BATTLEFIELDS: DEAR BILLY 3

BATTLEFIELDS: DEAR BILLY #3
Written by Garth Ennis and Drawn by Peter Snejberg
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Carrie and Billy continue their doomed love affair as World War 2 heads toward the atomic bomb in the conclusion to this startling and painfully bleak series. Billy opens the story by describing a bombing run he was a part of in which he lost his friend Tommo, but things really begin to hit home when Carrie smothers another Japanese prisoner to death during her duties as a hospital nurse. With Billy never knowing quite just how broken inside she feels, and how much closer to the edge she’s heading, the feeling of inevitability grabs you by the collar and never lets you go as Ennis coils himself to punch you in the gut one last time with his storytelling.

From the beginning, where we met Carrie as a survivor of a rape camp and execution attempt, we’ve been privy to the dead feeling in her heart as she copes (or doesn’t, really) with what happened to her before she was rescued. Even as she became a murderer, intently taking her revenge on the Japanese one wounded enemy at a time, you could at least understand precisely where she was coming from. But as issue three plays out, your faith in her finally begins to wane; especially as the history we know so well looms: the Americans are going to drop the atomic bomb, and Japan will surrender. And after that surrender, the Japanese and the west will become allies in Japan’s reconstruction, a buttress against the Communist threat. What happens then?

What happens then?

DEAR BILLY is the best war story I’ve seen to date out of Ennis, and mind you, he’s got more than a few great ones under his belt. It isn’t always pleasant; it isn’t exactly warm and hopeful; and it certainly isn’t grand in its scale. But on the human level and in its emotional depth, it has no peer. By the time you get to the end, you’ll walk away from it affected- you’ll have no choice. Highly recommended.

Marc Mason

BLUE MONDAY: THIEVES LIKE US 1

BLUE MONDAY: THIEVES LIKE US #1
Written and Drawn by Chynna Clugston
Published by Oni Press

Many years ago, back in Oni Press’ infancy, I was thrilled to discover the cartooning of Chynna Clugston. BLUE MONDAY was not only hilariously odd, profane, and silly; it also had one of the most unique “voices” behind it that I had come across in comics. Her semi-manga artistic style combined with a tremendous gift for dialogue to make the book something truly different… and it helped create what I would call Oni’s “house-style” as far as the type of graphic novels and comics that it has become best known for in its publishing ventures. Sadly, though, new BLUE MONDAY has been absent for a great many years at this point… until now. Finally, the kids are back… and comics are a better thing for it.

“Thieves Like Us” picks up with Bleu, Clover and the gang in the midst of spring fever. Winter has begun to make its exit, but school remains its typical drudgery. However, Bleu seems to have some energy for school that the rest don’t, even doing her actual homework. Unfortunately, she still has ulterior motives. Though she professed her love for History teacher Mr. Bishop and got shot down like a fighter plane, she hasn’t given up and moved on. Instead, she’s plotting and scheming to try and figure out how to win the poor man’s heart.

But first, she suggests a trip to the zoo. And boy, does she regret that. For a girl who is uncomfortable with her own level of raging hormones, it’s a disaster beyond words, as virtually every species in the place seems to be humping their way through the day. In the meantime, the rest of the crew are each working on ways to improve/screw-up/start their own relationships. Hilarity ensues.

I felt an immediate comfort level reading “Thieves,” as Chynna didn’t really seem to miss a beat with the characters. Everything is familiar, the words coming out of their mouths flowing smoothly. As a longtime BLUE MONDAY fan, it was really all I could ask for. However, there is one distressing note to offer.

This is about as new-reader UNfriendly as possible. There’s nothing to identify or introduce the characters to someone picking up the book for the first time. I’m not sure they all even get called by their name at any point in the story. The book is funny, and looks phenomenal, but if you don’t know who these kids are, some of the nuance is completely absent. I’d have liked to see a recap page of some sort just to get potential new readers picking this up for the first time a chance to understand it. You can’t grow your audience by potentially alienating it.

Marc Mason

FIRST TIME

FIRST TIME
Written by Sibylline and Drawn by Various
Published by NBM

There’s a difference between erotica and porn. For those who want a definitional difference, here is mine: porn is nothing but pure sex, a visceral jolt meant for immediate arousal. Erotica, while flush with sex, has more; more story, more character, more than just the base drive for arousal and orgasm. Erotica engages the mind as well as the body.

FIRST TIME is damned fine erotica.

