Thursday, October 30, 2008

Battlefields: The Night Witches #1 (of 3)

Garth Ennis & Russ Braun
You don't hear too many war stories featuring female protagonists, which is part of the reason I was drawn to this three issue mini-series. Garth Ennis, known for his gritty storytelling, brings a harrowing story of war in the form of legendary female bomber pilots who flew over the Eastern front in flimsy wooden planes in 1942. Dubbed "The Night Witches" because of their gender, the wooden planes they flew (like brooms), and how they attacked in the dead of night, these women are all but massacred in the first issue of the series, after their initial mission to bomb a bridge. But ideas are brewing in the womens' heads for what strategies they can use on their night flights to be more successful. This book is violent and gory, like any good truthful war story, and beautifully drawn by Russ Braun. Garth Ennis paints a noble picture of these women, who are true soldiers despite the lukewarm welcome they receive when they arrive at Vostok Field. Despite the harsh tone of the book, I was still able to have fun as the characters' personalities came out, and interacted with each other via sly comments or infectious optimism. This is a fantastic beginning for what I'm sure is going to be a pretty damn good series.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Young Avengers Presents TP

By Various
The Young Avengers Presents collection includes all six issues of the comic mini-series, each featuring a different character (or characters, often with a supporting cast), and each by a different creative team. The quality of each of the issues is pretty strong in the end. These are just great characters and I think the writers conveyed the voices of each of them pretty well.
The first issue concentrates on Patriot as he has some doubts about himself as a hero and what it means to be a hero. Bucky guest stars and offers some sage advice in a sweet, kind of sappy story by Ed Brubaker and Paco Medina.
Next we have Brian Reed and Harvey Tolibao focusing on Hulkling. This had the most interesting art of the issues, pretty nice with a fun fight at the beginning. Here we see Hulkling confront Captain Marvel about possibly being his father.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Alina Urusov spin a yarn featuring brothers Wiccan and Speed as they attempt to locate their mother to get some closure on some things. This was probably my favorite art of the bunch. Cartoony and clean. And Wiccan is my favorite Young Avenger, so I really enjoyed this story.
Vision tries to get across who he is to Cassie (Stature) in the fourth story by Paul Cornell and Mark Brooks. I guess he has the brain of Cassie's dead boyfriend, Iron Lad, a former teammate, but has Vision's body...yet he's his own person. He has some identity issues, but it was a fun read, though a lot of talking heads.
The focus remained on Stature in the next issue as she needs her friends' help when she can't stop from shrinking. She's caused a pretty big accident at the same time as a rift is opening between herself and her family. Stature's a neat character - she's the only Young Avenger on Tony's side of Civil War, yet she still considers her former renegade teammates her family. And while she's pretty miserable with the Initiative, she really believes in what she's doing and can hold a competent argument about her choice. This one's by Kevin Grevioux and Mitch Breitweiser.
Last but not least we have another really cool character who's kind of neck-and-neck with Wiccan for my favorite of the bunch. Hawkeye. One of my favorite artists, Alan Davis, illustrates this issue with the fantastic Matt Fraction writing. This is easily the best issue of the six included in the collection, featuring Hawkeye having some face-time with the original Hawkeye, Clint Barton (who is currently going by codename Ronin).
Overall, a fun collection. Usually with so many creators on a project, there's going to be a dud, but I have to say that the talent involved here got it right and it's all pretty good material. I had a great time with this book and it didn't feel like filler until the next Young Avengers series comes along - there was some really neat, vital material in these pages. If anyone out there is a fan of the regular series, I recommend picking this up.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween Spotlight: Zombie Comics

Every year before Halloween, I put together a list of some specific sort of monster so people can get in the mood for the holiday and read some ghoulish comics. Last year it was vampires. Before that, werewolves and witches. This time around, it's zombies. Now, there are a hell of a lot of zombie comics out there, so this is only a sampling, but this is a good place to get started if zombies are your thing...
The Walking Dead
Robert Kirkman's extremely popular book is very character-focused, and explores not only the darkness of zombies, but the dark side of humanity in a world besieged by a zombie plague. I highly recommend this book, but it takes a few volumes to really get good.
Zombie Powder
This is an unfinished manga series by Tite Kubo, creator of Bleach. It follows a small group of people on a quest to find The Rings of the Dead, twelve rings that together, can resurrect the dead, but individually, drain the life force of those who touch it.
Escape of the Living Dead
This five issue mini-series from Avatar Press is a sequel to Romero's Night of the Living Dead, but ignores his subsequent films.
The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics
A collection of zombie comics and short graphic works, this anthology boasts stories from the likes of Steve Niles, Vincent Locke, Hideshi Hino and more.
Marvel Zombies
An extremely popular superhero-horror comic mini-series that's spawned a few sequels, has carried over into other Marvel titles such as Ultimate Fantastic Four, and crossed over with Army of Darkness. The book follows a parallel universe to the Marvel Universe, where a zombie plague has transformed hero and villain alike into superzombies! It sort of reads like a dark comedy featuring Spider-Man and friends. Weird, but a hell of a lot of fun. Read my review here.

Tokyo Zombie
This is a horror-comedy manga about two factory workers who may have inadvertently started a zombie plague while trying to cover up the accidental murder of their boss.

Marv the Zombie
An on-line comic, this is a comedy in the form of a comic strip. Check it out here.

Dead Eyes Open
In this world of zombies, the monsters are still conscious and relatively "alive," and fight for human rights. The story follows a psychologist who keeps his office pretty frigid to keep his body from decomposing and losing clients for what he is.

Warren Ellis' Blackgas
Some sort of chemical is released from the bowels of an isolated island during an earthquake that transforms everyone on the island who breathes it into a flesh-eating monster. The sequel to the original mini-series picks up directly where the last one left off. Read my review here.

