A quest for the finest in sequential art

Comic Book Marathon

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

My Comics Can Beat Up Your Comics - 04/27/05

Well, a bit of a lighter week. Also note that the first two books have already gotten some attention around the internet, as they were released through non-comic shop distribution venues first.

Embroideries - Ok, I admit, I haven't read Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis yet. However, that might be to my benefit, as there as been quite a bit of controversy surrounding this book based on preconceived notions. Apparently, the art in this book is far rougher than the already-basic cartooning from Persepolis, and this has caused some backlash. In her defense, many have pointed out that the original edition of Embroideries was published as part of a series of diary-style works, and thus by its nature is rougher and sketchier than your average graphic novel. So do I really care about a) preconceived expectations or b) original publishing context? No. The work needs to stand on its own, and I will judge as such when I read it. In the meantime, though, it is interesting to see how the critical population brings extra-artistic concepts to inform an opinion of a work of art, when they apparently have very little to say about the work itself. My first impression? It looks to be an intensely personal work, so much of the quality of the work will be whether it keeps my intensity and sympathy throughout.

Filler - On the other hand, Rick Spears and Rob G.'s latest work has been getting mostly positive reviews, with an interesting concept and exceptional art. My first impression agrees with that. It looks like a moody, noir-ish tale, and that's a tricky thing to pull off, because if the mood isn't pitch-perfect, the shallowness can really show through. But these are the creators behind the highly engrossing Teenagers From Mars, so I am hopeful this work will draw me in as well. (PDF Preview Pages)

Strangehaven #17 - Hey, it's the annual issue of Strangehaven! This tale of a small town in England that looks normal from the outside but hides some strange abnormalities is simply one of the most amazing comics being produced today. I think the true secret behind the success of this series is that the people seem so real, and that real people do strange stuff. So when something bizarre happens, its difficult to tell whether it's truly extra-normal or whether it's just a character acting off-kilter. I can't think of another comic where the reader is kept guessing, and yet all the events still seems plausible. This is due in no small part to the art, where its photo-referenced panels actually enhance the realism of the story instead of detract. Also the linework is absolutely gorgeous. You should pick this up for a taste, because even though it's a continuing story, you will get enough of the flavor to know whether you want to pick up the in-print collected editions. I'm betting once you try it, you will be hooked into one of the most unique and enjoyable graphic works of today.

Black Widow: Homecoming - An extended narrative drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz is always reason for excitement, and that's the only reason I picked up this espionage adventure tale. It remains to be seen whether "Hardboiled Sci-Fi" novelist Richard K. Morgan's first comic book work will be worthy of the artist, especially under the unpredictable editorship of Marvel Comics. On top of that, another artist unknown to me (Goran Parlov) is doing most of the layouts and the restrictive continuity of a pre-established character could hamper the work further. Obviously, I'm not optimistic, but boy do the pages look pretty.

Also, Guilty by Karl Stevens, which I mentioned last week, is officially out in stores this week. Take a look at that one, it's a very immediate and touching work about ex-lovers meeting up and discovering how miserable they are, both with each other and on their own, in a photo-referenced style accentuated by some beautiful cross-hatching and shadow techniques.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

My Comics Can Beat Up Your Comics - 04/20/05

Oh, another tasty and expensive hardcover. I'm broke now.

Marvel Visionaries: Steve Ditko HC - So happy. Around about 1997, I purchased a new Ditko book (Steve Ditko's Avenging Tales #1) and was floored by this distinctive and amazing artist stretching his work beyond super-heroes. There was a promise of more to come, but nothing ever materialized. My hunger unsatiated, I searched for more - but at that time there was no such thing as a Ditko reprint volume. Sure, there were out-of-print editions of Fantagraphics' Ditko Collection, Marvel's Spider-Man & Dr. Strange Masterworks, and Robin Snyder's original Ditko Package floating around at jacked-up prices, but nothing that you could order at a reasonable price. Since then, the following has been released -

  • Robin Snyder's 5-volume Ditko Package series
  • Robin Snyder's expanded reissue of Ditko's Avenging World from 1973
  • Pure Imagination's Steve Ditko Reader (2 volumes so far, with a third on the way)
  • DC's Action Hero Archives Vol 1
  • Vanguard's Steve Ditko: Space Wars
  • Marvel's reissue of Spider-Man Masterworks (4 volumes)
  • Marvel's reissue of Dr. Strange Masterworks

...and the windfall continues with this new volume from Marvel. There is something very compelling about how Ditko doesn't just draw stories, he creates entire new worlds. Everything in his art is foreign yet recognizable, as if we are looking in on some sort of distorted alternate universe that makes sense only within itself. A few panels in, you can forget about how clunky the people look and just believe that within this new world, because everybody's clunky, and that's just how it is. It's a kind of escapism we don't see much in comics anymore in this age of house styles and pseudo-realism, and that's joyfully refreshing to me.

