Friday, December 31, 2010

Scalped #44

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Davide Furnò

 I guess Aaron is on a law enforcement theme with this book, as this is the second issue in a row to focus on an officer of the law.  The star this month is Nitz, the FBI agent who has been pursuing Lincoln Red Crow for some twenty years.  Nitz is a pretty obsessive guy, and in the face of his recent setbacks (his partner killed, his investigation a shambles), he has drawn the ire of his superiors.  As the issue opens, he is told that his case is being shut down, and that he can transfer or retire.

The rest of the issue is filled with Nitz processing this information.  His first instinct is to confront Red Crow, but that doesn't work the way he would like it to.  His second instinct is to commit suicide, but that is also a bust.  Instead, he tries for a variation on 'suicide by cop', with results that were actually pretty funny.

Aaron has done an amazing job of populating this book with people that you wouldn't exactly like or want to know, but whom you develop sympathy for none the less.  This issue is a good example of how he can get us inside a character's head.  The art, by Fuorno, is decent and works for this story.

To All My Friends/Blood Makes the Blade Holy

by Atmosphere

2010 was a disappointing year so far as hip-hop goes.  There weren't many big releases, and it is easy to see people are bemoaning the glory days of the genre.  Personally, I found myself branching out further and further afield this year, into jazz and archival African releases.

Then Atmosphere come along, drops a double-ep, remind me why I love hip-hop, and give me hope, as they continue to innovate and redesign themselves into a more mature, thoughtful, and musical group.

There are twelve songs on this disk, and they are great.  Slug has been working on his storytelling skills, and many of his songs here take the form of spinning a good tale or two.  'The Major Leagues', 'Scalp', 'The Best Day', and 'Americareful' (awesome name) all fit that bill.

There is a more rocked out and aggressive nature to songs like 'Until the Nipple's Gone', 'Shotgun', and 'Commodities', although they are balanced later by the softer songs like 'Hope', 'The Loser Wins', and 'Freefallin''.

What has always made Atmosphere stand out has been Sean's willingness to examine his own life and problems through his lyrics.  He's not as navel-gazing as he used to be these days, and is instead turning his past experiences into lessons or poetic examinations.  'The Number None' talks about his first girlfriend, and is equally explicit and wistful.  'To All My Friends' is the best song on this disk, as Sean reviews his influences in music and life, and defends his choice to keep plugging away at the music industry.

This is such a nicely balanced project that it's hard not to think of it as an album.  If this is what they're turning out to tide people over, I can't wait to hear the next LP.

Echoes #1

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Rahsan Ekedal

There's nothing better than going into a new comic with no expectations or preconceived notions, and being pleasantly surprised.  I only picked up the first issue of Echoes because I liked Fialkov's Tumor, and because it was otherwise a light week for comics.

Echoes is about a man named Brian whose father is dying in a hospital or nursing home of Alzheimers.  We quickly learn that Brian and his father had a difficult relationship, and that Brian is in therapy.  Slowly, we also learn that he must take Clozapine to avoid having hallucinations.

With his dying words, Brian's father tells him to return to their old house and to retrieve a box from the crawlspace.  He also mentions girls' bodies.  Now, Brian's not entirely sure that he heard this, and as he explores the long-abandoned and ravaged house, he begins to question his perception, since he has skipped his medication.  I don't want to give away what happens in the basement, but I do like the way Fialkov has established that we don't really know what is real and what is in Brian's mind.

This book has a nice creepy feel to it, and Fialkov wastes no time in getting to the meat of his story.  Rahsan Ekedal's art reminds me a little of Charlie Adlard's, and makes good use of the book's black and white format.  The scenes in the crawlspace are amazing and haunting.  I haven't bought a Top Cow comic since the Jonathan Hickman Pilot Season comic, but I'm going to be getting this.

Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #1

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Scott Hampton

With this two-part mini-series, Mignola brings Hellboy up against some vampires, which is so de rigueur for horror comics as to be almost insufferable, but he pulls it off.

The story is set in 1966, and has Hellboy tracking down a vampire who has been preying on guests at a particular inn.  He shoots her, but she manages to flee.  Tracking her, Hellboy meets an old man who proceeds to explain how he is the vampire's brother, and how his life has been spent in service to a very old vampire, and his two sisters (the other one is not quite a vampire - we will have that explained next month I assume).

