6.25.08 Reviews

Wasteland #18 (Oni Press): Johnston and Mitten take us on a wild ride this issue, with plenty of crafty shuck and jive moves to keep us off balance. I especially enjoyed the way that supporting cast members like Skot’s mother are fully fleshed out with distinct personalities and agenda, only to then meet a most unexpected end. These types of surprises only further the notion that this is a complicated, unsettling reality involving precarious existence that essentially hangs on a thread at any given moment. It’s hard not to get caught up in the sweeping momentum of the story, rife with Mitten’s cinematic panels and ability to juggle so many sets effortlessly. Golden Voice’s brewing rebellion sparks the idea that regardless of setting, certain qualities are just endemic to the human experience. The notions of political posturing, jealousy, greed, power, strained familial relations, or the inalienable quest for the right to freedom are universal. This creative team has proven that they are masters of dramatic tension. One need only look at that last sequence involving “Mary?” and apparent Sand-Eater abilities to understand the degree to which these guys are willing to ratchet up the ferocious intensity of their tale. Grade A+.

Conan: The Cimmerian #0 (Dark Horse): Tim Truman and Tomas Giorello jump into their relaunch with a fun framing device that allows them to depict an illustrated poem. Giorello’s art suffers a bit from some awkward early action sequences that lack fluidity, but otherwise the art is clean and enhanced by beautiful colors and a washed out effect that feels like old parchment. Howard’s poem is juxtaposed against Conan’s own reflections of his time abroad; we see bits of the Frost Giant, Tower of the Elephant, his past lovers, and dead friends. It’s a very fitting way to mark this new chapter in his life with a new creative team. It’s really more of the same for fans, and a nice jumping on point for new readers. With a .99 cent price tag and the tease for number one bearing a Frank Cho cover, it’s hard not to like. Grade A.

No Hero #0 (Avatar Press): Black Summer creators Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp are back again and pretty consistent, if not repetitive with their approach. Ryp delivers the same intricate art that boasts a Geoff Darrow level of nuance and detail. Yet again, Ellis asks the conceptual question “What happens when you have super powered beings who are essentially above the law? What if the rules don’t apply to these ‘New Humans?’ What would they really do? Essentially, who watches The Watchmen?” It is all very interesting, it’s all very well done, but let’s be clear that it’s not really original or new. Not to the industry, and not to Ellis’ body of work. The characters state that they “don’t want to rule or control,” but functionally that’s exactly the position they’re inevitably put into. This puts them at risk of becoming the very thing they purport to condemn. When you stand above society in judgment without an effective check and balance system, you lean more toward fascist control rather than promoting a democratic republic. If those in charge carry out their vision of “what’s right,” it is inherently subjective and thus subject to fallibility. Regardless of their one-note nature, I think Ellis deserves some credit for his ability to engage the audience in this level of public debate around sociopolitical issues. Nitpick: The Judex scene, with it’s horrific reveal and blood draining, smacked a bit of Sloth in the movie Seven. Grade A.

Fear Agent #22 (Dark Horse): Let’s cut right to the chase: Heath Huston is the new Han Solo. He is the likable rogue with a heart, who is wise-cracking even in the face of adverse odds. Rick Remender and Tony Moore really capture the essence of Huston this time out and provide a highly entertaining ride that’s largely a “talking heads” issue. Lines like “Da… is good… but not great” or “Is awkward hetero situation” are the laugh out loud charming moments that keep fans coming back to Fear Agent time and time again. Had we seen the return of the well-placed Samuel Clemens’ quotes, this would probably have entered “+” territory. Grade A.

I also picked up;

Good-Bye (Drawn & Quarterly): Another Yoshihiro Tatsumi volume chronicling his work from 1971 to 1972, with more interviews from Adrian Tomine, is always reason for celebration.

All Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder: Volume 1 (DC): While it’s laughable that it took nearly four years to publish a mere nine issues, if you read this as exaggerated characterization to the point of meta-commentary satire, it’s pretty enjoyable.


