Knuckleheads #5 continues the zany antics that writer Brian Winkeler and artist Robert Wilson IV have been dishing out since unleashing their creative collective digitally through Monkeybrain Comics. This is a compact, non-stop story, and even when our heroes get a much-needed moment’s rest, it doesn’t last long, and fists, both super-powered and not, start to fly. Still in the cool-down phase from Trev's first true Crystal Fist heroics from the night before, by the end of the issue things get a lot more interesting, and the story opens up beyond Trev and his friends, widening the scope to interstellar proportions. The big, unforeseen story development is exciting and imaginative, showing that Winkeler and Wilson IV are comfortable working in small-time shenanigans, as well as intergalactic intrigue. Issue five is almost completely comedic, reveling in situational humor with an off-kilter superhero spin, and peppering character moments and new obstacles in between the laughs, and all of that is perfectly fine by me.
Yet another quality Monkeybrain Comics digital title makes its way to the world of print by way of IDW, and, this time, it is The Mask of the Red Panda, a rousing, urban adventure in the grand tradition of pulp novels and Saturday morning serials. Originally created as a thrilling 1920s-style radio drama called The Red Panda Adventures, creator Gregg Taylor’s Red Panda has taken on a life of its own, moving Taylor from the realm of radio to novels and then to comics, where the Toronto-based Red Panda found a new home with Monkeybrain Comics. This collection brings together the first three-part adventure, or serial, of the Red Panda’s comic debut, and the results are a great deal of old-time-infused-with-new-life fun.
Volume eighteen of Creepy Archives, produced and presented in a deluxe hardcover edition from Dark Horse and collecting issues 84-88 from 1976 and 1977, was my first exposure to Creepy, and it couldn’t be a better way to be introduced to these classic horror comics. I had read some Eerie and Tales from the Crypt comics before, but I found these issues of Creepy far superior for one specific reason: they don’t bog down the issues with constant interruptions or introductions from the book’s “host,” here in the form of Uncle Creepy. Instead, Uncle Creepy dutifully resides in the letters column at the beginning of each issue, displaying and responding to reader mail. While this may seem like an infinitesimal point, for me it meant the world, as it allowed the issues to flow more organically from story to story. It is exciting that the letters columns are included in these archive issues, as are the original chapter and ad pages, because the whole thing draws you in and pulls you back to the time when these comics would have first been read and experienced.
The second volume of G.I. Joe Special Missions is just as entertaining as the first, though in a different way. Still written by G.I. Joe aficionado Chuck Dixon, there is a richer vein of humor being tapped for issues five through nine of the series that make up this collection, which includes a three-part arc involving The Dreadnoks and Zartan, followed by two standalone adventures. The main story, titled Deadfall, takes place in an exotic and interesting locale, just like the first volume’s sea and underwater setting. This time around, we find the Joes in the exact opposite type of location, the dry and dusty desert of the Australian Outback. I love the idea of switching up where these stories unfold and am interested to see if Dixon can continue this idea of location as character into the third volume, if that was ever his idea at all. He very well may just be following where the characters and the story take him, but I can still hold out hope for a snow setting and an appearance by Snow Job.
Travel back to the early 1950s with Dark Horse Archives' third volume of Forbidden Worlds, presented in a prestige hardcover format and gloriously lurid color, complete with all the original ads, editor’s pages, short one-page stories, and, of course, all of the quirky, bizarre, unbelievable (but sometimes true!) publisher’s promises, and every once in a while slightly unintelligible tales found within the pages of issues nine through fourteen of this supernatural comics anthology. Straight out of 1952 and 1953, these stories of malevolent beings bent on revenge, sinister haunted houses, world-destroying monsters, and unfortunate coincidences are rife with hyperbole, turning the use of elaborate adjectives into a work of art. During especially over-descriptive scenes, I found myself removing all of the "–ly" adjectives and just reading the normal, much more direct sentence that remained. While at times comical – who knew you could create so many adjectives to describe evil, or darkness, for that matter – they often bring a highly stylized sense of mood and setting to the stories (letting me know exactly how I should be reacting to the story) and infusing the circumstances foist upon the characters with a certain amount of dread and terror. If I were to start using half as many adjectives in my everyday life, my day-to-day activities would seem much more exciting, and I guess this speaks to the time in which these comics were being made.
