GQ Magazine's "20 Graphic Novels You Should Read (After Watchmen)"

When I quit my last job, I had about 10 billion frequent flyer miles racked up that eventually expire if you don't use them. American Airlines did a pretty cool thing and offered me the chance to trade them in on (why this, I don't know) free magazine subscriptions. I didn't have any travel planned that I could book and rather than just lose them, I plunked down my AA dollars and got about 100 magazine subscriptions. Really, it's crazy. The house is inundated with half read magazines strewn about. In any case, this caught my eye in this month's issue of GQ.

Nestled in between the articles on Robert Pattinson, Emma Roberts, and $1,200 Prada and Burberry trenchoats was this wonderful 4 page spread, complete with spiffy spot illustrations by Becky Cloonan. The way the title is structured one could construe that the article would somehow have a direct or thematic connection with Alan Moore's work, but that's not really the case. It simply means, after you've read Watchmen, assumably because a) you've seen the movie, and b) you've already read the book - here are 20 other, completely different, but equally great books to read.

Now, I don't want to nitpick the list to death and completely rewrite it. I'm sure that everyone would probably have their very own unique 20 to put in front of civilians, so I'm just going to suggest a few tweaks based on what's already presented here. I think it's certainly become more acceptable, even de rigeur, in the past few years to be doing lists of Graphic Novels in "mainstream" publications, but nevertheless kudos to writers Alex Pappademas and Kevin Sintumuang (Greek and Filipino, I'm guessing? Wow, what a Marvel Team Up!), along with GQ Editorial for pulling this off. It really is a great list to begin with. Original GQ picks in black, my comments in dark blue.

1) Madman by Michael Allred (not a huge fan personally, but an ok choice, I recognize the importance)

2) The Invisibles: Say You Want a Revolution by Grant Morrison et al (great pick)

3) All-Star Superman: Volume 1 by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (great pick, would have been on my list)

4) The Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman (a good and interesting pick, though I personally feel Pax Romana is far superior, but it's still a good gateway to his divergent style)

5) Alias: Volume 1 by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos (great pick, best BMB book in my opinion, might’ve been on my list as a sort of token "let's see something different with ostensible superheroes" choice)

6) Black Hole by Charles Burns (great pick)

7) The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S.: A Love and Rockets Book by Jaime Hernandez (this will sound like blasphemy, but I'm not a huge fan, it's becoming standard and expected to include something from Los Bros on lists like these)

8) Summer Blonde by Adrian Tomine (great pick, I like seeing something from Tomine on this list, probably the best "collection" of his material)

9) Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra (BKV, check. I think he should have something on the list, though I would have definitely gone with Ex Machina instead, would have been on my list)

10) Concrete by Paul Chadwick (a respectable choice and I understand the logic behind it, but I would have probably gone with Zot! by Scott McCloud in this category - and while we're at it, how about putting Understanding Comics on the list?)

11) Criminal: Bad Night by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (Yes, Criminal is done very well, but it's not personally my thing, I would have definitely, without a doubt, every day of the week and twice on Sundays, gone with Scalped here as my "crime" slot book, nice to see Bill Hader mention it in one of the sidebar pieces)

12) Pyongyang by Guy Delisle (a fine choice and certainly a gateway to Delisle's other books, but I might have gone with Craig Thompson's Carnet de Voyage as part travelogue, part journal, and part sketchbook ruminating on life that pushes the bounds of the medium)

13) Heavy Liquid by Paul Pope (great choice and no argument here, would have certainly been on my wholly original list)

14) La Perdida by Jessica Abel (great choice, might have been on my list)

15) Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco (great pick, love the inclusion of Sacco, would have definitely put him on my own list, but probably would have gone with Palestine as a more timely and accessible example of his work)

16) Fell: Volume 1 by Warren Ellis & Ben Templesmith (great pick, good gateway to the style of both the writer and artist, plenty of other offerings from both to explore)

17) It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken by Seth (not a huge fan personally, but good choice)

18) Super Spy by Matt Kindt (great pick, another good gateway to a different style of storytelling and unique aesthetic)

19) Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw (great pick, nice showcasing of an "underground" creator, plenty of other work to track down)

20) Tekkonkinkreet: Black & White by Taiyo Matsumoto (Tekkon appears to be the token manga selection for this list, it is indeed a good book, for me, I would have probably gone with something from Osamu Tezuka, maybe a classic like Lone Wolf & Cub, Blade of the Immortal, or even something from Yoshihiro Tatsumi)

Misc. Thoughts: I was pleased to see that I either own or have read every single book on the list, that's either a testament to my voracious and encyclopedic reading appetite, umm, or the rather pedestrian nature of the list. Heh. Just a couple other books that popped into my head...

