Monday, August 29, 2005

Spellbinders


Spellbinders is a Marvel mini-series that just concluded this past week. It's written by Mike Carey of Lucifer fame, and drawn by Mike Perkins. This six-issue story, which is titled "Signs and Wonders" introduces us to the true witches that reside in Salem, Massachusettes. The story opens in a library where a pair of teenagers are working a spell, using ancient looking books and talking as if it were the most natural thing to do in the world. And for them, it is. It's part of the life of witches in this ancient town, where there are true-blood witches, wanna-bes and blanks, or non-witches. The cliques of the town are well-established, as can easily be seen by the rivalry and indeed, hostility between the groups at the local high school. But I'm getting ahead of myself, back to the library: one of the boys recites from a book of spells, mockingly, then cries out in terror that something is there. Suddenly, the boy's clothes are on the floor, thousands of lizards spilling out where flesh once resided. Great opening scene, right? Well, the story just takes off from there. It's full of wonderful scenes like the one I just described, as we follow a new girl to the area, Kate, who learns the ways of the town right along with us. There's something off about Kate, we soon understand, as one of the witch boys claims that she is a special witch, unbeknownst to her. The other witches of the school find it ridiculous that this awkward girl could harbor any power, but we are soon witness to events unfold that prove his claims true, the first of which is an actual attack on Kate on her first day of classes. An elemental being does its best to suffocate Kate, and witches from the immediate area are forced to help this girl who seems unable to help herself. It soon becomes apparent that something is instigating attacks against her, as these things just keep occurring. As the story unfolds, the story keeps getting grander and grander, as if spiraling toward something huge, which inevitably occurs in the concluding chapter. Each issue ends on a great note, holding fast the readers' interest, should they need more convincing to read further. Mike Carey really did some great work with this series, throwing in some really fun, inventive elements. I'm really sorry that it's not getting the attention that it deserves. Mike Perkins delivers some stellar scenes with his pencils. There were several pages where I just stopped to admire the art, particularly at the beginning of issue five, where some of the witches find themselves in a real pickle. One of my gripes with the series is that a few secondary characters aren't flushed out much, but the main characters have enough of a presence to atone for this flaw. Spellbinders is going to, thankfully, be collected in digest format in October, in time for Halloween. I admit I'm a fan of this weird girl witch genre and have clung desperately to titles like Marvel's trainwreck, Witches and Vertigo's The Witching, hoping to find the type of story I've been waiting for. This is one series that actually came through and surpassed my expectations after a string of disappointments. I hope the digest sells well enough to warrant more Spellbinders adventures in the furure, but for now, I'll have to be content with the knowledge that there's one really great story out there.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

She-Hulk

I've just finished reading She-Hulk (volume 1): Single Green Female, written by Dan Slott, with art by Juan Bobillo and Paul Pelletier. I have to say, first off, that I wasn't too excited to get this trade. The only reason I did pick it up was because I got it cheap at the Chicago comic convention. Now, that said, I'm glad that I did buy it. Positive word of mouth led to my giving in to its purchase, an investment that I think anyone who's a fan of superheros should indulge. The beginning of the story walks us through a day of She-Hulk at her most typical over-the-top self, partying it up and being all flamboyant in a courtroom. I was rather uninterested in the story at this point, although it did set up the series at the end of the first issue, the hook: a law firm wants She-Hulk to work for them, not as the green-skinned Avenger, but as Jennifer Walters, the brilliant law student. A condition, in fact, to work with the law firm is that she would not turn into the jade hulkess, but remain human. Now, She-hulk loathes her human counterpart, as is apparent by the inner dialogue we are treated to through the story, which makes for an interesting dynamic, as some people see her useful as She-Hulk and some people really find that they are more interested in her in her timid, unspectacular state. Working for this law firm reminds me quite a bit of the last season of Joss Whedon's Angel, where the hero was thrown into an evil law firm that dealt with supernatural cases. This series has, well, the hero thrown into a law firm that deals with superhuman cases. Totally different, right? Anyway, the feel of the series overall is reminescent of old Marvel reprints, like the Essential X-Men volumes that I've read. Stories tend to be contained within a single issue, with wild and outrageous ideas and fun, light-hearted superhuman fights. From the ironically labeled "Big Time" prison designed by Hank Pym, to the Marvel comic books that the law firm uses as evidence in the court, She-Hulk is full of the fun, lighter side of superheros of a more innocent, pre-Watchmen era. Something, I think, everyone can appreciate.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

THINK ABOUT COMICS 3

by Patrick Markfort

Hey, folks. Welcome back to my weekly column here at Comics-And-More. I apologize if this is posted a bit late, as this week I got one of those….whadaya call ‘em…jobs. That’s right…..I’m blaming “The Man.” Anyway, let’s get down to it, shall we?

(Not So) Mini-Reviews (I guess I should mention that possible SPOILERS may lie ahead, although nothing of Hawkeye emerging from Cloak’s cloak level importance)

*Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga, by Frederik L. Schodt: Okay, I haven’t actually finished reading this one yet, but I’m close. And it’s really good. This is the sequel to Schodt’s groundbreaking work, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, which I reviewed last week. Between the time of the first book’s publication and the publication of this 1996 sequel, manga (and anime) had gone from having almost no presence in the United States to becoming a real cultural force, although, as I said last week, nowhere near the publishing juggernaut we know today. Dreamland is primarily a survey of the then-current manga scene in Japan. I particularly liked the lengthy section featuring examples of manga magazines (a la Shonen Jump), as well as the section featuring particular artists and their work. Schodt does a really nice job of selecting interesting, mostly avant garde artists to focus on. I would be likely to pick up work by most of these creators based on the descriptions found in this book, although I believe most have still not been widely translated. There is also an entire chapter devoted to the life and career of the late, great Osamu Tezuka, which was very well done and, really, quite touching. I believe the last couple of chapters focus on the manga/anime connection and manga’s presence in the United States. While it may be overshadowed by the undeniable historic significance of its predecessor, Dreamland Japan is an exceptional and exceptionally important book in its own right, and should not be missed by those interested in the subject.

