Monday, April 30, 2007

Wasteland: What a waste

That title makes it sound like I'm saying this book is a waste, which it's not. Oh well. On with the show:

Wasteland volume 1
Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Christopher Mitten

I'm having trouble thinking of good stuff to say about this one. I read the first two issues of the series when they initially came out, and while I didn't exactly dislike them, they didn't "grab" me enough to make me feel like spending my money on a monthly basis. Well, now that I've read the collection of the first six issues, I think I like the series a little better, but I'm still not sure if I'll read the second collection or not. I do think it reads better as a whole, and I probably would have had a little trouble keeping up with the characters from month to month.

Anyway, it's a post-apocalyptic thing, which we're told takes place 100 years after "The Big Wet". The land appears to be desert now, and all the cities are in ruins. We're introduced to our characters, who are divided into two groups: a band of villagers who are traveling to a larger city, and the power structure of said city, which seems to be somewhat corrupt (that's an understatement). There's also a character who is a bit of a wild card. His name is Michael, and he is a wanderer, going it alone in the desert. He ends up wandering into the town of Providence, inadvertently bringing some (cannibalistic?) mutants called sandeaters after him. In the ensuing battle, the village is burned down, forcing the villagers, led by the sheriff Abi, to make a trek across the desert to the city of Newbegin.

Meanwhile, we see the political machinations of the leaders of that city, especially the Lord Founder, a blind religious leader (and de facto head of the society) who hates the Sunners, a competing religious sect that worships the sun. Most of the slaves in the city are Sunners, and he is worried that they will revolt (or maybe he's just unhappy that he is not the object of their adoration), so he makes moves to suppress them. Of course, the refugees making their way to Newbegin are also Sunners, so you know that will lead to trouble when they get there.

Over the course of the book, the refugees deal with plenty of hardships, including slave traders, wulves, and more mutants (these ones are called Dwellers and live in the ruins of the skyscrapers that made up the old cities). They only just make it to Newbegin at the end of the book, so the religious conflicts will have to wait until the next volume for a resolution.

It's a pretty interesting world that Johnston has built (is building?) here, with lots of details about religion, customs, and language. We get some hints of future plots when we hear of the legend of a "promised land" called A-Ree-Yass-I, and see that both Abi and Michael seem to have psychic abilities (healing and telekinesis, respectively). It should be interesting to see where the story goes in the future.

Christopher Mitten's art suits the story very well, whether depicting character moments:

Or action scenes:

I like the blur effect he uses at times on items or characters in the foreground. It's very cinematic. He also pulls off a neat effect in a scene where the villagers' holy man tells the legend behind the current state of the world. It seems to be done with layers of paint:

It looks really cool in black and white. He also uses this "painted" look at times to give texture to backgrounds like rocks and sand. It's very nice.

Well, I think I convinced myself to keep reading this series, whether by catching up on the issues or by getting the next collection. One thing to mention is that the single issues contain some text pieces and other extras giving some background on the world. These are not included in the collection; I read some comments by Antony Johnston saying that it was a way of rewarding readers for not "waiting for the trade". The latest issue that has been published is #8, so it would be easy to catch up the the issues after reading this volume. Whatever the case, it's a pretty good series; I'll give it a modest recommendation.

Thanks to Oni Press for the review copy.

Joss Whedon fans will be happy this week

UPDATE 2: Crap, here's another one I missed:


I wouldn't normall care about random Spider-Man books, but this one is written by Matt Fraction, with art by Salvador Larroca. I'll probably end up getting it, just to see Fraction write Spidey.

UPDATE: Shit, how did I miss this one?


I loved the first two issues of this, and I really, really doubt it will go downhill at all. Jeff Smith rules!
Back to the regular post:

Hmmm, another possibly light week. Which is nice in the money-saving department.

New comics this week (Wednesday, 5/2/07):


I dug the first issue of this, even though it's expensive. Ashley Wood is really cool, and there were some good stories and art. I hope he keeps up the quality.


Joss Whedon book #1. It seems like a long time since the last issue. The last several issues have been good, so I hope Whedon and Cassaday keep up the streak.


This looks interesting. I doubt my shop will get it, but it will be one to keep an eye out for.


Same as I say every time this comes out, I'm enjoying the series, etc., etc.


I'll have to decide at the rack whether I want to get this. I'm way behind on Hellboy (I need to pick up the trades sometime), but I did read The Island. It's a maybe.

KORGI VOL 1 TP 10.00

This sounds cute, but I doubt it's for me. Maybe I'll get it for my wife; she loves Owly, and this seems to be quite similar.


