Saturday, September 30, 2006

Zombie #1 (of 4)

Mike Raicht & Kyle Hotz

The first issue of this new Marvel MAX title doesn't begin like your typical zombie thriller. Instead, we are introduced to Simon Garth via a bank robbery, where he and a co-worker are forced to hand over bags of money and into a police car chase at gunpoint. The zombies appear later. We're given a little time to get to know our hero and wonder where the book is going before anything unusual begins to occur. As the story progresses, expectations are subverted and the characters we're introduced to suddenly find themselves in peril. This is a very good start to the book that may or may not have anything to do with the Simon Garth of Marvel's Tales of the Zombie series (whose first appearance, courtesy of Stan Lee and Bill Everett, was also entitled "Zombie"). Effectively creepy, with all of the gore and thrills you might expect from a zombie story, this new mini-series has some real potential. I'm not a huge fan of Hotz' art, but other than that, pretty solid. B

Friday, September 29, 2006

Previews: December 2006

The highlights of comics from Previews catalogue, for books shipping in December...

Ape Entertainment
Athena Voltaire: The Collected Web Comics TP - Oh. My. God. I've been waiting to hear an announcement about this. I love love love the current Athena Voltaire mini-series and have been holding my breath for the critically-acclaimed webcomics to be collected...and now I can exhale. The entire run is collected here with sketches and pin-ups. Awesome!!!!

Archaia Studios Press
Okko: Cycle of Water #1 (of 4) - Like I've said before, if Archaia publishes it, it's good and it's high quality. This is a new series about four demon hunters.

Mouse Guard #6 (of 6) - The sixth and final chapter of David Peterson's Mouse Guard, entitles "A Return To Honor." Hopefully, we'll see more of the cute little guys in the future. And there's sure to be a collection upcoming.

Dark Horse
The Bakers Meet Jingle Belle - Paul Dini writes and Kyle Baker draws this Christmas crossover event. Should be cool with that amount of talent.

Hellgate: London #2 (of 4) - I didn't catch this series last month, but this mini-series is about London being overrun with demons that pour out of a gate to another world. It's based on a future video game. It's possibly very bad. But I like the cover and premise.

Emily the Strange (Volume 1) - The moody, sarcastic series is collected with a brand new story. A beloved all ages book that has goths the world over salivating.

Tanpenshu (Volume 1) - The first in a series collecting the short stories of master artist Hiroki Endo (of Eden: It's an Endless World! fame).

DC Comics
DC books have been highlighted separately...

Fantagraphics Books
The Grave Robber's Daughter GN - Is this a great month or what? It would have been awesome for this book alone. A new Richard Sala book is always cause for celebration.

Krazy & Ignatz 1939-1940: Brick Stuffed With Moombins SC - The third color collection of George Herriman's masterpeice! This series is awesome - I encourage anyone to give it a try who hasn't already.

Gemstone Publishing
Walt Disney Treasures (Volume 1): 75 Years of Disney Comics - The first volume chronologically collecting the best Disney comics.

EC Archives: Tales From the Crypt (Volume 1) HC - The original EC series from 1950 begins to be collected here, boasting talent from the likes of Harvey Kurtzman, Bill Gaines, Wally Ward and more.

IDW Publishing
30 Days of Night: Spreading the Disease #1 (of 5) - With a movie in the works, IDW continues to crank out the books from the title that launched the publisher into the mainstream. This is a new mini-series from Dan Wickline and Alex Sanchez.

Image Comics
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Can't get enough of the dozens of new takes on Alice In Wonderland and Oz? Well, here's one more for you. This one might be one of the few good ones. With great art by Enrique Fernandez, this book won the Grand Prix de La Ville De Lyon Award of Illustration in France last year.

Mike Carey's One-Sided Bargains - I like Mike Carey. Spellbinders was a surprisingly really good occult story. This one-shot contains two horror stories. 64 pages for $5.99.

The Portent (Volume 1) TP - This was a good little fantasy story from newcomer Peter Bergting. I look forward to more, what with the "Volume 1" in the mix.

Savage Dragon Archives (Volume 1) TP - This is a good way to get caught up on the big green fin-head. Twenty-Four of the initial issues for $20.

Last Gasp
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms GN - Great art on the cover of this manga from Fumiyo Kouno that explores Hiroshima, postwar.

Marvel Comics
Marvel books were also highlighted separately...

NBM
Glacial Period GN - The first of four graphic novels that features a different European artist, co-edited by the famous Louvre museum. Nicholas De Crecy's work is up first in a book set in the far future where a small group of archaeologists stumble upon the remains of the forgotten Louvre itself buried under a Glacial Age snow.

Picturebox
Me A Mound HC - Picturebox had a hell of a time getting into the catalogue, so they deserve a bit of love. This $65 hardcover is by a major African-American artist, Trenton Doyle Hancock.

Cold Heat #1 - A twelve issue, semi-monthly book by BJ and Frank Santoro that follows a teenager on a surrealistic adventure that brings her face-to-face with the likes of Howard Stern and Adolf Hitler.

Tokyopop
Love Pistols (Volume 1) - A yaoi manga that features people who evolved from other animals than monkeys...expect male pregnancy and lots of boys' love.

Misc.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Mr. Gordo Stuffed Pig Plush - Just when you thought they may have run out of ideas...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

12 Reasons Why I Love Her

Jamie S. Rich & Joelle Jones

12 Reasons Why I Love Her examines the relationship of a young couple out of chronological order. Twelve vignettes (a few of which are merely short illustrated poems) fit together very nicely to provide a full picture of their young love. Each of the characters have their faults and I'm not sure if Gwen being an icy bitch (but only during one or two stories) is a reason why Evan should love her, but it's all laid out, the good and the bad, like a real relationship that our couple has to actively work on.

Interestingly, the story begins with one character acting quite out-of-character from the rest of their appearances and shedding a pretty abysmal light on him. But as the vignettes progress, he's shown as a very intelligent, passionate person and we can see why these two fall for each other. The very last chapter is the story that tells of how the two actually met, giving the preceding chapters a sort of bitter-sweet feel, but it really does capture, in essence, what it feels like to look back on a relationship. You think of moments here and there, not in a chronological fashion. It's a very good idea to structure a romance in this way and I commend the artists for venturing to do so. It wouldn't be even close to as interesting of a story if it merely illustrated the couple's histroy from conception to climax.

The dialogue is really great. Gwen and Evan are my kind of people, into independent film, records and philosophy - very hipster. And the dialogue exchanged between the two is incredibly sharp, though maybe a little too polished to be classified as realistic. All-in-all, this was a really interesting examination of a relationship. While it didn't build toward a climax like a linear story, there was a certain amount of tension throughout as the missing links in their history were steadily revealed. My only real complaint is that a few of the smaller poetic chapters felt like filler, trying to articifically evoke the mood of say, autumn weather. It is a quieter sort of story, but one I think deserves a bit of praise. B+

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pride of Baghdad

Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon

I’ll start this review with the obvious: this book is gorgeous. Henrichon’s designs for the animals in this book are fantastic. Put that together with awe-inspiring environments and beautifully choreographed fight sequences (there’s quite a bit of action in this book) and it makes for a pretty amazing final product. I should also give credit to the coloring: the brilliant colors of the animals at the zoo to the sky-on-fire war zone set the mood for their respective scenes to go that extra mile in highlighting the expertise of the artist.

