Friday, March 31, 2006

Dragon Head (v.2)

The second installment of Mintaro Mochizuki's Dragon Head hit comic stores this week and did not disappoint. If it weren't for Nana, I would say that this is the best manga series going right now. It is the best horror manga. For those of you unaware of its premise, some sort of disaster has taken place that caused a train full of students and teachers to crash. Only a few students survive the accident to find themselves trapped in a tunnel that is slowly collapsing. The first volume held many slow moments as the characters adjusted to the situation (and tried to make sense of it), while the second book is full of non-stop action. The tension mounts between the survivors as their situation grows progessively worse and they become desperate to escape their prison. If you're going to check out one new manga title, let it be this one.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

In passing...Superman to The Illuminati

X-Statix Presents: Deadgirl #3 (of 5) - This whacky comic features more appearances (by dead characters) than you can shake a stick at. The Piano Player? Is he for real? Anyway, it's a lot of fun and it's all brewing toward a big dead superhero showdown. 8.7/10

All-Star Superman #3 - I'm sure there's enough buzz about this high-profile book to keep anybody occupied, so I won't bore you and repeat what others have to say. It's Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, for God's sake. If the cover alone isn't enough to make you pick it up... 8.6/10

Ultimate Spider-man #92 - Of course Spider-man gets caught up in the X-Men's mess, given who his girlfriend is. I'm just hoping this isn't the excuse Peter's been looking for to avoid another great relationship. It's always fun to see Spidey interact with the mutants and this one doesn't disappoint in that regard. 8/10

New Avengers: The Illuminati - I kind of like the politics in these superhero stories (I'm kind of alone in that I really enjoyed Episode I for its politics), so of course I rather liked this one-shot. The Illuminati is a group of top-notch leaders in the superhero world: Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Professor Xavier, Namor, Mister Fantastic and Blackbolt. They came together to share information and to prevent further catastrophic loss of life in light of the events of The Kree/Skrull War. Surprising was that another person was asked to join the group and declined, and the events that lead for disagreements to arise. That's not to say that it's surprising that there is a divide between those present because, well, it is leading into a crossover dubbed Civil War. I wasn't aware that this story would also lead into Planet Hulk, but that little tidbit folded into the story rather nicely (whether that was originally part of the plan or incorporated into it later). And the preview of Civil War #1 in the back of the issue? Beautiful. But anyways, yes, there were plenty of talking heads in this book, but Bendis has got that down pat. 8.6/10

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Distant Soil: Coda

Colleen Doran's fantasy/sci-fi epic continues, picking up the pieces from the startling events of the end of the previous collection (some of the most utterly shocking moments I've ever experienced in comics). In volume four of A Distant Soil, we are treated to more beautifully elaborate illustrations of an alien universe as our characters work to bring about the downfall of the religious dynasty's hierarchy. While A Distant Soil has always suffered from an unwieldy cast of characters, it seems much more controlled in "Coda." Many of the characters are mere background fodder as the focus of the story engages a handful of important figures within the saga. Unfortunately, Doran's epic story will be concluding very soon, as only one more volume is scheduled for release. As the title draws to a close, the tension of the story mounts and we are subjected to much of that here in the fourth volume. Anyone who hasn't experienced the beautiful wonders of A Distant Soil, with its half-naked characters and intricate explanations, I would suggest giving it a try. A treasure like this doesn't come along all too often.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Strangehaven: Brotherhood

Gary Spencer Millidge's second volume of Strangehaven, entitled "Brotherhood," picks up a few weeks after Alex goes on his camping excursion (from the end of the last book) and plays catch-up with what he's been up to, while continuing the soap opera lifestyles of the rest of the town. Although this time around, things are expressed that give the reader a better idea of what's going on in the small sleepy village, things are still left lovingly vague. Strangehaven customs take place that are slightly unnerving, despite the explanations behind them, leading one to think that some of the stranger elements behind the townspeople may be less innocent than they appear. This is where some of the story's plots are paid off, as well, as some pretty big events take place toward the end of the volume. But really, it's fun enough just taking in the realistic art and getting to know the characters of Millidge's universe through the small town politics and slowly-unfolding events. Many of the characters' lives are over-the-top (a supposed alien, a shaman from an Amazonian tribe) and it is fun to hear about them, but it's really the interaction between the people in the book and how they relate to one another (depite some huge differences) in the face of the secrets around them that they do not talk about.

Monday, March 27, 2006

On-line Comic Retailers

Over the past month or so, I've done a little experimenting with on-line comic retailers to find which one I would purchase through, given that my local comic stores (since moving to Milwaukee) are almost on a weekly basis, missing something or another. I picked three stores to try out: Silver Bullet Comics, Mile High Comics and Mycomicshop.com. Now, these are my experiences with them and I'm just relating them on my weblog, so you can take what I say at face value or not. I'm rating each store in a few categories, including website design, shipping options, selection, how easy they are to use, how they kept me updated on the progress of my order, and how speedy their process was from ordering to receiving it on my doorstep. I used four comics to check on each store's selection: Mouse Guard #1 (Archaia Studios Press), In the Blood #1 (Boom! Productions), Alice In Wonderland #1 (Antarctic Press), and The Portent #1 (Image Comics). All categories are rated out of five.


