Archie: Rockin’ the World TPB (Archie)

Archie Rockin

CREDIT: Archie Comics

Rating: 4/5 – Archie and the Gang Take Their Act Worldwide.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Adam Alamo.

It’s a great time to be an Archie Comics fan! Next year promises big changes for the publisher as it expands or relaunches many of its current comic line and moves into television, movies, and fashion. Even its title character will be getting a fresh new look to celebrate his nearly 75 years in comics. One might say that Archie is getting ready to “rock the world” with these changes and while many feel anxious about a change in the status quo, I cannot be more excited. Before that happens, though, the Riverdale gang takes their musical act worldwide in Archie: Rockin’ the World, a volume that collects Archie issues #650-653. It’s a rockin’ good romp around the globe that has plenty of classic Archie to satisfy longtime fans.

Joining the Archies on this world tour are fellow musical acts Josie and the Pussycats, the Bingos, and the Madhouse Glads. As they hop from country to country, the reader gets a quick geography primer on the current locale that is then worked into the story. From there, all sorts of hijinks occur as the Bingos and the Madhouse Glads take off, the Bettys pop in for an emergency performance, and a cornucopia of Archie characters join the narrative. It’s really a who’s who of the Archie world as Dan Parent throws in the naughty Cheryl Blossom, the stylish Katy Keene, the magical Sabrina Spellman, and many more. It makes for a lot of fun to guess who will make an appearance next. Parent even introduces a new character that causes the Archie love triangle (or is it a love square at this point?) some stress. Parent is no stranger to creating new characters and I love that he expands the cast yet again. I also like that he follows up on the previous Archie/Valerie relationship, which keeps with the series’ continuity. Has Archie’s days as a player finally come to an end? Though history and experience would tell you no, you’ll have to read this story to find out. The volume wraps up with short bios on the bands as well as great reprint material featuring some of their older stories. These bands have graced the pages of Archie for over 40 years, so it helps to provide some history for new readers. Dan Parent also handles the art duties on this story arc and as I’ve said before, I believe he’s the best modern Archie artist. He takes a very consistent house style and makes it his own without ever losing the essence of the characters.

Overall, Archie: Rockin’ the World is a big ball of fun that incorporates everything that makes an Archie Comic great: the art’s consistent house style, the cast’s never-ending shenanigans, and the girls fighting over everyone’s favorite redheaded teen. It’s a nice respite before the promised changes of next year. And while I’m all for trying out new things, modernizing the brand, and hopefully raising some interest in this publisher I like so much, I think I’m happy to sit here for a while before all the big changes occur.

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

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Kinski (Image)



Rating: 5/5 – A Tale About a Man and a Dog (That Isn’t Even His)
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

We originally reviewed the first issue of Kinski when it was released digitally through Monkeybrain Comics last year. After the series wrapped, Image decided to publish a trade paperback, collecting all six issues. If you haven’t tried this digitally, now would be the time to seek this out as creator Gabriel Hardman has created a unique, tension filled and touching story about a man and his dog. Only the dog isn’t his.

As the story opens, traveling salesman Joe finds a stray dog who he has an immediate and deep connection with, so much so that in just a few minutes he’s given the dog a name, Kinski. Unfortunately, the connection doesn’t last long as the dog is picked up by animal control, and taken away from Joe. Over the course of this six issue series, we see Joe attempting to get him back by any means necessary. What makes this book so strong is the characterization of Joe, not only through the writing, but also through the art. Hardman does such an amazing job of making you question how you as a reader feel about Joe and his relationship to this dog.

At times you’ll feel for him and all he goes through in order to make this dog feel safe, while at other times you’ll judge him for not living up to his responsibilities, seeming as though he may have some deeper issues that affect his maturity. Hardman brilliantly rides the line between your two emotions, while at the same time ending each chapter in a way where all of that is momentarily forgotten as you desperately turn the page in order to find out what happens next. Hardman controls the pacing so well right up until the very end, and will have you questioning Joe’s motivations and mindset long after you finish reading.

