Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Picks of the Week: 11/29

And here we are again with our picks of the most promising books coming to comic shops this week. And due to Thanksgiving, remember that books will be arriving a day later, on Thursday...

Patrick’s Pick:

Little Sammy Sneeze: The Complete Color Sunday Comics 1904-1905 - The Holiday shopping season has begun, and this oversized collection from Sunday Press Books (of Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays fame), would make a great gift for yourself or a loved one, don’t you think? Measuring 11”x 16”, this book collects all of Winsor McCay’s Little Sammy Sneeze Sunday pages, plus the comic strips originally printed on the backs of those pages, including the entirety of another McCay strip, Hungry Henrietta, plus work by other cartoonists. Sounds terrific, and prior work by the publisher inspires great confidence.

Dave’s Pick:

Age of Bronze (Volume 3): Betrayal - The latest collection of Eric Shanower’s beautifully-rendered graphic novel saga depicting The Trojan War hits shelves in both hardcover and trade paperback formats to match whichever formats readers have previously purchased.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Robotika: For A Few Rubles More #1

Alex Sheikman & David Moran

The first Robotika mini-series from Alex Sheikman came out of nowhere, full of creativity and a vision not often seen in mainstream comics. The world Sheikman created felt lively and fully-realized, and utterly odd. In my review of the first mini-series, I compared Sheikman's storytelling to Grant Morrison's, and I still think that Morrison's works are the closest out there to what Sheikman is doing with his Robotika universe. It just keeps hitting you with idea after idea relentlessly amid a really fun story.

In the first issue of the sequel, Robotika: For A Few Rubles More, Sheikman shows no signs of slowing down. Along with David Moran, he reintroduces readers to the futuristic world of cyborgs and magic via three samurai-for-hire. If anything, Sheikman seems more comfortable writing these characters this time around. I didn't really get much out of the characters through the first adventure with them, but in this sequel, I feel as if I know them, and their easy dialogue with one another makes the transition into this sequel that much easier. There was a lot of criticism of the first series for a character who talked through vertical dialogue, something that I personally didn't find too distracting. This time around, there's a joke made about the choice, and the story carries on without missing a beat, and minus the "distraction."

This new series opens with a scene that introduces some very distinct new characters including a drug dealer who seems related to Dennis Hopper's character in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. We also get a taste of the thrust behind this story, nanoscope technology used as a drug, called "tadpoles" that cause tension between a group selling the product and a group that wants the drug, but don't exactly want to pay for it.

Joel Chua does an amazing job on colors once again, making for a vibrant palette, and the arrangement of panels, and how some of the scenes are laid out is pretty amazing. You can tell a lot of thought was put into how Sheikman could use the comics medium itself to tell this story in ways unique to its abilities. I don't know how much of that can be attributed to the involvement of David Moran with this sequel, but however the writing team works together, it does work, and well. I can relate the events and characters of Robotika: For A Few Rubles More as much as I want, but I won't be able to get across a lot of what makes the comic a great comic. That's just something that readers will have to experience for themselves in December when this issue comes out. A

Monday, November 26, 2007

Manga Monday 53: Portus

Portus
Jun Abe

Portus is a single-volume horror manga that follows a young student, Asami, whose best friend begins to act uncharacteristically after playing the video game Portus. When her friend ends up committing suicide, Asami begins to investigate the events that led to the tragedy, and hears rumblings of an urban legend surrounding the game, and a hidden game within it.
.
The art on Portus is pretty fantastic, I'd say. Particularly when something really creepy is happening, Jun Abe knows how to depict a freaky floating head or a figure blinking from a computer screen. Unfortunately, that's about the end of the positive aspects of this book. While it's visually appealing overall, a lot of events that take place are things that are too reminiscent of The Grudge or any other generic Japanese ghost story you've ever read to make it interesting in its own right. And the story just kept getting sillier as it proceeded, and in turn, became less and less frightening, killing any mood intended to keep the audience in suspense.
.
The characters of the book, Asami and a pair of teachers that take it into their own hands to uncover the awful truth behind Portus to help their pupil, are as flat as characters can get. Portus focuses primarily on the action, which went by very quickly as it was, and left little room for characterization, which would be fine if the events were intriguing enough to overlook this. As it stands, however, the characters are completely forgettable and the story is too generic to make up for this shortcoming.
.
The latter half of the book is filled with flashback sequences that give motive to the angry unmerciful spirit that haunts the players of Portus' hidden game. The scenes are pretty brutal and bloody and serve to fill the reader and the protagonists on the backstory of the curse that caused all of the chaos in the first place, and to tie all of the events up nicely in the end as to how things are resolved. The short concluding sequence serves to undo that tidiness with three confusing panels that may hint that things aren't as resolved as they appear. But by the end, I didn't really care much either way. D+

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen:

The Black Dossier

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill

The latest installment in Alan Moore's and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is very, very dense. It's also very rewarding. Anyone who's read and liked the previous books will find plenty to enjoy in the latest offering, though one might not expect as much prose and various non-comic aspects from the original graphic novel.

