Coming This Week: Turn Off The Lights When You Leave

Despite a rather large week overall, it’s another small one for me. I’ll be picking up the last installment of two solid little series, and then continuing on with the probationary period of another. First up is The Last Days of American Crime #3 (Radical), which is crazy late to the party, but certainly walks in with a bold swagger and unflinching look at crime, sex, and violence in the near future. I can’t say that I’m all that interested in the impending movie version, but the book is interesting enough to make it home. Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth wind down this initial installment of the book with Stumptown #4 (Oni Press). I’m most excited for this book this week and looking forward to what the lasting impression of this fledgling title will be. I’m a little ambivalent about Scarlet #2 (Marve/Icon), but the first ish seemed just different and quirky enough to give another chance.


8.25.10 Reviews

Scalped #40 (DC/Vertigo): Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera offer up an unflinching look at some of the least glamorous parts of society in the second chapter of “Unwanted,” from drug abuse to abortion and poor parenting. There's so much happening at once here, the dual narrative abortions of Gina and Carol, the dual narratives of Dash and Carol both trying to get clean from their drug addictions, Dash using a sweat lodge cold turkey method to fight his withdrawals, a cleansing effort that takes him to the spirit world, while Carol uses a clinic and deals with methadone and its side effects, immersed in the bitter squalor and domestication of Granny Poor Bear’s household. Wade returns for a quick Wade vs. Red Crow philosophical showdown; they're two very different men, but both competing for the loyalties of Gina and Dash. I've long thought that Aaron could drop another revealing bomb and tell us that Red Crow was Dash’s father, but that seems unlikely now. It's almost as if Aaron sensed this suspicion and pushed back on the audience, with the drug abuse shared by the father and son pair of Wade and Dash, and Red Crow’s statement to Wade about the problem with Dash being that he's Wade’s son. It's interesting to see Carol sitting alone in the house at the end, while Dash is sitting alone in the snow. The titular “Unwanted” isn’t just about an aborted pregnancy, but they’re both unwanted individuals flirting with persona non grata status, Wade's presence isn't wanted either, so it seems every character in this arc is "Unwanted" in their own way. What’s astounding is not only that Aaron can keep so many story threads going, so many balls aloft simultaneously, but none of them play boring. They’re all very middling plot points, no big clashes, but he's pushing them all forward systematically, none of them very sexy, but all handled painfully effectively. Jason Aaron introduces them via script, and then R.M. Guera makes us believe and accept them via powerful pencils. This is really graphic storytelling at its finest. Grade A.

Echo #24 (Abstract Studio): As Vijay attempts to dupe and erase proprietary HeNRI files, Dillon attempts an ill-advised pursuit, with Julie and Ivy converging. What makes Echo so special isn't the actual story it tells per se, but the craftsmanship involved with how it is being told. The level of detail Moore is willing to execute in his pursuit of entertainment is becoming the minority in today's marketplace. Julie turns Amazonian in size and strength, Ivy begins regressing emotionally and physically. It's a fun enough idea, but it really shines because of the small details Moore includes that are so convincing. It's small things like Ivy's loose bra or her re-appearing mole; that level of care, detail, and logic are not often seen in more mainstream comics. The quality of the writing continues with the double entendres about what causes the side effects of alloy 618 and the way Ivy cannily plays the HeNRI security staff. Overall, it's just another amazing issue of Echo, but more proof why Moore is a modern master of pencils, a master of ink, a master of realistic dialogue, and my favorite part - the most emotive facial expressions available in comics today. Grade A.


Coming This Week: "Sitting In A Nest Of Bad Men, Whiskey Bottles Piling High"

