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The Spark
Publisher: Studio 407
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/18/2010 19:18:06

Studio 407's The Spark is a solid, quintessential comic book offering.

Written by Martin Renard and featuring artwork by Nahuel Sagarnaga Cozman, The Spark introduces us to Lucas, a high-schooler with a lot on his plate. Just when school, work, and home life conspire to make him miserable, a strange phenomenon occurs in the sky bestowing Lucas with some odd abilities.

As it happens, a similar event occured 15 years prior known as "The Spark" which gave the world four super-powered denizens or "super heroes" in case you didn't see it coming. And unfortunately, the fates of those heroes did not end up well.

As three new heroes emerge in the wake of the latest "spark" Lucas sees the writing on the wall and tries to keep his powers a secret. But when aliens invade - not the nice, Reese's Pieces-eating ones, either - Lucas is faced with some tough choices regarding his future as well as the future of mankind.

This book isn't outstanding in any single area, but rather it's merely good in all areas, which is, after all, a recipe for success, albeit not a flashy one. The concept is fun and while it does nothing to reinvent the wheel, it does just enough to keep the pages turning. The artwork stays true to this motif as it isn't awe-inspiring, but it's good and more importantly, it's not distracting or disorientating.

Those involved in the creation of The Spark have obvious talent. They also have more potential than they have ambition. I look forward to seeing what they contribute to the comic book universe next. And until then, The Spark is a good way to kill some time on a rainy day.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Spark
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Queen Of Crows
Publisher: FR Press
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/21/2010 22:16:39

Author Monica Valentinelli’s The Queen of Crows is an eBook of sorts, but rather than a standard watermarked PDF of text-filled pages, Valentinelli’s offering is a glimpse of the potential that digital books can fulfill. The Queen of Crows is a multifaceted “product” built around a single character, complete with dynamic artwork by artist Leanne Buckley and a design motif embodying the world in which the story takes place. The book’s most interesting and perhaps most unique feature is Valentinelli’s account of her writing process and the origins of the creativity that eventually manifest as the book’s central story.

The featured component is a short story entitled The Queen of Crows in which a Native American shaman named Tse is visited in his dreams by Mahochepi, a vengeance spirit who shows him visions of white soldiers arriving in large numbers. When Mahochepi sends a Corpse-witch, her corporeal ambassador to teach Tse the spell that calls forth Mahochepi , he’s faced with a horrifying dilemma – whether to stay and face the soldiers alone or to call on the Queen of Crows and accept the consequences that accompany her.

Valentinelli’s writing is well-researched and vividly executed. Her world pulls itself from the pages of history books and comes to life, fully realized and described in concrete detail. Valentinelli populates this landscape and then crafts a slow burning and suspenseful horror that envelops the story as we read our way toward the inevitable encounter with Mahochepi – the Queen of Crows.

The short story comprises about half of the product with the second half devoted to several purposes. There’s the section entitled “Inspiration” which describes both the historical and personal origins of the story. Next Valentinelli includes a character biography for Mahochepi which describes her in great detail and provides an obvious utility for use in RPGs, an application for which Valentinelli has written in the past. There’s also a letter to the readers from Valentinelli describing both her creative philosophy and creative process followed by the start of her unfinished novel which functions as a sort of rough draft of The Queen of Crows.

The amount and variety of information contained in this project is truly impressive. There’s scary and compelling fiction, autobiographical and inspirational nonfiction, fantastic artwork, links to other resources, multiple versions of the story, the characters, and their world, and all in just 40 pages. Monica Valentinelli’s The Queen of Crows must be considered a successful experiment in digital publishing and a significant benchmark for the medium.

For more information go to: www.flamesrising.com and www.drivethruhorror.com



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Queen Of Crows
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Grim Crew Presents: Dead Future #2
Publisher: Raven Warren Studios
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/28/2010 12:06:54

Grim Crew is back with another installment of their zombie anthology, Dead Future Issue 2. The first issue is a surprisingly fresh set of stories given that zombies are becoming an extremely limiting literary resource these days. While issue 2 doesn’t attain the same standards of originality, it’s a fun read and, more importantly, its existence is justified merely by virtue of those aforementioned zombies.

The first story, With a Whimper is written by Sebastian Piccione and illustrated by Martinho Abreu who also contributed artwork to Dead Future Issue 1. Piccione’s protagonist is the last living man on earth, at least as far as he can tell, and he’s no longer concerned with trying to fight the zombie horde nor is he concerned with survival. His only concern is that he doesn’t die by their hands and become one of them.

