Friday, March 30, 2012

The Unwritten #35.5

Written by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta

It's gotten a little difficult to tell who is doing what on this title of late.  I noticed a little while ago that the credits have taken to saying that the book is 'by Mike Carey and Peter Gross', and I wondered if perhaps Gross has been contributing to the writing, but as the credits have usually also listed a 'finisher', often MK Perker, it was clear that Gross was laying out and penciling most issues.  This issue, however, has the 'by' credit, and then credits the art to Gabriel Hernandez Walta.  Perhaps Gross laid out the pencils - the look is consistent with other issues - but Walta is a unique artist, and the work here looks like it is his. 

Regardless of who did what, this is a very cool comic.  It introduces us to Danny, a literature studies graduate, who has to deal with the same existential question that faces most lit grads - now what?  He lucks into the perfect job - he's going to be paid to read books and occasionally transcribe parts of them by hand.  Any reader of this series would recognize quickly that he's working for the Cabal, as part of their Grid, mysterious as that still is.

From this point, Danny plays a 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead' role in the story - he's present at, or affected by, many of the key moments that have happened over the previous thirty-five issues of this comic.  He attends the Tommy Con of the first issue, but doesn't notice the significance of Lizzie Hexam's questions from the audience.  He has a Leviathan sighting while on the Grid, but doesn't share what he learned with his bosses, and he's one of the few survivors of Tom Taylor's recent attack on the Cabal.

Danny never figures out what his role is in this story, nor that he has had a minor affect on it.  It's a pretty cool story that I suppose dances around some of the questions of responsibility that can be asked of low-ranking soldiers who are involved in war crimes. 

A very cool issue, and a nice way to end the .5 stories.  After the next issue, The Unwritten will return to a monthly schedule (thankfully), and I suppose, take Tom and his friends into new territory.  This series is impressive.

Spaceman #5

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

Here we have yet another very strong issue of Azzarello and Risso's futuristic child abduction mini-series.  Spaceman is a bit of an odd beast - at its core, it's a story about acceptance of people's differences, but that theme is wrapped in a comic that is linguistically challenging and visually impressive.

Orson, the genetically-adapted 'Spaceman' of the title has, through some strange circumstances, ending up being the protector of Tara, a reality TV child star who was abducted from her adoptive actor parents.  The search for her has become a national obsession, even though her safety is starting to seem secondary to the ratings her continued absence is worth.

Orson is an absolute outcast, living in and off of the wreckage of a major city, and while he tries to do right by Tara and keep her safe, he's learning that he has no one to turn to.  The woman whom he has been paying for virtual sex anonymously tries to take the child from him in this issue, and she in turn unknowingly gives some important clues to the other Spaceman that has been hired to hunt Tara down. We are learning more and more about Orson's time on Mars, and this issue shows the circumstances that got one other Spaceman killed. 

Azzarello has been having a great time developing the unique lingua franca of this story, and continues to use his projected slang to differentiate between classes in Orson's society.  It's clear that much more work has gone into constructing this series than is immediately apparent on the surface.  As always, Risso is an able collaborator for Azzarello, making the future look much as he makes it sound.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Scalped #57

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

You had to know that the general good will and happiness of the last issue couldn't possibly last.  We saw Dash living a clean life with a good woman, and Red Crow determined to live out his days in prison while trying to stay on a righteous path.  Both characters looked like they may have been able to achieve the redemption this entire series has had them looking for.  But, were that true, this wouldn't be a comic by Jason Aaron, now would it?

With this issue, things get upended and screwed up mightily.  The body of Diesel, the white trash Native wannabe that Dash took out months ago gets discovered.  Lincoln learns that Carol, his daughter and Dash's ex-girlfriend, had an abortion, and his anger causes him to (possibly) regain some of who he used to be.  Catcher even shows up again, doing what he thinks is best to protect his people, in his usual misguided way.  And, saddest of all, in my perspective, Dino Poor Bear chooses to speak up when he really shouldn't have.

Scalped is an incredible series, which is winding down with this final arc (only three issues remain).  While it's safe to assume that any number of characters who have hurt each other over the years will get one last chance to injure each other, I really don't know where Aaron is going to lead this.  Last issue, it felt like happy, or at least contented, endings were possible for some of these characters; now, it looks like this series will end as it lived, in vicious anger, and clutching at redemption that never comes.  Either way, I'm going to savor these remaining issues.

American Vampire #25

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

The 'Death Race' arc finishes off this issue with a few surprises.  For the last three issues, we've watched as Travis Kidd, a new character to the series, has been hunting the vampire who was responsible for the death of his family - our old friend Skinner Sweet.  Kidd's whole story, but for the fateful night when his family was killed, was shown to us in flashback while he and Sweet engaged in a lengthy race across the California desert in '50s cars.

In this issue, Travis and Skinner confront each other face to face, and we learn that Travis is much more resourceful than we were otherwise led to believe, finding new uses for the gold that is so poisonous to Sweet.  That's not the end of the surprises though, as Hobbes, the leader of the vampire-hunting organization shows up before the fight is over.  Also, at the end of the issue, we get to catch up a little with Henry and Pearl, who are more or less the main characters of this comic, even though we often go months without seeing them.

American Vampire is always a good read, and this issue is no exception.  Rafael Albuquerque's art continues to impress and surprise with each and every issue.

The Walking Dead #95

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Robert Kirkman's taken a little time to introduce the concept that Rick and his friends are not the only people living in a self-sustaining community, or the 'Larger World' of the story arc.  Finally, Rick, Carl, and a small group of people have traveled to the Hilltop, the community where new character Jesus is from.  Most of this issue is taken up with Rick and friends entering the community, and being shown around by Jesus.

Charlie Adlard does a terrific job of designing this place.  We get a real sense (through the liberal use of double-page splashes) the size and scale of it, with its chicken coops, water tower, and various tasks being performed by the people who live there.  The place is centred around the Barrington House, a restored Gothic mansion or something, which seems to have some resonance to the characters, but which Google is unable to inform me of.

Things look great in Hilltop, but because Rick is there, it of course does not take long for bad things to start happening.  Very quickly, someone named Ethan shows up without the three people he had been traveling with.  We learn that someone named Negan (whose name is dropped a few pages earlier) has killed two people, and is holding someone named Crystal hostage, so long as Ethan does something for him, which involves him stabbing Gregory, the man in charge of Hilltop.  It doesn't take long for Rick to get involved (because that's what always happens), and things turn bloody quickly.

This is what I read this title for - the long stretches of calm character development switches, at any moment, to scenes of great violence that have lasting consequence.  It's not hard to predict that from here, either Rick's group will join up with the Hilltop (who, we learn, are out of ammunition), or they will be driven out, and will end up joining or in conflict with Negan themselves.  Either way, it's clear that Rick's not going back to his own community to just worry about keeping walkers off his gate.

The Walking Dead is always a terrific comic.  I know it's blowing up all over the place right now - I got caught up on the end of Season Two of the television show, and thought it was brilliant, and now I can't wait to see what happens in the next issue of this comic.

BPRD Hell on Earth - The Pickens County Horror

Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Art by Jason Latour

The side of me that prefers my comics to be monthly, and not double- or triple-shipped in a month is annoyed that the Mike Mignola machine is pumping out so much product these days in the wake of Hellboy's removal from the schedule, but the true comics fan in me is happy to be getting a second BPRD mini-series, interwoven with the other one that is currently running (The Long Death).