It’s a thin week for me. I’m only purchasing two of the three titles you see here for certain, with the third being a low maybe, but probably not. I recently re-read all of my Scalped trades and I’m as in love with that series as ever. It’s amazing with a good solid re-read to re-discover how intricately plotted things are so far in advance and I picked up plenty of nuance and even one major surprise that I hadn’t remembered with the regular monthly readings. Oh, how I long for an HBO or Showtime style rendition of Scalped. It could easily function in that Sopranos, Six Feet Under, True Blood entertainment paradigm. So, hey Hollywood, get on that will you? In any case, it’ll be great to move things forward with Scalped #40 (DC/Vertigo). Terry Moore’s Echo #24 (Abstract Studio) is also due out, and continues to be hands down one of the best books on the stands. Moore will likely be winding the series down within a year or so and I hope that the eventual collected edition finds a second life in the bookstore market and on the con circuit. This title deserves to find a larger audience. I don’t see anyone really blogging or talking about it beyond die hard Moore fans, which makes me sad, but it’s quite well done and I’m happy to support it. Last up is the chronically late (and not very good) Astonishing X-Men #35 (Marvel) from Warren Ellis and Phil Jimenez. Judging by latter issues of this series, it would be difficult to believe that this was once the “it” book that everyone flocked to. You want to know a good litmus test to determine if you should continue buying a series in single issue installments? Ask yourself if you’d want it collected sitting on your shelf one day. Don’t shy away from it and say the arc or run isn’t completed yet, don’t think about it too hard, don’t re-read it, simply do an honest, gut-level, visceral, instinctive response. If the answer is no, then why the heck are you buying the single issues? If you don’t value it enough to upgrade to a nice trade or hardcover, then you’re just operating on monthly inertia and making excuses that avoid you having to make an active decision, probably saying to yourself, well I have all of the issues so far, maybe I’ll just keep buying it, maybe it’ll get better, maybe a different writer or artist will come on, maybe, maybe, maybe… I’ll just stick to my oversized hardcovers by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, thanks. This is going nowhere, slowly.


8.18.10 Reviews

DV8: Gods & Monsters #5 (DC/Wildstorm): It’s remarkable what a brilliant framing device the debriefing with Gem aboard The Carrier is. If you can imagine this tale being told without it, it would play almost painfully straightforward. Gem’s narration provides an anchor for the audience, a POV character to recount what happened. I keep thinking of Keyser Soze sitting in Agent Kujan’s office in The Usual Suspects. Before I go off talking more about the writing, Rebekah Isaacs deserves some praise. I’m impressed by how versatile her art can be. It runs the gamut from tender to fierce, full of heart when it needs to be and full of raw intensity when the tension needs ratcheting, but always clean and clear, so many effortless panels without any text whatsoever. While Wood focuses this issue on Rachel as a princess and Michael as an animal, he keeps begging this question: is the world better off with or without super-powered beings? Does the mere existence of powers make the crazies come out? Does, say, Batman’s existence, actually create someone like The Joker? The powered beings not only impact society at large, but also each other. Gem makes the observation that their recognition as “post-humans” is a bit misleading. That implies human perfection, plus. But, in reality it is simply human, plus power. They’re not advanced humans, they’re simply fallible humans with powers laid on top of that. And the cruel joke is that the powers don’t always ensure positive quality, as Evo actually devolves. Fallible humans with powers is a dangerous paradigm. Gem says “we all smell like death.” Out here in the real world, it’s easy to follow the tendency to select from the existing noble role models and say wouldn’t it be great if someone like Superman was President? But, that’s not how it works. In reality, you have to flip-flop the argument and ask, what if someone like Dubya had superpowers? In the comics, Rachel can dish out Divine Punishment as a God; out here in the real world, you’d simply risk The Divine Right of The Irrational. Wood is sublimating this genre and in the process entering a pantheon of revered writers like Alan Moore and Warren Ellis, joining his voice to the chorus and proving what a flawed paradigm the superhero ideal is. Grade A.

Sweets #2 (Image): Hey, I’ve got a degree from the #2 ranked Criminal Justice school in the country, I worked in federal law enforcement, and I’m telling you, Kody Chamberlain has the power to surprise me with the creative crime shit he comes up with. Printing the coins in the meter? Heck, I’ve never ever seen that before, and it’s just this throwaway little line, but it’s brilliant. The realism once again drips off the page here and it’s evident in the world-weary truth of lines like “I got a shitload of grandkids and a nice camera. I stay busy.” Palmer is always a joy when he’s on the page, his curmudgeonly demeanor endlessly entertaining. The flashbacks continue to be interesting diversions and it’s becoming clear that, like Jason Aaron on Scalped, the seemingly unrelated scenes will all begin to intertwine as time goes on. I did catch one typo, “prostutution,” (the easiest way to remember the proper spelling is that there’s always a “tit” in prostitution), but that’s easy to overlook when a book has this much thought and precision poured into every aspect of it. That cliffhanger about spotting the camera is pretty juicy and I’m definitely on board for more. If you could combine the procedural writing of Greg Rucka with the moody art of Sean Phillips, throw in a dash of the Jonathan Hickman aesthetic, oh, and some Pecan Pralines(!), then you’d have the creative mindset of Kody Chamberlain. Grade A.

