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Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: The First Death #1

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment

July 10, 2007

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: The First Death Part One
Rating: Parental Advisory

An untold early adventure of Anita Blake.

Writers: Laurell K. Hamilton & Jonathon Green
Art: Wellington Alves
Colors: Color Dojo
Letters: Bill Tortolini
Editor: Mike Raicht
Cover Art: Brett Booth
Publisher: Marvel Comics/Dabel Brothers

Anita Blake fans who are upset about the hiatus between issues six and seven of Guilty Pleasures, take heart. This two-issue miniseries is a nice treat for fans of the character – a never-before told tale of Anita Blake. The young vampire hunter is brought in on the case of a bloodsucking serial killer – some vampire is brutally murdering children and leaving their bodies out in the open. This is more than a usual vampire killing… this is something much worse.

The first issue in this two-parter works very well. It gives us a some nice backstory on Anita and her first encounter with Guilty Pleasures, but it also works well as a murder mystery in its own right. What’s more, this story is PACKED. Even for a giant-sized issue, there’s a lot of story here, a lot of dialogue, a lot of information. For those of you sick of comic books you can read in 30 seconds, Anita Blake is the answer.

Wellington Alves is handling the art for this miniseries, and does quite a good job. His style is similar enough to regular artist Brett Booth to not be jarring, but he also has a slightly softer line, something that helps reflect that this Anita isn’t quite as weathered or hardened as the Anita we’ve read in the Guilty Pleasures series.

Adaptations of popular novels are great, but this is the sort of thing I hope we see more of in the future – new stories featuring popular characters, stories that may be even more beneficial in generating some crossover readership. Fans of Anita who passed on Guilty Pleasures may be enticed to pick this up for the new stuff, and that can only be a good thing.

Rating: 8/10

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The Hedge Knight #6

May 7, 2011 1 comment

May 16, 2004

Quick Rating: Great

The champions selected, the Trial of Seven begins… and Dunk’s life hangs in the balance!

Writers: George R.R. Martin & Ben Avery
Pencils: Mike S. Miller
Inks: Mike Crowell
Colors: Team Kandora
Letters: Bill Tortolini
Editor: Robert Silverberg
Cover Art: Mike S. Miller (Cover A); Ted Nasmith (Cover B)
Publisher: Devil’s Due/DB Pro

After striking a prince to protect an innocent girl, Ser Dunk has been forced to find six men willing to fight with him against the King’s men in a Trial of Seven. Last issue he gathered his warriors, including good Prince Baelor, uncle of Dunk’s accuser. This final issue of the miniseries deals with the ferocious Trial and its aftermath.

Martin and Avery have done their homework. This isn’t a sanitized joust like you get on TV and in the movies. This is swift, brutal, and deadly for good men as well as bad. Dunk, who carries the secret that he was never truly knighted before his master died, is forced to become a knight on the field of battle by resorting to the sort of non-chivalrous fisticuffs that he learned as a boy, before he was taken in by the late Ser Arlen.

This story marks an end for several characters, while for almost everyone else a new chapter is begun. This story, although set in the world of Martin’s popular Song of Fire and Ice series, is set a good hundred years before those novels, and I don’t know how much overlap there actually is between the stories. It seems far enough in the past that anything is really possible.

Miller’s art continues to impress the way it has since the first issue and throughout his run on G.I. Joe Versus the TransFormers. He has a sort of style that is clear but still powerful, structured well and remains distinctive. The battle scenes in this issue take place in the mud, and Miller, Crowell and the coloring team show the gradual change as our heroes begin in bright, shining armor and gradually become covered with dirt, grime and blood. This is simply some of the best artwork in comics today, and I’d go so far as to say Mike Miller is the best working artist who’s not a star, and he’s a far cry better than a lot of artists who are.

The Dabel Brothers (of DB Pro) seem to be making their mark on comics, at least at first, by adapting novels (although I am extremely excited about Miller’s upcoming original project, The Imaginaries). Hopefully they’ll come back to this world before long – there’s already a sequel to The Hedge Knight called The Sworn Sword, not to mention the several books in the Song of Fire and Ice cycle. There’s plenty of room to tell more stories in this setting, and if they’re all as good as The Hedge Knight, I can be counted on to follow them all.

