Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Orc Stain #7

by James Stokoe

Orc Stain #7 is exactly a year late, having been solicited for February of 2011.  Lately, I've been thinking of the relaunched Prophet as a worthy (and probably superior) replacement to this series in my affections, and it's nice to see a new issue to compare things to.

In Stokoe's series, the Orcs, who are always nothing but fodder in other fantasy stories, are front and centre.  The hero of our story is a one-eyed Orc (called One-Eye - Orcs are nameless) who is believed to be the Orc that the Orctzar has heard about in a prophecy.  His minions had him captured, but One-Eye managed to escape from the belly of a gigantic beast thing.

In this issue, One-Eye works to escape his pursuers, and is aided by Bowie, the swamp witch who betrayed him once before, and her talking cloak, Zazu.  Bowie is interested in the abilities of One-Eye's remaining eye, and she strikes a deal with him to help him escape the Orctzar's army in order to learn its secrets.

They decide that the best way to avoid their enemies is to take the dangerous Mondo Pass through some mountains, which lands them in ever deeper trouble, especially when a group of River Orcs, riding Zors (picture a cross between a Harley Davidson and a squid) come chasing after them.

Stokoe is one insane comics master.  His pages are crammed with more detail than a Where's Waldo page drawn by Geof Darrow, and he continues to play with anthropomorphic beast-items.  Every new panel of this comic is a bit of an adventure in reading, and there are some gorgeous double-page spreads.  This issue has 31 pages of story for only $2.99, making it well worth the wait.  My hope is that the next issue will come our way before another year passes though...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Los Gigantes

by T. Coraghessan Boyle

I was first introduced to the work of T. Coraghessan Boyle in my final year of high school by a teacher who used his short stories to teach writer's craft.  In the almost twenty years since then, I have read almost a dozen of his books, and have always enjoyed them, although I often find his short stories to be better.  Partly, that's just because I prefer short stories these days anyway, but still...

Los Gigantes is a great example of Boyle's sense of humour and weirdness.  It's set in an unnamed Latin American country, and stars a man who is unnatural in his height and his strength.  He and other large men have been recruited into the military to aid in the President's eugenics program.  They spend their days mating with equally large women, as the President hopes to build an army of giants (there are also rumours that elsewhere in the jungle he has small people working at breeding a corps of perfect spies - within a couple of generations, they are expected to be little larger than a housecat).

While this all sounds great - especially when the President's former pastry chef is hired to prepare the meals, our giant soon chafes (literally and figuratively) under the regimen, and begins the first of a series of escape attempts.

This story is great.  It's a good example of Boyle's ability to identify a theme, get in and start messing with it, and get out again in a matter of pages.  His writing is always taut, plausible, and often skewering.  I should get back to reading some of his newer books...

Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka Vol. 6

by Naoki Urasawa after Osamu Tezuka, with Takashi Nagasaki

Reading this installment of Urasawa's reinterpretation of a classic Osamu Tezuka Astro Boy story, I kept glancing back over to my shelf of books that I haven't read yet to be sure that I hadn't picked up the last chapter by mistake.  It's true - there are still two volumes to go.

A lot happens in this volume that normally would only happen closer to the end of a North American comic.  The identities of the people or robots that have been systematically destroying the world's most powerful robots, and murdering the members of the Bora Survey Group, an organization kind of like the weapons inspectors that were constantly being kicked out of Iraq in the months leading to the war there.

Gesicht, the robot Interpol inspector who has been the main character of this series all along confronts Pluto, the gigantic robot killer under a tulip field in Amsterdam while Gesicht's creator is the victim of an attempted kidnapping in Dusseldorf.

This volume moves at a very quick pace, and while providing some thrilling moments, continues to ask questions about the ability of artificial life to develop emotion, and what the place of robots in human society should be.  It's an exciting and at times, touching, comic.  It's also highly recommended.

The Sixth Gun #19

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

It gets hard to find new things to say about a series as consistently good as The Sixth Gun, especially when it is in the middle of a story arc, as this issue is.

Becky Moncrief has come to the strange and disturbing town of Penance to try to find and rescue her friend and fellow adventurer Drake Sinclair, who has been abducted by his former confederates in the Knights of Solomon.  Becky is often easily manipulated in this series, as when the sheriff of the town sends her to another settlement, which we learn is the real town of Penance.

It seems there's something in the water in these parts, which explains why just about everybody in both places look like they'd be perfectly at home in a circus sideshow.  Beyond that, we learn a little more about Drake's situation, as he tries to convince his captors of his good intentions towards them.

Cullen Bunn takes his time in spinning out his stories in this series, and that works very well here.  There is a sense of menace and distrust throughout this issue, and it works well as a horror comic.  Brian Hurtt's created some disturbing characters in his day, but the bearded lady in the pink dress in this issue is haunting.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Prophet #22

Written by Brandon Graham
Art by Simon Roy

Prophet is definitely my new favourite comic.  At the moment, I even like it more than The Walking Dead and Scalped, which are usually tied as the books I most look forward to each month.  I guess I need to give Brandon Graham and company (it looks like Farel Dalrymple will be taking over the art soon; whether that is permanent or not I don't know) a little more time to prove that this book will be consistently this excellent.

For now, though, excellent it is.  Jon Prophet is continuing his 'mission', which at this point has him walking across a desert infested by biting insects somewhere far into the future where all that remains of mankind are giant rusting war machines.  He hitches a ride with a caravan of creatures that mine some sort of mineral from the desert via gigantic lumbering creatures that excrete the refined substance, and things go fine for him until he decides to interrupt an important ritual, thinking that he is saving their king's life.

Brandon Graham is very good at writing bizarre mayhem, and he has made good use of his world-building skills to give us a book that is equal parts Conan, Moebius, and Orc Stain.  Simon Roy is one of a very select few artists who can match his penchant for weirdness.  This is easily the most inventive comic on the stands right now, and I can't wait for each new issue.

This issue has a back-up feature, which is a reprint of a comic from the 90s by Fil Barlow.  It's easy to see how this strip would have influenced Graham - it reminds me of some of his work - but I didn't really like it.

Dark Horse Presents #9

Written by Mike Mignola, Brian Wood, Paul Pope, Tony Puryear, Erika Alexander, Robert Alexander, Edgar Allen Poe, Richard Corben, Rich Johnston, Alan Gordon, Steve Horton, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and MJ Butler
Art by Joe Querio, Kristian Donaldson, Paul Pope, Tony Puryear, Richard Corben, Simon Rohrmüller, Thomas Yeates, Steve Horton, Steve Lieber, and Mark Wheatley

Dark Horse, as a comics company, has been on fire lately.  Where two years ago, I was only buying one or two titles from this company, and now I think I'm getting somewhere around nine a month.  Like they did back in the day, with the first run of Dark Horse Presents, they are wisely using this monthly anthology title as a proving ground or launch pad for new series and ideas.

This month has some pretty impressive comics.  There's a Paul Pope story, which was a nice surprise.  Basically, Pope shows us what happened when the Apollo 12 lunar module landed on the moon.  It feels pretty authentic, and is perhaps a bit of a strange choice for Pope, but it's also a wonderfully drawn piece of history.

The book opens with a Lobster Johnson story by Mike Mignola and artist Joe Querio, which follows the usual trajectory of a Mignola short story.  These are always good reads, but I am beginning to get a little bored of them.

