Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Monster Mash: The real monster is inside us all. It's called "lymph"

I don't know what that means, but here are some links to distract you from that:

Look at this page of a Paul Pope comic for some French parody anthology or something. Now I want the whole story.

Jim Rugg has some sketches for an upcoming, as-yet-unannounced graphic novel. I'll be looking out for that one.

I thought this Daniel Clowes interview was really good reading.

In inter-blog inside joke news, I found this drawing by Tim Callahan to be hilarious.

And if you want to read stuff I wrote elsewhere, I reviewed Agents of Atlas #3 and Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #2 at Comics Bulletin.

Okay, here's the real content. I didn't think I would be getting to it until tomorrow or so, but once I started reading it, I couldn't stop. SPOILERS ahead, but you could probably guess that, given that this is the final volume:

Monster, volume 18
By Naoki Urasawa

And so it ends. I had heard that the finale of this series was somewhat unsatisfying, as manga endings can often be, but I didn't find it to be anything of the sort. With the setup from the previous volume, in which most of the characters were plunged into an orgy of violence in a closed-off location with no escape, there's an incredible sense of urgency, as Tenma, Lunge, Grimmer, Franz Bonaparta, Nina, Dr. Gillen, and some locals do what they can to fend off their attackers and save as many innocent bystanders as possible. This leads to some amazing action scenes and violence that often comes out of nowhere. And at the same time, we get the final revelations about Bonaparta, Johan, and Nina, seamlessly worked into the exciting narrative. Everything rushes to a conclusion, with characters reaching the end of their arcs and backstory filled in, completing Urasawa's vast tapestry with a few final, masterful brushstrokes.

And what brushstrokes! There's constant excitement on nearly every page, with scenes like Grimmer's last stand against the bad guys beseiging the hotel where he and some others are holed up, or Lunge fully committing himself to the fight. Lunge might be my favorite character in the series, and he gets a doozy of a send-off this volume, with several memorable scenes, including the moment when he comes face-to-face with Tenma, declares his vacation over, and heads off to do his job as a policeman and bring the bad guys to justice:

And just look at how badass he looks striding off into the rain to complete his mission:

That's some excellent character work there, with the posture and facial expression giving him a determination that we can't help but believe. And it's not an empty gesture either; he ends up having an intense, violent fight with Roberto that brings out the most intriguing, dramatic aspects of both characters and really leaves you gasping as you frantically turn the pages:

And that's just one character; in addition, Grimmer gets a great exit from the series, calling back to his "Magnificent Steiner" personality that popped up in past volumes when he was pushed to the breaking point. But that doesn't happen this time; he's gained control of himself, and he won't let the programming he received as a child shape him anymore. He's out for juThis leads to a rather poignant final moment, given what we've seen of the character previously:

And we also get some nice reveals courtesy of Nina, who finally recovers all of her memories, learning what happened with Bonaparta and her mother. Urasawa gives us some highly effective scenes of her freaking out over Bonaparta's paintings of her and Johan, including one page that works wonderfully, depicting her memory of their mother as floating behind everything, informing everything that happened since they were torn from her:

That's some great work by Urasawa, as is this image of Nina collapsing to her knees:

The way he depicts the motion is so natural, with the wet hair flying upward, the clothes settling around her, and the motion of the body seeming so fluid. Urasawa is a great storyteller, but he's an amazing artist as well.

And then there's the final confrontation between Johan and Tenma, with most of the other characters thrown in for good measure. It's a perfect payoff to everything preceding it, and an amazingly dramatic scene, with Tenma trying to muster the will to end things, and all the other characters acting on their own impulses. But it all comes down to that expected confrontation, with the repeated imagery that is no less chilling than it's ever been, even though it's come to be expected:

And then, suddenly, it's over, and everyone is left to recover. We do get to skip ahead and see what becomes of all the surviving characters, and it's optimistic and positive, but with a tinge of regret and questions about what exactly it all meant. And then there's a wonderfully ominous, ambiguous ending that might leave some unsatisfied but left the perfect taste in my mouth.

But what does it all mean? The question has surfaced here and there throughout the series, as if the characters were trying to discern their place in the world as all the chaos raged around them. Ultimately, it comes down to life vs. death; we learn here that Johan simply couldn't deal with the uncertainty and unfairness that death brings into the world, and by taking the view that nothing matters, since we'll all die anyway, he went to the extreme reaches of that sentiment, casually murdering whomever he felt like and attempting to control people to enact his capricious, unpredictable desires. And when we learn where it all came from, it's a simple, yet frightening revelation. Is there a little Johan in all of us, who wants to rage against the unfairness of the world? What if all it took to turn us into a killer (or worse, an easily-manipulated shell of a person) was some conditioning to remove any troublesome emotion? It's a scary thought.

On the other side of the coin, there's Tenma, and his continued philosophy of life. As a doctor, he's dedicated to preserving life and combating death's grim pursuit, and he does that not just through medicine, but through encouragement and personal connection. We saw in volume 13 that his patients over the years came to love him, not just because of his life-saving abilities, but because he was friendly and approachable, willing to speak frankly to them and encourage them to not let their illnesses beat them. And we've seen that attitude time and again over the course of the series, as he helps people that he meets, trying to better the world through his respect for his fellow man. Some might have found him to be too goody-goody, but that positivity was a necessary contrast to Johan's darkness. And it's why he makes the decision he does at the end of the volume; even at the end of this long quest of his, he can't deny his true nature as a life-giver, and that's Johan's true defeat.

So there it is: good vs. evil. Light vs. darkness. Life vs. death. That's a gross, gross oversimplification of the series, but that's what it comes down to. The world may be a complex place, but sometimes the way we approach it can be simple, with the question being: do we let our eventual death defeat us long before it gets here, or do we make the most of the time we have? What's your choice going to be?

Eh, I hope that wasn't too sappy of an ending. Man, what a great series. I'll probably have one more post to kind of wrap things up, so watch for that in the next day or two. And while I'm talking, thanks to anybody who read this series of posts and offered support, to Viz for sending me a good portion of the volumes for review, and to Urasawa for blowing my mind with his excellence.

Monday, March 30, 2009

This week, I refuse to be a slave. Or a fool.

Yes, there is a release this week that will certainly get me out to the store, for it is unmissable!

New comics this week (Wednesday, 4/1/09):

Agents of Atlas #3

Jeff Parker continues to work his way toward being the only Marvel writer worth caring about.  This issue sees more art by Gabriel Hardman (who did a great Tommy Lee Edwards impression in the flashback sequences last issue), and regular artist Carlo Pagulayan appears to already be taking a break, with Clayton Henry filling in.  Whatever the case, the book looks really nice, and it's full of fun action, and it's an actual good Marvel comic.  I should have a review up tomorrow at Comics Bulletin.

Bang Tango #3

Joe Kelly continues his story of dancing and assassination.  I don't know if this series will be one to watch out for when it's collected, but it does seem interesting, at least.  Greg McElhatton has a review of the first two issues here.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #4

This Mike Kunkel series doesn't seem to be coming out very quickly/regularly, does it?  I hope it gets collected soon, because I wanna read it.

Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1

It's one of those anniversary issues that comes out when people get excited about a large number of years since original publication being reached.  I thought Captain America's first issue came out in 1940, not 1939.  Huh.  Oh, I think it's Marvel's 70th anniversary, not Cap's.  Whatever.  Anyway, this special features a story by James Robinson and Marcos Martin, and it's pretty fun (I read a preview PDF).  I don't mind recommending it just based on that, but there's also a reprint of a Joe Simon/Jack Kirby story called "Death Loads the Bases!", so that makes for a pretty nice package.

Boys #29

Is this storyline finished yet?  I want to read me some Ennis/Robertson depravity sometime soon, please.

