Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Mission #3

Written by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber
Art by Werther Dell'Edera

I was impressed enough by the opening two issues of The Mission to want to keep coming back, but with this third issue, I am convinced that this is a title that belongs on my pull-list.

The Mission is about a man named Paul, who was contacted by a man named Gabriel, and ordered to kill another man.  He was told that there was a secret war taking place, and that he has a role to play in it.  Obviously all of this sounded nuts, but when the man  he was supposed to kill shot up a courtroom and kidnapped his daughter, Paul decided to complete his mission.

Now, in this issue, the strain of everything that has been going on is starting to show.  Paul's relationship with his wife is suffering, and they are in couple's therapy.  Paul is beginning to question his own sanity, and his systematic approach to figuring out Gabriel's identity is turning up little evidence.  A new character, a homeless man, is introduced to the series when Paul sees him and Gabriel talking, but very little is clarified for either him or us.

I like the concept behind this.  It's like Mission: Impossible, but Paul is working for an angel.  What we don't know is whether or not Paul is working for the right side, or what all this conflict is about.

Dell'Edera's art is quite nice here.  I'm used to him drawing much darker series, but there is a lightness about his pencils.  I still don't know if this is a mini-series or an on-going (it's been solicited up to issue 6), but I do know that I'm going to be sticking with it.

Echoes #5

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Rahsan Ekedal

Echoes was an excellent little series.  Fialkov and Edekal put together a compelling and smart story about a man suffering from schizophrenia who starts to question his own actions and self-control after his father admits to being a serial killer on his deathbed.  The man, Brian Cohn, follows his father's request, and discovers a stash of dolls made of human flesh.  Later, Brian starts to see father everywhere, and starts finding evidence suggesting that he has done the same thing to a little girl.

As the series progresses, Brian and the reader continuously question what is going on, and as we see things from his perspective, we are just as confused as he is.  With this last issue, Brian is brought into custody, and while he now has figured out what has happened to him, there are questions of credibility and proof which he is unable to answer.

This book definitely kept my interest, and I appreciated the twists that Fialkov built into his story.  The portrayal of mental illness is an interesting one.  We can see how Brian tries to be a good person, but because of his disease, is ultimately not even able to have faith in himself.  It's rare to find a thriller that doesn't demonize mental illness.  Ekedal's artwork is very capable, while not really drawing much attention to itself.  This is a series people should check out when it's published in trade.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Scalped #48

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

How often do you read a comic where the two principal male characters spend most of the issue nude, talking together?  No, Scalped is not moving into homoerotic territory; instead, Jason Aaron is continuing to strip away his characters' defenses, and is moving ever more steadily towards their core.

In this issue, Dash has three difficult conversations with the three men who have done the most to shape his experiences since this comic began.  He sits in a sweat lodge with Lincoln Red Crow, who basically offers him the keys to the kingdom that is the Prairie Rose Reservation.  It is clear now that Lincoln needs Dash, and is hoping to find his own redemption through him, as well as looking to pay off his debts to Gina, Dash's mother.

Dash also has two conversations with Agent Nitz.  Now that he's penetrated Red Crow's operation to the extent that he has, we are left to wonder if he's going to complete his FBI assignment and take Red Crow down.  So much has happened to Dash that I'd pretty much forgotten that he even is FBI, and I question where his loyalties lie now.

The third conversation is with Catcher, who offers Dash a choice - he can save Officer Falls Down, or he can learn the identity of his mother's killer.  I'm very curious to see how this plays out.

The recurring image of the web throughout this comic is an appropriate one, as Aaron has wrapped so many levels of intrigue around Dash.  I'm as excited about this comic as I've always been, and am looking forward to the conclusion of this arc next month.

The Walking Dead #84

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Last month's issue of The Walking Dead surprised and upset me, as Kirkman crossed the one line that I had figured was safe.  Needless to say, my expectations for this issue were high.  I figured that there was no way he'd resolve that surprise moment so quickly - that's really not his style - but I was still quite eager to see what would happen.