Silver Bullet Comics
Easy to use? 3
Website design? 2 (Busy/Crowded)
Shipping options? 4 (Several)
Selection? 3 (1/2 of comics in stock)
Kept updated? 1 (SBC was waiting to see if a comic came back in stock and did not notify me a week and a half later. I took it upon myself to e-mail them to find out what was going on...)
Speedy? 1 (16 days for order to be filled (12 weekdays) (2/22 - 3/10))
The bottom line? 2.3

Mile High Comics
Easy to use? 3
Website design? 3
Shipping options? 4 (Domestic/International)
Selection? 4 (3/4 of comics in stock)
Kept updated? 5 (Sent e-mails over every step of the process)
Speedy? 4 (7 days for order to be filled (5 weekdays) (3/3 - 3/10))
The bottom line? 3.8

Mycomicshop.com
Easy to use? 3
Website design? 4
Shipping options? 4 (Several)
Selection? 3 (1/2 of comics in stock)
Kept updated? 4
Speedy? 3 (9 days for order to be filled (7 weekdays) (3/18-3/27))
The bottom line? 3.5

I'm, of course, assuming that my experience with Silver Bullet Comics was an extraordinary one. However, it was my experience and as such, have included it. You can take it or discard it. Based on these three orders, I will be using Mile High Comics for my personal on-line shopping. Although if Mycomicshop.com has something that they don't, I won't shy away from using them either. But in the end, you have to be your own judge.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

In passing...Silver Sable to Nextwave

Patrick's brothers were in town, so I didn't get around to reading this week's comics until now... Unfortunately, it seems the floppies weren't up to their usual snuff.

Manhunter #20 - Part of DC's big "One Year Later" event, we see what's happening in Manhunter's life (you guessed it) one year later. And, well, it seems as if Kate Spencer's dealing wiht the same old stuff. Sure, there's a little mystery over the events of a big superhero team-up she was involved in, and some characters have gone and changed their lives up a bit, but otherwise, I have to say, a little disappointed. This big DC event left this title with some rather unspectacular elements to sort out. 6/10

Sable & Fortune #3 (of 4) - This book began with some potential in there somewhere, but amid the espionage and big hair, it just got kind of silly. Issue three of the Silver Sable and Dominic Fortune mini-series put a big fat stake into the heart of the book. Too many coincidences and over-the-top drama and egad, the eighties style of the book in general, just got annoying by this point. I love Silver Sable, but this is where I get off. 3.6/10

New Avengers #17 - Steve McNiven's beautiful art from last issue gives way to this. Not that Deodato's art is awful or anything, but it's certainly not up to McNiven's standards. But anyway, my real problem with this issue wasn't so much the art as the publisher. Marvel sure did a stellar job of taking me out of the story halfway through the issue when they inserted a four-page preview right smack-dab in the way of a scene that led up to a nice splash page. Yeah. I had to go back and reread the last few pages and hold the place to where the tension of the previous page was paid off. Ugh. I remember when Colossus returned during Astonishing X-Men, I saw a fricking variant of Colossus on the cover beside the regular issue where he's seen back for the firs time. Nice surprise. Marvel is just full of screw-ups. Otherwise, Bendis opened the book up with an extremely cheesy movie-of-the-week moment with the Avengers, featuring Luke Cage. That was a little less obnoxiously distracting. Ah, well. On the bright side, David Finch isn't on the book anymore. 5.6/10

X-Factor #5 - Following the events of the last issue where Siryn was left bludgeoned for dead in an alley by a very angry Si agent, we follow Rictor as he tries to locate her. Meanwhile, we get to see what she's experienced since the attack. Great art throughout the issue by Dennis Calero, and a nice stand-alone story in general. 7.3/10

Nextwave #3 - Ah, Nextwave. Always good for a laugh or two. This one's certainly not as silly as the previous story arc, but it has a few good chuckles in there amid the action. The first half of the issue sets up some key events, while the D-list heroes enter in the latter amid a Tabitha Smith cellphone conversation. Another great issue with some ultra-cool moments. 8.1/10

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Previews: June 2006

Abrams Books:
Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries (1900-1969) - Created by Dan Nadel, with hundreds of illustrations, I think thsi one speaks for itself.

Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics:
Gargoyles #1 - The Disney cartoon continues here following the events of season two of the terrific show (ignoring the horrendous Goliath Chronicles). The original series creators lovingly return to their opus.

Antarctic Press:
Oz: The Manga (volume 1) - This one's been on my periphery for awhile, but I hadn't heard too much about it. It looks really nice though, especially framed by all of the critical acclaim, so it may be time to check it out now that it's collected.

Archaia Studios Press:
Artesia Besieged #1 - Mark Smylie's epic resumes! This series is fantastic with some of the best art that I've ever seen. Unforunately, I collect the trades, so it'll probably be a while before I get my hands on the complete next chapter...

Ballantine Books:
Flight (volume 3) - The acclaimed anthology continues with a very pretty cover.

Dark Horse:
Museum of Terror (volume 1) - This is a new presentation of Junji Ito's horror series Tomie. I actually have an older presentation of Tomie material, published by comicsone, but it's really quite ugly. This looks to be a nice showcase of the, well, grotesque world surrounding the zombie girl. I liked Ito's Uzamaki, so this will be a nice little addition to the artist's work.

DC Comics:
Manifest Eternity #1 - I'm not sure if this is really going to be any good, but it sounds kind of interesting, about an intergalactic war, where each issue showcases a specific group involved in the conflict. Nice art by Dustin Nguyen.

Sloth HC - Gilbert Hernandez' Vertigo project finally sees light! I heard about this one years ago at a convention, about a man who wills himself into a coma and awakens a year later to walk along at a sloth-like speed. There's some great preview art over at Newsarama.

Devil's Due Publishing:
Nightwolf: The Price #1 (of 5) - I don't know why this appeals to me. Maybe just because I've been itching for a good werewolf comic. It sounds neat, about a werewolf who imprints the scent of evil men before he changes, to hunt them down instead of innocents. And I like the cover.

Fantagraphics:
Mome (volume 4) - More Mome! With contributions by Gabrielle Bell, David Heatley, etc.

Marvel:
Essential Savage She-Hulk (volume 1) - It's about time for this collection. Though I would have been more excited by Sensational She-Hulk...

Eternals #1 - Neil Gaiman is hit and miss with me (1602 vs. Sandman), but I love The Eternals, so I have to at least check it out... Plus, art by John Romita Jr.