In one of the sidebar pieces, Greg Rucka & Steve Lieber's Whiteout is mentioned, no doubt because of the impending film and the magazine's love for Kate Beckinsale. Me? I would have certainly included something about Queen & Country, for all of the rabid Bond fans out there.

For something totally offbeat and different, with plenty of follow up material to track down, I would have considered including Billy Hazelnuts from Tony Millionaire.

I know the urge here was to stray away from pure superhero fare, and All-Star Superman was already included, but for an old school superhero kick done extremely well, I would have been tempted to include Darwyn Cooke's The New Frontier.

Is this list really complete without something from Chris Ware?

Considering the venue, I think Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten's Wasteland would have been an easy sell for the rabid moviegoers that peruse GQ Magazine.

I noticed a pretty discernible lack of female leads, with the exception of Alias and La Perdida. How about Promethea to complete the reference to the Alan Moore helmed book in the title of the piece?


3.25.09 Reviews

X-Force/Cable: Messiah War (Marvel): This is a stand alone issue that really sets things in motion for the crossover event. I’m still struggling to understand why this one shot was necessary when the crossover will already take place in three issues of X-Force and three issues of Cable. Perhaps this was for potential readers who buy neither title regularly(?), though I don’t see why those potential readers would suddenly be interested in a story which has already been gearing up for an issue or two and rush right out to get this special. Anyway. For me, it’s also hampered a bit by not featuring Clayton Crain’s art, though I will say that Mike Choi is steadily improving. The entire premise of the event is intriguing, Scott essentially propelling X-Force into the future with the orders to “find Cable, kill Bishop, and protect Hope.” I like how Wolverine has become the de facto field leader of the team; the uneasy bond between Scott and Logan is always fun to watch. This issue pulls a quick and effective recap of M-Day, the Xavier Institute attack, the creation of X-Force, the Cooperstown Massacre, Cable and Hope, and now Bishop’s pursuit of them. There’s a lot of information offered here, but it’s effortless and never expository. Scott’s narration about the survival of his species against seemingly insurmountable odds is chilling. It has the feel of something that Ron Moore or James Cameron would have created to lend a dangerous and important tone to their work. Scott’s continual references to “my son” (referring to Cable) and Xavier being “the man I think of as my father” are quite considerable. There’s deliberate effort on the part of many x-writers (Kyle, Yost, Fraction, and Ellis) to portray Scott as finally accepting his destiny. And it extends even beyond him as a character to the (only) other Summers brother I care about – Havok. While Scott leads the mutants on Earth, Alex is somewhere in the stars leading that band of mutants in space. The Mutant Marvel U feels more cohesive than it has in years. I’m hoping that the decision for Cable to be in the year 2973 and heading for Westchester (when it would have already been destroyed for 9 hundred and 60-some years) will pan out and make sense. Wow, I just can’t stop gushing about this issue. I'm still in shock that I'm enjoying... ahem... X-Force so much. Not only is the overarching story great fun, but there are plenty of little nuanced touches here and there. In no particular order… liked the scene between Hank and Scott, the secret of X-Force is starting to leak out. I like how the middle of this issue (dropping the team into the future) picks up directly from the action in the last issue of X-Force. I like the odd mélange of the team roster. We’ve got everyone from Archangel (one of the original five X-Men) to X-23 (the chic Wolverine clone, Laura) and everyone in between. We’ve got tons of comedy here from Domino, Wolverine, and the surprise appearance of Deadpool(!), who is just hilarious. Lines like “What the f--" followed by “Language, Wolverine” made me chuckle out loud. I want to know why Laura did what she did to that metal plate. This issue is paced and organized perfectly. The inclusion of Stryfe’s Strike Files harken back to the early 90’s X-Cutioners Song crossover, which was a bit hoary, but certainly had it’s dramatic moments. For $3.99, the extra pages are a welcome treat and feel like good value. As enjoyable and fun as this is shaping up to be, the name “En Sabah Nur” certainly lends some gravitas. Overall, this was a very satisfying read. Highly recommended. Grade A.