The story itself follows a pride of four lions who escape from The Baghdad Zoo during the U.S. bombing of Iraq. Nearly the first third of the book actually takes place in the zoo, the beginning of which contains a scene where Safa, an intelligent lioness, tries to strike a deal with the gazelle to break out of their prison. The negotiation could have very much been along the lines of the talks between the U.S and Iraq during this crisis, and really sets the stage for the rest of the book as a metaphor for wartime. Much of the book revolves around the concept of freedom and what true freedom is. The lions discuss it freely as they take in their surroundings and really drive it home when the pride walks into the streets of Baghdad and decide that they’ve walked into another zoo.

Great supporting characters lend themselves well to the story at hand, particularly a feisty old tortoise who’s seen it all and a group of back-stabbing monkeys. Surprisingly, Vaughan takes a fairly brave stand in openly professing his opinions against the war in Iraq and has no qualms with casting the American soldiers in a bad light, particularly upon its overly dramatic ending.

I feel that I should note that despite the fact that it looks like this book could be a spin-off of The Lion King, this is a story that really does belong under DC’s Vertigo imprint. There is a lot of gore and scary scenes for younger readers, as well as adult situations, though nothing they probably haven’t already seen on Animal Planet in all honesty. The writer's decision of having the creatures talk in this story obviously humanizes them, and they should be considered as little less when scenes of rape and sexuality are involved. Such scenes were pertinent to tell the story of these characters, but it is a story for a mature audience.

Overall, this was a really good read. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but it does turn out some interesting metaphors and thoughts on the war, offering a unique perspective through this tale based on a true event. I think that this graphic novel deserves any press attention it’s sure to receive in the coming months and should be praised for its efforts. Although I don’t exactly see The Pride of Baghdad standing the test of time, this is easily worth its twenty dollar price tag, for its fantastic illustrations if anything. B+

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

In Stores 9/27

This week in comics...

Chickenhare: House of Klaus TP - An all-ages story from Chris Grine about a half-chicken, half-hare and his buddy, a turtle named Abe, on the run from a crazy taxidermist they'd been sold to who has a thing for unique animals.

Wonderland #2 - Another all-ages comic. It's been months since the awesome debut issue of the series from Slave Labor Graphics.

The Walking Dead (Volume 5): Best Defense TP - And another collection of Robert Kirkman's zombie story from Image Comics ships to stores this week. Hope it's better than the last one...

Zombie #1 (of 4) - Marvel does zombies once again in a MAX mini-series from Mike Raicht and Kyle Hotz. While this does follow a character named Simon Garth (same as the character from Tales of the Zombie), it's unclear whether this will follow any continuity. It should be noted that that character's first appearance was in a short story from Stan Lee and Bill Everett also entitled simply "Zombie."

The Comics Journal #278 - Subscribers to the magazine have had access to the entire content via the internet for awhile now, but the physical magazine will be in stores Wednesday, boasting an interview with Bill Willingham.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Manga Monday 10

This week, a look at two of Viz's Editor's Choice books...

Blue Spring
Taiyo Matsumoto

This book is really nice looking. It's gritty and urban, with graffiti covering much of the background (thus translator's notes are abundant on many pages), with black sensor bars covering some characters' eyes to "protect their identities" and a white blur to half-heartedly cover a penis. Also throughout the realistic drawings are touches of cartoony art: a teacher with a mouse head, bug-eyed students, etc. It all combines to make an interesting project that I think works great. Blue Spring is basically a short story collection that focuses on disenchanted, bored high school students who risk their lives to break up the day, playing dangerous rooftop games that ultimately end in several deaths, and shooting off a discovered revolver. This is a very dark work, and honestly, I didn't know what was going on some of the time, but it was ultimately a very satisfying read with the art alone making it worth the cover price. B+

Flowers & Bees (Volume 2)
Moyoco Anno

The second volume of of Moyoco Anno's tale of a nerd-turned-metrosexual in his quest to gain popularity among the ladies, picks up immediately after the previous volume. Komatsu learns new lessons from the evil, twisted salon proprieters as he keeps his eye on the girl of his dreams. The relationship between Komatsu and Sakura gets more interesting as Hiromi decides to see what the fuss is all about after all. What really bothers Komatsu most in this volume is how his ugly, cocky best friend Yamada manages to get dates when he can barely talk to a girl without blowing it. Komatsu tries even harder to follow the instructions of those around him, not realizing that the girl of his dreams may be closer than he thinks, just not the one he had in mind. Anno's pencils are as wonderful as ever in this book, with some spots that honestly made me stop to just stare at the drawings of her characters, particularly when it came to Komatsu's dream girl Noriko. A nice refreshingly silly read after Blue Spring. B+

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Illustrated Dracula

Bram Stoker & Jae Lee

This is a good idea. I can see people buying this version of Bram Stoker's classic Dracula, especially the throngs of shoppers in mainstream counter culture stores like Hot Topic. The cover and sparce illustrations may catch the attention of a younger audience not looking for the stuffy old Victorian novel, what with a modern gothic package and faux leather spine. It's an interesting project, if anything, but Penguin's Graphic Classics line already beat Penguin's Viking Studio to it, with covers of books like Upton Sinclair's The Jungle illustrated by a range of acclaimed artists such as Chris Ware and Charles Burns. This line ups the ante a bit, providing thirty some illustrations within by the cover artist (look for its companion The Illustrated Jane Eyre with art by Dame Darcy released in the same fashion).

I really enjoy Jae Lee's work, and his style lends itself well to this sort of project. Inhumans was beautiful, and his recent covers on DC's Manhunter exposed me to him and consequently made me a fan. I'm not quite feeling it so much here, however. A lot of the visuals seemed repetitive. Dracula can only look so cool standing in this pose, and in that pose, with a snarling wolf or bat thrown in to mix it up a bit. There are some stand-out freaky images, particularly the striking long-nailed hand stroking young Mina's beautiful face, and the same girl with a cross necklace held in her teeth, but overall, there's not too much to add to the overall atmosphere of the classic gothic tale. Not enough to make it worth the $22 pricetag at least. It's certainly a fine-looking edition if you don't happen to have this classic in your collection (as I admit, I did not), but you'd have to really appreciate the artist to fork out the extra money for the little art provided in this "Illustrated" edition. I'm currently reading Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray and find that to be more consistently illustrated in its original presentation, and much more entertainingly so, in an edition that cost me $8 at retail price. If you want an "illustrated" Dracula, especially at such a pricetag, I recommend searching out Hippolyte's comic adaptation that really makes the art an integral part of the story.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Habitual Entertainment #2-3

Will Dinski

I haven't read many mini-comics, but I was certainly pleased by the quality I found among Will Dinski's comics in his Habitual Entertainment series. Not only was a lot of craft put into the pacing, the layout and the drawings themselves, but Dinski put together a very beautiful package, with a lot of obvious TLC, as you see in the pride of many mini-comics if you happen to shop at hip stores like Quimby's in Chicago. Habitual Entertainment #2 in particular stood out with its art on a transparency overlying a gold cardstock cover, and the details put into the copyright and correspondance page demonstrates that those years the author spent at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design weren't in vain. But really, beyond the package, these comics are quite good. The second issue, "Fool's Gold," follows out-of-work actor Gerald as he finally lands a job...as a secret shopper through a temp agency. He makes the most of his situation though, behaving as though he'd gotten the best part of his life, inviting neighbors and friends alike to his "performance." It's really a fun, unique story, the likes of which isn't seen too often in comics. Issue three of Habitual Entertainment delves into the realm of science fiction as the life of a farmer, his son and the robots that make their work that much easier is explored, leading to a sweet yet disturbing climax...and future. Both of these comics were highly entertaining and I'd recommend them as a good place to start if you're gearing up to delve into the world of mini-comics. Both issues are available at the creator's website for $3 apiece.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Double Take 4

Welcome to another installment of the now semi-regular Double Take, where Patrick and I weigh in on a comic in classic Ebert & Roeper fashion.

