Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Pipe Dream and a Promise

by Finale

This is Finale's first solo album, and it is a bit of a mixed bag. There are plenty of fine producers here, representing the D and from elsewhere, but some of the tracks don't quite live up to the promise mentioned in the title.

Invincible and Finale work well together, as seen on their other releases, and that continues to hold true for 'The Waiting Game'. Waajeed supplies the beat for 'The Senator', which loops Senator Clay Davis on The Wire saying his trademark "Sheeeeeeeeeeiiiiit" and makes me laugh every time I hear it.

Dilla provides some 'Heat', but it's clearly a B-list beat from the master. Other notable producers include Kev Brown, Khrysis, Black Milk (of course), Nottz, Ta'Raach, Oddisee, and various Lab Technicians. It is a consistent-sounding album, it's just that a few of the tracks are boring. Finale is great when he's spitting truth, but when he attempts some more radio-friendly tracks, the energy sort of dies out.

The stand-out track to me is the last one 'Paid Homage (RIP J. Dilla)'. In it, Flying Lotus remixes 'Fall in Love', and Finale rhymes about the influence Dilla has had on him and his music. It's a touching song, and a lovely way to round out the album.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910

Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O'Neill

When I read The Black Dossier, I kind of wondered if it was in part Moore's way of showing DC/Wildstorm and the general readership just how many ideas he had for this franchise, and what they were going to end up missing by having pissed him off. The ideas flew too quickly to actually stick, and the book itself became something of a glorious mess.

Now, a couple of years later, Moore has entered into partnership with Top Shelf, and this has allowed him room for these ideas to grow into something more resembling what this title was like back in the day.

The 1910 iteration of the League is featuring Orlando, Carnacki, and Raffles, in addition to Mina and Quartermain. It also features the genesis of the new Captain Nemo, and a lot of stuff blowing up in East London.

Most intriguing were the sub-plots involving a looming Apocalypse, which sets up, I think, the next book in this series, and the Jack the Ripper storyline. I also really enjoyed the two singing characters, who gave the entire book a very Brechtian feel, and now have me wanting to listen to Tom Waits covering "What Keeps Mankind Alive".

O'Neill has outdone himself once again, and Top Shelf has made this a very attractive volume. Now I'm just patiently waiting for its companions to arrive....

On Sacred Ground

by Eligh and Jo Wilkinson

This is a very strange project from Eligh, of Living Legends fame. It is a project he has done with his mother, the singer Jo Wilkinson. I heard some positive buzz about this album, and since so little has been coming out lately, I thought it was worth a shot, expecting something a little along the lines of Blue Sky Black Death's 'Slow Burning Light's' project. That's not what this is though....

Wilkinson has a lovely deep singing voice, and adds a lot of texture to some of the tracks on this album, but can't pull off the songs that feature just her singing, with her son on the boards. When they are both laying down vocals, the songs work wonderfully, but that accounts for only half (or less) of the album.

This cd is at its best when Wilkinson is relegated to singing choruses, and Eligh is joined by the likes of Grouch, Pigeon John, and Slug (making his now-obligatory 2009 appearance). These songs fall into the same camp as much of the Living Legends output - they are slower and more thoughtful than much that you hear in hip-hop, and very atmospheric.

The Wilkinson solo tracks bounce among a pile of genres. 'Praises' reminds me a little of some slower Transglobal Underground, with its world music sound, and is probably the only one of these solo songs that will make it onto my ipod. Others, like 'Poet Man' belong on a lesser Joni Mitchell album. At other times, Wilkinson takes on the role of 'funky Grandma', and the results are a little embarrassing (I think the track is 'Embrace', but I'm honestly too wearied by it to double-check). Most egregious is the title track, 'Sacred Ground', wheron Wilkinson reads a poem including lines like "Her grandmother smiled as only grandmothers can", which made me look forward to the day that Thomas Kincaid releases a set of memorial plates to commemorate this album.

It's always nice to see artists try new things, and parts of this album are of the level of quality I've come to expect from Eligh, but other parts are badly misconceived and should have been cut.

Essex County Vol. 2: Ghost Stories

by Jeff Lemire

I have never been a fan of hockey, or even really understood the appeal of the game, but with this book, I can understand that the hold it has on the Canadian consciousness is a potent one.

Lemire's second book in the Essex County trilogy tells the story of Lou and Vince Lebeuf. They are two brothers from Southwester Ontario who, back in the fifties played for the Toronto Grizzlies. While they were very close growing up, they drifted, and Vince returned to the farm to raise crops and a family, while Lou continued on in Toronto, living a life of isolation and despair.

The book is set in the same timeframe as volume one of the series - we see a slight cameo by the characters from Tales of the Farm - and most of its story unfolds in flashback form, as the elderly Lou seems to constantly become unstuck in time and journey through his memories.

Like the previous volume, this is a beautiful book. Lemire's people are ugly at first, but after reading his book for a while, their nuanced faces begin to express more emotion than most comic artists are able to convey. There are large sections of silence in this book, signifying not just the profound deafness that Lou suffers, but also his complete isolation from the world around him.

This is a truly masterful piece of work.

Everything is Illuminated

by Jonathan Safran Foer

I read a portion of this book as a short story in The New Yorker a few years ago, but have only now gotten around to reading the entire book. It is definitely an inventive novel, and I enjoyed it a great deal, but I'm not sure that it's left any sort of lasting impression on me.

Foer's book tells a multitude of stories, through three different narrative strands. The most compelling (to me at least) is the story narrated by Alex, a Ukranian who sometimes works for his father's business, and who is charged with being a guide to the novelist (Jonathan), as they search Ukraine for a woman named Augustine, who had protected his grandfather from the Nazis during the second world war. With them is Alex's grandfather, who believes he is blind, but only from the grief of having lost his wife, and his dog, Sammy Davis Jr Jr. These sections of the novel are comical for the first half, and the story is narrated in Alex's broken and textbook-taught English. It is in this strand of the novel that Foer shows his ingenuity, and as the book progresses, we are able, among other things, to witness the steady improvement with which Alex speaks and writes English.

