Monday, August 31, 2009

Fan Expo vs. TCAF

This week-end I decided to give Toronto's Fan Expo a try. I haven't gone to a comic-con since I was a young teen. I have a distinct memory of sitting in the audience at a panel where someone asked Chris Claremont when he was going to let another writer work on Uncanny X-Men (this would have been around the Mutant Massacre time, when his stuff was still good), and some girl started hissing at the guy who asked. Like, actually saying the words, "Hiss, hiss." It was one of those revelatory moments, and I stepped away from organized fandom for a long long time.

Then, two years ago, I attended the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and it was everything I missed about those old conventions (anyone remember when they were at OCA, before the D? Those were the best), but without the rabid and maniacal fans. I went again this year, and loved it again. So, add to that a quiet week-end, and the desire to check out some of the titles that I dropped when their prices went to $4 a comic, and I decided to head down to the Toronto Convention Centre.

I enjoyed myself, and have since been thinking about the major differences between these two events, which basically comprise the calendar for comics-related events in Toronto (I know some would be yelling Word on the Street right about now, but that's yet to impress me) So, what are the pros and cons of each?

Commercialism vs. Advocacy
While TCAF is definitely an event designed to make money for its exhibitors, it takes a very different approach. Fan Expo is loud, crass, and populist. You have to pay $25 to get in (without including parking, and only for one day), and it's all about the cash. Don't get me wrong, I went for the 50% off bins, but it has a 'grab what you can' atmosphere, heightened by announcers offering the opportunity for extra tickets to meet Bruce Campbell. At TCAF, each exhibitor humbly displays his or her wares, and that's about it. TCAF is more about promoting the artform in general, and helping independent creators reach a larger audience, something that the free admission most definitely helps with.

Artist Alley
I found it interesting to try to chart which of the creators I saw at Fan Expo I've also seen at TCAF. I had a short chat with James Turner at both events this year, and saw some TCAF mainstays like Stuart and Kathryn Immonen, Darwyn Cooke, Jason Loo, Cameron Stewart, and Michael Cho. Probably the creator I was most excited to meet was Jeff Lemire, who drew me a very nice sketch in the front of the copy of 'The Nobody' I bought off of him. There were a lot of 'bigger name' artists present, people like Mike Deodato, David Finch, and apparently Bill Sienkiewicz (who I never even laid eyes on), but they usually had a crowd, and had nothing of interest for sale. And that's the difference between Fan Expo and TCAF. The artists at TCAF bring a very interesting variety of items to sell, and I feel like the people in attendance are a little more eclectic, but also are independent creators of a higher calibre. There were lots of independent folk at Fan Expo, but not that many with whom I'm actually familiar. I think TCAF has built a certain level of chachet for itself, and is therefore attracting a much more prestigious guest list.

I have to admit though, Fan Expo is the place to go for deals. People are selling things off at very good prices, although if your tastes run more to the obscure, best of luck. I was able to get a few things at a good price - half off on 'Wonton Soup 2', and 'Shortcomings' for 40% off, but I waded through a lot of 'Civil War', 'Spider-Man' and Virgin Comics trades to find them. A lot of the stuff I went specifically for: 'Beanworld', the Ted McKeever library, and things like 'Johnny Hiro' were not exactly in attendance, and definitely not at a reduced price if I did find them. I still walked out with some good buys and a weight on my arm, but it was more my mainstream itch that got scratched. Comparatively though, things were cheaper than at TCAF, which I think is unfortunate. I can understand artists wanting to make as much as they can, and I'm happy to support them where possible, but I don't see how a publisher like Drawn and Quarterly can't offer a 10-15% discount across the board. They're still making a greater profit than they would distributing to book and comic stores, and cheap guys like me would be more likely to buy more.

This is the type of stuff that I think cheapens the whole hobby, and makes it easy to mock in the media, and that is exclusively the domain of Fan Expo (although there was a kid at TCAF this year in a Batman shirt with a cape - he looked to be about 6 though). I don't understand the desire, personally, but a lot of people were wearing some homemade costumes, often of strikingly good quality. I was going to come down fully against it - I never want to see some over-weight guy stretch some spandex to the limit in an effort to mimic Deadpool again - but two people changed my mind on this issue some: Supergirl, and Batgirl. In some ways, they were the highlight of the show for me....

So, it's not an all or nothing thing. It's quite clear that Toronto has the ability to host both of these comics celebrations to huge crowds, but I think they clearly show the dichotomy that exists within the medium. Ultimately, it's probably that dichotomy that keeps comics as a form of business and of art so fluid and successful, and it's good to see mass outpourings of love for the form in either venue. Personally for me, I know I'll be at TCAF this spring; I'm not so sure about next year's Fan Expo.

100 Bullets Vol. 10: Decayed

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

So I'm burning through these trades, trying to get as far as possible through my over-sized stack of books to read before I have to go back to work next week, and a few things are becoming apparent about this series:

1. Azzarello really wasn't writing this for the trade at all. Most of the time, each volume contains one longer (4 issues give or take) story, and maybe a two or three parter, and a single or two; there is no set pattern. I like that - too many writers are only writing for the trade, although it does give me one more reason to feel foolish for having let this one get past me when it was published monthly.

2. Risso's work sometimes looks like Frank Miller. I've noticed that before, but never put word to keyboard on it. Who's the better artist? In terms of consistency, I'd have to say Risso. I'd love to see Lynn Varley do some work with him, as I think she'd colour his stuff nicely (Patricia Mulvihill does a fantastic job on this though).

3. Too many of the Minutemen look the same to me. Cole, the boxing guy; sometimes I have to really slow down to figure out who's who. I can't imagine giving it a few months between trades; I'd be totally lost.

Anyway, this is another good volume. The strongest part is the done-in-one that finishes it off, and shows how in a lot of ways, both Graves and Lono are just playing games with each other. Only three volumes to go, but I think I'll take a break from it for a bit, and give a few other things a try.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hard Time: 50 to Life

Written by Steve Gerber
Art by Brian Hurtt

I don't know why I never bought this when it was first published - I know it had good press, but I never really bothered with it, which was a mistake.

This is one of Steve Gerber's more coherent pieces of work. It's the story of Ethan Harrow, a 15-year old who is sent to prison for life after he and a friend decide to hold their school cafeteria at gunpoint as a joke, which turned deadly. This book follows Ethan through his first few weeks in prison, and it meets all of the obligatory prison drama standards: racial tension, Aryans (do Aryans exist outside of prisons?), a shower scene, a transvestite, and ineffectual corrections officers and staff.

What makes this book different though is that Ethan is beginning to manifest some type of powers. He seems to be able to leave his body, and float around in the form of a red ghost-like thing, that can beat up his enemies and generally cause mischief.

Ethan is portrayed as a bit of a jerk. We don't get to understand why he pulled his school prank, and he's not terribly kind to the people around him. We sympathize with him, but never actually start to like him, which is, I suppose, further proof of Gerber's ability as a writer.

Brian Hurtt handles the art here (with gorgeous original covers by Tomer Hanuka), and I find this to be some of the best stuff I've seen him do. As this is largely a personal drama, his ability to render faces and emotions serves him well. The muted colours help give the book an institutionalized feel.

I don't believe that DC has ever collected the rest of this title. I know that there were six more issues in the first run, followed by a 'season two'. I guess I'll be hunting for these on Ebay now....

Fantastic Four / Iron Man: Big in Japan

Written by Zeb Wells
Art by Seth Fisher

When I buy super-hero books, I usually prefer them to be more serious than this, and in-continuity. I completely dismissed this book when it came out, but have since come to appreciate the art of the late Seth Fisher, and decided that it was worth giving this title a shot.

