Sunday, February 28, 2010


Written by Kelley Puckett
Art by Warren Pleece
with Garry Leach

Lately I've been working my way through the short-lived DC Focus line, and I must say that I really missed out by not picking these comics up when they were first published. These were some very nicely designed, nicely written comics.

Kinetic is about Tom, a seventeen year old high school student with a number of dangerous medical conditions. He's a hemophiliac, diabetic, and due to his monomyelic amyotrophy, he can not move his right arm. He has been raised in an environment of fear and isolation, looked after by his well-meaning but over-protective mother. High school, obviously, has been hell for him.

Somehow, early into the book, Tom suddenly develops super strength and invulnerability. There is no explanation as to how this happens; he gets hit by a truck, and the truck wraps itself around him. From that point, everything is different for Tom, although he has no idea how to live in a world that now can't hurt him.

Puckett keeps the story grounded in the real world. Tom still goes to school, and still fantasizes about beating up bullies and sweeping the perfect girl off her feet. He has a hard time adjusting to things, and it becomes clear that he has never learned how to interact with his world. Also fascinating is the way his mother reacts to things; she has spent 17 years worrying about her kid, and finds his new abilities as liberating as he does.

The book is coloured with just reds and blues (and in one scene, some green), an odd but effective choice. The covers for the first five or six issues were by Tomer Hanuka, which is always a nice treat.

The true strength of this book lies in Warren Pleece's drawings. His teenagers look like real teenagers, and he has an eye for the way people actually wear clothes (quite rare in comics really). He excels at showing the subtle shifts in Tom's moods through his facial expressions, and is able to convey his mother's perpetual state of worry easily.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


by Gilbert Hernandez

I've never read the Hernandez Brother's Love and Rockets series. I've made the odd attempt to check out their work, but it never really interested me that much. This graphic novel seemed a little more like my type of thing, and I'm glad I checked it out.

Sloth is set in a small town somewhere in the Southern US with an abundance of lemon orchards nearby. Miguel Serra is a teenager who has spent a year in a coma, which it is generally believed, he induced and ended on his own. Since recovering, Miguel has been moving at a much slower pace than before, but it otherwise perfectly healthy.

He spends his time trying to integrate himself back into his world. He gets back with his girlfriend Lita, and hangs out again with his friend Romeo. The three are in a band together, and they quickly return to their usual interests like rehearsing, and exploring the mysterious lemon orchards, which are said to be the final resting places for a few murder victims, perhaps including Miguel's mother, who has been missing for years.

Lita has a strong interest in urban myths, specifically ones related to the orchards, and to the Goat Man, a strange creature that has been said to switch bodies with his victims. Hernandez starts the book as a pretty standard post-coma teen angst story (think Douglas Coupland's 'Girlfriend in a Coma'), and then, like that novel, switches things up completely half way through the book.

It's difficult to discuss the remainder of the comic without ruining the reversals that Hernandez pulls off, except to say that the book becomes more interesting for the dissonance that he induces.

Sloth is an interesting study of small-town youth. Hernandez's characters are fully aware of how limited their surroundings are, and feel despair because of it. The coma becomes a form of escape that requires little effort, and is quite tantalizing for that reason. This is an interesting book.

Unknown Soldier #17

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Alberto Ponticelli

I've really been enjoying 'The Dry Season', as Moses has been working to uncover what has been going on behind the scenes in the refugee camp where he has been staying. This issue he finds out the truth behind the stolen medicine and murdered doctor, although it's not what he was expecting.

What I like about this series is the way in which Dysart portrays Moses as a basically good man, yet capable of great measures of violence on an instinctual level. The thinking Moses must always work to suppress the reactionary side of his nature, and the 'voice' that he hears.

As I've mentioned before, Ponticelli's new approach to drawing this book has added a lot to it. While I liked it before, I like it much more now. Also, it's nice to see Sara, even if only briefly, again.

Northlanders #25

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Leandro Fernandez

As the long months of quarantine in the settlement continue, Gunborg's ambition finally gets the better of him, leading to a very violent issue of Northlanders. Gunborg and his men decide to take control, although any motivation beyond pure greed remains hidden from the reader.

What is odd about this issue is that suddenly Boris, the foreigner who originally recommended isolation as a means of avoiding the plague seems to know Hilda, our narrator, better than was previously revealed. He makes use of Hilda to try to learn Gunborg's intentions, and then makes certain to protect her and her daughter when things hit the fan.

This is a good, exciting issue of this series. With three issues remaining in 'The Plague Widow', it's hard to predict where things are headed, which is what I always like about Wood's writing.

Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #1

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Raulo Caceres

At this point, it's enough to say that it's a new Avatar mini-series written by Warren Ellis. His work for this company has been consistently good for the last few years, as he uses their generous editorial policies to explore just about any bizarre idea he's interested in.

Captain Swing is a strange story set in an alternate London of 1830. It is a time where policing is just catching on in the city, and rival groups are operating. There are the Bow Street Runners, a group of former thief takers (paid vigilantes) who are now in the employ of the Bow Street Magistrates. Their rivals are the London Metropolitan Police, an under-armed group of hapless individuals.

The city has been plagued by sightings of Springheel Jack (who has also recently shown up in Proof), and weird flying boats. Ellis is playing around with the early days of electricity, although this book is set before the days of Tesla and Marconi. Captain Swing is a mysterious figure sailing over the streets of London in a rowboat that floats on a bed of St. Vitus's Fire. Springheel Jack fires bullets made of glass and clockwork. It's an interesting aesthetic that he's going for here, and although this issue is mainly concerned with setting up the premise (including multiple text pages), there is more than enough going on to draw me back for the next issue.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Walking Dead #70

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

The gang has made it into the promised safe zone of the last couple of issues, and things are looking pretty positive. In this issue, Rick meets with Douglas, a former Congressman and unofficial leader of the new community where they are going to be staying. The conversation takes up most of the book, and makes everything appear to be on the level. Douglas wants Rick to become the settlement's police constable, and is finding other suitable jobs for the rest of his crew.

