The GeeksverseREVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers (Feb. 15–28, 2013)

REVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers (Feb. 15–28, 2013)
Published on Sunday, March 3, 2013 by
We close out February’s reviews with a look at The Adventures of Superhero Girl, The Curse of Dracula, The Activity, Vol. 2, and eight other titles solicited by Dark Horse, Image Comics, and IDW Publishing for the second half of the month. If you have difficulty finding any of these books, don’t forget that they can be back-ordered through your local comic book shop or purchased directly from any number of online retailers. Unless otherwise stated, all books for review were provided by their respective publishers.

Dark Horse Books

The Adventures of Superhero Girl

  • aosg1p0Written and illustrated by: Faith Erin Hicks
  • Colored by: Cris Peter
  • Format: 112 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List price: $16.99
  • Sale date: 20 February 2013 (originally solicited for 27 February 2013)
  • Publisher’s description: What if you can leap tall buildings and defeat alien monsters with your bare hands, but you buy your capes at secondhand stores and have a weakness for kittens? Cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks brings charming humor to the trials and tribulations of a young, female superhero, battling monsters both supernatural and mundane in an all-too-ordinary world.
  • Read the eight-page preview here.

Faith Erin Hicks’  The Adventures of Superhero Girl started out as a webcomic and recurring feature in the Halifax weekly newspaper, The Coast, but the comic’s effective humor, affecting dialogue, polished storytelling craft—more comic book than comic strip despite the landscape page orientation—and charming character designs belie its humble origins. The book can probably be classified as a “superhero parody,” but it has none of the occasionally pointless, mean-spirited jabs at the capes-and-tights set that we’ve come to associate with the genre. Instead, The Adventures of Superhero Girl pokes well-meaning fun at the conventions of superhero comics whilst also using the genre as a platform and a filter in discussing the struggles of a young woman trying to find her voice and place in the city.

More than just a straight-up collection of material that previously appeared online, Cris Peter’s coloring and use of simulated Ben-Day dots also brings additional texture and visual depth to the work that just can’t be found in the original black & white webcomic:

aosg_comparison

An excellent publication suitable for all readers that should earn Hicks wider recognition for her talent and narrative sensibilities. Highly recommended.

Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Promise, Library Edition

  • atllibedvol1p0Written by: Gene Luen Yang
  • Interior and Cover Art by: Gurihiru
  • Lettered by: Michael Heisler
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender created by: Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino
  • Format: 240 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List Price: $39.99
  • Sale date: 20 February 2013
  • Publisher’s descriptionThe Avatar’s adventures continue right where the TV series left off, in this beautiful oversized hardcover of The Promise, from Airbender creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and Eisner and Harvey Award winner Gene Luen Yang! Aang and friends must join together once again as the four nations’ tenuous peace is threatened in an impasse between Fire Lord Zuko and Earth King Kuei! As the world heads toward another devastating war, Aang’s friendship with Zuko throws him into the middle of the conflict! Collects Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Promise Parts 1–3, plus a brand-new sketchbook.
  • Read the 28-page preview here.

I’ve already reviewed the individually released chapters of The Promise here (the summary: A must-buy for fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender), so this review will focus on what features, if any, recommend the Library Edition over its trade paperback brethren. The book has what I can only describe as “DVD-style” inline commentary: The oversized pages include production design notes on the margins from writer Gene Luen Yang and artists Gurihuru. These could possibly be intrusive to some readers, but for anybody who has already read The Promise in its earlier, trade paperback chaptered incarnation, the commentary adds a lot of value to the hardcover package. An annotated sketchbook by Gurihuru rounds out the package. Part of me is a bit annoyed at Dark Horse “double-dipping” with its release of the Library Edition so soon after the last chapter of The Promise shipped, but when the final product is as good as Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Promise, Library Edition, I can’t help but give it my recommendation for readers who enjoyed the original. Sell your individual trades of The Promise if you have to; the Library Edition is the definitive version of the book. 

The Curse of Dracula

  • codp0Story by: Marv Wolfman
  • Illustrated by: Gene Colan
  • Colored by: Dave Stewart
  • Format: 96 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List Price: $14.99
  • Sale date: 20 February 2013
  • Publisher’s description: The Curse of Dracula is back in this deluxe new hardcover edition! A mysterious, charismatic figure is moving amongst the circles of San Francisco’s political elite. When Jonathan Van Helsing and his team of vampire hunters come to town investigating a string of grisly murders, they know it’s only a matter of time before they come face to face with the master of the dark!
  • Read the five-page preview here.