Eternals by Jack Kirby HC - Very cool that this is being collected. $75, though? Hmmm...let's maybe wait for a softcover?

X-Men Fairy Tales #2 (of 4) - Although it's only four issues long, I think this series could be really cool - art by a different creator each time, taking myths from different cultures, and using X-Men characters to sell the art. Cool idea, at least.

Melody Nadia Shickley:
In the Hands of Boys #1 (of 2) - I just thought the cover looked really nice...

Top Shelf:
Super F*****s #3 - James Kochalka's hilarious series continues!

Soft Anchor Review!

My mini-comic Soft Anchor #1, was reviewed by Shawn Hoke over at Size Matters. Check it out and get a glimpse of some interior art.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Unearthly

I was startled to discover that such a thing as this existed, given my enthusiasm for the works of Ted Naifeh, yet here it is: a manga series written by the creator of Courtney Crumrin and Polly and the Pirates, with art by Elmer Damaso. I wasn't too keen on Gloom Cookie, which was illustrated by Ted Naifeh and written by another writer, but I thought that it could maybe work better the other way around. And it did. Naifeh was originally going to illustrate this manga himself (see the character concepts in the back of the first volume), but opted to let another artist do just that. Fortunately for us, that illustrator is quite competent because the first volume of the series is really very good. It's about a shy high school student named Ann, who develops a crush on a boy (Jem) in one of her classes who seems to return the affection. The most popular girl of the school (Rae) also notices Jem and the two kind of butt heads over him. Meanwhile, Jem has been replaced by an alien and begins to act strangely around both girls. It seems that the two girls must put their differences aside to save the young man both of them love. It's really a fun concept with some great characters. Probably my favorite character of the book is Ann's best friend, Nikki, a cynical dramatic girl who tries to dissuade Ann from her interest in Jem. The scenes are just really fun when she's involved. This book is not perfect however. While Damaso does a wonderful job illustrating mostly everything, he does seem to have some problems when it comes to the alien technology. When a shot calls for a spaceship or whatnot, it's difficult to make out what it looks like, as the panels tend to be too busy and the spacecrafts designed so strangely. You can pretty much tell what's going on in the scenes, but it's more work for the reader than it should be (fortunately the scenes are very few). By the end of the volume, Damaso seems to get more of a hold on this aspect of the story anyways, so I don't want to overemphasize the fault. Aside from that, I do not care for the final design of Rae. It tries too hard to be manga-ish, in my opinion, and just turned out slightly ugly. Naifeh's original concept for the character would have been more appropriate, although I do appreciate Damaso's design for the alien more than Naifeh's. I know it's a typical thing to be done in manga, but I really liked the uninked drawings at the beginning of each chapter. It really showcases some very beautiful art. The cover of this volume doesn't do the artist justice. Pick up the manga and flip through it to see if it strikes you or not. I certainly enjoyed it.

Monday, March 20, 2006

5 More CDs You Should Know About

I had a lot of fun doing this the first time around, so I thought I'd expand my list of CDs you should be aware of...

Musicforthemorningafter ~ Pete Yorn (2001) I talked about Pete Yorn's second CD (Day I Forgot) last time, but his debut CD is where it's at. This is what put Yorn on the map and established him as the real deal - a modern rock legend. He's the best songwriter, crooner, rocker out there. You may have heard a few of his songs already on some movie soundtracks, but this CD is full of A-grade music. Key tracks: Life On a Chain, Black, Lose You, For Nancy ('Cos It Already Is), Closet.

Poses ~ Rufus Wainwright (2001) A more sophisticated sound rises out of Rufus Wainwright's sophomore effort (which was quickly followed by two more very critically-acclaimed albums). Full of strings and beautiful vocals, as well as a few techno beats, this CD is an operatic wonder that will supply hours of entertainment. Key tracks: Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, Greek Song, California, The Tower of Learning, Evil Angel.

Coverage ~ Mandy Moore (2003) Yes, Mandy Moore. With this CD, Moore proves that she has the vocal chops to be a serious force in music. With the appropriately titled Coverage, she takes on some of rock's most celebrated (or just best) songs from days past, remaking songs from the likes of Carly Simon and Elton John. And doing it well. Not surprisingly, the best of the songs are the more obscure, as songs like One Way or Another and I Feel the Earth Move demand a lot to live up to. One critic claimed this CD to be the best remake album since David Bowie's Pinups. He wasn't wrong. Key tracks: The Whole of the Moon, Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, Drop the Pilot, Moonshadow, Have a Little Faith In Me.

Super Extra Gravity ~ The Cardigans (2005) (Import) The latest of The Cardigans' CDs recaptures the splendor of their acclaimed Long Gone Before Daylight album, and goes that one step further to help The Cardigans shed the sugary pop image they adopted with the hit Lovefool from Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet soundtrack (You know the one - Lovin' me, lovin' me. Say that you love me! It's obnoxiously hard to get out of your head.) With mature themes, a topnotch sound and alternately depressing and heartening rhythms, The Cardigans have established themselves as more than a passing sunshine hit. Key tracks: I Need Some Fine Wine and You - You Need To Be Nicer, Little Black Cloud, In the Round, Good Morning Joan, And Then You Kissed Me II.

BeautifulGarbage ~ Garbage (2001) Following up the success of their Grammy-nominated Version 2.0 was a hard act. Garbage abandoned more of the darker, suicidal themes from their previous two albums to chase a dream of danceable, synthetic beats and bask in gay-themed romps. And they did a great job, proving that they're range extended past the mundane and depressing. Unfortunately, their new sound wasn't a welcome change to many fans and Beautifulgarbage was all but ignored. A sad circumstance, given that it contains some of the best music out there. Key tracks: Cup of Coffee, Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go), Drive You Home, Parade, Untouchable.

