Thursday, December 31, 2009

Farscape: D'Argo's Trial #2

Written by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Art by Caleb Cleveland

Continuing with my attempts to catch up with the Farscape comics, I snatched up the second issue in the second D'Argo mini-series. This issue details Jothee's birth, and all of its surrounding events, up until the death of Lolann. A few pages here are simply retreads of things shown in the show - the episode where D'Argo finally confronts Macton in particular, but in this setting, they are shown with more context and chronology, adding emotional weight to them.

This title lacks much of the humour of the tv show or the main title, but given the subject matter, that seems quite appropriate. Cleveland continues to be the best of the Farscape artists - faithful to general appearances, but not afraid to add his own artistic flourishes.

Between the Dots

by The Clonious

This is a difficult album to describe, as it crosses a number of genres, while remaining remarkably consistent. On the back of the album, it's described as "new and classic, soulful and striking, organic and electronic." That works as well as anything, I suppose.

I picked up this album because I'd heard it fits with the general aesthetic of artists like Flying Lotus. It doesn't feel anywhere near as experimental as that, but it is in the same general neighbourhood.

This album touches on jazz, electronica, hip-hop, and funk, and features appearances by Dudley Perkins, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Muhsinah. It's definitely nice.

Ghosts of Wounded Knee

by Matthew Power; photos by Aaron Huey

The living conditions on America's "Indian" Reservations receive very little coverage on a national and international level. In this portfolio of photos by Huey, with text by Power, Harper's provides a window into the everyday lives of a handful of people living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The photos on their own are chilling and intimate portraits of tattooed young men and the interiors and exteriors of peoples' homes. A boy on horseback stands vigil over an older man passed out or sleeping under a blanket. A girl stands amidst a pile of domestic detritus on an otherwise clean grassy field. The photos capture a sense of a place slightly outside of time, where people endure rather than live.

The text carries as much force as the photos, as Power just allows people to tell their stories, with very few interjections. We read about the influences of 'gangsta' culture and the difficulty of finding employment. We also learn about cheap beers and the prevalence of suicide.

From within the despair though, there emerges a growing sense of cultural identity and pride. Young men speak of performing the Sun Dance, a ritual wherein they are pierced by pieces of bone and tied to a tree, until they free themselves by tearing their flesh. The young are becoming interested in their language and culture again, which provides hope that this group, which has endured and survived so much, will one day again be able to simply live.

Farscape: Gone and Back #2 & 3

Written by Rockne S. O'Bannon and R.A. DeCandido
Art by Tommy Patterson, Nick Schley, and Juan Castro

This is one title I've come to regret not buying on a monthly basis, but it's not fitting into my already too-generous comics budget. I'm glad to get the chance to catch up with Chrichton, who is still stuck off in his 'unrealized reality', where he has come to accept that he's married to Katralla, and that Zhaan and D'Argo are still alive.

Instead of trying to figure out his way back home, John is instead concerned with finding and meeting Aeryn, who in this reality, has never left the Peacekeepers.

These two issues also shed some light on the identity of the guy with glowing eyes who has been following Moya and her crew for the last couple of series.

The characterization in these issues is excellent - I could practically hear Zhaan's voice, her lines were so perfect. The art is perfectly serviceable, which is about all one can expect from a project of this nature...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tradition in Transition

by Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro

Poking around a music store one day not too long ago, I was struck by what was playing on the overhead speakers. It was the tenth track on this album, 'Cançào Do Deserto', a hauntingly beautiful piece of music. It goes without saying that the purchase was assured.

This is my first exposure to Quantic, and I really like what he's doing. He's gathered a group of musicians from various backgrounds, in Cali Colombia, where he records. This album, the first with his Combo Bárbaro, is a lovely South American jazz album.

There are some songs that are sung, but most of the album is instrumental. The other stand out for me is 'Arianita', with it's triumphant horns.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wildcats Vol. 4: Battery Park

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Sean Phillips and Steve Dillon

While I've been trying to systematically read Joe Casey's Wildcats run (spread over two series of the title), this volume had been eluding me for a while. I was quite pleased to find it in a sale box on Boxing Day this week.

This entire book feels like Casey sweeping away some old sub-plots in order to position the book Version 3.0. In short order, this book: sets up Jack Marlowe with Void's powers, helps Marlowe set out a business plan, fills Wax in on what the team is all about, and shuffles Voodoo, Zealot, Maul, and Noir off the stage. It also introduces Agent Orange.

It's an odd volume, first because it lacks a larger narrative structure, and because it has an ugly cover by Sean Phillips, the only one I think he's ever made. It does fill in a few gaps for my Version 3.0 reading, for which I am now only missing one issue...

Deleted Scenes

by Super Chron Flight Brothers

In preparation for the holiday season, the good people at Backwoodz Studioz gave us a free Super Chron Flight Brothers mixtape.

While by no means a classic mix, this does work as a good way to introduce someone to Billy Woods and Priviledge. And for a real fan, there's plenty to hold your interest, as you run through these21 tracks of remixes, or otherwise unreleased gems.

Production is by Bond, Marmaduke, Willie Green, and a couple of cats I've never heard of. A lot of the usual suspects appear on this: Cannibal Ox (together and individually), Invizzibl Men, Trife da God (now called Trife Diesel?), and some other up and comers.

