Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pluto: Imperfection is perfection. Or vice versa

Quick link: I love this picture from Sergio Aragones' museum exhibit. He's one of my comics heroes, and probably my top creator that I want to meet someday. I'd love to go to Ojai and see this thing.

Finally getting to this one:

Pluto, volume 4
By Naoki Urasawa

I worry sometimes that I overpraise Naoki Urasawa, since my reviews of his books are pretty much universally laudatory, falling all over myself to call the man a genius. But I really do think he deserves it, and this volume of his update/re-imagining of Osamu Tezuka's work has some great examples of why, starting with a surprisingly touching scene in the first chapter in which Professor Ochanomizu tries, and ultimately fails, to repair an obsolete robot dog that he found:

That page hits me so hard every time I read it, with the way the dog struggles to its feet and tries to soldier on, seeming like a sad old pet even with its inexpressive mechanical visage, and the tears slowly well up in the Professor's eyes. That takes skill, to wring tears from a reader with a scene about a guy unable to complete some repairs. But it also sets up what's coming wonderfully, as we see how Ochanomizu cares about the beings that he has helped create with his advancements in robot technology, believing that they are capable of so much and wanting to recognize them as living, breathing beings.

And that's where things get especially interesting, as a man shows up claiming to be the owner of the dog but turning out to be much more, a representative of the shadowy, sinister cabal that's behind the recent killings. He wants Ochanomizu to summon Atom to fight (or be destroyed by) Pluto, but the Professor refuses, and the two of them have one of those amazingly tense conversations that Urasawa does so well, debating whether robots can kill, and the way the attempts to make them more and more human conflict with the desire to suppress their lethality:

It's a fascinating idea, and one that seems to be growing into the core of the series, but just watching Urasawa set up the characters and play them off each other is fascinating as well. The emotion that comes through on their faces is perfect, like Ochanomizu's cold anger above. And the facial expressions of his verbal sparring partner are just wild-eyed and inhuman enough to betray his robotic nature. As always, it's gorgeous, gripping work, and that's just in this character interaction, not even taking the amazing high-tech scenery and glimpses of big action that fill the rest of the book.

Yes, Atom does end up fighting Pluto, and he doesn't seem to survive, which is an abrupt, shocking turn, and one that will surely prove to be a false demise, especially considering how it basically happens off-panel. But Urasawa does like to go for the unexpected, and that's what he does here, focusing instead on the reactions of other players, like Gesicht and the other remaining Greatest Robots on Earth. But he doesn't have much time to mourn, since he's busy protecting Adolf Haas, the man who has sworn to kill him. That's a source of juicy drama there, and Urasawa keeps the tension simmering throughout. But he also continues to reveal secrets in drips and drabs, with some revelations about the war that weighs so heavily on everyone's minds seeming especially important, and some discovered footage of the Saddam Hussein-like leader of "Persia" appearing to show him giving a chilling execution order for the group of scientists who have been recently dying. And we also get some hints of the underlying issue, as Atom's creator Dr. Tenma is shown to have been vehemently against further development of artificial intelligence, since to create a perfectly human robot would place powerful, possibly devastating technology in the control of an imperfect being that is slave to its emotions and human failings. And that seems to be exactly what has happened with Pluto himself; only future volumes will tell if the world survives it.

As always, it's exciting, dramatic, gripping work, full of stunning art and engaging storytelling. I wouldn't expect anything less from Urasawa, but somehow, he continues to astonish and amaze me. That's pretty exciting to experience, and considering that the series is only halfway through, there should be plenty more amazement to come.

Monday, September 28, 2009

This week, I'm distracted by the teevee

One link, for now: This comic by Kevin Cannon is made from pieces of a pinewood derby car, and it's hilarious.

New comics this week (Wednesday, 9/30/09):

Boys Herogasm #5

Kicking off the week with some Garth Ennis super-porn. That should get me in the mood...for comics! I don't know what that means.

Die Hard Year One #1

Boom! Studios has this new cross-media something-or-other, all about John McClane not dieing easily, even in his youth. I guess he's in New York during the summer of 1976 (you know, Son of Sam and all that; I want to see if he runs into Spike Lee as a reporter); maybe he also fights a youthful Alan Rickman. Actually, it's written by Howard Chaykin, which is an interesting get for Boom!. Art's by Stephen Thompson, and action movie fans will probably still avoid comic shops.

Glamourpuss #9

Dave Sim, Dave Sim. I remain fascinated by this series, even if I don't buy it. This one might actually be a comic about the title character, rather than another essay about comics photorealism. I'll believe that when I see it.

Jack of Fables #38

More of Jack being a charming douchebag, I expect. I think the next collection of this series comes out soon? Then I'll be waiting expectantly for the collection of The Great Fables Crossover. Let's make it happen already.

Runaways #14

Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli keep their run going; I've certainly enjoyed what I've seen of it, so let's hope the series is finally back on track after Terry Moore did his best to run it off the rails (hah! Mixed metaphor!). The cover hints that Gert returns from the dead, but if that actually happens, there had better be a damn good reason for it. Don't let me down, Immonen!

Shang-Chi Master of Kung Fu Black & White One Shot

Marvel doesn't seem to know what era they want to be nostalgic for from week to week; rather than the WWII-fetishization of late, here's another revival/tribute/whatever of the old magazine-format black and white comics of the 70s. Annoyingly, it guest-stars Deadpool, although they are described as having a "kung fu motorcycle race", which sounds amusing. The stories are by "four of Marvel's hottest writers", but I can't find any information on who those fellows actually are. I'll take a guess: C.B. Cebulski, Chris Yost, Brian Reed, and Daniel Way. All-stars! Also, there's a prose story by Robin Furth, to really get the fanboys excited. Sounds like a can't-miss! Don't let me down, Marvel! Oh wait, it's much too late for that.

Sky Pirates of Neo Terra #1

Ah, the video game adaptation; what would comics be without it? A more valid artistic medium, you say? Pish-posh! Those Metal Gear Solid comics prove whatever I want them to prove. This series is about some fantasy world of flying witches or something, and it will probably be dumb, but you never know. Written by Josh Wagner, with art by Camilla D'Errico. Here's an interview/preview. See, it looks purty!

Spider-Man Clone Saga #1

Oh man, I can't believe Marvel is tempting fate by bringing back the infamous Clone Saga. That was hot stuff back when I first started reading superhero comics, and while I thought it was exciting at first, it completely took over all the damn Spider-books, and dragged on and on and oooooon before whimpering to the close that resurrected Norman Osborn and inadvertently enabled Marvel's current master plot. I'm not even sure what this thing is supposed to be. Is it an X-Men Forever-style story that tells what the creators (Howard Mackie and Tom DeFalco, who are writing with Todd Nauck providing art) originally planned to do and stays out of continuity? Or is it a retcon that tells what actually happened after the whole "deal with the devil" thing? Are they doing this just so they can bring back Ben Reilly? Why should I care? See, I'm curious, probably due to youthful nostalgia. But I certainly won't go so far as buying it. I will point people to the interesting Life of Reilly series by Andrew Goletz and Glenn Greenberger though; it's a fascinating and comprehensive behind-the-scenes look at that era.

Unknown Devil Made Flesh #1

Wow, Boom! is going right ahead with a second miniseries in this Mark Waid-written series about a doomed detective searching for the answer to the mystery of God, or something like that. I haven't read the first one, but it looked interesting, and I've read a pretty good review or two. So this one looks like it's worth checking out too, methinks.

Unknown Soldier #12

Your bit of socially-relevant Vertigo for the week. I'm reading the first collection of this series, and it's good stuff. More commentary/criticism to come, of course, since I can never shut up, but in the meantime, the series keeps coming out, so I say read it.