The previous two League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic series have followed a group of individuals from literature: Mina from Dracula, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Allan Quartermain, game hunter from King Solomon's Mines and its sequels and prequels. Not all of those characters appear in the latest book, given events from the previous series, and much of this story actually explores other incarnations of the group, boasting different big-named heroes and villains, from different times and from other countries. Most notable of these new characters is Orlando, an immortal character with the ability to change sex, who appears throughout this book in various stories.

The Black Dossier is a book itself, within this story, containing classified information that recounts much of the League's history. In the opening chapter of this graphic novel, The Black Dossier is stolen, and the thieves read through the book as they try to make a clean getaway. The portions of the LOEG graphic novel that are actually comics are the portions that center around the thieves and their journey. The rest of the book is The Black Dossier itself that they are reading, which isn't comics, but are various other forms of storytelling. From postcards to prose to comic strips to maps, everything is fair game. It's all very fun to read, but like I said before, it's very dense. It takes a long time to wade through, but it rewards patience with some great little stories told through different means, recounting small incidents that the League experience, or giving a big piece of the whole. The one portion of the The Black Dossier stories that was pretty hard to get through was the pulp novel portion with its difficult, rambling, misspelled structure. But I don't think I really got hung up anywhere else, and really enjoyed portions that I didn't expect to, particularly the lush 3-D concluding pages that you have to use the 3-D glasses included with the book, to experience. At that point it sort of turned into something really philosophical that reminded me more of Promethea than anything.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier is very well-done and I really enjoyed the variety of ways to read the exploits of the team. I can see why some people may have a problem with this book, particularly if they like their comics confined to comics. The book within a book aspect to this title provided for a cheat that I myself really enjoyed. I don't mind when creators blur the lines between comics and other mediums - it makes for an interesting reading experience if anything, and I think that this work from Moore and O'Neill set out to do something extraordinarily ambitious, to great effect. A

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Angel: After the Fall #1

Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch & Franco Urru

***Spoilers!!***
Hot on the heels of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, comes the comic book continuation of the hit television show's spin-off TV series Angel, following the adventures of Buffy Summers' former lover and vampire with a soul, the brooding Angel. Following up on events from the series finale at the end of season five of the television series, readers are now transported to Los Angeles once more, where Los Angeles itself has been transported to Hell. Angel and a host of familiar faces are helping the surviving humans stay that way with the help of Angel's new pet dragon and an unsettling new liaison from evil law firm Wolfram & Hart, one ghost of Wesley Wyndham-Price. It's interesting that Angel is still working for them, though he confesses that trying to use the company's resources for good was one of the biggest mistakes of his life in the opening inner monologue. There are other surprises along the way, particularly the closing sequence, making for an altogether very exciting return to these characters. It's mostly set-up, and even then, in floppy format, Whedon and Lynch don't get around to bringing the entire cast back into the mix, most notably Spike. But things look extremely promising with this bold start. While Joss Whedon isn't as involved in this venture through IDW as he is with its counterpart from Dark Horse, Whedon is credited as co-plotter with Lynch, who also does scripts, and Whedon is bringing his specific vision for what happened in that alley to the fans. Franco Urru is a great choice for the artist of the series, and it's all off to an impressive beginning. A

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Castle, Waiting


Cold Heat #1-4
BJ, Frank Santoro

Cold Heat Special #1
Jon Vermilyea, Frank Santoro

I’m not sure how much of value I have to say about Cold Heat, a comic book series intended to run twelve issues but which was discontinued after the first four had been released. The whole thing will eventually be released as a single graphic novel in the summer of 2008, but until then we have four issues of the comic book and a newspaper format “special” to tide us over.

Cold Heat is about a teenage girl named Castle, whose life of casual drug use, ninja classes, and sleeping with the CEO of the company for which she is interning, is interrupted when she hears news that Joel Cannon, lead singer of Castle’s favorite band, Chocolate Gun, has apparently killed himself. Then, at a party held in the band’s honor, a friend of Castle’s is killed, possibly of a drug overdose, and, well, things get a lot stranger from there. The father of the dead kid is a powerful and corrupt politician who worships (and has intercourse with) some sort of demonic creature with a bull’s head, and of course Joel Cannon’s “suicide” is not what it appears to have been. The story becomes more fantastic and surreal as it progresses through these initial four chapters, encompassing alien abductions, ghostly demon-like creatures who attack Castle’s martial arts instructor, political conspiracies and the like, to the point where it’s pretty much impossible to predict where the story is going, making it all the more frustrating that the serialized installments have been discontinued.

