Monday, October 30, 2006

Impaler #1 (of 4)

William Harms, Nick Postic & Nick Marinkovich

This is a nice dark and moody book for Halloween. Most of the art is bathed in shadow with gothic images like wolves howling at the full moon and living shadows. Very effective art by Postic and Marinkovich for this type of story. Also very effective are the slithery, oily monsters glimpsed across the pages of this bloody chiller. Impaler is a vampire tale. Beginning in Wallachia in 1460, this book is mostly set in modern day New York City where a cop is retiring in wake of his wife's death at the same time that a ship has been discovered with its entire crew brutally murdered. Like Bram Stoker's Dracula, a diary relates how the crew slowly met its demise via a sickness as equipment was strangely sabatoged. While the book is set full of stock characters and warm bodies to be picked off, the atmosphere and great art, particularly when it comes to the villain designs and death scenes, more than make up for any lack of imagination in the storytelling or characterization. This is a book that knows what it is: a gory, violent thriller with some genuinely frightening scenes. It remains unabashed and unapologetic throughout in its quest to drudge up the horror. And it does so magnificently. If you only have time for a quick read to put you in the spirit of Halloween, this is a good start to get your pulse racing. A

Manga Monday 15

For Halloween, I've decided to take on two of the goriest manga titles out there...Octopus Girl and Hino Horror!

Octopus Girl (Volume 3)
Toru Yamazaki

Octopus Girl remains one of the best dark humor titles in manga. In this, its third volume, it shows little sign of slowing down. Like the previous volume of the series, this book includes some short stories from Yamazaki that aren't part of the Octopus Girl series (nearly a third of the book this time), but are in the same vain of storytelling: blood, gore, screaming, sarcasm (although Super Ladies delves more into the spy genre and is still just plain great). Aside from that hideous cover which has nothing to do with any of the content within, this is another great addition to any manga collection. A real treasure included among the short stories: The Slit-Mouthed Neighbor. Check it out! A-

The Bug Boy: Hino Horror #2
Hideshi Hino

There is a reason Hideshi Hino is dubbed the Master of Japanese Horror Manga. I've been consistently impressed with his material since The Red Snake. He has a way with pacing and suspense that make his stories truly frightening. In this story, we follow young Sanpei, who is teased and mistreated by the world at large, as he makes a hideous transformation into a giant bug. Its very much like The Fly, with body parts falling off and the like: disgusting but great. Hino paints a truly sympathetic character in Sanpei and does some interesting things with him once his transformation is complete, really developing the character and warping him by subtle degrees. As per usual, Hino's art is fantastic. A must-read for any true fan of horror. A

Archives
Manga Monday 14
Manga Monday 13
Manga Monday 12
Manga Monday 11
Manga Monday 10
Manga Monday 9
Manga Monday 8
Manga Monday 7
Manga Monday 6
Manga Monday 5
Manga Monday 4
Manga Monday 3
Manga Monday 2
Manga Monday!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Seven Soldiers #1

Grant Morrison & J.H. Williams III

Everything the Seven Soldiers mini-series have been respectively leading toward merge and come to a head in this oversized comic book, where the seven soldiers who will never meet all play a role in stopping the harrowing of Earth at the hands of the corrupt Sheeda. Unfortunately, I don't think this comic turned out the way Morrison wanted it to. So much is going on, the action never lets up for a moment, and the characters that we've spent so much time with don't get all of the attention they deserve in the conclusions to their tales. Two of my favorites in particular, Frankenstein and the Bulleteer, make pretty brief appearances. No, I think for this to have worked out as Morrison had envisioned, a concluding mini-series would have been the best course of action. That's my first impression, at least. Also, one of the soldiers, the Manhatten Guardian, didn't seem to contribute in the destruction of the Sheeda Queen whatsoever. A few characters were a part of her destruction by chance, but the Guardian was featured pretty prominently with little importance.

Despite its faults, I think that this was a pretty satisfying conclusion to the Seven Soldiers maxi-series. And we certainly couldn't have asked for a better artist to illustrate the tale. A great follow-up tale would see the Bride of Frankenstein rescuing Frankenstein from his fate and even the Shining Knight as she assembles a modern-day Round Table. I would like to see more from The Guardian, The Bulleteer and Zatanna in general in wake of this event. As for my least favorite of the soldiers...too bad that epilogue was so hopeful.

This was an extremely ambitious project from Grant Morrison and I think it turned out to be quite the success. I'd like to see future events told in the same sort of format. It was fun. And this final issue was well worth the delay. A-

Saturday, October 28, 2006

In Passing...Snakewoman to Zombie

Snakewoman #4
Zeb Wells & Michael Gaydos

The latest issue of Snakewoman finally explains just what all of the vague concepts like "the sixty-eight" mean. Through a series of flashbacks that look like they fell out of an issue of Fell, Gaydos illustrates the history behind all of the new players in town and how they came to be. It's all pretty interesting and could lead to some good stuff. B+

Jack of Fables #4
Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges

This book is really shaping up to be something. In this issue, Jack puts his escape plan into action and we are treated to a real edge-of-your-seat thrill ride as the caged fables make a break for freedom. One of the best offerings of the week. A

Zombie #2 (of 4)
Mike Raicht & Kyle Hotz

Raicht continues to keep readers off-balance with the twists and turns he offers in his zombie tale. The explanations and scares are all pretty by-the-numbers, but the way he's been handling the characters involved in the tragedy has at least remained interesting. C+

Ultimate Spider-Man #101
Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley

Very annoying that Marvel decided a preview of Ultimate Power had to be placed in the middle of some pretty exciting panels... But Bendis and Bagley are going nuts with this storyarc, pulling no stops and throwing characters from the Ultimate Universe over into the story for some interesting confrontations. It'll be sad to see Bagely leave the book soon... A-

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E #9
Warren Ellis & Stuart Immonen

