Saturday, October 31, 2009

Unknown Soldier #13

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Pat Masioni

I've been a big supporter of this iteration of the Unknown Soldier over the last year, but feel like my admiration for the title has reached a new level with this latest issue.

This is the first of a two-part story centred on Paul, the boy that Moses rescued from the rebels and dropped off at a re-education centre earlier. Paul is not happy there, and escapes. He returns to the place where he and Moses had camped, and meets up with him again. The two of them set out on a trip to Paul's village.

While this journey is being undertaken, Paul is finally also journeying back into his own experiences as a child soldier. Moses makes an uncomfortable confessor, and Dysart handles these scenes with sensitivity and care. This issue reminds me of books like 'Long Way Home' and 'What is the What', which mine similar ground. I like how Dysart works it all into his larger narrative.

This issue is drawn by Pat Masioni, whose work reminds me quite a bit of Alberto Ponticelli, the regular artist on the title. At times, I found his work a little stiff, but I like the simplicity with which he depicts the childrens' drawings at the camp, and the nobility he gives his characters.

It wasn't until I read the text piece at the back of the book that I learned that Masioni is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and that some of his own personal experiences are not dissimilar to those of the characters in the book. I've felt from the beginning that Vertigo should be praised for bringing about a title like this, but to then actively seek out artists from the (general) region is especially admirable. I would never accuse Dysart of appropriation in writing this comic, but I think that including artists like Masioni does establish a level of authenticity in the work, that I hope to see continued.

If you've never read an issue of Unknown Soldier, go pick up this one. It's a good place to start, and it's an incredibly gripping read.

Northlanders #21

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Leandro Fernandez

Brian Wood's newest epic (and at 8 parts, epic is appropriate) is all about learned discussion of germ theory in millennial Russia. Just to keep things interesting, he's tossed in a plague that's killing tons of people, a widow who coming to terms with her own grief, medieval xenophobia, and a settlement that has committed acts of brutality.

Just as Wood's DMZ started out as a comment on Bush era American policy, 'The Plague Widow' feels very relevant in H1N1-obsessed 2009. I look forward to seeing how this story plays out.

Crate Digging: The Holocaust

by Blue Sky Black Death and The Holocaust

It had been a few years since I heard this, and I find that listening to this album today matches my memories of it perfectly.

It is clear from the beginning that this is Blue Sky Black Death's album, and that they did their best to accommodate the monotonous flow of their emcee. The production on this album is dark, yet lush and beautiful. They create brooding beats, deserving of a more versatile lyricist.

Holocaust seems to have only one style of delivery: monotone. His lyrics are repetitive, and are further marred by the slight sense of urgency in his voice, as if at any moment, he was afraid that the producers would fire him. He hits all the requisite nerdcore tropes, rapping about aliens, comic books, and how a hippopotamus can bite an alligator in half (I'm not making this up).

The weak and annoying lyrics do keep this album from shining. I see that it's possible to purchase this as an instrumental album; if only I'd known that at the time. In terms of production, this is a strong showing though, even if it doesn't anticipate the glory of Slow Burning Lights.

Jack of Fables #39

Written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges
Art by Russ Braun, Andrew Pepoy, and Jose Marzán Jr.

I find myself increasingly on the fence about this title. This issue was stronger than the last, but I can't escape a general sense of aimlessness in this book.

Jack's recent changes are explained in an amusing development at the end of the book. Jack Frost, meanwhile, displays some intelligence as he takes on two heroic commissions at once, but I think a big part of the problem with this book is that I don't much care about Jack Frost yet.

Babe the blue ox gets the best page in the comic again, although I'm not quite sure what's going on with him - did he just wander off from Jack and Gary?

Also - what's with the cover? I love Bolland's work, but this has nothing to do with the contents, or even the themes, of this issue. This title has two more issues to show me some promise, or I'm going to be saying goodbye.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ignition City #5

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Gianluca Pagliarani

The final issue of Ignition City is all revelation, exposition, and burning blasts from laser guns. This has been one of Ellis's better Avatar titles in recent years, and the conclusion does not disappoint at all.

I've been interested in the world (universe?) of Ignition City from the first issue, and I like that the ending leaves the door open to possible sequels.

There's not much that can be said about this issue without revealing how it ends, except to say that the characters Ellis built up in this series are memorable, even if they are pastiches on various famous space characters.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Phonogram: Rue Britannia

Written by Keron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie

Seeing as I've been enjoying the new Phonogram series (when it comes out), I decided it was time to go back and read the beginning of the title. I remember picking up the first issue on the stands, and enjoying it somewhat, but for whatever reason, I chose not to pursue the title.

Strangely, I think that first issue is the strongest in this trade. Gillen created a wonderful character in David Kohl, yet in the rest of the book, he doesn't use him to his fullest extent.