Cars: The Rookie #1 (of 4)

Here's Boom!'s next Pixar project, with a sort of prequel to the Cars movie that tells Lightning McQueen's origin story.  Could be fun.  It's by Alan J. Porter and Albert Carreres.

Dark Reign Fantastic Four #2

Jonathan Hickman continues his Marvel over-plot tie-in/lead-in to his upcoming run.  I liked the first issue okay, and maybe the miniseries will go in some interesting directions here.  I might have a review up at Comics Bulletin tomorrow, but I might try to write about a different book instead (see below).

Dead Romeo #1 (of 6)

I'm not sure if this is coming out from Vertigo, Wildstorm, or just regular DC, but it's a sort of rock and roll vampire romance that sounds somewhat interesting, but possibly really terrible.  It's written by Jesse Blaze Snider (who?), with art by Ryan Benjamin, who appeared to do some interesting art in a Grifter/Midnighter series from a while back (I never read it though, so it might not have been any good.  The art, that is; I remember hearing that the story was pretty awful), but also did that one fill-in issue of Grant Morrison's Batman that was really, really bad (it managed to make Tony Daniel look decent by comparison).  Handle with care.

Destroyer #1

Robert Kirkman's latest book, a Marvel MAX (or is it Icon?) thing about a murderous superhero.  That's...something, I guess?  I've soured on Kirkman, but you never know when he might do something pretty good.  Art on this is by Cory Walker, the original artist on Invincible.

Franklin Richards April Fools

More cute kiddy antics.  Go for it, if you like that sort of thing.

Glamourpuss #6

I got caught up on this series through a recent sale at my shop, and it's interesting reading, as always.  That Dave Sim makes comics like nobody else, for better or worse.  This issue is sure to have more history lessons and discussions about technique, and probably some more offensive stuff about women and models and fashion.  Enjoy, if that's your sort of thing.  Is Sim making any money off of this, because the audience has to be ridiculously small, doesn't it?  Even among comics fans, it would seem like only his most ardent supporters are even interested in this.  What a strange industry.

Greatest Hits #6

Huh, I thought this miniseries was only four issues, but it looks like there were two more.  That's what I get when I barely bother going to the comics shop any more.  Anyway, it's the finale of the superheroes-as-Beatles-esque-rock-stars comic; I don't know if it was worth reading or not, but I could take a look at it sometime.

Haunted Tank #5

The latest Vertigo reinvention of this old property continues.  I might read it someday.

Invincible Iron Man #12

Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca continue their "Iron Man vs. everybody" story.  Maybe they'll be able to get back to a non-editorially-mandated plot sometime soon.  That might make this more worthwhile.

Irredeemable #1

Boom! Studios has been hyping this new Mark Waid series for quite a while now.  It's apparently about a superhero-turned-villain, which could be interesting if I wasn't bored stiff with almost everything superhero-related these days.  But if you think you might like it, by all means, take a look.  Art is by Peter Krause (not the guy from Sports Night, I don't think).

Jersey Gods #3

This book has been getting some praise, so I might have to try to read it.  This issue features a Paul Pope cover and a backup story by Mark Waid and Joe Infurnari that gives some background on the Kirby-esque mythology.  Interesting.

Marvel Assistant-Sized Spectacular #1

I've often read about the "Assistant Editors' Month" gimmick that Marvel did back in the 80s, but I wasn't around to actually experience it, so this is another case of nostalgia for something I don't necessarily understand.  But it seems fun nonetheless (even though Marvel won't risk doing a line-wide stunt like that these days), with this two-issue series highlighting some forgotten characters lying around the corners of their universe.  This issue has a story about D-Man by Brian Patchett with art by Xurxo Penalta (two creators I know nothing about), an American eagle story by Jason Aaron and Richard Isanove, and Chris Giarrusso doing a Mini-Marvels story featuring Hawkeye.  It could be fun; I might try to review it for CB.

Preacher # 1 Special Edition

DC's latest attempt to capitalize on Watchmen's popularity, with a cheap version of the first issue of the Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon series.  I definitely recommend it, since it's one of my favorite comics, but I don't know if it's all that great of a Watchmen follow-up.  Still, it's good reading, full of blasphemy, ultraviolence, and indelible characters.  Check it out if you haven't read it before; hey, it's only a buck!

Pride & Prejudice #1

Marvel keeps trying to do their literary adaptations, but I don't know how successful they are.  This version of the Jane Austen classic has already received some complaints for the glamorous, pouty-lipped artwork, but it might manage to garner some teen-girl readers (but probably not until it's collected).  Probably not really worth reading though.

Prototype #1 (of 6)

Another one of those DC/Vertigo/Wildstorm books that probably won't be all that good.  Apparently it's based on a video game?  About a guy with claws or something?  It's written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, with art by Darick Robertson.  The latter creator is probably the only reason why I bothered to mention it.

Seaguy The slaves of Mickey eye #1

Ah, and here's the release of the week!  Grant Morrison!  Cameron Stewart!  The first three-issue Seaguy miniseries from a few years ago was quite good; I should re-read it and see if I can understand it this time.  This sequel has been long-awaited, so hopefully it won't disappoint.

Secret Warriors #3

Jonathan Hickman's series continues (with Brian Michael Bendis still on board, for now), and maybe it will be readable.  I did read the first two issues, but I barely remember anything about them.  Apparently SHIELD is now/has always been a subsidiary of Hydra?  Does that even make sense?  Not that it's really worth caring about or anything...

Universal War One: Revelations #1

I guess this is a sequel to the French comic, which Marvel published in conjunction with Soleil.  That is, the first miniseries reprinted a few of the original albums, so this one will do the same with some more.  I only read one issue of that first series, but I kind of liked it, so maybe I'll get around to reading more sometime.

X-Men First Class Finals #3

More Jeff Parker, still trying to finish out his run on early X-Men stories.  Not really my thing, but people seem to like it.

Boody Bizarre Comics Of Boody Rogers GN

Ooh, a bunch of wacky stories here; Boody Rogers was quite the oddball talent.  I certainly wouldn't mind reading this, but if you don't want to search it out, you can find a bunch of his stories posted online at sites like Pappy's Golden Age Comics Blogzine or the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archive.  Not that I want to dissuade anyone from buying the book, of course.  Here, you can see a slideshow of images from it at Fantagraphics' site.

Cecil And Jordan In New York Stories HC

Hey, it's the new Gabrielle Bell book, collection stories that were previously published in various anthologies, including one that Michel Gondry adapted to film for his section of the anthology film Tokyo!  Neat.  I like Bell, ever since I read Lucky all those posts ago, so I would love to check this out sometime.

Ho! The Morally Questionable Cartoons of Ivan Brunetti 

Ivan Brunetti makes comics about being an asshole, and here's a collection of them, from what I understand.  Probably enjoyable?  Here, have a slideshow.

Immortal Iron Fist Vol 4 Mortal Iron Fist Prem HC

Here's the first collection of the Duane Swierczynski run on the series, and it's kind of a rough start.  At least, I wasn't especially impressed with what I read of it, but I guess it wasn't terrible or anything.  It's gotten better though, and who knows, you might like it better than I did.  Check it out, if you feel like it.

Jonah Hex Bullets Dont Lie TP

I've never read any of this series, although I often hear that it's pretty good.  This volume is notable for containing stories illustrated by Darwyn Cooke and JH Williams III, and also a cover by Richard Corben.  

Luke On The Loose HC

The newest entry in the Toon Books series, by Harry Bliss.  It's about a kid who chases a pigeon through New York City, leading to a crazy, picturesque romp.  Probably fun.