Livewires #3 (of 6) - Speaking of stylized escapism, Adam Warren's whiplash-inducing new series is all about style. This is a high energy romp through geek pseudo-science (nanotech clones anyone?) in the form of living weapons who also happen to be teenagers. This series never takes itself seriously at all, but at the same time it clips along so fast that you never have a chance to realize how silly it all is. It's a blast, a definite guilty pleasure that is highly recommended.

The Question #6 (of 6) - The new Question mini-series comes to an end. I picked it up for the character and stuck around for the concept and art. This is basically a new version of the character, unreconcilable with the versions from 60's (Ditko's cold objectivist vigilante), the 80's (malcontent on a path to zen redemption), or the current cartoon (paranoid conspiracy theorist). Here we have an interesting concept, the Question as urban shaman, but the test of whether I want to follow this version of the character any further lies in this issue. At least I know that Tommy Lee Edwards' art will be impressive; his layouts and effects have really sold the urban shaman concept more than the story.

Trigger #5 - Cancelled with issue #8, this title had a pretty good high concept - a futuristic secret police is composed of everyday civilians who are unconscious and unaware of their "other life". The writing from Jason Hall was certainly up to the standard that he set with Beware the Creeper, but the artwork was a murky mess. I really like John Watkiss' style in theory, but between his strange layouts and the gothic coloring, it was really hard to tell what was going on most of the time. It's almost like the art was designed for black and white printing, with heavy black shading casting the images, and then someone decided to color over it with a very dark palette. Some panels were gorgeous, but too many others were incomprehensible, and the overall effect felt like walking through a mud bog. I'll stick with it through the end, and I will look forward to Jason Hall's next project, but I can see why this series didn't last very long.

JLA Classified #6 - Part 3 (of 6) of the latest adventures of the BWA-HA-HA-HA Justice League. Compared to the original 80's version, the humor isn't as fresh and the art is a bit too stiff, but it's still both funny and fun. Another comic that doesn't take itself too seriously by one of my all-time favorite creative teams.

Four-Letter Worlds and Rockets & Robots - When the Monkeysuit anthology series came out a few years ago, one reviewer joked out that it was "unfair" to have a group of seasoned animators put out an anthology because made all others look amateurish by comparison. These two books, plus last week's Flight Vol 2, have made the following clear: the industry is more than capable of putting out high-quality and attractively-designed anthology volumes. Or at least, I'm expecting them to be high-quality based on the creators involved. [R&R came out earlier this year, but my copy didn't come in until this week].

Guilty - Well, this was a shock. I had assumed that Karl Stevens, creator of the touching melodrama The Natural Selection back in '98 or so, just fell off the face of the earth. Yet, here he was on my comic store's shelf this week, all Xeric-enriched. It looks like, um, more touching melodrama. Cool.

Now, where am I going to find time to read all this stuff?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

My Comics Can Beat Up Your Comics - 05/13/05

It was quite a big week.

Supreme Power Vol 1 HC - This collection, despite being oversized and fancy, still works out to only $2.00 per issue reprinted. My retailer has been trying to sell me on this series since it came out. We'll see, should be good.

She-Hulk Vol 2: Superhuman Law - Dan Slott's not-so-serious super-hero adventures are a fave of the blogosphere, but I probably shouldn't have bought this. Volume 1 was just ok, only approaching really good when Juan Bobillo is on art. Unfortunately, Bobillo is only in a third of this volume, with the rest being handled by the mediocre Paul Pelletier. And last week's GLA #1 by Slott & Pelletier was pretty lousy. I'm prepared to be underwhelmed.

Flight Volume 2 - Volume 1 had me smiling from cover to cover. Usually, when I read an anthology, I end up picking out 1 or 2 artists that I would like to see more of. Instead, Volume 1 was such a cohesive and delightful collection of work, it made me hope there would be a second one. And here it is.

Nil: A Land Beyond Belief - Picked this up off the shelf on spec. My first impression is that it looks like the Cartoon Network version* of Metropolis starring a cast of Grim Reapers. Who can turn down that?

Atheist #1 - I am usually willing to give Phil Hester works a chance, even though most of them disappoint me. Upon opening this one, I am reminded of those mediocre "Caliber Core" comics from the mid-90's. And then I remember that Joe Pruett is editing this as well, and it all fits. I'm not hopeful.

Strange #5 - Pure nostalgia. This came out last week, so it's a good thing that it's total crap, or it would have sold out.

Blue - On the other hand, I got this last week, even though most stores didn't get it until this week. This is a sparsely and stylishly illustrated story about young romance doomed to fail, with an emotional intensity that never lets up, even though the book is entirely "quiet" moments. When someone like me can feel a bit of heartache over fictional characters, it's damn good book. Highly recommended.

Some really good stuff this week. Can't wait to dig in.

* You know, like the angular representational style of Samurai Jack, Dexter's Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, Billy and Mandy, etc.