The bright side to Bagley leaving Ultimate Spider-Man is that Stuart Immonen from Nextwave takes over pencil chores, which will be a real treat. And even though Nextwave proper is ending, a series of mini-series featuring the characters is better than nothing. Ellis demonstrates why this series is so awesome while it unfortunately draws ever nearer to its conclusion, as supervillain teams consisting of some of the oddest characters you've ever seen are assembled to take apart Nextwave. Man, is this going to be good. A

New Avengers #24
Brian Michael Bendis & Pasqual Ferry

The Sentry has a scuffle with the Inhumans as he decides what position he intends to take in the Civil War. It ends a little differently than it has previously, which is nice, and it does pretty much lay out the format for the new Mighty Avengers and new New Avengers titles rather neatly in its wake. Interesting ideas are explored in this issue when it comes to Sentry's past and his relationship with the Marvel Universe, amid Pasqual Ferry's lovely pencils. A-

Friday, October 27, 2006

John Woo's Seven Brothers #1

Garth Ennis & Jeevan Kang

Seven men are brought together by a mysterious woman, each of whom has a special power, whether it be teleportation or super-sight. Well, all except one guy who is a pimp and our hostess Miss Rachel Kai doesn't really understand how he fits into things herself. All she knows is that this particular group of men will band together to save the world.

Overall, this is a very generic superhero story. It was decent as far as set-ups go, but there's nothing particularly unique in what's been seen thus far. An interesting introduction at the beginning of the issue told of some secret Chinese history, and some cave explorers are about to wake what appears to be the devil, but until those elements come into play, there's nothing about the story to compel me to urge anyone to track this comic down. However, I will admit that Garth Ennis' dialogue is pretty sharp and witty at times, to the point of making me laugh out loud at one moment. On the other hand, Rachel Kai can be annoying in her quest to remain mysterious. I almost had to groan out loud at some of the things that came from her mouth. The art supplied by Kang is plenty pretty to behold, and of course, that cover by Yoshitaka Amano is pretty impressive in its own right. But the by-the-numbers superhero team has to make quite the transformation to stand out against the competition. C+

Hellstorm: Son of Satan #1 (of 5)

Alexander Irvine & Russ Braun

This is how more horror comics should be. Marvel's Max imprint allows for truly gruesome, unsettling imagery and unabashed violence, which is perfect for some titles to thrive under. It's not for every title, of course, but if you're going to write a Hellstorm mini-series, you shouldn't have to hold back on the gore and brutality. It should be genuinely frightening.

That being said, the first issue of this mini wasn't exactly frightening. It was gory and violent, and a bit disturbing, but it felt more like an R-rated superhero book, or a Sandman adventure (or more specifically, an adventure from Lucifer, the spin-off book from Sandman). Not that it wasn't good, because it was a pretty good read. It just didn't drive the scares.

The opening scene is a great demonstration for why this is a Max title: demons chase a man through dark alleys until they overtake him, whereupon they tear him apart, bloody limb from bloody limb, one demon placing the severed head on top of its horn like an ornament while the other demons feast to their heart's content on arms and legs while the man's torso is torn into halves. And that's just the first two pages.

This book has been set up very nicely by Irvine, involving an interesting backstory with a reincarnated Egytian god and a mystery that Damion Hellstorm tries to unravel, about why his father is so interested in this particular event and just what he has planned.

I haven't read any Hellstorm stories before this mini-series, so I can't say whether fans of the character will be happy with this Max event or not, but I for one found the series to kick off rather nicely. B+

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Halloween Spotlight: Witch Comics

There are plenty more comics about witches than there are werewolves, so I've had to pick and choose a bit here. Now, there are characters like The Scarlet Witch (a mutant, not a witch) who are not mentioned in this list, for this list leans more toward comics featuring traditional witchcraft practitioners to weed out the hundreds of books that could make a case for using magic. Bear with me as I highlight a few titles you may find of interest in your quest for scares this Halloween.

Spellbinders: Signs and Wonders - This is how books in that "girl witch" genre should read. The opening scene: two boys are looking through a book on magic, one reading mockingly until, with a look of horror and a mispronounced word, he falls to the floor and shatters into thousands to tiny green lizards that spill out of his clothes. From there, this series doesn't miss a beat, but just keeps on thrilling. We follow a new girl in town, Kate, as she transfers to a school in Massachusettes (guess where). The series moves from creepy air elementals to a grand, larger-than-life battle against...well, you can see for yourself. Aside from the dreary magic atmosphere and haunting monsters, we are treated to an issue where Kate is pretty much huddled beneath a table in the dark, hiding from a man with a knife as he closes in on her location. It's a really suspenseful story overall, with plenty of heart-stopping moments and surprises. Mike Carey writes this little pleasant surprise, and Mike Perkins provides some very beautiful art as well. If you're going to get one book on witches, I recommend this one.

Witches - Marvel's mini-series, featuring Doctor Strange, that brings together three witches from its universe: Satana, Topaz, and Jennifer Kale. Unfortunately, this was about the worst thing I've read from the publisher.

The Witching - DC's Vertigo title about three witches that come together, featuring Elsa, Sooky and Kara, each of whom represent one of the three aspects of womanhood: the child, the mother and the...er...crone.

Witchcraft - Also featuring three witches that represent different aspects of womanhood...this older Vertigo title sees the witches help a woman who has been wronged.

Sandman Presents: Thessaly, Witch For Hire - Vertigo's all about the witches it seems. This, of course, is a spin-off of the infamous Sandman title, featuring the homely little Thessaly.

The Books of Magic - Neil Gaiman's Harry Potter-ish title that follows a boy destined to wield powerful magic.

The Grimoire - An offering from the now-defunct Speakeasy, this comic follows a young woman on the run from her evil mother, using her mother's grimoire to defend herself with magic and strange creatures. A cute all-ages read.

Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics - Ted Naifeh's Courtney Crumrin is awesome and this book is the best of the series thus far. If you're looking for a good all-ages creepy read, this is your best bet. Featuring the sarcastic, glowering little Crumrin, one of the best characters of the medium.

