Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Skullkickers #12

Written by Jim Demonakos, Kyle Stevens, Jim Zubkavich, Howard Tayler, and Zach Weiner
Art by Joe Ng, Joel Carroll, Mike Luckas, and Ben McSweeney

I really like the way that, between story arcs, Jim Zubkavich invites his friends over to play with his toys for a single issue.  This time around, there are four 'tavern tales', which give us some different views into the adventures of our two heroes.

The entire concept of Skullkickers is pretty versatile.  They are fighters for hire.  One is tall, bald, and carries the only firearm in the world (I think).  The other is short, hairy, and swings his axe as often as he gets drunk (which is a lot for both).  They go places, and invariably, stuff happens.  Sounds like the basis for a lot of good stories, doesn't it?

The stories here run the gamut from a little too cutesy to stories that match the usual tone of this series very well.  I particularly liked the first story, which has our duo getting involved in a medieval battle of the bands which is more literal than you would think.  The drum-armour is brilliant.  I also enjoyed the last story, where our heroes have to kill a woman who is so beautiful, that all previous assassins were unable to complete the job (but none of them were dwarfs).

It's good stuff, but I look forward to the next story arc, which begins in the next issue.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Sixth Gun #17

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

Cullen Bunn has done a remarkable job crafting the story in this series.  He's taken what started out as being a mystical western comic, and shaped it into a story structured around ancient evils, and the orders that exist to combat or serve them.  In addition to the Sword of Abraham, a group of priests who have been working to keep the six guns under their control, and to stop the spread of evil, in this issue we first learn about the Knights of Solomon, an old order that exists to use the guns (or whatever they were in previous incarnations) for their own means.

Becky, the possessor of the sixth gun, is determined to go looking for Drake Sinclair, her friend and the possessor of the other five weapons.  The Sword does not want her to leave, and are basically keeping her prisoner in their keep.  Luckily, an old friend shows up to help her.

While this is going on, Gord Cantrell continues to face his own demons, or more accurately, ghosts.  He has an opportunity to bring his wife and children back to life, but for that to happen, he'll have to burn the books that offer him the only chance he has at destroying the six guns.  Gord's an interesting character, and it's interesting watching his conflict with himself (both literally and figuratively) over this issue.

This is an excellent comic.  Bunn keeps the story moving nicely, and Hurtt's doing the best work of his career.

The Unwritten #31.5

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Michael Wm. Kaluta, Rick Geary, and Bryan Talbot

The Unwritten is being published on a bi-weekly basis for the next few months, with every second issue being given a '.5' number.  The purpose of this is to tell some of the stories of The Cabal (apparently called The Unwritten Cabal, as we have learned in this issue), and their mainstay Pullman.

This issue has three stories, each illustrated by a terrific guest artist.  Mike Kaluta takes us to China in 221BC, when an emperor has demanded the burning of books and scrolls that may 'confuse thought'.  It seems that it is Pullman who is tasked with carrying out the inspections of schools and monasteries, and we learn that the man hasn't changed much in the last two thousand years.

Rick Geary draws a story about Homer Davenport, a cartoonist for William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal set in 1881.  Davenport's story is reminiscent of the Rudyard Kipling issue of this series a couple of years ago, as he has been co-opted by the Cabal.  He's thinking of exposing them through his art (which he believes is largely responsible for America declaring war on Spain, but is dissuaded from this course of action.  I love Geary's art, which is perfectly suited for the conversation he draws here.

Finally, the issue ends with Bryan Talbot showing a confrontation between Gutenberg, the man who invented the printing press, and an agent of the Cabal in 1462.  At the heart of their dispute?  The fact that cheap, affordable books will encourage people to learn to read.  This turns out to be a real watershed moment for the Cabal, as they realise that they have to embrace the new technology instead of oppose it.

This is a very cool issue of this comic.  I would like to see some longer stories in these .5 issues, but I am happy with the direction that this book is going in.  Originally, it felt like a bit of a cash grab on Vertigo's part (similar to Marvel's recent policy of double-shipping titles all the time), but I can see how it's going to enhance the stories in this series.

Wholphin No. 10

Edited by Brent Hoff

This issue of Wholphinhas a number of excellent short films, with a bit more of a Hollywood presence than I'm used to.

First though, it opens with a condensation of the best documentary I've seen in ages, Audience Of One.  In it, the filmmaker travels with a church group who are working to produce a massive-budget Biblical science fiction epic that tells the story of Joseph, despite the fact that no one in their group has experience making movies, and they don't have the money they need.  Why are they doing this?  God told their pastor to.  Upon watching this shorter version, I immediately ordered the full-length film, and it is currently making the rounds of all of my friends.  It's brilliant.

Among the short films on this disc, three stand out.  'I Love Sarah Jane' is a zombie short featuring some Australian teenagers who have lost their families.  What makes this work so well is the performances of the two leads - Brad Ashby and Mia Wasikowska (of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland fame).  Jimbo, the young boy, is so in love with Sarah Jane that the entire zombie thing doesn't even bother him.  It's a very good film.

'Teleglobal Dreamin'' is an interesting short about a man who has gone to the Philippines to train call centre employees.  One of the women who work at the place take him out on the town, and starts to spread the rumor that he is actually the American actor Brandon Fraser.  This leads to scenes of him getting mobbed for autographs, and even abducted.  It's a funny film, and very well acted.

The third of the Hollywood-connected films is Natalie Portman's authorial and screenwriting debut, 'Eve'.  This is an excellent study of aging, as a young woman spends the night at her grandmother's, and gets taken along on her date with a recently available widower.  It's funny, touching, and in the way it dances around the subject of the girl's mother, shows that there is much more going on under the surface than the viewer is aware of.

