Bought and Thought, (belated) Maltese-Produce edition
Malta Comic Con came and went last weekend, and I ended up skipping a week’s worth of comics buying. And since I did promise to go over the locally created offerings on show there, 2 weeks’ worth of ‘foreign’ comics will have to wait. And I’ve a whole lot of goodness there! Let’s kick off with reviews, eh?
The Golden Lizard (Fabio Agius, Chris Le Galle, et al)
This is the eighties-est comic ever.
Not 80’s in the Franky says Relax T-shirts/Duran Duran on the radio/big hair sense, mind. The Golden Lizard reads and looks like something belonging to the era’s black and white boom, even if it actually is a surprisingly well bound and printed volume. And in full colour, too! I’ll say it straight - this would have looked better in black and white, printed on shoddy paper and hand stapled.
The art, especially, has that quality - it’s somewhat crude at times, weird characters, monsters, heavy inks - cheapened a bit by the digital colouring, really. Which in turn looks like 90’s Photoshop work, back when digital got all the rage through the likes of Image comics. Backgrounds are especially lazy, depending on either simple gradients or filtered photographs. Never use gradients in your work. Ever. And it’s preferable to draw a helicopter, however badly, yourself, then depend on photoshop filter. Hell, trace it out if you need to. It’s just... cheap. Hell, the colours would have worked better as simple flats.
Writing wise, it’s a mix - there’s a fairly amusing plot where a drifter and an alcoholic womanising robot head off in search of the titular Golden Lizard. The gags are hit and miss, but it’s generally funny - so long you don’t mind crudeness or sexism, anyway (the robot’s ‘mind’ ends up transfered into a robot sex doll’s body - oh, the hilarity). There is a dependance on huge chunks of writing to serve as exposition - which slows everything down to a crawl.
Ultimately, is it worth 10 euros? I’ll leave it as a big ‘hmmmm’. For sure it doesn’t qualify as an impulse purchase, even if to support the local scene. Then again it is a well bound and printed volume. Much luck to the team for their future endevoubrs!
For Gallantry #0 (Fabio Giangolini)
Now this is the format local creator should aim for. Slim, focused and cheerfully cheap - while offering something relatively new.
With the popularity of soldier-sim videogames, I’m surprised at the lack of realistic military comics, at least States/UK wise. The market must be pretty ripe for stories on burly men in uniforms spouting military gibberish while shooting at, umm, ‘terrorists’ or something. For Gallantry claims inspiration from Al Qaeda documents - with a plan for terrorists to enter Europe disguised as refugees. Far fetched? I can’t tell. But Giangolini has an experience writing and editing Italian military magazines as long as your arm, and I’m no authority to argue.
The comic itself is distressingly short - 5 pages! I recall seeing the pages themselves back at last year’s con. The art is of the muscular 90’s Image style, all crosshatching and meaty figures. The concept is intriguing, and if kept in this format - I’d suggest going for pulp type paper instead of glossy - it could be hugely interesting. A ‘backmatter’ at the end provides all sorts of info on the Armed Forces’ Counter Terrorism Unit, which I guess is interesting.
I had no idea such a unit even existed! Truly, something new is learnt every day.
The Tsar, part 1 (Joseph Farrugia, Joseph Bugeja)
No tales of Russian royalty in this one - sorry, history fans. The title character - revealed at the very end of this volume - is an OMAC-style mohawk clad avenger of sorts, armed with a biomechanical arm cannon. What will he avenge in part 2? The death of his wife and brainwashing of his daughter, obviously! Who did these evil deeds? Some dickhead named Gustav, obviously. You see, the Tsar was once but a humble scientist, who discovered a mystery power source in the ruins of what was once Atlantis, in the sea somewhere between Malta and Filfla. Gustav used this research to build a super city in Siberia, then letting the world go arse-up through a giant meteorite impact! What a dick!
What we have here, then, is a very Heavy Metal magazine style story - sans naked tits of any kind. Which is a shame. The art here is all pure pencil work, and it’s very good - and very well reproduced in printing. The print format itself is interesting, taking a magazine sized approach.
The only problem is writing-wise; while the general plot is good, the writing itself is clunky and at times full of errors. Editors and proof readers, people! They are Useful. There’s also some niggles in the plotting, like how many years do actually pass between the creation of ‘Voldov City’ and the Tsar showing up to (hopefully) kick asses? It’s pretty vague.
But on the whole, this is a good effort, if not really worth the exorbitant 10 euro price point, I fear. I do realise the economics in play here, but one could shift more units for a lesser price, honestly.
Hal Mudlam #1 (Joseph Bugeja)
Will I ever tire of comparing each book I talk on with a particular genre/style? No, of course not. Hal Mudlam here (translates to Dark Town, basically) is a Maltese twist on horror comics, lying between EC Comics and those lurid Italian ‘terrore’ fumetti. The cover even manages to be artistic, as opposed to being lurid as hell, which is an achievement, in a way.
The subject is very Maltese - it’s about a parish priest. His continual listening to confessionals leads him to - you’d never guess - cannibalism! And it’s seriously awesome. The art is ugly in the right sense, a heavy pencilled caricature style, of sorts. Even panel layouts manage to be pretty interesting at times. It’s all simple, but it genuinely works. By the end we’re introduced to Hal Mudlam - a mysterious town where, it seems, freaks such as a cannibal, monocular priest can feel right at home.
The best left for last then? Definately. The series promises more townspeople, and hopefully their stories are as good as this one.