The second chapter of Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson's The Massive introduces another new character; this time it's a Tamil boy who tried to kill fishermen who were poisoning the ocean where his family fished.  I'm much more interested in what Wood is doing with this story this month than I was last.  This is beginning to feel like it could be as great a story as DMZ.

Tony Puryear's Concrete Park continues to interest me.  Puryear has said that this his story is going to be moving to its own title soon; I'll definitely be on board for that.  Richard Corben adapts an Edger Allen Poe poem, which is creepy and interesting.  Rich Johnston's 'Many Murders of Miss Cranbourne' continues to be amusing, and it's nice to see how the old lady is manipulating half the town she lives in to aid her in her murderous work.

Of less interest were the Tarzan and Skultar stories.  Two new features, Amala's Blade and Alabaster: Wolves were not all that impressive, but thankfully, there was no new chapter in Neal Adams's horrible Blood story.

Mondo #1

by Ted McKeever

There is no one who makes comics like Ted McKeever.  I've considered myself a fan since I bought the first issue of Metropol back when it was being published as part of Marvel's Epic line. I was immediately caught up in his utterly bizarre and Biblical vision of future urbanity.  In his most recent work, META 4, McKeever had moved away from religious matters to begin to explore other topics, although a lot of that series was right over my head, so I don't feel too confident talking about it.

Now he's started Mondo, a three issue mini-series being published in Image's 'Golden Age' format, which makes it somewhat oversized when compared to other modern-day comics.  This first issue has something like 33 pages of story, which makes it a nice satisfying chunk of comics goodness.

It appears that McKeever is playing around with superhero tropes this time around.  Catfish Mandu is a strange guy.  He works at a chicken factory, where his job is irradiating freshly-butchered meat so that it triples in size.  He never talks to anyone, and is notable in his apartment building for being absolutely silent at all times.  He has no friends, and is often the target of his co-workers' mean-spirited jokes.  One night, Catfish is visited at his home by a mysterious chicken, who leaves an egg outside his door.  The next day, Catfish falls onto the conveyer belt that takes chicken carcasses to the be irradiated, and after the dust from the subsequent explosion clears, Catfish is now super-strong and over-sized (looking a little like Guido in X-Factor).

McKeever also lays the groundwork for a couple of other plot elements - there is a young violent woman named Kitten Kaboodle who shows up, and it is made clear that there is some sort of disagreement between the mayor of Santa Monica and the people who use the beach.  I'm not sure where either of these elements will lead us, but I trust McKeever to find some strange use for both.

As with any McKeever production, his art is the biggest draw.  His work is a little less abstract than it can often be here, and definitely benefits from having larger pages to fill. This is an intriguing comic. 

American Vampire #24

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

The third, and penultimate chapter in the 'Death Race' arc is a pretty quick read, compared to other issues of American Vampire.  In some ways that makes sense - the entire issue is built around a car chase across the desert, but I think it needed a slightly more compressed story this month.

Travis Kidd, the teenage vampire slayer is continuing his pursuit of Skinner Sweet, the vampire who killed his parents.  As their chase, which involves jumping from one vehicle to another (which happens to be on fire), and taking flying leaps over rocks, unfolds, we get to see more of Travis's childhood in an insane asylum, where he has been subjected to electroshock therapy and lectures on the dangers of 'race music'.  When he escapes, with the help of a familiar face, he quickly turns the tables on his rescuer, in a way that helps Snyder establish just what Travis is about.

We still don't know the story of how Sweet killed his family, but I presume that is coming next month.  As always, Rafael Albuquerque does an excellent job on the art, as one of the best Vertigo series just keeps ticking along.

Rasl #13

by Jeff Smith

As this title gets closer to its conclusion, Jeff Smith is really picking up the pace.  In this issue, Robert Johnson invades the facility that houses the new St. George's Array, a device built following Nikola Tesla's notebooks, that can do some weird energy stuff, but with the effect of killing people and ruining whole towns.

Johnson makes his way to the centre of the facility, where he takes over the device, while engaged in a stand-off with some lady who is clearly in charge, and with Sal, the lizard-faced guy whose been hunting him throughout the series.

There's a lot of tension in this issue, as Johnson learns a few things he didn't know about his mistress (and ex-partner's wife) Maya.

It's always tough to remember what's happening in this comic, as it comes out so sporadically and tends to be a quick read when it does arrive, but Smith does an excellent job in this issue of throwing the reader right into the middle of things. 

A Visit From The Good Squad

by Jennifer Egan

A couple of years ago, I read a short story in the New Yorker called 'Safari' by Jennifer Egan, and I loved it.  I started watching for Egan's name, and soon found some other stories by her in the New Yorker and Harper's.  Because the stories were sporadic and wide ranging in their subject matter, I didn't notice that some of the character's names overlapped, or that the stories were all chapters from the same piece of work, which became A Visit from the Goon Squad.

This is a great novel, although in many ways, it's more of a collection of interrelated short stories.  Characters recur throughout the book, as different aspects of different peoples' lives are examined in a non-linear fashion.

At the centre of the novel are two people - Bennie Salazar and Sasha Blake (if her maiden name is given in the novel, I've forgotten it).  Bennie ends up being a powerful record producer, although we visit him at different phases in his life, from his time as a teenager struggling to get his band noticed, to his attempt to regain some of his past glory, after being fired from the label he started, and getting divorced.  Sasha was Bennie's assistant for a time, but she is many other things in this book - a thief, a prostitute, a college student, and finally, the mother to autistic children.

Egan also spotlights other characters - the aforementioned Safari is about an older record executive's trip with his new girlfriend and his children to Africa.  This same exec had previously been dating one of Bennie's friends when they were teenagers.  We later see this guy at his deathbed.

Starting each new chapter is a bit of a mystery, as the reader tries to place things in the book's chronology, and figure out how the story is going to connect to the others.  Egan returns again and again to themes of insecurity and powerlessness, as she shows us her take on time periods ranging from the  1970s to the 2020s.  For most of the book, she writes in highly polished prose, but there are sections where she experiments with other forms.  One chapter is written as a magazine article for Vanity Fair (detailing how Bennie's journalist brother-in-law ended up in prison for assaulting a beautiful young actress).  Another is a series of PowerPoint-like slides, which make up the journal of Sasha's twelve-year-old daughter.

Having finished this book, I strongly feel the need to track down more of Egan's work.  She is a very talented author.  This is highly recommended.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Morning Glories #16

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

Once again, Morning Glories is an excellent value, giving us 32 pages of comics for only $3.  That alone endears me to the title, even before starting to read its wonderfully complex story.

This issue features Casey Blevins, who is more or less the main character in this comic.  A little while ago, Casey and the Morning Glories Academy guidance counselor, Ms. Hodges, made their escape from the mysterious school.  When we last saw them, they were being surrounded by soldiers, including Casey's young father.  This issue opens with them in custody, as Casey is waterboarded as part of her interrogation.  The soldiers believe she's been sent by the Chinese, since it's not likely that anyone in the military is willing to believe that the teenage girl has simply traveled back in time.

As with many issues of Morning Glories (and the TV show Lost, which it resembles so much), the issue is split between Casey's adventure in the past, and scenes leading up to her leaving home to attend MGA, which happened in the series's first issue.  Along the way, we learn a great deal about Casey's parents.

