Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wasteland #24

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Christopher Mitten

I think Michael puts it best at the end of this issue when he says, "Dog Tribes. Don't even try to understand them." And with that, our heroes are finished with the Dog Tribe arc, and are moving on to other things.

It is a testament to the skill that Johnston and Mitten are bringing to this book that they have so fully developed the culture and look of the Dog Tribes, but are likely done with them now. This series has always been about myth building on a grand scale, and this becomes another example of that. As this series continues, I wouldn't say it becomes more complex, but it does become richer and richer, making me think that stories could be set in this world for years to come, even as Michael and Abi set out once again for A-Ree-Yass-I, and I presume, some form of resolution to this title.

The Ankya Ofsteen piece in this issue signifies big changes as well, as I presume her giving up on the task of reaching the sea must mean that her adventures are also either drawing to a close, or moving into a new direction. I hope these one-page stories aren't stopping.

Next issue is double-sized, in full colour, and new reader friendly. I hope that this title picks up a pile of new and loyal readers.

Unknown Soldier #5

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Alberto Ponticelli

This series continues to be one of the best Vertigo is publishing right now. Moses talks in this issue to both Howl, the CIA agent that has been searching for him, and his wife Sera, as he returns to the camp where he had been staying. Of course, the rebels are after him, leading to more violence, this time exposing his wife to the new world that is opening up around him.

As well, this issue shares a number of scenes in flashback of Moses's life before the series began, hinting that he might have some deeper connection to the CIA than he appeared to be aware. I like that Dysart has waited this long to start weaving in some of these threads - he allowed the first arc to stand on its own immediate action and drama, but he is also hinting at where this series is headed, providing a reason to stay with it.

As with previous issues, I find the art impressive, and I love the power of the cover by Igor Kordey.

Crate Digging: God Loves Ugly

by Atmosphere

I'm not entirely sure why Rhymesayers decided that this particular Atmosphere album needed re-releasing, but it did provide an opportunity to return to an earlier Atmosphere - when Slug was still portraying himself as insecure and petulant at times, but was also stretching into a more self-reflective artist. We get songs like 'F*@k You Lucy', which deals with very familiar themes, but we also get songs like 'Shrapnel', which were representative of Slug and Ants' growth as artists.

This re-release comes packaged with the Sad Clown Bad Dub 4 dvd, a mismash of concert footage, interviews, and screwing around from the time when this album was originally released. It's fun the first time through, but I can't imagine ever wanting to watch it again.

Battlefields: Dear Billy #2

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Peter Snejbjerg

This continues to be one of the better war stories Garth Ennis has written, as he focuses on a British nurse in India who has fallen for a British pilot. The story is told from the point of view of a letter she is writing him, in which she reveals her secrets and actions, which at this point, consist of her murdering any injured Japanese soldiers she can safely gain access to.

This is a form of revenge for her, and it is interesting that there is no real catharsis in it. She marvels at her lover's ability to compartmentalize his feelings about the war and the enemy, especially given the rough treatment that he suffered at the Japanese's hands.

The art in this book continues to be phenomenal, as Snejbjerg is doing some of the nicest work of his career.

Jack of Fables #31

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

The Books of War arc continues in this, the Book of Reversals. Bookburner has the Golden Boughs in a tough place, forcing Revise to take some very serious measures in an attempt to basically save his life and keep the Fables that are with him safe.

This involves revising his revisions, as he turns the Fables back into their original selves (with attachments, in some cases), and freeing three Native American Fables who he kept chained up under a rock.

The ending doesn't explain too much, but does make me look forward to the next issue. This series seems to be getting better each month, and I feel that Willingham and Sturges are really laying down the groundwork for the up-coming Fables crossover.

Proof #17

Written by Alex Grecian
Art by Kelly Tindall and Riley Rossmo

This issue of Proof borrows a page from the Elephantmen Guide to Ongoing Series, and has a done-in-one story (okay, technically two) about the Chupacabra, who was the antagonist in the first story arc. We see how she got from Mexico to Minnesota, and get some idea about how her presence in the Lodge is at the behest of Mi-Chen-Po, who is shaping up to be the Big Bad of this series. The back-up story features the Chupacabra meeting with Colonel Dachshund, and fitting him into her plans.

There are elements of both stories that don't really make sense to me. I don't understand how exactly the Chupacabra managed to get hired at the meat processing plant, or how her pet fairies were able to live in her purse, with it being full of iron horseshoes.

Other than that, this is a good issue, especially within the context of other recent issues, that are showing that something very important is coming up in this series. Tindall did a decent job of handling the art on the first story, but I still prefer Rossmo's look, as these are his characters that we are reading about.

White Van Music

by Jake One
Jake One first caught my attention with his beats on De La Soul's 'The Grind Date', and I started noticing his name popping up from time to time in different liner notes. He didn't have an immediately recognizable sound, but he did make nice beats. When I heard that Rhymesayers was releasing his first solo album, and I saw who would be featured on it, I figured it was a safe purchase.

This is a good album, and I think could have been a great album, had a few songs been trimmed off of it. Now, this becomes a matter of personal bias, as it is the more mainstream songs featuring artists like Freeway, Young Buck, Evidence, Prodigy, Alchemist, and MOP that I would lose.

The tracks that feature more underground artists are what kept this in my car for so long. Little Brother has a nice track on here, as do Elzhi & Royce Da 5'9", Blueprint, and Black Milk & Nottz. Among the best tracks is 'The Truth', with Freeway and Brother Ali - a strange pairing for sure, but one that works exceptionally well. Posdnuos and Slug record 'Oh Really', another fantastic track, and another unusual partnership. These two songs together remind me a little of that "Think Differently" project of a couple of years back.

Of course, the big draw of the album are the two tracks featuring MF Doom. He still comes correct, and spits in his usual eccentric style. It's nice to see that the man is still recording.

As for Jake One's beats - they are consistently good throughout the album, and he shows a lot of promise for both underground and mainstream appeal. This album comes with an instrumental disk.

