What I’ve Been Reading 4/28/10

April 28, 2010

The most interesting news for me that came out of the C2E2 convention was that Carla Speed McNeil was signing up with Dark Horse.  This means that DH will now be publishing her long-running series "Finder," first self-published as single issues, then as a webcomic, starting with a new volume "Voices" in February followed by two HC collections of the series thus far.  I've got a friend of mine who is a rabid fan of her work and this news was like mana from heaven for him.  I've only read the first two volumes of "Finder" and while I probably won't be doing a podcast on it until the HC collections come out, I can say that the first two volumes are dense reads that reward your full attention as much as they demand it.

This isn't news from C2E2, but the same friend was also glad to hear news that Paul Pope has a new book coming out from First Second Publishing later this year called "Battling Boy."  Described as a superhero fight epic with the main character battling down hundreds of oncomers, it sounds like something that will work really well coming from an artist like Pope who specializes in action and motion.  He's also working on a partial re-draw of his long-unfinished series "THB" and finishing up the series in the process.  And on that note...

Heavy Liquid: I'd heard a lot of good things about this mini-series from Pope from a lot of sources over the years and after reading, I can say that they're all true.  Set in a near-future metropolis, the story is about a man named S who is hired to find an artist who went missing years ago.  The fact that she used to be his ex-girlfriend is a minor complication in light of the fact that he's a wanted man by both the local mob and the government after he stole a large quantity of the title substance.  He didn't really do it for cash, because once you boil the substance a certain way and ingest it, the substance provides a high like you wouldn't believe.  Reading this book gives a great approximation of that feeling as Pope creates an impressively realized world filled with characters that are interesting and engaging despite/because of their familiarity.  He also dishes out some truly kinetic action sequences that almost make you feel like you're reading a movie.

Hellboy vol. 9:  The Wild Hunt: Way back when I did my podcast on the "Hellboy" series, one of the criticisms I had was that every major Hellboy story was some variation on someone telling the character that "You're the beast of the apocalypse!  You must fulfill your destiny," to which he'd reply with some variation on "Screw you!" and then hit them.  Its sister series "B.P.R.D." didn't have that problem and it also had a focus for the ongoing story it was telling, which is why I've always appreciated it more.  That said, "The Wild Hunt" not only gives "Hellboy" a focus, but it also puts a new spin on the whole "beast of the apocalypse" business.  While Hellboy meets up with the baby he saved in "The Corpse" (and finds out she's grown into a fine woman) the leader of the evil forces that were gathering in the last volume makes her appearance and starts flexing her power.  The title character also gets some info on his family history (and finds out that he's King of the Britons!) and finds that the corner he's been boxed into may have a secret passage allowing him to escape.  For the first time in perhaps ever, I'm really looking forward to the next volume to see what happens.  Well... the volume after the next since "vol. 10" will be another collection of short stories and mini-series.

Kingyo Used Books vol. 1: While I've been aware that all of the titles in the IKKI sub-imprint of Viz's Signature line can be read online from their site, I've been buying them blind since the company has shown itself to have really good taste when it comes to bringing us titles that are meant for an older, more mature crowd.  After reading this, I think I'm going to have to start checking out these titles before I buy them.  While I wouldn't say that this series about a used manga bookstore and the people who frequent it is outright bad, it's just that it keeps hitting me over the head with something that I already know very well.  To that end, a series that essentially screams "HEY!  ISN'T MANGA AWESOME!  THERE'S A TITLE FOR EVERYONE THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE AND MAKE IT AWESOME!" for almost two hundred pages isn't really the kind of series that I'd want to recommend to anyone else or invest in a second volume.

Ooku vol. 3: One of my favorite titles last year proves that it hasn't lost a step with this new volume.  While Iemitsu and Arikoto are officially a couple now, problems arise when several months go by without any signs that the female shogun is pregnant.  This leads Reverend Kasuga to take matters into her own hands and find a new man who will be able to put a bun in that oven.  Meanwhile, famine and drought sweep across the land as the populace grows ever more restless and Iemitsu takes steps to prevent a rebelling and set things up for her "coming out" party.  This continues to be a great bit of alternate historical fiction both because of the details that mangaka Fumi Yoshinaga provides for both the setting and the slow change that Japanese society is undergoing as a result of the shortage of men.  Iemitsu and Arikoto's troubles also provide a wonderfully rich vein of drama as the circumstances that force her to lie with other men are both new and justifiable.  This volume does leave me wondering when, or if, we'll ever get back to the characters from the first volume.  God knows there's enough potential stories for Yoshinaga to tell about this period and its characters, but I do wonder where those in particular will be going.

