30 Days of Night: Juarez (IDW)
By Matt Fraction & Ben Templesmith
This is different from every other 30 Days of Night series I’ve read, and yes, that’s a compliment. Fraction pens a cracker of a story here, that immediately impressed me with its humor and the injection of a real life horror in a context that doesn’t belittle it, but makes it worse when compared to its fictional counterpart. The real life horror is the murder and suspicious disappearances of so many young women down in Ciudad Juarez, a number well into the hundreds (possibly six hundred to eight hundred plus, if you can even wrap your head around such a figure), where the majority of the cases have never been solved. It’s assumed there’s police complicity, because how can you have slaughter on such a massive scale and have law enforcement just shrug its shoulders? Into this real horror steps Lex Nova, an investigator searching for someone, a certain vampire, and sure the fact that there’s mass murder going on is a sign he’s here. There’s a problem with Lex, though - for one thing, he has hard boiled narration he supplies for himself. He says it out loud, and no matter how often people point out to him he’s speaking aloud, he doesn’t stop. (This is especially funny when he’s “thinking” something awful about a person, and immediately follows it up with a blatant lie). And while he’s right about the vampires clowns - yes, I said clowns - he’s not right that they’re responsible. Those truly responsible for the death are simply Humans feeding off Human misery, and when Bingo, leader of the vampire clowns, finds out whose responsible, he decides to team up with him, because he’s impressed by the evil of the man who kills simply because he can. Vampires at least have to feed, and the fact that this man just does it ‘cause puts him above the regular Human chattel. But the warped Lex is on Bingo’s trail … and they’re on his. Eventually they all collide, and at the very end is a flashback where we find out how Lex and Bingo encountered each other in the first place, and Lex becomes a deeply tragic figure. This is a story that works as social commentary, as horror, and in spots as a bleak, dark comedy. The art by Templesmith is as spot on as it always is, and even his vampire clowns never come off as silly, just deeply creepy. This is a mix of hard boiled detective fiction, vampires, and a true life serial killing that comes off as entertaining, chilling, and incredibly sad. The vampires may be bad, true, but there’s nothing worse than Humans who prey on their own kind. There’s a moral you can’t argue with.
Aetheric Mechanics (Avatar Press)
By Warren Ellis & Gianluca Pagliarani
This short, affordable graphic novel is Ellis’s attempt at a steam punk/pulp fiction mash up, and it works surprisingly well. In 1907, Dr. Watcham (think Watson) returns from the front line of the war on a place called Ruritania, a bit battle scarred and well aware that the war isn’t going well for England. He’s reunited with his friend Sax Raker (think Sherlock Holmes crossed with British radio staple Sexton Blake), and quickly gets involved in his latest case, where a man who appears to flicker in and out of view is murdering people involved in aetheric mechanics, which is kind of like quantum mechanics, and is behind most of their impressively advanced technology. Raker is disturbingly obsessive, and is unsettled by changes in Watcham as they investigate these murders, with the war and a surprisingly adept female spy working for the British government (that Raker is quite fond of) complicating the mystery. Eventually, both the Invisible Man and a meta aspect are added to the proceedings, which leads to perhaps the one of the best endings in a graphic novel ever. The art by Pagliarani is as wonderfully detailed as Ellis’s alternate universe, with the black and white aesthetic working well with the crisp lines and overall clean look of the art. It’s actually just fun to look at the art, from the front lines of the war to the underground lab that plays a big part in the end. If you have never checked this one out you really should, as its easily a graphic novel worth twice its price.