Absolute Promethea HC Vol 1

Ah, absolute editions, the bane of my existence. But if anything deserves a huge, pretty version, it's this, with its absolutely lovely J.H. Williams III art and a mind-blowing story by Alan Moore that sees its hero explore the limits of human imagination and spiritual existence. Some people seem to think it's pretentious and boring or something, but I don't count myself among those ranks. It looks like the five volumes will be distilled into three $100 books, probably including various extras and whatnot. I can't afford it, but if I could, I might consider it. I probably still wouldn't spend that much though. And also out from Alan Moore this week: 25,000 Years Of Erotic Freedom, a book-length expansion of an essay he did for Arthur magazine on pornography and erotica throughout human history. Containing plenty of illustrations, one hopes.

Al Williamson Forbidden Worlds TP

If Dave Sim is good for one thing, it's that he made me aware of Al Williamson, so I do give him credit for that. And here's what appears to be a good collection of Williamson's sci-fi comics, along with some (incongruous) Westerns from Charlton and collaborations with Frank Frazetta on John Wayne comics. Interesting? I bet this is worth checking out.

Aya Vol 3 The Secrets Come Out HC

I still haven't read the previous two volumes of this well-regarded series about the soap operatic lives of people in the Ivory Coast, so it will probably be a while before I get to this third (and final?) volume. I hope to do so eventually though.

Ball Peen Hammer TP

First Second has this graphic novel from playwright Adam Rapp and artist George O'Connor about society crumbling after a deadly plague and how a few survivors react, probably violently. I've heard good things about this (Tucker Stone makes it sound pretty damn good), so I'll have to try to get my hands on a copy.

Batman The Black Glove TPB

It's the softcover version of the Grant Morrison/J.H. Williams III story about Batman hanging out with his pals on an island and hunting a murderer. That one was quite good, especially in terms of Williams' art. Unfortunately, the price gets bumped up by another story, which is described as a flashback in which young Bruce Wayne hunts for his parents' killer. I thought the hardcover contained the next few issues, which were the beginning of Tony Daniel's run and a sort of prequel to the big "RIP" storyline? I dunno. Anyway, the main story is a good one, but you can probably find the individual issues for cheaper and avoid the ugly stuff that got thrown in. See, I care about you guys in these difficult economic times.

Best American Comics HC 2009

Looks like it's time for more whining about various people's definition of the term "best". Charles Burns is the guest editor this year, and his selections include Peter Bagge, Gabrielle Bell, Daniel Clowes, Al Columbia, Robert Crumb, Chris Ware, Sammy Harkham, Gilbert Hernandez (he gets a turn after Jaime last year), Kevin Huizenga, Michael Kupperman, Jason Lutes, Tony Millionaire, Anders Nilsen, Laura Park, Koren Shadmi, Dash Shaw, Art Spiegelman, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, Adrian Tomine, and Dan Zettwoch (and others). Quite a good lineup. I expect I'll read it and do like last year, saying what I think did and didn't deserve to be included. When I get to guest-edit the thing, I can stop complaining. Call me, Jessica and Matt!

Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel HC

Paul Guinan originally told the story of Boilerplate, a Victorian-era steam-driven robot, on a website that posited it as a bit of lost history, which is pretty fun and charming. Now, he's got a book out that details the mechanical man's adventures, with plenty of pictures by his wife Anina Bennett, seeing him charge up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt, travel with Lawrence of Arabia, explore Alaska, fight a bear, and all sorts of craziness. Not comics, really, but still pretty cool. You can see a bunch of those images and watch a "trailer" here.

Book of Genesis Illustrated by Robert Crumb

Ah, it's one of the most awaited books of the year, in which Crumb adapts the entire book of Genesis into comics form, not sparing any gory, freaky details. I've seen some previews and read reviews, and it looks pretty great. New Crumb is always worth paying attention to, and this seems like a pretty major work that will have a lot of people talking. I'll have to try to read it.

Deformitory GN

I've seen a couple reviews here and there for this, Sophia Wiedeman's Xeric-winning graphic novel about a girl whose hands turn into anthropomorphic claws, each with a mind of its own. Sounds weird and funny; I'd love to give it a look, given the chance.

Fables Deluxe Edition HC Vol. 01

Vertigo seems to be doing this fancy-pants thing with all its successful series, which means Fables is right in line for the treatment. That means 30 dollars for a nice hardcover of the first two collections, and maybe some extras like scripts or something. Not too bad a deal (I think the first two trades are around $15 anyway), and I do like the series quite a bit, so there you go.

Garth Ennis Battlefield TP Vol. 3 Tankies

The final entry in Ennis' latest series of war comics stories, this one was pretty good, less of a straightforward story and more of a series of events as a bunch of guys in a tank sort of get lost during the post-invasion push into France and have various violent encounters with the Germans. It's war, man, full of chaos and chance. And lots of gore, rendered as disgustingly as ever by frequent Ennis collaborator Carlos Ezquerra. I hate it when you have to clean body parts out of the tank treads. Oh, by the way, this is one of those cases where the collection is more expensive than buying the individual issues, so hit the back issue bins if you want to avoid the gouging. But do read it, and the other Battlefields comics, because they're good.

Good Neighbors Vol 2 Kith HC

I was interested in the first volume of this young adult-targeted fantasy series mostly due to the presence of Ted Naifeh on art, but I never did get around to reading it. And here's part two, adding to my list of stuff I really should read at some point. I think it got some decent reviews? I'm sure it looks pretty, at the very least.

Hellboy Library Edition Volume 3: Conqueror Worm & Strange Places HC

Speaking of deluxe editions, here's another volume in the thick, nice-looking collections of the various Hellboy books. I've seen these in bookstores, and they look like they would be a good addition to a bookshelf. A bit pricey at 50 bucks, but not too bad, especially if you get an Amazon discount. Of course, I still need to read the previous books, but I'll get to them sometime. Did I mention my list of future read? Yeah, Hellboy is on it. Also this week: a prose novel called The Ice Wolves by Mike Chadbourn (whoever that is), so you can get your non-comics fix of the big red guy if you want.

High Moon TP Vol. 1

Zuda! That sounds like a swear or something. Here's the first print volume of David Gallaher and Steve Ellis' werewolf Western, and I've heard it's pretty good. Still haven't read it though, but when I do, I'll probably do it for free online. That's the American way.

Logicomix GN

This appears to be one of those educational comics, all about the "quest for the Foundations of Mathematics". It's narrated by Bertrand Russell, and features such distinguished smart guys as Frege, Hilbert, Poincaré, Wittgenstein and Gödel. Maybe interesting? You can read more information and some preview pages at the book's official site.

Malice HC

This one is from Scholastic, and it's by two guys I've never heard of, Chris Wooding and Dan Chernett. But it sounds interesting, following some kids who try to rescue their friend from a deadly comic book that you can become trapped inside if you say the right magic words ("Bloody Mary", or something like that, I suspect). I think the framing story is prose, and the sections that take place within the comic are presented as comics, as if you're reading the book that the kids are trapped inside. Interesting? It might be all right, and Scholastic is generally a smart publisher of kids' books. I'd give it a look, given the chance.

Myth Of 8-Opus Labyrinth GN

Tom Scioli continues his Kirby-style cosmic comic, which I still haven't read. I really need to get my hands on this series, since I dig Scioli's work on Godland.

Outlaw: The Legend Of Robin Hood GN

This looks like another kids' book, doing yet another retelling of the Robin Hood story. If you've read/seen/heard one version, you've probably seen them all, so I don't know if it's really worth it. But everything seems new to kids, so maybe they'll dig it. It's by Tony Lee and Sam Hart.

Power & Glory TP

Dynamite is re-releasing this collection of Howard Chaykin's series from sometime in the 90s, about a superhero and the brains behind him. I haven't read it, and I hear that it's "lesser Chaykin", but I do want to experience more of his stuff, so I could see myself checking it out.

Prison Pit SC Book 01

I thought this came out already, but maybe it only seems like it because I've seen some reviews here and there. It's something new from Johnny Ryan; rather than his gross-out comedy, it's a gross-out action book, seeing non-stop fighting between various monstrous dudes on another planet. Fun! I like Jog's review of the book; he makes me want to read it.