And what happened is that, once again, he moved the book in a direction I didn't expect.  That is the strength of this comic, that after so many years, Kirkman is still able to pull out a surprise or two, and is willing to buck expectations at every turn.

When last we saw most of the population of the small town where they have been living (they really need to name this place), they were hiding out in their houses as a large herd of roamers wandered their streets.  Now, inspired by Rick and Michonne's actions, just about everyone decides to make a stand and reclaim their homes.  There are a few touching moments, and the issue finishes with a nice little speech by Rick.

As usual, Kirkman and Adlard work perfectly together, giving us a story that is as visceral as it is full of viscera.

The New York Five #4

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly and Jim Rugg

Throughout this mini-series, which is a sequel to the Minx book The New York Four, there has been a recurring sense of disjointedness, as scenes shift suddenly and plot elements are introduced and go nowhere.

This concluding issue suffers from this sense of dissonance more than some of the others.  To begin with, a character is killed off (I know that's a spoiler, but look at the cover) suddenly, and to a disappointing effect.  The character was not very well developed, so not only is it hard to care about her, it's also hard to understand why her friends are upset.  Her wake leads to a possible romantic opportunity for Merissa, but that also goes absolutely nowhere.

I feel bad slamming a book like this.  Wood is usually an amazing writer, but I remember his writing in the first issue that he had a lot of difficulty making his story fit a four 20-page issue format, as he was originally planning for this to be a longer-form graphic novel.

The art in this series has been amazing, as Ryan Kelly always is.  The addition of Jim Rugg (read Street Angel!) on inks is seamless, as Kelly continues to give us some gorgeous shots of New York City.

Morning Glories #9

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

Since this series started, one of the supposed main characters has remained in the background, little more than a cipher until this issue.  Now Spencer has shone the spotlight on Jun, the quiet Japanese student at Morning Glory Academy, and there are a few surprises for the reader.

The book opens with a scene that we have seen before (around about the fourth issue I think), but which was never resolved.  Jun had tried to escape the school shortly after he and his classmates arrived, and was stopped by someone, although we never knew who it was.  Last issue, we discovered that Jun had either a twin brother or a double roaming the school, and now all of these things are explained.  Okay, maybe not completely explained, but definitely hinted at, as some aspects of the book continue to become ever more confusing.  Really, it's impossible to discuss this without spoiling a ton of good comics.

What I will say is that Spencer is spinning a very complicated and interesting tale with this series.  I've mentioned before how much this comic reminds me of Lost, and now I seem to be constantly looking for parallels when I read it (Jun = Jin?).  The character of Abraham, who I see as taking on a "Jacob-like" role here has his relationship with the Academy somewhat clarified, and we get a really strong sense of Jun's character.  This is a pretty harsh issue, but quite illuminating.  People really need to be checking out Morning Glories.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

American Vampire #14

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

I really like this comic.  I am getting to the point where it is becoming difficult to keep praising it, as I'm kind of running out of things to say with each new issue (also known as the Scalped Conundrum).

And so, a brief synopsis:  Henry, the human husband to American Vampire Pearl has left on a mission for the Vassals of the Morning Star.  He is tasked with hunting down a nest of vampires on the island of Taipan, in an effort to protect American forces that are there to fight the Japanese.  Snyder uses much of the issue to build up some of the characters in Henry's unit, particularly 'The Vicar', the leader of the group.  Now, Skinner Sweet, the original American Vampire has shown up on the island, although Henry has never met him face to face, and doesn't realize he's in danger.

Meanwhile, Stateside, Pearl figures out that Skinner is endangering the mission, and is making plans to try to rescue Henry.

As usual, this book looks as good as it reads, with continued amazing work by Albuquerque.  It's also important to point out the colours of Dave McCaig, who has set Taipan in an eternal twilight that is quite haunting.

Case Files: Sam & Twitch #14-19: Ancient Chinese Secret, Huh?

Written by Marc Andreyko
Art by E. J. Su

And with this arc, I feel myself losing interest in Sam and Twitch.  Originally, the Bendis issues worked well, because of the focus on police work, no matter how spectacular and strange it became at times.  The police procedural is a well-loved genre, and while I appreciate Andreyko's efforts to subvert and play with the tropes of that genre, something didn't really work in this arc.

