Sunday, July 20, 2014

Crossed Vol. 1

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Jacen Burrows

I'm always wary of Garth Ennis's Avatar work, as when he works for that company, he tends to indulge the aspects of his writing that I like the least, but at the same time, it was well past time that I checked out his Crossed, as it's become that company's tent-pole title.

The concept behind Crossed is a pretty simple riff on the usual zombie apocalypse scenario, only in this book, the infected don't become mindless, instead they become incredibly depraved and simplistic, indulging in their most base instincts and desires.  The book begins in a small-town diner, when the first of the infected show up causing mayhem.  A small group of people make their way out of town, meet up with some other folk, and lose many along the way, as they decide to try to make their way to Alaska, where the low population density should provide them with some safety (although, really, Montana would have been a lot closer).

Stan is our narrator.  He's a nice guy who had lived a pretty quiet life before everything fell apart, and he only survived because of Cindy, a waitress and single mother who has the Rick Grimes role in this story.  She's a very tough woman, determined to keep her son safe and to raise him properly, and it is her steely determination that keeps everyone alive.  As the group moves north, they come across a group of Crossed (the name for the infected) that have evolved a little, capable of organizing, and following the group through the Rocky Mountains.

Ennis fills the book with enough gross-out scenes of mass rape, dismemberment, and bludgeoning with a certain large part of a horse's anatomy to remind me of why I don't often read his non-war comics (artist Jacen Burrows seems more than up for the task), and often his characterizations feel a little too simplistic.  We keep being told that Cindy's son is a terrific kid, but he barely has any dialogue, and there is only one scene in the ten issues collected here where he does something nice for another person.  In another scene that almost becomes touching, an old man reveals some secrets about himself that go way over the top.

In all, I did enjoy this book, and it has some very good moments.  I especially liked the scenes in a downed military helicopter (furthering the argument that Ennis can really only write soldiers convincingly), but the book is pretty nasty a lot of the time.  Burrows is the artist that all other Avatar artists are expected emulate, and that makes things look pretty standard.

I'm wondering which of the other Crossed books are worth checking out.  I know that David Lapham and Jamie Delano have written for the franchise, and that interests me.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Old City Blues

by Giannis Milonogiannis

I've liked Giannis Milonogiannis's work on Brandon Graham's Prophet, so I thought it might be time to check out his web-comic turned graphic novel Old City Blues.

This book is set in New Athens in 2048, after a flood wiped out much of Greece, and the country (except for the walled off Old City) was rebuilt with the help of the Japanese Hayashi Corporation.  This is a police comic, centred on Detective Solano, who has been investigating a string of strange and seemingly connected murders.  They escalate to the point where Mr. Hayashi himself is the target, although a string of clues suggest that it was Hayashi's own company that did him in.

This book is a love letter to manga, and so cops use 'mobile guns', which are armoured suits that can fly above the city tracking criminals.  We also have cybernetically enhanced humans, and advanced cars and things like that.  I can see why Milonogiannis was tapped to work on Prophet, as there is a similar visual aesthetic, although his work is rougher here than it appears these days.

Milonogiannis uses a lot of speed lines and rough figures to add excitement and kinetic energy to his story.  There is minimal character development, and the plot rolls out along somewhat predictable lines.  At the same time, there is a level of enthusiasm about this work that is pretty infectious.  I see that Archaia has recently released a second volume; I definitely enjoyed this one enough to want to read the new one.  I'd be curious to see how Milonogiannis has grown as a writer after working with Graham and his crew for the last couple of years.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Family Ties: An Alaskan Crime Drama

Written by Eric Hobbs
Art by Noel Tuazon

We all know that as the boomer population ages, senility and dementia are going to be a growing problem, involving a lot more health care, and putting a lot of stress on families.  I suppose it also makes sense that more and more popular fiction will also explore the phenomenon, and it looks like Eric Hobbs and Noel Tuazon are working to get ahead of the pack with Family Ties, their mobster story that deals with the issue.

