Friday, May 31, 2013

The Wake #1

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Sean Murphy

I wasn't too sure how interested I was going to be in The Wake, a new Vertigo mini-series.  The comic's writer, Scott Snyder, has lost some of his appeal in my eyes recently, as his Batman series has not impressed me as much as it apparently has most of the DC fan base, and I found that, prior to its going on hiatus, his American Vampire was also becoming rather underwhelming and tired, which is a good way to describe Vertigo in general over the last couple of years.

The only reason why I preordered this book was because of Sean Murphy's art, especially coming off of his sublime Punk Rock Jesus (check out the nod to the Flak Jackets in this comic!).

Having read this, I'm very pleased that I did buy it.  This feels like the Snyder of early American Vampire, setting out an interesting and sweeping story, without getting too bogged down in details.  The story is book-ended by scenes set in distant times - the first few pages are set somewhere far into the future, at a time when cities are flooded by the oceans.  We meet a young woman and her dolphin or porpoise companion, and know they are looking for something, but we don't know what.  The book ends some hundred thousand years ago.

In between is the bulk of the comic, in a time that doesn't feel too far off from ours.  We are introduced to Lee Archer, a marine biologist who specializes in whale song.  We quickly learn that she is divorced, does not have custody of her son, and at some point got herself in trouble with the NOAA, a government agency.  A representative of the Department of Homeland Security shows up, and plays her a tape of a strange whale song, convincing her to accompany him to a remote part of Alaska.  When she gets there, she learns that she is expected to work with a team, and that nothing is what she expected.

There are high-tech sea-floor oil platforms, specialized subs, and a creature that is not a whale to contend with, as well as a former rival.  The set up runs very smoothly, and while this has elements of movies like The Abyss, and comics like The Vault, there is more than enough to keep my interest, especially given Murphy's wonderful artwork.

Finishing this comic, I felt that I'd been uncharitable in my assessment of its prospects, and I'm happy to have been wrong.  I desperately wish that Vertigo could regain its place as a viable and respectable imprint at DC, and books like this are a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sex Slaves of the Astro-Mutants

by Crad Kilodney

To read a book of Crad Kilodney's today is to be transported back to a simpler, perhaps better time, where all one needed to be a writer was a typewriter, access to a small printing press, and the desire to stand on street corners selling your book, with it's prurient and silly title, to anyone who you could convince (in 1982) to part with $2.50.  Of course, I didn't read Crad Kilodney in the 80s (I was seven when this book was released), but discovered his genius just before he retired from the street, and have been on a slow hunt for his work on eBay and in used bookshops ever since.

Sex Slaves of the Astro-Mutants contains six short stories, which are made up of the usual Kilodney tropes;  there are the silly titles ("The Extremely Sane Postal Workers of Yellowknife", "The World's Dullest Story", and "Duh", to say nothing of the title story itself), and sillier character names (Dr. Biff Zorkulon, Wilmot and Penelope Proviso, Osgood Bean, Butch Masters and his midget assistant Oafie, Dr. Ignatius Duh, Professor Eigenvalue, and Zoltan Greep), not to mention the silly non-twist endings, somewhat reminiscent of the classic Kilodney story "Lightning Struck My Dick", not included in this book.

Kilodney was either just having fun with his stories, or he saw in them some level of authorial truth which my impoverished reading of them has yet to uncover.  Either way, his stuff is a treat to read, if taken in very small doses.  Sure, it's juvenile and silly, but that's completely the point.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes

by Matt Kindt

I've been consistently intrigued by Matt Kindt's work since I discovered him a few years back.  Books like Spy Story, 3 Story, and Revolver have played with genre expectations in new and surprising ways, and have told some solid, interesting stories.  Currently, Kindt is hitting it out of the park on a monthly basis with Mind MGMT, his series at Dark Horse, and I imagined that writing and drawing a monthly comic for the last year, as well as taking on the occasional writing assignment for DC, would have kept him too busy to make an entire graphic novel on the side, but Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes is proof that this guy is a workhouse as well as a genius.

Red Handed plays with the detective and police procedural genres.  It's set in the town of Red Wheel Barrow, a place with a very high crime rate, but with also a perfect rate for crimes being solved, especially when Detective Gould is on the case.  Using the latest in police techniques and gadgets, Gould solves every case that comes across his desk, no matter how random or strange it might seem.  And in Red Wheel Barrow, the crimes are always strange.