Mignola uses this issue to explain some of the differences between North American and European vampires.  This is becoming a popular concept, and immediately made me think of Vertigo's excellent American Vampire series.  There are some differences here though, and the story sort of ties in to the events of BPRD 1947, which helps explain the general absence of vampires in Europe.

The art on this series is by Scott Hampton, who I believe has never worked on Hellboy before.  He is one of the best artists around for atmospheric, moody horror, and he applies these skills her very well.  I often enjoy the flashback stories and mini-series of Hellboy more than the ones set in modern times, and this series is no exception.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Elephantmen #29

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medelin and Marian Churchland

This issue of Elephantmen focuses exclusively on four of the women who make up the regular cast of this title.  The issue is split between two artists, each telling their own separate story, although the two stories are interspersed with one another.

Most of the book revolves around Vanity Case, Sahara, and Panya, Sahara's body double.  Vanity is still disturbed by her run in with the Simm robot a number of issues ago, and rightfully so, as the device is still stalking the streets, looking for her.  Sahara, meanwhile, is trying to enjoy her night out on the town, and ends up with Vanity.  Panya is given some space in the book, as we begin to explore her character a little.  This part of the book has art by Medelin, and it's all quite serviceable.

The real good stuff is the Miki part of the comic, with art by the always amazing Marian Churchland (read Beast!).  Miki is still mad at Hip Flask, and the Elephantmen in general, but can't keep herself away from them either.  She ends up at The Watering Hole, the original Munt dive bar, where humans definitely aren't welcome.  A hippo who looks a bit like Hip Flask takes an interest in her, and volunteers to keep her safe while going over the less savory aspects of the community she wandered into.  It's a creepy scene, with a creepy ending I don't want to ruin.  Read it - it's good.

Incognito: Bad Influences #2

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

I love reading comics by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  They work so well together, and construct books that are such a pleasure to read.

This issue is focused on Zack Overkill's efforts to return to the underground, as he intends to work undercover for the SOS, the do-gooder government agency in his world.  To establish his legitimacy in the criminal underworld, he violently escapes from 'custody', and then tracks down a brothel for the powered set.  He hangs out with an old friend, gets attacked, and is well on the way to beginning his mission.

What makes this comic stand apart from so much of what's on the stands is the way Brubaker writes Zack.  It's clear that he's become a better man, as he starts to worry about things that would never have bothered him before, but Brubaker is able to capture his ambivalence about the changes he's undergone.  For him to sit in a brothel and laugh with another criminal is a treat for him, although he now has to examine what's going on, instead of simply living in the moment.  Zack's a complicated character, although he really wasn't when the first series started.

This is a solid, dense read, with wonderful art.  You should be reading it.

Hellblazer: Pandemonium

Written by Jamie Delano
Art by Jock

It's nice to see Delano come back and write John Constantine again in this original graphic novel.  Delano didn't create the character, but he did write the first pile of issues of the comic, and worked to establish Hellblazer as the flagship Vertigo title, not to mention its longest lasting.

In this book, Delano returns Constantine to his classic form - he's wearing the trenchcoat, smoking, and bossing poor Chas around like it's still the early nineties.  John sees and becomes interested in a woman wearing a niqab on the tube, and follows her to the British Museum just in time for bombs to go off and pandemonium to break loose.  It turns out that the woman is working for British Intelligence, and soon enough, John and her are off to Baghdad to deal with a man in American custody who seems connected to the supernatural.

What unfolds is a fairly typical Constantine story, complete with a stint in Hell and a demonic game of poker.  Delano writes a great Constantine - the off-hand cruelty and manipulation are front and centre - and it's nice to see John interact with such a different world.  Lately, Delano's writing has become increasing purple (read his Rawbone - it's out of control), although he keeps a handle on it here.

Jock's art is always great.  I love his panel design and the way in which he constructs a page.  This is a good book.

Taddle Creek #25

I love how I usually get a new issue of Taddle Creek around the time I always have a week off, so I'm able to devote enough time to get through the magazine in just a few sittings.

