Archive for graphic novel

Wednesday Comics #4

Posted in Comics, DC, Wednesday Comics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 7th August, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Risky and rewarding.

Risky and rewarding.

Four weeks of Wednesday Comics and it’s panning out as expected: the strong stories are still performing strongly and the others, well – not so strongly.

John Arcudi’s Superman – while beautifully painted by Lee Bermejo – is still, quite frankly, a whiny bitch; Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho an absolute head-scratcher; Eddie Berganza’s Teen Titans just screams ordinary; while Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman remains a cramped, unfocused mess (I didn’t even know something could be those three things at once until I read it).

It’s interesting to see who really thrives in this weekly one-page format and who doesn’t – I’m honestly surprised at how unimpressed I’ve been with Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho, and yet at the same time I wonder just how much brilliance I’d expect from one page of Sandman.  But this isn’t a 22-page comic, nor is it a graphic novel, and I think the writers and artists that understand that are the ones that deliver.  The Kuberts’ Sgt. Rock is dragging its heels like nothing else (so far he’s managed to get himself tortured), and Kurt Busiek’s Green Lantern isn’t much better (so far, Hal Jordan flew into a bar, flew out of a bar, and had a flashback – ZOMG!).  Just get to the good bits already! You can’t pace this like a 22-page comic, exploding it out page by page in a weekly format – you’ve only got twelve weeks to tell your story, and one page to impress me.  Given his experience with the weekly format, you’d think Busiek of all people would have it down.

The ones that do have it down are Gibbons (Kamandi), Pope (Strange Adventures), and Kerschl (The Flash/Iris West).  Come to think of it, all three of them feature villainous, super-intelligent, talking apes.  Kamandi is an open, sprawling adventure in a dystopian future.  Gibbons, an adept artist himself, lets Ryan Sook tell the story visually while he narrates.  Both Kamandi and Strange Adventures are throwbacks to the EC “Weird Science-Fantasy” comics of the fifties, and both are positively dripping with atmosphere.  I suspect the hand-written captions may have also helped in this regard.  Kerschl took the most interesting route of all the writers, telling parallel stories of The Flash and his lover Iris West, and you know what?  I think he’s stumbled across the magic formula for one-page-per-week storytelling.  I love the contrast of romance and superheroics from week to week, and the way these stories interweave and feed off of each other.  Barry Allen must race against time and himself(!) to save Central City and his love-life!  I love it!

Honestly, it’s worth reading Wednesday Comics just to follow those three, but there are plenty of other strong efforts to justify your purchase.  Dave Bullock has managed to pick up the pace and find his voice in a much more focused Deadman, while the Most Improved award must go to Walter Simonson with The Demon and Catwoman, which makes a whole lot more sense now in its own weird little way.  Catwoman has become a cat-woman, and the Demon is waxing poetic as he should be, as they duke it out in the highlands.  Brian Azzarello’s Batman is shaping up to be an intriguing murder mystery, while Dan DiDio’s Metal Men is again surprisingly funny.  Jimmy Palmiotti’s Supergirl is okay, if only a little trivial on the back of Pope’s Strange Adventures (Supergirl’s basically trying to round up two super-powered pets who have run away from home).  While it’s disappointing that Hawkman‘s story is no longer narrated by birds as it was in the first issue, it has taken a science fiction twist for the better, I believe.

And that about wraps it for the fourth week of Wednesday Comics.  I have issue 5 in front of me now, but I suspect I’ll have nothing new to say about it.  This is the most interesting experiment in the comic book format that you’re ever likely to be part of, so get into it.

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The Goon in: A Place of Heartache and Grief

Posted in Comics, Dark Horse, The Goon with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 1st June, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Lonely Street lives up to its name.

Lonely Street lives up to its name.

Author & Artist: Eric Powell
Colorist: Dave Stewart

First things first, I love reading the forewords to these Goon collections.  They’re part of the Goon experience for me; I would be seriously disappointed if they shipped without one.

Eric Powell is pretty much a genius.  He practically obliterated the fourth wall altogether; his plots and characters are utterly ridiculous, and yet I find myself emotionally invested in all of them.  Powell wasn’t lying when he called it ‘A Place of Heartache and Grief’.  Lonely Street lives up to its name in what is by far the most affecting Goon story yet.  And that’s not to say that this volume is an entirely joyless endeavour, in fact, it’s quite the opposite.  The Goon, as always, is punctuated by several laugh out loud moments, provided mostly by his ethically challenged sidekick Franky.  The rest of the laughs are provided by Powell’s colourful support cast, which he has slowly and dare I say lovingly built up over the years.  The result is a rich culture and a town bustling with life.  What this means is that when the Goon is down in the dumps, the whole story doesn’t have to go down with him.  There’s still Franky, who’s just so despicable it’s funny; there’s the [relatively] new cast member Nagel the intelligent zombie; there’s those ratbag kids who’ll fight over anything including (but not limited to) ‘fish squeezin’s’; and of course, a rampaging giant transvestite.

