Thursday, November 30, 2006

Acme Novelty Library #17

Chris Ware

Chris Ware continues his Rusty Brown story in the latest Acme Novelty Library, drawing out Rusty's troubled childhood among supporting characters like Chalky White and a Chris Ware who is not the author Chris Ware. Ware (the creator) continues to demonstrate his prowess as a designer (check out that textured cover for yourself) and storyteller through a handful of complex characters in a pretty straight-forward narrative.

This is a very multi-layered work. When Chalky asks Rusty if he wants his Supergirl back, that doll has taken on a resonance and means so much to Rusty: it embodies why he's such a lonely dork (as is also demonstrated by a scene with his sister earlier), his twisted sexual outlook, his warped worldview, and the connection that Chalky and Rusty have, as Chalky sees the Supergirl in the same manner as Rusty does, while no one else has that ability (as demonstrated by the children picking on Rusty for it later). It's also interesting how Rusty doesn't acknowledge Chalky's advances of friendship until after the latter mentions the doll out loud, and even then, Rusty isn't able to be upfront with him, but merely includes him in a performance of his fantasy.

My favorite characters to follow in this episode of the Rusty Brown saga were Alice White (Chalky's sister) and the disturbing Chris Ware. It was interesting to see people's reactions to new students introduced to the environment, and the compromises that Alice in particular makes to her integrity to be accepted, while Chalky goes out of his way to befriend the child he thinks he may have the most in common with even if it means being shunned a little (or a lot). I find it hard to sympathize with Rusty or his teacher, but that's okay because there are plenty of other characters around to grow attached to. And it's all very emotional and feels realistic, drawing you into this world of horrifying school drama, forcing you to experience the pain of that awkward age through these characters, and doing a damn fine job of it. We can all relate to some aspect of the story at hand, and Ware has a way of making it all come rushing back.

All that being said, I didn't enjoy this volume as much as Acme Novelty Library #16, perhaps because it ended so abruptly and didn't quite have the epic feel that an opening chapter has. It felt very much like a chapter. And I kind of wish that the scene from #16 where Rusty realizes that Chalky sees his Supergirl in his desk hadn't been followed up. I just loved that moment so much (although some great stuff came of that). But anyways, this installment certainly has me wondering what the finished product will be like (with such a slow build with so many interesting characters here), since later episodes from the characters' lives have been recorded in the Acme Novelty Library oversized hardcover. We'll just have to wait and see, I suppose. Either way, it's sure to be a fantastic achievement.

There are also some Branford the Best Bee In the World strips in the back of this book, following a cute little bee and his family, demonstrating his dirty little thoughts about the Queen, and binging on pollen. They were very odd...I wasn't really sure what to make of them. There was one panel in particular - the very last one - where Ware has to explain his joke with "Note: Such a discovery to a normal drone bee would be the equivalent of a human male waking up in a dress." It was kind of like reading a foreign comic. Some manga and even Virgin Comics have had to explain the joke after it's finished, and it's ruined the effect, so I wasn't really sure what Ware was trying to capture by this joke, except perhaps to make it seem foreign? Anyways, Acme Novelty Library #17 as a whole was very entertaining and, as usual, will undeniably stand out as one of the best offerings of the year. A

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Adventures In Oz

Eric Shanower

This is a spectacular achievement. Eric Shanower (Age of Bronze), who's huge into Oz fandom along with his partner, continues L. Frank Baum's Oz series here in this illustrated book from IDW Publishing, collecting his five Oz tales under one cover: The Enchanted Apples of Oz, The Secret Island of Oz, The Ice King of Oz, The Forgotten Forest of Oz and The Blue Witch of Oz. That's 256 high quality pages that could for all intents and purposes be sequels to the classic works. This is what Abadazad wishes it were: a magical, wacky universe with loveable characters in a beautful all-ages fantasy, crafted with a real love for the material. I'm sure that this book serves as an absolute treat for any fan of Oz, but has worked backwards for me and made me a fan Oz. I fully intend to read Baum's works in wake of this fantastic read. Shanower brought the characters of Dorothy, Scarecrow, The Cowardly Lion and others to life with a craftsmanship that could have only made Baum proud, making the life in the bustling Emerald City seem to breathe, transporting any fortunate reader to its streets and off the beaten path on the adventures the characters partake. I will admit that this collection begins with the weakest story, but The Enchanted Apples of Oz serves as a great introduction to the series and is still miles ahead of anything like it. Everything beyond that story, in my opinion, is pretty much perfect. I really didn't want this book to end.