Throughout the book, there is a palpable sense of relief. It seems like this might finally be a place of safety and comfort, although it becomes clear towards the end that these people have something to hide, and that it all relates to a man named Davidson, who was mentioned last issue, and who we learn was the founder of the community.

The Walking Dead is always a compelling read, although its pace does tend to vary over time. The last time our protagonists found a safe zone, it was the prison they stayed in for many issues. During that time, the book slowed down quite a bit, and Kirkman shifted his focus to character building and depicting the relationships among the group. I'm not sure where things are going now, but I am very excited to sit back and watch what happens.

Cowboy Ninja Viking #4

Written by AJ Lieberman
Art by Riley Rossmo

So just when I was ready to write this series off as being overly confusing, cluttered, and kind of uninteresting, Lieberman went and gave us an issue with some actual explication in it.

The book starts off as muddled as ever, with a group of Triplets having a conversation with each other, but things improve quickly when we cut to Ghislain, the 'Jacob' of the book, to put things in Lost terms, sitting down with a group of Senators, and finally explaining what happened in San Christobel, among other things.

Basically, we now know how many Triplets there are (14 or 15), who Blaq is (Ghislain's protege turned evil), and have a template for where this book is headed. I don't know why we were introduced to the fake Triplet Gary, or how exactly this title was originally supposed to be wrapping up with either this issue or the next. It doesn't really feel like Lieberman is working off a plan here, and that makes me nervous about where this title is headed.

As for the art, my opinions remain mixed. I like Rossmo's style, but find it much better suited to a book that's in full colour, and has characters that are more easily recognizable. I'd rather see him continuing to work on Proof, and this title be given over to someone with a simpler, cleaner approach.

I'm not sure if I'm going to stick with this title or not. I think I'll pick up the next issue, and decide from there.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Scalped #35

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Danijel Zezelj

It might seem a little early to cast votes for the best comic of 2010, but I feel confident after reading this book in saying that the bar this year has just been raised incredibly high.

Aaron gives us a stand-alone story about an elderly couple, Mance and Hazel, who live out at the far end of the reservation. They have managed to eke out a simple, subsistence lifestyle, which has brought them much happiness and satisfaction. As they have been aging, they have been finding it increasingly difficult to 'take in the garden', and set aside enough food to last them the winter. They are a proud pair, and find the indignities of age and indigence equally shaming.

The story is told in both of their voices (subtly lettered by Steve Wands), and Aaron quickly establishes them as strong individuals. Almost every page of this book is fraught with emotion. The scene where Mance goes to receive government nutrition aid is one of the most searing and effective things I've read in ages.

Zezelj's work is perfect for this issue. His thick lines perfectly evoke the age and hard-scrabble existences of the characters. I've always liked his work, but this is one of the best things I've ever seen him do.

Scalped has been criticized for its negative portrayal of Aboriginal life in the United States, and I think this issue, with its honest and open portrayal of poverty on the reservation, works to silence that criticism. I have enjoyed this series from its beginning, but this is by far the best issue of the book to date. I love that Aaron is taking a step back from his story to give us a richer understanding of life on the Prairie Rose Reservation.

Viking #5

Written by Ivan Brandon
Art by Nic Klein

To start off, this comic is beautiful. The 'golden age' size is used to great effect (unlike in Cowboy Ninja Viking, where the extra page space is just used to cram more confusion into each page), and the colours are gorgeous.

The issues with this comic all lie in the story. Basically, I find this comic very hard to understand. Maybe it will read better in trade, but I find it very hard to follow, as the plot and themes of the book seem to shift all over the place. Characters and their arcs are left stranded (the big guy wanted money before, but now he's just going to stay in the woods hugging dying deer?), while other story elements just disappear - like the cat from the last issue.

I feel like there could have been a lot to say in this comic - Brian Wood has proven that Viking comics can be awesome - but a lot more editing and story workshopping was needed. I don't know if there will (or even could) be a 'season two', but I hope it is better planned and executed.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Color of Rage

Written by Kazuo Koike
Art by Seisaku Kano

My second Boxing Day manga purchase, Koike and Kanos' Color of Rage is an oddball buddy story featuring two escaped slaves, one Japanese, the other African-American, who travel Edo-era Japan looking for a place to live peacefully, but of course, run into conflict everywhere they go.

The book is quite readable, as King (the American) and George (strange name for a Japanese person) are both noble, likable folk. Of course, King raises more than a few eyebrows, and so walks around dressed like The Unknown Soldier. He's also exceptionally strong, as I suppose all large black men in comics must be. To be honest, I expected the book to be more racially-inappropriate or uncomfortable than it actually is. I don't know if that is a credit to Koike's writing and research, or simply reveals prejudices of my own. The book reminded me a little of Lone Wolf and Cub, if the cub were a large black man...

The book is labeled 'mature', and there are a few scenes that feature or suggest sexual exploitation of women, and I am left wondering how accurate its portrayal of gender politics is. I feel like there is a high degree of authenticity in its depictions of yakuza values and traditions, and found the book provided an interesting window into historic Japan.

The art is quite nice throughout the book. I often find manga action scenes difficult to follow, but that wasn't the case here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mesmo Delivery

by Rafael Grampá

When this book was first published by Adhouse a couple of years ago, I coveted it a great deal, but never actually bought it. I think I was put off by the $12.50 price tag for such a slim book. When I saw that Dark Horse was reprinting this title, and at only $10, I jumped at the chance to finally read it.

Mesmo Delivery is an insane collision of a Robert Rodriguez movie (not Spy Kids, one of the crazy ones) with Geof Darrow and Frank Quitely, with perhaps a touch of Paul Pope tossed in for seasoning. It is about a pair of truckers (one of whom can't drive) and a fight at a seedy truck-stop. It's also about the iconography of old school advertising, but less so.

Grampá's art is incredible. He experiments with lay-out and page design, and includes every little detail you could think of when drawing. His characters have pores (and sometimes giant prosthetic fists).