We are also given some hints as to the bigger picture, as Ms. Hodges gifts Casey with a duffel bag full of documents, cash, and instructions.  She also gives her a Jedi mind trick ability, so that people will do what she tells them to.  It's clear now that Casey won't be returning to the school as a student, and I wonder just how and when her story is going to intersect with the other students again.

Morning Glories is an incredibly cool comic, and as I said, one of the best bargains on the stands.  I'm consistently intrigued by it, and continue to look forward to learning more about the secrets of the school.

The Li'l Depressed Boy #9

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace

The Li'l Depressed Boy is maddeningly decompressed, and yet, I find that for this title, that is something that I really like about it.

In this issue, the LDB gets his front door fixed, does some shopping and laundry, and goes about getting a job.  He drops off a pile of applications, and has an interview.  By the end of the issue, he's hired somewhere.  That's pretty much all that happens, and that's kind of a lot for this series.

I like seeing LDB interact a little more with the wider world, instead of just spending time with his friend Drew and Jazz, the girl that he likes.  One thing that I've always found strange about this series is that LDB doesn't seem depressed enough to have the name.  A little anxious, sure, but not really depressed.  I'm wondering though, if the challenge of having to interact with the public on a regular basis will be the thing that sparks off his depression.

Either way, this comic continues to be one of the most charming ones on the stands.

Off Road

by Sean Murphy

Off Road, Sean Murphy's debut graphic novel was first published by Oni Press in 2005, and I remember it catching my eye, although I never did pick the book up.  Last year, after Murphy began to gain more recognition as an artist on things like Joe the Barbarian, John Constantine: Hellblazer - City of Demons, and American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest, the book was republished by IDW.

Off Road is a fun and amusing slacker graphic novel, fitting somewhere on the spectrum between Scott Pilgrim and Pounded (also all Oni books), although leaning closer to the latter in terms of realism.

The plot for this book is simple.  Our main character, Trent, is an art school student who has been hung up on the same girl since middle school.  He hangs out with his rich friend Greg, whose father has just bought him a brand new Jeep.  Trent buys in to the salesman's suggestion that they should take the Jeep off-road (it has a skid plate, after all), and does his best to convince Greg to do that.  After they pick up the jockish Brad, who comes from an abusive home, the trio decides that they should put the Jeep through its paces.

Predictably (especially if you've looked at the cover), they get stuck in a swamp, and this sets them off on a series of misadventures as they try to get the Jeep freed.  The story features abusive parents, incestuous white-trash ATV drivers, madcap backhoe operators, and a giant forest fire (which is a neat trick to pull off in a swamp). 

The three guys go through the usual buddy flick tropes of hating each other, and then reaffirming and strengthening their friendship.  There's nothing particularly original about this book, but it is amusing and an enjoyable read.  Murphy's style is much looser here than what we have come to expect from his Vertigo work, but it's a very capably done comic.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chew #24

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

How many comics are being published today that are as consistently excellent as Chew?  I think of Scalped, The Walking Dead, Invincible (I know how it looks, but unlike Olive in this comic, I don't have a Robert Kirkman poster on any of my walls), The Unwritten, and that's about it.

The consequence of this is that it's hard to write something new about this comic each month.  John Layman's story is becoming ever more sprawling, yet always very character-driven. 

This month, the focus is on Tony Chu's daughter Olive.  She's started working with Savoy and Velazano, who are following a Xocoscalpere in the hopes that he can lead them to the Russian or Serbian vampire guy who has been lurking in the shadows of this title for quite some time.  A Xocoscalpere is someone who can sculpt machinery out of chocolate (and only chocolate) that works just like items made of steel or plastic.

As usual, the story is quite amusing, and Rob Guillory's art is fantastic.  Chew is wonderful.  There's not much more to say about it than that.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Sandman: Endless Nights

Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by P. Craig Russell, Milo Manara, Miguelanxo Prado, Barron Storey, Bill Sienkiewicz, Glenn Fabry, and Frank Quitely

Back when it was coming out each month, like most readers who were looking for more from their 90s comics than shoulder pads and leg pouches, Sandman was one of my favourite titles.  In a lot of ways, it was Gaiman's series, alongside books like Starman and Sandman Mystery Theatre that kept me going through what I've come to recognize as comics' Dark Ages.  When the series ended, I felt like Gaiman had brought things to a nice, complete close.  A few years later, when the Endless Nights anthology was announced, I felt no need to dive back into his world (kind of like how I feel about Before Watchmen now).  I wasn't sure that there was any need to return to these characters, as anything new that would be said about them would be ancillary to Gaiman's original design and vision.

And then, I completely forgot that this project ever existed, until I saw a copy at a used book store a month or so ago.

While my original assessment, that the book wouldn't add anything necessary to the story of Dream or his siblings held true, it was really very nice to revisit some of these old friends, and to reminisce about how much this comic meant to me at a certain point in my life.

The book holds seven stories, one for each of the Endless.  It opens on a Death story, drawn by P. Craig Russell.  Like most people who read Sandman for the first time in their late teens, I always had a bit of a crush on Death, as she was shown in this series, so it was nice to see her again, in a story that is kind of predictable, but beautiful (thanks to Russell).

The best story in this volume is the Dream one (illustrated by Miguelanxo Prado).  It is set a very long time ago, and does more than any other issue of the series to remind us that the Endless exist in the DC Universe (at least, pre-New 52 they did).  Dream takes a mortal lover with him to a meeting of stars, who have taken human form.  We meet Rao, and the star of Oa, as well as our own sun, although he is still very young.  The story is full of interesting little Easter eggs for long-time readers, but also does a good job of reminding us what a bit of a tool Dream is.

This whole book has incredible art in it, from Bill Sienkiewicz's trippy Delirium story, to Barron Storey's haunting portraits of Despair.  Glenn Fabry's never been a favourite artist of mine, but his Destruction story works quite well, as does Milo Manara's story about Desire (who better?).  Frank Quitely's work on the Destiny story is beautiful, but the tale itself is just an epilogue to the book that isn't necessary at all.  I guess it's hard to write about a character like Destiny.

Anyway, I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and am now very tempted to re-read the entire Sandman series; something I've always wanted to do, but haven't been able to invest the time in.  I'm curious to see how they stand up now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura

The Search Continues

Havana Cultura: The Search Continues, a two-disc compilation of contemporary Cuban music was an impulse buy for me. I've come to admire Gilles Peterson's Brownswood Recordings label because of the sublime album he released on it by Zara McFarlane, and while I knew this wouldn't be the same brand of beautiful jazz, I thought that working under the same rules I apply to Now-Again Records (ie. buy everything on sight), I'd be happy with it.

I'm very happy with it.

Over the course of thirty tracks, Peterson introduces the non-Cuban listener to a huge array of artists recording in Cuba today.  Among the sounds and genres represented here are Latin and Afro-jazz, hip-hop, funk, reggaeton, pop, and R&B.  The first album is played by Peterson's Havana Cultura Band, but each track has different 'guest' musicians.  The second album is more of a curated look at 'The New Cuban Underground'.  The only artists whose name was familiar to me on this project were The Heavyweights Brass Band (hailing from my neck of the woods), and they are there to accompany a Cuban singer.

