Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category

Review: Paul Pope, Battling Boy

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

BattlingBoy

Paul Pope is my favorite comics artist, so take this rating through that lens. I love the thick lines and expressive detail of his art as well as the “rawk and roll” energy that permeates everything he does. This volume doesn’t disappoint on the drawing board, conjuring up weird monsters, beautiful people, a sprawling city and weird Kirby-inspired future tech.

The story is a success too. We have the “Battling Boy” descending from a magical city in the sky to an earth in peril , taking on the coming of age quest that’s mandated in his warrior society. He throws himself into fighting the monsters menacing his new home, showing a mixture of bravado, inexperience and uncertainty that stretches all the way back to Peter Parker and beyond.

In a parallel story, the adolescent daughter of a murdered pulp hero takes up her dad’s mantle, resenting, in the process, this upstart newcomer. She’s rendered skillfully and sympathetically, and it’s exciting to see how they’ll interact–and how a city desperate for rescue will use them both.

This volume is definitely an introduction–it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, without much resolution. There’s a lot that’s familiar here for anyone who’s read many superhero comics. But its possessed with a unique energy and a first-class artistic talent, and I look forward to seeing what happens next.

Review: Templar by Jordan Mechner

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

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This historical fiction graphic novel is Holy Blood, Holy Grail meets the Italian Job as author Jordan Mechner follows up the arrest and dissolution of the Knights Templar with a heist plot to steal back their stores of gold. His characters are mostly scoundrels on the fringes of the order, with one true knight among them. The story takes them through the order’s collapse, with arrests, torture and false confessions staining the reputation of this wealthy, stateless army.

Mechner does a good job capturing the politics around the targeting of the Templars. An influential French minister senses weakness and aims to build himself up with their treasure. The torturers’ work feels grim and realistic, as do the coerced confessions. There’s even a late pushback as a legalistic priest uses the law to try to defend his brothers, only to finally realize the state’s patience for legal manuevering has run out.

We spend most of our time with the core cast, though. Our principal knight, Martin, escapes capture only because he’s out carousing with friends in the order, chasing an old love who got away. She returns to the plot as he and his mates aim to find the Templars’ hidden gold. Most of the party is just looking to enrich itself, although Martin has nobler objectives.

From there we get the usual complications and detective work as the oddball team closes in on their big target. Mechner and his illustrators, LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland, do excellent work capturing a lived-in feel for Medieval Paris. The characters are well distinguished, and the art team does a good portraying the ample action.

If you’ve watched any heist movies, the story will be familiar. The villains don’t have much depth, and several team members lend just the right skills to keep the plot going. (One, a Muslim convert who joins the crew, is a particularly egregious deus ex machina. His character may be well intended, but he’s certainly not believable.)

The volume is impressive and enjoyable, though, even if many of the elements are familiar. Especially recommended if you’re a fan of the Templar mythos.

Review: Tales Designed to Thrizzle Volume 2 by Michael Kupperman

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

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Tales Designed to Thrizzle Volume 2 is wide ranging, bizarre and very funny. Michael Kupperman again turns a volume over to his comic imagination, riffing in stories ranging from single-page gags to an epic spoof of Quincy, M.E. that sees the 70s television coroner meet St. Peter (who has his own comic book) and get lost in an Inception-esque series of parodies.

The highlight is the recurring pairing of Mark Twain and Albert Einstein, who have a range of oddball schemes and adventures. (“I’ll tell you Al,” one opens, “I never thought we would end up on a game show hosted by Count Dracula.)

Kupperman has Twain adopt a “try anything” tough-guy patter that’s hilarious, whether the great author is serving as a Hollywood detective, blowing up asteroids or taking “sexy reporter” pills smuggled in from Japan.

The different stories adopt varying styles, but most of the volume parrots the rough, vibrant outlines and “waste no time” plotting of early superhero comics. Characters are given to wacko lines and bold pronounements: “Get offa me, you ghostly clown!” or “Gimme some pants, then I gotta investigate you two.”

But you don’t have to be subtle when you’re sharing the adventures of Jungle Princess or revealing that the moon landing actually employed death-row convicts, a la The Dirty Dozen, who later find gold. You just have to funny, and Kupperman is

Comics Review: The Grand Duke

Friday, July 19th, 2013

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The Grand Duke is an adventurous graphic novel combining World War II action in the skies with quite a bit of “we might die tomorrow” coupling on the ground. It’s skillfully done, but I don’t think it quite transcends the pulp storytelling that inspired it.

Writer Yann’s plot does a good job laying clear its “tyrants decide, the people die” theme, especially with the vile Communist boss on the Russian side. But character development on the ground is frequently interrupted to get back into the air (or out of some clothes). Beyond that, the hero is a bit too noble–a Hitler-hating German who removes the swastika from his plane–and the villains too vile.

There are some nice curveballs on the margins of the plot, and all of the art is exquisite. Romain Hugault is just as comfortable drawing historic planes as gratuitous, voluptuous female nudes. His panels are rich and detailed. A lot of care went into the drawing, and the dogfight scenes really draw you into the action in the sky. Check it out, with classic Enemy Ace as a required complement.

Book Review: Wizzywig by Ed Piskor

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

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Wizzywig: Potrait of a Serial Hacker is compelling comics fiction from Ed Piskor, who tells the story of a hacker who moves from the early thrill of discovery to serious trouble with the law. Kevin Phenicle is a nerdy, picked-on kid who likes figuring out–and exploiting–systems, whether it’s buying the right punch to make his own bus-transfer passes or whistling the perfect tones for free long-distance calls.

His grandma gets him an early computer for his birthday one year, and he’s soon exploring BBSs and making money pirating games. Eventually he’s breaking into Ma Bell headquarters, inadvertently distributing massive worms and turning to life on the lam and eventually in prison.

Kevin’s an interesting character. He’s mistreated, sure, but he’s a schemer too, unafraid of boundaries he doesn’t respect, which is most of them. He’s not above working on the margins of the law, especially when he’s on the run, but he never seems eager to steal or hurt anyone who hasn’t hurt him first.

Piskor covers a lot of ground here, from teenage hijinks to the desperation of staying one step ahead of the feds and finally a brutal life in prison. He does it skillfully, with a cartoon-realism style. (He started by doing work with Harvey Pekar.) He likes big hair and weird faces and makes good use of single-shot “talking heads” to open chapters and offer commentary on the story.

Ultimately, the book suffers from a lack of subtlety. It’s openly on Kevin’s side, but it would benefit from giving more serious consideration to the people who are alarmed and afraid of what he’s doing. The media coverage is embodied in a cartoonishly monstrous buffoon of a local news anchor, and those scenes are the weakest in the book. You understand the author’s point with the character, but he could make it better with less, not more.

But Wizzywig is an imaginative exploration of a culture that pushed boundaries and broke the law. It also highlights the official overreaction to its existence, leading us to wonder what a just punishment, if any, would be for Kevin’s exploits.

Today’s Dinosaur Comics Is Funny

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Any comic whose take on the afterlife is “Question A: Is there an afterlife? Question B: If so, is there a level cap on XP?” is all right by me.

Fantastic Final Frontier

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

A webcomic I just heard about and really enjoy: Final Frontier is a rock and roll send-up of Kirby-era Fantastic Four.

HT: Comics Alliance

Review: Mouse Guard Fall 1152 by David Petersen

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 is a kind of Knights Templar for the murine set. This roaming band of guardsmen live by a chivalrous code that has them protect the roadways of their tiny society, ensuring the ability of mice to trade and travel without becoming lunch.

The society is sword-and-cloak stuff, a Middle Ages vibe with castles and wooden houses, hand tools and ye old shoppes. It’s a solid start on a compelling world, although I wish more time had been spent exploring it. Instead we’re thrown right into the action, which feels pervasive.

The art is the high point. Peterson creates vibrant, water color-styled pages with an evocative interplay between light and dark. These mice live in night and day, sunshine and storm.