Astonishing X-Men #17
Joss Whedon & John Cassaday

Contains spoilers!

Dave says: Another great, if strange, issue of Astonishing X-Men. I love that cover and John Cassaday brilliantly illustrates some of the most disturbing images from the very first page to the last. From the get-go, Kitty is under the illusion (courtesy of the…er, second Miss Frost) that she’s had a baby with Peter and that someone has taken it. This is The Hellfire Club’s way to get Pryde to phase into the stubborn box in the basement to retrieve an important item. A lot of emphasis is put on the fact that the people in Kitty’s life leave her, let her down, or die. The only real constant companion she’s ever had is Lockheed. Her first love Peter died. Her best friend Illyana died. Her other close friend Doug Ramsey died. Her father died in the Genosha massacre. And there was a time when she thought all of the X-Men were dead but a handful that founded Excalibur. Of course, some of that has been rectified, at the beginning of this series with Peter, and not too far into her time with Excalibur, but the fact has always remained that her world is constantly in flux. Obviously, she didn’t want that sort of thing to happen again since she goes all crazed in her pursuit of her imaginary child, particularly in an awesome scene where she holds a phased axe threateningly through Peter’s head. A pretty damn freaky image. Another freaky image: Kitty holding “her baby” the maggot-looking thing. But anyways, in this issue, Lockheed is revealed as the mole (will the betrayal ever stop?), Cassandra Nova herself is revealed to be what was in the box, and both Scott and Logan regain their wits and are looking for some serious revenge. Of course, Danger and Ord are in the mix now, and what the hell is going on with the Emma Frost doppelganger? Weird issue, but good.

Patrick says: Yeah, this was a pretty solid issue. I think this series tends to be either over or under praised. I think it’s overpraised when considered as good as or better than Grant Morrison’s extraordinary run on New X-Men, but some have dismissed Whedon’s take as being too conservative and retro. It is a fairly conservative approach, especially when compared to Morrison’s work, but there’s a lot to be said for the execution. Whedon’s and Cassidays’ storytelling skills are just about pitch perfect. This issue in particular had a nice build of tension throughout, creating a perfectly paced thriller. Cassiday’s visuals were just the right amount of creepy when they needed to be, and he does a great job with the character’s facial expressions, especially important given Whedon’s sparse approach to dialogue.

This all adds up to little more than an above average superhero adventure story, but I don’t really ask much more of the X-Men, you know? If you’re a fan of the genre, I can’t think of many better exemplars of it currently being published. If there’s only room in your life for one superhero comic book…..well, you should track down Morrison’s New X-Men books or his and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman. If there’s room in your life for more than one superhero comic book, you might want to give this one a shot.

Dave says: I’ll grant you that Morrison and Quitely are innovative artists, and even that New X-Men was a better run than Whedon’s and Cassadays’. I still, however, prefer Astonishing X-Men to All-Star Superman. It may just be that what I look for in a story doesn’t have as much to do with plot and out-there ideas, but with characterization and great dialogue (the latter of which is ever-present in Morrison‘s works as well, but never as sharp as Whedon‘s). I like my stories more character-driven, which is why I’m so nutty over Whedon, and Cassaday is perfectly suited for such an approach. New X-Men introduced dozens of concepts that Marvel writers will be working with for decades. It was damn near brilliant. And he brought Emma Frost into play as a major force. But Morrison focused a lot on the themes and what he was trying to say about the X-Men in general, wherea Whedon is using the tools provided and using them exceptionally well to flush these characters out. In the end, I just want a great story, and both runs have provided that much, exceeding all expectations.

Double Take 3: Death Note (Volume 7)
Double Take 2: Ghost of Hoppers
Double Take: The Drifting Classroom

Thursday, September 21, 2006

In Passing...Runaways to Nextwave

This week in floppies...

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #8
Warren Ellis & Stuart Immonen

This was a good storyline. Not that there was much story. Nextwave kicked monster butt. However, it was less random and repetitive than the previous storyarc, putting the series back on track as one of the best superhero titles out there presently. I loved the strange, over-the-top flashbacks with Elsa Bloodstone this issue. She's just awesome. And nice social commentary provided by Ellis, having "The Mindless Ones" (or the rock monsters of this issue) doing what humans generally do (go to bars, watch TV, etc). Very Romero-esque. A

X-Factor #11
Peter David, Renato Arlem & Roy Allen Martinez

X-Factor deals with what occurred at the end of the previous issue and have pretty much had it with Singularity by this point. Plus a good old-fashioned scuffle between team members. B-

Civil War #4 (of 7)
Mark Millar & Steve McNiven

This little Marvel mini-series provides many surprises, none of which I will spoil here, and none of which are really that spectacular anyway. This issue pretty much takes up where the last one left off, causing more rifts between friends, and setting things up for issues to come. And just when Millar manages to shed a little (very little) sympathy on Iron Man's side of the fence, he doubly insures that no readers will remain sympathetic for long. And when did Mister Fantastic get so dark and bad-ass? C-

Runaways #20
Brian K. Vaughan & Mike Norton

Chase goes to a dark place while the rest of the Runaways battle a very, very big monster. They may be a little over their heads with this one. Xavin continues to exchange tart remarks with Karolina's teammates, establishing him/herself as the team bitch. B

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Epileptic

David B.

Most people who are going to read this probably have already, but for the rest of you, this is a final plea…

Epileptic is an important multi-layered work. David B. leaves himself naked and exposed, showing tender moments and his inner-most dark thoughts alike to demonstrate how his brother’s illness has effected him and his family.

Jean-Christophe began having epileptic seizures at age eleven, after a childhood where he grew close to David (then Pierre-Francois). They were violent, terrifying episodes that caused his family to seek some form of treatment, pulling each member into various new age scenes, from macrobiotic communities to alchemy. Amid all of the stress and false hopes, David explores his family’s history through war times and his growth as an artist. Many metaphors demonstrate what Jean-Christophe’s disease means to his family, which really becomes a disease that stalks them all individually, isolating them and creating demons for each of them to grapple with. Meanwhile, the disease progresses as those who love Jean-Christophe watch him go through a disheartening transformation as the distance stretches between them.

Among David B’s gorgeous pencils, we are treated to an autobiographical experience like no other, and one that everyone should take the time to indulge. This is one of the big ones. A

Marvel Solicits: December '06

The full list of Marvel comics shipping this December can be found at Comic Book Resources. These are the highlights...

newuniversal #1 - That's a nice cover. Warren Ellis and Salvador Larroca's new series may be the most exciting thing coming out from Marvel this month, as it delves back into Marvel's past to revive a dead concept. I'm buying it. This book centers around "The White Event" as Earth witnesses superhuman power for the first time.

Star Brand Classic (Volume 1) TP - And with the renewed interest in Marvel's New Universe, of course Marvel will release some collections of said concept. This trade collects issues 1-7 of the New Universe series, with art by none other than John Romita Jr.