The story is silly - the Fantastic Four are invited to the grand opening of a monster museum in Japan (Tony Stark just shows up), and then, of course, all the monsters go nuts, and a bunch more show up and attack the city. The heroes all jump in, and hilarity ensues. After Reed talks to one of the monsters (with the help of the mummified trachea of a 3-million year old monster mummy), they learn that there is a much larger creature coming from another dimension to destroy the Earth. From there, of course, the action moves to Antarctica, and then Monster Island, with a nice guest appearance by the Mole Man.

Like I said, the story is silly, but it's just a vehicle for Seth Fisher's insane artwork. The strange locales provide him with the opportunity to create some amazing backgrounds. His monster museum is incredible, with its monster-benches and strange design. This is topped though by tooth, finger, and eyeball-heavy design of an old temple the heroes discover in Antarctica, and by his cut-away drawing of Monster Island, which is actually a large syringe.

Fisher uses a number of strange perspectives in his drawing, occasionally reducing the main characters to a scale usually used on the X-Babies, to show the size of the monsters they are facing. His Moloids are awesome too.

This was a light read, but a very enjoyable one at that. It did make me wonder though - if both Marvel and DC gave Fisher the opportunity to play with some of their most iconic figures, why haven't they extended the same offer to Brandon Graham? I could see him doing just as good a job on a book like this...

Saturday, August 29, 2009


by K'Naan

I'm a little surprised to realize that I haven't written about this album yet - this was the soundtrack to my spring, and is definitely one of my favourite albums of 2009 so far (granted, that's not hard, but I'll say it's among my top five of the last three years).

K'Naan is exactly what I hope for when I think about the potential of rap - he's an artist who stays true to his vision, who writes interesting songs that advance the culture a little bit. This album, his second, is by no means perfect, but it has long moments of perfection, and drips potential for a long, fruitful career.

It starts off strong with 'T.I.A.' and 'ABCs', two bangers that ground the album in both an African, and old school sensibility. 'Dreamer' is a nice song, even if the hook overuses the word 'but' (pet peeve). From there, the album gets a little weak, as it runs through a trio of songs that feel like they were included more for the cross-over appeal of their big name guests: 'I Come Prepared', with Damien Marley; 'Bang Bang' with Adam Levine; and 'If Rap Gets Jealous' with Kirk Hammett (I much preferred the version of this song that appeared on the first album).

At this point, the album becomes very strong - in fact, tracks seven through twelve could have been an absolutely divine EP.

'Waving' Flag' is a beautiful song, sung instead of rapped. It's a song of stuggle, and intense hope. 'Somalia' is, obviously, about K'Naan's homeland. It encompasses his memories as well as describes the current geopolitical climate there. There is a remix of this song (not on the album) which is worth tracking down - I can never decide which I like better.

'America', with Mos Def and Chali 2Na is an important song. Mos kills his part, but K'Naan gets most of the spotlight, especially in the verses that he raps in Somali. I don't see this as particularly groundbreaking, like some would, but it is very fitting for an album like this. This song has a very nice, old school beat to it.

'Fatima' is a heartbreaking song about K'Naan's first love, who is murdered in Mogadishu. What makes the song most powerful is that, like he says, 'it's a celebration'. Taken within the context of this artist's history, this song becomes a testament to his own strength and ability to survive adversity.

'Fire in Freetown' is another song I love. It's also sung, and carries a darker tone than the rest of the album. 'Take A Minute' is an ode to his mother and her struggles. He name-checks Mandela and Gandhi, while freely admitting his own lack of knowledge.

'15 Minutes Away' is a slightly irritating song about Western Union, and the financial struggles of an artist attempting to make it in hip-hop. 'People Like Me' is a strange beast. In some ways, it reminds me of the way Eminem tells a story in the first verse, but the second, in which K'Naan talks about growing up with his cousin and ultimately leaving him behind is a painful and haunting way to round out this album.

I'm very grateful to see so many young people embrace this artist, and for him to receive so much media attention (at least here in Canada), as K'Naan represents the future that I wish hip-hop would have. His work appeals to so many people on many levels, and I appreciate that he has, up to now at least, been able to maintain the moral integrity of his art. And that that same art is so enjoyable....

100 Bullets Vol. 9: Strychnine Lives

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

There's a lot that goes on in this volume of 100 Bullets. By this point in the series, many of the secrets of the book have become clear: who is appearing to work for who, which families are trying to take over the Trust, all of that. At the same time, it seems more than likely to expect a twist or two along the way.

Azzarello's writing never fails to surprise. There is one pretty significant death in this book that I didn't expect, although its probably not as consequential as the one that finished the last volume.

What really makes this title interesting to me are the numerous side stories and sub-plots that appear. Sometimes, I think these stories are Risso's contribution, as they aren't scripted: take for example the fat lady who almost gets mugged towards the end of the book - the script deals with a conversation between Lono and Medici in a tobacconists shop, and the action with the fat lady takes place outside. The longer sub-plot in this volume involves Spain, a NY tough, Tino, a Miami bell-boy, his baby mama, and Bosco, a local drug dealer. While their story overlaps in many places with the main plot, it stands as its own tale, a particularly cruel one at that.

2666: The Part about the Crimes

by Roberto Bolaño

As promised by the title, this section of the novel, published in the paperback as its own stand-alone book, is about the killings in Santa Teresa.

Bolaño approaches this section by describing each body as it is found - he never describes the killings, or who is responsible, but instead weaves through a few years in Santa Teresa, as the body count grows.

The narrative shifts its focus onto a number of different people. There is Inspector Juan de Dios Martinez, who first comes on the stage with regards to a series of church desecrations, and who falls for the director of an insane asylum (one of the thematic links to the other parts of the novel). We also meet Lalo Cura, a young police who seems to be one of the only people on the force interested in learning modern methods of detection. As well, there is Sergio Gonzalez, a reporter who does not normally cover the crime beat. We meet Klaus Haas, a German-American who is accused of the crimes, even though they continue after he is locked up.

It is in this section more than any of the others previous that Bolaño really flexes his literary muscles. His descriptions are strong and unique, and the narrative meanders down many tangents and digressions. While the steady onslaught of murders can be overwhelming, Bolaño tempers them with what becomes a very complete portrait of life along the border.

Aside from setting and the existence of these killings, there is no real connection as of yet to the other three parts of the novel.

Friday, August 28, 2009

District 9

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. The premise is simple (and reminds me a lot of the old Alien Nation TV show): an alien ship parked itself above Johannesburg, and the South African government found itself responsible for some 1-2 million alien refugees, referred to as Prawns. The MNU, the non-Governmental contractor responsible for overseeing the ghetto the Prawns live in have a plan to relocate them away from the city, but things go bad when the man in charge of the relocation, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) becomes somehow infected by a canister of fuel, and begins to take on alien characteristics.

What follows is an adventure movie in which Wikus, with the help of a Prawn, has to avoid Nigerian gun runners, break into MNU headquarters to retrieve the canister of fuel, and help the Prawn to fly up to his mothership.

The film moves very quickly, aided by the handheld cameras. This leads to one of the problems I have with the film; it begins with a documentary set-up, and Wikus interacts with the camera man, but later on, the film dispenses with that conceit, yet the filming remains handheld and jerky, as if a camera man is running around with Wikus at all times.

Copley's Wikus is incredible. He plays the man as a fool, who is wrapped up in events he can barely comprehend. He reacts with shock when he sees what is being done to the Prawns, and what his company (headed by his father-in-law, of course) plans to do to him as he develops tentacles, but what works best is the way he reacts to a phone call from his wife, with such unbridled enthusiasm.

