AISLE SEAT 2.0.68: TEN FOR 2011

By Marc Mason

Even though it seems like it, I have not read every graphic novel released in the past year. So it would be foolish, not to mention arrogant, to put together a “ten best” list. What I can do, however, is give you a list of ten outstanding books and point you in their direction. With this list, I can at least guarantee you a reading experience that is more than worth your time and money. Oh, and I will, at least, name a “book of the year.” Again, this is all my opinion- and I am more than happy to argue with you!

DAYTRIPPER (DC/Vertigo) collects the award-winning miniseries under one cover. Writer/artist/wonder twin combo Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba had long been proving how amazing they are, but DAYTRIPPER represented a leap even further forward into greatness.

ANYA’S GHOST (First Second) by writer/artist Vera Brosgol was the most stunning rookie debut that I saw this year. By turns humorous and flat-out frightening, this was also the best book for teen girls that I read this year as well.

LITTLE NOTHINGS VOL. 4 (NBM) is another amazing installment in writer/artist Lewis Trondheim’s art blog. I consider Trondheim to be the great living comics creator in the world right now, and this book shows him at the height of his powers.

THOR BY WALT SIMONSON OMNIBUS (Marvel) is not only an outstanding book, but also a potential murder weapon. This 1200 page beast collects the defining run on the character by the character’s defining creator. Great stories, great art, don’t drop it on your foot.

LEVEL UP (First Second) by writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Thien Pham captures the angst of young adulthood perfectly, throws in an interesting conceit involving the nature of spirituality and death, and also tickles the funny bone a bit. Yang is a force to be reckoned with.

SIXTH GUN VOL. 1-2 (Oni Press) is the cream of the crop when it comes to Western horror right now. Exciting stories, great characters… writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt have sucked me into their world in a genre I tend to ignore. I read the first two trades back-to-back, not able to put them down.

RASL VOL. 3 (Cartoon Books) propels writer/artist Jeff Smith’s latest epic into the stratosphere. Sexy, action-packed, inventive… and he makes you think about what’s going on. The over-sized trade paperbacks allow the gorgeous art to breathe. One volume to go, and I can’t wait.

CHEW OMNIVORE EDITION 2 (Image Comics) won the Eisner for Best Continuing Series, and it isn’t hard to see why. Writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory are telling one of the most complex stories on the stands, and the book rewards you at every turn for paying attention. Funny, romantic, sick, and twisted. Brilliant.

ASTRONAUT ACADEMY (First Second) by writer/artist Dave Roman was the best all-ages book I read this year. Period. I have managed to give away both of my copies and need a new one. Great stories, great characters, great art, clever payoffs… there is nothing here to not love.

And… my book of the year:

HABIBI (Pantheon) by writer/artist Craig Thompson. It had been seven long years since Thompson had released new work, but it was worth the wait. Staggering in scope and ambition, this massive book (700 pages) delivers page after page of art that your eyes can get lost in. The love story at its core is warm, yet also horribly tragic, and while many will quibble with aspects of the tale focused on religion and culture (and I would agree with some of those quibbles) you cannot deny the sheer power that the book carries in its pages. Thompson carries you to someplace new and different, asking for your trust in his pen and ink, and if you give it to him, the rewards are grand.

Read my interview with Thompson here.

Looking over my list, I suppose I have a “publisher of the year” as well. First Second had another outstanding year- just another in a remarkable run as of late. I can’t remember the last time I read one of their books and felt “bleah” or “meh” about it. They don’t get a lot of play in the mainstream comics media, but that doesn’t matter- they just produce great books.


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Last review of the year. Let’s get to it…

THE LAST BATTLE (Image Comics) is a nice surprise; a nifty work of historical fiction set in the time of Julius Caesar, something I would normally have zero interest in reading. But artist Dan Brereton’s name in the credits meant that it had my attention, and I’m glad for that. He and writer Tito Faraci have created a compelling (and beautifully drawn) action story with compelling characters- a combination you just can’t beat. We follow retired General Rodius as Caesar sends him on one last mission- to kill his former protégé, a rebel named Cammius who threatens Rome’s standing and security. Thus we get a true emotional stake to go along with a liberal dose of hacking, slashing, and beheading. Throw in a nice, low price point of eight bucks, and this one is a winner across the board.

