Friday, February 29, 2008

"Hernia!" "Go sit on the Chicago Bears!"

Today's Fourth World panel(s), from Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141, are all about the comedy. What else do you expect, with Don Rickles as the guest star:

Really, the comedy sidelines the rest of the action and plot here. Sure, we get to see Clark Kent do a flyby of Apokolips, and the Guardian slugs it out with some Intergang punks (I was tempted to scan an awesome double face-kick with a cool "SPOW!" sound effect), but the best parts are the funny stuff. I love Kirby's dialogue, and he comes up with some great lines for Rickles. Here's another one:

I don't know what Rickles' fans at the time (or Rickles himself, for that matter) thought of this, but I find it hilarious. Okay, more awesomeness tomorrow.

Oh, and I've also got a review of a book called Kate Lawson and the Ship of Lost Souls up over at Comics Bulletin, so there's something else to read if you can't get enough of my yammering.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Monster: Don't trust the blond kid

Hey, another review! In the midst of Kirby celebrations! Just call me Mr. Prolific!

Monster, volume 6
By Naoki Urasawa

Lots of goodness in this volume of the series. It concludes the cliffhanger at the end of volume 5, adding to the ongoing contest between Dr. Tenma and Inspector Lunge, and ending with a nicely chilling picture of Lunge's intense drive to capture Tenma:

Then we get a few chapters following Tenma's ex-fiancee, Eva, who has fallen into drunkenness, finally hitting rock bottom when she passes out on the street, gets robbed, and is thrown in jail for the night. The last time we saw her, she had barged into Lunge's office and offered to help capture Tenma. We never saw what happened after that (at least not yet), but he must have turned her down, letting her spiral down into despair and self-pity. It's a pretty pathetic picture, as we see her do things like steal alcohol from a homeless guy or smoke a cigarette butt that she finds on the ground:

Things seem to look up when a seemingly nice guy helps her out, but we know he's going to be trouble when we don't get to see his face for the first few pages after he appears. Sure enough, he turns out to be the creepy thug from volume 5 who is somehow connected to Johan, tailing her to find out what she knows. This leads to a confrontation with Tenma; a tense scene involving Eva, Tenma's ward Deiter, and the creepy guy; and more confused emotions about her relationship with Tenma including a firmer resolve to take him down. It's masterfully done and perfectly paced. Just check out this page for an example:

I also love Urasawa's depictions of Eva; she's always so bitter and hardened, it's especially effective to see the facade crack when she remembers Tenma:

There's also a flashback sequence in which she tells about seeing Johan (in a different view of Tenma's first encounter with Johan as an adult, the climax of volume 1), and it's heartbreaking to see her fall apart soon after losing Tenma. She hadn't become quite as hardened at that point, so we still see more actual emotion show through:

That's some nice, subtle character development, done almost entirely through facial expressions.

And that's just the first half of the book! The second half jumps to a new location (I love the way Urasawa abruptly plops readers into stories in a new location, featuring previously-unseen characters, and then lets us get caught up as the story plays out), a university in Munich, where some students investigate an old man who is rumored to control Germany's financial markets. One of the students is the man's illegitimate son, and he just wants to find out about his father, but they end up caught up in some intrigue involving Johan, who actually makes some extended on-panel appearances. Urasawa has built up the legend of Johan for so many volumes, it's a real event when he finally shows up to play a part in the story. And he's creepy as hell, especially since (and I know this isn't exactly a blazing innovation or anything) he seems like a nice, friendly guy. In one memorable chapter-opening image, he is even seen surrounded by children:

All our prior knowledge about his actions just makes the blood run cold when you see a seen like that.

The whole plot about the old man and his son doesn't finish in this volume, making for another cliffhanger that will certainly draw me right to the bookstore for the next volume. Urasawa can really put together an intriguing story; I can't wait to see how it plays out.

But he's also amazing with the visuals, like always. One technique of his that I noticed in this volume is a bit of an extension of something I talked about in the last volume: the way he extends page-ending panels to the edges of the page, as if to make the scene seem to continue right off the page. I noticed that he also extends other panels to the edges, sometimes at the top or bottom of the page. He often does this in panels that contain a lot of background detail, as if to make the scene seem to continue past the edges of the page:

He also extends some panels containing exciting or emotional moments in this way, which makes them seem "bigger":

But he's not showy or overly flashy with these techniques. He's just a solid storyteller, putting together an exciting tale for us. It's amazing to watch, and incredibly enthralling. I can't wait to find out what happens next.

"Ride the tempest, Seagrin! Enter the cosmic fire!"

Oh, man, I'm hooked on Kirby again already. Here's today's Fourth World panel, from New Gods #4:

I love the way the vision rushes through the characters' faces here, and even though it's a terrestrial cityscape, the plunging perspective makes it look bizarre and alien. Also in this issue: Kirbytech!