Ultimate Vision #1 (of 5) - I can't bring myself to buy this book because of the grotesque design of the character more than anything, although I'm very tempted to as it boasts the talent of two artists I really admire: Brandon Peterson and Mike Carey. I may just cave.

Wonder Man #1 (of 5) - I'm really digging Peter David's X-Factor, so I may have to check out some other things he's working on, like this mini-series with art by Andrew Currie.

Marvel Holiday Special - Ah yes. It's that time of year again. Where Marvel shamelessly attempts to make a profit off of their licensed characters by half-heartedly (and awkwardly) connecting them with tradition.

Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter in Guilty Pleasures #1-3 (of 12) - Perhaps the sole reason that Marvel has partnered with Dabel Brothers, this mini-series adapts Laurell K. Hamilton's best-selling novel Guilty Pleasures, where we are introduced to the sassy Anita Blake. I read the book, so I'm passing on this mini, but once it catches up to where I left off, I may give the comics a try.

Essential Defenders (Volume 2) TP - We knew this was coming.

Runaways (Volume 2) HC - Just in time for all of the fanboys to get caught up on the series before Joss Whedon takes over, Marvel offers a second hardcover of the loveable series, collecting a good chunk of the second season, including the Free Comic Book Day: Astonishing X-Men/Runaways Special.

Moon Knight (Volume 1): The Bottom Premiere HC - Gugh. If there was a book that deserved a premiere hardcover edition, it wasn't this one. Save your money, folks.

New Avengers: Illuminati #1 (of 5) - The Illuminati meet once more in a five-issue mini-series written by Bendis and Reed, with art by Jim Cheung.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

FutureSex/LoveSounds

Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake's latest CD debuted this past week, complete with a bad-ass "Parental Advisory" warning. The former NSync member strived to make a CD where every song could be the next single, collaborating with some of the best talent the music biz has to offer, including Timbaland and Jay-Z. Timberlake's previous album Justified was an all-around acclaimed CD, so he had some high standards to live up to....which makes it no real surprise that he didn't meet them.

FutureSex/LoveSounds takes Timberlake in a new "mature" direction, with little semblance to his boyband days. Gone are many of the cheesy lyrics from his previous album, but also missing are the interesting soundtracks to his music, as heard in songs like Cry Me a River. This CD foregos such innovation for tired hip-hop beats to establish himself among an R&B audience in a market flooded with mediocrity. Few of the songs are stand-outs, the most interesting sounding of which are the already-released SexyBack and the title track, each of which exemplify the rest of the CD in that they rely heavily on the chorus, and are aggressively repetative with little depth to them. The one thing that Justin Timberlake does well on this album is showcase his vocal prowess. The songs are perfect vehicles to demonstrate his range and show off a real control of that gift. Unfortunately, he failed in his objective to make a stand-out CD and offered little more than a disappointing sophomore effort. C-

Key Tracks: FutureSex/LoveSound, SexyBack, My Love, Lovestoned, What Goes Around...

In Stores 9/20

Some items of interest you may want to peruse on Wednesday...

X-Men First Class #1 (of 8) - A new mini-series telling new tales of the original X-Men team. Beautiful cover.

Wetworks #1 - This is a new Wildstorm series from Mike Carey, with art by Whilce Portacio and Trevor Scott, about a team of men who keep monsters in check.

Godland (Volume 2): Another Sunny Delight TP - The second volume of Joe Casey's Kirby-inspired Godland finally comes out!!

Disney Comics Classics Collection (Volume 1) - This is a collection of rare Disney comics that go back almost seventy years. For $50, you get a nice 256 page hardcover volume.

Civil War #4 (of 7) - I hear there's supposed to be a shocking occurence in this issue. I'd be more shocked if nothing surprising happened in one of the issues.

Blade #1 - A new ongoing series featuring the Daywalker had to happen in concurrence with the new television series. They have to make a good one eventually...right?

Ms. Marvel (Volume 1): Best of the Best Premiere HC - This is a really good superhero series, but it doesn't exactly warrant a hardcover edition. You should read this, but you can wait for the paperback trade.

Monday, September 18, 2006

DC Solicits: December '06

The full list of books shipping from DC Comics in December can be found at Newsarama. The following are the highlights...

Manhunter (Volume 2): Trial By Fire TP - Another collection of the wonderful, fan-favorite series finally sees the light of day, at the same time as the regular series resumes after a short hiatus, with issue #26, guest-starring Wonder Woman herself. Also...Manhunter appears in Birds of Prey #101 - a big month for Kate Spencer.

Batman: Year One Deluxe TP - The acclaimed Frank Miller/David Mazucchelli story featuring the Dark Knight comes out in a softcover complete with plenty of extras.

The Spirit #1 - Will Eisner's creation reappears on comic stands this December thanks to the talented Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone.

Showcase Presents: The Brave and the Bold: The Batman Team-Ups (Volume 1) TP - A new Showcase featuring early Batman team-ups with Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, etc. Also, look out for a second volume of Showcase Presents: Justice League of America.

Fables #56 - I just love that cover. A special Christmas issue of Fables.

Friday the 13th #1 - Jason Voorhees makes his DC debut this month under the guiding hands of Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Adam Archer.

Doom Patrol (Volume 5): Magic Bus TP - Another collection of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol! I'm impressed with DC's dedication in releasing these books in such a timely manner.

Manga Monday 9

This week in Manga Monday, I'm going to take a look at Infinity Studios' Blood Alone, and take a peek at two new titles that debuted in this month's Shojo Beat!

Blood Alone (Volume 1)
Masayuki Takano

Takano’s Blood Alone follows the relationship of Kuroe and Misaki, the latter of which is a vampire. Both of these characters have been touched by the supernatural, and their gifts can be very beneficial when helping the local police, or someone who has merely lost their pet cat. But the relationship between the two characters is the most disturbing aspect of the manga title, as Kuroe is a full-grown man and Misaki…well, she looks (and acts) like a twelve-year-old. And since she doesn’t know what a cold is (?), she could be a lot younger than that. During a calm, collected conversation with little boy vampire Higure, Misaki watches as he kisses his adult lover goodbye, before the boy makes a knowing comment about Misaki’s own attractive man. Okay…I think the idea of a young child-like vampire luring older men to sate their desires is an interesting idea. But unlike the aged-beyond-his-youthful-complexion Higure, Misaki is a child still and it makes for a bit of an uncomfortable read. Kuroe doesn’t make any moves on the little girl, but he does take her on dates, sleeps in the same bed and is completely aware of her love for him. If the relationships had been played out a little differently or with a little more depth, I think the pedophelia could have made for an intriguing story between an immortal and a mortal, could have even shed a sympathetic, tragic light on the couple...unfortunately, the writer does little to make it interesting or very realistic.

Aside from the strange relationship showcased in this book, the characters feel rather flat and the situations with serial killers and spirits are uninspired and retread ideas seen in hundreds of other supernatural stories. The author attempts to graft some weak additions to the vampire mythos, but succeeds only in making those scary elements silly, much like the epilogue of the three-part story "Soul Slave" that makes up the bulk of this volume.

The art on this book is really nice, but when Takano tries his hand at some experimental panel arrangements in the "Clasp Your Hand" chapter, he only confuses readers and leaves this first volume on a clumsy note, giving the reader little reason to read more. D

Shojo Beat: October 2006
Shojo Beat weeded out another title from their monthly anthology, replacing Kaze Hikaru with Backstage Prince (and pretty quickly after Vampire Knight took Godchild's place). While Vampire Knight has turned out to be a disappointment, the new Backstage Prince shows real promise, as does the sneak peek at Tail of the Moon.

