Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sleeper: Out In the Cold

Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

I figured that this would be a rather timely review, what with the same creative team's new book Criminal debuting from Marvel's Icon line in a few short months... This series brought a lot of attention to Ed Brubaker, and really served to put him on the map. Many fellow bloggers have been singing the books praises quite loudly, so I figured that it was about time to wipe the dust from the spine of the book that had been sitting on my bookshelf for over a year and give it a proper reading-through. And so it goes...

Sleeper tells the story of a superpowered sleeper agent deep undercover within a complicated hierarchy of villains pulling strings the world over. The only problem is that this agent, Holden Carver, has been cut off from the good guys he actually works for since his contact - the one man who knew of his true position - has slipped into a coma. As Carver stews in the position he's been left in, he falls deeper into the crime syndicate and ponders angrily over his predicament, struggling to walk a line he know longer has the intel to see as clearly as before.

This book includes some really interesting philosophical questions, particularly when it comes to doing what's right or wrong, given the way Carver's left to his own devices within a hornet's nest. But not everything can be boiled down so easily, as the cliche goes, to black and white. Carver experiences this for himself as he finds himself working alongside Tao, the mastermind behind the villainy, and the fascinating Miss Misery. The backstories of many of the tale's villains are especially interesting and demand plenty of sympathy from the readers for the predicaments these people found themselves in as children that paved the way for their future folly.

Following the first issue of the series, I'm not sure I would have been compelled to read any subsequent issues of Sleeper. It was pretty dull in comparison to many other genre works on the market. After finishing the entire first volume of the book, however, it stands as a well-crafted genre work. But not much more. It certainly hasn't lived up to the hype built around it, despite its great art and clever story and ideas. In the end, it's a superhero book shrouded in noir. Better than the average book starring men with healing factors and capes, but not exactly the second coming that some have professed it to be. B

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Double Take: Previews special

Welcome once more to Pat and Dave’s Double Take, where we each weigh in on…well, usually on a specific comic. This week, however, we’re going to be going through the new Previews catalogue (for books coming out in November) to comment on various solicitations. Enjoy!

Marvel

Dave: I already commented on Marvel’s solicits on-line, so the Marvel section is primarily going to be Pat’s picks.

Pat: I’ll probably check out Ultimate Power eventually because I’m kind of a Brian Bendis completist. I should say only because I’m a Brian Bendis completist because the premise doesn’t sound particularly intriguing to me. I’ll wait for the trade though.

I’m going to buy Ultimate Spider-Man #102 because I’ve enjoyed the ninety-nine issues released thus far.

Dave: I love the cover to Agents of Atlas #4. I think I’ll check that comic out in trade format since I’ve been hearing good things about it and I really enjoyed Jeff Parker’s Interman.

Pat: Tom Spurgeon has a very nice interview with Jeff Parker up on his great site, The Comics Reporter.

I don’t read Incredible Hulk, but I really like Jose Ladronn’s covers. Oh god - a variant cover by Michael Turner? Who would buy a Michael Turner cover if they could have a cover by Ladronn?

I’m excited about the return of Hawkeye and the Scarlet Witch in New Avengers #26. And I see it’s drawn by Alex Maleev, so now I’m really excited about it!

Nice cover for Runaways #22. Looks like it’s focusing on Victor, which is good because he’s a cool character. I guess I may have to read Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways after all.

I should note Astonishing X-Men #19 - the first part of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s final story arc: Unstoppable. I do hear occasional griping on-line about this comic book, but in my opinion, it’s been a consistently well-crafted superhero series, which is really all I ask of the X-Men.

I have a feeling Criminal is going to be a very good comic book.

One day I’ll get caught up on Powers trade paperbacks.

I can’t really afford the Marvel Masterworks hardcovers, but if you can, you should probably buy Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor, Volume 5.

I’m also not going to buy the New X-Men Omnibus hardcover, collecting the entirety of Grant Morrison’s run on the series, only because I own all of the single issues and I am poor, but I hope a lot of people do pick this up because I can’t think of material more worthy to be included in the omnibus format. These are exceptional comic books. I would place them next to Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Stan Lee’s and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four in the pantheon of classic, essential mainstream superhero comics.

I’m not going to buy the Secret War trade paperback just like I didn’t buy the Secret War hardcover. I kind of wish I hadn’t bought the Secret War mini-series.

I’m definitely going to get Captain America and the Falcon: The Swine trade paperback. I’ve been enjoying these soft cover reprints of Jack Kirby’s 1970’s run on Captain America.

Dave: Okay, now for the rest of the catalogue…

Dark Horse

Dave: I’ve been meaning to check out Sumarai: Heaven and Earth. And I will. Now the sequel is coming out from Ron Marz and Luke Ross and looks as beautiful as ever.

DC Comics

Dave: I also talked about DC solicits earlier…

Pat: Batman #659! David, I’m glad you’ve come on board with this series. It is great.

Dave: Yeah, I wasn't so impressed the debut issue of Morrison's run, but the second one convinced me that it needs to be a monthly purchase.

Pat: All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #5 - This comic book is also great, but late! It has a drawing of Wonder Woman’s butt on the cover.

I read the first issue of 52 for free on-line. DC owes me twenty minutes.

I’ll buy Showcase Presents Shazam! Volume One eventually…

I’ve recently started getting into the Bruce Timm animated DC cartoons again. And the comics based on them. Justice League Unlimited #27 looks pretty good.

I’ll wait until Grant Morrison’s and Jim Lee’s Wildcats is collected into a trade paperback.

Image Comics:

Pat: Lots of beheadings in the Image solicits this month (The Tripper, Drain #1)

Dave: Girls, yay! The third trade comes out. Love the Luna Brothers.

Pat: I want someone to buy me a Mr. Glum plushy!!

Dave: I think Bomb Queen is a really, really well-designed character. I don’t think I would ever buy the comic though…

Pat: I like the Ice Queen’s costume on that book too. It seems like it could be a fun comic book that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

I’m looking forward to Savage Dragon #131, as I look forward to every issue of Savage Dragon. This one looks like a direct follow-up to the recent She-Dragon one-shot. I’m glad to see Battle Axe in the regular series because I really liked Erik Larsen’s design sketches for her in the back of the She-Dragon one-shot. But I wasn’t as taken with She-Dragon artist Francesco’s depiction of the character. Also I really like Dark Dragon, so it should be a good issue.

Alternative Comics

Pat: I don’t know if these are reoffers, but people should buy Pizzeria Kamikaze by Etgar Keret and Asaf Hanuka and The Placebo Man by Tomer Hanuka because they collect really, really good comics from the brothers’ hopefully not defunct series, Bipolar.

Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics

Pat: Gargoyles #3 is a must-buy for me. This issue begins branching the story off into new areas beyond what has been seen in the cartoon. Good stuff.

Dave: I love the cover for Wonderland #3 - this is really a great series for all-ages.

Pat: Yeah, I’ve heard really good things about Wonderland. I like that cover too. I suppose I should read it.

Checker Book Publishing Group

Pat: Winsor McCay: The Editorial Works might be worth checking out, although I can’t say the things I’ve heard in regards to the quality of Checker’s reproduction of old comic strips fills me with much confidence that this material will be given the showcase it probably deserves.

Drawn & Quarterly

Pat: Curses by Kevin Huizenga is probably my pick of the catalogue. A collection of Huizenga’s anthology work and previously uncollected short pieces. Huizenga is a master cartoonist and this book looks like a lovely showcase for his talents. Definitely look for this one.

Lucky by Gabrielle Bell is probably also going to be really good.

Fanfare/Ponent Mon

Pat: Kan Takahama’s Kinderbook gets a new printing. I’ve been meaning to check this one out.

Fantagraphics Books

Pat: The Comics Journal is always worth reading. This issue features Gary Groths’ interview with Frank Thorne. Sounds good to me.

Hank Ketchum’s Complete Dennis the Menace 1955-1956 hardcover is the third in the Fantagraphics series. I haven’t read the second volume yet, but I will eventually. And I will eventually purchase this volume. There’s only so much time in the day, you know? It looks like you can also purchase the first two volumes as a boxed set similar to what they’ve done with The Complete Peanuts collections. This would be a nice way to enjoy the series.

