Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wholphin No. 14

Edited by Brent Hoff

I'd fallen behind on Wholphin lately, and I don't even know why, because each disc is full of great shorts.

The strongest piece in this edition is Pioneer, directed by David Lowery and starring Will Oldham, as the father of a young boy who asks to be told the story of his missing mother.  Oldham's story is beyond incredible, involving many fantastical elements that are too horrifying to be told to a young child trying to sleep.  The long, quiet shots are full of menace, but also a certain sweetness.

Chicken Heads, directed by Bassam Jarbawi, is another strong short.  It's set in Palestine, and shows the stresses of living there on a sheep farmer and his two sons.  The story doesn't address the troubles, giving us instead a story about an ibis that gores the family's prize sheep, which is the youngest son's fault, but they are lurking in the background throughout.

Soft, directed by Simon Ellis, is yet another strong short, showing the actions of a father and his teenage son when they are targeted by a group of British thugs.  These two films go well together.

In Quadrangle, director Amy Grappell examines the polyamorous love square that her parents found themselves living in back in the 60s.  This is a pretty powerful piece, made more interesting by running both of her parents' accounts simultaneously on a split screen.

I Am A Girl! is a Dutch film about a young transsexual that explores the topic in a very straight-forward manner.  Feeder is a very short piece that was filmed from the back of a man's throat while he eats, drinks, smokes, and makes out with someone.  Don't watch it while eating.  Styrofoam shows a woman tying a prodigious amount of Styrofoam to her bike before riding away to recycle it in China.  It's kind of incredible.

Inside Report From Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Evacuation Zone straight terrified me, as two journalists drove into the excluded area, and their Geiger counters kept raising.

As always, something for everyone on a Wholphin disc.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Taddle Creek No. 28

Edited by Conan Tobias

From the very nice Ethan Rilly cover through to Dave Lapp's visit to the Toronto Humane Society comic strip at the end, this is a quality issue of Taddle Creek, my favourite Toronto-centric literary magazine.  Which actually makes it my favourite Canadian literary magazine.  Although, in the interest of fair disclosure, the only other Canadian magazine I read is Spacing, and while it's great, it's not the least bit literary...

Anyway, this issue opens with a strong story by Stuart Ross about a man who wakes up while on a family trip to Black Creek Pioneer Village to find the place completely abandoned.  I haven't been to Black Creek in probably 25 years, but much of it came back to me while reading this story, and it reminds me that this is probably not somewhere I want to go.  That is one of the better features of good literature.

Kevin Chong's story 'Professions' is the strongest in the magazine.  Julian is a young lawyer who accompanies his fiancee to a ski chalet with her family, a group of upper class liberals, with whom he has no end of problems.  I love the scene where the brother takes Julian to task for having an iPhone, and then whips out his clunky FairSmart, the phone "made in Denmark from recycled materials by an industrial design collective with the help of at-risk youth and sex workers leaving the trade who are paid a living wage."  Brilliant stuff.

Sara Heinonen contributes a story about teens on the verge of going off to university that helps show the effect of underemployed parenting on the next generation, and Stacey May Fowles writes a strong story about dangerous flirtation at a cocktail party.  There is also a tough little comic strip by Nina Bunjevac about the politics of lesbian friendship and depression.

The magazine also has a nice little piece about author Lauren Kirshner, and another on the fading villages of Digby Neck in Nova Scotia.  There is an article about the changes in TTC street signage, and about an artists collective that decorated phone booths in the city to make an artistic point.  My favourite non-fiction piece in this issue is Sarah Gilbert's short article about attempting to access the beautiful art deco restaurant in Montreal's Eaton's store that has been boarded up for years.

In all, another very good issue of a very good magazine.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Flight of Angels

Written by Holly Black, Louise Hawes, Bill Willingham, Alisa Kwitney, and Todd Mitchell
Conceived and Illustrated by Rebecca Guay

I think I need to preface any discussion of this book with the honest admission that I know that I am not the target audience for a graphic novel such as this.  I love the fact that comics are appealing to ever more diverse groups of people, and niche audiences.  I enjoy a variety of those genres and sub-categories, but need to be perhaps a little more careful in recognizing when a book is not for me.  The thing is, I've enjoyed Rebecca Guay's art since she took over on the short-lived Black Orchid Vertigo series many years ago.

A Flight of Angels is the right book to give someone (not to pigeonhole too much, but someone female most likely) who misses Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, or Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges's House of Mystery.  This book opens with a variety of faerie creatures gathering in the woods around the still-living body of an angel.  The reason why the angel has fallen, and whether or not that falling represents his having "fallen", the quotations signifying great Biblical meaning, takes up much of the framing story.

One of the faerie, an exiled courtier with a fondness for dalliances with courtesans, suggests that they hold a tribunal, which seems to consist of each fair creature telling a different story about angels, which they do.  How this serves as judgment, and why the youngest of the group acts as he does, is never quite made clear.

The stories are generally well-written.  In putting together this book, Guay has gathered five writers for the different stories.  I'm only familiar with two of them - Bill Willingham, best known for Fables, and Alisa Kwitney, who I remember as having attempted to stretch out the Sandman property after Gaiman left with the Dreaming series (which I never read) and a couple of companion books.  The others are either young adult or fantasy writers.  The stories shift in time and place, from a modern, big-city set story about an angel who fails at all tasks given him to stories set in the Jewish Russian countryside.  Louise Hawes alternate telling of the story of the Garden of Eden is probably the best in the book.

Guay's art is spectacular.  She makes changes to her style in approaching each of the different stories, painting some, while drawing others.  Her work really is the main reason why someone would want to read this book, and in that area, she doesn't disappoint.

I'm underwhelmed by this book though.  Partly, it's because I don't share in or care about the mystical view of angels that I feel has become such an American thing in the last twenty years.  These are (aside from in Willingham's story) the types of angels one would find if Harlequin had an angel series (which, for all I know, they do).  This book borrows a great deal from Gaiman, without reaching his level of planning and insight.  It's not horrible, but it's definitely not for me.

McSweeney's 40

Edited by Dave Eggers

The latest edition of McSweeney's (which comes packaged with a book about Rwanda, which I haven't read yet) is book-ended by pieces that examine two separate recent occurrences of mass protest and uprising.  The book opens (after the usual Letters section) with a piece on Occupy Wall Street, and ends with a collection of writings from Egypt's great uprising of 2011.

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh's 'Notes From a Bystander' was as much about his difficult relationship with his father, an old-school Socialist, as it was about the Occupy Movement, and that's what made the piece work.  Sayrafiezadeh is not like the youth who started camping out in Zucotti Park last summer - he was born and raised in the Socialist movement, and has reached a level of exhaustion with political protest, which makes him an interesting commentator for such a singular moment.  It was nice to see the events near Wall Street from such a rare perspective.

From there, this volume moves into a series of short stories.  David Vann gives us an interesting and amusing look at a dysfunctional family in 'All Together Here' while Kevin Moffett tells us a story about two sisters who live in a secluded cabin in the woods, editing and embellishing wedding videos, and playing host to random men who stay with them for a while.

Etgar Keret contributes 'A Good One', a strange story about a man travelling to New York to pitch an idea for a board game, who gets so wrapped up in a dream he had before leaving home, that he is not able to behave as he usually would.  Keret is, through his stories in McSweeney's (not to mention his excellent graphic novel Pizzeria Kamikaze), becoming one of my favourite authors.

I was a little surprised to see that Neil Gaiman had contributed a very short story to this book in 'Adventure Story', a nice little piece about a son helping his aging mother clean out his father's affects, who finds a statue of great significance to a hidden Mayan people.  This story has more than a little touch of the Borgesian about it, which is always appreciated.

