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THE OTHER DEAD #6 of 6 (IDW, March 19, 2014 release date) Writer/Co-Creator: Joshua Ortega. Co-Creator: Digger T Mesch. Art: Qing Ping Mui. Art (Epilogue): Mike Shoykhet. Inks: Jose Aviles, James Lyle, and Qing Ping Mui. Colors: Blond. Letters: Tom B. Long

The good news is that you don’t have to be a regular reader of THE OTHER DEAD in order to appreciate the contents of Issue #6. In fact, if you’ve stayed on the sidelines all this time you can still get a pretty good feel for the atmosphere and tone of the mini-series by jumping on right here. What you will be treated to is an intense story of human survival against impossible odds. Issue #6 spins a grisly yarn that pits the team of seven characters against one nasty obstacle after another until the final resolution some 23 pages later.
The bad news (well, for some of us) is that it ends without any explanation of the events that caused the animal epidemic to occur. There is also no indication that the contagion has been halted, or even contained. (The epilogue contains more bad news). On the other hand, there is so much more story to tell that many readers will be glad to know that a second THE OTHER DEAD series will debut later this year. Rightly so and very welcome news to many of us, as we have only seen a little cross-section of this imaginative creation (a clever spin on standard zombie tropes). There’s a much bigger world here, and I suspect an even bigger story to tell. Bring it, gentlemen!
Everything comes to a gigantic broil in Issue #6 as the intrepid band of survivors make their escape from the surrounded homestead only to end up in an even worse place. As they await the President’s extraction team to rescue them, they face an even tougher selection of raving mad berserker animals out for human blood and guts. Instead of facings squirrels, rats, birds, deer and bear they must hold out against more exotic animals, including zebras, elephants, lions, tigers, caribou, boar, and a rampaging rhino. Just as they seem to be safe, their luck turns sour as they crash their helicopter inside a wild game preserve!
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This issue is a gigantic showcase for the incredible illustration skills of artist Qing Ping Mui, who doesn’t hold back and lets it all out: great detail, savage action, red-eyed rage, faces of determination, fear, despair, and also hope – – it’s all here. The rest of the art team does a superb job of highlighting his fine work and are equally up to the challenge of inking and coloring scenes that for the most part take place in the dead of night and in the middle of a hurricane force storm = dark, cloudy, gray, red and atmospheric times three!
Not to be missed are the scenes involving a crazed and determined rhino with more lives than Morris the Cat. Brave little Tommy puts a lubricated exclamation point on the end of that encounter.
Perhaps it was done so no one feel cheated, as one member of the party doesn’t survive the opening scenes. There may be some readers out there who were rooting for the animals to claim final victory and be disappointed that anybody survived. However, when the actual President of the United States gets inserted into the storyline, you should be anticipating a somewhat happier ending. Seriously, did you expect writer Joshua Ortega to kill President Obama off?
During the course of this story, there are instances of symbolism as well as the possibility of deeper meaning for readers who might want to explore further. But, there is never any indication that an actual political statement was under the surface story. THE OTHER DEAD does portray the President in a favorable light, as he responds the way American citizens expect their president to respond in a time of crisis – – with bravery, patience, leadership and determination. Sure enough, when the situation calls for balls-to-the-walls intensity and time to fight back with fury and defend humanity, he lets it all hang out. There probably won’t be a Republican Party rebuttal to the events of THE OTHER DEAD. (Besides, didn’t somebody once say that Republicans don’t read comics?)
Some may say the story ends, appropriately enough, with both a religious and then an inspirational message. No sooner does little Tommy get on his knees to pray (and joined by redneck Chet) than his prayers get answered. Then, Chet turns to the President to infer “Take it you ain’t that religious, either”. Obama responds with “Oh, no, I am . . . but I also put great faith in humanity.” After reading this series from the beginning and never experiencing even a whiff of spiritual essence up to this point, I remain skeptical that this was writer Ortega’s intent. I seriously doubt that he suddenly began to drink or wash with holy water and came up with this ending as a result. Rather, I believe the clue to the inspiration for the entire series is exhibited (and not for the first time, just much bigger here) on the very last page. There is a clever interpretation of a famous logo there (“His Master’s Voice”, the RCA Victor dog). It wasn’t holy water that kept things flowing – – it was a little sumpin’ on the order of a more adult beverage.

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THE AUTEUR #2 (ONI PRESS, April 16, 2014 release date) Written by Rick Spears. Illustrated by James Callahan. Colored by Luigi Anderson. Lettered by Sick Rears (ha!) – – – Publisher’s Disclaimer = The Shocking Scenes You Are About To See Are Not Suggested For The Weak Or Immature.

(Notes: It’s rare to find a comic that combines humor and satire and does it well these days. The list is very short – – say, just THE AUTEUR and TODD, THE UGLIEST KID ON EARTH. I can’ think of anything else that hits the mark like these books. For that reason I want to give lovers of good satire a heads-up notice to get their order in early for THE AUTEUR #2 before this sells out in pre-order like Issue #1 did. Since smaller publishers determine their print runs based on advance orders, we need to get the word out about this book so everyone who might enjoy it gets their chance. The kind folks at ONI PRESS provided me with an advance copy so I could write this review. However, my request for a bag of money was never even acknowledged. I’m doing this strictly for the love, like all the other reviews you read here.)


