ELEVEN QUICK COMIC REVIEWS, as of 6/28/09

28 06 2009

Just some quick soundbites this time as I try to ramp up towards a regular posting schedule.

What I’m loving this week:
-Narcopolis #2, by Jamie Delano, published by Avatar Press
Jamie Delano has been a thrilling rediscovery for me in recent months.

Narcopolis, by Jamie Delano

Narcopolis, by Jamie Delano

Narcopolis tells the story of a thought-police cadet, complete with compellingly real Newspeak dialogue. Not a mere aping of or sequel to Orwell, but certainly intentionally building on ideas from 1984, Delano’s comic brings a high, literary sensibility to the comic stands.

-Incognito #4, by Brubaker & Phillips, published by Marvel Comics
This fantastic comic just keeps getting better, with real twists and turns that I truly do NOT expect, and a story told from a truly unique perspective. Brubaker is fast cementing his place in my top five favorite comics writers.

-Olympus #2, by Nathan Edmonson & Christian Ward, published by Image Comics
A well written comic with a story similar to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and more of what seems to be the hot new trend in comic art: expressionism! Cool!

-Proof #20, by Grecian, Rossmo, & Casey, published by Image Comics
Speaking of expressionistic comic art, no one’s doing it better right now than Riley Rossmo on Proof. Truly mind-blowing stuff. The great story telling by Alex Grecian makes for a complete package.

See what I mean?

-The Unwritten #2, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint
Wow! ANOTHER literary comic! I’m not sure what I mean when I call a comic literary, (Alan Moore’s been doing it for years,) but I know one when I see it. Or read it, as it were. And this book is it! … leading me to believe we’re seeing a trend in comic writing these days as well, and that’s GREAT news! This book deals with the young man who’s the inspiration for a Harry Potter-esque series of books, but just may be a real life boy-wizard himself, all the while dwelling in the post-narrative world explored by Grant Morrison and Terry Pratchett among others.

What I’m reading this week:
-Ultimatum: Spider-Man Requiem #1, published by Marvel Comics
Meh. Mediocre book. As with many critics and fans, I’m pretty peeved at the pitiful ending of the Ultimate Universe comics. Ultimatum never made sense to me, and the main title book was a piece of crap. Ultimate Spider-Man always remains on my list, however, and managed to showcase possibly the best single issue of its entire run in this stupid crossover story. This requiem issue is supposed to help wrap things up, but really all it does is act as a placeholder while we wait to discover that Spider-Man’s not really dead after all! Eureka! And with really shoddily phoned-in art by Mark Bagley, who I had really been looking forward to seeing again since I never really warmed entirely to Immonen, the Requiem book was pretty lame, though requisite reading.

-The Walking Dead #62, published by Image Comics
As always, compelling, but plodding.

What I’m thinking of dropping:
-Savage Dragon #149, published by Image Comics
Hm. I check this book out every few years, and it always seems immediately interesting again, but then shortly loses that interest. I’ll take a look again in another few years. Here’s to Mr. Larsen for keeping at it though.

What I’m dropping:
-Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #5, published by DC Comics
Mike Kunkel left the book, other than the cover, (or at least he isn’t doing all the issues now,) and his replacement team of Art Balthazar and Franco don’t even come close to capturing the magic he made so exciting and fun.

-The Muppet Show Comic Book #3
-Muppet Robin Hood #1, both published by Disney’s BOOM! KIDS
I reaaaaaaally wanted to like these Muppet comics. I’m a HUGE Muppet fan. But they just aren’t very good. Disney seemed to think it had a Muppet artist, so why bother looking for someone else when they wanted to launch a new book. But while Roger Langridge’s heart is in the right place, I just don’t think he’s a terribly skilled cartoonist, nor does he quite get the Muppets. Likewise with Beedle and Villavert on the Muppet Robin Hood book.  Making this all the more tragic are the ads in the backs of the books for apparently alternate covers by other artists who TOTALLY ROCK! I would LOVE to see some of these artists doing these Muppet books, but that does not seem to be the plan. Sigh…

Just imagine what it could be like…

The Muppet Show Comic #1  alternate cover by Dave Alvarez

The Muppet Show Comic #1 with the AWESOME alternate cover by Dave Alvarez

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Who likes awesome comics? I do! I do!