Area 10: This is the latest graphic novel from the Vertigo Crime line does little to sway my opinion that the imprint won't have as long and illustrious a life as its parent one.  Adam Kamen is a cop tracking down a serial killer known as "Henry the Eighth" after the trail of decapitated corpses he leaves in his wake.  After an assault at a psychiatrist's office leaves him with a hole in his head, he starts getting bizarre flashes of potential futures and actions of the people around him.  Despite the out-there premise, this story is your run-of-the-mill "cop chases serial killer" procedural where you won't need the main character's special ability to know what's going to happen next.  While artist Chris Samnee does a great job with the art, writer Christos Gage's past work as a writer on TV shows like "Law & Order:  SVU" seems to work against him here.  While he's done great work in the past by grafting procedural-style storytelling to superheroes (check out his "Stormwatch" series for the best example) this story involving real people doesn't have the same spark.  It wouldn't surprise me to learn that he originally wrote this as a screenplay and when it couldn't get produced he decided to turn it into a graphic novel.  Reading it now, I can see why no one bothered to produce it.

Wolverine:  Weapon X vol. 1 -- The Adamantium Men: If you've been listening to me or reading these posts, you'll know that I've always got room in my library for a good Wolverine story.  These days it's turning out to be that writer Jason Aaron produces nothing but the kind.  Here he has the data used by the Weapon X program in order to create Wolverine falling into the hands of a private military contractor outfit by the name of Blackguard.  They've used the data to create mercenaries with the title character's abilities and none of his morals (such as they are).  Naturally Wolverine takes the fight to them and bad people start dying in entertainingly violent ways.  It's got everything you could want in a Wolverine story and unless you want them to be timeless transcendent masterpieces, you'll find what's here to be plenty satisfying.  Artist Ron Garney does a great job on the art for the title story, and Adam Kubert does a bang-up job on the two-parter that fills out the collection where we see what a month in the life of a mutant with membership in three team books and his own solo title is like, and then talks about it with Spider-Man in a bar.  Good stuff and it bodes well for Aaron and Kubert's "Astonishing Wolverine and Spider-Man" mini-series.

Batman and Robin vol. 1:  Batman Reborn: With Bruce Wayne currently lost in time after the events of "Final Crisis," Dick Grayson has taken on the burden of Batman's cowl and recruited Wayne's son Damien as the new Robin.  Alfred is still Alfred, in case you were wondering.  Having another character take on the mantle of Batman sounds like it's an editorially-mandated recipe for disaster, but in the hands of writer Grant Morrison, it turns out to be a refreshing change that gives some new energy to the traditional bat-storytelling.  The first of two stories involves a crazed circus ringleader who orchestrates crimes with his army of freaks when he's not making more of his own, while the second has the return of former (dead) Robin Jason Todd as a take-no-prisoners vigilante whose actions wind up summoning an even worse threat to Gotham.  While the stories themselves aren't all that new, it's the telling that makes them both.  Morrison wisely doesn't ask us to accept that this is a permanent change, just new actors playing familiar roles, and it's fun to see Dick and Damien struggle with their new roles and with each other.  Art-wise, Frank Quitely works magic on the opening arc, giving the villains an appropriate creepiness and making Morrison's pacing for the action scenes seem completely effortless and natural.  The thing is that while Quitely effortlessly keeps up with the demands of Morrison's scripts, Philip Tan (who handles the art for the second arc) still manages to keep pace, but you can almost see the exhaustion creeping up on him as he does so in his art.

Comic Picks #53: The Losers

April 21, 2010

This time, I hope the movie is as good as the comic.

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What I’ve Been Reading 4/14/10

April 15, 2010

The big news this week is that Marvel has ended its partnership with Diamond distribution… for distributing its comics to bookstores. Now they’ll be distributed by the Hachette Book Group, one of the largest book distributors in the country and the group behind Yen Press. I doubt that this is the “beginning of the end” for Diamond as they’ll still distribute Marvel’s comics to bookstores, but the real effect of this announcement probably won’t be seen for another year or so as the changeover won’t be happening until September. Marvel is banking on this move to bolster their bookstore sales, but I’m skeptical that’ll happen since superhero titles (unless they have a movie tie-in, sometimes) generally don’t sell as well as non-superhero titles outside of the direct market.  If nothing else, I'm hoping that it'll at least reduce the delay between the time their collections arrive in stores and when they're available through Amazon.