Adam Levin has a long story in here, which comes from his new book Hot Pink.  It's about a man who discovers a strange crack in his bedroom wall one day.  The wall is oozing out a sort of gel, and over a period of months, the man becomes obsessed with this, to the point where he feeds some of the gel to his dog to learn if it is poisonous, and begins to ignore all of his familial obligations.  It's good stuff.

The book ends with a large collection of writing from the Egyptian Revolution, as compiled by Noor Elashi and Daniel Gumbiner.  Most of these pieces are taken from the Internet, and contain a variety of op ed articles, newspaper columns and articles, blog posts, and memoirs from the days of Tahrir Square and the months afterwards, as the failures of the people left in charge of the country became more apparent.  Like the work done through McSweeney's Voice of Witness oral history books, there is an immediacy to these writings which help to convey the heady days of revolution.  This is an essential collection for historians who will be studying this unprecedented time.

In all, a very good McSweeney's, but when are they not?

Friday, July 27, 2012

The New Deadwardians #5

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

I continue to be very impressed with the way in which Dan Abnett has crafted this mini-series.  It's a murder mystery set in an England where the upper class have all become 'Young', or vampires, broadening the inequality that has always been so ingrained in British society.  A large number of Brits have become 'Restless' (what we would call zombies), and the 'Bright', or regular people, live confined in districts that are not always safe.

Our hero, Chief Inspector Suttle is investigating the first case of murder of a Young - Lord Hinchcliffe was found with his afterlife terminated through a method different from the standard three.  In this issue, Suttle arrives at the Hinchliffe's estate, Cadley House, to meet with his family and further investigate what has happened.

Hinchcliffe's family is rather interesting.  The son, and new Lord, is a bit of a hedonist, while the wife is typical Young - rather unconcerned about the whole thing.  Hinchcliffe's daughter gives Abnett the opportunity to explore gender politics in this strange world.  It seems that it is much harder for women, especially unmarried women, to receive the Cure and become Young.  Lady Celia is a suffragette, whose slogan is 'throats for women'.

Suttle is also given some new information about the interesting symbol that was found on Hinchcliffe.  It's all over the estate, and also on the pocket watch of Lord Falconbridge, a senior government minister, who is there to help the family through their predicament, and to send Suttle on some false leads it seems.

I really like the way that Abnett is taking a typical British mystery story and shifting it into this strange world.  He follows many of the conventions of this genre, but also manages to upend them for his own purposes.  Culbard's art is perfect for this project, and I would like to see him do more after this series ends.  I think he'd be a good artist to add to the BPRD stable.

Prophet #27

Written by Brandon Graham with Giannis Milonogiannis and Simon Roy
Art by Giannis Milogiannis

Since being relaunched a few months ago, Brandon Graham has given us a number of short stories featuring characters that are related to the old Rob Liefeld property John Prophet.  Most of those stories have been about clones, and their tales have taken us all over a distant future populated with bizarre creatures and inexplicable social structures.  Each issue as been fantastic - a blend of strange science fiction, strong narration, and wonderful art by a variety of artists.  A couple issues back, the original Prophet appeared, and now with this issue, we are following him on his journey.

When the book opens, Prophet is travelling on a space worm, waiting for it to take him to his destination - a pod-world populated by giant tree-like creatures called the Kinniaa.  He is looking for his former companion in war, Hiyonhoiagn.  It takes a while to find him, but when he does, the tree has kept some of his former possessions, including an arm that used to belong to Diehard, the Youngblood android.  Next, Prophet and Hiyonhoiagn go looking for a spaceship to help them find the rest of Diehard, but they are attacked by space-sharks.

There is a dream-like quality that permeates every page of this series, as Graham takes his time making clear just what this series is about, and just what is going on.  I find that I'm not too concerned with the overarching plot of this series; I'm perfectly happy to watch Prophet or one of his clones be put through the strange and wonderful worlds that Graham keeps creating.  I do get the sense that all of the various characters we've me so far are going to collide with one another somewhere down the road, but for now, I'm just enjoying the journey.

Milonogiannis's art is definitely growing on me, and that's good, as it's beginning to look like he's the regular artist on this series.  It must be difficult to come on to a book that has already featured artists like Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, and Graham himself, but Milogiannis has a style that meshes well with these other artists, and which seems capable of clearly depicting some very wild things.  I believe that the first trade of the new Prophet is coming out next month, and I cannot stress enough how much I think anyone who enjoys intelligent, odd-ball comics or science fiction should check this out, as should anyone who wants to read something original with beautiful art.

Spaceman #8

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

Leave it to Brian Azzarello to give us the first instance of crowd-sourcing software being used to pay a ransom.  The thugs who have Tara - a star of a reality TV webcast about adopted children and their celebrity adoptive parents - use a Kickstarter-like program to ask the show's audience to pay for her safe return.  Of course, in Azzarello's post-environmental collapse future, much like in our own time, people would probably rather see her die, and would prefer not to pay too much for their entertainment.

What the thugs who have her don't know is that various groups are descending upon them.  Orson, her former protector, and the titular Spaceman (a genetically modified human) is now working with fellow Spaceman Carter to get her back, although which of them would get her at that point hasn't been decided yet.  As well, the producers of the TV show, now working uneasily with the police, are also on their way.

Azzarello ups the tension throughout the issue, which makes a lot of sense, as it all ends next month.  I've really enjoyed the way Azzarello has played with language and slang in this comic, but he has also managed to create a number of characters whose stories I feel invested in.  Risso, as always, is brilliant. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Manhattan Projects #5

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

What I like most about The Manhattan Projects is that there really is no telling what each new issue is going to contain.  The covers (which I love for their simplicity and unique graphic design) give away nothing about the content of the book, and Hickman has been playing with peoples' expectations since the first issue.

This month's issue returns to the meeting in Los Alamos between Manhattan Projects director General Groves and the alien ambassador of the Siill.  That meeting takes a turn to the violent, thanks to Dr. Oppenheimer, but because of his peculiar methods of gaining intelligence, we are soon treated to an explanation of the cosmic balance of power in the Milky Way and beyond (complete with a two-page map that must have been designed by Hickman). 

It seems that the Siill have recognized the value of the device that Einstein has created, which they call a Pulling Way, and now they are likely to return to Earth to get it.  This leads the Projects to act proactively, and send a group through the device to the Siill homeworld.  That's when things start to get really interesting.

With this issue, Hickman really gives Nick Pitarra a chance to cut loose, creating alien species and giving them room to breathe.  I especially like that the Siill leader looks to be wearing the skull of another Siill as a sign of office.

I don't have the first clue where this series is headed, and that's why it's one of the best books I'm buying these days.  If you haven't checked this out yet, you need to.

American Vampire #29

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

It becomes very difficult, month after month, to find something new to say about a title that is consistently well-written and has great art.

In this issue of American Vampire, Pearl and Skinner Sweet, newly teamed-up and working for the Vassals of the Morning Star, begin investigating the Hollywood wealthy as potential harbourers of vampires.  Of course, they hit paydirt at their first mansion, although that leads to gunfights and attacks by jungle cats.  Pearl is looking to figure out just who it was that assaulted her husband Henry, but she can't quite figure out why Skinner is working for the VMSs. 

I like the way that Snyder has always had his stories reflect the various time periods they are set in, as we've moved forward through the 20th century.  Just as the VMS is looking for hidden vampires among the Hollywood elite, the HUAC is looking for communists or communist connections in the same moneyed corridors.

The relationship between Pearl and Skinner has always been difficult, and having them work together should lead to some good stories.

National Comics: Eternity #1

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Cully Hamner and Derec Donovan

When the Vertigo line began back in the 90s, one of my favourite comics was Kid Eternity, by Ann Nocenti and Sean Phillips.  There had been a mini-series by Grant Morrison and Duncan Fegredo (I think) before that, but it was in the monthly that the character, a modernization of a Golden Age child superhero with the ability to call historical figures back from the dead that helped him fight crime, really grew on me.  I distinctly remember that one issue had KE driving around with Neal Cassady, and that coincided with my discovering the writing of Jack Kerouac.  The 90s were all about synergy, right?