6.18.08 Reviews

Scalped #18 (DC/Vertigo): Davide Furno turns in some pencils here that have a nice Paul Pope-y quality to the art, with those thick and inky irregularities in the line weight. The spotlight on Officer Falls Down proves yet again that Jason Aaron is capable of delivering one of the great crime noir epics in Scalped. Aaron is always careful to develop a theme in his stories by touching on several observational notes. This time out, we get a lesson in what psychologists would call “normalized behavior.” If everyone around you is fucked up, you acting “normal” will stand out and suddenly feel abnormal because it deviates from the socially accepted norm in your environment. Thus, Falls Down is ostracized for being the one straight cop in what amounts to a band of crooked thugs. Aaron’s script also underscores the fact that there really is no such thing as “the good old days;” all memories of past times are on a relative scale and colored by the nostalgia goggles of altering perspectives. I do have one minor quibble – typically if someone discharges a firearm a few inches from your head, you wouldn’t be able to hear for quite some time, that jumped out at me as not being very realistic, but I’m admittedly really stretching for criticism here. It’s just getting repetitive continually yelling from the mountaintops about how great this title is! The beauty of Scalped is that it presents us with a discouraging reality, but simultaneously is hopeful that some small shred of good exists in the world. Grade A.

DMZ #32 (DC/Vertigo): It’s becoming increasingly apparent that I could quite possibly live on Brian Wood titles alone if I was ever forced to choose. I strolled into my LCS this week with a coworker and casually commented to her that “this guy Brian Wood is a really good writer, I like everything he does.” After further thought, I do believe that he is my favorite writer at the moment in terms of consistency. Sure, there are other writers who may peak occasionally and there are isolated works that I like better than some of Wood’s offerings, but when you take a look at the larger body of work as a whole, Wood produces the most consistently high quality material. In any case… Blood in the Game is shaping up to be my favorite arc of this title, the story of Parco Delgado is fascinating in the way that early episodes of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing used to be, in that they reveal the inner workings of political posturing and the susceptibility of processes to personalities. Wood hits some great notes here centering around the disenfranchisement of voting blocks and sticks protagonist Matty Roth right in the middle of his parents as an uneasy alliance is forged with his mother. Grade A.

Ex Machina #37 (DC/Wildstorm): Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris really get back to the core of Mitchell Hundred’s dilemma with the Great Machine with lines like “For the last time, I’m not a villain, I’m a motherfucking good guy!” While this issue plays like all middle, we get a nice view into the politics of police work in a large metropolitan city and some enjoyable social commentary as usual. BKV seems to be hitting similar notes over and over; they’re good, but I’d like to see the super-story advance a little and get the feeling that the larger Ex Machina mythos is going somewhere beside continual allegorical offerings, which sometimes slip down into in-your-face analogies of current issues. Grade A-.

Rasl #2 (Cartoon Books): Sigh. Oh, I don’t know… I suppose I can get over the lack of subtlety of the reveal of the Maya tattoo, and I can forgive the very stock characterization of Annie, yet there is still something I don’t like about this book that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s that, so far, I feel the lead character is totally unsympathetic. We’re not given any reason to care about him. Why is he jumping to parallel universes? Why is he stealing art? The only reasons we can surmise are a) because he can, and b) to pay for prostitution. What a swell guy. This issue is largely steeped in that sex and prostitution, and it all feels a little gratuitous. I will say that I enjoyed the paranoia that creeps in from his many trips into the drift and that Rasl has the potential for originality that could make it stand out. I’ll give it one more shot, as this issues drifts in with a Grade B.

Anna Mercury #2 (Avatar Press): The placement of the call signs in the radio traffic is still all backwards, but the opening pages otherwise have a clarity of purpose that was largely lacking in the first issue. There’s definitely some Ellis charm to be had here in the dialogue: “One of your predecessors called me an outright fantasist and tried to have my entire staff arrested.” Our scribe then introduces one of his trademark wildly humongous sci-fi concepts in the “constellation project,” but it quickly derails due to the weight of the nonsensical techno-babble of “boomerangs, LOA, anchor fields, and the violet seven.” I have to agree with the Prime Minister and confess that “This is all very confusing.” There’s an odd, seemingly random, two page spread and overall, the entire endeavor makes for a pretty frustrating experience. I generally like Ellis’ writing and was beginning to warm to Percio’s art, but I find myself having to work a little too hard to grasp the basic mechanics of the story. Anna Mercury has one more issue to get square before I give up. Grade B-.

I also picked up;

Starman Omnibus: Volume 1 (DC): At long last, the James Robinson and Tony Harris epic is collected, this being the first of six hardcovers, collecting the first 17 issues of the wonderful series chronicling the Knight family.

Pocket Full of Rain (Fantagraphics): Looking forward to digesting this collection of Jason’s hard to find earlier work, some of which has never seen print in English.

Postage Stamp Funnies (Dark Horse): I’m not a huge fan of Shannon Wheeler, but I am a total sucker for cool packaging.


