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Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special Edition Magazine

criminal_10th_anniversary_magazine_editionDeadly Hands

Editor: Ray Archer
Content Editor: Ed Brubaker
Art and Design: Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser
Production: Drew Gill
Publishing Liasons: Eric Stephenson, Robert Kirkman
Cover: Sean Phillips
Frontispiece: Phil Jacobs
Published by: Image Comics
Cover Date: April 2016
Cover Price: $5.99

I’ve long been “aware of” Brubaker‘s Criminal series. I’ve read a few issues in the past, and quite enjoyed them…as I have most things he’s written/put out, particularly in this sort of capacity. While I’m blanking on the title offhand, I also remember sampling a spinoff/parallel series more recently, but never stuck with it at length…unfortunately, this sort of thing tends to read better in collected format to me, and when ‘everything’ is a mini-series within an overall continuity, I’d just as soon wait for an entire story…just that by the time it gets collected I’m often chasing other stuff and leave the less-familiar/top-of-the-mind stuff for “later.”

That said, I saw this issue–a 10th-anniversary special–and initially passed on it. A couple days later I saw it at another shop…along with the “Magazine Edition” of it, that REALLY caught my eye. I picked it up off the rack at that point to flip through, and put it back. Then picked it up again, flipped through a bit more, started to put it back, and looked at the price. And considered the format. As well as the fact that this is a 10th-anniversary thing, a special, a one-shot…not some new mini to invest in, not just some “latest issue of ____.” And honestly, the novelty of the thing got me.

While the “regular” edition looked just that–“regular” if a bit thick–the magazine edition is made up to look like some beat-up, well-read, well-worn 40-year-old paper product. And some of the interior pages–of this Fang, the Kung-Fu Werewolf–are as well, really steeping this in the mid/late 1970s.

Essentially, this issue gives us the slice-of-life of a boy–about 12–“on the run” with his dad. His dad had gotten a phone call without explaining, took his son, and they hit the road. We get the story from the boy’s perspective–knowing something’s up, but not fully knowledgeable of the details, just “surviving” the situation. At one stop along the way, the guy buys his son a magazine/comic–Deadly Hands–which he reads and enjoys, and then seeks out further issues. At another town, the boy is turned on to a local shop that might have an issue. While his dad disappears for a couple days, the boy is somewhat befriended by a girl, and the two bond a bit. It’s summer, there’s no school, and they’re free to hang out, do what kids do. Ultimately, the brief moment is spoiled as things come together for the kid’s dad, and we get a less than happy ending, as we truly see that this really is a “slice of life” sort of thing. Interspersed with the main story are pages the kid is reading in the Kung Fu magazine, giving us just enough to be interested in that story as well and nods to the likes of ’70s Marvel (at least, that’s where my mind went, though I’m hardly an expert on this particular genre or history of publication).

The magazine edition is a whopping $5.99. However, because of the thickness, and physical dimensions–of being magazine-sized rather than “just” a standard comic book size–as well as being a one-off novelty/nostalgia thing, I had no problem whatsoever with it. I would be hard-pressed to be willing to pay that for an ongoing series of issues, but as a one-time thing, a brand I recognize from a writer whose work I enjoy, I was willing to pay the price.

Actually reading the issue, I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed this a great deal more than most contemporary comics I’ve read lately. I drew a slight connection here to Watchmen, simply for the fact of the story-within-the-story and such, of reading pages of the story a character in the story was reading–but actually didn’t dig too deeply there. I simply enjoyed this, and the only thing taking me out of the story was looking at the effect of the pages and the jumping back and forth between “actual story” and the “story within the story,” but even that achieved something of its own effect that I liked.

Brubaker‘s name–along with the title itself–are the selling point for me. But while it’s the story that I thoroughly enjoyed, it was the visuals of the package that sold me, and thus Phillips and Breitweiser should not be overlooked. The art itself–particularly of the main story–would not have grabbed me, BUT was quite effective in getting things across, and reminded me somewhat of Steve Dillon’s work. The story–both the main and the Kung Fu Werewolf–is conveyed quite well and gives the required feel to both visually…firmly accentuating the writing and making for an attractive overall package, especially in having now read it cover to cover.

