Sunday, January 30, 2011

Echoes #2

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Rahsan Ekedal

Before I even begin talking about the comic itself, I want to talk about what a snake move it was to have the first issue be priced at $2.99, and then to raise the price to $3.99 on subsequent issues.  I never would have picked up this comic at $4, and would have instead trade-waited it, and snatched it up on Ebay in a couple of years.  But, since I thought the price was lower, I tried it, and got hooked.  Snaky, Top Cow, snaky.

But then, the comic is worth it.  Fialkov is quite the writer, as he plays with the main character's, and our, perceptions of reality quite nicely.  Last issue, Brian Cohn found out a few things about his recently deceased father that he never knew, that involved a box of small dolls made out of the bodies and clothing of young girls that he had killed.

Brian is not too sure what to do with this information, since Brian is schizophrenic, and is having a very hard time processing all that has happened.  Now, he is hearing his father's voice, and is feeling compelled to behave in the same way.  We're not too sure what is going on here, although the revelations of the last couple pages of this issue make it seem like Brian is in a bad place indeed.

Fialkov is not giving us many hints, but he is crafting a pretty compelling story.  Ekedal's art doesn't seem too special, but then he pulls off some interesting visuals that make you realize just how good an artist he is.  There's a very cool scene when Brian is taking a shower that is easily missed.

So, in conclusion, I am resentful of the price hike, but am also committed to seeing how this story ends.

Scalped #45

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

Ostensibly, Scalped is about Dash Bad Horse, the undercover FBI agent who is insinuating himself into Chief Lincoln Red Crow's crew to help bring him down.  But it's not really about that at all, as we have no idea what Dash's plans and motives are any more.

The thing is, Scalped has grown to be about so much more than just Dash.  My new theory is that this book is about Red Crow's search for redemption, that just seems to always elude him.  Previously, after Dash's mother was killed, Granny Poor Bear put Red Crow in charge of looking after her spirit for a year; a job he ultimately could not do.  Now, with the introduction of Hassell Rock Medicine, an old man who helped raise Red Crow after his father's death, we see the door to redemption open up once again.

You see, Rock Medicine has decided to challenge Red Crow for leadership of their tribe.  This puts all of Red Crow's criminal dealings and plans in danger, yet he won't lift a finger to work against the old man.  He keeps Shunka, his attack dog, on an ever-shorter leash, and is beginning to give Dash even more responsibility within his organization.  I believe Red Crow knows that Dash will bring him down, and is working towards that.

The character of Lincoln Red Crow is one of the best written to ever appear in comics, and I absolutely love this book, and the layers of complexity that Aaron brings to it.  It's also great to see Dino Poor Bear, my favourite character, appear briefly, and to see regular series artist RM Guera return.

The Sixth Gun #8

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

I had some concerns, as this series moved into its second arc, that the story might not be able to keep up the momentum of the first six issues.  I no longer have any concerns, as Bunn has transitioned this title into an on-going series that has a lot of potential.

This issue has Drake Sinclair hanging out with a Haitian man who lives in a slowly crumbling mansion in the middle of a swamp.  He's gone there to see if he can sever his ties to The Six, mystical guns that grant their bearer strange abilities.  To be fair, Drake is only connected to four of them, and his companion has one other, but that is not ever mentioned.  Over the course of their conversation, it also becomes clear that Drake is looking for a way to bring his friend Billjohn back to life, which hints at a more human side than we've seen in him yet.

I've been enjoying the world-building that Bunn has been doing with this comic.  The setting (the post-Reconstruction South) is one not often used this way in comics.  Sure, we have Jonah Hex roaming around the same time period, but the way that Bunn has weaved in so many fantastical elements to his tale makes it pretty fresh.  As usual, Hurtt has been doing a terrific job on the art.  I found myself studying the swamp mansion pretty carefully, as I found it such an interesting setting.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

American Vampire #11

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Mateus Santolouco

It's become a little routine to talk about how good this comic is, but there we are.  Snyder has this book simmering along on a slow boil, and is taking his time spinning out his story.  This issue, which concludes a two-part arc, shows us what has been going on with Pearl and Henry in the main plot-line, and we follow Hattie in the subplot as she searches for Pearl.

There's a very nice thing that happens towards the end of the book, as Snyder surprises us (and Hattie) in her search, and puts off the meeting of these two former friends for a while.

