Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pamphleteering: October and probably earlier

Elsewhere: I reviewed Fantastic Four #572 for Comics Bulletin, and the latest episodes of Dollhouse and The Venture Brothers for The Factual Opinion. I'm prolific!

Links, lots of links: This gallery of Robert Crumb pictures of women throughout history is nice, although it seems like a collection of separate pieces thrown together, rather than a stuff done as part of a cohesive project. The portraits of girls he went to school with (with notes about what he found attractive about them) seem especially incongruous. Still: it's Crumb, so it's cool.

Everybody else has already linked to this, but I gotta point it out: a new four-page Chris Ware strip for The New Yorker! It's damn good, featuring the one-legged woman from Building Stories, at some point later in her life. Man, I love how he can put together such an affecting and realistic portrait of a human character in such a short space. Good stuff.

On a sillier note, here are some comic strip mashups by Ryan Dunlavey, that plug superheroes or other characters into classic strips like Peanuts or The Family Circus. Funny stuff.

Fundraising notice: Spike, of Templar, Arizona fame, is launching a new book project to be written by her and illustrated by Diana Nock. It's called Poorcraft, and it's all about sharing secrets on living with a low income. Sounds cool, and the neat thing about it is that, as with some other comics projects of late, you can donate to the cause through Kickstarter to help fund the project, and receive neat stuff like autographed copies of the book in exchange. I love that the internet has brought about ideas like this; it's a brave new world.

Finally, Brian Wood has a post on Vertigo's blog listing his favorite historical Viking battles, with notes on how they relate to Northlanders. Cool.

Okay, reviews of single issues, go:

Beasts of Burden #2
Written by Evan Dorkin
Art by Jill Thompson

Wow, this series is surprisingly dark. Although it shouldn't be that much of a surprise; the stories that began the series often dealt with serious issues like death and revenge, but that nature is masked by the cuteness of the protagonists and Jill Thompson's always-gorgeous artwork. But this issue is where we really see what the series is all about; it's not a frivolous fantasy about magic-using doggies and kitties, but an effective device for horror. The story here (involving the ghosts of missing animals and the discovery of what happened to them) really drives it home, with several moments that shock in their violence and don't provide an easy, safe resolution. And the final page is one of the most wrenchingly, hauntingly sad images I've seen in ages; it's going to linger in the memory for a while. Exemplary work from Dorkin and Thompson; this comic is shaping up to be one of the best of the year.

The Order of Dagonet #1
Written by Jeremy Whitley
Art by Jason Strutz

Hey, how crazy would it be if all those entertainers and celebrities that get knighted by the queen of England actually had to defend the crown? That's the premise of this series, and it seems like a fun idea, especially when you throw in the fact that England is being attacked by creatures from the land of faerie and Merlin is the one who gathers them together, apparently giving them magical abilities or some such. It's a fun idea, and while this first issue is mostly devoted to explaining the premise and rounding up the cast, who include stand-ins for Ozzy Osbourne and Neil Gaiman (with a dash of J.K. Rowling), along with a washed up old Shakespearean actor similar to a less-respectable Ian McKellen or Ben Kinglsey, it's interesting enough to warrant attention.

As for the actual execution, it's not perfect, but that's at least partly due to overambition; the issue is full of interesting layouts, like the first couple pages, which see panels appearing as radio waves emanating from a broadcasting antenna:

Unfortunately, the flow can be confusing at times, but it's usually understandable, at least. And the art style itself is idiosyncratic and unique, looking like it was done with crayons or colored pencils and full of little scribbles of color. Again, it's not perfect and can be a bit confusing, but it's interesting just for being different rather than emulating whatever's popular.

If this first issue is any judge, it should be a series to watch, especially once the plot really gets underway. The creators seem to have a real labor of love here, and hopefully they'll continue to improve and make it something really worth reading.

If you're interested, the issue can be purchased from the book's website.

The Anchor #1
Written by Phil Hester
Art by Brian Churilla

Phil Hester might be thought of more as an artist than a writer, but that would be neglecting what is arguably the best work of his career, especially his collaborations with Mike Huddleston, The Coffin and Deep Sleeper. And judging by this issue, The Anchor is another series that should be added to Hester's authorial pedigree. It's one of those action-packed supernatural series, with the hook being that the title character is God's guardian at the gates of Hell, keeping demons from escaping to Earth, while at the same time, he has a physical body on Earth who ends up fighting a giant monster in Iceland in this first issue. It's pretty cool stuff, with some interesting ideas linking the two versions of the character and helping him defeat the monster, and the art by Brian Churilla is really nice, full of ugly demons, expressive characters, and hard-hitting action, and especially making the Anchor looks like a hulking beast of a man, barely intelligent yet massively powerful. It's a nice concept for a comic, and hopefully Hester will continue to build on it and come up with interesting conflicts as the series goes on. In any case, I'm sure Churilla will rise to the occasion and deliver some incredible visuals. Let's make the magic happen, guys!

Robot 13: Colossus #1-2
Written by Thomas Hall
Art by Daniel Bradford

When I first saw preview art for this series, I dismissed it as a Mike Mignola ripoff. Having actually read these first two issues, I'll say that said dismissal might have been hasty, but isn't necessarily unwarranted. The story here, about a mysterious, ancient robot (or whatever it is, consisting of a skull in a fishbowl atop a mechanical body) who, having been found in the depths of the ocean, is constantly fighting gigantic monsters, doesn't really have the depth of Mignola's work, but it's entertaining in its own way, and has its own unique variations on the craggy monsters and deep shadows of Hellboy and the like. Actually, it's fairly light stuff, with nothing much happening outside of those monster fights, aside from a flashback/memory at the beginning of the second issue that suggests the robot originated in ancient Greece. But the fights themselves are quite entertaining, offering some comic value from the spindly-limbed automaton going up against a giant octopus in the first issue and a phoenix in the second. And that phoenix allows for some searingly bright colors and high-altitude combat that does make the series pretty unique. So far, it's not an especially deep comic, but it's a fun one, and one that deserves some attention. Give it a look, if you can find it.

