Showcase Presents: Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! (DC Comics)



Rating: 4.5/5 – Return to an Era When Comics Were Fun.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

This will be difficult for anyone who started reading comics around 2011 to believe, but there was a time when DC Comics actually created fun, whimsical titles that didn’t take themselves too seriously. Okay, there was that issue of ‘Mazing Man with “Brenda’s Story”, but DC became known for creating a line of fun books that didn’t need a rating for parents to know it was safe to let their children read them. If the parents themselves could enjoy the same book, even better, right? I guess we just must have lived simpler lives in the early 80s, because it’s difficult to picture the original Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew finding any home in DC’s New 52 universe.

“But wait,” you say. “I know about Captain Carrot. I’ve read Grant Morrison’s Multiversity. He was right there. I also seem to remember a Captain K’Rot from the short-lived (and vastly under appreciated) Threshold series.” And you’re right…the good Captain certainly did show up in both those books. Heaven only knows what he’ll be like by the time Morrison gets through with him, but even the updated Captain Carrot’s candle bears a dim light when compared to the brilliance of the original 1982-83 run of Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew!, which is faithfully collected here, along with the Oz-Wonderland War mini-series (take that, Zenescope!).

If you ever get the chance to attend original Carrot artist Scott Shaw!’s annual panel at San Diego’s Comic-Con International, where he focuses on some of the oddest comics to ever be published, you’ll get an idea of the kind of madcap insanity he and fellow creators Roy Thomas and E. Nelson Bridwell brought to this title. The puns come fast and furr-ious (yes, I did that on purpose) and while some of the references may be dated – will anyone under the age of twenty know who Yankee Poodle’s alter ego Rova Barkitt is lampooning?(note: it’s Rona Barrett) – for the most part, the jokes, bad puns, and satirical swipes are fairly timeless and still smile-inducing some 30 years after the book first saw print.

While you could likely find the entire run of Captain Carrot for little more (or maybe even less) than the cost of this book (and in color), there’s a good reason to pick this reprint up anyhow. The word “Showcase” definitely applies to the unsung heroes of the book – Carol Lay, Al Gordon, and Larry Houston – the inkers. Seeing their work reproduced in black and white without the color getting in the way really gives you an appreciation for what they were bringing to the title. Unlike your standard superhero or action/adventure title, Captain Carrot’s hyper-animated style demanded a lot of exaggeration that had to be captured by the inkwork done over Shaw!’s pencils (and yes, Shaw! uses an exclamation point in his name). I enjoy this about pretty much every Showcase (or Marvel Essential) book I get, but for some reason the importance of getting a good inker on your team stands out in this volume.

Showcase Presents Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew will likely confound and confuse anyone who didn’t grow up in or look back to that ever-distant time we call the 80s when comics took a lot more risks than we see these days. In an era where the risks now involve “edgy” moves like repeatedly killing off main characters (only to have them return a bit later) or having a titular villain completely deform his face, the true times when large comic companies took chances seem like a distant memory. If nothing else, do yourself a favor and pick this book up and have a look at it. If only as a monument to a series DC could never put out in its current environment, and hope to have it sell to a modern audience.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Shoplifter OGN (Random House)


CREDIT: Random House

Rating: 5/5 – A Story That Will Steal Your Attention and Your Heart.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

Shoplifter is an original graphic novel by Michael Cho that tells the realistic story of a young woman who’s struggling in the self-made routine of her everyday life. It’s a slice of life tale that reads and feels real, with a grounded art style that’s reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke, but still unique to Cho. There aren’t any crazy twists or turns to this story and that’s what makes it so charming and compelling. It’s a story that we can all imagine and a story that’s probably taking place in numerous places all around the world. Like the title implies, shoplifting does take place within the book, but it’s a minor part of the overall story.

Corrina Park is the main character of the story and she’s just not that happy. She’s a literature grad who dreamed of being and doing something more, but instead finds herself working at an ad agency in the city. The opening scene provides the perfect introduction to just who Corrina is and the mindset that she’s in. As Corrina and her colleagues discuss a new perfume targeted at 8-12 year olds, you hear them throwing out slogans and ideas that leave Corrina agitated and questioning her commitment until she blurts out a tagline that leaves the group speechless. It’s fantastically written and it captures the awkwardness and uncomfortableness of the scene, setting the tone for the rest of the book. From there, we see just why Corrina decides to shoplift the items that she does, as it parallels the choices she’s made for herself and her life.

