Monday, April 30, 2012

Tongue Lash #1 & 2

Written by Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier
Art by Dave Taylor

I often rely on serendipity and chance when cruising through bargain bins.  Recently, among a trove of Dark Horse mini-series sets of the last fifteen years (lots of licensed comics, lots of Mignola), I came across this two-issue mini-series, which I could tell nothing about except for its price (very reasonable).  I googled it on my phone, and learned that it was was written by Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier, a pair of French comics writers best known in North America for their translations of and work with the recently late Jean Giraud, Moebius.

Fame by association works for me, and I remember enjoying the Lofficier's work on The Elsewhere Prince, a Moebius spin-off that I read many years ago.  Continuing this connection, upon opening the first comic, I read that the series was "inspired" by the works of Moebius, which was instantly apparent from Dave Taylor's art.

Tongue Lash is a science-fiction detective novel, set in a weirdly Aztec future.  Our heroes, Tonge and Lash, are private investigators, who are hired by a wealthy young woman to investigate the prostitute that her powerful father has fallen in love with.  There's a lot more going on that than though, in this story that involves human/animal hybrids, the ability to shunt into metatime, and a system of slavery or indentured servitude.  Nothing is really explained, and the reader is left to his or her own devices to figure out what's going on, and what the many Aztec (or Aztec-like) terms sprinkled throughout the dialogue mean.

It's not hard to imagine why this series was never collected into a trade, as it's a challenging read, and ultimately more strange than compelling.  It is very pretty though, and Taylor really pushed himself to design some very unique images in this bizarre world.  I liked the series, but I feel like I probably missed a lot, and Taylor's lettering just annoyed me.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Old Ideas

by Leonard Cohen

I have admired Leonard Cohen since I was in high school, having read his two novels and many of his poems at a time when I was very open to new ideas and expressions of self.  Leonard has always been both an introspective man, and someone not overly concerned with what others think (how else could someone with the voice he had in the 60s imagine himself having a career as a singer?).

His music was always a bit of a tougher sell.  There can be no disputing his genius as a songwriter (throw a dart at any of his albums and you'll hit a great song), but between his voice and frequently cheesy, synth-heavy instrumentation, the albums really were an acquired taste.

As Leonard has aged, so has his voice, into a rich and inviting instrument.  Now, with Old Ideas, his newest studio album, everything finally comes together, as a mix of well-arranged music played by living musicians, and some of the best writing of Leonard's career.

This album has ten songs, and every single one of them is beautiful.  The disc opens with 'Going Home', which was also recently published as a poem in the New Yorker.  Musically, it reminds me a great deal of Suzanne, one of his earliest and best known songs, but it is much more reflective of Leonard's advanced age.

It is well known that Leonard only recorded this album because he has found himself in financial hardship, and while it saddens me that someone with his gifts, talents, and contributions to music and poetry should find himself in such a position, I'm really rather glad that it led to this music being made.  I predict that this will be one of his albums for which he will always be remembered.

The New Deadwardians #2

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

I find I'm really liking this Vertigo mini-series.  Dan Abnett has constructed an alternate history where, we learn this issue, in 1861, a plague of zombies (or 'Restless', as they are called in the story) overwhelmed England.  Many of the upper class felt it necessary to take 'The Cure' in order to protect themselves - this turned them into 'Young', which we know as vampires.

Now, it's 1910, and a vampire's body has been found, and it appears that he was murdered in some fashion other than the only three ways in which one can kill a vampire.  This has our main character, Chief Inspector George Suttle, rather confused.  When it turns out that the deceased undead is Lord Hinchcliffe, an advisor to the crown, then there is a strong need to solve the case quickly and quietly.

Abnett is taking his time with this story, examining various aspects of this society, where 'Brights', or regular people, are confined to menial tasks and a lower place in society.  It seems that British class dramas are making a resurgence on television with Downtown Abbey, and I like that Abnett is playing within that genre.  I also appreciate that he has not chosen (so far at least) to turn this into a Jack the Ripper related comic; that has been done to death.

INJ Culbard's art works nicely with this story.  He has a good sense of the period.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Spaceman #6

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

We are now two-thirds of the way through Azzarello and Risso's new series, and we finally get to see how the other half lives in this so-far dirty and bleak vision of the future.

Tara is a young girl who is one of the stars of a reality show centred around two famous actors and the multicultural group of children they have adopted, each of whom have passed through an American Idol like vetting process in the eyes of the nation.  Tara was kidnapped, and then rescued by Orson, the titular Spaceman who was genetically engineered to travel to and terraform Mars, and who now lives in a rough neighbourhood scouring a sunken city for salvageable garbage. 

A number of different interested parties have been circling around Tara and Orson since he took her under his wing, and now they, and the group of wharf rat kids that Orson hangs out with, are hatching a plot to return her home safely.  This involves their going to the 'Drise', the wealthy, walled-off part of America where the rich still live in comfort.  Orson's being followed by a film crew, and by another Spaceman, who is also looking to get Tara back.

Azzarello continues to build his own slang and futuristic argot for this comic, making it as linguistically fascinating as Risso makes it visually stunning.  This series is not being talked about enough - it is very, very good.

Popgun Volume 3

Edited by Mark Andrew Smith and DJ Kirkbride

There's something very satisfying about opening up and diving into a comics anthology like the Popgun series, even before reading any of the stories in it.  I think a lot has to do with the beautiful design and the weight of the book, which clocks in at slightly over 450 glossy pages.  The book is a work of art on its own, and is something to be celebrated.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same for all of the stories in this third volume.  Like when I read the fourth, I find that the variety of audiences to whom the creators are presenting their work makes this a very scattered book to read.  I have nothing against all ages comics (well, I don't really like reading them, but I'm happy they exist), but I don't understand how a cute-sy, kid-oriented story about picking apples can be in the same book as a story about a traveling fighter (named the Bastard) who fights a giant rooster in a story so replete with cock jokes that they are just about the only dialogue in the story.  You would never give this book to a child, and so I wonder if the kid-oriented stories ever get enjoyed the way they are meant to.

In any book this size, and with such a variety of creators represented (76, according to the back cover), there is bound to be stories that resonate, and others that sink.  I particularly enjoyed the early appearance of the Skullkickers by Jim Zubkavich and Chris Stevens, which show an earlier version of our heroes, before the dwarf actually became a dwarf (unless Stevens's perspective was just way off).  There is also an early version of Nathan Edmondson and Christian Ward's Olympus, which ended up being very different from what is shown in this story.

I also enjoyed stories by Alberto Mielgo, Michael Dialynas, Peter Berting, Connor Williamson, Jason Ibarra (working with Zubkavich, who apparently does no wrong), Mark Andrew Smith and Johann Leroux, Amanda Becker and Janet Kim, Ray Fawkes and Justin Randall (whose art looks a lot like Brett Weldele's), Paul Grist, Danilo Beyruth, and Derek Yu.

My two favourite stories were 'Nudging Buddy' by Ron Turner, and 'Ever Upward' by Tonci Zonjic.  The Turner story is a noir-ish tale about three friends who have fallen into crime while on vacation in Greece.  It has a nice pace and a surprising ending.  Zonjic's story is a tribute to Joe Kittinger, the first man to break the speed of sound.

