IN ODD WE TRUST

IN ODD WE TRUST
Written and Drawn by Dean Koontz and Queenie Chan and Drawn by Queenie Chan
Published by
Ballantine

Odd Thomas whips up the best pancakes of any fry cook in Pico Mundo, California. He has a girlfriend named Stormy who not only loves him immensely, but who can also pretty much kick the ass of anyone who wants to start trouble- the “benefits” of growing up in an orphanage. But more than that, Odd has a bit of a special talent- he can see the spirits of the dead, and they happen to enjoy communicating with the young man. It doesn’t bother him though- most of those spirits are pretty peaceful and just want to be acknowledged. The ones that get to him? Those are the ones who want justice for how their lives ended. And that tends to lead Odd and Stormy into some sticky situations.

This “prequel” to Koontz’ novel series featuring Odd introduces us to the characters and setting with the case of a brutally murdered child and the risk it brings to Stormy’s best friend. Koontz and Chan slowly work us into Odd’s world before dropping us into the violence, allowing the reader to get to know him, which is smart; ideally, this book will fall into the hands of many who have never picked up one of the novels, so it’s important to establish what’s going on, who we’re dealing with, and why we should care.

And it works- frankly, the pieces of this book that don’t grab the reader are the ones dealing with the pursuit of the killer. But when Odd and Stormy and the other characters are interacting, the book takes on some real life and verve. It helps to have the terrific Chan on art chores- Queenie has been a rising star on the manga scene over the past couple of years, and she doesn’t disappoint with her storytelling here.

I’ve never read a Koontz novel to the finish, frankly, because they’ve never really appealed to me. But I liked enough of what I read here that I may just pick up the first ODD novel and give it a shot. This book is far from perfect, but it succeeds precisely in what it’s meant to do.

Marc Mason

TIM SALE BLACK AND WHITE

TIM SALE BLACK AND WHITE (REVISED AND EXPANDED)
Written and Drawn by Richard Starkings, JG Roshell, and Tim Sale
Published by
Image Comics

Tim Sale has long been one of the most popular and talented artists working in comics. His collaborations with writer Jeph Loeb pushed him into the stratosphere, and their work on Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Daredevil and others became somewhat legendary and are perennial sellers at comic shops and bookstores. But his career managed to find even another gear beyond that when Loeb recommended him for the gig of providing Isaac’s paintings on the smash NBC television series HEROES a couple of years ago. Now, with this updated edition, those who have discovered Sale’s work can really see the evolution of the artist, not to mention learn about the behind-the-scenes stuff along the way.

The behind-the-scenes stuff comes primarily from a series of interviews between Sale and Richard Starkings, and each one is focused on a particular time in Sale’s career or on a particular project. That allows for an interesting depth of insight from Sale, and ultimately answers questions the reader might have had coming in (for instance- yes, GAMBIT/WOLVERINE pretty much was a cash grab). But the interest level doesn’t stop there, as the art provided serves to guide the reader precisely through what Sale was telling Starkings. The material becomes a sweet little concert in its own way.

At forty bucks, this isn’t likely for the casual or uncommitted reader, but as a lavishly produced, oversized hardcover, it’s very much worth it to anyone who has a curiosity or love for the artist in question. Sale is blunt about his own work and about his opinions of his peers, which is quite refreshing, and to me, this book ultimately feels like a bargain.

Marc Mason

ZORRO 4

ZORRO 4
Written by Matt Wagner and Drawn by Francesco Francavilla
Published by
Dynamite Entertainment

Zorro continues his campaign against the evil Gonzales and his men, while we learn even more about the hero as a boy as the flashbacks continue in what is easily the best issue of ZORRO to date.

Indeed, the best material in this issue is again the flashback work, as Wagner takes us to a time in his early adolescence when he learns a horrific lesson: sometimes heroism causes more pain and suffering that the alternative, and that shows the true face of evil. Our protagonist learns this the first time he falls for a girl and decides to protect her from the horror of some soldiers who have her cornered. What he does not realize is that saving someone is only half the battle if you let the bad people roam free.

This leads him into the next stage of his development, but it surely takes a toll on the lad. And that’s why this comic has been so excellent from the start: Wagner’s story has been just as concerned with the makeup of his lead character and what is inside him that makes him put on a cape and commit these acts against tyranny. It isn’t enough to just throw him into the mix; it’s important to show why we should care. And we do care- very much.