Originally published in 1998, The Curse of Dracula, in some ways, can be viewed as a sort-of “Ultimate-style” retelling of Wolfman and Colan’s Tomb of Dracula work for Marvel in the 1970s. They take more chances this go-round, though, as it is much more violent and gory than I remember Tomb of Dracula ever was, and Colan makes some especially bold page and panel design choices that bring to mind the late 1960s work of Steranko. Colan’s horror work has never looked better than in this volume: the “shot-straight-from-the-pencils” look emphasizes Colan’s masterful rendering technique. The Curse of Dracula was clearly intended to be just the first chapter of a new horror saga, but with Colan’s death in 2011, it is looking quite unlikely that Wolfman will find a new and equal collaborator to help him bring closure to the book’s somewhat open-ended finale. Still, it’s worth picking up for fans of classic horror comics and Gene Colan fans alike—not that the groups are mutually exclusive, it’s probably quite the opposite I’d wager, as anyone who falls in the one camp is almost certain to fall in the other as well—the book does contain some of the artist’s last published work and the included sketch gallery certainly adds to the overall value.

HelmetGirls: The Art of Camilla d’Errico, Vol. 2

  • helmetgirls00Written and illustrated by: Camilla d’Errico
  • Format: 112 pages, full color, over-sized hardcover art book
  • List price: $24.99
  • Sale date: 20 February 2013
  • Publisher’s descriptionCamilla d’Errico is a powerful voice in pop surrealism, her work combining diverse influences in imagery is both singular and hauntingly familiar. Compelling and deeply personal, Helmetgirls documents Camilla’s art and lifestyle brand that fuses manga, steampunk, and fine art into an original and meaningful aggregate. Gargantuan biomechanical headgear adorns beautiful, wide-eyed, and seemingly fragile girls. More than just decoration, the helmets express each girl’s character, needs, and desires. Look deeply into the Helmetgirls’ eyes—they have a story to tell.
  • Read the seven-page preview here.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a much more specific premise for an art book than that of HelmetGirls: The Art of Camilla d’Errico, Vol. 2. The book is exactly what it says on the tin: a collection of illustrations of girls and young women wearing all manner of helmets. The illustrations, mostly acrylic on canvas or pen and ink on paper, exhibit the same manga influence that informs d’Errico’s work on the acclaimed Tanpopo graphic novel series. It’s a niche product to be sure, but fans of d’Errico’s fine art, design, and comics work would do well to pick this art book up.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

  • hotb00Written by: Martin Powell (story based on the original by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
  • Illustrated by: Jamie Chase
  • Format: 64 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List price: $14.99
  • Sale date: 20 February 2013
  • Publisher’s description: The greatest detective of all time investigates the seemingly supernatural in this adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. Martin Powell and Jamie Chase blend modern comics, classic detective fiction, and the adventurous sensibilities of the pulp novel into a delectable Sherlock Holmes mystery that appeals to new readers and old fans alike—an “elementary” addition to any comics library!
  • Read the six-page preview here.

One of the very first comics I ever read was the Classics Illustrated version of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick illustrated by the great Alex Niño and I can personally attest to the graphic novelization’s power to encourage the young reader to broaden his reading interests. I have no doubt that Martin Powell and Jamie Chase’s graphic novel adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles will do the same for a new generation of young minds. They effectively strip down the novel to make it more suitable for telling in sequential art form, although I think they could have trimmed even more verbal exposition and let the art work more to fill in the narrative. A solid effort all-around, ideal for the adult reader looking to relive the experience of reading Sherlock Holmes’ first published adventure in graphic novel form or the budding browser just starting to delve into the classics of the crime/mystery fiction genre.

