*Oh it’s a big one tomorrow; I hope you haven’t been squandering your Kopeks and Rubles on frivolity, like meats or seltzer - it’s a big bad comics day coming up, and readiness is mandatory. I think I’ll start things off with a proper review of something you’ll find on those buckling shelves in but a few short hours…


This is the new book from Sharknife creator/writer/artist Corey Lewis. Unlike the digest-sized, multi-chapter Vol. 1 (of something) Sharknife, this is a pamphlet-format 72-page one-shot. At $5.95, it’s nicely priced, and a good-looking object to boot. Lewis (who also designed the book) cites Paul Pope’s Vertigo series Heavy Liquid as a ‘Giant Inspiration,’ but the presentational aspect of the project is quite similar to some of Pope’s later THB releases from his own Horse Press - a thick, chunky b&w slab of vivid art, punctuated by an array of handsome supplements, including charts and graphs, background-building text features, lists of art tools used/music listened to in the creation of the book, helpful character guides, bibliographical cross-referencing, and more. We even get the author’s name and the book's page count positioned in the lower right-hand corner of the cover, just like in the THB #6 miniseries (and the most recent Giant THB oversized); I wonder if it’s conscious homage? I was going to compile a list of design-oriented talents whom young creators might want to emulate, Pope would probably be somewhere near the top; actually, for a book like this, he’d likely be number one.

There’s also hints of Pope influence in Lewis’ art, but only hints; at the very least, Lewis has managed to forge an unmistakable individual style from his many influences, and it’s a cohesive style at that - there’s none of the ‘visual cue grab-bag’ feeling that presides over many young artists’ works, especially those with a heavy Japanese influence, that nagging sensation that you’re looking at a half-working array of manga icon clip-outs rather than an effective means of crafting a page and a sequence and a story. One does not see the influences as much here as they see Cory Lewis. And I think that adds immeasurably to the enthusiasm surrounding his work in many quarters.

As for Peng in particular, I probably need only mention that if you enjoyed Sharknife you’ll enjoy this. At one point in the book, in between the two massive Advanced Kickball matches that make up the story, Lewis tosses out a blurb of text proclaiming:

With the Final-Four over, the two final teams take a three-day respite to collect themselves and rejuvenate their energy. Through the magic of comics, we will skip that and go straight to what you REALLY WANT TO SEE

And that about sums up the book’s approach to the plot. ‘Peng,’ by the way, is the sound that a kickball makes when it’s walloped. A fitting title, as the book is all about action, all about running and summoning special video-game powers and kicking things. Those among the readership inclined to split hairs might even hesitate to call the book a ‘sports manga,’ as most of the sports manga I’ve read feature more than a bit of downtime, getting into the characters’ outside lives. There’s none of that in Peng, save for eight pages dividing the opening action dream sequence from the first big match. No, it’s mostly The Foot Knux, those archetypical heroic rookies, led by Romeo Hallelujah (little brother of Sharknife protagonist Ceasar Hallelujah), fending off Canadian hero team The Dolpheets, music idol power squad The Anologgers, and those inevitably stolid reigning champs, The Aurora Skeddos, for the Advanced Kickball cup. Sharknife himself also makes an appearance. Apparently The Anologgers are characters from various self-published Lewis works. There’s even a surprise guest cameo from A Very Popular Character From Another Oni Press Book. It’s like an all-canon party, and who has room for niceties like story depth or character development when it’s party time?

