Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ruse: The Victorian Guide To Murder

Ah, Crossgen comics. I was a pretty big fan back in the day when the company seemed to be really taking off. Come to think of it, Crossgen is probably a big reason for why I became so interested in comics from all kinds of different genres. Each of their books took on a different one.

Scion, Meridian, Sojourn, Way of the Rat...these were comics that I really enjoyed, and they each did their own thing while sharing the thread of "the sigils." It's really too bad that the company imploded like it did.

Probably my favorite Crossgen series was Ruse by Mark Waid and Butch Guice. Simon Archard was a great detective figure and his partner Emma Bishop also made the stories memorable. Wait a moment--why am I speaking of this comic in the past tense? Thanks to Disney's corporate takeover of Marvel, and Disney's preceding purchase of the rights to all things Crossgen, Ruse is still in existence!

Marvel seems to be "testing the water" on the viability of the Crossgen properties with miniseries. From what I can gather, it looks like other minis are taking a whole new approach to the Sigilverse, but I am very hapy to report that Ruse hasn't missed a beat. This is Ruse Volume Two as far as I can tell.

How did they do it? Well, having Mark Waid back to writing about Archard and Bishop is probably the most essential part of it. Guice is back as well, though sadly only on the four covers of the original comics reprinted in this book. Would the book have been a little better with more involvement from the other 50% of the creative team that made Ruse 1.0 a sight to see ten years ago? Yes.  Despite that, The Victorian Guide To Murder is a great continuation of a great comic that was an unfortunate casualty of an overly ambitious comic book company.

Just touching on Guice's replacements on art duties: Mirco Pierfederici handles the bulk of the work, and it's a little mysterious why the third issue has a different artist in Minck Oosterveer.  Mirco has a great art style for the book and Minck's is good but a little more cartoony. It's a little jarring to go between the different styles, but the quality on all four issues is very high.

As to the story, Waid packs an amazing amount of twists and turns into a collection that doesn't even hit the one hundred page mark. Lightbourne, one of Archard's greatest enemies, is unleashing his most ambitious plot for power ever, and Archard just barely solves everything in time. The stakes are high and losses are taken, but Simon Archard and Emma Bishop are still standing by the end of it.

Where it all started in 2001.

It's hard to decide which aspect of Waid's writing here is stronger. Is it the mystery/adventure plotline or the great characterization of Archard and Bishop? Their relationship is fresh; they are always arguing about how to go about their work while recognizing that they really do need to work as a team. There's no romance between them, and for all intents and purposes it appears that Simon Archard is not a man who has time for anything of that sort. They work together and Emma trusts him entirely, even when he sends her to be a fighter in an all-woman bloodsport. Archard's seemingly mad hunches do pay off, and by the way, Emma certainly holds her own in the ring.

After finishing the newest Ruse comics, I could only hope that there are more in the pipeline for 2012.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

iZombie: uVampire

One of the first posts that I wrote for this blog was focused on the first volume of iZombie, and here we are today taking a look at the second. Now of course I was going to be enthusiastic about a new comic that Mike Allred had a hand in, even if it meant a long length of time without enough new Madman material. I remember thinking that iZombie was a great new series that brought some freshness to the often stale tropes of horror stories. Zombies, werewolves, vampires, mummies, ghosts....iZombie is crammed full of all of those old creatures. But Chris Roberson and Mike are all about bringing characters out of those different kinds of creatures. This second collection helped to flesh out the stories of the various inhabitants of the iZombie world.

Scott (or Spot) the Were-Terrier is the first character to enter the spotlight. His parents tragically died and he wound up being brought up single-handedly by his grandfather. Maybe that sounds a little boring, but grandpa is the guy who voiced Mr. Chimps, the cartoon character who for all intents and purposes appears to be iZombie's Mickey Mouse. You'd think that the guy who does the voice of such a cheery cartoon character would be a cheery guy himself, but that really isn't the case at all. Mr. Chimps was just a way to earn some scratch and the old buzzard is at least a little bit ashamed of himself for the life he's lived. He's also not so proud of his grandson's proclivity for reading comics and just being a geek in general. So Scott is an embarrassment  until the day when "Mr. Chimps" himself dies in a hospital bed.

Another valuable life lesson learned from the story of Spot the Were-Terrier: approach what appears to be a dead dog on the side of the road with caution. Maybe try not to even touch it...that's what Scott did, and he was never the same again!

If I may add one final piece to the focus on this issue, I'd like to report that Scott's grandfather is actually alive and kicking again. His soul is now animating a chimp from the local zoo and he's being hidden away in Scott's apartment. So now he really is Mr. Chimps, and he's not too pleased. One lifetime as a cartoon chimp was enough for him, and now it's all become a little more real...

Moving on, Horatio and Gwen go out for a date. They pick a minigolf place as their destination, and things are going pretty well until Gwen starts having attacks again. Eating brains has some really nasty side effects. Marion has been dead for awhile, but now that a part of her has been digested by Gwen she's been really annoying the poor zombie girl.