Anyone who's read Age of Bronze knows what gorgeous art Shanower can produce, but this fantasy setting is perfectly suited to his abilities: rich, detailed environments, vibrant colors and top-notch cartooning make this an experience wholly unlike any other as the tenants of Oz battle witches, Ice Kings and trolls, and navigate through uncharted swamps and tundras. I'm surprised that I haven't heard much about this book in wake of its release, but commend IDW for their taste in reprint material, with the new Chester Gould's Dick Tracy also hitting shelves in a beautiful package. I give this book my highest recommendation and really can't convey what a wonderful experience this was to read. Anyone who loves comics has to find something to love about Shanower's phenomenal accomplishment. A+

Monday, November 27, 2006

New Releases 11/28-12/1

Once again, I didn't get the chance to read any manga this week, so Manga Monday will resume next week with reviews of Eden: It's an Endless World! and Hikaru No Go. And here are the highlights of new releases for this week...

DVD Releases (Tuesday, 11/28)
An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder
The Ant Bully
Bones: Season One
Clerks 2
Disney's Robin Hood
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
Superman Returns

Previous Week:
IMDb Top DVD Rental: The DaVinci Code
Billboard Top DVD Sales: Cars

Music Releases (Tuesday, 11/28)
Incubus - Light Grenades

Previous Week:
Billboard Top 200 #1: The Game - Doctor's Advocate

Comic Releases (Wednesday, 11/29)
Acme Novelty Library (Volume 17) HC
The Comics Journal #279
Crossing Midnight #1
Dark Horse Book of Monsters HC
Emily the Strange (Volume 1) TP
Essential Man-Thing (Volume 1) TP
Immortal Iron Fist #1

Previous Month (October):
Diamond Top 300 Comics #1: New Avengers #24 (CW)
Diamond Top 100 Graphic Novels #1: Fables: 1,001 Nights of Snowfall
Diamond Top 50 Manga #1: Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (Vol. 1)

Theater Releases (Friday, 12/1)
National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj
The Nativity Story

Previous Week #1: Happy Feet

Sunday, November 26, 2006

In Passing...Snakewoman to X-Factor

Impaler #2
William Harms, Nick Postic & Nick Marinkovich

Impaler, now an ongoing series, is shaping up to be a really good horror title: Effectively creepy with dark, unsettling scenes. In this issue, a blizzard has come and gone in New York, and the morning has brought with it over three hundred missing persons. The police are baffled as they look for clues as to what happened that blistery night, ignoring evidence that's right in front of them that leads to the supernatural. A

Snakewoman #5
Zeb Wells & Michael Gaydos

Jessica gets an unexpected proposition from her captor as the 68 demand her death. A nice twist to the story at hand leaves me wondering what this title is going to be like in future issues. Michael Gaydos' art, as usual, is fantastic. B+

X-Factor #13
Peter David & Pablo Raimondi

This was an interesting break from the usual hustle and bustle of the series, as each member of X-Factor is in turn given a nice little dialogue with a therapist. It's neat to see where everyone's head is at this point, at it sets up future confrontations. A lot of talking heads, but really fun nonetheless. I enjoyed Raimondi's art on the issue - maybe he'll be on-board with future issues? A-

Jack of Fables #5
Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Tony Akins

It all comes to a head here as Jack's great escape concludes, leaving a mess in its wake. Jack finds out where many Fables' loyalties lie as he selfishly races toward freedom. A great end to the first storyarc. A-

Runaways #22
Brian K. Vaughan & Adrian Alphona

Adrian Alphona's art just keeps getting better and better. I'm looking forward to any project he moves on to after his run on this book. This issue is a lot of sitting around and talking about recent events, including an obvious response to criticism about Xavin's sexuality, a response which doesn't really hold much weight. But the creative team's really going out with a bang, if that ending can be believed! B+

