Monday, March 5, 2012

POPped Review: Dark Horse Comics 'King Conan:TPOTS #2, 'Angel & Faith #7', 'Usagi Yojimbo #144', 'Star Wars: Crimson Empire - Empire Lost #5'

Some spoilers...

King Conan: The Phoenix On The Sword #2

What isn’t there to like about Conan? Exotic, bare-breasted women, lots of tough talk and blood – lots of it.

In the latest King Conan: The Phoenix on The Sword, one will enjoy all of that.

I was a big fan of the Dark Horse re-boot of Conan a few years ago. They started it off right with fantastic art and stories straight from Robert  E. Howard. The updated look added some modernity to the admittedly cheesy dialogue from years past.

I hadn’t been back to the Conan series in a while and haven’t read any since he was apparently crowned king. Even though this is a #2, it’s far from a stinker. The art is very reminiscent of the Howard-era art and there are some lovely killings. Just look around page 11 when Thoth-amon unloads a knife into what resembles a Hobbit. The fact that it happens right after a magic ring is found doesn’t hurt my assumption that Bilbo ices it here. The whole book is a feast for the eyes with the great facial work and layout.

Hee-hee… There are even boobies but I won’t tell you where. I don’t want to discourage you from reading the whole thing.

 I’m definitely tracking down #1 and will continue reading this one. Probably get two copies for when the pages get stuck together. Woops. I mean to collect.

Usagi Yojimbo #144

I’ve never read one issue of Usagi Yojimbo. Go ahead and slap me, manga nerds. I don’t care. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I love rabbits. Ask anyone. I have an extensive collection. ANYWAY – the thought of a ronin rabbit was just weird to me.

So, this is my first issue ever. Let me break it down the way I see it:

Usagi is a rabbit and a ronin (that’s a masterless samurai, I knew that from Shogun Assassin). He’s kicking it in a village, keeping an eye on, I think, soy sauce. Apparently some other animals (maybe a cat and a tiger) are in a war over the stuff and keep sabotaging another dude’s supply.

In this issue, they try again to sabotage some vats of the soy sauce and some murders happen. Usagi gets involved and more creatures die. I like that when they die, a smoky word bubble with a skull drifts up from their bodies. When a boss dies, the skull looks like him.

OK, so that’s it. The art is very impressionistic and simple and black and white. The dialogue is good with Japanese terms thrown in that aren’t explained. The violence is good but not very graphic. It sort of reminds me of the doodles my cousin used to draw when we were kids. I guess people are way into this. I think it’s probably pretty cheap to produce and so it’s easy to keep it around.

Angel & Faith #7

I am a HUGE Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan. To me, it was the best show on TV. I tried the “Season 8” storyline that DH put out and it quickly lost me. Giant bugs, weird goings-on and an off-the-rails climax that just overloaded me. It was less “Buffy” and more... something else.

Angel/Faith #7 is my return to the DH Wedon-verse and I have to admit that for a second-banana book it’s better than the Buffy title has been. The character of Faith has always been a favorite of mine. I haven’t liked her comic book versions because no one can seem to get her dialogue past the “five by five” range and no one seems to be able to capture her facial look at all.

This book does a decent job of improving both. Angel looks like Angel and Faith looks like Faith. Drusilla’s in this book, did I mention? I guess she looks like Drusilla.

We get some key plot points and Faith’s father is in London for some reason. Of course, it’s revealed he’s up to something sinister. Why can’t people just pop in, you know? It always has to be something sinister. Wouldn’t it be great if a long-lost brother/parent/friend just turned up for a bite and a gab and then just pissed off home? Just one time? 

In any case, I enjoyed the read in this book. There is some nice expansion of the Angel/Drusilla history and of Faith’s. The story is engaging, I suppose (it has to do with Dru hooking up with a demon that feeds on emotional trauma, which she uses to “cure” herself and others of mental anguish) and Angel just wanting to punch and bite things. Also, Faith’s dad returns and they chat and then he makes a secret phone call.

It’s not a bad book. It’s definitely worth a pickup if you’re a fan of either of these two characters.

Star Wars: Crimson Empire III - Empire Lost #5

As a crazy sycophantic Star Wars fan, I am glad that there are stories that continue past Return of The Jedi and have Luke and Leia and Han Solo, etc. What I don’t understand is why DH treats these stories with such disrespect. I mean, the stories themselves are engaging, but the art is often quite sub-par and leads to attention wandering.

I remember Dark Empire with its stunning covers and its lackluster interior art. I never understood it. Now we have Star Wars: Crimson Empire III with its stunning Dave Dorman covers and quite dreary interior art. Don’t get me wrong, the colors are great, but the way Paul Gulacy draws is, well… not good.

Every face has these giant eyes and oftentimes the features are out of proportion. No one looks like their character from the movies. Maybe Leia does sometimes have a flash of facial familiarity, but Luke and Han are completely unrecognizable. It seems to reflect in the dialogue when people always address the character by name when a face is shown, because a wise editor understood that no one would recognize any one character from one panel to the next without help.

The attempt is made to salvage what amounts to doodles on a Pee-Chee with some rather brilliant coloring. Plus, the story is compelling (about the last Palpatinian Imperial Guard seeking revenge for his master’s death by the Skywalkers). The art, however, is distractingly ugly. Sorry, I calls ‘em like I see ‘em.

I’ve actually had this on my pull list and now feel obligated to at least ride it out and see where the story goes. Maybe they’ll find another artist for CE IV? Maybe they’ll just keep on as normal? We’ll find out.

All of these books are available now from Dark Horse Comics.

What say you?

Review POPped by
Steven R.

Follow Steven on Twitter, and check out his weekly radio show 'World Domination Party' on Facebook.

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