DECEPTION IN MODERN MARKETING NOTIFICATION: Please note that this is not a new issue of KING OF THE MONSTERS. Godzilla does not appear in this story anywhere and his image on the cover is purely coincidental. Rather, it is meant to symbolize the train wreck of a jury trial that occurs in Issue #2. It’s as if Godzilla traded places with that blind folded armless lady statue who holds the scales of justice. You appreciate the symbolism, don’t you?

It’s good that I was alone at home while reading THE AUTEUR #2, so nobody had to see or hear me laughing out loud in a hysterical fashion. However, the family dog did look at me funny and then quietly stole off to the secure confines of her pet crate.

I previously wrote about THE AUTEUR #1 on these pages and you can re-read that review here if your memory is short or your recall just escaped in the bubble of that last mind-fart . . . . . .

In ISSUE #2, desperate film director Nathan T. Rex follows through on his brainstorm idea that ended the last issue and seeks to hire a noted serial killer as a “murder consultant” on his upcoming slasher exploitation flick called “President’s Day.” The issue opens with two quick satirical looks at satanic cults and college sororities (do you see the link there?). That segues into a flashback scene depicting the gruesome murder that led to the arrest of the X-faced serial killer Darwin.

This leads to a prison meeting between Darwin and T. Rex, where he is persuaded to allow T. Rex to represent him when his case comes up to trial. Meanwhile, the news media is already having a field day with the latest developments on the President’s Day film.

Obviously, the prosecution objects to the sudden interjection of T. Rex in a funny scene that just gets more ridiculous and hilarious as it moves on, and will remind many readers of the mechanisms of the modern justice system.

Prosecutor: “Objection! He’s not even a lawyer.”

Judge: “Let’s see. Mr. Rex . . . we have a law degree from the Legal Eagle Online University and a State Bar license dated . . . yesterday. However unorthodox, these look legitimate.”

T. Rex: “They better be. Cost a fortune!”

The defense employs a classic theme from the other celebrity named Darwin (“Survival Of The Fittest”) and also does a fine job of pointing out the detrimental character flaws of the murder victim in order to sway the jury to his point of few. I never thought I would be persuading someone to purchase a comic book by telling them that the biggest part of the issue is a court trial. How exciting can that be? (When you stop laughing you can tell me.) There’s also a gratuitous fantasy/dream sequence thrown in the middle to placate the other side of our brains, where we learn another cool meaning for the acronym ATM.

As you might suspect, Darwin is freed and begins his new role as murder consultant on the film. Of course, from his point of view everyone and everything is visualized as his next bloody victim. His first piece of advice makes a lot of sense – – get rid of the mask.

Darwin: “It’s stupid and limits your vision and hearing.”

T. Rex: “Okay, sure. But obviously we need the mask. It’s kind of a genre thing and it looks great on the poster.”

Pure Hollywood, and very accurate.

The art by Callahan is as bold and brilliant as ever, and this issue his style reminds me of both Mike Wolfer and Geoff Darrow – – both very appropriate influences considering the subject matter here.

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THE AUTEUR #1 of 5. (ONI Press, March 2014). Adult content suggested for mature readers.

What catches attention immediately is the eye-popping cover, done in a glaring vivid style that evokes memories of the underground comics of the 1960’s.

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Coincidentally (perhaps) “auteur” is a French word originating in the 1960’s and used to describe “a filmmaker whose individual style and complete control over all elements of production give a film it’s personal and unique stamp.” (Definition courtesy of www.dictionary.reference.com/). Indeed, THE AUTEUR is the story of a “dirtbag” Hollywood producer out of fresh ideas and seeking out fringe remedies to start his creative juices flowing once again. The creative team on this book is all-out in its efforts to gain your attention. THE AUTEUR is outrageous, over the top, and in your face.
Writer Rick Spears (also lettering the book as “Sick Rears”) details his main character (producer Nathan T. Rex) in broad, bold strokes that manage to evoke a little empathy due to the extremely pathetic nature of his situation and his efforts to reclaim his damaged reputation in Hollywood. After a string of hit movies his last production “Cosmos” (an epic space opera similar to Star Wars) fell to the bottom of the toilet bowl.
The studio that funds him gives T. Rex one last chance to pull out of the tar pit he’s mired in and prevent extinction. He’s desperate for ideas to use in his new film, a slasher pic titled “President’s Day”, and looks for inspiration.
His search brings him to The Vatican (the strip bar, not the Pope’s home) where he looks to a nun (the pole dancer, not the holy woman) for ideas and is told to have faith. He finally turns to charlatan/guru Doctor Love, whose psychedelic-laced elixirs transport Rex to “idea space” (wonderfully depicted in bold, vivid colors and wild hallucinatory images). After several journeys, Rex gets the inspiration to add an unusual expert as consultant on “President’s Day”.

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THE AUTEUR is indeed, as it’s editor claims, gritty and hyper-violent and very original. The images would frighten but they simply surprise us in guilty pleasure fashion due to the skills of artist James Callahan. Editor Charlie Chu aptly describes Callahan’s style as “Looney-Tunes-on-PCP artwork that’s is one part skater hooligan and one part Geoff Darrow. His artwork makes me think he’s only read Jack Kirby comics while hoarding Garbage Pail Kids cards.” The color work by Luigi Anderson is so bright and bold it looks flourescent.
Where this five-part story will end and the path it will take is anybody’s guess. The fun will be in the journey, so board the magic bus and let’s go for a wild ride!