Heartache and Grief sees a number of loose ends brought to a satisfying twist, and a number of old faces (thought lost) return.  Eric Powell rewards his long-time readers for sharing Goon’s journey, and I think that’s where a great deal of the story’s power comes from.  There’s an inherent intimacy with the Goon, having shared with him in so many experiences, and now sharing with him in his grief.  The previous volume Chinatown, was the perfect setup for this story, exploring the dark corners of his past, whilst foreshadowing his coming loss.  The Zombie Priest is relieved of his duties by the Priestly Order and it’s clear they mean business this time.  Along with his replacement comes a demon from Goon’s past – could this be the return of Labrazio?  Goon seems to think so and it’s driving him ’round the bend.  As this mysterious figure does the rounds, control of Lonely Street slips through Goon’s chubby digits.  With this dramatic change in status quo comes a feeling that the Goon and Lonely Street will never be the same again.

All of this is capped off with a hilarious Oprah parody.  Such is Eric Powell; such is The Goon.  It’s a juxtaposition of crazy cartoons, gangster politics and zombies, but it works.  It just works.

‘A Place of Heartache and Grief’ is a great addition to an already great series.  It really is the culmination of years of plot and character development.  Seemingly disparate plot threads resurface and intertwine which will satisfy Goon fans to no end.  But it’ll also leave them hungry for more.  Everything is building to a head in Lonely Street, and I for one can’t wait to see what’s next.

If you’re looking to jump into the world of The Goon, start at Volume 2 and read all the way through.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 #1

Posted in Comics, Knockabout, LXG, Top Shelf with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 25th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Alan Moore: The Musical

Alan Moore: The Musical

“What Keeps Mankind Alive?”
Author: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O’Neill
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colorist: Ben Dimagmaliw
Editor: Chris Staros

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 #1 is Alan Moore: The Musical.  In his continuing experiments with the comic book form, Alan Moore has taken his trademark lyricism and cranked it to eleven, for better or worse.  As the first installment in this new era of LXG, it begins with apocalyptic visions of the future, and most of these are conveyed in song.  Moore fans will appreciate subtle references to his earlier work, including, but probably not restricted to Watchmen, From Hell and perhaps even Green Lantern.  They’re not necessary to your enjoyment of the story, but they serve as little easter eggs to enhance it for those that do.  The most obvious connections I made were to the League’s investigation into the Whitechapel slayings of 1888 (From Hell), and the prostitute’s prophetic Song of the Black Raider (Tales of the Black Freighter, Watchmen).

Unfortunately, I had a lot more trouble placing the characters in this incarnation of the League.  At first, the only familiar face was that of Mina Murray, who hadn’t aged a day since 1898.  Then there was Captain Nemo, on his death-bed.  The rest of the team weren’t familiar to me at all – Carnacki the ghost-hunter, Orlando the immortal hermaphrodite, and Raffles the master thief – the only one I could latch onto was Captain Nemo’s estranged daughter, Janni, who arrives in London under the name of Jenny Diver.  It wasn’t until I read Moore’s fake serial back-up “Minions of the Moon” (by ‘Josh Thomas’) that I realised Allan Quartermain Jr was in fact Allan Quartermain Sr, albeit after a dip in the Fountain of Youth.  I didn’t make this realisation earlier because his role in Century: 1910 is reduced to nothing more than a bit-part, which is a sad thing to this LXG fan.  I couldn’t ‘get’ who these characters were, and I was blaming myself for it.  I felt as though there was a gap in my knowledge  – admittedly, I hadn’t read all the appendices in Volume II, nor have I read The Black Dossier – but surely this couldn’t be expected of me, let alone any potential new readers.  Perhaps I was bringing too much baggage to the table, expecting a classic Quartermain/ Mina/Nemo League story, instead of a clean slate (here I am, still willing to blame myself before Moore).  Either way, for LXG fans, I’m almost inclined to recommend reading “Minions of the Moon” first to give yourself a bit of background.

Probably the most fleshed-out characters were Janni and Orlando.  Janni is a hard-headed woman, angered by her own father’s stubbornness, who runs [swims] away from home to escape from Nemo’s shadow.  She’d rather forge her own path in London’s shadow than assume her father’s mantle.  Orlando is casually detached by the trappings of timelessness, mysteriously devoid of the wisdom of experience or duality, always eager to brag of his/her brushes with fame, and concerned chiefly with the pursuit of base pleasures.  (In case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t particularly like Orlando, but he was an interesting character nonetheless.)

