Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kill Shakespeare Vol 1

"Kill Shakespeare builds on the type of literary-comics hybrid that has made titles like Fables and The Unrwritten so engrossing." - Scott Thill,

Now that's a pull quote that's going to get my attention. Fables and The Unwritten are consistently among my favorite reads, so when I saw that quote on the trade, it was a gimme to get, especially at half off. Thus, I didn't entirely immerse myself in thirty year old X-Men stories.

It's an accurate quote, too. Like the two comparison books, it's not necessary to be entirely versed in the referenced literary sources, but having some familiarity provides insight into characters, and sometimes surprises at the directions into which the characters are taken in this story.

The premise is that Hamlet has left Denmark, having failed to avenge his late father and accidentally killed a friend. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern warn him of a plot to kill him on his arrival in England, of which they were supposed to be a part. The king of England is Richard III. The king of Scotland is MacBeth. What could possibly go wrong for Hamlet, seeking protection from these two?

Actually, MacBeth is shortly removed from the picture by Lady MacBeth, who's taken up quarters and alliance with Richard III, but she's certainly no more trustworthy for Hamlet. Not that our knowledge of the perfidy of these two is known to Hamlet. He's entreated by Richard to locate and kill Shakespeare, a demi-god or wizard of some sort who is making life difficulty for the kingdoms. Hamlet is supposed to be a prophesied saviour who can kill Shakespeare.

Iago is accompanying Hamlet on this mission, and his motivations are the most opaque. At various times he seems to be working at the behest of Richard to help Hamlet kill Shakespeare. At others, he seems to be trying to kill Hamlet, or at least prevent the completion of his mission.

Opposing Hamlet's mission are Juliet, Othello, and Falstaff. The back and forth between these two camps is leading to a lot of death of the civilians. Granted, many of them are following Juliet's group which is trying to protect Shakespeare. Not sure if it's more fatal to be a villager or a soldier in Richard's army. Both are doing a lot of dying.

Lady MacBeth also has some witchcraft of her own and is working behind Richard's back, of course.

Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col are the writers of his engaging work. Andy Belanger is the artist. He employs a heavy ink style that reminds me of Locke and Key's art by Gabriel Rodriguez. There's an angularity to the characters that's also similar. Given the dark, mysterious happenings in the story, the art captures the right feeling for the work. My only quibble is the armor worn by Richard's soldiers. They look like they're wearing shoulder pads for an NFL game.

In addition to the single issues reprinted here, there's a bonus story by Owen K. Craig and Curtis Wetman, illustrated by J. Bone, called "Et tu, Hecate". A mysterious woman intervenes in the plot to kill Julius Caesar by convincing Brutus to participate in the conspiracy when he otherwise would not. It's unclear to me how, but this is done in service of destroying Shakespeare. It's a neat trick to bring in a work that doesn't easily mesh with the others, being set in a far removed era from the other stories being used in Kill Shakespeare.

I'm looking forward to further trade collections of the story as it moves along. Now if I can only get it sorted in my brain that it's Kill Shakespeare and not Kill Bill.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Going Back For Thirds -- When I Probably Should Have Stopped After the First CHEW

I blame Godzilla: Gangsters and Goliaths. No. I blame our LCS owner who’s been praising the works of John Layman. No. I blame myself for not exercising the self-control to put the first volume of CHEW down after reading something really distasteful (to me) – and I’m not talking about the cannibalism. I had no financial investment in the trade as I had picked up the first three at our local library. And to be honest, I had no idea what to expect when I first started reading it either. The fact that story was so interesting, the pacing so brilliant, and parts were so funny – Well, it helped me rationalize away the foul language enough for me to devour all three volumes over the Fourth of July weekend. But the aftertaste…was not pleasant.

For the uninitiated like I was, here’s a quick recap of the CHEW series published by Image Comics: It’s written by John Layman and illustrated very stylistically by Rob Guillory. The art fits the story perfectly as much of the humor comes from the facial expressions of the characters. The story stars Tony Chu, who is a Cibopath. This means he can get psychic readings from the things he eats. While Tony prefers to eat Beets, which give off no reading, he usually has to eat lots of gross things, such as dead people. This helps him in his job as a FDA agent tracking down killers and people involved in the illegal chicken trade. See, thanks to the bird flu that killed millions all poultry products are now outlawed. Many people believe this is all a government conspiracy and that something else caused those people’s deaths.

Tony has a girlfriend, Amelia Mintz, who is a Saboscrivner. This means she can write about food so well that when you read it or hear her talk about it, you can experience the taste of the food. She’s a great asset to Tony in many ways, but he can actually enjoy the experience of eating without the complications of his “special” gift when she’s around. Tony has a partner, John Colby, who is a cyborg now after getting brained by a meat cleaver and an ex-partner, Mason Savoy, who is a Cibopath like him and a murderer (hence the “ex”-ness). Tony’s FDA boss, Mike Applebee, hates his guts and tries to make his life miserable by giving him the worst cases that will often lead Tony to ingest the most disgusting things. There’s also a faux-vampire, a weird alien fruit that when cooked tastes just like chicken, Tony’s iron-chef brother, his twin-sister, and his daughter. Oh, there are more characters then that running around, but that should be enough to give you a taste.

If you’ve never heard of some of those terms before, you’re not alone. Layman just made them up, but the amazing thing is how easily it is to accept them. This is the beauty of Layman’s writing, his ability to matter-of-factly state something (which can be totally outlandish), and the reader immediately suspends their disbelief and are sucked into the story (I wonder what he would call that?). He also wastes NO time. Just when you start to have questions, he explains something and you move right along. Comic readers often complain about stuff not happening in their books, but in CHEW unexpected stuff happens ALL the time. It bears repeating: the pacing is brilliant. Not only is Layman the writer, he’s also the letterer, which I think is really cool. What an awesome way to contribute to the look of the book (and make last minute edits on the fly).