Tail of the Moon
Rinko Ueda

Tail of the Moon is about Usagi, a teenaged girl who's kind of seen as a joke, as she's an undisciplined klutz in a village of ninja. Realizing that there's little hope for progress, she is sent out of town by her great-grandfather to marry a handsome lord in a neighboring ninja town. Things don't go very smoothly, but Usagi is determined to carry out her mission, and uses her own gifts to try to win the heart of the ninja lord. Great plot, great pacing. A-

Backstage Prince
Kanoko Sakurakoji

The new ongoing title of the magazine, Backstage Prince, sees Akari innocently step into the role of assistant to a famous Kabuki actor, Ryusei, who is known to be very cold toward people in general. They develop a friendship that's new to the clueless-about-boys Akari and the distant Ryusei. It's really wonderful watching these characters interact with each other and grow closer with each turn of the page. A

Thursday, September 14, 2006

In Passing...Fables to Claws

Fables #53
Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham

The second issue of the "Sons of Empire" story has Lumi, the Ice Queen, run down her proposal for how she plans on destroying the Mundy World, and consequently Fabletown. Meanwhile, life goes on back with the loveable fables. There's a cute little back story to this issue too, illustrated by Joshua Middleton. B

Claws #2 (of 3)
Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Joe Linsner

Linsner's art continues to impress. The story behind Wolvie and Black Cat's abduction is pretty silly, and while the action in this issue is non-stop, it's also wholly unimpressive. The pencils are really the only reason to buy this comic. C-

Ms. Marvel #7
Brian Reed & Robert De La Torre

There was a pretty flawless transition into Civil War with the previous issue, this one picking up where the last one left us with Arana and Julia Carpenter (AKA Arachne, or the Spider-Woman with the cool black costume and red hair). While Ms. Marvel continues to impress as a really great superhero comic, Marvel has overall failed at making anybody in favor of the Superhuman Registration Act seem like a "good guy." There are attempts to show Carol in a good light in this book, as she tries to help Arana come to the right decisions and avoid arrest, but throwing in a character like Julia Carpenter who wants nothing more than to pick up her daughter and run to Canada, just serves to make Carol and her "Cape Killers" look like a bunch of dicks. There was a tender moment with Carol involving Captain America previously that made her sympathetic, but that was only because she protected him and went against the law. Anyways....this was a good issue. I really like Julia Carpenter - I hope to see her in the future. B+

Devi #3
Samit Basu & Mukesh Singh

This is a pretty decent comic book. It doesn't exactly blow me away from week to week, but three issues in, I'm still intrigued at what's going on, and wonder where we'll find our characters next, particularly as Tara makes her metamorphosis into the next Devi. I really like the villain Kratha. If she didn't have that whole Witchblade thing going on with her hands, I would say she was a really cool visual. I think the packaging of these books is pretty poor - the covers always look really cheap and amateurish when compared to other publishers'. Not that, as the cliche goes, a book should be judged... C+

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Damned #1

Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt

The Damned is a new series from Oni Press debuting in October. The very first issue of the series is double-sized and introduces its readers to Eddie, a man of foul habits cursed to keep returning from the dead, provided someone out there sees fit to revive him. Fortunately for him, he’s in high demand. Between the three demon families that traffic souls in the city, there are always plenty of figures planning to send him on a dirt nap, beat him for information, or send him on some task or another to pay off his numerous debts.

In this particular issue, following a great introduction to the world involved, Eddie is assigned by “Big Al” to uncover what has become of a demon involved in negotiations between two of the warring demon families, forcing Eddie into a confrontation with an old flame, and to a demon whorehouse for any sign of a potential witness. This book has some really nice art and monster designs from Hurtt and is paced to perfection.

When it comes down to it, this is basically a gangster book with supernatural figures. The Godfather with demons, if you will. I’m not a big fan of mob stories generally, so that may be why I didn’t find much of interest in this story. It’s a fine blend of two genres, with some fresh ideas, but in the end, it wasn’t intriguing enough to make me want to read more. And the cast of stock characters didn't help to dispell my indifference. On the bright side, you can check out the double-sized first issue for yourself at a bargain-priced $3.50 if it sounds like something that will tickle your fancy. C

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

In Stores 9/13

Quite the week for...well, graphic novels and collections. This is going to be an exercise in picking and choosing...

Abandon the Old In Tokyo HC - Yoshihiro Tatsumi's latest hardcover collection debuts in-stores, following the beautifully packaged The Push Man and Other Stories. Tatsumi's a master, not to be missed.

Comic Art Magazine #8 - If you ordered this on-line, you've had it for a couple of weeks, but for the rest of you unfortunates, prepare to be envied for the experience you are about to embark on.

Doom Patrol (Volume 4): Musclebound TP - The latest of DC's collections of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol run. I believe we get to see Flex Mentallo in this volume...should be cool.

Essential Hulk (Volume 4) TP - I'm not the biggest Hulk fan, but Patrick loves these collections. I point this out for his sake.

Kramer's Ergot (Volume 6) SC - One of the most anticipated anthologies of the year makes it's way to your local store (well, if it's a good store).

Mome (Volume 5) GN - And another anthology. These guys could have been spaced out a little more. Mome's not as exciting as Kramer's Ergot's appearance on this list merely because it comes out a few times a year. But really, in a fair world, both would be picked up. And eventually, they should be.

Niger #1 - I've been looking forward to this guy for awhile. A new title from Fantagraphic's Ignatz line, telling folktales through woodcuts.

Pride of Baghdad HC - This will probably sell better than everything else on this list. Probably combined. But we can't blame the book for that. It looks beautiful.

:01 First Second Books - The second wave of titles from the exciting new publisher is arriving in comic stores (after a week or two in the local B&N) including...

- American Born Chinese SC & HC
- Journey Into Mohawk Country SC
- Kampung Boy SC
- Klezmer (Book 1): Tales of the Old East SC & HC
- Missouri Boy SC
- Sardine in Outer Space (Volume 2) SC

Choose wisely...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Manga Monday 8

Before I plow directly into my review this week, I thought I would highlight my ten favorite anime! I went ahead and lumped anime series into this countdown as well. Seriously, check these titles out if you haven't already!

11. Vampire Hunter D
I'm cheating already. There's a lot of Hayao Miyazaki in the countdown, so I thought I would add another title to demonstrate a little more diversity. This is a horror classic that follows a mysterious man - D - who hunts vampires in a world overrun with the monstrosities.

10. ROD: Read or Die
Originally a film, I prefered the series that followed, as three paper mages work as bodyguards for a best-selling writer with a bit of writer's block...and a secret history.

9. Howl's Moving Castle
Hayao Miyazaki's latest film didn't get the highest praise when it was released in America. It wasn't as accessible as his previous two titles, boasting an old woman (sort of) as its protagonist in a world teeming with war, and a bit of a complicated conclusion. It is a stellar story when it comes down to it, however. It only suffers in that it doesn't top other films he's created.

8. Paranoia Agent
This is one bizarre, strange series. It chronicles the mysterious deaths and injuries sustained by one psychotic boy dubbed "Little Slugger" who has a knack for appearing in impossible places to beat people with a crooked baseball bat. This is a multi-layered work that really becomes something more than its story by its conclusion.

