Sunday, November 30, 2008

Madame Xanadu #6

Written by Matt Wagner
Art by Amy Reeder Hadley and Richard Friend

I wasn't that impressed with the first issue of this series, but, like many people, I thought I'd give it another chance with this issue and its appearance from Death of the Endless.

This issue was much more to my liking. Madame Xanadu is imprisoned in the Bastille or some other jail in Revolutionary France, and is aging rapidly because she is cut off from her magical supplies. She summons Death and then makes a deal to prolong her life while reading her cards.

It's a simple plot, and is carried by the strong sense Wagner has of these two characters. He nails Death's voice, and makes Xanadu an interesting character, which few writers have been able to do before.

Hadley's art is expressive, easy to follow, and has improved upon the first issue. I'll give this book the next issue to impress me before deciding if I'm going to start buying it regularly or not.

Unknown Soldier #2

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Alberto Ponticelli

This book is shaping up to be my favorite Vertigo title this side of Scalped. I love the idea of shifting the classic DC war character of the Unknown Soldier to Uganda, and setting the story a couple of years ago so that the civil war in that country can be used as a backdrop. Africa is often ignored in comics (aside from the current JSA arc and that Hyperion/Nighthawk title of a couple of years ago), and when it is portrayed, it is never with this level of attention to detail.

The text piece in the back is helpful for people who aren't too aware of Uganda's situation; it came as a nice reminder of an article I read in Harper's a couple years back.

The lead character is intriguing - the pacifist doctor who now must become a killer, and in some ways, he reminds me of Wesley Dodds in the older Sandman Mystery Theatre stories - a person driven by voices and visions to embrace violence in order to stop it.

The look of this book is gorgeous. Ponticelli does an amazing job of conveying emotion in the faces of his characters.

I'm really looking forward to watching this title develop.

Northlanders #12

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly

The first issue of 'The Cross and the Hammer' left me a little cold - I enjoyed the story, and of course loved the art, but I wasn't sure about the concept. This is a CSI-style story set in 11th century Northern Ireland. A native is killing Norsemen, and the King has sent some men after him. Their leader, Ragnar Ragnarsson is tracking them using his subtle readings of crime scenes, footprints and splatter-patterns.

This issue takes a little more time to flesh out the characters, and we begin to see the realities of the Norse occupation. The story moves at a quick pace, and sets up some hints of battles to come.

Wood and Kelly are a great team. This work is by no means as powerful or beautiful as Local was, but it still reads as a collaboration between two people who understand each others' strengths.

I like the format of Northlanders - the rotating story arcs that revolve around the Viking theme. It should have more imitators, like Battlefields, which I just reviewed (otherwise I don't think I'd see the similarity).

Battlefields: The Night Witches #2

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Russ Braun

More World War II goodness from Garth Ennis. The plucky Russian female pilots begin to win respect (and maybe something more?) from their previously sexist commanding officer, and the Germans who were somewhat likable in the first issue become more Nazi-fied, except for the one soldier that clearly doesn't want to be a Nazi.

The story is somewhat predictable, but that's sort of what I read Garth Ennis war comics for. He structures stories that are familiar and enjoyable at the same time.

I also like the shorter format of these three-issue mini-series.

Jack of Fables #28

Written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges
Art by Tony Akins and Jose Marzan Jr.

When this series started, I wasn't sure how Willingham and Sturges could find enough material to keep the book going, without it becoming too much like Fables. Now we're 28 issues in, and I don't see a quick ending to the myriad of plot-lines and potential stories that have been set up with this diverse supporting cast.

The battle between Revise and Bookburner looms, and Jack inserts himself as the military leader for Revise's imprisoned Fables community. Jack, of course, is still just trying to figure out how he can have 'special grownup time' with all three Page sisters at the same time.

The humour is what makes this book, and this issue is no different (even if Babe the Blue Ox is apparently suffering from a form of writer's block). The cover by Brian Bolland is brilliant - it matches the tone of the book perfectly.

Wasteland #22

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Christopher Mitten

Wasteland has to be one of the most consistent books on the stands. With every issue, Johnston and Mitten deliver a compelling, well-paced story.

In this issue, we see more of Michael and Abi tied up by the Dog Tribes, and we learn a little bit more about the mysterious individual that tried to help them last issue.

We also meet a new nomad, Gerr, about whom very little is revealed.

One of the best things about Wasteland is the 'Walking the Dust' back-up text piece, wherein a woman writes about her experiences exploring the world. These pieces are excellent examples of the depth to which Johnston has mapped out his fictional world.

The third trade of this series is out this week - I encourage anyone not reading this series to pick up one of the trades and get hooked. You won't regret it.

DMZ #36

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Kristian Donaldson

Two books by Brian Wood in the same week is good news (until you realize that means probably no more Brian Wood for a month).

This issue wraps up the two-part story 'The Island' featuring art by the wonderful Kristian Donaldson. While this story lacks the frenetic pace and bright colouring of their brilliant book "Supermarket", it does prove that these two collaborate very well together.

In this story we see what happens to leaders in war who choose to defy orders for a while, and to create a better situation for their people - it's built on a house of cards. As usual in this title, Matty somehow manages to be right in the thick of things, but one of the strengths of this book is the way in which it implies things are like this all over the DMZ, and Matty just happens to uncover it again and again.

I miss seeing Wood's covers, but John Paul Leon is a good choice for a replacement.