If I’ve not made it clear by this point (and I guess I haven’t), I really enjoyed reading these comic books. BJ and Frank Santoro are credited as “storytellers," so I’m going to guess the creative partnership breaks down thusly: the two of them collaborate on the plot/script, and Santoro handles the artwork. Certainly the finished art is all Santoro, but for all I know BJ could be providing detailed layouts. In any case, it’s an absolutely gorgeous looking book. I suppose there’s a lot of comics fans who would find the art crude or amateurish, but it’s so difficult for me to wrap my head around that approach to comics art that I’m not really equipped to address such criticisms. Although the plot unfolds in a fairly straightforward manner and encompasses many of the tropes found in typical adventure/fantasy comics, it does not look anything like a mainstream comic book. Santoro’s wispy, delicate line work and frankly brilliant use of color creates an interesting and not at all unpleasant effect when coupled with such a story. Other works I’ve read by the artist, such as the excellent Incanto and Chimera, are not at all straightforward narratives, but rather more a series of images and dreamlike sequences that demand a close, slow reading, and re-reading, and I think Santoro’s drawing style suits these comics perfectly. It is interesting, then, to see that same drawing style put to such a different purpose here, in this comparatively more straightforward comic book series.

Speaking of art styles, Cold Heat Special #1 is drawn not by Santoro, but by Jon Vermilyea, who is credited with “production” on the regular Cold Heat comic book. Santoro provides plot and layouts for the special, which is printed in a black and white newspaper format. It will literally only take you a couple of minutes to read through the special, but it will be a couple of minutes well spent, and you’ll want to return to it again and again. It’s a neat little story of Castle’s battle with some of the ghost/demon things in the woods. I really enjoyed Vermilyea’s artwork, which is much more typical of the type you would expect to find in an adventure comic book, reminiscent of Jeff Smith, I thought. His rendering of the woods and the slimy creatures is absolutely first rate, and it’s a lot of fun to see another artist’s interpretation of these characters, particularly when that artist has such a different drawing style than the regular series artist. It’s ambiguous as to when the story in the special takes place in relation to the comic book series, and it functions almost as an extended trailer for Castle’s adventures, not to mention the collected book which is advertised on the final page. In a perfect world, we’d see a few more of these specials, each by a different artist, leading up to the book’s release. How about C.F. for Cold Heat Special #2?

As great as these comics are, I’m not sure how enthusiastically I want to recommend people pick them up, given that the story is unfinished and that a graphic novel, encompassing the material, will eventually be made available. I’d certainly encourage you to pick that up, and definitely get the special, too. If you decide to buy the four issues of the comic book series, you won’t be disappointed so long as you don’t expect a finished story. In fact, things really get cooking in that fourth issue. Whatever way you decide it makes sense for you to engage BJ’s and Frank Santoro’s Cold Heat, please do so. As it stands, I know what my most anticipated book of 2008 is. See you this summer, Castle!

*Buy these comics here.

*Note: Interested parties should be sure to check out the comments under my review of Brian Chippendale’s Galactikrap #2, where some valuable information concerning the elusive Galactikrap #1 is revealed.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Picks of the Week: 11/21

Picking out the most promising comics of the week...

Dave’s Pick:

Beyond Palomar (Palomar Volume 3) TP - These new collections of Gilbert Hernandez’ Palomar saga are great: accessible to new readers, beautifully packaged and, of course, containing some of the best comics ever produced. Collected in this particular volume is Love & Rockets X, and the fantastic backstory of Luba, Poison River.

Patrick’s Pick:

Angel: After the Fall #1 - Well, here it is. Those who’ve followed my writing on this blog know I’m a great fan of the Dark Horse published Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight comic book, so it should come as no surprise that I’m really looking forward to IDW’s “official” continuation of Angel in this twelve-issue series. Joss Whedon is not as intimately involved with the production of this series as he is with the Buffy comic, but he did work closely with writer Brian Lynch (of Spike: Shadow Puppets fame, which I’ve not read) to develop the story. Franco Urru provides the artwork.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Courtney Crumrin and the Fire Thief's Tale

Ted Naifeh

The Courtney Crumrin series has been a favorite of mine since I discovered it a few years back. For anyone who's read the series, they'll get what they've come to expect from the series: claw-like hands, beautiful art with Gothic fixtures, and a compelling story featuring the sharp-tongued, jaded witch-in-training Courtney. And this time around, Courtney Crumrin comes face-to-face with werewolves. This 56-page one-shot takes place in Romania, where Courtney is beginning a European tour with her powerful warlock uncle, Aloysius. And much like classic stories of vampires and werewolves in Europe, we find a town full of rash villagers upset and ready to march an angry mob toward a gypsy encampment, since it seems that one handsome young gypsy has been making eyes at a woman who's been spoken for (never mind that she doesn't return the affections of her betrothed). Werewolves are out in full force and various hunting parties are out to kill the wolves while Courtney and Aloysius visit an old friend who happens to be caught in the middle of the action. Events that occur in this book reference things that have previously taken place in the Courtney Crumrin universe that Ted Naifeh has established, but is certainly not vital to the events at hand. It does reward fans with a tug of the heartstrings and perhaps some motivation for the characters involved.