The story has the two detectives investigating a string of murders that appear to have been perpetrated by vampires.  Their suspect is a Chinese importer (all importers are evil - we know this, right) who is supposed to be an old woman, despite her appearing young and vital.  Things get steadily weirder, and Andreyko pulls one cool misdirection, and another that plays out as incredibly silly (I don't want to give either away, despite the fact that these comics are six years old).

All of this sounds cool, but the usual chemistry between these two detectives is missing, and they seem to be reduced to bumbling Keystone Kops.  Also, the art in this arc doesn't work for me.  Su is a fine artist, but his pages are thick with black ink, and open empty spaces.  It's a little like reading Sam and Twitch: The Manga, and again, it just doesn't fit with the aesthetic that had been established for this book.  One arc left, although I still need to hunt down one issue before I can read it...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rasl #10

by Jeff Smith

In the letters page of this issue, Jeff Smith says there are only about five or six issues left in Rasl.  There remains a great deal to be explained and resolved in this series; I hope it can all fit into six issues.

This issue, meanwhile, explains and resolves nothing, and instead has Rob return to the new Annie, meet a 'friend' of hers, and then meet the other Uma at a bar.  That's about all that happens, but it's also one of the more compelling recent issues of this series, as Smith has become very good at character-driven storytelling.

I found the events of this issue much more gripping than the Tesla-powered other issues, as it's Rob's unique position in the world (or is that multi-verse?) that keeps my attention with this title.  As always, the art is pretty terrific too.

The extended length of time between issues (there won't be another one until July) really hurts this book, as I find it takes me a good chunk of each issue to remember what's happened before.  At the same time, I understand why a book like this will take longer to produce.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rat Catcher

Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Victor Ibañez

I think Rat Catcher may be the best of the Vertigo Crime books I've read.  Andy Diggle show the same penchant for twists and turns that he demonstrated regularly in The Losers, and keeps the reader a step behind him for most of the book.

This is a difficult book to discuss without spoiling some of the surprises, but I'll do my best.  The title refers to a legend among the FBI and US Marshals Service in Texas, who have had many witnesses die on them before they are able to testify or turn state's evidence. A couple of agents believe that these mysterious deaths were perpetrated by a single killer, who has been able to avoid detection.

When this book opens, an FBI safe house is burning, and one man, who has been shot, comes running out.  It turns out that a new witness was in the safe house, along with up to three agents.  We're not sure what happened, but the one agent's partner, Agent Bourdon, believes that the Rat Catcher is responsible.  The story that follows is taut and quick moving, and very well illustrated by Victor Ibañez. 

Pick a Dream

by Tumi and the Volume

This was not an easy cd to get a hold of (I had to order it from Amazon UK), but it was well worth any struggle.  Tumi is a South African rapper, and this is his second album.

The first, self-titled debut that came out back in 2006 was an impressive combination of music and poetry, but with this album, it seems that Tumi and his band have really pushed themselves to be more song-oriented.  Always lyrically conscious, there is now also a push towards a more expansive understanding of poetry and it's place in hip-hop (how else do you explain a song whose hook is "A butterfly flew through my sunroof"?).

I see this as a bit of a cross-over album, and it reminds me more than a little of K'Naan's last disc, in that it strives for wide appeal without sacrificing quality.  Tumi and K'Naan have similar voices and styles of delivery, and as much as I loved Troubadour, I think this may be the album that holds up better in ten years.

My favourite tracks include 'La Tete Savante', 'Moving Picture Frame', and 'Light in Your Head', but really, the entire album is great.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Elementals: The Natural Order

Written by Bill Willingham with Michael Wolff and Jack Herman
Art by Bill Willingham, Bill Anderson, Rich Rankin, Dave Johnson, Mike Leeke, and Bill Cucinotta

Because sometimes, you're in the mood for a good old-school superhero comic from the 80s.  And, if you're like me, there aren't all that many that you haven't read already, at least from the Big Two.  I've been enjoying Willingham's work on Fables for years, and also enjoyed his short-lived stint as a writer and artist on Shadowpact a few years back, but I'd never given his Elementals series, published for over a decade by Comico, a try before.  I remember seeing them in the 3-packs that haunted places like Towers when I was a kid, but I'd never bought a single one before seeing this trade in a $5 bin at a convention recently.

