Friday, May 31, 2013

"Definitely done with this." : a look at Penultimate Quest

For all the influences popular culture held on me during my formative years, somehow I evaded most of the fantasy genre's tendrils - the likes of Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons; even today, I'm not interested in the RPG video game genre (I have a few sitting in my home, untouched). Despite this, I recently aided a Kickstarter fundraiser devoted to a fantasy-as-viewed-through-popular-culture comic book. Said project was (and is) Penultimate Quest by Lars Brown.

In book one, we're introduced to a variety of characters (most notably Harald) who find themselves in a land where deep, endless dungeons await below ground. It seems as though everyone in the area is devoted to braving the dungeons, dying, coming back to life and trying again. No one seems able to reall how they came to be in this state of affairs. It is, essentially, as though a cast of characters from an online RPG game experienced an existential crisis. Some of the dungeon crawlers want to escape this nightmarish existence, yet they seem bound by fate.

Despite my aforementioned lack of familiarity with many of the fantasy genre tropes - which a "meta" project like this surely demands - I am familiar with the work of Lars Brown, who previously wrote North World (collected in three volumes via Oni Press). Both series meld 21st century aesthetics with the fantasy genre - creating a sort of Middle-Earth by way of Portland. He's also fine at world-building - in North World, there were frequent allusions to the world outside of the small town where the stories were set; in Penultimate Quest, the nature of the world itself is a mystery, so Lars' earlier skills serve him well. The clear line artwork, appealing characters and quirky humour adds up to an entertaining diversion.

Penultimate Quest can be read online at Lars Brown's website.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"Sophisticated corn" : a few thoughts about Sam's Strip

When I first noticed the book Sam's Strip: the Comic About Comics by Mort Walker & Jerry Dumas, published by Fantagraphics in 2009, I took a double-take. The blurb indicated this was a collection of a short-lived 1961-1963 comic strip, yet hadn't I seen the lead characters as comic strip stars in the 1970s? And why would Fantagraphics, of all entities, be interested in something by Mort Walker?

As I learned from the book, the two principals of Sam's Strip were eventually modified and reused as the leads of Sam & Silo, which has apparently been running since 1977 (I think the most recent Sam & Silo I've seen is from 1979 - it hasn't been popular in this part of the globe for decades).

Sam's Strip (created principally by Dumas) was a little too high-concept. The cast of the strip were not only aware of their nature as comic strip characters, but would devote their panels (and gutters) to explaining how their comic strip reality functioned, or satirized old comic strip tropes; characters from comic strips stretching back the Yellow Kid would frequently appear (Happy Hooligan becomes a semi-regular), never quoting the proper ownership copyrights (even with Disney characters). Put most succinctly, Sam's Strip was "meta."

It seems appropriate for such an abstract strip to feature a similarly abstract character and setting. Sam is represented by a giant oval, his head, arms and legs only minor accessories; Sam's surroundings are usually an empty void; it works brilliantly to get across how different Sam's Strip is from other strips on the page.

Does the failure of Sam's Strip suggest audiences aren't interested in "meta" commentary about their comic strips? Not necessarily - "meta" humour frequently appears in (to involve a different medium) Warner's Looney Tunes cartoons; the difference being, the Warner cartoons include "meta" jokes against some semblance of plot; there is no plot in Sam's Strip and it could be why audiences were lukewarm. When the book wasn't being "meta," it devoted itself to many of the same gags and topical humour found in other strips of the day.

My favourite aspect of Sam's Strip are the many guest stars - not simply their presence in the strips, but the care Dumas devoted to capturing each character's style. It's no small thing to see characters like Popeye, Donald Duck and Jiggs sharing a panel, each looking authentic. Although Dumas seldom worked on his backgrounds, when he did, he proved capable of beautifully detailed work (some samples of Sam & Silo provided in the book demonstrate he's still game).

My tiny library of comic strip books continues to grow; my copy of Sam's Strip: the Comic About Comics is a welcome addition!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Back on Track: Church & State II review

Although I once marveled at how easily one could acquire the whole of Dave Sim's Cerebus in trade paperback, I have to eat a few of my words; the shop I began collecting Cerebus from was sold out of Church & State II, only the fourth volume in the series. This halted the momentum in my attempt to catch up on Cerebus and it's only recently that I finally obtained a copy.

As this volume opens, Cerebus the Aardvark, having won and lost the office of Prime Minister of Iest, became the Pope of Tarim, an office with much less regulation and far more power. Being the self-centered so-and-so he is, Cerebus wasted his time taxing the populace to provide him with all of their gold, right up until his old enemy Thrunk usurps the title of Pope and casts Cerebus from Iest.

