Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Whack away!! But this time I'm ready to resist your magna-force!!"

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #147 gives us today's Fourth World panel, and it's pretty funny:

That's from the opening scene, which sees Jimmy glumly stuck in bed, recovering from being turned into a caveman last issue, but he's immediately interrupted when that big purple monster busts in. It's a great two-page spread, made even funnier by the redrawn image of Jimmy, who, in contrast to everyone else's terrified expressions, seems annoyed and pissed off:

It turns out that this bug-eyed weirdo, who the Newsboy Legion have named Angry Charlie, is a leftover monster from the Evil Factory that they've turned into a sort of mascot. Hey, why not?

Anyway, the caper in Scotland settled, Jimmy and pals head back across the Atlantic in the Whiz Wagon, but manage to end up in trouble on the way there when a volcano erupts out of the ocean, a giant platform comes out:

And they get captured by "pseudo-men":

I love the imagery there, with the perspective making the scale of that platform seem crazily huge. And those freaky guys, with their faceless masks swirling with Kirby dot energy. I love this stuff. It turns out this is part of a plan by a villain named Victor Volcanum (another nattily-dressed goofball who chugs "liquid fire" from a goblet) to take over the world, which prompts one of the Newsboys to say "Now really, sir! That's the kind of premise sold in "golden age" comics!!" I don't know if this guy is from Apokolips or not, but next issue (which is the last Jimmy Olsen in the volume, and in the Fourth World saga, apparently) will let us know, I'm sure.

In the other half of the issue, Superman gets sucked through a boom tube and ends up on New Genesis. At first, they think he's an invader from Apokolips, so they have the obligatory fight scene, but once their differences are settled, he gets to explore, as he's been wanting to do since he got a glimpse of Supertown way back in Forever People #1. It's a nice scene, as he blunders around like a yokel, not used to being among people who are as super as he is. It's a funny contrast to stuff like the Superman story in Wednesday Comics, in which he whines about being an alien among humans or whatever. Here, he's an prideful god among gods, still trying to show off his super powers, rescue people from danger, and fight threats, even though nobody seems to think he's special. It's pretty hilarious to see the great Superman bumble around and make a fool of himself as soon as he's around other superbeings. And it's also interesting to see the natives who are so comfortable in their element, glorying in their amazing abilities and magnificent technology. Yes, as much as Superman claims to long to be among his own kind, he's obviously much more comfortable on Earth, where everybody worships him and constantly reminds him of his awesomeness.

Good times. Next up: the Forever People in "The Power!"

Oh, and no 100 Bullets thing tonight; sorry to disappoint. Maybe tomorrow? Or Saturday? Or whenever.

The Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu: Yeah, that's an apt title

The Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu

This new DVD collection of Osamu Tezuka's short animated films from Kino Video certainly lives up to its title; it turns out that Tezuka's endless creativity and drive to keep creating stretched well beyond the world of comics. His crazy energy is quite apparent in these shorts, which range from a few minutes to over half an hour, sometimes spotlighting a small bit of action or a goofy joke, and other times delivering epic stories of human nature, man vs. the environment, and war. Yes, it always comes back to war; World War II definitely had an impact on Tezuka's work.

The shorts here are full of experimental ideas and unique bits of animation, and they're all fun and fascinating, often mixing beautiful background drawings and bits of surrealistic expressionism with Tezuka's signature cartoony figures and silly jokes. Of the included cartoons, three of them are pretty lengthy, with the others seeming like smaller one-offs rather than extended meditations on a theme. The first one, "Tales of a Street Corner", made in 1962, depicts moments in the life of the denizens of its eponymous location, including a little girl, a little mouse, a moth, a streetlamp, a tree, and a series of advertising posters. The latter provide some of the most interesting parts, as the characters on the posters all move in choppy animation limited to just two or three frames and dance together. It's highly enjoyable, and there's even a sort of story in which a violinist is in love with a piano player, raising the ire of a sexy model. We also see the tree try to find purchase for its seeds, the little girl get upset because she dropped her teddy bear out of her window onto the roof of her building, and the mouse run around causing trouble with his siblings. It's mostly a series of scenes about these various characters, until the poster all get ripped down and replaced with a bunch of images of a Mussolini-esque military leader, and war comes to tear apart everything. It's pretty horrific to see all these innocent characters get mowed down by bombs, and one amazing, heartbreaking bit sees the violinist and pianist's posters both get blown around above the flames as if they are dancing, eventually burning up together. At the end, the little girl survives and wanders off through the wreckage, and the tree's seeds find purchase, sprouting to begin live anew in the rubble. Striking stuff, and it's all scored to some excellent classical music that I would probably recognize if I was more artistically literate.

The next long bit is "Pictures at an Exhibition" from 1966, and it's actually more of a series of shorts linked by a framing sequence that sees the camera pan across a gallery of paintings before zooming in on one or the other for a short sequence, each in a different style. Most of them are pretty goofy, including one about a cosmetic surgeon that's a series of Tezuka gags done in a scribbly, child's-drawing style and a scene of a starlet who gets fawned over by fans, directors, makeup artists, costumers, and the like before shooting what turns out to be a foot medicine commercial. But then things get serious for a short about soldiers, which tries to capture the experience of war in a burst of abstract images like splotches of color and swooping shapes that zoom around the screen to pounding, intense music, seeming to take the shape of tanks, planes, bullets, explosions, and the like. Things get more representational for a bit, with limited-animation pencil drawings of soldiers getting in a fight over a wounded girl in the midst of a jungle setting (Vietnam was in full swing) before getting bombed and turning back into abstract chaos. It's amazing. And then the final bit sees an arch carved with Greek-style images of godly beings, under which all the characters from the previous shorts pass and enter some heavenly gates. The carved musclemen holding up the arch start to wander after the characters, but the arch starts to collapse, so they have to rush back and hold it up again. It's like Tezuka is urging viewers not to pay too much attention to his silliness and neglect the work that keeps the world running, a feeling emphasized by a final scene of an orchestra of doofuses playing the final bits of music as their instruments all explode or fall apart. Don't say he wasn't self-deprecating.

The final long piece is "Legend of the Forest", which was apparently only the first part of a story that Tezuka never finished. It came out in 1987, and Tezuka died in 1989. It's the tale of a peaceful wood that gets disrupted by man, who comes to cut down the trees. Yes, it's a fairly obnoxious environmental story, but it's worth watching for the exquisite animation, which starts as a series of still images featuring realistic-yet-cartoony scenes of a squirrel father rushing to save his tiny children from perishing in a tree that is being chopped down. He drops one, and the animation switches to a sort of white-on-black vector graphics style, before becoming more of a simple, stark line, focusing on the lost squirrel child. As he grows up and learns to glide (he's a flying squirrel), he gets in fights with birds and becomes a troublemaker, transitioning to a very Disney-esque style of animation. Then he decides to make war on the lumberjack and gains a girlfriend, which leads to a more realistic style while still retaining some cartoony expressiveness in the characters. And it all ends in fighting and destruction, of course, leading to a second piece about mystical woodland creatures trying to make peace with construction workers who want to level the forest. This second part isn't as effective as the first, but it's interesting to see a group of dwarves who seem stolen from a more famous movie, all the fairies and nymphs that Tezuka can dream up, and a very Hitler-esque foreman who rejects the offer of peace. It's a strange film, and not entirely successful, but it's still pretty fascinating.