The Sword #15

by the Luna Brothers

From the start of this series, the Luna Brothers have been showing some pretty gory and bloody fight scenes, extrapolating just what a magical sword can do to a person's body, but in this issue, they seem to push themselves further than ever before, as Dara gets into a fight with the Mexican drug lord who has taken the sword. It's really very graphic, and pretty disgusting.

At the same time as this is going on, there is another flashback showing how Dara's character was formed by her family as she grew up. What I find interesting about these flashbacks is that they never seem to feature her father, who I would assume, being immortal, would have a lot of wisdom to impart. It's as if they are suggesting that her father was not a central part of her life, which is interesting considering his past and abilities.

The Sword is a very good series. I look forward to seeing Dara's showdown with Knossos next issue, but I also hope it doesn't drag out over too many issues.

Gigantic #3

Written by Rick Remender
Art by Eric Nguyen

Remender continues his giant-monster-smackdown comic Gigantic, and it's a good read. Gigantic has a bit of angry family time, and then rushes to the center of the Earth to stop a television crew from shutting down the core, running in to Iconoclast, one of the great comic book characters of 2009 along the way.

This is a full-out blockbuster movie kind of comic, and therein lie some of its flaws. There was a subplot concerning Gigantic's neice's boyfriend in the last two issues, which doesn't exist in this one. As well, I'm not sure that the relationship between Gigantic and his brother is handled very realistically either. But then, this comic has service elevators that go to the Earth's core, and that makes up for any other faults.

Nguyen's art is continuing to bother me. I've noticed the same thing with his recent issues of Marvel's The Eternals - he's drawing much more like a traditional superhero artist. I am a huge fan of his earlier work, and wish he'd return to his more open, flowing style of art. It worked great on the first issue of this book.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Fear Agent #26

Written by Rick Remender and Gerry Duggan
Art by Tony Moore, John Lucas, and Alessandro Bragalini

The 'I Against I' story arc is getting close to finishing, and I don't think any issues of Fear Agent have been solicited after the next one, so I'm afraid that this series might be ending.

In a lot of ways, that seems to make sense, as many of the longest running plot-lines appear to be close to resolution. In this issue, Heath fights himself, and Andi makes her big move. The action is pretty intense, and it looks like the next issue is going to be amazing.

The 'Tales of the Fear Agent' feature is excellent this month, as Gerry Duggan (who I hope is also working on Infinite Horizon), writes an amusing story about the slow pace of space travel. It's illustrated by Alessandro Bragalini, an artist I'm unfamiliar with, but whose art reminds me of earlier Eric Nguyen.

Elephantmen #16

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Chris Burnham

One of the things that makes Elephantmen so interesting for me is that it is decidedly non-linear in the way it goes about telling its stories. There is the main storyline, featuring Hip Flask, Ebony Hide, and the others, but there are a myriad of sub-plots and back-up characters who often get entire issues devoted to them, regardless of where or when that story takes place in the larger tapestry of this series (which, we should remember, is really just a companion to the Hip Flask series of graphic novels). Sometimes, the series stops altogether for a while, and we get something like War Toys, a mini-series set long before the action in the main series.

In this issue, the focus is on The Silencer, the assassin that was seen in a much earlier issue of the title. We get to learn a lot more about who he is, and how he got to the position he is in right now. The story riffs on a Raymond Chandler type set-up, and seems at first glance to have little to do with the next issue, which is going to be about the missing Tusk.

I have the feeling that the Silencer is going to become a major player in the series, and I like the way that Starkings is doing nothing to tip his hand as to where this title is going. That said, there is a line at the top of the cover saying that this is part 1 of an 8-part 'Dangerous Liaisons' arc, but I'm not sure if the next issue will be part of that or not. Like I said, the title is non-linear.

The art in this issue is by Chris Burnham, ably coloured by someone named Tatto Caballero. They work very well together, matching the general look we saw when Moritat was on the book for the framing sequence, but then switching both the art style and palette for the flashback part of the story. I actually checked to make sure that it was the same people providing the art for this scene, which I found to be really interesting. The flashback I found to be very reminiscent of Will Eisner, which I enjoyed.

This issue also has a Sleeze Brothers story, which I didn't much care for (not my kind of thing), and a very nice essay about the late Archie Goodwin, a man I met once at a signing when I was a kid, and who I remember for his kindness and generosity (somewhere I have his autograph with a little self-portrait he drew for me).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Crate Digging: None Shall Pass

by Aesop Rock

I remember picking this up at Fat Beats on a trip to NYC two summers ago, along with a ton of other albums. After I got back home, it took me a couple of days to make my way through all of my purchases, and I think some albums got a little less play than others. Due to this, I didn't really think of this as a terribly memorable album, and thought it was time to give it another spin and see what the deal was.

Truthfully, it's a little disappointing, and I'm not sure why. It's good - all of the individual tracks stand on their own, and blend well into a cohesive whole. The only problem is, they don't stand out.

Most of the production is by Blockhead, with the remaining tracks mostly handled by Aesop himself, although there is an El-P track, and another provided by Rob Sonic. The overall sound is reserved and chill, although it is still very much a Def Jux album.

Aesop Rock's wordplay is clever and masterful, but he is, in my opinion, showed up by Tha Jugganaut's Breezly Brewin on 'Getaway Car', my favourite track on this album.

The packaging for this disk is fantastic, and I like the costume party cartoon by Jeremy Fish.

This album does have a place in my collection, and it's very nice to groove to, but it still isn't standing out in my mind as a classic or a must-have.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sharknife Vol. 1

by Corey Lewis

This is a strange book. I've really enjoyed the Original English Manga work of Brandon Graham and James Stokoe, and have heard Lewis mentioned in their company, so I thought I'd give this a try. It's much like their work in terms of general set-up. Caesar Hallelujah is a busboy at a massive Chinese restaurant that happens to have hideous monsters living in its walls. He is the only one able to fight off the monsters, because when he eats a fortune cookie, he becomes Sharknife, a big super-hero kind of guy, who fights monsters. That's about it for plot - it's loosely a revenge/jealousy kind of story, but that's hard to follow.