*Daredevil (vol.1) #12-19 by Stan Lee (with Dennis O’Neil on #18), John Romita, Jack Kirby, and Frank Giacoia: Good golly god damn, I enjoyed these comics! Thanks to Marvel’s “Essential” series of black and white reprints, I had the pleasure of reading this great run of issues by Lee and Romita, a duo better known for a collaboration which necessitated the brevity of this run, namely their work on The Amazing Spider-Man. I adore those Spider-Man comics, but this Daredevil run is nearly as good. We start of with a wonderfully loopy three-part adventure, wherein Matt Murdock (that’s Daredevil for those of you playing along at home), having temporarily left behind his life as a lawyer in Hell’s Kitchen, embarks on an ocean cruise which is quickly interrupted by pirates. Yep, pirates. But not just any pirates, as these fellows are led by one Lord Parnival Plunder, brother of Tarzan wanabe and perennial B-lister Ka-Zar! The tale goes on to reveal Ka-Zar’s true origins, and involves lost medallions and espionage agents and all manner of high adventure, lovingly rendered by Jazzy John, over layouts by Jack Kirby (on parts one and two…Romita flies solo thereafter). After the Ka-Zar story, Matt returns to New York and to his angst filled supporting cast, Foggy Nelson and Karen Page, for a showdown with the Ox, and then an exceptional two-parter co-starring Spider-Man. A funny subplot is introduced here, as Foggy attempts to lead Karen to believe he is Daredevil. This subplot is eventually resolved in the final two issues of the run, featuring the villainy of Gladiator and the Masked Marauder. I think John Romita and Stan Lee were both at their peaks here. They bring just as much game to these issues as they do to the Spider-Man comics, those being more fondly remembered simply for the extended length of that run and the fact that Daredevil really was something of a poor man’s Spider-Man at this point in his career. I really like the fun-loving, happy Daredevil, though. And, oh, the drama! With Matt and Foggy constantly mooning over Karen Page, it’s a wonder the three of them ever got any work done. Perhaps I should let Matt Murdock have the last word on this tortured love triangle, and the honor of closing this review, as your response to the following quotation should be a pretty good indicator of how you’re going to feel about these comics. Bring on the irony:

- “The one emotion my radar-sense can’t define is love! When it comes to Karen, I really am a blind man!”
~ Matt Murdock, Daredevil # 15


*Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #1, by Brain Michael Bendis, Mark Brooks, Jaime Mendoza, and Scott Hanna, with colors by Dave Stewart: David already mentioned this, and my feelings pretty much match his, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. I really liked this issue, and I’m glad that Bendis went for it, by that I mean he actually allowed Peter and Kitty to get together, without concocting some lame excuse in order to preserve the status quo. I really like the idea of Kitty Pryde as a girlfriend for Peter Parker, as it makes perfect sense and finally throws a real wrinkle into the Peter/Mary Jane romance. I mean, Bendis writes teen soap opera like nobody’s business, but Peter and M.J. have been utterly devoted to each other since Ultimate Spider-Man #1, despite the on-again/off again nature of their relationship. I’m glad the potential for the kids to explore problems that don’t arrise directly as a result of Peter being Spider-Man now exists. Here’s hoping they don’t drop the ball on this one. I liked the mix of talking heads and superhero butt-kicking on display here, as well. I was a little disappointed with the art, as I felt Mark Brooks drawings were at times a bit stiff, and he drew Peter to “heroic” looking, at least compared to Mark Bagley’s great depiction of the character. I think the artwork mostly suffers in comparison to Bagley, in fact, and I kind of wished they’d gone with a more radical shift in style from the regular series as opposed to the “guy who kinda draws like Bagley but not quite as good” approach. Great colors by Dave Stewart, though. Fans of the regular series or folks who like good teen superhero comics will want to pick this up. That was kind of short, wasn’t it?


****
Around the Internet

* I had considered highlighting some interesting items from the new Previews, but there are already plenty of folks doing that sort of thing much better than I could, namely David Ferraro with this month’s selections, and Chris Butcher, walking us through last month’s Previews. I really love reading Chris’ "Previews Review" as looking through the magazine itself often leaves me feeling a bit depressed, given the overwhelming amount of crap displayed therein. Chris’ column reminds me that the comics industry has a lot of really terrific things to offer every single month, and he inevitably catches things that I’ve missed or would otherwise not have considered purchasing. Keep up the good work, Chris!

* Speaking of reminding me about good comics, Tom Spurgeon provides a great service at The Comics Reporter by discussing “Eight Stories For The Rest Of 2005.” A new one each day until August 28th!