Ultimate Spider-Man #102
Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley

What a crazy arc! It'll be sad to see Bagley leave this title, but at least he's also going out on top! The female Spider-Man clone's story is told here, with a rather neat twist, as Peter gets some bonding time with the other clones. Man, so much is going on in this book - and just where is this going to leave Mary Jane? A

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fun Home

Alison Bechdel

With the end of the year encroaching, it's time to play catch-up with some of the big releases of the year. First up, Alison Bechdel's autobiography Fun Home, which has received plenty of praise from critics and is already cropping up on several "best of" lists for 2006.

Fun Home tells stories from Alison's childhood and college years that circle back to two very important events in her life: her father's death and her sexual awakening. Every direction she seems to go with her story leads back to these two things and provide another dimension for each. It's an interesting experiment in non-linear storytelling that really works wonderfully and leaves readers spellbound, putting just the right amount of emphasis where its needed without losing sight of the overlying themes.

The "Fun Home" that the book is named after is the funeral parlor where her parents put on shows and where Alison and her siblings often help out cleaning for the family business. Meanwhile, many secrets lie beneath the surface of the family, things that utterly shock Alison to learn later in life, when the signs have been there all along. I can draw some parellels from Bechdel's experiences to my own life, growing up gay as she did, although there are many differences in the way she came to her realization and I to mine. I was impressed with the fact that I had no idea that she was a lesbian until well into the narrative, and when the revelation came about, it was very nonchalant and natural for the story.

I've heard from several people that the art on this book wasn't the best, but I think it works beautifully for the story and really demonstrates the artist's cartooning prowess. Bechdel's characters are beautifully drawn. I had a strange fascination for the characters' hair - it kept standing out to me for some reason. Another thing that I thought was interesting was Bechdel's prominently featuring the male body. A lot of this story focuses on her own sexual discovery, but it was oddly void of much female sexuality, putting more of the emphasis instead on her father's repressed sexuality in the situations the family often found themselves in for the sake of his desires. Indeed, Bechdel's own sexuality seems to take a backburner to her father's, which becomes an awkward but interesting connection between the two that brings them closer in the end.

Another thing that Alison and her father share is a love of literature. This book is chalk-full of literary references, highlighting several passages that they love that coincided with their own lives, from Ulysses to The Wind In the Willows, or perhaps inspired them to carry things out in certain ways. All members of the family are artists, and as such, are isolated and caught up in their own worlds: Alison, her father and even in a sequence with her mother when she'd taken up a part in The Importance of Being Ernest while writing her thesis, at an inconvenient, awkward time for Alison. It all speaks of truth and life and is masterfully woven.

Beyond all of my praise for this book, it didn't really live up to my expectations, perhaps merely because they had been built so high. I prefered Phoebe Gloeckner's The Diary of a Teenage Girl, David B.'s Epileptic and even Craig Thompson's Blankets to this tale and would recommend them in its place. The chapters seemed a little too tidy, like book reports that brought the opening and concluding paragraphs together to sum up the carefully laid-out points within, but she also writes with a confidence and command over the narrative that I envy and can't deny her skill in storytelling, not that I would want to. I'm just surprised that this work has been chosen to stand out in recent years over Epileptic and The Diary of a Teenage Girl when I personally think those two more worthy of notice. Fun Home is a superior work of art and easily one of the best works of the year, but it's not as far ahead of its competition as I was led to believe. A

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

New Releases

Now that I'm more in the know with new releases in DVDs and music, being a music manager at the local B&N, I thought I'd go a little more multi-media and expand the "In Stores" feature to those releases as well. This is Comics and More after all.

The highlights...

