Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Green Room" is a violent thrill ride into a Skinhead world nightmare



A pretty violent movie about the detriments of finding yourself at the wrong place at the wrong time. It comes off as a modern day Deliverance; however, no one quite gets to squeal like a pig (although  the late Anton Yelchin's character comes pretty close at one point). The movie looks great, with a predominant green-filtered look, and the director Jeremy Saulnier, who also made the underrated Blue Ruin, shows that he's the real deal with some rare talent. In both of his movies, he has managed to tell a great story, with more tension, suspense and terrific acting, in 95 minutes or less, than most movies that are at least half-an-hour longer. Here's hoping that modern cinema is movies under 100 minutes, and not the horribly overproduced, over-written and super-long Hollywood disasters such as Batman vs Superman, The Lone Ranger and John Carter, to name just a few. The future of quality movies lies in great storytelling and memorable characters, not in overblown running times. If it were only so easy, though.
A-

Thursday, June 23, 2016

"They're Not Like Us: Black Holes for the Young" is a pretentious exercise in abstract conversation



They're Not Like Us is truly unique experience of a comic book series.  It is at once fascinating and intriguing, but that feeling doesn't last more than a few minutes.  After the completion of the first Trade Paperback, Black Holes for the Young (which collects the first six monthly issues), is an abstract, existential and a bit too philosophical work to be entertaining, and as a result it's simply a headache inducing bore.

There are several characters that one can easily equally despise in Black Holes for the Young, but I suppose at the center of all these pretentious douchebags is a girl called Syd, a suicidal, telepathic rebellious teenager/young adult who has mental powers she's not even aware of.   After a failed attempt of trying to take her own life, she is taken out of a hospital by a mysterious man, referred to by everyone as The Voice, and then brought back to his mansion somewhere in San Francisco.  There, she will meet other rich, annoying and self absorbed douchebags, all who have some sort of psychic and telepathic abilities which elevate them above the rest of the human population, who are clearly their inferiors.  We know this, because they all spend countless pages just talking about how great they are, and how terrible everyone else is, and how they will make the world a better place, and blah blah blah.

Writer Eric Stephenson creates a world where there isn't one single likable character.  Syd, for all her initial goodness, appears confused in this spider's web she finds herself in, clearly out of her element, and surrounded by people who don't give a shit about anyone else.  Just how exactly Stephenson plans on developing a long-term series out of that terrible of a concept is beyond me, but perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.  The artwork, by Simon Gane and Jordie Bellaire, is just as bland and unimpressive; the characters appear as if they're missing souls altogether, which would be ok, if this was a Robert Kirkman serial about the Zombie apocalypse, but alas, 'tis not so.

I read comics all the time.  In a single week, I'll average about 4 or 5 different Trade Paperbacks from various series.  I can honestly say that They're Not Like Us: Black Holes for the Young is the worst thing I've ever read from the American comic book market.  Never have I looked forward to turning the final page more than last night, as my brain and eyes took a beating they will never recover from. Perhaps this material is simply above my IQ level, or perhaps it's way, way below it.  What can I say... I'm not like them at all!
D-





Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"Lazarus" volume 1, Family, is an updated version of Game of Thrones' conflict among the elite



Forever Carlyle is a true badass.  I mean, if there was a movie about her, she'd be played by Michelle Rodriguez, no doubt, with just the right amount of attitude and necessary violence (it is no wonder the actress is a fan of this series, for she probably already sees herself as the heroine in question).  Forever isn't exactly human: she's a hybrid of woman and robot, and as a result, is practically invincible.  In other words, she's a Lazarus.  I'd hate to be the guy who stands her up, or even hints at playing with her emotions.

Writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark's Lazarus: Family is the first Trade Paperback of this serial, which is original and engrossing aplenty to keep one turning the pages.  We are introduced to a world of the future where food is scarce, and only the powerful and rich families are able to get by; the remaining citizens on the planet are simply scavengers and petty criminals who've barely enough to eat.  The Morray family is quarreling with the Carlyles over crops and theft and what not, and this is leading to a near conflict.  Consequently, one of the sons, Jonah Carlyle, insists on starting a war with Morrays, a suggestion his patriarch brushes off, especially when he sends Forever on an important assignment, neglecting Jonah in the process.  The conflict that ensues is nearly equivalent to the one we see on HBO's Game of Thrones on a weekly basis, where the rich and the powerful begin to wage war against each other over petty differences such as titles, bragging rights and pure jealousy.