I'm curious about Marvel's "Classics Illustrated"-style line, but the preview of this series in the recent Jungle Book reprint didn't really grab me. I'll give this a look though.


This is the issue by Brian K. Vaughan and Darick Robertson, and it'll probably be the last one I get. Unless Ennis (or another writer I like) comes back eventually.

RUNAWAYS #26 2.99

Joss Whedon book #2. Last issue was pretty good, and I hope Whedon's run gets even better (of course).


More Felicia Hardy? More Firestar? More of Mary Jane being torn between two guys? More of me feeling like a teenage girl? Whatever the case, I love this book.

WARD O/T STATE #1 (OF 3) 3.50

I've been interested in the concept of this book since I saw the first solicitation. For those who don't know, it's about an orphanage in which the children are trained to be assassins. Could be crazy fun, could suck. We'll see.

I think that's pretty much everything of interest. Maybe not as light a week as I thought. By the way, the third Whedon book is Buffy #3, but I don't read that one. I hope to get another review or two up tonight, so stay tuned.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Heartbreak Soup: More heartbreaking thoughts

Here's some more stuff I felt like talking about regarding Heartbreak Soup (you can read my original post on the subject here).

Thinking about Gilbert Hernandez's work, I'm struck by some of the effective storytelling devices he uses. For instance, when depicting characters going about their lives, he often depicts them on the streets of Palomar, sometimes even in the background, with other characters that are unknown to us (or just not involved in the current story) in the foreground.

It's a great way to make the stories feel like they're taking place in a living, breathing world. It also draws the reader right into the story, making us feel like we're right there on the streets of Palomar. This feeling is heightened when characters occasionally break the fourth wall and speak directly to the reader:

Sometimes they even make use of catchphrases:

I love that stuff. Another skill of Gilbert's is his mastery of cartooning. He usually uses a fairly simple style (deceptively simple, really) when depicting people, but at times he renders the characters in more detail, creating a striking difference and setting a more serious mood:

He's also great with comedy, both in depicting characters' expressions and in the use of slapstick:

This panel starts a sequence in which Heraclio offends his wife Carmen, so she throws his dinner in his face and kicks him out of the house:

So he goes and gets drunk at a bar:

Man, that cracks me up every time I look at it. There are other times when Gilbert uses these comedic devices while telling more serious stories, and the juxtaposition is incredible, leaving the reader confused and unsure how to interpret the situation:

Like I said, Gilbert is a master of the form. And this was back in the early 80's! It's been 25 years since many of these stories, and he's only gotten better.

One final thing I'll mention is the narration. I love the conversational style of the omniscient storyteller, who at times seems like another character in the series (or maybe it's just Gilbert himself). Rather than giving dry descriptions of the goings-on, the prose conveys some great mental imagery to go along with the actual pictures. Here are some of my favorite passages:

"The sun has been a pitiless potentate these days...It's almost as if it has chosen the town of Palomar to focus its wrath upon..."

"Archie and Luba go back a few years, it's true, but despite the rumors you may have heard, they've never been lovers...This is probably one of the reasons why they get along so well (if not the reason)..."

"Many of you have felt it before...the blow. Like a large block of ice being forced against the side of your face...that dizzying remember. Ah, to be young and in love, eh?"

"Downtown San Fideo at night! For the jaded, a shimmering, shallow purgatory...To the restless young: an oasis amid the wasteland they feel is their lives..."

So that's probably the last of my Heartbreak Soup musings, but I'm quite enamored of Gilbert Hernandez at the moment, so I might dig out some other comics I have of his to talk about them. Maybe. I've got other stuff to drone on about as well. So come back soon and see!

On a separate, compensatorily-related note, maybe you could use a cash advance to collect all of your favorite Gilbert Hernandez work.  Maybe?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Borrowed Time: Not the fun kind of time travel

Borrowed Time #1-2
Written by Neal Shaffer
Art by Joe Infurnari

This is an odd comic, both in format and in story. Each issue is digest-sized (but not digest-length, at least in the standard manga sense); the first is 73 pages for $6.95, and the second is 56 pages for $5.95. The story concerns a journalist named Taylor Devlin who catches a ride on a ship going through the Bermuda Triangle in order to do research on a story. They run into a big storm (which was not predicted), and Taylor is knocked out. When he wakes up, the ship is deserted, and seems to be in poor repair. After a few days, he is rescued by a helicopter, but when he gets back to the mainland, everything seems to have changed. He visits a scientist of sorts, who informs him that he is now on a world that is "ten seconds away" from the one he knows. It's where items like lost keys and socks end up, seemingly on a different frequency or wavelength than the old world. He returns to his apartment and argues with a squatter, who then becomes his guide to the society in this strange place. Much of the comic seems to be about Taylor coming to terms with this new world and dealing with the reality that he can never go back.

