Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pretty Dark Things

by Cyne

I had this in the car for a bit, and while I enjoyed it, it comes across much better in a quiet room. This is a very strong showing from Cyne.

The album clocks in at 45 minutes long, but contains 16 songs, with no interludes or skits. Each song is over almost as soon as it begins, which gives the album a sense of depth and immediacy often lacking in hip-hop.

There are a few predominant themes: Cyne's pride in their individuality; the lack of creativity in commercial hip-hop; and anger towards Michael Richards.

The tracks are thick - there is a lot happening in the production, and the lyrics are intelligent and sharp. This really is an impressive album.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1917-1918

by Tim Cook

This has taken me months to get through, not because it was a chore, but because I knew that I never wanted to enter into it unless I could devote a good chunk of time and mental energy into reading it. It's a very dense, information-heavy recounting of the experiences of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the last two years of the First World War.

Cook has spent a decade researching this book (and its companion first volume), and has read through millions of pages of archival material, synthesizing it all into a thoroughly readable, and at times exciting, chronicle of Canadian strength, bravery, sacrifice, and maturity.

In many chapters, especially when describing the large set-piece battles at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, or the rapid advances of the last hundred days of the war, Cook's pages fairly vibrate with tension and excitement. He frequently lets the soldiers themselves narrate the story through their letters, diaries, and memoirs, providing a human face to the largely mechanized slaughter. Cook also portrays the growth of the Canadian forces, as the difficulties and failures of earlier battles lead to a more de-centralized command structure, fluid advancement techniques, and improvements in tactics and equipment.

The last chapter of the book is perhaps the best, as Cook examines the way in which the memory of the war has been constructed in Canada from 1919 to today, as only one veteran remains alive (at least at the time of publication). While describing the war in minute and exacting detail, and demonstrating how it forged Canada's identity into the 20th century, this book never loses sight of the experiences of the common infantry soldier who served at the sharp end of the spear, doing the lion's share of the work and fighting, and placing himself at the greatest risk.

This is a massively important book for any Canadian to read.

Crate Digging: Legacy

by Akir

Upon getting The Reaver's Terror Firma cd, I started hunting down solo work from different members of that super-group. The first that I was able to find (not counting Vordul Mega, who was the reason why I listened to the Reavers in the first place), was Akir. This disc came out in late 2006 or early 2007, and showcases Akir's emergence as an artist.

There is a heavily noticeable Immortal Technique influence - he had brought Akir on tour with him, and appears on two tracks here. As well, Southpaw provides the lion's share of beats. Much of the record is bland and kind of vapid, but there are tracks where Akir's voice emerges as a political rapper. Tracks like 'Politricks', 'Kunta Kinte' and 'Treason' work well within the context of his later work with the Reavers. As well, there are two tracks with production by Dada the Golden Child, including 'This is Your Life (pt. 2)', which I think is the best song on the album.

Other guest on the album include Hasan Salaam, Abiodun Oyewole, and Jean Grae, who strangely sings the hook on a nice little song called 'Tropical Fantasy'.

In all, it's an alright album, although someone needs to be held accountable for the hideous album cover. It would be nice to see some more work from Akir, either as a solo artist, or with some of the Reavers crew.

Unknown Soldier #6

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Alberto Ponticelli

This is the end of the opening arc on Unknown Soldier, and Moses makes decisions that he can't easily return from. Dysart has done a fantastic job of setting up this new series. I know that some don't like that he has moved the Unknown Soldier concept into the middle of the messiest of African wars, but I think that it has brought new life to the idea, and I like how grounded in research this series is.

If you haven't been reading this from the beginning, I encourage everyone to pick up the first trade when it comes out. This title has a lot of potential, and I hope it lasts for a while.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Battlefields: Dear Billy #3

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Peter Snejbjerg

I think this has to be one of the best books Ennis has written in years. In the first issue, the two protagonists manage to find each other amid the chaos caused by the Japanese during the war, and it is due to their similar experiences that Carrie first feels so attracted to Billy. In the second issue, they both go about their business of killing Japanese - Billy with much bravado as a bomber pilot, Carrie much more furtively and with slighter success.

It is in the third issue though that the differences between them come so strongly to the forefront. Carrie has never really left the atoll where she was raped, shot, and left for dead. Billy, however, is able to separate his past from his present, and views the war as a duty, and killing as his job. Their relationship comes to a terrible end, and we see the circumstances in which Carrie writes the letter that has formed the basis of narration through this whole book.

Ennis's writing is fantastic in this book, and it is aided to no small means by Snejbjerg, who completes the best work of his career. This has been a fantastic title.


by Atul Gawande

America currently houses a minimum of twenty-five thousand prisoners in conditions of near-total isolation, at very high costs, and despite the fact that studies show this treatment does not engender a positive change in the convict.

Gawande's excellent article details the effect isolation has on the human mind, using examples of American prisoners, American prisoners-of-war, and individuals taken hostage, such as Terry Anderson, who was held prisoner by Hezbollah in Lebanon for seven years. All of them experienced intense mental breakdowns, and many of them became unable to function properly in society following their release.

So, Gawande asks, why does America continue to utilise this form of correction, when it is proven that it doesn't correct? His biggest excuse would be that it would be unpopular politically to be seen as 'soft on criminals'. This becomes another example of things I don't understand about America, but there you have it. A system that punishes and rehabilitates, such as the British model described in this article, would make much more sense in terms of cost and benefit to the community, but it doesn't seem like something that American politicians would ever be able to support, as it would cost them votes.

I read this article at a time where I've been re-watching old episodes of Oz, HBO's prison drama/soap opera from the early-00's, and what I find interesting is how mainstream the facts that Gawande discusses really are. During its first two seasons, the producers of Oz showed that the system didn't work, and also demonstrated quite nicely the negative effects of segregation. It's interesting to me then that no real progress has been made on this issue. I admit, HBO has never had a massive outreach into American culture, but you would think that people would be beginning to be more educated about some of these issues, and perhaps would start changing their view of what "being hard on criminals" really means (and costs).