I also picked up;

A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarterly): This is a humongous brick of a softcover book, about the size of Blankets or Bottomless Belly Button, being the fourth of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s translated to English works, courtesy of Adrian Tomine and D&Q.

Planetary #1 (DC/Wildstorm/ABC): Actually, I didn’t buy this book. Because… *SEA DONKEY strikes again! DC’s doing a cool thing by reprinting some tasty #1 issues for just a dollar. Now, if your LCS got Transmetropolitan #1, wouldn’t you expect they’d also get Planetary #1 the following week? If you’re going to bother getting any, wouldn’t you just get them all? So lame. I didn’t even want it for myself, I mean I own the Absolute Edition and all of the Hardcovers, but my coworker has been on an Alan Moore kick and wanted me to pick up Volume 3 of Promethea for her – so I did. She’d given me a $20 bill. I had like 4 bucks leftover and thought, hrmm, maybe I’ll pick up the first ish of Planetary for her, it’s only a buck, total no risk read. But alas, Sea Donkey squanders yet another retailing opportunity.

* For those who may not recall this recurring riff, “Sea Donkey” is the name I give my LCS guy when he does something lame, like not order a book I want, pull a poor customer service move, etc. May be accompanied by the non-PC prefix “retarded,” as in “he was doing the retarded Sea Donkey dance again.” That is all.


3.18.09 Reviews (Part 2)

Transmetropolitan #1 (DC/Vertigo): My best friend's name is Sean. We go way back, Sean and I. We were in each other's wedding, went to college together, have lived together, travelled together, etc. Years ago I discovered that I could manipulate Sean's name to suit whatever mood he was in or activity we were engaged in. If I was simply talking to Sean, he became Conversa-Sean. If Sean got drunk and started talking wildy with his hands, he was Gesticula-Sean. If Sean was feeling particularly introspective, he could be Contempla-Sean. If we're in a club chatting with the ladies, I could tease him about his rap and say he was Despera-Sean. If it was going particularly horrible, he might even become Masturba-Sean. If Sean was laying down the law with someone and being very stern, I granted him the name Constitu-Sean. If we were at his parent's house and his mom was warning us about eating too many bananas, he was instantly Constipa-Sean. When Sean gets mad at me for manipulating his name, yes, even then, he is Indigna-Sean. If Sean is feeling particularly jaunty and different, he can be Egyp-Sean. And on rare occasions when Sean is just the man, that brand of wise-cracking, likable, Corellian rogue, I bestow upon him the name... Sean Solo. That was my long-winded and personalized way of telling you that Warren Ellis is a multi-faceted writer and it took reading Transmetropolitan #1 all over gain to remind me of it. I deeply enjoyed this look back at one of his first hits, with its wry edge of blowing up bars and ebola bombs hidden in the loo. I loved the ranting ramblings of a half crazy mountain man; you don't even notice the pages of exposition because they are so believably in character. What began as a part of DC's aborted sci-fi line, Helix, quickly became a searing indictment on his fellow man and the modern age of pop culture and fame. Lines like "But you really are everything I moved to the mountain to escape from. A worthless crap of frogshit with a pulse and a bit of authority" crackle with energy and make you long for the Warren Ellis who is capable of so generously pouring ideas onto a page. Darick Robertson is an equal participant here, pouring copious amounts of detail into every single panel, they bristle with life and are visual feasts. Ellis, like Sean, is capable of many different personalities as a writer. Planetary is his ambitious love letter to the medium, Ocean and Orbiter are his contemporary sci-fi exploration classics, Transmet is his journalistic writer's ball, Black Summer gets political, Aetheric Mechanics is his steampunk science romp, and the list goes on. Sure, sometimes he misses, but the hits are aplenty and I appreciated him all the more having re-experienced one of the early ones. All for $1. Grade A+.