Rucka does an impressive job of creating a whole new world that we're not necessarily used to, and even better characters who are more human than they first appear.  Lark's illustrations are murky and a bit fuzzy, but still more or less perfect for an action series such as Lazarus.   Based on the cover of the first issue - which is what attracted me to this series to begin with - Lazarus delivers action, blood, double crosses, betrayal and best of all, great drama.  In other words, it's goes about its business as well as it possibly could.
A-

Sunday, June 19, 2016

"Unfollow" is an Anti-Social Network, intertwined with an assassins-filled Tarantinoesque movie




Larry Ferrell is a super-wealthy social media mogul worth over $18 billion.  But diagnosed with a terminal illness that leaves him shriveled and hairless on a sure deathbed, he decides to give away his entire fortune equally to some lucky 140 random people.  These multi-billion fortune future heirs are as diverse and distant from one another as can be, and their interaction with each other will determine who will live and who will die, for the last person standing at the end will walk away with the entire $18 billion to themselves.

The people we meet are unique and have almost character-defining origins.  There is Dave from St. Louis, a thug who often hallucinates panthers or leopards; Courtney is a wealthy New York socialite, who spends her time skydiving just above Manhattan; Ravan is an Iranian journalist who's been abused and tortured by soldiers; there's Deacon, a Grizzly Adams looking former special ops soldier, whose recluse in the Alaskan wilderness is interrupted by him winning the so-called "Golden ticket" as one of heirs to Ferrell's fortune; and there's also Akira, a Japanese intellectual with prosthetic legs and a tattooed face.  They have all been brought over to the Bahamas, Ferrell's residence, by the mogul's often masked assistant, Mr. Rubinstein, in order to be informed of their inheritance's rules and requirements.

As written by Rob Williams and illustrated Michael Dowling (the cover by Matt Taylor is also great), Unfollow is a well imagined contemporary thriller involving our infatuation and dependency of social media on a minute-to-minute basis.   The story is well told, without much confusion, and for the most part it's entertaining enough to follow, since its ultimate conclusion does intrigue me.  The characters talk the real talk, rather than the written kind, and the artwork is detailed and very engaging.  After reading the first volume, I can't say I'm overwhelmed, but I'm not bored, either.  It has left me curious as to where it will go from here, and as a result, I won't be unfollowing it.
B

"Popstar" is all too familiar, and its wit is a bit too little, too late



After numerous mockumentaries from the last few decades - or should I say, "rockumentaries" - Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping arrives at the scene tardy by just too many decades, even if its subject matter is rather contemporary.  I can't honestly recall another such genre film that was actually funny other than the one Rob Reiner directed that started it all way back in 1984, This is Spinal Tap.  But not only are the jokes stale (the only one at which I laughed out loud is a song called Fuck Bin Laden, which is hysterical in more ways than one), the subject matter, which is clearly based on Justin Bieber's over-the-top-lifestyle, is redundant: we don't actually need a movie to spoof Bieber, for his life already is a joke among most adults the world over, despite his high financial success.  Result is a movie that feels too long even at mere 80-plus minutes.  Andy Samberg continues to appear in below average films, both commercially and critically, and I suppose he always has his TV success to fall back upon.  Honestly, most people with his poor big screen track record should feel lucky to still be employed, regardless of the medium.
C

Saturday, June 18, 2016

"Emelie" is below average - for a 'babysitter from hell' premise (Bolger is hot, though!)