Anyway, we're now almost a year into the New 52 at DC Comics, and a big part of the mission statement seems to be repatriating Vertigo characters into the new DC Universe.  It's worked well with Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and John Constantine, although it didn't work too well for Shade the Changing Man.  Now it was time for Kid Eternity to get the treatment as well, I guess.

In this one-shot, Jeff Lemire revises the character a great deal.  Christopher Freeman is a young medical examiner who, a year ago, died from a gunshot wound, but then returned to life.  Since then, he's been able to bring the spirits of the recent dead back from the grave, and he uses this ability to solve their murders.  Generally speaking, Christopher is a bit of a screw-up.  He's haunted by the death of his father, and the poor relationship he had with him (it's weird that this came out the same week as Lemire's excellent The Underwater Welder, which explores the theme of father-son relationships as well).  He's afraid to talk to the girl he likes, and his boss wants to fire him.  When he brings back the spirit of Darby Quinn, an antique shop owner who was found dead the back of his store, he is close to losing his job.  He figures that solving Quinn's murder will save him, but Quinn is not what he seems.

This is the first issue of DC's new National Comics series, which is going to be a monthly one-shot featuring a different character and creative team.  From the solicitations for the next few months, I'm not too sure what the goal of this new series is going to be.  I imagine it's serving a purpose similar to Top Cow's Pilot Season comics - to float an idea for fandom and see how people respond to it, but the next bunch of issues look like they'll be underwhelming.  After reading this issue though, which sets up an opposite number for Christopher in The Keeper, and establishes what the next mystery would be, I would definitely be on-board for a mini- or ongoing series, especially if it has this creative team.

I've been a big Cully Hamner fan since I discovered his work on Green Lantern Mosaic, and would love to see him on a regular book again (or, in DCnU fashion, sharing a regular book with an artist with a similar style).  This comic was a real treat this week, and even if it doesn't lead to more new Kid Eternity stories, I hope that DC may start republishing the old Nocenti ones for a new audience to enjoy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Elephantmen #41

by David Hine

I've always meant to get around to reading David Hine's Strange Embrace, and as a way of reminding me to do that, Richard Starkings gave him this whole issue of Elephantmen to show off his particular talents as a cartoonist.

This stand-alone issue is concerned with Javier Kubec, the one-time assistant to Kazushi Nikken, the Dr. Mengele figure who was responsible for the creation of the Elephantmen.  When Nikken was stopped, and the Elephantmen liberated, Kubec went into hiding, assuming the name Claude Bernard, after the scientist who pioneered the art of vivisection.  When this issue opens, Kubec is a bed-ridden old man who has only months left to live.

He is found one day by a mysterious man who is interested in recording his life story.  For a while, that's exactly what happens, before the mysterious figure decides that Kubec deserves some punishment for what he has done.

Usually Elephantmen is a first-rate science fiction comic, but with this issue, Hine turns it more into a horror comic, exploring themes of guilt, responsibility, and the tendency of human civilizations to worship hybrid human/animal figures.  This is a strikingly effective issue, and the change in tone works very well.  Hine's art is great - his style feels mercurial, at some times heavily influenced by Kirby, but at others feeling very contemporary.  This was a very cool issue, and I guess it's time to track Strange Embrace down...

Graveyard of Empires #4

Written by Mark Sable
Art by Paul Azaceta

It's been a long while since we last saw an issue of Graveyard of Empires, but the 'zombies in Afghanistan' series has finally reached its conclusion, and it's a decent comic, even if it suffers from being maybe a little too ambitious.

To recap the series, a group of soldiers at an isolated forward operating base in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border are shown as coming under regular fire from insurgents and Taliban operatives.  They discover that a local doctor is installing suicide bombs right inside peoples' torsos.  While dealing with all of that, zombies attack, forcing the soldiers to work with the insurgents.  Over a few issues, most of the cast gets killed off, and we learn that a disreputable American military contractor (because are there any other kind?) have something to do with all of this.

This issue opens with a few scenes of Afghani resistance over the centuries, as various invaders and outsiders are shown taking control of a mountain fortress, which is now the base of operations for those contractors.  They have something to do with this whole zombie thing, and the few surviving characters are either being held captive by them, or are fleeing the area.  It's not long before a big fight happens, bringing the book to its close.

In the back matter, writer Mark Sable mentions how this was originally going to be a three-issue series that kept growing.  I think it may have worked even better as a five or six issue comic, as Sable's early attempts at character building (which made the first two issues excellent reads) get tossed out the window towards the end, and the pacing feels pretty rushed.  By setting this story in such an interesting location, and making reference to its long history of resistance to foreign invasion, Sable has opened a door that shouldn't just be opened a crack.  I would have liked to have seen a little more meat in this book in the last two issues.

Paul Azaceta's art is always great, but I did have some problems keeping track of who the different characters were.  I know it can be difficult to draw various characters in identical clothing so that they are distinct, but it did take away from my enjoyment of the story a little here.  Still, this is an interesting series, and I'd rather read something that is trying something new and shooting a little short of the mark than yet another retread of something I've been reading since I was twelve years old.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Aliens: Fast Track to Heaven

by Liam Sharp

Sometimes I'm not sure what the decision-making process is like at some publishers.  Aliens: Fast Track to Heaven is a hardcover 'graphic novella' written and drawn by Liam Sharp that marked Dark Horse's return after a few years' absence, to the Aliens property.  It's a nicely bound edition, but it's only thirty-eight pages long, making it shorter than two regular-sized comics.  So why the hardcover and the $11 price tag?  I think this would have been better received in a prestige format, or bundled with some older Aliens reprint material.

Anyway, this is a decent comic.  By now, we all know the typical approach to an Aliens book:  a bunch of scientists or military types discover a place where an Alien has attacked humans.  They attempt to rescue them, and then slowly get picked off one at a time, and either wiped out completely, or only one of them (usually a female) survives.  The only thing that changes are the setting, the character's names, and the order in which they get killed off.

This story is set on Europa, where the Weyland-Yutani Corporation has constructed an orbiting space station tethered to the moon by a space elevator, which connects to a research station under the surface ice.  Scientists have discovered forms of life here, but have also had a bit of a problem with an Alien.  A group of scientists come down the elevator to help out, and the usual happens.

Sharp doesn't waste a lot of time on building the characters (there isn't much space for that), and instead lets them fall into familiar archetypes, with some decent dialogue providing a few more details.  Sharp is a great artist, and he makes good use of space and colour to heighten the tension in this story.  It's not a bad comic, but it's over before you know it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

20th Century Boys Vol. 1

by Naoki Urasawa with Takashi Nagasaki

I have been very reluctant to start reading 20th Century Boys, despite the fact that a number of very knowledgeable comics aficionados whose opinions I respect have recommended it, either on-line or in person.  My main reason for avoiding it is because there are something like 23 volumes out there, and I'm not sure I have the will or the money to devote to something that large (why don't they have manga omnibus editions?).  Then I found the first volume at a used bookstore, and decided to give it a try.

Big mistake.  I think I'm hooked.

20th Century Boys is a very different beast than Urasawa's brilliant Pluto series.  It's a sprawling story that can best be described as a mix between Stand By Me and Thirtysomething, with a cult tossed in to keep things interesting.

Urasawa has the story jump from the late 60s to the mid 70s to the present day (circa 1999), as he follows a group of friends through the various stages of their lives.  These friends, in the 60s, were preteen boys who had built themselves a clubhouse in a field of long grass, where they read manga, listened to rock and roll, and made up stories about saving the world.  They created a symbol for their club, and buried a time capsule.  In the 90s, these friends have grown apart in some cases, and stayed close in others.  When one of their number, Keroyon gets married, they get together, and again when the misfit of the group, Donkey, now a teacher, commits suicide.