Air #7 (DC/Vertigo): I tried the first issue of Air and my immediate knee jerk reaction was that it was "too smart by half" as the chaps at Paradox Comics might quip. I enjoyed this issue more, no doubt aided by the $1 price tag. I appreciated the decision not to translate the Arabic, the ear for accents with lines like "I don' mind," and the generational culture clash around dating. The brothers acting as shoulder-sitting devil/angel was nice, the induction into different worlds was a good riff, and the G. Willow Wilson essay/story explaining in a roundabout manner how the title functions and what would otherwise be disorienting body/time jumps were played nicely. M.K. Perker's pencils strike me as the current sort of Vertigo "house style," being a blend of classic P. Craig Russell and Riccardo Burchielli. I still don't feel compelled to support the title for full price (sorry!), but I'd definitely pick up a trade or single issues if discounted. Awesome to see DC offering up more promo issues, Grade A.

I also picked up;

Light of Thy Countenance (Avatar Press): Adapted by Antony Johnston and looks absolutely beautiful, can't wait to sink my teeth into this.

The Comics Journal #296 (Fantagraphics): Nice to finally have the Best of 2008 issue, but Sea Donkey strikes again. Bought 294 from my LCS, bought 296 from my LCS, 295... somehow MIA. Wha...?

3.18.09 Reviews (Part 1)

Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #2 (Radical): While it’s easy to fall in love with that Alan Brooks cover, my enthusiasm for this title has cooled a bit. The first couple of pages have some blurry looking art and I’m not sure if “scarey” is a typo or just common British spelling (nor do I really care enough to even check). Little details like the times on Hotwire’s phone bother me. How can the times listed go 5:04am, 5:04am, 5:55am, 5:45am, 5:32am? Really, look at that. The call log moves forward in time and then… back in time? How is that possible? All that said, you can still detect the Warren Ellis influenced sci-fi concepts, I really like Detective Mobey as the “straight man” to the exorcising Hotwire, and for $2.99, Radical deserves kudos here for putting out a package packed with content. Not sure if I’ll want it all collected someday, but I’ll certainly ride out two more issues and see where this goes. Grade B+.

X-Force #13 (Marvel): Ah, it’s the little x-title that could. I felt like it was back on track as soon as I took in the full page of Archangel scooping up Laura and carrying her away from the blast we were left with at the end of last issue. The interaction between Scott and the team, along with Wolverine’s narration, really makes you realize that Scott has been trained to lead this army his entire life, he’s been conditioned and prepared to fight this fight. His destiny is finally playing out. When all this stuff happened with Bishop and just who the heck Sooraya is are head-scratchers to me, but are more than made up for with the subtle humor of Domino and plans (such as Pierce’s deliberate plant) becoming clear. The abduction of the three familiar kids (I won’t spoil it) plays quite chilling and overall, this title continues to be crisply written and visually engaging, provided the Kyle/Yost/Crain dynamic is in effect. More than anything, I just appreciate the coherent storytelling at work here, compared to the incessant scene jumping and dangling thread approach of Uncanny, which seems to have gotten away from Fraction. It’s clear that the books inhabit a closely shared world and that makes me more at ease with the decision to scuttle Uncanny and stick with (whodathunkit?) X-Force. A bit disconcerting that Marvel is putting out the next installment of this story in an X-Force/Cable one-shot vs. the regular series, so for that we’ll downgrade to a Grade B+.

Uncanny X-Men #507 (Marvel): If I were looking for reasons to keep purchasing Uncanny, I’d cite lines like “We are all but ghosts now” or “Watch out. Big bastard’s gotta’ fall somewhere.” I might notice the cool moments between Hank and Warren during the Archangel reveal or the entire panel with Armor and Pixie (Sugar Bombs! Newbridge!). I’d tell myself that the political ramifications the Mayor mentions are worth exploring; the entire phrasing of her conversation with Scott is spot-on and almost redeems the whole affair. But alas, I was looking for reasons to drop the title this issue and there are certainly more of the latter to be found. Beast’s soliloquy during the fight scene with Godzilla(?) seems painfully expository, Dodson’s 2/3 page panel with Emma horrifically depicts her face and an awkward pose, and lines like “Hit them until they all stop hitting back” play so one-dimensionally that I realize how much more I need from this title. I felt like that line was Fraction expressing frustration at trying to wrangle all of this unwieldy flitting plot threads into submission. His attempts at dual narration with some injuries and lack of plans play thin and ineffective. There are disconnected action scenes, evil guy exposition, irregularities with Scott’s visor (again!), a weak cliffhanger, Emma is horribly out of character with misplaced support for Peter, and really… is there actually a Russian word for “hick?” I think it may have completely derailed when Fraction used a lifted line from Godzilla with “What do you see, old man? What do you see?!” All that was missing was an aged Japanese man mumbling “Gojira!” on his deathbed. I wanted to stick with Uncanny, but there just aren’t enough reasons to. I will definitely pick up Fraction’s run someday in a dollar bin – that’s really not supposed to sound as mean as it does. Grade C+.