Ah, wait. I know what you’re asking - I can literally hear you calling through your monitor (see? speaking into the screen doesn’t mean you’re crazy!). What if you had a mixed reaction to Sharknife? You can appreciate the art, say, but the rest of it kind of got to you. Well, I’ll say that Peng is somewhat better than Sharknife on the non-action evaluative plane. Lewis is getting more comfortable with his writing, managing a firmer grip on those declarative statements (“Agghhh by the knees of the gods!!!”) and breathless narrations (“Anticipation comparable to twelve-ton atomic rockets jettisons a payload of pre-action-stimulus upon all 450,000 Slo-Moz adjusted human heads within Goo-Kei-Lei International Stadium”), though his dialogue is still saturated with enough nuggets of slightly awkward slang and odd writerly tics that when ‘nowhere’ is at one point spelled ‘no-where,’ I’m not sure if it’s a stylistic flourish or an editorial gaffe. Still, there’s a pretty decent, funny scene of The Foot Knux playing Bomberman, and a genuinely excellent line periodically slips through (“Kickball Totem: I was just wondering if ballet could be worked into the art of kickball somehow. And I mean in a cool way. I’m sure it’ll come to you and then you can tell me how.”). And the characters do momentarily experience doubt and fear, which does immediately add an extra layer of complexity that Sharknife lacked, so there’s that. Still, if the non-action storytelling (or lack thereof) in Sharknife drove you bonkers, I don’t think you’ll get much more out of this one.

And if you just absolutely hate Lewis’ art, I’m sorry you wasted all this time reading this review - just skip down to the boldface text below. For the rest of you, it’s a somewhat calmer blast of visuals than Sharknife, in that Lewis isn’t tearing through superdeformed styles and multiple systems of narration, and the video gaming touches are less numerous than before; he confines himself here to his straightforward action posture. As usual, the many (many many) action sequences are prone to dancing on the razor’s edge of comprehensibility, but there’s verve to spare, and the feeling usually comes through, even if you need to go over things twice to catch the blocking of individual scenes; it’s probably a credit that something like ‘feeling’ can even carry the book so far, but it does.

So that’s Peng, a book that probably everyone knew they were going to love or hate beforehand; I think I’m just here to reinforce you all. There’s some improvements on Sharknife, but probably not anything that’ll change the minds of those too far from the center of the love/hate divide. Just close your eyes and look inside yourself - you know what you’re getting into.

*Ok, now onto that bounty of items that Greeks and geeks alike call


Oh, and did I mention that despite the size of this week’s list I’m still barely interested in any of it?

The Stuff of Dreams #3 (of 3): I will be stunned if this isn’t the best goddamned thing this week. It’s the final chapter of Kim Deitch’s wonderful blend of heavily adorned recent autobiography, various tall tales, self-referential canon tie-ins, fictional silent films, real silent films, old comics, madness, collecting, and the sheer joy that comes from falling deeply into the things you love. Plus: every issue stands alone (yet they all tie in with one another) so you can jump in right now and work your way back. Deitch has been around for a long time; he’s my favorite talent from the ’60s underground, and he’s still firing away at full power. C’mon, give this one a chance. If it’s anything like the first two issues, it’ll remind you on every page why you like the art of comics so damn much.

SPX 2005: For those who didn’t make it. They chucked out the theme this year, which is probably a good move. Of course, last year’s ‘War’ volume was bad enough on the whole that this one probably can’t help but look good in comparison. The presence of guest editor Brian Ralph will probably act as a plus too. It’s thirteen bucks, and probably still as small as last year’s - not like those SPX bricks of days of yore. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

Steady Beat Vol. 1 (of 3): On the off chance that I haven’t turned you away from internet columnists with one-word names forever, I presume you’re familiar with Rivkah. Much-visited LiveJournal? Column over at Comicon? Well, here’s the release of her comic, certainly one of the more anticipated titles in Tokyopop’s English-language creator initiative. It’s a consummate shoujo set-up, following a young woman who sets out to discover the identity of her sister’s secret lesbian paramour. Romantic and dramatic complications doubtlessly ensue. Here’s a pretty lengthy preview - see what you think.

