Sunday, October 30, 2011

Prometheus Brown & Bambu Walk Into a Bar

by Prometheus Brown and Bambu

I spent some time in Seattle this summer, and figured it would be a piece of cake to find myself a copy of Prometheus Brown and Bambu Walk Into A Bar, a side project for the Blue Scholar's Geo (aka Prometheus Brown) and his kasama Bambu.  I had absolutely no luck though, and had to order it off their website after I got home, which says more about the state of Seattle's lacklustre music stores than anything else...

Anyway, this is a nice little album.  It's a collection of party tracks, political tracks, and a lovely little tribute to Rashida Jones, all with a Hawaiian twist to things.

It's the politics that interests me the most, as Pro and Bambu support the notion of Hawaiian sovereignty, through the use of 'molotov tiki torch cocktail rap', and it works very well.  The comparisons between the experiences of the Philippines and Hawaii are clear, yet delivered in a palatable and sing-along-able way.

Production on this album is handled mostly by beatmakers I'm not familiar with, although Vitamin D contributes two beats, and Sabzi, the other Blue Scholar, closes off the album.  It's good stuff, even if it is hard to find in Geo's home town.

Market Day

by James Sturm

Despite being a very quick read, Market Dayis an impressive example of a literary graphic novel.  Mendleman is an anxious rug weaver, living somewhere in Eastern Europe around the turn of the twentieth century.  He has a baby on the way, and finds himself worrying about all the things that first time fathers worry about.  Market Day comes around, and because of her advanced pregnancy, Mendleman's wife stays home, forcing him to make the lengthy journey on his own.

When arriving at the market, Mendleman meets up with some of his fellow artisans, and they stop in at A. Finkler & Son, the store that always purchased their wares.  The problem is that the store has changed ownership, and where its previous proprietor only bought the best goods, and paid top dollar, the current shopkeeper is more interested in selling cheaply made goods for a lower price.

Sturm captures the beginnings of the industrial age, and the shift it caused in the production and value of many items, without ever openly discussing it.  One also feels that this book is as much about our own modern era, where production has all but abandoned North America for cheaper, shoddier places like China.  Later, Mendelman travels to an emporium in another town, chasing rumors of better prices, only to find himself lost in what was the Wal-Mart of its day, where market pressures forced down the prices of even high-end goods.

This is a very intelligent book, beautifully illustrated with expansive panels that evoke the growing hustle and bustle of the towns while preserving the tranquility of the countryside.  I enjoyed this book, although I think I would have been pretty displeased had I spent the cover price ($22-24, depending on your country) for a story that is so short.  Does that make me the equivalent of the guy who took over A. Finkler's store?  Probably.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Sixth Gun #16

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

As much as I enjoy The Sixth Gun, I'm starting to feel like this arc is dragging a little too much.  Drake Sinclair, the main character of this comic, has been missing for a few months now, and without him, things are kind of grinding to a halt, as the supporting characters have a few conversations with important people from their pasts.

Becky Montcrief, who is the owner of the titular sixth gun has a strange chat with her stepfather.  He's not a spirit, it's more like he's speaking to her through time, and gives her a few pointed warnings about how to handle the gun, and who she can trust (basically no one).

Last issue, we saw Gord Cantrell return to the plantation where he grew up, and interact with a number of spirits who seem to inhabit the place, including the ghosts of his family.  Now, we as an audience learn how his family died in the first place, as Gord learns that he could bring them back.

All of the things that happened in this issue are important, and I imagine will be revisited time and again in the issues to come.  Like many a series in the middle of an arc, it feels like it's grinding along and could use a bit of oil, but this is still one of the better comics on the stands.

The Walking Dead #90

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn


When I picked up the seventh issue of this comic (my first) so many years ago, I never would have guessed what an entertainment juggernaut the whole thing would become.  The second season of the TV show has begun (and is a huge improvement over the ending of the first), a novel has been released chronicling the adventures of The Governor, and the comic continues to enjoy a sales increase month after month.  Actually, I wonder if that's not a record - so few comics see an increase beyond special issues, let alone a sustained increase.

Anyway, at the centre of all of this media domination is the comic, and it's moving along as strongly as ever, although it's been getting pretty talky lately.  This issue is a big one for speeches, as Rick handles the people that have been fomenting revolt in the community, and attacked Glenn last issue, before he moves on to have long chats with Carl and Andrea.  Meanwhile, Maggie's showing signs of cracking again, and Carl comes home to recover from his injuries.

As always, there's a surprise ending, which I saw coming somewhere around the middle of the last issue.  It feels a little like it's breaking one of the last taboos in this comic, and I'm not sure I like what is going on.  I'm hoping that Kirkman is going to handle this situation properly.  You'll note that I'm not saying a word about what it is - I wouldn't want to spoil things for anyone.

Also, interestingly, there is not a single roamer or other zombie in this issue.  Usually that means that an attack is coming...

Screamland #5

Written by Harold Sipe and Christopher Sebela
Art by Lee Leslie

I was under the impression that Screamland was going to be an on-going series now, but seeing as there haven't been any issues solicited past this one, I suppose that it's done.  Perhaps sales weren't what the creators were hoping for, or maybe the book is simply on hiatus for a while and I'm jumping to conclusions.

Screamland is a fun sitcom-like comic starring old movie monsters and other TV celebrities of the 1970s who are struggling to remain relevant in the era of CGI and sparkly emo vampires.  This arc has been built around Carl London (the Wolfman) and Travis Walters (who is basically the guy who played Scotty on Star Trek) trying to solve the murder of the Invisible Man at a fantasy convention, and trying to recover the film reel for Phantasmagorgya, an orgy film that was made one night which the Invisible Man has threatened to reveal.

This final issue wraps up the whole affair quite nicely, and gives Carl and Travis a chance to reassess their friendship, as well as their relationships with all the other monsters and creatures they insulted through the last four issues.  It's a fun comic, and is worth checking out.  I think I preferred the art in the first arc a couple of years back, but still, this is pretty decent stuff.

The Red Wing #4

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

Now this was a cool mini-series.  Jonathan Hickman excels at taking gigantic, complex ideas, and playing around with them in his comics, sometimes crafting equally gigantic, complex storylines (most of his Marvel work falls into that category), although sometimes he instead delivers a tightly focused little series, like he has with The Red Wing.

In this futuristic comic, the world is being attacked by a mysterious force that comes from the future.  Their goal is to strip different eras of time bare of all resources, and so the good guys have created fighter vessels that can move through time as well as space.  Picture a cross between Time Bandits and Battlestar Galactica, and you start to understand the background here.

At the same time, as with many a good science fiction story, there is a family tied to the centre of things.  Dom's father was a TAC pilot who was lost when Dom was a small child.  This spurred him to become a pilot himself, and the hero of the series.  As it turns out, his father wasn't lost, and instead hung out with some ancient Aztec or Inca for a while, before becoming a prisoner of the leader of the enemy forces.  Dom, meanwhile in the future, has a hard time becoming the pilot he wants to be, and keeps turning to his General for support.

This issue finishes the story of the father, and reveals a little more about their family, in a very Star Wars way.  It's a great issue for action, and the emotional scenes are handled nicely.  I don't know that I fully follow all of the future stuff - time travel and paradoxes make my head hurt, but I did appreciate the manner in which Hickman told his story, and I admire its scope.  This book is a good companion to Hickman's superior Pax Romana, which is about a group of people moving back in time to guide human development.

I want to close this review by commenting on how bummed out I was to learn this week that Hickman's one-shot, Feel Better Now, which he is drawing and which was supposed to come out this month, has been cancelled and will be solicited later as an original graphic novel.  I was looking forward to seeing Hickman draw something again.

Grendel: Devil's Reign

Written by Matt Wagner
Art by Tim Sale

I never read the Comico run of Grendel while it was being published.  My first exposure to the character was in the first Dark Horse series, Grendel: War Child, which features an android Grendel who is tasked with keeping Jupiter Assante, the child of the great Grendel-Khan, safe from a number of different threats.  I loved the series.  It was beautifully drawn (by Pat McEown - where is he now?), and was set in an interesting world.