3.11.09 Reviews

Scalped #26 (DC/Vertigo): For 26 issues now (conditioned by so many other shitty books on the stands), I’ve been pessimistically waiting for Scalped to let me down and no longer be good, to slip in quality, to put forward an artist I don’t like, or in some way falter. But, this issue continues to entertain while being socially relevant. Aaron shows us a good case for people being products of their environment (nurture, or lack thereof, and not the nature so much). He also displays what happens when individuals lack a true sense of belonging from a nuclear family or extended social network of friends or coworkers. We see the true character of Diesel (Britt!) emerge when he simultaneously kills two birds with one stone, and then busts a move that lives up to the book’s title. Even when aided and abetted by “fill-in” artists, err… check that, it sounds like a pejorative, let’s say “rotating” artists, Jason Aaron continues to deliver month after month. Just when I think he’s used up his last idea, plot twist, or unique turn of phrase, he amps it up all over again, raises his own bar, and provides another issue that I slowly close when I’m done and smile contentedly. Scalped is a ray of hope that turns my pessimistic outlook into optimism regarding the future of the medium. Grade A+.

Invincible Iron Man #11 (Marvel): The line “So Tony made you to take care of me” really made me smile. Not only was it a touching and sweet moment for Pepper, but it really shows that Tony did design the suit for her protection as she guides the company in his stead, and that it wasn’t designed primarily as a weapon. With his shaved head and no ‘stache, Tony looks (almost too) different. Him making the rounds and dropping off $2 Million to the church reminded me in an (opposite) way of The Godfather when Michael says “tonight the Corleone family settles all of its debts.” Larroca’s art doesn’t appear to be rendered as glossy or CG-ish here and it looks great. Tony’s brilliant doomsday fallback communication plan was extremely cool and nuanced. The untraceable and anonymous plan also functions as evidence of the sheer amount of thought Fraction puts into a script while so many other writers are just… sending it in (pun intended). The armor Tony’s using here is a cool nod to the Busiek and Perez Avengers era. There’s a lot of threads going on here, including introduction of an old school villain and a last page character reveal that promises to extend into a fun tour of the Marvel U, as Tony has to now address the relationships that his recent actions have created. It’s obvious Tony’s got something up his sleeve here and this is all part of a master plan to lure HAMMER down a path, why else would he lead them to the church and then to the staged altercation with Rhodey? It all makes me wonder what’s in store and that’s the best question to ask in order to make us return for more. Grade A.

Ex Machina Special #4 (DC/Wildstorm): John Paul Leon is probably one of the most under-rated artists working today, giving us a style that is part angular representation similar to Sean Phillips and part sensuous line work ala Cliff Chiang. As usual, this issue is full of smart banter about complex ideas with compelling and different positions. That Aaron Sorkin influenced style reaches a climax with lines like “Listen to me. I’m not good cop, I’m not bad cop, I’m the highest ranking officer of the capital of the fucking world. And if you don’t stop lying to me, I will single-handedly revive New York’s death penalty just to see your ass put in the chair.” I like the idea at play here about order vs. chaos and how that feasibly extends to superheroes. Is a superhero truly an agent of order? Do they actually restore order or simply enhance the chaos? While the Swamp Thing and Riddler references are fun and aplenty, what is the deal with all of the self-loathing comic fanboy shit on display? That was a bit annoying, as was the slightly preachy tone in spots, though it was mostly made up for with the duality inherent in the last line of the book. I like considering the implications of the man arrested; is the type of power transfer he suggests plausible or is he simply the paranoid schizophrenic that the authorities make him out to be? Overall, I still don’t understand why there is a need for these special issues to house flashback sequences. The structure of the main book has been to flash forward and back through the timeline to connect all of the seemingly disparate pieces, so the content of these issues could just as easily have been tossed in there. At this point, I’m just hoping they’ll be collected in the Hardcover Deluxe Editions. Grade A-.