The art continues to be by Santolouco, who does a decent job, although I would gladly see Rafael Albuquerque return.  I hope that he does next month (I refuse to read solicitation texts on books that are on my pull-list, and so genuinely don't know).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fables #101

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Eric Shanower, Richard Friend, and Andrew Pepoy

After the gigantic hundredth issue, I wasn't surprised to see that Willingham has shifted focus, for a little while, away from the varied denizens of Fabletown, now in exile to Haven, and on to one of the almost-forgotten subplots of the title.  This issue starts a new arc that focuses on Blufkin, the formerly flying monkey, who has been trapped in the other-dimensional business office ever since Mr. Dark attacked Fabletown.

Bored and in search of adventure, Blufkin starts to climb the tree that takes up the centre of the office, to see where it will lead.  He's mildly manipulated by the talking mirror and Frankenstein, although the whole thing is portrayed as a Herculean task.

Strangely, he ends up in Ev, a world that borders Oz, just in time to assist some creatures that are on the run.  Joining Willingham on this story is artist Eric Shanower, who has a deep involvement with the Oz stories.  It's always great to see Shanower on art, and I'm sure it's fun for him to draw a crazy story like this, so different from his usual work on the essential Age of Bronze, even if his Blufkin looks a little creepy from time to time.

While I enjoyed this issue, I found that the writing was venturing too closely to the kind of tongue-in-cheek fantasy comics that turned me off Jack of Fables.  As much as I love seeing Shanower's art, I hope this arc doesn't last too long.

The New York Five #1

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly

As much as I never really figured out DC's Minx line, where New York Four, the book to which this mini-series is the sequel, was published, I think it may have been a better fit for this title than Vertigo is.  But then, this is Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly, so it's an instant purchase, even if it is basically a young adult series aimed at girls.  Even as I type that, I realize how reductionist it sounds...

New York Five follows a group of four freshman students at NYU who are all friends, and who have the same therapist.  The fifth girl, whose presence explains the change in title, is introduced in this issue, but only just.  Anyway, these four girls now live together, and are going through some of the usual struggles of young students (boyfriend troubles, family troubles, marks troubles), and some that seem kind of unique - obsessively stalking a teacher being the most unusual.

Wood and Kelly, who meshed together perfectly on Local (which just might be the best comic series I've ever read), are basically telling a story of New York, in which these girls are incidental characters.  Wood peppers the book with fun insiders facts, like where to go for congee in Queens, and Kelly lovingly draws detailed drawings of intersections and elevated trains.  The book feels like the younger sister to Local, and while truly bizarre in its existence, is well worth reading.

Bullet to the Head #1-6

Written by Matz
Art by Colin Wilson

I've become a pretty big fan of French comics writer Matz, from his work on The Killer, and now Cyclops, both usually published by Archaia Studios.  Artist Colin Wilson is one of those terrific artists, who for some reason, tends to stay on the fringe of things, getting titles like Point Blank (with Ed Brubaker, and very good), and the odd issue of Star Wars Legacy, when he deserves much more recognition.

So, going in to this six-part series, my expectations were high.  On the surface, this comic has a lot in common with The Killer - it's about hitmen and cops who have gotten all wrapped up in a big political power play.  There are a lot of differences though.  Where Matz's Killer is a quiet philosopher, his hitmen in this series are bullshit artists who spout endless streams of dialogue that places them somewhere between Bendis and Tarantino.

The series is a bloody and fun little tale, with some great twists and wonderful scenes, but to be honest, it's hard to follow.  Some of the blame for that actually has to go to Wilson, who has many of the characters looking a lot alike, but many of the scenes are so ambiguously scripted and laid out that I sometimes had a hard time following exactly what was happening.  To add to that, there were some definite issues with the translation from French (or perhaps Matz wrote it in English, and that's where the problems lie).  At times, the dialogue was grammatically stilted or incorrect, and at other times, incorrect names were used.