Also of note on this disc is Jonathan Demme's biography 'Joe and Linda Flooded Out of Holy Cross.'  Joe and Linda are older residents of New Orleans, and they have both reacted to the events of Hurricane Katrina very differently.  Linda just wants to clean up their house (clearly the two are hoarders to some degree), while Joe is not able to move on from the topic of the city, what happened during the storm, and how things are now (at the time of filming).  He's a broken, angry man, and watching him sound off on the topic for twenty minutes is heart-breaking.

Also included here is 'He Was Once', a film that equally disturbed and annoyed me.  If you hated the old Davey and Goliath Christian propaganda cartoons (and who doesn't), you may be interested in this, but I found it unwatchable.

The DVD menu films include 'Hunt and Gather', in which a man rides around on a bicycle modified to carry a ladder, which he uses to climb up to power wires festooned with tied sneakers.  He then shoots down the sneakers, and replaces them with the ones he is wearing.  It's funny the first couple of times, but it gets old.

DMZ #71

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

For most of this comic, I was convinced that I was reading the final issue, and as such, I found myself getting annoyed with the extent to which this issue was only focusing on Matty, when so many other denizens of the DMZ have grown on me over the last six years.  It's all good though, as there's one more issue left...

Most of this issue is set in a courthouse, where Matty stands on trial.  As per his arrangement with the government, Matty is prepared to plead guilty to every charge brought against him, no matter how much they are based on twisted facts and narrow readings of events.  At the heart of this entire final story arc is Matty's intense guilt for his actions over the course of this series - to him, being punished for something he didn't do is as righteous a form of penance for the things that he actually did.

I like the way Wood and Burchielli flash back to events from the course of the series as the justices read out the charges.  It's a fitting way to look back over this series as it comes to its conclusion.  I've been thinking lately about how much this series is a product of its times, but I think I'll wait until next month to discuss that.  I'm going to miss this title.

Dark Horse Presents #6

Written by Peter Hogan, Carla Speed McNeil, Felipe Melo, Evan Dorkin, Fábio Moon, Neal Adams, Steve Niles, Robert Love, David Walker, Howard Chaykin, and Andi Watson
Art by Steve Parkhouse, Carla Speed McNeil, Juan Cavia, Jill Thompson, Fábio Moon, Neal Adams, Christopher Mitten, Robert Love, Howard Chaykin, Andi Watson, and Geof Darrow

Another month, another incredibly varied collections of stories in Dark Horse Presents.  This issue is a treat though, as it has a story by Fábio Moon, who is one of my favourite artists working today.  His story is about people challenging themselves, and it has the poetic quality familiar in his and his brother's work, especially to anyone who has read the brilliant Daytripper.  This piece was a nice surprise.

Also, there's a new Beasts of Burden story by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson, which is also always welcome.  I did have a problem with this story though - it's flashback nature (the Wise Dog is telling a story to some puppies as the framing device) led Thompson to use sepia tones instead of her usual warm watercolours.  Still, this is a lovely little story.

I'm currently reading the first of the two Dark Horse Finder Library editions, and so the new Finder story by Carla Speed McNeil was of particular interest to me.  I like how accessible she's been making these shorts, and they definitely played a part in my seeking out the rest of her work.

I also continue to enjoy some of the on-going serials in this volume.  Number 13 is great, as is Resident Alien.  The Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizzaboy continues to grow on me, as does Howard Chaykin's Marked Man.

I found Andi Watson's ghost story to be cute if not really to my tastes, and I continue to not be very impressed with Criminal Macabre (which is at least over).  I find Neal Adams's Blood unreadable.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Rasl #12

by Jeff Smith

I guess Jeff Smith felt like it was time to finish off his history lesson on Nikola Tesla, as the plot barely advances with this issue, and we are instead treated to a lengthy examination of the latter part of the great inventor's career, including his public disparagement of Einstein, and his final rise to fame after Edison's death.  This stuff is pretty cool - I've always been curious about Tesla but have never taken the time to read a biography or history book that covers his achievements (science makes my head hurt a little), so I can appreciate getting that lesson here - assuming of course that Smith is being accurate in his telling of the story.

The thing is, this comic comes out pretty rarely.  I don't really remember what happened in the eleventh issue, and since there is no recap or letters page, I found myself pretty lost.  I guess that's my fault - I could always dig out the previous issue before I read the new one, but who has the time?  Clearly my memory is starting to go in my advanced age as well, since I can only manage to keep the plots of the multitudes of monthly, bi-monthly, and occasional comics series I'm reading fresh in my mind for about three or four months.

Anyway, this is an interesting comic.  I'm just totally lost right now.  Perhaps when the next issue comes out, Smith will take pity on us and include a little blurb on the inside cover.  I know that there's only about four issues left, so I imagine something big is going to have to happen soon.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Caligula #5

Written by David Lapham
Art by German Nobile

I've been enjoying Lapham's twisted take on the twisted Roman Emperor, but this issue had a problem that really affected my enjoyment.  For some reason, the art in this issue is much darker and muddier than all the previous issues.  On Avatar's website, there are some preview pages, and for them, the colouring looks much lighter and more like the previous issues.  The one I brought home looks like a Radical comic.

Storywise, I like what Lapham's been doing with this comic, mixing the supernatural with the historical.  We are a little closer to learning just what Caligula really is, as his reign further devolves into paranoia and terror.  Nobile portrays Rome as an increasingly degraded city, with people starving in the streets.  I love the scene where Incitatus, the horse, is made a Senator of Rome.

Our hero, Junius, continues to demonstrate an ancient version of Stockholm Syndrome, while still working with the noble Laurentius to bring Caligula down.  His character is becoming increasingly complicated, as he vacillates between loving the Emperor and plotting his demise.  Also of interest this issue is the emergence of Jewish monotheism as a threat to Caligula.

I look forward to seeing how this series is going to end.  I only hope that Avatar fixes the colouring issue, so we can actually see how this series is going to end.