The Lone Ranger #23 (Dynamite Entertainment): Jesus, how long is this arc? This is, what, the seventh issue? And it’s taken like a year to come out. Damn, I’m ready to trade-wait this already. Anyway, the Cavendish/Loring scene reminded me a bit of the Hopkins/Liota scene (you know the one), but that’s neither here nor there. John reaches a crossroads here where it seems he’ll have to choose between his mission and his family, because they simply cannot co-exist. There’s a bit of nicely played misdirection here, since the audience anticipates a Cavendish/Lone Ranger face-off, but that turns into The Lone Ranger finding Sheriff Loring. The scene is just heartbreaking on so many levels. The compassion John shows Loring, the reveal (I don’t want to spoil it), their past connection, and that small resigned line “won’t take but a minute.” I like how Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello play the denouement very subtly here. Lesser creators would have ended the final panel of that sequence with a “bang!” emanating from the house. These guys avoid the cliché because they know that we know what happens in that building. It’s proof why this title is such a class act, creators not afraid to put in the work and execute flawlessly. It’s gritty, it’s got a heart, and it doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Men #527 (Marvel): If this keeps up, yeah, I’m about done with the book. In short, Matt Fraction’s authorial voice is largely lost in this issue and the book has never met a mediocre artist it didn’t like. Does Marvel just figure, “well, it’s Uncanny X-Men, people will buy it regardless of what artist we put on there!?” Hey, it’s The French Laundry in Napa! That’s about as far as the cool little Fraction elements go. Whilce Portacio’s art is still full of stilted figures and his portrayal of Emma Frost is downright fugly, though I will say there are fewer overt gaffes and he did try a little harder with the backgrounds this issue. This issue is all about Hope pulling Gabriel out of The Speed Force or something, cut to a verbose Logan talking to Scott, cut to a pappy dogshit scene between Peter and Kitty (yeah, like Kitty would ever allow Emma inside her mind again), cut to Emma saying “darling” way too much, annnnnd, The End. On paper, the idea of Hope recruiting this new squad is ok enough, but the execution is bogged down by tons of disjointed elements that we’ve seen before. The dust is still settling, ok let’s move on. There’s no real story here, just a lot of slowly paced rehash. The script has lost all of the kitsch and swagger that’d make you recognize it as a Matt Fraction joint, the art is sketchy and rushed, with someone named Leonard Kirk drawing an Emma that looks absolutely nothing like Whilce Portacio’s Emma just a few pages prior. It’s just not that good. This book should be so much better. It’s such a disappointment. Grade C+.


Coming This Week: "And The Piano Is This Melancholy Soundtrack To Her Smile"

The highlight of this week in comics is DV8: Gods & Monsters #5 (DC/Wildstorm) from Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs. The juxtaposition of superpowered beings on a primitive society is proving to be a diversionary deconstruction of the superhero paradigm, which seems to be Brian Wood treading some new ground, even for this seasoned writer. Also out from the house that Jim Lee built is Ex Machina #50 (DC/Wildstorm), finally capping the brilliant series from Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris. I opted out somewhere around issue 35 or so in favor of purchasing the Deluxe Edition Hardcovers, but I’m not sure if I can wait for that fourth one to be published. I might just plunk down my money here so I can join in the online brouhaha. I bought two really good books at SDCC this year, Fluorescent Black (Heavy Metal) by M.F. Wilson and Nathan Fox and Sweets #1 (Image) by Kody Chamberlain. I’m excited to see Sweets #2 (Image) due this week so that I can pick up where I left off with this gritty crime story and rich New Orleans cast. It seems like this arc will never end, and I’m ready to switch to trade-waiting this chronically late series as soon as the arc does end, so maybe Lone Ranger #23 (Dynamite Entertainment) will push us closer to that phenomenon. Yes, I’m also still buying this series and frequently find myself wondering why. It should be as good as Matt Fraction’s work on Invincible Iron Man, but… maybe it needs a smaller cast… oh, and a more cohesive story… oh, and a (better) regular artist. Maybe it needs some help, yeah, it’s Uncanny X-Men #527 (Marvel).