You can purchase the issues here, although the first issue appears to be sold out.

Criminal: The Sinners #1
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

There's not a lot to say about the story of this first issue of the latest Criminal storyline/miniseries, other than it's as good as ever, full of Ed Brubaker's signature character work, propulsive plotting, and utilization of the seedy settings he has created. He's refined this technique to a science by this point, and while he'll probably set up some excellent twists and surprises at some point, right now he's just doing the establishing work that kicks off each new arc, and it's exactly as nicely done as one would expect.

But on the other hand, Sean Phillips can never have too much praise, since his visuals are what really bring this series to life, and while he can be given the same plaudits as Brubaker, in that he's establishing the moody atmosphere and flawed characters in the same manner as normal, there's always something hidden under the surface, some details that really show the care and craft that are put into his work. The years of sin that are etched into this character's face, for example:

Or the variety of easily-read yet understated emotions that are written across this character's visage:

Gorgeous stuff, as always, and something that could certainly warrant a deeper examination. But for now, it's enough for me to note that it's amazing work and a reminder why I love this series so much. Next issue, please.

Bonus: did anybody else note the appearance by 30 Rock's Scott Adsit?

He even got mentioned by name!

Per FTC regulations: some of these reviews were based on complimentary copies provided by the publishers, either electronic or hard copy. But I won't reveal which, lest it damage my precious critical credibility.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

12 Things I learned from Supermen!

The Greg Sadowski-edited collection Supermen!: The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941 is quite nice, full of crazy Golden Age superhero stories from the dawn of the genre. Here's some stuff I found out while reading.

1. "Superhero" can be pretty loosely-defined

The early crime-fighters took several different tacks in their missions, not just limited to the spandex-wearing, power-having musclemen we're familiar with (or perhaps the scope of this book was widened to include some good stories in tangential genres or by famous creators). The heroes here include space-faring adventurers (who also often fight crime), occult-manipulating magicians, whatever the hell you call Fletcher Hanks' heroes, guys wearing masks, and one adventurer in a vast underground kingdom. That's a motley crew, but an entertaining one.

2. In these stories, disbelief must often not only be suspended, but strung up and mercilessly whipped, then drawn and quartered

That metaphor got away from me, but the point is that the stuff these creators came up with is pretty nuts, the kind of thing that anybody with any knowledge of the world would find ridiculously childish today. Maybe that's just an indication of the intended audience, or maybe the fact that people knew less about the world back then opened up more avenues for possible ideas that would just be too far-fetched today. For instance, in Will Eisner and Lou Fine's "The Flame", a gangster brings back a bunch of natives from "an unexplored section of the Gobi" who live for hundreds of years, have super-strength and skin so tough that they're impervious to bullets, sport skull-like visages, and are so childlike that they'll follow anybody's orders. That's just nuts. It does make for a good visual though:

3. Will Eisner could draw great facial expressions and sexy dames as early as 1939

4. While Jack Kirby was never Leonardo Da Vinci, his grasp of human anatomy certainly got better when he was older

Just look at the freakish Cosmic Carson in this panel:

The story around it is fairly unreadable as well, but mostly due to a coloring job that sees Carson's spacesuit switch to a different hue each panel in the middle of a fight scene, making it impossible to tell what is happening.

5. The stories within comic books often don't match the covers, but I can't imagine not wanting to buy these and find out what's inside

Wow, check out this amazing piece of work by Will Eisner and Lou Fine:

Holy crap! And this grotesque beaut by Jack Cole is arresting for a completely different reason:

6. Yes, Fletcher Hanks was totally insane

Everybody knows this already, since the publication of I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! and You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation!, but I'm late to the game, so the two Hanks stories presented here, featuring Stardust and Fantomah, are enough to convince me that his comics are worth reading for all their demented energy. I can't say they're actually good, but they're certainly something. I'm especially impressed by a moment where Stardust rescues a woman who's too frightened to go home, so he hits her with an anti-gravity ray and leaves her hanging in mid-air while he goes and kills a bunch of space vultures. What a bastard.

7. Marvelo, Monarch of Magicians, has the most convoluted plan for stopping crime ever

In this story by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer, Marvelo comes to America and only gets caught up in the crime-fighting game when some gangsters try to shove him out of the way and get in his taxi. So he turns them into pigs and raises the ire of the head gangster, Big Shot Bonnet. A few seconds later, Bonnet's guys do a drive-by on a rival, so Marvelo whips up a cyclone that deposits their car on top of a skyscraper. Big Shot then decides to rob the Treasury, but Marvelo finds out, so he stops the armored car on the way, making it fall apart and put itself back together to show off for the guards, then drives it up and has some skeletons get out to scare Big Shot, and turns the gold into gravestones bearing his name. Then he makes a statue of George Washington come alive and carry the goons off to jail, but lets Big Shot go to try to scare a confession out of him. He makes Big Shot think everything he touches turns to gold, prompting him to break out a pickaxe and start taking apart a subway platform. When he comes to his senses, he decides a rival gangster is causing the visions, so he goes to confront him, but when he gets there and they're about to shoot each other, Marvelo turns their guns "spongy", then whey they try to beat him up, he confuses their sense of direction, turns one's limbs rubbery, and makes the other melt into a puddle of liquid. So they decide to confess (to the robbery that only one of them was already caught committing, I guess), and that's the end of crime in the city!

Wow, that's a completely nonsensical story, a perfect example of "just make some shit up, we gotta fill pages" writing. It's hilarious in a "what the fuck?" way, but it's pretty goddamn awful overall.