Jack of Fables #32

Written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges
Art by Tony Akins, Jose Marzan JR and Dan Green

This issue makes up the last of the Books of War, as the characters have finished the fight with Bookburner, and now must plan their next move. The Golden Boughs are destroyed, and while some of the newly-freed Fables decide to make their way to Fabletown, another group decide to stick with Revise and make plans to deal with Kevin Thorn. Jack and his group travel with Revise, and Jack learns a lot of new information about his provenance.

This issue is, I imagine, essential to understanding next month's Great Fables Crossover, so much so that it should have been labeled as a prologue for the benefits of anyone who doesn't read both titles.

As usual, this title is very funny. I especially liked Jack's recounting of the end of the war, in which he appeared looking rather like a 90's style hero, while still in his general's uniform.

I think it will be interesting to see how Willingham and Sturges blend this title's brand of humour with the decidedly more serious main title during this crossover.

Proof #18

Written by Alex Grecian
Art by Riley Rossmo

This is a very different issue of Proof, as it flashes back to the Gulliver days, when Proof was living with a traveling freak show which traveled to 1859 London, at the same time that the city was being terrorized by Springheel Jack, a grasshopper legged creature that spit fire and cut up local ladies.

It's interesting to see which members of the current cast of the book were around with Proof back in the day - I don't remember there being much discussion about this up to this point in the book, and I wonder what some of the implications of this knowledge will be. Most interesting is the character of Julia the Baboon Lady. I'm not sure if she's of the same species of Proof, or is just very very hairy - that hasn't been explained yet.

This book continues to pique my interests, although with so many different sub-plots running, I hope the creators don't stay too long in the past.

Top 10 Season Two Special #1

Written by Zander Cannon
Art by Daxiong

I really like having Cannon continue with Alan Moore's Top 10 universe. The original series and graphic novel that Moore wrote were so full of ideas and potential that they could easily sustain a few monthly titles for years without getting played out.

That said, I find it strange the approach that Cannon and Wildstorm are taking with this book. This special comes out two weeks after the end of the four-issue Season Two series, which left many many plot lines unresolved. I thought that this was Cannon's way of finishing up what ended up being too much story for four issues. Instead, this is a completely self-contained book that helps continue two characters' arcs, but doesn't touch on any of the other plot-lines from before.

This issue focusses on Girl Two, who has left Top 10 for a job as a public defender. She's new at the job, and having as much difficulty with it as she did being a police, but she is working hard at demonstrating to herself that she's up to the task. She's also dating Pete Cheney, who is unemployed after being removed from the force a couple of weeks ago. The story revolves around a murderer she's defending, who she believes is innocent, even though he has confessed. The courtroom drama plays out quite well, involving tons of Top 10 weirdness.

The art is by Daxiong, over Cannon's layouts. I'm not familiar with his work, and he's no Gene Ha, but he has a good feel for this title. His characters have large eyes, and very expressive faces. He's also packed the panels with background, just as Ha does on this title.

While I enjoyed this book very much, I hope there are more specials coming our way, especially one that will resolve Peregrine's situation. In her short appearance in this book, she doesn't appear to be pregnant any more, and while she refers to her husband, nothing is cleared up regarding his possession.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


by Guy Delisle

This book is very similar in style, if not substance, to Pyongyang, Delisle's first graphic travelogue.

The biggest difference is that, large electric fence notwithstanding, the people of Shenzhen have more freedom in their lives than the average person in China, therefore making them a lot less exotic and interesting than the people of North Korea. As well, where North Korea is all about glorifying the regime, Shenzhen is all about the mighty dollar, which is not as intriguing to Westerners - we're used to it.

To make up for the lack of a sense of peeking behind a forbidden curtain, Delisle opts to derive more humour at the expense of the people around him. I found the door-man who is constantly practising his English on Delisle to be hilarious, even though very little space was given over to him.

I also felt like there was more of an over-all narrative structure to this graphic novel. Pyongyang felt like lots of unconnected vignettes, while this was more of a structured travelogue. The art in this book is great - he really captures the pace with which the city is being constructed, and his figures have more individuality to them than they did in the first book.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Queen & Country Declassified Vol. 2

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Rick Burchett

This book fills in Tom Wallace's backstory, detailing one of his earliest missions with the Special Section, on the eve of Hong Kong's handover to China.

The story follows the usual Queen and Country set-up, involving some tension among the bosses, and Minders having difficulty working with Embassy staff on the ground. Wallace is portrayed as highly capable and observant, setting his character up for his later role in the book.

This book feels a little rushed; I think an extra chapter would have helped flesh things out a little better, especially the character of Mei, the Hong Kong police.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Who the F%@k Are You?

by C-Rayz Walz

C-Rayz Walz is one of the most consistent and reliable rappers recording today. It's not that he lacks innovation, it's more that he's found a formula that works well for his particular type of hip-hop, and he's stuck with it. This album is produced exclusively by producers I've never heard of (with the exception of Dub Sonata), and adheres to a classic hip-hop sound. One song, 'The Twins' is an almost exact rip-off of a song from an old RZA album.

The thing is, no one ever listens to a C-Rayz Walz album for the beats (even when he was recording on Def Jux) - it's all about the lyrics. Walz continues to come correct with his off-the-cuff style, usually best suited for his battle-rap songs, but also working on his more introspective tracks, like 'The Family Crest' and 'Deeper Feelings'.

The Sun Cycle emcee continues to showcase up-and-coming talent, and has a huge pile of MCs on here that I'm unfamiliar with. He also pulls in features from some of the artists he always works with: Karniege, Vast Aire, Access Immortal, and Poison Pen (all on the same track, the slightly disturbingly chorused 'I Love New York'). Breaking from the NY scene, there is also a guest appearance by Slug on 'In Your Soul', perhaps the only time I've heard Walz be the 2nd best rapper on a song.

