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By | Wednesday, January 5, 2011 | 11:45 pm | 5 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
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Includes Issues: Sandman Mystery Theatre 13-16
Issue Dates: April – July 1994
Creators:
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This review may contain spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

The last time we saw 1930s mystery man Wesley Dodds, in Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 2: The Face and The Brute, his continued adventures were slightly burdened by predictable plotlines and an absence of a strongly defined artistic direction. It was still an enjoyable comic, with good characterization and setting, but not quite as strong as the first volume.

This third book, Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 3: The Vamp, sets the status quo for the rest of the series as starting artist Guy Davis returns and writer Matt Wagner is joined by (It’s A Bird).

The creative team gets down to business, opening the story with a gruesome scene in the finest Vertigo fashion. I’ve mentioned before that the series feels dreamlike, with hints of paranormal around the edges, but that the monsters here are – at their core – human.

That theme stands in this third volume. The presentation is certainly dramatic, stylized, but it sets itself as a matter of perception. This book takes place in the DCU at just the start of the fantastic age of heroes – before WWII, before Superman. It’s still a strange place (and always has been, perhaps), but not yet overrun with cyborg Nazis, mad scientists, and the alien invasion of the week.

Keeping this in mind, the artwork is astutely matched to the book’s themes. The David Hornung‘s colors, pastel and earth tone, give a hint of the eventual brightly popping pages of the coming era, but keeps the mood subtle, the city often darkly quiet, promising hints of action, intrigue, and a softly rumbling cultural revolution. (His colors are often so subtle that it is unfortunately hard to reproduce the skin tones used in the scans – I’ve done my best.)

Guy Davis fills the roster with regular joes – nary an over-muscled Adonis in sight. Our hero, after a brief presentation as a broad-shouldered Wayne-type in the last volume, is back to his endearing stature – short, slightly pudgy, and almost out of breath.

The gals are enticing but real, beautiful lips and flawed, lined necks, lovely curves that still move to the demands of gravity. These awkwardly alluring bodies, male and female, are portrayed quite plainly with an mature sensibility refreshing to see in a comic by a major publisher.

Love scenes, both sordid and pleasant, aren’t shied away from – and while they are well within the limits of your standard Vertigo comic (tops and butts only) it makes for an adult comic I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be reading in company.

It’s odd, perhaps, that the artwork brings characters that feel so normal, because it is also highly stylized and very very weird.

It would be hard to say that Davis’ hands or faces are actually shaped “correctly.” But it doesn’t seem like he is an artist that is trying and failing, rather he just isn’t concerned at all with standard ideas of consistency. He’s obsessive in other ways, with his finely hatched shadows and emphases on expression over likeness.

For this story, Davis surprised me by becoming even more free with his stylistic symbolism – if just for a few panels. Without giving too much away (and it would be a major spoiler in this who-dun-it) the main villain, soon after the reveal, is in a brightly lit parlor scene and positively covered, sketched over, in shady vibrating hatches. As the other characters smile and chatter around them, this moment is shared with the reader alone, faintly reminiscent of distortion effects used in horror movies like The Ring. I didn’t expect it and it struck me.

My quibbles are minor – there is some digital blurring on the linework (around Wesley’s glasses, for example). It’s used in situations where things would be blurry, but I’ve never been a fan of that kind of alteration. Besides that, the book was solidly produced all the way through.

These artistic stylings work for the plot, which, while still driven by our developing lead characters Dian and Wesley, is more themed and focused in this volume. There is a horror story here, murders and sex, but alongside a positive trending character arc. Dian has always known there are dark things in life and has always had a deal of fun, but this book deals with her sexuality alongside the cultural shiftings of the surrounding society.

Our culture comes in waves of discovery, newfound acceptance, rebellion, bigot-ism, conservatism – turmoil by the clashing of cultures. The early 1930s were one of the more liberal times, similar in some ways to the 60s and 70s, before the war and post-war conservatism.

