Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dini Detective

A little while ago, while reading a blog originating in the far away land of Canada, I was confronted with the opinion that Paul Dini's work on Detective Comics was less than spectacular. Now, Dini as writer was the reason I'd returned to reading Detective those 3 or so years ago, thus I felt compelled to revisit those issues.

Starting with issue 821 in September '06 and running through issue 852 in March '09, Dini was the primary writer. Others were interspersed, but 24 of the 32 issues were Dini. Various artists cycled through, though Dustin Nguyen sticks in my mind as the predominant penciller. Regardless, the various artists employed styles that meshed well with one another and the mood you'd expect from the original Batman comic.

Dini didn't try to make Batman his own like Miller or Milligan. Instead, he took the character and told great stories, mostly in a single issue. In fact, until issues 846-852, no story went more than 2 issues. There's a certain element of nostalgia, of course, when finding single issue stories like these, but these are so much better written than the stories when I was a kid in the '70s, it's only the single issue format that bears any resemblance.

Starting with issue 821, Dini works the small, character elements and not big, melodrama. It's the interplay of characters. That first issue didn't even have a costumed villain, and those that were in the succeeding stories were the ones we all know, such as Poison Ivy, Penguin, Riddler, Harley Quinn, and Catwoman. Even the Joker, who tends to be employed to the worst effects these days, was two stories, the first of which didn't even have Batman. In fact, that single issue Christmas story of Robin and Joker may be my favorite of the Dini run.

Throughout, with the exception of the psychotic Joker, the costumed rogues are either reformed (Riddler), quasi-reformed (Penguin), attempting to reform (Quinn), or withdrawn from overt misdeeds (Ivy). A lot of the stories focus on people trying to change for the better. Even Bruce Wayne himself is developed incrementally by the exploration of a relationship with Zatanna and eventual realization of his love of another.

Unfortunately, that last occurs during the Hush story that runs through issus 846-852. This was the only large scale story, and seemed overly darwn out, as well as forced. I gather Hush had been around already through some other story lines I haven't read, but his motivation for hating Bruce Wayne rang hollow. I could buy killing his parents for the father's abuse and the mother's complicity, nevermind her manipulations, but hating Bruce because his mother compared the two boys, to the point of wanting Bruce dead? Not so much. After the cross over issues involving "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul", these were my least favorite issues.

Leaving the Hush and Ra's al Ghul business aside, then, I found the Dini work on Detective to be both enjoyable and memorable, two of the prime elements I seek in reading books or comics. Of course, Dini's going to be looked at as having done something lesser in comparison to what Rucka's doing now with Detective featuring Batwoman, but these are two very different works. Dini worked with the strictures of the Batman mythos without undermining it while still telling interesting stories that used the characters to good advantage. Rucka has a character that's near Tabula Rasa, allowing him a much greater freedom in developing her. Not to say that Rucka isn't a great writer. His work on Stumptown, after only two issues, is confirming that, and making clear that Rucka has a real talent for writing female leads.

If you want very good Batman stories, then I'd look no further.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Reading My Hardcovers

Ever since Jim announced an opening spot in the ComicsAnd blog rotation, I’ve been thinking about it (unbeknownst to Jim). You see I recently had to return to my home office after being on-site at a different location for 12 years. The change has the potential for some extra free time that I might be able to use to prepare an entry once a week. Of course, I’m back on-site again for a deadline this month, so we’ll see if it works out or not. I guess I need to pass the audition first…

Anyway, we all know of Jim’s extensive HC collection. It’s so good that it makes keeping the 10th commandment difficult. The trouble is he never takes the time to read any of them. Whenever we see what he’s getting on Wednesday and there is some awesome HC coming home to his bookshelf, Jim chides himself that he really should get around to reading them someday.

Now, I understand the compulsion to collect things and to be a complete-ist. I’ve been collecting since 1977 and have over 10,000 comics. I have a minor HC collection consisting of a few Marvel Masterworks, Marvel Omnibuses, DC Archives, and a few newspaper comic collections. I too have read only a few of them. One thing that keeps me collecting without reading is time (I have six children). Well, that explains the “not reading” part, but why I still collect without the intention to read right away is partly the availability of the material. All you have to do is look on ebay or Amazon and see that sometimes an Omnibus will go out of print and then skyrocket in price, so you either get it now or pay later (usually that means never get it at all).

I’ve been selling some of my higher end books at the Baltimore Comic Con for the past few years to Ted of Superworld Comics ( with the primary purpose of using that “freed” money to buy HCs and original artwork. Ted has a superpower of being able to expertly grade a comic book. I slabbed a few of my issues and they came back within 0.2 of Ted’s estimate, if not right on the money. Now, that’s not always good news as I’ve learned that my “high-end” books aren’t quite as good as I always thought. So, why not replace them with HCs?

Enough with the preamble, the point of this post is that due to my increase in “free time”, I’ve started reading some of my HCs. So in stark contrast to Jim’s hoarding without reading, I’m hoping to occasionally elucidate some of what’s actually in these babies…

Today, we’re going to focus on Green Lantern # 9 from Nov-Dec 1961 as published in Green Lantern Archives Volume 2 copyright 1999.

Now, this issue contains the second appearance of Sinestro, his first on the cover and his first use of his yellow ring. “The Battle of the Power Rings!” is a good story, but it’s the second tale, which I want to discuss. “Green Lantern’s Brother’s Act!” is 12-page gem written by John Broome, penciled by Gil Kane, and inked by Murphy Anderson. This team supreme is responsible for most of the Green Lantern stories.

In this story, we are introduced to Hal Jordan’s two brothers Jack and Jim. I think I read somewhere that Hal was based on one of the Kennedy’s (probably JFK) and this trio of brothers seems to provide additional evidence for that theory (no time to actually check it out right now). Jack is the oldest and is running for DA against a corrupt political machine. (Gee, sounds like a recent…umm I won’t go there…) Jim is the youngest and a bit of a card. Neither sibling knows of Hal’s Green Lantern identity. Hal and Jim are determined to help their brother win this election by distributing fliers. Jim has to leave Hal to do the distributing, because he has a date with reporter, Sue Williams to give brother Jack some publicity. Unbeknownst to Jim, Sue only arranged the meeting because she suspects that he’s really Green Lantern and is out to prove her hunch. She thinks Jim’s glasses and jokes are pretenses to hide his identity.

