Friday, January 30, 2009

Tales From Outer Suburbia

Shaun Tan
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The new book from Shaun Tan (of The Arrival) is a book of short stories that take place in a bizarre suburb. This book is more like a picture book than a graphic novel, mostly prose with illustrations that usually just paint a picture of events in the stories, but sometimes illustrate a part of the story. The fifteen stories offered here (some of which are a page long, while others span over a dozen), are quite odd. Some are magical and really beautiful, but others seem strange just for the sake of being strange, and didn’t connect with me very well. The illustrations throughout Tales from Outer Suburbia are stellar and when this book is on, it is really on, like with “Eric,” about a strange foreign exchange student who set up a room in a family’s cupboard, and “No Other Country,” which sees a family’s happy discovery of a courtyard “room” in their house where no room could logically be. Another story I really like is “Our Expedition,” about two brothers who trek across the suburb to see what’s at the end of their father’s road map. But then there are chapters like “The Nameless Holiday” and “Make Your Own Pet” that are dull and instantly forgettable. Overall, I did like this book. I think these stories would be fun to read out loud to a child, and this is really a children’s book before anything else, so in that regard, it's successful. There are certainly a few stumbles through Suburbia along the way, but it is fun and it is beautiful.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gunnerkrigg Court (Volume 1): Orientation

Thomas Siddell
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The first fourteen chapters of the award-winning webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court is collected on paper for the first time in one amazing comic collection. This is an all-ages fantasy series from Thomas Siddell that follows a young girl, Antimony Carver, who has begun to attend school at Gunnerkrigg Court following her mother's death. The school is very strange, and many of the initial chapters of the book are short stories that focus on one adventure or other that Antimony goes on as she explores the school, from finding the Minotaur through a secret passageway in the library to having her stuffed dog possessed by a demon who obeys her command. Later on, the stories kind of come together to become something more and begin to feel kind of epic in a way. The only drawback that I've noticed so far is that early on, the art is a little shaky. I can actually point to exactly where Siddell becomes a really good cartoonist: chapter eight, as if Siddell magically put aside any inhibitions he may have had (or practiced a lot in the interim? switched utensils?). It's kind of odd. Up to that point, Siddell had some moments of great cartooning, but from there on out, his characters really take shape and the art becomes much smoother and consistently skilled.
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Antimony Carver is a fully-realized protagonist. She's a bit awkward and strange, and ultimately very lonely, especially since her father has left without telling her where he's gone (although she deludes herself into thinking he will return by this time or that time, though he doesn't). She also takes things in stride. The school ghost in unable to scare her, but she quickly offers advice to him without missing a beat. It's all very fun and the thrills keep on coming, the story moving faster and faster as events proceed. Recent Newberry Award winner Neil Gaiman gives his stamp of approval on the back of the book, with a quote about this great character, and Gunnerkrigg Court was recently a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, and deservedly so. It's not too often that something so magical and engrossing comes along, but I'd say that this will turn out to be one of the best books by year's end, and will surprise many people who pick it up. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Avengers Avengers Avengers

