17 December 2006

CBC Quickees: Manifest Destiny, Girls and Squirrels

Cowboys & Aliens
By Fred Van Lente, Andrew Foley, Dennis Calero, Luciano Lima, Magic Eye Studios, et al (Platinum Studios, 2006; $4.99)

What if an alien invasion of North America in 1873 interrupted the European settlers' westward expansion of the United States, forcing them to band together with the native Americans they had ruthlessly displaced for nearly two centuries, and fight for their mutual survival? It's the kind of high concept Hollywood loves, so the only surprise in the comic book version of the story being published by Platinum Studios is that, well, they're actually publishing the comic book version at all! (Check out Kurt Addams' post about Platinum Studios from earlier this year for more on that.)

Seriously, though, Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley (writers of the excellent Action Philosophers! and Parting Ways, respectively) do a great job of working every potential angle the concept offers into an entertaining variation on Independence Day: How the West Was Won. Whether it's the obvious parallels of the alien invaders and European colonists; the innovative resourcefulness of the Americans, native and self-proclaimed; or the high-energy action scenes that will look great onscreen -- Cowboys & Aliens delivers the fast-paced, action-adventure goods with a likeable cast of characters and a rousing finale that nicely sets up a sequel or ongoing series. Luciano Lima and Magic Eye Studios (with the underrated Dennis Calero ably handling a short prologue) do a solid job of visualizing the story, at times nailing the movie-on-paper feel the script demands, while offering distinctive character designs for the stock humans and aliens alike. At 100+ pages, it's an excellent value for only $4.99, or you can get a free copy from Midtown Comics with any purchase.



100 Girls: The First Girl, Volume 2
By Adam Gallardo & Todd Demong (Arcana Studio, 2006; $9.95)

In a perfect world, 100 Girls -- one of my personal Top 10 for 2005 and Buzzscope's Best Independent Series of 2005 -- would be on its 20th issue or so, out-selling the overrated likes of Girls and Invicible, and making its creators, Adam Gallardo and Todd Demong rich from licensing and merchandising deals. (A 100 Girls video game would be huge!) Instead, this second volume, collecting the final three issues of the story's first arc plus some great extras, hit stores with little fanfare a while back, and even I was caught off-guard by its publication.

Nevertheless, everything I've said about this series in the past stands, specifically...

Sylvia Mark is a teenage prodigy who's just a little bit different from her peers; among other things, she has 99 sisters, all of whom can kick your ass!

Writer Adam Gallardo has established an intriguing setup that creatively combines familiar sci-fi and government conspiracy tropes with Marvel's patented mutant template, stitching it all together with actual character development and believable dialogue. The overall tone is not one of a black-and-white, good vs. evil world, but a multi-faceted place where many of the "bad guys" are just regular people doing their jobs without any bad intentions. Artist Todd Demong's graffiti-like artwork gives 100 Girls a unique visual appeal, slightly cartoony but firmly grounded in reality. His teenagers look like teenagers; his "bad guys" look like regular people doing their jobs; and his layouts are energetic and fluid, no doubt influenced by the fact that he does storyboards for a living. There are many gems buried in the back of Previews, and 100 Girls stands head and shoulders above the majority of them.
One of the biggest difficulties most indies face in the marketplace is an inability to maintain a steady presence on the shelves and in the minds of retailers and readers alike. Gallardo offers some interesting background on 100 Girls in the extras, including how Dark Horse (where the beginning of the story was first published, online), Image, AiT/PlanetLar and Oni Press all passed on publishing it. Of them, I think Dark Horse made the biggest mistake because the resources they have available to promote a title like this would have helped it reach the much larger audience it deserved, and I suspect a decent page rate and regular paychecks would have enabled Gallardo and Demong to make the series a priority instead of only a labor of love, and I'd have more than 7 issues and two TPBs to recommend to people.

Hopefully their snatching of Rex Mundi and Fear Agent from Image will open the door to reconsidering 100 Girls, and Gallardo and Demong can work out a deal that gets Sylvia Mark back on the shelves ASAP. My fingers are crossed...

[Check out my interview with Gallardo at PopCultureShock for more on 100 Girls.]

Raised by Squirrels
By Bram Meehan and Monica Banko Meehan, 2006; $4.95)

Mark Fossen's review of Raised by Squirrels piqued my interest, so I ordered a copy to see for myself and was pleased, both by its potential and by Fossen's ability to nail its good and bad underdeveloped qualities while still making it sound appealing. Sort of a Mission: Impossible with "superpowered covert field agents", the Meehans have come up with an intriguing premise for which their reach perhaps exceeds their grasp...for now. The plot and script are solid, suggesting there's a lot more going on under the surface without distracting from the main focus of the slim 50-page story, and the artwork does a competent job of telling that story. There's a low-budget, indie film lack of polish to the overall package that I find appealing -- similar to the way Memento hinted at even better things to come from the Nolan brothers -- and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Ed Brubaker's work in Point Blank or Sleeper.

I'll be keeping an eye on their web site -- where individual "issues" are posted, including the seven represented in this volume -- to see how their story develops and, hopefully, to bear witness to the blossoming of its underlying potential. There's three new issues available that offer glimpses at a couple of the main characters' backgrounds and motivations and feature guest artists with similar qualities to whichever Meehan (Monica, I believe) did the artwork in the first seven issues.