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This Month At Penny-Farthing

Tonight, Joe Quesada will be on 60 Minutes II talking about how great comics are, not just those from Marvel. But even after he's through, most people will still likely walk away from the show thinking he means Marvel and DC. Through the magic of Lucasfilm, a few might know Dark Horse.

But Joe Q is right: this is a great time for comics, with a lot of smaller publishers putting out some interesting work that we're trying to cover a little better here at Fanboy Planet. For example, it's time to check back in on Penny Farthing Press, a house out of Texas that has attracted some fine talent to some interesting books. A couple of their titles may look like superhero books, but all of them have unique takes.

Being a smaller publisher, Penny-Farthing doesn't get the attention from retailers that it deserves, so you may have to look a little harder for these books, or honestly may want to wait for the trade paperbacks. (Amazon carries some of their titles, or you can go to Penny-Farthing's website to order books.)

Here's a little rundown of the titles that the publisher has shipped this month.

Decoy: Storm of the Century #4
writer: Buddy Scalera
artists: Courtney Huddleston and Mostafa Moussa

One really smart move on Penny-Farthing's part is only publishing books when they have stories to tell. They sort of have an ongoing series in The Victorian, but even that book has a clearly defined ending. So their popular titles are just series of mini-series. Such is the case with Decoy.

A reasonably interesting idea, Decoy combines a cute alien stuck on Earth with a deadly threat. It's a difficult line to walk, trying to balance real danger with, well, hijinks. Scalera would seem the right choice to scribe, having had some experience writing mayhem and humor with Deadpool. The first two issues clicked, but somehow as the ending got closer, things got out of hand. It could be that the series started out feeling appropriate for children (and Decoy is teaming with Hero Bear in a separate series) and has become just a little too grotesque alien finale.

It's still an interesting book, but it might have benefited from being five issues instead of four. The main story feels rushed, with sudden changes of heart on characters' parts, and a mystery villain who still remains a mystery. Oh, he says what he wants quite clearly, but we're left having no clear idea what he actually is, with the frustrating feeling that it was supposed to be obvious.

The back-up slot, too, has the same feeling, introducing story elements crucial to understanding the first couple of issues. Unfortunately, once the important stuff was out of the way (and all of it re-explained in the main story), this back-up hurries to come full circle with the beginning of the first mini-series. As an attempt at mixing up the narrative a bit, it's a worthy experiment. It just doesn't quite work.

Still, the characters have a lot of potential, and Decoy should be worth a third mini-series. Provided, of course, that Scalera and Huddleston have a story to tell.


Zendra 2.0 #4
writer: Stuart Moore
artists: Martin Montiel and J.C. Buelna

And now for the fabled "on the other hand…"

Zendra promises intriguing science fiction adventure, and delivers on all counts. The title has been given enough room to develop, as this is a six-issue mini-series, not four.

In the first mini-series, the "last" human, Halle, merged with the larval stage of an Aesirian, a species barely existing in the space-time continuum. Upon this combination, she was led to the mythical world of Zendra, a refuge for a reborn human race, where she was sworn to become their protector.

Of course, to be a protector, you have to have an enemy, and Stuart Moore obliged by creating the Jekkarans, a hulkish warrior race right out of Jim Starlin's central casting. Though that element may seem a little pat, Moore keeps us too busy with other alien concepts to worry about it.

While the Jekkarans put Zendra under siege, Halle and some companions journey to the center of the world, which may not be a literal concept at all. They hope to gain a weapon to defeat their enemies, but Moore hints that this just might be a cosmic mindgame gone horribly awry.

This series accomplishes something fairly tough, in that it captures a little bit of real alien thought-processes. The ethereal Aesirians have saved humanity for reasons of their own, but clearly have an agenda that makes no sense to the Zendrans…yet. Only Tau, the Aesirian merged with Halle, has graspable motivations in that he seems like a spoiled teenager. But Moore probably has something other than that up his sleeve.

The book also utilizes its back-up slot in a more economical way, with Moore providing an illustrated story that fills in corners of the main story. Do we absolutely need to know how the Jekkaran battle cats came to be? Had it been placed in the main story, it would only have slowed the action. But having the additional tale makes the book a little richer.


Both books, by the way, feature art that fits perfectly. Decoy creator Huddleston has a slightly cartoony style that allows for grotesque elements without being jarring. Montel and Buelna draw in a gritty style without sacrificing wondrous elements. Ordinarily pin-ups don't catch my eye, but both titles give over a couple of pages to them to good results. Hopefully, these newer artists are being groomed for actual storytelling work.

Derek McCaw

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