Each chapter in this book examines a different crime.  We have a woman who obsessively steals chairs, including an electric chair.  We have a frustrated wannabe writer who steals street and business signs so as to write her novel on the walls of five rented warehouses.  We have an elevator repairman who uses a hidden camera to take erotic photos of the women he rescues.

There are some threads that connect all of these crimes however, as Detective Gould has a nemesis who he is not aware of, someone who is working hard to arrange events that should bring Gould down.

Kindt's storytelling in terrific.  He builds and discards his characters regularly, and finishes most chapters with what look like photographs of newspaper strips before they are published.  Kindt has always been one to play with the conventions of the comic book, and it's very cool to see him do it here so effortlessly.  This is a very cool, very engaging book.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Occupy Comics #1

with contributions from Joshua Hale Fialkov, Joseph Infurnari, JM DeMatteis, Mike Cavallaro, Douglas Rushkoff, Dean Haspiel, Ales Kot, Tyler Crook, Ben Templesmith, Ronald Wimberly, Joshua Dysart, Kelly Bruce, Allen Gladfelter, Alan Moore, Matt Pizzolo, and Ayhan Hayrula

The timing of this new anthology comic is very odd.  I understand that the book was first funded through Kickstarter, and then solicited through Diamond by Black Mask comics, and that all of these things take time, but the Occupy Wall Street protestors were kicked out of Zucotti Park back at the end of 2011.  Sadly, the movement has appeared to have dissipated since then, which makes me wonder just what purpose this book, which promises to donate profits to "Occupy related initiatives", is really going to serve.

Still, I like anthology comics, and I like political discourse, so I thought this was worth picking up.  It's really a very earnest little comic, with a couple of nice pieces.  Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari's bit about the birth of the labour movement is nice.  I also enjoyed Matt Pizzolo and Ayhan Hayrula's strip about sampling Occupy and it's opposite, the Tea Party, and finding that they are neither of them accurately portrayed in the mainstream media.

Ales Kot and Tyler Crook have the best comic in this book, which shows the value of non-professional "citizen journalists".  It's the most linear and clear thing I think Kot has written yet.

I will admit to not really reading Alan Moore's lengthy piece on the history of political satire in comics. At least I think that's what it's about - I lost interest quickly, which also explains why I have a few barely read issues of Dodgem Logic lying around.

Reading this book, I couldn't help but think I was examining a historical document, which is kind of unfortunate.  There was a lot that needed to be said by the Occupy Movement, but that voice feels to be missing from our day-to-day discourse.  Maybe this book will inspire some of it to come back?  Perhaps a couple of years ago...

Mind MGMT #11

by Matt Kindt

Individual issues of Mind MGMT feel like the lightest, most insubstantial thing on the comics racks (mostly because of the light newsprint used to print it), but it's in fact the densest, most rewarding comic being published.

This issue has Meru, our point of view character, interviewing Duncan, the former Mind MGMT agent who can predict the future and can kill people by putting his finger to their forehead.  Meru wants to know why Duncan is refusing to help Henry Lyme and his friends travel to Shangri-La, the base of Mind MGMT.  She is given most of Duncan's history, including his predictions of doom around the way the organization was using its agents.  We also get our first glimpse of The Eraser, the agent who has wiped the minds of al other agents, and who is now trying to put the group back together.

After this, Meru and her group successfully travel to Shangri-La, attempting to find the list of all other former agents and their locations.  Of course, they aren't alone.

While all of this is going on, we also, in the vertical text pieces that run along the side of each page, get to read more of Meru's book, and see what the Mind MGMT Manual has to say about the approach to Shangri-La.  Most significantly, the Case File at the back of the book contains a surprise that I really did not see coming.

Matt Kindt continues to cover almost every page with fresh and crazy ideas, while still moving his story forward.  This book never stops amazing me.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Amazing Absorbing Boy

by Rabindranath Maharaj

The old adage of not judging a book by its cover rather applies to The Amazing Absorbing Boy.  I only noticed the book because of the cover by the incredible Michael Cho, which led me to seek out a copy.

The Amazing Absorbing Boy should have been right up my ally - it's a coming of age novel set in Toronto filled with comic book references, telling the story of a teenager who has to come to Canada from Trinidad after his mother's death.  He moves in with his father, who left the island when the boy was eight, and who is more than reluctant to take up the burdens of fatherhood with a complete stranger.