The Tomb

Written by Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis
Art by Christopher Mitten

This is an exciting story about love, greed, and the infamous 'curse' Howard Carter discovered in opening King Tut's tomb.

Weir and DeFilippis write this story about Jessica Parrish, an archeologist in the Indiana Jones/Lara Croft vein, who has been discredited after her efforts to stop looters in Iraq backfire. She is contacted by a senator to explore a mysterious house that had belonged to Mathias Fowler, another archeologist who had been present at Carter's dig and who looted that tomb of powerful mystical objects. Along with Parrish is a rather large group of people (in true horror story fashion, the group starts shrinking pretty quickly), including a reporter who has fallen from grace and now writes for a tabloid.

The story quickly falls into conventional haunted-house tropes, but is rescued from total cliche by the strength of the characters involved. Both Parrish and Kelleher, the reporter, are joined by former lovers, adding a more adult dimension to the story, as they are forced to face their own obstinancy and obsession with their jobs.

Mitten's art here is quite different from his work on Wasteland. It's much cleaner, and the action is easier to follow, but his characters tend to all look the same, but for their clothing and hair. At times, I had to check to figure out who was speaking.

This is a good read, but I feel that Oni missed its target audience by including some swearing and rating it 16+ - I think this book would appeal much more to younger teens.

Friday, March 20, 2009


by Exile

This entire album was made only with a radio and an MPC 2000XL. When I first heard that, I thought of Negativland, and their overly-earnest work. Exile however, keeps the politics to a minimum, and instead creates lushly layered beats that show he is a producer of great talent and originality.

The album does contain a large number of 'skits' in the Madlib vein, but between them are beautiful pieces of music, especially towards the end of the album ('Love Line' and 'IN LOVE' are excellent, if thematically similar, examples).

Below The Heavens, Exile's album with Blu, made me take notice of this producer, but this album puts him into the category of 'must buy'.

Justice in Other Places

The Accused by Keith Gessen & Cambodia's Wandering Dead by Ben Ehrenreich

These are two excellent articles which depict the justice system at work (or not, as the case may be) in two different countries.

Gessen's article in the New Yorker is a depiction of the trial of the men accused of organizing and assisting in the murder of journalist Anna Politskovskaya in 2006. As the article progresses, he paints a dim view of the prosecution, and the Russian judicial system as a whole. The trial quickly becomes a showcase of prosecutorial error, expertly exploited by the defense.

Most interesting about the Russian system is that there is also a lawyer present representing the rights of the victims - in this case Politskovskaya's son, who appears to be the only person involved in the whole proceeding expecting a guilty conviction. Gessen's writing is detailed, and explains the intricacies of the Russian system while still providing the narrative drive of a good televised legal drama.

Ehrenreich's article in Harper's is concerned with the trial of five elderly Khmer Rouge leaders by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, a strange hybrid court, featuring Khmer jurists and lawyers, but with Western counterparts.

His article provides an excellent accounting of the 20th Century history of Cambodia, not shying away in the least from issues of American complicity and guilt. It also does a great job of describing the lack of relevance of this trial for most Khmer people (approximately 29% of whom did not even know it was taking place), and the difference in Buddhist and Khmer comprehension of justice compared to that of the Western world.

These two articles compliment each other nicely when read on the same day.


Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Mike Norton (with Leanne Buckley)

I managed to pick up a few of these Oni Press graphic novels recently at a very good price. When this came out, I was unfamiliar with both Johnston and Norton, but now have become a fan of both gentlemen; Johnston for his work on the exquisite Wasteland, and Norton for his work on The All-New Atom.

This is a quick read about a group of scientists that had years earlier experimented with teleportation (disastrously), and have now been summoned to a mysterious house on a rocky island (never a good sign), where one of their former technicians had perfected their science. Things aren't all that simple though, as this form of teleporting involves travelling through the Thoth dimension, named after the Egyptian god that resides there. What follows is a good old-fashioned horror story, as characters get killed off one by one, and Serena, the daughter of one of the original scientists, goes on a journey of discovery about her birth.

This is not a brilliant piece of work by any means, but it is entertaining. Johnston plays with some very interesting ideas, combining physics and ancient religion in a unique way, and Norton's art looks fantastic in black and white.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Serve or Suffer

by Esoteric

At some point in the last couple of years, it has become very fashionable and cool for people to admit to a love of comic books. What was once a source of scorn (or worse, pity), has become part of the zeitgeist like never before, and has created new avenues for artistic expression.

There's always been a link between hip-hop and the comics - just listen to anything by the Wu-Tang to see it, but on this project, Esoteric moves that connection to a new level. Borrowing a page or two from MF Doom, Eso samples from a variety of the old Marvel record/story books, although his focus is very much on the Avengers instead of Doom's Fantastic Four.

Throughout this project, Eso weaves these Marvel samples, along with a ton of other things, into his sonic soundscape, creating better beats than I've ever heard from him. It's a good thing that he kept this album as largely instrumental - these pieces aren't written with an MC in mind - they are more for showcasing his talents on the boards.

Esoteric really lets his geek flag fly throughout this project - the album is dedicated to Jack Kirby, and it looks like one of his illustrations that graces the cover (also paying homage to Joe Satriani's 'Surfing with the Alien' album). The only truly questionable move on here is 'Boba Fett Thrills Me Still', which at least is at the end of the album, saving me the need of skipping over it.

Bad Dog #2

Written by Joe Kelly
Art by Diego Greco

Two issues in, and I'm undecided about this book. Certain things I love: Lou is a great and intriguing character who is shown to have more complexity than anything else in the book; the bail bondswoman is hilarious, if seriously pushing the boundaries of good taste; and I like the growing threat of Mr. Baker, the other big bounty hunter in town.

