MISC. NEW STUFF

MISC. NEW BOOKS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Look! New stuff from various folks and places. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Starting with MERMIN #5 (Tragic Planet) is always a good idea, as I’ve been enjoying Joey Weiser’s nifty minicomic from the beginning. The story of a young boy from an undersea kingdom and his attempt to join human society has worked from the start, mixing humor and pathos in perfect amounts. This final issue of volume one finds the stakes at their highest, as bad guys from Mermin’s home have come to drag him back, and it has placed his human friends in danger. There’s a surprising amount of action this time around, and it has a shocking amount of scale to it- I wasn’t even truly sure that all of the human cast would actually survive. But all that really does is show off just how good a cartoonist Joey Weiser really is. In five minicomics he has shown a massive amount of variety in what he can bring to the page, and as a result, he’s delivered a book that I suspect will soon be collected under one cover and be a smashing sales success to the all-ages crowd. I know I’ll want one.

Speaking of good all-ages books, FRAGGLE ROCK VOL. 2 #1-2 from Archaia fits that description well. This miniseries brings to life another classic Jim Henson creation, reminding us that he didn’t peak solely with THE MUPPETS. These characters have a wonderful life and charm of their own, and the variety of talent writing these tales has done a good job of creating interesting stories that captivate the reader, as well as providing an interesting “moral” at the end that evokes what the TV series was all about. Whether it’s about the importance of embracing your own dreams, or understanding that friends and family are more important than potential fame and fortune, these pieces just work. The artists do their job well, too, and it was quite easy to sit back and enjoy just how pretty the whole shebang looks. Fun for everybody.

Shifting the focus to the topic of actually making comics, EXTREME PERSPECTIVE FOR ARTISTS (Watson-Guptill) by David Chelsea is a stunning how-to book, though I have to warn you in advance- this one is for advance level artists only. Done in graphic novel format, Chelsea takes you through chapters how to truly take your work to the next level. Topics include “Extra Vanishing Points”, “Fisheye Perspective”, “Cylindrical Perspective”, “Reflections”, and many others, and he uses comics panels to demonstrate how they look first, then he lays out a drawing lesson that allows the reader to test these techniques on their own. The book also comes with a DVD that includes a perspective grid and guides you through attempting the material he’s talking about. Chelsea is impressively thorough, and if I had an ounce of artistic talent, I have no doubt I’d use this book heavily.




ASTRONAUT ACADEMY

ASTRONAUT ACADEMY: ZERO GRAVITY
Written and Drawn by Dave Roman
Published by First Second

Reviewed by Marc Mason

It’s difficult to make predictions about how a year will turn out when February isn’t even finished, but in this case, I will make an exception: there will not be a better all-ages graphic novel published this year than ASTRONAUT ACADEMY. Period.

Many San Diego Comic-Cons ago, I was walking through the small press area when I happened upon a table full of minicomics. Amongst them was one titled ASTRONAUT ACADEMY, and on the cover it was described as a “mini-manga.” Intrigued, I laid down my cash, and when I got it home, I was immediately blown away by how good it was. The book followed the adventures of a young boy named Hakata Soy as he headed off to a private school on a space station. The school was silly, the character was surprisingly complex, and the art was fantastic. It had a simple quality on its surface, but Roman was doing interesting things with layout and design that would capture the eye of a grown-up reader. It was one of the best minicomics I had ever seen, and from that point onward, I made it a point to find Roman’s work at SDCC every year.

And you know what? The series just kept getting better.

The plots got more complex, the characters grew, and the ideas behind the stories got bolder. Once Roman wrapped up the series with a triple-sized mini, I felt some real disappointment. However, that disappointment is now tempered with the coming release of this book, which collects all twelve installments of the minicomics under one cover. A larger number of readers will now discover the book, and follow Hakata and the other characters on their journeys, which is a very good thing. In today’s market, there are very few fantastic options for younger readers- at least few options that won’t make parents want to tear their hair out. Not so here- this is a book that anybody in the family can love, because there is truly something for everyone.

