Posts Tagged ‘Cullen Bunn’

Everyplace is going to hell in a handbasket these days — even Camelot.

Or so Cullen Bunn (who seems to have stepped into the role once occupied by the likes of Brian Michael Bendis and, later, Charles Soule as “the guy who’s writing every other comic on the stands”) and Mirko Colak would have us believe, at any rate — and why not? Every other legend has been deconstructed (if not outright obliterated) in contemporary fiction, four-color or otherwise, so why the hell should King Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, and the rest be let off the hook?

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t see Guy Ritchie’s latest cinematic iteration of the Arthurian mythos (nor, apparently, did anyone else), but he’d have had to work pretty hard to equal the tear-down that Bunn, Colak, and colorist Maria Santaolalla perform on it in the twenty pages of Unholy Grail #1, their new series from Aftershock Comics. Purists will no doubt be alarmed, perhaps even outright mortified, by the alternative vision on offer here, but what the hell do we care what they think, anyway? For my part, whatever it’s worth, I absolutely loved it.

The story jumps around in time a little bit, which adds a pleasing bit of post-modernism into this ancient fable, alternating between the period after Camelot’s fall, when the knight Percivale returns (too late?) from his Grail quest, and the period before its rise, when Merlin, who often claimed to be the son of either a demon or Satan himself (comics fans may remember that no less than Jack Kirby himself hinted at this in the pages of The Demon and that Matt Wagner really picked up and ran with the idea about a decade later with his now-largely-forgotten revival of the character) meets up with an actual escaped denizen of Hell, and —- well, nah, that might be giving too much away. Suffice to say that the machinations and manipulations the wizard gets up to after this harrowing,  fateful encounter cast the entire story in a new, and decidedly grim, light that I defy anyone to find less than absolutely intriguing. Sometimes the stories we think we know best are actually hiding the biggest secrets of all right in plain sight, are they not?

I’m impressed at how immediately the creative team is firing on all cylinders with this series, which leads me to think that this is a project that’s enjoyed a long and healthy gestation period. Bunn’s lean, sparse scripting feel downright urgent at all times, Colak’s art is luscious, lavish, and borderline agonizingly detailed, and Santaolalla’s colors are just straight-up frigging beautiful. This is a book with a very “Euro” look to it — as one might expect, I suppose, given that both illustrator and colorist hail from the other side of the Atlantic — and it suits the material absolutely pitch-perfectly. I don’t mean to sell the writing short, because it really is quite good and further cement’s Bunn’s reputation as the premier “go-to guy” for horror comics these days, but seriously : even if the script sucked (which, one more time for good measure, it doesn’t), this would be $3.99 well-spent because the art is just that gorgeous. Wrap it all up with your choice of covers by either Colak himself or cover artist extraordinaire Francesco Francavilla and what you have here is some serious eye candy, pure and simple.

There’s nothing simple at all about what our intrepid creators are looking to do with this series, though. This is heady, ambitious stuff and jumping on with issue number one really does feel like getting in on the ground floor of something special. After reading Unholy Grail, I’m thoroughly convinced that all other takes on the Round Table are strictly for squares.

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It’s probably bad form to start off a review of one comic with less-than-generous statements about another  comic, but — is it just me, or has Scott Snyder and Jock’s Image Comics series Wytches proven, at least so far, to be a little bit less than what many of us were hoping for?

It’s not that it’s bad by any stretch of the imagination — Jock’s art is certainly solid and the core concept Snyder is playing with is a unique and creative one, but between Matt Hollingsworth’s garish color scheme and several story elements that just aren’t managing to gel together with  any sort of ease and/or flow, it’s certainly fair to say that the book hasn’t managed to live up to at least my own admittedly lofty expectations for it. I have every confidence that it still could, of course, but to this point, I’m sorry to say, it just ain’t happening.

Which brings us to Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook’s new Dark Horse Comics series, Harrow County. I hesitate to say anything along the lines of “this looks to be the series that Wytches is supposed to be,” since only its creators can determine what a book is “supposed” to be at all, but I will say this — one issue in (an admittedly small sample size, I know) it seems like it might be the kind of comic that I wanted Snyder and Jock’s to be.