After such glowing praise, why can’t I recommend the series? Well, the language is too much for me. CHEW obviously pays homage to Quentin Tarantino films, with its extreme violence and vocabulary (Book 2 chapter 3 or issue 8 had two covers parodying QT’s films.) So, I understand why Layman is using so many “colorful metaphors”, but something about reading a word sticks in my head more than hearing the word. I tried several approaches to bypass this “problem”. One option was to skim some of the dialogue. It worked to some degree, but it upset the flow of the story. Another option was to substitute the “bad” words with something else inspired from the book itself. No, I didn’t use “Fricken”, which refers to a genetically altered Frog with Chicken DNA. It wouldn’t have been broad enough anyway, because it wasn’t only F-words that I wanted to replace. I ended up using “CHEW”, which I thought was fittingly ironic. There’s one hilarious part of the story, where Tony’s boss makes him eat a “ripe” finger (when there was already DNA evidence) and calls him “Agent finger Chu-er”. This actually was fairly effective. Instead of labeling somebody with as an “M-F”, you could say “Mother Chewer”, which relates to the detestable cannibalism practices in the book. I’d say they’re about on par with each other if you took the meaning literally.

Alas, even that solution did not prevent the overloading of my brain with all these angry words. I’m convinced that after having a nearly perfect day off last Friday, my post-nap mood was significantly more sour due to having read CHEW before catching some Z's. We all struggle with anger, but we don’t always act on it. Filling my mind with such “junk” is like holding a loaded handgun. You’re more likely to “pop off” if you’ve got the tools at your disposal. It probably took a good 24-hours after finishing the last volume before my thoughts were sufficiently clutter free. I honestly don’t know how people can go around with so much negativity in their heads all the time. Whenever the eventual CHEW HC series collecting the planned 60-issue run is published, I hope the pages are thick enough to take some Sharpie edits without bleeding through!

A great read, but not for me. You know I think the IMAGE “i” icon is actually an upside down exclamation point. Most of their books are harsher on language than I’d like. :(

Friday, July 29, 2011

Explaining the Saints to Children

Front of Angers Cathedral
 So, one of the great things about living in France is we get to visit all sorts of neat old stuff.  I cannot tell you how many castles and cathedrals we have seen since we’ve been here.  Interestingly enough, the more you see, the more finicky you get about your architecture.  You can imagine my surprise when visiting the Mont St. Michel, Boy states that he ‘wasn’t really impressed with the Gothic structure of the buildings and that the Romanesque influence kinda overpowered everything’.  I looked at him with the ever popular “where the hockey sticks did that come from?”

No matter how accurate Boy’s assessment was, it is true that after a time all the buildings start to look alike.  An odd side effect for my kids was the more buildings we saw, the more they started trying to find the differences.  I really expected to tune it all out but they didn’t!  They even got to the point that they started reading some of the plaques on the walls telling you about the structure.

This was all well and good until we visited the Cathedral in Angers.  Angers, pronounced Ahhnn-Jay, is a wonderful little town just west of the Loire valley in France.  Like every other slightly large town in France it has a Cathedral, so we went in to look around.

After a brief tour around of the building, the kids noticed the nice plaques explaining some of the stain glass scenes.  For reference, plaques always have varying degrees of detail, but typically it’s a 2 or 3 paragraphs in French, and 2 or 3 sentences in English.  Not in Angers!  In Angers, they had a stand alone plaque that was about 6 feet tall and explained ONE of the stained glass windows.  Normally, this isn’t any big deal because it’s just a big picture right?  Right!

Facing the alter
So Girl, excited about the find, starts reading paragraph #1 of 6, which states the window is about St Catherine of Alexandria.  For those of you who don’t know, in Christendom, it takes a lot to become a saint.  And for older medieval Saints, it takes a lot of blood, pain, and torture.  Christians love their blood, and ya ain’t gonna be a Saint without a good long extended torturing session.  Being a semi-good Christian, I knew I was in trouble but secretly hoped the French would at least minimally sanitize the story for me.  

So, as the panels start we learn that Catherine had converted much to the angst of some Emperor. She was imprisoned and after starting to convert the other prisoners, condemned to death.  So far so good.  Then we got to the paragraph where she was placed on a rack but God burned the rack down so she wouldn’t be hurt.

So, we talked about the rack and how people sometimes did bad things to other people.

Then she was stripped naked… and flayed… in front of the entire court.

The back of the church, where you enter
SOOOOO, we talked about why they took all her clothes away (because it hurts more) and the meaning of the word flay (skinning your knee but all over your body) and why everyone watched (because they thought it was good fun).  I’m telling ya, it was a great discussion.

Then we moved to the second window which involved St. Vincent.  He was: (1) skinned alive, (2) cooked on some crazy grill contraption over an open fire, (3) stretched on the rack, and (4) placed in a cell which had broken glass over the floor.  Then eventually he was put to death.  Oddly enough, discussing instruments and various forms of torture was not what I had planned talking about on that day.  By the end, Girl was just kinda mystified by the whole process but Boy was enthralled.  Later, Boy told me that was the best church we had seen in all of France.
Oh yeah, St. Catherine… beheaded.  We talked about that for an hour in the car ride to the hotel. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thank God for Mark Waid

Here at Comics and… and across the internet we frequently sing the praises of one Grant Morrison. Here and around the comics internet he is rightly regarded as one of the towering figures of this industry over the past twenty years. And rightly so, as his mad ideas and storytelling skills have resulted in not just some of the best comics of that time period, but some of the most definitive runs in the history of some of these characters. While Morrison deserves all the respect and plaudits thrown his way, I think that too often we put him in a class by himself, when one of his peers who have been working in roughly the same time period deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. That would be Mark Waid.

