Southern Bastards #1

Southern Bastards #1 - Image Comics; Aaron & Latour

Southern Bastards #1 – Image Comics; Aaron & Latour (2014)

I used to read comic books as a wee one. I had a bunch of 1970s issues that I read and then re-read until they burned into my skull. If I concentrate I can still picture the frames and stories in my mind. I feverishly collected G.I. Joe and Ghost Rider comics through the 80s and early 90s. I let comics fall out of my life for awhile for a variety of reasons. But in 2005 I picked up a copy of Ghost Rider. Thus started the avalanche… again.  Well, this is good and bad. And I like different comics for different reasons. Mostly, its pure entertainment and fun, which is good. But the best thing about picking up comics again is comic book creator Jason Aaron.

I think this guy has loads of talent and I have tried to buy the titles/volumes that he has been associated with. He’s become a lot more popular and recognized in the last few years and he is well-deserving of this. But even in his earlier works, he was a great creator. One of the reasons that I know Aaron is good at this stuff is that a number of his titles are in settings I actually dislike. He has characters that I hate. And he also has storylines that I would normally avoid. But time after time I am drawn to his stuff and I enjoy the heck out of it.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Aaron’s work:  Ghost Rider, Scalped, Wolverine, etc. All of these titles are infused with a deep Alabama understanding. Setting is a major component to what Aaron writes. And he consistently authentically portrays that “Southern” (for lack of a better word) culture, counter-culture, stereotype, and worldview. I’ve been meaning to read his newest title, Southern Bastards, for some time. Finally, I picked up a copy of issue #1. And it was entirely as expected:  settings and characters and storylines that I grimace and cringe at – meanwhile seeing the depth and awesomeness to the whole thing. And now I am craving issue #2.

This title has artwork by Jason Latour, who is also a born Southerner. I think the two creators work very well together – the art and the story are presented really well. Sometimes I feel there is a disconnect between writer and artist. Whenever that happens, I know because I find myself focusing solely on the art or the words. In this issue, I think the two parts are basically seamless.

This “sequentially-published graphic novel” is not for everyone. Definitely R-rated. Definitely not for the squeamish or for the superhero fan. Like many of Aaron’s stories, this title seems to pierce the heart of a deeply-southern small town. This isn’t pseud-refined antebellum English colonial stuff. This is backwoods, BBQ-loving, isolated country. The kind of place that has more churches than commercial businesses and focuses on high school football. The opening page artwork has a dog relieving itself on the outskirts of town.

But if you can get past the gritty and grisly stuff, the story seems very realistic.  And there is a depth and substance to the story beyond the frames of violence. Aaron always produces stories about people who are conflicted, stubborn, and while sometimes simple, are never simpletons. After you read the first issue you do not know where Aaron will go with the story, but you suspect it will involve baseball bats, pick-up trucks, town corruption, and characters taking a good hard look at their inner man.

Earl Tubb (Image Comics)

Earl Tubb (Image Comics)

We meet Earl Tubb in the cab of a U-Haul style truck as he drives into what seems to be his hometown – where he grew up. Immediately, we are given to understand he has not been there in a long, long time. Earl has conflicts right after eating his BBQ lunch. He runs into an old “acquaintance” who recognizes him. He stops that scraggly character from being beaten to death. Throughout, we are shown that Earl has issues with his deceased father, who’s grave he visits.  Earl has a USMC tattoo and he is a big, towering sort of chap. After finishing this issue, yeah, I want to know more about Earl – Aaron has made me care about Earl. Even if I hate his putrid little southern town…

4 stars


Thief of Thieves #2


Thief of Thieves #2; Image Comics; Skybound

One of the things that I must say about this title is that the two covers we’ve seen so far are really cool.  This is issue #2 of Thief of Thieves.  Of course, the logo is quite nice – the hand reaching out as if to pluck fine art from a wall is fun as heck.  But I like how the covers are not cluttered (Cp. Justice League #7) and yet have a good amount of intrigue built in to them.  It’s just enough to make it seem really interesting even if you are a person who only reads comics about superheroes wearing capes.  I like the jewelry and money floating around this cover. I like the dude in the mask with the other dude holding a gun.  I think it definitely makes a reader see this on the shelf and want to find out what’s beyond the cover.

