Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Castle Waiting

The 450+ page beautiful hardcover collection of Linda Medley's Castle Waiting exceeded my high expectations. That doesn't happen too often. The story, a truly feminist fairy tale, is about a group of ecclectic characters who live together in an abandoned old castle that was once under a witch's curse. The focus of the story, once the just-as-interesting prologue material is out of the way, is a pregnant woman who comes to the castle for sanctuary. In a magical world where humans and animal people live amongst each other peacefully, piksies and brownies cause mischief, and demons trick the unsuspecting out of their souls, a group of strangers share their stories, meet hostility head-on and become a family. Castle Waiting is a wonderful all-ages story that begs comparison to Jeff Smith's Bone. And it's really at that level. I was debating for awhile which of the two I liked better, but in the end I think Smith is a better cartoonist, although Medley's art is beautiful as well. One of my biggest complaints about the story is that the "Solicitine" storyline that the book ends on took up over a third of the book, and I really would have rather spent more time with the characters at Castle Waiting than in a story related by Sister Peace. It was a good story, but I kept waiting for it to be over so I could get back to the other characters that I really enjoyed spending time with. But it kind of ends abruptly with the story's conclusion, and we don't really get to say goodbye to the other characters, let alone feel any sense of closure with them. However, Castle Waiting is continuing, so there'll be plenty of time to flush out those other characters and give a satisfying conclusion to the goings-on at the castle. This is a wonderful first volume of the world of Castle Waiting, full of laughs and high adventure. I highly recommend this. If anyone out there likes Bone at all, there's really no excuse not to get this. It truly captures the feel of a fairy tale, without the typical tropes associated with them. Really, it's a marvel.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

In Stores 6/1

Some last minute highlights of books coming to comic stores Thursday...

Abadazad (Book One): The Road to Inconceivable and Abadazad (Book Two): The Dream Thief - Fan favorite (and one of my favorite comics) Abadazad returns from the ashes of Crossgen in the form of a comic/prose hybrid. I've been waiting very patiently for these.

Seven Soldiers of Victory (volume 3) TP - The second-to-last collection of Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers maxi-series saga. If you were crazy enough to wait for the trade, it has arrived. Who knows how long of a wait it'll be before the final installment...

Showcase Presents: The Haunted Tank (volume 1) TP - From DC's vault, another obscure series is collected in the wonderfully affordable Showcase series.

Art Out of Time: Unknown Comic Visionaries 1900-1969 HC - Dan Nadel's beautiful book of unsung comic creators shipped from Amazon last week and Patrick has been loving it. In a few days, it'll be available in comic stores as well.

Artesia Besieged #1 (of 6) - A new chapter begins in the epic story featuring Artesia, the strong, capable warrior/witch/queen. I loved the last three books - they're just amazing. Nothing compares to its epic scope and beautiful, fully-realized world. Mark Smylie is just a genius in his portrayal of the kingdom and the supernatural forces that lie beneath everything. And the art. Amazing. Just look through a collection if you don't believe me. Do yourself a favor and pick up the previous collections and be on board for this series. Also in stores from Archaia Studios Press this week are the charming Mouse Guard #3 and the final issue of Alex Sheikman's wildly inventive Robotika mini-series.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Ticking

Renee French's The Ticking is a beautiful graphic novel. It's not told in the traditional sense of comics; Most pages only have two illustrated boxes on them, and many only have one, with words sometimes beneath the pictures, sometimes not. There are no word balloons throughout the story either, but dialogue is written beneath some of the illustrations, and is more like a children's illustrated book in that regard (but why can't they be considered comics?). The story begins as "Edison Steelhead was born on the kitchen floor." His mother dies during childbirth, and he inherits his father's deformities, causing his father to seek out a life of solitude. Edison, however, feels no shame for his appearance and tries to find beauty in his surroundings, even in ugly places, to please his father, who seems unable to appreciate them. This book is really very beautiful. The story is bound in a dark brown hardcover, gold-embossed, and it's home to some of the best illustrations out there. I just want to say that I also love Renee's handwriting; For different characters, she uses either mixed letters (Edison's point-of-view or the narrator's), all capital letters (outsiders) or cursive (Edison's father), all of which are elegant and tight. And Edison himself sketches to some really beautiful results and designs, even if no one does appreciate them at first. This is a very touching story, although it is pretty sparce and extremely quick to get through. But in the end, for the art, it's worth it. I found out from When Fangirls Attack that there's an art exhibit in response to the Masters of American Comics' all male artists, that features the art of female comic artists (She Draws Comics: A Century of Women Cartoonists). I'm not sure who's included, but Renee French would definitely be at the top of the list if I had any say (along with Lynda Barry and Phoebe Gloeckner). She is simply one of the most interesting cartoonists out there.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

In Passing...Deadgirl to X-Factor

A disappointing week for the floppies...

Blue Beetle #3 - As a guest penciller, Cynthia Martin does a decent job of fitting in, mimicing our regular artist, but the issue did seem kind of "off" in wake of it. The entire issue was kind of weird though, not just the art. The scene with Jaime's family was great, but everything else just seemed rather silly... The repercussions from the last issue should have really stood out. D

X-Factor #7 - Madrox gets a proposition and Siryn's in denial of Scott's news that her father has died. The Madrox scenes were alright, but the rest was just kind of bland. And I did not care for Ariel Olivetti's art here at all. D+

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #5 - This book's always pretty creative. And fun. The jokes keep coming between killer koalas and growing broccoli men. I really like the short sequences revealing brief moments in the characters' pasts, but in this issue they weren't as clever or done in spirit of the other characters portrayed in the scenes. I found them more distracting this time. C+

X-Statix Presents: Deadgirl #5 (of 5) - The cool mini-series featuring a really great character has come to a conclusion. I'll miss it. It captured the unique, fun feel of the initial issues of the X-Statix/X-Force run by Milligan and Allred. And the battles and guest appearances, character moments and payoffs were all done masterfully. A trade is on its way, so if you missed it in floppies, check it out there. A

Last comic I read: Chimera by Lorenzo Mattotti
Graphic Novel I'm currently reading: Watchmen (crazy I haven't read this yet)
Novel I'm currently reading: His Dark Materials (Book Three): The Amber Spyglass
Last movie I saw in theaters: X-Men: The Last Stand (made approximately $44 million in its first day, btw)
Last movie I watched on DVD: X-2: X-Men United

Friday, May 26, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Where do I begin? I'll start off by saying that X-2: X-Men United is still my favorite superhero movie. There was more time spent with fewer new characters, and a clear focus. Plus the hints of Dark Phoenix were cooler than the realization in the new movie. That being said, X-Men: The Last Stand doesn't exactly suck. It's actually good. My expectations going in were extremely high, so I'm not surprised that they weren't met (even though they were with X-2), but this movie just wasn't very spectacular. There were spectacular scenes (though very few), like that of Phoenix after she goes back to her home growing up and confronts Xavier, and some action scenes were executed near perfectly (Kitty vs. Juggernaut in their race to get to Leech first), but overall, things were sort of bland. Particularly the climax. It just didn't pay things off. It needed to be much more spectacular than it was. We needed to spend more time with the characters up to that point to care about what was going down.

All-in-all, they should have paired the story down a bit. Characters thrown in like Arclight and Madrox didn't exactly hurt the film, but they didn't really add to it either. My big gripe was that the cure and the phoenix arc were just too big to be in the picture together. Particularly Phoenix, who just kind of stood around a lot this movie. She didn't have focus, we didn't love her and care that she dies. Then again, cool things thrown in include The Danger Room and the hat-tip to Days of Future Past, which were really cool, and served as a cool psyche-out after the words "in the not-too-distant future" appeared, before we remember that that's how all of the X-Men movies begin "the present."

I really liked the theme of abortion when it came to Rogue, who was debating getting the cure (Logan asks if she's doing it for the guy, she's waiting in line while a crowd screams not to get it done, etc), however the fact that she actually got it in the end was kind of a slap in the face to that character. I kind of wish Bobby had left her then and there to be with Kitty. That would have made it a little more interesting at least, and gone with Storm's braver outlook. It was a lame end for Rogue's arc, seen immediately after another female character (Jean Grey) is overwhelmed by her power. I imagine the film would have been a lot cooler and more interesting if a feminist like Joss Whedon had taken the helm.

Another character who wasn't served well this time around was Mystique. She's had such an interesting philosophy throughout the trilogy and in the end she, what? Narcs on Magneto because he dumps her? Throws away all of her values over a guy? Oh, Joss Whedon, why weren't you offered this film? What a crappy end for my favorite character in the films... But if the teaser ending is to be trusted, Leech's "cure" should wear off anytime anyway. Unfortunately, that won't change her contradictory actions.

