2 to the Chest, Mister Moto, and Silencers
various reviews by Mike Baron

2 to the Chest, issues 1 and 2
Writer and artist: James Hudnall
Publisher: Dark Planet Productions, Price: $2.99 US

James Hudnall flies in the face of the interior monologue. His tough cop caper, 2 to the Chest, is as lean and hard as a rebar. His characters define themselves almost entirely through their actions. Hudnall has grazed briefly in company pastures, writing Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography and The Psycho for DC, various characters for Malibu, before starting Dark Planet, determined to control his own material. Hud parlayed one of his previous series, Harsh Realm, into a short-lived Fox series. A brief firefight broke out when X-Files "creator" Chris Carter put his own name above Harsh Realm as creator. I put the quotes around creator because if he was willing to claim credit for Harsh Realm, who knows who really developed X-Files?

© 2004 Dark Planet Productions

2 to the Chest is a cop drama. LAPD Troy Geist gets shot twice in the chest in the first issue, dies and comes back to life. The dialogue is spot-on without a wasted word. At the end of the first issue, Geist finds himself in a shoot-out with two federal agents, whom he kills. The art is serviceable, largely redeemed by the coloring. Hudnall's working with Studio Sulaco in Spain, which has a range of stylists under its roof. The second issue, by Jose Aviles, is more exciting. You can sense Aviles feeling his chops, taking chances. Covers to both, by J.A. Serrano, have a textured, rotting feel reminiscent of the paintings of Ivan Albright. They scream crime. You feel the story gathering momentum by the end of the second issue, but these are quick reads and might have benefited from some character eddies and comic relief. That said, Hud knows how to tell a story. You never get the feeling the writer doesn't know where he's going, as you do with so many of the Big Two's books. One more thing: Hud is using LA cops as advisers. Comics are what you make of them.

Aspiring writers could do worse than visit TheHud.com and read Hud's rules for writing.

Dark Planet's also distributing a couple Sulaco home products, Rogues! and Ghost Wolf. Rogues is barbarian stuff, exquisitely rendered by Juan Jose Ryp with superb coloring by Miguel Castillo. Ghost Wolf is a tribal revenge melodrama. The artist Siku who draws the first twenty pages is exceptional, influenced by Mike Mignola and Kelley Jones.

Mister Moto: Welcome Back Mister Moto Book Two
Writer: Rafael Nieves
Artist: Tim Hamilton
Publisher: Moonstone Books, Price: $2.95 US

Mr. Moto is a fascinating comic on several levels. The writer and artist are making a serious effort to recreate post-World War II America. The setting, 1947 Chicago, looks right and Nieves, who at one time penned Marvel's Hellstorm, has an excellent ear for dialogue. Secondly, what would possess Moonstone to revive this great but obscure literary character? John P. Marquand's Japanese sleuth was a hit in the forties, and there were several Mr. Moto movies starring Peter Lorre. There's always been a whiff of reverse racism about the character, as if to remind us that the yellow peril could be both sophisticated and domesticated. This new version gives us a more honest look at race relations in the forties, zeroing in on the treatment of Japanese citizens during the war.

© 2004 Moonstone Books

A shadowy government op named Irons blackmails a young Japanese/American named Takashi into infiltrating a group of anti-American, pro-Imperialist Japanese. The plot remains murky. There's no synopsis for the first issue, and the second ends with an abrupt cliffhanger. That said, this is a good read. The flashbacks to Takashi's childhood are beautifully rendered. Hamilton has a gift for the kind of gritty illustration that used to grace the pulps. While some of his illustrations descend into scratch work, others can take your breath away with their insightful rendering of human emotion. His kendo scenes are kinetic and convincing. The cover is awful. They should hire someone who knows how to do comic book covers. Likewise the logo is not going to garner any awards. Still, if you grokked on O'Neil's and Kaluta's Shadow, you'll groove on this. There is a connection.

Silencers 1
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Steve Ellis
Publisher: Moonstone Books, Price: $3.50 US

Silencers is a group of super heroes who used to work for the mob, but are now out to stop the other mobs from taking over NYC. Sort of Justice League meets Sopranos. There are some amusing bits in here, but most of the dialogue reads like it was crabbed from other entertainment sources rather than real life. Plot concerns a designer drug called Black Kiss (homage to Chaykin) that's sweeping the city. The story is told in a needlessly convoluted flashback style. I wasn't sure whether Stiletto engaged in this elaborate kabuki performance in order to fool her boss Cardinal, or the so-called Tights.

© 2004 Moonstone Books

Give Van Lente credit for coming up with some cool concepts - Cardinal, Stiletto, Hairtrigger, and Nil are cool names. Missile 21 is okay. But most of the dialogue is posing, not characterization. Ellis' art is a pleasing blend of manga and simplicity, not dissimilar to Darwyn Cooke or Mike Oeming. The cover was obviously cobbled together from bits and pieces of interior art. What is the problem? A cover is the comic's face to the world. Get the cover nailed down before you finish the comic!

A black and white strip in the back pays homage to H.P. Lovecraft and is one of the most nihilistic things I've ever read. As Stan would say, "The only way Satan can reach you is in the pages of a comic book! Beware!"

Bubba Ho-Tep
Written and directed by Don Coscarelli
Based on a short story by Joe Lansdale
Starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis

Bubba Ho-Tep is about how Elvis and JFK fight an ancient Egyptian soul sucker at an East Texas nursing home. Based on a short story by Joe Lansdale, it combines elements of his horror Westerns as well as a heaping dose of just plain weirdness. Bruce Campbell plays Elvis sincerely, and catches the King's vocal mannerisms. If he occasionally appears too young for the role, he makes up for it with his dead-on impersonation. In contrast, Ossie Davis doesn't even try to capture JFK. What would be the point? When Elvis points out that JFK was a white man, Davis explodes, "That's just how clever they are! Who will believe me now?"

The story gathers momentum slowly, like a shaggy dog getting up from a rest. But once it gets going, look out! Elvis and JFK are more than a match for the evil mummy, even if the King uses a walker and JFK a wheelchair.

Mike Baron is the creator of the award winning comic book Nexus and during his career has written an enormous variety of comics from The Flash to The Punisher. He is currently writing Faro Korbit for AP Comics, working on a Green Lantern novel for Byron Preiss, and is working on several projects destined to change the face of pop culture in his secret skunkworks.

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