I found the Willie Green remix of 'Guy Fawkes' sucked a lot of the energy out of the original, but the track 'Forms', credited to AM Breakups featuring Billy Woods is worth downloading the whole file for.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Rex Libris Vol. 2: Book of Monsters

by James Turner

James Turner is a very interesting comics creator. His work isn't easily explained or summarized, and when you try, things sound so much more ridiculous than they seem when you read his work. Let me show you what I mean:

Rex Libris Volume Two is about an Ancient Roman librarian with a Bronx accent who works in a library in New Jersey, and gets sucked into a rare book of monstrosities, wherein, due to an accident involving telluric radiation, all normal rules and classifications are moot; talks to a plant; and joins a group of American soldiers on a trip to a fictional island to sing a lullaby to a fictional elder god before it can wake up a real elder god, although all of his previous enemies were also drawn to same said island, including a nefarious criminal organization in which all members are trying to kill their leader; all the while said librarian treats his friends and readers to lengthy digressions to any point in his two-thousand year lifespan. Oh, and the whole thing is an experiment in visicomboics, a revolutionary method of storytelling, as explained by the editor of the comic book series based on Rex's life (which is not to be confused with the story we are reading, apparently). Like I said, it sounds ridiculous.

However, when you read the book, it comes off as very funny. Turner draws the comic using vector software, and the figures are blocky and stiff, but that adds to the charm of the book. Turner never assumes that his reader is unintelligent, and peppers his book with obscure references to other literary works. The creatures and aliens he invents are always amusing, and often plausible.

If I have any complaint, it is only that I expected to see Simon the bird come swooping in at the last second to save the day, but he was sadly absent from most of this book. This is a unique piece of work, which I would highly recommend (after reading volume one) to anyone who enjoys literate, self-aware comics.

Fraction #1-6

Written by David Tischman
Art by Timothy Green II

DC started its 'Focus' imprint at a time when I was actively trying to buy less comics, so it was an easy choice for me to ignore. After reading the first volume of Hard Time in the summer, I realized that was an incorrect decision, and figured I would pick up the rest of that series, and any other Focus offerings if the chance presented itself. Enter Boxing Day Sales....

This series, which only lasted six issues, is about a group of four friends in their twenties, who get together one night to celebrate the release of one of the four from prison. They get up to their old antics, and start breaking into storage lockers. In one, they discover a high-tech suit of armor, like an Iron Man suit. Not trusting one another, they divide the pieces: helmet, gauntlets, boots, and chest-piece.

What follows is an interesting exploration of friendship among lower-class losers. One uses the gauntlets to gain revenge and plot crimes, while another uses the boots to fly around and rescue people. Of course, the suit belongs to someone, and they don't waste much time trying to get it back. The four friends have to deal with a guy in another suit, and the fact that the cops (not to mention an ex-girlfriend and a controlling mother) are adding to the pressure they face.

It's clear that the series was cut off before its intended ending; a subplot with four more people in suits doesn't go anywhere, but Tischman was able to arrive at some form of resolution to his story.

Tischman really infused the comic with the personality of Philadelphia, it's setting. There are digressions about Philly Cheesesteaks and the giant Claes Oldenberg sculpture of a clothespin.

The big draw to this book for me is the art by Green II. His work on Marvel's Star-Lord title really caught my eye, as did his later work on Iron Fist. His work is a little rougher here, but his characters are quite emotive, and his background and landscape work is superb. I like his Geof Darrow meets Moebius sensibility, matched by the slightly washed-out colours of Brian Haberlin. Green draws some of the most visually interesting utility poles I've ever seen in comics.... The first two covers were drawn by Tomer Hanuka, and the remaining ones by Green. With such strong visuals, I'm surprised I didn't pick up the comics when they originally came out.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Solo #5

by Darwyn Cooke

Cooke, like the series Solo itself, is something I've grown to appreciate now much more than I did a few years ago. This is an amazing anthology of Cooke's work.

The stories in this book are framed by short pieces featuring Slam Bradley, the hard-nosed DC P.I., drinking at a place called Jimmy's. Between these short pieces, are a number of different stories, in a few different genres. This book features King Faraday, the Question, Batman, some guy who loves vacuum cleaners, and the young Darwyn Cooke himself.

It is that piece, an autobiographical tale of how he came to develop his passion for art, that stands out as the strongest in this comic, but each story has its own merits, and its own artistic style.

Cooke is a mercurial and talented artist. I really need to go get a copy of his Parker the Hunted...

World Changers

The holiday issue of the New Yorker this year is not on a 'Winter Fiction' theme, but is instead concerned with individuals or organizations who are involved in making the world a different, and better, place. It is one of the better issues in recent memory, with a plethora of good articles.

The Ice Retreat
by Fen Montaigne

This article is ostensibly about the Adélie penguins of Antarctica, who are finding their usual habitat no longer hospitable to them, as temperatures at the bottom of the globe rise. The real core of this article lies in Montaigne's profile of Bill Fraser, an 'ecologist and penguin expert', who has been spending years studying these unique birds.

It is clear that this population is in grave danger, as the numbers of nesting pairs have dropped precipitously, and quite recently.

Hearth Surgery
by Burkhard Bilger

One and a half million people die each year from cooking, and cook-stove related injuries in the developing world. At the same time, people forced to use inefficient open-hearth wood fires are responsible for almost matching the carbon emissions of people in richer countries.

Bilger chronicles the efforts of an eccentric group of people, many of whom are connected to the Aprovecho Research Center, to construct more ideal stoves. The article chronicles many of their attempts and failures, and paints a portrait of a group of semi-obsessed hobbyists who may manage to create a great deal of positive change in the world.

The Monkey and the Fish
by Philip Gourevitch

This is a fascinating article about Greg Carr, an American who hundreds of millions of dollars in the tech industry before retiring to work in philanthropy - namely in managing the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. He spends tons of his own money in attempting to improve this region - repopulating animal species, planting seedlings, and negotiating with local leaders to improve the park, the lives of the people living around it, and the ecology of a large swath of land.

Carr is an interesting character, and Gourevitch describes both his optimism, and the monumental nature of his task. This was an excellent, well-balanced, read.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Chew #7

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

This is a pretty decent issue of Chew, as Tony heads down to the Micronesian island of Yamapalu in search of the strange fruit he discovered last issue. As it turns out, his brother is headed there too, as the island has a pretty liberal policy towards the cooking of chicken, and he's going to work there as a celebrity chef.