The thing about the BPRD that makes such a publishing frequency work, as compared to superhero comics, is that since the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense is such a large organization, there is always space for new stories within it (as opposed to stories that star Wolverine, who never sleeps or even has time to go to the bathroom).  This two-part mini-series features two agents, Vaughn and Peters, who have probably been knocking around this title for some time in the background, but whom I don't really remember.  The story does a good job of bringing us up to speed where they are concerned though, and there's a cool little Hellboy cameo to boot.

The Bureau is stretched pretty thin since things started going crazy worldwide, and so two agents are all that can be sent when a town in South Carolina calls in reporting strange fog in the mountains, and the disappearances of locals.  It seems that there is a family of vampires living in the hills, although just what they're doing is not all that clear.  Late in the book we are introduced to a vampire researcher (who strangely goes unnamed), who is in the area looking for connections between these local vamps and a creature who first came to America to help quell the Revolution in the 1700s.  Vampires have only rarely been used in the Mignola-verse, so it's interesting to see where this story is going to go.

This arc is being drawn by Jason Latour, who is an interesting addition to the ranks of BPRD artists.  He has a very clean look to his art, and is terrific at capturing the weirdness of backwoods Carolina.  I'm glad that this is a short mini-series, but I am definitely enjoying it.

Morning Glories #17

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

A few months ago, Casey (who is more or less the star of this series) and Ms. Hodge, the guidance counselor at Morning Glories Academy used a strange method of escaping the schoolgrounds, which we later discovered led to their being tossed back in time a ways.  In order for their escape to work, they needed two people to sit in front of some flames and cast a shadow on the opposite wall of a cavern.  These two people were Jade and Ike (who was himself a stand-in for the more amicable Hunter).

This issue returns to that scene, and shows us what happened between these two as they sat around waiting for Casey to disappear.  Jade has been the suicidal, tragic figure in this series since it began.  She's constantly needed Casey to bail her out of trouble or to save her life, and she's happy to be doing something to help her, even though by doing it, she expects Casey to rescue her.  Ike is the group sociopath, who has been giving everyone a hard time since the first issue, and has been quick to turn on his peer group (I can't really use the word friends).

Jade has easily been the most irritating character in this comic, but through this issue, Spencer explores her in such a way as to make her a little more sympathetic.  We learn about her mother's death, and some of the ways in which she chose to express her grief and frustration after it.  We also see her prevaricate on issues like the existence of God, and just what is going to happen to the students at the school.  Ike, on the other hand, is often fascinating, as he continues to put Jade down and mess with her head, but also sticks around to help Casey despite himself.

Spencer uses a few other scenes in this comic to help continue advancing some of the mysteries of this series, especially the one concerning Ike's father.  Every month I try to avoid speaking of this comic in terms of the TV show Lost, but really, there is no other long-narrative story I can think of that comes closest to the same formula of revelation followed by more mystery than that.  I just keep hoping that Spencer's big finish is nowhere near as lame.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Elephantmen #38

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medellin and Rob Steen

Another issue of Elephantmen, and we get much of the same of what we've been getting from this comic lately.  Basically, this series has fallen into a nice groove where each new issue is advancing Starking's general plot, and is working in a much more linear fashion than it used to.

This issue has a focus on Janis Blackthorne, the agent who has recently been working with usual main characters Hip Flask and Ebony Hide.  Blackthorne's past is recapped a little, before she is put into the field, where she manages to track down and confront Razorback, the human who has been going around wearing Tusk's skull and killing Elephantmen for the last few issues.  We also learn Razorback's identity (which wasn't really much of a surprise).

While this is all going on, we also learn a little about the inner workings of Obadiah Horn's home, and meet one of his disgruntled employees.  As well, Hip meets Miki's mother, which doesn't go the way any of them would have expected.

Axel Medellin's art continues to grow in leaps and bounds with each new issue, and he was already very good.  This issue has an almost painted quality to some of the pages, and generally looks great.

There is also the continuation of Rob Steen's story set in the early Mappo days (which is okay but is not really grabbing me), and another chapter of the back-up story Charly Loves Robots, which I've liked a lot since it started.  Elephantmen really delivers value for its $4 price tag.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wholphin No. 11

Edited by Brent Hoff

I kind of fell off on my plan to work my way through every issue of Wholphin, the DVD magazine put together by the fine people at McSweeney's (I blame it on my new obsession with Storage Wars and other so bad it's addictive scripted reality shows on A&E).

Anyway, this issue has one of the best short films I've ever seen on a Wholphin - Ramin Bahrani's 'Plastic Bag'.  Bahrani is the director of the incredible independent film Chop Shop, and he turns the same passionate and meditative eye that he used in that movie to a plastic bag (voiced by Werner Herzog, which is both perfect and funny to me).  The bag is trying to return to the woman that first brought it home from the store - the love of his life.  It ends up in a landfill for a very long amount of time, after which there are no more people around anywhere.  The bag eventually makes its way to the Pacific Gyre, the vortex of plastic larger than the state of Texas that is currently having a catastrophic effect on the ocean's ecosystem.  This is a very intelligent and caring short, and I was very impressed by its power.

Also of note here were two shorts focused on the baseball player Dock Ellis.  One is an animated piece, which shows one of his LSD trips while playing professionally.  The other is an interview with him, wherein he talks about some of the things that players used to get away with.  The two pieces work very well together.

'The Six Dollar Fifty Man', directed by Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland is an interesting look at bullying in New Zealand, and features an incredibly disturbed looking child.  He creeped me out.  I was also creeped out by the women attending 'Bitch Academy' in Russia, where they are learning to get men.  Asshole men.

'Wagah' is an interesting documentary about the only border checkpoint between India and Pakistan, and the daily flag-lowering ceremony that attracts thousands of spectators.  There is a lot of ceremonial foot-stomping.

'Out of Our Minds' is a very disturbing and beautiful film.  It's directed by Tony Stone, from a concept that came from Melissa Auf Der Mer.  It connects three stories of death in the forest - one is a car wreck, another is about a Viking who is murdered, and the third has loggers cutting down trees which splatter blood everywhere.  This is a silent film, with pulsing music by Auf der Mer.  It's pretty fascinating, and gorgeous.

This DVD also shows us naked scientists running around Antarctica, shouting young lovers, and an actor hanging out with a bear.  Where other than Wholphin would you ever find such diversity?


Grandville

by Bryan Talbot

Bryan Talbot is one of those people I feel I should be reading more of.  His The Tale of One Bad Rat is a brilliant comic, but I've never dipped in to his other works, like Alice In Sunderland or The Adventures Of Luther Arkwright.  After reading Grandville, I feel like it may be time to put more effort in to tracking down the rest of his output.

Grandville is easily described as an anthropomorphized steam-punk detective alternate history thriller.  If Sherlock Holmes were a badger serving with Scotland Yard in an England that lost the Napoleonic Wars, he would quite likely have been Detective Inspector LeBrock. 

This is a more or less straight-forward detective comic.  When LeBrock discovers that a British cultural attaché has been found dead in his cottage of an apparent suicide, he quickly realizes that something else has happened.  His suspicions take him Grandville, which is Paris, and his investigations soon bring all sorts of trouble his way, as he uncovers a plot that goes all the way to the top of the French Empire to plunge England into war with France once again. 