And one more...
Long Gone Before Daylight ~ The Cardigans (2003) After Lovefool, The Cardigans went too far and released a critically-panned overdone dark CD entitled Gran Turismo. After the album's failure, the group took a five-year break from music before returning with a CD worthy of their talent in the form of Long Gone Before Daylight. A beautiful CD where every track is a gem, this is a classic not to be missed. Key tracks: Communication, And Then You Kissed Me, For What It's Worth, Live and Learn, Feathers and Down.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Retro Review

In 1986, Star Comics (a division of Marvel Comics publishing titles such as Ewoks, Heathcliff, He-Man & the Masters of the Universe and Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham) published a little title called Care Bears. Issue number five tells the story of the first Care Bear (and Care Bear Cousin) in light of the "new Care Bears movie." While the cover of this Stan Kay/Howard Post comic may look like it could contain some decent art at least, it was deceiving. The art was absolutely crappy, as was the coloring and shading. I feel for the kids who were treated to such a poor display as this (I wonder why Star Comics didn't catch on...). In this book, Hugs and Tugs are given the Story Star, which tells them about the first Care Bear and really, the origin of the Care Bears and Care-a-Lot. Before they get to hear the story, however, two kids being neglected by their parents wish for real animals instead of stuffed ones, and the two diaper-clad bears appear. So, the story is soon told of how Noble Heart Horse and True Heart Bear (pre-tummy logos) followed the sounds of sobs from their conflict-free Eden, and discovered a horde of kidnapped bear cubs and other animals in a cage, whom Dark Heart was trying to turn into evil followers. Noble Heart distracted the kidnapper while True Heart "wished" the animals' cage opened (because, of course, the Wishing Star was out). When Dark Heart realized he had been tricked, all of the animals wished together to be out of his clutches and the Wishing Star then created Care-a-lot and the Forest of Feelings for them. They were all given logos on their tummies by the star and then Noble Heart and True Heart were turned into stars (?) to watch over the cubs (and the cubs were duped into a life of protecting the feelings of the humans on Earth below at some point in there). The Story Star's tale is overheard by the neglected kids' parents and they all have a tender moment before Noble Heart and True Heart burst in to retrieve Hugs and Tugs. Yow. This writer wasn't very ambitious in telling the origin behind this marketing giant. Must have taken a cue from the artist.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships

Age of Bronze is a comic book epic story depicting the events of the Trojan War. A tale masterfully woven by creator Eric Shanower, the first book of the series entitled "A Thousand Ships" (the book opens with dialogue from Doctor Faust, in which is said "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships" in reference to Helen of Troy, whom the Trojan War was fought over) illustrates the events that lead up to the war. I'm a big fan of mythology and this didn't disappoint, despite the fact that I've read about the Trojan War several times through college. Familiar events unfold in this story (although some things I didn't recall ever having read) to remarkably realistic and beautifully-detailed art. This is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. No doubt about it. In a story where there are a lot of word balloons discussing negotiations and the like, Shanower still manages to make it look wonderful and keep things interesting. And when he does let loose with a breath-taking scene of a hillside or a city in all its glory, it truly is breath-taking. There is a lot going on here, however, and there are plenty of people to keep track of, but I was able to keep track of it without a problem, so I'm not really complaining about that aspect of the story. I would advise that anyone taking this masterpiece on, to pay close attention. A dozen stories featuring different characters take place in order for things to fall together to lead to the war. The main thrust of the story involves Meneleus' coming home to find his wife Helen taken from him and his residence sacked, whereupon his nation eventually retaliates in the form of a bloody war. One interesting aspect of this book is that Eric Shanower decided not to depict the gods in the book. A valid choice, but one I'm not sure I'm very fond of. I respect his choice to make the book as grounded as possible, but what can I say? I like seeing gods and goddesses doing magic. His decision to carry things out in this manner affected how he told the story, of course. In the afterward, Shanower talks about how he had to illustrate key scenes (like where the three goddesses fight for Paris' vote as fairest, resulting in Aphrodite's gift of Helen's love) in creative ways to leave out the gods' images. On top of that, there are many stories and sources that touch on the Trojan War and Shanower had to pick and choose the most vital parts of the story, as well as deal with discrepencies in age and such, to make it all fit into one cohesive whole. Eric Shanower does an amazing job with this book and you would be doing yourself a great service in picking this up.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Not exactly a timely review...

The Flying Friar (written by Lying In the Gutters' Rich Johnston, penciled by Thomas Nachlik) is a graphic novella published by the late Speakeasy Comics before they fell apart. It was still available at a few on-line comic sites last time I checked, in case this review tickles your fancy. Now, I put off reading this for a while after I got it just because the art didn't really do anything for me (and it is pretty thick and intimidating for a floppy). But I buckled down and sat down to read it, and actually enjoyed it. The art kind of grew on me as the story proceeded, but it was an adjustment and I still wouldn't say that it was to my taste, but despite the art, the story was actually really nice. It's about a boy named Joseph who becomes a monk and gains the ability to levitate (as well as see things that others don't see). It's kind of a quiet story, about the boy's relationship to another local boy and his father who's interested in his gifts, as well as to the Catholic Church and the Pope as his powers manifest. Things sort of begin to spiral out of control and the tale gains this feeling of mounting dread about it. It's not flashy or gritty or anything though. It is a period comic, in the end, about a monk, and didn't exactly blow me away or anything. It was, however, a very nice, quaint tale, and I would recommend it if you like the look of the book, but unfortunately, art is something you have to consider when reading a comic...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

In Passing...Runaways to Absolute Boyfriend

This week's offerings...