This is a really fun read, and an impressive piece of work. I don't know what this guy has been up to for the last few years, because I would really like to read more from him.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Crate Digging: Pure

by Buff1

I have a deep affection for underground Detroit hip-hop. There's a recognizably dirty sound that comes out of Detroit. Immediately, I think of Dilla and Black Milk, but other producers have been able to replicate and add to the sound, including the Lab Technicians, who have produced all of Buff1's premier album.

Buff opens the disk with a spoken word piece which, as drums are added to the simple tones he speaks over, becomes a nice rap. Unfortunately, much of the album can't live up to its strong opening, but Buff does deliver in a few places quite nicely.

'Much Better' with OneBeLo and 'SUPREME' with Invincible and Guilty Simpson show that Buff works best with accompaniment; he gets a little dull when left to his own devices. However, if you like some straight-up, Detroit boombap from an emerging talent, you could do a lot worse than this album. What might be lacking in polish is always made up for by enthusiasm. Other guests include Elzhi and Tiffany Paige.

Joe the Barbarian #2

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Sean Murphy

Little more is revealed than in last issue, as Joe continues to flit between the reality of his house and a strange fantasy world where his toys have come to life. He is now being helped by Jack, who is his pet mouse in the real world.

I'm not sure where Morrison is going with this. So far, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of comment on childhood, it's just been a straight up adventure story, wherein the protagonist desperately needs some glucose.

As with the first issue, the pace is very quick, but the art is fantastic. I love Murphy's way of re-drawing familiar (and copyrighted) icons of commercial childhood. The plastic Lego trees would be a favorite, just for the associations their image evoked.

I know that this title has become a source of some controversy, and I don't think it's Morrison's best work, but it's enjoyable.

Hellblazer # 264

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Giusseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini

Constantine's Indian adventure comes to a close, and while the cover suggests a big Bollywood ending, there are no big dance numbers, and no one really gets the girl.

I've enjoyed this arc. Putting Constantine in such an unfamiliar setting allowed his shtick the chance to seem fresh and new, although this last issue puts things back to status quo so neatly, and with such a dismissive wave of Milligan's hand, that I'm not all that interested in reading the next issue (even if it wasn't drawn by Simon Bisley). It's hard to accept that Chas isn't even angry with John after the events of a few issues ago.

I have been on the fence with this title since Milligan took over, and I think I'm done now. It's been decent, but I can live without it.

Battlefields #3

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by PJ Holden

This issue closes off the 'Happy Valley' story in Battlefields. The crew of B-Beer goes on their last mission before they finish their tour, and as is to be expected, things don't go exactly according to plan.

Ennis has given us an excellent example of a story that celebrates the camaraderie of warfare, and the bonds that grow between men placed in dangerous situations. Running in the background is the implication that the Commonwealth soldiers' sacrifices were especially poignant, given that they were not fighting for their own country or security, but instead for some rather abstract notions of duty to their former rulers.

Holden's art looks great in this issue, especially in the scenes in the back of the Wimpy. Those pages reminded me of Joe Kubert, which is high praise. I don't know what was up with the undershirt on the pilot during the scene in his dorm room - it's obviously been added on by the colorist, but I can't imagine why.

Air #18

Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by MK Perker

If you've never read Air before, and have been curious about the book, this issue serves as a very accessible starting point, in that it nicely recaps much of what has happened in the first year and a half of the title, and offers an explanation of Hyperprax technology which I will admit to not understanding at all. It also sets up the next arc by sending Blythe on her 'pilot's test'.

Air has been a unique and original comic since its inception. It, along with books like Sweet Tooth and Daytripper, show us that Vertigo is open to new experiments in monthly comics. Wilson and Perker have gone about this series in the best way possible. To make such a sweeping story with such elaborate metaphysical roots work, they have really invested in their characters, and that is the strength of this book.

I am very much looking forward to seeing Blythe perform the three missions set out before her.

Resurrection #8

Written by Marc Guggenheim, Chris Sims, and Chad Bower
Art by Justin Greenwood and Rusty Shackles

This series has been chugging along quite nicely since its relaunch. This issue has our crew in pristine Baltimore (which I still think is odd based on the image the world has of Baltimore thanks to The Wire), and meeting with the alien that appears to be running the show. Thanks to a text box, we know that this is the same alien that was running around in the woods in the first volume, although the story in no way makes that clear or relevant.

There is a discussion about semantics, and Clinton finally tries to kick ass. Not too much happens in the main story, but Guggenheim is taking his time unfolding this tale, and I'm fine with that.

The back up is (for the second month), written by a comics blogosphere luminary instead of a professional comics writer, this time in the form of Chris Sims, with Chad Bower. This is a smart move by Oni, as I'm sure it's creating a lot more internet discussion about the comic, at least on the guest writers' sites.

It's a fun story about three adolescents who have been raised on 80s teen movies, and who have found themselves living in a town that could have been in Y the Last Man for its lack of male residents. Good stuff.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Odds Off

by Matt Madden

Another Boxing Day door-crasher that didn't strike me as my usual thing, but was recommended at my comic store, and was definitely worth the $5 price.

Madden has crafted an odd little graphic novel about relationships among some twenty-somethings. Morgan and Shirin have been together for years, but as Shirin tries to get into medical school (against almost impossible odds), she also realizes that Morgan and her don't communicate well. He's more interested in watching a French language instructional TV show, and speaking French to everyone he sees than in meeting her needs. Meanwhile, Lance, a gay writer who shares a mutual friend with Morgan has developed a major crush on him.

That's mostly it with this book, except for the very bizarre subplot involving Lance's having come down with a rare case of pediculus escritus, or 'word lice', a condition that causes his writing to be infected with small bugs, which cause itching when he writes (and burning sensation when he conjugates). I'm not sure what the purpose of this satire was, as it doesn't fit into the more quotidian plot, but it did add a sense of the unexpected to the whole book.

This is a decent read, and worth getting just for the hilarious conversations between Shirin and her fundamentalist Christian co-workers.

World War 3 Illustrated #40

This is my first issue of World War 3 Illustrated, even though the magazine has been published for years. One of the things that I love about comics is that it's continuously possible to discover new titles and hidden gems. That's sort of how I feel about this book here.