This month saw the release of three core Avengers titles, all of which are being retooled with the end of Secret Invasion and the launch of Marvel's newest crossover event Dark Reign. The two teams we are used to seeing, Mighty Avengers and New Avengers, are being joined by the new title Dark Avengers.
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***INCLUDES SPOILERS***
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Dark Avengers #1
Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato
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With Norman Osborn now in charge of the 50-State Initiative and homeland security in general, those loyal servants that served as Thunderbolts are now moving up in the world in the form of Osborn's new team of Avengers, along with a few heroes who have defected from the other Avengers teams. The new official Avengers team under his rule are front and center in the new title Dark Avengers, the first issue of which saw Osborn recruiting his new team and introducing them to the world at large. Osborn also appoints Victoria Hand as his deputy director and has a nice little chat with Maria Hill and Ms. Marvel. With S.H.I.E.L.D. disbanded, Hill no longer has her former status and has a few choice words with Osborn, unsettling him in his moment of glory. Ms. Marvel, former leader of the government's official Avengers team (which used to be the Mighty Avengers) resigns and becomes a fugitive, while it is revealed that Sentry and Ares have joined Osborn. Deodato illustrates this new title beautifully as the new line-up is revealed: Captain Marvel, Sentry, a new Ms. Marvel (actually former Thunderbolt Moonstone), Ares, Wolverine (actually Daken Akihiro, Wolverine's son), Hawkeye (who is actually Bullseye), Spider-Man (who is in truth Venom), and Iron Patriot (Osborn himself). I like this team, especially the ones posing as other people, because they are truly a dark mirror to the New Avengers. A great concept, and hopefully there will be some great confrontations between them in the future.
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Mighty Avengers #21
Dan Slott & Khoi Pham
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Not really tying in to Dark Reign yet, Mighty Avengers gets a new line-up of random Avengers amid a crisis that sees reality twisting and changing before everyone's eyes. It seems that Scarlet Witch is assembling a new team of Avengers, at the same time as Jarvis is doing the same thing, to thwart the mystical threat that has arisen on Wundagore Mountain. The two splinter groups join together in the end to face their foe and include: Scarlet Witch, Jarvis, U.S. Agent, Hulk, Wasp (the new codename of Hank Pym), Stature, Vision, Hercules, Jocasta, Amadeus (a smart kid) and (maybe) Iron Man. The book feels very much like a classic straight-forward Avengers book. Colorful action, light and a little silly, with just a bunch of random heroes assembled. Unfortunately, there are a lot of missed opportunities in this first issue. The big glaring one being...uh, the Scarlet Witch is here. While there's a little hesitation with some of the characters at her appearance, there's hardly the uproar that we've been waiting for. They take it in stride when her reintegration into society should be a huge deal full of repercussions. I know there's some other major stuff going on, but they trust her off the bat? Really? Not only has she been hiding for years, but she was the first domino that led to Civil War and Secret Invasion and this new Dark Reign. It should have been addressed first-thing. Also, doesn't Wasp care (or maybe he doesn't know?) that his daughter Stature is there with them? And why doesn't Scarlet Witch react to Vision? There's just not enough discourse between the characters. The events don't leave enough room to breathe and frankly, the stuff between the characters that has not been addressed is much more interesting than the main story! This Avengers title just seems a bit off so far.
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New Avengers #49
Brian Michael Bendis & Billy Tan
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This issue just came out to comic shops today and is really involved in the events of Dark Reign, being the mirror to the Dark Avengers. Here we see Luke Cage get his baby back from skrull Jarvis and subsequently leave Osborn's team, despite his promise to stay. It was a pretty straight-forward issue really. At the end, the New Avengers see the Dark Avengers announced on television and vow to put a stop to Osborn's perversion. This team of New Avengers includes: Ronin (formerly Hawkeye), Iron Fist, Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, Captain America and Mockingbird. And Jessica Jones is hanging around as usual.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In Stores 1/28

I'm back! I went to Minnesota for some post-Christmas visits, and have returned to Milwaukee and the internet, bursting to do some reviews. Coming soon will be a review of the first graphic novel of the year that I absolutely loved. But for now, here are the books arriving in comic shops tomorrow!
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Pick of the Week
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Capacity GN - Theo Ellsworth's graphic novel is a fantastic book and is coming to comic shops for the first time this week. It was also #2 on my favorite comics of 2008. Check out this amazing work!
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Other Noteworthy Releases
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Batman: The Brave and
.....the Bold #1
Berserk (Volume 27)
Criminal (Volume 4): Bad
.....Night TP
DC Library: Superman

.....Kryptonite Nevermore HC
Final Crisis #7 (of 7)
Garth Ennis' Battlefields: Dear Billy #1
Huntress: Year One TP
Kaspar GN
Manhwa 100: New Era For Korean Comics TP
Marvel 1985 Premiere HC
Orange TP
Pixie (Volume 1)
Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four TP
Showcase Presents: House of Mystery (Volume 3) TP
Spider-Girl (Volume 10): Season of the Serpent TP
The Spirit (Volume 3) TP
Tsubasa (Volume 20)
Ultimate Spider-Man (Volume 21): War of the Symbiotes TP
Ultimatum: March on Ultimatum Premiere HC
X-Men: Original Sin Premiere HC