The second strand of the book is a one-sided correspondence between Alex and Jonathan as they exchange the other parts of the book with one another. Alex is smitten with Jonathan, and clearly attempts to please him, although that relationship changes subtly as the book progresses.

The final strand is Jonathan's novel, a fictionalized account of the history of his family and the shtetl of Trachimbrod, from the 1790s through to the war, although many eras are skipped and glossed over. This part of the book is, to me, the most problematic, as Foer eschews any trappings of historical accuracy, and instead shows Trachimbrod to be a modernist place, with warring congregations of Slouchers and Upright Jews, and where all things are recorded in modernist books of dreams and remembrances.

No parts of this book ever drag or feel over-long. As the book progresses, we begin to see how the two families, Alex's and Jonathan's are connected in history, and what the effects of digging in the past can be for people. As a debut novel, this really is an impressive piece of writing.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Unknown Soldier #8

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Alberto Ponticelli

This issue is tied with Northlanders as the best book I've read this week.

Moses has set his plans into effect, orchestrating an attack on a group of rebels and getting the army involved in such a way as to achieve his goals with a minimum of risk, and decides to free his captive.

While in town, he is spotted and recognized, which leads to a rather suspiciously coincidental run-in with the CIA guy that was searching for him, which leads him to a group of pan-African activists, who want Moses's help in a plan that is so crazy, it would have to work. Meanwhile, Sera is dealing with having to accepts Moses's absence.

This title is highly intelligent, and as it diverges from actual Ugandan history, becomes increasingly well-thought out and planned. I love how Dysart attempts to portray many sides and facets of the conflict in Uganda, without ever becoming preachy or 'teacher-y'. He simply allows the story to unfold at its own pace. This is a fantastic title.

Northlanders #17

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Vasilis Lolos

I have been enjoying this title since it first started a year and a half ago, but I have to say that this is far and away the best issue we've seen yet.

This issue is titled 'The Viking Art of Single Combat', and that's exactly what it shows - a fight to the death between Snorri the Black and Egil the Sledge-Hammer, champions of their lords, who are killing each other to settle a dispute between neighbouring villages.

While they fight, Wood provides plenty of exposition - for an all-action issue of a comic, there is much more writing than a regular book. He puts to good use the tons of research he has done for this series, holding forth on Viking battle technique, and weapons specifications.

Lolos hands in some of the best work of his career. The fight is dynamic, clear, and atmospheric throughout. I admire Lolos's work a great deal, and hope that this issue helps raise his profile some more (I also hope he'll finish Pirates of Coney Island someday soon....).

This is the perfect place to jump on this title. It's a done-in-one story that really showcases what Wood is trying to achieve with this book. If you have been on the fence about this title, now's the time to give it a chance. (If you live in Toronto, it's on sale at the Beguiling until Monday).

Ignition City #3

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Gianluca Pagliarani

I think this issue was much better than the last, and that this might be the best of the Warren Ellis series published by Avatar in the last few years. So much effort has been put into developing Ignition City as a setting that I sincerely hope this is not going to be a one-off mini-series.

The notion of a settlement of ex-space adventurers and random aliens being 'like Tangiers' is a fertile one for many stories, especially from someone like Ellis, whose love of the genre is so well known.

In this issue, Mary learns a great deal about the city, and has an interesting talk with Gayle about why she has chosen to stick around, instead of moving off-world. This becomes an opportunity for some visually stunning flashbacks. In fact, the general look of this book keeps getting better, as Pagliarani takes the inherent optimism of space travel and dirties it up quite a bit.

Aceyalone & The Lonely Ones

This is a unique project from Aceyalone and his new band, the Lonely Ones.

It's a hip-hop album, but one steeped heavily in a much older era of R'n'B when the bands were live, and the music swung. Acey raps over some energetic music, backed by talented back-up singers. The music here is a lot of fun, and comes off sounding both completely modern and timeless.

It's a very different project from his work with Rjd2, and I'm not sure what I prefer. This is still very recognizably Aceyalone, but with a newer, fresher perspective that I enjoy very much.

The Literals #2

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

Okay, this is what I was expecting (and hoping for) from the Great Fables Crossover. There is a lot of action in this issue, and it is all in pursuance of the story - there are no lengthy sub-plots or digressions, just big-time summer blockbuster stuff, Fables style.

Bigby, Snow and crew are getting closer to Kevin Thorn. The Page Sisters have found their own way to their grandfather, and are engaged in a huge firefight with the Genres. Ol' Sam takes matters into his own hands to help Kevin Thorn deal with Writers Block, but might be too late. Big things happen throughout, and the book is filled with the little charming and amusing moments that Willingham is known for. I wish the rest of the crossover had been this good.

I think a lot of the credit has to go to Buckingham. I found that, as much as I enjoy their work on Jack of Fables, Akins and Braun really don't have a suitable style for this type of story, but the Uber-talented Buckingham can pull it off and make it look effortless.

Battlefields: The Tankies #2

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

As a series of individual moments, this title is quite standard Garth Ennis war story fare. There is a tough-as-nails sergeant, a group of likeable, but inexperienced tank soldiers, and some pretty twisted moments ("I say, d'you know you've a chap in your tracks?" being pure Ennis gold).

The problem with this particular iteration of Battlefields is that the story just seems to be a string of these moments, with no real larger plot being furthered. The action shifts from our tank crew to different groups of British soldiers strung out along the Normandy offensive, but there are no caption boxes to inform us of the change of setting. The art doesn't help that much with this, as, like in many war movies, the characters kind of all look the same.

The book is enjoyable, I just have come to expect slightly better.