Once on the island, Tony runs into a rather buxom agent of the USDA, who feels he is horning in on her case. Oh, and there might be vampires.

Layman and Guillory are basically still setting up their newest arc, and it looks to be an interesting one.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Unknown Soldier #15

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Alberto Ponticelli

The first thing that hit me with the new issue of Unknown Soldier (okay, after the gorgeous Dave Johnson cover) was the new approach to colouring by Oscar Celestini. Ponticelli, the book's usual artist, has returned after a two-issue hiatus, and his work has never looked better, as Celestini is using a new digital technique - or Ponticelli is inking his own work differently - I'm not sure what is being done, only that I really like it.

The story this month is excellent as well. Moses has stayed in the camp Paul took him to. He's not staying with the boy, as he wants to 'normalize' his life, but he's in contact with him, and when rebels mysteriously raid the camp's medical supplies, Moses sends Paul to investigate on his behalf. With the events of the last couple of pages, it would seem that this new arc is a bit of a mystery story, set within the context of the Ugandan war.

Dysart's script continues to score in all areas. Moses is trying to make a new start for himself, after last month's ritual, but can still feel 'the voice' inside of himself. The camp doctor, however, neither likes nor trusts him, although Moses can't drag himself away from the man - he even follows him at times, imagining that he is him. It is clear that Moses has not reconciled himself to what has happened to him, and you can see his longing to return to his old life.

What really makes this comic great though, is the way that Dysart weaves in the reality of early '00's Uganda. The life of the camp residents is treated with dignity and realism, reminding me of much of Dave Egger's incredible book "What is the What?". Paul's aunt (?) goes about her business of raising her grandchild, but when that infant dies, her reaction is quite informative of Acholi superstitions and beliefs.

This comic really is unique, and deserves much more attention (and sales) than it has been receiving.

Hellboy: The Bride of Hell

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Richard Corben

Lately I've found myself drawn to Hellboy, and I'm not sure why. I bought and read the earliest few series back in the day, and liked them well enough, but never stuck with the book. For the last year or so, I've become curious about it, and figured this one-shot was a good way to test the waters again.

And it's okay, but not really blowing me away. In this issue, Hellboy tries to free some girl from some demon. He then gets a history lesson, and there's an interesting twist. I kind of feel like I've read it before; it's definitely not breaking new ground.

On the up side, Corben's work is as good as Corben's work always is. He's a really talented artist, who continues to impress.

Criminal: The Sinners #3

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

It's another issue of Criminal. As usual, it's a masterpiece.

In this installment, Tracey keeps working the case he's been given by his boss, as two more bodies are dropped. We get a little more sense of who's behind it, as the military gets closer on Tracey's tail, and Hyde begins to suspect he's screwing around with his daughter (while it's really his wife).

This is one of the consistently best comics out there.

Northlanders #23

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Leandro Fernandez

Wood and Fernandez are doing a great job on the Plague Widow storyline. Where the first two issues were very much focused on Hilda and her daughter, this issue is concerned with the entire town, and how it has been dealing with its self-imposed isolation.

Supplies are running thin, and the winter has been harsh, so when a few abandoned-looking ships get stuck in the pack ice, Gunborg decides to drag them to shore. The ships, of course, are Viking Trojan horses, and soon the town finds itself under attack.

Wood and Fernandez maintain a level of tension throughout this issue. This is strong work.

Last Days of American Crime #1

Written by Rick Remender
Art by Greg Tocchini

This is an interesting comic. Remender is writing a genre crime comic, albeit one set in the near future, with some science-fiction elements. He's much more controlled than he usually is in his creator-owned comics, keeping things very close to the vest. He leaves it to the reader to figure out a lot of what is happening in the world - specifically the details of the API broadcast, which will make it impossible for people to conduct criminal or terroristic activity. This has set off a nation-wide crime spree, as people try to get their kicks in before the well runs dry.

In the middle of all of this is Graham Bricke (Rory to his mom), who has plans for one massive last score, involving government ATM-like machines and the shift to a cash-less society, which is taking place at the same time as the broadcast. He needs to outsource some of the work, and gets hooked up with a pair of criminals that are also a couple, and clearly working their own, individual, agendas.

It's a good start to the series (even if I did have to read the interview with Remender at the back to confirm a few of the main details). I like this $4.99 prestige-format approach that Radical is taking to their books. It's a very satisfying chunk of comics; for the same price as a Marvel annual, you get twice the story, and no reprints.

Tocchini's art works well with this type of story. It's rough, but colourful.

Battlefields: Happy Valley #1

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by PJ Holden

Garth Ennis's war series returns, with another well-crafted tale of the Second World War. I feel like that's all I have to say about the book - Ennis really knows how to write these things.

This time around, he's focusing on an Australian bomber crew flying missions into the German industrial zone, dubbed 'Happy Valley' by the bombers. This particular bomber crew has flown together for a while, and have only three missions remaining in their tour. However, they receive a new pilot to replace their injured former one, and he's right out of flight school.

At first, the veterans are loathe to take on a newbie, but they have no choice, and he proves himself to them. It's the standard war story stuff, but Ennis elevates the material through his strong attention to technical detail (I learned a few things about bombers), character development, and humour.

Holden's art is nice. His characters look a little cartoony, but he draws military equipment and flight suits in a more detailed, almost Kubertesque style. This is a good book.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Beasts of Burden #4

Written by Evan Dorkin
Art by Jill Thompson

I really feel like this was the best mini-series of 2009, and it came as a total surprise to me. I had never read the 'Book of...' shorts (still haven't despite their being available on-line for free), and wasn't a fan of Evan Dorkin's comedic work. I picked up the first issue for Thompson's art, and was blown away by the level of quality in this comic.

Now, with this fourth issue, we get more of the same greatness. While each of these issues has told a done-in-one story, we see here that they build on each other, and paint a picture that shows that bad things are happening in Burden Hill. This time around, the gang investigates some strange goings on in a cemetery, which includes a resurrected human, who the animals can talk to.