NBM delivers SALVATORE VOL.2 by artist Nicolas De Crecy, and it is every bit as fantastic as volume one, if not better. SALVATORE is one of the more unusual books to cross the pond in the last couple of years- told with anthropomorphic characters, Salvatore is a dog whose lady love has moved across the ocean, and he has worked as a mechanic in order to finish building a machine that he can both drive and sail to South America and be reunited with her. In the passenger seat is his assistant/pet human, and in a secondary plot we follow a pig who has lost one of her litter and begins a strange odyssey to try and find him again. Both plots get a lot of play in volume two, but it is Salvatore’s journey into temptation when he picks up a hitchhiking beauty that carries this book along. Rich in character and filled with one remarkably strange moment after another, this one is well worth your time.

Many years back, I read some really good minicomics by writer/artist Aneurin Wright that focused on his work as a caretaker for his terminally ill father. Now it is a great pleasure to see he has completed his journey with the story and collected it all in one massive volume. THINGS TO DO IN A RETIREMENT HOME TRAILER PARK (Myriad Editions) is a 300pg+ tome that tells the whole story of Wright’s move to his father’s side during a bout of unemployment, the progression of his father’s disease, the last sputtering gasps of their tortured relationship, and much more. This is one of the most involved and affecting portraits of how terminal illness affects both the afflicted and the survivors that I have ever seen, and Wright’s naked emotional honesty makes it work. Intriguingly, he draws both his father and himself as anthropomorphic characters, though every other important character is presented as standard human. This ultimately has the effect of showing just how Wright and his father presented masks to each other for their entire lives, and it’s only when Wright takes his off that he connects to everything happening to him. This is an outstanding book, and well worth the effort you might have to make to get it (it doesn’t have a U.S. publisher yet, only a U.K. edition).


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Trying to get through the pile before the end of the year. Here are a couple of good ones…

SAME DIFFERENCE by writer/artist Derek Kirk Kim gets the hardcover treatment from First Second, and it remains as excellent and vital a work as it was when it was first published. Kim’s inaugural comics project won him an Eisner, a Harvey and and Ignatz, and it’s easy to see why- the characters of Simon Moore and Nancy Kim are as real, flawed, and fascinating as you’ll ever find in a graphic novel. At turns humorous, witty, and cringe-inducing, SAME DIFFERENCE is a should-own for anyone who appreciates graphic novels that tell us a story about real people that also tells us a story about ourselves. Kim’s art and script are fantastic, and as the years have passed, he has more than backed up this book by producing other amazing work. The production work by the First Second folks here is wonderful- the dust jacket on the book is one of the best ones of recent years. Highly recommended.

GRAPHIC CLASSICS VOL. 22: AFRICAN-AMERICAN CLASSICS is a stunner of a project as well. I’ve been enjoying the Graphic Classics books- they’re a few steps above the old Classics Illustrated stuff, and publisher Tom Pomplun is one of those rare guys in the game who has his eyes more focused on bookstores and libraries than comics shops. He knows where his books play, market-wise. Here’s the good news on this one: I think this is the best one of the series to date. Why? Let me put it to you this way: if I told you that one single book had new material from Trevor Von Eeden, Kyle Baker, Christopher Priest (! – and I can’t tell you how excited I was to see his name in the credits), Afua Richardson, Lance Tooks, Stan Shaw, Alex Simmons, Jeremy Love and Shepherd Hendrix, you’d want it immediately, right? Add in stories from some of the finest American writers in history like Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and W.E.B. Du Bois, and you don’t really need me to give you another reason to buy it.


JESS KNOWS BEST 21: Farscape: The Complete Series [Blu-ray]

by Jess Blackshear

Farscape is an Australian-American sci-fi tv series that follows a group of characters on the run from a corrupt band of authorities known as the “Peacekeepers.” In the first episode, modern-day astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) accidently flies into a wormhole near earth and is flung into the middle of a space battle. Along with a stranded Peacekeeper, Crichton is rescued by the fleeing prisoners, and ends up aboard their living ship Moya. Two regular characters, Rygel and Pilot, are animatronic puppets courtesy of the Jim Henson Company (think alien creatures, not muppets).

