Sunday, June 29, 2014

Comics Capsule Reviews

6/12/14 Books

Coffin Hill #8
BOOK OF THE WEEK: Coffin Hill #8 – After a slight hiatus, one of comics’ best horror books is back. Eve Coffin is part of the Kennedyesque Coffin family of New England. Growing up a troubled rich kid, Eve and her clique dabbled in drinking, drugs and witchcraft. After college, Eve actually became a cop for a while, stumbling into the arrest of a major serial killer. After some undisclosed tragedy, Eve leaves the force and returns home to the city of Coffin Hill, Massachusetts. Much has changed in the 10 years she’s been gone. Her ex-boyfriend is now the police chief, her mother is even more bitter and angry, and most of her friends are a coven of very dangerous witches. There is Lovecraftian-level occult trouble brewing in Coffin Hill, and it seems no one wants Eve’s help to fix it.

In this issue, a few of Eve’s old friends resolve some grudges (against each other) and the story flashes back to Eve’s time as a rookie police officer. In the present, Eve is framed for a crime and winds up in the local jail. The authorities aren’t too sympathetic when she claims witchcraft is to blame, not her.

Writer Caitlin Kittredge crafts one creepy tale, full of character, complexity and horror. Artist Inaki Miranda is a wonder. Her pages are full of detail, her characters tell the story through body language alone, and few artists are as adept with clothing, fashion and general atmosphere. Whether it’s cops on the job or a grand costume ball, Miranda draws stunning people, monsters and costumes. A gifted creative team.

Rating: ****1/2 out of 5 stars

Blood Queen #1
The Blood Queen #1 – This new fantasy book is off to a grand start. Loosely based on Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who used to bathe in the blood of virgins to stay young (a real person, look her up), The Blood Queen is set in a typical medieval fantasy world. When King Trevian’s infant daughter comes down with an illness none of the royal doctors can treat, good knight Sir Ferenc is dispatched to find help. The king supports “The Daughters of the Line,” a village of healing women led by the Elder. The Elder immediately calls for Elizabeth, a beautiful and skilled healer in the village. Elizabeth, while charming and talented, has some secret plan in place with the Elder for just such an occasion. She heals the baby (while possibly making things worse) and immediately sets out to manipulate the king’s court and insinuate herself with the nobles. She finds the wizard who ensorcelled the infant and Ferenc makes short work of him. But does that rid the kingdom of one evil wizard only to make room for a new, improved one ... ?

The Blood Queen is a fun, if light, fantasy, with a story by Troy Brownfield and some incredible art by Fritz Casas. I’ll definitely be back for more.

Rating: ***1/2 out of 5 stars 

Mighty Avengers #11
Mighty Avengers #11 – While this book has nothing to do with the Avengers (it’s just another book Marvel slaps the name “Avengers” on to sell a few extra copies), it’s still an entertaining read. This issue is a tie-in to Marvel’s “Original Sin” event. Here, writer Al Ewing—a creator to whom I’m paying more and more attention—takes the story back to the ‘70s to follow a different team of characters. The usual team is made up of Luke Cage, the Blue Marvel, Falcon, Spectrum and the White Tiger. In this issue, Luke visits his father, a former cop, to hear about a team his father was involved with decades ago. That team consisted of Luke’s dad, a younger Blue Marvel, the magician Kaluu, reporter Constance Molina, and Marv Wolfman’s Blade, in all his afroed, 1970s glory. It was great to see the 1970s Blade again. Unsurprisingly, Blade also had an attitude problem back then. As the story wraps up, it flashes to the present, with the ‘70s team reuniting as older folks. The ones who age, that is.

Artist Greg Land draws photo-realistic heroic men and glamorous women, as always. I don’t understand criticisms of his art. Yes, he sometimes uses photo references. So what? He’s still fantastic and one of the most underrated illustrators working.

Rating: ***1/2 out of 5 stars 

Haunted Horror #11
Haunted Horror #11 – More classic (and weirdo) horror reprints from comics’ Golden Age. Another incredible issue from the Yoe crew. Some of the spine-tinglers in this issue include:

- The Witches Come at Midnight (City of the Living Dead, 1952). This story is phenomenal, just for the “what the ...?!” factor. Joel Rainey is a farm boy who trains his pet rooster Peter to crow at will. Good thing, because demons of all shapes and sizes have been terrorizing his parents’ farm. After fighting them off a few times with Peter’s cock-a-doodling, the demons have had enough and bring Satan himself to attack (why they’re attacking is left a mystery. But as Hilary Clinton would say, “What difference does it make?”). The jig is up when Satan realizes Peter is a chanticleer. “A what?” you may ask? I did. But I looked it up. A chanticleer is “a name given to a rooster, especially in fairy tales.” According to the script, a chanticleer is a “servant of God” (of course he is) and therefore his crows dispatch Satan and all his demons to the underworld and all is saved. I learn so much from this job. Did they have LSD in 1952?

- Hallahan’s Head (Forbidden Worlds #25, 1954) holds its own as a straight horror story. Hallahan and Fletcher are in Africa for adventure and business. When some valuable land comes up for sale, Hallahan suggests sharing the claim. But Fletcher wants it all to himself, and dispatches native Otongo to “make it look like an accident.” I guess the language barrier leads to a miscommunication, because Otongo chops off Hallahan’s head and throws it into the brush. Back in the states, Fletcher becomes rich and powerful off his land grab. But what is that swimming the ocean with dark thoughts (or not) about revenge? Yup, that would be Hallahan’s head. Fletcher sees it everywhere—the boardroom, his closet, his writing table ... After his house blows up and his body turns up with rows of 32 indentations on his skin, it’s plain that Hallahan’s head just dropped by for a bite. Or two.

- The Locked Door (Worlds of Fear #6, 1952) is a truly twisted treat. Tom Daly is a painter who likes to dwell on the macabre, even though his hot fiancée Emily wants him to do more Saturday Evening Post-type art for the money. Hey, wedding dresses weren’t cheap in 1952 either! When Tom sees his idol, painter Peter Gynt, on the street, he follows him home for some art tips. Peter’s art looks like it’s inspired by some type of Dr. Kevorkian/Jeffrey Dahmer mix. When Tom asks the great man if he can worship at his feet, Pete says no and refuses to divulge the secret of his masterworks. But as soon as his back is turned, Tom sneaks into a locked room and discovers the secret—when Pete paints a subject, he murders them and they become little people in his paintings. And they’re kind of pissed about it! Tom’s rude room invasion gives them an opportunity to express themselves to painter Pete, and they do so through violence. Sickened because he saw Darby O’Gill and the Little People murder his hero, Tom turns into Norman Rockwell on the spot and Emily gets her white wedding. I love happy endings.

Other stories include Day of Panic from 1953 (a vampire who looks like Harry Carey Jr. terrorizes a small western town), Hand from 1951 (a hand kills a man—from inside his body!), and Candles for the Undead from 1954 (a candle maker makes bright candles from the human body fat of his victims—trapping their ghosts in the flame!).

I’m delighted these lost gems can find a modern audience. They are a treat to experience and incredibly entertaining. Nice job, Yoe & Co.!

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

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