The shorter films aren't all as interesting or gripping as the long ones, but some of them are very effective in what the do, especially 1984's "Jumping", which gives viewers a first-person experience of a character doing exactly what the title says. We start out hopping down a neighborhood street, but the jumps get bigger and bigger, as we spring across forests and rivers and eventually into a city, over skyscrapers, and across oceans, eventually ending up in a war zone and jumping into an atomic explosion. There's that war theme again; Tezuka couldn't get away from it. The thing about this one is the way Tezuka and his animators put the viewer right into the action, adding a real sense of height and movement, and even inducing vertigo in one bit that sees us rise high above a city and perform a triple somersault. A bit in which a bird starts attacking leads to real irritation; it's amazing how well the viewer is put right into the mind of the jumper, even though we know nothing about them. That's what Tezuka did so well, always coming up with new ways to tell a story, never sitting back, always moving forward.

"Broken Down Film" (1985) is another great bit of goofy experimentation, seeming like a degraded bit of old-timey film that's covered with scratches and constantly slipping out of frame. Our cowboy hero, who looks like one of the characters in one of those old cartoons from the early 20th century, is constantly getting rattled by the jerkiness of the film and sneezing from all the dust and scratches on the print. He ends up rescuing a girl who is tied to railroad tracks by grabbing her "HELP!" word balloon and throwing it at the train, then he fights the burly bad guy by climbing in and out of the frame. It's tons of fun, similar to the fourth-wall-breaking antics of many of Tezuka's comics.

Finally (out of the ones I'll mention) is "Muramasa", from 1987, a samurai story about a man who discovers a sword, imagines the awesomeness of killing, practices on straw dummies, then goes crazy, seeing everybody as dummies and slaughtering anyone who comes across his path. It's not quite the same war theme, but it's still about violence and death, so it certainly fits into Tezuka's obsessions. The animation is fairly limited, although the backgrounds are gorgeous tableaux of green bamboo, and everything is propelled along by some incredible music in the old Japanese style. Really cool.

So yeah, it's a pretty amazing collection, and a must-watch for Tezuka fans. There's also a fairly lengthy interview with the man himself, mostly about "Jumping", so don't miss out on the chance to hear the master speak. I'm very glad I got to watch this artifact of artistic excellence that spotlighted a side of Tezuka's career that I hadn't considered before. If you're interested, you can watch some of the included shorts online, including "Jumping", "Broken Down Film", "Memory", "The Drop", "Mermaid", "Push", "Self-portrait" (I didn't mention those last five, but they're worth watching), and a short portion of "Legend of the Forest" (UPDATE: there's also this kind of annoying videoblog review of the collection, with clips from every short). Good stuff; Tezuka is awesome, isn't he?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

100 Bullets: Everyone dies in a flurry of arrows

That's what it seems like anyway, in this final version of my notorious 100 Bullets character chart (WARNING: SPOILERS for the entire series! Do not view if you haven't read until the end! Really!):

Click to view at a size that makes slightly more sense.

Good, god, that's complicated, to the point of being unreadable. But once I started it, I knew I would have to finish it to reflect all the information revealed in the final volume. Whew. I think this pretty much covers everything, from what I'm able to discern. There are still a few dashed lines, due to plot points that were never resolved clearly or that I'm unsure about. And some of the deaths might not be quite right; it's certainly possible that a few of the characters survived, but it pretty much ends in a bloodbath, so red Xs on nearly every character are definitely appropriate. But if you think I got something wrong or missed something, please let me know.

Hopefully, I'll have a full review up tomorrow, but I wanted to get this posted. Enjoy everyone, although I suspect I'm the only person who can actually read the damn thing.

"No goddling!! No faltering!! No whining!!"

I love that word, "goddling". Maybe it's a typo, but I like the idea that Kirby came up with a special word for coddling gods. It's from the opening splash page of Mister Miracle #7, which gives us today's Fourth World panel:

That's our man Scott Free and his lady Barda preparing to head back to Apokolips and secure their freedom once and for all by winning it in fair combat. This leads to the expected awesome fights, as they plow their way through various goons, giving Barda a chance to show off:

And then they get caught by Kanto, Darkseid's weapons designer, who provides the obligatory death trap for Scott to escape, and then end up in Barda's clutches, prepared to face another one of Kirby's weird-ass creations, the Lump.

But that's for next time. This time out, I'm struck by a couple things, including the genteel way that Mister Miracle and Kanto resolve their conflict. It's one of those signs that this world is more complex than simple good and evil; not every one of Darkseid's minions follow him unquestioningly. Kanto seems to be in it for the enjoyment, and when he bores of the fight, he not only lets Scott go, but helps him on his way. He's not exactly a good man born into an evil world, but he's honorable, or at least seems to be at this point. It's an interesting wrinkle to the huge tapestry Kirby is weaving.

The other notable aspect is the strange costume choices that Darkseid's followers wear. The New Genesis New Gods all seem to clothe themselves in futuristic garb, with sharp angles, bright colors, and clearly defined shapes. But the Apokolips denizens either sport drab colors or strange, anachronistic clothing. Kanto has the oversized beret and poofy leggings of a Renaissance artist, Granny Goodness wears a sort of chain mail, Desaad has the cloak of an old wizard or something, Verman Vundabar has the monocle and general's outfit, and we saw that Steppenwolf had that weird tunic-and-pointed-hat combo. Even Darkseid has the helmet that's kind of like something from a suit of armor. What does all this mean? Is Kirby drawing a parallel to old, restrictive religions that seeks to trap people in the past rather than strive toward the future? Is he making a connection to the "dark ages"? I'm not sure, but I find it fascinating.

Of course, if we're talking costumes, the standout this issue is Granny Goodness' horrific Little Bo Peep loungewear:

That's just wrong. In fact, it's part of what makes the character creepy and unsettling, clothing a twisted evil old wretch in a garment associated with childlike innocence. It fits; hell, her name is Granny Goodness and she runs an orphanage called "Happiness Home", in which she tortures children and raises them to be depraved killers. Irony!

Other nice (or not so much, really) stuff this issue includes a scene that recalls the Holocaust, which is striking coming from Kirby, a Jewish WWII vet:

And I wanted to point out this nice bit of storytelling, in which the following pair of images end one page and then start another one:

I love the way Kirby switches the point of view there, keeping readers on their toes. He never lets up with the excitement, does he?

Next: "A Superman in Supertown!"

The ultimate hipster douchebag, episode 2

This might turn into a regular thing, if I can keep thinking of dumb jokes.

Is sushi even a hipster thing? I dunno.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

20th Century Boys: I'm probably too young to be counted among their ranks

Elsewhere: I reviewed Dark Reign: The Sinister Spider-Man #2 over at Comics Bulletin.

Also: Lucy Knisley has returned from a trip to France, and she's serializing the comics journal that she made here. It's like French Milk, in miniature!

20th Century Boys, volume 2 and 3
By Naoki Urasawa

I'm finding it hard to find a whole lot to say about this series, although I'm not sure why that is. I think it might be because it's a little bit different from, and possibly more expansive than the other Naoki Urasawa series that I expended so much language on, Monster. After the introductions of the first volume, Urasawa is spending time piling on the creepiness and sense of dread, as more weird details about the "Friend" cult are revealed, and occurrences keep happening that match up with the story that Kenji and friends made up about a league of evil attacking the world so they could be the heroes that saved everybody.

That seems the be the driving hook of the story at this point, as Kenji tries to remember the kind of stuff that he and his pals talked about as kids, or who might have been involved. Several new characters get introduced, including Yukiji, a girl who was the toughest kid in school and the only one to stand up against the bullies, and a weird kid who always wore a mask and didn't have any friends (at this point, signs are pointing toward him being Friend, the leader of the cult, but I'm sure there will be more twists to come). But the compelling theme here seems to be the way childhood dreams kind of melt away as we grow up. Kenji and his friends have moved on, starting families or taking over family businesses, but Friend seems hung up on their childhood fantasies, to the point that he's willing to kill and manipulate thousands of people to make them come true. And to what end? All his actions seem to be in the pursuit of evil; is he trying to bring about the heroism that the boys aspired to?