Francavilla continues to turn out fine looking pages, and in a rarity for modern comics, each issue feels like a complete meal, even though we’re in the middle of an arc. I continue to highly recommend ZORRO to just about every type of reader.

Marc Mason

LOST BOOKS OF EVE VOL 1

LOST BOOKS OF EVE VOL 1
Written and Drawn by Josh Howard
Published by
Viper Comics

It is the beginning of creation, and God’s two chosen have been living peacefully in the Garden, not a care in the world. Until one fateful day, that is, when Adam disappears, abducted from Paradise. On her own, and lacking any knowledge of the world outside the Garden, Eve decides that she will go on a quest to find her beloved. Baffled and bewitched, Eve takes on demons, monsters, and other nasties in the hopes of finding her husband. But will the quest require the ultimate sacrifice: eating from the tree of knowledge?

As far as strange concepts for graphic novels go, EVE is right there at the top for recent memory. What Howard has done here is not set out to contradict the Christian Bible; instead, EVE sort of… supplements it. He also splashes in plenty of the Apocrypha to round out his tale. And, in its own strange way, it feels like a distant prequel to Howard’s DEAD @17 series. The difference here is that Eve is not quite a warrior- she knows some things, but she also knows that sometimes running away is the best possible result you can hope to achieve, and that’s quite a rarity in comics.

Eve is also pretty smart, and Howard sort of turns her into a character who defines “growing into her own power” making Eve something of a proto-feminist, even with her obsession about her husband. The book looks good, as Howard has really refined his work over the years. When I read the first issue of this in pamphlet format, it felt too slight, but as a completed story in a graphic novel, it reads just fine.

SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE

SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE
Written by Austin Grossman
Published by
Vintage

Doctor Impossible is the world’s greatest supervillain. Time and time again he’s come justthisclose to taking over or destroying the world, only to be stopped by his nemesis, the world’s greatest hero, CoreFire. Fatale is new to the superhero scene. Reconstructed as a powerful cyborg after an accident, she’s been learning the ropes on her own, but now the world’s greatest superteam, the Champions are reuniting and she’s been asked to join. The common denominator? CoreFire has gone missing. Now the heroes are racing to find him, and the villain sees his best-ever chance to bring his schemes to fruition. Will evil finally prevail? Or will a newbie heroine show the old guard how saving the Earth gets done these days?

SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE grabs you by the lapels and lifts from page one, dropping you inside Doctor Impossible’s head and never letting go after that. Grossman combines a loving tribute to the comics of his youth with a very snarky post-modern sensibility to create a world full of super-powered people you can easily believe in, yet it’s also one that borders so deeply on parody that it constantly risks killing your sense of disbelief. Yet somehow, he never teeters over that line. Quite remarkable, really.

By alternating the narration between Impossible and Fatale, he also propels his story forward by examining jus how similar the good guys and the bad guys can be. The villain is vain and arrogant to be sure, but as Fatale discovers, her colleagues on the side of “good” are just as vain and arrogant, they just manage to hide it better. Yet Grossman never allows the dichotomy between the two to disrupt the narrative, keeping the proceedings as light as he can.

It’s rare for a book to get me on page one the way INVINCIBLE did, but it was a wonderful feeling. I raced through it, demanding more at every turn and cursing the clock as it sneered at me to go to bed and get some sleep. Highly recommended.

Marc Mason

BOYS OF STEEL

BOYS OF STEEL
Written by Marc Tyler Nobleman and Drawn by Ross MacDonald
Published by
Random House

In the middle of the Great Depression that gripped the early 20th century, hope could be a fleeting thing. For a boy named Jerry Siegel, life could even be a bit worse than it was for his fellow kids, as he was socially awkward and obsessed with the flights of fancy of his favorite characters from the movies: Tarzan, Buck Rogers, and Flash Gordon, even writing many adventure stories of his own. Compounding his loneliness and outsider status was the murder of his father, leaving a huge hole in his life. But he managed to find a kindred spirit in Joe Shuster, an aspiring artist that shared many of Siegel’s goals in creating fantasy. After a few abortive attempts at creating newspaper strips, all seemed lost for the pair until one night when inspiration struck and history was made: Superman was birthed from the imaginations of the duo and history was made.

Then they sold the concept to DC Comics and got screwed. The end.

No, not really. But that’s been an ongoing bone of contention over the character’s history, and Nobleman and MacDonald’s picture book approach to the pair’s bibliography doesn’t gloss over and that’s a very good thing.