It spurred me on to pick up some of the back issues of the series, but I somehow never read the story of Orion Assante, the Grendel-Khan, who united the world under his military leadership.  At least, until now.

This trade, which collects the last seven issues of the Comico title (later reprinted under its current name by Dark Horse), splits each chapter into two parts.  The first part is written as a chronicle of the ascension of Orion I, in a tight eight-panel grid, of which many panels are simply prose.  This part of the book follows Orion from being the leader of a small paramilitary force being used to track down and destroy victims of a vampire plague through the machinations that make him the leader of the entire world.  This part of the book is a study in realpolitik as it is applied to a future society, and it's both very interesting and a little exhaustive.

The other part of the book follows the story of the vampires, who have been imprisoned in the VEGAS sector of Calmerica.  For a while, the vampires are allowed to run their casino for normal people, but as they start to disappear, the Grendel-Khan imposes more and more restrictions on them.  These scenes are drawn in a more traditional comics style.

Tim Sale uses the two sections of the book to great effect, drawing both tiny little panels full of people in the first section, and creepy subterranean dwellings in the second.  Reading this book reminds me of how much I like Sale's art, and how pleased I would be to see him return to drawing comics.

I think it's strange that, whenever Matt Wagner returns to Grendel, he always tells us more stories of the character's earliest incarnation, Hunter Rose.  What happened in that series later on was so much more interesting, and I would rather see him mine some of his later ideas, or, even better, continue the story with all new material.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Infinite Horizon #5

Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Phil Noto

You know, when a comic hasn't been published since the spring of 2009, it's not a bad idea to include a recap page at the front.  I mean, Marvel does this even on comics that come out every second week (of which they publish way too many), yet with this book, which I didn't expect to ever see again, we are tossed back into the story with no real reminders as to what was going on.

The thing is, that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the comic in the least.  The Infinite Horizon is a reinterpretation of the Odyssey, yet set in the near future.  Our Odysseus remains unnamed, and he has been working his way home after finishing his time in some war on foreign soil.  Things have more or less broken down around the world - there doesn't seem to be any kind of reliable air transport, communication is almost non-existent, and the government of the United States has failed.  Our hero's contingent of soldiers has been whittled away through their journey, and when this issue begins, our hero is left with two women in a village not far from the sea.

He chooses to answer the call of some sirens, who are luring people to the shore with the promise of a journey on a large tanker being retrofitted into a modern ark.  The problem is that the people in charge are only looking for slaves.  When our hero meets up with his friend Fortunato, who I vaguely remember as having gone ahead while our man recovered from some injuries, they decide to take control of the tanker, and the oil rig that guards it.

This is a great comic.  I have enjoyed it from the start (however many years ago that was), and found that once again, it balances suspense and action with its classical origins very nicely.  Duggan (who I remain unfamiliar with) writes this book very well, but the star of the show is Phil Noto, who makes it look wonderful.

Apparently the next issue is scheduled to come out in November, and I believe that it's really going to happen.  There is no sense in recommending this comic to new readers now, but I do encourage people to pick up the trade.  Reading this gives me hope that I may soon be able to read more Pirates of Coney Island, Gutsville, and The Great Unknown.  Even one of them would be great.

DMZ #70

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

'The Five Nations of New York' continues the long goodbye for this long-running series, as this month Matty Roth travels to the Empire State Building, chats with Zee some, and gets arrested.

We learned a couple of years ago that the Empire State Building had become the home to a 'death cult' of first responders, who were ultimately responsible for Matty's time in the DMZ starting the way that it did.  Death cults don't react well to change, and so it's kind of interesting to see what's going on in the building in the wake of peace breaking out.  In a lot of ways, this seems like a very anti-climactic last visit for Matty to make, but the heart of this issue lies with Matty's time with Zee.

They talk about just how Zee managed to maintain her sanity through the years of strife and turmoil in the DMZ.  She's always been the most interesting character in this series, so it's nice to be able to see things from her perspective one last time.  I'm not sure how Wood is going to finish things off next month, but I look forward to finding out.

Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest #2

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by James Harren

I'd felt that the first issue of this two-parter was a little too familiar.  So many Hellboy, and Hellboy-related comics involve creepy old houses that have something creepy living in the basement (and really - how often do people fall through floors in these comics?), and this just felt like more of the same, but featuring Abe Sapien instead of HB.  It was competent, but it didn't stand out.

I feel like this issue makes up for that somewhat, because of the addition to two things: hallucinations, and Hellboy.

We learn that Abe has been infected with some sort of demonic hallucinogenic compound, and so things get a little psychedelic (although not ever to the extent of Dave Johnson's brilliant cover).  It adds a nice touch to the story, and makes it visually very interesting.  James Harren handles this stuff very nicely.

The other welcome element is Hellboy himself.  It's become so rare to see him interacting with characters with whom he has a long-standing relationship, and that's a shame.  The camaraderie between him and Abe was a key part of the earlier stories, although for some reason, most flashback stories have him working solo missions for the Bureau.  I'd like to see more like this, even though the two characters only had a couple of panels together.

Spaceman #1

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

It's been a while since 100 Bullets ended.  I only read the book in trade a while after it finished, and still, after reading this comic, I realize I have missed seeing Azzarello and Risso work together.  Sure, there was the Batman Flashpoint mini-series that they did this last summer, but that was more of an appetizer than anything else.  Now, they've returned to Vertigo, where they belong, with Spaceman, a nine-part series.

Spaceman is about Orson, a genetically engineered person who was designed and built to work on Mars.  He may have actually gone there - it's not clear if the scenes we see are dreams or actual flashbacks, but now he's living in a ruined post-apocalyptic city, salvaging metal from the flooded areas of the region.

Azzarello and Risso work remarkably well at setting up the world where Orson lives.  We get a strong sense of the dingy settings he lives in, and that the rich live very differently.  We get a glimpse at some of the technology that makes such dismal living more bearable, such as a form of VR sex and designer drugs, and also of the difficulty of salvaging, especially as the dollar is frequently devalued.

Azzarello has crafted a whole new set of slang for his people to speak, which is easy to understand, and has its roots in current youth slang (true say).  I don't normally buy into that Clockwork Orange, Riddley Walker kind of thing (so annoying), but it works here.  Risso pulls out all the stops in terms of the visuals for this series, and it's a gorgeously ugly piece of work.

In terms of plot, this issue works at slowly introducing everyone, but we do learn through media reports that a contestant on a reality cast (show) where the winner gets to be adopted by Marc and April (read Brad and Angelina) has been abducted.  It seems everyone watches the show, but it also seems that Orson finds her, alive, while working a salvage.

It looks like this series is going to be a thriller about Orson and this child, but I hope that Azzarello and Risso take some time to explore this fascinating world they've invented.  This is a great debut issue, and the fact that it's only a dollar means that if you haven't bought it, you really need to check it out.  There is no excuse at that price.

The Li'l Depressed Boy #7

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace

While reading this comic, I find that I always enjoy it.  Almost immediately after I've closed the book though, I find it difficult to explain the spell it puts me under.  Really, almost nothing happens in this comic.  LDB and his friend drive, it rains, LDB naps, they go to a concert.  Along the way, they talk about LDB's issue with Jazz (should he stay 'just friends' or give up on her altogether?), and LDB thanks Drew for being his friend.

This comic is the poster boy for decompressed story telling, yet there is such a sweetness and charm to the comic, that I don't really care.  Sina Grace's art is improving with every issue, and the little character moments that make up this comic are enjoyable.

Struble really pushes a lot of bands I've never heard of, and I wonder what it says about me that I find I lack the motivation to look up a group like Andrew Jackson Jihad online, even though the lyrics shown here are pretty nice.