French writer Sibylline joins with ten amazing artists to tell stories of deep sensuality, arousing moments, and hot sexuality, all revolving around the theme of the first time each character has engaged in that behavior. From the loss of virginity, to visiting a sex club, to a threesome, to a couple viewing pornography together, she covers an extraordinary spectrum of topics and moments, and each is wildly different. Some are joyous; a couple are heartbreaking; which keeps FIRST TIME real, really. Sex, while great, can be painful and disappointing, and she never loses sight of that. Which, again, points out the difference between pornography and erotica; porn is rarely full of anything you could consider “real” on an emotional level.

The artists on this erotic journey are uniformly outstanding. While the “name” artist on the project is Dave McKean, the strongest work amongst all these wonderful pages is turned in by Olivier Vatine on a story called “Club.” His use of shading and blacks on Sibylline’s story about a visit to a sex club is terrific. There is a near-absence of blacks, giving the background sex a set-off feeling, illustrating the character’s distance from what’s going on behind her, until the arrival of a woman who is drawn in almost pure darkness, the one who takes the narrator’s boyfriend by the hand and leads him off to fuck him. From there, the art takes on a progressively more shadowed look, finally culminating in a page that’s all shape and form. It’s remarkable to look at, work that greatly elevates the story.

My one qualm about FIRST TIME comes in the book’s design. Sibylline’s name doesn’t appear on the front cover or on the spine, and only gets a text mention on the back, sharing credit with McKean. The title page doesn’t take care to point out here name, either, except in her dedication text. The contents page lists only the artists. This is a disservice to the woman who penned these tales. I find that aspect disappointing, as her work between the covers is exemplary.

LITTLE NOTHINGS VOL 2 THE PRISONER SYNDROME

LITTLE NOTHINGS VOL.2: THE PRISONER SYNDROME
Written and Drawn by Lewis Trondheim
Published by NBM

Anyone who’s read CWR long enough knows that I consider Lewis Trondheim to be one of the greatest living comics talents, a man whose work is almost always transcendent ins some way. In 2008, NBM published the first collection of works from Trondheim’s art blog, and it was easily one of the finest books of the year. Now they’ve graced us with a second volume, and that’s some of the best possible news you could ask for on the graphic novel front.

THE PRISONER SYNDROME follows Trondheim on a succession of trips abroad, both for vacations and for comic conventions. What jumps out immediately is the focus on the minutiae at these stops; we open on him simply trying to avoid burning his feet on beach sand, a universal problem that Trondheim takes from the banal to the epic, laughing at his own (lack) of bravery and toughness. It’s an amusing burst of normal humanity, setting the tone for the funny stuff ahead.

What stood out for me here overall, though, was the observational quality of the writing. Trondheim is one of the most accomplished artists in the world, but he has a poetic soul with the pen. When he ruminates on what it feels like to see the moon while the sun is shining, or the certain death that awaits him if he makes one bad step to the left on the mountain trail he’s walking, or being somewhat vengeful towards a hotel that didn’t deliver on promises made, he gives you an opportunity to see who he really is as a person. The author is giving the reader a gift here; it would be rude not to accept it.

There wasn’t a single thing about this second volume of LITTLE NOTHINGS that didn’t work for me, except for the fact that there’s likely to be a wait for a third volume. Excellence.

Marc Mason

HOTWIRE 2

HOTWIRE: REQUIEM FOR THE DEAD #2
Created by Steve Pugh and Warren Ellis, Written and Illustrated by Steve Pugh
Published by Radical Comics

HOTWIRE is without a doubt one of the freshest, funkiest science fiction books available today. Seamlessly combining angry ghosts, futuristic technology and an irresistible cheeky humor, HOTWIRE is a unique and undeniably entertaining read.

Detective Exorcist Alice Hotwire has been having a rough couple of days. Her job as an exorcist for the police department recently became more complicated. The blue-lights, or ghosts as some believe, have started acting…differently. They’re stronger and more resistant to her traditional methods of displacement, which leads her to think there’s something more to this than just angry spirits. However, with the city torn apart by riots and most of the department thinking she’s at worst a narc, and at best a ‘relentless pain the ass,’ getting to the truth is going to be tricky. Or it would be, if Hotwire wasn’t the feistiest and most arrogant albino cop since, well, she’s pretty much in a class all her own.

This issue is jam-packed with pissed off blue-lights hijacking both the living and the dead and morphing into some pretty weird shapes. In one scene Hotwire actually arms herself with a shield and a spike that could totally pass as a sword and squares off against a frigging dragon! This may have been hard to pull off artistically, but Steve Pugh makes it look so easy. His incredible lines are precise yet soft, and the tantalizing color schemes make the book sizzle. Your eyeballs will do a happy dance once they start feasting on HOTWIRE.