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Amazing double-page splashes like the one reproduced directly above these very words certainly have no small part to play in the forming of this (fair enough, tentative) opinion, and Crook —who rose to prominence in the pages of B.P.R.D. — is just plain  knocking it out of the park here with his sketchy, creepy, evocative style. He’s drawing each and every page in breathtaking full color (as is Owen Gieni, who’s handling the art chores on the book’s short backup strips), as well, and while his style is comparable in some ways to Matt Kindt’s work on Mind Mgmt, truth be told that’s not even a terribly accurate comparison — it just serves as a handy reference point for folks who want to have some idea of what these spectacular pages sort of look like. More than anything else, though, it’s probably fair to say that Crook’s work is actually pretty damn original — and certainly effective.

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The same can also be said of the story. Bunn is one of those writers that I never know what to expect from — his creator-owned stuff like The Sixth Gun and The Empty Man I generally like a lot, but other projects like Wolf Moon and his run on Marvel’s Magneto monthly started out strong, only to flounder. His DC super-hero work that I’ve sampled hasn’t done squat for me at all. Like Charles Soule, the simple fact is that the guy just writes so much that there’s no way humanly possible for all of it to be good. His resume shows that he’s definitely at home working in the horror genre, though,  and this project seems pretty near and dear to his heart and based on some “things that went bump in the night” during his own rural upbringing, so it’s safe to say that he’s certain to be  bringing his “A game” here.

Dark Horse is billing this book as a  “Southern Gothic Fairy Tale, ” and that seems as apt a description as any — the exact location of the titular Harrow County is never spelled out explicitly, nor is the time period in which the story takes place, but “south of the Mason-Dixon line” and “a good while ago” seem to be fair answers to both queries. It’s the rural enclave’s sins from even further back, though, that form the basis of this tale, as the less-than-good townsfolk murdered an honest-to-goodness witch some years previously who duly swore her revenge on the community — a revenge that may now be coming to pass thanks to some special “gifts” apparently bestowed upon young farmgirl Emmy and the various subtle appearances of restless spirits known as “haints” in the local woods.Oh, and there’s something going on with a haunted tree, as well —

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How do they all tie together? I can’t claim to know for certain, but I have some pretty good guesses — and finding out which of those guesses I’m right about, and which I’m way off-base on, is sure to be part of the fun here. The main thing is, Bunn and Crook have woven a first chapter,  with a sympathetic and involving central protagonist in Emmy,  that makes you want to know more — which is probably the best you can hope for, in all honesty, from any first issue worth its salt.

So, yeah, definitely count me in for the duration — Harrow County doesn’t seem like a place I’d actually want to live, much less find my car broken down in or something, but I’m looking forward to my next trip there in about 30 days already.

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Tell ya what, friends — Boom! Studios is a publisher that’s been on an absolute roll lately. Suicide Risk is the best monthly comic that no one’s talking about (and honestly one of the top five series being published today), new ongoing monthlies Dead LettersThe Woods, and Evil Empire are all off to incredibly promising starts, zombie four-parter The Returning just concluded its uneven but intriguing run, and the six-part revisionist superhero story Translucid is flat-out blowing my mind. Image had better be watching its back, because Boom! is muscling in on their niche market for intelligent, well-constructed indie books produced by ambitious, upstart creators with a vengeance. It’s getting to the point where I’m ready to add every first issue  with their logo on it to my pull list, and i’m not exactly known for my brand loyalty.

Continuing that strong trend is writer Cullen Bunn and artist Vanesa R. Del Rey’s The Empty Man, which debuted this past Wednesday and is positively brimming with the kind of tense, foreboding atmosphere that fans of horror comics love. It’s not without its flaws, sure — the cliffhanger ending seems to sort of thrust itself into the proceedings out of nowhere and it’s not even entirely clear just what the fuck it’s even portraying, for instance — but on the whole my gripes with the book are small and pale in significance when compared with what Bunn and Del Rey get right. If it sounds like I’m hopelessly hooked already, that’s because I am.