7. Grave of the Fireflies
This tale tells the story of two children striving to survive in the latter days of World War II, after their mother's death leaves them in the hands of a distant relative, and eventually, on their own. A tear-jerker.

6. Spirited Away
Sort of an Alice In Wonderland type of tale, Miyazaki's acclaimed film follows a young girl alone in the spirit realm, as she tries to reclaim her old life amid the strange creatures that demand her attention.

5. Akira
A classic, based on the manga by Katsuhiro Otomo, follows a boy in a motorcycle gang in a post-apocalyptic setting, who develops a strange form of telekinesis.

4. Kiki's Delivery Service
Of all of Hayao Miyazaki's movies, this is the one that deserves more attention than it's gotten. Kiki's Delivery Service follows a young witch-in-training as she struggles to find her place in the world and grow up in a foreign city.

3. His & Her Circumstances
Based on Masami Tsuda's manga Kare Kano, this anime series explores two model students' dark inner selves as they work to build a relationship and group of friends.

2. Princess Mononoke
Miyazaki's masterpiece. An epic tale of a warrior tainted by the mark of a demon, seeking to understand the demon's wrath and striving to protect the forest spirit from the greedy humans who lust for its power and resources.

1. Neon Genesis Evangelion
What is left to say about a masterpiece such as this? It's perfect. This series begins as a story about giant robots and the children who control them, but transcends its genre by its conclusion, foregoing all conventional storytelling and subverting everyone's expectations. Grafting religious symbolism to key elements of its story, this series ends up being about the characters and their relationship to one another and the world around them.

Alright, time for the manga review!

Hmmm....this is one you probably haven't heard of...

Naruto (Volume 1)
Masashi Kishimoto

The record-breaking juggernaut Naruto has been in the news again lately, just begging me for a reading. So, it's about time I look over the manga to see what all of the hubbub's about...

From the pages of Shonen Jump, leaps Uzumaki Naruto, prankster and general mischief-maker in the village of Konohagakure. One so troubled (and lonely) easily captures the hearts of his readers, demanding empathy from anyone who's ever felt like an outsider, or a general underdog. Naruto may be a laughing stock, and he may not be the best ninja yet, but he vows that one day he will be respected by his tormenting village as the best shinobi of his people, and consequently earn the title of Hokage. The fourth Lord Hokage saved the village a dozen years prior by finding a way to defeat the evil nine-tailed fox spirit, dying himself in the process. This legend is still fresh in the minds of the villagers and for reasons to be revealed in this, the first volume of Naruto, our protagonist's fate is tied to that mythic battle.

So why is this title so insanely popular? I'm not sure. It's a fun read, full of intricate, sprawling fight sequences and pranks, but also great characters who do their best to outdo one another. The art is pretty, but I've certainly seen better in other titles currently on the market: Death Note, Eden, Planetes... Naruto is unabashedly a boys' manga. Ninja, surprise attacks, shuriken, silly lovesick girls....it's all in there as the story progresses, amid the silly "groundhog technique" and page after page of doppelgangers. I personally like a little more substance with my action, so I can't really speak to the book's appeal. But then again, I'm not exactly the target demographic either... This manga was enjoyable, but nothing to get super-excited about. C

Manga Monday 7
Manga Monday 6
Manga Monday 5
Manga Monday 4
Manga Monday 3
Manga Monday 2
Manga Monday!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

How'd I do?

The Harvey Award winners were announced at the Baltimore Con! If you recall, last June I made my predictions for the Harvey Award winners. Time to compare my choices versus the actual winners...

Best Writer
Winner: Ed Brubaker
My choice: Brian Michael Bendis

Best Artist
Winner: J.H. Williams III
My choice: J.H. Williams III

Best Cartoonist
Winner: Chris Ware
My choice: Chris Ware

Best Letterer
Winner: Chris Ware
My choice: Well, I didn't actually pick one...I don't pay enough attention to letterers

Best Inker
Winner: Charles Burns
My choice: Charles Burns

Best Colorist
Winner: Laura Martin
My choice: Laura Martin

Best Cover Artist
Winner: James Jean
My choice: James Jean

Best New Talent
Winner: R. Kikuo Johnson & Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
My choice: R. Kikuo Johnson

Best New Series
Winner: Young Avengers, Heinberg & Cheung
My choice: X-Factor, Peter David & various

Best Continuing or Limited Series
Winner: Runaways, Vaughan & Alphona
My choice: Acme Novelty Library, Chris Ware

Best Syndicated Strip or Panel
Winner: Maakies, Tony Millionaire
My choice: Anything but The Amazing Spider-Man (I won't count this as a guess)

Best Anthology
Winner: Solo
My choice: Any but Marvel's (again, not a real guess)

Best Graphic Album - Original
Winner: Tricked, Alex Robinson
My choice: Night Fisher, R. Kikuo Johnson

Best Graphic Album - Previously Published
Winner: Black Hole, Charles Burns
My choice: Black Hole, Charles Burns

Best Single Issue or Story
Winner: Love & Rockets (Volume 2) #15, Los Bros. Hernandez
My choice: Acme Novelty Library #16, Chris Ware

Best Domestic Reprint Project
Winner: Little Nemo In Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays, Windsor McCay
My choice: Walt & Skeezix, Frank King

Best American Edition of Foreign Material
Winner: Buddha, Osama Tezuka
My choice: Buddha (Tezuka) or Epileptic (David B.)

Best On-Line Comics Work
Winner: American Elf, James Kochalka
My choice: American Elf, James Kochalka

Special Award For Humor In Comics
Winner: Kyle Baker (Plastic Man)
My choice: James Kochalka (Superf*ckers)

Special Award For Excellence In Presentation
Winner: Little Nemo In Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays (Windsor McCay)
My choice: Acme Novelty Library (Chris Ware)

Best Biographical, Historical or Journalistic Presentation
Winner: The Comics Journal
My choice: The Comics Journal

Lifetime Achievement Awards went to John Romita Sr. and George Perez.

So, how'd I do? Well, of the eighteen (out of twenty-one) I actually made a guess on (I'm cheating and counting multiple guesses - there were only two!), I predicted ten winners out of eighteen. Not too shabby - that's over half. I was on a roll at the beginning...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Athena Voltaire: Flight of the Falcon

(Ape Entertainment Edition)
#1 (of 4)
Paul Daly & Steve Bryant

The high-flying adventuress returns from the ashes of Speakeasy to fly again in this action-packed issue from Ape Entertainment! I was completely smitten with the first issue of this comic when it was released from Speakeasy early this year. It's wonderful to see it back and better than ever in this 48-page monster collecting the entire first Speakeasy issue, as well as the second never released issue. The whole controversy behind their decision to publish the comic in this way is explained in the back of this edition, but basically, the 1400+ backorders for the sold-out first issue from Speakeasy was quite the demand, but not enough to justify another print run that could potentially spell doom for the mini-series. As a compromise, new readers can get caught up on the series, and those returning would only have to spare $1.50 extra than they would have paid for the entire run from its former publisher. It's pretty much a win-win. But the first issue isn't entirely the same either, as is also pointed out. Dialogue has been tightened and coloring has been redone in some areas for a superior showcase of the material that will continue throughout the rest of the series' four issue run. And should sales of this series warrant it, the creators would be more than happy to release collections of the comics from the Eisner-nominated Athena Voltaire webcomic! Such a thought makes me giddy.