Actually, much of this book is hard to follow. Unlike Graham and Stokoe's clearly defined panels and action, Sharknife is rather all over the place in its action scenes, and therefore I found the action very difficult to understand at times. As well, I didn't feel like there was enough emotional weight to the story. I know books like this are supposed to be silly, but I never found myself all that interested in what was going on. It just all felt a little flat to me.

On the up side, I saw that the second volume of Stokoe's Wonton Soup is in the next issue of Previews. I wish I knew what was going to happen with King City 2.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


by Evan Ratliff

It would seem that the future of warfare is partially in the hands of a man from Tennessee named Jerry Baber. He has perfected the design of an automatic shotgun - one that has absolutely no recoil - which is ideal for mounting on light unmanned ground vehicles, or military robots.

The designs, for both ground robots and airborne helicopters, are described as sound and practical, and so it is interesting that the US military has not begun to make use of them. What this article reveals is the distrust of military men for anything that has not been produced in-house, even when it is something useful and potentially (American) life-saving.

Reading the article reminded me of the scene in Shooting War, wherein robots just like the one in Tomer Hanuka's accompanying illustration are used to execute a group of civilians in a hospital. Perhaps it is this fear of diminished accountability that is keeping this product out of production - one would have to assume that there would be a 'Grand Theft Auto Effect' for operators commanding the devices from a safe distance.

Regardless, Baber is unconcerned with how long it will take before the military starts to make use of his projects - he is convinced that it will happen one day. The profile drawn of him in this article is a fascinating one.

Four Eyes #2

Written by Joe Kelly
Art by Max Fiumara

It's been a while since this series started, but it's well worth the wait between issues. Four Eyes is the story of a young boy whose father was killed procuring a dragon for a mobster involved in the illegal dragon-fighting circuit of Depression-era New York. As things get worse for the boy and his mother, and as he discovers the truth about his father's former profession, young Enrico decides that he wants to be a part of the business, especially since it will let him watch dragons die.

Kelly is taking a slow approach to getting this series up and running, which is good, as the added time and details are really helping him to create the world he shows, and to add texture to it. Fiumara's art is incredible. It is nothing like the work he's done for Avatar and DC - it's more cartoony and rough, but also much more expressive and interesting.

This has the makings of a fantastic series, and I hope I don't have to wait another six months for the next issue to come out.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Great Unknown #1

by Duncan Rouleau

This is a very interesting start to this new series from Man of Action Duncan Rouleau. It's all about Zach Felb, a person who is by all accounts a genius, but he has yet to make anything of his life. He's a drunk and a misanthrope, and he's haunted by the fact that all of his great ideas end up being products created by someone else. As he is inclined towards paranoia, he's not all that surprised when, at the end of the issue, he receives some information that he is perhaps involved in some form of conspiracy.

Rouleau does a fantastic job of setting up this story. The issue begins somewhere in the middle of the story, a fact admitted by Zach, who then attempts to back up the narrative to a proper starting point. We get to meet his little older brother, and then eventually his parents, as they try to surprise him with a cable TV enter-taint-ervention.

Rouleau's art makes use of thick, chunky lines, and the entire book is coloured in a drab blue palette. It's an interesting choice, as it isn't all that inviting at first, but becomes quite alluring, especially when some items - a light bulb, or a slice of pizza, get a proper colour treatment.

I wasn't sure if this was a series I was going to be interested in - I didn't hear good things about Rouleau's recent Metal Men series - but I'm definitely going to be reading this title.

Hellblazer #252

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini

Hellblazer under Milligan and Camuncoli continues to look like a very good thing. The scab storyline continues, as Constantine's usual weirdness infects his new girlfriend.

I really like Camuncoli and Landinis' look for this book. Usually Hellblazer is drawn in a tight, realistic and dark look, so the more open lines and spacious panels are a nice change of pace. I like the nod to Kill Bill in the girlfriend's friend's outfit.

I think I'm going to stick with Hellblazer for this team's run.

Children of God

by Hassan Salaam

Hassan Salaam first caught my attention when he appeared as one of the Reavers, contributing some of my favourite verses on what has become one of my seminal albums.

Children of God, his second full-length album, is a good showcase for his versatility and skill as a rapper. His best songs are the ones in which he allows either his spirituality or his politics to take center stage - he clearly has a lot of anger, but he channels it into strong expressions of his beliefs.

The best tracks on this cd are the bonus track, 'Kingdom of Heaven', 'Someplace', which includes excerpts from a film about New Orleans, 'Children of God', 'Best Time to Pray' and '15 Minutes'. His tracks about hip-hop, 'The Uprock' and 'The Downrock' strike me as a little more commercial and frivolous.

Beats on this album are nothing too special. They serve the purpose, but don't stand out in my mind. There are guest appearances by Masta Ace and Lord Jamar, but sadly, none of the Reavers show up. I feel like the album would have been much stronger had it included a track with people like Akir or Billy Woods (every cd would benefit from some Billy Woods....).

Young Liars #12

by David Lapham

Young Liars has now been running for a year, and it is certainly the most unique book Vertigo publishes. In this issue, we learn that pretty much everything that has happened in the series so far could be a complete and total lie, as Danny is released from a mental institute. It would seem that almost everything that has happened from the point where he set himself on fire is a complete and total fabrication of his ill mind. Or is it?

I gave up a while ago on pretending like I knew what was happening in this book, and I find that causes me to enjoy it all the more. I trust that Lapham has some sort of plan in place for this series, and so, like with the TV show Lost, I just sit back, enjoy the ride, and try not to hurt myself by thinking about it all too much or too deeply. Lapham is a talented artist and writer, and I'm sure that when the story is done, it will all make perfect sense. At that point, I want to sit down, re-read the whole thing from the first issue, and most likely realize that the truth was obvious from the beginning.

