Monday, December 31, 2012

Pherone

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Patrick Baggatta, and Jim Sink
Art by Viktor Kalvachev

I really enjoyed Blue Estate, Viktor Kalvachev's screwball gangster series that ended earlier this year, and I wanted to check out his earlier comics work.

Pherone was originally serialized in Heavy Metal, and is constructed that way, with a series of short chapters telling the story.  Eve is a beautiful woman who is shown seducing and killing men that she has targeted.  The thing is, every morning after a job, she has no memory of what has happened to her beforehand.  She keeps dealing with a pair of handlers who she does not like at all, and we learn that she used to have a close relationship with a woman named Cass, but for most of this book, we are as in the dark as Eve is.

Eventually, we get the full picture, and we learn what Pherone is.  This is a nicely structured story, and Kalvachev shows off his ability to use a number of different styles to tell a story.  There's definitely an element of Sin City to this book, and it should appeal to readers who like that series.  This is a good, quick read.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Hologram For the King

by Dave Eggers

A Hologram for the King marks the first fully fictional book that I've read by Eggers, since What is the What, his brilliant novel about a boy fleeing the war in Sudan, is really non-fiction in its basis, as is Zeitoun, his account of a family's struggles in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Both of these books show the strength of people in the most extreme of situations - war, famine, natural disaster, and America's Kafka-esque approach to fighting terrorism.

Hologram is not like that at all.  Its focus is on the decay of America's middle- and working-class, and American industry in general, as well as its diminishment on the world stage.  Alan Clay is an aging salesman who finds himself in late middle age with no idea what has happened to his employment, marital, and social status.  As a young man, he was a hugely successful executive at Schwinn, the bicycle company, before its business evaporated, a victim of its own drive for efficiency and cost-reduction through out-sourcing.  Now Clay is struggling to pay back the debts accrued through his attempts to start his own bicycle business, and to pay for his only daughter's college education.

Clay has been sent to Saudi Arabia to pitch a holographic communication system to the King Abdullah Economic City development, with the hope that Reliant Inc., the company sending him and three assistants, would become the IT provider's for the King's dream city of the future.  This is Alan's last chance at reaching anything approaching success, and he knows it.

The problem is, he and Reliant's team are clearly an afterthought.  They are left to languish for days in the KAEC's presentation tent, and no one has any idea when the King is going to arrive.  Alan succumbs to his own apathy, with the help of a little boot-legged siddiqui, and perhaps a mysterious growth on the back of his neck.

Alan is not the most sympathetic of characters at times; his bewilderment of the loss of privilege he, and by extension, his country, has suffered can be a little annoying, but there are a few very memorable characters filling this book.  The best is Yousuf, who we first meet as Alan's driver when he misses the shuttle bus to KAEC on his first day there.  Yousuf has been educated in the US, is the son of a very successful sandal shop owner, and is utterly and overwhelmingly bored in his country, where there are no opportunities for someone like him.  Much as Alan has become the face of America in this book, Yousuf, and later a female doctor, becomes the face of KSA, underscoring the differences between the two countries.

Eggers is an easy, capable writer.  He captures the present moment remarkably well, and writes Clay from a full cloth.  The other characters are not as well-developed, but that's because we really only see them from Alan's perspective, despite the use of 3rd person narration.  Alan's the American; of course all other characters are peripheral.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Curse of the Wendigo

Written by Mathieu Missoffe
Art by Charlie Adlard

There are three things that the French graphic novel Curse of the Wendigo, translated into English and published by Dynamite, has going for it that make it a winner so far as I'm concerned:  it's set during the First World War, it prominently features Native American mythology, and it's drawn by Charlie Adlard.  And, with all of these elements firmly in place, this was a book that I enjoyed a great deal.

This comic is set in 1917 in Flanders.  Both sides of the war have been bogged down in muddy trenches for some time, when both sides begin to suffer unexplainable losses - sentries disappear at night, and all that is found of them is blood.  Eventually, leaders on both sides decide to confer under a white flag, and they agree to send men from both armies to investigate.  A Cree man, Wohati, is somehow there with the French army, and he seems to have a good idea of what's going on, blaming things on a Wendigo, a cursed spirit that relies on cannibalism for nourishment.

This is a horror comic through and through, and as the French and German soldiers investigate, they discover some pretty grisly sights (the cover can give you some idea of what is coming).  I wish there was more space in the book to examine just how these soldiers were able to interact with one another after spending so much time trying to kill each other, but instead Missoffe keeps the plot moving, and adds in a sub-plot about a French soldier who is in a hospital recovering from some very serious wounds, including a number that look like small bites.

I'm always happy reading stories set during the Great War, and I believe that Missoffe does a good job of capturing the frustration and detachment of front-line, trench soldiers.  After the joint squad is assembled, one of the characters makes a crack about celebrating Christmas with the Germans next, which makes me wonder if many soldiers were aware of the series of truces that took place in 1914 on Christmas Eve.

Adlard further cements his reputation as one of comic's premier horror artists with this book.  Unlike his work on The Walking Dead, this comic is in colour, which is used effectively to add a sense of menace to scenes like the one where mustard gas wafts over our heroes.

I wish that more French comics were being translated into English, as I've long enjoyed their different sense of pacing and storytelling.  This book is a good argument for more French comics (although I'd be happy with just getting to the end of The Secret History).

Friday, December 28, 2012

Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP

by Robert Glasper Experiment

Robert Glasper's Black Radio was one of the best albums to be released in 2012; a near-perfect blend of hip-hop, r&b, soul, and jazz.  To make the year even better, this short Remix EP arrived.

The six-track disc starts with 9th Wonder's remix of 'Afro Blue', the Erykah Badu-driven song.  This new version has a little more snare to it, and a great verse by Phonte.

Pete Rock remixes Yasiin Bey's track 'Black Radio'.  This feels very close to the original, just a little more driving.

The always fantastic Georgia Anne Muldrow remixes 'The Consequences of Jealousy', the Meshell Ndegeocello song from the original album.  Personally, I would have liked to hear Muldrow on this song vocally, as well as behind the boards, but what can you do?  ?uestlove brings the Roots into the project for his remix of 'Twice', which also features Solange Knowles.

Glasper himself remixes Bilal's lovely 'Letter to Hermione', working with Jewels (whoever that is).  This track includes a verse by Black Milk, who would have been an interesting choice to remix the amazing Lupe Fiasco track on the original album.

To round out this EP, and worth the cost of the disc on its own, is Dillalude #2, a nine-minute medley of some Dilla hits like MC^2 and 'The Light', played by Glasper's band, complete with the slightly annoying vocoder effects he seems to like so much.

This EP is a great way to revisit some wonderful music, and see it in a new light.

Templar, Arizona Vol. 1: The Great Outdoors

by Spike

I still can not get behind the idea of reading webcomics on the computer.  There's something about it that just doesn't hold my attention, and even when I start to read a series (like this last summer, when I made plans to read every page of Achewood finally, figuring I could finish it before Chris Onstad even drew another page), I quickly lose track, or forget to keep reading it.

Anyway, some webcomics creators are kind enough to print their books for us dinosaurs, and therefore I was able to sample Templar, Arizona, a webcomic done by a very talented cartoonist named Spike.

This is one of those comics where, in a very short amount of time, you know you need to read all of.  It opens with our main character, Ben Kowalski being woken by a phone call from his editor at the Templar newspaper.  His editor is a pretty abusive person, and so we are treated to a few pages of ranting, which gets interrupted when a young girl comes wandering into Ben's apartment.