But the other notable quality is that the childish stories seem pretty dumb when viewed through adult eyes; only somebody who doesn't have a very good grasp of reality would want them to come true, right? Kenji seems to be the closest to Friend in terms of idealism, but even he matured in his fantasies, going from wanting to be a superhero to trying to become a rock star. But even that eventually faded, and he became focused on his family, ending up in charge of their liquor store and his niece Kanna. But the spark hasn't fully faded; one of the most exciting moments in these two volumes comes when he discovers the guitar that his sister bought him, then plugs it in and rocks out, waking up the whole neighborhood:

I expect more of this background will eventually be revealed, so we'll surely get to see what happened as the kids all grew up and drifted away from their youthful ideas and ideals. And given what we see here, it should be a great experience. Urasawa gives us plenty of classic moments, including a pair of chapters that features one of his signature techniques, in which he quickly introduces readers to a new minor character and immediately conveys their emotional state and situation, getting us interested in them without it feeling like he's dumping information to us. I'm always amazed when he does this, and this instance is better still, since he uses it to hide what could have been a dreary infodump about the police investigation into the Friend cult. We see an officer who is near retirement passing the information about the case on to a junior detective, but their conversation keeps getting interrupted by phone calls from his family, as they try to convince him to come to his grandson's birthday party. He explains that he doesn't get along with his daughter because he was so involved with work that he never had time for family. Then his daughter calls him and asks him to come, and the subtle effectiveness of his reaction is astonishing:

It's amazing that Urasawa can convey such a small shift, with his features softening and his eyes opening ever so slightly, yet make it devastatingly moving. Moments like this are why he is considered a master.

And I don't want to dwell on the shocking ending to the detective's story, but it's enough to make you cry. Instead, I'll mention that in addition to subtlely expositing information, the chapter mirrors Kenji's own conflict, as at the same time, Yukiji is trying to get him to help with a survivor's group that is trying to find out what is going on with their relatives who have been caught up in the cult. But Kenji is caught up in trying to manage his family's store and take care of his niece; it's the opposite of the detective's dilemma, but what he's missing out on are world-shaking events.

But when Kenji does start trying to figure out what is going on, Urasawa really dials up the menacing creepiness. One scene sees Kenji infiltrate a concert that the cult is putting on, and it's just bizarre, with comedians that don't really make sense but still cause the crowd to burst out into gales of laughter, and a rock band that just doesn't seem to be doing things right, even though everyone seems to think they're awesome. It's all just slightly off, and the fact that Kenji is the only one that can recognize that among thousands is just wierd and strange. And when Friend himself shows up, things get taken to a whole new level.

But then the really intense scene comes, as a group of cult members, who have been informed that Kanna is Friend's daughter (which might or might not be true), decide to take her away from Kenji's family and deliver her to Friend. It's a perfectly-paced scene, as we learn what their plan is as they start to congregate in the store, but Kenji's mother is blissfully unaware and happy to have all the business (Kenji is elsewhere, having found out about the plan and racing to get there as soon as he can). The images of the creepy, shifty-eyed cultists are as scary as hell:

It's the kind of thing that would have viewers yelling at the characters on the screen if this were a movie; Urasawa is just amazingly good at ratcheting up the tension, and then delivering on the promised action.

And there's plenty more going on in these volumes, including details about Kenji's older sister, who took such good care of him as a kid, and then abruptly disappeared, leaving Kanna in his and their mother's care. Was she kidnapped by the cult due to her knowledge of microbiology (that is, bioweapons)? And the developing relationship between Kenji and Yukiji is one to watch as well; after a childhood incident in which he came to her aid, she seems to think of him as a hero, and he's not exactly living up to her expectations. She's a nice character too, abrasive and direct, and it's nice to see her play off the others. And don't forget the various supernatural hints, including a psychic homeless man who seems to be able to tell people's future. And there's probably more that doesn't immediately spring to mind.

Yes, there's a heck of a lot going on in this manga, which makes for a page-turning read that leaves you desperately wanting to find out what happens next after every chapter. And the beautiful thing is, it's all up in the air; who knows what Urasawa is up to and what he'll spring on the reader at any time. It's virtuoso storytelling, excelling on every level, from art, to dialogue, to pacing, to character development. Monster seemed like it would be impossible to top, but Urasawa might just be on his way to doing so here.

"If I am Izaya the Inheritor--what is my inheritance!?"

Holy shit, the source of today's Fourth World panel, New Gods #7, is absolutely amazing, full of Kirby's straight-up mythmaking. It's an origin story of sorts, for both Orion and Mister Miracle, but also for Highfather and Darkseid, to an extent. We learn how Darkseid came to power, of the devastating war between New Genesis and Apokolips, and of the pact that gave the story its title, in which the children of the two planets' leaders were swapped in an attempt to provide peace. Kirby just blows readers away with his depiction of the cosmic war, but the key moment, I think, is the one that gives the day's panel:

Although, to cheat, I'll also include the page surrounding it, since it lends more weight to the scene:

That's Izaya, the leader of New Genesis, despairing at the destruction the war has wrought. It's powerful stuff, but it wouldn't be nearly so moving if we hadn't seen the opening splash page of the story:

He may be a warrior, but he is content to relish in the beauty of his surroundings and the love of his wife. But manipulator Darkseid, who has not yet become ruler of Apokalips, isn't so happy, and he manages to move all the pieces into place to allow him to rise to power. It's scary to watch, since he seems to lurk in the background until he's able to quietly rise to the throne after arranging for the deaths of his uncle Steppenwolf and his hideous mother Heggra.

The whole thing is fascinating to watch, with Kirby believably painting a cosmic, god-scale war, in which suns are harnessed to fire beams of planet-destroying energy, and machines blow up entire stars. There's one moment that seems quite noteworthy, coming from a World War II vet:

But unlike the atom bomb, this destruction only signals the beginning of an ever-escalating war, one that can't be ended by more and more violence, but by peaceful agreements. And even those are destined to fail, when a schemer like Darkseid is involved.

Like I said, it's fascinating to see Kirby's wartime experiences writ large, making violence and death a thing of galactic spectacle rather than something that we read about in newspapers after they happen on the other side of the globe. And that first scene above, in which Izaya starts to question his actions and his very being, gives me chills; it's like Kirby is trying to make man himself examine his own violent ways.

And on the level of "just plain awesome", there's plenty of that in this issue, with the following bit of Kirbytech being especially striking:

I love the way he throws seemingly random details into scenes; why would a giant viewscreen have a crazy shape like that on it? It seems to be Kirby's way of making it be beyond human understanding; we can't even begin to fathom the workings of this cosmic technology. And then there's stuff like these dragon tanks, and the "destructi-poles" that are used to fight them:

And Apokoliptian warriors (including Steppenwolf, in his goofy pointed hat) charging into battle riding giant dogs:

That's definitely not anything Grant Morrison dreamed up; Kirby was there first!

God, I'm loving this. Next up: Mister Miracle on Apokolips!

Monday, July 27, 2009

This week, content is overwhelming

San Diego news: Jeff Smith has more information about the new Bone books, including a sort of correction to the assumption that they would be comics. Nope, they (the "Quest for the Spark" trilogy, that is) will be novels, written by Tom Sniegoski will illustrations by Smith. Those suddenly got a bit less interesting, although I'll probably still want to read them. The Tall Tales volume will reprint Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails, now in color, along with a story that originally ran in Disney Adventures that has never been reprinted, and a couple new Big Johnson Bone stories. So, not as exciting as I originally thought, but still pretty cool.