8.11.10 Reviews

DMZ #56 (DC/Vertigo): I’m still on a bit of a high from a book I picked up at SDCC, Fluorescent Black by M.F. Wilson, Nathan Fox, and Jeremy Cox, so it was fantastic to get another issue of DMZ by Nathan Fox. And Jeremy Cox. Yep, Fox and Cox. Dynamic Duo. Wilson, the living embodiment of Chinatown, has been a quirky favorite character from the moment he appeared in Brian Wood’s tale. There’s some debate here as to whether Wilson actually is Chinatown in terms of the identity and survival of this entire New York sub-culture, or if he’s simply a caretaker and represents a broader sense of the resiliency of New York. What’s clear is that Wilson is a prime example of a character with a stoic sense of inborn fatalism, understanding that ideas are more powerful than individuals, and he remains a man of principle. Anyone who can torch that chopper and dump the gold is operating at a different level than the average ostensible “crime boss.” Wood’s script is full of the small bits of realism I enjoy, lines like having “a Bradley on every street corner” when this is all over reverberate with a gleeful sense of researched believability. Nathan Fox is such a treat. For all of the terrific artists that have worked on DMZ, I’ll take a stance and say that he is my favorite. His scraggly bold lines provide a dynamic sense of purpose. For the first time, I’ve seen him shift his artistic style dramatically as well, portraying the flashback scenes as washed out memoirs that position Wilson as a constant presence that’s attempted to preserve the sovereignty of Chinatown’s somewhat insulated way of life. Grade A+.

Daytripper #9 (DC/Vertigo): I still like Daytripper immensely. I think it will certainly be one of the year’s best books and I’d put it up against just about anything else coming out right now as an example of a fresh imaginative take that is arguably better than anything else on the stands. If you’re waiting for the “but,” then good on you. I’m concerned that Daytripper is now suffering from a bit of an identity crisis and can’t decide exactly what it wants to be. In the first few pages, it seemed convincing that the Brazilian Brothers were going for sort of a Dickensian “Ghost of Christmas Future” motif, with the woman on the boat returning from a few issues prior. The floating baskets seemed to represent slices of the alternate lives that we’ve seen in each issue. I liked that idea because it gave the book an anchor to spin all of the alternate realities out from, and the audience a foothold. Yet by the end of the book, Bras seems to be in some type of ethereal purgatory style limbo or dream world. Remembering it was a Vertigo book, I half expected Lord Morpheus to show up and indicate that Bras was a character in The Dreaming, standing alongside Merv Pumpkinhead and Hob Gadling, or some other Neil Gaiman creation. Judging from those last few pages, it seems he might not be alive at all, simply “a dreamer” who envisions aspects of a possible corporeal life. I still like how Daytripper emphasizes the journey over the destination in life, since the destination is ultimately the same for every one of us. And the story is still quite interesting, but I hope some definitive paradigm is selected in issue 10 so that I won’t feel as if the saga has suffered from multiple personality disorder. Also, Dave Stewart. Coloring God! But, this idea of a “perma-dream” that Bras can never wake from pushes me out a bit. I kept thinking about a couple of movies I like, What Dreams May Come, with Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra, and Darren Aronofsky’s impressive The Fountain, with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz (and obviously the Graphic Novel by Kent Williams that was, well, it's a long story, the original script inspired the book after movie plans were scrapped, the book then inspired the movie as a sort of proof of concept... can you say "Development Hell?"). Anyway, both of these films had a highly malleable sense of reality too, but at the end of the day there was one “primary reality” that anchored each, that all of the other fantastical, time and place shifting possibilities sprang from. This provided a sense of grounding that I hope Daytripper ultimately utilizes, otherwise the audience might feel just as lost as Bras was in this issue. Grade A.