Sandman Mystery Theatre doesn’t push these concepts as the focus, but it doesn’t ignore them either. At the core, this book is a fairly standard murder investigation – psychopaths turning upon tormentors (perceived or actual), a string of murders, the investigating lovers at the center – but it’s set against the 30s backdrop.

The speakeasies, marijuana in the alleys and jazz spilling out the door. Dian’s first brush with lesbianism, her perceptions of Wesley as an inexperienced innocent. A lesser creative team could play these themes for sensationalism, but here they are handled as they should be – as complex issues.

By the title of the volume, you’re probably surmised that there’s some sort of female centered villainy afoot. There are aspects to the story that are familiar and it’s easy for a tale like this, where sex is used as a weapon, to become simplistic. It’s one that resonates, however, and by playing it off the parallel stories of Dian and Wesley, the authors avoid a one sided presentation of the sexually awakened woman.

This is all delivered subtly, in the quiet moments, alongside some scenes of visceral violence. The fights here, like the rest, feel awkwardly real, with grimaces of pain alongside decidedly un-heroic confrontations. These aren’t iconic strongmen trading blows back and forth across city blocks, these are two humans brutally clashing in tight enclosed rooms and scummy alleyways.

For example, a significant amount of space is devoted to Wesley Dodds writhing on the floor in pain, a bullet in his gut – and while his self-cure might be much more than I could handle, he is easier to sympathize with than most of the heroes on the paneled page. It’s a refreshing presentation, especially because we are used to seeing The Sandman masked and stoic – as he would wish us to see him – in the pages of JSA and similar titles. This glimpse inside his struggle is satisfying.

Similarly, perhaps the detective story is more intriguing because this is a time before extremely sophisticated forensics. We’re so used to some super-technologic science fiction style solution to every mystery that it’s good to see some old fashioned sleuthing.

Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 3: The Vamp continues the trend of closing the case in a tight four issue arc while building the characters’ personal stories. Everyone has moved forward, Wesley, Dian, even the lesser cast members like the foul mouthed lieutenant actually assigned to the cases our heroes are constantly meddling in.

I was told that this was one of the lesser volumes of the series but I found myself enjoying it immensely. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next book. If it turns out The Vamp is a lower point for this ongoing, then I must be in for a treat.

Verdict:
4.5 out of 5. A complex variety of ideas explored under the plot of a tight little murder mystery. Our lead characters continue to develop, with a wonderful focus on Dian and Wesley’s evolving relationship. Guy Davis’ return to the artistic helm is most welcome.

I can’t give it a perfect score because it’s still kind of obvious who the villains are, but this book left me more fulfilled than the previous volume.

Essential Continuity:
Yes, for the Golden Age Sandman. I believe the next volume will build on the events here.

Read first:
You should read Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 1: The Tarantula and Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 2: The Face and The Brute first.

Read next:
The next book is Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 4: The Scorpion. We’ll be looking into it soon as we review our way through the DC Universe!

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By | Tuesday, January 4, 2011 | 4:32 pm | 20 Comments | Blog > Database Updates

Dan mentioned (while submitting his upcoming review) that there didn’t seem to be feedback as to whether the submission went through.

There was a small green box that shows up under the submission form with confirmation text, but it was showing up below the huge block of explanation/small print – making it easy to miss.

I moved the confirmation up above the block of explanation text, so it should now show up right under the “send” button. Thanks Dan!

Another quick note about reviews – a few of you guys have been submitting a lot and I’m insanely excited and thankful about that.

I’m going to try and figure out some way to highlight reviewers with an author list, or something. I’ll figure that out and where to put it soon.

I’m also working on some user profile / user listing tweaks/additions as suggested, but it’s kind of half assed until I finish with the marvel books.

Hard to switch from the three modes – Data Entry / Programming / Writing. Still mainly in Data Entry right now, but I’ll flip the toggle on my positronic brain soon.