DVD Releases (Tuesday, 11/21)
Alias: Season 5
The Double Life of Veronique (Criterion Collection)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Deluxe Edition)
Ice Age: The Meltdown
An Inconvenient Truth
Seinfeld: Season 7

So NoTORIous: Complete Series
Star Trek: The Animated Series
You, Me and Dupree

Music Releases (Tuesday, 11/21)
The Beatles - Love
Il Divo - Siepre
Jay-Z - Kingdom Come
Loreena McKennitt - An Ancient Muse
Tom Waits: Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards
U2 - U218 Singles

Comic Releases (Wednesday, 11/22)
Comics Journal Library (Volume 7): Harvey Kurtzman TP
Essential Captain America (Volume 3) TP
Moomin Complete Tove Jannson Comic Strip (Volume 1) HC
New X-Men Omnibus HC
Showcase Presents The Unknown Soldier (Volume 1) TP
Tezuka's Buddha (Volume 4): Forest of Unvela SC

Theater Releases (Wednesday, 11/22)
Deck the Halls
Deja Vu
The Fountain
Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny

Monday, November 20, 2006

Manga Monday 17

It's another Manga Monday! This week I'll be looking at two books illustrated by the amazing Takeshi Obata!

Death Note (Volume 8)
Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

This is the worst volume of Death Note to date. But that being said, it's still one hell of a book, and at its worst, it's still one step ahead of most of its competition. Obata, of course, masterfully illustrates this suspenseful tale that picks up from where volume seven left off, leading Light to make some hard decisions about his power and the people in his life. Also, a new Shinigami is thrown into the mix, shaking things up and turning some people's plans upside-down. With a certain prominent antagonist out of the mix, this title seemed to take a dip in quality, but the new antagonists create a new sort of tension that may prove, in time, to be more effective than the original (though that does seem unlikely at this point - the successors have a lot to live up to). We'll just have to wait and see, because the suspense sure did climb near its former peaks once more as this arc progressed. A-

Hikaru No Go (Volume 4)
Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata

It's hard to believe that a manga about a board game of all things can be this suspenseful, but by god this book has me on the edge of my seat. In this volume, Hikaru finishes the tournament with a game against Akira Toya himself, a confrontation that's been a long time coming. But following this event, Hikaru has decided to adopt an on-line identity that lets his ghost Fujiwara-no-Sai play as match go as he pleases, something that doesn't go unnoticed by the entire world. Everyone wonders who this stellar player is, creating more tension than ever before. A

Shojo Beat: December 2006

The latest Shojo Beat boasts the best chapter of Ai Yazawa's fantastic Nana in recent months, and Dirk Deppey's comments about future volumes of Nana has rekindled my regard for the series and has me wondering just what Yazawa has in store for her characters down the road. Kanoko Sakurakoji's Backstage Prince remains another standout title.

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Manga Monday 15
Manga Monday 14
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Manga Monday 12
Manga Monday 11
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Manga Monday 7
Manga Monday 6
Manga Monday 5
Manga Monday 4
Manga Monday 3
Manga Monday 2
Manga Monday!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

White Tiger #1 (of 6)

Tamora Pierce, Timothy Liebe & Phil Briones

Angela Del Toro, the new White Tiger, leaps from the pages of Daredevil to her own limited series, courtesy of popular fantasy novelist Tamora Pierce. Our tale begins preceding the Civil War events and flows right on past them as Angela picks up her uncle's mantle and gains a name for herself with the help of magical amulets, and decides to become a masked hero despite current events. This is a very typical origin story. And I mean very typical. No new ground is tread in the creation of this character's identity to separate herself from other heroes. It's not particularly creative, insightful or interesting. It feels like thirty-two pages of going through the motions. The protagonist also seems rather uninspired, spouting some of the dullest dialogue I've ever had the misfortune of reading in comics. A lot of talk, not enough action and a really, really lame villain make this is yawner of a tale. I actually struggled to finish this comic! The only thing worth the $2.99 cover price is the nice art from Briones. And that beautiful David Mack cover. But those aspects alone aren't worth suffering through this extreme case of mediocrity. D-

Friday, November 17, 2006

In Passing...Civil War to Anita Blake

This week in floppies...