The main character is Kenji, who runs a convenience store.  He discovers that one of his regular customers has gone missing (without paying him), and on his door he finds a familiar symbol.  Later, when asking questions about Donkey's suicide, he finds that one of his students has been making and selling t-shirts with that same symbol on them.

Very little is explained about the cult that uses this symbol, aside from showing us that its charismatic leader is only known as 'Friend', and that he can apparently levitate.  I guess, with twenty-some volumes to fill, Urasawa is not going to give away too much at the very beginning.  I really enjoyed the characterizations in this book, and was quickly swept up by the plot, which is paced very nicely.  I guess it's time to start hunting down the rest of this series...

The Cheater's Guide to Love

by Junot Díaz

 Another Junot Díaz story so soon after the last one?  That works for me.  Díaz has never been a particularly prolific writer - there was a gap of eleven years between his first collection of short stories, Drown, and his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, so seeing him up his output in the lead-up to his new collection, This Is How You Lose Her's release, makes me happy.

In 'The Cheater's Guide of Love', Díaz's narrator (when they are all named Yunior, are we to assume that it's always the same guy, or are these different characters?) is suffering from a break-up.  The dissolution of his longest and best relationship really is his own fault - his fiancee discovers proof that he's had about fifty sucias over the six years of their relationship.

The story runs through the first five years after the break-up, as Yunior goes through bout after bout of depression, becomes an obsessive runner, and then a yoga fanatic when an injury puts an end to his running.  His weight fluctuates, as do the quality of the relationships he begins with other women.  The only constant in his life is the loyalty of his friend Elvis.

As is usual with a Díaz story, there is an abundance of Dominican slang and permanently adolescent men.  His stories are always very entertaining, and this one is no different.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Secret History of DB Cooper #5

by Brian Churilla

I hadn't realized, when I started buying this series, that it was going to end after five issues.  I was under the mistaken impression that the series was an on-going, and that it would chronicle just what DB Cooper was up to following his true historical disappearance.  Instead, this just takes us up to the events that happened on that airplane in the late 70s, but no further.

I'm not really complaining though, as this is an excellent comic.  Churilla has taken a real-life mystery, and weaved out of it one of the most bizarre and original comics of the last ten years.  In Churilla's telling of the story, DB Cooper, famous airplane hijacker, was really an agent for the CIA, involved in a remote assassination program carried out in an otherworldly landscape called The Glut. 

Cooper was so good at operating in the Glut that he no longer needed drugs to access it - he was really working in both worlds, going about his life (such as it was following the disappearance of his daughter and subsequent divorce from his wife) in our world, while tracking down monsters in another.

This final issue reveals a number of secrets, such as who had been working with the Soviets to access the Glut, where Cooper's daughter has been all this time, and just what was going to happen with Cooper's having become a gateway for Glut creatures to enter our world.  It also addresses just what happened on that airplane.

Churilla did an incredible job with this series.  It's a very intelligent comic, with a new approach to historical fiction.  I enjoyed it a great deal, and will definitely be keeping an eye out for whatever project Churilla decides to follow this up with.

Skullkickers #16

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang, Kevin Raganit, and Misty Coats

As is to be expected, the new issue of Skullkickers is a lot of fun.  The baby Thool demon has taken over the minds of most of the women on the Mermaid's Bottom, leaving only the Captain, the female Elf, and our two heroes to try to fight it, free the women who are attacking them, and keep the ship from capsizing in the sudden storm that has imperilled them all.

This is an action-filled issue, so there's not a lot of space for character development or further explanation as to Baldy's history and his arrival in this world.  I presume we'll get back to that stuff eventually, but for at least one issue, I'm perfectly happy to wallow in the madcap action and amusing sound effects. 

In all, a very successful issue of Skullkickers.

Saga #5

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

I continue to be very impressed with this comic.  Vaughan's chosen the correct title for this series, as it really feels like he's building an epic story.

In this issue, Prince Robot IV discovers that he's going to be a father, and that he won't be allowed to return home for his child's birth if he hasn't caught Alana and Marko, the book's heroes.  They run in to a group of Robot's men, and are forced to fight - something that Marko said he would never do again.  While this is happening, The Will runs in to some problems on Sextillion, as he tries to rescue a child forced into prostitution.  Also, The Stalk is back on the scene, hunting for Alana and Marko's baby.

There are a number of different plot-lines being woven throughout this issue, and it feels like each of them is given the right amount of screen time.  Fiona Staples is doing some incredible work on the art in this comic.  There are a number of very unique designs being shown throughout this series, and its clear that everyday objects such as the phone that The Stalk uses have been carefully considered for aesthetic and functional purposes. 

I do really love this series, and feel that this is the strongest issue since the first one.

The Unwritten #39

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross

A lot is learned in this issue of The Unwritten, as Tom Taylor is still absent (he's much discussed, and even receives a voicemail message, but has not been in the comic for three issues now), but a few mysteries are revealed.  Daniel Armitage, the former employee of the Cabal who has come to Australia and has ended up working with the police, learns which familiar item is now in the possession of the Church of Tommy, and just how he saw a woman turned to words before disappearing.  We also learn just how the leader of the church was connected to the Cabal.  The biggest surprise s that he's also connected to Pauly Bruckner, who long-time readers know as the storybook rabbit who gets his own issue of The Unwritten every year or so.

I've been enjoying this book a great deal for a few years now.  When it began, I was not sure if I would stick with it, and I'd even decided to stop reading a few times, always giving it one more chance to impress me.  Now, I'm very pleased that I stuck it out, as Carey has built an impressive and well-structured story.

Peter Gross's art has always impressed me, but I especially like the way he decides to tell the story of how the leader of the church and Bruckner had to deal with Wilson Taylor, Tom's father.  These pages are drawn in black, white, brown, and red, using a more abstract style than Gross usually uses.  It really makes these pages stand out.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Glory #28

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

For the second month in a row, Glory is all action, and it is handled remarkably well.  Glory's father's army has attacked her home on a remote French island, with the purpose of abducting (or rescuing, depending on who you ask) young Riley.  As the issue opens, one of the creatures is trying to convince her to come with them, when he is suddenly split in half by a giant cat that shoots lasers from his eyes.  Because that's how this comic works.

The cat is Glory's pet, and this is the first we've seen of it.  Glory's crew takes advantage of a lull in the action to gear up, before wading into the fight with the rest of their enemies.

Ross Campbell does some very cool work on this issue.  His monsters are endlessly inventive and strange, and the action scenes are very kinetic.  He also tips his hat to this character's heritage as a Rob Liefeld property when he has Gloria (one of Glory's friends) pick up a large Liefeldian gun labelled BFG 10K.  It shouldn't take a lot of work to figure out what those letters stand for. 

I've really enjoyed this series since its relaunch, and am finding myself more and more intrigued with each new issue.  At the end of this one, a new character from Glory's family is introduced, and I look forward to finding out more about her.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Activity #7

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mitch Gerads

The Activty, Edmondson and Gerads's military black ops comic, has been criticized for being too TV, and for not building up its characters, as each issue has shown a done-in-one mission.  That all changes with this issue, which launches a multi-part story arc called The Goat, and which gives at least one of the team members a private life (at least for a little while).

The comic opens with a team infiltrating a cargo vessel, and while searching it, finding a known terrorist from Yemen.  He ends up giving some important information about an earlier Team Omaha mission to his interrogators, and soon our team is off to Uzbekistan to make their target, known as 'The Goat', want to come over to the American side. 

The team employs a number of psy ops techniques to turn him, including having him wake up in his own bed to find a number of laser targets playing across his body.  There is a bit of humour to this issue, as Team Omaha finally have a mission that doesn't fall apart on them (at least so far), and doesn't have anyone shooting at them.