Refresh Refresh GN

New from First Second, it's a graphic novel by Danica Novgorodoff, although it's based on a screenplay by James Ponsoldt, which was itself based on a story by Benjamin Percy. It's all about three teens who are about to be forced to face their post-graduation future, each of them sharing the difficulty of having a father who has been deployed to Iraq. I didn't especially like Novgorodoff's last book, Slow Storm, but I do think she is a good artist, and this could be pretty good. We'll have to see. Here's one of those interview/preview combos.

Sleeper Season 2 TP

The second half of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' cool superhero noir series, and it's pretty damn good. If you haven't read it and you want to see where they really started to come together as a creative team, here you go. Dig it.

Superman Batman TP Vol. 1 Public Enemies New Printing

Oh, Jeph Loeb, was this where you went astray? Probably not, since when you look back at his career, he was never all that great anyway, but he did provide some solid stuff here and there. I can't remember if this came out before or after Batman: Hush, but it seemed like that was the point that Loeb got especially tiresome, with his scripts becoming a parade of "awesome" moments and special guest stars and nonsensical plots. That said, I do remember this actually being kind of fun, in a dumb, explodey way, and Ed McGuinness' art is usually good to look at. But even with the space of years since I read it, I can think of several annoyances and plot holes, like the gratuitous discussion of Power Girl's boobs, or the pointless appearance of the Kingdom Come Superman, or the way our heroes struggle to fight Metallo at the beginning but then easily defeat an army of other supervillains later. Eh, it's really probably not worth that much attention, so forget it. And I should probably mention that this is being re-released to coincide with DC's animated direct-to-DVD adaptation of the story; I doubt that version improves on it much, but it probably captures the enjoyability of the explosions and punching. Have fun, nerds.

Superman Kryptonite TPB

Speaking of Superman stories that aren't really all that great but do feature some nice art, here's the softcover version of this Darwyn Cooke/Tim Sale story about the first time Supes encountered Kryptonite. It's not bad, but there's nothing all that special about it outside of Sale's art. Both creators have done better, but if you are afraid of straying outside the superhero genre or something, you could definitely do worse. Hmm, I think I need to work on my backhanded recommendations...

Timothy And The Transgalactic Towel HC

Another kids' comic, although this one is from Image, and it's by Mike Bullock (Lions, Tigers, and Bears) and Michael Metcalf. It's about a kid who has big space adventures, and apparently Bullock has read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Cute? Here's a preview.

Tiny Tyrant Lucky Winner TP

More kids' stuff! It's another one in the series by the venerable Lewis Trondheim, so it's sure to be good. I haven't read any of them, but I do like me some Trondheim, so, why not, let's add it to my imaginary list of books to read someday.

Trick R Treat TPB

I think this movie tie-in comic from DC/Wildstorm was supposed to come out around a year ago, but it got delayed along with the movie itself. I wouldn't normally bother mentioning this sort of thing, but there are some notable creators here, with Mark Andreyko writing and Mike Huddleston, Fiona Staples, and Grant Bond providing art, so it might be interesting. I don't know what the hell the movie is about, other than the generic subject of "Halloween". Comics: not providing anything original if they can help it.

Trotsky A Graphic Biography HC

Come, comrades! Behold the rise of our beloved leader and his cowardly murder by the evil Stalin! Also, some hot lovin' with that sexy Frida lady! Rick Geary drew this, and it should be good. Da!

Ultimatum Prem HC

Hey, did I mention Jeph Loeb sucking up there? Here's the proof; it's an absolutely terrible train wreck of a series, featuring page after page of gruesome, gratuitous death and idiotic plotting and character "work". Plus, some horribly ugly art by David Finch. I can't recommend it even in the so-bad-it's-good-sense, because it's just bad, disgusting, and headache-inducing. I really don't care that much about Marvel's Ultimate universe, and the way Loeb killed characters off willy-nilly for no reason still pissed me off, probably because it was just bad storytelling on every level. Please don't buy this; nobody deserves to earn any money for it.

Umbrella Academy Dallas TPB

Ooh, I've been waiting for this for too damn long. I loved the first Umbrella Academy miniseries; it introduced an expansive world and featured a good deal of clever, witty writing and interesting characters, while sporting some gorgeous art from Gabriel Ba. I don't expect that this follow-up will differ in any way, and I'm excited to finally get to read it. Man, it better not disappoint. Are my expectations overly high enough? Probably!

Upside Down World Of Gustave Verbeek HC

Your classic newspaper strip reprint of the week, this one probably owes its existence to Dan Nadel's Art Out of Time anthology, which rescued a number of oddities like this from the forgotten depths of the past. This strip (which is actually called The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo) is especially strange though, with the reader following the normal panel arrangement of each installment, then turning it upside down to get the rest of the story. It's weird, but it works, and it's a pretty impressive artistic feat. Here's one example that I found, if you want to see what the strip looks like. The book is a bit expensive at $60, but it contains the entire run of the strip at its original size, along with a bunch of bonus art, other strips by Verbeek, and essays from historians like Jeet Heer. Not a bad package, and hey, it could make a good Christmas gift for the weirdness enthusiast.

And that might be everything, but I usually miss something or other. More content coming this week, I imagine, but I say that every week. Comics! They are good!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Love and Rockets: One out of two ain't bad

No links? Let's get straight to the good stuff:

Love and Rockets: New Stories, volume 2
By Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez

Well, I didn't think it was possible, but Gilbert Hernandez finally lost me with his portion of this year's volume. I've stuck with him through plenty of head-scratchers like Sloth, Chance in Hell, and Speak of the Devil, and while they've all been somewhat impenetrable, they were all still compelling and interesting stories. But here, he's gone deep into abstract (although not all the way into this kind of abstract), bizarre, dreamlike territory, without much of a plot to give readers something to hang on to while being assaulted with craziness.

Gilbert actually has two stories here, although they're related. The first one, "Sad Girl", is sort of a short introduction, following a teenage girl nicknamed "Killer" who seems rather blase about everything, although she is constantly barraged with questions about her role in a movie and her breakup with her boyfriend. The former subject seems most interesting; she states that it's a remake of an old "art house" movie, with her acting in front of a green screen while wearing a coat and shoes. But the latter interrogations might be more interesting to her; while we don't see anything happen, she might just live up to her moniker.

The problem I have here is that the character is not an interesting one (I would prefer to spend time with her afro-headed brother, who actually appears to have a personality), and Gilbert's predilection for drawing his women as large-breasted and tiny-waisted as possible has turned her into a grotesque freak (although she might be related to Luba? That would explain some of the anatomical improbabilities, at least in terms of cartoon genetics). Maybe Gilbert is trying to make a point, or at least an attempt at irony, about the character having an emphasized sexuality (her clothing certainly doesn't hide much, and she even works as a belly dancer) while still being young enough to claim to be grossed out by the idea.

Anyway, it's mostly just a lead-in to the second story, "Hypnotwist", which is purported to be the movie that Killer's was based on. It's a wordless bunch of surreality, following a woman in a coat who wanders the streets of a strange city, occasionally being stalked by freakish characters and getting involved in some mad goings-on after buying some magical shoes. Not much of it makes sense, although one could have a field day trying to interpret various symbolic meanings from the events. Many strange bits seems to occur around bottles or glasses; perhaps this indicates alcoholism. Other times, the woman is confronted by freakish older versions of herself, including a homeless woman and an emaciated victim of torment from a jeering crowd of partiers. Is this what she could end up as if she falls prey to the demon drink? Some scenes indicate that she is hopeful for motherhood and family, but maybe these dreams will all be destroyed by her actions? Occasional Masonic symbols show up, accompanied by shadowy, featurless figures, as if to indicate dark forces shaping her world, and at one point, she seems to be briefly replaced by Killer's version of her character, wearing a leather, cleavage-baring version of her outfit; are her sins being passed down to the next generation? A series of scenes involving large balloons bearing happy faces indicate...well, who knows what, but they certainly lead to some striking imagery, especially a scene in which an unconscious man's head is inflated to form a balloon, and is then punctured, leaving a disgusting pile of flesh:

And that's about the only thing I really got out of this story: weird, unsettling images, and a feeling of uneasy, nightmarish dread. If somebody wants to try to explain it all, be my guest, but I suspect it's a stream-of-consciousness exercise, with Gilbert emptying his head of whatever appears within it. That's all well and good; he's entitled to make whatever kind of comics his muse urges him to. But I would certainly prefer something with more of a narrative, or at least a plot and characters that I can follow. I know he can do it, and do it really well. There's always next year.