If you’re firmly into super-heroes or such, you may not care for this…but if you’re a casual-ish comics reader and/or interested in comics beyond superheroes and zombies, this was a great read. As said, a big part of the ‘fun’ for me was buying the magazine edition, but for the story itself alone, I’d recommend the issue, giving it a certain positive grade myself. While I don’t have the regular edition for comparison, this was ad-free, except the back cover’s faux-ad, part of the effect of the vintage-magazine appearance. I dare say this is at once representative of the high quality of Brubaker and co.’s work on Criminal, though this may well outshine regular issues for being longer and self-contained (whatever nods to prior Criminal stuff–if any–were over my “ignorant” head in this reading).

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Spawn #258 [Review]

spawn258Story: Todd McFarlane
Art: Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane
Color: FCO Plascenscia
Lettering: Tom Orzechowski
Publishing Coordinator: Shannon Bailey
Art Director: Ben Timmreck
Production Artists: Joe Ferstl, Jordan Butler
Publisher for Image Comics: Eric Stephenson
Cover: Erik Larsen
Editor: Todd McFarlane
Cover Date: November 2015
Cover Price: $2.99

Spawn has made it to Hell and has a message for Satan. Oh, and he fights a horde of demons, leaving only one ‘alive’ to deliver the message.

Oops…sorry! I just gave you the ENTIRE issue right there, including the end.

I noticed this issue was out this week, and having had my interest up from the previous issue, I wanted to check out Erik Larsen‘s first issue. Visually, it’s quite good. The cover is not nearly as impressive as the previous issue, but I like it well enough. And per my usual, knowing I wanted to get the issue, I didn’t flip through the interior…which proved unfortunate.

Story-wise…there are about 3 pages. Art-wise, we have a 20-page issue.

We see Spawn at the entrance to Hell, facing a huge horde of demons that knew he was coming and have been waiting for him. He plans to leave one alive to deliver a simple message to Satan…and the next 17 pages are dialogue-less, caption-less images of Spawn fighting the demons. I suppose SOMEWHAT to the issue’s credit, there’s a countdown of the number of demons remaining, and every several pages you see the count diminishing significantly.

My disgust grew with each page turned that revealed another page or pages with no…actual…words.

This was not billed as a "silent" issue. An issue-length brawl is not my idea of an issue worth being "silent." A fight like this–to me–ought to have been 3-4 pages, max…even if that meant having a grid with 50-100 thumbnail-type panels conveying the length and magnitude of Spawn’s fighting. Not an entire issue.

The final panel provides what turns out to be a sort of "punchline" to the issue as we learn what Spawn’s simple message for Satan is. Perhaps it’s supposed to evoke those action-movie one-liner/groaners (and I can picture David Caruso‘s Horatio Caine from CSI Miami donning his shades while delivering this line) or simply show us how powerful Spawn is, how singularly determined and focused he is on somehow "saving" Wanda.

But I paid $2.99 (THANKFULLY 25% cheaper than the standard $3.99 that most comics cost) for an issue to read…not look at and analyze the imagery, etc. I glaze over with certain action sequences in general in comics. I can appreciate detail and nuance to art…but when there’s some frenetic action sequence and it’s just several pages, I tend to fly through it, "taking it in" as I would a tv show that has a 3-4 second quick-action bit. I also expect forward movement in story/plot…and for me, there’s none of that here…or at least, certainly NOT an entire issue’s worth. TECHNICALLY we move from Spawn facing a horde of demons…to having defeated them. Catch-22: I feel there should be more to the issue–words–to read as he does this, if it’s significant enough to worry him, or bother him, or threaten him. If (as seems to be shown) they’re not truly a concern for him, the sequence could be pulled off far more effectively (in my mind) with turning the page and simply seeing a trail of defeated demons behind Spawn as he passes his message along.

