Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rasl #14

by Jeff Smith

At this late stage in the game, there is very little left to say about Jeff Smith's Rasl.  There is only one issue remaining in the series, and Smith is leaving a lot of ground for it to cover.

In this penultimate issue, we see the conclusion of the confrontation between Rasl and his enemies at the St. George's Array, and follow him to another reality, where he finally tells everything to Uma.  He's pursued by Sal, the lizard-faced guy, and stuff gets a little crazy.

As always, this is a very nice looking book, with a compelling story.  The frequent delays between issues have made it rather a challenge to keep up with some of the nuances in Smith's story, and I'm sure that this series will read much better in trade or in one large omnibus edition some day.  If you like comics that involve parallel universes, or you're interested in Nikola Tesla, this series is worth reading.

Motel Art Improvement Service

by Jason Little

Here's another example of an impulse purchase I made that I ended up being very happy with.  Motel Art Improvement Service is a collection of Jason Little's webcomic, and is a sequel of sorts to his Shutterbug Follies, which I've never read.

This book features Bee an eighteen year old who plans to spend her summer biking from New York to San Francisco.  She doesn't make it far before her bike is destroyed in an accident, and she finds herself holed up in a crappy motel trying to figure out what her next step should be.  At the motel, she meets Cyrus, an oddball outsider artist who enjoys 'improving' the crappy art that hangs in crappy motels by adding in whimsical or satirical touches while working at them as a housekeeper. 

The two hit the road together, and begin working at a large hotel near Newark Airport.  Bee discovers that Cyrus isn't just an artist, he's also a bit of a pill freak, and he constantly refreshes his supply by tossing the rooms he's supposed to be cleaning.  This leads to some problems when he interferes with a drug deal between a couple of young college kids and an angry over-sized meth head.

This comic is a quick and engaging read.  Bee is a fully realized character, although she is really the only one.  The plot moves along quickly, almost like a modern-day slapstick comedy in places (like when everyone chases each other around the central atrium of the hotel in Newark).  Little is able to slow down the pace in a number of places to share scenes of Bee's first time, and other character moments.

Reading this has left me wanting to get a copy of Shutterbug Follies, and that's the best praise an artist can ask for, right?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Li'l Depressed Boy #11

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace

Another month has gone by, and another new issue of LDB leaves me with the same concerns that I have every months.  This entire comic is made up of scenes of the LDB working at his new job at a movie theatre.  Each scene, taken on it's own, is quite serviceable.

LDB takes the trash to the garbage room and gets locked in.  One of his co-workers shows him how to slack off at emptying garbage cans.  Another co-worker engages in inane juvenile conversation with him about the deeper meaning of Fraggle Rock.  Later they have lunch, and more inane conversation.  LDB's manager is nice to him.  Struble and Grace do a good job of showing us what LDB's quotidian existence is like, and it's often pretty charming.

The problem is, after this long, I want more substance than just charm.  Reading this book is becoming a little too much like talking to an older high school or younger university student who are trying to show that they are 'individual'.  It's not just the fixation on bands no one's heard of, but also the way in which childish topics are trotted out as substitutes for real conversation.  It feels increasingly awkward to me.

I like this book, and want to continue liking this book, but I'm finding it frustrating more than it is beguiling.  As the book is hella behind (but catching up), I have a few more issues pre-ordered, so I'm going to stick with it for a while longer, but I'm going to stop adding new solicitations to my pull-file.  I'll have to see how I feel about the book in a few months.

The Sacrifice

by Bruce Mutard

I try to avoid making a lot of impulse buys when I go to TCAF, because I'm always afraid that if I go down that road, there's no turning back, but flipping through this album-sized 240 page graphic novel about Australia in the early days of the Second World War, priced at only $15, I couldn't resist.

I've been mildly interested in Australian history for a while now (just not enough to read that copy of The Fatal Shore that's been on my bookshelf for fifteen years), because as a Canadian, there are a lot of parallels to that country, although most of my study of that has been relegated to reading some Aboriginal literature, and enjoying Gallipoli every few years.  I thought it was time to learn a little about the Second War, and Mutard's book looked the way to do it.

The Sacrifice is the first of three graphic novels (this is the only one published) that follow Robert Wells through this difficult time period.  When the book opens, Wells is a manager at his uncle's plant, but he hangs out with a number of left-wing and Communist friends.  He has turned his back on the Catholic Church, but not completely, and he struggles with his faith and his political beliefs.  When a family of Austrian Catholic/Jewish refugees arrive in town, he becomes personally involved in their welfare, and especially the development of their young teenage daughter Mata.

I have to be honest here - the beginning of this book bored me to tears.  There are some incredibly wordy scenes set in coffee shops that are destroyed by stilted dialogue and an utter lack of forward momentum.  I think it took me two nights to read the first thirty pages, but I'm glad that I persevered with this book, because by the end of it, I was looking for the second volume on Amazon.

I think the problem with the beginning is that Mutard has a lot to set up - the socio-economic and political realities of pre-War Australia are essential to this book, as are the common attitudes towards leftist politics.  It was also important for Mutard to establish his characters, like Robert's Communist girlfriend, and his left-wing journalist buddy, as well as Robert's mother and brother, who have different views.  As the book progresses, I found myself increasingly drawn in to the plights of these characters, and how they differed in their reactions to the news that Australia has joined in the war.

Robert's older brother signs up almost immediately, while many of his friends look for ways to stay out of it.  Robert himself is deeply torn between his pacifist leanings and his desire to support his country and a cause he believes in.  Mutard makes his dilemma, and his eventual decision, very compelling reading.

Art-wise, Mutard reminds me a great deal of Jason Lutes.  He is an accomplished figure artist, and draws buildings and urban landscapes very well.  He also, wisely, avoids the standard tropes of this type of story.  When Robert is sent off to boot-camp, instead of giving us the long, drawn-out scenes we expect from this story development, he instead puts together a multi-page silent montage of images.  Similarly, when Robert, on leave, walks through his town, now filled with drunken American soldiers and the people looking to exploit them, the visuals are stunning in their depravity and dirtiness.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this comic is the relationship between Robert and Mata, who by the end of the book is not yet sixteen, but has become very wild.  There is a 'did they or didn't they?' question, and I'm not sure where things stand.

The Sacrifice is a deeply nuanced and sweeping book.  I don't know how easy it would be to find in stores (it's pretty easy on Amazon), but I recommend it.  Just grit your teeth and get through that first chunk.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ragemoor #3

Written by Jan Strnad
Art by Richard Corben

Well, this is one weird and creepy comic.  Strnad and Corben came out of nowhere with this haunted, sentient castle story, and have managed to keep what sounds like a great short story or done-in-one comic going as a four-issue mini-series quite nicely.

In this issue, Herbert, Master of Ragemoor, continues to care for the colony of baboons that live in the castle, and therefore doesn't notice that the poacher Tristano has been visiting Anoria, the beautiful woman being held at the castle as the object of Herbert's affections.  Broderick, the loyal manservant takes some strange hallucination-causing tea, and sees a vision of fighting golems, and Anoria makes plans to steal the mineral riches of the local countryside.

This book is unpredictable and strange, as every comic drawn by Richard Corben turns out to be.  There is a very memorable scene towards the end where Broderick examines his injured arm.  This comic appeals to a very niche audience, and while I wouldn't necessarily place myself in the middle of it, I am enjoying this book.

The Unwritten #37

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross

It's been a whole month since the last issue of The Unwritten was published, which is the longest we've had to wait for an issue for many months, as the bi-weekly run has come to its close.

