Is it cheating if I review these comics two at a time? Because I’m enjoying the setup of the story so far, but at 8 pages each there just isn’t a whole lot of space for story progression. Oh, the problems of running a small press comics review website. Since I’m sticking with the single issues for now, what happens this time around? We get to learn a bit more about our hero, and while he may not be an asshole, he’s at least asshole-adjacent. We also learn that his job is to go to the perfect people around the city (which, if you didn’t read the first issue, seems to be everybody) and deal with their problems. The problem, this time around anyway, is that a lady fell down the stairs and broke her nose. The punchline is that she fell because she was distracted from another personal problem, and each of them would fall into very minor categories for humanity today. Like I said, I’m intrigued to see where this is going, which is a pretty good place to be for the second issue of a (so far) ten issue series. $2
Is Brian the most prolific comic artist going today? Is there a contest for that sort of thing? There’s not (that I know of), but he’d have to be high up the list. Brian sent me a few new comics recently, as I’ve somehow missed him at the last couple of local comic conventions. He sent a few issues of this comic along, and when I went to link to his website I saw that he already has ten issues done. 10! Granted, these are 8 page minis, but that’s still a better pace than a lot of artists, and he’s also always working on other comics. Does it seem like I’m stalling a bit on the actual review? Yeah, that’s probably because I am. This one starts off with a perfume ad that morphs into two people having sex. They get interrupted when our hero (I’m assuming) has to leave because his ride for work has arrived. They get into a brief argument, as the woman thinks that his female ride was hitting on him, and that’s that. If that makes it seem like everything is simple and straightforward, it’s really not. Everybody in this town has gotten plastic surgery, meaning all the women look the same and so do all the men. I’m curious to dig into this and see where it goes from here, as I already have a lot of questions. Which means that a first issue did its job, and this is one of those rare first issues where you already know there’s plenty out that’s already completed. I’m assuming this one will have significantly less punching than his Ruffians series, but who knows? Check it out, maybe buy a few issues while you’re at it to see where this is headed. $2
OK, one thing first, just to make sure you get it: I’m going to talk about spoilers here, because this is the last issue of a series so of course I’m going to talk spoilers, either read the series before reading this or don’t read the series ever, in which case spoilers will never effect your life. But it’s a fun series overall, so you might want to read it. Anyway! My main conclusion after reading this last issue, ambiguous Soprano’s-style ending notwithstanding? Scar might be an immortal. Sure, he’s a three foot tall blue bear, so the rules for his existence were never clearly defined, so maybe that’s on me? But he was shot eight times in the back (and arm) in the last issue, and it is never mentioned or addressed in this issue. Thanks to Erin, he manages to escape what seems to be certain death in that nightclub, not seeming to be slowed down in the least, and then goes to a diner to get some food and talk some more to his dead friend Black Jack. So are we to assume that he was hit with a paint gun? That he had body armor that covered his back? Which wouldn’t do a thing to explain those 8 bloody bullet holes we see in the last issue. If it seems like I’m focusing too much on this aspect, hey, maybe you’re right! But if you or I were shot eight times in the back, maybe we could get a burst of adrenaline off long enough to take a few more assassins out (in real life we’d almost certainly just be dead), but once the adrenaline wore off that would be it. It seems like Brian sacrificed the natural flow of the story for a more dramatic gunfight in the last issue, and considering the care he took with the rest of the series, it strikes me as a misstep. Still, putting aside that one aspect (with great difficulty, obviously), we do get a final battle with Scar and Malt, we get to see him confront Cypris, and we finally get the real answer of what happened to Black Jack. I was wrong in my guess, which is always gratifying as a reader. And I’d still recommend this series as a whole. There’s intrigue, betrayals, an overarching mystery… a lot to love here. There were a couple of missteps here and there, but there’s more than enough good here to overshadow those things. $3.99
