Sunday, September 16, 2018

Kill or Be Killed

Yeah, I know. Another Image book. What can I say? They publish a lot of good stuff.

Kill Or Be Killed #1 

This one was easy to spot, being another Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips work. Elizabeth Breitweiser worked with Phillips on the art, having first joined with them for Fatale. As always with this team it’s great looking work.


Of course Brubaker and Phillips are deservedly well known for their noir work in Criminal, Fatale, and The Fade Out. Kill or Be Killed certainly follows in that vein in tenor and appearance. The back matter also includes great writing about noir films, most often by Kim Morgan. These essays are worth reading on their own.


But Kill or Be Killed is a book that uses the form of noir to examine consciousness. It never once uses that term, but that’s what it is. What is reality? Kill or Be Killed leaves the reader wondering.


Kill Or Be Killed #10Lead character and narrator Dylan has a history of suicide attempts, self medication, and complicated romantic relationships. His father, a talented but frustrated illustrator, was a suicide when Dylan was young. His father’s sexually charged horror illustrations were porn in the woods to young Dylan and his friends.


When the story opens Dylan is a serial killer targeting people who are unsavory, whether child molesters, Russian mobsters, or American oligarchs. Taking a nonlinear narrative approach that parallels Dylan’s own mental process, Kill or Be Killed jumps around to fill out Dylan’s story that includes girlfriends Kira and Daisy, roommate Mason, dealer Rex, and detective Lily.


Throughout the story the reader is pressed to determine how reliable Dylan is as a narrator. Is his perspective what’s really happening? Is it an adverse reaction to harms to his mind? Is he suffering from an organic brain problem? Better yet, the question includes whether Dylan is morally and ethically right in his actions even if he is unreliable as to why he he’s taking those actions.

Kill Or Be Killed #15Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser don't tell the reader whether to believe Dylan or whether his actions are justified.  They weave a complex story that's full of questions, as well as a lot of violence and a little bit of sex.  The reader can take the surface joys of sex and violence as sufficient entertainment, or the reader can have the added enjoyment of thinking about what is consciousness, reality, and morality/ethics, and who decides any of those for anyone but themselves.


Coincidentally I was recently in a group discussion about consciousness in the philosophical sense. This book, which concluded at 20 issues, fell right in with that discussion, certainly as much so as the Force from Star Wars that owes its genesis to Jung and which was a part of the group discussion.

I should also mention the covers.  A small sampling here shows several of them.  Different arcs within the story merited a different theme to the covers.  The opening arc all had the dark background like the first issue.  In the middle there was a run of orange and the demon that Dylan says is his impetus.  No detail is too small for this creative team to use in telling the story.


Kill or Be Killed is an excellent read, full of tension like any great noir story, that has the addition of an insightful look at what is reality, who can be believed in telling a story, and the uncertainty that is life.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Public Domain and Gwandanaland Comics

So I started drawing a blank for what I wanted to talk about this week. Lately I have been immersed in Gwandanaland Comics. They are a small company who specializes in reprinting material that is in the public domain. I have included a few pictures of the collections that I have ordered. I have sent two collections onto fellow contributor Lee for his enjoyment after I read them.

As this is all public domain material so anyone can essentially work with the material. Many companies have in fact obtain copies of the material and cleaned up the pages and published them as hard cover collections. Often recoloring the books.  While a great way to enjoy these comics it also takes away from the book having that feel of being the actual comic. Especially the coloring as it is way better in many collections, which is both a good thing and is like colorization of old black and white films is a bad thing. Something is lost and gained at the same time.

This format has the feel of almost sitting down and reading the comic itself. Every page is not always crystal clear, but it has been great fun for me to read books and material I have never heard of before and no one else would ever have collected this material. Even better they can create almost any collection that you want within limits. Take the Jane Martin War Nurse collection. I was not interested in all of it, I was more interested later in the series as the art and stories got better. I learned at that point that two different female artists worked on the series. I have also learned some female writers did comics but used a male name for purposes of publication.  It becomes a history lesson as well as entertainment.
Often when possible the collections will include the ads from the comics. The ads from the 40’s and 50’s are almost as entertaining as the comic themselves.  Dated to be sure, but also a reflection of the way society viewed itself at that time.

What was very cool is that they produced an artist edition version on Nyoka the Jungle Girl. I own the art for the full seven pages and found a local person who was able to produce high quality scans of the pages. I sent the scans to Gwandanland Comics and they produced a book with the color pages and the original art plus some extras to make the book big enough to publish.