Still, this is a good comic.  I enjoyed the reckless abandon of the cop who is out to avenge his partner, and the assassin who is looking to do the same thing.  This is a buddy cop movie, although the partnerships and alliances shift as characters get knocked off left and right.  If you like Pulp Fiction, you'll probably like this.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

27 #1 & 2

Written by Charles Soule
Art by Renzo Podesta

I want to talk about this comic on its own merits, but first it seems necessary to mention the way in which it become such a buzz book when its first print was released in November.  I remember noticing this title when it was solicited in Previews.  It caught my eye, but as I didn't know either Soule or Podesta, I decided that I would wait and flip through it at the comics store, instead of pre-ordering it.  (I'm lucky, in that I shop at a really good store, so a lot of smaller books by lesser-known creators are on the shelf to take a look at).  Anyway, this book became a 'hot title', and it's taken me until this week to get ahold of a second printing of the first issue.  I just don't understand why this book got so much buzz, and another, equally good title such as Who is Jake Ellis? didn't.  Who decides these things?  Is it some marketing thing, or what?

Anyway, this is a good comic.  It's about a famous guitar player who has lost the ability to play.  He's tried everything, and is now making the rounds of the whack-jobs who think they can help him.  He ends up with a pseudo-doctor, mad scientist, sorcerer type, who performs some mystical procedure on him, that goes horribly wrong.  Now Will has a strange device embedded in his chest, which seems to let him tap into the creative properties of the number nine, although it will kill him too.

It's a cool concept.  We have all sorts of things in this book - strange numerology, great cop dialogue, bitchy professors, and hangers-on and dick-riders around every corner.  The writing is pretty sharp, and the story has a nice flow to it.  I'm not sure where this is going, and I like that a lot.

Artistically, this comic is just begging to be drawn by Ted McKeever.  That said, I like the way Podesta is handling this title.  There's a lot of Michael Avon Oeming in his work, but everything feels darker than that.  I'm glad I finally got a hold of this comic, and I look forward to the remaining two chapters.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man

by Matt Kindt

Matt Kindt is now officially the cartoonist I most wish I'd known about years ago, as I can't believe I'd missed out on such amazing comics.  His Revolver graphic novel at Vertigo introduced me to his work, and this is now the third book I've read, after the brilliant Super Spy.

3 Story is about Craig Pressgang, a giant man.  Craig grew quickly as a youth, eventually growing to a height of more than three stories tall.  The book is divided into three stories, each focusing on a different woman in Craig's life.  The book opens with his mother narrating, and we see Craig both grow up and grow away from her.  It's a sad story, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book.

The second story focuses on Craig's wife, and it tells us the most about Craig.  We see his college days, followed by his growing celebrity, ad endorsement jobs, and world tours (which were in fact organized by the CIA as information-gathering trips).  It is in this story that Kindt explores Craig's gigantism from a novel perspective - the difficulty of building housing for him, the demands of the telephone, and the health and neurological consequences of being so large.  Like a with a dinosaur, it takes some time for signals from nerves in his extremities to reach Craig's brain.  This puts him at great risk of infection, as he could damage his feet without being aware of it for some time.

As Craig continues to grow, and has a few mishaps like the one at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, it becomes increasingly clear that Craig can't remain.  The third story has his grown daughter searching for him.

This book is a touching and interesting look at a standard trope of superhero comics, but examined in a more realistic manner, except for the spy stuff, which Kindt can't seem to resist including.  I enjoyed this book a great deal, and can't understand why it didn't receive more press and buzz when it was released in 2009.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Gutter Water

by Gangrene (The Alchemist and Oh No)

I think you should, if you are at all familiar with the underground hip-hop of the last decade, be able to look at this album cover and the names on it, and know exactly what this project is.

The Alchemist, who I always associate with groups like Dilated Peoples and the Beat Junkies, teams up with Oh No, the accomplished beat maker, so-so rapper, and less famous little brother (of Madlib) to put together these fifteen tracks.

The result is just about as gutter as the ugly album cover.  They fill this disk with nasty beats, and, to be honest, completely forgettable rhymes.  Some of the featured rappers aren't able to add anything to the proceedings (Roc C, Evidence, MED, Planet Asia), while the more talented (Raekwon, Fashawn, Guilty Simpson) aren't able to do much with the material.

When I type that, it sounds like I don't like this cd. The truth is, I'm pretty indifferent to it, except to say that it works as some decent head-nodding background music.  I'd rather see Oh No do something on the level of Dr. No's Oxperiment than this again.

Memoir #1

Written by Ben McCool
Art by Nikki Cook

I suppose the easiest way to describe this new mini-series from Image is 'Twilight Zone-esque' (Twilight Zonian?).  This reporter, Trent MacGowan, travels to Lowesville, where apparently everyone woke up a year ago with amnesia.  It seems that the world's media has left the town now, and Trent is going there to see if there is still a story worth writing about.

