Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gone South #1

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, so I’ve decided to return to reviewing comic books with some regularity this month. Every week this month, I’ll post at least one special Halloween-oriented review, criticizing the issue based on its reverence for this hallowed holiday season through four distinct categories worth up to five points each. The comic that earns the total possible 20 points could be one of the best Halloween issues ever!
Gone South #1, July 2003, Atomic Basement Entertainment
writer: Mike Wellman
pencils: Marc Sandroni
inks: Larry Welch
ink assists: Christi Fischer
lettering/production: Johnny Lowe
cover colors/logo design: Jeff Parker
panel effects: Jon St. John

PREMISE: Spoiler alert! You wouldn’t know it by this issue’s cover, which is also effectively the story’s first panel, but Gone South is about vampires. Rest assured, though, it was about vampires before everything was about vampires, so it’s still cool. Victoria and Sylvia are two good-looking brunettes hiding out in some Podunk southern town -- from what or who, we don’t know yet. I admit, the premise seems a little shaky to sustain this issue as a legitimate focus for Halloween, but hang in there with me as I award Gone South three out of five points here.

STORY: I think writer Mike Wellman knows what he’s doing. The first half of this issue keeps things quiet -- a little too quiet -- as suspense builds around Victoria’s need for “getting some,” despite this backwoods towns’ slim pickings. She accepts the company of a local yokel, Clyde, who despite her insinuations to be alone takes her to his buddy’s house, where “Drunk Dave” and a group of horny hicks drug up a wayward wanna-be actress. Victoria accepts their drugged drinks and drags the ring leader behind closed doors, only to emerge alone and rescue the damsel in distress. She almost spares Clyde for his ignorance but her needs get the better of her, and just when the fangs come out -- Sylvia comes to his rescue! She wipes his mind of the day’s memories, hopefully assuring their privacy. At its best moments, this issue plays like an old Trauma film, its dark comedy exposing the flaws of man so we actually don’t mind seeing a few of them slain just to satiate some creature’s bloodlust. Four out five points!

ART: The art team of Sandori, Welch, and Fischer pull off a very effective black and white issue, with clean lines emphasizing all the right details. The panels are well paced and hit all the right beats. The art is consistent, characteristic of this kind of independent work, and appropriately goth when necessary. Still, mainstream audiences would be drawn to its crisp commercial appeal, as well. Another four out of five points.

PACKAGING: This is a nicely produced independent comic; I remember buying it from Mike at a book fair in Los Angeles a few years ago (along with an issue of his Mac Afro), and I’ve been waiting for the right time to read it. Although the cover would benefit from some more dressing, perhaps to exploit the current vampire trend, the supplemental “vampire glossary” in the back of the issue, defining the physical and psychological class structure of vampires in Wellman’s world, is a nice touch. I’ll mention that my copy has a few off-printed pages, but I know that often isn’t the creators’ intention, so it won’t affect their score of three out of five points.

TOTAL: At fourteen points, I assure you that Gone South #1 is an excellent read all year ‘round. That I only chose to read it now more emphasizes my ridiculous mania with the holiday season (and my inability to flip to the end of an issue so I know what it’s about ahead of time)! Also, considering the mad trend of vampirism in pop culture lately (from the Twilight series to the WB’s The Vampire Diaries to that latest ‘tween-friendly flick The Vampire’s Assistant), I just had to include a vampire-exclusive story in this Halloween series. Fortunately, unlike vampires themselves, it didn’t suck!

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