A quest for the finest in sequential art

Comic Book Marathon

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

My Comics Can Beat Up Your Comics - 06/29/05

Bah, back in my day we didn't have blogs to discuss comics! We had IRC and UseNet! And we LIKED it! Right, onward then:


Back in the golden age of Usenet (say, 1994), a guy by the name of Elmo offered the following guarantee: if you buy an issue of Uncle Scrooge that includes Don Rosa's 12-part Life and Time of Scrooge McDuck serial and you don't like it, you could spit on him (Elmo, not Rosa). Fast forward 11 years later and I'm taking him up on the offer. Actually, I have read one of the albums and so I already know that it is a pretty good adventure tale, fun and exciting in a Disney Duck kind of way. Look out for it your local shop.


You know, the funny thing about this title is that with each issue I expect to be amazed and surprised, and have not yet been disappointed. Can I say that about any other title? No, and that's why this is the one title where I cannot wait for the trade collection. This time around it's the origin of the Drummer, but the real surprises come from further filling in Elijah's history.


Back when Marvel's Epic imprint was still going strong, a little series called Clive Barker's Hellraiser blew this teenager's mind with gorgeous painted art by Scott Hampton, Miran Kim, Mark Chiarello, and this guy, the finest "light-n-shadows" artist of the group. Why he didn't catch on after that is beyond me*, but you can judge for yourself with this career retrospective. It collects most of his gorgeous cover work for DC, plus odds and ends from Star Wars, White Wolf, and elsewhere. Also includes his 13-page Matrix story. Absolutely gorgeous. (Published in 2001, available on discount from Bud Plant)

*Ok, maybe books with bad writing like Batman: The Chalice had something to do with it. But still . . .


FAN-tastic! But yeah, not comics, so, NEXT!

JLA CLASSIFIED #9 - I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League Part 6 (of 6)

And it comes to an end. Breakneck action, snappy banter, and heartfelt characterization, the creators of the BWAH-HA-HA-HA League go out with a bang. Simply marvelous.


The writer of V For Vendetta and From Hell and the artist of Marshal Law present absinthe-as-comics writ super-large. It's a trip, man. Hallucinogens awaaaaaaaaay!

Other Stuff of Interest

SURROGATES #1 (OF 5) - WFTT. I've been a fan of Brett Weldele since Confessions of Cereal Eater Vol 2, so I'm hopeful on that basis alone.



X-MEN KITTY PRYDE SHADOW & FLAME #1 (OF 5) - Paul Smith art, so WFTT? But bad reviews may convince me to just skip it altogether.

SPIDER-MAN/HUMAN TORCH #5 - WFTT. This looks like good nostalgic fun. Trade should be out soon.

BATMAN SUPERMAN WONDER WOMAN TRINITY TP - Yeah, it was just too expensive this week to purchase a book that I've already read. The Matt Wagner art is quite nice, so I will add it to my collection eventually.

"Sounds like the time I stapled bologna to my face"
"No, it was more like the time I hammered the golf tee into my belly button."

Friday, June 24, 2005

My Comics Can Beat Up Your Comics - 06/22/05

This week, I read some really good old Steve Ditko comics (Amazing Spider-Man #31-33) and some really disappointing new manga (Cromartie High School vols 1 & 2), so I'm not really in the mood to be all rah-rah-rah about new stuff this week. I'd prefer just to tell you all to go out and buy the new Gorillaz album, but here I go anwyay...


If I had to answer the question "Who is your favorite comic book artist?" (argh, just one?), my response would be Ted McKeever. That said, this year's new release from Ted finds him just providing the backdrop for Steve Niles' junior-reader version of WotW, so this release is nothing to get excited about. In fact, stripped of its usual murky religion/philsophy themes, McKeever's art isn't all that inspired. Maybe good for kids (or apparently McKeever completists) but nothing special.

LIVEWIRES #5 (of 6)

This, on the other hand, has the makings of a pop art classic. This is the first issue without many surprises as it merely sets up the finale, but I expect the end of this bombastic rollercoster ride to be quite explosive and amazing. (Now, the coolest surprise would be if the finale went to the next level, I mean like an End of Evangelion way-out-there next level. It probably won't happen, but I can dream, can't I?)