The only negative aspect of With a Whimper is its lack of originality which is apparent immediately. Whimper’s problem starts with the genesis of the modern zombie archetype. George Romero has stated that Night of the Living Dead’s basic concept is a rip off of Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend. Foregoing vampires, Romero’s ghouls became zombies almost by accident as a minimal-effort attempt at differentiating his story. Piccione’s story brings this relationship full circle, being much more similar to I am Legend than Night of the Living Dead and again foregoing vampires for zombies.

Abreu’s understated artwork clears the way for narrative momentum and clearly articulates the action when words cannot. Well-paced and adhering to a Twilight Zone inspired structure which sets up an emphatic twist, With a Whimper works well, it just feels a bit stale.

Kindergarten Zombies, written by Candy Hart and Illustrated by Julio Falkenhagen, is a tonal anomaly compared to the rest of the stories in the Dead Future series. It’s composed in the style of a comic strip in which a class of 5-year-olds battle zombies comprised of teachers and other various school officials. Culminating in a gory and implausible slaughter in the middle of suburbia, Kindergarten Zombies finally justifies itself with a last ditch twist.

Hart’s story is essentially a long set up for the last panel – a panel that does barely enough to quell our mounting frustration toward the inexplicable events that precede it. There is very little dialogue leaving much of what’s happening in the hands of Falkenhagen whose style is the only one appropriate for a story about 5-year-old zombie hunters. Think Calvin and Hobbes, add blood and viscera and there you have it – Kindergarten Zombies.

Dead Future Issue 2 closes with The Rest of the Story written by Daniel Palmer and illustrated by Juha Veltti. Palmer’s story begins with a zombie making his way through small-town Georgia and eventually arriving at a house already besieged by the living dead. As ghouls overtake the house the remaining survivors fall prey until only a mother and her young daughter remain. As they’re attacked by the new arrival, Palmer’s twist reveals the ghoul’s former identity.

Veltti’s artwork is clear and dramatic using contrast and shadows to create a dynamic and oppressive environment. The Rest of the Story contains very little dialogue and narration, once again relying on simple and well-composed imagery to tell the story. Veltti’s artwork is the perfect utility.

Palmer’s story is very minimalist and it uses extremely well-worn zombie conceits in ways they’ve always been used. Given the tight small-scale nature of the story, the twist (yes, The Rest of the Story is yet another large plot convention the purpose of which is to set up a twist) needs a serious wow-factor for its payoff to be gratifying. Unfortunately, there’s only an anticlimactic lack of wow……and more zombies of course.

Grim Crew’s maiden voyage with Dead Future set the bar extremely high. Its value lies in its impressive ingenuity in a genre that has been bled of fresh ideas a long time ago. Dead Future Issue 2 is more along the lines of what one should expect from such a project. It has the unfortunate distinction of arriving on the heels of a set of stories that blow expectations sky high. However, despite its relative lack of freshness Dead Future Issue 2 is an undeniably well made and entertaining read and I look forward to more zombie mayhem from Grim Crew.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Grim Crew Presents: Dead Future #2
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Killing Pickman #2
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment LLC
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/31/2010 16:55:09

Writer Jason Becker and artist Jon Rea are back with the second twisted issue of their series Killing Pickman. Slower paced and more convoluted than issue 1, this issue dives deeper into the origins of Dick Pickman’s monstrous deeds.

As Detective Zhu makes his way to Herbert West Memorial Hospital to finish the job he started in issue one, the act of killing Pickman, Mr. Pickman waxes insane to a hospital psychologist about his transformation into a malicious child killer. When Zhu arrives outside the door to Pickman’s room, gun in hand, he’s confronted by Detective Raimi. Flash forward two months and we find out that this case hasn’t been very kind to those involved with investigating and cleaning out the Pickman house. Detective Zhu is the only one who understands the literally monstrous nature of the case and he has a plan, but can he pull it off while also looking out for the best interests of his wife and their child?

Becker’s story hit the ground running in issue one. I’m talking Olympic-level-sprinting. It gained momentum immediately which it sustained throughout by decidedly avoiding exposition. Because there was such a lack of back story in issue one it comes as no surprise that issue two is almost entirely comprised of exposition. Having now had the opportunity to explore both approaches, it’s clear that this series would be best served striking a balance between the two. Becker’s writing is just as interesting, but plotting comes to a screeching halt this issue.

Killing Pickman is chock full of references to the great horror flicks of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Becker’s reverence for those stories comes through in his writing. Like those films do so well, Becker establishes an ominous tone in which dread is thick enough to hack up with a machete and a collision course with that which is evil, twisted, and horrible is inevitable. This inevitability pushes us through his world with our nerves scraped raw so that the resulting tension is palpable, even when there isn’t much happening.

Rea’s artwork is multifaceted and unique. Once again, he composes pages that visually represent the noire tone of the story as well as the derangement of the story’s subject matter. He tends to blur the lines, both figuratively and literally, that separate the panels from the pages, the illustrations from the text, and in some cases the pages from reality. There are panels that are drawn to appear as if they are taped onto the page and there are pages that are drawn as if the panels are mounted on the game of Sudoku being played by the character represented in the panels.