Mike Carey advances his plot by a solid year since we last saw Tom or his friends (of whom only Richie shows up this month), and the world has changed a little.  To begin with, the Church of Tommy has grown a great deal, and has been linked with a number of disappearances in Australia.

We are introduced to Sandra Patterson, a Brisbane cop who is investigating the disappearances.  Her attempt to infiltrate the Church doesn't work, but we do get to see what goes on in their meetings.  We also know that Tom is due to arrive in Australia soon, so we can imagine where this is leading.

Patterson is an interesting new character.  It's made clear that she is of Aboriginal decent, and it is strongly suggested that she suffer from some form of dyslexia or other learning disability that impedes on her ability to complete all aspects of her job, although she is given a number of accommodations, causing some resentment among her fellow officers. 

This is a nice solid issue of a series that I find hard to predict, now that Tom has finished his war with the Cabal.  I am curious to see how the last year has changed Tom, and to find out why a certain vampire/reporter is seen visiting Madame Rausch...

Mind MGMT #1

by Matt Kindt

I've been anticipating this new series since I first heard about it, and Matt Kindt definitely does not disappoint with this debut issue that raises all sorts of interesting questions.

Mind MGMT opens with a dream sequence, which I feel is probably foreshadowing something, but it's not yet clear what that may be.  It then moves to a flashback set two years prior, where an aircraft full of people suddenly suffer almost total amnesia.  They are able to land the craft without incident, but the 120 people who come off the plane never regain any of their memories from before.

We then are introduced to our main character, Meru, a writer of true-crime books, who has not written anything for two years.  She is supposedly working on a book about the Amnesia Flight, and the mystery of Henry Lyme, a passenger who boarded the flight but was never seen again.  The thing is, Meru is broke, and her agent is running out of patience with her.  He does send her to Mexico to investigate something strange that is happening there that may or may not be related to the topic of her book, and that's where the comic takes another change.

You see, Kindt is a master of writing stories with an espionage angle, such as his terrific Super Spy and even his 3 Story, and with the inclusion of a sudden fight in a bar in Mexico, and the introduction of CIA Agent Falls, it's clear that this comic is going to move into that territory.

As to what Mind MGMT is, Kindt is keeping things pretty close to the vest right now.  There is a two page 'memo' from 1980 about a man named Duncan Jones who has the ability to predict the future, and a short strip on the inside covers about how a man named Leopold Lojka was able to use 'mind-managing' abilities to protect the Archduke Ferdinand from the Black Hand's first assassination attempt.  Kindt layers his story, and creates detailed back stories, and I can't wait to watch how all of this is going to unfold.

I really like Kindt's art, which is almost always displayed on yellowed pages.  His sense of design pervades this comic, right down to the fake ad on the back cover selling 'Mindjuice' gum which is apparently 1/6th of a puzzle that will unlock some on-line material after the first six issues of the series are published.

This is a very creative and unique new series, that really deserves to be checked out.  Also, look for the hilarious letter from a young Jeff Lemire on the letters page.  Highly recommended.

Fables #117

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

Take a moment to look at the cover of this month's issue of Fables.  It looks like a sophisticated, 'mature readers' comic, doesn't it?  Unfortunately, that's not what Fables has been for many months now.  This issue is spread rather thin, as we check in with the children of Bigby Wolf and Snow White in a couple of different situations, in the main story.

Therese is still the queen of some Toyland, but she's hungry and unhappy.  Her brother Dare has arrived to rescue her, and he discovers that his favourite toy is there to help him (and is huge and powerful).  It's not explained why his favourite toy would be in a place of discarded toys, but I guess it's all good.  He goes to get his sister, but gets attacked by the residents of the kingdom.

Meanwhile, in the Mundy, Bigby figures out that his kids have left the world, and a few of the Fables move into Castle Dark, which is the new Fabletown.  These couple of pages are the only part of the comic that grabbed my attention, and they were way too short. 

There's also three pages of silliness featuring Bufkin in Oz.  I wish that plot would just end - it's become very tedious.

I think this is the last issue of Fables that I have pre-ordered.  I may still pick up some of the future issues, to get to the end of this storyline, but I feel like my time with this book has come to a close.  The art in it is wonderful, but I'm just getting increasingly bored with Willingham's storylines, and I don't feel like he has a direction or plan for this series anymore.  I know it's Vertigo's sales juggernaut, but maybe it's time for this series to wind down, and for Willingham and Buckingham to work on something a little fresher...

Hero Comics 2012

Written by Kevin Eastman, Tom Ziuko, Chris Ryall, Russ Heath, Christian Gossett, Alan Kupperberg, Richard Starkings, Robert Washington
Art by Kevin Eastman, Gerry Acerno, Ashley Wood, Russ Heath, Christian Gossett, Alan Kupperberg, Dave Sim, Chris Ivy

There is a different expectation when reviewing or discussing a book like Hero Comics.  To begin with, the comic is an anthology produced to funnel profits to the Hero Initiative, a fund that helps ailing and destitute comics creators who are in financial need.  The work they do is essential - these writers and artists are freelancers who have contributed to an art form that does not provide a pension or, frequently, gratitude for a life of service to a product that we all love.

The collection of work in books like this, then, is a hodge-podge of work by creators who are donating their time.  Usually, there are some cool and special things in these books for true comics fans.

This issue opens with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story by Kevin Eastman.  I've never been a Turtles fan, but this is a nice story.  There is also a collection of Zombies Vs. Robots strips, which did very little for me.

What had me most excited here was the fact that there is a new The Red Star story by that comic's creator, Christian Gossett.  I love the Red Star, and have been missing it.  Gossett gives us a story about soldiers fighting in Al'Istaan, and the comic is clearly a metaphor for America's current involvement in Afghanistan (the rest of the series can be read as an examination of the Soviet Union's Afghan policies, albeit with science fiction flying crafts and magic).  Gossett doesn't use any of the digital tricks he usually employs, but I still got a thrill out of reading this.

Dave Sims draws an Elephantmen story here too.  This is a matching of artist and story that I can't believe hasn't happened before now, as I can't think of a better artist for this.  The story is wordy and doesn't go anywhere, but it looks incredibly cool.

There are also a number of one-page strips spotlighting creators who have had to turn to the Hero Initiative for help.  They include comics legend Russ Heath, which just feels wrong to me.  Also included here are Tom Ziuko, Alan Kupperberg, and Robert Washington.

This is the type of comic that everyone should be buying, as it goes to a good cause.  If you felt even a little bit of outrage about the Avengers/Jack Kirby thing, you should go buy this comic, just to balance out your karma a little.

Dark Horse Presents #12

Written by John Layman, John Arcudi, Carla Speed McNeil, Steve Niles, Evan Dorkin, Tim Seeley, Francesco Francavilla, Dean Motter, Mike Baron, Harlan Ellison, and Mike Russell
Art by Sam Kieth, Jonathan Case, Carla Speed McNeil, Christopher Mitten, Evan Dorkin, Victor Drujiniu, Francisco Francavilla, Dean Motter, Steve Rude, Richard Corben, Mike Russell, and Geof Darrow

A few new serials begin with this issue of Dark Horse Presents, which is always a good thing, as it shows that this title is constantly evolving and trying new things, or as is more the case with this issue, returning to its roots.

One of the new series is Mister X, Dean Motter's classic examination of the effect of architecture on weak minds, set in a Deco-styled environment.  I've been a fan of this series for a long time, so it's very nice to see it come back, even if this first installment is mostly just set-up for a new story involving the kidnapping of an heir to a pyschotropic pharmaceutical empire.