Elementals is basically the Fantastic Four, but with a more literal interpretation of the elemental nature of the character's powers.  The four principles all died in strange circumstances on the same day, and then were resurrected with new abilities.  They have been given these abilities by some elemental spirits, and appear to be back to fight against an immortal guy named Saker, who has his own bad-guy team.  Ahh, comics from the 80s - that's all we need before diving into a lot of fight scenes and the occasional page or two of lengthy bad-guy exposition.

Willingham's art reminds me of John Byrne's in the same era, although Willingham's work feels even cleaner, and perhaps more modern.  This comic has held up just fine, and I'm kind of surprised that a publisher like IDW hasn't brought out an omnibus edition.  Unless, of course, the whole thing fell off the rails after the first arc or two...

McSweeney's 36

Edited by Dave Eggers

You have to hand it to McSweeney's and their amazing ability to design unique objects that both titillate and perhaps repulse people.  McSweeney's 36 came in the form of a box, decorated to look like a man's head, and full of small books, pamphlets, postcards, and a long roll of uncut fortune cookie fortunes.

As with any good issue of McSweeneys', there is a lot of to love in this box.  Michael Chabon's Fountain City and Wajahat Ali's marvelous play The Domestic Crusaders have already been discussed on this blog, but there's plenty more to talk about in this box.

The pamphlets, postcards, and fortunes are pleasing filler, but the core of the box lies in the different books, some of which I found more enjoyable than others.

The 'Bicycle Built For Two' screenplay by Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington was pretty nonsensical, which would have been fine had I found it funnier than it was (it's supposed to be a film for Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey about baseball players who ride a tandem bicycle).  Likewise, I found Jack Pendarvis's 'Jungle Geronimo in Gay Paree', a parody of condensed novels which takes on the jungle pulp genre to be kind of silly and unnecessary. 

Where this issue really started to work for me was in the short story book, which included pieces that were quite good.  Ismet Prcic's 'At The National Theatre' was a little obscure, but I loved John Brandon's story 'The Occurrences', which is told by a young boy who lives in a Florida town that appears to be plagued by alien abductions (they often take the whole roof of the house as they suck people up).  It was funny and bizarre, and definitely makes me interested in his novels.  In the same book are the stories 'Dog Bites' by Ricardo Nulla, an interesting look at a boy who has a 'syndrome', and Colm Toibin's 'The Street', a tale of love between illegal Pakistani migrant workers in Barcelona.  Increasingly, one of my favourite things to read in an issue of McSweeney's is the letters section, and this one did not disappoint.

Included in the box is a preview of the recently released newest volume in the Voice of Witness series, which deals with people who have acted in resistance to the Burmese junta.  The story here, told by Ma Su Mon is powerful and frank.

The last item that really caught my attention was the first chapter in Adam Levine's massive novel 'The Instructions'.  It's told by a disturbed boy in a special education program helpfully called 'The Cage', and it is quite funny and perceptive.

In all, another excellent McSweeney's.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Listener

by David Lester

I want to start this review by thanking the nice people at Arbeiter Ring Publishing for sending me a copy of this dense and challenging graphic novel.

The Listener is an incredibly ambitious piece of work.  As it says on the cover, it explores the themes of memory, lies, art, and power through a parallel narrative.  In the story set in modern times, we follow Louise, a Canadian artist who is touring Europe in the wake of a tragedy inspired by her art.  Her story is interlaced with the stories of Marie and Rudolph, journalists who witnessed the rise to power of Adolph Hitler's Nazi Party because of events that happened in the small German state of Lippe.

These stories are all compelling, especially the depiction of the propaganda engine of the Nazi Party in the early 1930s, which relies heavily on actual quotes from the principal players and the press of the day (always signified with an asterisk).  I knew a little about how Hitler had manipulated the political system in Germany to achieve power, but I hadn't been aware of exactly how it was done before reading this book.