Doom Patrol: Musclebound (DC/Vertigo)
By Grant Morrison, Richard Case, Steve Yeowell, Mike Dringenberg, Vince Giarrano, Jamie Hewlett, Rian Hughes, Michael S. Kane, Duncan Fegredo, Brian Bolland, Paul Grist, Simon Bisley, Mark McKenna, Doug Hazelwood, Malcolm Jones III, Scott Hanna, Mark Badger, & Daniel Vozzo
This is the first Doom Patrol collection I’ve read. Is it ideal to start at collection #4? Probably not, as half the time I had no idea what was going on, and yet I enjoyed it immensely. I actually think understanding is not really required with this graphic novel (or all of Morrison’s Doom Patrol in particular), because there’s so much weird crap going on it’s best to just let it all wash over you and see where the tide takes you. This is a random assortment of adventures, from a threat beneath the Pentagon (which is itself part of the threat, but not in the way you’d expect), a “beard hunter” (honestly, one of the best villains ever), a being that causes people’s darkest sexual fantasies to come out, and the return of the Brotherhood of Dada, that tries to bring an end to rationality with the help of an LSD influenced bicycle. This may sound nonsensical and it kind of is, but it’s written in such a breezy way that even the darkest parts of this story have a kind of odd lightness to them. It works as both a satire of superheroes and as an offbeat superhero tale of its own, with enough humor, adventure, and simple weirdness to keep things going at all times. If I had to pick a favorite story here, I suppose the Brother of Dada one is it, as it is just so blatantly out there it occasionally rides the edge of coherence, but never tips over. There are many artists at work here (as you can see from the credits), but their styles are similar and match up pretty well. It’s across the board solid - not my favorite, but it conveys everything it needs to, occasionally with style. If you’re a newcomer to this era of Doom Patrol, there’s probably better places to start, but I enjoyed myself anyways.
The Executor (Vertigo Crime/DC)
By Jon Evans & Andrea Mutti
The latest in this series of small crime volumes concerns Joe, a former hockey player, who is called back to his small upstate New York hometown when his old high school girlfriend dies (under mysterious circumstances) and has left him executor of her estate. He has no idea why, but he returns home to find some things haven’t changed, such as old friends and the tensions between the white town residents and the natives on the reservation that borders the area. With suspicions growing about his ex-girlfriend’s death and a cryptic collection of clippings she left behind, concerning what appears to be a parental abduction of a young girl, Joe discovers a conspiracy that connects to a violent incident in his past he’d rather forget. While Joe remains something of a cipher (he’s more a type than a genuine character), this was an involving dark crime story, and unlike some in the Vertigo Crime series, doesn’t have a hint of the supernatural. (Many have, and I have no idea why.) The art by Mutti has a straightforward, stark quality to it that’s enhanced by the overall greyscaling. A good installment that avoids the easy happy ending.
Graphic Classics: Edgar Allan Poe, Volume One: Fourth Edition (Eureka Productions)
By Edgar Allan Poe, Dierdre Luzwick, David Hontiveros, Carlo Vergara, J.B. Bonivert, Rafael Nieves, Dan Dougherty, Rod Lott, Gerry Alanguilan, Tom Pomplun, Lance Tooks, Joe Ollmann, Rick Geary, Matt Howarth, Pedro Lopez, Milton Knight, Michael Manning, & Todd Lovering
This is the latest edition of this collection, with some new stuff in it, and while Poe seems like a natural for such a collection, making it all ages (well, 12 and up) turns out to be a tricky thing. That’s mainly down to one story, “The Black Cat”, a tale of domestic violence, animal cruelty, alcoholism, and madness that remains amazingly grim. The art doesn’t shy away from it, but does try and soften the blow of some of the more violent aspects of the tale. I don’t know how successful they are, as I think this may be the story that gives people nightmares. The art is nicely done, though, cleanly lined and with a slight old fashioned air to it. Another bleak tale is “The Pit and the Pendulum”, an eerily timeless tale of religious intolerance carried to a horrible extreme, where a man is tossed in an ingeniously cruel cell by the Spanish Inquisition and seemingly doomed to die in one of two ghastly ways. (Although this one does have a genuinely happy ending for a Poe story.) The two poems, “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee” are given an abstract/pop art look by Bonivert, which is a unique choice and a good attempt to be different. (Although The Simpsons did the definitive take on The Raven.) I think it worked best on Annabel Lee. “William Wilson” is a lesser tale of a man haunted by his similarly named doppelganger livened up by some great art courtesy of Dougherty. “The Imp Of The Perverse” may be the first acknowledgement of obsessive compulsive disorder, while classics like “The Tell Tale Heart” and “Fall of the House of Usher” are given a good looking polish. The collection ends with a little known short, “Never Bet The Devil Your Head”, which takes a dark humored look at a betting man who accidentally decapitates himself. (Really.) Poe had some issues. But this is a good primer for those only familiar with The Raven (or that Simpsons version), and a nice reminder that, considering the age and times he lived in, Poe was a truly inventive horror writer.