Northlanders #31 (DC/Vertigo): It seems to me that a lot of Brian Wood’s work is marked by generational tension, as a conflict with “the old ways” clashes against an influx of current trends. Ingrid and Erik are stuck right in the middle of such a religious clash which pushes them out of their societies. Some of the uhh… “medicinal properties” of the plants Ingrid finds reminded me of Warren Ellis’ Wolfskin due to their influence during battle. There’s a subtle tinkering with the notion of control here, the Christians seek to control the Norsemen, the goddess seeks control of Erik, Ingrid and Erik seek control of their unfettered destiny, etc. I like how Wood is always careful to place things like magic, science, and religion on a continuum of human understanding. The Norsemen’s very way of life is threatened here and it seems that Erik is the heart, Ulf the brain, and Ingrid more of the soul of this culture. Since it’s a longer arc, it reads like middle, and will certainly be better when collected, so not much to say at the moment, how do you review the second chapter of a book in isolation from the rest of the story? But for now… Grade A.

Invincible Iron Man #29 (Marvel): For years, the media has been popularizing the rise of video game style warfare in the modern age, and Matt Fraction finally shows us a very literal interpretation of that in this issue. He manages to keep many story balls in the air this issue, the Hammers making their move, Rescue rising to an operational level, the drive to build two repulsor-tech cars at Stark Resilient, the odd sexual tension between Maria, Pepper, and Tony, a spoiled romantic moment between Pepper and Tony, Maria Hill still being pissed at Rhodey and Tony’s thoughtless showboating, Tony making a shockingly bold grab at a Hammer, and a totally screwed political link at the Pentagon. It reminded me of an old essay I read by writer Chuck Dixon when he wrote Nightwing for an extended period in the late 90’s and early 00’s. He had a very disciplined approach to storytelling with multiple plot threads. He stuck dogmatically to this process of introducing one new thread every issue, continuing 2-3 ongoing threads, and concluding a thread, so that the overlap continued to pull readers from issue to issue. That’s my long-winded explanation of how I see Fraction doing the same thing here, digging in his heels for a long creative haul. I think artist Salvador Larroca has taken a lot of heat online for his art style and overt use of photo-referencing. I think that, overall, he’s steadily been improving and the last year has shown marked improvement, almost to the point of shedding all the negative attributes he was accused of, but unfortunately I think he really fell down on this issue. It feels very off. There are quite a few examples of wonky proportions, incorrect perspective, and some very stiff, unnatural, and awkward character poses. Everything appears flat dimensionally, with some pretty lifeless inks and colors. I want to reiterate that I don’t feel this has been the norm for Larroca, despite being in the minority on that opinion, but this issue will certainly give his detractors some ammunition for their tired inflated argument. Grade A-.


Coming This Week: There Are No Surprises

It’s a painfully predictable week in terms of what I’ll be purchasing. It’s the penultimate issue, with Daytripper #9 (DC/Vertigo) hitting the shelves. This title will surely go down as one of the best of the year and I’d expect it to garner a few Eisner nods when the time is right. Matt Fraction delivers Marvel’s consistently best title and I hope he’s digging in for a marathon. I’ll be buying this as long as he’s doing it, continuing this week with Invincible Iron Man #29 (Marvel). There’s a Brian Wood double tap on the horizon, with Northlanders #31 (DC/Vertigo) and DMZ #56 (DC/Vertigo). I gotta’ say that I’m most looking forward to DMZ, starring one of my offbeat faves (Wilson) done by one of my offbeat faves (Nathan Fox), who I chatted with at SDCC this year. We talked about playing again in the DMZ sandbox, Dark Reign: Zodiac with Joe Casey, and I bought his new book Fluorescent Black from Heavy Liquid. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Pay attention to Nathan Fox. He’s the next Paul Pope.