Exactly What The Interwebs Needed, Another Watchmen Review

I liked the movie; I thought it was mostly effective and entertaining. Starting with the casting and performances, I think things were mostly nailed down with a few minor glitches. Rorschach was probably the most convincing as the scrawny, but deadly, sociopath. Though he’s arguably the most mentally unstable, he’s remarkably one of the most principled characters of the lot, wanting to reveal the truth, which ultimately leads to his demise in a really heartbreaking scene. Nite-Owl was also rendered very well, capturing the humility, fear, and dysfunction of the character (my favorite of the group) with an accessible every man quality. His scenes with Hollis Mason and Silk Spectre are very sweet and touching. The Comedian’s performance is another hit, embodying a unique brand of self-aware hypocrisy which Watchmen revels in. Those three (probably in that order – Rorschach, Nite-Owl, and The Comedian) seem to be the most effective performances, with Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhattan, and Ozymandias bringing up the rear. Malin Ackerman as the Silk Spectre is quite convincing as a youthful archetype trying to step out of her mother’s shadow, constantly in the wake of her many father figures, biological or otherwise. The movie does falter a bit with the corny delivery of some of her lines. Billy Crudup, in the Dr. Manhattan role, nails the clinical detachment from humanity, but is hampered a bit due to his dangling genitalia. I didn’t personally mind, but it was hard to stay in the movie as the grown ups around me kept snickering. Once I noticed, I thought that his schlong actually looked a bit… pencil-y(?) and could have used some more girth. Heh. Ozymandias is probably the least effective of the bunch, with some good notes (again, the aloof intellectualism and slightly effeminate affectation were done well), and some bad (the Bat-Nipple-'tastic silliness of the costume and weak sauce delivery of lines) that really minimized the effect of the line “I already started it 35 minutes ago.” Instead of playing like a dramatic and chilling moment, it rolls out a bit anti-climactically. Though he quips about not being a comic book villain, he could easily pass for a Bond villain revealing his plan. What I appreciated most about the film (and this is by extension, a testament to the unique strength of the source material) was its atypical structure. Contrasted to something like the recent Iron Man, Watchmen deviates from the standard superhero movie. Absent are the formulaic origin story, introduction of the villain, love interest, conflict, and inevitable denoument. Watchmen plays much more cerebral and intellectual, delivering on the premise of examination; that a superhero paradigm based in a “real world” would be deeply flawed. We’re clearly shown that "supermen” are still just men – fallible, fragile, egotistical men, which make this a most dangerous game. Utilizing The Comedian’s funeral as a framing device to jump through flashbacks fleshing out this 1980’s alternate reality is done particularly well. I enjoyed how we never focus too long on one character’s perspective. It’s truly an ensemble narrative, partially stemming from Rorschach’s journal, partially from Nite-Owl’s perspective, partially from Silk Spectre’s journey, and partially rounded out from the detached positions of Manhattan and Ozymandias. Even the caricature style melange of Nixon, Kissinger, and Iacocca play their part - relying on some callbacks to Dr. Strangelove. It all begins to drive the point home that life is most certainly gray; there are no simple heroes or villains, just people with intentions. Each and every character is imbued with positive and negative qualities and actions. They are all both angels and demons simultaneously; adding to the multi-faceted complexity of the work. The music is mostly spot on, enjoyed the Dylan tunes, and where else could 99 Luftballons surprisingly work and not play cheesy? I appreciated the callback to Apocalypse Now with Ride of The Valkyries in the Vietnam sequence, but the Hallelujah song was much too over the top for Dan and Laurie’s love scene and pushed me right out of what would have otherwise been a pretty erotic bump and grind. I’ve got to say that the R-rating was a smart choice. Not only is the violence obviously pretty visceral, but I think it was handled meaningfully. In this world, "comic book" style violence doesn’t really exist, the horrific violence here is deeply disturbing and has realistic consequences that nobody is impervious to. As is typical from Zack Snyder, the movie is shot beautifully with a thematically consistent color palette and much attention to detail in the backgrounds, sets, props, clothing, text choices, etc. It’s amazing that so much of the 12 issues is crammed in and touched upon within 2 hours and 40-some minutes (the opening montage sequence helped tremendously). For the most part, all of the essential elements are here, but the editing got a little sloppy in spots and could have been tightened up - it seemed to stifle some bits and gloss over them, while wallowing a couples times and bordering on boring. Watchmen is not without its flaws, but is a faithful adaptation of the intent and themes of the source material that fully engaged about 90% of the time. Overall, I think it succeeds in portraying a group of really diverse and broken individuals who interact with their reality in plausible ways. They all show us a side of the superhero paradigm that is deeply flawed and thought-provoking. They’re so pre-occupied with saving humanity, that only too late do any of them watch their own actions and question if they (and humanity by extension) are worth saving in the first place, and at what cost. And hey, I'm still thinking about it - movies hardly ever make me do that. Grade B+.