The sixth volume of Mome features work by Lewis Trondheim. Just another reason to check out this great anthology.

Gemstone Publishing

Pat: I wish I could afford to buy The EC Archives books. One day they will be mine. One glorious day.

Houghton Mifflin Company

Pat: the best graphic novel of the year so far, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, is offered again to the direct market. Don’t miss out, literature-lovers!

Seven Seas Entertainment LLC

Dave: The second Inverloch trade comes out this month. I really want to check out the first volume of the hit web comic. It looks cute.

Viz

Pat: All of the good manga is on one page! And it’s all part of Viz’s signature line. Please buy The Drifting Classroom Volume 3 by Kazuo Umezu, Golgo 13 Volume 6, and Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Volume 6. Thank you.

Misc…

Pat: Strips, Toons & Bluesies: Essays in Comics and Culture - I hadn’t heard of this book, but Todd Hignite (editor of the excellent and recently-relaunched and reformatted Comic Art magazine) is one of the editors of this collection of comics scholarship. I likes me some good comics scholarship. Hopefully this will fall under that category. Worth looking out for.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

In Stores 8/30

Books coming out this week that may be of interest…

Athena Voltaire: Flight of the Falcon (Ape Edition) #1 - With Speakeasy’s fall, a really great comic disappeared from comic store shelves. Thankfully, Ape picked up this Athena Voltaire mini-series (from the creators of the hit web comic) and are offering the first two issues together in this Ape Edition. The first issue was truly amazing. This is one comic you don‘t want to miss out on. Don’t believe me? Check out the first 24 pages on-line for free!

Ultimate Spider-Man (Volume 16): Deadpool TP - The latest collection of Bendis and Bagley’s great superhero series has Spider-Man teaming up with the X-Men against Deadpool and his Reavers. I felt the latter half of the storyline wasn’t the best, but overall it was a good story.

Showcase Presents Batman (Volume 1) TP - Another showcase, this one featuring one of DC’s most beloved characters (if not the most beloved).

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. (Volume 1): This Is What They Want HC - Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen’s series featuring a group of D-List superheroes is really fun and fresh. I’m not sure if it’s worth $20 for a hardcover edition, but it’s worth checking out at some point.

Book of Lost Souls TP - J. Michael Straczynski’s Marvel Icon series reads like a watered-down Sandman. It’s an alright story, but the only real reason to pick this up is for the art by the talented Colleen Doran.

Little Lulu Color Special - The best of the comedic Little Lulu is now being offered in color in this 200+ page paperback. If you haven’t checked out the trades thus far, this is a great place to start.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Manga Monday 6

Alien Nine (Volume 1)
Hitoshi Tomizawa

Alien Nine is a pretty wacky manga that follows three girls who have all been nominated by their respective classes to be in “The Alien Party.” The girls get out of a lot of regular classwork and such, but in exchange, they must don alien helmets and hunt down a variety of aliens that roam the school grounds. The bug-eyed symbiotic aliens that the girls place on their heads protect their wearers from harm, but can also lash out if their human host is frightened. For their protection, all the aliens ask in return is to feed off of the girls’ bodily waste: sweat. The aliens can be seen licking the naked girls‘ backs with their long tongues in a few unsettling panels.

Of the three girls that take on the responsibility of alien hunters, Yuri is the main focus of this volume, and she isn’t very good at the tasks she’s assigned, and doesn’t really want to be a part of the team at all. She has a strained relationship with her alien, often throwing out hurtful comments without thinking and sighing in its face. Kasumi, in contrast, is gifted when it comes to alien-hunting and uses the abilities her alien provides in creative ways, with amazing results. The final girl, Kumi, is very serious about the job at hand and is easily frustrated by Yuri’s performance, and is jealous at the same time of the promise Kasumi demonstrates. To her, this isn’t necessarily fun for her like it is with Kasumi, but it is a job that she wants to perform to the utmost of her ability.

This is a fun book. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it. There’s a mystery that shrouds the series about how the world ended up the way it did. It’s all passed off without explaining the details of the aliens they battle and how they work, as if assuming the reader would already know. It’s really cool in that regard. But it’s really a cute action story at its core. It does get surprisingly dark as the series progresses, often shockingly so as girls encounter situations they don't know how to deal with, and with the disturbing changes the girls' bodies go through when their relationships with the aliens progress. These dark scenes, along with some surprisingly tender moments, tend to break up the cheerful tone of the book, but for the most part, you can go into a chapter expecting a good time and a smile, but really any direction the creator decides to take the story is fine with me because it's all executed brilliantly. Though in spite of that light-hearted attitude the series tends to take (and advertise), it is a surprisingly complex, multi-layered work with some genuinely fantastic characterization. Tomizawa’s art is wonderful as well, as are his designs for the aliens contained within. Sure, the girls may look a little silly in their battle gear, but the creatures are truly alien and strange, and act very differently from one another, keeping readers on their toes since it’s hard to know what to expect with the next encounter.

In case you couldn’t tell, I was extremely impressed with the first volume of this series. The consistent quality and intrigue of the series, as well as the interesting characters, combine to make Alien Nine one of the most promising manga series I’ve picked up in recent memory. A

And in case you missed it, our most recent Double Take featured Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata's Death Note (Volume 7).

Manga Monday 5
Manga Monday 4
Manga Monday 3
Manga Monday 2
Manga Monday!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Dampyr (Volume 6): Lamiah

Maurizio Colombo & Majo

I got a little behind on collecting the European hit comic series Dampyr from IDW Publishing. When the title suddenly was no longer solicited in Previews, and I eventually read in an IDW forum that the series was, indeed, not going to continue being collected in the U.S. through them, I think I lost enthusiasm to finish tracking down the remaining collections. I picked this volume up at the Chicago Wizard World convention for half off, and it just reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the project. This is a really great series and I'm extremely pleased with IDW for exposing me to it. It's too bad that sales didn't justify publishing more volumes, but at least we got eight (for now).

Dampyr follows Harlan, a half-human, half-vampire whose blood is deadly to vampires. As Harlan goes on a quest to track down several master vampires, including his own father, he kills vampires, ghosts and various demons where they wreak havoc. In this particular volume, Harlan makes his way to Berlin, where a vampire is making her presence known through a series of extremely brutal, attention-raising attacks. This vampire, Lamiah, seeks revenge on a heinous crime committed against her by vampire master Shrek, and Harlan soon realizes that he has his hands full with the two warring masters. Tessa, a reformed vampire who's aided Harlan in the past, has her own objectives in Berlin, her hometown, and makes some hard choices as ghosts from the past pop back into her life. The opening scene of this volume reminded me of a scene I saw in a Dario Argento film recently - I believe it was Inferno, as a man runs from a shadowy figure amid ancient monuments and statues, stumbling, crying out for help... Dampyr has its cliches, sure, but overall, it's a really suspenseful, exciting series to follow, with some truly frightening moments, inventive storylines, and some great, tortured characters. Fans of genre work, I think, will fall hard for the series. Like I did. Don't let the fact that it's not continuing discourage you from picking up the few volumes in print in America. They're definitely worth seeking out. A

Friday, August 25, 2006

Double Take 3

Welcome to the third Double Take, where Patrick and I weigh in on a book together in classic Ebert & Roeper fashion. This week: another manga! This one will contain MAJOR SPOILERS, so proceed at your own risk.

Death Note (Volume 7)
Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Dave says: I came onto this series a little late in the game, but man, I’ve loved the book since I picked up the first volume. If there’s any book out there with more action and thrills than Death Note, I would certainly like to know about it. This book embodies the term “page-turner.” In light of that, the series in general is very dependant on its plot. That’s not to say that the characters aren’t great, because they are. But with so much of the series hinging on actual events involved, it unfortunately makes it extremely difficult to discuss this book without tying events of the story to it. That being said, I’m going to talk specifically about things that occurred within the seventh volume of the series, assuming that anyone reading this post will have read it previously. So, spoilers will be prevalent. And they are huge spoilers because a lot of stuff goes down in this volume. Major things following up on the previous volume’s cliffhanger: Light Yagami reclaims the death note, as does Misa Amane, and through his diabolical plotting, Light forces the Shinigami Ren to kill L, and therefore kill herself, leaving the road ahead clear of obstructions to build his ideal world. That was a lot of stuff to go down, and not little stuff, but huge, world-altering moments, chapter after chapter. I think I found it more enjoyable when Light was Kira, so it’s nice to see that circumstance return, but I also enjoyed the dynamic between Light and L. With L out of the picture, the status quo is completely different and could have killed much of the series’ suspense, had the creators not had an equally intriguing story take its place. The final few chapters of this volume are the beginning of a new era for the series, as new opponents are set up to battle Kira, and make things difficult for Light’s plan of a Utopia free of criminals.

