Saturday, October 17, 2009

LaMorte Sisters/ You got to love a vampire comic with French in the title

The Dead Sisters is a instant Zuda winner from Tony Trov, John Zito and Christine Larsen. It got a favorite from me, here is the synopsis:"While on a family trip, Maddie and her parents were savagely attacked by a crazed man. Though here [her] parents were not so lucky, Maddie survived due to the intervention of a silent savior who slew her assailant. Dazed and confused, Maddie finds herself on a bus to the LaMorte Home for Lost Girls is a special place that helps wayward young ladies deal with their peculiar condition. Under the watchful eye of these LaMorte Sisters, Maddie will discover the mysteries that lie beneath her imposed, new home."

Do the girls at vampire school have to wear those uniform skirts?

The is not a lot of dialogue, but the pacing over the 8 screens is very suspenseful. Having a school that trains young vampire waifs about their powers is an idea with a lot of possibility. The first thing that really impresses you is the art in this comic. Just the right mix of spooky and cartoony to tell the story well. Screen 1 is a full screen shot of Maddie holding her mothers hand, with some cool 'gasp' lettering effects. On the next screen we see a figure in the distance (her dad) being mauled by a vampire creature both framed by the moon. It's one panel cut into 2 to slow down a readers eye, and bring home the fact Maddie is holding her mothers hand watching her father die. In comics with little dialogue I'm always interested in the script, how much was in the writers descriptions, how much was the artist's initiative. Panel 3 shows the vampires in laMorte Sisters fall into the shark-mouth school of vampire characters. The panel ends with Mr. Scary headed towards defenseless Maddie and mama corpse. The layout of all these screens is extraordinary. Screen 3 shows you the dad face of Maddie's dad as the vampire creature gets closer to Maddie and her mother. It's a classic scene victim frozen in terror, big bad monster getting closer, and a reader's fear for its prey. For the most part this story is 'Zuda paced' just right to build suspense over the characters fate's. Screen 4 has a nice 1st panel with the vampires big red eyes framed by the girls gasping mouth. It wraps her up and starts drinking her blood, as her eyes roll back into her head. With art this good you don't need to cramp up the panels with unnecessary wordage, and to their credit the writers don't.

Not a big fan of BCB, but I am a fan of this

Screen 5 has a extreme close-up of of Maddie's eyes rolling back in her head. Then we see a Joe Kubert style insert panel of a flaming arrow, I didn't think accomplished much beside the homage. I was very impressed with the coloring for this sequence. The way the flaming arrows being stuck in the vampire cast their light on the various characters. Readers also see a nasty looking hole in Maddie's neck. The vampire drops Maddie to turn (flaming arrows still stuck inside him) and face his opponent, who we still can't see yet. In screen 6 the vampire attacks and the unknown figure throws little blades into its stomach. The action scene here looks more than a little off. The panel shapes, and depictions of the characters don't flow well from one panel to the next. Panel 4 was actually done very well, it didn't make the vampire look like a blood drenched, bowlegged scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. In the foreground we see the unknown stranger start to draw their sword, with the vampire in the background looking ready to charge. Screen 7 we see the unknown stranger standing with it's sword out, and the vampire has burst into flames. The figure drops its sword to look at the bodies in the snow, vampire ashes trailing away, and (probably) her breath still visible. I wouldn't have minded seeing an actual sword swing, but this was still executed fairly well. Screen 8 is The figure checks the pulse on the girl Maddie, then carries her off on her back. Maddie asks if she's going to die and readers get the kicker dialogue the story ends on: "No child...'re already dead." It's snowing by now and the last panel is a silhouette of the two figures moving away from the reader, tracks plainly visible in the snow. The way this comic uses the weather to help set the mood of the story is admirable. It's not like a movie where it's a special effect, all it takes is artistic skills on par with what is displayed in this comic. I'm looking forward to new twists and turns from the writers, and hope they will be spared too many knee-jerk comparisons to either Buffy, or 30 Days of Night.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Zuda review Pluck/ How this comic managed to not look like a coloring book

Pluck is another October Zuda comic done by Gabe White, Matt White, and John Amor. It got a favorite from me, here is the synopsis: Pluck is just a poor boy in a poor kingdom. Born low, sinking lower. Sure, he is always planning something big, but he is never quite able to rise above his station. Until now, that is. Seems he has stumbled across a magical amulet. Apparently, a very important amulet. Spoken of in one of those Ancient Prophecies. All he has to do is bring it back to the king and he'll officially become the Chosen One. Just like that. Savior of the Kingdom, adored by the royals, worshipped by the masses, all that good stuff he desires. Nothing left but a long easy life, getting filthy fat, writing bad poetry, and keeping the courtesans busy. Of course, there are those pesky rumors, whispers about some looming threat. Some primal evil poised to ravage the land, eat the children, skin the men raw and hang their twitching skins from the treetops. Standard stuff, really, nothing but talk. And, besides, Pluck's got more important things on his mind; Courtesans, poetry, waistline. In that order. After all, a boy's got to prioritize.