3.04.09 Reviews

Echo #10 (Abstract Studio): This issue bristles with energy and very well may be the best example of the series to date. With the flair of a great TV show, Ivy tosses some pictures on a desk and delivers lines like “That is what’s left of five men who encountered the beta suit” with such panache. Echo has become a savory and bubbly stew that’s part investigative mystery, part police procedural, part relationship dynamic, part Oppenheimer history lesson/cautionary tale, part scientific wonder (Plutonium 21!), and just a dash of superhero. With the use of great perspective shots, alarming facial expressions, and open expansive panels that harken back to Lawrence of Arabia, Moore is able to create sheer panic with simple prose like Dillon uttering “Uh… Julie… JULIEEE…!” It’s a shame that Marvel and DC can’t produce books with the same heady blend of heart, intellect, craftsmanship, and social relevance. It’d behoove them to recognize that another paradigm does exist and can succeed; there’s a new way they could be telling stories with ostensible superhero trappings infused with so much more class and spirit underneath it all. Echo is first rate and has become one of those DO NOT MISS books. Grade A+.

I Am Legion #2 (DDP/Humanoids): My thoughts about this title are really all over the place, but overall it feels quite dense and I believe I’m getting my money’s worth even for $3.50. The production quality is breathtaking and it’s quickly become one of those books that I already want to read over again. Cassaday’s detail, panel variation, and pacing all feel very much like a European comic story that’d be right at home with the old Humanoids line. The scripting is quite subtle, sporting lines like “All those people are still playing golf, with the world at war?” which essentially invokes the notion of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” as throngs of people lackadaisically adhere to their nonsensical routines as Rome burns. Also notice how little exposition there is here, a great example is the panel of Marjorie showing Stanley a case file, but failing to utter the name that the reader really desperately wants to know – that’s smart. Fabien Nury provides a more interesting explanation of a faun than C.S. Lewis ever did via Narnia, right alongside thrilling academic arguments over the true Romanian meaning of the word “strigoi.” I love how elements of the story are seamlessly interwoven with real life WWII accounts, like Hitler’s known obsession with the occult and the chilling spin on the “final solution” devised by the Nazis. While the story picks up steam, Cassaday’s art is still quite a treat, perfectly capturing the mannerisms and lifestyle of the era. This plays like an old fashioned mystery, where the delight is as much in the small moments of the journey as it is in any fantastical destination. Grade A.

I also picked up;

Kabuki: Volume 7: The Alchemy (Marvel/ICON): David Mack’s latest masterpiece finally collected! Already the 13 Minutes GN Of The Month!

LCS Mishap;

Despite having picked up issue #1 there, issue #2 of Dead Irons by James Kuhoric and Jason Shawn Alexander is nowhere to be found at Casa De Sea Donkey this week. Whatever.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