Devil's Footprints - Dark Horse came out with this title a few years back, that follows a family and the misfortunes they undergo near prints left behind from the Devil himself.

Black Magic - Lasting from 1973-1975, this title from DC was illustrated by the late great Jack Kirby - writing chores by Joe Simon.

Witches Tales - A Harvey Comics horror title in the vain of Chamber of Chills and Tomb of Terror, telling various short stories.

Haunt of Fear - This was William Gaines' EC title, where a witch narrated the horror anthology, something frequently copied at the time.

The Witching Hour - From the 60's, this book had three witch narrators who reappeared years later in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.

Wendy the Good Little Witch - A Casper-esque G-rated title suitable for children of all ages, and about as scary as a broomstick.

Sabrina, the Teenage Witch - A 1962 Archie Comic title about a witch with a double life, obviously made into a television series starring Melissa Joan Hart.

The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft - An anthology featuring stories about witchcraft boasting top-notch contributors such as Mike Mignola and Jill Thompson.

Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose - The grotesque X-rated title that always stands out in Previews actually has supplementary material provided by real witches, with a lot of research gone into the material. I do not know this from first-hand experience, btw.

The Coven - A very superhero-ish take on witches from Image Comics. This title has several different incarnations.

The Covenant - This was recently a number one movie at the box office, but before that it was an Image title about a group of kids off to summer camp, who are surprised to find that their parents sent them to a camp that will teach them the art of witchcraft, as they are next in line to become the Covenant, the most powerful warlocks in the world. Unfortunately, something happens that summer that comes back to haunt them.

Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch - A manga title about six heroes who gather in an epic fantasy against the evil Grey Witch, from Ryo Mizuno, creator of the original Record of Lodoss War, with art by Yoshihiko Ochi.

Laya, the Witch of the Red Pooh - An Alice In Wonderland-type of book that follows cute little witch Laya and her zany adventures.

Good Witch of the West - This one's about a young princess and her unsuitable match, who are exiled, and her return years later involving a mysterious pendant.

Sugar Sugar Rune - This sounds really cute. This manga is a sugary cutesy title by Moyoco Anno, where two best friends, Vanilla and Chocolat, compete for the title of Queen of the Magic World by seeing who can attract more boys, and capture their hearts as little collectible jewels.

Artesia - This beautiful, lush title from Mark Smylie and Archaia Studios Press features a character who performs Pagan rituals and sex magick acts so the gods will favor her army. She also has a second sight that allows her to communiate with the dead. A very haunting war book.

And if you're looking for good witch movies, my favorites are all more light-hearted films, but they're all great. Hayao Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service, following a witch in training, and Howl's Moving Castle are some of the best movies period. And I've always had a soft spot for Hocus Pocus with Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler and that guy from Scrubs.

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter

In Guilty Pleasures #1 (of 12)
Laurell K. Hamilton, Stacie M. Ritchie & Brett Booth

The debut issue of this comic has already sold out, but Marvel has announced a second printing, so you still have a chance to get your hands on the comic adaptation of Laurell K. Hamilton's best-selling Anita Blake book. Guilty Pleasures was the novel that introduced millions of readers to the sassy, headstrong Anita Blake, who is an animator, and raises the dead for a living, but gets herself in deep with warring vampires and the like. She doesn't like vampires much, has some trust issues with them, and has already killed fourteen of them, thus she has been dubbed the "Executioner" by their kind.

Guilty Pleasures really lent itself to comics nicely. Its world is pretty superhero-ish. The world is aware of monsters, and has put into motion laws that protect them as citizens, etc. Plus, Hamilton's style is very visual, so the transition isn't very jarring here under the guiding hand of Ritchie. Having read this novel nearly five years ago, I remember things somewhat, and it seems like a pretty faithful adaptation, with pretty much everything I remember at this point being carried out through illustrations. This issue pretty much sets up the world that Anita lives in before she goes to a vampire strip club named Guilty Pleasures for a bachelorette party, and a lot of the protagonist's inner dialogue seems to be copied directly from Hamilton's novel, witty and sharp.

This comic reminded me that Hamilton's universe and characters are really neat. I don't know why I stopped reading them after the second book in the series, Circus of the Damned, but I really enjoyed revisiting this story in this format, and I definitely plan on continuing reading this mini-series, and hopefully I'll stick with it long enough to get into some new material. Booth's art is really nice - Anita's design is really cool too, and everything seems to be paced about perfectly at this point. A

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

In Passing...Wildcats to Runaways

I've finally gotten a chance to get in some reading for this past week, now that next week's comics are nearly upon us...

Runaways #21
Brian K. Vaughan & Mike Norton

This was a really great conclusion to the "Dead Means Dead" storyarc. I wasn't too impressed up until this issue. But Chase gets another little nudge toward darkness in wake of Gertrude's unexpected death, while the other runaways come up with a strategy to cut the humongous rampaging monster down to size. And the guest artist kinda grew on me now that it's back to Alphona with the next iss. A

X-Factor #12
Peter David, Renato Arlem & Roy Allen Martinez

Another great finale to a storyarc sees X-Factor's invasion of Singularity come to a head, giving the team a glimpse of things to come as they confront the villains. Some cool character moments revitalize the series after it's chugged along on fumes for a little while. A-

Ms. Marvel #8
Brian Reed & Roberto De La Torre

This really is a good superhero book, as Carol confronts Jennifer Carpenter, the black-costumed Spider-Woman (or Arachne, your choice), and the decisions she's made in her stance during this Civil War. Arana is the voice of reason in this book that causes Carol to second guess herself, and will hopefully lead to some interesting developments in future issues. A-

Wildcats #1
Grant Morrison & Jim Lee

I'm not a fan of Jim Lee, but as a Grant Morrison fan, I'm a bit disappointed with his offerings this week. I've never read Wildcats, and after this issue, I have no desire to linger in this world for another issue. It's pretty over-the-top and I've seen enough of that lately. D+

The Authority #1
Grant Morrison & Gene Ha

This issue wasn't as bad as Wildcats, but it wasn't exactly impressive. I love Gene Ha, particularly since last year's Top Ten: The 49ers, and his art remains beautiful in this book; one reason to keep reading this title at least. I'm not sure I like the blurry, "shaky" panels that are surely meant to present the story more realistically, given this seems to be some sort of first contact with superhumans or something. I'm not sure though - this is another book I've never read before. I just hope this one holds my interest. C+

In Stores 10/25

A look at some books coming to stores this week...

