Saturday, November 30, 2013

Letter 44 #2

Written by Charles Soule
Art by Alberto Alburquerque

When this new series debuted last month, I found the first issue to be very exciting, and very well balanced between exposition and character development.  Now, this second issue has me even more excited about the future of this series.

A small group of scientists and military personnel have been sent on a multi-year mission, a one-way trip, to the outer reaches of our solar system to investigate what looks like an alien mining operation.  The framework for this series is that new President of the United States, its 44th, has just become aware of what has been going on, and is trying to figure out how to respond to it while maintaining his political ideals, and trying to fix a country that has been brought to the point of economic and diplomatic ruin.

In this issue, the astronauts have crossed through a sensor-jamming barrier created by the aliens.  This has shorted out their vessel, requiring repairs, and gives us readers a chance to get to know the characters a lot better.  This is not a typical Hollywood blockbuster where the characters need only fit vague stereotypes; instead, writer Charles Soule has provided more than enough material for storylines to take place within the ship that don't necessarily have to be about the aliens.

At the same time, President Blades is getting up to speed on the technological advances the US has made (and is sitting on) to help them with this mission, and to defend against the aliens should they choose to come and attack Earth.

I really like the way Soule is balancing this book, and the way that artist Alberto Alburquerque is depicting things.  I know that there has been a lot of interest in this series, especially since news came out of a television deal, and I urge people to pick this up; it's a very good comic.

Black Science #1

Written by Rick Remender
Art by Matteo Scalera

I am very happy to see that Rick Remender is returning to Image Comics with new creator-owned work.  I've been enjoying his stuff at Marvel (Uncanny X-Force is a modern classic), but have missed seeing what he comes up with without any fetters or editorial hindrances.

The first issue of Black Science is an exciting study in how to launch a new series.  The issue is narrated by Grant McKay, a scientist who has led a group of people, including a financial backer and his wife and kids, on some sort of inter-dimensional journey.  The comic opens with Grant and a friend, Jen, racing through an alien landscape to return to their group before their device jumps everyone to another dimension.  Grant needs to fill the device with clean water, or everyone will be vaporized when the machine starts working (it's a MacGuffin, but an effective one).

The world they are in is definitely strange.  They are being chased by fish people outside of a temple that is on a giant turtle's back.  Grant makes his way into the temple, which is populated by frog people who can fire some sort of electric charge from their tongues.

What makes this issue so effective is Grant's narration, as he reflects on some of his life choices, such as the decision to devote his life to the study of 'black science', and the effect it has had on his family.  He is determined to save them, as the clock runs down, but he keeps running into obstacles.

Much of this book reminded me of Remender's classic Fear Agent comic.  In it, Heath Huston has been all but destroyed by the mistakes he made trying to keep his family safe in the wake of alien invasion.  In this book, Grant (which, if I'm not mistaken, was Heath's son's name) has the opportunity to proactively avoid Heath's fate, and I imagine that's what most of the drama of the series will spring from.

Matteo Scalera is an excellent collaborator for Remender on this book.  He's capable of taking the wildest ideas, and making them equally plausible and even wilder.  There is a Dan Brereton feel to some of his character designs, but the kinetic energy of each page is definitely Scalera's.  If the group keeps jumping to different dimensions every couple of issues, I imagine that we're going to see some pretty wild stuff in this book.

I like the way Remender introduces the rest of the group, immediately sowing suspicion that someone is working at cross-purposes to everyone else, and quickly outlining rivalries and jealousies.  I feel that there is going to be a lot of fertile ground to explore in this reworking of the Lost in Space concept.  I already can't wait for the next issue.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Get Jiro!

Written by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose
Art by Langdon Foss

I don't follow celebrity chefs or the whole 'foodie' movement, so I didn't pick up this comic because Anthony Bourdain's name was on the cover.  I grabbed it because Vertigo graphic novels are reliable, and because Langdon Foss's art looked intriguing.

Get Jiro! is set in a near-future Los Angeles where social and political power has been placed in the hands of two competing chefs.  Bob is at the centre of a massive conglomerate of restaurants, and is one of those chefs who cares little for minor concerns like species endangerment in his quest to cook what he wants.  Rose, on the other hand, is a firm believer in eating locally and sustainably (at least, in public).