Idiosyncratic dialogue!

I love that stuff. "My wife makes me carry an umbrella in case it rains!" "Things that would scare John Wayne!" And Kirby has so many different flavors of his crazy talking, like this issue's gangsters with their Jimmy Cagney-like lines: "Yer gettin' it, country boy! In another second, that dum dum'll get paid off for thinkin' too hard!" Then there's Darkseid, who pops up to look menacing and say things like, "Oh, how heroes love to flaunt their nobility in the face of death! Yet they know better than most that war is but the cold game of the butcher!" And finally, there's Orion's sendoff to his fallen New God:

Beautiful. It's another excellent issue, from Metron's tour of a young, prehistoric world, to a Black Racer flyby, to a crazy underwater cliffhanger. My only complaint would be the habit Orion's sidekicks have of restating their full names once an issue, as if they're trying to make us remember that they're still in the story alongside the cool, colorful characters. I hope Kirby doesn't keep that up for much longer. But he can keep up the explosions, cool sound effects (PWOW! BAROOM! RRRRSSSKK!), and cosmic ideas forever. He will in my head, anyway.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Darkseid has the "common touch"!

Since I'm reading the second volume of the super-awesome Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus, it's time for another round of daily Fourth World panels! I did this last year when I read the first volume, taking one panel (or occasionally more) to highlight from each issue in the book. Here's a good example, and you can click the "Fourth World panels" link at the bottom of this post to see all of them.

So, to start off this volume, here's today's panel, from Forever People #4, chosen because I love the awesomely wacky artwork:

That's not even the highlight of the issue for me. The story sees the team captured and imprisoned by Desaad in his "Happyland" theme park. It's a genius idea by Kirby, with the heroes trapped in some form of torture in full view of the parkgoers, but "scrambled" to look like part of the attractions. Here's a favorite, featuring Beautiful Dreamer:

That's some pretty horrific stuff. And then there's an incredible scene, in which Darkseid visits to check up on Desaad and then goes out for a walk among the humans. They think he's just a guy in a costume, except for a little girl, who finds him scary. She gets shushed by her father, and here's Darkseid's response:

Damn, that's an awesome, freaky scene. Darkseid's maniacal laugh is enough to make anybody's blood run cold.

Okay, more tomorrow! And maybe even a review of some sort!

Kirby: King of page layouts

In preparation for another month-long look at Jack Kirby's awesomeness (I just started reading the second volume of the Fourth World Omnibus, so watch for more about that tonight), here's a quick thing I noticed while reading Charles Hatfield's entry about Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure on the Thought Balloonists. He offered a sample page from the comic (Kirby's version of FF #102) in comparison to a page of Brian Hitch art from FF #554:

Just looking at that page, I noticed the simple techniques Kirby uses to guide the eye across the page as it's being read. Here's a diagram I threw together to demonstrate (I apologize for my rough mouse-based artistic skills):

I love how perfectly natural it becomes to follow these elements across the page, and using these subtle indicators to point out the important parts of the artwork, like Janus's expression in panel four or the gun in the the final panel. And this was Kirby working at his most "tepid [and] unadventurous", as Hatfield describes it. That sort of artistic skill was instinctual to him; he was a true master.

Okay, that's a quick bit for now. Hopefully, I'll get to more Kirby stuff tonight. In the meantime, feel free to check out my contribution to Comics Bulletin's "slugfest" of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.'s Kick-Ass #1, which comes out today. Also, I did a review of the Fablewood anthology from Ape Entertainment. Later!

UPDATED: Solicitationary blatherings: May 2008

UPDATE on 2/27: One book from Oni. See the first entry below.

It's that time of the month again. I'm going with the same format as last month, jumbling everything together instead of separating comics out by company, and only mentioning new or notable books, rather than talking about everything that I'm planning to buy or check out. I'm writing this during the Oscar telecast, so forgive me if I diverge from the subject and start talking about Jack Nicholson or something.

Local #12 - The final issue! This has been a really good (if often late) series, so it will be sad to see it end, but probably satisfying, as it promises to come full circle and reveal what prompted Megan's twelve-year odyssey and what she learned, and various heartwarming crap like that. I'm sure I'll love it.

Marvel 1985 - The long-teased Mark Millar miniseries shows up, but I thought it was supposed to be a photo-comic or something. This says it's going to be illustrated by Tommy Lee Edwards and have something to do with supervillains attacking our world. Eh, it'll probably be lame. Prove me wrong, Millar!

