Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Alcoholic

Written by Jonathan Ames
Art by Dean Haspiel

I love Vertigo hardcovers in this format. There's something deeply satisfying about cracking open a book with these dimensions, and they are just about the perfect length.

This book is, I imagine, a highly autobiographical examination of a character named Jonathan A's descent into alcoholism. What elevates this above the purely confessional level is that Ames provides a great deal of insight into the roots and causes of his disease.

As well, the book is very funny in parts. There is a level of honesty and self-deprecation that is rare in literature, and although somewhat common in comics, is still handled uniquely throughout this book. Haspiel's art works very well with this type of story - his characters emote, and A's drunken or drugged out flights of fancy are handled as if they are common occurrences, making them stand out for their originality.

This book reminded me of MF Grimm's 'Sentences' - another Vertigo hardcover by a non-comics writer telling his life story. It's an interesting sub-genre for them to be exploring, and I hope they produce more like this.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jesus Killed Mohammed

by Jeff Sharlet

Reading What Is America? recently, I was struck by Wright's examination of faith's place in American expansionism. His section on how the Mormons were known to slaughter (perceived) enemies while dressed like Aboriginals was in stark contrast to the carefully managed image that the LDS's project today.

This article, which examines the semi-hidden Evangelical element within the United States military is not really surprising, it's just not something I've thought much about before. Sharlet describes a large network of soldiers and officers who view the War on Terror in the same light as many in the Middle East do - that it IS a modern day crusade perpetrated against Muslim people.

This is a very well-written article, making use of a great deal of research and providing insight into an often closed institution. Something more for Obama to fix....

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Warlord of Io and Other Stories

by James Turner

This was a nice surprise when I saw it on the shelves at the Beguiling the other day. I hadn't noticed any solicitations for this, or heard any buzz about it. It's a few short stories, most of which are unresolved, even though there is no evidence of a subsequent volume being in the works.

The first, and longest, tells the story of Crown Prince Zing, who becomes the Emperor of Io, and immediately, to impress a girl, institutes a set of sweeping reforms, providing education and health care to the masses, to the detriment of the military budget.

The second story is about a low-level demon functionary in Hell, who is trying to get tickets to see the Stalin-Hitler fight, and has put a plan in place to win them in a contest.

After that there are a couple of strips, including a cute one about a chair.

The book is full of the same weirdness Turner employed so well in Rex Libris. His Io is populated by 50 species, all of them angular and strangely rendered, in his usual style. The grays look a little washed out on this paper, but that effect seems to play quite well for this style of comic. I do hope that more of these are on the way.

Hellblazer# 254

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Goran Sudzuka and Rodney Ramos

Milligan is into his second story on Hellblazer, and I'm happy to see that Phoebe is still in the mix, as is the London Olympics, 17th century plague doctors, more dried skin, the next Banksy, and bird masks. In other words, it is definitely 'good Milligan' at work on this title, and it seems to keep getting better.

I really like seeing John get involved in local political protest action, even if he doesn't really have much choice in the matter. It works to balance his earlier involvement in breaking strikes in the last arc.

Sudzuku's pencils here make me nostalgic for Y The Last Man, and he does an admirable job, but overall, I think I prefer Camuncoli on this book now.

I Am Legion #3

Written by Fabien Nury
Art by John Cassaday

As this series progresses, I find I like it more and more. There are a lot of narrative jumps, and sometimes its hard to be sure who is who, but the story has become more intriguing as it has picked up more espionage elements.

Cassaday's art is fantastic as always - I especially like the emptied crypt under the church. I know that the size of the art has been reduced for this format of comic, and that might lead to some of the confusion in character recognition.

My biggest problem with this comic is that some of the letter balloons are pointing the wrong way, making some dialogue very confusing. It's my understanding that this book has been translated for years - you'd think that someone would have taken the time to read it over carefully.

Jack of Fables #33

Written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges
Art by Russ Braun and Jose Marzan Jr.

The Great Fables Crossover is well underway, and the story is starting to take shape. Jack, Bigby, and Snow, along with Revise, the Page Sisters, Gary (who is now going to be Bigby's sidekick), and the rest of the Golden Boughs crew are going to hunt down Kevin Thorn before he has the chance to destroy reality.

Following the tradition of all comic cross-overs and team-ups, Jack and Bigby get into a fight that takes up a good deal of this issue, but now that it's out of the way, things can get started (except, of course, for the last page's events). This is looking like it's going to be a fun story, and as always with this title, it's the little character moments, like Snow White meeting up with Carl, the fourth little pig, that make the book.

Also of interest is a sub-plot set long ago and far away involving Jack's son with the Snow Queen. I'm not sure if that's going to be dealt with in the Crossover, or if Willingham and Sturges are setting the stage for the next storyline, and hoping to attract some new readers...

I Am Not For Sale

by John Robinson

I think it was an interesting decision to give the album's producers as much space on the cover of this cd as the artist himself - it is quite a list of buzzworthy beat-makers he's assembled, and this became the big draw of the album for me, as I was underwhelmed by John Robinson's last release.