Great cover by Steve Rolston.  I love the way these guys are getting a number of indie artists to draw covers for them (previous contributors have been Rob Guillory and Charlie Adlard).  I'd love to see a Brandon Graham, Marian Churchland, or James Stokoe cover for this book.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #4

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Raulo Caceres

Really, I don't think I can continue to support comics like this.  Captain Swing, a four-issue mini-series, started in February 2010.  The second issue came out in July 2010, the third, March 2011, and now the series finishes at the end of October 2011.  With so much time between issues, along with the requisite difficulty of remembering what was happening, comes an expectation of greatness.  I mean, if a writer and artist have to spend seven months on a 22 (or so) page comic, it should be pretty awesome, right?

Instead, this falls pretty flat.  Granted, I don't really remember what was going on, and I definitely don't much care about this cop who is now using Captain Swing's electrical flying pirate ship to wreck justice on the magistrate that had someone shoot up Cindery Island last issue.  Actually, at this point, I don't care about any of it, especially the cutesy silent movie card that takes up a whole page unnecessarily.

I would never suggest that Warren Ellis has lost his touch - read his Secret Avengers and Freakangels.  I just want to suggest that if he's going to treat his Avatar mini-series as complete afterthoughts, to be worked on whenever and half-assedly, he should not expect me to keep paying $4 per issue for it.

I'll just wait for the trade to show up at a used bookstore.  If I'm waiting seven months between issues, then I can easily wait another year for the trade...

Scalped #53

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

This is a big week for writer Jason Aaron, as both his Wolverine & The X-Men and Incredible Hulk debut, but this is the book that deserves the attention.  Without Scalped, and, I assume, his brilliant The Other Side, Aaron would not have broken into the big time at Marvel.  Also, though, without Scalped, I wouldn't have spent the last four plus years really digging the story potential of a small, run-down reservation in Nebraska.

Scalped is nearing its end, but it still has plenty of chances to surprise.  I never would have thought that Sheriff Karnow would become one of my favourite characters, but as Aaron has him continue on his journey from lazy blowhard to actual lawman, I find myself liking the guy more and more.  I loved his confrontation with Agent Nitz this issue, as he starts his own one-man crusade to take down Lincoln Red Crow and his organization.

The real surprise of this issue though is that he arrests Shunka, Lincoln's right-hand man, sociopath, and closeted homosexual.  Shunka's become pretty complex over the last year, and his motivations in this issue (especially in resolving a scene I don't want to spoil) are just as complicated.  Less gray are Dash Bad Horse's motivations, as he continues his hunt for justice.

There are a lot of threads converging in this book now, and it is making me appreciate the character work we've seen so far in this series.  It's always one of the best books month in and month out.  Also, how gorgeous and cool is Jock's cover?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sleeping With Nikki

by Dessa

I think it's only fair to preface this review with the statement that I think I'm in love with Dessa, and therefore may be more than a little biased in appraising her work.  She does have a lot going for her - she's beautiful, she's one of the best rappers in the business when she cuts loose, but is also an enormously talented singer with a beautiful voice, is a key member of the Doomtree collective, of whom I'm a huge fan, and she's a talented writer, as shown with this booklet, and her previous volume of poetry, Spiral Bound.

Sleeping With Nikki is a small (3.5 by 4.5") limited edition booklet that was available for people who preordered her new album Castor, The Twin(which is fantastic - more on that soon).  It's a thirty-two page prose story that helps reveal Dessa's penchant for writing in a different way.

Alex is a man who has never had a proper night's sleep his whole life.  He doesn't know this - it's not until his new girlfriend Nikki starts sleeping over that it is revealed to him that he's 'doing it wrong'.  As their relationship unfolds, and as the consequence of an argument sparked by a documentary about Second World War submarines, Alex discovers how to fall asleep.

This is a decent story, and it's well-written.  Were it to show up in an issue of McSweeney's, I would never question its presence.  Dessa has an ear for dialogue, and has peppered the story with interesting little moments, such as when Alex finds his postman drunk at a bar, and feels that the moment is somehow transgressive.  It's good stuff.  I would love to read a collection of short stories by her some day.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Spontaneous #5

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Brett Weldele

Spontaneous is one of those mini-series that comes straight out of left field.  It features a bizarre topic, characters with questionable motives, and an unconventional approach to art and colouring.  It could easily have been a total flop, but instead, it's a very impressive comic, showing tight plotting and some very nice character work.

Melvin Reyes has dedicated his life to investigating the reason why former employees of Grumm Industries have a tendency towards spontaneous combustion, starting with his own father when Melvin was quite young.  He's been accompanied by a young wannabe journalist with delusions of grandeur, Emily.

Now, much more has been revealed, and we learn that Melvin may not be as innocent as he seems.  There are a couple of confrontations in this issue - Melvin is pursued by the FBI, and Emily and the local sheriff face old infirm Mr. Grumm, who has more going on than anyone is aware.

This has been a very cool comic.  Weldele employs the same style of art as he used in The Light, washing just about everything out gray, green, or sepia tones, which gives the light of the fire some extra warmth and menace.  Joe Harris also wrote the recent Oni series Ghost Projekt, and so far as I'm concerned, he's 2 for 2 with his work at that company.  I hope he something new waiting in the wings.

...Bulletproof Brass!

by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

I've heard that this group really needs to be seen live to appreciate their true strength, but this debut, self-released album is really pretty impressive.  It has only six tracks, and clocks in at a scant twenty-four minutes, but it's the type of thing that can be left in your player on repeat for a couple of hours; you won't get tired of it (just skip the last track - more on that in a moment).

Since watching and getting hooked on Treme, I've found myself ever more drawn to that big brass sound, which HBE supplies in spades.  The album opens with 'Starfighter', a tribute to the film The Last Starfighter.  It's nice and loud, as are tracks like 'Touch The Sky', 'Kryptonite' (best track on the disc) and 'World Champions'.

Sun Ra pops by on 'Pluto', which is a more introspective number.  The only track I don't like is 'Black Boy', where someone named Kelan drones on and on about a child's nursery rhyme to which he ascribes great cosmic significance, of the kind that only comes to you after smoking a lot of weed or taking some other kind of drug.  It's a misstep, but coming at the end, it's easily skipped.

I appreciate the band's geek quotient (just look at that album cover), but the final word on this music matches what the band chants in 'Touch The Sky':  It feels good.


Farscape #24

Written by Rockne S. O'Bannon and Keith RA DeCandido
Art by Will Sliney

I came late to Farscape, discovering the show Sunday afternoons on a cable station a few years back, but thanks to the twin magics of DVD and EBay, I quickly acquired all four seasons and the Peacekeeper Wars mini-series that wrapped the story up.  I really grew to love the characters on this show, a diverse group of escaped convicts from different species, and the crazy and improbable situations they kept finding themselves in.  The series was a lot of fun, and had a lot of heart.

When I'd heard that Boom Comics was starting up a series of mini-series, co-written (or at least co-plotted) by the series's creator, I knew I'd be interested.  Like many a licensed comic, the earliest issues suffered from very stiff art, but the early stories were a treat.  It was nice to see familiar characters again, and unlike the Buffy Season Eight comics, they tended to stay in character.

After the mini-series approach gave way to an on-going series (and eventual spin-off featuring Scorpius), O'Bannon and DeCandido crafted a larger narrative around the idea of a new race, the Kkore, coming through a rift in space to conquer the Uncharted Territories.  This led to a twelve-issue arc that concluded with this issue.

During this arc, just about every world was subjugated to Kkore control, Aerynn Sun became the Commandant of the Peacekeepers and commanding officer to the large coalition of survivors and resisters.  Chiana found true love (with a bounty hunter hired to kill Aerynn and John Crichton's son), and a number of favourite characters met their final fate.

This story could never have been told on television, yet it felt, at every step, like classic Farscape.  DeCandido really nailed the different characters' voices, and among all the space opera bombast, found time to work in some good character-driven moments.  The art, by Will Sliney, worked well for character based scenes, although I never liked the way he drew spaceships.