8. Skyman has to be the most badass pilot in history

This story, by Gardner Fox and Ogden Whitney, is the same sort of thing, with our hero filling pages by fighting "foreign" invaders, but he's pretty awesome, singlehandedly shooting down at least two squadrons of enemy planes, swinging into an enemy plane in mid-flight via rope so he can interrogate the pilot, crashing, getting shot, and managing to shut down an "electrical belt" in the nick of time before it could destroy American planes. And look how buff he is, hauling bombs around so he can blast those dirty foreigners:

This is another one that doesn't make any sense, but it's pretty damn entertaining.

9. Jack Cole came up with some pretty crazy-ass viewing angles when drawing the Silver Streak

The Silver Streak is a speedster, which gave Cole some opportunities for dynamic running action. I love the way he places the readers' point of view at ground level in the following panels (which are non-sequential and also include an amusing bullet-dodging pose), staring straight up at the hero's crotch:

And I don't mean that as a "tee hee!" comment; it's a nice way of making the action move and appear fast and exciting. The story itself is pretty silly (although there's some good comedy that comes from a housewife constantly getting the hero's name wrong, calling him the Brass Streak, or the Lead Streak), but it's a good example of Cole's artistic chops.

10. Jack Cole was also racist (like most everyone else at the time), but that doesn't stop him from being ridiculously entertaining

The other Cole story here features the original Daredevil, fighting the giant, fanged Yellow Peril monster the Claw, who is some sort of war god from Tibet who has his minions tunnel underneath the Atlantic Ocean to attack New York. It's ridiculous as ever, but it's full of stupidly awesome action, with Daredevil taking out goons with a boomerang that appears to be two pieces of kindling nailed together at a right angle, getting out of a pit by running around the sides so fast that he comes right out the top, turning his own body into a boomerang when the Claw tries to fling him into the stratosphere, and then taking out the monster from the inside:

Damn. So racist, but so entertaining.

11. Basil Wolverton drew awesome monsters as early as 1940

His spaceships and spacesuits were kinda clunky though.

12. Jack Kirby got better by 1941, but he still had a long way to go

I can barely make heads or tails out of this Blue Bolt story by Kirby and Joe Simon, but it's got some nice art, like the sexy Green Sorceress and her riveted metal bra or the occasional dynamic action. It has something to do with a stereotypical gangster trying to take over an underground kingdom, but it doesn't make much sense at all and features some pretty poor panel layouts to boot. Considering how great Kirby would get, it's weird to see him at such an early stage in his development.

There are plenty of other lessons to be gleaned from the book, and it's a pretty fascinating look at an early stage of comics' development, but I don't know if I could really recommend it as actual good comics. There's some really nice art, and a lot of the stories are enjoyable in their batshit insanity, but that doesn't necessarily make them very good. Depending on your tolerance for idiocy and interest in history, you might or might not like it. I did, for the most part, but it's definitely a mixed bag.

Rip-Off Theatre presents: Perusing the Post

I'm stealing this idea from Andrew Wheeler, since I like how he acknowledges the various items he receives, whether he ends up reviewing them or not. So here are some things I've received in the mail recently, that I might or might not ever get around to reviewing:

Having never read either of these manga series, I don't think I'll have much to say about the fan-targeted guides, although they do seem to feature some nice artwork and plenty of information that surely means something to somebody. Actually, I would like to read some CLAMP manga at some point, but probably not Tsubasa, since it seems like a big crossover series that involves other CLAMP characters and whatnot. Whenever I get around to it, it'll probably be Cardcaptor Sakura, although xxxHolic is supposed to be good as well. Someday, I suppose.

I've never read either of these series, although I've seen the anime adaptations of both of them. Now that Kodansha is publishing them in the U.S., and they've sent me their new versions of them (which are pretty much the same as the old versions, I think, depending on what edition you're looking at; they're both flipped to read left-to-right), I'll get my chance. Not sure when, but soon, I expect.

Viz sends me a good deal of manga, but I usually only end up reading and writing about the releases that interest me, so series like this fall by the wayside. But I figure they're worth mentioning, since I'm sure somebody will be buying them. Although, I did kinda-sorta enjoy the chapters of the Yu-Gi-Oh series that I read in the couple issues of Shonen Jump that finished out my Shojo Beat subscription after that magazine got cancelled, so maybe I shouldn't be so hasty to dismiss this. Maybe I'll end up reading it, who knows.

I'll get to this one soon, I hope, but flipping through it, it doesn't look like something that I'll be exclaiming the wonders of. The art is kind of amateurish (if nicely colored), and it's very text-heavy, which is probably to be expected. But maybe that opinion will change whenever I get around to actually reading it.

I reviewed an issue of this series here (I thought I had another one somewhere, but I couldn't find it), and I don't know if I have anything else to say about it. It's an okay adaptation of the animated shorts that occasionally play on The Colbert Report, but it falls short of the comedy standard set by the show, often unsure of what tack to take with the material (sometimes it's kind of serious, other times it tries too hard to be funny). Probably for Colbert fans only.

This graphic novel from Oni looks interesting, although I'm not especially thrilled about the angularly cartoony art style. I liked Greg McElhatton's recent review though, so hopefully I'll get to it soon and see what I think.

Here's another one that I've heard good things about ever since it came out, a noir graphic novel by Jamie Rich and Joelle Jones. Looking forward to reading it.

I've never read any of this series about goth girls and supernatural happenings (I think?), but I sure do like Ross Campbell's art. It's probably not the best idea to start with the fifth volume, but if that's what happens, that's what happens.

Not a comic! This is a science fiction novel by Tom Sniegoski, although I suspect it was sent to me because it's about superheroes, since that's what people who read comics like, of course. I'm still interested though, because I've read some good stuff by Sniegoski, like the Bone prequel Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails, and I think he's also written at least one Hellboy-related novel. And that cover design is really cool, apparently by the same guy who did the Dororo covers. Maybe my prose coverage will continue to expand.

And speaking of superheroes, here's one of those instructional books that will probably only get covered in a blurb like this, since I just don't have a hell of a lot to say about it. I've seen at least two other bloggers decry this one, as if it's promoting bad art or something, but it seems like a decent enough book to me, if this is the sort of thing you want to draw. Just flipping through, it looks like it has a good emphasis on anatomy, dynamic poses, motion, lighting, and maybe even laying out a page. Sure, it's still over-muscled spandex-wearers punching each other, but since those aren't going away anytime soon, it would be best if people learned some tips on how to draw them well.

