Simmons Summons Several New Series

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Celebrity-line comics are rarely events worth writing about, and commonly only as fodder for the stray disgruntled critic who finds need to let off a little steam on a very deserving target.  From the well-done but eventually irrelevant Clive Barker line of Marvel books, as well as Leonard Nimoy’s Tekno Comics titles, to the mediocre Virgin line of John Woo, Guy Ritchie, and Nicholas and Weston Cage-conceived concepts, to the utterly abysmal adaptations of other writer’s novels and television shows into comic book form, the track record of maintaining a heightened success by plastering a beloved fan-favorite name overtop a title’s title has been as ultimately unimpressive as the products themselves.

Imageine my lack of excitement when I heard about yet another abortive attempt at this  sort of attention-gathering by IDW Publishing, this time as a series of books brainstormed by pop-cult icon Gene Simmons.  Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, I thought, without an ounce of sincerity, when I held them in my hands.  But I read them, and I liked them.  A lot, actually.  There’s some definite promise to these new books, certainly more than one would ever think plausible.

In the letters column of each issue there’s proffered a behind-the-scenes dialogue between the creative team of each book and Simmons himself, offering an inside look into precisely how and to what extent the infamously serpent-tongued vocalist is a part of his comics’ creations.  He’s the conceptualist behind each title, and every character design, script, and final product has to pass his approval.  Thankfully, Gene seems to have some good ideas, and knows a good work of fiction when it’s handed to him, and the creative teams that were selected to work his titles are true-blue comics professionals, with more than a smattering of talent to spare for the imprint.

Here’s the breakdown of the books that have been released or are soon-to-be released thus far:

Gene Simmons’ Dominatrix 1-4

The lynchpin title of the line, Dominatrix, admittedly, on the surface, seems to be just the sort of trashy, ridiculous tripe one might expect from a celebrity-inspired comic.  But it’s also, as indicated by a fellow reviewer over at Ain’t it Cool News.com, “mindless fun”.  Spotlighting a surprisingly homebody girl named Dominique, who moonlights as a professional dominatrix (her studio’s in her basement), the series chronicles an accidental stumble into one of her client’s over-the-top world of black ops.  In order to survive, she’s given a super-power enhancing drug that grants her strength, speed, and a spidy-sense-like early-warning ability.

Including ninjas, mercenaries, super-spies, and a super-secret something that everyone seems to be gunning for, Dominatrix manages to focus on the sex, the inconsistent taboos of society, character development, and yet never once subsists in its ridiculous rillet of B-genre  situations.  It’s a comic chock-full of action and long-loved elements, though its subject matter, of course, marks this as not for children.  Writer Sean Taylor (author of The Veil and Last Chance School for Girls) pens a highly likable Dominique, though he sometimes overplays the asinine elements of the villains.  Nevertheless, four issues have come and gone and…I’m…my god, but I think I’m hooked on a comic called “Dominatrix”.

The series began with artist Flavio Hoffe, who produced a brilliant first issue, with dense and fluid pages looking just this side of animated, highly similar to early Luke Ross or any of the current Devil’s Due books.  By the second issue, however, his work already suffered in certain ways, the figures suddenly stiff, the layouts too formal, the overall product lacking in exceptional qualities that’d been present before.  Whether or not this was a shared opinion, IDW mainstay Esteve Polls hopped onboard as new permanent artist starting with issue #3, and his work, much as his House of Horrors contribution and his outing in Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now #1: Anda’s Game is classic comics a la Prince Valiant—detailed, solidly structured, and highly winsome.

So a series that far surpassed my (I confess) rock bottom expectations, but did so in such a stellar way that I think I’m onboard for the foreseeable future.

Gene Simmons’ House of Horrors #1

The complimentary anthology title, this is a hodge-podge of comic goodness and badness, some that’ll stay with you days afterward, some that’ll do the same but for the wrong reasons.  The art throughout is compulsory viewing, though the stories selected fall flat more often than they resonate.

The opening two tales are the best of the bunch.  The first by wife-husband duo Leah Moore and John Reppion (Albion, Raise the Dead) with artist Jeffrey Zornow.  It managed to grip me right from the start; it’s a simple story, but the horror involved is strikingly portrayed.  There’s blood and guts and an eerily mismatched-eyed child.  The story, ultimately, suffers from the very flaw that all but one of the tales within suffers from: a bizarrely meaningless, redundant ending.

