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Sunday, March 25, 2018

No Review This Week

With my deepest of apologies, there will be no review posted this week due to the fact that I am at Oregon Coast Comic Con representing Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

Normal reviews will resume next week and expect a post about my experiences from this years event as well.

-John "Zanziber" Rogers

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Game of Thrones Vol 1

Title: A Game of Thrones Vol 1

ISBN: 9780440423218

Price: $25.00

Publisher/Year: Dynamite, 2012

Artist: Tommy Patterson

Writer: George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham

Collects: A Game of Thrones #1-6

Rating: 4/5

Adapted by Daniel Abraham and lushly illustrated by Tommy Patterson, the graphic novel opens with an ill-fated ranging beyond The Wall of handful of the Night’s Watch and ends with Daenerys discovering bit by bit her own power and personal strength thanks to her new position within the Dothraki Khalasar. Volume One compiles the first six issues (out of what will be a total of 24 at 29 pages a pop) which cover the trials and tribulations of the Stark family of Winterfell, King Robert Baratheon and his manipulative Lannister kin, and the cruel fallen lord of House Targaryen and his enslaved sister who may not be as innocent as she looks. Where the books were split into sections — In the Seven Kingdoms, On the Wall, In the East — and each chapter devoted to a single character, Abraham and Patterson jump from different perspectives by color-coding the text blocks (Tyrion gets red, Arya goldenrod, Bran grass green, etc.). Comics are all about show don’t tell, and they’ve done a good job of it.

Abraham has worked with Martin before, both directly in adaptations of Fevre Dream and “Skin Trade” and indirectly with Martin’s ongoing Wild Cards series, and it shows. While it’s obvious that a lot of the first book was left out of the comic (a 720 page book becomes a 7200 page graphic novel if you illustrate every damn thing), what remains is beautifully written. Obviously the writing credits go to Martin, but by not butchering the text with a cut and paste job, Abraham has abridged the novel in a way that isn’t clunky or confusing. It’s easy to edit something down and cut out a seemingly quiet scene that holds the key to the rest of the story’s secrets, but by the end of it I could still follow the story and start guessing at future plot lines. Not even the characters lost personality; what was left unwritten about them came out in the illustrations.

Patterson has no Martin-related experience, but he’s worked extensively with studios as an illustrator, and that gives this comic much more of a cinematic quality. He isn’t playing with the medium here. There are no awesome comics moments. He really is an illustrator rather than a comics artist. Really, that was the only disappointing aspect of the book. I wanted to read a comics version of A Game of Thrones, not an illustrated novel. But disappointing doesn’t mean bad, just not what I was expecting. Patterson suffers a bit from the dreaded Liefeld syndrome, sometimes giving his men muscles waaay oversized for their bodies and women teensy tiny waists (see Khal Drogo and Daenerys as the worst offenders).

In the intro to the graphic novel Martin talks about how he used to read comics during the Comics Code’s heyday, and how there was a huge debate over whether or not Classics Illustrated were “a good thing, seeing as how they helped to introduce kids to ‘real literature.’ Others insisted…that these adaptations did violence to the great books they were based on, cheapened them, robbed the reader of the delights of the original…They were right, of course. But they were wrong as well.” That’s pretty much how I feel about reading the graphic novel of A Game of Thrones before reading the book or watching the show. In a way, I kind of feel like I cheated, like I’m reading the CliffsNotes version before struggling through the “real” thing. On the other side of the coin I feel like I’m reading something that stands apart from the book and show, something that exists in its own right and has its own artistic validity and worth. And trust me, this graphic novel is full of both of those things.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Groo: Friends and Foes Vol 1

Title: Groo: Friends and Foes Vol 1

ISBN: 9781616558147

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2015

Artist: Sergio Aragonés

Writer: Mark Evanier

Collects: Groo: Friends and Foes #1-4

Rating: 3/5

Groo is the smelliest, ugliest, stupidest, unluckiest mercenary in the world – but he’s also the best swordsman in creation and far too stupid to be harmed. He is always hungry and wanders because most places he pauses in burn down, wash away or crash into rubble soon after his arrival.