In short order, we learn that Ben is one of those people who just lets things happen to him, and has moved to a city where nothing is as it is in the rest of the United States.  We are introduced to the book's supporting cast - Zora is the young girl who does whatever she wants; Gene is her father, who is incredibly stupid; Scipio is a kind neighbour, a pacifist, and a bodyguard.  And then there's Reagan, who is obviously the heart and soul of the book.  She's a loud, brash woman, with a tendency to wear clothes that don't fit her properly, and to tell people what to do, but in the kindest of ways.

Reagan is determined to get Ben out of his apartment and around the town, where we learn that Templar is home to many Pastimes (think cosplayers who dress from different historical perspectives), sects (like the Sincerists, who never lie), and strange statues like the one erected to Jimmy Carter.  There are ideas being tossed at the reader on almost every page, and just as you start to think you have a sense about what this book is going to be about, we discover that Ben has more than a few secrets of his own.

This book is compellingly readable, and filled with handy endnotes to help explain some of the quirks of Templar.  Spike clearly has a lot worked out in her head which hasn't been put on the page yet, and I enjoy the pace at which she reveals things.  Her art is loose and organic, and her characters are loveable.  Recommended.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Near Death Vol. 1

Written by Jay Faerber
Art by Simone Guglielmini

I've been enjoying Jay Faerber's Point of Impact, and remembered liking the Near Death story back in Image's Free Comic Book Day offering this year, so I thought I'd check out the first trade of Near Death, his recently cancelled Image series.

It's a shame that the book isn't running anymore, because this is a very good crime comic.  It's about Markham, a hired killer who, in the first chapter, has a near-death experience.  While dead, he sees the multitudes of people he's killed in his life, and decides that he needs to restore the balance of life and death.  He figures that, in order to protect himself, he needs to save one person for every person that he's killed.

Most of the chapters in this trade (which collects the first five issues of the series) are self-contained, and each shows a new 'case' for Markham.  First he rescues his intended target at the time of his 'death' from another killer.  Later he protects a police detective who is about to turn in some corrupt colleagues.  In another story, he tries to help a convicted sex offender, although the creativity with which he approaches that problem is emblematic of his new desire to really put the world to rights.

Markham is an interesting character, but not at first.  His moment of revelation comes a little too quickly to be believable, but as the series progresses, and someone who we saw as a heartless sociopath feels the sting of his only friend's words, and later the guilt for causing her injury, we start to see that there is something to this character, and he becomes someone you want to keep reading about.

Faerber shows growth as a writer over these five issues, and makes me curious to read more about Markham.  Simone Guglielmini's art reminds me a great deal of Sean Phillips's, which is high praise indeed.  This book has a bit of a Criminalfeel to it (Phillips's masterpiece crime comic, written by Ed Brubaker), although it operates at a much quicker pace.

Hip Flask: Ouroborous

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Ladrönn and Juan Vlasco

Richard Starkings Hip Flask comic has had a pretty complicated publishing history.  The first issue, Unnatural Selection, was published in 2002.  The second issue, Elephantmen, came out a year later.  Mystery City, the book that introduced me to Hip Flask, and which starts the story continued in this comic, came out in July of 2005.  Since then, Starkings started the Elephantmen comic, a prequel series featuring the same characters, of which 44 issues (plus a zero issue), and a couple of mini-series or specials, have been published since 2006.

Needless to say, picking up this comic and reading it was confusing as hell, seeing as Starking didn't include any sort of recap page to help bring readers up to speed.  I read Mystery City, but it's been seven years, so I think I can be forgiven for having no clue what was happening.

Basically, Hip Flask and his partner Vanity Case, are teleported to a secret space station, where they learn that Obadiah Horn, the gangster and Hip's rival, is about to use a time machine to rescue his wife Sahara from certain death.  The time cops charge Hip with stopping this, knowing full well that he would never allow Sahara to die.

This leads to a story that becomes ever more confusing, as on top of this story taking place a few years past the story that we are used to reading, we now have to deal with all sorts of time paradox issues that reference a comic that came out seven years ago.  I suppose one day, when the Elephantmen series has caught up to the Hip Flask timeline, and they've all been completed, it will be possible to read everything in order from start to finish, and perhaps then it will all make sense.

I also worry that it will be a little too self-referential though, as I got annoyed with the scene where Hip, Vanity, and Horn all reference events from Elephantmen for no reason other than to help establish the timing of things.  Starkings has never had a very monogamous relationship with linear storytelling, but I found this book a little too confusing, and a bit frustrating, as this shows us that characters like the Silencer are going to be sticking around for a good long time (although, the lack of Ebony Hide in this book did worry me a little).

As is always the case, Ladrönn's art is lovely, but is not detailed to such a degree that I can understand why it's taken so many years for this comic to be produced.  The end of the book states that the conclusion of this story will be published in a year.  I'll definitely be getting it, but I hope that some ten or twelve issues of Elephantmen come out between now and then.

Mara #1

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ming Doyle

One of the best things about Brian Wood's shorter independent books, like Supermarket and The Couriers, is the way in which he shows the future.  In Mara's world, America has become utterly obsessed with sports, with athletes trumping movie and music stars as the world's biggest celebrities.

Seventeen year-old Mara Prince is a volleyball prodigy, and the biggest celebrity on the planet.  She has multiple endorsements, a spacious free condominium, and a gorgeous girlfriend.  She also has some abilities, it seems, although it's not clear from this issue if she is fully aware of them or not.

Wood takes his time setting his story world up in this issue.  We learn how important sports are to society, and we learn how they became connected to the military, as 'special focus' service was used to draw enlistment, much like it works at specialized high schools.  We learn that Mara was being trained full-time from a very early age, in a system that sounds very similar to the one used by the Republic of China today to produce (construct?) Olympic medal winners.

We first realize that something is special about Mara beyond her athletic abilities when she senses a that someone in a crowd is carrying a gun.  Later, during an exhibition game, Mara appears to stop time to manipulate a ball's trajectory, but she gets caught.  It looks like the rest of the series is going to be about the consequences of that moment.

Wood is always an excellent writer, and in this issue, he presents a vision of the future that is well-planned and realized.  There is not as much political commentary as you would find in an issue of DMZ or The Massive, but there is a suggestion that Wood is not okay with the level of esteem we sometimes hold our athletes in, as well as a gentle criticism of the Chinese system.  Ming Doyle is an artist I'm not very familiar with, but I do like the way she fits into the stable of artists that Wood regularly works with, somewhere between Ryan Kelly and Becky Cloonan.

This is a very good comic, and worth checking out.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Coldest City

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Sam Hart

The spy novel has become a victim of the world's progress moving away from the Cold War.  People have tried to retool it in the fight against global terrorism, or have tried to focus on rogue states like North Korea, but the genre has lost some of its effectiveness, mostly because of the sense of otherness inherent in those attempts, at least so far as the mainstream North American and European markets are concerned.

That's why I was a little surprised to see that Antony Johnston, writer of the brilliant comics series Wasteland, among other titles, had written a Cold War graphic novel, The Coldest City.  The book is set in the final days before the Berlin Wall came down, and it is very cool.  Britain's number two spy in West Berlin (known as BER-2) has been killed, and a document he was carrying, which lists the names of every spy from each country active in that theatre, has gone missing.  MI6 sends Lorraine Broughton, one of the best operatives, into Berlin to find the list.