Visually, the book is fascinating.  It's an homage to the nineteenth century artist whose pen-name was Grandville.  Talbot has filled the book with all sorts of talking, walking animals, and has even included a few dough-faces (in other words, humans).  He's also made good use of the steampunk aesthetic, creating steam-powered vehicles and automatons. 

The mystery moves at a very good pace, and the characters are witty and interesting.  The size of the book, modeled after French graphic novels, is very inviting.  Great stuff.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Freedom #1

by Seamus Heffernan

This comic caught my eye on the stands this week.  At 8" by 12", it towered over the other comics, looking more like a European comic, yet in soft cover.  Curious, I picked it up and was delighted to see that it was an historical comic with nice art.  I quickly decided that it needed to come home with me.

Freedom is an ongoing series (I have no idea when the next issue is to be published) that has been given a Xeric grant, a sure sign of quality.  It is set in 1779, two years after the Americans lost their revolution.  The star of this comic is young Adam Farr, who looks to be about twelve or thirteen.  He lives with his mother and brothers on a farm a ways outside of Boston.  As the comic opens, we learn that he is to go to Boston to be apprenticed to a Tory merchant.  It doesn't take long for Heffernan to establish that all of the Farr boys are strong-willed and fiercely independent.

Post-Revolutionary New England is still a hotbed of Patriot terrorist activity and brutal repression by the British soldiers.  At a checkpoint before entering the town, Adam throws an apple core at a soldier who is roughing up a young lady, an act which almost finds him shot by a firing squad.  It's clear that this is not a safe town, and Adam does not seem too willing to listen to the advice and commands of his older brother.  It's not long before conflict finds the brothers again, in this exciting debut issue.

I've often been fond of alternate histories, when they are done correctly (ie., not by Newt Gingrich).  I don't think Heffernan is pushing a political agenda with this comic, he's just telling a very good story.  The larger pages give his art plenty of room to breathe.  His style is similar to Guy Davis's, but a little cleaner.  He is quite deft at developing characters, and I'm very happy that I picked this comic up.  I will definitely be watching the pages of Previews for more of this series.

Hoax Hunters #0

Written by Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley
Art by JM Ringuet

I picked this up as an impulse buy this week, mostly because I thought that the cover by Steve Seeley was very cool.

For a 'zero' issue, this comic doesn't go very far in introducing and explaining the main characters.  We meet three people who work for a Myth-Busters style reality show, where they debunk hoaxes and urban legends.  One of the three hosts is named Ken Cadaver, and there is evidence to believe he is a zombie, but it's not discussed.  Regan, the female host, apparently has mental powers, but that is never explained (nor is it explained how she escapes capture in one scene, but I'm getting ahead of myself).  The issue is almost over before we find out that the third member of the team is named Jack, and that's not even clear.  I don't expect to know everything about a character in the first issue of a comic, but I think some basics need to be established.

The team travels (between pages) to Russia to investigate sightings of an American astronaut being carried around by crows.  How did the team get to Russia?  Why are they able to travel around so freely and find that everyone can speak English?  Why didn't they take their cameras?  I get it that the TV show is a cover for their possibly government sanctioned operations, but none of this is made clear here.  It really feels like this comic could have worked, had it had a more critical editor.  I do like the art (has JM Ringuet done anything else besides Transhuman, his book with Jonathan Hickman?), and the new character Murder is pretty cool, but I can't see myself picking up the first issue of this series (which is going to be drawn by Axel Medellin, who I thought was the regular artist on Elephantmen).

The Sixth Gun #20

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

It can be difficult to find something new to say about this comic, which month after month delivers a well-written story with good art.

In this issue, Becky Montcrief finds herself in the middle of a huge gunfight between the two towns of Penance.  The locals are fighting over a tainted well, and they've all undergone some form of mutation or change because of it, which makes the fight very visually interesting (especially when the guy who was going to force Becky to drink the water last issue decides to use all of his arms).  There is also a strong reminder of what happens when someone other than Becky tries to hold her gun.

While this is happening, Drake Sinclair, the man Becky has come to rescue, is being tortured at the hands of the Knights of Solomon.  The man torturing him isn't looking for any information, he's simply extracting revenge, although what exactly for is kept unclear.

One of the things that's helped to make this comic so effective is that Drake, the hero of the comic, has been kept shrouded in mystery.  We know that he is not a good person, but we are not often given evidence of this.  I like the way each new arc helps build the story; I presume that Bunn has an ending in mind for this series, but I don't get the feeling that we are anywhere near it.

Prophet #23

Written by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, and Frank Teran
Art by Simon Roy and Frank Teran

For the third straight month in a row, Prophet blows me away with its high degree of creativity and terrific artwork.

Since the book began, in issue 21 (I refuse to even acknowledge the earlier issues), we as readers have been given very little information to help us understand what is going on in this comic.  We know that John Prophet has awoken in a far-off future, after human civilization has disappeared from the Earth, and instead various groups of aliens or strangely-evolved creatures have taken charge, in a scattered patchwork of settlements and colonies.

This month, after twenty-four days of travel, John arrives at the sight of his mission.  To complete it, he must scale the Tower of Thauilu Vah, and get onto the GOD satellite.  To do this, he has to go through or around a variety of strange creatures, and deal with the Xiux-Guin Blade, a creature that has been tracking him since the last issue.

Once again, every page drips with new and unique ideas.  Graham gives us crystal-blessed aliens, living missiles, and living adaptive clothing.  Prophet's world is exceedingly strange, and Simon Roy is more than up to the job of portraying it, in all its glory.  His work on this book has been remarkable, bringing to mind some of the most Surrealistic of Moebius's stories, while still making perfect sense within the logic of Graham's tale.

This issue also features the beginning of a back-up called Initiate by Frank Teran.  There's not enough here to have a clear sense of what this is going to be about, but it is very pretty.

Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child #1

Written by Selwyn Seyfu Hinds
Art by Denys Cowan and John Floyd

I really wanted to like this book.  It has a number of things going for it that make it seem like a natural addition to my pull-file list - it's set in post-Katrina New Orleans, which has become a topic of interest, and its drawn by Denys Cowan, an artist that I've always admired, and who I've felt has not received near enough praise and recognition for the work he has done in comics.  Also, the covers are going to be drawn by Rafael Grampá, one of the most exciting artists currently in the business.

Unfortunately, things aren't coming together the way I would like.  The comic is centred on Dominique Laveau, a university student who is helping to rebuild the city after the storm.  When we meet her on the first page, she is running from a werewolf creature that has just killed two of her friends.  She is able to scare the creature off by manifesting snakes out of her head (which surprises her), and then she runs to a friend, who we learn is a police officer.  Suddenly, he comes under fire from two gang-bangers, and he tells her to run to his station house.  She instead goes to a cemetery to talk to the tomb where they believe the famous voodoo queen Marie Laveau is buried, where she has a vision.  It appears (more from reading solicitation info and the previews that Vertigo has been running in the backs of all their comics this month) that Dominique is descended from Marie (shocking), and that there are some people after her for her powers, or something like that.

The reason why this didn't really work for me is that we are tossed into the action before we are given the chance to figure out who Dominique is.  After reading this whole issue, I don't know why I should care about this woman, or who she is on any level beyond the surface.  This read too much like an action comic, and not enough like a Vertigo one.  Really, this could have been a New 52 launch with very few changes, as I feel it has much more in common with, say, I, Vampire, than it does anything that Vertigo puts out.