There are some plot threads that were left unresolved.  We never did learn why Roiin was hunting Deke, Crichton's son, and the story potential of all worlds being left in a state of chaos is vast, but in the end, this was a satisfying run for this comic.  I would not object to the Farscape universe being revisited again some day.

All Nighter #5

by David Hahn

All Nighter has been a difficult series to pin down.  My first take on it was that it was a slacker comic, in the vein of books like Scott Pilgrim and Pounded, but then David Hahn kept introducing other elements to the story that, while they worked, kept causing me to reassess what this comic was supposed to be about.

For a while, it seemed like a romance story, as Kit became ever closer to her housemates boyfriend, and spurned her previous relationship with Dwayne, who is a thief.  Then it seemed like the comic was more about Kit's relationship with Marta, the mousy new housemate who seemed to be fixating on her.  Then, with the fourth issue, Martha disappeared, and suddenly, the series finished with the group of friends searching for her.

This last issue is easily the strongest in the series, as Hahn does some interesting things, both with the plot and the art.  I love how three pages use a parallel format to explain just how Martha's case went from being a media story to a hipster trend.  Later, as the characters track her down, the story takes a final, tragic turn that was, while not unexpected, still pretty emotionally powerful.

Hahn is a very talented artist, and I'd be happy to read another comic he writes and draws on his own.  This series will make a nice trade - check it out.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Xenoholics #1

Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Seth Damoose

A more cynical comics reader would think that this book was designed to appeal to readers of Chew, Image's hit humour comic.  There are a ton of similarities - the first page shows a scene that won't be continued until the fifth issue, the book is populated with a bizarre cast of characters, and the tone of the humour is very similar.  You can almost hear the pitch - "It's like Chew, only with people who are addicted to being abducted by aliens."

The reality is, similarities aside, this is a pretty good comic.  As a first issue, it does its job, setting up characters and the general situation, and both begins and ends with a hook that makes the reader curious for what comes next.  A group of people meet on a weekly basis, in an Alcoholics Anonymous style session to discuss their experiences and interest in alien abduction.  Basically, they are xenoholics - abduction addicts.  It's a good hook for a comic, and Williamson makes sure we understand how terribly weird all the characters are, letting the art show one thing while the narration suggests another.

When crop circles (concrete circles?) appear in the middle of Times Square, the group is spurred into action.  The comic is a lot of fun, with a few genuine laughs.  Damoose's art is not really my thing - it looks a little like an early Steve Pugh, if he drew only stumpy dwarfs - but it does fit the story rather nicely.  I've been pre-ordering this book, and am not sure if it's a mini-series or an on-going, but I'm definitely on board for a few months to see how this title turns out.

Dark Horse Presents #5

Written by Eric Powell, Chuck Brown, Felipe Melo, Robert Love, David Walker, Peter Hogan, Steve Niles, Howard Chaykin, Andi Watson, Carla Speed McNeil, and Neil Adams
Art by Eric Powell, Sanford Greene, Juan Cavia, Robert Love, Steve Parkhouse, Christopher Mitten, Howard Chaykin, Andi Watson, Carla Speed McNeil, and Neil Adams

Let's number-crunch for a moment.  This book has 80 pages of comics, divided into ten stories, for $7.99.  In contrast, this week's issue of Avengers had 20 pages of story, of which 30% were single- or double-splash pages, for $3.99.  The value, even when subtracting stories that I don't like, is plain to see.

This issue begins with a great little one-shot story by Eric Powell about a robot who is designed to explore a distant planet which could be the best hope for humanity's survival.  The robot is made a little too human though, and so while traveling for hundreds of years, he begins to indulge in the gifts mankind gave him - weapons, religion, and porn.  My hope is that Dark Horse will continue to pepper this series with more of these one-off gems.  There is another in here, by Andi Watson, but I didn't like it very much.  I have no problem with young adult comics; they just don't fit very well in a series like this, the rest of which is pretty mature.

I loved the new chapter of Finder, which is no great surprise really.  In it, Jaeger starts delivering items from his courier company's dead letter office, a concept that reminds me of reading Clive Barker in high school and getting swept up in the idea of being able to read undeliverable mail.

I also enjoyed the latest chapters of Number 13, Resident Alien, and even Howard Chaykin's story, which has grown on me.  The werewolf private eye story is interesting too, if a little strange in its mixture of humour with pretty depressing story matter.

I still don't care for Rotten Apple, which I think is over now, and the Criminal Macabre story still does nothing for me.  Neal Adams's Blood remains one of the worst comics I've ever read.  Is anyone enjoying it?

BPRD Hell on Earth - Russia #2

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Tyler Crook

Putting Dave Johnson on covers for this title and the Abe Sapien mini-series was really a very good idea.  I've missed his cover work since he stopped working on Unknown Soldier a while ago; there is just about no one better at covers than him in the business.

This Russia arc is really pretty cool.  It's always a good idea to explore counterparts of characters in other nations, and it's a comics tradition to have those counterparts be Russian, so even though the Cold War is long over, this concept works here.

As it turns out, the Russian BPRD, called the SSS, is run by a monster, Iosif, who we last saw in the Abe Sapien Abyssal Plain mini-series (which I know I read, but can't really remember at the moment).  We learn why he needs the Bureau's help, which is pretty specific to Johann's talent set.  Johann's been acting very weird for a while now, so it's good to see him returning to his usual function.  I would have liked for there to have been at least one scene devoted to what's going on with Abe though.

Crook's art is continuing to impress me.  There is a full-page spread where Johann meets the person at the centre of this mission, which is very nice looking.  The person in chains looks like he could have been drawn by Bá or Moon, which is the highest praise possible from me these days.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fables #110

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Mark Buckingham

Generally speaking, I don't like cute.  Sure, I love books like Chew, which are built around their own in-jokey cute-ness, but that's more of an exception than the rule.  I especially don't like it when the cute is mixed with the more serious.  Star Wars's Ewoks and droids, the hobbits in Lord of the Rings; I hate them all.

Why do I mention this?  Because Willingham has moved things squrely into cute-land in Fables, and it's affecting my enjoyment of the book.  This issue is split between two plot-lines (with another Nurse Spratt interlude) - the adventures of Bufkin in Oz, and the trials of Bigby and Snow White's cubs in the land of the north winds.

The Bufkin stuff is getting to be annoying.  A giant who eats people for the Emperor of Oz, and who speaks like a cross between a recent immigrant and a child with a developmental delay joins Bufkin's little rebellion, and I quickly found myself skipping over dialogue.

The plot concerning the search for a replacement for the North Wind is more interesting, mostly because we aren't subjected to much of the cubs this issue, instead learning about the moral obligations of the other cardinal winds, one of whom looks like he belongs in Elfquest.

Usually I love Fables, but this arc feels a little tired.  Here's hoping it picks back up again soon, and stays away from light-hearted cuteness.

'68 #4

Written by Mark Kidwell
Art by Nat Jones

It's been a while since we last saw an issue of this series, which we are told in the back is going to be an on-going series now.  My advice to the creators is that they get their scheduling together before soliciting any more issues, aside from the two one-shots that were supposed to come out quite some time ago.

'68 is a cool comic, so a lot can be forgiven, but it's always tough to read the end of a series a couple of months after the previous issue; I find it really difficult to remember what had happened before, and who the characters are.

This series ends as many a zombie comic must, with the principle characters facing a massive horde of the undead, and with a very high body count, which means that the on-going series will need some new characters.  Firebase Aries, somewhere in the jungles of Vietnam, is surrounded by zombies, protected only by the group of VC who are now manning the perimeter of the base, while the Americans within continue to argue and drink themselves into oblivion.  The sense of impending destruction is palpable, and the idea of having the zombies use muscle memory to attack with scythes, knives, and rifles is a cool one, as is the closing scene, which pays homage to the famous escape from the Vietnamese embassy.

'68 takes a neat idea, and presents it with good artwork, that reminds me a lot of Steve Dillon.  What more can we ask for?  Oh yah, that the book come out on time...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sleepwalk and Other Stories

by Adrian Tomine

Having decided to get caught up on Adrian Tomine's library, I was fortunate to find two of his collections in used bookstores this summer.  Sleepwalk collects the tales in the earliest issues of Optic Nerve, his very occasional anthology series which recently had a new issue published.

