Thursday, January 29, 2009

Crogan's Vengeance: Avast, me hearties! Shiver me timbers! Etc.

Sorry about the lack of updates; being sick sucks.  But: I've got a review of That Salty Air up at IndiePulp, if you're interested.

Links and such: Also at IndiePulp, I recommend this essay by my compatriot A.N. Ommus about creativity, productivity, and Jack Kirby.  Good reading.

Here's an interesting webcomic: The Sergeant and Professor Skeary Winslow.  It appears to be a sort of interdimensional fantasy/sci-fi, but the first chapter starts off in the middle of an aerial battle involving a bat-winged plane and some heli-pack-wearing monsters over a weird jungle.  It's a nice beginning.  The creator is doing an interesting promotion in which he will draw people who send him a photo into an upcoming crowd scene.  Details here.  I thought that sounded cool, so look for me in said scene. Hat tip: Sean Kleefeld.

Details are out for the 2009 Toronto Comics Art Festival.  Man, I would love to go; I might have to see if a trip would be doable.

Check out this comic by Dan Zettwoch, based on a story by Jason Shiga.  I though it was quite funny.

Okay, real content:

Crogan's Vengeance
By Chris Schweizer

Wow, Chris Schweizer is an ambitious fellow.  This book is the first in a projected sixteen-volume series detailing the adventures of various members of the eponymous Crogan family across three different centuries of history.  And given the talent on display here, it should be a treat to see them all come to fruition.  

Beginning with a framing sequence in which the modern-day Dr. Crogan imparts a lesson about doing the right thing to his son, the book quickly plunges into the story of their ancestor Catfoot Crogan, relating how he became a scurvy scalawag of the high seas (sorry).  It's a fascinating story that's full of historical details and a surprisingly layered plot that isn't a simple tale of good vs. evil.  Not to say that it's a complex examination of morality or anything, but our hero does end up facing the dilemma of weighing his personal preservation over that of innocents, along with struggles against authority and the benefits and costs of friendship in a life-or-death environment.  There's a lot more here than peg legs and eyepatches.

As the story begins, Catfoot is struggling to survive a voyage as a seahand on a merchant ship whose captain has it out for him.  When some pirates attack their vessel, he and his fellow crewmen are given the option of joining or dieing, plunging him into the world of high-seas lawlessness.  He soon gets on the pirate captain's good side when he displays an acumen for naval strategy, but this puts him in competition with the first mate, who ends up making a power play for control of the ship and possibly endangering all their livelihoods with his greediness.  Will this all lead to a big showdown battle?  You bet your jolly roger it will!

And through it all, Schweizer examines the morality of his characters, giving them interesting motivations and setting them against each other.  While the merchant captain was unfair to Catfoot, our hero still won't stand to see the man tortured to death by the pirates.  The pirate captain must see something of a fellow man in Catfoot; having drawn up a set of "articles" that govern how his men are treated, settle their differences, and split their loot.  He's a moral man in an immoral field, and we see that the urge to unfairly play the system is what brings him down.  On the other hand, first mate D'or is a nasty brute who thinks of nothing but himself and getting his hands on whatever he desires, whether that be wealth or the death of those who cross him.  It makes for an interesting mix, and Schweizer gets a lot of mileage out of playing them off each other, eventually allowing Catfoot to prevail and be rewarded for sticking to what is right.

It ends up being highly entertaining, and especially exciting to boot, with lots of swashbuckling action and adventure.  Schweizer's art has a cartoony look to it, filling the pages with curvily-limbed characters sporting exaggerated features.  This serves to highlight the personalities of the characters, and it also makes for some dynamic action:  

And it's far from simplistic; in fact, Schweizer manages to pack in a load of detail when necessary, going so far as to make some battle scenes look like a loud, chaotic jumble of energy.  But he never sacrifices storytelling to do so; check out this sequence that sees Catfoot trying to get his bearings in the confusion surrounding him:

I love the way Schweizer starts out with a close-up and then pulls back to see our viewpoint character stranded in a sea of violence.  But in that third, cluttered panel, he's still dead center; we have no trouble picking him out of the crowd.  It's nice work, and this sort of skill is present throughout the whole book.

It ends up being a highly satisfying volume, and if Schweizer can keep it up, we'll have a classic series on our hands.  This could even have some educational value, given the historical details that serve to demonstrate what life was really like at the time.  And while there is some violence, none of it is gratuitous; it's perfectly suitable for teens, and maybe even younger, depending on the parents' discretion, of course.  It should be fascinating to see Schweizer build on his series; I can't wait to see where he goes next.

This review was based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Speak of the Devil: And Dick Cheney appears

Take that, Dick!  Ooh, he's feeling the hurt now.  I would prefer if he went to jail for war crimes though...

Links:  Check out this awesome gallery of Polish movie posters for American movies.  There's some really cool artwork there.

Derek Kirk Kim's righteous anger about the casting of white actors in Asian roles in the upcoming, M. Night Shyamalan-directed movie adaptation of Avatar the Last Airbender makes for a good read, and an issue to get behind.

And here's a new blog to add to the feed reader: The Tearoom of Despair.

Speak of the Devil
By Gilbert Hernandez

Whoa.  That's the (well, one) proper response to Gilbert Hernandez's latest entry in his series of "movies" starring his character Fritz (Chance in Hell was a previous example, and The Troublemakers is scheduled to come next), delivered with a full, Keanu Reeves-style air of incomprehension.  What Gilbert is going for here is nigh-inscrutable, in keeping with his current output that seems to be defined by its surreality.  But that doesn't make it any less entertaining; in fact, the book works perfectly well as it is intended to be, an exploitation movie full of sex and violence.  But if you want make yourself feel smart (or not so much, in my case), you can also spend a lot of mental energy searching for deeper meaning.  It's a win-win.

