Sunday, December 30, 2012


Title: Fray

ISBN: 9781569717516
Price: $19.95
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2003
Artist: Karl Moline
Writer: Joss Whedon
Collects: Fray #1-8

Rating: 3.5/5

Hollywood script writer, Joss Whedon, has made a big splash with cult TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003). Anyone who's seen it and appreciates its themes and concepts knows Whedon clearly has comicbook geek in his blood -- and background -- so it's not surprising that, despite the smaller pay checks, Whedon has shifted over into comics from time to time. His recent writing of the comic Astonishing X-Men has garnered mainly great reviews, but a year or two before that, his first foray into comics was the eight issue mini-series for Dark Horse comics, Fray, collected in its entirety in a TPB volume.

Fray was a logical project for Whedon to test his comics scripting skills, because it's actually a spin-off of his most recognizable property -- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's written in such a way that Buffy fans will recognize certain references and themes even as it's sufficiently self-contained that you don't really have to be aware there ever was such a thing called Buffy the Vampire Slayer in order to follow it.

In the Buffy TV series, it was established that there have been many slayers over the eons, with Buffy only the most recent one. In Fray, we jump ahead a few hundred years into a dystopic, cyberpunkish future where we meet Melaka Fray, a street thief who not only is unaware of her calling as a Slayer...but doesn't even know what a vampire is! The Watcher's Council, which oversaw the Slayers for generations, has long since fallen into disrepair, so that it falls to a horned demon, Urkonn, to advise Fray of her place in the cosmic scheme of things, as a new plan hatched by vampires threatens demons and humanity alike.

In a world of occasional mutations, where Fray's mob boss employer is a fish man, the demon Urkonn makes less of a stir than you might expect, as Fray just assumes he's another mutated human. This is a world where the supernatural has long since become forgotten and no one has clued into the fact that the Lurks -- supposedly sewer dwelling junkies -- are really vampires. Fray, like Buffyy before her, is a reluctant convert to the cause, particularly as she mysteriously seems to have none of the Slayer's gifts other than super strength -- no prophetic dreams, no intuitive senses. She's also dealing with her own problems: she's a thief, her sister's a cop, and her brother was killed a few years before by Lurks. She's also acting as a kind of surrogate big sister to the disfigured ragamuffin Loo -- and in little Loo, Whedon pours all hhis impressive skills for mixing tones. She's funny, touching, grotesque, sweet, and heartbreaking -- sometimes all at once.

Though this was Whedon's first comic, he tackles it deftly enough. Maybe that should come as little surprise, as comics and film are similar mediums. His sense of pacing is good, not making the mistake of dragging out a scene too long. To fans of Whedon's TV work -- and Buffy in particular -- Fray is well worth seeking out. There's no dumbing down, or dilution of Whedon's talents. The quips are witty, the characters complex and multi-dimensional -- even without actors to say the lines, the characters live and breathe. Fray really does seem like what it is...a wholly legitimate off shoot of the Vampire Slayer mythos Whedon created.

It's a spin-off that Whedon couldn't have hoped to film before a camera -- not without a hundred million dollar budget. Chock full of flying cars, death defying leaps kilometres above the streets, epic battles, and a really big monster, Fray is Whedon's imagination untethered by mundane questions of budgetary considerations.

At the same time, despite having clever turns and surprise twists, for an eight issue series coming in at close to two hundred pages, there maybe aren't as many twists, or plot threads, as you might expect. The story stays pretty focused on Fray and its chief plot. The result is something that feels as though it could probably have been a movie with very little trimming or editing. Which isn't a bad thing at all, but for a multi-issue comics saga, one might have expected the plotting to be a little more Byzantine.

It's Whedon, himself, who has raised the bar so high on what fans might expect from him. Fray ultimately is a good read, with the obligatory mix of action and nuanced characterization, of horror and witty quips, of joy and pathos, with a few clever twists and turns, all building to a genuinely grand climax -- but the result might leave some Whedon fans saying: "yeah, impress me". There are the trademark wry quips -- but though the lines that are funny, they're not always as laugh-out-loud funny as Whedon managed, say, in his Astonishing X-Men stories. And the very familiarity of Fray and her battles with demons, building to an apocalyptic showdown, means that, despite all the good bits, all the clever bits, it doesn't necessarily surprise. We've seen it before in various Buffy story lines (though fans might note that the axe Mel wields pre-dates its introduction into the TV series' mythos). Even the future Whedon envisions is pretty stock -- though the fish man is neat and, as is mentioned in one of the collection's introductions, you really can't go wrong with flying cars.