* Erik Larsen’s column at Comic Book Resources has been up and running for a few weeks now, and I especially enjoyed his comments this week concerning the great and greatly under appreciated Herb Trimpe, particularly his work on the Incredible Hulk. Reading Erik’s thoughts really made me appreciate Trimpe as an artist, and also really made me want Marvel to publish Essential Hulk vol. 4.
****

You know, I was going to tell you all about a great idea I had for a new Marvel Comics anthology, but I think this column is beginning to run a little long, no? I mention it now as a reminder to myself to discuss it with you at a later date.

I have so much good stuff to read!! New Comics Journal!! Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha!!! Complete Dennis the Menace!!!! Two collections of Jack Kirby’s Captain America!! Other things I’m forgetting!! I love comics!!

Sorry about all of those exclamation points, I guess all of those old Stan Lee reprints are starting to affect me more than I’d realized.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back next week, and, as always, I encourage and welcome your comments.

~ Patrick Markfort
patmarkfort@yahoo.com

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Upcoming

Since Previews came out yesterday, it's time to highlight some upcoming projects.

Dark Horse:
- Well, the Kellogg's Sugar Pops Pete figure was cute...lol

DC:
- All Star Superman #1 - A winning team (Morrison and Quitely) working on this book may intice me to break down and read a Superman title. In fact, it will. Actually, I'm really looking forward to it.

- Manhunter (volume 1): Street Justice - I am really glad to see that they're collecting this new Manhunter series. It's easily one of the best superhero books out there right now. Check out Newsarama's article on DC's Manhunters (and the great buzz this series is creating), with a sequel article about this series specifically and what you've missed in the story thus far. I was really getting worried that they wouldn't collect it, since DC tends to pick and choose titles for trades (wanna check out the fabulous Midnight, Mass: Here There Be Monsters mini-series? Well, you'll have to dig for back issues. Extremely crappy deal.)

- New Seven Soldiers books debuting! - More Grant Morrison goodness with the premier issues of Seven Soldiers: The Bulleteer and Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #1, the latter of which looks and sounds phenomenal.

- Warren Ellis' Ocean TP - Check out my review here.

- DMZ #1 - Sounded amazing at the Vertigo panel I attended in Chicago.

Image:
- A Distant Soil (volume 4): Coda - I was blown away by Colleen Doran's third volume in this series. I've been waiting too long for this one to come out.

- Image First TP - Obviously riding on the success of Vertigo's First Taste, which printed debut issues of Vertigo titles, Image is trying the same winning formula on their own books. Well, this is something I'll probably check out, since I've been meaning to check out Sea of Red, Girls and Strange Girl. Anyone who hasn't checked out The Walking Dead by now, please get this! It's only $7! You've got nothing to lose!

- And speaking of The Walking Dead, volume four comes out this month. Hurray!

- Season of the Witch #2 - You've gotta love Darwyn Cooke's cover for this issue. Beautiful!

Marvel:
- Ultimate Spider-man #86 - Yes! Finally, the debut of Ultimate Silver Sable! No, I'm not being sarcastic. I love Silver Sable and I've been waiting to see something of her for years! Stop laughing.

- The Pulse #12 - Finally, the atmosphere of Alias is back! Maybe the book will actually start to not disappoint. Gotta give Michael Gaydos props.

- Generation M #1 - Yeah, I'm not following House of M, but I wouldn't mind seeing some of the after effects on some of the Marvel characters.

- New Excaliber #1 - Yes, I'm like an abusive housewife, trying in vain to find a Chris Clairmont book that actually doesn't completely suck for the umpteenth time. But, I mean, I gotta try it! It's Excaliber! Please don't screw this one up too!!!

- X-Factor #1 - Oh, yes. Check out my review of the Madrox mini-series, which serves as kind of a prequel to this book.

- Excaliber Classic (volume 1) - Yes, the series that pulled me into comics is finally being collected. The years when Clairmont could actually write well. Kitty, Meggan, warwolves - what's not to like here?!

- X-Factor Visionaries: Peter David (volume 1) - The new X-Factor team debuted with Havok, Polaris, Wolfsbane, Madrox. Should be good fun.

- Essential X-Factor (volume 1) - I loved the Essential X-Men collections more than I thought I would. I'll definitely pick this one up.

ADV Films:
- Neon Genesis Evangelion Platinum Complete Edition - Collects every episode of the popular series. If you haven't checked this out, you are totally missing out. The best anime of all time.

Devil's Due:
- Black Harvest #1 - Yeah, I wasn't too impressed with the first Dead@17 trade I picked up, but I'll give Josh Howard another chance.

Fantagraphics Books:
- Night Fisher - Beautiful interior art boxed in by a stelling cover. Patrick said he's getting this one, so I can "borrow" it.

IDW:
- Night Mary #5 - This series came out at the same time as Brian Pulido's awful Bloody Mary comic, so I always got the two confused. Night Mary actually sounds really cool, though. I hope they collect this series.

- Dampyr #7: From the Darkness - Check out my review of the first Dampyr trade and then proceed to buy it.

Narwain Publishing:
- Free Fall #1 - New company with some interesting-looking stuff. I'll have to check out this story about bank robbery.

- Jenna #1 - The one series of Narwain's that really looks great. Great art, great premise.

Oni Press:
- Local #1 - I never checked out Brian Wood's Demo, but this looks really cool. May have to give this one a shot.

- Strangetown #1 - Interesting solicitation. I feel like I should give this one a chance. Love the cover!

Speakeasy Comics:
- Elium - Nice cover + intriguing premise = may buy

- Strangeways #1 - Werewolves are due for the spotlight.