The series begins with Kohl, a Phonomancer, tasked by his Goddess to figure out what is going on with the dead Britannia, who is the goddess of Britpop, so far as I can tell. From there, Kohl goes on a pretty standard fantasy quest, except that he is journeying through underground clubs and dealing with a lot of scenesterism.

The title never really lives up to its potential. In contrast, the current "Singles Club" series is much stronger, as Gillen and McKelvie focus more on character development. This reads like an attempt to update John Constantine for indie kids, and while that has merits based solely on the strength of the concept, I found it a little facile.

As an indicator of Gillen and McKelvie's strengths though, it does demonstrate that these two up-and-comers have it in them to become stars in the comics field.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beasts of Burden #2

Written by Evan Dorkin
Art by Jill Thompson

The first issue of Beasts of Burden was a pleasant surprise for me. With this second issue, I had pretty high expectations, and they were met and surpassed. This is one of the best books on the stands today.

In this issue, the crew of Watchdogs have been working hard at investigating the paranormal around their area, and have apparently built up a reputation for solving problems, attracting any number of crackpot animals.

Then, a mother who has lost her pups comes looking for help, and the gang embark on a mission that is both heartbreakingly sad and disturbing.

As with the previous issue, Thompson's art is incredible, and the story has a perfect blend of funny and suspenseful moments.

Summer Suite

by The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble

I know that summer's most definitely over, but it's kind of nice to throw on some jazzy Madlib goodness, and bask in the warm summer sounds, even if it's a little chilly outside.

On this half-hour or so cd, Madlib comes correct with some light and frothy summer jazz. This is not one of those sticky, torpid evenings; it's more a pleasant afternoon on the patio kind of vibe. You can hear the kids playing at the park down the street, and you don't have anywhere in particular to be for a few more hours.

I miss the summer....

Robotika: For a Few Rubles More #3&4

by Alex Sheikman (with David Moran)

Well, I'm really glad that I read the hardcover of the original book this week, as I definitely wouldn't have been able to follow this comic at all, which is strange since the first double issue went down quite smoothly on its own.

First, this is a lovely comic. Sheikman's art is terrific - it reminds me a little of Steve Skroce with a dash of Moebius. The problem tends to be one of pacing and exposition. The second half (issue 4) uses a three-tiered storytelling technique, which works quite well. I don't think we need the entire page explaining this though. John Byrne never explained when he did stuff like this back in Fantastic Four, and that was for a younger, and less comics-sophisticated audience.

I'm not sure if Sheikman is planning on continuing this series or not. It's a fun book - the whole cyber-samurai steampunk thing is cool. I think he needs a little more schooling in plot though....

Chew #5

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

This issue puts me closer to deciding to stick with Chew. I haven't previously been able to make up my mind, as I couldn't quite get a handle on whether or not this was just going to be a 'gross-out' comic, or if it was going to have some kind of narrative purpose.

With this issue, Chu's partner goes rogue, and we learn that Chu probably is working for the bad guys. This makes things a lot more interesting to me, as I tend to be drawn towards comics that have more going on than some of the previous issues demonstrated.

The Last Resort #3

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo

The Last Resort is a pretty wild comic. In this issue, the airplane crash survivors start to figure out what has been happening on the island resort they've landed on, as a few of their number get attacked. Also, the scientist types realize they're in trouble too.

This book is a fantastic blend of strong characterization, gore, randomness (body bags full of weed and zombie lions both fall into that category, I believe), and tight plotting. It's a great read.

The Walking Dead #66

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

I've made no secret of how much I love this book. It has been consistently one of my top-five monthlies for a few years now, and I always find it praiseworthy.

That all said, this is one of the best issues I've read in a while. The opening scenes have Rick and company stooping to a new level of brutality, and they are executed with a series of silent splash pages or large panels, which really show off Adlard's skill.

Later, Rick has a couple of important conversations. The first is with Dale, who is close to death. This scene is played perfectly; Kirkman is able to resist easy sentiment, and instead creates an emotionally powerful scene. Later, Rick bares his soul to Abraham, although that doesn't work out the way he expected.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Air #14

Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by MK Perker

The 'Pureland' arc is allowing Wilson to play with her theories about symbolism in a more practical way that previous arcs permitted. Heavy Metal Jihad is an organization designed to 'give new meanings to the old symbols - to take them out of the hands of the fundies.' With this, Mohammad the Sad explains his life work, while consistently referring to fundamentalism as a virus.

Blythe learns more about Zayn, and we find out why she's been able to fly so much without having anxiety attacks. We also see that Blythe's ability to use the Hyperprax engine is increasing - she's basically become her own deus ex machina.

I've been consistently impressed with Air, and I do feel that the book is continuing to improve with each new issue.

Underground #2

Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Steve Lieber

Parker and Lieber are basically conducting a master class in independent, non-super hero comics with this title. Their story of a crooked store owner's illegal attempts to open up a cave for tourism, and the park rangers who expose him, has all the best qualities of a good movie. The heroes are likable, the plot moves quickly, and things stay grounded in the realm of the plausible.