But while Gilbert might disappoint me in this annual go-round, his brother Jaime does exactly the opposite, confirming my beliefs in the heights of his cartooning powers as he delivers the finale to a raucous, yet still quite moving, tale of female superheroes. After the first part of this story in the previous volume, some lamented that Jaime could have been one of the foremost practitioners of superhero comics if he had chosen to stay within that genre over the past few decades, and he definitely confirms that belief here, delivering moving melodrama and engaging action, even going out of his way to relate the decades-long history of the characters, which wasn't really necessary, but still shows the level of commitment he has devoted to the story; it's not just a frivolous bit of chicks beating up on each other, it's a whole world he has created, with its unique history and a large cast of intermingling characters. It's tons of fun to watch him play with his creations, and it remains internally consistent while continuing to increase the complexity of the characters' interrelations. And it even (sort of) makes sense within the long-standing "Locas" continuity, as Maggie is revealed to be here from another dimension, giving her the power to tell the future via comics and secret gifts from Santa Claus.

Yes, it's goofy and fun, but not completely frivolous; while there's plenty of frenetic, hard-hitting (yet still cartoony) action:

Jaime still makes time for nice character moments, like Boot Angel having a heart-to-heart with her mother about their family's legacy of superheroism:

Or the villainous Espectra Negra breaking down into tears as she is about to fail at her deadly mission:

Jaime has always been good at depicting women, from the way they move physically to how they interact emotionally, and he continues with that here, even in the midst of a slam-bang bunch of crazy, over-the-top action. It's as gorgeously drawn as ever, with the characters all seeming like real people, even when wearing spandex unitards and domino masks, and he manages to turn what could be a silly genre exercise into something affecting and true. That's no mean feat.

Who knows what the future holds for Love and Rockets, but next year's volume will be a hopeful light on the horizon. I would prefer if Gilbert would return to Palomar or tell some of the character-based stories that he does so well, but whatever he does, it should be fascinating to watch. Jaime, on the other hand, can do whatever he wants; I'd follow him to the gates of hell at this point. With the brothers still working at such a high level of quality after over 25 years, anything they do is worthy of attention and analysis. I don't think I'll ever tire of experiencing their work.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

20th Century Boys: Drugs and hookers always liven up a narrative

Webcomics links: Derek Kirk Kim has a new graphic novel called Tune that he's serializing online here. Looks pretty nice so far.

Here's a new webcomic that seems like it could be pretty good: Ellie Connelly. It seems like a sort of Tintin, Clear Line style story about an impetuous archaeologist and her adventures. It's only just getting started, but it looks like it's on track to be lots of fun.

Scott Morse has a new entry in his series of "Strange Science Fantasies" up, called "The Projectionist". It's as cool as ever, featuring a hero with a projector for a head butting up against other embodiments of Hollywood types. I'm really digging this series.

Catching up...

20th Century Boys, volume 4
By Naoki Urasawa

With this volume, it becomes clear that the first three books in this series were mostly setup for the real story, as Naoki Urasawa takes a jump forward in time by a few years, taking us right up to the edge of the date for the supposed end of the world. It's a startling and audacious move, and it ups the already high feeling of ominous danger, leaving readers as desperate as ever to get their hands on the next installment. But he doesn't just make the move in between chapters; as we saw in the last chapter of volume 3, the scene suddenly shifted to Thailand, following an enigmatic exile from Japan known as Shogun, who was acting as a sort of enforcer for local brothels, cleaning up the trouble that foreign tourists got into and taking care of prostitutes who had been abused. As we see in this volume, his compassion gets him into trouble, as he is targeted by a local gangster for helping one of his girls leave the business and return to her village. But there's more going on, as the devious actions of the Friend cult have reached him, and he's become a target for them, since his actions have disrupted their trade in a drug called Rainbow Kid.

As readers probably expect, there's more to this Shogun guy than first appears; sure enough, he turns out to be somebody important to the main plot, but we get to spend enough time with him that we learn his history and reasons for hiding from his life, including flashbacks to some training with a Shaolin monk and the tragedy that sent him there. It's affecting stuff, emphasizing what's really important in life (friendship, family, etc.) over the accumulation of power and wealth. But that's not necessarily important; there's plenty of action and intrigue to keep the interest, including a great scene in which Shogun decides to destroy a drug factory and has a tense, hallucinatory confrontation with the cultist who burned his friend to death along with Kenji's store at the end of volume 3. This bit emphasizes the the Friend's perverse philosophy, which seeks to degrade its followers into belief in Friend's ideals, not trusting them until they have experienced "true horror". Shogun might not be all the way on the other side of the coin yet, but he relates a fascinating tale of his training, in which he was pushed off a cliff overlooking a waterfall and thought he would drown, but the light on the surface encouraged him to survive:

Whatever that means, it seems to say that trying to manipulate people and events into creating some sort of perfect society or dream; we should appreciate what we have. That sounds kind of banal, but Urasawa has a way of spicing it up, doesn't he?

Following this detour, we return to Japan, finding that several years have elapsed since Kenji went underground (literally), and he hasn't had much success fighting Friend's ever-growing influence, which has spread to envelop the government. We only get a few chapters of this status quo before the volume ends, mostly seeing Kenji hunt down the missing daughter of a robotics professor whose family had been kidnapped, hoping to rescue her from the cult. And there's also the revelation that Kenji is supposed to gather a team of nine people to fight in the coming war (or whatever is going to happen), another weird bit of Friend's psychotic plan. But the best moment is probably a scene in which a bunch of the cult's higher-ups consult with the kidnapped professor about their plans to build the giant robot that the children had envisioned so many years ago. It's completely nuts, with a bunch of grown men acting like children, getting excited about ridiculous, impossible details, arguing over what it should look like, and refusing to listen to reason about the impossibility of making this cartoon construct in reality:

It's another great example of the way Urasawa sells the creepiness of the cult, with people regressing to childlike ideas of the world and refusing to accept the compromises of adulthood. That seems to be a good portion of the point with this series, but Urasawa makes everything around it so compelling, tense, and exciting that we get caught up in the struggle, both hoping for the best for our heroes and champing at the bit to see what happens next. Where's volume 5 already?

I was going to talk about the fourth volume of Pluto as well, but that didn't happen. There's always tomorrow.

Monday, September 21, 2009

This week, I need a vacation from my vacation

Links: This comment thread on the Jog blog is some good readin', featuring a discussion of Frank Quitely's action choreography in Batman and Robin vs. John Romita, Jr.'s in Kick-Ass. I tried to participate (and I can at least claim credit for getting things going), but Jog's long, long rant on Quitely is pretty awesome. Check it out.

This is neat: Jamie Tanner is doing a sort of fundraising thing to finance his next graphic novel. Looks pretty neat; I might have to spring for one of the more affordable options.

This Popeye picture by a French artist named Raphael is pretty cool.

Back to something resembling a normal schedule this week, I hope. Here's what to watch for:

New comics this week (Wednesday, 9/23/09):

76 #5

Hey, look at this. If I remember correctly, this was a sort of crime series that took place in the 70s (that took some hardcore deduction skills, right?) by B. Clay Moore and some other guys. I don't know if it was originally meant to be an ongoing series or a miniseries, but it kind of dropped off the face of the earth, maybe as long ago as last year. But it's back! New issue, maybe it'll even start coming out more regularly. Me, I never read it, although I might have if I had seen it on the shelves of my local shop. Maybe if it gets collected at some point?

Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror #15

Here's what might be the book of the week, surprisingly; I rarely read any Simpsons comics, since they haven't impressed me, but this anthology is guest-edited by Sammy Harkham, and he brought along a bunch of his Kramers Ergot buddies like Kevin Huizenga, Jeffrey Brown, and Ben Jones, making this a must-buy for indie comics afficionados. I know I'm getting it; hope it doesn't disappoint.