Patrick says: Well, yeah, this is great. We’re going to have to find a book that you and I disagree on to make this feature more interesting, Dave! In any case, for me, Death Note is probably the best mainstream comic being published right now…..the only other serious contender would be Dragon Head, I think, and the two are so different it’s almost impossible to compare. If I was forced at gunpoint to choose only one I could follow, though, I think I’d probably choose Death Note….it’s just a really, really fun series. Very well drawn, too, by Takeshi Obata, apparently also the artist of Hikaru No Go, a book I’ve not read but would like to. But you’re right…..aside from the pretty pictures, this book really does depend on plot twists and turns to hold readers’ interest…..the latest volumes have focused a bit more on characterization than previous volumes did, but it’s definitely a plot-driven book. This volume probably has the biggest shake-ups to the status quo, and that’s saying something. Probably my favorite volume of the series. The death of L was a huge shock, and really well-handled. I absolutely loved the look on Light’s face as he held the dying L in his arms, his evil sneer letting L know that Light was Kira, as L had suspected but been unable to prove. I wonder, did Light reveal himself out of cruelty, mocking L? Or, did he respect L enough that he felt he deserved to at least know the truth?

Other things I liked about this book: The new characters, Mello and Near….they seem like good successors to L, and a formidable match for Light, with the added twist that they are also going to be attempting to outwit each other. Another great moment was when Light recovered his memories of the death note….it was the moment we’d been waiting for, and I also liked how it was depicted graphically, with a collage of moments we’d seen before in the series. A nice touch.

Boy, I feel like this review is really only for people who are already fans of the series, so I maybe don’t know what the point of writing it was? We really didn’t explain the premise of the series, but this many volumes in, I certainly don’t have the interest or energy to recap the story so far for newbies. I guess I hope people just pick up on our enthusiasm and go check the book out for themselves. Or maybe people who dropped the series after the last major shift in status quo will be interested to know that Light has retrieved his memories and will want to start following the series again. I guess I’d be happy if this rambling nonsense caused even one more person to check out this series, because if you like mainstream genre comics, it really doesn’t get much better than this. A great series.

Dave says: Yeah, it’s kind of hard to review a book like this, but there it is. I also wanted to mention how some characters were very suddenly just written out of the comic and killed off, like Wedi and Aiber. It made sense to kill off the Yotsuba Group, since their arc was kind of over. Wedi and Aiber were just introduced recently and just like that, they were gone with the book’s most recent shift. That’s cool about Death Note though. Nobody’s safe. We never did find out what happened to the girlfriend of that FBI agent from the second book, and she was dropped just as quickly.

Double Take 2: Ghost of Hoppers
Double Take 1: The Drifting Classroom

In Passing...Batman to Eternals

Another big week for floppies...

Batman #656 - The second issue of Grant Morrison’s Batman run was much better than the previous issue. Morrison really made use of the medium via the pop art gallery show in the background to make for a very amusing fight sequence. And really, what more do you need than Batman beating the crap out of a horde of ninja man-bats? A

Jack of Fables #2 - Jack gets properly welcomed to the compound, pondering his situation and meeting a bunch of Fables (and subsequently offending them). The colorist Daniel Vozzo got Paul Bunyan’s ox Babe wrong, as he colored her brown, despite Jack making a point of mentioning her being blue. Not that it was a deal-breaker - it just kind of bugged me. In the end, nothing particularly interesting occurred in this chapter. It was just kind of dull overall. B-

Ultimate Spider-Man #99 - One issue away from the big 100 and Bendis is already shaking up the status quo. Some big things occur in this book that will change the series from here on out. Plus…Gwen Stacy! Come on, you know you missed her. B+

Astonishing X-Men #16 - It’s Kitty Pryde vs. The Hellfire Club! God, just saying that sends shivers of pleasure down my spine. There are shocks and twists and, of course, that one fight we’ve been waiting for since the first issue of the series - you know what I’m talking about. Wolverine’s still as funny as the last issue and one more mystery is unveiled in the final panel…while a few more mysteries crop up throughout. A

New Avengers #23 - The Civil War crossovers continue, this time putting Spider-Woman in the hot seat. She’s the one Avenger no one seems willing to trust, as she’s a triple agent when it comes down to it. She’s probably the most adrift of all the Avengers (I honestly wasn’t quite sure where her loyalties would lie before the end of the book), so this of course made for an interesting issue. There’s a cool scene aboard the SHIELD helicarrier, but overall the art was distractingly bad. I really can’t stand Olivier Coipel. There were a few sequences that were hard to follow, and one page in particular that I just gave up on altogether. Coipel tries to be too flashy and it just hinders the story, making it clumsy with no sense of pacing. It’s all very murky, unfortunately, which is too bad since the story and character moments were pretty intriguing. C-

Eternals #3 (of 6) - This issue recounts the aftermath of Sersi’s party. The Eternals all have to adjust to things they’ve seen and heard, particularly Sersi after a conversation with Iron Man that stems from the Superhuman Registration Act and her former status with the Avengers. I loved the scenes with each of the characters in turn, particularly the one involving Thena, but I feel like I’m missing out on a lot of things, having never read Eternals previously, particularly with new characters popping up all the time, whose involvements seem to be big deals. A-

Also, note some sidebar maintenance. Dirk Deppey’s Journalista! makes its triumphant return, Alan David Doane begins A Criminal Blog in anticipation of the new series from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and I also added a blog you’re probably already familiar with - Polite Dissent.

On a further note, the latest installment of Double Take will be a little late this week, and will hopefully go up later tonight.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Marvel Solicits: November '06

Here are the Marvel books worth a look coming in November....Complete list at Comic Book Resources.

Astonishing X-Men #19 - Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's amazing run on the flagship X-Men title goes into its final run with the first issue of "Unstoppable."

Fantastic Four: The End #1 & 2 (of 6) - Alan Davis serves double duty, as the amazing penciler takes on writing chores to chronicle the final Fantastic Four story.

Incredible Hulk #100 - Greg Pak brings the big green guy to a milestone issue. Full of reprints from Hulk's past, this issue will be a colossal 104-page beast!

Demons of Mercy #1 (of 6) - Riding on the success of the Halo Graphic Novel, Marvel will be launching a six-issue series based on the upcoming fighter game from the X-Box 360 game system.

New X-Men Omnibus HC - This is going to be a treasure. The entire Grant Morrison New X-Men in one deluxe over-sized hardcover volume. This bad boy will hold 1096 pages (41 issues) for $100.

White Tiger #1 - New York Times best-selling fantasy author Tamora Pierce will bring the new White Tiger from the pages of Daredevil to her own solo series, with the help of Timothy Liebe and Phil Briones.

The Immortal Iron Fist #1 - Also spinning out of an appearance in Daredevil is Iron Fist. This series will feature art by David Aja, and will be written by none other than Ed Brubaker and Matt Faction.

Wisdom #1 (of 6) - If there's any one character from the X-universe who needed a MAX book (aside from Wolverine, that is), it would be Pete Wisdom. The bloody, sodding mutant will star in his own six-issue series, thanks to the minds of Paul Cornell and Trevor Hairsine, who will have him, among other things, murdering a bunch of fairies.

Captain America and The Falcon: The Swine TP - The third collection of Jack Kirby's Cap/Falcon series!

Essential Man-Thing (volume 1) TP - Marvel's muck monster gets his own 544-page Essential volume this November, collecting stories from Adventures Into Fear, Monsters Unleased and, oh yes, Giant-Size Man-Thing.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

DC Solicits: November '06

It's that time again, to highlight books being released by DC Comics in November. Full list at Newsarama.