The art done in black and white is a perfect fit for the story and Hardman captures the emotions in each character’s face, including Kinski as can be seen by the simple yet effective cover. The settings and backgrounds that Hardman chose are realistic and believable, giving the world a real life feel. Hardman uses the blacks perfectly, and in a particularly emotional scene towards the end, those blacks and shadows provide such a powerful sense of mood against the dark night sky and minimal ambient light. Much like the writing, the art does an effective job of balancing the highs and lows with the use of blacks and whites. Overall, Hardman succeeds in grabbing your attention and not letting go. It’s a perfectly told story in a wonderful format. At about three-quarters the size of a comic, Kinski is simple even within it’s form factor. Kinski is a must read book that I’d consider to be one of the best collected editions this year and you need to experience it for yourself.

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

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The Silver Age of Comic Book Art (Archway Publishing)


Rating: 5/5 – Fabulous Examination of the Greats of Silver Age Art.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

If you’re a fan of comicbook art in general and the Silver Age of comics in specific, you must get this book.  If you own the first edition (like I do) consider upgrading to this revised edition.  Arlen Schumer has outdone himself with this refresh, incorporating the text into the layouts in a way that’s an art in itself.  I was able to immerse myself into this book over the past few days, examining it from cover-to-cover, Schumer helping me remember, appreciate and really understand why the art of Carmine Infantine, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Gene Colan, Jim Steranko, and Neal Adams is still examined and revered 40-50 years after it was first published.

02.INFANTINO Flash 24-25 ASR

There have been a lot of histories of comics, but this isn’t a history it’s an examination of art with observations suggesting why these images connect with the reader in such a visceral way.  If you’re a comics art historian you may already know some or all of the information imparted by Schumer.  Heck, I knew a lot of it myself, but the way he has of laying it all out on the page made it so entertaining to me to read that I didn’t mind one bit having him remind me of some things and teach me some others.  Once I read the introduction I knew I was in for a heck of a ride, Schumer gives a concise and informative tour of the Silver Age in words and pictures, placing the world of the super-hero comics into the context of key events happening in the real world the fans were living in.

After the introduction we switch gears and dive into eight meaty sections, each devoted to one of the premiere artists of the Silver Age.  What I liked most was the inclusion of so many quotes from the artists themselves and their contemporaries talking about the art and their process.  Extracted from numerous interviews (all annotated and credited in the bibliography), Schumer matches these quoted passages with pictorial examples that bring them to life in full color so much more so than in their original publication format, which was generally text-heavy interviews in fanzines that may have been accompanied by a few black & white pictures.  I have to give huge kudos to Schumer for managing to get permission from Marvel, DC, and the original sources of these interviews to beautifully aggregate all that previously published material with his own observations into something that expands on the source and makes it into something more.  The whole delivered here is absolutely greater than the sum of its parts.

03.COLAN DD 132-133 ASR

Look at the combination of images of Daredevil by Gene Colan shown above (click the image to make it larger).  Read the word balloons, they’re Gene Colan’s words.  Read the other text integrated onto the page with the images.  This is what I’m taking about when I say that Schumer has taken existing art and existing words and combined them together through the lens of his design sense into something so much more.  I’ve loved Gene Colan’s art since I was a kid, he was the first artist I ever saw drawing Daredevil.  To me, this double-page was breathtaking.  And there is so much more just like this throughout the book.

I love comics.  I love comics art. This review is more of a love letter to Schumer and all these wonderful artists than a dissection of anything I’d like to see done differently.   Except I wanted MORE!  I wish the section on Gene Colan was longer than 8 pages.  We get a quick section in the back with 2-4 pages each on Murphy Anderson, Wally Wood, John Buscema, Nick Cardy, and Curt Swan.  I’d love to see a volume 2 of this book with each of these artists examined in more detail.   That’s my only real criticism,  I wish there had been more of this to love!

