Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Picks of the Week: 8/1

Dave’s pick:

Awakening #1 - Archaia Studios Press’ track record usually compels me to check out anything they’re offering that slightly interests me. It’s usually just great, high quality stuff. This particular comic is a ten-issue series written by Nick Tapalansky, with art by Alex Eckman-Lawn. It’s a zombie book, but a slow-building one high with tension that begins with a few missing-persons and some grisly murders. Check out the preview.
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Patrick’s Pick:
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Mushishi (Volume 2) GN - Wow. I thought this was going to come out more frequently. I have dim recollections of the first volume of this, released back in January, being very good. Mushi-hunter Ginko’s adventures continue in this second volume from writer/artist Yuki Urushibara. Check it out, won’t you?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Manga Monday 40

This week Manga Monday will be confined to a small amount of material since I had to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows quickly to avoid spoilers... That and get some much-needed rest after the days of craziness that ensued around the book (since I work in a bookstore and all). So all I've really had time for in the world of comics was the latest issue of Shojo Beat, which saw the final chapter of Nana being serialized in the magazine, and the debut chapter of Hinako Ashihara's Sand Chronicles!

Sand Chronicles from Hinako Ashihara took over the slot briefly held by Yume Kira Dream Shoppe. The first chapter kicks off right, letting us know immediately what kind of series we're in store for, with likeable characters and interesting dynamics. Overall, Shojo Beat's offerings as of late seem to have been a little lackluster, so it was nice to read something of high quality that is going to be a regular feature. Sand Chronicles follows a young girl, Ann, who moves to her mother's rural hometown after her parents' marriage falls apart, leaving behind a life of high fashion and sophistication. Her immediate dislike of her surroundings is only amplified by her mother's emotional state and the hard grandmother they've moved in with. But it's not all depression and a fragile homelife - there are plenty of laughs and absolutely adorable scenes of cute animals: some of the cutest scenes I've ever scene: good, funny cutesy that would have made the whole chapter worth it if the rest had sucked (which it didn't). And while all seems bleak at first, Ann quickly makes friends and readers will enjoy their time getting to know the inhabitants of this town and the polite new girl that's stumbled upon it. A strong debut with great art and complex characters. A

Nana didn't exactly conclude its Shojo Beat run with a bang or anything. It was just another great chapter in the series. I know some series-altering event occurs very shortly in the series, but I guess we'll have to wait for the collections to get to that point after all. However, with the publisher's decision to produce the rest of the series (which is moving further into a mature readers category) in shrink-wrapped volumes, a series that I hear is second only to Nana in the world of shojo manga will be taking its place next month: Honey & Clover! A-

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Previews: October '07 Comics

Patrick's Picks:

Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Strange Tales Vol. 1 (Marvel)

Not a lot from Marvel or DC jumped out at me from this month’s catalogue. From the House of Ideas, we’ve got this hardcover collection of Golden Age horror shorts, featuring artwork by the likes of John Romita, Gene Colan, Russ Heath, Joe Sinnott, Bill Everett, Bernie Krigstein, Dick Ayers, George Tuska, and others. That’s a pretty impressive lineup of artists, and I’ve been craving some good Golden Age comics lately, but I’ll admit the price-point is a little high for me here. Still, worth taking note of.

Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy: For People Who Love Movies (Dark Horse)

This is so not comics I actually feel guilty listing it here, but it’s kind of a slow month and I think this book could be pretty terrific, so what the hell. Collects the best material from his quarterly newsletter. I do love movies.

Alright, back to comics….

JLA: Ultramarine Corps TP (DC)

This collects Grant Morrison’s and Ed McGuinness’ very good three issue arc from JLA Classified, plus JLA/Wildcats, which I guess Morrison wrote as well? I somehow missed that one. Anyway, those three Classified issues are a lot of fun, so you’ll want to check those out if you missed them the first time around.