There is definitely an experimental vibe to the beats here. Flying Lotus's contributions evoke the language of insects, and Jneiro Jarel provides beats that are recognizably his without having to scan the liner notes. J. Rawls comes correct with a Lone Catalysts style track as well.

As for the songs themselves - Robinson is basically stating his claim of independence on almost every song. We get it - he's not happy with the state of hip-hop, and so he's going to make the music he likes. This is an admirable thing, as the songs he creates are consistently good, if over the course of the half-hour album, a little repetitive.

I find that Robinson wears his influences on his sleeve. 'Don King' sounds like it belongs on Nas's Lost Tapes, and 'Fly Prezidente', with its rhyme about cafe con leche, could have been ghostwritten by MF Doom.

Ignition City #2

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Gianluca Pagliarani

It's only been two weeks since this series debuted, and already the second issue is out. Any bets on how late the fifth issue is going to end up being still?

This issue continues to establish the world of Ignition City, where space travel has been discontinued pretty much around the world, and all the old rocket heroes have come to this settlement to scrape by a meager living.
This issue has Mary digging into the circumstances of her father's death, as the people responsible for it start to circle around her.

Pagliarani's art shows the grit of the city wonderfully, while keeping Mary looking cleaner and much more lively than everyone around her.

Ellis has taken a lot of time in establishing this world, and it's one I hope he's going to return to in subsequent series.

Scalped #28

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

So far, the 'High Lonesome' arc has been a series of single issues that have focused on one particular character at a time. There was the nameless card counter and grifter in the first issue, followed by Diesel, and Nitz last month.

This issue opens with the beleaguered Officer Falls Down investigating the murder shown at the beginning of the arc, and so I thought that the book would mostly focus on him. Instead, it propels the main plotline of Scalped forward quite a bit, finally revealing the identity of the murderer of both the FBI officers back in '75, and the murderer of Gina Bad Horse.

As always, this issue is absolutely excellent. I'm glad that all the work he's doing for hire at Marvel is not splitting Aaron's attention away from this book, and it was good to have Guera back on the art for this important issue. I also like the way the cops with Falls Down hint about things going on at the Casino, without revealing what they are. I can't wait to see how this all plays out next issue.

Elephantmen #18

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Marian Churchland

This issue goes a long way towards redeeming this title after last issue's Mrs. Magoo and Tusk team-up fiasco. In this issue, the spotlight is on Miki, who is dealing with the unintended consequences of a one-night stand.

This issue digs a little deeper into her relationship with Hip Flask, and how the hippo was seen in Egyptian mythology. It's an interesting story, and Starkings has done his research.

The best part of this issue though has to be the artwork of Marian Churchland. The comic was done in marker, and has a very soft palette to it, which suits Miki's personality perfectly. I feel like Churchland is going to be a major talent, and I'm thankful Starkings gave her this opportunity to shine.

My only real complaint about this book is the hideous, mid-90s Image girl front cover by J. Scott Campbell. I don't understand how, in a comic intended to add complexity and depth to a character like Miki, the front cover has to display her as an objectified porn star hanging from gymnastics rings just so her boobs would stick out even further. I've never understood the appeal of Campbell as an artist, and this cover almost caused me to skip this issue completely (thankfully, the back cover, shown above, was by Churchland and saved the purchase).

Fables #83

Written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges
Art by Mark Buckingham and Andrew Pepoy

This is the start of The Great Fables Crossover, a story that will be jumping from this main title into spin-off Jack of Fables, and its own spin-off, The Literals over the next three months.

As I follow both on-going books, I'm familiar with the status quo in each. Had I only been reading Jack's book (although, based on sales numbers, I think its usually the other way around), I'm not sure that there is enough exposition in this issue to help me understand what is happening.

The issue focuses mostly on the conflict between Bigby and the Beast, and what that conflict reveals about the presence of Mr. Dark in Fabletown. This whole issue also provides the reason for Bigby and Snow to travel out to meet up with Jack in his title.

Most interesting in this issue is Stinky, or Brock Blueheart, as he now wishes to be called, and his new personality cult that centres around Boy Blue. I'm curious to see where this plotline leads.

Viking #1

Written by Ivan Brandon
Art by Nic Klein

Before even talking about the content of this comic, the packaging needs to be discussed. This comic is about an inch wider than a standard comic, and the cover has two different types of finishes - the background has a matte finish, while the two figures are glossy. The paper inside is also matte, and it absorbs the colours in such a way as to make them warm and luminous. It is a beautiful book, and it is only priced at $2.99. In a comics environment where the standard book is now sometimes going for $4 a pop, this is the bargain of the week.

The comic is good too. I have to say I found the story a little confusing at first, as I wasn't quick to be able to recognize individual characters, but it still kept me intrigued enough to want to read it again, and to buy subsequent issues. There are a couple of Viking brothers, who I suppose are Viking criminals, and some other people want revenge on them. There's enough to work with there.

The big draw here is the art. Klein's pencils remind me of Ryan Kelly (very apt, as this book reminds me a lot of Northlanders), but he also has some pages that appear to be watercolours, and his colouring is fantastic. I love the use of zip tones (that's what you call the dotted stuff, right?) and the scratchy look to the art in places.