I simply can’t believe this is indicative of Larsen‘s extended involvement with the title…and the previous issue interested me enough in seeing where things go that as frustrated as I am with this issue, I’m probably now going to check out the next issue (despite not liking this one) to see if #259 is what I expected of this one.

If you’re a fan of Larsen–particularly his art–or of McFarlane‘s inks, or seeing the two collaborating on art, and you don’t care too much or won’t be bothered by an essentially "silent" issue, you’ll probably enjoy this.

That being said…on my personal standards and expectations, I do not recommend this issue…and would actually encourage passing on it and trying the next issue, if you were considering this one.

Heck, if you want to see a bunch of pages with no dialogue/captioning, there are countless "free previews" out there to show off silent art where you still have to actually buy the issue to GET the dialogue and such…which is what this feels like.

Spawn #257 [Review]

spawn257Voyage to the Center of Hell!

Story: Todd McFarlane
Art: Szymon Kudranski
Color: FCO Plascenscia
Lettering: Tom Orzechowski
Cover Art: Jonboy
Editor/Art Assists: Todd McFarlane
Publishing Coordinator: Shannon Bailey
Art Director: Ben Timmreck
Production Artist: Andy Arias
Published by: Image Comics
Cover Date: October 2015
Cover Price: $2.99

I usually know before I set foot in the store what “new” comics I’m going to be buying. This issue of Spawn, however, was an impulse-buy…and credit really is the cover–a definite rarity for ME. There’s something to the coloring of this one that caught my attention, I think–the Venom-esque Spawn, the red and black of the cape and its shadows…as well as the fact that 257 issues in we still have the classic, original title logo whose coloring ON the cover looks fantastic to me. And as it’s been a few years now since I “checked in” on the title (back around #200) AND noting the cover price is “only” $2.99 I figured FOR $2.99 (compared to $3.99) I was willing to take a chance on a “random” single issue.

For the most part, I may as well be lost, on this issue, read in isolation from any surrounding issues or bothering to try to remember what I’ve seen/read/”heard” recently of the title. Thankfully, there is a “previously” blurb that sets some loose context.

Essentially…Spawn’s (Al Simmons) wife Wanda has been killed, and he wants to save her. To do so, he needs the help of an angel and a demon…which is where Michael and the Violator (Clown) come into play. With their assistance, he gets to the entrance of the Tunnel, where he wants to be…and whatever happens from there, we will see unfold in coming issues (apparently to be drawn by Savage Dragon creator/writer/artist Erik Larsen).

As said, I really liked the cover, enough that I bought the issue. The interior art didn’t exactly stand out to me–I was reading for the story and didn’t really care ABOUT the art. But it works very well and kept the tone and feel I’d expect OF a Spawn book, and never left me wondering at some kind of wonkiness to the visual style. The linework has a certain roughness I like for conveying the dark stuff of the issue…and the muted colors accentuate that very well.

Story-wise, I wonder if I came in at the tail-end of an arc, or part of set up for the coming arc–I’m not really sure. I’m truly not familiar enough with the title or characters to have any real sense of nuances for them, but nothing here stood out as contradictory to whatever knowledge I do have. There’s not really much given in the way of exposition–this clearly is not geared specifically AS a jumping on-point–but I definitely like seeing McFarlane on the story credit, even if not art. That smooths over any roughness (to me) of the story making sense or not…just appreciating the original creator’s on the book. (To say nothing of my choosing to just jump in for an issue without seeking an entry point).

All that said…I’m interested enough in where things go from here, just from reading this issue, that if I happen to notice the next issue, I’ll probably pick it up. I’ve never engaged with this book on a long-term basis, so I’m not interested now in tossing it on my pull-list or anything. I’m also intrigued at the notion of Larsen on the art and seeing what Spawn looks like in his style.

All in all, I’d say this is “just another issue” of the title…if you like the title, you’ll probably want to get it; if you don’t care, there’s really nothing here that says the story itself is anything essential or groundbreaking (maybe the next issue will have/be that).

Still…for my $2.99, I am definitely satisfied with my random purchase of this issue.

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