Category: Comics

100 Days, 100 Comics #95: ‘X’ed Out’

Posted by – January 1, 2011

I’m sure that if William S. Burroughs had ever been given the opportunity to direct a Ziegfield Follies segment featuring a thousand performers playing Tintin and Rosebud from “Citizen Kane,” audience members would have walked away with approximately the same sensation that reading Charles Burns’ graphic novel “X’ed Out” from Pantheon leaves on the mind. Its layouts and artwork are manically sharp, and Burns’ attention to transitions and the intermingling of narrative with lumberingly suspenseful builds toward twists has never been more pronounced. It’s a story about a human being’s struggle between iconic representations of memories and the reality beneath the surface of those memories, and wherever you presume the truth to lie at the end of this book, you should still be able to appreciate the carnival ride of the human psyche that he’s produced.

I don’t think you need to be familiar with Tintin to get into “X’ed Out,” but if you already are, it’s bound to make some places in your brain itch while you wander around on its pages. As with other Burns comics, the relentlessly clean compositions and shapes repeatedly capture horrifying abstract concepts. The story challenges readers to piece together the material history behind what’s going on amid the chaos and revelations, but if you enjoy tales that float around in that kind of space, you’ll probably dig this book.

100 Days, 100 Comics #94: ‘Captain America: Man Out of Time’ #1

Posted by – November 7, 2010

You know those montage pages at the end of DC books like Superboy #1 this week that foreshadow a couple of storyarcs worth of major events? That’s sort what this $3.99 first issue of Captain America: Man Out of Time from Mark Waid and artist Jorge Molina felt like. Waid’s dialogue was in great form throughout, and although I don’t mind having my expectations toyed with from a miniseries that I was expecting to be a straight-up “Year One”-style Cap tale, I got out of this issue mostly scratching my head over whether each individual section I’d just read was A) a hallucination being experienced by Steve Rogers B) a real Marvel U history flashback C) a ret-con of something that previously existed as history in the Marvel U or D) something I must have missed in a previous Cap arc.

The other problem that comes with this fractured series of vignettes is the $3.99 tag on the cover here. I bought three fewer books this week than I would have if the books I did buy had been priced at $2.99 instead, and I feel like kicking a mini off in this way is basically asking me to take another chance on issue #2 to see if I like the story that hasn’t been clearly introduced yet. Depending on what comes out the week “Man Out of Time” #2 hits, I’m not sure I’m willing to roll the dice with four more dollars to take that chance. I may wait for reactions and reevaluate after it’s out, but right now I think I’m going to be a little wallet-shy about picking it up.

100 Days, 100 Comics #93: ‘Superboy’ #1

Posted by – November 7, 2010

DC’s new Jeff Lemire-scripted Superboy series has been one of their most anticipated launches of the year, and after reading through issue #1, you’ll probably see the common ingredients it shares with Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman and Smallville and immediately understand exactly why that is. That’s not to take anything away from the original work Lemire is doing here with artwork by Pier Gallo, but the central story is about Conner Kent living in Smallville, going to Smallvile High School and doing many of the things Clark Kent did, only within a different continuity than the TV show and obviously as Conner, not Clark.

Gallo’s art curves and puffs in a manner very similar to Frank Quitely’s with clean line work that looks a bit like Cliff Chiang from time to time. Combined with Lemire’s well-rationed plot twisting and odd character entrances (I don’t want to spoil those for anyone who hasn’t picked the issue up yet), Superboy clearly emerges from the the shadow of ASS, even within the confines of the DCU, and that much alone keeps a subtle crackle of tension alive from page to page.

24 pages in, Lemire hasn’t created a series that’s going to establish itself on ASS‘s level of accomplishment just yet; in fact, the whole setting and combination of characters may be a bit disorienting for anyone who hasn’t kept up with Conner since he moved back in to the Kent household, but continuity ignorance shouldn’t be a roadblock to hitting the ground running for casual readers. There’s a lot going on already, though, and if the first arc maintains the pace being set here, this should be one of the strongest new efforts to hit hero comics in 2010.

100 Days, 100 Comics #92: ‘Beetle Bailey: The Daily and Sunday Strips, 1965’

Posted by – November 7, 2010

Beetle Bailey eclipsed the 1,000-newspaper mark with its circulation in 1965 and was only the second comic to do so after Blondie. For a year marked by Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” declaration, conflict in Vietnam, and marches in Selma, Alabama, Beetle Bailey: The Daily and Sunday Strips, 1965 from Titan Books presents a artifact from popular entertainment that year that showcases Mort Walker’s talent, as well as how he reacted to and reflected what was going on in the world. Titan sent me a review copy of this recent effort, and overall it resisted a passive read-through.