Rapture #1

by Taki Soma and Michael Avon Oeming

In this new title, all people with super powers on the Earth have been fighting one another for some time, leaving great amounts of destruction in their wake. Miami has been destroyed, and things continue to get worse, until the conflict goes 'cosmic', and all of the powered people leave, allowing humanity to try to pick up the pieces.

More devastating than all of this though is the fact that Evelyn has left Gil. Their splitting up takes place in the first couple of pages of the comic, as Evelyn jokes her way onto an airplane to leave him behind, only to come to the realization later that this was a mistake, made permanent by the destruction mentioned above. There is also the intrusion of a Spectre-like character as well.

The two protagonists in this book are fleshed out quite well, and the story grabbed me pretty quickly. I'm curious to see what is going to happen in this title as the story develops, and I enjoyed the set-up by Soma and Oeming a great deal.

Their collaboration is an interesting one. Soma is providing the layouts for Oeming's pencils, giving him a slightly tighter look than I'm used to, while still maintaining his recognizable style. The pages at the end which feature panels that alternate between the usual pencil art and watercolours look fantastic and pop off the page.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Live in London

by Leonard Cohen

I remember first being exposed to Leonard Cohen (at least consciously) in a grade 11 English class, where we all laughed at his odd voice (early Cohen - Suzanne to be exact), and the teacher got quite annoyed with us, as we weren't really listening. I have no idea what the purpose of the lesson was, but some of the lyrics stuck with me.

A couple of years later, Cohen's voice was used to fantastic effect on the soundtrack to the movie 'Natural Born Killers', prompting me to hunt down 'The Future' and to read his novel 'Beautiful Losers'. At that point, I became a fan for life.

This double-disk album was recorded recently in London during a massive concert Cohen held there. When you consider his age, it's unlikely that there will be many more opportunities for Cohen to put on a show of this nature, and so it is very good that we have such a well-recorded record of his brilliance.

The show sounds like it was a lot of fun, and Cohen still sounds fantastic throughout. There are a couple of songs that seem unnecessary, but there aren't any major omissions (except for 'Famous Blue Raincoat', which I would have loved to have heard on here). The applause and between-song banter can get a little tiring, keeping this disk from getting a lot of play, but as a document of one particular night, this is a very important cd to own.

Godland #28

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Tom Scioli

This is a pretty standard issue of Godland. Casey puts it best himself in some of the narrative boxes that describe the location of different scenes: 'Beyond the Logic Rim' and 'The Edge of Comprehension'.

The last couple of issues of this title seem to really be working at increasing the cast. We've met the Vikens, who seem to be taking the job that the big dog-thing (can't remember the name right now) had of mentoring Adam. As well, we have the Decimator coming to Washington, and this issue marks the debut of R@d-Ur Rezz, a licensed entropist who wears leather fringe and a hat that would make Galactus jealous.

This title is a lot of fun, and as always very topical (see Lucky and his thoughts on swine flu hysteria). I'm not sure how many issues are left, but this is a title that will be missed when it's gone.

The Truth is Here

by Brother Ali

This is a great album/dvd combination by Brother Ali. The cd features nine tracks, all produced by Atmosphere's Ant, and all of a high level of quality.

Ali sticks to very familiar and comfortable ground, mostly rapping about his own life and circumstances, but he does, for the most part, leave his divorce out of the mix this time around, signifying that he has moved on, and upwards (he does make mention to the impending birth of his daughter).

Ant understands Ali in the same way that he understands Slug, and on this disk, he provides him with music that really showcases his lyrical talent, and his rich voice. Slug shows up on one track (which is something you can say about almost half the cds I've bought this year), and the two mc's complement each other nicely.

Stand out tracks to me are 'Real As Can Be', which opens the disk, 'Palm the Joker', a song in the tradition of his classic 'Uncle Sam Goddamn', and 'Begin Here', a nice album closer wherein he thanks the people who have supported him in his artistic journey.

Packaged with the cd is a dvd which contains a concert performed at Seventh Avenue in Minneapolis. It's a great concert, as he covers all of his best songs, and even brings his son out for a minute. The dvd is rounded out with a few music videos.

It's great to see an artist like Brother Ali achieve success. He is not marketable in mainstream hip-hop circles (I can't see him getting a lot of play on BET), but he is a consistently strong artist, who is only getting better with each new release. I look forward to the upcoming full-length album.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


by Dave Lapp

This is a book that has left me with a certain level of ambiguity.

Dave Lapp has worked with kids in Toronto's Regent Park, and other 'at-risk' neighbourhoods. He's come into these areas to run after-school arts programs, and has turned many of his experiences there into short comic strips, which are collected in this book.

At first, the book frustrated me a great deal. Lapp is excellent at encapsulating the mannerisms and psyches of young children in a few panels, but as soon as the tale became interesting, it would end. I kept expecting there to be some meta-narrative, but instead found that, even with recurring characters and themes, the stories did not connect much to one another, until the last third of the book, when he was working in an apartment high-rise and with different students. Partly, this is a function of the book's realism. Many of these students do not have easy stories, that conclude or find closure, but it did make the book feel disjointed.

Lapp portrays himself as rather naive - he's a nice guy who will give money to mentally ill street people, and seems willing to put up with a lot of crap from the kids he's supposed to be working with. I have seen this first-hand: there is a level of acceptance among non-teachers who work with the city's 'at-risk' population, best captured by the scene wherein the one youth worker watches a bunch of teenagers beat up a smaller kid while firemen are trying to get his attention to let them into the building, all while the alarm is ringing. I've seen things like this first-hand as well.

Lapp depicts these children as secretive, attention-starved, and somewhat disturbed. As a portrait of neighbourhoods like Regent Park, he is, I fear, only all too accurate. His lengthier strips involving a family of Vietnamese girls show the randomness and difficulty of life in the area, but also left me the question of why he was spending so much time with this one, particular family. There didn't seem to be a stronger connection to them than the other children he worked with, and so I thought it odd that he spent so much time in their home.