The other big news out of San Diego seems to be Marvel's announcement that they've acquired the rights to Marvelman, which is a pretty big deal, since it's been caught up in legal entanglements for years (decades?) now. Of course, I don't know if this means that they'll be able to reprint the Alan Moore series (which, for anybody who doesn't know, was called Miracleman here in the U.S.), or just tell new stories with the character. I'm sure we'll be hearing lots more about this.

And here's some less-impactful news, but something I still found interesting. Vertigo announced a couple new graphic novels, and the one I'm most interested in is Revolver, by Matt Kindt. It's apparently about a guy bouncing back and forth between two realities. The other one is Dark Rain (not to be confused with Marvel's Dark Reign, ha ha), by Mat "Incognegro" Johnson and Simon "Paris" Gane. And check out that link to see Mike Allred's cover to I, Zombie, along with covers for Grant Morrison's upcoming Joe the Barbarian and a Fables miniseries (or is it a graphic novel? I dunno) called Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love. And hey, since we're talking Fables, you can read a one-page story that was apparently a free handout at a panel here, and also see the news that Bill Willingham and Jim Fern are going to be doing a graphic novel starring Bigby Wolf called Fables: Werewolves in the Heartland. Man, that franchise just keeps on expanding.

Wow, lots of stuff this week, but probably not all that much that I'll actually buy:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 7/29/09):

Complete Dracula #2

I haven't heard much about this adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel by Leah Moore and John Reppion, but I'm curious as to how it compares to Boom!'s adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. I bet Dynamite doesn't get pissy about it being called an adaptation, at least.

Dark Reign The Hood #3

Jeff Parker and Kyle Hotz keep attempting to do something interesting with this hood-wearing guy. Didn't all his powers get taken away in New Avengers? Why is he still around? I didn't read the second issue, so who knows what is actually going on here.

Dark Reign The Sinister Spider-Man #2

The first issue of this miniseries wasn't bad, but most all of the positives can be directed toward Chris Bachalo, who is as awesome as ever. Brian Reed does try to have fun with an unrepentant bad guy as the lead though. We'll see more about what I think tomorrow; I should have a review up at Comics Bulletin.

Detective Comics #855

More pretty Batwoman action from Dini Rucka (duh!) and Williams III. I'm still not all that interested in actually reading this, but any chance I get to look at the amazing artwork, I'll take it.

Fantastic Four #569

It's the big final issue of the Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch run on Marvel's flagship series, only without Millar and Hitch, oddly enough. Well, that's not entirely true; Millar plotted the issue, but Joe Ahearne is picking up the slack on the script, and Stuart Immonen is doing his best Hitch impression on the art. We've got double-sized action, the big finale to the Master of Doom story, and probably a disappointment that it all seems to be trying to hard to feel large-scale and important. Also, a wedding. Eh, now I'm ready to see what Jonathan Hickman is going to do when he takes over next next month.

Fearless Dawn #1

This first issue of Steve Mannion's new series seems interesting, at least judging by Caleb Mozzocco's description. I haven't read Mannion's previous book, The Bomb, but I certainly woudn't mind checking it out. Hot girls and monsters, that's kind of cool, right?

Garth Ennis Battlefields Tankies #3

Oh, man, I've been loving these war comics by Garth Ennis. I finally got around to reading Night Witches and Dear Billy, and now that this one is going to be finished, I'll read the issues all in one go and probably be blown away. This is good stuff, full of violence and awful heroism and acknowledgment of the psychological toll that war can take on people. Man, I love me some Ennis war comics.

Glamourpuss #8

Oh, Dave Sim, always with the narrow-focused interests. Does this title actually meet the Diamond minimums that seems to kill every other indie book these days? If so, crazy; I wouldn't think there would be enough Sim fans/old comics enthusiasts to keep it going. This issue apparently is about the romance strip The Heart of Juliet Jones, which might or might not have been written by Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell. And probably some of Sim's usual fashion-related misogyny, but that's par for the course.

History of the Wildstorm Universe

Ha ha ha, who would pay to read this? Oh, that's right, nobody, so DC is giving it away for free. Here you go, if you're really interested in the various Wolverine clones and hot chicks that Jim Lee and pals dreamed up. Sure, there might be a few others that Warren Ellis or Ed Brubaker or Adam Warren threw in at some point, but it's all pretty lame stuff that can be intermittently made interesting by a decent writer. Enjoy, nerds.

Ignition City #4

I've heard that this Warren Ellis series isn't all that good, but I can still hope that I heard wrong. Maybe I'll read it someday.

King Of Pop Michael Jackson The Comic Book #1

Already? Comics usually take some time to get produced, what with all the scripting and layouts and drawing and trying to make shit readable. For something like this to get rushed out to capitalize on the media frenzy since MJ's death means this will most likely be terrible, and haven't we all learned every detail anybody would want to know from the media frenzy of the last month or so? If you buy this, you're probably an asshole.

Muppet Show Treasure of Peg Leg Wilson #1

Hoo man, Roger Langridge don't quit! It's another four-issue miniseries, this time with a little bit more issue-to-issue continuity, but still staying nicely within the confines of the old TV show. I predict awesomeness and hilarity. Boom! is really on the rise as a company, and quality books like this one are the reason why. Go Animal!

New Avengers #55

As if one giant-sized issue of Stuart Immonen art wasn't enough for the week, here's a second comic that he drew. This marks his debut as the new regular artist on what might be Marvel's biggest book, and it's a welcome departure from the ugliness of Billy Tan. Of course, whether you want to read it depends on how much you like Brian Michael Bendis's tiresome dialogue and villain-centric antics, but at least there's something good about the book now.

Northlanders #19

Vikings! Fighting ladies! Danijel Zezelj! I gotta read this, so hopefully it will be collected before too long. It's the second and final issue of a story about Valkyries (or their inspiration, or something like that), and I bet it's a good read, as this series pretty much always is.

Rawbone #3

Jamie Delano! Pirates! Perversity! I hear that this series is hilarious in its over-the-topness; I'll have to look for it when it gets collected.

Secret Warriors #6

And so marks the end of the first arc on this series, and I believe the last one that Brian Bendis was involved with. After this, it's all Jonathan Hickman (writing, that is) all the time. Unfortunately, I haven't been too impressed with the title, but it hasn't been terrible or anything. I think it's pretty much just a big fight, with Nick Fury, his super-team, and a bunch of ex-SHIELD guys trying to steal a helicarrier or something. Fun is where you make it.

Stuff of Legend #1

This series from some company called Th3rd World Studios has to do with a bunch of toys fighting an evil boogeyman to save a little boy, which could be either overly cutesy or kind of cool. Judging by the art samples, I'm leaning toward the latter. It's certainly something I would check out if I saw it. Apparently there was a Free Comic Book Day issue that came out, and you can read it for free here. Looks neat.

Ultimatum #5

Oh my, here's the train wreck of the week. While I'm probably wrong about this, I can't believe anyone is seriously excited about or interested in the developments of this series; everything I've read of or about it is just awful beyond belief. Why would Marvel publish something like this, that gleefully dismembers (versions of) their beloved characters to no visible purpose? It's baffling. I'm curious to look inside, just to see what sort of nastiness Jeph Loeb came up with and passed off as a real comic book, but that's not a recommendation. Don't actually buy this, I implore you.