The second tale, the one and only to wield a proper horror-short ending and yet not feel disappointing, is by Zipper writer (see below) Tom Waltz and Dominatrix artist Esteve Polls.  This duo bats a it right the &*^@ out of the ballpark, with a sort of John Carpenter’s The Thing style of story, only taking place in Kuwait and with a creature more suitable to the environment there.  The action is fantastic, the slaughter freakish, and the story well structured to be complete in and of itself.

The third tale is notable for its fantastic start and unbelievably beautiful art.  Zombies vs. Robots scrivener Chris Ryall tells the tale of a one-man expedition into Hell, a journey achieved by a single suited-up man climbing down one very long ladder!  It’s inordinately compelling, and pulls the reader straight into it as surely as the protagonist himself is pulled down through the underworld, and the digital art by Steph Stamb  propels the work to must-read status.  Unfortunately, as the story continues, and the reader’s excitement reaches a fever pitch, the final page provides an insipid, uninteresting finish.

From there, the final two stories are equally as odd and uninspired, even though the creative teams involved are established imaginators.  Dominatrix’s Sean Taylor tries for an eco-nature-gone-wild story that never does manage to find its feet, and usually stellar creators Dwight L. MacPherson and art sensation Grant Bond try for a weird-horror yarn that feels horribly drawn out due to a lackluster, too-obvious payoff.

For all my criticism, however, I will say that the stories inside House of Horrors have stayed with me for days after, each and every one of them, even the ones I didn’t like, which marks this anthology as a book that will leave a mark.  I’m hoping for an improvement in the second issue, due out this month, but would be satisfied even to pour through another book with equal results.

Gene Simmons’ Zipper #1-2

And this brings me to the latest and absolutely greatest of the lot, Zipper, which is one implausibly good comic.  Written and drawn by Children of the Graves duo Tom Waltz and Casey Maloney, Zipper is, shockingly, a sci-fi extravaganza, or to be more exact, it’s a speculative fiction epic. 

Focusing on a paradisiacal planet far away, where utopia reigns due  to a literal one-mind connection between the one and all, a single, sole rebel— who values personal preference over the wants of the many—arises, and quickly escapes to Earth via a time-space warp in order to procure his freedom.  But the people he left feel “incomplete” without him, and so decide to retrieve him, whatever that may entail.

Dressed in a space-time warp jumpsuit that, to Earthers, looks awfully sadomasochistic, the hero of the piece begins a classic stranger-in-a-strange-land journey throughout the city of Detroit, all the while dodging those of his own kind that come for him.  It’s a surprisingly heady look at conformity, faith, belief, and selfishness, all the while maintaining a thrilling pace, memorable characters, superlative dialogue, and a story that’s far more ambitious than most mainstream funny books dare to be.

Maloney’s art is as polished and easy on the eyes as it’s ever been, and getting full-color treatment by Dusty Yee it’s in fact better than ever.  So an incredible debut.  This is a comic that should be on everyone’s pull list, whatever else you may think of Gene Simmons or his new imprint.

The verdict and beyond:

Incredibly, this new line of comics reminds me highly of those long-ago failed but fanatically loved Jim Shooter companies Broadway and Defiant.  The stories are just as imaginative, unexpected, exceptionally well-handled, beautifully rendered as Fatale or Warriors of Plasm.  It’s no small feat to pull off books that are as entertaining and unforgettable as those past gems, and while I can’t help but remain pessimistic about any new imprint’s ability to thrive and stay alive in the current comic market, I do think that I won’t regret for a second devouring every one of these books for as long as they last, just as I’ve never regretted (and indeed, take exceptional pride in) having read every last Defiant, Broadway, Crossgen, or what-have-you book when they were about.

Simmons’ ideas are currently in good hands, and if they don’t find a proper audience, it won’t be for lack of their intrinsic quality.  Upcoming is an outerspace adventure called Indy: Race of the Galaxies and a book written by Gene’s son, Nick Simmons called Skullduggery (who, by the way, wrote a rather impressive two-page prose story for the House of Horrors anthology).

Good stuff and more to come.  If only all celebrity-named comics could be so captivating (Virgin, take note: you’ve been very much outdone!).

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