Last Blood #1, May 2007, Blatant Comics
writer: Bobby Cosby
artist: Owen Gieni
I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Six days and thirty-two comics books later, Free Comic Book Day has transformed from annual event to week-long marathon in my attempt to read every issue I managed to acquire last Saturday (which, as I've said before, was all of the available issues sans the Comic Shop News and Virgin Comics offerings). With just two days left, I'm wondering, do I have a better grasp of what this beloved medium is really all about? Not that reading and reviewing a comic a day since the first of last July hasn't been a challenge, but to cram a deliberately diverse selection of comics in such a short period of time, with the intent to gleaming some insight from the experience . . . Have I actually learned anything? Actually, yes. I've determined that the best contemporary storytelling can be summed up in three words: David vs. Goliath. That old Biblical tale has become an allegorical paradigm for compelling modern fiction, namely, the little guy versus the big guy. From Superman combating Lex Luthor's overwhelming intellect to the protagonist in True Story Swear to God trying to process love and loss in his life (to pick one random title from the slew of indies out there about, well, love and loss), each protagonist is cornered by a situation that seems bigger than him and yet through which he must claw his way out. Although other fans or critics of comics may have observed this paradigm a long time ago, today's particular selection of FCBD installments were so similarly thematically transparent that the epiphany was too hard to ignore.
And if you don't agree with my new found philosophy, what else could explain comics' cultural appeal? Let's say zombies. Everybody likes zombies . . .
In fact, zombies star in two of the five comics I read today, which I dare say may represent the zombie titles to other titles ratio on the new release stands nowadays. Zombies have just become too popular for their own good, as if the only way they could really eat our brains is by first infiltrating them with zombie comics. Although I've flipped through many of these issues and even reviewed Pieces for Mom: A Tale of the Undead for both A Comic A Day and Geek in the City, the genre hasn't really gripped me . . . until Blatant Comics' Last Blood. Along with Castle Rain's Jack the Lantern, I was convinced that I wasn't going to like this book, that it was just one of many gothic escapist fantasies that takes itself way too seriously. Yet, from the first few pages, I felt invested in these characters' plight, as a small commune of human survivors living in a world overrun by zombies. When a couple of vampires arrive to save them from a meandering band of the undead, things get interesting; although the vampires stereotypically require human blood to stay alive, they aren't blood-drunk and in fact treat the humans with respect. After all, since these people are the last living community in America (as much as a shock them as the reader, I assure you), a neck-biting would be counterproductive. In fact, one of the vampires sparks a kinship with the community's teacher, who inspired the survivors' business-as-usual living strategy, and he reveals that zombies are merely bloodthirsty Nosferatu -- their only equivalent to death. So, ironically, while the vampires live as the survivors' saviors, their undead race is responsible for their situation in the first place. Although the art was inconsistent, thanks in some part to printing quality I presume, the story and especially the dialogue were completely engaging, almost charming in its zest for hope. I dare say I'd pursue Last Blood #2; while other zombie books are content with stumbling off of the shelves, seemingly with the same vigor as their subject matter, Last Blood boasts a vitality that I hope lasts.
I wondered if Jack the Lantern would surprise me, too. It didn't. Like Last Blood, some of the pages seemed muddy, perhaps a result of poor production, but the script didn't capture me much, either. Jack the Lantern is a Etrigan the Demon rip off, with unnecessary bouts of make believe demonic jargon sprinkled throughout its story to imply some sense of depth, but, in my opinion, this is just the comic book equivalent to a straight-to-video B-movie horror. I would have returned this video half way through, and I would've eaten the fine for not rewinding it lest I run the risk of actually seeing this stuff again.
Harsh, I know, but all is not lost thanks to Digital Webbing Jam 2007 and Ape Entertainment's Comic Spectacular. Each of these issues offered a string of short samplings of their ongoing series, a phenomenon I explored earlier this week, and that each up-and-coming company made work in their own way. Digital Webbing's issue, for example, contained five shorts that captured the essence of their respective titles respectively; in just a few action-packed pages, we gleam that BloodRayne is a vampire-hunter, that the Fist of Justice is a superhero spoof about how crazy capes-'n-tights adventures really are, that E-Man is an alien embodiment of pure energy fighting the good fight on Earth, that Zombie Highway is a poignant, character-driven piece about a world overrun by the undead (again), and that Punks is a surreal sociopolitical commentary via digitally montage imagery. Whew. Though these concise descriptions cannot do their subjects' justice, they prove that it was just that easy to get a grasp on Digital Webbings' canon. I don't know much about DW's origins, but I believe I've heard them billed as a credible source of creative networking, so, based on this issue, I'm willing to find out.
Ape Entertainment's self-proclaimed is equally concise, presenting six samples with a more diverse selection of genres from which to choose. Here's another synopsis synopsis: Athena Voltaire is Indiana Jones-meets-Lara Croft, with an appropriate loathing for Nazis and masculine insecurity; White Picket Fences is about a high school experiencing the side effect's of man's constantly evolving (and dangerously experimenting) intellect; The Goblin Chronicles is about a young goblin intended to become a warrior but whose brainpower inspires him toward gadgetry; Teddy Scares is about a band of misfit toys and the soft-hearted nostalgic bear among them; Go-Go Gorilla and the Jungle Crew is a tongue-in-cheek animal-driven; Bizarre New World, which I've read press about recently, is about the hard-luck life of a man that learns he can fly. Each of these stories were charming in their own right and I will definitely pursue a few of them beyond this free sample, but I must specifically commend Go-Go Gorilla's crew for their onslaught of comic book/animal related puns, including Lizard Magazine and Civil Boar references. Since Free Comic Book Day has become a beast in its own right, standing out like these issues have is quite impressive.
Of course, Oni Comics' Whiteout #1 didn't even have to try, especially with contributors' like Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber at the helm. Rucka's Antarctic murder mystery series is a finely crafted modern homage to the classic mysteries akin of Conan Doyle himself, and by setting his compelling characters in the only spot on the globe void of contemporary trappings, where the personalities of people are the only force of nature aside of the ever present chill, his canvas is as blank as the ice below his protagonists' feet. In this case, in addition to the standard murder mystery, Rucka explores gender roles, as well, as his detective du jour is a woman seemingly cornered in the primarily man's world of polar exploration. Cold shoulder indeed.
So, if it isn't an army of zombies or Nazis, or a band of isolated perverted men, to every little story in between, all of the tales I read today (fourteen yarns in five comics) are about singular heroes facing those overwhelming odds. As I eluded, I'm somewhat embarrassed I've taken so long to come to this thematic conclusion about a medium I've enjoyed for over a decade, but while the motif is familiar and commonplace for superheroes, to experience such a variety genres simply drives the point home. I guess this week-long attempt to review all of the Free Comic Book Day offerings, not to mention a comic a day, is my personal Goliath. Can anybody spare a sling?