Viz:
- Nana (volume 1) - One of the best comics I've ever read! Read my review of the first chapter.

Monday, August 22, 2005

What's going on...

It's been a couple of lacklustre weeks for comics. This coming Wednesday I'm going to be picking up Spellbinders #6 and Previews, but that's about it. Good thing I have plenty of trades left to read from the convention to keep me occupied. I'm in the midst of reading She-Hulk (volume 1) right now.

Next week, according to Diamond's list, I'll be picking up:
- Astonishing X-Men #12 (the final issue of the first "season" of Whedon and Cassaday's excellent series)
- The Grimoire #5 (Speakeasy's fun magic series)
- New Avengers #9
- Runaways #7 (Check out my review of the last story arc)
- Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #4
- X-Men: Kitty Pryde: Shadow and Flame #3 (Read my love letter to Kitty and thoughts on the first issue)

Last novel I read: "Mysterious Skin" by Scott Heim
Novel I'm currently reading: "The Mysteries of Udolpho" by Ann Radcliffe
Last comic I read: "Ultimate X-Men #62"
Comic on the top of my pile: "Mnemovore #5"
Last movie I saw in theaters: "The Skeleton Key"
Last DVD I saw: "Lain #1: Navi" (an anime series)
In my Netflix queue:
- "Strangers on a Train (special edition)"
- "Lain #2: Knights"
- "Paranoia Agent (vol 4): Sayonara Maromi"

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Madrox

Madrox: Multiple Choice is a trade paperback by Peter David and Pablo Raimondi, about Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man of the X-Men universe. I'd been meaning to check this out for awhile, because I loved the art whenever I'd flip through the book at the store. Upon closer examination, that inital response holds true: the art is great. Every once in awhile legs looked a little disproportioned with the rest of the bodies, but that's a minor gripe, as I only really noticed it in one panel before I started watching for it. The trade collects the complete five-issue run of the mini-series, following Madrox as he starts up his private eye agency and gets into crime noir trouble. The series reminded me vaguely of Alias, just because of the atmosphere and the private eye bit, but any further similarities really end there. Alias is obviously a superior work. That's not to say this wasn't great though, because it really is! I think they did some really neat things with a man that can make clones of himself and reabsorb them. For example, Jamie made duplicates just to send out around the world to learn things, so when he reabsorbed them, he'd acquire their knowledge. This whole mini-series began out of one such duplicate who stumbled back to the original man, bleeding to death. Madrox goes on a quest from there to find out what happened to his duplicate, and whether he wasn't the intended target, after all. And amid this, some of the duplicates are appearing with distinct traits of Jamie's personalities, and seeming minds of their own, stubbornly refusing to follow orders and such. There are plenty of surprises throughout the story, and it's an engaging mystery overall. Rahne Sinclair (aka Wolfsbane) has a side adventure throughout the trade, as she goes out on a mission for the agency. Strong Guy is in the story as well, as he is Jamie Madrox's best bud. If anyone's thinking of picking up the X-Factor series that Marvel announced, they should certainly read this book, since I'm sure a lot of what that series is going to be like begins in this volume. With all that said, I'm going to be checking out the new X-series when it debuts, hoping for something that resembles what I read in this story (Plus Siryn and M!). And I know it's kind of weird, but Raimondi drew Jamie really sexy in this story and I think I may have developed a semi-crush.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Dampyr

IDW is publishing trades of a long-running European horror title called Dampyr. I read the first trade and I was extremely impressed with the series. It had great atmosphere and mood, was genuinely creepy, and had a good story. The setting is an abandoned town during World War II, where vampires have wreaked havoc. Some soldiers that are being stationed there find out what's been going on and call on a local dampyr, half-human, half-vampire, who has really been taking advantage of the superstitious people in the area and performing bogus rites to rid them of their "vampire" problems. I actually did some research of folklore vampires and this had a lot of those elements within the story. Some sort of sickness would spread throughout a community and people would blame it on the recently deceased having been a vampire, and is now terrorizing his old neighbors. The thing is, the people would be kind of right in their assessment, as the person who had died first was usually the origin of the sickness, he just wasn't a supernatural entity. But, this dampyr preys on these superstitious types, unaware of his true origins, and why he was drawn to this profession in the first place. Dampyr is a unique tale that seems really classic in its storytelling. I highly recommend this series to anyone who likes horror or good stories in general.

I also just read the Ultimate Spider-man Annual, where Spidey gets a new girlfriend. Imagine my pleasure when I found out it was Kitty Pryde, my favorite. Patrick kind of made a stab at the girlfriend's identity and he was right. It fits pretty well. Kitty and Peter are both these idealistic types, a little naive about the world, just teenagers with more of a burden than most have. It suits the book. Good call, Bendis.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

THINK ABOUT COMICS 2

Hello, and welcome to the second installment of my column, Think About Comics, here at Comics-and-More. This week, I’ve broken the column down into two parts: “Mini-Reviews,” where I briefly provide opinions on some of the comics I’ve read recently, and “Around the Internet,” where I will highlight some interesting comics-related items I’ve come across on the world wide web. First up, the reviews!