Beautiful Creatures #1

This is a new series from Red 5 (who usually put out interesting books, so I feel like they're always worth a mention), about a group of college girls who are actually mythological monsters in disguise, or something like that. Epic fantasy, the description says. Could be interesting. Here's a preview.

Dark Reign: The List: X-Men: One Shot

I shouldn't care about this sort of thing, but it's written by Matt Fraction, with art by Alan Davis, so that's worth a mention. It's probably more of that supposedly grim nonsense about secret plots and angry allegiances between various shadowy players, which has gotten tiresome really fast. Sight-unseen ranking: Don't Bother.

Detective Comics #857

It seems like J.H. Williams III is continuing to knock these out of the park. I might even have to seek out a collected volume at the library. How about that.

Fantastic Four #571

Jonathan Hickman, continuing his run. I thought the last issue got off to an interesting start, so we'll see how it goes. Crisis of infinite Reeds, go!

Immortal Weapons #3

The latest entry in the "sidekicks of Iron Fist" series; this one focuses on Dog Brother #1, and it's written by Rick Spears, with art by Timothy Green II, who I think did that interstitial issue that took place in the future on another planet. I'm never sure if Spears will turn out something cool and fun or just stupid, so we'll see.

Madman Atomic Comics #17

Oh, so I guess this is the final issue of the current Madman series. Madman and the Atomics meet Red Rocket 7 and Mike Allred's real-life band, The Gear. I've lost track of the series, but I'll get to it eventually, I expect. And then it's off to Vertigo, for some Eugene-based zombie action.

Muppet Peter Pan #1

Another Boom! Studios Muppet thing. Roger Langridge's series gets all the acclaim, but these are also showing up, although at least one person said the recent Muppet Robin Hood was not very good. Maybe this one will be better? It's by Grace Randolph and Amy Mebberson, whoever they are.

Muppet Show Treasure Of Peg-Leg Wilson #3

But here's the good stuff, with Langridge continuing his series of miniseries (which might eventually turn into an ongoing series; I think I heard that somewhere?). What I've read of his Muppet work has been great, so pick this up, people.

New Avengers #57

Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen are still doing their thing here. From what I've seen, the action has been pretty cool, even if the plot and dialogue and whatnot are no great shakes. But Immonen is pretty great with the visuals, so it's at least worth a look, says I.

No Hero #7

And another Warren Ellis/Juan Jose Ryp miniseries drags to a delayed close. I read the first issue, and thought it seemed pretty good, but I haven't kept up. Should I get the collected version? I always want to like these things, and I like Ellis' ideas, but I don't want to waste my time and money. Somebody tell me what to do.

Spider-Woman #1

Here's the old-fashioned version of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's "motion comic"; you'll have to act out the voices yourself, losers. I haven't heard much about it, but I imagine it's the typical Bendis sort of thing, with lots of Maleev's moody photoreferenced art. Enjoy, if that's your style.

Underground #1

Jeff Parker! Steve Lieber! No superheroes in sight! This one has been hyped through some canny online marketing (you can read the black and white version of the full first issue here), and it looks quite good, being about local Kentucky law enforcement getting into a conflict with developers in a mountain cave, with underground action and whatnot. I bet it's good.

Wolverine Giant-Size Old Man Logan #1

Finally, the conclusion of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's oft-delayed run on the ol' Canucklehead (emphasis on "ol'"), as he spends an issue killing Hulks and committing acts of violence. Probably lots of stupid (but fun) action and pretty good art. I'm almost always torn on Millar, and I haven't been all that impressed by this run, but he might deliver a good rip-roaring, blood-soaked finale. It could happen.

Wasteland #26

I decided to just go with it and start up on this series on a monthly basis again, since it seems to be kind of infrequent lately. Which reminds me, I should write something up about the last arc, and the big anniversary issue. As for this one, it starts a new arc, shifting back to the city of Newbegin and following the post-battle state of affairs, which should be interesting. I do like this book.

Wednesday Comics #12

Final issue! I have yet to read last week's, so no commentary here, but I'll say that I've enjoyed the ride quite a bit. I like when the companies do experiments like this, and I hope it sold well enough to encourage them to keep coming up with good ideas involving great creators. Or, those talents could just ignore the big two and do indie stuff; I like that idea too.

Zombies That Ate The World #5

I don't know how many issues this Euro-zombie satire goes, but I do hope to eventually buy a collected version. Guy Davis!

3 Story Secret History of the Giant Man

This might have come out last week, but I didn't mention it. It's a new graphic novel from Dark Horse by Matt Kindt, about a guy who grows really big and becomes an international celebrity. I really want to read it. For more about Kindt, check out my review of his book Super Spy, which was my favorite comic of 2007.

Astonishing X-Men by Whedon & Cassaday Omnibus HC

Ah, here's the weekly example of overpriced thick books, collecting the entire 25-ish issue run of Joss & John's take on Marvel's merry mutants. It's not bad, full of nice moments and good art, but please don't spend $75 on it. Seriously.

Big Kahn TP

I thought this was already out, but in case I didn't mention it before, it's a graphic novel from Neil Kleid and Nicholas Cinquegrani about a rabbi who was found to not actually be Jewish after his death, throwing his family and friends into upheaval. It sounds like the kind of thing I would be interested in, even if Tucker Stone didn't like it. But what does he know?

Fantastic Four Prem HC Masters of Doom

Marvel collects things quickly these days, don't they? Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's run on this series just ended, and here's the final story arc collected already. All-righty. If you missed reading the issues, you might feel like checking this out, but it's kind of typical Millar stuff, full of bombast and "cool" proclamations, with little in the way of substance. Nice art by Hitch (and Stuart Immonen on the final issue) though. Get it at the library, that's my recommendation.

Ghost Comics GN

This week's anthology, about the ectoplasmic spooks indicated in the title. It's a Xeric-winning book, and it benefits a Minneapolis substance abuse clinic called RS Eden. Lots of eye-catching names here, including Kevin Cannon, Lucy Knisley, Jeffrey Brown, David Heatley, John Hankiewicz, Sarah Morean, John Porcellino, Zak Sally, and Maris Wicks. You can buy it and also see a few excerpts here. Looks good.

The Goon TP Vol 9 Calamity of Conscience

I think this catches us up to the most recent issue in the series, ending the year-long storyline that Eric Powell had been working on and seeing our big lug of a hero sacrificing a bunch of stuff to defeat his mortal enemy, with lots of gross-out humor along the way. I like this series a lot, but if you haven't read it before, this isn't the place to start. It's still good though, with some gorgeous art by Powell and nice colors by Dave Stewart.

If You Lived Here Youd Be Home By Now HC

This is a sort of kiddie comic by Ed Briant, a wordless story about a boy discovering a leaf monster at the park and teaming up with it to fight some construction men who want to demolish the place. Sounds neat.

Know Thyself HC

This European graphic novel by Maryam Naville is published by Heavy Metal, and it sounds interesting, about a girl discovering alternate realities and ghosts and shit. I bet there's nudity too.

Labor Days Vol 2 Just Another Damn Day GN

I never read the first book in this series from Oni Press, and I think I only ever saw one review, which was negative. Doesn't really stick in my memory, it seems. Anyway, here's volume 2, and it seems to be about some drunken douchebag "everyman" searching out a global conspiracy with a team of weirdos. Hmm, that sounds interesting enough that I should probably get around to reading that first volume.

Pet Avengers Classic TP

Marvel collects a bunch of the issues that introduced or spotlighted various pet Marvel superheroes, including Lockjaw, Zabu, Lockheed, and others. Not a bad collection of stories, I suppose, especially if you like goofy bits of Marvel's universe.

Salt Water Taffy: The Seaside Adventures Of Jack And Benny Vol 3 The Truth About Dr True GN

This kid-oriented series by Matthew Loux, about a couple of brothers who get involved in various wacky, somewhat magical adventures while summering with their family in Maine, has been quite enjoyable, and I doubt this volume will be any different. Here are my reviews of the first two volumes, if you want more info.