The story goes: what seems to be a typical suburban neighborhood is being plagued by a peeping Tom.  Teenage gymnast Val's parents (or rather, her dad and his younger wife Linda) are worried, but what they don't know is that Val is the peeper, spending her nights prowling around the neighborhood in a goofy devil mask and black sweat suit.  This seems to set up a story of voyeurism, exhibitionism, and desire, as Linda seems to become sexually obsessed with the idea of being watched, and Val starts to pursue a friend named Paul, who might or might not be gay.  But he rebuffs her advances, seeming more interested in Linda.  But when he discovers she's the peeping Tom, everything changes.  And they get complicated even further when he decides to go out peeping himself.

And then the story takes a jarring turn, seeing a sudden display of gory violence and a complete shift in direction, as characters leave their lives behind in order to set out on a journey of random murder and near-constant sex.  It's enough to induce whiplash in the reader, but it somehow seems to work for the characters, maybe due to their disaffected nature.  And then it all comes to an apocalyptic conclusion.  Or does it? (Yes, it does.  But that sort of question is obligatory in stories like this, at least for me).

It makes for a roller-coaster ride, but the question is, what does it all mean?  One interpretation might be the emotional violence of growing up, rendered as luridly as possible.  After Val disappears, we see frequent scenes of her father worrying about her, but unable to do anything.  What better metaphor is there for children "leaving the nest"?  And while Val's actions are extreme, they do seem to be at least somewhat meant to be a reaction to things like her parents' divorce or her father's pushing her to make it to the state gymnastics finals.

Other characters seem a bit harder to read, although Linda's exhibitionism might be connected to her desire to relate to the youth that she lost when she became a married woman.  And Paul has a similar issue with his parents, especially his verbally abusive father, but he also seems motivated by peer pressure.  All common concerns of youth, right?  And when real life intrudes, why not respond with a violent rampage, showing the world your distaste for the adult responsibilities forced upon you?  Well, besides the obvious reasons of morality and whatnot.

Of course, I could be completely off base here; maybe it's just a series of images meant to provoke and/or make people come up with ridiculous interpretations.  But Gilbert makes some interesting choices that don't seem to point in as exploitative a direction as he could have.  For instance, even though there is plenty of sex, there is no actual nudity in the book.  That is, nothing that wouldn't make it into a PG-13 movie; nipples are always covered by clothes or strategically-placed limbs:

And whle the violence is prevalent, it's not as lurid as it could have been; gouged-out eyes and stab wounds appear as black splotches of ink, rather than the ragged, meaty gashes that you might see in a comic illustrated by, say, Steve Dillon:

Overall, I really can't say what exactly it's all supposed to be about, but it makes for an indelible experience.  Gilbert is such a professional, he can take a weird, freaky story like this one and pull readers along, not allowing them to stop and catch their breath.  And everything fits the mood, from the looming clouds that give even cheery-seeming scenes an air of gloom and menace to repeated visual motifs, like profile views of characters as the stare dispassionately at the awful scenes that surround them.  Few creators could pull something like this off and not completely turn off readers, but Gilbert makes it look easy.  It shows why he's one of the top cartoonists in his field.  Now, if only I could read one of his books without feeling like an idiot.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Best of 2008: Comics, comics, comics!

I don't think I'll ever manage to read all the comics from 2008 that I would like to, so I figure now is as good a time as any to decide which ones rank as really good against each other.  I always enjoy these sorts of exercises (although probably not as much as some), mostly because it's interesting to look over the comics I've read in the course of a year and ponder how they all stack up against each other.  I definitely don't think this is some sort of objective determination of quality (especially since it's nearly impossible to compare many of these books, they're so different), but more of a look at my taste and likes.  And of course, the ranking could change from day to day, if not more often; this is kind of just a snapshot of my current state of mind.  

But anyway, enough prattle.  I present:

The Best Comics of 2008!

Or my favorites, anyway.  Note: links will lead to my reviews of the various titles, unless stated otherwise.

I don't read a whole lot of kids' books, but if more of them were as enjoyable and gorgeously illustrated as Jill Thompson's new series, I would probably spend a lot more time in the children's section of the bookstore.  These books are just sheer fun, following the low-key, lesson-learning adventures of an elementary-school witch and her monster friends.  Wonderful, adorable stuff.

24. Skim

Mariko Tamaki turned in a really nice character piece here, a layered story about a goth girl discovering herself as she makes her way through a death-obsessed high school culture.  But the real star of the book is Jillian Tamaki, whose evocative linework beautifully realized that script.  Definitely one of the best-looking books of the year.

Frederick Peeters' autobiographical story about his relationship with a woman infected with HIV (along with her son) is really nicely-told, full of genuine personal moments and intimate scenes of the artist struggling with the unfairness of death.  Easy to miss, given its release early in the year, but it's definitely worthy of inclusion on a list of the best of 2008.

22. Speak of the Devil

Gilbert Hernandez's latest opus of weirdness, following a teenage Peeping Tom and the gory consequences of her hobby.  I'm still not fully sure what to make of this one, but I know it's good.  Review forthcoming.

Rutu Modan followed up her excellent 2007 graphic novel Exit Wounds (which was #2 on last year's list) with this collection of her older short stories, giving readers a chance to watch her development as a writer and artist.  It's fascinating to see her talent for storytelling develop, and the mostly Israel-set stories make for some great reading too.

20. Cowa!

Akira Toriyama's one-volume manga about a headstrong half-vampire, half-werekoala kid who saves his village of monsters from a contagious disease through a countryside quest and the power of friendship was great fun.  Definitely one of the highlights of the year.

The Hernandez brothers keep cranking out quality material year after year, and this first installment of the new format for their long-running series was more of the same, which is to say that it was some good reading.  Fun superheroics from Jaime and weird surreality from Gilbert; it wasn't exactly a new direction, but it made for an interesting look at where they are currently headed.  The wait for the next installment will be too long.

