Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Most Exciting News from San Diego

There were plenty of exciting announcements, as usual, at this year's Comic-Con in San Diego.  Here are five things that were particularly exciting for me...

1. Crossgen by Marvel - I've been wondering about this for awhile now.  Disney bought Crossgen's properties years ago, and now that Disney has Marvel under its umbrella, Marvel now has access to those titles.  When Marvel presented the crossgen sigil on a slide during the convention, it raised a few eyebrows.  There's an interview at Comics Book Resources, where Joe Quesada talks about using the properties to beef up their genre offerings, but tweaking the titles to make them fit in at Marvel better.  I was a huge Crossgen fan, so this is exciting news for me!!

2. John Byrne's Next Men - IDW has been reprinting the entire thirty issue run (plus a prequel) to John Byrne's much-beloved Next Men in nice hardcover and softcover editions, but now John Byrne will be creating all-new Next Men stories for the company!

3. Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse - Fantagraphics will be publishing Floyd Gottfredson's complete 1930-1975 Mickey Mouse comic strips!  Read a short interview about it with Gary Groth here.

4. Archaia All-Ages - Another volume of the fantastic all-ages fantasy Gunnerkrigg Court is on its way, as well as a second Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard anthology, featuring talent like Stan Sakai and Bill Willingham!

5. Definitive Flash Gordon & Jungle Jim - Another exciting comic strip announcement is that IDW will be publishing the Alex Raymond comic strips Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim through their Library of American Comics reprint line.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pick of the Week 7/28

This is the book you should be paying attention to in comic shops tomorrow...

Bakuman (Volume 1) - The new project from Death Note creative team Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, this book is really different from that previous wildly-popular title, as it's a comedy that follows a couple of high school guys trying to break into the manga industry.  Given this team's talent however, this is surely not one to be missed.

Other Noteworthy Releases
Artifacts #1 (of 13)
The Complete Jon Sable Freelance Omnibus (Volume 1) TP
Flight (Volume 7) GN
Korea As Viewed By 12 Creators TP
Mushishi (Volume 8-10) Omnibus Edition - Completes the series.
Thun'da: King of the Congo Archives (Volume 1) HC

Monday, July 26, 2010

Manga Monday: ES

ES (Eternal Sabbath) (Volume 1)
Fuyumi Soryo

Akiba has supernatural abilities, vast mental powers that allows him to manipulate the minds of those around him, shifting their perception of reality.  This godlike power has made him feel superior to the other humans he walks among, unaffected but also isolated.  Without any grip on how to live normally, he takes what he wants, clothes and food, and just makes people believe he paid for them.  He also takes people's identities, making those around him believe that he's their friend or son home from college or whatever is convenient to put a roof over his head and food in his stomach.  He can also see into the minds of people, bringing a dreamlike quality to some scenes in this title.  It adds a flair of fantastic elements, some interesting and beautiful, some grotesque and savage.  The art overall is pretty solid and high quality.  Soryo has a great attention to detail and illustrates the many environments he takes his characters through very nicely, relating Akiba's story cinematically and seemingly without effort.  With such a complex power, readers get a handle on Akiba's abilities easily through the artwork.

ES is a more mature paranormal manga than most of what the medium has to offer, with more in common with Parasyte than anything else I've read.  It's just very well-crafted and suspenseful.  The opening "chapter zero," a prologue of sorts, focuses on Akiba, introducing his powers and setting up a pretty brutal dilemma that he has to deal with, the ramifications of which bleed into the next story, which officially begins as "chapter one."  Beginning with this chapter, the series is seen through the eyes of Mine Kujyou, a neurological specialist who finds it hard to see the world around her outside of the lens of her field.  And as such, she is kind of a misfit who can't relate to others, as is apparent in an over-the-top scene in which she goes way overboard going on about the resilient mind and mating behaviors during an omiai, a sort of arranged dating that the couples hope will lead to marriage, but ends up failing in Kujyou's case, and not for the first time.  But then Mine notices a man unaffected by a murder that takes place not far from where he walks, and seeks him out, eventually making contact with a man who demonstrates awesome powers, and is at odds with the world around him, like herself.  He's very cold and confrontational to Mine, but reveals that his mind control doesn't work on her, which infuriates him.  Not very many people are immune to his abilities.  Shortly thereafter, Mine meets a man who was part of the experiment that created Akiba, one that saw him cloned, with a more out-of-control counterpart that couldn't contain its subjects.  This opening volume certainly promises an action-packed, well-crafted science fiction series, offering up plenty of amazing scenes upfront.  There are plenty of mysteries in play here, with a rich premise to maneuver these characters through.  There's also a lot of cool, interesting elements in this story to keep the momentum running through several volumes.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pick of the Week 7/21

So Diamond listed Scott Pilgrim (Volume 6): Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour as coming out last week and this week, but it actually comes out this Wednesday. Some stores are throwing midnight release parties for the final book in the series, so you may want to ask your local store about it if you can't wait a few hours to devour the book.  Other than that title, here is the book you should be paying attention to on Wednesday when you're perusing the racks...