A classic. A review is pending of this and Epic Conspiracy, where my love of Moebius and my disdain for certain sci-fi will meet head-on. Stay tuned.

Other stuff of interest

Captain America & Falcon Vol 2 Brothers & Keepers TPB - It IS Priest on writing, but I just can't work my interest up for Marvel's Most Patriotic Hero, and besides the reviews have not been kind. Hopefully Priest will get a go at a solo Falcon series, as that seems more my speed.
Beautiful Life Moebius HC - Less than 50% Moebius, and what's included by him seems to be non-sequential and non-color. For $23, I think I can wait to see if Bud Plant sells it for half-off.
Astro City The Dark Age #1 (Of 16) - WFTT
Girls #2 - WFTT
Daredevil Redemption #5 (Of 6) - WFTT
Supreme Power #17 - WFTT

I know that you want to sleep
But these neuroses go pretty deep

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

My Comics Can Beat Up Your Comics - 06/15/05

Due to some pain, I actually had a chance to rest and read a couple of these today, starting with:


This chapter in Scott Pilgrim's life takes the touch of surrealism that was key to the coolness of volume 1 and WAY overdoes it. Still a lot to like about this volume, including more great characters and sticky situations for Scott to get caught up in, but the FOUR "battles" in this issue and the continuation of Scott quest against Ramona's 7 evil ex-boyfriends? It just leaves me cold, even if the allegories are clever. I do want to see even more of Kim now though, after her move into the foreground in this volume.

JLA CLASSIFIED #8 - I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League Part 5 (of 6)

The Superbuddies hit a detour on their way back from hell and end up in a universe with a giant G'Nort, an S&M Marvel Family, and an exotic dancer named Sue Dibny. Our Blue Beetle, suffering from amnesia, keeps his team grounded and light so that they don't end up overwhelmed by this grim and gritty world. Meta-commentary, anyone? Anyway, the next chapter concludes this alt-universe adventure and the door closes on Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League forever, so some savoring is recommended, as this is as humorous and as heartfelt as you are going to find in mainstream comics today.

TRIGGER #7 (of 8)

A day in the life of an amoral and destructive Trigger: when a man's subconscious mind spends most of its time murdering and raping, the conscious mind bears the brunt of the repercussions. Not bad on its own, but since the first 6-issue story arc fell flat, it's too little too late.


This book collects the 3 Molly & Poo stories from SiP, which were mainly illustrated prose. It's probably been about a decade since I read the first story, I remember it as an entertaining if clumsy suspense story that did not warrant a sequel; it will be interesting to see what Terry Moore has done with the characters since then.


The darling of the blogosphere. All I have to say is that so far it reminds me of Pop Gun War and if it is even half as cool, I'm a fan.


Last week's "All-Sex Special" (really, AP #2) was suprisingly good, so I picked up the first issue from my LCS this week. My judgment that it was a factoid book similar to Cartoon History of the Universe was spot on, and it compares favorably to Gonick's masterwork. My only quibble so far has been the title and marketing, which draw too many comparisons with the inferior and fictional Tales from the Bully Pulpit. Trust me, this book is nothing like TftBP and it may be the best new book of 2005. Check it out.

Other Stuff of Interest

WARS END PROFILES FROM BOSNIA 1995-96 HC - Collects Stories From Bosnia #1: Soba (which I own) and "Christmas with Karadzic" from Zero Zero #15 (which I don't own, but shouldn't be too hard to track down). Like Ice Haven last week, it's bit difficult to justify paying $15 for stuff that I mostly already have, but it IS Joe Sacco, so it goes on the "if I have spare cash" list.

The night never owed you nothing anyway, makes promises that he never intends to keep every day.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Comic Creator Update - David Collier

David Collier recently produced two 5-day "diaries" for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Each diary page has commentary by Collier on the day's events with an accompanying illustration.

Iceland Journal (March 14th-18th): Observations while attending the NINE Comics Festival exhibition at the Reykjavik Art Museum in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Artist on Board (May 2nd-6th): Observations while spending time aboard a Canadian navy patrol frigate.

I think it is really cool that Collier is receiving national exposure.

However . . .