Spirit TP Vol. 2

Here's the paperback version of the second half of Darwyn Cooke's run on Will Eisner's stomping grounds, and it's pretty good stuff. There's a sort of zombie storyline that's decent, but the final issue is really where it's at, adapting Eisner's original Sand Saref story and throwing in some Contract With God influence. Yes, it's darn good. Twenty bucks, which is slightly more than I would like, but if you haven't read it, I recommend you do so.

Sulk GN Vol 03 Kind of Strength Comics From Madness

It's the latest volume of Jeffrey Brown's one-man anthology (or whatever you want to call it), with this one seeing his superhero Bighead repeatedly die and get resurrected. I haven't read any of these, but I did buy the first volume a while back. I tend to like Brown's fictional comics much more than his autobio stuff, so I'm hoping this will be fun and funny. Don't let me down, Brown!

Talking Lines HC

Drawn and Quarterly is publishing this collection of R.O. Blechman's comics, which are the sort of thing you see in The New Yorker, it seems. I don't know if that appeals to many people, but it's worth mentioning. Here's more information and art samples at D&Q's blog.

Things Undone TP

NBM has this graphic novel by Shane White, and it seems to be a different sort of zombie story, about a guy who is sort of going through the motions in his life until he actually starts decaying into one of the walking dead. Could be interesting. Here's an interview with White that includes some sample art.

Thor By Jurgens and Romita JR. TP Vol. 1

I never read this run (or much of any Thor at all, really), but it seemed to get some attention several years back for being kind of daring and surprising with how far it went, having Thor become the leader of Asgard and then jumping to a future in which he had conquered the Earth. I think it came out in the early Oughts, maybe even starting in the late 90s, back before Marvel kind of went through its brief revolution of experimentation. Maybe it was ahead of its time? Or maybe not; I dunno.

Umbrella Academy DLX LTD HC Vol. 2 Dallas

I'm quite excited to read the collected version of the second volume of this series, since I loved the first one, but I'm going to have to wait a bit longer, since this fancy, expensive version is pretty far out of my price range. It's 80 bucks, but that gets you an oversized hardcover with lots of extras like sketches and concept art. If I had the money, I might consider it, even though I usually despise this sort of expensive novelty.

Wasteland Vol 1 HC Apocalyptic Edition

I mentioned above that I really like this series, so if you haven't read any of it, I suppose this is a good way to get into it, if you can afford it. It contains the first thirteen issues of the post-apocalyptic series that aims to focus on world-building and creating culture and language as much as gritty action, including the one-shot #7 that was not previously collected, and also the backmatter essays that fill out the world of the series. If you can't find the original issues, this looks like the next-best thing.

Will Eisners Spirit Archives HC Vol 1 New Adventures

Dark Horse is publishing this collection of the Eisner-supervised miniseries that saw a bunch of comics all-stars take on the character, including Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Neil Gaiman, Eddie Campbell, Paul Pope, Mike Allred, Paul Chadwick, and lots of others. I have a few issues of this, but I don't think I've ever read them for some reason. I should remedy that.

Detroit Metal City Vol 2 TP

In the manga world, here's the second volume of this hilarious series about a sensitive, nebbishy loser who moonlights as a profane death metal star. I loved the first one, and I expect this will see more of the same, which means lots of laughs.

Eden Its An Endless World Vol 12 TP

And here's another series that I liked one volume of, but it will be a long time before I ever catch up. Dark Horse keeps publishing it though, and I imagine it's good. Sci-fi, robots, violence, you know the drill. Someday I'll get to read more of it, I hope.

Karakuri Odette Vol 1 GN

And here's a manga I don't know much about, but it sounds interesting enough to mention. It's about an android girl who goes to a high school in order to "find the ultimate difference between" humans and robots, whatever that means. Hmm, maybe that's not all that interesting, but given the right touch, it could be a funny take on high school manga, or something. Uh, if this turns out to suck, forget I mentioned it. But if it becomes a surprise critical hit, man, don't forget I pointed it out!

Okay, that's everything that I feel like mentioning. I'm behind now, after taking a vacation, so we'll see if I can get caught up anytime soon. That means some posts this week, hopefully, but don't hold me to it. Don't pressure me!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cosmic covers!

With the end of a volume in the Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus series, I like to take a moment to point out some of the covers to the various issues that I especially liked. Oddly, I often find Kirby's covers to be unsatisfying, not really providing a good indication of the madness that lies within. But there are always exceptions, like this one:

No complaints about that one; it promises an awesome fight, with Terrible Turpin getting in the middle, and the issue totally delivers. Just look at Turpin's fucked-up form there. Wow! And here's another good one:

Our heroes made slaves of creepy, facially elongated Klan members! Freaky! And finally:

I love the way the monster is just falling out of the hiding place there, along with the scale, making the scientist guy look tiny. Good stuff.

Okay, that's enough of that. Coming soon: Volume four!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Slam Dunk: Gotta get that PT

Elsewhere: I reviewed Ultimate Comics Armor Wars #1 at Comics Bulletin. Modern update-tastic!

Another double review? It's like I read a bunch of these at once or something!

Slam Dunk, volume 4-5
By Takehiko Inoue

It's obvious that Takehiko Inoue loves basketball, and in this series he's depicting it as faithfully as he can, with a bit of the old manga exaggeration (these are some ridiculously athletic high school kids). And this enthusiasm translates really well for the reader, who is able to get right into the story and follow the action of the game. And follow it we do; Shohoku High is playing their rivals Ryonan in a practice game, and it lasts throughout these two volumes, a total of eighteen chapters, and isn't even finished yet. Talk about not sparing any details.

But in addition to the exacting athleticism, the other thing Inoue does so well is humor; the previous volumes established Hanamichi Sakuragi as a loud, obnoxious, bumbling oaf who has a higher opinion of himself than anybody else, and that characterization comes into play here as we agonize along with him while he sits on the bench during the entire first half of the game. We get antics galore, as he shouts at the players, jumps around like a goofball, messes with the scorekeepers, tries to wheedle the coach into putting him in:

And even kanchos the other team's coach for urging his players to build up a 30-point lead:

His ridiculousness is laugh-out-loud funny, but the antsy feeling of wanting to play is relatable, so when he finally does make it in, it's not only a release, but an opportunity for more hilarity, as he gets overly nervous, turns the ball over by travelling, and accidentally tackles another player. But once he gets it together, he's an unstoppable ball of energy, leading to another hilarious scene in which he dives after a loose ball into the other team's bench:

I love the way Inoue makes time slow down in the first two panels, removing any "motion blur" effects, and then brings the leap to a crashing conclusion. Oh, man, that's some funny stuff.

Then, suddenly, volume 5 changes things up, spending the entire page count on the last few minutes of the game as Hanamichi gets a taste of real competition and learns about rebounding, blocking out, and passing on the fly. It's tense stuff, and we watch pretty much every possession, as the teams jostle for the lead before the clock runs out. The humor doesn't completely go away, but when Hanamichi has a reason to focus, we see him concentrate on the game and become an intense athlete rather than just a bumbling doofus. And Inoue can deliver the sports action just as well as the comedy, whether in depictions of athleticism:

Or intense rivalry:

It's tons of fun to watch, and seeing Hanamichi continue to develop and learn new facets of the sport should make further volumes compellingly readable. Hell, the game still isn't over yet, so the next volume is going to be worth rushing out to get as soon as possible.

'It's beginning to rain "weirdies"! We've bagged another one!--A "teen-type"!'

Today's Fourth World Panel comes from the final issue in volume three of the Omnibus series, New Gods #10. It's an issue full of fighting and the conflict between Fourth World characters and Earth, but this was the bit that I found interesting:

That's Mantis, rousing his "bug" troops to attack Earth, and his rhetoric reminds me of the sort of thing you would hear from various dictators as they convince their subject that they have the people's best interests in heart, when the only thing they're really after is more power. I love the way Kirby throws stuff like that in to these stories, adding a resonant subtext to all the explosions and cosmic mayhem.

