Friday, November 29, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #48 - Hello, Again

Hello, Again 
Top Shelf Productions
$10.00, B&W, 156 pgs.
Writer: Max Estes
Artist: Max Estes

I recently took advantage of Top Shelf Production's annual $3 clearance sale, which features a great selection of graphic novels and trade paperbacks normally priced at $10-$20, and reduces all selected titles to either $3 or $1.  Top Shelf's annual event both reduces excess inventory, while also raising funds for the following year's new releases.  Although most of the books included in the sale are not recent releases, there is some incredible reading material available, so it's always worth a look. 

One of the books that caught my eye this year was Hello, Again, by cartoonist and children's author Max Estes.  Normally cover priced at $10, this "mini-size" (in dimension, but not page count) graphic novel was available for just a buck, so I eagerly added it to my shopping cart. 

William, a building superintendent, is not living the most joyful existence.  Each day he deals with endless complaints from the tenants in his apartment complex, avoids contact with his parents, and maintains a guilt-filled affair with his best friend's fiancĂ©e.  It's obvious, however, that there is something else much darker on William's mind that is keeping a permanent cloud over his existence.  Without going too far into spoiler territory, an incident during William's childhood comes back to haunt him in a very strange manner.  William is given a second chance to make restitution and get his life back on track, but the decision to do so will come with a cost.

While Hello, Again has a definite "I Know What You Did Last Summer" vibe (with a middle-aged protagonist rather than a group of teenagers), it's by no means a horror based story, focusing more on its emotional core with some dark humor thrown in for good measure.     

You could read this graphic novel in about ten minutes, but I wouldn't recommend it.  Although Estes' style may appear to have a simple approach from first glance, there are some powerful emotions at play here, and the book is best enjoyed when read slowly.  This is a story about two people whose lives were destroyed by one bad decision, but one may still have a chance of redemption.   

I'll be reviewing more of my purchases from the Top Shelf clearance sale in the near future.   

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #47: Happy Thanksgiving from Garfield!

Garfield #19
KaBOOM Studios
$3.99, color, 28 pgs.
Writers: Mark Evanier, Scott Nickel
Artists: Andy Hirsch, Gary Barker, David Degrand

There is plenty to be thankful as we enter the holiday season, including the wide variety of all-ages comics that are available, which was one of the focal points of my recent presentation at the Grand Rapids Comic Con in October.  Garfield is very high on that list. 

Garfield is one of the best all-ages comics currently being published, but it often gets pushed aside in the wake of KaBOOM's more popular titles," like Adventure Time and Regular Show, or other licensed properties, like IDW's My Little Pony series.

The monthly adventures of Garfield, Odie and long suffering owner Jon Arbuckle are helmed by the creative team of Writer Mark Evanier (who was also a primary contributor to The Garfield Show, the animated series from the France 3 network) and Artist Andy Hirsch.  However, the series also benefits from the contributions of Creator Jim Davis and collaborator Gary Barker, especially on the great covers of each issue. 

Garfield also utilizes a comic book tradition that dates back several decades: the holiday themed comic book.  This issue celebrates Thanksgiving with a heart-filled story in which Garfield uncharacteristically sets aside his primary holiday mission (to eat as much as possible, of course) to bring back a piece of his owner's childhood.  Jon no longer has the holiday spirit due to the overcommercialization of the local Thanksgiving parade, caused by the CEO of the big box retailer that runs the parade.  Despite his bumbling errors, Garfield succeeds in showing Jon that some holiday traditions are still out there to enjoy. 

Just in case things are getting too sappy at this point, the creative team of Scott Nickel and David Degrand continue the ongoing tales of Garfield's battles against food-oriented monsters.  This time, it's a gang of zombie meatballs, along with their leader, the Bride of the Calzone Creature! 

Degrand knocks it out of the park with his "old school" approach to drawing the cast.  There are times where Garfield almost appears to be too lazy to even run from the monsters, which makes the story even funnier, and readers will enjoy the unique solution Garfield devises to defeat the creatures.  Whether the confrontations with these monsters are actually taking place in the "real" Garfield universe, or if they are just nightmarish images in Garfield's dreams caused by overindulgence in his favorite Italian dishes is up to the reader to decide.