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Like any good mystery, the opening salvo of this six-issue series begins with a lot of disparate elements that we assume will come together by the time all is said and done, we’re just not sure how that’s going to happen yet. We’ve got a scene featuring an obscure fire-and-brimstone religious sect meeting in an old gas station for Sunday services that incorporates elements of both tried-and-true Christian holy-rollerism (check the preacher’s sermon in the page reproduced above) and new age-y symbolism (what’s that weird triangular logo they display all over the place about, exactly?) to kick things off, but before you know it we’re five years down the road, and that little fringe evangelical sect ain’t so little anymore : they’re all over the TV, preaching the kind of “end is nigh” message with which we’re all so depressingly familiar. The damn thing is, though, they just might be right : that’s because there’s a new plague sweeping our fair land, one dubbed the “empty man disease” by the media, that features, among other attractive symptoms : violent fits of rage, suicidal dementia, incredibly vivid and horrific hallucinations, and gripping panic attacks — all followed by either death or a catatonic, “empty,” comatose state of near-lifelessness.

I know, I know — it sounds like a shitload of fun, and I’d love to figure out how to sign up myself, but the causes of the syndrome remain entirely unknown despite the best efforts of the joint FBI/CDC investigation team tasked with getting to the bottom of things. Far all the time, effort, and resources expended on “empty man,” the simple fact remains that no one knows where or when it’s going to strike next. One thing’s for sure, though — wherever and whenever it does, you can bet that some annoying member of one of the “murder cults” that have sprung up in the wake of the outbreak will be there, genuflecting at the altar of the epidemic and telling all of us poor, lost heathens about how “empty man” has been sent by God to usher in his glorious return. Or something like that.

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What connection, if any, these disease-worshipers have with that first cult from page one has yet to be explained — as does the rise of that initial group in conjunction with the disease itself — but the questions are posed in a subtle yet compelling fashion in Bunn’s understated, eerily effective script that does a crackerjack job of setting an admittedly unfamiliar stage. He’s more about the task of putting us all in the right frame of mind with this first chapter, and even though the bulk of the issue is concerned with the kind of police procedural that often becomes a bit too cut-and-dried once he introduces us to our main protagonists (who are, as you might expect, partners on the task force investigating the outbreak), to his credit things never become dull or overly bogged down in “shop talk.” Events move along at a brisk and steady clip and the work of our erstwhile “disease cops” becomes increasingly immersive with each page.

Del Rey’s art complements the story without completely stealing the show — but damn, it does come close, especially toward the end, when events take a turn for — wait, that would be telling! Like a lot of horror comics today, there’s something of an  Alex Maleev influence that’s readily apparent in this book’s sketchy, heavily-textured style, but there’s also plenty of individual identity on display here, certainly more than enough to give this series a look that can be safely classified as “all its own.” It’s a dark and uneasy world we’re shown here, fleshed out with dark and uneasy imagery, and you’ve gotta tip your cap and say the writer/artist pairing on this one is just plain perfect for the sort of material that they’re dealing with.

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Last but not least, Bunn has come up with a terrific little tag-line for the book — at the scene of every murder/suicide/mass slaughter/take your pick related to the disease, the phrase “The Empty Man Made Me Do It” has been found scrawled on a wall (it also appears on this issue’s back cover, as well). It may seem like a small thing, but snappy little catch-phrases like that can go a long way toward building a kind of instant audience identification with a fictional world — after all, aren’t we all still asking “Who Watches The Watchmen?” some 30 years later? Do not underestimate the power of a pithy turn of phrase, my friends.

And whaddaya know? It’s a meme that’s spread from the printed page to the real world in no time flat, because “The Empty Man” has made me want in for the full six issues already.