Proof #14

Written by Alex Grecian
Art by Riley Rossmo

I really like the idea behind Proof (Bigfoot works for a secret government agency tracking down Cryptids - creatures generally thought to be fictional), but this arc doesn't seem to be working as well for me as the previous two.

All of the parts of the story, and this issue in particular, work well as individual parts, but aren't really adding up to anything. I'm concerned that Grecian and Rossmo are biting off more than they can chew, and are cramming way too many sub-plots into each issue.

In this issue we get: Autumn's House of Horrors; the Titanic history of Joe the Golem, Ginger and friends in the sewer, white trash outside a cave, and, in the best part of the book, Proof and the Savage Dragon sitting around the same cave waiting for Dragon's legs (and a certain other part) to finish growing back. Strangely, for the middle of the Thunderbirds arc, there are no living Thunderbirds around.

I'm sure this is a story that will read better in one sitting or in a trade.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Walking Dead # 55

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

I'm very happy about this "On time in 09" thing that Kirkman has going. Life is much better with a regular dose of The Walking Dead.

In this issue, the gang goes camping, Rick gets a phone call from heaven, new scientist guy does some investigating of malnourished zombies, and we get back to the "On the Road" feel of the earliest issues of this series.

As always, the characters are what drive this book, and Kirkman has his characters down. Adlard continues to thrill, and this continues to be my favorite on-going book.

Oh yah, and Kirkman is the king of surprise endings. The signs are all there, but I did not see that last page coming. Can't wait for the next issue....

Transhuman #4

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by JM Ringuet

This has been an interesting book. Hickman has told the story of mankinds' development of post-human abilities through technology as a 'Behind the Music' style documentary. The focus of the documentary up to this issue has been about the rivalry between two different companies; one working with genetics, the other with cybernetic add-ons.

The last issue had ended with a surprise hostile takeover from within of one of the companies, but instead of focusing on that, this issue jumps up ten years to look at the eventual outcome of the corporate war. As has become standard in this series, the book ends with a twist that wraps up a final loose end in this series.

Ringuet's art is expressive - it's hard to keep interesting a series that is ultimately a talking-heads TV show. This book will read well in trade, without the long delay between issues.

Myspace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 1

The original Dark Horse Presents is a title that I remember with great fondness. It was somewhat of a mixed bag - the quality varied quite a bit at times, and so did my interest in what was on offer in any given issue, but for the most part, the series contained some great comics, and introduced me to some titles and creators that I went on to enjoy a great deal.

I like the idea of revitalizing the series, but am not a huge fan of on-line comics. There's something about sitting in front of the computer screen that doesn't work for me, so I was pleased that the inevitable print version has come out.

This book, like the original series, is a very diverse anthology, of mixed quality. I loved Whedon and Moons' 'Sugarshock' story - it's very silly, but enjoyable. I'm also always up for a FEAR Agent story, so that went over quite well for me.

One of the most interesting stories was 'A Circuit Closed' by Ezra Claytan Daniels. Unlike many of the other parts of this book, it doesn't appear to be promoting another series, and is instead the type of story that I loved in the old DHP (and Cheval Noir, the European version). It's a little confusing, but ultimately a great comic.

I must say that I was disappointed in the silliness of the Goon, and found the 'Gear School', 'Umbrella Academy' and 'Empowered' stories didn't do much to encourage me to pick up the related trades. I hope in future the editors at MDHP focus more on telling good stories, and not line-wide advertisements in short story form (which I admit is often what the original DHP was).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Piece Talks

by CRAC (Blu and Ta'Raach)

This is a hard album to put my finger on. It's a pairing of up-and-comer Blu (who's album with Exile, 'Below the Heavens' is incredible), and Ta'Raach (formerly Lacks), the producer who has put out a couple of fantastic post-Dilla's Donuts albums in the last couple of years.

The songs on this album are pretty short, and don't seem to have a whole lot to say. Basically, this is just a fun album, perfect if you feel like some nice driving beats mixed with some clever wordplay. It's one of the few albums I can think of where I don't mind the skits and conversational asides that fill the space between songs, and you can tell throughout that the people working on it were just enjoying themselves.

Red Mass for Mars #2

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Ryan Bodenheim

This is another Hickman masterpiece. This series is set in a future where the Earth is about to come under siege by an overwhelmingly powerful alien race. The title character, Mars, is an eternal Superman-analogue, who has no interest in helping with the situation at all.

This issue introduces us to his son Phobos, and gives some explanation to the bizarre actions of Lightbender in the previous issue. Even though this is the second issue of a four-issue series, it feels like the plot is still being set up.

The art by Bodenheim is interesting. I like his designs for characters and futuristic technology. The colours are by Hickman, and he works with his usual pallet, giving the look a bit of consistency with Pax Romana.

As usual with Hickman, I have no idea when the next issue's going to come out, but I am looking forward to it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


by Jean Grae and 9th Wonder

I have had a crush on Jean Grae for a long time now. It's not just because she's attractive, although that doesn't hurt things; it's because she's been able to more or less maintain her own vision of how she wants her music to sound, and she's damn funny. I'd love nothing more than to talk to her late at night on the phone, or go wandering around a city together.

Her wit comes out in her lyricism - she's great at using sudden similes that catch you by surprise, and make you think for a second before you get it. This album is full of great examples of this, but at the same time, it shows another side to her completely. In the song 'My Story', Jean raps about her life and the abortions she's had, as well as how they haunt her. It's a new thing for this artist, and it was nice to see.