The Silver Age of Comic Book Art made it into the 2014 NY Time Holiday Gift Guide on November 28th and I heartily second that recommendation.  Buy it for yourself or ask your family and friends to give it to you as a gift this holiday season!  If you own it already, consider giving it as a gift to show someone else just why you love comicbook art so much.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I am reviewing a copy of this given to me by the author, the book is being officially released December 5th.  You can buy it direct from Arlen on his web-site and get it autographed!! This book gets my highest recommendation.  Even though I got my copy for free, I’m going to take my own advice and “pay it forward” by gifting copies of this book to a couple of people.  I hope they’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

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

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The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Knopf)

SecretHist WW



Rating: 5/5 – How Feminism and Polyamory Combined to Create a Comics Legend.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

Fair warning: This is not a chronicle of Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman) or her many appearances in comic books starting with her first appearance in All-Star Comics #8 (Dec. 1941). True, her name is on the title and tales and images of the Amazonian princess appear throughout the pages of the book, but with regard to The Secret History of Wonder Woman, the true “secret” lies in the history of her creators, who are the true focus of writer Jill Lepore’s work.

Many comic enthusiasts have at least a passing knowledge of William Moulton Marston, credited as Wonder Woman’s true creator. To criminologists, he invented the lie detector. To lawyers, he was a principal player in the Frye standard, which is often still cited as a reason to deny evidence in a court hearing. To the gossip-minded, he was a polyamorous bondage enthusiast who carried on a relationship with his wife and two live-in mistresses. And oh yes, he created Wonder Woman, if you were wondering. While a cursory examination of the man’s history shows he did all these things, The Secret History of Wonder Woman digs deep, perhaps more deeply than has ever been done, to show how not only Marston’s life, but that of his wife Sadie Elizabeth Holloway; first mistress Marjorie Wilkes Huntley; and second mistress Olive Byrne; conspired to create one of the most enduring characters in comics history.

If you’re expecting a book heavy on the more salacious and prurient aspects of Marston’s life, look elsewhere. Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University, and this book reads as much as a thesis as anything else. Nearly the final third of the book’s 408 pages are dedicated to footnotes, credits and research that went into the book’s creation. Still, while it’s definitely a very scholarly book, it’s also a very entertaining read. Lepore does an excellent job bridging the real-life events of her subjects to the fictional life of Wonder Woman. For example, Marston’s repeated imagery of Wonder Woman being bound or shackled only to break free to win the day came from his (and his companions’) exposure to the Women’s Suffrage movement and the new Feminism taking hold of the country at that time. In another example, Lepore repeatedly points out Olive Byrne’s constant wearing of bracelets as a symbol of her connection to Marston, which of course became the inspiration for Wonder Woman’s bracelets.

This is not to say Marston’s polyamorous lifestyle isn’t discussed at all. It certainly is, covering the dynamics of how Holloway, a woman demonstrated to be Marston’s equal (if not superior), provided an archetype of the new, independent woman who could be all things at all times. I personally found Olive Byrne’s story to be every bit if not more interesting than Marston’s or Holloway’s, and I get the impression Lepore did as well, as many sections of the story seem devoted to relating her experiences and her side of things. What would compel a woman to enter into a relationship where she would not be the wife, but still take care of the children (and in most cases, the husband as well)? What role did Huntley play in the quartet, as perhaps the most mystical or spiritual of the group? And ultimately, how did all of these elements conspire to create the feminist icon that Wonder Woman was…and perhaps still is?  I say that last sentence because to more modern generations this may be difficult to picture.

These days, if Wonder Woman isn’t featured in a gratuitous pinup, she’s portrayed as a very angry, warlike female (as if to suggest anger = feminism) or in more recent comics, as Superman’s girlfriend. To those readers, looking back at Wonder Woman constantly being tied up, or spanked, or tortured in some way, it’s difficult to picture just how any of that could relate to the idea of a strong, feminist ideal. Surely it was more the kinky indulgences of a man with an overly active libido, right? The Secret History of Wonder Woman puts such questions to rest with a solid grasp on the history, facts, and perceptions of the people who brought her to life. You only think you know what Wonder Woman is all about. Read this book and get the bigger picture.

