Monday, March 31, 2008

Manga Monday: Town of Evening Calm...

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
Fumiyo Kouno

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is a manga of three short stories, all interconnected, of postwar Hiroshima. Through Kouno's soft pencils, we see the impact that the atomic bomb had on this area of Japan after its initial destruction, as people still became suddenly ill from the poison over a decade later, and it touched the inhabitants' lives for generations. I enjoyed the first short story in this collection the best, Town of Evening Calm, where we see a young woman who is living with survivor's guilt, the phantoms of that day refusing to let her live like a carefree normal young woman. She sees her burden reflected in those around her as she observes "There's something not quite right about everyone in this town." The issue of the bomb is skirted around at first, but it doesn't take long for Kouno to focus blatantly on the subject, a focus that doesn't wane until the end of the two-part Country of Cherry Blossoms, where things kind of come full circle, tying characters and events together by the end of the book. I appreciate the aspects of the postwar bombing that Kouro explores, even when she is being anything but subtle about it. It's all very interesting and horrifying at the same time. But honestly, the characters leave a bit to be desired and I don't feel like I had much of an emotional connection to the book through them. Most of my emotional reactions came from flashbacks that shocked me with a horrible scene of mutilated bodies, or the impression of what was lost through two panels: one of a man sitting on a riverside in a bustling little residential area, then of the same man in the same place void of life decades later. I feel like this could have been a much more powerful work without the blatant narration that was trying to get a reaction out of the reader, instead illustrating it through characters more fully-realized. And then there were scenes of flashbacks at the end of the book, where I grew confused as to who was who, taking me right out of the pages, at moments when I should have been engrossed to get the full measure of the tragedy. I don't want to give the impression that I didn't enjoy this work, because I surely did. It's beautiful and quite moving in some parts. But given the overwhelming praise it has received, I was left a little disappointed. Great ideas, great stories, but it just didn't resonate with me in the end the way I'd hoped, something I can't overlook based solely on the subject matter.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Previews: June '08 Comics

Patrick and I comb through Previews Catalogue for the most exciting comic releases this June!

Archaia Studios Press:

Dave: Awakening (Volume 1) HC - This collection includes the first half of the Awakening mini-series, a slow, creeping story of zombies infiltrating peaceful Park Falls.

Cartoon Books:

Patrick: Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails and Rose - New printings of two graphic novels set in the universe of Jeff Smith’s epic masterpiece, Bone. Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails is a comedy written by Tom Sniegoski with art by Smith, while Rose is a more traditional fantasy story written by Smith with art by Charles Vess. I love Bone, but I haven’t read either of these yet.

Dark Horse:

Patrick: Herbie Archives (Volume 1) - This book collects humor stories by Richard Hughes and cult-favorite cartoonist Ogden Whitney, and is apparently the first of Dark Horse’s efforts “collecting the finest works of 1960s comics publisher ACG.”

Disney Press:

Dave: Wonderland HC - I really enjoyed the first few issues of this series (the only ones that I ever saw), so I’m glad that this is being collected. The book follows Disney’s Wonderland through the eyes of Maryann, the maid whom the White Rabbit mistook Alice for in the beginning of the Lewis Carroll novel. It’s a fun, pretty comic definitely worth checking out.

DC Comics:

Dave: Manhunter #31 - I’m really excited about this one. After an excruciating break, my favorite comic published by DC, Marc Andreyko’s Manhunter, returns! Not only that, but the fantastic Michael Gaydos (Alias) takes on pencils!!
*** Dave’s Pick of the Month***

Madame Xanadu #1 - New Vertigo ongoing magicy title. I don’t really know much about this character, but I liked the preview art by Amy Reeder Hadley.

Shirley - Kaoru Mori, of Emma fame, does what she does best in this new CMX manga of short stories featuring maids. The period examined this time around is Edwardian England.

Patrick: JLA (Volume 1) Deluxe Edition - Grant Morrison’s work on the Justice League comic book was what made me a fan of the writer. While not his best work, I remember a lot of this run as being very entertaining. The first nine issues are collected here, featuring art by Howard Porter and others.

Drawn & Quarterly:

Patrick: What It Is - This new book by the great Lynda Barry, the first in several years, is sure to be one of the major books of 2008. A guide to Barry’s unique philosophy in regards to the creative process, incorporating comics, autobiography, drawing, and collage.
***Patrick’s Pick of the Month***

Fantagraphics:

Patrick: The Troublemakers - Gilbert Hernandez’s previous original graphic novel, Chance in Hell, was my favorite comic of 2007, so you know I’m looking forward to his latest effort in that format.

Gemstone Publishing:

Patrick: EC Archives: Frontline Combat (Volume 1) - The tiny fraction of EC comics I’ve read represents one of the most embarrassing gaps in my comics reading life. One day I’ll get on board, though, and these hardcover collections, this one featuring war comics by Harvey Kurtzman and friends, will show me the way.

The Hero Initiative:

Patrick: What If? The Fantastic Four Tribute to Mike Wieringo - Before his recent passing, artist Mike Wieringo had completed seven pages of an alternate universe take on Marvel’s Fantastic Four. The artwork for that issue, as well as the complete script, was donated by the publisher to The Hero Initiative, an organization set up to aide veteran comics creators in financial need. Several artists, including Arthur Adams, Stuart Immonen, and Alan Davis, have stepped in to finish Wieringo’s story and pay tribute to their late colleague in this 48-page special. Sounds to me like a good opportunity to support a worthy cause and pay tribute to a great artist.

IDW Publishing:

Patrick: Angel: After the Fall HC - I’ll admit that Angel: After the Fall, a comic book continuation of the cancelled television series, Angel, is not as good as I had hoped, but there’s still fun to be had, enough that fans of the show will want to know this is out there. Unfortunately, the solicitation for this hardcover doesn’t say how many issues it collects. The first six or so, I’d guess? Written by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch, with art by Franco Urru.