This issue doesn't have a unifying focus to it like last issue's 'Out of Towner' theme, but it is full of some good stuff.  Here's what I liked or found interesting this time around:

Kelly Ward's 'Stop Loss' is an interesting story about a woman who likes to hang out at a casino playing the slots.  She's hooked up with a guy named Dodds, who has a system, and is a full-time slot player.  This story encapsulates all the sadness that I feel would come with spending a lot of time at a casino.

Ethan Rilly provides a short comic called 'Ex Montreal'.  Rilly is the author of the comic Pope Hats, which I enjoyed a lot, but have never seen a second issue of (it's been a year and a half).  The comic in this magazine has a woman breaking into her old apartment in Montreal to have a look around.  It's good stuff.

'Our Many Splendoured Humanity', by Jessica Westhead, is an examination of neighbourly obligation, as seen through the prism of political correctness.  It's well written and amusing.

I was surprised to see an interview with Dave Lapp, the cartoonist behind Drop-In and Children of the Atom by Peter Birkemoe, the owner of the comic store I shop at.  Lapp talks about his 'Atom' work, and the way in which it helped him work through a difficult period in his personal life.  Lapp also has another installment of his 'People Around Here' strip in this magazine.  I try to like this guy's work, but somehow it always manages to annoy me.

One thing that's cool about Taddle Creek is the way they've started to run short articles and pieces about forgotten corners or aspects of the city.  Lauren Kirshner has a loving piece about the Sylvan, an abandoned low-rise apartment building in Dufferin Grove that, despite landmark status, is languishing under ownership of developers that want to turn it into condos.  There are some lovely photos accompanying this article, but I would have loved to see a few more.  Likewise, Conan Tobias has a short piece about horse fountains in Saint John.

There's a small portfolio of pieces by Blair McLean, a local artist who burns his images into wood.  There is also a short story by Stuart Ross.

The last story in the magazine is probably the best one.  It's by Amy Jones, and it chronicles the build up to and aftermath of the narrator's one-night stand with the headliner of a small-time rock and roll band.

This is always a worthy magazine to pick up.  I'm looking forward to the next one.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Eritrea's Got Soul

by Asmara All Stars

A surprisingly large number of my favourite people are Eritrean.  I don't live or work in communities which have a surplus of people from this small country, it just seems that the people from there that cross my path become dear to me.

I guess it's no surprise that I really like this album then.  On it, producer Bruno Blum has gathered together a large number of Eritrean musicians and vocalists, from different regions of the country and different ethnic groups, and recorded thirteen songs that represent the diversity and musicality of the country.

The album has a nice mix of Afro-beat, funk, soul, jazz, and traditional recordings.  The liner notes are as exhaustive as any African compilation, as Blum provides us with the stories of these artists.  This is a very lovely album, which I enjoy quite a bit.

One Model Nation

Written by C. Allbritton Taylor
Art by Jim Rugg and Cary Porter

This is a real oddball of a graphic novel.  It's written by a guy who's in the Dandy Warhols, and it's about a German industrial band who were famous in 1977.

One Model Nation were right in the thick of things in late-70s Berlin.  They were performing in illegal venues, and their concerts frequently became the scene for shoot-outs between the Red Army Faction and the police.  The band themselves were apolitical for the most part, but they seemed incapable of separating themselves from the time and their surroundings.

The book chronicles their time, as they have their studio tossed by the police, and as they argue with each other.  They end up getting involved with the Baader-Meinhof Gang (one of the guys is perhaps dating Meinhof I think), and lots of stuff happens.  The problem is that it's none to clear for someone who hasn't spent years studying post-war Germany.  I think that a lot more exposition is needed, as the writing doesn't always make it clear as to what the context is to these different scenes.  I would have been happy with at least a foreword to explain some of the politics.

Rugg's art is the best thing about this comic, which is not really a surprise.  While lacking the wild excesses of Street Angel and Afrodisiac, Rugg does a great job of portraying the band members as individuals (which is not easy when they all have the same hair cut and dress the same), as well as showing the austerity of Berlin after the war.  This is an entertaining comic, although it never quite recovers from the flaws in its writing.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Seven Sons

Written by Alex Grecian
Art by Riley Rossmo

I believe that this graphic novel, which retells a classic Chinese fairy tale (which has its analogues in the West and in Turkey as well), is the first collaboration between the Proof team of Grecian and Rossmo.