She immediately bumps up against BER-1, who has been in the region for so long that everyone fears he has lost all perspective.  He's a misogynist, but Broughton soon begins to wonder if he's also involved in an Ice Man operation - running his own network of international assassins from both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Johnston handles the spy stuff very well - the story propels itself along quite nicely, and like Broughton, the reader begins to wonder who can be trusted, and just which version of truth is the actual one.  The ending has a nice little twist to it which, to be honest, I don't think is fully supported by the story, but I would like to read the book again with that knowledge in mind, to see if I missed some very obvious signs.

If the book has a weakness, it's in Sam Hart's overly minimalist artwork.  It mostly tells the story effectively, but there were a number of times when I wasn't sure who a character was at first, and I didn't feel that there was a lot of excitement in his rather static drawings.

Still, this is a very good book, and it nicely fills the void, at least for a little while, left by Queen & Country, which remains one of the best spy comics ever written.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nowhere Men #2

Written by Eric Stephenson
Art by Nate Bellegarde

I was intrigued enough by the first issue of Nowhere Men to come back for the second, and I think now I'm hooked.

This series appears to split each issue between two related stories.  The first half of the book concerns the scientists who founded the company Worldcorp, and became the celebrity scientists of their age.  Now, those that are left, are old men, and they find that they are cut off from the world they helped create.  There is some intrigue among these guys, but it's a little unclear just what's going on with them, at least so far.

More interesting is the second half of the book, which has been following a group living in secret on Worldcorp's space satellite.  They've all come down with a strange virus that is causing parts of their body to scab over in the most unappealing way.  Last issue, they learned that they've been cut off by the company, and are basically being left up there to die.  They began working on a secret teleportation device, which should make it possible for them to get home, even though that threatens to infect the world with their virus.

In this issue, the device is made operational, although there is not enough power to properly test it.  Most of the crew sees now choice but to walk through the gateway anyway, but one person starts to argue against it, and things get pretty crazy.  We don't really know these characters, but Stephenson writes their scenes so that we care about what happens to them, and I am excited to see where they've ended up.

Nate Bellegarde is doing a great job with this book, giving it a Jamie McKelvie feel.

Taddle Creek No. 29

Edited by Conan Tobias

It's always cause for excitement when a new issue of Taddle Creek shows up in my mailbox.  I like supporting this most local of literary magazines (although I feel that they are really relaxing the rules around where contributors have to live, and have stopped including the specific neighbourhood of residence in each author's bio), and am always rewarded with some very good fiction, and some decent comics.

This time around, the best piece in the magazine by far is Emily Schultz's 'The Side Sleeper', a fictional portrait of a woman who moves through life lying and stealing from just about everyone she meets.  She's found a new man, who she is happy to spend her nights with, but she's already back to her usual habits of deceiving him, and swiping objects from his home.  This is an excellent story.

Many of the other excellent stories were incredibly short, often only one page in length.  This includes great tales by Tony Burgess, Alexandra Leggat, and Gary Barwin.  Stuart Ross's one-pager is classic Stuart Ross, if you like that kind of thing (I don't think I do).

In terms of longer pieces, there is a nice one by Zoe Whittall which is narrated by a girl whose father was just arrested for his improprieties, and by Jessica Westhead, who shares a story about a family gathering at a Chinese buffet.

Marguerite Pigeon writes an interesting story about a woman who meets her double one day on the street, except unlike the narrator, this woman has a child.  Matthew Firth's story is about a Canadian man living in Scotland who can't handle his upstairs neighbours, a pair of Greek brothers who like to wrestle with each other.

In terms of comics, Joe Ollmann gives us 'Movie Night', about his relationship with his son, and Jason Kieffer provides his recipe for do it yourself nude pickling.  I think the nudity is optional.  Dave Lapp writes about the first engagement ring he ever bought, and also provides us with a collection of his recent Biblical drawings, which are rather strange.

There is also an interview with novelist Grace O'Connell (who is adorable), and a piece on the design elements that the cartoonist Seth incorporated into his wife's new barber shop in Guelph Ontario.  There is also a great deal of poetry to read, and enjoy.

In all, a very worthy magazine, and well worth the $6 you will pay for it on the stands.


Wasteland #42

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Russel Roehling

Last issue, Abi and Michael went their separate ways, having argued over how to get to A-Ree-Yass-I, the fabled location where they believe they were born.  This issue follows Abi on her journey.

At the beginning of the comic, she finds herself in Sunspot, a town that is central to her faith as a Sunner.  The town is not what it once was - it's done to having only twenty-three inhabitants, and all but four of them are sick with some form of plague.  Abi has the ability to heal, however, and she sets herself to work curing everyone she can.  For some reason, though, the cure doesn't work properly, for the first time ever.

This issue returns the Sunner religion to a place of prominence in the book.  Since Abi and Michael left the city of Newbegin a while back, there has been very little discussion of religion.  The people of Sunspot interpret Abi's abilities as being proof that she is one of Father Moon's children, all of whom were long believed to be dead.  It is the close attention to world building, and faith's place within that, that has made Wasteland stand out among other post-Apocalyptic comics.  I'm pleased to see Antony Johnston return to that.

This is a good character-study issue, and I'm happy for the extra insight into Abi's character.  Russel Roehling is working well as the new artist of this series, and I'm especially happy to see it return to a monthly schedule.  This issue doesn't have a text piece featuring the journal of Ankya Ofsteen, and that is missed a great deal.  Ankya is referred to in the story, which is a first for this series, but I'd prefer her story continue to be told on its own, and not just be woven into the comics.  I wonder if Michael or Abi are going to meet her on their travels...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Sixth Gun #27

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

The Sixth Gun is a terrific comics series, and one reason why that is the case is because of the level of self-doubt and uncertainty that Cullen Bunn has written into his characters.  Drake Sinclair, who is more or less the main character of this book, is not the sort of person you would immediately choose as the guardian of something as deadly as The Six-  a collection of mystical six-shooters that together can usher in the end of the world.

In this latest arc, 'Winter Wolves', Drake and his companion Becky (the owner of the titular sixth, and most powerful, gun) have found themselves trapped in a winter reality, held captive by a Wendigo that is anchored in the bodies of a group of women and children from a nearby fort.  The usual way to kill a Wendigo is to kill the hosts, who are basically comatose while it wanders.  Drake is not one to kill defenceless and innocent kids, and he makes the mistake of engaging the spirit in conversation, with results that I didn't really expect (the scene where the extreme cold takes its toll on Drake's hand is chilling on many levels).

While this is going on, Drake and Becky's friend Gord Cantrell continues to travel with the undead mummy Asher Cobb, and the lying gunman Kirby Hale.  These three have an interesting conversation of their own, as they each admit to wanting The Six for different purposes.  Whatever happens when they find Drake, Becky, and the guns, should be pretty interesting.

Brian Hurtt continues to make this book look terrific, as Bunn continues to spin out a very compelling story.  I know that Bunn is getting more and more work at Marvel these days, but I'm happiest to see him continue with this title for some time to come.

The Unwritten #44

by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

This issue of The Unwritten is book-ended by appearances from characters I didn't expect to see again, one ever, and another, for about four more issues.

