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Tag Archive: Shanna the She-Devil


Savage-Wolverine_1

If someone gave you the brass ring, let you write and draw your own comic book series, including combining your favorite characters and places, and heck, even an image of yourself and your college roommate, what would you do?  If you were that lucky you might put something together like Savage Wolverine So many components of Issue #1-5 of this year’s new series screamed “win” that it’s no wonder Marvel kept charging ahead with the monthly series after Frank Cho’s initial story arc.

Frank Cho is of course the biggest reason to check out the new hardcover and trade paperback edition now on newsstands.  Cho is simply the best at rendering women and dinosaurs and guns and bringing them all together.  And while we’re all still anxiously awaiting the long-delayed Guns & Dinos series that was supposed to land in 2011 (where the heck is that anyway?), Cho is forgiven as this is the next best thing.

Savage Wolverine Cho art

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Everything nearly ended.  Countless heroes were killed.  The Fantastic Four have disbanded.  The X-Men are gone.  Mutants are hunted as criminals.  The world still needs saving.  This is what happens next.

Released last year in a nice hardcover edition and now widely available everywhere, the oddly titled Ultimate Comics New Ultimates: Thor Reborn is not always easy to find via electronic searches because of its clunky title.  And if you try to just ask for “that great Jeph Loeb/Frank Cho” book from last year, they may or may not know what you mean.  But take it from me, it is well worth remembering this one.

After reading last week’s prologue to the coming Avengers vs. X-Men series (Issue #0 came out last Wednesday and Issue #1 will be released early at a special pre-release party this Tuesday night), what it made me want was more Frank Cho.  In a never-dwindling stack of books to read, this New Ultimates is the one in the stack you kick yourself for not reading earlier.

By way of background, Marvel’s Ultimate Universe is a parallel universe created in 2000 to try to bring in new fans without being bogged down in 40 years of Marvel Comics Universe continuity.  Sound a little like DC’s New 52?  The Ultimate Universe is a sort of all-bets-are-off line that Marvel fans either love or hate.  As a fan of alternate history books, and as we wait for DC Comics to reveal its own new Earth 2 and Worlds Finest parallel universe series, this trade book, re-printing the Ultimate Comics New Ultimates: Thor Reborn Issues #1-5 from 2010, is exactly the kind of story I love.

I’ll put aside Frank Cho’s brilliant art for a second and get into the story.

Jeph Loeb is one of comic book writing’s greats for a reason.  His storytelling is superb in that it is succinct enough for the comic medium yet comprehensive in its bringing in several major players and turning points in only five chapters.  Each issue/chapter is told both from a third person narrative and an internal monologue from a different key player–each of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Valkyrie, Loki and Thor.  Sometimes the stories run parallel with each other, and in other parts they require the reader to follow the two stories separately.  I rarely like switching narrators in any type of book as it usually feels like a gimmick.  In comic books, if done right, it can allow you to dig into a few characters more deeply than a third person voice by itself.

Jeph Loeb clearly poured a lot of himself into this story.  Loeb follows the thoughts of Tony Stark as he beats up himself for surviving a battle with cancer, while a kid he met named Sam did not survive.  Sam, of course, is a reference to Loeb’s own son who had died earlier of cancer, and was the subject of a popular memorial book by several DC Comics creators.  The fact that Loeb would pour such a personal story into the opening page of this book grabs the reader’s attention instantly.  Suddenly we see Loeb as Stark, and it somehow allows us to understand the darkness behind Stark’s personality.  As Stark is chatting with Hawkeye, a group of the New Defenders appear for a brawl.  Captain America shows up with two great characters, Zarda, who Hawkeye believes to be crazy yet is a goddess in her own right, and Valkyrie, who we later learn is a typical girl next door that ends up coerced into a life of a would-be superhero.

This humorous assemblage of repeating/mirror panels is reminiscent of Frank Cho's Liberty Meadows work.

Valkyrie is central to this story, as Thor’s lover, she cannot get over losing him.   He resides in Asgard, his exiled destination for sacrificing everything–including his life–in a prior battle.  We meet yp with Thor in Asgard, trying to persuade Hela to let him return.  She agrees, but for a great price that he pays–without much coercion–and with a result that will likely be played out in later series.