Jackie Giovanni and his associates made the trek up to Anchorage Alaska at a time when the entire state was ripe for the organized crime picking.  They built an empire for themselves, but now Jackie is starting to lose his grip on reality.  When the book opens, one of his two daughters, who have been taking on a bigger slice of the family business, has to deal with a drug dealer who used Jackie's senility against him in negotiating very favourable terms for himself and his dealers.

As the story unfolds, we learn that Jackie's two daughters have their eyes on a lot more than the slow transference of power from their father.  Their younger brother, Cain, has no interest in taking on any of the business, and is more interested in getting their father medical help.  Toss into this volatile mix a recently found bastard son of one of Jackie's closest associates, who has his own designs on how to achieve power, and we get a pretty big mess.

Hobbs's writing is pretty intelligent.  He leaves a lot for the reader to deduce, and that works (even if I sometimes had to flip back a few pages to remind myself how some characters were related to each other).  Tuazon is a very interesting artist.  I've enjoyed his work for a while now, but can see that he would not be for everyone.  He is a very minimalist artist, reducing faces and scenes to a high degree of abstraction, but then also covering the page with a lot of messy lines or blocks of shading that don't exactly fit within the shapes they are tinting.  It can make reading one of his pages a bit of a challenge, especially since some characters aren't as unique as others in their appearance, but at the same time, I enjoy the individuality of his work.

This graphic novel is a very solid read, and worth checking out.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Avengers: Endless Wartime

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Mike McKone

It's a shame that this original graphic novel, Avengers: Endless Wartime, wasn't published when the Avengers movie was released, as I think it's exactly the type of book that the Marvel bigwigs would like to be able to put into the hands of the supposed droves of new readers who come into comic stores when a comic movie comes out.

Basically, Warren Ellis takes the hundred-odd pages in this book to distill the Avengers into a hybrid of the film and comics versions.  He works with a larger cast than the movie, including Captain Marvel and Wolverine, but keeps the Whedon-esque kidding, especially where Hawkeye and Iron Man are concerned.

The plot for this book is pretty basic.  A new mildly intelligent drone is being used by military contractors in a civil war taking place in a small fictionalized country bordering Afghanistan and Iran.  These drones are connected to a mission that Captain America ran in the Second World War, but also have a connection to Thor.  When Cap learns of these new weapons, he goes to investigate, and essentially gets his team involved in American foreign policy and puts them at odds with SHIELD, although that isn't really treated as a big deal.

Ellis gets superhero comics on a level that few writers do.  He has a knack for getting right to the central concepts of characters and power sets, and then tries to make them fit in our real world.  His Cap is still having trouble adjusting to living in the modern world, just as his Bruce Banner is still wracked by the guilt caused by his other self's actions.

Most of this book is given over to getting the team ready for action, as Ellis approaches this like he would a blockbuster movie, portioning out the big screen action scenes so as not to over-excite the reader.

Mike McKone is a very good choice for the art here.  He's always been a very strong character artist, expressing a variety of emotions easily and effectively, but also able to really throw down in the action scenes.  I never really understood the design of the creatures the Avengers are fighting, but otherwise this is a very nice looking book, and a great gateway into the confusing world of 15+ Avengers titles that Marvel currently publishes.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Batman: Death by Design

Written by Chip Kidd
Art by Dave Taylor

Having given up on the monthly (or weekly) grind of Bat-books does not take away the desire to read a well-constructed and plotted Batman story from time to time, and so I was quite happy to dive into Batman: Death by Design, an original graphic novel that is as (or more) concerned with visual aesthetic than character.

Chip Kidd is known for his design work, and so it makes sense that the Batman story he writes would be about architectural intrigue.  The story is set in a Gotham where people care about buildings and what they signify.  Bruce Wayne is in the process of replacing the Wayne Central Station, a hulking and beautiful building that was built with every possible corner cut, making it a danger to the commuters and tourists intended to pass through it.  Even though tearing the building down would involve erasing part of his father's legacy for the city, Bruce sees the value in building a new station, one that he can place a secret transit hub for his alter ego beneath.