The story is co-written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer.  The artist is Shawn Martinbrough with colors by Felix Serrano.  I think the artwork is the thing to really praise in this issue, much like the last issue.  Yes, it does look like this comic was made to be turned into a film project.  The artwork is bold and heavy, with plenty of space – no cluttering.  Some of the frames are a little empty – I feel they are a little too close to the border of unfinished.  Most of the time, however, this clear and free artwork causes the focus to really land heavily on the individual main characters.  Martinbrough draws faces up-close, bright, and expressive.  In some places, I feel there are two or three frames to show a scene, when really one or two would do.  But I guess that’s the “cinema-feel” that the creators are aiming for.

For example, the last three pages of the issue could have been trimmed down to a page and a half, really.  I mean, it’s a very obvious and stereotypical plot device and probably doesn’t need that much paging to show it.  Even if the artwork is super pretty.

This issue’s story is built around the history between Conrad and his (ex?) wife Audrey.  The story bounces smoothly between the present time and the past.   In the scenes depicting the past, we get to see some action scenes involving the thieving that we’ve all been hearing about.  Even so, the majority of the issue is dramatic tension.  There is not an overabundance of dialogue, so the reader really has to try to get in the scene, guided by the artist.  Overall, I think the story has potential, but maybe it needs a little more weight.  The artwork is excellent, though, and I’ll be back for issue #3.

In any case, drama is cool, showing us the background of characters is excellent, but there needs to be a little more present-day action or something, or this could get boring quickly.

3 stars

Thief of Thieves #1

Thief of Thieves 1Awhile ago, on some previews listing (I don’t even remember if it was online or print?), I saw that Image Comics is celebrating their 20 years (1992 – 2012).  Also, Image was pushing their products for this big year. I’m ambivalent toward stuff that Image puts out – although lately, they’ve had some stuff that has pulled me in.  For example, I am really fond of Moriarty. I also have seen things I like in Lil Depressed Boy.  I read one issue of The Last of the Greats, and while it was very different from everything else I read, I was not certain that it was a good read. I ought to try another issue of that. Another series I approve of is Reed Gunther. So, in the past year I feel that Image has really upped their game, so to speak.  One of the previews that I saw for 2012 Image titles was this Thief of Thieves series.

This is being plotted by the famous Robert Kirkman, written by Nick Spencer, and drawn by Shawn Martinborough.  I know that a lot of reader appeal is due to the name-recognition of Kirkman on any title. However, what drew me in was actually the cover and the solicitation:

Conrad Paulson lives a secret double life as master thief Redmond. There is nothing he can’t steal, nothing he can’t have… except for the life he left behind. Now, with a grown son he hardly knows, and an ex-wife he never stopped loving, Conrad must try to piece together what’s left of his life, before the FBI finally catch up to him… but it appears they are the least of his worries.

I want to first mention the last page of the issue, which is a letter from Robert Kirkman regarding comics and this particular title. The novelty of this series is two-fold. First, it is a non-superhero story. Second, it is a story being almost written for TV via comics. I quote the Kirkman letter:

This book brings to the comics medium the same kind of story you’d get in a movie, novel or a TV show, but we’re utilizing the strengths of what our medium has to offer in order to tell the story.

Of course, my instantaneous response was a mental demand for Kirkman to enunciate just what those “strengths” of the comics medium are. Anyway, I like the positivity I feel from Kirkman and I admit, I am really okay with a comic book that does not involve superheroes.  Now, of course, there have been plenty of comic books that do not involve super-powered aliens wearing capes. However, let’s face it, few of them have been great. Some have been passable. Many have been mopey and drama-ridden. So I am really ready for Kirkman to write a solid book.

Overall, I liked the layout of the story in this issue. I also was rather impressed with the artwork. It’s nice artwork that is different from the usual fare – but not so different that it’s uncomfortable or odd. I liked the shadowing and the framing a lot. The dialogue is a little sparse in places, I understand that that is for effect, but I could have used a little more explanation.  The story needed a little more meat and potatoes to it, but it’s not terrible at all. And the last frame has the hook that definitely will have readers buying issue #2.