The film's CGI looks fantastic, and I love the shots of the gigantic ship just hovering over a slum. I do have to wonder though, how the world's governments would have left the ship intact for twenty years, without cannibalising it for parts or attempting to learn everything about how it works. There are a number of inconsistencies like this that cause the film to crumble under scrutiny, but as a summer action film, it's smarter and more engaging that most of what's out there.

Promethea Volume 3

Written by Alan Moore
Art by JH Williams III and Mick Gray

Promethea, in its third volume, no longer worries too much about having a story to tell. Sure, there are the trappings of a story: Sophie is worried about Barbara's spirit, and so travels into the higher realms of the Immateria to find her, and then when she finds her, goes on a quest with her to help her find the spirit of her lost husband. While she's gone, Stacia merges with one of the other Promethea's, beats up some bad guys, then some good guys, and goes after the mayor.

Really though, what's going on here is the journey through Alan Moore's world view. There's tons of Kabbalistic mysticism, symbolism, imagery, and strange guest appearances. I suppose, if you have a strong grounding in magic, this stuff would be quite meaningful to you, but it sort of comes across as mumbo jumbo.

What saves this book, is Williams incredible artwork. I know he's getting a lot of praise for his work on Detective Comics right now, which is gorgeous, but in a lot of ways, this stuff here is better. The scene where Sophie and Barb walk a Moebius strip is incredible stuff. This really is a comic that is read for the art.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Unknown Soldier #11

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Alberto Ponticelli

Similarly to Scalped, I find it difficult to think of new ways to praise this comic every month. Dysart and Ponticelli are putting out a very nuanced and intelligent book, which seems to draw me ever deeper into the story of Moses Lwanga and Uganda.

In this issue, many different groups converge on a hotel in Kampala, where Margaret Wells has organized a benefit dinner in tribute to Moses. There is a plot to assassinate her at this dinner, and now Moses, with Jack Howl, is looking to stop them.

Most interesting though, is that his former fiancee and her father have arrived for the benefit. The scenes between Sera and her are the strongest in the book, as they make obvious to Sera that no one seems to know her husband very well.

Great book.

Zero Killer #4

Written by Arvid Nelson
Art by Matt Camp

Apparently it's Arvid Nelson week at Dark Horse, as Zero Killer finally returns to the shelves, something like two years after the last issue was published.

Zero Killer is an alternative history comic from Nelson; in this case, nuclear bombs exploded in New York back in the seventies, flooding the city, and causing a lot of deaths. Any survivors have moved into the top levels of the few remaining sky scrapers, and they eke out a violent and miserable existence.

Zero, a mysterious young man, spends his time attempting to build a boat and sail to Africa. He's run across the path of a girl named Stark, and has been given the mission of retrieving a briefcase from a downed helicopter for a group of Sudanese government guys, in return for passage to Sudan. In this issue, Zero has to infiltrate the Twin Towers (where he has some history), and fight a bunch of Beyond Thunderdome gangster kids.

This comic has always read quite smoothly, and has gorgeous art from Matt Camp. It's a little difficult to pick up on this half way through the run, and I wonder what kind of sales Dark Horse can expect after such a long hiatus. Regardless, this is a good comic, and should read quite well when it is published as a trade.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rex Mundi #19

Written by Arvid Nelson
Art by Juan Ferreyra

After thirty-seven issue, Rex Mundi has drawn to a close. That's a very impressive run for an independent comic which, especially at its inception, did not have any big names attached to it. The book originally ran for eighteen issues at Image, before making the jump to Dark Horse, and re-numbering for another nineteen. It is especially impressive to think that the book is ending because the story is finished; this is not a sales-driven conclusion.

When the book began, it was a slightly different beast than what it became. I only jumped on to it towards the end of its Image run, around issue fifteen or so, and picked up the rest of the series in trades or in individual back issues on Ebay. I was immediately impressed by the scope of the book - Nelson has written an alternative-history book that stretches across Europe, and reaches back to the beginning of the calendar.

The first artist on the book, Eric J., was very much of the Image school. His characters were dynamic (if ridiculously tall), and the chase scenes in the early issues fit his style. When Juan Ferreyra took over (there were a few other artists in-between), the story slowed down a little, and became more lush, to match his warmer art and impressive ability to render faces and expressions. The 'blue apples' could only have worked with his colouring.

While this final issue, of necessity, is a Hollywood block-buster, this title has been measured and intelligent. It feels like everything is neatly wrapped up, although I do have one major concern. I may have purchased a mis-printed copy - the story ends rather abruptly with Moricant and Gen about to enter a church, and a figure standing in shadow behind them. This may be the intended ending, but it seems a little vague, and I was suprised at the lack of a text-piece or other form of farewell at the end of the book. Now, to add to my confusion, the usual newspaper pages that accompany this book were posted on-line, so I really don't know if this is the proper end, or if I have a bad copy. If anyone's copy ends differently, please let me know.

Regardless of a potentially disappointing ending, this is a fantastic comic. I urge people who have not experienced it to go out and start reading the book in trades - it's worth it.

Scalped #31

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

This is another very strong issue of Scalped. It's hard to review this book, because most months, I end up thinking the same things: that I wish I could write like Aaron, and that I wish this book was weekly.

After the events of last issue, it looks like Nitz can bring in his case against Red Crow. The only way that can happen though is if an eye-witness to Brass's murder can be kept alive, and Nitz can get to him in time. And of course, the Hmong are coming.

The last few months have been feeling more and more like the pay-off for all the issues where Aaron was both telling a good story, and laying the groundwork for what he's doing now. There was an impressive amount of planning that went into this comic.

I hope that people who pick up Aaron's Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and Punisher books all take a chance on buying this series too - it's incredible.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Crate Digging: Sound of the City Vol. 1

by Black Milk

Black Milk is a producer with a ton of talent. He most frequently gets compared to J Dilla - he uses nice, soulful samples and loops, and they both hail from Detroit. His drums sound a little like Dilla, but they have a unique, upbeat quality to them.

His first solo album has a number of nice beats on it. In fact, I think I would play an instrumental version of this album way more often than the proper release. The reason for that is that the lyrics here are rather pedestrian, and the song topics are dull. I'm not going to say Dilla was much stronger as a lyricist, and Black has shown some steady growth in this department, but this release is definitely marred by some poor choices of words, phrases, and topics.

The stand-out songs on here though, really do stand out. 'Danger', with T3 and Phat Kat is a fantastic song; 'So Gone' anticipates the "Tronic" album nicely. "Swing Dat Far" is a pretty song, while the title track, with Fat Ray and Elzhi, is a banger. I think my favourite song on here though is "Eternal", with the last of Slum Village to appear on the album, Baatin. This song more than any other shows the potential that Black Milk has, and is continuing to grow into.

Queen and Country Declassified Vol. 3: Sons and Daughters

Written by Antony Johnston (w/ assist by Greg Rucka)
Art by Christopher Mitten

This volume, collecting the last of the Queen and Country Declassified titles, is unique in a number of ways. First, it's not written by Rucka, but instead is done by the Wasteland team of Johnston and Mitten. Secondly, its connection to the main series of Queen and Country is much more tangential than the previous two entries in the Declassified series. While they helped add important background to major characters, this feels a little more like just another dip in the well.

The action in this volume revolves around an IRA mission from the 80s, and the effect it had on three people: the surviving IRA soldier, the only surviving hostage, and the son of a slain SAS officer. When the IRA operative is released from prison, he returns to his old tricks, hunting down his original intended target.

This story is tightly plotted, and moves at a good pace. Mitten's art is nice, but I prefer his work on Wasteland.