There are others, as always, but these are the ones I figured I wanted to mention. Maybe I'll do this again sometime. And more reviews and such content soon, hopefully.

Monday, October 26, 2009

This week: Grooooooo!

Link: Sean T. Collins posted the Sparknotes video for 1984, which is a summary of the novel, with illustrations by Matt Weigel. Good stuff, although I'm fine just looking at the pictures (which Sean also provides links to, if that's what you prefer).

New comics this week (Wednesday, 10/28/09):

Abe Sapien One Shot (One-Shot Wonders)

Looks like Dark Horse is promoting single-issue sales, with stuff like last week's Sugarshock and this Abe Sapien pamphlet. I don't know if it's new material or something reprinted from somewhere, but hey, it's Hellboy-verse stuff, which is almost always good.

Batman the Killing Joke #1 new printing

Keep trying to milk the cow, DC. Who knows how many versions of this they've put out over the years, so here's another one, although it looks like it's replicating the original format and contains the original, garish colors rather than the new, muted recoloring that Brian Bolland did for that recent reprint. Wait, I see that this version was created to go with an action figure set. Yes, enjoy this tale of rape, murder, and disfigurement, kiddies!

Boys #1 Dynamite Edition

Dynamite is apparently jealous that they didn't get to publish this series from the start, so they're putting out their own reprint of the first issue. Didn't they already get their own version of the first trade? Why bother? Comics are sure weird, aren't they? Maybe this is supposed to be a preview issue, since it only costs a dollar, hoping that people might pick it up and try the whole series. Well, I guess that's not too terrible an idea; if you like Garth Ennis and his angry, condescending attitude toward superheroes, and you haven't already read this series for some reason, check it out.

Casper & The Spectrals #1

Whoa, how did I miss hearing about this? It's a relaunch of Casper the Friendly Ghost, with him and his pals Wendy the Witch and Hot Stuff the little devil teaming up to fight some otherworldly menace or something. That's crazy, and I have no idea why people haven't been talking about it. Or maybe I'm just not as up on comics current events as I thought I was. Anyway, it's by Todd Dezago and Pedro Delgado; here's a preview, in which we see some pretty wild redesigns of the non-Casper characters. Whoa.

Cowboy Ninja Viking #1

This came out last week, at least at my store, but it's still worth mentioning, I think, being another creator-owned series from Image in the oversized format of King City and Viking. It's by A.J. Lieberman and Riley Rossmo, and it's about a secret agent/assassin with multiple personalities (guess what they are). I've read that first issue, and I'll write more about it sometime, but it's not bad, fast-paced and full of ideas and witty dialogue. Give it a look, says I.

Fantastic Four #572

Jonathan Hickman is still doing his FF thing, with an army of Reeds solving the multiverse's woes and getting attacked by Celestials. More to come here, I expect. I should have a review up at Comics Bulletin tomorrow, so watch for that, if you care what I think.


Here's another release from Radical, in their double-sized, five dollar pamphlet format, with the typical computery artwork and subject matter involving vampires and zombies. It's written by David Hine, with art by Roy Martinez, and it involves an agency that fights those monsters, who have been appearing throughout history. Not bad if that sort of thing floats your boat, I suppose.

Groo Hogs of Horder #1

Ah, here's my big exciting release of the week, since I'm an acknowledged Groo fanboy. It's always awesome to see new Evanier/Aragones show up on the stands, so I'm all over this thing. I guess he fights some monstrous pigs, and we'll see if there's any satirical intent or if it's just mindless chaos and funny jokes. Either way, I'm as excited as ever to read it. Mulch!

Hunters Fortune #1

It's another new series from Boom!, about a guy who inherits a fortune, but has to follow in the steps of his treasure-hunting uncle in order to claim it. Sounds like it could be a source of fun globetrotting Indiana Jones-style adventures. It's written by Andrew Cosby and Caleb Monroe, with art by Matt Cossin. Hope it's good, although I don't really have any emotional investment in its success or anything.

Ignition City #5

The finale of one of Warren Ellis' many Avatar miniseries; I don't know if this one went over too well, but I'll probably try to pick it up at some point, for I cannot resist the lure of Ellis. This one has spaceships and rayguns, I think.

Jack of Fables #39

I always note a new issue of this series, but I won't be reading it for a while yet. I still need to get to the most recent collection, and follow that with the upcoming Great Fables Crossover. Don't let me down, Jack.

Jennifer Love Hewitts Music Box #1

Oh, man, the jokes write themselves, at least for dirty-minded individuals.

Marvel Divas #4

It's the big finale of the chick-bait superheroine story, which probably isn't as bad as I've made it sound, but still kind of annoys me with its attempts at pandering. Will Firestar die from cancer, or just mope about losing her hair? Will Black Cat make up with her boyfriend? Will Captain Marvel hook up with Doctor Brother Voodoo? Will Hellcat autograph some more books? Will anything superheroic happen at all, or will there just be lots of talking, crying, and hugging? Will any women read this at all? I think we know the answer to that last one.

Marvel Holiday Spectacular

Whoa, Marvel, hold your horses! You're too early; it's not even Halloween yet! At least department stores have the decency to wait until November 1 to put up their decorations; is it that hard for you to do likewise? It's not like this is a slow week where you need to fill out the release list or anything; there are something like 30 other Marvel pamphlets coming out. And people wonder why the Direct Market is having issues.

Northlanders #21

Brian Wood Vikings, aw yeah. This issue starts a new storyline with art by Leandro Fernandez, taking place in 11th century Russia, and it's supposedly the most brutal story to date, which is saying something. Pretty cool; I'll read it eventually.