Gwen can't ignore it anymore and has to let Tricia (Marion's daughter) that mommy dearest regrets all of the awful things that she said to her girl when she started growing up and bringing boys to the house and rebelling. Gwen thinks that addressing all of this will make everyone feel a whole lot better, but she soons discovers a connection between Marion, Tricia, herself, and a family member of her own whom she had entirely forgotten about....things are getting weird.

It seems that Mike Allred needed a little break from the iZombie schedule (probably to work on that Madman stuff again!). Issue #12 features a guest artist, and it's not like when guest artists appear in a generic DC or Marvel comic, when all of a sudden the art gets really crappy for a month. Nope, not here in iZombie. The guest artist is Gilbert Hernandez, and speaking as someone who has never really read much Love and Rockets, the man is gooooood.

This issue puts the spotlight on Ellie the ghost. We get to see a little glimpse of what it's like to live in a graveyard with a community of ghosts...not surprisingly, they like to tell stories to make the time pass. Then Ellie tells her own story of how her father went away to the war and was never the same. He was always very withdrawn and only came to life when he was around his daughter. He didn't last long after Ellie got hit by a bus and died.

The neat thing that caps off this issue is when we learn that this whole story is taking place in the past. In the last few pages Ellie hears someone pounding on a coffin from underground. It's somebody who's "not dead yet," and that somebody winds up being Gwen Dylan. So it's nice to see how these two best pals met, and it winds up being a nice way to wrap up the collection.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Kill Shakespeare

For some people, reading Shakespeare is worse than torture. High school students everywhere groan about having Renaissance literature shoved down their throats. College students go even more in depth with the subject while Shakespearean experts share every detail that is stored in their heads. And then there are the people who actually like the stuff. People like the creators of this fine comic entitled Kill Shakespeare. 
In this story, characters from many of the Bard’s plays drop in and out of the storyline, all adding together to make a brand new thing from the centuries-old framework. 
I think John Layman was right on the mark in his comment that was printed as a pull quote on the back of this collection:
“A fantastic concept, cleverly executed with style and smarts. Lots of cool Easter Eggs for the literary-minded, but still plenty entertaining for the rest of us dummies!”
In this story, Hamlet can pretty much be considered the main character. He is familiar to all who have read the play in his name...he’s a sulky kind of fellow and he mourns the death of his father. Then things get a little wacky on us. He is recruited to do a special mission for a certain king named Richard III. Richard’s demand is that Hamlet find and kill a man named William Shakespeare. 
Shakespeare is a mysterious man and he doesn’t even show up in these six issues. He’s hiding somewhere, and it’s presented like he is the second coming of Jesus. People in this world believe in Shakespeare and there are many (like Richard) who see that as nothing but a threat. It’s not very well explained at this point, but I’m thinking that Richard and Co. like making their own choices rather than those prescribed by Shakespeare.
So yes, your enjoyment of Kill Shakespeare might have something to do with your general tolerance of the original plays and your familiarity and enjoyment of the many memorable Shakespearean characters. A high point of this book for me was when Hamlet and Falstaff hid in an inn while being disguised as women. The ruse didn’t hold up for very long and soon the two men were off traipsing through the woods in said disguises. Now would this be funny under any circumstances? Yes, but I always did like Falstaff and all of his blathering in the Henry IV plays. 
If I was to criticize Kill Shakespeare Volume One as a collection, I’d have to say that there’s not quite enough story yet. Not enough has happened. I was hoping we’d at least see Shakespeare since everyone’s out to kill the guy. But I’ll be patient and wait to see what happens next. I’m guessing that writers Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col are kind of new to this game so it’s easy to give them a chance, particularly when the book’s core concept is so strong. I like the art of Andy Belanger. His style is reminding me of Pia Guerra’s for some reason. Although the subject matter is vastly different between the two books, I’m seeing some shades of Y The Last Man here. 
Kill Shakepeare just has to be picked up to be believed (and perhaps even understood). It’s taken some pretty old stuff and turned it all into an exciting new story. Looking forward to seeing what happens next and which characters show up!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Jonah Hex: Tall Tales

Jonah Hex is not the kind of person you want to have anything to do with. That certainly includes anyone who is being hunted down by him, and sometimes it even affects the people who hire him. He’s just a dangerous sort of guy. Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have shown this time and time again, and each story is fun because there are so many people making big, bad mistakes when it comes to the man with the melted face. Issues 55 through 60 are collected in Tall Tales, which is kind of a milestone. When was the last time a western comic ran for more than five years?
As usual, a Hex trade has an assortment of stories and artists. Here are some of them:
“The Brief Life of Billy Dynamite” (art by Vicente Alcazar): A kid gets really mad when his father gets killed in his own bar. Little Billy takes over the family business, but trouble never really goes too far. Billy likes to get pretty aggressive with people who try to take advantage of him. Who would think that it would be easy to be a preteen bar owner though? Some jerks kill Billy in retaliation, but Jonah finally gets to the end of it all. All it takes is strapping a few men to trees upside down. Oh, and they also have dynamite connecting them all. The bounty hunter pushes the release and boom! No more trouble from these guys. Jonah doesn’t even care that there is nothing left of the guys to claim as a bounty. For a guy who’s always thinking of money, this means that he was pretty pissed at these outlaws.