The Fountain SC - Darren Aronofsky's original graphic novel from last year gets a softcover edition, just in time for the film!

Seven Soldiers #1 - After a lengthy delay, the last issue in Grant Morrison's omni-series comes out, promising the death of a soldier.

Showcase Presents: Phantom Stranger (Volume 1) TP - Another Showcase from DC is always a good thing.

Impaler #1 (of 4) - A new Image mini-series. A blizzard has basically shut down New York City...but that isn't stopping a group of vampires from terrorizing the city.

EC Archives: Weird Science (Volume 1) HC - I believe that this is the first of the EC Archives collections coming out, collecting classic works from the defunct publisher. If I had an extra $50 lying around...

Shortbus








John Cameron Mitchell's new film is absolutely spectacular. See it!!!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Manga Monday 14

Since I had no time to read anything this week, I thought it would be a good opportunity to provide links to some great manga essays. Enjoy!

Jog on Golgo 13, Part One

Jog on Golgo 13, Part Two

Jog on Manga He'd Like to See Translated

Jog on Naoki Urasawa's Pluto and Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy

Abhay Khosla on Naoki Urasawa

Yes, it's a lot of Jog, but he's a good writer. Also a great resource for everything manga: Mangablog

Next week, back to the reviews with volume three of Octopus Girl and more!

Archives:
Manga Monday 13
Manga Monday 12
Manga Monday 11
Manga Monday 10
Manga Monday 9
Manga Monday 8
Manga Monday 7
Manga Monday 6
Manga Monday 5
Manga Monday 4
Manga Monday 3
Manga Monday 2
Manga Monday!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Marvel Solicits: January '07

Sorry the posts have been a little scarce lately, but between starting my new job on Wednesday morning and leaving my previous job on Wednesday night, I've been working nearly seventy hours. Bleh. But next week should be back to normal, schedule-wise. I have quite the pile of comics waiting to be read and reviewed, including the already sold-out Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter in Guilty Pleasures #1, John Woo's Seven Brothers #1, Hellstorm: Son of Satan #1 (of 5), Wildcats #1 and The Authority #1. And then there's also the regular monthlies like Runaways to sort through. It's all on its way. But for now...the highlights of Marvel books shipping from Diamond in January...

Ms. Marvel Special - A 48-page one-shot that reintroduces one of Ms. Marvel's old adversaries in a story that sounds like it will drudge up a lot from Carol's past.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #12 - The fantastic series from Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen comes to a sudden conclusion, as sales don't warrant its existence. Ellis had the option to continue with a lower-paid artist, but I think it was the right decision to keep Immonen onboard for a future series of mini-series.

Silent War #1 (of 6) - I think this looks like a neat little mini-series. In wake of Quicksilver's theft of the Terrigen Mists from the Inhumans, the Inhumans declare war.

Thunderbolts #110 - Warren Ellis brings new blood to the Thunderbolts roster in part one of "Faith in Monsters," which sees Venom, Moonstone, Bullseye, Songbird, Chen Lu, Swordsman, Penance (no relation to the Generation X character, I assume, since this seems to be a new guy) and Green Goblin combine forces to track down superheroes not complying with the Superhuman Registration Act, under eye of the government, and blurring the lines between hero and villain all the more.

X-Men Annual #1 - Featuring Aurora and Northstar, and a villian from the X-Men's past!

Spider-Man: Death of the Stacys Premiere HC - A nice deluxe edition that covers some of the best Spidey material ever.

Wolverine and Black Cat: Claws HC - The three issue mini-series is available in a hardcover edition for $18. Despite a hefty offering of extras, this is not worth it. The only thing good about this mini is the art.

Astonishing X-Men (Volume 3): Torn - The third storyarc from the extraordinary team of Joss Whedon and John Cassady hits shelves, collecting the current Hellfire Club super event.

New Mutants Classic (Volume 2) - The first collection of this material was alright, but the pricetag's a bit high for my continuing this read.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

DC Solicits: January '07

The following are the highlights of DC books shipping in January.... There wasn't much going on....seriously, this is it.

Jack of Fables (Volume 1): The (Nearly) Great Escape - I was impressed with the initial issues of this series. I wasn't expecting much, but it was a pretty good read. If you've been thinking about checking out the spin-off and you read the Fables proper title, I'd say you really should be getting this or you're missing out. If you've been meaning to check out Fables for awhile now...check out Fables.

Seven Soldiers of Victory (Volume 4) - Wrapping up Grant Morrison's mega-series is the final installment of Seven Soldiers, including the soon-to-be-released Seven Soldiers #1

Showcase Presents: Aquaman (Volume 1) - This was a no-brainer and a title I'm sure plenty of people are excited about. Aquaman is just so...Aquaman.

Superman & Batman vs. Aliens & Predators - I think this is just great. Brilliant.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

In Stores 10/18

What a week!

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter in Guilty Pleasures #1 (of 12) - The first comic adaptation from Anita Blake's best-selling horror series come out from Marvel, via their new deal with Dabel Brothers Productions. I think the art looks nice. I may have to pick it up despite having read the novel already...

Amazing Spider-Girl #1 - The fan-favorite character returns in a new monthly on-going title after a short hiatus. Hopefully the new number one will encourage new readers.

Hellstorm: Son of Satan #1 (of 5) - A new MAX title featuring Damian Hellstorm, from Alexander Irvine and Russell Braun

Essential Marvel Horror (Volume 1) TP - Coinciding with the release of the new Hellstorm series is an Essential volume collecting some of the Son of Satan's previous adventures.