Spartacus Blood And Sand #1

Hey, gladiator comics. This one is from Devil's Due, and I don't know if it has anything to do with the movie; the description says it's about a Greek warrior named Arkadios forced into Roman slavery. Maybe the series is just a gladiator anthology taking the name of a famous combatant? Eh, it could be good, with lots of bloody fun. Or not, who knows.

Tom Corbett Space Cadet #1

I rarely pay attention to releases from Bluewater, since I am biased toward the more respectable (and non Obama-whoring) publishers, but this could be an interesting release, reviving a multimedia sci-fi property from the 50s that was based on a Robert A. Heinlein kids' novel. Hey, why not; retro-future stuff can be cool. Here's a preview.

Ultimate Comics Armor Wars #2

More Warren Ellis, with the science and the action and the tough-guy dialogue and the hey hey. I liked the first issue, so hopefully it will stay good.

Ultimate Comics Avengers #3

I've also enjoyed this relaunch by Mark Millar and Carlos Pacheco, so hopefully it will also continue to thrill with big action and whatever the hell Millar thinks is entertaining. This franchise is often where Millar does his best work, so let's pray he doesn't disappoint.

Wolverine Art Appreciation #1

Oh lord, does anybody need this? Sure, the various variant covers that Marvel recently did in which artists did versions of paintings and artistic works throughout the years that included Wolverine were often cute and nice-looking, but it wasn't exactly an event that cried out for collection for posterity. In this economy, a luxury like this is nothing less than an assault on the values we hold dear. Where will it end? Oh right, cannibalistic apocalypse, like always.

Wolverine Weapon X #6

This issue starts the new arc on Jason Aaron's Wolverine series, in which artist Yanick Paquette illustrates the hairy clawed one as an amnesiac inmate of a mental institution that's run by a mad scientist or something. Hey, why not, could be fun.

Unknown Soldier #13

This is one of the best series Vertigo has running right now, doing a great job of shining a spotlight on a place where forgotten atrocities are happening every day. And interestingly, for this story arc, writer Joshua Dysart wanted to get a fill-in artist who is actually from the region where the story takes place. That's a great idea, and Vertigo's blog has more information about said artist (Pat Masioni), along with samples of his art. Looks good; I can't wait to read it.

Batman Monsters TP

Why this is being reprinted is unknown to me, but it's a collection of stories from Legends of the Dark Knight by James Robinson, Warren Ellis, and Alan Grant, with art by John Watkiss, John McCrea, and Quique Alcatena. Maybe it's decent stuff, maybe not, but I figure it's notable, I guess. Enjoy, Bat-addicts.

Bob Dylan Revisited Illustrated

Not really a comic, I don't think, this book collects artwork interpreting various Dylan songs by
a bunch of famous international artists, including Dave McKean, François Avril, and Lorenzo Mattoti. Probably very nice-looking; maybe I'll get it for my wife for Christmas (it's okay, she doesn't read any of this).

BPRD TP Vol 11 Black Goddess

Your latest collection of Mignola/Dysart/Davis stories, which I will read someday, dammit.

Charles Darwins On The Origin Of Species A Graphic Adaptation HC

The highbrow comics stuff is coming out of the woodwork lately; here's a version of Darwin's famous text with lots of pictures in panels. I don't know how effective it is, but it should be interesting to look at, at least. I did get a review copy, so hopefully I'll be able to write about it sometime soon. We'll see how it goes.

Classics Illustrated Vol 6 The Scarlet Letter HC

And speaking of literary comics, I believe this is a reprint of one of them adaptations, notable for being drawn by Jill Thompson. I do love her work, so maybe I'll check it out sometime, even if I kind of hate the book (reading and tediously discussing it in high school English can have that effect).

Dead Speed GN

PCB Productions, a "digital content creation company", has this new graphic novel out, by Keith Arem and Christopher Shy. It's about a post-viral-apocalypse world (Chicago!), where guys called Rippers have to drive fast vehicles through the wasteland to retrieve organs for transplantation, and they discover a girl who might hold the cure. Could make for some nice action and visuals, I suppose. Interestingly, it "stars" actors Michael Ironside and Yuri Lowenthal, meaning that characters were based on their likenesses, I guess.

Fat Freddys Cat Omnibus TP

I guess this is a spinoff of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, which I've never read, but I often hear is very funny. It's also by Gilbert Shelton, and is probably a good time, even if you probably can't get a contact high from touching the pages.

Fixer And Other Stories TP

Drawn and Quarterly has this collection of journalistic comics by Joe Sacco. In addition to the title story, it also includes the book War's End, which itself contains the stories "Soba" and "Christmas with Karadzic". The unifying theme is Bosnia, and the war where all these took place. I read The Fixer several years ago (it might be the only full-length Sacco work I've read, which is a travesty), but I don't remember much about it, so this might be a good opportunity to revisit it.

Freakangels Vol. 3

More Warren Ellis? He's got new stuff showing up every week, doesn't he? This is the third collection of his ongoing webcomic illustrated by Paul Duffield. I should really start reading it and get caught up.

Infex GN With Metal Cover

Here's another release from PCB Productions, by Keith Arem and...others? It's hard to tell, judging by the confusing website, which is full of annoying Flash navigation and an attempt at a high-tech interface that doesn't actually tell you much about the book itself. You can find some previews and a trailer if you hunt for them though, and apparently it's about some girl whose chemotherapy treatment turned her into a "living weapon", and she has to escape from the facility of evil scientists who did it to her. Sounds like a video game, which is another area where PCB works, so that makes sense. Worth reading? I dunno, but I guess it's at least worth mentioning.

Invincible Iron Man TP Vol 02 Worlds Most Wanted

This is the paperback collection of the first half of the recently-ended story arc by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca, and it's not bad, although I remember it starting kind of slowly. It does pick up and become pretty great though, so I'll give it a recommendation. I wish Fraction would return to Casanova and that sort of indie work, but if he has to keep slaving away at Marvel, he could certainly do worse.