While I enjoyed reading The Listener, the book definitely has its flaws.  I think that the story here became victim to the ambition of Lester to cover such a wide variety of topics and ideas.  The early scenes with Louise were difficult to follow, as her motivations were only slowly revealed to the reader.  Likewise, entire scenes seemed designed simply around the artist's wish to drop a name or have her visit a particular gallery, without it adding any real significance to the story.  Similarly, there were times where I found Lester's sketchy drawings difficult to follow.

In all though, this is a book that should be praised for its ambitions, not condemned for them.  It does remind me of a lot of left-wing publications I read when I was younger which would have benefited from some severe editing and a shorter page count, but in the final analysis, this is an interesting attempt to push comics into an area they rarely go.

The Best of Wholphin Vol. 1

Edited by Brent Hoff

Since I've been getting so much enjoyment out of McSweeney's lately, it only seemed right to give their DVD magazine a chance too.  I'd always wanted to try it, but I'd never gotten around to picking up an issue.  When McSweeney's had a recent fire sale (so far as I know, there was no actual fire) and sold a bunch of these DVDs off for only $1 an issue, I knew it was time to get caught up.

The whole purpose of Wholphin is to create a larger audience for short films, cartoons, and documentaries that otherwise do not reach very many people.  Because I like to be chronological in all things, I started with this collection of the 'best of' the first five issues.

There is a lot to like on this DVD.  The disc starts with 'Two Cars, One Night', a twelve-minute short set in New Zealand and featuring three Maori children who are left outside a bar in their parents' cars.  The one boy, Romeo, begins a flirtatious interchange with the girl in the other car.  It's sweet watching him prance and preen for her.

Two documentaries collected here really stood out.  The first is a half-hour excerpt from the film American Outrage, which shares the story of Carrie and Mary Dann, two elderly Shoshone women who have been the targets of the American government's efforts to steal valuable land in Nevada for the gold within it.  This is a powerful film, which documents the aggressive and unjustifiable actions of government agencies that have kidnapped and killed their livestock.  It's amazing that the UN has ruled on the side of the Dann's, yet nothing has been done.

The other powerful documentary is 'A Stranger In Her Own City', a profile of Najmia, a young girl living in Sanaa, Yemen, who refuses to wear the veil, and who spends her days playing soccer with boys or riding her bicycle.  She is a symbol of defiance in a deeply conservative part of the world, and her spirit and strength are infectious.

I also enjoyed the lighter side of this DVD, such as 'The Pity Card', a pilot for a comedy sitcom that makes light of a young woman's ignorance of the Holocaust, and 'The Delicious', a strange comedic short about an obsession that involves polyester pants suits, scissors, and dancing.  'Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?' is a sweet short by Miranda July.

'Walleyball' is a three-minute chronicle of a volleyball game played over the wall that makes up the Mexican/US border.  'Chonto' is a slightly creepy animated film about a rock star's love for his monkey, and 'Heavy Metal Jr.' is a hilariously serious documentary about a Scottish heavy metal band made up of twelve year olds who sing about Satan at a county fair.  'More' is a very cool little cartoon about greed and technology that reminded me of Metropolis, even without the soundtrack by New Order.

I'm very happy that I have three more issues of this quarterly to plow through, as I really enjoyed the diversity of the films on offer here.

'68 #1

Written by Mark Kidwell
Art by Nat Jones

I remember picking up the '68 one-shot a number of years ago, and enjoying it's marrying of zombie films with the Vietnam War, but I'd somehow missed the fact that the title was returning as (possibly) an on-going.  Now, I like zombie comics (at least, I love the Walking Dead and got a kick out of books like The Last Resort and XXXombies), but I love reading about the Vietnam War, so this combination is a good idea.

In this first issue, there are two stories.  The main one introduces us to a Chinese-American soldier named Yam, and a few of the various people living at Firebase Aries.  Yam's patrol encounters a group of zombie-fied Viet Cong, and it seems that Yam is the only survivor, at least for now.  The second story takes place in Saigon, and looks to be included only for the purpose of establishing the extent to which the zombie problem has spread.