The book arrives in June, and I cannot recommend highly enough that you check it out. Come December, it will unquestionably occupy a spot high on my top ten list of the year. Dave Roman is a talent deserving of greater recognition and acclaim, even with the fantastic successes he’s already enjoyed in comics, and this collection is a fantastic step in that direction.

CHEW 16-17

CHEW #16-17
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

CHEW is back after a brief hiatus with its seventeenth amazing issue, proving the old adage that absence does in fact make the heart grow fonder. The newest story arc is entitled ‘Flambe’ and thus far the first two chapters have encompassed many old faces CHEW fans have come to know and love plus a couple new ones, serving as a good omen that readers are in for one hell of a ride.

The sixteenth issue takes place only a week after the mysterious, fiery writing appeared in the sky. Needless to say, some people are not handling this supposedly otherworldly event well, including Tony Chu’s partner John Colby. Convinced the world is going to end Colby takes to alcohol like he has no liver left to lose, so Chu ditches the drunk and hooks up with Agent Valenzano. We know this Jules Winnfield look-a-like to be secretly working with his old partner, AWOL traitor Mason Savoy, but to Chu he is a reliable fellow F.D.A. agent, a misplaced trust which may come back to bite the cibopath in his skinny posterior. My only complaint with this issue would be the short-lived face time with the latest food freak, a man named Daniel Migdalo who happens to be a voresophic; namely, someone who gets smarter while he eats. His physical and mental state had grown to enormous proportions by the time Chu and Valenzano got to him, and I wish we could have seen more of Migdalo.

Issue seventeen has Colby back in action and off the sauce, which is good for all involved in their latest case: a food fight gone bad. What begins as a normal flinging of foodstuffs turns into a bloody brawl akin to a prison fight on crack, and it’s up to Chu and Colby to deal with the perpetrator with a little help from Chu’s daughter Olive. An often abused nerd named Peter Pilaf has snapped and threatens to release a recipe of mass destruction onto the internet. Further investigation into Peter’s recent proceedings lead our heroes to suspect he was also responsible for an attack on a N.A.S.A. space station, but as we see by the end the issue things are not nearly so simple.

With excellent story telling, as always, Layman keeps us on the edge of our seat waiting for the next adventure, betrayal, food weirdo and/or clue to the big picture he is painstakingly painting with each panel. Guillory more than holds up his end with his rock solid artwork and oodles of Easter eggs. Fans of the Fox show ‘Fringe’ will appreciate a brief appearance of their favorite mad scientists, while several pop culture celebrities cannot escape the wrath of Guillory’s wry humor. Oh CHEW, how I have missed you!


ROGUE ELEMENT 73

Rogue Element #73: Organizational Therapy

By Avril Brown

The recent weather conditions in Chicago, ll, and elsewhere across the world can be summed up in one concise sentence: Mother Nature has PMS. I cannot imagine how else to describe going from the blizzard of 2011 where Chicagoans were literally buried in the third largest snowfall on record, to several days of almost sixty degree weather. In case you are in any doubt as to Gaia’s mood swings, don’t fret: it is currently snowing here, replacing all the white stuff which melted during last week.

The brief presence of genuinely decent weather got everyone a little squirrely as nice days are consistently in want in a city known for being Winter’s bitch. The same phenomenon occurred during my college days at Cornell where yes, Ithaca is Gorgeous…when you can see through the grey haze and/or are capable of venturing outdoors without freezing to death. As soon as the sun broke through and the temperature snuck out from under the forties, people were out and about like it was Woodstock.

When there are major climate changes such as this, I either a) get sick or b) have to accomplish something. This time around the temperature plunging plague thankfully passed me by (knock on wood) so I turned my eye to the small hill of unboxed comics in the corner of my cave. I recently acquired two long boxes from the lovely Molly Jane Kramer, fellow Slumber Party animal, and I have been waiting for the right time to re-organize my comic collection. This weekend I finally rose to the task.

