NEW FIRST SECOND

NEW FIRST SECOND
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by First Second


Reviewed by Marc Mason

‘Tis the season for high-profile and award quality books, so of course the gang at First Second is in the mix…

If back in January you were going to list the most anticipated books of the year, no question, BATTLING BOY would have been near the top of that list. BATTLING BOY marks the return of superstar writer/artist Paul Pope to shelves. It’s been a number of years since Pope delivered a book-length piece of work, and as you might guess, he does not disappoint. BATTLING BOY tells the story of a young demigod sent to earth to earn his stripes after the planet’s main protector, a man named Haggard West, is killed. His powers are rather unique; he arrives with a stack of t-shirts from which he draws skills and strength. For instance, when he puts on the Tyrannosaurus shirt, he gains that creature’s power and drive. This will all come in handy as he attempts to put an end to a wave of monsters that are trashing the city and stealing away with the local children. To tell you more would spoil the goodies that exist within. What I can tell you is that BATTLING BOY is vintage Pope; the art is visually stunning, each page bursting with energy and imagination. The plot and pacing are clever and move at a blistering pace, Pope engaging the reader at every possible moment and carrying them along with his fun. And that’s ultimately what BATTLING BOY is: an artist at his creative peak having all kinds of fun doing what he does best. What else could you want?

Speaking of huge talents delivering work after a lengthy period of time, writer/artist Gene Luen Yang has been working on the 2-graphic novel set BOXERS & SAINTS since 2006 (since he delivered the astonishing AMERICAN BORN CHINESE), and it is every bit as ambitious as you might guess. It is also a remarkable piece of storytelling. BOXERS tells the tale of Little Bao, a young man who sees China in peril; foreign mercenaries and missionaries are roaming the countryside, harming locals in their way. As they do, they attempt to convert the locals to Christianity, inciting what history calls the Boxer Rebellion, which Little Bao finds himself at the forefront of. Bao grows into the role, and as he does, he learns what most do: what he is doing is far more involved than he could have ever realized. War becomes especially tricky when those you are trying to fight for are instead gaining a new religion and lining up on the other side. At the same time, in SAINTS, a young girl who was never even given a proper name by her family finally acquires one when she makes friends with the foreigners and adopts their religion, becoming Vibiana. She, too, is drawn into the conflict, leaving her confused and torn between her country and those who have proven to actually care about her. The two volumes combine to create a truly epic tale, one where seeing both sides of the story adds a level of depth and complexity that few books have the courage to attempt. Yang’s work is powerful in every possible way, and he manages to both entertain and enlighten. This will likely walk away with a ton of awards next year, and deservedly so.

Yet as great as these books are, I think the most fun I’ve had reading a graphic novel lately came as I powered through THE CUTE GIRL NETWORK. Written by Greg Means and M.K. Reed and drawn by Joe Flood, the book has a charmingly simple premise: Jane, new to town, meets a slightly goofy guy named jack and starts to fall for him. However, the local friends she has made are appalled and fire up “The Network,” a sisterhood that covers each other’s backs by telling each other about bad dates and bad boyfriends… and Jack’s history with some of the girls in the network isn’t pretty. Torn between her growing attraction to Jack and the pressure coming at her from the girls, Jane must decide what she wants and who she trusts. Humor and angst follow. So much about this book just works; Jane and Jack feel like people you know, the dialogue is rich, the art is lively and detailed, and there are a number of quiet themes and lessons that the story lays out for the reader that make the experience feel richer. Indeed, if any one idea is prevalent here, it is that there are always two sides to a story (as Gene Yang reminds as above, as well) and it is important to consider them before making decisions that can harm people. It sneaks up on you, but this book is really, really good.

There you go: three (four, really) terrific graphic novels, each one an excellent candidate for a holiday gift, especially if you are considering introducing a non-comics reader to something within the medium.






NEW IMAGES

NEW IMAGES
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Some nifty new stuff on the creator-owned front…

It doesn’t get much more high profile than re-uniting writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting, so I’d imagine there was some pressure there to come through in a big way. Guess what? They do. VELVET #1 is an absolutely exhilarating comic from start to finish, and immediately becomes a must-read. The setup is simple: Velvet Templeton serves as top aide to a man running a spy organization resembling MI-6. An agent is killed, a manhunt is set in motion, and Velvet? Well Velvet is a lot more than she seems to be. (Much as Moneypenny turned out to be in SKYFALL.) The script is smart and fast-paced and the art is gorgeous, dripping with atmosphere. We’re given enough information to allow the story context, yet thrust into a deeper narrative that promises to be robust and interesting. Everything you want from a first issue. Looking forward to reading more.