The over-all effect of this album reminds me of the Brazilian survey compilation Oi: A Nova Musica Brasileira, which did the same kind of thing for Brazilian artists, but this collection is more balanced and cohesive as a whole piece.  The only track on here that annoys me is 'No Me Da Mi Cana Americana', by Kola Loka, and I believe that I'm mostly irritated by the way it permeates my conscious after listening to it, the way a good, but slightly irritating, pop song can.


The Last Battle

Written by Tito Faraci
Art by Dan Brereton

I think someone looking to do a Master's thesis in comic book history could easily examine portrayals of Ancient Rome in comic books over the last fifty years or so.  It's a setting that tends to attract a number of writers and artists, and can provide us with a myriad of interesting stories or cool visuals.

The Last Battle, a collaboration between the Italian comics writer Tito Faraci and the American artist Dan Brereton is interesting, without being particularly spectacular.  It's a story about Gaiu Rodius, a Roman general who helped educate Julius Caesar in the way of war, at the end of his career.  Rodius has a reputation for being a skilled warriro, but he's lost interest in fighting.  Caesar sends him on one final mission - to track down Cammius, a Gaul who Rodius raised, who is now threatening to attack Rome.

This story picks up on the trappings of a fantasy quest, as Rodius gathers a team of four other warriors, and heads out to find the man he thinks of as his son.  In typical Roman comics fashion, there is betrayal and deceit, as well as some bloody battle scenes.

This is a good enough story, which moves quickly through its fifty-odd pages.  I've never been a huge fan of Brereton's work; I usually find it too static and baroque, but I think he was an interesting choice for a story that is not filled with goth-y monsters.  He has skill at capturing the Roman profile.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

How Do You Do

by Mayer Hawthorne

Having listened to Mayer Hawthorne's first album, A Strange Arrangement, I wouldn't have thought that the artist could get much slicker, but then he gives us How Do You Do, and I have to rethink that position.

For this album, Hawthorne left Stones Throw Records (I'm not going to pretend to care about the particulars of label allegiances; I just know that his first album was with Stones Throw, and this one is on Universal), so there is probably a little more money being tossed at this project.  I don't see how else Snoop Dogg would show up for one track, 'Can't Stop', with his signature smooth voice.

Anyway, aside from potential budgetary excess, this is very similar to the first album.  Hawthorne works with smooth songs that evoke a simpler time where boy bands sounded like women as often as not, and songs were about simple themes.  Except, when listening carefully, it's clear that Hawthorne is not living in the past.  His thoughts on relationships and economic hardship are modern and often critical, but ultimately very sing-a-longable, and quite lovely.

Hell Below

by East of Underground, SOAP, The Black Seeds, and The Sound Trek

Despite containing the work of four bands, this small box set put together by the fine people at Now-Again Records have chosen to label and market this under the title East of Underground: Hell Below.

The four bands listed above were all winners in the United States Army Special Services Agency, Europe's Original Magnificent Special Services Entertainment Showband Contests, the first of which was held in 1971, and the second in 1972.  This was basically a 'battle of the bands' held in Germany, with prizes including European tours, professional record pressings, and unofficially but most importantly, deferment from combat in Vietnam.

These bands were made up of servicemen (although I'm not sure who provided the female vocals for the SOAP album), and featured covers of popular funk songs of the day.  Little more is known about these individuals; the people at Now-Again were only able to find one of them to interview, and he had his name listed incorrectly on the original album's liner notes.

So basically, this is a collection of funk covers.  It's mostly pretty good, but I found myself skipping over it in the pile of discs that make up my current musical rotation.  I do admire the work done to preserve this interesting aspect of US history though...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chew #27

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

Layman and Guillory like to push the boundaries on Chew, and this issue is no exception, as they decide to jump a year in the future (accounting for some delays) and give us issue 27 (last month we read #18).

It's an interesting storytelling technique, as we get some interesting hints as to what will happen to Tony, but don't find out too much more than that he's going to be badly injured, and won't be working for the FDA much longer.  There's no sign of Colby or Amelia, and the main character of the issue is Toni, Tony's sister who works for NASA.

It seems that Toni has a friend who collects rare breeds of frog (who doesn't), and acquired some of the Chog (chicken/frog hybrids who have shown up in the book before).  Well, Chog's breed like crazy, and have reproduced with some hallucinogenic frogs, who have now been acquired by our old friend D-Bear.  Much of this issue is designed to echo the events of Chew #1, which is pretty funny.

I'm not sure how necessary this future issue gimmick really is, but it's all good.  The one thing that can always be counted on is that this book is going to stay fresh and unpredictable, while also having a very tightly-plotted, large story.  Good stuff.

EDIT:  I have no idea why this post has jumped up in time to today, when it was written when the comic originally came out months ago...

Peter Panzerfaust #1

Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art by Tyler Jenkins

I hadn't originally planned to pick up this comic, but I'm a sucker for an impulse buy, and I thought I'd give it a try.  It should have worked better for me - this is a retelling of the Peter Pan story, set in the middle of Nazi-occupied Calais during the Second World War.  A group of orphans are the only survivors of a bombing run that hit their orphanage.  While despairing as to their future (very briefly), the mercurial Peter Panzerfaust appears in the hole the bomb ripped into the side of the building, and promises to lead them to safety.

The spend the rest of the issue dodging Germans before finding themselves in the abandoned store that Peter has been staying in.  We learn that Peter is an American teenager, who is searching for a woman named Belle.  Some Germans chase a British soldier into the store, and the issue ends very suddenly and strangely, with Peter howling like a wolf behind three Germans.

Clearly Wiebe is writing for the eventual trade, or this issue is missing some pages, because the ending does not make any sense whatsoever.  What also doesn't make much sense is that a bunch of orphans would be able to speak fluent English, but no one has any trouble understanding Peter, which rings false.

There's not a lot that makes sense in this issue, but the chase sequence is pretty cool.  I like Tyler Jenkins's art; his characters are lanky in a way that only teenage boys are able to be, and he has a good handle on the action and drama of the story.  I'd be surprised if I picked up the next issue though...

Wasteland #34

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Justin Greenwood

I'm very pleased to see that Wasteland is back on a regular schedule, and therefore welcome the addition of new artist Justin Greenwood, since it seems that it is his efforts that are helping the book return to its previous status as one of the most dependable (and high-quality) independent books on the stands.

The tone of this comic has shifted quite a bit with the new artist and new story arc.  Where before, Wasteland was largely about survival in a difficult future, and the politics of the city of Newbegin, this story arc is also exploring issues of faith in greater depth than the series did before.  Our heroes, Michael and Abi, who are traveling with the Ruin Runner Gerr, find themselves in the town of Godsholm, which is a Crossed Chains town.  The populace of this isolated town are Christians, and it is curious to see Johnston introduce such a familiar thing into his story.  He has not shied away from religion before, but in those cases, he has only given us the Sunner religion, which is much simpler in its belief system than Christianity.

The people of Godsholm are convinced that the travelers are demons, and everyone is upset about the fact that they were recently visited by a giant naked man who mocked their beliefs.  Abi and Michael realize that this same figure, who visited them last issue while they slept, is their father, and that he is traveling to Newbegin, to deal with Marcus, the leader of that city.

