2.22.06 Reviews Cont'd

Apparently I left all the good stuff on the bottom of my "to read" pile, because these were excellent;

Kabuki #6 (Marvel/ICON): Just when I think I'm ready to forego single issue installments of David Mack's grand opus about identity, art, and culture, and wait for the occassional trade, he goes and does this. He drops some major knowledge that is timed to hit me just right in my own life. This book usually contains so many nuggets of information about personal style, life, perception, and point of view, that it has the ability to resonate strongly with an ever growing readership despite major time delays in between issues. This issue has a sequence that discusses rule breaking being a basic method for problem solving. The Scott Thorpe quote "rules are integrated patterns of thinking that we mistake for truth" was powerful. Mack goes on to explain that "rules are not necessarily bad things. They are like railroad tracks. If you want to go where the track goes, they are perfect. But if you want to find a solution that is not on the rail line... Not on the scheduled stops... The only way to get there is to leave the tracks." One quibble is that this issue had a heaping dose of critique on the war on terror and some oil dependency riffs that really felt out of place, so I downgraded to Grade A-.

Solo #9 (DC): Scott Hampton's work was unfamiliar to me, but this issue provides a good sampling. The anonymous letter housing a type face with the letter "g" being two circles connected by a stray line was superb. His amazing, realistic line with just a tad of caricature thrown in, looks good colored, just inked, or inked heavily with shadows and negative space influenced by Frank Miller. Hampton has a good eye for camera placement and is a very competent storyteller, a master of pacing. His retro sci-fi monster tale is an admitted nod to US horror comics from the 1950's but has the finesse of a very modern European line to dress it up. Regardless of the creator chosen, it's just impossible not to like this title. The concept itself, despite the strength of the execution is beyond reproach. This is one example that disproves the rule where the whole is equally as great as the sum of the individual parts. Grade A.

Ordinary Victories (NBM/ComicsLit): This book was not released this week, but I picked it up this week based on a recommendation from buddy Mike Allen, Manager of Spacecat Comics & Editor at Hidden Agenda Press, which spun out of a conversation about The Rabbi's Cat and a few other books that have "blown us away" recently. Thanks Mike!

This impressive solo project from Manu Larcenet focuses on the life of a photographer and his relationships with his colleagues, parents, girlfriend, and brother. In other words, elements of an ordinary life. He grows through some small victories professionally and in those social relationships. Thus the title "Ordinary Victories" referring to him being stretched to overcome those challenges. There's also an interesting thematic question posed about excluding people from your life on moral grounds even if they have deep regrets over past transgressions. On the surface, this book reads a bit depressing and introspective. But like a lot of NBM works and fellow Jury Prize Winner at the Angouleme Festival, The Rabbi's Cat, there is a lot to be found in subtlety here. I actually found the joys and heartaches found in these small ordinary moments to be quite uplifting and life affirming. These small events or ordinary victories often become overlooked and trivialized by big empty events. This book argues that the most important moments may be the small, ordinary, subtle ones that we miss in our frenzied attempts at the spectacle of greatness. Grade A.


2.22.06 Reviews

Iron Man: The Inevitable #3 (Marvel): I've been drawn to this series because I love all things Joe Casey and the odd approach that Frazer Irving brings to the art is really interesting and different, in a 70's porn-star sorta' way (it's that moustache!). That said, I haven't been able to really connect with the series until now. I think what Casey is doing, his "hook" if you will, is to comment on the cyclical and repetitive nature of the superhero structure. The inevitability of that. It seems that this calm approach is a deliberate analysis of what it means to be a hero, and more importantly, why would Tony do it, what drives him? And in retrospect, the same question can be posed to his villains, which makes their odd dialogue a little more readable. Grade B+.

Green Lantern #9 (DC): Rough art. Weird inking. Boring story. What a lame excuse to get Bruce to put on the ring. Some really hokey dialogue between Hal and Bruce. That whole Batmobile conversation was excruciating. Grade C-.

Astonishing X-Men #13 (Marvel): Felt pretty flat with the exception of some touching Kitty/Peter moments, and the sight of the SHIELD Helicarrier always takes my breath away. Basically felt like the "no-big-deal" continuation of the first arc, rather than the "flash-bang" first issue of the second arc, which is what I was expecting. Mostly for JC's art, Grade B.