This is a Marvel MAX mini-series following a bank heist where the robbers and their captives suddenly find themselves in the midst of a zombie invasion.

This is from the early 90's. A chemical released during an explosion at a biotech company results in the reanimation of dead flesh. Fast-forward five years and some military survivors are bunkered down in a makeshift base to keep the undead out.

Bogus Dead
An anthology of humans striving to stay alive after a zombie infestation. There are 42 short stories in this book, between one and four pages long, from talent such as Megan Kelso, Paul Lyons and Matt Shultz.

Toe Tags
DC Comics somehow coerced George A. Romero himself to write this mini-series, illustrated by Tommy Castillo. Featuring a cute ass-kicking heroine, her boyfriend elephant?

This manga sees high school zombie girl Tomie as quite the force of nature in disturbing tales by master horror artist Junji Ito. She can make men fall in love with her, possess people with her hair...and she always comes back for more.

Zombies in space! A malfunction to cryogenic sleep pods aboard a NASA ship transforms most of the crew into zombies.

Black Sun, Silver Moon
This manga series is about a boy who begins to help the local priest to pay off some of his father's debts. Included in his tasks is cooking, cleaning...and helping to destroy the zombies that rise from their graves!

Zombies vs. Robots
Ashley Wood and Chris Ryall bring us the story of robots and zombies fighting over the last surviving human baby.

Daybreak follows a few human survivors during a zombie plague as they scavenge for food and try to survive. The zombies are never seen in this art comic by Brian Ralph. Review here.

Tales of the Zombie
A Marvel horror title in the 70's featuring super-strong zombie Simon Garth, with villians like Brother Voodoo. This title resurrected Garth from a story from 1950, pre-Comics Code. Simon Garth went on to appear in a few other Marvel Universe titles as well, including Spider-Man and Daredevil.

This manga follows a girl with Shinigami eyes, who is able to see a ring (invisible to other people) around a person's neck when they are marked for death. The rings grows darker as death closes in on them until it's black and they die. She soon notices two boys in her class with black rings around their necks who are amazingly enough, alive. It turns out that they made a deal with the "Zombie-Loan" office to hunt down zombies for them in return for their lives.
Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) pens the story of a nuclear incident that sees the victims die...and rise again as zombies. Featuring a blackjack dealer and a topless dancer.

Zombie King
Frank Cho does zombies in this Image Comics tale of a pharmaceutical company's breakthrough drug that can mend bones and reanimate dead cells.

Zombies Calling
Faith Erin Hicks' zombie tale is about a girl who's plain out-of-luck. But when zombies attack, she seems to be the only one who knows how to survive - by following the rules of zombie movies, of course!
Reiko the Zombie Shop
A manga that follows a necromancer-for-hire who raises the dead so people can say goodbye to their loved ones.
Raise the Dead
A mini-series from Leah Moore and John Reppion with some nice art in a character-focused zombie apocalypse book.
High School of the Dead
A group of high school students and the school nurse try to survive a zombie plague in this manga series. Great title.
Zombie Hunter
A violent manga about an ex-race car driver who hunts down and kills zombies.
Zombie World
A reanimated priest from an ancient cult unleashes a zombie plague unto the world to sacrifice Earth to his dark gods.
Last Blood
A group of vampires protect the last surviving humans of a zombie plague! Great premise.

In Stores 10/29

Here are the books with most potential shipping to comic shops tomorrow!
Pick of the Week
Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman In Japan SC - I just picked up my copy of this at work and it looks pretty damn awesome! There's a little half-slipcase that wraps around the bottom of the book to hide Robin with a badass gun in his hand. But anyways, Chip Kidd and friends pulled together this book of manga and merchandise of Batman up to some seriously weird stuff in his Japanese incarnation.
Other Noteworthy Releases
Acme Novelty Library #19 HC
American Presidents SC - This is a flipbook of both presidential candidates' biographies. Also available are separate comics featuring Obama and McCain.
Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #1 (of 2)
Battlefields: The Night Witches #1 (of 3)
Berrie Wrightson's Frankenstein HC

Empowered (Volume 4) TP
Essential Marvel Horror (Volume 2) TP
Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns #1
Ghost Omnibus (Volume 1) TP
Green Lantern: In Brightest Day TP
Hellblazer: Family Man TP
Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch One-Shot
Incredible Hercules: Secret Invasion Premiere HC
Joker HC
Justice Society of America: The Next Age TP
Kill Your Boyfriend TP (New Printing)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier TP
The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics TP
Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Journey Into Mystery (Volume 1) HC
Ojingogo GN
Or Else #5
Speak of the Devil HC
Spider-Man: A New Goblin TP
Spider-Man: With Great Power Premiere HC
Ultimate Fantastic Four (Volume 11): Salem's Seven TP
Travel SC
Will Eisner's The Spirit Pop-Up GN

Monday, October 27, 2008

Manga Monday: Black Jack

Black Jack (Volume 1) TP
Osamu Tezuka
Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack follows the adventures of an extremely skilled (though unlicensed) surgeon, who will take pretty much any case on for the right price. Each chapter of the book is basically a short story unto itself, either following Black Jack himself, sometimes uncovering little pieces of his past, or following a patient, with Black Jack swooping in like a force of nature. As is the usual with Tezuka, this is beautifully illustrated and extremely dramatic. I really enjoy reading the stories with the especially outrageous procedures that Black Jack undertakes, like a brain transplant or putting together the body parts of an unformed baby to create a live one. It can get pretty weird, to put it mildly. But that's really the fun with this book. Things are intense and really captivating to the end, with Black Jack performing miracles left and right with hardly a hitch. I'm not sure how Tezuka sustained this format for seventeen volumes in Japan, but I was thoroughly entertained by this first book. From my experience, it seems Tezuka really can't do wrong. And please note that this is a review of the paperback version of this manga. If you'd like some extra material, check out the deluxe hardcover edition.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Phoenix Requiem (Volume 1)