This book covers a number of genres, and really does have something for just about anyone.  I wish there was a little more balance in the selection of stories, and some of them really are dumb, but overall this is a very successful project.

American Vampire #26

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Roger Cruz

Last month, Scott Snyder finished off his 50s rebel teenager storyline with a pretty big cliffhanger involving the main protagonists of this book, Pearl and Henry, who we hadn't seen for a few months (which means more than a decade in the comic's timeline).  I expected that to be picked up and continued with this issue, but instead, we are given the first of a two-part arc featuring Calvin Poole, who we last saw fighting with Henry in the Pacific during the Second World War.

Now, it's 1954, and Calvin, who is the third American Vampire in existence, has taken some time off from his job with the Vassals of the Morning Star to travel to Midway Alabama, where his brother is about to perform at a fair.  Now, this is Alabama in the 50s, and Calvin is black, so there are some pretty obvious challenges he has to face, which are of course made easier by his being a vampire.

Calvin can't actually contact his brother, but he soon learns that there is something odd going on in Midway, and he, the expert taxonomist, is soon facing something he's never seen or heard of before.  It's a good start to a short arc, and it's nice to see that Snyder is expanding his story and addressing new topics within the context of his vampire story.

The art on this issue is by Roger Cruz, which was a bit of a surprise to me.  I remember Cruz as a 90s Marvel artist (and so with little fondness), but in this issue he manages quite well, giving us work that evokes regular series artist Rafael Albuquerque.

The Activity #5

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mitch Gerads

I've seen this title criticized for being a little too 'television'.  Each issue has basically been structured around a single mission for the covert direct operations team that star in this comic.  We have not seen much in the way of character development, and haven't been given much information about the members of the team.

I agree with this criticism, but have also stuck with this series, as I have the feeling that Nathan Edmondson has a plan for this series, and is slowly building his larger story, while still making sure that each individual issue contains a complete mission. 

We have seen Team Omaha screw up a few times, and have seen that their star is definitely falling in the intelligence community in the US, while they are still being used to attempt ever more difficult missions, as if someone wants the team to fail.

In this issue, we see a little more of this back-room intrigue, before joining the team in Thailand, where it appears they've screwed up once again.  They are in custody, after being captured with a number of illegal weapons and ID that suggests they are Australian.  Choosing not to talk, they are soon tortured for information.  Edmondson works a nice little trick into the story though, so things aren't all what they appear to be.

While this is going one, we are given a number of flashbacks that follow the career of Locke, the team leader, and how he ended up in charge of the team.  It's nice to see his character being worked on.

Mitch Gerads, the artist of this book, has shown improvement with each issue, and much of this one looks amazing.  His pictures of a firefight in the snow in Afghanistan are terrific.  This book is steadily getting better and better.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Secret History Book 19: The Age of Aquarius

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

The second issue of The Secret History to come out this week is a much smoother read.  Perhaps it's just that Book 18 refamiliarised me with the world of the Archons and their centuries-long interference with human history, but I found that this is a much more balanced and readable volume.  It also checks in with more characters, and advances the plot much further.

This issue opens in 1968 with the assassination of Martin Luther King (all a part of Howard Hughes's plans), before moving over to check in with Reka, who is embracing the hallucinogenic potential of the time.  She finds that dropping LSD makes it possible for her to visit the lost city of Kor, and she plans a gigantic event that will let her tap in to the love energy and drug-fueled excitement of thousands of people to amplify her own trip (what is that event?  the cover makes it clear).

Curtis, now in his seventies, gets a tip as to the whereabouts of his enemy Kim Philby, and travels to Prague during the Prague Spring to take him out.  Dyo is also pulling strings in Prague, making sure that his Soviet Union gets what he wants.

Erlin, meanwhile, is trekking through the jungles of Mexico, searching for Mayan ruins, which predict the date of the end of the world, which also matches up with the predictions of his old friend Nostradamus.  As we all know, the date for this is set to take place this year, and unfortunately, the way things have been working at Archaia, we aren't likely to see another issue of this comic until after the world ends.

I have long enjoyed Igor Kordey's work on this series, and have used it as an example to counter-balance his vilification at the hands of American comics readers after his notoriously rushed issues of New X-Men, but was extra impressed by his work on this volume.  In addition to his usual pencils, he has also retouched photographs of Woodstock to fit with the needs of the story - I thought it was a cool change in the look of the book.

The Li'l Depressed Boy #10

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace

I worked at a movie theatre for two weeks when I was in high school (for the record, I quit, they didn't fire me, mostly because I objected to being scheduled during the day when I had school, but the general stupidity of the place mitigated the whole thing) so I could relate to the stunned look on the LDB's face as he went through the motions of cleaning up popcorn and ripping tickets.

It's been a little while since we've seen the LDB, so it's nice to have a new issue of this comic, even if it's a little disjointed.  LDB starts his new job, passes out, and then goes to a concert.  Later, listening to music, he either flashes back to a summer camp experience or imagines one - that part is unclear.

There is a cameo by the rapper Childish Gambino, who is really the actor Donald Glover from Community.  I haven't listened to his music, so can't comment on how his persona is portrayed here.

As much as I still get lulled by the charm of this comic, I fear I'm getting a little bored by it.  It's nice to see that in this issue LDB is living up to his name a little more, but at the same time, that means that a nice, gentle character is miserable.  Of course, that's what we read fiction for - so we can feel better about our own lives.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Secret History Book Eighteen: The End of Camelot

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

It's been four months since the last issue of The Secret History came out, and now this week, Archaia decides to release two issues at the same time - one that was supposed to come out in November of last year, the other December.  I know that sometimes companies that are trying to get caught up will release two issues of the same comic in the same week (Marvel did it a little while back with Captain America), but this book is $6 an issue, so that's a little rough on peoples' wallets.  Especially when it could be another four or five months before the next issue comes around - why didn't they simply warehouse it for three weeks or so?  I'm never going to understand the way Archaia does business.

Case in point:  This issue references things that happened in the Games of Chance spin-off mini-series, which was supposed to come out months ago, and then was canceled and resolicited as a single hardcover, which hasn't come out yet. This is especially egregious when you consider that this is one of the most continuity-drenched, complex comics published.

This particular volume has two points of focus.  It opens with the story of a mysterious artifact that has been lost in Lake Meade, near the Hoover Dam.  It causes strange happenings in Las Vegas, downriver, and later affects the behaviour of the Lake's most famous resident - Howard Hughes, who wants to assassinate JFK.

The other story that takes up most of this book is that of recurring character Curtis Hawk, who is still hunting St. John Philby, and his son Kim, who were responsible for the death of his wife.  Curtis has been the most accessible character in this book to date, so it's good to see him, at an advanced age, keeping up the good fight.

This book is always a dense and complicated read, but I enjoy it for that.  Kordey's art feels looser in this issue.  Now to go read the other one that came out...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chinoiseries Pt.2

by Onra

I picked up Onra's Long Distance album over a year ago, and while I liked it, I didn't quite get what all the fuss was about this up-and-coming Parisian beatmaker.  Then I started hearing people talk about his Chinoiseries Part 2 (I've never listened to Part 1, which is probably a mistake), and now I completely get it.