The Damned #1 - Culleen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's new gangester/monster series makes it debut in stores in wake of SPX. You may want to give it a try. I did.

The Authority #1 - New Grant Morrison.

Wildcats #1 - More new Grant Morrison. This one with art by Jim Lee as the pair try to revive the book.

Fables: 1,001 Nights of Snowfall - Snow White back before the present continuity in Fables proper, as she takes a cue from 1,001 Arabian Nights in this hardcover of short stories.

Sandman: Special Edition - For 50 cents, you can experience the very first Sandman comic from Neil Gaiman's ground-shattering Vertigo title.

Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery GN - A new graphic novel featuring a girl in a Victorian setting who happens to be a detective. Should be a lot of fun.

And last but not least, The Drifting Classroom (Volume 2) and Naoki Urasawa's Monster (Volume 5) both hit the direct market after being in bookstores for a week.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Manga Monday 13

Welcome to another edition of Manga Monday! And it was quite a week for manga, as many of the titles I follow were released all at once.

The Drifting Classroom (Volume 2)
Kazuo Umezu

What can I say about this manga? It's over-the-top in everything it does. There's a lot of crying and screaming, people do ridiculous things in their quest to horde food, and the deaths are rather hilariously carried out. My favorite part of this volume was when a poor little crippled girl on crutches is picked up leaving the school, and she goes through a long sob story about how she just gets in the way and slows people down, how it's hard for her to make friends, and she left the school to go to the next town for help so she wouldn't be in the way, and the protagonist screams "You idiot! What are you talking about? Besides, you're walking in the wrong direction!" That's The Drifting Classroom in a nutshell. A-

Dragon Head (Volume 4)
Minetaro Mochizuki

Another survivalist horror tale, albeit much darker and smarter than the silly Drifting Classroom, this manga continues its previous patterns and goes to a few unexpected places, particularly when it comes to the main character Teru. This is one of the best manga out there right now, action-packed and full of thrills, and beautifully illustrated. B+

Monster (Volume 5)
Naoki Urasawa

Is it just me or does this manga get better and better with each volume? Like the previous chapter, volume five of Monster focuses on the secondary characters we've met along Dr. Tenma's journey to confront his monster. A few chapters are dedicated to the good doctor, but it's really mostly a follow-up to previous events and are little stories in their own right. More chilling revelations are revealed concerning the serial killer that has put Tenma on the run, and the conspiracies grow a little more complicated. A

And from out of Shojo Beat: November 2006...
Punch!
Rie Takada

The preview of the new shoujo title Punch! follows Elle, a young woman who works in her grandfather's gym and whose path has been chosen for her to marry the son of her grandfather's greatest rival. Unfortunately for Elle, that's one of the reasons she can't keep a boyfriend long enough to get serious. Her grandfather and the boys that hang out at the gym harrass them and scare them off, much to our protagonist's distress. That is, up until street fighter Kazuki appears in her life. He may just be the one to bring her bad luck with men to an end. Punch! is full of nice simple art, with some cute character designs. It doesn't exactly strive to do anything very unique, but it is a competently written little ditty with a lot of heart. B

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Halloween Spotlight: Werewolf Comics

Halloween's just around the corner, so you may be just itching to sit down with a good book in a dark, quiet room to give yourself a scare. Over the next few weeks, I'll be highlighting books appropriate to read on a dark and scary night. For this opening post, I'm going to look at those monsters who always seem to get the shaft: werewolves. You may not be able to think of a werewolf comic off the top of your head, so let's change that. There was actually a time when publishers using the Comics Code Authority (in wake of that infamous Seduction of the Innocent) were unable to produce works featuring werewolves. They were in fact banned from even mentioning werewolves or wolfmen. Things have changed since then, and while publishers don't seem to be scrambling to make up for lost time, there are a few noteworthy comics featuring the creatures.

The Wolves of St. August
This is a short story from Mike Mignola and James Sinclair originally featured in Dark Horse Presents, featuring Hellboy and Professor Kate Corrigan as they travel to a small town that has been massacred by a wild animal. This story is reprinted in the third Hellboy trade collection, The Chained Coffin and Others.

Only the End of the World Again
Neil Gaiman, Troy Nixey and P. Craig Russel adapt the short narrative from Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors into comic form. Available from Oni Press.

Full Moon Fever
Werewolves in space. A black and white original graphic novel from Joe Casey, Caleb Gerard and Damian Couceiro.

The Book of Jack
From the minds of Denis-Pierre Filippi and Olivier G. Boiscommun, comes a story about a boy who steals a strange book from a haunted house and is cursed to change into a werewolf when he's unable to return it.

Until the Full Moon
This manga from Sanami Matoch is about a half-vampire/half-werewolf who begins to inexplicably turn into a girl every full moon. And then a vampire boy falls for him in girl form... A fantastic idea.

Patrick the Wolf Boy
On the lighter side of the spectrum, this is an all-ages read that has little to do with the protagonist being a werewolf as much as a general outcast. By Franco Aureliani and Art Baltazar, this cute, cartoony character has been capturing the hearts of readers for years.

Werewolf by Night
Jack Russel was Marvel's Werewolf by Night decades ago, and along with other Marvel versions of monsters like Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula, appeared in and out of other creature books and ultimately carried along his own title, which is currently available in an affordable Essential volume.

Wolf's Rain
Based on the popular anime of the same name, this condensed manga version of the story follows werewolves seeking a foretold paradise.

Fables
The popular Vertigo/DC book from Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham features a werewolf character from all of those popular fairy tales like The Three Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood: Bigby Wolf, sheriff of Fabletown.

Nightwolf: The Price
An ongoing series currently being serialized, this book features a more heroic, superheroish character who atones for his feral nature under the full moon by inducing the change for the rest of the month to perform heroic acts.

Werewolves: Call of the Wild
This is an ongoing Moonstone title, the first arc of which is a crime tale featuring a werewolf. From Mike Oliveri and Joe Bucco.