Lapp's art is straight-forward, with thick lines. It is difficult to always tell the ethnicity of the people his is portraying, which was sometimes relevant to the story he was telling.

This is an enjoyable book, but I found that it left me ultimately unsatisfied. I would have rather seen him focus his attention on one or two children, and develop a longer narrative. In all though, this is an excellent first effort, and a promising hint at more quality work to come.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hellblazer #255

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Goran Sudzuka and Rodney Ramos

This is a decent enough Constantine type of story, but in some ways, it feels like Milligan is just phoning this one in. Nothing momentous happens - Constantine goes to a supposed pit of plague victims, and ends up talking to one of their spirits - a phony plague doctor who went to extreme ends to keep his family safe from that horrific deed, and then doesn't help him. It's a good story, but it's on such familiar ground, that it causes deja vu.

I hope that the next arc brings back some of the energy that Milligan's first story arc had. It was nice to see Sudzuka's art again, but I found that I was really liking Camuncoli's look for this book. Good thing he's back next issue.


by PPP

On the back cover, PPP claim that they have "reclaimed the music of their city", and that "the golden Motown era sounds that their parents played while they were growing up have been given a thorough and respectful re-rub for a new century and a new generation of listeners." As a mission statement, that is a very ambitious one, but one that I feel the band has largely been able to pull off.

Waajeed and Saadiq come at this album with a very consistent sound, and it is one steeped in Motown, but with a more modern (ie., post-Dilla) sensibility to it. The drums on these songs are incredible. Coultrain and Karma Stewart are strong vocalists.

I find that many of the songs on this album blur for me, partly due to the expert mixing, and also due to the fact that they don't seem, as individual parts, to be as memorable as they are as a whole piece. That's fine with me - I like listening to full albums, but at the same time, I don't expect many of these tracks to make their way onto my ipod. The exception to that is 'The Ghost of Aveiro', a South American influenced number that always seems to stick in my head after listening to this disk.

Olympus #1

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Christian Ward

This is an interesting new title from a couple of creators I am completely unfamiliar with.

The book is about two brothers who were granted immortality, and given the job of tracking down rogue Olympian gods; Hermes in this issue. There is something about them dieing and going down to the Underworld every second year or so, but not much was explained.

The chase sequence was dynamic and exciting, while also providing many opportunities for characterization - basically, this is a buddy cop movie, where the buddies are brothers and demi-gods. It's a good concept, especially when the end of the book carries omens that something has crawled out of the Underground.

The art on this book is the big draw. Ward's style looks a little like Leinil Francis Yu, but with a colour palette chosen by Kristian Donaldson. That's a good thing. Parts of the action sequence were a little hard to follow, but overall, this looks like a promising new title.

The Great Unknown #2

by Duncan Rouleau

This is a very interesting title from Rouleau. In this issue, Zach recognizes the mysterious person that spoke to him at the end of the last issue, and remembers their shared past. He also runs into an old girlfriend, and discovers that his ideas have been stolen from him.

This book has a very cool Kafka-esque feel to it, as Zach begins to comprehend the depth of the conspiracy that appears to have been against him for some time.

Rouleau's art looks fantastic in this book, and I enjoy the way he is using monochromatic colour schemes for the different time periods shown in the book. It's visually very interesting.

Young Liars #15

by David Lapham

Here we have another excellent, and confusing, issue of Young Liars.

Danny/Johnny puts together his plan to escape from Browning, and to do it, he needs more than Sadie/Lorelei's help. He recruits Donnie and Truman, in their new/alternate identities, to help him escape, and as usual, madness ensues.

The cover is a bit of a spoiler, but it doesn't really make sense until the last page of the book, and even then, it asks more questions than it answers.

I've really enjoyed this title, and while I'm sad that it won't be continuing, I'm glad that Lapham was given some time to wrap things up.

Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #3

Story by Warren Ellis
Adapted by Steve Pugh

This is a brilliant title. Every page drips with new concepts and ideas, and Pugh's art is absolutely fantastic. This issue is suspenseful from the first page, and never quite lets up.

The ghosts (sorry, blue lights) featured in this issue are creepy as hell - I'm not sure which is worse, the one with hundreds of razors suspended in his electric field, or the former child soldier.

Most importantly, while all of this action is going on, Pugh is still taking the time to develop these characters into plausible people, leaving plenty of space, I hope, for a sequel series.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Air #9

Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by MK Perker

I think this might be the best issue of Air yet, and would have been a much better choice than issue #7 to be the one-dollar, heavily promoted one.

In this issue, Blythe goes back to work, has to give over the Hyperprax device, helps a man find his wife, dodges Etesians, chills with Amelia Earhart some more, and talks about synchronicity with a man in ballet tights. If more people sampled that for a dollar, how could they not become committed to the title?

Really, this issue gives me a lot of faith that the book has the potential to be one of Vertigo's best. Wilson seems to have the rhythms of a monthly comic down now, and Perker's art is improving with every issue.

If you aren't reading this yet, go buy this issue.

Jack of Fables #34

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

The Great Fables Crossover continues, and while this issue has plenty of decent moments, overall, I'm beginning to feel like the Crossover isn't a little padded and drawn out.

In this issue, Bigby gets transformed into a few different things, and Kevin Thorn discovers that it is his twin brother, Writers Block, that is causing his difficulties in re-writing reality (and is the guy in the straight jacket we keep seeing). Not much more than that happens.

I think it is a strange choice to not have Jack appear in his own title, but to keep the silliness and cartoon-ish art that it is known for. I hope, when the dust settles on this story, that the two titles will diverge in their styles once again, as I rather like the more serious nature of Fables, while still enjoying the usual madness that is Jack of Fables.

