8.16.06 Reviews

It was another one of *those* crazy-sexy-cool weeks where it seemed like there wasn't a book on the stands that I wasn't interested in. I don't know if this was a big week in general in terms of what publishers released or big for me personally in terms of my buying habits and eclectic taste. In any case, quite a mixed bag, with some real treats, some real duds, and some things I just didn't have time to read yet.

Phonogram #1 (Image): Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie's new book is a good example of the "new" Image helmed by Erik Larsen and based in Berkeley, CA. They just have an eye for things that interest me, and this would have never been published by Image under the old regime. It's been a long time since a book has blown me away like this. A playful story that asks if there is actually magic behind the music that affects us. But it's so much more than that. What books like Pounded and Scott Pilgrim and probably half a dozen other Oni books with their pseudo-mod aspirations and attempts to depict the hybrid of music and comic book culture failed to do, Phonogram does quite successfully. These are fully realized and opinionated characters that feel real. Their words seem to leap off the page and grab you with intelligent dialogue that is engaging without burning exposition. Superficially, it does pose the "magic in the music?" question in a literal sense, meaning some of the characters do actually wield a magical influence. But, the subtext ponders if music can just be magical, as in metaphorically, to the listener. Music means something to all of us, and different songs will strike a chord, dredge up a memory, capture a time and place, or evoke an emotion inexplicably. I know that I'm missing 70% of the musical references in this book, but am still connecting squarely with the points being made, and that's a real credit to the creative team. It's not about the music it references, it's about how that music, *any* music, can impact people. It's about how we all wear public personas that can differ from our real selves. While those other books feel like they're only scratching the surface and teasing you cheaply with that world, this one feels authentic and explored. Everything about this book is brilliant. The one page strip that asks who David Kohl is, to the layered approach that the book employs. It's not just a fun musical ride that uses magic literally, that would be pure fiction. It's not just a journalistic effort to capture a single band or event, that would be flat non-fiction. Phonogram seeks to capture the mystical third leg of that equation, by juxtaposing those two elements against the final, most important component - what does music mean to us? The eye pleasing art reminds me of Rick Mays and David Mack's straight pencil work, but is best summed up by one of the letters. It looks like "Adrian Tomine doing John Constantine." This book is eloquent and articulate and as another letter suggests, is "something special that will be remembered down the road." Grade A+.

Wasteland #2 (Oni Press): One of my favorite new series. After their Queen & Country Declassified arc, I seem to be on an Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten high. Was also nice to chat with them both at the San Diego Con. I recently picked up Mitten's book Past Lies as well. This follow up issue has me officially hooked and this post-apocalyptic series promises to be a strong ongoing from the Oni stable. I love trying to decode Johnston's clues. "Wosh-Tun" is, I believe, a thinly veiled reference to "Washington," because if you take it in context it deals with government currency in the form of coins. It's also used to denote an "official" story about "The Big Wet" that may differ significantly from the folkloric version as told by the Sun-Singers. The "New Killer War" is, I believe, a crafty way of referencing a "Nuclear War" that may be the (or one of the) contributing factors to the apocalypse. Lastly, I haven't been able to crack the mythical land of "A-REE-YASS-I" yet. I'm assuming it's a phonetic pronunciation of... something. I've run multiple letter scenarios, is it a bastardized version of U, S, A? Is it A, R, E, S, I? My only working theory is that it refers to Area 51. If you were to read that as letters... A, REE-YA - and the 51 is switched out for an "S" and an "I" - you might get there. Fascinating stuff, I'm totally on board with the universe that Johnston has quickly crafted and Mitten has beautifully depicted. Grade A.

Nightwing #123 (DC): Every so often I get this morbid curiosity to see what's happening with my childhood favorites and I pick up a random issue. This was crap. Incoherent story with murky, rushed, just... bad art. Awful panel to panel transitions and some dialogue and caption boxes that left me scratching my head. Grade F.

52: Week Fifteen (DC): It's just really boring. Usually there is one or two slivers that I can cling to and be interested by, but not a single one this week. I thought it would have been interesting if Supernova was actually Clark Kent parading around as *not* Superman, but it seems this was a red herring. And poopy looking (yes, my feeble vocab skills can't seem to find a better word that captures stiff with poses, yet kind of squishy and formless around the edges) art, I just hate the way this guy portrays facial features. Grade D-.

Deadman #1 (DC/Vertigo): Don't know a thing about this new series, but thought I'd give Bruce Jones the benefit of the doubt (he's about 70/30 on the miss/hit ratio with me). John Watkiss' art looked interesting and the fact that it's a Vertigo title seemed to bode well. Anyway, it was competent, but not terribly compelling. No reason to return. And why name it "Deadman" if it has nothing to do with any single previous incarnation of DC's character Deadman or his alter ego Boston Brand? Unless they're planning to pull off a Sandman style retro-continuity link, but that's damn ambitious. Grade C+.