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THE OTHER DEAD #5 of 6 (IDW, January 2014)
Writer/Co-Creator: Joshua Ortega. Co-Creator: Digger T Mesch.
Art: Quing Ping Mui. Colors: Blond.
Letters: Tom B. Long. Creative Consultant: Kevin Eastman.
Based on a film treatment by Digger T Mesch.

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Before you can even open to the first page, the great art assaults you. There are three covers for Issue #5. All three are great and serve as good hints/teasers for the inside contents. Art lovers will want to have all three. (Reviewer’s Note: A bad time for me to get practical instead of impulsive.)

Issue #4 ended with our unlikely band of survivors holed up inside redneck Chet’s house. Issue #5 is an all-out zombie animal assault on the house with enough action and killing to last another two issues. The setting might even be a homage to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD , the original black & white zombie scare fest that is the granddaddy of all current zombie movies, television, fiction, and comics. Never stop the insanity when it’s this good!

Chip, the President’s advisor, does his job and advises everyone to sit tight and wait it out until the evacuation team that President Obama contacted arrives for a rescue extraction. Little Tommy, scoring points for figuring out that Chet is a former Army Ranger (learned it from “video games” ) asks an intelligent rhetorical question: “But didn’t Chet say the animals start coming around at night?” (Flashback to page one where the animal forces are gathering.) Mr. Advisor responds with a classic answer of “Yes, thought I think if we stay put inside we should be just fine.” (Also recalling the infamous line from THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – – – “The cellar’s the safest place!” We know what happened there.)

Chet’s just a little bit paranoid about having an animal-bitten rocker in his home, not to mention a black man (even if he is the President). His suspicions lead him to questioning Obama about the entrance requirements into The Illuminati, as he’s sure that how he landed in office. And then the mayhem begins as the house is broken into by the animals. First it’s a pack of vicious dogs, followed by deer and big ass bears. They all attack with manic fury and don’t go down easy, requiring multiple head shots and smashes.

The art and color throughout the battle scenes is extremely expressive and explicit this issue. Artist Mui is having a field day as he depicts undead animals in various stages of decay, exposed bones and sinews, with skin stretched back across the muzzle to display rotting fangs, etc. The inks and colors are bolder than seen before, with reds and greens illuminating the pages. There are some very effective pages and panels that are shaded one color.
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President Obama should definitely take some time out to investigate this book, as it depicts him in a very favorable light (even if it is bathed in crimson). He takes up arms, blows heads apart with both barrels, kicks, chops and hacks away at the animals when he’s balls to the walls and cornered.
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It all comes to a head rather quickly, as we’ll have to wait for the conclusion in Issue #6 to see how this turns out. It’s not going to be good for one side or the other. If I told you which side (animals or humans) got the upper hand this issue it would spoil too much of this very engaging story. Recommended.

(Reviewer’s Notes: It’s already been announced that a sequel is in the works, slated for late 2014. So that would indicate that somebody or something survived to carry this forward.)

 

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EVIL JESTER PRESENTS #1

 

Evil Jester Press

Anthology of short horror stories.

Various authors and artists.

32 pages. Full color. $3.99 digital copy.

$3.99 plus shipping and handling for print copies.

http://eviljestercomics.com

 

That headline above is the slogan that greets visitors to the website for EVIL JESTER PRESENTS #1, which debuted on December 12, 2013. The good news is that Issue #1 delivers on the promise and deserves the attention. When you click on the link for press releases, a giant comic page greets (and threatens) you and gives a good indication of what the contents of Issue #1 will contain . . . . . . .

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“I’m a hopeless geek with nearly 60,000 comics in my collection—much of it horror—so this is truly a dream project for me,” said Taylor Grant, Evil Jester Comics co-founder and editor-in-chief. “For years I’ve wanted to bring back the types of horror comics I read as a kid and infuse them with the modern sophistication of today’s best horror writers. We have done just that.” As for whether or not EVIL JESTER #1 can achieve those ambitions – – – Grant is dead-on !
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Author Jonathan Maberry begins the introduction to Issue #1 and refers to a developing writer’s imagination and style influenced in the formative years by a steady diet of EC Comics, CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA magazines. He adds: “That’s probably where I learned how to tell a good horror tale. They didn’t waste time. They were mostly six, eight and ten page complete stories that jumped right into the plot and didn’t slow down until the last shocking panel.”

Issue #1 debuts with stories from noted writers Jack Ketchum, the same Jonathan Maberry, William F. Nolan, and Joe McKinney. Ketchum’s story ‘The Box’ , adapted by editor Taylor Grant with art by Beni Lobel is the opening offering, and a great choice as the text version was the winner of a Bram Stoker Award for horror writing. While all the stories in EVIL JESTER PRESENTS #1 are capable of inducing shudders that originate in the spine, nothing creates a full-body feeling of dread like ‘The Box’, which may continue to haunt long after the last page is finished. The tale is narrated by a father, who begins as a happy family member taking his wife, son, and two daughters on a Christmas shopping trip by train when an seemingly innocent moment of curiosity triggers a dramatic change in the family dynamic. This goes well beyond the tropes of dysfunctional families – – more like disintegrating families. Even in the most visibly adjusted families, we’ve all heard parents wonder if deep down they truly know and understand their children. ‘The Box’ takes that parental dread and projects it into a worst case scenario. As the distance between the father and his family members grows further and further apart the sense of isolation and loneliness is overwhelming. You’ll be making room for ‘The Box’ in your storeroom of memories, as this is a story that may linger on. Artist Lobel is very adept at portraying facial expressions and conveying the emotions that affect the characters in the story. Once bright and beaming faces turn pale and indifferent as the story progresses. Lobel also colored the story, and uses both warm and cold colors in the appropriate panels and scenes. Chilling, indeed.