Comics Reviews, for the 10th of the 10th of the 10th
Last week somehow slipped between the cracks, so here’s a ‘best of the crop’ bumper update. Got to admit though I’m somehow buying less and less stuff these days.
Casanova luxuria III (Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba)
We got into a discussion yesterday on Inception as more proof on the 21st century’s fiction - spy fiction in particular, since that’s where Nolan’s movie belongs - being more and more stripped off any vestiges of sexuality; where Marion Cotillard is literally locked in the basement and the the only other female is an androgyne girl-boy child. Not to mention the rest of the cast is as young and fresh faced as can be, DiCaprio still barely managing to hold his bum fluffy facial hair together. Noone even takes their shirt off.
Casanova is all that’s total opposite, really. Outside the dimension-jumping mindfuckery going on in Fraction’s superspy opus, the whole thing is oozing with sex. Gabriel Ba’s art doesn’t hurt, of course - he draws women like one would expect a Brazillian to do, all breasts and hips and asses bulging through whatever items of clothing barely managing to hold all together. And this issue introduces Sabine Seychelle, sexbot maker extraordinaire with a more than passing resemblance to Andy Warhol. And I mentioned in the previous issue’s review of the is-it-is-it-not incestuous simmerings between Casanova Quinn and his alternate-dimension twin sister. Pervy indeed.
And yes, shirts do get taken the hell off.
Plus there’s the line ‘After punching God in the brain, I smuggled the vicious little bastard back to E.M.P.I.R.E.’ which somehow made me fall in love with comics - in general! - all over again.
The Amazing Screw-On Head and other curious objects (Mike Mignola et al)
You might have watched the Amazing Screw-On Head pilot from a couple of years back. Good! That is awesome. If not you can watch it below at your convenience.
Well, here is the seed crystal of that short. It’s shorter, leaner, more potent. All of the comics in this slim hardbound volume are. This is pure Mignola - beautifully illustrated, deeply weird and very, very funny at times. Monsters, creepy buildings, low-tech steampunky Victoriana. Lost civilisations. It’s all here.
For those who want even more, then there’s an excellent sketch section at the back. If you don’t like Mignola sketches, let me officially consider you a monster.
First Wave #4 (Brian Azzarello, Rags Morales et al)
The plot thickens - and the seams continue to stretch and creak, sadly. It’s an intriguing concept, really. Doc Savage’s first pulp adventure (where following his father’s death, he and his crew travel to the land of Hidalgo, meet a mysterious tribe and avoid getting killed) is mixed with even more pulp goodness - the Blackhawks, the Spirit, an early Batman (who’s more The Shadow than anything else) and, hell, even the Avenger shows up.
Such a team up is intriguing but currently, at least, I’m not feeling it. With this issue being the 4th out of 6, there’s still too many loose ends - Doc Savage’s crew separated, a whole plot surrounding a ‘Neolantis’ still very much under wraps, how the likes of Rima the Jungle Girl figures into this stew… it’s a bit messy. Shame shame shame. I should be loving this, not feeling merely lukewarm.
Deadpool Team-Up #889 (Jeff Parker, Steave Sanders et al)
I only got this because it guest stars the one and only GORILLA-MAN. What? You thought I gave a flying toss about Deadpool? From what I gather, he’s a Wolverine-alike dressed in a very 90’s outfit with a knack for ‘witty’ dialogue and 4th wall breakage. Call me… bored. But hey this issue has Gorilla-Man teaming up to fight Borgia Omega (a descendant of the Borgias who stuck their preserved heads into his body - before sticking all of that on top of a giant robot spider). Of course, like all team-up stories, Deadpool and Gorilla-Man have a bit of a tussle before heading for the big bad.Typical, really.
However Jeff Parker’s writing always manages to amuse, and I guess the art is serviceable enough. And I can’t get angry at a comic that features robot pterodactyls with laser cannons for eyes, can I?
Elephantmen #27 (Richard starkings, Axel Medellin et al)
Elephantmen is one of the first comics I started buying when I really got back into comics. I’ve got all the issues - or nearly so at any rate. What originally started as a mascot for Richard Starking’s Comicraft fonts - the hippo-man Hip Flask - developed into a series of pulpy scifi short, reaching their zenith into a mini illustrated by the one and only Ladronn in an imitiable Heavy Metal stylee. The series itself centers around the so-called Elephantmen - human/animal hybrids created by mad science (what else?) as super soldiers bred for war, freed by the UN and, a few years later, integrated into human society - or nearly, anyway. The concept has immense potential for pulp sci-fi adventure with the occassional reflection on current society. The three (so far) Ladronn illustrated Hip Flask issues were followed by this ongoing series, with Starkings on the writing together with a rotating roster of artists.
However Starking’s writing’s too heavy handed for its own good - yes, people hate Elephantmen, yes it represents racism AND general fears of science Going Too Far, bla bla bla. Yes someone wants to use Elephentmen (of the crocodile variety but anyway) for war again and Hip Flask teams up with a lady agent wearing a ridiculous outfit as illustrated in some damn sloppy artwork (unfortunately for Starkings, his regular artist’s roster - including the likes of Moritat, Ladronn and Gabe Bautista are all tied up with DC work).
I’m really considering dropping this series, really. I’m no believer of buying anything simply for habit’s sake.
…courtsey of Douglas Coupland. Think Blade Runner, minus the flying car, the hope of space colonisation, and the robot/replicant servants. Which leaves crippling economic depression, wholly fucked up weather and possibly no animals left roaming the face of the earth.