The problem is that the book kind of fell flat.  I found it hard to warm up to Sam, the protagonist, as he wandered the city and became obsessed with different potential father figures (and the occasional love interest).  Each chapter has him falling under the spell of a different eccentric - the old man who hangs out at Coffee Time with his friends, the doctor who drives a cab and makes up wild stories, the old man who likes to rent B-movies and write his own film scripts, the guy who works at the library and has been toiling for twenty-some years on the second line of a poem he began; the conspiracy-minded customer at an antique shop, and so on.  One or two characters like this would have been believable, but the endless parade is mind-numbing, especially since they don't really contribute to the book, or Sam's development, in the least.

Towards the end of the book, author Rabindrinath Maharaj seems to realize that he's never addressed the issues between Sam and his father, nor the reason why the book has the title it does, so he crams in the father's back story, and another eccentric character; this time a young boy with scaly skin.  Neither of these payoffs work, as both are devoid of emotion.

As for the comic book references, they are as heavy-handed and awkward as much of the characterizations.  Unlike Junot Díaz, who weaves pop culture and comic references seamlessly into his writing, Maharaj's stick out.  "He looks like he was drawn by Jack Kirby," is one example, while others reference things like Frank Miller's Daredevil run, but in such a way that neither fits with what actually happened in Miller's run, nor with the reality of a boy who would have been growing up in Trinidad in the late 90s and early 00's (based on the fact that the story contains the relocation of residents of Regent Park).  I kind of felt like someone told Maharaj that peppering the book with geek references would make it popular these days, and so he went back and added it in where possible.

Furthermore, I found the generally poor copy-editing to be distracting.  Sam narrates the book, but not in the argot of his island - that is saved exclusively for his dialogue.  The problem is, many prepositions are used incorrectly in the narration, but not consistently.  It made me a little crazy while reading the book.

There could have been a good story here, but it would have needed a lot more attention from an editor, and some more workshopping before it was ready to be published.  On the other hand, the cover is really lovely.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Dream Merchant #1

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Konstantin Novosadov

In the years after Neil Gaiman's Sandman ended, it felt like dreams were off-limits in comics, but that has changed with Nathan Edmondson's new series, The Dream Merchant.

It tells the story of Wilson, a young man who has been institutionalized for his stubborn insistence that he has been having the same recurring dream his entire life, and that it has led him to obsession.  When the series opens, he is in a hospital, where he has lived since early teenage-hood.  A new doctor tries regressive therapy, and under hypnosis, Wilson travels to the same dreamscape that he always goes to, only this time, there are other entities there.

They come looking for him at the hospital, and he has to make his escape with his friend Anne.  A mysterious figure aids him, and soon they are on the road, trying to stay ahead of his pursuers.

This extra-length issue is mostly concerned with setting up Winslow's story, but at the same time, it doesn't give us a lot of information to work with.  Konstantin Novosadov's art works well here - he uses a lot of wide panels, and keeps the story moving at a good pace.  This is not the typical Nathan Edmondson comic (i.e, it's not a military or spy-based book), and I like seeing him try out new things.  I'm definitely intrigued by the story, and the revelation of just what it is that Winslow's been dreaming about all this time.  This book could go somewhere.

Fatale #14

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

Fatale is a supernatural comics story set in various historical periods, so it was only a matter of time that the story would encompass the Second World War.

Josephine, the closest thing this series has to a 'hero', has made her way to occupied Paris, where she met an older woman who teaches her about herself, and all manner of occult things.  She makes her way to Romania, trying to figure out what the creatures we've seen all through this series are up to, and she is captured.

This issue shows us the first meeting of Josephine and Walter Booker, a character of some prominence from the first story arc.  He's always had some abilities of his own where the occult is concerned, and this knowledge leads him to the same place where Josephine has been held.  The rest is history.

I like the way that Brubaker has snaked back to the beginning of his series, and this issue can be seen as a prequel to the very first one.  Fatale is continuously becoming more complex and textured as it continues, and I love watching this story unfold.  Very good stuff.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Rollerbladers of Sulayamaniyah

by Sarah Glidden

I enjoyed Sarah Glidden's debut graphic novel, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, a great deal.  I was excited to see that she was at TCAF last week-end, and was happy to be able to pick up her mini-comic The Rollerbladers of Sulaymaniyah, which is about her time in Iraq.

The book is a slim one, drawn in the same style that Glidden used in her Israel book.  She has accompanied a pair of journalists, friends of hers, into Iraqi Kurdistan, an area of great calm compared to the rest of the country.  While there, the trio interview a man who was deported from the United States because of a comment made by one of the 9/11 planners.  He suggests that they leave Sulaymaniyah, the very peaceful capital, to travel close to the Iranian border and the site of Saddam Hussein's gas attack against the Kurds.

