Sunday, January 31, 2010

Crate Digging: Shadows on the Sun

by Brother Ali

I've been feeling Brother Ali's last two releases quite a bit this fall and winter, so felt like it was time to dive into some of his older recordings.

Shadows on the Sun was his first full-length album with Ant supplying the beats throughout, and it's interesting to see how their collaboration has grown.

Ali is younger and hungrier on this album, trying to set himself apart from lesser MCs ('Back Stage Pacin'') and establishing himself in the game. Ant gave him more aggressive beats than he does today, although the signs pointing towards the more thoughtful and family-oriented Ali of today are there too, like on songs like 'Dorian'.

The centrepiece of this album is 'Forest Whitiker', Ali's anthem of albinism and acceptance. It's a very honest and descriptive song, as Ali describes his appearance, and then rejects anyone who can't see past it.


by Blue Scholars

I see the Blue Scholars as one of the most talented and interesting hip-hop duos out there today. Their earlier albums and ep's have gotten tons of play by me, as I've enjoyed their mix of politically conscious lyrics with straight-up boom bap beats.

This is a different type of project though. The Scholars have left serious, earnest Seattle for laid-back Hawai'i, and that has affected both their sound and their message. This 6 track ep, with the instrumentals tacked on to the back end, is more about partying and chilling than any previous release, but for that reason, it's a very enjoyable confection.

'HI-808' is yet another tribute to the classic drum machine, while 'Coo?' expresses Geologic's opinion of most new music. 'Cruz' is a straight forward party song, with an infectious beat.

This is a nice teaser between albums. I'm hoping something new, and non-digital only, drops soon.

Dynamite Pilot #1

by Spanky Cermak

It's hard to review this comic, because my issue was misprinted, repeating certain pages randomly, instead of running the pages that were supposed to be their originally.

Even with the confusion that this caused, it's easy to see that this is a very cool comic. It's about a young man who works as a 'dynamite pilot', the person who pilots large missiles into the sides of Great Sky Whales, large vessels that carry tons of supplies. The Pilots world (or territory) has been taken over by the Disintians, an apparently fascistic group of people. The Pilot's people try to fight back, and to live off the husks of the Sky Whales they manage to down.

Within all of this, there's something about our Pilot being a 'chosen one', and a person of great importance to his tribe and people. There's not a lot of character-building in this first issue, the focus instead being on establishing the world the comic is set upon.

This comic has a real 'Dune' vibe to it, with its open deserts and Fremen-like culture. The art is quite nice, reminding me a little of Jamie Hewlett. Searching around on-line, I can't tell if more of these are being published or not, but I would definitely read more about this character.


by Corey Lewis

Corey Lewis is a creator about whom I can't seem to make up my mind. His work is on the same level as Brandon Graham and James Stokoe, both of whom I love, but seems to be missing some secret ingredient that those two cartoonists share. I think the problem might be that he doesn't imbue much life into his characters.

Peng is a good example of this. It's a comic book about an Advanced Kickball tournament. Four teams have made it to the 'final four', and we are given a quick overview of each of these teams, before diving straight into the action of the different games. The elimination games conclude, and we jump straight into the final game between two of the teams. There is very little time, amid the frenetic art and exciting gameplay, to get to know (and by extension, care about) anyone.

It's too bad too, because the comic is otherwise pretty cool. The game of advanced kickball is neat. There are all sorts of special moves with kung-fu inspired names, and a variety of unique players. Sharknife shows up, as does Scott Pilgrim in a short, and inspired, cameo role.

Lewis's art is pretty crazy - it's all over the map and hard to understand. I think that his work needs to be seen in colour to be appreciated, as his recent Longshot story in Marvel's Strange Tales anthology was much easier to understand. Still, this is an entertaining read.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Unknown Soldier #16

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Alberto Ponticelli

One thing that has nagged at me since the beginning of this series is the spectre of cultural appropriation. Dysart is telling a very African story in his reimagining of the classic DC war comics character. Moses may have been raised in America, but he is Ugandan at his heart, and the story that plays out in this comic is very specific to Uganda (although sadly, could be set in many other African nations with only minor changes to details). So, the voice in my head that is still in university asked, why should a white American be the one to tell this story?

The fact that the story is so well written, sensitive, and compelling did a lot to quiet that voice, much as taking the 'mato oput' helped quiet the voice in Moses's head. The inclusion of Congolese artist Pat Masioni also lent a certain authenticity to things as well.

Now, with this issue, Dysart seems to be addressing the issue of cultural appropriation head on when he has Moses meditate, throughout the book, on the commonality of peoples' facial expressions and emotions in the world. Perhaps he did not intend this acknowledgment of my concern, but it has helped erase it as unnecessary, in the face of such a good story.

And a good story this is. Moses has a confrontation with the Captain of the government forces in the camp, as he tries to discover the identity of the doctor's killer. He also speaks with the woman that is being accused of witchcraft, and begins to attempt to replace the camp's doctor, an almost impossible task after the theft of his medical supplies and the effects of the dry season on the camp's water. Oh, and there's a rhinoceros.