The story is beautifully drawn by Cho who uses a three-color palette of white, black and pink. His rendering of the city Corrina lives in feels just as realistic as the story he’s telling. The city feels alive and there are multiple pages where Cho shows off his skills with single and double page spreads that show the busy and at times overwhelming feel of the city and all it has to offer, or in Corrina’s case, how it can feel so overwhelming. Corrina herself is drawn as an every-woman which is exactly how it should be. She fits perfectly into the world, but Cho somehow finds a way for her to always stand out. Considering that this is Cho’s first original graphic novel, I hope it’s a format that he uses again.

Shoplifter does what it sets out to do. It provides a great slice-of-life story that’s both sad and uplifting, but always real. Cho chooses to tell his story in a slightly “smaller than a comic” hardcover that’s a perfect size to showcase the art. It’s a quick read, but I spent lots of time pouring over the beautifully simple artwork. Cho has created something special with Shoplifter and it’s a story that should  appeal to both a male and female audience. If you’re in the mood for something different, yet something that’s also authentic and accessible, read Michael Cho’s Shoplifter. It should ultimately steal your attention and your heart.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow: Hard Traveling Heroes TPB (DC)


Rating: 3.5/5 – Taken Out of the Story by a Strong Creative Voice.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Pete Drummond.

It’s hard to write a review that’s not 5/5 glowing praise for a story that has been almost universally lauded in the comics community for about 40 years. How dare this guy not give this story unequivocal praise?  Hard Traveling Heroes seems strangely topical, especially in light of recent events in the US. The curse of a 24hr news cycle is the way it perverts your sensibilities. If you’re not careful, you stop relating to the world on a personal level. Once that shift happens, once your feet leave the ground, the world becomes a place of conflict and strife on a scale that is hard to fathom.

In these stories we have Hal Jordan, Green Lantern, an uncomplicated space cop, set against a left wing radical like Green Arrow, it asks a question we are still trying to answer forty-plus years later: Why is it so easy for the powerful to ignore social issues, when all around them is inequality? As troubling a proposition as this seems to be, it makes perfect sense that Green Lantern wouldn’t be immune to it. For Hal, it’s not just about humanity’s well-being anymore. Imagine you rose to godhood tomorrow, what’s it to you that a man goes homeless among the untold billions you police?

Enter heavy handed left wing billionaire, sometimes hero, and Denny O’Neil mouthpiece for a more progressive social agenda: Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. The arrow is the man on the pulse of the problem. He sees the ugliness of the world, and he’s delighted to call Hal a fascist when he puts his belief in the infallibility of the law. The result is equal parts buddy cop movie and heavy-handed sermon (it’s important to note that when this was originally published we had never seen social issues addressed head-on in comics like this before). Walking America’s streets, Ollie pushes Hal to reconnect with mankind during a time of great discord and unrest in this country. Denny shows us how capes and cowls would contend with the faceless villainy of racism, political corruption and exploitation; leading them quickly into situations where willpower and arrows don’t always fly true.

O’Neil was part of a new crop of socially conscious writers in comics, and reading this I couldn’t help but hear his voice behind every page. Not having grown up in or around the time of the book; in the thick of what that sweeping social change meant to the moment, I find myself taken out of the story every now and again which impacted the story for me. The power of comics comes from how an invisible creator carries the creation through time, renewing it for each successive generation. With the writing in this volume it came off the other way around for me; the character struggles seemed locked in time, overshadowed by the views of the creator – especially the sections with the little girl who bears a striking resemblance to Nixon.

Illustrated lavishly by one of the all-time greats of the industry, Neal Adams, the art is brilliant. With its liberal use of close ups and wild expressions set against an urban sprawl, Adams anchors the characters to a very recognizable world. Hal is sleek and constantly flying, giving the readers the sense that he is almost always looking down on things. In contrast, Ollie remains in constant contact with the pavement and generally the foreground, standing close to the reader in a way that subtly accentuates the plot of the book. It’s easy to see why Neil’s art influenced so many generations of artists with its deep rich shadows and form sculpting hatch marks. The result is a cross between cinema and caricature that seems to have provided a huge inspiration for the artists of the Image generation.