What I can't stand though, is Wendell, Lou's sidekick. I find much of his shtick to be juvenile and annoying. I think that this character is the least plausible in the book (and that's saying a lot), and ultimately, not very funny.

Because I find this character so off-putting, I'm not sure if I'll continue with this series, and I'd like to. I'm curious to find out what the deal is with the head in the fridge, and to learn more about Lou's unhappiness and what the thing with the milk cartons is. Also, I like watching Nazis getting abused. This is a genuinely funny comic, but for that one single mis-step, which I'm not sure I can get past.

Hellblazer #253

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini

This is the end of Milligan, Camuncoli, and Landinis' first arc on Hellblazer, and I think they have a very good feel for the book. It must be difficult to write a character like Constantine - he has to be likeable enough that people will want to stick with the title, but being a jerk is so very at the core of who he is. Milligan seems to have the right balance here, as he has Constantine examine his own personal guilt as a way of getting rid of the horrid scab that has been covering his body.

I like the addition of John's uncle to this story - it helps to establish some connection to the story, and leads to one of the funniest moments I've seen in comics in a while.

I hope that Constantine's relationship with Phoebe makes it past the hurdles set up in this arc - I like the character and still firmly believe that it is only when Constantine is in a relationship that this book is at its best.

Beats and Other Abstract Truths

by Ras G

Like Madlib's Speto Da Rua, this is a one-track dj mix cd, featuring the wizardry of Ras G, who's Ghetto Sci-Fi is one of the better albums of the winter.

This is a fun little mix, jumping around in a variety of musical genres, but mostly staying grounded in hip-hop. There are lots of recognizable snippets, although often vocal tracks have been manipulated quite a bit.

Ras G is a huge talent as a producer, and this little disk shows his abilities as a DJ as well.

Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #2

Story by Warren Ellis
Written and art by Steve Pugh

This title is amazing! Pugh, working from a story or story idea of Warren Ellis's, is putting out one of the best books on the stand. There are a ton of interesting ideas at play here - the 'blue lights' and a world where the dead don't really die, the rioting that is taking over the city, the fear police have of Homeland Enforcement, the 'ghost bomb'; all of which take second stage to the incredible characterization of Detective Exorcist Hotwire herself.

While the character is of a familiar type in Ellis's body of work, Pugh has managed to flesh her out very nicely, both in terms of her character and her appearance (she really is cute). Her prickly relationship with all other police is what makes this book so readable.

The best thing of all though is the art. I was uncertain of Pugh's new style when I read Shark-Man, but now I'm a fully-converted fan. This book is incredibly gorgeous, with both realistic-looking characters and impressive blue-light forms, especially the Chinese dragon ghost.

I hope that Radical intends to return to the world of Hotwire when this series wraps up.

Rawbone #1

Written by Jamie Delano
Art by Max Fiumara

Anything written by Jamie Delano is an automatic purchase with me, but the first few pages of this book had me questioning that decision. Then I figured out that he was purposely writing with such florid, purple prose, and then I decided to simply enjoy this for what it is - a twisted, depraved little pirate tale that is purposely written somewhere in the land of bodice-rippers, adventure pulps, and Victorian over-writing.

Major Jack is commanding a group of British soldiers in a bid to rescue his betrothed from the clutches of La Sirena, a black female pirate who has taken her captive and has gotten to 'enjoy' her company. And, because Delano is playing around with pirate archetypes, there is a huge treasure waiting somewhere, if only he can convince La Sirena to lead them to it. That, of course, involves sex with a monkey, but it's best not to go there.

Fiumara's art here matches with the Avatar style - realistic and unadorned pencil art, looking nothing like his work on Four Eyes. I've noticed that he is not the solicited artist on the next two issues, which is interesting.

Young Liars #13

by David Lapham

Young Liars has entered its second year of publication, and continues to challenge in ways that no other book on the stands can. In this issue, Danny is now Johnny Jukebox, and he's hooked up with Lorelei, who might be Sadie's sister, and they are living in the town of Browning Arizona, and have a great life together of parties and local celebrities.

At least, that's how things look on the surface. But, as we've come to expect from this book, what's on the surface is not necessarily true. Danny/Johnny starts to figure things out about Browning when he stops taking pills, but as we learned last issue, Danny goes nuts without some form of medication.

As usual, I have no idea where this is going, but I don't really care, because I am enjoying the ride too much.

Age of Bronze #28

by Eric Shanower

It certainly is a treat when an issue of Age of Bronze is published. This book doesn't seem to have a release schedule, but instead appears randomly a few times a year. And whenever it does come out is a time for a small celebration.

Shanower's exhaustive and definitive telling of the Trojan War continues to astound in its attention to detail, both artistically and in terms of story and historical accuracy.

As the war actually heats up, we are treated to a battle outside the walls of Troy. What I found most interesting in this issue is how the women and elders of Troy line themselves up along the ramparts to watch the battle, cheering for their husbands or sons, and grieving openly as they are cut down.

This is a book that often requires two readings to fully absorb, but with each reading, the story can be enjoyed on more levels. The next issue is promised for summer of '09, which is something to look forward to.

Air #7

Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by MK Perker

I have to say that I like the approach Vertigo is taking to marketing this book. This issue is only $1, as Vertigo is trying to raise its profile and get new readers to try it. I hope that a number of people give it a chance, as it is a really interesting series with a lot of potential.

This is a strange issue to choose though as a 'sampler', as it fits right in the middle of a story - it's not an easy 'jumping on' point. There is a text page at the beginning, wherein Wilson re-caps her story, not in the usual manner, but instead by telling about her own meeting with Blythe, the main character, and then a later dream about her. It's a creative way to bring new readers up to speed.