Like I said, it's an odd book, and I ended up getting hung up on the details of this world and how it could exist. For instance, what happened to the crew of the ship Taylor was on? Did the whole ship get "lost"? If so, why didn't the rest of the crew go with it? How did the helicopter end up in the "new" world? All the buildings on the "old" world exist in the new world, along with appliances and other objects, but where does the electricity that runs them come from? I get the feeling that this wasn't really thought through, although I could be wrong; maybe Shaffer plans to answer them in future issues.

So if it isn't really about technical, science-fictiony details like that, what is the story about? Perhaps it's supposed to be about the loneliness of moving to a new city or country, or the feeling of loss after the breakup of a relationship (Taylor's girlfriend is left behind, and we see them both coping with the loss of the other). It's hard to say, but maybe the overarching theme will be made clearer in the future.

The art is very nice, and well-suited to the material. I've never read any comics by Joe Infurnari, but I know he previously worked on Caveman Robot. That series appears to be comedic in nature, so he shows his versatility in his able handling of this more serious subject matter. His scenes are full of good details, especially the trash that fills the streets of the new world:

And he's good at conveying a range of expressions on the various characters. I particularly like his depiction of Taylor's confusion and anger at his situation:

He's good at dynamic scenes, when they're called for, although most of the story has been pretty low-key so far. I really like the surreal dream sequence that opens the second issue. My only complaints would be that Taylor's girlfriend in the old world looks too similar to a girl he meets in the new world; I got confused for a second (but maybe that was intentional).

Really, it's a decent book. Other than my nitpick about the art, my only complaint is that it moves a bit slowly. With over 120 pages between the two issues, the story still seems to be in the introductory stage; it seems that it could have been tightened up a bit to pick up the pace. But maybe that's just me. So, while I'm definitely intrigued by the story, I'm not completely sold. I'll consider getting the third issue when it comes out and see what happens from there.

Thanks to Oni Press for the review copies.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

King City: I'm not sure if I would want to live there or not

King City, volume 1
By Brandon Graham

If I may say so, this comic is awesome. I know Brandon Graham has been around for a while, but I don't know of anything I've read by him (nothing in the "also by" list in this book, anyway). However, he still seems familiar, especially the way he draws girls' lips:

Where have I seen that before? Or is he just similar to other artists I know? Becky Cloonan, maybe? (I know they're both members of the Meathaus group). Whatever the case, I really dig his style, along with the barrage of crazy sci-fi ideas he throws on the page in this book.

The story concerns a young man named Joe, who returns to the titular city after an absence spent training as a "cat master". He now has a special (genetically-engineered?) cat that can do or become anything with an injection of "cat juice". He ends up getting related in various spy-related schemes and involving his ski-masked friend Pete. We also spend some time with Joe's ex-girlfriend Anna, who is dating Max, a scarred veteran of the Korean Xombie War who is addicted to a drug called chalk, which slowly turns its users' bodies into the drug for other users to use. Along the way, we encounter stuff like cannibalistic rich men, chainsaw swords, an alien water-dwelling girl, high-speed booger flicking, and a sasquatch landlord. It's a crazy world that Graham is building here, and it's fun to see the characters move through it.

And the art is really cool too. The book is published by Tokyopop, so one would expect some manga influence, but the usual surface stylings like big eyes and speed lines aren't here. Graham does use some manga-ish storytelling techniques though, such as interesting panel layouts or "camera angles". One thing I love is his use of Japanese-style sound effects, either by making them part of the art:

Or by coming up with weird words to use for sound effects:

He's also great at depicting his characters and their expressions, even the cat (whose full name is Earthling J.J. Catingsworth III):

And I'm blown away by how sexy he makes his women, whether through looks:

Or personality:

Yowza! So, it's highly recommended, and I can't wait for upcoming volumes.

That's probably all for tonight, but expect more content tomorrow.