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In Stores 1/21

Here are the highlights of books shipping to comic shops tomorrow!
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Pick of the Week
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Oishinbo (Volume 1): Japanese Cuisine - This new title under Viz's "Signature Line" banner is a culinary comic. It's a long-running title in Japan (with over 100 volumes), so Viz is releasing these in "a la carte" editions, collecting specific themes of Japanese cuisine into each volume, this first one being traditional Japanese cuisine, or Nihon ryori.
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Other Noteworthy Releases
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After School Nightmare (Volume
.....10) - Final volume!
Batman: The Strange Deaths of
.....Batman TP
Black Jack (Volume 3)
Black Lightning: Year One #1 (of 6)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus (Volume 6) TP
Case Closed (Volume 27)
Dark Avengers #1
Dr. Doom and the Masters of Evil #1 (of 4)
Flash: Emergency Stop TP
Fushigi Yugi VizBig Edition (Volume 1)
Gantz (Volume 3)
Gon (Volume 7)
Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes TP
Justice League of America: Sanctuary HC
Maximum Ride (Volume 1)
Mighty Avengers (Volume 4): Secret Invasion (Book 2) Premiere HC
Path of the Assassin (Volume 14): Bad Blood
Ruins #1
Secret Invasion: Captain Marvel TP
Secret Invasion: Home Invasion TP
Secret Invasion: War Machine TP
Spider-Man: New Ways To Die Premiere HC
Ted McKeever Library (Volume 2): Eddy Current HC
Thunderbolts #128
Wolverine: First Class (Volume 2): To Russia With Love TP

Monday, January 19, 2009

Manga Monday: Mixed Vegetables

Mixed Vegetables (Volume 1)
Ayumi Komura
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Mixed Vegetables is a new shojo manga from Viz that follows two aspiring chefs from culinary families. Hanayu is the daughter of a family running a patisserie, but wants to be a sushi chef, while Hayato comes from a sushi family and wants to be a pastry chef. Neither thinks their family will understand their choices and Hanayo schemes to make Hayato fall madly in love with her, to be married into the sushi business, forcing her family to give in to her dreams. Hayato turns out to be a great guy, however, and Hanayu is plagued with guilt as they take classes together in the cooking department of their school.
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Hanayu may not be the most likable or admirable protagonist, but she is an interesting one. Often determined and goofy without meaning to be, she is blinded by her aspirations and tries to justify her motives as the guilt overwhelms her (and at crucial times too, like during exams). Hayato is pretty one-dimensional at this point. He's a great chef, the star of the class, and is like any male love interest gracing the pages of other shojo manga. Hopefully that will change with subsequent volumes, but at least this far in, we have Hanayu to root for, even if we don't agree with her misguided choices. Komura's art is competent throughout the book, although it hardly stands out. I'm intrigued enough with Hanayu to keep reading the manga further, but the set-up as is isn't enough to sustain this book for long. I'd like to see some more interesting scenarios play out between the characters in the future, and I'd like to see some examples of Hanayu and Hayato in their family settings that suggest that their parents wouldn't understand their choices for working in other areas of the food industry, because the scenes we've seen involving Hanayu's family show parents extremely understanding and loving toward their daughter. Being the reason behind the scheme of the main characters, I think we need to feel that they are trapped in their positions unless they act, as the characters suggest is the case.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Invincible Iron Man (Volume 1)

The Five Nightmares
Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca
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The first collection of Invincible Iron Man collects issues 1-7, which is the entire "The Five Nightmares" storyarc, and a single issue featuring a team-up between Mr. Stark and Spider-Man (from Peter's perspective). I've never been a huge Iron Man fan. He's always seemed a little boring to me and there aren't any real classic stories featuring him (Demon In a Bottle is perhaps the closest he's got, and that hardly seems like required reading). Sure, he does some cool things occasionally in the Avengers books and whatnot, but reading a solo series of the character? Not really exciting for me. But then this series came along and the buzz has been building around it. That, and Matt Fraction's been turning out a lot of good stuff lately, so I thought I'd take a looksy at this book when it was collected.
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I wasn't exactly blown away. I like some of the elements of the book. I like Tony Stark as he's portrayed here, and his relationship with Pepper. I didn't so much like Tony confessing his nightmares to the reader - it seemed a little silly, although I did like the nightmare that came true in this storyline, that of a villain using Stark's technology against him, for terrorism. There were some really good ideas in there, particularly the climax of the story, but there were a few problems. The villain was boring and one-dimensional. The art was too photo-referenced. The Spider-Man story was not very good. There were some moments where I really admired the art, or was caught up in the story, but those moments were sparse. In the end, I have to say that I'm still waiting for that "must-read" Iron Man story, because this wasn't it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

PictureBox Sale!

PictureBox is holding a sale on their website - the YES WE CAN sale, which will run for two weeks and has some pretty fantastic deals. The Gary Panter Hardcover that's normally $95 (and well worth it) is on sale for just $30! How can you pass that sort of deal up, right? There's plenty more just like that: Travel is $9.95, normally $19.95, Powr Masters Volume 1 is $8, usually $18. The comic 1-800-Mice #1 is just $1.50. $1.50! So, if you're a fan of the innovative publisher, check it out!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Most Anticipated Comics of 2009

Here are the comics I'm most looking forward to reading over the next year...