In the main story, Blythe, while learning to fly the Hyperprax engine, has somehow found herself trapped in the body of her boyfriend Zayn, back when he was a small child. Blythe, and the reader, are just along for the ride, as Zayn lives his life up until his first meeting with her. While this provides some much-needed back matter for Zayn, who has remained a mystery up until this point, I'm not sure it's the best way to attract new readers.

Of course, the hope is that a new reader would become interested enough in the characters, and impressed by the level of talent that Wilson and Perker are bringing to the book, and then seek out the first trade (which also came out this week).

Regardless, Vertigo should be praised for standing behind such a unique and compelling series.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Suite for Ma Dukes

by Carlos Nino and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson

This four-piece LP (I bought it in digital) is a lovely and touching arrangement of four J Dilla classics (Antiquity, Fall in Love, Nag Champa, and Find A Way) arranged as chamber music.

The music remains highly recognizable as Dilla's, but it also runs with its own interpretation of the music. The respect the musicians have for Dilla is evident throughout, but this piece allows his work to move to a new level.

The pieces can be downloaded from Stones Throw. I believe that all proceeds go to Dilla's mother, who is still paying off his medical bills, and is herself in poor health.

Usury Country

by Daniel Brook
I've never fully understood America, and I don't think America's ever understood how it looks to people who haven't grown up there. There are so many good things to say and appreciate about that country. But at the same time, there are so many things that go on in the US, or are a part of the American character, that I don't think I'll ever be able to understand.

Money is definitely one of those things. I'm not going to pretend that we don't have cheque-cashing places here in Canada, or that the pay-day loan isn't a trap a lot of people here have fallen into as well; I just don't really think we would have invented it. And if a Canadian had invented it, I don't think they would portray themselves as a munificent patriarchal figure who would brag about giving a woman money to buy a Christmas tree for her grand-daughter well charging her interest rates of some 300%. The best part of this story is of course when the rich man also boasts that the little granddaughter now also uses his services, at the same usuriously high rates.

James Eaton and Allan Jones are two of the people who have made themselves quite wealthy off of this shady shady practice, and Brook really doesn't pull his punches when he portrays them as living very comfortably off the backs of their community. Jones sees himself as a local celebrity, and has done many good things for his town, but I'm not sure that creating and foisting on local children the Hallowe'en character Tall Betsy is really something people would appreciate.

What comes out of this article is that a few very smart (or devious) people have figured out ways to exploit the marginal existence of the working poor in the United States (and elsewhere - we do have this stuff here too), and are able, by having charged relatively small but regular fees, to continue to gain wealth while the mainstream banks are in need of bailing-out. It's a good article.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Three Strikes

Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Art by Brian Hurtt

I wish Oni made more titles like this. This is a deceptively straight-forward story about a college kid named Rey who gets picked up for shop-lifting a birthday present for his girlfriend, and who, because he has two comparatively minor priors from when he was younger, is now looking at twenty-two years in prison, under California's 'three strikes' rules. That he is a decent kid from a good home is never taken into consideration.

Three Strikes is also about Noah, a bail enforcement officer (never bounty hunter) and ex-cop who has difficulty relating to people, especially his teenage daughter, who is staying with him while his ex-wife is on a cruise.

Rey skips town, not knowing what else to do, and Noah pursues him. What follows is a rare story where the reader can't decide who he's rooting for, and both protagonists become fully-fleshed characters that the reader begins to care for, especially as circumstances push Rey into becoming increasingly desperate as he perception of his options narrow.

DeFilippis and Weir did a fantastic job developing their new-generation New Mutants characters at Marvel (until they were replaced on the book), and their skills at characterization are evident here as well. I don't understand why these two don't have a higher profile in the comics industry. Hurtt's art is expressive and perfectly matched to the story, much like his work in Queen and Country.

What really makes this graphic novel stand out is the way in which it criticizes the justice system without being preachy or heavy-handed. The creators simply present their tale, and leave it to the reader to come to their own conclusions. This story would make an excellent movie.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Beat Konducta Vol. 5-6

by Madlib

Madlib has to be the artist currently working that I respect the most. His prolific output, matched by its consistent quality, is amazing, and I like his work best when he is producing the instrumental Beat Konducta series.

This cd, comprised of the Dil Cosby Suite and the Dil Withers Suite, is a tribute to the late great James Yancey, or J Dilla, Madlib's friend and collaborator on their classic Jaylib project.

For this tribute album, Madlib has attempted to channel Dilla's use of soulful samples and drums, and has on a number of tracks, pulled it off quite well. Had you played some of these pieces to me a couple of years ago, I might have easily believed I was listening to something new from Dilla. It's nice to hear that Dilla sound again, and also nice to immerse myself in a nice long Madlib album.

There are 45 tracks in total on this disc, mostly a minute and half in length. If I had any criticisms to make of this album, it's that the tracks don't flow together as seamlessly as the pieces do on Dilla's majestic 'Donuts' album, and that, at times, can be jarring. As well, I don't like that Madlib has replaced the signature Dilla siren with somebody screaming - it's unsettling.

J. Rocc is credited as being featured on this album, but I'm not sure in what capacity. His usual mash-up style seems to be absent.

Crate Digging: The dynoSpectrum

I came to this album only recently, having never heard of its existence. Basically, Slug and Ant from Atmosphere did a side project, featuring the likes of I Self Devine, Beyond, and Swift the 90° (whoever that is). Ant did all of the production, and the artists took on fake names for themselves like Pat Juba and General Woundwart.

Ten years later, it's easy to look beyond the silliness and see the emerging strength of Ant as a producer. The sound here is late-90s creepy-lite (a little Jedi Mind Tricks), and it's a very consistent album from start to finish. Slug really stands out on the mic, sounding like the most polished and practiced of the bunch. The songs themselves tend to blur into one another, and aren't all that memorable individually.

