Friday, March 29, 2013

East of West #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Dragotta

While I'm not entirely sure I have a handle on everything that's going on in this new series, I am definitely swept up in it, and am very excited to be able to enjoy another Jonathan Hickman-written creator-owned series.

In terms of tone, this book is closer to his Marvel work than his current book The Manhattan Projects, or any of his earlier Image mini-series like Pax Romana.  It feels like Hickman has a sprawling, involved story to tell in this series, and that he's going to take his time doing so, much like he did with his epic Fantastic Four run.

This series is set in an America that underwent some alternate history from our own.  When the book opens, modern American territory is split into various factions, including a vibrant and sovereign indigenous territory.  We know that the peace between these regions was hard-won, but we don't know a whole lot more than that.

The book is split between two stories - one involves a trio of children who come out of some sort of portal, surprised at the absence of a fourth.  It doesn't take long to recognize that these three are Horsemen of the Apocalypse (although there is a Conquest and not a Pestilence).  They've been reborn, and aren't all happy about that.

We also follow a different trio, a white man and two Aboriginal companions, all of whom are shown as being all in white (or black, as the mood fits).  We know that they are looking for the people who had arranged to have them dead, and that leads to one of them paying a visit to the President of The Union.

Hickman is making it clear that this book is going to be very bloody, but I really don't know what more to expect from this title.  Nick Dragotta is an incredible artist, and he adjusts his style nicely to fit this darker material.  As always with a Hickman independent book, I worry about its shipping schedule (anyone know what's going on with The Secret?), especially since I can't wait to read the next issue.

The Massive #10

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Gary Erskine

This issue of The Massive is a little different from the previous few months worth.  To begin with, Callum Israel sets his priorities back to finding and reuniting with The Massive, the sister ship to his Kapital, and the flagship of the Ninth Wave fleet.  When more ghostly radar hits suggest that the ship is nearby, tensions break out on the ship.

After the apparent suicide of one crew member, others decide that they want to leave Ninth Wave and return to their homelands, all of which are suffering in the post-Crash environment.  Three desperate crewmen even go so far as to hold Israel at gunpoint in his cabin.

Brian Wood returns to the habit he had during the first story arc of peppering the story with explanations of what has been happening in the rest of the world since the Crash took place.  This month, the focus is mostly on South America.

The art this month is by Gary Erskine, although I probably wouldn't have recognized it as his.  He's usually known for drawing, well, ugly characters, but in this issue, his art has softened quite a bit.  That kind of surprised me.

BPRD Vampire #1

Written by Mike Mignola, Gabriel Bá, and Fábio Moon
Art by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon

I was very excited to hear that the twins would be returning to monthly comics for a little while, and to the BPRD universe in particular.  I'm a huge fan of Bá and Moon's work, and am often disappointed in how rare their output has been since the wrap of their phenomenal Vertigo series Daytripper.

Vampire is a new stand-alone BPRD mini-series that follows up on the 1940s stories, the most recent of which was set in 1948.  The twins drew the 1947 story (which is what drew me into the Mignola-verse), and this tale now returns to the ideas laid out in it.  Anders was the central figure of that story, and in it, he had a pair of vampires imprisoned in his soul (or something like that - it's not all that clear).  We saw in 1948 that his behaviour has become erratic.

As this new series opens, he takes a leave from the BPRD to try to find the places where Hecate-worshiping vampires congregate, although it's not all that clear what he plans on doing when he gets there.  At the same time, we see that some of the vampires are restoring themselves to full health in order to get ready for something.

That's really all that happens in this issue, which is incredibly slight story-wise.  It is, however, a gorgeous comic as the twins have only gotten better with time.  I see that they are sharing the co-writing credit with Mike Mignola, but I don't feel a whole lot of their influence on the story, at least not yet.  Still, this is one of the nicest looking books on the stands.

The Unwritten #47

by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

After taking a couple of months off from Tom Taylor and his sojourn in Hades, we return to check in on the main character of this series.  Tom has shown up in Hades, and has met its master, who is none other than Pauly Bruckner, the once man, now rabbit whose adventures we've been following once a year in this title for quite a long time now.

We learn how Pauly came to be in charge of Hades, and we get a sense of how his new servants feel about that.  Tom originally went there to find Lizzie Hexam, his girlfriend, and hopefully bring her back to the living, but since he's drank from the waters of the River Lethe, he has no real memory of himself, or the various shades who have started showing up in Hades lately, all of whom know him in some way.

What's interesting about this issue is the fact that amnesiac Tom is not all that concerned about restoring his memory.  It's like he knows that with it will come a great deal of emotional baggage that he'd rather just skip out on.

This is a solid issue of a pretty solid series.

Fatale #13

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

In this latest one-off story, Brubaker and Phillips introduce us to 'Black' Bonnie Smith, an outlaw in 1880s Colorado, who, like regular series main character Jo, is immortal and has the ability to control the actions of men.

Bonnie has fallen into the outlaw lifestyle, after living many previous lifetimes in a variety of other ways.  When we meet her, she and her gang are under attack.  She is shot and taken prisoner by a Native American who she cannot influence.  We learn that the man, named Milkfed, is working for a mysterious professor who knows a great deal about who and what Bonnie is.  They are attacked by some of the creatures we've become used to seeing in this book, and the professor uses one of their eyes to locate their base, where he hopes to steal one of their books (a recurring theme in this series).

As with every issue of this series (or, really, any issue that features a collaboration between Brubaker and Phillips), this is an almost perfectly-created comic.  Bonnie reminds me a lot of Jo, an interesting mixture of self-confidence and vulnerability.  We are not learning a whole lot more about this series through these tangential one-offs beside the fact that there is a richer tapestry to this story than originally expected, but I really like seeing the different ways in which stories like Jo's have played out over the years.

20th Century Boys Vol. 3

by Naoki Urasawa, with Takashi Nagasaki

Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys is a very addictive manga series.  I pretty much burned through the entire third volume in one sitting, despite my intention to make it last a little while.  I just find, once I start reading the book, I am faced with a great number of compelling reasons to not put it down again.

This volume has Kenji continuing to work to discover the identity of The Friend, a leader of a cult that has been showing up all over Japan.  Kenji has evidence that The Friend is behind some biological attacks on San Francisco and London, and that the group is plotting some attacks against Japan.  Kenji knows this, because The Friend is basing his actions on a story that Kenji and his friends made up while they were children, although none of them remember all of the details now.

The central concept of this book is pretty preposterous, and some of the scenes that show Kenji trying to figure out The Friend's identity come off as a little amateurish (like when, at a class reunion, he and his classmates have their former teacher ask them who bent spoons one day years earlier, but they all close their eyes during this investigation, so no one knows who was responsible).

What makes this book work so well are a couple of things.  First, the characters feel very realistic, and are pretty believable.  Second is the notion that who we were and what we did as children is important to our character later in life.  Urasawa shows that the course of living one's life causes them to lose touch with the things that were once important to them, but that people's true identity changes very little.