Cowan's art is nice, but I don't know if it's enough to get me to keep coming back to this title.  I may give it another issue, because I want to support books like this, which depict something different from most of the mainstream, but I'm not sure there's enough here to hold my interests.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dark Horse Presents #10

Written by Brian Wood, Colin Lorimer, Carla Speed McNeil, Steve Niles, Evan Dorkin, Alan Gordon, Steve Horton, Andrew Vachss, MJ Butler, and Rich Johnston
Art by Kristian Donaldson, Colin Lorimer, Carla Speed McNeil, Christopher Mitten, Evan Dorkin, Thomas Yeates, Michael Dialynas, Geof Darrow, Mark Wheatley, and Simon Rohrmüller

Anthologies can be hit or miss, and where the last few issues of Dark Horse Presents have been terrific, this one came off feeling rather lacking.

As always, to begin with the positive:

Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson's The Massive has definitely caught my attention.  So far, each chapter has been used to introduce a new character, and to establish that all of them have almost died at sea, only to be saved, or brought back by it.  I really have no idea where this comic is headed, but the three-page overview of various key moments in the history of oceanic environmental degradation is enough to get me to add the upcoming series to my pull-file.  I trust Wood to impress me.

There is a new series debuting in this issue called UXB, by Colin Lorimer, an artist I'm unfamiliar with.  It's yet another post-apocalyptic story, where people roam the ruins of our civilization wearing environmental protective apparati that look a little like high-tech codpieces.  Again, not much is revealed here, except that our trio of heroes are on the search for old DVDs, and the consequences of giving them nothing but Pretty Woman and the Backstreet Boys aren't pretty.  I really don't know where this is going either, but Lorimer has my attention.

Carla Speed McNeil's Finder returns after a pause of a few months.  Now, Finder was my great discovery of 2011, and I can't praise it enough (you really should click on the link and give yourself a treat), so I'm always excited to dive into a new story.  This one could probably have used McNeil's usual annotations though, as I'm more than a little lost.  Jaeger finds himself well and truly lost after the events of the last chapter (whenever that was), but, because he is a Finder, and kind of lucky, he quickly runs in to an old acquaintance.  I just wish that a little more happened in this story, and that I knew what the deal is with the flying Chinese dragon-train thing at the end.  Still, I love McNeil's work.

Rich Johnston's 'The Many Murders of Miss Cranbourne' finishes up this issue, and continues to be quite decent.

From here, we move into stories that I didn't necessarily dislike, but that I wouldn't pursue were they to get their own title:

The Tarzan story by Alan Gordon and Thomas Yeates is an odd throwback, and I found my attention wavering while reading this chapter.  I don't know that I can handle a post-Apocalyptic immortal Tarzan, especially just after reading another post-Apocalyptic strip a few pages previous.

The 'Amala's Blade' and 'Skultar' stories are fine.  They just aren't my thing.  I feel the same way about the Cal MacDonald story by Niles and Mitten.  I've just never warmed to Niles's writing, no matter what he does. 

There's a prose story by Andrew Vachss in this issue, which has lovely illustrations from the ever-talented Geof Darrow.  Now, I always associate Vachss's name with brutal stories about children being murdered or abused, because I read some pretty dark stuff from him years ago, and basically avoided his work forever after.  This story is dark, but not as brutal, as it is concerned with an aging man who is not able to accept his growing diminishment. It's rough, but there it is.

Finally, this issue features two stories by Evan Dorkin.  One is a short Milk and Cheese piece, while the other features a Munsters/Addams Family parody called The Murder Family.  I didn't finish either story.  I don't see how Dorkin, who has written such haunting and nuanced work in Beasts of Burden, also churns out such predictable, juvenile, and un-funny junk.  I know that Milk and Cheese have their fans, I just don't understand why.

Fables #115

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

Fables continues to flounder with this new Toyland arc.  Willingham has had a hard time maintaining a focused narrative since the Adversary was vanquished a few years ago, but I feel like this book's plots are getting more and more threadbare, and more stretched out with each issue.

This month, we find out that Therese, one of Snow White and Bigby's daughters, was taken by her toy boat to be the new queen of a rather downtrodden land, called Discardia, Toyland, Mattagonia, and Madland, all within the span of a few pages.  Basically, it looks like she's living in the world of The Stuff of Legend, after a bomb hit it.  It's nothing but broken old fashioned toys and awkward dialogue in this place, and I'm finding it hard to care.

Her disappearance also leads to some self-recrimination from her brother Darien, and more proof that Willingham really struggles to write children's dialogue.  In fact, that may be the main reason why I find myself increasingly disappointed with this book - Willingham does fine with adults and all manners of magical creatures, but his kids sound a little like they've come from bad British post-War juvenile novels.

The other plots that are given a little space in this issue are more interesting.  King Cole has a long chat with Mrs. Spratt, who he's discovered chained up and emaciated in Castle Dark.  Beauty and Beast consider sticking around Haven instead of coming back to our world.  And, many months after Blufkin climbed up on a scaffold to be hung, we learn that his rope still hasn't dropped (I thought maybe Willingham just forgot about this completely).

Fables is usually a very good comic, even when it lacks direction, and so I'm hoping that all these plots concerning Snow and Bigby's insufferably irritating children can get wrapped up quickly, and things can improve again.  Really, Mark Buckingham's art saves this one...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ragemoor #1

Written by Jan Strnad
Art by Richard Corben

When I saw this book solicited a couple of months ago, I knew exactly what to expect from it.  Richard Corben, while always brilliant, tends to stick to what he does best, and so I figured that a collaboration between him and Jan Strnad would lead to a good old-school horror comic, featuring at least one buxom woman who would have to spend at least some of the comic in the nude. 

Basically, that's what we get, and it's terrific.  Ragemoor is a castle that has a mind of its own.  It grows and changes, restructuring hallways on a whim.  The main character of the book, Herbert, feels that he and his father are prisoners of the castle.  When his uncle and cousin arrive for a visit after many years abroad, Herbert tries to warn them away for their own safety, and comes off sounding as crazed as his father is.  The uncle is not what he seems though, and has his own designs for Ragemoor.

This is a comic that could have been written just about any time between now and the late seventies, but that is part of the appeal.  There is a comfort in getting just what you expect out of popular media (why else would anyone watch network television), but it an extra special treat when what you expect is Corben's impossible to imitate textured, creepy, and beautiful art.  This debut issue of the mini-series reads like a done-in-one, and so I'm not sure where this story is going, but I'm definitely sticking around to find out.

BPRD Hell on Earth - The Long Death #2

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by James Harren

The Long Death, the latest mini-series featuring the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, has been terrific.  Writers Mignola and Arcudi have taken a pause from the global weirdness that the various members of this book have been dealing with over the past two years or so (since they added 'Hell on Earth' to the title) to feature one of the more interesting cast members, Johann Kraus.

Last issue had Johann lead a team into the woods of British Columbia to look for some missing hikers and park rangers.  Johann promptly ditched them, and they were attacked by a creature that is familiar to long-term readers of the book.  This issue picks up with Johann sitting at the bedside of new character Agent Giarocco, explaining why he was absent when she was attacked.  As it turns out, Johann is up there hunting for Captain Daimio, who used to work with him before turning into a jaguar-god creature, and slaughtering a number of BPRD personnel, and killing the clone body that Johann was inhabiting.