The action is nicely balanced with a hilarious bar scene as Hotwire throws shots back like an Irish sailor and shares more of her colorful past with her reluctant partner. Apparently even bad-ass exorcist cops occasionally feel the need to drink until they puke and pass out. So there is definite cause for a chuckle or two, but Pugh never lets the reader forget this book can also be creepy as hell. Busy but not cluttered and starring a damn awesome heroine, HOTWIRE is attractive book both visually and mentally. Radical has another winner.

Avril Brown

HEXED 3

HEXED #3
Written by Michael Alan Nelson, Drawn by Emma Rios
Published by Boom Studios

HEXED continues to kick ass both in script and visuals as the series returns for a spectacular third issue. Nelson and Rios bring their “A” game to this book, ensuring a wildly entertaining and addictive ride.

Last issue Lucifer was forced to steal a dangerously powerful magical object for Dietrich, an old (and evil) acquaintance bearing a grudge, and this issue he insisted on being introduced to the creature who has a strong and mysterious claim on the petit thief. The Harlot is, honestly, really damn unnerving. Looking as if she stepped out of Salvador Dali’s nightmares, her confident and bemused attitude speaks of the powers she has at her disposal. Dietrich reveals his desire to take the crown of the magical world for himself thus sparking a brutal war, and though the Harlot makes no effort to hide her lack of interest in his actions, she does give both Lucifer and Dietrich a fighting chance to get what they want.

In a hurry to put a kibosh on Dietrich’s destructive plans and believing she lost the one person who matters most to her, Lucifer jumps out of the Harlot’s domain, barely one step ahead of the power hungry madman. Back in the ‘real world’ she tries her hand at driving, manages to attract the attention of the police and ends up stuck in a jail cell. Herein we meet yet another colorful character from Lucifer’s manic mosaic of a past, little green Rufus, who is a hysterical addition to the book and one of the best parts of this issue.

Nelson is doing a stellar job of keeping the reader guessing as to what’s coming next, absorbed in every page, and laughing out loud at the gross and clever humor. Rios continues to wow with her deceptively simplistic panels which turn out like miniature paintings. She uses just the right amount of fine detail to create creep-tastic characters, awesome aerial shots and free-flowing actions scenes. Nelson and Rios make one hell of a team for one hell of a book. HEXED is magical, heartfelt and itching with action; a must-read.

Avril Brown

CURSE OF THE WERE-WOMAN

CURSE OF THE WERE-WOMAN
Written by Jason M. Burns, Illustrated by Christopher Provencher
Published by Devil’s Due Publishing

Meet Patrick Dalton, coveter of women and Exhibit A in the chauvinistic pig show room. Looking good and getting laid is what he does best, though he also donates some of his time to ladder climbing at the advertising agency he works for. Nothing pleases him more than pleasing himself and his lucky lady of the night, until one evening he bags a babe who decides to teach the randy Mr. Dalton a lesson.

The story premise obviously has been done before, and Burns follows the basic outline to a tee. Guy does bad things, guy is cursed by scorned woman in an ironic and fitting manner, guy is forced to endure the curse but ends up learning from his experience, finds his soul mate and becomes a better person, thus breaking the curse. Patrick is used to treating women as nighttime toys, so Tessa, jilted lover and practicing Wicca, curses him to become a woman every night when the sun sets. Due to his sudden case of evening-onset womanitis, Patrick spends his time with his new neighbor Amber doing girly things. Unsurprisingly, Patrick finds himself becoming emotionally attracted to his recent acquired gal pal, and as his eyes begin to open to the error of his past ways, he begins to fall in love with a woman who only knows him as a woman.

There is nothing about the plot which is unexpected, but that is not to say WERE-WOMAN isn’t entertaining and occasionally funny as hell. This is supposed to be a comedic comic book, and it succeeds at that. Several scenes Patrick/Patricia (woman version of Dalton) finds him/herself in are worth a few belly laughs (Patricia’s first experiences with a thong, stilettos and a tampon are my favorites), and there are more than a few winning one-liners sprinkled throughout the chapters. You can’t help but crack a grin after seeing the very first panel, which shows Patrick admiring himself in the mirror and his introductory words of “My name is Patrick Dalton and I am an alpha male.”