Reviews:
House of M # 1-5, by Brian Michael Bendis, Olivier Coipel, Tim Townsend, and Frank D’Armata: This is probably the best written series of it’s kind that Marvel has published, although I suppose that’s damning it with faint praise. I’m not generally a fan of big company wide crossover/event driven comics of this nature, but I do find myself enjoying this series, despite some weak points. It’s not deserving of the hype Marvel has surrounded it with, but nor is it deserving of the scorn with which certain segments of fandom have greeted it. I like the world that Bendis and his artistic collaborators have dreamed up here, and I am curious as to what elements of it will survive this eight issue mini-series. Bendis’ scripting is fine, although at times characters seem a bit “off,” most notably Emma Frost in the most recent issue. For the most part, though, I’m impressed that Bendis has been able to keep hold of his narrative while dealing with such a large and sprawling cast of characters. I heard him speak about his approach to this series at the Wizardworld con in Chicago, and it’s clear he’s thought a lot about the crafting of the story, and I think that’s apparent on the page. Olivier Coipel’s pencils bother me somewhat. They’re not bad, in fact they work well as drawings, but as a cartoonist and storyteller I think his skills need some sharpening. Often, panel to panel transitions can be awkward and confusing, and this throws the pacing of the story off more than a few times. Still, if you’re a fan of this sort of story or any of the creators involved, I think you’ll have a good time reading this. Although, it’s incredibly popular, so you probably already are reading it. I’ll likely revisit the series once it’s completed and share with you my thoughts on the work as a whole.

Cromartie High Volume 1, by Eiji Nonaka: I laughed out loud, a lot, while reading the first few chapters of this manga. As I read on, though, I became used to Eiji Nonaka’s world and his absurd brand of humor, and found my guffaws dwindling to chuckles. It’s a good, funny comic, but I think it works best in small doses. I’ll probably keep following it, as you do sort of develop a strange affection for the characters, loveable buffoons that they are. Cromartie High is a parody of the school gang/delinquent sub-genre of boys' manga, and its brand of humor is almost impossible to describe, although some have made what I think are apt comparisons to the work of Michael Kupperman. It’s the kind of thing that you’re either going to find hilarious, or you’re not, so I recommend flipping through the comic at your local book or comic book store, and reading a chapter or two….they’re short, usually only five or six pages. That should let you know if it’s something you want to spend your hard earned cash on.

Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, by Frederik L. Schodt: I’m sort of embarrassed that I’ve just now gotten around to reading this book, often referred to as the manga “bible.” One of the first books published on the subject in English, the importance of Manga! Manga! cannot be overstated. The book was originally published in 1983, and it takes you from the very beginnings of manga up through what was then the present day, with predictions for the future of the medium. This last part is sort of interesting to read today, in that Schodt posits that manga will probably never be able to become a serious publishing concern in the United States because of the various cultural barriers, not least of which is the fact that manga would need to be revearsed or “flipped” to read left to right. I found the sequel to this book, Dreamland Japan, in a used bookstore this week, so I’ll bring you my thoughts on that soon. Published in 1996 after manga had become a real cultural presence here in America (although certainly not the publishing juggernaut it is today), it should be an interesting read. Manga! Manga! also features a generous sampling of manga, including excerpts from Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix, and Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen. There’s really no reason not to get this book if you’re at all interested in the subject.

The Comics Journal Library Volume 5: Classic Comics Illustrators, edited by Tom Spurgeon: Speaking of great books about comics, here’s the latest in a great series of collected interviews from the pages of the indispensable Comics Journal. This volume, like the previous one (read my review here), focuses on multiple creators. The interview subjects are Frank Frazetta, Russ Heath, Burn Hogarth, Russ Manning, and Mark Schulz. All four men come across as intelligent and serious about their approach to art. I really love these volumes, especially since I only started reading the Journal a few years ago, and most of the material contained in them is brand new to me. Be sure to seek this one out.

***

Around the Internet:

*If you want to see who the next subject of the Comics Journal Library is going to be, go here. In this Comics Journal Message Board thread, editor Tom Spurgeon has some information on future subjects, as well.

*My review of House of M was partially inspired by Dorian’s comments at his excellent blog, postmodernbarney.com (scroll down to the August 15th entry). His comments didn’t influence my opinion about the series, but they did convince me that I wanted to get my thoughts out about the series sooner rather than later.

*Last week, I mentioned that I was a big fan of James Kochalka. This week, Alan David Doane launches a new blog devoted to the talented artist and musician! Alan David Doane is also the mastermind behind the New Comic Book Galaxy, but of course you already knew that.

*I really enjoy reading Tony’s Tips, an online column by Tony Isabella, a comics writer perhaps best known as the creator of Black Lightning. Tony’s asking for a little help right now, and it’d be great if any Think About Comics readers could offer him some support, financial or otherwise. Click the link above if you would, please, especially if you’ve enjoyed the man’s work in the past.

***

That’s all for this installment of Think About Comics. I hope you enjoyed reading, and I hope you’ll let me know what you thought, either by posting in the comments section or by sending me an e-mail at the address listed below. I’d love to hear from you!

Next Week: More thoughts about comics!

-Pat Markfort
Patmarkfort@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Shiver In the Dark & Gimoles

I haven't read much for trades since I last posted, having been drawn into Scott Heim's "Mysterious Skin" novel so absolutely, but I have manged to read a few single issues to talk about...

"Shiver In the Dark #1" - This was written and drawn by Stuart Sayger. I got this from him down artist alley at the convention a few weeks ago. He was a really nice guy, and a talented one, as well. "Shiver In the Dark" is really a beautiful book that you can tell great care was invested. Very artfully, tastefully laid out with only a few minor things to complain about (some blurry panels, depicting action - a trick I don't much care for).

