COLOR OF WATER/COLOR OF HEAVEN

THE COLOR OF WATER/HEAVEN
Written and Drawn by Kim Dong Hwa
Published by First Second

Young Ehwa begins to bloom into adolescence in volume two of Kim Dong Hwa’s stunning COLOR trilogy, THE COLOR OF WATER, and completes her journey into womanhood as the series closes in THE COLOR OF HEAVEN. But as we saw in THE COLOR OF EARTH, none of it comes easy for Ehwa. There will be terrible heartbreaks, moments of confusion and upheaval that threaten to leave her unable to cope, and her relationship with her widowed mother suddenly begins to grow far more complex. But as painful and baffling as things become for Ehwa, it is absolutely brilliant for the reader. These books simply astonish, and the trilogy will easily land a spot on my year-end top ten list.

The Ehwa we follow in WATER is one beginning to enter puberty. She’s beginning to feel her heart stirring, and because she is beautiful, the boys of her village have certainly begun to take notice. But unlike her friend Bongsoon, she is reluctant to act on her curiosity and get physical with anyone. She is, however, hungry to devour knowledge of what intimacy is really like, and she gains that knowledge from her mother in cryptic fashion and from Bongsoon’s experimentations with a local boy. What emerges is a portrait of teenage sex education that rings true to this day: a whole lot of trial and error and not a lot of facts.

But eventually, as the boys begin to flow through her life, Ehwa does meet one that captures her heart fully. Unfortunately, their love comes at a cost for the boy, as he must leave town to avoid being beaten and injured (caused by another’s raging jealousy). There we open HEAVEN and get a powerful glimpse at why the COLOR books aren’t just a tremendously well-told story; they’re also an artistic feast. The two-page spread that opens the book simply shows Ehwa and her love sitting at a small, nearly featureless depot, waiting for his train to arrive and carry him away from her. By placing them in the center foreground, Dong Hwa captures their awkward intimacy; by showing the depot as desolate and empty, her captures their real fear of not seeing each other again; and by blurring the background, he makes it seem as through a storm is approaching, and many are- the men coming to hurt the boy, the months of agonizing and waiting to be reunited… all of it is there on the page. It’s powerful and wonderful to behold.

If you’d told me before I started that reading 900 pages of a man’s take on his mother’s memoirs on growing up in rural Korea would captivate me as much as the COLOR trilogy did… I’d have accused you of being drunk, insane, or over-medicated. Just goes to show you what happens when you sit down and start reading with an open mind. These books are simply great. I highly recommend all three.

Marc Mason

RAZORJACK-PATH

RAZORJACK/PATH
Written and Drawn by John Higgins and Gregory S. Baldwin
Published by Com.X

Two from the folks at Com.X…

Veteran artist and colorist John Higgins shows off those skills, along with his writing talents, in RAZORJACK, a modern horror story combining police procedural elements with fantasy-world scary stuff. A pair of cops on the trail of a serial murderer discover that the case is so much more when three college drama students accidentally interrupt their night by accidentally opening a portal into another dimension and releasing Razorjack. Razorjack is known as the “death bitch” (no ex-girlfriend jokes, please) and she and her handmaidens would like nothing more than to cross into our dimension and start letting darkness, pain, and suffering spread. Hilarity does not ensue. RAZORJACK is spectacular to look at; Higgins really cuts loose in presenting this creator-owned work. And he shows flair for natural human settings as well as the fantastic and horrific. He also doesn’t spare the gore. My only issue with the book is that it was at times difficult to follow what was happening with Razorjack herself, so I was mostly following the story through the human characters and hoping for the best. The good news is that I mostly pulled that off.

PATH is written and drawn by Gregory S. Baldwin, and it’s a nifty little gem of a book. It starts out with a basic and simple premise: a rabbit finds himself trapped at the base of a cliff, with no room for escape, by a pack of wild crodidogs. And just when it looks like he’s done for, an elephant comes crashing down the cliff and crushes the pack, saving the rabbit’s life. Sensing a partnership might be in order, the rabbit offers to team up with the elephant to guide him as he scales the cliff, and the two reach the top only to continue to find themselves in ever more trouble. PATH works for a number of reasons and in a number of ways: it works as a wonderful slapstick book that kids and adults can both enjoy; it works as a metaphor for the bonds of friendship; it works as an artistic exercise, as Baldwin demonstrates tremendous creativity in design and storytelling; and it works because it has an ending that’s simply beautiful and feels very, very earned. Reading the description of this book, I was expecting very little. Instead, I got a whole lot out of it.