Laughs are certainly had, but there were several parts of the script which simply screamed it was written by a man. Just because Patrick turns into a woman at night, does he have to automatically have to notice the cute purse in the window and want to pick out pastel drapes? Having his testosterone replaced by estrogen doesn’t mean he can’t muster up the rage to get into a fight, and not all women are seduced by overpriced handbags and sip Cosmos when they get home. Overlooking these and a few other stereotypical scenes, this book can be read and appreciated by both genders.

The art is like the story: familiar and not too complicated, but well-crafted and enjoyable. Though the artist certainly doesn’t skimp on the cup sizes, Provencher delivers tasteful and realistically attractive women in this book. Coupled with Burns’ amusing spin on a standard story of lesson well learned, CURSE OF THE WERE-WOMAN is a fun read good for a hearty chuckle and more.

Avril Brown

MODERN TOSS

MODERN TOSS
Created by Jon Link and Mick Bunnage
Premiering Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Showing on IFC

MODERN TOSS was originally created by Jon Link and Mick Bunnage as a comic book back in 2003. The success of the comic eventually led to a pilot episode of an animated series for British TV, eventually spawning six wickedly odd episodes. And now the series is making its American debut as part of IFC’s “Automat” block of programming.

I suppose the best way to describe MODERN TOSS to an American audience would be to call it sort of a variety show meets SOUTH PARK. Each 22-minute episode is jam-packed with over ten cartoons and live-action shorts. They feature a variety of recurring characters and bits, including: Mr. Tourette (he paints signs that have just a bit too much truth in them); Alan (a misanthropic blob who hates his brother so much that he actively tries to destroy his property)’; Drive-by Abuser (who… well, he drives by things and people and verbally abuses them); Sneezeman (whose sneezes are so violent as to disrupt his life, set his girlfriend on fire, and more); and Barney (a man with anger issues that turn him into a large, red, rampaging monster. There are many others as well. But what catches your eye as you watch MODERN TOSS isn’t just the snark-heavy humor that Link and Bunnage have invested into their cartoon. It’s the underlying theme at most of the bits’ heart.

And that theme is: “People are complete assholes.”

I can’t remember watching anything in recent memory that evoked a more loathing response about humanity. Mr. Tourette’s signs strip away the veneer of polite society and label items bluntly. Hired to created a sign for a ski resort for wealthy drug addicts that need rehab, he chops down a forest and builds an edifice at the front displaying the words “Alpine Cunt Cabin.” (Just in time for an animated Pete Doherty to arrive, which was brilliant.) Alan is so disenfranchised by his family and friends that he lays a trap for them that causes their own work to collapse a telephone pole on their car. In a recurring segment called “Help Desk” (shot with live actors but dubbed voices), a stream if ignorant people call and visit help desks at the hospital emergency room and the local legal advice office asking for ways to assist in their own stupid slide into self-destruction. In “Illegal Alphabet”, letters roam the countryside trying to form naughty words, trying to do so one step ahead of a legal crackdown. Because after all, the phrase “git stack” could kill, right?

MODERN TOSS is about humor fueled by, and paying homage to, hate. On the surface, it’s good for laughs, and the writing and dialogue are wonderfully clever. It’s also amazing that they have accomplished what they did what a budget that looks to be about twelve dollars short of thirteen bucks. However, it isn’t for the faint of heart, easily offended, or those who have a strong belief in the goodness of humanity. Because its creators certainly make it clear that they don’t. I was good with that. Will you be?

Marc Mason

Got a region-free DVD player? Buy it at Amazon:

CITY OF DUST 5

CITY OF DUST #5
Written by Steve Niles, Artwork by Zid, Brandon Chng and Garrie Gastonny
Published by Radical Comics

CITY OF DUST comes to an explosive conclusion in this action-packed final issue as the cybernetic werewolves and vampires face off against the people (human and otherwise) who are just starting to open their eyes to the world around them.

Last issue left Ajax in a lurch, his murderous creations finally coming home to face their ‘father.’ The Frankenstein monster, still loyal to his creator and clinging to his own hope he can be a force of good, stands between his ‘brothers’ and Ajax. Unfortunately he was not able to keep Ajax’s head attached to his synthetic body, but since the brain is his only true living tissue, the mad scientist’s head is still more than capable of saying naughty words to a council member who appeared on a computer screen with information for the bad guys. This is the type of twisted and pleasantly ridiculous humor which has been one of the main highlights of the series.