The most interesting element of the artwork is the diagrams, notes, and quotes found throughout that provide a literal subtext to the already complex and multilayered story. Some of these are funny, some of these are deranged, and all of them are enlightening. By blurring the lines between written elements and graphic elements, story and reality, writer and reader, and artwork and media Rea provides readers a creatively meta-fictional and fully immersive experience.

Killing Pickman issue 2 is another successful example of the quality indie storytellers and artists can attain. This issue has a little less going for it with regard to plot and pace than its predecessor does, but it’s well-written, well-drawn and well-executed nonetheless. I see no signs of a third issue which is unfortunate because Jason Becker, Jon Rea, and the rest of their crew at Archaia Studio Press have a potential blockbuster on their hands.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Killing Pickman #2
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Grim Crew Presents: Dead Future #1
Publisher: Raven Warren Studios
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/17/2010 15:34:04

In an era when comic books have the same relationship with zombies as ESPN has with football, it’s difficult to find something fresh about the living dead, no pun intended. However, Grim Crew’s Dead Future Issue 1 is an anthology comprised of three zombie apocalypse stories all of which offer an element of originality in this otherwise predictable comic book niche.

The first story, Real Monsters, written by Martin Brandt II and Illustrated by Paul Petyo is a tale of day-to-day urban survival in a world overrun by zombies. This segment has all the trappings of the archetypal zombie paradigm as well as a few unique wrinkles. One of these is that the living can go about their business among the living dead provided they don’t upset the zombies’ routines and that these excursions take place during the day time. The most interesting and original aspect of Real Monsters is Paul Petyo’s approach to the illustrations. The panels are essentially photographs in which actors play the characters on various sets. These photographs have been digitally manipulated both to achieve a consistent aesthetic and to realize the details of the world in which Real Monsters takes place. The result is a creepy and realistic post apocalyptic cityscape come to life.

The second story, Major Tom, written by Martin Brandt II and illustrated by Martinho Abreu is a conventionally composed comic book narrative the strength of which is its concept. Major Tom and his crew are aboard a space station awaiting word from mission control regarding the launch of a resupply ship. With only 10 days of supplies remaining on the station, time is ticking when the launch mission gets canceled with no reasonable explanation. As the days count down, the dire situation reveals itself to Major Tom. A zombie plague has spread quickly across the globe and mankind is doomed to extinction. Tom and his crew are the only hope for the human race as they orbit the world awaiting the arrival of one last unmanned supply ship. This story drips out exposition and fills in the blanks at a nice pace, with a couple twists to boot. Abreu’s artwork is solid and utilitarian. The pages feature conventionally shaped panels of uniform size containing relatively basic grayscale pencil drawings that clearly convey Brandt’s story.

The last story, Non Mortuus, written and illustrated by Roberto Macedo Alves takes place in old world Europe during the 16th century. In an original take on the zombie plague mythos, Alves introduces us to Pope Innocent VIII who becomes power mad and a good deal crazy in general. When years of debauchery take its toll on the pope’s health he turns to witchcraft to stave off his impending death. His quest for immortality goes horribly wrong killing everyone involved with the spell, save for the witch. When the pope and his spell’s two sacrificial victims all return from the grave a zombie apocalypse burns across Europe. After the story’s peripheral narrator waxes optimistic regarding his own future it becomes clear that Pope Innocent’s inadvertent apocalypse will have huge implications on the way the history of the world unfolds, history books be damned!

Dead Future Issue 1 offers everything a comic book of the highest quality should offer. It features superior writing, impressive and various artwork, and most importantly it offers unique and compelling zombie stories proving there’s still some fight left in that old carcass. Aside from a few careless typos there are no glaring negatives to be found. How long the Dead Future series can deliver this level of storytelling is anybody’s guess, but issue 1 is a monster….no pun intended.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Grim Crew Presents: Dead Future #1
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Killing Pickman #1
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment LLC
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/28/2009 15:43:37

Author Jason Becker and artist Jon Rea have collaborated to create Killing Pickman, a modern noire tale wrapped around serial child murder and Satanism. And honestly, it warms my heart, but please keep that between you and me.

Issue 1 starts with Detective Bill Zsu canvassing the neighborhood in which multiple children have disappeared. When he knocks on Dick Pickman’s door the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. After calling for back up a showdown ensues the results of which are six new holes in Pickman, the discovery of satanic hobbies undertaken by the aforementioned Mr. Pickman, and a tunnel in which more child victims are discovered alive. Pickman goes to the hospital and Detective Zsu goes a little crazy working the psychopath beat. Little does he know that he’s only scratched the surface of the depravity he’s just uncovered.