Starting early afternoon I began by folding the brand new boxes, un-stacking my current boxes and popping the lids on each to gaze upon the glory of my mounds of books. I knew I wanted to reorganize my books into a more cohesive cataloguing system but it wasn’t until about an hour or so into my quest that it finally dawned on me how I was going to achieve this goal. Cue the blinding light and the soft hallelujah chorus: I would sort by publisher…for the most part. Bear in mind my tight spatial situation and understand there must always be a fluid flexibility in how I stack my multitudes of comicy-cream-filled boxes, for they must be stacked in order for one to navigate my apartment. Therefore my monthly titles and my frequently read favorites must be on top of comic Kilimanjaro to ensure easy access. This is not as simple as it sounds.

I would like to keep all of my X books together but it is simply not feasible. In my apartment I have every issue of Uncanny and ‘regular’ X-Men released from the past six plus years in addition to several other Marvel ongoing titles. I have oodles of Dynamite monthlies, several DC trades gifted to me by a reverse convert (someone who no longer collects comics) and plenty of graphic novels I have reviewed. Yet I also have many books from my favorite authors who span several publishing companies, therefore I kept Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis’s books together for quick perusing. I can always breeze through a ‘Runaways’ hardcover by Brian K. Vaughn, and I can only go so many months without re-reading Joss Whedon’s ‘Fray,’ so these books must be in an easy reach top box. The truly difficult decisions lie in which books are ‘retired’ into the pain-in-the-ass-to-access bottom boxes, and that was certainly a chore. In the end I labeled each box with its general contents, something I have never done before, which gives my tired memory (and back) a break while simultaneously ensuring expedient admittance to my books.

Despite the daunting task of sifting through hundreds of individual issues and graphic novels, I was having a ball. A character in one of my favorite collections of historical sort-of-nonfiction (the characters are fictional, the details of the land, beasts, tools and clothing from the time period, namely 10,000ish B.C., are not) entitled ‘The Earth’s Children’ series is essentially a healer, spiritual guide and keeper of lore all in one. At one point she decided to recall every legend she every memorized in order to gather clues as to the origin of a blind prejudice of her people. She claimed the process was enlightening and should be done more often. When it comes to shuffling through hoards of comics, I wholeheartedly agree. I truly have a shit-ton of comic books, and I’d actually forgotten some of the amazing issues I own. Nestled in the box with my older X-Men books dating back to the seventies and eighties is an original print of Giant Sized X-Men #1, the issue which introduced the world to Colossus, Nightcrawler, Thunderbird and several other soon-to-be-iconic X-Men. Gingerly turning each weathered, yellow page, I reveled in the somewhat campy writing, slightly faded artwork and minor details of a period specific book (there were one line advertisements for other Marvel books underneath each page of panels). I hadn’t forgotten I have an Avenger’s Annual #10 aka Rogue’s first appearance, but it was nice to hold it once more and glow over my good fortune of having immensely generous friends (thanks again, Chris!).

In the grand scheme of things I will acknowledge that organizing my comics is not the most earth-shattering of accomplishments, but it was necessary, fun and inspirational. Not to mention it has gotten me totally jazzed for C2E2 (as if I wasn’t hyped up enough already) and refreshingly reinvested in getting other areas of my life into neat, organized and efficient little boxes. Sometimes all one has to do is dig in and brush the dust off one corner of your life to discover that inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of places.

OMNIUM GATHERUM 69

Omnium Gatherum #69: In Remembrance

By
Vincent S. Moore

I had other plans for how to relaunch the Omnium Gatherum but Life, as always, has its own plans.

I, like so many others, have heard about the passing of Dwayne McDuffie on Tuesday afternoon.

I, like so many others, was saddened to hear this news.

Even as I write this (more for cheap therapy than anything else), I still feel bummed out by this news.

It comes as Dwayne’s name is seemingly everywhere. His name is attached to yet another film by Warner Animation, this time around All-Star Superman, an adaptation of the comics by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. His work on Ben 10, Justice League, and many other hits from Cartoon Network will continue to entertain many for years long after this dark day has passed into memory.

Dwayne McDuffie will live on in this way.

For those of us left behind–his fans, his friends, and most assuredly, his family–these stories, in comics and on film, will be no replacement for a few more decades of conversations and laughs, smiles and other good times.

