Monday, September 26, 2011

Kill Shakespeare

For some people, reading Shakespeare is worse than torture. High school students everywhere groan about having Renaissance literature shoved down their throats. College students go even more in depth with the subject while Shakespearean experts share every detail that is stored in their heads. And then there are the people who actually like the stuff. People like the creators of this fine comic entitled Kill Shakespeare. 
In this story, characters from many of the Bard’s plays drop in and out of the storyline, all adding together to make a brand new thing from the centuries-old framework. 
I think John Layman was right on the mark in his comment that was printed as a pull quote on the back of this collection:
“A fantastic concept, cleverly executed with style and smarts. Lots of cool Easter Eggs for the literary-minded, but still plenty entertaining for the rest of us dummies!”
In this story, Hamlet can pretty much be considered the main character. He is familiar to all who have read the play in his name...he’s a sulky kind of fellow and he mourns the death of his father. Then things get a little wacky on us. He is recruited to do a special mission for a certain king named Richard III. Richard’s demand is that Hamlet find and kill a man named William Shakespeare. 
Shakespeare is a mysterious man and he doesn’t even show up in these six issues. He’s hiding somewhere, and it’s presented like he is the second coming of Jesus. People in this world believe in Shakespeare and there are many (like Richard) who see that as nothing but a threat. It’s not very well explained at this point, but I’m thinking that Richard and Co. like making their own choices rather than those prescribed by Shakespeare.
So yes, your enjoyment of Kill Shakespeare might have something to do with your general tolerance of the original plays and your familiarity and enjoyment of the many memorable Shakespearean characters. A high point of this book for me was when Hamlet and Falstaff hid in an inn while being disguised as women. The ruse didn’t hold up for very long and soon the two men were off traipsing through the woods in said disguises. Now would this be funny under any circumstances? Yes, but I always did like Falstaff and all of his blathering in the Henry IV plays. 
If I was to criticize Kill Shakespeare Volume One as a collection, I’d have to say that there’s not quite enough story yet. Not enough has happened. I was hoping we’d at least see Shakespeare since everyone’s out to kill the guy. But I’ll be patient and wait to see what happens next. I’m guessing that writers Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col are kind of new to this game so it’s easy to give them a chance, particularly when the book’s core concept is so strong. I like the art of Andy Belanger. His style is reminding me of Pia Guerra’s for some reason. Although the subject matter is vastly different between the two books, I’m seeing some shades of Y The Last Man here. 
Kill Shakepeare just has to be picked up to be believed (and perhaps even understood). It’s taken some pretty old stuff and turned it all into an exciting new story. Looking forward to seeing what happens next and which characters show up!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Jonah Hex: Tall Tales

Jonah Hex is not the kind of person you want to have anything to do with. That certainly includes anyone who is being hunted down by him, and sometimes it even affects the people who hire him. He’s just a dangerous sort of guy. Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have shown this time and time again, and each story is fun because there are so many people making big, bad mistakes when it comes to the man with the melted face. Issues 55 through 60 are collected in Tall Tales, which is kind of a milestone. When was the last time a western comic ran for more than five years?
As usual, a Hex trade has an assortment of stories and artists. Here are some of them:
“The Brief Life of Billy Dynamite” (art by Vicente Alcazar): A kid gets really mad when his father gets killed in his own bar. Little Billy takes over the family business, but trouble never really goes too far. Billy likes to get pretty aggressive with people who try to take advantage of him. Who would think that it would be easy to be a preteen bar owner though? Some jerks kill Billy in retaliation, but Jonah finally gets to the end of it all. All it takes is strapping a few men to trees upside down. Oh, and they also have dynamite connecting them all. The bounty hunter pushes the release and boom! No more trouble from these guys. Jonah doesn’t even care that there is nothing left of the guys to claim as a bounty. For a guy who’s always thinking of money, this means that he was pretty pissed at these outlaws.