“First True Love” (art by C.P. Smith): Jonah Hex had a pretty rough upbringing. His father left him behind with a hostile group of Apaches. He promised he’d come back but he never did. So Jonah was a slave to the Indians and always had to prove himself to the tribe. He had no trouble making enemies. Maybe the only good thing about the entire time he was trapped with them was the one girl who liked him and talked to him. She was Jonah’s first love, and he still visits her grave decades later.
“Tall Tales” (art by the one, the only Jordi Bernet): Two kids exchange stories about the legendary Jonah Hex.
“I heard he once killed ten men with the same bullet,” says one kid. 
“That’s horse manure!” 
The first kid is right...all it takes is some friendly ricochet off a couple of rock walls to kill nine men. Then a falling boulder takes care of the tenth. The next night the two kids are lucky enough to witness a battle between Hex and a bunch of gunmen. 
Walking home as the sun rises, the two boys know that they’re going to have a really hard time talking themselves out of this one. 
“Pa is gonna skin us alive.”
“He sure is. But after what we saw tonight, it’ll be worth every minute.”
Sounds like Jonah Hex has a couple of new fans.

“Every Bullet Tells A Story” (art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo): This story borrows a page from an old book of tricks in comics. I believe it was some Sgt. Rock story by Robert Kanigher that had an entire story narrated by one of the guy’s guns. Well, this story is narrated by a bullet. What is a bullet good for? Really only one thing usually. 
“I have one purpose. I have been cast for a singular destiny. To take life.”
Plenty of gunshots, blood, and death in this one.
“Blood Lies Bleeding” (art by Brian Stelfreeze): This was a good story, but really I’d like to share nothing more about it than the following exchange.
MAN WHO JUST WITNESSED THE MURDER OF A BUNCH OF PEOPLE: You and trouble are old friends. Ya just gunned down five lawmen.
JONAH HEX: Ah only killed three. This feller done the other two an’ he’s a wanted man, so that’ll be resolved betwixt him an’ the devil.
MAN: The devil? I think you are the devil.
HEX: Ah’m worse.
So that pretty much wraps up what’s going on in Tall Tales: the variety that everyone has come to know and love from the writing of Gray and Palmiotti and the top notch artwork from a whole bunch of different people. 

With DC’s New 52 underway, Jonah Hex has of course been cancelled. Its replacement is All-Star Western, keeping the same writers and featuring Jonah Hex in 1800s era Gotham City. After reading some solicitations I’m a little worried that it won’t be like the Jonah Hex series was. I bet that it will still be good, but I’m thinking that the series I’ve been hooked on for years is really coming to an end.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Muppet Comics

“It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights.
It’s time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight.”
Sadly the curtain has fallen on Boom Studios’ great Muppet comics. You can really only blame one thing: Disney’s acquisition of Marvel Comics in 2009, which led to the termination of Boom’s license earlier this year. It’s a tragic thing indeed because the studio was making things that can really only be described as pitch-perfect Muppetry.
But let’s celebrate the life that the dead once lived. The first book to take a look at is the latest in the “Muppet Literature” series. They took a cue from the Muppet Treasure Island and Muppet Christmas Carol movies here, making a Peter Pan book, Robin Hood (which I remember actually laughing out loud while reading), and a Snow White one. Anyway, this one is a winner too, and it’s called Muppet Sherlock Holmes.

In the role of the eccentric Holmes is, of course, the one and only Gonzo the Great. Watson’s role is taken by Fozzie, and Inspector Lestrade is never far from the action and is played by Kermit. 
I think that before I delve into the story at all I want to say that Amy Mebberson appears to have been put on this earth to draw Muppet comics. It’s pretty amazing how her work shows the Muppets exactly the way they look in the shows and movies...does she have a closet full of puppets at home to model every pose? 

Patrick Storck wrote these comics, and the results are admirable. I have to admit that my Holmes knowledge is sorely lacking. Reading anything by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is by no means necessary to enjoying the Muppet Sherlock Holmes book, but I certainly felt like I would have appreciated it more if I knew what stories they were parodying in each comic. At least I can comment on the fact that Storck did a wonderful rendition of “A Scandal in Bohemia.” At times it felt like the writing was trying just a little bit too hard, like maybe there was just one pun too many in each chapter. But overall this is a very welcome addition to the Muppet comics library!
Moving on, we have the swan song of Roger Langridge’s amazing run in The Muppet Show Comic Book to take a look at. The man was seriously making what appeared to be “lost episodes” of the old show and transplanting them into comic book format. Without a doubt Papa Henson would have been very proud to see these on the stands.
There’s a Halloween theme running through the four comics reprinted here. In the first issue it is strongly suspected that Gonzo is participating in vampirism and everyone gets more than a little spooked out. And of course Langridge provides the short sketches just like on the show, and these have a frightening theme as well, such as “Link Hogthrob, Monster Smasher.” 
The second issue gives Statler and Waldorf more of a spotlight than I think they’ve ever gotten before, and who doesn’t love crotchety old men getting their time in the sun? There’s this woman with an Egyptian act who comes rolling into town for the show. Statler and Waldorf remember swooning over her “in their younger days” and start a competition. The old hecklers wrangle with each other over trying to impress her. Nothing really works out for the guys though and they go back to their stodgy ways soon enough.
In the third issue a musical guest star appears, and he may or may not be a werewolf. Nobody knows for sure about the story of Howlin’ Jack Talbot. He sures does confuse the heck out of Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, wreaking havoc on their sets during the show. 