We've seen before that Johann often works his own agenda.  This leads to another run-in with Daimio that is visually stunning, as Johann uses his ability to animate dead bodies quite creatively.  I don't want to spoil the scene, but I strongly suggest that people flip through this comic on the stands if you haven't already bought it.  New artist James Harren is a very strong addition to the Mignola-verse of comics, and I hope to see him continue to work with these characters for some time to come.

Heart #4

Written by Blair Butler
Art by Kevin Mellon

More and more lately, I find it's good policy to sample just about everything that Image is publishing, unless I know for certain that I'm going to hate it.  I don't watch G4TV (I'm not even sure if I have access to that channel or not), and only know of Blair Butler because she is sometimes covered in the comics press, so her name was not a draw in getting me to buy this book.  Similarly, Kevin Mellon is an artist whose name I recognize, but I couldn't name another comic he's worked on.  Thirdly, I have no interest in mixed martial arts, wrestling, boxing, or any other sport that has grown men pummeling each other.

Still, I thought I'd give the first issue of this series a try, and I was interested enough in the story and career of Oren 'Rooster' Redmond to stick around and see this series through to the end.

Butler's story is one of ambition, drive, and finally, the recognition of one's limitations.  That this story plays out against the canvass of MMA is almost inconsequential.  Oren is an interesting character - he goes from being a bored office worker to a man obsessed with training in the first three issues, and this final one covers the end of his career, and the life that he builds for himself afterwards.  There's a level of self-awareness and drive in Oren that is rare in people, and I found it interesting to watch him have to reassess his dreams as age and the inevitable realization that someone is always younger and faster than you are crept up on him.  It's a well-written story, and is nicely complimented by Mellon's scratchy pencil work.  This will be a good read when it's collected in trade.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Infinite Vacation #4

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Christian Ward and Kendall Bruns

Fine, this comic is really late, but it is totally worth it.  Nick Spencer's star has definitely risen since he started publishing this mini-series in January of 2011, and he has been writing some very good comics (Morning Glories, Spider-Island: Cloak and Dagger, THUNDER Agents, and Thief of Thieves) and a couple of okay ones (Ultimate Comics X-Men).  It's easy to understand why this title, more than any other, may have slipped through the cracks, because it is much more complex than anything else, with the possible exception of the multi-layered tapestry that is Morning Glories.

The Infinite Vacation (last seen in November) posits a multiverse where people are able to swap realities with their alternate counterparts, or visit them whenever they wish with the use of computers or a mobile phone app.  Mark, our hero, has been targeted by the people who run the Infinite Vacation for extermination, for reasons I don't remember.  He has been helped by some of his alternates (ie. Hacker Mark and Nude Mark), but is also being pursued by himself (Psycho Cannibal Mark).  He has sought refuge with the Singularists, a religious group that avoids the Vacation, and who stay in their birth reality all their lives.

In this issue, Mark comes face to face with his psychotic other, and flees, leaving behind the Singularist that he is falling for.  He ends up in a reality where he has had just about the best life he could hope for, and within that, he finds new strength and direction, something he has never really had before.  Most of this issue is spent building up to next issue's big conclusion, and I hope that the momentum I felt here carries forward for however many months it takes for the next issue to come out.

While Spencer does some interesting work with this series, exploring the various consequences and ramifications of this technology, it is Ward who really shines in this issue.  He's always had a bit of a psychedelic style to his art (think Brandon McCarthy mixed with Dustin Nguyen), but in this issue he gets to really cut loose with some interest page designs and layouts.  I especially like the double-page spread where Psycho Mark chases Mark and the girl around a Mobius strip.

I also like the way photography (provided by Kendall Bruns, who apparently doesn't get a credit on the cover) is integrated into this series whenever Spencer needs some space to explain some of the science fiction concepts he's playing it.  It works as a very strong contrast to Ward's crazy artwork.

This is a very cool series.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Crate Digging: (Surfing On Sine Waves)

by Polygon Window

 Polygon Window is one of the pseudonyms used by Richard James, who was better known in the 90s as Aphex Twin, one of the masters of ambient electronic music.  I went through a phase in my university days where James's stuff was the backdrop to just about every essay or assignment I had to write, as I found that the sonic carpet he blanketed my dorm room in was quite conducive to zoning out and writing for long sessions.


Surfing on Sine Waves is one of his earliest recordings, and it has the makings of his later work.  These nine tracks are very well constructed - the mathematics of the album title carries through each track.  Some, like 'Quoth' are aggressive, while others, like the title track and 'If It Really Is Me' are quite beautiful, and hold up very well almost twenty years after they came out. 

As much as I found James's music trance-inducing, I also sometimes just find it boring.  That is true for most of the middle of this album, which gets a little too rave-friendly for my liking, especially now.  Still, it's nice to put this on from time to time and remember simpler days...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Inanna's Tears

Written by Rob Vollmar
Art by mpMann

I've been waiting a long time to read this book.  Inanna's Tears began life as a mini-series back in 2007, around the time that I was becoming infatuated with most of the books that Archaia was publishing.  Sadly, that coincided with their implosion as a publishing house, and so only two issues were ever published (this happened with other books they were publishing, like Some New Kind of Slaughter or had solicited, such as The Grave Doug Freshley, oddly, all of my examples have the same artist...).  Eventually, Archaia figured things out (more or less - they are usually very late), and this got published as a hardcover.

Inanna's Tears is set in Ancient Sumeria, at a time when writing was just beginning to be used to keep records and accounts.  In the city of Birith, people worship the goddess Inanna, and society is structured around the temple, and run by the Ugula, who are more or less guild-masters, controlling the people who have various functions within the city.  At the top of the social order is the En, the consort of the goddess, who attends her feedings three times daily, and whose wisdom and advice are well respected.  Outside the city lies a teeming tent-city of outsiders, who were given rights to farm the land so that they would not attack or conquer Birith.  They are run by the Lugal, an ambitious man.

When the book opens, the En, an old man named Ardru, is at the end of his life.  He names his successor - a young woman named Entika, who he raised and who has always lived within the temple.  It is unheard of for a woman to be the goddess's husband, although Entika quickly shows herself to be an inquisitive and capable En.  However, the Lugal uses this as an opportunity to take control of the city, and conflict quickly breaks out.

It is very interesting to see such a distant time portrayed in comics with such realism.  It is difficult to ascribe motivations and behaviour that we recognize to a people we know so little about, but Vollmar's story rings true and works well as historical fiction.  mpMann is no stranger to portraying ancient times - his work with A. David Lewis on The Lone and Level Sands and Some New Kind of Slaughter fits very well with this book, stylistically and thematically.  I'm very fond of his minimalist approach to comics, and would like to see more from him.

If you are looking for an intelligent and beautiful historical graphic novel that explores themes of religion, duty, and loyalty, you can't do much better than this book.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mediacracy

by JariBu Afrobeat Arkestra

We know music to be universal, so there's nothing strange about an Afrobeat band from Japan, is there?  Even when its music is released on a German record label?  The JariBu Afrobeat Arkestra is thirteen-person group (there are an additional six musicians guesting on various tracks) that could hold their own with some of the best of the groups that came out of Nigeria in the early 70s.