Oh, by the way, a bit of a Deal Feature as my pal Anthony (who I’ve gotten a few hundred of my dc books from) has posted some new stuff up on ebay. Right now it’s just DC Archives, but he even lowered his price to 22.99 now. I’ve already got all the books I need/can afford, but figured you might be interested!

Marvel Updates: These updates are reflected in alphabetical order on the main text list (now 2546 books!)

I’ll list all the updates below here – there’s gonna be a lot! These will just be in the order they are added to the offline database.

Read More →

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By | Tuesday, January 4, 2011 | 12:35 am | 28 Comments | Blog > Reviews

Round-Up Review:

The DC Super-Pets Series

Illustrated by Art Baltazar

The Fastest Pet On Earth
by J.E. Bright

Softcover / Hardcover

Heroes of the High Seas
by J.E. Bright

Softcover / Hardcover

Midway Monkey Madness
by Sarah Hines Stephens

Softcover / Hardcover

Pooches Of Power
by Sarah Hines Stephens

Softcover / Hardcover

Royal Rodent Rescue
by John Sazaklis

Softcover / Hardcover

Super Hero Splash Down
by Jane Mason

Softcover / Hardcover

Click the covers to view them larger or the titles to see publication information.

This round-up review comments on the first six titles! Skip To The Verdict? »

I recently received a stack of review copies from DC’s new Super-Pets children’s book series (thanks to Sarah from Blue Slip Media, who was kind enough to put me on their press list.)

These brightly colored little books all turned out to be of consistent quality and tone, so I decided to do a little round-up review for the whole set.

According to the press information, the six books above are the first releases in a projected series of 24.

Each is illustrated by Art Baltazar, celebrated for his Eisner Award-winning work on DC’s All Ages Tiny Titans comic series.

They’re available in both a softcover digest format and hardcover, which is listed on Amazon as “Library Binding.”

That description is fair, because while the more durable format is probably a wise investment for libraries and schools, most families may find it easier to fit the 4.95 list price softcovers into their budgets.

The softcovers are still quite nice, with clear high quality paper, lovely color printing, and durable feeling bindings despite their small size. They will feel much at home in smaller hands, whose owners probably won’t be afraid to bend the book while hovering over their favorite pages.

The books are designed from the ground up as a set. Each one follows a simple and informative format.

The bright, pastel cover opens to the DC Super-Pets! logo followed by a two page spread of the series cast (repeated in the back of the book.) Then comes a title and credit page, with floating heads of a couple of the featured pets.

After that, we find out who is starring in the book, on a single page introducing the pet, their nemesis, and usually the superhero or villain counterparts. Across from this page there is a colorful table of contents.

Then we get a computer file on our main super-pet, which is fun – under the heading “Paradise Isle Royal Computer” for example. This file shows abilities, points out costume pieces, includes a height line up, and bio plus information like Species, Place of Birth, Age, and Favorite Food.

After that there’s about 42 pages of illustrated story. The stories are mostly large-type text punctuated by special font sound effects and the odd floating head showing relevant expression. Every couple pages has a half or fourth page illustration, with the odd full page or 2-page splash mixed in.

The end is followed by a “Know Your Super-Pets!” 2-page spread, with the hero and villain introducing their associate animals – “Aw Yeah, Hero Pets!”

There’s also single pages in the back devoted to “Aw Yeah, Jokes!”, “Word Power!”, “Meet The Author/Illustrator!” and, of course, an advertisement/listing of the other books in the series, the publisher’s website, and publication information.

Now that you’ve got some idea of the format, I should talk about the actual content.

While each book features work by Art Baltazar (a great idea to keep a single illustrator to build recognition among the kids), the authors vary.

J.E. Bright, Sarah Hines Stephens, John Sazaklis, and Jane Mason have all turned in work similar enough that it should be totally indistinguishable to young readers.

That, in itself, isn’t a bad thing – you don’t have to worry about any of these books being terrible or suddenly offensive. But the series probably won’t gain any of them particular individual acclaim.