Lady Snowblood Vol. 1: AH ha ha ha haaaaaa, oh look at that cover! Yeah, the 1973 film version of Lady Snowblood was one of the bigger influences on A Certain Popular Film, and here’s the manga that started it all, with a script by Lone Wolf and Cub (and, lest we forget, Wounded Man) writer Kazuo Koike, and art from Kazuo Kamimura, who (according to Frederik L. Schodt’s Manga! Manga!) was also doing socially-relevant comics about the lives of liberated Japanese youths at the time - I don’t think this will be like that, since it’s apparently stuffed to bursting with gory samurai vengeance. It’s not often you see manga of this vintage on US shelves, and Lone Wolf fans (and fans of popular recent films) will obviously want a look.

Showcase Presents: Green Lantern Vol. 1/Showcase Presents: Superman Vol. 1: Here’s something a lot of you have been looking forward to - big fat 500+ page slabs of DC Silver Age superhero comics, in b&w, for under ten bucks a pop. Great for light reading, or leafing through for panels to create amusing jpgs from.

ABC: A-Z: Tom Strong and Jack B. Quick #1 (of 6): In contrast to what the tortured title parsing appears to suggest, this is not the first of six pamphlet-format reference volumes devoted to Tom and Jack, but rather the initial edition of this comprehensive guide to the soon-to-pass ABC universe. Well, at least it’s as comprehensive as it can realistically get without any direct participation from Alan Moore.

Strangehaven #18: Ah, there it is.

BPRD: The Black Flame #2 (of 6): Already?

The Authority: The Magnificent Kevin #2 (of 5): No, already?

NYX #7 (of 7): Oh my, they’re all crawling out of the woodwork this week!

Ultimate Secret #3 (of 4): I read the recent Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual the other day. Jae Lee art and all; I guess Marvel decided to put him on it since The Inhumans were making their Ultimate debut. I get the feeling that the story was based on some early Marvel classic or something, mostly because Mark Millar’s script wasn’t actually a story itself - it was more of an outline, and I think the reader was expected to fill in the gaps with their knowledge of the source material. Whatever it was, it felt choppy and incomplete; it was in no way a satisfying work on its own. I bring this up, because here’s miniseries 2 (of 3) of the Ultimate Galactus saga, back from hiatus. Warren Ellis is writing, which one would think might at least imbue the action with some sort of purpose, but the first miniseries, Ultimate Nightmare, was simply awful, a grindingly dull exercise in milking five issues worth of cash out of readers in exchange for what amounted to a glorified prelude to something else, complete with dollops of tiresome ‘cynical’ superhero posturing and that most hallowed of trick finales: the Big Revelation that’s provided to keep the fanboys hooked, despite the all crap they’ve just swallowed. Thank heavens I got the damn thing for about a buck per issue. Anyway, here’s part of the rest of part two, which will no doubt meander its way in the general direction of setting up part three. Excelsior!

JLA: Classified #12: I mean, if you just want Warren Ellis writing the big superheroes, this is a lot better. Relatively speaking.

Jack Cross #2: And who knows what to make of this? Maybe Ellis will do some interesting things with the title character’s inner conflict (liberalism v. torture!); I’m still holding out hope that Jack's simply going insane - that would be kind of neat. The art wasn’t too hot last issue, and the balance between DCU-friendly levels of explicit content and guns-blazing hardcore action was pretty shaky. We’ll have to see.

Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her #1 (of 6): A sequel to the last year’s Black Widow revival miniseries. The first one was a lot better than expected, with writer Richard K. Morgan pulling through an interesting current of feminist thought, with a lot of variations of the theme of paternalistic domination. Sure, it occasionally came into conflict with the slightly cheesecake-inclined art (it did sport Greg Land covers, after all), but the mighty Bill Sienkiewicz kept it down to a minimum, even though he spent most of the series on ‘finishes.’ He bears the even less authoritative role of ‘inks’ here for penciler Sean Phillips of Sleeper fame, though at least he gets to take over the cover art. Probably has a better shot than the average Mighty Marvel Mini at turning into something neat.