Between the two is Jiro, a sushi chef who operates a tiny restaurant on the outskirts of the city.  After slicing off the heads of some customers who have ordered California Rolls and dipped their rice in soy sauce, Jiro finds himself on both super-chefs' radars.  As they try to enlist him, he in turn sees an opportunity to disrupt the power structure and give more independent chefs freedom.

The book is pretty entertaining, and at times quite bloody.  The writers give just enough exposition for the setting to be clear, and let things roll out at a good pace.  Langdon Foss's art is terrific.  He has the detail of a Frank Quitely or Geof Darrow, but with a more animated style.

I really wish Vertigo made more OGNs like this.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sex Criminals #3

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Chip Zdarsky

Sex Criminals is easily the funniest, most touching, and most surprising comic on the stands today.  Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky have found the perfect blend of humour, character development, titillation, and irreverence in this new series.

Suzie and Jon, who have only just met, have the strange ability to stop time when they orgasm.  Neither has ever met anyone else who can do this, and now that they've found each other, they are curious to see where their new relationship might need.  Which includes using their ability to rob banks, as we keep seeing in the comics' framing sequences.

Most of this issue is given over to the rest of Jon's growth and development, including his first time with a woman (his first time with a man gets some space too).  As the issue progresses, we get to see the new couple's first visit to Cumworld, the porn-store that Jon has been frequenting since his pubescent days (complete with a dildo-fight), and a musical number in a pool hall.  Trust me, the musical number, which has the lyrics to a Queen song covered by Matt Fraction's discussion of why they couldn't use the lyrics to the Queen song, is worth buying the book for alone.

Zdarsky peppers this book with hilarious little visual gags (I'd like to know how much time he's spent imagining Cumworld), while still making such a ridiculous concept feel perfectly realistic.

As great as this comic is, it's only enhanced by the best letters page in comics, since at least the early days of Powers at Image.  The readers that write in treat this book as something between a traditional superhero comic and Dan Savage's advice column.  Brilliant, disturbing stuff all around.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

King David

by Kyle Baker

I'm not sure how it is that I never knew that this book existed, as a new Kyle Baker release is usually something that gets a lot of press, but this Vertigo graphic novel that was released in 2002 completely missed showing up on my radar until just recently.

King David is Baker's take on the Biblical figure, who fought Goliath, earned the enmity of King Saul, and eventually became a terrible leader for Israel.  I am woefully ignorant of the details of pretty much all Bible stories, and so much of this was new to me (or vaguely familiar).  For that reason, I can't say to what degree Baker was taking liberties with his story, but I did enjoy the way he used contemporary vernacular in the historical setting.

Baker's art is both wonderful, and wonderfully odd.  He has constructed many of his backgrounds digitally, and has put an odd amount of detail into them.  His character work reads and looks great, but there are some pretty big issues with the pacing of the book.

In all, this is a very odd project, but I enjoyed it for that reason.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The 'Nam Vol. 3

Written by Doug Murray
Art by Wayne Vansant, Sam Glanzman, Michael Golden, Geoff Isherwood, and Frank Springer

Two weeks ago, I read GB Tran's brilliant family memoir Vietnamerica, and I couldn't think of a better follow up than the third trade of Marvel's mid-80s series The 'Nam, which set out to tell the story of the Vietnam War, from an American perspective, in real time.

This trade encompasses the Tet Offensive, and many of the major events, such as the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, that gripped Americans in 1968.  As always, this series explores the war through a very narrow lens, focussing on one infantry brigade, and the people who interact with them.

There is not much effort to understand the war from the Vietnamese perspective; the locals are portrayed as either the enemy or as interchangeable assistants, but that's not the goal of this series.  Instead, it is to give the reader a more or less realistic understanding of what the American soldiers had to go through.  We see them piling in and out of helicopters, taking fire from unseen positions, and having to deal with the absurdity of rules of engagement that allowed the Viet Cong to disappear into Cambodia with impunity.

Writer Doug Murray does a great job of building characters slowly and episodically, as new soldiers join the 23rd Brigade frequently.  He's helped a great deal by Wayne Vansant, who is the most consistent artist on this book, and who excels at balancing a loose cartoonish style with the difficulty of the setting and situations he has to draw.  Michael Golden provides two black-and-white stories at the end of the book that are gorgeous.

It seems that Marvel has stopped collecting this series in trade, and that means I need to start tracking down the individual issues, as I really want to see where this series ends up.