Wednesday, December 31, 2008

30 Days of Night: 30 Days 'til Death #2

by David Lapham

Lapham continues his excellent mini-series with this issue. The book starts with a flashback to a better, easier time for Rufus before he became hunted by the vampires we saw briefly in the first issue. This gives us some perspective on why he is so focused on not drawing attention to himself, and explains the reason why he kidnapped the woman in the first issue.

Now, Rufus lives in domestic bliss (at least in theory). Lapham continues to build on the cast of characters that live in his building, and the issue culminates in an excellent cliff-hanger.

As I said before, I know nothing about the 30 Days of Night franchise, but if I thought they were all like this, I would be doing a lot of hunting on ebay right about now....

Proof #15

Written by Alex Grecian
Art by Riley Rossmo

This finishes off the 'Thunderbirds are Go!' arc, and sets a lot into play for subsequent issues. As I said in reviewing the last issue, I think this arc bit off more than it could chew, as Grecian tried to squeeze a lot of events and character development into one arc, and it felt pretty disjointed at times.

This issue worked better, as the 'Ginger in the sewers' story left a new status quo for the Golem, and has introduced the idea that Po is going to be a major antagonist in the future. The Thunderbirds plot sort of limped to an end, and didn't fully resolve much - where did the Savage Dragon get to? I did like the bit where Proof almost got up enough nerve to ask someone out, then backtracked.

Finally, what I think worked best in this issue were the scenes at the Lodge, dealing with the Ink Monkey, and the injured werewolf from last issue. There are intimations that things are 'out of balance' - a theme for this week, seeing as I read the Final Crisis Secret Files immediately before this - although there's no real explanation as to what that means.

Crisis! Crisis!

The New Internationalist - December 2008

This issue of the NI takes on both the food and the financial crises that the world is reeling from right now. What I like is that they focus more on issues of food than finance, because they recognize that the former is needed regardless of the situation in the latter.

As usual with NI, they don't just recycle the same issues that you hear about on CNN; instead, they try to analyze things from a majority world perspective, and also make suggestions on ways to minimize the damage, or perhaps even improve the situation.

Chris Brazier has an excellent article calling for wider adoption of vegetarian diets, or at the least, a reduction in meat consumption. He discusses this not from a moral standpoint (which really, hardly ever converts anyone), but from an environmental and food shortage perspective. Raising animals for food diverts grain stocks that could be used elsewhere, adds to greenhouse gas emissions, and is a generally inefficient source of food energy.

David Montgomery has an article on Peak Soil, which sheds light on the little-discussed topic of soil erosion and depletion, and how we are going to have a difficult time producing enough food for our growing population.

Wayne Roberts has suggestions for 'Fusion', and how by moving away from monocultural practices, and embracing a diverse approach to farming, we can cut out a lot of farming inputs, such as fertilizer, and develop a healthier attitude toward eating.

As well, the magazine prints the 'Beijing Declaration' of some group of NGO types who met in Beijing. It has a huge list of recommendations to fix the financial, environmental, and agricultural issues that our world faces. As usual with these things, it won't get done, but it is always a good idea to raise peoples' awareness.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Shackles Off

by Kongcrete

The intent of this site is to write about things that I like, and so I am going to focus on the good parts of this album, which I would say make up a little more than a third of what is given here.

Interestingly, all of the best tracks are not Kong solo outings, but songs which feature some of his Monster Island Czar alumni. When that group gets together, their work is very nice. It would be good to see them do another cd as a group, even without Doom. They should get better producers than Kong has on this album though. The rest of the album runs from bland to ill-advised.

The actual star of this album is Spiega, who completely owns any track he appears on. His smooth, deep flow is a nice balance to Kong's, and I would definitely buy an entire album of collaborations between them. They should pair up into their own version of the Super Flight Chron Brothers, as Spiega's flow reminds me a lot of Billy Woods, and they'd sound great over some Backwoodz Studioz style beats by Bond or Dr. Monokrome.

The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

This is an incredibly gripping book. I ended up reading the whole thing in two days, because I found that it was very difficult to concentrate on anything else during times when I wasn't reading it.

McCarthy has always impressed me with the sparseness of his writing - he gives readers only the most necessary of details for most of a book, and then at times zooms into a scene with a precise attention to small details. This book is much easier to read than his other work - he still employs his own approach to syntax at times - and it lacks the baroque violence of a book like 'Blood Meridian', but it is taut with suspense from the first page.

A man and his son are walking. The world has ended, for all intents and purposes, and they are heading south through the blasted landscape of America in the hopes that things are better there. They meet few people along the way, and they are none of them to be trusted. Society has devolved into roaming bandits and road agents, with the occasional militia dragging their slaves and prisoners along with them. There is little left to scavenge, and people have resorted to cannibalism.

McCarthy establishes early in the book that things can change at a moment notice, and so some of the most tense parts for me were the ones in which our protagonists felt themselves to be at peace or safe. McCarthy has always written about men who are mostly silent, and his unnamed protagonists fall into that category; yet the lack of dialogue speaks volumes of the love they feel for each other.

This is going to be released soon as a movie, and I'll be curious to see if they are able to maintain the tension of the book, or if it's going to be a Hollywood spectacle instead.

Pro Tools

by GZA/Genius

I've always found GZA to be one of the more lyrically clever members of the Wu-Tang Clan. He is able to spit the usual Wu-Tang randomness, but he is also able to tell a story with his songs. His story-telling skills come out strongly on this album in songs like '0% Finance' and 'Path of Destruction', the latter an exposition on juvenile delinquency.