I consider Dwayne to be my friend. Not the kind I knew personally; I didn’t have that pleasure or honor. But someone I know from times spent in conversation at comics conventions. Dwayne always had a friend word and word of advice to share. At San Diego Comic-Con 2010, he was glad to hear about my first professional comics writing gig. He also chided me after I wrote about the lunch with Dan Didio, reminding me that there will always be two sides to every story.

Dwayne was a mentor simply for the fact that he was there.

Dwayne was writing comics, including launching Milestone and its signature heroes Icon, Hardware, Static, and Blood Syndicate.

Dwayne brought Static to the small screen as Static Shock. And once that was done, he moved on to other animated series that earned him acclaim and accolades.

Dwayne returned to comics to write his dream projects–Justice League of America and the Fantastic Four–and wowed audiences again, as well as earned the ire of the smaller minded segments of the comics community.

Dwayne was interested in and found ways to push diversity in comics and animation.

Dwayne McDuffie, for whatever faults he may have had that I do not know about, was a role model for me and for other Black and Hispanic fans who wanted to enter the comics and animation games.

Because he was there.

And now, Dwayne isn’t here anymore.

My condolences to Dwayne’s wife and family.

Dwayne, you have joined the ancestors and have become another of the giants upon whose shoulders I and others stand.

Thank you for sharing your gifts with us.

Namaste.

IMAGE X 3

IMAGE THREE
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three new graphic novels from NorCal…

ON THE LINE is written by Rick Wright and Drawn by Rian Hughes, and collects the complete run of the cartoon strip that ran in The Guardian (a British newspaper) from 1995-96. Sponsored by Compuserve (and how many of us remember CS?) the idea of the strip was to put the idea of the internet in front of a generation of newbies in a humorous way. That’s really the primary service this book provides- it’s a glance at the net’s sort of pre-historical time. There was no streaming video, you couldn’t order your groceries online, no one had heard of a “bit torrent”- everything that we take for granted today didn’t exist fifteen years ago, and ON THE LINE gives you a clue into that era. The humor is obviously dated, but Hughes’ art still looks fantastic- his use of bold shadow and color is a feast for the eyes. The book won’t be for everybody, but those that remember the time will likely feel some warm fuzzies.

A less successful dive back into the past comes in the form of LOVEBUNNY AND MR. HELL, which gets a collected edition for the first time. Writer/artist Tim Seeley had a decent idea here- a ditzy former sidekick trying to be her own hero winds up stuck with a demon for her own sidekick, but the crime fighting is beside the point- the real story comes in how Lovebunny deals with the minor setbacks life offers every day. The problem is that Lovebunny never quite feels like a character, so you don’t wind up developing a rooting interest in her. Mr. Hell, on the other hand, is played to perfection, a whirlwind of bizarre chaos in a world he doesn’t comprehend. The art is also a little inconsistent, as Seeley is finding himself in some of these early pages. Still, find himself he would- he’d take the “hot hero/scary sidekick” idea forward and create HACK/SLASH, a book that continues to draw in readers to this day. LOVEBUNNY is an artifact, much the way ON THE LINE is- most likely for completists, I think.

TERM LIFE, though, is absolutely the shit. Nick Barrow is a thief with a twist- he plans jobs and sells them to crews for money up front. But when one of the jobs goes awry, Nick winds up a marked man by both the Russian mob and a bunch of dirty cops. Knowing he’s a dead man, he makes a decision he hopes will clear the books: he buys a million dollar life insurance policy and makes his estranged daughter the beneficiary. Unfortunately it doesn’t kick in for twenty one days, and Nick will be lucky to be alive in twenty-one hours. This sets in motion a reunion with the kid and a nightmare of a road trip that has to be seen to be believed. Writer AJ Lieberman and artist Nick Thornborrow really deliver here- the story is tight, the characters are interesting, and Lieberman’s script is one of his best. He bounces the story back and forth in time, using structure in ways that few comics writers are willing to try. It effectively ratchets up the tension and keeps the reader riveted to the page. Clever and entertaining, this one is easy to recommend.