What we get here is a fun little horror/action number with some great exchanges between the mischievous Courtney and her uncle, and some pretty fantastic moments that I'd say are some of the best of the series. There's also a really great origin story for werewolves that feels mythic and really quite creepy. Ted Naifeh is just a really great storyteller and I'm glad that he's focusing his energies on his great creation once more. A

Monday, November 19, 2007

Manga Monday 52: Wild Rock

Wild Rock
Kazusa Takashima

It's been awhile since I've read a yaoi manga, but it's something I'm certainly interested in reading more of. I've been going back and forth on a few suggestions and decided to try out this single-volume work, Wild Rock, which takes place back in the Stone Age. The story follows Emba and Yuuen, heirs to different clans who fall in love with each other when the great hunter Emba saves meek Yuuen from a beast he's out hunting. In wake of a food shortage that Yuuen's clan is facing, he is sent out in girl's attire (since he looks pretty feminine) to trick Emba into providing them with meat. The interactions between the two sizzle as Yuuen's guilt weighs heavy on his conscience until all is revealed in the end. I really enjoyed Kazusa Takashima's artwork - the long torsos of the characters grew on me as it went along. And this book was really pretty hot, which isn't too typical in the emotionally-charged stories written by women for women. The entire book consisted of men running around shirtless, in loin cloths (like something from a Spartan movie...), and erupted...er, culminated in a pretty hot (and kind of graphic) lovemaking session. There's also a bonus story that digs a little deeper into the clan histories that has nothing to do with Emba or Yuuen, but is a fun yaoi story in its own right. The stories are pretty simple and straight-forward, but are pretty romantic and will certainly sate the appetite of even the most fervent of yaoi fans. A

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Robot Dreams

Sara Varon

Robot Dreams is a charming all-ages title recently released by the innovative publisher First Second Books. It follows a dog who builds himself a robot friend. They quickly become friends, but after a day at the dog beach, the robot gets rusted and isn't able to leave with his friend, so the dog ends up abandoning his creation. The graphic novel is completely silent, which may account for how quickly it can be read (I finished it easily within an hour), but is also a testament to the creator's storytelling ability, as the book was really quite moving without having to rely on dialogue to induce those feelings. There are universal themes of friendship and betrayal told through the bright pastel images of Varon's wonderful cartooning, which were very striking and quite powerful for such a simple story. As the robot lies on the beach, vulnerable to the elements and scavengers, he dreams of life with his friend and what could have gone differently in some of the most heart-breaking scenes of any comic I've read this year. This was a good read, but for such a quick story, I'm sure that some people won't feel that it's worth the price of admission. However, I feel that it is a touching little book worth a look. B

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Shortcomings

Adrian Tomine

I’m pretty late in joining the bandwagon on this one, but damn, this is a good book. I’m not surprised that Adrian Tomine is quite often compared to the Hernandez Brothers, since I was pretty much thinking that all the way through this graphic novel. Shortcomings follows Ben Tanaka, as he struggles with relationships and race issues filtered through an extremely cynical viewpoint. A lot of interesting things are examined through the Asian characters that struggle with stereotypes, and the fine line between pride of heritage and overpraising things merely because they’re related to their heritage. This is a work full of beautiful art and stimulating conversations, with complex, interesting characters that make for a really rich finished product. Even if the main protagonist is a complete ass, it’s an absolute pleasure to spend time with him being a smartass (though you may want to slap the guy a few times). It’s easy to imagine myself rereading this several times to re-experience the fantastic dialogue and the situations that feel realistic and hit pretty close to home. I think anyone can really relate to some aspects of the book, even if they don’t find themselves in very similar circumstances. It’s pretty universal, and expertly told. I feel like so much has been said about this book that I don't really have anything new to add, but I have to encourage people to seek this out. Anyone who hasn't yet read this book is really missing out on one of the best offerings of the year. A+

Friday, November 16, 2007

Excalibur Classic (Volume 3):

Cross-Time Caper Book One
Chris Claremont, Alan Davis & Others

Perhaps the last great thing to come from Chris Claremont was the original Excalibur, a goofy, fun spin-off of Uncanny X-Men featuring Captain Britain, Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde, Meggan and Rachel Summers. While the team was based in England, the third volume collecting the series sees the team stuck in cross-time, traveling from one parallel earth to another in hopes of reaching home, changing worlds for the better or just
getting the hell out while they can. Think Sliders meets the
Exiles. The Cross-Time Caper is a pretty long story arc that takes about two collections of the original material to relate. But like the rest of the series, it’s really quite entertaining. There’s a lot of great character interaction, particularly with Meggan, who’s really quite a complex, interesting shape-shifter/fairy. She has a lot of identity and self-confidence issues that play particularly well off of her boyfriend, the mentally abusive, jealous Brian Braddock, as well as everyone’s favorite fuzzy elf. And I have to say that for an original team of villains created for this title, The Technet has a fantastic cast of multi-powered characters with some of the best designs in all of superhero comics. I hope to see them used again some time in the future. While Kitty’s fawning over scientist Alistaire Stewart can get a little tiresome, the stories are generally well-told and witty, featuring some pretty bizarre villains and circumstances that are, to say the least, unique. Unfortunately, this collection is marred by a few hideous guest-penciled issues at the end, and a fill-in writer on an issue that takes a break from The Cross-Time Caper. But Claremont and Davis should be back at the beginning of volume four of the Excalibur Classic collections, which either came out this week, or will be out next Wednesday. I highly recommend this book as one of the best, if not the best, Uncanny X-Men spin-off to date, with a real flavor all its own. A

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Galactikrap #2

Brian Chippendale

If there was ever a Galactikrap #1, I never saw it, but that didn’t impede my enjoyment of this new comic book from Brian Chippendale, author of Maggots and Ninja, drummer for the band Lightning Bolt, and one of the most talented cartoonists working today.