We also see the return of Aliens to DHP.  This property is one of the ones that Dark Horse made its name by publishing back in the day, but this first chapter didn't do much for me.  John Layman's writing was fine (if miles away from the tone he uses on Chew), but Sam Kieth couldn't make up his mind between drawing beautiful and detailed images (the first three pages) or aping Kyle Baker at his worst (the rest of it).

Also showing up for the first time in many years is Mike Baron and Steve Rude's Nexus, which I've never read before now.  I wasn't too impressed, really.  This reads like an Adam Strange story, and while Rude's art is always lovely, I wouldn't pursue this story into its own title.

There is also a prose story by Harlan Ellison, with a couple of illustrations by Richard Corben.  I've always admired Ellison more in terms of reputation than his actual writing, and this story did not hold my interests.  Likewise, I had to give up on Evan Dorkin's story about zombie cosplayers, which was way too wordy for me.

The new chapter of Finder, however, was brilliant once again.  Carla Speed McNeil has Jaeger examining the region called Third World, and this leads to some interesting conversations about class distinction, 'First World' ego, and the place of nomadic tribes like the Ascians in the world.  I miss her detailed footnotes, but am extremely happy whenever another chapter of Finder shows up.

I also enjoyed the new chapters of Francavilla's Black Beetle and Seeley and Drujiniu's The Occultist.  Arcudi and Case's The Creep was also very good.  The Criminal Macabre story held my interests more than it usually does too.

In all, another successful issue for this meaty anthology comic.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Prophet #25

Written by Brandon Graham with Giannis Milonogiannis and Simon Roy, and Frank Teran
Art by Giannis Milonogiannis and Frank Teran

Prophet continues to be one of the most creative and original comics on the stand, but I am happy to see that this issue ends in such a way as to suggest that something different is going to begin happening sometime soon.

Since the series was relaunched (after being abandoned for some fifteen years), it's been hard to predict.  The first three issues involved John Prophet reawakening on Earth after thousands of years of change, with a mission he had to complete.  Then, there was a done-in-one issue that involved a different, tailed, John Prophet waking up on a spaceship, having to complete a mission.

Now, with this issue, three different Johns (none named Prophet) are on an alien world, hunting a living tool-creature (it's not all that clear).  The story is very similar to last month's except now there's more than one protagonist, and an ending that does lead me to believe that this series will acknowledge it's god-awful roots in the 90s.  Brandon Graham (and his collaborators) continue to write this book in a Heavy Metal style, which is sometimes confusing, but also gripping.

This issue's artist, Giannis Milonogiannis, is new to me, but he's the perfect choice if the intent was to find someone who can bridge and blend the previous artists Simon Roy and Farel Dalrymple's styles. Frank Teran's back-up series Initiate continues, and it's interesting and pretty, even if not a whole lot makes sense.

I feel like it's time for Graham to start tightening up his plans for this series, but I am enjoying this series a great deal.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Chew #26

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

You know the drill by now - a new issue of Chew comes out, and it's excellent.  One could almost get bored of the whole thing, except that this book is never boring, and constantly moves in different directions, to keep things fresh, and to move forward Layman's large story - the new story arc that begins (and ends?) here, 'Space Cakes', is the one that marks the middle of the series, story arc wise, if not in terms of issue numbers.

This issue stars Toni Chu, Tony's twin sister.  She works for NASA, and has some food-related powers, like her brother.  She is asked by her older brother Chow to help him stop a rival chef from destroying a pile of very special paintings, but things are not all that they seem.

Layman has a lot more going on in this issue than just that.  We get a glimpse of Toni's relationship with her boss at NASA (including a splash page that seems very familiar), and check in on Tony in the hospital.  Once again, artist Rob Guillory impresses me with his art, and the numerous humorous signs he posts all over his backgrounds.

Chew is a great comic.  I'm a little miffed at having to skip the next issue (which was curiously already published a while back in an odd little gimmick), as I would have thought that the creators would have jumped straight to issue 28, instead of reprinting issue 27.  It's hard to wait a month for each new issue of Chew - it's even more difficult when the wait is going to longer.

Resident Alien #1

Written by Peter Hogan
Art by Steve Parkhouse

It kind of feels like Dark Horse is the new Vertigo, as they are beginning to take chances on new, off-beat series with a more adult feel to them, kind of like many of the mini-series that DC's imprint used to publish ten years ago or so.

Resident Alien is a good little series.  This first issue can not be read without first reading either the stories that were published in Dark Horse Presents, or the '0' issue that reprinted them last month.  The book is set in the small town of Patience, where the local doctor has been murdered.  The town does host a retired doctor, who is pushed into service examining the body, and then taking over the deceased's practice until a replacement can be found.

The thing is, the retired doctor, Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle, is actually an alien from another planet, who crashed onto Earth years ago, and is trying to just live a quiet life.  His abilities to subtly influence the minds of others mean that no one else can see him for who he really is, although it appears that is presence gives one of the nurses a headache.

There are some standard small-town mystery things going on in this issue.  There is a suspect, who was known to have stolen drugs from the dead doctor, and who is being charged with his murder, despite his claims of innocence.  There is also suspicion that the doctor's death was not an isolated incident, but is in fact part of a pattern of unexplained deaths.

Peter Hogan fills this comic with strong character work, and Steve Parkhouse, as always, turns in some very nice art.  This is not likely to become anyone's favourite comic, but it is a well-crafted and drawn story, that is doing some interesting things with some conventional ideas.  It's worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Elephantmen #39

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medellin

I don't remember when any one issue of Elephantmen seemed so consequential, and final, as Richard Starkings wraps up a number of long-running plotlines, and sets up some new story potential for future issues.

The identity of the killer who has been wearing the deceased Elephantman Tusk's skull was revealed last issue, and revealed, the killer has no choice but to go after her original target - Obadiah Horn, who is in his private terrarium, enjoying some private time with his wife Sahara.  Hip Flask and Ebony Hide race to the terrarium to help them, and there is a big stand-off.

This is an exciting issue, but Starkings never forgets to fill each page with smaller character moments.  I love the fact that, as they race to the tower, Ebony begins to suffer flashbacks to his recent experimentation with the drug Mirror, which means that he spends part of the issue picturing everything as if it were a Conan comic.  It's a good way to add humour to an otherwise very momentous scene.

Axel Medellin's art continues to blow me away, and he does a terrific job of balancing all the characters and events he has to draw in this comic.  Once again, Elephantmen has slipped from its monthly schedule, but when we are delivered an extra-sized comic of this level of quality, there should be no one complaining about waiting a little longer.  This is a great issue, and I look forward to seeing where Starkings and company take things next.

Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka Vol. 8

by Naoki Urasawa, with Takashi Nagasaki, after Osamu Tezuka

It's taken me a little while, but I've finally worked my way through Naoki Urasawa's classic manga series Pluto, which he modeled on an Atom (in America, Astro Boy) story by Osamu Tezuka.  Urasawa has expanded on, and I imagine, improved upon the original story.

This final volume is all about wrapping up the action that has carried the various characters through the series, and about revealing some of the secrets that have been hinted at since the beginning.

When this book opens, things don't look so good for the good guys.  Bora and Pluto, two enormously powerful robots with evil intentions (and very complicated senses of themselves) are poised to destroy the Earth, and it looks like Atom may be the only robot left who can stop them.  The problem is, Atom is filled with hate and anger.

There is a lot of stuff here about the ability of robots to feel, and it gets a little heavy-handed in places, but when read within the context of the entire series, it's necessary in order to complete the character arc that Urasawa intended for them.  The story wraps up very neatly (it's really hard to talk about this without spoiling things), and there are lots of examples of how great an artist Urasawa is.