Sarah Ellerton
Every once in awhile I check in on and I recently saw that the webcomic The Phoenix Requiem was at the top of the list. The art caught my eye immediately - it was quite beautiful. And somewhat familiar, but I couldn't quite place it at first. This fantasy title is written by Sarah Ellerton, creator of Inverloch, another webcomic that had a few volumes published in paperback a few years back. There's even a reference to a character from that series in her newest title, which is really quite good.
Sarah Ellerton is about a volume and a half into the story of The Phoenix Requiem (eight chapters), and once I began reading, it was pretty hard to stop, especially as things came to a head at the end of the first volume. But it's not finished obviously, and I thought that a volume in would be a good place to stop for now. The story follows a young woman, Anya, who's training to be a nurse in a small Victorian-esque village where many people believe in magic. Anya doesn't. But while the doctor is out of town and the village is left solely in her care, a stranger falls unconscious at the outskirts of town in the snow, and Anya nurses him back to health at the same time as a horrible sickness claims the life of a villager, eating away his flesh extremely quickly. The stranger, Jonas, soon awakens and an attraction blossoms between him and Anya, though Anya is much too dedicated to her profession to become as attached as she'd like. As the story progresses, more people die from the mysterious disease, and some people in town are seeing strange things out of the corner of their eyes.
While I really did like the art in Inverloch, Ellerton's craft has really improved with The Phoenix Requiem. It's very crisp and clear, and still has that fluid cinematic style that I really enjoyed in her previous series. The characters are really enjoyable as well. They're more lively, each with their own motivations and secrets. Not much in the form of blatant fantasy appears in the first volume of this book aside from the mysterious disease and phantom images, but the mysteries are compelling and one can feel the story building toward something spectacular, at the same time as we watch the blossoming attraction between Jonas and Anya unfold. This is a fun Victorian fantasy/romance and I recommend it to anyone looking for a fun genre comic. Read it for free here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thor: The Truth of History #1

Alan Davis
Thor: The Truth of History is a one-shot written and illustrated by Alan Davis. I'm a big fan of Alan Davis, who is actually the first artist whose style I was able to recognize, growing up on Excalibur comics. This issue reminded me of Excalibur in a away, actually. Kind of Cross-Time Caper-ish with Thor and a few fellow gods traveling to Midguard to find a missing friend. On Midguard (Earth), they encounter the people of Ancient Egypt who view them as demons and beg to be left alone, while Thor and his fellow gods imagine the people are humbled and fearful, and view them as the gods that they are. It's wacky with that offbeat style that similarly made Excalibur stand out from the other dozen X-titles of the time. Overall, this is a very straight-forward story that's hardly memorable. The gods fight some mutants or something that are posing as Egyptian gods. Nothing very inspired.
I've never been a big fan of Thor. My only encounters of the character have been through appearances in various Avengers titles in the 90's and his crossover appearances following his recent resurrection. His "thee's" and "thou's" always came off as a little silly to me, so I never got into his solo titles, even though I hear that Jack Kirby's Thor is fantastic. I think that if I'm going to read any more works involving the character, it'll be in that direction, rather than picking up random forgettable stories such as this one.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

25 Best Horror Movies

I grew up on horror movies, from cheesy Full Moon films like Puppet Master to slasher franchises like Friday the 13th to random direct-to-video creature features like Pumpkinhead. A lot of it is junk, but there’s a lot of crap in every medium and every genre. Horror just gets a bad wrap, hindered even more by the fact that professional critics usually seem unable to recognize good filmmaking when it comes to horror. I’m always looking for a good horror film, and I usually get pretty excited when one comes out with a little buzz around it - I just have a special place in my heart for them, and I pride myself on the fact that I’m widely versed in them. I’m currently in the midst of my annual horror movie marathon, where I watch nothing but horror films during the entire month of October, so it’s certainly an appropriate time to list my favorites of all time, at least for now…

1. The Blair Witch Project (1999) - All three films at the top of my list are movies where I had to have the light on to fall asleep that night. This was the first such film that I ever encountered like that. Before it went to mainstream theaters, I saw this at the Landmark in Minneapolis with a full house. Everyone was utterly silent throughout the movie from beginning to end, which was amazing in itself, and it completely blew me away. The faux history surrounding The Blair Witch, the film that launched the whole “Shaky hand-held camera” fad, and the fact that we never really “see” anything. The scariest things are truly left to our imagination, and the final scene of The Blair Witch Project is utterly chilling.

2. The Ring (2002) - The American remake of Ringu, starring Naomi Watts, features an old videotape that’s creepy as hell. Once someone views the video, they’re doomed to die. The ending of the movie may have gone one step too far, but the mystery and wonder surrounding the videotape is haunting. This movie may have spawned a whole slew of Japanese horror remakes like The Grudge and Pulse, but let’s not fault this film for that.

3. The Exorcist (1973) - The classic story of a young girl possessed by a demon who may be the devil himself, and the priest who tries to exorcise it. This film is full of horrifying images and haunted me with the idea of possession for weeks.

4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - A brutal, bloody look at a family of killers who torture a group of teenagers, this is based in reality and makes for quite the blood-curdling film. A bold, unflinching vision in horror that’s influences can be seen far and wide.

5. The Shining (1980) - A slow-building atmospheric story of horror that takes place in a secluded mansion, based on the novel by Stephen King. There’s plenty of horrific stuff happening in this film that doesn’t so much feel the need to explain as it does scare.

6. The Descent (2006) - Easily the best horror film of the new century, this film follows a group of women who go cave-diving following a tragedy, and the horrors they encounter there. There are plenty of homages to other horror films in the movie, from Carrie to Alien. While this film takes awhile to get to the real terrifying material, it’s still utterly compelling as a movie following spelunkers.