Big surprise, the ruthless members of the council, hoping the two parties will destroy each other, give the bloodthirsty monsters the coordinates of where Philip Khrome, his partner Sonja, and Captain Blake, the cybernetic cop, are looking for clues on how to destroy the beasts. A violent battle ensues as Khrome and his allies clash with the deranged creatures in the unsuspecting streets, and things will never be the same for the former poster boy of omnipotent government control.

Although two other people have been credited with the artwork in this final issue alongside Zid, the quality of the book remains as strong as ever, and may be the best drawn book of the series. In the secret room under Ajax’s statue where our heroes are researching their foes, the attention to detail given in those panels is staggering. Between the cobwebs under the shelves and the half-torn charcoal sketches of mythical creatures mounted on the walls, getting swept away by the beauty of this book is easier than ever.

Niles delivered a unique tale by drawing on influences of several popular ideas from science fiction and mysticism, and by blending those with his words and imagination he created a multi-layered and darkly amusing comic book story. Khrome is a character you can care about, cheer for and sympathize with his struggles and growth, as are the people he encounters on his way to rediscovering himself. Thankfully Niles gives readers a satisfactory conclusion to the story while also giving it a feeling of commencement, leaving it wide open for the adventures of Philip Khrome in his City of Dust to continue, and fingers crossed they continue soon. Until then, pick up CITY OF DUST for a thrilling and visually stunning narrative of a refreshing new hero.

Avril Brown

FARO 1

FARO #1
Written by Marcianno Kane, Artwork by Steven Flamenco and Erick Main
Published by Hooligans Comics

FARO is different type of story, which follows a guardian angel sent back in time to save the world his own father destroyed out of necessity. Witnessing humanity’s complete degradation into tyranny and intolerance, this brilliant scientist injects his son with some sort of super powered green liquid (which apparently allows himself to come back from the dead, better than ever) before putting him in a time capsule, sending him into the unknown and pushing the doomsday button. When we next see Faro he is a grown man at the helm of his very own flying ship and has attracted the attention of a curious, controlling, and horny demon goddess. Eventually he breaks himself free of her spell, only to be drawn into a fight with Muzio the Mauler, an opinionated man with a grudge and fighting skills to match Faro’s own.

The time setting for this issue is completely jazzy. The first few pages are set in the apocalyptic future where Manhattan is the last free area and where the scientist is delivering his infant son just in time to shoot him up and send him back, away from the clutches of the evil FBI agents (one of whom reminded me strongly of Sarah Connor). The emerald city on Manhattan isle is stunningly drawn and is one of the best pages in the book. Once Faro reappears, it is during the Civil War in New York. Before enough hints are dropped to figure out the era, however, we first meet Majesty, the sex-addicted blonde with incredible powers of persuasion, and she has one hell of an entrance. A female version of Two-Face, her outfits almost always consist of half white and half black, which match the skulls she grasps in one hand and the glowing cross in her other.

Some of the other supporting characters are just as interesting as this randy, temperamental goddess, namely the Booth brothers. Yes, Booth, as in the infamous actor and the even more infamous assassin. I enjoyed the interesting bit of historical trivia interwoven in the story, and there are some rather clever scenes. My favorite involved Faro, who is covered in nearly naked women and can’t imagine the stupidity of the person who claimed it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

More humorous panels such as that are needed to help buoy the story as it is initially rather confusing. I may be missing something, but I fully did not understand one line in the issue (in the word balloon attached to Majesty’s first appearance). Until I read the summary available on the Hooligans Comics webpage I had no idea that a) Faro is a guardian angel capable of resurrection or b) the green juice his father injected him with is the reason he can resurrect and evolve. This is a story idea with limitless potential, and I’m hoping Kane takes it all the places it can go, but a bit more background and a few more explanations of situations and events would do a great deal in helping paint a more well-rounded picture of who and what Faro is, and how he feels about his purpose.

The artwork is reminiscent of the works of Pablo Picasso, only easier on the eyes in terms of traditional placement of basic facial features, with a touch of cartoon campy-ness. Flamenco certainly doesn’t spare on the cup size, yet with most of the story taking place in a brothel one pretty much expects to see that on the ladies. As mentioned the emerald city was beautifully rendered, as are his angry faces and crazy eyes. Kudos go to the colorist for really making these panels stand out by using a broad spectrum of tastefully bright colors.

With a book like FARO, over thinking the plot is the kiss of death; you’ve just got to go along for the ride. Since this is not the traditional type of story-telling I am accustomed to, I am more than willing to keep an open mind about FARO, yet I still mandate that further depth in character history and background will create a stronger sense of attachment to the hero who was sent back to save America from evil and destruction.

Avril Brown