Before we follow the Jim-Sue angle, we’ve got to catch up to Hal. What’s he doing? Why using his superpower to support a political candidate! He rationalizes it this way, “Theoretically, I’m only supposed to use my power ring to combat evil…But if the Outfit we Jordans are out to beat in this election isn’t evil…I don’t know what is!” No platforms are mentioned, so you can pick and choose which party is “evil”. By the time Hal comes back from airdropping the fliers (There must not have been litter laws back then), Sue has now jumped off a roof to get Jim to turn into Green Lantern and rescue her.

Luckily for her, Hal sees her stunt and saves her via a ring constructed parachute. This only reinforces her theory even more. If this sounds familiar, you’d be right as Sue admits that the idea “was swiped from Lois Lane’s routine with Superman”. Now, so far in the series there have been no interactions with other DCU characters, so this comment would work equally well if she was referring to the Superman TV show (from the 50’s) and not the “real” character.

Before Sue can make her next attempt at uncovering GL’s identity, she witnesses Jack being abducted by some gangsters. She tells Jim to turn into Green Lantern to save him. She’s a little miffed that he won’t act with her present, thinking he values his secret ID more than his brother’s life. So, she quickly exits and GL immediately flies out of the house (side window) behind her.

After Green Lantern’s daring rescue of his brother Jack, Sue rushes up to him and kisses him on the cheek with “indelible lipstick, which won’t come off for twenty-four hours no matter what he does!” (Let’s pause and consider why there would be a need for such a cosmetic…) Sue goes to visit Jim the next morning certain that when she sees her “mark” on Jim’s face, she’ll know for sure if he’s GL or not. Jim opens the door with tape on his cheek, covering the spot where she kissed GL. Sue’s dialogue in the next scene is great: “My plot flopped! Well, I’m more determined than ever to learn if he’s Green Lantern or not - - even if I have to marry him to find out!” It’s hilarious. Finally, we even get a rare breaking the fourth wall moment, when GL looks at the reader and says, “All’s well that ends well, - - eh, Folks?”

So, if you have this story in your collection, then take some time to read it today. After all, it’s a blessing to be able to actually enjoy your stuff. If we only collect our hardcovers just to fill up the bookshelf, then what good are they, except to look at them? Of course it’s always nice to get Jim’s hand-me-downs. I can’t wait for him to finish reading that 100 issue run of the Flash! ; )

Friday, January 29, 2010

Review: The Rabbi's Cat

The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar

I'd like to start off by thanking Lee for sending me this book for Christmas. It was an awesome gift not only because it was an enjoyable read but also because I probably would have never found this book on my own. Thanks Lee!

Basically the Rabbi's Cat is the story of a cat's life during his mistress' pre and post-wedding life. There is no real ending to this story as it just stops after Zlabya's honeymoon (Zlabya is the Rabbi's daughter and the cat's mistress). In fact the abrupt ending was my only disappointment in this book as I felt there was more story to tell. It was so good I wanted more! Of course there is a second book so I'll have to check that out at some point :)

At one point in the story the cat learns how to talk because he ate a parrot. I think that this is my favorite part of the book. Eventually the cat loses his speech (apparently for taking God's name in vain) and after that point the cat doesn't get to cause nearly as much trouble. While the cat can talk he convinces his master that he wants to have a Bar Mitzvah (because the Rabbi will not allow the cat around Zlabya because the cat may corrupt her) and the cat ends up in a debate with the Rabbi's mentor. It's pretty amusing how the cat seems to know more about the Torah than the Rabbi's mentor does and yet the cat is the one who claims that God is only "a reassuring myth". The cat has to agree to no longer speak around Zlabya in order to convince the Rabbi to allow the cat to be with Zlabya.

While the story here is interesting on it's own as a portrait of the Rabbi and Zlabya's life seeing it all unfold from the cat's perspective is a unique and fun way to see the events play out. Not only do you see the world from a different view point but because the cat can speak with other animals you also get other animal perspectives. The cat's elaborate tall tales also provide amusement and entertainment.

The art is very stylistic and while I may have been bothered by the art in another book it works great for this story. In the back of the book there's a picture of the cat the creator used for the art work and stylistic or not it's a dead on rendition. The impressionistic nature of the art works well in placing the reader into a different worldview and the cat's expressions are both easy to understand and catlike at the same time.

Overall Grade: A+

I'd recommend this book to pretty much anyone. I'd say it's even fairly kid friendly (perhaps more young adult) although some of the topics will probably mean more once you've spent some time debating theology.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Indies Preview Review for March Part 2 of 2

Continued from yesterday...

Hermes Press
Dark Shadows: Complete Series Vol. 01 HC by (W) Donald Arneson ; Arnold Drake (A) Joe Certa
The forerunner to today's popular vampire-themed television series and films, Dark Shadows still garners attention as one of the most memorable TV shows of the last forty years. As anticipation builds for director Tim Burton's big-screen remake of Dark Shadows, the time seems ripe to reprint the full run of 35 Gold Key comic books based on the show, first published from 1968 to 1976. These stories present tales of vampires, werewolves, and the supernatural. In addition to reprinting the stories, each volume is supplemented with poster art, pin-ups, and documentary material from the series. $49.99 You can read a story here
Lee: The irony that I am picking this after bashing Hermes for releasing ‘Land of the Giants’ last month, is not lost on me. I was wondering why this was was being offered until I learned that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are working on an adaptation of the show. As for the comic, it’s got Arnold Drake of Doom Patrol fame writing and GA great Joe Certa on the art chores, so it should be better than average.
Jim: You think it would be better then average and I'll grant you it probably will be, but that does not mean it will be any good. Even a professional writer can only do so much with certain material.