ARCHAIA THREES

ARCHAIA THREES
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Archaia

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two of Archaia’s long-running series reach the third volume in their hardcover series…

OKKO VOL. 3: THE CYCLE OF AIR by writer/artist Hub finds the ronin and his companions arriving at a mountain castle with a new task in front of them: cure the daughter of the house from a mysterious malady that has rendered her mute and unwilling to eat. In the meantime, a demon hunter of great renown arrives, looking to kill Okko’s friend and companion Noburu and a young man who watched Okko slay his father finds himself in position to avenge his family honor. Thus, volume three of this intricately drawn series is absolutely packed full of plot and action. But what sets Hub’s work apart from so many others is that he weaves together the plots with such gentle care that it’ almost stunning when you see how they all come together to create a grand tapestry of a story. He also doesn’t skimp on the show- the art is stunning, each page holding a feast for the eyes. Something that really sticks out- Okko never goes for the clean neck-decapitation. His method is far more brutal and nasty, and it adds flavor to a terrific book.

I’ve always admired writer Matz and artist Luc Jacamon’s work on THE KILLER, and volume three does nothing to diminish that feeling. “MODUS VIVENDI” picks up with four years having passed since Killer last took a job, but he’s gotten restless living in the Venezuelan jungle and helping raise his son. So when a job comes his way, he takes it on, but it winds up entailing far more work- and more complications- than he could have ever guessed, putting him in the position of wanting to refuse the jobs, but knowing that he’ll be the next target if he does. The story here is intricate and captivating, an interesting look at the realities of South American politics and the role the U.S. has played in destabilizing the continent through the years; that said, it hardly skimps on the action. Death lurks around every corner, as does sex, and this book doesn’t let you forget just how well those two go hand-in-hand. Jacamon’s art is simply brilliant, and he uses color as well as anyone working in comics today. Outstanding stuff.






BUCK AND BLOOD

BLOOD/BUCK
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two newbies from DE…

I had no idea what to expect from BUCK ROGERS ANNUAL #1 for two reasons. One, I never really warmed to the main series; the character has never connected emotionally for me. And the other is the creative team: longtime comics journos Matt Brady and Troy Brownfield wrote the story, and it’s always a mystery to see what happens when someone crosses over to the other side. However, it turns out there was no need to worry- this is a Buck Rogers I could understand. The story is simple- Buck’s birthday is rolling around and his lack of family is wearing on him. But when a mysterious signal begins playing, and it seems directed at him, he is placed into a position that may allow him to get perspective on the years he missed in a way he’d never thought possible. Again, there’s nothing too complex going on here, but that works in the book’s favor. Buck’s emotional catharsis at the climax serves the reader well and pays off your investment. Solid art from Carlos Rafael seals the deal.

On the flip side, I had massive expectations for JENNIFER BLOOD #1, the new series from writer Garth Ennis. Where THE BOYS is written as Ennis’s last word on superheroes, BLOOD feels like his last word on vigilantism (having done plenty on that topic in years of writing THE PUNISHER). The setup is so ordinary that it’s almost funny: housewife Jennifer has a husband and kids and all the attendant life details that go with them. But at night, she drugs them all to sleep, throws on a wig, and goes off into the city to blow away bad guys. Grenades, bullets, knives… nothing is off limits for her gory rampages, and when it’s over, she comes home and writes it up in her diary. That actually provides the book’s central conceit, as we follow her exploits through the diary entries. The contrast between her mundane life and her night life is just enough to be funny, but not so absurd that it kills the premise, and the art by Adriano Batista is suitably gritty without forgetting to make the characters feel real. So in short: exactly what I thought it would be, and exactly what I was hoping for. Can’t wait to see where it goes.

NEW MOONS

RECENT MOON LANDINGS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Moonstone

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Some recent releases from the folks at Moonstone…

SAVAGE BEAUTY #1 is written by Mike Bullock and drawn by Jose Massaroli. This book dives into the classic “jungle girl” genre, but with somewhat mixed results. The story, set in modern Africa, touches on some of the human rights abuses going on there, particularly with the rebel factions running around and murdering the populace of villages across the countryside (think Uganda). It also takes an interesting route with the titular heroine in that it’s a shared role. But the art here holds back the book from really taking off. The action sequences are static and lack life and movement, and there are some questionable choices in perspective at play. The rest of the cast isn’t quite up to snuff yet, either. The brutal would-be dictator is someone we’ve seen plenty of times before, and his child-molesting French ally also feels a bit tired. Not bad, but lots of room for improvement.