Back home, one of the team, code-named Bookstore, is told that she has to end her relationship with her boyfriend, but is not given a reason as to why.  I assume this will be picked up upon again.

Edmondson's writing here is sharp, as is Gerads's art.  I've enjoyed this series from its beginning, but am happy to see that something larger is taking place.  I wonder if this storyline is going to be the one that addresses some of the clues that Edmondson has been dropping about the team's future.

Live in Detroit 1986

by Fela Kuti & Egypt 80

This double-disc album contains recordings from Fela Kuti's concert at the Fox Theatre in Detroit in 1986.  Each disc in this set contains two tracks, with running times between twenty-nine and forty minutes.

Fela arrived in America after serving two years in prison in Nigeria on trumped up charges.  His release was partly due to the fact that Amnesty International took up his cause, and then brought him on tour to the US.  Her performed at the Fox with something like twenty-three people in his band, and it sounds like it was one incredible concert.

I don't know if the concert extended beyond these four songs - these alone account for almost two and a half hours worth of music - and I have to say it must have been incredible to watch the band perform these four tracks.  Fela has masterful control over his band (giving various musicians long solos) and his audience, engaging them in call-and-response while lecturing them on topics such as how African speak with 'whole mouth', and how things in Nigeria can happen 'Just Like That'.

It's hard to imagine contemporary concert goers sticking around for forty-minute tracks; I think it would be more likely to see a twenty-minute medley of snippets of each of his biggest and best-known songs, which would also be amazing to hear, but would lack some of the authenticity of these recordings.

This is an essential album for fans of Afrobeat, Fela, or just good music.

The Secret Service #3

Written by Mark Millar with Matthew Vaughn
Art by Dave Gibbons and Andy Lanning

I'm used to Mark Millar books being filled to the brim with excesses - ridiculous amounts of violence, brutality, and a sort of one-ups-man-ship to surpass the level of nastiness he reached in the previous issue.  It's nice to see that Millar can still pull off a story that is compelling, but also has a touch of relevance to it.

Gary, nephew to Britain's greatest secret agent, is continuing his training in this issue.  Gary is a rough council estates kind of bloke, but his uncle saw his potential, and pulled some strings to get him into the training program.  Now, Gary is showing true promise, outclassing all of his peers in things like observation and grand theft auto (which is an example of Millaresque excesses done right).

The problem is that Gary doesn't exactly fit well with the social class that fills spy school.  He mistakes Barack Obama for Osama bin Laden, and lacks the refinement necessary to become the next James Bond.  The club scene, where the students are sent to infiltrate and score with women for points, is really pretty funny.

I wonder to what extent Dave Gibbons is reigning in Millar's sensibilities.  I can't imagine Gibbons drawing the splatter-porn that Kick-Ass 2 became, for example.  Gibbons's art is fantastic, and the sub-plot about terrorists continuing to kidnap actors, writers, and now environmental scientists from around the globe is interesting.  This is easily my favourite Millar book since he left The Authority.

Dark Horse Presents #14

Written by John Layman, Carla Speed McNeil, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dean Motter, Mark Verheiden, Bryan Oh, Tony Puryear, Mike Baron, Bo Hampton, Robert Tinnell, Chad Lambert, Michael Avon Oeming, Nate Cosby, George Schall, Rodrigo Alonso, and Kim W. Anderson
Art by Sam Kieth, Carla Speed McNeil, Phil Noto, Dean Motter, Mark Nelson, Tony Puryear, Steve Rude, Bo Hampton, Apri Kusbiantoro, Michael Avon Oeming, Evan Shaner, George Schall, and Kim W. Anderson

This month, Dark Horse Presents is 104 pages long.  Take in the fact that that is equivalent to more than five comics from Marvel or DC, which could run you between 14.95 and 19.95, yet this book only costs $7.99.  Clearly, the fine people at Dark Horse know how to give you value for your money.  Even if you don't love every story in here, you only need to love half of them or less to feel that you got your money's worth, right?

For me, as always, the Finder story is worth the price of admission.  This month's instalment is great.  Jaegar is still hanging out in Third World, the contested and unorganized region far outside the domed cities or tribal lands where he usually spends his time.  He comes across a cemetery in a field that is at the centre of a large, and loud, dispute between various factions.  It seems that a hotel corporation wants to build on the field, and were paying to relocate the bodies buried there.  That's all good, but a large number of previously unknown bodies have been found, and they are clearly Ascian.  Ascians, like Jaegar, are an indigenous people in McNeil's world, and the story can be read as a comment on problems that exist in North America today around sacred Aboriginal ground and the balancing act needed between tradition, cultural sensitivity, and the needs of commerce and current lifestyles.  But, this being Finder, it's not long before Jaegar finds himself stuck in the middle, and being perhaps, the only person who can resolve this issue, whether he wants to or not.  Great stuff, although I was hoping we'd see a little more of Professor Shar.

Also of note this month is the return of Tony Puryear's excellent Concrete Park strip.  It's been a little while, so I was a little lost as to what's going on, but I'm really enjoying Puryear's gangsta sci-fi.

Dean Motter's Mister X wrapped up in this issue.  This was a good enough story, but not among Motter's greatest.  Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Noto's Ghost works well, and John Layman and Sam Kieth's Aliens is much improved.

Nexus, by Mike Baron and Steve Rude, still doesn't appeal to me, but I did make it through this whole story about invasive alien bugs and a creepy space ship that has been in orbit around Ylam for fourteen years.

There are a number of new strips that debut this month.  Some are one-offs, and others are set to continue.  Some, I'm not sure if this is it or not.  Mark Verheiden (been a long time since I've seen his name), Bryan Oh, and Mark Nelson have a good story about humans fighting an alien invasion in Falling Skies.  It's a little familiar, but it's well told. 

Bo Hampton and Robert Tinnell begin Riven, a creepy monster story involving a strange little girl adopted out of a Romanian orphanage right after Ceaucescu's regime fell.  This story is full of suspense, and hinges on many successful little details.  I was pretty impressed by it, and look forward to seeing where it goes.

Radio Ga Ga is a memoir by Chad Lambert and drawn by Apri Kubiantoro (whose work reminds me of Francesco Francavilla, only rougher).  Lambert tells a story about his radio days, when a joke he made on the air was reported to the Secret Service as a threat to President Clinton's life.  Lambert writes this like a Harvey Pekar story, a fact driven home as he narrates it in a comic store, in front of an issue of American Splendor.  I love this story simply for the fact that it references WKRP...

Michael Avon Oeming's Wild Rover is a dark little tale about a man who is convinced that his vices are being caused by an evil entity in his stomach.  This is a very piercing story that shows a side of Oeming that I haven't seen in his work before.

Buddy Cops, by Nate Cosby and Evan Shaner, is a fun little strip about a Green Lantern-like galactic protector who has been demoted to serving on the NYPD, and his super-serious android partner.  It's cute.

A Spy Dream, by George Schall with writing assist by Rodrigo Alonso is a very cool little story about a female spy who dreams about settling down with her lover, who is on the other side, or is conversely about a bored housewife who dreams about being a spy.  It's beautifully drawn.

Finally (I'm not going to mention the short humour strips, as they don't appeal to me at all), there's Love Hurts, Kim W. Anderson's strip about a woman who meets the perfect guy in the park.  There's a sinister side to his knowledge of all her favourite things though.  It doesn't help that the guy looks just like Steve Buscemi.

In all, a very satisfying heap of comics for a good price.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 5

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

I can't express enough how much I enjoy The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.  This manga series is pretty bizarre in its subject matter and characters, but I find it an effortless read (thanks in no small part to the helpful and informative notes by the editor, Carl Gustav Horn).

The KCDS is a group of underemployed Buddhist Studies graduates who have either an interest in, or abilities pertaining to, the dead.  They seek out corpses, and then communicate with them to help them achieve their final wish.  They hope that there will be some sort of profit in this, although there usually isn't.