Image Comics
Sam Noir Vol. 01: Ronin Detective SC by (W) Eric A. Anderson (A) Manny Trembley
Follow along with Sam Noir as he blazes a trail of blood and vengeance from the Far East to the deep tropics! Collected for the first time ever in one volume are Samurai Detective and Ronin Holiday including extras that no Sam fan can live without-now with 20 more stabbing! SIDEBAR: The sell-out hit miniseries and it's off-the-wall sequel in one volume for the first time! $15.99
Hawaiian Dick Vol. 02: Last Resort SC by (W) B Clay Moore (A) Steven Griffin
The Eisner-nominated series collected at last! In the second HAWAIIAN DICK collection, it's gangsters, guns and ghosts as Byrd is caught between warring gangs in a beautiful Hawaiian bay turned red with blood. Hailed by everyone from Entertainment Weekly to Publisher's Weekly, it's also being developed for film by New Line Cinema! $14.99
Lee: You know things are bad when the only thing from Image I can talk about are books that were completed 2-3 years ago. Neither of these books is new, but they are both very, very good. HD is more of a straight forward crime story, while Sam Noir is a mash up if samurai and seedy detective tales. They’re fun reads and worth the investment.
Jim: Don't forget Image is producing some great books like Cowboy Ninja Vikings, Proof, Jersey Gods, Chew, Invincible and Walking Dead. The rest maybe less than stellar, but the others are all great series.

Kodansha Comics
Ghost In Shell Kodansha Ed GN Vol 01 by (W/A) Shirow Masamune
In a futuristic world where the line between artificial intelligence and human consciousness is ghostly thin, a cybernetic investigator is called upon to solve a peculiar case of network crime and terrorism, involving a highly intelligent being that is not organic in origin. An influential story that dares to ask what makes a human being 'human' and what, exactly, is the soul? $26.99
Lee: Since someone complained not that long ago, I will state up front that this book isn’t a new release. But, it was oop for a long time! Anyway, this is one of the Manga’s that I never got around to reading and I’m only getting a copy now. It’s considered a classic so I’m sure it will be good.
Jim: I never read it, but I have heard nothing but praise from those that have read it.

Lightspeed Press
Finder: Sin Eater 10th Anniversary HC by (W/A) Carla Speed McNeil
Jaeger is a Finder, which is an aboriginal detective. Jaeger is also a sin-eater, which is a ritual scapegoat. Jaeger returns to an old girlfriend only to find that her husband isn't out of the picture and now appears to be dangerously crazy - but hasn't done anything to hurt her. But the husband isn't just some twerp; he's Jaeger's former commanding officer. This complex story of conflicting loyalties sets the stage for the rest of Jaeger's life as told in the ongoing series, Finder. Jump on at the beginning with this chunky manga-sized volume collecting two previous trades into one volume. $29.95 You can visit Carla here and check out samples and online stories!
Lee: Ok, I already have this book but I haven't read it yet. BUT, it does look really cool and I've heard really good things about it. Not to mention that I bought my copy from Carla herself at the last Baltimore Con. It's worth checking out.
Jim: OMG, this was the worst piece of crap I ever read. I saw Ellis and others praising it and I could never even finish the darn thing. If you find a redeeming quality in this book please let me know what drug you were taking while reading it.

Slaine: Demon Killer SC by (W) Pat Mills (A) Glenn Fabry, Cam Kennedy, Greg Staples
Slaine is summoned by the Earth Goddess to travel through time and defend the Britons from Caesar's legions at the side of warrior queen Boudicca. But the Romans are not to be underestimated, especially with Slaine's old foe, the demon Elfric, at their side! $25.99
Lee: In case you didn’t know, Slaine is Englands answer to Conan. I always liked Conan so a long time ago, I picked up one of the previous Slaine collections that was full of Bisley art. Needless to say, I loved it. Fabry does great barbarians, vikings, etc so I’m sure it’ll look great. I’m sold!
Jim: I agree this looks like a winner.

Simon & Schuster
Amelia Rules!: Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular HC by (W/A) Jimmy Gownley
Meet Amelia Louise McBride. She's been forced to move out of Manhattan after her parents decided to get divorced, and is now living in a small town with her mom and her aunt, Tanner. Not to mention the fact that she's dealing with being the new kid in school. In Jimmy Gownley's first original volume in two years, Amelia and company rise and fall through the ranks of nerd, geek - and cheerleader? - in a daring attempt to not be unpopular. Available in Hardcover and Softcover editions. $18.99 Visit the Amelia-verse here and send Jimmy an email! He actually writes back.
Lee: I’ve talked about Amelia before and I wanna talk about it again. This is the latest hc collection of the series and I still highly recommend it. It’s great for kids and for adults and is one of the most overlooked comics out there. Don’t let the all ages tag scare you off, good comics is just good comics and this is one of the best.
Jim: It is funny all ages has come to be code for kiddie book. I classify an all ages book as a good story that anyone can read, not just a kiddie book.

Back Issue #39
Back Issue ushers in Spring with some of comics' funniest April Fools! Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming chat Pro2Pro about Ambush Bug, while John Byrne's She-Hulk smashes the fourth wall. Also: all-new interviews with cartoonists Fred Hembeck, Alan Kupperberg, Flaming Carrot's Bob Burden, and that indie man of heartache, David Chelsea. Plus histories of Spider-Ham, Forbush-Man, Reid Fleming - World's Toughest Milkman, MAD magazine in the 1970s, and Marvel's MAD knockoffs. With art by and/or commentary from David Boswell, Dick DeBartolo, Tom DeFalco, Al Feldstein, Al Jaffe, Stan lee, Dave Sim, and more! $6.95
Lee: I love this book! The Spider-ham cover is awesome and this brings back many happy memories of reading the original series. Just think, in 20 years, maybe Lockjaw & the Pet Avengers will get the cover.
Jim: Yeah if you beleive this magazine will still be published in 20 years I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

Lee: Another quality month for Indies with lots and lots to offer. Unfortunately, with more and more fancy hc’s being produced I’m spending more money than ever. My bookshelves look great but it’s killing my bank account.
Jim: Some of my shelves are bowing and I have to flip them from making it permanent, so I feel your pain.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Indies Preview Review for March Part 1 of 2

Lee: I may not have had any great picks in Marvel-land but I’m back on track with Indies. As always, I find the indies far more exciting than anything from the big two.
Jim: Often I find the same thing, but I always blow hot and cold on the big two.