7. I Walked With a Zombie (1943) - It’s been described as Jane Eyre meets zombies, and that’s kind of accurate. But the atmosphere and chilling voodoo elements make this classic a force to be reckoned with.

8. Black Sunday (La Maschera del demonio) (1960) - This beautiful Gothic-entrenched film follows the accidental return of a witch from beyond the grave and the horror she causes to a local family. The opening scene is classic.

9. Night of the Living Dead (1968) - This thread-bare budget horror film set the tone for all zombie movies that came afterward, and launched George Romero’s career of sequels and social commentary horror.

10. Dawn of the Dead (2004) - Better than Romero’s original, Snyder’s remake boasts one of the best opening scenes for a movie period, with plenty of creepy scenes of fast-moving zombies thereafter.

11. Hellraiser (1987) - Clive Barker’s vision of demons and blood offerings makes for quite the horror experience, introducing Pinhead as a horror icon. There are a lot of cool, crazy ideas in this movie, and the demons look really damn freaky once they come into play.

12. Funny Games (1998) - While I liked the recent American remake of Funny Games starring Naomi Watts (by the director of the original film, Michael Haneke), I think I prefer the original just because it was my first time experiencing that brutality full of long shots and bare emotion. The film follows a family that’s terrorized by a pair of intruders.

13. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) - Dreams have never been so scary as in Wes Craven’s film, which brought us our first look at the wise-cracking knife-wielding maniac Freddy Krueger.
14. Jaws (1975) - This movie made people fear deep water, and I think I’m still a little afraid of the ocean to this day. Steven Spielberg really hit one out of the park with this one - the fin at the top of the water, the music…it all made for a classic that won’t soon be forgotten.

15. An American Werewolf In London (1981) - I actually just saw this recently, and was pretty much blown away. I’d been disappointed by other werewolf films - The Howling, Wolf, Ginger Snaps, Dog Soldiers, The Brotherhood of the Wolf… Werewolves usually just aren’t done very effectively. This one was. Great creature effects, great environments for the monster.

16. Inferno (1978) - I’m probably in the minority here, but I prefer the second film in Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy over the much-hailed Suspiria. There’s something about that creepy building and that beautiful underwater scene at the beginning… There is that unfortunate song at the end, but you have to go into Argento expecting some weird shit.

17. Halloween (1978) - John Carpenter’s original Halloween is a classic. I can’t say much for the other movies in the franchise (Halloween 3 - big misstep), but Michael Myers is a scary-ass bastard. I also liked Rob Zombie’s remake, but I think I still prefer the original.

18. 28 Weeks Later (2007) - I love the opening scene of this zombie movie. I liked 28 Days Later okay, but that scene, its lingering effects, and many of the ideas throughout this movie are pretty brilliant.

19. Scream (1996) - I saw this movie in the theater three times. And watched it on video many more times after. This is just a great slasher film that does everything in a knowing way. Smart and sassy, Wes Craven hit another one on the bullseye with this one. The sequels are really damn good too.

20. Freddy vs. Jason (2003) - I was highly anticipating this movie before it came out, and with those high expectations, I was still pretty damn impressed. I’ve always been a big Jason fan, so it was fun to see the big guy up against the sharp-tongued dream master. It couldn’t have been more satisfying.

21. The Orphanage (2007) - There could be a few more good ghost stories on this list... This film about a missing boy is pretty creepy. Great cinematography and some really stupendous, eerie scenes make this quite the crowning achievement.

22. Alien (1979) - Ridley Scott’s science fiction horror film is utterly chilling. Monsters in space don’t work as well as they could for the most part, but this was done right. Fantastic monster designs and a great strong female lead in Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver.

23. Nosferato, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) - I recently watched Vampyre, and couldn’t help comparing that silent horror film to this one, to its detriment. Nosferatu has the creepy factor down pat - great use of shadows and movement to make for a chilling story.

24. The Wolf Man (1941) - The Wolf Man is the best of the classic Universal monster movies, followed closely by The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Nice effects for its day with a great mythology built up for the terrorizing monster.

25. (TIE) Poltergeist (1982) - A family is haunted by a poltergeist in their new home that was conveniently built over a cemetery. Some pretty freaky horror moments in this film that really terrified me when I was too young to be watching this type of thing.

25. (TIE) The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - An FBI trainee (Jodie Foster) tries to locate a serial killer by holding interviews with the notorious Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) in this acclaimed, intense thriller.

31 Honorable Mentions (In Alphabetical Order)

Audition (2001)
Baron Blood (1972)
Black Sabbath (1963)
Candyman (1992)
Carrie (1976)
Cloverfield (2008)
The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
Eraserhead (1976)
The Evil Dead (1979)
Friday the 13th (1980)
Gremlins (1984)
Hostel (2006)
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
The Last House on the Left (1972)
Night of the Demons (1989)
The Ninth Gate (1999)
Onibaba (1964)
Pet Sematary (1989)
Psycho (1960)
Pumpkinhead (1988)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1987)
Signs (2002)
The Strangers (2008)
Suspiria (1977)
Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)
The Tenant (1976)
The Unnamable (1988)
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Wolf Creek (2005)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In Stores 10/22