The town is a typical middle-American place, (except that most of the businesses downtown seem to be in operation, so I guess there's no Wal-Mart) albeit more quiet than most.  People clearly keep to themselves, and no one is too interested in talking to Trent.  Then the random weird things start happening - the town's butcher tells him not to eat meat, and generally acts like a delusional schizophrenic.  Some other dude manages to dig up a large, body-filled coffin in the middle of the street.  Oh, and some lady in the library believes that all strangers are employed by the government.

This issue is mostly concerned with setting up the plot and creating atmosphere, so it's not all that easily judged.  The e-mail exchange that closes out the issue does seem interesting, but is it enough for me to come back for?  I found that the first issue of McCool's Choker didn't do much to impress me, and that was with Ben Templesmith handling the art.  Nikki Cook's work here reminds me a lot of Ryan Kelly (I saw one on-line reviewer refer to her erroneously as the artist from Local), but many of her figures come off as a little misshapen.  I'm not sure if that's intentional or not at this point.

This is a decent enough debut, but I'm not sure if there is enough happening here to bring me back for the second issue.

Morning Glories #6

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

I guess Nick Spencer got worried that his book was becoming a little too clear, as relationships between characters were getting established, and a lot of hints were being dropped as to what all is going on in this comic.  So, the natural thing to do would be to have a one-off issue that is set in the future, and revolves around a young female physicist who is on the run from negligible homicide charges.

The issue opens on this physicist, Julie Hayes, arriving at what we presume is the Morning Glory Academy, although it looks like it's seen better days.  Through layered flashback sequences, we puzzle together her life story, and see that she was working on a spinning conical thing that looks like the one discovered by some of the students last month.

There is a surprise revelation at the end of the issue, when the identity of her recruiter is revealed, although it's pretty much telegraphed throughout the whole book, and therefore isn't much of a surprise.  I'm not sure how to incorporate what we learn with what I already know about this series, and I'm curious to see where Spencer goes next.  I do have a nagging voice in the back of my head though, which is warning me that this might all end as badly as Lost did, as I find myself making more and more comparisons to that show.

Scarlet #4

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev

Scarlet has been a mildly controversial book, with its story of a young girl who has had her life ruined by a corrupt police officer, and who has chosen to fight back by killing a total of three corrupt cops.  I read this and questioned the wisdom of painting the police in such a negative light.  I'm a law and order kind of guy, but I do live in Toronto, where we have spent more than six months examining the motivations of our own police after the violence of their response to G20 protesters last June.

Something in this comic is starting to resonate.  A large flashmob protest is organized outside Portland's City Hall in this issue, as Scarlet's exhortation to 'fix things' becomes heard throughout the city.  It's been three months since the close of the last issue, and people are starting to sign on to her cause.  During that time, she has not killed anyone, but instead has been handing out care packages to the homeless.

Much of this issue is focused on the response of the police, mayor's office, and now FBI to the situation.  There is a wonderful scene where the detective in charge of the case brings the FBI agent up to speed, leaving her career in the dust in the process.

This book is intelligently written, and has great Alex Maleev artwork.  It's really nice to see Bendis do something so indie again.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Northlanders #36

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

You know, one thing that I always get out of an issue of Wood's Northlanders is that the Viking world is almost impossible to romanticize if you pay attention to the details.  It looks like such a cold, miserable existence, especially in this issue.

This comic finishes the two-part "The Girl in the Ice" arc, featuring art by the incredible Becky Cloonan.  The old man we were introduced to last night returns to the ice to exhume the body of the girl he'd found once again, only this time he is discovered in his endeavors, and is captured and taken to Reykjavik, where he stands accused of the girl's murder.

The story is quite touching, as we explore the man's need for truth, which is revealed to him before his inevitable execution.  What really makes this comic work though, is Cloonan's wonderful art.  She is one of my favourite artists, and this issue is a good example of the breadth of her talent.  She shows us a bleak and unforgiving Iceland through a number of generous landscape and establishing shots.  By contrast, the panels of scenes set indoors are small and cramped, suggesting the claustrophobic conditions in which many people must have spent their winters at that time.  Wood and Cloonan compliment each other very nicely, and I hope to see them work together again very soon.