It seems to me that Collier's niche has changed. He has always been a cartoonist of slice-of-life stories, but instead of the fascinating biographies that he used to put out (Just The Facts, Portraits from Life), his more recent work has been of the type diary/journal/sketchbook (Hamilton Sketchbook, The Frank Ritza Papers). I find his recent work more frustrating and less rewarding to read, while his older biographies (which would often include his own personal history as well) were exceptionally well-done. Just my opinion.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

My Comics Can Beat Up Your Comics - 06/08/05

Oh sure, I make light of Deperado Publishing's sporadic publishing schedule on Monday, so what do they do? They release two books this week. So I'll start with them.


At the time of its publication, Caliber Comics' Negative Burn was the finest ongoing comic anthology available. Almost every break-out indy creator in the 90's was featured in Negative Burn; in addition, after the B&W comic implosion it became the only place to find works by more marginal creators like Jeff Nicholson, Jay Geldhof, and Phil Hester. So with former Caliber editor Joe Pruett at the helm, this should be great, right? I guess, but this first issue looks like a different animal. I was expecting something a bit more "Flight" and a lot less "Four Letter Worlds". Kurt Busiek? Fabian Nicezia? Erik Larsen? I want to see new creators putting their best foot forward, not veteran creators submitting their cast-off ideas. I'm hoping to see Negative Burn capture that lightning in a bottle again, but that's not the impression I'm getting so far.


A comic produced by veterans J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog deserves all the attention it can get, I'm almost certain it will be quality. I'm just not certain that it will be for me, as I am not much of a fantasy fan. Additionally, their Abadazad was clearly geared towards kids and fans of Wizard of Oz-like fantasy, and I was neither. So I'm expecting something I can appreciate, but not enjoy. [Five page preview]


Nearly five years ago, I read Bart Beaty's glowing review of this British graphic novel in The Comics Journal #227 (see a quote here, along with other positive reviews). Even better, unlike most of the Euro-Comics that Beaty raves about, this one was in English! Soon I would be able to read this great new graphic novel, right? Sadly, it didn't work out that way and the book remained unimported to the U.S. for years. Finally, in the wake of the graphic novel explosion in bookstores, Pantheon brings us an American edition of this critically-acclaimed story of a restless woman trapped in a boring suburban life. Looks like a great character piece. (Actually released in February. Apparently Diamond is having trouble distributing books from Pantheon?)


Well, this looks really interesting. Editor Craig Yoe has assembled a series of works that display the crossover between sequential art and modern gallery art, including cubism by Jack Kirby and surrealism by Patrick McDonnell. Salvador Dali's impact on the funny pages is shown. Early 20th Century strips from Antonio Rubio, Hy Mayer, and Jimmy Halto demonstrate that Winsor McKay wasn't the only cartoonist pushing the boundaries of delerious surrealism in comics. Also featured: a bizarre gallery of images featuring the gap-toothed boy that would eventually inspire Mad's Alfred E. Neumann and a set of strips by all-star creators where modern art is a major player in the gag. Just a ton of gorgeous whacked-out art. I don't know if Mr. Yoe can maintain this intensity over multiple volumes, but this first one looks outstanding.


A collection of new alternative comix work from around the globe, this looks to be a bit too impenetrable to be easily digested. This will either be very rewarding or very frustrating; I can't tell on flip-through which is a more accurate assessment.


You know, there just aren't enough Ayn Rand comics! Nothing's funnier than Ayn Rand comics! Actually this looks pretty good and mostly serious, with a little bit of tongue-in-cheek to keep it light. Definitely reminiscent of Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe or the less serious entries in DC/Paradox's Big Books. Worth a look. [Seven page preview]


A positively-reviewed dark comedy? You say it's weird and twisted? Possibly even disturbingly hilarious? I'm so there! Wait, no Ayn Rand? Damn. Someone quick, I need a comic about Ayn Rand stuck in a dragon suit! Comedy gold, I tell you, comedy gold!