The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective - I know nothing about Rand Holmes, but I really enjoyed Fantagraphics' retrospective of Rory Hayes this past year, so I have high hopes for this book.

AX (Volume 1) - Top Shelf is putting this out, an anthology of alternative manga!

The Book of Genesis According To Crumb - R. Crumb's book-length adaptation of, well, The Book of Genesis.

Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips (Volume 1) - Just when you thought all of the good comics strips were already being collected, you get something fun like this.

Cold Heat - Frank Santoro's series (of which only part was published in floppies) gets collected in June!

Dal Tokyo - Gary Panter's comic from Japan is being published in America after quite a delay.

A Drifting Life - Yoshihiro Tatsumi's massive autobiography!

George Sprott 1894-1975 - This is Seth's new book, collecting his strip from The New York Times.

Herriman's Hoomins: The Complete Stumble Inn & US Husbands - A book collecting George Herriman's non-Krazy Kat strips.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century #2 - More of the League from Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill!

Nancy (Volume 1) - Another exciting comic strip archival project!

Orange - This kicks off Tokyopop's new line of color manga.

Pluto/20th Century Boys - Now that Monster is over, two of Naoki Urasawa's other great works will be collected. I hear Pluto is spectacular.

Pogo: The Complete Daily and Sunday Strips (Volume 1) - After a huge delay, Fantagraphics is finally putting out the first book in a complete Walt Kelly's Pogo series, with covers by Jeff Smith.

Sandman by Kirby and Simon - It's a wonderful time for Jack Kirby reprints, and they just keep coming.

Scott Pilgrim (Volume 5): Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe - More of Bryan Lee O'Malley's hilarious hipster comic is a good thing.

Tales Designed To Thrizzle (Volume 1) - Michael Kupperman's acclaimed comedy series gets a first collection.

The Troublemakers - This was announced a while back, but the latest Gilbert Hernandez graphic novel will see the light of day this year!

You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation! - More Fletcher Hanks.

You'll Never Know (Book 1): "A Good and Decent Man" - Carol Tyler (Late Bloomer) has a new graphic novel coming out.

I'm sure there's going to be plenty of great stuff this year, but at least we know of some good stuff that's for sure coming our way.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Favorite Covers of 2008

One last post about 2008 before I move on... These are some of my favorite comic covers that graced the stands this past year.
















































































Monday, January 12, 2009

In Stores 1/14

Here are the highlights of book shipping to comics shops this Wednesday...
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Pick of the Week
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Tales From Outer Suburbia HC - Where did this come from? A new graphic novel from Shaun Tan, creator of the acclaimed The Arrival from a few years back.
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Other Noteworthy Releases
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Anita Blake,
.....Vampire
.....Hunter:
.....First Death
.....TP
Annihilation: Conquest (Book 2) TP
Bone Color Edition (Volume 9): Crown of Horns HC/SC
BPRD: Black Goddess #1 (of 5)
Daredevil: Born Again Premiere HC
Final Crisis #6 (of 7)
House of Mystery (Volume 1): Room and Boredom TP
Hulk Visionaries: Peter David (Volume 6) TP
Locke & Key: Head Games #1
Pigeons From Hell TP
Resistance #1 (of 6)
Steve Ditko: Edge of Genius SC
The Walking Dead Omnibus (Volume 2) HC