Cyclops #2

Written by Matz
Art by Luc Jacamon

I find it hard to believe that this comic was originally published in 1998 in France.  With this story, Matz has really captured so much of the current zeitgeist, that I would assume this book is only a couple of years old if it's not brand new.  That he was anticipating the development of so many aspects of modern culture thirteen years ago is surprising.

Cyclops is about a man, Douglas Pistoia, who has begun to work for the UN-sanctioned military contractor organization Multicorps Security, Inc (the story is set in the future).  On his first mission, he performs a recklessly heroic act as he rushes through sniper fire to rescue his injured Captain.  Since all of the Multicorps missions are broadcast live on international television (the name of the book refers to the camera in each soldier's helmet), Pistoia quickly becomes a star.

To cement their control of him, his bosses quickly send him on a mission of dubious moral purpose, and then promote him and offer him his own television show.  This issue finishes setting up the series (remember, when originally published, issues one and two would have been a single volume), and I'm curious to see what Matz does with the military reality-tv angle.  As always, Jacamon's art is terrific, if a little murky in its over-use of the colour purple during night operations.

DMZ #61

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

When 'Free States Rising', the two-parter that has looked back at the time leading to the demilitarization of New York City began last issue, I wondered if the lead character was going to be someone we knew.  This issue still doesn't name him, but it becomes pretty clear to anyone who has been reading the title for a while just who he is.

This chapter has our still-nameless protagonist chafing against the decentralized structure of the Free States Movement, which can't really be called an army anymore.  It seems that decisions are being made in a consensus way, and the FSA has stalled their advance on the Jersey Shore.  Our hero (for lack of a better word) finds this lack of momentum frustrating, and takes it upon himself to begin the invasion.  Putting together a small group, he storms the Holland Tunnel.

It's interesting that it has taken Wood until the fifth and final year of his long-running series to begin to examine the events and politics that led to his status quo.  What's even more interesting is the extent to which this stuff hasn't mattered in the life of Matty Roth and his friends.  Still, I like having the big picture, and appreciate this look back at things.  Especially when Shawn Martinbrough is providing the art, although I will be happy to see Riccardo Burchielli back next month.

Wet Moon Book 1: Feeble Wanderings

by Ross Campbell

Ross Campbell's books are bizarre.  I've enjoyed plenty of his other work, such as Water Baby, and The Abandoned, but had yet to try the work for which he is best known; Wet Moon.

This first volume is both mystifying and a little addictive.  Like the other books, it is centred around a group of female friends who are into the punk/indie scene, and have a pretty amorphous sense of their own sexuality.  Cleo Lovedrop (pictured) is the central character, and she's just about to start college along with her friends.  She moves into a new flat, although she doesn't meet her roommates right away, goes to a club, hangs out, and gets sad a lot.  That's about all that happens, except for the stuff I don't really understand.

There isn't much of a plot.  At one point, it looks like the series might be about figuring out who is putting up signs that say "Cleo eats it" all over the town, but that fizzles out.  Maybe it's about the strange guy that Cleo keeps seeing and then running away from.  Maybe it's about the mysterious Fern, an amputee with interesting piercings and a tendency to stand naked in a lake.

I suppose it's really about all of these things, and is more of a journal of Cleo's life than anything else.  There are hints that something big is going to happen, but it never does (which is kind of what late adolescence is like, isn't it?).  The ending to the volume feels a little arbitrary, like Campbell had decided that 156 pages is all that could be in the comic.  I feel like I'll need to read the rest of the series to come to a full understanding.

And I do really want to read the rest of it (I have the 2nd volume, but none of the later ones).  I found that it was hard to put this book down, as I got caught up in Cleo's life.  Campbell's art is beautiful, and he is just about the only artist in comics who draws realistic women, with a variety of body shapes and sizes (although I do wish he'd draw some who weren't so pierced).  It's hard to know from just this book if the rambling story is purposeful or just the way things ended up, but I'm definitely curious to find out more.

Feeding Ground #3

Written by Swifty Lang
Art by Michael Lapinski

Things are becoming a lot clearer as Feeding Ground continues.  It's a very cool comic about a Mexican coyote (someone who helps people cross the border into the United States), his family, and Blackwell, a company that appears to be run by werewolves, who have set aside a good deal of farmland along the border, and which preys on the people that try to cross.