This is a great comic. It seems to be compared most frequently with Whiteout, which makes sense, as these two comics share an artist and have an exotic locale in common. However, this is a very different creature. It's a much smaller story, in terms of stakes and scale, and therein lies its strengths.

I'm loving this book. I already can't wait for the next issue.

Ex Machina #46

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

There are only a few issues left in this series, and I figure that by now, people who like it are all reading it, and those that aren't familiar with it are not about to start picking it up at this late date. Which is too bad, because Vaughan is sneaking one last political issue (abortion) into his big invasion story arc.

Padilla confronts Hundred in this issue, and we learn a tiny bit more about his ray gun.

Crate Digging: Bayani

by Blue Scholars

I love this album. This was my first exposure to the Blue Scholars, and it has made me a dedicated fan.

I would say that this album is just about perfect. Sabzi's beats are lovely, and I like the way he lets them run for a while after the vocal part of a song has finished. Geologic's lyrics are provocative and on point throughout.

Favourite tracks include 'Bayani', with its talk of immigrant struggle, and 'Back Home', a song about the soldiers fighting in Iraq that doesn't succumb to simplistic emotional appeal or patriotic sentiment, instead providing a clear story followed up by a strong anti-war message. '50K Deep' deals with the anti-globalization protests that happened in Seattle a few years back. I'm pretty sure it's the only hip-hop song in existence (let alone one that bangs) that addresses this topic. And it addresses it very well.

'Joe Metro' is one of my all-time favourite songs. In it, Geologic narrates his trip on the Seattle bus system. It's such a simple concept, but he pulls it off beautifully.

I know that this album has recently been re-released. Anyone looking for an intelligent and beautiful example of what hip-hop should be could do a lot worse...

Elephantmen #22

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Andre Szymanowicz

You really can never guess what you're going to get with an issue of Elephantmen. Last issue was a huge violent fight-fest, but this issue is a nice quiet, character driven affair, highlighting Starking's strength in character development, while suffering from highly uneven pacing, an abrupt ending, and a strong sense of decompression.

That said, the character moments win the day here. I loved the street vendor making soup, and enjoyed the scenes with Miki, Hip, and Ebony.

I don't understand what's going on with this book in terms of overall plotting. Is this 'Dangerous Liaisons part 7 of 8', or 'Seven Days of Smog part 1'? Can you be part of two arcs at the same time? Seeing as there was no 'liaising' in the last issue, I'm not sure if this is really an arc at all. And will '7 Days of Smog' take seven issues? Normally, I don't care about this stuff, but these are the questions I always end up with when I read this title.

The art this issue, by Szymanowicz, is very nice, looking very European in places.

Cowboy Ninja Viking #1

Written by AJ Lieberman
Art by Riley Rossmo

This is an odd one. The title and Rossmo's artwork got this an immediate order when I saw the solicitation a few months ago, but I really had no clue what this comic was going to be about. I still didn't, until I got to the last few pages, and even then, some stuff is unclear.

Basically, Dr. Ghislain is some major power-broker, along the lines of the guy running the show in Warren Ellis's 'No Hero'. He has a lot of connections, and carries a lot of power in the world. He was involved in some sort of counter-terrorism program that involved training Triplets - people with three distinct and stable personalities - to be assassins, or agents, or something.

The Cowboy Ninja Viking is one such Triplet. Some guy named Yashitiko Ammo is another. I gather they don't like each other, and now that Ammo is diving for poisonous fish, they must fight. I imagine there will be a little more exposition somewhere along the way to explain that last bit.

Lieberman is taking a bit of a backwards approach to telling this story, and while it frustrated me at the beginning of this book, I was okay with it by the end. Rossmo's art is nice as always, but feels a little cramped, which is odd considering that this comic is in the new "Viking-size" that Image is playing with lately. Had this comic come out in a more standard sizing, I'm sure it would be very difficult to follow. Adding to that is the use of blue tones instead of colour - at times it has the effect of muddying up the art, and making it difficult to discern who is who.

In all though, I'm intrigued in this title, and will stick around for the remainder of it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Zero Killer #6

Written by Arvid Nelson
Art by Matt Camp

I've read that Zero Killer is supposed to have a second arc or mini-series at some point in the near future, and it's clear at the end that Nelson is leaving the door open for that.

This issue is pretty much all action, and it works quite well, except for the character of Dahlia. I can't remember if she appeared in the first few issues (they did come out over a year ago), or if she's a new addition to the cast. Either way, I needed a little more exposition when Zero went to her place.

Camp's art has been strong throughout this title, and as in Rex Mundi, Nelson's world-building skills are on display throughout, especially in the text-pieces at the end.

I enjoyed this title, and would definitely be on-board for any follow up offerings.

Resurrection #4

Written by Marc Guggenheim
Art by Justin Greenwood and Dominic Stanton

I'll admit, I didn't really see the surprise ending to the first story in this issue coming. I guess all the clues are there, but still, it's not what I expected. It does make talking about this issue difficult though, because I don't want to spoil things.