How to enjoy Galactikrap #2: After ogling the gorgeous silk-screened front and back covers, flip to the third from the last page for a summary of the story thus far. The summary is something of a joke, I think, in that it is a nigh unintelligible info-dump of information, and, again, I’m not convinced that there ever actually was a first issue. I may be completely wrong about this, and Chippendale may in fact have intended this recap to assist readers who had missed out on the first installment in understanding what had come before. Personally, I couldn’t follow it, and the recap served as the setup to a joke which was finished by the first of the book’s short stories, about a group of characters lounging around their headquarters trying to come up with a new name for their team, which is probably a good idea considering their current name is “Teamy Weamy.” The casual pace and mundane nature of this story contrast with the epic scope and labyrinthine plot developments suggested by the recap page to great comedic effect, but the laughs don’t stop there. The second, longer story concerns two characters trying to sell bug cakes (“they got bugs on ‘em and in ‘em”) to a couple of customers over the course of 23 pages. When one would-be customer threatens to report the bug cake salesmen to the Food and Drug Administration after learning the true nature of their product, the response of one of the salespeople is one of the funniest moments I’ve experienced in comics this year.

I guess I should mention here that these and all of the stories in this comic take place in/on Galacticapital Two, a floating space city which has been hurtling through the cosmos for generations on a mission which none of its citizens can remember. This is not particularly important to any of the characters in the comic. Galacticapital Two could just as easily be another dimension or another planet or a haunted island in the middle of the Bermuda triangle. The floating city does not provide the characters with motivation so much as it provides Chippendale with a canvas on which to paint his alien civilization, which may mirror the world we know in some ways (there is some broad political commentary threaded into these stories), but which is also completely it’s own thing. It’s also a terrific place to spend some time on a lazy afternoon.

Following the bug cake sequence is an action/adventure narrative about a ninja-like character who descends into the sewers to rescue a woman’s baby, who has been captured by a couple of frightening looking characters who are members of something called the Deep Cutz Force, a “pitch black ops” group whose mission is to capture children to be used as fodder in covert military operations. Plenty of action, violence, and showing off of superpowers in this middle sequence, culminating in a cliffhanger one hopes will be continued in a third (second?) issue.

The book’s final sequence involves a trio of characters hoping to use the bathroom of what I guess is a kind of grocery store constructed in the shape of a Godzilla-like creature, only to find themselves ambushed by an impish fellow in a black witch’s hat claiming to be part of something called Gang Gloom. Another cliffhanger.

None of the stories described above are particularly compelling from a plot standpoint, although I found them to be delightfully quirky. The chief pleasures to be found in this 74 page comic book (counting the recap and inside front and back covers) come from the enjoyment of immersion in the bizarre landscape Chippendale has constructed for these funny little characters, a landscape pulsing with life and energy in the way that the best of the artist’s work and that of his Fort Thunder contemporaries always does. Some have referred to this book as Chippendale’s most straightforward and accessible to date, although I didn’t find it to be that different from works like Ninja. I think that any moves toward greater accessibility (whatever that really means), come not from the nature of the stories being told, but from the way the narrative is structured. And, yes, that does mean that Chippendale’s trademark reading pattern, in which readers are instructed to begin following the panels of the comic at the top left corner of the first page and moving right, then back towards the right through the second row of panels and so forth in a snake like motion, is absent here. The stories in this comic book are designed to be read in traditional left to right, top to bottom fashion, which may come as a relief for some, although I’ve never found Chippendale’s usual narrative technique, designed so as to create an uninterrupted “flow” to his comics, particularly distracting or difficult to follow. Another difference between this and previous Chippendale works is the pace of the work and the size of the panels. Much of the comic book contains only two large panels which split the page horizontally, making a rather brisk reading experience of a relatively thick comic book. Much of the experience of reading Ninja and Maggots involved the rapid movement of the eyes over myriad tiny panels. Here, Chippendale’s drawings are given room to breathe, which results in an opportunity for appreciation of them as drawings, as opposed to marks on the page whisking us briskly from one moment to the next. I found myself reading this comic somewhat slowly so as to fully appreciate Chippendale’s scratchy, inky line work and innovative character designs.