On the positive side, it's good to see Brian Bolland draw the monkey from Animal Man #25. Does this mean that Bigby has been transformed into Grant Morrison?

Four Eyes #3

Written by Joe Kelly
Art by Max Fiumara

I've been enjoying the inventiveness of Kelly's Four Eyes. It's a story of a young boy whose father was killed trying to capture a dragon for an illegal dragon-fighting ring, operating during the Depression. Enrico has now gained employment with his father's boss, and in this issue, is used on his first hunt as bait.

The visuals in this book are just as inventive as the story, as Fiumara portrays not just the dragons, but the techniques and tools used in the hunt.

The cliffhanger ending hints at the eventual status quo for this book, as it begins to take shape as the type of comic I thought it was going to be - only better.

Ex Machina #42

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris and Jim Clark

There's not a whole lot to say here. This is another excellent issue of Ex Machina, which advances the plot quite nicely, without actually standing out in any way as an individual issue.

The flashback at the beginning of the comic drops more hints about alternate realities, something that has been popping up quite a bit in this title, and might be a hint as to where Mitchell's powers came from. There is some good stuff about his new tax plan for NYC, and the sub-plot concerning the reporter asking about the White Box looks like it's going to be much more important than I originally thought.

How many issues of this title are left? It's a book I'm going to miss when it's all over.

Gigantic #4

Written by Rick Remender
Art by Eric Nguyen

This book was beginning to disappoint in a number of ways, but this issue feels like redemption. The twist that Remender supplies at the very end helps fill in some of the inconsistencies in the plot, and makes the entire series make a lot more sense to me. I'm not sure where the next issue is going to go to wrap up the title, but I am interested in staying with it through the end.

Nguyen's art continues to bug me in this issue - there are only a few pages that look as good as his earlier work on Strange Girl, as he seems to be adopting a much more traditional comic art style.

John Cottrell is credited for 'art assist' on this issue, which might explain why the look of the book seems so inconsistent.

Maria's Wedding

Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Art by Jose Garibaldi

This is a charming little read that nicely showcases the characterization talents of DeFilippis and Weir.

Frankie Pirelli Jr is in town for one day, to attend his cousin Maria's wedding. Frankie and Maria are both Pirellis, a huge Italian family that is like huge Italian families everywhere. They love their celebrations, are centred around an aging matriarch, and have their fair share of points of contention and rivalries.

Much of the drama in this book comes not from Maria's wedding, but from Frankie's brother's wedding to another man a year previous. This union split the family, and now at Maria's wedding, expectations are high that Frankie, who is known for speaking his mind, is likely to make a scene.

The writers fit a lot of characters into this story, and they mostly all read as individuals. They are aided in this by Garibaldi, who has the difficult task of drawing a bunch of people who have to look like they are all related, and still be recognizable. It is a task he pulls of quite well.

This story reads like it might have been produced as a treatment for a film, and a fine film it would be. It's a light, quick read, but I enjoyed it. It's quite different from the type of stories that usually get told, even in indie comics.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

100 Bullets Volume 7: Samurai

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

With this collection, I'm half-way through reading 100 Bullets, and yet in many ways, it still just feels like Azzarello is moving pieces around on the chess board, getting his characters into the correct places for the real story to begin.

'Samurai' is really two stories. The first checks in on Loop Hughes, who is serving time in the same prison that Lono ends up in. This story really shows Azzarello's strength for dialogue and colloquialism, as he writes in a very natural sounding prison slang. I liked Loop's character the first time he appeared, and liked that he was sticking around in the story.

The second half of this book is about Jack, the druggie that Graves had given a gun to in an earlier volume, along with a picture of himself. This chapter, which deals with mafia and a tiger zoo, is a little weaker than I'm used to in this series. Somehow, it just didn't work for me.

As usual with this series, the art is excellent. I'd picked up the last four trades at the same time, and now it looks like I'm going to have to wait a while before getting into the next one.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker Tales

Written by Steve Niles and Matt Fraction
Art by Kody Chamberlain and Ben Templesmith

As I've said on here before, I've never really bothered with the 30 Days of Night series, and only ever bought the mini-series done by David Lapham because he's on my 'buy everything you can' list.

Well, parts of the concept interested me, so I decided to poke around through what was out there. Around the same time, I saw the solicitation for the tpb of Juarez, written by Matt Fraction (another person on my 'buy everything (non-Marvel)' list). Then, I found this on ebay, collecting both the Juarez story, and one other. Seeing as they are vastly different, I'll review them separately.

'Dead Billy Dead' is written by the series creator, and I suppose there's nothing wrong with it. It's about some guy who gets turned into a vampire, and basically falls afoul of some creepy professor. It's a good enough story I suppose, but it's not the type of thing that would ever get me into this franchise. The art is sketchy and a little hard to follow in places, but is generally serviceable.

'Juarez', on the other hand, is a mess, but a glorious mess. This is the type of Matt Fraction that I like best - where the ideas are flowing quicker than the story can handle. It's mostly about the missing girls in Juarez, and how one investigator - Lex Nova - thinks it is the work of vampires, as does the Zero Family Circus - a group of deranged vampires, looking for their lost Uncle Zero. Their stories collide, along with a faithless priest, and some Mexican whores. Again, all the elements needed for a great story.

Things don't really coalesce until the last chapter, which is really a prologue to the story. Lots of things don't make sense right until the very end, prompting the reader to turn back to the first page and start again. Things are further confused by Templesmith's art, which I always enjoy, but can't always follow.

'Juarez' made this a worthwhile purchase, and now has me interested in other writers who have dabbled in Nile's universe. 'Red Snow' is next on my to-buy list, if it's any good.