Archaia Entertainment LLC
Killer Modus: Vivendi #1 by (W) Matz (A) Luc Jacamon
Modus Vivendi, Part One. In Venezuela, the sanctuary where he withdrew from the world, the killer reappears on the scene. What brought him back? Boredom, fatigue, the need for action? His old friend Mariano recommends him for a quick-and-dirty freelance job. Remove one banker and one international oil broker, no problem. But why is his third and final target a nun, Madre Luisa - devoted, selfless, and invested in her ministry? $3.95, #1 of 6
Lee: The first Killer series was… well, killer. I’m sure we talked about ‘Killer’ before because it was that good. It’s an excellent crime story about a hitman who starts to break down. I’m sold on more of the same.
Jim: LOVED the first series and can' t wait for more of the same. Of course with this material and the publishers less then perfect record, I'll wait for the collected edition.

Boom! Kids
Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck Vol. 02 HC by (W/A) Don Rosa
BOOM! Kids proudly presents volume two of The Life & Times Of Scrooge McDuck in a gorgeous hardcover collection in a beautiful, deluxe package featuring smyth sewn binding and a foil-stamped case wrap! These stories, written and drawn by legendary cartoonist Don Rosa, chronicle Scrooge McDuck's fascinating life. See how Scrooge earned his Number One Dime and began to build his fortune! Collecting the last six chapters of the award-winning twelve part pic adventure. $24.99
Lee: What’s an indies preview post without a reference to Ducks? These stories are sooooo good. I have one tpb that was destroyed by the kids and a second copy that’s slightly dog earned because I read it more than once. And, last week I got the HC. This is great, great stuff. You know the best part? If you had kids that were getting married… for whatever reason… you could buy this NOW and read it to your grandkids later. Whenever you have Grandkids, that is.
Jim: Who is having grandkids? Not me not yet. The weddings of both daughters of this year, but no grandkids not yet. Stop trying to make me buy your ducks, maybe later.

Drawn & Quarterly
Walt & Skeezix Vol. 04: 1927-1928 HC by (W/A) Frank King
In this fourth volume of Walt and Skeezix, the newly married Walt Wallet settles into domestic life with his wife, Phyllis, and their adopted son, Skeezix, but their family bliss is soon disrupted by a man who claims to be Skeezix's natural father. A long custody battle erupts, raising questions as to the importance of blood ties compared to a loving environment. Lavishly illustrated with Frank King's family photos, the book is elegantly designed by Chris Ware. $34.95
Lee: I know Jim isn’t a strip guy but these early Gasoline Alley reprints are fantastic. They are wonderful stories about people. This really is for fans of ‘Strangers in Paradise,’ ‘Love & Rockets,’ and all the other great slice of life comics.
Jim: Wow good sales job, makes me want to buy these collections.
Lee: Off topic, I need to upgrade my copies of Vol 2 & 3 so if anyone is interested, drop me a line and I’ll cut you a sweet heart of a deal so you can try them for yourself.

D. E./Dynamite Entertainment
Green Hornet #1 by (W) Kevin Smith (A) Jonathan Lau
The Green Hornet is back and Dynamite is the new home for the avenging hero and his faithful sidekick, Kato (and, the Black Beauty, 'natch!)! And we're kicking things off with a BANG as we launch the first of a new series of adventures starting with the great Kevin Smith. And let's get it out of the way, right here, right NOW - the scripts are in! Every single one! Joining Smith in bringing his unproduced screenplay to life is artist Jonathan (Black Terror) Lau as they present the one and only origin of the Green Hornet and Kato. This is the comic book version of Kevin smith's unproduced Green Hornet film and Dynamite is the only place to get in on the action - it all begins here! Look for Matt Wagner's Green Hornet: Year One and Brett Matthews The Green Hornet Strikes! In future issues of previews! $3.99
Lee: There are really two things to discuss here: (1) Kevin Smith & (2) the Green Hornet. Let’s start with Kevin Smith. I’m not sure his name is all that much of a draw here. His last couple of stories have been fine, maybe peaking at good, but certainly not much more than that. I’m not sure he’s all that much of a draw. As for the Green Hornet, does anyone care about him? I know there’s a movie in production but I don’t even know anyone who cares about that! My kids might know who the Lone Ranger is, but I’m certain they don’t know who the GH is. GH has become a minor league, pulp era hero. I’m sure someone is interested, I’ve just never met them.
Jim: The Green Hornet is very low on the radar and unless his movie is a hit I don't see this selling even with Kevin Smith as the writer. Also Kevin Smith has never written any comic that I can recall being anything special.

Fantagraphics Books
Basil Wolverton's Culture Corner HC
Did you ever wonder how to stop brooding if your ears are protruding? Or how to indulge yourself and snore without being a bore? Or for the masochists among you, how to sit on a tack? Or something as simple as how to get out of bed gracefully? Or something more challenging like how to boot a fly off your snoot? Or, if you're the violent type, what's the best way to kick someone in the teeth? If you're mystified by these conundrums, then we've got the remedy: cartooning madman Basil Wolverton's CULTURE CORNER, an indispensable guide to solving life's most worrisome and disconcerting social quandaries. This essential and complete collection is the first time these rare comic strip tutorials have been reprinted since their original publication over 60 years ago! Revered by aficionados, this quality publication also contains Wolverton's original pencil versions of each strip, carefully preserved, these doddle-drafts demonstrate a looser, more spontaneous interpretation of each finished strip. Don't get left on your cleft! $22.99 Someone actually scanned a bunch of these in. You can read them here
Lee: I’m a huge fan of Wolverton’s art and stories. Most newer readers probably don’t know him but luckily Fantagraphics is keeping his material in print. This collection reads like the ‘Basic Instructions’ web-comic, so if you like that, you’ll love this. Don’t look at the previews unless you have the money to buy the book because you’ll want it after reading them.
Jim: Fantagraphics is one of the best publishers, but often they produce material that I have no interest in. They produce niche material which you will either want or not want, but you are assured of a quality product.

