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Monday, August 4, 2014

The Spider Volume 1: Terror of the Zombie Queen. David Liss (writer), Colton Worley (Art), Simon Bowland (Letters). Dynamite Entertainment (2013)

An engaging and entertaining update of a classic pulp star. Richard Wenthworth is the Spider, a masked vigilante who fights spectacular criminals in New York. When New York comes under threat from a woman calling herself Anput launches chemical attacks than turn people into zombies, the Spider becomes involved. The struggle with Anput draws in his family, friends and the woman he loves before the final revelation.
A costumed crime fighter who is working to prevent his home city from falling further into corruption and ruin and who is incidentally a rich man is not exactly an original story idea. It was not one when the Spider launched in the pulps, still it was a good hook then and it remains, in the right hands, a good hook now.
David Liss takes everything that makes the Spider the same as everyone else and mixes them very effectively with everything that makes him different. The primary difference is the fact that the Spider kills his enemies, he has none of the scruples that his superhero peers have. This is explicitly presented as a choice that the Spider makes when he decided on his path, his enemies deal in death and so does he. This is ultimately the least interesting difference in the story set up as it makes the smallest difference in dramatic story terms. There are much more significant differences and all are related to the dual identity of the Spider and his role in the dynamics of the city.
Richard Wenthworth does not vanish inside the Spider when he dons the cape, it is very clearly the same person, the cape is the uniform for the job no more than that. This gives the problems that Wenthworth has in dealing with his actions as the Spider some more depth and heft, he pays a price for his on violence.
Much more interesting that this is the web of knowledge, explicit and assumed about Richard Wenthworth being the Spider. Wenthworth's ex-girlfriend knows that he is the Spider, her husband the police commissioner who feels that the Spider is useful in the city and may suspect Wenthworth and does not want to know for sure, Joe Hilt, a detective who is sure that Wenthworth is the Spider but cannot prove it and Ram Singh, Wenthworth's lawyer who does know.
This is a nice tangle that gives the story of the Spider context and depth and allows for numerous dramatic possibilities, David Liss makes uses of a lot of them. They nicely complicate the straight extortion of the Zombie Queen as the struggle whit her draws in the cast and their relationships to Wenthworth become important.
I have a very strong preference for drawn art, the art by Colton Worley is too great a mix between drawn and near photographic, the elements do not blend into a cohesive whole for me. The art tends to distract and push me out of the story rather than pulling me in and along.  The colouring is excellent, in particular the Spiders cape.
Simon Bowland's lettering is very well done, it quietly and effectively makes the difference between the Spider's narration and the conversations among the cast, it gives Richard Wenthworth as the Spider a voice of his own. This is a very well written comic with strong distinctive art, well worth reading.

Gary Gianni's MonsterMen and Other Scary Stories. Gary Gianni (Writer & Art), Sean Konot, Todd Klien, Clem Robbins (Letters). Dark Horse Books (2012)

Astonishing black and white art and great ideas combine to deliver a smart and very engaging update of the classic ghost story. Starting at the foreword in which Garry Gianni risks using one of the the most beaten down cliches in supernatural stories and manages to get away with it, the tone of the stories is set and then expectations very nicely undermined by the abundant imagination and sharp writing that follows. The stories are linked by the cast, Benedict dressed in a tuxedo and a knight's helmet is a member of the Guild of Corpus Monstrum, a group dedicated to fighting monsters, Lawrence St George, a film maker and ghost fighter, the reporter Sunset Lane and the increasingly mangled and malicious Crulk.
The opening story "Silent As The Grave" opens with a suitably dramatic cry for help and then circles around through a very clever introduction to film maker Lawerence St George, Crulk, Sunset Lane and Benedict before trouble arrives in the shape of a very large winged demon. The threads are neatly tied together with an old Hollywood murder and undying hatred, envy and revenge.
"Autopsy In B-Flat" is a strong piece of story construction that using fragments of two stories , nestled within each other to great effect, it also features squid headed pirates.
"A Gift For The Wicked" is a joyous entry in the great tradition of Christmas ghost stories. Featuring a haunted room and in a anstrectral mansion it showcases Gary Gianni's talent for understanding and updating the genre requirements.
"The Skull and The Snowman" is a virtuoso piece featuring a struggle for a demonic skull in the Himalayas, the return of Crulk starts race to prevent the recovery of the skull of the demon Lord Gooseflesh. The showdown in the snowy mountains which includes the assistance of the Yeti and quick thinking are a delight.
The final story "O Sinner Beneath Us" opens with a crash as Benedict and Summer Lane find themselves dropped down underground in a room where Crulk, even more mangled than before, knocks on their door. This time Crulk has a very dangerous item with him which leads Summer Lane into significant danger and Crulk to well served justice.
The art is very formal, it strongly echoes the illustrations used in pulp magazines, it captures the deliberately old fashioned style and structure of the stories. The details are astonishing and they slow the pace of reading the stories, each panel needs to be relished and absorbed. The cast are given strong and clear personalities, the page layouts are varied and clever, the strong design of pages call attention to themselves without overbalancing the stories.
At the end of the book, there are stories by William Hope Hodgson, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard and Perceval Landon. This is a huge risk by Gary Gianni, deliberately setting up a comparison with masters of the craft, and one that pays off for him. The final stories point out how well the spirit of the classic short ghost story has been captured, updated and extended by Gary Gianni. His work stands comfortably, shoulder to shoulder with the work of the genre masters.
With such eye catching art, the lettering by Sean Konot, Todd Klien and Clem Robins is every more self effacing than usual, it proves vital dramatic emphasis when required and a great range of sound effects which  play nicely with the dry humour in the stories. A great collection.