There are protests, and the demolition work is sabotaged, which leads to the Bat-Man having to investigate (I love when his name is spelled like this).  Soon, we begin to come across a character named Exacto, who is always around when something bad is going to happen, such as the collapse of The Ceiling, a new nightclub perched high atop Gotham's streets (designed by Kem Roomhaus, which made me laugh).  Soon enough, we have a story with greedy union bosses, and even the Joker playing a role.

Dave Taylor provides the art for this book, and things look great.  His action sequences may appear a little stiff at times, but his eye for architectural detail is stunning, and his character work very nice.

I found that I really got into this book, although I don't like the over-reliance on a 'stasis field' device to keep Bat-Man safe.  It was a little too convenient.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Red Light Properties

by Dan Goldman

Dan Goldman's Shooting War really impressed me a couple of years back, so I decided to take a chance on picking up his new book, Red Light Properties, when I saw Goldman at TCAF this year.

The book is about a very unique real estate company in Miami, and is set at the height of the housing crisis of a few years ago.  Red Light Properties investigates and clears up dead housing stock that can't be sold because its haunted.  Jude, their in-house exorcist, takes some drugs and communes with the spirits in the house, helping them to move on, while his assistant, Zoya, takes photographs that actually show the supernatural presence.  The actual real estate side of the business is run by Jude's wife Cecilia.

It's an interesting set up, but Goldman doesn't really get into the ghostly side of things for a very long time, preferring to make this a book about Jude and Cecilia's faltering marriage.  He's recently been dumped to a basement apartment, as the couple plans of separating, due to Jude's on-line activities.  He's portrayed as a bit of a screw-up, but is also having a very hard time managing the stress that his job places on him.

Cecilia is a bit of a piece of work, and suspects that something is going on between Jude and Zoya.  Stuff happens, and the family suffers through these issues and financial pressure, all of which grounds the stranger side of the high concept.

Goldman is an interesting artist.  He uses a lot of photos for his background, and then photoshops in visual elements he's drawn on the computer, like the family car.  The figures themselves are drawn on top of all of this, which sometimes looks really cool, and sometimes feels incredibly stiff.  The landscape format of the book leads to a few awkward panel lay-outs, as well as makes the book a little unwieldy to read.

I enjoyed this comic, and would definitely come back for the second volume, but at the same time, hope that the book is edited a little more rigorously, as there are a few places where speech balloons point to the wrong person, or where the dialogue feels very stiff.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Volume 1

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frank Quitely, Ethan Van Scriver, Igor Kordey, Leinil Francis Yu, Tom Derenick, Tim Townsend, Mark Morales, Prentis Rollins, Dan Green, Gerry Alanguilan, Danny Miki, Rich Perotta, Scott Hanna, and Sandu Florea

It's hard to believe that it's been more than a dozen years since Grant Morrison took over the X-Men, giving the property a conceptual shot in the arm, and setting up some story ideas that have been in use ever since.  I distinctly remember the excitement that came from reading New X-Men #114, when Morrison and artist Frank Quitely launched their story.  Suddenly, the mutant heroes were a "rescue organization", were wearing sensible costumes, and had undergone some pretty sudden changes, not the least of which was a hugely different appearance for Beast.

This pretty solid trade paperback collects thirteen issues of the regular series, and one annual.  In these pages, we meet a ton of new characters like Xorn, Angel, Beak, the Stepford Cuckoos, Glob Hermann, John Sublime, and Cassandra Nova, many of whom are still important characters today.  We see the machinations of Nova, who goes from committing genocide in Genosha, to trying to use the Shi'ar Empire to wipe out all mutants on Earth, while infecting the X-Men with a curious virus.

Morrison's writing in these comics is stellar.  He plays with the original core concept of the X-Men, that mutants are mistrusted and maligned, but updates that idea for a more modern, celebrity-obsessed culture.  He also returns to the original purpose of the Xavier School, to train new mutants and protect them.  

Frank Quitely's art is always wonderful, and it's cool to see him play with some pretty iconic characters, especially since he doesn't draw mainstream superheroes anymore.  Ethan Van Scriver's art is also very beautiful, and Igor Kordey, who was famously given very little time to draw some of these issues, is understandably all over the place.