Spider-Woman: Origin #4 (of 5) - Jessica Drew joins SHIELD and goes missing...again. I really like The Luna Brothers, but I have to say, I do prefer their art on their own books. It's just not as solid on this mini-series. That's not to say that I don't like the art here - I do, but there are little things that bug me here and there. This is a nice continuation of the story, however, and it's shaping up to be a great book. 7.4/10

Seven Soldiers: The Bulleteer #4 (of 4) - What I think has proved to be the best of the Seven Soldiers mini-series thus far (with only one more issue of Frankenstein to go, to tip the scales), The Bulleteer comes to end as she confronts her arch-enemy Sally Sonic. The issue focuses more on the latter, however, going into her past to examine how she became the way she has. It's a really cool issue and brings events from the first issue to a close. 9.1/10

Runaways #14 - Things go back to the beginning, through flashbacks, to set up events that occur in this issue. The runaways reminisce about their origins as they fill Victor in on Alex's betrayal and The Pride. And we finally get to see Karolina again... This was very much a set-up issue for what's to come, but still a satisfying read. 8/10

Shojo Beat: April 2006
Absolute Boyfriend - Riiko must take on a job to cover maintenance expenses on Night (didn't she already try to get a job once before?). And in the meantime, must sort out her feelings between the two men in her life. 7/10

Nana - This book always gets to me. It's just really emotional and it's easy to find yourself attached to the characters. The parting shot of this story was particularly painful, in light of the events that led up to it. This is just a great story by Ai Yazawa and I can't recommend it enough. 9.5/10

Last movie I saw in theaters: Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor)

Last movie I saw from Netflix: A History of Violence

In my CD player: Super Extra Gravity - The Cardigans (Import CD)

Graphic novel I'm currently reading: Age of Bronze (volume 1): A Thousand Ships - Eric Shanower

Last episode me and Patrick watched in our Buffy marathon: Into the Woods (Season five)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Claymore

Claymore, from the pen of Norihiro Yagi, is a manga series set to debut in April. The March edition of Shonen Jump gave its readers a little taste of what the series is like in the form of a 64-page preview. Basically, the story follows a claymore warrior who comes to a small village to rid it of a yoma, a monster who takes the form of humans so that it can blend in with them and basically feast upon them. Claymore are named after the swords they carry - a name thrust upon the warriors because they are, basically, weapons themselves. Claymore are humans who willingly take part of the demon within themselves to become a half-breed. They are manufactured by humans to fight the yoma, and are doomed to travel from village to village, destroying the creatures, for cash. It's because the claymore are half-demon themselves that they are able to see the yoma for what they are, and as they battle the creatures, their eyes become like that of the monsters (thus the first scene is entitled "The Silver-Eyed Slayer). Claymore can only be female since no man has ever been able to survive the transformation process, and inherit abnormal strength and speed from their demon halves. Unfortunately, because of their demonic nature, they are feared by the humans they protect. With this glimpse into the story, a claymore encounters a boy Raki, who is fascinated by the half-demon, half-human and tries to befriend her, because she will be the one to destroy his parents' murderer. It's really a neat premise, if not a pretty involved one, and it's complimented by some really nice art. I'm definitely going to check out the first collection, at least, based on this preview. I would recommend at least taking a peak at the art at your local B&N in Shonen Jump...

My 5 Favorite Novels of All Time

1. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe - An important novel in shaping the gothic novel and modern detective story, this ambitious book is part travelogue, romance, novel of manners, mystery and even incorporates poetry. Originally published in 1794, this novel follows Emily St. Aubert as she tries to escape the clutches of her evil step-uncle Montoni to reunite with her lover, Valacourt. She is held captive in the castle Udolpho where she tries to unravel the many mysteries that surround her, including eerie music, odd family resemblances and strange disappearances.

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin - One of the last Jane Austin novels I actually got around to reading, her most esteemed novel (from 1813) ended up being my all-time favorite in the end (although Sense and Sensibility and Emma certainly put up quite a fight). Following Elizabeth Bennet, from a family of five daughters, we watch as the siblings struggle to find suitors since (with no male heir in the family) the bennet estate will someday pass to their arrogant cousin. Jane Austin really affected me more than I ever dreamed she would. If you haven't read one of her books, do yourself a favor...

3. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood - The author of The Handmaid's Tale brings her readers a tale of one of the most notorious women in history - Grace Marks, a woman convicted for viciously murdering her employer and his housekeeper/mistress in the nineteenth century. Through this novel, we are treated to a look into Grace's childhood, and into the life of Dr. Simon Jordan, an expert of mental illness, as he works with a group of spiritualists who seek a pardon for the murderess.

4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling - Rowling is a master of writing boys' adventure novels and this is the best of her bestselling Harry Potter series. In the fourth novel following Harry's progress through Hogwarts, a school of witchcraft and wizardry, we are treated to an event that the school is hosting, that of the Triwizard Tournament. When Harry is inadvertently thrust into the competition, he needs the aid of his friends more than ever to survive. This novel is a real turning point in the series, as the children of the previous three works grow into young men and women in the face of events that push the series into an overall darker tone.

5. The Folding Star by Alan Hollinghurst - The author who won the Man Booker Prize for his latest effort The Line of Beauty, brings us the story of a 33-year-old gay man, Edward Manners, who falls in love with one of his 17-year-old pupils as he moves to a Flemish city to teach English. Amid beautiful prose, we watch as Edward is drawn into the world of the reclusive painter Edgard Orst and are treated to the ghosts of his past.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Mouse Guard

Better late than never. This is one the year's offerings I was really looking forward to, but unforunately, I wasn't able to track it down via any local comic stores. It was even hard to get on-line, although I did eventually manage to get my hands on a copy. And it was well worth the wait. David Petersen's Mouse Guard #1: Belly of the Beast follows three mice of the Mouse Guard as they try to discover what has become of a grain peddler who never made it to one of his destinations. While it is a simple story, it's a very beautifully illustrated all-ages comic. I'm a sucker for cute comics and this is one of the best, with exquisite detail given to the character designs for the book (facial expressions, etc), and richly-rendered backgrounds. Mouse Guard follows a string of new titles published from Mark Smylie's Archaia Studios Press, the mastermind behind Artesia, including The Lone and Level Sands and Robotika. This is definitely a company to watch, with the quality of material that they're constantly putting out. If you'd like a preview of Mouse Guard, check out the publisher's website and prepare yourself for a rare treat. While the first issue of Mouse Guard has sold out, a new printing will be available when the second issue (out of six) is available.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Historian

Elizabeth Kostova's best-selling novel The Historian follows a girl who lives a rather luxurious lifestyle. Her father is a retired professor and she is fortunate enough to be able to travel with him all across Europe for lectures and the like. In their library one day, she stumbles across a book with the image of a dragon in the middle of blank pages. After questioning her father about this, her father slowly relates a tale of the supernatural, of his search for the tomb of Vlad the Impaler and the truth of the legend of Dracula.

