Saturday, June 30, 2007

Previews: September '07 Comics

Patrick’s Picks:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home (Dark Horse)

The first paperback collection of my current favorite ongoing series - Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight. The first four issue story arc is collected here, along with the fifth, stand alone issue.

Captain America by Ed Brubaker Omnibus Vol. 1 HC (Marvel)

Sadly, I haven’t been able to afford any of the Marvel “omnibus” books, but I really admire a lot of the choices they’ve made for these oversized hardcover collections. Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America is one of the ongoing superhero books I’ve been meaning to get caught up on, and this would be a neat way to experience the material for the first time. Still, expensive.

The Mad Archives Vol. 2 HC (DC)

Wow!!! Where did this thing come from??? The first volume of this came out waaaaaay back in 2002. I’d assumed the project had been abandoned due to low sales, but now here’s the follow-up effort, tucked away on the very last page of DC’s solicits. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the early Mad comic books, so serious fans of the medium are going to want to grab this. Looks like it’s advance solicited for a November 28th release date. We’ve waited this long, right?

Comic Art Magazine #9 (Buenaventura Press)

Hooray! The ninth issue of the best comics magazine (and the second issue since the relaunch as a larger, annual publication) is here. Featuring all kinds of terrific writers on the subject of terrific comics, doubtless sporting the stunning production values the magazine has become famous for, plus an 80-page separate booklet by Ivan Brunetti!! Awesome.

Shortcomings HC (Drawn and Quarterly)

This is the collected edition of the story Adrian Tomine had been serializing in his ongoing comic book series, Optic Nerve. I didn’t follow the comic book, so I’ll definitely be picking this up.

The Ice Wanderer (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)

This new book by Jiro (The Walking Man) Taniguchi has a picture of a moose on the cover.

The Arrival GN (Scholastic Inc.)

A wordless graphic novel by Shaun Tan depicting the experiences of an immigrant trying to build a better life for the family he has left behind. This looks lovely, and has garnered acclaim from the likes of Jeff Smith and Eddie Campbell. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for this one.

Sundays With Walt and Skeezix Volume 1 HC (Sunday Press Books)

Well, here it is, folks. If I were inclined to select a book of the month from this here Previews catalogue, this would have to be the one. Hell, I’d say this is probably going to be a very strong contender for book of the year. This 16 X 21 inch (read: BIG) hardcover collects a selection of the gorgeous, groundbreaking Gasoline Alley Sunday pages by Frank King. I love, love, love the fact that the book looks as though it’s been designed to fit perfectly with the complete Gasoline Alley dailies archival project Drawn and Quarterly is putting out. Like that extraordinary series of books, this volume is designed by Chris Ware and features an introduction by Jeet Heer. Peter Maresca, the man who brought us the acclaimed Little Nemo book last year, serves as editor. Really, there’s no reason to believe that this book won’t be absolutely phenomenal. At 95 dollars, it is expensive, but unlike with the Captain America collection, there’s no doubt in my mind that I will own this. ESSENTIAL.

Uzumaki Volume 1 (2nd Edition) GN & Gyo Volume 1 (2nd Edition) GN (Viz)

After Vertical, Viz is my favorite publisher of Manga, particularly their “Viz Signature” line of books. Here are two more reasons to love them: New editions of two popular horror manga from Junji Ito, one about a town terrorized by spirals (Uzumaki), the other about a community terrorized by killer fish with legs (Gyo). Read them….if you dare!!!

The Completely Mad Don Martin HC

Boy, am I a sucker for deluxe hardcovers or what? Actually, I probably wouldn’t buy this 150 dollar two volume slipcase featuring the work of Mad artist Don Martin, but this seems like a really nifty way to experience the work of these artists if you’re more inclined toward that particular area of cartooning.

