Hellblazer #261

Written by Peter Milligan
Layouts by Giuseppe Camuncoli
Finishes by Stefano Landini
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

It’s nice to see that Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Stefano Landini’s run on Hellblazer is still going strong. When the run first began, it was certainly moving over some familiar territory. What I hadn’t expected to see, though, is an extended riff on the idea of what happens when John Constantine loses and then frantically tries to make things right. It’s the sort of story that normally would have truncated itself by now; Constantine screws up, mopes for an issue or two, and then it’s soon forgotten. Here, Milligan lets Constantine’s mistakes continually hover over his head. Maybe it’s that Milligan is letting the character feel his age, understand that he’s at the point where he can’t stop walking away from his errors? Or perhaps Milligan just thought it would be interesting to explore the idea a little further than most writers on Hellblazer have gone. Either way, I’m not complaining.

Milligan and company are also taking Constantine out of his normal confines of Great Britain, although admittedly in the case of his destination of India, it’s a former British colony. Still, they’re using it well; there’s a sharp comment or two about the stereotypical ideas that people carry around towards the country and its spirituality. On the down side, Milligan’s also going for the stereotype of the seedy human trafficking underbelly of India, which just goes to show that it’s impossible to break away entirely from some perceptions. Still, with Camuncoli and Landini drawing the book so beautifully, it’s hard to get too worked up over the idea. How they aren’t super stars in comics is a mystery to me. At the end of the day, Milligan, Camuncoli, and Landini are an excellent reminder of why Hellblazer can have over 260 issues and still tell new and fresh stories.

Shield #3

Written by Eric Trautmann and Brandon Jerwa
Pencils by Marco Rudy, Eduardo Pansica, and Greg Scott
Inks by Mick Gray, Eber Ferreira, and Greg Scott
40 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

I’ll admit it, after the lackluster The Red Circle mini-series, I was ready to write off the newly-licensed group of characters owned by Archie Comics. After three issues of The Shield, though, I find myself glad that I gave it another chance. The lure to get me to read some more was due to Eric Trautmann as writer than anything else, and Trautmann has not disappointed. He’s using The Shield as a book about a military man in a world of super-heroes, and it’s something that works far better than it should. His missions are orders from the higher-up, and his methods are slightly different than what you normally see from super-heroes.

At the same time, Trautmann makes sure not to fall into an obvious trap, and does his best to keep the character likable. (I’m not sure what it says about society today that it seems almost expected to have a military character in comics end up unlikable.) Add in some beautiful art by Marco Rudy and Mick Gray (plus an assist by Eduardo Pansica and Eber Ferreira), and this has turned into a well-crafted and entertaining book. Even the parade of DC Universe guest-stars moving through the title hasn’t annoyed me like I’d feared; Trautmann’s done a good job of picking the right characters to appear here.

Even the second feature starring Inferno by Brandon Jerwa and Greg Scott is working out better than I’d have thought. Inferno was the most nebulous concept from The Red Circle mini-series, but Jerwa uses that to his advantage—think The Fugitive with amnesia—to create a conspiracy thriller. This is actually the issue where it’s finally clicked into place for me; Scott’s moody art (which I loved on Gotham Central) makes the Neutralizers sufficiently creepy, and the ever-moving target of the main character is starting to turn out some good stories even with the shorter page count. If you’d been turned off of The Shield from The Red Circle, go on and give it another chance. It’s an enjoyable, solid book.

Lenore vol. 2 #1

By Roman Dirge
32 pages, color
Published by Titan Books

Back in the day, if Johnny the Homicidal Maniac (and its spin-off Squee!) was title that SLG Publishing was best known for, Lenore was certainly right behind it. Roman Dirge’s stories of a cute little undead girl mixed sick humor with mind-crushing puns as punch lines; it was sort of like sitting next to two people each trying to out-gross the other, but in this case Dirge was the only one playing. Now, after several years of silence, Lenore is back and from Titan Books, and it’s nice to see that some things haven’t changed.

Dirge still follows the old pattern that I remembered in the past; Lenore moves through life in a slightly oblivious fashion, runs into an unexpected (and most likely deadly) obstacle, and ends up defeating it without really trying. All, of course, to the frustration of whomever she’s up against. That’s what we get here, as Lenore has an encounter with the man who originally attempt to embalm her. It’s funny and I chuckled in all the right (or should that be wrong?) places, although at the end of the day Lenore was exactly like I remembered its old run of stories. I think it actually works better as individual comics than a collected edition; the chances of the joke getting old are far less in short doses. Lenore may not set the world on fire, but it makes me laugh and at the end of the day that’s a good thing.

