Month: September 2009

100 Days, 100 Comics #25: ‘Green Lantern’ #46

Posted by – September 30, 2009

Green Lantern #46First of all, how crazy is it that the last Green Lantern #46 had Mongul in it as well during “Reign of the Supermen!”? Funny how that stuff happens.

I was wondering when the story was going to get back to Mongul, now that he’d fashioned those gigantic pieces of hate bling for himself from the rings of the fallen Sinestro Corps members. Indigo-1 showed up with Hal, fresh out of Blackest Night #3, and I was really hoping to see some more drama among Hal, Carol, and Sinestro before they formed their obligatory truce, but that was more or less a footnote before Sinestro finally confronted Mongul and the necessary status quo was achieved to put the big yellow dude out of commission so that the Black Lanterns can be dealt with.

The final confrontation between Sinestro and Mongul worked for me, but this issue really read like it was in a hurry up to that point, just fast forwarding and putting other plot points off to be dealt with later until the finale arrived. Mahnke’s art, of course, is gorgeous, and I liked Indigo-1 way better this issue — though I’m sure that’s because she didn’t have another epically awkward monologue.

The action scenes were fine, but the writing and pacing just seemed a little impatient — specifically when they skipped right through events like the big pink dragon getting loose. It’s probably going to take me a good day or two to figure out if I think the last scene balanced all of that out, but I don’t think I’m going to know that until I see which threads come back up in the next issue.

100 Days, 100 Comics #24: ‘The Squirrel Machine’

Posted by – September 30, 2009

The Squirrel MachineHans Rickheit has always been an enigmatic authorial figure for me — I fittingly discovered him at MoCCA a few years ago while he was absent from his table, but whoever was manning it facilitated the sale of a couple volumes of his Chrome Fetus minicomics to me. His new graphic novel from Fantagraphics is a drastically more linear and cohesively dialoged story than those volumes, but the same spirit of steampunkish surreal exploration between internal and external relationships still pervades.

In its simplest terms, the Squirrel Machine narrative is the tale of two brothers, Edmund and William, and their quest to master an organ assembled from pig heads. Edmund is a bit of a mad scientist, consumed by constructs that transhumanistically merge mechanics and biological systems for these grand sculptures of form and sound. The quest puts him at odds with his own family, however, and results in his own renewed efforts to help them — perhaps out of guilt. I was a little unclear on that, though.

The result is something along the lines of Alice in Wonderland meets Clive Barker’s Hellraiser in a visual spectacle that revives motifs from Rickheit’s earlier work, such gasmaskish facial interface devices, adolescent sexual discovery, and intimate relationships with animals that are not necessarily sexual. His storytelling style is a brilliantly paced series of chapters, that leave as much to the imagination between panels as they unveil in his larger scenes of Rube Goldbergian invention and menacing surprise shots that lie between M.C. Escher and H.R. Giger.

There’s an ongoing refrain of physical penetrations and external community confrontations that kicks off from the very beginning where Edmund finds himself awakened outside of his house. Most of these events explore major changes in his life brought on by what lies through the given scene’s metaphorical rabbit hole, and how that new discovery complicates his life further.

Rickheit’s linework is utterly astounding throughout, and his imagery is densely compacted in many circumstances. There’s an obsessively completist urge that appears to fuel his pages and balances well with the central character’s innocence, though the elegance of the story really resonates in the challenge to that innocence forced by the ending.

I always enjoy revisiting Rickheit not because he makes artwork that’s easy to consume, but because he makes visual narratives that issue these kinds of challenges as you get drawn in to his children’s quests and motivations. Those who appreciate Max Ernst’s work or the cold subjectivity of Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence should gravitate handily to Rickheit’s style. Actually, some of the dialog in The Squirrel Machine came across eerily similar to the old man at the hotel in The Silence.

This book was well worth the wait, and I was happy to see him get a publisher like Fantagraphics for it, who will hopefully open up his work to a wider audience.

100 Days, 100 Comics #23: ‘B.P.R.D.: 1947’ #3

Posted by – September 29, 2009

B.P.R.D.: 1947 #3This is the kind of opening sequence I read B.P.R.D. books for. I mentioned in my Bayou review that Gabriel Bá does some of the most playfully terrifying work in these books that I’ve ever scene, and B.P.R.D.: 1947 #3 is a perfect example of those skills at work.