Marc Mason

PROJECT SUPERPOWERS: MEET THE BAD GUYS 1

PROJECT SUPERPOWERS: MEET THE BAD GUYS 1
Written by Joe Casey and Drawn by Jonathan Lau
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

The Green Lama has worked extremely hard in order to begin restoring a balance to the world and its vegetation. But he hasn’t done it alone. Along the way, he has worked along superheroes and regular humans devoted to him. But that devotion proves deadly for a group of environmentalists aligned with the Lama. Instead, they have paid for their beliefs with their lives, and it has happened at the hands of Bloodlust. However, the bigger problem lies in exactly who Bloodlust really is and why she hates the Lama. And just how is it that she can draw blood from a man able to turn his flesh and bones into plantlife?

The MEET THE BAD GUYS series gets off to a pretty decent start with this issue, giving us a more human take on the Green Lama; that’s something we definitely haven’t seen in the regular PROJECT SUPERPOWERS title. It works well to give him a visceral antagonist, someone very much the opposite of who he is in philosophy and powers. That makes their clash more interesting to read about. So in that, I think this book succeeds well. It’s also good to get the character away from the main group of heroes and explore the true depth of his powers; we’ve seen how he can regenerate growth in plant life, but how far do those gifts go? We get a more intriguing answer than I would have expected here.

But all is not sunshine. I do have to take a moment to say that the character design on Bloodlust is one of the worst ones I’ve seen in recent memory. She’s wearing a head-piece, a top that barely comes past her breasts, a metallic-looking pair of booty-shorts, and thigh-high boots. No, I’m not making that up. Someone spends years building themselves up to challenge one of the most powerful beings on the planet, and that’s what she goes out to fight in? Not buying it. Now, I understand that calling her “Bloodlust” and giving her that costume might be some sort of satirical take on Rob Liefeld’s character designs circa 1994, but still… I just felt like this wasn’t the time or place. But I digress…

Still, once you get past the ridiculous costume, this is a pretty solid comic. Volume two of PROJECT SUPERPOWERS and its ancillary products continue to be a real improvement over volume one.

Marc Mason

THE BIG KAHN

THE BIG KAHN
Written by Neil Kleid, Illustrated by Nicolas Cinquegrani
Published by NBM

THE BIG KAHN is a story of a devoutly religious Jewish family who has just learned a terrible secret: their recently deceased patriarch, and the community’s Rabbi, was not a Jew. Widow Rachel Friedberg and her children Avi, Lea and Eli learn from the brother of Rabbi David Khan, who was born Donald Dobbs, of their checkered history as two Brooklyn con men who pretended to be Jewish as part of a scam. Yet Donnie fell in love with Rachel and decided to adopt the religion while never telling his wife, children or neighbors he was not born Jewish.

Everyone in the family is rocked by this disturbing reality and each deal with the news in different ways. Avi was next in line to become the community’s new Rabbi, and instead finds himself out of a job and questioning the religion he devoted his life to. Lea was largely indifferent towards Judaism but is now more drawn to her roots than ever before. Rachel struggles with the whispers and stares of a suddenly mistrustful community. Eli, the youngest child in the family, appears to be rebelling but is actually attempting to fix his broken family.

This is not a book about resolutions; it is about revelations, reactions, and rebounds from the unexpected. There is no universal happy ending which brings all the pieces back together again, which is one of my favorite aspects of the book. Learning the truth about Rabbi David Khan meant his family’s lives were forever altered, and Kleid allows his characters to realize and deal with this fact without glossing over the harsh fight it takes to move on. However, I wish more time was spent on exploring how Eli Khan’s feelings towards his father changed over the course of the story.