Scalped #54

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

After this issue, there will only be six more Scalped comics.  This knowledge makes me very sad, but it also forces me to slow down in my reading of the book, and to savour what is left.

Scalped has been my favourite comic (usually tied with The Walking Dead) for a few years now, and its one of the few comics where I've developed such strong feelings for the characters, that it can really upset me at times.  This is one of those issues.  Amid the stream of violent acts and brutal killings that fill this book, there is one moment that I found a little heartbreaking.

Sheriff Karnow has affected a huge change in his life of late, and has gone from being the typical Boss Hogg hick sheriff loudmouth to being someone who truly cares about his job and is searching for his own redemption.  This has led him to raid a meth lab, although he's had to do it on his own, being double-crossed by his deputies, and by the FBI.  Obviously, this does not go well for Karnow, but it is the identity of the person that delivers that coup de grace that upset me.  I don't want to spoil it, but anyone who has regularly read my musings on this series over the years would know who my favourite character in this series is.  I just don't know what led him to that particular moment, and hope that, with the little time left for the series, we can find out.

The rest of the comic is much more relevant to the current plot.  Red Crow handles his right hand man Shunka's recent betrayal, which leads to one very memorable moment that was clearly unexpected from Lincoln's point of view than it was from ours.  Shunka has been a pretty interesting character.  He's gone from being a silent thug to a pretty complicated, closeted homosexual killer, and Aaron was able to keep him believable throughout.

Also is this issue, Dash's father, Wade, finds out who killed his wife, and attempts his revenge, amid the carnage of a jail that was shot up randomly.  This did confuse me a bit - I don't remember where Wade and Catcher were incarcerated - they clearly weren't in Karnow's jail, as we see it later on and there is no discussion of the dead officers, but it's also clearly not on the Reserve, as all of the cops who get killed are white.  I think I need to back up and read the last couple of issues again.

As always, this was a very powerful comic.  Next issue promises a confrontation between Bad Horse and Shunka, and I expect we'll learn what affect Karnow's fate has on FBI Agent Nitz.  I know it's way too late in the game to convince anyone to start reading this title on a monthly basis, but I can't recommend the trades of this series enough.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Where Are You From?

Christophe LeMaire and Now-Again Records Present a Series of Global Psychedelic Rock, Funk, and Rare Groove

Where Are You From? is a compilation of sixteen songs, selected by someone who works for Lacoste who was given access to the Now-Again vaults.  In the liner notes, he talks about how he selected music for which it is hard to pin down a location.  There is Afro-funk from Germany, and rock from Iran and Indonesia.

This is an excellent introduction to the Now-Again catalogue, and I have been enjoying listening to it quite a bit.  I rather wish that the whole compilation was new to me though.  There are three tracks off the incredible Rikki Ililonga and Musi-O-Tunya collection Dark Sunrise, and a Panbers track off the Indonesian compilation Those Shocking, Shaking Days.  Also, some of the Karl Hector & The Malcouns tracks (there are two) sound familiar.  I also wish there was a little more information in the liner notes about where some of the artists that are unknown to me, such as Damon, Dan Lambert, and Mrr-Adm can be found.

This album did convince me that I want to pick up the Iranian Kourosh Yaghamaei's album Back from the Brink, which I was previously on the fence about.

Also included here are some Now-Again/Stones Throw mainstays, such as Koushik and Gary Wilson (who I can't hear now without thinking about a strip that Jim Mahfood drew about listening to him.  Gaaaarrrrryyyyyy!).  In all, another fantastic disc from the fine people at Now-Again.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: Night Powers

Written by Christopher Hastings and Benito Cereno
Art by Christopher Hastings, Kent Archer, and Les McClaine

I'm thankful for Dark Horse's program of publishing webcomics in print form.  I'm not likely to read a webcomic very regularly, and find I don't enjoy reading anything lengthy on my computer, so Dark Horse's efforts in publishing titles like Achewood and Wondermark have been appreciated.  Really, I don't think I would have ever stumbled on the genius of Dr. McNinja otherwise.

Dr. McNinja is exactly what he sounds like.  A medical doctor who happens to be a ninja.  He likes helping people, and using his ninja abilities for good.  The doctoring is done just to pay the bills.  This is a pretty crazy comic.  There are three stories from the webcomic reprinted here, and a short story by Cereno and McClaine.

The first story involves the good doctor helping an old college buddy, who is basically a purple Hulk and owner of a successful chain of grocery stores, who is having problems wit two gangs - one run by a Lobster Person, and the other by King Radical, the major villain of this series.

In the second story, Dr. McNinja is hired to infiltrate an ancient Inocktek temple where a tennis champion has to best an ancient machine in tennis combat or the world will end.  The current champ has an injured ankle, and so requires a doctor, but only a ninja doctor could possibly get past all the boobytraps.

The third story has Dr. McNinja begin to fixate on defeating King Radical, who looks a lot like the Burger King king, were he more Exxtreme! (the extra x is there for emphasis).  He acquires a white motorcycle with rainbows painted on it, and this becomes the tool he hopes will help him vanquish his enemy (although there is the possibility that the bike is really a unicorn, with questionable motives.

This book is a lot of fun.  Hastings's work reminds me of Atomic Robo, and does not seem to have any limit in terms of madcapness.  The Dr. is assisted by a mustachioed twelve-year-old who rides a dinosaur, and a quiet female gorilla.  Strange things happen throughout this comic, and the alt-texts included at the bottom of each page are hilarious.  Great stuff - I hope Dark Horse publishes more of these, although I also can envision spending a lot of time getting caught up with this comic on-line.


by Roberto Bolaño

 I wasn't too sure, going in, what I should expect from this slim volume, which contains Bolaño's first novel, written when he was beginning as a writer, and published in Spanish twenty-two years after it was written.  In the back of the book, it was described as "the Big Bang of Bolaño's fictional universe", but anyone who is familiar with Bolaño's work would know that that will make this a singularly strange read.

