14 Sep

The Android’s Dungeon: North 40

Posted by Bryan White | Monday September 14, 2009 | Comics,The Android's Dungeon

north 40 reviewI’m always skeptical of new horror comics by people I’ve never heard of. Even when they pop up bearing the Image, DC or Wildstorm logos. Many of them are crap. They’re shitty zombie books or vastly inferior ripoffs of Hellblazer or Sandman. It’s a rare treat when I find a book like North 40 that takes a concept like Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and not only understands it but manages to make it marketable in a comic book market saturated in cut-rate horror books that are trying to get a piece of The Walking Dead’s action.

Wildstorm’s North 40, by Aaron Williams (story) and Fiona Staples (art), concerns the fate of a backwater, Southwestern town that comes under the influence of unspeakable eldritch horrors when a book looking suspiciously like The Necronomicon is opened in a public library. The town’s inhabitants black out and come to bearing mysterious new powers or horrific physical mutations. Many freak out, many adapt and many use their power to terrorize the town. It’s up to the sherriff, who seems unaffected, to hold down the fort.

Most issue #1’s are rough affairs that waste a lot of pages trying to convince you that the people you’re reading about are people you should care about, but it’s clear that Williams has a big idea for North 40 in mind and needs to cram your eyes with every potential story arc right out of the gate. Not a page is wasted on fluff, it’s action from cover to cover and that’s the problem. Williams’ script moves a little too fast at times and even after the three issues available at this time, it’s not clear where it’s all going, but it’s at least written extremely well and hinting at cool things in the future. North 40 just needs to dig in and find some direction soon. Staples’ art is also a boon to the book. Her thin line style is distinctly anatomical and one of the book’s strongest traits.

With the price of comics these days, it’s easy to sit back and pass on unfamiliar properties but North 40 is already shaping up to be a sleeper book that people at your local comic shop are going to suggest you start reading when it’s twenty issues in. I suggest you jump on board now before it’s too late.

12 Sep

The Android’s Dungeon: Dark Entries

Posted by Bryan White | Saturday September 12, 2009 | Comics,The Android's Dungeon

dark entriesIn the interest of full disclosure, I’ve always been partial to DC Comics. I began reading Marvel mutants and The Punisher but as I got older, I realized that comics weren’t really maturing with me. Sure, they got darker and grittier but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they became more sophisticated. Then I discovered the DC Vertigo imprint which eventually led me out of a snotty indie comics phase and back to capes and spandex. Even though these days I don’t care much for super heroes, I still love DC and Vertigo.

Employing novelists for comics seems to be in vogue at the moment. Michael Chabon had a run on Justice Society of America, Joe Hill does the ongoing Locke & Key series, Charlie Huston did Moon Knight and mystery novelist, Ian Rankin did this John Constantine one-shot for DC. In Dark Entries, the Hellblazer is brought in by a reality TV producer when a Big Brother style haunted house show starts to take on a life of its own. The contestants, looking for a secret room in a haunted house, are being haunted by their own demons before the show even has a chance to unleash their own manufactured haunting. Of course, this is a John Constantine story, so your expectations should be set appropriately and nothing is as it seems.

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11 May

Scott Pilgrim will kick your ass!

Posted by Bryan White | Monday May 11, 2009 | Comics,The Android's Dungeon

scott pilgrimThis isn’t exactly an Android’s Dungeon post since it’s not a review of a comic so much as me telling you that you really should stop what you’re doing and get your hands on the Oni published volumes of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s beyond genius manga, Scott Pilgrim. My interest in the book came down when I caught director Edgar Wright’s Vimeo Blogs during the production of the upcoming Scott Pilgrim movie. I knew nothing about it but I think Edgar Wright is the shit. I figured if I was going to write about the movie, which also stars Michael Cera, for once not playing the awkward guy, as Scott, I should probably read the comics and get a feel for what they’re all about. Now that I have, I feel as though I can speak authoritatively on this production as well as recommend to you, in good conscience, that you read these books.

