“Sugarshock” by Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon
This was by far the best comic book writing in Joss Whedon’s short comic-scripting career, perhaps in large part because of the tossed-off nature of it.
His previous endeavors have involved big-name properties—Buffy “Season Eight”, Astonishing X-Men and, to a much lesser degree, Runaways—and the attendant expectations that come with them (not to mention the attendant expectations that follow any creator to have found success in another medium trying their hand at this one), but the three short parts of this rather random story add up to little more than Whedon goofing around with enough half-ideas to make for a very fun short story.
All-girl (plus one robot) band Sugarshock are on their way home from a battle of the bands when they get invited to another battle of the bands—in outer space!—that turns out to be a battle of the bands sans bands.
Each of the characters has a few super-quirky character traits (for example, lead singer Dandelion believes she works for a top-secret government agency and she also really hates Vikings for some reason), and Whedon’s plot is the wild, anything-goes sort that will flash to a scene featuring the Greek god Pan for all of one panel simply because he’s thought of an amusing Pan joke to get in there somehow.
The one thing I didn’t like is when Dandelion used “the saddest song in the world” as a weapon, mainly because it seemed too similar in concept to an aspect of Guy Maddin’s 2003 film The Saddest Music in the World. It only accounts for about a page worth of jokes, so it doesn’t ruin the whole story or anything, but it was certainly distracting.
If you haven’t seen The Saddest Music in the World, by the way, you totally should; it’s one of my favorite movies.
“In the Deep, Deep Woods” by Tony Millionaire
This is a two-page, six-panel Sock Monkey strip that reads pretty much like your average Maakies strip, the only differences being that the panels are bigger, stacked horizontally instead of laid out vertically, and it’s in color.
Like Maakies, it’s deeply weird, and funny on two levels: The literal level in which the crude thing that happens is kind of amusing, and on the conceptual level that, “Hey, Tony Millionaire thought this weird, crude chain of events was funny, and worthy of him drawing in his meticulous style.”
So, you know, it’s like all of Millionaire’s work: Awesome.
“A Circuit Closed” by Ezra Clayton Daniels
This is a moody little story featuring a sort of YA novel version of magical realism. It’s about a little kid with a fantastic device on an unusual quest of great personal import.
Daniels is able to quite effectively tell a whole story, complete with foreshadowing, climax and a punchy ending, in just ten pages, in large part due to an interesting Q-and-A format narration, although the art is strong enough that if you took the narration away completely, the story would remain the same, although it would naturally be much more vague.
Check out Daniels’ work at his site.
“The Comic Con Murder Case” by Rick Geary
Geary, master of murder comics, presents a two-page, 18-panel story pretty much summed up by the title. There’s not a lot to it, really, nor much of a story there at all, but hey, it’s nice to see Rick Geary included along with some of these other creators, especially if it gets some Buffy or My Chemical Romance fans to check out his comics.
“Safe & Sound: Featuring The Kraken, Formerly of The Umbrella Academy” by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba
I’m like 90% sure that this is the same story that was included in Dark Horse’s Free Comic Book Day free comic book. It’s the story in which the superhero-ish colorful character The Kraken rescues a kidnapped little girl from a gypsy supervillain…? That must be where I saw it, as I had a distinct feeling of déjà vu as I read it.
I like how when he punches out the gypsy, the sound effect is “CRACK,” since his name is The Kraken and all…
“Founding Father Funnies” by Peter Bagge
Two one-page gag strips featuring President and Mrs. George Washington, as drawn by Peter Bagge. Yes, it’s just as great as it sounds.
“Gear School” by Adam Gallardo, Nuria Peris and Sergio Sandoval
On it’s own, there isn’t really much of anything to this story, aside from the fact that Peris is a great designer, both of characters and, even more so, of the weird vehicle called a “gear.” It looks a little like a small, personal mech version of a cross between a Japanese motorcycle and a frog.
It wasn’t until I hit the ads at the back of the trade until I realized that Gear School is actually a graphic novel from Dark Horse. I’m not sure that this short sketch which introduces readers in passing to the characters and that neat frogcycle thing actually makes me want to read the trade—reading the solicit for the text excited me more than the contents of this story, as well as cluing me in that this story was meant as a sample of the actual trade—so I don’t know how effective the story was as an ad.
Still, pretty great art.
“Samurai” by Ron Marz and Luke Ross
This is a perfectly fine, straightforward genre piece about a samurai who kills some guys. Like the previous story, it is something of a sample of a comic, Samurai: Heaven and Earth.
“Who da Uber-mensch?” by Adam Warren
Adam Warren’s series of original graphic novels, Empowered is, honest-to-God, probably the best superhero comic around at the moment. It’s fun, funny, sharply written, sharply drawn, bursting with new ideas and starring deceptively realistic characters.
This is a full-color story in which Empowered helps her teammates in the Superhomeys take on The Crimera, which is a sort of half robot, bipedal chimera that commits crimes. And that alone is genius, but it’s just one of many little bits of ingenious super-writing that punctuate this story (like all of Warren’s Empowered stories).
It’s a nice intro to the characters and the concept of the Empowered trades, as well as answering a question about super-fights. Specifically, throwing a car at an opponent is pretty bad-ass, but isn’t there a more effective way to strike them with a car?