Image Comics:

Dave: The Sword (Volume 1): Fire TP - It seems like this series just started, but here’s the first collection from The Luna Brothers’ new title The Sword, collecting issues 1-6.

Marvel Comics:

Patrick: Eternals By Jack Kirby (Book 1) - Marvel put out an expensive, hardcover “omnibus” collecting the entirety of this series a while back. Now, they’re offering the material again, in two soft cover volumes, obviously in promotion of the new Eternals ongoing series. I don’t have much interest in the new series, but I’ll definitely be adding this book to my library of Jack Kirby volumes.

Dave: Astonishing X-Men (Volume 4): Unstoppable TP - The final volume collecting Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s excellent run on Astonishing X-Men, collecting issues 19-24 and the yet-to-be-released Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1.

Picturebox:

Patrick: Comics Comics #4 - Along with The Comics Journal and Comic Art, this magazine, edited by Timothy Hodler, Dan Nadel, and Frank Santoro, completes the trinity of essential comics magazines. It’s no surprise that this fourth issue is slated to feature articles on subjects the editors have expressed interest in on the also essential Comics Comics blog, including a cover and interview with British artist Shaky Kane, and an essay on comics coloring by Frank Santoro, plus other treats and treasures.

Cola Madnes - It looks like my favorite publisher has picked up this graphic novel by Gary Panter, which I believe had been released previously by another publisher.

Red 5 Comics:

Dave: Atomic Robo (Volume 1) TP - I never read an issue of Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener’s series, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, so I’m happy to see this collection - it looks like a lot of fun, with some great art.

Top Shelf Productions:

Patrick: Johnny Boo (Volume 1) - The “Cute Manifesto” continues to be made manifest by James Kochalka in this first in a series of all-ages graphic novels.

Other Publishers:

Patrick: Reading Comics and What They Mean - If you missed Douglas Wolk’s very good book of essays and criticism in hardcover, this soft cover edition is your chance to catch up with one of comics’ smartest and most eloquent critics.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Wolverine: First Class #1

Fred Van Lente & Andrea Di Vito
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Wolverine: First Class takes things back to a classic, simple era of the X-Men, before Wolverine mentors Kitty Pryde, and after the teenager has just joined Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. The first issue is told through Kitty's eyes as she is assigned her first mission in the field, and paired with Wolverine. The two are skeptical at first, Wolverine treating her like a child he's babysitting, and Kitty all but disregarding his attempts to keep her out of the action, but the two quickly play to their strengths and learn to work together as they are attacked by an angry mob. Di Vito's pencils are pretty decent throughout the issue, and the story, while simple and straight-forward, has some really nice little moments amid (and after) the action. There are some pretty cheesy moments in there too, like when Wolverine deflates a volleyball that the other X-Men are playing with, with his claws, of course. But if you can ignore the few groan-out-loud scenes, it's pretty solid. It feels more like a Marvel Adventures title than a regular Marvel Universe title, the same feeling I kind of got from X-Men: First Class. It has an all-ages vibe, but it also feels kind of classic as well. It's good clean fun, but I think it's something I'm going to have to experience in small doses.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Music News & Promising Upcoming Releases

There are plenty of artists of note with releases scheduled for 2008, a list of which I’ve provided at the end of this post. But first, a little music news and notes that have captured my interest…

Duffy - Duffy is latest soul singer to burst out of the UK after topping charts, following in the steps of artist Amy Winehouse. Mercy is the big single that’s becoming my new obsession.

Madonna - Madonna partnered with Justin Timberlake on the production of her new album, Hard Candy, due out in April. The first single from Hard Candy is a duet between the two, 4 Minutes.

Mindy McCready - My favorite country artist, who’s been in and out of trouble lately, has been released from jail after five months. With a new record deal, she’s focused on recording not only a new studio album but a reality TV series Mending Mindy.

Cathy Dennis - One of my favorite dance music icons from the 90’s ((Touch Me) All Night Long) and songwriter of some of the best dance hits of the past decade (Britney Spears’ Toxic, Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head), is set to return to recording this year under the band name of Sexcassettes.

Katy Perry - This artist has been getting a lot of good write-ups for her catchy, blatant hooks reminiscent of Lily Allen. Ur so Gay is the tune that captured my interest.

There are plenty of big names scheduled to have CDs coming out this year, making for what looks like an banner year of great music, including (source of release schedules: Top Hits Online):

Aerosmith, Clay Aiken, Ashanti, Beck, Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas, David Bowie, Michelle Branch, Cake, Mariah Carey, Neko Case, JC Chasez, Cher, Coldplay, Death Cab For Cutie, Def Leppard, Dido, Dr. Dre, Missy Elliot, Eminem, Eve, Franz Ferdinand, The Fray, Fugees, Green Day, Guns N’ Roses, Imogen Heap, Lauryn Hill, Jennifer Hudson, Michael Jackson, Jem, Jewel, Scarlett Johansson (Yes, that Scarlett Johansson), Jonas Brothers, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Lil Kim, Lit, LL Cool J, Courtney Love, Aimee Mann, Dave Matthews Band, Paul McCartney, Sarah McLachlan, John Mellencamp, Metallica, George Michael, Kylie Minogue, Moby, Alanis Morissette, Motley Crue, Nas, Nickelback, No Doubt, Oasis, Offspring, Postal Service, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Robyn (a hot artist from the UK), Gavin Rossdale, Ashlee Simpson, Jessica Simpson, Slayer, Sugarland, Usher, U2, Martha Wainwright, Lee Ann Womack.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