Mother Come Home HC New Edition

This Paul Hornschemeier book about a father and son dealing with the loss of their wife/mother is quite good; I highly recommend it.  But mostly, I'm just using this as an excuse to link to the sketch (scroll down a bit to get to it) that Hornschemeier drew in my copy.  Eat it, suckas!

Skate Farm Vol 2 GN

I had never heard of this action comic about some Southern California kids who come into possession of cosmically-powered skateboards, but it seems like it might be kind of cool.  IDW is publishing this second volume (they apparently already put out a reprint of the first volume, which was originally self-published), and it might be worth a look.  You can find out more at the official site (although I wouldn't recommend it, since it's hard to navigate and plays annoying music), or read this interview at CBR, which also contains some preview pages.

Supermen! The First Wave Of Comic Book Heroes (1939-41) GN

This collection of early superhero comics has been getting some attention (I liked Jog's review), and for good reason, since it looks pretty cool.  I would love to give it a read sometime.  In the meantime, here's a slideshow/preview.

Witching Hour TP new ptg

I've never read this Vertigo miniseries, but I've always meant to, since I really dig Chris Bachalo's art.  Of course, I also kind of despise Jeph Loeb's writing, so there's the rub.  It was earlier in his career though, so maybe he wasn't quite so bad back then.  Recommendations, anyone?  Is it worth reading?

Samurai 7 Vol 1 GN

I've seen a few reviews here and there for this new series from Del Rey, but few mention the anime series that came out a few years back, preferring instead to mention that it's an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.  I watched a good portion of that series before I got bored with it, but it wasn't bad, featuring some interesting designs and a goofy sci-fi take on the concept.  I don't know if the manga is really worth reading; adaptations of anime are often not all that good.  But you never know.  It's something I would take a look at if I saw it in a store.

Tezukas Black Jack Vol 3 TP
Tezukas Black Jack Vol 4 TP

And finally, here's your latest dose of Osamu Tezuka awesomeness.  I have the first two volumes of this series, although I haven't read them yet, and these two are on order, so I'll have plenty of Tezuka to blow my mind for some time to come.  Watch for reviews, someday.

That's the week.  Keep hanging around; I should have a review of the final volume of Monster up sometime soon, along with a look at a manga about food and liquor.  Good times.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Monster Mash: Small towns can be dangerous

Links of interest:  This has already gotten plenty of links, but it's pretty cool: somebody has posted photocopies of Big Numbers #3, the infamous "lost" Alan Moore comic.  I never read the existing issues of the series, but it's one that people have long talked about as something that it's sad we'll never get to finish reading.  The first two issues were illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz, and story about the third issue goes that his assistant/replacement Al Colombia refused to release the art, and eventually destroyed the originals (or maybe that was the fourth issue?  I don't know).  So it's kind of a big deal to actually see the issue.  Neat.

I don't know if I'm all that interested in this, but A. David Lewis has made all four issues of Some New Kind of Slaughter available for free download, hoping to be considered for the Harvey Awards (and probably the Eisners).  It's a series about flood myths around the world, written by Lewis with art by mpMann.  I haven't read it, and I'm a bit trepidatious, since I didn't like their previous project, The Lone and Level Sands.  But you never know, it might be good.

And since I like to link to online comics, check out this comics-format review by Alison Bechdel of Jane Vandenburgh's A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century.  It's neat.

On the news front: The new creative team on Runaways has been announced, and it's Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli.  I haven't read anything by Pichelli (I only know of NYX, in which I'm completely uninterested), but her work does look nice.  And Immonen is a perfect choice for writing; hopefully she'll bring the same crazy, fun energy to the book that she brought to the recent Patsy Walker: Hellcat miniseries.  I might be interested in actually reading the series again.

Also, Chris Butcher announces the lineup for Comics Festival, the Free Comic Book Day comic that is coming out in conjunction with/support of the Toronto Comics Art Festival.  Looks pretty awesome.

And if you want to read more of my stuff, I reviewed last week's Dollhouse at The Factual Opinion.

Monster, volume 17
By Naoki Urasawa

The revelations are coming fast and fierce in this penultimate volume, although many of them are the kind that raise as many questions as they answer.  I don't know if Urasawa is going to be able to close everything out satisfactorily, but at least the series has been one hell of a ride.  And whether or not the various mysteries and plot complications are resolved, I still feel like I've spent plenty of quality time with well-developed characters, witnessed some gorgeous art and well-constructed comics storytelling, and breathlessly turned many a page while gasping at the mindblowingly tense chases and confrontations.  

But wait, it's too early to be writing a summary/conclusion about the series.  There's still this volume to discuss, and one more to go!  This volume kicks off with the continuation of the last one's cliffhanger, in which it was hinted that Nina, not Johan, was the twin who underwent Franz Bonaparta's brainwashing (or at least witnessed his nasty handiwork).  That turns out to be true, but what does it mean?  The series has tended toward the old "nature vs. nurture" question, asking whether Johan is inherently a monster, or if his upbringing made him that way.  The former seems to be true, since Nina managed to grow up to be relatively normal (although that seemed to come through repression of horrible memories), but who knows what further revelations will do to her.  She seems pretty devastated by this current one, and only Tenma can talk her down from killing herself, in a powerfully emotional scene:

But as this volume ends, she's on her way to the final confrontation with Johan, so everything might change with her once again.

The rest of the volume sees a skillful setup for the apocalyptic finale, as Inspector Lunge and Mr. Grimmer separately track Bonaparta to a small town called Ruhenheim, just in time to realize that it's a powder keg that's ready to explode...with murder!  It seems to be a plan of Johan's to commit "the perfect suicide", which would involve destroying all traces of his existence, including anyone who has any memories of him.  At least, that's what people say, but we don't even get to see him at all, unless he's one of the various shadowy figures haunting the town's narrow streets.

No, most of our time is spent getting to know a few of the inhabitants and understanding how just a small push can plunge everything into mayhem.  A drunk layabout doesn't get any respect from the town's other inhabitants, and his young son is continually tormented by bullies.  An old woman has a dog that constantly barks at nothing in particular, driving her neighbors crazy.  A teenage girl longs for someone to show up and take her away from the small-town drudgery.  A middle-aged couple bickers about the wife's habit of playing the lottery and hoping for an escape from their low-class existence, but when she unexpectedly wins, rather than rejoicing at their fortune, they end up fearful that the other townspeople will kill and rob them.  And somebody (Johan? Roberto?) seems to be dropping guns into people's hands, preparing to spark a frenzy of killing from the long-smoldering resentments.  It's chilling and ominous, and another testament to Urasawa's skills to make something like this believable in such a short span of pages.

There's plenty of other stuff going on as well, including Lunge and Grimmer confronting the long-hidden Franz Bonaparta (whose identity, unfortunately, is given away by the image on the back cover).  He apparently had a change of heart at some point, forsaking his evil ways and attempting to retreat to the middle of nowhere and live out his existence in peace.  What made him change?  Did he glimpse the true face of evil that he had unleashed?  Or is he working out some sort of plan that's even more obscure than the rest of the series' plots?  Whatever the case, it's all rather compelling, and Urasawa throws in some of his usual creepy details, like the discovery of an abandoned house that contains a multitude of obsessively-drawn portraits of a young Johan and Nina:

The intrigue doesn't stop, and all parties seem to be converging on Ruhenheim for a bloody showdown in the final volume.  I don't know if Urasawa is going to be able to answer all the remaining questions or wrap up the various plot threads in a satisfying way, but I can't wait to find out.  One volume to go!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monster Mash: It's all coming together

I could probably link to something or other here, but instead I'll just say that this isn't much of a way to spend the last few hours of my twenties.  Or maybe it is; comics are cool, right?

[SPOILERS? Yes, spoilers!]