This is a thirty-two track instrumental hip-hop album that is pretty reminiscent of some of the best of J Dilla and Madlib.  Actually, what it reminds me of more than anything is Oh No's Dr. No's Oxperiment album, where he sampled Turkish funk to create a contemporary hip-hop album.

Onra did not travel to Turkey for his loops and samples though, instead channeling the best of the Orient into his beats.  This album plays with a traditional Eastern sound, but also picks up on some Asian funk and jazz, all which which has been blended together to create a very memorable mix of Asian-inflected hip-hop.

Most of this album is way too lovely to have an emcee spit over it; like Dilla's Donuts, this is a classic album that encompasses a particular musical milieu, rendering it fresh and exciting for new audiences.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Original Raw Soul III

You can always count on Now-Again Records to bring together a quality album.  This is a seventeen-track compilation of mostly previously released music from different groups that were led by Jay and Max Whitefield, who today usually record under the name The Whitefield Brothers.

From Now-Again's site:
Original Raw Soul III looks back at recordings dating back over twenty years but never once sounds dated or dull. There’s the garage funk of the early Poets incarnation the Bus People Express; the deep jazz of vocalist Bajka gigging with a Max Whitefield ensemble; the pan-African psych-jazz of the Whitefield Brothers. And that’s just three of the ensembles contained within. Original Raw Soul III’s sixteen tracks that span the gamut of forty years of musical innovation, recorded over the past twenty years, and presented anew today.
I find this album very enjoyable, especially any of the tracks that feature Bajka's deep, lovely voice.  If you are a fan of funk, soul, or afro-rhythms, I recommend this disc fully. I mean, who can hate on an album featuring a band called Mercy Sluts?

The Unity Sextet

by The Unity Sextet

I am very much a neophyte when it comes to jazz music, and don't really feel like taking the time to work my way systematically through the masters, or even to spend hours reading up on different artists and groups on the internet.  Instead, I take a pretty piecemeal approach to educating myself, and I place a lot of trust in a couple of music gurus that work in stores around the city.

Someone recommended this album by The Unity Sextet, and I love it.  It's traditional jazz, with a bit of a spacey element introduced by the use of 'electronics', so credited in the liner notes.  I don't know if any of these six artists, Junior Oliver, Buddy Franco, Fat Thumbs Ronnie, Cassisu Farquhar, Chuck Waldron, or Fats Young Jr. are known quantities in the jazz world (with names like those, they sound like they could be as fabricated as the members of Madlib's Yesterday's New Quintet), but I do know that their work together here is terrific.

Favourites out of the thirteen tracks include 'Right Now!', 'Do Me A Fredo', and the closer, 'Until Next Time...'.  I cannot recommend this album enough.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Secret History of DB Cooper #2

by Brian Churilla

I really enjoyed the first issue of Brian Churilla's The Secret History of DB Cooper, but with this second issue, really feel like I have a better grasp on where this series is going, and am pretty excited to follow it.

What we know so far is that DB Cooper, the man who would soon famously hijack an airplane and disappear with his ransom forever, is an agent for the FBI involved in remote viewing assassinations.  At first, I thought that he was able to travel to a strange monster-filled world to complete his missions, but in this issue, we learn that he is more or less always in both worlds; Cooper's psyche is completely fractured, and he no longer needs drugs or briefings in order to complete the tasks given to him.

This issue fills in a fair amount of his backstory - we know that his daughter was abducted, and that his marriage fell apart because of the guilt that he feels about it.  We also see more proof that his fellow agent hates him, but we still don't know why.  Also, questions are raised about the true identity of the red one-eared teddy bear that accompanies him on his missions.

This is shaping up to be a very original and interesting new series.  Churilla is a fascinating artist, who clearly has a master plan for this book.  I'm definitely going to be sticking with it for the long haul.

The Walking Dead #96

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Rick ends up giving quite the speech in this issue of The Walking Dead.  The days of him questioning his decisions and his role as leader of his group are long over, and now we see the take-charge, confident Rick at his best.

In the last issue, Rick, Carl, and a small group of their people began to explore the Hilltop, a large community of about 200 people that appears to be quite self-sustaining and safe.  At least, it seemed that way until shortly after they arrived, some community member stabbed their leader, on the orders of some guy named Negan, and then tried to kill Rick.

As it turns out, the Hilltop is being extorted by this Negan, who sounds a little like The Governor of years past.  He gets half of the Hilltops resources in exchange for keeping them 'safe' from walkers, but also likes to beat up or kill the people who bring him his tribute from time to time.  Carl is the one that suggests that were Rick to take him out, their own community could benefit from the same stuff.

And so it seems that Kirkman is setting up the next bunch of issues of this comic.  I imagine that the confrontation with Negan will come in issue 100, and that makes me a little nervous, as Kirkman has a habit of killing characters I like in anniversary issues. 

The best part of this issue is when Glen, Andrea, and Michonne share their impressions of the Hilltop, and each of them are almost perfect encapsulations of those characters - Glen is sweet and optimistic, Andrea cynical and hard, and Michonne puts a brave face on her fears.  It is the complexity of these core characters, along with Rick, that makes this book so successful month after month.

Dark Horse Presents #11

Written by Francesco Francavilla, Steve Horton, Carla Speed McNeil, Steve Niles, Evan Dorkin, Tim Seeley, John Arcudi, Andrew Vachss, Neal Adams, and Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Francesco Francavilla, Michael Dialynas, Carla Speed McNeil, Christopher Mitten, Evan Dorkin, Victor Drujiniu, Jonathan Case, Geof Darrow, Neal Adams, and Luke Radl

Once again, Dark Horse Presents delivers a variety of comics for your reading pleasure.  As always, it's a pretty mixed bag, with the good being discussed first:
  • Francesco Francavilla is an artist I've enjoyed for quite some time, and it's nice to see him finally doing some creator-owned work.  The Black Beetle is a pretty standard pulp hero, with a Spirit/Shadow/Lobster Johnson type character trying to protect a beautiful archeologist (or curator, or something like that) from a group of personal helicopter-wearing Nazis who want to steal a priceless artifact.  It's predictable, but pretty.
  • I'm always happy to get a new chapter of Finder, Carla Speed McNeil's long-running series.  She's making good use of the colour possibilities of this anthology, as she has Jaegar walk through a number of strange environments.  It's a short piece, but it's very nice.
  • I don't remember John Arcudi's old series The Creep, but this reintroduction to the character works quite well, as the title character receives a letter from an old girlfriend telling him that her son committed suicide, and that she thinks there's something more to it.  This is how you begin a new story told in short chapters; I'm looking forward to reading more.  I like Jonathan Case's art here.
  • Andrew Vachss's prose piece 'Pig' goes down quite easily, if it feels like it's from another era.  It's a story about a young gang-banger and the friendship he develops with an overweight kid who is not part of his clique.  Geof Darrows's illustrations are less Darrow-ish than anything I've ever seen him do, but they work with this story.
  • I don't know what the deal is with 'The Way Out', a story 'From the Pages of the White Suits', which is set in Moscow in the late 80s.  It's about a young female courier who gets caught up in some madness involving gangsters and soldiers.  I don't know if this is the beginning of a new series, or is a stand-alone story, but it has my interest.  Luke Radl's art is very nice in Frank J. Barbiere's story.
Beyond that, I found I didn't have much use for the rest of the book.  Steve Niles and Christopher Mittens's Cal MacDonald story still hasn't caught my eye, and I am still having trouble getting into the Steve Horton and Michael Dialynas 'Amala's Blade' series.  Tim Seeley's new series The Occultist was too like the Cal MacDonald and a hundred other comics to impress me.