In this issue, the coyote is reunited with his family, who have to cross the border after the events of last issue.  The problem is that their daughter is very sick after what happened to her in the first issue, and is making their flight difficult.  We also see a lot more of what is going on at Blackwell.

This is an interesting book.  I think the decision to make the covers so "Mexican" is an interesting one - it doesn't give any idea of what is happening in the comic, but at the same time, it is what originally attracted me to the title.  The art inside is decent if still a little stiff, and I do find myself struggling to follow the story at times.  Still, I find this to be an enjoyable comic.  The fact that the same story is printed on the flip side, but in Spanish, is pretty cool too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Secret History Book Fourteen: The Watchers

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

This issue of The Secret History is vastly different from all the previous ones.  Usually, any given installment of this long story that spans the entirety of human history will contain a few sub-plots, as well as check in on the Archons or some of the major players that have been introduced since the second volume began.  The Watchers really only tells one story - that of Daniel Rosenthal.

The story is set in Paris in the days immediately following the end of the Second World War.  Much of Paris is rubble, and whole neighbourhoods stand empty, as very few people have returned to the city yet.  Rosenthal was a shady art dealer before the war, most of which he spent locked up in a German concentration camp.  While at the camp he met Robert Desnos, the Surrealist poet, who gave him a Tarot card, or 'blade' in the parlance of this series.

Now, Rosenthal, a morphine addict and generally hopeless figure, finds himself caught up in the usual drama that revolves around runes and taro in this comic.  There are a number of organizations, including Opus Dei, trying to track down any extant cards, especially the Surrealist deck we saw Reka commission a while back.

This issue is pretty interesting for the way it portrays Paris, wraps up a few plotlines from the rest of the second volume of this series, and starts to set up the new status quo for the next big story.  Reka and Erlin are being shunted to the side as the modern age gets under way, and I find myself more interested in this comic than I have been lately.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Achewood Vol. 2: Worst Song, Played on Ugliest Guitar

by Chris Onstad

Whoever it was at Dark Horse who decided to start their collections of Chris Onstad's Achewood webcomic with The Great Outdoor Fight before publishing the earliest strips was very wise.  This collection has the first pile of strips, and while many of them are very good, the level of quality is somewhat inconsistent at times.

I have only recently begun reading this series on-line, and am pretty frustrated with its erratic scheduling and Onstad's willingness to abandon stories for months (when is High School Night going to end?  The suspense!).  Reading these earliest efforts, I see that there has always been an element of randomness in his work, although being able to read months worth of the series at the same time gives it a stronger sense of connection.

What really makes this comic work is the strong personalities of its different characters.  I find that I love all the different animals for different reasons.  When we finally got a string of strips that built into the story of Téodor's party, it was fascinating to see the different characters interact with each other.  Onstad has a strange sense of humour, and frequently doesn't seem to know how to end a particular strip, but that seems to be the source of so much of the book's charm.

Included in here are a series of prose stories which have the author describing how he meet the different animals who apparently all live with him (but he doesn't tell us about the cats - that's for later).  Achewood is unique, and strangely addictive.  It's worth checking out.

Vertigo Resurrected #1

Written by Warren Ellis, Brian Bolland, Brian Azzarello, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Steven T. Seagle, Peter Milligan, Bill Willingham, and Bruce Jones
Art by Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Brian Bolland, Esad Ribic, Frank Quitely, Jim Lee, Tim Sale, Eduardo Risso, Bill Willingham, Bernie Wrightson, and Timothy Bradstreet

I don't normally list all the creators in an anthology, but this book has such a strong list of names attached to it (and Bruce Jones), that I felt it was appropriate.

This comic, which collects a number of little-seen short stories from such places as Strange Adventures, Heartthrobs, Weird War Tales, and Flinch, received most of its press for including a previously unpublished, 'controversial' issue of Hellblazer by Ellis and Jimenez that deals with the issue of school shootings.  Strangely, it's just about the weakest story in the bunch, as Ellis doesn't really do anything with the story, and doesn't seem to have a good handle on Constantine.  Also, I don't really see what is controversial about it, other than its timing.

The other stories are more of a treat.  Morrison and Quitely have a cool piece about toys getting replaced, and Seagle and Sale give us a bizarre story about love and surgery.  Brian Bolland's tale about European explorers trekking through Chinese Turkistan is probably my favourite, but I also enjoyed Jones's and Wrightson's story more than I expected to.  Milligan and Risso have a very cool little tale about a woman who falls in love with a dead poet.