Huntress: Dark Knight Daughter TP - A collection featuring Batman's daughter is arriving in the form of a 224-page juggernaut for $20. Included are her first solo appearance and initial adventures. Being re-released in conjunction with this book is Greg Rucka's Batman/Huntress: Cry For Blood trade, collecting the original mini-series.

Birds of Prey #100 - Speaking of Huntress, the book she shares with Oracle and Black Canary turns 100 under the guiding hand of Gail Simone. Unfortunately, Dinah is leaving the team, so a new member will need to take her place...

Blue Beetle: Shellshocked TP - A collection of the new Blue Beetle series from Keith Giffen is being advance-solicited, and will be available on December 27. It collects 1-6 of the book, a title that started out good enough, but quickly lost my interest.

Superman Confidential #1 - Because we needed another Superman book, Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale are providing a new on-going series starring the Man of Steel.

Showcase Presents: Shazam! (Volume 1) TP - A new Showcase! This one collects #1-35 of the 1973 Shazam! series.

Sachs and Violens TP - Peter David and George Perez's 1993 mini-series finally gets collected. It stars a crime-fighting duo who get an erotic charge from risking their lives to fight society's evils. If anything, we'll be treated to some beautiful Perez art. This is another advance-solicit, available December 6th.

Crossing Midnight #1 - A new Vertigo series from Mike Carey, with art by Jim Fern and Rob Hunter. This book tells the story of twin sisters born on either side of midnight. Set in Nagasaki, it will follow the destinies and disasters that follow the siblings.

In Passing...Manhunter to Fell

I'm a little behind in the floppies, so this is last week's brief reviews...

Manhunter #25 - What would have been the final issue of the series would have been a great one. Kate Spencer finally confronts Sweeney Todd, a fight that's been brewing for awhile, in an unexpected place. The final page of the issue boasts a new era beginning for Manhunter with the next issue, which won't be until December... A-

Runaways #19 - The runaways deal with the death of their friend in the first chapter of "Dead Means Dead." It'll be interesting to see the dynamic of the characters now, with a new runaway in their midst, and everyone dealing with the tragedy in such different ways. B-

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #7 - I'm enjoying this story arc much more than the previous one. The team fighting a bunch of monsters coming out of a Hell Dimension suits them somehow. A-

Fell #6 - This was a great issue for the series, possibly the best yet. It's quite disturbing and highlights Detective Fell's investigative prowess (and unconventional means to get results), as well as containing some nice moments between the good detective and Mayko. A

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

In Stores 8/23

Some books of interest coming to a comic store near you...

Absolute Dark Knight HC - Frank Miller's groundbreaking Dark Knight books get the DC Absolute treatment. For $100, you get The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again in oversized volumes in a beautiful slipcase with a new introduction by Miller himself, as well as plenty of other bonus material like excerpts from the original plot and sketchbook material.

Promethea Book 5 TP - The final collection of Alan Moore and J.H. William III's masterpiece is finally being released in softcover, collecting issues 26-32.

Death Note (Volume 7) - Beware of spoilers for this volume of the popular manga. Best to pick it up ASAP.

Heroes For Hire #1 - Spinning out of Civil War, Marvel introduces a group of heroes who band together to track down fugitives who have refused to abide by the Superhero Registration Act. Included on the team are Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, Shang-Chi, Black Cat, Paladin and the new Tarantula.

Walt & Skeezix (Volume 2) HC - The second volume of Frank King's comic strip collects the daily material from 1923-1924, and includes an eighty page introduction by Jeet Heer.

Claws #1 (of 3)

Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Joe Linsner


A new three issue mini-series from Marvel debuted this past week, throwing together an unlikely pair in a fight for their lives. Wolverine and The Black Cat have both been kidnapped by Kraven the Hunter and are being hunted on an island for sport (that plot just never gets old) by various men and women with big shiny weapons. The portrayal of the characters involved is much more cartoony than most people will be used to, but that being said, it's certainly not a bad thing. It's a fun light-hearted adventure story that highlights the silly side of these characters (and their relationships with Spider-Man and the X-Men, respectively). The art by Joe Linsner is perfectly suited for this type of story and is just gorgeous besides. I love his designs for both characters involved, but particularly The Black Cat, who's never looked better and, indeed, hasn't been much of a visual period before this take. I have a feeling that people will be surprised at how much they enjoy reading this title. B+

Monday, August 21, 2006

Manga Monday 5

This is going to be a shorter Manga Monday than usual due to my recent vacation and the lack of reading I did while on it...

Shojo Beat: September 2006

La Corda d'Oro
Yuki Kure

A preview of the new manga series La Corda d'Oro, soon to be released in the U.S., was included in the most recent issue of Shojo Beat. This may be the first book they've previewed that I'll actually buy. The book is about Seisou Academy, where the academy known for excellence is divided into two schools: one for music and one for general education. The music school in particular is known for turning out great talent. Pretty much anyone who enters into the musical competition they hold inherits fame and fortune. The two schools don't have much crossover, but that's about to change as the unsuspecting General Ed. student Kahoko Hino is about to be granted a gift from a well-meaning fairy, one who has looked over the school since she made a promise to the founder who saved her life years before the school ever opened. This story was really engrossing, despite its pretty silly premise. The art alone is reason enough to want to continue reading. A-

Nana
Ai Yazawa

The latest installment of Nana put Nana Osaki pretty much in her former lover Ren Honjo's lap as she escorts Nana Komatsu to the Trapnest concert in her hometown. Full of all of the heartache and emotional ups and downs you're used to if you follow the story, this is one chapter of the book you can't miss. Relationships become more complicated than ever among Yazawa's masterful strokes. A

Vampire Knight
Matsuri Hino

Since the debut of Vampire Knight, the series hasn't been all that interesting. I may give this one more chapter to hold my interest, but the book seems to retread too much territory each time in an attempt to draw out a paper-thin story. The characters aren't that interesting in the end and remain rather indisctinctive, despite a few who harbor traumatic backstories and find themselves in strange predicaments. In the end, Shojo Beat just has much higher quality art in other titles. D

Absolute Boyfriend
Yuu Watase

Act 15 of Absolute Boyfriend - "The Use of Force" - really forces Night and Soshi into a confrontation for Riiko's affections. Not only are they on a desert island with the woman they both love, but they must attempt to overcome her complete disinterest in either men as she does her best to avoid any confrontations in such a compromising situation. Watase continues to make this love triangle very interesting several chapters into the title, and continues to keep outdoing herself. A-

This month also sees the last chapter of Kaze Hikaru to appear in the magazine, with the new Backstage Prince debuting next month!

Manga Monday 4
Manga Monday 3
Manga Monday 2
Manga Monday!

I'm back!

Sorry I haven't posted for a few days - I was visiting people back home in Minnesota. Patrick and I got to go back to a few good comic stores we missed (because Milwaukee's void of those). We stopped by Big Brain in Minneapolis - an awesome store, as anyone who's visited there knows. Unfortunately we were a little short on cash during our visit (what with gas prices), so all we got was King-Cat Comics and Stories #66 from John Porcellino (one of Patrick's favorites). And prior to visiting that store, we stopped by a store that pretty much carries everything and has pretty much the widest graphic novel/trade paperback section of any store I've visited in the Midwest (including some really great ones in Chicago). That would be The Source. They don't have quite the alternative material that Big Brain does, and certainly nowhere near the emphasis on them, but they had a helluvalot, including collections from a local artist of Uptown Girl that I'd never seen. Anyways, besides my car breaking down and being in the shop for three entire days while I was in Minneapolis, it was a nice visit. If anyone's taking a visit out there soon, hit me up and I'll recommend some great places to eat (like a little-known place called Tasty Pizza in Andover. Yum.)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Double Take 2

Welcome to the second Double Take! Every Thursday, Patrick and I will weigh in on a book here on Comics-and-More. This week, we take a look at the latest collection from Jaime Hernandez.