I hate Neal Adams's Blood comic, and feel much the same about anything Evan Dorkin does that doesn't involve Jill Thompson and the Beasts of Burden.  Next month:  Aliens!

The Sixth Gun #21

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

I've been an admirer of The Sixth Gun since the series began, a couple of Free Comic Book Days ago, but I don't know if any single issue has ever stood out the way this one does.

In the 'A Town Called Penance' arc, Cullen Bunn has had Becky Montcrief, the wielder of the 'sixth gun' travel to the very bizarre twin towns of Penance and New Penance to try to rescue her friend (and wielder of four of the other five guns) Drake Sinclair from his old compatriots in the Knights of Solomon, who are holding him in a gigantic underground cavern they have made their home base.

This issue, Becky makes her way underground to rescue him.  The entire issue is silent - there is no narration or dialogue at all, and the entire comic is filled with action, as Becky fights her way to Drake, and together, they try to fight their way back out. 

The decision to leave out any dialogue works well for this issue - think of any of the dialogue in any big action sequence, and it's all pretty obvious and therefore unnecessary stuff.  This way, the entirety of each page forces the reader to focus on just how incredible an artist Brian Hurtt is.  The cavern where the Knights live is made up of snaking gangplanks and buildings on stilts - there are few direct paths, and the entire thing is poised over deep water inhabited by strange tentacled creatures that protect one of the seals like the one seen back at the very beginning of this series.  It feels like Hurtt has worked out a model of how this environment, which is more three-dimensional than most in a large action sequence, is laid out, and he makes ingenious use of falling stalactites to add more drama to the sequence.

The only place where I would have liked a little narration would have been when Becky and Drake find themselves in a room that looks like a library, with a large image of a Knight of Solomon, simply because I'm curious to understand this group better.

I can not wait to see what happens next in this comic.

Strangers in Paradise Pocket Edition Vol. 3

by Terry Moore

Now that I've read three of these mammoth pocket-book sized collections of Terry Moore's epic Strangers In Paradise series, I beginning to see a pattern emerge in the storytelling.

Each of these books (which collects about nineteen comics) starts with some kind of mundane plot about Francine and Katchoo (Katina Choovanski) getting in to some sort of argument or disagreement, which jeopardizes their friendship and budding romance.  Then, they split on one another somehow, and don't reunite until some sort of threat from Katchoo's sordid past appears.  David, who loves Katchoo, is almost always caught in the middle, and at some point, the story is going to jump into the far future, where the two friends have not seen each other for some years, and both are miserable.

This volume opens that way, with Francine furious that Katchoo has chosen to exhibit very large paintings of her in the nude.  They fight about this, David learns that he has inherited his sister's fortune (Darcy Parker was an organized crime boss), and David and Katchoo fly away, only to have their plane crash.

From here, Moore abandons the lighter plots that make it a joy to read, and instead gives us a dark (although frequently funny) tale that has Katchoo working with Tambi, one of the remaining Parker girls who has a plan to take over the Big Six, but only with her help.  Francine nurses David back to health at her mother's, and is poised to find the elusive happiness she's always dreamed of, when the two friends are reunited, and stuck in yet another series of violent events.

I am very surprised at the balance that Moore is able to find between the fun, romantic comedy side of this book, and the darker, more intrigue-oriented stuff.  All of these characters, even the pathetically eager Casey, are very endearing, and they make this book the stuff of compulsive, stay up too late reading.  It's very good stuff.

3 Story: Secret Files of the Giant Man

by Matt Kindt

Matt Kindt's 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man is a real good graphic novel - it imagines what would really happen if a person were to grow to such a height that he is three stories tall, but still live in the real world.  His story is set in the 60s, and follows the life story of Craig Pressgang.

That book came out a few years ago, but now Kindt has returned to this character for this one-shot comic, which actually collects three short stories that originally appeared on-line in the now defunct MySpace Dark Horse Presents web comic, and were also collected in the trade paperback editions that collected that early experiment with digital-only stories.

I was a little disappointed to discover that these stories were older, and that I'd already read one of them.  At the same time, I love Kindt's work, and was happy to be able to read these three stories at the same time.

These tales show three different moments during Craig's 'world tour', which was designed as a tourist event, but also served as cover for Pressgang's employment by the CIA.  None of these are 'spy stories' (a specialty of Kindt, whose Super Spy is a masterpiece of the genre), but instead just follow Craig through some rough times, like when he got appendicitis in Paris or a stomach ailment in Egypt.  Both of those stories are very concerned with the mechanics of being his size, and that leads to some humour and some uncomfortable scenes.

The third story chronicles Craig's short-lived time working for the American army during the Vietnam War.  It didn't go well.

At the back of this comic is a preview of Kindt's upcoming Dark Horse series Mind MGMT.  As I intend to buy this comic, I didn't spoil any of it by reading this preview, but did like glancing at the pictures.  Kindt is set to become a break-out creator in 2012 - he has the aforementioned Dark Horse series starting up, and is taking over the writing of Frankenstein Agent of SHADE for DC.  He is definitely a comics creator who deserves a higher profile.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Prophet #24

Written by Brandon Graham, Farel Dalrymple, and Matt Sheean
Art by Farel Dalrymple and Malachi Ward

How wonderful is this comic?  I feel like, between the last issue and this one, I have a better handle on what Brandon Graham and his collaborators intend to do with this comic.  Last month, John Prophet sent some sort of signal out across the universe to wake up the Earth Empire pod ships, and so when this comic begins, another version of John Prophet (this one has a tail!) comes out of a pod to find that the ship he's been sleeping on for who knows how long has crashed into some other ships.

For some reason, he has to cross the amalgamated vessels to the other side, spurred on by a ghostly young girl.  The rest of this issue is just like the other ones, as John goes about his journey, facing environmental threats, and needing to rely on some odd science fiction stuff, like a 'star skin' that makes him look like the X-Man Armor.  Also, there's a MODOK version of the original Prophet, who is just awesome.

What makes this comic work so well is Graham's ease with such strange situations, as he describes and explains things, but without getting into too much detail.  You know he has an explanation ready for any plot point, but doesn't feel the need to hammer that information into our heads the way many lesser writers would.

The art this month is by Farel Dalrymple, of the brilliant and surrealistic Pop Gun War and the remake of Omega: The Unknown.  Dalrymple is a gifted artist, and he makes his usual style fit more in the aesthetic that regular artist Simon Roy has established for this book.  It's a very beautiful comic.

