Posts Tagged ‘Rico Renzi’


The whole goddamn “drug war” is such a clusterfuck of bad ideas that it’s a wonder the premise in Justin Jordan and Raul Trevino’s new four-part Boom! Studios series — that of a frustrated DEA agent “going native” and crossing the border into Mexico to take the fight to the cartels using the same brutal methods that they themselves are infamous for — hasn’t played out in real life already. Or maybe it has and they’ve just managed to keep it out of the press?

It’s certainly been explored in fiction before, no question about that — Joseph Conrad’s timeless classic Heart Of Darkness did it first, and Francis Ford Coppola famously transposed that story into Vietnam for Apocalypse Now — so we can’t go so far as to give Jordan any particular points for originality here, but he adds an interesting new wrinkle into the proceedings by having the agent assigned to bring rouge operative Conrad Marlowe (methinks our author wears his influences on his sleeve) “in from the cold” turn out to be his own daughter. So, yeah, derivative or not, I’m liking where this one’s heading —


Jordan’s other recent-vintage projects such as John Flood and Strayer have shown him to have a real penchant for creating strong and memorable characters, and the same appears to be true one chapter in here, albeit with a political and bureaucratic twist given that the powers-that-be on both sides of Donald Trump’s imaginary wall seem less than enthusiastic about the prospects of our would-be heroine actually succeeding in her task. Which rather leads me to wonder why she was even given it, but that’s just one of many intriguing questions that will hopefully be addressed in due course as events play out in this book.

Complementing the sharp dialogue and smart story hooks is the smooth, gritty-but-stylish art of Raul Trevino, who hails from Mexico himself and imbues his locales with an authenticity that is, fair enough, sometimes photo-referenced, but still wildly effective on the whole. His action sequences have a real snappy rhythm to them, as well, and as exposition gives way to violence in future installments that’s going to come in real handy, you can already tell. Juan Useche’s largely-subdued color palette aids an air of moody immediacy to everything, and the end result is a comic that both reads and, crucially, looks much like a William Friedkin crime flick.


I’ve gotta give the brain trust at Boom! props for issuing a Spanish-language version of this comic,too — that can’t be a move without a considerable amount of financial risk attached to it, but given the subject matter it would almost seem remiss not to do it, so I hope it pays off for them. I’m a little bit less enthusiastic, it must be said, about them putting out this first issue with something like four or five different different covers, but that’s just how it goes these days, I guess, and if “main” cover artist Jilipollo continues to knock it out of the park as he does here (as pictured at the top of this review — Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi’s far uglier one being shown underneath it), well, there’s no real reason to pick up any of the variants, anyway, unless you’re some kind of die-hard completist. Which, fortunately for both my wallet and sanity, I’m not.


Anyone who’s been around comics for any length of time can tell you that sometimes you just “get a feeling” about a book, and I’ve definitely got that — in spades, no less! — about Sombra. If Jordan and Trevino can manage to follow up this opening salvo with three more rounds that hit their target as surely and confidently as this one does, we’re in for one hell of a memorable ride. You’d be very foolish indeed to miss out on it.


You know the old saying : if it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it must be — well, a duck. And there’s no doubt that the first issue of Marvel’s new Howard The Duck monthly definitely features a walking, talking,  intelligent, permanently-down-on-his-luck duck from another planet, which is — at least on paper — exactly what Howard is and always has been. But he’s also a lot more than that, and that’s what makes Howard The Duck #1 so much less.

Truth be told, what made Howard such an instant overnight sensation in the 1970s is the simple fact that he was nothing more than a conduit for the social, political, and philosophical observations of his co-creator, legendary comic book scribe Steve Gerber (who later became involved in a protracted legal struggle against Marvel for ownership of the character). Howard’s other creator, artist Val Mayerik, left the building much earlier than Gerber did, but the duck “trapped in a world he never made” continued on reasonably well without him. Once Steve was out of the picture, though, the character never recovered — and certainly never sounded quite right ever again.