Becker’s story is fast-paced and streamlined. Where other stories get stuck in the mud while we all drown in exposition Becker kicks us in the ass, shoving us through the door of the loony bin. Conceptually and tonally, Killing Pickman is similar to comics such as Sin City and Arkham Asylum, as well as films including The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en.

Jon Rea’s artwork is bleak and fragmented embodying the dark themes of the story and the psychopathic nature of our antagonist. He uses charcoals, blues, blacks, grays and browns to saturate the pages with a noire palette. Fans of primary colors should keep a safe distance. Rea’s style is reminiscent of Frank Miller’s seminal Dark Knight masterpiece as well as Dave Mckean’s innovative and disturbing work from the early 90’s. There are moments when the action is obscured by the artistic style, but never for too long and never to the detriment of the book’s appeal.

Killing Pickman is fantastic. If you like your Satanism hardboiled and your child murder mysterious then this book is for you. Looking forward to issue 2.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Killing Pickman #1
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Midnight Chronicles
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/22/2009 20:20:52

Writer/director/producer Christian Petersen’s Midnight Chronicles is an indie film based on the fantasy role playing game Midnight from Fantasy Flight Games. Evil rules in Midnight’s world of Aryth after Izrador, the dark god defeated the free races in a war 100 years prior. Men are now enslaved while Elves and Dwarves have disappeared into the forests and mountains. Hope resides in only the few brave enough to pursue it. As Mag Kiln travels to Blackweir to investigate the disappearance of a fellow priest, others also descend on the small town where a complex web of good versus evil develops that has implications on the future of the dark forces that rule the land.

For as relatively small a production as it is, Midnight Chronicles is incredibly ambitious. And while it surprisingly rises to the level of visual prowess demanded by its subject matter, it falls woefully short in the story department. Like a lot of recent indie flicks, Midnight Chronicles is another impressive-but-flawed realization of a lot of hard work, money, and time and it’s also one hell of a mixed bag of movie pros and cons. Unfortunately the cons are so fundamentally important to the art of storytelling that they are impossible to overlook.

I’ll start with the things Midnight Chronicles does well.

The photography is beautiful and stark, utilizing various filters to washout primary colors and enhance the dark oppressive settings in which this story takes place. Filmed in Wisconsin and Minnesota, Midnight Chronicles’ locations and sets are on par with movies that boast much larger budgets. This is apparent immediately during the film’s large scale opening shot of slaves being marched through a vast valley overlooked by a kingdom nestled in the hills.

Midnight Chronicle’s sound production is also very well done. This movie takes place in multiple and various settings, including large scale outdoor and underground locations. It features crowds, fights, the occasional flock of birds, creatures, magic spells, you name it. Yet the sound mix remains polished and consistent throughout.

The cast is wholly comprised of theatre, television commercial, and indie film talent based in the Twin Cities. Midnight Chronicles has more characters than the average indie movie which usually predicts a huge drop off in performance between the leads and the supporting characters. However, by casting capable actors rather than friends and family, Petersen by and large avoids the aforementioned indie flick malady. While no one here threatens Brando’s spot on the all-time list, more importantly there are no sore thumbs in this group.

From a production perspective – the sets, the costumes, the effects, the acting, i.e. the tools used to help tell the story – this movie is top notch. However, a movie’s entire reason for being is born well before the actors are cast, the sets are lighted, and the cameras role. Storytelling matters most and it’s here that Midnight Chronicles falls short.

Midnight Chronicles’ script appears to have been a structural mess from square one. I consider myself a fairly astute movie watcher and I spent over half the time wondering what the hell was going on. This is because the very basic essentials of plot, specifically movie plot are never clearly defined and in some cases they’re missing all together. For example, the three act structure is a forgotten concept. This makes it difficult to discern who the protagonists and antagonists are as there is no clear main tension established early on. The main tension defines when the first act ends and thrusts us into the bulk of the film armed with knowing who to root for, who to root against, and what they all want. It’s a simple concept the by-product of which results in a compelling story.

Midnight Chronicles also suffers from a considerable lack of originality. Conceptually, it’s extremely similar to Tolkien’s Middle Earth mythos. There are Orcs, and Elves, and references to Dwarfs. Even the proper names spoken throughout the film sound like they were cribbed from a Lord of the Rings improv group. I understand that the source material for the movie is a strain of RPG that owes much of its existence to D&D and by extension the Tolkien books, but this is a level of similarity that’s off-putting and distracting.

