Licensed Comics Roundup 12.09

gi_joe_snakeeyes-header.jpgA look at a batch of recent offerings from IDW: the introduction of Drusilla in Angel #24 (co-written by actress Juliet Landau), the self-explanatory Angel vs. Frankenstein, the movie spinoff G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes #1 (co-written by actor Ray Park), and the Jennifer Love Hewitt-inspired Music Box #1.


Angel #24

(W: Juliet Landau and Brian Lynch; A: Franco Urru)


Angel vs. Frankenstein

(W / A: John Byrne)


G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes #1

(W: Ray Park and Kevin Van Hook; A: Lee Ferguson and Marc Deering)


Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Music Box #1

(W: Scott Lobdell; A: Michael Gaydos)


All published by IDW Publishing

32 pgs. ea., full color; $3.99 ea.

Whether it’s Marvel’s comic adaptations of best-selling authors like Stephen King, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Orson Scott Card, Dark Horse’s Joss Whedon-helmed continuation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or BOOM! Studios’ comic book takes on the Muppets and Pixar films, comics licensed from (or approved by celebrities from) other media are big business these days. IDW Publishing has ridden the licensed comics wave to become a top five comic book company, scoring licenses to classics like Star Trek, Dr. Who, Transformers, Ghostbusters, and G.I. Joe to augment their lineup of original material. Here’s a look at a few of the company’s recent releases.

IDW’s Whedon-helmed adaptation of the Buffy spinoff Angel has consistently been one of the company’s best sellers. Though Whedon’s involvement with the series has ended, the company found another way to grab fans’ attention with Angel #24, the first half of the two-part introduction of Drusilla that is plotted by Juliet Landau, the actress who played Drusilla on the Buffy and Angel TV series, and scripted by Landau and regular Angel writer Brian Lynch. The story finds Dru broken down in a mental hospital, where the doctors insist that her talk of being a vampire is nothing more than a delusion. Until, that is, she worms her way out of her padded cell and begins wreaking vengeance on the hospital staff. It’s a story that’s light on plot but heavy on atmosphere, with plenty of silent passages that leave the heavy lifting to artist Franco Urru. Urru is, fortunately, up to the task, with a great command of facial expressions and a Sean Phillips-esque thick ink line that leaves pools of black on the page. Story-wise it’s a bit slight and it lacks even a single appearance by the book’s title character, but taken as a standalone entity, this was an engrossingly creepy little story that made me interested in one of my least favorite characters in the Buffyverse. Not too shabby.

Not faring quite as well is Angel vs. Frankenstein, a one-shot horror story released just in time for Halloween. Set in the 19th century, the book finds Angel in his pre-curse, soulless vampire days trying to steal the fortune left by the heirless Dr. Frankenstein only to run afoul of Frankenstein’s monster, who believes himself to be the Doctor’s rightful heir. Comics legend John Byrne (Uncanny X-Men, Fantastic Four) cooks up a pretty interesting tale that leans more on exposition than characterization, but a limp, confusing finale ends the story on an unsatisfying note. The art is vintage Byrne, and though not quite comparable to his best work, it has much more detail and much fewer shortcuts than some of his lazier 90’s work, though it should be noted that he doesn’t make even the slightest attempt to make Angel look like David Boreanaz anywhere but the book’s cover.

G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes chooses a route similar to Angel #24, bringing in actor Ray Park (who played Snake Eyes in this summer’s blockbuster movie) to co-write a story starring the Joes’ resident silent badass. The plot is pretty standard fare—someone is killing people while dressed as Snake Eyes and the real Snake Eyes aims to stop him—and its execution is solid but not anything special. More frustrating is the fact that the plot just barely gets cooking before the book wraps in a cliffhanger, making it pretty hard to justify dropping four bucks on the barest hint of a story. Penciller Lee Ferguson and inker Marc Deering do manage to give the book plenty of personality with a loose half-manga/half-Ed McGuinness style that fits the tone of the book nicely. Perhaps this title would be worth seeking out when it’s collected, but in single issues there just isn’t enough bang for the buck.

The most pleasant surprise of the bunch is Music Box. Created by actress Jennifer Love Hewitt, the series channels the spookiness of her CBS series Ghost Whisperer with a series of standalone vignettes following people who fall under the spell of a possessed music box. Putting the phrases "Jennifer Love Hewitt" and "possessed music box" together doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence of a good final product, but longtime X-Men writer Scott Lobdell and Alias artist Michael Gaydos manage to rein that wide open premise into a taut, spooky morality tale. This first issue follows a detective torn up by guilt over a serial killer he didn’t catch until he had claimed 21 victims. A strange music box he snagged from the station’s evidence locker gives him intense visions that predict future crimes so that he can be there and prevent bloodshed from happening. At first, he’s thrilled to be able to stop violent crimes before they happen, but the music of the music box begins gradually eating away at his sanity. Lobdell works deftly, quickly establishing the detective as a well-rounded character, and Gaydos’ black-heavy brushed inkwork and rich, painterly colors build an effectively haunting mood. Given the standalone nature of the stories, it’s hard to tell if the series will be able to maintain the same quality month after month, but this first issue at least gets it off on a very good start. | Jason Green



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