It’s the penultimate (I love being able to use that word and have it fit) issue in the series, so you can be sure that there’s a lot of gunplay going on in this one. Brian doesn’t waste any time with it either; our hero tosses back a few more drinks, gets warned off one more time by the ghost of Black Jack, then puts a gun to the head of Cypris. Unfortunately his mustache disguise fell off during those drinks, so now all the assassins at this party recognize him. It’s one of the more baffling aspects of this story, the fact that that disguise worked so well, but it’s not much of a stretch to think of most of these assassins as not being all that bright. Oh, and Erin (Scar’s lawyer/lover) is there as well, and she’s armed, so she also gets a few murders in, although I lost track of her in all the chaos. Things take a turn towards the end of the issue, as Scar is finally tagged with some gunfire. 8 bullets in the back to be exact, which seems like enough to murder just about anybody. But who kills off the hero before the last issue? So Scar is still standing, if just barely, as he tries to summon the strength to find and kill Cypris (who ran away in all the confusion). One issue left to go, then I’ll have some thoughts about the whole series to wrap it all up. If you’re a weirdo who only buys one issue of a series and doesn’t care about the larger story but loves guns, this would be the one to get. $2.99
Boy, Brian has really picked up the pace on his release schedule as the end is in sight (says the guy who is reading the last half dozen issues in a chunk). This one came out in March 2016 and #10 came out in February of the same year. In small press comics that is lightning fast! Things start off this time around with Scar having a drunken/hallucinating conversation with Black Jack, who he pictures as the bartender. During that conversation we learn that Scar really doesn’t want to have to kill the man who raised him, and that the ghost of Black Jack (as imagined by Scar) doesn’t want Scar to get himself killed trying. Our hero makes his way to the bathroom, where we learn that he is definitely drunk, and his washing his face to try to sober himself up ends up making his terrible disguise fall off. Oh, and one of the hitmen is also in the bathroom, and was apparently completely fooled by said disguise. A pretty brutal fight follows, and Scar gets out of the bathroom just in time for Cypris to get introduced. Two issues left in this story, and I’m guessing they’re going to be bloody messes, but this relatively quiet issue was a good chance to get in Scar’s head one last time before everything falls apart. Or unless everybody gets a happy ending, which is not something I’d bet any money on. $2.99
Scar has one very immediate problem to take care at the start of this issue: who sold him out during his escape in the last issue? He uses some casually psychotic methods to get to the bottom of it, but he gets there: it was Cypris, biggest crime boss in the city, and the guy in charge of all the hitmen. Oh, and the guy who more or less raised Scar. So this is a problem! Scar manages to come up with one of the worst disguises I’ve ever seen (how do you hide a three foot tall blue bear?), gains access to the birthday party for Cypris, and tries his best to blend in. As of the close of this issue (back in dicey spoiler territory here, I know), the disguise is still working, but Scar comes across a familiar face tending bar. This is probably the closest this series has come to slowing things down a bit, as only one person gets killed (granted, it’s not a pleasant death), and there’s not even a cliffhanger to speak of. Catch your breath here, as I’m guessing our hero being in at a birthday party, surrounded by hitmen on all sides, is not something that’s going to work itself out peacefully. Just a hunch! $2.99
When we closed out the last issue, our hero was getting stabbed at the end of a prison riot. As we open up the new issue, our hero is getting zipped up into a body bag. I’d say that things were looking a little grim for him, but luckily he still has a few friends out in the world. And one of them had a master plan for getting him out of prison that (spoiler alert, I guess, which is a tricky concept when I’m reviewing an entire series in two weeks) actually involved him getting stabbed by somebody on the inside who knew how to make it look good without killing him, so it’s all fine. Some smart writing from Brian and some great work keeping the tension high. After Scar regains consciousness he gets the whole story from his lady lawyer friend and her two accomplices, right before someone starts shooting up the ambulance that he’s escaping in. Hey, why make things easy on the guy? The rest of the issue involves a whole lot of gunplay, a few people getting shot and some solid suspicions of betrayal, which keeps the story moving right along. No time to waste, I have more comics to read! $2.99
It’s prison riot time! Scar sees everyone in the prison as the man (OK, gorilla) who killed his friend Black Jack, so he has no trouble taking his rage out on all of them. The vast majority of this issue is pure mayhem, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that not much happens with the plot this time around. Still, there’s a brief sequence where Scar remembers a mental image of Black Jack, lying bloody on the ground… with Scar standing over him. Delusion caused by multiple blows to the head? Guilt at failing to prevent the death of his friend? Or something more ominous? Guess we’ll find out at some point over the next half dozen issues, huh? Other notable happenings this time around include a whole lot of punching, more than a little bit of stabbing and the unfortunate occurrence of our hero ending the issue on what looks like a fatal note. I guess we won’t know whether or not that’s true until the next issue. Since that would mean that we’d have the next five issues without a protagonist I’m guessing he pulls through, but tune in for the next review to find out! Or just read the comics. Technically the series is over while I’m writing this, so this only has to stay a mystery to you if you prefer it that way… $1.99