So does it need to surprise? Not entirely. Fray is entertaining, and keeps you turning the pages. And for fans -- even TV watchers who might not normally consider picking up a comic -- this is just as legitimate an extension of the Buffy universe as, say, the TV series Angel.

Artist Karl Moline was, apparently, not that well known when he was tagged to draw this, but he emerges as an accomplished talent right off the bat. There is a slight cartooniness to aspects of his work, but there is an energy and inventiveness to his pictures that blends well with Whedon's script, and he nicely captures the sense of this far future dystopia, with its towering skyscrapers and flying cars and its squalid, ground level ghettos, where the story demands a seamless mix of the real, the sci-fi and the supernatural. In all this he's aided by inker Andy Owen, and by colourists Dave Stewart and Michelle Madsen who go for a lot of effective earth tones of greens and browns as opposed to the more obvious metallic sheens you might expect for a future adventure. Granted, in some of the fight scenes, with the beheadings of vamps, Moline maybe could've toned down the graphics a bit. Instead, it's nudged slightly into mature readers territory.

The story ends with a reasonably satisfying conclusion...even as Whedon leaves things open for future adventures. Whether those adventures will ever materialize is the question. Melaka Fray made a brief appearance in the Dark Horse graphic novel, Tales of the Slayers (which featured short pieces about slayers through the ages), and guest starred in the Buffy Season Eight storyline, Time of Your Life -- but I don't think she's had any further, full length, solo adventures. If Fray should ever return for a solo mini-series, fine, but if she doesn't, that shouldn't really take away from what's here.

'Cause what's here is pretty good.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Star Wars: Darth Maul

Title: Star Wars: Darth Maul

ISBN: 1569715424
Price: $12.95
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2001
Artist: Jan Duursema
Writer: Ron Marz
Collects: Star Wars: Darth Maul #1-4

Rating: 3/5

Darth Maul blows into Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in one piece and leaves in two. Otherwise, very little is known about this demonic-looking Sith who helped launch the rise of the Empire.

Ron Marz fills in the gaps with this graphic novel, dynamically illustrated by Jan Duursema. Taking place before the events of Menace, obviously, the story demonstrates just how tough a character Maul was, how brutally efficient he could be and how devoted to his evil master's cause he remained.

The primary focus of Maul's attention here is the Black Sun, a widespread criminal syndicate that Darth Sidious (the future Emperor Palpatine) fears could prove a thorn in his side during the coming conflict. Maul's mission is to cripple the syndicate enough to diminish the threat without destroying it beyond the hope of being useful later.

He carries out his mission single-mindedly and ruthlessly. Anyone who enjoys the Star Wars brand of action will love it, because once he gets going, Maul is a juggernaut. And Duursema's pencils carry the action brilliantly and colorfully forward so that Marz's story splashes right from the page.

I am not a diehard Maul fan, in part because the character was so underdeveloped in the movie. This book makes me appreciate the character a whole lot more.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Happy Holdays!

I just wanted to wish all my loyal readers Happy Holidays and a joyous New Year!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mike Mignola signing @ TFAW

This was my first experience to attend a signing at Things From Another World. I'll admit that I wasn't an early fan of Mignola until the first Hellboy movie came out. I like his writing and art, and I'm always happy to get a chance to meet anyone in the comic book industry.

A picture of what TFAW had to offer, being fully stocked on all things Mignola. It must be nice to be so close to and have a good working relationship with Dark Horse.

The man of the hour... or rather 3+ hours. Nice guy. I always enjoy the comic pro's that are willing to chat with you at events.

I did have to ask him what it would take to bring him to Salem to sign for charity at my LCS, but unfortunately he's both a) trying to get out of making appearances -and- b) booked out for the next year and a half. His wife is his scheduling coordinator.

Here's what I got signed. A FCBD book, an Emerald City Comic Con exclusive from 2011, a poster I picked-up from the above mentioned ECCC and both covers for Hellboy in Hell #1. Funny story about Hellboy in Hell:

The morning of the signing, I wanted to make sure that I had copies of Hellboy in Hell #1 for Mr. Mignola to sign for me. I went to the TFAW website, placed my order and chose to have them delivered to the store for pick-up.