Ponticelli's art has the same textured look as the last issue, and I find every page more compelling than the last. This book has really become an incredible read, and is now one of my most anticipated monthly books.

Chew #8

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

Here we are, three issues into the 'International Flavor' arc, and the writer seems more concerned with introducing new story elements than dealing with the ones already established. There is nothing to do with the vampire from last issue here, as instead, Chu joins up with the Yamapula Chief of Police to track down a well-known rooster used in cockfights.

As usual with Chew though, it's not so much the plot elements that matter as it is the overall feel of the book, which continues to be unique in the comics market.

As the book progresses, I notice that Tony does not seem as reluctant to use his 'gifts' as he did before, willingly drinking blood in this issue, and once again contemplating nibbling on a corpse. It seems like it has only taken a short amount of time for his character to change, which doesn't feel totally realistic.

Northlanders #24

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Leandro Fernandez

As the winter continues, the settlement begins to run out of food and hope. Gunborg, the big greedy guy in charge of security decides to take a small group of men out of the settlement to travel to the next closest town, to assess the plague there and to hopefully trade. His journey remains hidden from us, although I imagine it will be addressed in the next issue.

At the same time, Hilda, the titular plague widow, receives much attention from a variety of potential suitors, although none of it appears to be very welcomed.

Wood uses this issue to give us some insight into the religious sentiments within the settlement, elucidating on how these Northmen, while having adopted Christianity, are still very much products of the 'old ways'. This is a very powerful arc.

The Walking Dead #69

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

If this book has been missing anything in recent months, it's been zombies. Well, this issue more than makes up for that, as Rick, Abraham, and new character Aaron take a side-trip into DC to rescue some of Aaron's people who had sent up a flare that they were in trouble.

This leads to a nice big zombie scene set down the street from the Capital Building, which is pretty cool. More importantly, these events help solidify with the group the importance of joining Aaron's 'community', which does look to be a safe, pleasant place to live. Of course, we've seen that before...

The Walking Dead remains one of my favourite monthly books.

Resurrection #7

Written by Marc Guggenheim and Aubrey Sitterson
Art by Justin Greenwood and Brett Weldele

This is another strong issue of Resurrection. Guggenheim's story takes some time for character work as the two Secret Service guys watch over the armored car our protagonists and Bill Clinton are sleeping in, although they don't do a very good job of guarding it.

Guggenheim also introduces a new element into the story in the form of a group of people who have been worshiping the bugs, which has had the effect of keeping Baltimore safe throughout the invasion, and making it the nicest city in the world (which is ironic, since there are large sections of Baltimore today that look like the rest of the world does in this comic).

The back up, but Sitterson and Weldele is a nice little exploration of the 'Burns', the people that had been experimented on by the Bugs. Weldele colours his own work here, strengthening the comparison I usually make between him and Ben Templesmith.

Wasteland #27

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Christopher Mitten

Wasteland appears to be on a bit of a Rashomon tip these days, as events in Newbegin are being explored through different perspectives with each issue. Where last issue was centred on Yan, this one is focused on Jakob, the sunner turned High Disciple, who has to deal with split allegiances and distrust from all sides.

I've always admired this comic for the level of detail paid to world-building and character development. This issue is another strong example of this, as Johnston slow-builds the coming conflict between Marcus's people and the Sunners of Newbegin.

It's nice to see Golden Voice again, although I was surprised to see him embracing a violent approach, it doesn't seem to suit his gentle character, as he was portrayed in earlier appearances.

The 'Walking the Dust' textpiece is as good as usual as well.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Sword #21

by the Luna Brothers

With only a few issues remaining for this comic, the Lunas decide to forgo a lot of action this issue, in favor of having Dara and Justin really explore their motivations and characters, and its probably the best issue I've read of this title in a while.

Dara takes a long hard look at herself, and the usually annoying and whiny Justin mans up, setting the story up for the final fight between Dara and Malia. The Lunas have always had great art, but I feel like they are really growing as writers with this issue.

Okko: The Cycle of Earth #4

by Hub with Emmanuel Michalak

This got past me the other week, so I'm late in reviewing it, but considering this title's publication history, no one should be casting blame.

The second Okko cycle has drawn to a close, and I find I am enjoying this title, even though it is a little hard to follow in places, due to the smaller size of North American comics when compared to French ones. I recently flipped through some of the original French volumes of this book, and found the art worked much better in that format, although the French was beyond my meager ability to translate.

Hub's storytelling is definitely convoluted, as he crams the pages full of action and characters. There is only a limited amount of character development in this issue compared to the last one, but I am still intrigued to find out more about this group of heroes as they continue on their journeys. The marriage of French and Japanese sensibilities makes this book unique and interesting.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Grrl Scouts

by Jim Mahfood

Jim Mahfood is one of those artists who I always felt I should read more of. Although not all of his output has grabbed my interest, I really liked his story in Popgun, and have been meaning to give his comics adaptation of the second Felt album another read.

