Forbidden Zone, 3.8 out of 5 Stars

Heavy Metal, 2.5 out of 5 Stars



Those of us who have always faintly hoped that those cool Heavy Metal visuals might one day come with just the hint of storytelling should check out the first issue of the Forbidden Zone.

It looks a little like Heavy Metal--there's a huge breasted Frazetta woman on the cover--and the first issue of FZ features several stories by none other than Richard Corben. I think they're actually new stories. You know, I hadn't seen anything new by Corben in so long I thought he was dead or had been committed or something.

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(Corben is still alive according to the above panel from Forbidden Zone)

With an art style resembling the genetic fusion of Frazetta and Kaluta, Arthur Suydam writes most of the stories in the first issue. He's no Alan Moore, but he's no Heavy Metal European surrealist, either. The stories make sense and they have some structure.

Three of the stories stood out for me. The two stories by Corben were wonderfully drawn. I had forgotten how three dimensional his work always looked, even before all these 3D Computer programs. The one story, about a male sex doll who turns out to be as annoying as the real thing, was kind of a throwaway piece but was a wonderful exercise in movement. Yet the story "Angel From Andromeda" was a nice science fiction tale. Just stunning visually. And yes, there are the usual horrifically huge Corbenesque mammary glands in both stories.

The other story that stood out for me was a tale about a society where graffiti art is punished by death. The story worked for me and the artist Randy Duburke, looked a lot like painted Sienkiewicz when he was still in his Neal Adams idolatry phase. Interesting.

For my money, and even for investment purposes, Forbidden Zone is a must read. My only concern is that they get better writing. For the record, there are tons of published science fiction stories and science fiction writers who would love to have their work illustrated in a venue like this. Why not give the likes of George Alec Effinger, Ursula Le Guin, John Barnes, John Shirley, Norman Spinrad, Greg Egan, Paul McCauley and Paul DiFilippo a call? They've got a great body of shorter work to mine. Come on.

As for Heavy Metal this month, I actually thought it wasn't half bad. Par for the course, there were no "stories" that I even recall. But the art, as always is pretty spectacular. One piece was drawn by someone who must study Moebius. I thought it was interesting in a 70s era Heavy Metal kind of way. There was also a Heavy Metal first: transgender or gay erotica, as opposed to the straight, Big Tit European Milo Manera type erotica we're used to. Where we learn: The gay androgynous gods created lubrication for anal sex. Sounds great for the kids. 



     The Birth Caul, 3 out of 5 stars

By Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

Promothea Two and Three, 4.85 out of 5

By Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III

Tomorrow Stories, 3.5 stars out of 5

Alan Moore, various artists


Terrible truth is the best stuff that Orwell ever wrote were his visions of the fantastic. Oh yeah his political essays were great too, but his other works of fiction just aren't memorable, or at least I can't remember them.

I'm sure there were people, probably at the New York Times Review of Books, that were saying he was wasting his time with Animal Farm and 1984. Who's going to remember that dross they'd snidely say in 1948 sucking down their cigar smoke and saying something unkind about Stalin. Why doesn't Orwell do something more mainstream, more respectable they'd condescendingly huff in their old-fashioned smoke filled rooms.

Tedious backstory in mind, I find that I like Alan Moore's fanboy stuff in Promothea 2 and 3 much more than I like his mainstream prose poem collaboration with Eddie Campbell, the Birth Caul. In fact, Promothea 2 and 3 are nothing short of stunning, the best that comics has to offer right now, maybe ever, period.

Whereas The Birth Caul, the definition I looked up described it as "a part of the amnion sometimes covering the head of a child at birth, superstitiously supposed to bring good luck and to be an infallible preservative against drowning," just didn't work for me.

If ever a definition defined the mood of the piece, this is it. It's full of blood, death, sex and despair. To be fair, this is a piece of writing that was made to accompany music so perhaps its missing something, like an opera without vocals. What it reminded me of, and this is disturbing because it feels like its written in Alan Moore's first person voice, is the dialogue and writing stylings of Rorschach in Watchmen. Moore said his inspiration for R's tone came from The Son of Sam and other serial killers.

Here are two Moore excerpts. One is from the Watchmen's Rorschach and the other is from The Birth Caul. You tell me which is which.

One: "Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face…The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout 'save us'..and I'll look down and whisper 'no'…

Two: "Shreds of proof discovered at the scene of this disturbing incident; a trail of mother blood that heads from room to room across the blue and enigmatic cluedo board. A woman's screams were heard. The neighbors turned the wireless up and did not interfere. Later the white and ghostly outline of a figure sketched in talcum."

You make the call.

I have to admit I liked Promothea much more. It's turning into a female version of Dr. Strange. Number two's villains felt like they stepped right out of Hellblazer. Sent to accomplish a "hit" upon Promothea, the two demons Marchosias and Andras walk the city looking like those guys from Pulp Fiction and the fun ensues. I can't say enough about the art. This guy J.H. Williams is a real find. It's full of details and nascent subplots (the flying saucer police cars are especially cool)…there's something wondrous about this story. The Big Fight scene takes place at a nightclub where this post modern Blur type band is playing. The female guitarist is topless save for black tape over her nipples...

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(Members of The Limp are on the right hand side. On the left hand side are pictures of the Five Swell Guys taking on the Painted Doll)

As the melee ensues you get some Moore poetry disguised as lyrics from The Limp's lead singer: "Smear me with goo from a crucified dove…torture me with your love…" Issue two ends with Promothea's friend being sucked into a dimensional vortex. Just doesn't get any better than that.

Number 3 is just as stunning with a cover influenced by Dali and the Wizard of Oz. You can tell that he's using his theory of timing between panels as the story is moved from point to point. Well drawn, again. He's also using a style of layouts I haven't seen before, with custom borders inspired by web design techniques. The story begins with yet another cameo by another superhero group known as "NY's premier science heroes THE FIVE SWELL GUYS". We catch them sitting in a hospital waiting room as one of their own tries to survive gunshots from The Painted Doll. This is before we're introduced to Misty Magicland. So visually cool it makes me think Moore has taken up with George Bush-like youthful indiscretions and it also makes me think drugs aren't all bad if you create stuff like this.

If you haven't bought a comic since Watchmen, then please pick up issues one through three of Promothea. It will be worth the wait.

Somewhere in between The Birth Caul and Promothea, lies Tomorrow Stories. Stories is Moore's stab at science fiction comics. There are four stories in this first collection, with a broad range of quality. Story number one features a farm kid who creates his own miniature sun. Then the fun ensues so they say. Kind of like "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" meets the "Green Acres". Story number two, "'Amnesia", featured a blatant Will Eisner homage. The hero, Greyshirt, feels just like the Spirit. Even the credits are done Spirit style. Story number three uses a lot of Photoshop. It switches to a very cartoony style to photographs. Pretty cool. The fourth story is a satire of superheroes and Jerry Springer, who also made an appearance in the first issue of the Forbidden Zone ( I guese he's the thematic choice these days.).

Bottom line, it was pretty entertaining. Not Moore at his best stride, but respectable. Lots of cool ideas, concepts.

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 (That's Alan in the background by the way.)