A black and white comic that actually pulls it off

The problem with most black and white comics on Zuda is they look unfinished. Not that the creators didn't want to have a go without colors, they just didn't bother to put them in. Pluck is the first Zuda entry in a while to avoid this, and the art/story is good too. Too thick a line, too much white, and not enough textural details are the culprits of the coloring book look. In Pluck you get some nice shading done on some dingy walls and dingy clothes right on screen 1 on. This reinforces the absence of color was a choice and not a circumstance. John Amor's art style/inks remind me of some old children's book artist who's name escapes me because back then I only looked at the pictures. Their could also be a bit of manga going on there in the art too. The story starts with Pluck and his female friend Dreda (as narrator) stealing some Gidding dung for the profit in it. She's also talking about taking a bath, and prettying herself up to seduce any Duke (with money, looks didn't matter) in sight. The comic opens with a establishing shot then we move in to see the characters, with well written dialogue/minimum text to accompany it. Screen 2 actually builds on the characterization in screen 1, and adds some more layers to the characters. 2 screens in and I already give a damn what happens to them, is a win. Dreda is telling readers Pluck always has a scheme to get ahead, that usually doesn't work out. The latest scheme is selling dung to rat people who make bricks out of it, then buy 2 chickens... She stops paying attention to him because she sees something shiny in the distance -a heroic knight in armor. The story has your expected fantasy start for two screens, then the whole idea of crusading knights gets turned on it's head. Dreda describes the knight as the 5th most beautiful she has ever seen, then readers see images of the previous 4 who had been ordered hanged by the king. The reason given: "as a rule the king don't care for handsome men" maybe he had a bad experience with a Lancelot type in the past, but it was a very interesting bit to be thrown in. The screen ends with the knight getting knocked off his horse by some troll looking creatures called jack-bats. This story also does a fine job of hitting it's stride for the Zuda pace of 8 screens to work with. The screens all end on a note that makes you want to click on to see what happens next. The various panel layouts are impressive using different views to keep up readers interest. Screen 4 starts and ends with a close-up panel of the Knight fighting the monsters. The second panel shows the knight in silhouette fighting them, pulling back to show Pluck and Dreda watching. The knight talks about previous battles won, and as a jack-bat claws his face claims to be the chosen one.

Hell's yes to more castles!

The good placement of word balloons with a easy to read font worked in it's favor. Knowing when to skip the text and let the pictures speak for themselves was just as important. Screen 5 has a 4 panel combat sequence that ends with the Knight on the ground in a pool of blood saying: "No... This is wrong...". Panel 3 has a nice close-up on spittle clinging to the Knight's teeth, every time I see something like that it reminds me of the old EC artists work. Pluck and Dreda finally go up to the knight who reveals a amulet and claims he is the hero of the prophecy... In 2 man on the ground P.O.V. shots first Pluck looks concerned, then after the knight dies, he smiles. This leads into Pluck's new personal advancement scheme to go to the kings court and claim he's the hero with the amulet for the rewards. Pluck and Dreda finally make it to a check point with a knight who tells them: "You stink like like my drawers, son. Best talk fast." At knife point, I'm thinking one of those likes was a typo. Pluck spins a yarn and the king's guard go to check it out with the King. Screen 8 ends with Dreda concerned about all the waiting they were doing, only to end with a panel of Pluck looking triumphant up at the king -who we actually don't see since it's a king's P.O.V. shot. It's a good ending to the story, almost a done-in-one with all the characterization done in only 8 screens. If this comic goes on to win, I will be following it. It made Black and white on Zuda work, even if it doesn't win that's a stunning accomplishment.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Where Evil's Dare/ With all these monsters what's missing?

Where Evil's Dare is a October Zuda competitor done by Tony Lee and Stefano Martino. Here is the synopsis: The Dirty Dozen meets Hammer Horror as, during World War II a fearsome group of Allied soldiers fight Hitler’s most monstrous regiment – 666 Platoon – an army consisting of Radio-Controlled Zombies, Werewolves and a unit of Vampires led by Dracule himself! Hitler wants the Spear Of Ra, an occult item of great power and has sent 666 Platoon to retrieve it, but only the Special Occult Squadron, led by Richard Harker, the grandson of Jonathan and Mina Harker can stop them! But to do so they must race across the blood-splattered fields of Romania with only a bitter, injured resistance fighter to assist them while fighting a gauntlet of Frankenstein’s Monster Nazis, Hitler Youth Werewolf ‘dog squads’, Gestapo Vampires – and their own fallen dead! Will their 'sniffer', Renfield, the untrustworthy grandson of Dracule’s servant turn on them? Will Captain Harker finish the job his grandfather started? But more importantly - can they save the world one more time before dawn rises – or will Dracule and Hitler finally win?

