thriller. When I handed it in they were horrified. They paid me but never published it. I offered it to Eclipse and they picked it up."

Mad Dogs is a mean, violent crime story with interesting – if not necessarily likable – characters that deserved a sequel (or two). Too bad that never happened. But in many ways, this feels like a warm-up for the tales Dixon would go on to tell in mainstream books like The Punisher, and those are worth reading, too.

Four out of Six Bullets
Nov 122014
 
This one is cool. It's the fourth volume of Tempo Books' late 70s paperback reprints of the Flash Gordon newspaper strips, and its cover features a rare, non-painted cover illustration by Boris Vallejo. I have several of Vallejo's art books, and I always thought that his freehand line drawings were more dynamic than most of his paintings, which often have a very "posed" quality. Since, according to those aforementioned books, he frequently painted using posed photos of models, that's probably not too surprising.

What I’m Reading

 Comics  Comments Off
Nov 082014
 
Currently, I'm working my way through several trade paperback collections of comics in several different genres: pulp crime, space opera and superhero action. I love 'em all.

First off, I recently ordered the trade collection of the Dick Tracy movie tie-in comics from Walt Disney, originally published back in 1990. "The Complete Truehearts and Tommy Guns Trilogy" collects the two movie prequels written by John Moore and the film adaptation, scripted by Len Wein. All three are illustrated by the amazing Kyle Baker, whose stylized cartooning both perfectly evokes and puts a fresh spin on the world of Chester Gould's classic comic strip.

The art is beautiful and lively, marred only by Disney's insistence that Detective Tracy look like movie star Warren Beatty. The story goes that the mercurial actor only approved a handful of drawings of his face, which were then used repeatedly in the comics, pasted in whenever the character showed his mug.

Also at hand is the Deadshot: Beginnings trade paperback from DC Comics, which collects the 80s miniseries penned by John Ostrander & Kim Yale, illustrated by Luke McDonnell. This Suicide Squad spin-off is sort of superhero noir, focusing on the high-tech hitman's grim backstory. Bleak stuff, but exceptionally well-done.

The book also includes a couple of the character's earlier comic book appearances battling Batman, including the classic Detective Comics #474 by Steve Englehart & Marshall Rogers.

Finally, there's Flash Gordon: The Complete Dailies November 1951- April 1953. Published back in '88. this volume showcases the first couple years' worth of Gordon strips by Dan Barry, written by Harvey Kurtzman. Barry wasn't enamored of the more fantasy, sword & planet approach of creator Alex Raymond, and with the syndicate's blessing, took the character in a more sci-fi, rocketships and rayguns direction. The artwork is astounding, and the stories are pure, space age pulp adventure... although the fantasy stuff does creep back in eventually.

These should keep me busy for at least a little while....
Nov 072014
 
Written by Devin O'Leary
Illustrated by Jason Waskey

2 Color, Graphic Novel

Comico, 1992


This slender, 48-page graphic novel from '92 is a bit of an oddity. It's a 40's-styled film noir pastiche with subtle sci-fi overtones that possesses some minor similarities to Alex Proyas' 1998 motion picture, Dark City.

Trench coat-clad P.I. Vin Dressler searches for a missing girl in an unnamed city/police state divided into a red sector and a blue sector, where it "rains every day." Like the aforementioned Dark City, the town has numerous billboards scattered around, advertising luxurious, tropical vacations, but no one seems to have ever left the city, nor does there appear to be any world beyond its borders.

The plot is thin and straightforward, the script by O'Leary rife with captions and dialogue loaded with the stereotyped similes and metaphors generally associated with private eye voice-overs. So loaded, in fact, that it's almost a parody of the Raymond Chandler style, though I somehow doubt that was the intent. The writer tries for a Kafka-esque tone of surreality, but is only partially successful. It's not terrible, just kind of half-baked.

The art by Waskey, apparently rendered in black & white pastels with occasional spots of red, is nicely done, atmospheric and moody, although there's a heavy reliance on photo reference. In fact, various noir icons make appearances in the book – copied directly from classic film stills – including Peter Lorre, Ingrid Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock. Some panels (the heavily referenced ones) are nicer than others, but the overall effect is quite pleasing, and is the book's main selling point.

For fans of classic film noir, Falls The Gotham Rain is a decent homage, but offers very little in the way of anything new. Its sci-fi elements are so slight as to be easily missed, and have little effect on the story itself, effectively amounting to nothing. Still, the art is nice, it's a quick read, and its heart seems to be in the right place.

If you stumble across a copy in a back issue bin somewhere, its worth picking up.

Three out of Six Bullets.
Nov 052014
 
One of my favorite comics of the 1980s - in fact, one of my favorite adventure comics ever - is Eclipse comics' revival of Forties WWII hero, Airboy. Under the guiding hands of editor/artist Timothy Truman and writer Chuck Dixon (who wrote all 50 issues of the series), the book built brilliantly on the legacy of the Charles Biro character, updating the concept for the Regan era.

IDW is currently re-issuing the series in handsome archive editions, and Truman - always one of my favorite comic book artists - has created striking new covers for the collections.


Oct 312014
 
Since today is Halloween, it seems appropriate to write something about the longest-running and many would say the best comic book series about a vampire ever published. I'm referring, of course, to Marvel's THE TOMB OF DRACULA, which ran for 70 issues from 1972 to 1979. Recently I've been reading THE ESSENTIAL TOMB OF DRACULA, VOLUME 1, which reprints in black-and-white the first 25 issues of
Oct 292014
 
And... here's the second Adam Hughes cover for Harris Comics' 1992 revival of the Warren classic, Vampirella. Nobody drew sexier women in the 90s than Hughes.

You know, I think I bought a tee-shirt with this image on it.
Oct 242014
 
Written by Jamie S. Rich
Illustrated by Joelle Jones

B&W, Hardcover Graphic Novel

Oni Press, 2009


Modern authors who attempt period private eye stories often end up turning out pale pastiche or unintentional parody. Or their stories are so heavily infused with the author's historical research that they read dry and artificial. What is often forgotten is that the private eye mystery - regardless of period - revolves around character more than plot. This is different from most other sub-genres of mystery fiction, where plot is all; a puzzle to be solved. In a P.I. story, it's all about people; their secrets, their motives, their passions.

Jamie Rich and Joelle Jones' You Have Killed Me is a private eye tale that remembers that, and is filled with deftly-drawn (in all senses of the word), richly-developed characters.

Private investigator Antonio Mercer is hired to find an old flame, a high society gal from his past, who has gone missing on the eve of her wedding to a down-on-his-luck gambler. It's no surprise that Mercer's investigation leads through smoky jazz clubs and dark back alleys, to various and sundry unsavory individuals, nor that it ultimately becomes very personal for our protagonist.

Rich's script is sharp, with terse dialogue and narrative captions that don't fall into the trap of trying to emulate Chandler's distinctive - and easily parodied - flair for simile. Instead, the first-person captions are employed sparsely and used to provide a bit of insight into Mercer's private worldview. The story treads very familiar ground, but that's okay - while familiar, it is feels fresh and is skillfully constructed.

Jones' art is clean and well-composed. Backgrounds are occasionally sketchy, but the characters are all distinctive and expressive, and her storytelling is clear and cinematic. Overall, it's beautiful stuff.

Oni Press has done a really nice job on the production of the book, with striking, attractive graphic design and high-quality paper and binding. It's a truly gorgeous book.

You Have Killed Me is an excellent period P.I. tale, extremely well told. Highly recommended.

Six Out of Six Bullets.