Kitty Pryde was done right. I'm a big fan, obviously, and seeing her portrayed as she was meant to be is wonderful (a saving grace for the picture). I loved her innocent relationship with Bobby, and she had some really cool scenes. A little more screen time wouldn't have hurt though.

I didn't mind Xavier's death. I liked how Scott just kind of fell out of the movie with his death. I even liked Juggernaut and, hey Callisto was portrayed in more interesting a light than she ever has been in comics. But, man, all of the plots had to be scaled back to a clear focus. Bring Phoenix back here, fine, but save the Phoenix Saga stuff for another movie. Serve the movie over the fanboys. Ah, well. At least we have X-2. And really, I liked X-3 better than the original movie, so that's something.

Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness

The third volume in the Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley has arrived. And doesn't disappoint. Easily on par with the previous two volumes of the series, The Infinite Sadness begins a little lowkey on the fun, but once things get rolling, it explodes into action and it's nearly impossible to put down. There are a lot more charcters in this volume than I remember previously and it can be a little hard to keep track of them, but the ones you really need to know about are prominently featured. Wallace is once again the funniest part of the book. Without him, this book just wouldn't be the same. Scott's charming in a dopey sort of way, if not extremely paranoid this time around, and he's actually growing a little bit as a character, concerned for the people around him, a little more aware. And we get treated to plenty of flashbacks that give insight into his relationship with Envy and what kind of a person she was/is. And she really is a cool character. Another layer is added to Ramona Flowers, the girl Scott's kicking all the evil ex-boyfriend ass for, something that's left to be explored over further volumes of the series, involving something that Envy knows about her past. And the evil ex-boyfriend this time around is basically an homage to Star Wars' The Force, but powered by a Vegan discipline. Yes, plenty of characters with plenty of complications and references to video games and such. And in the back of the book, there are a couple of cool Scott Pilgrim strips by other creators, one featuring a battle with King Hippo from Mike Tyson's Punchout and another by John Allison that just looks really cool. Yes, this volume's fun, wacky, hilarious and over-the-top. Basically, the kind of quality we've come to expect from the dazzling series.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Fate of the Artist

Eddie Campbell is amazing. The Fate of the Artist, the semi-autobiographical book from :01 First Second Books is wildly imaginative and insightful. Campbell pushes the medium of comics, kicking and screaming, as he creates a masterpiece with his seemingly endless supply of creative juices. This book is comprised of comic strips (both weekday and Sundays), traditionally-paneled comics, photos with word balloons, and even narrative that incorporates pictures into the story, and pictures that replace letters. Then there are crayon drawings "taped" onto watercolor pictures, etc. etc. He wasn't holding back. So, amid all of this bubbling imagination, Eddie Campbell has gone missing, and there's an investigation to find out what has become of him. As the investigation takes place, people close to the artist describe him through his eccentricities and philosophies, often relying on the explanation "that's an artist for you." Stories of artists from the past are related when describing the artist's outlook, including that of musicians and playwrights, while really engrained throughout is the idea of an artist being a slave to his work. There's almost an animosity toward an audience that doesn't understand him, and, as illustrated by the closing adaptation of The Confessions of a Humorist, an artist can't really relax with expectation hanging over him. He's constantly scrutinizing life around him, searching for something new and brilliant to relate through his art, to the point where he's no longer the master of his art, but it's the master of him. He can only really be happy at that point when the art is put away. Eddie Campbell does a marvelous job of portraying the struggles of an artist, while being both witty and insightful, and doing it honestly through some of his own experiences.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Previews: August 2006

Once again, I'm going to highlight books scheduled to hit comic stores in August...

Ape Entertainment:
Athena Voltaire: Flight of the Falcon #1 (Ape Edition) - This collects the first issue from Speakeasy, and continues the story with the never-before-seen issue #2! This book is wonderful, and it's good to see it back.

Archaia Studios Press:
Artesia (volume 1) Limited Edition HC - Sometimes it pays to wait. For those who haven't jumped on the band wagon with this amazingly gorgeous fantasy series by Mark Smylie, you can now get a hardcover version of the first collection for the same price as the soft cover.

Archangel Studios:
The Red Star: Sword of Lies - The Red Star returns in a 40-page original story that reveals the rise to power of the villainous Imbohl.

Dark Horse:
Chickenhare: House of Klaus TP - An all-ages book about a half-chicken, half-hare, and his group of friends who try to escape the hands of an evil taxidermist who likes unique animals.

DC Comics:
I looked at DC books separately, but I should mention that I didn't catch the CMX book Emma (volume 1), by Kaoru Mori. It's an acclaimed manga series from Japan about a young girl raised to be a maid in Victorian-Era England.

Drawn & Quarterly:
Abandon the Old In Tokyo HC - Following up The Push Man and Other Stories, another hardcover collection of the master Yoshihiro Tatsumi's short stories will soon be available.

Fantagraphics:
The Comics Journal Library 7: Harvey Kurtzman TP - The new TCJ Library collection will compile some rare Kurtzman material and include interviews with the artist that are sure to be exciting. You have to admire these oversized, beautiful books.

Delphine #1 - The new Ignatz book by one of my favorite creators, Richard Sala, makes its debut in August, as he reimagines the story of Snow White, bringing the tale back to its dark roots.

New Tales of Old Palomar #1 - Another one of my favorite creators joins the Ignatz line. Gilbert Hernandez goes back to the beginning of his Palomar stories from Love & Rockets to tell more tales from that classic age of Palomar, with Sheriff Chelo and a younger cast of the characters we know and love.

Luba: Three Daughters TP - Speaking of the Palomar books, this paperback will collect the final book in Gilbert Hernandez's trilogy following Luba and friends/family outside of Palomar.

Image Comics:
Savage Dragon #0 - The prequel to the long-running series by Erik Larsen tells the big green guy's origin, from out of the Image 10th Anniversary Hardcover. Just $2!

Marvel Comics:
I highlighted Marvel books separately.

Netcomics:
Manhwa Novella (volume 1) GN - This is the first volume collecting the monthly anthology of prominent Korean authors. In this volume, "Lie To Me" by Youngran Lee, tells the story of Hyunjin, who goes to collect a payment for overdue bills from the previous owner of her new apartment, whereupon she gets the cold shoulder. After an accident where that same jerk loses much of his short-term memory, Hyunjin decides to deceive him into thinking she's been his girlfriend, in a twisted game of revenge. Sounds cool to me. Nice cover.

Poison Press:
Cavalcade of Boys Complete Collection TP - This volume collects all three volumes of Tim Fish's gay romance under a single cover.

Top Shelf Productions:
Lost Girls (Deluxe Slipcased Edition) - A work that took two decades to complete, this beautiful three-volume hardcover work featuring Alice, Wendy and Dorothy by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie is simply a must-have.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

50 Greatest Comic Characters

I feel all left out because I don't know DC characters well enough to, in good conscience, supply a top fifty list for the "best of" at The Great Curve. And I wasn't part of the Marvel poll recently taken either. So, I'm just going to go ahead and present my 50 greatest comic characters of all time, from DC, Marvel, Image, Fantagraphics, manga, whatever. And I'm unapologetically listing them, with Darkstar next to Hopey or whatever I feel like. So sit back and enjoy!! (With commentary!)

1. Kitty Pryde (X-Men, Excalibur) - What can I say about my favorite comic character of all time? She's what drew me into comics in the first place, from a Marvel Universe trading card to my first issue of Excalibur, to her fiery, innocent personality in Uncanny X-Men. She was my first true love, the inspiration behind Buffy Summers of my favorite television show. Wearing her religion proudly alongside her idealistic attitude - a purple dragon, her constant companion.

2. Luba (Love & Rockets, Luba) - The big-breasted, loveable Luba, from the mind of Gilbert Hernandez, is complex. She's full of innate prejudices, neglects her children to go partying, is drawn to harmful relationships, had a harsh life growing up, yet she can still be soft, beautiful and forgiving. And she carries around a hammer.

3. Elektra Natchios (Daredevil, Elektra: Assassin) - Frank Miller's creation is more a force of nature than a mere human being. Silent and deadly, with a tragic past that's turned her into a machine, she strikes fear into the hearts of anyone she has marked, and kills without discrimination. Do yourself a favor and read Elektra: Assassin if you haven't already and see how screwed up and scary this character can really be.