All that can be said is that some para-gliding Road Agents attack the town, and our heroes get inside the bank.

The back up is good too, but can't really be discussed without giving away the first story's twist. I guess I could say that this story starts to show how what's in the bank got in the bank. Is that too vague?

Guggenheim has taken a completely different approach to Resurrection in this new volume, and I like it as much as I did the first. The shorter lead story can be annoying sometimes - I would like to get more of Sara and Ben's tale on a monthly basis, but I can appreciate how he is widening the scope of his tale, and including ever more characters.

Nixon's Pals

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Chris Burnham

If nothing else, this graphic novel proves that Joe Casey is at least as good, if not better, than Robert Kirkman at developing his own 'universe' to showcase a modern take on traditional superheroes (or villains, in this case).

Nixon Cooper is a parole officer assigned to a large and motley cast of reformed (or not-so reformed) super villains. It turns out one of them is sleeping with his wife, and that another is considering getting back into the game.

What follows is a quick-paced, and highly entertaining story where an average Joe kind of character has to go up against some pretty powerful (and bizarre) characters.

As usual, Casey's imagination is working overtime. His best character (perhaps of the decade) is Alchema, an exotic dancer whose breasts have faces, and who has nipples for eyes. It would seem that each breast has a different personality too... Rumble Doll and Dynomoxie are also fantastic characters.

Burnham's art works very nicely here. His line work is pretty traditional, but has it's own feel to it throughout.

This is a pretty decent graphic novel, and a good solid read for $13. Recommended.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


by Alex Sheikman (with Leif Jones and Travis Sengaus)

When I saw that the 3rd/4th issue of 'Robotika For a Few Rubles More' is set to come out this week, I decided I should jump this recent Ebay purchase up on my reading pile a bit, so I could have enough context to follow the new issue.

I'm glad I did. I had no idea Niko was the main character. When I read #1/2 of the new series, I assumed that the book was all about Bronsky, although now I stand corrected.

Sheikman is an incredible artist. I love the sensibility he brings to this comic - "steampunk samurai" is what it is called all over the flyleaf and forewords. He's created a very unique look for his world, with its floating jellyfish battery things, and his ugly cyborgs.

His plotting is off somehow, but that adds to the foreign feeling of his world. When I started reading this, I assumed it would be a standard quest story, but the quest is resolved by the end of the second issue. From there, it becomes clear that this is really a 'getting the band together' comic, which I assume is to serve as a prelude to further adventures. It's interesting that the newer volume doesn't appear to deal with the quest the heroes leave on at the end of this volume (of course, maybe they're still on their way to that quest, and I should read it again - it's been a few months).

In all, this is a good comic, which gets very high marks for ambition. This is exactly the type of thing that I love Archaia for (even if they seem to be repositioning themselves more into the mainstream with their new licensed properties).

Crate Digging: The Long March

by Blue Scholars

On this EP, the Scholars really give more of the same, but with them, that's a very good thing.

There are eight original songs on this disk, with a remix of 'Sagaba' included. The topics are the usual stuff - blue collar rap at its best. Geologic spits about crappy jobs 'Proletariat Blues', the sad state of hip-hop 'Southside Revival', and American arrogance 'Talk Story'.

My favourite track on here is 'Commencement Day', where the Scholars shout out "the student who refuses to submit", and call the education system into question.

What I love about these guys is that they can write serious, thoughtful lyrics, and also manage to keep their songs upbeat and positive. Hip-hop can be good for your soul and mind, and enjoyable at the same time. It's a novel concept in some areas.

Red Herring #3

Written by David Tischman
Art by Philip Bond and David Hahn

While I'm enjoying Red Herring, I was quite disappointed to find out that Philip Bond only provided layouts for this issue. While Hahn's art is still very nice, it's because of Bond that I first started buying this title in the first place. I hope to see him penciling subsequent issues.

The story keeps chugging along, as one of Herring's fraud victims catches up to him and MacGuffin. Meanwhile, there is testimony in a closed Washington hearing to the existence of an alien beachhead in the Middle East, and Meyer Weiner pops the big question.

This has been a fun title, although I'll admit to being a little bit lost in it. I'm going to have to sit down and re-read it from the beginning I think.

Chew #4

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

I can't really make up my mind about this book. I know that it has been the internet darling of the summer, and I tend to enjoy the individual issues, but I'm still undecided as to whether or not I want to keep buying it.

This issue is decent. Chu and his partner have to travel up to some far-north observatory/pleasure palace to investigate the death of a senator. Meanwhile, a couple of sub-plots develop involving a contract being taken out on Chu's life, and the sudden appearance of his brother looking for help. These sub-plots help solidify the notion that there is a plan in place for this book.

I think I'll pick up the issue coming out this week, and then I'll decide if I'm going to add this to my pull list or not.