What was familiar, however, was Kevin O’Neill’s inextricable artwork.  O’Neill’s art is as integral to the League as Moore’s writing: no-one else is fit to draw it.  This really hits home when the Nautilus re-surfaces (for the fans).  He makes even the mundane streets of London seem interesting.  He gives every panel a dark secret.

Century: 1910 #1 opens with Carnacki’s dream visions of bloodshed on the waterfront and a secret cabal of magicians conspiring to conceive a Moonchild to usher in the Apocalypse.  Mina believes it may somehow be connected with the upcoming coronation of King George the Fifth.  From there, it only gets weirder, and having read “Minions of the Moon” at its conclusion, I suspect the weirdest chapters are yet to come.  Based on Moore’s statements and Top Shelf’s solicitations, this will be an epic of space and time.

As a first chapter, this is a real slow-burner, but I can’t help but feel this is going somewhere big.  LXG fans will be intrigued by this new entry, but newcomers should check out the first two volumes first.

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born Hardcover

Posted in Comics, Dark Tower, film, Marvel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 24th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Welcome to Stephen King's living, breathing world.

Welcome to Stephen King's living, breathing world.

Creative Director: Stephen King
Script: Peter David
Plot: Robin Furth
Artist: Jae Lee
Inker/Colorist: Richard Isanove
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Associate Editor: Nicole Boose
Editor: John Barber
Senior Editor: Ralph Macchio

Stephen King is no stranger to comic books.  I can confirm, for one thing, that he has at least read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.  Whether or not he read the whole thing, I can’t say for certain, but he definitely knew his stuff when writing the foreword to “Worlds’ End”.  What came through in King’s foreword was not only his deep respect for Neil Gaiman as an author, but also for the comic book medium itself.  It should, then, come as no surprise that King enlisted the services of two notable comic book artists to illustrate his long-running series and “magnum opus” The Dark Tower, Dave McKean and Bernie Wrightson.  Then I read King’s afterword to The Dark Tower, and discovered that he’s also read and loved Watchmen, Preacher, and V for Vendetta.  All of this bodes well for a Stephen King graphic novel.

The Dark Tower, as a comic book adaptation of a Stephen King novel, is a difficult book to review.  If it’s well-written (and it is), who gets the credit for it?  Stephen King, who wrote the original novels?  Peter David who wrote the scripts?  Or Robin Furth, who plotted the thing?  Well, if I had read the original novels, I’d be able to tell you!  But I haven’t, so I’m just going to have to thank King for the source material, Peter David for his speechcraft, and Robin Furth for his encyclopaedic knowledge of Mid-World (apparently he knows more about the world of Dark Tower than Stephen King himself!).  I’ve also been informed that The Gunslinger Born is a prequel after some fashion, beginning the story in chronological order for the first time, and so in many ways, this is new ground for the series.

Mid-World – the world of Dark Tower – is an interesting milieu of cultures.  The gunslingers are Old West, but their dialect is known as the High Speech.  The consistency in language really contributed to this feeling of a living, breathing world.  There are wizards and mystical orbs of power, but they still need oil supplies to refuel their World War I tanks.  The unusual placement of familiar objects is all at once surreal and fantastical, but with echoes of reality.  It feels as though Mid-World has always existed, and is simply being revealed to us bit by bit, rather than being built from the ground up.

The Gunslinger Born follows a pretty simple mythic structure.  A boy named Roland Deschain undergoes a rite of passage to become a man, then leaves his family and sets out on a perilous journey with his mates (or his ka-tet).  The gunslingers are an Arthurian Order, Roland falls in love with the damsel in distress, and all the while a dark lord is preparing his army.

The presentation of this comic is probably the most cinematic I have seen, so I have little doubt that this will work brilliantly as a feature film under J.J. Abrams’ care and attention.  The characters are beautifully drawn by artist Jae Lee – again, playing on that grounded surrealism – while Richard Isanove’s colours are moody and atmospheric.  My only qualm with the art, and indeed, the entire book is that the backgrounds are a little too samey from panel to panel.  One the one hand, it maintains this consistency of place and atmosphere, but still, it’s a little minimalistic given the stunning foreground detail, and it did wear me down eventually seeing only one background colour per page.  I know it’s cinematic, and I know it’s fantasy, but it’d be nice to have a hand-drawn background every once in a while.  Still, the book is gorgeous.

As someone who’s never made it through a Stephen King novel, I can honestly say this was an enjoyable read with an enticing world and interesting characters.  The Dark Tower is a great touching point for anyone who’s new to the medium and wants to read a story without the baggage of continuity.  It’s also a great place to start for Stephen King fans who want to gain an appreciation of graphic storytelling, to see what it can do with their favourite story.

Wolverine TPB

Posted in Comics, Marvel, Wolverine with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 19th May, 2009 by Adam Redsell
Four parts brilliant to two parts...not-so-brilliant.