The most effective story he tells is on 'Cinema', where his teenage son Justice Kareem whispers the hook in a half-terrified, halting voice, adding to the atmosphere of dread on that track. Justice also appears on another song - 'Groundbreaking' - trading verses with his father ably, but hampered by a very adolescent-sounding voice.

The production on this album is consistently excellent. GZA employs Wu affiliates like True Master, Mathematics, Arabian Knight, Jay Waxx Garfield, and Bronze Nazareth (the heir apparent to RZA's throne) to layer the album in the typically sinister, melodic beats that Wu Tang is known for. Even Black Milk sounds a little like RZA on his track. The RZA graces the album with a couple of beats, and a couple of guest appearances. The only other member of the Wu to appear is Masta Killa.

This is by no means a ground-breaking album, but it is a strong addition to the Wu Library.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


by Brian Michael Bendis

One great thing about having time off is having more time to read and catch up on my growing pile of trades that I got off Ebay lately.

This is a good book by Bendis. It's all about some nobody college kid who gets shoulder tapped by Candice Bergen to become a disposable CIA agent, except he doesn't know about the disposable part until later on. And then stuff happens.

It's not at the same level of Goldfish in terms of dialogue or pacing, but it's a nice looking book. In the afterword, Bendis talks about how he remastered the entire book from the original comics, fixing some of the panels, and re-lettering the entire thing. Unfortunately, he did this without an editor, as the book is full of typos and grammatical mistakes.

One thing that is apparent is the planning that Bendis put into his earlier work, which has continued over into his work for Marvel.

The Unveiling

by Invizzibl Men

Anything from Backwoodz Studioz is an automatic purchase with me ever since The Reavers album came out a couple of years ago. When I bought this album, I didn't know much of what to expect - the Invizzibl Men are Karniege, who I'm familiar with from the Reavers projects and the Mighty Joseph album he dropped with Vast Aire earlier in the year, and Marq Spekt, whose work I only know from the odd appearance and mix-tape. Their song 'Jimmy Swagger' had popped onto my radar a few times, and I liked it a lot. It had that standard Backwoodz sound to it, and had clever lyrics.

Unfortunately, the entire album is not as good as it could be. There are some great tracks on here, but about half of the album suffers from uninspired raps and subject matter, and sub-par beats. There are no songs produced by Bond, Dr. Monokrome, or the other usual Backwoodz suspects. The nicest beat is on 'Darkroom', produced by Omega One, who is the only producer on here that I've even heard of.

The strongest songs on the album are the ones with guest appearances. Billy Woods absolutely kills on '52 Lashings', and wisely, the Invizzibl Men stand back and let him do his thing. The lyrical bar also gets raised on 'Zookeeper' by Vordul Mega, and 'T-Rex' by C-Rayz Walz. 'Mightybroady' reunites Mighty Joseph by including Vast Aire, who excells at these types of short appearances. The two songs where the Men do best on their own are 'Thin Air' and 'Stories of a Ghost', but their subject matter is not anything new or unique.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


by Brian Michael Bendis

Well, I guess this is what happens sometimes when you buy off of Ebay. The book I bought has the cover to the right (signed by Bendis, actually), but it isn't the definitive edition, and only contains the first four issues of the Jinx series, which, from what I can tell, was seven issues long. So in other words, I got just enough to get me totally into the story, and no ending for it. Oh well, at least I liked what I got.

Bendis gets a lot of criticism for his writing - but I think his command of dialogue is amazing. Granted, I think his gifts are better suited for a story like this than they are perhaps for a Skrull invasion. In Jinx, he re-visits his character Goldfish, and this time around, has him fall for the perfect woman, who just happens to be a bounty hunter. Also, Fish is having some trouble maintaining control of his friend Columbia (who is Bendis's alter ego). That's about the set-up - I don't have the climax.....

Bendis's art is always a surprise to me. I'm so used to him being 'just' a writer, but his art is very nice. It's static - something he discusses himself in the back matter, as part of a longer piece on constructing comics and using photo references - but I find it helps move the plot along nicely, and it adds a lot of atmosphere to his story.

The character of Jinx is familiar ground I think. She could be the early-Alias Jessica Jones, but she is the type of character that Bendis writes very well.

Crooked Little Vein

By Warren Ellis

It's often a strange fit when comic writers publish novels. They have, for so long, relied upon an artist to communicate all of the visual information of their story, and so when they move into prose, they sometimes do not provide the visual descriptions needed to fully draw their reader in to what is happening. The solution to this, of course, is for the comic writer to write in a pulp genre - where the choice is to either drown in overly descriptive scenes, or to do away with it almost entirely, and focus solely on plot.

That's basically the approach that Ellis takes. The story is told in a very straight-forward way, leaving Mike McGill, a down on his luck detective of a very familiar breed, to narrate a tale throw simple description and dialogue.

But, since this is Ellis, the plot is damn weird. McGill is hired by the Chief of Staff of the White House to find the alternative Constitution of the United States. What follows is a travelogue of McGill's (and his assistant, the uber-sexual Trix's) descent through the perverse and disturbed underworld of American fetishists and psychopaths that have come into some form of contact with this document.

The book is an enjoyable, quick read. I don't think it's particularly memorable, but it's the holidays, and this is a good alternative to watching some kind of vapid movie.

Friday, December 26, 2008

There's Only One

by Buff1

It's amazing how much great music is coming out of Detroit and its surrounding area; in this case Ann Arbor. This is Buff1's second solo album, and this is an artist to watch. On this cd, he teams with the Lab Technicians, who provide beats for all but one of the tracks, and together they represent the new sound of Detroit quite nicely.