This arc is very much grounded in what has come before in the series, but is also rather accessible for new readers.  It may not feel that way at first, but many of the things that seem unclear, such as Michael's abilities, and the mystery of A-Ree-Yass-I have been mysteries since the series began.

As I've been saying for as long as this comic has been running, Johnston has done some incredible world-building with this series, and it is always fascinating.  Greenwood's art works well here - I preferred Christopher Mitten on this title, but am also very pleased to see the book coming out again, so I'm not going to complain.

The Activity #3

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mitch Gerads

Nathan Edmondson's new monthly series, The Activity, is a strange beast.  It's a military special ops comic, about a Direct Action group, and as I've said before, it brings to mind some of the best of Greg Rucka's Queen and Country series, and the television show The Unit. What is strange about this comic is that Edmondson has been slow to develop the characters beyond showing them as functions of their positions on the team.  Another book this is reminiscent of is Andy Diggle's The Losers, but again, that comic was full of strong character work. 

This issue feels like it is trying to correct this problem, but it's done in a manner that is perhaps not all that effective, while still making an interesting read.  As the comic opens, the team is being extracted from a mission in Afghanistan which has clearly gone badly.  While flying in a military transport back to the United States, the team begins to second guess their decisions, and the decisions of each other, leading to conflict, catharsis, and the sharing of military stories.  All of these are good things, but I leave the comic no clearer as to who each of these people really are.

As I was reading the book, I was struck with the thought that Edmondson is going to need to start to develop a longer narrative here.  Having each issue spotlight a particular mission is, while within the nature of a team like this, not going to create a sustained sense of development in the series.  I'm not suggesting they need some shadowy organization to go after month after month (á la Cobra or Al Qaeda), but a sense of progression is needed.  The end of this issue does lead into the next, which is a good sign, as is the suggestion that this team may be reaching the end of their usefulness.

It also needs to be said that Mitch Gerads's art is improving quite a bit from month to month.  At first, he seemed like a decent if somewhat generic indie artist; now I'm starting to see the development of a more individualistic style, and I like it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fables #114

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

I really feel like Bill Willingham shouldn't be writing comics with young children in them.  This issue was not as cringe-inducing as the issues that had the children competing for the role of North Wind, but still, the kids in this comic do not come off as very authentic on any level.  They read like children in post-war British children's novels, which is to say fully manufactured.  The idea of using Bigby Wolf and Snow White's children is a very interesting one - with their mixed parentage and abilities, there are a wealth of stories that could be driven by them, but this isn't really working for me.

One of the kids is upset about the fact that she got a toy boat for Christmas, and the boat is, of course, eeeevil (read that with a creepy voice).  This plot kind of bores me, and so I'm done with it.

Much more interesting is the return of some of the Fabletown crowd to their old stomping grounds, which is now the site of Castle Dark.  In exploring the castle, they find the imprisoned and newly-skinny Nurse Spratt (of course, she too is now eeeevil). 

As well, there is some stuff about Bigby and the kid who is going to become the North Wind (who worries that she may, one day, turn eeeevil), and we return in a back-up to Oz, and the revolutionary army that Blufkin put together, although we are given no updates as to his fate.

Fables is always a good comic, although it feels lately like there are more mediocre issues than great ones.  The art, however, is always top notch.

Existence 2.0/3.0

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Ron Salas and Joe Eisma

I had felt like I'd missed the boat by not buying Nick Spencer's debut mini-series Existence 2.0.  At the time that it started coming out, I obviously didn't know the man's name, and while the concept sounded interesting, the art didn't do anything to grab my attention.  By the time the sequel came along, I was starting to read some of Spencer's other books, such as Forgetless (which is awesome) and Shuddertown (which isn't, but started out very well), but I wasn't going to dive into a project in the middle.

This trade collects both the 2.0 and 3.0 stories, and it is interesting to read as an artifact of a now very popular writer's genesis.  Which, I guess, is another way of saying that it's not very good.  The first mini is pretty decent, actually.  It's about a scientist who has developed a conscious-transfer device, and when he is assassinated, he uses it to jump into his killer's body.  This works well, especially when the scientist is enjoying life in the new body.  Like he's doing with The Infinite Vacation (which is on semi-infinite hiatus, it seems), Spencer takes some time to explore some of the ramifications of this technology, and looks at it from a social and individualistic perspective.  As for how the device works, there is no explanation beyond showing people pointing a cell-phone sized device at the person they 'jump' to.

The thriller movie aspects of the first mini, which involve mafia backers, work out okay, and Spencer goes for a big emotional pay-off in the end.  Had he stopped there, this would have been a debut he could be pleased with, but for some reason, the decision was made to return to this story with the 3.0 sequel, which is awful.  The plot makes no sense.  The survivors from the first mini are being chased by henchmen for some CEO with a split personality disorder that causes him to walk around his office in women's underwear.  I honestly could not keep anything straight here, and quickly found that I didn't care.

The art in this book is problematic as well.  The 2.0 story looks better than the sequel, but not by much.  Ron Salas provides most of the art, and is joined at the end of the book by Spencer's Morning Glories collaborator Joe Eisma. Had I not read that on the cover, I never would have guessed it.  Much of this book looks rushed and poorly-rendered (except for a cool action sequence that is split between two different times at the beginning of 3.0). 

In all, this book is a disappointment.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Glory #23

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

Rob Liefeld's relaunch of Extreme Comics, his line of derivative excessive 90s characters, is now 2 for 2 with the return of Glory.  I have no idea who Glory used to be, but now she is an other-dimensional warrior woman, whose birth brought peace to two warring peoples, ending millennia of hostility.

During the Second World War, Glory came to Earth to experience a more normal life, and to participate in the conflict.  After the war, she stared down Supreme, and continued to chart her own path.

This issue is split between the flashbacks that show Glory's glory days, and suggest that this book may not be the complete redesign that Brandon Graham and Simon Roy's Prophet series is, as this book references other Liefeld 'creations' (to the extent that someone could create a character like Supreme, who is basically Superman, with a few letters adjusted), and contemporary scenes that introduce the character of Riley Barnes.

Riley is a young reporter (or, would like to be) who has spent her life dreaming of Glory.  Now, she's decided to track her down as part of her master's thesis, and her research takes her to an underpopulated island in France.  I don't want to spoil anything, except to say that this book takes a Rick Jones/Captain Marvel thing, and uses it in an interesting way.

This issue didn't blow me away the way the first issue of the relaunched Prophet did, but it is a solid examination of a Wonder Woman like character.  Joe Keatinge is new to comics writing, but shows some solid promise.  The surprise for me is Ross Campbell.  His art here is very nice, but doesn't have the same thickness (of line and character) that I got used to seeing in his highly addictive emo youth love series Wet Moon.  Campbell is one of the best artists around for drawing women that look like real women, and so his Glory does not have the tiny waist and large bosom that we think of when we think of 90s superheroines; instead, she looks like a woman who is incredibly strong would look.  Riley is equally plausible, visually.

This series has a lot of potential, and I look forward to seeing where Keatinge is going to take it, even if it is more conventional than I would have expected.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

No Kings

by Doomtree

No Kings is the second full-crew album from the Doomtree collective, and is their most collaborative project yet.

Whereas on their previous, self-titled album, most of the songs followed the usual convention of having a single producer providing the beat for anywhere from one to five emcees, this album blurs the lines between the various roles, giving the entire package an organic feel.

