Eric's Image Comics Reviews: Samurai Blood #2, Elephantmen #32, Memoir #4, Gladstone's School for World Conquerors
Published: July 14, 2011 - 12:34am
This week, Image Comics dishes out some Kurosawa, barbarian pachyderms, creep towns, and villainous youngsters.
Samurai's Blood #2
Kurosawa's Seven Samurai set itself as a precedent in the art of filmmaking and set minds a flutter with thoughts of the legendary warriors of the east. In modern media (as is with most popular subject matter), ninja and their more armored counterparts have been diluted in their various incarnations fighting zombies, aliens, pirates, etc. Every so often, a piece comes along that revels in a concept's purity and shows what merit there was in its origin.
While not completely perfect, Samurai's Blood #2 does that. Despite its title, this is only an action comic in a very broad sense. This a book which is about restraint and the characterization of a certain group of people as they take that solemnity and logic to rally against their baser nature. While some more excitable readers may be put off by the lack of sword to flesh (of which there are a few gory sequences), there is a true art to how the samurai and the rules they live by are portrayed. It's well woven into the narrative with just the right mix of mysticism and exposition in a way that informs the reader while leaving a sense of awe. It engulfs the audience in this world of honor, steel, martial arts masters and economic reality.
While most of this is presented in skillful fashion, there is the occasional redundancy to the dialog that might take one out of the fiction. For a standard size comic, there is a wealth of text supplied by writer Owen Wiseman. Thus, the quality found in the majority of the issue's pages far outweighs these few hiccups.
Nam Kim shows himself adept in conveying this story visually. There is a strong focus on character with some solid portraits that carry with them some manga sensibilities in showing emotion, yet are not as exaggerated as that form. Most of this influence is found around the mouth. There is a strength to each martial artist whether in combat or conversation. When allowed to pull out, panels can show a good amount of attention to detail to the environments that gives a feeling of setting and place. While most of the action is framed in close, it is enjoyable to see these rich environments.
Story: Owen Wiseman
Art: Nam Kim, Matthew Dalton, & Sakti Yuwono
Cover: Jo Chen
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Elephantmen #32 is the creators' homage to the sword and sorcery genre made famous by Robert E. Howard (who is noted as inspiration within the intro). With Starking's title being chiefly set in an urban area, it was a thrilling change of pace seeing these anthropomorphic characters placed amidst barbarians, monsters, and the like.
The result is a pretty piece of fantasy writing. One can tell that this style holds an important place for the writer as he weaves the archetypical stoic warrior into the character of the morphed elephant Ebony. An excellent quality to this is that there is enough ambiguity in tone for the comic to be read seriously or with tongue placed firmly in cheek. This provides a subtle humor that is smart not to make fun of its subject matter. There are small interceding sections that relate to the murder mystery presented in previous issue, but it's never enough to pull focus away from the fantasy majority. Starking does some excellent written work here.
The biggest drawback with this issue is that it does little to keep the overarching narrative going. It goes back with little bits and pieces of that larger story, but the focus is pretty clear. This also leads to a lack of a portion of the depth characteristic to the series. It makes a fun read, but it is a drastic change that may put some off who have grown accustomed the the more gritty storytelling for which the title is known. Last, the reveal at the story's end make it feel a bit like a throwaway.
Axel Medellin adapts his art style well to the new demands required by the change of setting. There have been glimpses of this ability in his work before, but it was nice to see the visuals go all out. Each panel brings a cavalcade of color and detail with some purely stunning splash pages. There's a consistency amidst the transitions as well that give this type of story its well needed cohesion. His work does however have an otherworldly shine that could be toned down as it detracts some to the amount of intricacy applied to the artwork.
Also included in this large edition are a couple of delightful second features and an excellent piece on lettering that would be a benefit to any aspiring to get into the comic business.
Story: Richard Starking
Art: Axel Medellin
Cover: Axel Medellin
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Ben McCool continues to serve up some good things in his atmospheric creepfest with the type of gradual writing that retrains interest in the overall mystery of Lowesville and its amnesiac denizens. The writer has done well to create this world in which question and conspiracy leads to unease rather than a reliance on shock. This makes for a cerebral experience as more and more is uncovered, which is exactly what happens in this issue. Previous editions went toward building suspense and this delivers some answers as not to waste the opportunity created. The only point at which the narrative stutters a bit is with protagonist Trent's change of character. There was a certain benefit to having such a well portrayed persona who is just at the other side of detestable. Here, there is a 180 degree turn that feels a bit unnatural and loses some uniqueness. In a couple of panels, his remorse verges on preechy. This doesn't comprise the majority of the script and most of the quality is found within the attention to setting, but it is noticeable.
Nikki Cook continues to show what eeriness can be pulled from black and white work. While some books with a lack of color seem as if a colorist was merely not hired in time, she makes the monochromatic scheme work to her narrative goals with an excellent use of shadow and detail. There is an ominous feel to almost every panel in this book, which shows much talent with each turn of the page. One could imagine David Lynch filming an adaption. It's great work which utilizes almost every portion of the panel (including angle and lighting) to its advantage to tell the story visually.
Story: Ben McCool
Art: Nikki Cook
Cover: Nikki Cook
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Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #3
With Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #3, it seems as if Mark Andrew Smith needs to choose his intended audience and stick with it. It is still a very well scripted comic, but there's a varied tone which defies linear definition. While this is normally a positive thing (and can be in the end for this book), it's a matter of how the creators sell this book.
Is this an all ages/young adult title or is it a new perspective on the superhero genre for adult readers? Both of these vibes are felt in this script that mixes adolescent crushes and comedy with speeches involving questioning social norms, conspiracy, and murder. The thing is that all of it is extremely well written and engaging, but ones enjoyment of it might depend on demographic with the given section.
What is really good about this book is that it has evolved from its original concept as expressed in the titled into a full fictional world that feels as if it lives and breaths. These young wannabe villains have families, aspirations, and rules that may or may not pull them back from their full potential. All the while, there are the familiar heart crushing realities that face real high schoolers. Smith respects his characters and portrays them as such. Its good and well thought out work. The only question will be as to how varying readerships will react, although it has the potential for more universal appeal.
Armand Villavert's art is beautiful and bright showing an steady hand with conversation and action. Within the sections covering the school environment and the younger characters, the visuals take on a similar quality to the Teen Titans series that used to air on Cartoon Network. That said, there is a definite influence of manga in the expression of emotion. This works well to convey the over dramatics found within a mix of social pressures and hormones. While there isn't a ton of action found within the pages of this issue, what is there is explosive and fun. Also, the neon colors from Pommes do a lot for the pencils keeping things exciting as they are gripping.
Whatever audience is sought out, there is the hope that this comic finds it because it is very good!
Story: Mark Andrew Smith
Art: Armand Villavert & Pommes
Cover: Armand Villavert
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