It's a very left-leaning anthology of strips by a variety of artists who are new to me. In terms of its politics, reading this book is very much like reading the New Internationalist (which I love), but by Americans. And told only in comics form.

The theme for this issue is 'What We Want', and its short pieces can be collectively viewed as a manifesto for change in American society and economy. The expected topics are all here: health care reform, mortgage reform, education, New Orleans, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, environmental concerns, and community activism.

Some of the pieces are too crudely drawn or amateurish for my tastes (ie., the piece on BAAD), but some of it is fantastic.

I particularly liked Sandy Jimenez's memoir of teaching, and Sabrina Jones's piece on Jane Jacobs. What makes this book so endearing is the earnestness and hopefulness of its contributors. It's hard to maintain a level of optimism for long in the face of the 24-hour news cycle and constant discoveries of new forms of bad news, and therefore it's heartwarming to read work like this, which while fully cognizant of the difficulty of the path ahead of us, is assured of a positive outcome.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Abandoned

by Ross Campbell

Ross Campbell is a pretty unique comics creator. His interest appears to be telling stories about curvy tattooed, pierced teenage girls of poly-amorous sexuality. This time out, he's giving us a zombie story set in the deep south, where the apparent only survivors are a group of teen orphans more or less led by Rylie, a spiky-haired dynamo who shares her name with the hurricane that has just devastated the community, perhaps causing the zombie invasion. Or perhaps not, it's hard to tell.

The strength of Campbell's story lies in the friendships between Rylie and her motley crowd. They quickly settle into the apartment of Naomi, a newcomer into their circle, and the target of Rylie's affections, and they basically hang out. They have no real planning skills; not really thinking about how to wait out a large zombie siege, and act like a bunch of teenagers at a slumber party.

It's a fun read, if you can overlook the ridiculous of the situations and the lack of internal logic in the story. Campbell's art is beautiful, and he draws women that appear very realistic while still stylized. He represents a greater diversity in womens' shapes than one ever sees anywhere else in comics, and that makes this a notable book.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lush Life

by Richard Price

Price was one of those authors I was aware of, but never particularly interested in, mostly because I thought he wrote mystery and crime genre novels. When I became aware that he wrote for The Wire (greatest TV show ever), I became more interested in trying out his fiction. Then, when the New Yorker published an excerpt of this book when it first came out, I knew I was interested.

Lush Life is a genre police procedural, but is so elevated in its approach and execution, that it is unfair to make a statement like that. The book is concerned with a very run of the mill robbery turned murder. The criminals involved are just dumb project kids, and there is no mystery for the reader to puzzle through.

Ike Marcus is out drinking with a friend and a guy he works with (Eric Cash), when the trio is robbed. Tristan, an abused and beaten-down Dominican shoots Ike by accident. When the cops roll up, Cash looks and seems guilty. Matty and Yolanda, the detectives assigned to the case like Cash for the crime, and they push him hard.

From this point, the case unravels out of Matty's control. The rest of the novel is a study in how the police operate in this type of situation, as Matty has to fight off interference from his bosses, babysit Matty's father, whose grief causes him to behave very strangely, and shuffle his way towards closing the file.

What makes this book so amazing though is the way in which Price uses this simple collision of under-class New York with its gentrifying, artistic side, to paint a vivid portrait of the Lower East Side. The book is quite sprawling, within a small radius, and takes in the upscale restaurant where Cash works, the Lemlich Projects where Tristan lives, and the police precinct house.

The book may rub up against some cliches at times, but it does so knowingly. Price's prose is simple and unadorned, but not in the self-conscious way of much crime fiction. Things in this book just feel natural, as characters battle with their guilt and just try to get by.

God Save the Queen

Written by Mike Carey
Art by John Bolton

Reading this, I was surprised by the parallels between it and Jamie McKelvie's superb 'Suburban Glamour'. Both books are about a conflict between Faerie's Queen Titania and her sister Mab. Both involve a changeling girl on Earth. Both changeling girls have a nerdy best friend. I guess the only real difference is that this book replaces cool vintage clothing with heroin.

Perhaps I'm being too glib. This is a nice comic, although between McKelvie's work and a lot of the faerie stuff in Sandman, I feel like I've read it all before. The notion of heroin-addicted faeries is a new one, and about the only thing in the book that is adding to the concept.

Bolton's art is the same as always. Some pages are beautiful and technically stunning, while others are a little ugly, although I assume intentionally so. The cover, on the other hand, is hideous and poorly designed, and is probably the main reason why it took me so long to get a copy of this book.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nurse Fighter Boy

Directed by Charles Officer

I haven't really been watching many movies lately - when I go to my local Blockbuster, it takes me forever to find something that I think might interest me, and I'm usually disappointed. I usually find that I don't have enough time to make it Queen Video, or one of the other decent stores in the city, since none of them are near to me.

I was pleased, therefore, when I came across a copy of Nurse Fighter Boy for rental in my neighbourhood. I remember seeing a positive review of it in the paper when the movie was released, and I have like Clark Johnson since back in the day, when I watched him on Homicide Life on the Streets.

The film is a perfect example of a local indie film, meaning it has lengthy quiet moments where my attention wandered, or I found myself fixating on small items on set, or studying the actor's faces. This can be a problem for some viewers, but I find that kind of thing heightens my enjoyment of a movie.

The film is about three people. Jude (Karen LeBlanc) is a nurse and single mother (although not so much in that order) who is battling a disease. She is working the night shift, which causes her to leave her twelve year old son Ciel (Daniel J. Gordon) alone through the evening. While working one night, Jude meets Silence (Johnson), an aging fighter who has taken to competing in illegal pit events as his only means of supporting himself. When Silence's old friend Horace (Walter Borden) dies, he takes over his boxing gym, and sets about improving his life.

The story is a small, quiet one. These three people begin, slowly and hesitantly to interact with one another. The centre of the film is the relationship between Jude and Ciel. He has grown up without a father, and with the knowledge of his mother's disease, both maturing him quickly and leaving him grasping for a mystical means of protecting her.