The Pros: Elizabeth Kostova's prose reminded me of Ann Radcliffe a bit, incorporating chapters that bordered on travelogue, and blending it with elements of the supernatural. Through these instances, as with Radcliffe, I was not bored. The story is very engrossing from beginning to end as the mysteries are unveiled. Kostova writes a wonderful story in a beautiful style with several very suspenseful, truly horrifying moments.

The Cons: The story meanders away from characters for pretty lengthy periods of time. When her father gets deep into relating the events of his graduate school days, hundreds of pages go by where the main character is barely touched. Also, some of the puzzle pieces that fall into place can be seen a mile away. A character will come to a conclusion after something had been shrouded in mystery for hundreds of years and you have to wonder why the heck no one else thought of that when you'd realized it at the first mention of the concept. This happened more than once. And finally, when vampires are actually introduced in the book physically, it's really jarring. The stories and theories that resonated in their research lost some of their magic, and it happens pretty abruptly.

The Bottom Line: While it has its faults, this is a highly entertaining genre work told beautifully. If you like history, unraveling mysteries, the supernatural...check this out. 8/10

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Looking back on The Pulse

Brian Michael Bendis' The Pulse came to a conclusion this week, after a fourteen issue run. Featuring Bendis' beloved character Jessica Jones from the acclaimed Max title Alias, this title never lived up to its predecessor. The move from Alias to The Pulse saw a few changes that weren't necessarily bad for the story: It could use mainstream characters, but had to cut out the extravagant cussing from the mature title. It shifted Jessica from a private eye to a reporter, where she was able to interact more with Marvel Universe's big stars. The tone became lighter in tone with more supporting characters. It still couldn't recapture the magic of Alias, however. I think a big part of the problem was that The Pulse became Bendis' book to examine things from his other projects. There was a big House of M issue, a drawn-out Secret War story...the stars of the story just weren't being flushed out in light of the company-wide crossovers. The only issue where something relevant is added to the character of Jessica Jones was really in this final issue, where we are treated to a glimpse of Jessica's past, that in which she meets Luke Cage amid a brief stint as a "darker" superhero. Even Alias artist, Michael Gaydos, coming on to the title wasn't enough to save the series. And looking back, it seemed like it never really found its footing. It was supposed to be a glimpse into the lives of the reporters from The Daily Bugle. It could have been cool to witness these stories and it certainly didn't upset me to see Jessica Jones working in a different environment...unfortunately, with the "special" issues of The Pulse, the initial premise was shifted to the backburner and was never really used. Things like Luke Cage being attacked in wake of Secret War kept getting in the way of this being a great book, and ultimately, of finding a voice.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Toys

With VH1 counting down the top 100 toys in their special mini-series "I Love Toys" this week, I thought I would list some of my favorite toys from my youth...

My ten favorite toys...
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures
2. X-Men action figures
3. My Pet Monster
4. Nintendo
5. He-Man/She-Ra action figures
6. Jump rope (Including chinese jumpropes!)
7. Bicycle
8. Lite Brite
9. Crayola crayons
10. Matchbox cars

My five favorite boardgames...
1. Clue (I would always be Miss Peacock)
2. Guess Who? (My favorite was Maria. She wore a green beret)
3. Peanuts (Did anyone else play this?)
4. Battleship
5. Monopoly

Stuffed animals I collected...
- Tiny Toons
- Popples
- Care Bears
- My Pet Monsters (including the My Monster Pet puppets)

I played with a core group of figures whenever I busted out the action figures, including these guys...
Futura (Filmation Ghostbusters) - I don't know if anyone remembers this girl, let alone the cartoon she came from, but I loved this purple-skinned vixen from the future. One of my favorite things to play was "Detective Futura" where she would try to figure out which other toy committed a crime.

Teela (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe)

April O'Neil (Teenage mutant Ninja Turtles) - The original figure

Butterbear (Wuzzles) - The Wuzzles were half one animal and half of another. Butterbear was half butterfly, half bear.

Occulus O. Orbis (Mad Balls) - I collected mad balls - spongy balls of different monster's heads. This one was just a big eyeball. I bought four of these eyeballs in all, including one that could squirt water. I affectionately named them "The Ocs."

Chuck Norris - Chuck Norris had action figures. He was shirtless. He was Teela's boyfriend.

Wily Kit and Wily Kat (Thundercats) - They were on stands and couldn't move their feet, but somehow they worked...

Ace Duck (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

Steelheart (Silver Hawks) - Now this cartoon has to be one of the obscurist...

Gadget (Rescue Rangers) - I think I got this one out of a McDonald's happy meal

Rock N' Roller Fry Guy (although she was a girl...) - This yellow fry guy from McDonald's wore roller skates and headphones.

My core villains...
Evil Lynn (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe)

Leech (She-Ra) - He could stick to things with his suction-cup mouth.

Grizzlor (She-Ra) - He was furry.

Mosquitor (She-Ra) - He had a pump that made "blood" run down the mosquito symbol on his chest

Mumra (Thundercats) - The bandaged mummy version that couldn't move his arms or anything.