The back-up this month does not continue the one started previously, but instead is a done-in-one European-style science fiction story by Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward.  I liked it - it would have fit nicely in a Popgun anthology.  In a lot of ways, Graham is using this book to bring back Heavy Metal, which is very cool.  This series continues to be the most exciting thing on the stands each month.

Fables #116

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

Here's the question I find myself pondering this month.  Is Vertigo still the home of thought-provoking, adult comics?  Books like DMZ, Northlanders, Scalped, and (to a lesser extent) iZombie, are all recently wrapped up or will be shortly.  One of their newest titles, Dominique Laveau, Voodoo Child, reads a little more like a sophisticated superhero book from the late 80s, and Fables has become increasingly focused on its child characters, to the general detriment of the book.

This latest issue is again spotlighting Snow White and Bigby Wolf's children.  Therese has ended up in the land of Discardia, where a bunch of broken toys have made her their queen, although she's likely to starve there.  Darien, one of her brothers, has decided to go looking for her himself with the help of the wind-up tiger Lord Mountbatten.  Pinocchio also gets a bit of space to flirt with Osma.  Oh, and Blufkin the flying monkey escapes the gallows.

I don't see, aside from a few curse words that Darien let fly, how this comic should be 'suggested for mature readers'.  Actually, the swearing of a child helps underscore how immature this comic is becoming.  I get it that Willingham has been writing this comic for a good long time, and is perhaps just running low on ideas, and I would never advocate for 'mature scenes' just for their own sake, but I find that this book is not as sophisticated as it used to be.

Mark Buckingham's art is always awesome, but I'm finding that my enthusiasm for this title has reached the point where I think it's time to take it off my pre-order list.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ragemoor #2

Written by Jan Strnad
Art by Richard Corben

The first issue of Ragemoor read like a one-shot, and I wondered what else could happen to fill this series.  Ragemoor is about a young man who resides in a horrifically haunted castle.  This is not the usual home to restless spirits who maybe slam doors and kill the odd college student whose car breaks down on the property - this is a gigantic castle that is constantly readjusting its floorplan, and which has a taste for human blood.

As this issue opens, Herbert, the master of the castle, is mooning over Anoria, the woman who came to the castle with his uncle last issue, and who lost her mind after seeing what happened to the uncle, who had paid her to pose as his daughter.  Herbert realizes that a local poacher is trying to win her affection, and he decides he needs to take action to impress her.  He decides to kill the ape-creatures that live in the castle's bowels, a decision that leads to his being trapped well beneath the lower levels of the castle, at the mercy of worm-like creatures.

Over the course of the issue, Herbert begins to gain some appreciation for the various creatures that inhabit the castle, and who all appear to serve some sort of greater purpose.  We are also introduced to the insect creatures that work in the kitchen, preparing Herbert's meals (from what, one would like to know).

This is a creepy comic that really gives Richard Corben space to stretch his artistic wings.  I imagine that this type of comic appeals to a pretty specific demographic, but I can't imagine those people would have anything to complain about.

Liar's Kiss

Written by Eric Skillman
Art by Jhomar Soriano

While I would almost never sit down and read a 'noir' crime novel (there have been a few, but they tend to be more literary, like Seth Morgan's Homeboy), I often find myself drawn to noir comics, such as Criminal.  Way back on Boxing Day (I'm falling further and further behind with my graphic novel reading), I picked up this Top Shelf book for half price by two creators I was not familiar with simply because I liked the design of the cover (the lesson here?  when comics and graphic novels are cheap, people are more likely to take risks on a book on a whim - too bad people can't make a living off that).

Liar's Kiss stars Nick Archer as your typical layabout of a PI who fell into the job because he couldn't really think of anything else to do with his life.  He's not particularly good at his job, but he has managed to land himself a very rich client - Johnny Kincaid - who wants him to make sure that his younger, beautiful wife, is being faithful.  Kincaid regularly photographs Abbey Kincaid sitting around reading, to prove that she is staying at home all night while Kincaid sleeps.  What Kincaid doesn't know though, is that the PI and the woman stage the photos, and then go to Archer's place where they conduct an affair.

This whole set-up seems to be working well for Archer, until Abbey goes home one night to discover that her husband has been murdered.  She is immediately seen as a suspect, and when Archer's batch of photos get mailed by mistake, they both realize that he has more or less sealed the case against her.  From here, the story follows Archer's efforts to keep his lover out of prison, as he deals with suspicious cops and Kincaid's assistant, who has an agenda of her own, which leads back to the art gallery that Kincaid once owned, and the scandal that killed one man and sent another to prison.

The book has a nice pace to it, and a successful twist at the end that I did not see coming completely (there were some hints that something was up).  Skillman avoids the overblown narration of a Raymond Chandler novel, which is a nice change of pace for this type of book.  Jhomar Soriano, the artist, does a very nice job of telling the story, switching from his Eduardo Risso-esque pencils to a more fully rendered style for flashbacks.

This is an effective book from two creators I would be interested in reading more from.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Manhattan Projects #2

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

The second issue of Jonathan Hickman's new 'mad scientists of WWII' comic, The Manhattan Projects, upends some of the expectations I had for this series coming out of the first issue.  It seemed to be setting up a comic that was mostly about J. Robert Oppenheimer and his twin brother, and their involvement in the Manhattan Projects, plural; a wide-ranging scientific effort fronted by the quest for the atomic bomb.

This issue shows that Oppenheimer is only a small part of the operation, as the Americans try to recruit German rocket scientists to the cause, and we figure out that many other figures, including Richard Feynman, are going to be profiled and share the spotlight.  Also in this issue we are introduced to Wernher von Braun, a Nazi scientist who hung out with Hitler, and who has a gigantic robotic arm.

These scientists are all real people - I will admit that while I recognized some names, I have no knowledge of the history of 20th century science, and so am probably missing some pretty funny stuff.  I do enjoy seeing some lighthearted Hickman work, and am enjoying Pitarra's art.

It is difficult to predict where Hickman is going to be taking this series, but he is a comics writer who has gained my trust time and again, so I know enough to just sit back and enjoy this comic.  I definitely applaud the bold cover designs that he is using for this series - this issue really stood out on the stands.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lewis & Clark

by Nick Bertozzi

As much as I enjoy learning and reading about history, I am pretty ignorant of much of American history, mostly because I'm Canadian.  For example, I knew that Lewis and Clark were two guys who traveled to the West, and who made first contact with a number of Aboriginal nations, but I didn't know much more than that.  Enter Nick Bertozzi's graphic novel, which renders their story in a palatable package.

In Lewis & Clark, Bertozzi shows these two famous and revered explorers as real people, and while he condenses both their journey and much of the historical context that surrounds it, he manages to deliver a chronicle that captures the sheer difficulty of their mission, and the substances of their character.

Meriwether Lewis was selected by Thomas Jefferson to find a river route across the American continent to the Pacific.  Lewis chose as a partner his old friend William Clark, and after a lengthy period of procuring resources and men, they set off.  The land they traveled through belonged to a variety of Aboriginal nations, with their own political agendas and varying degrees of understanding the extent of America's intent to expand into their territory.  With the help of some guides and translators, including the famous Sacagewea, they eventually reached their goal and returned home.