Kabuki: Volume 7: The Alchemy (Marvel/ICON): One of the best pieces of advice about writing that I ever received was “open strong.” David Mack is brilliant. He’s a brilliant creator, a true innovator, with an impressive stable of work. This volume, collecting issues 1-9, has proven to be one of his best. That’s not blind hyperbole, but high praise for what should be considered high art. The Alchemy is an intricate work that sees the principal character come full circle and become more self-aware about her place in the world. Part of this mental growth is the recognition and acceptance of her (and her readers) learning that they have the power to exert influence and change their own reality. Speaking from the perspective of my own reality, few books have imparted such a transformative experience that I can recall where I was when I began my journey with them. I picked up my first issue of Kabuki (Skin Deep #2) at the old Lee’s Comics location in Palo Alto, CA. Back when they were still located on El Camino Real, before the eventual move to Mountain View. I can mark personal comic book time before and after that purchase. There are the books that never had such an impact before that, and the vain search for books that would hit me and induce such a strong reaction and enduring love ever since then. That first exposure to Kabuki was fresh, full of intellectual rigor, a feeling of being challenged by an authorial voice, and just beautiful art. It contained no formulaic movie plot, no aping of someone else’s penciling style, it could not be summed up as a pitch line (“it’s like property X meets property Y!”), and dripped with confidence and unique vision. I found myself reeling from a lack of scintillating adjectives and proper turns of phrase to describe contending with his luminous visual shorthand. I simply scrambled to pick up the rest of the issues I could locally, wrote my first fan letter to David Mack (after nearly a quarter century of comic book reading sans letters), and ordered what I’d missed directly from him. If you haven’t tried Kabuki, you owe it to yourself to try the book at least once. For those willing to take a plunge, I highly recommend Volume 5: Metamorphosis or Volume 7: The Alchemy. Those more apprehensive may simply partake of any single issue. Go and see David (who is always) at the Image booth at the San Diego Con. He’ll always make you a deal for a stack of his books, and there’s nothing like meeting the man, who is still full of passion and drive, has something to say, but also understands how to entertain an audience with a multi-year sustained narrative. He still genuinely appreciates feedback and strikes you as a humble guy, not a modern master of the craft whose fictional creations transcend their boundaries and have the power to redefine the medium and give hope to the future of comic books. You’d never guess he was the one showcasing an unprecedented adaptability and compelling evolution of the form. I read a fan letter recently that quietly and elegantly grasped the dynamic he has with an audience. It simply read: “Neil Gaiman has my heart. Chuck Palahniuk has my mind. David Mack has my soul.” Neil Gaiman, from his seminal Sandman to the recent “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” has consistently produced stories that focused in part on the act of storytelling itself. David Mack has also used consistent themes in his work; if I had to summarize in a single word, I’d say the Kabuki epic has been about identity. The Alchemy (of identity), like the title suggests (part “accepted” Western science, part speculative Eastern philosophy), involves crafting a story which is in part about the act of crafting art. A large segment of this volume frames these ideas by citing Steven Pressfield's book The War of Art. Both works deal with the age old dilemma confronting artists in any medium - inspiration vs. creativity. Does the muse inspire work or does doing the work invoke the muse? Pressfield & Mack deliver it this way: "If you do the work, the muse will show up. You don't wait for the muse to show up first... It's not the writing that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write." And that daily struggle is the titular “war.” If Kabuki: Volume 5: Metamorphosis was one of my favorite books of all time, it has slowly become eclipsed by Volume 7: The Alchemy. It’s largely because David Mack's creations transcend the medium and make us consider our place in the world and how we interact with it. This is art in the truest sense, when it allows for an internal examination of ourselves. Sure, it all started with the adventures of a fictional character, then moved on to the composition of her identity, then progressed to the creation of her identity, now finally extending to the craft of creation itself, ultimately allowing the audience, and even the creator, to take a spiritual journey seeking what comprises one's own sense of self. Not only is this cultural impact profound from a sociological standpoint, but they should be studying David Mack in college campuses across the country, seeking to understand how his offerings will influence the future, having altered the traditional comic book paradigm for years to come. There isn't one artistic medium that he hasn't perfected and adapted to graphic storytelling. His blend of photography, collage, re-appropriated items, traditional pencils, watercolors, oils, calligraphy, and imaginative layouts shatter the conventions, boundaries, and confines of the medium. His work has transcended comics and become something unique, he's created a totally original art form, and The Alchemy may be the pinnacle of the dynamic. As I sit and write this, it’s March 1st, yet you can likely sense that I don’t need any Nostradamus-fueled vision to foretell that 9 months from now when I begin collating lists, reviewing past reviews, and identifying books for my Best of 2009 Lists, this will certainly be among them. This book comes out tomorrow and you simply need to own it, not just to possess a wonderful piece of art, but to better yourself. Grade A+.