Now, most people like Mark Waid and I think he is considered a good to very good writer by most of the comics readers I know. But this week I was reading Daredevil #1, which has to be one of the best first issues I have ever read. Now a lot of that is clearly down to the phenomenal art team, but this was book was an amazing introduction to a new take on the character and it was written by a guy who clearly understands what makes this character tick. I honestly haven’t been this excited by a new comic in ages and as I read it and thought about Waid’s work, I realized he has got a bibliography that easily rivals that of Morrison or any of his contemporaries.

Here’s a thought experiment. How many big time comics writers have a “definitive” run on a superhero title? Most writers, even big name writers, would be lucky to have one or two. By my count, Waid owns definitive runs on the Flash, the Legion of Super Heroes (Twice!), Impulse, Captain America (Twice!), and the Fantastic Four. Not to mention his involvement with 52. Lets compare that to Johns, who has definitive runs on JSA, 52, and Green Lantern, or Bendis who has definitive runs on Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Avengers (no matter what you think about his run, he’s made a huge impact on the book’s history) or Busiek who has definitive runs on Avengers and Thunderbolts. Hell, it even stacks up well compared to Morrison’s definitive runs on JLA, 52, Animal Man, X-Men, and Batman.

Throughout his career, Waid has consistently written strong character based superhero work, with an output that can rival the most impressive of his peers. So why doesn’t he have bigger name recognition? Well I think his style of focusing heavily on character and not crazy ideas (like Morrison) or a certain type of storytelling (like early Bendis) makes him harder to summarize in one sentence as anything other than a guy who writes really good superhero stories, which is something to be proud of, but doesn’t make you sound distinct in the comics industry.

Also, I think his relative lack of creator owned work also makes him less distinct. Now this second reason is a little less valid if you dig a little deeper. Waid’s best creator owned work, Empire (the story of a supervillian who has actually conquered the world), can stand along any creator owned work published in the last twenty years. It’s great and fun and it’s a shame we haven’t gotten more of it. Unfortunately it was beset by the publishing problems of the Gorilla Comics imprint and years passed between the publication of the first batch of issues and the last. As the editor in chief of Boom, he has done a great job publishing new books like Potter’s Field and Unknown. These books are great, but they’re not the long form indie work of, say the Invisibles or Jinx. However, Irredeemable and Incorruptible seem to slowly becoming the long-term indie successes that have so far eluded Waid’s career.

Honestly though, these are stupid reasons though. Quite simply, Mark Waid is one of the giants of the comic book industry and deserves to be treated as such. He has been writing comics basically as long as I’ve been reading them, and no matter what phase of my life I’ve been in, he’s been doing something great. Its now almost 20 years since his first issue of the Flash, which really catapulted him to everyone’s attention, and in an industry where people struggle to stay relevant after a decade, let alone two, he just produced Daredevil #1, which was one of the best constructed and best written books of the past year and given his track record, it is probably the start of something great.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Indies Preview Review for September Part 2 of 2

The end...

Fantagraphics Books
Action Mystery Thrills Covers SC by (E) Greg Sadowski
A long-overdue celebration of the classic comic book covers that jostled for attention monthly on mid-20th century newsstands. Majestic, iconic, chaotic and sometimes downright weird, Action! Mystery! Thrills! unfurls 160 classic covers in full-sized glory. Featuring scores of cover artists including Carl Barks, Charles Biro, Dick Briefer, L.B. Cole, Jack Cole, Reed Crandall, Will Eisner, Bill Everett, Lou Fine, Walt Kelly, Jack Kirby, Mac Raboy, and Alex Schomburg. A must for anyone with even the passing interest in the Golden Age! 240 pgs, $29.99
Lee: Another coffee table book that I won’t be able to pass on! This should have some of the best GA covers in a nice easy to see format. These are just great and this should be a ton of fun.
Gwen: While I agree that these would be fun to look at I wouldn't spend money on a book with just covers. But Lee's the art guy.

Hermes Press
Phantom Complete Series Charlton Years Vol. 01 HC by (W) Dick Wood (W/A) Jim Aparo, Pat Boyette, Various
The late 1960s comic book adventures of The Phantom return in full, glorious color! Volume One of The Charlton Years picks up with The Phantom #30, the first Charlton issue, and features all The Phantom stories from issues #30-#40. The Charlton comic book version of the grand-daddy of costumed heroes, the Ghost Who Walks, is available again, digitally remastered to look better than the original books. Don't miss it! $49.99
Lee: Normally I would pass on a book like this but this is some of Jim Aparo’s earliest work. And it is just fantastic. He was given a level of artistic freedom that he wouldn’t have over at DC and it shows. This is worth it just for the art alone.
Gwen: I never actually read any of the Phantom stories and my only familiarity with the character is that really awful move a few years back. This looks like a good collection for letting thouse of us who are unfamiliar with the Phantom find out more about the character.