Seaguy Slaves of Mickey Eye #2

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Cameron Stewart

Once again, things don't really make much sense on the surface, but there is a strong internal logic to this comic. Seaguy is rescued from the mental hospital, and set up with a secret identity - El Macho, the bull-dresser. It soon becomes clear though that Seaguy's friends aren't really his friends, and that the only person he should trust is the dead tuna that keeps appearing out of the corner of his eye. Like I said, all perfectly logical.

Stewart's art here makes even the weirdest scenes seem plausible, and the book mostly feels like Morrison just enjoying himself after spending way too much time on editorially-mandated commercial cross-overs.

Fables #84

Written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges
Art by Tony Akins, Andrew Pepoy, and Dan Green

The Great Fables Crossover takes a turn for the weirder here, as Jack basically takes over the Fables book, and nothing is done to advance the Kevin Thorn or the Mister Dark plots at all. Instead, Jack acts like Jack, and manages to take over the Farm, and Rose Red's bedroom.

The light-hearted feel of Jack of Fables is present throughout this book, as the Farm Fables believe that Jack is the resurrected Boy Blue, to whom they have pledged themselves. There is nice character work throughout, but the issue mostly felt like an interlude in the much larger story that I suppose is going to play itself out in Jack's book, and the Literals mini-series.

One thing that I found very cool was the explanation for the way in which Jack has been breaking the fourth wall from the beginning of his title - he is half Literal, and therefore fully aware of his readership. It's a cool take on an idea that John Byrne started years ago in his She-Hulk run.

Soul Kiss #4

Written by Steven T. Seagle
Art by Marco Cinello

This continues to be a fun series to read. Lili's new job is beginning to have a huge effect on how she views her fellow man, as she gets ever closer to meeting the devil's quota.

The art in this title has really grown on me, and this issue seems to be more garishly coloured than the previous ones, but in a way that works.

There is a huge contrast between the the two Seagle books I picked up this week. Where Amazon is introspective and philosophical, this one is much lighter and free-spirited, despite its dark subject matter.

The Unwritten #1

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross

Ultimately, I'm uncertain about this book, which is odd, because all the reviews I've seen seem to be unanimously positive. I did enjoy reading it, but I sort of feel like I'm on familiar ground here. I'm not talking about the obvious similarities to Harry Potter or the Books of Magic - those get addressed directly in the story.

Instead, I feel a little like Carey and Gross are bringing us into territories previously explored by Alan Moore in Promethea, only with a less explicit understanding of the power of stories. Similarly, I feel like this book perhaps owes a bit to Fables, and Bill Willingham's work.

Which, ultimately, makes it the ideal Vertigo book. It's by the creative team of Lucifer (which I've somehow never read), and it does fit very comfortably into the Vertigo oeuvre. Perhaps that's why I'm uncertain - I feel like Vertigo has moved on to other, more experimental (and admittedly, less commercially successful) things.

All that said, this is a good comic. It's an extra-sized book for a dollar, so that is a huge bonus right off the back, but it is also very well-written and drawn. I can't shake my reservations, but I have a lot of respect for Carey and Gross, and so they've definitely got me for the first arc, and I'll make up my mind about this title after that.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Elephantmen #19

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Marian Churchland

Continuing the Elephantmen tradition of telling stories in whatever order the creators feel like, this issue fills in the pieces missing in issue #15, where Sahara ran into Serengheti in the hospital, and later walked out with no sign of him.

This issue delves back into Sahara's life, and her rough treatment at her father's hands (not to mention his entire village). It also shows their confrontation at the hospital.

What really makes this issue stand out is the gorgeous marker art by Marian Churchland. I liked her work last issue, but this one is even better. Her soft palette suits Sahara's personality, and makes this book really stand out. Once again though, we have an Image-esque cover featuring boobs. It's hard to justify the look when we have just run through two issues that are all about featuring strong women.

I hope to see more of Churchland's art, both in this title, and in her own graphic novel, which is plugged in the back of this book. I also have to give props to Starkings for getting this book back on schedule so well. I like getting a regular fix of Elephantmen.

The Amazon #3

Written by Steven T. Seagle
Art by Tim Sale

I'm grateful that Dark Horse decided to reprint this series. I've enjoyed reading it quite a bit, and it has made me realize a couple of things:

1. It's shocking how little things have changed in twenty years with respect to the deforestation of the Amazon, and the problems that the encroachment of civilization has caused for indigenous people there. This book is no less topical today than it was twenty years ago.

2. We need more 'mainstream' comics that are experimental and original, like this book is. Seagle plays around a lot with different methods of storytelling, and tries something I haven't seen imitated much since, with the three different levels of narrative: the action in the panel, the writer's journal, and the writer's finished article all telling the story from three different perspectives simultaneously. It's a great technique. At the same time, Sale is pushing the envelope some with his intriguing panel designs.

This is a beautiful comic, and it tells a great story. I can see how it helped bring both creator to prominence, and while I still like the work Seagle is producing, this book helps remind us of the great things that Tim Sale can do when he's not chained to Jeph Loeb.

Rawbone #2

Written by Jamie Delano
Art by Max Fiumara and Ryan Waterhouse

If you like lusty pirates, this is the book for you. Delano continues to over-write his prose to a remarkable extent, as La Sirena gains her freedom and plots her revenge on the British crown.

The art is a little inconsistent here, but the story is enjoyable. This is a very strange project, and I like that Avatar is always willing to take risks on these off-beat genre explorations.

The Walking Dead #61

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

When I first saw the cover, I thought "Oh good, Jessie Custer survived the zombies". I don't know if the resemblance was intentional or not, but that was my first impression.

So I still love this book, but sometimes I wonder if Kirkman has an ideal cast size in mind, and if he feels like to add a new character, an old one must be removed. The deaths in this issue feel a little too quick, especially considering the consequences that have to come from such a thing.