Listening to Mediacracy, I was reminded of Antibalas, another contemporary Afrobeat group who continue Fela Kuti's tradition of discussing politics in their music.  The title track of this album calls out the media, and their dominance of the political and social spheres for not helping anyone, and making the world a worse place.

Unlike Antibalas, the JariBu gang keep their message (and their music) much shorter, fitting eleven tracks into a one-hour recording.  This is a very cool album filled with some very nice Afro-influenced music.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Guild

Written by Felicia Day
Art by Jim Rugg

I was rather late coming around to watching The Guild, but when I finally did give Felicia Day's web television show a try, I was hooked.  I knew that there had been a mini-series (I'd tracked down the issues for a friend who doesn't buy comics), but had paid it no mind, despite being drawn by Jim Rugg (of Street Angel and Afrodisiac fame).  I did start to buy the various one-shots that Day was writing with the various actors from the show, but it wasn't until this week that I got around to reading the original comic, collected in trade.

The web show follows the on- and off-line tribulations of a group of total strangers who met playing a fantasy MMORPG, and began spending all of their free-time together.  When the show opens, they've not met, or even know each others' real names.  That doesn't last past the first episode, as their worlds collide in a number of ways that make them very uncomfortable.

In writing this comic, Day decided to share the 'secret origin' of the Knights of Good, by showing us what led Cyd (Day's character) to abandon the real world and move into the on-line one.  She has always been wracked with uncertainty, and we watch as her boyfriend Trevor alternately uses and ignores her.  Seeking some sort of personal connection, she tries out this new videogame, and it's not long before she's met all the other main characters of the show.

As this is written by Day, who also writes the show, the characters' voices are spot on.  Jim Rugg is a good choice for the art - he uses his standard style to show the everyday world, and has also developed a more Frazetta-esque, digitally painted style for the in-game scenes, which are more detailed than they could ever be on the show. 

Reading this has left me yearning for more Guild; too bad it doesn't look like the show will be returning.

Strangers in Paradise Pocket Book 2

by Terry Moore

It's hard to know what to expect with Terry Moore's classic series Strangers In Paradise.  On the surface, it's a light romantic comedy about a love triangle between close friends Francine and Katchoo, and David, the man who is in love with Katchoo.

The girls argue and joke around a lot, and constantly dance around their attraction towards one another.  Well, that's not entirely true, Katchoo is openly gay; it's Francine who can't figure out what she wants.  David has entered the mix, and is seriously interested in Kat, but early on in this second volume (which collects the first seventeen issues of third series), they get into a huge argument that drives David away for good.  Kat decides to follow him to California to apologize, and to bring him back.

That's more or less where the rom-com stuff ends, because David is the brother to Darcey Parker, a powerful mobster who used to be Kat's lover and pimp.  Darcey wants to use Katchoo to help her with an elaborate plan to win control over the White House.  Another one of her girls is positioned to marry the front-runner in the Presidential elections, and to draw heat off of her, she wants Kat to seduce the wife of the Senator who runs an committee investigating organized crime.  Not so funny, now.  Except, it still is.

Moore really found a winning formula with this series.  We all want to see Francine and Kat get together and help heal each other, but it always seems like such a long, dangerous road.  It doesn't much help that there is a framing device used that shows how, in ten or more years, the two women aren't even talking.  Moore sets these things up, and then doesn't return to them for fifteen issues or so - it must have been frustrating to read this comic as a monthly.

We are also given a nice flashback sequence that shows how the girls developed their friendship in high school, and, very oddly, an issue that is more or less a tribute to Xena, Warrior Princess that doesn't fit with the larger narrative at all.

In terms of strong character-driven comics, I can think of very few that can hold a candle to Strangers in Paradise.  Recommended.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wasteland #35

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Justin Greenwood

How quickly we as comics fans can become spoiled.  I had more or less given up hope that Wasteland would continue as a series, and now we've had something like three issues in a row come out on time, one month apart.  It's a pretty amazing thing.

In this issue, Michael decides to test Gerr, who we know was sent by Marcus to kill Michael and Abi.  Michael, having some form of telepathy and telekinesis doesn't need to lay a hand on the man to question him, and their scenes together are pretty interesting.  Abi, meanwhile, has been taken prisoner by the Knights Templar, who don't believe she doesn't know where her traveling companions have gone.

This is a good issue, but being smack in the middle of this story arc, it's a little hard to discuss.  As thankful as I am that new artist Justin Greenwood is able to keep this book on track, I do miss Christopher Mitten's work here.  His pencils were a lot dirtier, and that seemed more fitting for the types of environments that Johnston's created.

One thing that really grabbed me with this issue is the Ankya Ofsteen text piece.  People who have only trade-waited this series don't know about this, but each issue contains one page from the travel journal of a woman who has been wandering around the various communities and barren places that fill Johnston's world.  Before now, each of these one-page pieces have been self-contained, but now Ankya's story about meeting a tribe of people who live inside a mountain is continued from last month, and will carry into the next issue.  These are often a favoured part of this comic, and I like seeing that Johnston is giving Ankya more space to develop her story.

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #1

by Brian Churilla

I really didn't know what to expect going in to this comic.  I tend not to read solicitation information for books I know I'm going to buy, and Oni Press had my interest with the title alone.  I was a bit skeptical though, because the only other comic I've read by Brian Churilla (The Anchor) wasn't really my thing, but I decided to keep an open mind and give this a few issues based on originality of concept alone.  And that's when I just thought it was going to be about one of the first successful skyjackers.

As it turns out, this book is about so much more than that.  DB Cooper is known for taking over an airplane in 1971, receiving $200 000 in cash (how quaint a number like that seems today) and a pair of parachutes, and then jumping out mid-flight and disappearing forever.  This comic takes place a week before that event, and we learn that Cooper is a Federal Agent who apparently is part of a remote assassination program.

We spend most of the issue in a strange landscape, where Cooper's only companion is a one-eared walking teddy bear.  He gets into a fight with a monster, and we see the consequences of that fight in the real world.  It's an interesting concept, and I'm curious to see how this job (he's been an agent for about three years we are told) leads to his moment in the spotlight.  I assume most of this series will take place after the highjacking, as there is only so much that can be fit into a week, even in comics.

Churilla is having a good time designing the monsters and strange landscapes of this book.  His art is a little reminiscent of Mike Mignola in his attention to shadow and use of dark colour, but is also more cartoonish and loose.  His Cooper is a pretty complicated and unlikeable guy, and it's going to be interesting to see how this plays out. 

This is definitely worth taking a look at if you are in the market for an intelligent independent comic.

The Unwritten #35

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and MK Perker

Finally, after almost three years of build-up, just about every secret or mystery that Mike Carey has developed in this series has been explained.  Tom Taylor (or should I call him Tommy now?) has a double-lengthed confrontation with Pullman, the real power behind the Cabal that has given Tom so much trouble.

Not surprisingly, Pullman's origin lies in Old Testament times, when his story became one of the first stories, therefore giving him great power and longevity.  Now, Pullman wants to die, and figures that manipulating Tom into confronting the Leviathan is the way to do it.

I don't want to give away much of what happened here, except to say that I'm a little surprised that we haven't heard about an end date for this series yet.  I can really only see the need for a few more issues, unless Carey has another big surprise waiting for us.