8.04.10 Reviews

SHIELD #3 (Marvel): From a narrative standpoint, this series is feeling very unwieldy and uneven. For every bit of fascination, there’s a bit of frustration pushing back. The “previously in…” page that’s supposed to catch us up informs us that Leonid has been studying in the Immortal City for three years. Really? I don’t recall there being any passage of time, and it honestly felt like just a few days. Dustin Weaver’s steampunky page layouts are really appealing; I like small design elements like the crest on the sail aboard the SHIELD ship taking Isaac to Rome. The “Five-Fold Understanding” as a methodology to manage reality is very compelling, but with Jonathan Hickman’s script jumping all around in time and place with older and younger versions of people, it can be a little difficult to parse and I found myself flipping back and forth several times in an effort to track who was who. You’ve got cool enough players in Isaac Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, and Nostradamus, but at the end of the day it’s a bunch of old white haired caucasian guys who look pretty similar in the book. I liked the bit about the Deviant babbling a human DNA sequence, the bit about posturing and defiance being a thing of hope and promise, as well as the great explanation for the 10 day gap between the transition of the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar. Like the best historical fiction, it begins with a piece of known accepted canon and then postulates how it might have gotten that way. Perhaps the best sequence encapsulating my feelings for the book is the line “the intermediary device that I have constructed will provide a clean conversion from potential to actuality…” Now, I have no idea what the hell that means, but it looks like it culminates with some dudes repelling Galactus in 1582 in a stunning scene. In short, I have no idea what anyone is doing or why, but it sure looks cool. Grade B+.

Kane & Lynch #1 (DC/Wildstorm): Superficially, there is absolutely no reason I’d be buying a video game spin-off book that I have absolutely no foreknowledge of. It doesn’t take long to notice though, that every distinct element of this book has it poised for success. There’s a Ben Templesmith cover. There’s this new Wildstorm cover design. There’s this sweet looking, slick, heavy cardstock for the cover. Not only is Christopher Mitten on art, he's in color. And Ian Edginton is a writer I don’t follow religiously, but I have enjoyed some of his work in the past. It’s basically a can’t miss creative team with superb packaging. Those who know me will know that the first thing to catch my eye was Mitten’s art. His angular lines have always been able to capture a stark fractured reality, but here they’re aided by the punch of full color from Tony Avina, and the result is striking. I don’t feel like there is much story to be had here. I grasp some association with a band of elite mercs and the emotional tie of familial strife, but beyond that it’s basically a high octane ride with badass dudes kicking some ass – maybe that’s what I should expect from the video game relationship. Taking a step back and looking at it from a larger business standpoint, I have to wonder if this is the successful future of Wildstorm. Aside from an occasional critical darling like say, Planetary, it’s largely failed as a DC imprint, with several rebooted and aborted attempts at reviving it as a “universe.” Perhaps the Wildstorm brand will evolve to harness all of these licensed property tie-ins in this slick fashion. As for the slick look of Kane & Lynch, let’s go with… Grade B+.

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Brilliantly Ham-Fisted: 23 Comic Strip Poems By Tom Neely @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Enjoying The Sweets

Sweets #1 (Image): While working for my last employer, I was assigned to support a FEMA team in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck, which is neither here nor there, but might serve as a braggadocio personal segue into the comic Sweets, subtitle: A New Orleans Crime Story. Kody Chamberlain is the one-man-band who does everything here, writing, penciling, lettering, coloring, etc., so it’s worth noting that the very first thing that catches your eye is on the cover. It’s the graphic design sensibility in the series logo. Not only does it balance the focus of the page very effectively, but it reverberates with a general aesthetic that reminds me of Jonathan Hickman’s early and decorative Image Comics work, the visual flair on titles such as The Nightly News and Pax Romana.

I could tell I was going to like Sweets almost immediately; not only did Chamberlain strike me as grounded and likable in person when I quickly met him at SDCC this year, but while reading Sweets it became immediately obvious that he wasn’t going to insult my intelligence. The devil’s in the details, and you really have to pay attention. Visually, it’s the subtle flourishes of the serifs in the font he used, it’s the way the violence unapologetically bounces off the page, with splashes of red amid black and white sequences. Textually, it’s the subtle way that a man watching a car drive off out a window is a seamless device used to transition to the next scene, it’s the way he informs you without any exposition whatsoever, that a daughter is dead, a divorce is in the works, and dirty deeds are afoot.

