June 29, 2020
Now I can say that I’ve read at least one of the manga nominated for the “Best U.S. Edition of International Material -- Asia” Eisner this year. Thank Amazon’s recent “Buy 2 Get 1 Free” sale and my love of anything that features cats for that. As for the volume itself, you can thank the Louvre for it as this was one of several comics that were commissioned in cooperation with the museum. This is the first of them that I’ve actually read; though, I imagine I’ll get around to Hirohiko Araki’s “Rohan at the Louvre” eventually.
While “Cats of the Louvre” is certainly about cats, the approach mangaka Taiyo Matsumoto takes in dealing with them is best described as magical realism. This is because while they first appear as cats, Matsumoto draws them as cat-people whenever they’re alone. The approach is certainly more artful than the misbegotten “Cats” film from last year, and serves the story being told here better. It focuses on a kitten, Snowbebe, who makes a habit of exploring the Louvre during the night and day without regard for the trouble it causes his fellow cats in the attic. Yet its his appreciation of the art, and a strange ability he has that’s tied to it, that may solve the mystery of a little girl that disappeared in the museum over 50 years ago.
I’m saying that last bit with more urgency than the manga gives it for the majority of its length. Most of “Cats of the Louvre” is focused on style and mood as Matsumoto conjures feelings of uncertainty and restlessness for nearly all of the volume’s length. Snowbebe and several of the human cast know that they want something, but they just can’t figure out what it is. In the end, I think Matsumoto delivers enough closure to this idea in order to make this a satisfying read, but only if you’ve bought into what he’s been selling up to that point. Though I enjoyed this well enough, it’s not something I’d call Eisner-worthy. Not over “Die Wergelder” at any rate.
June 28, 2020
X of Swords: Creation #1
Event season never stops at Marvel Comics these days. What we’ve got here, however, is a gen-u-ine throwback here. Not only is this strictly an “X-Men” event, but it’s the kind of inter-title crossover that used to be a staple of the line. The last one of these we got was the ho-hum, Bendis-driven “Battle of the Atom” storyline, though I’ve got fond memories of “Messiah Complex” and “Second Coming” from around a decade back.
Jonathan Hickman is writing this inaugural issue with “House of X” artist Pepe Larraz illustrating it. This won’t be his first ride at the event rodeo, but it will be the first time he’ll be riding lead on an event with multiple writers. The current X-line of titles has been playing well with each other, continuity-wise, so the shift between writers should be a smooth one. As for what “X of Swords” will be about, most of the covers for the titles in these solicitations have featured… “Apocalyptic” imagery. So it’s probably a safe bet that the subplot about En Sabah Nur’s First Horsemen is going to get some payoff with this storyline.
Read the rest of this entry »
June 27, 2020
Octopath Traveller: The Complete Guide
Yes, I know this isn’t a comic. It doesn’t even fully qualify as an artbook as the solicitation text and subtitle reveal that it’s also part strategy guide as well. So what’s it doing here? For one, it’s an extraordinarily slow September in these solicitations as Dark Horse restructures its publishing schedule. Some of the titles that have had collected editions featured in previous solicitations, like “X-Ray Robot” and “BANG!” are now seeing their single issues being resolicited here.
Another reason is that if Dark Horse is going to keep putting out Nintendo-related art/guidebooks, then there’s one that I’d really like them to publish: XenobladeX: The Secret File -- Art of Mira. I’ve got the Japanese edition of this artbook for “Xenoblade Chronicles X” and it has a lot of pretty pictures in it. Most of them are accompanied by text that I can’t read. The fact that this “Xenoblade” game was published on the Wii U means that an English release for this artbook will have a limited audience, at best. However, if the other fans of this game feel as strongly about the game as I do, then every member of that audience would likely be willing to pay a premium for a proper English translation of this volume.
Read the rest of this entry »
June 26, 2020
Well, I can’t call these “Previews Picks” anymore…
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen: Who Killed Jimmy Olsen?