Kirby: King of Comics HC

Boy, a lot of great stuff coming out this month. This is Kirby expert Mark Evanier’s long awaited, definitive biography of the man who is arguably the most important force in mainstream comics. I’m very much looking forward to this, particularly as it looks as though it will be a high quality showcase for Kirby’s artwork, and a long, long overdue comprehensive, respectful, and informed look at the man’s life and extraordinary career. I can’t believe many true comics fans won’t want to get their hands on this.

Dave’s Picks

Presents (Volume 1)

From DC’s CMX line, this new manga series is the imprint’s first foray into horror and boasts the introduction of a new larger format. This should be pretty neat, as it’s from the creator known as the “Queen of Horror” in Japan.

The Mice Templar #1

And it’s now time to capitalize on the success of Archaia Studios’ Mouse Guard with the first of what’s sure to be several rip-offs. It’s funny since Mouse Guard itself isn’t a very original idea, what with the Redwall series in novels - it’s just the first time this sort of thing has made its way to comics, and by a very talented artist with an appealing look that people noticed. The Mice Templar from Image is obviously trying to make a quick buck off of the interest, but why not try to find the next “Mouse Guard” without creating what’s sure to be a pale imitation, since it’s not the original? Ah, well. At least we get nice art from Michael Avon Oeming, and I suppose being copied like this is really a compliment to Mouse Guard in the end.

Primordial #1

And from the innovative publisher that brought us Mouse Guard, here comes a new series set in a fantasy world of wood nymphs and demons. It may look a little oversexed at first glance, but I have faith in the studio based on their track record. I can always go for a fun fantasy series.

30 Days of Night: Return To Barrow #1

In time for the movie, a new 30 Days of Night series debuts with the series creator, Steve Niles, at the helm. I wouldn’t have really paid much heed to this book if not for the fact that none other than Bill Sienkiewicz is illustrating the thing.

Battle Royale: Ultimate Edition (Volume 1)

The first of five “Ultimate Collections” of the fan-favorite Battle Royale series is a thick hardcover book containing three volumes of the original manga. I’ve seen this sort of thing in Barnes & Noble with series like Negima (but in paperback), and it’s probably a great way to go. Tokyopop will also be releasing a similar four-volume set for Fruits Basket beginning the same month.

Tezuka’s MW

I don’t really need to know what any Tezuka book is about. It’s going to be worth the price of admission. Easily one of the most exciting releases of the month. From Vertical, of course.

Mouse Guard: Lieam Deluxe Plush

I would have felt cheated had this series come and gone without a stuffed animal.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Picks of the Week: 6/27

Patrick's Pick:

The Art of Bone - Well, this is nice. I just this morning finished reading Jeff Smith’s entire Bone saga for the first time, and now this companion to the series is published. Bone was an absolute masterpiece, so I’ll definitely be checking this book out. I’ve not read the other Dark Horse published “The Art of…” books (I know there are volumes for Frank Miller’s Sin City and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy), but this one is said to feature lots of neat behind-the-scenes tidbits like homemade comics, promotional material, sketches, etc. I can’t imagine this would appeal to folks who’ve not read the series, so consider this a heads up to those who have.

Dave's Pick:
Apollo's Song - I was blown away by the last Osama Tezuka work printed from Vertical, Ode To Kirihito. This is another one-volume edition of classic Tezuka from the 70's. Over 500 pages of great art and story from the master. If you're going to get one book this week, this should be the one.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Music Review: Wild Hope

Mandy Moore

Mandy Moore's first new release in over four years sees the starlet mature as an artist. Working with The Weepies, Lori McKenna and Rachel Yamagata, among others, she co-wrote all of the songs on this CD, realizing a sound that could be seen forming in the album Coverage, where she remade songs like Elton John's Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, with a voice much stronger than established previously. In Wild Hope, Moore brings an artistic vision to fruition as her music makes a sharp turn toward folk, and sprinkled with a little country, leaving most of the instantly gratifying bubblegum pop in the past. There are a few songs that hold a little semblance to Coverage, like the first release from the CD, Extraordinary, and the sassy Nothing That You Are, but for the most part, Mandy's sound is refreshing and really, quite good. As much of an improvement as Coverage was over Moore's previous efforts, Wild Hope is that much better in every respect: the vocals, the writing and arrangements of the music, and the overall package. Put your preconceptions aside and check this one out. A+