And strange it is.  Antwerp is a scant 78 pages, consisting of 56 numbered chapters, always only one or two pages long.  The plot is almost impossible to follow, but it basically is a crime novel, involving a hunchback, an Englishman, a writer, and a murder at a campground in Barcelona.  There are police officers who have sexual interactions (not all of which can be called intercourse) with nameless young women, and the book is full of lengthy and talented descriptions of their surroundings.  It also has a fair amount of overheard, random dialogue.

Part way through, I decided to read Antwerp as a prose poem, and got more pleasure out of it that way than as trying to follow it as a novel.  Its obvious that Bolaño was talented from the beginning, but most of this book felt like an attempt to write in the style of William S. Burroughs, rather than develop his own voice.

I enjoyed reading this as a piece of literary history and Bolaño completism, but I'm thankful that it was not much longer.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dear Friends: An Evening With The Foreign Exchange

by The Foreign Exchange

I've been listening to the CD that came with this CD + DVD package for a while now, but today was the first that I've felt like sitting down and watching the Dear Friends concert, which was recorded in front of a small audience in the intimate Sound Pure Studios back in February.  The concerts consists of ten songs, mostly from the FE catalogue, although there is one from Zo!'s album, another from Nicolay's, and a cover of a James Taylor classic.

Phonte and Nicolay are joined for this concert by vocalists Sy Smith and Jeanne Jolly.  Zo! plays the piano, and there are a couple more guitarists and a drummer backing them.  The music here is as warm and inviting as Phonte's voice and stage manner.  Smith is radiant; I could watch her (and listen to her laugh) all day.  I was quite surprised to realize just how much Phonte looks like the actor Wendell Pierce, from The Wire and Treme.  I kept waiting for Antoine Baptiste to come wandering onto the stage with his trombone, to steal the show.

Strangely, the CD has more banter than the concert DVD, but both are deserving of repeated plays.  I love the hillbilly version of 'Daykeeper', which Phonte explains came out of a desire to keep from getting sick of what is probably their best-known song.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Xenoholics #2

Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Seth Damoose

Where the first issue was kind of fun, and showed some good potential, this second issue really shifts into a higher gear, and proves that everyone comparing this title to Chew is probably correct.  Xenoholics is about an AA-style group for people who are alien abduction survivors.  In the first issue, we learned who the various members of the group are, and some of their secrets (one of them is a reporter looking to earn their trust for an article he's writing).  Things take a sudden turn though when crop circles appear in the pavement of Times Square, and the kindly professor who runs the group goes missing.

Now, with this second issue, the group members go to the Professor's apartment to investigate, and conclude from the hole in the wall, that he's been abducted.  Their investigation is quickly interrupted by the mysterious Agent Wax, who claims to be from the FBI (and is probably of no relation to the Agent Wax who was in Wildcats 3.0).

That meeting doesn't go well, and one of the group, a famous boxer, knocks him out.  Our heroes take refuge in a cosplay sci-fi sex fetish club that they discover the Professor frequents, and set about planning their next move.  The club scenes are really pretty funny, and have backgrounds worthy of study (although I don't want to know what that Yeti was doing).

I like the way Williamson has set up this story, with plenty of intrigue and shadowy cabals, coupled with the fact that just about every cast member in this book is lying about something.  Much like Chew, this looks to be a series with some legs, and enough story potential to last a while.  Damoose's art is really growing on me too.


Written by David Axe
Art by Steven Olexa

War-Fix is the last of the books that I picked up when I went out west this summer (yes, I am that far behind on my reading). I grabbed it in a used bookstore in Vancouver because it looked interesting.  As anyone who has read my reviews know, I have a thing for war comics, and am always interested in contemporary interpretations of war in comics.  I hadn't realized that the writer was the same person who wrote War is Boring: Bored Stiff, Scared to Death in the World's Worst War Zones, which I read about a year ago.

I quickly figured out that there was a relation here, as while I was reading this I was struck by some pretty strong comic book deja vu.  The two books are thematically very similar.  Axe's contention is that war is addictive, and simultaneously very boring, and as a reporter, he finds himself highly motivated to seek out combat situations.

In this book, Axe talks his way to an embed in Iraq, where he plans to cover the war.  He sees some action, but also spends a lot of time sitting around thinking about things.  I felt like not much happens in this book - it really only comes alive when Axe is speaking to a journalist for the BBC, who has covered some twenty wars in twenty years, and was almost executed in Croatia.

A big part of the problem with this book was that Olexa's page designs can be hard to follow.  This is a smaller, square-bound book, so double-page spreads have a habit of disappearing into the fold in the centre, making them difficult to recognize as double-page spreads.  And there really are a lot of double-page spreads.

This is an interesting book, but in the end not terribly memorable, and not as good as the more recent War is Boring.

The Walking Dead #91

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Some time has passed since the last issue, and the Community, under Rick's leadership, has continued to make preparations for the coming winter.  Glenn, Maggie, and some others have gone on a scrounging trip for a couple of weeks, while the rest of the town has gone on with their life as usual.  It looks like the trenches have been dug, the fences have been buttressed with vehicles, and Rick has been having regular meetings with his 'inner circle' to discuss matters like small-scale farming and food supply.

On the surface, this doesn't sound like the most exciting comic, but it continues to work very well.  It's rare in zombie comics and movies to see any attention paid to the mechanics of rebuilding, and I for one find that to be a fascinating topic.  Of course, it also gives Kirkman the chance to check in on a number of characters.  Sophia is slowly becoming less crazy as she gets older, finally admitting that she knows that Maggie and Glen are not her parents.  Carl and Rick are continuing to have problems, as Carl adjusts to life after his injury, and appears to suffer a very normal amount of anger and self-pity.  And then there's the blossoming relationship between Rick and Andrea, which is handled exceptionally well.