I'm not sure that many other comics from this era would stand up as well as the ones in this book.  I know that the current stable of X-Books do not look very good in comparison to these modern classics.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Lords of Death and Life

by Jonathan Dalton

One of my favourite things about TCAF is discovering new cartoonists, and that's what happened when I happened upon Jonathan Dalton's table.  Dalton has been in the game for a while, making comics in British Columbia, but this was the first I'd heard of him.

The cover to his Lords of Death and Life jumped out at me, as I love historical comics, especially when they are set in time periods that don't get a lot of play usually.  This story takes place in pre-Contact Central America, and is both a political and supernatural thriller.

Mol Kupul lives a quiet life in a small village, but his dreams send him to the city of Xicalango, where he becomes a pawn in the growing unrest between the city's Maian and Aztec populations.  It seems that Mol has gained some superhuman abilities, and people from both cultures, trying to sow unrest, want him to work for their cause.

Dalton's story is clearly very well-researched and alive with tons of little details about the time period, as well as strong character development.  Dalton's art reminds me a little of Phillip Bond, and is as detailed as the story.  I'm really glad I picked this little book up, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Sam Humphries's book Sacrifice.

Taddle Creek #32 Comix Supplement

by Ethan Rilly, Dave Lapp, Michael Cho, Jason Turner, Jason Kieffer, Joe Ollmann, Maurice Vellekoop, Corey McCallum, Matthew Daley, and David Collier

Just in time for TCAF this year, the fine people at Taddle Creek have put together a terrific broadsheet comics supplement to their latest volume; seven massive pages of comics for only $2.  I always enjoy Taddle Creek's fiction and reporting, but the way it's embraced the Toronto comics scene is something that's always endeared me to the magazine.

The first strip (shown in the image) is by Ethan Rilly, of Pope Hats fame.  It's about a stained glass artist who is so unhappy with his creation that he feels compelled to destroy it.  This story would not feel out of place in an issue of Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve, as it has many of the same sensibilities.

Dave Lapp, the most regular of Taddle Creek contributors, has a nice strip about an incident from his childhood, when he got in trouble for drawing 'Dirty Drawings' in his classroom.

Michael Cho, one of Toronto's greatest cartoonists, has a nice little piece about a man looking back at his youth, and the way the ever-changing city has cut him off from many of his memories, although that's not exactly a bad thing.  I love his stuff.

Jason Kieffer, who is probably the perfect person to adapt Rob Ford's story into a graphic novel (since it would fit nicely with his Zanta! and The Rabble of Downtown Toronto), adapts an Achomawi legend to the comics page.

David Collier contributes a page of reminiscences about the Toronto Reference Library (home to TCAF), and the joys of looking through old bound newspapers and comics.

There are other strips here, but these are the ones that stood out to me as the most memorable and most impressive.  I hope this is something that Taddle Creek chooses to do again, as I loved it.

For readers outside of Toronto, you can check out the comics here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jan's Atomic Heart and Other Stories

by Simon Roy

I picked up the original printing of Jan's Atomic Heart at the Toronto Comic Art Festival back in 2009, and was pretty impressed with it.  Since that time, writer/artist Simon Roy has been steadily making a name for himself working with Brandon Graham on Prophet, and on some random stories in places like Dark Horse Presents, and the recent new series The Field.  When I saw that Image was reprinting the original story, along with some other shorts as Jan's Atomic Heart and Other Stories, I knew I'd want to own it.

The title story still reads very well.  Jan is a man whose consciousness has been transferred into a metallic body while his own body recovers from an illness or injury.  He is a little suspicious, however, that this body is not like other ones used for these purposes, and of course, things are not all as they seem.  Roy provides some interesting twists, and his sketchy, loose art style works well here.

I was pleased to enjoy the other short stories as much or more than the main tale.  In one strip, a man and a talking ape have been marooned on an island together for years, and when escape finally looks to be possible, they don't react the same way.

Many of these stories feature alien creatures or beings that would not be out of place in Prophet.  In one story, Americans try to sell weapons to a faction of insect creatures as a ploy to gain land for themselves.  In another, a bar brawl turns weird very quickly.