He loves to fight and entire nations and navies reel at the mention of his name. Of course they do the same when they stand downwind of him too…

Produced in a unique traditional fashion by storyteller Sergio Aragonés, wordsmith Mark Evanier, colorist Tom Luth – with assistance from Michael Atiyeh – and letterer Stan Sakai (yeah, that Usagi Yojimbo guy), the Itinerant Imbecile’s adventures form one of the longest running comic book humor series in America and there seems to be no chance of stopping his creators as long as we keep buying these incredible, hilarious sagas…

Both in comic narrative and the infinitely tougher field of gag-cartooning, Aragonés has produced vast volumes of incomparable work. His darkly skewed sensibilities and instinctive grasp of the cosmically absurd, wedded to his anarchically meticulous drawing style and frankly terrifying professional discipline, have made his pantomimic doodles vibrant proof of the maxims that laughter is universal and one picture is worth a thousand words.

In 1981, after years working for Mad Magazine whilst also producing gags for DC’s horror titles (plus the occasional full strip), he joined with Mark Evanier (who writes lots of stuff and Writes it Good), Sergio crafted a madcap 4-page parody of Sword-&-Sorcery yarns as a contribution to Eclipse Comics’ Creators Rights benefit comic Destroyer Duck.

Following a second outing in Mike Grell’s Starslayer (#5), Pacific Comics launched Groo the Wanderer in his own title. After 8 issues (December 1982-April 1984) the troubled company folded but the unsinkable barbarian (that’s a joke you’ll understand later) resurfaced in the Groo Special one-shot from Eclipse (October 1984), before finding a home at Epic Comics: Archie Goodwin’s creator-owned corner of the Marvel Universe.

Aragonés had first devised his witless warrior in the 1970s but no publisher would take on the property unless he surrendered all rights – an almost universal situation in the comics industry until the advent of the Direct Sales market transferred power from companies and distributors to creators and consumers.

With ownership issues settled to his maker’s satisfaction, Groo bedded in for an uproarious 120 issue run at Epic – resulting in loads of graphic novel compilations – until the imprint died, after which the witless wonder moved on to Image and Dark Horse Comics. They haven’t sunk yet…

In fact, the latter (gluttons for punishment) have even let the bumbling bladesman loose with new 12-issue miniseries Groo: Friends and Foes; each issue revisiting one of the silly saga’s regular cast who had inconceivably escaped being slaughtered by the star. This tawdry tome is but the first of four trade paperback collections and this first compilation collects issues #1-4, finding the perpetually puzzled peripatetic poltroon meeting again merchant mariner Captain Ahax, who has good reason to dread the consequences…

That sinking thing? Among his other lack of abilities Groo cannot travel by ship. He’s not sea-sick or anything, it’s just that his mere physical presence on a nautical apparatus of any sort causes it to founder and plunge into the fearsome fathoms below. Knowing that fact and unable to get rid of the affable oaf, Ahax surrenders to fate and opts to replace the crew with drunks, sell his ship and even his clients’ cargoes. Then he over-insures the vessel, confident that at least this time when she goes down he’ll actually profit from it.

But this time his ship comes in, despite Groo constantly waving sharp objects about, an attack by pirates and Ahax’s own increasingly desperate efforts to scuttle his livelihood. Perhaps it’s the calming influence of the sweet little girl who befriends the woeful warrior’s adoring dog Rufferto? She’s a fellow passenger all alone, searching for her long-lost father…

As disaster finally strikes – far too late for Ahax – the smelliest, ugliest, stupidest mercenary in the world shambles off and soon encounters a band of gypsies who seem familiar. They ought to: they’re led by his calculating grandmother Granny Groo. How fondly the weary wanderer remembers the way she used to beat him and his sister Grooella before selling him. Of course, being the kind of kid he was, Granny had to sell him many times before it finally stuck…

Now that he’s become the most terrifying person on Earth, however, she decides on a different plan to get rid of him before he brings calamity upon them all: raffling him off to greedy villagers who think they might profit from “controlling” the most dangerous man alive…

Baffled Rufferto gamely sticks with his master and soon discovers that the little girl from the ship has joined the gypsies too…

When that brief debacle ends as all Groo gigs do, the dog and his hero head further inland and soon encounter a magic-blighted region controlled by old enemies and devilish witches Arba and Dakarba.