The last issue’s main storyline concerns Bunsen going further than he ever has before in his utter abuse of his colleague Beaker: he wants to remove the poor squeaky guy’s brain and put it into a giant robot Beaker. Sounds like a bad idea, right? Well Beaker decides that he’d really like to keep his brain, so instead he unleashes the robot with a stupid little Poob (a catlike micro-Muppet) inside the brain compartment. Yes, there are some big problems arising from this development.
And with that, Roger Langridge’s Muppet comics have come to an end. Having five volumes of his take on the Henson characters is a pretty good run though...and it definitely can’t be said that the quality ever started to drop off. The Muppet comics are in the past now, and the next thing to do is look forward to reading his new series Snarked! when that starts rolling out in collected editions. 
This is just my favorite panel sequence in the book!

“It’s time to get things started
On the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational
This is what we call the Muppet Show!”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Orc Stain Volume One

There is no other comic on the stands that is quite like Orc Stain. But maybe the world just needs Orc Stain. It’s about goblin culture and what it means to live in that kind of a society. It brings a little more depth to the guys than they ever get in, say, the Lord of the Rings or Magic The Gathering. So maybe they’re not really deep people, but the full extent of what we learned about orcs in the LOTR movies was that they are born from goop and spend a lot of time snarling while the camera pulls in close on their faces.

As presented in Orc Stain, there’s a single concept that drives the little buggers to do what they do, and it’s not a pretty one: gronch. What’s that? Er, well...I did say that it’s not pretty. It’s actually really repulsive. Humans have plenty of names for the gronch, but let’s just leave it as “a certain part of male genitalia.” It turns out that orcs are always trying to chop gronches off and make them into treasure. It’s not very surprising that these filthy creatures are centered around something so base. But can you really blame them? It’s just their nature.

So Orc Stain is thankfully telling a story that hasn’t been told before. That’s great! But there are more reasons to love this comic. This time there’s two words to remember: James Stokoe. One man does Orc Stain. The credits list him as writer, artist, colorist and letterer. That my friends is how a comic is made. I have no idea what kind of a schedule Orc Stain is on, but even if there’s only four issues a year it’s still pretty impressive that one man can do all of that. Stokoe’s art has a lot of linework to it, and he likes to draw detailed battle scenes. This kind of stuff takes time. Though I haven’t spent much time in the world of Eurocomics I want to say that Stokoe learned a lot from European artists like Moebius. I really admired the obviously painstaking effort that went into making Orc Stain a great thing to look at.

This volume collects the first five issues of the comic, and at this point we’re really just getting dipped into the storyline. There’s an appropriately named orc called One Eye who has some special powers and what appears to be a magic hammer. The big bad head honcho goblin wants to capture him. One Eye already escapes from some pretty tough situations in this collection...he gets trapped in a tube and launched out of a cannon, he survives a poisonous arrow to the torso, he is attacked while he’s trying to take a bath, and oh yeah, he also escapes intact from an attempted de-gronching by axe. Ouch.

This isn’t quite a work of literature, just fun. Orcs doing what they do best--fighting, wreaking havoc, hoarding treasure--what’s not to like? Orc Stain is an exceptionally well-crafter indie comic, and thank you Image for letting Stokoe do whatever he wants to within these pages!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Area 10

It was some time ago when the powers that be at DC decided to roll out the Vertigo Crime series of original graphic novels. I remember being excited about the concept of comics that were being published to stand on the shelves at big bookstores and really blend in with the prose offerings. More “secret comics” that look like any other book until you crack open the cover. But then I think there were some mixed reviews on the first offerings in the series so I wound up pretty much forgetting about these comics.

I hear so much about Chris Samnee that I really wanted to pick up Area 10. So this was my introduction to Vertigo Crime, and I thought it was a strong effort.

Adam Kamen is a cop who is on the trail of a killer only referred to as “Henry VIII” for the way he leaves his victims at the scene without their heads. During the investigations Kamen has an encounter with a fanatic wielding a screwdriver as a weapon. It winds up going right through the cop’s skull. After this happens things get a little strange. Kamen’s life isn’t threatened by the attack and he starts getting premonitions of things that might happen in the future. He is having a hard time focusing. He finds out about why people have been mutilating their skulls for millennia...he has gained the fabled Third Eye. 