There are a lot of stories in this lovely hardcover collection, although they tend to return again and again to Tomine's usual themes - recent breakups, broken families, and lonely young people.  I suppose it's easy to find Tomine's work a downer, since so many of his characters are so sad and downtrodden, but there is also plenty of beauty to this book, and not just in his wonderful art.

Characters are faced with a lot of adversity here - they miss their ex, they have trouble communicating with their family, they hate their jobs but don't see any other prospects - but there is also an underlying belief in the resilience of people that makes each story an enjoyable read.  Tomine frequently ends his stories in odd places, and many of the just feel like they stop, instead of end.  It's a cool technique for this type of story, and where it would be pretty annoying somewhere else, here it works.

I love Tomine's art.  His pencils are nice and clean, for the most part, and I like his use of ziptones for shading.  This is a good book, and I can't wait to get to Summer Blonde, which is also on my shelf waiting to be read.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Unexpected #1

Written by Dave Gibbons, G. Willow Wilson, Alex Grecian, Josh Dysart, Jeffrey Rotter, Mat Johnson, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Brian Wood, and Selwyn Seyfu Hinds
Art by Dave Gibbons, Robbi Rodgriguez, Jill Thompson, Farel Dalrymple, Lelio Bonaccorso, David Lapham, Rahsan Ekedal, Emily Carroll, and Denys Cowan

I really like that Vertigo has started putting out these random, slightly thematically-linked anthology books every few months, even if they are pretty expensive.  Like the last one, Strange Adventures, The Unexpected is a nice mix of stories by established Vertigo stars, and some up-and-comers.  This collection has a supernatural theme, but it's not one that is used in every story.

There is a lot to like in this book, but my favourite story is the one by Joshua Dysart and Farel Dalrymple, which tells the story of a Mexican laborer in 1950s or 60s Texas, who is accused of murdering the grandchild of his employer, although he knows the boy was killed by an ancient Aztec monster.  As with his Unknown Soldier series, Dysart makes good use of a particular culture's fears and legends, and Dalrymple's art is perfect.

I also quite enjoyed Alex Grecian (from Proof fame) and Jill Thompson's story about a female zombie who has retained enough of her faculties to use her feminine wiles as a way of attracting prey.  Dave Gibbons tells a great story of an escape artist who cheats on his wife, and Mat Johnson and David Lapham give us a deliciously twisted tale of a brother and sister trying to survive in post-apocalyptic America.

Joshua Hale Fialkov reunites with his Echoes collaborator Rahsan Ekedal for a story about a man who is recently deceased and finds himself haunting his wife.  Ekedal makes good use of layout in this story, and uses a pixelated approach to imply ghostliness.

Brian Wood and newcomer (to me) artist Emily Carrol contribute a nice short story about a woman who is raised in a post-governmental United States.  It's a similar vision to the one we've seen in Wood's DMZ, but this time he takes a nicer, gentler approach to the disintegration of a country.  It's pretty interesting, even if it ends a little abruptly.

I wanted to like G. Willow Wilson's story about dogs taking over a town, but Robbi Rodriguez's dogs were just a little too creepy and odd-looking for me.  To be fair, I think that dogs are among the hardest things to draw (check out how Dan Jurgens draws them if you need a laugh), which is why I have so much respect for Beasts of Burden.  The story 'A Most Delicate Monster' by Jeffrey Rotter and Lelio Bonaccorso (neither of whom I'm familiar with) was just a little too obvious to be successful.

Finally, Selwyn Seyfu Hinds and Denys Cowan provide a prelude to the upcoming Voodoo Child series, which really didn't work for me.  I'm not sure what it is, but I feel like they were trying to cram too much into too few pages, with the effect that I wasn't drawn into the story at all.  I'll probably give the new series a try still, because I like reading about New Orleans.

Cinémetropolis

by Blue Scholars

I know this album came out a while ago, but I've never quite gotten around to writing about it, mostly because I think I haven't picked up on all of its messages yet.

This fifteen track album, called a 'visual soundtrack' by the group, really represents growth in the Scholars, both musically and lyrically.  When I first heard it, I was disappointed that it wasn't more like Bayani, their last release, but then this started growing on me in a number of ways.

Each track other than the first and last is named after someone, usually a filmmaker or a left-wing activist.  As such, the album honors people like Seijun Suzuki, Lalo Schifrin, George Jackson, Rani Mukerji, Chief Sealth (more commonly known as Chief Seattle), Anna Karina, and Tommy Chong.  Many of the songs don't actually mention the person they honor, but instead strive to do so through thematic means.

One of my favourite tracks, Yuri Kochiyama, is much more directly about the influence that activist, who was present when Malcolm X was shot, had on Geo, the Blue Scholars's MC.  It also has one of the more infectious hooks on the album ("I swear to my kosamas, when I grow up I want to be just like Yuri Kochiyama").

Musically, Sabzi has really stripped his beats down to the most minimal possible.  Again, at first, I was disappointed, because I preferred the more lush approach taken on past projects, but with repeated listening, I grew to love what he's done here.

The Blue Scholars are an important, if often overlooked hip-hop group.  They have a different perspective from most of their brethren, which makes sense considering they are a Seattle-based group consisting of a Filipino-American rapper who grew up in Hawaii, and an Iranian-American producer who is Baha'i. They are a very progressive group in terms of their politics, and I wish they had a wider audience.  Even when I don't agree with them (which is rare), I appreciate their perspective and drive, and I applaud the fact that they financed and promoted this album through Kickstarter.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Unwritten #30

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

'On to Genesis', the story arc that has explored Wilson Taylor's time working for The Cabal, and his connection to the Golden Age of comics concludes with this issue, and it's another good example of just how strong this comic has become.

When the comic opens, Tom Taylor comes under attack from The Tinker, the comic book hero created by Miriam, Wilson's lover in the 1930s, and the woman he betrayed.  The Tinker is like Tom - a fictional character that somehow has a real life in the real world.  He's really Milton, Tom's half-brother.  They fight for a bit, Frankenstein's monster and the flying cat show up, and everyone has a little cat.  Basically, this issue follows the standard procedure for superhero team-ups.

I like how Tom is maturing throughout the run of this series, and is becoming a much more likeable character.  At the end of this issue, he learns something that causes him to have to step up his game in dealing with The Cabal, which then leads to the next big storyline.

I really like how Peter Gross draws The Tinker in a style that suggests the Golden Age, but is consistent with the look and feel of this comic.  Extra recognition is owed to the letterer, Todd Klein, for using an old-school font for The Tinker's speech.  Cool stuff.

The CBLDF Presents Liberty Annual 2011

Written by Matt Wagner, JH Williams III, AJ Lieberman, Brandon Montclare, Steve Niles, Carla Speed McNeil, Kazim Ali, J. Michael Straczynski, Dara Haraghi, Judd Winick, Richard Starkings, Mark Waid, and Dave Grilli
Art by Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá, Matt Wagner, JH Williams III, Riley Rossmo, Joelle Jones, Michael Montenat, Carla Speed McNeil, Craig Thompson, Kevin Sacco, Christopher Mitten, Thiago Micalopulous, Rodney Ramos, Shaky Kane, Boo Cook, Jeff Lemire, and J. Gonzo

I've never bought an issue of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's Liberty Annual before, but seeing a number of creators I admire attached to it, I figured it was time to give it a try.  As with any anthology like this, the stories within are a pretty mixed bag, but I definitely admire the goals of the organization, which provides legal assistance to people in the comic book world who face censorship or legal difficulties related to comics.  The CBLDF is a champion of free speech, and as such, the stories and strips in this book are concerned with promoting that freedom.

There is a large emphasis in this issue on the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgendered people.  Many stories focus on that, but none more effectively than Kazim Ali's memoir strip, which is beautifully drawn by Craig Thompson.  Compared to it, Matt Wagner's story, which features Hunter Rose, feels amateurish and ham-fisted.