There are many writer’s cheats you can use to avoid overt exposition, but Chamberlain does it the old fashioned way, the hard way for the writer, but the best way for his audience – he lets you listen in on a story already in progress, one in which you haven’t been given all of the facts. The happenings aren’t directed at you the reader, you’re merely a voyeur trying to piece it all together. In terms of dialogue, Chamberlain’s characters pause, they interrupt each other, and they’re funny without sounding like they’re spouting a rehearsed monologue that’s actually the writer showing off a clever turn of phrase he jotted down in a notebook somewhere. It’s almost as if Chamberlain took the best parts of Brian Bendis and Greg Rucka and forged the two together, to achieve a hard-boiled realistic thriller, with a David Mamet tone to the speech patterns.

Sweets is part blue collar procedural, part David Fincher dark crime/horror (once you learn of the serial nature of the crimes), and hits a wide range of hot button social issues, from divorce to poverty, to post-Katrina affectation, bird flu, political infighting on the job, alcoholism, corruption, and the unique heartbreak of parents outliving their children – all in one issue! To say the book is intricate or multi-layered or compact with ideas feels like an understatement. It’s clear that Chamberlain has put in the time to create a rich tapestry that feels like an artistic response to the social conditions of the region.

Visually, Chamberlain proves to be pretty versatile as well. Not only do the sepia Earth tones look beautiful, but they provide an emotional core to a fairly bleak reality. There’s even a flashback sequence that’s done in an altered style, which bears some similarities to Rob Guillory’s work on Chew (and there is an early Easter egg noting the existence of this book). Chamberlain seems to come from a school of visual style that reminds me of artists like Matthew Southworth, Michael Lark, Michael Gaydos, Alex Maleev, or even Ashley Wood’s early work on Sam & Twitch. It’s probably not coincidence that the names I just rattled off are primarily associated with their crime work, and Chamberlain can easily hold his own with this roster of talent.

I thought it was interesting that the book opens with the recipe for a Southern dessert stalwart, pecan pralines. One one hand, it’s simply a clever bit of foreshadowing to the serial nature of the crimes the cops eventually contend with (perhaps a nod to the intro of David Fincher's SE7EN). Reading the sequence a bit deeper though, it’s telling to note the intensity comparisons to the noir genre. One of the hallmarks of noir is to saturate the story with an excess of certain thematic qualities. For anyone who’s sampled pecan pralines and tasted this Southern decadent delight, they are extremely rich, almost excessively sweet, made primarily with sugar and butter. As mama always told us, an excess of anything can be harmful, and the analogue linking the dessert to the danger lets us know about the bittersweet intentions of the story. This was one of the better finds at SDCC this year, and you can count me all in. The new name in crime comics is Kody Chamberlain. Grade A.

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Coming This Week: "I Can See The Moon From My Backyard, So Now I'm An Astrophysicist"

What a weird week. I guess everyone blew their proverbial publishing wad at the San Diego Comic Con recently, because it’s actually theoretically possible that I won’t buy a single book this week. There’s not a single title out that I regularly buy, but certainly some items of interest. I suppose SHIELD #3 (Marvel) would have had the best shot at making it home, the egregious cover typo notwithstanding. “You see, son, back in my day there used to be an occupation called an ‘editor,’ and one of their many responsibilities was to perform a bit of quality assurance regarding typographical errors prior to the printing process in order to…” Things like video game spin-off Kane & Lynch #1 (DC/Wildstorm) aren’t normally in my wheelhouse, but I’m curious to see where Christopher Mitten goes with his artistic chops after his shocking departure from Wasteland. Ditto those sentiments for James Patteron’s Murder of King Tut #3 (IDW). I suppose I wasn’t paying attention to the first two issues, since “IDW” and “James Patterson” aren’t huge draws for me, but I’ll give it the requisite casual flip test at the LCS to behold Mitten’s art. Superman: The Last Family of Krypton #1 (DC/Elseworlds) doesn’t interest me in the slightest, other than to cite the footnote that it comes under the stagnant out of canon Elseworlds banner, which was supposedly abandoned long ago. With the re-introduction of the multiverse, is this really necessary? Can’t there just be an Earth-E or whatever where all the Elseworlds concepts go to die? Does it really need a separate imprint? Nancy In Hell #1 (Image) looks exactly like the type of book they should have stopped publishing in the 90’s, with its stripper chicks fighting demons general aesthetic, but with the inimitable Juan Jose Ryp on art, it’s hard not to give it a look. Last up is the chronically late Warren Ellis and his latest lament for lateness Supergod #4 (Avatar). I enjoyed Black Summer and No Hero, but without Juan Jose Ryp on art and more latey lateness than usual, I tuned out a few months ago around the second issue.