This album has a gentle quality to it - while many of the beats are bangers, there's a positive, upbeat theme that cuts across most of the tracks - it's not music that could offend anyone really.

It gets off to a bit of a slow start - not that there is anything the matter with the first half - it's just not that memorable. The cd really picks up steam around the seventh track, with 'The Sky' - a cleverly written, bouncy love song. On 'Love the Love', Buff and Tres Styles rhyme about the feeling that they get performing live, and how they've chosen this as a career (even if it doesn't come with a 401k or stock options). The tenth track 'Never Fall' features Black Milk on the beat and the mic, fulfilling what has become I think a local by-law that all Michigan rappers need at least one Black Milk beat (and all the better for it).

On 'Rain Dance', Buff calls for action, but not in the way of his colleague Invincible, whose Shapeshifters comes from the same location and sensibility; instead, he reminds us that "it's not a movement if you're not moving", and proceeds to call for change, but a change you can dance to. The album closes with 'Once', which, spoken word prayer at the end aside, is a song that causes you to reflect on life.

In all, this is not a terribly memorable album - it won't stick with you for long, but it is entertaining and enjoyable. I look forward to seeing what comes next from this artist.

The Lone and Level Sands

Written by A. David Lewis
Art by mpMann

This is a really interesting re-telling of the story of Moses and the Pharoah, but told from Ramses's point of view. The king wants to do right by his people, and is working to fulfill his father's vision of Abu Simbel and its temples and monuments. The portrayal of Ramses is of a family man - devoted to his queen and grandchild above all else.

Ramses is met by his cousin, Moses, and Aaron, who come to him as leaders of the Israelites to demand their freedom. The story is familiar - there are wonders beheld, followed by refusals, leading to plagues.

What makes this telling of the story so compelling is that we see Ramses as being manipulated by Jahweh, the god of the Israelites. At each point where he is shown as being ready to concede to their demands, God speaks to him from the mouths of his closest advisors and family members, convincing him to stay the course, with increasingly disastrous results. The effect of this is to portray the Egyptian people not as cruel slave-holders, but as pawns in a game played out on a cosmic level.

I don't know if there is any sort of historical evidence to support this telling, or if Lewis and Mann are simply telling the story their way, but it does place the bible stories in a different light. I'm sure there are some who might see this tale as lightly anti-Semitic, but that would be over-stating things a great deal.

The comic is gorgeous - Mann's art is well suited for this type of story. The colours, by Jennifer Rodgers are such an integral part of my enjoyment of this book, that I don't know how it would have read in the original black and white. I imagine it would have been very difficult to tell some of the Egyptian characters apart.

Reading this book does make me wonder a few things about Archaia Studios Press, and more specifically, the status of Lewis and Manns' "A New Kind of Slaughter" (which I was enjoying very much), and Mann's other recent series (with Rob Vollmar), "Inanna's Tears". If anyone knows what might happen to these titles following the buy-out by Devil's Due, I'd appreciate knowing (I want to know what's up with the Killer too - I love that book).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Greatest Hits #4

Written by David Tischman
Art by Glenn Fabry and Gary Erskine

I've been enjoying this series more as it's developed. I found the first issue to jump from scene to scene very quickly, making it difficult to understand who the characters were or when a given scene was happening. As the issues have come along, I found the rhythm for the book, and have liked the way Tischman has portrayed the classic super hero team, if they were Brits in the '60s who moved to the States.

I don't as a rule like Fabry's covers, and this is what almost kept me from buying the book, but his interior art is much easier on the eyes, and reminds me quite a bit of Steve Dillon (Preacher Dillon, not Wolverine Origins Dillon).

This issue leaves us ready to learn the secret of what happened to The Mates (great team name) in space, and subsequently, why they broke up as a team. Next issue should make or break the series, based on what this secret is.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Guerillas #3

by Brahm Revel

Next to the Walking Dead, I think this is my favorite book that Image puts out right now. This series amazes me with the amount of content that comes in each issue - we get some great action scenes, two expository scenes that explain why there are apes in army uniforms in the first place, and why they've gone AWOL, and some wonderful character moments. I love how Revel has developed each ape as a different character, and is able to show their personality through his art.

The last panel made me shiver.

In the text piece, Revel talks obliquely about sales for this book. I really hope it's something he's able to finish, as it is a fantastic book. For anyone trade-waiting: don't bother. Go buy the book now. If you can find the first three issues at your comic shop, go buy them. If you can't, order them. At $5.99 an issue, it might be intimidating, but these are thick, content-filled books, and worth every penny.

Unknown Soldier #3

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Alberto Ponticelli

This book just keeps getting better. Now that all the exposition is out of the way, we have a lot of action. Moses is taken prisoner by a group of underage rebels, and begins to feel some sympathy for them, until the decisions of their leader make it easy for him to reconcile himself to his hate.

In the background, we also see a little of how conflicts such as the one that tore apart Uganda only get news coverage in the Western world when an American celebrity is involved. As well, the CIA plot is advanced a fraction, setting the book up for what will happen after the first arc is over.

If this book continues like this, I can see it being one of my favorites in 2009.

Top 10 Season Two #3

Written by Zander Cannon
Art by Gene Ha

I was a little nervous at the thought of this book coming out again without input from Alan Moore, as the 'Beyond the Farthest Precincts' series was only okay, but when I read the first issue, all concerns were gone. This new series is written and drawn by Cannon and Ha, the team that worked with Moore on the original series, and they seem to have a good handle on his characters.

It's good to get books that are this filled with content. Most pages have a 9-panel grid, reminiscent of Giffen's Legion, and a lot happens in a single issue.