This fourth volume concerns Cerebus' struggle to reclaim the papacy and deal with his on-again-off-again manipulative ally Astoria, who has been jailed for assassinating another Pope. It all ends up on the moon as a cosmic figure dubbed "the Judge" answers every question on Cerebus' mind, pulling no punches as he does so. Most of the recurring characters recur.

At a key moment in this tome, Cerebus rapes Astoria, in what I believe the TV Tropes site likes to call, "Moral Event Horizon." It's difficult to imagine Cerebus ever living down the rape... then again, he's never been an entirely sympathetic protagonist, so I've been well-prepared for him to perform despicable acts. Raping Astoria is terrible (no matter how equally unlikeable Astoria is), but really just the most recent terrible thing Cerebus has done. So how does one sustain interest in such a terrible person for so many more volumes? It remains to be seen, in my case...

In addition to having a massive cast, Cerebus has a complex world which I'm afraid I constantly lose track of; it seems as though whenever Cirinists are invoked I'm left wondering, "Who were they again? What was their philosophy? How are they a problem?" There's a lot of talking in Cerebus, making comic relief characters such as Elrod and Artemis (now going by "Secret Sacred Wars Roach") a welcome respite; I also note how Lord Julius' character has less to do with the plot now, so that when he appears he feels like a more absurdly genuine homage to Groucho Marx than before. Special mention must also be made of the Flaming Carrot, who appears for one chapter of the story (strangely, there's nothing in the book's indica about who owns the Flaming Carrot; pretty sure it's Bob Burden, not Dave Sim & Gerhard?).

Looking back at Cerebus and the impressive talent on display by Sim & Gerhard, I wonder at the comic book industry we have today - it seems much the same as the 1980s industry, with two companies ruling the roost, except creators now seem as eager to please Hollywood as they've ever been to cozy up with the Big Two. From this vantage, it looks like things were going to change - could have truly changed - but for some reason, didn't. Sim helped empower creators' ability to chart their own path, but it seems as though the gates he kicked open have only ever enabled a tiny handful of folks to find success doing their own thing; some have the purity of their art, but address only a niche audience. Looking at Sim himself, there was a time when Sim as near to the mainstream of comics culture as a self-publisher could get; today, he's trapped playing to a niche audience. Where exactly did comics history go wrong? Why did so many talented individuals fail while the corporations just kept growing fatter? If you know the answer, don't share it; use its power to sustain yourself.

In two days, I'll begin reading the next volume in Cerebus: Jaka's Story.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Star Trek: Into Snarkness

While watching Star Trek: Into Darkness last night, a number of thoughts pranced through my head; some are laudatory, most are snarky. As the #1 film at the box office for two weeks so far, I'm sure they're big enough to take it.

My friend Craig prepared me for the film by describing it as "better than Star Trek: Nemesis... like Star Trek: New Voyages with a budget." That helped.

As Kirk & McCoy leap off a cliff:

"Looks like we'll have to... JUMP!"


Enterprise is unable to beam staff because of the volcano:

I realize later on they declare they can't use Scotty's transwarp from the previous movie any more, but it's quite something to go from the previous film's ridiculously powerful galaxy-spanning transporters to this film's transporters, which are useless every time the good guys need them.

Spock declares the volcano will wipe out the "species":

Is this volcano going to cause a global upheaval which will annihilate all life on the planet? 'Cause from here, it looks like a village is in jeopardy, not a "species." Mount Vesuvius has tried it's best, but the human species has survived it so far.

Khan offers to help a Starfleet officer save his daughter; the officer asks, "Who are you?" The camera focuses on Khan's face for several seconds, but he doesn't speak:

"Oh crap! Who am I? Want to say... Susan? No, no, no, not right! Play it cool, he's starting to stare back, don't give away... damn, he's on to me! I've got nothing!"

Kirk is in bed with two cat-women:

Why must Star Trek insist on courting the furry community?

Pike relieves Kirk of his command:

It's almost as though a guy who never graduated the Academy and cheated on his tests is a poor choice for commanding a starship!

Kirk realizes - an instant too late - that Khan knows Starfleet's protocols in case of a disaster and is preparing an attack on their location:

It's nice that Starfleet has protocols in place for when someone bombs their facilities... pity they have no protocols in place for when staff possessing classified information turn on them.