This album has leaked out slowly over the years, so it's a very familiar piece of work at first listen, but these songs do work well when put together. Of course, one of the best things about this album isn't musical at all, but is the four cover homages to famous rap albums of the past.


I like albums that are made by a large roster of artists, and this cd fits the bill. Doomtree are a collective out of Minneapolis, and have connections to Rhymesayers Entertainment. I first heard about them through the POS album 'Audition', and liked their more alternative sound.

This album has contributions from everyone within the group, but I think the star of this album is the female MC, Dessa. She sings, and raps in both English and Spanish, and she shows a lot of range - tender on one song, tough and confrontational on another.

Favourite tracks - the posse cut 'Drumsticks', the Cecil Otter (buy his album!)/Dessa duet 'Last Call', 'Sadie Hawkins', and Mictlan's track, 'Game Over'. I would have liked to see a few more tracks featuring POS, but then, I've heard he has a new solo album coming soon, so I'm happy to wait for that.

I've seen some reviews criticize the production (Lazerbeak, MK Larada, and POS among others) for sounding too alike, but I find that the Doomtree sound really works.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Starship Utopia


BET, MTV, they kill the music, radio, and wannbe thugs, who kill the music, Rap City, TRL, y'all kill music, pipe dreams, kids on the block, they kill the music.... Wait... hold up, it's not dead.
This is the chorus to the first song on this short disk from Florida's Cyne (Cultivate Your New Experience), and it summarizes quite well their outlook on the state of hip-hop. It's definitely not dead, and it's through the work of artists like these that hip-hop is as interesting and vibrant as it ever has been.

Cyne has unique beats, and a unique voice. This is a collection of songs recorded over a three year period, and served as a nice warm-up to their newest album - 'Pretty Dark Things', which just replaced this in my car on the week-end.

Dead Ahead #1

Written by Clark Castillo and Mel Smith
Art by Alex Nino

This is a pretty standard zombie story, with a nautical twist. The plot is decent, focusing on a group of people stuck at sea, since land has become overrun by zombies. The script is serviceable, although the characters aren't particularly individualized or developed, and I'm not sure I care about any of them all that much.

The strength of this book lies in the art (and the colours). Nino has done some fantastic work, playing with panel borders and double-page spreads; and the colouring of Moose Baumann makes the pages come alive.

This is one of those random Image books that just appears out of nowhere with little fanfare, but makes you glad that Image is around. I hope the second issue comes out soon.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tour Support

by Bond, featuring the Super Chron Flight Brothers

Ever since the Reavers' Terra Firma album dropped a couple of years back, I've been a huge fan of the Backwoodz crew. This mixtape was released at the same time as the Super Chron Flight Brothers' superb album 'Emergency Powers', but I never got my hands on it until this summer.

This disk shows off Bond's complicated, multi-layered approach to sampling and constructing complex backdrops to the SCF Brothers' equally complex rhymes.

As usual, everything that comes out of MC Billy Woods' mouth is pure truth. This is one rapper who deserves a much higher profile - his skills on the mic are unbelievable. I often find that I back up and listen to a verse a couple of times, just to catch everything he's said.

His partner, Priviledge, is a rapper who is really growing on me. I think his slightly hysterical cadence is a perfect counterpoint to Woods' laidback, laconic flow.

The songs on this disk deal with exactly what I've come to expect from the Reaver's crew: tight examinations of the current geopolitical situation around the world, and they make reference to
literature, philosophy, and the news with knowledge and foresight (Obama vs. Clinton is a nice example).

Tight guest shots from Marq Spekt, Vast Aire, Vordul Mega, and Megalon round out the package. There's a free-download album - Indonesia - due to come out in January, which will be followed by a physical album sometime after that.

Dead Space #6

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Ben Templesmith

This is a good example of a series that started out very strong, but kind of petered out. I suppose that's to be expected though; it's a series that exists to set up a video game, and so has an end-goal in mind from the beginning.

The beginning was great though. Johnston gives us a claustrophobic space station that is divided over the discovery of a strange alien obelisk. It means a great deal to the Unificationists (Scientologists?) on the station, and this leads to all sorts of problems, as the cultists begin to experience strange visitations from the dead. From there, we have a good horror mystery story for a few issues, before the series finally degrades into a zombie-Aliens (more James Cameron than Ridley Scott) action movie.

That the series is so good is due to Johnston's skill at setting up a believable futuristic setting (everyone should be reading Wasteland). Templesmith is a master at designing a sinister atmosphere, and his choice to never directly portray the monster/zombie/alien things makes them much more creepy.

(Note: This is not the cover to #6, but I couldn't find it anywhere....)

32 Stories

by Adrian Tomine

I've never read any of Tomine's work before, but I've always been aware of his buzz. When I saw this for a very low price, I figured it would be worth picking up.

At first, I wasn't sure of this book. Some of the earlier stories feel decidedly unfinished, but as I progressed through them, I found that they became increasingly charming and enjoyable.

Most of these stories are simple slice-of-life tales, but they reveal a thoughtful, careful eye.

Now I guess I need to get Shortcomings, and some issues of Optic Nerve.....

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Rock'n'Roll #1

by Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, Bruno D'Angelo, and Kako

This is an older comic by Moon and Ba, the brothers who are now best known (to me) for their work on Casanova, and their mini-comics with Becky Cloonan and Vasilis Lolos (I need to get Pixu #2 soon!).