Rex Mundi #16

Written by Arvid Nelson
Art by Juan Ferreyra

Clearly, this series is getting closer and closer to its big finish, as a few more cast members are moved off the chess board, and Lord Lorraine starts to seem ever more desperate.

This is really just an action issue, with lots of shooting, magic, and screaming. It's been a while since an issue of Rex Mundi has gotten bogged down by historical exposition, but as the story reaches its climax, it makes sense that the pace would pick up (in the story, if not in shipping schedules).

As always, the art and colours in this book are beautiful. I do miss the newspaper pages that accompanied each issue though....

Godland #26

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Tom Scioli

It's nice to see Godland back on the stands - this issue was originally supposed to come out in August - as it's always an enjoyable comic. In this issue Adam gets embroiled in the fight between N'ull Pax Mizer and Leviticus and Vayikra, which took up much of the last issue.

Most importantly, Nicklehead makes his move, attempting to help super-villains, who he claims to be the last minority, now that Obama's in the White House.

As usual with this series, I find the villain subplot to be the best part of the book, especially with the way Casey writes their dialogue. I've never found myself particularly interested with Archer himself; it's the extended cast that always makes the book for me.

Essential Godzilla

Written by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe, Tom Sutton, and a pile of inkers

I scored this as a freebie at a boxing day sale, and it's taken me a while to get through it. This is very much a classic 70s Marvel series. The art is straight-forward and unadorned with any flourishes. It tells the story effectively and simply. The story is much the same - the plots are well-paced and narrated in that classic Marvel style of bombastic (and slightly pretentious) language that I remember so fondly from my childhood.

I've never really understood the appeal of monster characters like Godzilla. Sure, it's cool to see them stomp on buildings for a while, but there's nothing else to them. You can't expect any real character development or drama surrounding the monster itself, so instead, you have to create some ancillary characters and put the burden of making the stories interesting on them.

In this case, the main characters are pretty much all stereotypes. You have Dum Dum Dugan spouting off his sailor-esque one-liners and acting consistently like the least intelligent person in the room. You have other SHIELD agents like Gabe Jones (who gets called 'black man' by one villain - ahh, the 70s) and Jimmy Woo. You get the group of Japanese scientists (old man and his pretty assistant). Somehow, there is a pipe-smoking helicarrier pilot named Hughes Howards (how did that ever seem like a good idea?). And, sadly, there's a kid, who everyone calls Little Rob, even though there isn't a big Rob; following convention for kid and his _____ (whale, robot, dog, etc) movies everywhere, the kid is the one who can get through to the robot. We also get a range of Marvel guest stars. The Fantastic Four and Avengers make sense in the context of the series. The appearance of the Champions is excellent. Devel Dinosaur and Moon Boy? Not so much.

The plot for the first year or so of the series, involving attempts to stop the monster in the western states, works really well. Things progress logically, and there is a real sense of rising tension and drama running through the series. The Red Ronin battle robot is very cool.

After that first extended story line, you start to see that Moench really had to stretch to make this series work. I'm still not sure I understand how a bunch of cowboys think they can 'rustle' up a monster Godzilla's size. The plot involving alien races is ridiculous (The Megans from planet Mega???), as is the time-travel plot. It quickly became clear that they had no idea how to keep this series going, and so then they mercifully put it down.

This is a fun collection of comics to read, but I don't think it's one I ever would have paid for.

Opening Night

by Katherine Boo

In this article, Katherine Boo profiles Sunil, a thirteen year old kid who lives in the Gautam Nagar slums, at the Mumbai airport. He makes his living stealing 'German silver', or scrap metal, from the airport parking garage or other buildings close by. Most days, he is able to earn enough from this endeavor to raise himself above the poverty line (or 22 rupees a day). His life is encapsulated nicely in the article, and it appears that Boo had quite a bit of access to his daily activities.

Boo casually describes the realities of living in the slums - the dirt, ash, and smell of garbage that can practically knock you down, as well as the commonality of bald children, due to worm-infested rat bites. She talks about how, in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, security has increased a great deal, and the slum children are at much greater risk. One of Sunil's friends was tortured before being killed by security guards at a construction site.

At the same time that this poverty is being described, Boo also discusses the preparations for the opening night of Slumdog Millionaire, the movie set in similar surroundings. The contrast is striking, when she relays that the cost of a glass of rare Scotch in a hotel in Mumbai is the equivalent of one man's income for seven hundred days. Apparently the movie is not much-liked in India. People feel that it doesn't accurately portray the country's growth, and that it focusses too much on the negative.

I haven't seen the film yet, but from what I've heard of it, it doesn't accurately portray the life of children like Sunil, at least not with the same level of reality that Katherine Boo does.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Water Baby

by Ross Campbell

The Minx line of books didn't last that long at DC. When news of its death began circulating, there was a lot of press and opinion on the internet about what a shame this was, and condemning DC for not promoting the books better (as well as condemnation of the direct market for not doing a better job of making a place for comics like this). When all this went down, I didn't really know what to make of it all, as the only Minx book I'd read was New York Four, and that's only because it was by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly (who could collaborate on a phone book and I would order it).

So Water Baby is my first real exposure to this line of 'graphic novels for teenage girls.' It was not, on any level, what I would have expected from such a description. Water Baby is about Brody, a teenage (although I would have guessed early-20s) girl who lost her leg to a shark well surfing. It's now a year after the accident, and her friend Louisa has moved into her apartment (above her mother's place) with her to help her get to physio and generally adapt to life. Her ex-boyfriend Jake shows up, and for some reason, he lives with them too, until they get sick of him and decide one day to drive him from Florida to upstate New York to get rid of him.

That's basically the plot. What surprised me about the book is the casual attitude that both the characters and the creator take towards sex, orientation, and personal hygiene. I can imagine many parents of young girls, especially in America, being taken aback at the news that Brody slept with Jake's father, and that she is now only interested in girls. I'm not prudish, but I felt that many of the scenes in this book are more adult than the audience they were supposedly marketed to.

