Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Picks of the Week: 10/31

When you hit the comic stores today, here are your best bets for where to invest your money...

Patrick's Pick:

MAGGOTS - From the book jacket: “MAGGOTS is a facsimile of a book Brian Chippendale completed - but never printed- in 1996 and ‘97 while living in Fort Thunder, Providence, RI. Frantically drawn over the pages of a Japanese book catalog, Chippendale’s first masterpiece has lain dormant for a decade. Now the author of Ninja and drummer for Lightning Bolt takes readers back to where it all began…”

Christ, there’s a lot of great books out this week. I hope you’re able to buy a lot of them, but if you can only get one I’d have to go with this bizarre fever dream of a graphic novel from comics’ bleeding edge, one of the central texts for those interested in the “Fort Thunder” aesthetic, and a long time coming to the direct market. Not to be missed.

Dave's Pick:

Tezuka's MW - It's always a good week when a manga from the master comes out. I don't know anything about Osama Tezuka's MW, but it's sure to be fantastic if Vertical's other recent releases are any indication.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Walking Dead (Volume 7):

The Calm Before
Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Just in time for Halloween, I devoured the latest volume of the popular zombie series from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard in one sitting. I don’t know if I could read the title in single issues because, like the subtitle of this volume suggests, nothing really happened. It’s the calm before a disastrous storm that we get a glimpse of in the last few pages of this book. Leading up to the action-to-come was a whole lot of gathering supplies and weapons to prepare for the inevitable battle. Sure, a few minor incidents take place. The characters manage to feud a bit, and get hurt - and there’s even a casualty, but it’s pretty much a lot of brooding and talking and waiting. But it works. I really don’t mind spending time with the characters. Volume Four (Heart’s Desire) of the series was equally as quiet on the action front, but somehow Kirkman managed to keep things a little more interesting this time around, perhaps with the recent addition of several characters that play off of each other quite well through the harsh times. And in wake of such solitude (or as close as one can get in Kirkman’s post-apocalyptic setting), the final panels of this book were utterly chilling, despite the fact that it was expected from since before this volume was collected. But while this installment was important to the overall story that Kirkman is telling of these survivors, one can’t help but anticipate the next volume and overlook the small moments that make up this particular installment. It’s the nature of the mode of storytelling Kirkman has adopted for his series. There will be volumes where not much happens, where the spotlight is completely on the cast and their relationships to one another. Because if we don’t have characters that we care about, then why would we care about what happens to this eclectic cast? There’s such an interesting dynamic that it would be a shame not to play around with it. But that does mean that we’re going to have volumes like this one that feel like filler, that make the payoffs that much better in subsequent books. B

Monday, October 29, 2007

Manga Monday 50: Gyo

Gyo (Volume 1)
Junji Ito

Like the title that the creator is probably most known for, Uzumaki, Junji Ito's horror title Gyo finds a second life in Viz's Signature Series. The second printing of Gyo brings that startling title (with a great cover) to new readers, myself included, who was all but ignorant of the creator's work beyond the Uzumaki collection that I read years ago. But after reading the first volume of this science fiction/horror title, my interest in Ito has been reinvigorated by what I deem a superior title, perhaps even persuading me to revisit that other work that I dismissed as overrated. I am that impressed with Gyo.
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Gyo follows a young Japanese couple, Tadashi and Kaori, vacationing in Okinawa where, one night, they are besieged by a horrible rotting stench, and are subsequently terrorized by a small creature that turns out to be a fish walking on spider-like legs. And it's not an isolated incident. This book begins with a scary, creeping dread and quickly builds to a horrifying, suspenseful panic as things keep getting worse and worse for the couple in question. It also turns into more of a science fiction book as the story progresses and what they are dealing with is explained a lit more. But it works. That shift is natural and the action continues to be thrilling and fast-paced, despite things becoming a little sillier toward the end of the first volume. This is truly a relentless thriller that's sure to produce plenty of scares, and is certainly a timely release in light of the encroaching holiday. Forget trick-or-treating this year, stay inside and curl up with a good book. This good book. A+

Friday, October 26, 2007

Previews: January '08 Comics

Here are our picks (from Previews catalogue) for books coming to comic shops in January of next year...

Marvel

Dave: Young Avengers Presents #1 (of 6) - After a short hiatus, the Young Avengers return, minus Allan Heinberg. While series writer takes a break, the Young Avengers return in a mini-series with a different creative team per issue, the first of which focuses on Patriot, written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Paco Medina. Series penciller Jim Cheung does the cover.

New Exiles #1 -Yes, I was just complaining about Chris Claremont in my review for the first issue of X-Men: Die By the Sword, a series that leads into this relaunch of the Exiles, but I've got to point this out. Claremont's series always sound good. The Exiles now safeguard the Omniverse as Sage joins the team that boasts a new leader and new members...and is that Kitty on the team?

New Warriors (Volume 1): The Next Right Thing TPB - I think that this looks like a fun series. I've been meaning to check it out...

