Thursday, December 26, 2013


by Brandon Graham

I've been a big Brandon Graham fan since first learning about his work a little while after the first volume of King City came out.  This book, Escalator, collects a number of his earlier comics stories, and it is pretty fantastic from cover to cover.

When I think of Graham's work, I always think of strange and complicated futuristic cities, characters who just seem to get by living in the urban environment, and endless sight gags and puns.  All of that is represented here, and the book makes me feel like I'm watching Graham figure out a number of things as a writer and an artist.

In one story, a writer is just trying to get some work done when interrupted by a demon or something, who is trying to take his soul.  In another strip, a couple hang out on their balcony.  In another story, a young artist and his friend tag trains.

There is definitely an autobiographical feel to much of this book.  In one strip, young Graham is having a hard time making things work for himself, and can't help but realize that while he's climbing stairs to a friend's walk-up that he's crashing at, Moebius is probably dreaming of crystals.

This is a very enjoyable book, and a must-have for anyone who has enjoyed King City or Multiple Warheads (there is a MW short here too).  If you only know Graham from his amazing writing on Prophet, this is still worth checking out, as you can connect the dots from that work to this.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Saviors #1

Written by James Robinson
Art by J. Bone

We all know the score these days - Image Comics launches a new series, everyone gets really excited about it, there's some action on the after-market, and the world is just a little bit richer for it all.  This has been going on for a while now - it was a trend even before Saga dropped.  What I've liked best about this is the novelty of the books that have been appearing, and the quality of the creators involved.

This year, as the only book being published by Image this week, we get the first issue of a new collaboration between James Robinson, who is best known for his work on Starman at DC comics, and cartoonist extraordinaire, J. Bone, who has worked all over the place at different times.

This series is set in a tiny, dusty desert town.  Right from the beginning, we are introduced to Tomas, a bit of a layabout who loves his town, loves getting high, and finds that life generally treats him pretty well.  He has a big drugged-out heart-to-heart with a lizard while smoking up one day, and later, while under the influence, manages to convince himself that the town's Sheriff is actually a lizard-man, or an alien, or something.  Of course, this being comics, the cop is most definitely a lizard-man, and he comes after Tomas for knowing too much.

Most of this issue is given over to the typical first issue stuff - we get a real strong sense of place and character from this issue, and Robinson and Bone work very well together to establish that.  Tomas's ongoing narration lets us understand him perfectly, while Bone's art makes the town a very familiar place.  Robinson's writing reminds me a little of his Leave It To Chance series, although this is a more 'mature' title.

I'm definitely looking forward to seeing where this series takes us.  Robinson has been hit-or-miss in the years since Starman ended, but this series is different enough from that work that I get a real positive vibe off of it.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hawken: Melee #2

by Jim Mahfood

In such a busy new comics week as this last one was, it would be very easy to overlook something like this comic, but luckily, I noticed that Jim Mahfood was writing and drawing a video game comics tie-in.  I guess this Hawken: Melee series is a series of one-off issues, although it appears that the other issues are a little more traditional in their creators.

This issue, however, has Jim Mahfood doing a science fiction comic.  I couldn't possibly pass it up.  I have no idea what this Hawken stuff is all about, but it looks like it involves people fighting each other in walking battle tank things.

The story is about a single pilot, Lance Armourstrong, who while skilled, is a complete narcissist and liability to his team.  When the comic opens, we see Lance out for a night on the town with his fellow pilots, who are quietly plotting against him.

Mahfood is a master cartoonist, and it's a real treat to see him handle something like this.  He brings a hip-hop sensibility to everything he touches, and I like seeing how that applies to a project that would have presumably had a fair amount of direction from the game makers.

I hope to see more things like this coming from the newly revitalized Archaia (of course, I'd be even happier to see them finish off more of extant and unfinished projects like The Secret History).