Last Stop 174

Directed by Bruno Barreto

This is a pretty effective movie from Bráulio Mantovani, who wrote "City of God", and seemingly kicked off the Brazilian favela genre, at least so far as international audiences are concerned.

This film tells the interconnected stories of three people: Marisa (Chris Vianna), a young mother whose infant is taken from her as a drug debt; Alessandro (Marcello Melo Junior), her child who grows up to be a drug dealer and thief, and Sandro (Michel Gomes and Vitor Carvalho), another boy who is orphaned and grows up on the streets.

The two Ales meet in jail, and Marisa, who has found God, is convinced that the wrong Ale is her son. Eventually, Sandro snaps, and takes a city bus hostage.

The film portrays the random violence and cruelty of Rio, but also shows in a good light the people that are working to improve conditions. It's nice to see a film set in the slums that is not all about drug dealers - the drug industry is present throughout, but remains on the periphery.

Monday, August 24, 2009

100 Bullets Vol. 8: The Hard Way

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

I started reading this volume with mixed expectations. I have been enjoying this series quite a bit since I started reading it in trades, but I realized that this volume collected the two or three issues that I'd decided to buy a while back, when the originally appeared, because I couldn't decide if I wanted to jump on this book or not.

It was the bear traps that made me decide to stay away. I still can think of very few images in comics that have ever sent a shiver down my spine with more force than the scene in this book where a couple of rednecks throw a bear trap at a girl. Of course, that ended up being topped a little later in this volume, when the bear traps come out again, but I won't say anything about that here. It's pretty horrifying, and really, it's rare that stuff like this affects me.

Anyway, reading this within the context of all that has gone before, it's one of my favourite volumes yet. In addition to seeing Wylie finally get himself together, we get a history of the Trust, and huge things happen right at the very end of the book, hinting at a new status quo as of volume nine. I can see now how the first pile of books were simply Azzarello laying the groundwork for the second half of the series, and I am quite excited to see how it all ends. As usual, Risso's work here is pure brilliance.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hellblazer #258

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini

I keep deciding to drop this title, and then give it another issue, which ends up convincing me to stick with it. I think that this has not been a very consistent run. Milligan has some great ideas, and the art by Camuncoli and Landini has been very nice, but there is a lack of cohesiveness.

I'm inclined to think that the events of this issue, involving death, alchemical resurrection, zombies, and police, do a good job of setting up the next set of storylines to be interesting, fast-paced, and a little unusual for a Constantine story. The only problem is, the next few issues are drawn by Simon Bisley, of whom I'm not a fan anymore (when was Lobo cool again?).

So: we've got John on the run from the police and a gangster, looking for revenge on a love-sick ekkimu, and I'm certain that if Camuncoli was the artist on the next issue, I'd be singing the praises of this one so much more. I guess I'll have to take a good look through the next issue before I decide if it's coming home.

Days Missing #1

Written by Phil Hester
Art by Frazer Irving

There were four very good reason to pick this up, in ascending order of importance:
4. I usually like the books I've bought from Archaia Studios.
3. Phil Hester is a strong writer.
2. Frazer Irving is an amazing artist.
1. It's $0.99 for a full-length book.

Taking all of these things into account, it was a guaranteed purchase, and it's a good comic.

Basically, the Phantom Stranger is now a doctor or something, and has been around on Earth since before the dinosaurs, and has been helping organisms along. Somewhere along the way, he chose to back mankind over all other life forms (probably some type of speciesism, as he looks like us). In this issue, he's in Swaziland, where a new virus that makes Ebola look like chicken pox is on the loose. The Phantom Stranger (sorry, the Steward) gets involved, and saves the day.

It's a basic concept and execution, but it's an enjoyable comic. Future issues will be set in different time periods, and will feature different creative teams. Hester and Irving were a good choice for this first issue, although I would rather see them working on Firebreather and Gutsville, respectively.

Viking #3

Written by Ivan Brandon
Art by Nic Klein

While this issue is not as good as the previous one, it does do a lot more to move the story forward, and set up what I assume is going to be the main purpose of this title.

Finn and Egil get pretty drunk in this issue, win a brawl, and hook up with Orm, and set out on a robbery that will link their story with the king and princess we've been seeing since the first issue. There's also some stuff with the king's servants.

This is a slow-moving book, and I sometimes find it difficult to follow some of the action, but it is a beautiful book, and I'm buying it more for the art than the story (which is rare with me). I especially like the drinking scene, where the two drunker guys take on an aura.

Air #12

Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by MK Perker

Air has been a remarkably consistent book. Wilson and Perker really have a feel for their characters, as Blythe continues to react to events around her, and takes off to the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, in an attempt to win Zayn back.

Blythe explains the concept best herself: "This is a stupid chick thing. It's infatuated girl chases unavailable boy, only in crazy-land with some airplanes. It's all going to end in tears." That's a pretty good summary of what's been going on in this title since the beginning.

This book has been running for a year now, a good accomplishment alone these days, and it continues to intrigue me.

Jack of Fables #37

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

With the close of the Great Fables Crossover, and the resolution of nearly three year's worth of stories pitting Jack up against the Literals, this book needs to find something new to do. Apparently, that involves shining the spotlight on Jack Frost, Jack's son, as he gets the majority of pages in this book.

Young Jack travels to the heart of the Empire, renounces his parentage and his mother's abilities, gets into a fight with some deserters, and makes friends with a wooden owl. It was a good start to his adventures, but didn't feel like new ground. Instead, it feels like the beginnings of a new buddy movie.

The Jack who this book is usually about only shows up for a few pages, wherein he gets treated poorly by the artist, in a way reminiscent of some old Warner Brothers cartoons. All we needed was the big hand and pencil. Personally, I thought that we would be done with the fourth wall stuff, now that the Literals are gone.

I think this title might be finding itself falling off my pull list, if the next issue doesn't restore some of the things I like about this book....

Ex Machina #44

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

This is probably the least political issue of this series yet, as Mitchell heads into the sewers to confront his old enemy Pherson, only to find a purple cosmic cube wearing an old school diving suit. A lot more is explained about Hundred's origin, and the story keeps ramping up to its impending conclusion.

More interesting is the stuff about the 'white box' that Hundred built, which perhaps has the ability to tamper with voting machines.

This is a good comic, but I feel like it's lacking all of the things that made Ex Machina such a unique book at its inception.

Doktor Sleepless #13

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Ivan Rodriguez, w/ Seabra

It's been a while since we've seen an issue of this title, and Ellis makes up for the absence by giving us the most action-packed and fast-paced issue yet. As the Doktor's plans progress, Heavenside burns.

This issue takes a kaleidoscopic approach, as it jumps from character to character, and sub-plot to sub-plot, with very few long scenes. You could never start reading this series with this issue, but if you've been with it from the beginning, there's a lot of stuff taking place that you've been waiting for.

My complaint about this issue concerns the backmatter. Usually this book can be counted on for being a good read from cover to cover, and at times, the rants or articles Ellis fills the last few pages with can be more interesting than the comic itself. This issue only gives us the script for the first few pages of issue one. I know that a lot of completists go nuts for this kind of thing, but I'd rather read something more like his piece on citizen journalism of a few issues ago. I get the feeling that they needed to get the book back on schedule, and so they jettisoned the usual approach. Hopefully things will be back to normal with the next issue.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Capote in Kansas

Written by Ande Parks
Art by Chris Samnee

I should preface any discussion of this book by saying that I've barely read any Capote - just a short story or two, and before reading this today, have never felt any interest in reading "In Cold Blood." Now I do though....

This graphic novel is the story of Capote researching "In Cold Blood". When this book opens, Capote is out with some friends, including Norman Mailer, and is debating whether or not he wants to travel to Kansas to research the murder of the Clutter family (who are dispatched at the very beginning).