The credits for many of these tracks list three producers, as usual producer Lazerbeak works with Cecil Otter, POS, with Paper Tiger showing up for the awesome closer 'Fresh New Trash'.  Otter has a few solo beats as well, which is nice to see.  There is a much heavier rock influence on this album, but this is still a raw hip-hop beast.

Lyrically, the crew is reaching new heights.  There seems to be a lot of Sims on this album, but the credits are nicely balanced between him, Otter, Mike Mictlan, Dessa, and POS.  This is not a group that has any weak links (how many other rap groups of this size can say the same?  Not even Wu-Tang), but it is Dessa and POS who elevate each track they're on to the next level.

Stand-out tracks include the opener 'No Way', which has an amazing hook, and 'Beacon' (for Dessa).  My drop-dead favourite is the infectious 'Bangarang', which is the partiest track Doomtree has ever released.  This is a terrific album from one of the best, and most slept on, groups in hip-hop today.

BPRD Hell on Earth: The Long Death #1

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by James Harren

This start to the latest BPRD mini-series felt, in many ways, like a return to form for the series, which has been consistently good, but perhaps floundering for a while (since Abe Sapien got shot, I'd say). 

The issue opens on a strange scene shared by Johann Kraus and Captain Daimio, which is quickly revealed to be a dream.  That is significant, since Johann, who is a ghost, hasn't had a dream since he died and began living in a containment suit.  He believes that the dream is indicative of the normalizing effect of his new suit, which he got in the Russia arc.  Panya sees it more literally, but before they can explore it further, Johann is dispatched to lead a mission.

It's great to see Panya in the book again.  She's an ancient mummy from Egypt who is somehow still alive, if rather brittle.  She's been a favourite character of mine since she debuted in the series, and we haven't seen much of her of late.  I'm not sure that she can be trusted, and some of the scenes in this issue help that along.

Johann's mission is in the same area of British Columbia where Abe encountered Captain Daimio a while back, and like Abe did on that mission, Johann ditches his troops to search for his former colleague.  The troops don't do so well though, as a creature attacks their bivouac.

There are two things I found especially enjoyable about this issue.  The first is the introduction of Agent Giarocco, who takes charge after Johann's disappearance.  Apparently, she's been around the margins of this title for some time, but in just a few pages, Mignola and Arcudi flesh her out into a pretty likeable character.  The second thing I liked most about this comic was the art.  James Harren had worked on the Abe Sapien mini-series of a few months ago, and it was good, but this issue looks much, much better.  I was enjoying Tyler Crook's work on this title, and hope to see him again, but for now, I'm very happy with Harren.  Also, I love this cover by Duncan Fegredo.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Crate Digging: Seven Veils

by Robert Rich

When I found this cd among a small trove of albums that were lost for years, I could only sort of remember it.  At the time this would have come out (mid- to late-nineties), I was working at a used book and music store, where we were always listening to chill-out music.  I know for certain that this was an album that a customer sold us, and it was probably a review copy.  We played it, played it some more, and apparently at some point I decided to bring it home to me.

To my recollection, the mid-nineties were a time for capital-s Serious music in the electronic field, and Robert Rich's Seven Veils certainly fits that bill.  Here's what's written on the back of the cd-case:

Robert Rich unveils seven rhythm-charged compositions with the exotic, sensual ambience of the Middle East.  Blazingly original music and audiophile quality sound by one of the world's top electro-acoustic artists makes Seven Veils a must for any world or ambient aficionado.
That is an exact quote.  If you're wondering what that dripping noise is, it's pretension...

Listening to this tonight, I expected to hate it.  Strangely, I didn't.  Basically, this is a bunch of white folks playing Middle Eastern music with traditionally Western instruments, and some synthesizers and samplers.  It takes itself way too seriously, but as background chill-out music, it works.  Well, it works well enough.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bambara Mystic Soul

The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979

The Analog Africa series has to be just about the best researched and well-versed of any number of labels that work to bring half-forgotten or unreleased African music to the rest of the world.  The latest entry into the series, Bambara Mystic Soul presents the music of Burkina Faso, a country I know absolutely nothing about, or at least knew nothing about before diving into this sixteen-track deep compilation.

As usual with this series, Samy Ben Redjeb has traveled extensively throughout the country to locate old records, and securing that, finding the musicians on them to secure the rights to release the music world wide.  The first chunk of the rather thick book that accompanies this disc recounts his voyages, before going into interviews with the artists on each track.

What emerges is a picture of a country and its music at a time when pan-Africanism promised a balm to the continent's ills.  The music on this disc is uplifting and hopeful.  Latin influences lie beside Afrobeat, as stars like Amadou Ballaké et l'Orchestre Super Volta, Afro-Soul System, Orchestre CVD, Mamo Lagbema, and many others hold forth.  This is a recommended album.

Catwoman: Wild Ride

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Cameron Stewart, with Guy Davis and Nick Derington

This fourth trade is perhaps the best of Ed Brubaker's run, at least the best since the first one, which had the benefit of Darwyn Cooke art.

In this trade, Selina and her sidekick Holly go on a road trip.  This leads them to a number of different locales in the DCU, and some run ins with the people who live in them.  We as readers get to see New York (Wildcat), Keystone City (Captain Cold), Opal City (Bobo Benetti), and St. Roch (Hawkman and Hawkgirl).

There's also a plot line involving an ancient Egyptian cult, a story about a diner heist that goes badly, and Batman and Slam Bradley get into it over Selina.  Brubaker had a good handle on Catwoman, keeping her foray into being a good guy (or at least, not being such a bad guy) interesting.  What really makes this book work though are Selina's relationships with Holly, Bradley, and Ted Grant.  Cameron Stewart's art, as always, is excellent.

Although Brubaker's run on this title continued for a while after this (with Paul Gulacy on art, which would be a pretty jarring shift in tone), for whatever reason, DC has not published any further trades.  Is the rest of the run worth tracking down in back issue bins?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Severed #7

Written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft
Art by Attila Futaki

I feel like I was a little harsh when I wrote about the sixth issue of this mini-series last month, but I did feel that the writers had pushed the limits of credulity a little too far.  This final issue of the series is much better balanced though, and the story ended in a satisfying fashion.

Severed has been about Jack Brakeman, a young boy who set out across Depression-era America looking for his father, who had given him up for adoption as an infant.  Along the way, he came across a cannibal serial killer, posing a a record player salesman.  This guy got rid of Jack's traveling companion, a young girl dressing as a boy, and lured Jack into a particular home with the intent of eating him.

This issue begins with Jack in the guy's custody, and things look pretty bleak.  Help does arrive, in the form of someone I didn't expect to see in this comic again, but ultimately, it is the very quality in Jack that has made him such a tantalizing victim, his hope, that leads him to act on his own behalf.

Severed is a standard horror story in many ways, but it is nicely grounded in the era in which it is set.  Snyder and Tuft made Jack a very likeable character, and gave the reader many reasons to keep coming back, even when the conventions of the genre, and their reliance upon coincidence and the characters' naivety made things a little hard to swallow.  I will definitely be keeping my eye out for more work by the talented Attila Futaki, whose art really made this comic work.