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Leaving Megalopolis

Written by Gail Simone
Art by Jim Calafiore

Living in Canada has made participation in most Kickstarter campaigns prohibitively expensive, as the shipping rates for graphic novels have become a touch exorbitant over the last couple of years (thank you Peak Oil).  When I saw that Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore, the creators behind The Secret Six, my favourite DC comic of the new century, were collaborating on a creator-owned graphic novel though, and that they had priced it reasonably, I was more than happy to support the endeavour.

Leaving Megalopolis is the kind of book you would expect from these two, were they not fettered by corporate sensibility.  The story is set in a city filled with powered heroes, which gives it the reputation of being the safest city in the United States.  Something has happened though, and it's turned all of the heroes into killers with no respect for the human lives they had previously spent so much time protecting.  Now, they roam the city searching for people who have been hiding out, and force people to turn on one another to survive for a day or two longer.

The closest we come to a hero in this book is Mina, a police officer (maybe) who starts to pull together a small group of people to try to escape the city limits.  As we follow them from one disturbing scene to another (this book doesn't reach Crossed levels of gore, but it comes close), we are shown flashbacks to various stages of Mina's life, and come to appreciate her as the sort of complex female character that Simone writes so well.

Jim Calafiore is one of those excellent artists who, I've felt, doesn't get near the recognition he deserves.  He has a strong sense of character in his figures, although I started to wonder if some of the Kickstarter rewards involved getting backers drawn into the book, as a few people looked very photo-referenced in places.  He also writes and draws a backup story that helps flesh out a few of the super-powered characters we see in passing earlier in the book.

In all, this is a very capable graphic novel.  There has already been some talk on-line about revisiting these characters and this location, which doesn't seem like it would be too easy to do, but I do know that I'll be there to support any future collaborations between this duo.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Orenda

by Joseph Boyden

Joseph Boyden is one of my favourite contemporary authors, and I was pretty excited to dive into The Orenda, his newest novel.  It is set in 17th century Huronia, and is narrated by three people whose lives have become intertwined, despite the way they feel about one another.

Bird is a Wendat (Huron) warrior whose family was taken from him in an assault by a group of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois).  While travelling one summer, Bird and his group come across a Haudenosaunee family and slaughter them, taking with them a young girl as a hostage.  Later, Bird chooses to adopt this girl, named Snow Falls, as his own daughter.  Our third narrator is Father Cristophe, a Jesuit priest sent to live among the Wendat to learn their ways and to convert them to Christianity.

The novel is basically a chronicle of how contact with Europeans led to the downfall of the Wendat people.  Christophe means well, but he brings disease into the community, and sows distrust.  Bird frequently wishes to kill him, but as the Wendat become more dependent on the tools, weapons, and favour of the Iron People of Kebec, he has no choice but to protect the priest, and eventually grow to admire him.

Snow Falls cannot harbour her anger towards Bird forever, and over the course of the book we watch her grow into an independent and strong woman.  Bird is the most unchanged person, yet he is the one who most fully has to absorb the brunt of the changes brought to his people as they are devastated by sickness, and subjected to increasingly harsh and large skirmishes with the Haudenosaunee.

Basically, Boyden has written a fictionalized accounting of what happened at Ste. Marie Among the Hurons, a Jesuit mission founded on the shores of Lake Huron.  Christophe is a stand-in for Father Jean de Brebéuf, and meets an incredibly similar fate.  He does a terrific job of recreating the society and values of the Wendat people, bringing their culture back to life, and not bogging down the story too much in exposition.

Having studied this time period, and having read other novels such as Brian Moore's Black Robe and William T. Vollmann's utterly superb Fathers and Crows, much of what was on display here felt familiar and perhaps a little predictable.  When Boyden had his priests pull out the Captain of the Day, a wind-up clock used to mystify and command potential converts, I groaned a little, thinking of the Captain Clock scenes in the film version of Black Robe.  I don't know if this was a common trick, or something that was invented for the film, but I found it a bit repetitive here.

Still, despite all that, this is an incredible study of three people in a time that we don't think of often enough in this country.  Boyden's mastery of their voices, and the inevitable violent ending to this book kept me riveted throughout.  I especially liked the small nod to his other novels, which felt like a bit of a reward for loyal readers.