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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.

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"Alien Legion: Uncivil War #1" What you’ve all been waiting for, Chuck Dixon, Carl Potts, and Larry Stroman, back together in comics. I’m going to tell you straight up, there’s no way I can give this an objective review, I’m starstruck at the title page. Gonna try.

Starts with some background on the characters, then we jump right in the middle of it.  Alien Legion is bascially the Foreign Legion on a galactic scale, and there’s a lot of backstory here. In fact I’d say its an intimidating amount of backstory. If you like depth you have it. Beautiful art. 

Lots of title specific vocabulary, nice glossary at the end. I’m going to leave this simple and give it a RAW. Must Need for Dixon and Potts fans.

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"Above the Dreamless Dead" One sitting book, nailed to the chair. Actual poetry from soldiers in WWI adopted into comics format. I’ve never read poetry illustrated before, but it serves two functions extremely well: is slows the reader and helps them pace and absorb the lines, and it opens the plot of some of the more archaic verse.

I’m not going to lie, some of this is hard to read. The heavyweights like Wildred Owen are included (illustrated by George Pratt you probably know from Enemy Ace: War Idyll), and several other poets I wasn’t as familiar with as well.

Tastefully most of these aren’t action focused, many are more interpretive. To point out a few highlights: “Channel Firing” by Thomas Hardy adapted by Luke Pearson highlights the not so peacefully resting, “War” by Francis Edward Lewidge adapted by S. Harkham features Snoopy in a much different WWI role than his Doghouse Baron, Garth Ennis and Phil Winslade’s adaptation of Siegfried Sassoon’s “The General” bites, “The Next War” by Osbert Sitwell adapted by Simon Gane, Hardy’s “I Looked Up From My Writing” with Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen… There’s not a dud in the mix.

Sombre, but excellent. Chris Duffy has really done it right here, highly recommended. 

Thanks to Duane Swierczynski for bringing this to my attention, Dane Lamont I hope you of all people take a look and tell me what you think.