The Unwritten #34

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and MK Perker

Peter Gross must be one of the fastest-working artists in the business, as he's basically drawing a new twenty-page comic every two weeks (that would be ten pages a week) lately.  Sure, he's being assisted by the likes of Vince Locke (on the .5 issues) and MK Perker on inks, but still, that is very impressive.  Especially since all of this is being done without any change in the quality of the art.

This is a big issue of The Unwritten, as Tom continues his assault on The Cabal.  Their plan to leave him powerless falls apart once Lizzie and Richie get involved, and soon, The Cabal is left in ruin.  The one thing we, the readers, have known for a while though, that Tom and his friends haven't figured out yet, is that The Cabal's true power lies in the hands (or maybe just the wooden hand) of Pullman.

This is a great, action-filled issue of a comic that has been terrific for about a year now. 

The Golden Age of Apocalypse

by Thundercat

One of my favourite albums of 2011, The Golden Age of Apocalypse is a treasure trove of jazzy chill-out music.  Thundercat, a protege of Flying Lotus, who produced this album, plays bass and sings on some of the songs.

Unlike a lot of what I've come to expect from Flying Lotus's Brainfeeder label, there is not a lot of weirdness to this album.  Instead, there are plenty of lovely songs made all the better by Thundercat's slightly haunting voice.

I lack the musical vocabulary to really explain what makes this album so special; it will have to suffice to say that I like it a lot.

Blue Estate #9

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, and Andrew Osborne
Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Robert Valley, Peter Nguyen, and Andy Kuhn

Before I even begin to talk about this comic, I want to take a moment to take in this cover, which is equal parts hideous and wonderful.  No, the characters in Blue Estate do not suddenly attend a Sci-Fi or comics convention, but Rachel Maddox does accompany Roy Blount Jr. to a pawn shop, where he is able to get his Stormtrooper helmet out of hock, but has to leave his Princess Leia slave costume behind.

You see, Rachel has to buy Roy off, because his photos of her visiting junior mobster Tony Luciano have him convinced that she was cheating on her recently murdered movie star husband, instead of going to rescue her useless brother from the mobster's clutches.

After returning from the pawn shop, Rachel and Roy Jr. are set upon by Tony's goons, and there is a shoot-out.  Poor Rachel is not having much luck these days, and quickly finds herself the unwanted guest of Vadim Razov, a Russian mobster whose money was stolen by Rachel's husband's murderer. 

Yes, this book is intricately plotted and frequently complex, and it is also wonderful.  As the series progresses, it is impossible to predict where things will be going, or how they are going to end up.  The art, by the ever-changing large team that Kalvachev has assembled, continues to be excellent as well.  I love this series.

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 1

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

I've been a little more curious about manga of late, and was attracted to this series by the title alone quite some time ago.  When I saw it at a significant discount during an on-line Black Friday sale, I figured it was the perfect time to give it a try, expecting something very strange.

Well, there can't be much stranger than The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.  The series follows the adventures of a small group of Buddhism students who decide to pool their special talents to help relocate corpses they discover to wherever they want to go.  One of the group members, Kuro, is able to speak to the dead, and he serves as the Service's medium, taking orders if you will.  Another member, Numata, has dowsing abilities that lead him to undiscovered corpses.  Also among the group are Yata, who can channel an alien consciousness through a puppet he keeps on his hand, Makino, one of the few American-trained embalmers in Japan, and Ao, who serves as the group's boss.

In this first volume, there are four different stories that all involve the Service finding a corpse, and then going through some sort of adventure to take it where it wants to go.  The story begins in Aokigahara Forest (also the setting for the IDW graphic novel The Suicide Forest which I've been meaning to buy).  Aokigahara is a famous place in Japan for suicides, and when the group, who are there to perform Buddhist community service (praying over the bodies), they stumble upon the knowledge that the man they find wishes to be reunited with his equally dead lover.

All of these adventures involve people dying in strange ways, and they are all pretty Japanese (except for the serial killer-centred third chapter, which could be an episode of Dexter).  The second chapter involves the concept of Dendera Field, the place where Japanese communities used to abandon their old in a form of euthanasia.  Were it not for some of the explanatory notes in the back of this book, I wouldn't have been able to follow that one at all.

I found this book to be pretty enjoyable.  It was a quick read, but it provided me with some further insight into Japanese culture, and it was pretty amusing.  I'm not sure how many volumes there are in this series, but after I finish the next two on my pile, I'll be hunting down more for sure.

Thief of Thieves #1

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

There was never any doubt that I would be buying this comic.  I have been a fan of Robert Kirkman's for years, and have been avidly following Nick Spencer's career since his second mini-series.  Shawn Martinbrough is one of those artists I've always admired, although I don't often see his work these days.

Kirkman and Spencer's story is all about Redmond, a master thief who has been working with a young female apprentice Celia.  When the comic opens, Redmond is pulling off a heist on a cruise ship which only works out because of Celia's involvement.  From there, we are given a flashback to how the two of them first met, and began working together.

After that, we follow Redmond and Celia to their office, or somewhere like that.  We learn that Redmond has been planning a big job in Venice, but is now beginning to rethink whether or not he wants to go through with it.  We meet his backer and the talent he's recruited for the job, and are given an ending that makes what will happen in future issues a little uncertain.

The book is well-written and drawn, but there are a few things that didn't really work for me.  To begin with, the opening scene on the cruise ship is pretty unclear.  It is only through dialogue that we learned that we are on a boat - there are no establishing shots to clarify that until our main characters are flying away in a helicopter.  As well, I have no idea what it is that was actually stolen off the ship, or how exactly the ruse that Redmond and Celia pulled off worked.

The best scene in the comic is the one where Redmond and Celia first meet, as she is trying to break into his car.  The dialogue in this scene is very sharp, and gives me a lot of hope for the rest of this series.  Thief of Thieves would appeal to anyone who enjoys books like Criminal, or heist films.  It's a little rocky in a couple of places, but it's also very good, with a lot of promise.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lost At Sea

by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Once again, I'm a little surprised at where some of the gaps in my comics reading lie.  You would think, after getting so much enjoyment out of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series, that I would have snapped up Lost At Sea ages ago.  But no, for whatever reason, I waited until now.

Lost At Sea is O'Malley's first published work, and it is a very different beast than Scott Pilgrim.  Where that comic's charm lay in its humour, this is a much darker comic, although still structured around a likeable young person.

Raleigh is an eighteen year old woman who feels completely soulless and adrift in life.  She traveling with three other people by car from California to Canada (presumably somewhere in BC).  The other people - two guys and a girl - went to the same private high school as her, but are not really her friends.  Raleigh doesn't really have friends.  She's still mourning the fact that her best friend moved away in middle school, and she hasn't really taken the time to develop a new one in the intervening years.

Instead, she prefers to just sit around and examine her own feelings of alienation.  She's managed to convince herself that she doesn't have a soul, thinking that perhaps her mother sold it away in exchange for commercial success.

I know that I'm making this book sound like a whiny self-involved teenage existentialist novel, and in some ways it is, but because it's done by O'Malley, there is a lot of charm in this comic.  The other characters are pretty likeable, and there is something about a road trip story that draws me in every time.  As the story progresses, and Raleigh confronts some of her fears, I found myself drawn further and further into the story.

O'Malley's art looks much the same as it does in Scott Pilgrim, but without any of the jokey or cute self-awareness of that title.  He shows a wide range of emotions in his art, and paces the story very nicely.