The pleasures of the comic book are simple ones, but there are a lot of them. I’m glad I went to the effort of ordering the book from the PictureBox website, which may be the only way it’s available at the moment. I think it’s great that an artist like Chippendale, who has had so much recent success with the full length, graphic novel format (I’m speaking of artistic success as opposed to commercial success) so enthusiastically and effectively continues to utilize the “comic book” format. I hope to see more such work from him soon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cairo HC

G. Willow Wilson & M.K. Perker

Cairo, a new original graphic novel from Vertigo/DC, debuted last week from the minds of journalist G. Willow Wilson, who was based in Cairo for several years, and Turkish artist M.K. Perker. The story follows five strangers who meet on the streets of contemporary Cairo, and are manipulated by a gangster-magician to help him find a missing hookah that happens to house a well-dressed, articulate genie. The genie also does his best to nudge events in the favor of the five unlikely heroes: a naive activist from the O.C., a demoted female Israeli soldier, a drug smuggler, an Egyptian Reporter and an American boy with a mysterious agenda. While the eclectic cast makes for an interesting dynamic, their interactions are bogged down by heavy-handed political rhetoric, and magic that seems to have no limit (or foreshadowing), keeping the sense of danger to our characters at an extreme low throughout the book, essentially sapping any suspense that the writer intended. Even death is only temporary in this novel, and many revelations that draw on actual Egyptian mythology have to be explained in detail for the reader to understand, and are not integrated into the mix very subtly. And the writer’s attempts to add romance to the book are awkward and lead to emotional climaxes that are hardly earned.

Despite these flaws, this is quite a fun action/adventure book with some pretty decent art courtesy of M.K. Perker. It’s an interesting look into an area of the world where tensions are on the rise, and censorship is a way of life. And if you don’t look too hard into the plot and star-crossed lovers involved, it’s a pretty neat story with fun villains and eerie magical exploits (particularly events that involve the Undernile). I don’t want to undersell Cairo, because I really did have a lot of fun reading it, but it may be one to check out in soft cover rather than paying for it in the current format. And I really do think that G. Willow Wilson is a talent to watch. C+

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Picks of the Week: 11/14

Patrick's Pick

Scott Pilgrim Vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together GN - It’s another great week of new releases to comic book stores, with books by Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, and Joe Sacco, but I have to say the one I’m most looking forward to is this fourth volume in the saga of irreverent slacker Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. I really enjoy O’Malley’s unique aesthetic, informed by equal parts shonen manga, alternative comics, video games, and hipster culture, so I’m more than happy to join the chorus of bloggers singing the praises of this graphic novel series. Preview.

Dave's Pick

Courtney Crumrin and the Fire Thief's Tale - Like Patrick said, there's a lot of great material coming out this week. I'm sure Alan Moore's new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is going to be one of the highlights of the year. But when it comes down to it, I have an uncanny fondness for Ted Naifeh's creation, the dark, sarcastic Courtney Crumrin and I just can't watch the latest offering in the series be buried beneath other powerhouse offerings this week. Courtney's latest exploit sees her and her mysterious Uncle Aloysius traveling to Romania in a 56-page all-ages adventure that's sure to be witty, suspenseful and a whole lot of fun.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Manga Monday 51: Yotsuba&!

Yotsuba&! (Volume 1)
Kiyohiko Azuma
.
I finally got around to reading the critically-lauded Yotsuba&!, a comedy manga that follows a little girl (that would be Yotsuba) as she moves to a new house and neighborhood, and runs amok, making friends and causing mischief alike, but all the while spreading smiles and laughs to those she encounters. A lot of the comedy in the vignettes come from Yotsuba's reactions to things around her, as she's still a very young girl and doesn't understand a lot of things, let alone how she should act. Her facial expressions in particular are enough to get a laugh out of me sometimes, but she also says the most unexpected and most adorable things you could imagine when confronted with an air conditioner, an escalator, or something as simple as rain. This book is laugh-out-loud funny - something that I don't come across too often. I rarely laugh at movies or sitcoms, let alone books, but this is just the right tone, with perfectly-executed little moments that could incite laughter in the most cynical reader. This is probably nothing new for people who have read Kiyohiko Azuma's work previously, but this is a fantastic, ultra-cute book that will bring sunshine and rainbows to your day through the green-haired protagonist. A+

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #8

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

You know, I hadn’t intended to review every issue of Brian K. Vaughan’s “No Future For You” story arc, but, having come this far, I’ll go ahead and guarantee a review of the fourth and final chapter next month. It’s a curious thing, reviewing each installment of a story that will probably read better as a collected book. Sort of like reviewing a novel one chapter at a time. I’m rereading John Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four from the ‘80s right now, and it’s interesting in that the earliest issues of that run are designed as entirely self-contained short stories. This is interesting because it is such a rarity in today’s comic books, almost all of which are, at least to some degree, “written for the trade.”

If this sounds like the beginning of a screed against multi-part storylines, I apologize, because I certainly do not prefer one approach to the other. The move into collected editions and the type of storytelling more appropriate to such a format was an inevitable one. It allows more room for…well, everything, really. Longer sequences of dialogue, issue long action sequences, etc. Still, It’s pretty impressive how effortless Byrne makes everything seem in those old Fantastic Four comic books. Something to ponder, but I want to emphasize again that I do not prefer one approach to the other, and indeed regard comics’ ability to encompass a wide array of storytelling choices and publication formats one of the medium’s great strengths.