This comic makes good use of tension (the scenes in the tunnel are excellent), although it does rely pretty heavily on the standard tropes of Vietnam War books, movies, and comics.  Nat Jones's art reminds me of a roughed up Steve Dillon, and is pretty effective here.  I'm definitely going to give this title a chance (although I hope subsequent issues don't cost $3.99).

Killion Floor

by Orgone

Orgone played here back in March, and it was an amazing show.  The band has a ton of energy on stage, and vocalist Fanny Franklin is a tough-talking dynamo.  At one point she left the stage to join the crowd, continuing to sing while setting up a Soul Train style dance competition.

I picked this, their first Ubiquity release, up after the show.  While the recorded version can't hope to transmit the manic energy of the band through the speakers (sometimes music has to be seen to be fully appreciated), this seventy-six minute, seventeen track disc is terrific.

Most of the pieces are instrumental, with Franklin only appearing on four songs, including 'Who Knows Who', perhaps the band's best song, and a wonderful cover of 'Funky Nassau'.  If you like modern Cali funk, this is a band you need to check out.

The Sixth Gun #11

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

The second story arc ends with this issue, as a number of forces searching for the guns collide in the cemetery where Drake has hidden them.  Kirby Hale, the would-be thief has made off with the guns, but at the same time, a number of priests from the Sword of Abraham arrive, as does Marinette of the Dry Arms, a loa who resides around New Orleans.

This is a pretty exciting issue, as Drake and his friends fight to reclaim the powerful weapons.  It also sets up the next story arc very nicely, as some of our heroes decide to remain with the Sword of Abraham.  I'm curious to learn more about this group, which once counted Becky's step-father among its number.

The Sixth Gun surprised me when it became an on-going series.  I saw it as more of an infrequent new mini-series kind of title, but I've been very pleased with Bunn and Hurtt's ability to maintain a monthly schedule, and turn out a very good comic on such a regular basis.  I hope that things don't start slipping as Bunn seems to be getting more and more work at Marvel (I don't want it to go the way of Oni's other amazing series, Wasteland, which has basically disappeared).

This book has a lot of interesting characters, and I love the way that Bunn is building this world.  Hurtt's work on this comic is incredible.

Kill Shakespeare #10

Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Art by Andy Belanger

It appears that things are slowing down on this title schedule-wise, as plot-wise things are heating up a great deal.

Hamlet's meeting with Will Shakespeare has been a disappointment, as Will has basically renounced his creations and refused to intervene on their behalf.  While this is going on, the combined forces of Richard and Lady MacBeth have gathered around Juliet's rebel army.

There are a lot of big scenes in this issue, as the two armies clash.  Belanger takes a wide-screened approach to most of the issue, and it works very well.  He credits Durer in the text piece as a major influence, and it kind of shows in some of his double-page spreads.

This issue winnows the cast list a little (I love how the action appears to be taking place on a stage on Kagan McLeod's cover), as like any good Shakespearian tragedy, things get really bloody.

DMZ #64

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

As we get closer and closer to the end of DMZ, there is definitely a sense that Brian Wood is trying to wrap up loose ends, and provide a satisfying conclusion to not just Matty's story, or New York's, but to many of the supporting characters that have been developed over the years.

While I have been really enjoying seeing Matty's reaction to the more direct involvement of the US Army in the DMZ, it is the news broadcasts and channel-surfing pages that have given me the most pleasure lately.  In this issue, the technique of flipping channels has shown us what has happened to characters like DJ Random Fire and the family of the soldier accused in the Day 204 Massacre.

In the main part of the story, we see Matty trying to figure out what's going on with old friends like Wilson and Zee, while the Free States Commander gives up Parco Delgado to the Army.  This title has a lot of momentum right now.

Dark Horse Presents #1

by a lot of different people

Well, that was kind of disappointing.  I loved the original Dark Horse Presents series (and its companion, Cheval Noir), which I can credit with introducing me to a large number of new creators, characters, and series.  Its diverse selection always held something to enjoy, and while there were stories I didn't like, I don't think there was ever an issue where I didn't find something to enjoy.  The Myspace DHP of recent years was a less satisfying grab bag, but still managed to entertain me in its collected editions.