Lance is the central contact point and he is cordial friendly and very helpful in explaining options. You can buy the books on Amazon or pay them direct – cheaper but slower mailing time. They only produce books when ordered as they have a huge catalog to choose from and are constantly adding material. Recently they had to delete material as they found some material that appeared to be public domain was in fact copyrighted.  I asked about how they could publish all the Charlton material they publish when DC had purchased Charlton characters. I was told Charlton published their material without a copyright. While the characters are owned by DC the Charlton material is public domain.

There is such a wide variety of material. Some is dated and some of the writing and art are weak, but there is also an amazing amount of beautiful art and fascinating stories. A lot is pure fun and enjoyment. It gets crazy at time as before the comic code the companies were pushing the envelope. Gwandanaland has a series of collections call Wertham’s Weapons that publish most of the comics that were referenced in the infamous Seduction of the Innocent.

The material here has captured most of my reading time at this point. It has the plus of telling complete stories often in eight pages. You can easily see how it might be expanded into 20 pages or more but I sometimes enjoy not having every comic book story I read be a Homeric epic.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

DC Universe Streaming

I've been debating whether or not to pull the trigger on pre-ordering the new DC Universe service that will start on September 15th. There are many pros and cons to pre-ordering and I can't seem to make up my mind. In case you are in a similar state, I thought I'd share what I've learned about this digital endeavor and maybe we can make up our minds together by the end of it.

It is no secret I love DC Comics if not the direction the company has taken in the Dan Didio era. I think Rebirth was a success while the Nu52 was a failure. (I don't care what the numbers might have said, at least, in the beginning.) The DC Universe digital service seems perfect for a fan like me. So why am I hesitant?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Ninjago: The Dark Island Trilogy and More!

Review: Ninjago: The Dark Island Trilogy, written by Greg Farshtey and illustrated by Paul Lee

Story 4/5 stars
Recommended age: 3 and up

I had no idea Lego Ninjago even existed until I had a kid. I was vaguely aware that the Lego stuff was way cooler than when I was younger (Batman space shuttle, enough said) but I didn’t know much about the stories the Lego company owned. I’ve now be immersed in the Lego movie world, Ninjago, and Next Knights. Ninjago is by far my favorite. The TV show is surprisingly well done with compelling storylines. I mean this show has not only grown and changed over time (the characters grow up, they have dynamic relationships, the writers are not afraid to seriously shake up the status quo…) but the plots have been fantastic. 

The original storyline (basic chosen one type story) was okay but the following plot when one of the main characters sacrificed himself to save his friends was very well done and fairly deep for a kid-oriented show. The current episodes have managed to take what could be a very dark theme (one of the main characters is systematically broken down and made to think he has lost most everything but he finds a way to keep fighting and is now running an underground resistance) and still make the show completely appropriate for a 5 year old. On top of all of this the show has changed with the times. Nya, the main girl character, went from being a side character to a pretty cool self-made hero, to a full member of the ninja team. While Lego hasn’t completely succeeded in integrating solid female characters in their shows they have made a strong effort and continue to improve.

Now don’t confuse this with the Ninjago movie from last year. While cute it is a very different story and universe than the main Ninjago stuff and I just consider it an elseworld of sorts.

So, what does this have to do with comic books? Ninjago is one of the only Lego stories that also has a comic book version. The graphic novels follow the same timeline as the TV show but usually have side stories that there wasn’t time to tell during the course of the TV season. They are all written by Greg Farshtey (the artists vary) and generally they are so-so in quality as the author is constrained to mini stories that could easily have taken place in the same timeline as the show. My son adores them and they are hands down his favorite comic books because he knows enough of the context of the story that he can generally tell what is going on even though they are mostly above his reading level at the moment. I’m genuinely sad that they haven’t put out new graphic novels for 3 seasons.

The books I am reviewing today are the only stand-alone Ninjago comic book material. The Dark Island Trilogy was written to take place right after season 6 of the TV show and before the TV special: Day of the Departed.

First, the good.

The Dark Island Trilogy story is okay but it too broken up into odd segments to really come together. The start to the story was strong with two of the characters investigating a mystery that leads them to the Dark Island (a location from the early days of Ninjago that definitely deserved further exploration). The characters come under attack from an unknown group and just manage to leave a message for the ninja to find warning them to stay away. Of course, they don’t, and that’s how the ninja and Sensei Wu end up on the Dark Island.

The strong points of the story have to do with the characters struggling against their own demons and it was interesting to read about overcoming inner weakness. This is a good talking point with my son as well and we always discuss the first rule of being a ninja: ninja never quit.