Cinquegrani’s artwork is tasteful, expressive and unburdened with an overabundance of unnecessary background detail. This story is about the characters and their emotional upheaval, so the attention is focused on the people; namely their facial expressions and memories, which are animated and clearly drawn. The simplistic black, white and gray color scheme helps achieve that end. THE BIG KAHN is an inspirational and emotional tale, well worth checking out whether you are Jew or Gentile, comic book fan or no, for all who read it are sure to take something from this book.

Avril Brown

WEST COAST BLUES

WEST COAST BLUES
Adapted and Illustrated by Jacques Tardi
From the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette
Published by Fantagraphics Books

George Gerfaut is a relatively ordinary man; he is a top salesman, he has a wife, couple of kids, and a love of Scotch and Gitanes. Yet his life becomes dangerously extraordinary when he least expects it, all for a reason which remains unknown to him for a majority of his accidental adventure.

WEST COAST BLUES is a different kind of comic which can be initially a bit hard to follow, yet it gets under your skin and remains impossible to resist from start to finish. Immediately there is a film noir feel to the book, due in part to the smoky, black and white artwork and also in part to Tardi’s style of writing where not a single word is wasted. The story opens on George Gerfaut, who became entangled in a battle for his life by doing what any decent person would do…to a certain extent. He helped a man who had apparently crashed his car by taking him to a hospital, but then he left him there before he had found out whether or not the man had survived the ‘crash’ and what exactly happened to this stranger. Therefore it is not until he and his family are on holiday at the beach does it become clear the man he helped was the target of a hit, and now Gerfaut is the one in the line of fire and on the run.

Darkly amusing and undeniably entertaining, WEST COAST BLUES keeps the mystery and interest alive by carefully doling out pieces of the story and introducing intriguing characters with loads of personality. The hitmen following Gerfaut are two gentlemen with an undefined yet strong bond to each other, and their quarry is proving to be unexpectedly difficult to manage, through little conscious effort on Gerfaut’s part. At times this book leaves you unsure whether to laugh at Gerfaut’s shit luck or grimace in sympathy, but mostly you end up staring unbelieving at his entire situation and how he deals with it each step of the way.

The artwork is a perfect match for the story it tells, giving you just enough detail to grasp the full picture without overloading you with unnecessary additions or distractions. Black and white is the only way this story could be told, and the softer edges on the artwork demonstrate the gloomily humorous path this book follows. Tardi does an excellent job of adapting what must be a massively entertaining book into a graphic novel form for all who seek a slightly different but no less thrilling mystery/adventure story to enjoy.

Avril Brown

WON TON SOUP VOL 2

WON TON SOUP VOL 2
Written and Illustrated by James Stokoe
Published by Oni Press

Having missed the first WON TON SOUP, I had no idea what to expect when I opened WON TON 2. If I had known what I was getting into, I would have checked this comic out a long time ago.

Off-the-wall bizarre, perverted stoner humor is the general theme in this book, something which must be understood (and appreciated) in order to fully enjoy WON TON. There are no limits for Stokoe, who takes his obvious love of science fiction, sexual humor and comic books to an unheard of level of craziness.

Deacon Vans and Johnny Boyo are partners of sorts, who take to space in their comfortable little ship with legs while running into all sorts of creatures and adventures they couldn’t imagine. From stories of true love and loss between a man and his Sex Bear to fifteen-day-long highs flying on inter-dimensional weed, WON TON is a hysterical, acid trip of a comic which leaves you in stitches and wanting more.

There is a raw, visceral feel to Stokoe’s work, both in his words and his art. Everything is exaggerated just enough to draw your incredulous attention, but not enough to make you turn away. His level of perv never reaches completely ridiculous proportions and his humor is smart as well as raunchy. Amusing bits of background detail add to the easy-flowing artwork, making the reader pause and appreciate the amount of devotion apparent in each indiscreet page. Plus, Stokoe is not afraid to make fun of himself, which is a quality to be praised in a writer. WON TON SOUP 2 is certainly a recommended read for those looking for a randomly amusing, stoner-type, sci-fi comic.