It’s hard for me to judge Hard Traveling Heroes as harshly or as kindly as I would like because it’s outside my time. For me the Civil Rights Movement was a blip in a history book and I am more likely to be glib about how little we’ve changed when I view it through the prism of retrospect. The news cycle I’m exposed to today does not show me how much we’ve evolved from the world Denny and Neal were trying to change. The people I see are still confused over how mankind keeps getting itself in this type of predicament regardless of the heroes who protect us. So, maybe the issue isn’t that we’ve changed so much since this story was written, but rather, how little we’ve changed.

Reviewed by: Pete Drummond
) –> Formerly known as ‘Asher Turnaround’ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Mind the Gap Vol. 1 (Image)


CREDIT: Image Comics

Rating: 4.5/5 – “Everyone is a Suspect, No One is Innocent”
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Shawn Hoklas

After working in the PR and Marketing Department at Marvel Comics for years, Jim McCann left that world to focus on his writing and it seemed to be the right choice. Being no stranger to writing, scripting numerous episodes of the daytime soap One Life to Live, McCann wrote his first graphic novel at Archaia that won him an Eisner for Best New Graphic Album with Return of the Dapper Men. After joining Image with the series Lost Vegas, he continues his creator owned work on Mind the Gap. It’s a story that can best be described as a mystery/thriller with a “who-dunnit” twist involving numerous characters. This first volume introduces the reader to a huge cast, and of that cast there seems to be only a couple of characters that you can seem to trust. Each chapter will leave you guessing, as the story slowly pulls back the curtain, revealing each character’s life.

Mind the Gap introduces us to Elle Peterssen, a wealthy young woman who suffers an attack in the first issue that leaves her in a coma. Just who attacked her and why is the mystery that’s laid out over the course of this first volume’s five issues. As she awakes in her coma state, she finds that the world inside of her mind can be as rich a world as the one outside. She floats within the mindscape, encountering interesting people who are also in the same situation she is, disconnected from the outside world but still alive. She finds that she can do certain things while in her coma, like entering other’s bodies and manipulating the world she’s now become a part of. What she struggles to do though, is put the pieces of her attack back together, and the reasons why she was targeted.

McCann does a great job of keeping the reader guessing, while introducing us to numerous characters along the way who all seem to be connected in one way or another. There are some great twists and turns throughout as McCann plants the seeds of doubt with almost each new character that comes into play. Even after this first volume ends, there’s still a ton of questions remaining to be answered. This book reads like a soap opera in the best way possible with characters reappearing out of nowhere from people’s pasts, but all making sense within the context of the story. McCann doesn’t cheat with his reveals. He builds them up slowly, and then shows the reader exactly how it all makes sense.

The majority of this first volume’s art is handled by Rodin Esquejo. Best known for his fantastic covers on the Image series Morning Glories, Esquejo moves into interior pencils for the first four issues. He has an ultra-clean line that uses computer effects for some of the heavier action scenes. There’s no costumes, capes, or masks so Esquejo has to rely on his character work, and he does so fantastically. Each character has their own look and style, and there’s never a question of who each character is on the page and in the panels. Colorist Sonia Oback does a great job of adding to the art with her great color choices, especially when Elle is part of the mindscape. Issue five has artist Adrian Alphona taking over for the backstory on one of the major characters, and the rougher, scratchier pencils are a great fit for that character and story. I hope this is a re-occuring theme as it gives each character a visually distinct background.

Mind the Gap does such a great job of drawing the reader in with it’s rich character development and mysterious plot. You’ll be guessing up to the very end of this first volume, and then some more as you wait for the next volume. As the inside cover reads, “Everyone is a suspect, no one is innocent”, and after reading this first volume that definitely seems to be the case. McCann balances out each character’s time in the spotlight, while Esquejo and Oback provide them with their own unique look. This first volume fully entertained me as I read it, and left me guessing how it all ties together long after I finished.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Sheena Queen of the Jungle Vol. 1 HC (PS Artbooks)

Sheena v1

CREDIT: PS Artbooks

Rating: 4.5/5 – The Original Jungle Girl Gets Her Due in a Great HC.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

