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Gah, these comics review pages are a mess. I originally thought to have one page for each type "pamphlet" or 22-page monthly comic, and TPBs/graphic novels. I had a lot more of each than I suspected. I hope to clean this up, one day, and make a page for ... maybe a page for each company? Who knows? Until I get a grip on it, it's all here, just a beyotch to load on your browser.

  • Graphic Novel Title (Company Comics)

Lazarus Churchyard: The Final Cut (Image Comics)
By Warren Ellis and D'Israeli
For people who love the work of Warren Ellis (and the numbers must not be too shabby), Lazarus Churchyard: The Final Cut presents his first major comics work, a creator owned dystopic futuristic vision first serialized as "Virtual Kiss" in British magazine BLAST. It's rough. The pacing makes leaps and then drags along in a place or two. You can tell it's not the work of polished professionals.

In part, that's the appeal of this trade paperback. This work represents the start of Ellis' twisted world view. The seed whose, in his own words, "bastard grandson is Transmetropolitan" (note: look for Vilnius, a fun tie in to Spider's wacky world). In this book, horrible bastard Lazarus Churchyard is, well, he's (to use not too unkind a word) fucked. You'll find in many Warren Ellis works a man, probably with an English accent, almost always smoking and drinking, sometimes using drugs. No matter what, all of them will be cruel to lots and lots of people around them. Pete Wisdom. Spider Jerusalem. Et cetera. In The Authority, Warren mixed it up and made it a woman, "the spirit of the twentieth century," Jenny Sparks. Consider it a trademark, like a comfortable chair at your favorite hang out, waiting for you regardless of what new people show up.

Anyway, Lazarus Churchyard is another one of these wonderful characters cut from the same cloth. The difference is that this very clearly takes place sometime around the year 2422 (for those keeping notes, that'd put Transmet sometime near there). In 2042, Lazarus became a "plasborg" -- his wetware brain and 20% of his person were removed from his probably horribly mangled body and placed inside a disturbingly powerful cybernetic body made of "intelligent evolving plastic," most of which is able to morph and react to situations at old Lazzie's command. As a result, much different from the horrible bastards that followed in Ellis' career, Lazarus Churchyard is nearly immortal (the events in the TPB take place 400 years after he was "plasborged"), insanely powerful, mad as a March hare and capable of Schwartzenegger-esque levels of violence. Oh, and also deeply passionate about drugs and drink, to numb the tedium of existence. All he really wants is to end his horrible life of endless suffering and godawful boredom.

Good times.

Over the course of this tale, Churchyard takes a dip into the virtual datasea (the future's internet) in exchange for the promise of his death (of course it didn't work), activates an experimentlal Soviet meat computer, takes over a pub, grows breasts temporarily, becomes the target of a centuries old vendetta managed by pure-bred empaths bred for extraterrestrial contact, and manages to destroy "modern" civilization. In each step, he approaches these facts with either blinding reactionary rage or indifferent exhaustion, always ending up on top.

Reading Churchyard will give you a very solid look at the groundwork upon which later works like Strange Kiss, Transmetropolitan and Planetary would one day rest. The idea of transdimensional societies mirroring our own, radioactive science cities in the desert, and giant ants don't seem quite so strange when you're looking down at a panel portraying a book covered in flesh, speaking to you from a mouth the size of a dinner plate while its pseudopods flagellate serenely. Once you get past how disturbing it is inside Ellis' mind, you'll actually find it quite entertaining. Much like the inside of the film Beetlejuice.

The jagged, vague artwork of D'Israeli won't be keeping the Alex Rosses or Frank Quietly's of the world awake at night, worrying about losing work. It's sloppy stuff, but if the art in this book were too crisp, it would bring the horrors Ellis relates into too sharp a relief, overpowering the reader with its grotesquerie. No, the exaggerated, even emaciated visions draped across the pages serves the story well, and while it doesn't provide the fascinating detail of the Darick Robertson/Rodney Ramos combo on Transmetropolitan or John Cassaday's cinematic feel on Planetary, it doesn't impede the reading experience one iota.

Overall, it's an unpleasant and nasty bit of work, but Ellis wouldn't want it any other way. The seamy underbelly of the world we see and the ones we don't is a place where Ellis loves to traverse from his corner of England, safe and secure from the horrors he creates and the ones he chronicles. So pick up Lazarus Churchyard: The Final Cut and get a greater understanding of how we got the likes of Ministry of Space and Stranger Kisses.

Star Wars Underworld: The Yavin Vassilika (Dark Horse Comics)
By Writer, Pencils and Inks
All the key elements for a successful and entertaining extracanonical exercise are here, and that's what makes Star Wars Underworld: The Yavin Vassilika a winner. By combining well developed new characters with old favorites from the "official" Star Wars Universe, Mike Kennedy spins a tale that in turns amuses and thrills, leaving something for not only the jaded fan, but also for the reader new to the mythos.