“First True Love” (art by C.P. Smith): Jonah Hex had a pretty rough upbringing. His father left him behind with a hostile group of Apaches. He promised he’d come back but he never did. So Jonah was a slave to the Indians and always had to prove himself to the tribe. He had no trouble making enemies. Maybe the only good thing about the entire time he was trapped with them was the one girl who liked him and talked to him. She was Jonah’s first love, and he still visits her grave decades later.
“Tall Tales” (art by the one, the only Jordi Bernet): Two kids exchange stories about the legendary Jonah Hex.
“I heard he once killed ten men with the same bullet,” says one kid. 
“That’s horse manure!” 
The first kid is right...all it takes is some friendly ricochet off a couple of rock walls to kill nine men. Then a falling boulder takes care of the tenth. The next night the two kids are lucky enough to witness a battle between Hex and a bunch of gunmen. 
Walking home as the sun rises, the two boys know that they’re going to have a really hard time talking themselves out of this one. 
“Pa is gonna skin us alive.”
“He sure is. But after what we saw tonight, it’ll be worth every minute.”
Sounds like Jonah Hex has a couple of new fans.

“Every Bullet Tells A Story” (art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo): This story borrows a page from an old book of tricks in comics. I believe it was some Sgt. Rock story by Robert Kanigher that had an entire story narrated by one of the guy’s guns. Well, this story is narrated by a bullet. What is a bullet good for? Really only one thing usually. 
“I have one purpose. I have been cast for a singular destiny. To take life.”
Plenty of gunshots, blood, and death in this one.
“Blood Lies Bleeding” (art by Brian Stelfreeze): This was a good story, but really I’d like to share nothing more about it than the following exchange.
MAN WHO JUST WITNESSED THE MURDER OF A BUNCH OF PEOPLE: You and trouble are old friends. Ya just gunned down five lawmen.
JONAH HEX: Ah only killed three. This feller done the other two an’ he’s a wanted man, so that’ll be resolved betwixt him an’ the devil.
MAN: The devil? I think you are the devil.
HEX: Ah’m worse.
So that pretty much wraps up what’s going on in Tall Tales: the variety that everyone has come to know and love from the writing of Gray and Palmiotti and the top notch artwork from a whole bunch of different people. 

With DC’s New 52 underway, Jonah Hex has of course been cancelled. Its replacement is All-Star Western, keeping the same writers and featuring Jonah Hex in 1800s era Gotham City. After reading some solicitations I’m a little worried that it won’t be like the Jonah Hex series was. I bet that it will still be good, but I’m thinking that the series I’ve been hooked on for years is really coming to an end.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Muppet Comics

“It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights.
It’s time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight.”
Sadly the curtain has fallen on Boom Studios’ great Muppet comics. You can really only blame one thing: Disney’s acquisition of Marvel Comics in 2009, which led to the termination of Boom’s license earlier this year. It’s a tragic thing indeed because the studio was making things that can really only be described as pitch-perfect Muppetry.
But let’s celebrate the life that the dead once lived. The first book to take a look at is the latest in the “Muppet Literature” series. They took a cue from the Muppet Treasure Island and Muppet Christmas Carol movies here, making a Peter Pan book, Robin Hood (which I remember actually laughing out loud while reading), and a Snow White one. Anyway, this one is a winner too, and it’s called Muppet Sherlock Holmes.

In the role of the eccentric Holmes is, of course, the one and only Gonzo the Great. Watson’s role is taken by Fozzie, and Inspector Lestrade is never far from the action and is played by Kermit. 
I think that before I delve into the story at all I want to say that Amy Mebberson appears to have been put on this earth to draw Muppet comics. It’s pretty amazing how her work shows the Muppets exactly the way they look in the shows and movies...does she have a closet full of puppets at home to model every pose? 