DC

Patrick: The Spirit #14 - The new creative team of writers Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones, and artist Mike Ploog debuts this issue. Cover by Jordi Bernet.

Batman: The Killing Joke Special Edition HC - I already own a paperback version of this book, and I don’t really hold it in high enough regard to repurchase it in this new, hardcover edition commemorating its 20th anniversary. If you don’t already own this book, though, you might want to consider purchasing it in this format. Written by Alan Moore with art by Brian Bolland, of course.

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 4 HC - Now, see, this I’m happy to repurchase, although this final volume actually contains some material I’ve not read, such as the Hunger Dogs graphic novel, which I hear is supposed to be kind of lousy. Anyway, I’ve been buying these as they come out but I’m going to wait to read them until I’ve got the whole bloody thing. In many ways, I see this admittedly flawed work as Kirby’s magnum opus, and it’s nice to see it getting the attention it deserves from the publisher. One of the great publishing endeavors of recent years, I’d say.

Showcase Presents: Superman Family Vol. 2 TP - I suppose I can’t really call this another of the great publishing endeavors of recent years, but I sure am looking forward to it. I had a blast reading the first volume, a thick slab of weird, campy fun featuring mostly Jimmy Olsen stories, and I’d become nervous that they weren’t going to be putting out another volume. Finally, this second volume has been solicited, although I wish it featured a more even mixture of Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane stories. Really, those two series should have their own, separate reprint series, but I’ll take what I can get.

Dave: Y-the Last Man #60 - The final issue of the popular post-apocalyptic Vertigo series has finally arrived. I gave up on the series long ago, but I'm sure a lot of people out there are excited about this.

Dark Horse

Dave: Harvey Classics Library (Volume 3): Hot Stuff - I've been pretty impressed with the Harvey Classics Library volumes so far, particularly Casper the Friendly Ghost. I don't know much about Hot Stuff, but it could be neat.

Image

Patrick: Youngblood #1 - This is written by Joe Casey with art by some guy who isn’t Rob Liefeld, so it might actually not suck.

Savage Dragon Archives Vol. 3 TP - I really need to start buying these. Collecting the entirety of Erik Larsen’s long running superhero epic Savage Dragon, these books mirror the format of the Marvel “Essential” and DC “Showcase” books, and would, I think, be a perfect way to revisit this material. This volume begins with Dragon’s return from the dead, and ends with his final confrontation with his time-traveling nemesis, Darklord, an event which will drastically and permanently alter the course of the series.

Avatar

Patrick: Gravel #0 - This new ongoing series written by Warren Ellis, featuring the William Gravel character from the Strange Kiss/Stranger Kisses/Strange Killings books, is co-written by Mike Wolfer and features art by Raulo Caceres. This brings the number of Warren Ellis written comics currently being published to about 80, I think.

Cartoon Books

Dave: Bone Color Edition (Volume 7): Ghost Circles - This is probably my least favorite volume of the Bone saga, but a new Jeff Smith comic, reprint or not, is always cause for celebration.

Fantagraphics

Patrick: Krazy & Ignatz: 1941-42 Ragout of Raspberries TP - Gosh I like that pink cover.

Willie & Joe: The WW II Years Slipcase - This being one of those great publishing endeavors I keep going on about.

Viz

Dave: Ral Omega Grad (Volume 1) GN - A new manga from the creators of the insanely popular (and quite good) Death Note! I'm very excited, despite the less-than-spectacular premise in the solicitation.

Wildcard Ink

Dave: Gumby (Volume 1) TP - The Eisner-winning Gumby gets collected this January. The all-ages title is a critical hit and should definitely be worth looking into.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Sword #1

The Luna Brothers

***Contains Spoilers!***
I don't know what it is about The Luna Brothers that makes me such a fan, but whatever it is, they've carried it into their new series from Image Comics, The Sword. The Luna Brothers always seem to have great characters and great dialogue wrapped up in fantastic little stories. Maybe I just enjoy the types of stories they tell, usually focusing on strong female protagonists, like in their latest effort The Sword.

The debut issue of The Sword follows Dara Brighton, a college student with a knack for art that has been confined to a wheelchair for the last few years (the circumstances around which have yet to be related). For the first half of this issue, we get to see Dara struggle with her handicap and go to class with her friend, in a typical day of her life, at the same time as her father picks up her mother at the airport. Unfortunately for the whole family, the day doesn't end so typically. A stranger follows Dara's parents home from the airport and when Dara's older sister opens the door during dinner, three mysterious figures enter, insisting that Dara's father isn't who he says he is, and that he has stolen something from them that they will stop at nothing to get: an ancient sword. The events in the latter half of the issue unfold quickly, leading to a final page that, well, we saw coming from the first hint of a wheelchair. But the entire issue is perfectly paced and told in such a way that you don't mind a little predictability when it comes to the protagonist's physical body. As of right now, I have no idea what will happen next, and the only element that I was not surprised by was the character's ability to stand on her own two feet by the end of the issue. The premise overall holds a lot of potential with likeable characters and dialogue that actually excite me, like earlier works by The Luna Brothers that I fell in love with, particularly Ultra: Seven Days, which remains one of my favorite comics to this day. Events that occur may be a little unsettling at times. Things don't turn out the way that the characters want it to, even the villains, and in the end, readers are left with a feeling of satisfaction and suspense for the next issue. That makes for a good comic in my book. A