Researching online, I learned that this comic was completed in twenty-four hours, and that rush kind of shows, but at the same time, Glidden has caught my attention, and has guaranteed that I'm going to buy Rolling Blackouts, her upcoming graphic novel about her time travelling through the Middle East.  Glidden's approach to comics is similar to Guy Delisle's, but as a female traveller, her experiences are quite different.  Also, I enjoy the watercolour approach she takes (not evident in this photocopied mini-comic).

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Red Diary/The Re[a]d Diary

by Teddy Kristiansen with Steven T. Seagle

They are not household names the way that other comics collaborator duos are, but Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen are among the frequent partners in comics that I would say are particular favourites of mine.  Their House of Secrets was a Vertigo classic, and It's a Bird is one of the most original graphic novels DC has ever published.  I was excited to learn that they were collaborating again on a new book, although that's not really what happened.

The Red Diary was written and painted by Kristiansen and released in France.  It is published here for the first time in English.  On the flip-side of the book is Seagle's attempt at transliteration.  He used a rather silly approach to translating that he created in college, where he took the epigraph at the front of the book, and turned each word in the Dutch translation into an English word that it resembled it, and from there, came up with a completely different story, using the exact same pages and panels, even attempting to match the length of the text boxes.

In Kristiansen's story, an aging biographer finds himself drawn into the story of a painter whose work has never made a mark on the world.  He can't understand why such a talented artist, who he knows, through reading his journals, received many commissions, has left no trace on the records of the art world.  His investigations turn up a very interesting story, echoing his own sense of loss after the death of his wife.

Seagle's story seems more straight-forward, about a painter who gets into a spot of trouble for a dalliance with his patron's wife, and who ultimately loses the ability to paint.  That's how things seem, but there is a greater secret at play in this man's life, and I honestly didn't see it coming.

The First World War looms large in both stories, having a profound effect on these painters, and on their world.  I'm a sucker for a good WWI story, so I found that I loved both takes on this story.  Kristiansen is a gifted artist, and the oversized format of this book really shows off his talents.  Highly recommended.  I'm not even sure which story I liked better...

Post York #1

by James Romberger

I have long had a thing for post-collapse comics, so was immediately drawn to James Romberger's oversized comic Post York, which is set in a New York that has been drowned by rising water levels.

This is mostly a silent comic, and much is left to the reader to determine.  Some guy is out foraging through the city.  He finds a collapsing movie theatre with a pier outside it, so he ties up, and goes in to see what he can find.  While pilfering some cans of cat food, he is attacked by the person who lives there, and at that point, the story splits into two possible threads.

In the second, everyone survives, and later the guy discovers a whale trapped among the lower levels of the building he lives in.

This comic is more about atmosphere than it is character, but I really like how Romberger sets things up.  He makes good use of the large pages, spacing out his panels so that there is often a lot of space between them, which is evocative of the empty city.

The comic comes with a flexi-disc record, but as I don't have a record paper and am loath to tear my books apart, I have no idea what that sounds like.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


by Becky Cloonan

One of the best things about attending TCAF (the Toronto Comics Art Festival), and there are many of them, is that Becky Cloonan has, for the last three years, had a new mini-comic for sale.  This year, that book is Demeter, and it fits well with its predecessors, Wolves and The Mire.

This book tells the story of Anna and Colin, two lovers who live on a remote island or promontory.  Colin fishes while Anna looks after their farm.  We learn at the start that, seven months prior, Colin was almost lost at sea, and did lose all memory of his life before that moment.

As the story unfolds, we learn that Colin only lives because of a bargain that Anna struck, and that the period of time she negotiated is drawing to its close.

I am a huge fan of Cloonan's art, and see that she continues to grow as a writer.  Her characters are believable, and I like the casual approach she takes to magical realism in her story.  This is a pretty straight-forward story, but Cloonan's wonderful art elevates it to a new level.

Battlefields #6

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Russ Braun

I really don't understand why I don't hear and see more about Garth Ennis's excellent war series Battlefields.  This issue finishes off the third volume of this terrific series, and brings to a close the third storyline featuring Anna Kharkova, a Russian 'Night-Witch'; a pilot who was trained to aid in the fight against the Nazis in the Second World War.