To add to that, the girls are rather scantily clad throughout the book. That's a usual issue with super-hero comics as well, but in this case, the girls are beautifully drawn, and look more like real people (albeit, real people who spend all their time in bikinis, ripped t-shirts, and underwear). Again, I have no real problem with this, except that the characters are being portrayed as under-aged.

Campbell's artwork is beautiful. His characters are gorgeous and feel real. He does a fantastic job with grays to show the differences in their skin tones and colour. Brody's recurring dream sequences about sharks are fantastic, both for their visceral power and the creativity with which they reveal her fears. It really is a fantastic book to look at, and the women in it are really really hot.

I found that, aside from the nose-picking and lack of proper bathing, I started to really like Brody, who is more akin to a force of nature than a regular person. I found the ending to be a little abrupt, but overall, the book was enjoyable. I understand that the Minx line will be finding its way to Vertigo, which seemed like a strange thing until I read this book.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Last Book Party

by Gideon Lewis-Kraus

The overall impression created by Lewis-Kraus's report on the Frankfurt Book Fair is that if the book, as that term has referred to a physical thing for centuries, is going to sink out of our cultural sphere like the Titanic, than the book industry is going to stay in the dining hall listening to the band play.

The Fair, as described here, does not seem to give the impression of an industry in its death throes. There is some discussion of the e-book, and of a new, light on the advance approach to publishing, but for the most part, Lewis-Kraus focuses his eye on the wheeling, dealing, and partying that is part and parcel of this famous book fair.

There are excellent short sketches of a number of interesting 'characters' from the book world, and this article exposes the truth about the industry: everyone either wins a Booker, or they are nominated. I find it interesting that publishers and editors can take as much credit for the prestigious prize as the people who actually wrote the book.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

False Hopes

by Doomtree

Since the summer, when Doomtree put out their first official album, I feel like I've been playing catch up on this crew.

This is part of the 'False Hopes' series - a group of releases somewhere between a proper album and a mixtape. Thankfully, it doesn't have any of the skits or shout-outs that ruin most mixtapes, and instead serves as a sampler of the Doomtree crew's talents.

All of them rap on here: POS, Sims, Dessa, Cecil Otter, and Mictlan. The beats are by Otter, POS, Paper Tiger, Lazerbeak, and MK Larada.

Some of these tracks have shown up in other places - 'Savion Glover' is one of the best tracks on the new POS album, but they work nicely together. It's a short, quick album, but a highly enjoyable one. As much as I like it now, I imagine I would have gone nuts over it in 2007, when there weren't a lot of other Doomtree projects to turn to.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Johnson & Jonson

by Blu and Mainframe

Blu has to be the most promising artist coming up right now. For his third album, he has teamed up with producer Mainframe under the name Johnson & Jonson, but Blu is obviously the star of this show.

Unlike the highly enjoyable CRAC release he did with Ta'Raach, the focus with this album is almost entirely on Blu's tight rhymes and incredible flow. He really cuts loose here, and Mainframe seems to know exactly how to back him with nice beats that never try to steal the show.

The stand-out best track for me is the hidden one at the end, which makes use of a John Lennon sample to portray 'instrospective Blu', the persona he used for some of the best tracks on his first album, Below the Heavens. Other high points include 'Up All Night', 'Wow!', 'Long Time Gone', and 'A Perfect Picture'.

I don't know what Blu has in the works, but I am eagerly looking forward to his next album.

Hellboy: The Crooked Man #1-3

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Richard Corben

I've never read a lot of Hellboy. I remember getting the first mini-series or two when they came out, but for whatever reason, I never stuck with the title. I vaguely remember being confused, and not all that intrigued.

When I saw these three comics in a dollar bin, and that the art was by Richard Corben, however, I decided that it was time to get re-acquainted with the character.

The story is a pretty straight-forward one about Hellboy traipsing around on a mountain in Appalachia (I don't know why), and coming across a small community beset upon by witches. He gets there at the same time as some guy who used to live there, who of course, is connected to all that is going down. In other words, the set-up requires a lot of suspension of disbelief.

Once the story gets started, things pick up quite well, as we peer into a fabled part of America, where curses and witchballs are considered a normal part of everyday life. Mignola picks up on stories of Croatan, the devil, haunted mines, and all the other things that make Appalachia so strange.

The art is, of course, incredible. Corben has always been fantastic at handling weirdness (and buxom women), and that continues to be demonstrated in this title.

I don't know if I'm intrigued enough to start buying Hellboy on a regular basis, but I think it might be worth picking up the odd issue (especially if they are available for a dollar).

DMZ #39

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

The War Power story arc continues to raise the stakes in the DMZ, as Matty has to deal with the guy from the Free States army, and starts to get some idea of what the Chinatown Gold is really going to be used for.

There are a lot of changes going on with Matty right now, and I'm not sure where his character is headed. His hero-worship of, or devotion to, Parco Delgado seems to be waning pretty quickly, but it's not clear what Matty's going to do.

It was nice to see the characters that popped up at the end of the issue - I've wondered if we'd ever get back to them again, as I found them among the most intriguing aspects of the early issues of the series.

Fables #81

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham and Andrew Pepoy

This is a pretty important issue for Fables. All of the Fabletown Fables have had to move out to the Farm following the destruction of all of Fabletown a couple of issues ago. Mister Dark has moved into the ruins, and has his 'witherings' building him Castle Dark, where he plans to sit until the Fables come back.

As this is going on, one central character passes away. I'm not going to spoil it (although the build up to this has been obvious, and the cover rather gives it away), but I will say that it was a death handled very well. It would have been easy for Willingham to give in to sentimentality and pull all the emotional heart-strings he could, but instead, he chose to let the story play out in a way that was touching and sad, without being heavy-handed.

This issue provides a lot of insight into some of the characters, especially Rose Red, who, with the visit from the pig head on a stick last issue, is clearly being moved into the forefront of the book for the next little while.