18. Dororo (volume 1, volume 2, volume 3)

While Osamu Tezuka's series about a demon-fighting, prosthetic-limbed samurai remains unfinished, what we did get to experience was just incredible, full of the wild action, goofy comedy, and emotional stories that Tezuka did so well.  I don't think I'll be happy until each and every other Tezuka manga is available in the West as well.

It seems like Posy Simmonds gets a lot of hype for being a really good cartoonist, but this book proved that said praise was not unfounded.  A nice character piece about infidelity, beauty, the English countryside, the creative impulse, and teenage restlessness, among other subjects, the book is gorgeously illustrated and full of good moments.  Simmonds definitely deserves more attention on this side of the pond.

Jason is one of the best cartoonists in the world, and through this book, it's fascinating to see how he got that way.  As a collection of his older material in which he was still experimenting with various styles (before settling on the "morose funny animal" look), this is neat to watch, but it's excellent stuff in and of itself as well, ranging from weird emotional examinations to psychological horror to surreal comedy.  It's great reading, even if you're not familiar with what was to come.

Takehiko Inoue is an incredibly skilled cartoonist (not to spoil anything, but this isn't his only appearance on this list), but after reading some of his more recent, more serious manga, it's a revelation to see how good he was at shonen comedy with this earlier series about high school basketball.  It's also easy to see how the series became so phenomenally popular, given its strong grasp of character, exciting sports action, and hilarious slapstick.  Don't miss it; this is shonen manga at its best.

Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly wrapped up this twelve-issue series this year, and it was an excellent, emotional ending.  The series ended up being a wonderful look at the growth and maturation of a fully-realized character, and it was sad to see it end, if only because that means we won't get to spend any more time with her.  But in addition to the series ending, it was also collected in a gorgeous hardcover that included everything that made the series great, including the "backmatter" and guest artist pin-ups from the individual issues.  As good as it was to read the series as it was coming out, it's even better to have it all under one cover.

Like so many other entries on this list, Alex Robinson's high school nostalgia trip about a guy who gets hypnotized in order to quit smoking but ends up (possibly) traveling back in time to his teenage years is a great character piece, full of realistic emotion and great moments.  It's engaging, touching, funny stuff, but Robinson pulls you right into the story, making you imagine what it would be like to be suddenly transported back into your awkward formative years.  Don't miss it.

Dash Shaw blew lots of people away with his massive brick of a book, myself included.  It's another excellent character piece that follows the adult children of a couple in the midst of an inexplicable divorce, using inventive formalist techniques to explore their emotions.  Shaw really reveals himself as a talent to be watched here; I expect great things from him in the future.

One of the few superhero books that were worthy of inclusion on this list, Jonathan Lethem's reimagining of Steve Gerber's 1970s ode to weirdness was an amazingly layered exploration of diverse themes like mental illness, fitting in in a world that seems strange, marketing, and just plain strange shit.  Gorgeously quirky art from Farel Dalrymple brings the story to life, and an excellent book is the result.

10. Criminal (issue #6, issue #7)

While Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' noir series had been quite good in its first iteration, the relaunch this year kicked it up into a higher echelon of greatness, with Brubaker delivering complex, gripping stories of the dark underside of humanity and Phillips bringing them to life beautifully.  Lets hope they can keep this going for years to come; the world deserves to have comics this good.

9. Casanova

Only a couple issues of Matt Fraction's signature series came out this year, but they were so good that they deserve high recognition, presenting Fraction's unique mix of frenetic action, wild ideas, and emotional underpinnings in high style.  Fabio Moon's art was also just amazing, and that final issue of the second volume was a punch to the gut, in more ways than one.  I can't wait for more to come in '09.

8. All Star Superman (review of issue #12)

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's series gets a lot of acclaim, and deservedly so; it provides the quintessential look at the character, and does so in exciting, perfectly told stories that manage to grab the most jaded reader by the shirt collar and make him believe in a hero that inspires us all.  From the inspiring issue #10, which saw Superman go so far as to cure cancer and serve as the creative impulse for the "real world", to a final issue that saw him beat death itself so he could sacrifice himself to rebuild a poisoned sun.  That's some heady stuff, and it's the kind of thing that superhero comics can do wonderfully if they try, rather than getting mired in endless rehashings of phony "realism".  Hopefully this won't be Morrison's peak, but if it is, it's a worthy one.

Eddie Campbell can always be counted on to deliver great stories that nobody else could tell, at least not so entertainingly.  This book was no exception, telling the decades-spanning adventures of its impostor hero as he tries to make a name for himself while forming lasting relationships with a varied cast of characters.  And did I mention the gorgeous art?  It's great to watch Campbell put together a story, and he does yet another excellent job here.  

6. The Boy Who Made Silence (issue #3, issue #6)

Joshua Hagler's art-gallery-worthy series is one that deserves more attention; it's an incredibly personal look at religion, miracles, and small-town life that's like nothing else in comics.  It's hard to even describe, but it moved me like little else that I read last year, and I really hope more people will give it a chance.

This should probably be higher on the list, since it's a great work of comics from one of the towering geniuses of the medium.  But it's my list, and I'll arbitrarily put things ahead of it that I decided I liked better.  Still, nobody does comics like Chris Ware, and this is a great bit of art from him, combining a surprising bit of sci-fi and psychological horror with an affecting example of Ware's propensity for awkwardness and repressed emotions.  It's hard to believe, but he just seems to keep getting better and better.

I'm still a few volumes behind on this series, but even judging by what I did read of this series in 2008, it was definitely one of my favorites.  The sheer drama of the series kicked into high gear in volume 8, and it hasn't slowed down since.  But it's not just empty soap operatics; Ai Yazawa has built up characters that the reader loves like family, and she's putting them through a realistic wringer, making us feel every high and low.  It's incredible to watch, if you can allow yourself to step back and see the construction of the stories.  But I certainly don't fault anyone who can't.