4. Emma Frost (X-Men, Generation X) - The lovely Miss Emma Frost is the perfect British bitch, with a cold diamond exterior, a dangerous mind, and snappy, rude comments. She provides a tongue-lashing when any opportunity presents itself in an attempt to continually prove her superiority and sophistication. Once the White Queen of the Hellfire Club, she stands with the X-Men as "the other woman" for Scott Summers.

5. Courtney Crumrin (Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things) - The sarcastic, embittered outsider girl who comes to live with her warlock uncle has a wicked streak, but also a soft spot behind her constant scowl. She gets into mischief on a constant basis as she insists she can dabble in things that may be beyond her.

6. Nana Komatsu (Nana) - Both characters named "Nana" in Ai Yazawa's manga can deeply affect me with anger, depression and happiness at the author's whim, but it's really Nana Komatsu who I feel closest to. She's a sensitive girl who's been hurt and I feel like I need to protect her or something, so I feel for her. And Yazawa can depict her mood with but a few beautiful, elegant lines.

7. Meggan (Excalibur, Captain Britain) - The shape-changer Meggan is an empath who can change into things based on the feelings of those around her, and is drawn to a man (Brian Braddock) who has hurt her as often as he's provided for her. She's a scared, pathetic character in a way, especially in face of the great potential her powers harbor.

8. Poison Ivy (Batman) - A visually-stunning villain tied to the Earth, who only wants to protect her precious plantlife. I always found Pamela Isley a really sympathetic character. In face of the harsh environment of Gotham City and a world that is dying, she's prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice when no one else is, and so she takes matters into her own hands to preserve the planet for the future. She may kill half the planet to achieve that goal, but hey, worthy goal, right? She's just a perfect example of Man vs. Nature.

9. Charlie Brown (Peanuts) - Charlie Brown is another sympathetic character, but because he's always depressed and we empathize with that. Fans prove it by sending Charlie Brown valentines every year. He's comics' most beloved loser.

10. Scott Pilgrim (Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life) - The hipster comic-reading, videogame-playing, pop-culture-referencing loveable two-timer will face anything to be with the girl of his dreams (even ex-boyfriends). Comics' second most beloved loser.

11. Peculia (Evil Eye) - She's kind of the opposite of a princess - raven-haired, speaking kind words to bats instead of birds, taking walks at night and thwarting the plans of monsters on all sides, this is one capable, if odd, girl.

12. Jessica Jones (Alias, The Pulse) - The rough-around-the-edges detective turned in her cape years ago in wake of some superhero disasters. She swears, she drinks and she doesn't mind a tumble in the sack with a friend (well, pre-getting-knocked-up).

13. James Kochalka/Magic Boy (American Elf) - James Kochalka presents himself as an elf in his Sketchbook Diaries, and there is no one funnier. The strip is often just a slice of life, but I love it. He brings a smile to my face and I always think I'd like to have a friend like that. He's real, throws tantrums and gets drunk. Often.

14. Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Spider-Man, New Avengers) - Obviously, this character holds an important place in comic book history. But I don't care about that. What I care about is that I like Peter Parker. I like his indecision, his burden, his complicated soap operatic life, and his wisecracks during super-villain tussles.

15. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Batman) - Bruce Wayne is messed up. But he's really cool because of it. Who couldn't love a madman who dresses in a batsuit with a utility belt full of useful gadgets and a sidekick who isn't old enough to shave? This is one complicated, disturbed individual. And he kicks ass.

16. Marlys (Ernie Pook's Comeek) - Lynda Barry's Marlys is a wonderful, realistic character. We really experience, as readers, the hardships of adolescence and first love, through this little red-headed freckled girl.

17. Artesia (Artesia) - Artesia has many faces - a warrior, a captain, a lover, a queen, a sorceress, an avenger...She is a multi-layered woman in a complex, rich world created by Mark Smylie. Uninhibited, proud and brave.

18. Fritz (Love & Rockets) - This psychologist with a lisp (but not while speaking French) has more issues than probably anyone in the screwed-up Palomar universe. She plays the people around her and usually gets what she wants, whomever she may hurt. Another great character from the pen of Gilbert Hernandez.

19. Promethea (Promethea) - Alan Moore's character is, well, she's several Prometheas who are brought about when people start learning about her and then...become her and...she's imagination, or...just read the damn book if you want to know.

20. Lucy (Peanuts) - I have a thing for bitches. Lucy may have been one of the first I've ever encountered. She wants things her way or else. Gotta admire that.

21. Death (Sandman, Death: The High Cost of Living) - When Neil Gaiman created Death for DC/Vertigo, she became an instant hit. And it's no wonder why - a goth girl with an umbrella, who talks so casually of the job at hand. Death was never so inviting as this.

22. Amanda Sefton (X-Men, Excalibur) - Nightcrawler's magician girlfriend has gone by several names (Daytripper, Magik), but has cut a real path for herself in the X-Men universe, beginning as nothing more than a girlfriend/childhood friend, then following in the footsteps of her magician mother, the evil Margali Szardos, only to logically move into the next step on her journey, to take over the job left empty when little Illyana Rasputin's life was cut so short - that of Magik of Limbo. She had her character arc and we got to see her move steadily toward it over a span of years. It was all a logical character progression, yet we didn't see it coming until it was fully-realized. Plus, she really came into her own, as a powerful female character rather than the sidekick, when she became a regular guest in Excalibur.

23. Catwoman (Batman, Catwoman) - Characters that live on the verge of being hero and villain usually make the best of characters. It speaks to a priority of values, a complexity on their outlook on life. Catwoman is one such character, and if any of the women who have flaunted themselves at the Dark Knight over the years can handle him, it's her.

24. Fone Bone (Bone) - Jeff Smith's loveable Bone wouldn't have been the same without Fone Bone to be the rational voice of the Bone Brothers, the balance between the ambitious and the lazy, the scheming and the dumb. He leads us through an epic journey with a heart of gold, facing incredible odds, for love and for what's right.

25. Jimmy Corrigan (Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth) - Those human moments depicted by Chris Ware are what make Jimmy Corrigan such an interesting character. He harbors prejudices, secret lust, awkwardness, etc. and we witness all of that through this very trying time in his life, as he meets his father for the first time. Plus he's a loser and we can empathize with that.

26. Nausicaa (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind) - The girl of prophecies is connected to the Earth, is daring and bold, intelligent and caring, and we love her for it. From a beautiful, epic manga that is really a must-read.

27. Enid (Ghost World) - Ah. Sarcastic, bitter Enid.

28. Morpheus (Sandman) - Dream personified as a pale skeletal figure, with a sharp mind and a sense of humanity, despite his immortality.

29. Nana Osaki (Nana) - The other Nana. In contrast to Konatsu, she is the wild, unruly girl. A rocker chick. Blunt. And also tender and sweet, watching out for Nana Konatsu, a girl that needs looking after.

30. Astro Boy (Astro Boy) - A cute little manga robot with guns coming out of his ass. Come on, the Japanese may be a little odd sometimes, but this stuff is awesome!

31. Rusty Brown (Rusty Brown, Acme Novelty Library) - The comic book nerd grows up and god, is he a troubled nightmare. Can you say "arrested development" times ten? You have to sympathize for the poor guy. He has no idea he's so pathetic.

32. Snoopy (Peanuts) - The only animal on the countdown. But this is an animal with personality. He can be stubborn, act ferocious (even though he isn't) and has a wild imagination.

33. Doctor Gull (From Hell) - An extremely complex character. But you'd have to be to do the things Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell depict him as doing in their opus.

34. Vladik (Maus) - I guess I lied. Another animal, though he doesn't seem like one. Based on Art Spiegelman's father, Vladik is a pack rat who did what he had to to survive as a Jew during World War II.

35. Sat-yr-9 (Excalibur, Captain Britain) - An alternate reality version of Courtney Ross, this Nazi-inspired doppelganger took the place of the beloved Excalibur ally and sweet-talked her way into their hearts, ripping them out after about fifty issues worth of attachment. Total bitch.

36. Magneto (X-Men) - If there was ever a sympathetic villain, this is him. He watched his family die in a concentration camp and strives for mutant rights, no matter the cost, to avoid that scenario from reoccurring. He just takes it a little too far sometimes. World Domination...well, you can't say he's not ambitious.

37. Batgirl/Oracle/Barbara Gordan - (Batman, Birds of Prey) - She was cool as Batgirl, and then she gets crippled by one of her greatest foes and has to live out the rest of her crime-fighting days from the confines of a wheelchair as the computer mastermind Oracle. An inspiring character that doesn't allow for pity.

38. Selene/The Black Queen - (X-Men) - The Hellfire Club's Black Queen is one of the most powerful villains of the Marvel Universe. She doesn't appear very often, but when she does, she's pitiless and brutal. Queen bitch.