And that's it for volume three! Next: Covers!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Don't look surprised, you rat! You can't kill a dead man!"

I wasn't all that enthralled by Forever People #10, the source of today's Fourth World Panel:

It's not bad, but after the heights of "Himon", a basic action story like this one is just an entertaining lark, with the team helping Deadman find his killer by constructing an artificial body for him to use. I do like the villains, an organization called "The Scavengers" whose purpose is to steal high-tech equipment and expensive stuff for rich clients (the opening scene sees a guy rip off a fancy experimental car with a "pollution-free" engine, presumably to keep it off the market for those auto company bastards). And the action is as cool as ever, and full of crazy technology. Also, I enjoyed this scene, in which Beautiful Dreamer, who is now working as a hot-cha-cha swimsuit model, gets off the clock early:

But it's just the old fun and games, not the cosmic-scale, brain-bending lunacy that I've come to expect from Kirby. Eh, they can't all be winners.

Next: "Earth--The Doomed Dominion!" Now that sounds more like it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

This week, I'll get away from it all

Lotsa links: This has gone around for a while, but it's worth pointing out: Jason Thompson is going to be updating his Manga: The Complete Guide online, covering whatever has been released since it came out in daily reviews on suvudu.com (here's the link to that series of posts). In addition, he's going to be giving away five volumes from his collection each day to somebody who signs up, so that's a good incentive to read. Here's the post with the details; the whole thing starts on September 16.

Around the blogosphere: Alan David Doane is relaunching his regularly-metamorphosing Comic Book Galaxy site, creating a group blog called Trouble With Comics. Looks like it'll be one to follow, with contributors that include Johnny Bacardy, D. Emerson Eddy, Marc Sobel, Matt Springer, and others. Check it out.

Dark Horse has posted the third Beasts of Burden story online, and it's a doozy, featuring an attack of zombie dogs. The upcoming series looks pretty incredible; I can't wait to read it. Why, if you look below, you might just see it! Cool!

Other neat online comics: I haven't linked to Darryl Cunningham's series on mental illnesses, but it's been really good and very informative. The latest one, on schizophrenia, went up the other day, and I also recommend the recent entry on bipolar disorder. These are eventually going to be collected in a book called Psychiatric Tales. Gotta love the nonfiction comics; good stuff.

I liked this Lucy Knisley comic about the Julie and Julia movie and the condescension critics have shown for young writers who publish online.

Finally, this Kieron Gillen/PJ Holden comic is really good. If Gillen did more of this stuff and less impenetrable music comics, I might read more of his stuff (I kid! He's done some good Thor comics, if I remember correctly).

New comics this week (Wednesday, 9/15/09):

Agents of Atlas #11

The Jeff Parker parade marches on, for now. I think the team fights the bad guys in this issue (there's an informative description). Dan Panosian and Gabriel Hardman on art. Rock.

Atomic Robo And The Shadow From Beyond Time #5

Have I mentioned that I like this comic? Of course, I haven't read the last couple issues, but what I did get to was pretty great. I imagine Robo is still fighting Lovecraftian monsters and whatnot. Fun!

Batman and Robin #4

And here's where I stop buying this series, at least for now (although I probably won't be able to pass it up when Cameron Stewart comes on board...), since Frank Quitely's arc is over and he's being replaced by Philip Tan. Ugh. I'm sure I'll be able to read all about it, and flip through it in the store to catch whatever "important" stuff I miss. See you later, Morrison; you gotta convince DC not to stick you with the bad artists.

Beasts of Burden #1

Did I mention that I was excited about this series? Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson continue writing about their group of dogs (and one cat) that fight the supernatural. The various short stories were awesome, and this four-issue miniseries looks pretty incredible as well. I urge everybody to buy it so they get to do more. Here's a short preview if you need any more convincing.

Citizen Rex #3

Gilbert (and Mario) Hernandez! I'm waiting for the collection, but I'll be antsy until I get to read it.

Dark Reign: The List: Daredevil: One Shot

I guess this is the kickoff of Andy Diggle's run on Daredevil, and it's not a very good way to gain interest, if you ask me. Not only is it a tie-in to the tiresome Marvel over-event, it's illustrated by Billy Tan (if it wasn't for Shaun Tan, I would think that surname signals comics awfulness). Yuck. Anyway, Daredevil fights Bullseye, which is supposed to be a big deal, even though this is what, their ninety-third battle? Yawn. Wake me when it's over.

Dark Wolverine #78

As much as I hate to say it, I'm curious about this book after reading Tucker Stone's description of it as the adventures of a metrosexual, hipster version of the character. And Guiseppe Camuncoli's art is probably pretty nice as well. So I might give it a look, but I'm still not wasting any money. Take that, comics!

Dominic Fortune #2

Howard Chaykin's old-school adventure continues. If this is anything like the first issue, I expect there will be lots of nudity, violence, and naughty language. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Ex Machina #45

Vaughan and Harris keep leaning towards that final issue. I need another collection; I miss reading this series.

Fables #88

Oh yeah, I still need to read that last collection. Soon, I expect. Anyway, it's still charging on, with a storyline about the various Fabletown witches, I believe. I'll read it eventually.

Invincible Iron Man #18

Matt Fraction's story keeps going, as Tony continues to get dumber, this time going all the way back to his clunky grey version of the armor. When will he end up as a drooling vegetable? That should make for some fun adventures.

MODOK: Reign Delay

Ooh, this is an out-of-nowhere book, and it looks like a fun one at that. Ryan Dunlavey, of Action Philosophers fame, makes his writing debut here, with a goofy-looking story about MODOK and whatever the hell is going on in the Marvel universe. I don't know if it's in-continuity or not, but I do know that I really shouldn't care; I expect hilarity and fun, and that's what matters. Don't let me down, Dunlavey!

Swordsmith Assassin #2

I reviewed the first issue of this Boom! series a while back, and it's not bad, about a samurai sword-maker seeking out all the swords he made in order to keep them from being used by evil people. We'll see if it keeps up the same level of gloomy action and honor, and maybe even gets better. Hope springs eternal.

Thor Annual #1

I haven't been reading these various Thor one-shots that Peter Milligan has written, but I am a fan of his, so I should try to do so more often. This one sees Thor exiled from Asgard and fighting some of the Egyptian gods. Cool. Art is by Mico Suayan and some others. Don't let me down, Milligan!

Ultimate Comics Armor Wars #1

Ah, the recycling of plotlines from old Marvel comics begins anew! Warren Ellis writes this one, and as you would expect, it's about Tony hunting down people who stole his designs. Art is by Steve Kurth, and I should have a review up at Comics Bulletin tomorrow.

Wednesday Comics #11

We're almost at the end now. One of the best moments of the series so far: Hawkman saying "Look what I can do!" That made me laugh. Oh, Kyle Baker, you incorrigible scamp! Also, Wonder Woman got tied up in her lasso, so Ben Caldwell is trying to keep the Marston spirit alive. Two more to go.

Alcoholic SC

Vertigo has this paperback version of the Jonathan Ames/Dean Haspiel book from last year, so maybe I'll finally get around to reading it. It's gotten mixed reviews, but I like Haspiel enough that I want to give it a try. To the library!

Bad Girls TP

I've never heard of this comic, but it apparently came out from DC back in 2003, and it's about super-powered teenagers or something. Mean Girls meets whatever superhero cliche you want to plug in? I dunno, I'm sick of that sort of thing, but I guess it's worth a mention. Notable for the Darwyn Cooke cover; it will look nice on the stands, at least.

Haunt of Horror TP

I think Marvel had previously only collected these Richard Corben comics into two overpriced hardcovers, so this paperback version should be nice to have. Of course, it's too expensive too, at $30 for six issues worth of material. Still, I'll give it a recommendation, because I love Corben. He adapted some Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, and the text of all the original stories and poems is included. Good old Corben horror; check it out.

Johnny Boo HC Vol 03 Happy Apples

The third in James Kochalka's latest series, about a cute ghost and his little ghost pal. I haven't read any of these yet (although I did purchase the first volume recently), but Kochalka is always fun to read and full of cute, funny energy. This should be good; you know, for kids.