The Amazing Joy Buzzards, volume 1 - This new edition of the first volume of the awesome series about an adventuring rock band actually contains the first two volumes of the comic, with an upcoming new volume (the new volume 2) coming later this spring, I believe. So I implore everyone to check this out; it's super-cool.

Amazing Spider-Man - I don't usually read Spidey comics, but I gotta say, Marcos Martin is a great choice for an artist on the series. And that cover is awesome. I'll probably give it a flip-through.

The Complete K Chronicles - Keith Knight's weekly cartoon, which I think usually runs in alternative newspapers, is pretty good stuff. So, while I don't know if I'll buy the book, I will recommend it.

Final Crisis - Man, I'm conflicted about this one. I'm just generally not interested in big superhero events (or superhero comics at all these days). But! Grant Morrison! Big, crazy, universe-ending events involving Jack Kirby characters! Green Lantern! Wait, I don't care about Green Lantern. Eh, I'll probably succumb to Morrison's spell and read it. Dammit.

Finding Peace - A graphic novel from IDW about life in a wartorn country. It definitely sounds interesting, so I might try to make a point of reading it. We'll see. Also from IDW: the collection of the Cory Doctorow's Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now miniseries, in hardcover, for $24.99. Unfortunately, I don't think it's really good enough to be worth that much. But it will also be available for downloading, so I'll be sure to point out where you can do that when it comes out.

Firebreather - This Phil Hester/Andy Kuhn series is apparently a continuation of either a graphic novel or a miniseries that I haven't read. I like both those creators, so it might be worth reading. We'll see how it goes.

House of Mystery - A new Vertigo series, reviving an old Vertigo series (which in turn revived an old DC series). I might give it a try, since it does sound interesting, and I generally like Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges' Vertigo work. Hopefully this will be more like Jack of Fables and less like Salvation Run. Also: that cover is creepy.

Igor Movie Prequel - I hadn't heard of this movie, but it's an animated film about a mad scientist's assistant with the voices of John Cleese, John Cusack and Steve Buscemi. It could be okay. This prequel is written by Dara Naraghi, who sometimes comments here, so I might try to check it out.

Immortal Iron Fist - Now that the second storyline of the series has ended (a few months in the future, that is), we get another interstitial issue following the adventures of a past Iron Fist. This is the one from the mid-1800s, and it looks like a cool story, illustrated by Khari Evans. I'm sure I'll get to read it in about a year.

Immortal Iron Fist, volume 2 - And here's the collection of that second volume, in hardcover format, which will be too rich for my blood. I'll wait an excruciating few months until it comes out in softcover. But I can't wait to read it.

Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin - I've been meaning to read this Joe Casey/Eric Canete miniseries, so now I'll get my chance. It certainly looks pretty. Should be good.

Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas - This looks to be the big tie-in to the Iron Man movie, since it's written by Jon Favreau, the director of said movie. It's illustrated by Adi Granov, who (slowly) did the first arc of the current series, written by Warren Ellis. Eh, I'll wait until it's collected and see what the reviews say.

Invincible Iron Man - I don't think I'll be able to pass this one up though; Matt Fraction should be able to do some awesome stuff with the character and his world. Hopefully he won't get mired in whatever big events are going on in the larger Marvel universe and just stick with cool techno-spy stories or something. Salvador Larroca is illustrating, and I generally like his current style, as long as he doesn't get to reliant on the photoreferencing. But he can do some cool technology and action, so I bet Fraction will give him plenty of stuff to chew on. Don't let me down, fellas!

Monster Zoo - Doug TenNapel has been cranking out these graphic novels, hasn't he? There's not too much information in the solicitation about this one; I guess the title is all that's necessary.

Newuniversal: Shockfront - Warren Ellis finally gets to return to the New Universe revival that stopped kind of abruptly. I don't know if this is a new ongoing series or a miniseries, but it's illustrated by Steve Kurth instead of Salvador Larroca this time around. I dunno, I'll probably wait for the trade.

Pretty Baby Machine - This is a neat idea. Gangsters Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and Machine Gun Kelly team up when they're all targeted by Al Capone. Could be cool. I don't know the writer, Clark Westerman, but the artist, Kody Chamberlain, did Punks, right?

Runaways: Dead End Kids - Joss Whedon's run finally ends next month (if it's not delayed again), so here's the collection. Looks like Marvel is going for the bookstore market, kind of like DC's trade dress for Jodi Picoult's Wonder Woman or Brad Meltzer's JLA. Eh, whatever. The story itself isn't bad, but it will certainly read better in one volume, rather than stretched out over a year or so.

Scrambled Ink - Comics from Hollywood animators that are supposedly "too big for the silver screen...undeniably innovative and stunningly beautiful...a great yarn spun in a whole new way". Wow, that's setting up some big expectations. If this isn't the best comic ever made, I'll be disappointed. And that's not going to happen. But it might be worth a look.