This album reminds me a great deal of the first Grayskul record, and I have to say it holds up pretty well.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier

Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O'Neill

This might be a case of ambition being greater than execution. The idea behind this graphic novel is amazing - that Mina Murray and Alan Quartermain, in Big Brother's London of the 1950s would have to steal the government file, or black dossier, about their 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen', and that the information within it would aid them in their escape, is a great one. The notion that the dossier would become a part of the story, in a meta-textual way, encompassing a number of different literary genres, styles, and techniques, detailing the history of extraordinary people from the time of Ancient Greece to present day, is a very cool idea. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work.

The comic parts of the story read as well as any of the LoEG books have read so far - they are quick paced, beautifully drawn, and highly intelligent. My problem lies with the dossier itself. Moore has taken great pains to realize fully his world where our fictional characters are real and have over-lapping stories, but he somehow doesn't manage to make the dossier entries all that interesting. Some of them are great - the story of Orlando told as an old-school British comic strip in a boys' weekly is fantastic. Others though, are simply dense blocks of text that, while technically perfect, don't inspire the imagination. I found myself skipping over them, while still appreciating that they were there. I found I couldn't read more than half a page of Moore's Jack Kerouac novel, although other parts totally caught my interest.

In the previous volumes, I felt I could catch a lot of the references and jokes, but in this case, I was glad for the Internet, as I needed to look things up with great frequency (especially when the Golliwog showed up). Maybe if I was older and British, a lot more of the references would have made sense. I don't know.

All that said, the 3D section of the book is brilliant. There are a lot of really cool tricks - like the character that looks different depending what eye you are viewing him through, and the art here is gorgeous. O'Neill's never looked better.

As well, I like the way the framework is provided for the next volume of LoEG, which will be coming soon from Top Shelf.

30 Days of Night: 30 Days 'Til Death #4

by David Lapham

I'm sorry to see this title end. I found I was getting attached to Rufus, and his carefully planned way of life. The cast for this title has been amazing, although many of them meet with amusing and fitting ends in this issue.

Lapham excels at creating unlikely groups of characters, and the putting them through hell. He mapped out and paced this story beautifully, keeping it surprising right up until the end of this issue.

Soul Kiss #2

Written by Steven T. Seagle
Art by Marco Cinello

The second book by Seagle that I read this week continues with its examination of the deal Lili made last issue with the Devil. She is offered the opportunity to rescue her boyfriend and his soul, but as with all such arrangements, there is a price.

I like the way Seagle goes about having Lili rationalize her decision, and the choices she must now make. Part of what makes this book so easy to relate to is that at one point or another, we've all wished for the opportunity to cull the herd of people around us, and like Lili, we often entertain such fantasies while stuck in traffic.

Cinello's art continues to be well-suited for this type of story. It's angular and cartoony, but also embued with a certain kinetic movement and nervousness that matches Lili's mood. I'm not sure why the cover is so sexualized - it doesn't really match the content at all.

Fables #82

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by David Hahn and Peter Gross

This is a transitional issue of Fables, as Willingham wraps up some of the events from the Dark Ages arc, and gets things set for the Great Fables Crossover, beginning next issue.

In the wrapping up category, we see some of the emotional fallout from Boy Blue's death last issue, as Flycatcher, Pinocchio, and Rose Red grieve in their different ways. Mowgli's story is wrapped up as well, in another excellent back-up featuring art by Peter Gross.

In terms of set up, there is an interesting conversation between Frau Totenkinder and Stinky the Badger about the nature of Fable-ness, as Stinky starts talking about Kevin the Literal, without realizing it. I'd wondered before how Willingham was going to tie the action in this title to what's been going on in its spin-off book. Between that and the fight brewing at the end of the main story, the Crossover looks to be a very interesting tale.

The art on this issue is handled by David Hahn, an artist I'm not very familiar with. He captures the look of the Fables quite well, and draws Pinocchio as a believable child (this is my only complaint about Buckingham's work on this comic). The cover art is by Mark Buckingham, a suitable replacement for James Jean.

Old Money

by Omar Rodriguez Lopez

I didn't really know what to expect when buying this album - once I know that a Stones Throw cd isn't by James Pants or Baron Zen, I'll usually buy it based on reviews alone. I'm not all that familiar with Mars Volta, but I thought it was worth a try, mostly because I was in the mood for something different.

The first few tracks don't do much for me, but starting around the fourth ('Private Fortunes'), the album becomes more melodic and enjoyable. The last track, 'Old Money' is over ten minutes long, and is a very nice way to end out the album.

These pieces, to judge from the track titles ('How to Bill the Bilderberg Group', 'Trilateral Commission as Dinner Guests', 'I Like the Rockefellers' First Two Records, But After That....') and the album title, are concerned with shadowy industrialists and the real power brokers in American society, but I'm not sure I'm smart enough to be able to pick up on what the music is actually saying.

This album really is a departure for Stones Throw, but ultimately an enjoyable one.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

DMZ #40

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

Okay - you've got a nuclear bomb in your trunk, and you're not happy about it. It sounds like the right time to sit in the falling snow in Times Square, and turn off your phone.

In other words, Matty has decided that he's done working to Parco Delgado's schedule, and is instead going to take some matters into his own hands, to exert some control over things. This is a regular theme in DMZ - Matty is often at the mercy of forces beyond his understanding, and usually is just reacting to things. It's nice to see him exert himself, although his first demand of Parco - for him to fire his mother - reveals that he is still in some ways the naive kid of the beginning of the series, who still hasn't worked out all of his issues.

Wood has been taking this series into a new direction since the election, and I like seeing how things play out as the balance of power shifts in the DMZ.

The Amazon #1

Written by Steven T. Seagle
Art by Tim Sale

When this series first came out, I wasn't the slightest bit aware of Comico comics - it was a couple of years before I discovered Grendel, and so I was a little surprised when Dark Horse decided to re-print it. At the same time, it only took me about three pages before I realized why this book deserved a new audience.

