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.