This volume has four stand-alone stories.  The first has to do with a small village that was left abandoned after a killer murdered all of its inhabitants.  The second story has to do with a professor of Egyptology who has been manufacturing mummies as a way of paying off his debts.  The third has the crew working as professional mourners at funerals, and stumbling upon a mystery.  The final story addresses the shadier sides of the cryogenics industry in Japan.

All of these stories work as examples of Otsuka's ability to blend creepy horror with a sharp sense of humour and a lighthearted approach to writing.  It's a difficult balance to maintain, but he does it well.  He also does a great job of showing the growth of the characters, and deepens the mystery of just where Karatsu's abilities come from, and who the figure we see appearing around him at times really is.

This series is highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cloud Atlas

by David Mitchell

When David Mitchell's newest book, the The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was released, I read an excellent review of it in the New Yorker, which spent a good chunk of its space praising Mitchell's other novels.  I wasn't familiar with the writer, and have had a long-standing prejudice against British novelists (which I now find myself reappraising), but whoever wrote that review really made me want to try one of his books.  Shortly after that, I found a cheap copy of Black Swan Green, and really liked it.  The book that most intrigued me from that review, though, was Cloud Atlas.

Cloud Atlas is really six  mildly interconnected short stories, but they are structured rather like Russian nesting dolls.  The first story, 'The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing' is cut off mid-sentence, and on the next page, the next piece, 'Letters From Zedelghem' begins.  It is itself cut off, as is the story that follows it, until we reach the sixth piece.  After that, we return to the previous five stories for their conclusions, in the reverse of the order that they began.  Each of these stories references the previous one in the book's chronology in a few places, but that is just about it for their similarities.

'The Pacific Journal' is written by Adam Ewing, a notary from San Francisco, who is returning to his home in San Francisco from a business trip to Australia.  It being the late 1800s, Ewing is forced to take passage on a boat which stops frequently at various Pacific islands.  Ewing is a prudish member of the religious upper middle class, and so his observations of the sailors he travels with is rather negative.  Ewing suffers from a tropical parasite which has infected his brain, but is fortunately cared for by his friend, the British Dr. Henry Goose.  This story is told exclusively through Ewing's journal.

The second piece, 'Zedelghem', is told through letters written by Robert Frobisher, starting in 1931, to his friend Sixsmith.  Frobisher is a young composer who has disgraced himself in England, and so has travelled to Belgium.  He has no access to his family's considerable wealth, and has decided to present himself to the aging composer Vyvyan Ayrs.  He ends up securing employment as Ayrs's amanuensis, but also has to deal with the old man's unpredictable moods and petty jealousies.  Frobisher worms his way into life at Ayrs's estate, bedding his wife, and verbally sparring with his difficult teenage daughter.  Frobisher is a bit of a con man, but his letters are pretty fascinating.

It's in the third story, 'Half-Life, the First Luisa Rey Mystery' that this book really begins to come to life. This is a mystery novel, starring intrepid reporter Luisa Rey, who has come to realize that something questionable is happening in the nuclear power plant being built by a company called Seaboard on Swannekke Island in the late 70s or early 80s.  This is a pretty conventional thriller story, with the standard greedy corporate villains, and the slightly psychotic security men that they hire.

In the fourth story, 'The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish' is about a small-press book publisher who has stumbled upon great success when his newest writer pushes a critic out of a window at a party, killing him.  Financially flush, Cavendish runs into problems with the author's brutish family, and has to go into hiding.  His brother helps with this, but suddenly Cavendish finds himself an inmate at the Aurora House, a retirement home that is equal parts One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Kafka.  This story reminded me of Sam Fuller's movie Shock Corridor, but is funnier.

After this story, Mitchell moves into the future with 'An Orison of Somni-451'.  This story is told through the transcription of an interview between an unnamed journalist and Somni-451, a fabricant (genetically engineered person) who attempted to spark revolt in Nea So Copros, which is basically Korea.  In Somni's world, fabricants are designed to do most of the work, and the Juche exert a form of corporate totalitarianism over all citizens.  Somni is one of the first fabricants to become fully self-aware and transcend her programming, and so it's not long before she becomes manipulated by Union, the resistance.  This section of the book is fascinating, as Mitchell creates a new approach to speech, peppered with brand names that have replaced the actual names of items (no one wears shoes, they wear nikes), and a fully-realized society, as seen by the ultimate outsider.

When we temporarily abandon Somni, it is to travel further into the future, for 'Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After', a story set in Hawaii after almost all of human civilization has fallen into chaos and decay.  Zachry is a young boy when his father and brother are killed by a rival tribe, and he lives convinced of his cowardice and guilt in that event.  Later, when he is a teenager, a Prescient named Meronyn comes to live with his family and study them.  The Prescients are the most civilized people left in the world, but their numbers are very low, and it soon becomes clear that Meronyn is on the island to look for knowledge left behind by earlier inhabitants.  This story is also very well-realized, as Mitchell explores the question of what makes civilization civilized, but also tells a gripping adventure story.

Mitchell shows himself to be a very versatile writer with this book, exploring a number of genres and conventions, without becoming mired in any of them.  His character work is incredible, and I found this book to be gripping throughout.  Recommended.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Guerillas Vol. 2

by Brahm Revel

Brahm Revel's Guerillas first began life as a series at Image in 2008, where four double-length issues were published within nine months, before Revel decided to move the project to Oni Press.  Then, in late 2010, the first three issues were reprinted in the black-and-white trade size that Oni often uses (bigger than a digest, smaller than a standard comic page).  And then there was nothing, until this week, when the second volume, comprising of the previously printed fourth issue, and the never before seen fifth and sixth issues, came out.

When Guerillas first hit the scene, I was immediately impressed and taken away by it.  The series is set during the Vietnam War, and it involves a group of chimpanzees who have been trained to be soldiers.  They are fierce fighters, and in their unit, have adopted the same command structure and various duties as the humans they are emulating.  The problem is, this unit has gotten loose, and are on their own mission through the jungles of Vietnam.

Guerillas is also the story of John Francis Clayton, a clueless private who was the only survivor of his first firefight.  Clayton has been adopted by the chimps, and he is accompanying them through the jungle.  This series is also about Dr. Kurt Heisler, the German who trained the chimps, and who is travelling with a group of American soldiers to look for them.  Heisler has brought his first project, the baboon Adolf, who is helping them to track the chimps.

This volume opens with the chimps assaulting a Viet Cong village, which they utterly destroy.  They begin to follow some escaping VC into a tunnel system, which eventually leads them to a fight so big that they take casualties for the first time.  Meanwhile, the soldiers that are following them link up with another group, and are ambushed by a large number of Vietnamese.  Adolf, meanwhile, snaps, and starts killing just about anyone he comes across.

Revel has done an incredible job on this book.  His art is great - he makes uniformed chimps firing rocket launchers believable, and he also excels at having his human and non-human characters display emotion.  His writing is also very sharp - Clayton is an interesting character; the coward who is determined to do the right thing and help his new friends.

I've long been a fan of Vietnam War fiction, and can count this among my favourites.  I hope the wait is not another two years before the final volume is published.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Revival #1

Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Mike Norton

The fact that I picked this comic up is a tribute to the ability of Free Comic Book Day to generate sales, even a couple of months after the event.  Revival had a short preview in Image's FCBD anthology, showing a police officer who was present when a dead woman woke up at a morgue.  There wasn't a lot there, but it was enough to catch my interest.

In this first issue, writer Tim Seeley takes his time in getting around to sharing just what's been going on with the 'revivalists'.  We know that on a certain day, the dead reawakened, and we are given evidence that this phenomenon has continued afterwards.  We don't know yet how recent the deceased had to be to qualify, or if the affected rural Wisconsin communities are suddenly awash in great great grandparents.  We do know that the area has been quarantined, which has led to some frayed tempers and strange conflicts.