Book of Mr. Natural HC by (W/A) Robert Crumb
This new hardcover collection features over 120 pages of vintage Crumb comics starring the white-bearded, diminutive sage-cum-charlatan, ranging from charming, free-wheeling early '70s stories to the disturbing, controversial '90s stories (as seen in the Crumb movie), including the entire 40-page Mr. Natural and Devil Girl epic. Find out why Mr. Natural is probably the most famous underground character of all time! $19.99 You can read a six page Mr. Natural story here
Lee: I’m excited about this because it’s yet another easy way to get some Crumb into my collection. The sad part is this was originally solicited back in 2008. Not bad, it’s only taken 2 years to reach book store. Sigh! Oh well, it’s good material and worth the investment.
Jim: You are assuming it will be published this time.
Lee: So, just to point out how popular & influential Crumb is, did you happen to check the rest of the website out that had the comic? Uuummm, yeah, not even marginally related to comics. Very interesting and that’s being kind.
Jim: Crumb was the king of underground comix, what did you expect.

It Was War of the Trenches HC by (W/A) Jacques Tardi
World War I, that awful, gaping wound in the history of Europe, has long been an obsession of Jacques Tardi's. It Was the War of the Trenches is Tardi's defining, masterful statement on the subject, a graphic novel that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. Tardi is not interested in the national politics, the strategies, or the battles. Like Remarque, he focuses on the day to day of the grunts in the trenches, and, with icy, controlled fury and disgust, with sardonic yet deeply sympathetic narration, he brings that existence alive as no one has before or since. Yet he also delves deeply into the underlying causes of the war, the madness, the cynical political exploitation of patriotism. And in a final, heartbreaking coda, Tardi grimly itemizes the ghastly human cost of the war, and lays out the future 20th century conflicts, all of which seem to spring from this global burst of insanity. Trenches features some of Tardi's most stunning artwork. Rendered in an inhabitually lush illustrative style, inspired both by abundant photographic documentation and classic American war comics, augmented by a sophisticated, gorgeous use of Craftint tones, Trenches is somehow simultaneously atypical and a perfect encapsulation of Tardi's mature style. It is the indisputable centerpiece of Tardi's oeuvre. $24.99
Lee: I’ve gotten all the Fantagraphics Tardi reprints so far and they’ve been great. Now, adding a story about WWI into the mix is just bliss. If you haven’t gotten these yet, you are definitely missing out. This, and his others, are highly recommended.
Jim: This does sound interesting, Lee can you loan me one before I commit?

History Graphics Press
Civil War Adventure Vol. 01 GN by (W) Chuck Dixon (A) Gary Kwapisz, Enrique Villagran
History Graphics Press presents a new line of graphic novels dedicated to America's bloodiest conflict and defining hour. Join the 5th Virginia as it marches toward its first conflict at Bull Run. Ride with George Custer as his fabled cavalry faces impossible odds. Be a passenger on an armed riverboat as it drifts into range of waiting batteries along the Mississippi. Meticulously researched and supplemented with text material, maps and period pictures, these detailed stories bring the Civil War novice or aficionado into the action and allow you to view the events in a new and exciting way. $14.95 Visit official page, with lots and lots of previews here
Lee: OOOHHHHH, historical fiction! I love it. Add to the mix, a proven writer in Chuck Dixon, and proven artist Kwapisz of Conan fame and this is a no-brainer. I wonder how if Dixon will give us a character to follow through the various battles or just lots of little facts? Doesn’t matter either way because I’m getting this! Oh yeah, you should really, really check out the previews because the art looks even better than I imagined!!!!
Jim: This is another easy sell for me as I have come to love the historical fiction material also and with the creators on this book you know it should be a great production.

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Best and The Rest

So I still have not had the time to be able to transfer a lot of documents from the old computer to the new one, which means recreating a lot of stuff from scratched. No big deal for many word documents, but still just adds a little time to each process.


Joe The Barbarian #1 (of 8) – Writer Grant Morrsion, Art Sean Murphy, Colors Dave Stewart. This maybe the best book of the week. Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy have a great start to this series. Lately my passion has been turned to just stories. I’m not concerned if it contains the unreal or super power or not, what I find most intrigues me are good stories. Joe the Barbarian was one hell of a bargain for $1. In this issue we meet Joe who is a young man in high school who does not fit in with the rest of the crowd. He is a loner, his father died in a war, he is somewhat nerdish, he is picked on by the school bullies, he is an artist, he is often lost in a fantasy world and he is diabetic. This issue we see him taken to school by his Mom, go on a field trip, get picked on by the school thugs, has a girl who wants to befriend him, go home and look in on his pet rat and appears to be falling into a diabetic coma and falling in and out of a world where all his toys and action figures are alive and in danger. Is it a diabetic coma fantasy or is it “real”? Time will tell us, but I want to come back and see. I was not like Joe, but I can feel for Joe from page one and by the end of the story I’m hoping Joe is not dying and I also want to know what danger are the toys running from. Part Fables, part Stuff of Legend, part Essex County, all Grant Morrison telling a simply captivating tale of a young man and inviting us into this moment of his life. Sean Murphy’s art is stunning. He has a realistic style, but a wonderful sense of storytelling. His panel layouts are innovative, yet clean and simple to follow. Joe’s house and room of toys is a wonder to behold filled with details that make you linger over each page. His ability to convey emotions is excellent. This is a perfect marriage of words and images and looks to be another hit from Vertigo and one of Grant’s best stories.