It comes down to the fact that I’m on the outside looking in and that usually doesn’t bode well for one’s reaction to a film. It’s certainly possible that Petersen is a bit too familiar with the source material for the film’s own good. And maybe fans of the game will dive right into Midnight Chronicles and feel at home. However, I’m neither familiar with the game, nor am I a gamer in general so perhaps too many of those source elements are lost on folks like me. The bad news for Midnight Chronicles is that there are more of us on the outside than there are on the inside.

Christian Petersen’s film is an admirable effort. Compared to the vast majority of true independent films, this movie is made with a superior level of effort and skill and the aesthetic results bear that out. However, it must not be overlooked that in an age when digital cameras and high-end digital editing suites are commonplace, the production quality of a film is no longer enough to ignore its flaws. As a matter fact, with this technology being both cheap and readily available to the masses it has put an emphasis on the most basic and timeless components of movie making – a creative angle on a well-crafted story. If Midnight Chronicles had succeeded in these areas as well as it has in all other areas I’d be trying to sell you on the second coming of Peter Jackson. Instead, I’m writing about a movie that didn’t quite fulfill its potential.

2.5 out of 5



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Midnight Chronicles
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Humpday #1
Publisher: Brain Scan Studio
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/20/2009 19:33:55

Adam Buechler’s Hump Day issue 1 got my attention because it involves zombies. Honestly, if lima beans involved zombies, I’d probably write about them as well, so this fact alone doesn’t make Hump Day a success. However, its classic layout, quality artwork, and straight forward narrative push it into the win column.

A zombie infestation has spread to all seven of the world’s continents (Even Antarctica? Slim pickings, I’m sure). Ed and Jake, who are essentially Bill and Ted all grown up, work for the organization in charge of protecting survivors from the brain eating hoard. As they’re sent to patrol Paris’ catacombs, we learn that these guys are about as dangerous as the zombies are, but in a Three Stooges kind of way. And what they find under the streets Paris isn’t what anyone expects.

Hump Day moves along at a fast pace. It’s entertaining, if not super ground breaking. It will benefit from subsequent issues as this one does little more than introduce us to the world and of course to Ed and Jake. The art work is black and white and drawn in a classic conventional style which is a welcome attribute given the high action/comedic thrust of the narrative. Not a whole lot happens in issue one, but it’s captivating enough to warrant reading issue two. So here’s to seeing what happens next. Cheers!

This will appeal to fans of Return of the Living Dead, Zombieland, Shawn of the Dead, Ghostbusters, etc



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Humpday #1
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Omega Experiment
Publisher: Science Adventure Press
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/13/2009 16:31:17

The Omega Experiment #1 from Emeraldstar Comics starts with a bang. Writer E.R. Mixon uses few words to describe the laid back efforts of the police as they protect a mob informant, but when a teenage boy shows up, mumbling that he must kill the informant and anyone who gets in his way all hell breaks loose as the boy makes good on his mumblings. These scenes are starkly and literally painted by artists T.A. Harmonson and R.H. Stewart using chaotic, bold, and hard lines and using colors in large monochromatic swaths. The pages are unconventionally composed with odd shaped panels and juxtapositions that are disorientating at times, but always interesting.

We learn that this mysterious and unstoppable assassin of a boy doesn’t remember anything about his homicidal excursions, although these blackouts have happened before. When he gets caught trying to shop lift a video game and later escapes the police he realizes he had cut his arm and it has mysteriously healed. Before the source of his both his healing and his black outs is revealed, the boy is given another “assignment.”

It’s when Mixon gets wordy and explains everything through on-the-nose exposition that things deteriorate. These scenes are less compelling and composed somewhat haphazardly. I cannot help but feel disappointed and uninterested when comics are rife with errors and The Omega Experiment is just that. The word “where” is mistakenly used in place of “were” and “to” is substituted for “too” throughout. These errors prevent the story from reaching its potential as they are extremely frustrating and distracting to read.

The Omega Experiment has enough going for it that it could grow into something I’d be interested in reading on a regular basis. The art work is dramatic and sets the tone and the story works when Mixon uses a less-is-more approach. If future issues are cleaned up and whittled down, all things a good editor can provide, then this series could get some attention.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Omega Experiment
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How to be Bulletproof #1
Publisher: How to Be Bulletproof Committee
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/21/2009 20:05:32

How to be Bulletproof # 1 by Kirt Burdick is an odd thing to behold. On one hand, it’s gritty and raw in a very Tarantino sort of way which makes it compelling at the very least, and on the other hand, its tonal naval gazing renders the book’s story incoherent at times and it tends to come off as pretentious. I’m just not sure how much of this is part of Burdick’s grand design.

Joe “Bulletproof” Blue is a junkie. He blames his former boss, Madame Ambrosia, for turning him on to his various vices then abandoning him in his hour of need. When Joe overdoses and dies, he decides to possess someone, or something – in his case it turns out to be a dog – in order to hunt down Madame Ambrosia and exact his revenge. His dog duties involve him in a web of tangentially related organized crime endeavors which inevitably lead him to within one degree of his nemesis.

