Suspended Animation

Michael Vance   Mark Allen   Michael Vance Books
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Batman: Dark Knight Dynasty
Easily one of the most recognizable comic book characters in the world, Batman has appeared in many different kinds of stories, by many different creators. However, Batman: Dark Knight Dynasty, is one of the more imaginative works in recent years. In an alternate reality, the Wayne family carries the mantle of The Batman for generations. And, from the Middle Ages, to the present day, to the far-flung future, they continually encounter one man in particular; the immortal Vandal Savage.

Writer Mike W. Barr pens an easily enjoyable trilogy, though I believe his best work comes in the third story. Whereas the first two deal with a single Wayne character and his motivations in a straightforward manner, the last concerns a pair of siblings sharing the rule of the family empire, and makes the greatest headway in the building of characters and plot development. And, though "Batman and Rodney" may sound laughable, it works. Now, if THAT doesn't peak your curiosity....

Equally pleasing, however, is the book's amazing art work. With the elaborate, textured paints of Scott Hampton, the dynamic and extremely superheroic pencils and inks of Gary Frank and Cam Smith, and the dark, edgy art and finishes by Scott McDaniel and Bill Sienkiewicz, this book contains enough contrast to please any fan of comics or great art. There is also much to be said for the different art teams giving each story, as well as their respective time periods, a distinctive look.

This book also demonstrates what I believe to be a superior method of comics production, from the standpoint of cost, as well as consumption by the mainstream of society. Sequential stories told in attractive book form, instead of single pamphlets.

With Dark Knight Dynasty, readers have the sense of a beginning, middle and end, all neatly wrapped in an attractive package. What more could a reader want?

Batman: Dark Knight Dynasty, published by D.C. Comics, 128 pages, $14.95. Find it in comics shops and online retailers and auctions.

Review by Mark Allen

Gunpowder Girl and The Outlaw Squaw
Right off the bat, I'll admit that "Outlaw Squaw" might not be the most politically correct moniker for one of the main characters of a graphic novel. But face it, tiger, that is one catchy title!

And it's pasted onto a downright rootin' tootin', polecat shootin', rip-roarin'-good piece of sequential storytellin'! Now that I've used up all of my B-western alliterations, let me tell you about it.

Gunpowder Girl and The Outlaw Squaw (referred to from this point simply as Gunpowder, for the sanity of reviewer and reader alike) is the brainchild of writer and artist Don Hudson. It's the story of a trio of female train robbers who end up running for their lives after their caper goes south. During the story, the characters overcome loss, bigotry and amazing odds, while revealing depth of character which belies the typical masked western criminal of fiction. But, don't worry; this isn't a four-color lecture on morals, talking down to readers. It's actually something of a rarity in comics, today; a western tale worth the paper it's printed on.

Hudson has done comics fans a service by developing characters that are more three-dimensional than paper cutouts. He has also paid women a compliment by not taking the opportunity to exploit and exaggerate the female form for adolescently arrested male readers.

The characters are believable in every way.

His artwork is crisp and expressive, with clear, bold lines. No character looks alike, each retaining their own identity. What's more, Hudson is a wonderful storyteller, the word balloons simply adding to what I believe would already be a well-presented story.

Gunpowder is recommended for all but the youngest of readers, due to some violent imagery. Find it at your local comics shop, online retailers or auctions, or at If you're a fan of westerns, and don't like this book, I'll slap leather with ya!

Hey, whattayaknow, I still had one alliteration left!

Gunpowder Girl and The Outlaw Squaw, published by Active Images, 72 pages, $12.95.

Review by Mark Allen

He Done Her Wrong
When movies were mostly silent, vaudeville was the rage, radio was just coming of age, and comic strips were golden, He Done Her Wrong.

Possible the first graphic novel and certainly one of his best works, He Done Her Wrong (HDHW) was inspired by cartoonist Milt Gross' earlier creative marriage with silent film comedian Charlie Chaplin. They had worked together on Chaplin's feature The Circus (1928).

The he in HDHW is a powerful but ignorant frontiersman used by a dishonest businessman who steals his true love. This equally true hero follows to New York City where a wild cast of stereotypical vaudevillian players cast by Gross as citizens turn his quest into chaos.

HDHW is like watching the Marx Brothers pursuing the Keystone Cops.

Don't expect originality in the story or characters. Every cliché in this boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back paper melodrama is at home here. Originality is not its purpose. Its purpose is K-RAZY!!

Dialog is beyond criticism; there is none. None is needed. Nor should you expect complexity. Complexity is beyond the ability of silent films or silent strips.

So why buy?

HDHW is frentic and wildly creative in its style. Gross' barbwire art leaps off his paper stage with only a passing nod at perspective or anatomy because it's too busy running. HDHW is also funny although you won't laugh out loud. That seems somehow appropriate for a silent film on paper.

And HDHW is a nostalgic trip back into a time when the world of slapstick and broad parody were king.

Gross would produce many comic strips in his life, but none was more visually creative and entertaining than He Done Her Wrong. It is highly recommended.

He Done Her Wrong/256 pages & $16.95 from Fantagraphics/sold at comics and bookstores, and at

Review by Michael Vance

Mouse Guard: Belly of the Beast
Although it looks and reads like a children's book, Mouse Guard is not for children. Its prose introduction states …"mice struggle to live safely and prosper among all of the world's harsh conditions and predators. Thus the mouse guard was formed".

These mice do so with violence, blood, and death in a mix of reality and fantasy that is neither traditional children's nor adult literature.

'Tis the content that blurs the literary distinctions as three sighted mice search for a missing merchant mouse.

Beautiful, reality-based art ends at the tip of the swords carried by the mice, at the clothing worn, and at the tips of tongues that speak. But a number of scenes of graphic violence are too disturbing for young minds that know nothing of death.

It's confusing.

So who is the intended audience of this wonderful new jewel?

Mouse Guard is recommended for mature readers who enjoy art and story generally associated with children's books.

Mouse Guard: Belly of the Beast (#1 of 6)/22 pgs. & $3.50 from Archaia Studios Press/by David Peterson/sold at comics shops &

Review by Michael Vance

Electric Girl #3
Despite its claim to be a graphic novel, this collection reprints issues 9 and 10 of a delightful new comics title for pre-literate and beginning readers.

Well-written and drawn, young girls in particular will enjoy the entertaining adventures of Virginia, a teenage girl with electric powers. Virginia is not characterized as a superhero.

Virginia must contend with the mundane problems of life including the antics of her dog Blammo as well as the fantasy of a gremlin named Oogleeoog.

Some children may ask 'what is a gremlin' and 'why does Virginia have one', questions that one hopes will be answered in future compilations.

Electric Girl is recommended.

Electric Girl #3/160 pgs. & $13.95 from AiT/PlanetLar/art and story by Michael Brennan/sold at comics shops and

Review by Michael Vance


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