Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pulp-Powered Comics: Athena Voltaire

One look at the image below should tell you what to expect from Athena Voltaire. She is a world class aviatrix, a crack shot, and a good right hand in the middle of an adventure.

But unlike so many of my suggestions you don't have to take our word for it. The fine folks at Ape Entertainment hooked you up with this web comic.

More than any others, Athena is a character I don’t want to spoil for anyone. You should check her adventures out. They come HighlY Recommended.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pulp Month Presents Tarzan Tuesday: The Imitators!

After Tarzan made his first appearance in the early years of the twentieth century, the popularity of the character took off like a sky-rocket. So it should be no surprise that the world of pulps and comic books wasted little time in converting that success to other forms with other, quite similar characters.

The pulp stand-outs were Ka-Zar (certainly more famous for later being part of the early Marvel Mystery Comics that also introduced Sub-Mariner and Human Torch) and Ki-Gor, Jungle Lord, star of the long running Jungle Stories pulp. A public domain character now, Ki-Gor has appeared in books published by Atlus Press and Wild Cat Books with comic and pulp anthologies from Moonstone Books coming soon.

But comics... comics were filled with Tarzan clones left and right. I am sure if you checked out a comics rack in the first half of the forties you could find half a dozen titles with jungle themes. Characters with names like Ka'anga and Wambi appeared, while early female star Fantomah was an insanely over-powered (and sometimes skull-faced) protector of the jungle.

Things really went up a notch following the debut of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. The Eisner-Iger creation was one of the most popular characters of the thirties and forties, surviving until 1953. She spawned a pulp during that time (a feat rare among comic books). She returned in a short-lived TV series, a movie in the mid-eighties, and a very entertaining comic from Devil’s Due just a couple years ago.

Sheena spawned as many imitators as Tarzan. Characters like Zegra, Tiger Girl, Tegra the Jungle Queen, and Jann of the Jungle quickly appeared in an attempt to capitalize off the character’s popularity. One of these spin-offs, Rulah, Jungle Goddess, recently returned to fiction through Metahuman Press’s Timeline.

After the forties, the Tarzan clones became more sporadic. In France rival comic publishers created Akim and Zembla, both long lasting jungle lords. Marvel debuted a new Ka-Zar while DC dug back in to public domain Victorian fiction for the character of Rima. Parodies like George of the Jungle would also soon crop up. Wherever he appeared, the character of Tarzan seemed ready to appear in any number of variations in any place or time.

I suppose it is the mark of a truly defining character. Whatever the case, it seems Tarzan will live on, in one form or another, for a very long time to come.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pulp-Powered Comics: The Perhapanauts

This week I am going to take some time to focus on a few more modern interpretations of the pulp genre. First stop: The Perhapanauts.

More accurately titled Todd and Craig’s The Perhapanauts, the comic first debuted in 2006 as a four issue limited series from Dark Horse Comics. It returned as another limited series a few months later before moving to Image for its current (sporadic) edition.

The book treads a lot of ground with its concept: a secret government agency devoted to unlocking the secrets of cryptids, strange beings that populate the earth in unexplained ways: bigfoot, chupacabra, ghosts, and the like. What makes the Fearless Five-esque unit fun is that they represent those cryptids. Bigfoot (nicknamed Big), the Chupacabra (nicknamed Choopie) and a ghost named Molly are all members of our main team. The mystery guy MG (clever initials there) and team leader Arisa (a psychic) round out the team.

The book tends to take the team’s adventures literally everywhere as they seek to uncover the truth and often haphazardly stumble their way through each adventure. They meet monsters from the Chimaera to the Jersey Demon to Filipino vampire known as the aswang.

In some ways it is similar to the early stories of its fellow modern pulp Hellboy, only The Perhapanauts never gets half as grim as Mike Mignola’s creation. Writer Todd DeZago (Tellos, Sensational Spider-Man) brings a lighter, more exciting prose style to the book. Impulse and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane artist Craig Rousseau’s light pen work and deft character designs turns DeZago’s words in to page after stunning page, all colored perfect by Rico Renzi. The book looks good and can best be compared to the adult cartoonish style of Powers’ Michael Avon Oeming.

After its move to Image, the book failed to bring in enough money for the team to keep it afloat as a monthly title. A few issues have been published sporadically, but Rousseau seems to have moved on to work for Marvel, including the recent debut of Marvel Her-Oes, the worst titled comic since Giant Sized Man-Thing. Trades are still available though, and I highly recommend them to anyone that enjoys a good comic or a good heroic pulp. Highly Recommended.

Note on the links: Though its labeled as volume one, Triangle is actually the third book in the series. First Blood and Second Chances come before it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Apologies and Notes

My apologies for the length of time you have went without an update. Rest assured we will be continuing Pulp Month starting tomorrow.