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Halloween Spotlight: Vampire Comics

Last year leading up to Halloween, I did my best to create a resource for people looking for comics featuring their favorite creatures of the night. It was a much bigger project than I anticipated and I only got around to comics featuring werewolves and witches. But I wanted to carry on that project this year and make it a sort of annual tradition for this site. Now here we are taking a look at vampire comics. I thought that it would be appropriate with the 30 Days of Night film coming out this past weekend. Now this list isn't a complete listing of every single vampire comic ever created. It's a resource to point you in the direction of some higher profile titles, most of which I haven't read and can't vouch for, but some that I have and will recommend heartily, or steer you away from. Proceed at your own risk.
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30 Days of Night
The extremely popular indy comic created by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith put IDW Publishing on the map. It takes place in Barrow, Alaska, where for 30 Days and 30 Nights, the sun does not rise. A group of vampires take advantage of that fact and partake in a massacre. Overall, I think that the comic is overrated, but there are some great moments in there and some pretty fantastic art. The title has spawned several sequels, including Dark Days, 30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker Tales, and 30 Days of Night: Return To Barrow.
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Buffy, the Vampire Slayer
Dark Horse has been publishing comics based on the cult television show for years, but it's only recently that it's been garnering attention, as show creator Joss Whedon is writing/supervising the book with other popular writers like Brian K. Vaughan (Runaways, Y-the Last Man), picking things up where the show left off for an "eighth season" following the characters in the universe he created. Joss Whedon also recently wrote a tale of a future slayer for Dark Horse named Fray, and has contributed to anthologies that take place in his universe called Tales of the Slayers and Tales of the Vampires. A project similar to the Buffy one is taking place for the spin-off television show featuring the vampire with a soul Angel, and co-written by Whedon, entitled Angel: After the Fall.
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Bite Club
Bite Club is a Vertigo/DC comic that examines vampires in a world where they are a persecuted minority. It has spawned a sequel Bite Club: Vampire Crime Unit.
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Vampirella
Created by Forrest J. Ackerman, Vampirella is an infamously scantily-clad vampiress who initially appeared in Vampirella #1 as a horror story hostess, but quickly made her way to leading character as the title was revamped (no pun intended) with issue #8.
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Impaler
Impaler is a blood-soaked, gory comic that's currently being published by Image Comics. It takes place in New York City where the brutal vampires are terrorizing the citizens. Great art, and really, it is a fun, scary read.
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Dampyr
I highly recommend Dampyr. It's a long-running European saga by Mourizio Colombo that follows a half-human, half-vampire dampyr, who is a real threat to full-fledged creatures of the night. It has fantastic art, courtesy of a few artists, and incorporates a lot of aspects of true vampire and monster folklore into its pretty amazing stories. IDW published about nine volumes of the series in America before pulling the plug on the project due to low sales, but they are definitely worth seeking out.
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Blade
Speaking of half-human, half-vampires, the famous vampire hunter from Marvel Comics who has sustained three films, has had a few incarnations of solo series, none of which have been very good, and has made several appearances across the Marvel universe, most notably in Amazing Spider-Man.
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Morbius, the Living Vampire
Coming toe-to-toe with Blade on several occasions, popular villain/hero Morbius made his debut in 1971 in Amazing Spider-Man #101, and went on to star in his own series in the early 90's, which lasted thirty-two issues.
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Sword of Dracula
A mini-series from Jason Henderson, this military horror comic follows a government unit who try to track down the Prince of Darkness and eradicate him and his kind with wooden bullets and the like.
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Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter
A popular series of novels by Laurel K. Hamilton are being translated into comic form, beginning with the first book in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, Guilty Pleasures. Featuring a sassy protagonist, hot vampire guys with their shirts constantly undone, and a world well-aware of the existence of monsters, and the rights that they are entitled to.
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Batman Vampire Trilogy (Elseworlds Volumes)
A trilogy of stories featuring Batman as he confronts Dracula and becomes a vampire himself, this alternate-reality series is pretty popular, though I haven't read a single one. By Doug Moench, Kelley Jones and John Beatty, the books included in this trilogy are Batman and Dracula: Red Rain, Batman: Crimson Mist, and Batman: Bloodstorm.
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Tomb of Dracula
A popular horror series from Marvel, and one that's sustained that popularity in its Essential volume reprints, this book features monsters aplenty including Dracula's daughter Lilith. Marvel's Dracula has made several appearances in other Marvel comics, most notably Uncanny X-Men, where Storm was under his thrall for a time, and where Kitty Pryde warded him off with a Star of David. This book also features the lovely Rachel Van Helsing.
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Athena Voltaire: The Collected Webcomics
