The Strange Talent of Luther Strode vol. 1 (Image)

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CREDIT: Image

Rating: 4.5/5 – A Fine Mix of Characterization and Ultra Violence.
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode is violent. It’s ultra violent and that’s exactly what writer Justin Jordan was going for. In the foreword of the first volume of Luther Strode in his closing paragraph Jordan talks about the concept of the book stating, “it’s about power and the decisions that suddenly having it forces you to make. Well, that and sweet, sweet ultra-violence.” That violence for the most part is so over the top that it’s humorous, but towards the end of this first volume although it’s still over the top, it effects you that much more because of your investment into the characters. Jordan’s writing will have you loving both parts of the story, the violence and action all gloriously drawn by Tradd Moore, and the development of the characters over the course of these first six issues.

Remember the Charles Atlas ads that ran in comic books in the 1970s about the wimpy kid getting sand kicked in his face? The big bully and scrawny Mac not being able to stand up to him until he reads Atlas’ book “Everlasting Health and Strength”? Well in Luther Strode that same idea is used with a book titled the “Hercules Method” that originally dates back to ancient times, and has turned the men who have studied it into physical gods. When High School student Luther Strode reads the book he’s able to protect himself against the school bully, but that power leads him down a path that he never could have imagined with consequences that will definitely shock you. Jordan will have you rooting for Strode, but I found myself also caring about those closest to Luther including his best friend Pete who’s even a bigger nerd than Luther, his girlfriend Petra, and his mom who’s suffered an abusive relationship in the past which makes the violence all that more impactful. I was originally drawn to this first volume because of Tradd Moore, but found myself enjoying it just as much because of Jordan’s writing.

And speaking of Tradd Moore, his art is just as over the top as you’d expect when it comes to the amount of energy and movement on the page. Tradd Moore’s work is new to me. I absolutely loved his short but sweet run on the All-New Ghost Rider, and that work led me to picking up this trade. I’m now even more of a fan than before! He has such a thin line and it looks as though his pencil never leaves the page, but it’s all so clean and clear. The action scenes absolutely flow from one scene to the next and the violence, like a man’s arm being shoved though another man’s jaw…well, it’s drawn with every gory detail. As mentioned above, Moore’s art makes the violence seem humorous at times, but when the characters you come to love are threatened with that same level of violence, Moore’s art will make you cringe and that’s a job well done. You’ll notice the differences in Strode’s body throughout as Moore subtlety changes his shape and muscle tone until he’s as large as he is on the cover. It’s another example of Moore’s attention to details.

Image just released the first issue of The Legacy of Luther Strode which is the third and final volume of the series. Although I’m saddened to hear that this series will be ending, it’s also refreshing to know that there’s an end in mind and I still have a second volume to read in the meantime. There’s plenty of story still left to be told within this world as the first volume hints at bigger and more powerful threats that we just briefly see. Jordan and Moore have created a wonderful new character in Strode and have given us over the top action and violence to go along with him. I’m ready for Volume 2!

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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iZombie vol.1 (Vertigo)

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 5.47.21 PM

CREDIT: Vertigo

Rating: 4/5 – A Zombie You Can Love.
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The first volume of iZombie isn’t the typical zombie story. Although it could be argued that it capitalized on the zombie craze that began with the Walking Dead, its nothing like it. Instead it adds a lighter touch to the genre in ways that I wasn’t expecting. I’ve had this first volume sitting on the shelf for quite a while now, but seeing commercials for the new CW iZombie TV show had me pull it down from the shelf and give it a read, and I’m sad that I didn’t read this earlier. Written by Chris Roberson and drawn by the brilliant Michael Allred, iZombie will leave you impressed by its characterization, respecting the well thought out ideas introduced, and laughing at its healthy dose of humor.

Main character and the “zombie” of the story Gwen Dylan is coping with life as an undead, but not your typical undead. Yes she has to eat a brain once every month to “survive”, but she quite hates it. Her job helps her do this though with her work as a gravedigger. After each shift she hangs around the graveyard with her best friend who happens to be a ghost named Ellie, and after they’re done hanging they usually move on to a local diner with their friend they’ve nicknamed Spot, who happens to turn into a human sized terrier when there’s a full moon. iZombie is never afraid to embrace the silliness, while at the same time getting serious when it needs to.

That level of seriousness is in full effect when we see Gwen eat a brain and have flashbacks to that person’s past life and their murder. That murder is what drives most of this first volume as Gwen and Ellie investigate a freaky neighbor who they believe has something to do with it. It’s during this investigation that Roberson shows just how smart the book can be in addition to it’s humor and fun. The origins of zombies, ghosts and more are all explained within and the way Roberson lays it all out actually makes a whole lot of sense, as long as you’re willing to stretch your sense of belief of course. Within the pages of these first five issues we also see an all-female group of vampires, an ancient monster hunting organization, and a whole lot of awkward romance all drawn by Michael Allred.

Allred has recently found a whole lot of new fans with his work on Marvel’s most recent Silver Surfer series, but his work here, although dealing with a completely different subject matter is just as strong. Although at times during some issues the quality of the work seems as though there was a dip in effort, Allred’s pencils perfectly match the mood. This book isn’t scary. It’s not supposed to be. Allred’s pencils reflect the light hearted and ironic tone of a book about a brain eating zombie. Gwen like much of Allred’s female leads is super cute despite her purplish pale tone, and Ellie is an attractive Gwen Stacy look-alike who’s personality is a great balance to Gwen.