This series is highly recommended, even to people who are not fans of manga.  I feel like this is my gateway series, and now I'm interested in checking out Urasawa's 20th Century Boys...

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wholphin No. 13

Edited by Brent Hoff

I've really fallen behind in watching these Wholphin's lately (I blame it on getting a PVR for my TV, and discovering some high quality late-night reruns and some wonderfully low quality bad reality shows).

Anyway, this thirteenth edition of Wholphin has the second dramatic turn of young actor Alejandro Polanco, in 'Mosquito'.  Polanco caught my eye in the wonderful movie Chop Shop, and it's very nice to see him again.  In Mosquito he plays a teen in New York in the 70s, who is stuck somewhere between playing with the little kids and avoiding the older ones.  He's awkward and fanciful, and really doesn't fit in, but has an inner strength.  Jeremy Engle's short is the best thing on this disc.

'Successful Alcoholics' is a very funny short film directed by Jordon Vogt-Roberts, and co-written by co-star TJ Miller.  As the title suggests, this is a comedy about two high functioning alcoholics, who drink to escape the tedium of their lives together.  It's fantastic.

The French and Hungarian co-production 'The History of Aviation' is spell-binding.  Director Balint Kenyeres sets up these long set-pieces in this period piece about a group of upper class people enjoying a picnic on some cliffs, until a little girl goes missing.  This looks like it was a very expensive short.

'Crossbow' is an Australian short by David Michod about a teenager who has horrid parents, and who one day decides to carry a crossbow outside when police are called to break up the parents' party, with predictable results.  The narration in this film is great.

'N Me for Myself', a Greek short, is very interesting.  It's about the challenges faced by a man with only one arm.  'Arsy-Versy' is an odd documentary about a Slovakian man who studies bats for a hobby, and is a true eccentric.

Dash Shaw provides an animated series of shorts called 'The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century AD', a surrealistic look at the future, and the future of art modeling.  The biggest laugh on this disc comes from 'Delmar Builds a Machine', but I can't discuss why without spoiling it.

In all, another very good outing from the fine people at Wholphin.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Grendel Classics #1 & 2

by Matt Wagner, with Bernie Mireault

These two comics were published by Dark Horse in 1995, but they reprint four earlier Grendel comics from 1988.  I've been in a Grendel mood of late, and have been looking to fill in some of the gaps in my collection (truthfully, those gaps are more like chasms).

These two issues are terrific.  They both feature stories being narrated by the cop with the metal eye (can't remember his name right now), and they both recount stories from the Hunter Rose days.  With both stories, Wagner indulged himself in some experimentation with layout and storytelling, which make these incredibly dense and meaty stories.

The first, Devil Tracks, is told almost entirely in a twenty-five panel grid.  Yes, twenty-five tiny pictures per page, with a text box under each one made up of the dialogue.  The story is a classic police procedural about some shady doings in the diamond industry.  A wealthy family looks to be smuggling diamonds and trying to game the system a little.  A police lieutenant figures out something is going on when he overhears his captain accept a bribe in a washroom (a recurring theme between these two stories), and begins investigating.  Eventually, this all leads to a confrontation between Grendel and Argent, the werewolf who works with the police, where the tight grid breaks down.  It's a very good story.

The second tale, Devil Eyes involve a professional snitch who is fed bad information about a hit that Grendel is about to perform.  It turns out he was setting up Argent to look bad, and after everything is said and done, Tommy the snitch is sure that his life is going to end.  He holes up in his apartment, and descends into madness.  For this story, Wagner uses long thin panels (about 5 or 6 per page), above which are stage directions or the actual comics script describing what each panel would show.  Below that is Tommy's running monologue.  I found this story wasn't as effective as the first, but still very good.

I really wish that Wagner would return to his Grendel universe, and tell some more, non-Hunter Rose stories, as there is so much depth to his creation.

Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City

by Guy Delisle

Guy Delisle has made a name for himself by traveling to parts of the world where people suffer under oppressive regimes, and then cartooning about it in a style that is often both sympathetic and critical at the same time.  His first book, Pyongyang, had him stationed for a while in the capital of North Korea, and sharing his observations and musings with us in his disarming, chummy style.  It worked well, as did his later forays to China (Shenzhen), and Burma.

Now, with this work, he turns his eye to Israel, after he and his wife lived for a year in Jerusalem.  Delisle's wife works with Médecins Sans Frontières, and joined their mission to Palestine in 2010.  They stayed in an apartment owned by MSF in East Jerusalem, right across from an Israeli settlement.

What makes Delisle's travel memoirs work so well is that he portrays himself as entering a country with no real preconceptions or specific expectations, and he actually does allow events and the people he meets to dictate his feelings about a place.  Early on, the family (they have two young children with them) is encouraged to avoid shopping in the settlements, as spending money there lends them a sense of legitimacy, and all of the settlements are illegal, if openly permitted.

As the year unfolds, Delisle spends a lot of time traveling the small country looking for good places to sketch (there are a lot of drawings of the Wall between the West Bank and the rest of the country), trying to see all of the historical and religious sites (with varying degrees of success), and meeting people on all sides of the conflict.

Clearly, the Palestinians come out of this book looking the best, but it would be hard to have it any other way.  The settlers are portrayed (accurately, from all other accounts I have read) as racist aggressors and insane fundamentalists, who are seen as an embarrassment to the rest of Israeli society. 

It's hard to read this book without gaining a sense of anger at the injustice of Israel's policies, and also a curiosity as to why the rest of the world is so permitting of the crimes permitted by the state.  There are a lot of books on this topic, but Delisle's is effortlessly accessible and frequently quite funny.  It's a nice comics companion to Sara Glidden's How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, which Vertigo published last year.

Once again, Delisle has succeeded at showing the world a system and a place where people suffer great hardships, although here it is not so much at the whim of a hard-line regime (although it is) but also at the hands of individuals who have been given too great a sense of entitlement and empowerment.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Sixth Gun #22

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

After last month's silent issue, Cullen Bunn slows things down a little this month, as Becky and Drake continue their escape from the Knights of Solomon.  Drake gets his shot at revenge on the Knight that has been torturing him for the last couple of issues, but he is chilled by some of the implications of what he has learned while in captivity.

Last month there was a large image in the Knights' library of what looked to be a soldier.  This issue, Bunn suggests that that was an image of Drake himself, as we also receive some hints as to the reality-altering abilities of the six guns when brought together.

This has been a terrific series since its inception, and it seems that it's not slowing down at all.  There is a bit of a surprise at the end of the issue, and the cover of the next promises the return of a character we haven't seen in a while.  I'm not sure how long Bunn and Hurtt intend for this series to run, but it feels like they are moving towards some bigger things.  Personally, I hope that there is a nice long run to come, as I really enjoy my monthly dose of Hurtt's excellent artwork.

The Secret Service #2

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Dave Gibbons

Mark Millar's newest Millarworld title is holding up surprisingly well.  In this second issue, super spy Jack London has decided to recruit his screw-up of a nephew Gary into the British Secret Service.  The moments between these two family members are handled remarkably well, as Millar explores the class conflict that has always existed in English society, and how it rears its head whenever someone tries to better themselves.

This all happens against the backdrop of a growing, if vague, threat.  Someone is still kidnapping science fiction movie and TV stars (last issue had a cameo by Mark Hamil), and in this issue, they use some kind of mind control device on a mass wedding, turning it into a massacre.

There are few Millar-ian flourishes in this book, except for the graphic nature of the wedding scene, and the description of the sexual training that young Gary will experience in spy school.  I think that perhaps working with Dave Gibbons is causing Millar to rein it in a little, as he crafts a story that fits Gibbons's strengths perfectly.