I think this title has a lot of promise, and I'm glad to see such a unique project on the stands.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ex Machina #41

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

This is the start of a new arc of Ex Machina, and it's clear that Vaughan is raising the stakes as the title moves into its final stretch.

Mayor Hundred unveils his new plans for dealing with the city's deficit, and (in the less-interesting parts of the book) both January and Pherson seem to be mucking about working to bring Hundred down.

I've always found that the political aspects of this book to be the most interesting, and I like the way that it is set in the recent past. Vaughan pokes fun at the Bush administration's answer to economic uncertainty - to go shopping - and instead lays out his plans to fix the deficit, and the schools, all at the same time. It's an interesting group of suggestions, and I like the wager he is making.

Much of this book felt like filler - both the flashback at the beginning and the speech from the homeless man at the end could have been shortened quite a bit; but this continues to be one of the most interesting books on the stands.

Mister X: Condemned #4

by Dean Motter

I've enjoyed this series, yet at the same time, I feel like Motter was trying to squeeze too much into these four issues. I just found that the scene jumps were a little too jarring, and I wasn't always sure of who characters were. I really feel like this title will read better in a trade format, or in one sitting.

That said, I like the ideas in this series a lot - and the concepts of Mechanitectonics and Kinetecture are very interesting ones.

I'm not sure if there are plans for more Mister X stories after this one - it would be interesting to see Motter continue to play with Radiant City.

No Hero #5

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Juan Jose Ryp

Warren Ellis's story of drug-induced super powers and the nature of heroics is chugging right along. Josh, having survived the horrifying effects of FX7, is not embracing his new role, and so, in the middle of a total crisis, Masterston sends him out to wander around San Francisco (without, apparently running into any X-Men), where he is mysteriously the only person able to stop an imprending disaster, save the city, and become a hero in the eyes of the public.

The big reveal at the end of the book doesn't really work for me - I don't understand how revealing the truth to Josh is anything but counter-productive. So while I don't really understand this, I do totally trust Ellis, and am looking forward to the last two issues of this series.

Ryp's artwork just keeps getting better and better. While I have a hard time understanding Josh's new physiology as Ryp draws it, his action scenes - especially those involving the airplane - are spectacular. I figure it's not too long before he gets snatched up by one of the big two to draw some kind of big crossover wide-screen action title.

100 Bullets Vol. 4: A Foregone Tomorrow

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

One thing I really like about reading 100 Bullets in trade is that the books often contain more than one story. There is a mixture of one-offs, two- and three-part stories making up this volume, which collects eleven issues in total.

Up to this point, I'd been enjoying 100 Bullets, but was having a hard time keeping some of the characters straight, as I have not been reading this title steadily, and found that I forgot things in-between. This volume, with its detailed explanation of The Trust, and Agent Graves and the Minutemens' history with it (without actually revealing all the important details) has me very intrigued to continue reading the series (I have them through volume 7 just sitting on a pile, waiting to be read).

I'm blown away by Risso's art, and love the way Azzarello is treating every character like they are important, even if they are clearly never going to be a part of the book again.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Zot! 1987-1991

by Scott McCloud
From 1987 to 1991, I was not reading a lot of books published outside of the Big Two, and so while I had seen issues of Zot! around, I'd never bothered to read a single one.

Now, having made my way through this gargantuan collection of close to twenty-five issues of this Eclipse series, I think it's something that my younger self would have liked even more than my older self does.

McCloud rightly divides this book into two different sections - there are the 'Heroes and Villains' stories, and then there are the 'Earth Stories'.

The first bunch of issues are set primarily on Zot's alternate Earth - an exciting utopia somehow still plagued by bizarre criminals. Zot has a large supporting cast on his planet, who for the most part, never really did much. Many of these stories would have benefitted from either the inclusion of the original ten colour issues of this book, or at the least, a re-cap page, as it's a little confusing at the start of the book. There just seems to be a bunch of stuff that happens, which I feel like I should understand better. These stories are standard superhero fare, although they try to be more than that, with the inclusion of such a bizarre rogue's gallery.

The 'Earth Stories' take place after Zot is stranded on his girlfriend Jenny's (and our) Earth, and the focus quickly shifts away from the fantastical nature of Zot's life, and instead emphasis is placed on Jenny and her friends, and the problems they have growing up.

McCloud's stories in this section today seem a little too earnest, but heart-warming, as he tries to tackle issues of loneliness, alcoholism, homophobia, self-esteem, and teen sex. These stories need to be looked at in their historical context, when they would have been ground-breaking and daring, and they work really, really well.

It is great through the course of this book to watch McCloud mature as a writer and an artist, as the seeds of what would become 'Understanding Comics' and its sequels begin to grow in his mind, and on the pages of Zot!. Characters like Dekko (with his Art Deco head and modernist visual perspective) are obvious, but welcome, attempts to stretch the superhero genre, before McCloud basically abandoned it all together.