The second story ‘Swallowed’ is also an adaptation of a Joe McKinney tale, done by writer Aric Sundquist with art by Esteve Polls. It’s a luridly illustrated story of a swampy residential area that creates extra-large events. When a formerly pet snake, now enlarged beyond python size, returns to its former homestead in search of nourishment there are surprises in store. This shorter story left me feeling clammy but I squirmed out of that because there were more stories to experience.
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The next tale, from noted author William F. Nolan, brought back the feeling of dread with its speculative projections of a long-term alien invasion of Earth. If you were the invader and wanted to conquer a planet for the long haul, you might want to win over a major contingent of the population to your cause. Wouldn’t it be much easier to influence and then train younger, impressionable minds rather than focus on the adult population? That might mean needing to eliminate anyone over a certain age, oh, say six years old. As adapted by editor Taylor Grant with art from Salva Navarro (that brought back memories of Wally Wood and Jack Kirby) ‘Small World’ is not to be over-looked. The poor adult narrator of the story spends the entire time in flight from pursuit by the younger generation of . . . aliens? Guess again. This is the second favorite story of the issue.

Issue #1 concludes with ‘Like Part Of The Family’ adapted from Jonathan Maberry’s story by Aric Sundquist and Taylor Grant, with art by Nacho Arranz. What starts out as more of a crime/detective tale takes a dramatic turn and morphs into a completely different kind of story. An attractive woman hires a friendly detective to help enforce a restraining order filed against her abusive husband. Nothing and no one is exactly who they seem to be.

EVIL JESTER PRESENTS offers a nice blend of horror and speculative fantasy, and even manages to include some familiar monsters (with subtle changes). Twist endings. A general feeling of dread. Stories that get their point across in a minimum of pages and pack a punch. Congrats to editor Taylor Grant and publisher Charles Day! I believe you have pulled it off.

 

 

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THE OTHER DEAD #3 of 6  (IDW Publishing, release date November 13, 2013)  Writer / Co-Creator: Joshua Ortega.  Co-Creator: Digger T  Mesch.  Art: Quing Ping Mui.  Colors: Blond.  Letters: Tom B. Long.  Edits: Tom Waltz. Creative Consultant: Kevin Eastman.  Based on a film treatment by Digger T Mesch.  Covers by Sam Shearon, Shane White, Kevin Eastman & David Millgate.     www.theotherdead.com  www.idwpublishing.com

After three issues of THE OTHER DEAD the half-way point in this grisly but gripping saga of a zombie plague has been reached.  Events have been heating up to a boiling point. The furious and savage attacks by various species of the animal kingdom against humanity are now widespread, especially in the state of Louisiana which seems to be the epicenter. With a hurricane threatening to accelerate the devastation and isolation even further, Issue #4 should be on absolute fire and ready to explode. That leaves two remaining issues to bring everything to a resolution or conclusion, and this reviewer wonders when and how (and why) it will all end.

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Let’s consider together some very popular zombie fiction (and film) for a moment.  Fans of the comic book series dislike the television series, and vice versa.  But would they both agree on the following? = Is it accurate to state that THE WALKING DEAD is first and foremost a human interest drama, with the gruesome tale of zombie infestation being a secondary concern?  Please make a decision, pick one or the other, and hold that thought.  Now, will the growing readership of THE OTHER DEAD consider this statement?   Is it accurate to state that THE OTHER DEAD is first and foremost a gory tale of the rise of the animal kingdom and their revenge against their persecutors (human race), with the human interest drama being a secondary concern?   Please make a decision, pick one or the other, and hold that thought.

Perhaps it’s a commentary by Lynda E. Rucker that appeared in U.K. horror publication BLACK STATIC #36 (September-October 2013) that stimulated this thought and led me to ponder the creators’ intentions. (Sure, I could always contact them and beg the question.  But I would rather wait for the end, and be either surprised or have my suspicions confirmed.  It’s more fun this way.)  In her column, Rucker considers horror storytelling and genre storytelling in general and debates whether they should entertain first and foremost, or contain meaning and purpose.  Also, she asks “can the two approaches exist side by side?”

It came down to this comment by her, which really struck home and stimulated the thoughts that influenced the way I began this review

“Fiction and film that demands a bit more of its audience, however, is a little more endangered, because it doesn’t always go down as easily and (most significantly) it doesn’t usually make as  much money. But one of the things I love most is a challenge.  I like dense prose, difficult characters, uncomfortable truths, have-to-read-it-twiceor-more-to-get-it stories. Tell me a tale that will make me look at the world differently once you’re done, not because you’ve taken me out of the world, but because you have located me more firmly within it even as you’ve infused it with the supernatural, the numinous, the impossible.”