In addition, this is the last issue that James Jean will be providing a cover for. His work has helped make Fables stand out on the stands, and has been consistently beautiful and innovative. He has a nice text-piece in the book discussing his stint on the book, and I think it's good of DC to have provided him with that opportunity.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Walking Dead #58

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Kirkman often gets criticized for his tendency in both Invincible and The Walking Dead to not have much of a narrative structure to his books - they often seem to flow seamlessly from one issue to the next, as if he's writing for the eventual omnibus collection instead of for the individual issue or even the trade paperback.

That's why it's nice to see an issue like this one - one that is structured around a theme, but still progresses the overall plot. This is the fatherhood issue of The Walking Dead.

The book opens with a conversation between Rick and Abraham, following the attempted rape of Carl last issue. Alongside Rick, I'm starting to not hate Abraham, as his backstory is explained in excruciating detail. From there, Rick is forced to explore some of his more lethal decisions over the course of the book, and there is a touch moment between him and Carl. After that, we finally get to check in on Duane and Morgan, the father and son who had stayed behind in Rick's hometown back in the first volume of the series.

This isn't the best issue to hand to a new reader - it references a lot of past material, but it is a fantastic character issue, and shows off some of Kirkman's greatest strengths. I feel like this book is getting darker with every issue lately (which is not easy to do when you consider all that has happened in this title), but at the same time, I'm more intrigued by it than I have been since before they moved into the prison.

Scalped #25

by Jason Aaron
Art by R.M. Guera

This issue marks both the beginning of the third year of Scalped, and the start of a new arc, 'High Lonesome'. This is consistently the best comic being published by Vertigo, and this issue is the perfect place for a new reader to start reading the series with.

This entire issue is devoted to a card-counter, who goes by a number of different names, using a number of disguises. He has now come to the Prairie Rose Reservation, and a chance encounter with one of the regular cast members of the book sets off a plan for his 'one last big score'.

I can't praise enough what Aaron does every month with this series. He has a knack for creating believable, complex characters. The art is suited perfectly for the book, and does much to support the down-at-the-heels life of the Reservation.

The sales numbers on this book are low. If you've been thinking about checking out Scalped, this is the month to do it. You don't need to know a single thing about this series to enjoy this issue fully.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe (vol. 5)

by Bryan Lee O'Malley

There's nothing quite like a new volume of Scott Pilgrim. It's one of those times of the year that people wait patiently for, all the more so because of it's unpredictability.

This volume is another fun installment in Scott's life. He's 24 now, and determined to be the best 24 year old he can be, but he's still having problems remembering things, or recognizing people like his younger brother. He's also having some problems with the band and Ramona, who has found out that he cheated on Knives Chau with her. Also in this volume, he fights #9 and #10 of the 11 Evil Exes of Ramona Flowers, as well as some robots.

While this is a great comic, it didn't seem to have as many 'video game-isms' as the previous books, nor did it add much to the Scott Pilgrim staple of such things as traveling through sub-space, nor the hilarious realization of Volume 4 that not all Second Cups are the same place, connected by inter-dimensional doorways.

As well, it seemed like this issue wasn't as grounded in Toronto as the previous volumes were. There were still references to places like Sneaky Dee's, and a construction site at Queen and Bathurst, where "an old building is being gutted and turned into something else," but I didn't feel like the city was itself a character in the book, as it has been in previous volumes, which staged fights in the Reference Library and Honest Ed's. Perhaps that's only a sensitivity I feel because I like seeing my home town get portrayed so well.

Reading this issue, I started to think about the impending Scott Pilgrim movie. I honestly don't know if the charm of this title can translate onto the big screen. So much of what makes this comic work is that it IS a comic. Ramona's glowing head can't look anything other than cheesy when digitized. I will most likely end up seeing the film, but I know that nothing can replace the quality of this book.

Now there's nothing to do but what for another unspecified number of months before the sixth and final volume comes out....

The Ponzi State

by George Packer

Not living in the United States, it's hard to imagine sometimes the full effects of the current recession. You read stats, you hear about businesses laying off workers, but you don't really gain a full appreciation of what that must really look like. Packer's article travels around Florida, a state where the only real two industries are tourism and real estate, and checks in with a wide variety of people that have been caught in the vise of the recession.

He describes barely-occupied subdivisions, and people who were recently members of the upper middle class, and are now a hair away from destitute.

It's a great article for putting a number of human faces on the tragedy of home equity, but also for showing how and why American culture has to change. It doesn't take much to imagine a renaissance of the values of the Depression generation, as the majority of the country is finally forced to live within their means.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Exit Wounds

by Rutu Modan

This graphic novel received much acclaim when it was published in 2007, and it's not hard to see why. Modan tells the story of Koby, a youngish taxi driver in Tel Aviv, who meets a strange young woman named Numi, who has news that his father may have been the victim of a bombing.

Koby is estranged from his father, and is especially surprised to learn that his father and Numi had an unexpected connection. What follows is a quest shared between these two, as they try to piece together Gabriel's last days. Koby is a very conflicted person, and Modan does an amazing job of showing him in all his complexity.

The art in this book is very nice. While her figures are very simple, with their pin-point eyes, Modan puts a great amount of detail into backgrounds, especially whenever she draws an establishing shot of a new scene or landscape.

The book itself is a thing of beauty, with it's non-traditional cover, it's heavy paper, and the embossed letters on the spine. Just holding this thing in my hands makes me happy, before I even started to read it.

I Am Legion: The Dancing Faun #1

Written by Fabien Nury
Art by John Cassaday

I know that this series originally came out years ago, but I never bothered picking it up for some reason or another, which in the end is a good thing, as the DC/Humanoids version never saw completion. Now DDP has entered into a publishing agreement with Humanoids, and they are printing the entire series.