In Stores 3/26

Patrick and I highlight the most promising comics shipping to comic shops this Wednesday...
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Patrick's Pick
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The Education of Hopey Glass (Jaime Hernandez) - A lot of great stuff is slated to show up in comic book stores this week (even another Hernandez brother comic!), so be sure to check out the list of books below. In a week where several of the new releases could easily achieve “Pick of the Week” status, I have to listen to my heart, and my heart whispers “Jaime,” so I’ll highlight this collection of material from the second volume of Love and Rockets. I’ve read this stuff in serialized form already, but, as with Jaime’s previous collection, Ghost of Hoppers, I expect to be blown away all over again.
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Dave's Pick
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Wolverine: First Class #1 - The debut issue of a new comic featuring Kitty Pryde!!! This book takes place in the early years of Kitty's tenure at Xavier's school, where she is paired up to be mentored by Wolverine.
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Other Noteworthy Releases
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All-Star Superman #10
Asterix Omnibus (Volumes 1 & 2)
Berlin #15
The Clouds Above GN (Now in softcover)
Daddy's Girl HC (Debbie Drechsler)
Flight Explorer (Volume 1) TP (An all-ages Flight anthology)
Ganges #2
Gargoyles #8
Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus (Vol. 4) HC (Final collection)
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 TP (Softcover edition)
Ms. Marvel #25
Savage Dragon #135
Speak of the Devil #5 (of 6)
The Stardust Kid (Volume 1) TP
The Ten-Cent Plague HC
Ultimate Spider-Man #120

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Serenity: Better Days #1 (of 3)

Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews & Will Conrad
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Joss Whedon, creator of the Firefly television series and subsequent film Serenity, dreams of better days along with the crew who worked with him on the last Serenity mini-series to hit the comic stands, Those Left Behind, co-writer Brett Matthews and penciller Will Conrad. The science fiction story follows the crew of rebellious Browncoats aboard a firefly-class vessel who pillage and plunder to earn their way across the universe on new adventures, gladly getting in the way of the Alliance along the way. A few characters from the crew died during the Whedon-helmed Serenity film, and as the title promises, this book goes back in time to when those characters are still alive and kicking, and the team is all together, happy and ignorant of events to come.
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I really enjoyed the first issue of this mini-series. It's off to a much better start than the semi-boring Serenity: Those Left Behind from a few years back. It's nice to be among this cast of characters again, with their witty banter resounding in my head in exactly the same fashion as it would have on Firefly. And Matthews' pencils of the characters are close enough to be recognizable, but not too stiff or obviously photo-referenced, with a few exceptions, to be a hindrance to their incarnation in comic form. It would have been fun to see these characters in action again even if this had been an awful comic. But bonus for fans: it's off to quite the decent start.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Order: The Next Right Thing

Matt Fraction, Barry Kitson & Khari Evans
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Despite my affection for Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men, I think that The Order is the best superhero comic out there right now (at least when comparing current storyarcs). That being said, it's unfortunate that sales didn't warrant its continuation past issue twelve. But at least we are being treated to some stellar stories until it reaches its finale. The Next Right Thing collects the first five issues of the series.
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The Order is the California-based superhero team in Tony Stark's Fifty-State Initiative. The team consists of actors and pop idols who have been artificially induced with superhuman abilities, abilities that would carry them through a single year of service. And true to Hollywood, the team has its share of scandals, including half of the team's being fired after a violation of contract (with another half consequently joining its roster), and a sex tape surfacing, prompting their P.R. manager to spin it into a different story completely.
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I really like the layout of the issues, how each one begins focusing on one member of the team as they're being interviewed to be a part of The Order, shedding some light on why they were selected for the team and digging a little deeper into what makes them tick. It's a very character-driven series (the sort of story I'm partial to), but boasts plenty of action in the form of Cold War supervillains and zobos (zombie hobos). Everyone has their personal issues and it makes for some really compelling storytelling, the type that immediately makes you a fan of the characters involved.
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In the end, I can't help but feel that this is kind of a mixture of two other superhero books that I really enjoyed: The Luna Brothers' Ultra: Seven Days and Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's X-Statix/X-Force. The book is very conscious of superstar-obsessed society in a way that both of those books took into consideration really creatively. In Ultra: Seven Days, the story touches on scandal in a character-driven book, and probably feels the closest to The Order out of the two, touching on many similar ideas. And X-Statix/X-Force looks closely at the superhero in the role of celebrity: how they fall in and out of favor, have to be conscious of the public eye at all times, their expendability in their roles, etc. It's all pretty interesting stuff when mixing these superhero/celebrity roles together.
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Barry Kitson's pencils are pretty amazing throughout the book, and while I wasn't as impressed with Khari Evans' guest art on issue five, it was still pretty decent. And even though the designs for the characters are really simple overall, I really like them, even in the case of Supernaut (I usually don't like those big bulky robot types, but I think he looks pretty amazing).
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The first collection of The Order did pretty well sales-wise, and I'm a little confused as to why Marvel didn't wait for sales of the collection to come in before cancelling the series. Word-of-mouth on the book has been pretty solid all around, and it seems to me that plenty of people out there are more inclined to pick up a trade paperback than hunting for back issues these days. Or, like me in this case, wait to hear buzz on a book before giving the series a chance at all, then nabbing a copy of the collection. But my whining isn't going to help this book continue. I can only hope to see these characters elsewhere in the Marvel Universe, hopefully at the hands of the incredible Matt Fraction (Casanova, The Immortal Iron Fist), and continue to seek out works from both creators that may prove as noteworthy.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Last Defenders #1 (of 6)

Joe Casey, Keith Giffen & Jim Muniz
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The latest incarnation of the ever-evolving roster of the Defenders picks and chooses past members for a team that consists of Colossus, She-Hulk, The Blazing Skull, and their team leader Nighthawk. As part of Tony Stark's fifty state initiative, this team of heroes will oversee New Jersey in wake of Civil War events. There's something very nostalgic about this book, with characters who've been around for a long period of time, two of whom I'm unsure of whether they've appeared in a comic in the last decade (I've never read a comic with Nighthawk or The Blazing Skull), and the fact that it looks like it's shaping into a good old-fashioned throw-down with supervillains of old like Krang and The Sons of the Serpent. The twist this time around is that there was a certain combination of the Defenders that has never come to be in all of its years of roster changes, a team that would be incredibly powerful with a great destiny in store. "A master of the occult...an expression of pure, brute force...a water elemental...and, most importantly, a strong presence to lead them..." The first three Defenders members referred to are obviously Doctor Strange, The Hulk, and Namor, though the third is a little fuzzy. So, having discovered this combination, a group of villains seems to be forming their own group with such powers, beginning with Krang, who undergoes some sort of molecular gene alteration. And then there is a scene from the past that makes it clear that the Son of Satan made a bid for the role of Sorcerer Supreme. Two villains are yet to be seen, but this element certainly makes this incarnation of the Defenders a little more interesting, with some fun action to come as the two teams are sure to collide. A nice solid debut for the mini-series.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In Stores 3/19