39. Kate Spencer/Manhunter - (Manhunter) - Kate Spencer is a tough cookie. A brilliant lawyer who takes law into her own hands because she knows how the justice system works. And she has to juggle a kid and a failed marriage and killer relatives, not to mention supervillains seeking revenge... Tough as nails is what she is.

40. V (V For Vendetta) - Like Elektra, V is a force of nature. He's more than a person. He's anarchy incarnate.

41. Silver Sable (Spider-Man, Silver Sable & the Wild Pack) - She sticks out like a sore thumb, wearing all that silver, but she looks damn good doing it. She runs Roxxon and her Wild Pack follows her gruff commands to bring in their bounty at any cost. If you haven't caught on, I like strong women.

42. Horridus (Savage Dragon, Freak Force) - She's only a sidekick from Savage Dragon, but it's always a treat when she appears. Found half-starved in her basement after her religious parents committed suicide, this "devil child" is a spiny, orange girl whose best friend is her TV. She's always good for a laugh when she shows up, a grown woman with the mind of a child.

43. Black Widow (Iron Man, Avengers) - The Russian spy Natasha Romanov looks killer in black leather and she can blow things up better than most men. And she's got those cool bracelet thingies.

44. Hellboy (Hellboy) - Mike Mignola's Hellboy is great. This mighty monster raised for wicked purposes was just a cute little thing when he first appeared, and grew up to be a burly red demon who cuts off his horns to appear more human.

45. Rorschach (Watchmen) - The badass superhero detective from Watchmen showed little regard for breaking into friends' homes, but would hunt their killers to the ends of the Earth. Vigilante justice at its best.

46. Gwen Stacy (Spider-Man) - A cool human character in superhero comics that was snuffed out way too soon. She had real personality and was a real part of that book, making readers of Spider-man suffer a real shock when she died.

47. Captain Britain/Brian Braddock (Excalibur/Captain Britain) - This big hunk of man is an angry, hurt individual. He strives to live up to his title, even though it often seems more than he can chew.

48. Ultra/Pearl Penelosa (Ultra: Seven Days) - The lead character of my favorite superhero comic of all time is a celebrity/superhero/cop. She's the public's bitch really, and she learns that the hard way, and when she tries to fell like a normal girl for once, she gets dealt another blow. Pearl felt real. That's what good characters should aspire to.

49. Octopus Girl (Octopus Girl) - The half-monster, half-girl that can turn into a real girl is schizo. One moment she's a gentle, fun-loving love-sick girl, the next she's slamming a mallet into someone's head. She's capricious, sweet, fun, disgusting and she lets her friend (a half-girl, half-eel) eat her tentacles because they'll grow back!

50. Thing (Fantastic Four) - I was never a big Fantastic Four fan, but if there was a character from the team that was sympathetic, it was the Thing. Monstrous with a heart of gold. And a little angry, but that only makes him human, right?

A few of my favorite extremely obscure characters:
Ms. Steed (The Black Queen of The Hellfire Club's London Branch) (Excalibur)
Aleta (From the beginning issues of Guardians of the Galaxy)
Scatterbrain (originally named Fascination by Alan Moore) (Part of Gatecrasher's Technet, from Captain Britian and Excalibur)

Buffy, the Vampire Slayer

A few weeks ago, me and Patrick finally concluded our Buffy, the Vampire Slayer marathon. That's 144 episodes over seven seasons. We began in Fall and went very few days without finishing the day watching an episode of the beloved show (the third full time experiencing them from start to finish). Next year, it'll be Angel's turn, but now I feel quite prepared to provide some best-of lists for the show.

Best 10 Episodes
1. The Body (Season Five) - Joyce Summers is found dead on Buffy's couch. The camera doesn't stray from Buffy's devastated, shocked face as she tries to revive her mother, imagines what such a rescue would be like, and telling her younger sister the news at school. I can never watch it without crying.

2. Once More With Feeling (Season Six) - The musical episode was awesome, with all of the music written by Joss Whedon himself. Me and Patrick listen to the soundtrack often and man, how can you not love this?

3. Hush (Season Four) - Much of the episode was silent, in response to critics marveling at the show's unique dialogue. Tara first appears here among some of the freakiest monsters the show has ever beheld.

4. Who Are You? (Season Four) - Faith returns to Sunnydale looking for revenge, and switches bodies with Buffy. She begins the episode poking fun at herself in the mirror, mocking the previous owner of her body by saying "You can't do that. It's wrong." As she lives Buffy's life, experiences real friendship and what could have been, she's singing a new tune by the end of the episode repeating "You can't do that. It's wrong," and truly meaning it. Faith is one of the best characters ever, and she really shines in this one. It really illuminated both Eliza Dushku and Sarah Michele Gellar's acting chops as they switched characters.

5. Becoming (Parts one and two) (Season Two) - The season finale of the epic second season of Buffy finds the title character killing her ex-boyfriend at the moment he regains his soul, sacrificing the one she loves and sending him to Hell, to save the world.

6. The Gift (Season Five) - Another finale. In this one, Buffy battles for the life of her younger sister against the goddess Glory, ultimately realizing what gift she has to offer the world and her loved ones.

7. Doppelgangland (Season Three) - A sequel to the fan-favorite episode The Wish, in which the characters are seen in an alternate reality based on a wish made by Cordelia Chase (in which Buffy never came to Sunnydale), Willow's evil vampire double is pulled into this reality, causing plenty of mayhem and comedy.

8. Innocence (Season Two) - Buffy deals with the repercussions of losing her virginity as her boyfriend Angel acts cold toward her. The first "excellent" episode of the show.

9. Family (Season Five) - Secondary Scooby Tara deals with her relatives' arrival in town, wherea she performs a spell so that her friends won't see her demon manifestation on her upcoming birthday and be forced to return home. She is officially accepted into the group in a touching scene.

10. New Moon Rising (Season Four) - Oz returns to Sunnydale, having mastered the wolf-part of himself, only to find that Willow has moved on.

Episode I appreciated more this time around: Selfless (Anya dishes out murder as she returns to being a Vengeance Demon)

Best Seasons of Buffy
1. Season Five (Big Bad: Glory; Key Episodes: The Body, The Gift, Family)
2. Season Three (Big Bad: The Mayor, Faith; Key Episodes: Doppelgangland, Graduation Day (Pt. 1 & 2), The Wish)
3. Season Two (Big Bad: Spike, Drusilla, Angelus; Key Episodes: The Becoming (Pt.1 & 2), Innocence, Passion)
4. Season Four (Big Bad: Adam, The Initiative; Key Episodes: Hush, Who Are You?, New Moon Rising)
5. Season Seven (Big Bad: The First; Key Episodes: Conversations With Dead People, Chosen, Selfless)
6. Season Six (Big Bad: Depression? Nerds? Willow?; Key Episodes: Once More With Feeling, Seeing Red, Grave)
7. Season One (Big Bad: The Master; Key Episodes: Prophecy Girl, Welcome To the Hellmouth, Angel)

Top Ten Characters of the Buffy Universe (including Angel)
1. Buffy Summers
2. Cordelia Chase (pictured)
3. Willow Rosenberg
4. Rupert Giles
5. Faith
6. Anya
7. Tara McClay
8. Spike
9. Winifred "Fred" Burkle
10. Drusilla

Character I appreciated more this time around: Andrew

Top Ten Villains of the Buffy Universe (including Angel)
1. Faith
2. Angelus
3. Spike
4. Drusilla
5. Illyria
6. Glory (pictured)
7. Lila Morgan
8. Darla
9. Harmony
10. The Mayor

Monday, May 22, 2006

In Stores 5/24

It's time to once again highlight books coming to comic stores this coming Wednesday. You can see the full list of Diamond's releases at their website.

Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her TP - The sequel to Richard K. Morgan's "Homecoming" mini-series featuring the Russian vixen isn't really very good, but Bill Sienkiewicz' art is...

Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness - The third installment of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series has finally arrived!!! What else is there to say? Go buy it!

Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four (volume 10) HC - Jack Kirby and Stan Lee's legendary Fantastic Four run is finally completed in the Masterworks series with this volume.

Carl Barks' Greatest Ducktales Stories (volume 1) TP - Carl Barks is a master cartoonist. One of the greatest cartoons was based on these stories, the first volume of which is available this week for just $11!

Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do HC - The mini-series that took about five years to be finished is now collected in hardcover. I personally never finished reading it, but I think Kevin Smith is overrated anyway, and a work he's not very invested in just isn't worth my time.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Wonderland #1

Slave Labor Graphics debuted a book based on Disney's Alice In Wonderland (in turn, based on the Lewis Carroll children's book) this past week, named Wonderland. Not Alice In Wonderland mind you, because Alice does not appear in the book. The book, written by Tommy Kovac (author of Autumn, which always caught my eye at the comic store, though I regret I never picked up an issue), with art by Sonny Liew, takes place just after Alice leaves the magical kingdom, with the loveable characters from the world such as The White Rabbit, Tweedle-Dee, Tweedle-Dum, and The Queen of Hearts, in their element. The main character of the tale is a young human girl named Mary Ann, who if you recall the story of Alice In Wonderland, was who The White Rabbit mistook Alice for when she showed up at his house and eventually experimented with the whole eating/drinking, shrinking/growing thing until she got it right. So this character who was never actually seen becomes the protagonist of this story. It makes perfect sense really and I commend the writers of the series for the idea. Mary Ann herself is the maid of The White Rabbit, and as such, prances along in a maid outfit with a talking feather duster. And she's a compulsive cleaner on top of that, dusting everything in sight (even the dirt road). So, when The Queen of Hearts, going after The White Rabbit to see why he's been conspiring with the "Alice Monster" (or rather just looking for a reason to scream "Off with his head!"), accidentally knocks a cupcake onto Mary Ann's newly-starched apron, the young girl swiftly gets a maniacal gleam in her eye and knocks the queen over the head with a spade. Thus she has condemned herself and The White Rabbit to a life on the run. The book is really very fun, with a lot of creative, crazy scenes. Liew's pencils are beautiful with his cartoony style and its sketchy feel. It's really a perfect book for younger readers, following up on a concept they're probably already aware of, with some intelligence and creativity behind it. Check out a preview over at Slave Labor Graphic's site.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Girls: Emergence

The second volume of The Luna Brothers' Girls opens immediately where the previous book left off (collecting issues #7-12) , with the first chapter chalk-full of non-stop action as the remaining Pennystown citizens fight/run for their lives. I like Girls. I don't think it's as strong as The Luna Brothers' first major work, Ultra: Seven Days, but it is a suspenseful, intriguing story. It's basically a post-apocalyptic story like the ten thousand zombie stories out there, but it's focused on a specific area (the small town of Pennystown, population 65), and the zombies that are after the characters are replaced by a group of pitiless girl clones, who have some sort of specific, mysterious objectives. They're some sort of alien, but it's hard to predict what they'll do and what other surprises they've brought along with them. It's a mystery and a survival tale. War of the Worlds meets Dawn of the Dead. Very strange, but effective. The Luna Brothers pace their story masterfully by slowly unveiling circumstances to the group of survivors, and balancing a good mix of sit-around-talking-trying-to-understand-their-situation-while-tensions-run-high scenes with the action and thrills. I'd say one of the biggest hurdles of the work is the cast. It's pretty extensive. It's getting smaller all the time, but sometimes I just have no idea who someone is when they bite the dust. There is a small group of characters, on the other hand, that are easily recognizable who really are the thrust of the story and tension between the group who I really do feel for and cross my fingers for survival (or a slow, painful death, as it were). The characters have real issues and harbor real secrets that they want to keep from the others, and act in disgusting ways when confronted with life-or-death situations. A few moments with characters felt a bit off, though. The "wise" priest's observations were brushed off a few times before he explained what he meant (I was rolling my eyes when it happened more than once), and one kid is constantly getting the group into trouble by hurling himself into things (dealing with his pain or whatever), but for the most part, the soap opera elements are interesting and keep the slow moments with the cast that build their characters almost as fun to read as the sci-fi aspects of the story. I'm genuinely intrigued by the events and love the moments when things start going wrong. And, as always, I love Jonathon Luna's art. I think he works best with his own material like Girls over something like Spider-woman: Origin, but I just generally like his style, how he depicts the action and alien scenes, as well as the quiet moments. This book is heavy on the nudity, as the girl clones run around nude, but even more blatant is the violence. There's a sequence that just shows someone's head getting smashed in over a few panels. Very brutal. But, man do I love it. It's one of the most exciting books I'm currently reading, though it does have its flaws. I am definitely a Luna Brothers fan.

Friday, May 19, 2006

X-Men Fairy Tales

X-Men Fairy Tales is a four-issue limited series, with different artists each issue, retelling a fairy tale using characters from the X-Men, ala the infamous "Kitty's Fairy Tale" from Uncanny X-Men. Issue #1 of the series features the writer C.B. Cebulski, and artist Sana Takeda, retelling the Japanese fairy tale Momotaro. But the premise sounds a lot cooler than it actually is. It's really neat to have a series that showcases a different artist like this, like in DC's recently-canceled Solo, but the stories (or this one anyway) really have nothing to do with the X-Men. The main character of this story, Hitome, who was found by his parents floating down the river within a giant peach, can shoot red beams out of one eye when he removes a peach pit. And that's the extent to which he resembles X-Man Cyclops. It's not the same character, doesn't look like him - they just half-borrowed a power and slapped the X-Men logo over the series' title to sell more books. Oh, yes and the Beast is a little blue monkey, Iceman is a dog that blows ice and Professor Xavier's a monk who brings them together (sort of). The most interesting designs were of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants representing demons (Magneto, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Toad). These characters were more representative of how the characters appear and how their powers work, but they still aren't the same people. A brief appearance by Mystique and Pyro illustrated nothing but a slight appearance in dress to distinguish who they were. It's all kind of silly, lightly attaching attributes to the characters for the story. Although it is a good chance to showcase some good artists (since people will buy more X-titles no matter what), it is quite misleading. But in the end, it's the content that counts. And the art is really great, very beautiful and lush. And I did enjoy the character designs, despite being bothered by the insignificance of the characters attached to them. The story, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. It was just too simple and told in a fairy tale manner that I was pretty turned-off by. I'm sure some people will love this book, but it's really going to depend on the strength of the artists attached to each issue, like with Solo. They are going to be charged with recreating X-Men characters to fit the story and tell it in an entertaining fashion. I just hope others pull it off better than the debut issue. I'm personally waiting for the Bill Sienkiewicz issue (number four)!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

In Passing...Ms. Marvel to Fell

I've decided to start going with letter grades for my "In Passing" column. Very last minute choice this week, but I think it will get the message across clearer.

Ms. Marvel #3 - I love Frank Cho's covers for this series. Really. I haven't read much by him - I'm thinking I will. This issue of Ms. Marvel was better than the last, which seemed very rushed and clumsy. The battle between Carol and Cru was clear, very fun and noisy. But really, I enjoyed the personal life of Carol from issue one more than any of the action, so I hope there's plenty more of that to come. C+

Fell #5 - It's strange, but I never look forward to reading this comic. I begrudgingly pick it up and begin reading. But I always love it. There hasn't been an issue that I haven't liked since it began, but I just don't feel compelled to keep reading it. Very strange. This issue is a fun interrigation room scene. Detective Fell's one cunning badass. B

Manhunter #22 - Now if the second page of this comic doesn't grab you, nothing will. A freaky, beautiful robot/hydra coming after Kate Spencer. Just beautiful. It's sad to think that there are only three more issues of the series left. Even if Manhunter's still a part of the DC Universe, I don't pick up enough books to catch a guest appearance. Sigh. B+

All-Star Batman & Robin #4

Well, they finally reached the Batcave in this issue. And that's about all that happened. All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder is one padded-out series, but it's damn good nonetheless. And anyway, the creators make fun of how padded out the series is (that or how late the book is) when Robin says, in reference to being in the batmobile, "When are you going to let me out of this thing? It feels like it's been days!" That and the whole six-page fold-out that displays the Batcave that "goes on forever" and "just doesn't end." Hell, maybe the entire series will be one excruciatingly long story arc. That would be a neat idea. But there were other cool things in this issue besides the Batcave. When Robin's crouched down with the rats and bats, his shadow falls over the cave floor in the form of his mask. Nice foreshadow. Literally. And then there's the whole flashback that Batman had of his parents' deaths. He thinks "I touched my mother's breast. It bled on me." and then "There wasn't any heartbeat. No hope at all. Just her blood on my hand. It'll never wash off. Never." Then in the next panel, Bruce has his hand on Dick's shoulder and Robin thinks "His hand lands on my shoulder, weightless as a falling leaf. Those bigass fingers of his squeeze like a gentle caress." Now, could that be Frank Miller and Jim Lee playing up the "gay thing" here? Batman's all traumatized by his mother's death. The first touch of a woman's breast is bloody. It distances him from women, so here he is watching a twelve-year-old boy in tights for months...caressing his shoulder gently... It could be just reading into it a bit, but there it is. All in the subtext.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Art School Confidential

I don't get why people are generally giving unfavorable reviews to Terry Zwigoff's Art School Confidential. It's a really good film, with great performances by Max Minghella and John Malkovich. The characters all have such personalities that really make you care about them, whether they're set up as a cliche or not (but all of the cliches in the movie are used so well, and for comedic effect, not to fill a character with flat characterization). I know one of the big complaints is that it's an unwieldy cast. True, there are a lot of characters in this film, and doing without a few of them would have probably been alright (his closeted gay roommate, for example), but I had no trouble following the film because of it, and it certainly didn't distract. It was all done very competently. Another complaint is about the serial killer element. I kind of liked having this dark cloud hanging over the campus. It was a small part of the film in the background that kind of blew up as it went along and it was a neat kind of dark humor edge that typically isn't seen in this sort of film. Sure, this may not be as good as Terry Zwigoff's previous comic-based movie Ghost World, but it's a damn good movie nonetheless. I think Dan Clowes should be really happy with his screenplay, whether people appreciate it or not. And hey, two thumbs up from Ebert and Roeper isn't too shabby.