The story, transplanted from China to Gold Rush-era California, is about seven identical brothers who each have a unique ability (or super-power).  When some children fall through some ice and begin to drown, one brother uses his abilities to suck up all the water from the river.  He can't hold it as long as is needed though, and when the water flows out of him, the children and a couple of other people are swept away and drown.  The townsfolk blame the brother, and come after him.  Not knowing about his family (the brothers only ever went into town one at a time it seems), they end up confronting each of the brothers in order, as circumstance provides each with the opportunity to use his abilities.

The story reads nicely, and I like the modern framing sequence.  Rossmo's art is always a little difficult to interpret at times, and that seems to be exacerbated by the black and white pages and the liberal use of black ink he uses.  I like the way he draws, but he is not always the clearest storyteller.  I also found the oversized earlobes on the brothers to be distracting and kind of weird.  Is there a historical precedence for this?

This book has a lot in common with Proof.  It's clear that Grecian has a great love for folklore, and he provides an interesting essay about the antecedents to this story.  As with most AIT/PanetLar books, this one is pretty unusual, and uncommon.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Swordsmith Assassin

Written by Andrew Cosby and Michael Alan Nelson
Art by Ayhan Hayrula

It's been a while since I've read a story like this.  Swordsmith Assassin is a typical example of the Western idea of a Japanese story.  Toshiro Ono is a legendary swordmaker, who, unlike his equally famous father, was willing to sell his swords to anyone that wanted one.  When his family is killed by a robber using one of his swords, he decides that he will track down and reclaim all of the swords he's made, and cast them into the ocean.

This quest takes many years, as he has to learn how to use a sword, and comes across other obstacles, such as figuring out a way to enter an impenetrable fortress, and to heal from a number of wounds at different times.  Ono demonstrates great vision and singularity of purpose, as his journey takes him as far as West Prussia.

What I like about this comic is the way in which the writers incorporate the history of the time period, and set the story against the backdrop of the Boshin War, and the Franco-Prussian War.  I'm always a sucker for historically accurate and researched stories, so this worked well for me.

I really like Hayrula's artwork.  He has a nice realistic style, and a strong sense of layout.  Searching the internet, it seems he hasn't done any comics work since this book, which is a shame, as I'd like to see more of his stuff.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Ides of Blood #1-3

Written by Stuart Paul
Art by Christian Duce

I was going to tradewait this series, but when I got the chance to pick up the first three issues at a very low price, I figured I'd give it a shot.  This is a comic that interested me from the first time I saw it solicited, and had it not fallen into the $3.99 price range per issue, I would have gladly checked it out earlier.

This is a Roman vampire comic (Rome meets True Blood?).  It's set at the end of Julius Caesar's reign, in a Rome which has incorporated the vampyres (their spelling) from the Transylvanian region of Dacia.  These vamps were, at first, slaves, but some have now been freed.  As well, many people from the Plebian caste through to the middle classes have paid good money to be turned, seeking immortality.

This has caused the human Romans to have a lot of anxiety about their racial purity and whether or not they'll be able to maintain their purity and direction.  Paul nicely incorporates this backdrop into Brutus and friend's assassination plot.  They scapegoat Gaius Valens, a vampyre who had been Caesar's slave before rising to the ranks of Praetorian and finally Senator.  Now Valens must try to prove his innocence and see that Caesar's killers are brought to justice.

As the series progresses (these three issues make up the first half of it), a few things become clear.  Paul has a good handle on Ancient Rome, and has been able to marry historical fact with his fantasy very nicely.  The story has a lot of potential, and has already had a couple of twists that I didn't expect.  Duce's art works great with this type of book - he draws a very believable Rome.

Two Generals

by Scott Chantler

This is a book that I've been looking forward to reading since I first heard about it.  I'm a sucker for a good war book normally, and this one is by the cartoonist of Northwest Passage, one of my favourite historical graphic novels, and a local (it's always important to support Toronto comics).