I know there are about twenty volumes of this thing left for me to read, and that feels very daunting (how long can a mystery like this be drawn out?), but I also look forward to the next volume I can sink my teeth into.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Time Warp #1

Written by Damon Lindelof, Tom King, Gail Simone, Simon Spurrier, Toby Litt, Peter Milligan, Ray Fawkes, Matt Kindt, and Dan Abnett
Art by Jeff Lemire, Tom Fowler, Gael Bertand, Michael Dowling, Mark Buckingham, Victor Santos, MK Perker, Andy MacDonald, Matt Kindt, and INJ Culbard

I would say that Time Warp is one of the more successful of Vertigo's recent quarterly anthology books.  With the notable exception of the Dead Boy Detectives story (which, in addition to being generally unimpressive doesn't belong in a book about time travel), the different short stories collected here really complement one another nicely.  As well, the book has a good balance between the usual Vertigo stable and some up-and-comers.

When you think about time travel story potential, there are a few standard stories.  There is the story about the person who wants to go back in time to save a loved one, or to fix great evil.  We also see the story of the person who meets him or herself, or the person who wants to utilise time travel for personal gain.  That's basically what we get here, but the book contains a few interesting twists.

Many of these stories are based on technology as the gateway for time travel, but in Gail Simone's story, it is through chocolates and other confections that one can revisit their past.  In Peter Milligan's, technology can't bring back your lost love, but it can provide you with a pretty good holographic likeness.

Adolf Hitler is a recurring character in this book, as we see a story (by King and Fowler) about the world had he been killed by a time traveller near the front of the book, and another about the time travellers who need to protect him from other time travellers at the end (re-teaming the amazing New Deadwardians team of Abnett and Culbard).

I particularly enjoyed the Rip Hunter story by Damon Lindelof and Jeff Lemire, and Matt Kindt's story about warring cultures that expend great capital to fight over a planet rich in natural resources.  I also thought that Simon Spurrier and Michael Dowling's story of scientific rivalry would make a good companion to the Image series Nowhere Men, and enjoyed the suggestion that science is becoming too fame-oriented in our celebrity-obsessed culture.

In all, this is a solid book, and well worth the cost of two issues of a Marvel NOW! comic for four-times the content.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Morning Glories #25

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

I definitely think it might be time to re-read Morning Glories from the beginning.  Nick Spencer's series has always been a little confusing, as his story has circled back in on itself numerous times, adding layers of complexity to his plot, but this issue really takes that to a new level.  Over the last bunch of issues, Spencer has checked in on small groups or individual characters, leaving them in a number of different situations.  With this issue, almost every plotline converges, although strangely, more questions are raised than are answered.

Ike is holding Abraham, his father and the central force behind the whole series, at gunpoint, demanding answers.  Abraham wants Ike to leave before Irina shows up, because he knows that she will kill him.  The rest of Irina's group, who treat Abraham as if he is their father, don't really know what is happening, while Hunter is wandering through the woods with Jade, except it's Jade from the future.  Yes, it really is all that confusing.

At the same time, it's wonderful.  This issue is twice the size of a normal comic, and the whole book is taut with tension.  There is a strong sense of this being the last episode of a TV season, and I was once again struck with the similarity between this series and the TV show Lost, except that this book really does have a plan, no matter how strange it is.

As always with this book, I can't even try to make a prediction of where the book is going next, and I am very happy to just stick around for the ride.  Great stuff.

Planetoid #5

by Ken Garing

Planetoid started a while ago, at the vanguard of a new resurgence in serious, high-quality science fiction comics coming out of Image, like Storm Dogs and Prophet.  Planetoid stood out from the beginning for its very good, and because creator Ken Garing is basically an unknown quantity.

This series has told the story of a man, Silas, who has found himself stranded on a small planetoid that is almost completely covered with the remains of technology.  The planetoid had once hosted a mining operation, but the area of space it is in fell under control of the Ono Mao, a very ugly race of beings that are in conflict with humans.  Due to some gravitational thing, it is impossible to leave the planetoid, which is patrolled by vicious AIs that work for the Ono Mao.

Over the course of the series, Silas has met, and become the leader of a growing group of humans who are determined to stand up to their enemy, and try to carve out a better life for themselves.  Some of my favourite parts of this story dealt with the refugees finding ways to produce their own food, instead of always having to scavenge, or showed them learning how to work together.

This issue finishes off the storyline quite nicely.  A large group of AI are sent to attack the settlement, and Silas, having just escaped Ono Mao custody, arrives just in time for the final conflict.  When things go poorly, he has to decide between escaping, or sticking with his new friends.

As I said before, Garing's art is terrific, and I really enjoyed the way he's structured this series.  The ending is satisfying, and I hope to see some more comics from him soon.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shutterbug Follies

by Jason Little

Having read and enjoyed Jason Little's second 'Bee' graphic novel, Motel Art Improvement Service, about a year ago, I set out to find his first book featuring his nosy young heroine.

Shutterbug Follies is a quick-paced a romp, but it is also a much more inconsistent graphic novel with more than a few problems that were never properly explained.

We are rather quickly introduced to Bee, an intelligent eighteen year old who works at a photo developing shop (this book came out in 2002, when I guess people still actually had film in their cameras and developed it).  Bee likes to keep copies of the stranger photos she develops, and shares them with her best friend, who is only a slight presence in the book.  One day, a man named Oleg Khatchatourian comes in asking for his pictures to be developed, and he warns Bee that they might be a little grisly.

As it turns out, Khatchatourian is a well-known fine arts photographer who specializes in Weegee-like portraits of recently murdered people.  For some reason, Bee becomes a little obsessed with him, and starts researching everything she can about his life.  She discovers that his wife was recently killed in an accident involving a hansom cab, and so Bee is off to prove that Khatchatourian is really her killer.  Through a series of unbelievable coincidences, she becomes friendly with Khatchatourian's assistant, and a cab driver who is happy to help her trail the guy.

Eventually, Bee discovers that Khatchatourian has ties to the Russian mafia, and that his wife was poisoning their son in a Munchausen by proxy scenario that goes nowhere.  Likewise, she discovers that the artist's assistant is a peeping tom, but that goes nowhere either.  Most difficult to understand is why Khatchatourian would need to have photos developed at her shop, seeing as he has a completely operational darkroom in his two-story apartment, along with an assistant whose only job is to develop his pictures.

It was these kinds of inconsistencies which really drew me out of the story.  Also, Bee's character is not developed very much at all - had I not known who she was from the second book, I'd have found it hard to care at all about the character in this book.  Little's art is nice, but the story needed a lot more work.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #1

Written by Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Chris Mooneyham

I figured that it was an easy bet to take a chance on Five Ghosts, a new Image mini-series.  The writer, Frank J. Barbiere has caught my eye with his 'White Suits' stories in Dark Horse Presents, which deal with a mysterious Russian mafia.  The artist, Chris Mooneyham is new to me, but he has a style that reminds me a little of a cross between John Watkiss and Francesco Francavilla, with a little Frank Robbins tossed in, which is an interesting mix, giving this book a bit of a retro look to it.

The story is about Fabian Gray, a 'treasure hunter' who was somehow possessed by five 'literary ghosts' after touching an artifact.  Now, how exactly literary characters can exist as ghosts (outside of Mike Carey and Peter Gross's Unwritten) is not very clear, but it does give Gray the ability to tap into the knowledge and special skill sets of Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, some wizard (Merlin?) and a samurai (that one stumped me).