The Sentry #6 (Marvel): The... *ahem* "big reveal" was neither dramatic, nor very clearly told. But for some reason, I still kinda' like this book. Romita's Dr. Strange was fun to see. I just hope that the Sentry/Void persona is going to get sorted out and resolved once and for all in the next 2 issues and not continue to be circular logic that doubles back on itself like Chris Carter's storytelling ala X-Files. Grade B.

The American Way #1 (DC/Wildstorm): Sometimes you can throw all the fancy college vocabulary out the window, suspend the critical analysis, ignore the benefit of the doubt, stop wondering what the creators were going for, and simply do a gut check. Gut? This book sucked. For so many reasons. I mean it really made me mad. I was a little angry that I wasted my $3. That they thought they could get away with this stuff. The opening pages read like a pastiche of Tucker: A Man & His Dream, Redford's Quiz Show, the narrative style of Seabiscuit, strong doses of Astro City, and outright steal some War of the Worlds imagery. The following pages are continued collages of those parts in varying percentages. They use the Tucker and Quiz Show feel to set the time period. They spoon in a little Quiz Show style paranoia for the conspiracy feel. They try to set up an instant world from the everyman's point of view with a sustained Astro City groove. They introduce the Lois Lane archetype and then do... nothing with it except make it painfully obvious. They throw in Bobby Kennedy, which makes for a really uncomfortable mix of images. This book is filled with information but has no clear direction. The ending panels are designed to be striking but fall flat on their face since they were telegraphed and I was so disgusted by that point. Homage is one thing when it's embedded in some originality. But when everything is borrowed, it's called a swipe. And when it's strung together as poorly and thinly as this, we call it artistic thievery. You should all be so ashamed of this. I mean seriously, get an original idea, I've seen all of these elements countless times before and in infinitely better renderings. This book makes it's audience feel like a caged zoo monkey that is so fed up and disgraced with repetition and boredom that he has to throw his own monkey shit out from behind the bars to generate anything remotely entertaining in a doomed attempt to alter the crumbling artistic landscape and prevent severe depression. Grade F.


2.15.06 Reviews

Atlas #2 (Drawn & Quarterly): Dylan Horrocks' powerful little book about estranged lovers and a writer that's become numb to the world. Grade B+.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #27 (Marvel): It seems like I enjoy every other arc of this book. And... err, that last arc was pretty good, wasn't it? "Suicidal" Ben is written well, just feels dramatically over the top and out of character. And the spacetime chomping "Agriopes" feel a little too much like Stephen King's Langoliers. I never was a big Thor fan, so it all felt pretty flat to me, your mileage may vary. Grade B-.

New Avengers #16 (Marvel): If you switch your brain off and accept it as mindless entertainment, this is a fun read that looks great. How lame is that Kickers, Inc. promo? Grade B.

The Keep #4 (IDW): Feels a bit more compressed with information and exposition than previous issues, but still a very strongly crafted work in both scripting and art execution, anxious to see how it wraps up and if it will be collected. Could be a contender for this year's "Top 10" list. Grade B+.

Batman: Year 100 #1 (DC): Like Vanessa Williams, I went and "saved the best for last." I think I fell in love with this book from the very first page. Like all of Paul Pope's gifted work, this is heady without being condescending and artistic without being pompous. And I think Pope is in love here too, this reads like a 100 year old love letter to Bob Kane and all of the various Batman contributors who've added to his appeal. Pope proves with his kinetic art and frenetic pacing that the urban myth of the Bat can be an enigmatic and enduring symbol for years to come. There's a panel that I just adore here, as the Federal Police kick in a door hunting for the "Double U" (Unclassified & Undocumented) suspect, they confront a child and we see Batman hiding in the shadowed background behind a door. It really delivers the feel of this dystopian future, where he's been pushed even further into seclusion. There's some clever work at play, like the nod to Miller's Dark Knight as the kid offers him a Superman doll, the image of the Capitol Building surrounded by razor wire and illuminated by spotlights, and the feel of some real detective work at a crime scene. Pope's dynamic style proves yet again that he is a master of clear panel to panel storytelling while employing sparse and effective dialogue. It's so refreshing to see a coherent, focused take on Batman. I want the rest of the series. Right. Now. I hope that DC considers this for a deluxe, oversized, hardcover treatment. I'd pay whatever it takes. I'll tell you now that this will be appearing in my 2006 "Top 10" list and it will be very difficult to depose. Grade A+.