Let's start with the cast, a crew of scoundrels and ne'er-do-wells that's sure to draw some smiles from the usual suspects: Lando Calrissian, Zuckuss, Dengar, IG-88, Greedo, Bib Fortuna, 4-LOM, Garindan, Bossk, Jabba the Hutt, Han Solo, Chewbacca and of course the galaxy's most dangerous bounty hunter, Boba Fett. If that's not enough to get your hyperdrive pumping, you'll want to take time with Kennedy's well developed rookies, Embra the Hutt (a strangely ethical crime lord with a full disclosure policy), his surprisingly determined assistant Farquil Ban'n, and Malta the Hutt's delectable and devious majordomo, Jozzel.

The story sets off at Jabba's, where three Hutts debate the best management technique. When Jozzel suggests that a three-way chase for the fabled and long-lost Yavin Vassilika (described as "a crystal statue, about yay tall, got all sorts of etchings on it ..." by Solo and considered "priceless" by Malta, and "a very old statue, made from a single Corusca gem, the hardest substance in the galaxy"), each Hutt contracts three hirelings and sends them across known space on a mad quest for the thing.

There may be honor among thieves, but as far as smugglers, scoundrels and bounty hunters go the gloves are off. Half of the bounty hunters decide they want either Solo, Chewie or Calrissian dead, the other half can't think of anything better to do than piggyback off work done by others, and nobody has any idea what the Fett is up to until the dead last panel of the book. Kennedy balances all these rapidly spinning plates with seeming ease, assisted by Carlos Meglia's cartoonish yet evocative and clear visual storytelling. When released as single issues some fans eschewed the exaggerated proportions and unusual artistic treatment, but it works well in the collected work. Likewise each character works him or herself into and out of the jams that feel fitting and satisfying, while treking across worlds with familiar names like Mon Calamari and Nar Shaddaa.

The collected work is a self-contained story that requires the reader know nothing more than this is a tale of the underworld, albeit one in a galaxy far, far away. This reviewer found it vastly enjoyable and a better read as a collection than as individual issues. The sketch gallery in the back is nothing special, a very thin layer of icing on an already scrumptious cake. Well worth the price of admission for all true fans of Lucasfilm, and an enjoyable passtime for those who are not.

The Nine Rings of Wu-Tang TPB (Image Comics)
By Writer, Pencils and Inks
The multimedia phenomenon that is the Wu-Tang Clan had already spread from the musical genre into videogames (the excellent Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style for Playstation, using the Tekken game engine), movies (Method Man has led the clan in cinematic appearances, but Rza helped guide the creation of Ghost Dog) and finally comics. The Wu-Tang comic series, published by our friends at Image, provides the same crisp, lush visuals you'd expect in today's market combined with a built-in mythos that has attracted the attention of millions worldwide. If this book had a regular print schedule, it could well knock off some of the top books.

The story here is told through flashback: a modern archaeologist named Thomas Green returns home with a relic, an ancient sword holding a series of scrolls in the hilt that tell the story of an ancient group of warriors, and a mysterious old man pops up, able to interpret the scrolls.

The story that loosely unfolds—it's not a straight narrative, but a vague presentation of tales from a historical era, meant to bring this Thomas Green a different kind of understanding—is one that shows the nine members of the Wu-Tang Clan at their best and their worst. The characters that are centered on here are ...

  • RZA, or Prince Rakeem, swordsman and leader of the Clan
  • MZA, analogous to the modern Method Man, who possesses some special combat abilities that aren't made clear
  • GZA, the Genius, cousin to Rakeem, who toys with gagdets and plans
  • Osirus the oracle, analogous to the modern Ol' Dirty Bastard, and "taken" from the Clan in a similar fashion but for more spiritual reasons than breaking parole
  • Ghostface, the shadowboxer
  • Dek, some kind of ninja
  • Masta Killa, a werewolf-like creature
  • Golden Arms, analagous to U-God, a pugilist with special golden sheaths over his forearms and fists
  • Raekwon the chef, who seems to have precious little to do
The difference between this incarnation of these central characters and the video game mythology is merely one of time. This series is set in the medieval period of Asian history, before gunpowder became a major piece of the game and when people of all shades wandered the globe, as well as demons and dragons as everyday an occurrence as freeway accidents. Here, you'll see the members of the Clan idealized, with perfect physiques and medieval manner. The video game presents a closer look at today's Clan, down to facial features (you won't recognize these characters without prompting). The idea behind them both remains the same: a group of spiritual martial artists trained in ancient knowledge and chi-manipulation who fight against forces of evil from this world (an Emperor, in this series) and the last (anonymous dragons and demons set on wreaking havoc).

Without mincing any words, the storyline is somewhat hard to follow, and the faults of the single-issue format are assisted in this softcover approach. It slowly becomes clear the old man is a monk, the last of the Wu-Tang (though it's hard to figure which, if any, he is, or if he was merely the chronicler of their exploits), and that he's determined that Thomas Green is to carry on the legacy and become a Wu-Tang master in the modern world. This seems like it's the point of the stories from the scrolls, to open his mind up to this larger world (see: Luke leaving tatooine, Neo leaving the Matrix, etc.). However, the stories themselves begin to overwhelm the theory behind them. Green and the unnamed monk get precious little panel time in comparison to the historical Clan. With the stories about said Clan not sticking to a linear, chronological order, and also not having the kind of 10,000 foot view on how they'll come together (see: Agent Ross in any issue of Black Panther), you can find yourself wondering, "what the hell?"