Gargoyles: Bad Guys #1 (Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight may be the most high profile of the “television show or movie now continued in comics form” properties out there right now, but Slave Labor’s Gargoyles series actually got there first. I had been a fan of the cartoon when it originally aired several years ago, but only recently discovered the extent of Gargoyles fandom, which includes an annual convention, The Gathering of the Gargoyles, held in a different city each year. Greg Weisman, a creator of the cartoon series, has remained very involved in said fandom, leaking ideas for unrealized story arcs and spin-offs to fans over the years. Now, he has a chance to bring some of those stories to fruition. This series is essentially The Dirty Dozen with Gargoyles characters. A group of baddies are gathered by the government to perform a dangerous task. Written by Weisman with black and white artwork by Karine Charlebois. Although it doesn’t say so in the solicit, I believe this is a bi-monthly miniseries set to alternate months with the ongoing Gargoyles comic book.

R.F. Outcault’s the Yellow Kid HC (Checker Book Publishing Group)

The entire run of the groundbreaking strip is collected here. Should be pretty awesome.

Betsy and Me (Fantagraphics)

Fantagraphics is all about the vintage comic strip reprints this month. This book collects Jack Cole’s short lived newspaper strip, only two and a half month’s worth of which was completed before Cole tragically shot himself. R.C. Harvey provides an essay purportedly shedding light on the final days of the great artist’s life.

Popeye Volume 2: Well Blow Me Down HC (Fantagraphics)

Volume 1 of this beautifully produced series was my favorite book of last year. This volume features the debut of the one and only J. Wellington Wimpy!

Hank Ketcham’s The Complete Dennis the Menace 1957-1958 Volume 4 HC (Fantagraphics)

It’s hip to be square with these handsome, hardcover collections of Hank Ketcham’s classic, gorgeously drawn strip. Also available this month is Hank Ketcham’s The Complete Dennis the Menace 1955-1958 Box Set. (Fantagraphics)

The Original Art of Basil Wolverton HC (Last Gasp)

This should provide a nice showcase for the work of the influential cartoonist.

Maggots GN (Picturebox) ***My Pick of the Month!!!***

This long awaited and sure to be excellent book from Brian Chippendale is only the tip of the iceberg of awesomeness that is Picturebox’s publishing schedule this month. Also check out Lauren Weinstein’s Goddess of War, C.F.’s Powr Mastrs Volume 1 GN, Frank Santoro’s Storeyville GN, and Yuichi Yokoyama’s New Engineering. Make mine Picturebox!

Mutts: The Best of Mutts TP

I’ve been meaning to check out this comic strip by Patrick McDonnell, and this seems like a terrific place to start.

Dave's Picks:

X-Men: Die By the Sword #1 (of 5) (Marvel)

Yes, Chris Claremont has bitterly disappointed me in recent years. He’s been virtually unreadable. But he keeps exciting me with his concepts. If only someone else would write the damn things (or at least script them for his overwritten drivel). New Excalibur was awful, so I’m sure this is going to end up the same, but I’m sure I’ll be looking for an excuse to read this new mini when the time comes, as Excalibur and Exiles team up to save Crosstime.

The Sword #1 (Image)

A new series by The Luna Brothers!!! Nuff said.

El Cazador TP (Disney Press)

Checker recently picked up publishing unfinished volumes of Crossgen books like Sojourn and Negation, but a few titles were noticeably missing from the batch, such as Mystic and Meridian (the latter being a title that Disney has expressed some interest in) and this one, now being collected by Disney Press. Perhaps a revival of the properties will occur with good enough sales?

The Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy (Volume 3) (IDW)

The latest volume of the comic strip archival project comes out, collecting strips from January 1935 to June 1936. IDW also takes another cue from Fantagraphics and offers the first two volumes in a slipcase the same month.

Courtney Crumrin and the Prince of Nowhere (Oni Press)
***My Pick of the Month!!!***

I hadn’t heard that this was coming out, so my jaw just kind of dropped when I saw this solicitation. A 56-page one-shot featuring Ted Naifeh’s great creation.

The Complete Persepolis TP (Pantheon)

I figured that Pantheon would have to do this in time for the new animated film that won the Jury Prize at the Cannes. Both volumes of Marjane Satrapi’s memoir are collected under one cover.