Kabuki TP Alchemy

This collects all nine issues of the current volume David Mack's series about the mental landscape of a reformed assassin, or something like that. I've tried to read some of it, and while it's full of gorgeous artwork, I can only take so much of the writing, which is full of goofy poetry-style ramblings and internal emotional examination. Not that it's bad, but it just doesn't float my boat. Still, pretty. If that works for you, then by all means, get it.

Key Moments from the History of Comics SC

This would be the Beguiling-published translation of François Ayroles' book showing pivotal scenes in the lives of history's greatest comics creators, although it's being distributed by Drawn and Quarterly, apparently. I'll have to try to get this thing, because it looks great; here are some sample images.

Map Of My Heart TP

I should try to read some John Porcellino comics sometime, since he's never really grabbed me as somebody whose work I enjoy all that much, but everyone seems to love the guy. One of these days, I'll check out some of his stuff, like maybe this new volume of his collected autobiographical minicomics. Someday.

MMW Atlas Era Menace HC

This collection of the Marvel/Atlas series from the early 50s seems to be in the vein of the horror comics of EC and the like; maybe it's worth reading? I think most of the stories were written by Stan Lee, with art by a bunch of greats, like Bill Everett, John Romita, Gene Colan, Russ Heath, Joe Sinnott, and George Tuska. Sure, it's a pricey "Masterworks" volume, but it's probably a good one.

Pinocchio Vampire Slayer GN

This one is from Slave Labor Graphics, and I guess maybe it's a semi-natural premise, since Pinocchio was made of wood and all. It might be an enjoyably goofy book, as long as it doesn't take itself too seriously. You can never tell with these gothy SLG comics.

Rockpool Files GN

Is that title supposed to be a James Garner pun? This sure seems like a bizarre book, about an intergalactic detective/lawyer named Crusht Acean, who has a clamshell for a head. Cute? Dumb? Who knows, besides those who want to spend the time reading it.

Sandman the Dream Hunters HC

Vertigo collects the recent miniseries which saw P. Craig Russell adapt Neil Gaiman's story (which was originally published as prose illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano). I'll probably try to read it sometime, since I love Russell's art, but I do think the whole thing is pretty unnecessary. Still, I bet it's pretty.

Spider-Man Newspaper Strips HC

Whoa, neat. This is a complete collection of the Spider-Man newspaper comic strip by Stan Lee and John Romita, Sr., which ran back in the 70s. It's surely not as good as the original comics, but still, it's probably neat to read the stories in a slightly different format. Expensive ($40)? Yeah, but that's kind of to be expected, I guess.

Tank Girl Remastered ED TP Vol 4

This probably wouldn't be the place to start reading Tank Girl, but I'll try to get to it someday. It collects Tank Girl: The Odyssey, by Peter Milligan and Jamie Hewlett, and I'm sure it's full of raucous nuttiness and violence. Someday, someday.

Transmetropolitan Tp Vol 04 The New Scum New Printing

And here's another one that I need to catch up on. I thought Vertigo was repackaging their latest reprints of this series, collecting multiple previous volumes into new collections, but maybe I was wrong about that. Whatever; I'll read it at some point.

Two-Fisted Science TP New Printing

A new version of the educational comic from Jim Ottaviani and GT Labs, featuring comics about scientists like Einstein, Galileo, Heisenberg, and Bohr, and featuring work from a bunch of good artists, such as Paul Chadwick, Gene Colan, Guy Davis, Colleen Doran, David Lasky, Steve Lieber, and Bernie Mireault. Yeah, I'd like to read this at some point.

Vatican Hustle TP

NBM is publishing this crazy-looking blaxploitation riff from artist Greg Houston, featuring a hero named Boss Karate Black Guy Jones, who searches for the missing daughter of a mob boss everywhere between Baltimore and Rome. The art I've seen looks incredible, and it's sure to be full of wackiness and violence; yeah, this one is going on my "obtain this!" list right away. Here's a preview.

Wolverine HC Old Man Logan

And one last bit of superhero nonsense for the week, a fancy, expensive collection of the recently-finished Mark Millar/Steve McNiven storyline that had its moments, but ultimately wasn't very good. Definitely not worth $35; if you must own it, wait for the softcover. But you really don't need to own it.

Aria Vol 5 GN Tokyopop Edition

This is one of those manga series that I really need to get to at some point. I hear it's full of beautiful imagery and nice character moments. Someday, someday.

Queen Of Ragtonia GN

I don't know if this has been published before, or if it's a new release, but it's by Chika Shiomi (Yurara, Rasetsu), who seems to be popular in manga circles. I guess it's about an exiled princess or something? Maybe it's worth a look.

Red Snow HC

This is Drawn and Quarterly's latest gekiga (manga for adults, basically) translation, by Susumu Katsumata, about country life in pre-modern Japan. It's probably pretty good; while I haven't loved all of these artsy mangas, they're at least worthwhile for historical context and a look at the more artistic genres of manga that lie outside of the popular work that's usually translated. Yes, this is one to check out.

Everything? Probably. More reviews and content coming? I hope so. Stay tuned? Yes, you should.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pluto: Too much philosophical pondering for a comic about fightin' robots

Elsewhere: I've got a review of the first (and, so far, only) volume of Cla$$war up over at Comics Bulletin. I thought it was a strong piece, or at least I was pleased with the results.

And I contributed my usual weekly TV ramblings to The Factual Opinion, covering Fringe andThe Venture Brothers. Yay, boob tube!

Link: The blog The Eastern Edge has been posting some interviews with Naoki Urasawa here and there, and I find them fascinating, since he's such an amazing creator. This latest one sees him talk about his process, and also mention some complaints he's had about his manga having too many scenes of talking heads, which seems crazy to me, since while that sort of thing sounds boring, he never makes it less than exciting. Also, some rough sketches and layouts of his art; essential stuff for an Urasawa-holic like me.