Werewolf
This book from Richard Corben collects short stories written and illustrated from the acclaimed creator, all on the title subject.

Crescent Moon
Another manga, this book follows "The Lunar Race" as they seek to recover their stolen moon drops. This title puts monsters into the role of hero, a werewolf of which is prominently featured on the cast.

*Sources for the above-mentioned books and all-around good resources on the subject: Shapeshifter Emporium and UnderGroundOnline: Werewolf Guide (which also features movies, books, video games, even music with werewolves).

If you are looking for good werewolf movies, I recommend the classic The Wolf-Man, as well as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man, and Dog Soldiers (from the director of the excellent The Descent).

Films for Halloween

It's that time of year again where Patrick and I rent a bunch of horror movies in honor of All Hallow's Eve. Weeks of movies lead up to a marathon of films on Halloween night. We've already seen Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) and The Wicker Man (1974). The others on the list (most of which were added to our Blockbuster queue courtesy of Alan Jones' The Rough Guide to Horror Movies) are...

- I Walked With a Zombie (1943)
- Dracula (1931)
- The Mummy (1932)
- Mummy (1959)
- The Devil's Rejects (2005)
- Omen (1976)
- The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1969)
- It's Alive (1974)
- Chinese Ghost Story (1987)
- Peeping Tom (1960)
- Curse of the Demon (1957)
- Cat People (1942)
- Old Dark House (1932)
- Near Dark (1987)
- Repulsion (1965)

My favorite horror movies include The Exorcist (1973), The Ring (2002), Black Sunday (La Maschera del demonic) (1960), The Descent (2005), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Dawn of the Dead (2004), Inferno (1978), Night of the Living Dead (1968), and The Blair Witch Project (1999).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

In Passing...Fables to Devi

A light week in floppies...

Fables #54
Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham

Part three in the Sons of Empire arc follows the history of the Emperor's new ambassador to Fabletown, that scary man on that disturbing cover: Hansel. We discover what a twisted soul that young man turned into after shoving that witch into the oven, as Prince Charming tries to figure out what to do about his sudden appearance. That has to be one of the best covers for the series ever, a good match for the great backstory that's sure to produce a really interesting character. A-

Uncanny X-Men #479
Ed Brubaker & Billy Tan

Shi'ar prisoner Korvus makes his way to the Uncanny X-Men's spaceship to deal with the threat onboard. Billy Tan provides great art among the non-stop action. I love how he draws all of the characters except Professor Xavier. He just looks strange and I can't help but be distracted when the rest of the pencils are so immaculate. B

Devi #4
Samit Basu & Mukesh Singh

Tara continues on her spiritual journey while everybody else decides upon her fate, from the assassin Kratha to the monks who wish for the Devi to take her rightful place (in a way harmful to Tara, that speaks of tradition). Nice action, nice art. This is a fine origin story for the current incarnation of Devi, but we really need some action with the Devi soon. By this point, I've pretty much forgotten from issue one why I want her to survive the transformation at all. And I will be pretty disappointed if some of these great villains are killed off too quickly. I think I like some of them more than the hero of the tale. C+

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

In Stores 10/11

Comics will be in stores Wednesday, despite the Columbus Day holiday (the mail was still delivered). Here are the highlights...

Desolation Jones TP - Another hit from Warren Ellis, with a loyal following. I haven't checked this bad boy out yet, but now that the first six issues are being collected, it seems like the ideal time. Art by J.H. Williams III!

Absolute Sandman (Volume 1) HC - The first DC Absolute version of a few hardcovers chronicling the Vertigo monster title sees release, loaded with plenty of extra goodies, and colors touched up a bit in places. Should be a beaut for anyone willing to fork over $99 for the behemoth.

Fables Special Edition #1 - Been thinking about checking out Fables? Especially in light of the definitive Bill Willingham interview in the last Comics Journal? Well, now's a good time. For 25 cents, you can get the first issue to see if it's something worth buying collections of.

Gen 13 #1 - Gail Simone tries her hand at reinvigorating the Wildstorm title.

Ultimate Power #1 (of 9) - Brian Michael Bendis and friends introduce the Squadrom Supreme characters to the Ultimate Universe in a crossover with the Ultimates.

Sidescrollers GN - And last but not least, for a mere $12 you can get your hands on one of the best graphic novel releases of the year so far. Check this one out!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Manga Monday 12

Emma (Volume 1)
Kaoru Mori

Emma is a delightful new manga from Kaoru Mori. It follows a young maid who harbors a secret attraction to a young noblemen whom the governess she serves as her master used to teach. This book is set in Victorian Era London and like the romances of that period, it provides an examination of the differing social classes. It was really interesting reading this book, being a big fan of Victorian novels like Vanity Fair and Pride & Prejudice. Two of my favorite forms of art converge here into a wonderful experience I never really thought I'd see (and one I never really thought of happening). The creator is really interested in London from that era, and had consultants on hand to check for historical accuracy in her illustrations. And she does a fantastic job conveying a world I've come to love to comics. As the perspective bounces between Emma and the man she admires, two fascinating characters are being drawn out, and ultimately, to each other. A real winner and an amazing debut for this series. A

Hikaru No Go (Volume 2)
Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata

This must be a hard book for the creators to balance. It's basically like what a sport manga must be like, except a boardgame is the players' field. But if a character like Hikaru has potential to be the best go player ever, there has to be a certain amount of suspense and tension to keep things interesting. Volume two of Hikaru No Go establishes Hikaru's interest in working to become a strong go player himself instead of relying solely on his expert go-playing ghost. So we're basically watching two sets of players at work through the title character: a Hikaru that puts forth no effort to win, and a Hikaru who works hard to be worthy of his opponents. Our protagonist has become more of a noble figure in this book with his ambition. A-

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Criminal #1

Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

This is what Brubaker and Phillips are good at. Straight-up crime, sort of like their previous fan-favorite noir collaboration Sleeper. The two creators have sharpened their skills since then, however, as Phillips' pencils are positively stellar in this series (topping even his amazing job in their last series), and Brubaker's storytelling is virtually air tight. This debut issue follows a criminal, Leo, who is the best at what he does. He's got a clean record and has gotten out of some sticky situations, as the opening prologue demonstrates. Such skills make him a wanted man for jobs with all sorts of scum, the least of which are crooked cops. But there's more to Leo than his ample skills. He's had a tragic childhood, born into a family of crime, and he struggles with the death of his father and a relation with alzheimer's who's always scaring away the care he needs. And with his background, Leo has his own demons which compel him to take assignments against his better judgment, although he does have his own strict rules for what conditions he will work with.