"Gimoles #1" - Okay, this is just the sappiest, crappiest piece of junk I've read in years. Actually, I couldn't even finish it it was so bad. And I'm one to like cute all-ages works! This just went too far, citing every Disney cliche it could get its grubby little hands on, trying for ultra-cute, ending up with ultra-grating. Thank god the first issue was only a waste of 75 cents!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Usagi Yojimbo

I finally read Stan Sagai's "Usagi Yojimbo," book one. I don't know why there was a point in my past where I picked this up and put it down after a quick flip-through of the book. It was really great. I think delving into manga and other forms of comics art that I don't see in superhero comics just kind of changed my boundaries for what I like a bit, without my really noticing it. When I saw this at the convention and picked it up, it looked fine, and it was. And upon closer inspection, the art is really more than great. Sagai's shading, detailed backgrounds and cartooning all come together to make a really gorgeous work. The story is pretty much a series of short stories that follow Usagi on his adventures through a continuity that sees recurring characters. There's not much to it, but it does have an epic feel and I'm glad I had the chance to experience it.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

THINK ABOUT COMICS

Hello, and welcome to the first edition of a new weekly column here at Comics-And-More, “Think About Comics.” My name is Patrick Markfort, a former reviewer for Alan David Doane’s Comic Book Galaxy, and longtime comics fan. I am the “Patrick” some of you may have seen David refer to here at Comics-And-More, and my name may also be familiar to you from various comics message board postings, although I doubt it.

So, what is “Think About Comics” all about? Well, every Friday I’ll be bringing you my thoughts about comics. Topics may include analyses of industry trends, or related subjects such as movies adapted from comics, but for the most part I am interested in engaging comics themselves. For example, you’re more likely to find me discussing the merits of the art and writing of Marvel’s House of M series than in criticizing the dubious promotional efforts attached to it. I really appreciate those bloggers who are able to seriously and articulately engage the medium, and that is what I hope to do here. You will likely also find in this column more of an effort to engage in the wider discussions found in the so-called “comics blogosphere” than is usual here at Comics-And-More. I am a great fan of much of the writing that goes on amongst the better comics bloggers, and will likely be linking to them often. And that’s about it. No particular hook or special focus, just another in a seemingly endless supply of folks posting their thoughts on this medium we all love so much. I find that my favorite blogs tend to be those that simply feature good, solid writing, rather than a particular focus or area of interest, so that’s going to be the model here. I hope this sort of thing sounds appealing to you.

For this first column, I thought it might be a fun idea to list for you the comics I am currently reading, along with brief commentary. I think this will be a good way for all of you to see where I’m coming from in regards to my tastes and interests. I assure you that future columns will be less about me and more about comics, but this seemed an appropriate exercise for my first time out.

Comics I Read, In The Order They Occurred To Me:

Love and Rockets - One of my all time favorites. The Hernandez Brothers were in many ways my introduction to a much larger world of comics, and they continue to be amazing and innovative artists. The release of each new issue of “Love and Rockets” is cause for celebration in my book.

Acme Novelty Library - I actually only just purchased my first issue of the Acme Novelty Library comic book (issue 3), but I’ve been following Chris Ware’s work in collected form for years. He may be our greatest living cartoonist.

Schizo - I put Ivan Brunetti’s nihilistic magnum opus in the same category as the above mentioned titles. A true masterpiece of comics. Funny as hell, depressing as hell, and really, really damned smart. Read Schizo.

Eightball - I haven’t read as widely or as deeply into Dan Clowe’s oeuvre as I should have, but Eightball #23 is my favorite single issue of a comic book ever.

Buddha - By Osamu Tezuka. I just read the first volume, and am just getting into Tezuka’s work, reading Astro Boy, as well. One of the greats, obviously.

Pluto - Naoki Urasawa’s remake of a classic Astro Boy story is one of the coolest comics I’ve ever read. I found the scanlations via Dirk Deppey’s thread on the Comics Journal Message Board. Do yourself a favor and read the series, and read also an extraordinary comparison of this work and the original story upon which it was based here. As long as you’re being so kind to yourself, go ahead and do yourself another favor by reading everything Jog sees fit to post. Oh yes, I wouldn’t even be aware of Urasawa if not for this essay. Where was I? Ah, yes……

Brian Michael Bendis’ Comic Books - Some of these should probably be filed under the “guilty pleasures” category, although I’m not really a fan of that term, so I think I’m going to have to devote a future column to my completist mentality in regards to this particular creator. I’ll pause while those in the audience who cannot find value in the opinions of someone who admits to reading House of M and New Avengers shuffle out the back door.

Astonishing X-Men - Grant Morrison’s New X-Men was brilliant. Joss Whedon’s and John Cassaday’s follow up is not. It is, however, a very well crafted and entertaining superhero comic book that I enjoy very much.

Seven Soldiers Comic Books - I like most everything by Grant Morrison. Popular opinion is correct in proclaiming Guardian as the best of these. The King would be proud. Well, actually, he’d probably be sort of cranky and confused about the whole thing, but I like it.

Nana - It takes a real man to read Shojo Beat on a regular basis, but it doesn’t take much of anything to see that Ai Yazawa’s Nana is an excellent series. Have your girlfriend pick it up for you, tough guy.

Superf*ckers - I adore James Kochalka for his unique art style and sensibilities. Superf*ckers was really funny and great and I can’t wait for more.

I also liked the first issues of Mome and Bette Noir, and the first couple of Kevin Huizenga’s Or Else, but don‘t really have anything to say about them. Oh, and I like Bipolar, too.
….