And, of course, just as we begin to wonder if there is going to be less action in this comic as it becomes more about making the Community a permanent settlement, Kirkman tosses in the uncertainty of the last two pages, promising exciting things to come.  I love this comic.

Severed #4

Written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft
Art by Attila Futaki

Severed continues to be an excellent Depression-era coming of age horror comic, with a strong focus on character.  This issue hinges on an event that I don't really understand though, and that caused me to be thrown out of the story completely.

To begin with the positive, I've really enjoyed reading about the friendship between Jack and Sam.  They've become a good team, looking out for one another on the road, and finding in the other a loyal companion.  They have a pretty big fight this issue, over the entrance of Alan Fisher, who claims to be a Victrola salesman, although we readers know he's a predatory cannibal.

This leads to my problems with this issue.  Previously, Sam had stolen Fisher's business card, which we saw him take from the real Alan Fisher a couple of issues back.  She calls the number, and speaks to someone at RCA Victor, who suggests he meet her at a diner in a remote setting.  In typical horror comic fashion, she agrees, and doesn't seem to find anything strange about a completely abandoned restaurant in the middle of nowhere, where she discovers that the RCA guy she spoke to is really.... (I'm sure you can guess).

This doesn't work.  If he altered the phone number so it would be his own, why bother using the card in the first place?  Also, it's the Depression and we've established that the guy is living in a rooming house.  He wouldn't have his own phone, so the fact that he answered when Sam called doesn't make sense.  I understand that something like this would need to happen to continue the plot, but it just doesn't work for me.

I'll look past this though, as the rest of the comic works very well.

Blue Estate #7

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yenev, and Andrew Osborne
Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, and Tomm Coker

I was pretty surprised, looking through the credits of this issue to see that Tomm Coker was joining the Blue Estate team.  Previous regulars like Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, and Paul Maybury have a more similar visual aesthetic than Coker, whose work is more realistic.  A big part of the fun of this comic has always been trying to figure out who drew which page (although I think I'm usually wrong).

Anyway, Coker's art fits surprisingly well with this particular issue's content.  The story of Blue Estate has moved from sprawling and random to being very interconnected and tight, as characters who we previously thought had nothing to do with one another are getting tied together in multiple ways.  Bruce Maddox, the film star, and his bodyguard/lover Marcellus have decided to finally deal with what they've called 'The Rachel Situation' once and for all, by planning to kill her and set up a PI as a dupe to take the fall.  What they don't know is that a mobster has hired Clarence, who is also Rachel's secret friend and AA sponsor, to kill Bruce.

This leads to a spectacular action sequence (mostly drawn by Coker), which ends a little unexpectedly for everyone.  I love how so many plot threads are coming together, and can't wait to see how the next issue plays out.  This is a book that rewards careful reading and attention to detail (like the fact that Clarence had to borrow someone's car to get to his hit), and it's never dull.  I do hate this month's cover though...

Northlanders #46

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Declan Shalvey

I'm going to miss this comic when it's gone.  Wood has consistently given us a fascinating look into Viking culture, and this Icelandic Trilogy has been one of the best arcs of the title yet.

In this issue, Brida Hauksson, leader of her clan in her brother's continued absence, has to respond to the provocations of the rival Belgarsson clan, and to their new relationship with the Christian church, who previously had very little hold on Icelandic society.  Wood has often made good use of this period between paganism and monotheism, as some members of the society have embraced the new approach to life, while others have clung to the old ways.

The character of Brida is fascinating.  She is not constrained by the usual roles of women, yet cannot be completely in charge either.  Wood shows her frustration with her limitations, but also shows her as a strong and proactive leader.

Declan Shalvey's work on this book is great.  He's using a much cleaner approach than he has when working on Marvel's Thunderbolts, with the effect that his work fits within what could be considered the Vertigo 'house style'.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Morning Glories #14

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

Ah, Morning Glories, what are we to do with you?  With each issue, I expect to finally get some clues as to what is going on in this comic, but by the end of it, I'm always more confused and lost (perhaps I should say Lost).  This issue runs simultaneously with the previous issue, which showed us some of the 'Woodrun', a school-wide event about which we knew no more than the name.

This issue is focused on Hunter, Zoe, and Jun, who are put on a team for the run.  We still don't know the rules of the game, but we do know that the prize is 'stuff' that Zoe wants, and so she forces the others into being involved.  There are plenty of great moments between Hunter and Zoe, whose animosity towards each other has reached new levels.

While this is going on, we see more of the growing tensions between the senior staff at the Morning Glories Academy, but still learn very little about their true purposes.  There's also a strange flashback set in late 17th century New England that doesn't explain anything, but instead opens up even more questions.

This comic is a really fun read.  I think I'm getting past caring about how little information we really have, and prefer to read each issue looking for clues, knowing that I'm either a) never going to find out the whole story, or b) be totally disappointed in the ending.  Either way, when the book is this good, I'm just enjoying the ride.

iZombie #19

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

iZombie has never been your typical zombie comic, but now that there has been an outbreak of the typical, shambolic zombie in the city of Eugene, Chris Roberson is getting the chance to play with some of the scenes we never see in the movies, aside from Shaun of the Dead.  We are in that special time where the outbreak hasn't spread much, and so people are still going about their usual lives, although danger could lurk around every corner.  The National Guard is in town, under the command of the Dead Presidents.

This makes it hard for the cast of this book.  Gwen is going to ground (literally), staying in her tomb in order to avoid detection.  Spot is also a little nervous about being out and around, especially since he has his first date with Gavin (which doesn't go all that well, but has lots of interesting implications for their future).