The performances in the film are powerful. Johnson's character lives up to his name, a vast difference from the more loquacious Meldrick Lewis I still picture Johnson as (even after his role on The Wire). LeBlanc shows equal measures of strength and fear, and Gordon delivers an incredible performance for a young actor. He displays a number of complicated emotions, and a magical spark beneath his mop of hair.

The best thing about the movie though, is the music. Ciel plays his mother a mixture of traditional Jamaican songs, reggae, and hip-hop from the likes of K'naan and Tumi and the Volume. I would love to get ahold of the soundtrack for this film (any link I found on-line appears to have died).

It's nice to see Toronto represented so well on screen. Great stuff.

Museum of Terror 1 - Tomie 1

by Junji Ito

I've finally worked my way through my ever-growing pile of books to read to reach my Boxing Day spoils. I don't read manga - the only time I've ever read any was the first volume of Tezuka's Buddha - but I've felt like that could be an oversight on my point. This horror volume came highly recommended by the manager of my comic store, and was only $5, so I thought I'd give it a try.

It's strange, and in the same vein as Japanese horror movies like The Ring and The Grudge (except that the requisite creepy kid is older here).

Tomie is a high school student of exceptional beauty. She is so desirable, that she invariably causes a level of obsession in the men who fall for her, also invariably resulting in her being hacked to pieces by them, although she always seems to return from the dead, growing new bodies out of the remains of her old one.

This book touches on a lot of themes that I think are common in Japanese manga. First, there is the obsessive nature of adult men towards beautiful teen girls. It seems quite acceptable here, as no one ever comments on the inappropriateness of the obsessions, only on how far things seem to go. Also, there is a strange approach to relationships; teen girls buy photos of the boys they like, and violent behaviour appears to be overlooked by the authorities.

At its core, this work seems a little misogynistic, but perhaps that is partly the author's intent. I don't feel like I know enough about Japanese culture to really comment on a lot of what I see here; I am simply pointing out the differences. This is a strange, and disturbing piece of work. It's also pretty damn cool in places though...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Crate Digging: The Undisputed Truth

by Brother Ali

Brother Ali has been pretty prolific of late, and has been putting out some high-quality hip-hop. This album was my introduction to Ali. I bought it on the strength of Ant's production and the Rhymesayers label, and it was not a purchase I regretted.

The beginning of the album is a little dull. There are some very nice songs ('Truth Is', 'Daylight'), and some intelligent commentary ('Freedom Ain't Free', 'Letter From the Government'), but it is not until the eleventh track that this album really catches fire.

At that point, Ali becomes a different person, rapping more honestly about his life, history, hopes, and disappointments. The last three tracks serve as a trilogy. 'Walking Away' details the dissolution of his marriage, and portrays a complicated situation with sensitivity, even if the twinges of anger are still clearly felt. 'Faheem' is a love song to his son, heartbreaking in its emotion and its descriptions of the poverty they lived in, but also in its warmth. 'Ear to Ear' has Ali emerging through his trials in a positive place; he's found a new woman, his son is doing well, and his musical career is taking off. This is the confidant, happy Ali of his more recent releases.

Throughout this album, you can see some fine early examples of the guy I think of as the nicest man in hip-hop. Ant kills it throughout this album - I love the beat on 'Uncle Sam Goddamn' the most.

Leak at Will

by Atmosphere

I love when Atmosphere drops these little EPs between albums, and I like it even more when they are free.

Leak at Will is a good sample of Atmosphere's talent and new aesthetic, as it has the lusher sound of their most recent album, and features the new approach to story-telling that Slug has been taking with his lyrics; namely, the songs aren't really about him.

Instead, we get songs about a mother whose son is in jail ('Mother's Day'), about a girl on a crime spree ('Millie Fell Off the Fire Escape') and directionless youth ('Ropes'). My favourite song is 'Feel Good Hit of the Summer Part 2', where Slug rhymes about the different drugs he has and hasn't tried. The way he loops back on his own rhyme while talking about LSD makes me laugh every time I hear it.

The rest of this 7-track gift is strong too.

BPRD: The Warning #1-5

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Guy Davis

This arc feels like a total mess, as it jumps all over the place. What starts as a story about a seance and an attempt to figure out who is stalking/haunting one of the characters leads into a huge War of the Worlds type fight in a German city. At the same time though, as a test case as to whether or not I want to start collecting the title, it has completely drawn me in.

I like the fact that some of the antagonists in this arc are related to the creatures that were causing trouble in the very first trade that I read the other day. I've always been attracted to comics that take years to unfold their story, and it's clear from reading this that Mignola and company have been doing just that.

I also find myself drawn in by the characters. The strange crew that makes up the BPRD are a pretty interesting bunch. The character of Panya, an ancient Egyptian mummy that has been revived is of particular interest.

Finally, I've been a Guy Davis fan since I first read Sandman Mystery Theatre. I think I might be getting hooked here...

The Rabble of Downtown Toronto

by Jason Kieffer

Every once in a while, you come across a book or film, with a central concept that you immediately wish you'd been the one to think of, followed closely by wondering why no one else had ever done it before. Jason Kieffer's field guide to Toronto street people is exactly that project. When I saw it advertised on The Beguiling's website, I knew I had to buy it.

The concept of this book is sound. Each double-page spread features a different individual, with a close-up illustration of their face and a map demarkating their usual territory make up the first page, while the second has a full-body illustration, annotated by little arrows pointing out unique features of the individual. Below that are notes as to their behaviour patterns, or history, if it is known.

Upon getting the book, I went through a few different reactions. At first, I thought it was funny in a juvenile, immature sort of way. Then, I started to fear that the book was pretty mean-spirited, pointing fun at the people within it and mocking their sad conditions. As I read through it though, I began to see that Kieffer was allowing his subjects to be somewhat 'in' on the joke, as his affection for them began to show through. I do think that a more responsible editing job should have removed entries like 'Retarded Crackhead', and instead focused the book on the more recognizable eccentrics of the city, like Zanta.