That’s all I can think of at the moment, and this inaugural column has gone on far too long. I hope some of you are still with me, and I hope that you’ll come back, every Friday, for more. Any comments you may wish to post regarding your thoughts on my efforts here would be appreciated beyond belief. Be well.

- Patrick Markfort
patmarkfort@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Necromancer and Of Bitter Souls - Early Reviews!

Since I had the opportunity to pick these comics up at the Chicago comic convention, I thought it was a prime opportunity to give fair warning to any readers thinking about picking these titles up what to expect.

"Of Bitter Souls #1" is published by Speakeasy, written by Chuck Satterlee and drawn by Norm Breyfogle. It's a story of superheroes who hunt monsters. In the first issue, we're introduced to four individuals as they save a crowd from a band of vampires. The art is decent here: nothing too extraordinary, boring character designs. Pretty mediocre in that regard. The writing follows suit, as the story shares nothing interesting. It's a basic introduction story, and a bland one at that, as the superheroes fight the dullest portrayals of vampires I've read in recent years, amid a series of flashbacks that shows each superhero three years prior. Each of the superheroes had a sketchy past, involved in illegal activities, and are surely chosen by the mysterious individual for their task as a way to redeem themselves or some such nonsense.

"Necromancer #1" is written by Joshua Ortega with art by Francis Manapul, published by Top Cow. The title started out wrong, with three variant covers, one by the atrocious Greg Horn (of which I DID NOT pick up). I wasn't expecting much going into this one, as Top Cow isn't exactly the most artistic, creative publisher, but I was actually surprised by what I found here. First off, the art is pretty bad. Michael Turner bad, if that's a negative for you. Unfortunately, I couldn't just right the series off with the art, and therein lies the dilemma. The story is positively compelling. We follow a cheerleader, Abby Van Alstine, who grows up in a very traditional household, with a father who happens to be a pastor and disapproves of his daughter's recent behavior. It's really fascinating watching the interaction between Abby and her family as she cares nothing for the Catholic faith, while her father is strict in pushing her into said faith, despite protests. Ultimately, she does love her father, and tricks her parents into believing her intentions coincide with theirs, as she holds a Bible study at their house, that is really an exploration of the dark arts. The story unfolds pretty rapidly, but it does an excellent job of conveying a complex, interesting character, ultimately led down a dark path, rather driven there by her parents unrelenting demands upon her. This issue boasts a great ending. Give it a chance if you can tolerate the art. You won't regret it!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Comic-con Sunday panels

So, the final day of the Wizard World Comic-con has passed. I attended two panels this time: Vertigo and Tokyopop, both of whom had plenty of announcements. A couple of things caught my interest that I plan to check out. At Vertigo, a new mini by Brian K. Vaughan about lions that escaped from a bombed zoo in the middle east. It sounded really neat, told from the view point of the lions. There was also some talk of the new series Testament and Fables: 1,001 Nights of Snowfall and the Sloth original GN by Gilbert Hernandez, all of which have been mentioned at previous cons, but sound cool. The Exterminators sounds like a neat new series, a mini about NY exterminators, as does a new mini-series about a virgin who reexamines his choices as his fiancee dies (as he's Catholic and wanted to wait till married to have sex). I wish I could recall the name of the series, but I don't see it at Newsarama or anything yet. Frank Quitely does the cover, so when you see a man on a giant tongue, you'll know which one I'm talking about.

Tokyopop had a few titles of interest as well, the stars of which were Telepathic Warriors, about a telepath who tried to help people with her gift, and Mark of the Succubus, about a succubus-in-training who has to seduce a boy as part of her training, but falls for him. Bizenghast looked like it had some Victorian sensibilities, full of ghosts and old clocks, with a fragile little girl as the protagonist.

So, I failed in my search for the first volume of Age of Bronze. I'll have to buy it like everybody else, at full price at a comic store. Aw, well. I did get Exiles (volume 10): Age of Apocalypse on sale, and picked up the debut (premier at the con) issue of Necromancer. Patrick picked up four more Astro Boy collections at $3 each, the lucky guy, as well as Acme Novelty Library #3 and the Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Captain America for half price.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Wizard World Chicago

I went to Wizard World this weekend. Still am going, actually, as I have Sunday to attend yet. It's less spectacular than it's been in the past. I think it has more to do with my tastes in comics changing more than anything. It's kind of sad that nearly every panel is Marvel or DC, the retailers are selling back issues of the same... Ugh. It's just frustrating. I love Marvel and DC and all, but I kind of want a little something more. I want to discover something else. Anyways, I was a big Crossgen fan and I can really feel the absence. It makes me a little sad to see the trades in all of those 1/2 off boxes, and Crossgen just had a way of creating excitement at the cons, with their big booth and hype. I just miss the alternative to the usual. It's the same thing at every retailer's booth. Oh well. At least they passed on the wrestling ring this year (small favors). So, what panels did I attend? Well, I missed the Cup 'o Joe and Bendis panels Friday, and there wasn't much on Saturday, so I've only gone to the House of M panel. It was alright. It went over a lot of announcements I'd missed at the aforementioned panels. And that's all. Tomorrow, I'm going to the Vertigo panel and the Tokyopop one. Should be okay. Nothing like what they offer at San Diego, I'm sure, but it's what I got.