One of the really successful visual strategies I appreciated from this chapter were the elemental scene shifts going from fire to wind to water. Mignola, Dysart, and Bá set those up very effectively, and it’s a real testament to the many layers they built this series with.

The villains, meanwhile, still feel a bit flimsy for me as characters. The anecdotal details that pop out in conversation are interesting, but there’s a considerable amount of pressure on the fourth issue for me as a reader to really sell these witches. I’m a casual Hellboy universe reader and don’t have a whole lot of background knowledge about who they are prior to reading 1947, so I expect big things to come up as things play out.

I was half expecting this to be the series that brought Konig back into the limelight and turned him into a major villain, but without spoiling anything directly, that doesn’t seem like a possibility now. The historical explanation of the old B.P.R.D. guard was just as a brutal and horrific as I expected, but now the spotlight seems to have shifted to Hecate, so I’m anticipating a big coming out party for her in issue #4.

Link Sausage: 9/28/2009

Posted by – September 28, 2009

• This mash-up remix of Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking is catchy and makes you wonder about the possibilities and limits associated with space travel.

• I wasn’t aware of most of these picks on a list of the most controversial magazine covers of all time — particularly that zombie-armed Sarah Michelle Gellar Photoshop disaster — but now I am.

• Chicago faces the music tomorrow in its bid to host the Olympics. Amid the firefights going on over whether or not we can afford it, whether or not it will be profitable, and whether or not hosting the Olympics and solving existing infrastructure and gun violence problems are mutually exclusive objectives has really had my head spinning the last few months. I’ll probably be relieved and disappointed whatever the outcome is.

• The Three Frames blog turns me into a moth in front of strobe light. They like those, right?

• My pal, colleague, and former summer roommate TJ Dietsch pulls up a classic comic book ad for the NES game Abadox and calls for a remake. I would play that. Hard.

• Speaking of video games, if these new Street Fighter IV characters are part of a new game instead of DLC that costs less than $50, I’ll probably be audibly grumbling for a few weeks. You’ve been warned.

100 Days, 100 Comics #22: ‘Bayou’ Vol. 1

Posted by – September 28, 2009

Bayou volume 1Here’s a story I began reading more than a year ago and was initially fond of, but as is often the case with ZudaComics.com and my consistently under-performing home Internet speed thanks to AT&T, convenience drove me away until my pal Rickey Purdin dropped me a hard copy. I really love a lot of the content on Zuda, and the quality of work that DC’s system there produces consistently impresses me. The issue occurs, however, because Zuda’s strips are formatted in a way that requires me to blow them up to full screen size to read them, but when I do this, each page takes 40-50 seconds or more to load, and when you mix in two-panel and one-page splashes, this means it can take two or three minutes just to read a couple of short sentences worth of script. It’s consistently been a roadblock for me getting into a lot of their comics, since they shoot for long-form stories that can be handily collected. The simple truth is that if I can read 24 pages of a comic book in 5 minutes, 4-6 months of non-Flash interface webcomics in 10 minutes or 30 1-5-panel pages in a half hour, I’m almost always going to to go with the first two options. It boils down to simple time and math, as well as the annoyance I feel spending more time watching the word balloon icon load (he’s basically the Microsoft Word paper-clip of the webcomics reading experience for me) than reading comics, which is what I want to do.

And Bayou by Jeremy Love is an instance where I really wish that wasn’t the case, because it features the best uses of magic realism in story telling that I’ve read in months. There’s a real sweet spot in truth-telling that comes from the gray area between folk stories and mythology where they bleed into real-world understandings. At a time when so many peoples’ politics and world views come from folk truisms and fragmented, re-contextualized religious teachings, this genre of story has been one of my favorites since I first encountered Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Setting this tale in the American South taps into the region’s rich folk history that rose up from atrocious institutionalized practices and one culture’s de-humanization of another while the other was forced to raise children under that persecution. For me, this first volume from the series had in its aesthetic innocence all of the tension I felt the first time I heard Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and a similar hellish carnival of coyly whimsical imagery to what deeply affected me the first time I read John Berryman’s The Dream Songs.

The coloring is lush and evocative of the Mississippi climate and environment of the real world, and the illustration is hauntingly cartoonish for its subject matter — similar to the way Gabriel Bá’s style works in B.P.R.D.. There are a lot of soft-penciled, sketchy moments, though, which tend to take me out of the moment in the same way a lot of Bill Sienkiewicz imitators shake me loose of from their unrefined moments in monthly comics. It wasn’t a consistent problem, though, so the biggest effect it had on my reading was sending me back to try to figure out if the style was trying to differentiate flashbacks from narratively current events. I don’t think that was the case, though.