Ghost of Hoppers
Jaime Hernandez

Patrick says:
Let me say this right up front: Jaime Hernandez is my favorite living cartoonist, and this book is one of his finest achievements. This slim graphic novel depicts the latest chapter in the life of Maggie Chascarillo, longtime star of Jaime’s (and brother Gilbert’s) Love and Rockets series of comic books. Maggie first appeared as a slim teenage girl smack dab in the middle of post-punk Los Angeles. Over the years, and the course of several comic books and graphic novels, Maggie has grown up, and this book finds her coming to terms with middle age. She is now the manager of an apartment building filled with eccentric tenants, she no longer lives in the ghetto known as Hoppers where many of her youthful adventures took place, and her relationship with sometimes girlfriend Hopey is……well, as complicated as ever.

I first read these stories as serialized installments in the second volume of Love and Rockets over several years, but it was great to revisit them collected under two covers. All of the themes of the story become apparent, and it is a much richer reading experience. Every line in this book is perfect, and when I say line, I’m not only talking about the dialogue (although that is perfect too), I mean literally every drawn line is perfectly, masterfully placed on the page to evoke just the right amount of humor, horror, heartbreak, or whatever combination of these is appropriate to the scene. To read Ghost of Hoppers is to experience the work of a true master of cartooning. Jaime is an amazing writer and an extraordinary artist, but more than that, he is able to blend these skills in such a way that every page, every panel, every moment rings true, and almost buzzes with the exuberant energy of pure, expert cartooning. Jaime’s best work is like the Platonic Ideal of cartooning to me. Did I mention I really, really liked this book?

What more can I say? I loved the way in which the supernatural elements crept in around the edges of the story. The final chapter…..my god, the final chapter……this chapter alone is one of the finest examples of comics storytelling I have ever come across. Simply amazing. The last page is perfect……some of the best Hopey and Maggie moments happen in this novel, which is so cool considering how long Hernandez has been working with these characters. Hernandez is as good now as he has ever been, and he may be better now than he has ever been. I doubt I’ll read a better book this year.

I’d like to add, too, that even though this is only the latest chapter in what is arguably one huge graphic novel spread across many smaller books, I think it actually works quite well as a first exposure to the artist and his work. Although the tale concerns an aging Maggie looking back on her life and events only longtime fans will remember experiencing with her, the point at which Maggie finds herself as she pines for her lost youth even as she feels unable to escape it, is one which should have universal significance for most human beings.

I can’t think of anything I didn’t love about this book. Please read it.

Dave says:
Unlike Patrick, I haven’t read much of Jaime Hernandez’ stuff. I have read his brother Gilbert’s work through their Love & Rockets series and he has fast become one of my favorite artists. I have tried Jaime in the past, specifically Flies on the Ceiling, and wasn’t compelled to read more. Ghost of Hoppers looked interesting enough on top of Patrick’s raving reviews of the book, so I thought this would make for a good stab at Jaime’s world once more. And…I really enjoyed it. I didn’t find it as flawless as Patrick did, but it was a really good book.

First off, Jaime’s pencils are gorgeous. That’s what drew me to this particular book in the first place: that awesome cover. All throughout the book, I have to agree with Patrick that the art is second to none. Where Gilbert overshadows his brother, however, is the storytelling. While this was a great story, depicting many wonderful characters in crazy situations or emotional moments, it just didn’t get me as excited as Gilbert’s work does. I did really like it, but it wasn’t as compelling for whatever reason.

Maggie is a fantastic character. Especially at the point of her life where she finds herself in this volume, reflecting over her life in middle age. Her predicament is made all the more apparent as she hangs out with a young woman, Vivian, who works a bikini and oversized card like nobody’s business, and attracts trouble with as much vigor. Maggie feels inadequate next to the people she finds herself among, and wonders, like many do, if she is an average, boring person, after all. Beyond Maggie, however, there weren’t many standout characters when you compare this to Gilbert’s works. I liked Vivian and the extremely eccentric Isabel, but I only loved Maggie.

The thing that really worked the best for me in this book was how everything felt really realistic. The situations, how people reacted to things, seemed more life-like than anything I’ve ever experienced in comics, whether it was someone caught up in their own thoughts or something less typical like a stalker waving a knife in a woman’s face. And in light of that realistic world (and realistic eccentricities of the characters therein), the supernatural elements that creep around on the periphery of the book are that much more effectively scary. Many visuals were very disturbing, yet things seemed to make a certain sort of sense when it came to the supernatural elements even though I can’t explain it outright. I don’t think they would have come together as neatly if I hadn’t read Flies on the Ceiling, however, since many of the symbols that appear in that supernatural story resurface here. That goes the same for other references of the book. I agree with Patrick that this is a good introduction to Jaime’s work, but I did feel I missed out on a lot, particularly in a scene that mentions Speedy (since I know The Death of Speedy was an important arc for his characters). As the final chapter begins to forego linear storytelling, the emotion behind the story is brought to a head and the genius behind the work is exposed, especially in the final scene.

One element that I think Jaime has over his brother when it comes to his mode of storytelling is that I could imagine having read this story in a serialized comic book, while Gilbert's works, I imagine, would be nearly impossible. The reason for this is that the story is smaller, focusing on one character and her situation. Gilbert's works tend to jump from character to character with several plot threads that make it impossible to keep track of in short installments. The cast alone is hard enough to keep straight. There are some exceptions of course, but in terms of Ghost of Hoppers and what I recall of Flies on the Ceiling, they're scaled back enough to be more accessible in whatever format the reader chooses to experience the stories in. Although when all's said and done, I believe that the ideal way to read these books is once they have been collected anyway (like Patrick said, themes become apparent, etc).

So, overall, I loved the art, the dialogue and realism of this book, but some of the elements of storytelling and characters didn’t do it for me to the degree that they do when Jaime’s brother Gilbert weaves a story. The Brothers’ works certainly compliment each other and are of the same caliber, but I still prefer the latter. In the end, however, Jaime’s only real fault is being serialized in the same book as a very talented brother. On its own, Ghost of Hoppers is a thoughtful, multi-layered, wonderful work.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Queen & Country (Volume 2)

Operation: Morningstar
Greg Rucka & Brian Hurtt

Tara Chase deals with the repercussions of the last mission, Operation: Broken Ground, in the second volume of Greg Rucka's espionage series Queen & Country. This is a really suspenseful series, as it goes back and forth between the hectic offices of S.I.S. and the agents in the field with their lives on the line. In this particular book, Tara takes a place on the backburner as agents Tom Wallace and Ed Kittering travel to Kabul, Afghanistan to try to uncover a list of informants at one of several drop-off points throughout the city, in wake of an agent's execution. Unfortunately, the taleban regime is on the lookout and may or may not be lying in wait to see who stumbles upon the drop. Greg Rucka's writing is, as per usual, top notch. Full of action and interesting power struggles within the S.I.S., this book has plenty to offer including some cool characters like our Miss Chase. The art on the series has never been the best. Hurtt gets the job done, but it doesn't do much for me beyond that basic function. This particular volume saw the talents of Bryan Lee O'Malley and Christine Norrie on inking duties, of which I preferred the latter, but they did little to relieve the blandness of the pencils. Fortunately, Rucka's writing is worth accepting the art. Often surprising and always fast-paced, the stories offered in this series are some of the most entertaining around. B

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

In Stores 8/16

The stuff you may want to think about picking up on Wednesday at the comic shop...

Spider-Woman: Origin Premiere HC - I'm not sure if this series really justified a $20 hardcover collection, but it was a really good mini-series from Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Reed and The Luna Brothers.

Claws #1 (of 3) - Black Cat and Wolverine. An odd pairing, but they do both have claws... Could be fun, and if the cover's any indicator, the art will be good at the very least.

Adventures In Oz TP - The full Eric Shanower series (all five books) are bound in one 250+ page collection from IDW Publishing. If Age of Bronze is any idicator, this series is going to be a beaut.

The Drifting Classroom (Volume 1) - This is a really great new manga! It's been in bookstores for about a week now, but is shipping to comic stores on Wednesday.

Monster (Volume 4) - The latest, greatest installment of Naoki Urasawa's chilling manga (so far) makes its way to comic stores, also following over a week of being in bookstores.