When reading a book like this, it's impossible to not make up your own list of characters you would include. While they are both dead now, I kept hoping to see Ben Kerr (the guy who used to sing on the corner of Yonge and Bloor and who ran for mayor many times) or Crad Kilodney (the author who used to sell his self-published books of short stories)(EDIT: I've just learned that Kilodney is not dead, he's just on the internet). I also expected to see the guy who hangs out in front of the entrance to the parking garage under Nathan Phillips Square with a rat or five hanging out on his shoulders and arms.

The book is by no means complete, and does not add anything of merit to any learned discussion of issues like homelessness, drug addiction, or mental health on the streets of Toronto, but it did make me smile a few times, and sadly may be the only lasting testament to the existence of many of these individuals. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that.

The Unwritten #10

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Jimmy Broxton

A new arc has started in The Unwritten, and Carey is taking Tommy and his crew into new directions. Having escaped the prison attack last issue by using his magic doorknob, Tommy has now ended up in a ghostly version of Stuttgart, during the second world war, a location marked on the map Tommy has been carrying around. This causes Lizzie to reveal a great deal more about Tommy and her creation than she would like, and Tommy meets Joseph Goebbels.

While the set-up is all quite interesting, what I like best about this book is the scene wherein Goebbels and Tommy discuss the differences between the book and film versions of Jud Süss, a novel about redemption through Judaism that was appropriated and altered as a piece of Nazi film propaganda. The biggest appeal of Tom Taylor's character so far has been, for me, his frequent use of literary trivia, and so I enjoyed this part of the story very much.

DMZ #50

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Rebekah Isaacs, Jim Lee,
Fábio Moon, Ryan Kelly, Lee Bermejo, Riccardo Burchielli, Phillip Bond, John Paul Leon, Eduardo Risso, and Dave Gibbons

The last few years have been rough on Vertigo, sales wise, and so when one of their titles reaches the 50th issue milestone, it is cause for some celebration; especially when that book is frequently one of their most original and best.

DMZ has been telling, over the last four years, the story of New York City during the 2nd American civil war. New York is disputed territory between the American Army and the Free States Army. Matty Roth, a young journalist, was accidentally abandoned in the city, and the series has been chronicling his activities and changing personality throughout that time.

This anniversary issue is the perfect jumping on point for new readers, as it is designed as Matty's "Notes From the Underground", small stories, vignettes, and profile of the different people that have had an impact on Matty's life. Wood uses this issue to showcase some of the many different facets of life in the DMZ that the series has become known for. There is a political story, wherein Matty meets the supreme commander of the Free States forces. There is also a story where he meets a man who has painstakingly protected some of the great works of fine art that were in Manhattan at the start of the war. We get a window into some of the relationships that keep the city functioning, such as when Zee helps recover an unexploded ordinance, and when Matty has dinner with Wilson. In short, this issue encapsulates all that is amazing about this series.

And I haven't even talked about the art yet. Wood collaborates here with a number of incredible artists, and they all manage to display the city in its gritty majesty. I would have liked to see a page by Wood himself, as it's been too long since the earlier issues, where he usually drew a single page.

The last arc of DMZ ended with a huge game changer, in terms of the political and environmental situation within the city. This issue feels like a last look back before Matty jumps into something completely new, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. If you are not reading DMZ, you're missing out.

Daytripper #3

by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

Well, it would seem that the ending of this issue clarified what was, at least to me, an ambiguous ending last month.

This time around, Moon and Bá give us a longer scene from the life of Brás de Oliva Domingos's life, from the time when he was 28. Brás has spent the last eight years with the girl from the last issue, although neither of them have been particularly happy together. As the comic opens, she leaves him, after saying some particularly withering final words. This basically ruins our boy, and he spends months under a personal cloud of depression and inability to move forward.

While Daytripper has been an intensely personal comic from the start, this issue feels more so. It doesn't come off as emo as it sounds when I read over my description here. Instead, it is a sensitive and finely rendered portrait of despair, but also of hope and optimism. Moon and B
á are doing some incredible work with this book, and I think its interesting that, while I originally bought this because I love their art, it is their writing that has captivated me.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Choker #1

Written by Ben McCool
Art by Ben Templesmith

I think even with a different artist, this would feel too much like an issue of Fell. Ben McCool (whose name keeps getting tossed around like it should be familiar - maybe it's a Brit thing) has started this new series at Image, and he owes Warren Ellis at least a drink, if not more. The book is about Johnny Jackson, a disgraced and discarded police detective in Shotgun City, who has been doing the PI thing for the last few years, until he is given an opportunity by his former boss to return to the force; all he has to do is track down an escaped drug dealer he had put away the first time around.

The set-up is familiar from tons of futuristic neo-noir comics and movies. Shotgun City is highly reminiscent of Snowtown, Heavenside, or any other post-urban dystopian metropolis written by someone aping Ellis. There's some kind of body-modification movement, called Man Plus (don't they sell pills like that on late-night TV?) and a lot of people in wheelchairs. To be honest, the story is not doing it for me.

Templesmith's art is as good as it always is. I've really developed a liking for his style, and find that I don't think of Ted McKeever as often now when I read his work. I feel like Templesmith does his best to elevate the material here, but in the end, this is a pretty derivative piece of work. I would much rather read another issue of Fell....

Phonogram: The Singles Club #7

Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie, with Nikki Cook, Becky Cloonan, Andy Bloor, and Sean Azzopardi

This is definitely not what I expected for the end of this series. So far, each issue of The Singles Club has been showing us differing perspectives on the same night, at the same club. I'd sort of expected the last chapter to somehow pull together a number of the different threads of each character's tale, but instead, we have an almost completely wordless issue focusing on Kid-With-a-Knife, David Kohl's (previously) non-Phonomancer friend and muscle.

And it's a great issue. Kid experiments with phonomancy, pisses off some London toughs, dances, and gets the girl. It sounds like the perfect night. As usual, McKelvie's art is brilliant, and there's a cool page where all the pictures are drawn inside the lyrics to a song hook.

The back-ups are where this issue really shines though, as there is a short story featuring Indie Dave drawn by Becky Cloonan. This was a huge surprise for me, as I love Becky Cloonan. The story looks a lot like her boyfriend's issue of Northlanders, and it's awesome.

