Thursday, March 26, 2009

A few words about every single story in MySpace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 2

This second volume collecting the current, free, electronic version of Dark Horse Presents strips features a cover by Eric Canete, which gives me the Conan/Milk and Cheese/B.P.R.D. crossover of my dreams (and it looks like Kraken from Umbrella Academy and a couple of other characters are in there as well).

Dark Horse should really get into the company-wide crossover event comic business sometime; I know I’d buy a Crisis on Dark Horse’s Earths featuring, like, Predator stalking Little Lulu, Tubby and the fellers; Sock Monkey teaming up with Conan; a starving Conan lost in a desert trying to eat Milk and Cheese; Solomon Kane trying to send Hellboy back to hell; Empowered joining forces with The Umbrella Academy; and like that.

Ah, that’s a pleasant thought…

Wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, MySpace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 2. It also includes an introduction, by one Ann Romano. This excited me a lot, because of my oft-repeated belief that almost all collections should have introductions.

This was an extremely boring introduction though, structured as a gossip column, and I couldn’t force myself to read more than the first paragraph. I have just googled “Ann Romano” and she apparently writes a column for Portland Oregon-based altweekly The Portland Mercury. Dark Horse is based in Oregon, so it’s cool that they hired locally. This sort of thing just isn’t my cup of tea, I guess.

What about the rest of the contents? As I did last time, I will try to say a few words about each story.

“Captain Hammer (Nemesis of Dr. Horrible): Be Like Me!” by Zack Whedon and Eric Canete

As did the previous volume, this one opens with a story written by a Whedon. This is a new Whedon though, or at least a Whedon who is new to me. Is this Joss’ new pen name? His brother? His son? His father? Someone who just coincidentally has the same last name as Joss Whedon and has managed to parlay that into gigs writing comics? I have no idea.

I will go spend 45 seconds looking on the Internet and tell you what I can find out.

Well, he has an IMDb entry, and a Wikipedia entry. Apparently he was a miscellaneous crew member on Deadwood and Angel and was involved in that Dr. Horrible Internet thing that 450 people recommend I look at but which I never did. He is the brother of Joss Whedon, graduated from Wesleyan University in 2002 and is nicknamed “Spacious” and “Stonehenge.”

So that’s who he is.

Eric Canete is an artist whose name sounds familiar and whose work looks very nice, but I can’t recall reading a book of his before. (Oh hey, he did this at Project Rooftop; I liked that picture).

This story is an eight-page one narrated by the rather generic hero Captain Hammer, who wears cargo pants, black gloves, a utility belt and a black t shirt with the outline of a hammer in a yellow field. You probably know that, if you know about this Dr. Horrible thing the kids with their computers know about and like.

Many of the jokes are your standard superhero parody jokes, of the sort you’ve heard 100-600 times before, but a few of them were funny. I liked the third page, for example. Canete’s line work and sense of motion is a lot of fun too. In the action panels, the whole image pitches radically in the direction Captain Hammer is punching a crook or throwing Dr. Horrible.

It’s alright, I suppose. I still don’t want to watch Dr. Horrible though.

“The Umbrella Academy: Anywhere But Here” by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba

This surprisingly complete eight-page story set in the full and mysterious past of Way and Ba’s superhero team focuses on the team’s bad boy and bad girl, Kraken and Vanya, their punk band, how it broke up and how they both kinda sorta ended up doing what they were destined to.

The franchise’s considerable virtues are all on full display here, but what I found most impressive was the economy with which Way and Ba were able to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end, a story that features some actual characterization and everything. I know that sort of thing shouldn’t impress me, and that it should just be standard, par for the course stuff that all comics always did, but man, this fucking medium. What are you going to do?

“Retro Rockets Go!” by Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard

Speaking of economy, here’s another completely complete story told in just eight pages, this one not even having the benefit of characters the reader is already familiar with (at least, as far as I know; they were new to me, and sure seemed like one-off characters).

It’s a kind of sci-fi flavored melodramedy, about a space race between extremely colorful racers—sort of like Wacky Races, but in outer space.

You can see more of Culbard’s work here.

“Wonder Twins Activate!” by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

The lack of the word “powers” between the words “twins” and “activate” in that title really bothers me for some reason.

This is, of course, a collaboration between twin brother artists Moon and Ba, who together produced De:Tales for Dark Horse.

The story is the story of the two of them doing a Batman-like superhero comic story in which the caped crimefighter stops a mugger. One of them explains it to the other by beating on him just as the superhero beats on the mugger.

I’m not really doing it much justice. It’s a pretty simple but rather cute story, and the last page gag is especially nice.

Now, how do I tell them apart…?

“Milk and Cheese in ‘The Fur Suit of Crappiness!’” by Evan Dorkin

A two-pager in which Dorkin’s angry, violent dairy products gone bad accidentally show up at furry convention, thinking it was supposed to be a fury convention.

The results?