Graphic Novel Of The Month

Black Blizzard (Drawn & Quarterly): Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s 1956 noir thriller was chronicled in A Drifting Life, and now D&Q publishes this long out of print work for the first time in English, helmed again by “series” editor Adrian Tomine. Probably the most profound observation, which comes out in full explanation during the interview in the back of the book, is the reasoning behind the inclusion of the first few colored pages. These pages are evidence of the manga transition of the target demographic from kids to adults; Tatsumi himself is largely credited with ushering in this more sophisticated tone of “gekiga,” or “dramatic pictures.” The basic story revolves around a pair of escaped convicts on the run, one a pianist and one a card shark. The focus on the events leading up to that point are told in flashback, almost exclusively from the POV of the pianist (Susumu) searching for a long lost love (Saeko), which ultimately embroiled him in a frame up for murder. I thought it was interesting how the pianist and the card shark are almost mirror images of each other, from completely opposite walks of life, even being visually depicted as binary opposites at times, ala Mad’s Spy vs. Spy strip, one in black and one in white. The duo even begin to suffer from a big of Stockholm Syndrome, wherein as captors of each other, they begin to identify with their tormentor/captive. I found the text, surprisingly, a little on the expository side. One example is a newspaper man who answers the phone and then blurts out information directly to the audience. “What?! A train’s been derailed?! Two murder suspects on board have fled?!” It’s almost like those old Lassie episodes where Lassie barks frantically and Timmy’s dad says “What? Timmy’s in trouble?! He’s trapped in the old mine shaft and needs our help?! Let’s go!” Tatsumi’s pencils show their age and the speed under which the book was originally produced; there’s more plumpness to the line weight and the sets are much simpler than his later work, with more sparse backgrounds. I consider myself a Tatsumi fan so this will sound especially blasphemous, but the book kind of fell apart for me at the end. It concludes suddenly with a rushed, tidy, almost too coincidentally convenient ending. It feels like the book was originally serialized, was suddenly cancelled, and with little notice Tatsumi was told to wrap up the story in the last couple of pages of whichever issue he happened to be working on. Out of nowhere, the card shark’s daughter is revealed to be Saeko, Susumu gets away from captivity without losing his handcuffed hand, the real killer is revealed for the murder Susumu was framed for, having conveniently been a part of the same circus Susumu was involved with, the card shark gets to reunite with his daughter, Susumu is reunited with Saeko, and they all live happily ever after! All in the space of like two pages! It’s just way too neat, tidy, and conveniently connected with no prior clues along the way that allow the audience to be engaged in a more participatory fashion. Considering that it’s more than 50 years old and storytelling techniques have certainly evolved, not to mention the fact that this was early in this creator’s lifetime tenure of work, it may be possible to overlook some of this clunky delivery and appreciate it more as a kitschy, ephemeral, transitory piece of work from the venerable creator. However, judging by modern standards, on behalf of an audience who has seen nearly every conceivable “twist” ending repeatedly and can anticipate overused structural denouement, it simply shows its age. The last minute revelations pushed me right out of what would have been a fast paced thriller which played like a short Hitchcockian film. As much as I wanted to like it, and it pains me to say about this master manga scribe, this leaned more toward being a miss than the typical hits I’ve come to expect from Yoshihiro Tatsumi. If the work itself is flawed by viewing with a modern eye, it still manages to establish credibility points when you consider the historical context of the work, the new era rushed in that it symbolizes, and the lasting effect it had on decades of comics to come. Grade B.

SubCulture: The Web Strips Volume 1.0 @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest review over at Poopsheet Foundation.