Here are the books shipping to comic shops tomorrow with the most potential for awesomeness...
Pick of the Week
Elektra by Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz Omnibus HC - Elektra, as done by these two creators, is awesome. This doesn't collect the whole Elektra Saga from Daredevil, but all of the stuff that comes afterward, including Elektra Lives Again, the spectacular Elektra: Assassin, and a few other single issues. This is really some great material, presented in a nice, deserving oversized format.
Other Noteworthy Releases
Catwoman: Crime Pays TP
Classical Medley (Volume 1)
Cyblade #1
Drawn & Quarterly Showcase (Volume 5) TP
Final Crisis #4 (of 7)
Final Crisis: Submit #1
French Milk GN
Heavy Liquid HC
Hulk: Heart of the Atom Premiere HC
Legion of Superheroes: Enemy Rising HC
Naoki Urasawa's Monster (Volume 17)
Secret Invasion #7 (of 8)
Sky Doll Premiere HC
Solanin GN - Read my review here.
The Spirit: Femme Fatales TP
Steve Niles Omnibus TP
Superman: New Krypton Special #1
Thor: Truth of History #1 - Alan Davis does Thor in Egypt.
Tomb of Dracula Omnibus HC (Volume 1)
Ultimate X-Men (Volume 19): Absolute Power
Unknown Soldier #1
Weapon Omega TP
Wolverine: Manifest Destiny #1 (of 4)
X-Force (Volume 1): Angels Demons Premiere HC
X-Men: Longshot Premiere HC
Y - the Last Man Deluxe Edition HC (Volume 1)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Manga Monday: Solanin!

Inio Asano
Solanin was originally published in Japan in two volumes, but Viz has the entire story in one mammoth 430+ page book under its excellent Viz Signature banner. The story follows a group of twenty-somethings as they struggle with the transition into adulthood, trying their best not to compromise their integrity. For the most part, they have boring (but well-paying) jobs that they hate, while music remains a passion in their lives that forces them to ultimately make decisions that perhaps aren't as responsible as they could be. This book is pretty amazing. Inio Asano's art is fantastic, and the characters really drive the plot, taking the story to some unexpected places. I love a character-driven book and this one is just fascinating. Meiko and her friends are very introspective and their thoughts and actions are quite illuminating, even in very subtle moments. And the pacing made this a quick read, despite its page count, since it was hard to put down and I had a lot of fun with it. I could easily spend plenty of more time with these characters, but this is all we get, unfortunately. I just hope to see more works from this creator translated into English in the very near future.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cul de Sac

Richard Thompson
Cul de Sac is a comic strip currently running in newspapers that's gathered quite a bit of acclaim, one of its most ravenous fans being Calvin and Hobbes' Bill Watterson, who does the foreword to its first volume. Watterson is pretty reclusive, so it's a wonder that he did this foreword. Even more stunning is that he was the one who came up with the idea of doing the foreword in the first place, giving it quite the seal of approval. This volume begins with fifty beautiful watercolor strips that Thompson produced during its run in Washington Post Magazine. Immediately, he establishes himself as a great artist, although the strips themselves aren't quite as charming and endearing as it becomes later on. But once it gets rolling, it really hits its stride. The strip follows a family that lives in a suburb, focusing mostly on Petey and his young sister Alice, spending quite a bit of time in her preschool classroom with other children who have funny, sometimes very insightful conversations way beyond their age range, but manage to be as gullible and silly as most children their age. I wouldn't exactly hold this up alongside some of the great comic strips of the past like Peanuts and Watterson's own Calvin and Hobbes, but this is just the beginning of the strip and it's really high and above the other offerings one would find when glancing over the pretty unfunny comics in any given paper across the country. I find it to be quite a breath of fresh air and really look forward to reading more of these fun strips.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Good Neighbors (Book One): Kin

Holly Black & Ted Naifeh
The Good Neighbors is a story of the fairy world written by best-selling author of The Spiderwick Chronicles, Holly Black, and illustrated by the creator of Courtney Crumrin and Polly & the Pirates, Ted Naifeh. The story follows Rue, a feisty girl whose mother has recently disappeared, and whose professor father is being questioned for the murder of one of his students. Rue has recently started to see things: fairies and creatures from out of storybooks that other people aren't able to see, and she's slowly realizing that it has something to do with her mother's disappearance.
I'm a big fan of Ted Naifeh, and I have to say that his art has never looked better than it does here. While I miss the sarcastic, brooding nature of his creation Courtney Crumrin, Rue is a heroine worthy of his attentions. This is the type of dark fairy tale he does best, with his beautifully haunting, shadowy world of Gothic sensibilities. It's very atmospheric and paced perfectly. And while Naifeh's trademark claw hands are nowhere to be seen on the humans of this story, they are prevalent among the fairy folk. I really enjoy that the kids are dressed in really cute, hip clothes, and the mythological creatures are garbed either traditionally or fashionably, depending on their nature. Whether the scene is chilling (like the final shot) or emotional (Rue crying over a window ledge beside roses), Naifeh renders the images with beautiful backdrops in thoughtful illustrations.
A lot of research has been done for the sake of this story, and creatures of myth are blended seamlessly into a modern environment, something that Holly Black has had some prior experience with in The Spiderwick Chronicles. There are quite a few similarities between The Good Neighbors and Jamie McKelvie's recent comic, Suburban Glamour, but I feel that the latter worked the human side of the story wonderfully, but made for a jarring transition into the fairy world, while Black begins her story with fairies almost immediately and more expertly incorporates the magical elements into her world. It's much more organic, whereas McKelvie's seems a little forced. I love how the legends of the fairy folk are introduced in The Good Neighbors and how we get to see some of those stories paid off as they play out, with plenty of little asides that reward close readings. This is a great new fantasy title that has the makings of a modern classic.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In Stores 10/15

Here are the books shipping to comic shops tomorrow with the most potential...

Pick of the Week

Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist As a Young %@&*! - A collection of early works from an important figure in comics, creator of Maus and In the Shadow On No Towers, Art Spiegelman! These early strips come in an oversized book: 14 x 10, and it's probably material that should be in every serious collector's library.

