CHEW 30

CHEW #30
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics


Reviewed by Avril Brown

Ladies and gentlemen, CHEW has gone dark, and not in the nifty, glow-in-the-dark variant cover way, either. I almost don’t know what to make of this issue, and I’m practically at a loss for words. Never before has CHEW rendered me this stunned…not to mention teary.

From beginning to end, this issue, more than most, is a page-turner. From the wrap-around cover (request it if you can, collectors; this cover simply cannot be missed) to the flashback at the conclusion, CHEW #30 will cut an indelible mark upon every fan’s mind.

Barring spoilers, all one can say is in a scarce thirty issues Layman has written amazingly strong and diverse characters which boast more depth and conviction than other books take years to produce. Guillory in his indisputable talent gave them structure and faces fans will never forget. Together, they have birthed one of the most original, hilarious, touching and outright fantastic comic books ever created, and I for one will eagerly follow this series until its inevitable end.

NEW PROSE BOOKS

NEW BOOKS
Written by Various
Published by Various


Reviewed by Marc Mason

A few prose books from the major publishers have come through the inbox recently. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?

I’ve long been aware of Alexander McCall Smith’s work, but this was my first encounter with his Isabel Dalhousie series of novels. THE UNCOMMON APPEAL OF CLOUDS (Pantheon) is the ninth to feature the character, and that made me a bit nervous going into the book. However, to my surprise, McCall Smith does a fantastic job of introducing the character for new readers, setting up her life, her supporting cast, and her job in gentle, clear fashion. A philosopher by trade, she dabbles in being an amateur sleuth. In CLOUDS she is approached to help recover a stolen painting, mixing herself into the odd family dynamic of the victim. She also must deal with a number of small personal issues, as well. The prose here is absolutely lovely; McCall Smith has a gift for description that activates the senses and keeps them occupied. But the book is also rather light on actual story or plot. Nothing quite gets resolved as much as you would like it to. Perhaps that’s a nod to the open-endedness of Isabel’s chosen profession of philosopher, and if so that’s clever. That doesn’t make the ending any better or more satisfying, though.

Victoria Roberts is best known for her cartoons, as her work has been appearing in THE NEW YORKER for over twenty years. However, she branches out a bit with the illustrated novel AFTER THE FALL (W.W. Norton). The story is one of whimsy and wit; a family loses its entire fortune overnight, the next morning suddenly finding itself out of its penthouse and instead living scattered throughout Central Park, their belongings and their bodies relocated there overnight. Roberts embraces the absurdity of the instantaneous change in their lives and makes the most of it, weaving in multiple plotlines, crazier characters, and enough strange moments to launch a couple more books along the way. She executes the book in exquisite fashion, her illustrations and her words working together brilliantly, creating a crazy world that the reader can believe in and immediately develop an interest in. There never quite seems to be a point to it all, but suddenly, at the very end, Roberts hits you with the truth of her story and it sinks right down to your heart.

I still don’t quite know what to make of Mark Danielewski’s THE FIFTY YEAR SWORD (Pantheon). A story told by five different speakers, the book executes an unusual form of visual poetry. The plot deals with a mysterious storyteller who explains that he has a “fifty year sword” – a sword whose damage is not apparent until the 50th year of life of the person who has been cut by it. It won’t spoil things to say that the sword gets used and there are unfortunate results. But the tale is almost secondary, really; the star here is the presentation. The illustrations have actually been stitched, not drawn or painted. The tellers are set apart by the quotation marks that have been stitched in various colors. Their lines are intermingled with one another in a way that would do e.e. cummings proud. One of the struggles I had with the book was that the bells and whistles do tend to overwhelm the actual story at its core. It is an impressively ambitious work, no question about it. I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have had it given the reader more opportunity to put focus into it.



GARTH AND GOODBYE

GARTH AND GOODBYE
Written by Garth Ennis and Drawn by Darick Robertson and Carlos Ezquerra
Published by Dynamite Entertainment


Reviewed by Marc Mason

The ending is the hardest part.

When you have asked people to invest in years’ worth of storytelling, there is an inherent promise that you will provide an ending that satisfies and works within the context of tale. Garth Ennis has shown himself to have a gift for doing so: HITMAN had the only ending that it could, and PREACHER had one that worked in precision with who the characters were. Even on a small scale, the “Dear Billy” portion of the first BATTLEFIELDS volume had one of the most emotionally devastating endings to a comic I’ve ever read. And now, Garth is closing out two more stories.

