Sunday, April 28, 2013

Key of Z

Written by Claudio Sanchez and Chondra Echert
Art by Aaron Kuder

I grabbed the trade paperback for Key of Z on a whim, and because I'd liked the look of the Nathan Fox covers when I saw the mini-series on the comics stands.  I have never heard a song by Coheed & Cambria, the band that one of the writers is in, and was therefore not swayed by his celebrity in any way.

Basically, this book could be described as The Walking Dead meets DMZ.  After a zombie outbreak, the survivors in New York have coalesced into three stadiums - Madison Square Gardens, Yankee Stadium, and wherever it is that the Mets play.  Each of these stadiums are run by leaders who take slightly different approaches to things - the guy in the Gardens tries to keep a political/corporate approach to life, while the guy who leads the Yankees does it more like a gang lord.

Inevitably there is conflict, and our hero, a man named Nick Ewing, loses his family because of it.  He takes a few years to raid the Met of its ancient weapons (how come Rick Grimes and crew haven't been looting museums?) and plot his revenge, and most of this book is about how he goes about exacting it.

One other thing that the writers have added to the wealth of zombie mythology is the notion that Ewing can control sleepers (I guess walkers is trademarked now?) with a battered old harmonica.

This is a pretty well-written story, and I really like Aaron Kuder's art, which has a bit of the Frank Quitely about it.  It would appear that my impulse purchase was a good one.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Manhattan Projects #11

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

One of my favourite monthly titles continues to impress with each new issue.  The Manhattan Projects has moved into new territory, as the American and Russian science agencies have affected a secret merger, and are now setting about making their plans for all their Cold War funding.

To that end, a meeting is held on their new Moon base to come up with some long-term goals.  Of course, Oppenheimer has his plans, and details three projects he would like to commence, which involve space travel, alternative energy, and human longevity.  He has a fourth project as well, but it's a secret...

The heart of this issue lies in the story of Dr. Harry Daghlian.  We see how he became an animated atomic skeleton, and we see just how close his friendship with Dr. Enrico Fermi is.  It is because of Fermi that his containment suit allows him to interact with other people.

This book is impossible to predict, and knowing Jonathan Hickman's penchant for long-range planning, is likely to stay that way for a good long time.

Another thing I like about it are the completely unconventional covers, which reflect the content of the book in puzzlingly tangential ways quite often, but also make the comic stand out like no other book.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Annotated Mantooth

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Andy Kuhn and Tim Fisher

I think most readers aren't aware of the fact that Matt Fraction was bumping around the independent circuit for quite a while before getting noticed and published by Marvel, where he has become one of their main writers.  Some of his early work, like Last Of The Independents and Five Fists Of Science are terrific, and Casanova is sublime.  And then there's Mantooth.

There were three Mantooth stories told as part of an anthology series at Image, which were later collected and published alongside their script pages and with Fractions annotations in The Annotated Mantooth.  This extra material was needed in order to justify calling this book a trade paperback; otherwise, it would be just a little longer than a regular comic.

Rex Mantooth is a talking gorilla trained in kung fu and making things 'splode.  He has a sexy human agent girlfriend, and he goes on James Bond-style missions for the US government.  In the course of these three issues, he fights an Oprah Winfrey stand-in who is training an army of beautiful lesbians, a gigantic Nazi robot called World's Greatest Grandpa, Adolf Hitler in Fu Manchu drag, and an evil scientist who turns a room full of Nobel Prize winners into zombies.  I'll admit, zombie Stephen Hawkings is pretty funny.

If all of this sounds a little familiar, it's because you've seen it all before.  There has, over the last fifteen or so years, been a movement to develop 'awesome' as a genre.  It's where humour books like Axe Cop and Buddy Cops belong, but you could argue it also contains titles like Geof Darrow's Shaolin Cowboy.  'Awesome' comics are created by cartoonists who look for the wildest idea they can find, and mash it up with some slightly less wild ideas, irregardless of character or logical plotting.  It can be fun, but it doesn't stick with you.

If that's your kind of thing, you'd probably like Mantooth.  It is a fun read, but it out Michael Bay's Michael Bay.  You can kind of see the seeds that grew into Casanova here, and it's always entertaining to check out a creator's earlier work, but this is not a classic.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Miniature Jesus #1

by Ted McKeever

Here's a question for those of you who are more religiously inclined than I am - if a wall-statue of Jesus were to suddenly come to life, pull the nails out of its hands, and drop to the floor, what would you automatically assume?  If you are Ted McKeever's preacher, you'd find it to be proof of demonic activity, a reaction that I find a little strange.  I would think that those that preach "the return" would be more inclined to interpret bizarre goings-on as proof of it, not its opposite.