Now that the backstory has been briefly recounted, I have to say that this has lived up to everything I remembered and then some. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed rereading the first issue. The beautiful art, the wonderful characters, the wit of the dialogue...it's all there between the impressive action sequences in 30's adventure comicstrip tradition. Teeming with jungle locales, evil nazis and good old-fashioned airplace chases, this is one comic that absolutely can NOT be missed. Athena Voltaire is a character the likes of which doesn't come along too often, and the characters that surround her are just as interesting and mysterious. Warren Ellis summed it up perfectly with the quote featured prominently on the front cover of this issue: "Imagine if the likes of The Mummy and Van Helsing were actually, you know, good." This is it! If you love adventure, action, or great comics in general, you have got to pick this title up. Trust me! A+

Friday, September 08, 2006

X-Men: Phoenix Warsong #1 (of 5)

Greg Pak & Tyler Kirkham

Greg Pak follows up his rather surprisingly good mini-series X-Men: Phoenix Endsong with a new five issue mini-series. Apparently, the Phoenix just won't leave the X-Men alone. Pak demonstrated a skill of taking elements of the X-Men and using them in new, classic ways with the last series. Example: The Phoenix eats suns (a side effect being that they go supernova and destroy worlds). Cyclops' blasts are like having the power of the sun behind his eyes. Do you see where a weak phoenix would try to draw strength from? It's that sort of thing that really elevated Endsong to another level. That and the art by Greg Land.

In X-Men: Phoenix Warsong, Pak takes another such obvious circumstance of those living in the X-mansion, particularly the Stepford Cuckoos, and says "Even now, when their whole world's about to crumble, they never ask the obvious question. What is a cuckoo?" Fortunately, from many long hours in front of Animal Planet, I knew what a cuckoo was and saw where Pak was going with this. A cuckoo is basically an imposter who's deposited by its mother into a nest of songbirds, where it takes them all out. See where this phoenix storyline is going?

A series has to be more than clever conclusions, however. While Endsong had a great plot, fantastic action, and beautiful art, Warsong rather flounders in all such areas. Kirkham gets the job done, but does little to elevate the work beyond that. Really, the story just comes off as silly and clumsily-orchestrated. Maybe an artist like Greg Land (who I may be giving too much credit here) could have saved the script and turned it into something a little more cohesive and lovely, but Kirkham's talents aren't quite that evolved. Not that the art is horrendous or anything. It just looks mediocre. As is the rather dull tale the writer weaves amid a flurry of unimpressive action (and dream) sequences. This series' major fault was being a sequel to a really well-done series. Unfortunately, Marvel didn't see fit to up the ante with the following story, instead lazily riding on the former's success. D+

In Passing...Uncanny to X-Men

So, I got my comics from www.mycomicshop.com on the same day as I picked up this week's comics via the local store. It's pretty sick that four of the title are X-books (three of which are briefly reviewed here)...

Uncanny X-Men #478
Ed Brubaker & Billy Tan

The latest chapter in Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire picks up on events from issue #476, where we left our brave heroes drifting in space. I'm loving the art on this book. On one of the last few pages of this issue, there's a panel at the bottom with Nightcrawler bamfing, leaving an outline of himself in his wake that's just beautiful. The action is depicted masterfully, as is the ever-lovely Miss Dane, one of my favorite X-characters. But really, each issue is an exciting piece of the storyline, and I can't wait for the conflict that this book is leading toward. B+

X-Men #190
Mike Carey & Chris Bachalo

The other X-book is pretty good too, but I find it a little hard to follow. A lot's going on here with an unwieldy cast of characters and I don't think the artist is quite strong enough to pull it all off as it's meant to be. I really do enjoy Bachalo's art in general, however, and am glad to see him lend his talents to the book. I think this book could stand to slow down and take a breath at some point in the near future, as the constant bombardment of action doesn't really make me feel much for the characters amid the situation. But I am glad to see Northstar and Aurora in this issue! C-

X-Factor #10
Peter David
Renato Arlem & Roy Allen Martinez

I am really loving the art in X-Factor here. Renato Arlem is great for this title, serving the noir atmosphere well. Martinez kicked the issue off with a flashback, and I really enjoyed the art there too, which I didn't find very distracting when the pen switched hands and the story commenced in real time. In particular, I think that Arlem depicts the women of the title better than any previous artist on the book. Oh, and the story's good too. B+

Snakewoman #2
Zeb Wells & Michael Gaydos

Following a spectacular Alias-esque debut issue, Snakewoman continues to thrill with Gaydos' beautiful art and an intriguing story of reincarnation and secret societies. I really like Jessica Peterson's circle of friends in this book. They were depicted stronger in the first issue when we were first introduced to the protagonist, but I'm sure plenty more character interaction is on its way once the initial burst of action has played out. Unfortunately, I didn't really care for the annoying, simpering Mr. Robinson character introduced in this issue and he was pretty prominently featured... B+

Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways #2 (of 4)
Zeb Wells & Stefano Caselli

Now that I've actually read a little Young Avengers, I don't feel like I'm missing as much in this title, particularly since the characters keep referencing past events. But this book has its weaknesses when it comes to both sets of characters. I really enjoy the art when it comes to the characters of Runaways, but they seem off character-wise. Really pompous and spoiled and generally unlikeable. On the flip-side, the Young Avengers seem more like the characters from their own book, but the art isn't as strong (not that you can blame Caselli in face of Jim Cheung's fabulous art on that book). In the end, this is just kind of a mish-mash, with little in terms of interesting things occurring, that doesn't do either team justice. D

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Young Avengers

(Volume 1): Sidekicks
Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung

With the Young Avengers teaming up with the Runaways in their own Civil War special, I thought that it was about time to get caught up on the former team that I hadn't been following, but have been meaning to check out. Their first adventure "Sidekicks" has been collected into a paperback edition that includes Young Avengers issues #1-6, and is basically the team's origin. These young superheroes have appeared out of nowhere to demonstrate acts of heroism, and harbor an uncanny resemblance to prominent members of the Avengers proper. But what is their connection with Earth's Mightiest Heroes, if any? And what is their mission? Those answers and more are revealed in this storyline, with a lineup that initially includes Iron Lad, Hulkling, Patriot and Asgardian (later renamed Wiccan), but whose membership shifts by the end of the sixth issue.

There's a vaguely complicated story behind why these heroes have banded together, and how these six issues leave them, but let's just say that it involves Kang the Conquerer, time travel and the Vision, and has guest appearances by Jessica Jones, Captain America and Iron Man (the latter two of which are still friends at this point in time). The banter between the members of the group, and their stances on issues, make for a really cool dynamic. It's a fun book that has echoes of other stories with teenage protagonists, like Runaways and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where the characters are just as worried about getting home before their parents discover them missing from their bedrooms as they are about reality shifting as a result of an enemy's actions.

Jim Cheung's art is, of course, stellar. I've been a fan of Cheung's since his Crossgen days on Scion, and he has only improved with time. His modern designs on old costumes are really just impressive when it comes down to it.

The stand-out characters of the book are really Kate, who doesn't have a codename by the end of the book, having been unimpressed by any names she heard in regards to her predecesser Hawkeye, and the Thor-inspired Wiccan, but really all of the characters make for interesting additions to the team. By the end of the series, I cared as much for these crazy kids as I do for the Runaways, whom I've been following for years. All-in-all, these Young Avengers make for welcome additions to Marvel's universe. A

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

In Stores 9/6

Comics are late this week due to Labor Day. So here are a few titles (it's a light week) you may want to take a second peek at this Thursday...