The book shows many of their difficulties, not the least those caused by Lewis's disagreeable personality.  There are a number of scenes that do not portray him in a very positive light, although Clark, as the calmer, more thoughtful leader, comes off very well.

Bertozzi's made very good use of the larger, almost European-sized pages of this book to put together some expansive double-page spreads.  He often uses the space on the page to suggest the length of the explorers and their companions' trip, set against the imposing Rocky Mountains.

This book belongs alongside some of the more accomplished recent Canadian graphic novels The Klondike, Louis Riel, and Northwest Passage, all of which deal with the encroachment of European civilization on the continent's West, and which form the nucleus of a sub-genre of cartooning that I am enjoying a great deal and am happy to support.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Black Order Brigade

Written by Pierre Christin
Art by Enki Bilal

I don't read enough European graphic novels, so when I saw the chance to grab this one for a good price, I pounced on it.

The Black Order Brigade is a very odd project by North American standards.  To begin with, it's about a bunch of old people, and there are no pretty people in the comic whatsoever.  It also assumes that its reader has a knowledge of 20th century European history.  These two things together would really limit the interested readership on our side of the Atlantic Ocean.

This comic is about a group of former fighters who had joined the International Brigades that fought during the Spanish Civil War.  Our heroes had a group of ultra-right enemies, known as the Black Order Brigade.  When this book opens, in the 1970s, the members of the BOB came out of retirement to wipe out a small Spanish village which had been the scene of one of their battles back in the 30s.  From here, they proceed to move across Europe, taking out politicians they don't like, or attacking music festivals.

Pritchard, a former member of the International Brigades and a journalist now living in London recognizes the village massacre as the handiwork of his old enemies, so he sets out reuniting his former compatriots, who band together to wipe out the Black Order Brigade once and for all.  They set off after them, trudging through snow-filled mountain passes despite their advanced age and frequently ill health.

Soon, the good guys are being blamed for some of the BOB's actions, and with their numbers dwindling, they become more desperate to find their enemies.  There are some intense scenes in this comic, but for the most part, it's a slow-moving affair.  I loved the scenes set in Barcelona, a favourite city of mine.

Bilal is a very capable French artist, who does not shy away in the least from the depredations of age.  His characters are wrinkly and ugly, with oddly discoloured foreheads.  This Humanoids edition is published in the same size as the original French volume, which means that there is plenty of space for his art to breathe on the page.

Reading this, I couldn't help but think of the movie Red, had it been played seriously, instead of for laughs.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Thief of Thieves #3

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer have really been taking their time building up this new series.  From the first issue, it seemed that the story would simply be about a master thief who was looking to retire from his life of crime, and it looked like his colleagues weren't going to allow him to bow out.  The second issue introduced Redmond's ex-wife, and showed a slightly different side of him.

This issue turns things around a little further, as a couple of new characters are introduced.  At the beginning of the comic, Redmond wakes up to find a woman making him breakfast.  This is not a girlfriend or lover, but instead an FBI agent who has been pursuing Redmond for years.  They have an interesting, casual relationship considering how they know each other, and their conversation fills in a few more details about Redmond's life.  We learn that he has been living in a house that he bought fully furnished after a family died, and he has never removed their photos or personal effects.

This issue also establishes that the FBI agent has gotten herself in trouble a few times while pursuing Redmond.  This is not exactly a new approach to stories like this, but Kirkman and Spencer are adding a few new wrinkles in the way they tell the story.  The addition of Redmond's son into the mix will only continue to make things more interesting.

That said, I feel like this series needs to speed up a little, now that so many of these characters have been brought into the story. 

The Unwritten #36

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Rufus Dayglo

Every year since the twelth issue of this series, Mike Carey and Peter Gross have left Tom Taylor, to instead give us a story about Pauly Bruckner, a man who was cursed by Wilson Taylor into becoming a storybook rabbit.  First, he lived in a Beatrix Potter-inspired world, before escaping and finding himself on an endless staircase, leading a horde of other storybook animals on an endless quest to find his way home.  Now, another year has passed, and it's time to check in on Pauly again.

This time around, he has a new companion, The Tinker, the Golden Age superhero who is also Wilson Taylor's son, Miton.  Milton is trying to find his way into the land of the dead to look for the love of his life, but he and Pauly soon find themselves looking for safe haven from 'The Wave', a metaphysical thing that appears to be erasing fictional worlds and characters.  Early in the issue, the duo come across a stream of refugees, many of whom are recognizable as fictional, comics, and children's characters.  I recognized one of the Mr. Men, Omaha the Cat Dancer, and Pancho Sanchez, among others. 

These issues are usually very enjoyable, as Pauly is the worst type of person, but he has an ability to get others to believe in him.  This time around, Peter Gross is joined by Rufus Dayglo, who gives the book are more cartoon-ish feel.  It's good stuff.

Saga #2

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

Expectations going in to the second issue of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples's new on-going series were high after the near-perfection of the first issue.  I'm pleased to report that those expectations were more or less met.

This issue begins with The Will, the freelance bounty hunter hired by the Wreath to recover Hazel, the newborn child of our heroes Alana and Marko.  He knows that he's not the only hunter after them, but when he finds out that someone named The Stalk is on the job, he decides it's not worth his time, and departs. 

While this is going on, our heroes have been trudging through a very dense jungle on Cleave, looking for a fabled source of ships, so they can escape the planet that is currently a large battlezone for their opposite forces.  The jungle is full of dangers, from the Horrors who are reported to live there, to the aforementioned Stalk.

There is not so much world building in this issue, as Vaughan wisely chooses instead to let the plot move the comic forward for now.  He does give us plenty of chances to learn more about Marko and Alana however, as we see the depth of Marko's pacifistic convictions, and also the lengths to which Alana will go to protect her child.

Staples art is as incredible as it was in the first issue, and the book continues to be visually very inventive.  This series is excellent.

Northlanders #50

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Danijel Zezelj

The final story arc of Northlanders mirrored its demise as a series in many ways.  Over the last nine issues, Wood has told the story of the Hauksson clan in three-issue story arcs that have spanned hundreds of years of life in Iceland, from some of its earliest settlers to the end of its independence in the thirteenth century.

For this last third of his trilogy, Wood has focused on Oskar Hauksson, a man whose desire for glory in battle is out of place with the time he lives in, and the political climate of the day.  As such, his actions bring ruin to his family and their holdings, as the squabbling clans of Iceland are at least able to come together in their contempt of him and his actions.

With enemies and circumstance surrounding him, Oskar bows out quietly, much as this Vertigo series has.  Northlanders was one of the most unique comics Vertigo has ever published.  It's been a series of unrelated story arcs set in a variety of Northern European countries spread throughout many years.  Effectively, it was an impressionistic chronicle of Viking history, told through the lens of modern language and sensibilities.  It was never dull story-wise, and the rotating stable of some of the best Vertigo and independent artists in the business kept the book looking fresh and exciting month after month.

Of course, as it wasn't an example of superhero fan fiction, it didn't have much of a chance of a lengthy survival, because unfortunately, literary, beautiful, and occasionally challenging comics don't sell all that well these days (if they ever did).  Still, this is a project that Brian Wood can be very proud of, as should anyone who contributed to it.  I feel that I learned a lot from this comic, and I enjoyed it a great deal throughout its four years of publication.  I will definitely miss it.