Fables #89

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Andrew Pepoy

Fables feels like it's back to form, perhaps for the first time in a year. This issue has a lot of great moments throughout - Totenkinder's discovery of the Dark Man's former prison, the death of a recurring character, and the trickery and heroism of Bufkin the flying monkey.

In all, an excellent issue.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

DMZ #46

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ricardo Burchielli

This is a hard issue to review, coming in the middle of the arc like it is, and reading more like a series of moments than a story. Matty is exploring his new role in the DMZ, and having to explain himself to friend and potential rival alike. It does feel like Matty's lost his way a bit, and Wood is only slowly letting us in on what he's up to.

Meanwhile, the American army is looking for Parco's nuke, and Zee makes her return to the book (which is a very good thing).

Most interesting is the advent of Radio Free DMZ, a pirate station broadcasting news from the region. I'm not sure who the person running the station is, but my first thought was of Jennie 2.5, from Channel Zero.

I'm quite curious to see where Wood is going with all of this. His work is always at its most appealing to me when he takes the time to explore the social structures within the city.

Gødland #29

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Tom Scioli

It's been a while since the last issue of Gødland, and I found it a little difficult to get back into the story at first, but then I just let it wash over me and stopped worrying about what was going on. This book is an excellent collection of cool moments.

Adam, Neela, and the mother-son space Vikings fight that fringe-wearing guy from last issue, as things heat up quite a bit in Washington. This comic features the best Barack Obama comic book appearance yet (although I don't think there were long lines in the States for this one), and some other crazy stuff happens too.

The story is building up a lot of momentum, although I feel like a lot of that is being lost due to its erratic publication schedule. I know there are only a handful of issues remaining, and so I'm going to do my best to enjoy this ride while it lasts.

The Unwritten #6

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross

The latest issue of The Unwritten returns us to the story of Tom Taylor, and therefore does not manage to repeat the highs of last issue, with its focus on Rudyard Kipling. Instead, we get a very good (instead of great) comic, as we begin to be able to connect Tom to other works of literature. There are almost continual references to "The Song of Roland" as Tom is sent to prison in France, in the same setting as that classic poem.

We also finally get some sense of what Lizzie Hexam is up to - she appears to be the agent of some group that is working in opposition to the people that have been hounding Tom since the beginning of the series (and poor Rudyard as well). I like the way these people communicate with Lizzie.

This series is off to a good start, and the ending of this issue has me looking forward to the next.

B.P.R.D. 1947 #4

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

This is a strange series. As I've mentioned before, I have little familiarity with the Hellboy world, and constantly feel like I'm missing some significant references or 'easter eggs' when I read this series.

At the same time, I can appreciate the strange plotting of this book. In this issue, the survivor of the last issue figures out that the blond guy on his team is still alive (I have no idea if these characters have names), and where he is. He leads a rescue squad to free the guy from the clutches of two female vampires. Also, baby Hellboy is looking for pancakes and plays with his dog. Is that significant? I don't know...

There is some very nice character work surrounding the blond guy, who had been lost at sea once. And, as expected, the art by Bá and Moon is stunning (and that's what I'm buying this book for). I like the way they draw baby Hellboy.

Scalped #32

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

Things continue to heat up in Scalped, as it becomes clear that Dash has no real plan for what's going on. He's simply doing his best to react to events as they happen, having to work all possible angles so he can get his dealer to keep his heroin addiction a secret, and keep that dealer alive. It doesn't work out, but not quite in the way you'd expect.

Red Crow is just in reaction mode too - he knows that the Hmong are coming for him, and wants to get his daughter off the reserve, but as usual, she wants nothing to do with him.

This arc seems to be about chickens coming home to roost for many of the characters, and each issue lately has been ramping up the suspense. I'm not sure how long this series is meant to run, but it feels like we're moving towards some form of resolution.

This book is at least twice as good as any of the work Aaron is doing for Marvel right now.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wildcats Vol. 3: Serial Boxes

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Sean Phillips

I miss the days when Wildstorm was pushing the envelope of super-hero comics, even though I was one of the last people to catch on to what they were doing (ie., Stormwatch: Team Achilles was my gateway).

This book reads like Casey was working hard to move Wildcats to the place he envisioned, but to do it slowly and organically instead of suddenly. He could have pulled a 'five years later' sort of thing and dumped us right into Version 3.0, but instead, he took his time to establish the prominence of Halo Industries to the book, and to build up characters like Noir and introduce others like Agent Wax.

This volume is mostly about a powered serial killer hunting down anyone possibly related to Lord Emp, and how the team decides to deal with him, except the characters are better developed than at any previous point in the book's various runs.

I regret not having been aware of this stuff when it was originally coming out, but I also enjoy being able to go back and get caught up now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Solo #2

by Richard Corben (with John Arcudi)

I found this in an inexpensive back issue bin on a recent trip to Cambridge Ontario. I've long had an interest in Corben's work. I'm not sure if I'm a fan, but he's an artist I've always found intriguing. When I was younger, it was the sheer eroticism of his work that first caught my eye, but as I've aged, it's the uniqueness of his style.