Star Trek Manga GN - Don't ask me.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Manga Monday 4

Welcome to another installment of Manga Monday! But manga isn't just for Mondays here at Comics-and-More. In case you missed it, the first of our weekly feature Double Take in which Patrick and I weigh in on a particular book, features Kazuo Umezu's The Drifting Classroom (Volume 1). Now, on to the reviews...

Between the Sheets
Erica Sakurazawa

This single volume story by Erica Sakurazawa is about two girls - best friends - and their forays into love. The beautiful Saki in particular is always in a relationship with one man or another. But what's interesting about this book is that at the beginning of the story, Minako realizes that she has developed feelings for Saki. She actually loves her. It's interesting to see how Minako handles this realization, the bitterness and jealousy, but also the tenderness and misplaced affection. It's pretty light, breezy reading. There's not much meat behind the story, but it's really delightful nonetheless. And Sukurazawa's pencils are just great, perfectly suited for the story as they are very elegant and soft. I really didn't have much sympathy for the protagonist of the story, Minako, as she was pining over someone who didn't (and couldn't) love her in return, and I find that distasteful generally. The fact that it's a woman she lusts for doesn't make it any more tragic to me. It's still an unadmirable quality. But it's not just Minako who's guilty of relying on relationships around her to make her "whole." All of the female characters that appear in the book are slaves to their yearnings. If anything, I find Saki to be a more interesting case just because with her, the notion of women seeking out mutual love is thrown out in favor of a woman who seeks reciprocal sexual gratification, a trait more often pinned on men. But that's just an aspect of the story the author chose that I didn't like. It's not really the writer's fault (especially a female writer) if she merely writes her characters with qualities she sees around her or reflected in society overall. Minako generally is a very misguided soul who does some really screwed-up stuff in light of an infatuation she doesn't know what to do about. It's an interesting character study of her, but overall, nothing to really propel Between the Sheets into a category beyond light, breezy reading. I did, however, like it enough to want to seek out more work by Erica Sakurazawa. B+


Eden: It's an Endless World! (Volume 3)
Hiroki Endo

Hiroki Endo's art always strikes me as beautiful when I open up a volume of his work. Pencils just don't get much better than this. From cybernetic parts to action sequences to panels depicting wave after wave of gore, Endo is a master of his craft. That being said, the world he creates for us in light of the human plague that wiped out most of humanity, is pretty damn interesting too. This particular volume follows a small group of characters as they take on a military group that's after a piece of information that they have in their possession. It's a direct follow-up to the sequence of events from the last book, that of setting this volume-long battle up. And it's quite the battle. Amid the destruction and mayhem however, we are treated to flashbacks into the characters' pasts that fill in the blanks as to why characters react certain ways and how they ended up in their current situations. The author does a fine job of constructing an attachment between his audience and the characters he lovingly created with so much thought. But this book is also brutal. The last ten pages of this book are really beyond description and had me reeling. This really is a book more people should be following. A

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Excalibur Classic (Volume 2)

Chris Claremont
Alan Davis & others

The second volume of Excalibur Classic, "Two-Edged Sword," reprints #6-11 of the original series and the Mojo Mayhem special. Alan Davis is the primary artist, with a couple of fill-ins from Ron Lim and Marshall Rogers. Mojo Mayhem was illustrated by Arthur Adams. Despite the fill-in issues, I don't think they were too distracting or really interrupted the flow of stories. Alan Davis was the first artist that I actually recognized, having grown up on Excalibur, so I may have noticed the shift in art more than others, but it was fine in the end. I particularly loved the art in the first two issues of the collection that tied in to Inferno. Lots of demons and organic buildings and such to make Davis' pencils stand out as all the more brilliant. The subsequent issues begin to delve into doppelgangers of the team, something that the book is probably very well-known for as there were dozens of stories with alternate Kittys and Brians. The storytelling isn't as sharp in this book as in the first collection, but we do get to see some familiar, loving concepts introduced to the series, like W.H.O. (Weird Happenings Organization) and Allistaire Stuart (whom Kitty adores, and who adores Rachel). I remember really loving the Mojo Mayhem special when I was younger, and it's still pretty good. Not exactly Shakespeare or anything, but it was a fun, silly adventure featuring the X-Babies (and I have to say I really like Baby Wolvie). Now Meggan has always been one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Universe, and she's already getting really interesting in the series. She's a little more in the background, a little more subdued than the others, but her powers and how she reacts to things is really just expertly executed. I hate that these Classics are so expensive. $25 for about 200 pages. It's presented beautifully, but I still have to hesitate on some purchases. I probably won't get the next New Mutants Classic for that reason. But I'll be getting future Excalibur volumes no matter what... A-

Friday, August 11, 2006

In Passing...Ms. Marvel to Devi

Ms. Marvel #6 - This issue of Ms. Marvel was awesome. It's the first Civil War tie-in of the title, and as such, featured some of Iron Man's Avengers, which included Ms. Marvel, Wonder Man, and Julia Carpenter, the black-costumed, red-haired Spider-Woman (or Arachne as she calls herself now to forego any confusion). So, we get to see the Avengers track down some unregistered heroes with lots of ass-kicking and internal conflict. Julia Carpenter made herself a stand-out character here. A

Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #2 - Spider-Man butts heads with Daredevil, Punisher and Moon Knight in this annual that has Mark Brooks penciling Bendis' script. Captain De Wolfe plays a big role in this story involving the heroes going after the Kangaroo. There were little scenes that got the reader caught up on each hero that appears in the book that sort of sidetracked the story, but I thought they worked. And there was a neat ending with the Kingpin. It's funny that I loathe the Moon Knight title in the Marvel Universe, but love him here under Bendis' hand. But it's really the creators that make the characters what they are. A-

Fables #52 - The first issue in the "Sons of Empire" storyarc drifts between the homelands and Fabletown, featuring Red Riding Hood and a cleric attending a meeting of bigwigs with the Adversary. And the Snow Queen becomes really, really cool. There's also a back-up story featuring Rapunzel, with art by Gene Ha. A-

Devi #2 - I have to say, I'm really enjoying this book. I didn't think I would, but there it is. Great art by Mukesh Singh and really cool characters. It's set in India, so some of the customs are kind of strange (and conservative), including a joke on a slang word that you won't get unless you read the footnote. But it's a good story and I can't wait to see the confrontations that the story is building toward. B+

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Double Take

Prepare yourselves for another weekly feature at Comics-and-More! Patrick will be joining me every Thursday to weigh in on a particular book we've both read, ala Ebert & Roeper. We've decided to call this feature Double Take.

The Drifting Classroom (Volume 1)
Kazuo Umezu

Dave says:
The first title up for discussion is the science fiction/horror manga from renowned creator Kazuo Umezu. This book follows sixth grader Sho as he goes to school one day and...the school disappears. Or rather, ends up somewhere else, not on this Earth. But leading up to said event, we get a look at Sho's life as it was, and he's really a boy who's not ready to give up his childhood in favor of academia at a time when children need to begin taking school seriously. In light of this conflict, Sho lashes out at his mother and classmates and on the morning of his departure for school, he has a big fight with his mother that eats away at him as the story progresses. It's interesting when the school disappears because the students and faculty don't understand what has happened, but as readers, we get to see the community left behind experience the event as well, so many of the possibilities that the school runs through we know are immediately wrong. In wake of the school appearing where it does, the book really begins getting crazy. Everything is done completely over-the-top and ridiculously. But it's fun in a campy sort of way to see teachers smacking children to keep them from leaving school grounds and such. Not only that, but events are stretched out dramatically and any hint of blood is turned into an excuse for a blood bath. It's great fun and the mystery behind it all is intriguing.


Patrick Says:
I really enjoyed reading this book. The premise is fantastic, and this first volume was just a blast to read. I think pretty much every line of dialogue was screamed. Tears gush down faces in torrents, blood spurts and oozes, young children are slapped by teachers trying to maintain order in a desperate situation. David is right that there is definitely a lot of camp appeal here…..I’m not sure I was supposed to be amused or horrified when the teachers would slap the kids upside the head, but I found myself laughing out loud more than once. Still, I’d like to think I was laughing with the book rather than at it. It’s clear that author Kazuo Umezu is having a blast with this series, and the fact that Mr. Umezu is also well known for his humor work makes me think at least some of the laughs are probably intentional. The enjoyment I had reading this book was similar to that of another comic book I’m following, Frank Miller’s and Jim Lee’s All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. In both books, I don’t think the creators are so much making fun of the respective genres in which they are working as they are unafraid to embrace the more outrageous aspects of said genres, all in the service of having a hell of a good time. That’s kind of the approach I think should be taken to mainstream genre comics in general, and it certainly works well in these two examples, at least in my opinion.