Saga #3

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

Vaughan and Staples's new series Saga is one of the most exciting books to be published this year, and that's saying quite a lot, as the competition among new, creator-owned comics has been pretty fierce lately.

Much of the first two issues was given over to developing the universe of Marko and Alana, two lovers from opposite sides in a long-running war, and their relationship with one another, as they attempt to use a map to get themselves off the planet Cleave.  They had a run in with the freelancer The Stalk, who fled at the appearance of The Horrors, indigenous nasties.

As it turns out, the Horrors are really just ghosts of natives who have died on Cleave, and who stick around to protect it from outsiders.  One of these Horrors is a young woman named Izabel, who reminds me in many ways of Molly Hayes, a character Vaughan created for the Marvel series Runaways (maybe it's just the hat). 

Anyway, in order to perform a spell to heal himself from his wounds, Marko needs snow.  Izabel is willing to help Alana get some, but in return she wants to bond with newborn Hazel, so she will be able to leave the planet with the young family.  While all this is going on, we check in with another freelancer, The Will, and with Prince Robot IV, who is searching for Alana.

This series is an excellent read, and Staples's art is phenomenal.  I don't know if I like the ghost element, mostly because Izabel is dressed and speaks as if she came from our world, and I don't really like that blending taking place in fantasy and science fiction stories that take place in their own universes.  That's probably just me being picky though, because this comic is amazing.

The Secret History of DB Cooper #3

by Brian Churilla

I don't know if anyone would have predicted that one of the comic book trends of 2012 would be to appropriate real historical figures and events, and incorporate them into wonderfully wild and imaginative comics that seem to lack any pretense to following the rules of reality.  We see it in Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra's wonderful Manhattan Projects, and also in Brian Churilla's The Secret History of DB Cooper.

Churilla has taken the mysterious airplane hijacker of the 1970s and turned him into a CIA assassin who stalks his prey remotely through The Glut, a psychic world populated by monsters.  In this issue, we learn a lot more about Cooper's family, his abilities, and the Soviet reaction to his successful string of sixty killings. 

Churilla traffics in weirdness in this issue, as Cooper's hated fellow agent tries to get his project shut down just when Cooper feels close to finding his missing daughter in The Glut.  We also start to see the effect that his missions are having on his physical body, something that was not supposed to be taking place.  We also learn that the Soviets have an agent searching The Glut for Cooper, casting more suspicion on the loveable red teddy bear who is his companion in that strange world.

Churilla is really going nuts on the art in this series.  Always inventive, he gives us a monster this issue that looks like an upside-down woman, with a mouth where her genitalia would be.  I found it an immensely disturbing (and funny) image.  This is a great series, and I hope that anyone reading The Manhattan Projects is also checking this out.

The Manhattan Projects #3

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

I guess if you're going to have a comic about the hidden scientific projects that received funding from the real Manhattan Project, it's probably best to drop the bomb at some point, and that's exactly what Jonathan Hickman does in this issue.

This comic has been laying the groundwork for Hickman's large-scale vision of scientific mayhem, but with this issue, much of it comes together into a cohesive whole.  The issue opens with Richard Feynman approaching Albert Einstein for advice on which delivery system to use for the atomic bomb (build both, says Albert), and then follows through Hickman's interpretation of the bombing, with a few forays into theology and governance.

Hickman is clearly having a great time writing this book, using real-life members of the Manhattan Project to his own ends.  We learn in this issue that scientist Harry Daghlian didn't die when exposed to high amounts of radiation, but instead became an undead living skeleton in a containment suit.  Hickman also hints in the back of the book that Italian scientist Enrico Fermi is not actually human.

Most amusingly, we are shown a scene where Harry Truman is presiding over a particularly bloody Freemason ritual when he learns that Franklin Delano Roosevelt has died, making him the president of the United States.  Of course, Roosevelt's body is being hooked up to a machine in the Manhattan Projects, so that he can continue to live.

Hickman has conflated Roosevelt's death with the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, events that took place almost four months apart in real life, which adds a lot more dramatic tension to the comic.  I'm really enjoying this book, which has excellent art by Nick Pitarra that still reminds me a little of Rick Geary's work.  I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for something a little different.

NoYork!

by Blu

So, after years of releasing albums on his own, or on independent labels, Blu finally drops a major-label album, and it has poorer distribution than anything else he's done.  I haven't been able to find this album on sale anywhere in Toronto, and instead had to mail-order it from the US (I am not a downloader).  When I get the album, it's in a cardboard sleeve with no name, credits, or track listing.  The picture shown to the right shows the four different packages that this disc comes packaged in one of.

Anyway, who cares about all that stuff, because it's all about the music, right?  Blu has been on my radar since Below the Heavens, his excellent debut with producer Exile.  This is easily the most solid release he's had since then.

There are a few sides of Blu.  We get the young rapper who likes to brag about his early exploits - sexual and otherwise, but we also get a more thoughtful, contemplative artist (like on 'Spring Winter Summer Fall').  He has a great voice, and a nice laid-back flow.

The production on this album is wonderful.  Blu works with Madlib, Flying Lotus, Shafiq Husayn, Samiyam, Dibia$e, Exile, and Knxwledge.  I think he produces a couple of tracks himself too - there are some with credits missing on the album's Wikipedia page.  He is joined by Edan, Jack Davey, Sa-Ra, U-God, Tiombe Lockhart, and a number of other singers and rappers I'm not that familiar with.

This is easily one of the best hip-hop albums I've heard lately, from an artist who is maturing nicely into a unique and consistent voice. It's well worth getting if you can find a copy (it's not available on Amazon).

Glory #26

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

Things are ramping up in Glory, which has spent a few issues reintroducing the Rob Liefeld-created characters, making her interesting and more than a Wonder Woman knock-off.  We learned that Glory was hurt quite badly, and has been convalescing on a remote French island, where she is attended by a former ally (in a Rick Jones/Captain Marvel kind of way).  We also met Riley, a young woman who is destined to help her (although we learned last issue that she shouldn't probably do that - it's going to end badly).

This issue, the long reach of Glory's father is felt, as a strange looking creature confirms her presence on the island.  We are also introduced to a strange-looking creature named Henry, who is an ally of Glory's.

I'm enjoying the writing on this book, but really, it is Ross Campbell's art that makes this series such a winner.  He's always been just about the best artist for drawing realistic-looking women, but I love what he's doing with the more fantastical elements of this series.  Also, how wonderful is that cover?

BPRD Hell on Earth: The Devil's Engine #1

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Tyler Crook

The Mike Mignola brand has been practically flooding the market lately, with at least three mini-series going at any one time.  As Hellboy, Mignola's central (although not best) book is on hiatus for a while, he's been running two concurrent BPRD series for the last few months.

This may be bad for my financial situation, but it has been good in that it has allowed Mignola and his co-writers (John Arcudi seems to work on the 'main' book, while Scott Allie writes the more peripheral one) the chance to examine different aspects of the post-Apocalyptic 'Hell on Earth', and spotlight characters that don't often get much screen time.

This new three-parter, 'The Devil's Engine' is focused on Andrew Devon, the BPRD agent who has been most critical of the organization, and who more or less betrayed Abe Sapien a while back.  Devon's been sent to recover the girl Fenix, who we first saw a little while ago leading a ragtag band of 20-somethings across America based on her poorly explained predictions or feelings about the future.

In this issue, Fenix and Devon plan on boarding a train to take them to Colorado, although that goes against Fenix's sense of danger.  There is also a scene involving the Zinco Corporation, where dastardly things are afoot. 