American Splendor #1 (of 4) - Harvey Pekar's new mini-series from Vertigo/DC rears its head this week, riding on the success of last year's The Quitter graphic novel.

New Alice In Wonderland Color Manga (Volume 1) TP - The first issue of this series was an okay read. I would personally pass and just read the original novel...that or check out Slave Labor Graphics' fun new take on Wonderland in, well, Wonderland.

X-Men: Phoenix Warsong #1 (of 5) - Greg Pak returns to Phoenix lore with the sequel to the popular (and pretty damn good) X-Men: Phoenix Endsong. Unfortunately, Greg Land's not returning on art. Instead we get Tyler Kirkman.

Totally Spies (Volume 1): The O P GN and Totally Spies (Volume 2): I Hate the 80's GN - What is it about this cartoon that gets me? I just love it! Anyways, these graphic novels are only $8, but also come in hardcover editions for $13.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sidescrollers

Matthew Loux

Matthew Loux's new graphic novel from Oni Press, Sidescrollers, follows a trio of slackers who pass their summer playing video games, making snack runs, and finding trouble in any number of places. As the night of an indie rock concert grows nearer, many obstacles get in their way, including a demon cat, a group of blood-thirsty jocks and a gaggle of girl scouts. As Matt longs to make his feelings for the new girl Amber known, he schemes about how to get revenge on the star quarterback dating her and how to make her see him for what he is (basically a jackass).

This book is obviously very influenced by another Oni Press title: Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim. It has that same flavor of storytelling, a similar cast of silly characters amid crazy situations, and taps into hipster (and nerd) culture a bit. But Sidescrollers offers a really beautiful, unique art style through Loux's pencils, and really proves itself to be its own thing (despite the recurring character who is basically Jay from Clerks).

Each side quest the guys go on is really just fantastic, proving that Matthew Loux hasn't a boring adventure in him. This book is full of laughs, demonstrates masterful pacing, and really doesn't allow one to put it down easily. The characters contained within are really fun characters to spend time with too, but it's really the dialogue that makes this title stand out so much. This is probably the best dialogue I've read in a comic in years. It's whitty, smart and just captures the world these characters live in perfectly.

If you hadn't guessed, I loved this book. It really came out of left field to blow me away. I'm not sure I would have picked this up if I'd merely rifled through the book in stores, but trust me, you need to experience this comic. I am extremely grateful for having had the chance to read this book. It's only real fault is that it didn't precede its obvious influences, but I think that if you can take aspects from something and make it your own, with a high-quality finished product, you can't really blame the work. Everything's influenced by something, after all, it's just not usually as easy to point out as with this case.

This has been an advance review of Sidescrollers. This 216-page graphic novel is scheduled to ship later this month and should go directly into your graphic novel library. A+

Monday, September 04, 2006

Manga Monday 7

Flowers & Bees (Volume 1)
Moyoco Anno

Based on the description of this title, I didn't really expect to like this book. It's about a loser in high school - Masao Komatsu - who goes to great lengths to become a girl magnet. Shunned and teased in school, Masao decides to go to a men's salon (after seeing a man he admires duck into one), a place called World of Beautiful Men, and get made over by the eccentric stylists, in the pursuit of his goal.

The characters of this book aren't exactly the most fully-realized. Masao himself comes to several very generic realizations about people around him: women like jerks, etc. The plot pretty much speaks for itself as our protagonist makes several overhauls to his appearance via World of Beautiful Men, and measures the results based on the attention he receives from strangers and classmates alike. In the process, he makes some realizations, with a little help from his stylists, about how self-respect has just as much of an effect on how people perceive him as the effort he puts into grooming.

I really loved the art of this book. Moyoco Anno adopts a different style than I'm used to in the manga I read, but it's really beautiful. My only problem with what I read in the first volume was that I had trouble distinguishing a few key players: the love interest Noriko, and Masao's classmate Sakura who seems destined to fall hard for him despite her constant barrage of offensive remarks. I often found myself pausing when the girls appeared to figure out if she were one or the other, taking me out of the story momentarily. This could have been more my fault than the artist's, however, as I probably should have paid more attention to distinguishing characteristics upon their initial appearances.

This was just another manga title that surprised me with its overall quality. I tried something outside of what I usually read and was once again impressed with what I experienced and intend to follow up on additional volumes of the series. It was ultimately a very silly look at the world of metrosexuals, but I had a great time reading it. A-

Manga Monday 6
Manga Monday 5
Manga Monday 4
Manga Monday 3
Manga Monday 2
Manga Monday!

Friday, September 01, 2006

In Passing...Supes to Local

Oh, boy did I get frustrated with my local comic shop this week. Half of my floppies weren't available half an hour after the store opened (let alone had a slot in the wall in the first place....including a favorite of mine: Athena Voltaire), so I rebelled and didn't buy a thing. I ordered my list of comics on-line, so most of this week's comic reviews will come a little late... But I did get a few things read. Patrick bought All-Star Superman, I had The Portent from the previous week, and I got some review copies from Oni Press, a few of which I'll talk about here...

The Portent #4 (of 4)
Peter Bergting

This was an enjoyable mini-series from Image Comics. The Mike Mignola-influenced art was often quite striking when paired with beautiful coloring of sunsets and strange landscapes. The second issue really established it as more than a generic fantasy tale, and it turned into something fairly epic from there. By the final issue, I was ready for the story to be over however, and following an extremely anti-climactic fight with the big baddie, I was maybe a little disappointed in wake of the promise the series seemed to hint at early on. It's still definitely worth checking out though, and I'm looking forward to what Bergting has to offer in the future. B-

All-Star Superman #5
Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely

There was a lot of talking in this issue. Not that I'm opposed to dialogue-heavy comics, because I do enjoy them quite immensely when done well. This one...done pretty well (not surprising given the creative team). This issue wasn't as strong as previous issues of the series, but I tend to be a little hot-and-cold with each of these floppies, since they tend to be very different from one another, with different focuses and featured characters, and pretty self-contained at that. Lex Luther going on about his philosophies was fairly interesting (particularly amid the chaos going on around him), but ultimately, it didn't hold much of a candle to, let's say, the second issue featuring Lois Lane in the Fortress of Solitude, or even the Jimmy Olsen issue. B+

Local #6
Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly

I hadn't read previous issues of this series, but I can tell you that I have definitely been missing out. This series is basically a string of self-contained issues that follow Megan as she lives in different cities across America, trying her hand at each area in turn. This particular issue sees her in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where she rooms with a hospital employee while bartending to pay the bills. She develops a strange relationship with her roommate Gloria that builds to a wonderful climax. There's a lot of emotional punch in this comic, and has the reader feeling every inch of heartache and regret the protagonist does, as the story unfolds amid Kelly's amazing pencils. A

Northwest Passage (Volume 3)
Scott Chantler

Now this is a title I hadn't even heard of before I picked it up and started reading. I'm usually pretty skeptical coming into something a few volumes in, but I wasn't too lost with this book. Northwest Passage is basically historical fiction that explores the world of warring frontiersmen and fur traders in The New World. Scott Chantler is really a great cartoonist, worthy of wider recognition. If anything, you have to give credit to the art provided in this series, but the story's pretty decent too. It's not exactly the type of thing I'd get excited about generally, but it was a fun, breezy read full of action and heroism, with a load of gruff characters you don't mind getting to know. I was entertained while reading the book, but really, I think Scott Chantler's talents could be channeled into more satisfying stories that aren't quite as forgettable as this. C