Key Tracks: Extraordinary, Most of Me, Wild Hope, Nothing That You Are, Ladies' Choice

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ultimate Spider-Man: Ultimate Knights

Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley

Ultimate Knights is the last storyarc coming from the creative team that's been with this book since its initial issue. After the next issue, Bagley will move on to other things and Stuart Immonen will be taking over penciling chores. Still, Immonen's a great choice to continue the series with and really, it's something to look forward to. It's just a little sad to think of reading more of this book without Bagley in the mix. Ah, well. This series has been consistently fantastic over the years up through the last issue of this arc, issue #110, where Ultimate Knights comes to a conclusion. A very suitable end to Bagley's run on the book, as many characters we have seen in the book over the years join forces to try to take down the Kingpin of Crime, including Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Moon Knight, Iron Fist and Shang-Chi. Big changes occur before this issue is over and we get some great sequences of dialogue and action along the way. With such a large group of characters, there's enough room to play off of the traitor-among-us thing, with plenty of twists and turns to keep things exciting throughout. I really enjoyed Moon Knight in this storyarc (as screwed up as his character is), as well as the stuff with the Kingpin in the final issue. It was all very well done as Spidey and his group of costumed friends do their best to keep their secret identities intact while trying to incriminate the big bad untouchable villain. This is a straight-forward superhero book, don't get me wrong, but it's still one of the best out there over a hundred issues into its run. B+

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Picks of the Week: 6/20

New weekly feature! Patrick and I will each pick a collection or comic shipping to comic stores each week to highlight, that will hopefully tempt you to add it to your collection...

Patrick's Pick:
New Gilbert Hernandez - Gilbert Hernandez may be the greatest living cartoonist, and there are two new publications showcasing his considerable talent out this week:

* Human Diastrophism: Palomar (Volume 2) - The second Gilbert volume in the new Love & Rockets reprint effort features some of Hernandez' most acclaimed work from that venerable series. This handsomely designed series of books may be the best way to experience this material, and might be worth buying even if you already own the comics in one form or another.

* New Tales From Old Palomar #2 - Hernandez took full advantage of the lovely Ignatz format in the first issue of this limited series, and this issue sounds pretty great.

Dave's Pick:
Death Note (Volume 12) - The final volume of one of the best manga to come out in recent years has finally arrived, bringing the years of power struggles and manipulations to its ultimate conclusion. Read the review of it here.

Mystic Arcana: Magik

Louise Simonson & Steve Scott

Ritual of the Sphinx (Part One)
David Sexton & Eric Nguyen

The first comic in Marvel's Mystic Arcana crossover event arrived in stores this past week, a series of four books that focus on four mystical members of the Marvel Universe, much like the Annihilation event of cosmic characters last year. Each issue will be tied to one another via the Ritual of the Sphinx story, which bookends each issue, and will focus on one of four artifacts being collected by sorcerer Ian McNee. In Mystic Arcana: Magik, we see Illyana Rasputin, ruler of Limbo, track down the Sword of Bones for an evil sorcerer who is holding a descendant of Storm hostage in Ancient Egypt. There are several references here to the Magik and Storm mini-series from the 1980's where Illyana is basically raised by Belasco and saved by an alternate version of Storm. In Mystic Arcana: Magik, in good old convoluted X-Men fashion, the story also picks up from the old New Mutants series, issue #32, when her and Dani Moonstar were trapped briefly in Ancient Egypt. The events in Mystic Arcana seem to have gone on without Dani's knowledge, as not to effect continuity. Yes, it's all very confusing and elaborate for a silly story in the end. Writer Louise Simonson constructs a story bogged down with a mythology nobody cares about, spouting out names of demons and goddesses that have nothing to do with the story at hand, but are meant to sound impressive and "magicky," but ultimately bog down an already boring plot. In the end, the Sword of Bones is returned to its rightful place, where Ian McNee recovers it in the overarching story, leading readers to wonder why the story with Illyana Rasputin was even included if it didn't effect anything in Mystic Arcana and didn't even demonstrate the power of the artifact that McNee was so determined to collect. Basically, this is a mess. The creators try to make the story seem cool, like it has ramifications throughout the Marvel Universe and whatnot, but ultimately, it's all flash with no substance, and little entertainment value to boot. The only thing I really liked about this issue was the cover by Marko Djurdjevic. If this review isn't enough to deter you from reading more on the Mystic Arcana, watch for three more forthcoming one-shots focusing on Sister Grimm, Scarlet Witch and Black Knight, respectively. F