THE BOYS 72 brings the long-running book to a close, and does so with the return of co-creator Darick Robertson on the art chores. The previous few issues have seen the wholesale slaughter of the cast, which was inevitable, really. Ennis has meant this to be his final words on superheroes, and if the cover showing all of the “supes” in the Boys’ world flying into toilet didn’t clue you in to his conclusion, then you’ve been missing the point all along. In this final installment, we catch up with Hughie as he deals with the aftermath of Butcher’s brutal last days. I went into this one expecting the worst; but Ennis threw me a curve and pointed out what I had been missing all along: Hughie never stopped truly being Hughie, even when things got dark for him. So instead, we get perhaps the single most subversive ending to a story that Garth Ennis has ever produced: a happy ending. THE BOYS was never going to be a series for wide consumption, but if you made it this far, it turned out to be wonderfully rewarding.

The third and final BATTLEFIELDS volume is now underway, and the first story marks the return of the “Tankies.” We get a nifty historical essay from Ennis, then move forward to the Korean War and pick up once again with Sgt. Stiles. The crafty tank commander is now older, wiser, and mellower. He also has a bit more heart, which we learn when a new soldier assigned to his tank turns out to be related to a former member of his crew who was horrifically wounded under Stiles’ watch. It’s interesting to see how subtly Ennis shifts Stiles as a character; in the first Tankies series, his accent was so thick that you couldn’t understand his dialogue. But last series it was a little better, and now Stiles is almost completely understandable. The idea here is that the old soldier has learned to adapt and shift himself in an effort to make himself better at what he does. It will be intriguing to see how Ennis closes Stiles’ story out; he isn’t necessarily a tragic figure, but he does feel like there are things in his career he needs to redeem. Will he survive? Does he deserve to? I have every confidence that Ennis will provide the appropriate answers to those questions.


NOVEL SEQUELS

NOVEL SEQUELS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Del Rey


Reviewed by Marc Mason

One of the growing trends in graphic novels has been taking successful novels and moving their characters and settings into the sequential art realm for prequels, sequels, and in-betweens. Two series that have done so, Kim Harrison’s “Hollows” and Scott Westerfield’s “Uglies” both producing comics versions in the past year. Now both of those graphic novels have sequels on the shelves.

Harrison offers up BLOOD CRIME, which comes on the heels of BLOOD WORK. She is once again aided by artist Gemma Magno, who did part of the first book. This time around, vampire cop Ivy Tamwood and her witch partner Rachel Morgan find themselves both targets and pawns in a power struggle between warring factions in the supernaturally overwhelmed Cincinnati. At the same time, Ivy continues to struggle with her attraction to Rachel and her desire to bite her, drain her, and turn her into a thrall. One of the things that sets this series apart is that these two partners don’t just have issues over who is showing bad hygiene on a stakeout; it’s all about the barely contained sexual tension. The plot itself is sort of secondary; BLOOD CRIME is far more concerned with the underlying issues between the characters. In that, the book succeeds. Magno’s art is okay, but there are a couple of places where the storytelling gets weak, including a moment when Ivy dodges something, but we don’t see what it was, or why it was dangerous until panels later. As I mentioned with the first volume, this stuff isn’t high art, but it’s a passable diversion, and above average for this genre.

Veteran comics scribe Devin Grayson returns to work with Westerfield on UGLIES: CUTTERS, picking up where UGLIES: SHAY’S STORY left off. Artist Steven Cummings also rejoins the mix. After the events of the previous book, rebellion has failed, and everyone in the cast has been turned into a Pretty. This includes some issues with memory lapses, as the ruling class doesn’t quite want the kids to remember their attempts to fight the system. But when Shay bumps into members of her old gang, those memory blocks start to fail, and the entire group once again tries to find itself and to find a new way to rebel against what they perceive as a corrupt society. No matter what has been done to her face and body, something about a life of parties and high fashion, with these kids, it just doesn’t fly. At its heart, CUTTERS is a pretty standard teen romance, but the trappings that the creative team gives it are slick and interesting. In particular, Cummings’ work has a dynamic look to it that infuses the story with energy and excitement, even in the quieter moments. The target audience for this work will devour it with gusto.





NEW IMAGES

NEW IMAGES
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Buncha new books out of the Image folks. Let’s take a look at some of them…

Writer Todd Dezago and artist Craig Rousseau are back with a new PERHAPANAUTS series (subtitled “Danger Down Under”), which is always a good thing. Their mixture of the paranormal, action, and humor has always hit the sweet spot, and this new series looks to be no different. First, they start off with a brilliant recap of the entire series to date, done not in text but as a scene in the comic, allowing new readers to jump right in. Then they get down to the action and intrigue, introducing new characters and a new quest. Everyone gets a proper look, the story is fun, the dialogue is entertaining, and the pacing is brisk. Plus they throw in a backup story (drawn by Lauren Gramprey) that means you get thirty full pages of art and story for the low price of $3.50. Good stuff.