Ruffians #7 Now Available! $1.50
Here we go, back to the story we all know and love. Or at least you love it if you’re fond of figuring out what’s going to happen between the gorilla and the bear like I am. Scar’s still in prison, but his briefly “peaceful” existence is coming to an end, as tensions are about to boil over. Various factions are going to go at it, nobody knows who’s going to come out on top or what’s going to happen. Brian does a nice job here bringing things slowly to a boil and then bringing on the mayhem towards the end of the book. It’s well worth a look, as are most of the other issues in this series, and now you have the chance to catch up through this website (if I may toot my own horn for just a moment). $1.50
Ruffians #6 Now Available! $1.50
Aw, dammit! I was having such a good time with this series, really getting into the characters and wondering where this whole thing was heading. Then Brian had to go and put himself in the comic. This has always struck me as a fairly ridiculous thing to do, especially in a case like this where it’s a fictional comic. Sure, Dan Clowes or Chester Brown showing up in a story of theirs isn’t the worst thing in the world, at least in the autobio stuff. But this… blech. This issue starts off with Scar walking up to the front door of the home of Brian Canini. You may be thinking that we get all sorts of answers to the story here, or at least his presence moves the plot along. No and no. Brian does mention the origin of why Scar looks the way he does (he looks like a teddy bear Brian had as a child), but that’s the extent of the useful information we are given here. Unless you’re curious about the life of Brian, as he does go into why he moved out of Ohio, which is fine if that had the slightest bit to do with the actual story. At least there’s a big old prison brawl in the last few pages (after Scar “wakes up” to find himself back there), but it can’t save this issue. At the end of the issue you’re exactly where you were at the end of the last issue, and that’s a hard thing to ignore in an ongoing series like this. Maybe when all is said and done this will have some significance to the storyline and I’ll be proven an idiot (not the first time), but for now I say again, blech. Oh, and don’t think this means I’ve given up on this. Not by a long shot, it’s still a lot of fun and I’m still wondering where this is all headed. This issue by itself just didn’t do a thing for me, that’s all. $1.50
Ruffians #5 Now Available! $1.50
This issue seems to represent a bit of a lull in the series, which I suppose makes sense if you consider the fact that it’s entirely inside the prison, so what exactly can a hitman, bent on revenge, do in there anyway? In this issue Scar wins some cigarettes, gets the crap beat out of him, and meets his “lawyer”, in which we get some hope that he might get out of all this yet. All in all a decent issue, not something that does a whole lot for me on its own, but probably as a piece of a larger whole it’ll make everything run together more smoothly. That’s assuming, of course, that the series is going to keep moving right along. The steady pace of these things coming out has kept me, cynical as I can be about people giving up on their various comic series, hopeful about there being a beginning, middle and end here, as well as a will to keep it all moving. Go Brian go! $1.50
Update 6/30/17: The pessimist in me was hard at work when I first reviewed this about a decade ago, but Brian proved me wrong and finished his series. Young artists who are stuck at #2 or #3 in their series, follow his lead!
Ruffians #4 Now Available! $1.50
Things just keep getting worse for Scar, as this issue shows him entering prison and immediately picking a fight with one of the most powerful guys in the place. Which I’ve heard is sometimes sound advice if you find yourself stuck in prison, although maybe not the best idea for an unarmed three foot tall bear. There are also a few flashbacks in here, showing us a bit more why Scar cares so much to avenge the death of his friend, and a few new characters get introduced who are already in prison. Hey, the guy’s a hitman, it makes sense for him to already know people in the place. What can I say, I still can’t wait to see what happens in the next issue, and that’s all I can ever ask from a series. $1.50
Ruffians #3 Now Available! $1.50
What, did you really think that fight scene was over with just because it got interrupted? This issue has the best of both worlds, as there’s plenty of mayhem to go around and we get the answers to some burning questions. Like why the hell does Scar wear those giant boxing gloves anyway? Did Malt have something against Black Jack? And who is the woman who comes to his door? OK, one of those questions has no relevance to the larger story, but it’s up to you to figure out which one. Another excellent, fast-paced issue, nothing to complain about here once again. $1.50
Update 6/26/17: How did I not mention that ending the first time around? It’s just about the last way you’d think a prolonged fight (featuring multiple gunshot wounds and stabbings) between two professional hitmen would end. Kudos to Brian for that one.