2.08.06 Reviews

Really a light week for me. I did pick up the fantastic Giantkiller and Battle Hymn books this week, which collect 2 of my favorite mini-series OF ALL TIME. Highly recommended, with plenty of extra material in each, check 'em out!

DMZ#4 (DC/Vertigo): It's official, I love this book! Wood has a way of layering his strong characterization and imaginative plots with interesting little throw away ideas like the bamboo forest, the underground civilization, and a snowscape covering the city. It's all quite beautiful and scary as we see some different fiefdoms vying for power. It's realistic and gritty. I'm so into this book. This post apocalyptic free for all is heightened by powerful little character moments like the dying gift that is bestowed upon Matty. Grade A.

Captain Atom: Armageddon #5 (DC/Wildstorm): I don't know how accessible this would be for someone new to the properties, but i'm totally enjoying it. Nobody is talking about this book and it's 10x better than most of the Infinite Crisis tomfoolery going on right now. Where else can you find a universe travellin' Captain Atom, along with Mr. Majestic, The Authority, and The Wildcats all in one place?! Cam's pencils are deliciously strong here, check out the full page splash of The Engineer if you don't believe me. His work has really grown tremendously just in the last year. Pfeiffer offers up a nice intro of the current Authority members, some nice little homages to different words in the multiverse, and some stereotypically "Authority moments" such as Jack Hawksmoor snapping Hitler's neck. I'm wondering how this is going to resolve vis-a-vis Infinite Crisis? Will the Wildstorm U formally become part of the DCU multiverse? Will Atom ever get back to the DCU? Will he die (Charlton characters haven't faired so well recently)? I'm hooked. Grade B+.


2.01.06 Reviews

Hellboy: Makoma #1 (Dark Horse): New Hellboy story. Mike Mignola art. Richard Corben art. Interesting revelations about Hellboy's past and previous arcs of the series. More, please. Grade A.

Green Lantern #8 (DC): *Sigh* Man, this book is starting to wear thin very quickly. That's a whole-lotta-issue dedicated to the brain flowers of Mongul's kid. Yeah, it puts you in a dream world with everything you desire. Yeah, it's addictive. Yeah, I know Hal and Ollie have strong enough personalities to recognize it as a false reality. Yeah, I get it already. And there's nothing like getting beat up by the meaning stick. They both have family issues, check. I don't need it spoon fed to me in such an overstated way. Aside from Pacheco's usually strong art, this was just not very good. Almost insulting. And what's with Mongul-spawn's dialogue being contradictory? One minute it's him wreaking havoc on the "planet that destroyed my father!" and the next it's "life is about those who live, not those who die!" Ok, well then which one is it? It can't be both. Whatever. Next issue features a guest appearance by Batman which is basically the big Bat-Signal in the sky from DC alerting us that sales are slipping and we're trying to boost interest. Issue 9, huh? Well, that didn't take long. I feel like Johns' writing chops are being stretched much too thin, if you're writing 50 books a month, they can't all be stellar. Paging Geoff Johns... you phoned this one in, bro. Grade C-.

Powers #16 (Marvel/ICON): My minor quibbles would be that Bendis still can't spell, the editor still isn't catching some typos and ommitted words, and Oeming's art looks a bit sloppy and rushed in spots, but other than that, pretty damn impressive. This will sound like a backhanded compliment, but it felt really imaginative for Bendis. This 2001 style tour of universal meaning was fun. Enjoyed the overt female sexuality and vague Egyptian feel to the "meaning of life" sequences. Totally dug Walker's new uniform... reminiscent of Sinestro's get-up in JLU. Really enjoyed the fact that the beings responsible for establishing the Millennium Guard could not translate to English precisely, felt more realistic that way. Adds a significant layer to the Powers-verse and is still highly entertaining. Have been with Powers from the very start and see no sign of stopping. Grade B+.

The Sentry #5 (Marvel): Totally enjoyable psychobabble about the duality of Robert's mental state. The introduction of the Blue Buffoon and the 60's flashbacks are a treat, as is the sneaky two cameo panels of the Hulk still sleeping off their previous adventure in the background! As the struggle to sort out the Void and Sentry identities continues, each issue seems to offer up something a little unique, with the high quality writing and art consistent throughout. It appears that the two identities were the same person and have now split. Great cliffhanger ending that provides both a nice jab at the "Distinguished Competition" and a test to see if Sentry can save his doctor by being "faster than a speeding bullet." Grade A-.