The stories here cover familiar Corben ground. There are mystical tombs, barbarians, buxom warrior women, and betrayals. Perhaps the most interesting story is his re-imagining of the Masque of the Red Death, this time set in an ancient African nation.

His Spectre tale, written by Arcudi, shows why Corben is not all that suited to large-scale cosmic stories. He's best working on his own tales, where he can set the pace and the level of gore and weirdness.

This comic is perhaps most remarkable by the lengths Corben had to go to avoid portraying nudity, something that was never an issue in his Heavy Metal days.

Crate Digging: Blue Scholars

by Blue Scholars

I came late to the Blue Scholars, finding out about them after their superb album 'Bayani' was released, but considering that they are from Seattle and I live in Toronto, I think it was a blessing of the internet that I've heard about them at all.

This, their first album, is incredibly strong for a debut. Sabzi's beats get better with each song, sounding a little low-budget at the beginning of the album, but achieving beauty and perfection around the half-way mark. Sabzi often lets his beats play for a while after the song is over, sometimes for as long as a minute and a half, and this helps to emphasize what a talented producer he is. I love the way the piano and drums continue after 'No Rest for the Weary', as I usually find myself repeating the chorus in my head.

Geologic deserves limitless praise as an emcee. The Blue Scholars don't use sampled choruses. If a song has a chorus or hook, it's up to Geologic to rap or chant it. His songs work just as well as pieces of spoken word poetry, and his lyrics belie a scholarly bent. This album gives the impression that he may be a Marxist, while at the same time making it very clear that he is a politically motivated rapper.

Together, the Scholars offer a blueprint for what hip-hop should be; they eschew the rampant egotism of commercial rap, and instead write about blue-collar themes: family, labour, education, and revolution. The best songs on the album are 'Motion Movement', 'The Inkwell' (a love song to Seattle), 'Burnt Offering', 'Evening Chai', 'Sagaba', 'Life & Debt', and 'No Rest for the Weary.' This last song can be seen as their manifesto.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lucifer Vol. 4: The Divine Comedy

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

Reading this gives me a lot of hope for Carey and Gross' 'Unwritten'. It's clear, some 28 issues into Lucifer, that Carey had quite a story planned out for this title. This volume still follows up on things that were introduced in the very first issues of the series, and ends with Lucifer heading off to a battle he'd arranged some two volumes previous.

This book deals with Lucifer's confrontation with the Basanos, the territorial aims of the Lilim, the possible endpoint of Elaine Belloc's story (although I doubt it), the sorcery of centaurs, and the demonic forms of Cherubim. In other words, it's rather far-reaching.

As always, Gross and Kelly's work looks very good, and Ormston's fill-in issues are a nice counter-point.

Taddle Creek

Summer, 2009

I'd thought about picking this up at TCAF last spring, but didn't for some reason. When I saw it again at Word on the Street, and for only $2, I couldn't resist.

Taddle Creek is a literary magazine that only publishes work by people living in the Toronto area. This is their comics issue, and it contains work of a wide variety, some of it not to my liking.

The magazine opens with 'Trinity' by Michael Cho. I really like Cho's work, and this is one of the best examples of it I have ever seen. In fourteen pages, he tells the story of the Manhattan Project, and J. Robert Oppenheimer's career. It's drawn in blue except for the page featuring the explosion, and concerns itself with the minutia of life at Alamogordo. This is worth picking up the magazine for alone.

The other stories or pieces are okay. J. Bone has an interesting piece outlining mankind's evolution, which is wordless. Dave Lapp has a story that is in the same vein and style as his 'Drop-In' book; it's another example of him pushing a kid with a troubled home life to reveal everything to him, not so he can help her, but to satisfy his curiousity. His art does look nice in colour though....

I'm not sure how easy it is to find this magazine (especially outside of the Toronto area), but that Cho piece makes the hunt worthwhile.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


by Adrian Tomine

I loved this book. I've been hearing for a while about how good it is, and I enjoyed some of 32 Stories back in the summer, but really, this comic has exceeded my expectations.

Tomine's story is about Ben, a cantankerous guy who lives with his girlfriend in the Bay Area. They don't seem to get along very well, and when Miko, his girl, gets the chance to take an internship in New York for a few months, she jumps at it. See, part of the reason why their relationship is suffering is because she believes Ben has a thing for white girls.

Once she's out of the picture, Ben decides maybe it's time to achieve a goal he's had for a long time, even though that would prove her right about him.

The book rises above it's Dany Laferierian roots (go read 'Eroshima' if you don't know what I'm referring to) because of the pure strength of Tomine's characterizations. Ben is a complicated, not terribly likable guy, yet I developed a lot of sympathy for him. Miko is a little more of a cipher, but Alice, Ben's lesbian college friend is a riot. There are many moments where this book had me laughing.