Patrick and I pick the comics shipping to comic shops this Wednesday with the most potential.
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Patrick's Pick
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Phoenix (Vol. 12): Early Works - Anytime a new book by manga legend Osamu Tezuka drops, there’s a good chance it’s going to be the most significant new release that week, and that certainly seems to be the case this week. This final volume of Viz’s publication of Tezuka’s unfinished masterpiece is really more of an addendum, collecting early versions of the story put out by Tezuka before it’s official beginning in the work collected in the first volume of the Phoenix series.
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Dave's Pick
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Strangeways: Murder Moon GN - I've been looking forward to this one for awhile, since it never saw the light of day under Speakeasy Comics. But it's here now, courtesy of writer Matthew Maxwell's Highway 62 Press, featuring the delicious combination of werewolves in the Old West. Check out the first chapter here.
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Other Noteworthy Releases
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Angel: After the Fall #5
Batman: The Killing Joke Special Edition HC
Fables #71 - The war with The Empire begins!
Mighty Avengers Premiere HC (Volume 1): Ultron Initiative
Mineshaft #21

Monday, March 17, 2008

Manga Monday: Fever

Fever (Volume 1)
Hee Jung Park
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Fever is a new manhwa series from Tokyopop, the first of several titles to come out by Hee Jung Park, one of Korea's top female creators (Hotel Africa, Too Long and Martin and John are being released in subsequent months). The book follows a cast of individuals who don't really fit in for various reasons. The high school girl that most of this first book is seen through is angry, bitter Hyung-in, whose only real friend has committed suicide, and whose upper-class family is completely embarrassed by her. She opts to leave this life behind, seeking out the sanctuary provided by a group of misfits who go to an alternative school named Fever. While the art is elegant and really beautiful to look at, the storytelling is a little clumsy: It's not very fluid, it's brisk, things aren't made very clear (I couldn't tell you what Fever was by the end of the book without having read the publisher's synopsis), with characters inexplicably drawn to each other with no significant connection to one another. There is interesting stuff there, things from the characters' pasts and how they deal with daily life among schoolmates and family, but in the end, I was bored reading this first volume, and I certainly won't be subjecting myself to a second helping.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Echo #1

Terry Moore
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I've never read a Terry Moore comic before. I bought the first volume of the Strangers In Paradise not too long ago, but haven't gotten around to cracking it open yet. But if the first issue of Moore's new series Echo is any indication, I'm going to love it, and am rather eager to dig in to the creator's popular series.
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Echo begins with a woman, Annie, testing out a new beto suit, flying across the skies with skin like mercury. Then her superiors do something unexpected: to test the endurance of the suit during a field test, they shoot missiles at her. An explosion ensues, and suddenly the mercury-material from the suit rains down to the ground below in little pellets. Unfortunately, the ground is not clear of pedestrians, as was assumed. A young woman, Julie, is caught in the downpour, with pellets stuck to her skin, unsure of what's going on, freaking out, until something somehow compels the pellets into action.
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I liked the structure of this issue, beginning with a woman who would die before long, then shifting to the main character of the series in a pretty spectacular sequence of pages. The art is pretty fantastic too. Terry Moore is a really great cartoonist, and I loved the looks of the characters he introduces, as well as the way he presents the action. This is another one of those books I come across every once in awhile where I pause to examine the art on the pages, and try to read it a little slower, to savor it. Terry Moore hits a homerun with this one.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Jellaby

Kean Soo

Jellaby is an all-ages graphic novel that follows a young girl, Portia, as she befriends a big purple...creature...that she dubs Jellaby (to his approval). It's a really cute book, very fun and magical. What struck me about the book right away was the interior pages - they're all purple (with the exception of a few spots here and there). And Soo plays with the different shades and hues very effectively, making them an integral part of the comic experience. In a scene that takes place within the first ten pages, kind of a play on something you see in comics all the time (that of a character moving down a corridor or something, with panel dividers that show his movement by placing him in different parts of the art as he makes his way along), Portia walks down the hall of her school in three different panels, and in each panel, she's in a different place as she walks along, the colors all a muted pale purple, with the exception of the dark purple of Portia herself and a door as she closes it behind her, or a group of students as she watches them while passing by. It's not the most brilliant thing ever, but it stayed with me and I kept looking the page over.
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Portia is an interesting protagonist as well. She's lonely and has a tough time making friends, possibly due to the fact that she puts on a touch exterior and tends to zone out in school. But she makes an effort to be good, eventually confronting bullies for others, or getting into trouble herself to help out another. She soon becomes friendly with a boy who loves to antagonize her, Jason, as he discovers Jellaby and they work together to keep him safe. Besides all of this, Portia's father left her and her mother when she was younger and she's having a tough time adjusting to things, worrying her mother, disregarding authority figures and keeping others at a distance. But once Jellaby comes along, looking lonely and hungry in the forest outside of her house, Portia suddenly steps up to take care of the creature, sneaking him food, playing with him, and keeping him a secret from those who would take him away. At first I kind of thought that Jellaby might be a figment of her imagination, as he fills a lot of roles that she lacks in her life. He's a friend to her. He's her conscience, prompting her to help out boys being bullied, and there's a really nice scene where Portia wakes up from a nightmare and crawls out onto the branch of a tree outside of her window to curl up with him, like he was protecting her, or perhaps filling the role of the parent that abandoned her. But it turns out that Jellaby is real, as Jason can attest. And while they don't know what he is or where he came from, they seek to help him out, the end of this graphic novel "to be continued" as the children travel with Jellaby to a place that looked familiar to him in a newspaper.
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The flashbacks do seem a little harsh for an all-ages title, her history a little brutal, but kids can take it, and it all rings true in the end. Jellaby is altogether a very quick read, but a really enjoyable one. The mysteries are intriguing, the dialogue between the characters is sharp and funny, the characters themselves are believable and multi-layered, and the art is amazing. And it's hilarious. One scene that I loved was when Portia goes to Jason's house to find out what happened to Jellaby after she was escorted from school by her mother. She's absolutely dumbstruck when she sees them watching television together. In disbelief, she asks Jason if he's letting Jellaby watch Godzilla, to which Jason replies that they're watching the far superior Revenge of Godzilla. Even cuter is Jellaby's reaction to the movie, as he starts stomping his feet and trying to look fierce. Until Portia turns off the TV and tells him to play with his pony, which he obliges to do also, dutifully combing its hair.
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I certainly recommend this book, and if you have your doubts about it, check out the generous 62-page preview at the Hope Larson/Kean Soo-run site The Secret Friend Society. Also, check out the cute art of Jellaby in the role of Super Mario, Hellboy, and a Totoro!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