Starman #81 – Writer James Robinson, layouts Fernando Dagino, Finishes Bill Sienkiewicz, Colors Matt Hollingsworth. James Robinson picked up this book like it never ended years ago. He took the Blackest Night element and had David Knight come back to Opal and attack the city and the O’Dare family. We got to see Shade and Hope and learn about where their relationship is now. Finally we got to see Shade act as a hero as he has found his lost humanity. While I think the Shade makes a very interesting hero, he was a heck of a good bad guy also. Another book that could have easily been a throw away story is a very strong book. DC seems to be getting their act together and is producing a lot of quality work.

Battlefields #2 (of 9) Happy Valley Part 2 (of 3) – Writer Garth Ennis, Art PJ Holden, Colors Tony Avina. First off the air war in WWII was always interesting to me. Not that I studied it or anything, but the old war movies about that stuff was always cool. Next my Dad is an aviation buff and we always had books about this stuff around the house, so I have a peripheral knowledge of it better than most people. Add to that Garth’s superb writing and you have one heck of a story. Happy Valley is the story of an Aussie bomber group running missions from England to bomb Germany. Their new pilot has pulled their a**es out of being shot down twice. The tactics he used seem so real that I sure Garth did some research and found out about two different incidents and put them together. In the span of two chapters these guys are very real to me already and I fear for the conclusion of this story. PJ Holden has less realistic style then most of the artist who have worked on this book, but it is very effective and is realistic enough to convey the impact and emotions this story evokes. Great stuff.

Cowboy Ninja Viking #3 – Writer AJ Lieberman, Art Riley Rossmo. Remember how I said that I more attracted to great stories lately, well this is an exception to that generality. CNV is a story that I’m not worried about following all the details with it because it is a convoluted crazy mess, but boy is this book fun. I mean with AJ’s dialogue; such as Duncan saying “and yes after shootin’ baddies, I like getting’ my dingle dangled”, well who doesn’t. Add into that we have more triplets introduced and the tragedy of San Cristobal will apparently be revealed next issue. The artwork is amazing as Riley uses the full canvas of the Golden Age format to it best purpose. The action is unbelievable, the art is great and the dialogue and characters are outrageous good fun. I’m sure there is a plot in here somewhere, but I’m not sitting here reading this book pondering some small plot point I just strap on my seatbelt and hit the gas and let AJ Lieberman and Riley Rossmo give me a thrill ride on their crazy highway.

Jersey Gods #10 – Writer Glen Brunswick, Art Dan McDaid, Colors Rachelle Rosenberg. Certain series are so vibrant and full of energy that it reading it is akin to having an energy drink. The excitement that the creators are having is channeled into you as you read it. This issue Zoe has a long strange trip getting back to home as Barock’s mother gives her an unintended tour or the universe. Helius loses his son that he just recently discovered which causes Barock to offer immortality to Zoe. Zoe thought he meant her and her parents, but Barock just meant Zoe. It sounds simple enough but this book is deceptive in how well the writer and artist match up to tell a seamless story that has drama, action and soap opera elements. Would love to see this series put together a hard cover collection of these first two arcs. Add in some interviews with Glen and Dan, top it off with some sketches and unpublished art and you would have a winner!

Other Books I Wanted To Mention

The Avengers Vs Atlas #1 (of 4) - Marvel apparently has the same addiction to the Agents of Atlas that I do. How else do you explain the fact that they have this mini-series going on, been in the last two issues of Thunderbolts and are the backup feature in Incredible Hercules. All you need to know about this book is that it is all out action and ends with the Agents facing off against the original Avengers. It probably deserves to be in the Best category, but it had very tough competition.

Dark Avengers #13 – This was a WTF type of book. We are geared up for The Siege and given all that is supposed to happened you figure some of the side books would be fleshing out the story. Dark Avengers would be core to that type of effort. Nope, it is another book about the Sentry. We have had more reveals about this character then you get at a strip club. We find out he was a drug addict who stole a formula that gives him his powers and apparently he needs to get additional fixes to keep going. Norman Osborn provides him with those fixes and the Sentry is Norman’s secret weapon. The Sentry decides to off himself and instead his void power is apparently attacking New York. It is so convoluted I have no idea what is going on with this story and if it plays into Siege or not. What I do know is I have always thought Marvel decided to try and use Paul Jenkins one shot character for a mini-series to try and replace the power void that occurred without Thor being in the MU. Hopefully this is just a way to kill off this character and make him so unpalatable that no one will ever use him again. If this was just a standalone story with the Sentry it would be an okay story, but I have no idea if this is consistent with all the other information we have been given about the Sentry over the last few years or not.

Green Lantern Corps #44 – The planet lantern Mogo shows up at OA and saves the day. Mogo purges the Black Lantern’s from OA and manages to destroy them by absorbing them into his core and will burn them for all eternity. Apparently the Guardians had given Mogo a Primacy Directive in case of such a dire emergency. Unfortunately Guy is still consumed by the red ring and Kyle and company are going to try and save him before Guy kills them. This book has great writing and great art, one of DC’s best series.

Power Girl #8 – Could be a best book, but I will just go with “Awesome”!

Superman Batman #68 – This is a “Our Worlds at War” aftermath story, which does not work for me as I never read the “Our Worlds at War” story and I would have appreciated a little explanation as to that story before I read this story. It was a decent story, but one or two paragraphs to give a little background would have been appreciated.


Captain America #602 – A friend of mine said I read too much into this, but I don’t think so. In a not so subtle manner Ed Brubaker trashed the “Tea Party” movement and was equating it to being a white supremacist agenda. Now personally I have not participated in any Tea Party and the Republican Party has been trying to claim it. Also this movement is now starting to become a little more organized, but what it reflects is voter dissatisfaction and started as a true grass roots movement. I get upset when people preach to me so blatantly and I know Ed Brubaker is in agreement with much of the far left; just leave it at the door, especially in Captain America. When someone disagrees with your viewpoint name calling is just a way to say you have no rationale argument to make against that viewpoint.

An excellent week for comics, not only did we have a decent quantity of books, but the quality was high also. Even my worst book was more of a commentary on my part and not so much a problem with the writing and the art. Hope next week is as good.