The Art of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: Watercolor Impressions HC (Viz)

208 pages of watercolor illustrations and early sketches from master animator Hayao Miyazaki that served as concepts for the incredible manga, and the anime that followed.

Death Note (Volume 1) DVD
The fan-favorite manga finally spills over into other multimedia properties in America, in this first volume of the anime series.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Picks of the Week: 7/25

Patrick's Pick:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #5 - It looks like this, a special standalone issue of my current favorite comic book series, is coming out a week earlier than originally scheduled. Written by Joss Whedon with art by Paul Lee (pencils), Andy Owens (inks), and Dave Stewart (colors). Variant covers are available. Preview here (via the indispensable Whedonesque).
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Dave's Pick:
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Speak of the Devil #1 - The first offering in a six issue mini-series by none other than Love & Rockets co-creator Gilbert Hernandez! You can't go wrong with Gilbert, and one can only expect top-notch storytelling and fantastic art from the Dark Horse mini.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Manga Monday 39

It's the one year anniversary of Manga Monday at Comics-and-More! So, in celebration, I'm going to list some of my favorite Manga Monday posts before moving on to a review of the latest chapters of Hana-Kimi!

Dragon Head (Volume 7) (Manga Monday Special)

Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play (Volume 1) (Manga Monday 31)

To Terra (Volume 1) (Manga Monday 28)

Until the Full Moon (Volumes 1 & 2) (Manga Monday 26)

Mushishi (Volume 1) (Manga Monday 24)

Mail (Volume 1) (Manga Monday 23)

Hikaru No Go (Volume 1) & The Red Snake: Hino Horror #1 (Manga Monday 11)

My favorite anime & Naruto (Volume 1) (Manga Monday 8)

Flowers & Bees (Volume 1) (Manga Monday 7)

Alien Nine (Volume 1) (Manga Monday 6)

Bambi and Her Pink Gun (Volume 1) & Desire (Manga Monday 2)

Domu: A Child's Dream, Octopus Girl, Planetes & More! (Manga Monday!)


Hana-Kimi (Volumes 15 - 18)
Hisaya Nakajo

These last three volumes are definitely the weakest and least enjoyable of the entire series. Volume 15 had several great moments between the loves in Mizuki's life, but the focus really shifted to Sano beginning with volume 16 in a drawn-out, repetitive story dealing with his relationship with his father. Even Nakajo had to take a break from the story in volume 18, where three chapters flashed back to a scavenger hunt in the dorms with a semi-focus on secondary character Taiki Kayashima, a strange psychic kid. Several scenes seem to just be lazily written by Nakajo as well, like she's forgetting her original premise and simply illustrating a normal scene between a man and a woman when Mizuki and Sano are supposed to be two boys, playing those roles straight. It's really frustrating seeing this dip in quality - I wish the series would have just concluded on a tense, high note instead of being drawn out like this. But what do I know? It may get really good again in the near future. The next volume boasts the culmination of this Sano storyarc at a competition, but really, I'm just going to be glad to get it over with, even if this is where the entire series has been heading. I hope the focus returns to Mizuki and her dilemma soon, so this tired indulgence in the people around her finally comes to an end. One addition I am happy of in these past volumes is Shin, Sano's brother. He adds a great dynamic to the group, especially when it comes to Mizuki, who needs something to do besides cry over Sano while he's stubbornly moping for volumes at a time. C-

Friday, July 20, 2007

Mome 8: Summer 2007

Editors: Eric Reynolds and Gary Groth
Contributors: Jonathan Bennett, Emile Bravo, Al Columbia, Sophie Crumb, Eleanor Davis, Ray Fenwick, Gary Groth, Paul Hornschemeier, Tom Kaczynski, Joe Kimball, Lewis Trondheim


Review by Patrick Markfort
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First of all, let me say that I am in complete agreement with Chris Butcher’s recent comments regarding Mome. Fantagraphics nearly quarterly anthology does indeed seem sometimes adrift without a clear editorial purpose holding things together, resulting in a sometimes baffling mix of content. However, this rarely prevents the book from presenting itself as an attractive package with mostly solid offerings, as indeed it does in this, the latest installment.