Also of note in this book is JMS's rant about the separation of church and state, which raises some good points, and Mark Waid and Jeff Lemire's defense of superhero worship in children.  Carla Speed McNeil has a strip about her child, who has Down's Syndrome, and the ridiculousness of trying to maintain a vocabulary that doesn't cause offense.  Dara Haraghi and Christopher Mitten contribute an interesting story about growing up in Revolutionary Iran, which would be a nice companion to a story in the last issue of Dark Horse Presents.

Another item that is worthy of discussion in this book is the nude Elephantmen, just because that's not something you see everyday.

This is a very decent anthology, and really, anyone who loves comics should be willing to plunk down the $5 to help support the cause.

Northlanders #45

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Declan Shalvey

The first arc of The Icelandic Trilogy was pretty decent, but I think that this second one, set in 999 AD, is much superior.  In the time since Ulf Hauksson had his first child, Iceland, and the Hauksson family, have grown in stature.  Now, the family is run by the impressive Brida, and her twin brother Mar.  She is a healer and competent administrator, while Mar is successful at viking.

The feud between the Belgarssons and the Haukssons continues to this point, and the book opens with an attempt on Brida's life.  Having survived it, she goes about the business of discovering who was involved in it, and exacting a pretty vicious vengeance.  Later, a priest from Spain visits, with news that could turn a simmering feud into full-blown warfare.

What I particularly like about this issue is that Brida feels nostalgic for a simpler time and way of life, a good thousand years ago.  Wood has frequently made use of this sentiment in this book, and therein we find the strength of Northlanders.  His characters, despite a gulf of a thousand years, are more like us than historical characters are often portrayed.  The conflict between Christianity and the old ways is another recurring theme in Northlanders, and I'm pleased to see it addressed one more time before the series ends.

This arc is being drawn by Declan Shalvey, who is best known for his work on Thunderbolts in recent months.  On that book, his art is loose and sketchy; here, it is cleaner and less rushed-looking.  I wouldn't have recognized it as his.

Pigs #2

Written by Nate Cosby and Ben McCool
Art by Breno Tamura

I guess the fact that this second issue has come out on time puts to rest my main fear about this book - namely that Ben McCool would keep it off a monthly schedule (check his track record; neither of his two Image mini-series have finished yet).

Pigs has all the signs of being a pretty interesting comic.  It's about a sleeper cell of Russians who have been living in Cuba, waiting to be activated.  That activation happened last issue, and we saw that the cell infiltrated the States, and that they've managed to do something to the President.

This entire second issue, however, is set somewhere between activation and implementation, as the members of the cell pay a visit to Felix, a possible member of their group who lives with his wife and daughter in Miami.  It becomes apparent, both through flashback and discussion, that Felix is a reluctant participant in this endeavour, feeling no great love for Russia or Cuba.

I like that the writers are taking their time in establishing this book, its characters, and their relationships with one another.  This series reminds me of The Losers, although is perhaps more sophisticated, especially in the way in which it jumps around through time.  I'm going to be adding this to my pull-list for sure now.

American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #5

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Sean Murphy

As Vertigo shrinks as an imprint - a number of titles are being canceled, but we haven't seen them replaced at the same level - it seems to be increasingly focused on creating a few franchise titles.  Fables has spun-off into a few different mini-series, graphic novels, and on-goings, with some success.  Unwritten is going twice-monthly for a while, which is kind of like launching a second book.  And American Vampire was given this mini, which starred two supporting characters from earlier arcs, and showed us one of their missions for the Vassals of the Morning Star.

Cash and Felicia's mission to extract a Nazi scientist who perhaps has the cure for vampirism has gone all to hell, as giant ancient vampires have woken up and are fighting Nazi vampires all around them.  Cash and Felicia need to make their escape, although such things are never simple.

This issue does a good job of wrapping up the series, but also at hinting towards where Felicia's story will take her.  She's an interesting character, and I wonder how long it will be before we see her in the main title again.

The art on this mini has been terrific, and Murphy has outdone himself with this issue.  The scenes where the Nazis fight the old vampires is great, but the best page of the book has to be the silent splash page that comes after Felicia is rescued.  Great stuff all around.

Blue Estate #6

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, and Andrew Osborne
Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, and Nathan Fox


Blue Estate continues to be a complex book, which has me pretty drawn in.  The book has a large cast of characters, and they don't all appear in every issue, so it can sometimes be a little tricky to remember who is who, although the recap page at the front of the book is helpful.

In this issue, Tony the mobster has taken Billy captive over a bad land deal, and has called in his sister, Rachel, to pay him off.  The only problem is that, despite the fact that Rachel is married to a famous movie star, she has no money.  Rachel, meanwhile, is trying to escape from her controlling and psychopathic brother, so she suggests to Tony that, were Bruce to die, she would be able to pay him.

There are layers upon layers of deceit in this book, which is what makes it so interesting.  When Tony's father wants him to arrange for the assassination of someone else, it gives Tony the chance to bump off Bruce, although we'll have to wait to see how that plays out.

As before, there are three artists working on this book, but their different pages work very well together, and I'm never quite sure who is doing what.  Blue Estate is a very cool comic, and it seems to be going pretty strong.  The first trade just came out recently; I recommend getting caught up on the series, because it is very good.

The Homeland Directive

Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Mike Huddleston

This is the second time I've been impressed by Robert Venditti.  The first was with his Surrogates graphic novel, which later became a movie that I've never bothered to watch, because as a movie, the story doesn't interest me at all.

Actually, as I was preparing to write about this book, I started to think about how it would have worked with a more conventional artist, and I think I've stumbled on the secret of what makes Venditti's books work so well.  In a lot of ways, his stories are kind of standard fare, but he's always been paired with a more experimental artist, who has helped elevate the material to a more sophisticated level (Brett Weldele drew The Surrogates).

The Homeland Directive is about a plot at Homeland Security to help increase their powers of surveillance and access to the lives of all American citizens.  Their plan is complicated, but it involves a bio-weapon, the end of paper money, and the death of a scientist at the Center for Disease Control.

The only problem is that the scientist, Dr. Laura Regan, is rescued by a trio of government agents (who only met because of the new era of post-9/11 inter-governmental cooperation) who have gone rogue, and are attempting to put a stop to the plot.  What follows is a pretty interesting twist on the standard thriller movie, as the three agents have to keep a step or two ahead of their agencies, and try to figure out just what is going on.

As I said above, what really makes this book work is the fantastic art of Mike Huddleston, who has also been wowing me on Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker.  Instead of playing this like a straight thriller, Huddleston mucks around with the art a great deal, incorporating collage and a variety of drawing and colouring styles.  Just about every page looks different from the one before, as he adjusts his style to the setting and content of each new scene.  I found this level of inventiveness really heightened my enjoyment of the story, which has some pretty interesting things to say about the level of 'protection' the American government offers its citizens.

Amulet

by Roberto Bolaño

 It's always a little strange to read an author's most celebrated books first, and then backtrack through their lesser known, and less-recognized, earlier work.  That is especially true with a writer like Roberto Bolaño, who mines his earlier work for recurring themes, situations, and even characters.

At the centre of Amulet, a slim novel first published in Spanish in 1999, and first translated into English in 2006, is Auxilio Lacouture, the 'Mother of Mexican Poetry.'  Lacouture's defining moment came in 1968 when, as a sometimes intern at Mexico's Autonomous University, she spent a period of around ten days in the women's washroom as the military combed the building and detained just about everyone in it.  The political and legal reasons for this action are never explained; instead we have Auxilio's less than reliable accounting of the event, during which time she had visions of future.