She might smile and have the general appearance of a nice, loving and considerate babysitter, but make no mistake, Emelie is a strange girl.  When she's not showing the three children their parents' home-made porn, then she's feeding one of their dear hamsters to the eldest son's snake, or even playing with a real firearm right in front of them. Emelie is definitely atmospheric, but it's also so very low budget that the director couldn't afford to show any real shock or horror: whenever something terrible or violent or bloody was about to happen, the editor cut out of the scene, leaving us to mentally imagine the possible horror.  In some movies this ploy is effective, but in this one, alas, it isn't: it's a good idea made without much imagination. As sexy and mysterious as Emelie may see (Sarah Bolger is quite the vixen, if you ask me), director Michael Thelin simply never has her do anything more daring than a drunk and disorderly frat party may bring out of one of their guests.  This is a film well conceived, but perhaps executed without anyone having taken any real chances.  It may as well be rated PG, for it comes off more family friendly than a dark Harry Potter movie.
C

Thursday, June 16, 2016

"Hellboy: Wake the Devil" places the red demon hero in a longer narrative with memorable villains



Unlike the previous issue of Hellboy issue that I read, which featured several shorter stories and vignettes of Mike Mignola's favorite BPRD agent, Wake the Devil is a longer narrative than I'm used to seeing.   Not only that, but it features - for a change - villains that are somewhat memorable, and foes that Hellboy will struggle in defeating.  After all, what would be the point if he was smashing right through everyone, right?

Wake the Devil introduces us to new villains, such as Ilsa Haupstein, a former Nazi, and Vladimir Giurescu, an immortal who can be healed by moonlight alone, to name just a few.  It also brings back the irreplaceable Rasputin, the antagonist from Seed of Destruction, who is a villain in more than one comic these days (he also makes appearance in the Hugo Pratt's Corto Maltese series).  Hellboy will naturally fight these villains and other demons and monsters, just as he typically does with his large right hand made of stone, punching everything that approaches him straight into oblivion.

Also typical of Mike Mignola's artistic style, the action scenes appear chopped up and out of sync, because apparently Mignola edits his comics a bit too much, almost to the point where what we see does not make a lot of sense, at least when it comes to one frame transitioning smoothly into the next.  This has been an problem in previous episodes, and continues to be still.  I suppose we could just call this a Mignola effect, and strip any negative connotation we may otherwise have with such a style away altogether.   No need to call a duck something else, if all we want is to hear it quack.

This episode is still a step up for this series, which continues to improve with each new issue.  I'm still not crazy about it as a whole, and part of me feels bad, because I honestly want to like it, since Hellboy is a very likable character.  But the stories themselves are simply not very clever,  recycling the same-old-same-old "Nazis wanting to wake up demons and ghouls from the underworld" storyline to the point of exhaustion.  They come across as something that was written for either a novel format or the big screen, but definitely not for comic book readers above the age of 12.  At least not a comic that features Mignola's inconsistent artistic style.
B-


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Disney's "The Jungle Book" is a faithful adaptation of Kipling's novel, with imagination to spare



A pretty imaginative and faithful adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's book, which now, for the first time, has a worthy live-film version. Jon Favreau is the last person I would expect to pull of this miraculous feat of the ultimate jungle adventure, where animals talk freely with a human boy, something that even Babe movies didn't incorporate (there animals only talked to each other). The jungle looks like a mix of an African rainforest and a North American wilderness, where Tigers, large Pythons and Bears co-exist together, but I suppose there's no need to nitpick. The newcomer Neel Sethi does a good job acting against green screen - he never interacts with anyone who was actually there, as he's the only human in the film - and he's more or less a perfect choice to play Mowgli. So we have good casting, perfect voice choices for main animal characters (Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba and Bill Murray), excellent scenery, and cinematography that is a perfect combination of live action and CGI. An impressive pre-summer movie that has managed to be better than any blockbuster that's followed it so far.
A-

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"30 Days of Night: Return to Barrow" takes us back to eternal night in the northernmost of all places



Barrow, Alaska is a cold place, and during certain times of the year, it is also an extremely dark place.  The sun goes away for a few months, and all that's left is eternal night, complimented by bloodthirsty vampires, who are looking to feast on anyone and everyone stupid enough to stay there during the frozen darkness.  And even though it's happened before, residents of Barrow will stubbornly still stick around, believing that if it has happened before, it can't possibly happen again.  Or can it?

As Brian Kitka arrives in Barrow as the town's new sheriff, he brings along his young son, Marcus.  With the daylight waning, the cold intensifies, and strange people, dressed in dark clothing, show up  to threaten the locals.  They appear to have fangs for teeth, and funny looking eyes.  It's deja-vu all over again for writer Steve Niles and artist Ben Templesmith's series, 30 Days of Night.  Whereas the previous sequel, Dark Days, changed the setting from frozen Alaska to the sunny Los Angeles, this episode, Return to Barrow, takes us all the way back to the original episode's setting, including its storyline, which feels more or less the same.