Ruffians #2 Now Available! $1.50
OK, I’m offically over my problems with the main character of this story being a three foot tall bear. Watching him getting his ass kicked for the better part of an issue will do that for me, apparently. While the last issue set up the story, this one was all action, with Scar confronting the assassin who killed his friend (a giant gorilla named Malt) and them both shooting and stabbing their way through each other and the issue. Great pace, good fight scene, nothing to complain about here, unless you wanted more character development or something, in which case move along. I just got issue #3 and 4 today, so obviously things are going to move right along from here. And kudos on the choice to drop it down to $1.50 and lose the color cover. Sure, it looks a whole lot better the other way, but this way there’s more of a chance for people to just pick it up and give it a chance. Besides, the eventual collected edition can have a fancy color cover to make up for it…
Ruffians #1 Now Available! $2.95
Oof, look at all those old timey scans down there. If I had all the free time in the world I would rescan all that nonsense, but that’s exceedingly unlikely. I always love getting stuff from people whose work I saw years ago, whether or not I liked the old stuff, because it always does me some good to see that people really do stick with this comics thing through thick and thin. This one is an uneven effort, but it has its moments. This is the story of Scar, an assassin that’s pictured on the cover. Yes, the giant blue bear with the boxing gloves, which is a large part of the problem. He’s portrayed as a hardcore killer who doesn’t blink to torture a man for information about his murdered friend, but… well, just look at him. Terrifying isn’t the first word that comes to mind. The story, if you can ignore the teddy bear aspect, is done really well. Scar finds his friend (another assassin) dead to start the comic, and Brian makes excellent use of flashbacks interspersed with the real time action in a bar, keeping everything moving at a good pace. We learn a bit more of the backstory of his murdered friend, get to see him torturing a guy in a bathroom for information, and get a solid impression of Scar as a tortured soul. The art, though, was the best pleasant surprise of the book. If you look at the other samples they look somewhere between amateurish and so-so, with backgrounds existing only in your mind. This time around there the settings are tremendously detailed, the people look more like actual people and everything is just… bigger. This makes you believe that it’s happening in the real world. Until, that is, you get back to the big teddy bear, which is obviously something I wasn’t able to fully get over. Maybe it gets explained to some satisfaction in later issues, and he did send #2 along with this, so I should have a review for that one up in the coming weeks to help clarify. If you can get past the bear and like a (potentially) good mystery/suspense/action story, it’s well worth a look. $2.95
Drawing Under the Influence
Is it possible for a really great collection of comics to be undermined by its premise? That might not make any sense, so let me try again: this comic collects a bunch of strips that Derek and Brian did for their website when they realized that it had been left without being updated for ages (I can relate). In the interests of getting a bunch of strips up quickly, they decided that Brian would do a number of simple stick figure drawings to keep things regularly updated. But by the time this plan came together they had more or less abandoned the stick figure idea and had come up with a few dozen mostly full color strips, sometimes one page long and sometimes longer. And those are almost universally great! But there’s a large chunk in the middle of this book called The Adventures of Bugman that looks awful and drags the rest of the book down. But (extra but) it’s the only chunk of the book that literally looks like it was drawn under the influence. So if you’re looking for authenticity, go straight to that story! If you’re looking for stories that will get you literally laughing out loud (and getting odd looks because you’re reading it at work, at least if you’re me) then I can highly recommend the rest of the book. Subjects include the origin of the Drunken Cat (and, in hindsight, it’s hilarious that they thought this origin would be an epic tale), recurring strips about the smartest caveman learning that it wasn’t a good time to be all that smart, recurring strips about a maggot giving advice to kids who didn’t understand his ulterior motives, recurring strips of Big Puff and his unwelcome advice about being better people, the tragic tale of peanut butter and jelly, Drunken Cat and his adventures (that rarely end well, although I would think all the booze would help him better tolerate a lady who says “like” all the time), the redshirts finally getting their revenge on Kirk, and a longer story about the importance of air, told in old timey special speak. Like I said, overall it’s pretty damned great, and it’s hard to bitch too much about the sloppiness of one long drunken comic in a book where that is literally in the title. $16.99