Suffice it to say, it’s been a long, long weekend in the Ahlhelm household. But everything is good. Everyone is getting along. Life is moving forward, rather happily actually.

I am left behind on my Script Frenzy project, but after I play catch-up we should be well on our way to healthy, happy side updates!

Thanks for reading, folks, and we will see you tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pulp-Powered Comics: Hellboy Seed of Destruction

Having read the entire series a few years ago, I recently took the chance to look over the first volume of the ongoing series of miniseries Hellboy: Seed of Destruction again. The character, at least in his early incarnation, was decidedly adventure pulp in origin only coated in a fine layer of Lovecraftian horrors. But until recently I never noticed the striking resemblance between his first adventure and those of Doc Savage.

Basically, Hellboy is Doc Savage.

Artist Mike Mignola and scripter John Byrne have crafted a story about an intrepid agent with uncanny abilities that makes him far and away better than an average man and his allies. His father’s death sets off his first adventure. One his quest, his company of heroes follow him. A clear similarity begins to show itself.

Now clearly, it is by no means a straight pastiche. Hellboy is a demon with filed off horns. Instead of the Fearless Five, his aides are the fish-man Abe Sapien and pyrokinetic Liz Sherman. (His other allies would come later.) His father is killed by evil toads, not a South American assassin.

But I think the similarities are worthy of attention. Over the last sixteen years of stories, Hellboy, his supporting cast, and their ongoing narrative have easily become the most widely known neo-pulp characters in fiction.

I digress. I am here to talk about Hellboy: Seed of Destruction. The series gives us a brief origin of the character that opens up as many questions as it might solve before we leap head-long in to the story. The team quickly find themselves in to an ever growing web of evil crafted by the half-alive mad monk known as Rasputin. Things get complicated and Hellboy finds himself battling to save the world.

Mignola’s skills as a storyteller were still rough around the edges at this point. John Byrne providing the script to Mignola’s plot helps some, though at times the characters seem slightly off in their decisions. Viewed as a standalone though, it is nothing short of epic.

Each book in the series seems to stray farther and father from that initial pulp premise. But Seed of Destruction is definitely a good piece of pulp. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pulp Month Presents Tarzan Tuesday: The Original Novel!

When I started Pulp Month a couple weeks ago, I knew I had to review Tarzan of the Apes, arguably the original novel that did more to revolutionize the pulp hero than any other. I haven’t read it in over a decade, so I popped on down to my local library and picked up a copy.

The first thing I noticed when reading it was the first thing I noticed when reading it the first time: just how different this story is from every adaptation of it I have ever seen. Movies have never done the original work justice and probably never will.

The novel is actually rather simple in its development, especially compared to the ever increasing level of adventure shown in some of his more fantastical later stories. Instead the story has a simple narrative flow. It starts with Tarzan’s father and mother as they are on a ship off the coast of Africa. After a mutiny, the couple are stranded on shore. His father sets out to build a life for them as they await rescue. But both are left dead by unfortunate circumstance, and baby Tarzan comes in to the hands of an ape named Kala. Kala raises him in the tribe, despite the hatred of the strange baby by her husband Tublat and the rampaging leader of the tribe Kerchak. Tarzan eventually learns to read and write by studying his father’s untouched books., but remains unable to speak the English language. (Hooked on Phonics didn’t exist yet.) Eventually another group of Europeans and Americans are left on a neraby shore. Tarzan investigates and helps them, despite not understanding their words.

And he, of course, meets Jane. But little comes of their relationship in this novel. She is enfianced to Tarzan’s cousin (neither man understands the nature of the other as of yet) and the group leaves before Tarzan meets and befriends Paul D’Arnot of the French Navy. D’Arnot teaches Tarzan French and eventually brings the savage back in to western civilization.

It’s a good story, although it lacks the punch of a true villain or a complete narrative. It almost comes off as the first episode of a television series rather than a true novel. Other novels in the franchise are left open-ended, but never to the degree of this initial work. Despite that, Tarzan is such an iconic figure that this book begs to be read. It’s somewhat dry in places, but Burroughs still writes with a rather action-oriented flow that most readers should enjoy.

All in all, Tarzan gives little for a reader to complain about. And it is easy to read. Even if you don’t want to buy it, you can alway read it online for free. Whatever the case, you should read it at least once. Recommended.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pulp-Powered Prose: Doc Savage!

We have spent quite a lot of this month so far discussing Pulp comics and will continue to discuss a few more as we go. Why? Because many of the best pulp-inspired stories come out of modern comics. It’s one of the reasons I consider Pulp Empire so important.