Monster, volume 16
By Naoki Urasawa

We're getting close to the end now, and Urasawa is finally revealing some of the secrets behind the series.  He's been teasing us with glimpses of flashbacks and fragmented memories for nearly the whole series, so it's pretty satisfying to actually see some answers for once.  There's plenty more to reveal, but with two more volumes to go, there's lots of space to show us everything, and some potential for great character moments while doing so, along with satisfying resolutions to long-running plots.  I sure hope it works out.

But in the meantime, this volume is packed full with fast-moving action, of the incredibly intense page-turning variety.  To start off, Tenma's latest ally, a dentist named Milan, has a quest for revenge to fulfill; he's planning to kill Peter Capek, the longtime ally of so-far unseen evil mastermind Franz Bonaparta.  Tenma tries to stop him, but finds that he can't really, since Milan's quest mirrors his own; he feels responsible for Capek's evil, just as Tenma feels culpable in Johan's crimes.  Milan was a childhood friend of Capek's, and he helped him escape to West Germany, only to find that he had terrible plans which involved the brainwashing of children to commit suicide.  It's a quick encapsulation of some of the themes of the series, but no points for guessing how it turns out.

Other highlights of the volume include the a police detective who is about to retire suddenly discovering new leads in the case of the twins who disappeared from from the hospital eleven years ago (back in volume one, that is).  It's a nice chapter, with the discovery slowly becoming apparent as the detective talks to a serial killer that he is transporting to a different location.  The guy is a taxi driver who seems to be inspired by Robert DeNiro (Urasawa was inspired by the movie that is, not the actual character), except he took the contempt for the scum of society well beyond Travis Bickle levels:

And it turns out that he got some prompting from Johan, which brings the detective into the thick of things, just prior to a peaceful retirement.  He might be getting too old for this shit, but hopefully Urasawa won't go with the easy cliche and have him die, but even if he does, I doubt it will be in an unsatisfying manner.

But the taxi driver isn't the only one; it turns out Johan has been manipulating several serial killers into doing his bidding, much as he did back in volume 5.  And we even learn the purpose, which would be to cover up scandals involving his new protege, the creepy guy from last volume who is being shepherded around by Capek.  See?  It's all related!

But then the volume really kicks in when Johan starts dismantling the organization that is trying to involve him in neo-Nazi activities, much as he did back in volume 4.  The first to go is The Baby, who gets a semi-tender moment with a stripper who actually seems to connect with him on a personal level; he was so lonely, always having to pay people for companionship, whether they were prostitutes or bodyguards.  And when he goes down, Capek gets especially paranoid, sure that he has no control over Johan and is bound to be killed.  This makes for some especially tense scenes, including one that contrasts rather effectively with the Baby's death scene, in which we saw only the smallest details (mainly an overflowing bathtub).  When Capek thinks his driver/bodyguard is going to shoot him, he reacts without thinking, with some surprisingly gory results:

And then things get even more tense, as both Tenma and Eva confront Johan's protege in an attempt to determine his location, while Nina goes after Capek and tries to get to her brother first.  She also learns the story of her and Johan's birth, which involves a eugenics scheme led by Franz Bonaparta (whose face we actually see, although only in a flashback).  He seems to be the real evil behind the entire series, but maybe Johan has surpassed him.  We've got two volumes to find out.

So the final few chapters here involve lots of yelling and pointing of guns, and even some actual shooting.  There are answers and confrontations, and the promise of more to come.  And it's incredibly gripping, with the heart thumping at each new reveal and fingers itching to turn pages as fast as possible.  That's what Urasawa does so well, and I hope he can keep it up through the end without creating the feeling that he cheated in any way.  But I trust him; he hasn't let me down yet.

On a more self-reflective note, it seems I didn't have all that much to say about that volume, did I?  At this point in the series, it doesn't seem that there is all that much new to discover about Urasawa's technique, and any discussion of themes or whatnot can probably wait until the finale.  So we'll just have to settle for a repetition of "And then this cool/exciting/tense thing happened!" for now.  I hope you don't mind too much.

Monday, March 23, 2009

This week is kind of yawn-worthy

I got all my links out of the way Saturday night, I guess, so nothing to mention today besides the new comics:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 3/25/09):

Crossed #4

Garth Ennis' nastiness continues.  I suppose I might try to read this sometime, but it probably isn't anything I'll go out of my way to acquire.  Unless I'm feeling really misanthropic or something.

Garth Ennis Battlefields Dear Billy #3

Ah, here's the more contemplative, romantic Ennis, with his war stories of lost love and such.  Probably lots of violence too though.  I really want to read this one, along with The Night Witches, which I still haven't picked up.

Immortal Iron Fist #24

I've been enjoying what I've read of this continued run on Iron Fist, although this issue is an odd one, being one of those stories about Iron Fists of the past.  That's not too big of a deal, but rather than falling between story arcs, it interrupts the current story for no discernable reason.  Who knows, maybe it'll have some impact on the larger arc, but it seems like poor planning, or a sign that the artist was getting behind and needed an extra month to catch up.

Incredibles Family Matters #1

Ooh, it's the first of Boom! Studios' tie-in to Disney/Pixar movies.  It's a couple years late; the prime time to do this would have been around when the movie came out, but it's still a good enough concept that it should be fun to see what they come up with.  It's written by Mark Waid, with art by Marcio Takara.  You can see a short preview on Boom!'s site.

Jack of Fables #32

I have no idea what's going on in this series these days, but I do want to find out at some point.  I'll try to catch up as the trades come out, I guess.

Muppet Show #1

And here's the other Disney book from Boom!, and it's the one to watch out for, because it's written and drawn by Roger Langridge!  Awesome.  I bet it will be hilarious and pretty, since Langridge is both (or his comics are, at least).  Here's a preview.

Runaways #8

It's part two of the Takeshi Miyazawa-illustrated story about Chase's evil shock jock boss, who has a scheme to turn the population of LA into zombies.  I don't know if anybody is still reading this book, and I can't really recommend it, since I don't think Terry Moore has a very good grasp of the characters and what makes them interesting or enjoyable, but Miyazawa's art is nice.  There you go.

Unknown Soldier #6

I do plan to read this book at some point.  It looks really interesting.  Check out this examination of the last issue.

Planetary #1 Special Edition

DC's latest recommendation of what to read if you liked Watchmen.  I can't complain, since I like the series, but it's not necessarily one for comics beginners.  Or maybe it is, who knows.  Warren Ellis, John Cassaday, worldwide conspiracies and action.  It's pretty good stuff.  Not bad for a buck.

Star Trek Spotlight Tribbles

Tribbles?  They get a whole issue about them?  There's really not much to them, being simple fuzzballs, right?  Well, Stuart Moore and Mike Hawthorne beg to differ, I guess.

Top 10 Special #1

More Top 10 already?  This one-shot is written by Zander Cannon, with art by Chinese artist Da Xiong.  I hope this is included in the collection of the Season Two miniseries, because I want to read it.

Umbrella Academy Dallas #5

This second mini looks like it's hurtling toward a conclusion, so hopefully it will get collected quickly.  I'm jonesing for the family-related super-craziness.  Don't let me down, fellows.

American Jesus TP Vol. 1 Chosen

As has been noted by others, the "volume 1" seems to indicate that this Mark Millar/Peter Gross miniseries will have a follow-up, but it doesn't really seem necessary, does it?  It's a short, mostly effective little supernatural story with a (fairly obvious) twist, and trying to continue it seems foolhardy (and also kind of ruins the "American Jesus" title).  But we're talking about Mark Millar here, so he'll probably continue to belabor the obvious.  Still, this isn't bad, even though I probably wouldn't really recommend it.