What I like best about Top 10 is the way that it manages to marry the better police procedural TV show (Homicide, The Wire) to super-hero comics in a way that mostly makes sense. Similar to these types of shows, new plotlines develop late into the series. Most 5-issue mini-series are well-entrenched by their third issue, but this one continues to develop new characters and situations. And of course, the art by Ha is fantastic.

Gigantic #2

Written by Rick Remender
Art by Eric Nguyen

I really like the premise behind Gigantic - that the entire Earth is a huge TV sound stage built by aliens for the purpose of creating a massive reality show, which is watched throughout the universe.

In this issue, we learn that Gigantic was abducted from Earth in the 50s, and was forced into becoming a gladiator on some other TV show. He's now returned, and some suited alien guys are sent to retrieve him (along with a cameraman of course). Gigantic reveals the truth about Earth's origins to all of humanity, setting up a platform from which tons of stories can be told.

My problem with this issue is with the art. I love Nguyen's work - especially from the early issues of Strange Girl, and so I feel bad complaining about it. He seems to adopt a more traditional style in this issue, but instead of making the action easier to follow, that seems to make it harder. I have no idea how big Gigantic is. In the first issue, he was knocking down buildings, but now he's sleeping on his brothers couch. His size seems to change from panel to panel, which is fine if that's one of his abilities, but it hasn't been explained. I also don't understand how in one scene that started off on a farm, the Golden Gate bridge suddenly appeared. I doubt, with Marin County property values being what they are, there are too many farms with a bridge view. That last point is minor, but it goes to show that there needs to be a little more visual consistency, and then this book will be great.

The Gangsters

by Colson Whitehead

This is a great short story set in Sag Harbor in the summer of '85, where a group of teenage boys - the sons of upper middle-class black families from New York - have to fill weekdays free of parental supervision. They have a habit of making bad choices, usually taking place on a Thursday, the day before their parents return from the city.

The story is narrated by Benji, the almost-twin of his slightly younger brother Reggie. The entire group of friends is introduced, and each is a fully developed character in his own right. In their search for new entertainment, the group discovers BB guns, and set out to have themselves a typical Thursday evening.

Whitehead does a terrific job of setting up his upcoming novel, Sag Harbor, in this story. I enjoyed The Intuitionist, and loved John Henry Days, and am looking forward to this new book. I like how he explains the differences for young black men between 1985, an era of innocence, and 1992, which is where I suspect the novel will take us.

Mister X Condemned #1

by Dean Motter

It's good to see this back. I remember reading a trade of some of the Los Bros. Hernandez issues back when I was in my early teens, and being fascinated with the idea that architecture can influence peoples' mental state to that degree (this was years before I'd heard of feng shui).

Now Motter has returned to Radiant City, and it's buildings are being torn down as a part of the New Broom initiative. Motter makes this issue very accessible to new readers - spending most of the book establishing characters and motivations, but also re-creating the feel of this futuristic city.

I've always appreciated Motter's style of retro-futurism. Sure, cars fly here, but journalists also have pneumatic tubes dropping off assignments at their desks. One character name drops Terminal City - another Motter classic.

Motter's art here is beautiful. His lines are thick and solid, and his buildings and giant robots convey a consistency of design principles. I think I may have to go buy the new archive edition Dark Horse has put out.....

Monday, December 22, 2008

Some Women

by Alice Munro

As I get older, I find I have more and more appreciation for the work of Alice Munro. I don't know which of us has changed - her or I, or if it's a bit of both.

Her recent stories in the New Yorker often are told from the point of view of a young girl in a small town in Ontario, and frequently seem to carry an undercurrent of class division. Her stories depict a world that is mostly gone, where powerful families live in big houses on hills, and only interact with the middle- and lower-classes when they have need of them, as is the case here, when the narrator is called upon to help care for a man dying of leukemia.

The story here is simple and straight-forward, yet beguiling in its accoutrements of back staircases, heavy oak doors, and glass-fronted bookcases.

Tree of Smoke

by Denis Johnson

This is a fantastic novel about the Vietnam War, and the way it ground down the people that were involved in it, as soldiers, CIA agents, VC, and even as representatives of humanitarian NGOs.

Really, this book is about the Colonel - a larger-than life WWII veteran who had escaped imprisonment by the Japanese, and had rose to great heights within the Psy Ops division of the CIA. The Colonel has a plan to win the war, and he brings together an unlikely group of people to help him achieve that end.

What makes the book so interesting is that the Colonel is really only ever seen peripherally, mostly through the eyes of his nephew Skip, who is stuck in various rotting outposts of colonialism, organizing a meaningless pile of index cards, and awaiting the moment when he can be called into action.

The strength of this novel is the beauty of its description, and the kaleidoscopic approach Johnson takes to telling his story. Major events happen off the page, or in the scope of a few sentences, while the rest of the novel takes a meditative look at the effects and implications of this type of war.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dead of Night: Devil Slayer #4

Written by Brian Keene
Art by Chris Samnee

This was a satisfying enough finish to this series. It read very much like the final battle scene in a big-budget Hollywood movie, including, by my reckoning, at least two places where our hero could have delivered the coup de grace to the big bad, but instead chose to let him keep talking.

The art on this series has been superb, and I like the way things are left somewhat open to the possibility of a follow-up series at some point. I also like the way they name-drop Daimon Hellstrom at the end - can the Max Defenders be far behind?

Walking Dead #56

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

I am so getting used to this book coming out so regularly, and I love it.