Central to this comic is the strong character work from both Dorkin and Thompson. These animals are individual characters, and the creators have a really good feel for who they are, and what they each bring to the story.

I strongly urge anyone who hasn't been buying this to either snatch up the single issues, or buy the trade when it becomes available.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Taddle Creek

Christmas 2009

This is my first regular issue of Taddle Creek (my previous experience being limited to the comics issue), and I'm pleased with it. I've been feeling the need to be more connected with the city, in terms of the arts that it produces, and this periodical scratches that itch quite nicely (one of the stories is set blocks from where I grew up).

What I liked about this issue:

Why, Zanta?... Why?... is a wonderful comic treatment of Zanta, the notorious Toronto character, known for doing push-ups on the streets of Toronto wearing shorts and a Santa hat. It's done by Jason Kieffer, whose book on local street people will be the subject of a posting in another week or so.

Terry Murray has a nice piece about Merle Foster, the Toronto sculptress and philanthropist.

There is a collection of four of Michael Cho's alley scenes. I bought two of these prints at the first TCAF I attended, and it's really nice to see more of these being displayed. They are wonderful pieces of art.

Nathaniel G. Moore has a couple of excerpts from his new work Savage. These pieces about a boy growing up in North Leaside were like a direct injection of nostalgia. I will definitely keep an eye out for the finished product.

The other stories in this issue, by Heather Hogan, Cary Fagan, and Stacey May Fowles were also all decent efforts.

In all, a very good magazine, well worth picking up.

Strange Journeys Volume One

by CunninLynguists

I've both admired and been frustrated by the CunninLynguists since I picked up their brilliant third album, 'A Piece of Strange'.

I love the way they combine Kno's layered and textured beats with Deacon's deep voice. When they write serious songs, they are among the best in the game.

What frustrates me (or, depending on who's in the car, embarrasses me) is their penchant for low-brow humour. I guess anyone that sees the group's name would expect some juvenile antics, but I find too often, they move to the lowest denominator.

This album/mix-tape tries to balance both sides of the group. Kno provides all of the beats, and they are gorgeous. They thoughtfully included the instrumentals to all of the new compositions here, and some of those are more likely to make it onto my ipod than the vocal tracks. Kno is one of the best producers in the industry, and he deserves a lot more attention than he gets.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the Lynguists (and friends - there are a lot of guests on this album) take a beautiful beat (like on 'Nothing But Strangeness') and sing about a girl who defecates so hard she breaks a toilet. 'Never Come Down (The Brownie Song)' is another example of a lovely track sullied by low intentions.

Once you edit through the toilet and drug humour, there are a lot of fantastic tracks on here. Former Lynguist Mr. SOS gives us 'Die For You', which works nicely with Tonedeff's 'The Distance'. From the Lynguists themselves, stand-outs include 'Don't Leave (When the Winter Comes)', which features Slug, and 'Broken Van (Thinking of You)' featuring Mac Lethal. Also notable are the remixes from Dirty Acres: 'Georgia', featuring Killer Mike and Khujo Goodie; and 'KKKY' featuring some of the Nappy Roots.

Apparently volume two is out - I'll have to look for that.

Hell's Angels

by Hunter Thompson

Thompson really is one of the great American writers of the 20th century. This was his first published book, and it's very easy to see, when reading it, how hard he struggled to produce a 'straight' piece of reportage, instead of giving in to whatever whims and authorial flourishes caught his fancy.

This book, published in 1967, claims to offer a truthful examination of the Hell's Angels, the notorious motorcycle club that captivated the American media in the early 60s. These larger-than-life outlaws were constantly being written about in the paper, when Thompson, a resident of San Francisco, decided to befriend them and write about them from an 'insider's' perspective.

That's basically what this book is - an account of his time drinking, driving, and hanging out with the Angels. He ingratiated himself to Sonny Barger, the club's founder, and so was allowed to witness their events and everyday activities with a great amount of access and freedom, at least until September of 1966.

His book delights, as did the Angels, of the misrepresentations of the outlaws perpetrated by the mainstream media, although with so much bullshit flying around, it is naive to think that this book didn't get splattered a little as well. Thompson revels in the outsider status of the bikers, glorifying it, and, at times, making use of it, such as when he felt the need to scare off his landlords, with humourous results.

Thompson's book goes much further than simply describing and analyzing the Angels though. This book does as much to construct the mainstream's perception of the Angels as does explain it. As well, Thompson writes about America just as it was on the cusp of a massive generational shift. Later, the Angels hang out with Ken Kesey at La Honda, yet, when they bust up an anti-Vietnam protest later, they demonstrate to what degree they were a part of the previous generation, with its values.

The book was written before the events of Altamont, and so Thompson is permitted to portray the Angels as wildly eccentric outlaws in the American tradition. Things obviously changed as their membership grew, and they became more involved in the drug trade.

Thompson's writing begins to betray the journalistic flourishes and speculative excesses for which he became so well-loved. This work is at once reverential, exacting, and insightful, and should be seen as a forerunner of books like Tom Wolfe's 'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test'.

My Pain is Worse Than Your Pain

by TC Boyle

While I've always enjoyed his novels, Boyle is a master of short fiction. He conjures up, with great sparsity, complete and believable narratives.

In this story, some guy living in a mountain side community of 'cabin'-dwellers, falls for the recently widowed neighbour - quite literally as he plunges off her roof into some rocks on an ill-advised nighttime peeping tom mission. He loses his wife in the outcome, as well as the respect and company of his community.

Boyle touches on themes of isolation and pain, as the narrator keeps repeating the same mistakes, and injuring himself in a way that mirrors the demise of the husband of the object of his affections. This is some good stuff.

Johnny Hiro

by Fred Chao

I read the first three stories in this collection in their original, single issue format, and was instantly drawn to Fred Chao's charming characters. When I saw that the collected edition had two new stories, as well as some 'deleted scene' style single page stories, I knew I had to pick it up.