The rest of the comic was filled by following Tom Taylor, newly arrived in Hades, searching for a way out of it.  Tom had gone to the fabled land of the dead looking for Lizzie Hexam, his companion, but after drinking from the river Lethe, he has no memory of who he is, or what he is looking for.

Tom is joined by the Chadron children, who we last saw being killed in the Swiss prison where the Cabal first tried to kill Tom.  They travel across Hades, meeting a few old acquaintances of Tom's, before figuring out a way to get across the lake of flames and arrive at Hades's palace.

There is a sense throughout this book that the underworld is not what it used to be, although if that's because of the sickness that has infected all stories, it's not made clear.

As with most issues of this series, this is a very high-quality book, although I feel like some of the momentum is missing from this comic lately.

Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #2

Written by Brandon Seifert
Art by Lukas Ketner

Witch Doctor is a really fun series that treats magic as a real, medical condition.  Our good Doctor, Dr. Morrow, has been infected with a strigoi disease, and is being extorted by some unknown figure, who wants to trade the cure to the illness for a very powerful spellbook.  Morrow, being Morrow, does not want to deal with this guy, and instead takes his assistant to a place called the Red Market, where magical spells and items are traded and sold.

Looking for a cure, and a way of remaining invisible to his assailants, Morrow makes a couple of questionable deals, one of which requires him to perform a post-mortem on a couple.  Later, he attempts to get in touch with some angels or demons (we aren't told which they are), who can cure him, but are going to do it in the most painful way possible.

Brandon Seifert is really expanding on the magical elements of this series, stepping away from the more medical-based premise of the first series, and not following up at all on the elder god angle he introduced towards the end of it.  Instead, we are learning a great deal about the broader world where Morrow lives and operates.

One of the things that first drew me to this book was the depth of thought placed into the designs by Lukas Ketner.  His arcane hypodermics and other medical paraphernalia are inspired, yet in this issue, I was a little disappointed with his designs for the Surgeons - they look like they've walked straight out of Clive Barker's Hellraiser.  I find that interesting, considering that Seifert is writing for that series at Boom right now.

Still, this continues to be a very original and entertaining book.  Recommended.

Where is Jake Ellis? #2

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Tonci Zonjic

Nathan Edmondson keeps this book moving very quickly, as unknown men chase ex-CIA agent Jon Moore through Thailand, and he is forced to take a young American embassy worker with him in order to keep her safe.  Meanwhile, Jake Ellis, the man who spent years living in Moore's head (or something like that - it still needs to be explained) is brought to Thailand, with the hope that proximity will engage their connection once again.

It's not clear just who is after Moore, and whether or not the people who brought Ellis over are with them, or are with the American government.  Presumable, Edmondson's going to shed some light on all of that at some point in this series, but who knows?  There could be a third series planned - How is Jake Ellis? perhaps?

Regardless, the plotting is very tight in this book, and Tonci Zonjic continues to provide some very impressive art.  I'm most interested in learning more about the guy who has his eyes sewn shut, but seems able to see what Jon is up to, much as Jake is.

Thief of Thieves #11

Written by Robert Kirkman and James Asmus
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

As much as I've been enjoying Robert Kirkman's heist slash family drama series Thief of Thieves, this second arc has been a good example of why sometimes it's better to tradewait a series.  Usually, I can't be bothered waiting months on end for a story to be completed, and prefer to get the smaller chapters on a monthly basis.  I find I prefer it in terms of keeping engaged with the story, and because I just love the monthly comics format.

This book though, moves at a strange pace that would work better in larger servings.  With each issue, which is always well-written, it takes me a while to back into the swing of the storyline, and then I always feel that the book is over too quickly.  I know that these are the complaints many comics readers have about most series, but there are only a few where I feel this so acutely.

Anyway, in this issue, Redmond and Augustus start to plan to rescue Augustus's girlfriend from the cartel this is holding her hostage.  They don't have as much time to plan as Redmond prefers, and so he's having to work closer to his son's pace, which is not good, considering what a failure of a thief his son has been.

It's clear that Kirkman and Asmus want to reconcile the two men with each other, and I think that Redmond wants that too, but circumstances keep stopping that from happening.  Reading this, I can't help but think about what a network like HBO would do with this property.

Saga #8

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

It's becoming kind of routine to sing the praises of Saga, the brilliantly readable science fiction family drama epic by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, but let's face it, books this good are anything but routine.

In this issue, Alana finds herself alone on the family's spaceship tree with Marko's father, and they begin to bond with one another, despite all the tension in the family caused by Marko's marrying one of the enemy.  We get a lot of insight into Alana's character in this issue, which starts with a flashback to when her and Marko first met, and the influence the romance novel she was reading had on her.  We also get a good idea of how unique she was among her people.Meanwhile, Marko and his mother are searching for Izabel, their ghostly babysitter, on the planet where Marko's parents sent her.  This involves a fight with a rather nasty-looking ogre, and further arguing between Marko and his mom.

All of these characters are written so strongly that they are very believable, despite their wings or horns.  Character work is what makes Saga so wonderful, both Vaughan's as a writer, and Staples's as an artist.  I'm sure some would argue that the plot of this book is slowing down, as the focus becomes ever tighter on the family, but I appreciate the way in which the characters' bonds are being shown, especially as I'm sure that the relatively peaceful moments in this book won't last much longer.  This continues to be one of the best series on the stands.

We Don't Even Live Here

by P.O.S.

I've been a fan of POS for years - since I first heard him on Audition, his second album, and I am constantly impressed with the way he refines and refocuses his vision and his approach to each new project.

We Don't Even Live Here, his fourth solo album, is a very tight shot across the bow of the zeitgeist.  This is a post-Occupy album, which has Stef stating plainly his position on 'stuff', and the materialism and greed of North American culture.

At first, it seems that Stef is good and pissed off throughout the album, but I don't think that's really true.  I find it clear that he doesn't like where things are going, and he's refusing to accept it, but I don't hear a lot of anger in his tone - it's more like frustration.

Stef uses this album to call a lot of groups out.  'Bumper' the fantastic opening track, contains a screed against clueless rappers who continue to support the money-making aspects of music to the detriment of using their voice to spread a message.  'F*** Your Stuff' could be a post-Occupy anthem, as he proudly proclaims his freedom from materialism.  The beautiful 'How We Land', featuring Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, mourns the ease with which people accept things they don't like as inevitable.

Other tracks continue these themes of self-reliance and change from below.  There are tracks with titles like 'Lock-Picks, Knives, Bricks and Bats', 'Fire in the Hole/Arrow to the Action', and 'Wanted/Wasted', which all neatly sum up Stef's position.

POS continues to be a stunningly talented lyricist, and he is joined on this album by Doomtree crewmates Sims and Mike Mictlan, as well as his Marijuana Deathsquads bandmate Isaac Gale, and rapper Astronautalis.  Production wise, this album is fuzzier than his last, with beats by Stef and his usual Doomtree collaborators Lazerbeak and Cecil Otter, but also by new collaborators Andrew Dawson, Patric Russel, Ryan Olson, Housemeister, and Boys Noize.

This is easily one of my favourite albums of the year.  It's hard not to listen to it and think about Stef's current medical predicament.  If you are interested in supporting one of the truest voices in hip-hop, and an all-round great person, head over here to do you part, or learn more.

Jim Henson's Tale of Sand

Screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl
Realized by Ramón Pérez

I'm sure it's not possible to find someone who doesn't have fond memories of something done by Jim Henson, be it his Muppets, his work on Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, or the Dark Crystal.  He was clearly a visionary artist, whose oeuvre has had a lasting influence on children's entertainment and the psyches of generations.