Baltazar’s art is nicely printed and of his usual high quality. The bright and often pastel color scheme is warm and inviting and his expressions should be immediately understood by all readers. If I had any complaint at all, it’s only that I wish these were actual comics so we could see more drawings. Which isn’t really a complaint – I hope they inspire many readers to seek out his comic work.

The stories feature the pets almost exclusively. While there is the odd appearance by owners, usually at the start and end of a story, these animals are their own heroes.

They solve problems and build relationships all on their own. The solutions they find are generally competitive but non-violent. They’re sometimes surprisingly cooperative with their rivals.

This is great, because most children will probably empathize with the animals in the pet/owner relationship and encouraging problem solving independent from the heroes/parents is a good theme.

The actual plots are very silly. Much like the Silver Age comics in the 1960s that most of these characters sprung from, they place more emphasis on lighthearted action than logical cause and effect. Sometimes events are fairly straightforward, like in SazaklisRoyal Rodent Rescue, where Streaky the Supercat must save a mouse prince from Rozz the.. er, Catwoman Cat.

Others have some out-of-nowhere solutions to plot elements that I found a little confusing. I felt kind of dumb to be flipping back a couple pages to try and figure out what happened in a young reader book, but I’ve decided the problem was not really mine. For example, a helicopter comes out of nowhere on Paradise Island to help Jumpa the Kanga in The Fastest Pet On Earth and disappears, never to be seen or mentioned again.

Of course, young readers might not even notice this in their rush to find out what happens next. While I think that even children appreciate clarity, perhaps such things will end up as jumping off points for their own side stories. As a parent or mentor, you may find that stream of “why?” and “and then what?”-style questions to lead to hours of entertainment. Since I was, unfortunately, reading these books on my own, I’ve missed out on that side of the experience.

And let me be clear, while those of us obsessed with the DC Universe may experience some interest in these books, they really are for beginning readers. They’re lovingly crafted for this purpose. From the terrible pun-filled jokes in the back (my favorite kind) to the word lessons and bolding of action, the Super-Pets titles beg to be read alongside an excited kid.

Recommended for grades 1-3, you may find yourself purchasing the books for children even younger with the intention of enjoying the action together. This would be the ideal situation. Want to hook people on the DC Universe young? Bring them along on a babysitting gig or make sure they’re available in your local library.

That’s the flip side – these are gateway books. They contain appearances by DC characters big and small – from Batman to Gorilla Grodd or The Wonder Twins.

Superhero comics, though long read by factory workers and soldiers, from the moment they first appeared, were also for children. Nowadays, the average book is more likely to carry a content warning than a lesson page in the back or tear-out ads for dollar lizards.

These, along with DCs All Ages comics, are the books you can share with very young fans. You may be obsessed with Green Lantern, but not sure if it’s ok to recommend the modern comics. Super Hero Splash Down works just fine. (It’s actually my personal favorite of these books, because of the over the top plot which heavily reflects modern DC events in a humorous manner – with animals of course.)

It’s actually a small problem, too, with this large franchise characters. It’s all fine and good to get children into superheroes, but it may become slightly complex when those same heroes are dealing with very adult content in publications being released at exactly the same time. Will a child walk into a comic store, see Batman and immediately pick up what could be an insanely violent and dark comic?

Of course, this issue isn’t anything new. I was a kid in the 90s, raised on Batman and Spider-Man cartoons contrasting with the often ultra-violent comics of the era.

I don’t think it affected me too badly and in the end I suppose the solution is always the same one – reasoned and attentive parenting.

If you’re worried about what your child is reading, the simple answer is to read with them. Or alongside them. At the very least, it will give you something to talk about!

As for the Super-Pets series, I’m sure they will continue to be books ideal for shared reading and ideal for schoolroom bookshelves.

Familiar superhero-based animals are bound to interest many children wary of getting into other boring looking books.

Hopefully this series will be a gateway to the DC Universe, comics, and most importantly – a lifelong pursuit of literacy. The greatest gift you can give a child is a love of words.