In this issue the gang doesn't really go anywhere, but we deal with the fall-out from last issue's cliff-hanger, and see some further character development, specifically in the shape of a growing conflict between Rick and Abraham.

Really, not much more than that happened this issue, but that's fine in light of the improved schedule - I can enjoy the characters, knowing that more stuff is coming soon.

I hope that Kirkman starts to develop Rosita soon - so far she seems like a total cipher.

Young Liars #10

by David Lapham

The Young Liars takes another jump back in time this issue, as we look into Big C's past, and get to see the group back when things were normal, and they were a strong group of friends who supported each other.

Which, of course, is completely not what happens. Instead, CeeCee gets pregnant and miscarriages, and the rest of the crew argues, fights, and stabs each other in the back, showing that even before Sadie got shot in the head, Runco got decapitated, and Danny got his Mr. Johnson cut off, this group of friends did not get along.

As usual, Lapham's story is gripping and his art is fantastic. I think it's strange, after the ending of the last issue, that he chose to tell a flashback story that has no bearing on where things got left in #9, but at the same time, I trust that he has a master plan in place for this series, and I'm happy to be along for the ride.

Original S.I.N.

by Almighty (Killah Priest, M-Eighty, Bronze Nazareth, Son One, C-Rayz Walz, and 5 Star)

I love super-groups. To me, it's a great way to hear artists I like working with other artists I like, and to sample up and coming MCs or producers. My all-time favourite supergroup album still has to be the Reavers' Terror Firma album, but this album feels much more like the Black Market Militia project of a few years ago.

This is a good album, especially if you like that post-Wu Tang Clan sound that Bronze Nazareth is so good at imitating in his beats (and for which he is, in turn, imitated here). The MCs on this album are mostly spitting fire, although there are some very weak verses from some people I've never heard of (I'm looking at you Warcloud). C-Rayz Walz is, I think, the star of the show here, owning every track he appears on. In addition to the names listed on the cover, there are excellent guest spots from the likes of Canibus, Planet Asia, Kevlaar 7 and Timbo King.

I can't say much about what these songs are about - they tend to blend in my memory. It's not really the point though - this is more of an album you play for the atmosphere it creates.

Rex Mundi #15

Written by Arvid Nelson
Art by Juan Ferreyra

I was thinking well reading this how fortunate Nelson was to gain Ferreyra as a partner for this title. His art and use of colour fits the themes and feel of this book much better than any of the earlier artists did. The earliest issues by EricJ were interesting, but more old-school Image, and the tone of the book has really shifted away from that.

You can tell that Nelson is close to finishing his story. The pace here if very quick, and the stakes keep getting higher. I like how the grail, which was such an object of mystery in the early days, is treated so off-handedly here. I'm not sure how many issues remain in this series, but I hope it's a lot, as I'm enjoying it more than ever.

Hellblazer #250

Written by Dave Gibbons, Jamie Delano, Brian Azzarello, Peter Milligan, and China Mieville
Art by Sean Phillips, David Lloyd, Rafael Grampa, Eddie Campbell, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Stefano Landini

I'm not usually a fan of the Christmas anthology, but this is how such things should be done. In this extra-sized issue, we get five stories by different creative teams, almost all of which are centred around Christmas. (I think it strange that the book starts off with the New Years story, and then backs up a few days.)

It's a real treat to see artists like Phillips and Lloyd draw Constantine again, and an even bigger treat to see the series' original writer come back for an excellent tale of poker and trafficking. The story by Azzarello and Grampa is beautifully drawn, if a little tenuously linked to the Christmas theme. Milligan's story augers well for his run on the title, which begins next issue. The final story, about a Bhopal-like industrial accident was odd - I couldn't figure out where it was taking place.

This was a very enjoyable book. It didn't have many of the elements I expected - Constantine wasn't haunted (well, at least, not by ghosts of his Christmases past), and there was no mention of his having snorted the ground up bones of St. Nick a few issues back.

All $3.99 comics should have this level of quality.

Larry Marder's Beanworld Holiday Special

by Larry Marder

It's great to see the return of this 'most peculiar comic book experience'. I don't remember the last time I bought or read a Beanworld comic - I do remember discovering it around the time the last two issues came out, and I did find a few random issues in some bins once, but I hadn't even thought about the book for years.

This is a typical Beanworld story. Spook and the Chow Sol'jers dive through the four realities to steal chow from the Hoi-Polloi Ring Herd; Beanish jumps; Professor Garbonzo postulates, and the Boom'rs notice something stange about the Pod'l'Pool Cuties.

The book runs according to its own internal logic, as the Cuties learn about play and how to communicate with one another. It's a charming story, with beautiful, simplistic art by Marder. The straight-forward, solid colours enhance the story (I'm sure the originals were black and white).

The original series is being released in trade starting next month, and I think it's time for a lengthier return to Beanworld.

Fables #79

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Andrew Pepoy, and Peter Gross

Big things are happening at the Woodland. In fact, this issue changes the status quo of the series even more than issue 75 did, as the effects of Mister Dark's unbinding spell are seen at their fullest.

This issue also has the funeral of Prince Charming, and the further adventures of Mowgli in Kipling-land.

As always, this is a very good comic. I'm not too sure where this Mister Dark arc is headed, but I appreciate the fact that Willingham is looking to constantly re-define life for the Fables.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Air #5

Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by M.K. Perker

To begin with - I love the cover. I'm going nuts trying to remember the name of the painting it's referencing, but regardless, it does a great job of foreshadowing the surprise at the end, and is a beautiful piece of art.

This issue goes a long way to explain what this series is about. Blythe is introduced to what powers the Clearfleet planes - the ancient Aztec Hyperprax engine, which runs on symbolism. We also find out about Sky 1, a floating version of Interzone.