RASL #1

Jeff Smith

The highly-anticipated new work from Jeff Smith is RASL, the first issue of which was recently released. The story follows an art thief with the ability to teleport with the aide of some strange device, a feat that costs our anti-hero a great deal of pain. And unfortunately, with his latest theft and subsequent jump, he finds himself landing in the wrong place: The world is a little off from the one he’s used to…and he’s being pursued. Things are still very vague at this point. We don’t know how the device works, who is following him, or anything about the protagonist. But it is intriguing and the art is top-notch, as you’d expect from the creator of Bone. RASL contains a cigar-smoking, hard-drinking, cussing man, and is therefore not kid-friendly as his previous creator-owned work was. And I’m okay with that. I didn’t really care for Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil, so I’m just glad to see him going back to his own material, something that he’s excited about and has complete control over, whatever audience he decides to write for. The book will be released quarterly, and the collection won’t happen until eight issues come out. That’s two years from now, so check it out while the mystery’s unraveling.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Warren Ellis' Blackgas

Warren Ellis & Max Fiumara

Blackgas is a zombie tale written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Max Fiumara. This collection from Avatar collects the original comic trilogy as well as the sequel trilogy. The story follows Tyler, who is bringing his girlfriend Soo back home to meet his parents on Smokey Island off of the East Coast. There’s a strange legend from the island’s history about a party coming to the island to find all of its inhabitants massacred, a story that some of the locals are all too eager to relate. After Soo is introduced to a handful of the island’s residents, she hikes with Tyler up to a cabin where they can have some nice romantic alone time. The set-up for the forthcoming carnage doesn't get much better in a story like this: a neat remote location with some really fun protagonists - the witty banter between the two makes it difficult not to immediately like them. But of course disaster strikes before long and the fault that runs along the island opens up and releases something foul into the air, carried down to the town and infecting everyone with black gas. Tyler and Soo are spared the infection, as the wind carries the gas in the opposite direction, but they are affected by its ramifications, mainly the entire town eating one another. The first chapter of the series is pretty solid, but it very quickly takes a turn for the worse soon after they arrive in town, beginning with the scene where Tyler returns home to find his zombified mother beside his father’s head, his genitalia unceremoniously crammed into his mouth. And it just keeps going in that direction. The zombies are more people going completely insane than being undead in this book. And by insane, I mean bat-shit insane. Fiumara competently illustrates blood and gore over the rest of the book as zombies have sex with headless corpses, cuss like crazy and eat each other during orgies. It’s pretty trashy, which is too bad since it had so much potential at the beginning and it’s just thrown to the wind. Even the ending disappoints with a fairly typical conclusion for a zombie thriller (after a fairly seamless transition from the first trilogy to the second). Had the creators shown a little more restraint, this could have turned into something really fresh from a tired genre. But in the end, a need to bring gruesome violence to a new high seems to have blinded any vision the creators may have originally had.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Picks of the Week: 3/12

Patrick and I pick the comics shipping to comic shops this Wednesday with the most potential...

Patrick’s Pick

Serenity: Better Days #1 - The first issue of a new three issue mini-series based on the movie, written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, with art by Will Conrad, the same team responsible for the previous series. Covers by Adam Hughes.

Dave’s Pick

Emma (Volume 7) - William and Emma have fought to be together for seven volumes of this manga series, despite a society that deems their match a poor one. In this volume, we see how it ends for the couple. Read my review.

Other Noteworthy Releases

Gumby (Volume 1) TP
Harvey Comics Classics TP (Volume 3): Hot Stuff
Thunderbolts #119

Monday, March 10, 2008

Manga Monday: Emma!

Emma (Volume 7)
Kaoru Mori
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William, the eldest son of a wealthy family who stands to inherit everything, endures plenty in his struggles to be with his love, the maid Emma, who is deemed an unfit match by Victorian London society. In the latest volume of the thrilling series, we see the story of the couple's endeavors to be together come to a conclusion, including all of the immediate ramifications that come with the difficult steps that they take. I'm impressed that not everything is left tied up in a neat little bow. There are still hardships ahead for the couple and we can only speculate at this point how they will turn out. But it's been a wonderful ride. The series was meticulously researched with beautiful detailed art and fantastic characters, including a rich supporting cast. The good news is that this isn't the last volume of the series at large. In the back of this seventh volume, it is revealed that next year Emma will return with volume eight, where the book will focus on secondary characters in short stories. Not only that, but another manga from Kaoru Mori, entitled Shirley, will be out in July, featuring more short stories exploring English maids. This is fantastic news. I was kind of putting off reading this volume because I thought that it would be the end of Emma for good and I perhaps wouldn't see anything new from the creator for awhile. But now we can look forward to at least two more volumes of Mori's lush drawings in stories that are sure to amaze as much as these past seven volumes of Emma. I was admittedly a little surprised that the cliffhanger from volume six was paid off so early on and the rest of the volume was wrapping things up, but it was satisfying to see everyone who'd flitted in and out of the book since the beginning have some face time and react to the events, in delight, shock or suppressed anger. The final scene is pretty much perfect however, the best final scene that I've encountered for awhile in comics overall, framing everything in a perfect snapshot. It really makes me envious of anyone who has yet to discover this world for the first time.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Something To Talk About