Eleanor Davis, who made her Mome debut in the previous issue with the frankly exceptional short story “Seven Sacks,” is the star attraction here, providing the cover and incidental drawings, as well as another excellent short, “Stick and String,” about a man who charms a strange woman he encounters in the forest with his music. When I describe the woman as “strange,” I mean that she appears to not be altogether human. She sports antlers and an elongated, horse-like face, and appears to have little knowledge of the human world. The man’s presence, and particularly the music he creates, seem to draw out her humanity, and the two of them share a night of intimacy. The story is only twelve pages long, and contains little dialogue. The man “speaks” to the woman primarily through his instrument, the sounds represented as “zumm zum” by Davis on the page. Like “Seven Sacks,” this story is a simple one, simply told, but one which resonates with depths of meaning, primarily because of Davis’ astonishing level of craft. Her cartooning, to my eye, is similar to that of Sammy Harkham. I was reminded particularly of his terrific comic book Crickets, where a similarly proportioned protagonist (overweight, general soft and scruffy appearance) encounters a strange being in the wilderness. Davis’ coloring here is extraordinary, utilizing a kind of brown or burnt orange to great effect.

I also really, really enjoyed Gary Groth’s interview with Davis. She comes across as being as bright and thoughtful as you would expect from reading her comics. I especially liked her description of her home life growing up (liberal parents who themselves had a great enthusiasm for comics), and her thoughts on her education at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Other highlights this issue include a couple of Mome debuts: Ray Fenwick contributes a few visually inventive one page gags which are all, to some degree, funny, and Joe Kimball, whose “Hide and Watch Me” calls to mind the artwork of Charles Burns, only in the service of even more bizarre and surreal material, may not have completely won me over, but as his first published work it’s pretty impressive, at least on a visual level. Both of these guys are definitely ones to watch.

I suppose the big “draw” this issue is the conclusion of Lewis Trondheim’s “At Loose Ends,” his sketchbook free-form visual essay working out his thoughts on growing older and the ways in which cartoonists age generally. I quite liked this work. The subject matter is interesting, Trondheim’s line work is confident and lovely, and a nice window onto the world of European cartooning is provided. Plus, a handy appendix!

Let’s see, what else? Al Columbia does his thing in a short story I would ruin by describing, other than to say that it is a delightfully crude and perfectly executed gag. Fans of the cartoonist won’t be disappointed. I liked Emile Bravo’s piece quite a bit, in which the same visual sequence is presented twice, with different dialogue casting an identical sequence of panels in a different light each time. The result is a kind of parody of 50’s America that is at times laugh-out-loud funny. As always, Jonathan Bennett provides a nice, understated short about a man waiting for and riding the subway that you would expect to come across as an embodiment of the worst, navel-gazing clich├ęs of the alt-comix scene, but which instead delights thanks to Bennett’s solid craftsmanship and expert sense of pacing.

As with almost any anthology, not every contribution here works. I hate to say it, but Sophie Crumb is always a bit of a sore spot for me. It’s not that she is completely devoid of talent, but her skills, to my eye, are not up to the level of her Mome peers, and her contributions can’t help but suffer by comparison. I remember being interested in Tom Kaczynski’s “10,000 Years” while I was reading it, although I’ll be damned if I can really remember what it’s about now, and I’m not sure I would have done any better had I been asked to summarize it five minutes after having read it. I’m not sure why that is, and it may just be me. Also, Paul Hornschemeier’s “Life with Mr. Dangerous,” now in its sixth installment, is just sort of plodding along, isn’t it? There’s no reason to think this serial won’t eventually take an interesting turn and become a very nice graphic novel, and I’ve certainly enjoyed work from the artist in the past, but, yeah, I’m afraid it just comes across as dull here.