THE SPIDER #1 is a stronger debut issue, delivering two solid stories under one cover. The main piece, featuring The Spider, tells a decent little horror story, following the character up against a small army of the experimented upon undead. Martin Powell’s story has some nice atmosphere to it, though it ends abruptly, but the real star is comics veteran Pablo Marcos’ artwork. It’s dark, moody, and attractive, and his layouts are lovely to look at. The backup story, “Operator 5” also looks pretty snazzy, with artist Roberto Castro delivering some sweet-looking period art in a story about World War II era racial disharmony and the assorted nastiness that accompanies it. Writer Gary Phillips has a knack for the noir, and I was hooked in by the strange conspiracy building beneath the goings on. Solid stuff all around.

The book that really caught my eye, though, was KOLCHAK #2 from writer Christopher Mills and artist Jaime Martinez. Based on the character from the old NIGHT STALKER television show, this issue sets up a new status quo for monster hunter Carl Kolchak- he moves to Miami to write for a tabloid newspaper and finds himself once again on the trail of the supernatural as it begins mutilating and murdering the local populace. The story works great; this really reads like an issue #1, setting up who Kolchak is and his new situation, so I was curious about what happened in that actual issue. We get a great mystery, an interesting supporting cast, a sharp look at who the lead character really is… Mills really pulls it all together here. Martinez’ art is also quite pretty, though he’s a little in consistent on faces- Kolchak flits between Darren McGavin and Tommy Lee Jones. But overall, I was impressed with this one, and I’d read more without hesitation.

MY BOYFRIEND WROTE A BOOK ABOUT ME

MY BOYFRIEND WROTE A BOOK ABOUT ME
Written by Hilary Winston
Published by Sterling

Reviewed by Marc Mason

I was wandering the floor at ALA Midwinter this year when I walked past a publisher’s booth I was pretty certain I hadn’t seen before. I took some time to look at some of the advance reader copies they were giving away of upcoming books, when a strange looking one caught my eye: the cover featured a woman in her pajamas sipping soda from a can through a straw. I picked it up and started reading the back when a voice dripping with sarcasm boomed from behind me:

“OH, JUST TAKE ONE ALREADY! THEY’RE FREE!”

Immediately, I burst out laughing, and then spun around to find Hilary Winston signing copies of her book. Always one to appreciate bold confidence- hey, far too many authors want to play it humble, and I like a little salesmanship- I had her autograph a copy to me and wandered off with the book.

The remaining question, of course, was would it be any good. The answer: it’s better than good. It’s terrific.

Winston, an accomplished television writer (MY NAME IS EARL, COMMUNITY) finds a captivating subject in herself. The title of the book stems from an actual trauma in her life: she went to a bookstore one day, only to discover that the man she had just finished a long-term relationship with had written a “novel” that was really a nonfiction take on her and their time together. From there, she is off on a series of adventures, both high and mis-; whether it’s the insanity of the Los Angeles dating scene, the fear inspired by her bikini waxer, or lunatic “holistic” veterinarians, Winston has it covered, and in far more detail than you might have ever imagined. That’s one of the charms of this book- she never backs off the throttle, laying out her stories in brave fashion, never afraid of what might turn off or frighten a reader. Honesty, a quality lacking in L.A., is her expertise, and by the time you get through this book, you can do nothing but respect her for it.

It isn’t all humor, of course. She details the relationship and breakup with the novelist in painful detail, and uses it to dive into her earlier years and examine what has led her to so many of her emotional decisions. We also follow family health problems, as well as the sickness of her beloved cat Emmitt. But the common thread that ties every piece together is her voice- brash, bold, in command. You get the sense of a massive catharsis happening for Winston as she makes her way through this very unusual hero’s journey. It’s a trip worth taking alongside her.