Johnny Hiro is 'half-Asian, all hero'. He's an early 20s busboy at a sushi restaurant who lives in New York with his wonderful girlfriend Mayumi. Stuff happens to him. In the first issue, Gozadilla (a Godzilla stand-in) kidnaps Mayumi out of their bed in a bizarre plan for revenge. In the second, Hiro (no one except his parents call him John or Johnny) has to steal a lobster from another sushi restaurant, and is pursued by knife-wielding kitchen staff. The third involves 47 ronin accountants and the Metropolitan Opera. The fourth involves another sea-food related chase across the city.

The final story, which I guess would have been the fifth issue, features the cast of Night Court (with Judge Judy acting as a stand in for Harry) dealing with Hiro's legal troubles, which stem from the damage done to their apartment by Gozadilla.

Chao's stories are whimsical and often sentimental. His humour is easily enjoyed, and the reader begins to really like Hiro and Mayumi. At the core of this book, it is about a young couple struggling to make ends meet in New York. The giant lizards and other strange threats are incidental to the story of their love for each other. At times, Chao's writing may get a little too sentimental, but he clearly loves his characters.

Also of interest in this book is the way in which it is very much a product of New York. The city is as central to the story as it is in a Brian Wood comic. Mayor Bloomberg makes a couple of appearances, and hints at his third term plans (this comic came out before the election). Also on hand, in addition to Judge Judy and the Night Court crew, are Gwen Stefani, David Byrne, Grand Puba, and Coolio.

Chao's artwork is clean and straight-forward, sometimes showing manga influences. The book is a great read, and easily one of the best of 2009.

Longbox Digging: Wildcats Version 3.0 Vol. 2: Full Disclosure

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Dustin Nguyen and Richard Friend

So, having finally read most of the earlier parts of Casey's run on Wildcats, I figured it was a good time to re-read Volume 2, and then move on to the single issues that were never collected in trade. It turns out I'm missing a few, so now I know what I'll be hunting for come Boxing Day...

In this volume, Casey almost completely abandons the trappings of a superhero comic, choosing instead to focus on the corporate aspects of life at Halo. There is the lengthy scene wherein Dolby, the accountant, is trained to replace Grifter, who was crippled in volume one, but his mission feels tangential - there is never even any follow-up with the child that he 'rescued' from the FBI.

The rest of the book is all about Spartan's machinations in the business world. Sure, that still involves accounting firms that are fronts for the CIA, but it is just as much about hostile takeovers of major media corporations. What makes this book so great is that the corporate stuff is just as exciting and well-drawn as the few action scenes.

Casey was really on to something with this book. I'm looking forward to re-reading (or reading for the first time) the rest of the series.

Monday, December 21, 2009

All That

by David Foster Wallace

This short piece of fiction reminds us of what we lost when David Foster Wallace died last year. This story (not that it is really shaped like a story) deals with the perceptions of childhood - how children believe what their parents tell them unconditionally, and how they accept uncommon events as commonplace, such as the voices that the narrator heard until adolescence.

This feels very autobiographical - the sensitive, delicate boy who believes that his wooden cement mixer pull-toy is magical, so long as he doesn't look at it and who enters into fits of ecstasy because of late afternoon sunlight, only to have them heightened by his mothers sarcasm reads more like a reminiscence than a work of creation.

Wallace's authorial voice is more controlled than usual here. Yes, his sentences are gloriously overlong and peppered with parenthesis, but there is not a single footnote in sight, and he mostly keeps to his narrative. Any digressions feel intended, which is not always the case with his work, I've always suspected.

If anything, this reminds me that I've never read Infinite Jest or any of his other books, having only encountered his work through his magazine fiction. I should get on that...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Crate Digging: My Last and Best Album

by Braintax

The title of this album pretty much sums things up: Braintax's last album is his best. It is a remarkably consistent album, even while Braintax makes use of a wide range of beats.

On this disk, he again refuses to shy away from uncomfortable topics, focusing his indignation on Israel ("I hate Israel but I don't hate Israelis" is a lyric that should speak to many people around the world), the media, consumerism, urbanism, and once again, British culture.

The back cover provides us with handy descriptions of each track, such as 'uptempo fidgety tea break', 'uptempo dusty shizz', and 'epic head-nod eco drama'. It's unfortunate that Braintax has chosen to retire from the music industry, but it's hip-hop - there's always hope for a comeback.

False Hopes XIV

by Sims

Sims comes off as the most optimistic and happy of the Doomtree crew. I don't mean to imply that the rest of them make music that is dark or cynical; it's just that he seems to project a more upbeat persona through his music. He doesn't appear to have the angry ambition of POS and Mictlan, nor seem as soul-searchingly poetic as Cecil Otter. He also lacks the mercurial nature of Dessa.

Basically, he's the one that can turn out a pile of tracks that are technically skilled, intelligent, and uplifting, which basically describes this installment in the False Hopes series.

Beats are provided by Doomtree regulars Lazerbeak, MK Larada, Paper Tiger, and POS, although there are also tracks produced by Medium Zach and Noam the Drummer. The only guest on this short ep is Omaur Bliss.

Days Missing #5

Written by Phil Hester
Art by Frazer Irving

This has been an interesting series, a key attraction of which has been the rotating creative teams. Wisely, the final issue of the first volume ends as it began, with work by Hester and Irving, the most accomplished of the creators of this comic.

The Steward has been attempting to fix a huge issue - the sudden appearance of a sentient nanite colony which threatens to destroy the Earth in the usual 'gray goo' scenario. Each time he folds a day, erasing it from history, he fails at his mission. This issue chronicles his ninth attempt, and how he deals with "a nuclear weapon having an acute existential crisis". That Hester takes a more philosophical than action-based approach to this story is what makes the book interesting, as does the revelation of the ending, which I imagine opens the door to a possible Volume 2 (which will hopefully not have Dale Keown on covers).