Vlad Dracula also has a descendant in the popular webcomic Athena Voltaire, which has been recently collected by Ape Entertainment in all of its glory. In the story The Wrath From the Tomb, Countess Franziska Dorakyura tries to destroy Van Helsing's descendants and followers, whom the aviatrix/adventuress Athena Voltaire strives to protect from the werewolves and various creatures of the night that the Countess throws their way.
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Nightside
This was a four-issue mini-series from Marvel, by horror novelist Robert Weinberg and artist Tom Derenick, featuring Sydney Taine, detective of the occult, in a story where rival monsters plot against one another.
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Greenberg the Vampire
This was the 20th book in Marvel's Graphic Novel line, by JM DeMatteis and Steve Leialoha, featuring a Jewish vampire.
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Preacher
The popular mature reader's comic features an Irish vampire, Cassidy.
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Little Vampire
Creator Joann Sfar has a series of books starring a cute little vampire, including Little Vampire Goes To School and Little Vampire Does Kung-Fu, who later grows up as the protagonist of Vampire Loves from First Second Books. I have read Vampire Loves and was underwhelmed, but it's a nice silly book in this list of dark takes on the undead.
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Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires
I loved this book by Richard Sala, featuring the odd protagonist Peculia as she takes on vampires in another Gothic masterpiece from the creator.
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Dracula
Richard Sala also illustrates this adaptation of Stoker's Dracula written by Steve Niles.
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Hippolyte's Dracula
Another adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, this book by European artist Hippolyte is pretty faithful and contains some pretty amazing art.
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Blood + Water
This was a fun Vertigo/DC mini-series that came out a few years ago. About a man who's made a vampire to save him from a crippling disease.
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Union Jack
British superhero Union Jack takes on vampires in this Marvel mini-series by Ben Raab, with art by the unconquerable John Cassaday.
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Drain
This is a series currently running from Image Comics about a ninja vampire, by C.B. Cebulski and Sana Takeda.
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Sea of Red
Great premise: vampire pirates. It doesn't deliver. It's pretty damn awful.
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Hipira
By Katsuhiro Otomo of Akira fame, and illustrated by Shinji Kimura, this all-ages book follows a young vampire and his best friend, a fairy named Soul, who live in the vampire city of Saruta.
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Blood Alone
This manga follows the relationship between a young girl vampire and a full-grown human male. Kind of creepy and not very good.
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Until the Full Moon
This is a two-volume manga that follows two male vampires, one of which is half-werewolf and has begun to turn into a woman, instead of a wolf, under the full moon. And his childhood vampire companion, who's kind of a player, is sort of into it... Despite a great premise, it doesn't live up to its potential.
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Vampire Hunter D
There's a manga currently being serialized, based on the hit anime, and there's also an art book: Coffin: The Art of Vampire Hunter D, by Yoshitaka Amano. It contains rare paintings and illustrations, and features an original short story by creator Hideyuki Kikuchi.
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Blood: The Last Vampire 2002
Also hot on the heels of a hit anime, this manga is not an adaptation of the film, but a sequel. It follows a young girl who hunts Chiropterans, vampire-like creatures, and is supposed to be pretty bloody and gory.
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Trinity Blood
This franchise was originally a series of popular novels before it spawned a hit anime and the subsequent manga. It follows the conflict between vampires and the Vatican.
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Vampire Knight
Vampire Knight is a popular shojo manga by Matsuri Hino about a school where there's a day class of humans and a night class of vampires, with two Guardians who try to keep contact between the two classes to a minimum, while keeping the secret of the night class from the human students. It is currently being serialized in Shojo Beat magazine, and collected into volumes by Viz.
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Vampire Game
This 15-volume manga is about a reincarnated vampire and vampire hunter who have a score to settle with one another.
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Lament of the Lamb
A boy and girl learn of their relationship to each other as they suffer from a hereditary illness that will eventually leave them undead.
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Chibi Vampire
This is an ultra-cute romantic comedy about a vampire girl who has an abundance of blood rather than a thirst for it. If she doesn't seek out victims to give blood to, in a reversal of the vampire role, she suffers from severe nosebleeds.
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Vampire Princess Miyu
Narumi Kakinouchi and Toshiki Hirano's Vampire Princess Miyu is an extremely popular series that follows one of the last vampires who hunts down god-demons, or "Shinma," with her demonic pal, Larva.
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Hellsing
Another very popular manga, this series, by Kouta Hirano, follows the Royal Order of Protestant Knights as they fight vampires, ghouls and other creatures of the night. It borrows a mixture of many different vampire portrayals, from Stoker to Anne Rice.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