Crate Digging: Blow Your Headphones

by The Herbaliser

It's been years since I've listened to Blow Your Headphones, the classic trip-hop album by UK group The Herbaliser.  This album came out in 1997, when I was deep into my electronica phase, but was beginning to get a little bored with the disembodied snatches of voice that floated through that soundscape, and began to crave something with a little more lyrical substance.

This album has four songs which featured the young American emcee What What, who later changed her name to Jean Grae.  These songs were what began to bring me back into hip-hop, after I had abandoned it in high school during the beginnings of gangsta raps ascendance.  The young and brassy Grae conveyed attitude, but also some lyrical playfulness, refusing to take herself all that seriously.

These tracks ('The Blend', 'Bring It', 'New + Improved', and the spoken word 'Hardcore') coupled with the instrumental hip-hop tracks like 'Another Mother', 'Ginger Jumps the Fence', and 'Shocker Zulu' made this album one that stayed in constant rotation for much of that year, eventually causing my co-workers at a retail store where we had a lot of freedom in our musical selection to get annoyed with me.

Listening to this today made me feel a good fifteen years younger, which was kind of nice.

Wasteland #36

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Justin Greenwood

While I'm still not over the excitement of being able to read Wasteland on a monthly basis again, I am beginning to feel that this current arc, set in the Cross Chains (aka Christian) town of Godsholm is beginning to run a little long.  Not much of consequence happens in this issue, although it is still a very good comic.

Father Affon, the leader of the town, and his head Templar, Rykerd, are searching for the missing outsiders, who are also this book's main characters.  They discover Michael, who has been torturing Gerr to learn the truth of his intentions, and attempt to kill them both.  They are interrupted by Abi, who has also found her way into the tunnels under the town.  The three escape and separate, but Michael and Gerr soon find themselves holed up in a home that has been surrounded by the townsfolk.

This is pretty much an all-action issue, and little else is revealed about the strange god-like figure who came through town a few issues ago, or about the mystery of Michael and Abi's abilities.

The 'Walking the Dust' prose page at the end of the book is as good as it always is.  I look forward to the next issue, which should bring some resolution to the Godsholm part of this story, and get our heroes out on the move again.

Saucer Country #2

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

I find myself much more intrigued this month with Saucer Country, which reads very smoothly.  Governor Arcadia Alvarado has just announced her intention to run for President of the United States, and then informed her closest adviser, and her recently-hired campaign manager that she believes the Earth is under threat of alien invasion.

Clearly, that announcement doesn't go over too well (especially with the Republican manager), but Arcadia calmly explains that she is not going to jeopardize her chances of gaining the office, and that she intends to use it to help combat the threat, but that she is going to keep that a secret.

All of this hinges on the events that took place just prior to the beginning of the first issue.  Arcadia and her ex-husband were in their car somewhere in the desert, but neither of them remembers what happened.  Arcadia visits a doctor, who confirms that she was anally raped, but she has no memory of it.  The ex goes to a hypno-therapist, who also turns up some interesting results.

Gaining prominence in this story is a Harvard professor who has been sanctioned for his unorthodox opinions on the topic of aliens.  Now, the Alvarado campaign is reaching out to him, although he doesn't yet know why.  Cornell is spending these first couple of issues getting his ducks in a row, and the intrigue is building palpably. 

I am also really liking Ryan Kelly's work on this book.  Arcadia must be a difficult character to draw - Kelly shows her as a confident and Presidential candidate, who is also dealing with a great amount of uncertainty in her life.  All of this comes across in the art, which is pretty amazing.

Glory #25

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

 This new, third issue of the relaunched Glory, came as a very nice surprise.  So far, the series has focused on Riley, a young girl who has always dreamt about the hero Glory.  Riley has traveled to a small island in France, and has finally met her hero, who has seen better days.  It's been made clear that Glory and her friend Gloria have some reason for reaching out to Riley, but none of that has been very clear until now.

This issue begins with Riley sleeping, and dreaming about something that is going to happen in five hundred years.  Usually, Riley dreams about Glory's past, so this is all a bit of a surprise to her, even before the shocking contents of that dream become apparent.  I don't want to give much away, except to say that the visual look of this issue is closer to that of Prophet, the best of the new Rob Liefeld-owned but not created comics that are hitting the stands. 

From this bleak vision of the future, we get a sense of where this title could be going, although we still don't really understand what role Riley has to play in things.  I was mostly enjoying this comic for its art, but now I'm finding myself getting more and more interested in the story as well.

It should go without saying that Ross Campbell outdoes himself on this issue.  Future Riley and Glory are very different from how they're being portrayed in the comic these days, yet they are still instantly recognizable.  He also does some terrific work on the backgrounds and strange creatures that populate them.  This is a very good comic, getting steadily better.

The Secret Service #1

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Dave Gibbons

I wasn't too sure what to expect when starting The Secret Service.  Mark Millar can't always be trusted as a writer - he often panders to the lowest element in comics fans, providing stories that are ultra-violent, puerile, or just kind of gross, but he can also bring out some thoughtful and original comics.

This issue opens with a group of terrorists holding Star Wars star Mark Hamill prisoner in a chalet in Switzerland.  We don't really know why they have him, but there are a lot of them, and they are well-armed.  Hamill is quickly rescued by a British Secret Service agent, whose lengthy escape sequence echoes the beginning of many a James Bond movie, although it ends in a very funny moment.

After that, the story shifts to a Council Estate in South London, where we meet a typical trashy British family.  The mother is getting grief from her new husband for flirting with his brother, and he then goes and gets his youngest child to roll a joint for him.  The woman's oldest son causes a bit of a scene before storming out and going for a joyride with his friends, which lands him in jail later.

The woman calls on her brother, who she believes is working in the Fraud Squad, but whom we learn is a Secret Service Agent, working this string of science fiction celebrity kidnappings (it's not just Hamill).  He takes some time off from his investigation to have a row with his sister at the police station, before deciding that perhaps he needs a larger role in his wayward nephew's life.

Millar fills this book with some strong character work, and resists the urge to portray the family as caricatures, providing the woman with some dignity, while still acknowledging the poverty of her situation.  It's clear that he's going to take the nephew under his wing, but how that is going to relate to the kidnappings remains to be seen.

Dave Gibbons's art makes this book.  He's never been a flashy artist, and his pencils look a little dated, but in a very classic way.  Having an artist of his calibre on this comic brings it much more respectability, and is good counter-programming to DC's upcoming Before Watchmen series.  It's hard to imagine this comic working with the types of artists that Millar usually collaborates with, like Leinil Francis Yu or Steve McNiven.  It just wouldn't work so well.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Secret #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Ryan Bodenheim

It seems like almost every week there is a new on-going or mini-series coming from Image that is of the highest degree of quality and ingenuity.  This week, the second of two new Jonathan Hickman-written series debuts, and it is a very cool book, harkening back to his first comic series, The Nightly News.