Roy is a very talented storyteller, whose work keeps improving.  His is a career I look forward to watching grow and develop.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


by Hermann

I love getting the opportunity to read French comics in English translation.  I always feel like I'm missing out on a wide world of terrific comics, and so trust that the translation process works in a curatorial way, ensuring that only the best books make it to our shores.

Afrika is a handsome hardcover book published by Dark Horse, and it stars Dario Ferrer, a Frenchman who is living on a nature preserve in an unnamed African country.  He spends his days trying to save the animals of the park from poachers, and generally just being surly and unfriendly.

A French journalist arrives at the park hoping to interview him and write about the poaching problem.  He's none to happy to see her, but eventually takes her out to see a recently killed animal.  Later, they end up in a firefight with some poachers, and it's established that Ferrer has had some military training.  Later still, Ferrer and the reporter witness the scene of a government-run attack on a rebel village, and the secrets they learn force them to leave the country immediately, and by foot.

This is a quick read, with some nicely tense scenes.  The cartoonist, Hermann, never wastes much time in establishing the bigger picture, so we have to trust Ferrer's interpretation of events.  There is a subplot involving Ferrer's African girlfriend and another European who is always around, but it doesn't go all that far towards adding much to the story.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Foster Anthology 2012

Written by Brian Buccellato, Troy Peteri, Vince Hernandez, Robert Place Napton, Eric Wallace, Mike Johnson, Sterling Gates, Kyle Higgins, and Paris Buccellato
Art by Jason Copland, Noel Tuazon, Steve Buccellato, Dan Smith, Don Hudson, Aaron Gillespie, Hector Collazo, Rod Reis, Karl Altstaetter, and Paris Buccellato

When I was at TCAF (the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, the best comics show you'll ever attend) in 2012, I bought the first two issues of Foster from Noel Tuazon, the series artist.  I really enjoyed these two books, which are set in Vintage City, a down and dirty American city that looks and feels like it got stuck in the grimier part of the 1970s.  Vintage City has all of the usual problems of an American city, but is also home to a large group of Dwellers, mysterious and shadowy creatures who are descended from Cro Magnon man (if I remember it correctly), and who live in secret.

The series is about a guy, Foster, who is trying to protect his young neighbour, who is half-Dweller, from them.  I liked the books, and was pretty happy to see that the series was being solicited by Diamond, although nothing past the first issue ever came out.  It's possible to buy 'convention editions' off of writer Brian Buccellato's site, but they're kind of expensive.

Anyway, I was at the Toronto Comicon last weekend, and saw that Tuazon was selling copies of the Foster Anthology, a Kickstarter project that Buccellato made.  This book has a number of short stories set in the Foster universe, by a number of different creators.

The best stories are the ones set in various historical periods.  Buccellato writes a story (drawn by Jason Copland, of Murder Book fame) about an attempt at a military alliance between Ancient Rome and the Dwellers.  Troy Peteri and Tuazon have a very nice story about a trapper in the 19th Century who runs into the Dwellers in the woods.  I also really enjoyed Kyle Higgins's story about a cab driver in Vintage City who won't pick up Dwellers.  Rod Reis's art in this story reminds me of Bill Sienkiewicz around the time he was doing Elektra Assassin.

It is my hope that the Foster series will get collected into a trade format soon, as I'd really like to see how the story ends (and am not interested in reading it digitally).

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Where Bold Stars Go To Die

Written by Gerry Alanguilan
Art by Arlanzandro C. Esmeña

I loved Elmer, Gerry Alanguilan's very political graphic novel about sentient chickens who have to find ways to fit in with society, and so was intrigued when I saw that Slave Labor Graphics was releasing a new graphic novel, Where Bold Stars Go to Die.

This slim book is quite different from Alanguilan's prior work, touching on themes of desire and obsession.  Our main character is a young man who falls in love with a bold star (the Filipino version of a soft-core movie star) who he sees in an old movie.  He tries to learn more about her, but has little luck.  One night he visits her in a dream (that kind of borrows some ideas from Bill Willingham's Fables), and that sends him on a road of absolute obsession.