One thing I really enjoyed in this book are the commentaries following each story arc. McCloud really goes into a lot of depth explaining his circumstances and goals for the book at each step, and this sheds a lot of light onto the stories themselves. A lot of trade paperbacks (and $3.99 comics) today try to include 'dvd-style extras', although usually this material comes off just filler. With this book, McCloud really raises the bar for this type of thing. This is highly recommended.

Young Liars #14

by David Lapham

It's been announced this week that Young Liars is going to be ending with issue number 18, leaving us with just four more installments of this wonderful comic.

I'll admit to being highly skeptical of this series when it first started. I didn't really like the first couple of issues, but I saw a lot of potential in them, and decided to just trust in the fact that they were being done by David Lapham, and so I continued to buy it. By about issue 6, I put it on my pull list, and have not regretted that choice ever.

This series is kaleidoscopic, in that Lapham is using the same story elements to constantly shift around the reality that is being shown to us. From issue to issue, I feel a certain level of cognitive dissonance that I find fascinating - each time the narrator changes, there is a completely different story being told, but I can't shake the feeling that all of what is being portrayed is the truth in some way.

This issue focusses on Annie X, the anorexic former super model, who is now also Jackie, a nurse being used to spy on Danny (now Johnny) in Browning. Similar events from last issue are shown, but from Annie's completely different perspective. As usual, it's excellent. It's really too bad that Lapham has only four more issues to tell this story.

The Walking Dead #60

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Here's another exciting issue of The Walking Dead. Kirkman's really hit on a good pace for this title since the characters went back on the road. There's a lot going on in this book, with the threat of the herd, the twin kids (I don't remember the last time I even saw them) playing with dead cats, Dale getting grumpy again, Glen and Maggie finally having a talk, and a five-page ad for the next story arc.

I like how Kirkman balances the plot moments with character moments. He has a large, ever-changing cast in this book, and I really respect the way he's able to provide them all with distinct personalities, but still fit in the space for some intense action.

The only problem I had with this book would be with the family that was found dead in the farm house. They seem way too freshly-killed. There are no signs of decomposition, and that just seems unlikely, considering how long it had been since the zombie thing happened. It's a minor point, but it threw me out of the story.

DMZ #41

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Nikki Cook

This would be the best book that came out this week.

To begin with, I love the cover. I was upset when I heard that Wood wouldn't be supplying the covers anymore, but I think this is the best-looking issue of the series to date. I don't know who's decision it was to paint the logo the same colour as the rest of the cover, but it totally jumped out at me as I was going through my stack of new books, and is one of the few comic book covers I would consider hanging as art in my home. John Paul Leon should be commended for his innovation here.

Then, the story. I've liked Zee since she first appeared in the series, and so I was happy to hear that she was getting a solo-issue appearance. I was even happier to see that Wood used this issue to explore some of the things going on in the DMZ outside of Parco City, and to not focus on Zee pining for Matty through the whole thing. She's a very strong character, and she's been allowed to stay a strong character.

Nikki Cook's guest art is suited perfectly to the story, and carries the same sensibilities of artists like Kristian Donaldson and Ryan Kelly. Her look fits into the tone of the series quite nicely. I would love to see more of these one-shot issues, as I'm getting a little tired of Matty, and I feel like there is a lot more in the DMZ to take a look at.

Soul Kiss #3

Written by Steven T. Seagle
Art by Marco Cinello

This continues to be a fun title. I like the way Seagle is playing with the moral ramifications of Lili's situation (having to kill ten men in ten days in order to secure the soul of her boyfriend) and at the same time commenting on the types of people you would think you would want to kill in such a situation ("attitudey, pansexual sales clerk" being one).

The title moves quickly, and the art seems to be changing slightly as the book progresses. The second last page, as Lili talks to a homeless person, looks like it could have been drawn (or at least laid out) by Will Eisner (perhaps an intentional homage to "A Contract With God"?).

Air #8

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

I hope that last month's $1 issue of Air has brought in some new readers, because this title is becoming more compelling with each issue.

This month, Blythe returns to her own body and life, after having gotten stuck in Zayn's past, and embarks on a mission to retrieve the Hyperprax device that Zayn had been in possession of. Blythe is coming into her own as a character, and I find her much less annoying in this issue than I did at the start of the series (I do wish Perker would allow her to change her clothes though - there's something about this outfit that doesn't ring true to me).

I like the way that Wilson is working with this concept of 'technology as symbolism.' I'm not entirely sure of what it means, but it provides fertile ground for this series to explore.

Rex Mundi #17

Written by Arvid Nelson
Art by Juan Ferreyra

More big revelations in this issue, as Rex Mundi gets increasingly more exciting and unpredictable in the build up to its finale.

There's not much that I can say without spoiling the events of the book (although clearly, from the cover, Moricant comes back). I've really enjoyed the way that Nelson has set up the Holy Grail plot in this book - the first issues were often exposition-heavy, but all that groundwork is really paying off now that the book has has reached this point.

I think this book has reached the point where it would be difficult to pick up many new readers, except in trade. While the art in the first book or two is rough, it is worth starting at the beginning of this story, and reading it completely. The addition of Juan Ferreyra to the title was the best thing that could have happened to it, as it brought it new life and provided Nelson with an artist who truly had the capability to bring his vision fully to light.