The story is set in the Second World War, and after an Indiana Jones-like opening sequence in a Nazi castle, followed by a little canoodling with his client, Gray hangs out with his advisor, before getting all possessed and crazy.  We learn that there are forces coming for Gray, and then he and his friend get shot down in Africa by spider-eyed Zulu warriors, or something like that.

I don't have a great handle on this book right now.  I like the art a lot, but am having some problems in following the story.  Perhaps a second read would help.  As it stands, I'm not all that sure if I'm going to stick with the title, but I would like to give it a second chance to impress me.  I think I was expecting something a little more literary (and yes, I know that Iago is in it), and maybe read this in the wrong mindstate.  I'll give it another go before the second issue comes out and see how I feel about it then.

If you're looking for an interesting adventure, you could do worse.

Saga #11

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

It's another issue of Saga, which means it's time to find a new way to praise a series that is consistently wonderful.  Maybe it's not needed?  Saga is becoming synonymous with quality after all.  Maybe its sufficient to just give a short recap.

This issue opens with a flashback to the night that Hazel was conceived; it seems that Vaughan and Staples try to open each new issue with a splash page that people are going to find shocking, at least in a mid-American Wal-Mart.  I don't really think it's necessary, but it's usually kind of fun (and this month, sexy).

After that, we see how Marko and Alana's family escape from the perilous gravity-space-baby thing that showed up last issue.  To get their wooden, living rocket ship out of harm's way, both Marko and his father have to resort to some rather extreme measures, both of which have consequences that are going to affect the family for some time to come.

On The Will's ship, he performs a rescue of Lying Cat, who got sucked out to space (apparently exposure to space is not much of an issue for these guys), and argues a little with Marko's ex.

Really, this is a pretty quick read this month, but as always, the book is absolutely lovely, and filled with good character work.  As always, I enjoyed it immensely.

Revival #8

Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Mike Norton

Revival, Tim Seeley and Mike Norton's rather involved series about a town where the dead came back to life, not as zombies but more or less as the people they once were, continues to sprawl and grow with each new issue.  Rather than making this a very focused, and limited, series that centres itself on the police procedural aspects of the story, Seeley is using the strange event of Revival Day to explore a number of facets of human, and particularly American, behaviour and culture.

This issue moves a little further into the politics of the situation.  Both the right and the left want to make use of the town of Wausau Wisconsin, and we learn that the Mayor of the town has some kind of hold over the Sheriff, who is the father of the two main characters.

Seeley touches base on a number of on-going plots, such as the difficulty of policing the quarantine zone, and Martha's adjustments to her new role as a Reviver.  The hunt for Reviver murderer Anders is called off by the Mayor, and May, the young reporter, tries to trick her way into interviewing local fitness legend Lester Majak about his involvement with the 'exorcist' who tried to kill her and Martha.

We also meet some new characters at a gay bar, and are introduced to a couple at the end of the issue who are anything but normal.

I'll admit that I sometimes have a hard time keeping track of all the various sub-plots in this title (a character sheet would be helpful), but I am enjoying this book very much.  It is a strange mash-up of The Walking Dead, Twin Peaks, and Picket Fences or maybe Fargo, and it has wonderful art by Mike Norton.

Dark Horse Presents #22

Written by Howard Chaykin, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Michael Avon Oeming, Geoffrey Thorne, Denis Medri, Mike Richardson, Patrick Alexander, Simon Roy, Jason Wordie, Kel McDonald, Shannon Wheeler, and Steve Moncuse
Art by Howard Chaykin, Steve Lieber, Michael Avon Oeming, Todd Harris, Denis Medri, Geof Darrow, Patrick Alexander, Simon Roy, Kel McDonald, Shannon Wheeler, and Steve Moncuse

It's not easy to give up on an anthology title, especially one that serializes stories over many months, but I think I just might be done with Dark Horse Presents.  Increasingly, I haven't found the stories on offer as interesting as they were when this series was relaunched about two years ago, and Dark Horse has made it pretty clear that most of these stories are going to be reprinted in 'zero' issues or as one-shots, which makes me wonder why I'm paying $8 a month for a fair amount of content that I'm not all that interested in reading.  Were Carla Speed McNeil's Finder series still running, I wouldn't even be thinking about jumping ship, as I consider paying $8 for 8 pages of her work completely reasonable, on the off chance that something else in the package would strike my fancy.

This issue, the story I enjoyed the most was the continuation of Simon Roy's Tiger Lung, which is an indigenous spiritual adventure.  I have been a fan of Roy's since buying his Jan's Atomic Heart from him at TCAF a few years ago, and I'm always happy to find more of his work.

Howard Chaykin, who is not a creator I'm overly fond of, did entertain me with his alternate history about George Custer (he becomes President and declares war on Canada!), although I can't tell if this was a one-off or if there will be more to come.

Journeymen, by Geoffrey Thorne and Todd Harris, is interesting, with its pirates, monsters, and teleportation, but I'm not sure I'm following the whole thing properly.  Arcade Boy, by Denis Medri, is kind of cute.

The interview between Mike Richardson and Geof Darrow was interesting enough, as they share their remembrances of terrible jobs for ad companies in the 70s, and talk about meeting Moebius, but it was the kind of self-serving stuff that tanked Creator-Owned Heroes.  I'd rather have just seen more Darrow art.

Beyond that, I found this issue pretty lacklustre, and not really worth talking about.

Mind MGMT #9

by Matt Kindt

I can't think of another new title that accomplishes what Mind MGMT does on a monthly basis.  Matt Kindt is telling his large story on a number of different levels, showing us the main story of what is happening to Meru, Henry Lyme, and the small but growing group of ex-Mind MGMT agents that are helping them to try to foil the plans of The Eraser, but also filling in the background of the agency, and introducing us to a number of its agents through short strips at the front and back of the book.

In this issue, Meru and her crew survive the attack on Dusty, an ex-agent with music-based powers's mansion, and try to use his half of a map to find Shangri-La, the former base of operations of Mind MGMT.  We learn that, despite the agency being defunct for a few years, Dusty has recently received missions.  We also become a little more intrigued about the often-mentioned figure Duncan, who we can imagine has some sort of beef with Lyme, but who is also likely to be essential to this mission's survival.  Meru is getting closer to figuring out (again) her relationship with Lyme, as she becomes more and more convinced that she has had her memory wiped.

One thing that is really cool about this issue is the way in which Kindt shows us Dusty's history, through the tracks of his first album.  The first letter of each song title spells out a message, furthering the use of subliminal information which is a theme in this comic.  Also of interest is the way in which the text from Meru's book (which runs up the left-hand side of most pages) intersects with her own experiences.

Mind MGMT is one of the more impressive comics on the stands.

Storm Dogs #4

Written by David Hine
Art by Doug Braithwaite

Storm Dogs is a rare comics series.  It's an intelligent, thoughtful science fiction title with fantastic art, that features detailed world building, well-developed characters, and a number of surprises and twists on its way through the story.  It's the kind of science fiction that I wish would show up on TV and in movies; something engaging, balanced, and with relevance to our world.  In some ways, this is Avatar done correctly, but that seems a little reductionist.