Two Generals tells the story of Chantler's grandfather, Reginald Law Chantler, his close friend Jack Chrsyler, and their experiences during the Second World War.  They were officers in the Highland Light Infantry (the 'Two Generals' in the title refers to a joke made by Chantler on a photo taken before they left England), who were involved in the D-Day Invasion of Normandy (the Canadians, including my own grandfather, took Juno Beach).  After that, the HLI pushed on to eventually take Buron, an essential task that allowed the Allied forces to take Caen, a lynchpin in the Allied plans.

Chantler's work on this book is so clearly a labour of love and an homage to his grandfather.  He provides enough context to understand the situations in which Chantler the elder found himself, but the book rarely strays from the personal experiences of the two young men the book focuses on.  We see firsthand some of the absurdities of war (the HLI were outfitted with bicycles to aid their advance, but only one repair kit per platoon) and the way in which soldiers had to adjust to difficult situations (which led to the mass adoption of random farm animals).

This book has a sense of humour about it, but is ultimately a touching tribute to the Greatest Generation.  Chantler mentions in his acknowledgments that stories like these are being lost to us on a daily basis, and I'm pleased he took the time and made the effort to capture a record like this one.

Chantler's art looks great as always, and he makes an effective use of green, red, and gray tones to provide atmosphere.  The book itself is an example of a wonderful sense of design.  It has the rounded corners and built-in elastic bookmark of an officer's notebook, which makes it a pleasure to own.  I recommend this book.

Afro-Beat Airways

West African Shock Waves: Ghana & Togo 1972 - 1978

This compilation is number eight in the Analog Africa series, although it's the first item I've gotten from this label.

The cd contains fourteen tracks of "organ-driven Afro-beat, cosmic Afro-funk, raw, psychedelic boogie and some other stuff...," as described on the back of the box.  That description works pretty well, as Samy Ben Redjeb has put together an interesting and very cool survey of the music from Ghana and Togo.

The cd is accompanied by a long booklet, wherein Redjeb recounts his experiences in Ghana and Togo as he tried to track down all of the artists represented on this disk.  He found most of them, and the interviews that he published, along with the stories he included about finding these artists provide the music with context.  This is an impressive piece of scholarship, and a great collection of music.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Skullkickers #4

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang

One thing I learned this month is that the title of this comic is one word, not two.  It looks like two on the cover, but apparently it's just one - no hyphen either.  Fascinated yet?

Skullkickers continues to be a fun read.  This issue was over pretty quickly, as our two heroes spent the whole time fighting zombies and the zombie-making guy.  The dwarf gets partially zombified, and starts having issues with one leg in a scene that reminded me of that weird syndrome some people have where their hand tries to hurt them (I read about this in the New Yorker over a year ago - don't seek out the article unless you have a strong stomach; one part really freaked me out).

Anyway, it's not all zombies and mayhem; we do finally learn the identity of the person who killed the Chancellor in the first issue, and a little bit about what she was looking to achieve through her assassination.  I'm sure all of this will be relevant some time soon.

I like this comic; I've decided to add it to my pull-list, and wish it great success.

The Sixth Gun #7

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

I was pretty surprised to see this comic listed in the solicitations a couple of months ago.  I'd always assumed that The Sixth Gun was intended to be a six-issue mini, with perhaps a second volume coming out if the sales warranted it.  Instead, it's an on-going, and I'm very happy about that, as must be the creators, as I'm sure it means that sales are good.

So, it's a little while after the last issue finished, and Sinclair has hidden the four guns in his possession.  Becky is hanging on to her's though, and the two have holed up in a hotel in New Orleans, along with Gord, who showed up towards the end of the first arc.

Becky gets herself into a spot of trouble with a loudmouth at the bar, but she is rescued by a gunfighter named Kirby Hale, who will clearly be showing up again.  Sinclair, meanwhile, has a little discussion with a demon in the middle of a swamp.  Bunn's laid a lot of ground establishing this series, and I feel like this arc is going to explore the significance of the guns more than the first arc did.  It's nice to see Oni publishing another monthly series, like they used to do with Wasteland (which is where?).