This comic is a little hard to follow - it's got something to do with two people, Romeo and Kelsie, a big bunch of guys with matching jackets, and a Mike Mignola-type monster. There's no real dialogue, but the art is wonderful, and the story is relatively easy to follow (unless you like motivation).

This book was originally released in 2005, and then recently re-solicited for December, so I have no idea why it showed up in my pull-box this week, but it was a nice treat. I can't wait for the Vertigo series that the brothers are supposed to be doing next year.

Young Liars #9

by David Lapham

I remember that, when Lapham was drawing Harbinger for Valiant, and Jim Shooter kept referring to him as the next Frank Miller, I didn't see any comparison between the two artists. Now, whenever I read Young Liars, that's all I can think of...

This series is consistently more outrageous than Miller's work, but without necessarily being a parody of itself, like contemporary Miller has become. Lapham's story has some form of internal logic to it, he just hasn't chosen to share very much of that with his readers yet. This issue goes a long way towards trying to explain what this series is really about. The first arc made it seem like the story was a little conventional - super-rich runaway has a bullet in her brain, which makes her act crazy, and she's surrounded herself with assholes who are helping her for their own selfish reasons. That was a pretty good plot for a character-driven story that also featured German Pinkertons and a freakish menagerie of sex slaves.

This current arc has been about alien spiders trying to take over the world, and hiding in human beings, who are also the main characters of the book. It was a little disconnected. In this issue, we learn Danny's theory about the spiders, and we get to meet Sadie's mother and half-brother. As usual, things are a little different from what they seem, and the end is a surprise. I almost passed on this book after reading the first issue, but I'm really really glad I stuck it out.

Scalped #23

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by R.M. Guera

Poor Dino Poor Bear. I've always found him to be the most sympathetic character in Scalped, and probably the only one that I've felt like rooting for, but now I'm not sure how much longer he's going to be around.

This issue focuses almost completely on Dino, although we do see Dash show up for a couple of panels (I remember thinking he was the main character of this book), and it is another example of the mastery with which Aaron weaves his tapestry in Scalped.

This arc has mostly been about Red Crow, who doesn't even appear in this issue, and his quest to be a better person. The biggest obstacle Red Crow faces is the continued presence on the reserve of Mr. Brass, a Hmong madman. This issue puts us closer to the violent events that were shown in the framing sequence for this arc.

The thing that makes Scalped one of my favourite titles is the way in which Aaron has fleshed out his characters. I really feel for, and like, Dino. He's trapped in so many ways, and he knows it. His talk of astronauts, and the wisdom of his grandmother just show that he's another poor kid who's going to live and die on the reservation, no matter what he does to escape. I'm starting to see that Scalped is all about redemption, and I hope that Vertigo lets Aaron continue the book for as long as he needs to tell his story completely.

Air #4

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

I really enjoyed Cairo, the graphic novel released by Wilson and Perker last year. It was a magical-realist adventure that I found fascinating. I was quite happy to hear that they were given an on-going series by Vertigo, and I have been finding Air to be confusing, but interesting.

This issue brings Blythe and friends (and enemies) back to the real world, through the intervention of a feathered serpent, but before Blythe can process things, her boss drags her to Mexico to act as a spy in a possible hostile-takeover of Clearfleet airlines.

It is apparent that there is a plan at play for this book, but I have no idea what it is. There are ruminations on reality, and I really liked the concept of Narimar, the forgotten country, but I'm not sure in the least where this book is going (especially after the last page of this issue). The thing is, I don't see that as a bad thing. I trust that the story is going to stay interesting, and right now, I'm just going to see where it leads.

Pax Romana #4

by Jonathan Hickman

I remember reading when this series started that Hickman was hoping to return to the 'Pax Romana-verse' in future stories. He certainly leaves the door open, as a couple of pages to the end, he has a double-page spread outlining some major historical events that can be re-visited and fleshed out more fully.

This issue closes off this series masterfully. It explains the framing device that he used in the first issue, and puts the mercenaries that showed up in issue 3 to good use.

My only complaint about this series is that there wasn't time within it to develop the characters a little more to the point that they were more than just names. In The Nightly News, Hickman was better at elevating his characters, but the lack of that here is simply a function of the 4-issue format versus a 6-issue series.

As with any Hickman book, the art is the real draw to me. Although his figures can be a little stiff, I love his use of design, and the way he limits his pallet on each page.

Next week Transhuman is supposed to be coming out, which just leaves Red Mass for Mars....

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bad Planet #6

Written by Steve Niles and Thomas Jane
Art by James Daly III and Tim Bradstreet

Well, this was a bit of a surprise. This book was solicited for last November, and I'd kind of forgotten about it. It's not the oldest thing on my pull-list (Pirates of Coney Island and Gutsville - where are you???), but the fact that the cover is by Dave Stevens gives you an idea of how long ago this series began. (This cover is more than enough reason to buy the book though - he really was a great artist).

The story has always been a weird mix between a celebrity vanity project and a straight-up B-movie with some great concepts working in the background. This issue features killer alien spider-hordes, a gigantic ax-wielding alien, a beautiful scientist in ripped clothes, a barefoot African computer genius who grew up in a slum but knows about the Smithsonian, and the science of Nikola Tesla. It's hard to balance a list of plot elements like that, and this issue feels a little rushed towards the end.

This is a fun comic. I wonder how it will read in trade form, without the 12 month lag between issues.

