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Who doesn’t love a good fight? David Vs. Goliath! Rocky Vs. Drago! Lindsay Lohan Vs. Dignity! Comic books are replete with these classic donnybrooks, from the sublime (Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali) to the atrocious (Avengers Vs. X-Men). In that spirit, we present this weeks selections in a manner befitting the tenor of our times: steel-cage death-match! (Because, as we all know, art IS a competition!)

The Helter-Skelter Weight Bout: Dark Shadows #11 Vs. Fatale #11

Dark Shadows #11 (Dynamite): A relative unknown and the clear underdog in this match, going up against our #5 pick for the Top Books of 2012. But don’t underestimate this book – it’s got plenty of (ahem) bite! Both books involve occult forces, demonic possession and children in grave peril. But only this one has a werewolf in a cheap suit! Writer Mike Raight packs in plot twists aplenty, befitting the series’ soap operatic origins. But he wisely keeps the camp to a minimum, instead delivering genuine chills and moments of pathos. Guiu Vilanova’s art is properly moody and atmospheric. And how could you resist Francesco Francavilla’s classic cover, rendered in a style I like to call 1970s Gothic (and dedicated to Jonathan Frid, no less)? To all of this add not one, but TWO cliffhangers, and you’ve got one helluva horror book. (DM)

Fatale #11 (Image): I’ll tell you: I couldn’t be more thrilled by the fact that Ed Brubaker “started having ideas for more stories within this world” of Fatale because he hooked me hard–or maybe it was Josephine after all–and a limited series would’ve left me standing on the tracks like poor Officer Nelson.  Poor Officer Nelson, indeed: I love how he’s left stepping toward the tracks as the narrative shifts to Jo’s meeting with “the writer,” Alfred Ravenscoft.  His satanic tale of of innocence obliterated leaves Jo with more questions than answers, which leads her to push Alfred toward an audience with his mysterious, and ultimately monstrous, mother–and the book’s audience toward another Alfred and his mother: Hitchcock’s murderous matriarch from the classic thriller Psycho.  Jo gets her meeting, but it doesn’t go as she had planned.  Her escape lays the track for a terrific transition: as she speeds past a railroad crossing in search of an end to the madness, we come to find Officer Nelson, who’s looking to catch the next train in order to find an end of his own.  Unfortunately for him, he’s “saved” by a few fellas who are in hot pursuit of Jo–including a couple bespectacled brutes with whom we’re far too familiar.  At the end of the story, we’re left hanging with Alfred–only we’re still able to beg for more.  All told, Fatale #11 is a  perfectly constructed one-shot; in fact, it’s more than just a one-shot: it’s a damned deadly derringer.  And with it, looks like the aforementioned Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Dave Stewart are aiming to have their ticket to next year’s top ten punched plenty early.  As one of the conductors of this little blog, I’m almost inclined to do it!  Or maybe–just maybe–it’s Josephine, after all… (SC)

This one’s closer than you might think, but the winner (and Book of the Week): Fatale

The Featherweight  Bout: Courtney Crumrin #8 Vs. Ultimate Spider-Man #19

Courtney Crumrin #8 (Oni): A couple of youngsters from our Junior Division, but what these two lack in experience, they make up for in chutzpah! Both series center around their teenage protagonists coming of age. Both feature fathers (or in this case father figures) who are not what their children thought they were. And both balance personal drama against a backdrop of conspiracy. Here, Courtney is on the run from her beloved Uncle Aloysius who just happens to be the most powerful wizard in her supernatural world. Creator Ted Naifeh nicely portrays Courtney’s world turned on its head as this once cocksure waif realizes how much she’d depended on her uncle and how his seeming betrayal has left her utterly lost. Her confusion and alienation mesh well with the larger story of adult compromise and corruption. Courtney’s world is getting more complicated and dangerous. Like the subtle color palette (employed by Warren Wucinich over Naifeh’s darkly expressive art) there are a lot of shades of grey. Naifeh’s compelling story depicts Courtney experiencing that common tragedy we all go through: becoming an adult. (DM)

Ultimate Spider-Man #19 (Marvel): OK.  You know how when your wife invites your mother-in-law over for a a couple of days and you’re not super thrilled about it, and you put up with it because, technically, you love your wife enough to deal with the–supposedly–short stay?  Yeah, that’s pretty much it–only it’s Venom who’s invading USM for Bendis knows how long.  Sure, Miles and Ganke are always good together, like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer; and the intrigue surrounding Miles’ dad is, well, intriguing.  I even enjoyed J. Jonah Jameson’s defense of our post-Parker Spidey.  But the insinuation of Venom just doesn’t do it for me.  Sara Pichelli and Justin Ponsor’s splash on page 11, a startling disappointment considering their combined talents, pretty well sums the issue up for me: lackluster.  No, it’s not awful, like most of the United We Stand nightmare; it’s just, well, what it is.  Next please. (SC)

Courtney Crumrin has Aloysius, a cross between Albus Dumbledore and Edgar Winter. Ultimate Spider-Man has Venom. The winner: Courtney Crumrin 

The Maim Event: Bravest Warriors #3 Vs. Colder #3

Bravest Warriors #3 (kaboom!): What are these two doing in the same match? Well, for one thing, in a coincidence of Jungian proportions, BOTH feature a demonic presence  bursting violently out of someone’s body! See for yourself:


Scenes like this do raise the question of why Bravest Warriors, as part of the kaboom! line of books, is being marketed to children. Not that there’s anything truly objectionable, but the animated series is being touted more for adults. There is a vibe (and occasional risque joke) in both versions that suggests “Not for Kids”. I get that it’s part of the Adventure Time brand, but it IS odd seeing the “Cartoon Hangover” masthead on the cover of what is ostensibly a childrens’ comic. Griping aside, this comic has Adventure Time’s patented tone of adrenalized slackerdom down pat; if anything, Bravest Warriors takes itself even less seriously. Writer Joey Comeau keeps the action and jokes coming at a furious pace. Mike Holmes’ art is the perfect compliment, staying within the Adventure Time “house style” while composing dynamic panels (see above) that highlight the bizarre story. Speaking of which, with this issue’s unrelenting sad-zombie-clowns, and last issue featuring Danny vomiting live spiders(!!!) this story line is like my 5-year-old nightmare from Hell. Add in the genuine laughs and this book can only be described as: hysterrifying. (DM)

Colder #3 (Dark Horse): Unlike Fatale, this series is probably better off that it’s limited to five issues.  The first issue was ice–with Paul Tobin’s inspired insanity and Juan Ferreyra’s stunning artwork–until Declan declares that “it’s time [he and Reece] had a talk.”  That worried me a bit; it seemed like a sure misstep into sanity.  The second issue had some bone-rattling moments, for sure–especially thanks to the perpetually frozen Ferreyra.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t so taken by Declan’s declarations–and there were many of them.  So, #3–well, at least we’re over the hump!  The creative team kicks things off well enough with a certifiably crazy contest of hide and seek, punctuated by Nimble Jack’s aforementioned shedding of someone else’s skin in an effort to win the game.  Inspired!  After that, however, the book babbles along, albeit beautifully, at a glacial pace.  Yup: Declan’s a drag.  But a bunch of arms dragging Reece through the roof of a taxi?  Now, that’s what I call ceiling the deal!  The odds of my missing #4?  Absolute zero. (SC)

One of these books is a horrific descent into madness. The other is Colder. The winner: Bravest Warriors

 Battle of the Sexes!: Fury: My War Gone By #8 Vs. Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake #1

Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake #1 (kaboom!): What do these books have in common? Absolutely nothing! They couldn’t be more polar opposites! Let’s pit the grizzled, one-eyed war veteran against the little girl with the magic puppy and see what happens! Like Bravest Warriors, this book is an extension of kaboom!’s successful Adventure Time franchise. Inspired by the fan-favorite gender-switching episode, this series puts a girl’s spin on what is ostensibly a boy’s enterprise. And, like that episode, it pulls it off with panache. Written and illustrated by Natasha Allegri (who also works on the show), the story doesn’t take the easy route of having its female characters appear strong simply by acting like boys. Instead, the characters are imbued with recognizably feminine personalities (especially the irrepressible Cake) without sacrificing one whit of action or humor. Indeed, Allegri begins the book with a story-within-a-story that, in a few brief pages, achieves the grandeur of myth. She then abruptly shifts tone toward the everyday low-brow (de rigueur for Adventure Time). She never loses sight of the fairy-tale wonder of her story, however, and her expansive lay-outs imbue the proceedings with a larger-than-life quality to match. The result? Out of all the books in Adventure Time‘s growing family of titles, this one feels the most EPIC. (DM)

Fury: My War Gone By #8 (Marvel): Fionna and Cake vs. Fury and Castle? That seems fair.  As I mentioned in my In Scott’s Bag post, I l-o-v-e the first page.  Goran Parlov’s splash carries quite a message: war ain’t black and white, brother; it’s shades–maybe fifty of ’em, but who’s counting–of gray shrapnel shredding men to pieces.  The narration casts a darker shadow, indeed, as the book’s–and Fury’s–antagonist explains–while Parlov shows–how Fury and Castle fell foolishly into his Viet Cong clutches.  And that’s just the first two pages!  As the story unfolds, General Ennis orders up an assault of ethical dilemmas and uncomfortable truths, all conveyed through perfectly calibrated conversations and culminating uncompromisingly in a multi-layered and minacious cliffhanger.  Will Fury do Giap’s bidding in order to end the war?  Will Castle do whatever it takes to keep the war from ending?  Will the Americans blow them all to hell?  Will Ms. Defabio blow them all to…?  Well, speaking of cliffs: the most memorable moment: Castle tosses a wounded enemy soldier off a cliff to test a potential escape route.  Fury concedes, “Not much of a splash.”  Castle replies, “No.  Only one way this can go now.”  And what a way it is. (SC)

The winner: Fury. Boys always win! HA! (except for Courtney Crumrin I guess. oh, and Fatale…)

Finally, given our premise, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the following:

(written by Martin Powell with art by Terry Beatty)

Is it Shakespeare? No, it’s Popeye beating up Martians. If the concept alone (or the cover by Ray Dillon) isn’t enough to make you giddy with excitement then we is emenies and I challenges you to steel-cage fiskicuffs.

(Don’t worry. You’ll win.)

Turning pages,

Scott and Derek