The Walking Dead - With an AMC series looming (in October) for the comic book property, and building a lot of buzz at that, I thought it was perfect timing to highlight a few books that are making their way to comic shops this week.  For one, The Walking Dead #75 comes out, marking another milestone for the series.  Or if you're like me and buying the series in collected format, The Walking Dead (Volume 12): Life Among Them TP also comes out, the long wait for more zombie mayhem finally over.

Other Noteworthy Releases
From the Shadow of the Northern Lights (Volume 2) TP
Janet Evanovich's Troublemaker (Book 1) HC
Marvelman Classic Primer #1
Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip (Volume 5) HC
RASL Pocket Edition (Volume 1) TP
Troll King GN
True Blood #1

Monday, July 19, 2010

Manga Monday: Hyde & Closer

Hyde & Closer (Volume 1)
Haro Aso

13-year-old Closer Shunpei has a rough time in school.  He's clumsy, distracted, ridiculed by his classmates on a daily basis and just not very good at anything.  But Closer is the grandson of powerful magician Alsyd Closer, who disappeared six years ago.  And with Alsyd out of the way now and his power waning, magical practitioners all over the world seek the power that has been passed down through his bloodline to his grandson, and seek his beating heart for the power that it can pass along to them.  And he thought school was bad. Thankfully, his grandfather presented Closer with a stuffed teddy bear named Hyde when last he saw him, and as Closer is attacked by a killer doll animated by an evil sorcerer, Hype leaps into action, protecting Closer and helping him defeat his adversary.  Since Closer's pursuers are never going to stop coming for him, Hyde begins to teach Closer how to use magic himself, the chief power lying in his own belief and confidence in himself and his abilities, something that Closer needs a good dose of anyway, and as the first volume proceeds, we see him begin to grow more of a backbone and handle his own in desperate situations.  There's plenty of action in this title, but honestly, it's never very effective or suspenseful.  It's often difficult to follow exactly what is supposed to be going on in most of the panels, and some them are literally little more than blurs.  With Hyde being a cute (cigar smoking) teddy bear, it seems that Aso only sees fit to pit Hyde and Closer against toys, which aren't all that frightening (or thoughtfully designed), even with the added bonus of powers.  It gets stale by the time the third doll rolls around, controlled by yet another lame villain.  Hyde & Closer isn't very suspenseful either.  Each doll has its own complicated rules for whatever "death curse" they are being used for, whether it's a locked room or tendrils of killer hair, and the "rules" that they must follow, like the jack-in-the-box who pops out of anything that can be opened in the locked room, just keep coming, so if you think something's impossible to overcome, another rule will be thrown in to conveniently let Closer and Hyde overcome their adversary.  Magic is just too easy when limits aren't set from the beginning, and while there's something to be said for variety, throwing so many elements out there with each doll they face, it just gets too bogged down in the details that aren't fun or frankly, very exciting to read.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The X-Files/30 Days of Night #1 (of 6)

Steve Niles, Adam Jones & Tom Mandrake

You couldn't ask for a more appropriate pairing than this.  An ingenious melding of two distinct titles, crossing over The X-Files and 30 Days of Night, supernatural properties from IDW and Wildstorm.  While The X-Files hails from a television show about two FBI agents who specialize in paranormal investigation, 30 Days of Night is a straight-up horror comic book that began in the isolated Alaskan town of Barrow while, for 30 days and nights, the sun doesn't rise over the harsh environment.  Vampires took advantage of this period of darkness for an all-out party buffet.  Steve Niles, who co-created that original mini-series, co-writes this book.  In this title, another Alaskan town is having the same issue as Barrow, and after a snow plow uncovers a graveyard of trashed semi-trucks, and the bodies that accompany it, the local government contacts the FBI, and Scully and Mulder are flown out.  Most of the investigators on the case suspect a serial killer, but there are very peculiar things about the trophy bodies that seem impossible for a human to commit.  And so Mulder ponders a supernatural theory, while Scully, his more scientific-minded colleague, tries to smooth things over and be diplomatic with a competing investigative team.  This is a pretty neat mystery that's been laid out for Mulder and Scully, pretty freaky with plenty of things for them to sort out.  But so far, it's kind of inconsequential that this involves the 30 Days of Night property.  Sure, there are the parallels between that story and what's occurring here, but they haven't done enough in the first issue to really show off the vampires themselves, except for an absurd final page that looks like it belongs in Tales From the Crypt.  It very much feels like an X-Files comic and I'm afraid that the compelling characters from that series might overwhelm the other property, especially as their voices have pretty much been nailed here.  The art gets the job done, and gets across the physical resemblances of the actors who played the agents in the show, but honestly, it's not very exciting.  I have to constantly remind myself that it's night time because the snow is so bright in the panels and it's too well lit to really show off the darkness, even with the white-speckled black air above the ground.  Despite a compelling opening scene, I have to say that I'm a little disappointed so far, especially when the title delves into silliness so early, undercutting the creeping atmosphere that is set up earlier.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