Hellblazer #249

Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Leonardo Manco

Andy Diggle has had a very successful run on Hellblazer. I hadn't read the book for years, having lost interest at some point after Garth Ennis's historic run, but as I'd loved The Losers I felt it was worth checking this series out for a few issues when I heard that Diggle was coming on as writer.

He's done a great job of crafting a long-running story; this issue returns us to the events and themes of the beginning of his run, and also reaches back to the heights of Ennis's. We learn the truth behind John Constantine's cancer of way back, and also learn the secret of the 'Synchronicity Highway' he's been known to follow.

Hellblazer is, alongside The Sandman, the quintessential Vertigo book, and this run has been textbook perfect Vertigo.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Toronto Back Alleys

by Michael Cho

Michael Cho has been working on a series of sketches of back alleys in Toronto. I've bought a couple of them, but this one that he just posted on his blog is my new favourite.

I might have to pick this up at the Toronto Comics Art Festival this year.


By Jonathan Lethem

This is a great short story told as a series of e-mails (letters?) from a female astronaut to her boyfriend (husband?). She is on a space station that has been blockaded from the planet by a few thousand Chinese mines, and she relates matter-of-factly how her and her colleagues are getting by trapped so far from home.

The story weaves together the technical challenges they face with her desire to not be forgotten or to 'dissolve' in his memory.

This issue also has a great article on the 'Joshua Generation', or the post-Civil Rights generation, and their leader, Barack Obama.

I like the cover too.....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Los Angeles

Flying Lotus

It seems that there has been a real resurgence lately in instrumental hip-hip albums that can stand on their own merits, without the need for mc's or hooks. This album is one of the better examples of the genre.

Flying Lotus has created a lush soundscape of varying beats, deftly mixed and matched to create an album that sounds best as a complete whole, instead of as individual tracks on your ipod.

He shows a lot of variety - at times his tracks pulse with a strong driving force to them, and at others, they are minimalist, stripped down wonders.

The most beautiful track is the last one, Auntie's Lock/Infinitum, with vocals by Laura Darlington. It has a haunting beauty evocative of the best of Portishead.

I've heard that Flying Lotus has produced some tracks on the new John Robinson (Lil Sci) album - I'd love to hear an mc try to flow over his beats.


Jackson Conti

Jackson Conti is the name of the collaboration between Madlib and Mamao, from the Brazilian group Azymuth.

This cd is a beautiful tribute to Brazilian jazz produced by Madlib. It is a collection of covers and original compositions.

I don't know much about jazz (Brazilian or otherwise), but I do know that this is a lovely album. It works nicely as background music, but when really listened to, it's an excellent album to groove out to.

I believe that Madlib has to be the most talented person working in music today. He is able to produce great music in a variety of genres, and he never feels stale or like he is re-hashing old ideas, even when he is releasing yet another remix of an album from a few years ago (Madvillain 2?). As much as I love his hip-hop, I'm thankful that he has introduced me to so many other musical worlds.

24 Seven

This anthology has a lot of my favourite creators as contributors: Spears, Lolos, Moon, Ba, Remender, Azaceta, Dalrymple, Maleev, Moore, Graham, Stokoe, Zezelj, Oeming, Cloonan, Canete, Fraction, and Irving are the ones that I admire the most.

That said, I'm not sure how well this anthology worked for me. The problem is with the central conceit of the NYC Mech series: that New York is populated by robots, and that their lives are the same as regular peoples'. This opens the door to regular stories being told, just some of the people look like robots, and others look like big action figures.

It seems like very few of the creators used the opportunity to make the stories more visually interesting because of the robot angle. Maleev's story about a blind robot comes to mind.

Even still, there are some nice stories here, and this is an entertaining book.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fables #78

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

I was a little worried that this title would lose steam after the completion of the war in #75, and I'm still not convinced that I'm wrong. This is a good issue, and all of the individual scenes play out as well as they always do, but I don't feel the same momentum that this series has had the last few years.

We are introduced to a new antagonist this issue - Mister Dark (are all the old Valiant villains fables now? Oh wait, that was Darque), who was being used as a cell-phone tower for evil in the Adversary's kingdom. He releases a spell to un-do the Witching Cloak (which was a little too much of a deus ex machina at times), and undoes a bit of Blufkin in the process. I'm curious to see where this plot takes us.

We also see a bit more of Mowgli in the Kipling-verse, and the scenes involving Bigby's brothers are enjoyable.

As always, the book is beautiful. The cover is not my favourite though - I hope that the last of the James Jean covers match some of his earlier works in terms of beauty, not fright.

I Kill Giants #5

Written by Joe Kelly
Art by JM Ken Niimura

I continue to love this book. In this issue, we start to figure out what's going on with Barbara's family, as both Sophia and Mrs. Molle make efforts to reach out to Barbara. We also start to see that Barbara might be a lot more disturbed than we originally thought (what all is that in her garbage bag?).

The story resists the impulse to sink into psycho-babble though, and the final few pages make us wonder if maybe Barbara hasn't been right all along.

Niimura's artwork is perfect for this story. The atmosphere that he creates helps push along the feeling of doom that I got from this book. I love the way he draws the sky.

Dead of Night: Devil-Slayer #3

Written by Brian Keene
Art by Chris Samnee

This is a good little series. I skipped the previous Dead of Night series, featuring Man-Thing, because it didn't really have anything about it that grabbed me, but I went for this one because of two reasons: one, I like war comics, and two, I like Chris Samnee.