But one place the pulps are still alive is in noted pulp historian Anthony Tollin’s series of Doc Savage reprints. Produced through Nostalgia Ventures, this thirty-five volume (so far) series reprints two classic Doc stories per issue with a combination of classic covers and the more up to date James Bama covers from the sixties and seventies. Inside, you will find a historical essay or two, and more importantly, two great adventures of Doc, Ham, Monk, Johnny, Renny, and Long Tom.

I have picked up a few so far, mostly through my local Half Price Books, but I would recommend everyone start from the beginning of the classic series. That means finding a copy of Doc Savage #14: “The Man of Bronze” & “The Land of Terror”. It features the first two stories of the classic pulp hero; stories that clearly have inspired everything from the A-Team to Superman.

“The Man of Bronze” introduces Doc and his team and sends him out on his first major adventure. He goes to South America to find his father’s killer and in the process finds a secret tribe, a group of tribal assassins, and a greedy business man. And a whole hell of a lot of gold.

“:The Land of Terror” is more gruesome than the usual Doc tale as Doc and company travel to a lost bit of the world where dinosaurs still walk the earth. While not as good as “The Man of Bronze” and far more violent than other Doc tales, it still makes a decent second novel in this collection (if for no other reason than it was the second story).

An autobiography of Doc writer Lester Dent and a history of the character’s origin as written by pulp historian Will Murray close out this volume.

And that leaves thirty-five more volumes to go!

While Doc remains a mostly forgotten hero in a lot of the world’s eyes, a new series at DC and an upcoming movie project seem set to bring the character to explosive life once again. In the mean time, go find a couple copies of these amazing pulp replica editions. I suspect you will find yourself just as engrossed by the epic adventures as I was. Recommended.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pulp-Powered Comics: The Late, Lamented Hilly Rose

Hilly Rose was part of the last independent comics boom in the mid-1990’s. In turn, it would also be the victim of the market contraction caused by Heroes World and Capital Comics Distribution collapsing. Before that time, nine issues would be produced, and all were filled with space-pulpy goodness.

The comic was both written and drawn by early Eclipse contributor B.C. Boyer (The Masked Man). But unlike the rough, vaguely Will Eisner-inspired art of that series, Hilly Rose takes Frazetta, mixes in some Dave Stevens, and sprinkles in a little bit of contemporary Jeff Smith. And much like the love interest to Stevens’ Rocketeer, Hilly’s looks owe quite a bit to one Bettie Page.

Hilly Rose is a reporter for a small newspaper out on a distant end of the galaxy. Her father edits the same paper. She has the aid of a little Bone-like alien named Blossom, as well as a recruiter for a larger Earth-based news network named Bach. During the first chapter, the group comes under attack by a simple-minded war machine (with more than a passing resemblance to a Rob Liefeld-creation) named Sidney the Evil Incarnate Guy. But Sidney is only the tip of the iceberg for a conspiracy of villainy hiding in the shadows of the world.

I have only ever acquired the first two issues of Hilly Rose, but the art style, the action, and even the parodic bits, all tend towards keeping a space operatic pulp feel. This book believes in telling a compelling story, yes, but never at expense of sheer, unrepentant fun!

Sadly aside from a pinup in Dark Horse’s Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Others in ’98, B.C. Boyer left the comics community after his series came to an end in 1997. Where he is now is anyone’s guess. Anyone that has any idea should get in touch with me in the comments section, and I will update it here.

For now, I highly recommend everyone go trace down a copy of Hilly Rose or the Hilly Rose: Space Reporter trade. It comes Recommended.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pulp-Powered Comics: Airfighters #1

After a so-so revival of Airboy early last year, Moonstone finally presented the follow-up, their anthology Airfighters. The book clocks in at sixty-two pages of black and white classic flying action with revivals of eight different flying heroes of the thirties and forties. Well worth the $5.99 cover price in this author’s opinion.

Chuck Dixon continues his return to Airboy in “Iron Rain”.The twelve page story proves to be a rather disappointed done-in-one adventure of the hero fighting Nazis. But the greatest oversight is the lack of Valkyrie in the story despite her appearance on the great cover by Tom Grindberg.

Tom DeFalco’s Flying Fool takes a novel look at the genre, but tales of the Flying Dutchman and Iron Ace prove a little more lackluster.

The Bald Eagle tale’s conclusion clearly takes the character in a direction never used before, but only subsequent stories really will tell us how good the new Bald Eagle might be.

Ver Curtiss provides some stunning art to Martin Powell’s Black Angel, which gives us a slightly more heart warming story of beating back the Nazis.

Sky Wolf takes the biggest departure from the original character, or at least the version of that character I know from Eclipse’s Airboy series. The art by Oscar Celestini is unique, but quite solid. Unfortunately the character and his story seem rather flat in comparison to the exploits of the aforementioned Airboy-backup star.