Ultimatum Spider-Man Requiem #2

Speaking of which, here's more of that boo-hoo sad stuff about Ultimate Spider-Man dying and people remembering how awesome he was. I think it might be Stuart Immonen's last work on the character? Plus, there's some Mark Bagley in here; it might be readable, but that doesn't mean I condone it.

Unknown Soldier #10

Vertigo, Africa, violence, real-world political commentary. When is the first collection of this series coming out? I want to read it.

Wednesday Comics #4

And more of the really nice-looking large-size visuals. I suppose I could try to review this each week, but I'll just say that I'm enjoying it, for the most part. Superman is still dumb though, Teen Titans is near-unreadable, Metal Men is kind of silly, Wonder Woman is interestingly ambitious but a bit confusing, and not much has happened for two weeks in Metamorpho. Everything else has been pretty good though, at least on an art level. I like the week-to-week storytelling in Batman, Hawkman has taken a cool turn, as has Demon/Catwoman, Supergirl continues to be fun, Strange Tales rocks your face off, Kamandi is gorgeous and involving, and even Green Lantern and Flash aren't bad. Is that everything? This week: more of the same, I'm guessing.

A Drifting Life TP New Printing

Oh man, I still haven't read this. I'll get to it soon, I hope, but I'm desperately trying to catch up with all the stuff on my to-read pile. Soon, man, soon (I'm probably lying).

Al Williamson's Flash Gordon A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic HC

This looks like a cool book, collecting all the "major" stuff that the great illustrator did on the character from the 60s all the way up through 1994. I bet it will be a gorgeous collection of artwork, and it might even be a good read too.

Beanworld Book 2 Gift Comes HC

More strange, flat adventures of weird little oblong creatures. I still don't really get this comic, but I haven't read enough of it to really do so, I think. I'll have to find volume one and try to dive in and see if I can get into the right frame of mind. I believe this volume collects all the previously-released material, in anticipation of the all-new volume 3 that comes out this fall.

Cell Block Z TP

I had not previously been aware of this, but apparently it's a semi-autobiographical comic from rapper Ghostface Killah? It seems pretty fictionalized, being about a boxer who gets framed for murder and thrown into prison, where he is experimented on like Luke Cage or something. Maybe it's the autobio of the Ghostface persona. Interesting?

Evil & Malice Save The World TP

This is a collection of a sort of kids' book from Bomb Queen creator Jimmie Robinson, originally published in 1998. Something about a supervillain's kids, well, saving the world. Maybe fun? I dunno, Robinson's claim to fame at the moment is a sex-and-nudity-filled supervillain book, so who knows if he can do kid-friendly. It might be all right.

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 The Authorized Adaptation

It's a good thing this is official; you don't want to cross Ray Bradbury. Just ask Michael Moore. Anyway, this book is one of the great ones, so here's your chance to check it out if you haven't read it, because doesn't everybody try to get either the movie or comic version of a classic book when they have to read it for school? Tim Hamilton is the artist doing the adaptation here, and it looks really nice; you can see some samples at the Amazon page for the book. I love that cover.

Festering Romance GN

This is a new graphic novel from Oni Press by Renee Lott, about a two young people forming a relationship and trying to get over the wounds of their past, hence the "festering" part of the title. That sounds interesting; I'm always glad to see comics about subjects that don't get used very often (at least not in the U.S. comics industry). There might be a supernatural element to this too, but who knows. I'd check it out, given the chance.

Fire And Brimstone Vol 1 TP

This is from Antarctic Press, who are usually ignorable purveyors of faux manga, but this one might be worth a look, since it's by Richard Moore, creator of Boneyard. He's got a nice style and can write some entertaining stories, so this comic about an angel and a demon teaming up to fight evil or something might be good. Maybe. Here's a preview.

Gauze TP

This appears to be a sort of horror comic from Arcana Studios, with three interweaving storylines involving a drug-addicted divorcee, one of those obsessed detectives, and a computer nerd all coming into contact with a serial killer. It's by Gerrin Tramis and Dave Hamann; here's an interview with what appear to be some unfinished art samples.

Ghost Rider Last Stand TPB

I keep hearing that Jason Aaron's run on this series has been tons of fun, with lots of exploitation cinema-style touches. I guess this would be as good a place to check it out as any, especially since Tan Eng Huat does the art, and it's supposed to be quite good. Maybe the library will have it?

Invincible Iron Man Vol 2 HC

Here's the beginning of the second arc on Matt Fraction's Iron Man run, in which Tony Stark decides to erase his brain while on the run from the bad guys. It's all right, I guess, although it seemed to go through some fairly boring bits before picking up in the last few issues, which won't be included here. I can't really recommend it, but it's a decent read, I suppose. As long as you can stomach Salvador Larocca's photoref-style artwork, that is.

Jersey Gods Vol 1 I'd Live and I'd Die For You

This comic seems to have gotten some acclaim, with a story about Jack Kirby-esque cosmic gods getting involved in the life of a girl who lives in New Jersey. I really need to check it out, and now here's the volume where I might try to do so. For anybody like me, who still hasn't read any of the series, you can read the full first issue here. They always try to hook you with the free taste.

Jesus Christ In The Name Of The Gun Vol 1 Hollow Cost TP

I don't think I was aware of this before, and it doesn't sound like the type of thing that would slip from my mind (unless my mind is going in my old age). It's about Jesus, who has been resurrected to fight Nazis in World War II, or something. Sounds fairly funny and sacreligious. Apparently, it's a webcomic, and this is the first collection, but you can read it online starting here. Enjoy, blasphemers!

Leo Pulp TP

IDW has this translation of an Italian series that seems to be a humorous riff on the noir stories of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. Cool. I can't find a whole lot of information about it online, but I'm always happy to see European stuff get translated. Hopefully this is one of the good ones.

Lobster Johnson Novel Book 1 Satan Factory

Not a comic, but a novel based in Mike Mignola's Hellboy-verse by Tom Sniegoski. It looks to have a WWII-era pulp feel, and the cover is pretty cool. I really should try to get caught up on all the Hellboy/BPRD stuff.

Marvel 1985 TPB

I didn't like this comic, but I seem to keep mentioning it every time a new version of it comes out. How silly of me. Anyway, it's Mark Millar writing about supervillains invading the "real world", and Tommy Lee Edwards doing a bang-up job on the art. Read it if you must.

MOME Vol 15 Spring 2009 TP

Another installment of the respected Fantagraphics anthology which I feel like I should be reading but never do. This one has T. Edward Bak, Gilbert Shelton, Dash Shaw, Andrice Arp, Sara Edward-Corbett, Robert Goodin, and Paul Hornschemeier, among others. I bet it's good. Here, have an excerpt/slideshow.

Northlanders TP Vol 2

I mentioned the new issue of this series above, but for those of us who read in collected format, here's the second volume, containing Brian Wood's latest collaboration with Ryan Kelly, which I'm very excited to see. "The Cross and the Hammer", faith and violence, awesome Viking shit. I'm all over this.

Sabre 30th Anniversary HC Signed & Numbered Edition

I was not aware of this book's existence; apparently it's a classic graphic novely by Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy, about some guy with a sword in an evil future. It was probably quite ambitious at the time, but who knows if it holds up today. This version is a fancy one, but there's also a simple hardcover version for $14.99, which seems like a lot for 48 pages, but whatever. I guess there's going to be a new GN continuing the series, so this probably gets everybody up to speed.

Scourge of the Gods Prem HC Vol 1

This is one of those French comics that Marvel is publishing, about some futuristic intergalactic Roman empire. I have no idea if it is any good. Anybody wanna weigh in? Or is there anybody who has actually read it? I was excited about the deal Marvel did with Soleil, but I'm wondering how long it's going to last, when I never hear anything about any of the books. I blame myself; I should make more money so I can buy all of these things.