In Stores 10/24

Here are our picks for what books will most likely be worth the price of admission, coming this Wednesday to a comic shop near you...

Dave's Pick:

Crossgen collections from Checker Books - It's kind of a slow week for comics, but these stood out for me. I was a huge Crossgen fan, so I'm happy to see the final issues of various series collected courtesy of Checker Book Publishing Group, who do quite a few reprint projects of varying quality. While some series ended quite abruptly, it's still nice to have the option of completing the collections of trade paperbacks. This week's Crossgen offerings include: Scion (Volume 6): Royal Wedding, Sigil (Volume 5): Death March, and Way of the Rat (Volume 3): Haunted Zhumar. I enjoyed all three series, particularly Scion, and other collections have already arrived from Checker or will arrive shortly, such as Sojourn and Negation.

Patrick's Pick:

Serenity HC Those Left Behind
This is a new, hardcover collection of the three issue Serenity mini-series that came out around the time of the film, written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews with art by Will Conrad. The story fills in the gaps between the film and Firefly, the cancelled television series on which the film was based. This material has previously been collected in a digest sized paperback.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Manga Monday 49

Alien Nine: Emulators
Hitoshi Tomizawa

This single-volume sequel to the Alien Nine manga trilogy (which started out great, but ended a little shaky), entitled Alien Nine: Emulators, sees the three female protagonists from the original trilogy beginning Junior High School, protecting a new school from the threat of alien life forms. In the Alien Nine universe, ordinary school girls are burdened with alien symbiotes that they use to battle aliens that are dangerous to the student population. Events from the previous books leave the girls in a very different place at the beginning of this volume from when they originally appeared, and that place is much darker. While it's still a silly premise overall, the things that happen in this sequel, and toward the end of the original trilogy, are kind of disturbing and quite bleak. Good things do not happen to these girls, whose bodies are mutilated, whose personalities slowly sink beneath those of symbiotes, and who become wholly alien themselves, becoming a danger to one another and those around them. While the story sinks into this overwhelming abyss, a new character is introduced to keep things fresh and add a new dynamic to the book: Monami Komai, a third-year student who fits in with the girls very nicely, and who seems to have a clearer head in light of events that unfold. Overall, this is a very strange story, and one that was a little hard to follow at times, but I appreciated the sequel that answered some lingering questions from the original series and continued the destructive path of the protagonists. Toward the end of this book, there was a chapter that flashed back to the original set-up, with the girls innocently hunting aliens before tragedy consumed them, that was a little jarring in wake of the tone of the rest of the book. It was very strange and sobering to have another taste of where the book started, compared to what it had become. But all-in-all, it was a fun, if not twisted, journey. B+

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Suburban Glamour #1 (of 4)

Jamie McKelvie

Suburban Glamour is a four issue mini-series that launched this past week from Image Comics, and one that caught my eye through a recent preview at Comic Book Resources. I really like the art on the book and all that that entails: character designs, panel arrangements...it's all executed pretty much perfectly. This is the sort of art that I stop to stare at and admire, and I really couldn't get over the designs of some of the characters, and the fashion that went hand-in-hand with them. This book follows a group of not-so-popular kids who live in Suburbia and wish nothing more than to leave it behind. I think that the portrait that McKelvie paints of this sort of scenario works really well, and it has some really sharp and witty dialogue to propel the scenes along, something that was pretty vital to the story since this book is pretty much all talking. It was a little weird when some of the more supernatural elements came in at the end of the issue (particularly in conversation), but things were set up earlier on, so I can't fault it too much - it was just a little sudden given the normalcy of most of the book. This is really a fantastic start to the mini-series with all of the elements present that you need for a great reading experience. A+

Thursday, October 18, 2007

X-Men: Die By the Sword #1

Chris Claremont & Juan Santacruz

I should know by now, but like a masochist, I keep coming back...to works by Chris Claremont. He hasn't written anything good for over a decade, but when he was on, he was on, and I just keep giving in to faith that he will produce something wonderful again one day...only to be disappointed over and over again. X-Men: Die By the Sword was no exception.

There was a time when Excalibur was my favorite comic book. It was even being written by Chris Claremont, with art by the unconquerable Alan Davis. I was quite upset when the series was canceled long after the original creators had fled the book for other endeavors. When news of a relaunch had surfaced, I checked out New Excalibur, with Chris Claremont at the helm, despite the fact that I'd tried out other Claremont works since that could pretty much be classified as atrocious. And after one issue of the relaunch of a title that I grew up on, I threw it aside in disgust and vowed never to read another Claremont book again. But of course I did, despite my better judgment.

X-Men: Die By the Sword is a mini-series that tells the story of a pairing between New Excalibur and Exiles, by the current writer of both series, that will relaunch Exiles as New Exiles in the coming months, once again, by Claremont, boasting a new direction for the team (and one that I believe involves current New Excalibur member Sage). The teams really do have a lot of crossover, as New Excalibur has (among others) Captain Britain, Nocturne and Dazzler, while Exiles contains Psylocke (Captain Britain's sister) and Longshot (Dazzler's former lover), and Nocturne was actually introduced as a galaxy-hopping Exile initially. And despite not reading either New Excalibur or Exiles for a long time through a somewhat complicated plot, I understood what was going on and each character's relationships to one another thanks to the dialogue and recap page at the beginning that were all I needed to follow along (that DC's recent Green Arrow and Black Canary was missing). Despite understanding what was going on, it was not very good. There were hurried reunions that felt awkwardly scribed, emotional moments that didn't connect, a huge respite from the teams that set up an extremely uninteresting and lame, and way too complicated, group of antagonists, and then there's the final page with the Raggedy-Ann-meets-Iron-Man villain (Rouge-mort? Really?) threatening to tear apart the teams.