The book concludes with what is clearly the best tale: Captain Midnight by Christopher Mills (Femme Noir) and Rick Burchett (Batman Adventures). While by no means an Eisner contender, the short takes the classic radio hero and shows just how exciting his swashbuckling adventures can be, even in eight pages. He drops in to the Aztec jungle, stops the Nazi plot, and swings out in the company of a beautiful damsel in distress. The series works on an adventure serial level to absolute perfection while avoiding the typical European setting of far too many Nazi stories.

All in all, I rate Airfighters #1 as a great package. Hopefully we will see another one from Moonstone Books soon. Recommended.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pulp-Powered Comics: Femme Noir

Much like Athena Voltaire (a review you will see later this month), Femme Noir started its life as a web comic before transitioning its way to the printed page through the fine folks at Ape Entertainment.

Written by Christopher Mills (Primortals and drawn by the legendary Joe Staton (E-Man and just about every DC hero), “The Dark City Diaries” take us to Port Nocturne, a city dripping with the kind of noir storytelling only found in black and white cinema. But the full color comic somehow catapults that city in to a costumed vigilante’s world with the appearance of the comic’s mysterious namesake and Brother Grim.

One of the key factors in the series is the mystery of Femme Noir herself. No one knows her secret identity, not even the reader. We are given three choices to the character’s real world life, but all or none may be true. It’s certainly not a new concept: it’s been used everywhere from the animated movie Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman to Max Allen Collins’ Wild Dog to the Tangent version of The Joker. But Mills never lets us in on the secret, at least not yet.

Each issue gives a done-in-one that builds on top the mystery of the character even as she fights villains that take the noir elements and push them straight in to pulp, whether it be a jungle woman or an evil robot. All of it seems to fit in place in the slightly strange city of Port Nocturne. It all works incredibly well together, but I don’t want to give away too much of the fun of this book.

Several gorgeous pin-ups ordain the backs of the original issues, though I am unaware if they are included in the collection. As a web comics author, Christopher Mills is easily reachable through his Facebook page or through one of his numerous websites. He even has pages of the web comic version of Femme Noir up at Ape Entertainment’s comic site.

But I digress, this is about an amazing graphic novel, well worth the price of admission. Check it out. Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pulp Month Presents Tarzan Tuesday: The Movies!

Tarzan has been part of cinema almost as long as cinema has existed. In 1918, the first two Tarzan silent films were released, Tarzan of the Apes and The Romance of Tarzan, both starring Elmo Lincoln. But it wasn’t until the talkies and a man named Johnny Weismuller that Tarzan became a household name in film as well as in print.

From 1932 to 1960, Weismuller, Lex Barker, and Gordon Scott made a sum total of 23 Tarzan films with 5 more independent films being produced in the same time period. Six more smaller films from RKO and other studios kept the hero alive for most of the sixties. But in the seventies, Tarzan disappeared from the silver screen. The disco decade gave us only one glimpse of Tarzan, the Filmation cartoon series on Saturday mornings.

That changed in 1981 as a new era of very different Tarzan movies began with Tarzan, the Ape Man. The film took a decidedly different direction as it focused more on James Parker and his daughter Jane, played by Bo Derek. Tarzan (Miles O’Keeffe) almost becomes a supporting character in his own film. (Even the movie poster featured only Jane.) Derek as Jane is clearly center stage, not surprising when her husband John Derek is directing. But the film seems more ready to focus on showing Jane topless for as long as times as possible rather than constructing a good story. If you like skin, you will surely enjoy this film, but if you are looking for solid Tarzan action you are best advised to go elsewhere. Not Recommended.

Three years later, Hollywood would try again with Greystoke — The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. The movie finally does away with many of the tropes of previous films, from the rather idiotic Tarzan of the Weismuller era, while going back to the original material for more of its story ideas. Still it takes massive liberties with the relationship of Tarzan and Jane. While Christopher Lambert (Highlander) and Andie MacDowell bring solid performances to their roles, they often fall flat against a script buried in eighties cinema seriousness. Nowhere will you find the excitement and the fun spirit of Burroughs’ Tarzan. Ralph Richardson does perform admirably as Tarzan’s aging grandfather, but it is not enough to save the film from its own sagging spirit. Mildly Recommended.

It would be another fourteen year gap before Tarzan returned to the screen with Tarzan and the Lost City. The film takes the complete opposite concept from Greystoke. This is a rollicking action adventure with shades of the Indiana Jones franchise thrown in. The Lost City in the title is none other than the city of Opar, though it does not resemble the city of Burroughs’s original works. Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers) portrays Tarzan, while model Jane March brings a certain almost foreign mystique to her role as Jane. The movie isn’t particularly well acted, but it is a fun adventure romp. Mildly Recommended.