I came across Grrl Scouts recently, and felt it was worth a try. This is a pretty enjoyable story, fitting somewhere on a map around Brian Wood's 'Couriers' graphic novels. The Grrl's, Gwen, Daphne, and Rita are urban warriors, drug kingpins, graffiti queens, comic nerds, and more, all wrapped into three gorgeous packages. They hang out in a place called Freak City, where they deliver their drugs in 'Grrl Scout' cookie boxes, and chill.

Their activities attract the attention of the Brotherhood of the Cracker, a Templar-style organization, who decide to shut them down. Of course, it doesn't work, and the girls go to war. A fairly typical set-up for this type of comic, but one that is effective nonetheless.

Mahfood's art is very cool, and I like the use of gray tones throughout the comic. The story loses a bit of steam around the part where one of the Grrls reunites with her father, but otherwise moves at a good pace. I particularly enjoy the flashbacks at the beginning of each chapter, showing the grrls as young kids. This is a good comic.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dr. No's Ethiopium

by Oh No

Oh No has outdone his previous foray into ethnic instrumental hip-hop, 'Dr. No's Oxperiment' with this disk of Ethiopian-themed music. This disk has 36 tracks of funky, dirty hip-hop sampled exclusively from Ethiopian sources.

Ethiopian music seems to be undergoing a rebirth, especially the work of Mulatu Astatke, and this album helps fuel that interest in the original source material. The Ethiopia of the latter Selaisse era seems like a very funky place, which married a strange blend of American, European, African and Indian influences in its music.

It is not hard to imagine many of the tracks on this disk being used on hip-hop releases, similar to the way Mos Def recently started using the Oxperiment Turkish tracks. Oh No is a very talented producer, with a bright future.

Farscape: D'Argo's Lament

Written by Keith RA DeCandido
Art by Neil Edwards and Juan Castro

When I originally saw that Boom was going to be publishing comics based on Farscape, I decided that I'd read the issues that were continuations of the series, and that had a high degree of involvement from Rockne O'Bannon, the series creator. The ancillary titles, such as the D'Argo comics set between episodes of the show could be skipped, as they 'didn't matter', in my thinking.

My opinion of that changed when I started reading D'Argo's Trial, which I've been enjoying quite a bit (despite my unwillingness to pay full price for it). So, when I saw this book at a used book store, I figured it was worth the risk. And now, I know I was right the first time.

This story is set back when D'Argo was first learning to pilot his ship Lo'la (not that it factors into the story), and he and Jool go off on a supply run. In typical Farscape fashion, they quickly get caught up in a battle for supremacy between two mob lieutenants on a planet where Moya's crew bumped off their leader a year previous (and in a short story by DeCandido also included in the book, more about which later).

It sounds like a good enough set-up for a good Farscape story, although a lot of important elements are missing, notably proper characterization of D'Argo and Jool. Their blossoming friendship was a key component of the episode that supposedly precedes this story, yet that is not touched upon at all here.

The art in the book is pretty bad. The aliens seem to be naked squid and snail people, and backgrounds are barely rendered. The art appears very rushed and stiff, completely unlike the excellent work done on the Trials mini-series.

The story included in the back reads like straight-up fan fiction, where DeCandido has taken the Return of the Jedi Jabba the Hut plot, and translated it into a Farscape story. When Chrichton impersonates a Peacekeeper officer, his fake name is not even given, just used by the narrator a few paragraphs later.

My final complaint is that the covers of the original issues are not included in the hardcover. I hate when companies do that, especially when each issue had two or three covers to begin with. Looking at them on-line, I see that they would have been the best art in the book.

Carried Away

by The People Under the Stairs

No one does frothy, meaningless party rap quite like The People Under the Stairs. They excel at bumping beats and silly lyrics. Carried Away is their seventh album, and they guys are still mainly interested in drinking, smoking, and hooking up with girls (in that order of importance, I believe).

All but three of the tracks here are produced by Thes One (the remaining ones are done by Double K), and he provides us with a nice updated boom bap sound.

The hooks are often infectious, and overall I found this to be a much more consistent album than Fun DMC, their last release.

Young Men of a Certain Mind

by Lars Martinson

Recently I read and enjoyed Tonoharu, Lars Martinson's first graphic novel. I decided to order his mini-comic as well, and it arrived this week.

It's very similar to Tonoharu in format and structure. This book is about John, a recent graduate who can't find work in illustration or design, and ends up working as a night-shift bellboy at a hotel. He quickly grows to hate the people he works with, if not the job itself, and begins to search for a means of escape.

When that escape does come, it is in the form of an opportunity to teach in Japan, thereby setting up the later book.

What is amusing throughout this comic is John's difficulty in communicating with people. Their personal quirks become a constant source of annoyance, and yet he himself is almost paralyzed by his own apathy. This comic fits quite well within the 'hater' genre of independent comics.

War Story: Condors

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

I know very little about the Spanish Civil War, short of some George Orwell that I read in high school. Ennis's story here provides a very rich portrait of that war, and the various level of involvement and motivation of many foreigners who felt that they needed to be involved.

Four men end up in the same foxhole during a long night of shelling. They tell each other their stories, and in the morning go their separate ways. It's a simple story, but heavily nuanced in its portrayal of social classes and the nationalist, socialist, and fascistic sentiments of the time.