Additional features in this issue include Garfield's tips for Thanksgiving and some classic Sunday strips featuring one of the staples of the comic strip: the headless talking turkey.  I'm looking forward to seeing the upcoming Christmas and New Year's themed issues of this continuously enjoyable and entertaining comic book series. 

This iconic Norman Rockwell image has been a popular one in comics through the decades.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #46: Scooby-Doo Team-Up!

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up #1
DC Comics
$2.99, color, 28 pgs.
Writer: Sholly Fisch
Artist: Dario Brizuela

I believe I have watched the Scooby-Doo Meets Batman DVD well over 100 times, and it may actually be closer to 200 viewings.  This DVD was my son's absolute favorite movie when he was between the ages of three and five, and he would watch it...again and again and again.  For a period of time, I started to believe that he would never watch another cartoon again.  The DVD collects two episodes of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, which aired from 1972-1974, and was a bizarre team-up series that paired Mystery, Inc. with everyone from The Harlem Globetrotters to Don Knotts to The Adams Family.  The two episodes featured on this DVD were "The Caped Crusader Caper" and "The Dynamic Scooby-Doo Affair."  Both episodes featured Mystery, Inc. teaming up with the Dynamic Duo against the combined villainy of the Joker and the Penguin. 

Almost 40 years later, Scooby and the gang have reunited with the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder, this time to track down the genetic hybrid creature known as Man-Bat.  However, the search is complicated when the crime fighters discover there may be more than one strange "bat creature" prowling around the local mall.  Just as they did decades ago, the two teams successfully combine their efforts to solve the mystery and save the day, despite the usual bumbling efforts on the parts of Scooby and Shaggy.

Sholly Fisch is no stranger to all-ages comics, with a huge list of kids' titles under his writing belt, including Super Friends, Cartoon Network Block Party, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and his newest assignment, the comic book adaptation of DC Nation's new animated series Teen Titans Go! (currently airing on Cartoon Network).  Now he's bringing together two of the biggest animated properties in a series that will also feature Man-Bat, Ace the Bat Hound, The Scarecrow and more characters (not revealed yet) that will team up with the mystery solvers in future issues.

In addition to the main story, this first issue also includes the usual "DC Nation" extra features, including profiles/bios on Plastic Man and Adam Strange, and news about other upcoming all-ages comic books from DC Comics. 

Scooby-Doo Team Up! is a welcome addition to DC's line-up of kids' titles, and the first issue of this series is about as perfect as a comic book gets.  There's adventure, humor, a fun team-up between old friends, bright vibrant art by Dario Brizuela, and Sholly Fisch's wonderful dialogue that will entertain both younger and older readers alike.  Those older fans will remember watching The New Scooby-Doo Movies, not on a DVD or on the internet, but on their parents' old 19 inch Zenith TV on a Saturday morning.  It doesn't get much better than this.

Writer Sholly Fisch throws in some inside references to "The New Scooby-Doo Movies."

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #45: X Marks The Naught!

The Mysterious Strangers #5
Oni Press
$3.99, Color, 28 pgs.
Writer: Chris Roberson
Artist: Scott Kowalchuk, Dan Jackson


Writer Mark Waid once described The Mysterious Strangers (formerly just "The Strangers") as a "beautiful harmony of Jonny Quest, The Doom Patrol and Secret Agent."  Set in the Cold War era, The Strangers is a team comprised of four people with special powers and abilities who deal with unusual and bizarre situations that threaten the world.  The team's primary mission, as explained in the first issue of the series, is very simple: "Protecting the planet from the strange." 

Each issue may remind readers of classic television shows from the 1960's.  There are even opening credits and a closing sequence that is reminiscent of shows from that era, such as The Avengers and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 

The new story arc starting in this issue will probably bring to mind another classic television program: The X-Files.  All the familiar elements are present: The small town sheriff, the military presence, the lone diner, and of course the small town citizens with very big imaginations. 

When several people inexplicably vanish in the small town of Marfa, Texas, The Strangers take a break from filming a television show to investigate the unexplainable disappearances.  When the body of one of the missing townspeople is found, but aged by almost 80 years, the mystery starts generating more questions than answers.  Much like the weekly adventures of Mulder and Scully, the issue ends with a great cliffhanger.