Rating: 9/10

George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards: The Hard Call #1

March 25, 2011 Leave a comment

April 11, 2008

George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards: The Hard Call #1 (Dabel Brothers Publishing)
By Daniel Abraham & Eric Battle

I first discovered the Wild Cards series of novels a few years ago and quickly became a fan. It’s an amazing superhero universe with a unique concept — superheroes and mutations alike caused by an alien virus, and how the world has evolved in the 50 years since the virus first struck. This is the second time they’ve brought this universe into comics (there was an Epic miniseries from Marvel in the late 80s), and unlike many of the Dabel Brother‘s novel-to-comic projects, this is an original story. “The Sleeper,” an Ace whose power occasionally sends him into hibernation only to wake up with a different ability each time, comes out of his slumber and seeks out his girlfriend, a nurse at a clinic for those impacted by the Wild Card virus. Meanwhile, a high school science fair turns into tragedy when a new outbreak of the virus cuts loose. There are two distinct storylines here, but even though there’s no obvious connectivity it’d be hard to imagine they won’t be brought together before our six issues are up. It’s nice to see some new characters here, as well as the return of one of the most interesting characters from the novels. If you’ve never read any Wild Cards before, this book will get you right into the story right away. Definitely worth reading.
Rating: 8/10

Lullaby: Wisdom Seeker #2

March 11, 2011 1 comment

April 30, 2005

Quick Rating: Very Good

As Pinocchio faces a new threat, Alice may be meeting new allies.

Plot: Mike S. Miller & Andres Ledesma
Script: Mike S. Miller & Ben Avery
Art: Hector Sevilla
Colors: Simon Bork, David Curiel & Ulises Arreola
Letters: Bill Tortolini
Editor: Mike S. Miller
Cover Art: Hector Sevilla
Publisher: Image Comics/Alias Enterprises/DB Pro

Review: This new fantasy series from Alias Enterprises continues, and it succeeds on many of the same levels on the first issue. We open up on a strange, twisted version of Little Red Riding Hood, a girl who has somehow become half-wolf, and is now traveling the woods with the Pied Piper. Together, they come face-to-face with a rather hideous, porcine woodsman, as Alice looks on.

Meanwhile, Jim Hawkins and Pinnochio come to the rescue of a pair of familiar children that are lost in the wilderness. There’s a nice little battle scene, and we see more of what makes these characters different from their classic counterparts. (Halfway through the issue, for instance, it hit me why Pinnochio refers to himself as “it,” and it breaks the heart). We also get the first hint of the true menace in our prologue, as a mysterious figure (with a disturbingly familiar fashion sense) sets his sights on one of our heroes.

The first issue switched far too abruptly from one set of characters to the other. This issue is a little better about that, swinging back and forth between our two main groups of heroes freely, and helping the story feel more cohesive. It’s not perfect – there’s still not much of a hint as how the characters will come together in the second half of this miniseries (yes, an ongoing will follow from Alias after their deal with Image ends, but you’ve got to judge this on its own merits), and it’s never entirely clear what becomes of the children Jim and Pinocchio save.

Hector Sevilla, creator of the series, does a beautiful job on the art chores. While he does have some Manga flavor to his style, that’s clearly not his only influence – he has a lot of American superhero influence and does some really imaginative stuff for the monsters and creatures that are all over this book.

I’m still enjoying this comic book very much and highly recommend it for anyone who’s trying to lure in new readers, particularly young ones. However, I have to admit, I’m starting to suspect this is a story that will read much better in collected form.

Rating: 8/10

The Hedge Knight #5

March 7, 2011 Leave a comment

April 3, 2004
Quick Rating: Very Good

A Trial of Seven is proclaimed for Ser Dunk’s life… but who will fight with him?

Writers: George R.R. Martin & Ben Avery
Pencils: Mike S. Miller
Inks: Mike Crowell
Colors: Team Kandora
Letters: Bill Tortolini
Editor: Robert Silverberg
Cover Art: Mike S. Miller (Cover A); Ted Nasmith (Cover B)
Publisher: Devil’s Due/DB Pro

For his skirmish with Prince Aerion, Dunk is sentenced to a Trial of Seven. He must find six knights willing to stand with him in battle against seven of the King’s men or his life will be forfeit. But how will a lowly hedge knight, one who was never even properly knighted by his fallen master, find six men who are strong of sword and will to stand with him against the crown?

This is another solid issue showing Dunk’s failings and strengths, particularly of character. It is his good heart but poor judgment that got him in this predicament in the first place. It is that same heart that he must count on to draw six other good men to his side to fight for his life for the crime of striking a mad prince who, for his part, was prepared to do terrible things to an innocent woman.

Most of this issue is concerned with Dunk’s efforts to find comrades, and the fact that they are willing to fight with him says as much about their character as it does about Dunk’s own. The issue sets up the massive Trial of Seven, which promises to be the showcase of the next, final issue in the miniseries.