One man is a German fighter pilot who got involved because he loves to fly, and is already turning a blind eye to the militaristic extremes of the Nazi party back home. Another is a socialist Englishman of embarrassingly earnest ideals. The third is an Irishman with more balls than brains. The final member of the group is the only Spaniard, a survivor of Guernica.

Ezquerra's art is tighter and grittier than usual, and perfectly suited to this story. This is a powerful work, and one I enjoyed a great deal.

War Story: D-Day Dodgers

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by John Higgins

I'm really enjoying these stories, and am annoyed with myself for not tracking them down sooner.

This issue is about the Allied forces; mostly British, Irish, Scottish, and Canadian, that continued fighting in Italy during the D-Day campaign. As the world's focus shifted to France, as did most of the Allied war material, public opinion painted those left in Italy as 'dodgers', the Lady Astor going so far as to say so in Parliament.

Ennis shows us the Italian campaign through the eyes of a replacement Lieutenant, fresh out of England, who has to earn the respect of his mostly Irish subordinates, and deal with a fatalistic Captain.

Higgins art is luminous, as he portrays the beauty of Italy, contrasted to the devastation of war. The book ends with a series of full-page spreads that are stunning.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

War Story: Johann's Tiger

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Chris Weston and Gary Erskine

As much as I've enjoyed a lot of Garth Ennis's work, especially his war comics, I haven't read most of his War Story comics for Vertigo. When the chance to grab a few of them for a ridiculously low price came along, I figured it was time to fix that.

This volume is all about a German Oberstleutnant and his Tiger crew, who have abandoned their posts during the tail end of the Russian campaign, with the intention of avoiding Russian forces and surrendering to the Germans.

Johann Kliest, the title German, was a real bastard in the early days of the war, before having an epiphany and realizing how wrong he was to mistreat people as he did. Now, in a quest for redemption, he hopes to rescue his tank crew, who he frequently refers to as 'orphans' that have been left in his care.

Of course, this is a Garth Ennis story, so such sentimentality has no hope of finding success. The art by Weston and Erskine is suitably gritty and grim, and the comic reads beautifully. It's hard to make tank battles seem suspenseful in the comics medium, but they succeed here.

Hellblazer # 263

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini

More craziness in India, as Constantine is reunited with the wrong (if more interesting) girl, the Bollywood movie mogul gets what's coming to him, and the Indian cops track down their serial killer.

This has been an enjoyable arc on this title, with only one issue left before its conclusion. Milligan's doing a good job here, as are Camuncoli and Landini. I wish Vertigo would leave Simon Bisley on the covers only though, as I saw in Previews that he's going to be doing interiors on the book again soon...

Battlefields #2

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by PJ Holden

When reading this latest Battlefields story, you can really feel Ennis's affection for his characters. The Australian Wellington bomber crew this story is centred on consists of your usual assortment of characters: the earnest, talented newbie pilot, the irreverent, wise-cracking but skilled second pilot, and the other crew members who sort of blur together, but are all good chaps.

The story itself is pretty standard - the experienced crew is close to finishing up their tour, the Brits look down their nose at the guys from the colonies, etc., etc. Like I said, nothing you haven't read before, if you've only just glanced at some previous war comics or stories. But, since it's being written by Ennis, when he's not just trying to shock you or gross you out, it's pretty compelling and enjoyable stuff. I'm becoming quite fond of Holden's work too, and would like to see more from him.

Fables #92

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by David Lapham

Fables takes a break from its Mr. Dark storyline for a couple of issues, and takes us back to Haven, Flycatcher's kingdom, in time for the championship baseball game between Fly's team and the Goblin team. The first half of the book is written as an homage (or desecration) of the famous 'Casey at the Bat' poem, as mighty Weyland ends up letting down his king.

From there, we get some forward momentum in Fly's relationship with Red Riding Hood (finally), and the Goblin pitcher (and hero of the day) commits a murder while deep in his cups.

This is a nicely-written comic, checking in on some neglected characters. The art is by David Lapham, which is always nice to see.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The 1960's Jazz Revolution Again

by JayAre (J. Rawls and John Robinson)

J. Rawls has been quite prolific the last few years, putting out a couple of really good jazz albums, producing an r'n'b album with Middle Child, and lacing a few different hip-hop albums with tracks.

This has apparently led to a lengthier collaboration with John Robinson here, in a project that marries his jazz work with hip-hop. Listening to this album, I am not immediately made to think of 1960s jazz, a topic I know very little about, except by tracks that seem to emulate Thes One's incredible Lifestyle Marketing project. There are some sampled hooks here that could easily have come from period advertisements.

Regardless of provenance and intent, Rawls and Robinson have put together a very good jazzy hip-hop disk, in the vein of some early Digable Planets, with perhaps a little less funk. Robinson, who I sometimes find boring, and other times find forced, comes off very nicely here; he focuses on his story-telling skills, and keeps my interest throughout (except for 'The Lee Morgan Story' towards the end).

Rawls production is the real star of the show however, and he demonstrates what he learned on his Liquid Crystal Project albums, applying it to this disk with skill. This is a very nice background album.