Slash (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) - An evil turtle with a patch over one eye

Scared Stiff (Filmation Ghostbusters)

Ah, the good ol' days...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

In Passing...Fell to Frankenstein

This was really one of the biggest weeks in comics in awhile for me (in a time when two or three issues is the norm. The debut of American Virgin, the conclusions of The Pulse and Mister Miracle, and a lot of other floppies.

Ultimate Spider-man #91 - Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley just keep outdoing themselves. The dynamic between Peter and Kitty is awesome! And I'm not saying that just because I'm partial toward Kitty Pryde - it just works! Patrick was saying, and I agree, that he hopes this is lasting, that Peter doesn't end up just going back to Mary Jane because it's what the fanboys want. Mary Jane's in a place where she just needs to be herself (as her proclaiming "I'm going to get that Peter Parker if it's the last thing I do" (a few issues back) illustrates). She needs someone else to come into her life, or she needs to just become strong on her own two feet. And Bagley's art just seems to improve with every issue. There are some really pretty panels in this issue. Best comic of the week. 9.7/10

Fell #4 - Detective Fell investigates a floater that washes up on Snowtown's docks, despite the resistance he encounters from the rest of the force. Fell sees this investigation as important because of the message it sends to the criminals committing such crimes, and goes to great lengths to accomplish his goal. This issue is a real turning point for the character, as we see Snowtown affecting Fell, possibly changing him in ways he wasn't expecting. 7.8/10

Fables #47 - "The Ballad of Rodney and June" concludes as Rodney and June strive to overcome all odds for the sake of their love. I wasn't much of a fan of the guest penciller Jim Fern's art (or the storybook quality he presented the events in), nor the story, this time around. Despite its decent conclusion, I'll be happy for the next story arc and Buckingham's return to the title. 6.9/10

Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #4 (of 4) - Shilo battles Omega after making his ultimate escape, outsmarting the void and overcoming the odds. This was a very strange issue, which wasn't surprising in the wake of the previous offerings, and didn't quite live up to the awesomeness of the last issue. Actually, it didn't even come close. This mini-series had one great issue going for it, but the rest was sadly quite underwhelming compared to the other Seven Soldiers titles. I'm not sorry to see this one come to an end. 6.9/10

Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #3 (of 4) - And on the flipside of the Seven Soldiers saga, there's Frankenstein which boasts excitement and oozes creativity with every issue. I mean, this big undead guy fighting a bunch of furry little animals holding eyeballs (just look at that cover!) couldn't get much better. And then there's the special guest appearance from a very special lady and it was so obvious (practically staring us in the face) that it just shows us what a genius Morrison is with this sort of storytelling. A great premise to the issue, with really creepy imagery and awesome art by Doug Mahke - simply brilliant. 9.5/10

The Pulse review forthcoming!

In my Netflix queue:
- The Ring 2
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

Book I'm currently reading: The Romance of the Forest ~ Ann Radcliffe

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

American Virgin

The new Vertigo title American Virgin made its debut in comic stores today, sporting a beautiful Frank Quitely cover. Written by Steven T. Seagle with art by Becky Cloonan, this comic follows a 21-year-old virgin, Adam Chamberlin, as he promotes abstinence on a tour to "save yourself to save yourself." The son of a TV minister and a mother who calls him "a prophet for the new age," Adam has a lot to live up to, especially since his two other siblings didn't grow up invested in good Christian values. He's the perfect son, and as such, preaches to youth and gets them to sign virginity pledges, showcasing a beautiful girlfriend who volunteers in Africa who will return to Miami soon to marry him. As a virgin, Adam not only will refrain from having sex until married (though he distinguishes that his message isn't not to have sex, but to wait until God has shown you the perfect one to have it with), but does not masturbate either. Through this first issue, Adam is subjected to temptation aplenty and is shown to harbor a secret perverse lust. While he can look a prostitute in the eye and make her feel for his message, he touches himself after the encounter. When he chastises a girl for handing him a message to "meet him in the locker room" on her virginity pledge and pulls her aside, speaking with her privately to see his message for what it is, he is seen adding the note to a collection of other such messages in a lockbox (one note of which says "If you ever go gay..."). When I saw preview art of the issue a few months back, I was kind of disappointed, but after actually reading the issue, I have to say I kind of like it. I wanted the protagonist to be kind of sexy in such a title, and Cloonan delivers just that in the end. It's not exactly Frank Quitely or anything, but it gets the job done pretty well. All in all, Seagle has provided a likeable, interesting main character in Adam Chamberlin, with an ending that spells bad news for his future, and a more interesting story than I expected going in.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Other Award Show

On this past Saturday, one day prior to the Oscars, another awards ceremony for achievement in film took place: The Independent Spirit Awards. Probably the only awards show you should pay attention to. And here were the nominees (and winners in bold):

Best Picture:
"Brokeback Mountain"
"Capote"
"Good Night, and Good Luck"
"The Squid and the Whale"
"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada"

Best First Feature:
"Crash" (Paul Haggis)
"Lackawanna Blues" (George C. Wolfe)
"Me and You and Everyone We Know" (Miranda July)
"Thumbsucker" (Mike Mills)
"Transamerica" (Duncan Tucker)

Best Director:
Ang Lee - "Brokeback Mountain"
George Clooney - "Good Night, and Good Luck"
Gregg Araki - "Mysterious Skin"
Rodrigo Garcia - "Nine Lives"
Noah Baumbach - "The Squid and the Whale"

Best Female Lead:
Felicity Huffman - "Transamerica"
Dina Korzan - "Forty Shades of Blue"
Laura Linney - "The Squid and the Whale"
S. Epatha Merkerson - "Lackawanna Blues"
Cyndi Williams - "Room"

