Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Recomended Reads #1: In which the author brings awesome to the attention of the discerning reader.

There's no doubt it my mind that now--at this very moment in time--there has never been a better opportunity for potential fans of the genre to get on board with comics. Whatever your particular fancy or flavor, I practically guarantee there's a book out there for you. If nothing else comes of the Recommended Reading pieces I plan on making a (hopefully) weekly feature around these parts, I want to make abundantly clear to you from the outset that comics are frickin' amazing, and if you want in on the ground floor I will do my damnedest to offer you reads that not only do not require an encyclopedic knowledge of certain character's minutiae, but are accessible and fun reads for both the longtime fan and the casual reader. My style will be a little off the cuff and informal (but then again, if you were expecting formality at a site where getting the collected Kirby Devil Dinosaur are referenced and rejoiced. . .well. . .), but hopefully will be informative and enjoyable enough to pique your curiosity and get you down to your friendly neighborhood comics shop for a look-see. So without further ado, let's dig into the recommended for this week:

Devil's Due Press' Barack The Barbarian #1 and 2. Writer: Larry Hama, Artist Christopher Schons:

I know, I know, I know. . .the American President's image in the media has taken a somewhat-shall we say-messianic tone, and after the whole Spider-Man cover debacle from Marvel a while back it seemed to become fashionable for comicbook companies to take the President's likeness and slap it on the cover of their book du jour to promote sales. Add to that the revelation that Mr. Obama was a comicbook reader in his youth with a fondness for both Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian and well. . .wheels were bound to turn.

Barack the Barbarian is a strangely recognizable story chronicling the rise of Barack of Shikhago, warrior, deal-maker, slayer of monsters, who roams the fabled republic of Merika in search of the fabled treasure of stimuli. His wanderings bring him to the decadent city of Warshingtun, where in the shadow of the ruins of the great Emancipator's temple he forges an alliance with the Valkyrie matriarch Hilaria to work to overthrow the despot Boosh and his wicked Vizier. . .will Barrack find the fabled stimuli, or will the Old Warrior and Red Sarah beat him to it?

I'm not going to attempt to persuade you that this book is a modern classic of the genre, but as a parody comic/sword and sorcery tale it is a lot of fun. As we make our way through the story we learn that this is the tale being told to children during the Ice Age of our contemporary time, in which some things may have been a bit. . .distorted in the telling. Hama is a longtime writer of Marvel Comics (and virtually built the G.I.Joe franchise as it existed in the '80s from the ground up) so he's a deft hand at telling a story that is at once a series of groanworthy puns and a fun adventure romp all at once. Christopher Schons is a capable artist whose work is just cartoony enough to make the conceit of this being a tale told to small children fly while also evoking the classic Marvel Conan comics of yore. Is it a classic? No. Will it be remembered in a year and a half? Probably not. But as funny, goofy entertainment goes you could do far worse. Recommended.

IDW Publishing's Ghostbusters: Displaced Aggression #1. Writer: Scott Lobdell. Artist: Illias Kyriazis.

Tie-in comics are dicey, dicey prospects for the average reader. On the one hand they can provide a welcome dose of comforting familiarity when navigating the peaks and valleys of the average comics shop. On the other hand, tie-ins sometimes follow their source material a little too slavishly, becoming lost in their franchise's canon to the point where the average reader wonders why they even bother. The happy medium is the media tie-in book that's familiar enough to bring a casual reader into the fold, but also fresh enough to entertain the longtime reader who's seen it all with a new wrinkle on the franchise's familiar themes. With that said I'm happy to say that Ghostbusters: Displaced Aggression is exactly that. If all you know of the Ghostbusters lore is the feature films, you won't be lost at all. In fact, I'd call DA a far more fitting sequel to the 1984 classic than that other film which had a similar title followed by the number 2.

The book opens in the Old West with a stagecoach beset upon by outlaws. Before you can wonder if you've perhaps picked up a copy of Jonah Hex by mistake, we're treated to the sight of a pack of ghostly desperadoes about to plunder the stage for the only commodities they're after; the souls of the living. Just when things seem their bleakest, an oddly familiar figure with a snarky sense of humor and a steampunk-styled particle accelerator proceeds to lay some western smackdown with plenty of Murrayian panache. Over the course of the issue we learn that one Dr. Peter Venkman has been living in the 19th century for a few months, shortly after he and his fellow Ghostbusters had a massive battle with an eldritch entity named Koza'Rai. Remember the first Ghostbusters big bad, the Cthulian entity know as Gozer the Gozerian? Gozer the Traveller, who will come in one of the prechosen forms? The being that manifested as a one hundred foot-tall marshmallow man and nearly laid waste to the Earth? That guy? Yeah, this is his dad. And daddy's pissed. Realizing the boys in gray wouldn't roll over even if he killed them, he scattered the four heroes to the far corners of the time stream, clearing the way for his conquest of the present (or the future, given our protagonist's current point of reference). Over the course of the issue we're treated to everything from the West's version of our favorite paranormal elimination franchise to a bit of Zemeckis-style chicanery that gets the good doctor on the road and on his way to recovering his friends.

This book was a pleasant surprise and a helluva lot of fun to read. It's got a bounce and a pep to it that amuses, and the teaser imagery for the next issue(and the once and future 'buster it features) had me grinning from ear to ear. Lobdell has an ear for dialogue that just brings to mind the tones of Murray or Lorenzo Music, and Kyriazis' art has a style that lends itself well to Western, Horror, and Science Fiction all at once. If you're looking for a dose of old-school Ghostbusters fun, you'd do well to give your local shop a call for Displaced Aggression. Definitely Recommended.

DC Comics R.E.B.E.L.S. #1-8 Writer: Tony Bedard. Artist: Andy Clarke.

Hmm. . .how best to introduce the awesomeness of R.E.B.E.L.S. to the casual reader without bringing up that dreaded c-word (continuity!) and driving them off. . .all right, how's this for a tag line:

'It's Battlestar Galactica by way of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers mixed with Superman II-level superhuman mayhem amidst an intergalactic backdrop in which our only hope is a hyper-intelligent tyrannical monster. Think Doctor House with the scruples of Lex Luthor.'

That'd be how I'd pitch R.E.B.E.L.S. Vril Dox is a super-genius and utter bastard who (up until a very short time ago) was head of an organization called L.E.G.I.O.N. (Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network), a planetary scale security and peacekeeping group that planets paid into to maintain law and order. Unfortunately a rather pesky problem with an overwhelmingly powerful alien invasion force of parasitic aliens from another galaxy has put a bit of a crimp in Dox's normally orderly and powerful lifestyle and he's been forced to go on the lam with a group of ragtag misfits that he's managed to A)Cajole, B) Strongarm, C) Kidnap or D)all of the above in an effort to save the galaxy from the menace of the star conquerors.

This book is a treat, and so wonderfully self-contained that you don't need reams of comics data to understand what's happening. It plays like a classic space opera. . .whose protagonist manages to be just slightly better than the evil he's fighting. Just. But he does it in such a wonderfully snarky, overbearing way that you can't help but love him. R.E.B.E.L.S. is the SF comic you should be reading. Recommended.

That's all for right now. Tune in tomorrow when I bring you Recommended Reads #1, Round Two.


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