The final battle of the book was laid out well, especially giving a chance for Master Wu to shine a bit more as the ninja’s teacher is often shunted to the side of the story.

The art was nice here as well. Occasionally Lego hires artists who are less experienced and it was nice to see they kept the same solid artist for the entire trilogy.

Now the bad

The big reveal of the big bad guy and his plot to “take over the world” falls a bit flat. Honestly how many bad people out there actually want to rule the entire world? It is a bit silly.

My son and I both liked reading a brand new Ninjago story but it was annoying to have the main plotline constantly interrupted by journal entries written by “Sensei Wu”. They were somewhat insightful but did not hold my son’s interest as he just wanted to know what happened next. If they had been less disruptive to the flow of the plot it would have been more interesting.

Finally, there seemed to be a lot of buildup going into finding out what happened to a missing character (Kai, my son’s favorite ninja) but when you finally get to his story it was disappointing and no where near as involved as the other characters’ struggles on the island.

Bottom line: B+

          Overall, entertaining for Ninjago fans but it is not what I’d use to introduce anyone to the franchise. Also, it can be expensive to get ahold of as it is out of print and Lego never published it in a different format from the original hardcovers. Still, my son got a big kick out of it so I don’t have any regrets from spending the time to hunt down less expensive copies.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Books you missed... Jughead Vol 1

Have you ever noticed that people have a default comic book genre?  I'm convinced that people, when they want a good read, naturally gravitate towards one specific genre.  For example, Jim loves crime noir, Matthew loves nostalgia and has a soft spot for every book from the 80s, and Thomm just love confrontation.  I meant, a spirited discussion about people's inability to use gramar correctly.

My default comic genre is always humor.  From Carl Barks Ducks to Groo to Squirrel Girl, if a comic has a good joke there's a chance I've read it.  EXCEPT for Archie books.  For some reason, I've never been an Archie fan.  But, when Archie relaunched their entire line a couple of years ago I knew I had to give it a try!  Which is why.... this week, I want to talk about Jughead Vol 1 tpb collecting issues 1-6, written by Chip Zdarsky with art by Erica Henderson.

Don't worry if you've never read a Jughead comic, the first issue quickly set the stage by introducing all the main characters and the plot.  Riverdale H.S. has a new principal and according to Jughead he's turning everyone's favorite high school into a training school for spies!  Or is Jughead just dreaming it and if it's true, how will Jughead avoid detention?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Batman #53 by Tom King and Lee Weeks -- A Review

With the third chapter of their third Batman story together, Tom King and Lee Weeks have unequivocally established themselves as one of the greatest Batman creative teams.  Top 10, Top 20, Top 40?  It doesn't matter what their rank is, because that would be debatable; the fact remains that the achievement has been reached (if it hadn't been already with just the Elmer Fudd story).  I will layout my case to support this bold claim below (after the break) in my SPOILER-FILLED Review: 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

There's still time to SUPPORT The Middle Age HC Collection Kickstarter Project

I've been following Steve Conley's The Middle Age award-nominating, weekly web-comic since the beginning.  Following and backing as a monthly Patreon supporter.  This community of fans help fund Steve to find the time to produce the best series work of his career!  If he gets more supporters then he'll be able to do two strips a week, rather than just one. It takes time to create those detailed images with the lavish colors and funny/punny jokes.  Steve usually provides current status updates and bonus features for his supporters too.

Early this year, Steve launched a super successful Kickstarter button campaign. I proudly wear the King Waddlebottom one on my jean jacket (seen above), along with two ApologetiX pins. ApologetiX, the Christian parody-band just released an awesome new single (She's Got Cooties/Dumb Questions) that I've listened to over 45 times this week at work (I just didn't get tired of it).  Now, Steve is in the midst of another Kickstarter campaign to compile his first few chapters into a glorious larger-sized hardcover (for all our middle-age eyes).  There are also a ton of cool stretch goals unlocking as we speak.  For one we're going to get a Waddlebottom solo story (and if enough people pitch in, we'll get a printed copy).

So please check it out here:

Hey, and if you just want to enjoy the series for FREE you can always do that too.  Just follow Steve on Facebook.

And although Thom Zahler's Kickstarter collection for his (SHOULD have been award-nominating [I nominated it for a Ringo]) web-comic: Warning Label is over. I posted about it a few months back.  You can now order the book directly from his store.

See after the break for Steve's inks over a Godzilla pencilled commission the late-Herb Trimpe drew for me: