28 December 2004

ménage à trois: 12/22/04

[One Marvel, one DC, both published the previous Wednesday, plus a random indie from whenever I feel like it, each reviewed quickie-style: 1 Minute=bad, 10 Minutes=good. Connections, if any at all, may be forced purely for the experience.]

Not counting their Vertigo and Wildstorm imprints - for whom The Losers and Sleeper ably represented - it was DC's turn last week to come up empty on my interest radar, allowing Bloodfire Studios' Kindergoth #1 to join Black Widow #4 and Arcana Studios' 100 Girls #1, making this week's round of comic book carnality an all-girl affair.

The Black Widow has always been a character for whom I've had little interest, pretty but shallow, and Greg Land's sex kitten covers on her latest run would normally be enough to keep me away. While looks aren't everything, Bill Sienkiewicz has been one of my favorite artists ever since his Moon Knight days - and on through his experimental phase - so I couldn't resist checking out the first issue and have been hooked ever since, despite his shifting from primary artist to finishing Goran Parlov's layouts. The difference is subtle and the art remains strong and distinctive, nicely complementing Richard K. Morgan's sharp, back-door origin story that sheds light on the KGB program that created the Black Widow while moving the main story forward of who's trying to kill a purportedly retired Natasha Romanov. Morgan writes a believable Romanov, tough as nails but deeply human, and in this issue, teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown when, following a lead to Moscow, she's confronted with memories of her past and, more disturbingly, some unexpected truths about that past. Another novelist successfully makes the jump into comics, and of course, there's Sienkiewicz: 9.5 Minutes

Thanks to Ezra, I decided to give another Arcana Studios book a try and judging from its first issue, 100 Girls is another winner. Sylvia Mark is a troubled thirteen-year old girl, plagued by nightmares and adoptive parents who question her mental stability. She's also being tracked by a mysterious organization to whom she's known as Subject 97, the last of "them" to show "signs of manifesting." Adam Gallardo writes a pitch-perfect first issue, laying a solid foundation for his interesting premise, giving just enough detail to whet the appetite while leaving so much more up in the air. Todd Demong's artwork works perfectly here, the sign of an artist committed to and challenged by a project, as opposed to collecting a work-for-hire paycheck. His teenagers look like teenagers, his bad guys - assuming they are, in fact, the bad guys - look like regular people doing their jobs, and his layouts are energetic and fluid. Some comics leave you thinking you could do better, while others, like this one, simply leave you excited about the next issue: 10 Minutes

In this era of gritty realism, very few comic books go the "comic" route anymore, so Kindergoth was a pleasant surprise with it's laugh-out-loud funny debut issue. That it's in black-and-white is another surprise, one that manages to work for it not against it, though, as Jeff Zugale's cherubic goth kids boldly jump off the background-light pages in their black leather jackets and t-shirts. The lead kid, Alise, is a short-fused, ass-kicking half-pint of pent-up rage who doesn't suffer fools lightly, and writer/creator Lee Kohse gives her some of the best lines in the book. His first issue introduces her and her friends, members of the Dead Bonsai Society, along with miniature grim reapers, crop circles and an alien invasion! It's like a joyful blast from the 90s black-and-white glutted past, but without any of the suckiness. "Nobody moves, and nobody gets probed!" 8 Minutes