The renewed trends in comic strip archive publishing haven’t been lost on me, though beyond The Complete Far Side and The Complete Peanuts, only a few efforts have really captured my interest as a reader. As has been the case with Fantagraphics’ Peanuts volumes, however, this Beetle Bailey tome does a tremendous job of presenting its content in context and establishing the comic’s place during the glory days of printed strip publication, as well as how Walker rubbed the U.S. military brass the wrong way, earning a ban from the Tokyo Stars and Stripes.

Walker’s mastery of shapes and lines really shines through in this volume. Yes, there are countless flat punchlines and moments where you’ll find yourself wondering if a line of dialogue was supposed to be a joke or not, but scenes like Beetle discovering Sarge’s postcard from Vietnam and Cosmo reading about a possible end to the draft anchor what you’re reading in the events of the time. This book is best absorbed as a whole and for experiencing a broad sampling of Walker’s visual vocabulary of shorthand illustration techniques — from bubble helmets and facial features, to postures and trees. Even if the comic never really appealed to you, those aspects may still save this book on your pull list for the perspective it offers.

100 Days, 100 Comics #91: ‘Strange Tales II’ #1

Posted by – October 17, 2010

Two of my favorite moves Marvel has made in the last few years involved relaunching their What The–?! brand as a Robot Chicken-styled absurdist take on their universe and re-introducing Strange Tales as a vehicle for indie creator populated anthologies. The initiatives asserted an awareness of Marvel’s places in the broader ecosystems of online media and the real world’s creative community.

As for Strange Tales II #1, I’m going to opt for another bulleted overview for my varied reactions:

• Nick Bertozzi and Chris Sinderson’s opening vignette was hilarious. The Watcher has always had some perplexing Q-ish (Star Trek: TNG reference there) qualities to his race’s culture and the deviations that don’t always stick with their original premise. It was a perfect start to the book.

• What do you want to see from a Rafael Grampá Wolverine story? You want to see a fight, and you want to see his extremely idiosyncratic style and its techniques whip up an orchestra of tiny lines and character renditions. His story delivers.

• Gene Luen Yang’s turn took the issue into another gear for a cartoony, yet sobering slice of life look at the son of Leapfrog. The talent Marvel wrangled together here does short stories better than a lot of writers in comics today to 6-issue arcs. Three stories in, #1 is worth its cover price.

• Frank Santoro’s Silver Surfer is minimalist, psychedelic and momentous when it wants to be. I think it hit the emotional notes it wanted to with me, but in the end its premise felt a little cliche and wasn’t the most memorable Strange Tales contribution in the scheme of things.

• Kate Beaton and Bill Crabtree’s Spider-Man/Kraven was gut-bustingly over-abbreviated, adorable in its tone and exactly what I’d hoped for.

• Kevin Huizenga’s Wolverine/Silver Surfer segment puts a syringe right into your cerebral cortex with its graphic breakdown of a hypothetical video game adaptation. It goes on to execute some blistering art kung-fu in its quick series of panels.

• Jeff Lemire’s Man-Thing was cleverly structured and set up a huge panel displaying Man-Thing clutching a flaming bear by the head just as well as you would expect it to.

• Finally, Jhonen Vasquez and Nicholas Gurewitch are worth their weight and more in gold, and the best laughs come from them at the end.

100 Days, 100 Comics #90: ‘Knight and Squire’ #1

Posted by – October 17, 2010

Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton’s Knight and Squire #1 was a rare breed of launch to see up on the shelves this week. In fact, it wasn’t on the first shelf I scoped out in my neighborhood Wednesday evening. Luckily, I put a call in to the crack team down at Chicago Comics, who had a spare copy and generously put it aside while I drove down Clark to add to the day’s stack. It’s a comic full of contradictions, chance-taking in terms of its overall approach for the U.S. market and a direct descendent of Grant Morrison’s landscaping work in the DCU over the last decade, but all of that adds up to a layered and artfully bound tale.

Batman and Robin’s British counterparts enter their new series in a world that’s liable to seem alien to a lot of readers, but Cornell handles the introduction in a way that’s accommodating. In a very Doctor Who-ish feeling maneuver, he sets issue #1 in a single pub and crams it full of characters, gobs of information about Knight and Squire’s world and what’s going on, and uses both the characters and setting as a lens by which readers can get acquainted with this series’ context. It’s funny, there is of course a bar fight that drives the action needed to propel the story, and by the end he’s tied the whole thing up with a bow and put the sails up on a new, inviting DC series. Consequently, this book comes with my highest recommendations.