X-Women #1

Chris Claremont & Milo Manara

X-Women is a 48-page one-shot featuring several of the female members of the X-Men, specifically Kitty Pryde (who narrates much of the story), Storm, Rogue, Psylocke, Rachel Summers and a short cameo by Emma Frost.  It's a pretty big story that sees the ladies maneuver through all sorts of exotic locales.  They fall over waterfalls, travel by riverboat and encounter a tribe that worships airplanes.  Oh, and party, which is how one of their own is kidnapped in the first place, beginning their adventure to rescue her.  I'm delighted to say that I actually enjoyed this story.  Chris Claremont has disappointed me over and over again lately, but he provides a compelling adventure with X-Women, although we all know who the real draw of this project is: Milo Manara.  Manara is a European artist known for his sexy cartooning.  Just looking at that cover, you know it's going to be sexy.  But it's also very, very beautiful.  And the action is top-notch.  I was pretty breathless reading the panels of the girls catching one another as they slip over the waterfall, caught in all sorts of compromising positions, and the inventive ways that he depicted them sliding through the mud of a landslide, both in how their bodies were positioned and how the panels were arranged.  Manara draws realistic environments and fun, flirty women.  At every opportunity, he draws them scantily-clad with their butts hanging out of their short shorts, or just in their underwear and a long t-shirt.  But through all of this, he depicts them as very capable, particularly Storm, who does her best goddess impression throughout this story.  Yes, it's a little weird and sexist, but as a gay man who doesn't care to see women in tattered clothing, I was thoroughly entertained by this tale.  It reminded me more of an old-fashioned adventure strip like Terry and the Pirates than anything, very fun, full of adventure and intrigue, and eye-popping scenery.  A lovely comic.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mid-Year Report: Music

We're already halfway through the year, so now's as good a time as any to recount my favorite albums and singles that have come out in the first part of 2010.  So far, it's been a pretty good year.

5 Best Albums

1. Hands by Little Boots - One of the most danceable CDs in years, Little Boots brings a retro flavor to great club music, with some really interesting sounds and clever little songs (even if the lyrics are a little shallow).  There's a consistency across the whole album here that seems unheard of nowadays in music, providing plenty of instant dance classics.  Little Boots is a welcome new voice to the dance scene.  Key Tracks: New In Town, Remedy, Ghost, Mathematics, Hearts Collide.

2. Dust (EP) by Cara Salimando - This five-song EP from newcomer Cara Salimando is a beautiful collection of songs with catchy lyrics and strong vocals.  There's a good dose of piano in the music found here, where you can see the influences of artists she admires, like Regina Spektor, although the songs have their own unique sound.  This really is a very exciting debut from the singer-songwriter, especially considering that she's only eighteen years old.  Key Tracks: Dust, The Way We Are, Even More, Cigarette Smoke, Anything At All.

3. My Best Friend Is You by Kate Nash - The Brit returns with the cussing, in-your-face style she debuted with in Made of Bricks, making a name for herself.  But with her new album, Nash has refined her sound, bringing a nice pop sound to many of her catchy, vibrant songs, but still seeming as relevant as ever.  Key Tracks: Paris, Kiss That Grrrl, Don't You Want To Share the Guilt?, Do-Wha-Doo, Later On.

4. Travelling Like the Light by VV Brown - VV Brown found a good amount of success with Shark In the Water, but that's only a hint of what she offers on her debut CD, which boasts a good amount of soul and funk, with some sounds that are wholly unique and interesting, and just plain infectious.  Key Tracks:  Shark In the Water, Leave!, Bottles, Crying Blood, Back In Time.

5. I'm Still Here by Mindy McCready - Mindy McCready's first new album in eight years marks a triumphant return for a country artist with amazing vocal strength.  Despite a timultuous couple of years, she breathes life into the songs she sings, whether they're fun and danceable or soft and delicate, pulling on your heart strings.  Country radio may overlook her, but she's a real gift to her listeners, and her new CD is further proof of this.  Key Tracks: Wrong Again, By Her Side, I Want a Man, I'm Still Here, Songs About You.

10 Best Singles

1. Dancing On My Own by Robyn - The dance song of the year so far.  Great hook, great sound.

2. Dust by Cara Salimando - Absolutely beautiful melody with a great hook and thoughtful lyrics.

3. Animal by Neon Trees - A great summer song that makes you want to turn the radio up and sing along.

4. Broken by Chely Wright - An honest, soul-baring song from country music's first openly-gay country singer.

5. Ready by Reni Lane - A really fun dance groove from newcomer Reni Lane that always has me tapping my foot and smiling.

6. Mouthful of Diamonds by Phantogram - I love the sound of this song.  Very unique, very haunting.

7. In My Veins by Andrew Belle featuring Erin McCarley - A lovely ballad that kind of snuck up on me to become one of my most frequently played songs so far this year.  Lovely hypnotic melody.

8. Don't Stop the Music by Jamie Cullum - Jamie Cullum's The Pursuit would have been #6 on my Best Albums list, but I wanted to keep it pretty tight for so early in the year.  This is a fantastic remake of the song originally performed by Rihanna - Cullum shows us how to recreate a song right in this really sexy rendition.

9. Pretty Babies by Karen Elson - Another newcomer, Karen Elson has some great sounds on her debut The Ghost Who Walks, but none that shine quite so much as this unique-sounding song with a funky beat.