Final verdict: There’s a lot more good here than bad, and, in my opinion, this volume may be worth seeking out for Eleanor Davis’ contributions alone. Her work fulfills what had, at least at one point, been Mome’s mission statement (I think), of bringing the work of young, talented cartoonists to the attention of a literate audience, with an eye on fostering and encouraging that talent with a forum that flatters their abilities and challenges them to hone their craft. You know, I think I kind of just made that up, but I sort of hope Eric Reynolds and Gary Groth are reading this.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

American Elf (Book Two)

James Kochalka

Collecting James Kochalka's Sketchbook Diaries from 2004 - 2005 is the second volume of American Elf, where Kochalka has drawn a slice of life for every day, sometimes as a single panel illustration, sometimes as a strip. This volume is substantially smaller than the previous volume, which collected nearly five and a half years worth of moments from Kochalka's life, which is fine with me because I absolutely loved the first book and wouldn't have wanted to wait half a decade before a new one was released. Recording small moments and huge alike, Kochalka has shared his life with readers, in all of its painful and beautiful moments, through characters he's illustrated in the forms of elves, animals and various creatures (with the exception of his child, who remains a human in the strip), for an array of experiences that anyone can identify with. I've heard that some people haven't liked Kochalka's later strips because they're a little too "cutesy" since he's had a baby boy, but I really think that anything Kochalka does is great here. And babies do cute things, and I want to see them since they're important to the creator whose diary we are reading.

Like with the first book, there are some bad strips, but that kind of adds to the overall charm, I think. If he's struggling with something to write about, it's kind of interesting to see that included in the strips since the strip itself is an important aspect of his life. Anyways, if you're still not convinced, feel free to check out Kochalka's American Elf site, where he posts a strip each day. It will give you a taste of what's in store should you buy this book. A-

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Picks of the Week: 7/18

Dave’s Pick:

Harvey Comics Classics Presents: Casper the Friendly Ghost (Volume 1) - This new archival project from Dark Horse sounds like a labor of love. For $19.95, you get over one hundred Casper stories from 1949 to 1966, reproduced from printer’s proofs and original artwork, with 64 colored pages restored from the original comics, plus an illustrated, comprehensive introduction from Jerry Beck. That’s 480 pages, from the original Harvey Comic through the “classic” mid-60’s years!

Patrick’s Pick:

Comics by Jeff Smith - I feel kind of ridiculous in that I only just read Jeff Smith’s Bone a few weeks ago, despite its formidable and deserved reputation as a masterpiece. I’m trying to make up for it by mentioning him a lot on this blog. This week, check out Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil #4, the final issue of the cartoonist’s re-imagining of the Captain Marvel property. Not as epic in scope as Bone, of course, but still a terrific spin on the superhero genre, featuring charming character designs and graceful cartooning. Also available this week is Bone Volume 6: Old Man’s Cave - Color Edition, in both hard and soft cover editions. And if your Jeff Smith jones still isn’t satisfied, you can go here and peruse some sample pages from the recently released The Art of Bone (Link found via Tom Spurgeon).

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Manga Monday: Double Take Special!

This week for Manga Monday, Patrick and I will be weighing in on a title we've both read...

Dragon Head (Volume 7)
Minetaro Mochizuki

***CONTAINS SPOILERS!***

Patrick says:

The survival horror manga Dragon Head is a good example of why I could never be a successful manga publisher or trend spotter. Reading the book, I would assume it would have found enormous popularity, rivaling that of Death Note. I’d be wrong, of course. Apparently, Dragon Head is something of a tough sell to publisher Tokyopop’s target audience ( young manga fans who frequent bookstores, presumably), but I’ll be damned if I can figure out why that’s the case.

Dragon Head is absolutely one of the most compelling, well-crafted, atmospheric, and generally creepy genre comic books being published today. Fans who’ve been wise enough to take notice of the series have been rewarded with increasingly compelling chapters detailing the exploits of two Japanese high school students (a boy, Teru, and a girl, Ako) who find themselves stranded in a post-apocalyptic wasteland following a mysterious disaster which occurred while they were on their way home on the subway from a class trip. The teens dug themselves out from the tunnel under which they’d been trapped in the third volume, and have been struggling not only to survive, but also to discover what has happened to their world, ever since. In this newest volume, it seems as though they may be closer than ever to finding the answer, as the cryptic words whispered by a strange and probably lobotomized boy, “dragon head,” and a famous painting by the Japanese artist Hokusai, lead Teru, Ako, and their reluctant allies (two young soldiers) to Mount Fuji. Instead of answers, though, they find an abyss.