There’s a wonderful style to iZombie and after reading this first volume it’s not surprising it was picked up for a tv show. There’s an interesting premise in a Scooby Doo like group of characters who are just as interesting as the villains they investigate. I’m not sure where this book heads after these opening five issues, but I’m expecting it to be another investigation into another brain’s past and that’s a solid premise for future stories. There’s still so much to explore with these characters as Roberson only hints at all the their origins within. I’m looking forward to reading more of iZombie and it might be about time I check out the TV show and hope it lives up to the comic.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Michael Moorcock Library: Elric of Melnibone (Titan)

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CREDIT: Titan Comics

Rating: 5/5 – A Classic Repackaging of a Classic Tale
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

I’m not sure what it is about Elric, Michael Moorcock’s albino sorcerer/warrior king, which brings out some of the most amazing artwork from the creators tasked to retell his tale. I wrote earlier about Titan’s other, more recent, take on his tale, but with this series, collecting the Roy Thomas/P. Craig Russell collection from Pacific Comics, it’s apparent that no matter who works on Elric, the artwork is always a cut above. And yes, it doesn’t hurt that this is P. Craig Russell (and Michael Davis) we’re talking about, but if you missed out on this series when it first came out, take a minute and give thanks it’s coming back to you.

I won’t dig too deeply into the writing aspect of it. Roy Thomas does a great job of adapting Moorcock’s story to the comic book page, and if you’re familiar with Elric’s tale, you already know what to expect (if you’re not familiar, you owe it to yourself to go pick up Moorcock’s original tomes). This first volume collects the first book, Elric of Melnibone, while future books will cover books two and three – The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (personal favorite) and the Weird of the White Wolf – giving Elric fans a nice collection of at least the first part of his epic, while also providing newcomers with a solid introduction to the albino king’s storyline.

It’s the artwork, though, that truly takes center stage in this book. We’re now in a world where, thanks to computers, coloring a book can have no limits. In the right hands, even shoddy inkwork can be made to look gorgeous with the right application of a filter here and an opacity layer there. Keep that in mind as you look at what Russell accomplished with a brush, both on the inking and coloring side. This book was not created in a period where a computer could simply nudge an errant panel back into place, or a transform command could resize art to where it needed to be. This was when comics took planning, and there was no “undo” key to save them. I apologize if I sound like your parents, but seek this book out and I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Moorcock’s Elric has been retold several times in comic book form, and I’m fairly certain it will be retold at least a few more times before I stop reading comics. That each version of his retelling have their own unique qualities to love about them stands not only as a testament to the power of the story itself, but to the writer able to inspire such visions in the creators called to tell it. If you’re looking for an amazing piece of relatively recent, but no less important, comic book history to put on your shelves, or simply want to find out what this whole Elric thing is all about, pick this one up. You won’t be sorry.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
(al@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Jupiter’s Legacy vol. 1 (Image)

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CREDIT: Image Comics

Rating: 4.5/5 – Two Generations of Heroes and Family Issues.
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas

Jupiter’s Legacy is another creator owned series by Mark Millar, this time teaming up with ultra talented artist and co-creator Frank Quitely. It takes a look at the modern superhero and how they live within today’s fan obsessed and media frenzied world. At the same time, Jupiter’s Legacy draws parallels to the greatest generation as today’s heroes try to live up to the high standards and morals of those that came before, all while being wrapped inside the layers of family drama and jealousy. It sounds like a lot and it is, but Mark Millar has a way of simplifying the writing to focus on the core themes and the results are extremely entertaining, especially when played out though the pencils of Quitely.

Quitely has established himself as one of the major talents in the industry with his works on All Star Superman, Batman and Robin, and more. His pencils give the characters such weight and depth which is perfect for the superhero genre as that weight makes the action all that more intense. Although this first volume isn’t full of non-stop action, the moments that are prove to illustrate just how impressive his art can be. There’s a particular fight scene between the father Utopian, and his son Brandon and a group of heroes that’s both gorgeous in the details and horrific in the violence culminating in a full page splash that won’t easily be forgotten. Fans of Quitley’s work will not be disappointed and his character designs are simple yet striking.

The story starts out in the depression era and continues on into the future showcasing two generations of heroes. Although the main struggle is one between two brothers, that quickly changes by the end of the story extending out into ways I didn’t necessarily see coming. After witnessing our country go through what it did during the great depression, two brothers and their group of friends risk it all to travel to a mysterious island and come away with superpowers. Those powers are used to serve their country up until the present day when one of the brothers starts to feel as though their powers can be used to make the country not only safer, but better politically as well. As the Utopian and his brother argue over how to prevent another depression from happening again, that argument ripples throughout the rest of the family and it’s here that we meet the other two stars of the book, the Utopian’s son and daughter who can best be compared to a Hilton or Kardashian like media star.

Although at times the dialogue can be used to conveniently to move the story along, Millar has a way to have everything read so simply. He’s able to get right to the essence of an idea, and then carry that idea forward in the most entertaining of ways. The first volume of Jupiter’s Legacy delivers in just about every category including price. Image continues releasing the first volumes of their trades at just under ten bucks, and for that price this book is a steal. I look forward to the twelve-part prequel series titled Jupiter’s Circle as Quitley works on the second volume of Jupiter’s Legacy. This book can go in so many directions and this volume is the beginning of it all.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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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
(adam@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Kinski (Image)

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CREDIT: 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
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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The Silver Age of Comic Book Art (Archway Publishing)

SilverAge-Cover

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
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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