The Boys #1 (DC/Wildstorm): Honestly, I've never liked Garth Ennis' writing one bit. And although I dug Darick Robertson on Transmetropolitan, this looked a little rushed to me during the casual flip test. Why'd I buy it? Well, I guess if you're in the mood for a little hedonistic sex and gratuitious violence, this might just do the trick. The one interesting premise that jumps out is that a group of folks is being assembled to track and bash superheroes, seems to be a recurring theme with Ennis' writing. I'll see where this goes, just biding my time before he starts working on "real" superheroes with the Wildstorm relaunch. Grade B-.

Checkmate #5 (DC): This Greg Rucka & Jesus Saiz book has quickly risen to the top of my "to read" pile. The espionage is what Rucka does best and seeing him use interesting and some seldomly used characters in the DCU as a backdrop is right up my alley. Interesting to see the grueling tests for new positions in the Checkmate organization. I like how Rucka runs multiple plot threads at once, such as the troubled Beatriz "Fire" DaCosta, and the possible ascension of Michael "Mr. Terrific" Holt to White King. Grade B.

Casanova #3 (Image): This book has me very conflicted. At it's worst, it feels like Fraction is being just downright self-indulgent, his scripts lack focus, and the uber-homage reads like outright swiping. At it's best, there are flashes of brilliance that hit all my meta-commentary spots and tickle me in the same manic way that Flex Mentallo and Automatic Kafka did. It's that borderline genius/insanity that has me intrigued. I will grow to either love or hate this book with a passion, with no room for any middle ground fence-sitting. And for the $1.99 price tag, it's an enjoyable experiment. Gabriel Ba's monochromatic pencils are also a delight to see on a monthly basis. Grade B.

Conan #31 (Dark Horse): Decided to check back in since this ish is written by Mike Mignola. I heard that Kurt Busiek will be leaving and that Tim Truman will be taking over writing chores. Not to happy about that development. Surprisingly, felt really, really, really flat. This issue, unfortunately, was serving as my quick litmus test as to whether or not I'll be "waiting for the trades" or continue buying this title altogether. Looks like I'll be keeping the trades I have and holding off on picking this title up regularly. All good things must come to an end, I suppose. Grade C.

Nextwave: Agents of HATE #7 (Marvel): This new arc starts to press the fun factor again and ratchet up the humor. Seemed like the first two issues were solid, as was the last, but there was certainly a lull in the entertainment for a couple of months in between. I don't want it to get cancelled. Hopefully this issue is an indication that things are on the mend, one-liners, pop culture references, and some shocking insight into The Avengers sexual preferences abound. Grade B+.

Manhunter #25 (DC): Come on, people! Didn't you see my write up? This book is great, buy it, buy it, buy it! A solid enough issue, but looks like it will be going on hiatus until December(?). Grade B-.

Rex Mundi #1 (Dark Horse): After some quick research at the shop this week, Comickaze Owner Robert Scott and I determined that this is not reprinted material from Image. It also doesn't appear to pick up where the Image title left off. It wasn't a cliffhanger, nor a planned ending per se, it just sort of stopped mid-swing. I guess this is an attempt to entice new readers with a new #1 from a new publisher and resolve some of those dangling plot threads from the Image run(?). Confused? Yeah, me too. The result? A very, you guessed it, confusing opening sequence and very unwieldy cast. And like it or not, there's just no escaping comparisons to Dan Brown's novels. Regardless of who was first, or if they individually arrived at the end with similar findings from the available research, character names like "Sauniere" become completely distracting when I just watched them in The DaVinci Code. I'm not being given a reason to care about these people or the byzantine plot points. Grade C-.

The Building Opposite: Volume 1 (Fanfare/Ponent Mon): This is a really interesting looking book from a publisher I'm not familiar with. The style seems to blend an indy self-published slice-of-life style with some Manga sensibilities. With 160+ pages for $21.99, you can't go too wrong.

The Psycho (Image): The plot summary, about an alternate future without a prolonged WWII and the implementation of the Freelance Costumed Operatives (FCOs), for this James Hudnall and Dan Brereton book looked really intriguing and definitely sold me. I was surprised to learn that this was a 3 issue series originally published by DC, I totally missed it. Dan Brereton can bore me to death at times and I will just tune him out, but conversely Giantkiller is one of my favorite "monster" books of all time, so it was worth a shot.

Queen & Country Declassified: Volume 2 Hardcover (Oni Press): Woo-hoo! Finally I can complete my bookshelf collection with these handsome crimson and gold editions and pass on the softcover trade paperbacks to some deserving folks. Grade B.

Queen & Country Declassified: Volume 3 Hardcover (Oni Press): Ditto my comments above about completing the collection and passing on the "lesser" softcover edition. Overall, I felt this 3rd Volume was the strongest to date of the Declassified offerings, boasting the aforementioned Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten work on Rucka's inventions. Grade A.


At 9:37 AM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...

Hey Jamie! Needless to say, I dug your book. Anxiously awaiting the next issue. Thanks for reading the review and leaving a comment, was shocked to see your name! If you guys are interested in pulling a quote from the review, go for it. I'd love to support you in any way I can.


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