I didn't really like Ennis and Lee's story about some SAS guys - it was way too talkative, and Lee's work looks like Scott Kolins.  I would be interested in checking out more anthologies like this (the $8 pricepoint isn't really a barrier, not that I paid that much for it).

Sam and Twitch #20-26: The John Doe Affair

Written by Todd McFarlane
Art by Alex Maleev and Paul Lee

I didn't realize, when I first bought almost the entire run of this series (I had to hunt down the last three issues elsewhere) that this arc was written by Todd McFarlane, and not Brian Michael Bendis.  I probably wouldn't have bothered with them, as I've never been a fan of McFarlane's writing (like the rest of the world, I was caught up in his art circa Amazing Spider-Man, but was sick of it by the time the guest writers came on Spawn).

I'm glad I got these though;  they're actually pretty good.  Sam and Twitch get caught up in a bizarre case - a killer is videotaping himself abusing and killing his victims, and is sending the tapes too Sam.  This case quickly becomes a red ball, as City Hall gets involved, as does the FBI.  Suspicions are aroused when a young officer whose father has a lot of important political connections is assigned to the case, and more and more strange things happen, not the least of which is that Sam goes on a date.

McFarlane builds a creepy and suspenseful story, which ultimately doesn't live up to its promises.  The ending is done too quickly, and there is never a satisfying explanation as to why the killer, and his surprise accomplice, are doing what they are doing.  On the other hand, McFarlane did provide the one thing that I felt this book was lacking during Bendis's run, which is character development.  We get to know a lot more about Sam and Twitch with this story, as they both have to take a look at the relationships in their life (although Twitch's bit at the end feels tacked on and forced).

The art on most of this arc is by Maleev, and so it's terrific, and then Pat Lee was brought in to pinch hit (apparently there were delays of more than a year between issues because McFarlane is about as reliable as Rob Liefeld) on the concluding issues.  He did his best to be Maleev, but couldn't quite pull it off.

I have enjoyed my look through this series, and am now on the hunt for the follow-up title, Sam and Twitch: Casefiles, which was mostly written by Marc Andreyko.

McSweeney's 35

Edited by Dave Eggers

I always feel like it takes me way too long to read my way through an issue of McSweeney's, but I tend to read it between other things, at the pace of only a story or two a week.

This issue is very good, even if it doesn't particularly stand out in terms of its design.  It's a softcover, with a nice but not particularly memorable cover by Jordan Crane.  It's mostly made up of short stories, with a section at the back devoted to Norwegian Literature.  The centrepiece of the book is a 65 page novella by Hilton Als called 'His Sister, Her Monologue'.

This piece is narrated by Richard Pryor's sister, who is also an actress, although she had difficulty finding many parts.  Her main thing is doing voice-overs for porn now; she has a lot of bitterness and displeasure in her, and constantly has to refer to herself as an actress, as if by repeating the fact she can make it so.  Her world view is further complicated by what she sees as her ‘colouredness’.  Strangely, half way into the story, she begins to recount in detail the story of Fran and Gary McCullough.  At first she acts like she knows these people, but really, she’s just extrapolating on their life based upon an article she read about them, and what she saw in The Corner.  This is a very strong piece that encompasses the history of black women on the stage and in cinema.

There are also stories by Roddy Doyle (about a black woman running for an Irish right-wing party), Steven Millhauser (about a town where everyone sees phantoms), and Patrick Crerand (in which a Pontiac Sunfire achieves great fame in a small-town high school, but has difficulty turning these accomplishments into a satisfying life after school).  

I like the Norwegian section, having never read any authors from that country before.  There is an emphasis on the weather in many of these stories, and I could see some parallels with Canadian literature.  I especially liked
'Out in the Open' by Laila Stien, which has a couple fall apart on a camping trip to the Arctic Circle, as they are beset upon by mosquitoes.

My other favourite story here is 'Another Star' by Invar Ambjørnsen.  It has two friends who go out on Christmas Eve dressed in WWII Italian aviators uniforms, high on acid.  They dig out a cave in the snow in a secluded part of town, and spend the night tripping.  Later, they are found by a family and brought inside for Christmas dinner.  This story is very funny, with a couple of moments that genuinely made me laugh.