I’m a sketch-hound. I take a thick book full of empty pages to every convention, with the intention to get artists both known and yet-to-be-known to fill it full of renderings based around an annual theme. One year, for example, I had every artist give me their version of Marvel’s popular assassin, Elektra. Another year, it was DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes characters. This year, however, I gave them something they could really sink their teeth into – Jungle Girls. I make no bones about it, I love the image of a savage beauty in what amounts to a fur swimsuit swinging into certain danger. I’ve had this obsession since I was a boy on the cusp of puberty and caught former Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts taking on the role of perhaps the most well-known jungle goddess – Sheena, the Queen of the Jungle.

Small wonder, then, that when I heard that PS Artbooks planned to release a beautiful  hardcover collection (under the watchful eye of Roy Thomas) compiling the 18 issues of Sheena’s first comic book run (across three volumes), I scooped it right up. This first volume collects the first four issues of Sheena’s exploits from 1942-1948 (each issue clocks in at a hefty 60+ pages), and it does so with an eye toward creating a book any comic historian would be proud to have on their shelves.  It’s available in a regular “bookshop edition” HC (available for $35 at sites like InStockTrades) and a much more expensive slipcase edition limited to 125 copies worldwide.  When you line up the 3 slipcases, the spines will combine to create an image of Sheena!

Sheena slipcase

CREDIT: PS Artbooks

A brief introduction sets the stage for anyone unfamiliar with the titular heroine, talking about her creators and appearances in numerous titles, and also includes a brief nod to her appearances in film by such notables as Irish McCalla, the aforementioned Ms. Roberts, and on television in a series starring Gena Lee Nolin. Still, Sheena’s appearances in comics are what purchasers of this book no doubt want to experience, so little time is wasted getting to the meat of the matter. The jungle queen’s exploits are faithfully reproduced with amazing clarity given the number of decades since these stories first saw print. If you’ve been hoping to get a solid reproduction of these early issues, let this be your book.

Sadly, it would have been nice if the proofreaders at PS Artbooks had been doing their job, as one table of contents lists the story “How Sheena and Boob Came to the Jungle” (it’s supposed to be Bob, referencing Sheena’s male companion in most of her stories). Some might overlook such a blunder, while others might laugh it off as a Freudian slip.  If this were a less expensive trade I might let it slide without mentioning, but these tomes are simply too pricey to allow something like that to go unremarked. If you’re shelling out the money for a Porsche, you’re not going to be happy if it comes with a scratch, no matter how small, that you didn’t put there yourself. In this case, lax editing kept this book from getting a 5 out of 5 rating.

I’ve seen these tales reprinted before in different collections, but the production value on this book gives the colors a greater brilliance, which is a pretty significant accomplishment if you’re familiar with the limitations of color printing back when Sheena’s books were originally created. The stories, as you might expect, are the great two-fisted tales of action and adventure so common to the era and the genre. It’s both an entertaining read as well as a fun history lesson.  Roy Thomas Presents Sheena, Queen of the Jungle Volume 1 is a must own and a must read if you’ve got any love for the genre of jungle heroine adventure.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Heroes of the Comics (Fantagraphics)

CREDIT: Fantagraphics Comics

Rating: 5/5 – Fabulous Portraits and Bios of Legendary Comics Creators.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

Drew Friedman is a veteran artist, having been published in seminal underground comics like Raw and Weirdo. Magazines like Heavy Metal, National Lampoon, and Mad.  He has also been drawing fabulous portraits of celebrities for a looong time.  If you’re unfamiliar with his work, check out his web-site.  Friedman draws movie stars, sports figures, comedians, politicians, musicians, and more.  And in this book we find collected the work where he chose to turn his able pen to comics creators.  And not just any creators, these are the giants of the fields.  The title of the book does not lie, these are the Heroes of the Comics.

In addition to 83 wonderfully rendered full-page color portraits we are treated to capsule biographies of each on the opposing page.  You may know some of these creators, but most people will not be familiar with them all.  I’ve read a lot of comics and a lot of comics history and I discovered a few names in here that I was unfamiliar with, but I know them now.  And how cool is it to see the faces of the men behind the comics you know and love?  Or, in some cases, the creators behind the comics that inspired the comics that inspired the comics that you know and love…  Check out the Fantagraphics web-site where you can download a 21-page preview of this fabulous 9″x12″ hardcover tome.