Every issue of this comic takes the time to check in on most of its cast, which gives each character only a small amount of screen time.  This works well, but also limits how much can happen in each issue.  This month's chapter is no different, but continues to be a strong mix of intelligent writing and fantastic Allred art.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Elephantmen #36

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medellin and Rob Steen

First, I want to mention how Richard Starkings makes sure that his readers get their money's worth with this comic.  For $4, there are 35 pages of comics in here, spread across the main story, and two back-ups:  one a Mappo story set in the past, and (finally), a new chapter of the very cute Charley Loves Robots series.

The main story starts a new four part arc called 'The Killing Season'.  In typical Elephantmen fashion, this story is set before the story that Shaky Kane drew a couple of issues back, and it concerns Hip's investigation into the killings of Elephantmen for their ivory, which led to his bizarre visit to the plastic surgeon in the aforementioned issue.

Starkings uses this issue to check in with almost all of the cast.  Miki wakes up in Hip's bed (alone), and goes to work on Tiny's first day back.  Mr. Apostrophe takes a dip in a familiar canal, and finds the bodies dumped by the assassin who keeps showing up in this series.  Later, Trench oversees the recovery of all these bodies.  While all this is happening, Sahara and Ebony Hide have a visit from a Buddhist Elephantman, who has a long (and wordy) talk with Sahara about his religion.

In all, this is a decent issue, although it requires a better memory than mine to put all of the scenes in the correct context.  While I admire the complexity of Starkings vision for this comic, I do find it hard to pick up on all the subtle references to former issues that he makes, and I don't have the encyclopedic knowledge at hand that this comic sometimes needs.  Still, I don't want to fault someone for vision.  I just can't imagine picking up a random issue for the first time and understanding it at all.

Medellin continues to grow as an artist, putting ever more detail into his backgrounds, while making his central figures look terrific.  I don't think he can get much better than this, but then each month, he proves me wrong.

'68: Hardship

Written by Mark Kidwell
Art by Jeff Zornow

The high water mark of Vietnam War comics has to be Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart's Vertigo book The Other Side. It is a brilliant examination of the war, told from the perspectives of two reluctant combatants - one an American GI, the other a VC peasant.  I found the Vietnamese guy much more sympathetic, especially after the American started cracking up.

Why am I talking about that book when reviewing this first '68 one-shot since the title became an on-going series?  Basically, if the soldier from The Other Side had come back to a zombie-infested America, that series's epilogue would have been this comic.

Teddy Calhoun has completed two tours in 'Nam, and has come home on a hardship exemption because his mother was dying.  The thing is, the hardship request came at on opportune time, since his commanding officer would probably have to have given him a Section 8 designation - period Army code for a psychological disorder.  Teddy's lost it, but back home in the fields of Nebraska, it's easy for him to give in to his paranoia and delusions.  Especially after the zombies start showing up.

This is a pretty classic horror story, following some rather predictable patterns (at least until the tornado shows up), but it's still pretty interesting.  Kidwell builds up the characters quickly, and makes the story compelling.  Zornow's art works, and he has the opportunity to really cut loose (both claymores and a wheat combine get used rather novelly).  Zombies and war - the concept is so good it has to work.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Echo Vol. 5: Black Hole

by Terry Moore

A few weeks ago when I wrote about Volume 4 of Echo, I commented that the story had taken a swing in a different direction.  Well, things are getting even stranger now that I've reached Volume 5.

Moore's story is still firmly grounded in strong character work, but the villainy of the people at HeNRI, the company that has been pursuing Julie, is getting stranger and stranger, as the scientist Hong Liu captures Julie and Ivy, forcing Annie, the test pilot and scientist who created the alloy suit that Julie is now wearing, to take control of the situation.

There are other strange changes afoot as well.  To begin with, Julie's entire body is changing as a result of her wearing the suit, and Ivy, the secret agent, is regressing in age.  All of these changes work within the context of the story, and help to build it towards its climax in the next volume, but the revelation that the crazy old guy who has also been chasing Julie may be a figure from the Old Testament rather stretches things too far.

Really, it's a testament to Moore's strong handle on these characters that I'm still so eager to see where this goes, when that particular turn of events hit.  Echo is a great comic, but I'm starting to wonder if all these new elements were in Moore's original plan for the story, or if he was driving without a map at this point.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wet Moon Vol. 4: Drowned in Evil

by Ross Campbell

I'll confess that I don't even begin to understand the power that this comic has over me.  I've never been interested in punk, goth, emo anything, have never thought for a moment that piercings are cool (and only rarely have felt that way about tattoos), and usually would have little to no interest about the minutiae of the lives of a bunch of poly-sexual 18-21 year-olds attending college (occasionally) and hanging out with one another (unless the book is Scott Pilgrim).  And yet, this is the fourth time I've started a volume of Wet Moon and read it compulsively until it was finished.

Ross Campbell gets a lot of credit for creating such an interesting and compelling comic.  Really, very little happens in this issue - Cleo tells her friends that she is 'with' Myrtle, but then kisses Mara at a comics convention.  Mara sucks at babysitting monster children, the cat comes back, and Cleo starts her job.  That's about it in terms of plot development.  Well, that and the appearance of a vigilante called The Unknown who stalks the campus parks keeping young women safe.

The strength of this comic lies in the steady succession of strong character moments.  Characters' lives feel like real peoples' lives (more or less), and watching them react to a number of both quotidian and strange events is fun, and vaguely voyeuristic.  This feeling is enhanced by the liberal use of Cleo's journal, or Mara's Livejournal to recap events and put a more personal spin on them.  While I don't think I'd like many of these people in real life, I find that I do like reading about them.

The biggest strength of the book is of course Campbell's art.  I've written before about how he draws real women with real women's bodies, but also seems to enjoy indulging in an attraction for amputees, piercings, and tattoos.  This is a pretty sexy comic.