Civil War #5 (of 7)
Mark Millar & Steve McNiven

Spoilers! The latest Civil War wasn't as shocking as previous issues, but introduced a few new elements while moving the plot along at a brisk clip. The Punisher joining the Resistance was kind of strange, as they're kind of "the good guys" of the story and Frank Castle isn't exactly a peacekeeper. Then there's the traitor, which had to happen (and it already did on the other side of the fence with Jennifer Carpenter in Ms. Marvel). Could have been someone a little more high profile than Tigra though. I thought that using the Negative Zone as a prison for the superhumans was a good idea, even if it is just ripping off DC's Phantom Zone... Something else I did like was that the pro-registration side was a little more sympathetic than they have been. A brief scene between She-Hulk and Mister Fantastic illustrates why this was their only choice and why it was important for them to choose their side. However shoving Daredevil into the Negative Zone isn't exactly going to win people over. But great art from McNiven as usual. B

New Avengers # 25
Brian Michael Bendis & Jim Cheung

Iron Man's front and center here as a former employee confronts Stark with the decisions he's made as of late, leading Commander Hill to take matters into her own hands. I like Hill and she's pretty prominent in this issue, and the awesome Jim Cheung art didn't hurt either. B+

Ms. Marvel #9
Brian Reed & Mike Wieringo

Taking a breather from Civil War, Ms. Marvel gets into a good old-fashioned scrape with Rogue as the two try to sort out recent events involving a doppelganger and the consequences of events from the first storyarc of the series, had Carol not been involved. Tellos' Wieringo pencils the iss. B-

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter in Guilty Pleasures #2 (of 12)
Laurell K. Hamilton, Stacie M. Ritchie & Brett Booth

Muscular torsos breed lots of action in the second Anita Blake comic, as Anita falls in with a group of vampires who find themselves forced to take steps in forcing the vampire hunter in aiding them in their plight. And they're not very hospitable either. The art gets a little too Top Cow-ish at times for my taste (though I am liking some things about it), and half-rat, half-men with perfect bodies? Kind of disturbing. C

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Astonishing X-Men #18

Joss Whedon & John Cassaday


What a fantastic end for the "Torn" story arc! Let's break it down, shall we?

Scott has recovered from Emma's attack and shoots the White Queen he finds in the basement with Kitty and Peter. He then proceeds to shoot the rest of the Hellfire Club, explaining "I'm an X-Man. I don't shoot people. I'm just trying to make a point." What point exactly? That the Hellfire Club isn't really there.

Meanwhile, Hank confronts Blindfold, who's protecting them from Cassandra Nova's mental attacks. The blind girl pulls a box out from behind her back and says she has something that Hank and Scott talked about in case he should degress in this manner, "Something you two talked about. What you might want, might have to do, just in case. He said." This is of course, a psyche out. You're meant to recall the conversation between Scott and Hank from the first storyarc and suspect the mutant cure of being within the box, when in reality, it's a ball of yarn. A complicated little ball of yarn that will stimulate the human side of Hank's brain, but a ball of yarn nonetheless.

Hisako battles Ord and Danger, who have infiltrated the mansion at this convenient time, with the aid of Wolverine. Danger realizes that Hisako's armor can not be pierced by much of anything, but manages to get Wolverine's claws through the battle gear (without much damage to the girl), just as Hank reappears to save the day with a giant magnet that immobilizes the two foes.

Now scott explains what's been going on. There was never a Hellfire Club. As Emma imprisoned Nova years earlier, she planted a suggestion into Emma's mind: "One tiny suggestion. Too small to notice, but clamped on to Emma's greatest weakness, feeding, growing...Creating an entire reality for Emma. And that weakness? Guilt." Guilt for surviving the atrocities she's faced: becoming the White Queen (one of the manifestations that "attacked" them), failing her students in Genosha, etc. That voice in her head has been telling her she's evil, that everything bad has been her fault, when it was really random events that led to her surviviing where others have fallen. Cassandra used Emma to get Kitty in the basement to retrieve her mind, whereupon Cassandra could then infiltrate Kitty's body, where no one could touch her. Her weak point, her physical body, would no longer be able to betray her and she would be all but indestructible. Kitty proved to be too strong however, and as Scott is explaining the situation, Nova attempts to force Emma to change strategies and place Nova's mind into Hisako, whose armor, it seems, can be pierced by none but adamantum. The next best thing to being a ghost (and very reminiscent of the dozen-armed armor Cassandra manifested around herself during Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men).