Life & Times of Martha Washington in the 21st Century HC

For those with deep pockets, Dark Horse has this collection of all the various stories by Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons, about a futuristic freedom fighter. Surprisingly, I haven't read any of these; I should really try to get to them. Not here though; $100 is too steep for me.

Locke & Key Volume 1 Head Games HC

People seem to like this series from IDW by Stephen King's son Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez. I don't even know what it's about, but it's spooky horror, which can be enjoyable. Despite the "volume 1" in the title there, I guess this is the second collection of the series? Weird.

Marvel Comics In The 1960s SC

Not comics! This nonfiction book from TwoMorrows by Pierre Comtois is all about those heady days of inspiration and creativity at the dawn of the Marvel Age of Comics, or whatever people like to call it. I'm sure there are plenty of interesting stories from that era, as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and company were pumping out groundbreaking work. This might be a book to hunt down and read, just to get that behind-the-scenes info.

Matriarch Vol 1 TP

Arcana has this superhero book by Robert Burke Richardson and Steven Yarbrough, and while I complain about the lack of new, interesting ideas in spandex-centered stories, this one seems like it's taking a path that I haven't seen explored before: that of the working mother. It's all about a lady hero who has to fight a bunch of villains in a single day while still balancing a job and kids. That could be interesting, or it could be lame, but it's got my attention, so that's something. You can read what appears to be the first 25 pages online, if you're interested.

Mr. Stuffins TPB

Boom!'s long-delayed story about a secret agent/bodyguard teddy bear gets collected. I never did read beyond the first chapter, but I did like that one, and now it's all in one volume, so here you go.

Supergirls Fashion Feminism Fantasy And The History Of Comic Book Heroines TP

Another one of them non-comic book type things, all about them strange beings that us dudes just can't understand, man. Mike Madrid writes this "alternative history" of comics, focusing on the female characters and what they say about society, or something. Maybe interesting? Or maybe kind of tiresome, an attempt to find feminist values in the fetishistic depictions of impossibly-proportioned women in revealing, skin-tight garb and ridiculous poses. I guess that would be interesting as well, or at least kind of humorous. I dunno, this whole thing seems kind of dubious to me, but maybe it's worth thinking about. Alternatively, we could try to move on from that same ridiculous superhero genre that has been infecting the medium for so damn long...

Tank Girl Remastered ED Volume 3 GN

More re-releases of Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett's raucous comic. I've still never very much of any of the series at all. That's something I need to remedy.

Tiffany's Epiphany HC

Image is putting out this kids' book by Kristen Koerner Simon and Jim Valentino, about a bunch of animals dealing with a bully of a skunk. At least, I hope it's a kids' book.

Tom Strong Deluxe ED HC Book 1

DC won't let Alan Moore's work rest; here's a new version of one of his ABC series, collecting the first 12 issues (I assume; there will be three volumes, and the series is 36 issues long) in a fancy, expensive format ($40). Pretty good comics here, even though it's not my favorite of Moore's work.

Vietnam War: A Graphic History HC

More nonfiction comics! Dwight Von Zimmerman, Wayne Vansant, and Chuck Horner bring this history comic to us from one of them mainstream book publishers (Macmillan). Comics are all growns-ed up now.

Fushigi Yugi VIZBIG Edition Vol 3 TP

The large, omnibus collections of Yuu Watase's fantasy series continue. I should try to read this.

Oishinbo A La Carte Vol 5 Vegetables TP

More food and father/son arguing. I like this series, and one of the good things about it is that you can grab any volume at random and not worry about being lost in the story. So if you haven't read any of it, this is as good a place to start as any. Of course, you might also want to look for a subject that appeals to you; since my wife is a vegetarian, maybe I should get this one for her.

Pluto Urasawa x Tezuka Vol 5 TP

Just when I'm about to catch up on this series, another volume comes out. I'll get to it soon enough, I hope. This series has been pretty damn great so far; Urasawa rules. And so does Tezuka, for that matter. Go fightin' robots! Don't cry too much though; we don't want emotions to get in the way of good action.

Unsophisticated And Rude GN

Well that doesn't sound like something I would want to read at all. WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS?

Usurper Of The Sun TP

Rather than manga, these are two more entries in Viz's line of translated novels, with the first being about aliens threatening the earth by building large structures in the solar system, and the second being a collection of sci-fi and horror stories by a popular author named Otsuichi. I wouldn't mind giving either one of them a go.

And I guess that's it for the week. I'm going to be on vacation for the next few days, but I've got some Kirby posts lined up, and maybe I'll be able to get to a computer and do something else; we'll see. I'll see everybody when I get back. Don't mess the place up too much.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Razorjack: That doesn't sound like a girl's name

This is a strange one:

By John Higgins

Now this is a comic that I don't understand. Well, maybe I do, but it's pretty hard to follow nonetheless. An obvious labor of love (or some equal emotion) by John Higgins, who is probably best knows as the "third man" on Watchmen, where he provided the color, but has been working on the British comics scene for years , this strange comic is all about demonic forces trying to break into our reality, although that only becomes clear after a good portion of the book is over. It's also about cops and college students and various conspiratorial forces, and who knows what else. I suspect that the only person who fully understands it is John Higgins himself.

The story, as I can make it out, sees a conflict in some sort of demonic realm between the villainous demon woman of the title and a less-evil (perhaps angelic?) creature named Helen. After Razorjack captures and apparently kills Helen, she has enough power to try to open a door into our reality. Meanwhile, two cops (one male, one female, and both the buck-the-system type) inadvertently stumble into the supernatural action while investigating some sort of upper-crust cult, and they end up in the same old building as some theater students who are in the process of making that old horror-movie mistake of reciting some ancient text and opening a gateway to another world. After lots of shooting and weird demon energy swirling about, one cop is dead and the other wounded, and one of the kids might or might not be possessed. Jump forward in time a few weeks (which presumably happened between issues of the original miniseries, although there are no indications of chapter breaks or anything), and the city is a shambles, a serial killer is on the loose, and the dead detective's body has disappeared. Will everyone reunite for an explosive finale that answers all the questions about what the hell has been going on? Well, not really, but there's an ending at least, with hints that there's more to the story and an epilogue that all but confirms that Higgins would like to continue telling tales of humans fighting demonic incursions into reality.

If that description makes any sense at all, it's because much flipping back and forth while reading resulted in a vague understanding of what is supposed to be going on; while reading, it's a barrage of weird imagery and events that don't always make sense; Higgins' fractured storytelling style probably makes sense to him, but some coherence was lost in getting it onto paper. The first half/two-thirds of the book jumps back and forth between scenes (and planes of reality) willy-nilly and without warning (aside from impenetrable captions like "Core Loop - Nexus Minus 24") that it seems like a jumble of barely-related imagery, and characters and plots appear and disappear without ever being explained. The most egregious of these is the strange, murderous cult and its two hulking-yet-well-mannered assassins, who might or might not be involved in all the demonic mayhem, but there's also some stuff about a corrupt police captain that doesn't make much sense either.

But maybe all that is a feature, rather than a bug. As previously stated, this all seems to make perfect sense to Higgins, and he seems to be striving to get his fevered vision down onto paper as best he can. Sure, the dialogue is kind of choppy, but if you read it right, it's got a sort of consistent rhythm to it. And the art usually makes sense, with action staged dynamically and excitingly, and plenty of gore spicing up the proceedings. And there's plenty of memorable imagery here too, like the disturbing site of the evil police captain being discovered "giving mouth-to-mouth" to the injured policewoman:

And the sights of the demonic realm are suitably disturbing, combining exaggerated sexuality with grotesque anatomy and horrific facial features, with the queen bitch of the title being an especially nasty sight:

Your mileage may vary, of course, since this isn't a perfect comic by any means, but Higgins does demonstrate some skill with putting together a comic; in other hands, this might be totally incomprehensible. As it is, it's only mostly so, but the feeling that it all makes sense in another dimension adds to the creepy atmosphere; if you want to be really weirded out by a comic, this might be right up your alley.