I often write that I have high expectations for first issues.  Because of that and because this issue needed a bit more substance, I think I’ll have to give it only three stars.  However, I am more than willing to read on in the series and see what happens. I do feel this title has immense potential.

3 stars

Reed Gunther #1

Reed Gunther

Reed Gunther #1 cover (Image Comics)

I spend way too much money on comics. But I love comics. Addiction. Now, with those personal revelations out of the way. . . . . November 11th, I picked up the first issue to a comic that I heard about online and decided that if my store had it on the back issue shelves, I’d try it out.  I think the series is currently on issue #5, but don’t quote me on that.  Reed Gunther is an all ages comic book.  This is very significant, especially for all those people who assumed comic books were all for the youth.

First, the facts:  the creators, brothers Shane and Chris Houghton, were making Reed Gunther comics for awhile, marketing them as true independent artist comic books. There’s a whole “thang” in the industry (because it’s become an industry…) about “independent” comics/artists, etc.   Frankly, there are plenty of blogs to discuss those sometimes less than fun topics.  Needless to say, in the summer of 2011, Image Comics (and man, is there a backstory to this publisher! Talk about having a history!) picked up the Houghton’s Reed Gunther and published the first issue. In color. Coolness. Price? $2.99

Second facts, this is one of a few “all ages” comic books.  My point (and the point that USA Today and a few other media monsters also highlighted), is that when comics are marketed as “all ages,” people assume that this means that the comics are specifically meant for kids.  In other words, made for and enjoyed by kids. And for the most part, this is true.  After all, there are all sorts of distinctions in comic books now, all ages, parental advisory, and the really R-rated stuff by Vertigo/ Max/ et al.   But what is meant by Shane and Chris’ “all ages,” I think is more important and necessary for the “industry” than all of those other distinctions.  It is an all ages book – not a young ages book.  The subtle point here is that people of all ages, from 7 – 77, can read and enjoy the book – safely, without anything untoward.  All ages should mean just that:  a book free from smut and foul, but enjoyable by kids and adults for its fun, interesting, witty, well-drawn storyline.  All ages. Everyone. Not just one specialized segment (of an already small segment of the population – comic readers.)

So far, two “hoorays!” One for independent creators and one for a true all ages comic book.  The next kudos is because the story is (more or less) a Western.  Westerns have lost so much of their once massive popularity. The year is 2011 and sure, in the 1950s, youths thought the Old West was the best.  Nowadays, I think kids think the 1950s were the years of the Old West. Yet, the Old West still has all the same aspects that made it appealing previously. In Reed Gunther, the star character is a cowboy.  From the official website we get a small biography about Reed Gunther:

[He is] a goofy bear-riding cowboy . . . an eccentric, curious, adventurous fellow whose home is everywhere he and his best pal (and mode of transportation) Sterling end up. Together they roam the West looking for ways to make a quick buck, save a damsel in distress, or just have a fun time.

Did you see the part where he doesn’t ride a horse? He rides a bear!  Named Sterling!

The first issue is entitled “Reed Gunther and the Steak Snacking Snake!”   As Gunther and Sterling make their way across the prairie, they come upon a situation in which a cowgirl/rancher named Starla is having trouble with a snake trying to eat her cows.  Starla is a stubborn, forthright woman who is handy with a knife, gun, etc.  And she has no patience for Gunther’s antics.  Still, she needs help from someone to save her cows.  Of course, the bear and the cows seem to be brighter than Gunther, but Gunther has a big heart and lots of determination.  He is also unlucky and quirky.  The reader will love Starla and Sterling as they “help” Gunther save the day.

The art is clean and bold. It is presented in large standard rectangle and square frames on each page.  The storyline is easy to follow and it is easy on the eyes. I cannot see children having any difficulty following along and old people should have no trouble with confusion either.  The dialogue is minimal, but fun. I liked the break from the capes. I liked the break from the oddly-positioned angles and frames. I liked the break from seriously long-winded dialogue from self-important superheroes.  I liked the way the good guys win and everyone lives to have more adventures. And I liked the cows and the bear.

4 stars