The book is told in first person, and as such, we never get a clear understanding of which events are real, and which are imagined, as she stares at the reflection of moonlight on the tiled walls of the washroom.  It doesn't really matter though, as the book is an often fascinating examination of Bolaño's favourite topic, writers.  Auxilio, who is missing her front teeth and therefore almost always keeps her hand in front of her face, never has a very stable life, moving from job to job and apartment to apartment (when not staying with friends).  The only constant is that she is a fixture of the Mexico City poetry scene, getting to know all the young writers.  She herself is not a writer, and her self-selected title as 'Mother of Mexican Poetry' might be more accurate if read 'Mother of Mexican Poets'.

Within Auxilio's circle is the young Arturo Belano, Bolaño's usual fictional counterpart.  Also with him is Ulises Lima, who we get to know much better in The Savage Detectives.  Actually, Auxilio also appears in that later novel, telling her story about her time in the University washroom, which caused no small amount of deja vu.  Other characters are shared between the two novels, such as the gay poet Ernesto San Epifanio, who I believe is also a character in 2666, but I would need to do some checking (and that book is way too dense to flip through for this purpose).

What I found most interesting in Amulet is the scene where Auxilio trails Belano and San Epifanio, who are on their way to meet with the King of All Rent Boys, who has claimed San Epifanio as his property.  Auxilio muses, as they walk down the Avenida Guerrero, that it "is more like a cemetery than an avenue, not a cemetery in 1974 or in 1968, or 1975, but a cemetery in the year 2666, a forgotten cemetery under the eyelid of a corpse or an unborn child, bathed in the dispassionate fluids of an eye that tried so hard to forget one particular thing that it ended up forgetting everything else."  I've never understood the significance of the title of 2666, Bolaño's greatest work, but I feel like there is a clue here.

Aside from a slow section that involves a reclusive painter and Greek mythology, I found that I enjoyed Amulet a great deal.  If I had the time, I would love to sit down and read all of Bolaño's work in the order in which they were published, as I feel there are a number of things that I miss by reading each book individually.  Maybe if I ever decide to get a PhD in literature...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Morning Glories #13

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

I was going to try to talk about this issue without referencing the TV show Lost, but I don't think it's possible, because this is basically the comic book teenage version of that show, as I, and others, have said many times.  It's not just because of the almost utter incomprehensibility of the plot, but also because of the stellar character work that makes each issue, as strange as it often is, completely compelling.

This month, a recent scene between Casey and Hunter is repeated, as Casey breaks off their budding romance.  Almost immediately after that, she receives a note from Ms. Hodge, the guidance counselor, and goes running off to find Hunter.  Just as she does this, an announcement over the Morning Glory Academy PA claims that classes are canceled, in favour of a Woodrun.

Once outside, Casey and Jade are put into a team with Ike, and sent to compete in some mysterious game.  We don't learn what this is though, as Casey has other plans, which include Ms. Hodge, a gigantic underground chamber, and possible escape.

Spencer continues to let information come at us in a slow drip, and so the more we think we learn about the academy, the less we know.  What makes this series such a success is the characters.  I love scenes where Casey has to put up with Ike, and I feel for Hunter, who is clearly devastated that Casey is not interested in him.   Once again, Spencer ends the issue with a good twist.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest #1

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by James Harren

I'm a couple of weeks behind on this, because it was only shipped to my comic store today for some reason.

I really like Abe Sapien, who has been getting the shaft of late in BPRD (assuming he's even still alive - they are being vague about this).  He's become a competent and capable agent in recent years, but his earlier missions were marred by his uncertainty.

This story takes place in 1985, which means that Abe has not been a field agent for long.  He goes to Maine to investigate the fifty-year-old disappearance of a writer whose work he enjoys, only to stumble upon a bit of a supernatural mystery, complete with a creepy old house and a giant creature in a basement.

Really, the set-up of these types of stories in the Mignola-verse is getting pretty old.  I feel like we've seen this exact thing played out time and again in these books, with only the setting and the protagonist switching up.  I understand why they are written like this - the formula works - but just once, I would like to see Mignola and his collaborators play with our expectations a little more, and give us some genuine twists.

The art for this book is by James Harren, another newcomer to the Hellboy/BPRD fold.  His art is pretty good and is not that different from other newcomer Tyler Crook.  It fits the house look of these books nicely.  I love the cover by Dave Johnson.

Who is Jake Ellis? #5

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Tonci Zonjic

It's going to be difficult to talk about the final issue in this mini-series without giving away some of the surprises that take place.  Who Is Jake Ellis? has been a very interesting book since it's beginning.

Jon Moore was an intelligence analyst until he was taken to some strange facility, and experimented on in unknown ways.  Somehow, he ended up with Jake Ellis in his head - a ghost-like character with incredible powers of perception.  He can tell you when a security camera is being watched, and always knows what's on the other side of doors.  The pair of them have been in hiding for a while, using their unique situation to pull off jobs of dubious legality.  Since the series began, they've been on the run again, as both American intelligence agents and the people who run the Facility have been trying to take Moore in.  In the last issue, they'd infiltrated the Facility itself, and found Jake's file.

This final issue answers the question in the title, and has Moore come to understand better what happened to he and Ellis.  Moore's been portrayed as pretty stubborn throughout, and this issue confirms that status.

I've really enjoyed this book.  Zonjic's art is lovely (I especially like the last few pages of this issue), and Edmondson's script is very smart.  It's hard to find new takes on the classic Fugitive story, but Edmondson has done that here.  It's almost impossible to read this issue without thinking about his work on Grifter for DC's new 52, and there are a number of similarities.  Personally, I prefer this title, and look forward to his The Activity, which is coming in December.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bite Club

Written by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman
Art by David Hahn

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not exactly a fan of Howard Chaykin's work, but that usually applies to his art, and I've enjoyed his collaborator, David Tischman's writing on Fraction and Greatest Hits.  Plus, this book is drawn by David Hahn and the original comics had amazing covers by Frank Quitely, so I thought I'd check this out.

Bite Club is about a Latin American crime family in Miami, who happen to be vampires.  Vampires aren't exactly rare in this world (although, if you were to know our culture only through our popular entertainment, they aren't exactly rare here either), and people are generally accepting of them, which is kind of strange, and goes unmentioned throughout.

Anyway, the Del Toro family pretty much own Miami, although they've gotten someone mad at them, as their patriarch, Eduardo, gets killed in the first chapter.  After that, his family empire is in disarray, especially after it's discovered that he left everything to his son Leto, the only Del Toro who had left the family and entered the priesthood.  From here, the story is about Leto's wrestling with his new role, and the various problems of his two siblings, his mother, her lover, and their lawyer (it could be a Peter Greenaway movie).

The comic is entertaining enough, but I felt like the plot never gelled, and was stuck in a very episodic progression, with too many characters that needed their requisite screen time each issue, but who ultimately didn't contribute much to the story.  Hahn's a great artist, but even in his hands, this story stayed stiff and kind of artificial.  The First Second graphic novel Life Sucks covered similar ground, but with a lot more heart and heft.

McSweeney's 38

Edited by Dave Eggers

I've never attended church or any other religious ceremony with any sort of regularity, saving such things solely for weddings, funerals, and a pair of odd attempts by my mother to 'try it out' when I was young.  As a book lover, and having no way to understand what was going on (I don't see this as a problem, but it does persist to today), I was usually more interested in the books conveniently stored in ledges in the back of the pew in front of me.  At least, until I opened them...

I bring this up because aesthetically, the newest edition of McSweeney's the literary quarterly, evokes for me the stiff, textured paperback hymnals of those days, right down to its deep forest green cover.  The difference, of course, is that I actually enjoyed reading this McSweeney's.

The book opens with a strong short story by Ariel Dorfman about a woman and her husband who have gone to Paris to enact a ritual of remembrance for the woman's brother, who disappeared thirty years prior in Chile.  I find her actions, which take on the role of performance art, as she places rag dolls at sites where partisans were shot during the Second World War to be touching, but the true weight of the story lies with the man in the hotel room next door, who is either attempting to kill someone, or is just making it sound like he is.