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Best Music of 2008

My favorite CDs of 2008
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1. Little Daggers by Val Emmich - Val Emmich is an innovative artist who, without a major record deal, is turning out some of the most consistently impressive music around. With his latest album Little Daggers, Emmich attempts to make an incredible pop album, and succeeds with songs that get better with each listen. Interesting lyrics and playful melodies and sounds make this a sensational, fun CD, and the best of the year.
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Download this: Wake Up Brand New, Get On With It, Got a Habit Now, Hurt More Later, The Lucky Ones.
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2. X by Kylie Minogue - Another consistent artist is Europe's dance diva Kylie Minogue who only rekindled interest in the US recently, but whose third consecutive album released in this country is as fresh and danceable as her first. Despite recovering from breast cancer, Minogue bounced back without letting her experience taint her free-spirited music. It's as catchy and sultry as ever.
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Download this: Like a Drug, 2 Hearts, The One, Nu-Di-Ty, Wow.
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3. Free Life by Dan Wilson - Dan Wilson's debut CD blew me away with his soft, powerful vocals and unique sound. He has some pretty amazing lyrics, often haunting and very close to home, all to great guitar sounds, strings and piano.
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Download this: Breathless, Baby Doll, Cry, Free Life, Easy Silence.
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My favorite singles of 2008
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1. "Cathedrals" by Joan Osborne - Yes, Joan Osborne. The song "Cathedrals" off of her CD "Little Wild One" is an absolutely beautiful, lush song with fantastic lyrics of observation and contradiction. When Osborne's voice soars to the piano, it sends chills down my spine.
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2. "L.E.S. Artistes" by Santogold - This is a really interesting song boasting unique sounds and an equally unique voice. I usually don't like R&B much, but this song is pretty damn amazing.
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3. "Moratorium" by Alanis Morissette - On her new spiritual, earth-conscious album "Flavors of Entanglement," Alanis provides a couple of pretty neat songs, including this one with a danceable sound and interesting techno beats.
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4. "Mercy" by Duffy - Comparisons to Amy Winehouse aside, Duffy brings a fresh sound with her to the states from her CD "Rockferry," none so instantly catchy and disarming as the funky little old-fashioned feeling "Mercy." And what a voice.
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5. "Maybe Tonight" by Nicole Atkins - Also bringing with her an old-fashioned sort of sound that soars with her playful voice, Atkins debuts an impressive CD in "Neptune City," with "Maybe Tonight" being the upbeat standout that will make any listener an instant fan.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Annihilation: Conquest (Book One)

Various
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The first book collecting Marvel's cosmic crossover (a sequel to the Annihilation crossover of a few years ago) collects Annihilation: Conquest - Prologue, as well as the mini-series Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord and Annihilation: Conquest - Quasar, both of which are four issues long.
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The prologue to this event is written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and illustrated beautifully by Mike Perkins. These Annihilation books generally seem to be illustrated very well, by artists with realistic styles suitable to each story. The first Annihilation crossover told the story of Annihilus sweeping over the Marvel Universe, destroying anything in its path without mercy. Annihilus having been defeated, a new enemy has emerged in a vulnerable universe in the form of the Phalanx, techno-organic beings that wish to assimilate and control everything to create order. Peter Quill, the Star-Lord, is aiding the Kree at the beginning of the book to upgrade some defensive net on the Kree homeworld Hala. Connecting their supposed allies (the space knights) to the net, Quill inadvertently gives the Phalanx access to the Kree's entire system, and in one blow, the Kree are in a hell of a lot of trouble, their entire star system encased in a force field so there is no escape (and no one to come help) and much of the Kree under enemy control as new Phalanx soldiers.
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Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord contains one of the best superhero teams I've seen in recent memory, as Peter Quill is given a group of Kree prisoners to aid him in tracking down a bomb the Phalanx are planning to use to mass-assimilate people. I believe these people (for the most part) go on to become the new Guardians of the Galaxy in their own series, and consist of Rocket Raccoon, Mantis, Captain Universe, Bug, Deathcry and Groot. There's a great dynamic between the members of the team, and they're all visually interesting as they battle the Phalanx in interesting ways in a pretty engrossing search-and-destroy mission. This mini is written masterfully by Keith Giffen, and drawn by Timothy Green II, who does a pretty amazing, detailed job with great character designs.
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The disappointment of this collection (the first of two books collecting this crossover) is Annihilation: Conquest - Quasar. Having taken over the Quantum Bands following the original Quasar and Annihilus's deaths, Phyla-Vell uses her newfound power to attempt to locate a man rumored to be able to fight off this new threat, meanwhile staving off the Phalanx and the Super-Adaptoid, who is under their thrall. The story is very simple, and pretty boring in the end. The relationship between Phyla-Vell and her lover Moondragon is equally droll, despite their drama, and simply pale in light of the beginning stories in this collection. There's a lame attempt at creating tension involving Annihilus's corruption of the Quantum Bands that brings about little suspense and is paid off in an extremely silly scene. To top it off, Mike Lilly's art pales following Green II's, especially when it comes to some messy panel arrangements. But really, Christos N. Gage's writing wasn't very strong in the end either. This wasn't an awful story, it just seemed unnecessary and wasn't very fun to read.
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Overall, a very strong start to the galactic crossover. Conquest had some big shoes to fill following the original Annihilation event, but for the most part, it seems to be in capable hands, with at least one fantastic story coming out of the mix in the form of Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