Which isn’t to say that the new creative team of writer Chip Zdarsky (best known for his work as the artist on Image Comics’ hugely popular and successful, Matt Fraction-penned Sex Criminals), penciller/inker Joe Quinones, and colorist Rico Renzi don’t give a solid effort here — it’s just that their hands are completely tied, and they’re stuck in a “no-win” situation. When Disney bought Marvel, one of the first things they did was dictate numerous changes to Howard’s physical appearance, feeling that he looked a bit too similar to another famous duck that was the property of the House of the Mouse(Gerber himself responded to these mandates by turning the character into a rat for nearly the entire duration of the 2002 six-part series from Marvel’s since-shuttered “mature readers” imprint, Max Comics, that represented his final go-’round with his signature creation), and now what we’re stuck with is an iteration of Howard that doesn’t look, feel, or sound anything like what we’re used to — and on top of that Marvel editorial seems to have decided that the story fans purportedly “want” to see in these pages is one that explains how a duck-turned-private eye ended up in the possession of The Collector at the end of the Guardians Of The Galaxy film.


To that end, the main thrust of Zdarsky and Quinones’ debut installment is taken up with getting us from point “A” — Howard in a New York jail cell — to point “B,” which is Howard in an outer space jail cell. He picks up a new human female sidekick along the way (longtime love interest Beverly apparently being out of the picture now), and has some reasonably entertaining run-ins with both The Black Cat and Spider-Man (in fact, Zdarsky scripts the out-and-out funniest Spidey scene in years), but all this manages to do is showcase how much better a handle the creators have on their guest stars than on their actual protagonist. Howard always bitched about his sorry lot in life, and does plenty of that here, but he was at his best when waxing existential on the utter pointlessness of life in general, and that’s an element that his “kinder, gentler” 2015 version is sorely lacking (along with his former trademark cheap cigar).


A rather forced “montage” scene  at the exact halfway point of the book (as depicted on the page below) doesn’t help matters any, either, and while I certainly commend Marvel for being willing to roll the dice on “quirky” fare in a way that their Distinguished Competition seem to be shying away from in the advent of their “New 52” relaunch (although that may be changing when DC rolls out a host of new titles in June), it seems like the commercial failure of more “off-beat” recent series like She-Hulk (who re-emerges as a supporting player in this very book) and the criminally under-appreciated Superior Foes Of Spider-Man is giving the publisher something of a case of cold feet. They apparently want to continue to try to push the envelope in a more humorous direction, but they’re just not willing to go quite as far as they were a year or two back, with the end result being a re-launched Howard title that feels like it’s very tightly controlled by editorial.


Does it have its moments? Sure, absolutely. And it’s well-drawn (and colored) throughout. A reader who’s brand new to the character — as in, one who hasn’t even seen the George Lucas-produced movie, much less read the original comics — and who is primarily interested in answering the question “who was that crazy duck guy at the end of Guardians?” might, indeed, find  a fair amount to like here. But for anyone else with even a passing knowledge of who Howard is (or at least who he used to be)and what he’s (or, again, was) all about, this first issue offers no reason to stick around for the second and beyond. If Marvel wants to have an anthropomorphic “funny animal” character other than Rocket Raccoon and Squirrel Girl as an active part of their universe, they should just let Zdarsky and Quinones — who would probably be up to the task — create a new one. It’s not simply a case that Howard without Steve Gerber isn’t Howard — it’s that he flat-out can’t be.


So here’s the set-up — in the pages of the ongoing weekly series Batman Eternal, Arkham Asylum was blown sky high in some kind of supernatural explosion, and the city fathers of Gotham have consequently found themselves at loose ends in terms of where they’re going to warehouse their rogues’ gallery of “criminally insane” patients/inmates. After much discussion ,debate, and deliberation, the answer they come up with is — Wayne Manor?