X-Factor #3 (Marvel): Peter David's characterization of this crew is back and very strong. I especially warmed to the distinct voices of Siryn, Multiple Man, and Monet. Not sure how I feel about Layla, but I'm down for the ride. The only real down side of this title is that it's issue 3 and Ryan Sook's art is already not 100% present, a fact that David offers up a passive justification for. Well Peter, you did ask... so my opinion is that I'd rather have a fill in artist for an entire single issue or even a whole arc, which would hopefully allow Ryan to get caught up and a few issues deeper on pencils. This is much better than the distraction that is constantly scrutinizing each page to see if I can figure out who penciled and who inked. Cheers. Grade B.

Quick shout out to my pal Grant from the SF Bay Area... Count Grunt-ula! Oakland in the house! San Jo! Mighty Spartans! Haha! Ok Grant, for you I recommend Hellboy, BPRD, Shaolin Cowboy, Poor Sailor, Local, and a collected mini-series due out soon called Giantkiller. You'll love it. My love to Angie!


Graphic Novel Of The Month

The Rabbi’s Cat (Pantheon Books): Joann Sfar’s latest offering is set in an interesting place. For this tale of faith, crisis, and talking cats, he chose Algeria, circa 1930. As this North African country struggles toward modernity, Arabs, Jews, and Europeans peacefully co-exist. This work is heavily layered and ostensibly, the cat is used as a cipher to pose challenging religious quandaries. Look deeper and you’ll find spiritual journeys of the principal characters. They endure distinct crises of faith and ultimately transcend toward the end of their character arcs. The work also exposes universal truths that everyone can appreciate regardless of the degree to which you embrace faith.

Establishing the cat as a talking animal puts the author in a safe position from which to offer religious questions. These dilemmas reveal dogmatic inconsistencies that arise within any religion. For example, the cat wonders why, if he is a child of God, can he not receive bar mitzvah? Why are murder and eating non-kosher food viewed as equally offensive transgressions? It’s as if the author struggles to reconcile these in his own mind.

The narrative shifts from an ethereal feel and emerges as largely more realistic. The cat, his master, and the Rabbi’s daughter, are on journeys of discovery. They endure a personal crisis of faith and come to new understandings about their position in the world.

Thematically, the cat is “born” by developing speech and his crisis is loss of that ability. He doesn’t regain speech, but does develop a “voice” that he expresses through choices and actions. He establishes independence, avoids reliance on his master’s affection, and matures to an altered worldview.

The Rabbi’s daughter moves from a comfortable lifestyle with few concerns, to a very mature situation. Through this process she loses her childish demeanor. Her crisis is entering a marriage, realizing it requires compromise, being confident, and maturing to that life. Her new relationship is grounded in reality and not idealism.

The Rabbi presents the most obvious and intense crisis. He literally doubts the existence of God, being challenged by the cat and lack of piety of family members. He ultimately realizes that spirituality lies on a continuum of varying intensity. This is best exemplified by his nephew’s crude existence in Paris and a conversation with his daughter’s father-in-law. It’s not black or white, people incorporate into their lives the faith they need. This is interesting commentary on religion’s place in the modern world.

Several universal truths are directed squarely at the reader. The unity of all major faiths is handled well. One such example involves a conversation surrounding the name of a Rabbi. The men debate the origin of the name as either Hebrew or Arabic, making a compelling case for both. Later, the Rabbi is shunned by synagogues and can only find refuge in a Catholic church. This cross-denominational solidarity is a strong message.

We’re also reminded that beliefs may be based largely on perspective. The Rabbi interestingly refers to Jesus as “that Rabbi from Palestine dying on the cross.” One of the strongest truths displayed is delivered by the Rabbi’s nephew. “Uncle, the public doesn’t like things that are complicated.” The author’s comment can be interpreted as one on the comic book industry. A book about North African Jews living peacefully in Algeria among Arabs and Catholics. How could that be interesting or commercially successful? “We live in an imperfect world,” is the only explanation offered.

Ultimately, the character arcs lead to the unifying themes of acceptance and tolerance. It’s a beautiful stance of inclusion, not exclusion.

This book recently won the prestigious Jury Prize in Angouleme, France. If the Eisner Awards (held annually at the Comic Con International in San Diego) are the comic book equivalent of the Academy Awards, then Angouleme is the Cannes Film Festival and the Jury Prize is the Palm D’or. The Rabbi’s Cat now holds this honor. Maybe the world is a bit more perfect after all.