One of the most frightening sequences in the book occurs when the kids fly their helicopter over the gaping maw where Mt. Fuji had once been. Mochizuki proves himself a master of his craft here, as his drawings of the tiny helicopter dwarfed by pitch blackness finally give way to a double page spread of pure darkness. This effect leaves the reader with a chilling sense of the bleak and hostile atmosphere the kids find themselves immersed in, a trademark of the series.

My only minor gripe with this volume is that I didn’t really buy some of the choices the characters made. I’m not sure the older woman’s decision to stay behind and rebuild her home was very believable. Rather, it came across as more a hurried way to get rid of a character who had served her purpose. Also, as much as I loved the helicopter sequence discussed above, and as curious as these characters would naturally be about what happened to their world, I felt that they probably wouldn’t choose to fly down into the abyss, but rather they would keep going in hopes of finding some remnants of civilization and much needed supplies. Dragon Head at its best is a gritty, somewhat realistic survival horror story, and I think survival should remain the primary motivating factor for these kids, and indeed it has for most of the series.

Still, as I said, minor gripes. All in all, this was a very satisfying chapter in one of the best (if not the best) mainstream manga series being published right now. I can’t wait for more.

Dave says:

I agree 100% that this is one of the best mainstream manga series currently being published. Now that Death Note has concluded, I would say that its only real competition out there is Nana, and the two are such different things that it’s almost impossible to compare them, and ranking one over the other would rely heavily on one’s own preferences of what they’re looking for in their manga-reading experience.

I’m also in agreement that the helicopter scene in the darkness was the most chilling scene in this volume, in a series with plenty of thrilling moments. One thing I don’t really agree with, however, is your assessment of the older woman’s decision to stay behind. You could look at her decision in a few different ways that make it a completely valid choice for the author to use to write her out of the story: One, she simply believes that they are going to die no matter what and she would rather die at home under the pretense that she could rebuild it. Two, she feels that she would only hinder them in a helicopter already carrying four passengers. Or three, she thinks that her best chance for survival is where she’s been surviving thus far, and that flying a helicopter into the heart of darkness to try to find out what happened is a fool’s errand that will get them killed. I can’t say that I would want to travel with the foursome into a cloud of ash that was responsible for the helicopter being grounded once already. It’s seems to me like she chose the safest option.

One thing that I am grateful for is that things are still unclear at this point. For awhile there, I thought that Mochizuki was revealing that the disaster was the result of a natural phenomenon after all - a volcanic eruption via Mt. Fuji. That seems very unlikely by the end of the volume, which is great because how disappointing would it be if all that we’ve seen was due to a volcano? Right now, in the series, the scariest thing about it is what we don’t see. We see darkness everywhere, destruction, and that’s just inevitably going to be scarier in a creeping dread sort of way, as opposed to an in-your-face giant lizard or whatever. And I really like how much of the darkness in the series lies within its characters and the ugly ways they react to things in these situations. It’s much more fun to travel through a world like this with characters who reflect its crooked, deformed landscapes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Picks of the Week: 7/11

Patrick's Pick:

Devil Dinosaur by Jack Kirby Omnibus HC & Jack Kirby’s Silver Star HC - I only just purchased the first volume of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus, and now here are two more deluxe hardcovers collecting the King’s work for immediate ogling and eventual purchase! I think Devil Dinosaur has a reputation for being one of Kirby’s worst series, but I had the opportunity to view some original art from the series as part of the recent Masters of American Comics exhibit, and I have to say, it was pretty damned amazing. I don’t know if any of that comes through in the printed comic books, but I’m eager to find out. Silver Star was Kirby’s last original creation before his death, and I don’t know much about it other than that I think it was originally developed as a concept for a film? In any case, a lot of this material can probably be found for pretty cheap in discount bins and comics conventions, but format fanatics will want to get their hands on these volumes regardless. Long Live the King!
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Dave's Pick:

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. (Volume 2): I Kick Your Face Premiere HC - Collecting the final issues of Warren Ellis’ and Stuart Immonen’s in-your-face self-aware acclaimed superhero book, this hardcover collection is 144 pages of fantastic art, great battles and goofy one-liners featuring a D-list of mutants, androids and general superhumans.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Manga Monday 38: Tanpenshu

Tanpenshu (Volume 2)
Hiroki Endo

The second volume of Tanpenshu from Dark Horse houses more short stories from master manga creator Hiroki Endo, whose Eden: It's An Endless World! is still being released by the publisher. Tanpenshu contains mostly "real world" stories in contrast to the sci-fi epic Eden that the creator is known for, but the very first story that kicks off the second volume, "Hang," does contain science fiction elements. And it's probably my favorite story of the volume. It contains Endo's trademark stellar artwork, and is truly erotic. "High School Girl 2000" is the weakest offering in this showcase, about a man going through a mid-life crisis. It has its moments, but it's pretty forgettable overall. The bulk of the volume is taken up by "Platform," the story of a young man who comes from the family of a mobster, and the people that get involved with them, for better or worse. An extremely short, cute story, "Boys Don't Cry," wraps up the volume for a really nice package altogether. Definitely recommended, but overall, I think the first volume of Tanpenshu stands stronger. A-

Hana-Kimi (Volumes 13 - 14)
Hisaya Nakajo
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Nakajo keeps things interesting in these volumes of Hana-Kimi, as Mizuki tries her hand at reaching out to more closed-off people, particularly a cold model searching for a long-lost friend, and in the process learns something about her relationship with her love Sano. And then, of course, another predicament comes along that could expose Mizuki's secret once and for all, in the latter volume. Nakajo tries something different with these books and includes chapters focusing on secondary characters to flush them out a bit. The mysterious Taiki Kayashima gets a chapter to himself in Volume 13, while the popular Umeda gets half a book of love (three chapters) for a story whose conclusion doesn't live up to the build. But still, as always, very enjoyable overall. B+

Friday, July 06, 2007

Ms. Marvel: Ready, A.I.M., Fire!

Ms. Marvel #15-17
Brian Reed & Aaron Lopresti

Horrendous Greg Horn covers aside, the latest Ms. Marvel series is pretty good if you like your comics full of straight-forward superhero action. It's not very dark or revolutionary or anything, it doesn't attempt to transcend the genre of superheroes whatsoever, but rather uses that mode of storytelling to tell good stories, abandoning all attempts to put together a sleek Brubaker/Ellis/Bendis package for a good, old-fashioned punching-in-costumes-over-skyscrapers book. Alright, there was a dud issue or two in there, but overall, it's a damn good series. That being said, the latest story to grace its pages is "Ready, A.I.M., Fire!" featuring, obviously, A.I.M. as well as M.O.D.O.K., who has been in control of the organization for some time now. Now M.O.D.O.K. is sick and is looking for something that will set his DNA right again, and in his endeavors, he catches the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D., who sends Ms. Marvel in to put a stop to the mischief. Included in this semi-complicated story is a fight between Ms. Marvel and a mind-controlled Wonder Man, M.O.D.O.K.'s son (whose arc ends with a pretty great scene), and the cunning Scientist Supreme, an ambitious femme fatale who I hope we'll be seeing in the future, because she is one icy bitch and if there's something superhero comics need more of... But story aside, the art on this book is really great, courtesy of Aaron Lopresti, whose work with Crossgen and Mystic set him up as a force to be reckoned with when he rejoined the ranks of superhero artists. He constructs great fight sequences and I love the last two pages worth of panels of issue #17 as they gear up for a big reveal. They're pretty much perfect for this type of book. Overall great, fun read. B

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Picks of the Week: 7/5

Patrick's Pick

All-Star Superman #8 - Grant Morrison's and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman is one of the best superhero comic books currently going, and this is the latest issue, the second of the two-part "Bizarro" storyline.