This issue does have a strange segment involving two gypsy nobles and a stolen glider-sized airplane that ran a little long, but it's balanced by a nice text piece by Wilson about air travel and a memorable flight she once had.

This book keeps getting better. I hope sales go up and it sticks around for a long time.

Ex Machina #40

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris and Jim Clark

The only review I saw of this on the net called in self-indulgent, and I suppose it was, but it was also a good comic. In this issue, Brian Vaughan and Tony Harris borrow a page from the end of Grant Morrison's Animal Man run, and meet Mayor Hundred and the crew in order to interview (audition?) for the job of creating the comic-book biography of the Great Machine.

What makes this comic work, in addition to the little comic industry in-jokes that pepper the story, is the way Vaughan portrays himself and his experiences of New York. This comic has always been tied very closely to the city, and Vaughan reveals that this series really is his love letter to NYC.

Harris does a great job here, as always. I love that it's his Starman that gets the duo their interview, and he does a fantastic job of portraying Vaughan. His eyes show real human intelligence throughout the book.

The last two pages are hilarious too.

Doktor Sleepless #10

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Ivan Rodriguez

I like the way the second book of Doktor Sleepless seems to be working. Last issue focused on a reporter from New York who came to Heavenside to write about grinding (and of course, the Doktor). This issue now shifts its gaze to some Homicide cop (whose lieutenant is Amanda Waller) who is investigating the attack on the journalist that ended the last issue.

We finally get some insight into the homeless guy with the nasty teeth, and his connection to John Reinhardt. It seems that this new arc is mostly going to be about people reacting to the things that Sleepless has set in motion.

The best thing about this issue is an appearance from Preston Stoker, the commissioner of police for Heavenside. I think that Preston Stoker is one of the great comic characters of the decade (and I'm sure that Preston Stoker thinks the same thing).

In all, this is a very good issue. This series has been rather consistent in its pace and its look, even if some issues don't always show the main character or give away much about where the series is headed.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Cameron Stewart

When this first came out, I thought it looked silly and didn't bother with it. When I saw it in a used book store at a low price, I thought, 'well, it's Grant Morrison. It will still be good.' And it is.

This book is a smorgasbord of surrealism designed to look somewhat like a standard hero's epic. Seaguy is trying to become a hero to impress a girl (who has a beard, by the way), and so he ends up trying to rescue a cute pile of goop that is the world's first engineered living foodstuff from a bunch of armed and aggressive cartoon character theme park employees. He is accompanied by a talking floating fish from New York that hates water. Along the way, we see smoking Easter island statues, and a chocolate Sargasso Sea. To my mind things don't get too weird until the moon is revealed to be an Egyptian tomb.

The art is by Cameron Stewart, and it's brilliant. I like how he is able to portray such bizarre and silly things in a manner that makes them seem ordinary and acceptable.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Atomic John

by David Samuels

This article is a profile of John Coster-Mullen, an amateur historian who has been working for years on the secrets of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the second world war.

Coster-Mullen has spent most of his life examining photographs, archival records, and random artifacts to put together the most comprehensive record we have of the construction and mechanics of Fat Man and Little Boy.

This article is like many in the New Yorker that focus on truly remarkable people. Samuels travels with Coster-Mullen on his trucking route, and describes their journey together with humor and an impressive eye for detail. He portrays Coster-Mullen as a genius, and a highly focused one at that.

The other interesting point of this article is the ease with which someone could build a working atomic or nuclear bomb. Many of the finer points of the construction of the bombs dropped by the Enola Gay would not concern an organization looking to detonate a suicide bomb, and that is very frightening.

Leave It All Behind

by The Foreign Exchange

It's not hip-hop, but it is one of the most beautiful albums of the year. The first Foreign Exchange album is one of my all-time favourite hip-hop albums, largely because of the freedom with which is plays with the genre.

On this album, Phonte and Nicolay give up almost all pretense of rap (Phonte only spits on one track), and instead have created a lush and relaxing album of pop songs. Three years ago, I don't think I would have played this a second time, but now it grows on me more each time I turn it on. Phonte is an incredibly gifted singer (I still like his raps better), and he is well-matched by singers like Muhsinah and Yahzarah. Nicolay's music is fantastic.

My favourite track is the last one - the one from which the album gets its title. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The 'Nam Volume 2

Written by Doug Murray
Art by Michael Golden and John Beatty, with Wayne Vansant

I never read this title when it originally came out - I was 12 when the comics it reproduces were first published, and much more interested in super hero books back then. I recently found this volume, which collects issues 5-9 at a used book store for only $2, so I figured it was worth picking up.

These are some strange comics. I don't know if Murray had written in comics before or since, and his style of storytelling is quite different from what I'm used to. He tends to tell parallel stories that eventually meet up at some point - the reader has to do a lot of work to keep up with it though. This happens in both the first story, and in the last.

The third part of the book is an interesting look into the history of Vietnam, and a VC deserter who is now fighting for the American army.

Three of the four chapters of this book are illustrated by the legendary Michael Golden, but I'm not sure that I would have recognized his work here. He has a very loose, cartoonish style, and many of his panels are tight close-ups on big jawed Americans. I found this to be a bizarre choice - you can't always figure out what is going on in confusing battle scenes, although it does make the tunnel scenes even more claustrophobic.

The best part of the book is a short story called "Tunnel Rat" at the end of this volume. In this, we see a bit of the Golden I remember from the Micronauts in a beautiful page showing American planes dropping leaflets on rice paddies while soldiers stand on a Vulcan and demolish some foliage.