So much has happened in this series that I find it hard to believe that we are only four issues into things.  This issue opens with Sheriff Starck fighting with his deputy, Bronson, who he has decided is involved in at least one, if not all of the murders that have brought a special group of investigators to the planet of Amaranth.  Bronson goes to the mining consortium that he has secretly been working for to lick his wounds, and to help them in their interrogation of a Joppa, the race that seems to run things on the planet.  There is some sort of secret that the Joppa are keeping about some mysterious gems.

Our heroes, the investigative team being led by Cassandra Burroughs, make their way to a village of Elohi, a group that are roughly analogous to minimally-contacted tribes that live in the Amazon, where they are hoping to learn more about the work of the anthropologist, Professor Sarlat, who once stayed with them.  This leads in turn to more mysteries.

We also get to learn a little more in this issue about the wireheads - people who rent out their body so that others can move and manipulate them.  This practice is illegal in the rest of the Union, but appears to be tolerated on Amaranth.

In the letters' page, Hine talks about having the story prepared for a second mini-series, and discusses the potential for much more Storm Dogs, if the demand warrants it.  I hope that this series gets the chance to continue to run, as Hine and Braithwaite have built an interesting world, with the potential for many more stories.  Reading the text pieces show that this is a fully realized universe he's setting his stories in, and it's one I would like to learn a lot more about.  Please check out this series.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chew #32

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

I feel like I could never get tired of reading Chew, especially an issue as dense and meaty as this one.

Tony and his FDA compatriots are called out to assist a group of USDA agents, who are completely swamped by a string of attacks by members of the Immaculate Ova Cult, who have sworn to kill all chicken eaters.  Tony and his crew show up at a Mexican fast food joint, where a torta-espadero is killing agents using shuriken-shaped tortillas.

Tony handles this problem, and returns to the office to continue his investigations into the whereabouts of the cibopathic 'vampire' who killed someone close to him, while Colby and Caesar stop of at a chicken speakeasy for a little lunch.

This is a pretty pivotal issue for a few reasons.  First, Colby figures out that Caesar is still working with his (and Chu's) former partner Savoy, who has been set up all along as a villain in the book.  Colby has been steadily becoming a more complex character, and this issue really sees him grow.  The second pivotal event happens when Tony's boss gets on his case one time too many - it's a scene that made me want to cheer.

Layman and Guillory have taken this series, with its very odd central concept, and made it a very character-driven title.  While this is a humour comic, these characters have real weight to them, which makes the stakes in recent issues feel ever higher.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Private Eye #1

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Marcos Martin

The easiest way to get me to overcome my dislike of reading comics on my computer?  Tell me that there's a new digital-only series by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin.  Want to sweeten the deal even more?  Tell me that it's being offered as a 'pay what you can' purchase.

The Private Eye, available here, is a pretty excellent comic.  Vaughan posits a world where the Internet has been abandoned after everyones' personal information was made available to everyone, causing bankruptcies, divorces, and a ton of embarrassment.  In this future, everyone has become so concerned with their privacy that they wear disguises whenever they leave their homes.  Some of these disguises are mundane, making a person just look like another person, while others wear elaborate costumes (one guy has a fish face) or expensive holographic rigs to hide their true faces.

In this environment, which is explained very naturally over the course of the issue, we meet a PI, also called a Paparazzi, in this world where the 4th Estate has some sort of policing role, who specializes in uncovering peoples' real identities.  At the beginning of the issue he is staking out a young woman, photographing her real face for a man who has been in love with her since high school.

Later, he is asked by a woman with a tiger face, to investigate her background, as she is applying for one of the few jobs which require a background security check.  Of course, there's a lot more going on with her than what the PI is told, but this is just the first issue, so we don't know what that's going to be yet.

Vaughan takes a slow, organic approach to explaining how things work in this world.  Most of the issue leaves us in the dark, until the PI has to talk to his senile grandfather, who clearly used to be a hipster when he was younger (i.e., in our time).  The PI, who sometimes goes by the code-name Patrick Immelmann, is an interesting character.  He has quite the collection of memorabilia, and is shown reading Joseph Heller. Martin shows us around his office, where books by Barack Obama and Henry Miller share prominence with Freakonomics.

Martin is always an exciting artist, although he is only given one opportunity to cut loose in an early chase sequence.  Still, this is a visually exciting comic, and I'm very pleased by the fact that there are nine more instalments to come.  Go check this out - and make sure you throw some money the creators' way.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths

by Shigeru Mizuki

Take a moment and think about how the West has portrayed Japanese soldiers of the Second World War in films, novels, and other media.  The image that immediately comes to my mind is of tenacious fighters who attack suddenly, and who never give up an inch of ground.  I can't think of a single movie I've seen or book I've read that gets into the Japanese perspective though.

That's why I was excited to crack open Sigeru Mizuki's Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, the collection of a manga story that was originally serialized in 1973.

This book is, according to the author, 90% true.  Mizuki was stationed on New Britain, an island in the Papua New Guinean archipelago, and was home to some fierce fighting between the Japanese and the Americans.  Mizuki introduces us to a number of characters of all ranks, and shows the boredom of the soldiers awaiting an Allied attack.

Much of this book is given over to portraying the officers as dehumanizing the men under their command.  Barely a page goes by where someone isn't being slapped or beaten simply because of their lower rank.  The men have their time wasted by officers looking to keep them busy, and the men slowly lose all sense of respect for the war effort in general.  When it becomes clear that the soldiers holding an area around Baien have no hope of success, their leaders decide that the appropriate course of action is to attack the Americans in a frontal suicide charge.

Some of the men survive this, and make their way to their larger forces, far to the rear of the fighting.  That they survived is seen as something between an inconvenience and a complete insult.  Their deaths have been reported to military command, and so it is necessary for them to attack again, ensuring their fate is what their commanders expect.

This book lays bare the problems of Japan during the war.  The need for honor, and for keeping up appearances sent men to needless deaths, while doing nothing to halt the Allied advance.  Mizuki does a terrific job of humanizing this senseless slaughter, and portraying it in a light, enjoyable fashion.

Mizuki's art is very interesting.  His backgrounds and establishing shots are exceptionally detailed and photo-realistic, while his figures are drawn in a very simple, cartoonish style.  Many of the characters look like the racially stereotypical drawings of the Japanese seen in American comics of the war period, which kind of surprised me.

I enjoyed reading this book a great deal.  None of the characters, with the possible exception of the doctor, stuck with me, although that is something that often happens to me when I read war comics; all of the characters are usually so similar that as individuals, they don't matter.  Which was more or less the point of the Japanese command.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

McSweeney's 42

Edited by Adam Thirlwell

I'm not often let down by an edition of McSweeney's - while there are often stories or other pieces that I don't like, there are always just as many, if not more, that I enjoy.

This latest volume, Issue 42, is one of the more experimental editions of the long-running literary quarterly.  The premise behind it is that twelve stories, originally all written in languages other than English, have been translated and translated again.  The original is sent to one translator, who writes his or her translation in one language.  That story is now sent to another writer/translator, to be put into another language (English more often than not - every second translation is always in English), with the end result being a story that is both markedly different, and remarkably similar, once it's reached the end of the chain.