Incognito #3 and Godland #27

Written by Ed Brubaker and Joe Casey
Art by Sean Phillips and Tom Scioli

So here are two books that on the surface have absolutely nothing in common. One is a hyper-kinetic cosmic space adventure and strange cross between a loving homage and slight parody of all things Jack Kirby. The other is an intelligent series working in the realm of gritty anti-hero comics and the pulps.

But they do have a lot in common:
1. They have somewhat sporadic release schedules.
2. They are remarkably consistent in their quality (I'm going to basically act like all Brubaker/Phillips titles are one and the same - this book belongs in the Sleeper to Criminal continuum).
3. These are both books that were good this month, but didn't impress me enough that I would have much to say about them if reviewed independently. They were more than placeholders, as both did a lot to advance their plots, but ultimately, I didn't have much to say about them, but didn't want to skip reviewing them, since they are both highly enjoyable.

I am wondering though, after Nickelhead made his demands in Godland, is Obama going to be in the next issue? I hope comic stores are laying in an extra 50 000 copies....

Doktor Sleepless #12

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Ivan Rodriguez

For whatever reason, my regular comic store didn't get this at all, and my back-up comic store only appeared to have copies of this weird "Giganta dancing to the Organ of Electricity" black and white wrap-around cover, which makes me wonder a few things, primarily if having 4 or 5 covers of every comic they produce actually garners Avatar more sales. I really like this series, but I can't imagine that there are more than 3 or 4 people out there that would want to own multiple copies, or that think it's going to be some ultra-rare send your kids through college book some day.

Once I got past the cover, I quickly remembered why I like this book so much. Ellis is working on such a slow burn with this title, both in terms of plot and release dates, that it is easy to forget what is going on with the different sub-plots and various characters (I totally forgot that Sing had a boyfriend), yet each issue quickly draws me back into its web.

Heavenside continues to fall apart in this issue, as the gang war heats up and problems arise for Preston Stoker. Also, the Doktor starts a free medical care program. There is a great exchange between the homicide cop and members of the Headhunters gang.

So this book just keeps grinding along (pun intended), and getting more and more interesting with each issue.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Crate Digging: Shine Through

by Aloe Blacc
It's been quite a while since I listened to this entire album from start to finish, and I have to say that I think it's even better than I remember it being.

I'm still not familiar with Aloe Blacc's work with Exile in Emanon (although I really should check for that), and this album was really my first exposure to him as an artist.

I love this cd. Aloe Blacc is equally skilled as a rapper, producer, and singer. The songs on here are beautiful, and show a huge range of styles and skill. The Spanish songs make me wish I spoke the language, and much of this album makes me wish I was in a Panamanian bar dancing with a beautiful lady.

It's way beyond time for a follow-up album to appear.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Doomtree Blowout

This the first DVD released by the Doomtree collective. It chronicles the set-up for the Blowout 2 concert, and then features the concert itself. As well, it contains about 6 videos, and an odd collections of outtakes and extras.

The concert footage is stunning. It looks like it was a great show, and the crew really show their talent. There is a lengthy (very lengthy) dance segment in the middle of the performance, which I found I skipped over, but the rest of the dvd held my attention very well.

Worth special mention would be Turbo Nemesis's segments wherein he tells his story about cruising around Minneapolis with a man named D, and later when he takes the camera on a tour of the Doomtree Mansion.

Included with the dvd is number 13 in the False Hopes series of cds, featuring 12 tracks, most of which I'd never heard before.

All of the tracks are worth owning, but I was especially impressed with the instrumental offerings from Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger, and Cecil Otter. I think it might be time for an all-instrumental release from these talented producers.

This is a must-own.

Sahara Swing

by Karl Hector + The Malcouns

Recently HMV had a 5 for $20 Stones Throw promotion, which at first got me excited, and then, looking through the display, I realized I already owned practically every album offered, or knew for certain that I didn't want to buy them (I'm looking at you James Pants). The only unknown factor for me in this promotion was this album here. It was only $6.99 as a single cd, so I thought it was well worth the risk.

My thinking upon purchasing this was that while some of the Stones Throw output can be a little questionable at times, Now-Again records is a much safer bet, and how bad can a cd of German Afro-funk be?

As it turns out, I like this album a lot. It's pretty much exactly what it looks like it's going to be, and that's a good thing. It doesn't bring me to tears, or change my outlook on life, but it is a nice, reliable little album, that I enjoy listening to. If only more things in the world could be counted on like this.....

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What is America?

by Ronald Wright

Having felt on numerous occasions that the American character is something that I can't quite grasp, I felt that this book would aid in a decent attempt at comprehension.

Wright provides a quick and snappy overview of the Columbian Age - the roughly five-hundreds years since the 'discovery' of the New World, and the consequent population and industrial explosions that said discovery set off.

He charts the decline of Aboriginal (American) cultures in both North and South America, and the rapacious hunger of settlers from the original 13 Colonies and those who followed in their footsteps for land and the riches it held. Once the frontier was gone, Americans set their eyes elsewhere, first in the Philippines, and more recently, in Iraq.