Air #17

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

Air continues to be an intriguing comic. This month, Blythe and Zayn spend more time together, as Blythe continues to recover from her addiction to anxiety medications. She somehow ends up sending Zayn into her past, to relive her job interview at Clearfleet, similarly to how she re-lived his life in a previous issue.

Their relationship is strengthening, which is providing a little more stability for Blythe and for the reader, as this is one of the more sedentary issues of Air. There are hints that big things are coming for Blythe, as she is expected to equal or surpass Amelia Earhart as a hyperprax pilot.

Wilson and Perker are putting out good work with this comic.

Cowboy Ninja Viking #3

Written by AJ Lieberman
Art by Riley Rossmo

I think I'm losing interest in this title. The 'high concept,' featuring government-sanctioned assassins who each have three separate, yet somehow contiguous, personalities is a cool one, but the storytelling in this series is messy.

Each of the Triplets, and this issue has three different ones, are constantly having conversations within their heads, and it's not always clear what is being said out loud. Also, characters just pop in and out of this story, with no real explanation of who they are. The art is a little muddy, making it difficult to always recognize who is who.

This book has recently been made an on-going series, and this actually turns me off it. Were it only going to last for a few issues, I could see making the effort to understand and piece it together, but the on-going format means that Lieberman doesn't have to restrict his story to something that can be logically explained in a short span of pages, and this makes me nervous that the present storyline might continue indefinitely.

Joe the Barbarian #1

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Sean Murphy

I'm not too sure how to respond to this first issue. I see from quickly perusing a few different review sites, that I'm not the only person to have found the beginning of Morrison's newest Vertigo title to be a little problematic. Where some people are complaining that not much happens, I think my problem is more that a lot of stuff is happening that I can't recognize or comprehend just yet. All I know is I want to know more, which I suppose is the hallmark of a good monthly comic.

The book is very decompressed, and things do move rather slowly, but this doesn't bother me for two reasons: 1. I trust Morrison completely as a writer; if things are moving slowly, there's a reason for it; and 2. Sean Murphy is an amazing artist, and I would gladly buy a whole book of his interior design ideas, if they looked as good as Joe's house and bedroom look here.

The story takes its time establishing that Joe is your typical nerdy diabetic or hypoglycemic kid with an over-active imagination, good art skills, and slightly dysfunctional home life. He gets picked on by the school bullies, and rescued by the nice girl. Where some reviewers complain that the book is just trotting out old stereotypes, I think the fact that Morrison has Joe acknowledge this is proof that something more is going on. When Joe gets home, strangely leaving the front door open, he somehow gets transported to a fantasy world where his toys have come to life, and suffered some form of catastrophe. Or, he just goes into diabetic shock. I'm not really sure yet, and imagine I won't be for a while longer.

Reading this comic brought to mind a few things: Th3rd World Studios' excellent comic The Stuff of Legend was the first comparison I made, as it has similar content. I also thought of (or more like, remembered from somewhere in the depths of my memory) the CBC show The Odyssey, and the "Visions of Counterpane" stuff in William Vollmann's first novel, You Bright and Risen Angels.

While I understand that some people may have been less than satisfied with this comic, I found it fascinating and rich, and look forward to reading the rest of the series. The fact that it only cost a dollar, in my mind at least, meant that it could be as decompressed as it wanted to be, I was getting my money's worth regardless.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rasl #6

by Jeff Smith

I think there is the potential out there for a really interesting cultural studies master's thesis on depictions of Nikola Tesla in comic books. In the last few years, it seems he's been popping up all over the place, including, now, Jeff Smit's Rasl.

What sets this issue apart from other Tesla appearances (see Matt Fraction's Five Fists of Science - it's great) is that Smith is taking a very scholarly approach here, interspersing a history lesson on Tesla's career and inventions, with Rasl's story, as the title character returns to his life of art crime, at least until the lizard guy shows up again.

The delay between issues does make it difficult to remember exactly where this book last left off, but with this issue, it doesn't matter, as this is an excellent starting point for new readers. Whatever has gone on before doesn't really matter here, as the focus is on Tesla to a great degree.

In many ways, this might be my favourite issue of this title yet. I was contemplating making the switch to trade-waiting on this, but now I'm much more committed to the book. This is a very strong issue. Also, I get a kick out of seeing Smith draw such straight, realistic scenes. I enjoyed his work on Bone, but am impressed with his ability to draw the real world.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Brett Weldele

In this graphic novel, Antony Johnston takes Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar' and updates it, setting it amidst the organized crime world of modern-day London.

Julius is a crime boss, running the most powerful of the 'companies', and looking to unite all of the companies under his rule. Brett, Julius's close friend, and other 'gov'ners', decide that Julius's reach is beyond his grasp, and gun him down. From there, things take the predictable route, as the different bosses turn on each other, or descend into paranoia, culminating in a Scarface-like battle in a ritzy mansion.

Conceptually, the transfer from ancient Rome to modern England is a very appropriate one; however the writing is often stiff, as the characters seem to flit back and forth between contemporary speech and Shakespearian oration. It makes some scenes read tortuously stilted.