Certainly Vaughan is using his four issues to great effect, as the terrific story of Faith’s final(?) mission moves confidently forward in this installment, with everything that made the first two issues so great (spot on dialogue, great characters, attractive artwork from Jeanty, Owens and Stewart) still present. Depending on your tastes, the highlight of this issue will either be the battle between Faith and Buffy, or the pseudo-lesbian bathtub sequence with Faith and Genevieve. Personally, I liked the ass kicking. For one thing, it happens in a shallow pool, and Faith is wearing a white top, so it’s still pretty damned sexy, but more importantly, Vaughan never forgets the history of the characters which trembles just below the surface, ready to burst forth at the slightest provocation. This quality was put to great use in the “Graduation Day, Part 1” episode of the T.V. series, during Faith’s and Buffy’s famous rooftop fight sequence, referenced several times during this story arc. “Never forget how deep she cut you.” As in the best of Buffy, character development and theme come together in a terrific display of violence, although I thought the climax of the battle was somewhat anti-climactic, with Willow teleporting Buffy away before things could really resolve themselves. Still, we’ve one more issue to go, don’t we?

The conclusion looks as though it will feature the inevitable throw down between Faith and Genevieve, so there’s more fighting to look forward to. And sexiness. And Buffy will probably be there as well. I know I will be, and you should be too. At least get the trade paperback.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Powr Mastrs (Volume 1)

C.F. (Chris Forgues)

In a bit of Stan Lee inspired hyperbole, Picturebox, this book’s publisher, refers to it as “the most anticipated graphic novel debut of the year.” Would that that were the case, but I suspect this first of a projected six volumes is probably hovering below the radar of many comics fans.

That’s too bad, because, despite artist C.F.’s pedigree as a member of the arts comics collective Fort Thunder, and his appearances in such aggressively alternative anthologies such as Kramer’s Ergot, Powr Mastrs is a relatively straightforward fantasy adventure comic, which would probably have great appeal to fans of certain genre fiction provided they are open to experiencing particular tropes through C.F.’s unique aesthetic sensibility. It will also help if they’re not turned off by eight page underwater tentacle sex sequences. Look, I said it was relatively straightforward, alright?

All kidding aside, this a terrific, attractively packaged book, certainly one of the most delightful reading experiences I’ve had this year. The “story” concerns a fantasy world called New China, a world of magic and advanced technology, populated by a large cast of eccentric characters, both human and nonhuman, some of whom possess special magical abilities. I put “story” in quotes not because C.F. seems unconcerned with narrative, but because this first volume is more a collection of short vignettes introducing us to the characters and the world. The book opens with Subra Ptareo, an outcast from an area of New China known as White Block who has traveled to the Oxbow Woods to purify himself. He meets a few of the characters who inhabit Oxbow Woods, some of whom are preparing, in various ways, for something called “Transfiguration Night.” There’s a lot else going on with a lot of other characters, some of whose stories overlap with Ptareo’s, and others who do not, at least not yet. One does get the sense that this is all building towards something, and that all of the various threads will connect eventually.

Unlike some of his Fort Thunder peers, C.F.’s cartooning is completely accessible, events unfolding in a clear, straightforward manner. The artwork is simply gorgeous, particularly when depicting scenes of the lush forest setting, but also in the elaborately designed architecture, and of course the extraordinarily imaginative and lovely character designs, which I imagine will be a much admired aspect of the book for many readers. I believe C.F. draws using only pencil, which gives this world and these characters a delicate, dreamlike quality that enhances the otherworldliness to great effect. The book is frequently very funny, as well.

There is going to be another five volumes in the series, which is great as the book certainly left me wanting more. C.F. is one of the most talented cartoonists working today, this is his first graphic novel, and it’s a winner. Please seek this out, and enjoy.

Bonus: Scroll down for some terrific drawings of the Powr Mastrs characters by Kevin Huizenga! http://kevinh.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

In Stores 11/7

Where we point you in the direction of (potentially) good comics!

Patrick's Pick:

Joss Whedon Comic Books - Celebrate the announcement of Joss Whedon’s new television series with two of the man’s comic books, both out this week. While not actually written by Whedon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #8 is in the midst of a very good storyline written by Brian K. Vaughan with art by series regular Georges Jeanty, while Astonishing X-Men #23 is the penultimate issue of Whedon’s and artist John Cassaday’s run on the series, before they take their final bow with a giant sized annual. Too bad Runaways isn’t out this week, too…

Dave's Pick:

Azumanga Daioh Omnibus (Volume 1) GN - Since I didn't get around to doing my usual Manga Monday post this week, you don't know how much I loved the first volume of the fan-favorite super-cute manga Yotsuba&! (watch for that next Monday). But there is going to be an omnibus edition of Yotsuba&! creator, Kiyohiko Azuma's, popular Azumanga Daioh. Azumanga Daioh is a comedy that follows a group of Japanese high school girls, and is told in "yonkoma" format, or in vertical four-panel comic strips. If I could do two picks (and I'm kind of doing that by doing this), I would also point you toward Vertigo/DC's Cairo HC.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Daybreak (Episode One)