REX by Danijel Zezelj

REX (Optimum Wound Comics): Let's harken back to the collegiate SAT world and try to conjure an analogy here... Danijel Zezelj is to comics, as soccer is to sports. In the rest of the world, they are more widely accepted and understood as brilliant examples of their respected industries. While here in America, there hasn’t been a whole lot of visibility regularly provided to them in the mainstream media and our collective pop culture diet, save for Zezelj’s fill-in on a handful of stray titles, including my personal favorite Desolation Jones (which I still don’t know if Warren Ellis plans on finishing, but I digress). In any case, thank goodness for the team at Optimum Wound Comics, a boutique online publisher that is now pushing hard to showcase more of Zezelj’s groundbreaking work in print. The opening page boldly tells us much of what we need to know about the REX world, with its urban poet graffiti tag style, filled with lyrical rhyme and raw power. It’s an interesting mix of in your face violence and quiet contemplation about man’s existential angst. “I will sleep through the winter, dream about a foreign land, when you wake me my love, we will give it a name.” As the story itself opens, there is again a beautiful shot with a thought-provoking composition of images. There’s the desert wasteland that I read as emblematic of the US being totally devoid of culture, the image of a pseudo-Mickey Mouse figure harkening back to an earlier and more innocent time, the loner dog ready to rumble, and a lone butterfly soaring above the chaos. It’s impossible not to sit and draw meaning from these deliberately placed images. Zezelj’s work makes us think about what they mean to us, and ultimately provides clues as to their meaning vis-à-vis the lead character, but never insults our intelligence by telling us what specifically to think or feel. REX slowly brings us in to these variegated layers of meaning. There’s the image of the pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes aside an old wheel gun; if this doesn’t say “outlaw” to you in the way the old Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns did, then you’re just not a fan of that type of genre fiction. I like that the narrative is largely driven by the very base motivations of revenge, guilt, and redemption. Those drivers push us through events containing brutal, visceral, disturbing sequences; it’s a steamy mix of sex and violence. It’s an evocative work; your mind can practically see the red blood spattered around through the black and white images, as evidenced by the wince-inducing scene involving the barbed wire. I like that the work also feels transformative. REX (“King” in Latin) really seeks to exert some control over his reality, which has otherwise spiraled into becoming a very out of control existence. One of the final images is the butterflies bursting forth as our REX is finally laid to rest as the king of his urban jungle, perhaps finally at peace. The images bristle along with the kinetic energy of a Kirby sequence, notice how the figures frequently pop through the panel borders, refusing to be contained. Zezelj’s work is easily as good as other crime noir authors in the mainstream, like Azzarello or Brubaker, and is deserving of wider exposure and recognition. Kudos to Optimum Wound for their pledge to develop the accessibility of this important library and deliver it to the masses which might not otherwise get to see it. Grade A.


6.11.08 Reviews

Local #12 (Oni Press): When people undergo a life change or reach a point in their life when they feel they’re ending one chapter of existence and possibly beginning another distinct era, I think it’s human nature that they tend to take stock. There’s an inescapable human urge to survey all of the experiences that have come before and ask the fundamental question “who am I?” Using this narrative conceit, Brian Wood offers up Megan subtly contemplating her own existentiality by taking us through previous bits and players of the series. She’s asking the questions “who am I?” and “do I actually like the person I’ve become?” Ryan Kelly’s lines are softer here, visually mimicking the control and wisdom that can come with age, an example of a writer and artist being in perfect tonal sync. Something else I derived thematically was the sense that “home” is not necessarily just where you hang your hat, it’s a place that you have some form of emotional or physical connection to. It’s hard not to compare Wood’s Local work with his previous work on Demo. I liked the last issue of Demo because it wasn’t tidy and didn’t answer any of the questions that had come before, it was an open-ended, expectation defying exercise that was bold. However, I also liked the last issue of Local, though it was the opposite. Here, we do get a somewhat tidy resolution of Megan’s character arc. We see how the various locals have, in part, defined who she’s become as a person. Perhaps this is evidence that Wood himself has matured as a storyteller. He’s not just confident enough to pose challenging intellectual questions, but brave and confident enough to also attempt answering some of life’s questions. Can’t wait for that oversized hardcover collection, which will undoubtedly also receive… Grade A+.

Captain Britain & MI-13 #2 (Marvel): Paul Cornell takes some fun jabs at Americans not having any soul, like their British counterparts do when they experience the loss of a superhero, and this really signifies something important – the return of the attitude that I liked in the lamented Wisdom series. It’s great to see Pete Wisdom in charge again as the man with a plan, spouting the MAX-worthy quips that I love, like “Don’t call me sir. It’s… weirdly horny.” There’s plenty of action to be had, with an overwhelming Skrull assault on the Magical Realm, which is a brilliant strategic move, the return of Tink, and so much more. Leonard Kirk’s art doesn’t feel as refined as it needs to be here, with some stiff and awkward poses that tend to distract, but overall this is a clear case of the creators having so much fun, that it inspires the audience to do the same. Grade B+.