In Stores 1/7

Here are the highlights of books arriving at comic shops tomorrow!
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Pick of the Week
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Gunnerkrigg Court (Volume 1): Orientation HC - Now that Archaia Studios Press's sale is being finalized, they are shipping product once more, including this long-time-coming graphic novel collecting the beginning of Thomas Siddell's acclaimed all ages webcomic. Should be nice!
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Other Noteworthy Releases
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Agents of Atlas TP
American Splendor: Another
.....Dollar TP
Astral Project (Volume 2)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer #21
The Complete Little Orphan
.....Annie (Volume 2): 1927-1930:
.....The Darkest Hour Is Just Before the Dawn HC
Daredevil by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson (Volume 3) TP
DC Universe Illustrated by Neal Adams (Volume 1) HC
Dead of Night Featuring Werewolf by Night #1 (of 4)
Devil's Panties (Volume 2) HC
Faces of Evil: Grundy #1
Green Lantern: Wanted - Hal Jordan TP
Groo: Hell On Earth TP
Justice (Volume 3) TP
Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Volume 8)
Me & the Devil Blues (Volume 2)
Mouse Guard RPG HC
My Heavenly Hockey Club (Volume 7)
New Avengers (Volume 9): Secret Invasion HC
Punisher #1
RASL (Volume 1): Drift TP
Runaways: Pride & Joy Premiere HC
Secret Invasion TP
Showcase Presents: Strange Adventures (Volume 1) TP
Ultimate Origins Premiere HC
Universal War One (Volume 1) Premiere HC
The Walking Dead (Volume 9): Here We Remain TP

Monday, January 05, 2009

Best Manga of 2008

When I put together my Top 20 Comics of 2008 list this year, I noted that there weren't as many superhero comics or manga as in years past. So, I made a separate list for superheroes, and now another one for manga, because I love manga! And despite the fact that many didn't make it onto my list of the best comics of the year, there was a lot of great manga out there. So, here they are, the ten best of what manga had to offer in 2008...
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10. Naoki Urasawa's Monster (Naoki Urasawa) - This series just keeps getting better as it races toward its conclusion and all of the players gather at the creepy stage that's been set for the showdown between Johan and Dr. Tenma. It's been a year for tension and suspense in Monster.
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9. Me and the Devil Blues (Akira Hiramoto) - The life of blues legend Robert Johnston is steeped in myth, and Hiramoto uses that to great effect, weaving the lives of Bonnie and Clyde into his life, playing up the whole "sold his soul to the devil" legend, and painting a fascinating fictitious life. Full review of volume one here.
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8. Shirley (Kaoru Mori) - Despite my preference for longer stories, the short works presented in this single volume featuring maids in Edwardian England are very charming and beautiful. It's not quite made up of the same quality as Mori's fantastic Emma material, but there's some really good stuff here.

7. Red Colored Elegy (Seiichi Hayashi) - This unique, non-linear book from Drawn & Quarterly is a vivid, interesting experience full of atmosphere and wonderful drawings. It's depressing, but ultimately very satisfying. Full review here.

6. Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan (Chip Kidd, Geoff Spear & Saul Ferris) - This book that includes photographs of Japanese Batman merchandise primarily consists of Batman comics by Jiro Kuwata, whose stories are over-the-top and a hell of a lot of fun. I'm glad that this sort of thing exists, and I'm also excited that Chip Kidd has said that there's enough material for a follow-up book should sales warrant it. Read my review.

5. Black Jack (Osamu Tezuka) - The amazing Osama Tezuka's beloved Black Jack series sees a new printing in the United States thanks to Vertical, featuring the adventures of a creepy, but very skilled surgeon. Review of volume one here.

4. Solanin (Inio Asano) - I'm surprised that this got such mixed reactions from the comic book community, but I guess Asano's later material is superior to what appears in this work (which makes me excited for that material!). Solanin follows a group of twenty-somethings as they attempt to make the transition into adulthood. Beautiful and riveting. Review here.

3. Cat Eyed Boy (Kazuo Umezu) - A very superhero-ish horror comic that follows a mutant boy who goes up against all sorts of odd monstrosities as he tries to fit in (or just find a nice quiet place to stay). Unfortunately, danger's never too far behind him. This series is just a lot of fun. Great monster designs, some genuinely creepy stories and a great main character who is either the focus of any given story within this two-volume manga set of shorts, or is treated as a force of nature blowing into the lives of the characters the story focuses on. Review of both volumes here.