For Frank Cho fans, this world includes Shanna of the jungle and Ka-Zar, their twin tigers, and Black Panther.  They are first to confront the series’ villain, Loki, and another enchantress named Amora, with a flying dragon/dinosaur beastie invading Manhattan.  As much as readers will be blown away by Cho’s pantheon of women heroes like only he draws them, including Ms. Marvel’s Carol Danvers, Valkyrie, Zarda, Amora, the enchantress, and Shanna, his male superheroes are superb, too, and Iron Man and Captain America in particular have rarely been rendered artistically any better.  Also look for cameos by the Black Knight and Power Man.

Beautiful original art page by Frank Cho.

We encounter a brooding Captain America, who inadvertently pushes Valkyrie and Zarda into the manipulative trance of Amora (Zarda is a ringer for Cho’s Brandy and Amora for Cho’s Jen, both from his Liberty Meadows series).  Rounding out a triumvirate of super-powered women under the control of Loki and Amora, Carol Danvers, now director of S.H.I.E.L.D.  is pulled in to devastate the few heroes that remain: Iron Man, Captain America, and Hawkeye.  Readers are treated to several poster-worthy splash pages from Cho.  And hints abound in the series as well as in-jokes.  Cho’s use of eyes and expressions tell stories themselves that, in retrospect, were giveaways easily passed over on a first read.  Cho’s in-jokes are peppered throughout the book, in wall paintings and coffee house menus, in backgrounds other artists would have left as filler space.

Throughout this tale we follow the tragic story of the rise of Valkyrie, actually the human Barbara Norriss, whose entire life–as she sees it–is a lie.  The theme “be careful what you wish for” is repeated throughout Loeb’s story.  Valkyrie’s story is emotion-filled and poignant.  If you are looking for a great story along the lines of Wagner’s Ring fantasy, this story would fit right in.

Loeb sums up the ruthless Loki very well as Loki compares his and brother Thor’s story to Cain and Abel, and Esau and Jacob, “Unlike those brothers, however, I don’t want to actually KILL Thor.  I just want to @#$% with him.”  Consistent with the Norse god stories, and Loki in the Marvel Universe, this reveals a lot about his motivations and the pages that follow.  The final chapter, shown in part through Thor’s voice, wraps the story arc up nicely.

For some reason to me this image seems very similar to portraits of Batgirl done by Adam Hughes.

Back to Cho’s art–although we almost take for granted Cho’s pin-up worthy splash pages, his action scenes stand up to anyone else’s in their own right.  His women in battle have some similarities to Adam Hughes 1940s style women-focused cover work (like his current Batgirl covers) that I have not recognized before.  The numerous characters go through several emotions, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, and his eyes and mouths, wrinkles, frown lines, etc. convey much–he really makes it all look so easy.  One final note:  A few of these covers were mentioned earlier here in our review of the best covers of Frank Cho.

The appendix includes a great color and black and white gatefold of alternate covers and a sketchbook of Frank Cho pencil work from this series.  Overall you’ll be hard pressed to find a more interesting adventure story coupled with stellar artwork than Ultimate Comics New Ultimates: Thor Reborn.

First of all, there needs to be some ground rules when you tackle a “best of” list for someone as talented as Frank Cho.  With Alex Ross, we took his entire body of work and picked our 15 favorite images, whether from cover art, interior pages, or marketing pieces Ross painted.

But with Frank Cho, the world renowned artist known for his voluptuous women characters and funny and sarcastic animals, it was a bit harder to choose.  In particular, his work on Liberty Meadows, and before that, his hilarious college series University².  Cho’s drawings of Brandy and her animal friends are so expressive and fun that we think they beat out all his other work.  And we think Cho would approve–he told us this summer that he doesn’t sell any of his original Brandy pages.  We wouldn’t either!  You can see some of the Liberty Meadows covers behind Brandy in the image above from Cho’s great website, full of his blogging and galleries, apesandbabes.com.  If you don’t know Frank Cho’s comic strip-turned-comic book, we suggest you start with University², available in a compilation of comic strip humor called University Squared: The Angry Years that is my personal favorite.  Beyond that, Liberty Meadows is available via Image Comics in Liberty Meadows: Book One, Eden, Liberty Meadows: Book Two, Creature Comforts, Liberty Meadows: Book 3, Summer Of Love, and Liberty Meadows: Book Four, Cold, Cold HeartLiberty Meadows is about Brandy, a animal psychologist at an animal sanctuary/rehab clinic, her animal friends, and Frank, a veterinarian, who is in love with Brandy…but won’t tell her.  It is funny in the vein of Bill Waterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, yet dramatic like Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise.