Hmanoids Inc
Metabarons Ultimate Collection Slipcase by (W) Alexandro Jodorwsky (A) Juan Gimenez
The first cycle of the epic saga created by Alexandro Jodorowsky and Juan Gimenez compiled for the first time in its entirety in the same oversized deluxe edition, with slipcase, as the Eisner nominated edition of The Incal Classic Collection. A multi-generational tale of family, sacrifice, and survival told within an immense universe, both in scope and originality. A true classic in the pantheon of graphic storytelling and science fiction as a whole. $129.95
Lee: Ok, I already have this in tpb. It’s really expensive. IT’S REALLY GOOD! This is just a fantastic series that will blow your mind. It’s soooo worth the money if you can afford it. Yes, Gwen, I shall give my trades to your Dad and than you can have them…
Gwen: That's good... because this is REALLY expensive. And I can't afford it. The same way I couldn't afford Amy Reeder's cover art with Supergirl and Brainiac 5 *cries*

Imps & Monsters
Sinja Book 01 GN by (W) Justin Hillgrove (A) Brent Hillgrove
All Sinja ever wanted was to become a Sinjitsu Master - the most powerful and terrifyingly evil assassins in the land. But when he discovers that his Sensei is dead, his hopes and dreams are cast into the wind. With the help of a powerful Oni spirit, a celestrial monkey, and a lot of good intentions, he must find a way to gain entrance to the Underworld, hunt down his Sensei's spirit, and force him to reveal the secrets of Sinjitsu. Only then will he necome a true Sinjitsu Master. 72 pgs, $19.95 Visit the official site here.
Lee: And this is the random book of the month. The title looks like it belongs over at SLG with all the other goth titles. Oh well, there’s a certain appeal to this that I can’t quite explain. Maybe it’s the tongue in check way the solicit is written, maybe it’s the strangely cute artwork. Whatever it is, it looks like fun.
Gwen: Actually, this looks rather awesome. Oddly enough the art looks a whole lot like a friend of mine's artwork. I guess I should pass this along to her - maybe Cathy could do comic art.

Star Gazing Dog GN by (W/A) Takashi Murakami
A moving manga that is a major best-seller in Japan. Oto-san is down and out. Life has conspired against him, nothing coming together the way he wished, so he sets out with his car to just get away from it all. All people around him have abandoned him in indifference but as we discover along with him, the one he can count on utterly and completely is a dog he just adopted who follows him blindly, faithfully and completely, to the end, lightening up his new adventure into the unknown. 128 pgs, $11.99
Lee : With all the negative news in the world, sometimes you just need a book that will make you feel good. This looks like that book.
Gwen: If nothing else it has a good title. And that dog is hypnotically adorable.

Rebellion / 2000AD
Flesh Dino Files GN by (W) Pat Mills, Geofrey Miller (A) O'Neill, Dayglo, Sola, Various
Think that a meteorite collision with our planet was responsible for making the dinosaurs become extinct? Wrong! By the 23rd Century, man has drained the planet's resources bare, but thanks to time-travel technology, the Trans-Time Corporation send rangers - such as cowboy Earl Reagan - back to the days when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. The rangers round up these magnificent creatures and blast them back into the future so we can get real flesh back on the menu! $25.99
Lee: Yeah, this is probably a british version of Jurassic Park but, honestly, who cares. It’s got great artists and some good writers so there a really good chance there will be lots of pretty pictures of dinosaurs eating people. What’s not to like about that?
Gwen: Wow, we caused the extinction of dinosaurs by eating them. Fun concept but how did they manage to pitch it. "I have this awesome idea - what if, in the future, there was no meat? So then we have to time travel - to eat dinosaurs!" Well, I'd rather dino be on the menu than soilant green.

Titan Publishing
Simon & Kirby Library Crime HC by (W) Joe Simon (A) Jack Kirby
The creators of Captain America and the Boy Commandos produced some of the hardest-hitting crime comics of the 1950s. Often featuring real-world killers and thugs like Ma Barker, Al Capone, and Pretty Boy Floyd, and true-to-life events like the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, these adventures were torn from post-Prohibition headlines. These are the best of the Simon and Kirby Crime comics, authorized by Joe Simon and the estate of Jack Kirby and fully restored and collected for the first time! $49.95
Lee: Yes, these are old comics but this is one of the best packages of Kirby art on the market. I bought the other S&K Superheroes collection and it was excellent. Oversized, and lots of pages. If you love Kirby and old comics this is a must.
Gwen: Ah, more Kirby. While I can appreciate the comic giants of the past, and respect them,I don't need their work on my shelf. This is a cool book for those fans who do like Kirby collections though.

Lee: A solid month and more than enough previews. Personally I am thrilled for the covers reprints and the Kirby crime.
Gwen: I'm excited to finally know the reason why dinosaurs became extinct!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In Memoriam of Vox

My day started in a bad way when I got a call from Gwen that Vox had died. Vox was Gwen and Andre’s dog and Vox was a great dog.

Now I have been lucky and have yet to lose anyone close to me and the death of my dog when I was in my early twenties hit me harder than many other things did in my life. I can remember living alone in my apartment and just bawling like a kid a night or so after we had to take the family dog of fourteen years to the vet to be put down, so I know Gwen is heartbroken. I’m sad too as I loved visiting Vox when I visited with Gwen and can’t imagine how tough it will be when Kiki, my dog, dies.

Vox was always an energetic and happy dog and she had two great owners with Gwen and Andre. My own dog only plays tug of war, but Vox would happily chase a ball and bring it back to you over and over and over again. She was a ball of energy and a loving dog. No matter what type of day you had or how tired you are the family dog is always going to be there for you and love you. My own dog would come up to be when I had a bad day and just put her face in my lap in an effort to make me feel better. Whenever I visited Vox was always happy to see me and would let you know it. I know she cheered up Gwen and Andre no matter what crisis or headaches they were dealing with over the years.

I’ll always remember Vox as fun, energetic and just a great dog, I miss you Vox.

Indies Preview Review for September Part 1 of 2

Lee: This is going to be a short list this month. After Jim's 11 day opus, we all need a break. Anyway, still a bunch of good books to choose from this month.
Gwen: Wow, Lee must be really burnt out - we almost never have only 2 parts for Indies.
Archaia Entertainment LLC
Mr. Murder is Dead HC by (W) Victor Quinaz (A) Brent Schoonover
There's been a murder-Mr. Murder is found dead! Old Gould Kane, long into his retirement as a top cop, looks to be the #1 suspect with a motive so deep and intense even Gould's old partner suspects him. But the truth is Gould's the only cop worth a damn to solve the cryptic case. The clues could lead Gould to a new and perhaps even greater profession in his twilight as a very bad man. Mr. Murder is Dead is a who didn't do it set in the fading world of Golden Age comic strips. A criminal's lament to all things past, present and meaningless. Published in partnership with Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, Heroes) and Before the Door. 112 pgs, $19.95. See preview pgs here.
Lee: The art is a little cartoony but the longer I looked at it, the more I liked it. It seems to be somewhere in the same vein as Veitch when he did Greyshirt with Alan Moore. I’m not sure if the story is any good but the art appears strong enough to save it. It’s worth investigating.
Gwen: While the concept is interesting I think I'd pass on this one for the time being. I like murder mysteries but the main character throws me off a little. The books that appeal to me more these days are the ones with characters I can more easily empathize with.

A Tale of Sand HC by (W) Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl (A) Ramon Perez
Join us as we explore this missing piece of Jim Henson's career in a celebration of his creative process. Discovered in the Archives of The Jim Henson Company, A Tale of Sand is an original graphic novel adaptation of an unproduced, feature-length screenplay written by Jim Henson and his frequent writing partner, Jerry Juhl. A Tale of Sand follows scruffy everyman, Mac, who wakes up in an unfamiliar town, and is chased across the desert of the American Southwest by all manners of man and beast of unimaginable proportions. Produced with the complete blessing of Henson co-CEO Lisa Henson, A Tale of Sand will allow Henson fans to recognize some of the inspirations and set pieces that appeared in later Henson Company productions. $24.95 Visit Perez here.
Lee: This was a pass because I had doubts about Jim Henson’s ability to write a story that didn’t involve muppets. But, once I learned it was written late 60’s/early 70’s I think it will be deeper than I first thought. Most of the material from that time tends to be more introspective so this should be more of the same. And, visiting Perez’s site, seeing some samples, makes me trust the artist too. This is certainly worth investigation.
Gwen: Intriguing, I have to say. I am always entertained by what gets published when we find work that was "hidden away" as it were. I'm always somewhat hesitant about it - I mean if I die and leave behind stories never published maybe there was a reason I never published them. Or stuff like Edgar Rice Burroughs "Llana of Gathol"comes out and reads nothing like any of the authors other work so you have to wonder if the writer actually wrote it.
Boom! Studios
Hellraiser Vol. 01 SC by (W) Clive Barker, Christopher Monfette (A) Leonardo Manco
One of the greatest horror franchises of all time returns, now under the control of its original creator! Clive Barker has touched Hellraiser only twice: once to write The Hellbound Heart, and once more to write and direct the original Hellraiser film. Now witness Barker's long-awaited return to tell a new chapter in the series' official continuity - a trajectory that will forever change the Cenobites and Pinhead! So prepare your soul for an epic journey into horror from one of the medium's greatest voices, and starring one of the medium's greatest characters, in an unforgettable new chapter of Hellraiser. $9.99
Lee: I think the name is causing people to stay away from this because it seems to be a been there/done that mentality. Well, let me tell you, this is one better horror stories on the stands right now. If you aren’t reading it then you don’t know what you are missing. Well worth the price of entrance.
Gwen: I'll take Lee's word on it - I never really got into the Hellraiser stuff. I do appreciate the variety of Boom's publishing though.

Drawn & Quarterly
Daniel Clowes' Death-Ray HC by (W/A) Daniel Clowes
Teen outcast Andy is an orphaned nobody with only one friend, the obnoxious but loyal Louie. They roam school halls and city streets, invisible to everyone but bullies and tormentors, until the glorious day when Andy takes his first puff on a cigarette. That night he wakes, heart pounding, soaked in sweat, and finds himself suddenly overcome with the peculiar notion that he can do anything. The Death-Ray utilizes the classic staples of the superhero genre and reconfigures them in a story that is anything but morally simplistic. With subtle comedy, deft mastery, and an obvious affection for the bold pop-art exuberance of comic book design, Daniel Clowes delivers a contemporary meditation on the darkness of the human psyche. $19.95
Lee: I know Clowes is one of the granddaddies of the indies but his material has never really worked for me. But, I need to give it one more chance and this will be it. Another classic from Clowes, I hope that I like it.
Gwen: This looks kind of cool. Not sure about cigarettes inspiring ayone to superhero-dom but this book definitely looks to be worth a shot.

Daybreak HC by (W/A) Brian Ralph
You wake up in the rubble and see a ragged, desperate one-armed man greeting you. He takes you underground to a safe space, feeds you, offers you a place to sleep. And then announces that he'll take the first watch. It's not long before the peril of the jagged landscape has located you and your newfound protector and is scratching at the door. What transpires is a moment-to-moment struggle for survival - The Road meets Dawn of the Dead. Daybreak is seen through the eyes of a silent observer as he follows his protector and runs from the shadows of the imminent zombie threat. $24.95 Visit Ralph and see his comics work here.
Lee: This is an old collection of stories that were published back in the early 00’s. In the story, you, the reader, wake up and encounter a one-armed boy (OAB). He introduces you to your world and let the adventures begin. It isn’t breaking the 4th wall so much as including you in the adventure. Or, it's 100% breaking the 4th wall for the entire story if you want to be picky.  The OAB speaks to you and shows you things as if you were really there. It’s a great concept which is perfectly executed.
Gwen: What a cool way to draw the reader into the story :)

Pure Pajamas HC by (W/A) Marc Bell
Pure Pajamas collects Marc Bell's best material from his syndicated weekly comic strip for the Montreal Mirror and the Halifax Coast, as well as a host of anthologies such as Kramers Ergot, Expo, Maow Maow, and more, featuring his recurring characters Kevin, Ol Simp, Chia-Man, Mr. Socks, and Shrimpy and Paul. Throughout Pure Pajamas, Bell creates symbiotic relationships within his fantasy ecosystems, drawn in a rubbery big-foot style. 9 x 11”, 96 pgs, $22.95. Visit Marc Bell here.
Lee: I like Marc Bell's art and I love the weekly strips in alternative papers. Not that I always understand them but they are always interesting. It's oversized so the pictures should look really pretty.
Gwen: Again, strip comics don't hold that much fascination for me. Well, with the possible exception of Calvin and Hobbes which I loved reading as a kid.

D. E./Dynamite Entertainment
Charlie Adlard: Curse of the Wendigo SC by (W) Mathieu Missoffe (A/C) Charlie Adlard
From the New York Times Bestselling artist of the Walking Dead hit series comes another horror classic! July 1917. The night air is rent by sentries' screams. Everyone thinks it's a trap laid by the enemy, but soon they hear screams from the German lines. Both camps are obliged to declare a truce and send a team of men, French and German, to solve the mystery. With them goes Wohati, a Red-skin, one of the 12,000 Indians in the U.S. Army. And probably the only man who knows what's out there, lying in wait. Illustrated by Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead), this is the story of a strange phenomenon to strike the French and German trenches. Their only chance: to unite, and survive, the Wendigo! 48 or 64 pgs, there are differeing reports. $7.99
Lee: This certainly looks interesting. This was originally published in France, and is now being translated into English. I am surprised that DE is getting into the euro reprint market but I am all for it. I’m betting this will be good.
Gwen: The art should be good at least - I'm not familiar with the writer. Worth a look.

Short month, so the conclusion tomorrow...

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Week of July 20 in Review

So recently I found myself once again asking myself, what should a good review of a comic book do? That question led to my favorite format of What I Liked, What I Didn’t Like and Overall, but it is not answering the question.

First and foremost a review should tell the reader what the comic was about. Let’s use Daredevil #1 by Mark Waid (writer), Paolo Rivers (pencils) and Joe Rivera (inks) as an example. Of course this book has a second Daredevil tale by Mark Waid (writer) & Marcos Martin as a backup story but this is about the main story. The story starts with Daredevil going to a wedding of a mobster’s daughter because he heard a rumor that a hit was going to happen. Instead it was a kidnapping by a super villain named Spot and DD foils the plan. The second half of the story is about Matt Murdock trying to rebuild his and Foggy’s law firm. Matt’s efforts to defend a client is wrecked by the fact that most people understand him to be Daredevil. Clues are laid that Matt’s client had other attorneys scared off the case causing Matt as DD to go tracking down some leads. DD is attacked and the cliff hanger shows the attacker maybe Captain America.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Marvel Masterworks vol 12

So, I'm into the next volume that I picked up at half price, and it's collecing Uncanny X-Men 101-110. As Matthew said in his comment on my last post, this one's even better than the initial relaunch of the X-Men.

Of course, that cover showing the birth of Phoenix should be a good sign of things to come, and it is. These stories run from that birth, through battles with Black Tom Cassidy and Juggernaut, the return of Magneto, the introduction of the Shi'ar Empire, and the first appearance of Weapon Alpha. The only "eh" point was 110 when Warhawk took over the Danger Room and used it to attack the team.

Claremont, Cockrum, and for issues 108 and 109, John Byrne, brought a lot of new to the table. Phoenix saves the universe from the insanity of the Shi'ar emporer, brother of Lilandra. That's one of the great flashbacks I was constantly seeing in later issues I had read, but it was a lot of fun to read the entire story. There's no dual personality issue with Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force at this point. In fact, as far as anyone reading this (and I think writing it) knows, Jean Grey and the Phoenix are one and the same.

I think the best and most significant addition to the X-Men was the Shi'ar Empire. It not only played around with an alien team reminiscent of DC's LOSH, but also opened up potential for a lot of good stories and the return of Cyclops's father.

Beyond the telling of the stories, I liked the Byrne art much better than the Cockrum art. Cockrum wasn't bad, but it was a bit heavy at times, while Byrne was more fluid and precise. The change in artist brought about a bit of humor at the end of issue 108, where teh book concluded with a dedication to Cockrum. Cockrum, in turn, added "I'm not dead". Good thing, because the dedication wasn't too clear on that.

Gotta say I don't quite get how Xavier goes from agonizing pain caused by his mental connection to Lilandra to eternal love for the woman, but that's comics for you. At least the relationship between Moira MacTaggert and Sean Cassidy took a more normal progression.

Next week, it'll be something other than the X-Men. I promise.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

“When Captain America Throws His Mighty Shield!”

I’d like to say that I loved the new Captain America film, but I can’t. You see, I haven’t even seen it yet! Hopefully, I’ll get a chance later today. I don’t know for sure though, because we began our annual summer vacation trek across the country yesterday morning and we should be in Kentucky by now, heading to Kansas and then ultimately Wyoming. Our six children (ages 14 to 2.5) do remarkably well on such a long road trip. So, I’m uploading this post ahead of time and won’t be able to provide many updates over the next two-and-a-half weeks. Fear not faithful readers! You won’t even miss me while I’m gone as I’ve got the next two Saturday’s covered already!

Like I mentioned last week, I’ve been going a little Captain America crazy lately. I always have a huge Marvel Omnibus wish list, but due to some financial limitations this past year (Translation: I had to spend much of my ASM sale money on my regular comics, instead of reserving it for special purchases), I’m behind it getting some of the recent ones. I have about 16 of them so far, but I’ve only completely read three (They go out of print Thomm, so I have to get them now before the price increases too much). However, I’m about to finish a fourth (and my most recent one), Captain America Volume 1, which contains the stories from Tales of Suspense #59 – 99 and Captain America (vol. 1) #100 – 113 (or if you prefer the first three Cap Marvel Masterworks). Thanks to a pre-movie sale at Tales of Wonder, I got it for 50% off too! It arrived around Father’s Day and I’ve been devouring it ever sense. Clocking in at over 800 pages, this is probably the quickest I’ve ever read one of these massive doorstoppers.

I got the Garney cover.

A good portion of this material is new to me (one the reasons I’m so eager to finish it). I had the first printing of the Captain America MMW (baby blue cover) published back in 1990! You know the one WITHOUT the issue covers! Since I recently upgraded, I passed that edition along to my friend, J. Jackson, Marvel Team-Up LOC writer and lyricist/lead singer of ApologetiX (my favorite band) [shameless plug]. That volume only went up to ToS #81, the culmination of the first cosmic cube saga. I know I read it once, but that was over two decades ago! However, my familiarity with the first dozen or so of those stories goes back even further to my much loved Captain America Marvel Pocket Book from 1979. And I do mean “much loved”. I loved the cover off the thing and when I had the opportunity to buy a nicer copy, I gave my original to my nephew. The Pocket Books may have been small, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying those tales when I was a kid. Who needs an iPad, when you can carry a paperback around wherever you go? The great thing about this collection is that it also included Avengers #4 with the first Silver Age appearance of Cap after spending his time since the war encased in a block of ice. That story has always been one of my all time favorites and I even had the privilege of owning the original issue before I traded it for a Silver Age Flash Archive Vol. 2 several years ago (“sob”).

I do still have my copy of ToS #63, featuring “The Origin of Captain America”. I bought it for $70 over twenty years ago and have been waiting for a chance to get my money back on it. It’s probably a “6.0”, so it’s still not a very high dollar book given the explosion of CGC in recent years (investors and collectors now know what else is out there). Part of me wouldn’t mind keeping it, but the color separation is a little off (I’m sure that’s true in every copy), so it’s not very enjoyable to read it in it’s original form. The story, however, is wonderful and a classic, which is why it’s a big budget film right now! Other than a scattering of Marvel Double Feature and Marvel Super Spectacular reprints from this era (which don’t count), the only other original issue covered in this volume I have is number 106. I’m on issue 102 now in the Omni and I’ll soon be able to read 106 in context! Who says this isn’t the Marvel Age of patience? I probably would have finished it already if not for my Avengers cartoon binge last week.

If you think I’m going to give you a detailed play-by-play of all the wonderful stories in this tome, you’re CRAZY…I mean I’m sorry to disappoint you (I’ve had to pack you know). There’s just too many of them, but I can give a general overview. I really enjoyed the tales covered in the Pocket Book again. One of my favorites is from ToS #62, “Break-out in Cell Block Ten!” Cap is invited to a prison to show off his fighting skills, but it’s all really a ruse to capture his shield with all of its high tech gadgetry. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the inmates Cap had removed all of the magnetic devices Tony Stark had added to his shield, because it upset it’s balance (This theme of the juiced-up shield is revisited later). The WWII flashback tales of Captain America and Bucky are great too, especially the one featuring the origin of the Red Skull (Hey, aren’t we getting a new Marvel series with that title by Thor: Mighty Avenger artist supreme Chris Samnee soon? YES, INDEED). Ed Brubaker didn’t retcon Bucky’s gun-totting abilities with his Winter Soldier storyline, he’s showing off those skills in several of these stories. This version of Bucky has always appealed to me over the Frank Robbins (another artist I used to hate, but now really enjoy) one in Invaders. He always seemed to be on the verge of crying in that book, but it could be just the way Frank drew his expressive eyes.

I understand that this fall, Netflix will also be carrying all of the old Marvel cartoons from the 60’s. The ones where they just traced the art from Kirby’s stories. The aforementioned cosmic cube tale is one of the few cartoons I’ve seen from that time (we used to have a copy on VHS). I could still hear the dialogue in my head as I reread those chapters. Of course, that cartoon is where we get the classic theme song quoted in today’s post title. We’ve been singing it a lot around the house lately. My youngest child, Matthew Jr. (nicknamed “Manny”), has been wearing his older brother’s Captain America mask and shield a LOT lately (even to bed a few times). It sure beats his orange and green “pumpkin prince” outfit (Oh, the joys of being influenced and playing with four older sisters). There’s even a new version of the mask and shield to go with the movie. The wings are only painted on, but the shield is actually designed the throw like a Frisbee.

I used to have my own Captain America mask that my mother made for me one Halloween. I’m guessing it could have very well been around 1979. That would’ve coincided with the Pocket Book publication, our move further out from town to six acres of wonderful tick-infested woods, and the fact that I could still wear my Captain America Underoos T-shirt. My costume looked pretty good (sorry no pictures to my knowledge). I wore jeans with snow boots, a long sleeve white thermal shirt with the Underoos print over it, which had the star and at least five stripes on the front. I’m sure I had some kind of gloves (maybe dishwashing gloves), but I doubt they were red. My shield, an unpainted metal trash can lid. I thought it was pretty neat, even though it wasn’t as good as my 5th grade award winning (I’m serious) “Luke in Hoth outfit” the following year, which had another hand made hat and my Star Wars electric toothbrush in the shape of a lightsaber hilt.