Damon Hurd continues to carve out a niche of quirky tales of very "real" people. This series features a cast of characters that each have one foot in reality and one foot in, well, somewhere else we're not sure about yet. I can't decide whether Rick Smith's awkward art is spot-on perfect for this series or merely amateurish. Either way, the art has worked so far. Hurd's story has been quite good when things get weird, but weirdness for weirdness sake can only go so far, and it remains to be seen whether the overarcing plot will have any meat on it. [Preview pages]


This two-year old magazine had two features that interested me: An interview with Frank Cho and an overview of Mike Friedrich's Star*Reach. It's a good thing that those features look good, because the rest strikes me as the kind of amateur commentary that is abundant and free on the internet these days. Maybe that's more a statement of how far internet publishing has come, but regardless this is not a magazine I can see plunking $7.50 down for monthly. (Published in 2003)

Other items of interest

Stray Bullets #38 - I've collected this title, one of the finest comics ever published, via the fancy oversized hardcovers. However, the fourth HC is way past due, anyone know whether I can expect it eventually?
Marvel 1602 TPB - I own the HC, it was acceptable. If you enjoy seeing alternate twisted versions of the Marvel super-heroes, this will work for you.
Birthday Riots HC, Lost Girl, Confessions Of A Cereal Eater GN, Confessions Of A Cereal Eater Vol 2 GN - I get the impression that these little-known graphic novels are being dumped on the market by NBM Publishing because they are going out of print, and that would be a shame. The first two are by Nabiel Kanan, I recommend those for fans of drama that includes some hard moral choices. The COACE volumes are Rob Maisch's real-life anecdotes drawn by a variety of up-and-coming artists, recommended for fans of slice-of-life drama. [Preview pages of these four books are available when you click the links above].
Ice Haven - Pantheon reconfigures what is perhaps the best comic of the decade, Eightball #22, into a hardcover book format with a few extra pages. If you haven't read Eightball #22, this is ESSENTIAL.

Because when things change in an instant, it's almost fast enough for me.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Wrong Men

Filler by Rick Spears and Rob G
Why Are You Doing This? by Jason and Hubert

A man drifts through life, passive to events around him. He does what he needs to get by, but otherwise he is numb to the outside world due to a lingering trauma. He is afraid to feel and he has very few close friends. He is not content, and secretly hopes that something interesting happens. Then, something interesting does happen: murder! And our man is the prime suspect.

This classic noir scenario has been explored in two recent graphic novels. In Filler, John Dough is a troubled and nearly lifeless man, who finds reason to live life again, only to end up with blood on his hands. On the other hand, in Why Are You Doing This? Alex finally finds the life he wishes he had, but only after he is on the run, framed for his best friend’s murder.

Filler is the more flawed of the two novels. This is a noir tale in the Raymond Chandler tradition, which means that that like Marv in Sin City, the main character narrates the story in excruciating detail. John Dough is a traumatized war veteran who sleepwalks through life, giving blood and standing in police line-ups for money. He considers himself a bit player in other peoples’ lives, with no story of his own, until he meets a prostitute named Debra who takes a liking to him. In her arms, John finds reason to love and live, and decides to try and keep it that way by threatening her pimp, which just gets him beaten into unconsciousness in a back alley. However, when he wakes up, he finds himself next to the pimp’s corpse, and he is covered in the dead man’s blood; he’s in trouble.

After this, the rest of the story follows an even more trite and predictable path. After establishing the emotional state of John Dough, the story abandons this key theme so that a complex revenge plot can be detailed. This isn't necessarily a fatal flaw; noir crime fiction is a genre with notoriously shallow characterization, so this tale does not do a disservice to that tradition. However, to maintain such a shallow narrative, the plot must be complimented with a sufficiently gripping mood, which in a graphic novel is established primarily through the art. In Filler, Rob G’s art fails to establish a mood that will keep the reader engrossed.

It may surprise the reader to note that the artist who was so proficient on Teenagers from Mars and The Couriers simply fails to execute this noir story, but his art just doesn’t get the job done. Rob G’s sketchy and deformed characters work for awkward romance tales, and in fact the flirting and seduction scenes between John and Debra are the sole highlight in this book. However, when the story focuses on the crime noir aspects, the narrative falls apart due to inappropriate character designs and a series of badly executed artistic effects. A noir story depends on a mood that will keep the reader engrossed in the tale; Rob G’s art does the exact opposite, throwing the reader out of the story and causing the mind to wander. Not even a clever (if silly) twist in the finale that brings the story’s main theme full circle can drag this book out of the boring rut that makes up most of the novel.