The eponymous Scott Pilgrim is a Toronto-based 23 year old living a charmed life. He’s a slacker living in a tiny apartment off the good graces of his boy-crazy roommate, Wallace. Since he doesn’t have a job, he fills his ample free time by playing bass in a band called Sex Bob-omb (the first of many, many video game references), sleeping and dating a 17 year old high schooler named Knives Chau. However, his obsession with Ramona Flowers begins when she invades his dreams and then crosses his path in real life since she orbits the same social circles as Scott. In spite of some awkward advances on his part, they soon after begin dating, beginning a complicated set of maneuvers to keep Knives and Ramona apart. But that doesn’t even begin to cover how difficult things get as the first of Ramona’s 7 evil ex-boyfriends line up to do battle with Scott.

The first two thirds of the first volume of Scott Pilgrim, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, is your fairly standard exercise in a humor comic. The characters seem like slightly exagerrated people you know in real life and talk with a rhythm and vocabulary that no one uses yet seems very familiar. However, it’s the final third of the volume that propelled the book from simply entertaining to absolute brilliance. For most of the book, O’Malley is clearly channeling the spirit of manga but it stays within the confines of reality, breaking away to occasionally best express emotion through the sort of extreme facial expressions that manga is usually known for. It goes off the deep end, however, when Scott’s band plays with Crash and the Boys, a band whose final song is so intense, it renders the audience unconscious. This is shortly followed up by an epic confrontation with Ramona’s first evil ex-boyfriend, who engages in a frightening Street Fighter 2 style battle complete with Scott pulling off combo moves and repelling fireballs. It goes from sane to batshit in the span of only a few pages. I was instantly thrilled about the movie. That is, on one condition.

A while back, I saw the Japanese live-action adaptation of the anime, Cutie Honey, which is a fairly insipid cartoon about a goofy robot girl but the movie went all out to combine the tokusatsu stylings of Power Rangers with the outrageous antics of an action anime and somehow it wound up working out in the movie’s favor. If Scott Pilgrim is to take this approach, where the zany manga representations of Scott fleeing Knives in terror when she kisses him, or his fight with Matthew Patel are represented as close to the comic as possible, I’m going to be all over this movie. Given Edgar Wright’s relationship to comic shop culture, I’m going to go ahead and count on that kind of representation. The first video from his video blog is pretty much all about sword training and rehearsals for the fight scenes.

In the meantime, buy the god damn comics, will ya?

5 May

The Android’s Dungeon: Dylan Dog Case Files

Posted by Bryan White | Tuesday May 5, 2009 | Comics,The Android's Dungeon

dylan dog case files reviewEuropean comics rarely ever seem to get any kind of translation over here in the States, which is a shame because European comics, particularly French and Italian books have an entirely different vibe about them that distinguishes them from their American cousins. Because they’re so different, with a hangup on villains and anti-heroes, evident in books like Kriminal, Fantomas and Diabolik, I am totally fascinated by them. What is it about European standards and expectations that the protagonists of comic books are often brutal criminals?

Dylan Dog isn’t that kind of book, actually. The eponymous hero of the book is, in fact, quite heroic but he’s so wildly off beat that you’d be hard pressed to find a book on American shores with a character as wildly eccentric as Dylan Dog. In spite of his heroic status, Dylan Dog is very European. With the upcoming adaptation of the Italian comics sensation, Dead Of Night, Dark Horse Comics seized the opportunity to remind us all that ten years ago they brought Dylan Dog to the United States in a series of digest sized translations with some minor modifications and outstanding covers by Hellboy creator, Mike Mignola. Now available on comic shop and book store shelves all over the country is a single-volume reissue of those digests called The Dylan Dog Case Files.