Monday, January 25, 2010

What I’m Getting Wednesday Jan 27

Well my old computer finally bit the dust. It was over eight years old and was slowing down. I had a computer company try to revive it. That was a waste of money as two months later the computer had more virus then Reed Richard’s lab. So I bit the bullet and now have a new computer. Of course that means getting use to the updated programs and the new keyboard, but I’m sure the adjustment period will be short as I have always adapted easily to change, but right now I’m missing my old keyboard.

Of course it happens with a huge week of books.

Let’s start with the others as what has become a smash hit from Image has a new issue coming out, Chew #8. I sing the praises of certain books because they deliver on the promises of what a comic book can be. Chew is fun, well written, great art, great characters and a story line that is progressing. While the absurdist nature of some of the premises sounds a little daunting, come on in the water is fine.

We also have Sword #21, Irredeemable #10, Walking Dead #69, Echo #19 and GI Joe Cobra II #1. GI Joe Cobra never seems like a good fit for what I get because I’m not a GI Joe fan, but I was pushed to read the last series. After reading Part 1 I was sold on this book. The book is truly a surprise as it is more of a story of Chuckles who infiltrated the organization and a story of the leader of Cobra. Not a full out action epic as a much as a character study and what being undercover is and showing how the leader of Cobra is so crazy.

DC has a ton of books coming in for me this week. From the Wildstorm side of DC we have Astro City The Dark Age Book Four #1 (of 4), Victorian Undead #3(of 6) and Wildcats #19. This is the last chapter of the Dark Age from Astro City and while I have enjoyed it, the spread out publishing schedule has blunted the impact of this story. This will definitely read better as a two trades or hard covers collection. Astro City is a very strong series, but the nature of the story telling style makes the pace slower and therefore works better when read in larger chunks. Hard to believe how much of Astro City has been published over the years and I for one would love a deluxe format reprinting of the material to start being issued with volume numbers!

Vertigo brings two books this week with Madame Xanadu #19 and Northlanders #24. I think both of these books are great series. Thomm loves Northlanders maybe more than I do, but Madame Xanadu has captured my heart. Not only is Amy Hadley and Richard Friend hitting home run after home run on the art, but I love how writer Matt Wagner continues to write a Vertigo story but remain in the regular DCU. This issue does have a guest artist, but Joelle Jones is a good artist to fill in. If you are not trying out either of these series then you are doing yourselves a disservice.

Blackest Night continues to reward us with great material and this week we have Green Lantern #50, Blackest Night JSA #2 (of 3) and Atom and Hawkman #46. The one thing that continues to impress me is how well done so many of the additional titles for January have been. I thought these were all throw away books trying to tread water between issues of the main series, but many have been excellent. Starman from last week is a prime example.
Next up we have the Batman family of titles well represented this week with Batman and Robin #7, Detective Comics #861 and Gotham City Sirens #8. The Batman and Robin series has been some of Grant Morrison’s best work. When you start to look back at Grant’s body of work you start to realize that he maybe the best writer in comics ever. I know there is plenty of room to debate that point, but look at what he has done and tell me the man is not an idea machine.

We have plenty of Justice this week from DC with Justice League Cry for Justice #6 (of 7), Justice League of America #41 and Justice Society of America #35. The JLA side of the DCU is slowly coming into focus and it looks like it should be getting a lot better as the year progresses. It is funny that the JSA has become the better series over the years and is more consistent. Of course they leave the JSA membership alone and editorial is always mucking with the JLA.

The rest of DC this week is Supergirl #49, Superman #696, Superman Secret Origin #4 (of 6), The Web #5, Wonder Woman #40 and World’s Finest #4 (of 4). The Secret Origin book has been very good and it is fine if the publishing schedule for that book is relaxed as it is apparently just resetting Superman’s background and each issue stands on its own. Therefore I have no issue with Johns and Frank taking their time on that book.

Marvel rounds out my week as we have Captain America Reborn #6 (of 6), Daredevil #504, Fantastic Four #575, Guardians of the Galaxy #22, Hulk Visionaries Peter David Volume #7, New Avengers #61, Secret Warriors #12, Thor #606 and X-Factor #201. The whole Captain America Reborn thing just drives me nuts. I now know I should have skipped the whole darn thing as it really appears to have no impact to anything and was just a way to underwrite a book Marvel will be selling in bookstores. On the plus side I’m glad to see Marvel moving to the Heroic Age thing as it will give me a chance to reassess most of what I get from Marvel. I have found myself enjoying the stand alone titles, but many of the regular series I’m questioning right now. A fresh start is not only a good jumping on point for readers but a good jumping off point also.

That’s it for this week and more than enough to read for a week.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Literary Intent, via PSA

A foray into linguistics today. I would have liked to have had some graphics for this one, but a search was fruitless.

Maryland PSAs include the nationwide initiative of "Over the Limit, Under Arrest". In the last few months I've seen a similar add, which may not have anything to do with this other campaign and may be solely a local MD police initiative, but is in the same genre. Regardless, it's a fine example of muddying your meaning, which all writers should avoid (unless you want a muddy meaning for artistic reasons, but that's not the case with a PSA).

This add features a woman's feet walking toward you. She's wearing some kind of strappy heels and is obviously sashaying. A female voice over says "This little piggy went out tonight. This little piggy should have stayed home." Then there's something about her being killed by a drunk driver. Note, not that she was a drunk driver or killed someone as a drunk driver, but that she was killed by a drunk driver. Aside from truncating a perfectly good nursery rhyme to a mere two lines out of 5, I'm sure that more than a few viewers lose the connection between the toes sticking out of the shoes and associate the lines with calling the woman a little piggy.

But that's not the real problem. The PSA's intent is to dissuade viewers from driving drunk. The message here, though, is that sober people, or drunks who aren't driving, should stay home so that they're not killed by the drunk drivers who are out there. It has to be, because the victim of the drunk driver is the one being admonished to stay home.

To which I say, "Really?" Somehow I don't think this is what the local chamber of commerce had in mind, nor the creators of the PSA. Everyone stay home, locked behind your doors, lest you be killed by a drunk driver, teeming with them as our streets are. That'll help the tourist and hospitality industry.