The artwork continues to be a nuisance of incomprehensibility and murkiness.  Templesmith's technique is high on gloss and has perhaps a little too much style; what it doesn't have is characters that one can identify easily.  At the very end, when Brian's son is saved from the vampires by two mysterious figures, it's hard to tell who exactly these saviors are (although we can suspect who they might be).

Either way, the story reads quickly, as the text is minimal, giving the entire six-issue storyline a dark and confusing look, much like its predecessors.  It's instantly a blessing and a curse for this series to have Templesmith as the iconic artist with such unique style: as great as some pages may look, the other indecipherable ones are even more frustrating, for our eyes often can't make out what the writer and artist are trying to show us.  Plus, I kinda wish that they'd have taken us back somewhere other than Barrow, but hey, that's perhaps a subject for next episode's review.
C

Monday, June 13, 2016

"The Nice Guys" is a swell throwback to the 1970s cop buddy movies and TV shows...



Typical of a Shane Black's action-mystery movie writing, this movie puts two men in a situation where they have to work together for the greater good, resulting in plenty of wise cracks, one-liners and general stupidity that's a product of one of the leads being drunk half the time. Russell Crowe reminds me a bit of that Bud White cop he played way back in 1997's L.A. Confidential, before he first rose to fame: he is tough, capable of brutality, but deep down, he's a swell dude. Ryan Gosling is the opposite of his quintessential, nameless Mr. Cool guy he played in Drive: a dumb and fly-by-the-seat-his-pants single dad, who's actually a better father than he is a private eye, but hey... nobody's perfect. The script is clever most of the time, and the chemistry between the two leads works well enough to make this worthwhile; however, if given a choice, I'd catch this on DVD/Blu Ray instead of the theaters. It's a good movie, but nothing you'll remember more than a month from now. You've been warned.
B

Sunday, June 12, 2016

"Nailbiter: Blood in the Water" threads in the same place w/out advancing the narrative all that much



There's blood.  And violence.  A man even gets chopped to pieces in front of Agent Barker, so much so that she begins to have delusions of grandeur when it comes to thirst for blood.  And Agent Finch even begins to eat his own fingernails just to get a reaction out of Edward "Nailbiter" Warren, the infamous serial killer from Oregon who slipped through the cracks of the judicial system, and whom he's trying to torture in order to uncover certain secrets about just why so many serial killers originate from here.  Nailbiter: Blood in the Water gives us a lot of spooky imagery, but it somehow doesn't drive forward the narrative structure (with the exception of hinting at who's whose father, mother or daughter; such a revelation hardly has much significance at this point).

Writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson keep plugging away with their serial killer capital of the world - Buckaroo - where all sorts of murders still take place, and in which Nicholas Finch, aided by the local sheriff Crane, tries to uncover the mystery of how his associate Carroll came to have his arms and legs chopped off, which resulted in him ending up in a (temporary?) coma.   There's also Father Fairgold, and his vigilante church group, dressed in matching yellow and red robes, and resembling a holy superhero troupe.  And let's not forget the ominous dark figure in a devilish mask, protecting his identity from anyone who may see him, all the while freely slicing through them with his large machete.  These elements all add up to create a dynamic series of scenes, full of mad energy, albeit with less tension and true suspense than Williamson had hoped for.  Henderson's artwork, at least, is consistent, and not as distracting than some of the less-than-inspired writing we read here.

The most interesting element of this third volume is Agent Barker's fantasizing about violence and murder, an idea that seems fitting, given this small Oregon town's ability to spawn so many blood-thirsty murderers thus far in its existence.  Will Finch and Crane finally crack the Buckaroo code and get to the bottom of it all?  Will Warren show them the secret of the town's history and tell them why he's ended up the way he has?  Will Williamson and Henderson finally give us a volume of Nailbiter that's worthy of all the hype?  I suppose I'll find that out in the next issue, although you'll have to excuse me if I don't exactly run to the comic book stores in anticipation.
C+


Saturday, June 11, 2016

"Harrow County: Twice Told" expands on Emmy's dark universe...