Writer Chris Roberson also begins to explain the origins of The Strangers, and reveals just how far back in time this "mysterious" group goes.  As their leader Absalom Quince reveals, the organization goes all the way back to the Elizabethan era, when The Strangers were a group of travelling actors that took time away from their performances to confront otherworldly and paranormal threats.

One of the best aspects of this book is the unusual format.  Each story arc only lasts two issues, which means this title ranks high on the "new reader friendly" scale.  A new storyline starts every other issue, which means a higher likelihood that new customers will be encouraged to try out this book. 

In case this issue is your first, here's some great news: The first collected edition is on the way early next year.  The Mysterious Strangers: Strange Ways is scheduled for release on January 29th, 2014. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #43 - The Comicverse #3 !

The Comicverse #3
Awakening Comics
$4.00, B&W, 33 pgs.
Writer, Co-Plotter: Bianca Alu-Marr
Artist, Co-Plotter: Steve Peters

Steve Peters sketches and promotes The Comicverse on Free Comic Book Day!

I was very pleased to arrive home and find a package containing a review copy of the latest issue of The Comicverse.  For those who have not read my previous reviews of this fun series, it explores the adventures (and misadventures) of a group of characters working and socializing in a comic book store that is located on a space station.  The story is also told through installments on the creators' website and Facebook page, which are eventually compiled into issues of the series itself. 

Reiko Starr is the owner of The Comicverse, a comic shop located on the Tianhtar Space Station, a prime location for visits from many different types of alien species.  Just like the comic shop owners here on Earth, Reiko and his employee Ying (a friendly, if somewhat mischievousness dragon) have to contend with obsessive fans, unruly customers, and even the occasional flirtation with a female customer.  This is where Aki comes into the picture.  Aki is a beautiful but tough space pilot and courier that has a lot of history of her own (which begins to be revealed in this issue).  There is also an artificial intelligence unit called "Smart Rack" that may not always be likable, but is also one of the most important aspects of the comic shop of the future.  Smart Rack has the ability to print comics using "smart paper" that allows ink to settle permanently on the molecules of the comic, once the customer decides which comic book they wish to purchase.  Needless to say, this device would probably eliminate the phrase "We're sold out" at comic shops here on Earth. 

Issue #3 contains a lot of bang for the reader's buck, starting with the extended number of pages in this issue.  Reiko and Aki go on their first date, and readers will get to find out more about how the space station itself operates and provides for its denizens.  Ying is also placed in charge of the store while Reiko is gone, which leads to a startling revelation, when he meets another dragon for the first time, and discovers he is not alone as previously believed.  This mysterious second dragon teaches Ying a valuable lesson, when he finds out that Reiko has not been entirely truthful about the reason for allowing Ying to manage the store by himself.  In between all these events, life at the comic shop rolls on, just like it does here on Earth, and there are hints as to when the storyline takes place in Earth history. 

Besides the extended main story, this issue also has a humorous bonus story, and a special appearance by the one and only Fred Hembeck!

One of the great aspects of this series is that the characters are continuing to grow.  What could have been a one-note gag about people working in a comic shop in space has gone far beyond the original concept, by exploring the growth of each character in more depth than what readers will often find in a comic from the Big Two. 

The art by Steve Peters on this title is a huge part of the fun.  The Comicverse is one of those series that rewards readers who pay attention to the small details.  With a "smart rack" that can create any comic the customer desires comes unlimited possibilities for the store's customers.  The cover for this issue is just one example, as you can see titles as diverse as Rom: Spaceknight and The Walking Dead displayed on the same comic rack.

I have been reviewing this series since the beginning of its run, and each issue has truly been better than the previous one.  What does the future hold for these characters?  Without giving out any spoilers, let's just say things are about to get a lot more serious for the cast, as the world of pop culture starts to collide with real world events. 

Following up on the success of the first three issues, Creators Bianca Alu-Marr and Steve Peters are introducing their first spinoff series: the Kickstarter funded Comicverse: Behind The Counter!  Stay tuned for a review of this series soon!