It's a good idea.  I've often wondered, when reading favourite authors like Kafka, Borges, or Bolaño, how much of what I'm reading is provided by the translator, and how much is original (I speak no other language well enough to read books outside of English).  I think the problem with this book was threefold though.

Firstly, reading a couple of versions of the same story in quick succession, or in proximity to one another made faithful translations rather dull.  Sometimes it really felt like reading the same story twice in a row.  When drastic changes were made, there was a sense of liberty that wouldn't have been there without the other, less thrilling translations being slogged through, but still.

Secondly, I see some fault with the choices of original stories.  I get it that editor Adam Thirlwell needed stories from established and well-known writers that weren't themselves well-known, and that were short, but a lot of the originals were a little too pensive, philosophical, and kind of dry.  I would have loved to have seen this type of experiment performed on a short crime story, or something with a little more drama to it.

Thirdly, I hated the design of the book.  A big part of the thrill of each new issue of McSweeney's is seeing how the book itself is constructed, but this one had some problems.  When you look at the picture above, it's important to note that the blue parts of the cover are constructed out of standard matte cover stock.  The yellow or buff part of the book is constructed out of a sturdy textured cardstock.  The white, final third of the cover is just interior paper, fully exposed to the elements, fingertips, and prone to folding, especially on the back.  I like to keep these books neat, and this, coupled with the extra-wide format, difficult.

Anyway, I don't want to completely trash this book.  It was an interesting experiment, and I enjoyed reading some of the translators' notes about how they approached the task.  I especially like the Icelandic writer, Sjón, who doesn't speak any English, who had his high-school aged son read the story, and then tell him about it many days later.  He just transcribed that story from memory, making it very different from the original (or so I assume, not speaking Icelandic).  In the final analysis, this type of project is deserving of thought and praise, if not really a complete reading.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nowhere Men #4

Written by Eric Stephenson
Art by Nate Bellegarde

Nowhere Men is one of the most interesting comics being published right now.  Writer (and Image publisher) Eric Stephenson explained this series before it began as "Science is the new rock and roll", and it's been interesting to see how that has played out.  Ostensibly, the series is centred on four guys who were, at one time, the Beatles of science, but the book is set in the present day, and these guys are missing, presumed dead, reclusive, or comatose.

The scenes involving the original World Corp. scientists are a little disjointed, as we are are left to fill in the blanks about what has happened between them, although this issue gives us a lot more information about them.

It's been easier to follow the storyline about a group of scientists who were abandoned on a World Corp. space station after coming down with a strange disease.  Many of them teleported to Earth, and are showing increased signs of metamorphosis caused by the illness.  One of them has become a gigantic red creature, while another more or less turns to gas in this issue.  For others, the transformation hasn't been revealed yet.

I'm clueless in terms of where this series is going, and that's why I'm so interested by it.  Stephenson is allowing his characters to carry the book's momentum for the most part, especially in the scenes involving Ellis and Strange, and each new issue has me more curious about where it's all going.

This is a book worth checking out.

The Walking Dead #108

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Have you ever, after putting up with someone for a long time, finally decided to vent to a third party, only to discover that the other person's friend was eavesdropping?  That's more or less what happens to Rick in this issue, as Jesus takes him to meet Ezekiel, and they begin to plot against Negan.

Ezekiel is the ruler of a small 'kingdom' that he has set up, centred in a high school.  He's an interesting character - all white dreadlocks and pet tiger, and one has to wonder exactly why people in his land have chosen to rally around him, going so far as to refer to him as their king, and put up with his Medieval Times speech.  He's probably the most eccentric person Robert Kirkman has ever introduced into The Walking Dead, where even extreme characters like Negan and The Governor can be understood within the context of the times they are living in.

When talking to Ezekiel, Rick has no idea that one of Negan's Saviors are present, and Rick is immediately sceptical.  Kirkman has a long history of making things look one way in his comics when they are really another, so it's hard to predict if Dwight is serious about betraying Negan, or if he is playing Rick and the rest.  It's that unpredictability that makes me love this comic so much.

The other thing that works very effectively are the quieter character moments Kirkman sprinkles throughout the book.  Michonne is getting a lot more screen time lately, and becoming an even more complex character.  Now that everyone is living in relative safety in the Community, Kirkman has more time to explore the various ways in which they are coping with their new lives.  For the longest time, this was a book about pure survival, but once those basic needs are being met, people actually have the time and the space to react to things.  Exploring that makes this book as interesting as whatever is happening between Rick and Negan.

Change #4

Written by Ales Kot
Art by Morgan Jeske

I'm not ashamed to admit that by the end of Change, I really had no clue what was going on.  At the beginning of Change I was pretty lost, but this last issue threw pretty much any hope of making sense out the window, as a man with a talking tumor got eaten by some gigantic elder god and then farted out, but after a falling space capsule killed his tumor.  Oh, and some cultists stood around on the beach with an alligator wearing a suit, and a military drone came to life.  Some other stuff happened too - I just don't know what all it was.

The thing is, with Morgan Jeske's nice art, and Sloane Leong's lovely colours, I found that I didn't much care about the story - this is a comic meant to be read as a free association, Surrealist romp, and that's exactly what is was, a mix of Grant Morrison with Brendan McCarthy and Ted McKeever.  And you know, for those reasons, it's a pretty good little series.

Perhaps this book would make more sense read in one sitting, perhaps not.  Ales Kot is getting a lot of press these days, and that somehow has turned into his getting a gig on DC's Suicide Squad (which is either going to be brilliant or horrible), and his press is deserved for trying something different, even if it doesn't entirely work out in terms of clear story.  Or, the story is completely clear, and I'm just not all that smart.  I accept either interpretation...

Saucer Country #13

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

With time running out on this series (I think there's only one issue left before it's getting canceled), Paul Cornell just keeps upping the stakes, and making things ever more interesting.

It's election day, and all signs are pointing towards Governor Arcadia Alvarado walking away with the White House.  This has all sorts of people nervous, as the GOP contacts her most trusted advisor to reveal that they know about her belief in UFOs, although they aren't ready to act on that knowledge.  This raises some interesting questions about the veracity of Alvarado's running mate's assertions that the President is himself an alien.

As well, the Bluebirds, a group of engineers who study alien technology, reach out, although their overture does not receive the response they expected.  Most interestingly, Professor Kidd is led on a hunt by his tiny otherworldly advisors, although he seems to know more about them than they would have expected.

Cornell crams a lot of stuff into this issue, and its amusing to realize that, while all of this is going on, people around the country are at the polls voting.  Ryan Kelly is doing some incredible figure work in this book, and I can't wait to see how it all turns out.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mind the Gap #8

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo

As this series continues, I find that my enjoyment of it only grows.  This issue has a lot happening in it - coma patient Elle's time borrowing the body of young Katie comes to a close, but this time has been very productive in terms of helping us understand what is going on.

It's been clear for a little while that Min, Elle's mother, is behind the attack that put her in the hospital, and that she's working for or with someone only referred to as 'The Fifth', but this issue also makes  clear the extent to which her father is involved, and how he feels about that.