On the other hand, the art in Why Are You Doing This? is perfectly suited to Jason’s noir tale, which is surprising given that the characters are anthromorphic (e.g., the main character Alex appears to be some sort of humanoid cat). Jason’s sophisticated simplicity is reminiscent of Jason Lutes’ work, especially in his linework and pacing. This is a noir thriller in the Alfred Hitchcock tradition, which means that dialogue is sparse and there is no narration. Jason’s “camera” works excellently in creating a silent and claustrophobic setting, resulting in a richly tense world for his main character to slowly lose his sanity. There are no distracting effects or poor linework to detract from the story and the layout of each page is beautiful in its simplicity. Hubert’s flat and muted colors nicely accentuate the grim hostility of Alex’s new life.

The story begins with Alex as a depressed and heartbroken recluse who is asked by his friend Claude to housesit while he is on vacation. Later, when Claude calls to check up on Alex, Alex ponders if life is truly a series of anecdotes, and if so, perhaps his life has been meaningless as nothing interesting ever happens to him. After Claude’s return, Alex goes to visit him, only to find Claude dead with a hitman standing over him. Alex is knocked unconscious and when he awakes is the only suspect in his friend’s murder. He flees and receives protection from a mysterious shopkeeper named Geraldine, who provides him with something he has never had: a normal stable life.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Alex is still wanted for murder, and yet he can’t help but find solace in the domestic life of Geraldine and her young daughter. Unlike Spears in Filler, Jason doesn’t abandon the theme of the novel when the violent noir elements kick into high gear. Alex’s alienation and desire for a more interesting life make it hard for him to recognize that he is in dire straits; after all, he is enjoying the most interesting anecdote of his life. At the heart of this story is a difficult question: even if Alex makes it through this alive, what kind of life will he have left?

Like Spears’ Filler, the final pages of Why Are You Doing This? provide a twist on the central character theme, but since Jason doesn’t abandon his theme in mid-stream, the finale has much more impact. Another relative strength of Why Are You Doing This? is that the murder occurs near the beginning, which allows Jason to weave his protagonist’s theme into the meat of noir mystery; Spears’ approach of providing all of the internal conflict in the first half of the book and then all the twisty plot in the second half makes for a boring simplistic work.

Why Are You Doing This? is not flawless, but its imperfections come from the triteness of the genre itself, plus the possibility that the plot could have benefited from a few more twists before concluding. Still, the noir execution is very good and the character work is excellent. The result is a solid and accomplished work that will leave the reader pondering the fate of the “wrong man” long after the last page of the book. In contrast, Filler stands as a flawed and shallow work, a forgettable read that lacks the sophistication and magnetism of finer noir novels.

Creator project update - P. Craig Russell

Over at his Lurid forum, artist extraordinaire P. Craig Russell has provided an update of his progress on Coraline, a graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman's best-selling all-ages horror story.

Also on Lurid, in the thread on Conan and the Jewels of Gwahlur, PCR confirms that his adaptation of the Robert E. Howard story will be collected in a 96-page trade paperback with some extras. (As if there was any doubt, as Dark Horse collects most of their sequential work into book form, and this is their hottest non-Star Wars property, but still it's nice to know). Go there to see some gorgeous preview pages of issues #2 & 3.

Finally, Desperado Publishing has a page up for the Art of P. Craig Russell, a 208-page restrospective including PCR's "personal favorites." Here's hoping that the book actually reaches shelves, as Desperado's initial publishing efforts have been fairly sporadic.

Commence with the clicking and drooling!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

My Comics Can Beat Up Your Comics - 06/02/05

Lots of stuff I'm lukewarm to this week, starting with ...