Weldele's art has always been a bit of an acquired taste. I loved his work on The Surrogates, but found this earlier effort to also be a little stiff in places. This is a book that is almost six years old, and I'm glad to see that both creators have surpassed it in their more recent work, although it does showcase their creativity and their ingenuity.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Days Like This

Written by J. Torres
Art by Scott Chantler

This book is one of those delightful all-ages types that Oni used to put out, but has apparently stopped for the last couple of years.

Days Like This is a story set in the early 1960s, and focuses on the newly ex-wife of a recording executive, who decides to start up her own label. She meets Christina and her friends at her daughters' school talent show, and forges them into 'Tina and the Tiaras', an up and coming new musical act. Mrs. Anna, the new record mogul, must deal with her ex, her neglected child, and Luther, Tina's father, who does not approve.

The relationship between old-fashioned, church-going Luther and his daughter is at the heart of this book. He objects to her parading around on stage, he objects to her neglecting her church singing, and he objects to her taking 'Christ' out of her stage name, in the funniest scene in the comic. Really, this is a book about a teenager growing up and pulling away from her father. This thread doesn't really get explored enough for me though, and the resolution of it is a little ambiguous.

In a lot of ways, I felt like the story here took the easy way around a number of issues that should be more relevant for this time period; race of course being the largest issue. This is early-60s America, yet there does not seem to be even a hint of racial tension throughout the book. As well, Mrs. Anna seems able to navigate the music industry without even an implication of chauvinism, which doesn't ring true.

Chantler's art is crisp and easy, and he and Torres have a nice energy together. This book is a good companion to their 'Scandalous'.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Placebo Man

by Tomer Hanuka

This trade collects nine short pieces by Israeli comics artist Tomer Hanuka. Each of these stories are experimental in nature, often incorporating stream of consciousness, or dream imagery. Other stories jump around in time, often unexpectedly.

Hanuka's characters are frequently isolated and unhappy, revisiting past mistakes or poor decisions. My favorite story is about Johnny Weissmuller, the Olympic athlete and Tarzan actor, in his last days.

Hanuka's pencil drawings remind me of Dave McKean's work on Cages (which I really should re-read one of these days); his characters are angular and rough-hewn, and their surroundings are often sparse. It looks nothing like his magazine work for publications like the New Yorker.

This is a difficult, but interesting piece of work.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

False Hopes Fifteen

by Doomtree

Anyone who checks this blog regularly knows how much I love the Doomtree crew, so the release of the latest in the 'False Hopes' series of ep's was greated with great excitement. It's only 8 tracks in length, but it is a terrific sampling of the group's personalities and talents.

It opens with a nice intro from Paper Tiger before heading in to a couple of bangers - 'Coup for the Kings' by Sims and POS, with Lazerbeak on beats, and 'Profit & Loss', a recession-themed posse cut featuring the whole crew.

Cecil Otter's 'A Rickety Bridge' is your standard Otter poetic gold, and 'Scuffle' has me looking forward to Dessa's solo album, which should be arriving this week or next. POS and Mictlan get a solo track each in 'Do Not Stay' and 'OMG!' (respectively), showcasing their strengths. The ep ends with Otter's instrumental 'Carpe Diem', a lovely, almost drum'n'bass track.

This is a good way to spend a half hour, and a perfect sampler for anyone thinking about checking out Doomtree. Now I want more though...

The Unwritten #9

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross

This is another very good issue of a very good title. This issue details Tom's escape from the men who have invaded the prison to kill him, and reunites him with Lizzie Hexam and his flying cat. It's becoming increasingly clear that Tom really is Tommy Taylor, although he is just about the only person that doesn't see that.

The comic continues to integrate literary characters, with Roland making another, pivotal, appearance. This importance of fiction and fictional characters gets touched upon in a nice textpiece conversation between Carey and Gross, wherein they discuss the most pivotal books of their childhoods.

This is a pretty intelligent book, and I'm enjoying it a great deal.

DMZ #49

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

It would seem that DC doesn't want people to see the cover to this issue, which is a little strange. Yes, the cover does give away the end to the issue, but anyone who walks into any comic store will see that right away, before they read the comic, which means it's just somebody's idea of a clever marketing ploy. And it's a shame, because John Paul Leon has drawn a terrific image.

Things really go off the rails this issue for our protagonists. Matty's long-awaited reunion with Zee does not go well, while his attempts to escalate violence in the DMZ, in response to the beating he took last issue, has disastrous consequences that differ from the consequences he was looking for. As well, the army discovers the location of Parco's bomb.

The end of this issue really changes things for this title, and I'm very curious to see where Wood is taking this book.

Daytripper #2

by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

This issue of Daytripper is very different from the previous. Where the first comic was a realistic depiction of the end of Brás de Oliva Domingos's life, this issue is more fantastical. This time around, the focus is on a time when Brás is 21, and traveling around the country with his friend Jorge, visiting the quieter, more contemplative places in Brazil.

Brás meets a girl while swimming, and they tour the market, sleep together, and then arrange to meet at the festival for Iemanjá, a sea goddess. This issue is also about how people define themselves, and how your work is not who you are, a lesson that the 21-year old Brás, most likely traveling on his father's money, has not had the occasion to learn yet.