Beats A Graphic History HC

Hey, I didn't know this was coming out.  It's a book about the Beat Generation of writers, by Harvey Pekar, with art by Ed Piskor, Trina Robbins, Peter Kuper, and others.  Oddly, I can't find a whole lot of information about it online, but here's the Amazon page.

Daredevil Lady Bullseye TPB

Hey, so who is this Lady Bullseye anyway?  Is she a character who had been around before, or somebody that Ed Brubaker invented (probably at the behest of Marvel, who wanted a badass chick character)?  Or should I care?  Probably not.

Desperadoes Omnibus TPB

I've never read this supernatural western series, but it might be all right.  Does anybody recommend it?  IDW has this collection of the entire series to date for $25.  Yup.

Drinky Crows Maakies Treasury HC

Tony Millionaire's strip gets re-branded to match its probably-more-famous Adult Swim counterpart with this collection, which includes the second five years of the series.  This is really funny, weird, excellently-drawn stuff; I really should read more of it.  You can see a preview slideshow here.

Hi-Fructose Collected Edition HC

This is more of an artbook than comics, but it's still notable.  I've never heard of the magazine that this collects, but it's got contributions from the likes of Junko Mizuno, Dave Cooper, Gary Baseman, Tim Biskup, Jim Woodring, Kaiju Big Battel (which is weird, since that's a traveling giant-monster wrestling show, not an artist), and others of that ilk.  Probably pretty nice-looking.

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug TP Vol. 1

People seem to love them some Ambush Bug, but I've never really understood the appeal.  I guess he's a wisecracking trickster type, and sometimes he has meta-fictional adventures?  Okay, I guess I do understand the appeal, but from what I've read, I don't find him all that funny.  But here's a big collection of his comics to prove me wrong.  Enjoy, people.

Spaghetti Bros Vol 3 HC

I've still never even seen a copy of this imported Carlos Trillo-written crime series, but I wouldn't mind looking at it if I ever did lay eyes on it.  Here's part three, for those who are able to locate it.

Ted McKeever Library Book 3 Metropol HC

The McKeever collections continue.  I really wouldn't mind reading these.  This one's about a modern war between angels and demons.  Sounds neat.

Walking Tour Of The Shambles SC New Printing

I think this is a prose book by Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolf, with illustrations by Randy Broeker.  I've never read it, but I do like Gaiman, so I should check it out.  It's apparently about a supernatural neighborhood of Chicago, so that's a plus.  To the library!

March On Earth Vol 1 TP

This CMX manga seems interesting, so maybe I'll give it a try someday.  It's about a young girl who ends up having to raise her baby nephew when all their relatives die.  Sounds sad, cute, and other adjectives along those lines.

Hot Gimmick VIZBIG Edition Vol 1 GN

I thought this already came out, but whatever.  It's the super-thick collection of the enjoyable Miki Aihara series.  I talked about it when a preview ran in Shojo Beat, but I would definitely give it a qualified recommendation, in that it's enjoyable, addictive teen soap opera without any uplifting or worthwhile message of any sort.  Good times.

Oishinbo A La Carte Vol 2 Sake GN

Part two of Viz's import of the famous, long-running cooking manga, with this volume focusing on sake.  I didn't get a chance to read volume 1, but I do have a copy of this one, so I'll try to read it and write about it soon.  I'm kind of excited.

Pluto Urasawa x Tezuka Vol 2 GN

Ooh, part two of Naoki Urasawa's re-envisioned Astro Boy story.  I loved part one, so I'm quite excited to keep reading.  Not that I haven't been overdosing on Urasawa lately or anything...

Reading Club Vol 1 GN

This manhwa from UDON purports to be "Korea's first horror comic for girls".  That's interesting, I guess.  It's something about a girl who finds a book that brings nasty nightmares to life or something.  Could be worth a look.

And that's all, with a couple things of interest for the week, but not too much.  I should have more Monster, but I'm almost finished, so then I'll have to try to pick up and move on to something else.  I was thinking I might try to do more manga, like Nana or Parasyte, but I might have to cleanse my palate a bit and read some Western comics for a change.  We'll see.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Monster Mash: Love is doomed

Non-Monster stuff first, so skip down to the cover image if you don't want to read my blathering and linkage:  

I haven't talked about Battlestar Galactica around here for the last couple seasons or so, but the final episodes and the lead-up to the finale have been pretty incredible.  And while I don't know if the last installment was perfect, it was probably about as satisfying as it could be, bringing everything to a conclusion and answering about as much as possible.  Some of the long-running mysteries were kind of hand-waved away as "God did it", but the divine has been a long-running aspect of the show, so it's not completely unexpected, and I did like the final nod toward "god" being some sort of alien intelligence rather than an actual deity; it satisfies my atheist urges, even though this is all fiction anyway.  But the best thing about the episode for me was probably the character moments; I teared up at least twice, once early on when President Roslin gave some final thanks to Dr. Cottle, who couldn't figure out how to react, and later on when Adama and Roslin were taking their final flight.  The final scene between Starbuck and Anders wasn't bad either.  Good times all around, with some exciting action and actual finality; I call it a win.

By the way, if you want to read more of my babbling about TV shows, I reviewed last week's Dollhouse at The Factual Opinion.  Man, that episode was terrible.  I still haven't watched the one from last night, but it better be good, or I'm done with this thing.

Links: I gotta point out this excellent review of an old Smurfs comic by Jog; it's an amazing piece of criticism, summarizing the story and enlightening readers by pointing out the Belgian politics that influenced the creators.  If there was a prize for internet criticism, this post would be the one to beat.

Tom Neely posted a nice one-page cover version of the X-Men story where Kitty Pride fought the demon in the mansion, done in the style of Nancy.  It was done for a charity art show; that guy can draw.

Check out Paul Pope's cover for the long-rumored and actually finally upcoming Marvel "indie" anthology!  Damn, that thing is beautiful; I can't wait to see it colored.

And speaking of Pope, DC has announced a new title called Wednesday Comics, and it's a pretty cool concept, replicating the format of old Sunday newspaper comics that took up an entire page, with some great creators involved, including Pope, Mike Allred, Joe Kubert, Kyle Baker (this appears to be where that Hawkman project he's been mentioning is going to see print), Neil Gaiman, Walt Simonson, Ryan Sook, Amanda Conner, and others.  I rarely get interested in new superhero-based projects, but this should be pretty awesome.

And finally, this preview of a new comics-instructional book for kids is charming and fun.  It's called Adventures in Cartooning, it's by James Sturm, Alexis Frederick-Frost, and Andrew Arnold, and it's coming out in April from First Second.  Looks like one to watch out for.

Okay, to the real content.  Watch out for SPOILERS:

Monster, volume 15
By Naoki Urasawa

It seems like I say this for every installment of the series, but wow, a lot happens in this volume.  We see some continued revelations about what's going on with Johan and the conspiratorial machinery that created him and wants to control him, Nina continues to regain her memories (including a somewhat dodgy scene involving hypnosis) and develops a new resolve to stop her brother, Detective Suk and Verdeman (Tenma's lawyer) discover in each other kindred spirits who want to bring out the truth, and Tenma encounters yet another person with a past that has been affected by the conspiracy and a desire for vengeance.  It's all excellent furthering of the plots, although with only three volumes to go, one wonders how Urasawa is going to wrap everything up satisfactorily.  He does seem to be relying on coincidences more and more often, including a scene in which Tenma is trying to escape on foot from the Frankfurt police and is somehow rescued and spirited away (after being knocked unconscious by a car) by somebody who just happens to be associated with his quest.  But at this point, you kind of have to just go with Urasawa's story; it's all or nothing.