Area 10 plays out like a police procedural book, but certainly dabbles in supernaturalism. It’s so nice to have a comic that runs for 180 pages and doesn’t have any little fake climaxes or recaps because it’s reprinting a collection of periodical comics. Area 10 was made to be a true comic “book” telling a lengthy story.

There’s plenty of detail in Area 10 to make you really get into the characters. Adam Kamen has been through a lot already, and the drastic effects of his on-the-job injury make life a whole lot more complicated for him. Kamen is willing to do whatever it takes to solve the mystery of the killings. At first the Third Eye confuses him and even scares him, but he knows that it’s his only chance for ultimately making things better.

I’m glad that I found Area 10 because it finally introduced me to a couple of names I’ve been hearing a lot about over the last few years. Christos N. Gage is a writer who has done things for both of the Big Two, but I guess they were never things that passed through my radar. I’m not sure how much bearing this Vertigo Crime OGN would have on his superhero work, but at least now I know that the man is good at something! I’ll have to try and dig up some more. 

Chris Samnee has a wonderful website in which he posts a lot of art. iFanboy really loves him and that’s where I first heard about him. It was just another case in which I didn’t really know where to look to find his work. Now I know why Samnee is held is such high esteem. He did such a great job with a shadowy black and white style. His storytelling is strong and he accomplishes so much with subtlety. There’s plenty of tension in the pages of Area 10, and I’m willing to say that more than half of it is because of the artist’s contributions rather than the writer’s. 

Well, it’s not surprising to me that after coming across Area 10 I’m now much more interested in the Vertigo Crime line as a whole. At this point there’s almost a dozen novels in the series. Looking forward to trying out a few more...

Monday, August 29, 2011

DC Retroactive: The 1990s

When the DC Retroactive comics were announced, I was pretty excited. It sure did sound like a great idea to reunite creators to tell “one last story” within the framework they provided for a given era. Then they started rolling out at $5 a pop. It’s certainly a reasonable price, since each of these books is both a new 20 plus page story with a bonus reprint from the creators’ original run. I thought I would be grabbing some of the 70s and 80s era comics, but I wound up having a hard time justifying spending the $5 to get a new story and a reprint of something I already had kicking around in the collection.   So I thought the only one I would wind up with was the 90s Batman, which I had been very eagerly awaiting, given my love for Grant and Breyfogle Batman stories. 

But I wound up with four of the 90s books and I really enjoyed them! Full disclosure: I loved these comics because they brought back a little smidgen of what comics were like when I first started reading them. DC had a great idea here.

Without further ado...

DC Retroactive: Batman 1990s

So as I mentioned, this was the one book I was really looking forward to out of the bunch. It’s kind of funny that Alan Grant’s story almost crammed too much into the twenty some-odd pages. Overall, I don’t think we were treated to Grant’s best work here. There was some painful dialogue and heavyhanded narration. But you know what? I didn’t even really care. Norm Breyfogle was awesome as he always is. He got to do a lot of his signature Bat details here, from the cape to the nightvision eyes to Batman’s acrobatic kick from the ceiling. I really hope that DC would be able to convince these two guys for a miniseries, like they recently got one of the 90s’ other most celebrated Bat teams to do (Doug Moench and Kelly Jones). 

The reprint: Detective Comics #613, 1990. It’s an issue called “Trash.” It’s a stronger effort from the writer, and while Breyfogle is still great here, we can see how much he has improved with time. This story plus the new one? Easily worth the $5.

DC Retroactive: Superman 1990s

I mentioned that the story seemed just slightly off in the Batman comic. Well, this one felt completely ripped out of the early 90s run by Louise Simonson and John Bogdanove! It kind of made me wonder if it was really a lost script. Superman has the mullet, the cloned Lex Luthor is pissed off, everyone is talking about Doomsday, yep, everything is perfect here. The story features the return of Cruiser, a big bad monster who can burrow through anything. It causes a lot of destruction throughout Metropolis and even burns Supes’ hair off (though strangely, not his costume).

The reprint: Superman: The Man of Steel #12, 1992. Here’s another reason why this Superman Retroactive was so successful in my eyes. The reprint perfectly dovetailed with the new story. In this older story we see a previous appearance of Cruiser. It might be beneficial to read this story and then move onto the next one.

DC Retoractive: Green Lantern 1990s

Ah, Kyle Rayner. You were the first Green Lantern I knew about when I started reading comics. I know a lot of people didn’t like you. But I always thought your costume was really cool and I liked that you were “the Last Green Lantern.” Now everything has been retconned. Hal is back, the Corps is back, and though you still exist, you’re nothing compared to what you used to be. That makes me kind of sad. But hey, DC got Ron Marz and Darryl Banks back together to tell one more story!

Simple story here: Kyle is on guard duty at the JLA satellite and Effigy shows up to wreak havoc. So this comic really gets you right back into all of the details, such as Kyle’s always entertaining narration, his inventions with the ring, and Effigy’s never ending rage. Once again, this could have been a “lost issue” of the original Marz run. 