Samnee first caught my eye in an issue of Checkmate, and then in one of the new Queen & Country trades that Oni are putting out now. This guy is a great artist. His style is very simple and easy on the eyes, and he tells his stories well.

The plot of this comic is your more or less straight forward 'last in a line of mystic defenders fights demons posing as military contractors in a war zone' type of story, but all the beats are in the right place, and you are entertained throughout.

The covers for this series, by Kaare Andrews, have been fantastic.

The Walking Dead #54

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard

The Walking Dead is my favourite on-going series published today. Whenever it comes out, it is always the first thing on my reading pile, and my enthusiasm has never waned for it. I caught on to the series around issue 9 or 10, and when I started buying it, I always felt a touch of anxiety that it, like so many other terrific independent books, wouldn't last long. I'm past that fear now, as from all accounts, the readership of this book is only growing.

Kirkman's writing is often criticized for the fact that his tales never seem to have definite endings - they just seem to continue endlessly. In the case of this book, I think that's one of its strengths. Society is over, zombies are everywhere, and the people who are left are just trying to survive. It's not a story that need have an ending.

This current issue has Rick and his now very small group of friends meeting a trio of other survivors at Herschel's farm. We meet Eugene, who is very smart, and seems to think he knows what happened to the world. We also meet Abraham, who explains to us that Eugene is smart, and is very angry. The book ends with our usual cast deciding to leave the somewhat dubious safety of Herschel's farm, and join up with Abraham and his group (who live on a big truck).

There were a few elements to this issue that ring a little false. Abraham seems to calm down very quickly from a full-on rant, and the group (with the exception of Rick's warning to Carl) seems to decide to throw in with the new characters rather quickly. All the same though, it's nice to see that the characters are getting back on the road - it should give the book a similar feel to what it had when I started reading it.

As always, Adlard's art conveys the story beautifully. I don't understand why people complain that they can't tell characters apart - I find he does a great job of conveying personality in his art. He's one of those few artists who can make his conversations as visually interesting as his zombie-attacks.

I'm really glad to hear that Kirkman is getting this book on schedule for '09.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Diaz

This is a good book. Diaz tells the story of Oscar, an over-weight Dominican nerd who grows up in Paterson New Jersey falling in love with just about every girl he sees, but never getting any affection (or anything else) in return. He sees himself as the Dominican Tolkien, and can't quite understand why explaining that to girls he approaches on the bus isn't getting him any action. We follow poor, doomed Oscar through his life, which is indeed brief and wondrous.

The book also tells the story of Oscar's family, and the fuku, or curse, that has been haunting them for generations. We learn about his sister, who falls afoul of their commanding and domineering mother. We learn about his mother, and how she became such a strong person in the first place. We even peer back to Oscar's grandfather, and his experiences with the Trujillo regime, which is believed to be the root of the fuku. Finally, we learn a great deal about the Dominican itself, especially through the footnotes that take us on some tangential journeys through Caribbean dictatorship.

Diaz writes in a very refreshing style. The book is narrated by a character that I suspect is his idealized version of himself, and as such is told in modern voice that incorporates street slang and a plethora of references to comics, fantasy, and science fiction, many of which were out of my frame of reference. The book flows nicely, and at times is nearly impossible to put down.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sandman: The Dream Hunters #1

Written by: Neil Gaiman
Adapted by P. Craig Russell

I can't believe I wasn't originally going to buy this book.

I never read the original Dream Hunters, mostly because I've never been as big of fan of Gaiman's prose as I am his comics work, and this project stayed firmly under my radar, until I saw some preview pages on-line.

Russell has always been an artist I've admired for his beauty, but in this issue he outdoes himself completely. This is absolutely a comics masterpiece. The lush colouring and the structure of his pages make this a pleasure to read.

It also reminds me of how much I miss the Sandman....

Battlefields: The Night Witches #1

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Russ Braun

There's something very comforting about reading a Garth Ennis war comic, whether it is published by Vertigo (War Stories), Marvel (Phantom Eagle), or now Dynamite, where apparently there are going to be a string of mini-series under the Battlefields banner (and the next one features art by Peter Snejbjerg!). You know you are going to be getting a good amount of historical accuracy, some dark, dark humor, and a good amount of bloodshed. As usual, Ennis doesn't disappoint.

This series focuses on the siege of Leningrad (I assume), and gives us the perspectives of a squad of German soldiers on one side, and a group of Russian female pilots on the other.

Braun's art is serviceable, and the story moves at a quick pace. The John Cassaday cover evokes Russian propaganda posters admirably. Nothing like reading a book like this right before Remembrance Day.... I hope at some point in this series he revisits the First World War.

Lucha Libre #6

by Jerry Frissen, Bill, and others

This is one of those books that could only be published by Image. It's an anthology series of comic strips about Mexican Luchadores that were originally published in Europe, and either were inspired by a line of toys, or vice versa (I've never been clear on that).

This issue is not the strongest I've seen, but that's mostly because I'm not a huge fan of Profesor Furia, the cover character this time out. I'm also not crazy about the Luchadoritos back-up (although they do have the best name).

What I love about this book is the Luchadores Five serial. This issue has our heroes sitting out of a fight between a group of surfers and the Creatures from the Black Leather Lagoon. The humor and the ingenuity of the different friends and foes of these unemployed heroes is what makes this my favorite part.