10. See You In the Spring by Court Yard Hounds featuring Jakob Dylan - This is the Dixie Chicks minus lead singer Natalie, and their self-titled CD is pretty impressive, with this soulful song featuring Jakob Dylan taking the cake as the stand out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Smurfs (Vol. 2) #1: Smurfnapper

Peyo & Yvan Delporte

Before the smurfs smurfed their way onto their own television series, and well before the CGI film was considered, The Smurfs appeared in the Belgian comic Johan and Peewit by Peyo in 1958.  They proved to be popular enough to launch their own comic series, and eventually, spawned a flood of merchandise before inspiring the cartoon that the United States audience has come to know and love.  Papercutz is releasing the comics in collected editions next month, and as a preview, have offered the story Smurfnapper in a single comic for $1.

Smurfnapper isn't the first Smurf story, but it does boast most of the classic components of the smurfs, and is the issue to introduce villains Gagamel, and his cat Azrael.  In this story, Gargamel, a sorcerer, captures a smurf in hopes of using him as the main ingredient to create a philospoher's stone, which will magically transform metals into gold.  It's a cute story that holds up really well, reading like an instant classic.  The smurfs are all pretty much carbon copies of one another, all blue with white caps and pants, except for Papa Smurf, who wears red and has a white beard.  There's also another smurf who, much like Brainy Smurf from the cartoon, wears glasses and cautions other smurfs to heed what Papa Smurf says.  There's also a little glimpse of Smurf Village, with the mushroom houses that are a familiar sight for those who've watched the show.  Peyo's art here is nice and cartoony, and very colorful, appropriate for the all-ages tale here as the smurfs run amock in Gargamel's lab trying to free their friend and dodging the mischievous Azrael, who would like nothing more than to eat them up.  It reads very much like a modern comic, with very fluid, cinematic action scenes and funny little exchanges between the smurfs.  It really is a delightful little read, and has convinced me to shell out the cash for the inexpensive collections (only $5.99 for the paperbacks) on the way: The Smurfs #1: The Purple Smurf and The Smurfs #2: The Smurfs and the Magic Flute.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ghostopolis GN

Doug TenNapel

Ghostopolis joins the ranks of high-quality books printed by Scholastic for an all-ages audience through their Graphix line that includes Bone, Amulet and Copper.  Frank Gallows, a ghost hunter who's pretty down on his luck, is charged with investigating reports of supernatural activity and sending ghosts back to the after life, where they sometimes find a way to escape from into the human world.  On one particular mission, he's chasing a skeletal horse that's causing more trouble for him than usual, when he sends the beast back to Ghostopolis, inadvertently sending a young boy, Garth Hale, back along with it.  Frank, fired from his job and feeling dejected, turns to an ex-girlfriend, who happens to be a ghost herself, and together they travel into the afterlife to undo his mistake.  Meanwhile Garth has befriended the ghost horse and explores Ghostopolis, hoping to find a way back home, bumping into his grandfather during his travels, who offers to assist him.  This book jumps back and forth between Frank and Garth's stories, eventually intertwining into a single narrative that sees them battle the tyrannical ruler of Ghostopolis.

This is a very imaginative book.  TenNapel has a lot of fun ideas for Ghostopolis and its outlying areas in the afterlife, complete with different rulers for the various kingdoms, and a variety of monsters from mummies to werewolves to giant bugs.  He has a great cartoony style that lends itself well to this sort of tale, and excels in depicting both action sequences and those quieter character moments.  His designs for the creatures in this title are wonderful, especially for Skinny, as Garth calls his ghost horse, and many of the creatures encountered.  The title sort of meanders a bit, and is sometimes just plain weird, but it all kind of works, building toward an epic conclusion, grand in scale.  I do wish we'd gotten to see a fuller picture of some of the outlying areas of Ghostopolis, and even of Ghostopolis itself, but there's already a lot going on here, so I can understand why a lot of the world was left unexplored.  The storytelling is very cinematic, very fluid, paced wonderfully by TenNapel.  And while it is a book about monsters and death, it's not so scary that it will give kids nightmares.  There's enough humor in the title, particularly when it comes to Frank and many of the depictions of monsters, that curb the potentially frightening stuff enough to make it just good fun, more of an adventure fantasy story than one of horror.  I appreciated the bright colors of Ghostopolis as well, especially liking the red and green panels that bathe the final panels during the big battle.  One thing that I found distracting, however, was when TenNapel illustrated a panel with a black background, and just painted the characters white without any more detail.  It worked in a few instances, but especially toward the latter part of the book, these panels came rather frequently and seemed to be random.  Usually they would depict action, but sometimes not, and certainly never seemed more significant than any other panel on the page.  I just didn't understand the thought behind them, and found myself noting them when they came up, taking me out of the story.  And they were just unnecessary, although I admit that I didn't mind it in a scene between Garth and Skinny after they first met.  Overall, I really enjoyed this title however, and would wholeheartedly recommend it to fans of titles such as Amulet and Jellaby, although recent all-ages titles have a long way to go to come close to the near-perfect stories depicted in Jeff Smith's Bone.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pick of the Week 7/14

Here is the book you should be paying attention to in comic shops this Wednesday....

Scott Pilgrim (Volume 6): Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour - The final installment of the pop culture-immersed hit series from Bryan Lee O'Malley finally arrives, just a month before the film adaptation.  Will Scott defeat the last of Ramona's evil ex-boyfriends?