The Kickstarter event for Comicverse: Behind The Counter was a success!

Friday, September 20, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #42 - Garfield #17

Garfield #17
KaBOOM! Studios
$3.99, Color, 27 pgs.
Writers: Mark Evanier, Scott Nickel
Artists: Andy Hirsch, David Degrand

Garfield has been a familiar sight in newspapers since its premiere back in 1978.  From the very start, the title character had a slightly "edgy" quality to him, and could even be considered a precursor to Bucky Katt, one of the main characters of the popular comic strip Get Fuzzy.  Over the past few decades, Garfield's adventures have usually centered around the most important aspects of his life:  eating lasagna, sleeping, and persecuting his hapless dog Odie.

However, when The Garfield Show first aired on the France 3 Network in 2008, it moved the character to the next level.  It was like giving the famed pussycat a much larger budget than he ever had in his comic strip adventures.  The animated series has featured everything from alien invasions to time travel to parallel universes. 

The monthly Garfield comic from KaBoom! (Boom Studios' kid-friendly line of comics) continues in the same vein as the animated series.  Helmed by Mark Evanier (who wrote many of the series' episodes) and artist Andy Hirsch, the stories are fun, entertaining and faithful to the character.  Long time strip collaborator Gary Barker has contributed some great covers, and the series has also featured variant covers by artists such as Al Jaffee and Fred Hembeck.

This issue starts with "Time and Time Again," in which Garfield manipulates a cat from the future to continuously return him 25 minutes into the past, so that he can eat the same five (gradually increasing to ten and twenty) pizzas over and over again.  Unfortunately, Garfield's selfishness results in the future feline attempting to remove all of his favorite Italian dishes from the present time period.  Therefore, Garfield is faced with the quandary of how to save the present...from the future. 

The second story, "Taste of Italy," features guest art by David Degrand, who draws Garfield in a style very similar to how he appeared in the early days of the comic strip.  Garfield's attempt to sneak into a food fair is complicated by a mad scientist and yet another bizarre mutation, this one created from a giant calzone.  This time it's up to Odie to save the day.

This issue also includes a couple bonus features: Sunday Classics, and a feature called "The Best Things in Life are Edible," a series of single panel comics with humorous captions for each one.

Garfield is continuously entertaining, witty and just plain fun to read.  It's a true "all ages" title that can be enjoyed by anyone with a funny bone! 


Sunday, July 14, 2013

What Lurks in the Longbox? #41 - Catwoman #21

Catwoman #21
DC Comics
$2.99, Color, 32 pgs.
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artists: Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona

Every once in a while, I pick up a title that I normally don't read just to see if the publisher is providing a "new-reader friendly" experience.  Unfortunately, Catwoman #21, while still a decent book, does not qualify. 

I have not read Catwoman on any regular basis throughout her many incarnations, simply because I've never had any real interest in the character.  Although I've checked out a few issues from previous series, it's just never held my attention long enough to commit to a regular monthly title.  This issue is actually the first I've read since the current series premiered in the "New 52" DCU.

The issue does not offer any kind of recap or summary of the storyline for new readers.  DC Comics' website says the story is "following the events of the Catwoman Annual," but does not provide much detail beyond that.  However, it's fairly clear that Catwoman and The Penguin are in some kind of territory war over a section of Gotham City called "The Badlands."  On one side is the Penguin and his army of henchmen, which also includes the super villain Volt.  On the other side is Catwoman and a street gang called the Rat-Tails, who are trying to free themselves from the protection racket that the Penguin uses to keep the gang under his control. 

While the issue has some exciting moments and plenty of action, Ann Nocenti's dialogue reads a little too much like her Daredevil run from the early 1990's.  As for the art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona, I would have to agree with the comment made on the DC Comics website, which noted that the characters appeared to be walking around with their eyes closed.  There does appear to be a lot of squinting going on, which may not be the best strategy when The Penguin is trying to blow up your entire neighborhood.

One of the determining factors of a comic book being "new-reader friendly" is whether or not that reader will return for the next issue.  Unfortunately, this latest version of the character did not stoke my interest enough for me to pick up Catwoman #22.