Not a whole lot happens in this issue, but it's nice to see Tyler Crook, who has drawn a couple BPRD mini-series, back drawing again.  He was originally announced as Guy Davis's replacement on this title, but I guess that was before the powers that be decided to expand the line, necessitating a rotating stable of artists.  He's very good, as is this comic.

Saucer Country #3

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

With this third issue of Saucer Country, writer Paul Cornell more or less shifts the tone of the series from what that seemed rather personal and small, to one that could become much more sweeping and epic.  Prior to this issue, we knew that Governor and Presidential candidate Alvarado believes that her and her ex-husband were abducted by aliens, who at the least probed them.  It appeared that the book was going to follow the Governor's candidacy, and how the people around her were going to react to her belief in this rather shocking thing.

In this issue, the Governor barely appears (and her first name is not even mentioned).  Instead, we follow the supporting cast around, as we learn that belief in abductions, at least in New Mexico, is much more common than anywhere else in the US, and that is probably because it's a pretty common occurrence.  Or, if not that, something else strange is happening in that state.

This issue gives a lot more play to Professor Kidd, whom Harvard has suspended.  He's gone to work for the Governor's campaign, and spends much of the book discussing the 'mythology' of alien visits.  His absence at Harvard has been noticed by a group of rich abduction enthusiasts called the Bluebird Group, who I imagine we'll be seeing a lot more of.  Also, Alvarado's ex continues his hypno-therapy with an analyst who also seems quite knowledgeable about abductions, and the involvement of giant rabbits in the abductee's memories of the event.

This is a very intriguing book, and it looks like it's going to have enough going on that it will be able to fill in some of the gap being caused by so many of Vertigo's best books having ended recently (DMZ, Northlanders) or ending soon (Scalped, iZombie).  With Ryan Kelly drawing it, I'd be happily reading it even if the writing wasn't this good.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Activity #6

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Marc Laming

The Activity has come under a lot of criticism for its lack of character development and a long-term plot, but I am really enjoying this military series which works in a 'done-in-one' format.

This issue is set in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003, and features only one member of the regular cast - the character we've come to know as Fiddler.  She is part of an Army Civil Affairs unit that has been tasked with making contact with a group of Congolese fighters that are enemies of some warlord named Dugare, to share information and coordinate some further action. 

Leslie (who became Fiddler upon joining Team Omaha) discovers that the guy her four-man unit is meeting with has actually allied himself with Dugare, and the Americans are soon pursued as they move towards their exfil site. 

This is a pretty standard story, but it works very well as an exciting war comic.  Is there more going on here than what we see?  I'm not sure - I though that in the last issue the team was being sent to DR Congo, so perhaps the fall-out of this mission will affect the team in the future, but the next issue box says something about Kazakhstan (where they have to assassinate Borat?), so I don't know when or if we'll be returning to this setting.

The art in this issue is provided by guest artist Marc Laming, who as been impressing me on Exile on the Planet of the Apes.  I'm not sure where Mitch Gerads went - this is a creator owned book, so it's odd to see a guest artist, but it's all good, as Laming's art fits with the look Gerads has crafted, and he's a very good artist.  I do want to say that I don't like the digitally added rain effect that is used throughout the comic - for a while I thought that there was perhaps a printing error in my copy, especially since none of the characters look like they are getting wet.

Conan the Barbarian #4

Written by Brian Wood
Art by James Harren

This is the first issue of the latest Conan series to not be drawn by Becky Cloonan, who is a big part of the appeal for me of this particular title.  I am also a big fan of Brian Wood's writing (and art, but when's the last time we got to see that?), so I wasn't about to drop the title; I did wonder how much my enjoyment of the series would change though.

Luckily, James Harren is an incredible artist in his own right.  I've been enjoying his work on BPRD (especially on the latest mini-series The Long Death ), but I feel like he's been cut loose on this series.  His double-page spread of the city of Argos is amazing, as are many individual panels throughout the comic.

Conan and his new partner Belit, the pirate queen, decide to seek revenge on Argos, a city where Conan was incarcerated when this series began.  The plan to turn Conan over to the authorities, received the bounty for him, and while his is imprisoned awaiting his certain execution, they would rob the city, and make plans to free him.  Of course, plans don't always work out the way they are intended, and so they all have to improvise.

Wood does a great job of portraying Conan as wracked with doubt, as he lies in his cell.  I'm not all that familiar with the character, but there is definitely more depth to him in this series than I would have expected.  It's good stuff, even without Becky Cloonan.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dancer #1

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Nic Klein

I didn't quite know what to expect when I picked up this comic.  I know that I've enjoyed Nathan Edmondson's writing on series like Who Is Jake Ellis?, The Light, and The Activity, and that Nic Klein's work on Viking blew me away, and that was enough to guarantee this comic would be purchased.  I don't really read solicitation information or previews of comics I know I'm going to buy, preferring to be surprised, but I'd decided that this comic was going to be about a ballerina who was also a spy, government agent, or assassin.  It's not that much of a stretch really - wasn't the Black Widow a ballerina at one point or another?

Anyway, that's not the case here.  The story is about a ballerina, but it's her boyfriend who is really at the centre of the story.  When the comic opens (after a bloody prelude set in Brazil), our Irish dancer is leaving rehearsal with her American boyfriend, and they go out for coffee in Milan.  The man decides that something is going on, and gets the girl moving, before they are accosted by some men in suits.

As it turns out, this guy used to do some work for the CIA, and now it looks like he's been burned, or is wanted for some other reason.  There's not a lot of exposition, and the book reads like a cross between Jake Ellis and the Wildstorm series Garrison (that's as close as I'll get to a spoiler).  This issue ends quite abruptly, and feels like it was written as a graphic novel and not as a series.

Klein's art is pretty nice, but he doesn't mix up his style like he did in Viking, which is a shame.  I'm interested enough to check out another issue (actually, I've preordered the next two), but I'm not exactly blown out of the water here.  The book is very familiar, and I would have preferred to see something a little more original.

Scalped #58

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

Jason Aaron is determined to make sure that nobody comes out of this series, which has two issues remaining, in a good place.  For a while there, it looked like he may have been planning a nice, happy ending for many of his characters - Dash was going to restart life on the reservation, and Lincoln was going to find his redemption through prison.

Now, with this issue, Lincoln is a free man again, after questions about Dash's killing of Diesel make the press.  Dash himself is on the run, hiding from the police and FBI, and pursuing Catcher.

Dash and Lincoln have a late night meeting at Dash's mother's grave, and resentment and anger boils over, leading to a massive shootout.  Elsewhere on the res, Dino Poor Bear asserts his own leadership over Lincoln's former foot soldiers. 

This series continues to be a gripping and nuanced read, as it moves towards its big conclusion.  I am going to really miss this book and these characters after it concludes.

Mondo #2

by Ted McKeever

People read comics because of the sheer potential of the medium for telling stories, despite the fact that fewer creators begin to even scratch at the surface of what can be done with matched words and pictures.  Not Ted McKeever though - he's able to tap into a level of comics goodness that few can ever hope to achieve.

Mondo is pure comics.  The story doesn't make a lot of sense, but each and every scene in this issue is incredible when read in its own right.  The series is two-thirds finished, and I don't feel like I have a clue as to what is going on, but I'm loving this book.