Harrow County is a creep, atmospheric comic.  I felt this way months ago when I read the first volume, Countless Haints, and I'm even more sure of it now.  The follow up, Twice Told, introduces new characters, including Emmy's long lost twin sister, Kammi, whose soul unfortunately isn't made up of the same, kind material.  It is a very effective and engrossing tale of good vs evil where both entities originate from the same bloodline, which makes their conflict all the more dramatic.

Cullen Bunn (writer) and Tyler Crook (artist) continue to build on the Harrow County universe they've set up in the first issue, and expand the witch mythology with great detail and just the right amount of heart.  Bunn's realization of Kammi - who suddenly appears in Harrow County one day and introduces herself to Emmy as her twin sister - feels authentic, as she's the complete antithesis of her kind and considerate sister.  Kammi ultimately is the archetype of a modern professional woman who's so power hungry she doesn't even realize how fallible she really is, and Crook illustrates the various emotions on her face with perfect conviction.  It took someone as powerful as Hester Beck's corpse to drag Kammi down from this world and into hell, a feat that proves only true evil can ever really bring another evil down.

Of all the Dark Horse comics on the market right now, I can honestly say that Harrow County is my favorite.  It is a simple tale, but full of fascinating theories about various evils and underworlds that may exist right under our noses.  Emmy is also a terrific heroine, a young woman that the upcoming generation should admire and look up, for her heart and soul truly appear to be completely resistant to power and corruption.
A-


Friday, June 10, 2016

"Superman: Earth One" Volume 1 is the early beginnings of Supes for the millennium generation



Superman is the superhero for the ages. So far, we've seen countless stories about Man of Steel's true origin, all fascinating in their interpretation, and all as different as can be.  Superman: Earth One, Volume 1 is the most futuristic and contemporary one of them all, placing Supes in the shoes of today's millennium generation, a youth so worried about their purpose in life they've completely lost sight of what they're exceptional at.

Writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Shane Davis give us a younger, more boyish Superman than we're accustomed to seeing.  As he finds himself newly arrived in Metropolis, looking for work, he tries out for a football team, where he attempts playing every single position, and he also applies at a laboratory or a science research facility, where his expertise at creating and solving complex formulas impresses his potential employer to the point that he's immediately offered a job.  The problem is, young Clark Kent simply wouldn't feel fulfilled doing such mindless jobs, regardless of how high his salary would be.

Davis' artwork is more than noteworthy.  He creates and paints each frame with great detail and accuracy, and as a result his Superman feels real, more human than we could've anticipated.  By the time the evil Tyrell attacks Earth with his numerous spaceships, requesting that the planet's citizens turn Superman over to him in exchange for his mercy, the story shifts gears into full-mode action, resembling the recent Man of Steel movie from 2013 in structure and even spectacle of explosion and battle and even one-on-one combat.  The only thing is, this comic book is better.

Unlike Straczynski's writing, which isn't necessarily subpar, but only less noticeable compared to Davis' art, the visuals in this first Volume are exceptional, and are the driving element that push the readers' eyes towards the artwork to the point where the text is merely secondary.  That is a true definition of a successful comic book, even for someone like me, who doesn't necessarily consider Superman as their favorite superhero.
B


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Dark Horse's historical "Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia" is dull, flat and forgettable



Seth Abbott just may be the dullest comic book character I've ever come across.  He's way too quiet and indifferent, and his demeanor in regards to his wife's affection and his mission as a colonist fighting the British army in the years before the American Independence are simply too passive.  The man isn't a man at all (for one, he's only seventeen at the story's beginning), but even worse than that, he's got nothing interesting to say, do or believe.  The only character insight we get is through flashbacks scenes involving him and his father, but unfortunately, those are few and far in between.

Writer Brian Wood's Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia - illustrated by various artists such as Andrea Mutti, Matthew Woodson, Ariela Kristantina and Tristan Jones - is a mixed bag.  While the artwork is impressive and well above par, the story and script are too slow, packing too many characters and battle scenes and amounting to a boring whole that is less than satisfactory.  Seth's wife, Mercy Abbott, is a lovely woman, but just as her husband, she doesn't have much to do or say.  Their marriage takes place way too quickly, without any build up, and as a result leaves us with very little to identify with.   When the two of them go skinny dipping early in the story, the result should be somewhat sexy and seductive, but is instead flat and uninteresting.  Just as the characters themselves.