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Does that mean that PETA will embrace THE OTHER DEAD and utilize it as a call to assemble for their cause?   (I doubt that, but it’s an interesting thought.)  Will some meat-eating readers of THE OTHER DEAD begin to feel guilty about their food choices and convert to vegetarianism as a result?  (That’s another interesting thought.)  Could a reviewer by searching for meaning or just sharing some deeper thoughts generated by THE OTHER DEAD suddenly revive a sleepy readership and provoke some comments on the website?  (That’s a third interesting thought.)

The only things that appear fairly certain at this point are that 1) not every character introduced will still be around by Issue #6;  2) the odds seem to be stacked against the human race; and 3) artist Quing Ping Mui is a major talent who deserves more recognition.  So far, our intrepid group comprised of a death metal band, some hooker girlfriends, and a younger brother has suffered the loss of two of their members. Birds, gators, dogs and now squirrels (which can infiltrate a home rather easily) are all out for blood.  If the critters don’t get them, the hurricane-fed tropical storm surely will.   From gory images of animal savagery to a range of vivid facial expressions (which makes crystal clear the emotional trauma being experienced) to background scenery, detail, and a fantastic final page of the storm at its worst – – Mui can do it all.

What also occurs in Issue #3 is the President and chief advisor meeting up with rocker Azrael and friends after surviving an assault on their vehicle by a vicious pack of rapid, drooling dogs. (Finally, the President gets his kicks in.)  And, for the first time he is identified by name as “Obama”.  Make no mistake about the vaguely familiar man as drawn by Mui.  Yeah, the Prez is here.  There are also disturbing images and consequences associated with an escape from a gator assault on an SUV.  Some redneck hunters may have found a sure-fire solution to curbing the spread of the virus, but at what cost?

It doesn’t bode well for the final outcome here.  And, if humanity survives at the cost of the animal kingdom, what does that do for the balance of nature?  How might it change the future?  Perhaps the creators have some surprises in store along the way.  I’ll be watching this closely the rest of the way and will continue to post some updates here (doing my best to avoid completely spoiling it.)  I highly recommend this mini-series. Go check it out.    

 

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THE OTHER DEAD #1  (IDW, release date September 25, 2013)    Writer / Co-Creator: Joshua Ortega, Digger T Mesch.  Art: Quing Ping Mui.  Colors: Blond.  Letters: Tom B. Long.  Edits: Tom Waltz.  Creative Consultant: Kevin Eastman.  Based on a film treatment by Digger T Mesch.  Covers: Logo cover by Reynir Hauksson;  Obama cover by Dave Dorman;  Zombie turtles cover by Kevin Eastman & David Millgate.

          THE OTHER DEAD received some unexpected advance publicity from an unlikely source a few weeks ago when all copies were held up in U.S. Customs on their way to the United States via an Asian printer.  The book did not debut on September 11 as scheduled and rumors circulated that it was due to the controversial variant cover featuring an armed and angry President Obama.  The Customs’ office explanation (that they were spraying for moths) was doubted, and the conspiracy theories helped peak curiosity for the book, probably ensuring that it will sell out on the release date, now scheduled for September 25, 2013.

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          There is new interest in the book as a result, and speculation on whether the contents will justify all the attention.  I’m happy to report that THE OTHER DEAD is a gritty, gruesome but fresh take on the well-worn zombie genre that contains a sufficient element of satire to induce some chuckles along with the shivers.  Far from predictable, it moves along at a rapid pace as it mixes a little fun in with the suspense and terror.  Its worth your checking out, and by all means try to obtain a copy of the awesome Obama cover by renowned artist Dave Dorman.

          Things begin in shotgun fashion as a Texas trio of deer hunters (one with a familiar face) bring down their prey in one explosive kill shot to the head.  There’s a quick political in-joke to ease the tension, occurring just moments before the now angry prey gets back up.  The captioned narration talks about the beginnings of the infection, and concludes that it may have been airborne, “like an air of death had been carrying on the wind, just waiting for the right gust to push it all the way.”

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          There’s a huge handful of creative talent working on this book – – Joshua Ortega (Gears Of War, Star Wars Tales); Digger T Mesch (Agent 88, founder of Art Asylum); and Kevin Eastman (co-creator of TMNT and current publisher of Heavy Metal magazine) – – and they vigorously inject new life into familiar and somewhat dormant subject matter.  But what really propels THE OTHER DEAD into a higher gear is the amazing art of Qing Ping Mui.  It’s an original style, but comparing it to some other artists will help those unfamiliar with Mui (as I was) get an idea of how visually stunning his work is:  take the photo-realistic style of Leonardo Manco and Steve Epting and put an edge on it similar to Frank Quitely and Carlos Magno.  The attention to detail is impressive, and Mui enhances the hysterical mood through incredibly expressive facial reactions.  He transfers that same expressive look to the faces of the animals as well, helping to heighten the sense of impending doom that disturbs the human characters.  And, if someone wants to script a comic about a strip club pole dancer they really need Mui to visualize it for them.