This is an awesome debut for this title. There's a lot of promise here for a fun, plot-driven thriller with some intriguing characters in the mix. They may not be the most fully-realized, but what else do you want from a comic like this? It's interesting to have such an anti-hero in the driver's seat of this project, but he's kind of likable for his faults and his attitude toward his profession. It'll be fun to see what direction the creators take Leo in, since it's sure to be one hell of a ride, given first impressions. A

Friday, October 06, 2006

Dr. Strange: The Oath #1 (of 5)

Brian K. Vaughan & Marcos Martin

Brian K. Vaughan tries his hand at the "Supreme Sorcerer" (a title wholly made fun of in this issue) as Doctor Strange relates how he came into possession of a cure for a disease that is killing his "apprentice" Wong. It's nice to see a book focus on the relationship between Strange and his manservant. There's a scene later in the issue that illustrates it perfectly, as the good doctor is chanting to open a portal to another dimension, and Wong fights off a gang of thieves and scoundrels, a situation that Strange isn't even aware of in the least. Now it's Strange's turn to protect his friend. And I'm not familiar with the character of Night Nurse, but Vaughan made her an interesting addition to the cast of this mini-series, as she exchanges witty banter with the doctor.

The art in the series by Martin is really nice. Some of the shading kind of bugs me, as it seems that it could be done much better with little effort, but that's a matter of my opinion. The story isn't exactly very engaging. It's pretty bare bones. There's the overlying mystery of who the villain hidden in shadows is and why he wants the elixir, but the story that led up to Wong pulling Doctor Strange into Night Nurse's operating room wasn't exactly very thrilling. It's a decent start to the mini-series, but nothing that's piqued my interest. C

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Irredeemable Ant-Man #1

Robert Kirkman & Phil Hester

I picked this up at the last minute because, well, I haven't read either Kirkman's Invincible or Hester's Firebreather, but they both look like things I would enjoy. So I should enjoy this too even if I've been too cheap to pick up those trades to be sure. And I did. The initial issue of The Irredeemable Ant-Man follows a new soon-to-be-Ant-Man and his friends on a SHIELD helicarrier in a long flashback bookended by the new Ant-Man in action. It's his origin story basically. But it's really an original one. The character of this new Ant-Man is going to be a fun one. The cover provides for a nice example as he proclaims "Sigh. Twenty-three super-villains and not one wallet." That's kind of who this character is. He's not your average superhero. He does things that normal people would probably do in his situation, as can be seen in the opening scene, where he asks a woman he just rescued from a mugger for a date. It's a silly look at a superhero, but it's a highly enjoyable comedic one about how this irresponsible spaz of a guy gets ahold of this costume and inherits the name of Ant-Man. Hester's art here is great as well. Although there's a lot of dialogue and not too much action in this issue, the art remains interesting throughout, and it's kind of nice to have an issue dedicated to the characters during an origin. It made me attached and I'll be clamouring for the subsequent issues (and possible picking up those Invincible and Firebreather trades). Hester also came up with a nice design for the new Ant-Man suit - very simple and sleek and a little alien. If this first issue is any indicator, this could shape up to be a really fun series. A

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Walking Dead (Volume 5)

The Best Defense
Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

The latest installment of the ultra-popular zombie series from Image comics continues to see the characters we've grown accustomed to make lives for themselves in a prison, safe from the undead walking past the outer three fences. But in light of the previous, over-the-top melodramatic issue that was basically...boring, this storyline reinvigorates the series, offering a new distraction in the form of a downed helicopter and the secrets surrounding what happened to the people aboard. What's really interesting about this volume is that it's really, really good - suspenseful and horrifying - without really utilizing the zombies. This book really has turned its focus onto characters and watching how the world around them change, as laws and rules are thrown out the window. It's a really interesting look at society, particularly in events that occur toward the end of this book, and it doesn't feel forced as in other volumes. This is the type of storytelling that I suspect Kirkman has been working toward from the getgo. A

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

In Passing...Eternals to Wonderland

It took a while to get caught up on my floppies - it's been a busy week and there have been a lot of books to go through...

Batman #657 - I really enjoyed the previous issue of this title, and am a fan generally of Grant Morrison, but I otherwise am not feeling this series. I found this issue dull. The art was okay. The annoying kid in the book reminds me quite a bit of Conner, Angel's son from Angel: bratty, trying to kill off all of the good guys, but really ultimately seeking his father's approval. It's fine that it's a straight-forward superhero comic, but something original needs to be done, like was seen in #656 with the pop art backdrop. D+

X-Men #191 - Four issues into Mike Carey's run and he already has to suffer a guest penciller. Clay Henry's art gets the job done, but Bachalo's art is by far superior, and more stylish. The story's getting a little better as the villains' background is revealed, but it's still the weakest X-title I'm currently reading. C-

Jack of Fables #3 - I wasn't sure I'd like this book, especially since I hated the storyline featuring Jack in the regular Fables title, and I find the character rather abrasive. But Jack manages to be delightfully naughty, with sharp retorts and a could-care-less attitude. And the supporting cast is a fun and ecclectic mix. B

Wonderland #2 - While this issue wasn't as delightful as the debut, it still demonstrates an abundant imagination and holds a lot of promise, particularly in this wonderful main character whose world is crafted under the beautiful art of Sonny Liew. B+

Snakewoman #3 - The Virgin Comic series which features fantastic art from Michael Gaydos remains a bright spot in genre comics. In this issue, Jessica Peterson goes on a vision quest that offers some interesting philosophy. B

Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways #3 (of 4) - This title isn't very good. In fact, it's my last issue. Let's leave it at that. D

Eternals #4 (of 6) - Now this has a been a pleasant surprise of a series. I haven't read anything I've liked by Neil Gaiman for awhile, but this mini continues to impress. A smart backstory illuminates just why The Eternals have ended up in their current state. A

Ultimate Spider-Man #100 - Bendis and Bagley aren't afraid to mess around with Spidey continuity in their Ultimate version of the character. This anniversary issue was very nicely done, shaking things up and tying some major villains into Spider-Man's back story. A pleasant, if long-winded, explanation is offered in this issue for a certain character's presence while all around, Parker clones are wreaking havoc. A

Monday, October 02, 2006

In Stores 10/4

Books new to comic stores this coming Wednesday that you may want to give a second look (and there are quite a few) ...

The Complete Peanuts (Volume 6): 1961-1962 HC - Charles Schultz' masterpiece continues into its peak period.

Best American Comics 2006 - An anthology edited by Harvey Pekar and Anne Elizabeth Moore, featuring the works of Lynda Barry, Chris Ware, Joe Sacco, Robert Crumb, Jaime Hernandez and more.

Y-the Last Man #50 - The book that put Brian K. Vaughan on the map reaches a milestone, as the culprit behind the plague that killed all of the men on Earth is revealed.

Nightmare On Elm Street #1 - Chuck Dixon's new series based on a horror icon debuts this week. A little early for Halloween, but it'll help get you in the mood...

Doctor Strange: The Oath #1 - Brian K. Vaughan's new mini-series, with art by Marcos Martin, follows Marvel's resident sorcerer.

Doctor Strange vs. Dracula: The Montesi Formula TP - An interesting idea for a collection from Marvel, as they collect the battles between the good doctor and his supernatural nemesis.

Criminal #1 - A new series from the creative team behind the acclaimed, fan favorite Sleeper (Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips).

Irredeemable Ant-Man #1 - A new Marvel ongoing that follows the universe's smallest superhero, from the minds of Robert Kirkman (Invincible) and Phil Hester (Firebreather). Should be fun.

Emma (Volume 1) TP - Koaru Mori's manga series, set in the Victorian Era and perfect for Jane Austen fans (like me!) makes its American debut.

Chicken With Plums - Marjane Satrapi (of Persepolis fame) releases a new graphic novel!

Dragon Head (Volume 4) TP - The latest installment of the suspenseful survivalist tale continues!

Nana (Volume 4) TP - And last but not least, another volume of the wonderful, charming book serialized in Shojo Beat.

Manga Monday 11

Hikaru No Go (Volume 1)
Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata

It's about time that I got around to this book. From the pages of Shonen Jump comes the popular manga that follows a sixth grader as he releases a ghost attached to a blood-stained go board in his grandfather's attic. Young Hikaru quickly strikes a deal with said spirit and finds himself playing expert go players to the fiery passion of Fujiwara-no-Sai's ghost, despite his own indifference to the game. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this manga. Like Hikaru, I knew nothing about the board game and had no interest in it. I still don't have much interest in the game itself and find myself glossing over the parts that explain plays. Yet the events that surround these games are positively engrossing. I wanted to run out and buy the following volume immediately. It certainly doesn't hurt that the fantastic art is provided by none other than Takeshi Obata, who illustrates my current favorite manga Death Note. This is a great all ages read, and one of those few titles worthy of its popularity. A

The Red Snake: Hino Horror #1
Hideshi Hino

For those readers unfamiliar with this master of horror manga (and his great creation Hell Baby), this is a nice introduction to the bizarre, horrifying world of Hideshi Hino. This story centers around an eccentric (and by eccentric, I mean stark-raving mad) family who live in a strange old house no one is able to leave and whose rooms seem innumerable and ever-shifting. One example of a troubled member of the family is the grandmother who lives on a nest of branches and believes she lays the eggs that her son brings her, clucking at everyone who passes by her door, screaming if she suspects someone has stolen one of her eggs. And then there's the creepy relationship between the mother and grandfather... Anyways, awful things begin to happen to the family as one of them disobeys the creepy grandfather and gets a glimpse at what lies beyond a mirror situated in the middle of a hallway. The family was crazy before, but it gets madder, if that were possible, bordering on the surreal at some points. Hideshi Hino isn't shy about using absurd scenes of mutilation and gore, and aims to brand his images of monstrosities and disturbing behavior on the minds of his readers, a feat he manages to accomplish with ease. It's no wonder he's regarded as such a master in his field. Growing up in postwar Tokyo inspired such gruesome figures and images in Hino's work and the horror he witnessed seems to have palpably transferred to his art. Although it's a really quick read, it remains imaginative, bloody and suspenseful throughout. Wicked fun. A

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Maintenance

Jim Massey & Robbi Rodriguez

The new monthly title from Oni Press, Maintenance, debuts this December, following Doug and Manny, two janitors with an interesting job description at TerroMax, Inc. This is a science fiction comedy, and a damn good one, that sees these two goofballs cleaning up after mad scientists' messes. Sure, they clean up spills and whatnot, but it's the zombie kittens stuck in the snack machines and the slime monsters that didn't quite turn out right that make this such a fun, thrilling read. And it's kind of interesting to have these loveable characters working a job like this at all, basically as the villains' lackeys. It'll be intriguing to see just how they got themselves into such a situation.

Maintenance is a very fresh title that earns plenty of laughs from its readers and introduces us to some great supporting characters like the Man-Shark and various madmen. Robbi Rodriguez is quite a find here, offering some brilliant cartooning for a really solid, smooth look. I'd imagine this series is along the lines of Men In Black, but to be honest, I never saw the films or read the comics they're based on. But I can speak to this comic, and from what I saw, this is definitely worth the $3.50 to check out, with plenty of great stuff sure to come. This really was a pleasant surprise. A