Other Noteworthy Releases
Comic Book Guy: The Comic Book #1 (of 5)
Fractured Fables HC
Hyde & Closer (Volume 1)
Mome (Volume 19)
Revolver HC
Richard Stark's Parker: Man With the Getaway Face
Siege HC
Stuff of Legend: The Jungle #1 (of 4)
X-Files/30 Days of Night #1 (of 6)

Manga Monday: Yellow

Yellow Omnibus Edition (Volume 1)
Makoto Tateno

The popular yaoi manga Yellow has been published in an omnibus format from Digital Manga Publishing, in a nice new appealing package with larger pages and extra content, like character profiles and more color pages. There will be two omnibus volumes released, each collecting two of the four original volumes.

Yellow follows two hot 22-year-old guys, partners in the drug-snatching business. One is gay, one is straight. The term "yellow" refers to a yellow traffic light, which means caution and warns of risk, and is supposed to be a metaphor for their line of work, as well as their relationship. Goh is gay, and has expert lock-picking abilities that make him an asset to Taki, his straight partner whom he loves. Goh isn't shy about his feelings either. He blatantly throws himself at Taki, who lives in the same apartment with him. Taki is adept at working with electronics and computers, and has exceptional fighting skills. And he also loves Goh, but is not interested in sleeping with men, so he has a real dilemma; Although as the book goes along, he wonders about that aspect of himself, and the boundaries between them start to blur. I don't usually like the whole gay-guy-pursuing-the-straight-guy scenario. As a gay man myself, I find it a little insulting and shameful. But I have to admit that it kind of works here. Tateno is sensitive enough not to make Goh look like a predator. When Taki is under the influence, Goh doesn't touch him, only wanting Taki if he's willing. And Taki usually responds to Goh's advances by holding a gun to him, a funny little ongoing touch that runs through the book. It's still a little disturbing to me however, but not enough to hinder my enjoyment of the story, which is pretty well done. And hot. I don't find yaoi too sexy really, as it's more a romance written for a female audience, but Tateno writes some pretty sensual scenes, and knows exactly how to build tension, both of the sexual kind and action-wise. A lot of the cases that the duo find themselves on, hunting hidden drugs for clients, involve them getting beat up and solving puzzles, but it's mostly about seduction. If it's a woman, Taki gets to use his mad skills. If it's a gay guy, it's Goh (and a surprisingly disproportionate amount of the villains they must seduce are gay twinks). Yellow has a fun action premise overall that lends itself surprisingly well to the yaoi tale told here. The art is clear and paced nicely, with some pretty intense scenes of sexual situations. It really is a lot more erotic than most yaoi out there. The whole package, actually, is pretty superior to the yaoi that I've sampled. It's not surprising that the publisher decided to highlight this title from their yaoi library, as it has plenty going for it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Scarlet #1

Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

New through Marvel's creator-owned Icon imprint is Scarlet, whose creative team of Bendis and Maleev have put out some great collaborative efforts over the years such as Daredevil and my favorite superhero title of last year, Spider-WomanScarlet seems to have nothing to do with superheroes however, just a girl who kicks ass.

The book begins with Scarlet strangling a man to death in an alley.  Great opening shot, one that's sure to grab readers' attention.  He also happens to be a cop and she steals the money out of his wallet.  But she's not the brutal, heartless girl you expect her to be, as Bendis takes great care in pointing out over the course of this first issue.  She's been through a lot in her life, most notably seeing the love of her life gunned down in front of her by a cop with absolutely no reason to shoot an unarmed kid, and finding the papers blasting his name, calling him a drug dealer who needed to be put down.  That sort of shit doesn't sit well with Scarlet, and as she sees the world as ugly and corrupt now, she takes the law into her own hands and, as demonstrated by strangling a cop who demands "favors" from her at the beginning of this comic, and her bludgeoning a man trying to steal a bicycle, we can see clearly that she means business and is no one to mess with.  And so she begins her one-woman quest to purge the world of evil, hopefully getting around to having her revenge on the cop who killed her lover somewhere along the way.

Bendis took an approach to this title that you don't see too often these days.  Scarlet talks to the readers, makes them a party to the atrocities that she carries out.  It's certainly something that's been done before, but she's very insightful and demands the audience to analyze what's going on.  Insistently.  And she knows kind of exactly what to say.  When she started "talking to me," and I was thinking that I wasn't sure I really cared for that aspect of the book, she bluntly tells me that I probably want to read a straight-forward narrative, and goes into a rant on why she's involving me and making it more personal for the reader.  Bendis knows what he's doing, and he's doing it well here, so I'm willing to leave myself in his - and Scarlet's - hands.