I am intrigued by a number of new elements added here. The preacher character is interesting - there is a lot that can be done with a person of faith in a post-zombie world. I also like the idea of a 'day without zombies', and the possible implications it may hold. And of course, the final page hints at big changes coming to this book yet again.

Guerillas #4

by Brahm Revel

This is one series that just keeps improving. Revel starts this issue with a quote from Hunter S. Thompson: "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man". This quote sets the theme for this issue, as our narrator begins to steal himself to the necessities of warfare, and tries to be more like the chimpanzee soldiers he is traveling with.

Revel has taken what, at first, seems like a campy sort of concept - monkey soldiers! - and has turned out a complex story about the separation of man and beast. It's become much more philosophical, while still giving us a ton of action and excitement.

I'm sorry to see that the book has had to move to a quarterly schedule. This is a fantastic comic, and I wish more people were picking it up. It's an incredible value for its cost, and there's nothing better than settling in with a 50 page comic of this quality.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Takeover

by Zion I

I've been listening to this pretty steadily since it dropped, and I've been enjoying it a fair deal. I wouldn't consider it a ground-breaking album, but it does stand up to repeated listens.

Amplive's beats are nice, with the exception of a couple of tracks that seem to me to be aiming for more commercial appeal ('DJ DJ' and 'Juicy Juice'), but generally speaking, he shows the type of talent that I've come to expect from him. I wish there were more tracks with beats as good as the ones he made on his Radiohead remix project, but what can you do?

Zumbi (when exactly did he stop being called Zion? I don't remember this at all) sounds as strong as ever, and lyrically comes correct. Guest features include Brother Ali, who sounds as good over Amplive as he does Ant, and Devin the Dude. I was especially surprised to hear Ty on here - it was his solo album on Big Dada that helped bring me back to hiphop via Ninja Tune trip-hop back in the 90's. He is not an artist I would ever associate with the Bay area sound....

In all, this is a decent album, and worth a few listens.

Jan's Atomic Heart

by Simon Roy

I saw this get reviewed at Eye On Comics, and remember that it got a very favourable review. I tend not to read past the first paragraph or two when I read reviews of books I might buy some day - sometimes they give too much away. So basically, I just filed this away in my head, thinking that if I ever saw it somewhere, I'd pick it up.

At TCAF this weekend, Simon Roy was in attendance, and had the book for sale. The price was decent, so I thought it was worth picking up. It's a really good comic. It's his first, and the guy is only about 21 years old, so it's all very impressive to me.

The comic is about Jan, some guy in Germany in the future, who has had his body (and car) wrecked in some kind of run-in with a train. He's tele-operating a robot body which was built on Luna, which is in conflict with the EU. The same type of body was recently used in terrorist attacks, and Jan starts to get a little suspicious that he might be being manipulated.

The art is a little sketchy but it tells its story very nicely. Roy shows some serious talent as both a writer and an artist. The twists at the end were not predictable, and the concept behind this is well thought-out and executed. I can see him becoming a major talent in the future.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Past Lies

Written by Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis
Art by Christopher Mitten

This is another one of my $1.99 finds at a terrific used bookstore, which lately seems to be the place to go for inexpensive Oni books of a few years ago.

The story is mostly a conventional PI/murder mystery type of thing, with a couple of twists. One twist is that the Investigator, Amy Devlin, is a young girl straight out of college and very new at the business. The other twist is that her client has hired her to solve the murder of his past life. Tim Gilbraight is the reincarnation of Trevor Schalk, a Howard Hughes type who was murdered twenty-five years prior, and whose murder remains unsolved.

It's an interesting concept, and Weir and DeFilippis dive right into it. It does elevate the material, and makes for interesting reading as Devlin works this very very cold case. The cast of characters that make up the Schalk family and their friends is an interesting one, and the book contains a lot of nice character work.

The art by Christopher Mitten is a lot cleaner than his more recent Wasteland work, but also is lacking the dynamics of that series.

This is a very decent read. With the exception of the porn-obsessed brother and a few objectionable phrases, this would have made a good all-ages book, which I think is a market that Oni could easily tap into with this type of work. I've mentioned this before, but I really would like to see Oni publish more books like this.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Diabolical Fun

by Illogic (accompanied by Ill Poetic)

This is a pretty standard album without a lot of surprises, but it's also a pretty decent one.

A number of the tracks reminded me of Atmosphere, as Ill Poetic pulls out some nice Ant-style boom bap, and Illogic sounds a little like Slug from time to time.

Generally, this is a solid effort, even if the tracks tend to blur. Lyrically, things are okay too - Illogic is not the tightest lyricist around, but he does have some good moments.

I somewhat feel bad that I can't be more glowing than this, but I felt that Illogic did better on the Y Society album last year, and I much prefer Ill Poetic's solo work.

Scott Pilgrim Full-Colour Odds & Ends 2008

by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Basically, this is the Free Scott Pilgrim FCBD special from a few years ago, with a few other short pieces, but it does satisfy my need for Scott Pilgrim awesomeness.

It's great to see Scott in colour, although I would have assumed his 4 1/2 t-shirt was blue....

There's not much to say about this really. If you are wanting to get someone into the series, this would be a good way of letting them sample it, and it does fill a need for completists and obsessives.

The watercolours by O'Malley are beautiful, and really capture the essences of the different characters.

In all, for $5, a little pricey, but a great TCAF find nonetheless.

Pope Hats #1

by Ethan Rilly

This is a really good comic. Pope Hats (no idea why it's called that) is about a couple of girls who live in Toronto.

Vickie is having a hard time getting over her boyfriend, has no money, and likes drinking. Frances is more complex - she's a low-paid law clerk who is being haunted by an inept and oddly-shaped ghost, and can tell a good story.

Not a whole lot happens in this first issue beyond setting up the characters and establishing the feel of the book, but it carries a vibe that places it somewhere between Local and Scott Pilgrim for me (the last because some of it takes place at Sneaky Dee's).