Kirk wields a fire hose against an aircraft strafing a skyscraper:

"What are you doin', Jim? What the f*** are you doin', Jim?"

Admiral Pike dies:

WHAT?! They killed the best character and the best actor?!

Kirk wants revenge on Khan:

This is quite a change from last movie, where he wanted revenge on Nero.


The facility Khan destroyed turns out to be Section 31:

As a big DS9 and Section 31 fan, it does amuse me that in spite of fandom's intense reaction against Section 31, it's only become more significant in Star Trek since DS9 ended!

Carol "Wallace" introduces herself:

Very nice Easter egg, considering Carol Marcus was first intended to be the original series character Janet Wallace. That's some mighty obscure trivia!

While on a dangerous away mission, Uhura brings up her relationship problems with Spock; Spock explains he feels emotions, even if he doesn't display them:

Not only is this poor timing on Uhura's part but surely she hasn't been dating him this many years without figuring out how Vulcan emotions work before now?

The Klingons wear headgear obscuring their faces:

This way they save money on makeup! Finally, something we all can agree is true to the spirit of Gene Roddenberry!

Kirk's away team winds up in a firefight between Khan and the Klingons:

In advance, I heard the Klingons came off looking poorly in this film; it's not so much that they're pathetic against Khan, as it is... they're just generic bad guys. The movie's not about them, I don't think it's a problem.

Khan surrenders to Kirk; Kirk reacts by beating him for several seconds:

Joe Don Baker is captain of the Enterprise!

Kirk angrily and tearfully confronts Khan in the brig:

Oh, honey. Please, just keep being yourself - don't try to act.

Kirk offers himself to Admiral Marcus (no, not like that) to save his crew; Marcus refuses:

Not that it isn't a grand gesture on Kirk's part, but what hope did this plan have? Since Kirk broadcast Marcus' entire villainous tirade to the crew, surely he understands Marcus now has to kill them to keep his secrets?

Kirk releases Khan for his help in capturing Vengeance away from Marcus:

Laying aside questions of whether Kirk could've captured the ship any other way, since they know they can't trust Khan, why not place a transponder on him so they can at least track him? It would've come in handy later. Of course, Star Trek technology is such that querying "why didn't they use...?" will tear apart even the best stories (ie, "why not time travel? why not psychic powers?").

Spock sends Khan the torpedoes he wants, but detonates them within Vengeance's deck:

In Wrath of Khan, Spock outwitted Khan after realizing he didn't understand starship combat tactics; in this film, Spock outwits Khan by winning a semantics argument ("the torpedoes are yours"). If Khan is this much of a dope, why not try the "got your nose" trick? You could ransom Khan's nose back to him in exchange for his prisoners.

Khan teleports Kirk, Scotty & Carol into the Enterprise brig:

I realize this only briefly slows down the characters, but even though Enterprise's shields are down, shouldn't the brig be shielded against transporters?

Scotty guides Kirk & Chekov in assisting him in repairing Enterprise's engines:

Is the engineering staff really so useless that without Scotty around, no one bothers to remain at their posts to try and fix this stuff? Start paying the extras more money!

Kirk knocks out Scotty so he can sacrifice himself by realigning the warp core:

Not that I think Kirk should've sent Scotty to his doom (though it is one of those things captains are supposed to be capable of), but how did Kirk know how to fix the core? Isn't it fortunate for him it required nothing more than caveman-like bludgeoning to get the power back online?

Just think of all the trouble Starfleet could save themselves if they bought a few robot arms for use in radiation-heavy zones. I think Tony Stark has a couple he's not using...

Scotty tells Spock he'd "better get down here; better hurry.":

I don't think a guffaw was the intended reaction.

Kirk has taken a lethal dose of radiation:

See, it's nothing like Wrath of Khan because Pine refused to wear radiation burn-makeup. That would've been a crime against beauty.

Spock converses with Kirk through a glass door:

I'm not buying this - in Wrath of Khan, Spock's death was the culmination of a 15-year friendship. In this continuity, Kirk seems to barely tolerate Spock. I'm sure he'd rather have Scotty or Uhura on the other side of the glass - he's actually friends with them!

It is interesting though, that in this case Kirk's "death" is what seems to begin he and Spock's friendship.

Spock screams KHAAAN!:

Okay, the makers had to know we'd laugh at this, so I feel no shame.

Enterprise & Vengeance crash toward Earth:

Wait, Earth? That brief scene in warp which ended abruptly brought them all the way home? Then why haven't they radioed Starfleet for help before this? Where's the rest of the fleet? How would Marcus have kept his mission secret when any satellite in orbit could be filming him destroying the Enterprise?