The dangers of too many good throw away lines--

--are exposed right off in Dracule's opening monologue. At the start of this story Dracule is going on about Romanian blood being thin and weak, with Aryan blood being stronger and thicker. When the most interesting part of a comic (to me) happens in the first few panels that sets the bar pretty high for the screens to come. In Romania Dracule/Vlad Tepes to this day is seen as a national hero, he's even been honored with commemorative stamps. The interesting opening lines really had me wondering what's going on with Vlad? It can lead to all kinds of possibilities everything from: Dracule got disgusted with his own people's lack of power in the then modern world, Hitler's almost supernatural charm is supernatural and Dracule's under a spell, or the historic Vlad Tepes and the vampire Dracule aren't the same person at all! I would have liked to see Dracule's views explored more instead of so much time spent on Harker's progeny. In a genre story I'm looking for the same but different. A story that fulfills genre expectations, but has something extra to 'hook' readers. Dracule, Von Frankenstein, the 666 platoon filled with German zombies, werewolves, and vampires isn't what makes the story unique/stand out -I've read the 80's version Creature Commandos. Dracule's feelings towards his own people/embracing the Aryan idea is something different, his remarks to Von Frankenstein about "playing God" had what seemed like a contempt you could hear and this is a comic book! Does a little trace of that old 'defender of the faith' mentality still linger? This being further explored could make for a unique story. Screen 2 is a full screen shot of Von Frankenstein commanding his hordes to attack a town containing the Book of Antrioch which is what they're fighting over. The radio controlled zombies with the energy waves coming off of Von Frankenstein along with werewolves and vampires did make for a impressive full screen shot. Screen 3 we see the heroic/doomed forces being besieged by the various monsters. We also got a introduction to a fighter/future love interest Helena who dispatches a werewolf with a silver bullet. Screen 4 we get a run down on the results of the monster raid (3 survivors), and we met the special forces of good lead by Captain Harker, the grandson of Jonathan Harker. It was the expected roll call team shot, but it did a good job of introducing the characters.

Could Dracule wear a Iron Cross?

The staff of the sun god Ra is another one of those interesting plot points that could really go somewhere, and props for not invoking the Spear of Destiny. The Book of Antrioch is what the bad guys and good guys need to activate the Ra staff, the staff just happens to be hanging in Dracule's old castle. That is a good set-up worthy of the war film homage in the title of this comic. As described the Ra staff can blast a hole in a building with it's power, which isn't that impressive considering a tank shell can do the same thing. However, it's a good point to remember just because the characters think thats what it does, doesn't mean it couldn't have more 'power' befitting its supernatural nature. It's a good mystery to look forward to, but it seemed like a lot of dialogue to get the point across. I don't mind wordiness, but the comic would have seemed much more cramped from the balloons if it wasn't for the generally fine placement of them. Screen 6 readers find out Renfield has a grandson too, who Harker thinks is just as balmy, but Renfield is ordered along for the trip anyway. In the dialogue it is explained Renfield is a 'sniffer' who like the rest of his family can sense Dracule's presence. Turns out Renfield the III's origin is a nod to Freddy Kruger. His grandfather forced himself on a woman in a madhouse and this adds to his tortured legacy. Readers also find out Lord Godalming is the one who put this "Special occult squadron" together as he compliments Harker for being like his father and grandfather before him. This brings up one of the most interesting aspects about this comic not to have much light shined on -the lost generation. We know what the grandfathers did, we're reading about the grandson's exploits, but what did the parents of these characters get up to? I hope should the comics win we get flashbacks to Renfield the II's activities, and Quincy Harker. In screen 7 we see the squad preparing to parachute into combat, and a well written panel of Harker reminding them his grandfather slit Dracule's throat with the blade he holds in his hand, and that still didn't finish him. Renfield the III also defends himself saying he's not proud of his family history. The letter balloons went a little overboard in the first panel of this screen, reminding me of the infamous panel from X-Men #1 where you can't even see Magneto's face for the verbiage. The color choice on the other hand was excellent, I loved the red cast on characters being a portend to all the bloody violence to come. Harker says he wants to save the world and then come home for "tea and medals" which is a nice funny line. The comic ends in a full screen shot with Harker speaking some faux-Victorian vowing to kill Dracule. Their are a lot of interesting bits, and possible directions this comic could go. Instead most of the focus was on Harker, who was a undistinguished less interesting 'classic hero' type.Their wasn't enough panel time giving to the really different/unexpected elements in the 8 screens to get a favorite from me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Zuda review ShockPopTerror!/ If you like Rob Zombie and Ron Embleton you'll love this!