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17 Apr

The Android’s Dungeon: The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft #1

Posted by Bryan White | Friday April 17, 2009 | Comics,The Android's Dungeon

strange adventures h.p. lovecraftI had my reservations about this book. I must admit that. The premise was very familiar. Author’s horrible stories become reality through magical force of will. But to cast one of my personal favorite authors, H.P. Lovecraft, in that position seemed particularly blasphemous. Lovecraft is a frequently misunderstood writer and it would be easy for any comic writer to latch on to the misconceptions going around about Lovecraft. However, I’m pleased to announce that the first of four issues is that rarest authentic portrayal of the man. Obviously its mixed with the fantastic, pairing facts of his life, the element of the era with the cursed influence of the Necronomicon, which is on display at the Brown University library (in the comic, that is) to create a very interesting comic with solid writing. The art needs a lot of work, but I suppose it’s too late for that.

We begin with a prologue as the Mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred, begins work on his book of the dead in a fit of jealousy that his own poetry doesn’t match up to that of his contemporaries. He writes a book that aims to bridge the gaps between our world and the existence of impossible creatures. Of course, he pays for it with his life and dies horribly, as if to forecast the events that would dog H.P. Lovecraft in his own life. It segues to a day in the life of Lovecraft after establishing that pulp publishers didn’t particularly like him because his writing was complex, obscure and lacked tits. But Lovecraft himself is portrayed as a functionally awkward guy dealing with crippling feelings of inadequacy, writer’s block and a desire to write that pays the bills. Before he is mugged by a couple of sailors by the docks, he passes the Necronomicon in the Brown library, which has a strange momentary influence over him. An influence that he later uses to write a story that involves a creature from the deep emerging to slaughter the inhabitants of a boat only to have it actually happen as his muggers and a pair of prostitutes are torn limb from limb on their vessel.

It would be easy to drench this book in stereotypes of the roaring 20’s, with women in short skirts smoking and blabbing away in obscure jive on every panel, but writer Mac Carter has a very even handed approach and lays the foundation for further storytelling in a consistent and compelling manner. The book seems quite long for a monthly but never goes overboard and throws you some unnecessary action in order to hold your attention. He goes out of his way to prove to you that he knows what he’s talking about and it’s clear that what we’re going to see over the course of the next few issues are the dire consequences of Lovecraft writing The Call Of Cthulhu as though his cursed inner darkness was enough to evoke the tentacle creatures from the stars. Overall, this establishing book is what all first issues in a mini-series should be. Tony Salmons’ art, however, interrupts the entire process and I’m sure has struggling comic artists everywhere eating their own pages out of frustration. If that guy can get on an Image book, why not them? You know?

Salmons’ art is scribbly, with thick lines and obscure physical features on all characters. Lovecraft doesn’t really look like Lovecraft, though his mother’s doctor does. It’s clear that he’s trying to emulate a certain aesthetic of the period, maybe a loose liberation that speaks of the cultural tone of the 20’s or the illustrations of an actual pulp but it doesn’t really work. It just looks sloppy. The net result is me simply reading the words in the balloons and barely exploring the visual aspect. The dialog, however, is strong enough to float this book and where inner monologue has floated out of fashion in comic circles it is indispensible and used to absolute perfection here in the context of a man who lived, primarily, in the darkest corners of his mind. I only wonder if they’ll somehow approach Lovecraft’s greatest flaw in this book. That being his intense racism. In many ways, the book plays out like a Lovecraft short or a Stephen King short, which may be Lovecraft’s influence feeding back into the book. It’s a great read but it’s up to you if the astonishingly high cover price of five god damn dollars is worth it.

10 Apr

The Android’s Dungeon: Marvel Zombies 4 #1

Posted by Bryan White | Friday April 10, 2009 | Comics,The Android's Dungeon

marvel zombies 4It’s never a good idea to base your opinion of a book on the first issue because really, they’re just beginning to lay the ground work for the entire series but Marvel Zombies 4 is the one that I’ve been most looking forward to.  The original Marvel Zombies story, technically a part of their spinoff Ultimates line, which reboots the entire Marvel universe, had an alien virus infect the superheroes of earth who use their particular powers to help them eat everything. And I mean everything. The very nature of the book is pretty silly.