Guardians of the Galaxy: War of Kings, Book 2 (Marvel)
By Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, Wesley Craig, Victor Olazaba, Livesay, Scott Hanna, Wil Quintana, Jay David Ramos, & Nathan Fairbairn
Much like with Doom Patrol, I picked an odd place to jump right into this series. There’s some thoughts this may be the weakest of the series, and I’m in no position to judge, as I did find this entertaining, but I also found this slightly disorienting, like I was suddenly shoved into the middle of an action movie. While this didn’t hinder my enjoyment too much, I’d be lying if I said I understood or cared about everything. The Guardians try and prevent a universe destroying war between the Inhumans and the Shi’Ar that they kind of make worse before rallying to save the universe, while half the team goes on a time traveling journey that still ties into everything. Things that happened in other comics are referenced but not shown, and in the end, people die. The art changes back and forth between very clean and detailed to a bit more cartoonish, but both styles are very appealing, and all are vibrantly colored and attractive. So while I feel like I came in at the end of the story, it was generally fun. And how can you not love a team that includes a giant tree and a raccoon? Still, probably not the best place to start.
Honor Brigade (Spinner Rack Comics)
By Tom Stillwell, Bradley Bowers, Simon Wright, Gail Simone, James Richie III, Geoffrey Thorne, Scott Story, Mike Bullock, Jenny Frison, Danny Donovan & Cary VonBlinden
Tom Stillwell and Bradley Bowers's Honor Brigade miniseries is now available in a spiffy, full-color edition. This story, originally presented in black and white, features the creation of a new superhero team when the vigilante called Toy Boy declares a personal war on a company he has a vendetta against. Different characters get drawn into the story in various ways -- the legacy hero Lightning Rod, returning hero the Suit, new warriors Slam and Deadeye, and the aptly-named Mystery Girl. Stillwell's characters are very diverse, and while many of them seem to appeal to one heroic archetype or another, each of them finds a different angle or twist to the theme that helps set them apart from the Spider-Man/Iron Man/Flash-style heroes that too many new superhero universes use to kick themselves off. The story itself is a very taught, energetic, and wonderfully enjoyable origin tale -- both for the new team and for several of the heroes involved. Simon Wright's colors help make Bowers's black-and-white work pop off the page. This volume also contains several new short stories by the likes of Gail Simone, Mike Bullock, Danny Donovan and others. Each of the shorts delves into the life or history of one of our heroes and help to build up the world a little bit. Stillwell has returned to this universe once already, with the Toy Boy: What Happens in Vegas one-shot, but having read this story again, I find myself very much wanting more.
--Blake M. Petit
Howard Lovecraft & The Frozen Kingdom (Arcana Studios)
By Bruce Brown & Renzo Podesta
Now here’s an odd idea - Lovecraft’s Cthulhu written for children. It seems like something that would be doomed from the start, but I have to admit it sort of works, even though a lot of liberties are taken with the whole Cthulhu mythos, and true fans of the cycle might be ticked off. But if you can live with a kiddie version, it won’t be so bad. Young Howard visits his dad on Christmas Eve in a sanitarium, where his wild eyed father tells him desperately to destroy his book, it’s real, and gives him an odd object. At home, his mother tries to comfort him by giving him an early Christmas present - a book. His father’s book, in fact, the one his dad wanted him to destroy. He reads it, intrigued, and repeating a few nonsensical words gets him sucked into another world, the eponymous frozen kingdom, where he is menaced and then befriended by a tentacled monstrosity that’s actually oddly cute. They have an adventure, learn about peril and betrayal, and Howard discovers the true horror of the kingdom. Will he survive? Will he destroy the book? Will he survive the encounter with Dagon (who looks nothing like everyone’s general interpretation of Dagon)? Again, it’s written for kids, so yes, much of the horror is defanged and they don’t delve into the complicated mythology, but it moves at a really good clip, and if you view it as an odd parody of both children’s adventure tales and Christmas stories, wow does this work well. The art has a sort of storybook look to it that might not be fore everyone’s tastes - the children are big eyed waifs, with very round heads - but dare I say I loved the cuddly Cthulhu. I know he’s not supposed to be cuddly! But he’s terribly cute, and most of the monster designs are stand outs. At worst it’s too ambitious, and may have tried to split the difference between being safe for kids and being Lovecraftian too much, but damn it, this was cute. It’s not Lovecraft, but it’s entertaining all the same.