Red Mass for Mars #1 (Image): While Pax Romana and Transhuman continue to trickle out at a sluggish pace, Jonathan Hickman begins another in his string of four issue mini-series. On the cover and in the indicia the title is “Red Mass for Mars,” while on the inside front cover and in an early double page splash the title seems to be “A Red Mass for Mars.” Not to be nitpicky, but it’s this attention to detail (or lack thereof) that really plagued Hickman’s first work “The Nightly News” with it’s many misspellings, typos, and incorrect word choices. I say this as a fan, but c’mon, can we at least get the title of the book consistent? I like many things about Red Mass for Mars. As with Transhuman, the art is much more accessible than Hickman’s own graphic design influenced style of art and page layouts. And while I do enjoy Hickman’s experimentation, I think the story is best served with this higher level of accessibility. We see inventive costume designs and an energy to the lines that meshes well with the story at play. We literally get the apocalypse, as radical planetary climate change, a global bio-plague, pockets of nuclear winter brought on by (insinuated) extremists, and sentient AI attempting to eradicate humanity have all come to pass. Hickman’s depiction of the last days of Earth asks the brilliant fundamental question “is mankind worth saving?” If the irony of the “English Language Reclamation Project (ELRP) will consume all of Britain and continue outward until that day when we all can order our favorite ethnic food in English anywhere in the world” is truly the most pressing concern, then that fundamental question is particularly poignant. As usual, Hickman’s project suffers a tad in execution, but is very promising and worthy of greater attention for the core concepts it puts forth. Grade B+.

Fear Agent #21 (Dark Horse): AKA: Hatchet Job #5 of 5… The brutal attack on the Fear Agent base and panels with Heath adrift in space were refreshingly reminiscent of Frank Quitely’s fine detailed lines. While it’s been a while between issues and I feel like some of the overarching momentum (read: enjoyment) has been lost, it does feel like a much needed return to the roots of what made this title sing, as Heath loses both Mara and Char, and can only look to the bottle and apropos Samuel Clemens quotes for solace. I still like it, but Fear Agent needs to do something a bit different soon or this will start to become routine and repetitive. Grade B.

Charlatan Ball #1 (Image): The question I keep asking myself is “what are we going for here?” Joe Casey and Andy Suriano deliver some cosmic irreverence ala a Kirby-esque Godland escapade, a little seedy crime with a Red Hood/Mister Miracle doof, something about a rabbit and a magic battle tournament, “bodily function evacuation” jokes that fall oh-so flat, and heaps of… *ahem* borrowed pop culture lines from TMNT, Gilligan’s Island, and DC’s Lobo that… just aren’t that great to begin with. There’s some mildly interesting bits about the mental divide between sanity and reason, but they’re largely pushed to the side to make room for that disjointed mess of parts I just rattled off. I just don’t know what the point is and can’t seem to focus on a conceptual throughline. Grade C-.

I also picked up;

Freddie & Me: A Coming of Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody (Bloomsbury USA): Mike Dawson’s lifelong interest in Queen & Freddie Mercury is brought to life with an artistic style that looks like a luscious blend of Joe Sacco and Alex Robinson.

Top Shelf: 2008 Season Sampler (Top Shelf): There’s simply no excuse for not picking this up and digesting it slowly to see what piques your interest from this publisher. It’s 250 pages for FREE.


6.04.08 Reviews

Kick-Ass #3 (Marvel/Icon): When I read Kick-Ass, I hear Andy Warhol’s quote about everyone having their “15 minutes of fame” in the future. One of the most compelling bits of Millar’s storytelling here is his grasp of true viral marketing, social networking sites, and the way media attention has a snowball effect. He understands that youth’s social paradigm is evolving around things like text messaging, IM, and MySpace, rather than more traditional modes of communication with friends. The balance here is that while those relatively “new” things are being discussed, we get a really old school Marvel style approach to the superheroics of a disenfranchised loner. Ratchet the ridiculous level of violence (even involving children) up to an 11 on the 1-to-10 scale and you have a nice push to the edge of the envelope. I think that Millar must be a fan of the Tony Scott directed, Tarantino written film True Romance because one of the scenes plays just like Clarence’s interaction at Drexel’s pad (“You Drexel? Naw man, I’m Marty. Who the fuck are you?”). That aside, I’m liking many things here, including the unapologetic look at the connection between sex and violence. This is disturbing, but necessary commentary on where segments of our society are unfortunately going. Grade A.