Slowly, we are introduced to Dana Cypress, the police officer from the preview.  She is given a new task by her father, who is also the Sheriff, to be on the Revitalized Citizen Arbitration Team, keeping track of the revived people.  On her way to a call involving a genetically modified horse (do zorses really exist?), she runs in to her sister, who looks like she's going to kill herself by jumping off a bridge.  She accompanies her, and things go pretty bad at the zorse farm.  Like Walking Dead bad, except that people don't stay dead.

This book is being billed as 'rural noir', and that label is as good as any for it.  Seeley has a good handle on the community, from the way in which people indulge the old Hollywood actor, to the casual racism of the Sheriff (implied in his case) and the horse farmers (who don't trust their Hmong neighbour).  Mike Norton is always great, so the book looks very good.  I think this is well worth checking out.

Saucer Country #5

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

Well I've been pretty intrigued by Saucer Country since it began, I had one concern with the book that I didn't even realize until I read this issue, as Paul Cornell put that problem to bed.  Basically, the series is about Arcadia Alvarado, the Governor of New Mexico, and her campaign for President of the United States.  Just before declaring her intention to run, Arcadia and her ex-husband were abducted by aliens, giving her a new purpose for running (she is convinced that the aliends pose a threat to the country, and that she is the only person who will be able to use her office to stop them).

My problem was that Arcadia was being portrayed as someone to whom things happened, not as someone who took charge.  I know that every Presidential candidate has to give up a certain level of control to her handlers, advisers, and security personnel, but I also imagine that they are the ones driving the car, and I didn't really see Arcadia in that role.

That changes with this issue, as she pulls of an impressive feat while being hypnotized by a disreputable therapist who had already caused her ex-husband to change his story while under his influence.  The hypnosis session gives us our best look at what actually happened to Arcadia and Michael, but that doesn't mean that the therapist, who had already broken his non-disclosure agreement before even treating her, got what he wanted.

Cornell has been keeping this pretty mysterious in this comic.  We do know that there are at least two groups with an active interest in alien visitation, but neither of their goals are clear yet.  Ryan Kelly is the perfect artist for a book like this, and his collaboration with Cornell feels very smooth.  This is an interesting comic.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Dracula World Order: The Beginning

Written by Ian Brill
Art by Tonci Zonjic, Rahsan Ekedal, Declan Shalvey, and Gabriel Hardman

Were it not for a mention on Bleeding Cool, I would have completely missed this comic.  Ian Brill self-published and distributed this one-shot, following Sam Humphries model for the brilliant (and very late) Sacrifice, and this book was shipped to only some comics stores in North America.  I like supporting people who do their own thing outside of the Diamond system, and when I saw the list of artists involved in this project, I knew that I wouldn't be able to pass up on this book.

Dracula World Order is a science-fiction vampire story (because we all know that the world needs more vampire stories) which shares a great deal of similarities with the work that Victor Gischler just did with Marvel's take on Dracula in the Curse of the Mutants storyline.  In this book, Dracula has co-opted the language of the Occupy movement, and has elevated the richest one percent of the world to vampire status, recognizing their ability to herd and control the 99% into a more efficient system of slave labour and food sources. 

There is nothing left to oppose the most powerful vampire, except for his son Alexandru.  The book is split into four chapters (each drawn by a different artist).  Three of those chapters follow Alexandru's journey to gather allies in his fight against his father, including a seasoned vampire hunter, and a Vietnamese snake lady.  The second chapter is used to share Alexandru's backstory.

This is a very attractive book, but I would expect nothing less from those artists.  The story is clear and engaging, if perhaps a little familiar.  The book ends on a cliff-hanger, and Brill writes in his afterword that he doesn't know when it will continue.  That's a little annoying, but not unfamiliar with independent self-published books.  I wouldn't be too surprised to see this title popping up on Kickstarter soon.

American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #2

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Dustin Nguyen

I don't understand why Dustin Nguyen does not get more recognition, or have a higher profile among comics artists.  This guy's work is amazing.  In this issue, he's called upon to show the history of the prime Carpathian vampire, Dracula, for all intents and purposes, and over a series of pages, Nguyen shows us watercolour paintings, imitation woodblock prints, engravings, and maps.  The collage effect works very well, and underscores how versatile he is as an artist.  Later, he cuts loose on a splash page that would have made an amazing cover image.

This issue is mostly spent exploring Dracula's history.  Agent Hobbes is filling in Felicia Book on the dangerous vampire's story, and lets her (and us) know about his ability to mentally control any other Carpathian vamp or their offspring (including, perhaps, an American vampire).  While this happens, the people who took Dracula arrive at a rendez-vous with some a pair of Soviets, although the American who confronted Hobbes in the first issue have other plans.

This is a successful mini-series, adding to the American Vampire story.  Scott Snyder and Nguyen work very well together, although I still find it difficult to accept that Gus, who looks and acts like a ten-year old, is supposed to be fifteen.

Punk Rock Jesus #1

by Sean Murphy

Here is one comic that ended up being nothing like what I expected (and surpassed all of those expectations).  When I know that I'm going to buy a comic, and a comic by Sean Murphy is something I'm going to buy, I don't read solicitations, and I don't look at preview pages, short of just glancing at the art.  I prefer to be surprised, and to enter the project only with the expectations raised by the creators' previous work.  Still, you can't help but have preconceived notions, and there's nothing about the cover to this first issue that told me this would be a story about cloning, reality TV, and the IRA.

When this comic opens, it's twenty-five years ago (well, twenty-five years ago from the standpoint of 2019), and young Thomas McKael is having a nice meal with his family.  Suddenly, there are people outside the house, there's some shooting, and Thomas is stuffed in a closet with a gun, and told to shoot at anyone who tries to open the door.  This night ends with both his parents dead.

We then jump up twenty-five years, to learn that a corporation called Ophis has arranged to have DNA belonging to Jesus Christ (taken from the Shroud of Turin) cloned, and to inseminate a woman (a virgin, naturally) so that she can give birth to a new Christ.  This is the basis of their new reality TV show, of course.  They've hired a gifted scientist who is working on fixing the world's ecological problems to take care of this for them, but they've also interfered with her work, insisting that she change the messiah's DNA to give him blue eyes, bringing his appearance into line with their childhood illustrated bibles.

Thomas McKael shows up as the head of security for Ophis, who know about his checkered past as an IRA terrorist and wanted man.  There is a level of brutality to this group, best shown when the woman chosen to play Mary also gives birth to an unexpected female twin.

Murphy's previous solo work, Off-Road, was more of a light comedy and so I didn't expect this to be such a serious science-fiction story, but I welcome it.  I also welcome Vertigo's decision to publish this in black and white.  Part of me suspects that it could just be a cost-saving move, but it works well with Murphy's detailed art.  This book is not at all what I expected, but I'm very pleased with what I'm seeing, and I'm definitely sticking with it.

Bad Medicine #3

Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Art by Christopher Mitten

Bad Medicine uses this issue to establish the future and direction of this new series.  The first two issues introduced a number of characters with varying backgrounds - a New York detective, a disgraced doctor who has travelled the world learning about alternative healing, and two CDC doctors, one nice and enthusiastic, the other crusty - and had them work together on a case involving an invisible man.

With this issue, a reason is given for this group to get back together when a werewolf is shot and killed in Maine, before turning into a young man who appears normal.  There is evidence of some sort of virus in the man's system, and so this group, more or less under the control of Dr. Horne, is dispatched to investigate.

They are led to a very small town, which seems like a very strange place, in that way that small towns are always strange places in these types of comics.  The plot might be a little predictable in this comic, but the writers excel at strong character work, and that's what makes this a successful comic.  Dr. Horne is a difficult character to pull off - his guilt at having caused a patient's death has led to him spending six years talking to her, and she has taught him about his weaknesses and limitations.  Dr. Teague, the crusty CDC doctor, is very similar to him, and for that reason, he seems to dislike him the most.