After that, we are given a lengthy piece of reportage on The Special Populations Unit of the Israeli army - forces made up of non-Israeli soldiers, mostly Bedouin and Druze.  Not unexpectedly, they are lured into the army with promises of equality and improved stations, but are still treated poorly.  The author, Chanan Tigay, tells of a reservist who receives his call to duty on the same day that he is informed that his house (where he was relocated by the army years prior) was illegal and would be bull-dozed.  With every article I read about Israel, my opinion of its leadership and institutionalized racism gets even worse.

My favourite piece in this McSweeney's is Nathaniel Rich's 'The Northeast Kingdom'.  This is a terrific short story about a very old man who just wants to work on his model airplanes.  As he gets closer and closer to holding the longevity world record, and as he gets increasingly harassed by reporters and relatives who want to know his 'secret', he and his grandson decide to fake their own deaths.  It's a very good piece of writing, with a nice ending.

Also of interest is Roddy Doyle's story 'The Hens', about a Polish architect who is hired by an Irish woman to look after her backyard chickens, and becomes embroiled in open warfare between three upper middle class women with nothing better to do.  It's hilarious.

This is followed by Steven Millhauser's re-working of the Rapunzel myth, Biji Adjapon's brutal story of girlhood in Ghana, and Rachel Glaser's tale of a woman who is at drift after her relationship ended.

There is an excerpt from the new Voices of Witness book that collects oral history around the topic of the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath.  This story, told by Talat Hamdani, whose son went missing on September 11th, is pretty interesting.  Her son, Salman, is believed to have gone to help out at the World Trade Center site, and was never seen again.  Later, the authorities began to act as if he was a suspect, and then the family suddenly received his body, or at least what they were told was parts of it.  The whole thing is suspicious, but as this is only an oral history, no investigative journalism was conducted to try to find out what really happened.  While I found the woman's story gripping, I feel like this piece also reveals some of the weaknesses and limitations of oral history.

Finally, the book ends with the first chapter of an upcoming novel (it is not named) by Dave Eggers.  It's about a fifty-six year old man who is facing bankruptcy, and has one final chance to make his fortune, by starting up a business in Saudi Arabia.  It's Eggers, so it's good.

Once again, this quarterly does not disappoint.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

King Gampo

by Prof

Earlier this summer, Atmosphere played my city as part of their Family Business tour, alongside Babu, Evidence, Blueprint, and Prof.  I calculated that the show wouldn't start on time, and that the guy I'd never heard of would go on first, so I took my time getting to the venue.  When I arrived, I could hear Prof on stage, but decided to take my time checking out the room where the merch tables were set up, and therefore basically missed his whole set.  No big deal, I figured.

At the end of the night (and it was a great night), Prof was outside handing out free copies of King Gampo.  When I listened to it, I realized I'd made a mistake in not seeing this cat live.  He's a decent rapper who specializes in the types of songs that work best with a large, exuberant audience.

I guess this is white trash rap (the Gummo-inspired cover art confirms this).  Prof raps about being poor and coming from a rough home.  On one song, he raps 'Ima be as rich as you, I just need a little time'.  He does have a unique voice, and is often pretty funny.

Brother Ali shows up to help out on one number, and another has a beat provided by Ant, proving that this guy has some serious support from the Rhymesayers camp.  He's probably an artist to keep an eye out for.  You can get the album here.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode #1

Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Tradd Moore

It's easy to not expect anything from this comic.  Two creators that I'm not familiar with are crafting a six-issue mini-series about an unhappy, geeky, skinny kid who sends away for a Charles Atlas-style booklet, and gains superpowers.  It's pretty much a cliché, right?  I wasn't going to get this book, but then I heard some positive buzz around it, and liked the art when I flipped through it at the store.

It's really a very good comic.  Sure, all of the elements that I mentioned above are overly familiar to anyone who's been reading comics for some time (or even just their ads), but Jordan is doing a few interesting things with it to make it stand out.

To begin with, he's leaving things for the reader to pick up on.  That Luther's mother is the victim of some sort of domestic abuse is an interesting element to the story, especially since it's not really explained.  Likewise, Luther's confusing relationship with Petra needs more screen time, because it is a little unconventional.

Clearly, the powers that Luther has tapped into by reading about the 'Hercules Method' will lead to trouble beyond practically knocking the head off the school bully.  There are a group of guys in chains, speaking with someone they call the Librarian, about a new potential candidate.  Later, this Librarian is shown on a boat, obviously coming to find Luther.

There are a few elements here which don't really make a lot of sense.  First, we have the overly erudite school jock, a figure which really only exists in comics these days (at least he's not as poorly written as Ronnie Raymond in last week's Firestorm #1).  Also, people still mail order from comic book ads?  Why doesn't the Hercules Method have a website?

What makes this book work is the way it mashes together influences like Kick-Ass, Invincible, Lee/Ditko Spider-Man, and Flex Mentallo.  The art is squarely in the Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley, especially when the blood gets flowing.  I found this to be a very enjoyable read, and will stick around for the rest of the mini-series.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Casanova: Avaritia #2

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Gabriel Bá

Just pause for a moment and take in that cover.  The fact that the scene it shows doesn't exactly happen like that in the book doesn't actually matter, does it?  That is one freaking amazing cover.

Actually, this is one pretty freaking amazing comic, even if reading it does lead to a level of cognitive fatigue not found in comics since Grant Morrison's Invisibles finished.

Casanova Quinn has stopped having to delete entire alternate timelines now, as he has instead discovered the true identity of arch villain Newman Xeno, and is instead working his way systematically through hundreds of alternates, taking him out.  Were that all that was happening in this book, it would be kind of simple, and we could just sit back and enjoy the different situations and settings that Cass finds himself in.  We could also enjoy the ways in which Fraction and Bá play around with things on a meta level.  Cass goes to kill Luther Desmond Diamond (aka Newman Xeno), the aspiring pop star, in an ancient Chinese setting with pandas, and on the next world, Diamond is signing copies of the comic he drew about that very thing.  There are lots of neat little tricks like that throughout this comic.

Where things become confusing though, is in trying to chart Casanova's feelings towards Diamond, his sorta girlfriend Sasa Lisi, and towards his compatriots at EMPIRE, the organization he works for.  There is a lot of subtle character stuff going on, made all the more difficult to follow because of the way the story is chopped up and spread across different timelines.

Fraction is putting his full brilliance behind this book, making it enjoyable on a number of levels (so unlike his recent Marvel work), and Gabriel Bá is straight killing on the art.  I may not catch everything that happens on the first read, but I am definitely loving this comic.

Severed #3

Written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft
Art by Attila Futaki

Scott Snyder has, over the last two years, become a 'big name' comics writer, first receiving accolades for himself on American Vampire, and then taking over DC's Detective Comics and making it the best its been in years.  During the DC Relaunch last month, he had the second best-selling (and one of the most positively-received) titles in the whole line with Batman.  But it's Severed people should really be reading.  It's a shame too, because I'm sure the comic will be lucky to sell one twentieth of Batman #1, despite being vastly superior.

Severed is about a twelve-year-old boy named Jack who has run away from his adoptive mother to try to find his father, a traveling musician, somewhere in Depression-era America.  Currently he's in Chicago, having just missed his father, and is making money to continue his journey by busking.  He is being watched over by Sam, a girl about his age who has disguised her gender for protection on the road.  The pair have caught the attention of a mysterious serial killer, who we know has already cannibalized a boy about their age.

In this issue, the killer approaches them, in the guise of a salesman for RCA Victor.  He attempts to befriend them, inviting them back to his accommodations for beer and duck.  He seems like a good guy to Jack, but Sam is more astute, and knows something is up.

There's a very suspenseful scene involving a bear trap, as the older guy tries to see if he can drive a wedge into their newly-formed friendship.  Snyder and Tuft layer on the suspense once they are in the killer's home, and with each page, I expected something seriously bad to happen.  Futaki's art helps add to this feeling by playing things very straightforward and ordinary - there is no use of shadow and light to try to make things seem scarier than they are, and that's why the book works so well.

I'm very excited to see the next issue.  Much more than I am for Batman #2...