But then, I'm not a preacher, nor inclined to think like one.

Anyway, it's a new Ted McKeever comic.  It's weird.  People act strangely.  Do I need to say anything else?

Most of this book is not about the titular miniature Jesus though; it appears that the true star of this series is a homeless alcoholic who has holed up in an abandoned motel, spending his days staring at the corpse of a cat.  His temptations take the form of a demon that appears to talk to him (when the dead cat isn't).  Whether or not this demon is an actual demon remains to be seen.

McKeever is at his best when dealing with religious themes - his Metropol is my favourite of his series, and this comic seems much more coherent than his recent Mondo.  I've always liked McKeever's art - his establishing shots are beautiful, and his characters are always interesting to look at.  He's the kind of cartoonist for whom Image's 'Golden Age' format was created.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Chew #33

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

I'm not sure if there is any other comic coming out (more or less) monthly that I look forward to more than a new issue of Chew.  Layman and Guillory have worked into such a perfect groove for this title that each new issue feels better than the one before.

This issue opens on Colby having a terrible night at home, joined as he is by his boss, Director Applebee, who is forcing his company (and probably other things) onto him, and using his as a shoulder to cry on.

Tony Chu, meanwhile, is on loan to the US Navy for a mission that his him returning to the island of Yamapalu, the sight of an earlier mission for him.  Tony is being sent to abduct (render?) someone in a position of leadership in the Church of the Immaculate Ova, the chicken-worshipping cult that has been causing problems in the US.  To do this, he has to face a sciboinvalescor, a person who gains strength through ingesting food.

I don't want to give away too much about this issue, but Poyo, the cybernetic chicken killing machine has a cameo, and Guillory's depiction of the Navy is hilarious.  I've been fascinated by the turn towards darkness we've seen in Chu's behaviour, especially since that same darkness is not reflected in the rest of the comic.

If you aren't reading Chew, you really need to be.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Black Heart Billy

Written by Rick Remender, Kieron Dwyer, and Harper Jaten
Art by Rick Remender, Kieron Dwyer, Harper Jaten, and Paul Azaceta

Rick Remender has become one of the biggest names at Marvel Comics these days, writing the very well received Uncanny X-Force, and less praised but still very good runs on Venom and Secret Avengers, before being handed Uncanny Avengers and Captain America.  Before he did any of this though, he worked for over a decade building a name for himself in the trenches of independent comics, where he is best known for books like the excellent Fear Agent and Strange Girl.

Black Heart Billy is a comic from his earliest period, when he was still drawing his own stories, and worked with his frequent collaborator Kieron Dwyer (you should really read their Crawlspace: XXXombies).

Billy is a punk rock skateboarder with a robot head.  He hates hippies and Nazis, and especially hates it when a Nazi robot controlled by Jerry Garcia's skull starts turning people into hippies.  He also likes to beat up leftists and nerds with guns.

This book is kind of strange - it doesn't really resemble anything else of Remender's that I've ever read. It fits more with the 'comix' school of gross-out humour and light social commentary, and while I enjoyed it, I wouldn't pick up a second volume if one existed.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Saucer Country #14

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

I'm disappointed that Saucer Country, one of the few new series from Vertigo over the last few years to really grab my attention, could not last for more than fourteen issues in the current comic book climate.  There is good news though, because creators Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly have apparently made plans to continue the series with another publisher soon.

And so, that means that readers who have not checked out this excellent series should be snatching up the trades or recent back issues, because this is a great comic, and my hope is that when this book is being handled by a publisher who is more about promoting creator-owned books than corporate, written by editorial fiat ones, things are really going to take off.  These days it's all about the creator-owned book anyway...

In this issue, the Presidential race comes to its end, with the outcome you have always expected.  Presidential politics take a back seat to the alien stuff though, as Professor Kidd and the Governor's security team uncover the truth behind the two 'magic friends' who have been visiting the Professor since the series began.  This book has always been as much about governmental conspiracy as it has been about aliens (and perhaps those are the same thing), and that paranoid, secretive world gets exposed a little more in this issue.