100 Days, 100 Comics #89: ‘The Bulletproof Coffin’ #2

Posted by – October 3, 2010

There’s a lot going on in The Bulletproof Coffin, and while the coloring choices remain the most compelling component of the artwork for me, the stocky manchild proportions and occasionally anatomically indifferent depictions of women really throw some rust on the story’s flow from time to time — and I can’t figure out if that’s 100% intentional or not. The story is a commentary on masculine hero fantasies and boyhood hang-ups, so I tend to think that it is, but this series really grinds its nose hard into ambiguous territory.

Somewhere in inspired orbit around the meta-medium storytelling of Watchmen and the devil-may-care aloofness of the pacing in a Love and Rockets issue, Coffin has found a voice, though, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be picking up the rest of the miniseries. Shaky Kane’s neo-juvenile pyschedelia and the understated madness in David Hine’s script here both have a unique energy that rarely surfaces in pamphlet comics. It’s the kind of content you’d expect from a minicomic but wrapped up and produced as an Image book.

100 Days, 100 Comics #88: ‘Thor’ #615

Posted by – October 3, 2010

In the age of the $3.99 30-page comic, it almost seems to take a Matt Fraction/Pasqual Ferry team to get me to pick up the first issue in a new run on a mainstream superhero comic these days. Fraction has become a dependable source of researched character and story depth in recent years, and Ferry lit a fire under my interest years ago thanks to his Mister Miracle collaboration with Grant Morrison. Seeing him land on another Jack Kirby creation with one of Marvel’s top writers muscled the $3.99 out of my pocket for Thor #615, and while the issue does contain a few memorable moments, my ultimate verdict is going to have to dock it a few points based on the fact that most of it felt like a PowerPoint presentation announcing Fraction’s general intentions about where he wants to take this series.

The first three pages confine Ferry’s artwork to a bit of a slow-paced treadmill with 6-panel talking head layouts that establish the groundwork for what’s to come. Things shift gears for the next 12 pages when the action I won’t spoil erupts in Alfheim. Matthew Dale Hollingsworth’s colors complement Ferry’s figures superbly, and Fraction leaves this thread separated from the events immediately surrounding Thor, who doesn’t get to raise his hammer toward anyone just yet.

In the end, it’s a better-than-average read, but not one that had me diving into my pockets to set aside bucks for the next issue. We’ve got well-designed if conceptually cookie-cutter villains looking to march through spacetime on a pillaging romp, a Thor who’s misty-eyed about losing his brother and a creative team capable of making the dialog and shiny parts of everyone’s costume entertaining to watch. Thor #616 will have my attention. It’s going to have to enter the ring strong to compete with whatever else is on the rack on October 20 in order to make it into my bag though.

100 Days, 100 Comics #87: ‘Injury Comics’ vol. 1 #2

Posted by – September 8, 2010

I’m going to miss Buenaventura Press books now that they’ve closed shop. That may mean that Ted May, M. Jason Robards and Jeff Wilson’s Injury Comics vol. 1 #2 was the last BP book I ended up buying new, which is a shame since they were one of the first shopping stops at about any show I’d find them at.

The themes of youth culture, drug culture and deviant behavior that work just as well in Charles Burns’ Black Hole and Johnny Ryan’s Angry Youth Comix surface in this series of scenes about love, guys with shabby mustaches and rock’n roll.

Injury #2 shares a comparable penchant for the surreal with both of those comics, and the enjoyment it provides comes from its ability to shock and parallel the reader’s experience with the mystic mind-expanding world of Black Sabbath fandom. Like some of my other favorite reads from the publisher, this one commits to no genre or general natural rules. It’s an organic experience with a raw sense of humor and loose morals, but it’s fun ride.

100 Days, 100 Comics #86: ‘The Bulletproof Coffin’ #1

Posted by – September 8, 2010

The first two issues of The Bulletproof Coffin by David Hine and Shaky Kane have been sitting on my coffee table for a good two months. I really have no good excuse beyond the fact that I’ve been reading other things that have been piling on top of them and I finally made it down to the bottom of the stack this evening.

Hine deals well with pulp horror and hero elements in the same space, and Kane’s Seth Fisher meets Tales From the Crypt vibe flagged my attention when I picked this up off the rack. One chapter in, the full page-by-page compositions didn’t always sync together smoothly for me, but the individual figures and panels did what they needed to to define the story, and the coloring went a long way in helping it do that.

The story is basically about a guy who rummages through dead people’s belongings, and this sort of origin story introduction explains how he comes into contact with some history and nicknacks that will presumably shape the course of the six-issue miniseries going forward. As far as getting the book off the ground and defining what’s going on, it’s a success with a lively creep factor.