And luckily, the emphasis on character overrides any clunkiness of the plot.  The real centerpiece of this volume is what goes on between Eva and her bodyguard Martin; they're both wounded individuals that have built up impressive, seemingly-impenetrable facades, and the moments where their exteriors crack and real emotion shows through is played wonderfully, giving real heart to the story, rather than concentrating solely on the tangled schemes that ensnare everyone.

The emotion starts early, with the first scene in the volume seeing Tenma confront Martin in a bar, only for Martin to beat the snot out of him and tell him to get lost:

Martin seems to have developed some affection for Eva, even though she treats him so scornfully.  But maybe he recognizes some similarities in her, as somebody who has suffered some losses and found her own way of coping.  Not that her methods are very healthy; they seem to consists primarily of constant drinking and mocking rejection of anybody she encounters.  But he managed to get through her shell too, if only by reversing the trajectory of his life and refusing to kill her.  We learn that he has twice seen people he cared for kill themselves when he had to opportunity to stop them.  When Eva expresses similar desires, he doesn't continue the trend; perhaps it's balking at doing the deed himself rather than letting others finish themselves off, but it seems that he has turned over a new leaf, refusing to allow someone to let despair overwhelm them, not if he can help it:

As we learned in last volume's flash-forward, this decision will have dire consequences for him, but it seems to be enough to have jostled Eva out of her drunken, nihilistic state, at least for now.  In a series of heartbreaking scenes, she waits for him at a train station, hoping to run away together, and it's fascinating and sad to watch her familiar look of contempt melt into one of sadness and even possible hope:

And then when she finds out Martin's fate, it turns to sorrow and regret:

Urasawa does such an excellent job with facial expressions that all this emotional information is communicated through the images; the words aren't even necessary to get the full effect of what she is feeling.  It's wrenching stuff.  Following these characters over the course of the series, we feel like we've gotten to know these characters, and we're going through this rocky emotional terrain right along with them.  And luckily, even though this seems like it could be a natural exit point from the series for Eva, it looks like we haven't seen the last of her.  I'm glad; she's turned into one of my favorite characters.

In addition to all this character work, a few important plot points are struck, including the revelation of another major villain of the series.  That would be Peter Capek, who appears to be one of the men behind the Red Rose Mansion, 511 Kinderheim, and the origins of Johan.  And, interestingly, Johan appears to have gained an apprentice, another young man with murderous intentions.  He has a confrontation with Martin that is deliciously freaky, mostly because he seems to be Johan's opposite; where Johan is cool and emotionless, he seems to get a perverse joy out of the idea of death and despair:

It's another counterpoint to Johan's inhumanity; Urasawa seems to be examining the various reasons that people kill each other, from loud displays of passion, to perverse serial killings, to calm and calculated genocidal impulses.  Or maybe he's just coming up with an array of different villains that are all compelling in their own manner.  Whatever the case, it's highly enjoyable to watch them bounce off each other, with the end result almost certain: Johan will execute all of his pale imitators, and only Tenma will be able to stop him, although everyone else, from Nina to Eva to Reichwein to Verdeman, will get involved in the ultimate confrontation.  We'll have to see how that plays out in the final volumes.  The end is not too far off now...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Athletic Monster Mash interlude #2: Slam Dunk lightens the mood a little

Hey, it looks like Eric Powell is going to be doing a crossover between The Goon and Metalocalypse sometime this summer.  That's pretty awesome.  Here's the trailer.

And I don't know if I've linked this before, but the late, great Seth Fisher's mom is continuing to post on his blog, analyzing his work and posting some of his short stories.  Good stuff, including this one that originally appeared in Heavy Metal.

Slam Dunk, volume 3
By Takehiko Inoue

Wow, this manga is about as enjoyable as comics get.  As we've seen in previous volumes, Takehiko Inoue has a real flair for goofy comedy, exciting sports action, and appealing characters, and that's as true here as ever.  He gets a lot of mileage out of just bouncing his obnoxious lug of a main character off of the rest of the cast, and at times, it seems like he's walking right up to the limits of likeability while still remaining on readers' good sides.

This volume sees Hanamichi, that doofus of a protagonist, constantly goofing around, bickering with his rival Rukawa, and refusing to cooperate when the team captain tries to get him to practice and actually learn how to play.  He just wants to do slam dunks all the time, so when he is forced to learn to do a simple lay-up, he struggles hilariously:

He also can't stand to see Rukawa get any attention, so he keeps throwing balls at him:

This leads to at least one laugh-out-loud moment; Hanamichi is a boundless source of slapstick comedy, since he's completely external.  Other than occasional pinings for his crush Haruko, nothing crosses his mind that he doesn't shout out to everyone nearby.  He's also constantly bragging about how good he is, even though he barely knows anything about basketball.  He's only interested in self-glorification, so learning about such basics as rebounding is beneath him:

The only reason anybody even puts up with him is due to his excellent natural athletic ability.  With some training, he could be a great addition to the team, but he's such a force of nature, it's near-impossible to get him to do anything constructive.  Hilariously, the other characters are already learning how to manipulate him into actually following instructions, as when the coach infoms him that the reason he's not in the starting lineup is because he's the team's secret weapon.

This all makes for some great reading, and you can see some canny moves on Inoue's part as he introduces his readers to the sport along with his protagonist.  It's easy to see why this manga made the sport so popular in Japan; things start out simple, rather than barraging the reader with rules and technicalities.  So far, Hanamichi has learned about the slam dunk, basic dribbling and ball-handling, the lay-up, and rebounding.  He's got a long way to go, with much, much more to learn; topics like man-on-man defense, full-court press, and blocking out are sure to pop up on the curriculum, with Hanamichi probably complaining about them all the way.

That's another thing that works so well about the series: while Hanamichi is self-centered and obnoxious, he doesn't get away with acting like a jerk.  He's constantly reprimanded by Akagi, the gorilla-like captain of the team:

And he makes himself look ridiculous more often than not; it's hilarious to watch him try to look cool and completely screw up nearly every time.  Hopefully, Inoue will continue to develop him as a character and actually have him learn some teamwork and respect for his fellow players.  In the meantime, we'll get plenty of great moments, with many more sure to come next volume when the team plays an exhibition game against a rival school.  I can imagine all sorts of hilarity stemming from the situation, and expecting Inoue to exceed my expectations is a pretty sure bet.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monster Mash: There's more than one kind of puppet

Linkery: Here's the official theme song of James Kochalka's Superfuckers, with animation!

Monster, volume 14
By Naoki Urasawa

Wow, there's a lot going on in this volume (which I suspect will be true for every remaining book in the series).  First off, we learn a key secret involving Tenma's lawyer Verdeman, and then almost immediately jump to Nina and Deiter in Prague, as they locate the Red Rose Mansion, which causes Nina's memories to come rushing back to her, although only in fragments, revealing some horrific images of murder.  It's freaky stuff that only seems to get more harrowing as details continue to be slowly revealed.  And at the same time, we see that Johan has also recovered his memories, making his transition to his "monstrous form" complete.  And along with the twins' continued awakening, we get to see some of their mysterious past, including that fateful night in which young Nina (or Anna, as she was known at the time) shot Johan in the head (waaay back in volume 1), kicking off the entire epic struggle, at least as we've seen it; it seems that it's been going on for much longer.  But those scenes of the kids are some creepy stuff, especially a moment that calls back to Tenma's confrontation with Johan in volume 9:

It's impossible to tell what's going on with Johan (then or now), where these ideas came from, what they mean, or what actually happened during all these mysterious events, but the hope remains that we will eventually learn more and get to a point where we feel like we can at least slightly understand what occurred and what made Johan this way.  But in the meantime, it's incredibly unsettling to see him act like a robotic follower of some undefinable philosophy of superiority that also leads to both suicidal and murderous impulses.

