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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

J LHLS Archives: April 2004

Saturday, April 3, 2004

Common Grounds, #1-3
Publisher: Top Cow

Reviewed by Kathy LaFollett

32 years ago I was introduced to comics by my father. He presented me with a copy of Swamp Thing, Spiderman, and Captain America. I was hooked. Normally I’d buy comics by judging the cover art, and thumbing through the pages looking for action scenes and inviting layouts. I built quite the collection over 10 years. Which through the passing of time, somehow became lost between High School and College.

Today I lurk through comic book stores searching for and buying the old issues that I loved back then. You could call me an aficionado of “old school” comics.

Common Grounds presents the same lure as the old issues I sought as a child. The cover art is solid and consistent is flavor, the layout and ink work expressive yet simple. Line weights and coloring within the issues present suggestive visuals without clutter. Clean and crisp. I consider this series a collectible based on the art alone.

The writing is quirky and dated relying on current events, political beliefs and named products of this generation. This is not to suggest a negative opinion towards the flavor of the writing. I find references, rhetoric, and syntax familiar to the point of everyday expressions that are the very foundation of the premise presented.

Simply stated, Common Grounds is a franchise of donut shops (Dunkin Donuts?) specifically serving superheroes and super villains. One storyline presents the rules for Common Grounds that no fighting or combat is tolerated within the establishment. Bouncers are on hand to remove those super types that start trouble. (My only question being, what type of bouncer can efficiently remove super individuals engaged in combat?) Contained within the parameters of Common Grounds we are introduced to a set of super individuals through conversations, thoughts, and in one story, a bathroom conversation between a villain and a super hero.

Common Grounds employs everyday humans for customer service. In one story a look into the moral of not giving up on one’s dreams is presented through a threatening scenario between two humans. I found the conversation and storyline engaging, but within one graphic cell, the presentation of a PT Cruiser vehicle was distracting.

The humor contained within the writing and presented conversations can be quite good. I found myself laughing out loud at one punch line. Conversely, I often found myself thinking that a group of high school boys got together and wrote the dialogue. It’s a bit thin in context and light in vocabulary. Within three books, there were references to “horny high school girls”, an attempted kidnap/rape, a bathroom conversation presented between two toilet stalls, failed sexual exploits due to superpowers, the stereotypical waitress wannabe an actress, a female superhero declining a donut due to watching her figure, and an additional scene reference to a possible alley rape or “pulling a train”. These points of dialogue were distracting as well.

What I found completely solid and quite impressive were the transition scenes and layouts supporting those scenes. Balanced, supportive of thought, and easily followed they offered a solid foundation to any weaknesses in dialogue.

The series delves lightly into everyday issues concerning familial interplay, social injustice, political ramifications, human interaction, anger, frustration, hopes, dreams, and life itself as a struggle. These are examined within the context of a superhero individually, in a pair, and expressly between a protagonist and antagonist. The very idea of examining super heroes against and within the context of regular human life and struggles sets this series apart. But it is a double edged sword at times. Just as I was losing myself in a character or scene, I would be jarred by a graphic or conversation so timely in reference I’d immediately be asking myself, “what’s THAT doing in there?” or “God, I hate it when people speak like that.”. Character syntax and vocabulary do not support personality differentiation. There is a Hebrew super hero, who speaks guarded English, and within a few cells a German superhero speaking his native language. But generally the characters, female or male, tend to sound alike is verbiage.

There are two hidden gems within the series. The first gem being two page spreads presenting an insider’s look at the processes taken by the artists and writers in developing the art and stories. The second is found in Issue 2, an opening salvo showcasing Stryke Force, another Top Cow Production. This short excursion into another comic leaves you wanting more of the same, a lot more.

I’m smitten with the storyline found in Issue 3 and the Character of Charm. She has a substantive personality that could yield a great long term story. Her brother Strangeness seems a bit dismissive and baseline in personality. I’m not sure if the Top Cow team has plans for development in characters or rather in philosophy framed within random individuals.

All in all, I’m quite willing to give Common Grounds another 10 issues to mature in writing.

Posted by Kathy LaFollett @ 07:46 AM PST [Link]

Friday, April 2, 2004

Common Grounds, #1-3
Publisher: Top Cow

Reviewed by Chris Husmann (Posted by Kathy LaFollett)

Synopsis:

A chain of restaurants (known as "Common Grounds") attract some unique customers. These customers are all super heroes and super villains. All of them with different powers, costumes, and history. These are their stories and adventures of how they become who they are and why they chose to become a hero (or villain.)

Review:

I had no idea what to expect when I first took a gander at these comics. I looked at the covers, flipped through some of the pages and then started off on page one for each of them. I have to say the Common Grounds comics are very original and very fresh. I haven’t seen any other comic that reminds me of them. Each issue has two separate stories of different characters.

Common Grounds focuses more on the characters backgrounds. So if your one of those people who enjoys action and fighting in comic books then I don’t think you’d find yourself enjoying this series very much. This series did just pick up so I’m sure that they will add more action later down the road.

The art in these comics is very well done. Only thing that I didn’t like was that they had two different art styles. The first half of the comic seems to be drawn by the same artist. Where as the second half is totally different and resembles the art that of a Saturday morning cartoon (this goes for each issue!) I’m just not used to the artwork changing as I read on in a comic book.

