Saturday, November 28, 2009

Plan B: Samuel Providence and the Nefarious Doctor Foil: I wish people referred to me as "nefarious"

Hmm, apparently I don't do much blogging over a holiday week. However, I reviewed Immortal Weapons #5 for Comics Bulletin, and they also finally posted the review of Nylon Road that I wrote a couple weeks ago. For those who don't know, that's a Persepolis-ish memoir by a woman who grew up in Iran, and it's interesting; it was an interesting review to write. And, I wrote about The Venture Brothers and Fringe for The Factual Opinion; I especially like that Fringe write-up.

Webcomics-related links: Chris Grine is serializing the third volume of Chickenhare online, and it's in full color. I haven't read the first two, but it looks pretty good; I'll be following this one.

Seth Kushner and Kevin Colden are starting serialization of a graphic novel called Schmuck at Act-I-Vate, and it looks quite good. Kushner has a post all about it here.

And speaking of which, Newsarama has Kushner's documentary The Act-I-Vate Experience, watchable in several parts here. I talked about it recently, and it's good watching, something to get you excited to go to the site and read some comics. If you don't want to watch it split up into sections, I think it will soon be available elsewhere as well, but Newsarama has an exclusive for now.

This Top Shelf 2.0 entry by Ben Hutchings is pretty hilarious.

By the way, the artificially-imposed deadline for my Moyasimon giveaway contest is coming up, and I've only received one entry, unless I yank some pull quotes from the comments left on that post or something. Come on, people, send me something, even if it's a line like "Matthew J. Brady is clearly the best Matthew Brady of all the Matthew Bradys, even if he didn't win an Eisner for sucking up to Joe Quesada and his photography skills would have made people remember Abraham Lincoln much more poorly!" I might extend the deadline if necessary, or I might just select the one winner and be done with it. I was really hoping to give away some of the stuff I've got laying around though, so please, send me something. Anything!

And now:

Plan B, book 2: Samuel Providence and the Nefarious Doctor Foil
Written by Josh Jenkins
Art by Karl Slominski

It's certainly nice to see artistic growth happen right before your eyes, isn't it? The first volume of Plan B, Josh Jenkins and Karl Slominski's mad-scientist-related series was enjoyable, but had a lot of flaws, better in promise and potential than execution. Happily, this second book, while still not perfect, raises the bar quite a bit, holding together better as a story rather than a gag delivery mechanism, adding a bit of horror to the background of the series, and retroactively informing the events of the first book in an effective manner. That's some pretty good progress for a self-published work that followed so quickly on the heels of its predecessor.

The plot this time around centers on the evil-seeming Doctor Foil of the title, who appears to have ties to Samuel Providence, one of the scientists at Plan B, the World War II-era facility that was tasked with developing "alternative" weapons using mad science. The book alternates between scenes in 1945 in the Plan B compound and flashbacks to bits of Foil's history in the early twentieth century as he picks up a young apprentice named Thomas and visits several different experimental subjects that have super-sensory capabilities like enhanced smell or taste, usually with the intent of killing them. Thomas himself has eidetic memory, which Foil uses as an information repository, and we see his continued corruption and descent into murderous madness over the years, making for some effective bits of horror as we wonder what exactly Foil is up to.

Meanwhile, in 1945, the Plan B gang learns that Foil has plans to break into the compound and appropriate their research for nefarious reasons, or so it seems. They find out via Tumbler, the insane masked escape artist who lives there for some reason, as he approaches Providence and utters the cryptic remark "The occupant must awaken." It seems that he was brainwashed into helping Foil, although it's hard to tell, since he's kind of crazy. Compared to the flashbacks, these bits provide some welcome comedy as he thwarts any of their attempts to find out what he knows, and the whole thing eventually culminates in a ridiculous puppet show that is apparently supposed to explain a creation myth that Foil learned as a child from Tasmanian aborigines but mostly just seems to add to the insanity.

It's enjoyable and interesting stuff, ending up being a much more effective use of the mysteries and unanswered questions that Jenkins filled the first volume with. Here, he shows that he has a plan, an entire history full of events and relationships between his characters, and while plenty is left unexplained, this time around things seem to be tantalizingly vague rather than just incomplete.

Slominsky's art also continues to be unique and interesting, full of jagged edges and angular anatomy, but he throws in a few other stylistic techniques in the various flashbacks, memories, and dream sequences, often switching from his stark black and white to effectively scratchy gray pencils:

The art can still be a bit difficult to follow sometimes; there are a lot of close-up views of faces or hands, and the person talking or movement of characters aren't always clear. But it's not impossible to figure out, and it's improved over the first volume. Better yet, the shift in mood works really well depending on the type of scene being shown; the dark shadows of the flashbacks emphasize the horror and creepiness of Foil's actions, while the white backgrounds of the 1945 scenes make the comedy more light and airy and define the empty cleanliness of the facility. The character art is nice as well; I especially like the flyaway nature of Thomas' hair:

So, no, the comic is still not perfect, but it's great to see the creators improving and developing their styles while still pushing themselves to try new ideas, artistic techniques, and storytelling styles. At this rate, they'll really have something special in future volumes. I know I'll be paying attention and hoping for the best.

As with the first volume, this book can be purchased from the official website.

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