Dungeon The Early Years Vol. 2: Innocence Lost

Written by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim
Art by Christophe Blain
96 pages, color
Published by NBM

Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s Dungeon series is certainly one of the more ambitious ones out there; Dungeon Zenith takes place during the height of the construction’s time, Dungeon Twilight takes place in its apocalyptic future, Dungeon Early Years as a prequel series, and Dungeon Parade and Dungeon Monstres as adjunct one-off stories that are all over the place. That said? I like that with the vast majority of the graphic novels, you can just pick one up and jump right into the story. It’d been a while since I’d read Dungeon, but this new-to-English installment was a pleasant trip back to Sfar and Trondheim’s creation. Pleasant might not be quite the best word, though; Dungeon The Early Years is shaping up to be an awfully grim series.

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Tom Corbett, Space Cadet #1-2

Written by Bill Spangler
Art by John DaCosta
32 pages, color
Published by Bluewater Comics

I have to given Bluewater Comics credit where it’s due: I ended up reading the first two issues of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet entirely because of their title. It harkens back to old time, golden age science-fiction pulps, and the cover image of the three main characters standing heroically while a spaceship flies by pushes even more of those buttons. Once I read the comics, I can’t help but feel that in some ways it’s actually drawing on those old pulps and serials a little too much in spots.

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Papercutter #11

Written by Amy Adoyzie, Dustin Harbin, and Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg
Art by Jon Sukarangsan, Dustin Harbin, and Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg
32 pages, black and white
Published by Tugboat Press

If I haven’t said it before, let me do so now. The best anthology series right now, in my book, is Papercutter from Tugboat Press. Published several times a year, each new issue contains several short stories from a wide range of comics talents, from up-and-coming creators to those who have already broken out and made a name for themselves. And while there are always some stories that work better than others, I do think it is safe to say that there’s never been a "dud" story. For an anthology that’s hit eleven issues, that’s a pretty amazing achievement.

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Dark Entries

Written by Ian Rankin
Art by Werther Dell’Edera
216 pages, black and white
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

When is a crime novel not a crime novel? Reading Dark Entries, one of the first two books in Vertigo’s new "Vertigo Crime" line, it’s easy find yourself asking that question. So far as I can tell, Dark Entries ended up in the Vertigo Crime line (instead of being branded as a Hellblazer graphic novel) by virtue of writer Ian Rankin, best known for his Inspector Rebus crime novels. Considering his name on the cover is three times the size of artist Werther Dell’Edera’s, it hard to not figure out what’s going on. Hopefully this bait-and-switch tactic won’t backfire for Vertigo Crime; while Dark Entries is firmly a horror story in terms of genre, it’s also an entertaining read.

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Grotesque #2-3

By Sergio Ponchione
32 pages, two-color
Published by Fantagraphics Books

One of the things I love about Fantagraphics’s Ignatz Series of comics is how they’ve brought artists and styles from all over the world into a single line. Invariably, half of the books are by artists I’ve never heard of, like Italy’s Sergio Ponchione. I recently bought his Grotesque #2-3, which contained a two-part story, "Cryptic City." His off-beat style of story and art bring to mind almost instantly creators like Richard Sala, and made one thing almost instantly clear: I need to buy Grotesque #1, and soon.

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Clive Barker’s Seduth

Written by Clive Barker and Chris Monfette, with creative consultant Robb Humphries
Art by Gabriel Rodriguez
32 pages, color
Published by IDW

When I think about Clive Barker and comics, the first thing that leaps to mind for me is the Hellraiser series from Epic. Barker has a much larger connection to comics than just Hellraiser, of course; numerous stories and novels over the years were adapted into comics, and at one point there was even an entire short-lived line of comic series based off of Barker’s concepts. Hellraiser, especially in the early issues, was a top-notch horror series. Reading the new Clive Barker one-shot Seduth reminded me more than a little bit of those Hellraiser comics, but at least in part it’s a been-there, done-that sort of way.

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Showcase Presents: Eclipso

Written by Bob Haney
Art by Lee Elias, Jack Sparling, Alex Toth
296 pages, black and white
Published by DC Comics

On a recent trip to run the New York City Marathon, I brought a couple of comics with me to pass the time traveling between NYC and Washington DC. In many ways, the perfect summary of Showcase Presents: Eclipso was how I referred to the book whenever someone would ask what I had in my hands. At first my response was, "It’s a reprint of comics from the 1960s about a Jekyll and Hyde sort of supervillain." By about the halfway point, the phrase, "It’s rather silly," usually got added into the previous statement. And by the end? I’d say in my most deep, dramatic voice, "Eclipsoooooooooo! Hero and Villain In One Man!" Trust me when I say that the more you read of Showcase Presents: Eclipso, the harder it is to take it seriously.

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