Much of the issue is given over to the series's star, Catfish, who has been mutated in a radioactive chicken factory accident into a hulking man.  He's being pursued by a giant chicken (a six-foot cock, says the newsman, smirking).  Also, there is a satellite set to crash to the Earth near Venice Beach, which is being dismantled and excavated by the mayor, who believes that there is a giant Ferris wheel buried beneath its sands.  Also, a newsreporter basically loses it on air, adding some very colourful commentary to his telemprompted recitation of the day's events.  As well, there's a girl on rollerskates who doesn't like themed diners (or giant apes).

McKeever's often been very improvisational in his work (read META 4), but seems to be moving into a new area of stream of conscious comics making.  His art is horrendously beautiful, as always, and his writing continues to challenge and entertain.  You don't need to understand a McKeever comic to enjoy it, and therein lies his genius.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

99 Days

Written by Matteo Casali
Art by Kristian Donaldson

I read 99 Days, one of the Vertigo Crime graphic novels in two sittings, and something strange occurred overnight with this book.  When I read the first 75 pages or so, I felt that writer Matteo Casali was simply going through the motions of touching on any number of standard plot points in a police procedural, or a piece of fiction touching on the Rwandan genocide.  I wasn't that impressed with the book.

Then, I picked it up to finish the last hundred pages, and found that either my mood changed my perception of the book, or that I had put it down in exactly the spot where Casali turned the book around into something that attempted to grapple with some very important issues.  I found that I became pretty immersed in the book from that point on, and it stayed with me the rest of the evening after I finished it.  That's kind of rare.

This story is set in Los Angeles in 2010.  A young woman has been discovered in a South Central neighbourhood hacked to death with a machete.  Two LAPD detectives, Antoine Boyd and Valeria Torres have been assigned to the case, which quickly spirals out of their control.  When it is learned that the victim was the ex-girlfriend of a leader of the LA Crips, who had since been dating a Blood, a gang war sparks off.  While all of this is going on, someone keeps killing people with his machete.

This could have stayed a pretty conventional police procedural at this point, but we readers learn (as, eventually, does his partner) that Boyd was an orphan of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.  More than that, he was a participant, forced at the age of twelve to kill Tutsi's (despite the fact that his closest friend was one) and perform other degrading acts.  Years later, after much therapy, Boyd has his life together, despite having to take medication to aid his moods, and being generally regarded as a 'quota hire' by his colleagues.

Needless to say, this case is bringing up some issues for Boyd, and the way in which he reacts to it was not what I expected.  Casali does a good job of twisting the plot in a few directions over the course of this story.

What I most appreciated were the parallels between Rwanda and LA.  Sure, the '99 days' bit is a little too obvious, but what I most liked was the American shock radio jockey whose reports on the gang war echoed the open encouragement and incitement of genocide that set things off in Kigali.  Casali has clearly done a ton of research in writing this book, and that's always appreciated, especially since I've done my own reading on this topic (Note:  read Philip Gourevitch's We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda; it's incredible).

Kristian Donaldson's work on this book is also interesting.  He isn't given the space and freedom to go wild, as he did in Brian Wood's Supermarket, instead keeping his pencils tight and in line with the rest of the Vertigo Crime books.  My favourite scene in the book has to be all Donaldson though - Boyd frequently sees the shade of his childhood friend out of the corner of his eye - in this one place, what he thought was his friend was really a Shepard Fairey Obey poster.  It's a cool, if throwaway, moment.

This is one of the best of the Vertigo Crime books, an imprint that seems to have disappeared, as I don't think any new books have been published in this line in quite a while.  They frequently disappointed, but I had the feeling that Vertigo was finally starting to get the mix right on these books.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lost Dogs

by Jeff Lemire

In Timothy Callahan's introduction to this new edition of Jeff Lemire's first published graphic novel, Lost Dogs, he talks about how when he saw the first edition at MoCCA just after it came out, he almost passed on it due to the roughness of Lemire's art.  This reminded me of a time a few years back, right before Sweet Tooth began, but after I'd read the Essex County books, when I was in a complete hole in the basement comic book store (we've all spent too much time in places like that) in Toronto's north end, looking for some back issues.  They had a copy of Lost Dogs, I think priced at $10, but for some reason I don't recall, I didn't buy it.  Reading today that there was only a 700-copy press run for that book (it won a Xeric grant), I definitely regret not picking it up.

Anyway, thanks to Top Shelf, the chance to read the book, now with legible lettering, has come around again.  Lost Dogs is a pretty rough piece of work, but it's not hard to see the seed of Lemire's later brilliance in this very heart-felt graphic novel.

The book is about a gentle giant of a man who wears a red and white striped shirt, set some time in the late 19th or early 20th century.  He lives in a rural setting with his wife and daughter, and shortly after the book opens, they take a trip into a big city.  When the daughter begs to look at the boats in the harbor, the family is attacked by ruffians.  The man tries to fight back, but is overwhelmed and dumped in the water.  Later, he is found by some fisherman, and through a strange course of events, he ends up being used in some bare-fist boxing match to defeat the unstoppable Walleye Thompson.

As I said, the book, and Lemire's art, are both very rough.  Lemire slops ink all over the place, and that creates a very distinct look for this comic.  Some of his panels and figures are awkward, but his better pages look very much like what we are used to seeing from him today.  I enjoyed this book as a piece of comic book archaeology, and as the only published piece of work by a creator that I admire a great deal that I have not read yet.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes

by Michael Cho

The first time I ever attended the Toronto Comics Art Festival was the last year that it was held at Victoria College, on the University of Toronto campus.  While looking around for comics to buy, I came across Michael Cho's table, and was blown away by the prints he had made of some of his drawings and paintings of back alleys of Toronto.  I bought two, and they have been hanging in my house ever since.

Now, Drawn & Quarterly has published Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes, a collection of Cho's urban scenes, which means I get to own all of these fantastic pieces of art, at an affordable price.

I have always been drawn to quiet or forgotten urban settings.  I have long been fascinated by abandoned buildings or spaces where progress has marched on.  The back alleys of Cho's book are neither forgotten nor abandoned, but they often feel like they are.  The areas that he draws and paints are frequently shabby and devoid of human presence, just back walls, fences, and detritus.  There is a timeless quality to many of his pieces here, and save for the proliferation of satellite dishes and large plastic garbage and recycling bins, they could have been drawn at any point in the last hundred years.  These are the old neighbourhoods of Toronto that Cho captures here, and his record is appreciated in a city that is so determined to constantly reinvent itself.

These pictures were made using a variety of tools, from paints to ink markers, and they are largely organized by time of year and colour scheme.  His evening pictures perfectly capture the orangey-yellow of life under mercury vapor street lights, while his winter scenes, tinted blue, evoke the cold of a Toronto winter (okay, not lately).  Spring is filled with greens, while his autumn pictures are more reddish and yellow.

Every page of this book feels familiar, although there are few scenes I can identify with any certainty.  Cho has captured aspects of my city that I love, and I am certain that this is a book I am going to treasure.  It is a beautifully designed book, and I'm pleased that Drawn & Quarterly put this together for us.

Strangers in Paradise Pocket Book Vol. 4

by Terry Moore, with Jimmy Palmiotti

I think it's time for me to take a little break from Terry Moore's award-winning and famous series for a little while.  I do find myself completely enthralled in the lives and tribulations of Francine, Katchoo, and all their friends, but I'm also finding reading these thick books so close to one another to be a little exhausting.

In the first three volumes, each of which contain some seventeen comics, there have been complete story arcs, which have always involved Katina Choovanski's past rearing up to haunt her, and to drag her and her will-she or won't-she best friend and wannabe lover into a maelstrom of violence.  In this fourth volume, that doesn't really happen.  Instead, Francine gets engaged, becomes pregnant, breaks off her engagement, returns to Katchoo, they fight, Francine goes back to Brad, and the whole cycle keeps repeating itself.