It looks like this story is also included in Empowered Vol. 4, which was just released, so Empowered completists need not buy MySpace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 1 just for this story. (They can buy it for all the other good stories, though).
“Chickenhare” by Chris Grine
I didn’t get it.
In fact, I never really got past the title character, who is apparently some kind of human/chicken/hare hybrid…? He and some other Wuzzles play a prank on another Wuzzle.
Perhaps if I had prior experience with the character and his/its comics, I would have appreciated this two-page story more.
“The Nocturnal Adventures of Scratch and Suck” by Steve Niles and Brian Churilla
Niles turns in a neat little eight-page story about a vampire and werewolf that fight crime together as a sort of superhero buddy cop team, with a little old school EC horror type twist at the end.
I’m completely perplexed as to why Niles called his super-werewolf Scratch though; DC Comics, a company Niles is currently writing two titles for, has a werewolf superhero-type character named Scratch that Niles surely must have heard of before.
Check out Churilla’s art here.
“Tricks of the Trade” by Brodie H. Brockie and Katie Cook
Like the Niles story that precedes it, this is a short horror story with a twist ending. It’s also a much, much more effective one, with the horror and violence implied—involving the reader in putting two and two together to enjoy the four—and Cook’s super-cute art subverting the nature of the story.
For more Cook art, click here. And if you only read one thing on her site, make it The Smashy Adventures of The Hulk, a strip so cute I can barely stand it. Marvel should pay her $1 million dollars to run those at the end of every Hulk comic.
No seriously; check out Cook’s site, it’s awesome.
“The Axeman” by Haden Blackman and Cary Nord
A short history of American serial killers, as told to an almost-victim by a serial killer who can see the future, the better to tell the almost-victim—and thus the reader—all about these serial killers who weren’t around just yet.
Since the story is essentially just an ineffective framing device for a few anecdotes of lesser known killers, it makes the whole endeavor seem kind of pointless, especially give the fact that the whole thing is only sixteen pages long.
“The Christmas Spirit” by Mike Mignola and Guy Davis
This was probably my favorite story in the book. Mignola scripts and Davis draws, a division of duties that the Hellboyiverse collaborators are clearly quite comfortable with at this point.
It’s Christmas Eve in what looks like either Victorian England or America, and a priest labors fruitlessly to exorcise a demon from a little boy’s body. He must break to handle Christmas mass.
Meanwhile, Santa Claus/Saint Nicholas/the titular spirit, intervenes, plucking the devil out of the boy, wandering gigantic through the urban city at night, and decorating a huge tree with the demon.
The imagery is beautiful, both as subject matter and as rendered on the page by Davis and colorist Dave Stewart.
“Eat The Walls” by Matt Bernier
Another short, scary story with a neat twist at the end, this one involving a man trapped in the belly of a whale. A dead whale. It’s a pretty neat story.
Now who is this Bernier character, exactly? A pretty damn good artist, that’s who. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to click here.
“Fear Agent” by Rick Remender, Kieron Dwyer and Hilary Barta
While I’m aware of the existence of a comic called Fear Agent that I know is written by Rick Remender, I’ve never read any of it, so this was my first exposure. It’s not a bad introduction—better than the Chickenhare and Gear School stories at introducing their comics, although it’s longer too.
From what I can gather, it seems to be a sort of sci-fi tale that reads like it was published by 2000 AD, which I mean as a rather high compliment.
The story? A manly-man space guy runs around from action scene to action scene, with cool drawings of cool monsters, sets and characters everywhere he goes, but all is not as it seems.
Oh, and by the way? I love Hilary Barta.
“The Goon” by Various
The collection ends on a high note with this four-chapter story featuring Eric Powell’s Goon and his supporting cast, although Powell himself doesn’t seem to be present, beyond the Maltese Falcon-like set-up, in which the Goon and Franky must find a friend’s missing pecker.
Four different creative teams handle the different chapters, making for a story told a bit like a chain letter. A chain letter involving baboon’s with razor-sharp boomerangs, chimps with sai, dismemberment, corn chowder, a giant spider on a bombing run, punching, kicking, more punching and a whole lot of dick jokes. That all comes courtesy of the all-star team of Bob Fingerman, Herb Trimpe, Al Milgrom, John Arcudi, The Fillbach Brothers, Rebecca Sugar, and Frans Boukas.
While I didn’t like every single story between the covers, I liked most of them, some of them so much that they more than made up for any of the weaker contributions and/or ones that just weren’t to my personal tastes.
If I had one criticism of the book, it was that it lacked contributor’s notes in the back. I realize with the Internet, that may seem superfluous—every contributor whose work I was curious about I ended up being able to find with a simple Google search—but since so many of the creators involved aren’t “name” creators like Whedon, Mignola, Niles, Bagge and Warren (at least, not yet), it would have been nice to be able to simply flip to the back of the book to see what, say, the Fillbach Brothers have done before, or why Cook’s art looks so familiar.
That is all.
Otherwise, I eagerly await Volume 2, which I will read when it’s printed on paper, and pay for the privilege, rather than read the stories for free online. Because I am old-fashioned.
If you’re less set in your ways than I, and aren’t yet sure if you should borrow this from the library or, if you’ve got $19.95 to spare on a pretty awesome anthology, buy a copy for yourself, you can read most if not all of these stories at myspace.com/darkhorsepresents.