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Manga Monday 36: Death Note & More

A little early, but here we are...

Death Note (Volume 12)
Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

The final volume of Death Note has finally arrived. What the series has been building toward since volume eight has finally been realized, though the latter part of the series was by far the weakest. In its initial run, before the first climax, Death Note was on top of its game and was the best manga being published. Since then, its creators attempted to refresh the franchise with new antagonists that were pale versions of the original, in stories that were still good, but never reached that same level of quality. In this final volume of the series, Ohba and Obata return to form for the first third of the book, with action about as tense as its ever been. Unfortunately that too soon gives way to a ridiculously drawn out conclusion that ties things up in a nice little bow, while all but forgetting some fan favorite characters like Misa Amane in the process, practically discarding them. This last volume tries to explain too much and doesn't really build toward a climax as satisfying as back in volume seven, when the series should have ended, and would have gone out as one of the best manga series ever. Instead, it's limped to a finish with only a few final scenes to remind its audience why it was cool in the first place. The last few volumes have been completely forgettable, and while there were a few cool moments to hold us over, I'm glad that this series has finally reached its ultimate conclusion. C+

Hana-Kimi (Volumes 5 - 10)
Hisaya Nakajo

Like Death Note, I feel that the last few volumes of the series Hana-Kimi (For You In Full Blossom) have been drawn out in wake of its popularity. A new character has been introduced to the series, famous up-and-coming photographer Akiha Hara. Most of the feelings and interactions of the core cast have been put on the backburner as this strange new plotline has come into the mix, dispelling some of the most intriguing aspects of the series (like the relationship between Mizuki and Nakatsu) as it attempts to fold a new regular into the story. Fortunately, it seems that this storyline is merely a small sidestep from the big picture and just hasn't done as good of a job of advancing the characters as other plotlines have, like when Mizuki's best friend from America comes to stir things up in volumes six and seven. I can overlook a little sidestory as long as the focus returns to the more intriguing parts of the book after a short enough respite. And this new character may become a valuable asset to the series - it's hard to say at this point. But one thing stands true - Hana-Kimi is a fantastic shoujo title, even this far into the series. A

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Girls (Volume 4): Extinction

The Luna Brothers

I'm not going to go into too much detail rehashing things I've said in reviews of earlier volumes of Girls, so if you don't know the premise, read this. Now that that's out of the way, let's get down to the fourth and final volume of the epic story from the Luna Brothers. First of all, I want to say that I hope that this is collected in one edition, because the story flows really well that way. Picking up the fourth volume and just beginning to read it doesn't work as well. You have to kind of flip through the last issue to recall events, because there's no recap, it just keeps going. And like Joss Whedon's quoted as saying on the back of this book: "I love the Luna Brothers' Girls. It's like watching a movie. I haven't read a comic like that since I can remember." It really does have a cinematic feel to it. Not that that makes it superior to other comics or anything. It certainly doesn't. I like comics that work in the medium and take advantage of it, like Krazy & Ignatz. But it's certainly not bad for being so cinematic. It's just a different experience and one that the Luna Brothers have pulled off here masterfully. The flow is incredible. A quick page through the book may reveal artwork that seems a little stiff, but the characters come alive as you read it. And I think that that has to do with the writing as much as with the art. And despite this being a science fiction survivalist story, there are a lot of quiet character moments. Ultimately, this book comes down to the characters and what differentiates them sexually. It's a work with metaphors aplenty and fun horrific action to carry it. I still believe the Luna Brothers' first effort Ultra: Seven Days is superior to this work, but Girls is an ambitious fantasy epic that deserves to be noticed. Highly recommended. A

Monday, June 11, 2007

Covered

And here is the awesome cover to the first trade from Joss Whedon's "Season Eight" of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, The Long Way Home.