What follows is an accounting of the slow process by which Capote, a New York dandy if there ever was one, is able to win over the help, if not the respect, of the agent in charge of the case, and the two murderers themselves.

Parks freely admits in his afterward that much of his work here is fiction. He gives Harper Lee (of "To Kill a Mockingbird" fame) a much smaller role than she had in reality, and has Capote imagine lengthy conversations with the oldest Clutter girl. I'm not sure how much of the relationship he has with the two murderers is factual, but ultimately, it doesn't matter, because this novel stands on its own as a compelling story of a writer trying to understand evil.

Parks script is pitch perfect here - especially the little bons mots that Capote keeps dropping - and he gives Samnee plenty of room to illustrate an emotional story. Recommended.

Asterios Polyp

by David Mazzucchelli

I started this blog to help promote things that I like, and to hopefully convince other people to try the same things. I have never kidded myself that my thoughts were particularly profound or any more informed than the next blogger, but writing these short reviews have forced me to think more about what I'm reading (or listening to), and to appreciate these things on a new level.

When it comes to this book though, I think I'm out of my league. I enjoyed reading it immensely, although I don't feel very qualified to discuss it in depth. I have only a passing notion of architecture and design theory, and am sure I missed many of the allusions and references in this book. As well, I feel that I should read it through a couple more times before I would attempt any kind of scholarly appraisal.

So, all that said, I'll discuss this comic as a casual reader. It's really frigging good.

The book starts in Asterios's cluttered, well-lived in apartment. The picture here is not that positive - we get the impression of a lonely, disappointed man. Then lightning strikes his building, setting everything on fire, and he flees his old life.

From that point, the book moves through a few different narrative strands. We see, through flashbacks, Asterios meeting, falling for, and marrying his soon to be ex-wife. We get to see how that happens too. These pages tend to be in blues, and reds, (most of the book has purple). As well, the story continues to follow Asterios, as he ends up in a remote small town (Apogee), getting a job at a mechanic's shop, and renting a room with him, his reincarnated wife, and their child (and his imaginary friend). These pages are more yellow in hue, and much looser in look.
The third strand is narrated by Asterios's unborn twin brother, who provides us with an omniscient view into Asterios's mind, and details other interesting things.

As these pieces of the story continue, we begin to piece together the different aspects of Asterios's life and character. It's fitting that Mazzucchelli's last comic work was an adaptation of Paul Auster's City of Glass, because much of the book reads like an Auster novel.

What really sets this book apart though is the brilliance of Mazzucchelli's art. He's always been an accomplished cartoonist, but he really is working at another level here. In some parts of the book, the characters are portrayed as they see themselves, so that Asterios resembles the beginning stages of an artist's layout, while Hana virtually glows with an aura of warmth. Each character has their own typeface, and no small detail is overlooked - even the money talks ("$").

This is a beautiful book, with many stunning sections. There is a montage where Asterios helps Hana remove a defective Q-Tip from her ear, that manages to encompass all the banality and glory of their marriage in a few short pages. The Orpheus-inspired dream sequence is stunning.

I would like to read the book again before I would comment on the theme of duality that runs through the book, or discuss any of the other themes. This is the type of book I can see being pulled off the shelf on a yearly basis, as it deserves a lot more reflection and time than one short read can give it.

Longbox Digging: Sleeper Season Two #1-12

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

Having just read my way through the trade of Season One of this title, half of it for the first time, I was too wrapped up in the story to not dig out the single issues for the second season, and finish the story.

In this run, Brubaker completely switches up the rules that govern Carver's life. In the first volume, the drama came from the fact that Carver, a double-agent working for John Lynch and I.O., was stuck in Tao's criminal organization with no protection, as Lynch lay in a coma. Now, Lynch is awake, and Carver is trying to work his own agenda.

He no longer cares about achieving Lynch's goals. He also has led Tao to believe that he is completely on his side. Meanwhile, he is simply trying to keep his friends safe, and to find a cure for his bizarre medical condition / super-powers.

This series feels a little quicker-paced, as the three men work their plans, and Carver's relationships throw wrinkle after wrinkle into his plans. There is his former fiancee, now working for Lynch and believing that he is still a good man. And then there's Miss Misery, a truly great character, who loves Carver, but also can not be trusted in any way.

One thing that I felt worked even better in Season Two than Season One was the further integration of the Wildstorm universe. Grifter, from the WildCATS makes a couple of appearances here, which fits as he has history with each of the principal characters.

Phillip's art throughout this comic is incredible. I love the way he lays out the pages, with assymetrical panel layouts, and a lot of diagonal storytelling. As well, I think that the cover logo has one of the best designs I've ever seen in comics (I love the man on top of the 'L').

Placing this book within the Brubaker/Phillips oeuvre, I would have to say I prefer it over Incognito, although Criminals is still their best work.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Stuff of Legend Volume 1: The Dark Book 1

Written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith
Art by Charles Paul Wilson III

This book got a lot of press a couple of weeks ago, and caught my interest enough that I decided that I would order it from the publisher - something I don't often do. It's easy to see why this book has been getting a lot of hype. It's really quite good.

The story is at first quite straight-forward. A young boy in a house in Brooklyn in 1944 is abducted by a creature living in his closet, a common fear. Once he is gone, his toys come to life, bemoaning his fate. A few, the most loyal and brave, take it upon themselves to go into the closet, and "The Dark", to rescue him.

At this point, things shift, and the toys are no longer animated things of wood, fabric or whatever, and are instead real creatures. The teddy bear becomes a fierce grizzly; the jack-in-the-box an able warrior. The toys go after the Boogeyman, who has an army of toys at his disposal.

This book makes use of classic themes and ideas in childrens' literature, but the book's dark nature appeals to adult audiences, without having to resort to foul language or sexuality. In a lot of ways, this book feels a little like the opposite of Fables; the toys work hard to preserve the mundane happiness of childhood, and exist solely for the pleasure of The Boy.

While the story is compelling, it is the art that makes this book a winner. Wilson's art is beautiful, and the Design and Colour team of Jon Conkling and Michael DeVito have gone above and beyond, bordering each page as if it is a recently-discovered artifact from the time it is set in.

Highly, highly recommended. This book can be purchased directly from the publisher.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sleeper Season One

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

I was a little late in jumping on to Sleeper. I bought the second season as it came out, but had not read the first. Eventually I picked up the first trade, but never got the second. Just recently I found this, which collects the first two trades, in a used bookstore, and decided it was time to reacquaint myself with Holden Carver.

Sleeper is a superior piece of comics. Brubaker's story of a double agent that is left on his own while his handler is in a coma combines the best of Cold War espionage novels with superhero action. Carver, his loyalties vacillating between his friends in Tao's organization, his former lover, and what he believes is right, finds himself in an impossible situation. Brubaker continuously adds tension to the story, as Carver is dragged deeper into Tao's world.

The team of Brubaker and Phillips have become much more reknowned since this work was completed - their Criminal and Incognito series are critically acclaimed and quite popular, and this title has a lot in common with Incognito. The thing is, I think I like this better. The main reason for that is that Brubaker is playing around in an established universe - he makes use of pre-existing characters and government agencies in the Wildstorm universe, and that lends a touch of gravity to this book, especially as he subtly subverts the structures of that universe, ultimately revealing that the world is run by an organization of people so rich and powerful, that they are completely unkwown.

Having finished this, I think it's time to dig back through the collection and re-read Season Two.