As usual, Claremont writes an extremely complicated plot with uninteresting events, lame villains, and even lamer character moments that will probably end in someone's death since Claremont seems good at those empty deaths before reviving the character years later (Remember Psylocke? Oh yeah - she's in this comic. Longshot? Um...yeah. I'm just waiting for Meggan to crawl out of her grave any day now). Not only does Claremont seem to love using those easy plot devices, but he keeps going back to the same characters that he used back when he wrote well (Captain Britain, Psylocke, Roma, Saturnyne, The Fury, Merlin, etc.), like a crutch. Claremont needs a good firm editor to cut away the unhealthy fat of his scripts. It's sad to see a writer that I admired so much at his peak at this point in his career, where I have to psyche myself up to read another disappointing effort. Maybe I just need to resign myself to the fact that this is as good as he can do now. And it's no longer anything that I'm interested in reading. D

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Green Arrow and Black Canary #1

Judd Winick & Cliff Chiang

It's pretty uncommon that I pick up a new DC Universe title these days, but in a rare mood, I picked up two this past week: the debut issues of Simon Dark and the new Green Arrow and Black Canary. And after reading the latter title, I recalled why it was such an unusual occurrence: DC is not very new-reader-friendly. If you're not already immersed in the universe, it's hard to pierce that inclusive bubble they've created for long-time fans, where so much of what you read presently depends on what you've already read. Case in point: Before reading this issue, I had no idea that Black Canary had killed Green Arrow on their wedding night. I had no clue that there was a second Green Arrow. And the emotional climax of the issue was completely lost on me because it was based on years of readership. Now, a book like Simon Dark doesn't have the same problem as a book with established characters, because that character's mythos has yet to be built. Characters like Green Arrow and Black Canary don't get the luxury of starting from scratch, and DC doesn't seem to have much interest in catching people up on the goings-on of their icons. Which is probably part of the appeal for long-time DC fans. They're in on something others can't easily get in on. Years upon years of continuity lead up to a series launch like this one, with plot devices already in place. Now, the reason I wanted to check out this series in the first place was because I've been watching Bruce Timm's Justice League Unlimited, and was particularly drawn to these characters. But it's strange that while all of DC's animated shows seem to be easily accessible to new viewers, the comics are oddly closed off to a new audience. Almost aggressively so in the case of this book. In the end however, I did enjoy a few things about this particular issue, despite the silly "shockers" within that seemed pretty, well, lame. My favorite moment of the book was the opening sequence, a flashback of one of Black Canary and Green Arrow's first moments together. There's also a somewhat funny sequence where Black Canary is receiving sympathy from various League members, to contrast with the scenes of Batman and Dr. Mid-Nite cutting open Oliver Queen's body and pulling out various organs for examination. It's sort of an odd book, and one much more rewarding for long-time fans, I'm sure, since they didn't, you know, feel the need to fill anything in for new readers. At the end of the day, I'll stick with the Bruce Timm cartoons for now. C-

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Picks of the Week: 10/17

Here are our picks for what books will most likely be worth the price of admission, coming this Wednesday to a comic shop near you...

Patrick's Pick:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home TPB - This trade paperback collects the first five issues of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight comic book series. The first four issues, written by Joss Whedon with art by Georges Jeanty, comprise the “Long Way Home” story arc and lay the foundation for the entire season eight project, while the fifth issue is a standalone story, also written by Whedon and drawn by guest artist Paul Lee. That fifth issue is my favorite, but it’s all good, all well worth your time. Covers to the individual issues are included.

Dave's Pick:
The Sword #1 - I'm not sure what this book is about, but the series creators The Luna Brothers, have written some of the best genre comics of the past few years including Girls and one of my favorite superhero comics ever, Ultra: Seven Days. This book is definitely worth a look.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Manga Monday 48

This week, a slew of mini manga reviews...

Emma (Volume 5)
Kaoru Mori

Kaoru Mori's quiet Emma series gets much better as the volumes go by. If you can get past the second installment, you'll find yourself pretty much knee-deep in great material. The book that follows a young maid in Victorian England who's in love with someone in a higher class, boasts a wealth of supporting characters and some fantastic art, particularly the detailed, authentic backgrounds that the characters maneuver through. This is fast-becoming one of my favorite manga. A

The Drifting Classroom (Volume 8)
Kazuo Umezu

And on the other side of the spectrum, there's a series that can be called anything but quiet. Umezu's The Drifting Classroom is an in-your-face book of screams, shocks and disasters. Wave after wave of natural disasters meet the children who try to survive on a barren world. There's never a break for the poor blood-soaked, starving brats. And Jog recently pointed out that another Kazuo Umezu series is on the way courtesy of IDW entitled Reptilia. B