Insults. Lots and lots of insults. Followed by violence. Lots and lots of violence.

“Ann Romano: Gossip Whore” by Ann Romano and Paul Lee

Here’s the contribution from introduction –writer Romano, which is two pages of stale Britney Spears-is-a-trashy-human-being jokes. Perhaps it was less stale when it originally ran on MySpace, but it’s hard to imagine it was actually “fresh” then.

“Ransom! A Wondermark Tale” by David Malki

Here’s a story from well regarded web comics maker David Malki, which is unusual in its length. Rather than a strip, it’s an eight-page, more comic book-style story, which keeps the style and humor of his usual work remarkably well.

“A Going Concern” by John Arcudi and Steven Young

This may be the weirdest story in here. It’s a short western about a bounty hunter with a neat little twist ending, but, for whatever reason, the characters aren’t humans, but some sort of flea-like insects. And the horses are made out of pipe cleaners. But there are other animals, scaled to the fleas as if they were humans, like donkeys, dogs, vultures and even flies.

I didn’t get it.

But they’re all drawn quite well.

“Hobo Fet” by The Brothers Matkinson and Jon Adams

This has a fairly fantastic title, mixing one of the funniest words in the world, “hobo,” with one of the coolest things in the world, Boba Fett. And yet it’s pretty terrible.

It’s an eight-page story about a guy named Hobart who has a motorcycle helmet, and, after falling off his scooter, encounters a variety of characters that all vaguely suggest Star Wars characters. Then he decides to become a bounty hunter.

After the title, it’s all down hill really.

“Manga” by Gilbert Hernandez

I believe this was linked to pretty heavily when it originally ran, for the obvious reasons. It’s a pretty clever, dryly amusing story about a village punching competition in which the winner gets a basket of coins and a beautiful (looking) girl. It’s always a treat to see Hernandez’ art both in color and in a different context.

“Jared” by Ilias Kyriazis

Human beings as giant space ships piloted by Star Trek-style captains and crews. Jared is one such person, and we see a day or so in his life, from both his perspective and that of the people inside him. There’s not an interesting conceit, and if there’s not a whole lot to do with it, Kyriazis’ story is only eight-pages long, so there’s not enough time for it to get tired.

“How to Heal a Broken Heart: Method #37 by Tara McPherson

This is the first comics work I’ve seen from McPherson, an artist who has provided covers to some Vertigo series and recently had a second collection of her work published by Dark Horse. It falls somewhere into the picture poetry territory, told in images instead of words, although there is some dialogue as well.

If you like McPherson’s art, and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t, it’s a nice enough two pages.

“Rex Mundi: Frailty” by Arvid Nelson

At just eleven panels spread over just two pages, there’s not much to go on here. There is a woman, named Genevieve, and there’s a man named Julien, and the former gets the latter to sneak out of a boring class. And then they kiss. It seems to function best as a sort of commercial for Nelson’s Rex Mundi comics, by pointing out how great the art is, and, if you want to know what it’s in service of, perhaps you should check out a trade.

“The Nothinist” by Jason Graham

Like the McPherson story, this is an art-first, picture-poem sort of strip, a two-page tale of Death—a cute little grim reaper with black and white-striped tentacles that can turn into snakes, and a little girl with bear claws who he falls in love with. There are several cute corpses in this story. You don’t see cute corpses all that often, really.

“Criminal Macabre: The Creepy Tree” by Steve Niles and Kyle Hotz

I think I’ve mentioned my dislike of Niles’ Criminal Macabre before. I read a trade of it from the library because it was illustrated by Kelley Jones, and I found it extremely amateurish and pretty generic. The lead character, Cal McDonald, was a drinking, drugging, smoking P.I. that specialized in the supernatural and seemed conceived as the sort of character a junior high boy would think is totally cool.

This story doesn’t have the benefit of Jones’ art, but Hotz isn’t exactly a slouch either. As for the story, McDonald is called in to kill an evil tree, he does, and that’s all there is to it.

The swearing is kind of funny in that I-want-to-use-a-swear-word-and-have-everyone-know-exactly-which-specific-word-without-actually-putting-all-the-letters-down kind of way. So Cal says he has “the worst f****** luck in the world” and that he’s seen “some weird s***” in his life.

“B.P.R.D.: Revival”
by John Arcudi and Guy Davis

Ah, now this is more like it. The BPRD versus one of those creatures they call frogs, which is posing as a little girl capable of performing miracles at a sort of revival meeting, by regular B.P.R.D. creators.

“A+” by Nate Piekos and Jeff Wamester

A horror story with a twist involving nerdy high schoolers and a killer science fair project. A bit predictable, but nicely executed, one of Wamester’s monsters is exceptionally well-designed (the snake-based one), and they all have funny, easy to read expressions.

“Legion of Blood: The Messenger” by Francisco Ruiz Velasco

Here’s another short story which ends on a gag punchline, although it’s set up is perhaps too long for the pay off. The sense design sense and artwork are both rather incredible though.