Omega The Unknown Classic

Written by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes, with Scott Edelman, Roger Stern, Steven Grant, Mark Gruenwald, and Ed Hannigan
Art by Jim Mooney with Palbo Marcus, Mike Esposito, Lee Elias, Herb Trimpe, Steve Mitchell, Al Milgrom, and Chic Stone

This was being given away free with the purchase of any two graphic novels at a terrific local store this summer. They had a small selection of books to choose from for the giveaway, and this one immediately caught my eye. I really enjoyed the Jonathan Lethem/Farel Dalrymple recent re-examination of Omega, and thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the source material - especially since there was no cost.

What I got was some classic Marvel 70s comics. The books reprinted here - the ten issues of the Omega series, two issues of The Defenders that wrapped up the story, and a couple of random Defenders pages that had some significance - represent a period where Marvel was willing to try just about any idea. They allowed Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes to write a story where the main character doesn't speak (until later issues that have been guest written), and where almost nothing is explained.

The story is remarkably similar to the newer version of a couple of years ago. Omega shows up on Earth around the same time that a young, precociously intelligent, boy ends up in New York after a car accident claims the lives of his parents, who happen to be robots. The boy has some strange powers, and hears voices, and goes to live with a nurse from a mental clinic, where he is exposed to bullies. Now, in the 70s, bullies just beat you up, whereas in the 00s, they play with guns. Also, in the 70s, everyone you make friends with are white, and doctors smoke pipes in hospitals. And nurse's roommates speak some strange version of jive. And nurse's old boyfriends are hunted by the Foolkiller. And old women get killed by bad guys named The Wrench. In other words, there's a lot of ridiculous going on here.

As the series progresses, you begin to feel the demands of Marvel editorial. Suddenly, Omega is fighting more established bad guys, like Nitro, and he can talk. Once the series is cancelled, there is a quick wrap-up in the pages of the Defenders, and the story takes an ironic twist. I don't know if that was the ending Gerber had intended, but it did manage to wrap up the story and dump the characters so that they would never return (until the 00s).

Art wise, this looks like classic Marvel stuff. Artists like Mooney and Trimpe are true journeymen of the craft - their work is not immediately recognizable as theirs, but it does the job -which can be difficult when one bad guy is a girl with a big red ball for a head, that can change shape into hands and stuff (gotta miss the 70s).

I enjoyed reading this book, and am thankful to the guys at The Labyrinth for giving me the opportunity, as this is not something I would have ever purchased on my own.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

2666: The Part About Fate

by Roberto Bolaño

I guess the question of the day is: Am I 3/5 or 1/3 through this book?

In the third section of this novel, the narrative is all about fate, Oscar Fate that is, who is also strangely referred to as Quincy Williams for a few pages. Fate is a reporter for a New York 'black power' magazine, whose mother dies before he has to go to Detroit to work on a story. Once that is finished, he is sent by his magazine to Santa Teresa, not to report on the killings, but to cover a boxing match between a Mexican light heavyweight, and a New Yorker.

This part of the novel has one feature that struck me as very odd, and that is how it dealt with celebrity. For the first time, the names dropped were not of authors and philosophers, but of movie makers and the like - there's a discussion of Roberto Rodriguez's first movie, which predates "El Mariachi" and goes without his name on the credits. Woody Allen is accused of being one of the "Jews who run Hollywood." Yet, when Fate goes to interview the co-founder of the Black Panther movement, his name is Barry Seaman. I'm not sure why the switch would have been necessary - perhaps because Seaman is actually, briefly, a character in the book, while everyone else is simply discussed. Still, I found that strange.

It is not until the very end of this section that the story begins to over-lap with any of the others in the novel so far, and it would appear that the bridge between the stories is Amalfitano, who has cameos in this section, and his daughter has an important role towards the end.

I think what I am enjoying most about this book so far is the way that it goes off on tangents - Barry Seaman/Bobby Seale is given a long speech. Fate reminisces about interviewing the Mohammedan Brotherhood. Every character seems to have a lengthy, and usually unimportant story to tell.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Crate Digging: The Black Market Militia

by The Black Market Militia

The Black Market Militia is a supergroup, made up of Killah Priest, Tragedy Khadafi, Hell Razah, Timbo King, and William Cooper (whoever he is). This album came out in 2005, and I remember being quite fond of it at the time.

Listening to this again for the first time in ages, I still find it quite enjoyable. In my mind, all of the production for this album was done by Bronze Nazareth, although he actually only produced two tracks - the intro, and one that is mostly interlude (although it's a beat that he uses a lot). The rest of the beats were provided by Godz Wrath Productions, and people like Ben Varges, Squeeze, BP, King Solomon, Subliminal, J. Rusch, and Dev 1, most of whom, I am still unfamiliar with. The best way to describe the sound though? It sounds like Bronze Nazareth.

Lyrically, this album is exactly what you would expect from these guys. It's literary, thug nation stuff, with lots of biblical references, and a general sense of the importance of black uplift, although not by the established rules. Dead Prez have a guest appearance on here, and that kind of sums up the politics for me.

This is a solid, dependable album, by some of the second-tier journeymen of New York hip-hop. I admire Hell Razah, Killah Priest and Tragedy Khadafi a great deal for their bodies of work, both individually and when they collaborate. I do feel like they haven't done much that's different since the mid-00s though, so this album will stay in my collection, while I won't automatically purchase something new from them.

Tokyo Days, Bangkok Nights

Written by Jonathan Vankin
Art by Seth Fisher and Giusseppe Camuncoli & Shawn Martinbrough

I didn't pick up the original Vertigo Pop! mini-series, because at the time they came out, I was trying to cut back on my purchases, and because I wasn't very familiar with any of the creators involved. Since then, I have gained an appreciation of Seth Fisher (too little, too late), and have been following Camuncoli's career since his work on the brilliant "The Intimates".

This trade presents two mini-series, unrelated to each other except by themes and hemisphere. The Tokyo story is about Steve, an American in Japan who gets swept up in a weird tale of pop stars, Yakuza, family stife, and hot teenage girls. It's a fun story, and Vankin makes good use of Fisher's strengths - namely kooky detailed settings, bizarre action, and cartoon expressions. This half of the book was highly enjoyable.

The Bangkok story is about an American girl, the American actor boyfriend she treats horribly, Thai prostitutes, Western sexual exploitation, and sacred elephants. While on paper it sounds almost as madcap as the Tokyo half, it's a much darker tale, lacking in satisfying outcomes for anyone (except maybe the elephant).

What's interesting about placing these two tales together is the way in which they portray Americans as insensitive, greedy tourists, who expect that the entire world should adhere to their values and social mores. While I would never defend the things that go on in Bangkok, it can't be a coincidence that Tuesday, the main character, identifies best with an elephant, as she is the one that is trampling all over everyone and everything she sees.

This is a great collection, worth the price just for Fisher's artwork, although I think it is the Bangkok story that will stick with you much longer.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Red Herring #1

Written by David Tischman
Art by Philip Bond and David Hahn

Alright, I'm going to need to read this again. I like the story, I'm interested in where it goes, but I'm quite certain that I missed a lot of things reading this first issue. Let me reconstruct my thinking on this comic.

I love Philip Bond's work. That was the main reason why I bought this book, without reading the solicitation text or anything. Bond's work on "Shade the Changing Man" was great, even if he suffered from the problem of not being Chris Bachalo. I also enjoyed him on Vimanarama, Kill Your Boyfriend, and other odd things.

David Tischman I only know from Greatest Hits, which I enjoyed after a rocky start.

So, this issue. The book opens with Maggie MacGuffin, and a lot of second-person narrative. Both are strange choices. I'm not usually a fan of 2nd person. Furthermore, the name MacGuffin carries a lot of literary suggestion; but then, the title is referring to a character's name, so that's clearly where Tischman is going with this.