I do hope that Phonogram returns soon, and doesn't become the victim of Gillen's employment at Marvel.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BPRD: The Ectoplasmic Man

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Ben Stenbeck

I picked this up recently in an overstock sale, but held off reading it until I'd gotten through the first volume of the BPRD trades.

It's a one-shot that focuses on Johann Kraus, the medium who had his body destroyed while on the astral plane, and now inhabits an exo-suit, much like Wildfire of the Legion of Super-Heroes, except that the suit was designed my Mike Mignola, so it looks like a balloon with a speaker for a mouth.

This issue retells Johann's origin story, fleshing it out with an encounter with a soul-eating demon. It's a quick, easy read, made more enjoyable by Stenbeck's interesting, Richard Corbin-esque pencils.

Monday, February 8, 2010

BPRD Vol 1: Hollow Earth & Other Stories

Written by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Tom Sniegoski, and Brian McDonald
Art by Ryan Sook, Curtis Arnold, Matt Smith, Mike Mignola, and Derek Thompson

I've written before about how I have been curious about the Hellboy universe, and have dabbled in it over the last couple of years, with mixed results. I've come to realize that I'm more interested in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense than I am Hellboy, so I picked up the first trade to see what I thought.

I found this book to be pretty enjoyable. The main story features Abe Sapien working with Roger the Homunculus and newcomer Johann Kraus to travel deep into the earth to rescue Liz the firestarter girl. The plot seems pretty standard for this comic, but it is the way that the three writers allow the story to be strongly character-driven that made me want to keep reading. Ryan Sook's art is very nice. This is early work from him, and that he was heavily influenced by Mignola is evident on every page.

Later in the book is an Abe Sapien solo story concerning strange possessions at sea, which is also well-written and very well-drawn. There are a couple of other short stories as well, which I also enjoyed.

In all, I'm afraid I might be a new convert to this series. I did pick up a few more single issues at a sale recently, so I'll see how they go before I start investing heavily in this book.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tumi and the Volume

by Tumi and the Volume

I can't stress enough how much I love this album. I remember reading about it a few years ago when it first came out (early 2006) on (man, do I miss those boards), but I never found myself a copy, and I find whenever I download music, I don't actually listen to it. And so it wasn't until recently, when I saw this at HMV, that I finally got a chance to listen to it, and like someone tasting a new favorite food for the first time, my life has become richer for it.

Tumi and the Volume are a South African hip-hop group, using live instrumentation. Tumi is the emcee and producer, and the man is incredibly talented. The sound is kind of jazzy, with a very nice groove on each track.

Lyrically, Tumi sounds like a combination of K'Naan, Saul Williams, and Jay Electronica. He has a nice, laid back flow and serious skills as a poet. He comes across as a very humble, well-adjusted individual who is not searching for fame or wealth, but is recording because of the imperative many artists feel to express themselves. He raps about a number of topics: hip-hop, airplane security, the plight of South Africa, and the world's celebrity culture.

Every time I listen to this album, I notice something new, and appreciate it more. It's easily one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade.


by Marian Churchland

Marian Churchland first came on my radar when she did art for three issues of Richard Starking's comic Elephantmen. Her approach, especially in her first issue of the book, was a real breath of fresh air. Somewhere in that issue or the one after it, Starking mentioned that Churchland was working on an OGN called Beast.

When the book came out towards the end of last year, it received a fair amount of praise, and I added it to my list of books to read. I'm quite glad that I did. It's a very unique comic.

Colette is an aspiring artist and sculptor, and receives, through her father/agent a commission to sculpt a portrait of a mysterious gentleman out of a huge block of Carrera marble. When she arrives at the house where she is to work, she quickly realizes that things there are very strange. There is an older woman named Roz, who seems to be looking after the place. She is taken into the room where the hunk of marble sits, and meets Beast, her employer. Beast is never fully explained - his face is not just kept in the shadows, but seems to be made of shadow. He is evidently very old - he tells stories from his life in 17th century Italy - but little about him is ever explained. The book follows Colette through the completion of the work, and for about a week after that.

In many ways, this comic reminds me of a Paul Auster novel, in the way in which Colette seems to just accept the strangeness that has entered her life, and the ease with which she abandons her own identity, not even bothering to return to her apartment until the work is finished. She easily accepts that her identity is subsumed into the work, and finds more meaning there than she had in her previous existence; the problem being, of course, that all such work must come to an end.

Churchland's art is very nice. She shades each page in a single, washed-out colour, and pays close attention to background details everywhere accept in the room serving as Colette's studio. Her Beast (as he wishes to be called) is mysterious, yet never menacing or sinister. As a debut work, this book is a marvel.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sweet Tooth #6

by Jeff Lemire

When I started reading this issue of Sweet Tooth, I got confused for a second, and thought I was reading one of Lemire's Essex County books, as it opens with the character of Jeppard in a brawl in the middle of a hockey game. The scene is pure Lemire in that it features an oafish guy who can't quite figure out how to do things properly. I quickly realized that the book was still Sweet Tooth, but it was a strange moment of dissonance.

Now that the book is in its second story arc, Lemire is backing up a little and giving us hints as to what has happened to the world. We see Jeppard, the captain of a professional hockey team, as he and his wife cope with the news of a strange disease appearing around America.

Jeppard's story is told both in the story's present and in flashback, and is interrupted by scenes of Gus as 'The Preserve', where he is locked in a room with some other animal hybrid children. Little is done here, except to establish that it is rare for a hybrid child to have human intelligence, and that kids that are taken out of that room never return.

I have been a fan of this series since its debut, and find that, as Jeppard's character is developed, and our understanding of Gus's world increases, so does my interest in the book. Lemire's doing some wonderful work here.

Fascinating Fingers

by Shawn Lee & Clutchy Hopkins

This second collaboration by Ubiquity Records mainstays Shawn Lee and Clutchy Hopkins is quite different from their first outing together. There is still the same backdrop of spaced-out rhythms and futuristic instruments, but this time around, the two have focused more on creating different sounds and a more lush, textured album.