Invincible Iron Man #2 (Marvel): Larroca’s art appears more photo-referenced than usual. The result is that the characters come off looking more like Greg Land work and you’ll find yourself guessing which celebrity each is supposed to be, but the overly rendered bits work just fine depicting the high tech gadgetry required of this title. As usual, Fraction’s script is written well, but I did have to question a bit or two and suspend some disbelief. For example, is this really the first time Iron Man has encountered heat seeking missiles and had to question the heat signature of his rocket boots? Doesn’t Pepper’s champagne reaction feel a little forced and out of character? Those aside, this is dense but goes down smooth and is quite engaging. Perhaps Fraction’s smartest commentary is showing Stane as an example of terrorism in the 21st century. The truly terrifying aspect of the way the organizations work is that they are representative of no single country, pay no attention to borders, pay allegiance to no government, have no base of operations, and are merely whispers of mobile ghosts who work anonymously with shifting loyalties determined by the highest bidder. They are unpredictable and there’s nothing to definitively attack physically other than a loose ideology and set of “isms.” Make no mistake, this is not simply strong superheroics, but important post 9-11 geopolitical discussion as well. Grade A-.

House of Mystery #2 (DC/Vertigo): This book is good. This book is interesting. This book is just not terribly exciting. I’m glad to see consistency with the story-within-a-story structure, but this particular story isn’t as chilling or interesting as the first. On the flip side, I did really enjoy the advancement of Fig’s character arc and her acclamation to this realm and connection to the house. I’ll give it another issue to really pop and then make a decision. PS – As a fan of Cairo, I had major issues with the sneak preview of AIR and will not be picking that up. Grade B+.

Secret Invasion #3 (Marvel): This issue is a bit all over the place and there’s a lot of scene jumping that plays really rough. I really enjoyed Maria Hill depicted in incident command mode as the Helicarrier floats lifelessly in the water. Jarvis is chilling, the Young Avengers battle is disturbing, is Yellowjacket duplicitous? Are Spider-Woman and Tony Stark really Skrulls? Fury! Bendis and Yu ask a lot of questions, provide many “oohs” and “ahs” and as long as you don’t think about it too hard, this is as enjoyable as the typical summer popcorn movie. Grade B.

I also picked up;

Conan: Volume 0: Born on the Battlefield (Dark Horse): Kurt Busiek and Greg Ruth’s “origin” story for the young Cimmerian is finally collected.

Proof: Book 1: Goatsucker (Image): Based squarely on the glowing recommendation of Tom over at .newseedcomics. Check out his fantastic interview with the creators!

Graphic Novel Of The Month

Skyscrapers of the Midwest (AdHouse Books): Joshua Cotter’s personalized tale of life in the American Heartland is an insightful look into the bleak trappings of a once fabled existence. For me, Cotter’s commentary takes the stand that this piece of Western civilization is a collapsing paradigm. The lifestyle and culture of the… (ahem) Red States is waning during a time where in the real world, the US President has an all time high disapproval rating and charismatic Illinois Senator Barack Obama appears to be the presumptive Democratic Nominee, destined to take the Oval Office. It makes for a nice art-imitating-life duality. Cotter gives us people replaced with robots, supplanting their mundane existence as mindless automatons just going through the motions of everyday life. In other passages, the lead character fashions himself as a robotic savior during his yearning and transcendent daydreams as if to achieve a sense of pure escapism from the childhood foibles of cruel kids and oppressive parents. Not only does Cotter showcase the decline of Middle America, he even comments a bit on US foreign policy. There’s a quick strip entitled “Elsewhere, In The Cosmos” that is entertaining, but belies hidden commentary on imperialism and a scorched Earth motif. We go on to see the demise of many conservative right wing facets of culture, including the death of Skinny Kenny, the idiotic hypocrisy of Big Tobacco, and a nice spread on merit badges that challenges the ridiculously inevitable notions of what’s typically expected of young suburbanites. Skyscrapers of the Midwest is full of post 9-11 commentary and utilizes the play-within-a-play Nova Stealth sequence in the tradition of Hamlet and the pirate scenes in Watchmen to relay ideas that are more about the book’s core message than would superficially suggest. This is an impressive debut work from a brilliant creator. Kudos to James Sime of Isotope, AdHouse, Warren Ellis, and everyone else who’s supported Cotter’s burgeoning career in the field. Grade A+.