The further we get into this series, the more impressed I am with the way in which Jim McCann's characters exert themselves on the page.  This is a complicated series, but each character has a distinctive voice, and that is a huge part of the book's success.  I've begun to care about what happens to Min, and to look forward to seeing some of these other characters get what they deserve.  I still find Dr. Geller the most compelling person in the book.

Rodin Esquejo's art is fantastic, but I find that every time he chooses not to centre a panel on the principal characters, it's because there is some kind of clue there.  Many panels in this comic focus on a person's shoulder or just cuts off their faces, as if Esquejo wanted to save time by not drawing their expressions.  Or because he is trying to point something out.  It's that kind of book - you find yourself always questioning what information is being given to you.  Really, that's the appeal.

The Manhattan Projects #10

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Ryan Browne

Have you ever felt the desire to read a comic that features J. Robert Oppenheimer punching out a horse?  You know you have, and Jonathan Hickman has finally helped you realize your dreams.

To say that this is a strange issue of The Manhattan Projects is a difficult comment to parse.  Does that mean that it's completely conventional and a little dull?  Or does it mean that this issue is even crazier than the series usually is?  Well, yes, as the whole comic takes place inside the head of Joseph Oppenheimer, Robert's twin brother who, in the first issue of the series, killed and ate him.

Robert comes to his senses in a deep well, which he climbs out of to find himself in a strange landscape where his thoughts have power over reality.  At first, everything seems barren, but then he finds the aforementioned horse, roughs it up a bit, and then rides it into the city he has seen in the distance.  As it turns out, the city is his brother's brain, where he finds the infinite copies that Joseph keeps making.

This issue suggests that Robert may be starting the long process of gaining control over his brother's body.  I wonder what he'll think when he discovers that the Manhattan Project has manipulated its way into a position of great power over the United States, and for its own ends.

This issue is guest-drawn by Ryan Browne, an artist I'm not familiar with, but whose art looks remarkably like regular series artist Nick Pitarra.  I'm sure much of the credit for that goes to colourist Jordie Bellaire, who helps maintain consistency.  I'm not sure if Pitarra is just behind a little, or if other changes are in the works for this comic.  Either way, this is a great issue of one of the best series on the stands.

Hellboy: House of the Living Dead

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Richard Corben

Over the last couple of years, I've found myself getting very bored with Hellboy stories set in the current continuity.  The trilogy with Duncan Fegredo, which resulted in HB's death, did very little for me.  The current Hellboy in Hell series has me contemplating dropping the title completely, as it seems to be all pretension, scenes of HB falling through floors, and boring prophecy.

Then I pick this one-off graphic novel up, and remember just what makes this character work well in the first place.  House of the Living Dead is a follow-up to the excellent Hellboy in Mexico one-shot that was also drawn by Richard Corben, and that established that for a while in the 1950s, Hellboy was a Mexican luchadore.

This story picks up on the time where Hellboy was hanging around Mexico, fighting, and drinking himself to oblivion every night over what had happened to his friend Esteban, who had been turned by vampires.  It is while in this state that a man approaches him, and gets him to come to Dr. José Luis Kogan's creepy castle, where he has a Frankenstein monster he wants Hellboy to fight.  The rest of the comic is a bit of a tribute to the Universal movie monsters, as HB has to deal with this monster, a werewolf, and a couple other surprise appearances.

The story is a lot of fun to read, and lacking any of the prophecies that seem to follow Hellboy around everywhere.  Corben's art is always wonderful, and is worth the price of admission on its own.

Monday, March 11, 2013

MW

by Osamu Tezuka

I wish I knew more about the history of comics in Japan.  I would be particularly interested in knowing how MW, a twenty-six chapter story originally serialized between 1976 and 1978, was received by the public.  In this book, by the universally acclaimed master of Japanese comics, Osamu Tezuka, we are given a story that involves gay sex, child molestation, sexual torture, and images of corrupted members of the clergy.

I know that these days, all bets are off in terms of what can be depicted in Japanese comics, but I figure this must have caused a stir at the time, being written and drawn by the man who created Astro Boy.

MW tells the story of Michio Yuki, a beautiful and feminine young man who was kidnapped and molested by a group of thugs at the age of twelve.  While being held captive by one of the thugs on a remote island, Yuki was exposed to MW, a deadly nerve toxin being stored at an American military base.  He and his captor are the only people to survive the attack, but Yuki's brain is forever altered, making him an inhuman sociopath.

When the book opens, Yuki has achieved a position of some prominence at an important bank, a position he uses to blackmail clients for his own gains.  In short order, we see him seduce and kill the bank's manager, and then impersonate her to rob the bank on his own.  Yuki is working towards his grand plan, which is to find the location of the remaining stores of MW, and then use them to kill all life on the planet.

The young gangster who first kidnapped Yuki has, in an attempt to atone for his sinful ways, become a priest.  That doesn't stop Father Garai from keeping Yuki's murderous secrets, and having regular assignations with him.

This story is as much about Garai's wrestling with his own guilt as it is about Yuki's evil deeds.  I was surprised by how dark this story got, and how sexual, without being completely explicit (at least in its visuals - Tezuka tends to blur the lower half of his couplings, but he also suggests that Yuki makes love to his dog).

This is a very compelling read, and quite liberal for its time.  When a lowlife photographer tries to sell compromising photos of Garai to a muck-racking newspaper, they refuse to run them because the city editor is herself a closeted lesbian.

One thing I didn't understand was why the United States was constantly referred to as Nation X, despite the fact that we knew one Lt. General who falls afoul of Yuki's charms is from Kentucky.  Perhaps some explanatory notes would have been helpful...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Arkansas

by John Brandon

I really enjoyed John Brandon's Citrus County when I read it a couple of years back, so I thought I should check out his first novel, Arkansas.

This novel is a story about three men - Kyle, Swin, and Frog.  Frog is a drug lord who has created a network in which to hide himself, dispatching packages with instructions for the various people in his network to follow.  His story, from his earliest days to a time commensurate with the action of the novel, is interspersed throughout the book, and strangely told in second person.

Kyle is a recluse, with a good head for crime, if nothing else.  Swin is a more interesting character, a health freak whose very generous assessment of his own intelligence is also the reason why he's had trouble finding success in the world.

These two guys find their way into Frog's operation, and are eventually assigned to work as Park Rangers in a National Park overseen by a man named Bright, who is one of Frog's most valued men.  After Bright is killed in a strange incident, Swin and Kyle try to go it alone, maintaining the park and their side business much as was done under Bright, but it's not possible for them to manage this for long.

I don't read a lot of crime novels, and so I appreciated how Brandon eschewed many of the usual tropes of that genre, instead just telling a good story about some people in some strange and compromising situations.  His prose goes down easy, and this is an enjoyable read.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lost Vegas #1

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Janet Lee

I love digging into a new comics series when I don't have the first idea what to expect from it.  I didn't read anything about Lost Vegas, the new series from Mind the Gap writer Jim McCann and his Dapper Men collaborator Janet Lee, but kind of assumed it would be something like Bill Willingham's Proposition Player, about gambling and the supernatural.  I didn't expect it to be a well thought-out science fiction adventure series, but that's exactly what it is.