Locke & Key: Welcome To Lovecraft (IDW)
By Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, & Jay Fotos
I must admit that I picked up the first issue of this when it was a fledgling series, and wasn’t overly impressed. Oh, it was good, but not so compelling that I felt the need to pick up the next issue. As it turns out, this may have been one of those series best read in trade form, because in trade form it’s a hell of a read. The Locke family is torn asunder by a horrible act of violence, when a couple of Rendell Locke’s student invade his house, murder him, and terrorize the family for unknown reasons. The siege is put to an end by Tyler, the oldest son, and Nina, the family matriarch, but the damage is done. They move to the Locke family’s old home on a small island off Massachusetts, the Keyhouse, where Renny’s brother Duncan lives, and takes in the grieving family. It’s an old house, and a mysterious one full of doors, and there’s a spooky old wellhouse where the water’s never been good. The one surviving member of the home invaders, Lesser, seems to be talking to someone only he can see, someone who promises him a better life and a way out of his current incarceration, a thing that’s only visible in water. While the kids and Nina try to settle into a new life, beyond the violence, Lesser escapes, and Bode, the youngest son, starts up a friendship with a girl at the bottom of the well - a girl only he can hear, and he first meets when he walks through a door that turns him into a ghost. She seems benign, but she’s far from it, and has a plan that coincides with Lesser’s desire for a special set of keys, the thing that led to the home invasion in the first place. Both the time frame and point of view shifts, adding to the suspense, especially by the end. There’s a couple of well worn horror plots colliding here (crazed maniac and haunted house), but the outcome is more than the sum of its parts. The artwork also grows on you. I wasn’t sold on it at first, but the further you go along, the more it makes sense, and the creature in the wellhouse and ghost Bode are extraordinarily creepy and beautiful. Now I’m intrigued, and I can’t wait to read the second trade.
Loosely Based (Arcana Studios)
By Nikola Jajic, Mike Czerniawski, Rick Hershey, & Ramiro Diaz Legaspe
This graphic novel deals with a familiar premise, that of a novelist’s character coming to life and wreaking havoc, but tries to make it its own. It does a decent job of it, even if the basic plot isn’t wildly original. Duncan is an author who apparently has made a deal with the mysterious Muse, presumably a god of some sort, to create a best seller. It works, but the problem is, he’s visited by a man who looks and acts quite a bit like one of his main characters, the titular “Casanova Killer”, who really doesn’t appreciate being killed off. He wants Duncan to write a new novel bringing him back to life, and to make him do it, he’s willing to beat, blackmail, and even kill. Duncan isn’t sure what to do, and the tension causes his fiancée to leave him, which just throws more misery onto the pile. Duncan makes a plea to the Muse, but she said she warned him there would be consequences and won’t help him, and Duncan comes to realize the hero of his novel - which he has admitted to being underwritten and a bit two dimensional - seems to be alive too. He thinks he should get away from Trevor, the eponymous killer, but following his poorly written nature, never gives Duncan any advice on how to do this. I actually liked that bit, that his shallowly written hero is passive and less than useful, although his heroic impulses eventually surface. Things escalate, until Duncan snaps and thinks he’s found a way to escape Trevor … except he hasn’t, leading to a final, fateful confrontation. If there’s a major flaw here, it’s that Duncan (and to be completely fair, almost everyone else) isn’t very sympathetic. You can understand how his need to create something, especially a best seller, could lead to such a deal, and Trevor is so instantly vile you do want him to be defeated and lose, but in the beginning it’s hard to work up much of a reason to care about him. The art helps, as it is very good, well delineated, as is the coloring, and just when your attention is flagging, here’s some nudity or a truly grisly bit of violence to regain your attention. (In fact, there’s a torn open body so detailed that it looks like it could have been transplanted from No Hero, or any of Warren Ellis’s Avatar books). Not a bad read, all things considered.