American Vampire #10

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Mateus Santolouco

This issue begins the two-part "The Way Out", which checks in on the two female American Vampires who headlined the main story when it debuted.

Hattie has been kept in captivity by one of the European vampires, who experiments on her once a month, when her strength is at its lowest.  She doesn't know why she's being kept there, but she doesn't like it, and takes steps to correct the situation.

Pearl, on the other hand, has been living a nice quiet life with her boyfriend Henry in the woods of California.  She has a lot of doubts and guilt surrounding their circumstances based on the fact that he is aging while she isn't, and that she knows there are groups actively hunting her.

This is a good issue.  The art is not by Rafael Albuquerque, which was a disappointment at first, but by his friend and partner on Mondo Urbano, Mateus Santolouco.   Santolouco's art is in the Albuquerque vein, and he's a solid replacement, although I hope it's only going to be briefly.

Morning Glories #5

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

I'm kind of surprised that this title is continuing to get as much attention as it is.  Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying reading it, but I would think that by this point, when so little has been explained and the unknowns keep piling up, that a lot of people would be walking away.

See, while Spencer has done a terrific job of developing these characters and making their interactions fascinating reading, the actual mysteries surrounding the purpose of Morning Glory Academy doesn't interest me that much.  It's clear that the staff at the school are searching for something within their students, and that Casey seems to be the person most likely to have that spark of whatever, but nothing else has been explained.  Even in this issue, when Mr. Gribbs explains himself, nothing is really revealed.  It's all mind games.

I'd be fine with the whole comic if it were just mind games, but there is some sort of science fiction or magical element being introduced into the comic - check out the otherwise empty basement room with some huge spinning thing and a ghostly dude in it - that feels to me like it is detracting more than it adds.

Still, I find myself liking this characters more and more, and the way Spencer writes them makes me want to keep coming back.  He has a really good handle on teen characters.

Chew #16

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

It's strange to think that there was a time when I wasn't going to stick with this comic.  Now it's one of my favourite monthly books.  In this issue, Layman starts his next arc, 'Flambé'.

Last issue ended with the sudden appearance of strange letters in the sky all around the world (there were some other big revelations, but they don't get discussed here at all).  Now, because of this, priorities are being adjusted, and Tony and his fellow FDA agents are beginning to turn a blind eye to chicken infractions (remember, chicken is illegal in Chew-land), and are instead tracking down a missing agent who is voresophic - this isn't entirely explained, but it seems that so long as he's eating, he has super-human intelligence.

I like the way Layman has been shaking up the status quo on this comic over the last couple of issues.  Introducing all of Tony's family last month, and then adding this alien writing thing is serving to inject new energy into a title that already had plenty going on.

Age of Bronze #31

by Eric Shanower

It's such a nice surprise to get a new issue of Age of Bronze.  The book is sporadic in its publishing schedule (its been about six months since the last issue), but the quality of this series is so high, I don't mind waiting six months between issues.

For people who aren't familiar with it, Age of Bronze is Eric Shanower's comprehensive and exhaustive retelling of the Trojan War.  We're now at the point where the two sides have entered into a war of attrition.  They continue to hack away at each other daily, and both sides are suffering from a scarcity of resources, although they're doing all they can to conceal that fact from the other.

The Trojans receive aid from a new ally - the Halizonians, including the highly skilled archer riding bareback shown on the cover.  Over the course of this issue, the Trojans acquire an Achean king as their prisoner, and argue how best to take advantage of him.  Their joy is short-lived, as King Priam's advisor Antenor is also captured, and the two sides agree to make an exchange.

Of most interest is the way in which Kalchas, the priest who betrayed the Trojans, asks that his daughter Cressida, who he abandoned in Troy, also become part of the exchange.  Shanower has spent much of this story arc developing the romance of Troylus and Cressida, and this new plan of Kalchas's threatens to tear them asunder.  One of the strengths of this comic is that Shanower balances the majestic battles with lengthy sub-plots featuring minor characters, such as this affair.  It gives the comic an emotional centre, and serves to interrupt the monotony of a war that lasted for years.

Age of Bronze is and incredible comic.  The detail Shanower pours into the plot and the art make it a wonder to read.  If you like historical comics, or that time period, I suggest you check this series out.