Rebels looks great, but feels stale.  Just like an expensive Hollywood movie, it is all style and very little substance; I would be less than honest if I told you what the story here actually entails.  George Washington appears briefly as an angry general, but other than that, the colonists battle the red coats, Seth remembers his youth when his father's toughness would strip him of his adolescence, and Mercy spends years all alone, raising her and Seth's child for some six years, while the latter is off fighting in the war.  There is very little actual drama or suspense, and plenty of boredom for its readers (sigh).  Perhaps this historical account of the War for Independence isn't cut out to be a comic book.
C-




Monday, June 6, 2016

"Corto Maltese: Beyond the Windy Isles" is about corruption, war, delusion and unrequited love




It's starting to get good.  I mean, really good.  The Corto Maltese series, which hadn't exactly impressed the pants off of me (even though I did like the first two issues, The Ballad of the Salt Sea and Under the Sign of Capricorn), is getting more and more complex in story and character depth.  The latest installment, Beyond the Windy Isles, introduces many new friends and foes of Corto's, and reaches new heights in originality and quality.

Hugo Pratt's famous sea adventurer begins this adventure in Venezuela, and, accompanied by Professor Steiner (whom we met in the previous episode, Under the Sign of Capricorn), Corto agrees to help Levi Colombia in his search for the legendary Eldorado.   In the process, Pratt will introduce our hero to magic mushrooms, native Indios, large bone crushing boa constrictor snakes, where Corto will come close to dying, as he often does.   At one point, as he runs into a daughter of a woman that used to love him, he once again proves to be more charming than is necessary:

"My mother loved you very much, Corto, but you messed up her 
life.  Are you now determined to screw up her daughter's 
life, too?  Your questions are very dangerous."

Pratt has done an exceptional job of advancing and progressing the story and plot of each episode.  It's easy to see that this is no comic for children, no subject matter for the young and naive, and as such should only appeal to the older, serious readers.  When Corto once again runs into Soledad Lok√§arth, who's on trial for witchcraft in Barbados, and who remembers him as John Smith (from the previous episode) when she nursed him back to health after he suffered a case of amnesia, he genuinely looks confused.  Corto honestly does not recognize her, despite how much his ignorance of her may break her heart.  Pratt doesn't just show us old acquaintances who've ran into each other accidentally; he places them in the most dire of circumstances, where death lurks very near by, and doesn't negotiate with anyone, be they friend or foe.

"... this man was happy... he looked into the sweet dream
lagoon and saw things the way he wanted them to be..."

But perhaps the most memorable and eloquent part of Beyond the Windy Isles involves a mad British soldier, Robin Stuart, stranded on the Sweet Dream Lagoon, and suffering from fever and other psychedellic ills that have driven him out of his wits.  As Corto Maltese pays him a visit, accompanied by a friend guide, he attempts to help the poor soldier by getting him off this island that has produced so many hallucinations and visions, causing him to delve deep back into the madness labyrinth of his past.  Here he is visited by the friends from his war squadron, but mostly by Evelyne, that enigmatic love of his youth who's remained the one memory of his that still keeps him together.  This sequence is imagined and executed with convincing clarity, which is even more beautiful and poetic considering that when Stuart finally dies, with his eyes wide open, it is with Evelyne at his side, just as she was during the height of their romance.

"...there's something about you... that attracts me too much... 
I can not afford the luxury of falling in love 
with a vagabond like you, Corto Maltese!"

Beyond the Windy Isles clearly elevates the previously good material from The Ballad of the Salt Sea and Under the Sign of Capricorn into nearly great graphic literature, and promises even better adventures up ahead.  Corto Maltese is no longer a mysterious, enigmatic charlatan, which I, mistakenly, at first understood him to be.  He's a man of conviction, compassion and general good will towards all fellow men and women.  Well, towards women he does have a certain charm and hold that the rest of us male mammals can only dream of possessing.   I suppose them's the breaks for the world's most prolific and well known graphic novel sea adventuring captain.