Roland is a gambler of low repute, who likes to try to cheat his way through some of the lower-class casinos in the galaxy.  Right at the beginning of the book, he's caught cheating and sold to Lost Vegas, a high-rolling operation that has its indentured servants, holographically disguised to be identical, slowly earn their freedom by serving guests and turning over their tips to the house.

Roland has spent five years putting together an escape plan which involves modifying his holographic collar, and trusting a couple of other employees, who have different reasons for wanting to help him.  Much of this first issue is taken up with showing us around the casino, and demonstrating the wealth of creativity that McCann and Lee are pouring into this book.  Roland is not a particularly likeable character, but that's rather the point I think.  Still, I'm a sucker for a good heist story, and that's what this book promises.

Lee's clean, expansive pencils work very well here, as we get an eyeful of what a futuristic casino in outer space would look like.  This was one of the more entertaining books I read this week, and I will definitely be coming back for the next issue.

Helheim #1

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Joëlle Jones

I get a lot of enjoyment out of Cullen Bunn's mystical Western series The Sixth Gun, so adding his new title, Helheim, to my pull-list was a no-brainer.  Bunn has launched a new series that is similar to Sixth Gun, in that it takes an established genre - the Viking tale in this case - and mashed it up with horror-filled fantasy.

When this comic opens, a group of Norsemen are fleeing through the woods towards their walled village.  We're not too clear on what is chasing them, but we know that they arrive home too late to be let in, since the gates wouldn't be closed before their pursuers are upon them.  Making their stand, the brave Rickard, his father, and their friends are able to repel the vicious men and dogs that are after them.

Later, after the battle is completed, the dead attackers rise up from the ground and continue the battle, which exacts a terrible price from the small, starving community.  We eventually learn that a witch named Groa is behind the problems of the village, although Rickard's father figures out that it is because she is after Bera, Rickard's beautiful wife.  There are a couple more surprises at the end of the comic, but I won't spoil them.

Bunn is joined on this title by Joëlle Jones, a talented artist best known for her work in the romance and crime genres.  She does an excellent job on this book, with art that reminds me a little of Becky Cloonan's issues of Northlanders.

When The Sixth Gun started, I wondered if it had more than an arc or two in the concept, and it's now up to its 29th issue, and a spin-off mini-series has just launched.  Here's hoping that Bunn fills Helheim with as many good stories, and achieves the same kind of success.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sacrifice #5

Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Dalton Rose

The second of two issues of Sacrifice that I picked up this week is just as good a read as the first.

Things have not gone well for the Aztecs after their first contact with the Spanish.  Despite the efforts of time traveller Hector in uniting the people of Mexico, he has not been able to stave off the effects of smallpox on a population that has no natural defense against it.

Now, the Aztecs are making a final stand at Tenochtitlan, and Hector, who has been in seclusion for the last six months, has to make a final sacrifice to try to save the whole thing.

This issue gets a little more psychedelic than the last few, returning more to the look of the first issue, which had Hector first arrive in Moctezuma's territory.  It's never been made clear if Hector has actually traveled through time, or if everything we've seen of him has been a sort of fever dream brought on by his own psychoses.  That uncertainty is amped up this issue, as we are given glimpses of both worlds.

While the delay between issues has been very long, so it's hard to remember all the details of this series, I must comment on how much story Sam Humphries has packed into the first five issues of this comic.  It really is a dense, nuanced read, and I feel that, after getting the final issue, I'm going to want to read through it all again in one or two sittings.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sex #1

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Piotr Kowalski

Joe Casey is a 'buy on sight' writer for me, even if I don't always end up loving his work (the more recent issues of Godland, and his very strange Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance did not really do it for me), he has a pretty singular voice in modern comics, as a writer of truly independent and unique superhero books.

His new series Sex continues that trend.  I had no preconceived notions going into the book (I don't read solicitation text or website interviews and articles about books I know I'm going to buy), but assumed that this would be a light comedy about heroes getting it on.  Not even close.

Sex appears to be a story about Bruce Wayne trying to cobble together a normal life for himself after giving up being Batman.  Bruce is called Simon Cooke here, and Gotham is Saturn City.  Cooke is returning to the very densely-populated city after a seven month absence, looking to take back control of his company, and apply himself to shaking off his flaky reputation.  His alter ego, the Armored Saint, has been mothballed, and in his absence, the criminals are becoming more bold.

Simon is determined to keep a promise he made to build a more normal life for himself, but that seems a little outside his capabilities right now.

With the title being Sex, you'd expect there would be lots of it, and for that reason, readers picking up the title for a thrill are likely to be disappointed.  Simon does go to a high-end peepshow establishment, but the whole scene is not that exciting for any of the participants.  Perhaps a little more-so for the reader.

This issue felt like it was over almost before it began, but Casey had a lot to do to get the ball rolling.  He did definitely pique my interest, and I'm curious to see where he is going to take this story.  Piotr Kowalski's art is very nice, with a bit of a Tonci Zonjic feel to it.  The book has a very European sensibility in its appearance, something furthered by Rus Wooten's lettering, which looks to be straight from a French comic.

In all, this is a very good package (I love reading Casey's backmatter pages).  I don't think this title deserves any of the criticism it received prior to publication (which is mostly because of the title, from what I can gather), but it does deserve some attention.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Glory #33

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

Glory has been a pretty wild ride since Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell resurrected the long-dead Rob Liefeld character, but this issue is easily the most intense and wild of their run.

Glory has assembled a large group of heroes to help her fight the Knight of Thule, a gigantic creature who wrecked her father's homeland.  Almost all of the characters in the Liefeld stable are here (so there are terrible character designs all over the place), with prominent roles given to Supreme, and the regular supporting cast of this series.

The battle is joined early into the comic, and after that, there is not much more than some very impressive battle scenes.  Keatinge has been showing us that Glory is not someone to be messed with, as Supreme learns when he tries to suggest a different plan of action.

Riley, the tiny little point of view character who has been central to this book has to face her destiny in this comic, as Keatinge gets ready for next month's final issue.  It's a very exciting comic, and Campbell does a terrific job of balancing the wide-screen action with some of the issue's quieter moments.

I'm going to miss this series when it's done.

Sacrifice #4

Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Dalton Rose

I don't know when this book actually came out (Sam Humphries website said it was coming in January), but my favourite comic store, one of only two in the country that sell this book, only got their copy of issues four and five today.  I was going to read them both together and then write about, but I decided that a self-published and self-distributed book that is this good deserves to have as much written about it as possible.

Sacrifice has been following Hector, a depressed young man who has somehow found himself in Mexico City (then called Tenochtitlan) just prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the Americas. Hector has had a difficult experience in Moctezuma's empire, being seen by almost everyone as mystical and special, but not always accepted by the different religious sects that are jockeying for power.

As this issue opens, Hector is performing the sacrifice of a great warrior, during which he receives a vision of his own time.  He realizes that, if he is going to do anything to save the Aztecs from the fate brought to them by the Spanish, he has little time to influence Moctezuma into uniting with the city-states he has been ruling by fiat, and preparing to repel the Spanish invaders.  This plan doesn't sit well with one of his religious rivals, and Malin, the famous female rebel who sided with Cortes, manages to disappear to parts unknown.