Contest Side Note:

I also wanted to mention a DC Super-Pets contest for excited young readers. From the release:

Capstone is sponsoring a fantastic writing contest for kids in conjunction with the launch of the series. The “My Pet Is Super!” contest invites kids in grades 1-3 to write a newspaper article about their pet for The Daily Planet.

The winning “reporter” will have his/her super-pet drawn by award-winning comic illustrator Art Baltazar (illustrator of the SUPER-PETS series) and the super-pet will appear in a future book in the series. The winner and his/her school will also receive books. The top 50 entrants will receive two free books– one for the child and one for his/her school library. For complete rules and to enter, visit www.CapstoneKids.com.

The contest runs from January 15, 2011-February 28, 2011.

Verdict:
4 out of 5 overall. Some of the books are more like a 3.5 and some are closer to 4.5, but every reader will have a different favorite.

They’re relatively lightweight, even for children’s books, but beautifully illustrated and full of fun action.

Essential Continuity:
These books are completely divorced from DC Continuity and any attempt to place them will just make your head hurt. They can be read entirely on their own or alongside a hefty diet of DC TV shows, toys, movies, and older/all-ages comics. Just be careful not to spoil your kids ;)

Read first:
No prior reading is really required, but your kids may enjoy the books more with some character familiarity. It might be hard to care about Aquaman’s pet, for example, when you don’t know who Aquaman is.

There are a lot of statements like “Same powers as Supergirl” – this might be confusing. But I think the books are fun enough to get past those minor hurdles – each parent’s answer to the inevitable questions about DC’s rich cast of characters will have to be customized to the child asking.

Read next:
If your young reader just can’t get enough (and the next set of books in the series isn’t released yet) you’ve got several options.

I’d be wary of many of the modern ongoings, often aimed at more mature readers, and instead check out any of the tiles on the All Ages DC list. I try to add books that are very accessible to early readers to that tagged listing.

In addition, most of the older DC Superhero books are very family friendly. Much of these have been released in a large black and white volume format series called Showcase Presents. Some of the books with content from the 70s are a little more challenging, but generally they’re all kid safe. Many of them feature early appearances of characters in the Super-Pets series, like Topo the Octopus in Showcase Presents: Aquaman Vol. 1.

Another bonus about Showcase Presents? Those black and white linework pages make excellent coloring books, if you can give up that collector’s protective instinct!

Finally, you really must check out the Art Baltazar illustrated Tiny Titans series!

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By | Monday, January 3, 2011 | 5:11 am | 13 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
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Half.com (Softcover)
Half.com (Hardcover)
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Ebay (ISBN/Softcover)
Ebay (ISBN/Hardcover)
View our database entry
Includes Issues: Fell 1-8
Issue Dates: September 2005 – April 2007
Creators:
, ,

This review may contain light spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

Warren Ellis has written numerous successful comics for each and every major publisher. It is safe to say that he’s one of the modern heavyweights of the trade.

Fell: Feral City sees him writing a self-contained ongoing title for Image Comics.

The beauty of Image Comics is that the creators get far more say in what they produce. This has led to the creation of some very different and interesting titles.

Fell was such a book, albeit a very small title – despite being classed as an ongoing, the publication had been sporadic at best, with gaps of up to 10 months between issues being released.

To add to this, the writer’s computer died in 2008. It contained several scripts for Fell that were never re-written, leading to nothing being published since issue 9 back in Jan ’08.

Over the past two years there has been gossip about the title coming back sometime soon. Recently, it seems that the rumours are close to becoming fact rather than fiction, with Warren posting on his twitter that the script for #10 has been sent to the artist Ben Templesmith for production.

Fell follows the character Detective Richard Fell during his exile from “the city over the bridge.” He is forced into the move following some unknown, often hinted at, incident.

The city he is sent to, Snowtown, is an urban wasteland that appears to have been in decay for the best part of 20 years. It is a city rife with low-life and crime. It isn’t a place filled with moral people.

As the title indicates – a feral city.