3. Real (volume 1, volume 2)

Takehiko Inoue was mentioned above as a skilled cartoonist, and this series about wheelchair basketball proves it, not only through his gorgeously detailed and kinetic art, but also through the way he sucks readers right into his characters' lives.  Within pages, he gets you on the side of his band of anry young men, and you want to spend more time with them and see them succeed.  And did I mention the beautiful scenes of athletics that make you feel as if you're watching them in real life?  Nobody on either side of the Pacific and draw like Inoue, and few can weave as engaging a story either.

I had a difficult debate with myself after finishing this book, because I found it so incredibly engaging and moving and, well, good, that I thought it might belong in the #1 spot.  But I decided not to let the recentness of the read overwhelm everything else on the list, so it comes in at a respectable second.  But that's no mark against it; it's definitely one of the best graphic novels I've read, drawing me right into the story and nearly moving me to tears even as I marveled at every page of stunning artwork.  Cyril Pedrosa is a hidden gem of a cartoonist, and hopefully many more of his books will make it to the West.  Otherwise, I'll have to learn French and start making pilgrimmages to Paris bande dessinee shops.

When experiencing media, I tend to settle on favorites early; once I read/see something that hits me just right, I end up placing it at the top of a hypothetical "best of" list, comparing everything else against it, usually unfavorably.  Such was the case with Solanin, which drilled its way into my heart as I was reading it and refused to budge, even when pressured by all the exemplary works above.  Something about Inio Asano's depiction of the instability, insecurity, and indecisiveness of early adulthood struck me as particularly resonant, and combined with his excellent artwork and flair for engaging drama, the whole thing made for a tough competitor for any other book to defeat.  And ultimately, nothing did, and I feel quite satisfied with this choice as my favorite book of 2008.  I didn't read anything better.

When I first made a tentative list of comics to consider for the best of the year, it was way too long; apparently, lots of good stuff came out it 2008.  So here are the "honorable mentions", presented in alphabetical order.  As with the above, unless stated otherwise, links lead to my reviews.

Runners Up:

Aetheric Mechanics (review forthcoming, maybe)
The Boys
Charlatan Ball
Comic Book Comics
Crogan's Vengeance (review forthcoming)
The Damned: Prodigal Sons (issue #1, issue #3)
Honey and Clover (in reviews of Shojo Beat)
Kate Beaton's comics (seen here)
Sand Chronicles (in reviews of Shojo Beat)
War Is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle (issue #1)

Also, Monster and The Drifting Classroom are deserving of a special mention, since they might have made the top 25 if I had read any volumes which were released in 2008.


And finally, here is a list of comics which may well have been worthy of inclusion if I had read them:

Abandoned Cars
Alan's War
The Alcoholic
Aya of Yop City
Boy's Club
Burma Chronicles
Cat-Eyed Boy
The Country Nurse
Disappearance Diary
The Education of Hopey Glass
Fatal Faux-Pas
Freddie and Me
French Milk
Ganges #2
The Goddess of War
Gus and His Gang
The Hot Breath of War
I Live Here
Jessica Farm
Kramers Ergot 7
The Lagoon
Little Nothings
Little Vampire
Look Out!! Monsters
Me and the Devil Blues
Mesmo Delivery
Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby
My Brain is Hanging Upside Down
The Night of Your Life
Paul Goes Fishing
Prince of Persia
The Rabbi's Cat volume 2
Skyscrapers of the Midwest
Swallow Me Whole
Tales Designed to Thrizzle #4
Tokyo Zombie
Toon Books series (especially Stinky and Mo and Jo)
Trains Are Mint
The War at Ellsmere
Willie & Joe: The WWII Years

And that's enough of 2008!  Now I can concentrate on 2009, and get even further behind in reviewing the stuff I've read.  Good times.

Monday, January 19, 2009

This week, more stuff appears

Hmmm, getting behind again.  Lots of books to write about.  But in the meantime, here's some links and whatnot:

Apparently Kyle Baker is doing a biography of Barack Obama.  I don't know how he'll be able to work in his signature slapstick humor.  Nah, I'm sure it will be good; Baker is an excellent cartoonist.

Here's an image of Tony Moore's art from The Walking Dead rendered in 3-D.  Neat.

Okay, here's the main event:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 1/21/08):

100 Bullets #99

Oh man, the clip is almost empty.  Nobody spoil this for me.  Is DC going to collect the rest of the series in the next trade, or do I have to wait for two more volumes.  Damn, that's going to be tough.

Astonishing X-Men #28

I guess Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi's series is still coming out, slowly.  I think it's gotten into stuff like parallel universes and whatnot now, which is interesting, if not all that X-Men-y.  I still like when Ellis gets into the crazy sci-fi, so maybe I should read this at some point.  Maybe.

Final Crisis Superman Beyond #2 

One week too late, the finale of this Superman spin-off from the main Final Crisis series shows up.  I should read this at some point, since I almost always dig Morrison, and I like Doug Mahnke's art, and at least some of it is/was in 3-D, which is cool.  Again, maybe.

Garth Ennis Battlefields Night Witches #3

The final issue of Ennis' latest war series, about female Russian bombers.  I love his war comics, so I'll definitely have to get this when it gets collected.  I hope it's one of the good ones.

Madman Atomic Comics #13

Looks like this is still going on.  I kind of regret not continuing to buy this series, but I've kind of gotten tired of it, which is a bummer.  Jog seemed to like the previous issue (I think), so maybe I should try to catch up.

Mysterius: The Unfathomable #1

A new ongoing series from Jeff Parker and artist Tom Fowler from Wildstorm, this one takes more of an adult sensibility than Parker's usual stuff for Marvel, following a magician and his assistant as they get caught up in interdimensional shenanigans.  Or something like that.  I like Parker's work a lot, and Fowler's artwork looks excellent (see some concept art here and a six-page preview here).  It should be interesting to see Parker try something new.  I'll definitely have to check it out.