Alanguilan's writing is itself pretty bold here, not shying away from the masturbatory practices of his hero.  The guy's friends can tell what's up with him, especially as he becomes ever more bedraggled and spent.

The art is by Alanguilan's close friend, the late Arlanzandro C. Esmeña, a trained architect who only ever completed this one comic before his death.  His women are lovely, but his landscapes even more so.

The book is supplemented with a string of pin-up pictures, mostly drawn by Filipino comics artists.  This, and Elmer, are both books that are worth checking out.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Grave Doug Freshley

Written by Josh Hechinger
Art by mpMann

I'd always meant to pick up The Grave Doug Freshley back before Archaia comics imploded for a while, and ended up cancelling the mini-series.  By the time it came out in hardcover, I'd kind of forgotten it, until I saw it in a comics store a little while ago.

The main reason why I'd wanted this comic was for the art of mpMann, whose other comics (The Lone And Level Sands, Inanna's Tears, and Some New Kind of Slaughter) were all pretty impressive.  His minimalist cartoony style works very well for comics set in different time periods, and reminds me a little of Darwyn Cooke's work.

The story of The Grave Doug Freshley can be summed up as "Lone Wolf and Cub set in the Old West, if the Lone Wolf were dead".  A vicious gang of cattle thieves, the Delanceys, have been making life difficult for folk, killing everyone on a ranch before running off with their cattle.  They attack the McNally family, killing everyone there except for their young son Bat.  Doug Freshley, an old friend of Bat's father and Bat's tutor, is also killed, although he gets up shortly after taking a bullet to the head.  He rescues Bat from the fire the Delanceys set, and the odd pair head off looking for justice.

The story is a pretty familiar one, although the fact that Doug is dead does add a little twist to things, as does the fact that the Grim Reaper is hunting him.  This is a lighthearted and enjoyable comic, and like all Archaia hardcovers, it's built quite beautifully.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Judas Coin

by Walter Simonson

If asked to list my favourite comics creators from my pre-teen and teen years, Walter Simonson would definitely hold a place of prominence on that list.  His work on Thor was revolutionary, and I remember his run on Fantastic Four with fondness.  His X-Factor was visually stunning, and his Manhunter a classic of the superhero genre.

He hasn't been producing much in the last years, aside from a recent resurgence of variant covers and short art appearances on Indestructible Hulk and Legion of Super-Heroes.

He did release The Judas Coin in 2012, although I've only just now gotten around to reading it.  This is a very cool graphic novel, which begins with the crucifixion of Christ, and continues into a very futuristic 2087.  Each short story in this book is linked by the presence of a single coin, lost by Judas when he tried to return his thirty pieces of silver at the dawn of the Christian era.

Jumping through the various eras, this book also serves as a survey of some of the different, storied parts of the DC Universe's past.  Little-seen characters such as the Golden Gladiator, the Viking Prince, and Captain Fear star in the first chapters, while Bat Lash is given the 19th Century slot, and Batman and Two-Face represent the present day.  Simonson creates a new, 2070 version of Manhunter (unless this is just a really obscure DC character I never knew about) to finish up the novel.

Each of these stories involve some sort of misfortune that befalls the person holding on to Judas's coin.  It's a very effective framing device, that allows Simonson to tell a number of different stories that match the genre of each era.  Of course, the Viking Prince story involves large monsters like those Simonson drew in his Thor days, while the Bat Lash story takes place after a particularly heated game of cards.

I love Simonson's art, and the way in which he adapted things for each new chapter.  The Bat Lash chapter has a slight sepia-tone to it, and in the Manhunter 2070 story, the female adversaries look like they could have stepped out of an anime series.  The decision to construct the Batman story around the landscaped shape of a newspaper strip was an odd one, and while it looked nice, I hate having to read comics sideways, especially in hardcover.

It would have been nice to see some of the other eras of DC history or future represented here.  I would have loved a Justice Society of America chapter set in the WWII era, and for the book to have ended with the Legion of Super-Heroes, but I can see how the powers that be didn't want the book to be too visibly pre-New 52.  Still, this is a solid read, and worth checking out.