I was very excited to learn of this new, quarterly edition of the title, in an eighty-page format.  Sure, the price is higher, but with its publication schedule, that wouldn't cost more than a monthly would.

This first issue is good in plenty of places, but I feel like Dark Horse missed an opportunity here by focusing so strongly on the past.  The book opens with a Concrete story by Paul Chadwick, and then goes on to feature work by Howard Chaykin, Neal Adams, Michael T. Gilbert, Richard Corben, Paul Gulacy, and Harlan Ellison.  In other words, this could have been an issue of the original run.  The strength of DHP was that it uncovered new creators.  Okay, this issue also has the first Finder story I remember ever reading (granted, that series has been running for like 20 years too), and features work by David Chelsea, who is new to me.

The point is that, while comics fan are notorious for looking to the past and living in a nostalgic world, there is also a market for work that is more forward-looking, and talented up and comers need more platforms that will lead to greater exposure.

As for the actual content of the book, it's pretty varied.  The Concrete story is great, of course, as are Corben's barbarian and zombie story, and Ellison's interesting prose story.  I liked Carla Speed McNeil's Finder (I should totally start reading that series), and found Chelsea's Snow Angel story charming.

I can't stand Howard Chaykin, especially when he writes his own stories, and so wasn't surprised that I disliked his Marked Man.  Neal Adam's Blood was overly wordy and kind of ridiculous (not all that unlike his Batman: Odyssey), and the Frank Miller interview felt like filler.  The Star Wars story left me cold, despite some nice Gulacy artwork.

I'm hoping that future issues do a better job of finding a balance between commercial appeal, support of Dark Horse's licensed properties, and innovative comics.

Fables #104

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

Preparations continue for the imminent battle with Mister Dark, and this issue opens with an old-school superhero battle, as the various Fables who have made up Ozma and Pinocchio's team train.  It's a cool sequence, bringing to mind the best of epic superhero comics by people like Jack Kirby and John Byrne, while maintaining the usual Fables humour.

Really, not a whole lot happens in this issue, and it feels a little bit like Willingham is padding his story a little for the eventual trade, although to good use, as this issue has plenty of strong character moments.  I like the dispute between Bigby and Snow White over whether or not Snow should stay in Haven or go stay with her children.  Of course, once the North Wind shows up, that changes things considerably...

As always, Fables is a good read, with fantastic art.

Case Files: Sam & Twitch #13: Cops & Robbers

Written by Steve Niles and Todd McFarlane
Art by Paul Lee

This issue had a nice little done-in-one inventory story written by Steve Niles and series creator Todd McFarlane.  Neither of these writers are people I'm usually too fond of (I have given Niles a ton of chances, but he always seems to come up short on executing some truly excellent concepts), but this story worked quite well.

Sam gets a mysterious phone call one day, and has to go to prison to see his brother, who we never knew he had.  It seems that, while Sam took the right path in life, his brother always ended up making the wrong choices, and landed himself in a lifetime of incarceration and trouble with the law.

This story, about the relationship of brothers and the guilt they carry for each other's failings has a number of flashbacks to childhood, and helps to develop Sam's character even further.  It's a good story, and it has the same terrific artwork as the last arc.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Case Files: Sam & Twitch #7-12: Skeletons

Written by Marc Andreyko
Art by Paul Lee

Reading this second Sam and Twitch arc by Marc Andreyko brought up two important questions:

1.  Why isn't Andreyko a bigger-name writer?
2.  Why isn't this series getting the trade treatment?

Skeletons is a taut political thriller, involving some old friends of Sam's from his prep school days (who would have thought that Sam once ran in such circles?).  Senator Sean Halloran is making a run for the White House, but is being dogged by rumours of his homosexuality.  His father, a political heavyweight in his own right sends out a bodyguard to dispose of one of Sean's ex-lovers.  When he botches the job, the ex, Pete, runs to Sam for help.