King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword

  • conankps1p0Written by: Timothy Truman (adapted from the original by Robert E. Howard)
  • Art by: Tomás Giorello
  • Colors by: José Villarrubia
  • Cover by: Andrew Robinson
  • Format: 96 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List Price: $14.99
  • Sale date: 13 February 2013 (originally solicited for 20 February 2013)
  • Publisher’s description: King Conan is beset on all sides by scheming politicians plotting his demise! But the conspirators have chosen the wrong ally in Thoth-Amon. The barbarian king will need more than a strong arm and a sturdy ax to face the horrors at his chamber door!
  • Read the eight-page preview here.

As with The Hound of the Baskervilles reviewed above, Truman and Giorello’s The Phoenix on the Sword is a sequential art adaptation of a prose work that features the emergence of a pop literature icon—The Phoenix on the Sword was Robert E. Howard’s first ever published Conan story, appearing in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. The duo translate Howard’s prose to comics with the practiced economy of a team that has been doing so for years. Truman has gotten especially good at judging what to leave out in the dialogue and narration, trusting in Giorello’s visual storytelling to carry the narrative at certain points in the book. And speaking of Giorello, his work on this book quite possibly represents the pinnacle of his Conan work: The rendering is detailed but not overly-busy, action sequences are excellently staged, and the book’s many double-page spreads are absolutely stunning.

kctpots_doublepagespread

And while Becky Cloonan’s more lean and athletic take on the character has quickly earned its place among my favorite comic book renditions of Howard’s barbarian, Giorello’s more conventional depiction is as strong as ever, reminiscent of the work of prime Buscema/Chan or Buscema/Alcala.

King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword is an essential addition to any Conan comics library and an excellent introduction to the character and Hyborian Age setting for Howard and sword-and-sorcery novices. Highly recommended.

Resident Alien, Vol. 1: Welcome to Earth

  • resalienvol1finalcoverStory by: Peter Hogan
  • Art by: Steve Parkhouse
  • Format: 96 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List Price: $14.99
  • Sale date: 20 February 2013 (originally solicited for 27 February 2013)
  • Publisher’s description: A stranded alien seeks refuge in the small town of Patience, USA, where he hides undercover as a retired doctor. All the alien wants is to be left alone until he’s rescued. However, when the town’s real doctor dies, “Dr. Harry” is pulled into medical service—and finds himself smack dab in the middle of a murder mystery! Collects issues #0-#3 of the miniseries.
  • Read the nine-page preview here.

Every once in a while, the comics medium offers up something absolutely unique and unprecedented in my reading experience. Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse’s Resident Alien is one such specimen. Hogan situates the offbeat protagonist—a stranded space alien masquerading as a retired doctor—in a small town murder mystery not unlike something you’d see in an episode of Murder, She Wrote, but the result is more than just the sum of its seemingly incongruous parts. The small town setting has its fair share of unique and colorful characters, practically de rigueur in the “cozy mystery” subgenre, but Hogan does a great job of fleshing most of them out as more than just easy caricatures, giving the whole affair noticeable nuance and complexion whilst also making it that much harder (and ultimately more entertaining) for readers playing along at home to suss out the identity of the murderer. Hogan does an especially impressive job developing the characters of “Dr. Harry” and his perceptive nurse Astra given the relative brevity of the book. Interwoven in these events are flashbacks that hint at a brewing future storyline for our alien hero, as a shady government agency could be on its way to uncovering his deception. Steve Parkhouse, whose work we most recently examined in this space in a collaboration with Joe Casey, again turns in a fine artistic performance here.

The ability to tell a story efficiently and effectively without having to resort to panel/page design gimmickry and yet keep things visually interesting is a vastly underrated skill that the British artist has in spades.

Resident Alien, Vol. 1: Welcome to Earth is a perfectly executed, engrossing, and entertaining read. Very highly recommended.