The best part about this volume though, has to be the cameo by Becky Cloonan.  She is immediately recognizable, and seeing her in the comics convention scene was a treat. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Popgun Vol. 4

Edited by DJ Kirkbride, Anthony Wu, and Andrew P. Knave

There's nothing better than a thick, heavy, well-produced book full of comics.  The Popgun series of anthologies has garnered a lot of attention for their ability to bring greater exposure for emerging and lesser-known cartoonists and artists, and placing them next to some of the biggest names in the industry (although to be fair, in this volume, that's just Erik Larsen).

This five hundred-plus page fourth volume has some seventy-three contributors, which is amazing.  Some of the stories in here are great, and I've found a few people whose careers I'm now interested in following (such as Anthony Wu, Frank Stockton, Darren Rawlings, and Stuart Livingston).

It also has some work from creators whose work I've been enjoying for a while, like JM Ken Niimura, Tom Scioli, and Salgood Sam, who we don't see enough from.

I have some problems with the book though.  In a book this full, there are plenty of very short stories, and that has the cumulative effect of making none of them feel very consequential.  I found that most of them had left my memory almost before I'd started the next one.  As well, the level of diversity sometimes works against the book.  I support a wide range of comics, and like to see a lot of variety in books like this, but don't understand why stories that are so obviously for young children are included in a book with nudity and strong language.

Still, in the overall, I got a lot of enjoyment out of this book, and should probably read the two volumes I haven't gotten ahold of yet.

Castor, The Twin

by Dessa

Normally, when you hear that a much respected musical artist is releasing a new album that contains mostly previously released material, you start to wonder why they are trying to cash in on their past, and you start to think that they are out of ideas.

When Dessa does this, as she does on her newest disc, Castor, The Twin, you instead think about how lucky you are as a fan.  For this album, Dessa has revisited her previous gems, and has reworked them for live instrumentation.  Her wonderful voice is joined by bass, piano, guitar, drums, vibraphone, viola, violin, and mandolin, recasting her work in a warmer, more lived-in light.  And it's fantastic.

All the favourites are here - 'The Chaconne', 'Mineshaft' one and two, 'Into the Spin', 'Dixon's Girl', 'Palace', and '551'.  Dessa's voice sounds as rich as ever, and her intelligent, piercing lyrics are highlighted by the new arrangements.  Dessa is easily the most intelligent and literary rapper/singer in the business, and on this disc she continues to push the boundaries of the genres she often gets pigeonholed in.

There is a new song on here as well, 'The Beekeeper', which is very nice.  I do feel like this album would have benefited greatly from having one of the Doomtree crew show up.  I would have loved to hear POS join her on 'Dots & Dashes', but really, I'm not going to complain when I feel like this disc is such a gift to fans.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Louis Riel & Gabriel Dumont

by Joseph Boyden

There is a lot to like about John Raulston Saul's Extraordinary Canadians series, which consists of short biographies of important Canadians, written by novelists instead of academics.  When the series began, the one that I was most interested in reading was the co-biography of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, the two Métis leaders who led a rebellion against the Canadian government in 1885.

Boyden manages, in a scant 180 pages, to distill the story of Métis mistreatment at the hands of the Canadian government, and the roles played by these two very different leaders, into a quick moving and fascinating portrait of resistance and strength in the face of an overwhelming tide of political will and demographic force.  Boyden juggles the narrative between the two leaders, highlighting their strengths and shortcomings, while still providing enough background for the motives and actions of the Canadian government, embodied in John A. MacDonald, to come across clearly, if unjustifiably, based on the standards of today.

Reading this, it seems that Boyden has more faith in the ability of Dumont, the last leader of the buffalo hunt, to organize his people and hold off the Canadian forces during the Northwest Rebellion.  Had Dumont led things, Boyden is saying, instead of deferring to Riel's will, things would have ended very differently for the Métis.

Boyden does not shy away from the question of Riel's mental state while running the Exovedate, the provisional government he established in Batoche.  Riel believed himself the Prophet of the New World, and acted accordingly, counting on negotiation with the government over the showing of force through violence.

Riel was a complicated man, while Dumont was not.  Both are heroes to their people, and should be held up as heroes to all of Canada.  They saw that the country's future lay in a pluralistic society, and not in the hands of Orange Order Ontario Protestants.  It is good to see that they are finally, over the last twenty years or so, receiving the recognition they deserve.  It has been 126 years since Riel was executed (as of this coming Wednesday), and nice to see that he is finally being recognized as one of the founders of this great country.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pigs #3

Written by Ben McCool and Nate Cosby
Art by Breno Tamura

Pigs is cool, but I don't feel like the subsequent two issues have been able to live up to the promise of the first issue.  This series started with a story that managed to introduce some of the main characters, set up the general situation, and provide a surprise ending which has not yet been revisited.

Since that first issue, we've now spent two watching the actions of the Russian terrorist sleeper cell (now the children of the original cell members) come to America, recruit a former member, and now travel to Colorado to hunt down a Senator, for reasons we still don't know.  Along the way, we are given a few flashbacks to the early 90s, when Alex, who is beginning to look like our POV character, was being trained.

This comic is still plenty intriguing, I just feel that ignoring a bomb like the one the writers dropped on us two months ago for too long is going to have a negative effect on the story.  I've heard that the writers have a long, complicated story to tell, which I'm all for, I'm just worried that they may lose some of their audience if they spend too much time on the smaller details of the beginning of the story.

Generally, this is an impressive package, which has some decent art, and has been able to stick to the monthly schedule so far (check McCool's track record on his other projects).  I prefer the covers being done by Jock to Amanda Connor's cover this month (although, I do love Connor) mostly because Jock's style is more in line with the interiors of the book.