Reprint: Green Lantern #78, 1996. This was a nice “who I am” issue. This is why I was lamenting the fact that Kyle isn’t very important anymore. He was such a well fleshed out character, and because of the strange cyclical nature of comics he’s now been pushed out of the way for Hal Jordan to come back. It’s just a shame. Maybe DC can start a good trade paperback run of the 90s Green Lantern now? I really hope that sales of these Retroactive books are able to get DC thinking about more collections to put out.  How long have people been clamoring for Grant and Breyfogle Batman trades?

DC Retroactive: Justice League America 1990s.

“Together again for the last time (we hope!)--Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire.”
That should pretty much be enough said on the subject. The Justice League comics these guys put out were so, so good. It was pretty daring, doing what they did. Taking the biggest team of costumed heroes on the planet and turning their story into a humor book and a soap opera while keeping just enough of the classic superhero action. 

This might have been the best of the Retroactive books that I read. It’s just hard to beat the great scripts that Giffen and DeMatteis put together, where everything is so witty and carefully orchestrated. And then there is Kevin Maguire, who is really one of the most talented people who has ever drawn comics. Nobody can beat him on making these characters seem real.

The story: the Injustice Gang is up to no good, as usual. A Godzilla-sized parademon destroys a lot of stuff, and everything is cleaned up by the end. Again, pretty simple, but just enough to make everyone happy and remember a bygone era of Justice League history. Great comic.

The reprint: Justice League of America #6, 1992. When I started reading this, I hadn’t realized its significance as the last comic the three guys made before moving on to other projects. That gave it some context for me. It’s an issue that is really just catching up with all of the characters. Although I haven’t read probably half of the stories they did together, I imagine this comic was a nice bow tie to the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire days.

So overall, I am so glad that DC put together this line of books. Who knows, maybe now I will track down some of the 80s and 70s Retroactives as well. I’ve already found the ones that mean the most to me though. As DC gets ready to move into a brand new era this week, it was really nice to see them spending time looking back on the past. Thanks for the memories...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Stumptown Volume One

I remember hearing about Stumptown a long time ago on an episode of Around Comics, back when I was a comics podcast junkie. Greg Rucka himself was on the line talking the book up, and it really seemed like he was excited about starting this new project.

Well, I'm not sure exactly how much time has passed since then, but I know that it was awhile. After a lot of waiting, I finally have a copy of the first volume of Stumptown in my collection.

This is a book of pure Greg Rucka greatness. The introduction, written by Matt Fraction, really praises the writer for the latest iteration of "the Ruckan Woman" in main character Dexedrine Parios. I think that must have to do a lot with why I've always liked Rucka so much...we have Tara Chace from Queen & Country, Renee Montoya from Gotham Central, Kathy Kane from Batwoman...all from Rucka. A lot of really good female characters who stand apart from the rest. 

And now there's one more. Dex is really great. She's a thirty-two year old private investigator who's having a tough time making ends meet in the city of Portland, Oregon. She drives a beat-up ’64 Mustang. She lives with her mentally handicapped brother Ansel. Bad luck follows her everywhere, whether she spills coffee all over herself or gets punched in the gut right after getting up from being pummeled in the face. She's really tough, and she has to be.

I think there is a tad bit more humor in Stumptown than the usually is in a Greg Rucka book, and I'm very much okay with that. But I guess people should be warned about that kind of thing. There's still plenty of violence and good detective work though.

There is a girl missing and her grandmother wants to know where she is. Said grandmother owns a casino, and Dex just lost a lot of money that she can't hope to repay anytime soon there. So a deal is made..."you're a P.I., right? You can pay me back this way."

And so she's off. Dex gets into a whole lot of trouble looking for this girl. Her bulletproof vest comes in really handy, her left eye gets a little beaten up, and yet she still has the time to get home and help Ansel get ready for his next day at work. She also has time to reflect on how her handicapped brother pulls in a steadier income than she does, but this is what happens when you're a one person private investigation team.

Now so far I have said absolutely nothing about artist Matthew Southworth, and here is where that changes. He was the perfect artist for this book. At some times it really did seem like I had cracked open an old issue of Gotham Central...he has a very similar style to Michael Lark. And again going from the book's introduction, Southworth has perfectly captured the fine details of Portland, Oregon. I'm not sure if I'll ever make it out there to see if it's true or not, but I like the idea of a comic that is so "true to life."

I just have to say a few words about the physical book itself. Oni Press makes nice books. This is a really sturdy hardcover with dust jacket, and the paper is really heavy duty. If I was going to make any kind of complaint about anything, it would be that colors looked a little murky, but maybe this was all part of the plan. Before I cracked it open, I had actually assumed that Stumptown was a black and white book.

There is some interesting back matter after the first four chapters of Stumptown. The best is the short story that was mailed out to people as a promotional gimmick before any of the comics came out. It was printed up at the size of a business card and came with a magnifying glass so you could actually read it. Here in the hardcover it was printed at normal size. It's a more lighthearted story than what the Stumptown story eventually became, but it really is entertaining. Dex is having car problems and doesn't have the money to make repairs. But the mechanic has another way she can repay him: find a guy who took off with a $90,000 Mustang from him. Well, Dex sure does succeed in making this guy's life hell for the next few days. It's interesting to see this story because it makes you wonder what Stumptown would be like if Rucka had stayed with the almost over the top humor he presents in this short.