I like that Tomine has created a work that is so racially sensitive, yet completely accessible and easy to relate to. He really is a major talent.


by Brother Ali

I think what comes through the strongest on this album, to me at least, is just how likable Brother Ali is. His lyrics and voice combine to give an impression of a person that is very warm and loving in everything that he does.

That's basically what the album is about too. Ali speaks of his love for music, his children, his family, and the people in his life. He mentions in his liner notes that people respond to the personal aspect of his music, and that does seem to be the focus of this album.

The beats, all by Ant, are also quite warm and soulful. I like how Ant takes a different approach to working with Ali than he does Slug; it gives him a chance to stretch his wings a little and try new things.

I'm pretty sure this is my favourite Brother Ali album now. A classic.

Sweet Tooth #2

by Jeff Lemire

Sweet Tooth is quite different from everything else Lemire has published. His art is a tighter (although that could just be the effect of it being published in colour), and he is building a whole world in his story.

In this issue, Gus sets out on the road with Jeppard, the man who saved his life last issue. Jeppard's motivations and intentions are unreadable at this point, and I can't tell if him taking Gus to the Preserve is going to be a good thing or not.

This is an unusual story, even for Vertigo, and I hope it gets a healthy enough run to allow the tale to play out at Lemire's pace.

Greek Street #4

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Davide Gianfelice

I enjoyed this issue of Greek Street. I feel like this series got off to a bit of a rocky start, but now that the characters have been established, it's a much better read.

In fact, I like the way the characters seem to keep bumping in to each other, giving the impression that London is a very small town. This issue is more of the same really in terms of plot development, but it's reading like there is a master plan at work, and I'm content to sit back and watch Milligan unfold it.

Gianfelice's art is great, too.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chew #2

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

I'm really on the fence about Chew. I liked the first issue when it was printed in The Walking Dead, but the third issue didn't leave a lasting impression. When I saw a new printing of the second issue, I thought it was worth a try.

I liked this issue. It establishes Tony Chu's new work arrangement at the FDA, and his relationships with his partner and his boss. There is some fun stuff involving getting information from a recalcitrant witness, and a certain amount of gross-out stuff, which is actually what's keeping me on the fence about this title.

I think I'll pick up #4 next week, and then see if I'm going to stick with it or not.

Planetary #27

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by John Cassaday

This comic is the second surprise book of the week (alongside War Heroes). The 26th issue of Planetary read like a finale, but I'm glad to see that Ellis and Cassaday came back for this last story, as it has finished off the book beautifully.

It's been a while since Elijah and company defeated The Four, and they've spent the time going over their data and research, and finding commercial and humanitarian applications for all of it. The first couple pages list the world-changing innovations that Planetary has released.

Snow, however, is most interested in figuring out how to save his friend Ambrose, who they believe had died a couple years ago. As it turns out, he wasn't dead, just in a zone of physics that I understand while I read the comic (it's remarkable who good Ellis is at simplifying complex science), but couldn't possibly explain without plagiarizing the comic. Better that you go read it.

The art is as gorgeous as you would expect. There's nothing more to say to that.

I really feel the need to go back and read Planetary from beginning to end. The book came out so sporadically and with so many interruptions, and I'd be interested to see how it reads in one sitting. Maybe next summer....

Days Missing #2

Written by David Hine
Art by Chris Burnham

I always find it interesting how certain ideas or concepts can suddenly appear a few times in comics within such a short span, it is clear that one piece of work couldn't have been influenced by another. We've seen quite a few of these memes in comics lately: zombies and bad guys taking over are two of the higher-profile ones. It seems that there is some sort of Frankenstein meme going around as well. Just two months after Warren Ellis dug into this concept, Archaia's interesting new title 'Days Missing' goes there too.

In this comic, the Phantom Stranger (I know that's not his name, but it may as well be) makes an appearance in 1815 to stop humanity from learning how to resurrect the dead. Some kooky professor has worked out how to do just that, and it so happens that he is, at the same time, neighbour to the Shelley family. While the Phantom Stranger is able to erase days from human existence (hence the name of the comic), the events linger in Mary Shelley's consciousness, and later become the impetus for her most famous novel.

This is a very well written story. Hine provides us with enough historical context, but doesn't get lost in the details. His Phantom Stranger is largely left a cipher, but I'm sure that's intentional. Burnham's art looks fantastic. His faces are very expressive, and the colours look great.

I like the concept behind this book, and really like the rotating creative teams. The next issue features work by Lee Moder, whose name I haven't seen in quite some time.

The Mighty #9

Written by PeterTomasi and Keith Champagne
Art by Chris Samnee

This is another good issue of this title. This book has been remarkably consistent, and I'm finding it difficult to say new things about it. At the same time, it's sales are abysmal, and, because I want to keep reading it, I feel like it's important to acknowledge on a monthly basis how good it is, in the hopes that someone starts buying it.

In this issue, Cole figures out a little more of what Alpha One is up to, and Alpha then confronts him. The cover gives a good hint of how that goes.