Also, for the first time in my Clutchy Hopkins memory, there is singing, provided by The Superimposers on one track. This is a very chilled album, although its variety makes it less monotonous than Clutchy's other albums (which are monotonous in a good way - it's not a criticism).

As with last time, the album artwork is provided by the incredible Jim Mahfood, which is very cool.

Greek Street #8

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Davide Gianfelice

Saying this is a strange issue of Greek Street is a little like referring to a curry as spicy, totally redundant, but this issue does deviate some from the patterns that Milligan had established for the series.

To begin with, the dancer who usually narrates the story has entered it as a character (not that she does much). Also, Dedalus, the police detective, seems to appear as his original, ancient Greek, self for one scene. Eddie, who I think is our hero, manages to experience one of Cassie's visions, although she doesn't see it herself, and some random Islamist terrorist appears right at the end of the book, with no exposition or proper introduction.

I have found this comic interesting, but sometimes feel it's a little like holding on to a wet eel.

Demo Vol. 2 #1

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

The news that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan were returning to Demo, their early collaboration, had me very excited. I read the collection of the AIT/PlanetLar series a few years ago (having totally missed the boat on the original issues), and was blown away by the duo's use of the 'done in one' story format to create strong characters and tell interesting stories. Originally, the comics were supposed to be about young people with super-powers, but that conceit seemed to melt away as the series progressed, turning instead into singularly strong individual stories.

Now the series has returned at Vertigo, for a six-issue run. This first issue features Joan, a young woman from San Francisco who has a dream about a woman falling in a church or cathedral. The dream has such power for her that she is unable to sleep for days, obsessing over finding its location and meaning. When she realizes that the dream takes place in St. Paul's Cathedral in London, she books a flight and rushes off to rescue the person she dreamt about.

The story is quite straight-forward, and Wood leaves Cloonan with a lot of space to tell the story visually. Her art looks very different here from what I've come to expect. Her figures and faces are not immediately recognizable as her's (especially when compared to the preview pages for next issue included in the back of the book). That Cloonan experiments with her style and approach for different types of stories in Demo is exactly what I appreciated most about the original series, and I'm glad to see that continue here. As always though, her work is gorgeous.

I'm pleased that Vertigo has chosen to publish this book in black and white, and in a style very similar to the original series, including ample space for backmatter from Wood and Cloonan. That was something I enjoyed as much as the comic when I read Local, and I am always interested in hearing about how these two artists approach their craft. This should be a lure for anyone considering waiting for the trade on this series.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Criminal: The Sinners #4

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

Through the penultimate chapter of this latest volume of Criminal, Brubaker keeps up the tension, as Tracy has to deal with the military man hunting him, meet with the triad, and have another assignation with his boss's wife.

Of most interest in this issue is the way in which Brubaker works with the character of Noah, having him help Tracy on two different occasions, where it would have made more sense to ignore what was happening. Noah's motivations, along with those of his two friends and the priest that has been directing them, have not been explored yet; I assume that will be taking place next issue.

Scalped #34

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

This just might be the bloodiest issue of Scalped yet, as a number of long-standing plot-lines come to a close. It's a difficult issue to discuss without giving away some big surprises, so it's enough to list off a few of the confrontations we see in this book: Red Crow and the Hmong; Dash and Diesel; Falls Down and Catcher; and Shunka and the drug dealer guy from the jail.

Scalped is a remarkable book, although its sales are not very high. More people need to be reading this.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Promethea Volume 4

Written by Alan Moore
Art by JH Williams and Mick Gray

There is very little in the first four issues collected here that is different from volume 3 of the series. Sophie and Barbara continue their journey through the higher realms of the Immateria, or through the Kabbalah, or something like that. Whatever - it's a ton of mystical gobbledygook, made entertaining because of the incredible art of JH Williams. He recreates the visual language of each issue to match it to the spiritual concept being explored in Moore's script. The whole thing is lovely, but a little dull.

Once Sophie returns to the real world, things pick up quite a bit. Stacia, her best friend and substitute Promethea during his absence does not want to give back her power (or the shared existences she has been enjoying with one of the earlier Prometheas), and things get physical very quickly. This in turn leads to a trial in the Immateria, presided over by King Solomon himself, to sort things out.

The volumes end on this lighter note, providing a much needed breather from the pretentiousness of its beginning.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Ecstatic

by Mos Def
This is one of those strange classic albums, where during the first play or two, it sounds good; after a few more plays, it starts to sound better, but at the same time, a little innocuous; and then, you leave it in your car for a while, forget it exists, re-discover it, and get blown away by how many songs on it are ipod-worthy.

Having just rediscovered The Ecstatic, I can say it's an incredible album. Playing it again tonight after a few months absence, I am totally surprised by how many tracks I greeted by thinking, 'oh yah, I love this song'.

I had just about given up on Mos after True Magic, but with this disk, he displays his supremacy in the world of popular-yet-still-good hip-hop. The album opens with 'Supermagic', over Oh No's 'Heavy' beat, which is an oldie-but-goodie, and then shifts, after a standard Neptunes-y track (by 1/2 of the Neptunes), to 'Auditorium', one of Madlib's better beats off the Beat Konducta in India album. (I remember wondering if maybe Mos went by a yard sale at Stones Throw). This song, featuring Slick Rick, is an interesting item; Mos goes as hard as he ever has, while Rick raps this odd bit about being a soldier in Iraq. It's pretty dissonant, but cool none the less.

It's nice to see Mos return to a more hip-hop oriented album. He's always been an impressive lyricist, and he fills this album with a nice blend of producers, from underground stars like Madlib and Oh No, an up-and-comer like Georgia Anne Muldrow, and his usual collaborator Preservation. There's the requisite J. Dilla track, 'History', featuring Talib Kweli, that makes me wish there could have been a Black Star/Dilla album. It's probably my favourite track on here.

My complaints: there's a lengthy and annoying skit about airplane hijacking that just irritates me, and the album liner notes don't credit the song's producers. It's not all about you Mos...