So before taking on a “best of” or “favorites list” for the other comic books series Cho has created covers for, could we select one Liberty Meadows piece that stands for them all?  We came up with this cover, with Brandy sporting her Beltsville shirt.  This image is classic Frank Cho.  But even this is sort of a cheat, since it is a cover to Cho’s Liberty Meadows: Cover Girl compilation book, as opposed to a regular series comic, but it is the cover Cho chose for the book on his own covers.  Hey, you try and pick the best from Liberty Meadows!

Oftentimes we think you can see his Liberty Meadows characters Brandy the brunette and Jen the blonde as the superheroes in the mainstream comics he draws.  They are fun to watch for.

It’s probably easier to discuss Cho’s best cover art by referring to each series he has drawn.  And we’ll focus here on just a dozen of his cover projects that blow us away.   You’re dealing with a body of work that includes Shanna the She-Devil, New Ultimates, Fear Itself, Schism, Ms. Marvel, Red Sonja, and New Avengers, and his many variant covers, which often eclipse the regular issue covers of other artists.

First up is his work with “dinosaurs, Nazis, guns and babes” in Shanna, the She-DevilThis cover to Issue 3 is a standout, with Shanna in about as much danger as a human in the Jurassic era can get into!  If you like this also check out his Jungle Girlseries, his Red Sonja series, and, coming soon, his Guns and Dinos.

A lot of Cho’s work has the feel of 1940s pin-ups.  This Dark Horse Comics Hellboy: Weird Tales, Vol. 2 cover image has a great retro look, and shows that, like Alex Ross, Cho gets to work with a variety of publishers’ star characters:

We only wish we’d see Cho take on more DC Comics characters!

Cho hasn’t come close to hitting his full stride yet, with some of his best work coming out in 2010 and 2011.  Check out these covers for the Ultimate Comics New Ultimates: Thor Reborn.  And his interior work is as good or better than the covers.  In fact, most of the cover work featured here reflects covers of books where Cho drew the interior art, too.  When you usually find a great cover but lesser art inside with other creators’ books, Cho’s books give you top illustrations, cover to cover.

   

Cho practically re-ignited Ms. Marvel through his drawings of this once minor Avenger.  Two covers with Ms. Marvel stand out:  the Mighty Avengers cover that was redone for the Irredeemable Ant-Man series, and this stunning cover for her own series:

  

The other Avenger Cho brought into the limelight was Spider-Woman, especially in this cover to New Avengers (left), yet check out this incredibly powerful image in the variant of Secret Invasion (right), with Cho showing his pre-Raphaelite influence:

 

Cho has said that his favorite superhero to draw is Spider-man.  Here he drew Spider-man in contrast to this dark, Gothic, seemingly medieval woodcut-inspired image in Ultimate Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man, one of his best variant cover pieces:

  

The second piece above is the Scarlet Witch from Ultimates 3: Who Killed The Scarlet Witch? (v. 1), and it is just another example of a great Cho female character.

Right now on the shelves, Cho returns to his Gothic imagery with the Fear Itself: The Fearless series with these two incentive comic covers from one original grand Cho artwork.  Contrasted with his beautiful Valkyrie on the left is his self-described “fugly” character Sin, daughter of long-time Marvel villain, the Red Skull.  Good luck to whoever gets in the way of either of these women.  Doesn’t look like anyone will stand a chance against either of them.

 

Keeping with the angel theme, this early Witchblade shows another, earlier Cho style, likely influenced by the paintings of Maxfield Parrish:

Finally, to get the full effect of this next image, Cho’s magnum opus of X-Men in X-Men: Schism, you’ll need a wide screen.  In the alternative, click on each image to see how nicely done this new pentaptych is close-up.  Again, Cho’s work gets the exclusive variant edition status…those comics that don’t easily get into readers’ hands, unfortunately, because they are issued in limited numbers to comic shop owners as incentives.  But no doubt the trade edition will include these images not long from now.  Pretty hard to pick a favorite just from these five covers:

Although the most recent work isn’t out in trade versions yet, a lot is still on the shelves as individual issues (see links in the series names above to check out what is available).  Original prints of Cho’s work and other cool stuff is available at Cho’s website.

So… what do you think?  Any glaring omissions?

C.J. Bunce
Editor
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*All images posted above are owned by Frank Cho or the respective publishers listed above.