Kitty puts a gun to Emma's head at this point and it's here that we realize why Emma wanted Kitty at the mansion in the first place. Yes, Cassandra wanted her there to take over her body, but Emma subconsciously also wanted her there to watch her and do, as Scott observes, exactly what she was doing, trying to stop her. Kitty puts the gun down and she is seen pushing Peter away in the background. Like with Whedon's couples in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, it seems that once the couple has found true happiness in each other, it is doomed, and after Kitty's three-year experience in a fantasy world, her and Peter's relationship seems to also be irreparable.

It's at this time that Cassandra tells Emma to put her into Hisako's body NOW, at the same moment as Scott tells her "You can send Cassandra back. You have a choice." Emma says "Go to hell"...but to whom? It's left in the air as Ord and Danger finally reenter the battle and all are whicked away by S.W.O.R.D. on another adventure that brings them to the Breakworld. Blindfold eerily speaks with a young boy as S.W.O.R.D.'s ship carries the X-Men away. The boy says they'll be back, whereupon Blindfold replies "Not all of them."

This issue read a lot like Grant Morrison's New X-Men. And really, the whole series picks things up from where Morrison ended his run, it just hasn't been apparent until this issue. Joss Whedon has said that he loved Morrison's run and that not enough has been said about it, and thus is building upon it here, where he is also introducing several really cool elements to the mythos. He's respected the proceeding run and has taken advantage of elements that Morrison has left in his wake, just as Whedon has been creating things that whoever follows him on this series can pick up on and take advantage of to tell really cool stories, hopefully building upon the pieces instead of sweeping them over and going in a completely different direction as we always see in the secondary X-titles. It's also cool that Whedon hasn't let Emma off the hook. It isn't as simple as she's bad and has been bad all along, or she's good and she's tricking the Hellfire Club. Either scenario would have been a let-down and Whedon created something far more interesting in the end. This is really the best stuff that superhero comics have to offer presently. A

Monday, November 13, 2006

Manga Monday 16

Manga Monday returns after a week off with new reviews of the shoujo title La Corda d'Oro and the ever popular Shonen Jump title Hikaru No Go.

La Corda d'Oro (Volume 1)
Yuki Kure

I picked this little number up after a pretty riveting preview in a recent issue of Shojo Beat. Yuki Kure's La Corda d'Oro follows the prestigious Seisou Academy, which is divided into two parts: the music school and the general education school. There isn't much crossover between the two, and indeed when a student from the other department stumbles into the music academy, like our talentless protagonist Kahoko, the students treat her like an alien, wondering what a "gened-er" is doing there. And things only get worse for Kahoko as she is approached by a fairy that no one else seems able to see and selected to enter a music competition that has seen its previous winners go on to be famous musicians...without ever having played an instrument in her life! If she felt out of place just walking through the music school's halls, that's nothing compared to what she deals with mingling among the other music competition candidates. An interesting cast of characters come into Kahoko's life as a result of the fairy's mischief and Kahoko comes to appreciate what the music students are doing even if she doesn't believe herself capable of living up to their talent...yet. Kure's illustrations are really beautiful in this first volume. I was surprised to learn that this manga is actually based on a video game of all things. The story's completely engaging and exciting in its own right. I couldn't believe that the heart and soul the creator has poured into this material isn't of her own creation. But it remains a stunning achievement nonetheless. A

Hikaru No Go (Volume 3)
Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata

Hikaru comes face to face with...yeah, Akira again. Akira has become a member of his middle school's go club in an attempt to force a game between himself and Hikaru, who has refused to face him, even though his mastery of the game far surpasses those of his classmates and riles them up. Hikaru has his own problems, however. Before his go club can even compete in a competition, he must track down a third player for their team, a feat that leads him on the trail of a mischievous young man. Three volumes into the series, the creators have maintained the suspense of the previous volumes and continue to skirt that fine balance between keeping things interesting by having Hikaru want to play the game for himself, and the excitement of his ghost Fujiwara-no-Sai beating the tails off of arrogant players and propelling Hikaru into a sphere of near legend. And if the art in La Corda d'Oro is fantastic, it pales when compared to Takeshi Obata. A-