Vengeance crashes into a city:

In addition to all the civilian deaths here, whatever became of Vengeance's crew? I mean, all the guys Kirk & Scotty stunned?

Khan leaps "30 meters" to the ground:

"Looks like I'll have to... JUMP!"


The transporters can't find Khan, so they send Spock to him:

In the midst of sighing about the continually useless transporters, I almost missed Chris Doohan's cameo as the transporter chief; nice tip of the hat there.

Spock pursues Khan on foot through the streets of San Francisco:

In case I forgot I was watching a J.J. Abrams program, I suppose. STAR TREK! WHERE NO ONE HAS GONE BEFORE!

Spock leaps from a flying object to another flying object:

"Looks like I'll have to... JUMP!"


Khan, having already shrugged off the Vulcan Nerve Pinch, takes 8 stun blasts from Uhura's phaser and still remains conscious:

Sfdebris has repeatedly noted how useless guns are in Star Trek, but this is a new low; why not just go back to bullets? He's already been condemned to death.

Kirk's medical chart indicates Dr. Boyce:

That's a very unexpected Easter egg; I hope the intern who thought of it got an extra doughnut.

Khan is returned to suspended animation:

Uh... I thought we were told he'd been condemned to death? Is this just to set up the sequel where the Borg revive him? Then they'll have to call up old Spock and old Spock's all, "I can't alter your destinies, but I can tell you this: the Borg are very dangerous. I hope that helps. Where's my money?"

Carol joins the crew of Enterprise for a 5-year mission:

This could actually be very good for Kirk's character development, if he winds up in a serious relationship with her.

The cast are listed in alphabetical order:

Great touch, very appropriate for an ensemble film.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Iron Man 3 creator credits

Following from last year's Avengers credits, I give you Iron Man 3; as usual, please let me know how I might improve the list:

Updated 5-13-13; thank you Nitz!

Iron Man, alias Tony Stark, a playboy philanthropist and former weapons designer who wears a high-tech suit of armour which includes enhanced strength and the power of flight; has shrapnel embedded in his heart and needs pacemaker to survive, pacemaker also powers his armour; Ho Yinsen, famous Asian scientist: Derived from Tales of Suspense#39 (1963) by Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Harold "Happy" Hogan, friend and employee of Tony Stark, formerly his personal bodyguard; Pepper Potts, Tony Stark's assistant and romantic interest; Stark Industries, Tony Stark's technology company: Derived from Tales of Suspense#45 (1963) by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein, Don Heck & Jack Kirby.

Maya Hansen, old acquaintence and lover of Tony Stark who develops Extremis, a virus which accelerates and enhances living things; Aldrich Killian, a scientist who works on the Extremis project: Derived from Iron Man#1 (2005) by Warren Ellis & Adi Granov.

A.I.M., Advanced Idea Mechanics, a cabal of scientists with designs on ruling the Earth: Derived from Strange Tales#146 by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee & Don Heck.

Iron Man's armour coloured red & gold: Derived from Tales of Suspense#48 (1963) by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko & Jack Kirby.

Iron Man's armour coloured red & silver; Iron Man armour with triangular unibeam: Derived from Iron Man#200 (1985) by Dennis O'Neil & Mark Bright.

Iron Man's unibeam in the center of his armour: Derived from Tales of Suspense#40 (1963) by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Jack Kirby.

The design of the Iron Man armour: Derived from Iron Man#75 (2004) by Adi Granov.

Iron Man's eyes & unibeam glowing light blue: Derived from the Ultimates#2 (2002) by Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch.

Tony Stark injecting himself with nanomachines to interface with the Iron Man armour: Derived from Ultimate Human#1 (2008) by Warren Ellis & Cary Nord.

Iron Man armour assembling itself around Tony hands-free: Derived from Iron Man#5 (2006) by Warren Ellis & Adi Granov.

Iron Man punching the ground in a dramatic stance: Derived from Iron Man#76 (2004) by Adi Granov.

Iron Man's chief weapon, repulsor rays: Derived from Tales of Suspense#57 (1964) by Stan Lee & Don Heck.

Jarvis, Iron Man's artificial intelligence assistant who helps design the armours: Derived from HOMER of Iron Man#298 (1993) by Len Kaminski & Tom Tenney and named after Edwin Jarvis of Tales of Suspense#59 (1964) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Tony Stark keeping older suits of Iron Man armour in display cases: Derived from Tales of Suspense#90 (1967) by Stan Lee & Gene Colan.