The problem with this new version has a lot to do with formatting - fitting a European graphic novel into a 6-issue series means arbitrarily cutting off the story after x number of pages, which can be quite disruptive to the story-telling. Add to that the fact that European comics take their time in getting to some exposition, and you have a slightly confusing book on your hands. I'm not sure I've figured out all that is going on in this first issue, but I am intrigued enough to stick with it.

The story seems to be about some sort of body-jumping entity, a little girl with powers, a secret investigative group, and some Romanian guys with guns. Like I said, I'm not all that clear on what's happening, but maybe I just need to read it again.

Cassaday's art, it comes as no surprise, is fantastic here, and makes the purchase worth while.

Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #1

Story by Warren Ellis
Adapted by Steve Pugh

Steve Pugh's run, with Jamie Delano, on Animal Man back in the 90s is still one of my favourite runs on any Vertigo comic ever, and so I've always kept an eye on his career. Although I haven't, up to now, been interested in any of the books being put out by Radical Comics, the news that Pugh was pairing up with Warren Ellis caught my attention.

Their book, Hotwire, is an interesting title. It's about a police exorcist, for some reason named Hotwire, in a world where the dead are returning in the form of ghosts that follow the laws of physics. It all has something to do with wireless technology. It's a very Warren Ellis concept, and Hotwire is a very Warren Ellis type of character - all the other cops hate her, and even though she claims a strict adherence to 'the rules', she pretty much does whatever she wants.

Pugh's art in this book is fantastic. The look is very similar to the work he did on the recent Shark-Man for Image - it's a photo-realistic painted look, with lots of oddly shaped panels and strange desing elements (like Hotwire's bike helmet).

The book has an interesting idea behind it, and I'll be around to see how it plays out for the next three issues.

Sandman The Dream Hunters #4

Story by Neil Gaiman
Adapted by P. Craig Russell

This was pretty much a perfect comic book series. Russell's art has always been fantastic, and only seems to be getting better as the years go by. He shows a strong understanding of Japanese sensibility and design in this title, and the colours by Lovern Kindzierski are beautiful and perfectly matched to the story.

This final issue takes on a darker tone than the previous issues, as the fox goes about enacting her revenge on the master of yin yang, and it is this moral ambiguity that I miss about the original Sandman series. Gaiman's characters have always been very complicated individuals, and their actions are not always clear or defensible.

This series has really reawakened an interest in The Sandman for me. I don't know if I want to see Gaiman return very often to this particular sandbox, but I would love to see the rare, high-quality project like this one, trickle out into the market.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bad Dog #1

Written by Joe Kelly
Art by Diego Greco

Apparently, the new rule is that all Man of Action Studios affiliated comics coming out this week have to start with a car breaking down somewhere in Arizona. I just thought I'd point that out.

This is the beginning of a new series by Joe Kelly, a writer known for both sophisticated stories (the recently completed I Kill Giants being the best possible example of that), and over-the-top humour (Deadpool). Bad Dog is about a bounty hunter who is also a werewolf, and his nasty drunken sidekick. It's a good premise, and is handled very well here. It seems people either react to Lou, the werewolf, with horror, non-chalance, or sexual curiosity, in different degrees. Wendel, the side-kick, tends to only draw reactions of disgust and pity.

This is a big, chunky first issue, clocking in at 40 pages, and Kelly uses the space to show that there is a lot of potential for this series to last a while. We get introduced to a rival bounty hunting outfit, the mystery of why Lou won't revert to human, some on-going discussion of missing children on milk cartons, and what could be a talking severed head that is kept in the refrigerator. All of this is rolled out at a decent pace. The humour in the book reminds me of a lot of Garth Ennis's work - it can get a little nasty, but is also hilarious in places.

The art, by Diego Greco (that has to be a pseudonym, right?), is very nice. His werewolf looks very dog-like (a great test of a comic artist is to see if they can draw dogs - there's a lengthy blog post in there somewhere, if only I had a scanner), and his people are expressive. The colours on the book are gorgeous.

I'm on board with this new title, and I hope it gets a good-sized run.

30 Days of Night: 30 Days 'til Death #3

by David Lapham

I've really been enjoying this comic - so much so that I'm tempted to read some of the original 30 Days graphic novels, which had never previously interested me. Lapham continues with his story as only he can. The vampires that appeared last issue posing as Rufus's family, make things very difficult for him, as they lack his self-discipline. All of his carefully built lies fall apart in this issue, as the vamps go nuts on his building and his life.

The dark humour and bizarreness of this book are perfect, as is the art. I hope that people who read and enjoy this series take the time to check out Young Liars, Lapham's excellent series at Vertigo.

Haunted Tank #3

Written by Frank Marraffino
Art by Henry Flint

This is more or less a placeholder issue in this series. I found the first two issues more enjoyable, as the story was being established, but now I'm beginning to wonder if there really is a plot here beyond the race-based arguing between the ghost and his descendant. If there was an overall story to set the squabbling against, I feel this would be a much stronger comic. (I don't count 'invading Iraq' to be a plot - it apparently doesn't have an end).

There are more than a few good one-liners to keep me amused, and Flint's art is fantastic - he makes a tank battle dynamic, which is not easy to do.

Soul Kiss #1

Written by Steven T. Seagle
Art by Marco Cinello

I've long enjoyed Steven T. Seagle's comic work. His takes on the X-Men and Alpha Flight were some of the better books being published by Marvel at the time they came out, and his Vertigo series House of Secrets was something I highly enjoyed. His graphic novel 'It's a Bird' is a classic. And then there was American Virgin, his criminally short-lived title with Becky Cloonan..... All of this made Soul Kiss a guarenteed purchase for me, which is not something I regret, now that I've read it.

This issue is mostly about set-up - we meet Lili (not Lillian!), an underpaid production assistant with big dreams, as she is tending to her broken down car somewhere in Arizona. She is approached by a redneck local, who attempts to take advantage of her. Somehow, this leads to her making a deal with the devil, which has consequences she didn't expect. The issue is done pretty quickly, but leaves us with a strong premise for the next five issues. Seagle is able to flesh Lili out for us very quickly, and she becomes a very strong character.