19 04 2009

After seeing Watchmen this week I was pretty depressed regarding comics place in this world, but then I made a trip to my regular comic shop, (Midtown Comics on 40th & 7th in midtown Manhattan,) and I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl! Comics are a pretty diverse medium and as often as something new or original or interesting comes along, twice as frequently you see nothing but the same old stuff on the stands. But this week, as I’m picking up the next Old Man Logan story, an only mildly interesting Wolverine story set in a bleak future, and the increasingly bad Invincible, I notice a JAMIE DELANO(!) PIRATE(!!!) comic! And a Frank Frazetta WESTERN!!! Holy Crap! And there’s the obligatory Savage Dragon #145 with President Obama on the cover, which turns out to actually be good! And Terry Moore’s Echo just keeps getting better and better! Even Robert Kirkman makes me happy this month with another heart-stopping cliffhanger in The Walking Dead! Man, reading comics this week really rocked. Let me tell you why.

Earlier this year I began reading the collected John Constantine: Hellblazer comics from the late 80’s/early 90s by Jamie Delano. Being a fan of old-school and classic horror literature, (Lovecraft, Poe, Barker, Blackwood,) and it’s rather unique ability to use not-so-subtle metaphor to address our contemporary fears, I was quickly blown away by Delano’s ability in this genre within comics. I’ve also enjoyed Moore’s Swamp Thing, and some of Ennis’ work, but they seemed too quick to get it out of their system and move on to superheroes. Delano seemed ready to really dig into the meaty, messy gristle of modern horror themes in comics. But he hasn’t been a terribly present writer on the comics scene lately, so it was with great excitement that I discovered on the stands his new pirate comic: Rawbone, published by Avatar Press. It has a thrillingly moody wraparound cover of a pirate ship, sailing by a jungle-clad coast with clearly South American pyramid temples jutting up through the treetops. All too often, fringy work like this gets saddled with young, unskilled artists, but flipping through the pages revealed Max Fiumara to be quite a talent. I’ve not been overly wowed by his versatile work with Warren Ellis and on the dragon comic Four Eyes, but this moody stuff seems to be where he can shine, especially coupled with a good colorist. Anyway, when I got the comic home and read Delano’s story of a Cuban pirate witch and her white lesbian lover, full of male frustration and assault and vile rape, with at least three main story acts in just the first issue, and all told in a disgustingly rich flowery language, I knew I couldn’t wait for more. My only regret is discovering that this is merely a 4 issue limited series. It’s thrilling to read something so unique by such a skilled veteran talent. Delano has long understood the comics form and his horror roots are quite evident as he embarks on this incredibly dark pirate story. While it’s not yet apparent whether the tale will incorporate the supernatural, it hardly needs to in order to investigate man’s darker nature.

Next was Frank Frazetta’s Freedom, a western one-shot. I’m not actually sure what Frazetta had to do with this comic other than provide the inspirational cover image, (which is typically luscious,) but the interior art and story, by John Cboins and Mark Kidwell respectively, more than lives up to Frazetta’s reputation. Cboins has a very unique style, very expressionistic, a recent comic art movement I’m also enjoying in the work of Proof‘s Riley Rossmo.
Cboins colors this issue himself in all sepia tones, a trick that could have seemed gimmicky, given the setting, but thankfully is very well done here. The story involves a gunfighter and his dime-novelist bard, and is reasonably light hearted for a western, though prostitutes and death are certainly not absent. It’s so nice to see two negelected genres given such quality treatment in the same month, and even by two different publishers! It makes me yearn for more, but at the same time, I’d hate to see the market inundated by mediocre pirate and western comics, similar to the zombie craze of the last couple years.