This is what happens when there's a light comics week

I actually get some timely reviews done. So here's what I thought was notable in new comics:

Johnny Hiro #1
By Fred Chao

This is a fun comic about a guy who is, as the cover trumpets, "Half Asian, all hero". I'm not sure if his name is actually Johnny Hiro, or just Hiro. He is awoken from peaceful sleep one morning by the creation of a large hole in his apartment's wall, as his girlfriend Mayumi is snatched out of bed by a giant monster known as:

So he goes chasing after her, only to get flung around by the monster's tail. Much of the issue is actually taken up by flashbacks, featuring remembrances of childhood injuries (from Hiro) and defeat at the hands of a giant robot (by Gozadilla). It's all quite amusing, featuring panels like this:

In fact, I'm going to declare that my current favorite panel. In the end, the monster is defeated (spoiler, but it's kind of obvious, isn't it?), and New York's (that's where the story takes place) Mayor Bloomberg shows up to have the damage fixed without anyone being the wiser. Fun!

So it's a simple story, but the art is great, as you can see from the samples provided. Chao's linework is simple yet quite detailed, and he has a great sense of whimsy. I especially liked Hiro's (possible) supernatural experience and the personalities of the robot pilots in the flashback. So, recommended. Does anybody know if this is intended to be an ongoing series, or is it just a one-shot?

Superfuckers #279 (or 4)
By James Kochalka

Oh man, this series is hilarious. It's just pure, obnoxious, filthy, profane fun with a team of slacker teenage superheroes who sit around getting high, having sex, and making gay jokes. It's hard to even describe it. I will mention that Kochalka's cute art is a great contrast to all the disgusting goings-on. All the male nudity looks especially weird on these simply-drawn characters and pastel colors. I think I'll just share some of my favorite panels, noting that several of these made me laugh out loud:

I love Jack Krak's new pink tutu/porno mustache combo.

So, if any of those annoy/offend/disgust you, this probably isn't the book for you. But if, like me, you think they're funny, you'll love it, because each issue is like this on every page.

One question though: I thought I read somewhere that this would be the last issue, at least for a while. Is that true? I suppose I could do some research, but does anybody want to do it for me?

I also picked up the latest issues of Powers and The Punisher Presents: Barracuda, but I don't have much of substance to say about them. Barracuda is in the middle of the miniseries, so most of the action will occur in the final two issues, I suspect (although there is some good action this month). As for Powers, it was decent, but I think I've decided to stop reading it monthly and wait for the trade. It comes out kind of sporadically, and I'm finding it harder to get caught up to the plot each issue. I suspect it will read better in larger chunks.

Okay, that's it for new comics, but I'm starting to write about another one now, so check it out later this evening.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Heartbreak Soup: I'm heartbroken that I don't have the next volume yet

UPDATE: If you like this review, I've posted some more thoughts on Heartbreak Soup here.

This might be my latest obsession, so prepare for lots of posts relating to this, or maybe about other comics by the same author. But for now, here's my thoughts on:

Heartbreak Soup
By Gilbert Hernandez

I had read some Love and Rockets here and there from picking up a random issue or two from a sale or in a story that was included in an anthology, but before this book, I had never actually followed the series. I've always meant to, but it was either not available, or too unwieldy and intimidating. So I was very excited when I heard that Fantagraphics was releasing these collections of the stories in chronological order. This first one collects comics by Gilbert Hernandez (I also got the first collection by Jaime Hernandez, but I haven't read it yet) which take place in his fictional Mexican town of Palomar. And I loved it! Gilbert is an incredible cartoonist, relating these seemingly simple stories of small-town life that turn out to be very emotionally complex.

This volume seems to be chiefly concerned with introducing the characters that live in Palomar (the stories were published between 1982 and 1986, I believe), with more complex plots to come later (at least, I think they become more complex; I would be perfectly happy if Gilbert spent the next twenty years telling these same types of stories). We learn about life in the small town and how everyone seems to know everyone else. It's also a very sexually-charged place; the women are all beautiful, and the men are constantly lusting after them.

Gilbert moves fairly quickly throughout time here; the first lengthy story, "Heartbreak Soup", takes place while many of the main characters are teenagers or children. I really enjoyed the depiction of these characters, and knowing that the series has lasted 25 years, I expected to see them grow up over a few years of real-time storytelling. Instead, Gilbert jumps ahead about ten years for the next long story ("Act of Contrition"). It was surprising, but I found it easy to catch up, as the characters were still all recognizable, both through visual depiction and their personalities. It did leave me curious about some of what had transpired during the gap, but luckily Gilbert fills in some of the gaps through flashbacks and shorter stories that take place during that time. There are still some questions though (such as how Pipo ended up marrying Gato, for one), but, as I mentioned, Gilbert kept doing stories about these characters all the way through to the present, so it's possible he has fleshed out the backstories very well.