Tony Stark's cliffside manor overlooking the sea: Derived from Iron Man#222 (1987) by David Michelinie, Bob Layton & Mark Bright.

Tony Stark building suits of armour as a means of trauma therapy: Derived from Iron Man#188 (1984) by Dennis O'Neil & Luke McDonnell.

James Rhodes, best friend of Tony Stark: Derived from Iron Man#118 (1979) by David Michelinie, Bob Layton & John Byrne.

James Rhodes wearing a suit of Iron Man armour: Derived from Iron Man#169 (1983) by Dennis O'Neil & Luke McDonnell.

War Machine, a suit of Iron Man armour equipped with gattling and mini guns: Derived from Iron Man#281 (1992) by Len Kaminski & Kevin Hopgood.

James Rhodes as the operator of the War Machine armour: Derived from Iron Man#284 (1992) by Len Kaminski & Kevin Hopgood.

The Iron Patriot, a suit of Iron Man armour repainted red, white & blue: Derived from Dark Avengers#1 (2009) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato, Jr.

Tony Stark's identity as Iron Man being public knowledge: Derived from Iron Man#55 (2002) by Mike Grell.

Tony Stark & Pepper Potts in a romantic relationship: Derived from Invincible Iron Man#15 (2009) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca.

A.I.M.'s leader having "a huge brain": Derived from M.O.D.O.K. in Tales of Suspense#93 (1967) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Eric Savin, a former soldier with superhuman abilities: Derived from Marvel Comics Presents#26 (1989) by Doug Moench & Paul Gulacy.

Iron Man armour operated remotely: Derived from Iron Man#174 (1983) by Dennis O'Neil & Luke McDonnell.

Tony Stark identifying his armours with a "mark" system: Derived from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition#6 (1985) by Mark Gruenwald & Peter Sanderson.

Tony Stark operating his armour with a headset device: Derived from Iron Man#272 (1991) by John Byrne & Paul Ryan.

The Mandarin, a warlord and terrorist leader, ideological opponent of Tony Stark, wears ten rings: Derived from Tales of Suspense#50 (1964) by Stan Lee, Don Heck & Jack Kirby.

Jack Taggert, a former US soldier: Derived from Iron Man#230 (1988) by David Michelinie, Bob Layton & Mark Bright.

The Extremis virus giving its recipients heat-based power, including flame breathing: Derived from Iron Man#2 (2005) by Warren Ellis & Adi Granov.

Terrorists with unstable superhuman ehancements becoming human bombs: Derived from Invincible Iron Man#1 (2008) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca.

S.H.I.E.L.D., an international espionage agency: Derived from Strange Tales#135 (1965) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Roxxon Oil Corporation, a scandal-ridden energy resource business: Derived from Captain America#180 (1974) by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema.

The Mandarin seeking Extremis and making an ally of Maya Hansen: Derived from Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.#18 (2007) by David Knauf, Charles Knauf & Roberto de la Torre.

Pepper Potts donning a suit of Iron Man armour: Derived from Invincible Iron Man#11 (2009) by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca.

Iron Man's allies, The Avengers: Derived from the Avengers#1 (1963) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Ellen Brandt, a facially-scarred woman who becomes an operative of A.I.M.: Derived from Savage Tales#1 (1971) by Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway & Gray Morrow.

Maya Hansen knowingly assisting terrorists in acquiring Extremis: Derived from Iron Man#6 (2006) by Warren Ellis & Adi Granov.

Thor, Norse god of thunder, defender of Earth, wields hammer Mjolnir: Derived from Journey into Mystery#83 (1962) by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby.

A vast array of Iron Man armours being kept within a secret bunker: Derived from Iron Man#318 (1995) by Len Kaminski & Tom Morgan.

Tony Stark's deep sea Iron Man armour: Derived from Iron Man#218 (1987) by David Michelinie, Bob Layton & Mark Bright.

Tony Stark's space-worthy Iron Man armour: Derived from Iron Man#142 (1981) by David Michelinie, Bob Layton & John Romita, Jr.

Tony Stark's jet-black Iron Man stealth armour: Derived from Iron Man#152 (1981) by David Michelinie, Bob Layton & John Romita, Jr.

Multiple suits of Iron Man armour being operated simultaneously in combat by an artificial intelligence: Derived from Mighty Avengers#4 (2007) by Brian Michael Bendis & Frank Cho.