Burdick’s world is uncomfortable in a very interesting way. You will read page after page which is the point of writing these things, I suppose. However, some of his creative choices beg the question: Were these odd and occasionally off-putting decisions made on purpose or are they just clumsy missteps by an inexperienced writer? I truly don’t know and that’s oddly compelling on its own.

I am looking forward to reading more, but occasional word choice mistakes found in How to be Bulletproof such as “their” vs. “they’re” and “your” vs. “you’re” don’t bode well for the eventual answer to the aforementioned question about this material. Stay tuned.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
How to be Bulletproof #1
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Disconnected: Tales of the Sovereign #2
Publisher: Octane Comics
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/10/2009 18:39:35

Landon Cole, formerly known as The Sovereign, continues to fill us in on how he went from a super hero in Park City to Joe Six-pack in the tiny town of Rickton. Sitting around the fishing hole with old man Russell, the one trusted friend in Landon’s new life, we told the rest of his story from issue one.

The public blamed The Sovereign for some serious collateral damage by way of a super villain beat down during which Landon lost his powers and nearly died. His identity was revealed during his hospital stay which compromised his safety from the angry mob. Landon was relocated and the rest is history.

Instead of protecting him and his from super villains, it’s the redneck cops he has to worry about now. Is that enough to compel Landon to don the tights, despite his lack of powers? Stay tuned.

The writer/artist duo of Jason Stephens and Eric Boswell continue to bring the quality with Disconnected: Tales of the Sovereign issue #2. The writing blends subversive comedy with a touch of heart and this issue is topped off with vibrant full-color artwork.

This series reminds me of A History of Violence, only funny. It’s an irresistible premise well worth checking out. I’m hooked.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Disconnected: Tales of the Sovereign #2
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One Last Song #1
Publisher: Brain Scan Studio
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/05/2009 18:45:40

In 2046 the U.S. government has squashed dissent to extreme levels. In fact, media personalities must obtain an officially sanctioned license in order to ply their craft. Singer/songwriter, Amanda Casey is a throwback to artists from the days of yore, a revolutionary who sings protest songs, only current circumstances dictate that they’re in the guise of love songs. The Department of Homeland Security is onto her and they’re in pursuit, but to what end? C.J. Hurtt’s One Last Song issue 1 seems a little farfetched conceptually, that is until you get about a page and a half in. This book is a serious and uncompromising metaphor for the Bush Administration’s disregard for civil liberties and the rule of law, from the ironically named Patriot Act on down to the myriad of questionable signing statements. This story is as maddening as it is compelling and while it hits a few predictable notes it does so with purpose, thereby avoiding being cliché. Shawn Richter’s artwork is clean black and white, mostly bold lines with nothing in the way of middle values. It’s quick and simple and it stays out of the way of the narrative’s momentum, never becoming distracting. If you’re in the mood for a cathartic read to cleanse your palette of the nasty taste you may have had for the past 8 years or so, then One Last Song is a series worth your time.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
One Last Song #1
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Tales of the Seven Dogs Society
Publisher: Abstract Nova Entertainment
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/27/2009 22:04:32

Tales of the Seven Dogs Society is a collection of three novellas by authors, Matt McElroy, Jim Johnson, and Monica Valentinelli, based on the Aletheia role playing game from Abstract Nova Entertainment.

The basic premise of this book as well as the game is that the Seven Dogs Society is a group of investigators comprised of seven people who possess psychic or paranormal abilities. Based in Seven Dogs, Alaska at a refurbished Victorian mansion with powers of its own, the Society investigates cases involving things such as alien abduction, crop circles, spontaneous combustion, and all other manner of other worldly and supernatural phenomena.

The three stories all share the same universe: the same past events, the same locations, and the same basic rules. What separates them is that each author populates his or her investigative team with characters exclusive to their own respective stories. These stories represent each authors’ visions of the Seven Dogs Society after the events that transpire in the Aletheia RPG, in which players create and then play as investigators.

The first story is Matt McElroy’s Time to Burn. Jim, a grizzled ex-private investigator, narrates from the first person perspective as Caitlin, a 19 year old Society newbie begs him to help persuade the group to investigate possible instances of spontaneous human combustion in rural Wisconsin. Jim begrudgingly agrees when a gut feeling tells him there could be something to Caitlin’s case. He recruits Neil, an ex-cop with whom Jim has a good investigative track record and soon they leave for the land of beer and cheese.

McElroy nails Jim’s gritty PI voice right away, immediately lending his story an old school pulp/noire sensibility. The interplay and contrast between Jim and Caitlin is engaging and successfully compelling. The two characters are polar opposites in nearly every way and subsequently provide perfect foils for one another.