Moon and Bá are working in the Latin American magical realist tradition, although they keep such influences subtle. I like the way each issue in this series is going to represent a different stage or moment in Brás's life, while also providing increased insight into his character.

Of course, the best thing about this comic is the art. The brothers are outdoing themselves, and completing some stunningly beautiful work. Dave Stewart's colours compliment the book perfectly.

Red Herring #6

Written by David Tischman
Art by Phillip Bond and David Hahn

This was a very enjoyable series, and it ends quite nicely, with the various scams, schemes, and plots all being left out in the open. Having read the end, I am tempted to go back and start the whole series over again, as I'm sure there are plenty of hints that point towards the outcome.

The best thing about this issue is that Bond returns to full pencils. I liked Hahn's work on the title, but Bond is a terrific artist and the reason why I started reading this book in the first place.

This will be great in trade form, and I urge anyone who likes conspiracy stories to pick it up.

Friday, January 15, 2010


by Jennifer Egan

Every once in a while, I read a short story and partway through it come to the realization that it is just about perfect. This is one of those stories.

Egan gives us a tale set on safari in Kenya. Lou is a divorced record executive, who has taken his two children, Charlie (Charlene, 14) and Rolph (11) on this trip, along with his girlfriend Mindy (just into her twenties), and a strange entourage of musicians, an actor, and his travel agent.

Egan packs the story with complex relationships: Lou and Mindy have not been a couple for long; Rolph worships and despises his father in equal measure; Charlie is trying to become Charlene, a grown-up in both her own eyes and her father's. Mindy catches the eye of Albert, an employee of the safari company. Toss into this mix some amusing side characters, like the old birdwatching ladies and the obvious-stating actor, along with a good lion mauling, and you have the makings for a great story.

What makes this piece perfect though, is the way in which, towards the end of the tale, Egan jumps through the rest of the main characters' lives, demonstrating how this trip was such a turning point for each of them. It's a powerful and emotionally resonant piece of work.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


by Lars Martinson

I didn't know what to expect with this book, as it appeared to be part of the autobiographical stream of indie comics that often doesn't appeal much to me, but at the same time, it's about teaching in Japan, something I've always felt tempted to try.

Daniel Wells is a young American who has taken a job as an Assistant English Teacher (AET) in a small town in rural Japan. He's just about the only foreigner around, excepting some eccentric Europeans who keep to themselves and an American girl half an hour away who has little to no interest in spending time with him. The book is an examination of his isolation and boredom, punctuated with examples of Japan's extreme levels of cultural difference from North America.

The book is quite wry in its humour. I like the way in which Martinson builds up his portraits of Daniel's teaching colleagues - they never quite become characters in the full sense of the word, and we are left with only impressions of them, but they each stand out.

The book, with its four panel grid, is a quick read, which is disappointing, as I found I was just beginning to become invested in it when it ended. I realize this is only the first part, but I was hoping for a little more. I do like Martinson's art style, and his depiction of the Americans worrying about their introductory lessons rang quite true for someone who has worked with many student- and beginning teachers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dead West

Written by Rick Spears
Art by Rob G

I've looked forward to reading this graphic novel for quite some time, especially after reading the pair's Repo and Teenagers From Mars, both of which are frenetic and exciting comics. This came as more of a disappointment, I think, because of my level of expectation. I'm not saying it's a bad comic, just that the individual elements do not coalesce into a particularly good comic.

The set-up is a cool one. The survivor of an American massacre of an Aboriginal tribe brings his people back as zombies to attack the town that was built on their ancestral land in 'The Old West'. To my knowledge, this was the first Western zombie comic.

For zombie comics to work though, you have to care about the people that are trying to survive, and that's where this book falls down. My sympathy was more with the Aboriginals than any other character in the book. I felt that the survivor was the most developed character here. The others were either slapped together stereotypes (the likable whore, the town sheriff, the Clint Eastwood/Jonah Hex figure) or were complete ciphers (the military men, the guy being chased by Jonah Hexwood). It was very difficult to care about anything that was happening.

Also confusing matters was G's artwork. While some pages look fantastic, often the action is confusing, and it was hard to tell one character from another. The creative pair get marks for trying, but this whole book came off as kind of amateurish. I much preferred Teenagers From Mars.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mysterius the Unfathomable #1-6

Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Tom Fowler

When this series came out, starting last spring, I squarely ignored it. It got a lot of push at my comic store, but something about it caused it to never exactly catch my eye. It did get lots of positive press though, and I figured if I ever got the chance to grab it all in one go, either as a trade or as a set, I would. That chance came last week, and I'm quite thankful for it.

Mysterius is Zatarra and Zatanna done properly. It's the story of an old magician - the real kind - who kind of bumbles his way through life, never getting too caught up in things, either his surroundings or the consequences of his actions. As the series opens, he is conducting a seance for a rich New York society type, except the seance goes horribly wrong, and the guy's spirit gets left behind in Hell. It's not all a loss, as Mysterius gets a new assistant, or Delfi, as they're called, out of the bargain.