Other Noteworthy Releases

Amazing Spider-Man #573 - With
.....a Stephen Colbert variant cover.
Annihilation: Conquest (Book 1)
.....TP - Now in paperback
Batman Chronicles (Volume 6) TP
Benny and Penny In Just Pretend SC - Also now in paperback
The Comics Journal #293
Crossing Midnight (Volume 3): Sword In the Soul TP
Dear Dracula HC
Doktor Sleepless (Volume 1): Engines and Desires TP
Dramacon Ultimate Edition HC
Dreamland Chronicles (Book 1) TP
Grant Morrison: Early Years SC
Grant Morrison's Doctor Who #1
Jamilti and Other Stories - Short works by Rutu Modan of Exit Wounds.
Jonah Hex: Luck Runs Out TP
Marvel Masterworks: X-Men (Volume 7) HC
Scalped (Volume 3): Dead Mothers TP
Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm TP
Speed Racer (Volume 6) TP
Superman & Batman vs. Vampires & Werewolves #1 (of 6)
Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen Special #1
Ursa Minors (Volume 1): Wait For the Trade Edition TP
War Is Hell: First Flight of the Phantom Eagle Premiere HC
Will Eisner's The Spirit Archives (Volume 25) HC
X-Men: Worlds Apart #1 (of 4)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Manga Monday: Case Closed!

Case Closed (Volume 1)
Gosho Aoyama
This is a really fun book. Case Closed follows high schooler Jimmy Kudo, whose superior detective skills make him quite an asset to local law enforcement, and even a celebrity of sorts. Unfortunately for him, his nosy sleuthing gets him into trouble and he's attacked and forced to ingest a mysterious poison. The liquid hasn't been tested on humans before, so it doesn't kill just reverses his age, so he's now a first-grader! Caution that the attackers may still be watching for him forces Jimmy to keep his transformation a secret from everyone around him save for a crazy inventor who lives next door and provides Jimmy with various inventions to help him with his crime-fighting. But the love of his life, Rachel, frets over high-schooler Jimmy's whereabouts, while taking first-grader Jimmy in to her home, where he is forced to adopt another identity (Conan, after the creator of the world's greatest detective Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle). While he can't get law enforcement or Rachel's private investigator father to listen to him now that's a child, Jimmy still plays detective and has to rely on some creative methods to get the adults around him to come to the same conclusions he's already come to. This book is full of action and suspense, and all sorts of complicated murders that need diagrams to solve and whatnot. But it's thoroughly entertaining. Aoyama's cartoony art fits the book perfectly, and he balances the wackiness of some characters with the silly scenarios and serious tender moments masterfully. I understand that this popular series has over 61 volumes in Japan and is still going - quite an undertaking for any potential readers, but based on this debut volume, it could certainly be worth all of the time and money one would have to invest.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Where Demented Wented

The Art and Comics of Rory Hayes
Edited by Dan Nadel & Glenn Bray
I first experienced a Rory Hayes work in a small gallery in Chicago during Ivan Brunetti's curator's talk at his "Cartoonist's Eye" exhibit in 2005. I say "experienced" because it was a powerful, one-of-a-kind image to behold that left a lasting impression. I'd never been so taken by an image as I was then, and I became a fan of Rory Hayes instantly, having never read a comic from the underground cartoonist. Where Demented Wented: The Art and Comics of Rory Hayes is the first career retrospective of a deserving artist whose career was cut much too short. I am pleased that Nadel and Bray took enough interest in Hayes' work to produce this book, and in a great package, with an introduction that puts Hayes' artwork in perspective, a memoir by his brother, and an interview with Hayes himself.
I vividly remember those images of teddy bears with knives still, they were so striking originally, and many of the comics through Hayes career feature teddy bears as the main characters in disturbing works. Influenced by EC Comics, many of the comics from Hayes' early career are cheesy horror stories with silly endings that he made up as he went along. But they're really fun, especially "The Creatures In the Tunnels," which was actually pretty creepy and effective. Later, Hayes takes up illustrating sex comics with his usual twisted take, castration and other violent behavior running rampant through the scenes in completely unfiltered drawings from the mind of the artist. And not long after this, he shifts focus again as he translates his experiences with drugs to his comics in some rambling hallucinatory narratives. Also sprinkled throughout this collection are various paintings and comic covers that are really quite fabulous. But if I'm honest with myself, actually reading Hayes' comics doesn't quite recapture what I felt beholding his work for the first time on the wall of an exhibit. I don't know why this is, but I just feel like that's the best way to showcase his work. That being said, I am glad that this book exists, because ultimately, Rory Hayes created comics and this is how they were meant to be experienced. I just wish I was as struck by reading through this great presentation of his work, as I was when I initially caught a glimpse of his wild imaginings.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Marvel Zombies 3 #1 (of 4)

Fred Van Lente & Kev Walker

Marvel Zombies 3 begins with a bang as the Florida-based superhero initiative group The Command is all but slaughtered by a new wave of the undead, led by Zombie Deadpool. Fred Van Lente takes over writing chores with Kev Walker on art, filling the big shoes of Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips. But this time around, the superhuman zombies are invading the Marvel Universe as we know it, through some sort of portal in Man-Thing's swampland. There's gore, plenty of action and jokes, and we're introduced to A.R.M.O.R., an entity like S.H.I.E.L.D. and S.W.O.R.D., that stands for Alternate Reality Monitoring and Operational Response Agency. A.R.M.O.R. decides the best way to stop the contagion is by sending non-humans with no risk of infection like Machine Man to the zombie-infested dimension. So far, the title's on par with the previous Marvel Zombie mini-series. It's cute and playful, featuring fun characters from the Marvel U, like Morbius the Living Vampire, and obscure ones like Jocasta. And I love those movie poster parody covers (although it took me awhile to place the cover of the second issue, which parodies 28 Days Later), a nice change from the tired classic comic book cover parodies. A great start for the new series.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