Dragon Head (Volume 8)
Minetaro Mochizuki

With Death Note out of the way, there are few titles fighting for the title of best manga currently being serialized. This is one of them. I don't get why this title isn't very popular, but it's an amazing post-apocalyptic title that sees the darkness of the world slowly closing in on our protagonists. Plenty happens in this volume, with a mere two installments to go! A

Hana-Kimi (Volume 20)
Hisaya Nakajo

More fun in Osaka High School's dorms as Nakatsu's mother makes a visit and Mizuki wonders if she's beginning to look too girly to keep her guise up for much longer. This series is always a treat and consistently puts a smile on my face - a very feel-good title. And one of the best covers of the series. B+

Monster (Volume 10)
Naoki Urasawa

New players are introduced late in the game, particularly a "freelance journalist" who's trying to get to the bottom of what occurred at 511 Kinderheim, the infamous orphanage where a monster was raised, and wet-behind-the-ears Detective Suk of the Prague Police who gets a little too close to the truth for comfort... As always, thrilling and suspenseful with top-notch art. A

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Simon Dark #1

Steve Niles & Scott Hampton

From DC Comics comes a new hero who prowls the streets of Gotham City, trying to outdo Batman in the scare-the-shit-out-of-villains department. Steve Niles, the creator of 30 Days of Night, appropriately writes an offbeat story for a hero who seems to be an urban legend of sort, protecting the innocent with a touch of the grotesque. Scott Hampton's dark panels and atmosphere compliment this book very nicely, and I have to say there's a sequence early on showing Simon Dark decapitate a man that is done especially well, and I think captured the tone of the book upfront. And Simon Dark is an interesting character, the first homeless superhero that I know of, for instance, who asks for food after saving someone's life. Kind of weird, but just look at the guy: He has Leatherface's mask, Freddy Krueger's sweater (along with girls jumproping while singing a creepy little rhyme about Simon, like right out of A Nightmare on Elm Street), and he has this whole Jack the Ripper vibe with his blood-soaked wire and gloves. And not surprisingly, he seems to be a bit touched in the head. All of this makes for a very quirky book and character, but it does seem to be a bit forced, and I feel like I've seen these elements before, and not just in the horror films I mentioned above. While there are creepy moments speckled throughout the issue, there are also bland secret society-type villains and little of interest beyond Simon Dark's quirky nature which, when all is said and done, is a little too silly and over-the-top, particularly with the concluding scene. It's hard to tell if this series will be any good having read one issue, but it definitely needs to give readers a little more below the surface. C+

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Laika

Nick Abadzis

This recent graphic novel offering from First Second Books is the fictionalized account of the first creature from Earth to voyage into space: an adorable dog named Laika. In 1957, the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik II into the Earth’s orbit, the second artificial satellite launched by the Soviets in two months, though this one contained the passenger in question, who ultimately captured the imagination of the world. While some of the tale is told from the perspective of Laika herself, and a short chapter is devoted to the chief designer of the satellites, the bulk of the story is seen through the eyes of Laika’s dog handler Yelena after the homeless pooch is taken in by the space program, where Yelena becomes increasingly attached to the animal despite the impending separation. This is a really neat story that seamlessly blends fact with fiction amid great art and an even greater story. It’s a pretty bleak story overall, with animal abuse and a lot of lonely people, but the characters are great, it’s riveting all the way through, and ultimately, it’s one of the best books of the year so far. A+

Picks of the Week: 10/10

Here are our selections for the most exciting books coming to comic shops this week...

Patrick's Pick

Sundays With Walt and Skeezix Volume 1 HC (Sunday Press Books) - I'll just repeat what I said when I saw the solicitations in Previews catalogue: Here it is, folks. If I were inclined to select a book of the month, 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 there’s no doubt in my mind that I will own this. ESSENTIAL.

And speaking of the Drawn and Quarterly dailies, Walt and Skeezix (Volume 3): 1925-1926 also comes out this week!

Dave's Pick

Town Boy SC - The sequel to the critically-heralded international hit Kampung Boy that topped several best-of lists last year, is now being released by First Second Books. Lat’s story of a boy growing up in a Malaysian town finds him a teen in this latest offering, and is sure to garner quite a bit of love from the blogosphere and readers alike.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Manga Monday 47: Here Is Greenwood

Here Is Greenwood (Volume 1)
Yukie Nasu

Kazuya Hasukawa has problems. He was raised by his older brother following his parents' deaths, the woman he loves just married said brother and moved in with him, forcing Kazuya to move into the Greenwood guys' dorms, where he's surrounded by some crazy characters who seem bent on tormenting him. This manga series first debuted over twenty years ago and has really stood the test of time, as it seems pretty contemporary. It's a simple story of a boy who feels very lonely and is thrust into a situation with people who help him get out of his shell and overcome some of his more pressing fears. There have certainly been more interesting characters in recent shojo manga that I've read, and I couldn't help but think of some of those superior titles that have similar situations in them like Hana-Kimi and Honey & Clover. There's nothing really wrong with Here Is Greenwood except for the fact that it's a little bland and pales in comparison to other more riveting reads. And while this title does boast some nice art and has its moments, it's just not a very enjoyable reading experience when all is said and done, and it certainly didn't leave me with any sense that I had to seek out more. D+

