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White Picket Fences Double Feature

Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2008
By: Matthew J. Brady

Matt Anderson and Eric Hutchins
Micah Farritor, Brian Mead, and Tim Lattie
Ape Entertainment
I’ve got something of a soft spot for the original White Picket Fences three-issue miniseries that came out last year, even if I think it has some definite failings. Its 1950s setting seemed kind of unfocused and poorly defined, teetering somewhere between nostalgia and satire, and never really filling readers in on the state of its world.

Is it a universe in which the aliens and monsters of old sci-fi and horror movies exist, and people implicitly trust the government and worry about keeping up with their neighbors’ designer bomb shelters? Maybe?

But even if it had some failings, the creators’ exuberance more than made up for them. Writers Matt Anderson and Eric Hutchins came up with a fun story about a group of adventurous kids and their encounters with out-of-this-world threats--and Micah Farritor showed off a nice, energetic style that really made the setting come to life.

In the interim between that previous miniseries and a new one scheduled to come out later this year, the creators have put out this one-shot special featuring some of the boys’ standalone adventures.

First, Anderson and Farritor present “The History Lesson,” which is about the boys snooping around the house of a weird neighbor and stumbling into his mad science lab. Once again, the story seems unfocused.

In a nod to the displacement of earlier decades’ monster movies by the sci-fi alien invasion stories of the 50s, the mad scientist complains that people value science too much, and that they aren’t afraid of monsters like they used to be--so he’s going to create monsters straight out of old monster movies: vampires, werewolves, and mummies. His logic doesn’t make much sense, but I suppose you could argue that he’s crazy, so it doesn’t have to.

In any case, it’s a fun story--especially the really nice monster art by Farritor (although the climactic action scene is a bit hard to follow). I love the way he draws the mummy, with bandages hanging off its blackened, shriveled body. He makes the other characters look nice too, giving them weird, angular limbs and using interesting viewing angles. And his coloring is pretty impressive; it looks like he used colored pencils to give the book its subdued palette.

The middle of the book is taken up by “What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?” a short story written by Anderson and Hutchins and drawn by Brian Mead about the kids’ teacher asking them the titular question.

This question leads to imaginings about sci-fi futures and some cute imagery involving inventions, intergalactic sports, and heroic adventures. With some nice Darwyn Cooke-styled art from Mead, it’s cute and fun--providing a nice break between the two major stories of the book.

Finally, the issue ends on a strong note, with “Beetle-Mania,” written by Hutchins and illustrated by Tim Lattie (with colors by Farritor). It’s an action-packed tale of giant rampaging insects that menace the boys’ town. Luckily, their new friend Ken, who just moved from Japan, has a pet lizard that can be remote-controlled using an invention of his father’s.

Combined with a growth formula that their teacher was demonstrating, the remote-controlled lizard provides an effective weapon that can stop the bugs when the military’s hardware doesn’t even make a dent. Lattie proves very adept with the large-scale action, and his characters, while seeming a bit more cartoony and big-headed than Farritor’s designs, are effectively expressive. It makes for a great finish. Who doesn’t like giant-monster action and wholesale property destruction?

So, overall, the book has many of the same flaws of the original series, but it’s still a lot of fun, and I can’t fault the creators for telling the stories they so obviously enjoy. If you can ignore some rough plotting and just enjoy the nice art and cute characters, you should have a good time.



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