ShockPopTerror! is another October Zuda comic done by Jean-Michel Ringuet. Here is the synopsis: It’s 1974 and the Bane half-sisters have come to the swamps of Hooper County to find their loot stolen from them. Psycho-killers, monsters and mutants are waiting for them, and an upset gang of cannibal bikers is hot on their heels, but the victims are not the ones you think!


The first thing I notice in reading this comic is how much the art reminded me of Ron Embleton. Ron isn't actually a influence on Jean-Michel Ringuet, but other artists of that time and style are. The next thing I noticed is the distressed effects added to the pages. It is a good framing device that's brings home the idea of everything is decaying, rotting to it's core. Screen 1 sets everything up with 1974, the Deep South as a caption, and a run down house in the middle of a swamp. We see some disturbing images to set the mood, then a evil looking character says to his evil looking mother he smells something, she says it's trouble. Readers then meet the Bane sisters Nemesis (blond) and Pandora ( brunette) on screen 2 who your lead to believe are going to do some shit kicking. Screen 3 has the sisters driving up to a confrontation with some local convicts at a gas station. What's more impressive than setting up a fight, is the backgrounds on display. You expect Swamp Thing could pop out any minute, and it just looks like the air could choke you to death from the humidity. Of course the gas station has the 'LIVE BAIT' sign up front and center. I happen to live a 5 minute drive from a similar gas station with a similar sign so it's true to life as far as that goes. Screen 4 had a really impressive panel layout a long shot, along with some close up panels. I enjoyed the dialogue, easy to read letters are always a plus too. I like the occasional Zuda story structure convention of halfway into the comic is set-up, and the rest is getting down to business. No modern day grindhouse/southern gothic/splat-punk story would be complete without a nod to the 'pretty mouth' line. Here it's "Well girl that's a naughty mouth on you and I love me a naughty mouth."Click to next screen for some ass kicking action scenes.

Everything goes better with chainsaws including a few thoughts on the grindhouse genre

Screen 5 delivers as that anticipated action scene with plenty of face bashing and ball busting. Screen 6 has the attack of a swamp mutant, including a caption tipping you off to what it is. Screen 7 has that swamp mutant (amazing monster design by the way) meeting his fate. In a well layered out panel Nemesis cuts his leg off with a chainsaw. Ringuet in the layout of scenes like this establishes a nice consistency of having a central image be the bridge between the build to action, and the explosion of that ultra-violent graphic violence I love so much. The panel only stood out to me because of how well done the rest of the comic is. What impresses me about this comic above all else are the fluid action scenes where art and dialogue work together to make scenes you remember. I've read online comics where all the figures looked stiff and the sequential art of 'ultimate showdowns' came across as paper dolls playing slap and tickle. It's nice to be able to enjoy a action filled comic that delivers on the thrills with room to grow should it win. This submission ends with blood and gasoline both guzzling up in a nice bit of symmetry as a result of the fight with the mutant. The two sisters find out the location of the man they were looking for, and speed off to find him after sparking a huge explosion. The only thing that was a miss for me with this comic is panel 3 on screen 8. It would have had more impact had the goon being questioned looked into the sisters eyes. I liked the "Say hi to Satan for us! Let's go to church, we got a date!" words the comic ended on, and the promise of "Next: quagmire maniacs!!!" Every story is a genre of some type story. You can break it down into sub-sub-genre's or paint with a broad brush and just say horror. No genre necessary has to limit where you can go in a story including grindhouse/exploitative type stories. Neil Gaiman once said comic books thought they were Rock and Roll, and they were really Jazz. Meaning to me: comic fans are already a sub-set of a general audience, not in the masses majority. Their is a difference between trying to sell a film across America, and giving Zuda a try where zombie stories (as a example) of all kinds do so well. I love genre stories that give me 'the same, but different'. Meaning their are enough familiar/expected elements in it the qualify for a genre tag, but it has that something extra hook to it that makes the story stand apart from the rest. With ShockPopTerror! it's having actions done so well (with smart dialogue) you want to pump your fist and cheer the Bane sisters on. The best genre stories pull one more trick and are impressive to readers/viewers who ordinary wouldn't give the story a try. For an example: I hate zombie stories as a general rule. Their are exceptions like Zombieland in film, and Gone Zombie as a example in online comics. Stories that got their base, then went out after the rest of the audience. ShockPopTerror! is my go-to genre so Ringuet has the base, now he just has to go out their and spread the word.