I have no idea what the production schedule for a book like this is, but I'll be keeping an eye out for it. I have seen this issue at both The Beguiling and at Labyrinth, if you live in Toronto and are interested in supporting a local artist.


Written by Remi Aubuchon and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner

Going in to this, I wondered if a prequel to Battlestar Galactica was such a great idea. I recognized that Moore and the other creators of the series had put a lot of time and effort into making the twelve colonies a viable background for their series, but I was nervous that the notion of tieing the Adama family into the creation of the Cylons was a huge mistake. If their was such an intimate connection, it seems odd that Admiral Adama would have never mentioned it.

All of those concerns were quickly washed away when I started to watch Caprica. It's an excellent film in its own rights, and it lays very fertile ground for a television series.

It, like Battlestar, is firmly grounded in religion, and the struggle between a monotheistic minority and the pantheistic majority that is common in the parent series. That the Soldiers of the One, a terrorist group dedicated to spreading the word of their god has so many parallels in today's society can not be accidental, and I find it interesting that the worship of many gods is trotted out as a solution to fundamentalism. I wonder if there are some Hindus on the writing staff....

Also of interest is the technological superiority of these Capricans to the ones in Battlestar Galactica. That makes perfect sense in a post-Cylon world, that people will have ditched their robot butlers and cell phones, but it creates a completely different aesthetic for this series, one that is very attractive. The houses in this film are beautiful, as are the carpets, which seem to score a lot of screen time.

I'm very interested in watching this series play out, and am looking forward to its premiere, some time in 2010.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

How's It Hold Up? Security

by Antibalas

I hadn't listened to this album for a while, but then played it three or four times over the last few days. It's amazing.

Antibalas plays a very political form of Afrobeat funk. Their song Filibuster X asks 'What is GOP?' and can be heard as an expression of disgust with Bush-era politics.

What I like most about that song, and the album's best, 'Sanctuary' is the way that the lyrics come in about six minutes into the piece, reinvigorating the beat around the time you're programmed to expect it to end.

This is a great cd for a rainy morning like today.

Pixu II

by Becky Cloonan, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, and Vasilis Lolos

This is a very creepy comic from indie comics dream team. Pixu tells the story of a haunted or possessed building, and the haunted people who live in it.

Each chapter is by one of the four creators, somewhat like a comic book version of those stories people tell in large groups, where each person in the group contributes a sentence or two at a time. Except, this doesn't suck, like those stories always do.

I know that this book, with the first chapter, are going to be published as a hardcover by Dark Horse in the coming months, but as I bought the first issue at The Beguiling last summer, I wanted to complete my set in mini-comic format. I'm glad that Cloonan was at TCAF, so I had the opportunity to finally get this.

Toronto Comic Arts Festival '09

I don't go to comics conventions. When I was a kid, I used to attend the semi-regular ones that were held at OCA (before they added the D), but they were for the large part sedate gatherings of fans and creators. Actually, I really liked those shows. Back in those days, I used to enjoy digging out favourite issues whose creators would be in attendance, so I could get them to sign them for me. I also used to carry around a little autograph book that artists would draw little head-sketches in for me.

I stopped going to these shows when they became insanely busy. For about fifteen years, I've not bothered at all, until two years ago, when I went to TCAF. It was a revelation - a comic show that I wasn't ashamed to be seen in. The exhibitors were clearly held to a high level of quality, and the customers were better dressed than what I remembered from the OCA days. These were cool people, buying and selling cool comics.

This year, TCAF is bigger and better than ever. Holding it at the Toronto Reference Library was an ingenious idea, because it allowed for a number of things to happen. First, there was plenty of space (although the crowd was huge). The layout was cramped in a few places, but the large atrium kept the event from feeling claustrophobic. Secondly, it allowed people to see how extensive the Toronto Public Library's graphic novel holdings are. I think I might have to go back from time to time to read a few books that are priced out of my budget.... Thirdly, having the event in such a public, and well-used, place gave a lot of 'non-comics' people some exposure to the art form at its very best. I'm sure that more than a few people ended up buying their first indie comic today, and hopefully they'll be back for more.

There was a very nice mix of creators and publishers. I bought eight books for myself, and enjoyed the chance to chat with James Turner, Jim Monroe, and Rick Spears (Pirates of Coney Island will finish, some day...). Two years ago, it was easy to get a chance to speak to Becky Cloonan, but now her star has risen so high that there was a permanent crowd around her table. It's all good though, because I was able to buy a copy of Pixu II while she was at a panel.

I didn't attend any of the panels or workshops - it's not my thing, but they did have an impressive array of choices available for people who like that kind of thing.

If I were to have any complaint, it would be that I would have liked to have seen more deals. I know I'm cheap, but if the artist is selling their own work, I think they would perhaps sell a few more copies by discounting the price just a bit. They are still making off with more cash than they would get from a store sale, and I know I would have bought a lot more. Two years ago, First Second was doing this, but they didn't this year (actually, I don't think they had a table this year, but I did see where Emmanuel Guibert was supposed to be).

All in all, this is a fantastic show. I'm excited to start working through my purchases (although my 'to read' pile is getting pretty big, so it might be a while before I get to some of them).

If you are in the Toronto area, and can make it to the Reference Library on Sunday, I say go. You won't be sorry.

100 Bullets Volume 6: Six Feet Under the Gun

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

I've really been enjoying reading through these trades, and have liked having so many to read back to back (although after the next one, the well is dry right now).

This volume contains a series of character-driven one-shots that focus on different members of the cast, yet at the same time further Agent Graves story.

Most interesting in this book is the relationship between Agent Graves and Mr. Shepherd. Where before, I thought they were straight up enemies, I'm starting to see a much more nuanced and balanced rivalry (and perhaps friendship). This book just keeps getting better.