This volume also sees the return of two characters that readers (myself, for example) may barely even remember: General Wolf, and The Baby, both last seen in volume 4.  They were both involved in some sort of neo-Nazi organization; the former is revealed to be the man who found Johan and Anna when they fled from Czechoslovakia to East Germany, and the latter is working for a man who has a strange interest in Tenma's ex-fiancee Eva.  Everything is connected, apparently, which we're learning as more and more of the dense web of connections in the series become apparent.

And Urasawa continues to demonstrate excellent storytelling skills, including some deft upending of expectations.  One of the best fragments of the volume involves Nina being cared for by Mr. Lipsky, a street puppeteer who seems to have some issues relating to people, to say the least.  Soon after his introduction, he is revealed to have an obsession with Franz Bonaparta, the author of the weird children's book that is behind a lot of the mysteries of the series, so it stands to reason that he's got a connection to the whole affair.  And sure enough, in the same chapter where we first meet him, we learn that he was a student of Bonaparta's at the Red Rose Mansion.  Urasawa doesn't even bother drawing out the mystery behind him, confirming the suspicion that an odd-seeming character in this series is going to be connected to the master plot.  Except, just when reader is feeling safe, he then goes to reveal that there's even more to the character.  It's a bit of double misdirection; there's definitely more than one trick up his sleeve.

Then, in later chapters, he uses a flash-forward structure, a trick that hasn't seen much use in the series so far.  We see a wounded man being rushed to a doctor, and find that he has a relationship of some sort with Tenma, but we don't know what.  Then we see flashbacks to him approaching Eva and acting as her bodyguard/escort at the behest of a mysterious man with unstated intentions.  It's already a somewhat tense setup, since we know that Eva is being targeted by Johan's underling Roberto (or Baul, or whatever his real name is), who is sure to show up again at some point.  But while their interactions are kind of lighthearted, with him expressing a distaste with jobs involving women, and her insisting that he dress nice and use good table manners when accompanying her to parties, the spectre of violence is hanging over their heads.  We'll have to wait until the next volume to see what exactly is going to happen, but it's going to be tense and exciting getting there.

And as always, in addition to the great pacing and plotting, Urasawa's art continues to impress.  In the scene where we first meet Mr. Lipsky, we see his puppet before we get a look at him, only to learn that he has no audience:

That panel of the puppet looking down the way at the more popular performer is a nice way of demonstrating the situation before we even see Lipsky's sorry face.  And along with a later scene, in which he seems to be interacting with a puppet that he has fashioned in the image of Nina, the scene is an indication that he relates to his creations better than to real people, and that he can express himself better through them than on his own.

Every page of this series is filled with this kind of detailed storytelling, a perfect combination of words and art to make for a gripping, encompassing story that doesn't disappoint.  Each subsequent just cements Urasawa in the pantheon of great comics creators; he's amazing, and it's just a treat to watch him do his thing.  I'm ready to rush into the next volume, but I'm starting to feel like I'm going to be sorry when it's over.

Monday, March 16, 2009

This week, I don't have too much to say about anything important, and nothing nice to say about the unimportant stuff

Elsewhere: I reviewed last week's Dollhouse at The Factual Opinion.  I'm kind of late linking to this, since the show airs on Friday and the column runs on Thursday.  That means I don't usually link to it until Monday, after the next episode has already aired.  Huh, that's a pain.  Eh, I still haven't watched the next one though.  See what I think this next Thursday!

Also: I'm late linking to this, as I usually am with this sort of thing, but this video of Alison Bechdel explaining her process on Fun Home is fascinating and illuminating.  I love seeing that sort of description from cartoonists, especially with great books like that one.

New comics this week (Wednesday, 3/18/09):

Azrael Deaths Dark Knight #1

I would normally do my best to ignore this sort of book, because I really don't care what's going on with various Batman-related characters in the aftermath of his "death", and I don't have any interest in comics written by Fabian Nicieza, but there's one thing that makes this attention-worthy, and that's art by Frazier Irving.  I love his style (see here for examples of me gushing over it when it's illustrating a story I was kind of hesitant to bother with), and while it's still not enough to get me interested in actually reading "X-treme Batman stand-in #3", I will definitely look through it next time I'm in the comics store.  Now if only he would finish Gutsville...

Groom Lake #1

I reviewed a PDF of this Chris Ryall/Ben Templesmith book about aliens and whatnot a few weeks ago, so you can read that to get my full opinion, but here's the short version:  it's good.  If you like Ryall's wit in comics like Zombies vs. Robots, or Templesmith's art, you should give it a try.

Hotwire #2 

I find it amusing that this second issue of the Warren Ellis-originated, Steve Pugh-scripted-and-drawn series about futuristic ghost hunters comes with "chick w/o guns" and "chick w/guns" variants.  I guess they know what audience they're going for.  I never did read the first issue, but it seemed interesting from the reviews I read (like this one).  I suppose I could try to check it out sometime.

LILLIM #1 (of 5)

This might or might not be worthwhile, but I find the concept at least slightly noteworthy, due to its odd mix of Biblical and Norse mythology.  The title characters are the children of Lilith, Adam's other wife (you might remember her from Sandman), who are Odin and Loki, reborn in the modern age as either threats or saviors of humanity.  Weird.  The art doesn't seem too bad, at least judging by the cover images, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything.  If nothing else, it got my attention, which is harder and harder to do these days.  Take that as you will.

Mysterius: The Unfathomable #3

More Parker and Fowler.  I want to read this.

Potters Field Stone Cold One Shot

I liked the original three-issue Potter's Field miniseries by Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta that Boom! Studios published (here are my reviews of the first, second, and third issues, if you're interested), although I thought it would have worked better if it was longer.  Still, it worked for that short interval, and here's a follow-up, which could work as a single episode of the series, or some sort of special; apparently it involves the main character discovering a 9/11-related conspiracy, which seems a bit big for a series that worked well as a mechanism for smaller, more personal tales.  Eh, I'll check it out and see what I think.

Rawbone #1

Jamie Delano!  This Avatar book is about pirates, and it's sure to love lots of violence and nastiness.  Good times.  Art by Max Fiumara.  Somebody let me know if it turns out to be good, and maybe I'll try to read the eventual collection.

Transmetropolitan #1 special edition

Another of DC's "read this if you liked Watchmen" sampler books.  It's only a dollar, so maybe it'll get somebody interested in the series, which is good.  Let's see them turn this into a movie.  But only if they sell toy versions of Spider's bowel disruptor.

Ultimatum #3

This is another one that I would normally do my best to ignore, but I've actually read this issue, for a possible review at Comics Bulletin (looks like it's not going to happen, probably because they don't want me to piss off Marvel).  It was mostly out of curiosity, after the cannibalism of the previous issue made the rounds of internet complaints about gross stuff in comics.  And wow, was I not disappointed.  That is, I got all the stupid, nasty depravity I expected; if I had expected it to be any good, yes, I would have been disappointed.  But it was very, very terrible, on every level.  I'm amazed at how cynical Marvel is; a few years ago, there was a little bit of outcry at their eagerness to do stuff like Marvel Zombies or have lots of skeletons and dead superheroes on their covers, but this is a whole new level, with beloved characters (or "Ultimate" versions of them) being brutally killed on-panel for nothing but shock value.  Do people really want to read this?  And do they really want to see David Finch's ugly, ugly artwork?  I probably shouldn't be surprised by this sort of thing, but I guess I do still have some capacity for shame, unlike the people publishing this.

Uncanny X-Men #507

I guess this is still going on.  That's a dumb thing to say; of course X-Men comics are still coming out.  This is the only one I bother paying even the slightest attention to though, since it's written by Matt Fraction (wait, that's not true; I also pay some slight attention to the one Warren Ellis is writing).  There are a bunch of plots going on at once here, but the only one that really grabs me is the team that ends up fighting a Godzilla-like monster, since that's fun.  Otherwise, it's a lot of the same old angst and whining about fear and acceptance and hatred.  Terry Dodson draws, so at least it looks pretty nice; god help them when Greg Land shows up to crap all over the pages again.