What you are able to glean is fascinating though—the magical way the story has interwoven a history lesson (that Black mystics headed east and helped establish a lot of the culture and art, called "Moorish" here, though the Moors were preceded by the Nuba wrestlers and legitimate African priest mystics by at least four centuries) with a medieval hero fantasy (see: Ghostface and a buxom bar maid) and a look at what the Wu-Tang Clan see themselves as (the series is "overseen" by the real RZA, who helped Aaron Bullock and Brian Haberlin get the idea together and pushed through the paperwork). Not easy reading, but enjoyable nonetheless, especially collected in one big lump, as here.

The art will remind you this is an Image comic. The perfectly rounded shapes of every woman on screen (and they have very few roles, as either peripheral objects of affection or secretive potential enemies posessing magical power) should get the attention of the Vampi/Witchblade/Jean Grey fans, and the chiseled physiques of each Clan member, most villains, and even Thomas Green himself (of whom little is said, theoretically leading to further development later on) give the impression that people must have tons of time to work out. For all those stereotypical notes, you'll find exceptions (the monk himself, the guardian of a gemstone that appears and disappears from the narrative with little explanation) and be able to enjoy the product overall.

Special note: Page 17 and 18 seem to be reversed in our review copy, so be careful when reading as this may mix you up even worse than normal.

This is a very promising project that doesn't fully live up to its potential, but is lots of fun nonetheless. Consider it a kung fu flick you can carry with you.

The Authority: Under New Management TPB (Wildstorm)
By Warren Ellis, Brian Hitch, Mark Millar and Frank Quietly
"The 21st Century is a bad time to be a bastard, children."

That's the voice of The Midnighter, possibly one of the most lethal men in existence, cooing in your ear and promising a better world. In this stunning trade paperback, bridging the transition from Warren Ellis' big-screen world saving run to Mark Millar's more politically motivated one, a collection of posthuman masks with the will and the way are dedicated to saving the world, no matter who they have to kill. In the first half, a story arc called "Outer Dark," the heroin-addicted Doctor is the first to learn the awful truth: "We inherited this Earth. We do not own it." It seems a supremely powerful alien civilization created the earth more billions of years ago than anyone cares to think about, then wandered off to see what was up in the universe, planning to retire on Terra as though it were a cosmic analog to Florida.

Over time, some things went wacky with the plan. Their perfect retirement colony wandered a bit farther from the sun and cooled down a few degrees. The rotation cycle became normal, and these wacky carbon based life forms began to develop. Daddy came home, however, and he wants the six-billion strong swarm of vermin off his front lawn, including de-terraforming the atmosphere and landmasses to suit "divine" physiology. Of course, the Authority, flying the Carrier in through the veins of this allegedly divine creature, find a way to kill it ... and at the stroke of midnight, 1999, giving the spirit of the 20th Century, Jenny Sparks, a heroic way out of her life and leaving the Authority to Jack Hawksmoor. Jenny's final words: "Down to you now. Save the world. They deserve it. Be better. Or I'll come back and kick your heads in."

So they go home and get to work in the next story arc, "The Nativity" -- a southeast Asian strongman dictator finds his legions slain, his fortresses bombed and his personage tossed to the tender mercies of the peasant class he had oppressed. The Authority's cowboy diplomacy sets off a wave of popular support and fame (the Carrier is beset with the glitterati of high society in a super-powered society, including Shen taking Gen13's Grunge home for dessert, and the only possible negative is the leaders of the world being somewhat worried their doors will be next to hear the Authority's knock). All would be fine except for a secret army of masks and their homicidal leader, who discover just before the Authority does, what happens to the Spirit of the 20th Century on the eve of the 21st. Better to let The Doctor say it: "As far as I'm aware, Jenny has been reborn somewhere on the Pacific Rim with abilities that would make her twentieth century self look like a spastic with a guide dog." Oof.

This leads to a merry little bit of gratuitous violence as the Authority finds itself beaten senseless by a team of capes analogous to the Avengers (guy in armor, guy who's a storm god, guy with a soldier mentality, et cetera) before settling themselves into some truly amusing carnage that'd make Garth Ennis blanch and laugh aloud with glee. The good guys (such as they are) predictably end up with Jenny Quantum in tow, but it's quite a ride to get there.

The art is a little hard to follow, but still well done, overall. The storylines are simply brilliant, and this is probably the comic to watch these days. If you're ready to jump on board, this TPB makes a great starting place and if you've been with it all along, it's less trouble to keep up with than individual issues. If you're already into Preacher, Punisher, Hitman, Black Panther or Transmetropolitan and are looking to pick up a book about superpowered "heroes" that won't fuss with thirty-year old morality, you'll want to run, don't walk to NPO's shopping cart and pick yourself up a copy.

-- Hannibal Tabu, $d®/Parker Brothers

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