Farscape was a series before its time, and helped set the tone for a lot of modern sci-fi series’ with its blend of action, humor, smoldering sexuality, and more action.

Further to the point, here’s a list of award wins and nominations.

Have I piqued your interest yet?

Okay, on to my review!

Packaging: My first impression upon opening the 20-Disc box set was that there were no paper inserts in any of the four season cases…so it was a no-frills packaging job. However, I quickly realized that each season has a TON of extras, so the effort instead went into the content. I can live without glossy paper inserts.

Video: While I’m a bit disappointed that the video does not offer what I’ve come to know as “the Blu-ray experience,” the show does look as good as it ever has. After getting through the first 3 seasons in upgraded SD PAL, season 4 is simply a visual dessert by comparison. It was the only season filmed in anamorphic widescreen.

Audio: I have no complaints about the audio quality for the show (5.1 DTS-HD), but I do recommend that you keep your audio remote nearby when you first insert a disc or while switching between the show and extra features; the initial A&E logo page is super loud, while many of the interviews and extras are extremely quiet.

Extras: There are over 15 hours of bonus features across the 20 discs. As a Henson/Muppet fan, I was especially happy to see “In the Beginning: A Look Back with Brian Henson” (Season 1 disc). Also of note are the rarely seen behind-the-scenes special “Farscape Undressed” (S2), Blooper Reel (S2), Behind the Scenes Interviews with Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Anthony Simcoe, Gigi Edgley, Wayne Pygram, Rebecca Riggs, and Paul Goddard (S3), 31 audio commentaries among the 88 episodes, and David Kemper’s emotional wrap speech from the final day of filming. I dare you to take one look at Claudia Black’s tear-stained face and not burst into tears.

While many of these extra features were released with the 2009 DVD set, the Blu-ray set does feature a brand new documentary featuring the cast and crew. “Memories of Moya: An Epic Journey Explored,” was also filmed in HD.

Sadly, the set does not include “The Peacekeeper Wars” (the two-part series wrap-up from 2004) since Lionsgate still retains the rights to the series, but you can pick up the standard version on DVD for about $12. Alternately, if you have a multi-region or region free Blu-ray player, a Euro version was released in Germany in June 2011.

Buy or borrow? Buy! Ultimately, if you already own the DVDs, I’m guessing you’re a big enough fan of the Farscape series that buying the Blu-ray set is a foregone conclusion. While it doesn’t offer a lot of new content or the true Blu-ray feel, my personal feeling is that this is the best the series has ever looked. If you’re a devoted Scaper, or an interested newbie with an extra $100 laying around, you should definitely add this to your collection.

Get it 51% off at Amazon right now!


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Looking at some recent new stuff from DE…

I was never a viewer or fan of the television series, so I came to DARK SHADOWS #1 with a clean slate. SHADOWS is the story of the Collins family, the patriarch being Barnabas, and their lives on the coast of Maine. However, they’re hardly a normal family, starting with the fact that Barnabas is a 200-year old vampire. Writer Stuart Manning and artist Aaron Campbell do a fine job of introducing the characters, giving us a strong sense of the setting, and getting the overall plot underway- the show was considered a soap opera, and the comic maintains that feeling of heightened drama. What stands out most here is the art- this is a pretty book. Moody, atmospheric, and with strong storytelling. I suspect that longtime fans of the property will love it, and those that like their vampire tales will likely enjoy it as well. A solid comic, albeit not in a genre that really grabs me.

I’ve lost my way with the KIRBY: GENESIS book, as the sheer number of characters and plots has gotten a bit difficult to follow. So I was somewhat dubious about the potential for branching out into more books. I shouldn’t have worried- this was actually the perfect way to go with the King’s characters. Freed of the main book’s concerns, we get a couple of very good, easy to understand comics.

CAPTAIN VICTORY #1 from writer Sterling Gates and artist Wagner Reis is an excellent example for how to introduce a character. We meet a resurrected Victory, learn his origins, see him in action, and dive into what makes him tick as a character, even though it isn’t necessarily pretty. There’s plenty of excitement to keep the pace moving, strong and attractive art… I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. I’ll be keeping my eye on this one. SILVER STAR #1 is no slouch, either. Writer Jai Nitz and artist Johnny Desjardins deliver a tale that gives you a nice lengthy background on the character without ever feeling like forced exposition, and that’s no mean feat. They also put a new status quo into place that promises something different for the Kirby creation. Wisely, they add an “entry” character who takes us into this world and gives us someone we can get behind while catching up in understanding everything else. Definitely a winning effort.