Why? It boils down to the format of this terrific book. It is a picture book, and thus it is aimed at younger readers. You might ask yourself why a younger reader would even care about who created Superman, but the reason is simple: kids are constantly creating things, and they need to be inspired. Despite what happened to Siegel and Shuster over the years, their story is, at its core, one that millions of kids hope to duplicate. So it also becomes very important to have the section of the book that talks about what happened to Siegel and Shuster after they signed away their rights, hopefully keeping today’s kids from repeating that mistake.

The text is simple and elegantly laid down on the pages, and MacDonald does a nifty job of using an art style that would have looked perfectly contemporary in 1938, the year the character was first published. Easily recommendable.

Marc Mason

WE MEET/THE WALKING AWAY WORLD

WE MEET/THE WALKING AWAY WORLD
Written and Drawn by Kenneth Patchen
Published by
New Directions

Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972) was one of the more interesting, if under-celebrated poets of the 20th century. A friend and contemporary of Henry Miller, Anais Nin, and others, he experimented not only with verse, but also with visual poetry. By that, what I mean is that he used the tools of an artist (watercolors, inks, etc.) to create pictures and he melded his verse into those images. These two books represent Patchen’s work on both fronts; WE MEET displays his poetry in its purest format, even the experimental material, and WALKING AWAY WORLD offers up a collection of the visual work. Unfortunately, though, I can ultimately recommend only one of these works.

That work would be the more interesting, and definitely more grounded, WE MEET. Now, I realize that poetry can be an acquired taste at best, but the work in this book can be quite good. It does present in traditional verse format for the most part, but that is not something to hold against the book; instead, I celebrate it because it allows for the reader to absorb the impact of the verse with a bit more ease. I also quite enjoyed the epic “Poem Scape” contained within, as it serves as almost a Bible of Patchen’s random spirit. It’s quite compelling.

On the flip side, THE WALKING AWAY WORLD just doesn’t have the emotional heft to really capture the reader’s imagination or emotions, and that boils down to one singular problem: Patchen was a shite of an artist. While conceptually, he could be quite clever, and the methods he used to implant his verse within his pictures can be fascinating, what it boils down to is that the images lacking in quality, depth, and interest. There is no sense of accomplishment or talent in them, and were they turned in to a junior high art teacher, Patchen would have likely failed the class. It becomes a question of whether or not the prose is worth the effort of trying to get past the images, and the answer ultimately is “no.”

Two books, one poet. Lots of interesting material. If you’re looking for something very, very different to check out in your spare time, Patchen’s work might be an interesting option.

Marc Mason

WANTED THE MOVIE

WANTED, the new action flick starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy, is a bag of mixed treats that in the end leaves a sour taste in your mouth.

Loosely based on the comic book by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, it tells the story of Wesley Gibson, a sad-sack schmendrick who finds himself in a painfully mundane existence as an office worker. He hates his job, his boss and his girlfriend is cheating on him. All that changes when he encounters a woman by the name of Fox (Angelina Jolie) in a drug store while buying his anti-anxiety pills. She’s there to tell Gibson that his father has been killed and that he must assume his father’s role in the Fraternity of Assassins. What follows is a series of action set-pieces that defy the laws of physics and character interactions that defy logic.

Now, I know that all the buzz on this film has been extremely positive up to now and I don’t want to be the buzzkill of the ‘comic-book film renaissance’ party but, I’m sorry, WANTED just left me wanting. (HA! I’m killing like Angelina and her magic bullet.) The movie is essentially about people who kill for a living, and while they may have their justifications (‘we kill one to save a thousand’) we never really get to learn why we should root for, or even care about the characters. Gibson comes off as a dolt who, despite the movie’s message of ‘don’t let other people run your life for you’ pretty much lets other folks tell him what to believe. (‘This guy’s your father. No, THIS guy!’) Morgan Freeman plays Sloane, the head of the Fraternity, and is there to basically try and give the whole operation some respectability. He explains to Gibson why the assassins kill – ala Liam Neeson in Batman Begins – and attempts to give gravitas to some ludicrous scenarios. (Loom of Fate? Seriously?) He’s also there to deliver the funniest line in the whole film. I won’t spoil it, but needless to say, it only works if Morgan-fucking-Freeman is delivering it. Oh, and that bit where they make bullets curve around things to hit their targets? The explanation is practically pulled out of the Christian Science Monitor.

