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"Lobo #1" Rarely has a new title gone so wrong so quickly (page two). I was never a huge Lobo fan but goddamn fellas, are you really going to take one of the most iconic characters in comics and replace him with one of the most generic character redesigns this side of Gen13? Its not just the bland Random Comic Hero makeover, either, its the total amputation of personality and attitude. Whether you liked Biker Lobo or not, strip out all that made him unique, and you have… whatever this is. The rice cake of comic books. Felonius Booty.

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"Fury" I’m pretty sure every one of you lot is going to see this already, so it doesn’t need much intro. Probably the most direct description would be "A Midnight Clear" mixed with "The Wild Bunch", it has an exceedingly nasty tone with a character driven sensibility, and holy shit does it kick.

You could edit it down to a one hour film and probably have a stronger film, there’s a short story set-piece in the center between battles that goes a long way to explaining just how fucked up this dysfunctional little family is, but if you’re sharp you could pick up the subtleties without it. Lots of Christian imagery (starting with a long shot of death on his pale horse in the opening scene, the best in the film), but it actually has a point and doesn’t get too heavy handed with the Revelations quotes as lesser films playing with these themes tend.

Weaknesses include a thin and slightly out of place battlefield romance, and the music, which tends toward the bombastic heroism of Band of Brothers/Private Ryan and seems to be in the wrong film. Minor quibbles, they are easily forgivable. Also that finale seems tactically to be a bit of a stretch, but this ain’t about tactics and plot, the point of the film isn’t a history lesson, its a portrait of every single one of the muddy roads of hell.

The acting is unmatched, as much as I hate to say it Shia LeBouf’s portrayal of a completely shattered soldier desperate to hold himself together is something we haven’t seen in this genre before and leaves the rest of the actors behind. Pitt refines his Inglorious Basterds character to a point Tarantino just didn’t have the screen time to finish, he’s the black heart and soul of his unhappy clan.

David Ayers is on fire here, coming off Arnold’s best (and criminally underappreciated) role in Sabotage. The difference is here he gets a chance to dispense with the plot, up the carnage, and focus on the small cast in a way few modern theater release films are able. If you don’t see this on the big screen, especially for the sound in the battle sequences, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Essential viewing. RAW.

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"Ex-Con #1" You’ve probably heard the word about the recent reunion of White Chocolate Sweetness (Duane Swierczynski on words and Tim Bradstreet on the cover), but beyond all the hype there’s a hard story here to be had. 

I just watched Johnny Handsome last week, and read most of the source novel by John Godey this past weekend. Both “Ex-Con” and the Johnny Handsome stories deal with a convict fresh out of prison, changed in ways more extreme than normal men. Each a con-man, Johnny picking up his talent for it inside, and “Ex-Con“‘s main character Cody losing it. Though I don’t think JH was one of them, you’ll notice Duane make several references to other stories throughout the issue. Duane has read a shitload of books, and his particular writing style is to take bits and pieces from his favorites along the way and stitch them all back into the larger story.  Not whole cloth, just enough for an inside wink I think, but I have to admit a lot of them pass my head. 

Keith Burns and Aikau de Oliveira hold this show together with the hard lines and heavy inks that work best for crime comics. Aikau has double duty consistently pulling off the “aura” effect that a lot of the plot hinges on, but I must confess I still haven’t quite figured out the rules for this thing yet. Is it missing on some characters because it just wasn’t there in the art (there’s a lot of crowds in here), or because Cody can’t see ‘em on those particular characters?  Do some colors mean more than one thing?  Part of the point of a good genre piece is learning as you go which rules it will follow and which conventions it will break, its the advantage of working in an established storyframe. The best ones keep spooling out hints to keep the smart reader curious and the dumb reader comfortable, and still leave a little to learn at the end. 

Like “City of Roses” recently of Dark Horse, but deeper on the character.  Go gets it, RAW. 

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"Thunderbolts #30" - I sat to write a review, but the tingling damnation began in my fingertips… I noticed the dogs’ hair on end, slinking away to the corners of the room, the ceiling fan dragging and clacking, and small, static-y voices from the television speakers chanting, urging me to reach for their tiny hands under the lawnmower or beyond the blades of the garbage disposal. I found myself hours later, crumpled in an alley outside a local bar with someone else’s gold tooth with a diamond “P” lodged in my left knuckle, two empty packs of cigarettes crushed into my sleeve, and the seared ring of the business end of a car lighter from a 1989 Chyrsler LeBaron scorched into my neck. The laptop, covered in blood and baby oil, smoldered quietly from its straining exhaust vent, each written word on the screen twisting and scorching into the complete Thesaurus of the words AGONY and FINALITY before they puffed into smokey dragons, swirling and swooping before swallowing their own tails in an opium haze recreation of Dumbo’s drunken dreams. Above me on the alley walls, scrawled and clawed into the brick there in stilted script, broken chips of fingernails punctuating the ends of each line, written large by a drunken stevedore dwarf still collapsed and snore-wheezing in the remains of his stove-in fruit-crate ladder:

"Arouse the tiger of the Hyrcanian deserts!
Strive with the half-starved lion for his prey!
Lesser the risk, than rouse the slumbering fire 
Of wild Thunderbolts #30”

I stalked home, spitting out wads of the worst stories ever told to me; locked in a dumpster outside the cafeteria puking and crying for hours on a hot summer Sunday in 4th grade, walking in on your college sophmore girlfriend begging some random guy from the bar to blast her ass harder while she blows her lab partner, having the police show up at your work to notify you that you’re fired from your job as they read you your rights escorting you down to the station, and finally the single most goddamned… worst… issue of the Punisher ever written

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Joe Kubert wrote the book on soldiers in comics, but there are very few examples of his work with the most famous soldier in all of comics, The Punisher. Barely remembered today, some of his very best Vietnam Soldier art features Frank Castle, hidden away in an overlooked 90’s graphic novel that was almost never published.

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Title Sequence for Punisher 2099. “Jake Gallows must fight for the future, using the teachings of the past, and the tools of the present to ensure that the future doesn’t become lost in the flames of the past. Jake Gallows is the motherfucking Punisher 2099.”

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"Star Spangled War Stores #1" Not much of a war comic really, more of an government agency action story featuring an undercover zombie who happens to be a really nice guy. Think quirkier, hipper Bloodshot with more T&A. I enjoyed it, but I was hoping for more of a well… war comic. With "Men of War" and "G.I. Combat" both tanking before issue #8 I’ve come to accept that no one really reads war comics anymore, so I’m happy with what I got. De-so. 

Excellent Darwyn Cooke cover unfortunately has nothing to do with the book itself.

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"Death in the Long Grass" One of the very first chapter books I remember reading as a child in elementary school, I’ve probably been through this 15 times since my youth. Lots of people think this is a hunting book. Its not, its a gleeful collection of all of the different ways you can die in the bush in Africa.

Every year I appreciate it a little bit more. Peter Hathaway Capstick was the Quentin Tarantino of safari, every page is filled with intense bloody glory, hunters and natives being gored to death, stomped, poisoned, tossed, impaled, drowned, and fantastically intense descriptions of chasing very deadly animals into deep cover and meeting them face to face at close range.

Capstick sits above it all, gleefully cool, with self-deprecating gallows humor, chain smoking and tossing back Haig. A true master of the tangential adjective, the coffin nail metaphor, and pacing with a payoff, this is some of the best action adventure writing ever published, unfortunately unknown to many because of their inexperience or distaste for the carnage.

Essential if you love pulp writing, not for the weak of constitution or faint of heart.