Tarzan’s cinema life may have come to an end with the release of Disney’s animated Tarzan in 1999. The film traces the life of a young Tarzan in his tribe as he grows to adulthood and makes friends of the animals around him. As an adult he meets Jane, her father, an eccentric professor, and their guide Clayton (a far cry from the Clayton of the novel). But the film does a good job of capturing the spirit of Burroughs’s character while still taking the usual movie liberties with the story. The move does an artful job of weaving its disparate elements together. Yes, the music by Phil Collins can often be off-putting, but the film works as a whole. Though not as powerful as many of Disney’s animated films in the nineties, Tarzan is clearly one of the best screen adaptations of Tarzan ever. Recommended.

Though Tarzan has returned in a cartoon series based on the Disney film and a short-lived WB series, he has yet to return to film. But it seems like only a matter of time before John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, finds his way back to film. Hopefully with a film that makes all his previous forays on to the silver screen pale in comparison.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pulp-Powered Comics: Batman/Doc Savage Special

This book seemed to have a simple goal: introduce the readers to the First Wave version of Batman a few months before the first issue of First Wave hits the stands. If it happened to reintroduce Doc Savage to the masses more the better.

With words by Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) and art by Phil Noto (Jonah Hex), the series definitely has a quality pedigree. But despite Noto’s lovely art, Azzarello’s story goes from feeling a little slow early on to rushed by its conclusion.

The two heroes find themselves at cross purposes, but quickly form a working relationship of sorts, not all that far removed from that of mainline DC’s Bruce Wayne and another guy named Clark. What it fails to do is give a solid lead in to the upcoming First Wave series.

Thankfully, the preview art I presented on this site a few months ago follows the initial story as a teaser. First Wave only started last month, but expect a review of the first two issues later this month. Meanwhile, Batman / Doc Savage Special is Mildly Recommended.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pulp-Powered Comics: Howard Chaykin's The Shadow: Blood & Judgment

The character of the Shadow was one of my first links to the world of pulp fiction. I became a huge fan of the character when central Iowa radio station WHO started playing the old radio serials irregularly between 9 and 10 p.m. Already a superhero fan, I quickly took to the Shadow even though, thanks to Ron Fortier’s comic at Now, I was more familiar with the characters in the Green Hornet episodes they also played. The movie would soon come out and continue my fandom. But the Shadow’s days in comic were pretty much past already (not counting one or two Dark Horse issues).

It wasn’t until the last couple months that I finally stumbled across a copy of Howard Chaykin’s 1986 Shadow miniseries. Published at the height of DC’s move to edgier material (the same year as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen), it strived to do something few would ever dare to do. It brought the Shadow in to the eighties.

In the process, Chaykin finally gave the Shadow a detailed origin. Though it feels more than a little clipped from the Green Lama’s background, the origin works perfectly to explain both where Kent Allard received his powers and why he assumed the name of Lamont Cranston.

We meet the older versions of his classic forties sidekicks, some of which quickly die. Harry Vincent and Margo Lane would still play prominent roles as would Harry’s daughter, a thoroughly modern woman proved a little more old-fashioned than she thinks by the Shadow.

The “Suggested for Mature Readers” title charged the Shadow with more sex and violence than even his old pulps allowed while still crafting an entertaining tale of the classic character reborn.

Sadly, the follow up series would quickly derail the character’s modern day take. The character fell in to the trap of being violent for violence’s sake while not giving enough Shadow to really please the classic fans. Not even art from the likes of Bill Sienkiewicz and Kyle Baker could save it. The Shadow would disappear for a while from DC comics before being relaunched in a new forties-era series called The Shadow Strikes.

Nonetheless, Chaykin’s “Blood & Judgment” is worth a read. Give it a looksy if you can find it in a used book store or comic shop. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pulp Month Presents Tarzan Tuesday: Super-Crossovers!

When Dark Horse picked up the Tarzan license in the mid-nineties, they immediately set out to make him a franchise player with the company. They met with limited success. But one thing they did manage to do was create some great crossovers.

Tarzan’s first Dark Horse comic apparance actually came in a crossover: Tarzan versus Predator At the Earth’s Core. Written by Walter Simonson and drawn by Lee Weeks, the story serves as a sequel to the thirteenth novel, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core. This means the plot can be somewhat dense with characters not know to the casual observer, but I still found it a great deal of fun when I read it as a teenager (having never read a Tarzan novel). It holds up quite well even today, though I would say it’s one weakness actually falls in to the crossover territory. The Predators play a minimal role in the overall story, although this probably works for the best to let the true villains of the tale shine. Mildly Recommended.