From there, we see some political intern sexual indiscretion, some shady government types meeting a man named Weiner on the Washington Mall, an alien body in the past, and other strange hijinks. More than enough to get me hooked, even if I have no clue how it all connects.

Maggie's character is the only one developed here, but she's a strong one. I'm going to make sure I read this again before the next issue comes out, but I am looking forward to it.

Unwritten #4

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross

What I've been enjoying most in this title so far is the way in which Carey is playing with, and sending up, different genres of writing. In this issue, as Pullman chases down the various writers staying at the Taylor home, he muses on how they are controlled by 'genre conventions', just as this issue becomes a mix between the 'wizard and wand' style of book, and any number of bad slasher films.

With each issue I find myself a little more interested in Tommy, and the people that are pulling his strings. Carey's done a nice job of establishing this book, and as more is revealed, I'm sure I'll be more interested. I was giving this book until the end of the first arc, and I think I'll be sticking around a while longer.

DMZ #44

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly

Is it dumb that I didn't see that end coming? It seems so obvious, but for that very reason, I thought for sure that Wood was going to take us into a different direction, in this, his investigation into the psyche of a suicide bomber in the DMZ.

This entire arc has been interesting for the way in which is shone a light into a segment of the DMZ that has been with us from the very beginning (as the first page attests), but up to this point, has remained hidden. I would like it very much if Wood continues to take this approach from time to time, and give Matty, Zee and them a bit more of a break.

I was thinking while reading this, yet again, how well Wood and Kelly work together, although this story is very far away from titles like Local and New York Four. They have developed into a very versatile team, and continue to put out excellent work.

Fables # 87

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham and Andrew Pepoy

It's nice to see things on this title return to normal, as the _inghams give us a look at the state of magic after the Dark Man (who I thought was previously being called Mister Dark) came to town.

We get a discussion of power on the 13th floor (which is now in a pumpkin on the farm), a look at Blufkin and Frankie, who are now on their own in the business office, with all sorts of nasty creatures, and a star turn from the Magic Mirror, who has suddenly become more interesting than ever before. As well, Bigby, Beast, and the war council start making plans to deal with the Dark Man.

I was concerned that, after the defeat of the Adversary, there wouldn't be enough to keep this book compelling. It turns out I didn't need to worry. Willingham clearly has a lot of stuff in store here, and the book is looking as good as ever. This months cover is one of the first that doesn't make me miss James Jean too...

BPRD 1947 #2

Written by Mike Mignola and Joshua Dysart
Art by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon

As I've stated before, I'm quite new to the Hellboy franchise, so I don't know how this title fits in the cannon, but I have been intrigued by this title.

While the party at the castle scene didn't do much to excite me - I don't really care about the characters at all, the rest of this book was excellent. I loved when the other three soldiers arrived at the ruins of the castle to find signs that we, as readers could recognize from the first half of the book. I also liked the interplay between the soldiers and the ghosts/demons/vampires(?). I found my concentration was drifting a little before that happened, and then it drew me back in nicely.

The big draw of this book is the work of Bá and Moon. As usual, their stuff looks fantastic here. They add a lot of atmosphere to the book, and some of their characters (especially the kid on the boat) look downright creepy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Walking Dead #64

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Another month, another excellent issue of The Walking Dead. I really have to hand it to Kirkman, Adlard, and crew - when they promised to stick to a schedule, they really came through, not just with timeliness, but with dependable, consistent quality.

In this issue, we get Dale's reaction to his current situation, which involves more mirth than one would expect, and a change in the relationship between Abraham and Rick. This issue places the group back into a siege situation, and I admire the way Kirkman is always able to find new situations full of dread, without having to give us endless re-treads of the same old thing. He's managed to keep a degree of novelty to the book.

The big news of the day is that AMC, a cable channel has acquired the rights to this book. This could be very good news, but they would have to stay faithful to the book's rotating cast to keep any real sense of dread in the series. If it falls into the old stand-by of the new character being the one to get killed every episode, the show won't work. One of the things that I like most about this comic is that, from issue to issue, there's no guarantee that anyone (except perhaps Rick) will survive.

On the flip side of this book, Image has included the first issue of Viking, for no extra charge. I liked it when they did this with Chew #1 last month, because I hadn't bought that book. In this case, as I'd already read and enjoyed Viking, it didn't do too much for me, but I enjoyed seeing how the book looks in standard size, and black and white. It's still a beautiful book, and a good read. If you pick this up and try it for the first time, trust me, the second issue is better still.

I like the idea of The Walking Dead being the Image free sample book, and I hope they continue with this, especially as they are promoting some high quality books that more people should be reading.

The Killer #10

Written by Matz
Art by Luc Jacamon

There was a good stretch of time where it looked like this series might never be completed. Archaia stopped publishing for a year or so, and their titles were more or less left in limbo. This is the first title I bought from that publishing house, and I wasn't sure if I'd ever get to buy this particular issue. I'm pleased that Archaia has worked out their issues, or so it seems. They are a quality house, with an interesting and unconventional catalogue.

The Killer has been a very interesting series. The main character is a hit man with no moral questions about his work. He is utterly detached while on the job, but is at other times a loyal and good man. Much of the plot has seemed familiar - he was betrayed, and in this issue, finally arrives at the people who have been pulling the strings. It's a predictable conclusion, yet Matz brings things to a close in an interesting way.

It has been a couple of years since this title began, and it would be interesting to go back and read it from the beginning again. I have enjoyed this book, and look forward to more work by these two creators, if I can find anything else in English.

2666: The Part About Amalfitano

by Roberto Bolaño

The second part of this novel appears to take place before the first, and contains no mention of Archimboldi, or the Archimboldists, instead focusing on Professor Amalfitano, who appeared in the first part as the guide for the Archimboldists in Santa Teresa.

In this part, we join Amalfitano in Barcelona, where he is married, with a young daughter. His wife leaves him to find an institutionalized gay poet with whom she claims to have had a sexual encounter, although Amalfitano knows that it was he who introduced her to his work. She ends up in a small village, where she daily attempts to enter the asylum to visit him. This poet, who remains nameless, echoes the story of Edwin Johns, the painter who mutilated himself and was institutionalized in the first part.

Years after his wife's disappearance, Amalfitano picks up stakes and moves to Sonora, where he begins to exhibit odd behaviour. He discovers a book in his luggage - a geometry book written by a poet, and decides to use it to approximate one of Marcel Duchamp's ready-mades; he hangs the book from a clothesline, and begins to constantly check to see how the climate is affecting the book.

This section of the novel is more mystical than the first. Amalfitano hears a voice in his house, and begins drawing geometric shapes labelled with the names of philosophers without realizing he's doing it. He also reads about the roots of Chilean telepathy.

This section lacks the narrative structure of the first, but perhaps contains more hints as to the true nature of this novel. There are echoes of "The Savage Detectives" here - one character complains about the lack of quality mescal in Mexico, in what could be a direct quote from that earlier novel.

One thing that stood out in particular was towards the end, when Amalfitano was reminded of a young pharmicist he knew in Barcelona, who would read minor works of famous authors, out of a fear of "the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unkown." I sense that Bolaño is talking about this book here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

FreakAngels Vol. 2

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Paul Duffield

I read the whole of the first volume of FreakAngels on the web, where it is released at the rate of six pages a week. I enjoyed it, but found that I didn't like having the story parceled out in such small chunks (I know that's hypocritical when I prefer to buy monthly comics than trade wait), and I found it annoying to read off the computer screen. I decided that webcomics weren't really my thing, and kind of forgot about it.

Then I got volume two, in trade form, and found the book to be much more enjoyable.