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Manga Monday!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

In Passing...Batman to Athena Voltaire

Batman #658
Grant Morrison & Andy Kubert

Grant Morrison's first arc on Batman - Batman & Son - concluded with this issue, offering a satisfying conclusion to what was an overall underwhelming read. Issue two was the only real standout in this very straight forward run, but the creative team managed to make the annoying character introduced to the universe seem, well, at least not so unappealing in the end. C

Eternals #5 (of 6)
Neil Gaiman & John Romita Jr.

Gaiman and Romita continue to weave an intriguing story featuring the Eternals. With this issue, the pieces are all laid out for the final issue and the battle waiting in the wings. Of all the issues released, this is the one that feels most like it's setting things up and not really a satisfying read in itself, though the build-up is plenty fun to watch. B

Fables #55
Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham

The conference taking place in the Homelands concludes as Pinnochio relates what Fabletown's retaliation to an outright attack against their world would look like, leading to an interesting conclusion to the meeting. This arc started out with a lot of promise, but it sort of fizzled out as it proceeded... B-

Devi #5
Samit Basu & Mukesh Singh

This particular issue of Devi accomplishes something few comics do nowadays: it takes advantage of the comics medium to relate a really great story that can't be done in another form. As the battle over Tara's life is waged around her, the gods bequeath their gifts to their vessel to awaken her as the latest incarnation of a superbeing. Perfectly paced with great action and a real palpable tension. A

Athena Volatire: Flight of the Falcon #2 (of 4)
Steve Bryant & Paul Daly

Athena Voltaire continues to delight as our heroine performs some dazzling feats with the aid of her friends to attempt to thwart the Third Reich. The art seemed a little stiffer in this issue than previously, but it was still a fantastic read with plenty of action as the story moves toward its concluding chapters. A-

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wisdom #1 (of 6)

Paul Cornell & Trevor Hairsine

Bad boy secret ops agent Pete Wisdom gets his own MAX mini-series, the debut issue of which hit stores this past Wednesday. This mature readers adventure pits Wisdom against a swarm of faerie who have been massacring humans unprovoked. A group of secret ops agents back Wisdom up as he travels to the Otherworld to put an end to the madness. Among those along for the ride are fiery faerie Tink and a clairsentient who senses something worse than faerie coming to wreak havoc.

This story reminds me a tad bit of Excalibur because it's very British and has a sort of goofy edge. But this is certainly not Excalibur by any means and if that was the intention of this mini-series, it has failed utterly. It has also failed to be very entertaining. Plenty of characters are introduced in this issue that moves along at an extremely fast clip with little direction and cheesy pages of characters posing saying things meant to be funny that aren't like "Morning. We're MI-13, and we haven't had our breakfast" following over-the-top explosions. Readers are left with too little characterization among too big a cast, and too much action with brisk, poorly executed battles. There are some creepy images integrated into the otherwise average art, with plenty of gore and insults to (maybe?) justify this as a MAX title. Too bad Marvel's idea of a "mature readers" line isn't very mature and turns out crap like this. D-

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall

Bill Willingham & various

The new original graphic novel spun out of Vertigo's Fables universe boasts the talent of such artists as James Jean, Charles Vess and Jill Thompson collaborating with series creator Bill Willingham. With such talent on the roster, you'd think there would be some real standout art within this book, but the result is rather average across the board, save for series co-creator Mark Buckingham's lovely contribution that takes a surprising detour from his usual work on the title. Tara McPherson also deserves a nod for her fantastic style that was showcased in a Vertigo title from a few years back, The Witching, but has done nothing but improved since. Acclaimed series cover artist James Jean provided a dazzling cover for the novel, but his story didn't stand out as per usual, but rather pales in comparison with the designs of every cover he's done for the series to date.