Ruins #1

The "#1" is misleading here, because this new printing collects all of Warren Ellis' two-issue series that was sort of a dark opposite of Marvels, positing a terrible end for everything in the Marvel universe.  I read it a while back, but I don't remember much of it, so it might not be the greatest thing ever or anything.  Still, if I was buying monthly comics regularly, I would probably pick it up.

Uncanny X-Men Annual #2

Matt Fraction writes this, if you're interested.  Art by Mitch Breitweister, with a story about Emma Frost and her participation in Marvel's Dark Reign event (yawn).  Who knows, maybe Fraction can liven it up a bit.

Angora Napkin GN

A graphic novel from IDW about the titular all-girl band who unwittingly unleash a zombie apocalypse on earth.  Could be cute.  You can email creator Troy Little for a free preview copy if you like; details here.

Batman The Strange Deaths Of Batman TPB

If you thought punching a helicopter and getting Omega Effected was bad, here's a collection of goofy old Batman stories where he died, or at least appeared to.  Fun?  I think it includes the Bob Haney-written story where the Atom climbed inside Batman's brain and controlled his comatose body like a puppet.  If that's not the best Batman team-up ever, I don't know what is.

Capacity GN

This got a bit of attention last year, and it looks like it's available in comic stores now.  Cool.  It's by Theo Ellsworth, and I hear it's full of crazy, detail-packed imagery.  I don't really know what it's about though, but I wouldn't mind reading it sometime.

Flaming Carrot Collected Ltd HC Vol. 1

I've never really been into the Flaming Carrot, but maybe I just haven't read enough.  Here's my chance, I guess.  Fifty bucks gets you some of "the early first stories" (but who knows how many), along with a new ten-page story, a foreword by Dave Sim, and other extras.  

Immortal Iron Fist Vol 3 The book Of Iron Fist tpb

The final volume of the Brubaker/Fraction Iron Fist, although I think this one just collects the Fraction-written issues about the Iron Fists of times past, which makes the $17 price tag seem hefty.  I still haven't read volume 2; I should try to catch up.

Powers HC Vol. 02 Definitive Collection

The next volume of the fancy hardcovers collecting the first volume of the series.  This one has #12-24 for $30.  Those are some good stories, and a nice package, so it's not a bad deal.  Give it a try if you haven't before, I guess.  Your reaction depends on your tolerance for Bendis though, but since this is his creator-owned work, it fits his sensibilities well.

Never Bad As You Think HC

Stuart and Kathryn Immonen's webcomic series gets collected here, and given the quality of their other work, I expect it's quite good.  I'll try to write something up about it soon, so keep an eye out.

Ted McKeever Library Book 2 Eddy Current The Complete Series & The Lost Finale HC

Another older McKeever work that I haven't read, but I sure wouldn't mind.  It's about an escaped mental patient and his crazy adventures.  $35 for 12 issues worth of material.  I bet it's a good read.

Tokyo Days Bangkok Nights TPB

This collects two Vertigo miniseries, Vertigo Pop! Tokyo and Vertigo Pop! Bangkok, which came out in 2003.  They were both written by Jonathan Vankin, with art by Seth Fisher on Tokyo and Guiseppe Camuncoli on Bangkok (a third miniseries, Vertigo Pop! London, by Peter Milligan and Philip Bond, isn't included in this volume).  I've read Tokyo, which was fairly enjoyable, but mostly for Fisher's artwork.  I guess it's worth checking out, but it might be just as easy and possibly cheaper to just hunt down the back issues.

Will Eisner Reader GN WW Norton Edition
Will Eisners Name Of The Game TP WW Norton Edition
Will Eisners The Dreamer TP WW Norton Edition
Will Eisners To The Heart Of The Storm TP WW Norton Edition

A bunch of Eisner volumes.  All good stuff, I think.  I've only read To the Heart of the Storm, but I think all of these are included in the Life, In Pictures volume (which I have but haven't gotten around to reading yet, for fear of spending another week obsessing about Eisner).  Check em out, if you haven't before.

Gantz Vol 3 TP

Lots of good manga this week.  I don't know when I'll be able to get to this series, but I do hope to try at some point.  Lots of sex and violence.  Enjoy.

Gon Vol 7 TP New Printing

More dinosaur antics.  What animals will he beat the shit out of this time?

Oishinbo Japanese Cuisine GN

Viz has this new version of the long-running cooking series.  This translated series is a best-of of sorts, collecting popular stories, similar to Viz's Golgo 13 series.  Does the "Japanese Cuisine" in the title mean that's the focus of this volume?  Maybe.

Path Of The Assassin Vol 14 Bad Blood TP

I haven't read any of this Kazuo Koike/Goseki Kojima series (I still need to finish Lone Wolf and Cub, not to mention Samurai Executioner), but it's yet another one that I hope to read at some point.  Ah, someday.

Real Vol 3 GN

The new volume of Takehiko Inoue's wheelchair basketball series.  The first two installments were some of my favorite comics of 2008, so I expect this third one will also be quite good.  I've got it on my pile of books to read, so hopefully I'll get to it soon.  Nishi High!  Go! Go! Go!

Shojo Beat Vol 5 #2 Feb 2009

I still haven't received my subscription copy of this, in case anybody is wondering about my monthly review.  I might have to call them and figure out what's up.

Yakitate Japan Vol 15 TP

And in the category of series that I've heard good things about but haven't read, here's the new volume.  Again, maybe someday.

And that seems to be everything that I deem worth mentioning.  That's it for today, but hopefully I'll have something up tomorrow.  Lots of stuff to write.  Hope you don't get sick of me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Three Shadows: Ooh, this is a good one

Lotsa links lately:  Hey, you can read Kyle Baker's I Die at Midnight for free on his blog!  That one's pretty good.