With regard to plot, Time to Burn nearly dies a narrative death about a third of the way through, bleeding out exposition in copious amounts; it’s very slow out of the gates.

Fortunately, McElroy’s strong characterization sustains enough interest to get us through to the point at which the investigation begins. It’s at that point the story gets its footing, and McElroy pilots his plot through some impressive and exciting maneuvers, giving readers the sense that there is and end game and we’re going to be entertained getting there.

The climax of Time to Burn is a revealing and satisfying twist and when it’s all said and done, the abundance of exposition early on becomes much less a blight on the story while it provides the following two stories the ability to sustain the narrative momentum that McElroy establishes.

The second story is Jim Johnson’s Lifting the Gingham Veil. Narrated from the third person perspective, The story starts with Keith Hardey as he makes his way up the stairs to Hepta Sophistai, the headquarters of the Seven Dogs Society. Terrence Chastain, the man currently responsible for the Society‘s existence, recruited Keith directly out of prison to join the mysterious group. Subsequently, Keith’s reluctance to knock on the door is no match for his utter lack of an alternative.

Later, when Keith and Gisele, an attractive French woman with powers akin to a GPS unit, partner up to meet the rest of the group in Kentucky to investigate a possible alien abduction, they come face-to-face with a killer who’s figured out the Society’s secretive and otherworldly mode of transportation, putting every member of the Seven Dogs Society in grave danger.

Johnson’s writing is tight and fun. He uses the concept of Aletheia to its fullest potential, fleshing out every member of the Society as well as their abilities. His style is compelling in an almost addictive way, similar to the way comic books like X-men and TV series like Heroes rope you in and won’t let go. And while those two examples are serialized narratives, Lifting the Gingham Veil potentially lays the groundwork for something similar. The people with whom Johnson populates his version of the Seven Dogs Society would work very well as recurring characters in future books or perhaps another format.

Johnson’s only misstep is that Lifting the Gingham Veil ends on a confusing note. The climax is well-crafted, paying off an objective correlative that’s planted earlier in the story, and it would have been a profound payoff had what’s happening not been obscured by the odd level of abstraction in an otherwise straightforward story.

However, my overall impression of his story is positive. Johnson’s writing is polished and entertaining and it left me wanting more.

The final story is Monica Valentinelli’s Twin Designs. On the run from members of a cult on the streets of Los Angeles, twin brothers Edgar and Ralph are found by Terrence Chastain and recruited into the Seven Dogs Society. Edgar becomes a recluse at the Hepta Sophistai, obsessed with his dead wife and online gaming, while straight arrow Ralph attempts to play den mother, but instead enables Edgar’s self-imposed seclusion. Written from the first person perspectives of both Edgar and Ralph, Twin Designs takes us back to the past, revealing what makes the brothers tick, how they ended up in Seven Dogs, Alaska, and how their shared power, known as Presque Vu, has tied their fates to that of the Seven Dogs Society in ways they had never imagined.

Unlike the previous two authors, Valentinelli spends very little time playing with the concept of Aletheia and instead chooses to use it as a backdrop against which she paints vivid characterizations of her protagonists. We spend at least as much time in the past as we do in the present, being told about the life events that led the brothers to this point.

Twin Designs breaks through the surface and plumbs literary depths a bit more ambitiously as Valentinelli emphasizes character over setting and plot. It’s a risky choice given the source material, but it works very well, particularly as the final act of the book. By the time we get to her story, there’s no need to further diagram the house or the realities of an investigative team comprised of people with special abilities. These ideas are a whole lot of fun, but the book would not have been as good a read had these ideas been the main feature of all three stories.

Twin Designs’ weakest area is where Valentinelli gets away from her characters’ distinct voices and emphasizes plot near the story’s climax. The narration loses its personality and it’s a bit of an off-putting shift in tone, but she finds her stride again as the story’s resolution gets back to the dynamic relationship between the twins.

As a compilation, Tales of the Seven Dogs Society is largely a success. There are times when the book stumbles a bit, but never falls flat, and tonally the book is multifaceted. The three authors have divergent styles, no doubt the results of equally divergent backgrounds and areas of expertise. Matt McElroy’s raw style and gritty tone is an effective attention grabber and he clearly establishes the rules of Aletheia against a tapestry woven from elements of horror and mystery. Jim Johnson’s straight forward narrative and polished writing is the stuff page-turners are made of; it’s entertainment in its purest form and it occupies the bulk of the book. Monica Valentinelli’s work is challenging and intelligent, and it concludes the trio of tales on a high note as it respects the source material’s potential for ambitious prose.

Tales of the Seven Dogs Society is a must read for fans of The X-files, X-men, Heroes, and Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series.