2. (TIE) Sand Chronicles (Hinako Ashihara) and Monkey High (Shouko Akira) - These two shojo books from Viz were impossible for me to decide between for the number two slot. They're both excellent emotional, funny, silly books with flawed characters who are awkward with their boyfriends and try their best to fit in. Reviews here and here.

1. Nana (Ai Yazawa) - One of the first manga I fell in love with is still going strong well into its run. This year saw several huge developments in the lives of the heroines and their friends, and the emotions have never run so high. Yazawa's art is beautiful as ever, and her storytelling is utterly suspenseful and very cinematic. Here's my review of volume ten.

That's it! My favorite manga of the year. I hope you enjoyed the list and check out some of the titles if you haven't read them all already!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Top Twenty Comics of 2008

It's that time of year again, to provide the required "best of the year" list. Truth be told, I love doing this sort of thing. It's a highlight for me, a culmination of everything I've read (and posted about) all year long. With fewer exceptions than ever, I feel like I got to read pretty much everything I wanted to in time to provide an accurate list. Some of the rankings may seem silly, with the usual mix of superheroes, manga and original graphic novels arranged in a way that may raise some eyebrows, but I've been completely honest with myself. I'm not going to put The Education of Hopey Glass or the latest Acme Novelty Library on my list if I enjoyed another book more, no matter if some people may scoff at a superhero book nudging them down the ranks (or off the list, as happened with those two titles). So, without further adieu...here are the best comics of the year!
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20. Okko: The Cycle of Water (Hub) - This action-packed book from French artist Hub contains beautiful, lush artwork as we follow the ronin Okko and his band of demon hunters across a fantasy landscape. The mini-series came out in individual issues in 2007, but it wasn't collected until early this year when I got my hands on it. Read the full review here.
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19. American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries of James Kochalka (Book Three) (James Kochalka) - I feel like James Kochalka's sketchbook diaries get kind of overlooked now that he's well into the project (he reached his ten year anniversary this year). But Kochalka's funny, silly, strange daily strips are just as charming and enchanting as ever.
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18. Cul de Sac: This Exit (Richard Thompson) - A family living in the suburbs star in this excellent current comic strip, the first collection of which arrived in stores this year with a big seal of approval in the form of Bill Watterson's (Calvin and Hobbes) introduction. Full review here.
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17. Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 (David Petersen) - As much as I liked David Petersen's first Mouse Guard mini-series, his follow-up is superior in terms of story and, despite the desolate landscape of Winter, even more beautifully-rendered. This is one of the best all-ages books currently coming out and it's one of those books that's so beautiful, you want to savor each page. Read my review of the first issue.
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16. (Tie) Monkey High (Shouko Akira) & Sand Chronicles (Hinako Ashihara) - These two shojo titles from Viz wormed their way into my heart this year, featuring love, loss and good times with new friends. Both titles feature awkward lonely girls struggling to make friends and hold on to love, despite the obstacles in their way. Often funny and sometimes tragic, these shojo titles are some of the best examples of manga this year. Reviews here and here.
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15. Terry Moore's Echo (Terry Moore) - I'm not a Strangers In Paradise fan, but damn, Terry Moore can write a great superhero story. What makes this so good is probably the same stuff you'll find showcased in his earlier work: the characters, dramatic situations, and dialogue. And the art on this series is really quite fantastic. First issue reviewed here.
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14. Fluffy (Simone Lia) - This book about a little bunny adopted by a human daddy is utterly adorable, but also quite insightful. There a lot of layers underneath its immediate "cuteness" factor that will surprise some people. I loved every moment I spent with this book. Review here.
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13. The Goddess of War (Volume 1) (Lauren R. Weinstein) - This creative, lavish comic comes in a beautiful oversized package and features all sorts of strange creatures in the life of a former Valkyrie turned Goddess of War (who's grown quite bored of her role over the years). A fun new title with lots on energy. Full review here.
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12. The Complete Little Orphan Annie (Volume 1): 1924-1927: Will Tomorrow Ever Come? (Harold Gray) - As part of IDW's fantastic Library of American Comics imprint, Little Orphan Annie gets the star treatment in this lovely package with a compelling introductory essay by Jeet Heer. The troublesome orphan with a big heart can now charm new readers in a book that I'm not quite finished reading (it's mammoth!), but would have been a crime to leave off of a best-of list.
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11. The Good Neighbors (Book One): Kin - One of my favorite cartoonists, Ted Naifeh (Courtney Crumrin), teams up with best-selling children's author Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles) for a seamless blend of mythological creatures into a modern setting in this dark fairy tale boasting Gothic environments and art from Naifeh that's never looked better. Full review here.