I wish Marvel would publish an Essential 'Nam. The book would look good in black and white, and I would enjoy reading it. I'm reading Denis Johnson's 'Tree of Smoke' right now, and this was a good companion to it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Aetheric Mechanics

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Gianluca Pagliarani and Chris Dreier

Some of the best work that Ellis has ever done has come out of Avatar Press under the Apparat banner. This is another one of his brilliant 50-odd page graphic novels, which contains more ideas and material than most writers could fit into a 12-issue series.

In this book, a very Sherlock Holmes detective named Sax Raker must solve the Case of the Man Who Wasn't There, with the aid of a Watson analogue - Watcham, a doctor recently returned from war with the Ruritanians. In Raker's London there are flying battleships powered by aether (or the power is transmitted by it?).

In a matter of pages Ellis shows us a fully realized fantasy world, and then proceeds to put it through its paces as the war heats up, and the Man Who Wasn't There invokes some very complicated physics to explain all that is going on.

The art is nice. It has that Avatar house look to it, but that look has always complimented Ellis's black-and-white graphic novellas nicely. I think I liked Crecy more, but this book comes highly recommended.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Most Likely to Succeed

by Malcolm Gladwell
In this article, Gladwell talks about a topic that is important to me - how to spot a good teacher. As there is more talk in the US about merit pay, and rewarding teachers financially for their students' success (or conversely, pushing out poor teachers), there must be more discussion on what a successful teacher actually looks like. Test scores alone can not be the deciding factor, as that places way too much value on the concepts tested, and not enough on the soft skills that are also essential in an exemplary classroom.

Gladwell spends much of the article discussing how a scout for the NFL can not judge the likelihood for success of a college-level quarterback in the major leagues, as there is little commonality of the skill set needed at each level. He also talks about the apprenticeship approach taken by a financial institution in selecting its financial advisors. This model, whereby you hire four with the plan to keep one, is what Gladwell suggests might be needed in teaching, although he conceeds that budgets and unions would never allow for it.

What is interesting to me is the way in which quality teachers are spoken of. Every example given deals with direct classroom instruction, which is really only a part of the job, as teachers are required to spend more and more time creating meaningless anacronym-ized documents to chart student progress, instead of being able to actually just teach.

100 Bullets Vol. 2: Split Second Chance

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

I know that I need a late pass for 100 Bullets, but whenever I looked through any single issues, I always knew it would be a difficult book to jump onto. Now that it's finishing up, I figured it would be a good time to start hunting the trades on Ebay (not such a good plan - no one ever seems to sell volume three - at least Boxing Day sales are coming).

This volume contains a nice mix of single, two-part, and three-part stories. Azzarello slowly portions out information about Agent Graves, Mr. Shepherd, the Trust, and the Minutemen. After finishing this book, I have no idea about any of these things, but I'm very interested in learning more.

Probably the greatest strength of this series is the art by Risso. Azzarello lets him tell the story his way, with some very bizarre camera angles (the gas-pedal cam?), and by shunting the main story into the background to set up a later scene in the foreground. Look at the scene where Shepherd and Lono have a meeting on a patio - there is a whole story told about some thugs, a guy with a pitbull, and a dishonest waitress, all while Shepherd and Lono chat.

I regret not having followed this all along, but am looking forward to continuing to collect this series in trades.

House of Mystery #8

Written by Matthew Sturges
Art by Luca Rossi, Jose Marzan Jr., and Henry Flint

I think I'm permanently on the fence about this comic. I like so many things about it - the idea of a bar where people trade stories, the story-in-a-story approach (especially considering the calibre of artists they are using), and I like a few of the characters.

The only thing holding this book back for me is the generally slow pace at which things progress in the on-going part of the story. Now, obviously, the framing story does not have as many pages as a regular comic to move through, but I feel sometimes like very little has happened in a given issue.

This issue, for example, does a great job of giving us some much-needed back-story concerning Harry the bartender, and even has an appearance from Abel and Goldie, the former dwellers of the House. The framing story gives us some random debauchery, and some weird creatures, leading to a surprise ending that didn't surprise me so much as confuse me again.

The art provided by Flint is quite different from his work on Haunted Tank, but still quite nice. The main story art, by Rossi, is serviceable. I'm starting to wonder what the deal is with Vertigo books and Italian artists, but that's a post for another day.....

Anyway, I'm sticking with this title through the end of this arc, and then I'm going to have to decide. I'd like to see something to give me faith in an overall plan for this title.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #1

Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie (with Laurenn McCubbin and Marc Ellerby)

I thought it might be worth picking this issue up. I bought the first issue of the first series, but didn't feel compelled to continue with it. I did, however, enjoy McKelvie's series Suburban Glamour earlier this year, and thought I'd give this series another chance.

There are some things that I really like here - the 'done-in-one' format strikes me as a good idea for this type of series - it gives the writer and artist the chance to really explore their concept of phonomancy - magic made through music. The colour really highlights the high quality of McKelvie's art, and I like the panel layouts that McKelvie uses.

My problem is that I'm not sure that I felt like the 'done-in-one' story really had much of an ending to it. I didn't really understand what was happening in the bathroom scene, and where exactly the friend had gotten to. And, like many people said about the first series, some of the music references are a little too insular, although I found that they didn't detract from the story.

The two back-ups were nice additions to the main comic - I like that some creators are really feeling the need to add some value to single comics - still my preferred format really.

I'm going to have to take a look at the next issue before I buy it, but I get the feeling that if it makes it home, I'm on board for the whole series.