I feel like perhaps,that Moore was starting to cast about for some new ideas to keep the series alive.  We have a number of new characters (a psychiatrist, a rape victim, an FBI Agent digging into Katchoo's past), and old characters gaining new prominence, as Casey becomes close to Katchoo, and Tambi becomes close to David, for a little while at least.  We meet a couple more of the Parker Girls, deadly assassins and former operatives of Darcey Parker, Katchoo's old boss.

Moore also plays around a little more than usual with time, and tries his hand at some metatextuality, such as in the scene where Francine's grown daughter tries to sell the manuscript of her gigantic novel, which is basically a text version of this comic, and which asks some questions about how much of this comic is really taking place.  Actually, I found that kind of annoying, as it was abandoned almost immediately.

Still, strange tricks and circular plotting aside, this is an endlessly engaging and readable comic.  I look forward to reading the next two volumes, but I do need a bit of a break.

Mind the Gap #1

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback

I wasn't sure if this new series was for me or not, but I'm always willing to sample an extra-sized first issue when it's released at a regular price, so I gave this a try.

Jim McCann's Mind the Gap is definitely different, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to read it a second time to figure out some of the nuances of this comic, but it has me pretty intrigued right now.  The book opens with a series of phone calls, as friends and family of Ellis Peterssen, an actress (I assume) and beautiful young woman suffers some sort of attack at a subway station.  She is taken to a hospital, where she is in a coma.

There's a lot more going on than just that though.  It's clear that the attack on Ellis was planned, and is part of some larger group of events that have been set into motion.  A number of the people standing vigil around Ellis's bedside appear suspicious.  Her brother is a jerk, and really, so is her boyfriend.  There is a dust-up between two doctors over Ellis's treatment, and what information is being kept in her file compared to what is on her chart.

Oh yah, and Ellis is kind of hovering over her body watching the whole thing; at least she is until she meets another phantom, who is also in a coma somewhere, and is there to school Ellis on the whole situation.

There's a lot happening in this comic, and its structure makes me think of the more recent vogue in television dramas of embracing weirdness and portioning out information over a long period of time (Lost being the best example).  In a lot of ways, this feels as much like a TV pilot as it does the beginning of a comics series, but I'm okay with that.

Rodin Esquero's art is lovely.  He's best known for his covers on the brilliant Morning Glories (which, in terms of tone, is similar to this book), and he does a good job with the various emotions that Ellis's circle feels while standing at her bed.  I'm definitely going to be getting the next issue of this.

Wasteland #37

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Justin Greenwood

Wasteland is really finding its feet again after its long hiatus and recent return with a new artist who is keeping the book on a monthly schedule.  For the last few issues, our heroes Michael and Abi, and their companion Gerr have been in some trouble in the Crossed Chains (read that as Christian) town of Godsholm.  Now, with the two men surrounded, Abi is confronting the leadership of the town, and a good number of its citizens while holding an open flame to their Bible.  Needless to say, she gets their attention...

Johnston uses this issue to show the lasting changes wrought in Godsholm by the main characters' appearance in the town, and returns the trio to the road.  The thing is, both Abi and Michael know that Gerr, who saved them from the Dog Tribe, is actually in the employ of Marcus, the insane ruler of Newbegin, where most of this series took place.

Two things have made this comic work over the years:  the depth and detail of Johnston's world-building, and his strength in constructing strong characters.  This issue balanced both nicely, and has me excited to see where the wanderers are headed next.

The Walking Dead #97

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

The newest arc in comics success story The Walking Dead begins with an issue that spotlights many of this series's strengths.  The book opens in the Community, where people are holding a Sunday church service.  There are prayers for the safe return of Rick and his group, who we later see coming home after their time at the Hilltop over the last few issues.

They are soon approached by some of Negan's men.  Negan is the leader of a group that calls itself the Saviors, and who we learned last month are more or less holding the Hilltop community hostage, extorting them for food and trade goods.  Of course, people who cross Rick don't last long, and the seeds of the next big conflict are sown.

Once Rick's group returns home, the book gets back to what it does best - having people go about the business of surviving.  Plans are made to prepare for conflict with Negan, and we learn that one of the cast members is pregnant.  Also, Rick and Andrea inch ever closer to one another, and Abraham starts to chafe under the perception that he is now subordinate to Rick.

What always makes this book work so well is the balance between plot and character, and the way in which Kirkman doesn't let things slow down for long.  Of most possible importance here is the observation that some of the walkers are looking more decayed, and that Carl's memory is returning to him.  This is great stuff as always, and as we approach the 100th issue, I find myself beginning to feel a little dread, as we all know that Kirkman likes to kill off main characters in landmark issues.

Thief of Thieves #4

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

With each new issue of Thief of Thieves, Kirkman and Spencer have been revealing a new side to Redmond, the series's titular character.  The first issue introduced him and his assistant, and the idea that he was ready to retire.  The second issue let us meet his ex-wife.  The third focused on the police detective who has been tracking him for years, while this latest issue is centred on his son, who looks just like him.

It seems that Augustus has followed in his father's footsteps, only without any of his innate skills and talents.  Augustus is in custody awaiting trial, and if convicted, will fall under a 'three strikes' rule, thereby placing him in prison for a very long time.  Knowing this, the cop (or is she FBI?  she's not identified in this issue and I forget) is trying to get information from him, but for now, he's standing firm.

This is a very well-plotted book, as the final pages loop back the beginning of the first issue.  I think that all the set-up is finished with now, and expect that we are going to find the book moving quicker from this point out.  I like that Kirkman and Spencer have taken their time to build this series, but I think it's time for a little more to start happening.  Still, with all this excellent Shawn Martinbrough art to look at, I'm fine with whatever pace they choose to set.

Mystery in Space #1

Written by Duane Swierczynski, Andy Diggle, Ming Doyle, Ann Nocenti, Nnedi Okorafor, Steve Orlando, Robert Rodi, Kevin McCarthy, and Michael Allred
Art by Ramon Bachs, Davide Gianfelice, Ming Doyle, Fred Harper, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Francesco Trifogli, Sebastian Fiumara, Kyle Baker, and Michael Allred

There's nothing quite like a good anthology book, as I attest with each new issue of Dark Horse Presents.  Lately, Vertigo has also entered the anthology business, putting out a one-shot every quarter or so.  This one uses a space and science fiction theme, and it contains some very good stories, and some I could have done without.

What first struck me about this book is that it is largely made by people who I either don't associate with Veritgo comics (Duane Swierczynski, Ramon Bachs, and Kyle Baker), or by people that I am completely unfamiliar with (Nnedi Okorafor, Steve Orlando, Kevin McCarthy, Fred Harper, and Francesco Trifogli).

There are a couple of themes that keep being revisited in this book, such as a future where people lack control over their lives and actions, and stories that involve people not perceiving things properly.  These are good stories, and they are all told quickly.

I did have trouble getting through Okorafor and Kaluta's story about a carnivorous jungle (although it was lovely), and McCarthy and Baker's story of two cultures discovering a powerful new substance.  It was kind of tedious, and Baker drew it in the cartoon style of his that I don't actually enjoy.

I found that I most enjoyed Diggle and Gianfelice's story about revolution, Doyle's tale of love and
suspended animation, and Rodi and Fiumara's tale of love in a space junkyard.

Orlando and Trifogli's story about centaurs and self-determination was one of the most interesting, but also a little hard to follow.  I would like to see more of Trifogli's art.  I look forward to Vertigo doing another book like this soon, but would like to see a little more variety in terms of themes.