Not so unique, but still very satisfying this month were some more mainstream books, starting with Erik Larsen’s long-running Savage Dragon, #145. This issue featured U.S. President Barack Obama on the cover, fist-bumping the title character, and colored in a style like Shepard Fairey’s famous red, white, and blue Obama Hope posters. It’s an obvious cashing in on the moment device, but Obama’s scene within the comic, while brief, actually is WITHIN the story and seems natural, puts our heroes, the Dragon and Obama, on equal footing, and just generally seems great. Quite unlike the pandering, badly drawn, and pointless and out-of-continuity, but much more hyped Spider-Man appearance, which I discussed here. In fact, this is Obama’s second appearance in Larsen’s book; he appeared last year when Dragon first endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency, a move far too political for corporate Marvel to ever consider making with their flagship character, as depressing as that is. I regret not having read Savage Dragon over the years. In fact, back at the founding of Image I didn’t care for Erik Larsen much at all. But over time I’ve picked up an occasional issue and every time I’m very impressed with what he’s done. In a large way I really feel he’s gone on to carry the torch for a lot of what Jack “the King” Kirby did before him. Larsen’s graphic style definitely shares many of Kirby’s traits, from the bold thick use of blacks, to the overly dramatic and energetic shapes exploding off the page. Not to mention Larsen’s style, once a rather slap-dashed mess not overly distinguishable from many of his contemporaries, has over years and years of honing his craft become inimitably his own, not easily reproducible and possessed of incredibly powerful storytelling traits- rather similar to the King’s, if you ask me. Maybe I’ve got to buckle down one of these days and really start reading Savage Dragon.

Finally, also continuing to be exciting this month are Terry Moore’s Echo #10, and Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s The Walking Dead #59. If you’re not reading either of these comics, you should be. Echo is a nice chance to see Moore bringing us more of his very fine comics art and storytelling, but with a more sci-fi/superhero twist. The story is kind of The Fugitive crossed with The Incredible Hulk, but with strong women characters thrown in as only Terry Moore knows how. Every issue is a real cliffhanger even though the plotting seems a touch slow at times. Walking Dead, for those of you living under a rock for the last 5 years, is THE post-zombie apocalypse comic to read. Zombie comics are a dime a dozen these days, but none hold a candle to this incredibly well done and intense ongoing storyline of real humans surviving in a dark sad world where the dead walk. Kirkman’s main intent with the series is to focus on the realistic human melodrama that occurs between the characters, with the zombie-riddled world serving mainly as backdrop. It’s an utterly fascinating book, from issue to issue, and though Kirkman suffers from frequent slow pacing and sometimes a sense that nothing is really happening, it’s not nearly as bad as in Invincible, and I’m always chomping at the bit for the next issue of The Walking Dead- especially this month! Man, I can’t wait to see how the characters survive the “zombie stampede!”

All in all, this past month has been a good one for comics. With the economy in arrears as it is, I’m sure I’m not the only comic book reader taking a close look at his pull list and deciding to drop a few books here and there, as well as having a hard time deciding which, if any, new books to pick up. I hope this blog can give you some assistance in these choices.

Until next time,

Peace!

What I’m loving this week:
Echo #10, by Terry Moore
Frank Frazetta’s Freedom one shot
Rawbone #1 (of 4), by Jamie Delano
Savage Dragon #145
The Walking Dead #59
What I’m reading this week:
Invincible Iron Man #10&11
Wolverine #71 “Old Man Logan”
What I’m thinking of dropping next week:
Invincible #60
What I’m dropping this week:
Nothing… yet…

Echo is published by Abstract Studios.
Frank Frazetta’s Freedom, Savage Dragon, and The Walking Dead are published by Image Comics.
Rawbone is published by Avatar Press.