New comic book Wednesday has come and gone. The dust at your local comic shop has settled. An eerie silence descends as you finish reading your last superhero book of the week. Now it's time for something a little more sinister. Welcome to Bagged and Boarded: comic reviews of the sick, spooky, twisted and terrifying! Plus this week we review a bonus, fifth comic!
The Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm No. 1
The bulk of this issue takes place seven years before Charlton Heston descends on the famed planet of the apes. We watch our favorite primate society clash over the social issue of Apes versus Chimpanzees. Chimps are the chumps in this comic, living in squalor and treated as second class citizens. There are also issues of reverse-animal rights as a new group protests the scientific slaughter of humans. Add to all that intense family dynamics at play, Dr. Zaius contemplating the big issues, and Cornelius the anthropologist trying to finish his thesis. This is all high-concept stuff - and then the moon explodes!
Bag it or board it up? I asked Julie, my local comic shop guru/peddler at Jim Hanley's Universe, a simple question as she brought me my pull list for the week. Does anybody read Planet of the Apes comics? This was such a big week for horror comics (as you can tell from the bonus review at the bottom) that I was considering cutting this comic from my list. Oh no, she replied, a lot of people love Planet of the Apes comics. After reading this issue, it's easy to see why. The artwork feels very contemporary, reserving itself until the action kicks in. The story feels remarkably real, and after one issue I'm already engaged and invested in these characters. And when shit hits the fan it hits hard. No wonder people love these comics: they're a blast to read.
The Last Zombie: Before the After No. 1
The story behind The Last Zombie is an interesting one. It all takes place two years after the zombie apocalypse shuts down the planet. A group of scientists, soldiers, and civilians make their way from Colorado to West Virginia in an attempt to find a missing FEMA bunker full of other members of their crew and loved ones. The most interesting conceit of this comic is just what the title implies: there are no zombies in this zombie comic. We only see the living dead in flashbacks, but as of now the coast seems to be, relatively speaking, clear. The gang still struggle to survive against other humans, but their flesh is in no immediate peril.
Bag it or board it up? This may be put out by a small press, and the concept is interesting, but unfortunately this comic just does not deliver. The artwork is messy in all the wrong ways. I see what they're going for - a kind of scratch line simple style - but it comes off as equal parts lazy and over-wrought. The dialogue, so crucial in a character driven comic, is hilariously melodramatic. This is, sad to say, a great idea floundered by poor execution. Funny to think a comic without any zombies could come off so lifeless.
The Army of Darkness No. 5
Ash, the chainsaw-armed "chosen one," is still kicking around with Merle, fighting the undead and being badass. Suddenly he's teleported back in time to what seems like feudal, samurai-laden Japan. All is not as it seems, though, as he realizes he's actually on a 1970's movie set in Japan. Right country, wrong time. Still, where Ash goes, trouble follows. So naturally a demonic horde of evil ninjas can't be far behind, right?
Bag it or board it up? I've never been a huge ninja fan, so my bias is showing a bit with this review. When I see a gaggle of ninjas coming up to someone I kind of impulsively yawn. I've seen it one million times before, and even if Ash is going in chainsaw-a-blazin' I'm still left feeling a bit bored. If you like ninjas and throwing stars and swords and junk, then yeah, you'll probably like this comic. As for me, I'd rather see Ash go toe to toe with something a little more original. This is a lot like the Danger Girl/Army of Darkness crossover I reviewed a few weeks back. You can't take an uninteresting story and throw Ash into it and expect it all to come out cool.
The Phantom Stranger No. 0
"But Giaco, this is a DC comic. How could it possibly be horror related?" Good question, rhetorical reader! But this month is DC-is-going-crazy month, and all bets are off. DC Comics is unleashing a slew of Issue 0's on the populace. Skinny little three dollar affairs that give the reader a starting point for all 52 of their comic lines. With 52 different series to publish, surely some of them have to be a little horrific. And yes, The Phantom Stranger is just that. A reboot of the classic supernatural character, the Stranger is punished by wizards to forever haunt the world until his sins are repaid. He's effectively a ghost trying to help people, but everyone he tries to help he ends up betraying (accidentally). This origin story is a great starting point for the character and comic.
Bag it or board it up? I like it. It's got a very old, noir feel to it. The Phantom Stranger is a pouty, woe-is-me kind of superhero that you don't see very much these days. It all reads like a pulp comic from the 1940's. And, quite frankly, I'm just so happy to see one of the "big two" release some spooky series.
BONUS REVIEW: The Swamp Thing No. 0
Yes, readers, a fifth review this week! There were just that many horror comics released. And this one is, by far, the best of the bunch. Here we have the origin story for a new take on the counter-culture, freak-hero, bizarre monster known as Swamp Thing. This issue is more an introduction to his arch-enemy, Anton Arcane, who is an agent of evil forces known as "the rot." He loves to kill swamp things, as they are avatars for "the green" or the forces of nature. We see him, in the late 1800's, kill a swamp thing (by biting his freaking head in half!). Later we jump to the near-present, as he stalks the next would-be swamp thing. The cliffhanger in this issue is delicious and weird.
Bag it or board it up? Holy crap, bag this up and bring it home with you right away. This may be the best comic I've read since doing these reviews. The artwork is insane, off-beat, and truly original. All the borders between the panels relate to the scene, either with flowing greenery or sewn-together flesh! Maggots and roaches crawl around the panels that feature our villain. It looks, feels, and reads completely unlike anything I've read in recent time. I loved the old, Alan Moore-crafted masterpieces that Swamp Thing used to be. But this issue 0 has me seriously hooked. I can't wait to read another issue and watch the Swamp Thing do his thing in a world full of monsters and talking trees.