Dave's Pick

Dragon Head (Volume 7) - A new volume of one of the greatest manga being published presently arrives in stores this Thursday and promises more suspense and thrills in a post-apocalyptic setting amid stellar art. There was an "eh" volume in the run a few books back, but this series has really redeemed itself with a story that goes pretty much unmatched now that Death Note has come to an end. I can't believe that this isn't more popular.

Monday, July 02, 2007

House

Josh Simmons

House is the first full-length graphic novel from Josh Simmons, told completely wordless. The three characters that appear in the book are teenagers who explore decrepit old houses and make googly eyes at one another as they carelessly trek through ruins. This is a very brisk read, and a very bleak one, but really, Simmons' art is pretty amazing in the end. He really proves his prowess with beautiful scenes of forests and houses that have long since been submerged in water. I'm sure we'll see plenty of great stuff from this creator in the future. Unfortunately, I do have a few small problems with what appears here. I'm fine with the characters as they gesture to each other and laugh at jokes we don't know, because in the end, it doesn't matter what they're saying, we understand the bond and relationships between the characters through their actions. And that's pretty amazing in itself. The gestures do get to be a little too exaggerated sometimes, but I can forgive that for the most part. But when one girl glares menacingly, a little too blatantly, across the page at a newly-formed couple, it does take me out of the book. A little more subtlety would have worked wonders, but I'm not sure it was possible in the story at hand, at least the way it was told. Overall, Simmons does a great job at conveying atmosphere and making his readers feel the way he wants them to feel. But there were a few times when I was confused as to what was going on. I couldn't tell whether someone was supposed to be dead at one point and they reappear later just fine. Maybe we weren't supposed to know their state at that point, but it bothered me and once again, took me out of the read at a point when the book began to spiral in a very dark direction. A few small things mar a really great book, which is unfortunate since the story had such a nice flow to it. But what is here that works is really amazing and I can't wait for more from Josh Simmons. This just isn't his masterpiece. It's a great debut novel from a promising talent. B

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Manga Monday 37

Quite a few reviews this week...

La Corda d'Oro (Volume 2)
Yuki Kure

The characters in this book are pretty straight-forward and generic. Maybe that's why I kept putting this book down and reading other things for awhile. But now that I've read the whole volume through, I see that Kure is at least attempting to do some interesting things and turn our perceptions of these generic characters around a little bit with some depth. The most interesting new development is between the protagonist Kahoko Hino and the jock from Seisou Academy's Gen Ed division, Ryotaro Tsuchiura. Not that it's completely original, but the tension that the creator piles around it with the musical competition forthcoming makes the situation of much more immediate concern. Great pacing all around, but some of those supporting charcters have got to be flushed out soon. B-

Monster (Volume 8)
Naoki Urasawa

Nothing particularly exciting happens in this volume of Monster, but there's quite a bit of set-up for the next volume which is sure to be pretty explosive. A lot of dialogue moves this chapter along to the next phase of the story. Loose ties are about to be tied up, and a creepy element is introduced from an unexpected source, getting a reaction out of Johan. B

Emma (Volume 4)
Kaoru Mori

The tension that has been building over the past few volumes of the series comes to a head at the end of this volume that proves to be a really suspenseful read...for what it is. In the afterward, the author mentions how someone described her work as "going at top speed, not in a car or on a motorcycle, but on a bicycle." And that's kind of accurate actually. It's a slow read with a lot of quiet moments of emotion, but there's a certain amount of tension underneath the surface that propels it all along and ultimately makes it quite a thrilling story. A

Hana-Kimi (Vol. 11 - 12)
Hisaya Nakajo

Oh, Hana-Kimi. What a wonderful series to discover. In these two volumes, Mizuki gets closer to her crush, Izumi, than ever before as she navigates her way through a school dance and a visit back home to the states, where an unexpected surprise is waiting for her. Funny, nerve-racking and lovely as always. A-