Hey, Act-I-Vate's Tim Hamilton ("The Trouble with Girls") is doing a comics adaptation of Fahrenheit 451; you can see some samples here.  Looks quite nice.

This is a pretty cool examination of an early Katsuhiro Otomo short story, which is presented almost in its entirety.  It would be great if somebody decided to translate it.

And now:

Three Shadows
By Cyril Pedrosa

Cyril Pedrosa might not be a well-known comics creator in the United States, but if this book is any indication, he has a long career of good comics ahead of him.  Coming from an animator's background, he brings an incredible, unique artistic sensibility to an emotional, fantastical, dark story.  It's an amazing debut; where has he been all these years?

In this fairy tale-like fantasy, parents Louis and Lise live in an idyllic countryside with their adorable young son Joachim.  But as happy as they seem, there is a forboding mood in the air:

That page gives a great example of Pedrosa's skill at building mood; as the panels "zoom" in to a closeup on Joachim, the tufts of grass morph into dark splotches of ink, showing that some darkness is going to enter their lives and that it will center on the child. Everything has been bright and cheery up to this point, but that's going to change.

Sure enough, the family starts noticing three shadowy figures on the horizon, looking like riders on horses that are watching the family.  They seem to get closer and closer over time, and it becomes obvious that they have their eye on Joachim for some reason.  Lise decides to consult an old, wise woman in the city, but Louis is against it. She learns that the shadows are going to take Joachim, and there is nothing they can do to stop it, but Louis refuses to accept it, choosing to take their son and flee, trying to escape the figures' fate.

This seems to be symbolic of something, most likely the frustration and helplessness that parents feel when harm comes to their children, whether via sickness, injury, or even emotional pain.  And that's what this book is all about: the way parents deal with harm coming to their children, and the prevention thereof.  Can you accept that it's going to happen and try to deal with it?  Or do you do everything you can to shelter the child, maybe even destroying yourself in the process?  It's hard-hitting material that any parent can relate to.

But it's not all metaphor; it works perfectly well as a story, and an engaging one at that.  We want the best for Joachim and Louis, and so we cheer for them as they go on their adventures, getting caught up in intrigue on a ferry boat involving a slave trader, a drunken captain, and some thugs.  Pedrosa does a great job of filling in the details in the corners of his world, making it feel lived-in and real, even as we're trying to suss out the symbolism.

The luscious artwork is the big factor there, giving a cartoony expressiveness to the characters and gorgeously splashing one eye-popping setting after another across the page, from cityscapes that seem to stretch on forever:

To shadowy forests:

And smoke-filled rooms:

It's an impressive range of skills, the way he can give bold outlines to shapes, but fill them in with scratchy shading, or drop those outlines altogether to give the shapes a less solid quality.

The figure work is pretty amazing as well; Pedrosa gives characters a cartoony look that perfectly suits them, dramatically varying sizes and juxtaposing them, as with the way Joachim seems so tiny in his father's arms.  And the way he captures motion is so fluid, it's easy to believe the images are actually moving:

He also uses some incredible techniques to convey emotion, including the elimination of all detail to reduce scenes to stark, calligraphic brushstrokes:

Or showing dark, foul moods by having heavy spots of ink close in around the characters:

At the climax of the book, in moments where the action turns into the most pure symbolism of the story, Pedrosa pulls out all the stops, reducing characters to simplistic shapes or rendering them as swirls of wavy lines, depicting detailed scenes in a style that is more jittery than his usual tight work, or showing horrific scenes in a sort of photo negative, with tangles of thin, white lines on  black backgrounds coming together to form dense imagery.  It's heady stuff that works in perfect tandem with the writing to strike the reader straight through to the core.

This climax is another bit of fascinating writing, as Louis sacrifices part of himself, turning into a soulless, thoughtless monster to protect Joachim.  This could represent any number of things, but the one that jumps to mind for me is the way people can become violent and idealistic, refusing to listen to any reason and justifying any action with the reasoning that they are protecting their loved ones (witness the current situation in Gaza for the most immediate example).  But it doesn't have to be something like that; it could be the tendency of parents to protect their children from any outside harm to the point that they become sheltered and unable to grow.  Pedrosa's symbolism is so potent as to be universal; twenty people could each come up with a different interpretation, with nobody being wrong.

It's just an amazing piece of work, and one that I can't praise highly enough.  Whether it is seen as a fable that causes people to examine their emotions and motivations, or just a fantasy story filled with rich imagery, it's definitely one of the best comics of 2008.  Pedrosa is a talent that deserves to get wide acclaim and recognition, and hopefully this is only the first in a long line of works that will continue to astonish and delight.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jamilti: The past indicates the future

That review of Punisher War Zone #5 I mentioned yesterday: here it is.

Other links:  Check out this Jack Kirby/Sigmund Freud mashup by Hans Rickheit.  Crazy.

Also crazy -- crazy awesome, that is: here are two Kirby-inspired comics by Roger Langridge that originally ran in some convention booklets: a one-page comic featuring a bunch of Kirby characters, and a "Kirby alphabet".  Fun!

Not Kirby, but still awesome: a Jim Rugg-illustrated Afrodesiac comic that originally ran in Popgun volume 2.  Sexy!

And finally, check out these variant manga covers that make for an odd crossover: Honey and Clover's Chica Umino illustrates Kentarou Miura's Berserk, and vice versa for Umino's March Comes in Like a Lion.  Odd!

Okay, to business.  Finally!