Once again, I'm blown away with Peter Gross.  He's been the primary artist on every issue (but one) of this series since it started double-shipping with its 0.5 numbers, and now has drawn an extra-long issue on top of that.  I hope he's getting danger pay.

Thief of Thieves #2

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

We knew from the first issue that Redmond is a master thief, and that he's spent a long time planning a big job in Venice.  We met his assistant/partner, and how they started to work together.  We also got a strong sense that Redmond wanted out of the thieving business, but not much more than that.  A comic about a guy not stealing things is usually less interesting than one about a guy who is, and therein lies the challenge of this series.  The only way to make that work is through strong writing, and strong characters.

Well, this issue has all those things.  We learn a lot more about Redmond this month, like for example, that his name is Conrad, and that at one point, he was married and has a son somewhere.  His ex-wife is the sister of an earlier partner, and when he joins her for dinner one night, we learn that she did everything in her power to get him to quit his 'job' back when they were together, and so greets the news of his retirement with anger. 

Basically, this whole issue is a further study into who Conrad/Redmond is as a character, and it's pretty interesting.  Kirkman's plot and Spencer's script take their time establishing Redmond's world, and I appreciate that they aren't just rushing into a big action movie set-up (there is action thanks to a flashback).  Shawn Martinbrough's doing some very nice work on this series, although I keep thinking, when there are panels of women's faces, that I'm reading something by Tony Harris, which is kind of strange. 

Anyway, it's good stuff.

Northlanders #49

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Danijel Zezelj

I guess the theme of this last arc in the Icelandic Trilogy (which is also the final arc in the series) is 'be careful what you wish for', as Oskar Hauksson, the eleventh generation of the family we've been following since the trilogy began, takes his family to war.

It was established last issue that Oskar's father, Godar, has led the powerful family's people (Iceland was feudal) through a long stretch of peace, and while things have always been difficult in Iceland, under Godar's leadership, it was not necessary to pick up the sword.  Oskar feels differently, and immediately after having secured his father in a hunting cabin somewhere remote, he leads his people into an attack on another family.  Oskar's goals, beyond personal glory, are not clear, and so, of course, things do not go well for him.

There are two great scenes in this comic.  In the first, the imprisoned Godar tells Oskar's wife what is going to happen to Oskar and the family.  His prognostications are not given bitterly or with malice, but simply as fact; Godar is a historian, and he understands how the forces of history work.  Later, Freya, Oskar's wife, begins to take matters into her own hands, not trusting her faith to her husband.  In this way, she shows that she is more a Hauksson than her husband.

One thing I'm going to miss about Northlanders once it is finished next issue is the work that it gave to artists that I admire a great deal.  Danijel Zezelj is perfect for this story, and I love the bleak and cold landscapes he draws in it.

Saucer Country #1

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

It's kind of a shame that Saucer Country had to debut the same week as Saga, because while this is a very good comic, it is definitely going to be overshadowed by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples's masterpiece.

Saucer Country is a dense first issue - I went back and counted the pages, because Cornell and Kelly fit a lot into just 20 pages.  The book introduces the readers to the Governor of New Mexico, Arcadia Alvarado.  She is a divorced Latina Democrat who has been considering taking a stab at the Presidency.  When the book opens, she is in a car with her ex-husband, and something strange has gone on.  He has some cuts and bruises, but neither of them can account for the last couple of hours.  Obviously, this has her security team quite upset.

As the book progresses, Arcadia wrestles with the decision she has to make - whether she should announce her candidacy or not.  She hires a Republican strategist, who suggests that by suggesting that her ex-husband was abusive, she would be able to lock down large numbers of votes.  Arcadia's bad dreams suggest something like that may have happened to her, but her epiphany, during a speech about illegal aliens, has more to do with the extraterrestrial kind.

This is very much a comic of the moment, and I like that it is being written by a British writer who is able to explore the American political zeitgeist from an outsider's perspective (which, being Canadian, makes sense to me).  We seem to be touching on a lot of the themes that make Americans jumpy - immigration, abortion, and race, and that's always interesting.  I wonder how this comic has played on Fox News.

It's very nice to see Ryan Kelly working on a monthly title again.  I've been a fan of his since I started reading Local (still one of the greatest comics I've ever experienced), and I feel that he's an excellent artist to pull off a series like this.  I'm on the fence with most of the rest of the new wave of Vertigo titles, but expect to be with this one for the long-run.

Glory #24

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

While I really enjoyed the first issue of the relaunched Glory, in the more-than capable hands of Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell, I did leave it without a clear sense of where this series was going.  Basically, Keatinge used that first comic to introduce young Riley, and through her to make clear which aspects of Glory's previous (cheesecake-y) incarnation were kept, and which were jettisoned.

Now, with this issue, Gloriana actually gets up out of bed and speaks for a bit, and we sort of learn where she had disappeared to for many years.  We do know that her conflict with her father has cost her her health and peace of mind.  We also learn that she is planning on building an army, of whom Riley is going to be member.

There are some other revelations at the end of the issue that maybe came a little too early to carry much emotional weight, but which do suggest what direction this series is going to be going in.

Keatinge is doing a good job of building this story in an interesting way, and Campbell's art is, of course, gorgeous.  The art doesn't look like what I'm used to seeing by Campbell (granted, I haven't read his new Shadoweyes series though, so I may just be behind the times a little.  I love the large spread of the Glory-cave (that sounds kind of dirty, doesn't it?), and look forward to seeing where this series is headed.

Blue Estate #10

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, and Andrew Osborne
Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Dave Johnson, Peter Nguyen, and Kieran

I don't think there's ever been anything quite like Blue Estate.  It's a multi-faceted screwball mobster comedy with something for just about everyone.  It's getting harder and harder to explain what goes on in any given issue (all the elements are actually on the cover, if not very literally), but I'll give it a try.

Tony has to get his Italian mobster father's horse (the titular Blue Estate) to the racetrack, but he also has to meet recent widow Rachel for sex (which is really a set-up by the Russian mafia to kill him for arranging the hit on Rachel's husband, which lost the Russians a lot of money), so he has Billy, Rachel's brother who owes him cash on a real estate deal that went wrong, take care of it, but he passes the horse off to his stoner tenants so he can sell Rachel's house, in order to have the money to pay off Tony.  Got all that? 

That's not the whole synopsis though, as there is a lot more going on in this issue, as both the Russians and Italians gear up for war, and the cops prepare to make their move on all of them.  Also, we learn about the effects of second hand marijuana smoke on racehorses, and get to listen in on a mystifying conversation about a sex act known as the 'beluga' (and no, Google and Urban Dictionary were no help - if you can explain, please comment).

This book has more characters than it does artists, but the writing team never causes us to lose track of any of them, and the subtly shifting art styles continue to make each new page a treat.  This is an incredibly complicated comic, both in terms of story and the logistics of the large number of people involved in making each new issue, but it works remarkably well.  Reading this issue, it was very easy to imagine this story as a mini-series on HBO, and I think it would be excellent.

The Activity #4

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mitch Gerads

I really like this series.  I've long been interested in war comics, and have had some experience with the more modern warfare-based video games like Call of Duty Modern Warfare, which this series appears to owe a great deal to (apparently, you can play against the creators of the comic on Xbox Live).  So far, most issues of this comic have had the Omaha team - a special Direct Action team of rather murky black ops provenance, complete a single mission.  There hasn't been a lot of building from one issue to the next, and the characters remain rather one-dimensional, but it's becoming clear that Nathan Edmondson is slowly building towards something.