Skin Deep GN

Fantagraphics has this new version of Charles Burns' graphic novel. It's one of his earlier, pre-Black Hole books, featuring some of his weird stories. I should read it; I have not experienced enough of Burns to satiate my hunger. You can see a couple preview pages here.

Skull & Bones TP

This was apparently a three-issue miniseries that DC published back in 1991; it's being collected in one volume now by Moonstone. From what I can tell, it's about espionage, computer hackers, and biological weapons in 90s Russia. Maybe decent?

Surrogates Vol 2 Flesh And Bone TP

I still haven't read the first volume of this futuristic series from Top Shelf, even though I've been meaning to for a couple years now. And now it's getting made into a movie, and a sequel is out, and I'm behind on everything else, so who knows if I'll ever read it. Hopefully, it will come into my possession at some point, and I won't be disappointed.

Suspended In Language Niels Bohrs Life GN New Printing

Jim Ottaviani seems to really be pumping out these science comics lately; I really ought to check some of them out. This one is about the father of quantum mechanics. I like science, reading about it makes me feel smart, except when I don't understand it and feel dumb. I hope this does the former.

Tasty Bullet GN

I don't know if this is a collection of some previously-published comic, but Image has this book by Jonathan Vankin and Arnold Pander, and it looks sufficiently crazy, about an advertisement come to life in a future world who fights against the evil energy drink company that created her. Weird.

War Stories A Graphic History TP

This is one of those classy reprint-type books, full of classic war comics that span several eras. Good, informative reading, hopefully.

Werewolf by Night TP Blood in the Moon

I never read the recent Marvel MAX series; was it any good? They've done a couple things like this recently, doing a more "adult" (that is, violent, maybe with some swears) take on some of their old horror properties. Duane Swierczynski and Mico Suayan did this one; if anybody has read it, give me a verdict.

Will Eisners Life on Another Planet TP WW Norton Edition

And another Eisner book in a nice package. I haven't read this one, but I would sure like to.

Black Bird Vol 1 TP

Manga! Lots this week, starting with the first volume of this shojo series from Viz about a girl pursued by demons. I talked about the first chapter when it was previewed in Shojo Beat a few months ago, and it seemed interesting. I wouldn't mind giving it a try.

Cirque Du Freak Vol 2 GN

It's the second (manga) volume of Darren Shan's multimedia thing about vampires at a circus. I heard the first one was decent; I could see myself giving this series a look, given the chance.

Crimson Hero Vol 11 TP

Volleyball! I liked this series in Shojo Beat, although probably not quite enough to seek it out now that the magazine has ended. Does this volume have the whole "attempted rape" subplot?

Hayao Miyazaki Starting Point 1979-1996 TP

Viz is putting out several of these books focusing on Miyazaki's career, and I bet they're quite nice-looking. I do love Miyazaki's films, and this is probably a nice resource, full of pictures, sketches, essays, and interviews. Yeah, I could read it.

Kimi Ni Todoke -From Me To You- Vol 1 GN

This is another one that was previewed in Shojo Beat, and I liked it well enough. It's about a girl who is unpopular due to her resemblance to a ghost in a The Ring-style Japanese horror movie. But she meets a nice boy and falls in love, as is the way things work in shojo manga. I bet it's a cute, nice read. Awwww.

Magic Touch Vol 3 TP

Oddly, this series about massage seems to have met a fairly cold critical reception, or so it seems from the reviews I've read online. I liked the first chapter when it ran in SB, but maybe the rest of the series doesn't live up to its promise. Oh well.

Otomen Vol 3 TP

On the other hand, this series (which was also excerpted in that same issue) about a girly-boy seems to be doing well, at least in terms of online reviewage. I liked it too; it goes to show that you never know what's going to turn out well.

Pluto Urasawa x Tezuka Vol 4 TP

Oh man, I'm getting behind on this series already. I've only read the first volume, so I've got three more to go, and I should do it sooner rather than later. Gritty Astro Boy FTW!

Slam Dunk Vol 5 GN Viz Edition

And here's another one on which I've fallen behind, dammit. I love this series; Takehiko Inoue is just amazing. Read it.

Tena On S-String Vol 1 GN

One of the only non-Viz manga that I found notable this week, this one appears to be about a boy who can see invisible musical strings connecting everyone, and also a Gothic Lolita girl who recruits him to do something or other. Sounds weird, but, hey, I like weirdness. I hope this isn't the skeevy kind.

Vampire Knight Vol 7 TP

More Shojo Beat manga! I don't know if I'll bother trying to follow this one too closely now that the magazine has ended, but it is kind of a guilty pleasure, so I could see myself checking out a volume or two somewhere down the road. This one is still catching up on stuff that I've already read though; I don't know if it will get to the big game-changing reveal, or if they're saving that for next volume. Be prepared to freak out, fangirls.

WaqWaq Vol 1 TP

And finally, here's a strange shonen series about robots hunting humans in a post-apocalyptic future. I read the first chapter in last month's Shonen Jump, and it was interesting enough to at least pay attention to. I might go on and read this volume as well, since Viz did send me a review copy. Weird and wild stuff, man. Manga!

Is that everything. Wow, lots of stuff. I've turned back into a weekly regular at the comic shop; looks like I'll be there once again. It's a good thing I love comics.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pow! Zongo! Kraash! Iirraa! Krakk! Zapp! Whum!

The source of today's Fourth World panel, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #146, is a veritable treasure trove of riches, providing several possibilities. But me being the heterosexual male that I am, I went for one of the rare examples of Kirby cheesecake:

I mean, come on, who wouldn't want to turn Terry Dean upside down, amirite? But as enjoyable as that is, that's not even the focus of the issue. Instead, we spend most of the time in Apokolips's Evil Factory, which gives us scenes like this:

I don't even know what all that stuff is in the tubes, except background (er, foreground) detail of the kind of experiments that go on here. It's crazy and cool though, even if it doesn't matter to the story, and it adds an air of alien weirdness and wrongness to the setting. So it's good that everything gets smashed to hell by Jimmy Olsen, who has been transformed into a caveman. Sure, Jimmy getting turned into some weird creature was an old standby of the title, but nobody could do that like Kirby. His version of "caveman Jimmy" is a ferocious, super-stong, near-mindless beast, prone to totally wrecking shit. And wreck shit he does, eventually destroying the entire Evil Factory:

That's pretty awesome, but I couldn't resist including this page, in which he rides a pack of giant, prehistoric monsters through the halls of the complex:

I don't want to abuse the word, but yes, that is also quite awesome.

I do like to try to search for deeper themes in these stories, but there's not much of that here, from what I can see; it's just mayhem, action, and wreckage. Not that I'm complaining. I did like a scene between mad scientists Mokkari and Simyan in which they bicker about taking care of caveman Jimmy, with the former comparing his neanderthal looks to the latter's, and the latter retaliating by letting Jimmy beat up the former. That was a nice bit of character work in the midst of an action scene. And then there's the two-page "Tales of the DNA Project" backup story, in which we see a scientist tearfully part with his genetically-engineered creation, a "man" who can exist in the vacuum of space in order to transport a capsule contining Superman's DNA. It gives Kirby an opportunity to do the cosmic spacescape that he does so well, and use the kind of Silver Surfer pose that he used to do at Marvel:

Very nice stuff; I love the outstretched arm that shows the readiness to explore and the joy of finally being somewhere he belongs. That's Kirby: moments of beauty in the midst of events that are almost beyond comprehension.