Jamilti and Other Stories
By Rutu Modan

Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds was one of the best comics of 2007 (see my review here), but she didn't spring directly to that book fully formed.  Luckily, we have the chance to see some of her earlier stuff and watch her development with this new short story collection, featuring works that were originally published in the Israeli Actus Tragicus anthology.  It's really interesting to track Modan's artistic and storytelling development over the course of her career (although the stories are not presented chronologically, so a final-page author's note and some deduction are required to determine where each story falls on the timeline), but the stories still work wonderfully on their own, providing some nice examples of Modan's wit and grasp of character, along with a few good street-level looks at life in Israel.

The first story, which shares the book's title, is a great example of that, telling the story of a nurse who is preparing for her wedding but isn't getting much help from her fiance, who would rather be playing soccer with his friends.  He comes off as quite a jerk, especially when he starts trading ugly anti-Palestinian rhetoric with a taxi driver who shares his political views, prompting her to leave the cab and walk straight into a bombing.  She ends up making a connection with what appears to be a victim but turns out to be the bomber himself, and the story ends sort of abruptly, leaving us wondering if the experience will prompt her to make any changes in her life (like leaving her bastard of a boyfriend).  It's a good look at the day-to-day life of people in Israel, and their attitudes about the situation they live in.

Another similar story is "Homecoming", which sees a community get caught up in a flurry of hope when a Lebanese plane starts circling their village.  Is it the pilot son of an elderly couple who was shot down, having escaped from a prison and stolen a Lebanese plane?  Or is it a terrorist intending to take out a bunch of civilians?  Either way, it's a sad event, especially when the air force shows up to take care of things.  Modan presents this story in a series of full-page images, and it makes the characters seem almost larger than life as the horrible events play out.

But as interesting as those stories are, some of the other tales in the book are even better, especially when they create and illuminate some interesting characters or play out a bit of charming (and oddly skewed) fantasy.  The latter comes into play especially in two earlier stories, "King of the Lillies" and "The Panty Killer".  The former is an odd little story about a plastic surgeon who tries to shape every woman he treats into the image of his lost love, creating a tragic, yet kind of beautiful commentary on several topics, including confusing desires and memories with reality and the alluring nature of conformity.  "The Panty Killer" is much darker, looking at a serial killer who appears to be targeting people who were in a nightclub on a certain evening.  It unfolds as a mystery, but most of the fun is just watching Modan bring everything together and seeing her enhance the skeeviness of everything with her artwork.  I especially liked this scene, in which the police show up to question the nightclub's owner:

The details there really stand out, from the grittiness that the coloring adds to the setting, to the weird strap on/French tickler that the owner wears, to the way the janitor just picks up her mop and continues with her work, sans pants.  Nice.  And the rest of the story works great too, playing on the themes of family that Modan seems to like.

Speaking of which, she hits the emotional aspect of familial relationships quite hard in several stories.  "Energy Blockage" is a good example, seeing two sisters who work with their mom, a woman who claims to have electrical healing powers, which she supposedly gained after OD-ing on some pills after her husband left her.  One daughter thinks it's all a sham, but she goes along with it so they can make enough money to get by, and when she sees the opportunity to use her mom's abilities to get in touch with her father, she takes it, only to see that he has deserted them to start a new family.  It's heartbreaking to watch, but really well-realized.  

"Bygone" works on different thematic lines, but it also looks at families who aren't quite whole and who can't seem to be truthful with one another.  It follows some sisters who run a theme hotel that simulates Parisian experiences.  The middle sister, who is in the midst of adolescence and is exploring both her family's past and her burgeoning sexuality, starts discovering that her relationship with her older sister isn't what she thought it was all these years.  It's another bit of heartbreak, but Modan brings it all together expertly, forgoing color in this instance to present a simple, evocative tale.

Finally, the most recent story closes out the book: "Your Number One Fan".  It's about a musician who travels to England to play a show, excited to finally gain some acclaim after failing to make any sort of impact in Israel.  But when he gets there, he finds that the "promoter" is actually a divorced middle-aged woman who just wants him to play at the local Jewish cultural center.  It's embarrassing, and we can feel his dreams evaporating right along with him.  Presented in landscape format, this story really shows how far Modan's art has come, especially in terms of space, depth, and color:

Compared to some of the rough, early work here (which does still have its charms), it's an impressive development of talent, and it's a great example of how good an artist Modan has become, even though she has been producing nice work for years.  Her storytelling has developed as well, and at this point, she combines the writing and art to bring some wonderful stories to life.  I can't wait to see what she does next.

Monday, January 12, 2009

This week sees more of nothing much

Yup, nothing that I'm too excited about this week.  Not yet, at least.

New comics this week (Wednesday, 1/14/09):

Army@Love Art of War #6

I think this is the final issue of the miniseries follow-up to Rick Veitch's hilarious war satire.  I'll be jumping right on it, once it's collected.  Here's my review of the second volume of the original series, if you're interested.

BPRD The Black Goddess #1

Another installment in this series, and yet another for me to catch up on someday.  At some point in that unforseeable future, I'll read this and all the other series that I would like to get to.

DMZ #38

Part two of the current storyline.  When's the next collection?  It's always too long to wait.

Fables #80

More of that Fableicious content.  Have I whined about waiting for the next collection of this series lately?

Final Crisis #6

Hey, we'll finally get to find out how Batman "dies"!  Not that I'm waiting on tenterhooks or anything.  I stopped getting this series when I did my great comics-buying purge, but I'm still curious about how it turns out, especially given reviews like Jog's of the last issue, which seemed to indicate that it's finally going in the direction of general craziness that has been promised (by my subconscious desires) since the beginning.  Let's hope my library gets the collection.

Gravel #8

I haven't been following this series from Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer about their character from the Strange Kisses series; has it been any good?  Maybe I'm just Ellis-ed out.

Punisher War Zone #5

Ennis and Dillon near the end of this latest story.  I missed reviewing the last issue because I was sick, but I should have a piece up on this one tomorrow at Comics Bulletin.  Wait for it!