Hester and Irving turn in some great work here, although I'd still prefer to see them working on Firebreather and Gutsville (respectively).

Forgetless #1

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Scott Forbes and Marley Zarcone

Forgetless appears to have been influenced by elements of Phonogram, Local, and Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance. That's a pretty eclectic mix of comics, but it works here.

Forgetless is some kind of club night/event in New York City, and the Forgetless event in question is the last one (although people have heard that before). The comic is split between two stories, with vastly different subject matters and art styles, although both are concerned with people going to Forgetless.

The first story, drawn by Forbes (in a style that is equal parts Luna Brothers and Waltz With Bashir), concerns two smart-assed models, who post endlessly on Twitter, and who moonlight as assassins. This is the first contract for one of the girls, whose prey is planning on attending Forgetless. Therefore, they go too. There's also a guy in a koala suit.

The second story, drawn by Zarcone, is about a trio of teens living somewhere in Jersey, who are desperate to escape to New York in general, and desperate to attend the final Forgetless in particular. The only problem is that they are under-age, and under-funded. Zarcone's art reminds me a little of Cloonan and Lolos, and chronicles the kids as they go about attempting to purchase fake ID.

I'm not sure if each issue of this mini-series will be divided into these two stories, or if other tales will also be told, but I'm definitely intrigued enough to stick around for the rest of the run, and recommend this to anyone looking for something a little different.

Hellblazer #262

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini

Milligan's 'Constantine in India' storyline continues to please, as John faces off against a demon from colonial times, meets up with an old mage in a loincloth, and scares his white guru friend. Milligan has managed to introduce a number of new characters over the last couple of issues, my favourite being the two Indian cops that tail John, thinking that the serial killer they were denying the existence of last issue, might be advantageously white.

I feel like Milligan's put himself on very familiar ground, and he's able to use that as a definite strength in this story. As always, Camuncoli and Landini are turning in good, solid work as well.

The Last Resort #5

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo

Palmiotti and Gray finish off their sexy tropical vacation zombie comedy series the only way such things can finish, with a lot of bloodshed, explosions, the odd decapitation, and less nudity than any other issue of this series so far.

This has been a fun romp through disaster and zombie movie clichés that has elevated itself through strong characterization and a depraved sense of humor. Caracuzzo's art has been sketchy in places, but has held up quite well over the course of the series. Darwyn Cooke's covers have thematically fit quite well, even though they don't really echo the style of the comic.

I figure this is one mini-series that will read really well when published in trade. Recommended.

Fables #91

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Dan Green

This book has been on fire again lately. The 'Witches' arc has been all about power plays among the more magical Fables, and in this issue, Geppetto makes his move for power, claiming that he should be in charge not just of the 'fifth floor', but of all of the Fables. This causes Ozma to up her game even more. Meanwhile, Rose Red is still getting visits from pig heads.

While all of this is happening, Blufkin makes his big move on Baba Yaga, showing that he is indeed a powerful flying monkey.

Absent from this book are Bigby and Snow, which seems a little odd. There is too much going on for them to not be getting some stage time. Other than that, this was a fantastic issue. The appearance of a character not seen in some time at the very end makes me look forward to the next issue.

Underground #4

Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Steve Lieber

Parker's Underground continues to be a very exciting and rewarding title. His story of park rangers being chased through a massive cave by employees of a local businessman who wants to open the cave for tourism deftly balances strong characterization, ecological sensibilities, and a suspenseful rhythm.

Lieber's work is great throughout. As Wes and Seth have to travel through deep water, with only a narrow pocket of air along the roof of the cave available for breathing, his art becomes very claustrophobic, helping the reader feel the tension of the moment.

Ron Chan's colours work exceptionally well - the underground scenes are monochromatic, but the establishing shots and scenes involving the people outside the cave are so brightly coloured that the reader feels as if he has just come out of a dark cave himself.

Air #16

Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by MK Perker

This is a very good, if not momentous, issue of Air. Wilson chooses to focus this month on the relationship between Blythe and Zayn, as Amelia Earhart tracks him down and brings him to her bedside, while she is suffering the effects of withdrawal from her medication.

While this issue doesn't advance the hyperprax plotline, it does reveal a few interesting things about the central characters. We get some understanding of why Zayn has been so cold towards Blythe, and Blythe is visited by a few different hallucinations. It's interesting that one of the people she sees is Luc, the boy from issue #10.

As usual with this comic, McLuhan-esque statements like "The map is the territory" get tossed around, and I'm hoping that this will start to make more sense as the title progresses. The notion that Blythe is addicted to iconography, as well as pills, is an interesting one.

Elephantmen #23

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Moritat and Chris Burnham

This is a particularly strong issue of Elephantmen. The comic is usually quite good, but often not a lot happens in any particular issue. This time around, Starkings has packed the book with some pretty big events, from Simms and Vanity's unwelcome entry to Horn's apartment, to sabotage at Sky Cab, and an attack on Hip Flask.

It's nice to see Moritat back on this comic for this issue. His art is fantastic. The back-up, by Chris Burnham, also looks terrific.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ex Machina #47

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

Immediately upon opening this comic, I thought that there had been a change in the art team. It was still obviously Tony Harris, but I expected to see a new colourist or perhaps an inker pitch hitting. According to the credits, things are status quo, yet Harris's art looks different in this issue; more finished and textured than usual. As much as I'm a fan of his work normally, I think it looks fantastic here.

As this book moves closer to its conclusion, big things are happening. One character I was quite fond of makes his or her exit in this issue, and it's something that is going to have a huge effect on Mitchell when he finds out about it. The finale for this book is going to be massive.

At the same time, Vaughan has not lost what makes this book so special. There's a great scene where Hundred and Bradbury are all caught up in the main plot, and are slinking around Gracie Mansion in super-hero mode, when they are interrupted by Mitchell's lawyer. Instantly, he turns back into a politician, and the abortion pill debate continues. It's nice work.