The overarching story follows Snow White as she tries to persuade the Sultan of the Arabian fables to join forces with the exiles of Fabletown, against a common threat: The Adversary. Unfortunately things don't go as planned and Snow finds herself captive to a man who plans to marry her one night before she is beheaded in the morning, in accordance with his vow of years past. Cunning little Snow won't have that however, and in 1001 Arabian Nights tradition, tells the Sultan enchanting stories that end after the sun is up, promising another tale the following night. The tales Snow weaves tell of the past lives of characters out of the Fables universe. Any fan of the series will really enjoy this book, as it relates some very pivotal moments in characters' histories, including Bigby Wolf's origin, Snow White and Rose Red's flight from the Homelands, and the fate of Old King Cole's kingdom. Anybody not invested in this universe I would imagine would find this to read like Brothers' Grimms' fairy tales: little vignettes that aren't enough to get you emotionally involved with the characters, but are entertaining (and oftentimes disturbing) nonetheless. This really is a worthy addition to the Fables library of books and should appease anyone's appetite for a good fable. B+

Sunday, November 05, 2006

In Passing...Mouse Guard to Criminal

It was a light week for comics, but that's fine with me since I seemed to barely have time to read four floppies...

Uncanny X-Men #480
Ed Brubaker & Clayton Henry

Henry fills in for Billy Tan for an issue in the most exciting chapter of Brubaker's run to date. This issue focuses on Vulcan and pits him against the Shi'ar's Imperial Guard, with an interesting player thrown into the fray by the conclusion of the book. Great battle sequences. A

Criminal #2
Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Another great Brubaker title this week, this one following a criminal as he gets his team ready to pull off a heist for millions of dollars in diamonds. The tension is palpable as things get under way, proving this book to be another winner. A

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #2
Robert Kirkman & Phil Hester

The fun superhero book from two great creators remains just as entertaining on its second time out. The origin of the new Ant-Man is pretty interesting: fun and goofy and complicated, but interesting. And I really like the main character. B+

Mouse Guard #5 (of 6)
David Petersen

The pawns are being set in place for the final showdown of Lockhaven. David Petersen's art is as lovely as ever bathed in blood-red tones in a dreary atmosphere complete with a flashback told through faux-storybook pages. The previous issues of Mouse Guard have been more self-contained, like little stories themselves that ultimately moved the plot along. This one is more integral to the overall plot, so I didn't find it as fulfilling as the last four installments, but it was certainly a worthy addition to the tale at large. B+

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Niger #1

Leila Marzocchi

This is a great comic. I haven't heard much about this new Ignatz title from Fantagraphics. It comes from the mind of acclaimed Italian creator Leila Marzocchi and is translated by Kim Thompson. The entire story is told in a woodcut style that reminded me vaguely of Hippolyte's scratchboard illustrations in Dracula, although there's a huge difference, as Hippolyte is very moody and dark, aiming to frighten through a sharp gothic atmosphere, wherea Niger is dark in color, but is a lighthearted children's tale. With a cast of cute cuddly forest creatures, including a barn owl who's constantly turning her head upside down, and a strange animal with man-made wings, the animals (mostly birds) take a strange new creature under their wings and protect it from predators as it grows, communing with a yew tree for guidance in the matter. Marzocchi incorporates red into her black and white illustrations, giving a really beautiful effect of blood-red sunsets and interesting facial features on her amazing animal designs. This is a simple, cutesy story that anyone who has any affection for stories like Owly or Mouse Guard would enjoy, although the art here is by far superior, especially in terms of cartooning. This is one of the most gorgeous books I've ever read, constantly forcing me to admire each page as a work of art in itself. Just flip through the book if you don't believe me, even the first page as the red hues bleed into the clouds in the sky for a really spectacular effect. I don't know much about Marzocchi the creator herself except for what I found at Lambiek, that she began her career in illustration in 1985, has contributed to many magazines, notably manga for Kodansha magazine, and has created children's books, storyboards and a few recent releases in Italy: Bagolino Monogatari and Il Sogno Di Bedo. If Niger is any indication, the more translated the better, and it doesn't surprise me, given the story at hand, that she's worked on children's stories. This is a remarkable American debut for this artist that has gone criminally unnoticed. Indulge me and look for this title, if nothing more than to flip through it to see what I'm talking about. A