I’m getting so caught up in my own personal stories that I’m neglecting Stan and Jack’s…

Even though the Omnibus ends with Jim Steranko’s groundbreaking issues, the majority of this book all belongs to Jack Kirby. Even when he’s not doing full pencils, he’s often handling layouts. There’s a few chapters by Gil Kane, which are VERY different from Jack’s work. It’s great stuff, but a little jarring when compared directly with the “King”. I think one of the reasons this book is so enjoyable is the consistent look of the art (The Incredible Hulk Omnibus was all over the place). I never knew Joe Sinnott inked Kirby in this series. I was only familiar with his FF work, but it’s stunning here. Ditto, for Frank Giacoia. Syd Shores (from Cap’s golden age) on the other hand, inks very heavily, but after a few issues, I’m actually starting to like it too.

I also love the shortened ten-page stories. They’re perfect for a quick read (You know what I’m talking about here Lee). Tales of Suspense was a dual book (thanks to Marvel’s imposed publishing restrictions prior to 1968) of Cap and Iron Man. I’ve been reading all of the letter pages too, including the next issue blurbs and it’s really getting me excited about finally tackling my two Iron Man omniboos. When reviewing my copy of ToS, it’s slightly unsatisfying to have the book broken up with two separate characters, but here where they’re all collected together in sequence, it reads very well.

We meet Peggy Carter (her funeral was in last week’s Cap book) in a beautiful John Romita flashback tale, just before encountering her sister (now retconned niece) Sharon in the “present day” (a.k.a. Agent 13 of S.H.I.E.L.D). Cap falls for her because she reminds him of Peggy, but for numerous issues he doesn’t even know her name. They go out on what looks like their first date together and he proposes to her! What a classy guy, no pre-marital sex for him (at that stage). Along the way, we get the first appearance of M.O.D.O.K. (Yes, it WAS awesome). Batroc, the French leaper, is introduced as well as the Super-Adaptoid. The Red Skull returns at least three times and we even get an interesting tale with the Black Panther and a faux-Zemo. Cap actually invites the Panther to join the Avengers, which he later does after breaking into the mansion in Avengers #52. There’s a lot of hand wringing about Bucky’s death too. (One of the really cool episodes in the Avengers cartoon had Cap and Baron Strucker grab the cosmic cube at the same time. Cap claimed he wished for nothing, but we see at the end Bucky falling off the exploding rocket (one arm missing), paving the way for the Winter Soldier in season two!)

I could go on and on, but this has gone on long enough. I hope the movie lives up to my expectations, I don’t want it to dampen my enthusiasm for all things Captain America right now. It’s been fun!


I finished the entire Omnibus! (I wrote the bulk of this post last Saturday morning, but now I’m getting to the update with only a few hours to spare before embarking on our summer vacation. And you thought Comics had a problem with linear storytelling.) I read the last four issues fast and furious, but I didn’t want to carry that cinderblock halfway across the country. (Even though it does open fairly flat with its sewn binding and flexible pages.) Packing, reading the Omni, and setting up things at my “real” job to go on while I’m incommunicado for a couple of weeks all explain why I only had time for a one-word review of Daredevil #1.

The book ended with issue #113 and low and behold my LCS had a 90% off sale and I picked up #114 for a buck (reading copy only). I used to have #115, 116, 118, 119, and 122 – 124(?). I can’t recall exactly, but I sold/traded those several years ago. I have some Essentials that cover the next few years, but I really want to read the stories in color. So, I’ll wait for the next Omnibus (probably next year – hopefully). Besides, having completed the first issues of Cap Vol. 1, I’m bringing along the last issues of Vol. 1 (Waid/Garney) and the first 14 issues of Vol. 3 along with me for our trip. (Too bad, I can’t read in the van.)

So, before I disembark (and the kids wake up – too late!), a few quick thoughts on the latter stories…

Remember when I told you Steve proposed to Agent 13? (We get Sharon’s name in #103.) Well, I forgot to mention that in the same issue (ToS #95) he QUITS being Captain America! (It lasts two issues.) Not only that, but he OUTS his secret ID too! I was totally shocked and had no idea how they were going to rectify that little issue. (Boy, were people upset about that in the letter pages.) Jim Steranko’s Death of Captain America trilogy provides the answer. The solution: He’d just been going around with a Steve Rogers facemask! There’s a nice four-page afterward by Steranko in the book and he goes into a play-by-play of all the innovations he used during his short tenure. (Madame Hydra was based on Jim’s girlfriend.) Fool that I am, I had no clue he brought so much to comics. (I’d heard, but didn’t know the details.)

I discovered the reason the Marvel Super Action reprints don’t really count, because you can’t fit 20 pages of story into an 18-page mid-70’s comic! They cut out Mao in #106 for goodness sake! Turns out I wanted to read the story in the Omni, rather than my original “ish”. I really enjoyed the first appearance of Dr. Faustus in #107. It was an awesome story. I was overjoyed when Cap made an inference to Jesus Christ at the end of #105, but there were at least two scathing, but thoughtful, letters against having “religion” in comics. (Maybe, I’ll tackle that another day…) It was interesting how readers were explaining what is now Marvel-lore such as the secret of Cap’s shield and how the 1954 Cap fit into continuity. It was a great read and I highly recommend it.

Take care, everyone. I’ll be away, but I won’t be gone.