Avril Brown

HUMONGOUS BOOK OF CARTOONING

HUMONGOUS BOOK OF CARTOONING
Written and Drawn by Christopher Hart
Published by Watson-Guptill

I love comics. Love ‘em. But draw ‘em?

Forget it.

While it’d be nice to be able to make my own comics from scratch, I’m sadly held back by the fact that I lack anything resembling artistic talent. So I’m always intrigued when a new “how-to” book crosses my desk. After all, the one thing I know is: even if I know how to, I still can’t. But amazingly enough, Christopher Hart’s book is so well put together that I’m almost tempted to try.

The success of HUMONGOUS BOOK OF CARTOONING rests in its structure. Hart begins by showing nine basic head shapes, then slides easily into demonstrating how to turn those shapes into character archetypes that are well recognized. He them proceeds to add more detail in how to present the characters, such as using particular ear and eyebrow placements to suggest age, intent, etc. The approach feels very organic, and for someone like me (devoid of ability) it makes good sense. And it makes you feel like you could do this stuff and make it work.

Later lessons include full-figure drawing, character detail and design, costuming, body language and more. He even touches on doing more exotic and odd characters as well. And again, he makes it all seem so simple.

Hart is a real pro at doing these types of books, so it really should come as no surprise that he’s turned out another high-quality effort. I don’t know that he could turn me into a cartoonist, but this is the first time I’ve read one of these books and actually didn’t at least somewhat scoff at what the author was trying to tell me. That, I think, says it all.

Marc Mason

INCARNATE 1

INCARNATE #1
Written and Drawn by Nick Simmons
Published by Radical Comics

Chock filled with blood, guts and gore, INCARNATE delivers an occasionally amusing and constantly moving action tale with stunning artwork and colorful characters. If you enjoy gratuitous violence, a bit of dark humor and rooting for the bad guys, pick up INCARNATE.

Meet the Revenants, a group of immortals with vacant morals and an appetite for the flesh of humans. Beyond that tasty tidbit and evidence of a dark sense of humor, there isn’t much information given about these creatures. Then again, this isn’t the type of book to get bogged down in background detail. INCARNATE hits the ground running after a rather haunting poem on the opening page by filling the next page with Mot, a Revenant with boyish features which, at the moment, are covered in blood. After Mot finishes his meal and dons the clothes his meal was wearing, he calls upon another Revenant named Connor with whom he seems to have a history with. Mot’s method of saying hello is worth a hearty chuckle as he plants a bullet in Connor’s brain with the justification of ‘You’re ugly.’

Once Connor picks himself up off the floor, he and Mot attend a meeting with other Revenants at the Clubhouse of the Forgotten Gods, a wonderfully dramatic title for an eclectic group of immortals, one of whom has a serious concern. Apparently a group of humans calling themselves the Sanctum and led by a creepy looking guy with a skull-topped sickle named Vincent, have found a way to kill the un-killable, and they intend to prove it on Mot.

The story is interesting and Mot is one hell of an entertaining character, but the artwork really steals the show. Bitching about how some people have all the talent is a waste of time which could be spent letting your eyes feast on the fabulous illustrative style Simmons has perfected in this issue. A superhero look with just the right amount of manga gives the book and its inhabitants an Eastern feel with a Western flavor. Everything about the Revenants is attractive, from their blood-red eyes to their pointed teeth, making these monsters rather easy on the eyes. I’d like to learn more about these flesh-hungry creatures of old in the subsequent issues, but as long as the art remains up to par and Mot and Connor remain as snarky as they were in this issue, I’m game to follow INCARNATE until the end.

Avril Brown

UNKNOWN

UNKNOWN #1-4
Written by Mark Waid, Illustrated by Minck Oosterveer
Published by BOOM! Studios

BOOM! Studios and Mark Waid have done it again with UNKNOWN, a creepy and vastly entertaining supernatural/mystery comic book. Catherine Allingham is a world famous detective, widely known for her instinctual insights into a variety of cases, from kidnapping to theft to murder. Her latest case, however, is personal, as the terminally ill investigator has been hired to locate a box supposedly capable of measuring a human soul.