The characters are brilliant. Most of them come across somewhere between Frank in Donnie Darko and the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. Their designs come from history, established folklore, and historical race-based caricature, which underscores the tenser moments with a simmering note of horror. It’s a beautiful piece of work.

100 Days, 100 Comics #21: ‘Doom Patrol’ #2

Posted by – September 27, 2009

Doom Patrol #2“Are all black holes this condescending?”
–Negative Man

By the time I picked up the second issue of Keith Giffen and Matthew Clark’s Doom Patrol at the shop, issue #1 was sold out, and I haven’t managed to locate one quite yet. This was obviously a little frustrating, but a few factors warmed me up to the story midstream: 1) Oolong Island. DC’s home to mad science in 52 is one of my favorite locales, and after seeing a few of those villains show up in Red Tornado #1, this was a bit of a bonus for September. 2) Is it just Matthew Clark’s art, or Livesay’s inking that make him look like an aspiring Howard Chaykin? 3) At the risk of making a second Doctor Who comparison in a week, Giffen’s major plot arc here reads like a Cyber Men/Dalek takeover plot, with the black-hole faced minions and such.

And on a bonus fourth note, T.O. Morrow’s excerpt from the Extreme Science Journal was a niblet of vintage Giffenian brilliance.

100 Days, 100 Comics #20: ‘Batman and Robin’ #4

Posted by – September 23, 2009

Batman and Robin #4Here’s a case where I actually psyched myself out too much expecting a disaster and walking of the read pleasantly surprised. Some ominous tweets and blog entries over the last week had me all ready to mourn Grant Morrison’s falloff in Batman and Robin following Phillip Tan’s appearance and Frank Quitely’s temporary exit. Granted, Tan’s style isn’t quite as inventive and doesn’t carry the same breed of charm that Quitely musters, but Tan was totally serviceable here and definitely above average.

I know I mentioned this in my review of issue #3, but I really dig Morrison’s identity shell games behind the masks, dating back to his Xorn reveal in New X-Men. Now he seems to be doing it one case, if not two now that this fellow Oberon Sexton has walked into the party. How great of a name is that, by the way?

If he turns out to be the Riddler in disguise following that “riddle of the corn dollie” comment, though, my eyes are going to do a barrel roll back into 1998.

This series is going to get really gruesome really fast, too. I mean did anyone else notice Philip Tan mugging Darick Robertson in at least one or two scenes here? It occasionally felt like I was reading The Boys.

There’s another interesting element at work now, as well, since the Red Hood appears to be competing with Batman as a crime fighter, which tartens up of the mystery about his identity, since now we may be looking at Jason Todd out to improve upon his mentors methods or The Joker looking to corner the organized crime market in Gotham. His execution of the one mob boss on the table was a bit too similar to Heath Ledger’s pencil trick in The Dark Knight, though, and I have to wonder if that wasn’t extremely intentional. Furthermore, if Batman thinks he’s Jason Todd at first glance, I have to figure he’s The Joker, or else there’s one less surprise left to unveil.

Anyhow, nice to not feel nearly as cheated as I feared I would be. This series is still in great shape.

100 Days, 100 Comics #19: ‘Casanova: Luxuria’

Posted by – September 23, 2009

CasanovaThe hardcover collection of Matt Fraction and Gabriel Bá’s first Casanova series was a volume that had been sitting on my shelf for long time time since my first go through it. I only picked it up again to re-read this week for an “Adapt This” feature over at MTV’s Splash Page blog. It’s a book whose single moment surprises and fiercely imaginative character designs got their claws into me the first time through and left an impression, but it really from a second read-through for me before I decided it was my pick for the column.

That’s mostly due to the frenetic plot twisting that occurs — sort of like stuffing a couple seasons of Doctor Who or Sliders into one episode. Fraction’s rich, rich writing is packed with subtleties and character eccentricities that come out more during repeat readings, but Bá’s lavishly articulated sequences are more than enough to yin that yang for first-timers. The layouts, to both of their credits, are also impeccably well laid out and innovative to boot in many cases.

It’s kind of funny that I feel like I’m reading a Dark Horse book now, too, since I’m so used to seeing Bá in Umbrella Academy and B.P.R.D. now. Nevertheless, this volume has aged well.