Batman / Tarzan: Claws of the Catwoman is one of my personal favorite comics. Ron Marz and Igor Kordey teamed up to produce a great book with some amazing twists. Basically we get an Elseworlds version of Batman sometime in the early twentieth century as he meets the traditional Tarzan. They come together after an expedition sponsored by Bruce Wayne is exposed as a looting. The person who exposes it is a cat-garbed thief, but this Catwoman is nothing like Selina Kyle. The adventure quickly leads Batman, Tarzan, and Catwoman in to the jungles where they face the looter Finnegan Dent as he tries to return for the rest of his fortune. The Elseworlds twists play out perfectly over the course of the series, and Kordey may be the ideal Tarzan artist. All in all Batman / Tarzan: Claws of the Catwoman is great comics. Strongly Recommended.

The last of these stories releaed in real time is Superman/Tarzan: Sons of the Jungle by Chuck Dixon and the late Carlos Meglia. Unlike Batman/Tarzan, they produce an Elseworlds for both characters. John Greystoke never gets lost in the jungle. Instead a baby Kal-El is raised by apes. The tale focuses far more on Kal-El as he goes through the experiences shown in early Tarzan stories while John finds himself out of place in polite society. By the time the three issues end, both men are in Africa and fighting to save Jane Porter and Lois Lane from a certain evil empress. It’s failure is in not being as good as previous Superman as Tarzan tales. Sadly, Not Recommended.

The final collection we will cover today was actually nominated for a Harvey Award the year it arrived in stores. Originally printed as six issues of the ongoing Tarzan series from Dark Horse, Tarzan: Le Monstre would use Tarzan in a way quite similar to the later League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Through three two-part stories, Tarzan faces off with the Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Writer Lovern Kindzierski clearly knows how to tie these stories together and makes this level of meta-fiction look easy. The art team of Stan Manoukian and Vince Roucher bring the intricate style they used previously on Dark Horse’s Shadow comics to the architecture of Paris. This comic is a joy to behold and an even better read. Strongly Recommended.

Sadly, while Dark Horse still holds the Tarzan license, they have done little with the character in the past few years outside classic comics reprints. Hopefully, this will change in the near future, as comic fans may be more responsive to the classic character than in past years. We will just have to wait and see.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Super-Powered Comics: Diamond Destinations April 2010 (for June comics)

p. 35: King Conan Volume One: The five over-sized issues of King Conan in this book are my favorite Conan comic of all time. From a person that once ran a Conan comic website, that is strong praise. Everyone should read it.

p. 79: Batman Beyond #1: Terry McGinnis returns in comic form. I have no idea how good this book will be, but the return of the future Batman is definitely reason to celebrate.

p. 87: The Spirit #3 and Doc Savage #3: It’s Pulp Month here, so I think its would be best to cover these two new pulp-oriented ongoings. The first issues hit in the next couple weeks so be sure to check them out.

p. 107: Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #1: It is without original co-creator Alan Moore, but Chris Sprouse’s always gorgeous art returns to Tom Strong. Peter Hogan wrote the amazing Terra Obscura for the ABC line, so I think this book has tons of potential to be a really great sleeper hit, Alan Moore or not.

p. 140: Jurassic Park #1: IDW moves to the front of the catalog and this book leads it off. I am not sure how big a deal a new Jurassic Park comic really is, but this will certainly be an interesting read. The concept takes the movie through real time and makes Tim and Lex Murphy the now adult leads. Should be interesting to see how this one plays out. And the Frank Miller dinosaur cover doesn’t hurt either (though I am pretty sure it comes from an old JP card set and isn’t original to this book.)

p. 173: Hack/Slash: My First Maniac #1: Hack/Slash has definitely had its ups and downs as a series, but with a move to Image, this book should be sitting in a lot more solid place for many months to come. If you enjoy slasher movies, you should definitely be reading this book, as it gives an interesting new and heroic twist to the genre.

p. 174: Dynamo 5: Sins of the Father #1: I am a huge fan of Jay Faerber’s little corner of the Image universe. While his artists are now working over at DC, he has teamed with Julio Brilha to bring back Dynamo 5 in limited series form. And to up the fun, he has brought in Invincible’s Omni-Man and Rob Liefeld’s Supreme to up the ante! This one should be a lot of fun and I highly recommend it.

p. 180: Brigade #1: Speaking of Rob Liefeld, here he has the return of Brigade! I always liked the team even through the pains of their original limited series, only to see them all slaughtered in the ongoing book. Here, Liefeld teams with the original artist Marat Mychaels to reboot the concept. Say what you will about Liefeld, but I am on-board for this one.

p. 181: Sea Bear & Grizzly Shark: Let’s just let the cover do the talking for this one.

