It’s 2012– and the fight continues.
I’ll be doing two things differently in this edition of Monkey Knife Fight™. One: It’s about comic books. Two: MKF has previously only had one rule– all battles are one-on-one. This time, however, it’s going to be a BATTLE ROYAL to determine a winner. Round one features Fatale #1 vs Whispers #1. Round two is a showdown between American Vampire #22 and Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1. The Final Round will determine the Ultimate Champion.
From Sleeper to Criminal, then to Incognito and back to Criminal— comes Fatale, the latest offering from the creative team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips… Branching out from the crime and superhero genres by applying their signature noir style to a horror comic. A logical step, I think, given most of their work would feel right at home in the pages of an old EC book. The only thing missing from their repertoire is a war tale, and Brubaker’s writing duties on Captain America may be as close as he’ll get to that genre– at least for the foreseeable future.
Fatale has all the hallmarks of these consistent creators– from Brubaker’s fluid dialogue with spot-on characterization and snappy narration to Phillips’ simple but elegant line work. Add Dave Stewart’s colors– and an instant bleakness is established… Different from the eye-popping colors usually employed by their usual colorist in crime, Val Staples.
This first issue is, of course, predominantly story set-up. We meet the protagonist for the present day part of the series in the Prologue, and the protagonist for the 1950’s part of the story in Chapter One. Both of these characters become involved in the mystery surrounding a woman known as Josephine. It should be interesting to see how both character’s stories play out and connect through the course of the series. Overall, it’s difficult to find fault with this comic– other than it’s hard to divorce it from Criminal. Except for some minor details, if it didn’t say Fatale on the cover– the comic would have read as a strange entry in the Criminal canon. I would have liked to see something similar to the narrative hook they employed in Criminal’s The Last of the Innocent story arc, where the art deviated in style between the present day scenes and those occurring in the past. It would have also been great to have Phillips draw the modern-day storyline and then have another fantastic artist like Francesco Francavilla set the mood for the 1950s story. All-in-all, issue #1 is a solid start to a book that will hopefully surpass– or at least be on par with– the likes of the duo’s previous efforts.
Whispers #1 features story and art from one half of the Luna Brothers team, Joshua Luna. Much like Fatale’s creative forces, the Luna Brothers have been garnering much acclaim with such signature comics as Ultra, Girls— and their most ambitious work– The Sword. So how does Joshua fair on his first solo book outing? Exceptionally well.
Nothing has been sacrificed. If anything, Whispers serves as a step up from Joshua’s previous comics. The characters have more texture to them, with the art offering more of an air brush feel than solid coloring. As one would expect from any Luna book, layouts are simple and clear. The use of different lighting effects and blurred backgrounds not only gives the comic a more lively presentation, but we’re treated to a definitively increased cinematic vibe as well. The main character’s internalization is very real. He is instantly sympathetic and identifiable– as he struggles with hypochondria and how to interact with the people around him.
Just like Fatale, this first issue is filled with set-up and story details (but unlike Fatale, you’re not required to follow two different timelines). What you do get: A main character who discovers a new ability that will undoubtedly change the lives of the people he knows. I can’t say much more without spoiling the premise, other than it’s a true shame that I have to wait until March for the second issue. Judging from next issue’s cover, the action really starts to heat up. But waiting isn’t a negative… And I’ll happily be patient for quality– especially if it only costs $2.99 per issue.
Round One Winner: Whispers. Even though I truly like Brubaker and Phillips style and appreciate and enjoy the complexity of having two stories in one– I felt I was promised something that wasn’t fully delivered in Fatale’s first issue. Whispers wins because Joshua Luna is pushing his story ideas and art to new levels. That is something I did not see coming.
Round Two of Monkey Knife Fight™ begins with Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1— written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi, with art by Tonci Zonjic. Somewhat coincidentally, Zonjic’s art is reminiscent of Sean Phillips’ work– only more animated and with less gritty realism. Dave Stewart’s colors again offer an air of welcome mood-setting. (Stewart was the colorist on the previous Lobster Johnson mini-series as well.)
It should also be noted that even though the phrase “One of Five” is printed on the front cover, this is really a six issue series— like all Mignola comics are. I should also acknowledge that, while I will be referring back to the previous Lobster mini– you do not have to read that series to understand what’s going on in this first issue. The previous comic mini-series took place toward the end of Lobster’s career. The Burning Hand finds us at the beginning– where nobody knows who is leaving a pile of gangsters and thugs dead… With claw branding on their foreheads. Like the previous Lobster Johnson tale, Hand finds the character and story much ingrained in the world pulp fiction– with a certain airiness that keeps it from being too serious. The cover, art and story of Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1 fondly reminds me of an episode of Batman: The Animated Series.
Lobster Johnson’s challenger is Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque’s American Vampire #22— kicking off the latest storyline, Death Race. This new issue of AV introduces us not only to a new character– but a new era in the American Vampire saga: The 1950s. Albuquerque’s rough and ready art gives the book the look of Grindhouse meets Grease. It’s funny how all the creators are given “greaser” nicknames on the title page too. Snyder’s moniker is “Eight Ball” and Albuquerque’s is “Crossbones”. My obvious favorite nickname goes to letterer Jared Fletcher. He’s called “Knife Fight”.
If you read Snyder’s Tweets, you know of his strong affinity for Elvis Presley. That’s evident here. But AV’s Travis Kidd also has a mysterious look and brooding characterization that, at least for me, puts him somewhere between Marlon Brando’s The Wild One and James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause. (I have to admit to liking the idea of “Elvis Presley: Vampire Hunter” though.) American Vampire #22 is dark and stylish– with more than enough action and mystery to get me excited for next issue.
Round Two Winner: American Vampire. It has a winning combination of moody look and fast action… And features a purple Cadillac convertible. That alone drives a wooden stake through the heart of challenger Lobster Johnson.
Onward to the Final Battle: Who will be the first ever Monkey Knife Fight Battle Royal Champion? We have two books priced at $2.99 that are worth every penny… And two comics that bookend their stories with nice narrative tricks that upend how they started.
THE ULTIMATE CHAMPION
American Vampire #22
After the battle dust settles and the last punch is thrown, I simply had the most fun reading this book– more than any of the other fine comics I’ve chronicled today. After almost two years, Snyder and Albuquerque continue to create a book that surprises and stimulates– with no slowdown in sight.
That’s my pick, IMJ Nation™… But what say you? As always, I look forward to your comments.