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

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The Complete Elfquest v1 (Dark Horse)


CREDIT: Dark Horse

Rating: 5/5 – Don’t Deny Yourself the Pleasure of This Book.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

Right off the bat, let me say that I owe Wendy and Richard Pini a huge apology. I’ve had opportunity after opportunity to pick up Elfquest – their creator-owned title – pretty much throughout the multiple decades they’ve been putting it out. Yet, for various reasons – finances, an insane addiction to anything with “X” in the title, a stubborn unwillingness to try anything new for fear I might end up liking it – I never did. Until now.

I’m quite stupid that way.

So now that I’ve apologized, allow me to proselytize. If you have been denying yourself the pleasure of reading Elfquest, and like me have been giving yourself any excuse to justify that denial – stop now and go pick up this first volume. And prepare yourself to pick up the second, because you will. I can almost guarantee it.

Fantasy fans demand a well-thought out world, and on this front the Pinis deliver. This is the realm of fantasy I once roamed in when I was a twelve-year old boy feasting on Tolkien, Anthony, and Eddings. It’s a world you read about while lying on your bed and occasionally dreamed of being part of, and to be blunt, it’s a world I haven’t seen in many years since I was that twelve-year old boy. Part of that may be that I grew up, or the blame may lie in writers simply not being able to give me that world I once knew. Whatever the case, within the first few pages of Elfquest, I was back on my old twin bed, imagining myself riding alongside Cutter, or trading jokes with Skywise, or wondering if I had a shot with Leetah? It’s a feeling I haven’t had for more than thirty years, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to seize it again.

Fantasy fans also demand amazing artwork. We’re the culture that has names like Frazetta, Whelan, and Hildebrandt creating jaw-dropping, hyper-realistic yet fantastical paintings and sketches of realms that might have been, and may yet come to be. The Pinis get that, and they deliver the goods. Don’t be discouraged by the lack of color pages in this book. The black and white high contrast pages show off the artwork’s greatest asset – amazing inking work the likes of which we seldom see any more in an industry where the inker is sadly almost forgotten. Sure, color is nice, but this is a book that doesn’t need it. A cursory flip-though of the pages should be more than enough to convince you.

Fantasy fans like me enjoy a little bang for the buck. We’re used to the long haul on the series we read, with many going into the tens of volumes (if not the twenties). We know it’s an investment going in, so it’s nice that Dark Horse priced this first 700 page volume at $25, while still printing it on high contrast good quality paper. This is not a newsprint volume a la Marvel Essential or DC Showcase. Not to disparage those books, but to say this is a collection on the same tier does The Complete Elfquest a disservice.  So if, like me, you’ve found excuse after excuse not to jump into the amazing world the Pinis have created, you’re officially out of options. And like me, I think you’ll be very happy Dark Horse did this, and will hopefully join me in the line to apologize to them the next time we see them at a convention. I’ve denied myself the pleasure of this read for far, far too long.

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

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Colder Vol. 1 TPB (Dark Horse)


CREDIT: Dark Horse

Rating: 4/5 – Visions of Madness Brought to Beautiful Life.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Shawn Hoklas

There’s been a lot of successful and compelling horror comics that have been coming out recently from companies like Image, Dark Horse and IDW. Outkast, Wytches and Avatar’s Crossed just to name a few. Horror comics have a nice groove going right now and the wide variety of themes within the horror genre allows readers to pick and choose the material they may be most interested in. That being said, I knew next to nothing about the story being told within Dark Horse’s Colder. It was the cover alone that piqued my interest as artist Juan Ferreyra depicts an absolutely haunting image that draws you in and demands your attention. Not only does Ferreyra handle the cover, but his amazing art can be found throughout this first volume’s five issues as it tells the story of Declan Thomas, an asylum inmate who has the power to cure people’s madness, but by doing so his body temperature is becoming colder and colder and once it hits zero he’ll die.