America, and Americans, are rightfully portrayed as aggressive expansionist fundamentalists - not a fair portrayal to all, but he repeatedly draws a distinction between 'Backwoods America' and 'Enlightened America' (ie., the Eastern Seaboard, and one would assume, California and Seattle).

This book does a fantastic job of shedding light into the darker corners of American history, and maintains a sense of context, so that it never appears one-sided or purposefully cruel.

Part of what makes the book a joy to read are the extensive endnotes, comprising fully a third of the book's length. I've always enjoyed a good foot- or endnote, and appreciated the added layers of complexity or thought that Wright has provided.

This is an excellent book for anyone looking to understand where the world stands in these uncertain times, and hopefully can provide a framework to finally learn from the mistakes of the past (see the comparison between American techniques in the Philippines and Iraq).

In The Raw

by The Whitefield Brothers

This is a very cool album. It's a nice example of upbeat and psychedelic funk, with a jazzy side to it.

It is purely instrumental, and moves at a good pace. It works fantastically well as background music when I'm reading.

Ignition City #1

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Gianluca Pagliarani

Much as 'Jack Kirby' has become a genre in comic books - read Godland - I think that 'Warren Ellis' is close to becoming a genre as well. Consider: Alternate past (in this case, Berlin in 1956); Space Travel (even if its more regulated in this title); Ballsy Girl Who Lacks Reverence (Mary); Violence (I'm not sure what kind of gun that is); and Strange Humour (mouse turds?).

These are the elements of more than half of Ellis's creator-owned work. The thing is, it works for him. Mary's story has me intrigued - I want to know more about her dead father, and I'm curious as to the workings of Ignition City. Ellis does work with consistently familiar themes and settings, but he also switches them up on a regular basis, and keeps his work fresh.

Pagliarani's art looks great here. His Ignition City is very grungy, and I like the design he uses for the buildings, which appear to be repurposed rocket ships. I see a lot of potential in this series.

Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #1

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Cameron Stewart

It's nice to see Grant Morrison step away from high-profile mainstream comics, and return to a world where he can be as confusing and odd as he wants, without fear of large-scale fanboy alienation and venom.

Seaguy is a very strange comic. The first series was light-hearted fun that never really made a lot of sense, but was enjoyable as a surrealist romp. This sequel has a darker tone to it - Seaguy is depressed after the loss of Chubby da Choona, and is being manipulated and watched by Seadog, who is involved in some sort of Phase 2 that has to do with some kind of changes to New Venice.

I'm sure it will all make sense at some point. Actually, I don't really even care that much - it's a fun comic to read. What I like most about it is how it tells the story in a very conventional super-hero way, but without feeling the need to fit squarely within that genre. I wish Morrison would devote more time to this type of book.

The Amazon #2

Written by Steven T. Seagle
Art by Tim Sale

I'm very pleased that Dark Horse has decided to re-print this series, as I missed it completely the first time around, and am enjoying it a great deal. Lately it seems like a lot of attention is being paid to some of the more endearing, yet off-beat projects of the late 80s and early 90s, what with Dark Horse publishing this and Beanworld, Image's Ted McKeever Collection, and the gargantuan Zot! trade I'm working my way through. It's really good to see that quality comics don't disappear.

This series continues to intrigue, with its creative approach to narrative. The reporter protagonist narrates the story both through is journal, which contains his unedited thoughts, and through the article that he eventually writes after the action the comic shows, which is much more edited, polished, and selective in its telling. To add to that, this issue has the Amazon (the character, not the region or river) narrate his story, and it weaves from his own words, into and out of the journal and magazine article formats. It's jarring and really interesting. I can't think of another comic that does this in quite this way. Adding to it, I like how the narrative crosses over panels seemingly randomly, not at sentence breaks. It really makes this an interesting read.

Sale's artwork is fantastic in this book. In the text-piece at the back, he discusses his shifting use of vertical and horizontal panels, and how this series was a starting point for both creators, thereby allowing them to break a pile of comic book rules they weren't aware of.

I really can't say enough about how good this comic is.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Sword #16

by The Luna Brothers

This is another good issue of this series. Perhaps this issue doesn't have the same level of jaw-dropping action as the last (pun intended), but it does a nice job of providing some background and character development for Knossos, and of setting up Dara's battle with Malia before this one is even done.

I'm not sure how much of this series is left. It's clear that the Luna brothers have a finite ending in mind, and I'm guessing that the book won't be around past issue 24 or 25.

Northlanders #16

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly

Okay, this all makes a lot more sense to me now. I had been confused by the ending of the last issue, but I was also taking things much more at face value than I probably should have been.

Brian Wood gives us a good twist here that now has me wanting to go back and re-read the entire arc in one sitting, which is always a good thing. I've been on the fence a little about this arc, especially compared to the opening story in Northlanders, but not after reading this issue.

Kelly's art is better here than it has been at any point in the story. I like how he spends pages showing the aftermath of whatever it is that's been going on in Clontarf, but leaves the real ending to the story to take place largely off-panel.