The Unwritten #31

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and MK Perker

How quickly things have changed for Tom Taylor.  It wasn't that long ago that he was rejecting his fictional heritage, and trying hard to distance himself from anything that may have had to do with the Tommy Taylor novels.  Now, having learned that the mysterious Cabal that has been mucking with him has been systematically murdering anyone he's ever known, he's decided to embrace his inner Tommy, and turn the tables on them.

This basically means that Tom, wand in hand and flying cat nearby, has begun to wage war on the Cabal.  He's working with a number of super hero tropes, including a secret base in Antarctica, and relying on his untested magical knowledge perhaps a little too much.

This issue ushers in a new arc, 'Tommy Taylor and the War of Words', which is going to alternate with '.5' issues, shipping every two weeks, that delve into some of the different characters' pasts, and reveal a number of the Cabal's secrets.  This book is getting very exciting; I remember when I was on the fence about this title, and had pretty much decided to drop it.  I'm glad I stuck with it, as it's become very good.

Inking this issue is the talented MK Perker, who I haven't seen since Air was canceled.  It's nice to see him getting work at Vertigo, but to be honest, I didn't see his footprints on this much.  Granted, a sign of a talented inker is the penciller's vision being enhanced and not altered.  Still, I hope he gets to draw something on this comic; his style will match it nicely.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Baltimore: The Curse Bells #4

Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Art by Ben Stenbeck

The character of Lord Baltimore, the one-legged vampire hunter who is the star of this Mike Mignola title that is not set in the Hellboy continuity, has stayed more or less a cipher since he was introduced to comics with his last mini-series (I still don't know about how he was portrayed in the novel).  Sure, we've learned why he is on such a single-minded quest for revenge on the vampire Haggis, but we know very little about his character.

Some of who he is stands revealed with this issue, where he is given a choice.  He has the opportunity to kill Haggis, and thereby complete his mission, or he can stop the recently returned Madame Blavatsky from cursing the bells in the large church complex where this story is happening, and thereby save thousands of people from a life on ensorcelled servitude.  In most comics, the decision would be clear, but in this one it's not.

Mignola and Golden have built up a nice scenario for this character, and it helps the reader learn a lot about him.  The rest of the comic plays out like many Mignola comics do - it's heavy on symbolism, with a hint of pretension about it (especially when the guy trying to take power quotes Poe at length), but it's a very good read with nice, moody art.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka Vol. 1

by Naoki Urasawa after Osama Tezuka

It's tempting to start writing this review with my usual disclaimer that I don't read a lot of manga, and don't always understand the ones that I do read, but this is one of those books that, while completely steeped in the culture of manga, transcends it in almost every way.

Pluto is the modernization and reworking of Osama Tezuka's classic Astro Boy character, as handled by modern master Naoki Urasawa.  This first volume is mostly used to establish the mood and situation of this series, but it is done in a way that surprised me.

It opens with the death of Mont Blanc, Switzerland's most famous and beloved robot, who was killed mysteriously during a tornado, and found with wooden horns coming from his decapitated head.  Later, a human is killed in a similar way in Dusseldorf.  A crack robot detective from Europol, Gesicht, is assigned to the case.

Gesicht believes that a robot killed this man (robots are very common, and live much as humans do, taking spouses and living in homes and apartments, although it's not clear why), which is against the most basic of the robot's laws, and with one exception, is unheard of.

Strangely, the middle of this volume is devoted to a completely different, yet related, story about an aging musician and his new robot butler, who is trying to escape from his war-torn past.  This part of the book is what captivated me the most.  I began to really care about the old crank and North No. 2, his butler.

The book returns to Gesicht, who has come to realize that someone or something is targeting very special robots, which leads to him seeking out Atom, who I suppose will become the central figure in this comic.  (Atom is, of course, the original Japanese translation of Astro Boy's name).

Urasawa's art is beautiful in this book.  I read the first volume of his Monster, but was not anywhere near as impressed with his pacing and eye to detail.  I have three more volumes of this book to read, but I'm afraid I'm going to find myself completely hooked by this story, and so have to start hunting down the rest.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Audience of One

Directed by Michael Jacobs

I think it would be wise to preface this review with the statement that I've never understood religion.  Having grown up without having one thrust at me, I never began to believe, and what's more, I've never been able to fully understand the people who do.  Sure, I like to tell myself that I respect all religions as beautiful things, but when you look at how many of the world's problems have been caused or exacerbated by blind faith, it's a lot easier to work under the assumption that religious people are kind of crazy.

Recently, while watching the tenth issue of Wholphin, I came across a thirty minute condensation (like a Readers' Digest version) of Michael Jacobs's documentary Audience Of One.  It blew me away, and I immediately ordered the full-length film.

This documentary follows Richard Gazowsky, a Pentecostal pastor who tends to a ministry in San Francisco.  Gazowsky received a message from God directing him to revive the film industry by making the greatest movie ever - a Biblical epic called Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph.  The film is most frequently described as a cross between 'Star Wars and The Ten Commandments', and was to have a budget in excess of $200 million dollars.  Gazowsky and his flock sink their life savings into this film, and begin to make elaborate costumes, sets, and props before flying to Italy for five days of filming.

Not unexpectedly, considering that most of the actors and crew who were not church members were found on Craigslist, things don't go well. Soon, the crew is back in California, chasing investors, ducking creditors, and spending a lot of time praying.  Much of this movie is hilarious, but is at the same time pretty sad.  Gazowsky has a cult-leader's influence over the people in the church, including his two (gorgeous) daughters and son.

Watching this, it's hard to believe that Gazowsky is not having his fun at everyone's expense, but when you see the emotion on his face during prayers where people speak in tongues and flop around on the floor, you come to realize that he really believes this stuff.  In that way, this film can be seen as a testament to the power of faith, but it's also a lot of fun watching it as a chronicle of some deeply weird people doing some crazy stuff, and that makes it more entertaining than any reality TV.