Personally, I didn't realize he was such a surrealist visionary as well.  A Tale of Sand was the name he put on a screenplay for a live-action movie he wrote with his frequent collaborator Jerry Juhl back in 1967 or so.  The film was never made, but the script was recently uncovered and adapted as a beautifully produced hardcover graphic novel by Ramón Pérez.

The story doesn't explain much - a man is attending a party in a small town in the middle of a desert.  He is escorted away by the town's Sheriff, who rather vaguely explains that he has a ten minute's head start to run out of town, and that if he makes it to a group of mountains, he should be safe.  The guy has no clue what's going on, but quickly heads out of town, with only a backpack of supplies, and an over-sized skeleton key to aid him.  It's not long before he realizes that he's being followed by a slim, bearded man, who starts shooting at him.

The guy continues to try to escape, and his journeys lead him through a surrealistic desert landscape, populated with angry Arabs, football players, Kalahari bushmen, busy highways, a shark-infested saltwater swimming pool, and other odd things.

As strange as all of this sounds, on the page, it seems to make perfect sense.  Pérez has done a phenomenal job of drawing this book in such a way as to present its internal logic as ultimately sane and very compelling.  He plays with colour and page layouts to help propel the story, and generally, has created one of the most gorgeous graphic novels I've read in a while.

This book is highly recommended.

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #3

by Brandon Graham

Brandon Graham can never be accused of having the most linear and clearly delineated plots, but three quarters of the way through his new Multiple Warheads mini-series (following up on an Oni Press one-shot from years ago), we are meeting lots of new characters, and are finally getting some glimpse of a greater plot.

None of this bothers me though, because Multiple Warheads is an absolutely brilliant series.  Sexica, a retired organ smuggler, and her wolf-penised mechanic boyfriend are on a road trip, and have ended up in a hotel on the Whaling Wall.  They've just been chilling, eating pastries and putting legs on their Lenin (a car).  In this issue, two of Sexica's old colleagues show up with a job for her - to break into a fabled wizard's larder; she of course takes the job.

We also check in on the other organ smuggler, who spends a few dialogue-less pages searching for the body she'd been transporting, which flew off on her last issue.  It's not clear if her story is going to run into Sexica's or not.

We also meet a couple of new characters - Moontoone, a little platypus-like creature who likes to knit hats and works as a delivery boy, and Sunshine, his dancer boyfriend.  I have no idea how these two fit into things, but again, with a book like this, that kind of thing doesn't matter in the least.

Multiple Warheads is one of the densest, most rich comics on the stands right now.  Each and every page literally drips with new ideas, clever wordplay, and numerous sight gags.  The thing is, this isn't just a psychedelic science fiction humour comic; the characters are fully fleshed-out and quite relatable. I can't wait to see how this mini-series finishes.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dark Horse Presents #19

Written by Duane Swierczynski, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas, Joshua Williamson, Matt Kindt, Phil Stanford, Peter Hogan, Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman, and Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Eric Nguyen, Steve Lieber, Tony Akins, Ulises Farinas, Victor Ibáñez, Matt Kindt, Patric Reynolds, Steve Parkhouse, Gabriel Hardman, and Giovanni Valletta

You know, I'm starting to wonder if it makes sense to keep buying Dark Horse Presents, since most of the stories I'm interested in, aside from Finder, are always getting collected into single issues before the mini-series that almost inevitably follow a three- or four-issue run in DHP.  I think the problem I had with this issue, more than anything though, was the lack of a Finder story by Carla Speed McNeil (which is the absolute best reason to buy this comic).

Anyway, there are still some gems in this issue.  Matt Kindt provides a Mind MGMT short story which helps showcase why his on-going series is such a wonderful thing.  This story introduces us to Duncan, an agent with the ability to predict the future by reading the minds of those around him.

Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, who have been impressing me on their Planet of the Apes stories at Boom, debut Station to Station, a new science fiction serial about a science experiment that has destroyed a small island in the Bay Area, and has somehow brought some very BPRD-looking creatures into our world.  Hardman's a great artist, so I was very happy to see him working on this.

I am becoming every more intrigued by Gamma, a strange science fiction series by Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas.  We get a good idea of why the main character is considered a coward in this installment, but we are given a very bleak view of their fictional world, without an explanation of how society came back from it.  I hope this series is running for a while...

I also enjoyed the new chapters of Resident Alien and Deep Sea, although I got the sense that the latter story is finished for now, and not in a satisfying way.  It's been a while since we last saw The White Suits, and I didn't enjoy this chapter as much as I did the first, partly I think, because of the length of time that has passed.  I am enjoying the Captain Midnight serial.

The cover to this issue is given over to the relaunching of X, one of Dark Horse's Comics Greatest World titles from the 90s.  I didn't like it then, and it continues to read like a Punisher knock-off with a fetish twist.  Not for me.  Likewise, I'm not a fan of the Alabaster or City of Roses stories.

Here's hoping for some Carla Speed McNeil next issue.

Comeback #2

Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Michael Walsh

Comeback is an odd beast of a mini-series.  Writer Ed Brisson is playing with some interesting ideas, but is also refusing to spell things out, leaving the reader to connect dots all over the place to fully understand the story.

This series is about Reconnect, a company which travels back in time (no more than 66 days) to pluck loved ones away from accidents or disasters, to save their lives.  They, for reasons we don't understand yet, have to make it look like the accident still happened so that there is no problem with the timeline.  In the first issue, we met two of their agents, Mark and Seth.  Seth has not been feeling well, and has decided to quit.  We also got intimations that the company was being investigated, but we weren't told by whom.

With this issue, we get some answers, as we discover that the FBI is fully aware of time travel, as apparently are medical examiners, and that one agent in particular has been spending a couple of years trying to put a stop to Reconnect.  We also get a fair number of new mysteries, as Seth 'Freedom 55s' himself, showing up to tell his slightly younger self a few things about the company he works for (and, perhaps between panels, talks to him about the importance of buying life insurance).

What makes this book confusing is that I'm not always sure of who the characters are, or their relationships to one another.  As with many time travel books, it's also hard to tell what sequence we are reading the stories in; is young Seth the 'now' character?  How far up the line is older Seth?  I'm sure this is something that will be made clear, but these are the things I wonder about while I read the comic.

Ed Brisson is a writer that I have come to admire, but this is the longest story of his that I've read so far, and I can see where the pacing is at times a little off.  Still, I have trust that this series is going to all make sense in the long run, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy #3

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Darick Robertson

Three issues in, and I still have to keep glancing at the cover credits to convince myself that I'm not reading a comic by Garth Ennis instead of Grant Morrison.

Nowhere in this book are the usual things we've come to associate with Morrison's writing - sure, the main character has hallucinations, but they are of a blue flying imaginary horse, not of extra-dimensional gods or something like that.  Likewise, the plot of this book is more or less linear, as Nick Sax, disgraced ex-cop, assassin for hire, eczema sufferer, and general creep decides to ignore the exhortations of the imaginary horse to save a little girl from a Santa Claus impersonating serial killer, and instead tries to leave town to avoid the mobsters that are after him.  Add to this scenes of murder in a train toilet, and it's hard to imagine that this really isn't being written by Ennis.