One of my favorite Image books of the last year, WHO IS JAKE ELLIS?, gets a sequel in WHERE IS JAKE ELLIS?. Writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Tonci Zonjic are back on the action/espionage beat here, and the book feels like it was never gone. Jon Moore and Jake Ellis have gone separate paths since the end of the first series, but the bad guys aren’t content with letting them live out their remaining days in peace. So when gunmen come for both gents, sending them on the run, we find ourselves right back in the middle of the shit, and it is seriously fun to read. Edmondson has reached near-master level when it comes to writing this sort of thing (this includes THE ACTIVITY), and Zonjic’s storytelling gives the book fantastic pacing to go with a sweet overall look. The conceit of Ellis being in Jon’s head looks like it’s being turned on its head a bit this time around, adding an extra layer of intrigue to the story. Recommended.

There isn’t a lot of serious sci-fi in comics these days, but Image is certainly doing its best to reverse that trend. First came PROPHET; now we get STORM DOGS from writer David Hine and artist Doug Braithwaite. We open on the planet Amaranth, and in short order, we learn a number of things: it is technologically primitive and likes it that way, it is prone to incredibly deadly storms that include acidic rain, there are some killer giant monsters living out in the hinterlands, and there might just be a murderer running around. Mix these elements together and you have a knockout of a book. Fascinating setting, interesting characters, a complex plot that goes far beyond the stuff I already mentioned, and a cliffhanger that feels earned instead of cheap: this is what you want from A-level creators when they step out and do something different. Everything here simply works: Hine’s script is fantastic, and Braithwaite’s art has never looked better. This is captivating, and this is pretty to look at it. Can’t wait for more.

I’ve tended to run hot and cold on both Nick Spencer’s work and Riley Rossmo’s work, but BEDLAM surprised me with how much I got sucked into it. Bedlam is the name of the city where the book takes place, and it is a city with a bit of a supervillain problem. Madder Red is the gent’s name, and he likes killing people in mass quantities, including small children. But even when the local superhero shows up to put him away, Red finds a way to keep murdering, setting this book’s story into motion. There are a number of plot threads here, and the intriguing suggestion that perhaps Madder Red is a disease more than a man certainly perks up the reader’s ears. Spencer keeps the dialogue straightforward, and Rossmo’s work here is stronger than it has ever been, continuing the trend we saw in DEBRIS. The book also gives mega-value for your buck, offering up 48 pages with no ads, and for only $3.50. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

The idea behind COMEBACK is an interesting one, following neatly in the footsteps of the film LOOPER, which came out earlier this autumn. Here, time travel has been invented, but you can only travel back 67 days. That’s just enough for a clandestine organization to pop up and offer its clients an intriguing option: pay enough and they will go back in time to save someone’s life. Someone you love falls out a window? They’ll go back and stop it. Your spouse dies in a car wreck? They’ll swap out their body for a different one and bring them forward. With the right amount of money, the possibilities are staggering. Ed Brisson’s story is strong, though his characters feel a little too much like stock and don’t differentiate themselves as much as you’d like to see. Artist Michael Walsh’s work is solid, and it does a nice job of setting mood. I wasn’t blown away by this one, but it has a lot of potential. I’m reserving full judgment until I see more.

I’m not quite sure what to make of CLONE, by writer David Schulner and artist Juan Jose Ryp. The story centers around a scientist named Luke Taylor who is coming to grips with his impending fatherhood. His dreams are filled with images of him being murdered over and over, which isn’t helping. But it turns out that his dreams might be more than that when he walks downstairs one morning to find another version of himself bleeding to death on the kitchen floor. Hilarity does not ensue. Instead, other versions of Luke show up, and they aren’t all as kind and gentle as him, especially the one that shot the version who is bleeding on the floor. CLONE provides some interesting action, and it does alright by its damsel-in-distress plotline, but the story isn’t quite clicking on all cylinders yet. Luckily, it has the always lovely Ryp on art, and the book looks fantastic. Ryp’s storytelling has improved a lot since his early work, and he does a good job of moving the tale along smoothly here. Again, this one needs some time to percolate, and I’ll keep an eye on it to see how it plays out.