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #7

Brian K. Vaughan, Georges Jeanty, Andy Owens, Dave Stewart

The second issue of Brian K. Vaughan’s contribution to the Buffy “season eight” project takes a couple of broad steps towards fulfilling the promise of Vaughan’s first issue. Chapter two of this Faith-centered arc opens with a flashback to Buffy’s and Faith’s epic battle in the season three television episode “Graduation Day, Part 1,” wherein Buffy, for all intents and purposes, “killed” Faith (she got better). It was a pivotal scene in an outstanding episode, and sets up this issue of the comic book nicely. In the same way that Faith, on the television show, was a foil for Buffy, essentially her evil twin, Lady Genevieve, the slayer that Faith has been dispatched to assassinate, is, of course, a reflection of Faith herself. This is the kind of blunt metaphorical language the show somehow made work more often than not., indeed to often brilliant effect, and there’s no reason to assume that won’t be the case here, particularly given Vaughan’s remarkable skill in adapting his writing style to match that of the Buffy show and comic book seamlessly.

Vaughan also takes greater advantage of the comic book format in this second chapter than he did in the first, most obviously in a sequence where Faith’s assassination attempt is foiled by a couple of flying, living stone gargoyles. A spectacular aerial battle ensues, ably handled by the increasingly confident work of penciler Georges Jeanty and inker Andy Owens.

As was the case with the first issue, only two members of the primary cast appear, briefly, in an interlude furthering the Giant Dawn subplot. This time, it’s Dawn and Willow providing a brief respite from the arc’s A-plot, making this the second issue of this comic book in which the title character does not appear, unless you count the brief flashback which opened the book. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and indeed the ability to meander away from fictional characters liberated from the constraints of the actors portraying them is another advantage the comic book incarnation of the property has over it’s television predecessor. I do find it a bit odd that we’ve so quickly moved away from our primary cast, after the fifth, standalone issue in which they did not appear at all, and now this four-issue arc focusing primarily on Faith.

Still, it’s hard to complain about Buffy’s absence when Faith’s story is so compelling. Vaughan has successfully translated Faith’s character from Eliza Dushku’s perfect embodiment of her on film into comic book form, provided her a compelling antagonist, and crafted a story worthy of the larger mythos of which it is a part. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Omega the Unknown #1 (of 10)

Jonathan Lethem, Karl Rusnak, Farel Dalrymple & Paul Hornschemeier

I know nothing about the character Omega the Unknown, but the art on this book caught my eye, so I thought I’d give it a try (plus Paul Horschemeier of the wonderful Mother, Come Home is involved). Co-written by Jonathan Lethem, author of the novel Fortress of Solitude (which actually boasts references to Omega the Unknown), this is a high profile book that doesn’t really have the feel of your typical superhero book, but certainly does have elements of such, like robots and energy beams and whatnot. But, well, really I don’t know much of what was going on while I was reading this book, but it was cool and fun. Farel Dalrymple’s art gives it an alternative comics feel, which is appropriate given how the story doesn’t really read like a mainstream comic. It has a weird dream-like quality among the…well, dreams. But there’s plenty of action and mystery among the weirdness that make for a really intriguing debut issue. The story is ten issues long, and should it continue on its current track, it should be a pretty interesting story with more in common with some of the Hernandez Brothers’ weird sci-fi work than your typical Marvel comic, not to make it seem like more than what it is... B

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Picks of the Week: 10/3

Here are our picks for your best bets on where to spend your money this Wednesday when books arrive at the local comic shop...

Patrick’s Pick

Comic Art Magazine #9 -This is the latest issue of the best magazine about comics currently being published. Probably the best ever, actually. Although, I guess it can be considered more an annual series of books than a magazine these days. I was fortunate enough to have purchased a copy at this year’s Toronto Comic Art Festival, and I assure you it’s packed with terrific articles and the gorgeous production values the magazine has become famous for. Among my personal favorite features this issue are an excellent overview of the life and career of the alternative cartoonist Kaz, an appreciation of Jesse Marsh by Ron Goulart accompanied by an interview with Gilbert Hernandez conducted by Adrian Tomine discussing Marsh’s work, and a special accompanying booklet, Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice, by Ivan Brunetti, which essentially presents the course on cartooning he teaches into a book, one that is a delight to read through even if you have no interest in becoming a cartoonist yourself. And, really, so much more. This publication will make you excited and proud to be a comics fan, and should not be missed.

Dave’s Pick

Harvey Comics Classics (Volume 2): Richie Rich TP - This is the second in a series of books being published by Dark Horse that feature classic comics created by Harvey Comics, following the heels of the initial book featuring Casper the Friendly Ghost, which was really impressive. This new collection reprints the best stories from as early as Richie Rich’s humble origins as a back-up feature in Little Dot Comics in 1953, to its classic mid-1960 years. There’s a comprehensive introduction by Jerry Beck, and I’m sure this is as beautifully restored as Casper was, with 64 color pages included.