Regardless, this is a good comic.  Sax is the type of curmudgeon we're used to seeing in comics, and the surprise that his 'redemption' hinges on is telegraphed pretty obviously earlier in the book, but still, Morrison paces things nicely enough to keep our interests, and Darick Robertson's is always a treat.

I doubt this will go down as one of Morrison's more memorable comics, but it's nice to see him try something that is not uber-ambitious and kind of obscure for a change.

Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them

by Blu & Exile

Blu and Exile are fantastic collaborators.  Their first album together, Below the Heavens, was an instant underground classic, and neither of them have done as well on their own or with other artists since.  Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them has them working together again, with Exile producing and Blu providing some amazing lyrics.

This album shows that both artists have grown in the years since they first worked together.  Lyrically, Blu is a monster, best shown on tracks like 'A Man' and 'Maybe One Day', where his laid-back, laconic flow serves him particularly well.  Exile, meanwhile, has gotten both richer and a little weirder in his sound.  He often uses cartoonish or childish samples on one track (like 'Good Morning Neighbour', which samples Mister Rogers), and then gives us lush pianos and a Tom Waits sample on another (the sublime 'Seasons').

There are guest appearances by other Exile collaborators like Johaz (of Dag Savage) and Fashawn, as well as Homeboy Sandman and Black Spade.  Many tracks feature flutes by Randal Fisher, which helps add to the general wealth of sound.

I'm not sure if this album is going to capture new listeners the way Below the Heavens did, but it's definitely one to return to time and again.

McSweeney's 41

Edited by Dave Eggers

It would seem I don't get tired of the type of contemporary fiction and reportage on offer in any given issue of the McSweeney's Quarterly Concern.

Issue 41 starts off strong, with a story by Thomas McGuane about a couple of old friends who have gone off on a fishing trip together.  They have kind of come to hate one another, and their crotchety old guide is a real handful - this is a nice exploration of character in a difficult terrain.

Jess Walter has perhaps the best story in this collection with 'The Wolf and the Wild', a story about a white collar convict who ends up volunteering as part of a program that has cons working in schools with children (because that sounds like such a good idea).  It's sensitive and remarkably well-written.

Deb Olin Unferth tosses some life-long tourists into a difficult situation in 'Stay Where You Are', which showcases how Western arrogance can play out, even among people who have spent decades travelling the globe.

Henry Bean's story 'The Virago' is a fascinating character piece about a Hollywood agent who will do just about anything to keep ahold of her tenuous grasp on her career, clients, and empty attempts at happiness.  It's both scary and sad, and very powerful.

In 'Robot Sex', Ryan Boudinot portrays a future where humans and robots work side-by-side, but where relations between robots are illegal.  It's an unlikely future, but the story is fun.

There is an excerpt from John Brandon's new novel, A Million Heavens, which really makes me want to read this book.

This issue ends with a collection of four pieces of Australian Aboriginal short fiction, and all are excellent.  They tend to explore inter-racial relationships a fair deal.  Tony Birch's 'The Promise' is narrated by an alcoholic who wants to get his wife and kids back, but wants his next drink more.  In 'S&J', by Ellen Van Neerven-Currie, a pair of girlfriends pick up a German hitchhiker who has never met Aborigines before, and is intent on exploring quite a bit of at least one of them.  Tara June Winch wrote 'It's Too Difficult to Explain,' a story about a young Aboriginal man who excelled in sprinting, but found failure in all other things, and eventually that too, as he tried to negotiate a relationship with a white girl from an educated background.  Finally, there is 'Tonsils', a wonderful story by Melissa Lucashenko, narrated by a woman who has taken in her daughter's friend, because the girl's mother is a drunk.  This story has one of the best endings I've read in a while.

In terms of non-fiction, there are two pieces of note.  The first is 'A Land Rush in Tehran', wherein Viveca Mellegard explores her memories and the modern reality of a formerly quiet, empty section of Tehran which is now filled with skyscrapers.

J. Malcolm Garcia, my favourite of McSweeney's regular non-fiction contributors, has written 'What Happens After Sixteen Years in Prison?', which follows two sisters who spent that long imprisoned for a robbery which they probably never committed, and which caused no harm if it did happen.  Garcia doesn't come out and indict the American justice system; he lets the story do it for him.

Each story in this book is illustrated quite beautifully at the beginning, and as with most issues of McSweeney's, this book is a pleasure to hold and open.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Black Blizzard

by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

I really enjoyed reading A Drifting Life, manga legend Yoshihiro Tatsumi's gigantic manga memoir a couple of years ago.  It portrayed his early days in the manga industry, a business that he helped shape with his resolve to write darker, more adult stories for a more adult audience.

In that book, the act of his creating Black Blizzard is a watershed moment for the young Tatsumi, and I was curious to read this book.  Luckily, the fine people at Drawn & Quaterly decided that this book was deserving of a North American edition, and so I was able to get the chance.

Black Blizzard is a Japanese noir story set in the late 1950s.  It opens with a young pianist showing concern that he may have murdered another person, although he was drunk at the time, and does not remember what happened.  He is arrested, but while being transported alongside another prisoner, to whom he is handcuffed, the train derails.  The two men make good on this chance for freedom, and end up spending hours together in a forest ranger's cabin, hiding from the police and trying to get warm (they've just walked through the titular blizzard).

The young man tells the hardened criminal his story, one of love, music, and the cruel ringmaster father of his circus performing girlfriend who does not want them to be together.  Later, desperate to be free, the older criminal contrives to drug the younger, and cut off his hand.

The story is pretty simple in its design and execution, but for all that, it is effective.  This is a classic noir story, and it illustrates how little that genre has changed in sixty years.  Tatsumi's early art is much cruder than what was in A Drifting Life, but there is a charm to this work by a young man looking to stretch the possibilities of an entire medium.  As a story, this is entertaining.  As a historical document, this book is essential.

Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color

by Brother Ali

I admire Brother Ali in a way that I don't any other rapper.  He has a truthfulness to him that bars him from fronting or exaggerating on his songs, which are always intensely personal.

When other rappers talk about themselves, there is often a question about whether or not they are really speaking truth.  I'm not referring to the mainstream rappers - we know they're full of crap - but even of artists like POS and Slug (keeping with the Minneapolis theme for a minute), who also rap from the heart, but have created a bit of a persona for themselves (okay, maybe not Stef; he's probably on the same level as Ali, but anyway).  Brother Ali speaks straight from his soul, and uses his music to continually open and re-examine old wounds, for the betterment of us all.

Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, his excellent new album, opens with 'Letter to my Countrymen', a plea for increased political action and thought among the masses.  This piece ends with a message from Cornel West, which is always nice.

On 'Stop the Press', Ali gives us the musical equivalent of a Christmas card letter, updating everyone on everything that's happened in his life since his last album, including the loss of his father to suicide, and the problems he's had motivating himself to write and record.  It's a perfect example of how Ali works - a song that exposes great woe, but which remains ultimately triumphant and upbeat.

When I heard that Ali wasn't going to be working with Ant, his long-time producer, for this album, I was worried that it wouldn't hold up well with the rest of his catalogue, but Jake One has figured out what Ali works best with, and provided it to him on almost every track.  This album is as good as, or better than, any that Ali has finished before.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Habibi

by Craig Thompson

Craig Thompson's Habibi, which came out in 2011, is easily one of the best graphic novels I've read this year, right up there with Chris Ware's Building Stories for its literary value and emotional weight.