The Nobody (DC/Vertigo)
By Jeff Lemire
Best known for his indie books about Canadian small town life, Lemire takes on the story of the Invisible Man here, but transfers it to a milieu he knows so well, a small town. A mysterious, heavily bandaged man comes to the town of Large Mouth, a summer tourist driven town that becomes claustrophobically small during the winter, which it is now. His arrival in town is noted by everyone, but one restless teenage girl, Vickie, who is desperate for any excitement, and dreams of escaping this Podunk town as soon as possible, really pays attention. She befriends the man, Griffen, and while curious about his appearance and arrival, she doesn’t pry more than allowed. But the town, while growing used to him, still remains suspect, and while he has a good relationship with Vickie, he starts to pull away once the side effects of his invisibility get worse, although she doesn’t understand it. When a woman in town goes missing, everyone assumes the worst and assumes it’s Griffen, leading to a rebellious and ill thought out moment for Vickie, and an act of shocking violence. Although the Invisible Man is an oft told tale, from this perspective it’s mesmerizing, with the Invisible Man almost a secondary character in his own story. The town’s paranoia is understated and builds nicely to an inevitable but well handled climax. The art is standard Lemire, which you’ll like or you’ll hate, but he’s an expressionist type who likes to use the fewest lines possible to bring the panel across, and uses a moody blue tone to convey both the ennui of living in this nowhere town and the chill of an off season. I didn’t know what to expect reading this book, but I was pleasantly surprised.
One Model Nation (Image)
By C. Allbritton Taylor, Donovan Leitch, Jim Rugg, Cary Porter, & Jon Fell
I picked this one up based on the intriguing premise, and Jim Rugg on art. One of these things paid off. The story is about a fictional band in West Germany in the ‘70’s, when the terrorists of the Red Army Faction (more specifically the Baader-Meinhof group) were dominating the headlines, and how this band, One Model Nation, got caught up in the tide of violence and police hysteria. The problem with this story is that it glosses over many points - if you don’t know much about the Red Army Faction before going in, you won’t know much after either. Also, the band members? Almost completely interchangeable. No personalities to speak of, although one is given something of a back story. Terrorist paranoia and the intersection between art and politics are both very interesting topics, fascinating if handled well, but they are not handled well here. Why do we care about any of these people? Why were the RAF - more specifically Baader-Meinhof - considered so dangerous beyond their propensity for violence? Why were they being violent, what was their ultimate goal? Google, and you’ll probably find out. You won’t find out in this graphic novel. But the art, from Rugg’s always attractive, precise line work (and great period specific depictions of David Bowie and Klaus Nomi) to the more dreamy, charcoal heavy “bookend” work by Porter is the thing to recommend this volume. There was a great idea here, and in fact there’s still a great idea here, but the writers were unable to pull it off. They were too ambitious for their own good. (Oddly enough, that’s just one of the many minor charges you could level at Baader-Meinhof too.)
Ooku: The Inner Chambers, Volume 1 (Viz Signature)
By Fumi Yoshinaga
If they marketed this as “Y: The Last Manset in feudal Japan", admit it, you’d so buy it. You’re welcome, publisher, run with that. This is the start of a manga series that takes place in Edo era Japan, where a mysterious plague called the Redface Pox has decimated the male population of Japan, mainly killing off the young, but showing no particular favoritism for older men either. Women are, for whatever reason, totally immune, and the male dominated society of Japan finds itself having to restructure itself as a female dominated society. This is especially problematic when it comes to the Shogun, which is passed along male bloodlines, and the “inner chamber”, where the shogun’s female concubines resided. Now that the shogun is female (but goes by a male name and title), the inner chamber is filled with men, who are sheltered from the outside world so they won’t be exposed to the pox - and won’t give up the secret of the shogun’s true sex. An intriguing look at gender roles and how they might get exchanged, especially in such a strictly ritualized society, there’s nothing flashy about this, just a well observed character study of a couple different characters. The main focus of this first volume is Mizuno, the medieval version of a man whore who ends up inside the inner chamber, and tries to work his way through the political machinations and the petty jealousies of the other (male) concubines. The artwork is classic manga style, although I am happy to report there’s no big eyed schoolgirls in sight, and it’s open and has as aesthetically pleasing austerity to it. Even if you’re not a fan of manga, this is worth a look for its thoughtful, realistic feeling look at an idea that seems more far fetched than it actually is.