Brian Ralph

Daybreak was my first experience reading a comic from Brian Ralph. Originally published on the group art blog, The New Bodega Blog, this zombie comic works quite well in its collected form. I never read Daybreak when the story unfolded panel-by-panel on-line, so I can really only speak for the collection, but I'm sure that it made for an interesting reading experience as it was first serialized. Anyways, Brian Ralph makes some interesting choices in his zombie comic. It's not your typical zombie story, for one thing. The creatures aren't even seen in the comic, with the exception of a few inky arms and shadows. With the threat off-panel the entire time, it still plays out in a thrilling way. There's still plenty of tension. Plenty of people say that monsters are scarier in your imagination, and with horror films in particular, a monster's appearance on-screen is often to the detriment of the experience. I think that's true to some extent. If the Blair Witch had appeared in The Blair Witch Project, it would have been a glaring mistake. Adding the creature to Jacques Tourneur's Curse of the Demon (or Night of the Demon) sapped the psychological film's creepiness factor with its inclusion (which was added at the insistence of the producer). I do feel that this was a good choice in the case of Brian Ralph's work. While it's a very cartoony story anyway, there is a certain tension there that wouldn't be present with the inclusion of cartoony zombies to match the rest of the book. Daybreak is pretty light-hearted overall (the featured one-armed survivor is constantly cracking jokes about his missing appendage), but it's still a survivalist story whether it makes fun of itself or not.

The most striking choice that the creator made in this work is the inclusion of the reader as a character of the story. The characters that appear in the panels often stare out at the reader and talk to them, including the reader in the plot, introducing them to the world and the circumstances they find themselves in. I'm not really sure why Brian Ralph made this choice, but one of the effects of this choice is that I constantly felt the writer's presence while reading the book. When reading The Walking Dead, I get caught up in the characters and events, and after reading, I maybe think "Well done, Robert Kirkman," or "Why the hell did you make that stupid 'We are The Walking Dead' speech, Rob?" But all the while reading Daybreak, the writer's choices make you think about...well, the writer's choices. It's almost like he's as much a part of the tale as the reader is when he/she is being addressed by the characters that are seen in panels. The idea of so much occurring outside of the boxes of the panels is interesting. Coupled with Brain Ralph's amazing cartooning skills, it's really a fantastic experience. But in the end, I feel like this is inadvertently a zombie comic, and more a showcase for the creator's talents. It could have been about a guy living in a garbage dump or aliens attacking and it wouldn't have felt much different. But that's okay. This book subverts expectations at every turn and I'd say that Brian Ralph has earned the right to showcase his talent. In terms of story, not much of interest takes place. I couldn't tell where anything was taking place in relation to anything else. It certainly doesn't add any interesting elements to the zombie sub-genre. If you're looking for a zombie story, you probably want to pick up a different book. But if you're looking for a great experience from a very talented creator, you owe it to yourself to pick this book up. A

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Primordia #1 (of 3)

John R. Fultz & Roel Wielinga

With all of the great stuff coming from Archaia Studios Press, I was bound to hit a bad one eventually. Not that Primordia was all bad - there just wasn't much interesting about it. The debut issue of the mini-series from John R. Fultz and Roel Wielinga introduces readers to a woodland occupied by fairies and demons alike, and ruled by the Woodking. It reads like a myth from out of Ovid's Metamorphosis, beginning with two frolicking satyrs who stumble upon two human babies about to be consumed by the giant snake Zatha. The female satyr saves the children while the jealous male watches her rear them with permission from the Woodking. As the two human children grow up, one alert and lively during the day, and one during the night, the two are drawn to different sorts of creatures and powers, and ultimately fall for the same woman and bring about destruction that the Woodking can not abide. I'm not sure if this entire issue was just set-up for something really great to come, but I was bored by the events, underwhelmed by the art and by the concluding panel, I just didn't care what happened. With next to nothing in terms of characterization and a story that sped by way too fast with too little to sustain interest, the parting scene wasn't earned and left little emotional resonance. There are some interesting ideas in there, but nothing to save the book from mediocrity in the end. C-

Friday, November 02, 2007

X-Men: Messiah Complex #1

Ed Brubaker & Marc Silvestri

Very few good crossovers have occurred in the Marvel Universe. And X-Men: Messiah Complex is off to a pretty lame start. I think I got my hopes up a bit for the event, with Brubaker at the helm, hopes that were slightly diminished by the Marc Silvestri interior art (I'm not a fan), and were completely dashed by the end of this one-shot where one little event that was bound to happen actually occurred and that's that: a whole crossover event surrounding the circumstances, prompting people to follow a string of books they wouldn't normally read for a crappy little back-up story. I'm probably being a bit harsh, but I can't be the only one who saw that Endangered Species was a piece of crap in terms of story, art and cringe-worthy dialogue. But people buy into it, so these sorts of things keep rearing their ugly heads. I expected much better from the hand of Brubaker, but he could surprise me yet and turn this pretty underwhelming start into something worth the pages it's printed on. F