"Best Mini Series of 2004" - Alan David Doane
"A marvelous aberration" - Jog
"As a reader, you will be hard-pressed to find something better" - Greg McElhatton
"WE3 is a fantastic graphic novel" - Matthew Craig
"A real winner, and it would seem to me that only the most heartless of cynics would fail to be moved" - Johnny Bacardi
"But . . . but . . . I don't think Grant Morrison is a very good writer!" - me

Ok, fine. Blah blah best of 2004 blah blah I'll read it. And those people above do have fine taste when they aren't talking about the Great Grant. But still, any book that gets compared to Flex Mentallo is a negative in my world. Come on, that series was such a wankfest that instead of writing a third act, Morrison just basked in his own cleverness until he hit the last page.

But I digress. Best of 2004, sure. I'll be there with bells on, heartless cynic that I am.


Over the past decade, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have formed their own side industry at Marvel and DC by publishing their interpretations of super-heroes' early days. Beginning with the excellent Batman: Haunted Knight, Loeb and Sale have created "Year One" tales for Batman (Long Halloween, Dark Victory), Superman (For All Seasons), Daredevil (Yellow), and Spider-Man (Blue). Most of those are works worth reading, but there's a definite sense of diminishing returns with Dark Victory and Blue. Accordingly, the reviews for Hulk: Gray were pretty tepid and the current Catwoman mini-series has been heavily derided by critics. I think this will be the last Loeb/Sale volume for me, but on flip-through it certainly looks pretty.


And to complete the Loeb/Sale set, I picked this up, which was published in 2002. Looks to me like it tells the same story as Daredevil: Man Without Fear, but the reviews were mostly positive, so I'm hopeful.


As you may have noticed by now, I don't pay much attention to the current DC universe titles. It seems there's just too much crap to pick through, and the cross-continuity doesn't help. However, I wholeheartedly encourage mainstream publishers to mine their back catalogues for "Best of" collections that reprint the comics from past years that actually stand the test of time. This looks like a good one, and it will be new to me, as I was probably about 2 or 3 years too young to enjoy the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans when they originally were released.


As far as I can tell, this is an excessively dry and absurdist series that should tickle the same parts of me that Heathers, Fight Club, and Battle Royale do. What parts are those, you ask? Parts you don't want to know about, my friend.


Really pretty, but I haven't read #2 yet! Soon.

BURGLAR BILL #3 (of 6)

Paul Grist's OTHER other book reaches its 3rd issue, still in reprints, but the 4th issue will be all new. Yes, this is a reprint of an issue that I already own, but anything I can do to encourage this master of the form to keep publishing is fine by me.

TRIGGER #6 (of 8)

Since writing my comments on the previous issue, I think I've convinced myself that if Vertigo would re-release Jason Hall's concept with a new artist (let's say Philip Bond, he seems like a swell guy), that this series would be a huge hit. John Watkiss's art just doesn't tell the story that Hall is trying to tell. Anyway, two issues until cancellation on this poorly-received (but could have been a hit, I think) series.

STRANGE #6 (of 6)

I just don't get it. This is irreconcilable with any previous version of Doctor Strange, and I just don't mean the continuity revisions, which are pretty massive. I mean in terms of character, Stephen Strange is entirely a different person here. The Stephen Strange that I know is not the arrogant Chosen One, he's a humbled failure who is hoping to redeem himself by doing what is right for the right reasons. This is the story of some other sorcerer, I guess, that's the only way I can wrap my head around this. And it's a pretty medicore story at that.


It's the Kyle Baker kinetic madness magazine, man! I just can't wait two months between issues, good thing there's older ones to tide me over! (published in 2004)


Oooka chaka ooka chaka ooka ooka ooka chaka . . .

THE QUESTION #4 (of 6)

The first time I bought this comic, some of Tommy Lee Edwards' gorgeous pages were missing and replaced by some pages from Vimanarama! This is my replacement copy, so now I am unsoiled by Grant Morrison's demonic post-modern presence. If only Philip Bond could say the same.

And yes, the comments do accept hate mail.

Other stuff of interest

Detective Comics #807 (David Lapham on Batman, but I'll w.f.t.t. (wait for the trade))
Y: The Last Man #34 (w.f.t.t.)
Villains United #2 (Suicide Squad vibe, w.f.t.t.)
Superman Batman #20 (another Jeph Loeb / Ed McGuiness guilty pleasure, w.f.t.t.)
Birth of A Nation SC (I already have the HC edition).

Remember, the bars are temples, but the pearls ain't free.