The story avoids much of the regular features of a police procedural, as Sam and Twitch work this case off the books.  It's cool to dig into Sam's past (he was friends with both Sean and Pete, and knew of their relationship even back then), and the story maintains a good momentum.

This arc was printed in black and white, and Paul Lee's art is terrific.  He draws in an Alex Maleev vein, and it's the type of style that works best with this book.  What else has Lee done?  It seems that he, like Andreyko, should have a much higher profile these days.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Domestic Crusaders

by Wajahat Ali

The latest McSweeney's is an interesting grab-box of small books and pamphlets.  Included in it is this play, by American-Pakistani playwright Wajahat Ali. 

Ali portrays a typical American-Pakistani family, where the parents are immigrants, and the first-generation children, entering adulthood, have to navigate two worlds.  Salman, the father has dreams for and expectations of his children that don't necessarily match reality.  Khulsoom, his wife, is similar.  Hakim, the grandfather is more of a peacemaker, but he harbours a secret that the children don't know about (at least, not until the second act).

Among the children, Sal, the oldest, has all but turned his back on the family, pursuing riches and white women.  Fatima, the daughter, has become politically active while in law school, and is now a source of embarrassment for her mother.  Ghafur, the youngest, is in university, although not in the medical school that his parents believe him to be in.

The family has gathered for Ghafur's 21st birthday, and it takes no time at all for old rivalries, unresolved resentments, and old wounds to rear their heads, in this quarrelsome and garrulous family unit.  Ali's writing is frequently funny, as the family members invoke Islam and the opinions of the community.  It seems the only thing the different family members can agree on is their portrayal in the media (CNN or Fox News are left on throughout).

Having worked with many South Asian families, the archetypes and stereotypes portrayed here are familiar to me, and the dialogue throughout this play rings true.  I hadn't expected that I would want to read this through in one sitting, but once I started reading, I couldn't put it down.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography

by Chester Brown

I have wanted to read Chester Brown`s historic comic again almost since I finished reading it in its serialized form, and am pleased that I did.  Riel has long been a figure of interest for me, and I wanted to revisit my memories of this series, and see what insights it may provide into such a controversial Canadian figure.

Louis Riel was the leader of Canada`s Métis people through two uprisings, the Red River Rebellion of 1869, and the Northwest Rebellion of 1885.  The Métis were a mixed-race people, representing a blend of Aboriginal, French, and English and Scottish cultures.  In the 1860s, as the government of Canada prepared to purchase Rupert`s Land (a massive territory that made up the bulk of Canada`s modern-day area) from the Hudson`s Bay Company, the Métis became concerned for their land and their rights to continue living on it.  They took up arms, and were successful in having their rights recognized in the Manitoba Act (not that all of those rights were later honoured).  Riel, though successful, fled arrest and spent many years living in the United States.

Later, as Canadian settlers continued to push westward, towards the Saskatchewan River, the Métis who had moved west ahead of them found themselves in a similar position as before, and Riel was summoned to lead them once again.  The thing is, during those intervening years, Riel kind of lost his mind.  He believed he was the chosen of God, and claimed to receive messages and visions telling him how to proceed (at one point, he believed that Batoche Saskatchewan should become the centre of the Roman Catholic faith).  This rebellion did not go so well, and Riel was captured, tried, and later hung.

Riel has remained a controversial figure in Canadian history.  To the Métis, Aboriginal groups, and many more, he was a Father of Confederation who worked to secure the rights and freedoms of his people.  To many others, he was a traitor who got what he deserved.  Brown, in creating this biography, avoids choosing a side, and prefers to stick as close as he can to the historical record (he provides detailed footnotes explaining the places where he has taken artistic license, or examining areas where historians disagree).  What we have then is a pretty accurate accounting of what happened, with the mistakes and ambitions of many of the principal players revealed.

To a history geek like myself, there is nothing cooler than a comic like this (the actual trial transcript - in comic book form!).  Brown has done a fantastic job of researching the events, and making them into a compelling and fascinating read.  His simple yet detailed drawings, and strict adherence to a six-panel grid, work well here in creating a comic that feels like a historical document.  I wish there were more comics works with this level of historical accuracy, commentary, and scholarship.