The female fiends have good reason to fear the innocently intruding idiot and decide to get their retaliation in first by conjuring up the scariest thing they can think of to destroy him. Sadly, a marauding 50-foot Groo – even backed up by a hundred normal-sized facsimiles – are no match for the sheer force of destructive stupidity the real McCoy can muster and the witches inevitably fail, leaving their noodle-nosed nemesis to saunter off accompanied by a little girl he thinks he might have met before…

Groo’s initial outings end after a frantic reunion with Legendary Hero and shameless fraud Arcadio whom our pack of peregrinators stumble across as he tries to train a brace of dragons. The crafty champion plans on using them to gull villagers into hiring him, but when good-natured Groo offers his help, the plan – and the villagers – soon go up in smoke…

Closing this inaugural volume is a quartet of wordless strips starring Rufferto and a captivating cover-gallery by Aragonés adding to the wonderfully wonky misshapen madness and grand display of confusions, contusions, conflagrations, conflicts, pratfalls, pitfalls, punch-lines and punch-ups…

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Vampire Tales Vol 1

Title: Vampire Tales Vol 1

ISBN: 9780785146445

Price: $19.99

Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2010

Artist: John Romita JR., Pablo Marcos, Rich Buckler, Jesus Blasco, Esteban Maroto, Winslow Mortimer, Vicente Alcazar, Carlos Garzon

Writer: Gerry Conway, Ron Goulart, Don McGregor, Steve Gerber, Gardner F. Fox, Roy Thomas

Collects: Vampire Tales #1-3

Rating: 3/5

Vampires prowl the dark and the innocents are not the only victims.  In the dark, killers like Morbius and Satana the Devil’s Daughter push the boundaries of what is a hero…The nights are not safe!

Vampire Tales Volume 1 collects the Marvel magazine Vampire Tales which was part of the horror wave in the 1970s.  Like many of Marvel’s magazines the comic burned out quickly but had an interesting run.  The series is collected in three volumes, but uncollected in an all reprint Vampire Tales Annual #1 that contained the stories “The Praying Mantis Principal” (Vampire Tales #2) and “The Kiss of Death” (Vampire Tales #3) among other stories.

I’m a sucker for anthology series.  Vampire Tales is no exception.  I actually prefer the shorter more EC style of stories in the volume than the longer comic based volumes surrounding Morbius and Satana.  The short volumes are like little Twilight Zone episodes…almost all with predictable zingers, but they are still fun.  It is also good to see that Marvel kept in the articles (though dated) that talk of vampires and vampire films.

The Marvel magazines tried to be more edgy and darker than Marvel’s regular series.  This means for the most part, prostitutes, pimps, drug users, and other “dark” figures of the world instead of the lighter world of comics (the magazines weren’t regulated by the Comic Code).  They also as a result boast some great art and cover art.  The magazines were black-and-white but here, they also reprint the great colored covers.

The series does introduce Satana in Vampire Tales #2.  It is a short story simply called “Satana” and Satana is presented as more of a succubus than a vampire (Vampire Tales often strayed from the vampire theme).  Satana was created as a type of ying-yang to her brother the Son of Satan (Daimon Hellstrom).  While the Son of Satan rejected their father’s darkness, Satana embraced it…though she never really got to shine or develop since her limited appears were few and far between.

Vampire Tales Volume 1 wasn’t a big sell and can often be found at discount prices.  That is a shame since it probably hinders other Marvel magazines from receiving this nice treatment.  Tales of the Zombie was already collected in an Essential volume and Dracula Lives and The Hulk also found its way to other collections, but it would be great to see Deadly Hands of Kung Fu or Monsters Unleashed get full printing.

Cerebus Vol 3: Church & State Volume I

 Title: Cerebus Vol 3: Church & State Volume I ISBN: 0919359094 Price: $ Publisher/Year: Aardvark-Vanheim, 1987 Artist: Gerhard Writer: ...