I don’t want people to think this only works as camp, though. Umezu is an expert cartoonist. His drawings of children are particularly appealing and evocative of the larger than life emotions the characters are experiencing. There is a real sense of urgency and rapid movement to the line work here, and I think it will cause most readers to turn the pages very quickly while still feeling as though they’ve gotten a dense reading experience. That’s how I felt, anyway. I found myself genuinely caring about the characters and wanting to know what happens next. While the horror is not as expertly handled as in a book like Dragon Head, there is a genuine creepiness to the proceedings, I think arising mostly from the fact that you sense these doe-eyed youngsters are in real, physical jeopardy.

I also appreciated the concise author biography and selected bibliography in the back of the book, compiled by Patrick Macias. It helps to put this and other works by Umezu in perspective, and I’d love to see more of this kind of thing show up in translated manga. I’d love to see more older and historically significant manga translated generally, in fact. In any case, The Drifting Classroom is a fine addition to the mostly excellent Viz Signature line of titles, and I can’t wait to read the next volume. Highly recommended to fans of fun, scary comics.

Dave says:
It definitely was one of those books you find yourself reading very quickly, and some might say "can't put down." The art also reminded me quite a bit of Toru Yamazaki's pencils on Octopus Girl, and I would be very surprised if Yamazaki wasn't greatly influenced by Umezu, especially since Yamazaki also has that over-the-top flavor to his work. It was a little strange to read The Drifting Classroom in that it's a story starring elementary school kids with so much violence and gore, but it really worked and it added a sort of chaotic energy to the book that just wouldn't have been present if the author had chosen to use older children instead.

Patrick says:
I agree with those comments.....Kazuo Umezu is usually written about as being a very popular and influential artist, so I'm sure you're right about the Yamazaki work, although I've not read Octopus Girl myself. I like what you say about the "chaotic energy" and wish I'd thought of the phrase....it is interesting how the children themselves become one of the "horrific" elements of the story....I'm thinking specifically of the scene where they trample the female teacher, of course, but so much of the book is spent on the adults' efforts to keep this mob of kids under control, which puts the viewer in a strange place as far as who we are supposed to empathize with, you know? Also, I loved when they said something like "those third graders are going to be trouble," and of course the very next scene we see the third graders have tied up their teacher and they are looking out the window with these evil expressions....and the first graders, who I don't think we ever see, are supposedly unaware of what is happening and constantly singing their little songs....you're sort of afraid of them, you know? Man, this was a pretty great book. Great ending, too.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

New X-Men: Haunted

Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir
Michael Ryan & Paco Medina

The second volume of New X-Men: Academy X follows the New Mutants squad of students at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning through two stories, collecting issues 7 - 11 of the ongoing title. The first story contained within is "Haunted," where strange happenings occur at the school as Prodigy's younger sister comes for a visit. The two issue story that follows is "Too Much Information," about Prodigy's decision whether or not to keep the mental block that causes the knowledge he absorbs from those nearby to fade, or whether he should retain said information. On the whole, this is a much weaker volume than the previous one. I was actually surprised by such a significant dip in quality. The storytelling is very predictable and sloppy. "Haunted" read like a really bad young adult thriller. I don't mind that this title is written in a style more suited to a younger audience. Harry Potter is too and I love it, but there's no excuse for a story as badly written and contrived as this one. "Too Much Information" doesn't fare much better. The conclusion that the story builds toward is easily recognizeable early in the set-up stage and the rest feels like filler that you have to patiently wade through to get to that scene. It's been done before. It's been done much better. Despite my affection for these characters, if the storytelling on this title continues to stagnate, I'll be forced to drop this title and that would be a real shame as it shows so much promise with the strong cast and relationships built in the first storyline. All of that is all but swept aside, including the interesting rivalry with The Hellions that was such a focus of the first book, in favor of unimaginative stories. I'm praying this creative team sharpens up their game and got this drivel out of their system. D

Robotika

Alex Sheikman

I finally got my hands on the final issue of Alex Sheikman's futuristic samurai adventure and this four issue mini-series is just oozing creativity. Sheikman's pencils are beautifully showcased in conjunction with stellar character designs, striking panel arrangements and riveting action. This is quite a unique comic book experience without equal. I'm going to be bold and say that the only creator that comes close to this sort of original storytelling experience in modern comics is the fast-paced craziness associated with Grant Morrison. Morrison's work may be more universally appealing, but I really admire the offbeat unconventional story offered here. And I really do have to give props to Joel Chua for his contribution on the title, that of the coloring. The vibrant colors working through an often lurid dreamlike world really complete the book. My only complaint I have on this title is that the characters didn't quite grab me. I didn't mind the vertical font that one character adopts as many readers did, and it's not even that the characters weren't fully realized - I just wasn't struck by them. They were a tad uninteresting to me. That small gripe aside, I think every title so far offered by Archaia Studios Press has been of superior quality. In my eyes, any title offered by them is worth checking out presently. Sheikman is presently working on a follow-up to this four issue series and the hardcover will be available in coming months. But be sure to give yourself a few issues to warm up to the title if you plan on scouring for back issues. Sheikman isn't afraid to throw his readers into his world and it can be a little disorienting. A-

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

In Stores 8/9

A slow week coming up, but here are some titles to consider...

X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl TP - The most loveable character from Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's X-Force/X-Statix run gets her own mini-series collected into a paperback edition, co-starring Doctor Strange. It's a wild, goofy time and also, excellently executed.

Marvel Zombies HC - More dead characters from Marvel, this one featuring plenty of undead versions of Marvel icons. This collects the entire five-issue run of the popular title for $20.

Annihilation #1 (of 6) - It's Marvel's OTHER big crossover event of the summer. If you were clamouring for a big galactic superhero showdown event, you've got your wish. Four mini-series featuring different characters like Silver Surfer and Ronin culminate in this six issue mini-series cosmic event.

Martian Manhunter #1 (of 8) - I don't know much about this guy except from what I saw on Justice League Unlimited. I just felt bad having all Marvel titles on my list...

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Descent



















This is an exceptional movie. The best horror film in years. Go see it!

Manga Monday 3

Saikano (Volume 1)
Shin Takahashi

As part of Viz's premiere Editor's Choice line, I was expecting more of a striking tale. Instead, Saikano disappoints with bland characters and nothing very interesting in terms of story. Saikano follows shy girl Chise as she works up the nerve to tell Shuji that she would like to date him. He accepts the proposal and the two begin to eat lunch together and share a journal to write out what they're feeling. Shuji is quite blunt and constantly reproaches Chise for her actions and acceptance of particulars of her life. He doesn't seem capable of making up his mind on his feelings or what comes out of his mouth and is altogether an abrasive character that makes me wonder why Chise was drawn to him in the first place. Chise, on the other hand, is constantly apologizing for the things she does and the way she views things. She's a simpering character with the inability to stand up for herself, and as such, is quite loathsome. Instead of making me feel sorry for her situation, it makes me more angry that she's utterly incapable of developing a bcakbone. Ugh. Anyways, as the story proceeds, it is revealed that Chise is a living weapon and her body is capable of sprouting wings and discharging missiles, at the very least. The government owns her and she doesn't mind that fact, although she is terribly self-conscious about her mutilated body...as she should be. I don't much care for how the two characters handle this discovery, let alone how the two interact generally, in a sort of sado-masochist relationship. It just gets under my skin. The only thing that this series has going for it is its art. Shin Takashi's pencils are lovely. Pretty sparce, but lovely. My only complaint on that front is that he doesn't draw things pertinent to scenes, like when there were helicopters searching for the pair: Takahashi, instead of drawing helicopters, has the characters say there are helicopters and adds some sound effects for good measure. I'm not sure why the artist made this decision, but I found it distracting. I know a lot of people do like this book - I just couldn't. D