Maleev's art is fantastic, of course.  He smartly illustrates this book, using his dark art to great effect, and making Scarlet's bright red hair look like a flair on the page, making her stand out, right from that very first panel where she's strangling that cop to death.  Most of the book, when she's not randomly causing pain to people around her (who deserve it), is told in flashbacks, explaining her motives, introducing us to a damaged person who sees the world around her as dirty and broken.  So there's not much action for Maleev to depict here, but the short utterly brutal scenes that pepper this book are executed fluidly.  Bendis writes strong enough dialogue here to carry readers through the slow parts, and together, they have put out a very compelling first issue.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #1 (of 9)

Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung

Young Avengers series creators Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung reunite on their characters for a new story featuring the younger versions of classic avengers, and they've never looked better.  During a routine mission, Wiccan, who can do some pretty amazing stuff by casting spells, demonstrates near-omnipotent powers.  Captain America and a few of his fellow Avengers witness the event and question whether Wiccan is dangerous.  Having speculated that his spell-casting powers come from The Scarlet Witch only intensifies the argument, as she was unstable and changed the face of the planet, making mutants an endangered species.  There is genuine reason for concern here, but Heinberg and Cheung also bring up some convincing theories that may rewrite history (well, Marvel history), as Wiccan questions whether the Avengers ever verified that it really was The Scarlet Witch who committed the atrocity in the first place.  He speculates that she may not have been in control at the time, and with his fellow Young Avengers, decides to hunt down his potential "mother" to find out the truth, once and for all.  Speed may also have links to The Scarlet Witch, especially as he is physically nearly identical to Wiccan, demonstrates powers similar to those of The Scarlet Witch's brother Quicksilver, and well, they also have the same given names as Scarlet Witch's twins.  So, yeah, there are some parallels.

I'm glad that this book focuses on Wiccan.  I actually like all of the Young Avengers characters, but Wiccan remains a really fascinating character with his origins shrouded in mystery, and has the best design, and coolest powers, of the bunch.  And he's a fully-realized gay character, which is nice to see too.  His scene with Hulkling here was kinda hot, I have to admit.  Anyways, I've also always really liked The Scarlet Witch, so if, as an extra bonus, we get her back by this mini-series' conclusion, I would be really happy.  Even a nice little exchange between mother and potential sons would be nice.  A cameo, anything.

Heinberg seems to really have his character voices down by now.  The creators took some time off from the characters, but it seems to have been for the benefit of the team, as they all seem more distinct and recognizable than ever, and their interactions with one another ring true.  The action seems to flow naturally, and I have to say Cheung's art is the best it's ever been.  I feel like he kind of nails every panel, with great pacing, beautiful art and a great attention to details.  This is easily one of the best books being put out by Marvel right now.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Obsessed With Marvel

Peter Sanderson

I bought this trivia book while I was visiting my old haunts in Minnesota.  It seemed like the perfect way to pass time on the six-plus hour drive home to Wisconsin, and it definitely was, even if Patrick was sick of asking me questions after hours of play.  This book was put together by Peter Sanderson and put out from Chronicle Books, boasting 2,500 questions to "test your knowledge of the Marvel Universe."  And I honestly had a blast going through this.  Chronicle Books has a whole line of books like this, including an Obsessed with Star Wars and an Obsessed with Star Trek on the way.  I was rather disappointed in Marvel: Scene It, as most of those questions limited themselves to movie franchises, but this book pretty much ignores the movies, asking questions from the wealth of Marvel comics published over the years. 

The game can be for one or two players, randomly selecting a question number for you on the little electronic panel on the front right-hand corner of the book.  When it selects the number, you page through the book to find the corresponding question, and choose an answer A, B, C or D, which have labeled buttons on the panel.  If you get it wrong, it tells you what the correct answer was, and it keeps tally of how many you answered correctly, keeping tab on what percentage you answered right as you continue playing.  I consider myself pretty well-versed in Marvel comics, but even I found some of the questions quite challenging, so I think this is a great game for fans of Marvel, who will learn a lot and won't find it too simple for them (I was averaging around only 60% correct).  The categories the book is divided between are Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Avengers, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Knights, Horror Heroes, Cosmic Characters, and Marvel Time.  There are plenty of obscure character questions, and a good amount of questions about creators.  Some of the questions are kind of silly, asking for the name of someone's father or something ridiculous like that, and Sanderson must be a huge Howard the Duck fan, because there were an overabundance of questions about the silly guy, as well as a few other characters that were disproportionately focused on, given their popularity.  Also, there were a few questions that the game identified as wrong, which I know for a fact were correct, and it has me wondering how many of the questions I'm not sure about that it gave me the wrong answer to.  But these flaws were few and far between (I was playing for nearly six hours after all).  And given how long I was playing, I didn't get too many repeated questions either, so players can get a lot of use out of this book before getting into those repeats.  Each page has around eighteen straight-forward questions, with one big question per page that includes a picture of a comic book cover or a character, giving a little history before launching into a question, which is nice.  The directions at the beginning of the book are also rather simple, if not idiot-proof.  Overall, this is a really great game for Marvel fans, perhaps the best superhero game I've ever come across.

So, to whet your appetite:

Who of the following was not one of Peter Parker's college classmates?
A) Harry Osborn
B) Gwen Stacy
C) Liz Allan
D) Flash Thompson

(Highlight below for the answer)
The answer is C.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