It is Fell’s job, as a detective, to try and impose some form of law on this desolate slum. He has some help, but it isn’t much – his addition Snowtown’s police department takes the number of detectives in the city up to four.

Well, four and a half. As the chief reminds near the start of each issue, that final officer doesn’t have working legs.

We get to follow Detective Fell through several differing stories that make up his day to day life in this new city. Every story contains something that shows the depravity of Snowtown. We have wine enemas for an alcoholic, the murder of a young pregnant lady, a white middle-aged suicide bomber and many other immoral focus points throughout the volume.

Those of you who are familiar with Ben Templesmith’s work will know how hazy and dark his art can be.

It can add to the grim feel of a story, like in the 30 Days of Night series. I was a big fan of his artwork in that particular title, where it was a huge factor in the book’s success.

In Fell, Templesmith expresses that inner darkness in normal people, rather than vampires, and he pulls it off in each and every panel. He lets you see through the eyes of a particularly morbid detective; I look at every person wondering what their secrets are, waiting for their dark deeds to become apparent.

The best example of this is a nun who wears a Nixon mask, a memorable recurring character even without a single spoken line. While she (or he, perhaps) never becomes more than a background presence, in almost every issue the nun is there, looming like some dark unknown force.

I cannot wait until that enigma is explained. Even without explanation, though, the nun lends creepy flavor to Snowtown’s streets.

The original printing of this comic was a little experimental, as each issue was only around 15 pages in length. The intention was to create a more affordable comic, by losing pages, without losing content. To compensate for the page loss, almost every one is split into a grid of 9 panels.

This conscious decision to push a high panel count worked, I am happy to report, because the loss of length is barely noticeable. In trade, it’s hardly noticeable.

One other positive is that the deviations for splash pages or important action panels, which only take up to 6 panels worth of room, have a greater effect on the reader.

One of my major gripes has been the overuse of splash pages in mainstream books, usually averaging 4 or 5 in a 21 page issue. That’s roughly a quarter of the comic! So apparently, a fourth of the modern comic book is meant to be shocking or dramatically important. For me this is far too often, similar to TV shows that have cliffhangers for every commercial breaks.

The dramatic tension, instead of being maintained, is diluted through overuse of these obvious hooks – they become tired.

Thankfully, Fell rarely has more than one splash per issue, some even have none. When there is a splash it still has an effect. I found this very refreshing and more enjoyable to read.

While dark, the book isn’t all doom and gloom; there are some light and touching scenes with Rich and Mayko, a young Vietnamese woman who owns a bar in the city.

There are a few other fun characters such as the detective with no legs and the chief of police’s secretary; the later having some humorous (and classically Ellis-style discomforting) dialogue with Rich about her husband leaving her for the dog.

On the whole, this is Ellis at his very best. Borderline offensive (in that fun way) without too many swears or British-isms, avoiding sounding like he just came off some bender in London. Not too silly, but still funny. Disturbing and sinister.

Templesmith’s artwork is his best to date, in my opinion.

My main reservation with the title is the lack of a second trade – there’s no satisfying conclusion or evolution of all of the ongoing plot seeds. I have some worries about issue number ten as it will be over two years between issues. But these aren’t actual problems with this book – if anything, it’s just an indicator that Fell: Feral City has got me hooked.

I can assure you that the 8 issues collected here are top notch stuff – in fact they have won two Eisner awards, for best new series and best continuing series.

We can only hope that “continuing” er, continues, with Fell becoming a real ongoing title again. Maybe in the next few months!

Verdict:
5 out 5.
Personally, I would rate this above Transmetropolitan for Ellis and way above any of Templesmith’s other works.
The only thing that lets it down is the current lack of volume 2.

Essential Continuity:
Entirely self-contained, so 100% essential.

Read first:
This is the beginning of this ”ongoing” title, so jump straight in here.

Read next:
I would suggest looking on Ebay for issue nine and then joining me in waiting for issue number ten…

The only title that feels remotely similar to read, that I can think of, is 30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker Tales (specifically the Juarez storyline).