What I picked up:
"Lucifer (volume 2): Children and Monsters"
"Usagi Yojimbo (book 1)"
"Record of Lodoss War: The Lady of Pharis (book 1)"
"She-Hulk (volume 1): Single Green Female"
"Dampyr (volume 1): Devil's Son"
"Dampyr (volume 2): Night Tribe" (I read the first one back at the hotel and loved it, so I got this one too)
"Madrox TP"
"Gimoles #1"
"Uncanny X-Men #462" (out of fondness for the old Excaliber days.)
"Of Bitter Souls #1" (premiered at the con)
"Shiver In the Dark #1" (from Stuart Sayger, the creator himself, at his table in artists' alley)
"Speakeasy Convention flipbook" (Free, features previews of "Smoke & Mirror" and "Of Bitter Souls," which I already got)

What Patrick picked up:
"Astro Boy #2"
"Blue Spring"
"Cromartie High School (volume 1)"
"Street Angel (volume 1)"
"Uzumaki (volume 1)"
"Buddha (volume 1)"

I was looking for "Age of Bronze," the first volume, but I couldn't even find a full price one at any booth. The second volume seemed to be everywhere. I also looked for "Strangehaven," "Witches, Inc. #1," and "Exiles (volume 10): Age of Apocalypse" (but on sale, because half of the trade is fricking sketches). Hopefully, I'll find more fun tomorrow. I'm hoping for deeper discounts and fun at the panels.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Runaways: True Believers

"Runaways" volume two began with the storyline "True Believers," which just wrapped up with issue six. The second volume of the series is doing really well in the direct market, given its previous cancellation. But with the digest trades of the series, a following was roused to partake in the adventures of Brian K. Vaughan's runaways, a following that wasn't going to wait around for the next collection, as there was a long enough hiatus period between volume one's cancellation and volume two's start. Yep, eager hands snatched up the "Runaways" with the new volume. But how does it fare in comparison, after the first volume resolved most of the plot threads? Surprisingly well, actually. Shedding its initial hook with the new volume, the runaways returned with a story that begins in time travel. Ah, yes. One of the kids has returned from a distant future to warn them of danger. A danger that they must act upon quickly to erradicate a threat in its initial stages, before it becomes too powerful. And so, we follow the children as they meet another runaway and battle a group of secondary heroes. A group of individuals who began fighting crime as teenagers, but have grown into considerably screwed-up (some would say pathetic) adults. They hold a mirror image before the children, showing them where their choices could potentially lead them. Ah, yes, but the twists and turns of the tale are great. It is truly great storytelling when you don't see something coming that makes absolute sense to the story, and is a natural next step. Of course, there are those cheesy elements that are bound to pop up in superhero comics, as they are inherent in the genre, but "Runaways" is one of those series that likes to point out these things, effectively poking fun at itself, recognizing the tropes, as "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" did within its own universe. It's no wonder that Joss Whedon himself has cited his affection for the series. But if you're getting into the series late, don't fret. I'm sure a digest for the second volume will be out any day now.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Lullaby: Wisdom Seeker

The trade for "Lullaby: Wisdom Seeker" hits stores tomorrow. Should you buy it? You decide for yourself. The story is a slow progression of bringing all of the characters of the story together by the end for a big, explosive battle. The characters are from fairy tales: Alice from wonderland, Pinocchio, the Pied Piper, Little Red Riding Hood, etc. They begin in three separate groups after a brief scene where Alice is in the regular world and is involved in a car crash. The story scrolls ahead years to where Alice is the Queen of Heart's right hand, and is venturing off to Oz, as all of the other characters eventually do (Little Red Riding Hood's group is searching for her grandmother, while Pinocchio's group would bring him to see the Wizard). The character designs are all well done, I believe. Alice is in her regular blue get-up with a pink whip that resembles a flamingo, the Cheshire Cat following her around, riddles aplenty. Pinocchio is a wooden boy, found as driftwood by pirates. He vaguely resembles a jack o'lantern or snowman to me, very cutesy. Little Red Riding Hood is a werewolf with a temper. She's kind of the cute little girl that overreacts in plenty of manga series. The Pied Piper is a quiet, mysterious character. The pirate (I assume from Treasure Island) has a sword that's forged from magic, a shark that loves to fight for "yummies." Yeah, a couple of cliches thrown in there, I'll give you, but overall, a good job. But onto the big problem of the series: the art. It's done in a manga-influenced style that kind of grates on my nerves, I must confess. At times it's okay. Or, I should say, at best it's okay. It seems that it's just sloppily illustrated, especially toward the end of the four issue series. During the huge battle, after the characters have come together, it's hard to distinguish what's going on. And the scene where the enemy is ultimately defeated and blows, is squished into a panel in the middle of the page, taking up a mere eighth of the page. The storytelling is lacking here, to say the least. So, in conclusion: storytelling, decent; art, bad. If you can tolerate bad art, I'd check it out. But if you're a serious comic fan, I would suggest you skip this one.

Monday, August 01, 2005

They Came Back

I had the opportunity to watch the French film "They Came Back" this week, and was truly impressed with what I saw. Top-notch acting and cinematography make for not only an interesting film, but a beautiful one, as well. And although it is a zombie movie, it isn't your typical one, as the people who come back are more like the people they left as, just a little...off. This film investigates what we do with these zombies who have reentered life. Where do we put them? Where do they fit in society? Different scenarios are explored with this movie, all of which are engaging and emotional. "They Came Back" warrants the attention of anyone looking for that really good zombie movie, or really good movie, in general. Just don't expect brain-eating and gore in this one.