When this issue opens, it is 1964, and the visibly aged Anna Kharkova, former hero of the Soviet Union, is trapped in a gulag in Eastern Siberia.  She's been imprisoned with her friend Mouse, mostly because of her long-standing rivalry with Merkulov, the former NKVD intelligence officer.  Ironically, Merkulov is now running the camp where Kharkova is incarcerated, and doesn't pass up a single opportunity to belittle and degrade her, not that he ever gets his wish.

When a top-secret Russian jet is brought to the camp to be tested, Merkulov sees his chance to get back into the Communist Party's good graces, while Anna just sees another opportunity to fly.

Ennis has surprised me with the balance he's found in these comics, between traditional war comics tropes and strong, believable characters.  Anna Kharkova started out as a bit of a stereotype, but she's become a solid, respectable character over the course of her story.  This issue's end left me with a small smile, and I could not think of a better ending for her story.  Great stuff.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Private Eye #2

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Marcos Martin with Muntsa Vicente

There can sometimes be a danger when supporting creator-owned, web-only, no-middlemen comics that they could be a little like eating organic, gluten and sugar-free muffins, completely deserving of respect for their earnestness, their politics, and their sense of place in the world, but not actually all that good.  And then there's The Private Eye, the completely independent, pay what you can digital comic from comics legends Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin.

It's as good as it is good for you, as ethically sound as it is amazing entertainment, and completed to a standard that is higher than just about anything on the comic book stands, right up there with books like Saga (obviously), The Walking Dead, The Manhattan Projects, Fatale, and East of West.

In Vaughan and Martin's world, everyone lives with a fake identity (or two).  A young woman has hired an illegal PI to look into her past and make sure that her identity is safe from exposure by the paparazzi, but she's turned up dead.  Her sister thinks that the PI may have had something to do with it, but we learn she was part of a mysterious group, and suspect that whatever is going on has to do with them.

This is a quick-paced comic, filled with gorgeous art.  I'm not a fan of webcomics, but this is one that I look forward to a great deal.  You can check out the first two issues at Panel Syndicate.  It's well worth dropping a few dollars on.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Westward #2-4

by Ken Krekeler

I read the first issue of Westward a while ago, and because I couldn't find any subsequent issues, I did something I almost never do, and ordered these three comics on-line.  Ken Krekeler's series, and his unique voice, caught my attention, and I wanted to find out more about this story.

Westward is about Victor West, a spoiled rich kid and son of an industrialist in a steampunk future.  In the first issue, it appeared that Victor had been in a coma for a number of years, but in fact, he is an android, or a 'manifold', with the original Victor's thought-patterns, but none of his memories.  The shock of seeing Victor up and around caused his father to have a heart attack, and now his sister runs the company.

This series is about a number of things.  On the one hand, it's the story of Victor's quest to better understand himself and the abilities that his body holds, and of his attempts to return to normal family life.  It's also about CLAW, an anti-corporate group that is responsible for increasingly violent attacks.

Krekeler's writing is pretty nuanced.  His characters are very believable, and it's clear that he's pacing this story to last a while.  Each of these issues introduces some new story elements, without ever overwhelming the reader.  Krekeler's art is a little rough, but quite serviceable for the story.

The first trade, which collects the first three issues, just became available this week.  I suggest it's well worth a look.

The Strangers #1

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Scott Kowalchuk

Amid a pile of preview stories, reprints, and undisguised advertisements, only Oni Press can be counted on to deliver top-notch material each and every Free Comic Book Day.

This year, they launch The Strangers, a new series by writer Chris Roberson and artist Scott Kowalchuk.  This book is a bit of a Cold War mash-up, taking elements from The Avengers (the British TV show), Mission Impossible, and Doom Patrol.  The titular Strangers are a trio of secret agents with some superhuman abilities, who mostly work to stop OCCULT, a villainous group in the Hydra/Cobra vein.

OCCULT appears to have taken over a small Caribbean island, and so our heroes set out to infiltrate it.  They discover that some sort of ruins are being dug up in the jungle, but don't get too far in discovering the plot before being captured.

The book feels like it was written for Roberson's iZombie collaborator Michael Allred, but Scott Kowalchuk is a good substitute, providing art that feels like an homage to the days of Kirby and Ditko, while remaining fresh.  I'm not sure if this is the first issue of a mini-series or an ongoing, but Roberson strikes the right balance between introducing the characters and keeping the story flowing.  I wasn't sure if I was going to preorder the second issue (available, along with a version of this book that you have to pay for, in the new Previews), but now I definitely am.  Good stuff.