The film lost me when the director’s lack of focus on the characters for the sake of action became quite evident. Gibson’s pursuit of Cross, the film’s ‘bad guy’ (but c’mon they’re all killers so who’s to judge), leads to a gun-battle on a train that escalates to the point where hundreds of innocents are put at risk. After spending time establishing that Gibson has a conscience (he has a hard time accepting the idea that he must kill a person without knowing who they are or why) the climax to the set-piece ends with Gibson showing no remorse over the number of lives his actions have cost.

The film is Russian director Timur Bekmambetov’s North American debut and shows a penchant for setting up action sequences that both astound and befuddle. Once you accept that the main characters can defy the laws of nature and do Matrix-like superfeats, you can try to give yourself over to the cartoon quality of the violence, but it’s the dizzying character motivations that will drive you bonkers.

On the plus side, you have Angelina Jolie who totally brings it as a bad-ass female assassin (and as she did in Beowulf, brings a nice ass too). James McAvoy does his best, although the Rocky montage where he goes through his training sessions was almost snicker-inducing while not meaning to. And there is a sequence where Gibson takes on the entire Fraternity single-handedly that, while implausible, was both astonishing and hilarious.

But, if you want a story that compelled by its characters who think for themselves and not just according to the plot, this movie isn’t for you. Oh, and if you happen to have a pet rat, plan to have your sensibilities assaulted in one of the most tasteless, mean-spirited ‘jokes’ ever involving a rat, a timer, and explosives.

You’ve been warned.

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Special thanks to Capone of Ain’t It Cool News for setting up the advance screening. My date would thank you too, but she didn’t care for the rat sequence at all. Hoo-boy, she sure didn’t.

E. Ruben Serrano

HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS VOL 9

HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS VOL 9
Written and Drawn by Towa Ohshima
Translated by Michiko Nakayama
Adapted by Ailen Lujo
Published by
DrMaster

Origins are learned, a teacher gets his turn in the spotlight, the girls throw a killer party for their tour guides, a sister makes a play to cause jealousy, and more occurs as the school trip draws its way to close… as well as the series itself. However, as you’d expect, HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS goes out putting its best foot forward, as this closer has the stuff- it’s funny, twisted, and full of the great character moments that have marked the series to date.

One of the hallmarks of HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS has been its consistency in combining riotously funny situations with a broad spectrum of personalities amongst its characters. While its easy to say that when the series began, each one fulfilled a particular “type,” they all grew beyond it while maintaining what made them fun to read about to begin with. Ohshima could have easily made the book a one-note gag, but she seemed to grasp early on that, in order to maintain her audience’s interest, she was going to have to take the series to interesting new levels at each turn. She would have to delve into the real troubles and curiosities that teenage girls face, and she’d have to figure out how her characters would live in those circumstances. Ohshima did it damned well, too.

The one thing that really bothers me is how unceremoniously this sort of snuck up on me. There was no PR that I could find in my inbox or on the DrMaster website noting that the series was drawing to a close ahead of time. Either way, it’ll be missed. In the beginning, I expected nothing from HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS, but it wound up giving me more entertainment than I could have ever asked for. Check out these nine volumes for yourself and see what I mean.

Marc Mason

COIN OPERATED BOY

COIN OPERATED BOY
Written by Steven Prouse and Drawn by Rob Grabe
Published by
Arcana

Genesis is a young woman who might be too clever for her own good. She wants to live her life and have a good time, but finds that her one-nighters get too emotionally invested. The solution? Create a lover without that sort of post-sex baggage. Brushing aside the concerns of her ex-boyfriend Feliks, she decides to build herself the perfect lover… literally. His name is Daniel, and he’s a human-looking robot programmed solely to serve her whims… and hormones. But a funny thing happens along the way; Daniel begins to become more aware of who he is and of his own emotional capacity. And unfortunately for Feliks, that capacity includes the potential for jealousy.

Inspired by the song by the Dresden Dolls, Prouse’s fable plays it pretty straightforward with the reader. Beyond asking us to believe Genesis has the skills and technology on hand to create Daniel, the story is really about a young girl who cannot see the love she has been given and instead pushes for something else entirely more emotionally damaging. I wouldn’t call it either feminist OR misogynist; it’s more a cross of sci-fi and chick-lit with an ending that you can see coming for a mile away but unless you’re frozen-hearted, you won’t begrudge Prouse his indulgence.

The art by Grabe is steady if unspectacular. He doesn’t do much with detail or background, but the storytelling works. His figurework can be a bit stuff, but for a story about a robot, that turns out to be an asset. You can pick up the book free at Wowio, but if you do plunk down your hard-earned yanqui dollars, you won’t feel burned.

Marc Mason