And in other news, the latest round of solicitations from Dark Horse reveal that vol. 4 of “Ghost Talker’s Daydream” will be out in September. I… am… in… shock! I’d thought this series had been put “on hiatus” after the third volume came out last year, but now it’s back? Had Dark Horse just caught up with the Japanese release, or was there some kind of behind the scenes wrangling that allowed it to make it back to us? This will require some research, and while I’m glad to see it back (it was getting better with each volume) I’d have been happier to see vol. 13 of “Eden” announced instead. Anyway, reviews start after the break:

Ghost Riders: Heaven’s On Fire: Writer Jason Aaron concludes his run on “Ghost Rider” by re-teaming with artist Roland Boschi, the artist he started his run with. The setup is ridiculous even by the standards of the Marvel Universe, but that’s part of its charm as the rogue angel Zadkiel has taken control of Heaven and is consolidating his power in order to rewrite reality to his liking. Meanwhile, Ghost Riders Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch, Caretaker, Daimon “Son of Satan” Hellstorm, and some girl I’ve never seen before team up to save the Antichrist and find a way into Heaven to stop Zadkiel. The book’s pacing isn’t as tight as it should be for a final arc with the fate of reality at stake, but Aaron manages to bring lots of great comedic touches (wait until you see where the Antichrist is working) to the story while making sure the narrative doesn’t go too far off the rails. Boschi’s rugged and sketchy art may not be to everyone’s liking, but he brings some very welcome energy to the madcap proceedings.

The Killer vol. 2: The first volume of writer Matz and artist Luc Jacamon’s journey into the life and mindset of a professional killer gave the impression that we were in for a story about his mental disintegration and presumably lonely death. That first volume was good enough that I picked up the second despite the fact that it would in all likelihood turn out to be one of those great books that I only read once because they’re so depressing. Shock of all shockers, this volume doesn’t go that way at all. I really don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say that the book’s supporting cast gets much larger in this volume and the effect they have on the main character is something that I didn’t see coming. Said “effect” is also handled in a way that feels convincing and sneaks up on you as a reader. It’s great stuff and while I was expecting it to end here (the series was originally solicited as a ten-issue miniseries), the final page states that things are “to be continued.” I can’t say that bodes well for the title character’s life, but I’m convinced that whatever comes next will be well worth reading.

Ristorante Paradiso: Mangaka Natsume Ono is the next mangaka Viz is set on making into a household name for readers of mature manga, and after reading “Not Simple” earlier this year, I was ready to believe the hype. After this, well… It’s not bad, but when set against the work of other mangaka Viz has gotten behind (creators like Naoki Urasawa, Takehiko Inoue, and Fumi Yoshinaga) this particular work just feels a bit slight. The story focuses on a young girl named Nicoletta who has traveled to Italy to find her mother, Olga, who abandoned her long ago to marry the owner of a fancy restaurant. In exchange for her daughter’s silence, Olga gives her a place to stay and an apprenticeship at the restaurant. If you think that Nicoletta will find love, mend her relationship with her mother, and learn a few things about life, then you won’t find anything surprising about the story at all. Ono displays a sure craftsman’s hand in the art and in the characterization, but this feels like nothing more than your usual romantic comedy. I’m crossing my fingers that the follow-up series “Gente” has a bit more substance and interesting storytelling than what we get here.

Phonogram vol. 2: The Singles Club: Writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie return to their world where music serves as a form of magic, with results that are as good, if not better than the original. Instead of telling one story with one protagonist, the creators have upped their game considerably by telling seven interlinked stories of phonomancers (with vol. 1 protagonist David Kohl popping in and out of all of them) as they party down at a club one night. While each of the stories are interesting character studies in their own right, this is a book that rewards multiple readings as you’ll want to see how they all fit together and interact with each other. It’s an impressive achievement on Gillen’s part (as is his ability to make all of the music references seem enticing rather than elitist), but it’s McKelvie who makes it all work with his amazing work at depicting emotion and movement on the printed page. Sadly, this may be the last volume we’ll see of this series for a very long while (if ever) as it sold well enough for McKelvie to choose between eating and working for Marvel or starving.

Yotsuba&! vol. 8: In this volume, Yotsuba does not punch any farm animals. She does, however, get blown away in a typhoon. If you’re not buying this series, then please let me know why. I’m sure we can still be friends.

Northlanders vol. 3: Blood in the Snow: This is writer Brian Wood’s other series for Vertigo, and unlike most mainstream comics being published today, it has no regular cast. Yes, the character of Sven from the series’ first arc returns for a one-shot story here, but every other story in the series to date has distinguished itself by having a cast of characters specific to it. That hasn’t been a problem so far, and it continues to not be one here as Wood continues to display his gift for conjuring up compelling characters in unique situations. Aside from Sven’s aforementioned return, we’re treated to stories about Vikings sacking a small Christian villiage with a young boy’s help, three women who prove to be the equal of many men as they fight for their lives in a ruined fort, and the rigors of Viking single combat. They’re all good stories and Wood is getting better about keeping the “modernness” that’s present in the dialogue of every other project he’s done in check. What I do wonder about is if he has a larger plan for all of the tales he’s telling here. Yes, you can see some allusions to issues of the modern world in the stories here, but when all is said and done, are we going to be left with a collection of generally very good stories, or one giant epic?

Comic Picks #52: Kick-Ass

April 7, 2010

All I can say is that I hope the movie is more enjoyable than its source material.

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