It tells the story of two orphans, Dodola and Zam, as they escape slavery together, and then re-enter it separately, always looking for the other.  The story is set in Wanatolia, a fictional Sultanate, and the time period in which it takes place is fluid, as the beginning of the book feels like it is set in the late 19th century, but by the end of the book, we are firmly in the modern world.

Dodola was a child bride who was pressed into slavery when her husband was killed by the Sultan's men.  There she found a three-year old boy, who she took with him when she escaped and re-named Zam.  They lived together for many years in an abandoned boat, marooned in the middle of a desert, where she sold herself to passing caravans in return for food.  To entertain the child, Dodola told him stories, many of which are the foundations of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

As the two grow, they become very close, although Zam's first sexual stirrings create a rift between them.  When he learns what Dodola does to protect him, he starts travelling to the city to sell the water he finds, so as to emancipate her like she did him.  This doesn't work though, and they become separated from one another.

Dodola ends up in the Sultan's harem, where she is his favourite, and eventually gives birth to his son.  Zam, meanwhile, ends up in much worse circumstances, living with a group of transgendered eunuchs. Eventually, they find each other again.

This book is about a whole lot more than just the relationship between these two tragic figures.  It is also about the power of stories themselves, and the words and letters that form them.  Thompson takes us through the similarities between Islam and Christianity, and the visual poetry of the Arabic alphabet. He also condenses into his tale a great deal of social commentary about Islam, gender politics, and the changing role of the sexes.

This is a very sensual book, with Arabic letters and nude human bodies lounging around in the harems and village bathtubs.  I'm sure when it was released there were charges of Orientalism levied against it, as Thompson portrays a culture and tradition that is not his own, but nothing here feels artificial or forced.  Instead, this is an absolutely gorgeous book, which I find myself thinking about again and again in the days since I've finished reading it.

Change #1

Written by Ales Kot
Art by Morgan Jeske

I'd skipped Ales Kot's debut, Wild Children, because I'd read some pretty negative reviews.  Change, his new mini-series, however, received some positive buzz, and I was attracted to Morgan Jeske's art, so I thought I'd pick this up and give it a try.

I'm not all that sure I understand what's going on in it, but I'm definitely interested.  We are introduced to three characters with this issue - W-2 is a very rich, very popular rapper, who dreams of making it big as a movie mogul.  He has an idea for a film about him and his ex-girlfriend's Cthulu-baby, but he's having a very hard time making the screenplay for it work.  He's hired Sonia, a wannabe screenwriter, but by the third page of the comic, he's fired her, and she's stolen his car.  Both of these characters end up getting attacked by what looks like cultists before the issue ends.

We also are sort-of introduced to an astronaut who is returning to Earth after having travelled to one of Jupiter's moons.  Something seems strange about him, but we don't know what just yet.

This book has a bit of a Ted McKeever vibe to it, story-wise, which means that I'm not all that surprised that I don't understand the narrative flow completely.  A second, and perhaps third reading is called for. I do like the way Kot writes this though, and I'm interested enough in the story to come back for the second issue.

A lot of the credit for that goes to Morgan Jeske, whose art reminds me of Gabriel Bá, Fábio Moon, and Rafael Grampá, which is high praise indeed.

There are a number of mysteries to be solved in this comic, and I do hope that the second issue works to clarify the story a little better, but I still see this as a very successful start to a new series by some new talent.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Battlefields Vol. 2 #2

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

I really admire Garth Ennis's ability to tell a war story that hits all of the major war comics tropes, but still feels essential, if not particularly original.

Sergeant Stiles, star of all the 'tankie' stories in Ennis's Battlefields comics, has found himself lost in Korea with the newest recruit to join his crew.  They've fallen in with the Glosters, a British unit that is almost completely cut off by a large force of Chinese soldiers.  Stiles and his young charge help defend the Glosters from the siege for a number of days, and that's basically all that happens in this comic.  And its terrific.

Ennis excels at providing just enough historical context for the situations he depicts to make perfect sense (I've read very little about the Korean War), and he has a solid understanding of how to make war comics like this work.  We do get the standards - the brave young soldier who dies before his nineteenth birthday, the easy camaraderie between soldiers of different social standings, and the dignity with which the enlisted men face certain death.  Sure, the writing is formulaic, but it's a formula that works very well.

Saucer Country #10

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

This issue of Saucer Country has a couple of terrific moments in it that make it clear to me that this is a book that is designed to last for a while, and really explore more than just the alien-abduction aspect of its story.

Governor Arcadia Alvarado is in Las Vegas for a Democratic primary debate.  She's just been shot at, and now, after a separate shooting incident, two of her security staff are dead.  Michael, her ex-husband and fellow alien abductee, believes that he may be the person responsible for this, as does the reader.

The debate, which happens this issue, promises a couple of surprises, and we also learn what happened to the woman that Professor Kidd has been looking for.  The word 'conspiracy' gets tossed around this issue a fair amount, and it's beginning to look more and more like multiple forces are working behind the scenes to control or influence Alvarado's campaign.

Cornell has a complex plot working here, but what makes this book work is the strength of the characters.  From Michael's self-doubt to her female advisor's skill at planning the campaign, this book is pretty memorable, and with Ryan Kelly drawing the hell out of it, absolutely gorgeous.

Conan the Barbarian #11

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Declan Shalvey

I think it’s kind of cool that Brian Wood’s Conan will basically be my definitive take on the character. I've written before that my foreknowledge of the character was basically non-existent before Wood, one of my favourite writers, took over the property, and started working with a line-up of artists (Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos, and Declan Shalvey) that I could not pass up.

It's a rare thing, after reading comics for thirty years, to know that you are reading a definitive run on an long-established character. I know that for many fans, Conan means Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith, but for me, it's going to mean Brian Wood. And what that further means, is that my definitive Conan is going to be young and unsure of himself, trapped between the heart's demands and the need to be free and on the move.

The crew of the Tigress has come down with a vicious sickness, and only Conan remains healthy. He's set off in search of help in a rough port town, although Bêlit, his queen and lover, has demanded that he leave her to die. When the local healer suggests that he do what Bêlit ordered, he's left in a difficult position.

This is a simple and straight-forward issue, but it reveals a depth to the character that I hadn't expected to be there before beginning to read his adventures. Short of a brief bar fight, there is no action to be found in this issue, yet it is a gripping read.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Walking Dead #105

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Robert Kirkman and The Walking Dead never stop getting a rise out of me, it seems.  Really, the best way to get me worked up while reading an issue is to put Carl in danger.  Over the years, as we've watched him grow into the cold, hard kid that he's become, my sympathy and love for the character has only grown.

Last issue, Carl snuck into one of the trucks belonging to the Saviours, the group that work for Negan, the psychopath who has killed a major character, and has effectively taken over the Community where Rick and his group live.  Carl jumped out of the back of the truck with a rifle, and killed a few of Negan's men before being captured.

This entire issue is given over to Negan showing Carl around the compound where the Saviours live, and it's pretty disturbing on a few levels.  It feels like, when creating Negan, Kirkman felt the need to outdo the work he did on The Governor, the man who chased the group out of the prison a long time ago, and who is currently being used as the villain on the TV show.  Negan is a much more controlling and dangerous psychopath than the Governor was, as we learn when he shows Carl through his harem of 'wives', and we see him dispensing punishment on one of his men for an indiscretion (and also learn why the guy who attacked the Community has such a messed-up face).