Bottom line: there's another great Greg Rucka comic out there and it's time to read about the adventures and misadventures of Dex.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Northlanders: Metal and Other Stories

Ah, Northlanders. How glad I am that you exist.

I think it’s safe to say that Northlanders is, by this point, the longest-running Viking comic ever. Brian Wood has made it an exciting read every time I pick up the latest trade. There isn’t an ongoing narrative in this comic; the focus shifts with each storyline. The longest story in this collection, Metal, involves a very strong blacksmith wreaking havoc on the Christians who have taken over. The Christians aren’t stupid though. They hire a big strong native of their own to oppose him. This is a story about new religion versus old religion and greed versus preservation. Riccardo Burchielli has a versatile style in his artwork. He draws gory battle scenes, mushroom-induced hallucinations, and even some really nice quiet scenes in these five comics.

Backing up, “The Sea Road” is the story that leads off this collection. It’s the tale of a particularly perilous journey of a few men at sea. Men who are greedy and will do virtually anything if it means a little more loot in their pockets. The boat winds up touching shore somewhere in America. Only one viking remains alive after he kills the last of his companions, and when he sees the natives, he has a rather important sounding speech:

“You should kill me. I deserve it, bringing this butchery to your fine beach, here. But if I could leave you lads with one bit of advice? More of a friendly warning, really. I couldn’t tell you when, but I can say for a certainty there’ll be more men just like me who’ll find their way here. Like I said, too beautiful a place.”

The natives quickly slay the invader, but everyone reading knows that it’s only a matter of time before the fortunes are reversed.

“The Girl In The Ice” closes the collection. It’s a story illustrated by Brian Wood’s frequent collaborator, Becky Cloonan. An old man is ice fishing when he notices something very strange: a young woman’s body has risen to the top of the ice. The old man wants to solve the mystery of who this girl is, but risks the authorities finding out that he is holding a corpse in his home. He could be accused of any number of crimes for something like that, but he truly only wants to get to the bottom of the problem. Things don’t end well for him, but the mother of the girl at least gets to know the truth of what was going on.

So that’s a little taste of what Northlanders is all about. It’s a series that I love picking up because the story is always going to be something different. Brian Wood has done an awesome job. I remember listening to a podcast interview with him some years ago, probably when Northlanders was in its first year. He was saying that he was concerned mainly with telling good stories about these people. Maybe some things in the timeline aren’t all too accurate. He also made a stylistic choice that is sure to irk some people: the characters in Northlanders speak in a modern dialect rather than anything archaic and Norse-like. I personally view it as a positive. If you want to read Thor-speak, well, thank god we have Thor as a book to read too.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


As if Vertigo comics weren’t already diverse enough, Brazilian brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá bring another distinct kind of comic to the imprint’s lineup. Daytripper reads like something you would find from one of the industry’s smaller companies. It is a powerful set of stories asking the question “What are the most important days of your life?” The structure of these comics at all times emphasizes that question as it follows the life of one man.

Brás de Oliva Domingos is a man who in some chapters seems rather ordinary. In other chapters he is more like a celebrity. He always has his doubts, he always has his faults. In Daytripper we get glimpses into his life unlike any others; we see him live more and die more than any normal person. 

Dave Stewart lent his coloring skills to Daytripper.

Yes, this was the structural idea that the brothers had when they decided how to craft their story. There are ten comics collected in Daytripper, and each one focuses on Brás when he is at a certain age. The only thing that is certain in each comic is that Brás will die by the last page. Maybe some people will get bent out of shape about this “non-temporal” kind of comic. But then they would be missing the point. 

Daytripper is crafted to make the reader remember the most powerful moments in his or her own life. So the many deaths of Brás show how mortality is always just a moment away at any point in time for any person. There are so many unfortunate things that can happen in life, but Moon and Bá made this story to emphasize all of the good and happy things that can happen too. The result is a comic that feels so real, in a way that stories can’t often accomplish.

Brás de Oliva Domingos wants to be a writer like his father. So far his writing career has amounted to him writing obituaries for a local newspaper. This is the status quo in which many of the stories begin. Other stories show him before he found the job, and some stories even show him as a successful novelist who followed in the footsteps of his father. Brás makes his way through the stories that are marked by his corresponding age in each chapter.

May I point out a few of my favorites?

How about “28.” Brás is in a time of upheaval and uncertainty. His longtime girlfriend has had enough. Her boxes are packed and she’s moving out. One angry tirade, some mean words, and a slammed door and Brás is on his own again. Now maybe her frustration wasn’t completely unjustified. Maybe Brás wasn’t very good to her. But he knows now that his life needs to change, but he is a little worried about how he’s going to do it. He talks to his father, a novelist who is full of insight into the human condition. He advises Brás to look for the moments that give life meaning. It doesn’t seem to be the message that Brás wants to be hearing right then and there. 