In this issue, the team has to figure out a way of bringing down a Colombian drug lord's helicopter in such a way as to keep him alive, and extract him from the country without being identified.  They are partnered with a Delta team, and the main chunk of the issue, which involves attaching a device to the helicopter without being seen, is pretty suspenseful.

Things don't work out exactly as they were intended to, and from that, and the mistakes of last issue, I can predict that we are moving towards a longer story arc.  I like, so far, that each issue has stood on its own, but am ready to see a little more overlap and character development, now that the 'rules' of this series have been established.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Saga #1

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

I came to this comic with some very high expectations, and am very happy to say that the first issue of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples's new series Saga exceeded every one of them.  To begin with, this book is 44 pages and only costs $3, which on its own is pretty awesome.

Saga is set in a huge, sprawling science fiction/fantasy galaxy, where two planets - Landfall and its moon Wreath have been at war for generations.  This is a proxy war that has spilled out across every known planet, and is deeply engrained in the cultures of the various races of that galaxy.  The people of Wreath are horned and use magic, while the people of Landfall have wings and are pretty technologically advanced.

When the book opens, we meet Alana and Marko, deserters from opposite sides who met and fell in love when Alana was assigned to guard Marko.  Their baby is born in the first couple of pages, and they are now on the run from their own people, looking for a way off the backwater planet they are on, with the hope that they can find somewhere to live safely and raise their daughter.

There are tons of antecedents to this series.  As I read it, I was reminded of various stories like Star Wars, Dune, Farscape, Finder, and the short-lived and forgotten Keith Giffen/Colleen Doran series Reign of the Zodiac.  Vaughan and Staples take the influences of all of these classics, and others, and move them to a new level of quality (okay, myabe not Finder, because it's just about perfect).

Vaughan is known for strong character work, and for giving key roles to women.  When Marko and Alana try to escape, I couldn't help but think of the dynamic between Yorick and Agent 355 in Y: The Last Man.

Fiona Staples has done an incredible job of constructing such a visually fascinating and complex world.  Various types of aliens and creatures abound, and there is a very unique visual aesthetic to the whole thing, with space helicopters, and TV-headed robots. 

Image Comics has been on fire lately, and I imagine that this series is going to be the jewel in their crown.  I can not praise this title enough - if you didn't get a copy this week, you need to go find one as quickly as possible.

Conan the Barbarian #2

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

I've come to realise that I have to read this new Conan series differently than my original expectations of it would have allowed.  When I hear that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan are collaborating on a comic, I expect a very literate comic, such as the two volumes of Demo, or, closer to this material, their collaboration on Northlanders. That's not what they're going for with Conan; in fact, this comic is closer to Cloonan's sadly unfinished East Coast Rising than it is to anything else the two have done together.

Basically, Wood and Cloonan are having a good time giving us an action movie of a comic.  The pirate Belit is drawing closer to the vessel that Conan is on, having befriended its owner.  Most of the issue is spent with Conan firing arrows at his enemies, before boarding their boat and fighting with almost the entire crew.

Wood keeps the story moving, and Cloonan's art is divine.  While she is an artist I always associate with the urban experience first, she is very comfortable drawing barbarian action at sea.  Her Belit is gorgeous, and I found the way she drew (and Dave Stewart coloured) the African pirates to be very interesting.

I'm not getting the cerebral high that I thought may be possible from this book, but I am getting a visceral one, and that's just as good.

Addis Abeba

by Imperial Tiger Orchestra

Sometimes you can judge a product by its cover.  Looking for some new music one day, this cd case caught my eye - I've been increasingly interested in Ethiopian music since discovering Mulatu Astatke a couple of years ago, and quickly recognized, between the album title and the Amharic names of most of  the tracks, that this would be of interest to me, despite the fact that the band members all had names that sound French or Spanish to me.

Basically, Addis Abeba is a collection of Ethio-jazz that has a bit of an avant garde feel to it.  There are eight tracks, some of which are covers of pieces I've heard before (like Astatke's 'Emnete'), that swing a little harder than the usual stuff.  The trumpet likes to wander off on its own with regularity, but the end result is a very cool album. 

I found it difficult to find out much about this group on the internet, but I know that they have one other album that I'm going to be keeping my eyes open for now.

Haunt #22

Written by Joe Casey
Art by John Lucas and Nathan Fox

I feel like, with all the attention being given to some of Rob Liefeld's Extreme relaunches, that Joe Casey and Nathan Fox's similar revamp of Todd McFarlane's Haunt is not getting the recognition it deserves.

I recently read the first trade of the series, in an attempt to better understand what Casey is going to be doing with the series, and I was a little surprised by how little anyone seemed surprised to learn that the living Kilgore brother could see and speak to the recently deceased one, never mind join with him to receive weird powers.  Maybe that was explained later in Robert Kirkman and McFarlane's writing of the series, maybe it wasn't.  I'm not particularly interested to find out.

Joe Casey, however, has some interesting ideas involving the whole 'speak to dead people' aspect of this series.  In his second issue, he introduced the character Still Harvey Tubman, who could see the dead Kilgore, and seemed to know a great deal about the brothers and what was going on with them.  He helped them escape the Casey-esque religious army/church of the future organization that had abducted them, and when this issue opens, he is on a military flight back to the US with the living brother (I really don't remember their names).

Most of this issue is spent in 'backflash' (as it is called on the title page), and is drawn by John Lucas (despite the fact he doesn't get credited on either side of the cover).  We learn that Tubman is the last of the conductors (clearly the Tubman name wasn't accidental) who goes around leading the spirits of the dead to their heavenly reward.  We watch as he and his assistant look after the ghost of a mobster's sister in the 70s, after which, Harvey has to spend the rest of his days avoiding the mobster's desire for revenge.

It's a very good issue.  Still Harvey is a great character - equal parts The Dude from The Big Lebowski and Stick from Frank Miller's run on Daredevil.  Lucas's art is a nice change from Nathan Fox's usual frenetic explosion of action, although I look forward to him drawing the whole next issue.  Casey has finally laid out some sort of plan for where this book is going, and I think it will be interesting to see how the Kilgore brothers react to Harvey's duty of separating them permanently.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lava Bangers

by Lazerbeak, with Plain Ole Bill

It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I am totally happy with yet another release from the geniuses at the Doomtree mansion in Minneapolis.  This time around, we are being gifted an instrumental album spotlighting the music of Lazerbeak, the premier producer of the Doomtree collective.

There are twenty tracks on Lava Bangers, which runs for exactly thirty-nine minutes. A few of them have appeared before, usually as intros or interludes on entries in the False Hopes series of mixtapes, but most are original to this project.

Lazerbeak is stretching his sound here - most of these instrumental tracks are not designed to be sung or rapped over, but instead exist as their own creation, and are quite lovely.  My favourite track on this album is the last one, 'Lift Every Voice', which I believe samples heavily from Philip Glass's soundtrack to the film Powaqqatsi, creating a transcendent and deeply beautiful piece of music.

Each track blends into the next, for which we can thank the scratches and blends of Plain Ole Bill.  Without doubt, it would have been nice to hear  a track where POS or Dessa could cut loose, but this is a project I'm very pleased with.