Patrick Storck wrote these comics, and the results are admirable. I have to admit that my Holmes knowledge is sorely lacking. Reading anything by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is by no means necessary to enjoying the Muppet Sherlock Holmes book, but I certainly felt like I would have appreciated it more if I knew what stories they were parodying in each comic. At least I can comment on the fact that Storck did a wonderful rendition of “A Scandal in Bohemia.” At times it felt like the writing was trying just a little bit too hard, like maybe there was just one pun too many in each chapter. But overall this is a very welcome addition to the Muppet comics library!
Moving on, we have the swan song of Roger Langridge’s amazing run in The Muppet Show Comic Book to take a look at. The man was seriously making what appeared to be “lost episodes” of the old show and transplanting them into comic book format. Without a doubt Papa Henson would have been very proud to see these on the stands.
There’s a Halloween theme running through the four comics reprinted here. In the first issue it is strongly suspected that Gonzo is participating in vampirism and everyone gets more than a little spooked out. And of course Langridge provides the short sketches just like on the show, and these have a frightening theme as well, such as “Link Hogthrob, Monster Smasher.” 
The second issue gives Statler and Waldorf more of a spotlight than I think they’ve ever gotten before, and who doesn’t love crotchety old men getting their time in the sun? There’s this woman with an Egyptian act who comes rolling into town for the show. Statler and Waldorf remember swooning over her “in their younger days” and start a competition. The old hecklers wrangle with each other over trying to impress her. Nothing really works out for the guys though and they go back to their stodgy ways soon enough.
In the third issue a musical guest star appears, and he may or may not be a werewolf. Nobody knows for sure about the story of Howlin’ Jack Talbot. He sures does confuse the heck out of Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, wreaking havoc on their sets during the show. 

The last issue’s main storyline concerns Bunsen going further than he ever has before in his utter abuse of his colleague Beaker: he wants to remove the poor squeaky guy’s brain and put it into a giant robot Beaker. Sounds like a bad idea, right? Well Beaker decides that he’d really like to keep his brain, so instead he unleashes the robot with a stupid little Poob (a catlike micro-Muppet) inside the brain compartment. Yes, there are some big problems arising from this development.
And with that, Roger Langridge’s Muppet comics have come to an end. Having five volumes of his take on the Henson characters is a pretty good run though...and it definitely can’t be said that the quality ever started to drop off. The Muppet comics are in the past now, and the next thing to do is look forward to reading his new series Snarked! when that starts rolling out in collected editions. 
This is just my favorite panel sequence in the book!

“It’s time to get things started
On the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational
This is what we call the Muppet Show!”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Orc Stain Volume One

There is no other comic on the stands that is quite like Orc Stain. But maybe the world just needs Orc Stain. It’s about goblin culture and what it means to live in that kind of a society. It brings a little more depth to the guys than they ever get in, say, the Lord of the Rings or Magic The Gathering. So maybe they’re not really deep people, but the full extent of what we learned about orcs in the LOTR movies was that they are born from goop and spend a lot of time snarling while the camera pulls in close on their faces.

As presented in Orc Stain, there’s a single concept that drives the little buggers to do what they do, and it’s not a pretty one: gronch. What’s that? Er, well...I did say that it’s not pretty. It’s actually really repulsive. Humans have plenty of names for the gronch, but let’s just leave it as “a certain part of male genitalia.” It turns out that orcs are always trying to chop gronches off and make them into treasure. It’s not very surprising that these filthy creatures are centered around something so base. But can you really blame them? It’s just their nature.

So Orc Stain is thankfully telling a story that hasn’t been told before. That’s great! But there are more reasons to love this comic. This time there’s two words to remember: James Stokoe. One man does Orc Stain. The credits list him as writer, artist, colorist and letterer. That my friends is how a comic is made. I have no idea what kind of a schedule Orc Stain is on, but even if there’s only four issues a year it’s still pretty impressive that one man can do all of that. Stokoe’s art has a lot of linework to it, and he likes to draw detailed battle scenes. This kind of stuff takes time. Though I haven’t spent much time in the world of Eurocomics I want to say that Stokoe learned a lot from European artists like Moebius. I really admired the obviously painstaking effort that went into making Orc Stain a great thing to look at.

This volume collects the first five issues of the comic, and at this point we’re really just getting dipped into the storyline. There’s an appropriately named orc called One Eye who has some special powers and what appears to be a magic hammer. The big bad head honcho goblin wants to capture him. One Eye already escapes from some pretty tough situations in this collection...he gets trapped in a tube and launched out of a cannon, he survives a poisonous arrow to the torso, he is attacked while he’s trying to take a bath, and oh yeah, he also escapes intact from an attempted de-gronching by axe. Ouch.

This isn’t quite a work of literature, just fun. Orcs doing what they do best--fighting, wreaking havoc, hoarding treasure--what’s not to like? Orc Stain is an exceptionally well-crafter indie comic, and thank you Image for letting Stokoe do whatever he wants to within these pages!