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Halfway there!!!
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10. The Phoenix Requiem (Sarah Ellerton) - This is a first for my "best of the year" lists: a webcomic! This fantasy takes place in a Victorian-esque village where a mysterious sickness is claiming the lives of some of the townfolk at the same time as a stranger stumbles upon them. Full of magic and illustrated stunningly (Sarah Ellerton's come a long way already since Inverloch), this book is a compelling, cinematic read. My review of the first volume is here, but go ahead and read it for yourself for free here.
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9. Sky Doll (Allessandro Barbucci & Barbara Canepa) - The first offering from Marvel's partnership with Soleil (a popular publisher of genre comics in France) has brought a fantastic universe of science fiction and fantasy to American audiences. Featuring a robot named Noa with a great destiny, worlds torn by religion and oppression are illustrated beautifully in a funny, magical story. Review of the first issue.
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8. The Lagoon (Lilli Carre) - This haunting, atmospheric graphic novel is breathtaking, bizarre and quite pretty. There's a real magic and wonder to Carre's storytelling here, making for an impressive full-length graphic novel debut. Full review.
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7. Kramers Ergot 7 (Edited by Sammy Harkham) - One of the most ambitious publishing endeavors of the year was Buenaventura Press's impressive anthology featuring some of the most exciting creators in the industry including Jaime Hernandez, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Richard Sala, Seth, Josh Simmons and Kevin Huizenga, all printed on massive 16" by 21" pages. The price tag may have scared some people off, but the result was one of the best comic anthologies ever produced. Read the full review here.
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6. Nana (Ai Yazawa) - Some major developments in the acclaimed shojo manga lead to some very compelling stories as emotions run high for the Nanas and their friends. It's hard not to read this on the edge of your seat, fervently flipping page after page of fashionable, heart-wrenching, gorgeous drama. Hands-down my favorite manga of the year. Read my review of volume ten.
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5. The Order (Matt Fraction, Barry Kitson, Khari Evans & Javier Saltares) - Out of Marvel's Civil War and Tony Stark's 50-State Initiative comes a California-based team full of celebrities in a Harvey-nominated book full of action, great characters and drama. Not too many superhero books made this list (see my separate list for best superhero books of the year for more), but this is easily the best of what the genre had to offer, and it's damn good. Which is probably why it's been canceled. But on the upside, it's all collected. Here's my review of the first volume.
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4. What It Is (Lynda Barry) - This very inspiring book of comics and collages is part instructional, part autobiographical, and absolutely fantastic. Lynda Barry is honest about her struggles with writing and offers advice to budding writers through funny stories, personal insecurities and life lessons. This is a dense read from one of the best creators in the biz, but deeply satisfying. Full review here.
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3. Bottomless Belly Button (Dash Shaw) - Like I said in my earlier review, this graphic novel "felt very realistic, and was able to fully capture the mood and feelings associated with a life-altering moment." This beautiful book follows the reunion of a family as three siblings' parents plan to get a divorce later in life. It's fast-paced, human and quite the emotional ride, well deserving of all of the praise it's been getting over the year. For quite a while, I thought that this would end up at the top of my list, but a few others snuck in.
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2. Capacity (Theo Ellsworth) - Capacity is positively bursting with creativity. It's at once moving, disturbing and inspiring as Ellsworth relates (like Lynda Barry did with What It Is), his experiences with writing and the creative process in general. Ellsworth's drawings are amazing: intricate, ornate and thoughtful, and also very pretty. This book felt like a journey through a whimsical mind and left me breathless, with the feeling that I could take on anything. I really, really enjoyed this dense, complex, bizarre book and can't recommend it highly enough. Full review here.
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1. Tamara Drewe (Posy Simmonds) - This is a dense update/retool of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd illustrated through Posy Simmonds's breathtaking watercolor comics. The book takes place in a small village outside of London where there is a writers' retreat hosted by the efficient Beth and her renowned writer of a husband. Tamara Drewe's arrival in a nearby house serves to stir things up a bit in the rural community of fantastic, confused characters. This graphic novel is full of suspenseful, dramatic situations that play out spectacularly against the backdrop of a wonderful environment that compliments Simmond's drawings. I was caught completely off guard by this book, which is quite clearly the best book to come out this year. Full review here.
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That's all! I hope you enjoyed the list and discovered some books that sound interesting to you. I can only hope for as great of a lineup of comics and graphic novels from such talented writers and artists next year!