X-Men #1

Victor Gischler & Paco Medina

Curse of the Mutants, the latest storyline threading through the X-Men titles, sees the launch of a new X-Men book, simply entitled X-Men, from Victor Gischler (Deadpool: Merc With a Mouth) and Paco Medina (New Warriors).  I think Medina's art is suited well for the dark tale told here, with nice designs for some of the vampires infesting the title.  My only real issue is that the action is a little inconsistent.  There can be a nice little squabble between Wolverine and a female vampire that's easy to follow and clean and exciting, yet there are scenes like the previous one, where there's a fight in an alley between three X-Men and a gang, where it's fuzzy on details and you don't really get a sense of the action that's occurring between the characters at all.  But for the most part, the art is enjoyable, painting a pretty decent story to kick off vampirism among the mutants.  The tale begins with a vampire who pulls off his dark, heavy outerwear at a bustling cafe and literally explodes blood and guts over the crowd.  Unfortunately, this blood is infected and Jubilee is caught in the explosion, and begins to show signs of vampirism, along with many of the other innocent bystanders present.  It sets the tone for this kind of weird supernatural story that promises lots of fun and hordes of the undead.  We don't see too many of the X-Men in this issue, as it mostly sets up the bigger story, but Cyclops and his group of scientists try to figure out what's happening to Jubilee and the intentions behind this new infection, while Wolverine and Pixie do some reconnaissance with Angel.  Storm also makes a brief appearance, hinting at a bigger part for her to play in the overarching story, as she has quite a history with Dracula.  It's fun so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it all leads.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Namora #1

Jeff Parker & Sara Pichelli

These one-shots that Marvel has been issuing have been sort of hit-and-miss, but Jeff Parker always seems to do a nice job on his Agents of Atlas characters.  This book features the strong-arm of the team, Namora, Atlantean princess and champion.  She also happens to be my favorite member of the team, which doesn't hurt.  I'm happy to see a story focusing on her, and Parker really packs it into this story without it seeming too cluttered or overly complicated.  Immediately, we get a good does of action as a submarine has sunk to the bottom of the ocean, demanding Namora's attention, aided by her friends of the deep.  Then Namora tracks a community of Atlanteans that she tries to convince to move to a new stronghold for her people, relocating them from a mineral vent that seems to keep them healthy and strong.  While Namora investigates this phenomenon, she has an encounter that touches base with the character's past, on how she ended up with the Agents of Atlas, and on her lovely daughter Namorita, who was killed at the beginning of Civil War.  It's a good dose of history for the character that also highlights why she's so cool via the action sequences and how she handles herself when faced with a challenge.  Jeff Parker really hit it home with this one-shot, making it quite apparent why Namora is a force to be reckoned with in the Marvel Universe, and such a great hero in general.  Pichelli's art is suited well for a title such as this, accompanied by bright colors courtesy of Rachelle Rosenberg that do real justice to the beauty of the underground world that Namora navigates through here.  The art is cartoony, and well suited for the tattooed, blue-skinned Atlanteans she encounters, and really shines in bright moments with her daughter.  Pichelli's designs for the Atlantean kingdom are pretty beautiful too, as are her designs for the monsters of the deep.  Overall, this is a really compelling self-contained story that's definitely worth the cover price.  Great for people new to the character, and those who can't get enough of the Atlantean.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Previews HYPE: September '10

Diligently wading through the phone book that is Previews Catalogue so you don't have are ten choice books shipping to comic shops in September that I think may get overlooked or that I'm just plain excited about...

1. Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #1 (of 6) - Finally the third mini-series by Mouse Guard creator David Petersen!  This latest story is a prequel to Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, featuring the popular character.
2. The Little Prince GN - The wonderful Joann Sfar adapts the classic fanciful tale by Antoine de Saint-Exupery The Little Prince to comic form, with what I'm sure will be some amazing art.
3. The Best American Comics 2010 HC - The latest comic anthology in the Best American series is edited by none other than Neil Gaiman, and features a good variety of material as always, representing the best that comics have had to offer over the past year, including work by Dash Shaw and Michael Kupperman.
4. IDW Reprints - IDW just keeps churning out the great reprint projects.  New this month: Blondie (Volume 1) HC, Popeye: The Best Comic Book Stories of Bud Sagendorf and Archie: The Best of Stan Goldberg HC.

5. Shazam! The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal HC - Chip Kidd is a big fan of Captain Marvel, and shows his love for the character in a new book, much like his previous books dedicated to Batman: The Animated Series and Peanuts, teaming up with photographer Geoff Spear for plenty of merchandise and context goodness.

6. Roy Crane's Buz Sawyer (Volume 1): The War In the Pacific HC - The classic adventure strip by Roy Crane is collected by Fantagraphics beginning this month, featuring all of the daily strips published during World War II and some Sundays as well.

7. X-Men: Curse of the Mutants - Smoke and Blood #1 - This sounds like it could be a really cool one-shot amid all of this mutant vampire stuff from Marvel.  The X-Men scientists bring a vampire into their lab to study it and the lab goes into lockdown when it escapes.  Great horror premise.

8. Celadore (Volume 1) TP - This Zuda title from Caanan Grall has plenty of supernatural stuff going on in it, from ghosts to Frankenstein-ish guys to tooth fairies, featuring a battle with an evil vampire that has given vampires all over the ability to walk in sunlight.

9. Kick-Ass 2: Balls To the Wall #1 (of 6) - Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. return to their Icon series, hopefully with some new fans from the feature film.  More violence and mayhem is certain.

10. Kizuna: Deluxe Edition (Volume 1) - I don't know much about this manga series, but I really enjoy some of the yaoi manga out there, so I'm looking forward to this 400-page whopper that Digital Manga claims is one of their most-requested titles.