          Following the bloody opening scenes, THE OTHER DEAD puts the pedal to the metal and doesn’t let off the gas until the final panel.  Issue #1 is a whirlwind-paced prelude to what comes next.  The rest of the activity takes place in Louisiana, which is about to be devastated by another ferocious hurricane just as the infected animal activity begins to fester.  The major characters include the members of a struggling death metal band who decide to break into a breeding pen of ducks and see if a blood bath can revive their music, the leader’s dancer girlfriend and her roommate, the President of the United States (depicted as Barack Obama, but not identified by name) and young Tommy.  Tommy is the most sympathetic of all these characters and also the narrator voice in the captions.

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There’s an early moment of dread when Tommy hurls his bacon and eggs breakfast (nice spatter detail) and we wonder if he has ingested breakfast made from infected animals.  But Tommy seems to be suffering from his own illness (possibly terminal).  As illustrated by Mui, he appears a little pasty-faced and weary, as if feeling the effects of radiation treatment or chemo-therapy.  

During the U.S. Customs delay and my news article about it  ( see http://bcrefugees.blogspot.com/2013/09/september-11-release-of-other-dead.html  )  I also challenged the creators’ claims to being the first to feature animal infestation in a zombie tale, referring to THE FINAL PLAGUE (begins and spreads through rats) among others. I now realize that their claim is valid.  The zombie plague in THE OTHER DEAD will be confined to the animal kingdom, and this six-issue series will be primarily about humans trying to survive as more and more animal species turn into flesh craving zombies.  This is what differentiates THE OTHER DEAD from other zombie books that feature animals – – the protagonist is the animal kingdom, and not infected humans.

          I also would not be surprised to see PETA file a complaint regarding the inhumane and cruel abuse of animals in Issue #1.  They should realize that it’s

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only a comic book, and no actual animals were harmed in the production of THE OTHER DEAD.  In fact, with the exception of the zombie gator that chomps down on an infected duck, its cruelty to animals that seems to trigger the disease in the deer and ducks in Issue #1.  There’s a message/warning to humans here . The animal kingdom is long overdue their come-uppance.  PETA would be pleased. 

It also seems that THE OTHER DEAD was held up in U.S. Customs not because of the Obama variant cover but because they really did need to spray the shipment for moths.  It’s ironic and amusing that a book about zombie animals is delayed because of concerns about what disease or infection the moths might spread. Grounded in reality, perhaps?

 

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THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE

A novel by Neil Gaiman   www.NeilGaiman.com

William Morrow,  178 pages

Hardcover, $25.99   www.harpercollins.com

Can you recall the day you learned that Santa Claus was not real?  (Or the Easter Bunny, Great Pumpkin, Tooth Fairy, etc. . .?)  You probably heard that via an older brother or sister, a favorite cousin, a respected friend (probably a few years older than you), or even your parents.  Because you looked up to the person that gave you the sad but true news, you made a conscious decision to change your beliefs. You wanted to be more like that person because you respected and admired them, and so you changed your mindset. You moved away from your childhood reality and a step closer to adult responsibility, just one of many formative steps in your life until you came to the place where you are today.  Every one of those steps was your decision, and each time the cost was the abandonment of some innocent and carefree childhood perceptions. Eventually, we reach the point where we can no longer recall those early beliefs from the days when we were so very young and naïve.

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          Neil Gaiman has the tools to help you remember.  Whether or not that is his intention, during the course of his skilled story-telling those memories may come back to the surface during your reading of THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE.   As you read further and become immersed in Gaiman’s story, maybe some of those recollections may occur for you.  I recall a short time pre-kindergarten (and a little bit later, prompted by a Halloween incident) when I thought that witches might be real. They either lived in our neighborhood in disguise during daylight hours or stayed hidden deep in the woods, occasionally straying closer to civilization during moonless nights.

During your early days, were there adults that you gravitated to because they seemed like kindly mentors of the Gandalf variety, or that you avoided because they seemed evil like Mephistopholes and would corrupt you or hurt you?  Children often proscribe mystical abilities to those adults whose characters they are trying to discern. So, is the main character in THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE simply recalling those early misguided perceptions of reality, or is he relating events as they actually happened? The deeper you read into this short novel, the more whimsical and unreal that past history becomes. It’s highly engrossing and some early reviewers relate how they read the novel in one sitting, unable to put it aside.

Some details about the novel that struck me as odd during the early chapters now seem as if they were deliberate. Gaiman’s narrator, an adult male who was seven years old during the 1960’s, never reveals his name.  As he tells his memoirs, none of the other characters address him by name and speak directly to him without preface.  The novel begins with the narrator attending a funeral in Sussex  (England), the town where he grew up.  We can only assume it is one of his parents as he is called on to make a memorial statement.  Rather than distance the reader from the narrator, it actually brings him closer. Instead of dropping a nametag on the story-teller, it transforms him into more of a universal Everyman in whom we can all find some traits in common.

As our book guide follows up the funeral with a walking tour of his former residence and local haunts, the memories come back and he recalls all the details of his character-building experience at the tender age of seven.  THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE concludes with a tender epilogue relating what he discovers during that return visit.  It’s an effective framing device which captures this moment of young discovery and surrounds it with a shell of older, mature rationality/reality.

The main character is a lonely, shy youth sheltered from frequent companionship by the remote country estate where he resides and also through his introverted nature. He does not make friends easily, and becomes a voracious reader choosing to occupy his leisure moments in fantasy worlds.  Following a trauma-inducing event involving the suicide of a renter at their home, he discovers a quaint country farm of dreamy landscapes and meets the friendly girl Lettie, an eleven year old who lives there. He later meets the rest of her family (mother and grandmother) maintaining the farm and develops a friendly relationship where he becomes their frequent visitor.