“Criminal Macabre: ‘The Trouble With Brains’” by Steve Niles and Kyle Hotz

No better than the first one.

“The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob: True Stories rom the Life of Robert E. Howard” by Jim and Ruth Keegan

A two-page version of the autobiographical strips that used to run (and perhaps still do?) in the back of Dark Horse’s Conan comics. I’ve always liked these a lot, and I like this one as well.

This kicks of the Robert E. Howard section of the book that carries us through the end.

“Sailor Steve Costigan” by Joe Casey and Pop Mhan

This was actually my first exposure to Howard’s modern day (to him, anyway) creation, a merchant sailor and ex-boxing champ, and it actually made me want to see more stories featuring him, be they comics adaptations like this, or maybe some of Howard’s original stories.

The title character has a new gig—writing sports stories covering the boxing world he used to know from the inside of the ring—but the last two boxers didn’t like what he had to say about him, so he finds himself having to use his fists anyway.

It’s a lighthearted, humorous story that also happens to involve a whole lot of punching. It’s also really nice looking, and I was surprised to see that Mhan supplied the art, something I didn’t notice while reading it.

I haven’t seen new work from Mhan since 2006’s Blank, so maybe he’s changed his style quite a bit, or maybe he was just working in a style that better suited the character and time period, or maybe colorist Jose Villarrubia completely transformed it (or maybe a little of all three), but this doesn’t look much like Mhan. Even rereading it now, I have a hard time seeing Mhan in it, aside from the way a limb flails here or there.

“Solomon Kane: The Nightcomers” by Scott Allie and Mario Guevara

I’ve been fascinated with Solomon Kane since I found a copy of the old Marvel Comic at my barbershop when I was a little boy, and rather eagerly awaiting the trade collection of Dark Horse’s new series featuring him. This was a welcome taste.

The story, in which the hero arrives in a mysterious village plagued by raiders who strike each night, is somewhat confusingly told, on account of the need to hide the twist ending, and could probably have been done a little more smoothly. Guevara’s art is quite lush though, and it certainly hits the Conan-as-pilgrim note I expected it to.

“Conan” by Tim Truman, Ben Truman and Marian Churchland

This story kind of irritated me. See, it’s lettered by EDILW favorite Brandon Graham. Which is nice. I like his letters just fine. But that put into my head the thought of a Brandon Graham-written and illustrated Conan story, and now I really, really, really want to see one of those.

Not that this isn’t a great little Conan comic or anything.

The Trumans write while Churchland draws. Conan walks out of the desert with a ton of loot and journeys to a bar that he quickly realizes is full of people who would like to kill and/or rob him. He defeats them all, but this time not through violence—rather, the stories he tells and the amounts of wine he buys for the house is enough to defeat them all.

The stories within the story are all really neat. Here, for example, is perhaps the most badass thing I’ve ever seen Conan do:

He killed a dude with his loincloth. Damn.

If you’d like to see more of Churchland’s art, you can do so here. She’s pretty great.

And if you’d like to see a Brandon Graham Conan story, well, that makes two of us. (I guess there’s this, for a taste).

The collection finishes up with a discussion about superhero comics between Evan Dorkin, Zack Whedon and Gerard Way. What I found most interesting about it was Way talking about his approach to continuity in Umbrella Academy. He says he intentionally implies a long continuity for the characters as if they previously existed and had many adventures, but he doesn’t actually know what all that backstory is, and doesn’t really care about it. It’s a strange thought, that complicated continuity is a negative in superhero comics, but to imply its presence where there isn’t any. It works for Way though.

And that’s a few words about every single story in MySpace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 2.


Medraut said...

I promise not to try to convince you to watch Dr Horrible.

I would just like to say that as someone who watched Dr. Horrible, loved it, and even bought the DVD, that “Captain Hammer (Nemesis of Dr. Horrible): Be Like Me!" sucked.

Seriously, it lacked any of the wit of the original web series and focused on a bland superhero parody.

Oh well. I guess they can't all be winners.

James Figueiredo said...

Caleb, in Bá and Moon's defense, I'll say that in the portuguese dubbed "Superfriends" here in Brazil, Zan and Jayna would shout "Wonder Twins Activate!", without the word "powers", and since that's obviously where the authors where coming from, that's how they wrote the title of their story. ;)

Caleb said...

Seriously, it lacked any of the wit of the original web series and focused on a bland superhero parody.

Well I'm kind of glad to hear that, because that strip had me thinking Dr. Horrible couldn't possibly be that great if it was anything like that strip was.

Caleb, in Bá and Moon's defense, I'll say that in the portuguese dubbed "Superfriends" here in Brazil, Zan and Jayna would shout "Wonder Twins Activate!", without the word "powers",

Ah-ha! That makes sense! I couldn't look at/read that title without putting the word "powers" in there, but I didn't even think it would have been different in Portuguese. Thanks!