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If you’ve followed my reviews regularly — or even semi-regularly — around these parts, two things are readily apparent : first, you need something better to do with your time, and second, I’m not terribly fond of DC’s “New 52” reboot.  By this point — nearly three years in — I was hoping it would have grown on me somewhat, I guess, or that I’d be at least so resigned to its inevitability that I’d just shut up and move on, but unfortunately neither of those things have happened, and I still feel the need to bitch about it for whatever reason, —even if it’s just tilting at windmills. Sorry, but I can be stubborn like that.

And DC’s being stubborn, too, aren’t they? I mean, a series that deviated from the norm a little bit would be welcome relief to those of us who like their characters but are bored to tears by how homogenized their universe has become, but so far they don’t seem too interested in catering to us in the least. We can take the stuff they’re putting out or leave it, but they’re not going to change.

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Oh, sure — by and large it’s fair to say that I’ve walked away from the entire enterprise (apart from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, which is terrific stuff), but every now and again I find myself with nothing better to do with three bucks (I really should consider crack addiction at this point as a viable alternative) and pop my head in at some random spot to see if things have improved. Such was the case just like week, in fact, when I took a flier on the first issue of the new Sinestro monthly series written by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Dale Eaglesham.

I can’t profess any particular love for this character, or for the entire “Green Lantern Universe” (or whatever you want to call it) as a whole, but Bunn seems to be a talent worth keeping an eye on if his work on Marvel’s Magneto is any indication (he seems to be drawing the short straw at both of the “Big Two” publishers and landing assignments on the villain books), so I figured what the heck? And I’ve heard that crack can be hazardous to your health, anyway.

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Unfortunately, I think even a low-grade crack rock (and I’m assuming that’s all three dollars would get me) would probably give my brain cells more to do than Sienstro #1 did, because this book sucks all the way across the board. It suffers from the acute lack of personality that seems to be the calling card for the “New 52” in general, and while I’m sure the creators put a fair amount of sweat into this thing, the heavy editorial dictates that they’re forced to comply with in order to get a paycheck have resulted in making this yet another completely interchangeable, mass-produced, cookie-cutter offering.

The plot, near as I could be bothered to remember it, goes thusly : Sinestro is holed up on some barren rock floating around in space, determined to lead a life of solitude and contemplation, when his old ally/adversary (depending on the situation), Lyssa Drak, shows up and convinces him to don his tights again and fight to free the few people of his homeworld who are still alive. So he does, since he thought they’d all been wiped out. And the first person he’s called upon to save in his one-man cosmic rescue mission is — well, that would be telling. But that’s all that happens, and that’s where the story ends, so trust me when I say I’m not skimping on any details here.

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As I said earlier, Bunn can write. but his talents are wasted on this drivel. This is a story that literally seems to have been born in an editorial meeting and then farmed out to freelancers to do the actual dirty work. The prose is stiff, the dialogue even stiffer, and the wretchedly formulaic nature of what DC has in mind for the character in the long haul oozes from every panel. Get ready for more of the same here, people.

Likewise, I’m willing to be that Eaglesham can draw pretty well, but you’d never guess it from the stale, derivative style he’s tasked with undertaking here. His Sinestro looks like the same guy we’ve always seen plus about 20 pounds of steroid-induced muscle growth, and the overall look of the book is, as with the “New 52” in general, that of a mid-’90s WildStorm comic that just happens to feature DC characters. Yeah, I know, I’ve made that exact same complaint before, but DC keeps putting out comics that have the exact same problem, so I’m just gonna keep it up until they either produce something even marginally different or I finally give up. Whichever comes first.

In any case, the end result here is a book you’ve already seen a thousand times before, even if it was called Green Lantern #20, Justice League #16, or Flash #9. DC either doesn’t care about letting their creators do anything unique these days, or has flat-out forgotten how to get out of the way and allow them that sort of freedom. Doug Mahnke’s variant cover (pictured above, underneath Eaglesham’s main one) comes as close to looking a little bit out of the bog-standard ordinary as anything we’re like to see from this series, but that’s about it as far as breaking loose from the assembly line goes.

Hmmmm  — if I have a few extra dollars left after picking up my usual stuff at the LCS this week, I think maybe I’ll track down that crack dealer after all.