p. 189: God Complex #7: I don’t think I have mentioned this well-written new book by Daniel Berman, John Broglia, and Mike Oeming yet. The basic concept is simple: Apollo decides to stop being a god and live as a mortal. Zeus and the rest of the family become less than happy about it. And the adventure begins! A great fun book that never takes itself too seriously. Anyone who enjoys fun comics should give this one a try.

p. M19: Deadpool: Wade Wilson’s War #1 & 2: Normally I am not much of a fan of Marvel’s current Deadpool titles. But you get Jason Pearson on art and my opinion can quickly change. This book is sure to be beautiful, even though the solicitations don’t really clear up what it is about. I think it is supposed to be his origin story, but I guess we will have to wait and see.

p. M27: Spider-Ham 25th Anniversary Special #1: I do not know what is more amazing. Is it the return of Peter Porker, Spider-Ham? Or is it the Joe Jusko cover it is wrapped in?

p. M31: Avengers Academy #1: I have no idea how this book differs from the original concept of Avengers: The Initiative, but I am happy to see it has new characters and excellent art by Mike McKone. Could be a winner.

p. M51: Hawkeye & Mockingbird #1: I am more of an indy comics buyer, but Marvel has guaranteed I will regularly be buying at least two of their regular titles with this book. Atlas was already a guaranteed sell, and I am nothing if not an unrepentant Hawkeye fanboy. Jim McCann wrote a pretty decent limited for these two last year and this one has the potential to be a great book as well. And it has Crossfire and Phantom Rider!

p. 218: The Royal Historian of Oz #1: While I don’t know the names Tommy Kovac or Andy Hirsch, I can’t argue with a new Oz comic for only a buck. Amaze Ink has me for at least one issue with this one.

This is not the cover to Shadoweyes, but preview art from Campbell’s websitep. 218: Shadoweyes: Also from Amaze Ink this month is a new graphic novel featuring the beautiful art of Ross Campbell. Campbell has previously drawn the gorgeous Wet Moon and The Abandoned, so I am guessing this future superhero tale will almost certainly be gorgeous.

p. 250: Pale Horse #1: One of my biggest complaints about Boom as a publisher is their lack of previews. While I am curious to learn more about this Western tale of an ex-slave, previews are nowhere to be found. Michael Alan Nelson has been more miss than hit for me as a writer, so I am going to pass it up. Hopefully I am not missing out on a good book do to bad marketing.

p. 252: Darkwing Duck: The Duck Knight Returns #1: On the other hand, Boom’s other new book pretty much sells itself. Darkwing Duck has a definite cult following and should make a big splash at Boom. Now if they can just get the continuance of Greg Weisman’s Gargoyles....

p. 290: Ghostopolis: Doug TenNapel, creator of Earthworm Jim, has produced some great comics over the last few years like Earthboy Jacobus and Iron West. He has left Image for his latest OGN, a kids book called Ghostopolis. It looks like an interesting dark fantasy, which isn’t typical kiddy fare, but neither was Harry Potter a little over a decade ago.

p. 292: Unfabulous Five: The Greasers From the Black Lagoon #1: Humanoids is back to self-publishing in America and part of the deal is the return of this great series (formerly part of Image’s Lucha Libre anthology) to print. Hilarious pseudo-super hero tales of washed-up luchadores. What more can you ask for?

p. 300: Super Pro K.O.! volume 1: It is an unwritten rule that wrestling comics fail. They fail hard. But this cartoony, over the top series by Oni Press might actually manage to make wrestling comics cool.

p. 324: Battle Smash vs. Saucer Men From Venus: And wrestling may be a them of this month’s previews with this lucha superhero series from Viper Comics.

p. 337: Alter Ego #94 and Back Issue #41: Two new issues of Twomorrow’s great comic history magazines. And they both now feature sixteen color pages, which ups their greatness that much more. Back Issue is a guaranteed buy from me ever six weeks, while this issue of Alter Ego looks good as it continues the magazine’s look at DC’s Earth Two.

p. 369: Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose Minimates boxed set: This may be the officially oddest Minimate set ever.

p. 388: Tonner Tomb Raider: Amanda Evert Doll: I haven’t played a Lara Croft game in years, but when did she get an evil goth enemy? And now that figure has a Barbie-style doll!

That’s it for this month. We will leave you with one last terrifying look at the Tarot minimates.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pulp-Powered Prose: Tales of the Shadowmen volume one

Created by J.-M. & Randy Lofficier to revive classic French pulp heroes, Tales of the Shadowmen Volume 1: The Modern Babylon is an English language pulp anthology. Strange it seems at first, until you realize it is meant as a tie in to their two books Shadowmen, which give the history of these characters in details. But I digress, this is about Tales, so let’s focus on it.