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #12
Drew Goddard, Georges Jeanty, Andy Owens, Michelle Madsen

Alright, here’s the deal: I wasn’t going to review this issue. Although I think it’s one of the strongest in the series so far, I didn’t feel a particular need to comment on it. It was, I thought, just a good, solid issue in a very entertaining series, with no particularly noteworthy developments to the storyline.

Apparently, I was wrong.

Because so many folks have commented on a certain element of this issue’s story, I thought I’d better throw in my two cents. Buffy is my favorite monthly comic book right now, so it seemed weird for me to remain silent on the issue when it’s getting so much attention from everyone else. I want to review the entire issue, though, so my comments regarding said element will be reserved for the final couple of paragraphs. I guess you can skip ahead if that’s all you’re interested in.

This issue marks the beginning of what I believe is a four-part story arc, “Wolves at the Gate,” written by Drew Goddard, who worked with series creator/executive producer Joss Whedon on the final seasons of both Buffy and Angel, but is probably better know now as a writer/producer on Lost, and as the writer of the J.J. Abrams produced giant monster movie, Cloverfield. In other words, the guy’s got geek creds to spare, and he doesn’t disappoint with this very entertaining first chapter. The story involves a raid on the Slayers’ headquarters by a new group of formidable villains, vampires with strange powers beyond those normally associated with that particular breed of undead, at least in the Buffy universe. These guys (well, two guys and a girl, all sporting chic Goth ensembles) can transform themselves into animals, or mist. These abilities apparently give them enough of an edge over our heroes to succeed in their mission to steal the scythe, an important weapon Buffy and Willow used to activate the other Slayers, essentially changing the world. The assumption is that the bad guys want to reverse the spell, although I suspect they may have a different agenda.

As you might imagine, there is a lot of fast action taking place this issue, framed by a couple of scenes at the beginning developing the relationships between some of the characters. Oh, and Andrew is back. Freaking Andrew, man! Georges Jeanty’s work looks better with every issue. He’s getting very comfortable drawing these characters. His work does not look overly photo-referenced. Rather, he has developed his own versions of the characters that look enough like the actors who portrayed them on the small screen so as to be recognizable, but who also bear the artist’s own style.

Some of the criticism I’ve read regarding this series suggests that, since the T.V. show ran perhaps a couple of seasons too long (an opinion I sort of agree with), the comic book is unnecessary, a pointless return to the rapidly drying well, as it were. I have to say, I really disagree. Although the comic proudly proclaims itself to be “season eight,” I think it’s more helpful to think of it as a canonical spin-off, featuring the same characters and universe as the show but with a flavor all its own. This is how it reads to me. Because of the events in the final episode of the show, the setting and premise are radically altered, a few years have passed, and the comic is written in such a way as to deliberately take advantage of the comics medium. It seems to me that all of these things (perhaps the few years’ break between show and comic most of all) have given the franchise a new burst of energy. The storyline and characters seem fresh and alive to me, in a way that I can’t imagine a lot of licensed comic books do.

Okay, so: Buffy has sex with a girl. When I came upon the scene in the comic, I was surprised, pleasantly, but not shocked. It does not seem to me at all out of character for Buffy to have made this choice, and I think it sets up a lot of interesting possibilities for future storylines. This development seems very right, and very true to me, if that makes sense. It says nothing about Buffy’s sexuality, although it does say something about her emotional state. Also, the scene where all of her friends walk in on the two of them was laugh-out-loud hilarious. I don’t think it’s really explained earlier in the issue exactly why Willow brings Andrew to the castle, but if the only reason was so that he could participate in this broadly comedic scene, that would be reason enough for me.

After reading and enjoying the issue, I went online to peruse some of my regular comics blogs, and was surprised to see that most of them had linked to this New York Times article about Buffy’s having had sex with Satsu. This kicked off a flood of commentary from comics and non-comics websites regarding what I had thought was an amusing but minor plot development in a comic book a lot of these people apparently were not even reading. I guess the primary controversy centers around whether or not this was a cheap publicity stunt or a genuine story development. Now, I don’t know Joss Whedon personally, and I suppose it’s possible that he (or his editors) concocted this storyline (really more of a subplot), in order to drum up attention and sales. However, everything I’ve ever read by and about Joss Whedon (and my admiration for his work is such that I’ve read most of it) makes this scenario seem very, very unlikely, as does the fact that, as I said above, the development is so completely and utterly in keeping with the character of Buffy and the tone of the series. I’ve read some things that lead me to believe the editor and publishers of the comic may have taken the opportunity to sell the book based on this supposedly controversial element, but I don’t think that has any bearing on the original creative decision, nor am I really interested in a discussion of marketing techniques. Unless the editor forced the creative team to inject this element into the series, which I don’t believe for a moment they did, then the way in which the comic was sold is, in my mind, a separate issue. I guess I shouldn’t mind that one of my favorite comics is getting so much attention, but there’s something about the whole thing that makes me a little sad. There’s something very weird and archaic about the way people are reacting to this that rubs me the wrong way, like people are making a big deal out of something that I thought had ceased to be a big deal a long time ago. I might be completely off base, but I bet Joss Whedon is surprised by the level and type of reaction this has gotten, and probably has mixed feelings about the whole thing as well. Frankly, I suspect he expected better of us.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Okko: The Cycle of Water

