Trade Post: Hellblazer & The Goon

I really can’t understate how influential Wizard was to me as a budding comics fan. I’d been going to the comic shop for a few years by the time I discovered the mag at a mall book store. I started out reading Superman and Batman comics and added other DC comics because I knew about them from the house ads, but it wasn’t until Wizard that I really began to learn more about comics as a whole. I’ve always been pretty risk-averse and budget conscious, so it took an extra push to spend my limited funds on something new. With Wizard, I found a group of writers who opened up my world to all sorts of new books I’d never heard of including, but not limited to Hellblazer and The Goon, both of which I’m writing about here today!

Read on!

Ex Libris Trade Post: Five Fists Of Science & Billy The Kid’s Old Timey Oddities

the five fists of scienceFive Fists Of Science (Image)
Written by Matt Fraction, drawn by Steven Sanders

A few weeks back, when writing about a trio of Marvel minis from the mid 2000s, I mentioned an intended shelf cleaning project before moving. I pulled a series of trades out of my collection to re-read and see if they continue to earn shelf space. Here’s two more of those reviews.

I scored this copy of Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders’ Image Comics OGN The Five Fists Of Science back in my early Wizard days. If there was a free trade sitting around, I was likely to grab it and give it a read, especially if it had a strange or interesting concept. And this book definitely fits the bill.

Five Fists revolves around Mark Twain teaming up with his good friend Nikola Tesla and his one-handed assistant Timothy Boone to create a giant, robotic war machine that can be sold to every nation on Earth to ensure peace (the ol’ mutually assured destruction concept). They join forces with Baroness Bertha Von Suttner who introduces them to all the right people. Meanwhile, a group including J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison and Guglielmo Marconi are erecting a building to help bring demons into our realm. See what I meant when I said “strange” and “interesting?”

The book features a nice mix of historical characters, many of them who were quite eccentric even when not dealing with demons and robots, with made-up ones to tell the kind of story you’re just not going to get anywhere else. Though, for what it’s worth, I do think this would make a ridiculously fun movie int he vein of the Sherlock Holmes films. Anyway, Fraction did a great job of make this story fun, exciting, strange and adventurous, which gets the thumbs up in my book. My only complaint is that Sanders’ art comes through a bit muddy. I’m not sure if this was a printing, inking or coloring problem, but there were a few pages here and there that were difficult to parse. It’s possible this has been change in the new printing (linked above), but I don’t know for sure as I have the one from 2006. All in all though, I had a great time revisiting this book and will be keeping it in the collection. If you’re looking for something to pass to a friend who’s into science, this is definitely on the list of passable materials.

billy the kid's old timey oddities Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities Volume 1 (Dark Horse)
Written by Eric Powell, drawn by Kyle Hotz
Collects Billy The Kid’s Old-Timey Oddities #1-4

Another Wizard acquisition, Billy The Kid’s Old Timey Oddities comes from Goon creator Eric Powell and artist Kyle Hotz. I believe this was the first book written by Powell that I actually read as it wound up taking me years to get around to The Goon: Fancy Pants Edition Volume 1.

This book finds a freak show owner approaching Billy the Kid, who’s supposed to be dead, and offering him a job accompanying some of his performers on a mission to Europe to recover a Gollum’s heart. Said performers include the Alligator Man, the Tattooed Woman, the Wolf Boy, Watta the Wild Man and the Miniature Boy. As it turns out, the artifact is currently in the possession of another character thought long-dead: Dr. Frankenstein, who has gotten even crazier in his experiments.

One of the most impressive elements of a book like this is how Powell sucked me into the story and got me to like these characters so quickly. I mean, you’re dealing with just four issues and yet, every time someone had a nice moment I smiled and every time someone wound up on the wrong side of a monster, I felt bad. That’s just darn good yarn-weaving, right there.

Hotz deserves a lot of the credit for that as well. He does an amazing job of conveying emotion, terror, humor and action all while rendering these fantastical and monstrous looking characters. To my mind, he’s got a Kelley Jones vibe (who I love), but with his own unique, sometimes grotesque style. He and Powell not only made a fun comic I’ll be holding onto, but also two more volumes I want to check out.

Trade Post: Dark Reign The Hood (Marvel)

DARK REIGN: THE HOOD (Marvel)
Written by Jeff Parker with Rick Remender, drawn by Kyle Hotz with Max Fiumara
Collects Dark Reign: The Cabal, Dark Reign: The Hood #1-5

I can’t remember why Dark Reign: The Hood stuck out to me when I was looking through someone’s Sequential Swap page recently. Maybe I had heard something good about the book or thought I had? Whatever the reason, I did and I just read it. While I wasn’t blown away, I did enjoy the reading experience quite a bit.

Set in the post-Civil War, post-Secret Invasion, pre-Heroic Age Marvel Universe where things were looking grim and Norman Osborne was inexplicably given the same station as one of the country’s greatest heroes ever, Nick Fury. At the time, Hood not only organized his own group of super villains to work together and share the wealth, but was also a part of The Cabal, the villain version of the Illuminati. But that’s not really what the story is about.

The story is really about a man trying to keep his life in order, which is no small order considering his life involves a wife and kid who don’t know about his criminal endeavors, a group of supervillains always looking for a reason to betray him and a new mask on the scene called White Fang trying to take the Hood out for killing her husband. Oh, plus, Hood’s trying to save himself from Dormamu, the demon who’s connected to the cloak he wears. Needless to say, it ain’t easy being the Hood.

Part of the charm of the story–written by the great Jeff Parker, one of my favorite comic writers around–comes from the times when the camera focuses on some of the villains in the Hood’s gang, including members of the Wrecking Crew. I consider them the go-to villains in the Marvel U and, even though I know almost nothing about them, have grown tired of their constant appearances. However, in this book, they actually get some screen time, which allows me to enjoy their banter. Plus, it’s always fun watching capers from the villains’ perspective to mix it up a little. I don’t know if a villain book can work as an ongoing, but it worked great in this case.

I think there’s also a lot of fun for Marvel aficionados to be found in this book with all the obscure villains running around the same way a book like Villains United was for DC fans. Not being nearly as familiar with Marvel as I am with DC, I didn’t have a ton of those “Hey, THAT guy!” moments, but the characters each had distinct enough voices that I didn’t need to be in on the joke to laugh along with it which I think is a huge accomplishment for a book like this that seems like it would just be something of a throwaway title during the machine that was Dark Reign.

There isn’t anything throwaway in Dark Reign: The Hood, especially when it comes to Kyle Hotz’ artwork. He’s got a kind of stylized look to his characters that don’t make them big and bold and beautiful, like you’re used to seeing in a lot of superhero comics, but it works perfectly because he’s drawing the bad guys. He reminded me of a slightly more restrained Kelly Jones.

I don’t know important it was to the larger Dark Reign story because I wasn’t reading a ton of Marvel books at that time, but it doesn’t really matter. This is a book about the Hood dealing with his life while also showing off some fun villains, creating a new hero in White Fang and trying to keep the largest supervillain gang ever in order. It’s a fun read that doesn’t take much knowledge of what’s going on around it, which I really appreciate as I’ve become pretty much exclusively a trade-waiter when it comes to comics.