I think Matt Fraction is a very uneven writer. His runs on “Invincible Iron Man,” “Uncanny X-Men,” and “Sex Criminals” were marked by parts that were really good, and parts that were really terrible. The one series of his that I, and pretty much everyone else, acknowledge as being pretty great from beginning to end was “Hawkeye.” There, Fraction, artist David Aja (and guests) took the B-lister and gave him a solo series which was so good that Marvel has been trying to recapture the magic it worked for that character ever since.
“Jimmy Olsen” looks to be Fraction’s attempt to get lightning to strike twice, this time with artist Steve Lieber. Working in the series’ favor is that the title character’s history (especially in the Silver Age) has always trended towards “weird” and the fact that no one really cares too much about him these days. That kind of status is essentially a green light for Fraction and Lieber to let their freak flags fly as far as they can on a mainstream superhero comic. The early word is that they succeeded, but I’m very much interested in seeing it for myself. Also, kudos to DC for collecting the entire 12-issue maxiseries in one volume.
Read the rest of this entry »
June 24, 2020
Wouldn't we all want to go live in a rural island community right about now?
June 22, 2020
Yoshitoki Oima showed with “A Silent Voice” that she could mix serious social issues with heartfelt melodrama and interesting characters to tell an interesting story in the present day. Even if the first volume and its illustration of bullying was a full notch above the six that followed. Her follow-up series is miles away from that. It’s a sci-fi fantasy story that’s set in a world that resembles the one from our past that seeks to tackle the big question of what it means to be human. This first volume shows that Oima’s skills with characterization and melodrama are still intact, even if she’s got some work to do with her worldbuilding.
Read the rest of this entry »
June 21, 2020
David Bowie was a one-of-a-kind artist with an unmistakable style. So it’s fitting that this biography of his life up through his time as Ziggy Stardust is illustrated and co-written by another one-of-a-kind artist with an unmistakable style: Mike Allred. I’ve made no secret of how much I love his work, and he really knocks it out of the park in this graphic novel. Even though he’s drawing real people in real situations, Allred still finds plenty of ways to incorporate his off-kilter sensibilities. From early scenes where we see the madness that grips Bowie’s brother, to his communion with and eventual disassociation from Ziggy, the artist’s imagination is on full display as he gives us a version of the artist’s story that clearly didn’t happen this way, but rather a myth that is incredibly easy to buy into. “Bowie” is a full-on artistic tour-de-force from the artist working at the top of his game and fully invested in the story he’s telling.
If only that story were told in a more interesting way! Co-written by Steve Horton, the story of Bowie’s life is effectively boiled down into showing us a series of events that actually happened. There are times, particularly once Bowie hits on the idea for Ziggy, where it feels that the story is going to break into an actual narrative, but it never quite manages to. I do wonder if this format is the trade-off for Allred having the freedom to craft these amazing images around specific events. If it is, then this is probably the best version of that format we’re willing to get. “Bowie” may not offer a deep or revelatory look at the title character, but it’s still a visual stunner that showcases his genius, and that of its artist, in a compelling light.
While I’d certainly be interested in seeing Allred tackle Bowie’s leaner and less iconic years, his depiction of an encounter between the singer and Monty Python is a memorable highlighting of that great comedy troupe. If I could own a page of any art from this graphic novel, this one would be it.
June 20, 2020
The Banks family has a long criminal history in the city of Chicago. From Clara and her husband Melvin in the 70’s & 80’s, to her daughter Cora in the 90’s and 00’s, and her daughter Celia in the present day, they’ve all made money by being smart about who they steal from and never getting greedy. The thing is that Clara and Cora were actual thieves specializing in the art of breaking and entering while Celia practices the legitimate kind of thievery: Working as an investment banker. However, when Celia is passed over for the position of partner at her firm, after busting her ass off for over a year, she finds herself ready to enter the family business proper after learning about the firm’s richest client. Dirk Johnson is a secretive eccentric sitting on a fortune in gold bullion and bitcoin and three generations of African American women are about to take him for all he’s worth.
