1. Echo: Black Hole (TPB 5) – Hard to go wrong with this Terry Moore work. Even when I don’t recall characters’ names because it’s been some months between readings, I still recall who they are by the images and I recall what’s going on in their lives. I’d say that is a good definition of fully defined characters. Dillon, Annie, and Julie have one of the more unique relationship triangles and by this point I’m not entirely sure of the beneficence of Annie’s motivations. What’s happening to Ivy is almost more interesting than what’s happening with Julie and Annie. It’s not often that a secondary character like Ivy comes so much to the forefront in such a fluid manner, yet doesn’t entirely displace the original central character. A lot of stories have discovered supporting characters to be more interesting and had the central character supplanted. Echo has added to the mix of its story without taking away what it had already established. I’m looking forward to procuring the remaining trades as this series winds to a close.
Pride of Baghdad TPB – I started reading Brian K Vaughan with Y: The Last Man (a series I’ll have to write a post on sometime in the not too distant future) and have continued to enjoy his work on Ex Machina. I’d seen some ads for this series, and being the usual Vertigo high quality, I figured it was a good bet. And it surely was. Vaughan took a small bit from the news and turned it into a lovely fictionalized tale. The four lions that escaped from the Baghdad zoo during the Iraq invasion in 2003 are given personality and history. Even other animals that serve mostly to move the lions’ story forward have character and personality. It’s a chaotic time of a bewildering nature to the escaped beasts. Of course, there aren’t many options to how four escaped lions in a war zone will end, but it’s touching and intriguing journey getting there. Even more fortunate, the art of Niko Henrichon, which was entirely new to me, is really lovely. He has a great sense of and ability to depict animal physiology. There are a variety of animals shown here and he does them all well. More so, he gives them expressions that convey the human emotion that’s being put forth in the story without taking away from the animal nature of the character, ie anthropomorphizing the character. Not the easiest of lines to walk (or draw, in this case).
Nat Turner TPB – An easy pick for me, being the history aficionado that I am. Kyle Baker wrote and drew this in 2006, though this collected edition was published in 2008. As you might expect, it tells the story of Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831. It has a style to it that’s well suited to the story being told. The art is spare, without color. It’s sort of a brown, black and white palette. It’s also told almost entirely from historical sources. In fact, all the words in it are. The pictures are interpretation by Baker, but the words are taken from Nat Turner’s confession after he was captured. Not that the person who took down that confession was unbiased, so there may have been a slant in that source material, but it was contemporaneous and brutally cold. Baker does an excellent job of explaining how these slaves are so dehumanized by their treatment as chattel that brutally killing any white people they came across during the rebellion, regardless of age or gender, was of no meet to them. Slavery, especially the ethnicity based slavery in the Americas, is a fine example of how inhumanity leads to inhumanity. The real wonder is that there weren’t more slave rebellions during the hundreds of years of the institution’s existence. It also goes a long way to graphically showing why some black Americans today feel that slavery and Jim Crow, a barely better institution, hamper black people still. Think of it like this: if poverty is 0, then slavery and Jim Crow were less than 0. Other people in poverty, particularly white people, could work their way out of poverty. But under slavery and Jim Crow, no matter how much work a black person put into life, nor how much money he or she earned, that person would always be considered less than 0 in legal rights under the law. That’s a lot to overcome in only 40-50 years of change, Barak Obama notwithstanding.
The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite (TPB 1) and Dallas (TPB 2) – These are the books that moved up between reading and writing. I was somewhat gun shy with this title. There are many vanity projects out there, and Gerard Way, the author of the work, is best known as a musician. Still, the books seemed to be garnering good reviews. Better still, the artist on the series is Gabriel Ba, half of the fantastic team responsible for daytrippers, which is possibly my favorite comic of all time right now. Another point of trepidation, though, was that this is in the super hero milieu. As numerous discussions on this blog have made readers aware, aside from Greg, most of your humble posters here are burnt out on the whole super hero trip. This book has the advantage of not being a trapped product of the Big Two, or even a more limited Universe like Invincible at Image. Dark Horse has no Universe. Let me tell you, this is one trippy super hero experience. It’s more coherent, to me, than a Grant Morrison trip. It’s more akin to an Alan Moore, along the lines of Top Ten or Watchmen. Intelligent chimps populate this Earth, equal to humans. Some mysterious coordinated birth has occurred that brought forth 6 super powered beings. They’re all being raised by an alien disguised as a human, as well as one other child of the coordinated births who is a musical prodigy but has no powers. The stories jump around in time, even in the first trade. One of the team is killed at some point before the “current” story, which seems to be set around 1980 when the Svengali of the team is dead and the team are young adults, although one of them has returned from the future in the body of his 10 year old self. It’s a hell of a ride and one of the more coherent uses of time travel in a story. In fact, both books are heavily dependent not only on telling tales from different points in time but having characters travel in time. In some ways it’s akin to Lost when it was hitting on all cylinders. There’s so much going on here, and it all seems so crazy on first glance, but it really makes eminent sense, at least through these first two chapters. Not surprisingly Ba’s art is wonderful and wonderfully displays a beautiful range of character, depth and emotion.
Strangers in Paradise Pocket Edition 1 – Echo led me to this purchase. While most people read SiP first, then came to Echo, I went backward. What can I say? Better late than never. No super heroics here. Perhaps a bit of the implausible martial skills, but that’s about it. It’s a soap opera done right, if soap opera means a story centering on the relationships between people without any outré mysticism or science. The core characters are Katchoo, Francie and David, who are all young and living in Houston. Katchoo’s had a troubled and mysterious past. She went to high school with Francie, and they now live together, but in between she was off living on the streets of LA and then as a high priced escort. David has his own secrets that tie him to Katchoo, but he’s in love with Katchoo. Of course, Katchoo is in love with Francie but also likes David to some uncertain degree. There’s a criminal cartel involved in it all, and some seriously dangerous women, but the focus is on these three and their relations. I’d like to read some further episodes but I’m a little wary that it could devolve into more improbable and unlikely dues ex machina. (For those paying attention, I wrote more about this book a few weeks ago.)
The Stuff of Legend: The Dark (TPB 1) – Along with the rest of our crew, I was given the opportunity to read the first issue or so of this series on line prior to its publication. I was underwhelmed, but I know Gwen and Jim both liked it quite a bit. Lee doesn’t like anything not published in Europe first, so I’m sure he was lukewarm at best on this. With the sale going on I thought I’d give it another try with more story, and really, for $7.50, what’s the risk? Besides, it had a nice back cover promo blurb from Brian K Vaughan, who I think we’ve already established, I hold in fairly high regard, at least when it comes to writing comics. I’m glad I did give it another look. It’s far better with more story. The fears that underlie the motivations of several of the toys who are on the mission to rescue the boy are more fully evolved. The segment on the town of Hopscotch alone is worth the price, actually. There’s a lovely insanity to the town’s inhabitants, as they deceive themselves into a sense of security through the use of arbitrary and shifting rules. That kind of writing must have made Jim think his world view was being validated. The brown, black, and white color scheme, similar to that in Nat Turner, still has a very different feel from the Turner book because of a different line. This is a much more finished art work than the more rough, sketch quality of the Nat Turner art. Charles Paul Wilson III provides the art to illustrate the story created by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith. From what I’m seeing here, I’ll be following further chapters in trade form, as I think that form works much better than the single issue.
Morning Glories: For A Better Future (TPB 1) – This one was entirely a crapshoot when I got it. In fact, it was almost in opposition to some complaints Jim made in his reviews of the single issues. The fact that there’s a private school setting gives it a very superficial similarity to Umbrella Academy, but really it’s totally different. The former is just 7 kids adopted into more of a family than a school, despite the name. Morning Glories really is a private school made up of various kids from around the world, although they too appear to share the same birth date. These kids were raised by their parents and sent to the school willingly. It’s location appears to be almost entirely unknown, and the parents are either intimidated into or paid to forget about their kid once he or she is at the school. It’s an isolation experiment of some kind, with the school seeking to break the will of the teen aged kids to use them for some unknown purpose. The school appears to be willing to go so far as to kill one kid’s parents to break the kid. There’s much double dealing and distrust amongst the kids, as well as a good bit of psychosis. The surprise twist at the end of this arc seemed a bit off to me. If it is what it appears to be, I haven’t figured how that works with what we’d been presented previous to that reveal. Joe Eisma’s art is clean and his characters all rather pretty, though the covers by Rodin Esquejo are even more so. Nick Spencer has written an interesting start to this series. Interesting enough that I’ll check out at least one more trade.
Mike Mignola’s Hellboy: Weird Tales Vol. 2 – This is what comes of not paying sufficient attention. I was thinking I was getting Hellboy’s second volume in trade, but this is an anthology of Hellboy stories written and drawn by people other than Mike Mignola. It’s a celebration of the old Weird Tales magazine that brought to the public eye many noted science fiction writers, including Robert E Howard. Among the creators in this collection are Gene Colan, Jim Starlin, Frank Cho, Jill Thompson, Craig Thompson, and P Craig Russell. It’s a nice collection of Hellboy stories, but it’s not part of the ongoing series and isn’t Mignola, so it was less than what I’d hoped.
DMZ: War Powers (TPB 7) – Brian Wood’s other story (the other being Northlanders) that I peruse. Yeah, he has some really memorable characters, particularly in Matty Roth and Zee, but he gets bogged down in the politics sometimes. I like the book, but after going through several trades in only a couple months, I need a break. It’s a very good thing that I’m not buying this in singles, as I’d be burned out by its unremittingly bleak world view for sure. Where Scalped has a bleak setting and some damned weak (in the sense that that’s how they’re designed to be) characters, there’s some sense of underlying hope for a better future. Sometimes it’s just Red Crow trying to improve the Rez with a casino (and line his own pockets). Sometimes it’s the story of Dash and Carol, or even a small side story like Hazel and her husband whose name I forget (the older couple living isolated and alone). There’s no sense of hope in DMZ. It’s a terrible near future with no prospect of improvement. Even the election of Delgado that was put forth as an improvement that gave the people of Manhattan some power in determining their future seems more like a futile gesture or simple grab at power by a small clique. Maybe a lack of Zee is part of the problem. She’s left Matty because he had a gun in his place. She’s fled uptown, leaving the DMZ area just as it’s locked down. We don’t see her again until the end of the trade when there’s a small scale story of her helping those in need in her new area of operation. Zee’s the closest thing to hope in the DMZ.