Marvel Solicits: August '06

And now a look at several Marvel books scheduled to ship in August that caught my eye (full list at Comic Book Resources).

Annihilation #1 (of 6) - The four separate Annihilation mini-series merge into a single crossover book, bringing with them four cosmic players: Silver Surfer, Super Skrull, Ronan and Nova. I've heard some pretty decent things about the individual minis.

Claws #1 (of 3) - A new mini-series from Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, with art by Joseph Michael Linsner, teams up two unlikely comrades: Wolverine and Black Cat. Yes, Logan and Felicia will battle for their lives on an island against a bunch of hunters with big toys (Didn't we just read about a team-up on an island for survival in another Marvel book recently?)

Heroes For Hire #1 - Another debut series from Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, this time with art by Billy Tucci. Heroes For Hire is spun directly out of Civil War, where Misty Knight and Colleen Wing track and apprehend superheroes who refuse to abide by the Superhero Registration Act. They recruit the likes of Shang-Chi, Tarantula, Paladin and Black Cat for the team. Black Cat again? One of those guys has to be a closet furry.

Essential Hulk (volume 4) TP - The fourth volume of the big green guy, collecting issues #143-170 of Incredible Hulk. Wendigo appears for the first time in this collection.

Essential Luke Cage Power Man (volume 2) TP - I guess people were clamouring for more Luke Cage too...

X-Men Fairy Tales #4 (of 4) - This fairy-tale-told-by-way-of-X-Men-characters features the art of none other than Bill Sienkiewicz! This time, we get a story based on a Brothers Grimm tale.

Astonishing X-Men #16 - I just love this cover. Kitty's awesome. Part four of six.

Ultimate Spider-man: Deadpool TP - A great arc of Ultimate Spider-man. Featuring Ultimate Kitty Pryde. Can't go wrong there.

Spider-Woman: Origin HC - Brian Michael Bendis and The Luna Brothers tell the origin of Jessica Drew in this hardcover collecting the awesome five issue mini-series.

Marvel Zombies HC - I kind of want to check this out. Robert Kirkman. Zombies. It sounds fun. But I think I'll wait for the soft cover. I'm not excited enough to shell out $20 for it.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. (volume 1): This Is What They Want HC - A lot of hardcovers this month. This is one I would definitely recommend picking up over the others. Warren Ellis' series is just fantastic. Collects issues #1-6.

Book of Lost Souls TP - The talented Colleen Doran beautifully illustrates watered-down Sandman crap from the pen of J. Michael Straczynski. Still worth it for the art...

X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl TP - Collecting the five issue mini-series spun out of Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's fresh (and cancelled) X-Statix series. This is a good read featuring Doctor Strange and one really great character to join the Marvel Universe in recent years - Dead Girl herself.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

In Stores 5/17

And once again, a look at some books coming to comic stores tomorrow. You can see the full list of Diamond's releases at their website.

Castle Waiting HC - From Fantagraphics comes a collection of the entire Castle Waiting series by Linda Medley in one hardcover volume.

Wonderland #1 - Amaze Inc/Slave Labor Graphics presents a tale of what happened in Wonderland following Alice's departure from the kingdom. Nice art, could be neat.

X-Men: Firestar Digest TP - I don't know why Marvel's collecting this Firestar four-issue mini-series. They may be experimenting to see if people will buy these older throwaway series in this sort of format, or maybe they want to capitalize on Firestar's involvement in the upcoming The Beyond series. Either way, it was kind of strange seeing the solicitation for this. But, hell, it's only $8.

Krazy & Ignatz 1937 - 1938: Shifting Sands Dusts Cheek Powdered - George Herriman's comic strip continues with a really pretty cover this month.

X-Men Fairy Tales #1 (of 4) - Taking a cue from the old "Kitty's Fairy Tale" story from the classic Uncanny X-Men story, a mini-series, featuring a different artist with each issue, will place the X-Men in different worlds and situations to retell classic myths.

DC Solicits: August '06

DC has released their list of titles shipping in August, so I'll be highlighting some things you may want to ponder picking up. Check out the full list at Newsarama.

Manhunter #25 - I saw the news before I read the solicitation for this issue. This will be the last issue of the series. It really sucks, because I love Kate Spencer and it's such a great title. I think this is the first book that's been cancelled while I was reading it that I really felt sad about since the original Excalibur ended back in the day. This is the only DC Universe title I currently read aside from the new Blue Beetle. It's too bad not enough people were reading it despite the acclaim, but at least we had a great run. Sigh. (Also, I should note that another acclaimed DC book, Solo, will have its final issue this month, with issue #12, featuring the art of Walden Wong).

Showcase Presents: Batman (volume 1) TP - It was only a matter of time. DC couldn't have really held this one off much longer.

Showcase Presents: Challengers of the Unknown (volume 1) TP - This is actually an advance solicitation and won't be released until September 27th, but it's good to know that it's on its way. Featuring work by none other than Jack Kirby!

The Creeper #1 - The man who put IDW Publishing on the map, Steve Niles (30 Days of Night), will work his horror master mojo on DC's Creeper this month. I love that creepy cover by Justiniano, who will also be illustrating the book with Walden Wong.

Pride of Baghdad HC - From the mind of Brian K. Vaughan of Runaways and Y-the Last Man, comes an original graphic novel with art by Niko Henrichon about four lions who escape a zoo in Baghdad to wander the streets, giving a look into Iraq through their perspective. Could be cool.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Borrowed Time

The first book in a series of graphic novels debuted this past week from Oni Press called Borrowed Time. This book, written by Neal Shaffer with art by Joe Infurnari, is about a reporter, Taylor Devlin, who leaves behind his perfect life to venture through the Bermuda Triangle to spice up an article he's writing about it. Unfortunately for him, something happens. When he returns home following the incident, he finds things different, and longs for that life he can no longer touch. Others are in his same predicament however, and teach him how to cope with the ordeal. I enjoyed the first book of this series. I was genuinely intrigued by the events depicted by Infurnari's competent illustrations. Even if I did feel a little odd and disoriented by how things changed, it only proves the prowess of the creative team, since Taylor Devlin is just as out-of-sorts, if not more so. I don't know how interesting the story is going to be following this first chapter, since it seems like everything happened in this book, but I have a feeling that Shaffer and Infurnari are going to keep things interesting, maybe by way of The Walking Dead, which is more about the ongoing struggle to survive and find a place after being left adrift following a cataclysmic event. But that's all only speculation. For now, I've enjoyed Borrowed Time, Book One, and I hope there's more good stuff to come.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A.L.I.E.E.E.N.

Lewis Trondheim's A.L.I.E.E.E.N. (Archives of Lost Issues and Earthly Editions of Extraterrestrial Novelties) is written as if it were a comic found on Earth, actually written by an alien species. The world is foreign, the creatures speak an alien language and the customs of the characters are strange. The book comprises of several short stories featuring different alien characters in stories of pooping, bludgeoning and loneliness. And the stories kind of weave in and out of each other, so some things that may not have made sense in one story become clearer as they're expanded on elsewhere, or one story may just enhance the story of another character's. It's all alien, yet there's something human about what the little guys go through, whether bullied or merely misunderstood. And I kind of had a fondness for the creatures that made me not like seeing them hurt, since their characters can shine through the language barrier just fine. It's strange reading a story and knowing that they are speaking, but not knowing what they are communicating to one another. I often found myself making up what they were saying to try to fit into the context of what was occurring, something that really made me appreciate the storyteller more than a book like, say Owly, which is a completely wordless book, also for all-ages, that is almost too simple for words. I don't get much emotion from Owly, but I feel for these characters through their facial expressions, or their blank looks, beyond their foreign tongue. But make no mistake - this is a word-free book. It's like watching a foreign film without subtitles. Some people say that the mark of a good director is that you should be able to watch a film with the sound off to see if it still makes sense, if you can follow it. If that case holds true for comics, then Trondheim is a wonderful "director." I also loved how A.L.I.E.E.E.N. was presented as if found by Lewis Trondheim himself and he was just publishing his find as it was (complete with yellowed pages and faux-creased corners, as well as reviews on the back, also in a nonsensical language). I think the character designs are simple, but lovely, some of the creatures donning more Earth-like appearances than others. And the fairly bare landscapes are beautiful with their odd plantlife and buildings. It's just all around a fun read (albeit a quick one), definitely worth the $13. I can't say anything for the rest of :01 First Second Books' initial titles, but so far, for me, they've got a clean record.

Friday, May 12, 2006

In Passing...Fables to Nana

American Virgin #3 - I'm really enjoying Becky Cloonan's art on this series. The story is also pretty compelling, courtesy of Steven T. Seagle, but if not for the art, it wouldn't be one I'd necessarily have to pick up every week. This issue's the weakest of the series so far, but it's leading toward what has the potential to be a really cool conclusion. It'll be interesting to see what direction the characters take following this initial story. 7.1/10

Fables #49 - The "Wolves" story arc comes to a conclusion as Jabatberhari from The Jungle Book closes in on Bigby Wolf's location, and a guest departs from the animal farm. I did enjoy the last issue of this arc much more than this - it had more really cool moments and character interaction. This one was just consistently mediocre. Although I'm sure it's setting up some big events for the 50th issue next month. 4/10

From Shojo Beat: June 2006:
Absolute Boyfriend - This was probably the best single chapter of Absolute Boyfriend thus far. In light of Riiko's kiss with another boy, she discovers that she's extremely close to losing Night, as he's been rebooted by a kiss from another woman. She reflects over the past few months with the mail-order boyfriend amid a cloud of confusion over what Soshi means to her, and realizes that she will miss Night if he leaves after all. But how is she to win him back? It's all very stressful and I can't wait until Yuu Watase resolves this next month (I hope she resolves it). 9.5/10

Nana - And Nana. My God I love Ai Yazawa. Whenever Nana Komatsu is really happy, I'm really happy too. If she's depressed, like she gets in this story, I feel the same. It really speaks to Yazawa's ability as a storyteller that I feel so much for the characters. Something about the circumstances in this story in particular spoke to me and really made me feel pained. I needed a nice big hug after this chapter. 9.7/10

Excellent chapters of the books in Shojo Beat this month. I should note that for next month's installment of the magazine, they list a new book, Vampire Knight in place of Godchild and say to follow the continuing adventures of Cain in the third volume of the Godchild out in Novemeber. Personally, I don't really like the book, so it'll be nice to see a new story in its stead.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New Mutants Classic

The original New Mutants finally get a collection as part of Marvel's new "Classic" line. Following the excellent Excalibur Classic, this trade collection has beautiful production values to experience the comic as it was meant to be experienced - in color, on quality paper, and in an affordable package (some people may argue that $25 is a lot, but really I'd rather see it like this than as a "Masterworks" at twice as much. Excalibur Classic was only $20, but contained three less issues. Anyways, you can find them both on Amazon for $16 and $13, respectively, if it's a big deal.)

New Mutants Classic (volume 1) collects Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod's New Mutants #1-7, as well as Uncanny X-Men #167 (an issue I actually read fairly recently from an Essential X-Men volume) and the debut of the characters contained within, from Marvel Graphic Novel #4. I was kind of disappointed at the introduction of the characters, as it was done exactly like Giant-Size X-Men #1, showcasing each character in a distressing situation individually before bringing them together to work as a team. I understand the whole trying-to-recapture-the-success of that new team, but it could have been done with a touch of originality. I felt like I was just going through the motions. I did, however, enjoy the characters. I'm not very familiar with the original New Mutants. I don't think I've actually ever read an issue before this. I do know Wolfsbane from later Excalibur issues and I've come across Sunspot and Cannonball here and there, but I certainly had no clue as to who they really were. Dani Moonstar and Karma round up the rest of the team. It's really kind of fun to be with them in this comic though. They're not the best stories necessarily. They're mostly about the group discovering their powers and getting into some sort of situation or another, with emotions running high. I much prefer the X-Men stories from around this time (like the whole Brood saga), if not a little earlier, with the same feel as these and more diverse and distinctive characters. The New Mutants certainly grew on me as I read the collection, but they're not the most enthralling characters of the Marvel Universe, getting into fights we've seen before with Sentinels and with the Silver Samurai and Viper, done better in other books. I was looking at upcoming issues of the series however, and I'm kind of excited to see Magma and Magik coming into it soon. I'll get the next collection in light of that, but I probably would have eventually gotten around to it anyway, as I found myself kind of looking forward to reading another issue.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

In Stores 5/10

Books shipping to comic shops this week that you may want to give a second glance...

:01 Second Books' first wave of titles appeared in bookstores last week, but this Wednesday they make their comic shop debut with titles such as A.L.I.E.E.E.N., The Fate of the Artist and Vampire Loves.

Samurai: Heaven and Earth TP - Collecting the five-issue mini-series from Dark Horse, this Ron Marz/Luke Ross title looks just amazing, about a samurai who's fighting to be reunited with his love.

Girls (volume 2): Emergence TP - The Luna Brothers' Image series gets a second trade! I love the Luna Brothers. While I much preferred Ultra to Girls, Girls was still one of my favorite books of last year and it's been too long since the last collection came out.

Skrull Kill Krew TP - Anything coming out from Grant Morrison is exciting. This mini-series came out years ago, so you know, Marvel had to capitalize on him now that he's DC-exclusive.

Nymph GN - Frank Thorne's latest graphic novel, from Fantagraphics, follows a young woman among travelling players, who perform a show of live sex and burlesque. Looks beautiful.

Ultimate Spider-man (volume 15): Silver Sable TP - I've really loved the most recent arcs of Ultimate Spider-man. Silver Sable's one of my favorite obscure female characters that I've developed an attachment to, so this one was extra special.

Borrowed Time (volume 1) - The first in a series of graphic novels from Oni Press, Borrowed Time is about a man who leaves behind his perfect life to accompany a ship to the Bermuda Triangle, and how he strives to get that life back.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Death Note (2 & 3)

I'm trying to get all caught up on Death Note since I came into the game a little late (and it's damn addictive), so I read two volumes of the series over the weekend: two and three. These books were, predictably, as fast-paced and suspenseful as the first, prompting me to run out to the store for the next installment immediately following the second volume's conclusion (I'm gonna be sweating it out when I actually get caught up). New players come into the game in these books, and new situations arise as the police get closer to the person in possession of the death note. Light Yagami finds that he has to be even bolder and more cunning than ever before if he is to paint the world his version of Utopia, free of criminals. I'm really enjoying Light as a character, as well as the enigmatic, eccentric L. And the new element introduced at the end of volume three has me biting my nails for volume four... What I'm trying to say here, in case I'm not getting it across, is that I like this manga. Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata write a story fluid and ever-changing and painfully addictive.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Free Comic Book Day 2006

Another Free Comic Book Day has come and gone. My local store had a parade of storm troopers hanging out with friends Darth Vader and Leia outside the doors, trying to embarass me, discourage me in my mission for some free floppies. I passed the trials however and snatched up my two allowed comics, choosing Free Scott Pilgrim from Oni Press and X-Men/Runaways from Marvel.

Free Scott Pilgrim - Bryan Lee O'Malley is awesome. The characters in Scott Pilgrim are just instantly loveable. It's been about a year since Scott Pilgrim vs. The World came out and in the first panel, I recalled my affection for the characters and fell in love with them again, on the spot. Scott starts his adventure choosing which soda he wants on the way to the movies with his gay best friend and the girl of his dreams, comparing the nutrition facts in terms of RPG lingo (Strength -1, Speed +2, etc.). As they proceed to the theater, Scott gets attacked by a movie star who comes out of several posters, and his two companions calmly discuss the situation at a distance, while Scott's getting his ass kicked. It's wonderful.

X-Men/Runaways - This was a smart way for Marvel to get people interested in Runaways if they're already reading Astonishing X-Men. And it was executed really well. I wasn't sure I was going to like the art at first, provided by Skottie Young, but once the X-Men appeared in the book, I loved it. I don't think the Runaways looked that great in his cartoony style, but the X-Men looked fantastic. It may be because the X-Men are so iconic and recognizable, but they were amazing. It was a fun battle between the two teams that got a few laughs out of me. Very enjoyable, although shorter than I thought it would be (most of the issue was filled with a bunch of crappy fluffer including an eleven-page breakdown of the plot of Ultimate Spider-man up to the current arc (lame)).

Based on these two offerings, I thought the books this year were much better than in the past. They're comics I would imagine would actually interest people into buying the respective books.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

In passing...Robotika and Season of the Witch

Season of the Witch #4 (of 4) - The four issue mini-series by Jai Nitz and Nicola Scott concluded this past week, on a poor note. As the series progressed, the story got more interesting as the protagonist slowly turned toward a dark direction in favor of the clean-cut champion she was being groomed to be. Unfortunately, with Jessica taking the throne in wake of the previous issue, the comic just got silly, as the new monarch stood around complaining about the newspaper and building their world's version of McDonald's. It was a pretty ridiculous and almost insulting, end to the story and the character. On the bright side, Nicola Scott's art improved dramatically from the first issue to the last and we could potentially see some really nice stuff come from her in the future. 2/10

Robotika #3 (of 4) - Alex Sheikman's mini from Archaia Studios Press is shaping up to be a really great comic. Plenty of action is offered amid the fast pace and imaginative world that the author has created. It's almost like reading a dream sometimes, it gives such a surreal impression, but it's certainly coherant and often beautiful. Sheikman continues to offer an imaginative structure to his storytelling as well, as panels from the protagonist's dreams/visions are shaped like a cloud of bats or of men digging a grave, while apparitions of stunning designs hover nearby. A comic this creative and wonderful doesn't come along very often. As a bonus, there are some really nice pin-ups in the back of the issue, from the likes of J.H. Williams III and Norman Felchle (whose was my favorite). 8.4/10

Friday, May 05, 2006

Civil War #1

After plenty of hype and media coverage, the first issue of Marvel's big summer crossover Civil War (of seven issues) has arrived in comic stores. And so far, not sucking so much. I knew that if anything, the Steve McNiven art would be worth picking up the first issue of the series. I've been a fan of his since his work on Crossgen's Meridian and he's only getting better. But Mark Millar's storytelling isn't so bad either. The issue opens with the New Warriors raiding a residence housing four of America's Most Wanted, for a boost of ratings on their reality show. Unfortunately, things don't go as planned as the villain Nitrate causes an explosion that not only engulfs and kills every member of the superhero team, but a school of children as well. The public outcry at the event, the recklessness of the heroes involved, have spurred Congress to consider a Superhero Registration Act, whereby heroes would essentially be superpowered cops, identities public knowledge. Now, I'm not a huge fan of the New Warriors or anything, but Marvel has a thing for killing off obscure teams lately (Alpha Flight in New Avengers) and I love the new designs of the New Warriors team, particularly Namorita and Speedball. I've been considering picking up the New Warriors: Reality Check trade for awhile now. So, you know, didn't appreciate the whole killing off there, but this is Marvel and resurrections go around like the clap, so that probably wasn't exactly the last we'll see of them, but...just saying.

The Superhero Registration Act could have been substituted for a more inspired plot device, as the Mutant Registration Act has been a black cloud hanging over the X-Men for decades. this may be the next logical step to that idea, but it was a little too easy and therefore, a little lame. That and Millar's using the phrase "the straw that broke the camel's back" twice in this little issue were the only things that really kind of bugged me, but it certainly wasn't enough to ruin the book or anything. It was still pretty good. I really enjoyed the discussion the heroes had about revealing their identities. Some people thought it was no big deal and they should pacify a paniced public, others like Spider-man said he didn't want to go home to find Mary Jane impaled by Doctor Octopus. There are concerns on both sides. I kind of liked the idea of a superhero strike. Serve the public right at this point considering how disgusting they're acting. But anyways, my favorite exchange of dialogue was between Captain America and Commander Hill, who's in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D., following a superhero meeting at the Avengers' HQ:

HILL: "How many rebels do you estimate here, Captain?"

CAP: "A lot."

HILL: "Any majors?"

CAP: "A few, but mostly the heroes who work close to the streets like Daredevil and Luke Cage."

HILL: "So nobody you can't handle?"

That last remark from Hill sent a chill down my spine when I first read it. I like Hill, even if she is sort of a bitch. But anyway, this is shaping up to be a decent story and I'll be looking forward to the subsequent issues.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Ultimate Spider-man: Deadpool

***Contains spoilers***
The latest Ultimate Spider-man arc, "Deadpool," concluded with issue #94 after a four-issue run. For a series that seems to come out every other week, this book remains high quality and ferociously entertaining. Sure, there are a few duds here and there, but overall this series is great. "Deadpool" was the story arc that was just waiting to happen since Ultimate Spider-man Annual #1, when Peter Parker got a new girlfriend in the form of Kitty Pryde. She was a girlfriend who could hold her own in dangerous situations; He wouldn't have to worry about her like he would with Mary Jane. So, of course her being an X-Man had to endanger him eventually, and Peter Parker ends up getting kidnapped as the entire Ultimate X-Men team is dragged off to Krakoa Island for round two of Mojo's fight-to-the-death reality television (the first appearance of which occurred in Ultimate X-Men). It's a fun crossover, as the X-Men and Spidey team up to battle Deadpool and his band of cybernetically-altered Reavers bent on taking out "mutant scum." The first issue of the series that led into this situation was top-notch storytelling. A perfect date, Kitty trying out new outfits like she did back in her early Uncanny X-Men days, kicking a little bad guy butt, before the shit hit the fan and Spidey was whisked back to the X-mansion. The two middle issues dipped in quality as the heroes struggled to grasp exactly what was going on and blindly lashed out at the enemy. It was unfortunate that the battles took place amid some very heavy dialogue from Augustus Beezer, who was hosting the reality show; It was really just exhausting trying to waid through some of the pointless play-by-play. An element introduced early in the story was of Deadpool's respect for Spider-man's mask: he refused to let the Reavers take it off. So, of course, they would have to pay off what Deadpool looked like beneath his. At the end of issue three, Deadpool's mask was taken off to reveal Professor Xavier, which was a big fake-out (the Reavers took out the X-Men originally by using image inducers - this was another one). But I'll be damned if I wasn't impressed with how Deadpool actually looked when his real face was revealed. Bendis and Bagley actually did it, gave a great payoff. Not only that, but Kitty got to kick some real ass in this issue too, taking out Reavers left and right when they hurt her boyfriend. It was a cool moment (especially when she took out Deadpool herself) since it just reinforces that she is able to handle herself in these sort of situations, and not just in a passive Look-I-Can-Phase capacity. The end of the story had Peter and Pryde walking into his house together to deal with the repercussions of having gone missing for an extended period of time, but as Kitty says, he "dodged a bullet," since Aunt May wasn't home. I don't even want to go there though. Anyways, Bagley's doing some impressive work for how frequently these are coming out, and Bendis shows know sign of slowing down his creative juices. This is the only Ultimate book I consistently look forward to reading. And man, do I love the whole Spidey-Kitty relationship.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Mouse Guard #2

When I think back to the first issue of this mini-series, it really was a great way to introduce the world of Mouse Guard. A small band of mice searched for a missing grain merchant. Simple. But then they introduce the overlying thread of the mini-series as well, that of a spy among the Guard. It was a pretty self-contained story, with a little nudge toward the story arc of the series. Mouse Guard #2 starts off just as much its own story. In this tale, "Shadows Within," we follow Sadie, with her cute little swords and big mouse ears, as she attempts to discover what became of Guard member Conrad, who hasn't made contact for a season. The opening scenes of the book showcase the beautiful environment that the mice live in, of a lazy river with lush grassy banks and cattails, then moving into a sandy beach where a small house stands at the edge of wild grass. It really speaks to David Petersen's craft that much of the book is really a showcase of nature. It goes hand-in-hand with the beautiful mouse designs he's created for his book, simple but expressive. It's amazing what Petersen can do with the mice, given that most of their expressions are conveyed through only their eyes and ears. It just further exemplifies that he is really a thoughtful, interesting cartoonist. The battles of the book are illustrated with as much attention, and you realize your affection for the mice as their lives are on the line and battling hordes of giant crabs. This all-ages book captures the imagination with its epic feel and courageous characters. By the end of the issue, it's not as self-contained as the first issue, but it will certainly make for some interesting issues to come. Check out a preview of this issue, as well as the first, at the publisher's website.