As Secret opens, a man is awoken from his sleep by a masked assailant, tied up, and tortured in order to learn his work computer's password.  His interrogator pulls out one of his teeth during their conversation.  Later, we learn that this man is the CEO of a large Washington accounting firm, and that his password gives him access to the financial secrets of many powerful people and corporations.

Scared, our executive goes to his lawyer, who is in turn able to put him in touch with the group that his firm uses for industrial espionage and security.  That group is run by Grant Miller, who proceeds to point out to the law firm, in the most arrogant way possible, the numerous gaps and weaknesses in their own security, in a bid to have them increase their use of his services.  Miller later meets with Dunn, our man from the beginning of the issue, and they outline a plan to capture or mislead the guy who attacked Dunn at his home.  Of course, there is more going on than either Dunn or his lawyer suspect, as Hickman begins to lay out just the beginning of what looks to be another multi-layered and complex story from the man who excels at these kinds of things.

At one point in the book, Miller tells the lawyers that, as 'nations are crumbling... soon all we will have left are the little tribes we call corporations."  In The Nightly News, Hickman explored people whose lives were hurt or ruined by the media; now we appear to be on the other side of the glass, as scared millionaires fight to hold on to their ill-gotten riches.  It's interesting, in the post-Occupy world, to find the 1% being portrayed as the more sympathetic characters, although I do find myself much more interested in the people who are working to ruin them.

Hickman is joined on this book by Ryan Bodenheim, the artist he worked with on A Red Mass For Mars.  This book is, by necessity, less visually gripping than that futuristic outer space story, but Bodenheim still does very well with the numerous talking-heads scenes that make up this comic, and balances them nicely with the terror of the home invasion.  The comic is coloured by Michael Garland, but I suspect that Hickman had a firm hand in the design of the comic, as most pages are monochromatic, or only have splashes of one colour.  This is a technique we often see in his independent books, and helps give them all a unified look, despite the fact that he works with a variety of artists.

I'm not sure if Secret is an on-going or a limited series (Image never seems to share that information these days), but I'll be with it for the long haul.  I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who is enjoying Thief of Thieves, as the two comics go well together.

Conan the Barbarian #3

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

There is a languorousness to this title that I really didn't expect.  When I think of Conan (despite not being very familiar with the character, having read only a handful of comics that feature him over the years), I always imagine large scale battles and things of that ilk.  This is basically a talking heads comic, and I found it pretty satisfying. 

Conan has found himself under the spell of Belit, the titular 'Queen of the Black Coast'.  Her men have killed all of Conan's new companions, and because she is attracted to him, Conan is spared.  He becomes her lover, which also makes him second in command of her vessel.  He spends some time talking to an old shaman, and with N'Gora the subchief of the boat.

All of this serves to help establish these characters, and why they go around pillaging and plundering other ships and small villages, but it is ultimately all talk (except for the steamy scene between Conan and his new woman).  It's an effective issue, but a strange conclusion to a story arc.

Of course, the biggest strength of this comic is Becky Cloonan's wonderful artwork.  I've long been a fan of her work, and I feel this is some of the best stuff she's ever produced.  It's a very lovely comic (especially that love scene).  Unfortunately, she will not be drawing the next three issues of this title, but James Harren, whose work on BPRD I've been enjoying, is going to be coming aboard, so hopefully things continue to run smoothly.

I never expected that I would be eagerly looking forward to new issues of a Conan comic, but Brian Wood is also not giving me the Conan comic I expected, so it's all working out rather nicely.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

America's Got Powers #1

Written by Jonathan Ross
Art by Bryan Hitch, Andrew Currie, and Paul Neary

The first issue of this six issue mini-series is probably the biggest debut of the week, and with the names attached to it, that comes as no surprise.  Jonathan Ross is famous for being on TV in England and wrote the very good comic Turf, and Bryan Hitch has become comic's go-to guy for widescreen, blockbuster series, like his work on The Authority and The Ultimates.

This series is an interesting pastiche of a variety of influences.  The most obvious one is contest shows like America's Got Talent and the Idol series.  There are also some very strong similarities to JMS's Rising Stars, Warren Ellis's aborted Newuniversal and his awesome Freakangels, as well as The Hunger Games.

In this series, the sudden arrival of an artifact in San Francisco seventeen years ago causes every pregnant woman in the Bay Area to suddenly give birth to a perfectly healthy child, who develops powers and abilities.  Somewhere along the way, these kids rioted, got put into camps, and then became the stars of the title TV show, which gives these teens the chance to compete for a spot on America's only superpowered team of heroes (why they want this, and what this team does is not established).  As you can imagine, this is a huge deal for a while, but like the Survivor series, attrition sets in, and eventually people stop watching.  Until someone gets hurt, and that gives the show's backers (who apparently include government officials) the idea of making things more violent and raising the stakes.

Our point of view character in this series is Tommy Watts, the only child born that day without abilities.  He has been given a menial job at the stadium where the competitions take place, and through the hubris of the show's new management team, is also given the chance to test his own heroism when the contest goes horribly wrong.

Ross has definitely toned down the exposition when compared to his work on Turf (which could be very dense in places), and paces the story nicely.  I like the way he establishes his backstory slowly, without tossing it at us in a page or two.  Hitch's work is definitely Hitch's work.  His signature widescreen layouts are used to full effect, and his usual ability to establish unique characters is used well.  Personally, I'm sick to death of his costume designs, but that's neither here nor there.

I'm definitely sticking with this series throughout.  I got to like Tommy, who has a habit of blowing off authority and responsibility, and I'm curious to see what Ross is going to do to differentiate this series from the myriad influences listed above.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 3

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

As impressed as I've been with Naoki Urasawa's Pluto, I think that Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is my favourite manga.  It doesn't really have any literary pretensions, but the sheer weirdness and inventiveness of this comic, coupled with its strong sense of character, has me coming back again and again.

The entire concept of the KCDS is that the five employees of the Service (six if you count the space alien that is channeled through a hand puppet) track down unclaimed and lost dead bodies, and work to fulfill the spirit trapped in the body's last wishes.  They do expect that at some point this business will begin to make money, but that hasn't happened yet.

In this volume, which has four chapters, there are three separate stories.  The first, and longest, involves transplant failure, and the wishes of necrotic donor organs.  Soon, the group discovers that many recent deaths are caused by acute rejection of organs that all came from the same donor, who was in turn an illegal immigrant from Iraq.  This story is set against the rather tepid anti-war protests that Japan was barely able to muster during the beginning of America's war in that country.  It contains some interesting insights into Japanese culture, and is also an interesting story.

The second story involves bodies that are being discovered in homes that have Onis, or demons, painted outside of them.  This leads to a rather complicated tale involving the Japanese salesman's version of hobo graffiti.  It's a strange story that doesn't hold up to its own internal logic, but it gets points for originality.

The final story is about a rash of train track suicides that seem to have a strange genesis.  The suicides don't plan to kill themselves, but are being influenced by an outside source that again shows that Otsuka is approaching his stories from a direction that is not often used.

This volume introduces a new recurring character to the series - Sasayama, a social worker that is apparently an ex-cop, although the main characters all believe he is yakuza.  This is a series that is always interesting, and works very well.