Marvel Zombies 2 couldn’t really keep pace, though. Neither could Marvel Zombies 3. By this point, the zombies are using Mr. Fantastic’s gear to move from dimension to dimension and have basically eaten up entire universes apart from our own. In the final pages of MZ3, it is revealed that a single zombie managed to escape but in the earliest pages of Marvel Zombies 4, it turns out that it’s actually two zombies: Simon Garth, the zombie from Marvel’s nigh-forgotten horror series Tales of the Zombie and he’s not alone. He carries the chattering zombie head  of Deadpool with him where he strikes a deal with a voodoo coke dealer. Meanwhile, The reformed Midnight Sons comprised of Werewolf By Night, Son of Satan, Jennifer Kale and Morbius, the living vampire try to stem the zombie infection which begins in this dimension under the sea with a race of sea people known from the Submariner books.

Marvel zombies realizes that it jumped the shark a while ago and it seems to have embraced its ridiculous nature, which is a good thing because even though it’s a humorous series, it did seem to take itself pretty seriously in the second series. What I really like about this book is the reintroduction of Marvel’s horror characters, a group that I’m fairly certain that rival DC managed to do without and one of the reasons that as a 13 year old comic kid, Marvel was my book of choice. Man-Thing is still left to be introduced into the series and Simon Garth was unexpected, so I can only hope that Johnny Blaze or Dan Ketch, whichever Ghost Rider exists in this dimension winds up introduced as well.  Marvel’s horror characters were often continuity bound superhero types, but they had that same element that made Warren and EC horror books so cool. This series, already by the first issue, rings of the 70’s horror books that made Marvel so badass. Kev Walker’s art also helps the book substantially. It lacks that Marvel in the 70’s vibe that the rest of the comic has, but that wouldn’t fly too well in this day and age of heightened expectations. Walker’s lines suggest action, which is what the first Marvel Zombies 4 book is all about.

All around, Marvel Zombies 4 is looking like a book that I may see to the end. The writing is solid, Deadpool is… Deadpool and The Zombie introducing the head of Deadpool as a potential means of dominating the drug market in this dimension is an interesting twist. It’ll be interesting to see where this book goes. Why they don’t just turn it into a monthly series for up and coming writers and artists to cut their teeth on is beyond me. Marvel Zombies 3 practically just ended a couple of months back!

5 Apr

The Android’s Dungeon: The Walking Dead

Posted by Bryan White | Sunday April 5, 2009 | Comics,The Android's Dungeon

The Walking DeadPsst… If you came here looking for a review of the AMC TV show premier, that article is over here. Read it now!

I remember hearing all the hype back in 2003 when Image started publising The Walking Dead but people were shocked when I would tell them that I wasn’t really feeling it. I checked out the first issue and it immediately broke some rules that I thought were inexcusable.  “But you like zombies!” They would shout. However, this is, in fact, a gross inaccuracy.  You see, everyone thinks that just because I’m a horror fan and I run a website where the bulk of the writing is dedicated to the genre that I am automatically a drooling zombie fanboy because they happen to be the monster of the moment.

I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll watch a zombie movie and some of them occupy my favorite movies list but the zombie thing is so saturated in cut-rate product that over the years I’ve come to be disillusioned with the whole thing. I just don’t care. 99% of zombie movies, comics, games and fiction miss the point. Sure, they all point back to Dawn of the Dead and paint a huge red bulls eye on it whenever someone asks them to name names when it comes to inspiration but if this is true, how come the bulk of the movie is people killing zombies? Why is everyone automatically a sharp shooter? How come no one ever seems to run out of bullets? Clearly not many people think this scenario through and unfortunately, I have. Lucky for me, I came to my senses and picked up on The Walking Dead courtesy of Johnny Raygun creator, Rich Woodall. What I discovered in those black and white pages was that series creator, Robert Kirkman had thought about it as much if not more than I had.