Huzzah, a book of (mostly) single panel strips! Yeah, I go back and forth on the concept, but I always like them when they’re funny, and the bulk of these are funny. Sometimes I missed the references (there’s an recurring gag with what the characters of “Doug” are up to today, but I don’t know what that was so the humor was lost on me), but overall this is a really solid bunch of strips. I don’t fully get the mechanics of having a writer and an artist for single panel strips, but then again these were mostly done in bars, so I’m probably overthinking it. Subjects include a recurring gag where a kid eats from a different type of cereal every day (the joke is in the title of the cereal and his reactions), where all those barrels came from in Donkey Kong, a better ending for Lost, the Crest Cavity fighters taking care of some prisoners, recurring strips of the inner monologue of a dumb dog, Hammy Sagar, trying to avoid a nemesis, the descent into madness of a piece of ravioli, the good of a cure of all the diseases after looking at actual people for a bit, Sue Storm as a stripper, and the master plan of Aquaman. And all kinds of other subjects, as this book is packed, but what’s the fun of me spoiling the subjects of strips when they’re mostly only a panel long? I won’t be a party to that madness. This is also in full color, so the strips look great (drunkenness aside), and a number of them have beer rings (I’m assuming) like the dog image you see on the cover. Authentic! But yeah, if you’re a fan of funny things then there’s plenty for you to enjoy in here. $17
Oh, Comics! #20
Hello comics anthology! What sort of mixed bag do you have for me today? Before I get into it I should point out (in case I haven’t already) that I love that title, as it could be taken in so many ways. I prefer to take it as an exclamation of alarm, but am also happy accepting it in the context of some lovable scamp accidentally knocking over a flower vase. The subject of this one is “Air” (which should maybe have been mentioned on the cover somewhere, but in hindsight it’s hard not to think of air when you’re looking at that cover by Max Ink), and stories include a silent tale of an overly inquisitive space ghost (not THE Space Ghost) by Bianca Alu-Marr and Steve Peters, a hilarious parody of the 50’s style alarmist propaganda videos by Derek Baxter and Brian Canini (probably the highlight of the anthology), Pam Bliss proving that she can draw the difference between a husky and a wolf, a gloomy but accurate (and gorgeous) tale of an astronaut trying to fix a satellite and the consequences of it by D. Skite, Canada Keck’s tale of getting on a plane and getting a one-way ticket to anywhere, two short poems/pieces by Matt Levin about the subject matter, Michael M. Carroll’s tale of some issues between the elements of his Accidentals, Bob Corby’s piece on space cops and their search for an illegal passenger, and a Robert Gavila tale from 2004 about giant lizards. I saw the ending of that one coming, but I am also a gigantic dork with way too much knowledge of such things. There are also a couple of Cornelia pieces by Kel Crum and one story by Steven Myers that I didn’t mention because it is not for me. The two lady hero characters are called She-Eagle (seriously) and First Lady, and the whole thing is meant in earnest, and it is just not something that I enjoyed. But hey, to each their own. It’s a nicely varied pile of stories, and there are quite a few of them for that tiny $5 price tag.
Drunken Cat Comics Anniversary
This is a special for the 11 year anniversary of Brian’s assorted comics, and I just have one question: where the hell is the Ruffians story? There are updates for a few of his older comics (otherwise known as “new stories”), but Ruffians, which was far and away his longest series, is nowhere to be found. Boo! Ah well, I can still judge the rest of the book on its merits. Our “host” for this comic is the drunken cat from the name who, if memory serves (and it probably doesn’t), has never really gotten this much face time before. The cat introduces us to the new stories and does make a passing reference to Ruffians, so at least it isn’t completely disregarded. New stories in here include Satan’s high school reunion (in which we catch up with Satan after he was introduced in Brian’s first comic 11 years ago), Fall Back (in which our hero goes back in time to try to recapture his perfect past love) and Big Metal Robots (in which… aw, the title tells you everything you need to know). Satan’s story had more than a few funny bits, the time traveling story managed to be a bit heartbreaking, and the story about robots sure did have robots punching and kicking big monsters. Kind of a waste of time for most of it, but the ending made it all worthwhile. The drunken cat shenanigans were also pretty funny, although that probably would not have been the case if the comic had gone on for much longer. 11 years is a damned long time in small press comics and, even though I haven’t seen much new from the guy in the last few years (which may well be entirely my fault), Brian has managed to amass a decent pile of comics over his time. Here’s to 11 more years, and to his getting back to work on Ruffians. Or, if he’s not going to get back to it, he should at least have the decency to put out a mini comic where all of the characters in that series get taken out in as many gruesome ways as is humanly possible. $4
The Satan Spectacular
The problem with dopey humor is that sometimes it becomes too dopey. The book doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on when the humor falls flat, and that’s what a lot of this book does. Basically it’s an excuse to put Satan in a variety of odd positions (going swimming, clubbing, and telling a story to children). Derek Baxter wrote a couple of the stories, so I can’t put all the blame/credit on Brian this time. Still, there were a few good moments, particularly in the clubbing story. Not that the other two comics were masterpieces of modern literature or anything, but this one was just kind of dull and some of the punchline jokes fell completely flat. Add that to the fact that it’s $2.95 and shoddily put together and you should probably just stay away. Look, check out his other stuff, if you love it, you know where to get this one. The other ones are cheaper though, so it makes more sense to try them first.