After my order was completed, I found the "small print" that stated "Please allow 1-3 business days for processing." Oops! I took my receipt with me and spoke with the manager of the store. Unfortunately, I couldn't swap-out the books I hard ordered because their sales are separate, but he said he would have the order held for me until I could make it back up to Portland... as I explained that I rarely have the opportunity to make it that far north.

I was very impressed with how everything was handled by the staff. They were all very helpful and infomative. I'm keeping my eyes open for future signings that I can attend there.

On a side note, my only problem was with the parking. Their parking lot is very small and I drive a minivan. If it wasn't for the assistance of a fellow customer who I was parking next to, I would have had a more difficult time actually parking there. I didn't get his name, but if you happen to read this, THANK YOU again. Next time, I will take full advantage of the Fred Meyer parking lot that is only about a block away. :)

Ghost Stories

Title: Ghost Stories

ISBN: 1569710570
Price: $8.95
Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 1995
Artist: Adam Hughes, Matt Haley
Writer: Jerry Prosser, Eric Luke, Steven Grant
Collects: Comics’ Arcadia Week 3: Ghost, Ghost Special, X #8

Rating: 3/5

She's a ghost who doesn't know who she was. She doesn't remember how she died, or why. But she is compelled to learn who is responsible and take vengeance.

Ghost Stories collects the early stories that introduced the character to Dark Horse readers in 1993. She rode initially on the coattails of the publisher's existing setting of Arcadia and the masked vigilante called X. Soon enough, she was ready to stand on her own.

The insubstantial protagonist is difficult to see by those in her presence; when she does appear, she appears in a ghostly white leather with scooped cleavage -- as if seeing a ghost wasn't distracting enough! -- with a hood and mantle. She teasingly notes that only her constant concentration keeps her clothes from phasing through her and falling to the ground.

Those who see her, if they can tear their eyes away from her corset, will also notice a pair of big handguns -- the bullets that fire from their transparent barrels are all too real.

Her name, she learns, was Elisa Cameron, and she was a news reporter who poked into things she should have left alone. The details are sketchy, however; even finding her childhood home and seeing her parents and sister fail to ignite even a hint of memory. Her quest for knowledge and revenge is at times bloody, but her ghostly spirit lacks a conscience over such matters. She certainly has a bone to pick with men in general.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Batman: The Widening Gyre

Title: Batman: The Widening Gyre

ISBN: 9781401228750
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2010
Artist: Walter Flanagan
Writer: Kevin Smith
Collects: Batman: The Widening Gyre #1-6

Rating: 4/5

The Widening Gyre ends with a cliffhanger -- and one of the most shocking final-page spreads you're likely to see in comics.

The creative team -- filmmaker Kevin Smith and pal Walt Flanagan -- drew some criticism for their previous Batman tale, Cacophony. And, while I think some of the critics were unduly harsh, I have to admit that the story in Cacophony is serviceable without being spectacular.

But with The Widening Gyre, they hit it out of the park.

One of the strangest perks for this tale is, get this, a happy Batman. You don't get to see that very often. But Smith has given Batman alter-ego Bruce Wayne a very good life, complete with exciting romance, and it works far better than one might expect. I mean, Batman has to be grim, right? Not so. This works.

So, the romantic-minded of Batman's readers -- at least, those who don't prefer him single -- seem to want things to work out with Selina "Catwoman" Kyle. Most other relationships in Batman's storied career seem flat, unoriginal, uninteresting. But Smith pulls Silver St. Cloud out of his sleeve, a character I've never seen as anything more than two-dimensional arm candy, and makes her sing. And let me tell you, it's a genuine pleasure to see this buried side of Wayne's personality come out to play.

Some critics complain that there are too many pages devoted to Batman's personal life. Me, I'm happy to see it for a change. It's a nice reminder that there's a man behind the mask, and maybe he deserves a good day once in a while.

Of course, this is Batman, so you know something bad is going to happen. And that's all I'll say about that ... except to note that The Widening Gyre ends on a cliffhanger, so don't expect everything to tie up neatly by the last page. To be continued, as they say.

Meanwhile, there's also a new hero working the streets of Gotham, the mysterious Baphomet, and I'll let you meet him on your own terms. Suffice it to say, he has a lot to do with Batman's recent good spirits.

Smith also writes good supporting characters here, primarily the former Robin, Dick Grayson, and the current sidekick, Tim Drake. Selina, too, makes a few heart-wrenching appearances.