100 Days, 100 Comics #18: ‘Blackest Night’ #3

Posted by – September 23, 2009

Blackest Night #3[¡Spoilers Alert!] Geoff Johns has been serving up K.O. moments since the “Blackest Night” event began, and despite being a longtime Firestorm fan with his original appearances protectively sealed several feet away from me right now, I have to preface this review with the fact that this was the weakest of the first three issues for me. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve watched Firestorm go through so many exhausting character and mental partnership changes since Dan Jolley wrote him in those early re-launch issues, but I just did not feel nearly the amount of shock or loss that I think I was supposed to when Gen got offed.

The same really goes for the final page, too, because I saw that coming a mile away. Granted, it was very cool to get to watch Black Lantern Ronnie Raymond unload on Jason, but at the same time, the fact that the Black Lantern incarnations have been identified as psychologically not their hero counterparts, their scenes feel pretty hollow since I feel like I’m just watching an unseen power use their bodies, which puts a lot more pressure on the action sequences to do the heavy lifting as far as the story goes.

The big important moment for this issue was the big reveal for the Indigo Tribe, and though it wasn’t terrible, Indigo-1′s monologue was one of the stiffest, most unnatural reads with the least amount of payoff I’ve had to endure in a while. And I expected more info than what was already more or less apparent, told in the abstract terms of the light and emotion colors. My biggest fear right now is that there’s no man or woman behind the curtain with the black rings and the ultimate moment of conclusion results in DC’s heroes defeating what amounts to a black hole with some ink dripping out of it. I’m pulling for Johns to deliver more than that, because I know he can, but the ambiguity of the color energies only works well thematically to a point and there’s going to have to be something tangible. Otherwise, I fear the best is already behind in this series, and there are still five issues left.

Ivan Reis though? Still killing it on Blackest Night, and while he hasn’t quite attained J.G. Jones status with me yet, he is drawing circles around this book’s humongous cast — especially those Black Lantern villains at the end that I can’t wait to see in the next issue.

Which brings me to my final thought: Maxwell Lord was buried in that vault with Wonder Woman’s lasso still tied around his neck? Do I understand that correctly?

100 Days, 100 Comics #17: ‘Tales of Good Ol’ Snoop Doggy Dogg’

Posted by – September 23, 2009

Tales of Good Ol' Snoop Doggy DoggThis is a minicomic by J.T. Yost that I picked up at Chicago Comics today. Yost has made a named for himself with many by winning a Xeric Award for his comics contained in Old Man Winter & Other Sordid Tales, which I admittedly haven’t read despite my steadfast respect and appreciation for the work Xeric winners put into their craft.

Tales of Good Ol’ Snoop Doggy Dogg, as the name and cover suggest, is a hybrid comic strip of Snoop Doggy Dog satire and Charles Schulz’ Peanuts strips. As it is a minicomic and there are only 4 discernible strips bound together, it feels more like a taste test than it does a fully digestible read, but then again that’s often what you get with minicomics. That’s not a knock on the form — quite to the contrary, I think they often demand a step back to view them conceptually.

Indie comics as a whole have a history deeply rooted in drug culture and illustration as a means of escape from real-life consequences (take the work of R. Crumb or Gary Panter for example — I don’t think it’s a case that needs to be hammered home). The end goal isn’t all that different from the Peanuts reading experience or the creative goals of Charles Schulz, I don’t think. That premise of commonality was what drew me to this on the shelf, particularly as its applied to Snoop Doggy Dogg, who is himself an icon of marijuana culture.

I haven’t read through the creator’s website to verify this, but the pitch the reader is meant to believe is that these stories come from actual dreams where Snoop plays a sort of totemic authority figure for his subconscious contemplations as he deals with worries similar to those of Charlie Brown, thus thematic connection to Snoopy. So it’s also a dream comic. It’s interesting to note that the dreams are dated years before the actual cartoons were drawn, at least according to the notations. Either the dreams really haunted Yost, or he kept a journal. I hope for his sake the latter was the case.

The final association comes in the end where the characters and style shift, and Snoop’s real-life music is used to the same effect that Schroeder’s piano playing would have to get everyone dancing and carefree in the comic — or that Vince Guaraldi’s music conjures in the animated incarnations — which in the end made for a surprisingly satisfying end in a moment of triumph over early adolescent stress.

It’s a small package, but it really worked for me. So I guess I’m going to have to hunt down a copy of Old Man Winter now.