Mike S. Miller deserves to be a comic book superstar. He and Mike Crowell do a beautiful job with this issue, with almost no action to speak of. This is, in many instances, a talking heads issue, but the visuals are never dull. The dour look on Dunk’s face as the weight of his situation sinks in… beautiful scenes in the rain… designs for armor that get more and more inventive. Along with Team Kandora doing the color work, each page of this comic really is a work of art.

This has been a heartily satisfying fantasy series from the outset. There’s plenty more stories to tell in George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, from which this is adapted – I hope DB Pro gets to keep doing it.

Rating: 8/10

Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter-Guilty Pleasures #6

February 9, 2011 Leave a comment

April 16, 2007

Quick Rating: Good
Rating: Parental Advisory

Anita needs to go undercover – but she’s not going without a protector.

Writer: Laurell K. Hamilton
Adaptation: Jess Ruffner
Art: Brett Booth
Colors: Imaginary Friends
Letters: Bill Tortolini
Editor: Mike Raicht
Cover Art: Brett Booth
Publisher: Marvel Comics/Dabel Brothers

Guilty Pleasures, Anita Blake’s first foray into comic books, reaches its halfway point this issue, just in time to go on hiatus until September. Anita’s quest to save her best friend’s life takes a turn as she’s forced to work with the recovering “vampire junkie” named Phillip to delve into the underworld of a “party” to try to wiggle her way into the vampire world.

Hamilton’s story has proved very successful in the transition from novels to comics. The story is definitely visual enough to make work as a comic, and Brett Booth deserves a lot of credit for how well he’s envisioned the world that Hamilton created. Jess Ruffner’s adaptation works pretty well here, although some of the dialogue occasionally comes across as slightly stilted. On the other hand, a passage where Anita quotes some classic poetry uses the ease of narrative captions wonderfully, making me wonder if the scene could possibly have worked as well in the original novel.

The book ends very much on a cliffhanger, which will have those readers getting this story for the first time through comics quite concerned for the next several months. The Dabel Brothers have a handbook and other Anita comics planned for the interim, but I’m rather surprised to see such a gap in publication. Still, I appreciate that they at least made the announcement here rather than waiting three months with no new comic and then sneaking some news out on the Internet.

A strong issue – not the best of this series so far, but strong enough.

Rating: 6/10

Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter-Guilty Pleasures #3

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

December 26, 2006

Quick Rating: Very Good
Rating: Parental Advisory

Anita comes face-to-face with Nikolaos

Writer: Laurell K. Hamilton
Adaptation: Stacie M. Ritchie
Art: Brett Booth
Colors: Arif Priyanto
Letters: Bill Tortolini
Editor: Sean J. Jordan/Mark Paniccia
Cover Art: Brett Booth
Publisher: Marvel Comics/Dabel Brothers

I really don’t know how well the Dabel Brothers comics are selling now that they’re partnered with Marvel, but one thing at least is clear – they’ve struck on a good formula. Take a popular series of novels, find someone skilled at adapting that novel into a comic book script and let ‘er rip. In the case of Anita Blake especially, they’ve crafted something that will appeal to horror comic fans, even those who have never read an Anita Blake novel.

This issue, as Anita stands against the King of the Rats, she is whisked off for an audience with Nikolaos, the ancient vampire that’s been the cause of all her troubles. Nikolaos isn’t what she expected, though, and she finds herself somewhat in over her head. Anita is a pretty unique character – she’s a “vampire slayer” of sorts (a licensed executioner of those who misuse their vampiric powers), but she’s a more mature character than Buffy, but a softer hero than Blade. She’s not like any “vampire hunter” I’ve ever read before, and that unique take makes her story all the more appealing.

Brett Booth’s style is interesting – he seems to have a blend of a manga influence with a style evocative of a Victorian romance (which isn’t surprising, as the Dabel Brothers market the Anita Blake series as being “romantic horror”). I’m not quite comfortable with his were-rats, to be honest. As much as I’m willing to accept the vampires and monsters of Anita’s world, there’s something about the were-rats that prevents them from looking like they’re part of the same world, and I’m not really sure what it is. It may be a matter of scale – until Anita and the Rat King appear in a panel together I couldn’t tell if they were human-sized or rat-sized.

The story works very well, though, and for the most part, the art is a good marriage for it. Fans of the novel series will likely enjoy this as well, and anyone else who’s looking for a different take on vampires would be well advised to try it out as well.

Rating: 8/10