Sunday, December 17, 2006

Heavy Metal Magazine, January 2007

Heavy Metal Magazine, January 2007, Metal Mammoth, Inc.
contributors: Claudio Aboy, Karl Kofoed, Chris Spollen, S.C. Ringgenberg, Billy Martinez, Bernd Frenz, Oliver Ferreira, Claudia Kern, Patrick Baggatta, Victor Kalvachev, Eddie Wilson, Jeff Pittarelli, Weisfeld/Koch*, Von Eeden*, Tacito*, Angleraud*, Guenet*

* complete name unlisted

Last weekend, I reviewed the all-comics issue of Nick Mag Presents, an interesting experience that exposed the essence of the modern anthology while exploring the nature of contemporary youth-oriented comics. In a nutshell, we learned that kids like fart jokes. Today’s material, the latest Heavy Metal Magazine, offers a look at the other side of the coin: adult-oriented fantasy. While the magazine offers a gracious lack of flatulence, it does feature another male-friendly vice: the highly flexible female form.

On the surface, Heavy Metal uses the science-fiction/fantasy genre as a clever disguise to exploit the female body, utilizing any opportunity to display women in as many sexually suggestive poses as possible. However, an in depth study of the magazine reveals a level of sophistication behind each contribution, a notable measure of advancement in the realm of fiction and graphic storytelling . . . while utilizing any opportunity to display women in as many sexually suggestive poses as possible. Don’t misunderstand: I am not identifying this device as a detraction to the overall package. In fact, by boasting the bi-line “World’s Foremost Adult Illustrated Fantasy Magazine,” Heavy Metal is embracing what many artists have tried to decline for years: that the sci-fi fantasy genre is an adult one, and since it targets a primarily male audience, why not sprinkle a few hot chicks in the mix? Come on, you and I both know many of those early Image books featured obscenely proportioned women and would have been best shelved with the adult material. Heavy Metal seizes the opportunity and runs with it.

Heavy Metal also has the distinct power of history behind it. I don’t know how long it’s been around, but the publication exudes a sophistication that surpasses its content. The artistic galleries of Chris Spollen and Jeff Pittarelli, which star naked demon-women and the like, are presented with the style they deserve, with bios and exposes on the artists that offer insight into their inspirations. Also, the short story pieces, the sections to which I paid the most attention, offer diverse artistic techniques, from tradition pen and ink to detailed watercolors, from cartoony to realistic. The works may not be to everyone’s liking, but there is something for everyone, if page-turners took the time to read the words that come with the pretty pictures. Of course, one could always pay exclusive attention to the advertisements throughout the issue, promoting the best pornographic comics around today. To each his own, I suppose.

A majority of this issue was dedicated to the third installment of Magika, a tale about a renegade female cop that I simply could not get into. The adult elements are bubbling above the surface of a futuristic cyberpunk adventures, and the implementation of both simply didn’t appeal to me. A few of the one-shot short stories made the read worthwhile, however, like Joe in the Future, about a guy trying to score a pack of smokes (a commodity in the future, apparently) while dodging a collections robot that hounds him in public. The six-page story was so entertaining it read like a 12-page tale, which satire on the visual and narrative level so dense the concept itself couldn’t exist without it. Another story, A Deadly Mission, had more of a medieval context, as a band of high priests send a trickster into a rival kingdom to bring down its monarchy, and in a twist of an ending, the antihero realizes that he’s been manipulated into an unwitting Kamikaze mission. It’s an interesting enough tale with dynamic characters and epic potential, but told in exactly the amount of pages needed to tell such a story. I can appreciate a dense page layout rather than a drawn out adventure told simply for length’s sake.

Pherone is the stand-out story of the issue, with the most Western appeal. Seemingly ripped right out of a Vertigo crime series, Pherone stars a working girl for hire that overcomes the smarmy charms of her target and her own hesitations enough to kill him. The ten-pager has a decent narrative, but what distinguishes this story is its art, one part Dave Johnson sharpness, one part Eduardo Risso ambiance, the essence is very 100 Bullets-like, with strategic use of color to emphasis the environment as it benefits the visual sequence. I expect we’ll see this story or its contributors in a more mainstream forum in the near future; this magazine simply cannot contain this tale’s potential in quarterly 10-page installments.

Finally, I should mention Stickboy and Wildflower, two different kinds of stories that feature a title character. The efforts are interesting but they fall short, perhaps because of their respective abrupt endings. In Wildflower’s case, the Elektra-looking leading lady, in a mountain-climbing quest to meet her maker, literally encounters a caricature of the strip’s creator, who reluctantly agrees to consider drawing her with more clothes on. It’s a funny climax but a pointless one, lacking something that would’ve made the device an effective satire or self-exploitation. Stickboy, on the other hand, tells a meaningful allegory of a boy longing for rough and tumble play, but whose pacifist mother keeps his nose in the books. Suddenly, the boy, as an intergalactic agent, encounters a child that reminds him of himself, until the kid effortlessly kills him. I understand the moral, the risk pacifism raises in the face of self-preservation, but again, the rapid resolution through sudden injection of science-fiction makes no sense and loses a novice reader like me. Both characters have potential, as do both contributors. I just wonder if these efforts were flukes to the overall tapestry of their work.

Nick Mag Presents may not have featured a gun-toting prostitute hit woman in her underwear, but last week’s juvenile read and Heavy Metal Magazine have a few things in common, most recognizably, their openness to a variety of visual and storytelling styles, creating a comprehensive package for a very specific audience. In the case of Heavy Metal, I would continue reading the series for its elements of intrigue and social commentary, and in the meanwhile, perhaps the more fantasy-laden segments would grow on me. Such is the nature and intention of anthology. Throw enough balls at a chain-link fence, surely one of them will stick between the coils. Depending on how thick, or heavy, the metal is, anyway.

And with some of these illustrations, you don’t want to know what kind of balls I’m talking about.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice review of "A deadly mission". Its the first review of one of my stories in english language (as far as I know :-).

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Unknown said...

Heavy metal is great, I remember the anguish of waiting until I was 18 to be able to buy my first issue of this, and it was pretty cool, I first thought it would be all sex, and porn, but there was a real story behind it and I liked it. Of course some times it was used with a couple of Generic Viagra but that's a different story.

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