Lettie’s family seems to have wisdom beyond their years and unusual gifts as well.  They are not witches in the traditional sense, but possess magical abilities. As events move forward the reader gets the feeling that they are of a different and immortal race and not from Earth proper.  When Lettie is asked to obtain something from another dimension, she brings the young boy along for companionship, instructing him to hold her hand the entire time. During his journey to this dreamlike world with just enough similarities to ground it in reality, he loses his grip for a short while which results in another being using him as a portal to Earth.  Soon after, the cross-dimensional traveler manifests as the new nanny at their residence, befriending his parents and younger sister but not earning the narrator’s trust.

The conflict arises as our narrator works to expose the nanny for who she really is.  He escapes from her confines and enlists Lettie’s family to help him send her away.  Every action has consequences and there are many to occur as Gaiman threads his magic through the story.  It ended much too soon, and I was left wanting more.  However, the ending is not an ambiguous one and much is resolved satisfactorily.

Another interesting theme that runs throughout THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE is the superior wisdom of the female characters, especially Lettie’s family, and even the cruel nanny Ursula Monkton. The three prominent male characters (the narrator, his father, and the suicidal tenant) are all indecisive, self-centered, and failures to some degree or another. The only exceptions are the mother, who just seems too pre-occupied with her working career, and the trusting sister who is easily deceived simply because of her younger age.

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Neil Gaiman has authored more than twenty books, including AMERICAN GODS and others for which he has earned many literary honors. He first shot to prominence as the writer/creator of the comic book fantasy SANDMAN for DC/Vertigo Comics.  A native of England, he currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife (musician Amanda Palmer) and children.

 

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Other Dead 2

THE OTHER DEAD #2 (IDW, release date October 23, 2013)  Writer / Co-Creator: Joshua Ortega.  Co-Creator: Digger T  Mesch.  Art: Quing Ping Mui.  Colors: Blond.  Letters: Tom B. Long.  Edits: Tom Waltz. Creative Consultant: Kevin Eastman.  Based on a film treatment by Digger T Mesch.  Covers by Qing Ping Mui & Blond; RI and Samwise Didier; Kevin Eastman & David Millgate + Blond.        www.theotherdead.com

     The Mui cover should get the most attention this time, and rightly so. In great detail a pack of bloody infected dogs chew on the scenery including the American Flag.  The backdrop features a distraught President and advisor, while our main characters look for new, safer destinations. The symbolism speaks for itself, perhaps hinting at an inevitable conclusion to this mini-series.

So far, the variant covers by Kevin Eastman have been the least interesting. That doesn’t mean they are awful or not worth collecting.  On the contrary, the Eastman covers are very colorful, depicting various animal species in the throes of zombie virus infection.  However, now that it’s been revealed that all the Eastman covers are inter-connecting to form a large mural they become even more fascinating.

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What began as an assumed revenge of the birds against the struggling death-metal band (that decided a little sacrificial blood-letting would launch them on their big breakthrough) continues in Issue #2.  However, despite the thinking of band member Jude that they caused the problem (“Dude, that shit worked, man – -“) horrific and tragic events are occurring continent-wide that have no connection whatsoever other than almost all animal life has been infected with a virus with rabid, blood-seeking symptoms.

As the story continues, rocker Az and younger brother Tommy barely escape a kamikaze bird attack on their home. They are rescued just in time by his hooker girlfriend Alyssa and her hooker roommate Justine and their handy SUV. The best lines this issue are uttered by the pale and sickly young Tommie (quickly becoming my favorite character) as he frantically tries to update the ladies on recent events: “Dead ducks. Zombie dead ducks. . . .Yeah, they weren’t normal – they were all bloody and dead, but they still were moving . . . and they were pissed.”)

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Things proceed at an even more rapid pace than in Issue #1.  Before things end (for now) in bloody fashion, the President (who has just enough distinct features to imply that he is Obama, but never identified as him) decides a visit to storm-plagued Louisiana is appropriate despite the warnings of his advisors and the Center For Disease Control.  After the birds, come the dogs (brought on by over-reaction by the President’s bodyguards – – just another case of Washington “wagging the tail”) and then the “gators” (who assault the reunited rock band and friends).

Issue #2 does not disappoint in any department.  The art team captures all the gruesome detail in glorious Technicolor, as well as carefully depicted backgrounds and character details.  Quing Pui Ming is a real talent and bears repeated watching.

THE DEVIL’S DOG  Issue #1 of 3  (Monsterverse, October 2013)  Story and Art by Scott Youtsey. www.thedevilsdog.com   www.monsterverse.com     

Devil's Dog cover

With the use of just several colors (rather than the full four-color and combinations explosion of most comics) and a minimum of dialogue, THE DEVIL’S DOG commands your attention through its quick lope through the first 27 pages of Act One.  Just as the tension builds to a breaking point, it ends.   Many readers will scratch their heads trying to make sense of what they have just seen while breathing a sigh of tension-breaking relief at the same time.  There is a wonderful use of visually stunning images of cinematic scope plus great use of inks and shading and depth to help create and enhance the mood.  It all makes more sense after reading the preface page, which also adds more layers and complexity to the story.  I didn’t read the preface until after I had finished the comic – – and I recommend you take the same approach for best entertainment value.