Amala’s Blade is a rip-roaring fantasy adventure tale, full of stealthy action, political intrigue, physical comedy, and a gaggle of ghosts. Created by Steve Horton and Michael Dialynas, this Dark Horse original seamlessly blends genres and moves deftly between comedy and drama as the consequences of Amala’s decisions threaten to overtake her future, and possibly lead to re-igniting war between the Purifiers and Modifiers. Ah, Purifiers and Modifiers. Written and lettered by Horton, with art and colors by Dialynas, the world of Naamaron is rich in history and atmosphere, as well as rife with tensions between the steam-and-machine-altered Modifiers and the as-they-were-born Purifiers, creating a fantasy landscape that feels like it has existed long before we meet the assassin heroine of Amala.
Brian Wood’s third installment of his adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian story, Queen of the Black Coast, for Dark Horse is thrilling, engaging, and emotionally rich. Titled The Nightmare of the Shallows, and collecting issues thirteen through eighteen, the story starts off some time after the tragic and incredibly intimate events at the end of the previous volume, The Death. Conan and his love, the pirate queen Bêlit, have become emotionally distant, and Wood conveys a great sense of loss and self-alienation, especially on the part of Bêlit, and we get the feeling that not only is she holding Conan at arm’s length, but also life itself. Her actions and words carry a plethora of painful and complex emotions. This saddens Conan, because he feels in some way responsible for the tragedy that has torn their love, and his lover, asunder, and yet there is nothing in Heaven or on Earth that he can do to repair the emotional and psychological damage that has befallen his queen, or him.
I have to start this review off with a disclaimer: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2012 Annual is the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) comic I have ever read. There, I said it, and I fully accept the shame that comes with that statement, just as you should take the following with a grain of salt. I was always aware of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s original black-and-white comics, which were the initial impetus for the Turtles' success in cartoons and movies, and in imbedding themselves into the pop culture canon, so when I had the opportunity to read and review IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2012 Annual hardcover deluxe edition release, I jumped at the chance, especially since it was co-written and drawn by original TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman, who has been working on IDW’s Turtles since 2011.
Doctor Muscles is a bizarre science fiction story, and, at times, that works in its favor, and, at other times, it works directly against it, convoluting what may already be a bit muddled. Overall, though, I think Doctor Muscles crests more peaks than it treads through low valleys, but the trip is a sporadic one, tedious here, electric there. I know this reads a bit vague and abstract, described like a dream I am slowly forgetting, but that is the feeling I often had while on the adventures of Doctor Muscles in this second volume, dubbed Journal Two, which picks up directly after the events of the first volume. Created and written by Austin Tinius and Robert Salinas, the main characters of Dr. Arthur E. Muscles, “The Smartest Man in Philadelphia,” and his sidekick Mickey, the self-professed “Droxin Slayer,” are interesting and fun characters, and the situations they find themselves in can be exciting and, every once in a while, pleasantly unexpected.
Rock returns in the second issue of Daniel Freedman and Sina Grace’s Image series Burn the Orphanage, but things have changed since last we saw met our hardscrabble hero. In part two of the epic Born to Lose trilogy, aptly titled Demons, Rock’s previous victory has not brought the peace he thought it would. Instead, it brings more street fights, except, now, he no longer has a cause worth fighting for. But, Rock’s life is about to get a whole lot weirder, and deadlier, and he soon finds a reason to once again raise his fists, and this time it’s to save his own skin. Demons is a blast, and just as much nostalgic, video game-playing fun as the first issue, though now Freedman and Grace have upped the ante, moving out of back alley brawls into the realm of monsters, magic, and clandestine tournaments. Issue one paid perfect homage to side-scrolling games such as Streets of Rage, while Demons is inspired by tournament-style fighting games, most notably Mortal Kombat, and it is a treat.