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Comics To Look For In San Diego When You're Guilty Of Not Reviewing Them Earlier...

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San Diego ComicCon 2003.

Before their preview night, it's time for a little guilty confession. This year a lot of smaller press books came to us that I meant to review and for one reason or another forgot. Today is the day to make up for that, and give an unofficial preview of some little books to look for while you're here, or at any of your local conventions.

For smaller companies, purchasing these books at conventions is the way to go: more of your money goes into their pockets. These are some high points to keep your eyes open for:

The Invincible Ed
story and art by Ryan Woodward
publisher: Summertime Comics

Animator Ryan Woodward takes a pretty common fantasy (at least for kids who grew up reading comics) and gives it a whimsical spin. Aliens choose to test Earth by gifting a righteous human with superpowers. Their emissary Nod chooses his subject, but, being an alien, falls for the hypnotic effect of popular opinion - choosing a high school jock, Lance Lundgrin, on the surface everything the aliens could want.

But Lance is much better at seeming like a good guy than actually being one. When Nod's gift explodes in a shower of power, it catches both Lance and the kid he's trying to beat up, Ed.

Once Nod realizes his mistake with Lance, he takes it upon himself to train the geek turned superman Ed on how to use "The Right," and hopefully take down the bullying jock made monster.

As befits his animation background, Woodward's style has a lot in common with Mike Kunkel. Occasionally panels still have rougher pencil lines left behind, but they flow with the sure style of a guy who knows how to storyboard.

Though meant for audiences a little older than the target of Herobear and the Kid, it's a charming story so far. Woodward sent us the first two issues; he works on the book in between movie assignments, but hopefully a third will be available this summer.

Max Hamm, Fairy Tale Detective #1: The Big Sheep
story and art by Frank Cammuso
publisher: Nite Owl Comix

In a year that saw Fables take the industry by storm, it was easy to miss this one. But that would be a mistake. Though on the surface covering similar territory as the Vertigo book, Cammuso treads closer to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with a liberal dose of Tex Avery.

Packaged like a Little Golden Book gone bad, "The Big Sheep" involves porcine gumshoe Max Hamm getting a bum steer from Little Bo Peep. Oh, sure, we know noir and can recognize a bad girl when we see one, but when you're a hard-boiled pig, you've got to have a blind spot for the dames.

Cammuso spins Hamm through a litany of famous nursery rhymes (the "Fairy Tale" Detective moniker is a bit unearned), as if the world of Mother Goose was Harlem in the '20's. The plot may be as convoluted as The Big Sleep itself, but it's always amusing to see the artist's rendition of well-known characters as, well, other well-known characters.

Don't leave it out for the kids to see, or you might have some explaining to do. But it's pretty amusing and inventive.

Mortal Souls
writer: Steven Grant
artist: Phil Xavier
publisher: Avatar Press

For a guy that would be perfectly happy to be left alone by Hollywood, Grant sure comes up with concepts that scream for movie treatment. Here's the high-concept pitch now: it's Night of the Living Dead meets They Live!.

Police detective Eric Sharpe becomes the unwilling recipient of a gift that allows him to "see" rotting corpses masquerading as normal humans. It turns out that they're something that Kaballah (Jewish mysticism - how trendy) calls "Qelipoth," beings whose bodies have outlived their spirits.

Armed with this new knowledge that the dead are conspiring against the living, Sharpe tries to get out of town before they can take him. As a story, it's tense, interesting, and despite its obvious analogues, original.

Grant creates very real characters, and the philosophical underpinnings to the story give it a weight that should provoke some thought.

Where the book admittedly falls short is in Xavier's artwork, generic and stiff. In some panels he appears to be going for realistic representation, but no figures or faces remain consistent. It makes it hard to get a fix on who the characters are from scene to scene, as the men, at least, start to blur into one. Well, two, actually: living and dead.

There seem to be a couple of editing problems as well, where the story takes jumps forward in narrative. If you find yourself asking "what happened?" keep reading. Eventually you can make sense of it.

Avatar released this in trade paperback last winter, though we read it in individual issues. The arc ends with the promise of more, which would be nice to see with better, more consistent art.

The Wonderverse: Nexus
writers: Jona and Jason Kottler
artists: Chayne Avery and Russell Garcia
publisher: Opposite Number Comics

Aside from being really nice people, the Opposite Number team has really grown in their storytelling. The first issue of this book had an interesting premise, but seemed really rushed and jerky in its execution.

However, as the story has progressed, the pieces fit together a little better, with the Kottlers being more confident in their abilities. They now know they have enough space to say what they want, and can flesh out their characters at a more relaxed pace.

Set in an alternate 19th Century, The Wonderverse brings together alien conspiracy, Native American mysticism, Wild West adventure, British Imperialism, a masked vigilante, and this year's mysterious golden boy in alternative fiction Nikola Tesla. Sure, it sounds like a lot, and that may be why the first issue felt so cramped.

But it's all coming together. Matching the Kottlers' progress as writers is the artwork, which has a manga flavor to it. Over the three issues, though, you can see Avery and Garcia really coming into their own style. They experiment more with layout (successfully) and in a nice touch for the subject matter, dip into a purposeful stiffness that starts to approximate woodcut illustration.

Check out all these publishers… we'll be stopping by them, too, to see what's new this year.

Derek McCaw


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