Sky Doll - The first entry in Marvel's collaboration with French publisher Soleil, this one is about a pleasure-robot becoming a freedom fighter, or whatever. It looks cool, so I'll probably check it out. Interestingly, Graeme McMillan wondered if the series is too sexy for Marvel to release uncensored, but hey, there's a nipple right there on the cover, so I guess not. We'll see how it turns out.

Steel Fist Riku - A superhero-like manga from DC/CMX, involving a martial arts-using crimefighter in a world full of talking animals. Could be fun.

Suburban Glamour - It's the collection of Jamie McKelvie's miniseries, so maybe now I can read it. It does look neat.

Tor - I'm not familiar with the original series, but this is apparently a revival of an old Joe Kubert comic, and it looks pretty cool. Hey, Kubert's an old pro, so it'll probably be pretty cool.

The Umbrella Academy: Apacalypse Suite - Here's the collection of the kick-ass series that just wrapped up last week. Gerard Way surprised everybody by actually writing a damn good comic. And Gabriel Ba is awesome, as usual. I'm surprised they're going for such a simple cover to the trade (if that is the actual cover) instead of having James Jean do one. Oh well, anyway, you should read this if you haven't already. It's awesome.

The War that Time Forgot - It's another revival of a weird old comic, in which WWII soldiers fought dinosaurs or something. I've heard the original is great, in a batshit-insane sort of way. So this new version will probably suck, and being written by Bruce Jones won't help. Although you never know, maybe it'll somehow be awesome. That is a cool Neal Adams cover though.

I guess that's it, although I'm sure there will be more to add later, since companies like Avatar and Oni haven't put out their solicits yet. So watch for updates, if you care. And more content soon, so stick around.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Drifting Classroom: Children are evil

Before I start, I have to link to Jog's latest column on the Savage Critics, in which he discusses the work of horror mangaka Hideshi Hino. After reading that, I feel that my latest mission in life is to track down and read Hino's Panorama of Hell. Wow, it looks fucking insane, in all the best ways.

In other news, I see that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan will be doing a new six-issue Demo series for Vertigo. Awesome. I loved the first series (even if I was a couple years late getting to it), so I'm all for more of it. Wood is one of my current favorite writers, and Cloonan is a current favorite artist, so I'm stoked to see them do more work together.

Okay, on with the show:

The Drifting Classroom, volume 6
By Kazuo Umezu

Behold, the face of childhood evil:

Man, that is one creepy-looking kid. That's right there on the first few pages of this volume, and it makes me sorry I had gone so long without reading this series. At first, I had forgotten what was going on at the end of the last volume, but I got right back into the swing of things; the kids stuck in their horrible future wasteland were all dying of bubonic plague, and that mean kid had led a group of troublemakers and trapped our heroes in a building with a plan to burn them to death. Good times.

Man, every volume of the series is full of that sort of delightful awfulness, with kids exhibiting the worst humanity has to offer in terms of distrust and murderous impulses. This volume veers a bit from the formula though, spending over half its length in the present day, following protagonist Sho's mother as she tries to figure out how to send a cure for the plague to him in the future. It's as crazy as everything else in the book, as we see her pursue her goal of helping Sho, shoving aside anyone in her way, to the point where people think she's gone nuts:

Interestingly, there are a few scenes where she is confronted by the mother of another of the missing children, who blames Sho for her son's disappearance. But Sho's mother shoves her aside and refuses to listen to her, giving her the same treatment she has been getting from everyone else. I'm not sure if this is supposed to represent anything, but it stuck with me. Is it a comment on how even those with noble goals can be single-minded, ignoring the plight of others? Maybe Umezu will do more with these characters in future volumes.

Also of note in the "Sho's mother" chapter is a harrowing scene in which Umezu shows that the ruthless, violent attitudes and actions of the kids aren't exactly a deviation from the norm. While she is at a baseball game planning to confront a famous player (it's a long story), her actions cause a giant brawl to break out, with fans and players rushing the field in a near-riot:

Key dialogue: "Kick the shit out of her!" Oh, Umezu, how you give me pleasure.

I know Matt Thorn said I was trying too hard to find metaphors in this series, but I've got another one that hopefully isn't too far off base. We learn that the plague was caused by a couple of diseased pet squirrels that a diplomat brought back from the United States. It sounds to me like a representation of fear that the influence of foreign cultures is corrupting the younger generation. Or maybe Umezu just hates squirrels.

In addition to the myriad deaths by plague here, we also get to see some drownings, accidental decapitation, and quicksand-related tragedies. That Umezu gets pretty innovative with the means of juvenile death. I don't know how he's going to keep up this carnage for another five volumes, but I can't wait to find out.