Comic Review: A Ninja Named Stan
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A Ninja Named Stan
Written by Mike Wittenberger
Art by Delia Gable
Letters by Mike Wittenberger
Cover by Delia Gable
Edited by Amanda Hendrix
Archaia Entertainment
Release Date: March 27, 2013
Cover Price: $14.95

You can tell, just by looking at this book, that A Ninja Named Stan is a labor of love by the creators. And, usually that’s when a comic book shines. This book, however, could use a little bit more shining.

Writer Mike Wittenberger tells the tale of Stan, an all-around loser, who is driven over the edge emotionally and decides to become a ninja private eye. Sounds good, right? In theory this should be an awesome comic; unfortunately, the execution keeps it from living up to its true potential. I realized about halfway through that this book isn’t really a Ninja P.I. book, it’s a love story, and a pretty cute one at that. However, the writing is a little sloppy and it takes WAY longer than it should to get to the point. This could’ve been a two-issue series, there’s really no need for it to be a full-length trade. Having said that, there are some adorably cute romantic moments between Stan and his love interest, Andrea. The thing that bothered me most is that on occasion, there’s some very gratuitous bad language. Now, I’m NOT a prude by any means, but the needless use of it almost made me feel uncomfortable.

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Comic Review: Swerve

Written by Jon Judy
Art By Dexter Wee
Cover Art by Chris Seaman
Art Director Sean McArdle
Production & Design by Jace Tschudi
Edited by Amanda Hendrix
Arcana Studios
Release Date: February 15, 2012
Cover Price: $19.95

A funny thing about pro wrestlers – for all their flamboyant showmanship, sometimes it’s their lives outside the ring that makes them really compelling. The family man that puts his life in danger is the premise that made the documentary Beyond The Mat work. The role of Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson – big, loving, flawed – is what almost singlehandedly brought back Mickey Rourke in Darren Aronofsky’s seminal The Wrestler. A random stranger I still think of often: ten years ago, on an overnight Amtrak train, I once struck up a conversation with a retired semi-pro in his late 40s who lamented how he never got comfortable terrorizing little kids asking for autographs just to keep up his villainous persona. He was on his way to reconnect with his long-estranged daughter.

Swerve, a self-contained series from Archaia, is set in a seedy underworld of sex, drugs, and violence. What makes it stand out is that at the heart of the story are these compassionate characters. It’s not a flawless story; the alchemy of mixing the staged violence inside the ring with the very lethal violence outside it maybe doesn’t 100 percent click, but there are passages here that feel sharp and fresh.

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Comic Review: The Book

The Book
Written by Erik Hendrix and Michael David Nelson
Art by Amanda Rachels
Colors by Gavin Michelli
Letters by Erik Hendrix
Edited by Amanda Hendrix
Arcana Comics
Release Date: December 2012
Cover Price: $14.95

The Book follows a group of student tourists in Italy who hunt down a DIY travel guide. When they find the book in a small café, one of the tourists discovers that it was stuffed with several pages of instructional text on an ancient ritual called Sanctus Letum, the Holy Death. This ritual allows someone to die, take a sneak-peek at what lies beyond, and come back to life. These ritual pages draw the tourists into the ritual spot of a death cult that believes that Lazarus, from the Bible, witnessed a few things before he was resurrected. Let the satanic rituals, demonic possessions, and gnarly death-making commence!

Creators Erik Hendrix and Michael David Nelson melded their own separate story ideas together to form The Book. Hendrix wanted to write a story about people killing themselves to see what’s in the afterlife. Nelson was toying with the idea of travelers hunting down collaborative, “off the grid” travel guides. The resulting story is a compelling twist on the old possession storyline. The Book is an inverse ghost story where the living want to explore the afterlife and, as a result, bring a little afterlife back with them. It’s a ritualistic twist on the movie Flatliners.

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Comic Review: The Praetorian

The Praetorian
Written by Ryan Foley
Art by Robert Gill
Colors by Aikau
Letters by Shawn DePasquale
Edited by Amanda Hendrix
Arcana Comics
Release Date: July 25, 2012
Cover Price: $19.95

The Praetorian is full of potential with a story romanticizing gladiatorial glory and democratic revolution. Unfortunately, the comic limps to a slow start and never hits its stride. I’m usually a sucker for “Power to the People” stories, which might explain my great disappointment with this book. 

The land of Desperian is, as the name implies, a desperate city-state ruled under the iron fist of the dark wizard, Lord Zoranthar. Valoriss Bladesong, an imprisoned foreign warrior sold into slavery, proves herself in battle.  She earns a shot at glory in the Desperian gladiator arenas. Bladesong and fellow gladiator, Flay, team up to dominate the blood-sport. They quickly capture the hearts and imaginations of Desperian’s citizens. An upstart rebel group recognizes Bladesong’s worth as the face of their revolution and recruits her services.  

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Comic Review: Champions of The Wild Weird West

Champions of The Wild Weird West
Written and Created by Michael David Nelson and Erik Hendrix
Artwork and Color by George Kambadais
Lettering by Erik Hendrix and Amanda Hendrix
Edited by Amanda Hendrix
Arcana Comics
Cover Price $14.95

It’s tricky pulling off a team story. Does every character get equal time to shine, like in The Avengers? Is it actually a story about a team or is that a smokescreen and it’s really about a single protagonist who learns to be a part of a team, like every single 3 Musketeers/D’Artagnan movie I’ve ever seen? Champions of The Wild Weird West features an old western posse of seven distinct, interesting characters – just about any of whom could lead in a compelling series on their own – in a story pitting them against an equally varied mish-mash of foes with art that I’ll gush over below because I really, really dig it. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t quite enjoy the story itself, but like I said, team stories are tricky.

The five-issue mini-series from Arcana opens with a saloon fight between a samurai and bounty hunters. Let that last part sink in for a second. It’s a kick-ass action sequence that quickly proclaims this book to be a Sergio Leone-esque spaghetti western by way of Samurai Jack. The whole first third of the book involves train robberies, zombies, introducing the squad of odd-balls, and generally topping absurdity upon absurdity. Bandits accidentally let loose a plague of the living dead on a train going over a Native American burial ground infecting both the passengers and the corpses below. The Samurai Taro, the dashing and well to do adventurer New York Jack and his posse, Polikwaptaqwast, a young Native American shaman, and a masked supernatural figure named The Grey Gun converge at the scene with their own missions in mind. The newly formed Champions forge an alliance against the well to-do villains they quickly deduce were behind the attack.

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