Tony Stark undergoing surgery to have the shrapnel removed from his heart: Derived from Iron Man#19 (1969) by Archie Goodwin & George Tuska.

The Hulk, alias Bruce Banner: Derived from the Incredible Hulk#1 (1962) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Ellis, President of those United States: Derived from Warren Ellis, product of the unholy union between Hunter S. Thompson and the beard of Alan Moore.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Free Comic Book Day 2013

Another year's Free Comic Book Day has come and gone; I believe I missed 2012's altogether (I think I was in Africa), so it was nice to venture into the managed chaos of FCBD again; I'm glad I brought a book with me to the comic shop because I spent about 8 minutes waiting in line to get inside the store.

One unusual thing about the five comics I chose this year is none of them are from publishers I'm currently following on a monthly basis.

From Red 5 Comics comes Atomic Robo/Bodie Troll, with an original Atomic Robo story by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener and a preview of Bodie Troll#1 by Jay Fosgitt. Up until last year I had been a regular follower of Atomic Robo, but I reached a point where I felt the series' stories had become too familiar. This tale, in which Atomic Robo fights a robot, does nothing to change my opinion. Still, for people who haven't tested Atomic Robo before, perhaps it'll be to their liking. The real surprise was the Bodie Troll preview: it's the story of an ADHD troll who wants desperately to be fearsome, but is cursed by his inate cuteness. The jokes throughout the story are well presented (such as news stories being presented via the medium of puppet shows), it's clear Fosgitt has put a lot of effort into finding his voice for the story; I'm interested enough to buy the full comic book when it arrives.

Hermes Press published Buck Rogers 25th Century A.D., featuring two linked stories from 1936-37, meant to advertise their Buck Rogers comic strip collections. Unfortunately, unlike most of the comic strip collections I've purchased, the pages don't identify when each strip originally appeared. I'm not particularly interested in Buck Rogers (if anything, I like Flash Gordon), but these strips were diverting; I got a huge laugh from the sequence above, where in the first panel Buck is assigned his first mission for the American Defense Force to see if an enemy fleet is arriving; flash ahead to the subsequent panel wherein Buck is being blasted out of the sky: "It's the Enemy all right!"

Bonus features in this book include reprints of the first few days of the Buck Rogers strip and pictures of vintage Buck Rogers memorabilia. Finally, there's an ad for a forthcoming Buck Rogers series by Howard Victor Chaykin. Although Chaykin has a bit of science fiction in his docket, I was skeptical about him tackling Buck Rogers at this point in time. Having seen the ads, I'm actually reasonably interested in checking out the product.

Similarly, Fantagraphics offered Hal Foster's Prince Valiant, collecting a series of strips from circa 1949. As with the Buck Rogers book, this is advertising a collection of the comic strips but the original publishing dates of the strips are not provided - in fact, even the introduction omits mention of when they first appeared. I've never warmed up to Prince Valiant, which was told in a fashion nearer to that of an illustrated novel rather than a comic book; there are no speech balloons and seldom any sequential action. Still, Foster's art is admirable.

Debuting a brand-new series is Oni Press with the Strangers#1 by Chris Roberson and Scott Kowalchuk. I'm afraid I haven't read much work by Roberson - my favourite thing he wrote was his statement about leaving DC Comics - it influenced my own decision to leave Marvel Comics. Sadly, I haven't been interested in Roberson's stories as of yet. The art by Kowalchuk is evocative of Bruce Timm/Mike Mignola. The series is set in the 1960s and follows a mysterious trio of operatives called "the Strangers" who possess superhuman powers. It doesn't focus on plot or character, but is instead mostly action - which is kind of refreshing in an age where most super hero books are ashamed to attempt an action scene (because so few of today's artists can render one effectively). There's not much to say in terms of the character or plot, but it's told with considerable skill - this might be one to watch.

Finally, New England Comics presented the Tick with an all-new story by Jeff McClelland & Duane Redhead, with two short back-up tales. Strangely, although I enjoyed the Tick's 1990s animated series, the only Tick comics I own are the various Free Comic Book Day editions. This was a decent enough tale where the Tick's sidekick Arthur is badly sunburned on the beach, but must come to the rescue of the Tick and their friends when lobster-men invade the surface world. As soon as the lobster-men appear, it becomes clear Arthur will be the one to resolve the problem, but it's told with a lot of charm. The brief back-up tales are also fun.

Free Comic Book Day is over; starting tomorrow, we have to pay for them again.