The stories in these comics are ok. I’d say they are above average. They just change the plot and move on to a different character throughout each comic. So the story isn’t exactly stationary. I’m sure most of us are used to comics that focus on one main character and his/her counterparts throughout the whole series. So you’re in for a change if you read Common Grounds. I enjoyed reading these comics up until issue number three (the last issue that’s out I believe.) After reading the problems and history of six or more characters in the previous two issues with little or no action, it just got too repetitive for my taste.

The Verdict:

All in all this is a nice change from other comics. It’s original and fresh. I think they take the originality to far though… making it seem rather repetitive (as I stated before). If I had to give it a rating on a scale from one to ten I’d give it a 6/10. Its nice and all but it could use some changes.

Posted by Kathy LaFollett @ 01:20 PM PST [Link]

Thursday, April 1, 2004

Just a reminder that July 1, 2004 is the the next essay deadline for the next issue of LHLS. Please see the editorial policy and submission guidelines, and feel free to contact us if you have any questions, thank you. Hope we see you on July 1.

Review materials may be sent to:

J LHLS
PO Box 31531
Los Angeles, CA 90031-0513

Thanks!

Posted by Editor @ 07:50 PM PST [Link]

Monday, March 29, 2004

Ruule: Ganglords #5Ruule: Ganglords of Chinatown #5
by Ivan Brandon, Mike Hawthorne, Rick Remender, Guilia Brusco, Richard Starkings, Jimmy Bentancourt, Comicraft, Matt Hollingsworth
Created by Jeff Amano
Cover art by David Mack
Publisher: Beckett Comics
April 2004 - Issue 5

Ruule: Ganglords of Chinatown #5 is a brutally violent comic illustrated in the style of the recent, Bruce Timm-produced Batman and Superman television cartoons. The dialog and plot are unencumbered with the burden of originality, which hardly dooms the project. What is present is atmosphere, and lots of energy, but despite those virtues, Ganglords #5 fails more than it succeeds

Nearly four action-drenched pages pass before the first panel with written text appears. "It's over," a lithe woman says, gripping a long, splintered stick, and standing waist-deep in a pool of water o'er-slicked with blood. The plot, such as it is, is a standard 1950's vengeance noir potboiler, featuring Gid, a young man seeking to kill gang leaders responsible for killing his brothers, and "the men who refused to help us." Anachronisms such as modern-looking motorbikes are depicted, but otherwise Ganglords instincts tend toward the cityscapes of James Ellroy's "LA Quartet." There's a certain charm in explicitly portraying truly unsettling acts of carnage, torture, combat, and yet representing curse words with the kind of funny letters found in a vintage Dick Tracy strip. The presentation is attractive, and features an evocative cover by David Mack, but doesn't go much deeper. The stylized, cartoonish character designs, alongside horrific acts of violence, used to great effect in Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming's Powers, do not inform or enhance the story and themes of Ganglords.

The narrow emotional range of the characters makes it hard to care about them, or what will happen to them. The focus on consequences and the corruption of power is a good dramatic theme, but its potential is squandered. At different points, several characters (and Gid himself) speak to Gid's "choices" and how he's changing into the men who did him wrong. Which would be an interesting progression to explore, if it was actually shown. Gid has a wild glint in his eye from start to end, 41 pages later, with scant, and deeply unsatisfactory, allusions to a character capable of making considered judgments, to a character worthy of our emotional investment in his redemption. The characters that surround him, from the woman who speaks the first line of dialog in the book, to his adolescent brother, to the twin ganglords who are captured and sentenced by Gid to a kind of street justice, are ciphers. They are horrified and bemused by Gid's decisions, repsectively, but are not granted the expressiveness to articulate what has been lost.

Posted by William Wentworth Sheilds @ 05:26 PM PST [Link]

Sunday, March 28, 2004

2004 Alternative Press Expo Swag Review (still): Decease #1

A good zine is hard to find. Actually, let me emend that: finding a *zine* is hard enough these days, since everyone is doing comix, apparently. I've always loved zines - bought them, traded them, written about them, worked on them (Inquisitor) - and I'm sad to see that most zines have gone the way of manual typewriters. Hmm, maybe there's a connection. Anyway, I was genuinely pleased to pick up the first issue of Decease of APE: a gen-yoo-ine zine, black and white xeroxed 8.5x11 sheets stapled in the middle and packed with lots and lots of text. Yay! The zine is not dead - now it's just *about* death.

Editor-in-chief Meri Brin has assembled 10 diverse meditations on death and the culture surrounding it. They range from personal and touching (Jana Wright's memory of seeing her father's body in a morgue - not scary, but liberating) to ironic and amusing (Andrew Losowsky's 12-page essay on obituaries, which could have used a bit more editing) to offbeat and hey-isn't-that-cool (Wright again, on true crime tunes and the morbidity of Liszt - and hey, how come Peter Gabriel's "Family Snapshot" wasn't on the list of songs about murder?). There's lots more, some of it fascinating, all of it well-written and thought-provoking. This is a zine at its best: taking a universal fact and writing about it, writing through it, and making it your own.

My only complaint about Decease is the use of whimsical and serif-laden fonts, and a different one for each piece, at that. My eyes, my eyes! Please, for the sake of your readers with less than perfect vision, stick to Arial and Times, and if you must go wild, use Palatino. I look forward to issue #2.

Posted by Laurel Sutton @ 10:11 PM PST [Link]

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