Infinite Horizon #4

Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Phil Noto

Like the journey of the unnamed protagonist in this series, and Odysseus, on who's story this title is modeled, the time and distance between issues of this amazing series are indeed very long. This comic was solicited for April of 2008, and is only now appearing.

It was completely worth the wait though. The injured Captain is taken to a hut somewhere in Africa to heal from the wounds that he endured last issue. As usual with this voyage, things don't work as they should, and the Captain ends up crippled both physically, with an improperly healed leg, and mentally, with both addiction and some form of PTSD. Meanwhile, his wife continues to seek the return of her son, and to do business at the end of a gun with people from a sunken New York City.

Duggan and Noto have done an incredible job of re-imagining the Odyssey. I will admit to a lack of familiarity with the portion of the tale that this issue is representing, but the way in which they have chosen to modernize this story is fascinating. Noto's art looks great, and the story reads well, even after a one-year hiatus.

I hope that I don't have to wait another year before I get to read more of this story.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Spiral Bound & False Hopes

by Dessa
Since last summer, I have been immersing myself in music from the Doomtree crew. The appeal seems to be something much more than just the music (which I love); there is an ethos to this talented group of rappers and producers that strikes a chord with me.

Among the voices of this group, Dessa has stood out since I first heard her on the self-titled Doomtree album. As the only female in the crew, she provides a nice balance to the larger posse-cut songs, but there was something more to it that attracted me to her output. She has a lovely voice, and a remarkable range. She can spit some hard and fast lyrics, and then sing a hook with such a small, lovely voice. More than that though, her lyrics convey a strong sense of her intelligence and personal strength.

Sadly, she hasn't produced much in the way of solo work. Her one solo musical release is part of the False Hopes series of semi-mixtapes, and is only five tracks deep. Of those five tracks, only two are produced by Doomtree mainstays (Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger), although all of the songs fit comfortably within the Doomtree sound. There are appearance by Cecil Otter and Sims - two rappers whose voices always compliment Dessa's. The cd is finished in a little over 15 minutes, and therefore does little more than whet the listener's appetite for more Dessa.

So I was both pleased and intrigued to learn that Dessa had published a slim book of poetry and short memoirs. The Doomtree site claimed that due to an error in the factory, her new album came out on paper instead of a cd, which in some ways limits expectations.

Spiral Bound is a strong piece of work. I feel like I have a much stronger vision of this artist now, while she still manages to avoid revealing much that is overly personal or confessional, which I appreciate.

The poems are lovely, but it is the memoir pieces that I really found myself sinking my teeth into. Saint Maxwell is a loving four-page piece about her younger brother and mortality. Camera Obscura moves from a conversation with her father on his tiny, rocking sailboat to revelations and musings about the volume and pace of modern life.

Perhaps the best piece in this book is The Leviathan, in which Dessa discusses meeting Life while backpacking in Uruguay. The young man's name is pronounced Life (it's Leif), but, as is clear from the start, much more can be read into this chance encounter.

I would love to see more stuff from Dessa - be it longer pieces of writing or more music. She is a truly unique voice in hip-hop today, and one I look forward to charting the progress of.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Crate Digging: Absolute Value

by Akrobatik

I know this cd isn't that old, but I hadn't listened to it for a while, and thought I'd give it another play.

Akrobatik really sounds good on this disk. It's a very nicely balanced album, including crowd-pleasers and quieter, more introspective songs. I find that the middle of the album is the best, with songs like 'Rain', 'Be Prepared', and 'Black Hell Breaks Loose'.

'Kindred' is a nice track, comparing the experiences of slaves in the South to those of victims of Hurricane Katrina. I like the hook and the way he worked a parallel structure into the song, but I do find Chuck D.'s part more than a little preachy.

Speaking of preachy, 'Front Steps Pt. II' is Akro "kick[ing] the truth to the young black youth." It works really well to me, and contains messages that are antithetical to most commercial hip-hop today. Finally, 'Back Home to You' rounds out the album, featuring Akro's promise to his wife. This song is a nice contrast to the Atmosphere track of the same name; Akrobatik comes off sounding much less needy than Slug...

The production on this album is top notch. There are individual songs by Dilla, Hezekiah, J-Zone and 9th Wonder, but the bulk of the work is by Illmind and Therapy, who both come very correct. Even with so many producers, this is a very consistent album. Other guest appearances include Talib Kweli, Little Brother, Mr. Lif, and Willie Evans Jr.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

LRG Grass Roots Boxer Briefs

All I have to say about these is that it's about time.

They're very comfortable and nicely cut. I got these at the same time as a two-pack of socks.

All that's left is for LRG to start making shoes - that would be amazing.

Her Favorite Colo(u)r

by Blu

Blu has had an amazing run the last couple of years, showing himself to be a versatile and exciting rapper. He floats over beats by Exile and Mainframe, or plays well with Ta'Raach on his official releases.

This is a mixtape that shows he has some skills behind the boards as well - most of the tracks on this half-hour mix are purely instrumental, and Blu really comes correct with his jazzy beats and entertaining audio samples. He only spits on a couple of tracks, and while I've seen some complaints that he should have more vocals on this, I found that the mix is very nicely balanced.