The art in this book is by Marco Cinello, who I've never heard of, but who reminds me a little bit of Teddy Kristiansen, Seagle's partner on House of Secrets and It's a Bird. The book has a very rough, sketchy feel to it in places, and in other spots, it slows down and Cinello explores a scene and its emotional gravity.

This is shaping up to be a very good series.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


by Marjane Satrapi

I fully recognize that I might need a late pass for this book - I'd been aware of it on some level, but had somehow equated it with Emily the Strange in my mind, which now that I've read it, is a very bizarre thing....

This is a great comic memoir of Marjane Satrapi's childhood in Revolutionary Iran. She begins to recount her life story around the time the Revolution began, and continues it through the Iran/Iraq war, when her parents finally sent her away to be safe.

The story is told very much through the young author's point of view - there are no lengthy explanations of Iranian politics, and instead, we as readers get to piece together our understanding of what's going on much as a child would, assuming that child had been raised reading Marxist comic books.

The young Marjane is a very strong-willed, intelligent, and observant child. She notices (and clearly remembers) all sorts of details about the human condition, especially under the stressful situations of revolution and war. She is quick to expose hypocrisy, but is also comfortable depicting her own childish excesses.

The art in the book is full of thick dark lines, and large chunks of black ink - some of the pages would work as wood-cut images. She is able to get her story across in the most minimal of fashions, and still convey the heavy atmosphere of the time and place. This graphic novel really helps understand the Iran of the 80s, and makes it easier to extrapolate an understanding of the Iranian character today.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Crate Digging: Magnificent City

by Aceyalone, accompanied by RJD2

Since there have been hardly any new releases of note lately, and I'm dying for some new music, I thought I'd start going back over some older albums, and see how they have held up since I took them out of regular rotation.

This was a good album when it came out, and it's held up really well. Aceyalone is an intelligent lyricist, equally able to tell a good story, or spit a standard rap song of braggadocio and swagger.

One thing that really makes this album shine is the production by RJD2. Some of the songs are experimental in nature, but others are straight up bangers. They weave together well though, and the album shifts from a very traditional start to a very spaced-out ending.

This is definitely an album that has held up very well in the 2-3 years since it was released.

The Rationalist

by Laura Secor

This is a great article that analyzes Iran's current economic situation, and discusses the history of Iran's economy from the revolution onward. It's not a topic that I ever thought I'd be interested in, but more and more, as the world falls into economic woe, I find I'm curious about how mistakes and mistaken ideologies can have a lasting effect on a country's well-being.

This article mostly focuses on Mohammad Tabibian, Iran's best economic thinker (not that he's often listened to). He has been around throughout the period discussed, and has an interesting perspective on the decision-making process that has gotten Iran to where it is.

What is most interesting is the contrast between Iran and the United States - they are suffering almost opposite problems, for different reasons, with many of the same effects. It seems that economists the world over can tell you what has gone wrong at any given time or place, but solutions seem much more elusive....

(It is also worth taking a few moments to appreciate the gorgeous Adrian Tomine cover on this week's issue).

Hand Over Fist

by Mike Mictlan and Lazerbeak

Some of the best new hip-hop is coming out of the Doomtree family, and this album is another excellent example of the talent of this group of Minnesota rappers.

Doomtree has a unique sound - it's hip-hop, but with a punk element to it. Lazerbeak defined that sound for me on POS's 'Audition' album, and many of the beats on this disk sound like they would fit there as well. Mictlan shows that he has a decent range of emotion and topic on this cd.

Excellent tracks include 'Suicide Jimmy Snuffa', 'Wolf Tickets', 'LA Raiders Hat', and 'Prizefight'. Mictlan and POS trade verses on 'Shux', one of the strongest tracks on the album.

Like many of the Doomtree solo offerings, this album works as a cohesive whole, and stands up to many repeat listens.

Farscape #1

Written by Rockne O'Bannon and Keith RA DeCandido
Art by Tommy Patterson

When I first read this comic, I was really not too sure if I liked it or not. I was happy to get a new Farscape story, especially since I'd read that its story fit with producer Rockne O'Bannon's plans for the series, had it continued, but something didn't work for me.

Now that I've read it a second time, I'm not sure what the basis for that earlier hesitation was all about. This is a good comic. On this second read, I could hear the characters' voices, and dialogue that had annoyed me before (like the conversation between John and Aeryn that results in the baby being nick-named Deke) was less awkward than I remembered it to be. This could be because I frequently got annoyed by Chrichton's forced 'down-homeisms' when watching the show too.

This book really does put the cast in familiar situations: their best laid plans are all falling apart again, someone is after them (I'm hoping it's not Scorpius - at least not until the third mini-series), and John and Aeryn are having trouble communicating. Noranti is played well for comic effect, as is Rygel. It's good to see Jothee and Chiana hooking up too, even if 53 times is a little much.....

The art on this book is serviceable. You can recognize the characters, creatures and settings, but it's not going to drop your jaw open. Again, this is a good book, and I'm glad I came around to it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Speto Da Rua (Dirty Brasilian Crates Volume 1)

by Madlib

I am pretty much permanently in awe of Madlib. He is in my opinion the greatest producer alive, and pretty much the most prolific as well. The mix cd does not feature his original compositions, but is instead a mix of music that he acquired on a trip to Brazil in 2007.

This mix takes the listener through a blend of Brazilian jazz, funk, bossa nova, and whatever else he decided to throw in. As a sample of the musical output of Brazil, this cd leaves me wanting a lot more. I recognize some parts of the mix - there is a familiar sample from (I think) the Madvillain cd here.

My complaint with this disk is that it is all one track, and there are no liner notes or other ways in which any of the music can be identified. As an introduction to Brazilian music, this fails in letting me search out any of the artists or their work, which is unfortunate.

Regardless, this is a great mix, and is only the first of six, if the Mochilla website is to be believed.