Check out portraits of people you likely know: Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko.  And what about Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Carmine Infantino, Ramona Fradon?  Frank Frazetta, Joe Kubert, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, and many many more.  If you love comics and you care about the creators behind those comics you love, you owe it to yourself to check this book out.  It’s a visual treat and a learning experience wrapped into a single hardcover.  Thank you, Drew Friedman.  Thank you, Fantagraphics.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Letter 44 Vol. 1 (Oni Press)

Letter 44 Volume #1
CREDIT: Oni Press

Rating: 4.5/5 – A Political Thriller with a Healthy Dose of Science Fiction.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Adam Alamo.

On his first day in office, newly-elected President Stephen Blades takes charge of a nation embroiled in two wars, an economy on the brink of collapse, and a failing healthcare system. Sound familiar? Well, don’t get too comfortable as that familiarity ends when President Blades opens a letter left by his predecessor. The letter details that seven years prior NASA discovered an alien presence in a nearby asteroid field, where they appear to be building an unidentified structure for an unknown purpose. Keeping this knowledge a secret from the public, the president nearly bankrupts the country and ramps up the war effort as a catalyst to develop advanced military technology and train soldiers for what may be an eventual alien invasion. He also sends nine astronauts on a mission to space to discover what these aliens are building and whether or not they are threat to Earth. President Blades is sworn into office just as these astronauts are about to make first contact.

Letter 44 Vol. 1 collects issues 1-6 of Charles Soule’s creator-owned book that is part political thriller and part science fiction. It was the political thriller part of the book that really surprised me. In the hands of any other writer, I would expect this type of book to be straight up science fiction, devoting most, if not all, of its time to the looming alien threat. Instead, attorney-by-day Charles Soule turns your average alien invasion into an enthralling political story as President Blades comes to grips with this new reality and weaves his way through the opening days of his presidency. Foul play runs amok as agents of the prior administration go to lengths to ensure the status quo and I had at least three jaw dropping moments that had nothing to do with aliens. It could be argued that working for the Blades Administration is more dangerous than a mission into outer space! Suffice to say, in a medium where science fiction, superheroes, and fantasy drive the market, I found the political part of this story the most intriguing.

That’s not to say that the other half of the story is any less captivating. The astronauts face numerous challenges as they approach the aliens and eventually make contact. Not all of these challenges are external, as the crew of nine (really eight, but that’s a plot point yet to be addressed) deal with their own interpersonal issues. It’s tough to get to know a large cast over several months of a comic’s release, so this is one advantage of a collected edition. Nevertheless, Soule does a decent job of fleshing out the characters and making them distinct enough for now. Future issues will hopefully continue to develop this crew. The aliens are not at all what I expected, which is a good thing. If I had to describe first contact with them, I would say it was like meeting floating geometry in a surreal painting. Granted, geometry was never this deadly, despite the opinions of my 14 year-old self. The astronauts investigate these aliens with vigor and I suspect we have only just scratched the surface of what they are and what they are planning. The pacing to the eventual reveal was just right, though I admit that I continually and selfishly urged the astronauts to dive in and learn more.

Letter 44 is my first experience with the art of Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque. He has a unique style that took some getting used to, but has become as much a part of the story as political power plays and geometrical aliens. It is with the latter that his ridged, angular lines plays especially well, though to be fair most of the book deals with ordinary folks in ordinary locales. Though I find it unlikely to happen in this book, I would love to see Alburquerque tackle some muscular, sinewy monsters or superheroes. I think this young artist is definitely one to look out for.

This first volume of Letter 44 is a political thriller wrapped in a cloak of science fiction. Whereas Soule could have easily turned this into a shoot ‘em up, us versus them story a la any number of similar books or movies, he’s instead pulled away the curtain to show us how those who pull the strings might react. The answer is, not surprisingly, politics as usual. The series is currently on issue #8, so there is time to pick up this first volume and get caught up for the second story arc, which I can tell you has doubled down on every premise introduced in this volume.

Reviewed by: Adam Alamo
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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