Bonus! Kirby gives a pre-emptive (by thirty years or so) shout out to a fan and comics blogger:

Next (for real this time): "The Pact!" Yes!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Coraline and other miscellany

I haven't been following news out of San Diego too closely, so I'm sure I've missed several interesting announcements and whatnot, but here are a couple that interested me:

Oni Press has some interesting books coming out, including a new series called 6th Gun from the Damned team of Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt and a new Polly and the Pirates book will be illustrated by Robbi Rodriguez. That's an interesting choice of artist; I hope he can do cute that somehow manages to approximate Ted Naifeh's work.

On the manga front, people have been talking about the official launch of SIGIKKI, but Viz seems to also have quietly rolled out their Shonen Sunday site, which also has several series that will be serialized online. I haven't read all of the ones available yet, but I did check out Yuu Watase's Arata: The Legend, which seems decent enough. I do like Watase, enough to have suffered through all of Absolute Boyfriend, so hopefully this one will turn out better than that. I will say that I'm loving the way Viz is doing these translated versions of manga magazines. Hopefully that will be something that starts to proliferate; it would be a great way to get more content available over on this side of the Pacific, even if some of it never makes it to print.

Okay, here's some thoughts on what I watched last night:

2009, directed by Henry Selick

Wow, this was really good, both as an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's kids' book and as a fun little movie on its own. If you're going to make a weird, somewhat creepy movie for the little-'uns, why not go the full cutesy animation and 3-D route and make it extra enticing before freaking them right the hell out with the idea that their mother could turn into a ravenous magical creature who wants to kidnap you into an evil dimension and sew buttons onto your eyes. Yikes.

But yes, the adaptation really lives up to the book, bringing Gaiman's story to life in a way that's not too moralistic, even with a "don't take your seemingly-boring life and family for granted" message. And while there are a few things added to fill out the running time, there's no egregious departures from the story, at least not from what I remembered.

Especially good: the voice acting, especially Keith David as the cat (who, unlike the rest of the characters and visuals, seemed based on Dave McKean's style of art, a nice nod to his illustrations in the original book), and John Hodgman as Coraline's father. I especially liked the way the latter's sleepy, distracted inflections transformed into a sort of dreamy giddiness in the dream world (or whatever you want to call the nightmare dimension Coraline travels to).

And the animation! Henry Selick's signature stop-motion is just gorgeous here, and it's married with some beautiful CGI to make fluid motion and dazzling effects, even without the benefit of 3-D (Netflix only sent me the 2-D version, durnit). The way the dream world contrasts with the real world by seeming more colorful and exciting than the usual drab grey and rain is impressive stuff, and there's some crazy shit that shows up, like a giant-breasted, pasty-wearing old acrobat lady or a giant bug helicopter. Wow.

Yes, good stuff. I suppose I could try to synopsize the plot, but you probably can figure it out from the paragraphs above. If you're not turned off by animation, then see it, says I.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

'Rush into the "Soon to be!" Across the "Now!" Find them in the "Once was!"'

News: Here's the big story that I've seen out of San Diego so far: Jeff Smith is going to be doing more Bone comics! It'll be stuff along the lines of legends told by Smiley Bone's cub scouts (or whatever they were called) and various stories from within the valley, and Smith won't be writing (although I'm sure they'll be from his stories), just doing the art. Tom Sniegoski will script, which is cool, because his previous Bone comic, Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails, was great. I'm excited about this one.

Other linkiness: This "animated audition" for an adaptation of Little Nemo in Slumberland by Studio Ghibli is breathtaking. Makes you wonder what could have been.

Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, the creative team behind Atomic Robo, are putting together a live-action web series called Emerson Wild: Monster Hunter. It looks pretty cool; that should be one to watch when it comes out.

Hey, what the hell is this? I just stumbled across it on Amazon, maybe it was an SDCC announcement I hadn't heard about. It's a new graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez called The High, Soft Lisp, and it's apparently the story of his character Fritz. Cool.

Okay, real content:

Having started reading the third volume of Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus, that means it's time for another not-exactly-daily round of Fourth World Panels! Here's the first one, from Forever People #7:

I love the contrast in that panel between the sheer power of Highfather's fist and the gentleness of the child who is trying to convince him to save the Forever People (who were Omega Beamed by Darkseid in the last issue and are now scattered throughout the past). Knowing Kirby's Jewish heritage, it seems like there's an Old Testament influence here, as in the various prophets who managed to calm down God when he was ready to go on a divine murder spree. I love this stuff, the way Kirby was using a sort of mythological style of dialogue and storytelling, with ultra-powerful characters deciding everyone's fate. Hell yeah.

And since I can never limit myself to one panel per issue, here are some more, in a couple scenes that fall under the heading of Don't Fuck With a New God:

There's plenty of other great moments, including a nod toward Arthurian legend that might have got Kirby on the road to The Demon, the cool scene from which I took this post's title, and a bonus two-pager that sees an awesome New Genesis battle horse named Thunderer. Also, having just read Final Crisis, I recognize why Grant Morrison had to have the Sonny Sumo in that story make a comment about not being the "real" Sonny Sumo, coming instead from a parallel universe. You've gotta love the respect for some obscure, nearly forty-year-old continuity.

Bonus! Kirby Lincoln:

Next up: "The Pact!" I can't wait! Or not. There's a Jimmy Olson first. Damn it Kirby, keeping me in suspense!

The ultimate hipster douchebag

Sometimes I think of dumb jokes:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Final Crisis: Some late, half-assed considerations

Links: Here are some pages from Jim Mahfood's upcoming comic, which is apparently an adaptation of a movie called Jennifer's Body? I dunno, I've never heard of it.

And for some weird, cool online comics, check out the work of Mykl Sivak. Adri Cowan at The Daily Cross Hatch linked to a freaky strip of his today, and now I've got a new talent to pay attention to.

And now, some ramblings:

Final Crisis
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Doug Mahnke, and the cast of How I Met Your Mother

I feel like the last person on the internet to read this comic, so since I doubt I have anything to say that hasn't been said by everyone else, I won't bother trying to do a real review of this thing. It was an interesting reading experience though, since with all the various reviews, commentaries, annotations, and blog posts I've perused, it seemed like I had already read the book before I even cracked the cover. And after getting through the thing, well, the verdict is: yeah, they were all pretty much right. It's a hell of an ambitious work, and there are some great moments, but it seems like it kind of got away from Grant Morrison, and the tightness of the art that starts off the book definitely grows much looser as the final issue approaches.

The thing that I found, and it's kind of to be expected in a universe-spanning story like this, is that certain parts were crazy cool, but then things would suddenly drag while we had to catch up with all the supporting players. But then events would speed up again, to the point that it was near-impossible to tell what was going on. The best stuff was all the New Gods material; Morrison is one of the few people who can convincingly imitate Jack Kirby, and the approach he uses here is often awesome, with characters who have been possessed by evil gods spouting breathless proclamations:

The action is often pretty nice, with a convincing level of destruction and mayhem, and some of the character designs are quite cool. You'll be grooving on some crazy shit, and then have to suffer through pages of Green Arrow or somebody whining and hiding in a big building, or Mister Terrific going on about secret plans that never come to fruition (or do they? I couldn't tell, and kind of stopped caring).

The high point is definitely the two-issue Superman Beyond story, which is definitely my kind of Morrisonian event comic. Everything else takes a break as Superman goes on a mission through the multiverse and ends up in Limbo (which I think was last seen in Animal Man?). And then he has to move a book with an infinite number of pages that contains all possible information, then gets his soul transported into a gigantic robot so he can battle the vampire Monitor Mandrakk for the fate of all existence. It's totally nuts, filled with ridiculous dialogue:

And some of those awesome moments in which Morrison can glory in the greatness of fiction:

I get a bit tired of the idea that the origin of Superman is the greatest story that man has ever concocted, but for a scene in which Superman is fighting to save everything, it works; he's so awesome that his very life story can be used as a weapon.