Not to make light of the ongoing problem of drunk driving. I work in auto claims, particularly complex auto claims, so I see plenty of drunk driving fatalities, maimings and otherwise just plain stupid behaviour. Nonetheless, this PSA is a prime example of intending one thing and writing another. A fine example of why the legal doctrine of Antonin Scalia and his ken is suspect on its face, but that's a philosophy of jurisprudence discussion for another time.

Ah, another burr in my blanket removed.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Skeptical Thinking

I was going to post a review on The Rabbi's Cat for today but as my internet is out until later today it'll have to wait (I have limited computer access and would like to spend more time than I have writing the review). Instead I have a few thoughts in regards to critical thinking, a skill that has sadly fallen out of use these days. As a future anthropologist/archaeologist I've found that skeptical thinking is key to being successful in my field. However it is also extremely important in everyday life as the media and advertisers attempt to feed us falsifications every day. Here are a few key ideas that I've found help with discerning the difference between fact and fiction.

1. Occam’s razor is among my favorite tools for skeptical thinking. With the proper application of Occam’s razor most ‘baloney’ gets thrown out the window. Take, for example, the case of the Shroud of Turin. The popular belief is that the Shroud is the burial shroud used by Jesus of Nazareth. In fact many so-called scientists have argued for the validity of the Shroud as actually bearing the impression of Jesus’ body (supposedly created when Jesus was resurrected) along with spot of “blood” that seem to be in the places Jesus was injured during his crucifixion. The other side of the argument is that the Shroud is man-made art. Much of the scientific (i.e. testable and re-testable) data supports the hypothesis that the Shroud’s images were created by an artist. For one the “blood” found on the Shroud has been tested and was in fact red pigment. The image of Jesus has been reproduced by several different artists on other shrouds using various methods. Carbon dating has been used to date the Shroud and the material used dates many years after the time of Jesus’ death. Beyond the physical evidence there is also cultural evidence. The Shroud of Turin is not the same style of shroud used by Jewish people during the time of Jesus. Despite this evidence many people still choose to believe that the Shroud is indeed the burial cloth used on Jesus of Nazareth. This problem is easily solved by making use of Occam’s razor. Which explanation is simpler? Was Jesus buried in a shroud uncharacteristic of his time that carbon dates to a time far after his? Did Jesus bleed red pigment instead of blood and leave a miraculous impression of himself on this historically inconsistent piece of fabric? Or is the Shroud of Turin an artist tribute to the death of a religious leader? Occam’s razor tells us that the Shroud is an artistic rendition of Jesus’ death.

2. Independent confirmation of facts is also very important in skeptical inquiry. Facts are unreliable at best if they are only coming from one source. Take textbooks for example. Textbooks are an important tool when it comes to school as well as independent learning. Even so textbooks must be read as critically as any other material. If textbooks were filled with only verifiable fact they would never have to be updated (except with new information – I’ve re-read textbooks from my highschool years and was surprised at the amount of ‘fact’ that had since been discarded as false information). This is why it is important to use multiple sources whenever attempting to ascertain the truth of something.

3. Using more than one hypothesis is integral to the success of scientific inquiry. Before scientists knew about the existence of bacteria there was an epidemic in Vienna that was mysteriously killing many women who were giving birth in the hospital. In fact it was safer for women to give birth at home. Ignaz Semmelweis, a doctor, used the scientific method to discover the cause of the deaths. He had many hypotheses and eliminated them one by one by testing them. Eventually he discovered that the autopsies being performed on women who had died of the infection raging through the birthing wards was effecting the amount of women who died. The doctor’s would go from corpse to living patient without washing their hands. Semmelweis found that when the doctor’s washed their hands the percentage of women dying dropped drastically. If Semmelweis had stuck with only one hypothesis he may have never figured out how to keep the infection from spreading.

4. Debate is an excellent method for exploring the veracity of a statement. As a former speech and debate coach I have found that structured and well informed debaters can not only highlight aspects of an argument in such a way as to shed new light onto the subject, but can also end up with new perspectives on the matter at hand. In arguing out an issue flaws inherent in both sides of the debate are brought to the forefront. If these flaws can be resolved with evidence and logical chains of thought the argument gains validity. If the argument has too many irresolvable issues than it is less likely to hold up over time. Debate allows intense scrutiny of the subject at and also provides an opportunity to examine many facets of the topic at hand.

5. If something cannot be disproved there is a high probability (within the realm of science) that it is false. In other words statements need to be testable in order to hold up under scientific scrutiny. When you’re watching television and an advertisement for a psychic hotline comes on can you test to see whether or not these psychics are ‘real’? Of course not, these are individuals answering a phone and giving out vague responses to you questions and are not going to allow you to conduct a scientific study on their ‘abilities’. The same thing applies to so-called mediums. There is no way to scientifically test their abilities. Unless you can see the dead too of course, then you’d be able to tell whether or not someone else was communicating with the same ‘spirits’ I suppose. Being able to retest a hypothesis is also important which leads me to my next point…

6. Controlled experiments are extremely useful in discerning fact from fiction as this is a way of constantly testing and retesting hypotheses and theories. Take the theory of gravity for example. Gravity started out as a hypothesis and has built its way up to a theory by constant retesting. Once there is enough supporting data and evidence (often along with connecting hypotheses) a hypothesis can become a theory. However even a theory isn’t considered fact – just an idea that is constantly being retested, revised and built upon. You can easily test gravity yourself - throw a pencil into the air – if it falls towards the ground it is yet another successful test reaffirming the theory of gravity. Experimentation is only truly valuable in the pursuit of scientific evidence if it can be repeated and verified. Controlled experiments allow for the possibility of false data (such as a sugar pill having the same effect on a person as headache medicine – the control suggests that the headache medicine may only be having an effect because the person thinks it should make them feel better).

In closing, there are many ways to discern fact from fiction. The most important thing is to think critically and always question the information you are receiving in order to make an informed decision about the ideas being presented.