Most disturbing of all though is the scene wherein he forced Carl to take off his bandages.  Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard have spared us this sight up until now, but the full-page illustration of Carl's full head, after the injuries he sustained when the Community was overrun, is going to be in my mind when I go to sleep tonight.

And therein lies the strength of this series.  Sure, the villains have been pretty over-the-top, but most of the characters in this book are everyday people who are shown having to survive a terrible situation.  When faced with Negan's evil, Carl reacts like many twelve-year-old kids would, and it's a touching and terrifying scene.  Adlard and Rathburn portray the complexity of Carl's emotions perfectly.

I love this book.

The Massive #7

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Garry Brown

What I like most about The Massive, Brian Wood's near-future, post-environmental collapse series is the opportunity it provides for interesting settings, and the way that it frames its character development as a consequence of events.

This issue marks the beginning of 'Subcontinental', a new three-part story arc set on Moksha station, a sovereign nation built of stolen oil rigs and pacifist ideals.  The crew of the Kapital come aboard Moksha, where Ninth Wave's leader, Callum Israel, is seen as a hero of the environmental movement.  His conversation with Sumon, the director of the station, suggests that other things are happening on the station however, that may not be as positive as things seem at first glance.

The may be a surprise to Israel, but not to Mag, his right-hand man, who is chafing under Israel's ideals.  There is a growing rift among the prominent members of Ninth Wave, and it's clear that this series will be exploring that problem as much as it will the ruined future Wood has constructed.

This issue marks a few firsts for the series.  I believe this is the first time that Israel's time at Blackbell, the private military contractors, is not referenced, and this issue lacks the excellent backmatter that is usually included in each new comic.  I'm hoping that returns, as I've enjoyed the extra context to the character's lives.  As well, there is no mention of The Massive, The Kapital's sister ship, which our heroes are searching for.

Age of Bronze #32

by Eric Shanower

Among some of the other recent signs that indicate that the world may indeed be ending on December 21st, we have to include the sudden appearance of a new issue of Age of Bronze, the overwhelmingly ambitious and excellent comic by Eric Shanower that tells the story of the Trojan War.  The last issue of this series came out almost exactly two years ago - I had no idea that it had been that long, and was rather surprised by how easily and quickly I was able to get back into the story.

Shanower has slowly and methodically worked his way to the point where the Achaeans, under King Agamemnon, have laid siege to the city of Troy, and have been camped a little ways outside its walls for quite a while now.  In this arc, Betrayal, Shanower has shifted much of the focus of the story to the lovers Cressida and Troilus.  In this issue, as part of a prisoner exchange and temporary truce, Cressida is returned to the custody of her father, Kalchas, among the Achaeans, causing her to leave her lover, Troilus, son of King Priam, in Troy.

Cressida is devastated by this, and finds things even worse when the Achaean kings begin pawing at her.  Scheming Kalchas, meanwhile, tries to find ways to use his daughter to improve his own lowly station, while poor Troilus wallows in his misery.

Not a lot of import happens in this issue; it's a classic 'midway through an arc' kind of book, but it does remind me why I've always loved this title so much.  Shanower's art is fantastic, as he continues to make it easy to differentiate between characters in a cast of almost a hundred.

Another thing that surprised me about this issue is how well-trained I've been by decades of reading serialized stories, to be able to pick up the threads of a plot-line after a gap of two years.  I was shocked to find out it's been so long since the last issue; if asked, I would have guessed only a year.

I can understand why Age of Bronze would be a tough sell, due to its extreme slowness of publication, but I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Creep #4

Written by John Arcudi
Art by Jonathan Case

There aren't a lot of comics like The Creep being published today - comics that are quiet and explore inner depths, books that are anti-hipsterish, but also avoid the most basic tropes of the genres they are set within.

The Creep has been about a PI named Oxel, who suffers from some genetic disorder that has made him grow to an unnatural size, and suffer from a number of side effects.  His old college girlfriend got in touch with him to investigate why her son committed suicide; she has been unable to let go of her child, and wants to understand what happened to him.  Oxel's investigation rips the bandage off for many people though, including the mother of the boy's best friend (who killed himself months before), and for the woman's father, who used to take both boys hunting.

For much of the series, it looked like Arcudi was setting this up along the familiar, Andrew Vachss-style lines of there being some sort of molestation, but I'm pleased to see, in this issue, that this was all a red herring, or something that existed only in Oxel's mind.  The truth, as shown here in a flashback, is much stranger (and likely to stick with me) than anything I could have expected.

Arcudi is a very good character writer, and Jonathan Case is more than up for the job of portraying the subtlety he works into his scripts.  This story will read great in a trade; if you haven't been following it, give it a try.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Breakthrough

by The Gaslamp Killer

It must have been tough for The Gaslamp Killer to have his album Breakthrough debut so close to Flying Lotus's seminal Until the Quiet Comes, because the latter definitely overshadowed the former in the world of dark, atmospheric instrumental electronic hip-hop (if that's what you'd call this).  And that's a little unfair, as this is a very good album.

There are definite similarities between the two artists beyond their choice of record label, but Gaslamp Killer is the more traditional of the two.  He may not push the envelope much with his music, but he knows which edge of it he's most comfortable on.

He fills this seventeen-track deep album with some nice fuzzy beats, aided by the always recognizable Gonjasufi on two tracks, and by other artists I admire like Dimlite and Shigeto.  I especially like 'Flange Face', a driving beat that has Miguel Atwood-Ferguson's strings floating above it.

I could have done without the two interludes, one a parsing of the F-word, and the other a lengthy phone message left by his mother, but the rest of this album bangs from a dark place, and it sounds terrific.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Blackacre #1

Written by Duffy Boudreau
Art by Wendell Cavalcanti and Sergio Abad

Having no familiarity with any of the names involved in Blackacre, a new Image series, I didn't add the book to my pull-list.  I'm fortunate to shop at a store that orders deeply on new, unproven independent titles (it's not luck, seeing as I live in a city with a lot of comics stores to choose from), so after flipping through this on the stands, I figured it looked good enough to buy.

The series opens with a university lecture being delivered in the year 2202 which outlines the root causes of America's Dark Age, which is nicely summed up as being the conflict between zombies and pirates.  According to writer Duffy Boudreau's understanding of our current culture, the majority of Americans have fallen victim to the zombie meme, clutching themselves in the dark, waiting for everything to fall apart in one sweeping catastrophe.  The rich, however, have been taking their cue from the growth of pirate activity on the open seas, and have decided to simply take what they feel they are owed from the world.

This has led to the existence of Blackacre, a gigantic gated community for the super-rich and powerful. They've stayed comfortably behind the walls while the rest of the country went to hell.

The rest of this book is set in 2114, and it tosses a lot at us.  We learn that there is a class of young people raised in Blackacre as soldiers and guards.  We watch one of them graduate from his service along the wall and get recruited for a special meeting outside the gates, a place that very few people go (at least so far as the rest of Blackacre is aware).

We also get the sense that the outside is a pretty messed up place.  We meet a family that is in hiding.  They are attacked by one group of men, who kill the father, and are then attacked by a second group.  The issue then ends with the lesson that rich men in large towers can't always be trusted, but I feel like we should have already known that.

Blackacre is a well-thought out and nicely told comic.  Boudreau has put a lot of thought into how this is going to play out, and has created an interesting, if familiar, world.  Cavalcanti's art is clear and serviceable.  I'm probably going to check out the next issue.