Pick of the Week 7/8

Note that comics don't hit comic shops until Thursday this week.  And it's quite a week, so please excuse the laundry list of other titles coming out, as Marvel in particular has an aggressive week for releases.  That being said, this is the book you should be paying attention to...

Ghostopolis GN - From Graphix, who've put out some pretty great titles for kids like Amulet and The Good Neighbors, comes this new all-ages title from Doug TenNapel about a boy pulled into the afterlife before his time and the ghost-hunter who goes after him.

Other Noteworthy Releases
Avengers: The Children's Crusade #1 (of 9)
Batman: Odyssey #1 (of 6)
Blackest Night HC
Casanova #1
Clique: The Manga (Volume 1)
Critical Millennium #1 (of 4)
Dengeki Daisy (Volume 1)
Hellboy: The Storm #1 (of 3)
The Imposter's Daughter: A Memoir SC
Janet Evanovich's Troublemaker (Book 1) HC
Marvelman Family's Finest #1 (of 6)
Scarlet #1
Shadowland #1 (of 5)
Smurfs #1: Smurfnapper
Thor: The Mighty Avenger #1
X-Men #1
X-Women #1

Monday, July 05, 2010

Manga Monday: Chi's Sweet Home

Chi's Sweet Home (Volume 1)
Konami Kanata

One glimpse through this manga and Patrick called it "cuteness porn," a term that I agree with.  Kanata may even go over the top on cuteness when she begins to have the cat speak baby-ish with w's throughout her words like "It's a wittle too open" and "Pwease, no more.  I'm gonna pway dead."  It's a bit much for me.  But I have to admit, this book is cute as hell, so if that was the creator's goal, she succeeded.  Kanata also succeeds in giving the book that feeling of taking in a new pet and watching it do all sorts of funny things.  In that way, it reminds me of Yotsuba&!.  In that manga, we get to see the day-to-day cute things that a child does, and it's very natural and true-to-life.  The same sorts of things occur in Chi's Sweet Home, although the author's attempts at interpreting the cat's thoughts during these cute moments distract from the inherent cuteness of the act.  I really don't care what the cat's motivation is for the most part, and its inner monologue gets repetitive.  I think a more straight-forward look into Chi's life would have been a better choice.  But I really did enjoy reading this book.  The story follows the Yamada family (a mother, father and little boy) who discover a lost kitten and adopt it into their family, despite their apartment's no pet policy.  Most of the book focuses on Chi's acclimating to her new environment, often in bewilderment.  She's potty-trained, brought to the vet and plays with new toys before the first volume is complete.  It made me smile throughout and chuckle often.  I don't think it would have been nearly as effective if not for Kanata's beautiful art style.  Thanks to Vertical, who have done a great job translating manga from Osamu Tezuka and Keiko Takemiya over the years, we get a very nice presentation of Chi's Sweet Home in full color.  And honestly, the color makes this book.  Kanata's bright panels explode with vibrancy, really bringing this world to life, and making the drawings pop.  Kanata does some very pretty things with watercolor specifically, and paces each of the little vignettes chronicling Chi's new life to highlight just the right moments for maximum effect.  If I weren't allergic to cats myself, this would have convinced me that I needed one.  This really is a beautiful visual treat.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Thunderbolts #144-145

Jeff Parker & Kev Walker

The Thunderbolts have been reinvented once again, the latest incarnation trying to fit this team of criminals into Marvel's new Heroic Age.  Two issues have come out so far, introducing the team as veterans Moonstone and Ghost, with Juggernaut and Crossbones.  Luke Cage is in charge of reforming the team and aiding them in carrying out their missions, and has help from a support staff that consists of former-Thunderbolt Songbird, who has recently redeemed herself, Hank Pym, Mach V and Fixer.  Man-Thing is also along for the ride as the team uses the monster's teleportation abilities for instantaneous transportation to wherever trouble may call them.  USAgent rounds out this hodge-podge book of heroes and villains as the warden of The Raft, having just been injured during Siege.

I have to say that I'm pretty disappointed with the new direction of this title.  Warren Ellis had a real vision for the team as he made them a really dark force during Civil War and Dark Reign.  While I get that Jeff Parker is tasked with fitting them into a new brighter state in the Marvel Universe, it seems to just lack that vision, which is too bad because I think Parker has done some pretty amazing things with Agents of Atlas and the X-Men.  Gone is the natural catty banter between teammates that made the dynamic beween its members so fun.  They still joke around, sure, but it's just a bit stiff and is used to help move the plot along more than to have fun with the characters and this great situation.  And Ghost, who's been a mysterious, paranoid figure, is reduced to a pretty uninteresting pale version of himself.  Juggernaut and Crossbones haven't really done much to make the team more interesting, aside from Crossbones being perhaps more evil and ready to turn his back on the team than anyone in the team's past, although Man-Thing's eerie presence is a welcome addition to the book.  Even the art seems much less exciting than past issues of the book.  I've liked Kev Walker in the past on Annihilation: Nova and the recent Realm of Kings: Imperial Guard mini-series, but I've been pretty underwhelmed on this title thus far, especially with the looks he gives to USAgent (bulky and just odd-looking) and Moonstone (never graceful or very feminine, as her personality demands).  Overall, I just think this creative team isn't a good fit for this book, unfortunately.  The Thunderbolts are going to need another facelift much sooner this time around.