Monster (Volume 4)
Naoki Urasawa
This is one of the more higher quality manga that I am presently reading. Japan's Master of Suspense does a stellar job of creating tension and, well, suspense, with this mystery thriller. And each chapter seems to get better. Each volume builds upon the previous one, but they feel almost episodic, probably because of the sort of formula we've been seeing through the last few books, that of the good Doctor Tenma showing up in a town to track down Johan or a piece of the puzzle involved, getting involved in life-and-death situations, and then moving on. But each part really does add to the overlying plot, and makes our antagonist that much more monstrous. This volume in particular is a bit goofy - a neo-Nazi organization trying to mold Johan into the next Hitler? Yeah...silly. But it adds to a certain charm that the book has. Much of this volume focuses on several secondary characters that have been introduced into the book over the past few chapters, and many get to shine and become fully-realized characters that readers are invested in before they know it. Urasawa does just a masterful job on this series, earning the title attached to his name. A

Other recent manga reviews from Comics-and-More:
Love Roma
Death Note (volume 6)
Death Note (Volumes 4 & 5)
Shojo Beat (Anniversary Issue)
Monster (Volume 3)
Death Note (Volumes 2 & 3)
Octopus Girl
Eden: It's An Endless World! (Volume 2)
Death Note
Monster (Volume 2)
Dragon Head (Volume 2)
Unearthly
Claymore
THINK ABOUT COMICS: Manga
THINK ABOUT COMICS: Secret Comics Japan

Manga Monday 2
Manga Monday

Sunday, August 06, 2006

New X-Men: Choosing Sides

Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir
Randy Green, Staz Johnson & Michael Ryan

I've been meaning to get around to this book for awhile now. It just seemed like a fun superhero comic. And it is. This first volume follows a group of students at the Xavier Institute For Higher Learning, many whom appear in the previous comic series New Mutants, where Danielle Moonstar recruits students for the school. This is a sequel of sorts as it follows those students, with some new additions, as they are guided by Moonstar, Emma Frost and Cyclops. The specific group of characters that are followed here are put into a group together as they learn to cooperate and control their powers, and build rivalries with other groups of students, including Emma's group The Hellions. This volume mostly focuses on the interaction of the students with each other and is pretty sparce on the action, though there are some pretty nice fight scenes. There are some pretty cheesy moments in the book, and seems to be geared to an all-around younger audience than other X-titles. Nothing wrong with that, but it feels a little dumbed-down in some respects in light of that fact. The character designs are well done (I particularly like the look of Hellion Mercury) and there's some really nice art within. The little time I spent with these characters made me want to come back to the book to spend more time with them - definitely a positive. And like I said before, it's just an all-around fun superhero book. B

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Wizard World: Chicago

Patrick and I just got back from Wizard World: Chicago! And...it was pretty lame. You could have probably guessed this (and indeed, we anticipated it) based on the panel schedule and creators present (and the fact that it's, you know Wizard). The truth is, I've enjoyed Wizard World: Chicago in the past. My first convention was six years ago, when I loved Crossgen and they were a huge presence. Two years ago, Joss Whedon was the guest of honor and we got to attend panels that included the man himself. Last year was eh, but this year was a new low. Beside the fact that several exhibitors were noticeably absent (including last year's attendees Image, IDW, Tokyopop and Viz - leaving manga all but unrepresented), top-notch creators from years past were nowhere to be seen either. No Joss Whedon, no John Cassaday, no Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison or even Brian Michael Bendis. The Ultimate Marvel panel included Joe Quesada with Jeph Loeb and a guy from marketing... Even the retailers were light. Where the floor was usually packed, there were entire areas void of anything but chairs for people to rest (or just blank space). And the attendance reflected it. Friday was dead. Light on the people and enthusiasm. Saturday picked up a bit, but aisles still weren't jam-packed with people clamouring over 50% off trades (less competition for me...). I attended a few panels aside from the Ultimate Marvel one: Cup 'O Joe and Vertigo, all of which were pretty sparce on announcements. While I did pick up a lot of good stuff, there's just so much fun one can have walking in circles for hours on end, looking at the same retailers and exhibitors. So Patrick and I decided not to go back on Sunday, even though we have 3-day passes. There's just no point really. The only companies properly represented were Marvel and DC. At least last year, we could go to a Tokyopop panel, or years earlier, Crossgen. Now, it's the big two or nothing. Indy comics were ridiculously slim, while there was an abundance of superfluous pop culture presences like the munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, Wrestling and a booth of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer toys. It's just not really all that fun... Patrick and I think we'll go for a day next year, and really, that's all you need. Gone is the diversity of years past. I hope it's a wake-up call for Wizard, but somehow I doubt it.

But that's all of the bad. There were a few pluses: Kristen Bell. Though I would rather have seen more comic creators than yet another pop culture icon, it was nice to have someone I respect present. Archaia Studios Press was also there, with Mark Smylie and David Peterson. I was too shy to say anything - I just quietly bought my final issue of Robotika that I was missing and disappeared into the audience from whence I came. Exclusive Kitty Pryde bust. You know I love Kitty. I want this bust. But to be honest, I want the completely-painted original version. Not just because of the flaw of logic that has Kitty turning invisible when her power is phasing, but simply because I think it would look better fully-painted. Kitty Pryde action figures from the Marvel Legends line were all over the place too, but going for between $20-$30 a pop, I couldn't justify the buy. And Kitty Pryde won best female hero at the Wizard Fan Awards for the second year in a row, putting her in the company of Captain America.

Anyways, the books I purchased:
- Dampyr (Volume 6): Lamia
- Eden: It's An Endless World! (volume 3)
- Ghost of Hoppers
- Lucifer (Volume 3): Dalliance with the Damned
- Queen & Country (Volume 2): Operation: Morningstar
- New X-Men (Volume 1): Choosing Sides
- New X-Men (Volume 2): Haunted
- Robotika #4 (of 4)
- Young Avengers (Volume 1): Sidekicks

And Patrick got...
- Arf Museum
- Modern Arf
- Pussey!

I'll try to get my pictures developed soon...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Creeper #1

Steve Niles & Justiniano

I'm not very familiar with DC's Creeper (just like I'm not too familiar with the DC Universe in general). This title caught my eye because The Creeper is such a freaky visual, and also because Steve Niles, sort of the American Master of Horror Comics, is writing it. This particular issue is the origin story of the new Creeper, who comes to us in the form of Jack Ryder, an asshole of a talkshow host who has a knack for finding, if not causing, trouble. He gets a little over his head this time around as he is transformed into this ghoulish, unsettling hero. I won't go into particulars, but the origin is fairly interesting. It's brutal, then a little scary, then a bit goofy. But it's a damn fun issue overall. I wasn't really sure of Justiniano's pencils at first, but as the story progressed, I kind of thought that they were pretty well-suited for the title. Justiniano also did that spectacular cover that forced me to pick up the issue in the first place, so I have to give him props. This mini-series is six issues long and I would recommend getting on board for the crazy thrill ride. B+

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

In Passing...Mouse Guard to Uncanny X-Men

Mouse Guard #4 (of 6) - I had to order the first issue of this comic on-line because my local store didn't have it. They had a copy of the second issue, a few of number three...now for issue four, there were dozens of copies. It kind of annoys me that they jumped on the bandwagon so far into the series. I would have been aware enough to have ordered several copies immediately - isn't that kind of their job? Grrr. Anyways...This chapter of Mouse Guard entitled "The Dark Ghost" picks up on events from the previous book, as the Mouse Guard confront new enemies...and make new allies. As beautiful as ever. A

Ultimate Spider-Man #98 - "The Clone Saga" continues and it is quite good. I hope Bagley and Bendis stay on this title for a long while to come - it's just great knowing that you can look forward to this much consistent quality in a superhero book. A

Uncanny X-Men #477 - This was an interesting chapter of "The Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire." We left the X-Men drifting in space previously, and this stretches the suspense a bit longer, as the X-Men don't even appear in the book except in flashbacks. Vulcan is examined here, as the reasons for his actions are made clear and we get to see what he's been up to. Interesting and a tad disgusting. A-