From there, the book diverges into a whirlwind tour of magic in Jeff Parker's world. We get witches covens, celebrity endurance magicians, and enchanted children's books. The writing of this comic is wildly inventive and funny, as Parker has people react to Mysterius in a variety of ways.

Fowler's art was probably the main reason why I didn't pick up the book in the first place, but it has grown on me quite a bit. At first, I was put off by the bulbous noses and generous paunches that abound in this comic, but Fowler's aesthetic really grew on me. The Dr. Seuss knock-off scenes are fantastic.

Wildstorm should be commended for publishing this type of work - a book that is never going to be a top seller, but that garners critical acclaim and improves the overall intelligence of their back catalogue.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pizzeria Kamikaze

Written by Etgar Keret
Art by Asaf Hanuka

This is a very cool little comic out of Israel. Mordy is a young suicide, who has woken up in a strange, crummy world populated solely by people who offed themselves. People carry with them the marks of their demise - bullet holes and slashed wrists abound, except for the Juliets like Mordy, who did themselves in with pills or poison.

The world seems to operate much like ours, except for the tendency for 'insignificant' miracles to occur, although they never really matter. The other main difference is that people seem to just shuffle around through their lives, lacking purpose or drive.

Mordy makes friends with a guy called Uzi, and they just hang out, until Mordy gets news that his girlfriend from life has arrived somewhere in the country. This prompts a rather odd little road trip, as Mordy and Uzi leave the city to search for her. Along the way, they meet a few people, eat some ice cream, and discover a death cult.

The story is quite well-written, reminding me a great deal of Jim Munroe's post-rapture comics Therefore Repent! and Sword of my Mouth. Hanuka's art is very nice, and the decision to print the book with a metallic silver ink instead of black adds an otherworldly sheen to everything that happens.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Forgetless #2

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Jorge Coelho and Marley Zarcone

I found the first issue of Forgetless to be a really nice surprise - I had entered it with no preconceived notions, and really enjoyed it. The second issue continues to impress. Spencer is taking a Rashomon-like approach to his story, slowly piecing together the story of why the two models are looking to kill some guy at the Forgetless club night.

This time around, we get the guy, Derrick's, story. It turns out, he's a bit of a goof. He and his friend go around filming him having sex with buildings, all in an effort to gain Youtube notoriety. When his friend is hired to help hypnotize an 'ex-gay' man into hating internet porn, and Derrick discovers a strange truth about their daughter, he decides to make a new video, which leads to the act that got him in trouble in the first issue. It sounds complicated, but the story plays out quite naturally.

The second story features the same trio of Jersey teens, and their quest for false ID so they too can attend Forgetless.

This is a fun, and quite funny, title. I see that Spencer has a cop book coming out soon, Shuddertown. I think I'll have to give that a try too...

False Hopes

by Paper Tiger

I've been slowly working my way through the Doomtree back catalogue, ordering an older cd every time I order a new one, and so it took me too long to get to Paper Tiger's disk of 8 tracks, all but one of which are instrumentals.

Paper Tiger is not the prolific of the Doomtree producers - Lazerbeak is; but he does have a sound that is recognizably unique. He crafts slightly darker soundscapes than his colleagues, and this ep is a nice sampling of his skills.

There is only one track that features any of the other members of the crew, and that is 'Speedmetal', with Dessa, a nice way to close off the experience.

Sweet Tooth #5

by Jeff Lemire

The first arc of this new series ends pretty much where I expected it to - the Preserve is not that nice a place. While I'm sure none of the readers were surprised by that turn of events, Gus seems to be. Even after his dead father comes back to tell him otherwise, he still believes that Jeppard is a good man, although I think that might yet be proven to be true.

Lemire's oddball series is quite gripping. It's more decompressed than I would like, but he has kept my interest. As always with these types of stories, I would like to know a little more about how the world has ended up this way, but if it takes a while to get there, I don't mind.

Orc Stain #1

by James Stokoe

James Stokoe's work is quite unique, with the exception, perhaps, of work done by Brandon Graham. Both artists marry a European sensibility to manga, and create comics that feel like they surf the stream of consciousness. Stokoe's Wonton Soup is a wonderful series about intergalactic foodie truckers, and it is a prime example of his unbounded imagination.

Orc Stain is his new monthly title from Image. It's about Orcs, the foot soldiers of the Lord of the Rings books, and countless other fantasy stories. In this comic, the fractious and internecine Orc tribes have been united under the grip of the Orctzar, who is searching for something called the Ganga-Gronch, which is some sort of phallic symbol, apparently. He learns that it can only be recovered by a one-eyed Orc.

At this point, the narrative switches to said one-eyed creature, who is a scavenger and robber, with incredible skills at opening things, such as safes embedded into bears. This is when you know you are reading a Stokoe comic - the endless stream of ridiculous (yet masterfully designed) inventions and details can be overwhelming.

Stokoe's art is incredibly detailed and frenetic, and his colours look fantastic. He's chosen to shade the world in greens, purples, and blues, making it clear that this is no ordinary world. This looks to be one of the most inventive and unexpected books of 2010.