I think it's interesting that the last issue ended with scenes set somewhere in Brazil (I believe - I don't have the book in front of me), and I thought they were setting up the next storyline.  I guess that story will be addressed after this werewolf one.  This book is following a very TV-friendly pattern, but it's working for me.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Planetoid #2

by Ken Garing

I'm really enjoying this new series.  In the first issue, main character Silas crashed onto a strange planetoid in the territory of the Ono Mao, an alien race that does not get along well with humans.  Silas spent most of the issue scouting the planetoid, which is covered with the wreckage of many ships, and the remains of an abandoned mining operation.

Eventually he met another person, who in this issue accompanies him to The Slab, a large expanse of metal where people live.  When attempting to scavenge a recently-downed ship, Silas meets Onica and Ebo.  She is a human who has grown up on the planetoid, while he is a member of the Ono Mao slave caste.  Silas, and we as readers, learn more about how things work on the planetoid, including the dangers of the sentry robots taken over by the Ono Mao for their own purposes.

Garing is setting this series up to be similar to books like Conan, but set on an alien planet.  There are few advantages to technology, although it covers every page.  Silas helps a larger group of settlers, and we get a good sense of where this book is headed.

Garing's art is awesome.  I've always been drawn to the post-Industrial look, and I love the splash pages that show the wasted landscape.  This is a good book for people who are enjoying Prophet, or who want a darker type of science fiction than what we usually see on the comic store stands.  Recommended.

One Soul

by Ray Fawkes

One Soul, Ray Fawkes graphic novel which was released last year, just might be the most successful experimental comic I've ever read.  Fawkes has designed the book so that each page maintains a tight nine-panel grid.  Each pair of facing pages then consists of eighteen panels.  Each one of those eighteen panels tells one piece of eighteen different stories, all of which begin with the first moments of life for the character narrating them.  Each of these stories is told in first person, without any dialogue, and the position of each character's panel does not move.

Right there, I know I've turned a fair number of people off, but I found this book to be utterly fascinating, if sometimes frustrating.  The eighteen people represent a variety of different eras, settings, and social strata.  One is from a pre-agrarian society, another is a vestal virgin in a Greek temple.  One raises silkworms in China, while another tends sheep, and another sees to plague victims in Europe.  There is an American Revolutionary and an African slave, a chorus girl and a thief.  Many of the characters are soldiers or warriors, but in different wars.

Fawkes has arranged their stories so that themes overlap and coincide, and so that their narratives interweave with one another, even though they never meet.  While they all begin life at the same time, they don't all end it that way, and so some panels become blacked out before others, although Fawkes still provides the dead with a voice, and an opportunity to question their fates. This is a very philosophical piece of work, as eventually all of them have to accept their mortality and their place in the universe.

I suppose it's possible to read each story separately by only reading one panel per page, but I liked the challenge of having to keep all of the different stories straight in my head while also looking for commonalities between them.

Fawkes's minimalist pencils remind me of Keith Giffen's a little, but that could just be because of the use of the grid.  This is a very thoughtful and provoking piece of work, and it's a little hard to believe that it was done by the same person who wrote The Apocalipstix...

Chew: Secret Agent Poyo #1

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

Poyo is a gamecock from an island in the South Pacific, who first appeared in Chew when main character Tony Chu was in that part of the world looking to rescue his brother from a cibopathic vampire.  There was something about Poyo, who was unstoppable, that resonated with readers, and so the character returned, enhanced with cybernetics, and as an agent of the USDA.

Now, Poyo finally gets his own one-shot, and it's about as strange and over-the-top as you can expect.  Poyo is sent to England to assist in an investigation involving a twisted scientist who specializes in ranapuliva, or the raining of frogs from the sky.  He's using his knowledge to terrorize England Dr. Evil style, with the threat of dropping all sorts of farm animals on downtown London.

It's a silly plot, but it works for this book.  As is often the case with Chew, Rob Guillory peppers each page with little sight gags and amusing moments.  Tony Chu's former partner, and Poyo's new partner Colby has a cameo, but for the most part, this story exists outside of the Chew continuity. 

There are some great pin-ups as well, by artists such as Ben Templesmith, Joe Eisma, and Jim Mahfood.  This is good stuff.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Conan the Barbarian #6

Written by Brian Wood
Art by James Harren

Among the many things that I like about Brian Wood's new Conan series is that so far, each arc has only been three issues long.  This is pretty refreshing in an era where most mainstream comics only manage to tell one or two stories a year, and where two or three issues can pass with very little taking place.  It gives me confidence that there's always going to be something new happening in this series, and I like that the artists rotate so quickly - it gives me a chance to see different interpretations of this character, who I've ignored for so long.

This issue has Conan escaping the city of Messantia, after Belit arranged his opportunity to avoid the gallows.  Now, because of the actions of Belit and her crew of pirates, the entire city is in chaos, and Conan is racing, with the old shaman N'Yaga, to return to the Tigress, Belit's vessel.

This issue is full of action from start to finish, yet Wood also finds the space to have Conan examine the choices that he is making - to become a pirate who fights without honour, all for the love of a woman. 

James Harren's art is spectacular in this comic.  His fight scenes are vibrant and kinetic, and he's just as good at showing the depth of emotion that exists between Conan and Belit.  This is a great series.

The Walking Dead #100

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Well, we knew going in that this was going to be a brutal issue.  Anniversary issues never end well for Rick and his crew (go back and read issues 50 and 75 if you need some proof of that), and when the cover (granted, one of many covers for this issue) shows Rick standing over a field of dead characters from the previous 99 issues...  Let's just say that subtle foreshadowing has never been a strength in this series.

I doubt it's much of a spoiler to say that someone important dies in this comic.  I'm not going to say who, but I will say that it's a character I've grown very fond of, and who I'm going to miss, as will everyone else in the Community, assuming they survive having to deal with Negan and his crew.

As the issue opens, Andrea is patrolling the walls of the Community, having been left in charge by Rick when he led a small group to try to receive aid from the Hilltop, the community they have just entered into a trade relationship with.  Rick's leaving had seemed really stupid, and sure enough, we know that Negan has people staking out the Community, and making plans to attack at dawn.

Rick, meanwhile, has misjudged the distance to the Hilltop, and has to spend the night on the road.  This leads to a scene with a little too much unsubtle foreshadowing for my liking, as Rick has a couple of heart-felt conversations with a couple of close friends, which only heightened my sense that one of them wouldn't make to issue 101. 

Later, a large contingent of Negan's Saviors attacks, taking the small group prisoner.  That's when we meet Negan, and learn that he makes the Governor look sane and reasonable.  This is a pretty harsh issue, and Kirkman drops enough F-bombs that soldiers and convicts might begin to feel uncomfortable.  Things really don't look good for Rick and the other survivors of Negan's visit, as Kirkman changes the tone of the book for the foreseeable future.

This issue is a bit of an odd duck.  Sure, it's remarkable that an independent series reaches such a milestone issue in this day and age, and that it's poised to be the top-selling comic of July, if the numbers reported on-line are to be believed.  Kirkman has really led the way in championing the creator-owned comic, and we've reached a point where the best comics on the stands are being made by people with real ownership of their content, which is a beautiful thing.  My problem is that this issue, and the last one, both feel a little forced.  Rick is operating without his usual caution and forethought, and I can not believe that Andrea wouldn't be perched in her tower watching for Negan's people.  These two mistakes are costing the characters dearly, and they are making the story feel less thought-out and realistic than I'm used to.

Still, this is a book that is able to force a real sense of dread on me (especially with some of the creepy twisted things that Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn had to show us this month - and show us so well), and for that, I love it.