Wasteland #23

The latest storyline continues, and I have no idea what's currently happening.  I'll be there for the collection; can't wait.

Bone Color Ed SC Vol 9 Crown Of Horns HC
Bone Color Ed SC Vol 9 Crown Of Horns TPB

The final colorized installment of the series, and if you haven't read it, go out and grab it, in soft or hard versions.  My brother read the entire one-volume edition when he was here, but I didn't bug him about it.  Could have been interesting.  He loved it, by the way, and for good reason.  This finale is great stuff.  I'm curious about how the color looks in the big climax, even though I prefer the black and white, from what I've seen.  Still, it's worth a look, and did I mention you should get it if you haven't before?

Daredevil Born Again Prem HC

Hey, I was just saying that this is probably a better example of Frank Miller's Daredevil than the volume that was recently released, and here it shows up.  $25 is a bit steep for a six-issue story, even if it's in a nice cover, but it's worth reading if you haven't before.  Kind of the ultimate DD story from Miller, with some great art from David Mazuchelli.  Yup, there you go.

End League Vol 1 Ballad Of Big Nothing TPB

I read the first issue of this post-apocalyptic superhero series from Rick Remender and Mat Broome when it came out, but I haven't checked it out since.  Does anybody know if it's been good?  I remember thinking it was not terrible, but not something I wanted to bother keeping up with.  Has that changed?  Should I check it out?  I call on my crack team of readers to give me the info!

House of Mystery Vol 1 Room And Boredom TPB

I've enjoyed what I've read of this series, so if you are at all interested and/or influenced by me, here's the first storyline to read.  Good stuff, with an interesting and mysterious framing story and strange stories in each issue with art by the likes of Ross Campbell and Jill Thompson.  Don't let it get cancelled (yet)!

Miss Dont Touch Me TP

From NBM, this is a European comic by some guys who go by the names Hubert and Kerascoet, about a girl in 30s Paris trying to find her sister's murderer.  It sounds pretty neat, and the preview on NBM's site looks pretty nice.  Maybe I'll read it someday.

Parade, With Fireworks TP

Another collection of a series that I thought was really good.  It's about a conflict between political factions in pre-WWII Italy, featuring relatives of the cartoonist, Mike Cavallaro.  Good stuff.  Here's my review of the second and final issue.

Pigeons from Hell TPB

And another collection of a good miniseries.  Joe R. Landsdale wrote the adaptation of this Robert E. Howard horror story, but the real star is Nathan Fox on the art.  He provides some really spooky, gory visuals, really bringing the story to life.  I highly recommend it.  Here's my review of the first issue, but I'll note that the second one is where it really picked up.

Slum Nation Vol 2 Crazy Of Love HC
Slum Nation Vol 3 Like A Rolling Stone HC

I've never heard of this comic before, but it's apparently a post-apocalyptic series from Uruguayan creator Zalozabal (a translation of his blog can be seen here).  It looks interesting, with some nice art.  I certainly wouldn't mind checking it out, given the chance.

Walking Dead Vol 2 Omnibus HC

I stopped reading this series after the 25th issue, I think, but every so often I see somebody talking about how much they love the series, so maybe it got good again after I quit.  Here's the chance to catch up, with a big book containing issue #25-48.  Should I bother (by which I mean try to find it at the library; I can't afford to pay for it).

Captive Hearts Vol 2 TP

Volume 2 of Matsuri Hino's weird shojo series about control and submissiveness.  I reviewed volume 1 here.

Dr Slump Vol 17 TP

Akira Toriyama!  I have the first volume of this series, but I haven't read it yet.  I've heard it's hilarious, so I've got to try to get to it soon.

Fushigi Yugi VIZBIG Edition Vol 1 TP

Yuu Watase!  Here's the VIZBIG version of what's probably her best-regarded series, about modern schoolgirls who get transported to medieval Japan and get in adventures.  I like Watase's work pretty well, so I would certainly love to check this out at some point.  

Gin Tama Vol 10 TP

I should have asked my brother about this series too; I got him the first two volumes for Christmas.  I've heard it's quite good, and he did say that it was really funny.  Anyway, here's the latest installment in the "aliens vs. samurai" wackiness.  I might try this out someday (he said, for the 100th time this week).

Heavens Will TP

Speaking of my brother, this was one of the titles I talked with him about yesterday, so you can see what he thought about it here if you missed it.  It's about a girl who can see ghosts and is assisted in dispatching them by a cross-dressing guy.  It's a one-volume story, and apparently it's kind of truncated, ending without sufficiently completing the story.  I might read it sometime and give it a more complete review, but there's a simple opinion for you.  I also mentioned the first chapter when it was previewed in Shojo Beat, so there's another thing to read if you want.

High School Debut Vol 7 GN

Here's another series that gets some acclaim, although maybe it mostly appeals to the girls, since I only thought the second volume was decent when I read it.  Maybe I'll read more someday.

Love Com Vol 10 TP

Another one that people like, but I've never read more than the first chapter.  I'm not trying to get monotonous here, but I might read it someday.

NANA Vol 14 TP

Man, just when I manage to get caught up on ownership (if not readership) of this series, another volume appears.  I expect I'll be blazing through volumes 11-13 soon, and then I'll have to get this one ASAP.  I love this series.

Sand Chronicles Vol 4 GN

And here's another one that I like.  I've already read the contents of this one, but if you haven't, I would recommend reading it.  It's a very mature look at a relationship that doesn't get caught up in the usual shojo manga cliches.  Check it out if you haven't already.

We Were There Vol 2 TP

I reviewed this at the same time as Captive Hearts, and while I didn't hate it, it didn't really grab me.  I've heard that this second volume hits hard with the drama though, so I could see myself giving it a try.

And I think that's everything.  Lots of manga, little else.  That's fine; I've got a lot to catch up on.  More tomorrow, I hope.