If it doesn’t sound like Mr. Johnson deserves that fate, don’t worry. He’s a certified asshole who has ties to the man responsible for the death of Melvin Banks. The addition of a personal element to this heist story should make it all that more compelling, but “The Banks” never comes off as more than a good idea for a story. While the characters have interesting histories, they simply walk through the story hitting their expected plot points and making familiar arguments with each other. The storytelling from writer Roxanne Gay and Ming Doyle is certainly functional, but it’s completely lacking in style and energy. A book about three generations of African American women sticking it to a terrible white guy shouldn’t be this dull or predictable. There’s a great story to be told with this setup, but “The Banks” certainly isn’t it.
June 19, 2020
When I saw Robert Kirkman at his solo panel during Comic-Con last year, he talked about the very slight chance that he’d return to the world of “The Walking Dead.” He was quick to mention that it would be after everything else in his professional life had gone wrong, leaving him desperate for a comeback as a result. If he did, however, that return would involve showing us what happened to his favorite character in the series: The charismatically sweary and psychopathic (former) leader of the Saviors, Negan. So when I came across a headline today stating that there would be a new “The Walking Dead” comic featuring the character, my first thought was, “Boy, that was quick!”
As it turns out, this is just going to be a one-time return for Kirkman and regular artist Charlie Adlard. “Negan Lives!” is their way of helping out comic stores as they reopen and try to regain business after closing during the ongoing pandemic. Not only are the creators waiving shipping fees for the comic, but they’re only making it available in comic stores. No digital release (yet) for this comic. So if you want it, then you’re going to have to get up and go into a comic shop to get it. Which is something that I can see myself doing, since I honestly thought we’d seen the last of this series until now, and I’d really like to know what Negan got up to after Maggie let him live.
Why stop here, though? What about having other creative teams get back together to deliver new issues of series that have concluded, or are just on permanent hiatus? Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie could show us what would’ve happened if Lucifer had run away with the end of “The Wicked + The Divine.” Tim Seely and Mike Norton would be able to fill us in on what the Amish special forces woman and her daughter were up to before they showed up in “Revival.” Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra will give us just one. more. issue. of “The Manhattan Projects.” Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera deliver an extra final issue of “Black Science” with a real mega-happy ending -- Okay, I’ll stop now…
June 17, 2020
Garth Ennis has been writing war comics for a couple decades now. Most of them are very good, with a few ranking right up there with “Preacher” and “Punisher MAX” as some of the best stuff that he’s ever written. Even with that being the case, there are certain tropes that creep into the majority of the writer’ war comics. The focus on the rank-and-file soldiers. General disdain if not outright contempt for the chain-of-command that orders said soldiers around. Characters pontificating very seriously about the state of the war and world around them. Gallows humor. Lots, and lots of gallows humor. The presence of these tropes isn’t inherently bad in Ennis’ comics, it’s just that they lend the proceedings a greater sense of familiarity than you’d expect them to have.
Such is the case with “Sara,” which sees Ennis and artist Steve Epting focusing on an all-female squad of snipers in the time of the Siege of Leningrad in 1942. All of the above has been recalibrated for Soviet standards, which balance the expected and the intriguing. In the case of the former, there’s the title character and her bare. As for the latter, there are little things like Vera, the soldier who loves torturing prisoners just a little too much, or the political officer who comes off like a joke until it’s revealed that she’s very good at listening. Splitting the difference between the two extremes are the examples of how Russia enforces loyalty at the cost of everything -- including logic -- which are central to Sara’s story and no less frightening because of how familiar they are.
While Ennis’ war comics usually have good art, Epting provides great art for “Sara.” After years of toiling in, and sometimes being an ill fit for, the superhero trenches, the artist delivered some career-best work on “Velvet,” and this is a great follow-up to that particular title. Epting delivers a thoroughly detailed world that feels lived-in by its characters, with their weariness, concern, or fear expertly captured on their faces. He also captures the rush of war as combat can break out in a second as a result of an ill-timed bathroom break, or roll over the defending side with an implacable singlemindedness. It’s art that elevates the series as a whole and results in the rare (probably only) Ennis-written war comic where the art outshines the writing.