Oh, Zuda, you poor misunderstood subsidiary of DC Comics, you. It seems like since Day One, you were on the receiving end of online haterade. But since the debut, I’ve sort of warmed up to you. I’m starting to like how the artwork seems far more polished and crisp in Flash. I like to expand the pages full-screen on my laptop, reveling in the glowing light of the full page spread like I’m reading a comic book … from the future! But let’s not pick out window curtains and matching shams just yet, Zuda Comics. I’m still not totally sold on your selection system, where a super-double-dog-secret process determines which creators get a year long contract based on their paltry first eight pages. It’s just so … gimmicky. My keen Shaolin blade will focus on two Zuda aspirants: Action, Ohio, written by Neil Kleid and illustrated by Paul Salvi, and Hannibal Goes To Rome, written by Brendan McGinley and illustrated by Mauro Vargas.
Action, Ohio, proposes a scenario that is clearly a fantasy setting: somewhere in the Buckeye State, there’s actually a town that isn’t soul-crushingly dull. (Just kidding, Ohioans! You’ll always have Sandusky. Yup.) Two comic writers not named Kavalier and Klay stumble onto a sleepy town where — in a universe where Action Comics #1 does not exist — everyone has developed super powers. In what can best be described as a well thought out plan, the two conspire to hide the secrets of their friends from prying eyes by writing and publishing super hero comic books. (As opposed to, say, just keeping your mouth shut about it.) Their plan works for decades until a Detroit detective stumbles on a frozen body that might be proof that there are people in the Midwest who may be more human than human.
Salvi’s art is simple and awash in earth tone colors, which felt entirely appropriate for the plot of Action, Ohio. It reminds me of the artwork of Mike Allred (Madman, X-Statix) and Darwyn Cooke (New Frontier, The Spirit). The illustrations look retro and recall elements of the 1960’s, yet it does not totally replicate Golden Age comic art but instead creates while a new, unique aesthetic. As a native of Detroit, I also enjoyed the authentic touches, such as the faithful rendition of of the light-house logo in the “Welcome to Michigan” sign. None of the characters struck me as very compelling, and the core scenario — where extraordinary people are kept hidden from the public eye — isn’t entirely original. (Men in Black, anyone?) However, these can be blamed on the limitations of the eight page format.
Hannibal Goes to Rome, on the other hand, is a mess. Usually I’m a sucker for comedic historical webcomics. How can you go wrong with the guy who marched an army of elephants to Rome? However, the only frontal assault I can report from reading this comic is the one squarely aimed at my poor defenseless eyes. While there are moments when the art is more than merely passable (such as the close-up of Hannibal’s face or the closing image of Hannibal astride an elephant), the layout is terrible, the text is clunky, and the “humor” is non-existent. The comic is mostly in black and white. I say “mostly” because sometimes the fonts are presented in a jarring, unattractive color, which will cause you to wonder, despite everything being digital, if these were the result of some sort of printing error.
Between the two, Action, Ohio, would get my precious Zuda vote. Action Rating: may be Dullsville now, but there is potential for something spicier and more fulfilling down the line. The same cannot be said of Hannibal Rating: , which looks like it leapt off an amateur alternative weekly mag and probably should have stayed there.
Review by Larry Cruz