Along for Cat’s foray to find the answer to the question of what happens to people after death is her recently acquired assistant, James Doyle, a former bouncer who is incredibly skilled at reading people. The two are a great team, beauty and brawn yet both brainy, and the mutual respect the pair have for each is immediately apparent. Cat needs James to be her more reliable set of eyes as her fatal brain tumor is causing her hallucinations, and James is an avid fan of Cat’s work and is drawn to her single-minded quest to find the truth about death before she experiences it.

The chalk-faced man with the thin smile is a frequent hallucination of Cat’s who gave me goosebumps every time he appeared on the page, and he’s not the only otherworldly creature standing between Cat, Doyle and the mysteries of the afterlife. There are immortal priests, Asian Golems capable of delivering death with a touch, strange little men with needles for teeth…or are there? One of the best parts about this book is how it keeps you guessing until the very end, so the reader is able to make his or her own judgments on what exactly is unfolding on the pages; an excellent story-telling tool which does not detract from the strength of the plot.

Oosterveer delivers a gorgeous, sexy and realistic heroine, giving her bountiful boobies for the boys (and some girls) to stare at but keeping them enough in check so they are not her defining feature. As mentioned above, the unnerving man in Cat’s hallucinations is the real shiver-winner in this book, and Erik Jones’s painted covers are hauntingly beautiful. Waid continues to prove his imaginative prowess with unique characters, situations, and a strong and smart female lead that is determined not to let a malignant brain tumor keep her from what she does best. Top it off with a supporting character who is a partner rather than a plucky sidekick, a dash of intelligent humor and an ending which concludes the story while leaving it wide open for sequels, and UNKNOWN is one of the best books BOOM! has put out yet.

Avril Brown

SILBER MEDIA X 5

SILBER MEDIA 5
Written by Brian John Mitchell and Drawn by Various
Published by Silber Media

Five new micro-minicomics from Brian John Mitchell. Taking a look…

JUST A MAN is drawn by Andrew White and tells the story of a farmer in the Old West that comes home to find his infant son dead and wife kidnapped into a fate unknown. The farmer then has to decide whether or not to wait for justice or quest for vengeance, and, well, that’d be a boring wait. Mitchell does a good job of getting mileage out of a classic Western story trope here, and White does a nice job in creating the panel-a-page approach used by Mitchell. Solid.

Melissa Spence Gardner draws XO #5, the continuing saga of a professional killer. Mitchell takes the story into flashback mode here, recalling the first time the character was paid to kill someone… his best friend’s brother. What surprises is that he creates some solid suspense as to whether or not he actually accomplished the deed. I’ve generally been enjoying the XO comics, and this is easily the best one to date. However, I think the real secret is that Mitchell and Gardner simply work best as a team. He’s learning how to write to her strengths, and she’s getting more skilled at using the format effectively. Very good.

WORMS #4 has Kimberlee Traub on art chores, and continues following the lead character as she tries to escape the strange hospital where she’s being held captive and experimented upon. Tired of the i.v. that’s allowing the worms into her body, she once again musters the strength to stand and begin to make her way towards the exit. Only a single nurse stands in her way- will she make it? WORMS has an interesting story going on, but I don’t feel like the micro-mini format really allows it the oxygen it needs to effectively tell the story, nor does it allow Traub the ability to do any real storytelling with the art- it’s just one abstract moment after another.

Closing things out are LOST KISSES #9-10, both drawn by Mitchell himself. LOST KISSES is an autobiographical comic, and to be blunt, it’s the weakest material he produces. I give him credit for putting things out in front of people: issue nine discusses why his friends’ wives and girlfriends hate him, and issue ten covers his inability to deal with being shown love. But while I think it’s supposed to come off as brave to discuss these things, the attitude he conveys makes him come across as a complete d-bag. (I don’t think that’s what Mitchell really had in mind.) There’s something really unpleasant about admitting you see someone’s wife or girlfriend as just another object to ignore, like a t-shirt. It mostly wants to make you put down the comic and punch the author in the junk.

As always, never a dull moment with the Silber micro-minis.

Marc Mason