Gødland #30

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Tom Scioli

This is another typical issue of Gødland, which means that parts of it don't make a lot of sense, but the story itself is a lot of fun. Adam and Neela deal with some drama at the far end of the universe, while Nickelhead's assault on the American government becomes a piece of performance art improvisation.

To be honest, it's the Nickelhead scenes that I read this book for. I've grown tired of the more cosmic aspects of the story, and much prefer the truly bizarre villains that Casey has populated this comic with.

Okko: The Cycle of Earth #3

by Hub, with Emmanuel Michalak

I had pretty much given up on this title, so it was a nice surprise to see that Archaia released it, with it's conclusion to come next week.

This is an enjoyable tale of a group of samurai journeying through some mountains to find out about a mysterious clan, for reasons I don't remember (it being more than a year since issue 2 was published). I no longer have much recollection of who these characters are or what their relationships to each other are like, but the book reads well in terms of action and lovely artwork.

This is very much a European take on a Japanese style, translated to English. For all of that, it does read quite well. Hub crams a lot of detail into each page - both visually and through his script.

While I'm not particularly invested in the story, I look forward to its conclusion.

Filthy Rich

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Victor Santos

This is the other 'first book' published under Vertigo's new 'Vertigo Crime' imprint, and it has the benefit of being an actual crime comic, although again, it is not a traditional one.

"Junk" is an ex-football star who never got his chance in the majors, and who has shuffled through life ever since. He's a horrible used car salesman, his only assets being his fleeting brush with fame and his ability in the bedroom. His boss decides he's better suited to keeping an eye on his daughter Vicki, a spoiled rich girl who ends up in the newspapers from time to time, but never for positive reasons. He's not exactly a bodyguard - she's not to know he's there - he's more of a fixer.

Junk is quickly drawn into her world, interacting with her and her friends, as they prowl what I assume is mid-50s New York. This being a crime book, of course something bad happens, and Junk and Vicki both start to look for something more from the other.

It's an interesting premise and set-up, although Azzarello fails somewhat in the execution. The story feels a little too convoluted in places, with a few too many characters that aren't easily differentiated. The art is serviceable, looking like a strange mash-up of Frank Robbins, Eduardo Risso, and Jordi Bernet. On some pages, the art is very realistic, but then a few pages later, it becomes almost cartoonish. The shift can be jarring.

I do like the choice of setting the story in that span of time between the war and the civil rights movement. It allows Azzarello to rely on a number of social constructions that don't exist anymore, which is necessary, because this story could not be set in our instant-media world.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

30 Days of Night

Written by Steve Niles
Art by Ben Templesmith

I've come at this series rather backwards, having previously read David Lapham's wonderful mini-series, and the trade with the only so-so Matt Fraction story. I figured it was time to check this out from the beginning, and see what the original premise is.

It's a good idea. A group of vampires decide that a town in Alaska that doesn't receive sunlight for one month of the year would be a good place to be able to eat and rampage in the open, and so they go there. The local sheriff and his wife offer up the only resistance available. That's basically it.

What I've noticed about my few forays into this series, is that there is a lot of politics involved in being a vampire, and the older, more established ones will always tell the younger ones what to do. This leads to fighting, which seems to be the core of the drama for this series.

Templesmith's art is at it's messiest best, and while some pages are not particularly clear, they all carry his unique, yet Ted McKeever inspired, approach. This is a decent comic, although I'm not sure I'm in a huge rush to pick up the rest of the volumes. They'd have to be pretty inexpensive, as I don't feel like there's much here that's new.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Crate Digging: Panorama

by Braintax

I picked this up a couple of years ago while traveling in England. Braintax was getting a lot of love on the message boards I used to read at that time (I do miss, and I was definitely pleased with this album.

Braintax is a very political beast, calling out the usual villains - Bush, Blair, and Sharon. He's critical of British politics, both foreign and domestic, British culture, and British self-complacency. And of course, the music industry.

This is not just some guy sitting around and bitching though. His lyrics are quick and clever, and he mostly wraps the whole thing together with some well-chosen hip-hop beats from a bunch of British producers I am totally unfamiliar with. At times, the music gets a little too minimalist for me - there are some attempts at club or stage-ready songs here, but for the most part, this is an album that would fit well within the North American underground, except perhaps for the accent.

Dark Entries

Written by Ian Rankin
Art by Werther Dell'Edera

This is the first of Vertigo's new "Vertigo Crime" sub-imprint, and I have to say that it's an attractive little book. The spine evokes other crime book imprints, and the cover pops out at you. The paper quality is poor, but that's the type of thing I can overlook.

I don't understand why Vertigo chose to make this comic their first in this new line though, mainly for the reason that it's not a crime comic, and it's not exactly a mystery, as the cover proclaims. It's a John Constantine, haunted mansion, trip to hell comic. As such, it's a decent one. It is definitely not a crime comic though.

This book is written by Ian Rankin, who I suppose knows the difference between crime stories and supernatural stories. He's written a pile of the former, and, to my knowledge, none of the latter (it's probably worth pointing out that this is the first work by him I've ever read, so I might not know what I'm talking about - I did work in a bookstore for four years a decade ago, and I like to make 'High Fidelity' style proclamations from time to time still).

Okay, leaving labels aside, the question is whether or not the book is good. And it is pretty decent. Constantine is hired to enter the closed set of a reality show that deals with fear - contestants occupy a 'haunted' house, and have to face their fears to find a secret room with a treasure in it. The only problem is, the show has gone off the rails, and the contestants are being frightened by things the producers didn't intend. Enter Constantine.

From there, the story follows pretty well-established Hellblazer patterns. There is some connection to a dark time in John's past, and things aren't what they seem. This could easily have been an arc in his series, fitting in at almost any point over the last several years.