DMZ #37

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

In this issue, Matty returns from what must have been a few months outside of the DMZ, to find that the political landscape of New York has changed quite a bit.

Parco Delgado, the new governor, has declared the city off-limits to both the US and the Free States armies, and is in the process of kicking Trustwell, the shady contractor army, out as quickly as possible. Zee has left Matty, and he's been relegated to a minor supporting role.

That changes as Parco needs Matty, and his connections to Wilson, the man in charge of Chinatown, to secure some funding for his militia and administration.

This is as good a jumping-on point as any for new readers, as many of the changes in this issue come off as quite jarring and sudden. I've always liked the way Wood has set Matty up as both an observer and as an agent of change, often without him being aware of it. This story arc seems to continue that approach.

30 Days of Night: 30 Days 'Til Death #1

by David Lapham

I've never read any of the 30 Days of Night series, nor have I seen the movie. In fact, all I knew about it before picking up this book, was that it was about vampires.

The reason I got this is because of David Lapham. I've been a Lapham fan since the Plasm days, and Young Liars is one of my favourite current books (unfortunately, my comic store didn't have this weeks issue).

So, going into this, I didn't really know what to expect. It has some very familiar Lapham-esque tropes to it: the dysfunctional group of neighbours is reminiscent of the haunted apartment building of his Spectre story in Tales of the Unexpected a couple of years back.

I don't know if the main character, Rufus, is a regular in this series, or is Lapham's own creation. He kidnaps a junkie (unless she's also a vampire), and ties her to his bed. He also tries to help his neighbours straighten out their drug-dealing grandson. As all of this is going on, there is a shadowy vampire meeting in Germany, where we find out that some Nosferatu-looking old guy has sent a vampire death squad to America to kill American cowboy vampires, which I think its safe to assume, will include Rufus.

I like that I don't need to know much of the backstory (although a text page at the beginning would have been nice) to undersand this series, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of it.

I Kill Giants #6

Written by Joe Kelly
Art by JM Ken Niimura

This is the all-action issue of this title. Basically, it turns out that Barbara was right all along about the giants, but not their purpose. I'm not sure exactly what happened at the end of the issue, but I'm looking forward to the next, final issue explaining it all.

Niimura really shines in this issue. His art has been very fluid all along, but he does a fantastic job of showing the battle. The design for Barbara's hammer, Coveleski, is fantastic.

I don't have much more to say - this one was a quick read.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Elephantmen #14

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Ian Churchill and Boo Cook

It's nice to see another issue of Elephantmen. Before I even talk about this issue, I think it's worth addressing the schedule of this title. This issue was originally solicited for February of 2008. Now, I understand how it goes, especially with Image titles - they come out when they come out. What I can never understand is how they keep soliciting this book. Number 19 is supposed to be out this month. Number 21 was just solicited in the most recent issue of Previews. If they go weekly from this issue, they can't possibly get them all out in time. Why are they still soliciting? Why not cancel, and re-solicit. It seems like they are able to produce a lot of covers for this book (every issue has two, front and back), but either story or interior art is a problem. I know this is turning into a rant, but it bothers me. If the book is going to be twice a year, I'm fine with that. Just get a few more issues done before you keep soliciting more.

As to the comic itself - it's good. It was a little hard to remember all the details of the recent issues, but it all came back to me eventually. We've got the outbreak of the FCN virus in the US, followed by Trench's extreme measures to stop it from spreading. We get to follow up on Horn's car crash, and the potentially disastrous repurcussions of it, and we see a lot more of Hip than we have before (although not as much as Miki seems interested in seeing). The book ends with a good cliff-hanger, making me hope that it won't be six months before the next issue comes out.

This issue also features the art of Ian Churchill (is the scheduling his fault?) and Boo Cook, after the unfortunate departure of Moritat (is the fault his maybe?). This doesn't look like the typical Churchill book, for which I suppose the thanks goes to Cook, who is an artist that is definitely catching my eye - I like his covers for Marvel a lot.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Rap

by Ian Frazier

This is an interesting article about Derrick Parker, NYPD's former 'hip-hop cop'. Parker had at one point headed up an investigative team into rap and hip-hop related crime, and is still, even in retirement, the person to go to find out what is happening within the music community.

This falls into the category of New Yorker articles that explain how things you wouldn't have ever thought existed work. Parker now runs a security company, doing bodyguard work and manning the door at events. He is a highly intelligent man, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the communities he has spent his life living in and policing.

My problem with this article is that it's another example of how only the worst of hip-hop is what the mainstream gets to read about. We hear about Busta Rhymes protecting a shooter responsible for killing a bodyguard at his own video shoot, because of the 'no snitching' code. We get to read, again, about shoot-outs between Lil Kim's and Foxy Brown's crews, or how Fabolous came to take a bullet in the leg. And so, once again, it's the garbage that ends up dominating the culture.

I'm not complaining too loudly - last week's New Yorker wrote about Flying Lotus. I just wish I could avoid ever seeing Sean Comb's name in print again (I've been doing a really good job of not hearing his voice).

Monday, December 8, 2008

Outside Agitator

by Larissa MacFarquhar

This is an excellent and entertaining profile of Naomi Klein. I've never read any of Klein's books, mostly because No Logo was such a media darling when it came out, I just decided it had to be no good. Now I'm starting to regret that decision.

This article examines the main ideas of Klein's new book, "The Shock Doctrine" and how the recent events in the financial sector have been proving her right.

It also talks a lot about the Left, and what's needed to 'move the centre'. Klein has a very unique perspective on politics, and the Movement. Basically, if you like a lot of common nouns capitalized so they represent something bigger, this is a great article.