There are a lot of elements colliding in PRETTY DEADLY #1 from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Rios. It’s a western, a mystery, and a horror story all wrapped into one, and it weaves its web quite carefully. A (seemingly) blind man and a young girl travel from town to town, telling a story of how Death itself came to fall in love – as well as work a bit of the grift. A man on the run from a killer named Alice loses something precious. And Death’s daughter herself rides like the wind to a destination unknown. Again, it’s all pretty twisty. But in this case, I didn’t mind so many open threads. What appears on the page does a solid job of whetting the appetite, and when I was done reading, I wanted to see where it was all heading. The characters had me completely interested. Also making that easier was the art by Rios; I’ve seen some nonsense about her style being too loose or scratchy, and frankly, that’s pure crap. Rios’ style is part of the same school of work that Paul Pope produces, and you don’t hear that about him. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

No question, ALEX + ADA #1 has the most disturbingly funny premise of any comic I’ve seen this year. To wit: what if you found out your grandma was using a sex robot? And what if, for your birthday, she bought you one, too? Yet, for a concept that might induce both the heebees and the jeebees, there’s an underlying melancholy tone and charm to this book that takes the edge off of the core concept. Alex is not a dirty, creepy guy; instead, he’s a quiet, decent kid who is still nursing a broken heart from his last relationship. The people in his life care about him and recognize his personal worth. He’s okay. But his grandmother wants more for him, and the direction of his relationship with the bot is still to be determined. The story by writers Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna settles you gently into the sci-fi surroundings and works to establish the character even more, and Luna’s art continues to grow with every comic he draws – this is a lovely book. So despite its strange premise, this one is worth your time.






OMNIUM GATHERUM 75

Omnium Gatherum #75: Milestones And Celebrations


By Vince Moore

Howdy, folks, and welcome once again to the Omnium Gatherum.

It has been a long, long time since I last wrote one of these columns. I hope y’all are doing well out there.

By the number above it looks like I have written 75 of these things. (Actually, since there was a 67-A, this would officially be the 76th column, but what’s a number between friends?)

75 columns, that’s a cause for a celebration, I reckon.

Back in the old days of the 20th Century, when comics, especially superhero comics, reached certain milestones, usually measured in 25 issue blocks, it was a time of great celebration. Nowadays, not so much.

But I’m old and old fashioned.

So on with the celebration!

What should I do to celebrate?

Those old comics would do a double or triple sized issue when they celebrated. But my columns are usually double sized anyway. So instead of my usual lengthy blather and babble, I thought I would do something cool yet simple.

I’m a big fan of Inside The Actor’s Studio. I love learning about different folks’ approach to the process of telling stories. And I have always found acting fascinating as well. I have even acted in one low budget movie along my journey.

My favorite part of ITAS is the questionnaire at the end of the formal interview. The Pivot Questionnaire. Since I am not likely to be invited to that show and I have just enough hubris to think y’all would be interested in my answers, I will tackle it here.

Imagine James Lipton asking me these questions:

What is your favorite word?

Elegance.

What is your least favorite word?

No.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

All kinds of things. The Beatles. Pink Floyd. Zatoichi movies and samurai films in general. Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke books. John Coltrane and Duke Ellington. Traffic and airplane noise.

What turns you off?

Silence.

What is your favorite curse word?

I have to go with the big favorite here: fuck. It is just so flexible. Noun, verb, adjective.

What sound or noise do you love?

Jazz or city sounds (traffic, airplanes, et cetera).

What sound or noise do you hate?

Again, silence.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Politician, oddly enough.

What profession would you not like to do?

Preacher.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Something like this, “Oh, hi, it’s you. You must be lost. Well, Nirvana and the other Buddha Lands are down the road a piece. You can’t miss ‘em. I hope you enjoy your respite there before you go back to Samsara. Thanks for dropping in unexpectedly. By the way, I loved your work.”

If you folks want to answer these questions for yourself, you can find them here.

Wow, 75 columns over 6 years. That is the longest I’ve done anything, I think. Maybe I should do more and not stay gone for so long, huh?

Until next time, folks.

Namaste, y’all!