Next issue is set to include the return of Tequila, and the Tikitis, both of whose adventures I have enjoyed in the past.

The first trade is due out soon, and at $14.99, it's a steal (especially compared to $6.99 for the individual issues - which still feels worth it, as there is plenty of content in each handsome over-sized book).

Sunday, November 9, 2008



I first started noticing Invincible on some of Waajeed's Bling47 projects - Platinum Pied Pipers, and various mixtapes. She also had the nicest verse on Finale and Spier 1200's album, so when her solo album dropped, I figured it was worth a risk.

Am I ever glad I bought this. This talented MC is exactly what hip-hop needs now. Her songs are about real, important issues, and she is unflinching in her portrayal of life in post-urban Detroit and it's satellites. Her perspective as a Palestinian who came to the US to experience the American dream is unique, and something that more people should be aware of.

She's assembled an impressive group of guests - mostly from the Detroit area - including Wordsworth, Buff1, Finale, and Tiombe Lockhart. The beats are provided by the Lab Techs, Black Milk, House Shoes, and of course, Waajeed. The album has a consistent head-nod feel to it, and stands up to repeated listens.

My favorite tracks:
People Not Places - a hymn to the lost lands of Palestine
Spacious Skies - a hymn to the lost dream of America
Deuce/Ypsi - a song that reveals the realities of the suburbs of Detroit
Ropes - a mournful reflection on suicide
In the Mourning - it's become de rigueur to have a Dilla and Proof tribute track if you're from the D, but I'm a sucker for that kind of thing
Locusts - a song about the death of Detroit.

One other reason to recommend this album is that Invincible practices what she preaches. Her label (Emergence Media) is 'fair-trade', and the packaging the disc comes in is environmentally-friendly.

I hope this girl is the future of hip-hop.

When Life Gives You Lemons

I know that this cd has been out for a while now, but I've only just taken it out of my car, where it was getting played a couple of times a week since it was released.

Slug and Ant are the truth. I've been a fan of theirs for a while now, and I've really enjoyed seeing them grow as artists and as people. As much as I've enjoyed hearing Slug rhyme about his problems, I like that he's now looking at life from a more mature perspective, and applying the lessons he's learned to his storytelling.

The addition of a live band has strengthened their appeal to me - the beats on this cd are amazing (even if my favorite track on here has Slug rhyming over a solo guitar).

Stand out tracks include: Guarantees, Me, Like the Rest of Us, Dreamer, Painting, and Yesterday, but the whole album works well as a cohesive unit played from start to finish.

If you haven't bought this yet, buy the Deluxe Edition. Slug's written a children's book, but the real prize is the live concert DVD. Man, that guy can sweat. I don't ever want to be in the first couple of rows at one of his shows.....

Gigantic #1

Written by Rick Remender
Art by Eric Nguyen

The text piece by Remender explains the concept best:
"I wanted to... do a book with giant robots and monsters destroying cities that also explored the idea that advanced life throughout the universe likely watches a metric ton of television."

As far as high concepts go, it's an effective one here. The story shows us how the entire planet is a set for a reality TV show being broadcast around the galaxy (a la the Truman Show). Add to that a giant robot (or is it a suit with a big guy in it?) is trying to escape from his TV contract and lands in San Francisco, being hunted by monsters, and you have the first issue. Okay, maybe it rings a little bit of "Escape from Mojo-world", but it's an excellent comic.

The main reason for its excellence is the contributions of Eric Nguyen, and colourist Matthew Wilson. The book is absolutely beautiful. Nguyen has come a long way from when he and Remender started "Strange Girl" (also an excellent book). His work is cleaner than before - especially in the human scenes that set up our Peter Parker protagonist. The colours are absolutely gorgeous.

I find that when Remender does creator-owned work, it's always a worthy purchase. Strange Girl, Crawlspace: XXXombies, End League, and of course Fear Agent are recent or current favourites of mine.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Guerillas #2

by Brahm Revel

This is an excellent, creative comic. The first issue set up a fairly typical (yet still compelling) Vietnam War story, somewhat reminiscent of Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewarts' brilliant "The Other Side", but from the American perspective alone. The story focused on a cowardly FNG on his first patrol, and showed his squad get cut to pieces. At the end of the book, he is rescued by a squad of monkeys in GI uniforms. Perfect ending for a first chapter (even if you knew it was coming by reading solicitations).

This issue provides some much-needed exposition, but still leaves us plenty of questions to explore over the remaining 7 issues of the series. We do know that there are German (ex-Nazi?) scientists involved, which is pretty much never a bad thing in comics. We also see our hero from issue one become a part of the monkey squad, being able to perform a much-needed task in their company.

Revel's story plays out slowly over these nice, chunky books (54 pages of story is a great deal at $6). His art reminds me of David Lapham and/or Cameron Stewart, and he is able to project human thoughts and emotions onto his simian soldiers. (I did find it a little hard to identify the monkey in the scene in Africa though - sometimes it looked like a wolf, sometimes a person).

This book is very well-paced. The story he has planned must be a long one - it's the equivalent of almost 23 regular comics. I'm definitely staying on board for the whole ride.

Resurrection Annual #1

Written by Mark Guggenheim
Art by Douglas Dabbs

This annual fills in some of the gaps from earlier issues in Guggenheim's 6-book first volume of this intriguing series.