"... I am a great sorcerer - I can make my enemies die of 
a heart attack, fly into the air... I can make them disappear 
and I can tame scorpions... but when it comes to questions of 
love I'm the most incompetent person in the world of sorcery!"


A-

Thursday, June 2, 2016

"Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others" is an homage to classic short tales of Poe and the likes



Mike Mignola's Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others is a series of short horror and suspense tales involving his Red Demon from hell that recall the spooky short stories of Edgar Allan Poe.  Here we have witches, werewolves, talking corpses and other undead members of the occult and what not.  It's a simultaneously spooky and charming variety pack of creatures that lurk in the dark, but displayed on pages with memorable artwork in vivid and splendid colors.

The Corpse, first of the short stories, puts Hellboy on a case where he has to rescue a missing child, and the only way he can do that is to bury a talking corpse in a designated spot.  It is a humorous and creepy story, but mostly charismatic, like its well known hero.  Iron Shoes is such a super-short tale that it was over before I could figure out what it was actually about (no, seriously: it lasted three blinks of an eye!).  In The Baba Yaga, Hellboy has to fight an old evil witch in a Russian cemetery, an incident which results in him shooting her eye out.

A Christmas Underground is another very short story, and in it we witness our favorite Red demon search for a dying woman's daughter.  The Chain Coffin, however, gives us several hints into Hellboy's past, and just who his parents may be.   A large demon, with ominous horns, refers to him as his "favorite son".  The longest and most epic of the tales in this issue is The Wolves of Saint August.  Taking place in the European Balkans, it deals with a group of villagers who were cursed by an old Saint, and as a result became werewolves.  A remaining living werewolf murders Father Kelly, a friend of Hellboy's, and this forces our favorite BPRD agent to take the former on in a bloody fight.  It's a creepy and effective tale, and the clear highlight of this Trade Paperback.

Hellboy is still an enigmatic comic book to me, for its interior images continue to race ahead of its dialogue, and lead to scenes that are out of sync as far as text and image are concerned.  The lead character himself is still very likable: his use of humor and wisecracks, sprinkled throughout, is a refreshing touch to this otherwise action packed series that apparently relies a little too much on a one-on-one combat scenes.  But then again, as long as the hero continues to use his overly large right hand to punch monstrous demons in the nose, its readers will continue to adore it.  There's no need to develop it further (sadly).
C+




Wednesday, June 1, 2016

"Southern Bastards: Here was a Man" is a pulpy, old-fashioned Southern violent tale of anger and vengeance



Earl Tubb has the ultimate face.  Chiseled and crafted by the winds of time and the tough side of life, he has the demeanor of someone who's always angry, with squinty eyes that barely appear to be open.   A native of Craw County, Alabama, Earl's been absent from his hometown for some forty years, and only after returning in order to help his ailing uncle does he realize just how little has changed there.  The weird thing is, his hatred for the place has never waned.

In the first Volume of Southern Bastards: Here was a Man, writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Latour create a place forgotten by time and the tides of progressive change: a town where violence, corruption and love of high school football is just as distinctive as the citizens' passion for barbecued ribs and fried pie.  Earl's plight to try to save his hometown from the rotting infestation of crime and murder - where the law turns a blind eye - forces him to resemble the hero lead of Walking Tall, a man who took the phrase, "Speak softly and carry a big stick" a bit too literally.  In a way, the man is a modern day backwoods superhero of sorts, but what he lacks in super-ability department he more than makes up with plain old guts and complete disregard for his own safety.

Latour's art is murky and dark, but very detailed and gritty, which is more than fitting for the series' violent and rough subject matter.  The characters properly appear to be the uneducated brutes living in a world where roughing someone is the best expression of oneself.  Also, dog feces is something we see here more than once, and it understandably symbolizes the underlying structure of Craw County's justice system.

Aaron's characters may not be the most original, because Southern Bastards' overall story is somewhat familiar, but I don't think we've ever seen a hero this old before.  Coach Boss is also a neat villain, a man so obsessed with winning that there's not much difference to him between leading his team to victory or killing an associate who's failed him, then burying them under the football field's bleachers.  Here was a Man is a fitting intro to this series, a story so rich in blood and guts that even a Northerner could appreciate it.
B+