And speaking of Urasawa:

Pluto, volume 5
By Naoki Urasawa

The great thing about science fiction is that while it can ostensibly be about fantastical concepts and futuristic technology, it's often at its best when examining the nature of humanity itself, whether through symbols or by placing people in an unfamiliar situation that can provoke thought about how they would react. That's exactly what Naoki Urasawa does in this series, following in Osamu Tezuka's lead after he spent a career doing much the same thing. And what's even better, pedants like me can try to tease out brainy interpretations, but people who aren't interested in that sort of thing can ignore it and just enjoy the exciting action and wonderful storytelling, which Urasawa delivers here as well as he ever has.

The plot this volume sees Hercules facing off against Pluto, with what are probably the expected results; Gesicht struggling to deal with his returning memories and the emotions that come with them, while trying to protect Haas from being murdered; and Professor Ochanomizu and Dr. Tenma trying to figure out how to fix Atom after his "death" at the hands of Pluto. And, in a surprisingly touching chapter, Uran runs around Tokyo trying to help people whose sadness she can sense:

That's a nice moment in a chapter full of them, with Urasawa highlight the caring and concern on Uran's face as she begins to wake up to the ideas of compassion and empathy. He's so good with the emotion, and he's able to convey it in such a range of ages and character types. In another nice flashback scene, we see what Dr. Tenma was talking about last volume when he called Atom a failure:

The way Urasawa shows the sadness on his face as he realizes that his dream of recreating his dead son is palpable, yet also understated, and at the same time, we see Atom's realization that he's not meeting his "father's" needs, beginning his own emotional maturity. Beautiful work.

This scene also shows the way Tenma has closed himself off, reserving his emotion and passion for his work. The contrast between the cold way he deals with Atom and the excitement he shows about his ideas for artificial intelligence is surprising:

Urasawa really highlights the body language in this scene, in which Tenma has been working for 18 hours trying to revive Atom. He spends most of it laying on a couch, but the discussion of science makes him sit up straight and become more animated than ever. But when the possible consequences of what he's talking about become clear, revealing that Atom might come out the other side drastically changed, he's back to his reserved self, coldly discussing the possible results:

The way Urasawa takes pains to detail the emotion of his characters really brings the main conflict of the series to the fore. But, aside from the obvious message of humans versus runaway technology, what is the underlying message here? At first, I was thinking about racism and colonialism, since the hate groups and robot civil rights laws seem to point in that direction. And that's not necessarily wrong; the way the robots seem to be slowly growing into their role as full-fledged members of society does seem to correspond with freed slaves figuring out their place in the world, or lower-class countries trying to relate to the rest of the world. But I think it's deeper than that, with Urasawa examining the very nature of emotional maturity itself. Early artificial intelligence makes the robots like children, unable to comprehend adult matters like hatred and vengeance, but now that AI is getting more sophisticated, the robots are waking up to matters that adults have to deal with, whether it's anger, or pain, or sadness, or guilt. And it's fascinating to see this exploration. Tenma's discussion of a robot that has every possible human personality loaded into its circuits is a good metaphor; as with the robot that wouldn't wake up in that state, people need something external to push them in one direction or another. You need a lifetime of experiences and emotions to make a person.

And that's the tragedy of Pluto, or so it seems at this point; he's got too many external stimuli pushing him in conflicting directions, and he can't understand them, causing him to lash out violently, but in a way that certain forces can control. In fact, one could relate this to the anger and repression that certain forces in this world use to spread violence and work toward their evil goals. Maybe that's reading too much into this though; for what it is, Urasawa really brings this conflict to life, demonstrating the terrifying hatred that consumes Gesicht and pushes him into murder:

Or the guilt that consumes a robot during the war, as he's so broken by the destruction of his fellow machines that he can't stop washing the "blood" off his hands, Lady Macbeth-style:

Urasawa even wrings poignance out of a robot couple whose child has been destroyed, as they struggle to comprehend the sadness and anguish that humans feel:

As always, it's masterful work, the kind of thing that you can't put down, needing to know what's going to happen next, but never sure where Urasawa is going to go or what he's going to show you. He'll follow an exciting action scene with an intense confrontation or a fascinating conversation, or even a cute character-based interlude, but never deviating from the main theme, always working to unite everything into a cohesive whole. It's beautiful stuff, every page a demonstration of his talent and skill. There are only three more volumes to go, and it should be amazing to see the finish.

Bonus: Urasawa's version of Mr. Mustachio!

At least, I think that's who he is. He's also quite similar to Monster's Dr. Reichwein, who can be seen in one of the images in this post. Cool!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Hahahaha!! Try it again! Come closer! Hurl your bolts so Kalibak can smother them with laughter!"

It's New Gods #11, the final issue, that gives us today's Fourth World Panel:

That's another great example of the sheer power Kirby could evoke with his art. Damn, I love the way the entire panel seems to be exploding. And here's one more, since I can't resist:

The exaggeration of the body there is what gets me. The legs are spread ridiculously far apart, the arms are stretched out to the point that they're almost poking the reader in the face; it's all about the emphasis on speed and motion. Crazy, but really cool.

So, this being the final issue, we've got the final showdown between Orion and Kalibak, and it's a doozy, although first Lightray decides to take on the hairy guy and gets his ass handed to him. Seriously, Kalibak beats the living shit out of him:

I imagine he survived, since the Black Racer didn't take him, but we never see him again in the issue after getting a savage beating. Instead, we focus on Kalibak nearly doing the same to Orion, since he's getting a power boost from Desaad, who, like an addict, is siphoning an emotional high off the conflict. This leads to another great moment, as Darkseid realizes what's going on and grimly gets up from his observation seat to take care of things:

Then he coldly erases Desaad from existence (at least, I think so; I know Desaad turns up later in other DC books, but I don't know if he ever did in Kirby-written comics):

It's a chilling moment, especially since we've seen that the two of them are very old friends, and even plotted together to allow Darkseid to rise to power on Apokolips.