Adventures Of Blanche HC

Ooh, I'll have to try to read this.  I had never even heard of it until recently, when I read Craig Fischer's look at one of these stories over at Thought Balloonists.  I like Rick Geary a lot (even though I haven't read a whole lot of his work), and this appears to be an excellent series of stories about a young woman who has a series of art-related adventures in the early 20th century.  Here's a three-page preview at Dark Horse's site.

Air Vol. 1 Letters from Home TP

Judging by the first issue of this Vertigo series (my review is here) by the Cairo (which I also reviewed here) team of G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker, I didn't think this series was going to be all that good.  But I've read a mention or two that said the series picked up quite a bit after that, and turned into something pretty interesting, so I might have to give it another look.  And here's my chance, with a collection of the first six issues.  Okay, Ms. Wilson, prove me wrong!

Alan Moore Light of Thy Countenance GN

Every so often, Avatar puts out a comic that sees Antony Johnston adapting a story or poem of Alan Moore's to comics form.  And here's another one, which is apparently about "the Magic of Television."  I haven't read many of these, but they always interest me, if only because I react in a Pavlovian manner to Moore's name.  I might have to check this out.  Art is by Felipe Massafera.

American Flagg Definitive Collection TP vol 02

It's another thick, expensive collection of Howard Chaykin's landmark series.  I still haven't read any of it, but everybody continues to say it's awesome, groundbreaking, etc.  I should see if I can get them from the library...

Batman Haunted Gotham TPB

This collects a story by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones from 2000, I think.  Caleb Mozzocco should be excited.

Complete Just a Pilgrim HC

The early 2000s saw the release of a couple of miniseries by Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra featuring this Clint Eastwood-like character in a sort of post-apocalyptic western that featured mutants and Road Warrior-esque gangs and the like.  Not Ennis' best work, but it's entertaining enough.  Give it a try if you're craving some of his goofy nastiness.

Courtney Crumrin TP vol 04 Monstrous Holiday

This is yet another series that I've been meaning to read for a long time now.  I really like Ted Naifeh's artwork, and he can tell a pretty good story too.  Whenever I do get around to it, I'll start with the first volume, but for more experienced readers, here's the latest, collecting the recent one shots Courtney Crumrin and the Fire Thief's Tale and Courtney Crumrin and the Prince of Nowhere.  Someday...

Kaspar TP

This Drawn & Quarterly offering by Diana Obomsawin is about Kaspar Hauser, a 19th-century feral child who was famous during the time and led to (or was used as a prop for) a lot of philosophizing about the nature of man.  Sounds pretty interesting.  D&Q's site has a preview.

My Mommy Is In America And She Met Buffalo Bill HC

Fanfare/Ponent Mon is releasing the translation this European comic by Jean Regnaud and Emile Bravo, and it's one that has been making the rounds of the critical sites and getting a lot of acclaim.  Looks like it might be one of the books of the year (pay attention, Dick Hyacinth!).  Another one to look for at the library...

Platinum Grit Vol 1 TP

I'm not sure what exactly this comic is about, but I do like the look of it.  It apparently was a small-press book back in the 1990s, by Australian creators Trudy Cooper and Danny Murphy, before making the transition to the web in the early 21st century.  Now Image is publishing this collection of the first five chapters, but you can also read them at the comic's website, I think.

Powers Vol 12 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes of All Time TPB

Wow, it seems like forever since I last read Powers.  I decided to switch to trades after the issues started coming out incredibly slowly, making it all but impossible to keep up with the story.  That was something like two years ago, and now I can finally pick up where I left off.  I think this volume has a fight between Walker and Pilgrim, but who knows.  I hope it doesn't suck, since it's just about the only Bendis work that really enjoy all that much anymore.

Soleil Samurai HC Vol 1 Legend

I never did read any of this series, which was one of the French comics Marvel is releasing.  Did anyone else bother?  Is it any good?  The art looks nice, but that only goes so far.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane Sophomore Jinx DM HC

I think I reviewed most of the issues of this miniseries for Comics Bulletin (here's issue #1 and issue #3), and while it wasn't terrible, I didn't think it was an especially worthy follow-up to the excellent series by Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa (and later David Hahn).  Between this and Runaways, Terry Moore isn't impressing me too much as a writer (I've never read Strangers in Paradise, so that doesn't affect my reaction either way).  And Craig Rousseau isn't bad as an artist, but he's not the sort of stylish cartoonist that the title needs; ideally, it would have a shojo manga feel, and that's not present here at all.  So my recommendation is to skip it.  And my recommendation to Marvel is to get Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover to do the next version of the series.  Or a good female writer, which certainly wouldn't hurt if you're writing a female character that's hopefully aimed at girls.  Let's see if they listen to me!

Squadron Supreme Pre War Years TPB

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Marvel released a new edition/printing/whatever of the first collection of J.M. Straczynski's run on Supreme Power, and just a few weeks later, they're skipping forward to a similar reprint of this relaunch of the title, probably to coincide with the collection of the next relaunch, which is written by Howard Chaykin with art by Marco Turini.  It was after a couple issues of this that I dropped it, because it went from a "mature readers" title that featured regular sex, nudity, and graphic violence to the Marvel Knights imprint, which might technically be kind of mature-ish, but still has the "all-ages" restrictions of books like Daredevil.  Actually, the reduced "adult content" wasn't the reason I stopped reading; it was the tiresome, drawn-out nature of the plots and the unlikability of any of the characters.  No, I had grown tired of the book before then, and this was the last straw.  So, while the series started out pretty interestingly, it grew less and less so, before reaching this stage and petering out, eventually ending with a much-derided cross over with Marvel's Ultimate characters.  It would probably be best if Marvel gave up on the concept, at least for a while, but they're probably going to keep on milking the dead cow as long as they can get something out of it.

Tor A Prehistoric Odyssey HC

This collects Joe Kubert's recent miniseries featuring his caveman character.  It looked pretty cool, even if it is sort of old-fashioned, as Abhay mentions here.  I wouldn't mind giving it a look-see.

True Tales Of The Roller Derby Doppelganger At The Hanger

I've never understood the "sport" of rollerderby, beyond the appealing concept of watching cute girls skating around and being sort of violent, so I doubt I would be all that interested in reading this book.  But it looks like it's got some decent art (at least judging by the cover image), and it could be fun.  So why not give it a mention?  There, done.

X-Men First Class The Wonder Years TPB

I think this collects the final issues of Jeff Parker's series that followed the early years of the original Lee/Kirby X-Men.  I've found the issues of the series that I've sampled to be kind of "meh", but I do like Parker's writing, and it's pretty decent if you're into fun, lighthearted superhero stuff.  I'm great with the backhanded recommendations, aren't I?

An Ideal World Vol 1 GN

Yen Press has this book that seems to be along the lines of Tokyopop's French/Chinese imports, about a kid who gets lost in a fantasy world.  Maybe worth a look?  I like the cover image, at least.

Rurouni Kenshin VIZBIG Edition Vol 5 GN

Wow, there are five VIZBIG volumes of this series out already.  It's yet another one of the series that I would like to check out at some point, but who knows if I'll ever get to it.  Maybe someday, as I say all the damn time.

We Were There Vol 3 GN

This shojo series is continuing.  I thought the first volume was all right, if not great, but it supposedly gets better, so maybe this is worth reading.  There you go.

That appears to be everything; looks like this is "pick on Marvel" week.  Stay tuned; more Monster Mash coming soon!