But like I said, my favorite part of the series is just spending time with the well-drawn characters. Seeing Chelo keep a close eye on everyone, or Heraclio try to control his urges and deal with things intellectually, or Carmen act as a know-it-all; that's the best part of the book for me. And the way the characters interact is beautiful, whether it's Tonantzin using her sex appeal to control every man she meets, Luba taking care of her kids (while still trying to get some enjoyment out of life), or Chelo being protective of everybody. Beautiful stuff.

And the art! Gilbert is a master cartoonist, knowing exactly when to use lots of detail and when to depict the characters as more "cartoony". The range of emotions he has each character convey is great, and it's always easy to tell the characters apart (a more difficult task for an artist than it would seem). He's also wonderful at aging the characters as time passes, so we can see the effect the years have had on them, but still recognize them. Here's some examples:


(Luba is a pretty fascinating character on her own. For one thing, Gilbert depicts her with gigantic breasts, but then has other characters comment on that fact. Women refer to her as a "cantaloupe smuggler" or "three-headed woman", and men, of course, find her irresistible, which is probably a comment on his impulse to draw her that way in the first place. But she's also a very rich, complex character. She has four daughters, all by different men. So she's kind of promiscuous, but she also cares about her family and takes care of them. She feels kind of alone in a small town, so she opens a movie theater to bring in some culture. She's very hardworking. It's fascinating to see the different facets of her personality. And she's just one character! Every other character is just as rich and devoloped. I think she's a favorite of Gilbert's, and he's spun her off into other stories outside of the Palomar setting. I can't wait to read more about her, and everybody else).



There's also a hint of the surreal about Palomar. Characters can sometimes be seen carrying what appear to be large artillery rounds:

The town is surrounded by creepy statues:

And the main foodstuff appears to be slugs. It's an odd place, and a great setting for the stories.

So it's a wonderful book, part of a great series. I can't wait until the next volume comes out in July. Until then, I still have to read Maggie the Mechanic, the first collection of Jaime Hernandez's portion of Love and Rockets. That should tide me over.

Man, and there's more I wanted to talk about. I'll probably do more posts about Heartbreak Soup/Love and Rockets/Gilbert Hernandez soon. But there's other stuff I want to write about. So expect lots of content!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

American Born Chinese: Stereotypes and asskickery

I don't feel like writing anything extensive tonight, so here's a quick review of a book most people seem to have read already:

American Born Chinese
By Gene Luen Yang

I found this book to be a fascinating look at an underrepresented segment of American society, the Asian-American populace. Typically, they're not as visible or outspoken as some minorities, so they often seem to go ignored. Well, Yang gives us a look at what it's like growing up in the United States as part of that minority. It's downright breathtaking to see him vent his rage at the comments and jokes people made when he was growing up, whether it's obvious stuff like kids pushing their eyes into a squint when he walks by or more subtle aspects, like assuming all Asians come from China or that they regularly eat dogs and cats.

The book is divided into three storylines, two of which deal directly with the Asian-American experience and one that approaches it more obliquely, through the famous Chinese folk tale of the Monkey King. Of the three, I found the story of Jin Wang (who seems to be based on Yang's childhood) the most gripping. It's a good coming-of-age tale, as we see him be conflicted over embracing or denying his heritage. Yang perfectly captures the experience of having a crush on a pretty girl and being too self-conscious to talk to her. I love his depiction of the "jolt of confidence" that Jin gets:

The funniest and probably most striking story is the one dealing with Chin-Kee, a Chinese stereotype of the most obvious and hurtful sort who, on his yearly visits to "Amellica", never fails to ruin his cousin Danny's life. He's every hurtful thing somebody says to or about an Asian person, turned up to eleven (and given a laugh track!). It's like Yang is exorcising his demons, right here in front of all his readers:

In the third storyline, we get an interpretation of the legend of the Monkey King, a famous figure in Chinese folklore. It's great fun, as he considers himself to be a god, but is not allowed entrance to a feast in heaven. Here's what results:

So he meditates and perfects all possible kung fu skills in order to confront Tzeh-Yo-Tzuh, the highest of the gods (at least, that's my interpretation from this book; I'm not an expert in Chinese mythology). It's a fun story, full of action, but as it goes, we see the Monkey King try to convince everyone (and especially himself) that he's not actually a monkey. Ultimately, the story is about accepting your heritage, the same as the two more earthbound tales.

At the end, Yang ties all three stories together in a pretty novel manner. I would have been fine if he had brought each of them to an end separately, but this provides good closure to the book and ensures that we view them as a whole. Overall, it's an excellent book, with nice art that tells the story very well. I can see why it keeps winning awards.

Huh, that turned out longer than I expected. I'll probably have more stuff up tomorrow, or maybe later tonight if I really feel like it. But I doubt it.