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Headlines   2004 Review Index   June 8, 2004
Suspended Animation

Michael Vance

Mark Allen

Michael Vance Books

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Conan, The Legend

      After being at Marvel for over 30 years, the rights to Robert E. Howard's barbarian character Conan now reside at Dark Horse Comics. And, so far, this new comic age of the legendary Cimmerian is off to a particularly impressive start. I mean, with a 25-cent zero issue sporting an intriguing story and incredible artwork, how can comic fans, present and potential, go wrong?

      It all begins with the caravan of a spoiled and bored prince, as it makes it's way through the west, where the city of Aquilonia once stood. Upon discovering a chamber in the ruins, the prince happens upon a statue of Conan, and becomes fascinated by his legend. Writer Kurt Busiek's characters are interesting, and this "appetizer" has me looking forward to the series.

      Cary Nord's artwork on Conan is possibly the best seen since the character's first comic incarnation, under artist Barry Windsor Smith. Besides the attention to detail, and sense of realism, Nord's style is highly dramatic, and energetic, getting a further boost from the deep, rich colors by Dave Stewart. I don't really want to employ the over-used term "cinematic" in a description of this comic work, so it will have to suffice to say that this is what should be the look of the next Conan movie, come to comics.

      Conan, The Legend, published by Dark Horse Comics, 20 pages, 25 cents.

      Review by Mark Allen


MINIVIEW: Batman. The latest storyline in D.C.'s Batman series is some of the best material the title has enjoyed for the last couple of years. Writer Brian Azzarello primarily writes crime comics, and is new to super heroes. I read somewhere about the unique way he is approaching the character; he just imagines the cape as a trench coat. It works. Batman is one of the few super heroes who are  not out of place in a crime noir setting.

Published by D.C. Comics, 32 pages, $2.25. Due to some racy content, recommended for older readers. Find both titles at your local comic shop.

      Review by Mark Allen

Young GODS and friends

       My evaluation of the re-release of Barry Windsor-Smith's young GODS is as confused and directionless as was the original comic book series.

      By Smith's own admission, his title was an homage to legendary cartoonist Jack Kirby who was best known for a wealth of imagination, action-packed melodramatic epics, and for co-creating most of the characters still published by Marvel Comics. In particular, young GODS is a particle of Kirby's Thor (from Marvel Comics) and New Gods (from DC Comics).

      So does the admittedly pretty packaging of this new hardback collection contain treasure or trash?

      In my opinion, Kirby was a much better artist, plotter and 'idea-man' than a writer. So when he wrote, "The dialogue is terrible! But they mean every word of it!" (Mister Miracle /1971), he was right about his own work and young GODS as well. As a writer, Kirby was also known for his fast pace, tight plots and characterization. Something was always happening in a Kirby comic book.

      As a young GODS writer, Smith's self-proclaimed character-driven story also wandered aimlessly for too many pages. Having these serialized stories collected into one volume doesn't seem to improve the flow.

      So is Smith's meandering, purple prose and stilted dialogue homage to Kirby or simply Smith at his best?

      I don't know; I am unfamiliar with anything else Smith has written.

      As an artist, Smith's style is inherently different than Kirby's, and, admitting that art preference is subjective, simply outstrips the former "The King of Comics". Both have their own internal logic, but Smith is better at anatomy and his characters don't assume melodramatic, stiff poses as did Kirby's. And yet, after all of my criticisms are written and done, I still like Jack Kirby and Barry Windsor-Smith's young GODS.

      Don't get mad at me. I warned you this review would be confused and directionless.

     Young GODS and friends/180 pgs. and $29.95 from Fantagraphics Books/available in comic and book stores and at

      Review by Michael Vance

Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace

      My mama told me that if I couldn't say a Kindt word (sorry, I couldn't resist) about someone, I should say nothing at all.  But since I do have to write this column...

      Pistolwhip is about an actor in the late '40s or early '50s (it is hard to tell) who becomes the superhero he pre-tends to be on the radio, a man who wants to censor comic books, and a gumshoe detective called "Pistolwhip". Throw in a couple of hot babes. They are all entangled in mystery and a super villain named "The Yellow Menace". Sounds like a fun premise, doesn't it?

      Add to the plot several special sections imitating old comic books, pulp magazines, and advertising, and this graphic novel is bound to be a winner.


      Matt Kindt's art is doodle.

      That isn't an insult. It is an art style. But if you don't like the art on, say, Peanuts, the comic strip, you won't like the doodles on Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace. Sure, the techniques of visual storytelling are fine, but style means personal taste, and some readers will find Kindt's work less than palatable. Why?

      Pistolwhip is film noir on paper without the gritty, shadow-drenched atmosphere that is film noir.

      Noir (sorry again) is the writing all that suspenseful, the plot that twisted and devious, or the ending surprising.

      Sorry mom.

      Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace /134 pgs. & #14.95 from Top Shelf /written by Jason Hall, drawn by Matt Kindt/sold in comics shops and at

      Review by Michael Vance


MINIVIEW: Castle:The Man of Cinder-Blocks [Quarter Bin Comics] You can waste your money of a slick comics package with junk inside, our try a fanzine with excellent art, plot, characterization and dialog.

Castle is a stone man who looks like a chess piece and fights like a superhero. This adventure is drenched in style and humor and deserves a slick package. Until it finds a publisher, you can buy your copy by e-mailing

Review by Michael Vance


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