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22 Feb

The Android’s Dungeon: The Warriors #1

Posted by Bryan White | Sunday February 22, 2009 | Comics,The Android's Dungeon

the warriors 1I had pretty high hopes for The Warriors. It’s an iconic flick and a favorite of mine. It also marks the first time I’ve ever bought a comic that adapts a movie. The appeal of movie adaptations is pretty thin for me. I’m a lot more comfortable, though only marginally, watching a movie based on comic. Movie adaptations usually have a cheap, rushed feeling about them but The Dabel Brothers have had thirty years to develop this book. You’d think that with that span of time they’d have kicked out a better product.

The draw of this comic is the alleged further adventures of the gang from Coney that the outstanding video game published by Rock Star delivered on. This five issue series, a sort of back door pilot to a longer ongoing series, adapts the movie almost verbatim. Omitting a word from the dialog here and there, it matches the first fifteen or so minutes of the movie yet seem to rush things a bit. We start with the opening montage that introduces The Warrios and sets it up. They’re heading up to Pelham Bay Park to hear Cyrus, leader of the Grammercy Riffs, present his big idea on how to take over the city. However, as he’s whipping the gangs into a frenzy, Luther, leader of The Rogues shoots Cyrus and pins it on The Warriors and so begins the chaos and the run back to Coney as the police raid the meeting.

I’d address David Atchison’s script were there an original script or at least some creative riffing to talk about but you must understand, this is the movie word for word. The draw of the movie is the charismatic performances of the characters. What makes Cyruses speech so powerful is Roger Hill’s fantastic delivery. Reading through the comic, the movie is brought to mind at every turn (and a certan song by Biohazard), which is a strength but it loses points as nothing about it seems larger than life. The presentation is very, very flat but what ultimately sinks The Dabe’s book here is Chris DiBari’s boring art. The Warriors could have been a worthwhile book had it been represented by the urban style of the period. DiBari is hardly a newcomer and his pencils are usually solid comic book art, but The Warriors seems to be a low priority for him. Everyone is represented with thin, noodly lines and nothing to suggest action.

It’s still early and there’s four issues to go but The Warriors is a dud. It lacks every ounce of punch that Walter Hill’s movie has and glosses over some of the best scenes of the entire first act. It fails to spotlight the colorful gangs in the early scenes and features nearly as many pages of advertisements as comic.

13 Feb

Comics: Locke & Key #1

Posted by Bryan White | Wednesday February 13, 2008 | Comics,The Android's Dungeon

Lock & KeyIt has been years since I’ve bought comics. Every now and then I’ll pop into this shop or that and see what’s happening but I usually go home with a trade of some comics from the 80’s or something. Back in the day, though, I was a fiend. It always started off innocently enough. I bought three or four books a month and then I’d see something else I liked and more and more until I’d reach this perverted critical mass where I was buying thirty monthly books and massaging the numbers so that I could buy gas AND a shitload of comics. Every time, though, I hit the wall and I have to quit cold turkey. BAM! No mo’ comics. But sure as shit, I always wind up back in the darkened aisles of The Android’s Dungeon, dodging the odd nerd in the fingerless gloves and fedora. I can’t stay away.

Recently I’ve started rolling up my sleeve and tieing off my bicep with a belt under the guidance of a choice few dudes at work. Thank god for that. I’m also finding that my tastes have changed. Where before I loved super hero books, these days I just can’t seem to get into them. I’ve read a few that have really tickled my fancy, Invincible, for instance and the Bendis run on Daredevil, but the shit is happening with horror comics. Bob Kirkman’s outstanding zombie series, The Walking Dead, made a believer out of me and Mike Mignola’s recent return to his BPRD/Hellboy characters has been welcome. The Lobster Johnson series and the new Abe Sapien books are the shizz, but new this month is a book I wasn’t entirely expecting.

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