Other good pieces in this section include 'Two by Two' by Gunnhild Øyehaug, a highly symbolic story of a woman who is trying to decide whether or not she should stay in her marriage; 'Alarm' by Roy Jacobsen, which is about an old man who has had enough with Norway's wonderful medical system; and 'Like a Tiger in a Cage' by Per Petterson, which is an interesting look at one young boy's life and fear of aging.

There is also, in this issue, a collection of painted lunch bags that Robert Barnes created for his daughters during the years they were packing a lunch to school.  These are very charming, and quite sweet.  In all, this was another good installment of McSweeney's.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Unwritten #21

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross, with Vince Locke

'Leviathan', the Moby Dick-inspired latest story arc continues with this issue, as Tom finds himself trapped in Melville's enormous novel, and his friends in the real world meet the creepy puppeteer that's been poking around the title for a few issues.

By far the most interesting parts of this comic are the ones set in the novel (the decision to have Vince Locke do the finishes for those pages was a very wise one - it signals to the reader where we are, and looks great).  Tom does not understand why Captain Ahab appears to be his father, and his attempt to confront him on that matter doesn't go well, although it does lead to an interesting conversation with Frankenstein's monster in the hold of the Pequod.

The best issues of Unwritten have been the ones that are most concerned with famous stories, and I think that's why this one is working well for me.  Tom is beginning to figure out some of the abilities he wields, although he still does not understand his purpose.

Outlaw Territory Vol. 1

Edited by Michael Woods

Now here's an example of a trade paperback that appeared without making any ripples.  This Western anthology book went pretty much unnoticed when it was published in 2009 - I don't remember seeing any reviews or promotion for it, although I do remember seeing it in Previews.  I know that there is a second volume due to be released soon, but know very little about it as well.

As someone who loves a good anthology, I was happy to settle down with this book, which contains a good thirty short stories by a ton of different writers and artists.  Most of the stories are very good, but the limited range of the Western did make many of them blend together in my mind.

Frequently the stories involved gunslingers looking for revenge, and it did become a little monotonous at times.  Still, the quality of work in this book is pretty high.  Creators whose work stood out included Moritat, Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara, Khoi Pham, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Greg Pak and Ian Kim, Christopher Mitten, and mpMann (such a treat to see his work again).  Some artists who were new to me, but who made an impression include Yeray Gil Hernandez, Christopher Provencher, Simon Fraser, and Chad Sell.

I felt like many of the stories needed more room to spread themselves out, but in all, I was pleased with this book.  Some contributor bios would have been a nice addition though...

The Infinite Vacation #1

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Christian Ward

Nick Spencer, the current writerly Golden Boy of comics, is just about everywhere.  This week alone he has two books out (this and THUNDER Agents), one next week (Morning Glories), and his War Machine book, Iron Man 2.0, is set to start soon as well.  His has become one of those names to watch for 2011, and this new title is a good example of why.

I'm not sure I've read many comics like The Infinite Vacation.  To begin with, it seems he's come up with a genuinely new twist on a classic comic book idea.  The characters of this comic (almost all of whom are Mark), are able to travel through alternate realities through an app on their smartphones.  They purchase (at great expense), the ability to swap places with their alternate reality doubles, flitting from one life to another as a way of rectifying simple mistakes or wrong turns in their life.  The girl in the coffee shop leaves before you work up the nerve to talk to her?  Move on to a different life, where she stays a bit longer.

It's a difficult concept to get across, and the fumetti-style infomercial sequence does little to clarify the rules.  Mark has himself for a therapist, and is also his own customer-service rep at the company that runs things.  The problem is, a lot of his alternates seem to be dying these days, and that has him uncomfortable.  So, we get a bit of a mystery, and also realize that not everyone lives like this.  There are a small group of Deadenders - alternate reality Luddites - who oppose this style of living.  Most of this issue is spent in establishing some of the rules of this existence, and the story is intriguing enough to guarantee I'll be back.

Spencer is aided in this book by Christian Ward, who is a remarkable artist.  I loved his work on Olympus a little while back, and have been looking forward to a new series from him.  His impressionistic style reminds me of Eric Nguyen around the start of Strange Girl, and I love the risks he takes with layout in this issue.  I look forward to seeing where this book is going to go.