Friday, June 08, 2007

New X-Men #38

Craig Kyle, Chris Yost & Skottie Young

Oh, boy, do I have problems with this book. I'll just say first of all, that the only saving grace for this issue is the art by Skottie Young, which is fantastic, but not without flaws itself. Issue 38 kicks off the four-part "Quest For Magik" arc that brings Illyana Rasputin back into the pages of Marvel Comics. Again. You're very astute if you recall that Amanda Sefton was established as the new Magik, from the X-Men: Black Sun and X-Men: Magik mini-series a few years back, but I guess she just couldn't cut it because Belasco's back and he wants Illyana. This issue isn't even really where this story kicks off though, as we are treated to a recap page about Amanda Sefton falling out of the sky, saying that "he was back," but why keep it all self-contained? It's not as if this storyarc that's been hyped to bring in new readers should make sense to anybody who wants to give the series a shot...sigh. Anyways, that's the least of this book's problems. As the story unfolds, we're treated to the students suddenly being teleported into a hell dimension with Belasco demanding their cooperation. Oh, but we don't get to see that part. We see some students outside see the school disappear. Once we actually get to hell, everything's pretty much over and the kids are mentioning events that took place when they were teleported that were cooler than anything we actually see in the comic. It's just lazy writing that works around that sort of thing. One student recalls "I was asleep, and then I heard screaming. The cuckoos. Those...those things were putting them inside those helmets...they haven't moved since." I know I would have liked to see that, but instead we're treated to Belasco yelling at the students. Much more entertaining obviously. And the lizard student Anole whose arm was cut off? We all know what's going to happen there, and that was probably the entire purpose for introducing the kid. This book is predictable, with lame fight scenes and panels that moves along at too fast a clip with too much nothing going on to care about any of the characters, ala Chris Claremont on New Excalibur. Even Skottie Young can't keep up and make this entertaining, despite his awesome art and interesting, unique designs for Magik and Belasco. It's just a big jumble that's hard to follow in a book where nothing matters. Hopefully Marvel will ditch these writers soon and give us a "Generation X" book worth reading. D-

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Previews: August '07 Comics

So we’re going to try to have a regular feature around Previews Magazine’s release each month where Patrick and I both highlight upcoming releases, beginning with the most recent edition of books being shipped in August.

Patrick:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #5 (Dark Horse)

I don’t want to list every issue of every ongoing comic book series I’m purchasing here, but this is supposed to be a special, one shot issue, so I’ll highlight it here. Written by Joss Whedon with guest pencils by Paul Lee. I’m afraid I can’t tell you much more than that because, determined as I am to avoid spoilers for this series, I’ve not read the solicitation copy. The first four were good.

Harvey Comics Classics Volume 2: Richie Rich (Dark Horse)

I don’t know if these are supposed to be any good, but the format is appealing: basically, a whole lot of comics at a nice price point. Could be a lot of fun.

Ghost In The Shell 1.5: Human-Error Processor (Dark Horse)

Okay, I think this is material that was excised from the collected edition of the sequel to Ghost In The Shell, or some such nonsense. I’ve not read anything by Shirow Masamune since his U.S. publishers were printing his name as Masamune Shirow, but I can see myself getting around to this one eventually.

Batman: Gothic - New Edition TP (DC)

I only just discovered the existence of this material, and now it’s out in a new edition. Collects Legends of the Dark Knight #6-10 by Grant Morrison and Klaus Janson. I don’t know much about the story, but I’m one of those who thinks anything by Grant Morrison is worth checking out, and it’s only fifteen dollars. Nice.