Hub

The ronin Okko leads a pack of demon hunters across a fantastic world in the first mini-series from the Okko series (the second of which has just started to be published in floppies from Archaia Studios Press in the form of Okko: The Cycle of Earth). Amid French artist Hub’s beautiful, lush artwork, he maneuvers his characters, including a masked giant and a sake-loving monk, through rich landscapes, pitting them against monster and ninja alike. Expect plenty of action and blood as the brisk action takes you to unexpected places in a story that kept me in suspense right up to the final panel. I thought that the characters were all really immediately appealing - even the villains were pretty fantastic in their own way once the mysteries shrouding them began to unfold. Creepy, beautiful and really quite haunting, Okko: The Cycle of Water is as original as they come in mainstream comics and I highly recommend seeking it out.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Me! Me!

In response to David Welsh’s post on the subject, as well as the follow up thread at Comics Should Be Good, I thought I’d take a moment and talk about where and how I buy my comics. I’ll rip off David’s Welsh’s format:

At the Comics Shop: Shopping at comics specialty stores can be something of a frustrating experience for me. I only purchase good old-fashioned comic books at such establishments, and I follow just enough of those to justify a trip to one of two local stores every week or every two weeks. Because these stores focus primarily on mainstream comics, that’s what I buy there. I don’t have a pull-list, so I usually have to look elsewhere for the few alternative/art comics that are released in that format. Often, what I’ll do is just keep a list of these sorts of comics and pick them up when visiting either Quimby’s or Chicago Comics, which I do maybe twice a year or so (I live in Milwaukee). I’ve never really liked having a pull-list, for a couple of reasons: 1. I like to browse and choose my purchases on the spot, rather than months in advance, and 2. This may be silly, but there’s something in me that would rather spend money at a store that already allots shelf space to, say, Sammy Harkham’s Crickets, than one that doesn’t. Yeah, I’m a dick.

At the Bookstore: My buying habits are pretty atypical here, simply because I am an employee of a major chain bookstore. So, all of my graphic novels and collected editions, all of my manga, is purchased through work so that I can use my employee discount. Usually, I have to special order the books I want because they are not typically stocked at my store, which is easy enough to do. Also, a tip for you manga fans: If you want to get your books as soon as possible, your best bet is to preorder upcoming volumes from a bookstore. I usually get my copies earlier than they would have shown up on the shelves. I’m guessing this probably works the same way when ordering them online.

Online: I don’t do a whole heck of a lot of online shopping, although I’m certain I’d do more if not for my job. Sometimes I’ll buy back issues online (although I don’t buy many back issues at all), or I’ll order an alternative/art comic that I just can’t wait to get my hands on, or that I’m afraid may not be available by the time I make it to one of the Chicago shops.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Miranda Mercury!

The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury #295
Brandon Thomas & Lee Ferguson

Another superhero book launched from Archaia Studios Press last week in the form of The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury #295. Obviously, this isn't the 295th issue of the book, however the book gives that sort of impression, hinting at a long history with the villain at the beginning of the book, and a strong relationship between Miranda and her sidekick. Beyond that, this book is pretty straight-forward. The art is nice with great action scenes. I love the design of Miranda and her villains. And I noticed the pacing in this book too. The creators know when to slow the flow of reading down and emphasize those vital character moments that make a reader care about the character and want to come back for more, particularly toward the latter part of the issue. The book following "the galaxy's greatest adventurer" may not be revolutionary or anything, but it's a really well-executed superhero book. It's a five issue mini-series, building toward an explosive "300th issue." Check out the Miranda Mercury site and you can sample the first ten pages.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Picks of the Week: 2/5

Patrick and I once again pick out the comics shipping to comic stores this Wednesday with the most potential... And since it's getting increasingly harder to pick just one comic each week, we've added a new feature at the end of the post.

Patrick's Pick
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Honey & Clover (Volume 1) - I greatly enjoyed the first four chapters of this college romance by Chica Umino serialized in Shojo Beat. The first collection is available in comics shops this week.
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Dave's Pick
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Ms. Marvel Premiere HC (Volume 4): Monster Smash - I'm really digging Ms. Marvel. It's easily one of the better straight-forward superhero titles coming out currently. Read my review.
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Other Noteworthy Releases
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Andromeda Stories (Volume 3)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #12
Daybreak (Volume 2)
Echo #1
Fables: 1,001 Nights of Snowfall SC
Kirby: King of Comics HC
Nana (Volume 9)
The Sisterhood #1

Monday, March 03, 2008

Manga Monday: Gerard & Jacques

Gerard & Jacques (Volume 1)
Fumi Yoshinaga
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This two-volume yaoi manga, Gerard & Jacques, came highly recommended through Jason Thompson's Manga: The Complete Guide (a very useful tool for the manga fan). The story follows a young son of an aristocrat who's sold to a brothel to pay off bad debt. The young inexperienced Jacques throws all sorts of filthy homophobic names at Gerard, his first customer, before he is taken, and consequently released from the brothel, as Gerard pays for his freedom, and offers him the challenge of a life of hard work. Jacques accepts the challenge and inadvertently ends up working for Gerard himself, where he ends up seeing his employer in a new light. This period drama contains explicit sex scenes and plenty of them. But it also has some confusing flashbacks that are so jumbled that it made me wonder if the pages were included incorrectly, and at the end of the day, despite the racy sex, I wasn't compelled to pick up the second volume. There just wasn't enough substance or emotion to hold my interest.
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Nana (Volume 9)
Ai Yazawa
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This extra-thick volume of the shojo manga Nana contains a fifty-page bonus story featuring a secondary character who has had little face time throughout the overarching drama, and unfortunately pales in comparison to the dramatic tension Yazawa has weaved throughout the rest of the book. Osaki and Hachi have yet to have a real confrontation in wake of the shocking events from the previous volume, and the tension that builds before that heart-to-heart is palpable. Emotions are high and conflicting as the characters of bands Trapnest and Blast drift in and out of each other's lives, leaving devastation and confusion in their wake.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Previews: May '08 Comics

Patrick and I take a look through the latest Previews catalogue and pick out the highlights for books shipping to comic stores in May.