Review originally published on 12/29/2008 at www.flamesrising.com



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tales of the Seven Dogs Society
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Razor Kid #1
Publisher: Kikai Studios
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/20/2009 20:49:03

After reading the first two issues of Marcus Almand’s comic book, Razor Kid, I’m left feeling surprisingly compelled to read more. Razor Kid is as indie as it gets, but this does not belie the effort that Almand and his revolving crew of artists have put forth in giving readers a superior product.

Issue one introduces us to 15-year-old Alexander Tanaka, AKA Razor Kid, as he fights Kevin Michaels in an exercise of initiation into the C.A.P.E. (Citizens Authorized for Protection and Enforcement) program. Alexander is a boy genius who’s developed an armored super suit equipped with an assortment of blades and devices including cybernetic arms that replace his own which have been amputated. Kevin, 18, provides quite a test as he appears to be a full-blown martial arts badass.

After a tough fight, Alexander nervously awaits his initiation score. In the meantime we are shown a bit of his home life during which more exposition is provided regarding his family and evidencing the extent of Alexander’s intelligence. The first issue leaves us with a flashback in which Alexander is bound while a wicked doctor severs his arms, thus providing a glimpse of Alexander’s core motivation as Razor Kid.

Issue two takes us to a party thrown by Kevin Michaels and it introduces us to some of Alexander’s friends, namely 16-year-olds Nicole and Brian. Bored with the party, Kevin talks Alex into going out on the town as Razor Kid to blow off some steam. While painting the town red, they’re confronted by “The Sons of Nowhere,” kids with powers from the other side of the tracks. A fight breaks out and the story concludes just as the fight heats up. This issue leaves us with a short story explaining “The Sons of Nowhere,” in which details are revealed intertwining Alexander’s fate with that of the aforementioned renegades.

Almand’s characterizations are strong and his characters are likable. Even the bad guys are dynamic. Using these infectious characters he’s created, Almand slowly drips out the details of his universe. It’s an aspect of the books that makes them both compelling to read and difficult to write about. I honestly have no idea who anyone is, where they are, when they are, or what any of them want, but that’s part of the fun. Things are mentioned repeatedly such as beings known as paranormals and the organization known as C.A.P.E. However, none of these elements are fleshed out in the slightest. This contributes to the compelling if not altogether satisfying nature of Almand’s work and, counterintuitive to my own story telling instincts, his approach works because there is, after all, strong forward momentum.

Razor Kid borrows liberally from Japanese comics and cartoons. The book’s most prominent Manga-derived element is its style of artwork which aptly represents the child like innocence of Alexander despite the horrors surrounding him and his friends. Despite that Almand’s team of artists changed almost completely between issues one and two, the style remains the same and it’s distinctly derived from the Japanese anime and Manga variety.

One of the few glaring weaknesses in the Razor Kid books is the occasional disorienting page that occurs throughout. The causes range from bad panel composition to characters just being indistinguishable from each other. However, I caught a few pages of the latest Razor Kid book entitled Kevin Michaels: Go for Broke on www.razorkid.com and it looks as if the art by Honoel A Ibardolaza is a drastic improvement over earlier artwork.

Marcus Almand’s creation is an anomaly of visual storytelling. It does things “wrong,” but not to the detriment of the reader’s enjoyment, it’s derivative while being wholly unique, and it’s completely indie, but is as high quality a product as anything that’s out there. If you’re a fan of fantasy/action with a Japanese flare, you’ll be well served to give these books a read. Razor Kid is comparable to early 1980’s TMNT and maybe even a bit reminiscent of NBC’s television series, Heroes. Almand has good reason to be optimistic because despite getting off to very respectable start, Razor Kid will only get better.

Review originally published @ Flamesrising.com 07/16/2008



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Razor Kid #1
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Serial #1
Publisher: Brain Scan Studio
by Jason T. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/12/2009 20:27:41

Serial #1 from Brain Scan Studios is an anthology including three historical accounts of serial killers John Wayne Gacy, Angel Resendiz, and Albert Fish. If you’re at all familiar with these cases then save the twenty minutes and skip this book. Serial has no narrative value whatsoever and the factual snippets used as the book’s “story” are presented redundantly and haphazardly, complete with typos and misspellings (and I’m not counting those that were committed by Albert Fish).

Serial’s artwork is a bit of a mixed bag. However, the work by both Daniele Serra and Ryan Yager present a similar and successful style, emphasizing washed out earth tones over sketched inking. The results are grimy, bloody and dramatic images that are far more disturbing and expressive than the words they illustrate.

Despite some apparent talent involved in its production, Serial #1 misses the mark. This book was doomed before anyone ever put pen to paper by way of its conceptual approach which inexplicably forgoes story telling in favor of bland biography.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Serial #1
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