Also stepping up his game is Flanagan, who was soundly criticized by many readers for his mediocre work in Cacophony. Nothing mediocre here, folks. The dude's been practicing.

The bad news is, the second book in the series isn't on the shelves just yet. I'll be waiting.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

On being an inker

I know this is a little off what I normally post on here, but I was inspired when I started writing a piece for my other blog, RPG4EVR, which is centered around my years as a role player. I wrote about my experiences trying to get into the comic book industry as a writer and how I used role playing games to help with that. It's entitled Comics & RPG's: A Mingling of Interests, I invite you to take a read.

I don't remember the actual year, but the first comic book show I went to in my hometown of Salem, Oregon was a pivotal moment for me. I had faced the rejection as a writer and didn't know where to turn my attention next. That's when I met Randy Emberlin.

Some of you may have heard of Randy. He's been around for several years. My first introduction (unknowingly at first) to Randy's work was in Amazing Spider-Man. When I looked through my collection to find books for him to sign, I found that he was the inker for the original storyline of the character Carnage. I love both Carnage and Venom, so I brought my copy of the Carnage trade for him to sign. When I realized that he wasn't the primary force for the art but rather the subtle background man, I thought that I could perhaps also do that.

When I was a child in elementary and middle school, I had traced my fair share of pictures out of various "How to Draw" books available from the school library. I never had the talent to draw my own characters, but I was able to stay in the lines and add definition to original penciled work.

In 2000, I joined a group known as Purple Comics Studios. The originator of this studio was based out of the United Kingdom, even though the bulk of the artists and writers were from the United States. I did some inking and designed the website for Purple Comics until they folded after about a year. Here's some of my work from them:

I don't remember the title for the fantasy series, but the title for the series that looks more modern was "Bad Girls, Inc." I had no say on the title and I couldn't tell you what the story was, I was just glad to be a part of a group that was working towards publication.

As you can probably assume, none of these titles were published.
Not my best work, but I did what I could from what I was given. After this, I started looking else where for things I could work on. I came across an online community where people shared their comic artwork. There were many there that created unfinished, penciled art for people like myself to print and use to practice their inking skills. This community was called Comix Matrix. This was before I learned about places like deviantArt. I picked-up the following pieces from Comix Matrix and worked on them:

This is one of my favorites. She has a Tomb Raider look to her.

I also decided to use some of the hundreds of fonts I have collected to design my signatures. Might as well get some use out of them. Maybe I'll try my hand at lettering next.



My next step, and what I've been working on lately, is to work off of hi-res scans of professional sequential pages and covers. Here are a couple that I have scanned that I am most proud of:

This one is the cover for Ripclaw #2 from Image. I loved working on this so much, I actually purchased the actual comic for comparison. I'm happy with my work.
This is from X-Force #100 from Marvel. One of these days, I'll probably find and buy this issue for comparison.

Sorry for all the unused negative space. It didn't want to format friendly.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Title: Ultimatum

ISBN: 9780785133001
Price: $24.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2009
Artist: David Finch
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Collects: Ultimatum #1-5

Rating: 1/5

Billed as a miniseries in which big things happen, Marvel is hyping the final installment as a "series finale that will shock fans for years to come!" True enough of the first four issues. But, is shock, minus any significant characterization, worth the hefty price tag?

The afore-mentioned shock is partially due to an evil mutant (The Blob) cannibalizing a member of the Avengers (The Wasp), with her death being "avenged" by her husband (Yellow Jacket) when he bites the Blob's head off… Literally. And, though fans may justifiably expect to see Sabretooth (another evil mutant) rip a wing off of Angel (an X-Man) with his teeth, or Magneto snap the neck of X-Men founder Charles Xavier, what was the point of Dr. Strange being squeezed until his head exploded? This is not just shock, but schlock.

Far from being meaningful, the deaths of characters with such history behind them seem much smaller than they should be the fact that it took place in Marvel's much younger Ultimate universe, notwithstanding.

There are more deaths, caused by world-wide disasters engineered by Magneto, but it all feels forced.

The only good thing about the series is the incredibly detailed art of David Finch. His work crackling with energy and emotion, Finch could one day become a master of comic book art ... IF he can learn to be a bit faster, and tone down the super-model quotient among his female characters.

Ultimatum is only recommended for the most hardcore Marvel-head, and only if you may suffer heart, kidney or nerve damage if you DON'T get it. It's the cheapest form of prevention.