Aardvark Vanaheim:

Patrick: Judenhass - Dave Sim examines the historical roots of the Holocaust in this new graphic novel.

Adhouse Books:

Patrick: Skyscrapers of the Midwest - I’ve heard nothing but great things about this comic by Joshua Cotter, but I don’t know that I ever saw an issue. Fortunately, it’s now collected in this hardcover volume.

Archaia Studios Press:

Dave: Runners: The Big Snow Job #1 (of 6) - A new mini-series from a critically-acclaimed science fiction series. If you're interested enough to get the original black and white collection, that's also offered again this month from Serve Man Press.

Dark Horse:

Patrick: The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite - Gerard Way’s and Gabriel Ba’s well-received series is collected here, surprisingly without a James Jean cover.

DC Comics:

Dave: DC Universe: Zero - It all comes down to this, the bridge between the crossovers Countdown and Final Crisis.

Drawn and Quarterly:

Patrick: Goodbye - I’ve heard rumors this may be the final collection of work by Gekiga pioneer Yoshihiro Tatsumi, but the solicitation doesn’t say anything about this being the final volume, so we’ll see, I guess.

Fantagraphics:

Patrick: So That’s Where the Demented Wented: Rory Hayes - This is going to be fantastic. A retrospective of underground cartoonist Rory Hayes, edited by Dan Nadel (who also featured the artist in his excellent book, Art Out of Time), featuring the best of Hayes’ comics work, plus paintings, covers, and other ephemera. Commentary by the artist’s brother, Geoffrey Hayes, a rare interview with the artist himself, and a career-spanning essay by Edward Pouncey are also included in what is sure to one of the best archival comics projects this year.

Amor Y Cohetes - This book collects all of the odds and ends from the first volume of Los Bros. Hernandez’ Love and Rockets in the “digest” format. All the non-Maggie, non-Palomar stuff is here, including Jaime’s “Rocky and Fumble” stories, Gilbert’s “BEM” and “Errata Stigmata,” and more. I really enjoy the new format of the Love and Rockets reprints, so I’m looking forward to completing my collection with this volume.

:01 First Second Books:

Dave: Life Sucks GN - Jessica Abel's graphic novel featuring drama and vampires.

Little Vampire GN - Joann Sfar's classic character gets three stories collected in this one volume, featuring the vampire from Vampire Loves, but as a cute little bloodsucker.

IDW:

Patrick: The Compleat Next Men Vol. 1 - Can’t…stop…posting…about…John Byrne! At one point in my comics reading life, John Byrne’s Next Men was one of my favorite comic books. I haven’t revisited the material in years, so I have no idea how well it holds up, but I’m eager to find out with this book, collecting #0-12 of the series, plus the “prequel” graphic novel, 2112.

Image Comics:

Dave: Firebreather #1 - Firebreather's back in a new monthly series!

Suburban Glamour (Volume 1) TP - Jamie McKelvie's mini-series really surprised me. Loved it.

Marvel:

Patrick: Runaways: Dead End Kids Premiere HC - I think the fact that the comic book has been subject to some publishing delays, and that the writer is working on a couple of other books featuring much more high profile characters, has resulted in people overlooking Joss Whedon’s six-issue run on Runaways, which is too bad, because it’s pretty good, featuring an interesting story and a lot of brand new characters. Very nice art by Michael Ryan and Christina Strain, too.

You can get your Hulk on in May, as Marvel is putting out a lot of books featuring the Green Goliath, I guess in anticipation of the new movie. I’m most looking forward to Hulk Visionaries: John Byrne Vol. 1, collecting Incredible Hulk #314-19, Incredible Hulk Annual #14, and Marvel Fanfare #29. Last year’s popular “event” mini-series is collected in May, under the stupid title Hulk: WWH - World War Hulk, along with a bunch of the spin-off series (Hulk: WWH - X-Men, Hulk: WWH - Herc, Hulk: WWH - Front Line, and Hulk: WWH - Gamma Corps). Also, don’t miss Essential Rampaging Hulk Vol. 1, collecting stories from those old black and white, magazine format comics Marvel used to put out. Oh, and The Incredible Hulk Vol. 1 Omnibus is out in May, although I think it may have been offered in Previews before.

Dave: Sky Doll #1 (of 3) - This international bestseller is the first comic to be released through Marvel's new partnership with French publisher Soleil. The art looks pretty amazing.

Guardians of the Galaxy #1 - Spinning out of Annihilation: Conquest, this book features a team of cosmic characters. I was a fan of the original Guardians of the Galaxy, but it seems that this is a revival of the name with no original members in sight...

Captain Britain and MI:13 #1 - Being a fan of the original Excalibur, it's nice to see one of the characters in their own book. This one seems to be starting out examining Secret Invasion events in England.

Angel: Revelations #1 (of 5) - Original X-Man Angel has his origin told. X-Man Colossus also gets an origin told this month in X-Men Origin: Colossus.

X-Men: Kitty Pryde and Wolverine Premiere HC - I read this so long ago that I really don't know if it's any good, but it's about time they collected it.

Excalibur Classic (Volume 5) TP - I'm ecstatic that Marvel's collecting more of these. Keep 'em coming.

Oni Press:
Dave: Salt Water Taffy #1 - I really enjoyed Matthew Loux's Sidescrollers, so I'm happy to see a new work from the creator.

Seven Seas Entertainment LLC:

Dave: Chiggers HC - New Hope Larson!

Viz:
Dave: Cat Eyed Boy GNs - Two volumes of Kazuo Umezu's creepy Cat Eyed Boy manga are due out this month!! Yay!