Originally, this book was supposed to end with a tag line identifying it as the end of "season one", and that feeling is very present throughout this issue.  Cornell isn't wrapping up the story so much as finding a good place to pause it, and I hope it's not too long before things resume.  Meanwhile, and for the first time ever, I'm only reading one monthly book from Vertigo, and that's a strange feeling.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Saga #12

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

Ah, Saga.  Never a book to hide from controversy, this latest issue has caused a bit of a sensation due to the fact that, on the first two pages, Prince Robot IV is broadcasting gay porn on his television-screen face while in the process of succumbing to a war injury in a flashback/dream sequence.  Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have made a habit of finding some sort of image to shock or surprise readers on each of their splash pages, and I suppose that gay porn was an area they hadn't visited yet, but it's a total throw-away for shock value, and the focus on it has kept people from discussing the quality of the rest of the comic.  So no more of that.

This issue is, of course, a great read.  Prince Robot IV has been hunting Alana and Marko, and has taken The Stalk's spaceship to Quietus, the home of D. Oswald Heist, the author of the romance novel that caused Alana and Marko to fall in love.  He believes that the lovers from opposite sides of the war will try to contact that man who has inspired them, and he plans on getting there ahead of them.

Most of this issue is spent showing the conversation between Robot and Heist, who is a bit of a recluse, with some very particular ideas about the war.  Heist disparages his own novel, claiming it was written for money alone (unlike other romance novels, which are, I suppose, written for love?), and he paints himself a loyal ally of Landfall, but as their conversation gets deeper, guns are drawn, and things don't go so well for Heist.

On Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston suggested that Heist's character could be based on Warren Ellis, although he really just seems to be a collection of writer-tropes.  What really thrilled me about this issue, though, is the appearance of a young seal-boy who gives Prince Robot the directions to Heist's place.  He looks a great deal like Philippe, of Achewood fame, unless, of course, there is a long precedent for fictional seal children to wear pants, and I'm only just becoming aware of it...

Saga is going on a brief hiatus once again, and Vaughan and Staples have left us with another terrific issue that ends on a cliff-hanger.  Can't wait until the series is back on a monthly schedule again...

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Written by Boaz Yakin
Art by Joe Infurnari

Ancient Greece has had a pretty impressive, if limited, run in modern-day comics.  I'm not talking about Wonder Woman or Eddie Campbell's Bacchus here, but more such historically-influenced classics as the (slowly) ongoing Age of Bronze, and Frank Miller's 300.  I've always been a little surprised that there aren't more books set during the beginnings of democracy, seeing as there is such a wealth of great stories from that period.

With Marathon, writer Boaz Yakin and artist Joe Infurnari set out to tell the story of the Persian invasion of Athens in 490 CE.  As the Persian forces landed on the shores of Marathon, a young soldier named Eucles was sent to bring word to Sparta, a dangerous journey undertaken on foot.  He ran back with the response, helped battle the Persians at Marathon, and then had to run to Athens to deliver another message; it is from his deeds that the marathon was born.

Not knowing a whole lot about Greek history, I can't speak to the accuracy of the historical content of this book, but I can say that it's a well written story.  It's established at the beginning that Eucles, the son of slaves, is much quicker on his feet than any other boy in Athens, but by being so, he brings about the displeasure of Hippias, the dictator who controls the city.  Later, Eucles helps the Spartans in deposing him, although Hippias later returns with the armies of Darius of Persia.  Yakin develops the personal animosity between Eucles and Hippias's son, Philon, to give the book an added sense of drama.

Joe Infurnari's art is left pretty rough throughout most of the book, which sometimes makes identifying characters difficult, but it also avoids the demands of rigorous historical accuracy which could cripple any period book not drawn by Eric Shanower.  His scratchy lines work well at adding to the sense of urgency that permeates Eucles's story.

In all, I enjoyed reading this book, and look forward to seeing other comics creators return to Ancient Greece.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Godzilla: The Half-Century War #5

by James Stokoe

Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Gigan, and a new Mechagodzilla fight it out for the last time in a battle that includes a gigantic cannon that shoots miniaturized black holes.  In a comic drawn by James Stokoe.

I'm not usually one of those readers who gets totally swept up in the potential for excessive grandeur in comics; I prefer a nicely drawn character-driven piece more often than not, but this is a freaking awesome comic.  James Stokoe has taken a property that I've long associated with little potential for real drama, and put together a mini-series that told a solidly entertaining story.

We follow the narrator of the story from his first encounter with Godzilla in post-war Japan through a half-century of escalating monster-threats, and ever-more destruction across the globe.  In this final story, set in 2002, he's an old man who knows that he doesn't have much time left, but he's determined to go out fighting.

Sure, in that sense the story is kind of conventional, but none of that matters once you look at Stokoe's stunning artwork.  And the best thing about this series?  Now that it's done, hopefully Stokoe will go back to his brilliant Orc Stain...