Growing Old With B.C.: A Celebration of Johnny Hart GN (Checker)

This is nice. A best-of collection, hand-picked by the late artist himself. Checker has gotten some flack as to the quality of their strip reproductions in the past, although a strip like this one shouldn’t demand much on that front.

Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: The Saturdays SC (Checker)

Winsor McCay is one of the all-time greats, so this is probably worth getting. I haven’t read much of this particular strip myself, often described as a kind of grown up Little Nemo.

The Complete Peanuts Volume 8 1965-1966 HC (Fantagraphics)

Peppermint Patty appears.

The Complete Peanuts 1963-1966 Boxed Set (Fantagraphics)

Probably the smartest way to buy these things, unless you just can’t wait, which is perfectly understandable.

The Kat Who Walked In Beauty: Panoramic Dailies of 1920 HC (Fantagraphics)

I’m rather looking forward to this one. A never before reprinted, nine month stretch of Krazy Kat daily strips, plus other odds and ends. I think this approach is a nice alternative to all of the “complete” strip reprints we’re seeing lately, although I’d happily buy a series of books dedicated to that endeavor as well.

Where’s Dennis? The Magazine Art of Hank Ketcham TP

Cool. The appeal of those Dennis books really is all in the art and design work, so there’s no reason this shouldn’t be just as entertaining.

Notes For a War Story GN (First Second)

By Italian cartoonist Gipi, this book was the big winner at Angouleme back in 2005.

Scott Pilgrim Volume 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together GN (Oni)

Holy shit it’s a new Scott Pilgrim!

Andromeda Stories Volume 1 GN (Vertical)

I’m waiting until all three volumes are out before I read her To Terra, but here’s the start of another three volume space opera by Shoujo manga pioneer Keiko Takemiya.

Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution

This is my “not comics” pick of the month. This is the new book by Frederik Schodt, author of two essential (real “essential,” not Essential Dazzler “essential”) books on manga: Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, and Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga. Here, the great Osamu Tezuka is examined through his most famous creation. This is going to be a good book.

Cult Fiction: Art & Comics

Huh. I hadn’t heard about this, but it sounds pretty great. Paul Gravett apparently examines a group of artists who “produce comics and cartoons as part of their practice, as well as those who employ the language of the comic in their work, borrowing from stylistic sources across high and low culture.” Daniel Clowes, Melinda Gebbie, and Carol Swain are some of the names I recognize from the lineup of artists profiled. Neat.

Squirrelly Gray SC

James Kochalka’s children’s book. I hate kids, so I’m just going to buy this for myself.

Jordan Crane Postcard Book & Journal

Wow, it seems like I’m highlighting a lot of stuff that’s not actually comics. I don’t know that I would by this, but Jordan Crane is a terrific artist, so I feel obligated to feature this.

Dave:

Okay, that's a lot of stuff, so I'll keep my picks short and concise (especially since many of the things I'm excited about were already mentioned)...

Essential Dazzler (Volume 1) (Marvel)

Make fun of it all you want - I am going to get this book in all of its cheesy, bad glory.

Shazam: Monster Society of Evil Deluxe Edition HC (DC)

Certainly nowhere as good as Jeff Smith's original creation Bone, this book is still worth checking out, for the cartooning alone.

Madman (Volume 1) TP (Image)

Mike Allred's Madman gets collected. This 300-page volume retails at $25 with a load of Allred goodness.

Okko: The Cycle of Water HC (Archaia Studios Press)

I haven't read anything bad published by Archaia, and this is a series that has been on my radar for awhile, though I haven't ever seen a physical copy of the comic in stores. I will definitely be purchasing this.

Super Spy (Top Shelf)

This caught my attention - a GN by Matt Kindt with come beautiful art, that's basically 52 interwoven spy stories.

That's it for this month. We hope we helped make a dent in your wallet...