Four parts brilliant to two parts...not-so-brilliant.

Author: Chris Claremont
Artist: Frank Miller
Inker: Josef Rubinstein
Colorist: Glynis Wein & Lynn Varley
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover Artist: Frank Miller

Uncanny X-Men 172-173

Artist: Paul Smith
Inker: Bob Wiacek

Much like the recent Wolverine film, I recommend the first two-thirds of this trade paperback for the ideal Wolverine experience.  That is to say that I recommend reading the Wolverine mini-series penned and penciled by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, and not so much the issues of The Uncanny X-Men that succeed it.  While the additional issues may add to the perceived value of this collection, the drastic shift in tone, plot and pacing diminish the impact of the core 4-part story.  This shift can be attributed to two factors: the absence of Frank Miller, and the presence of the X-Men.

I can only conclude Frank Miller’s heavy involvement in the scripting of Wolverine, as the disparity in Claremont’s writing is striking.  Wolvie’s visceral tale of revenge and honour is not an easy act to follow, but the appearance of the X-Men is crude and garish by comparison.  The super-team feel like a cameo in their own book; an unwanted intrusion into Logan’s story.  I would recommend tracking down the mini-series alone if the price is right.  If this trade paperback is all you can find, then I implore you to stay your curiosity and stop reading when Miller stops drawing.  Not because Miller’s art is that much greater (though it is) – I honestly believe the issues that follow spoil the overall story.  I don’t know if that speaks to Logan’s character as the quintessential lone wolf, but I’ve still seen him operate effectively in well-written X-teams, and unfortunately this is not one of them.  Perhaps Claremont’s ongoing X-Men work was running on a tighter schedule and he was simply phoning it in.  Perhaps sales were flagging in the main book, and Wolverine’s re-introduction really was forced into the story, rather than the other way around.

Rogue’s character is particularly grating, both in dialogue and concept.  Case in point: Rogue casually mentions (in her irritating Southern accent) that she is half-alien, hence her immunity to poisons, and so of course she is the best candidate to help Logan on his mission!  Logan accepts her explanation as a matter of course, and is all of a sudden willing to put all his misgivings about her aside and take her on board(!).  Claremont infers that Wolvie employs good ol’ logical reasoning to arrive at this decision (“Hmmm…half-alien, immune to poisons…I guess you have a point”)!  On the back of a classic Japanese revenge tale, you can probably appreciate that I found this *a little* hard to swallow.  Also present is a pointless cameo of The Phoenix, Scott Summers’ new girlfriend who COINCIDENTALLY LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE JEAN GREY AND COINCIDENTALLY SURVIVED THE VERY SAME PLANE CRASH THAT JEAN GREY DIED IN – but it’s not Jean Grey; it couldn’t possibly be Jean Grey! X-fans curious as to the hallowed origins of Storm’s mohawk will also be pleased to know that its contrivance is explained herein!  See what I mean?  Well, I suppose you won’t until I elaborate on the mini-series itself.

Wolverine is the story of Logan’s battle for the heart of his ex-lover, Mariko.  Three obstacles lie in his path:

  1. Mariko’s father is Shingen Yashida, crimelord extraordinnaire.  His return to Japan necessitates:
  2. Her political marriage to an abusive Yakuza.
    And;
  3. Mariko is Japanese, Wolverine is a Gaijin (basically the n-word for white people, meaning ‘outsider’ or ‘foreigner’).

This means Wolvie has to try extra-hard to prove his worth.  That Lord Shingen is trying to kill him with his elite ninja force doesn’t help any.  To further complicate matters, maverick assassin Yukio also falls for Logan, despite being contracted to kill him.  Yukio proves to be an interesting character, surprisingly free-spirited for someone in the business of taking lives.  Unfortunately, this eccentricity is overplayed in Uncanny X-Men.  (To spare you the torture, Yukio has the dubious honour of inspiring Storm’s mohawk.)

Our (anti-?)hero’s position as an Westerner coming to grips with the Japanese ideology is well-placed from a writing perspective.  It would have been foolishness for Chris Claremont to claim mastery over a foreign culture.  As Claremont’s understanding increases, so too does Logan begin to embrace Japanese concepts of honour and duty.  Having read the very Japanese Ronin and Sin City, I can’t help but wonder whether this could have benefited from even more involvement from Frank Miller.  His artwork is cleaner and more academic than the style he’s become renowned for, but remains distinct and dynamic, especially during action scenes.

Without a doubt, Wolverine’s solo debut is a defining moment for the character.  Even his famous line “I’m the best at what I do” is coined here, but never overused; and the phrase feels fresher for knowing.  This is recommended reading for any comic reader.  Ignore the extras and you’ll be just fine.