If you need more Ellis now, you should probably read Transmetropolitan if you haven’t already – but it doesn’t have the same noir vibe as Fell.

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By | Sunday, January 2, 2011 | 4:44 am | 34 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
Amazon (Softcover)
Amazon (Hardcover)
Half.com (Softcover)
Half.com (Hardcover)
Ebay (Search by Title)
Ebay (ISBN/Softcover)
Ebay (ISBN/Hardcover)
View our database entry
Includes Issues: Original Graphic Novel
Issue Dates: June 2010
Creators:
, , , , , ,

This review contains spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

Jonah Hex: No Way Back is a milestone for the gruff bounty hunter headlining DC Comics’ only ongoing Western. With his own series now past 60 issues, this is the character’s first Original Graphic Novel.

While obviously benefiting from the publicity surrounding the film (and probably intended as a bit of an introduction to the character) the book ties heavily into Hex’s history and previous storylines. It’s best enjoyed near the release date in our reading order – coming right after Jonah Hex: Counting Corpses, which collects issues up to June 2010.

The book references specific events in at least three of the preceding collections and broadly builds on most of the others. That being said, Hex’s adventures aren’t related in chronological order and readers may not mind piecing his life together on their own.

No Way Back is certainly an important volume, though, because it ties up more than one important plotline and introduces some previously unknown elements into the dusty tapestry regaling the legend of Jonah Hex.

The 136 page story is spun by and , the same writers who have steered the entire modern ongoing.

The artwork is crafted by Tony DeZuniga, notable for creating Jonah Hex along with John Albano back in the Bronze Age (those early adventures collected in Showcase Presents and Welcome To Paradise.)

It’s not possible to really discuss this book without some spoilers, so if you are trying to avoid them, you might want to skip to the verdict now.

The story, obviously longer than your average done-in-one single issue, concerns Hex’s reunion with his long gone mother. This book finally explains their initial parting and brings that chapters of Hex’s life to a firm close. In doing so, though, it opens up another can of worms – Hex has a brother. Well, a half-brother anyway.

The meat of the book concerns this particular discovery and the new character’s interactions with our gruff protagonist.

The tale is told with the writers’ usual quality, though perhaps with a tad less brevity. 136 pages allows for gentler pacing, after all. The dialogue is extremely enjoyable, with an air of authenticity and sharpness of wit. In no time did I feel this was more dumbed down modern Western – the word usage and timely colloquialisms sometimes took a slower read to fully appreciate, but it was well worth it.

At least one interaction sparked a round of full out laughter, something very rare when I’m reading on my own.

However, while I could find no fault with the execution, the actual plot points didn’t always live up to my expectations. I find myself tiring somewhat of the predictable way saloon girls throw themselves at Jonah. And the motivation for the main villain felt overly contrived – Spoiler [ Apparently El Papagayo hates Jonah Hex because Jonah’s father killed his family? Wait, what? This is a family revenge thing all of a sudden? Couldn’t it have been enough that the man is just a bastard with a grudge? There didn’t seem to be any seeds planted for this and I think it was totally unjustified. ]

Also, while there is a moment of brilliance where a town being warned of attack doesn’t act like a bunch of ignorant idiots, laughing off the danger and spurning their would be helper (a cliche badly overused and thankfully avoided) they do then turn on their protector and offer him to the villain promising safety for them. One trope avoided only to fall prey to the next. Unfortunate.

There’s a few other moments that just feel awkward, and altogether the plot didn’t feel like it taught me more about Hex than many of the much shorter stories. These issues keep the book from its full potential as a true classic.

Likewise, the art has moments of greatness but didn’t live up to my (admittedly quite high) expectations. Tony DeZuniga is still my all time favorite Jonah Hex artist, but his work felt inconsistent here.

Granted, he was 69 years old when this book was completed, but Joe Kubert blew me out of the water with his Tor work at the age of 82 so maybe I shouldn’t be so ageist.