I've always been attracted to the idea of revisiting the earliest instances of contacts between Europeans and the indigenous Americans, and like how Humphries has been using this series to somewhat balance the historical scales.  I look forward to reading the next issue, which is just a little ways deeper into this week's reading pile.

Bedlam #5

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Riley Rossmo

Just before reading this comic this week, I saw on Bleeding Cool that Riley Rossmo is leaving Bedlam due to 'creative differences' with writer Nick Spencer.  I'm never quite sure where I stand on Rossmo's art - when I started reading Proof, I loved it, but as that series continued, I often found his storytelling to be confusing and hard to follow.  Since then, he's sort of become the ubiquitous face of Image Comics, and that has meant he's drawn some books that I don't feel were well suited for his scratchy style.  Five issues into Bedlam though, I can't think of another artist that would be more suitable for Spencer's strange exploration of madness in a world of costumed vigilantes.  This title, with its disfigured nurses and genitally-scarred angel-wing wearing serial killers, would not work with a more realistic or a more cartoonish artist.  Really, no one is coming to mind right now except possibly Ted McKeever, although I'd kind of like to see Bill Sienkiewicz take over (not that that is going to happen).

Anyway, to talk about this actual issue, I'd have to say that my opinion of this book is continuing to grow.  Mr. Press, who we can all safely assume was once the Joker-like character Madder Red, continues to assist a police detective in her investigation into a string of murders.  There is some proof that these killings are connected to a sex-abuse scandal at a church many years prior, and Detective Acevedo reluctantly allows Press to continue helping her as she heads out to a prison to interview the man at the centre of that scandal.

Press is a difficult character to read, and he makes a few moves of his own this month that make his intent and his sanity rather murky.  We also see a lot more of his final days in treatment.  I did have the thought that Spencer has been playing with us, and that Press is not really Madder Red; it's not like Spencer doesn't regularly upend readers' expectations in Morning Glories.

As I said before, Rossmo's art has grown on me over the course of this series so far, and the news of his impending departure makes me wonder how well this book is going to work without him.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Roseaux

by Roseaux

Roseaux is one of the better albums I've bought in the last year.  It's a collection of ten songs performed by a group of French musicians, working under the tutelage and vision of producer Emile Omar.  The other musicians are cellist Clément Petit and Alex Finkin, a multi-instrumentalist.  They are joined on vocals by Aloe Blacc, who sings a number of covers that are both familiar and rendered anew.  Other various musicians show up as needed.

Musically, this is a sparse but very pretty album, recreating songs by artists as varied as The Police, Pearl Jam, Patti Labelle, and the Brazilian band Nazaré Peirera.  This album is interesting because all of these songs, from so many different traditions, end up sounding like they come from the same era and place.

Apparently these songs were recorded before the ones on Blacc's excellent Good Things album, and its interesting to here him sound so much quieter, and almost morose on some tracks.  This is a bluesy, soulful exploration.

This is a great album to sit back and relax to.  I don't think the cd has been released in North America yet (I ordered mine from France), but this is worth picking up in whatever format you can find.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Templar, Arizona Vol. 2: The Mob Goes Wild

by Spike

I really enjoyed the first volume of Templar, Arizona, a webcomic that has been collected (so far) into four slim volumes.  The series is about the very strange town of Templar Arizona, where society has taken a few different turns from ours'.

This second volume continues to give us a tour of Templar. When the book opens, a rally for the Reclamation movement gets disrupted by the Cooks.  Reclamation is a social movement concerned with rehabilitating and squatting in abandoned and under-utilized industrial spaces, similar to the movements that have swept through Latin America.  The Cooks are a mysterious groups of anarchists who enjoy disrupting and escalating protests for their own, unknown purposes.

Someone from this rally, most likely a Cook, ends up on the ledge of our point of view character, Benjamin's, window.  He talks his way into the apartment, smearing riot police "smelly paint" on Ben's face, and marking his window with a mysterious vinyl sticker.

After this, we meet a number of new characters, as Ben, Scipio, and the loud-mouthed Reagan continue their usual dynamic of shock, disdain, and appeasement, and carry on across the city.  We meet people like Tuesday, a TV or radio star who likes to take off her clothes, Curio, her frenemy, and Sunny and Moze, who are in a band with the intellectually challenged Gene.  We also learn about Diesel, the Templar version of street hockey à la Thunderdome.

Spike has done a terrific job of developing these characters and imbuing Templar with so many interesting elements, that a clear plot is rather unnecessary.  This series reminds me a great deal of Carla Speed McNeil's phenomenal Finder saga, mostly because of the depth of thought put into social structures, and the casual, breezy style of the footnotes that add so much to my enjoyment of the book.  I really need to get ahold of the next two volumes...

Prophet #34

Written by Brandon Graham with Simon Roy and Matt Sheean
Art by Simon Roy and Malachi Ward

I love Prophet, and all the work that Brandon Graham and his amazing cast of artists have done to take an utterly execrable 90s character and turn him and his story into a sweeping futuristic space epic, but over the last two months, I've not been able to stop myself from wondering if the book has fallen into a bit of a rut.

In this issue, we revisit the John Prophet who we first saw in these pages, in Graham and Roy's earliest issues.  He's the guy who woke on Earth after millennia of hibernation, and who turned on the GOD satellite, which reawakened the entire Earth Empire.  Since then, we've met a number of different Prophet clones on a number of different missions, as well as the original - Old Man Prophet, who is gathering allies to stop the Earth Empire.

This issue has John Prophet come to the Empire's central domus - a large structure that is the heart of its endeavours.  There, he discovers that some in the Empire fear him and want him dead.  Some other things happen too, as they always do in this book, that are pretty wild and wonderful in their own way.

Really, this is an excellent comic, but I feel like it's time for the story to take a few larger leaps forward. It's never been made clear just what the Empire is all about, or why we should be concerned about it.  There are portents of doom galore, but I think we might need some actual doom to hold everything together.

As always, I enjoyed Roy's artwork, and was very intrigued by the back-up story, CARE, by Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward.  Usually these back-ups are stand-alones, and aren't given enough space to grow, but this is the beginning of a serial, which gives the creators a lot more space.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Unwritten #46

by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, with Dean Ormston

This issue continues the two-part storyline featuring Australian Detective Didge and vampire Richie Savoy, who are investigating a pair of zombie attacks that they believed were caused by the writing of a young boy.  Savoy suspects that Leviathan, the wounded creature that has the ability to make stories real, is involved in what's happening, and he seeks out Madame Rausch, the 'puppet lady' for some answers.

Since the Cabal was taken apart by Tom Taylor a while back, this title has been casting about for a proper villain.  We got a cult leader for a little while, and have never been too sure where Rausch stands, although this issue suggests that she clearly has her own plans.  This issue introduces the idea that Leviathan is not the only creature of his kind, and that other such beasts, fed by more modern stories, are in competition to fill its place in the story-ecosystem.

This book has always been interesting, and I like the way that Carey and Gross give the spotlight to a pair of characters who don't often get much play.  The dialogue between the two works very well, and I always think it's nice when Dean Ormston provides inks over Gross's pencils; it changes the feel of the book a great deal.