But then he finds his way to a bakery...and he sees the woman that he knows he will spend the rest of his life with. It’s obvious to him. He watches her from across the store and doesn’t even notice when his purchase is rung up. Brás is too smitten to talk in the store, but then he realizes that he has to talk to her. He goes running into the street, too excited to pay attention, and gets hit by a car.

Maybe the chapter that most clearly emphasized the duality of life and death would be “41.” This comic starts out looking like it’s going to be the most joyous of all of them all. Ana, Brás’ wife, is about to have their child. They head to the hospital, nervous and yet excited. Then Brás knows that something is wrong. At the same time that he is awaiting the arrival of his firstborn son, his mother is at the hospital for an altogether different reason. Brás’ father has just died. So Brás has to deal with the feelings of extreme joy and extreme sadness all at the same exact time. He has to hide his pain from his wife until she is well enough to bear the news. And it is far from easy for him.

The saddest and most haunting chapter would have to be “47.” Brás himself is never really seen in this one, because he is away on a book tour. Ana is having a difficult time in the temporary role of a single mother for Miguel, who is now old enough to go to school. Brás is always calling, sending texts, and writing emails for Ana to find. He’s doing all that he can to make sure that Ana is alright while he has to be away and living the life of a successful novelist. He doesn’t ever come back as his life is taken unexpectedly by tumors in his brain, dying in an emergency room surgery. Ana and Miguel know that life is going to be difficult and that things are going to be sad for a very long time, but that they have the strength to move forward.

Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon have deservedly won a lot of awards for their work on Daytripper. They created meaningful characters and down-to-earth situations that I sincerely hope everyone could identify with in some way. It’s a beautiful story with a lot of depth that really forces you to realize what is important in life. Everything can change so fast...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hellblazer: City Of Demons

This is the first post in a series that will amount to a lot of gushing about how great Vertigo comics are. I must have already said by now how I think it’s one of the most important little branches in the comics publishing industry. They tell all kinds of stories, sometimes even the stories that anyone else would be afraid to publish.

So here’s part one of four in “Thoughts About Vertigo in August.” Hellblazer: City of Demons is a great place to start, since John Constantine’s adventures have been the one constant running throughout the entire history of Vertigo since it was officially started in 1993. It’s curious to me that this story was published as a separate miniseries rather than as part of the nearly 300 issue long saga that has been running since the 80s. I guess it’s nothing to complain about...extra Constantine is a very good thing.

City of Demons is a really top-notch Hellblazer comic. I had never heard of Si Spencer, the writer. He did a Vertigo series called The Vinyl Underground a few years ago which was completely under my radar. And apparently in the 90s, being a good British comic book writer, he lent a hand in telling some Judge Dredd stories. So it’s always a little strange wandering into the writings of someone you’ve never before encountered, but Spencer proved himself to me.

Moving onto the art, Sean Murphy really made City of Demons into an incredible comic. I can now say that I believe the hype that this guy generates. The only book I ever read by him before this was a Batman/Scarecrow Year One story that was put out in 2005 to sort of tie in with Batman Begins. Looking between the pages of that comic and City of Demons was amazing. He’s come a long and way and has certainly deserved all of the praise that he is getting. Everything is very stylized and powerful.

Let’s not forget to mention that Dave Stewart is the colorist. As usual, he has developed a unique coloring style for yet another project. Here’s another guy who is much lauded, and deservedly so. He does so much for all of the comics he contributes to.

John Constantine gets hit by an SUV in the first few pages of City of Demons. This results in him being carted to a hospital for brain surgery while his disembodied spirit wanders around the hospital. What he doesn’t realize right away is that some of his blood is taken to be used for other patients, and this is some very, very bad news. Constantine kind of sort of has a lot of demon blood in him after a certain transfusion he took from Nergal some years back. So if a pint of his blood was used for plasma and distributed to a bunch of people who needed it at the hospital, well...there’s going to be trouble. Hence the title City of Demons. 

There are several people who start acting crazy and bloodthirsty and downright demonic. And it’s all because Constantine went to the hospital. Sure enough, the Hellblazer gets to the bottom of it all and the evil doctors who are all too aware of what they are doing are cast into the gaping maw of the infernal regions. But even when he thinks he’s safe again he is dead wrong.

John Constantine is a character whom a lot of people have grown attached to over the years. He isn’t a pleasant type of person, and in fact he’s usually being a cranky asshole. Si Spencer had the characterization down perfectly, which was great to see from someone who was new to the character. His story was fast paced and always exciting, and yes, frequently gory. Murphy in turn was only too happy to indulge in Spencer’s scripts, bringing everything into perfect detail. 

This was really an A+ Hellblazer story. If you’ve been too afraid to jump into the collections of the regular series, check this out. All of the Constantine books are fairly self-contained, but this is a book that seems especially designed for someone who doesn’t know a thing about the character and wants to dive in headfirst. 

As a bonus, the end of this book features a prose story by Dave Gibbons which he also provided spot illustrations for.