In Stores 10/8

These are the books with most potential shipping to comic shops on Wednesday. Lots of stuff this week!
Pick of the Week
Black Jack (Volume 1) TP - Vertical brings us more Osamu Tezuka in the form of Black Jack, following the medical adventures of the doctor of the same name. A hardcover version of the first volume shipped exclusively to comic shops a few weeks back (with some supplemental material) - this is the softcover version you'll be able to find in bookstores soon as well as on the shelves of your local comic shop tomorrow.
Other Noteworthy Releases
After 9/11: America's War On
.....Terror HC/SC
Amazing Spider-Girl #25
Annihilation Classic HC
Anthology of Graphic Fiction (Volume 2) HC
Astral Project (Volume 1)
Batman and the Outsiders (Volume 1): The Chrysalis TP
Birds of Prey: Metropolis or Dust TP
Black Summer HC
Blank Slate (Volume 1) - Review here.
Crossed #1 (of 9)
Ender's Game: Battle School #1 (of 5)
Ferryman #1 (of 5) - From Manhunter's Marc Andreyko
Gears of War #1
Gus & His Gang SC
Hellboy (Volume 2): Chained Coffin & Others Library Edition HC
Hikaru No Go (Volume 13)
Immortal Iron Fist (Volume 3): Book of Iron Fist Premiere HC
Iron Man: The Dragon Seed Saga TP
The Legend of Zelda (Volume 1)
Lost Colony (Book 3): Lost Rights SC
Marvel Zombies 3 #1 (of 4)
Ms. Marvel (Volume 5): Secret Invasion Premiere HC
One Piece (Volume 19)
Owly (Volume 5): Tiny Tales
Presidential Material: Barack Obama
Presidential Material: Flipbook
Presidential Material: John McCain
Punisher Max (Volume 10): Valley Forge TP
Ral Ω Grad (Volume 2)
Schulz and Peanuts SC
Serenity: Better Days TP
Showcase Presents Blackhawk (Volume 1) TP
Speed Racer: The Next Generation (Volume 1)
Sulk (Volume 1): Bighead & Friends
We Lost the War But Not the Battle
X-Men: Original Sin #1
Young Avengers Presents TP

Monday, October 06, 2008

Manga Monday: Blank Slate

Blank Slate (Volume 1)
Aya Kanno
Zen is a wanted man. A notorious criminal without a conscience who is amused with watching the slow corruption of innocents. He is also a man with no memory of his past, save for the occasional flash of echoing words. This is actually a Shojo Beat title, which is interesting, since there's no hint of romance and only a few female characters who appear during one chapter of this first book. But despite the action and suspense of Blank Slate, it's about Zen's journey of self-discovery, and how he relates to other people through a state of detachment. The book begins with the introduction of murdering thief Zen, as a bounty hunter hesitates in killing him, opting to assist his crimes in order to earn Zen's trust. Following this, we see a kidnapping gone awry, with Zen stepping in to use a general's daughter as ransom, in a story that shows a softer side of the murderer that makes one wonder how bad Zen really is. But it's not until the last half of the book, when Zen is joined by an underground doctor, that we get to see memories begin to resurface. We also see Zen lose complete control of himself to the creature within, losing another chunk of memory, and strengthening the mystery behind who Zen is and what made him the way he is. This is a really fast-paced book with great action scenes and plenty of twists and turns. It's intriguing, with some neat characters drifting in and out of the life of a drifting, mysterious man who's hard to completely write off, despite his dark nature.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Ms. Marvel #31

Brian Reed & Marcos Marz
Whenever Brian Reed’s Ms. Marvel isn’t in the midst of a company-wide crossover event, I’m consistently impressed with the title. This latest issue is a standalone that explores Carol Danvers as a person, forgoing anything resembling a fight. And it was still extremely riveting. I like the human side of the character and this issue reinforces that as readers get to see her struggle with her humanity, and more specifically, how she relates to other people. In this issue “Family,” Carol returns to see her parents and brother, as she’s received word that her father has a short time to live. And despite being around these people she’s known her whole life, she can’t bring forth any emotional attachment to them. She chalks it up to when Rogue stole her memories and powers early in her career, but as she relives the bad experiences she’s had with her father, and the resentment she felt toward a family that valued her dead older brother over herself, it becomes apparent that it’s much more than that. I’m not really familiar with Marcos Marz, but I enjoyed his art on the book, and I am ever so thankful that Greg Horn is no longer pasting those horrid paintings on the covers of this book. Thank you, new cover artist Frank Martin Jr. I’m genuinely interested to see where Brian Reed goes next with this book, and I hope he has intentions of exploring more of who Carol Danvers is.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I usually don't do MEMEs....

...but this was just so tempting since I pride myself on having a good collection of comics and graphic novels (mostly graphic novels). These are things every serious comic collection should have. This is the source. It's been morphed in various places since. I've changed it up a bit myself.

Plain = Things I don't have
Bold = Things I do have
Italics = Is this really essential?