Dark Horse Manga

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Comic Tribute

  • evangtrib_00Written and illustrated by: Mine Yoshizaki, Hideki Ohwada, Yun Kouga, Nawoki Karasawa, Yoko Sanri, Keiichi Tanaka, Rui Takato, Astroguy II, Kotaro Yamada, Sessyu Takemura, Jun Abe, Tony Takezaki, Rikdo Koshi
  • Format: 168 pages, black & white, trade paperback (oriented in right-to-left reading format)
  • List price: $10.99
  • Sale date: 20 February 2013
  • Publisher’s description: If you thought Evangelion‘s characters have a tough time in the anime, wait until you see what happens when some of Japan’s most unhinged manga artists get their ink-stained hands on them! Neon Genesis Evangelion: Comic Tribute is an officially authorized one-shot anthology of parody stories assaulting Evangelion from all directions. Inside, Mine Yoshizaki (Sgt. Frog) leads a band of manga pranksters including Hideki Ohwada (The Legend of Koizumi), Yun Kouga (Loveless), Nawoki Karasawa (Sake Jock, Super Cruel and Terrible Tales of Manga-ka), Yoko Sanri (B Gata H Kei: Yamada’s First Time), ComiPo! mastermind Keiichi Tanaka, Rui Takato (Cynthia the Mission), Astroguy II (Queen’s Blade Struggle), Kotaro Yamada (The Sacred Blacksmith), Sessyu Takemura (Domin-8 Me!), Jun Abe (Portus), and Tony Takezaki (Space Pinchy, A.D. Police). Also contains contributions from normal people, like Rikdo Koshi (Excel Saga).
  • Read the five-page preview here.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Comic Tribute is very much like a MAD magazine style parody of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the multimedia mecha franchise that has seen numerous imitators sprout up like so many gaudily colored mushrooms on both sides of the Pacific since the late 1990s. I actually found the stories and art collected in this trade paperback to be relatively subdued—emphasis on “relatively”—given the tenor of the prior work of some of the creators involved, but licensing controls likely had something to do with the comparative restraint exercised by what the book’s ad copy described as “Japan’s most unhinged manga artists.” The hefty helping of ecchi-styled comedy in the book might strike certain readers as somewhat crude (and even then, it’s not all sex jokes—one of the funniest entries for example, reimagines the cast as puppies), but the quality of the art is anything but: Many of the comic shorts feature rendering and storytelling that would rival that seen in any “real” Neon Genesis Evangelion manga. Neon Genesis Evangelion: Comic Tribute isn’t for everyone and even within the Neon Genesis Evangelion fan community, the book might find only limited traction. For the intersection of Neon Genesis Evangelion and fanservice comedy enthusiasts however, the book should do all right.

IDW Publishing

Haunted Horror #3

  • HauntedHorror-003-pr_001Written by: Various
  • Featuring art by: Jack Cole, Myron Fass, Rudy Palais, Paul Gattuso, Sheldon Moldoff, The Iger Shop, Ross Andru
  • Cover by: Tony Mortellaro
  • Collection edited by: Steve Banes, Clizia Gussoni, Craig Yoe
  • Format: 52 pages, full color, comics magazine
  • List price: $3.99
  • On sale on: 27 February 2013
  • Publisher’s descriptionFrom musty graves the passionate editors and dedicated collectors of the highly acclaimed Haunted Horror comic dig up more spine-tingling, rare stories from the moldy contraband of 1950s–the horror comics crushed by government investigations. The coolest stories and art, lovingly restored and beautifully printed, are now yours for a minute fraction of what the originals comic books would cost–if you could find them!
  • Read the nine-page preview here.

I’m always up for reading pre-Code horror comics so something like IDW’s Haunted Horror series of collections is right up my alley. The reprints don’t have the level of remastering polish or supporting material seen in Dark Horse Books’ or Fantagraphics’ significantly more expensive hardcover collections of similar fare, but given the price, Haunted Horror is hard to beat. Stand-outs in this, the third installment in the series, include “The Eyes in his Hand,” a ghoulish tale of a child who mistakes a blind man’s false eye for a marble and “One Man’s Poison,” a hilarious story featuring bungling backwoods vampires drawn by a young Ross Andru, who would go on to have quite the successful career in superhero comics and help create the Punisher for Marvel Comics. Recommended.

KISS: Greatest Hits, Vol. 3

  • Kiss_GreatestHits-v3-pr_001Written by: Brian Holguin
  • Illustrated by: Angel Medina
  • Cover by: Mister Sam
  • Format: 168 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $19.99
  • On sale on: 27 February 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Pull out the cream makeup, ready the powder and lay the eyeliner on thick… because “Psycho Circus” continues in Volume 3 of KISS: The Greatest Hits! Rediscover classics like “Bottle Full Of Wishes,” “Forever,” “Four Sides To Every Story,” and the four-part “Destroyer.”
  • Read the ten-page preview here.