It’s not that his style has changed so much – scratchy and dirty, suggestive with sometimes melty faces and very generalized hatch lines. I like that. I’m impressed by his evolution from the almost house-style DC work he was doing in the Bronze Age, as impressive as it was.

It’s great that he’s comfortable taking more risks and his stylistic choices here fit the title perfectly.

The problems are more simple technical issues. There was enough awkward anatomy to take me out of the action. Also instances like a single panel repeated 5 times, confusingly, over two pages (a guitar, perhaps supposed to be playing, but without hand movement.)

And his forms feel a lot stiffer than they have in previous works, including his other art for the modern run in Face Full of Violence and Guns of Vengeance. Those two stories include some really amazing work, though, so perhaps it’s a lot to expect that quality consistently over 136 pages instead of 20.

Also, to be fair, some of the problem might be the coloring, which also isn’t quite as good as it has been during the ongoing. It’s still Rob Schwager, who I’ve praised profusely in the past (and deserves it), but perhaps the team was up against more problematic deadlines with this book, which was completed on top of their usual monthly schedule.

The palette is familiar, but the finishing just lacks much of the suggestive texture I’ve come to expect in this title. You may want to compare to the last teaming of Schwager and DeZuniga, which was really something.

In any case, lest I’ve started to dissuade you, I need to stress that a medium-level showing from this team still makes for a book worth buying. While it has some small problems, Jonah Hex: No Way Back is still essential for any fan of the character.

As a bit of a bonus, it’s beautifully packaged. The hardcover edition is shipped without a slipcase (thank god, they always get scuffed and damaged, totally useless) and is an embossed faux-aged affair with tight binding and pleasingly textured endpapers. The paper is glossy, and while not particularly heavy weight, solid feeling. If I have any complaint about it, it’s that the art tends to slip into the gutter a bit, making me wish the book was sized wider with a black margin in the middle.

I’m glad I jumped on this purchase and got such a beautiful looking hardcover. Usually I wait until the softcover release, but I really would have been missing out here.

It may not be my favorite Jonah Hex book (a title still held by Luck Runs Out, with Showcase Presents a very close second) but No Way Back is a welcome addition to my shelf.

Verdict:
3.5 out of 5. Possibly because of my high expectations coming into this wonderfully presented hardcover, I was a tad disappointed with the actual story.

However, the dialogue and pacing is still great, with moments of absolute brilliance and events that are sure to have Hex fans arguing across various forums. There’s no way anyone interested in the character should avoid this one, but it’s not my top pick or the ideal introduction for a new reader.

Essential Continuity:
Yes, this book is essential for Jonah Hex.

Like the all of his books, while it takes place in the DC Universe, it’s not essential reading for any event or other title.

Read first:
Read Showcase Presents Jonah Hex and/or Jonah Hex: Welcome to Paradise. Paradise contains the condensed version of Hex’s origin, with a couple extra (but lower quality) issues tacked on.

The contemporary series has been collected in Jonah Hex: Face Full of ViolenceJonah Hex: Guns of VengeanceJonah Hex: Origins, Jonah Hex: Only The Good Die Young, Jonah Hex: Luck Runs Out, Jonah Hex: Bullets Don’t Lie, Jonah Hex: Lead Poisoning, Jonah Hex: The Six Gun War aaaaaaaaaand Jonah Hex: Counting Corpses.

Some of those other trades have additional recommended reading.

Read next:
Following along with the DC Comics Reading Order, the DC Westerns and Jonah Hex‘s own list, the next book will be Jonah Hex: Tall Tales, which won’t be released until May 2011.

We’ll be sure to check it out once it’s on the shelves!

That means that this concludes (for now) our journey through the DC Westerns. I’ll do a wrap up post soon! If you can’t get enough of westerns in general, there’s always the Marvel Westerns or titles like Blueberry, which I’d like to get into at some point.

If you’re journeying with me through the DC Universe, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve already stopped off at Enemy Ace and Doc Savage and am already working through Sandman Mystery Theatre.

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