Ellis's group of powered 23 year olds are, we learn, responsible for the world being in the sorry state that it is. We don't know yet exactly what happened, but we can see things are bad. Except in Whitechapel, where the Freakangels have taken over, and are protecting people. In this book, they go about their day for a bit, get together to eat some strawberries, get attacked, argue, and go find the people that attacked them. In like 150 pages.

This book definitely feels padded, which would bug me a lot more, if it weren't so pretty. Duffield draws some attractive, expressive people, and the colours in the book (except in the night scenes, which are way too muddy) are very nice. It is often difficult to remember who each of the characters are, due to their similar appearance and dress, but if you don't worry about stuff like that too much, this is a very nice read.

As the Freakangel tribe take on more people to look after, and as their concerns become much more oriented around civil engineering and food production, you would expect the book might get dull, but I feel like it will be the opposite. I've always had an interest in the nuts and bolts of post-Apocalyptic living, and therefore am quite interested in checking out volume three.

Crate Digging: Masters of the Universe

by Binary Star

This is a pretty decent hip-hop album. It most definitely wears its old-school roots on its sleeve, but you have to credit Senim Silla and OneManArmy/OneBeLo for having some vision. These two talented emcees, handling a lot of their own production alongside Decompose (a talented emcee in his own right, as seen on 'Indy500'), rap about a diverse array of topics, yet demonstrate a conscious and forward-looking attitude throughout.

Songs like 'Binary Shuffle,' 'New Hip Hop' and 'Honest Expression' call out the tired tropes of hip-hop, and decry the popularity in the late 90s for songs about crime and cars.

'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' has OneBeLo examining his short stint in jail. 'Wolfman Jack' is a Thriller-like horror story. 'The KGB' features a number of guest artists, including Elzhi and Ta'Raach (back when he was still Lacks), who gets extra credit from me for mentioning Les Nessman in his rhymes.

This album definitely provides a glimpse into the talent behind OneBeLo's brilliant "SONOGRAM" album.

2666: The Part About the Critics

by Roberto Bolaño

Seeing as this book is so long and dense, I thought it would be better to record my thoughts on each of the five individual sections that comprise Bolaño's last novel.

"The Part About the Critics" tells us of four literary critics - three professors, one each from France, Spain, and Italy, and an adjunct professor from England (and the only female in the bunch) who are the world's preeminent experts on the writing of Benno von Archimboldi, a post-war German author of middling fame. These four, who become friends, and eventually, some of them, lovers, regularly meet at various academic conferences and literary symposia, and their friendship becomes stronger through the course of this part of the book.

Norton, the female Archimboldist, holds great power over the others. She becomes the lover of Pelletier, the French Archimboldist, and then Espinoza, the Spanish one. Morini, who suffers a degenerative illness, is often left out of their dramas, as the two other professors both compete and attempt to share her.

As the book progresses, they receive some reports that Archimboldi may be in Sonoro Mexico. The three able-bodied friends travel there to hunt for him.

This opening section contains much of what made me enjoy Bolaño's "The Savage Detectives". He suffuses the book with mystery, while telling what appears on the surface to be a rather bland story. The professors talk for pages, have vivid dreams usually involving water, and generally feel superior to anyone not as well read as they are.

I have enjoyed the beginning of this book, and look forward to the next section, which looks to be about Amalfitano, the Chilean professor who has acted as a guide to the friends during their time in Mexico, and who appears increasingly nervous.

Lucifer Vol. 3: A DAlliance with the Damned

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly, and Dean Ormston

I've been enjoying this book. In this volume, the focus shifts away from Lucifer for a while, and on to his supporting cast (in the first arc contained herein), and then on one of the kingdoms in Hell.

Carey does a nice job of developing characters, explaining the backstory for Mazikeen and her people, and his portrayal of the Kingdom of Effrul is enjoyable.

While this is a good, dependable read, it does come off as classic Vertigo, without much innovation.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Frankenstein's Womb

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Marek Oleksicki

I think there are very few comic writers who can pitch a project like Frankenstein's Womb, a 'graphic novella' released this week by Avatar Press, and get it approved. Of course, we're lucky that Warren Ellis has the relationship he has with Avatar; they seem happy to indulge his desire to go off the beaten path, and produce comics like this from time to time.

If this work is to be compared to anything, it would be 'Crécy', his historical piece about the battle of that name.

In this book, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, while travelling to Switzerland with Percy Bysse Shelley, her future husband, and with her stepsister, makes a stop at Castle Frankenstein. While exploring its tower, she meets the fabled Frankenstein monster, who walks her through both the castle and the past and future, while carrying on a discourse about alchemy, life, parenthood, and other topics.

That's basically all that happens in this book, and its quite brilliant. Ellis suggests that the monster has some hand in his own creation, as Shelley would go on to write her famous novel that very summer.

The art for this book is handled quite nicely by Oleksicki, an artist with whom I am completely unfamiliar. He draws in the usual Avatar style.

While I'm intrigued by the news this week-end that Ellis's next title with Avatar will be 'Supergod', I'd be happier to hear that he is scheduled to write another book or two in this format and style.

War Dances

by Sherman Alexie

This is probably the best short story that has been in the New Yorker yet this year. Sherman Alexie is a writer I should read more of - I enjoyed "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven", but for some reason, I've never read more of his work than that, and the occasional short piece I come across in a magazine.

In this story, the narrator, a former hydro-cephalic, loses the hearing in one ear, and is not sure if its because cockroaches have crawled into his ear, or if his hydrocephalus has returned. This leads to some interesting digressions into his father's own decline and death. The story is divided into short chapters, and in one section, takes the form of a quiz about a poem the narrator wrote.

Alexie weaves his ethnicity into the story, without it becoming the story. The funniest part is when the narrator searches the hospital for another Indian (Native, not Asian), so that he can give his recovering father a proper blanket:
"...well, I guessed if I found any Indians they might have some good blankets."
"So you want to borrow a blanket from us?" the man asked.
"Because you thought Indians would just happen to have some extra blankets lying around?"
"That's fucking ridiculous."
"I know."
"And it's racist."
"I know."
"You're sterotyping your own damn people."
"I know."
"But damn if we don't have a room full of Pendleton blankets. New ones. Jesus, you'd think my sister was having, like, a dozen babies."
As the story continues, it is the author's and narrator's humour that keeps the subject matter from being oppressive. Alexie, who writes very much like Thomas King, plays with words and their relationship to people, and is a master of the short fiction craft.

Of Heroes & Villains

by Willie Green

This summer has been severely lacking in two things: nice weather, and musical releases. Backwoodz Studioz has helped with the latter, releasing Willie Green's debut instrumental album as a free download.

Green has put together a strong, half-hour collection of beats, with the requisite cartoon voices (including samples from He-Man!), that place him somewhere this side of Madlib in terms of sensibility.

There are twenty instrumental tracks, all short, and two bonus tracks featuring instrumentals by Nasa (of The Presence, whoever that is), and Billy Woods. As is to be expected, the Woods track is pure fire.

This is a nice album, and I hope that a longer, proper release from Green is on the way.

Travels in Siberia - 2

by Ian Frazier

The concluding half of Frazier's travelogue into Siberia is as good as the first. As he moves deeper into the vast region, through places where there are still no roads, he paints a portrait of a space over-looked and ignored by much of the modern world.

This article is at its best when it describes the difficulty of travel - the clouds of mosquitoes, the treacherous roads, the garbage-strewn campsites. It is hard to imagine people making much of a life here, as evidenced by the villages without young people.

What confuses me most about this article though, is why it is being published now. At the very end, it is revealed that this journey took place in 2001; it calls into question some of the topicality of its information, especially with regards to relations along the border of China.