This book is a nice companion to novels like The Outsiders, or to comics like Ross Campbell's Wet Moon.  It's good stuff.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Conan the Barbarian #1

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

I think that putting Brian Wood on Conan is a strange choice.  When I think of Wood's writing, I think of the extent to which he places real locations front and centre in his stories.  DMZ and Local are obviously very grounded in their settings, but so are many of the stories in Demo, and Northlanders.  Usually, Wood is a very urban writer (I would argue that Northlanders, with its frequent themes of progress and change is full of pre-urban urban stories).

Now, I'm not terribly familiar with Conan, either in comics form or the original books, but I'm willing to snatch up anything that Wood writes.  Add to his name that of Becky Cloonan's and I'm on board for sure.  Whenever they work together (Demo, Northlanders, Jennie One), the result is pure comics gold, and Cloonan is one of about four or five artists that I would consider my absolute favourites.

This story looks terrific, and it has some good moments.  Conan narrowly escapes the constabulary of one coast town by jumping onto a ship at sail leaving the harbour, after having gotten himself in some pretty big trouble in the town.  He quickly wins over the crew of this vessel with his charm and tales of his exploits, and soon the captain is telling him about Bêlit, a dangerous and slinky pirate witch woman. 

I enjoyed this comic, but it kind of feels to me like a waste to have someone as talented as Wood work a story that is just an adaption of an earlier novel.  Not knowing the source material though, I have no idea how faithful he is being, or if he's been given the freedom to move off in his own direction.  This was perhaps not as mind-blowing a comic as I had hoped, nor as introspective and beautiful as previous Wood/Cloonan collaborations, but with these two working on it, I'm going to be sticking with this title for a while.

Northlanders #48

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Danijel Zezelj

It really is a shame that there are only going to be two more issues of Northlanders.  I like how Brian Wood has used different time periods and locales associated with Vikings to tell stories that really explore human nature.

The Icelandic Trilogy, three three-issue arcs that examine different generations of the same family, has been a good example of the type of story that Wood excels at.  The first story was about how the Hauksson family established itself as one of the first to settle Iceland.  The second story showed how the family worked reacted to the Christianization of their culture (not well, in the case of Brida, the heroine of the story).

Now, with this opening chapter of the final tale, Wood returns to the beginning, with a story of filial ambition.  Godar Hauksson has led the family through a period of relative peace, as he did not want to seek out violence.  He preferred to consolidate his holdings, and write the family's history.  His son Oskar, however, is an angry and warlike person, chomping at the bit of familial power.

Wood is joined for this final arc by Danijel Zezelj, who has been a favourite artist of mine since he drew Vertigo's Congo Bill mini-series many years ago.  I've never understood why he hasn't been given more regular, or higher-profile work, and I am very happy to see him working on this comic.  His thick lines and ink-heavy pages work well to underscore the bleakness of life in Iceland.

It's going to be a shame to see this comic end, but I like that Wood is going out with the same level of quality that he started the series with.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Haunt Vol. 1

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Greg Capullo, Ryan Ottley, and Todd McFarlane

I never had any desire to read Haunt.  Sure, Robert Kirkman was involved, as was his Invincible collaborator Ryan Ottley, but the fact that this was a Todd McFarlane-driven project left a cold taste in my mouth.  Even after I began reading his Sam and Twitch issues, and was surprised that they were actually decent, I saw this series as a 90s throwback that held nothing for me.

Then, it was announced that Joe Casey and Nathan Fox would take over the comic, and my interest was piqued.  Casey is an imaginative writer who loves to mess with the sacred cows of established comics characters, and Nathan Fox is in the select company of artists frenetic and crazy enough to keep up with him.  The thing is, their debut issue (#19) did not do a single thing to explain the series to new readers, and that gave me enough of an impetus to read the first volumeof the series, to get a better sense of things.

And, for the most part, I learned that my earlier caution was highly justified.  This is not a very good comic, unfortunately.  There are kernels of a good comic, but the whole thing groans under the weight of what McFarlane and Kirkman are trying to do.

Kurt Kilgore is a super-agent for some secretive government agency that does secret government agency stuff (there's no need to really explain this stuff, because comics readers know about this kind of thing).  He is abducted, interrogated, and killed after botching a mission that involves some Dr. Mengele type German in South America.  People are looking for a notebook that he left behind or lost.

His brother, Daniel, is a crappy priest who likes to visit a prostitute (always the same one).  Suddenly, he can speak to his dead brother, and they can merge their spirits so that he wears a superhero costume, and can shoot webby ectoplasm stuff that kind of looks like sperm.  Together, they help the secret government agency deal with the people who are now attacking them looking for that notebook.  Hear that creaking?  Me too - it's on almost every page.

What amazes me is that almost no one reacts to how strange this situation is, and there is no attempt to explain why Kurt isn't really dead.  Or where the jizz comes from.  We know where though - McFarlane wanted to do some Spider-Man stuff, and some spy stuff all at once.

I will say that the combination of Greg Capullo on layouts, with Ryan Ottley penciling, and then McFarlane inking (for this volume at least) is kind of a perfect storm of unfortunate art.  All of these artists are much better on their own (well, I'm not sure about McFarlane - he's kind of the weak link these days).  Ryan Ottley's work on Invincible has been brilliant from the jump, and looking at this here, I feel bad for ripping on Greg Capullo's work on Batman - it is so much better than this.

Anyway, I was never the audience for a comic like this.  Were it not for Casey and Fox coming aboard, this series would have remained off my radar.  I must commend McFarlane and Kirkman for letting these guys take over their character - it's leading to much better comics already.  Similar to what Rob Liefeld is doing with properties like Prophet and Glory, it is nice to see people with real indie cred get a chance at doing what they want with indie titles - especially when the original issues of those comics are so bland and uninspiring.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Original Suffer Head/I.T.T. (International Thief Thief)

by Fela Anikulapo Kuti and the Egypt 80

I can't get enough of these Knitting Factory re-releases of old Fela Kuti albums.  There are like twenty-five of these things, each holding two separate records from back in the day, and I want them all.

This CD contains 'Original Suffer Head', a twenty-one minute opus wherein Fela rails against the problems of Nigeria in 1981.  What amazes me is that his list of issues (water, housing, money, electricity, food, and development) applies as much today as it did back then.  I am always impressed with the way that Fela could take a serious, solemn issue (or issues), and turn it into a danceable piece of music.

The B-side to that piece is 'Power Show', which talks about the behaviour of the rich, who feel the necessity of lording themselves over the poor.  Again, were this song being sung as part of the Occupy movement, it wouldn't be out of place.

Also on this disc is I.T.T. (International Thief Thief), a twenty-four minute attack on International Telephone and Telegraph, and its CEO Moshood Abiola, who also owned the record label that Fela was feuding with at the time.  From the liner notes that explain this song:

Fela takes this opportunity to publicly disgrace Abiola for, in Fela's eyes, becoming a stooge for the white man through his general colonial mentality, and specifically for his collusion in the CIA-led effort to dislocate Chile's democratically elected Marxist president Allende.  The lyrics also include a pointed history lesson outlining the way, in the days of slavery, the white man would find a willing African who would sell his own people into slavery.
You have to love an artist who would take such risks and push his agenda so strongly, and so popularly.  I wish we had some equivalents to Fela today...