LE DONNE

LE DONNE
Illustrated by Liberatore
Published by NBM/Eurotica


Reviewed by Marc Mason

What is eroticism?

Is it a look? An attitude? Is it an aspect of someone’s physicality? These are questions that each of us has a different answer to, and they certainly provoke interesting conversation. Perhaps the very idea of being provoked is something that you find erotic. If so, then Liberatore’s work would certainly be to your taste.

LE DONNE is an intriguing – and provocative – collection of Liberatore’s work. Here we see his portraits of feminine sexuality in all of their power. Their strength. Their mystery. They are thin women, curvy women, women of all colors and backgrounds; they are relaxed, they are violent, they are in the throes of passion, and they feel nothing at all. They are nude, they are naked, they are clothed in things meant to make us uncomfortable. Liberatore thrusts his women at the reader and dares them to look closely and see them for all that they are, something people are generally terrified to do in regular life. We mask ourselves as we pass through the world, mask ourselves as we fear our identities and bodies, but Liberatore is only interested in tearing the masks away.

It is revelatory to see what lurks behind those masks. His paints, his pencils, they dare us to keep our eyes open. If we do, then we can see the questions that Liberatore is putting in front of us, primarily: what, within these pages, do you find to be erotic?

I can answer only for myself.

ROGUE ELEMENT 105

Rogue Element #105: The Vagina Vote

By Avril Brown

Four years ago I wrote a column expressing my excitement over the 2008 Obama/Biden vs. McCain/Palin election. Although I was a little frightened that somehow the Republicans would once again find themselves in the White House, putting Sarah Palin one heart attack away from one of the most powerful positions on the planet, the Obama platform was strong and speaking a language people at the time were listening to. His promise of change breathed new life into a stagnant, frustrated country, and while those of us who voted for Barack Obama celebrated when he won the office, many of us were not surprised.

My declaration from four years ago still stands: I abhor politics. When I say I am a Democrat and an Obama supporter, I am not stating I agree with everything the party, or the man, does. What I care about, what I am passionate about, is basic human rights, and I support the people and the party that show they feel the same way, which is precisely why I feel it is more important than ever to vote, especially for women.

Almost two years ago Rahm Emanuel was running for Mayor of Chicago. I was not feeling particularly enthusiastic about this election and had almost given up on voting, until the end of the day, with the clock winding down, I just knew without a doubt I needed to vote. I ran from the train station (that alone should suggest how important this was to me; I typically avoid running unless someone is chasing me with a chainsaw) and arrived at my polling place with minutes to spare. Slightly sweaty and out of breath I was directed to a woman’s table to be assigned my voting card, and what she said to me that day will forever be a part of my soul.

She commended my exhaustive efforts to vote, praising me for exercising my right to help choose our elected leaders. “So many young women forget we had to fight for the right to vote,” she said. “It’s only been several decades since women were protesting in the streets, facing jail time and physical abuse, so that women in future would have this right that was denied to them. Women fought for, and died for, a right too many people take for granted nowadays.”

I felt something awaken inside of me as I thanked this woman and expressed my wholehearted agreements with her statements, and her fervor. I took my voter’s card with a renewed sense of purpose and duty, not only to my city, but to my gender. I voted that night for myself, for Chicago, and for the women who bled so I could choose.

‘Mary Poppins’ was one of my favorite movies growing up, though I remember being rather confused at what Mrs. Banks what so excited about. Vote for women? Vote for women to do what? With time, education and perspective came appreciation for that marvelous scene, and for all the Sister Suffragettes who were clapped in irons so they could be heard, and we could vote.

I am a bisexual woman who believes in equal marriage rights and pro-choice, and I am utilizing my right to choose; a right I hold dearly and pray will never be limited ever again. Which, in turn, is one of the main reasons why I am voting in this election.

The last time I wrote about an election, I spoke of how voting is akin to a super-power: it grants your everyday citizen a chance to participate in one of the most important decisions the country has to make. For women, we battled for this power, this right, that many were born with. We are not the only group to have waged this war and won, and it is important for all of us to remember the lives lost and sacrifices made, so every (non-felon) human being, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., can continue to make choices about our lives and country.

So I say: well done, Sister Suffragettes. Whom I vote for is my choice, as it is everyone else’s, which is the crux of what you were fighting for, but the reason why I am voting is because of you. So cast off the shackles of yesterday, and march shoulder to shoulder into the fray. Know that your daughter’s daughters do adore you, and we continue to sing in grateful chorus by honoring your fight every time we walk into a voting booth. Well done, indeed.