This title tells the story of civilization after 10 years of alien attack. The bug-like aliens have left, and people are starting to pick up the pieces and restore their lives. The main book has focused on the connected stories of a few key players, but has long ran a sub-plot about a government agent, Judith, and her captive alien, who she has named Spock. At some point, Spock had escaped, and Judith both searched for him, and tried to eliminate any trace of him as she went.

This annual then tells the story that happened between Spock's escape and Judith's discovery of two hunters while on his trail. Contrary to what we knew before, it becomes clear that the hunters had met with Spock, and had even taken him to the caves that they have been living in for eight years, while hiding from the invasion force.

Guggenheim develops his characters quickly, and leaves us with a true sense of their personalities - they are archetypal, but have some depth to them.

The art on this issue is quite different from that of the usual series artist, and I found it to be somewhat jarring. The alien looks mechanical, instead of bug like.

In the text piece at the back, Guggenheim explains that this series is being put on hiatus before being 'resurrected' in colour, and on a proper monthly schedule. Interestingly, he doesn't say when that is going to happen.... He also claims that the entire first 6 issues, plus this annual will be published in a super-affordable trade paperback ($6), so if you haven't been reading this series, that will be well worth your picking up.

Pax Romana #3

by Jonathan Hickman

I feel like Hickman is the new Brian Wood - the incredible artist who catches my eye by using bold (if sometimes static) designs, and then completely overwhelms me with the quality of their writing, to the point that I don't really notice when they stop drawing, because I'll buy anything with their name on it.

Pax Romana tells the story of a large group of people from the near-ish future sent back to early-Christian Rome to change the course of human history. The group quickly dispatches their Catholic Church overseers, and begin to implement their own agenda.

As seems to often be the case with a Hickman book (read the brilliant 'The Nightly News'), there is a lot of text - entire pages of dialogue with a little illustration, and an incredible amount of research. In this issue we learn that the time-travellers intend to push Christendom through a rapid succession of social orders - fascism, communism, and then democracy in an accelerated fashion, even though they don't expect to be around to see the fruits of their labour.

Their plan is complicated by a sudden appearance at the end, which makes me look forward to the final issue, which should be out sometime (one can never tell when with a Hickman book).

I know that Hickman's been tapped to co-write 'The Secret Warriors' (or something like that) with Bendis at Marvel, as part of their new post-Secret Invasion wave of books. I'm curious to see how he deals with a more traditional comic series (his Red Mass for Mars is the closest he's come), and I hope that his big money work-for-hire doesn't stop him from doing gems like this.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I Kill Giants #4

Written by Joe Kelly
Art by J. M. Ken Niimura

I'm glad to see Joe Kelly making a return to comics - especially creator-owned books through Image.

This series tells the story of Barbara, a very disturbed young girl who apparently kills giants with the help of her mighty hammer Coveleski, which she keeps in a purse at her side.

We see, as the series progresses, that there is something seriously wrong with this kid. What at first seems like an amusing magical-realist fantasy story is in fact a comic about a little girl who's life has some dark, terrifying secrets, and she is dealing with them by retreating into her own fantasy world.

This issue starts to shed some light on what is really going on here: the school psychologist and Barbara's older sister both talk about her parents, but we don't know what they are saying, as their dialogue is blacked out and obscured (and not like in All-Star Batman and Robin - we really can't read it). As well, Barbara pulls out her hammer to finally deal with the bullies that have been plaguing her since the start of the series.

This comic is subtle and well-paced. The art, which is often cartoony, aids the story immensely. I especially like the way Niimura adds in the fantastical elements that only Barbara can see (we assume).

Highly recommended.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Four Eyes #1

Written by Joe Kelly
Art by Max Fiumara

This is an original premise. The story centres around a young boy living through the Depression. He has had his father die, has had to drop out of school to work, and has at times had to steal food. Kelly does an excellent job of conveying the desperation of people living through those times.

It looks from the set-up in this issue that the protagonist is going to have to seek work from the New York gangsters that employed his father.

Oh - and the gangsters hold illegal dragon fights the same way some people fight pit bulls.

This is a very well-drawn book, reminding me a little of Adam Pollina's work (but not everyone is 7 feet tall), and Kelly is taking his time with the build-up. I think this is an on-going series - not sure that there's enough for a long run, but I'm curious to see where he takes this concept.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Wasteland #21

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Christopher Mitten

This is a really intriguing series. From the beginning, Johnston has set his story in a fully-realized world. This issue is the first in an arc dealing with the 'Dog-Tribes', nomads who live with their dogs as part of their family. They structure their society the same way dogs do - with Alpha males calling the shots.

In this issue, Michael and Abi are taken prisoner by one tribe, who mistakenly think them Artisians that the city of Newbegin will be happy to pay a ransom for.

This issue has all the things I've come to expect from Wasteland: strong characterizations, clever speech patterns, and beautiful, if occasionally hard to follow, art. I really like the consistent look that Mitten brings to the series - it's just that from time to time I'm not sure what's happened. The scene where the two Alpha males speak is a good example of this - I wasn't sure that the one had left before the other started scheming with his attendant.

This is a series more people should be reading. Even though this is the start of a new arc, it's not the most accessible starting point. New readers should pick up the first trade, and get started from there.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

David Sedaris in the New Yorker

I've been looking for someone to sum up my thoughts on the American election, and I think Sedaris has done the best possible job (not surprising - he's a very funny author).

From his Shouts & Murmurs piece of last week:

I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”
To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.
I mean, really, what’s to be confused about?