I guess if you can swallow the notion that one of the richest guys in the world actually cares about other people, and expresses his warped notion of “concern”  by dressing up as a goddamn bat and fighting crime at all hours of the night, then the aforementioned- premise of the new monthly  series  Arkham Manor shouldn’t prove to be a bridge too far. I just find it very curious — to put it mildly — that DC would choose to put this out before the events that lead up to it had even happened yet (the destruction of Arkham and Bruce Wayne losing his home, and his company, are only now unfolding in Batman Eternal, yet Arkham Manor  is already on its second its second issue), but whatever. In this day and age of several-months-in-advance Diamond previews and solicits, I guess there are no such thing as “spoilers” in comics anymore.

To make things even more convoluted, though , the first story arc of this series involves Bruce Wayne, sans Batman garb, going undercover as a patient in his former home in order to track down a murderer who’s offing the other inmates. You know you’ve got it rough, I guess, when you have to pretend to be someone else in order to get back into your old house, which is now both a psychiatric prison and an active crime scene.

Obviously, at some point, Brucie boy is gonna get his family estate back — but  the question you have to ask is, after all this shit, why would he even want it?


Okay,  it’s called “suspension of disbelief,” and it’s a notion we already discussed pretty thoroughly right at the outset here, so I’ll just leave that little query to play itself out at some inevitable point in the future. And I’m sure that point will come right around the time  at which Arhham Manor is scheduled to be concluded/cancelled, since, like its two other new Bat-brethren, this is a title that’s clearly designed for the short (or at best semi-long) haul. The thing that it needs to prove to us now is — will it be worth seeing through to the end?

As of this moment, I’d have to say that my honest answer is “I’m not sure.” Writer Gerry Duggan and artist Shawn Crystal (both of whom cut their teeth on Marvel’s Deadpool, among other projects) definitely give the proceedings here a unique flavor, and it’s wise that for a book this outlandish they don’t appear to be taking themselves too seriously, but this is no out-and-out comedy a la the just-finished (and already sorely missed) Superior Foes Of Spider-Man. Earlier today I  finished up reading the second issue, and while I enjoyed it quite a bit (just as I did the first), I’m still not completely clear on what it is they’re “going for” here. One moment we’re in a group therapy session that’s clearly being played for laughs, the next we’re hunting for stone-cold killer Victor Zsasz in the bowels of a creepy old mansion full of evil crazy people. I’m tempted to say something about the whole thing feeling as schizophrenic as one of the manor/asylum’s inmates, but that would probably be both in poor taste and a bit too obvious.



All misgivings aside, though, this book at least shows both some potential and, crucially, individuality. Crystal’s style (which can be seen on the main covers reproduced with this review, with the variants, also shown, coming our way courtesy of Eric Canete and Rico Renzi, respectively) is a lot more free-flowing and naturalistic than most of the bog-standard product DC is clogging the racks with, and lends itself to both “lighter” and “darker” scenes with equal ease, so that’s a big plus, as is Duggan’s solid grasp of dialogue and characterization. In short, plain language, then, it’s fair to say I like both the art and the writing here. I just don’t know if I like the comic — yet.


How’s this for a conundrum, though? I don’t have any solid reason to drop it from my pull list, either. So far it’s been intriguing, even if it’s been hard to pin down. In fact, we might even be in the early stages of a very solid, long-form Batman story. The potential is there, and these guys (along with colorist Dave McCaig, here employing a decidedly more traditional and subdued palette than he’s using in the pages of Gotham Academy) seem talented enough to pull it off.  There are so many borderline- tantalizing glimpses of what might be on our way that I’m willing to take a “wait-and-see” approach for the time being. Unfortunately, the book’s initial struggles to find its “voice” also ensure that I can’t say anything more for it than “wait-and-see,” either.

Lock me up in Arkham Manor for now, then, I guess — but please,  don’t go throwing away the key just yet. I may yet decide that my stay here is better off being a short one.