1. Something From The ACME Novelty Library
2. A Complete Run Of Arcade
3. Any Number of Mini-Comics
4. At Least One Pogo Book From The 1950s
5. A Barnaby Collection
6. Binky Brown and the Holy Virgin Mary
7. As Many Issues of RAW as You Can Place Your Hands On
8. A Little Stack of Archie Comics
9. A Suite of Modern Literary Graphic Novels
10. Several Tintin Albums
11. A Smattering Of Treasury Editions Or Similarly Oversized Books
12. Several Significant Runs of Alternative Comic Book Series
13. A Few Early Comic Strip Collections To Your Taste
14. Several "Indy Comics" From Their Heyday
15. At Least One Comic Book From When You First Started Reading Comic Books
16. At Least One Comic That Failed to Finish The Way It Planned To
17. Some Osamu Tezuka
18. The Entire Run Of At Least One Manga Series
19. One Or Two 1970s Doonesbury Collections
20. At Least One Saul Steinberg Hardcover
21. One Run of A Comic Strip That You Yourself Have Clipped
22. A Selection of Comics That Interest You That You Can't Explain To Anyone Else
23. At Least One Woodcut Novel
24. As Much Peanuts As You Can Stand
25. Maus
26. A Significant Sample of R. Crumb's Sketchbooks
27. The original edition of Sick, Sick, Sick.
28. The Smithsonian Collection Of Newspaper Comics
29. Several copies of MAD
30. A stack of Jack Kirby 1970s Comic Books
31. More than a few Stan Lee/Jack Kirby 1960s Marvel Comic Books
32. A You're-Too-High-To-Tell Amount of Underground Comix
33. Some Calvin and Hobbes
34. Some Love and Rockets
35. The Marvel Benefit Issue Of Coober Skeber
36. A Few Comics Not In Your Native Tongue
37. A Nice Stack of Jack Chick Comics
38. A Stack of Comics You Can Hand To Anybody's Kid
39. At Least A Few Alan Moore Comics
40. A Comic You Made Yourself
41. A Few Comics About Comics
42. A Run Of Yummy Fur
43. Some Frank Miller Comics
44. Several Lee/Ditko/Romita Amazing Spider-Man Comic Books
45. A Few Great Comics Short Stories
46. A Tijuana Bible
47. Some Weirdo
48. An Array Of Comics In Various Non-Superhero Genres
49. An Editorial Cartoonist's Collection or Two
50. A Few Collections From New Yorker Cartoonists

Movies-and-More: October 2008

Here's the run-down of October release dates for films, music, DVDs and books, as well as my box office predictions and newly-released movie trailers.

Predictions: 1. Eagle Eye ($16 million), 2. Blindness ($15 m), 3. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist ($13 m), 4. Beverly Hills Chihuahua ($9 m), 5. How To Lose Friends and Alienate People ($8 m)

Predictions: 1. City of Ember ($26 m), 2. Body of Lies ($17 m), 3. Quarantine ($13 m), 4. Eagle Eye ($8 m), 5. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist ($7.5 m)

Predictions: 1. Max Payne ($32 m), 2. City of Ember ($16 m), 3. Sex Drive ($12 m), 4. Body of Lies ($10 m), 5. Quarantine ($7 m)

Predictions: 1. High School Musical 3: Senior Year ($68 m), 2. Saw V ($30 m), 3. Max Payne ($17 m), 4. Pride & Glory ($12 m), 5. City of Ember ($9 m)
Predictions: 1. The Haunting of Molly Hartley ($28 m), 2. Changeling ($26 m), 3. High School Musical 3: Senior Year ($24 m), 4. Saw V ($17 m), 5. Zack and Miri Make a Porno ($13 m)
The Flyboys
Forever Strong
Humboldt County
Repo: The Genetic Opera
A Secret
The Soloist
The Spirit (Trailer #2)
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes To Jail
Walking On Dead Fish

Your Other Entertainment Needs:

October 7th
On DVD: 30 Rock: Season Two, The Happening, How I Met Your Mother: Season Three, The Simpsons: Season Eleven, Sleeping Beauty, The Visitor, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

On CD: Aqualung, Big & Rich, Mannheim Steamroller, Tim McGraw, Sarah McLachlan, Oasis, The Pretenders, Brian Setzer, Michelle Williams, Rachel Yamagata, Elliot Yamin

In Bookstores:
John LeCarre’s A Most Wanted Man
Anne Rice’s Called Out of Darkness
Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates

October 14th
On DVD: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Chaplin, CSI: Season Eight, The Edge of Heaven, Icons of Horror 3: Hammer Films, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Mongol, Nash Bridges: Season One, The Partidge Family: Season Three, The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything, War Inc.

On CD: Nikka Costa, Ray LaMontagne, Los Lonely Boys, Ludacris, Yo-Yo Ma, Mary Mary, Ingrid Michaelson, Lucinda Williams

In Bookstores:
Michael Connelly’s The Brass Verdict
Julia Glass’s I See You Everywhere
Gregory Maguire’s A Lion Among Men
Katherine Neville’s The Fire

October 21st
On DVD: Ben Ten Alien Force: Season One: Volume One, Criterion Collection: Kenji Mizoguchi’s Fallen, Criterion Collection: Costa-Gavras’s Missing, Dynasty: Season Three: Volume Two, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Family Guy: Volume Six, The Incredible Hulk, The Incredible Hulk: Season Five, The Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six, The Strangers

On CD: AC/DC, Kenny Chesney, High School Musical 3: Senior Year: O.S.T., Hank Williams Jr. III, Lee Ann Womack

In Bookstores:
Eminem’s The Way I Am
Vince Flynn’s Extreme Measures
Jonathon Kellerman’s Bones
Robert B. Parker’s Rough Weather
James Patterson’s Against Medical Advice
Anita Shreve’s Testimony: A Novel
Martha Stewart’s Cooking Class: Cooking From Home
John Updike’s Widows of Eastwick

October 28th
On DVD: The Flinstones: The Complete Series, Freaks and Geeks: Yearbook Edition, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, The L Word: Season Five, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (20th Anniversary Edition), Tinker Bell

On CD: Celtic Woman, The Cure, Celine Dion, Toby Keith, John Legend, Loreena McKennitt, Brian McKnight, Pink, Rascal Flatts, Michael W. Smith, Snow Patrol, Susan Tedeschi

In Bookstores:
Nelson DeMille’s The Gate House
Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa: Back To Basics
Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen’s Influence
Stewart O’Nan’s Songs For the Missing
Patrick Taylor’s Irish Country Christmas