I'm very much looking forward to any future releases he may have. You can download this on his Myspace page.

The Renaissance

by Q-Tip
Q-Tip is one of the people who I credit for inspiring much of the underground - his work with A Tribe Called Quest remains a cornerstone of the genre, and it's really nice to see that he is still recording, and creating good music.

Sadly, it's not great music. This is very much a commercial album - hip-hop Adult Contemporary if you will. There is nothing wrong with any of the tracks on this disk, or with the overall feel of the album, but at the same time, it doesn't really stand out all that much. It's fantastic background music, and the kind of hip-hop album you can play when you have people over that don't really like hip-hop, and they'll be cool with it. It just doesn't do much to advance things.

Q-Tip handles the production on all the tracks, except for 'Move', which features a beat by J Dilla. Two actually, as it splits itself into two songs, which could have each held their own as separate tracks, especially when the second one is the best part of the album.

There are some lovely guest appearances by Norah Jones, Raphael Saadiq, and D'Angelo, but again, nothing particularly noteworthy (I liked Jones's appearance on Kweli's last album better). Q-Tip can still write and deliver some excellent lyrics - I just wish this album was a stronger example of that.

Haunted Tank #6

Written by Frank Marraffino
Art by Henry Flint

So, Haunted Tank has finished, and I'm not sure what the point was. It was an entertaining five issues, but ultimately, I don't feel like anything really happened in this series. We did get to learn why the ghost hasn't passed out of this world (I don't know if that was ever established before), but ultimately, I found I didn't care that much.

There wasn't enough going on in this series to have sustained five issues, and I found that as it progressed, I cared less and less about the characters. Jamal's anger got annoying around issue three, and then totally disappeared by this issue.

The art by Flint was excellent throughout, I must add. And this issue's cover is by Ted McKeever, although at first I thought it was Joe Kubert. It doesn't look like McKeever to me at all, but I like it. Actually, it's the best part of this issue.

Jonah Hex #42

Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Jordi Bernet

Lately I've been a little unsure of Jonah Hex. I like the general format and the artists that come on the book, but increasingly, the stories are starting to feel repetitive.

This issue features a flashback to Jonah's youth, and relies, yet again on a huge coincidence, whereby some kids that beat Jonah up as a little kid happen to find him again, and get the drop on him in adult life.

I would think, for such a legendary killer and gunfighter, that Jonah wouldn't get captured so much, but I think it's happened in just about every issue for the last year.

I have really enjoyed this comic, and I'll stick with it through the upcoming six-issue arc, but after that, I'm not sure....

Scalped #27

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Francesco Francavilla

This is another 'done-in-one' story focusing on a single member of the Scalped cast, in this case, FBI agent Baylis Nitz, who is Dash and Diesels' boss, and who has been largely operating in the background, with very little opportunity to date to show that he is anything other than a bastard.

This issues delivers his backstory, explains his motivations, and continues to show that he isn't really anything other than a bastard.

Aaron is joined on this issue by Francesco Francavilla, an artist whose work I have enjoyed in various places - Sorrow, Zorro, and Tales of the Starlight Drive-In - and who I hope will soon get a regular book. His sensibilities fit really well with the gritty feel of Scalped, and he'd be perfect to take the book over if Guera were to leave.

Another excellent issue of the best book Vertigo publishes.

Greatest Hits #6

Written by David Tischman
Art by Glenn Fabry and Gary Erskine

For the most part, I have enjoyed this series about a documentary film-maker who is manipulated into making a film about Britain (and America's) greatest super-hero team, The Mates, who were filmed and accompanied by his estranged father. The book's constant flipping back and forth between the present, interviews from the documentary, and flashbacks to the past gave it a documentary feel, and I enjoyed the realistic portrayal of a group of heroes who both changed with, and were a product of, their times.

I felt that this last issue was a little flat and anti-climactic though. Much was made over the last two issues of the secret that was discovered about Archie Suggs, the newsman who is Nick's father, but it is not mentioned in this issue at all. The resolution to Nick's story and issues makes sense, but is lacking in dramatic force.

The art on this title has been surprisingly good. I've never been a fan of Fabry's covers, where many of his characters, to me, don't look like the people inside the book (Hellblazer!), but his interiors work well in a Steve Dillon sort of way. I do have to question why, over a couple of pages where Nick is talking to his ex-girlfriend, so much panel space is given over to a fat guy who's dog takes a dump on the sidewalk. It made me feel like I was reading Mad Magazine.

Overall, this is a good title, which would read well in trade format.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

100 Bullets Vol. 3

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

I think the thing I like most about 100 Bullets (especially reading it in trade instead of single issue) is how each arc is focused on new characters, yet also is slowly unraveling the story of Agent Graves, the Minutemen, and all of that.

This book is strongest when dealing with the relationship between Loop, a young man who mostly has managed to keep out of trouble, and his father, a mob enforcer who left Loop when he was very small.
Azzarello does a fantastic job of building up both of these characters, and making them sympathetic.

This is a very tightly-plotted volume, and it makes me regret that I didn't follow this series from the beginning.