Best Male Lead:
Jeff Daniels - "The Squid and the Whale"
Philip Seymour Hoffman - "Capote"
Terrence Howard - "Hustle and Flow"
Heath Ledger - "Brokeback Mountain"
David Strathairn - "Good Night, and Good Luck"

Best Supporting Female:
Amy Adams - "Junebug"
Maggie Gyllenhaal - "Happy Endings"
Allison Janney - "Our Very Own"
Michelle Williams - "Brokeback Mountain"
Robin Wright Penn - "Nine Lives"

Best Supporting Male:
Firdous Bamji - "The War Within"
Matt Dillon - "Crash"
Jesse Eisenberg - "The Squid and the Whale"
Barry Pepper - "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada"
Jeffrey Wright - "Broken Flowers"

Best Screenplay:
"The War Within"
"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada"
"The Squid and the Whale"
"Capote"
"Nine Lives"

Best First Screenplay:
"Fixing Frank"
"Me and You and Everyone We Know"
"Junebug"
"The Beautiful Country"
"Transamerica"

Best Foreign Film:
"The Death of Mr Lazarescu" (Romania)
"Duck Season" (Mexico)
"Head On" (Germany)
"Paradise Now" (Palestine)
"Tony Takitani" (Japan)

Best Documentary:
"Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room"
"Grizzly Man"
"La Sierra"
"Romantico"
"Sir! No Sir!"

Best Cinematography:
"Good Night, and Good Luck"
"Keane"
"Capote"
"The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada"
"Last Days"

John Cassavetes Awards: (best picture made for under $500,000)
"Brick"
"Conventioneers"
"Jellysmoke"
"The Puffy Chair"

Friday, March 03, 2006

Ms. Marvel

Joining the ranks of resurrected Marvel titles such as Spider-woman, X-Force and Moon Knight is Carol Danvers AKA Ms. Marvel. And this hero goes back to basics - she's strong, she flies, and she can shoot energy beams. Very generic. Under the pen of Brian Reed and Roberto De La Torre, Ms. Marvel is seen as wasted potential. No, that's not my review of the issue. It's how Carol sees herself. She's like Superman, after all, except you know, a girl, and should be right up there with "the best of the best" (as the issue is titled). She looks back at her accomlishments and realizes that she has great potential to really be a powerful, accomplished force in the realm of superheros, but she's stuck with C-List status. Why? Because she's lazy. Because she doesn't push herself. So, in this comic, Carol vows to do just that: realize her potential. Become a force to be reckoned with. When she kicks Stiltman's ass, she wants him to know who she is. Ms. Marvel #1 is a great introduction to this character since this new outlook on life has forced her to look back and examine what she's done and who she is. It also forces her to set goals and tasks up before her to measure her progress. As a reader, we see who she's been, what she hopes to become, and how she plans to get there. Very laid out, easy to absorb. Of course, that's not to say the road isn't rocky. On her first time out, she encounters a few slip-ups (she gets tired, she calls for help instead of handling it herself, etc), reminding us that the road ahead isn't going to be easy on Ms. Danvers. So, all in all, a decent story's brewing here amid some rather mediocre art. It's certainly not a perfect, revolutionary comic or anything, but it is a good, colorful, traditional superhero comic.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

In passing...X-Factor and Nextwave

Nextwave #2 - Warren Ellis' romp of D-List characters continues as the first story arc concludes. While not as laugh-out-loud funny as the first issue, the story continues to delight and shows no signs of slowing down. Elsa Bloodstone is easily my favorite character of the bunch, being the bitch that nobody else on the team really likes, and English at that. The Captain's kind of a non-character at this point, but the other's are all likeable in their own ways after a mere two issues of fast-paced action. 9.1/10

X-Factor #4 - This is kind of a clean-up issue that brings recent events in the book to a close: the assassin that confronted Layla Miller, the riot in Mutant Town, the client who supposedly murdered her own sister. It's a pretty Monet-focused story as she witnesses all of the events on her way from X-Factor HQ to the police station where Madrox is waiting for her. It's probably the weakest of the issues to date, but it still manages to hold onto the atmosphere and compelling story that's made it such a treat to read every month. And it still has a few very cool moments, including a shocking, out of left field, conclusion. 8.5/10

Prose novel I'm currently reading: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

In my Netflix queue (which has been tapered down to two movies at a time):
- Bear Cub
- The Company of Wolves

Last Buffy, the Vampire Slayer episode I watched in my seven season marathon: "The Yoko Factor" (season four)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Peculia

I've finally gotten around to consuming a book I've been anticipating reading for awhile now, Richard Sala's Peculia. I loved Sala's The Chuckling Whatsit, so this collection of his Evil Eye comics (#'s 1-9, plus a special color chapter made exclusively for the trade) was on the top of my list. I love Richard Sala's sensibilities, how he uses gothic conventions and gives them a silly/fun tone. And his unique art style is really beautiful, particularly how he shades with horizontal lines and provides a perfectly dark, unsettling atmosphere for his stories (and uses any excuse for a little T&A). Richard Sala is just a master at what he does. Almost immediately we know exactly who our protagonist Peculia is as, instead of a bird coming to greet our beautiful blonde heroine, a bat flutters down to this raven-haired beauty, to which she puts out her hand and says "Oh! Hello, little bat! Out kind of early, aren't you?" She is really one of the best female characters I've stumbled across in comics in awhile. Basically, this trade is a series of short stories, following Peculia on her adventures as her amazing butler watches out for her and the masked Justine tries to apprehend her for the mysterious Obscurus (who has a history with Peculia and is in reality watching out for her). My favorite of the stories entitled "Wayfarer's Inn," follows Peculia as she is forced into the Black Witch Wood by Justine and comes upon a quaint little inn, whose occupants are being stalked by Death. There is even a completely silent chapter toward the middle of the book called "Nightcrawler." Chalk-full of zombies, witches and monsters running amock, this little number is sure to satisfy any number of cravings any gothic/horror lover may harbor.