The opening act takes place on the desert highways of 1969 Oklahoma as a hippie traveler with a dark sense of pleasure gets assaulted by a lycanthropic thrill-seeker.  All of this confrontation takes place within and without a fast-moving Plymouth Barracuda.  The attention to detail by Youtsey is admirable, as is the little touches he includes that brand the story as a real period piece. You will be reminded of 1960’s drive-in movie thrillers, an intended effect that Youtsey confirms on his website.    This is one to watch.  Recommended.

Devil's Dog page

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vamp vixens logo

 

VAMPIRE VIXENS OF THE WEHRMACHT “If You Want Blood” one-shot (Bump and Grind Comics, August 2013, second printing with foreword by film maker Paul Campion) Writers: The Emperor + Alex Ronald.  Artist: Alex Ronald.  Letterer:  Jim Campbell.  Original Concept: Alex Ronald.  (Parental Advisory, Adult Content) Limited print run, but digital copies are available from http://www.vampirevixens.co.uk/ 

If you can’t figure out what this comic is about from that title, then I’m guessing you’ve been living for decades in a cave without a DVD player and no access to cable television. VAMPIRE VIXENS OF THE WEHRMACHT is a fast-paced horror comic driven by action, rooted in World War II history, and dripping with blood, gore and tantalizing sexual imagery.  What makes it work is a light-hearted approach to the subject matter, all in fun but never silly or stupid.  You may find yourself laughing at several of the scenarios or chuckling at the devilish dialogue.

          VAMPIRE VIXENS OF THE WEHRMACHT debuted at the Glasgow Comic Con in July 2013, and is the brainchild of primary creator Alex Ronald of Glasgow, Scotland.  Ronald is a former comics illustrator who worked primarily in British series back in the 1990’s, and this marks a partial and very welcome return to the comics format.   The one-shot story was well-received and the first printing sold out at the festival, with stock of the second printing almost depleted. Digital copies will continue to be sold through the shop on the webpage noted above.

What impresses immediately with the opening prologue pages is the photo-realistic style of Alex Ronald and how he uses inks and color to add the appropriate shading and depth. Dimensions and proportions are spot on and stand out when intended.  Ronald is also very adept at illustrating male and female anatomy along with depicting naked pagan rituals.

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The action begins in 1940 London, with fears of an imminent German invasion by Hitler’s forces.  After learning that the Nazis have revived and enslaved four ancient female vampires (from a site in Tunisia, Africa), Winston Churchill (perfectly portrayed here) forms the Special Occult Executive team. A core member of that team (we are only introduced to two members) is one of the Nazi vampire women, now freed from Hitler’s enslavement through the mysticism of necromancer Aleister Crowley.

The other member of the team is Morris, a chaplain as well as “a former member of the Royal Marine Commandos and a Vatican-sanctioned exorcist” and obviously appalled and offended by who he’s been teamed up with.  He’s frequently in argument with the former Nazi tool, and has to keep this vampire vixen under control as she continually taunts and tempts him with sexual puns and innuendos. We never learn her name (Libyenah) until 22 pages into the story, but it’s doubtful that any readers will fail to remember her character.  She is adorned in leather (a sleeveless vest with no shirt, just a big zipper down the center) and below the waist wears only a lock-free leather chastity belt that features a cheek-free back.  In her kinky boots with lots of buckles, she is a real temptress, leather clad, sexy, and packing a firm load of sass.

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The British also employ a team of psychics who uncover a Nazi plan for a supernatural attack on England.  They are four elderly, hat-wearing ladies sipping tea while they channel Nazi spirits.  They will remind many Monty Python fans of the sketch where The War of the Roses is reenacted by members of a women’s tea club, swinging their handbags in fierce battle and screaming their lungs out.

The new SOE team must sneak into the Black Forest in Western Germany, interrupt a midnight satanic coven (naked witches and naked Nazis) in order to steal away a small portion of Adolph Hitler’s anatomy that was removed by his mother during childhood, a spherical object that is apparently a power source for the supernatural forces that will be turned against England.  The battle that ensues is full of blood and bullets complete with exploding body parts.  Libyenah get extra credit for her impromptu choice of creative weapon.

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VAMPIRE VIXENS OF THE WEHRMACHT is worth your attention. You will be entertained, amused and possibly stimulated.  Alex Ronald, please come back for more. Another one-shot issue is in the planning for late 2014, in a chapter titled “Arses High”.

Alex Ronald currently resides in Glasgow, Scotland and was a regular artist in the 1990’s for the British comic 2000 AD, mostly drawing the character Judge Dredd.  He also spent some time working for DC Comics, as an artist on LOBO.  Since 2000, he’s been mostly involved in the computer graphics industry as a digital 3D modeler and 2D concept painter, working on TV commercials, video games, films and kids TV shows.  Some of his other work can be viewed on his blog at http://alexronald68.blogspot.co.uk/.

When asked why he chose a WWII story of vampires and Nazis for his return to comics, Alex responded:  “Painting blood thirsty vampire women, wartime action and gore is my therapy after all the nicey, cutesy day job artwork.  It’s also a throwback to all the war comics I used to read as a kid in the 70’s (but in a very X certificate fashion).”

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