Dell'Edera's art is pretty rough in places - I much preferred his work on the too-short lived Loveless series a couple of years ago. At times, I found it difficult to figure out who was who, and that always detracts from a story.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Unwritten #8

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross

This issue serves as an interlude in the current story arc, and shines the focus on Governor Chadron, the warden of the prison where Tom Taylor's been confined. Chadron is no stranger to the Tommy Taylor stories - he reads them nightly to his children, who have over-identified with the characters. The kids 'play Tommy Taylor' constantly, and his daughter has managed to develop herself a touch of a psychosis around the whole thing, as she is unable to distinguish between fiction and reality.

This issue examines the place of fiction and childhood imagination in the real world, and demonstrates the dangers of believing too strongly in magic. Carey and Gross are doing some interesting things with this title. It took me a while to get drawn into it, but now I find with each issue I am enjoying it more and more, especially when the main story steps to the side, as it did in this month's installment.

DMZ #48

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ricardo Burchielli

So the US Army has invaded the DMZ, searching for Parco's nuclear weapon. Throughout the DMZ, people are being harassed, and there is no media presence to record or publicize army abuses. Parco gets Matty to do something other than sit around and get high, with disastrous consequences, as Matty is jumped by a group of soldiers.

This issue appears to be, once again, setting up a new status quo in the DMZ, where things seem to change a lot, usually for the worse. It feels like the 'Hearts & Minds' arc is being used to set up something big for the fiftieth issue.

Daytripper #1

By Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon

This is a good example of what comics as a medium can do. Bá and Moon have created a masterpiece of a single-issue story, as they introduce us to Brás de Oliva Domingos, a thirty-two year old obituary writer and aspiring author living in São Paulo Brazil.

Brás is the son of a famous author, and has a variety of unresolved feelings towards him, his mother, and, it seems, his girlfriend. In a short space, Bá and Moon establish these relationships, as well as Brás's daily routine. The characters feel fully realized and fleshed out, even though they are given little space to develop.

This is a very literary comic, with Shakespearean references and obituary assignments for painters and diplomats, but it is very much grounded in the quotidian aspects of Brás's existence.

The art is wonderful. Bá and Moon (I'm not sure who is doing what) keep a lid on the more fantastical elements of their work (this looks nothing like Casanova), and instead render a realistic environment. The book is coloured by Dave Stewart, who does some interesting work with warm, organic backgrounds.

While the end of this issue seems quite final, having read a little about the brothers' plan for this title, I can expect that this book will be a favourite of mine for 2010.

Red Herring #5

Written by David Tischman
Art by Philip Bond and David Hahn

This is another fun issue of Red Herring. Meyer Weiner and Penny Candy play strip poker while Paris burns, Damorge Channel breaks a new fixture, and Maggie MacGuffin decides to rejoin Red Herring and his partner while they enter the extermination business.

With only one issue left, there is a lot of stuff that still needs to be explained, but this comic has managed to keep up its frenetic pace. The art seems to be more balanced than it did when Hahn first took on an extended role. I still would have preferred to see more of Bond's pencils, but I can live with this level of compromise.

The Walking Dead #68

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

This title has been excellent lately. When I first started reading The Walking Dead (around issue 8), it was the suspense that kept me coming back issue after issue. While this is still a suspenseful comic, it is the strength of the characters, and Kirkman's heavily character-based writing that continues to make it one of my favourite comics.

In this issue, our group meets Aaron, a really nice guy (somewhat in the manner of a smiling Mormon or Jehovah's Witness at the door), who wants to invite them into his community - a town or neighbourhood on the other side of Washington DC. Remembering everything that went down with the Governor and Woodbury, Rick and the others are, understandably, skeptical. In the end, hunger wins out, and after a zombie attack (when was the last time that happened?) in which Aaron demonstrated trustworthiness, the group heads out towards this new, supposedly safe place.

As always, the characterizations are bang on. We have Rick being the responsible one, worrying about everyone's safety, while the biggest voice of dissent comes from Michonne, which was unexpected. The best scene in the comic though features Andrea and Rick having a talk, and Andrea sharing her reactions to her different recent tragedies.

The Walking Dead managed to meet its 'On Time in '09' goals, and the creators should be applauded for this. It was quite a treat to get regular, monthly doses of this comic all year, and I look forward to seeing them keep it up for '10.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Phonogram: The Singles Club #6

Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie, with PJ Holden and Adam Cadwell

Sometimes the comics industry can operate in very mysterious ways. This week saw the publication of Phonogram, which was originally solicited for August, as well as the latest issue of DC's Adventure Comics, and they are remarkably similar in theme, if not execution.

Both comics focus on an overly serious late teenager. Superboy Prime's comic collection becomes his kryptonite. Black Lantern Alex Luthor tells him, "Others find hope and inspiration between these pages. They find a community to belong to. But you're not like the others. You claim ownership, but you have no control. And you hate what you can't control."

For Lloyd, it's all about 'Passion, Devotion, Commitment, and Intelligence'. He is passionately devoted to music (specifically Dexys), but his intensity has consumed his humour, like a black power ring drawn to rage or love. He toils away at his 'Master Plans' and fanzines, but with no real satisfaction.

I think both of these comics could hit pretty close to home for more than a few comics readers. Geoff John's attempt at confronting these issues is pretty self-referential and in-jokey, while Gillen's examination is much more heartfelt and soul-searching. His accompanying text piece is in many ways more gripping than the comic, as he explains how Lloyd is a reflection of his most obsessive period in life. This issue is interesting in the way it experiments with format - using the structure of a self-published fanzine to convey its story. There is less McKelvie than normal in this issue (perhaps explaining why it arrived so soon after the previous issue), but that only strengthens his pages.

The two back-up pieces are quite nice, and they both feature David Kohl. "Your Song" is my favourite of the two, as Kohl plots revenge on someone who behaves similarly to how he often does, albeit with vastly different motivations.