Seagle and Sale tell a story of a reporter traveling up the Amazon to an American mining site, in search of a missing American worker who disappeared into the jungle around the same time the mining company started being the victim of acts of sabotage and eco-terrorism.

The story is told in a way that is unique even now - the reporter narrates through both his notebook and the article that is written after the fact. It's interesting to get both the immediate reaction to events, and the more polished version, benefitting from hindsight.

Sale's artwork looks great in this book. His panels are tall and narrow in places, leaving lots of room for the open Brazilian sky, and the colours by Dave Stewart are beautiful.

There is also an interview in the back of the book, wherein Seagle and Sale discuss the fact that comics don't appear to have the ability to affect the readers' consciousness. I'm not sure I agree - much of my awareness of the environmental movement came from reading Paul Chadwick's Concrete series in the early 90s, although that is one of the few examples I can think of....

Regardless, I'm glad that Dark Horse has brought this comic back, and I look forward to the rest of this series. My recommendation is that this issue be read with this week's Ex Machina Special - they compliment each other nicely.

Ex Machina Special #4

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by John Paul Leon

So I really admire the way Vaughan has basically written this one-shot issue of Ex Machina to call out the comics industry, and DC in particular, for their use of paper. The story is about a gardener who murders a newspaper publisher after he has a confrontation with Hundred over the mayor's environmental policies.

There is some hinting that this Gardener character, who can communicate with plants, has a link to Hundred, the other character who speaks to animals, and the strange intimations of a parallel world that keep showing up in the series. And of course, he's linked to Hundred's past as the Great Machine, as are all new plot developments in this series.

That alone makes for a good comic, but it's the sniping at the comic industry, and its "virgin paper going into virgin hands that tuck them away into poisonous plastic. Forever." Later, Hundred talks about how he has pressured the newspapers in NYC to convert to recycled paper, but has done nothing about the comic industry. He also refers to the need for comics to be using paper stock 'certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, not the logging industry's shills," which is, of course, is a comment on DC's recent decision to use paper certified by questionable means.

It amuses me that DC published this form of self-criticism. At the same time, it's Wildstorm, and they seem to have a lot of freedom (mostly because no one reads them).

This book made a nice companion to The Amazon published by Dark Horse this week.

Mister X Condemned #3

by Dean Motter

One of the things that I like best about this series is the way in which Mister X, the central character, gets so little 'screen time'. Instead, Motter tells the story through the supporting characters, using a number of different plot-lines to reveal the entire story.

There's a cool escape by the title character at the beginning of this issue, and some great scenes of the Memory Bank, a re-imagined Internet run using switchboards and 'internettes' (I love that word).

I'm looking forward to this series concluding next issue.

Raiders of the Lost R2

by Jon Mooallem

Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw (or at least, remember seeing), in the back seat of my parents' Volvo at a drive-in, some time in the fall of 1978. I was three, and it became a life-altering event. Throughout my childhood, I breathed Star Wars, through to the release of The Return of the Jedi, and I still have great affection for the early trilogy (and have tried to convince myself that the property was left untouched into the 1990s, and can therefore ignore all that came since).

That said, the part of me that would venture into a federally-managed desert that is also a crossing point for drugs, illegal immigrants, and other smugglers from Mexico to look for shards of painted foam from the Return of the Jedi set, is not the part that loves the Star Wars franchise - it's just the part of me that would be up for that kind of adventure regardless of the cultural touchstone it's attached to.

Mooallem journeyed into the Buttercup Valley region of The Imperial Sand Dunes with a trio of Star Wars obsessives to hunt down any remaining set pieces from the Sail Barge scenes in the third movie. His accounting of this trip, and the sub-culture of fans who seek out similar sets, is fascinating. It reflects strongly on our post-theologic world that so many hunt relics of different kinds, and really, build their lives around them. The journeyers in this article do not come back empty-handed, but I'm sure there are very few people that they interact with in their everyday lives that they can impress with their findings. Now, finding Bobba Fett - that would have been cool.

The Walking Dead #59

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

A lot of disturbing things have been happening in this comic lately, and Kirkman keeps upping the tension in the book with this issue. The addition of Morgan to the cast places a wild card in the deck, especially with the way he keeps looking at Carl. As well, the trip through the Grimes's hometown leads to a poignant moment where Carl talks about recognizing places, and knowing how they are supposed to look, compared to how they look now.

This touched a chord with me - it's the one thing about apocalyptic stories that always bothers me the most - that 'you can't go home again' quality of having your way of life utterly destroyed. It makes me think of some of the people who survived Hurricane Katrina to completely break down only when they were finally able to view their destroyed homes.

I think it's interesting that Kirkman never checks in on Michonne or the rest of the cast in this issue, instead keeping the book concerned only with Rick and his crew. Having read all of this series, that makes me think that they won't be around when Rick returns to their meeting place. Assuming he gets away from the herd of zombies that is....

Scalped #26

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Davide Furno

This issue of Scalped is focused entirely on Diesel, the 1/16th Kickapoo wannabe currently serving time for murdering a kid and his mother in the best arc of Scalped to date. Clearly, Aaron has future plans for this character, as he takes the time to develop his back-story further, showing us how he developed his brutality as a child.

The art in this issue is provided by Furno, who has worked on this title before. His art reminds me somewhat of John Watkiss, and works very nicely with this story.

This comic does keep getting better. While I enjoy Aaron's work-for-hire stuff at Marvel, this is the title which really shows his strengths and talents as a writer.

I'm not sure where this High Lonesome arc is going - this issue is completely unrelated to the last one - but I'm looking forward to seeing what the next issue has in store.