The first thing you see is an excellent cover by Mike Manley featuring Judex, something of a French version of the Shadow (though he appeared years before the American character), and Frankenstein's Monster. The illustration clearly comes from Matthew Baugh’s opening tale “Mask of the Monster”. The story gets the anthology off to an exciting, action-packed start while introducing me (and I am sure many others) to some new classic characters.

Bill Cunningham continues the excitement with his story of an obscure pulp figure of France, Fascinax, in “Cadavres Exquis”. The story is another Shadow-esque riff, but it takes the character and puts him through hell as he faces his arch-foe Numa Pergyll.

The next high light is Wold Newton grandmaster Win Scott Eckert’s “The Vanishing Devil”. It takes French pulp character Francis Ardan and makes his similarities to Doc Savage more than just similarities. He is clearly Clark Savage, although Win always slides just a step away from saying it out right (probably do to copyright issues). He goes on a rip-roaring French adventure that puts him up against Yellow Peril villian Doctor Natas, a character Eckert makes clear is actually Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu. And this still isn’t the craziest bit of crossover storytelling this book has!

The editors write “Journey to the Center of Chaos”, a story combining H.P. Lovecraft created characters with an entire band of obscure characters, including the rather strange Sar Dubnotal. And of course a Cthulhu Mythos horror manages to pop up its evil head.

Two tales of Edgar Allen Poe’s original detective (and Frenchman) C. Augustine Dupin follow. Samuel T. Payne’s “Lacunal Visions” is somewhat disappointing. John Peel’s “The Kind-Hearted Torturer” is a much more entertaining and well written affair as the detective teams up with none other than the Count of Monte Cristo.

Chris Roberson does give us the story even stranger than Eckert’s with “Penumbra”. Framed around a French silent film from 1915 called Les Vampires, it stars the same director’s Judex. As he seeks to uncover the origins of the vampires, he encounters one Kent Allard, later the similarly attired Shadow. He also meets a young couple named the Waynes, Thomas and Martha. In the process you get a secret of a certain caped crusader’s origin that is only possible in a Wold Newton book such as this.

The book closes with Brian Stableford’s “The Titan Unwrecked”, a story starring Allan Quatermain, Ayesha, Dracula, and numerous literary and business figures of the turn of the century. Bad things start happening and things get almost as crazy as “Penumbra”.

A few more lesser stories round out the book, but even these so-so tales at least feature some truly unique figures. The writers really do cover the spectrum of pulp figures from obscure to quite common.

All in all, this book is a fun and exciting bit of pulp fiction. Though it’s a little pricy for a trade paperback at $22.95, I would say it was definitely worth it. Strongly Recommended.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pulp-Powered Comics: Spider-Man Noir

While X-Men Noir told a crime tale featuring various unpowered X-characters filling in the roles, Spider-Man Noir clearly shows that Marvel doesn’t know what the word Noir means. Despite the cool black and white cover, this isn’t Noir. It is pure unadulterated pulp.

Peter Parker is a kid with a union rabble rousing aunt and a dead uncle. He lives in a crime ridden New York, where everything and everyone is controlled by the crime boss Norman Osborn, a.k.a. The Goblin. When Pete meets Ben Urich, the reporter takes him under his wing, and the tale really gets going.

Because when Peter learns that the corruption the city faces pervades the police, the newspapers, and even city hall, he begins to understand that only a rogue can stop the Goblin and his freak show minions. Granted a new agility and the ability to cast webs by some kind of spider deity, Peter becomes the black-clad vigilante known as the Spider-Man.

While bad things often happen to good people over the course of our tale, Spider-Man remains a beacon of hope for the city, even as he questions whether to become a killer or not. He quickly puts a damper on the Goblin’s criminal enterprises... which quickly leads to a battle between Spider-Man, the Goblin, and the Goblin’s henchmen like Kraven and the Vulture.

The book is a lot of fun while remaining a great tale. I am unfamiliar with co-writer Fabrice Sapolsky, but David Hine has made a name for himself as a quality down-to-earth style writer. He really shines here, especially with the art of the terrific but hard to spell Carmine Di Giandomenico who previous did some great work on both X-Men: Magneto Testament and the Amazing Fantasy story arc “Vegas”.

The book concludes with some really amazing concept art. I honestly only have one complaint about this collection. Marvel decided to collect this in a smaller cut format, slightly larger than the low price Marvel Adventures cut. But this book is still priced a little high at $14.99. It is still cheaper than the original $4 price for each of the original four issues, especially when discounted by your favorite online bookseller. Still I loved this book and would give it a Highly Recommended.

Oh, and talk about timely, it was just announced that the Noir version will appear in the new Spider-Man game.