And then it's the final showdown between the two sons of Darkseid (which is the other revelation here, that Kalibak is also Darkseid's son, although it's tossed off in an early panel like it's a minor revelation), giving us another great moment as the Black Racer comes for one of them:

Damn, I love that; New Gods is where Kirby was at his most operatic, and this is a great example. What a scene.

So that's it for this portion of the Fourth World saga, although while it's a resolution to some of the plots, it's obviously not the end, as characters continue to talk about the prophecy of Darkseid and his son having a final showdown, which I think we eventually get to see in The Hunger Dogs. I'll find out when I get there, I guess.

Next: "The Greatest Show Off Earth!" It's all Mister Miracle all the time, at least until sometime in the 80s. I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stitches: Not the type from laughter, presumably

Manga links: Kurutta, a blog that chronicles some interesting Japanese ephemera, has some images from Osamu Tezuka's adaptation of Crime and Punishment, which he did early in his career. Even at that young age, he was doing some pretty incredible stuff; check it out.

And I'm late getting to this, but the new book by classic yokai manga creator Shigeru Mizuki that's full of cutaway diagrams of monster anatomy looks pretty awesome. This blog has some excerpts. So, when is somebody going to get around to translating GeGeGe no Kitaro?

By David Small

It's hard to know what to make of this book, and that's even setting aside the minor controversy that resulted from its nomination for a National Book Award, but only in the "young adult" category (a short response: it doesn't seem like a young adult book, especially considering its fairly sedate pace, but it's not inappropriate either; kids might be able to gain insights about the value of life and the difficulty of family relationships, but they probably won't be all that interested. It certainly seems like more of an adult book than a teen one). David Small is a popular illustrator of children's books, but he has set aside his cute, cheery style for a gloomy, oppressive one here, in a story detailing his troubled childhood, which was weighted down by a closed-off, uncommunicative family and the medical troubles whose results give the book its title. It's a pretty effective tale, and probably one that allowed Small some therapeutic release in its telling, but there are some strange choices, and, as goes the common complaint with so many modern autobio comics, one wonders what the ultimate message is, beyond "Here is what happened during a portion of my life."

Small certainly had a difficult childhood, and he attempts to chronicle that difficulty through showing his parents' strained relationship, his mother's description of her parents' shotgun marriage, his grandmother's poor treatment of him and his mother, and worst of all, the indifference they seemed to show toward him when he had medical problems. That's the hardest part of the book to read; when young David develops a growth on his neck, a doctor colleague of his X-ray technician father recommends having it surgically removed, but for some reason, his parents didn't do so for three and a half years. Early on, his mother gives him a reprimand, saying that they don't have a lot of money, but during that period between diagnosis and treatment, they went on a spending spree, buying cars, boats, furniture, and plenty of other possessions in an apparent attempt to keep up with their richer friends and fit into the materialistic lifestyle of the 1950s. It's a callous display of priorities, and you can't help but feel for poor David, especially as he was too young to really understand any of it. And when he finally does get his surgery, the problem turns out to be worse than expected, adding even more misery to his life. As he grows older and more independent, he turns rebellious and angry, an understandable response to the awful way he had been treated, but no less difficult to watch than anything else he went through. He eventually comes to terms with his life through the help of an empathetic psychologist, and as an adult he gains some understanding of his childhood circumstances, but it's obvious that even fifty years later, he still has plenty of scars.

So, yes, it's an interesting story, but there are plenty of loose ends that never get followed, and Small seems to vacillate between a factual retelling and an attempt to replicate his childhood emotions. He hints at deeper issues with the family and trying to understand his parents' reasons for what they did, but backs away in favor of exploring his own mental state. An afterword apologizes for this slightly, saying that if this had been his mother's story rather than his own, he would have examined her life more closely, but that seems like a cop-out and an excuse for solipsism.

But even in his own narrative, there are paths set up but never taken, including several allusions to Alice in Wonderland that are never fully explained. The first one is obvious, as Small shows how at the age of six, fascinated with Lewis Carroll's book, he would pretend to be Alice, tying a towel to his head in imitation of her long hair and gallivanting around the neighborhood. This led to bullying from other kids who accused him of homosexuality, but Small never explores how any of this affected him, other than prompting him to escape into his artistic creations. Later, he tells of recurring dreams that seem like something out of Alice, in which he explored tunnels in a destroyed church, but never gets around to an explanation or even speculation as to what they might mean; why include them? Finally, the aforementioned therapist is depicted as a huge white rabbit for some reason (maybe because he has a watch that tells when it's time to stop the sessions, or because he refers to Small's life as "curious"). Considering the mostly realistic nature of the rest of the imagery in the book, it's rather odd to drop something like this in and never explain it.

But while the book has its problems, it gets a lot right as well, delivering some impressively evocative imagery and poignant moments. Small's reaction to a harsh revelation in therapy is one of those, as is the scene when he discovers a major secret of his mother's. The artwork is also rather impressive throughout, rarely letting up in its ink-washed gloominess. An early scene in which Small stumbles across a preserved fetus when exploring the hospital where his father works is a great moment, effective evoking the childhood terror that can come from a runaway imagination:

Small's style is especially effective when contrasting the cold, harsh treatment he received from his parents:

With their effusive joy at spending their money on more and more things:

Small does occasionally attempt to depict the world around him during this time, and the occasional page of scenery is also rather arresting, as in this image that makes the signs and decorations on the street seem like ephemeral phantoms:

It's a fascinating contrast between Small's internal emotional state and the status-obsessed world around him, although it's hard to tell if this was the intent or not, since he never elaborates on it.

In the end, it's a dark, harrowing look at a painful childhood, but a positive one. Small managed to escape the multi-generational cycle of anger, inhibition, self-centeredness, and abuse, using his art as a force for good for both himself and others. While his telling of the story isn't perfect, it's still a fascinating tale, and one that's worth reading in hopes of learning from the sins of the past. It would be nice if avoiding those mistakes was easy, but anything that can help do so is something worthwhile, if you ask me.