Other positives: the Justifiers, people who have been possessed by Anti-Life, are great; I love their propaganda:

And Darkseid himself is great as an evil badass:

There are some other nice ideas, like the way his takeover of Earth compresses spacetime around it, screwing up and shattering the time continuum (and explaining any choppiness in the story). And I liked a scene near the end in which Superman comes crashing back into the present, and everybody else witnesses him just flying all-out and blowing shit away with his heat vision:

I'm not sure what was going on there exactly (was he still fighting Mandrakk's giant Destroyer machine?), but it's a great entrance after he had been missing for most of the main series.

On the negative side, I think the whole thing is just too big and scattered to really cohere into something great. Some stuff seems obligatory, as if various characters had to be shoehorned in without everyone receiving enough time to fully make sense. The Flash getting resurrected is a good example; he makes some comments about having gained the knowledge of how to defeat Darkseid, but it all happens too quickly to resonate, and then he disappears from the story. And while it's good that the Superman Beyond miniseries got included here (although it's weird that the rest of the story stops for a while for it), some parts seem to have been left out (like the story in Batman about him fighting the attempt to download his memories and create an army), and the Submit one-shot that did get included is just awful, especially coming right after the heights of Superman Beyond, with some hideous art and a draggy, momentum-killing story about the Tattooed Man and Black Lightning.

Eh, it's a fun book, and I'm glad I read it, but thank god for the public library, because if I had actually paid for this, I probably would have been pissed and highly critical of any incoherence, perceived or otherwise. Maybe it would have been different if I had read each issue as they came out, but I got that experience from reading all the online discussion. Yay, internet! Yes, experiencing this for free is definitely the best option.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More comics of the mini- persuasion

Elsewhere: I reviewed Immortal Weapons #1 at Comics Bulletin. That was a fun comic.

News/press release regurgitation: Viz informs me that the anime adaptations of two of my favorite manga series, Nana and Honey and Clover, are available to watch on Hulu (links: here and here). That's pretty cool. I haven't watched any Nana, but I'm curious to do so just to see how they handle the music; will it live up to what I hear in my imagination when reading the comic? As for H&C, I watched some of that series on fansub back before the manga was ever translated, and I loved it. It's a great adaptation, really funny stuff with some nice animation, good voice acting, and lots of funny comedy. At least, that's what I remember; it's been a few years. If you're curious about either of the series, I recommend giving them a watch. Can't hurt, right?

And now for some reviews of comics which were recently sent to me:

Brian John Mitchell of Silber Media was kind enough to send along five comics that definitely live up to the "mini-" prefix; they're each about 1.5 x 1.75 inches, and something like 40 pages long, which makes for a good little package. Here's what I thought of them, ranking them from worst to best in my estimation:

Lost Kisses #9-10
By Brian John Mitchell (?)

I think Mitchell was the creative force behind these, although there are no writer or artist credits on either of them. But he wrote all the others, so I think I can safely assume he wrote these two, and also did the art, which is limited to stick figures. Unfortunately, the writing matches the crudity of the artwork, being a series of self-involved diary-style musings on life and relationships. None of it is really all that compelling; Mitchell comes off as full of himself and kind of a jerk. Maybe it's supposed to be a bit transgressive and confessional, but it's mostly just uninteresting, and not all that easy to read to boot, since it can be hard to tell whether you're supposed to read the word balloons or the captions first on each page:

I hate to start out on a negative note, but I thought these were pretty poor, more appropriate for a blog or something, with the images being pretty much unnecessary. I wouldn't bother complaining about them, but the differential in quality between these and the other minis is pretty notable. I figure it's best to save the positive stuff for later, and luckily, all the others minis are quite a bit more interesting:

XO #5
Written by Brian John Mitchell
Art by Melissa Spence Gardner

This series is apparently about a young hitman, but this issue seems to function as the first part of a sort of origin story, in which he discovers his capacity for murder while simply trying to maintain his drug-dealing career. It's fairly effective, although the character is sort of a cipher, seeming to move through his life without emotion (although his internal monologue tries to argue otherwise). Maybe it's the art, which is occasionally effective in its cartoony figure work and features some nice toned shading rather than crude, simple linework, but can also be a bit stiff:

It's a decent little slice of a story, but not as compelling as it could be; I don't feel like I need to find out what happens next (or before). And the caption-based narration gets a bit grating, but maybe that's just reading a repetition of Mitchell's tics all in a row. He does better:

Worms #4
Written by Brian John Mitchell
Art by Kimberlee Traub

The Silber website describes this series as "surrealistic horror/sci-fi", and that's pretty appropriate. Even though this is the fourth issue, it's pretty easy to follow, with a one-sentence recap on the first page introducing us to the main character's plight, in which she is trapped in some sort of asylum and being experimented on. It's weird, but pretty effective, with strange details blending with crude, abstracted art to make for a compelling narrative that pulls the reader right into the tale:

It's a quick taste of the story, but it's enough to get the reader on board with its disturbing milieu, making us wonder what's going on and what will happen next. This is one that I'll have to try to keep up with.

Just a Man (#1?)
Written by Brian John Mitchell
Art by Andrew White

This western story is the gem of the bunch, telling a simple, effective story of violence and revenge; it seems like a Clint Eastwood movie along the lines of Unforgiven. The main character is a simple farmer who is quick to respond when his family is harmed, but it's an ambiguous ending; was the right man brought to justice (if you can call it that)? Or did he make a hasty decision based on rage and despair? Although it's not indicated on the comic itself, this is apparently the first issue, so we'll probably find out the answers, but it would be perfectly fine if the story ended here, leaving the reader wondering as to what really happened.

Andrew White's art is probably the element that really brings the story to life here, giving a scratchy, dirty feel to the setting, as if dust and sweat are covering everything we see:

It's definitely the best-looking of these books; I'm interested in another issue, but I'd be even more interested in seeing mitchell and White continuing on to a different story, just to see what else they can do.

Lost Kisses aside, these are some pretty good little comics, a nice use of the small space they've set out. If you're interested, you can purchase them at the Silber Media link above, and you can also view or download electronic versions of some of them as well. Give them a try and encourage a developing talent!

The Colorblind Art Teacher #2
By Mark Teel

I don't know if Mark Teel lives up to the title of his minicomic series, but if he's an art teacher, his work is pretty crude. I kid! As the husband of an art teacher, I know that you don't have to be a great drawer to teach people about art, and it's obvious that Teel knows how to tell a story. In this issue, he uses his simplistic figures to relate the tale of taking his young daughter (two years old is my guess) to swimming lessons and getting frustrated at her refusal to participate very much because she is scared. But this also brings up the memory of his own childhood, and the way his own father basically bullied him into jumping off the diving board. It's an amusing juxtaposition, although it ends kind of abruptly, and Teel does seem a bit harsh, but that is certainly a believable reaction to obstinate children and the frustration they can cause.

As mentioned, Teel's art is somewhat crude, with characters kind of being more-detailed stick figures (or, since that's kind of unfair, low-detail cartoons), but he gets a good bit of expression out of them, slumping postures and frantic motion combining with big heads and easily-read facial features:

It's a pretty nice little read; I'm curious to check out Teel's other work. If you're interested, you can see more of his work and order issues of the series at his blog.

By the way, if you're interested in having your minicomics (or regular-style comics, or graphic novels, or whatever) reviewed here, feel free to email me at the address on the sidebar.