A little disclaimer before I share my thoughts on this book: Even using the loosest definition of the term, I probably qualify as a casual fan of KISS’ music at best and the KISS albums that I’ve spent the most time listening to—the fantasy concept record Music from “The Elder” (1981) and the “no make-up era” Revenge (1992)—are, judging from what I’ve gathered online, two of the least popular entries in their discography among the KISS faithful. And I have to admit that I’m fairly indifferent to the group’s costumed personae or their status as a multimedia licensing franchise.

KISS: Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 isn’t a bad book, per se. It’s a solid trade paperback repackaging of issues #7–13 of 1997’s KISS: Psycho Circus and given the context of the times when it was originally produced, the level of craft on the book rises above the merely competent: writer Brian Holguin does his best with the quite silly premise of the members of KISS as cosmic enforcers of justice and artist Angel Medina does an uncanny approximation of the 1990s McFarlane/Capullo aesthetic. For a certain segment of the KISS fan population, this book should hit all the right spots. The rest of us, however, would probably be better served looking elsewhere for our four-color entertainments.

Image Comics

The Activity, Vol. 2

  • activity_vol_2_00Written by: Nathan Edmondson
  • Illustrated by: Mitch Gerads with Marc Laming
  • Format: 168 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $15.99
  • On sale on: 27 February 2013
  • Publisher’s descriptionCollecting the hit Special Ops thriller that Fanboy Comics calls “a realistic story about the teams that protect us, without us ever knowing it.” Follow Team Omaha from Uzbekistan to Somalia to Minneapolis on their globe-trotting, high-octane and high-tech execution of WARFARE WITHOUT WARNING.
  • Read the 42-page preview here.

I’ve already written at length about what makes Edmondson and Gerads’ The Activity sing so I won’t belabor the points here. The previously demonstrated strengths of Edmondson’s writing on the title—the efficient and satisfying “one-and-done” plotting, the nuanced portrayal of unconventional warfare, the effective characterization, an unflinching depiction of the politics of international conflict that is neither partisan nor needlessly polarizing—are again on display in this second trade paperback collection and Mitch Gerads continues to impress as an illustrator and visual storyteller; he especially excels at the art of the establishing scene and differentiating locales. The latter is an especially important skill in a book that features as much globe-trotting action as The Activity. I can’t possibly make it any clearer than I have in the past week: If you’re any sort of military/war/espionage comics fan at all, you need to pick up The Activity, post-haste. Very highly recommended.

Ravine, Vol. 1

  • ravine01_coverWritten by: Stjepan Šejić and Ron Marz
  • Illustrated by: Stjepan Šejić
  • Lettered by: Troy Peteri
  • Format: 128 pages, full color, over-sized trade paperback
  • List price: $14.99
  • Sale date: 27 February 2013
  • Publisher’s description:

“THEY ARE A POWERFUL FOE, BUT THEY WILL FALL!”

In a fantastic world far from our own, an ancient magic spell almost split the world in two and left an endless ravine in the north. One man, Nebezial Asheri, driven by the deaths of his wife and daughters will attempt to reclaim that magic and bring his loved ones back to life. The forces of an entire city, Paladia, will rise to oppose him, but his greatest foes will be a ragtag band of an outcast wizard, a dragonrider, and their allies.

Artist extraordinaire STJEPAN SEJIC (ARTIFACTS, WITCHBLADE) branches out into his first ever creator-owned and original property for Top Cow! Presented in a perfect-bound, dramatically oversized issue format, RAVINE is an epic about the lengths one man will go to to reconstruct his family, and the forces of good who must stop him at all costs.

  • Read the seven-page preview here.

Ravine‘s story, at least in this early going, seems to hew fairly close to sword-and-sorcery/fantasy hero’s journey boilerplate, although much of the first book is devoted to the overt task of world-building, which makes for uneven, stop-and-go narrative progression. I’ve never been particularly enamored of the results of Stjepan Šejić’s Photoshop and zBrush process and page/panel construction sensibilities that seem to me to be better suited for poster or cover work than sequential art. The shift to a creator-owned property in Ravine doesn’t threaten to change that, although there are still multiple points in the book where the art just comes together and whatever misgivings I have about the figure work and visual storytelling fade away in the face of Šejić’s commitment to rendering detail.

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