PVP Vol. 6: Silent But Deadly (Image Comics)
By Scott Kurtz
The sixth collection of Scott Kurtz's webcomic includes a solid year's worth of comics, all the strips from 2006, a year that included two of the more controversial stories Kurtz has done. First off, the infamous time travel storyline, when our cast got hurled back in time and then bounced forward after Kurtz reacted to fan backlash. Second, the introduction of Skull's cousin Shecky, which continued on with Kurtz refusing to listen to backlash after feeling bad for reacting before. Frankly, neither of those stories are as bad as certain readers made them out to be, but they're not among the best parts of the book either. Far more interesting are the more character-driven stories, such as Reggie and Miranda's awkward courtship, the introduction of Jade's old high school friend who has a secret about the office "Mom," and Brent and Francis's decision to "go romance" over the women in their lives. While Kurtz does some fun work with the goofy stuff, the character stuff proves itself to be the heart of this title time and again. That's where this comic shines, both in general and in this volume particularly.
--Blake M. Petit
Simpsons/Futurama Crossover Crisis (Abrams Comicarts)[/b]
By Ian Boothby & James Lloyd
Matt Groening's two most famous creations don't immediately lend themselves to crossovers. AFter all, in the Futurama universe, the Simpsons characters are fictional characters (and stars of the last-remaining non-pornographic comic book in the 31st century). Some time ago, though, the comic book creators behind the properties found away around that problem. This fancy slipcased hardcover collects the two Bongo Comics miniseries, Futurama/Simpsons Infinitely Secret Crossover Crisis and Futurama/Simpsons Crossover Crisis II, both by writer Ian Boothby and artist James Lloyd. In the first story, an attack by some old villains from the show send the Planet Express crew into a Simpsons comic book, bringing them into contact with the animated superstars. In the second part, the process is reversed, with the Simpsons (and virtually all of Springfield) spilling out into New New York of the year 3002. Boothby has a real challenge here. Despite having the same creator and a similar art style, the comedy of the two series is really quite different, and melding the two couldn't have been an easy task. He manages it with real finesse, finding ways to compliment each property with the other. The second story is actually superior to the first, with the scope of the story opening up considerably and making the stakes of the "crossover" higher than just the two primary casts. The hardcover is also packed with extras, including two other Simpsons comics by Boothby and Lloyd (chosen for inclusion, in a bit of metafiction, because Fry was reading them in the crossover), as well as a wealth of character sketches and designs, page layouts, alternate layouts, a cover gallery, a crossover pin-up gallery from some great artists including (but not limited to) Sergio Aragones, Michael Allred and Glenn Fabry, and even a full-size reprint of Simpsons Comics #1 tucked into a pocket in the back cover of the book. It's a pretty good story and a very impressive package.
--Blake M. Petit
Unbeatable: Hotter Than Hell (Razor Wolf Entertainment)
By Matthias Wolf & Carlos E. Gomez
A couple of years ago, Razor Wolf Entertainment put out an original graphic novel called Unbeatable, in which a young man learned that his father was, in fact, the Norse God Heimdall, and was then forced to spend a thousand years in one battle after another, learning to become the greatest warrior in history. Dale returns in this sequel, Hotter Than Hell. Finally freed from his thousand years of training, Dale is cast down to Hell itself. A chance encounter with Thor leads him to another round of drinking, debauchery, and lots and lots of violence... but the fun may distract him from their true quest, to find the deity that may be able to get them out of the pits of Hell. This is one of those books that you haven't heard of, but you really should make it a point to seek out. This is a fine adventure story, to begin with, and Wolf's characterization of the Norse gods (and assorted other deities) is totally different from any other version you can name, even if you take into account a little dig at the Marvel incarnation. What really makes this a book worth recommending is how everything really does surround Dale. Every fight, every scheme, every set piece, all of it adds up to changing and evolving Dale's character. Not only is he a different person at the end of the book than he is at the beginning, he goes through another person or two along the way, and every change is logical and believable. There aren't a lot of writers these days who can make a claim like that about their protagonist. Wolf pulls it off. Gomez's art is great as well -- creative, imaginative monsters, smoking she-demons, and some visual evolution for our main characters as well. Unlike the first volume, the book ends with a cliffhanger, which leaves me quite anxious for part three. I hope it doesn't take so long this time.
--Blake M. Petit