Excellent work all around by the creative team.

I Sell the Dead

Written by Glenn McQuaid
Art by Brahm Revel

As I'm only half-way through the pile of comics I bought this week, and it's quite a strong stack, it's too early to declare this book the best one of the week, but the bar has now been set pretty damn high.

This is a movie adaption, but as I'm not likely to see the movie, I'm approaching it as an original piece of work. As with 'The Last Winter', also a film by Glass Eye Pix, the producers have hired Brahm Revel to illustrate their film in graphic form. That has its positives and negatives: it means fantastic art, but it also means a longer wait between issues of the sublime 'Guerillas'.

This story consists of young Arthur Blake filling the last few hours before his execution for grave robbing in conversation with a priest who wishes to learn of his misadventures in that shadiest of industries. What makes Blake's tales most compelling is that he and his partner specialized in procuring the bodies of the undead; vampires, zombies, and once even an alien fall into their purview.

The story is witty and quick-paced, and ably illustrated by Revel. It's nice to see his work in full-colour for a change. I know zombies have become incredibly played out, but this is a unique comic with a few interesting twists along the way (and one incredibly obvious one). Highly recommended. In fact, everyone should buy two copies, so that Revel can head back to working on Guerillas!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Jonah Hex #48

Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Cristiano Cucina

This is a pretty quick-paced issue, and it would be pretty negligible were it not for some nice character work in the last few pages concerning Bat Lash and El Diablo.

Hex faces, and dispatches, Turnbull's hired killers in a way that reminds me of the big fight scene in the market in Raiders of the Lost Arc.

Next issue will finally finish off this arc, and we'll hopefully be back to the more subtle one-off stories I like so much.

War Heroes #3

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Tony Harris

It's hard to say which book was the biggest surprise this week: Planetary or War Heroes. Not because the content is shocking, but because, you know, the book exists. Granted, Planetary was something that was always promised to come out, whereas I had just assumed that Millar hadn't been able to sell the movie rights for War Heroes, and therefore abandoned it.

It's been more than a year since the last issue of this book came out, and I had pretty much forgotten about it. It's a decent enough comic. It seems that some Syrians (why is the US in Syria? Did it have to do with protecting Lebanese democracy? Does anyone even remember?) have got super-power pills now too, and they destroy some American soldiers and their stuff. This leads to the characters I vaguely remember being developed in the first two issues realizing that their plan isn't going to work anymore.

I like Tony Harris. I'm just not sure if I like him enough to continue with this book in a year or so when issue four comes out...

Proof #24

Written by Alex Grecian
Art by Chris Grine

This is not the issue of Proof I was expecting. I think that issue - which is supposed to be about Proof's first date with the psychiatrist - is now going to be issue #26.

Instead, we get this rather strange one-off featuring the male fairy child that the Chupacabra has adopted. Apparently male fairies grow much larger and quicker, and due to the iron in their system, eventually become so stiff they can't move, until they get eaten during sex. Or something like that.

The exposition is rather lacking in this story, and all explanation comes towards the end of the issue. It's not a bad issue, but after the lengthy 'Julia' arc, I was looking forward to seeing something of modern-day Proof and friends.

The art, by Grine, is nice to look at in a Bone sort of way. In all, an okay issue, but I'd have rather read the one originally expected.

Criminal: The Sinners #1

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

It's a nice feeling to slide into a new Criminal series. Going in, you know that Brubaker's going to provide an excellent introduction to either new or familiar characters, and that you're going to be hooked pretty quickly into the story. You know that Phillip's work is going to match the story's noir elements perfectly, and complement the script in every possible way. It's a very safe purchase if you're looking for a good, meaty comic to read.

This issue doesn't disappoint on any level. We are returning, in this arc, to Tracy Lawless, who is now working as a hit man for Mr. Hyde. The only thing is, he'll only kill people he decides deserve it. This gets him in a bit of trouble with the boss, but he's given the chance to fix things by way of figuring who is killing other 'made men'.

It's a strong premise, and already there are premonitions of betrayals and complications for Tracy. In other words, it's another arc of Criminal, and I'm really glad to see it back on the stand.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Messengers

by J. Period and K'Naan

K'Naan has always emphasized in his
art his role as an agent of change. In this set of three mixtapes created with J. Period, he has engaged musically with his idols, crossing national and genre borders to bring us an interesting blend of mash-ups, tributes, new work, and his thoughts.

The first mixtape features the music of Fela Kuti, the second Bob Marley, and the third, Bob Dylan. While these three icons are known for vastly different things, K'Naan speaks to their commonality, and continued relevance to us today.

J. Period blends K'Naan's voice and lyrics into the original recordings, and uses archival recordings of the artists' interviews or conversations. The effect is one where it becomes hard to remember what the original songs sounded like in places.

Guests featured throughout the project include Kardinal Offishall, M1, Zumbi, and more. This is a project that I would gladly pay money for, but has been released for free at J. Period's website.