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Lots of new stuff crossing my desk these days. Let’s take a look at some of the new books from the folks in NorCal…

BOMB QUEEN VOL.7 #1 returns Jimmie Robinson’s supervillain in a new and interesting way. The series moves forward to 2112, after Bomb Queen basically destroyed the world back in volume six, and introduces a new version of Jim Valentino’s Shadowhawk. Now the Hawk is plural- squads of soldiers acting as peacekeeping, spine-breaking good guys. During a mission to a forbidden zone, they find themselves cornered by a cult of librarians (yay!) who want to return the world to normal… and Bomb Queen to life. Needless to say, they’re going to succeed, but the fun is in how the story gets there. I’ve loved the series since it began, but it had started to feel a little stale by the last volume. This brings much needed energy and excitement into the mix. Looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

’68: HARDSHIP by writer Mark Kidwell and artist Jeff Zornow is a nasty little one-shot away from the core Vietnam story, bringing zombies into the American heartland. A soldier sent home to Nebraska because of PTSD finds himself surrounded by humans and walking dead alike, but he can only see the Viet Cong in his delusional state. No one is safe in this tale- no one. As bleak as the main series can be, this takes it a step further, though it has an empathetic heart that takes some of the edge off of the proceedings. You do feel a swell of pity for Teddy, his brother, and his girlfriend- and that keeps you invested. But ultimately you know nothing good is going to come of what happens here. Good script, disturbing art- solid read. I’m liking 68 more than I’m enjoying any other zombie book on the market right now.

I both liked and was annoyed by MUDMAN #1 by writer/artist Paul Grist. A young man named Owen Craig enters an abandoned house and through unexplained circumstances, he emerges with the power to turn his entire body into mud. It isn’t exactly a sexy superpower, but Grist carries it off with charm and wit- much as he always does. Owen has a solid supporting cast in his friends and family, a well-thought out environment for his stories to take place in- one thing you can count on with Grist is that he knows precisely how to structure a story for maximum reach to new readers. That said, his track record is spotty. Where did JACK STAFF and BURGLER BILL go? (Or KANE, for that matter?) As much as I love the creator’s work, I’m reluctant to get over-invested, not knowing how long it will last or if it will finish.


Written by David Lapham and Drawn by Mike Huddleston
Published by Dark Horse

Reviewed by Marc Mason

When Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s THE STRAIN novel was first released back in 2009, there was quite a stir amongst the geek set. Del Toro has long been a favored son thanks to his direction of such films as BLADE 2, MIMIC and PAN’S LABYRINTH among others. However, unlike many Hollywood forays into other media, this one was solid. Critical reaction was strong and sales were good. Now that book (which is the first in a trilogy) makes its way to comics, adapted by writer David Lapham. The results are creepy and effective.

The story gets underway with a nifty bit of “ghost story” action, as an older woman tells her grandson a tale that is basically the genesis for modern vampires- the life of a man named Sardu whose tragic existence is only compounded by his turn to bloodlust. From there we move into the here and now, meeting Dr. Ephraim Goodweather as he tries to have a fun custodial weekend with his son. Unfortunately, his superiors at the CDC call and ruin his good time- a flight has landed at JFK and then gone dark. Everyone inside appears to be dead. Ephraim must investigate the cause, determine if terrorists were involved, etc, etc, etc. What he doesn’t know yet is that he faces something far worse than fanatics with a cause- the supernatural is now in New York and ready to spread itself into the human population for good.

Lapham does a nice job of adapting and pacing the story here, engaging the reader, giving the information we need, and setting a properly disturbing mood. Huddleston’s art does the rest- his work is dark and moody, yet he also puts some warmth into the pages with Ephraim and his son. The apocalypse is never meant to be attractive- and it isn’t here- but Huddleston doesn’t push past the reader’s boundaries, either. This is a well-written, nicely drawn book. I’ll read more.