The writing isn’t as strong; a lot of the big lines feel borrowed from other stories, as if he’s still writing his way to a firm voice. But it works, and if it continues to improve to match the art–and add some more characterization to the storytelling–the series could be something special

Review: Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Box by Warren Ellis

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Would I enjoy Warren Ellis’ Astonishing X-Men: Ghost more if it weren’t an X-Men story? Yes. And not only because he takes characters I’m familiar with in directions that don’t seem consistent with their histories.

The X-Men here are as savage as I’ve seen them. The team, composed of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine, Armor and a visiting Storm, seem to have lost their way. They’re nihilistic, prone to torture and murder, jumping in and wrecking things with no regard for consequences. Only Storm voices disapproval or surprise. The rest have grown accustomed to new ways of action, anchored in a sense that extinction is possible for mutants as a group.

This could be an interesting new direction for the X-men; indeed, it looks to be the way the franchise is trying to go (I’m not fully up to date). But what would be a new angle for a cohesive franchise seems like more grist for the mill for one that scatters its output—and viewpoints—over multiple channels every month. To argue “the X-men are changing,” you need to have a definitive take on who the X-men are, which doesn’t seem possible these days.

Ellis has to shoehorn his dimension-spanning story into an awkward set-up revolving around the old “no more mutants” House of M crossover. While he largely succeeds, it’s hard to feel it wouldn’t be better if he could set his own clean slate.

There are other small problems with the narrative. All the pieces needed to solve the mystery drop neatly into the characters laps. The characters are all a little too quippy; the dialogue can be amusing, but it also feels like Ellis fills too much panel space for a few world-weary takedowns.

The X-men are exempt from the carnage they dole out. In key scenes, a laser passes through a defensive shield only where it can do the least damage and a human-level combatant goes toe-to-toe with some monster. Worse, the miniseries dismissively discards a longstanding character only to conclude he was basically right. It doesn’t feel like much care was put into the overall tone and cohesiveness.

Simone Bianchi’s art doesn’t add to the appeal. It’s detailed but murky, with an overall low-contrast approach that has little leap from the page. The action is stiff and confusing.

But for X-men fans, the minseries is still worth reading. Ellis has enough fun concepts to burn that you wish he had more issues to devote to them. Reading it, I imagined it as part of an ongoing series, with space between issues to build the mystery—and its implications.

Review: DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke

Friday, July 27th, 2012

 

I love Darwyn Cooke’s art; I think he does an excellent job capturing action and using streamlined details to evoke memorable characters. But I’m not as big a fan of his writing, and the weaknesses of his approach can be seen throughout both volumes of DC: The New Frontier, which is generally regarded as a contemporary comics classic.

Part of the issue is that he’s playing with a massive cast of characters—basically anyone published by D.C. Comics during their golden era, from Superman at the top to King Faraday at the more obscure. It certainly is fun to see Cooke visually redesign this sprawling cast.

But because of the volume of characters, they generally come of more as names than people. You have to use what you know about them elsewhere to know them here. Oh, sure, Lois Lane loves Superman—that’s what happened in all the other comics. But the impressions we get in this series are fleeting. Motivations are unclear, especially when a “Red Scare” set-up is used to add flavor and then abandoned when the story dictates it.

The characterization we do see is meant to be noble but comes off as a little hokey instead, particularly Hal Jordan flying combat missions in Korea despite a refusal to use his machine guns. Rick Flagg is compelling as a patriot damaged by a career in secret ops while Martian J’onn J’onzz adds some humor, and Wonder Woman has an interesting, if undeveloped, path from believer to subversive.

The storytelling mostly seems to kill time until the next big moment. People blow themselves up for the greater good at least four times in the story, and while their choices make a certain kind of sense, they seem most motivated by Cooke’s impulse that he’s due for another spread. Things do cohere with a big threat near the end, but that’s only after another plot thread is dropped entirely.

The book’s strengths—merging early DC comics into one coherent universe—are also its weaknesses. I imagine your affinity for classic DC characters will determine your enthusiasm for the story Cooke is telling. In both instances, I come down square in the middle.