Writer Paul Tobin’s published work has seen him on Falling Skies, Marvel’s Adventure Line of books and his wonderful digital series Bandette. Colder is unlike anything I’ve seen him do before. It’s horror and from that striking cover you may get the sense that it’s all blood, guts and gore. It does have it’s share of that, but it’s also a smart thriller with some big concepts and crazy ideas. Main character Declan Thomas has been passed from asylum to asylum throughout the years until he’s finally taken to a home and is cared for by a beautiful nurse named Reese. Reese serves as the reader’s point of view, the innocent and caring individual that will explore the world of madness Declan regrettably takes her through. As the story opens we also meet the villain of the story, Nimble Jack, a mysterious figure that feeds on people’s madness, sucking it out of them while killing them in the process. Nimble Jack has been allowing Declan to cure people’s madness, aging him like a fine wine until he can feed on him and the essence of those he’s cured. We also see a different world co-exitsing with our own called the Hunger that only those with mental issues can see. Again, big concepts and ideas that Tobin is using to lay the groundwork for future stories.

Unfortunately, despite the story being well told with the three main characters there’s a lot of things left unanswered and concepts still waiting to be further fleshed out. This isn’t the complete story, it’s just a first volume, there’s still a lot that the reader has to just accept without knowing all the details (a second series is planned). How does the world of the hunger work? Where did Nimble Jack come from? Just what the creatures we see within the world of the hunger? The tale of Declan, Reese and Jack is solid throughout, but hopefully future volumes will allow the world that Tobin is creating to make more sense.  There are exquisitely drawn panels and pages within this book that you can pore over time and time again.  Not only is the art wonderful to look at during the scenes of madness, but Ferreyra has a way of balancing that with solid pencils during the scenes of normalcy which make the extreme visuals stand out even more. If the cover image was enough to draw you in, then you haven’t seen anything yet. His colors are in wonderful contrast to one another across the two worlds and when the violence increases, so do the colors which adds to the overall impact.

Paul Tobin creates a solid story and interesting characters in Colder.  The creatures from the Hunger world in Colder are grotesque yet wonderfully creative. Giant dogs with hands for bodies and landscapes that look as though they were designed by a dark version of M.C. Escher are just a couple of the things that you’ll see believably drawn by Juan Ferreyra. Colder is a visual feast for the eyes with images that will stay with me for a long time, Colder could be read for the artwork alone. It’s exciting to know that this creative team will continue their work into a second volume which is hinted at within the last few pages. There’s still a lot of story to be told within the world of Colder, and I can’t wait to read and even more so, see more.

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

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Wonder Woman: The Complete Newspaper Strip 1944-1945 (DC / IDW)


CREDIT: DC Comics / IDW Publishing

Rating: 5/5 – Nearly Perfect With Amazing Art!
by ComicSpectrum reviewer David Akers.

Back in the mid-1940s, shortly after her first appearance in comic books, Wonder Woman was given a newspaper strip. Though it was short-lived, it brought the style and sensibility of her comic book to a daily comic strip. Now, thanks to IDW, the entire run has been collected in a beautiful volume and made part of their “Library of American Comics” line.

We all know the story (the original story). There’s an island of Amazons, and their queen makes a baby out of clay that is given life by the gods. One day, a plane crashes nearby, and a contest is held to decide who will take the crash’s survivor back to “Man’s World”. We follow Wonder Woman’s adventures, fighting against traitors, the Cheetah, and a scheming band leader. Along the way we learn that men are the cause of all that’s wrong with the world.

The strip itself was beautifully drawn by original comic artist H. G. Peter, who has a classic 1940s style. It’s slightly cartoonish, but that style is perfect for the type of stories that William Moulton Marston liked to write. The stories were a bit of a surprise, often depicting women in their lingerie, which I didn’t expect from a story from the ’40s. It was also a regular feature that someone, often Wonder Woman, was in some form of bondage, though that was less of a surprise given Marston’s personal life.

The collected edition is nearly perfect, putting three strips to a page.  Happily, even though they were written to be read one per day, they read perfectly well in collected form, even if they occasionally repeat or recap the previous day’s strip. One might occasionally notice a slight difference in the printing quality from one strip to the next, but it doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the book. The stories are fun, the art is great, and this volume gets my highest recommendation.

Reviewed by: David Akers
) – also found at Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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