Northlanders #15

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly

The Cross + The Hammer is nearing its conclusion, and its two central figures finally get the chance to communicate with each other. It's interesting to see how Wood inverts the customary depiction of Vikings as savage barbarians, instead showing Ragnar as a man who views himself as helping to bring civilization to Ireland. We finally get to know a little more about Magnus, as his tattoo is explained, and we see the harsh treatment that he receives at the hands of Ragnar's men.

What is unclear is how much time has passed since the last issue. I'm sure that the date at the front of the book would give me some indication, but I don't remember what the date was last issue, and couldn't be bothered to dig it out. This is the problem when books are written for trade I suppose. In any case, I guess it's been a while (or Brigid has a very short memory). I imagine all will become clear with the next issue.....

Special Forces #4

by Kyle Baker

This book is a year and 3 months late, but it's worth it. Kyle Baker has always been an acquired taste for me - I loved The Truth, but had no interest in things like The Bakers or Plastic Man. This book, the story of a pair of misfit soldiers - one autistic, the other a criminal - recruited into the Army to fight in Iraq, sounded like it would be pretty amusing.

I didn't expect it to be quite what it was. The focus of the story seems to be on the sexiness of Felony, the girl on the cover of this issue, as she almost single-handedly fights her way across Iraq, with her uniform becoming increasingly shredded and revealing. Most of the supporting cast was killed off in the first issue, and the story stayed with Felony and Zone, the autistic soldier whose real-life counterpart was the inspiration for the story. This issue also features some mercenaries who work for Greywater, (an obvious parody), who try to recruit Felony in the middle of a fire-fight, outlining all of the benefits that exist in working for them.

Basically, this is a satire wrapped up in a big action movie. It works here. Felony's experiences are completely implausible, but the action moves along at a quick enough pace that you don't really notice. The satire is on point throughout, as Felony discovers Weapons of Mass Destruction, and gets to deliver a catch-phrase equal to those of Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger, except that this one is a quote from Dick Cheney.

This book would have worked better had it been finished during the Bush era, but it is a nice example of a piece of artwork that captures the feel of his reign quite well. The letters page is the best part of the whole comic.

Top Ten Season Two #4

Written by Zander Cannon
Art by Gene Ha

Okay, so Season Two of this series ends, but without resolving about six or seven plot-lines. We have no idea what's going on with Peregrine's husband, the murder of the people in the fountain in the first issue is barely mentioned, and many other things are just left out completely.

Much of this issue centres on Pete, who is apparently having all sorts of problems, but we don't really get a sense of what those problems are, or where he's going from here. The commissioner from another parallel gets taken out of the picture mostly off-panel. Something's up with Slipstream, but we don't know what.

In short, as an issue of an on-going series, this is a very good one. As the end of a mini-series, this issue is very frustrating. I know there is a Special coming out in a couple of weeks, which according to the solicitation text, looks to resolve the Girl Two storyline, but I don't think it can possibly conclude the multitude of new plot-lines that Cannon has begun with this series. I feel like he should have been given six or eight issues to play with. But then, this is Wildstorm, and the one thing they are very good at is bungling the endings of their better comics (Stormwatch: Team Achilles, Wildcats 3.0, Winter Men, etc.). I hope this comic is going to continue as a series of specials or small mini-series.

Cannon has done a great job of playing in Alan Moore's backyard. He shows an affinity for these characters and the weirdness of the Top Ten universe (I love the department shrink in this issue), and clearly has a lot of story ideas in his head. Ha's artwork is beautiful as always, and this is over-all a great book. I just wish it would be allowed to finish properly.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A History of Violence

by Jedi Mind Tricks

You have to love these guys. They have become so talented at giving their fans exactly what they want that listening to one of their cds can take you straight back to the early 00's.

Vinnie Paz is hilarious. His voice retains its usual deep, menacing growl, as he spits out violent and intolerant rhymes on one song, and gets all preachy on another (this time railing against media images of women and how they influence young girls - because I guess he'd be a hypocrite if he talked about violence on TV). He loves to shout out people's names, and he can ride a Stoupe beat like no one else can.

As for Stoupe, his beats are still wonderfully barocque, creating a dark, threatening atmosphere, but sounding rather beautiful at the same time. This album avoids some of the excesses of his more recent work, as he instead focusses on providing Paz with lots of space to fill with his large voice. The interludes on this album are not as pretty as some of his past ones, and 'Those With No Eyes' strangely includes a long audio sample of some guy ranting about how bad things are now, which was also used to intro a song on Erykah Badu's most recent album.

This album features the return of prodigal Jedi Jus Allah, sounding one thousand times better than he did on his own boring solo album. It's nice to have him back, as his voice balances Paz's, and keeps the songs from becoming monotonous.

There are the usual Army of the Pharoahs guests, and as usual, they sound pretty good too. This is a great album for the hardcore JMT fan, but it's also got lots to interest more casual listeners. Now we just need Stoupe to drop his solo album (hopefully it's just instrumentals).

Wiggle Room and The Unfinished

by David Foster Wallace and DT Max

David Foster Wallace is one of those writers I've always meant to read more of. I've liked every short story I've read, and have a copy of The Broom of the System around somewhere, but have never made time for it. My first thought, on hearing of his suicide a few months ago, was that maybe now I should get to An Infinite Jest, but can see that I won't ever pick it up, even though I know I'll like it.

Anyway, this issue of the New Yorker has a fantastically written article about Wallace and his long battle with depression, followed by an excerpt from his unfinished novel The Pale King.

The profile piece is very detailed and fascinating in the way it paints Wallace as such a dedicated author, with a strong desire to change peoples' lives through his writing. The Pale King was to be a book about boredom, and the transformative drudgery of work at the IRS.

The excerpt from the novel printed here is great - Lane Dean Jr. works at checking tax forms, a job of absolute boredom. His clock watching brought me back to some awful school classes, and trying through telekinesis to speed up the clock, and therefore time itself.