Posted tagged ‘Dark Horse’

Review: Rex Mundi: Gate of God

May 11, 2010

The final volume of Arvid Nelson’s epic grail quest, Rex Mundi, is a huge improvement over the previous book, but still lacks the appeal of the first half of the series.  In an earlier review I called the series the Da Vinci Code done right.  The two works are really similar (of note, Rex Mundi started first), dealing with conspiracy theories involving the lineage of Christ and tons of research into Church history, although in the case of Rex Mundi this is taking place in an alternate history with a bit of magic.

And when the story focused on the alternate history it was fascinating, particularly France’s march to war in which they essentially recreate WWII (the villain here finally makes the jump to clearly being a stand-in for Hitler), and the magic worked best when it was used as a small background element where most people can’t do more than use it to light cigarettes.  However, the conclusion is the perfect opposite of what I liked about the series.  The conspiracies have been revealed, the war has been removed to the text back matter of each issue, and the conclusion is a full on battle between two rival wizards, complete with an army of Ray Harryhausen skeletons.

It’s a well done fight, and it’s not like I don’t enjoy that sort of thing, it’s just not what I was reading Rex Mundi for.  Although it is a great showcase for artist Juan Ferreyra who is much better at drawing this sort of thing than he was at the talking heads of the previous volumes.  So the big finale is pretty great, but it feels like its occurring in the wrong book.

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Review: Concrete: Depths

February 25, 2010

Concrete is one of those books that every self-respecting fanboy is obligated to read eventually.  Paul Chadwick’s reputation was made on the series, which was one of the highlights of Dark Horse Presents, along with other works like Frank Miller’s Sin City.  But somehow I’ve never read it until now, and I’m very sorry for that.

Concrete is one of the best post-superhero stories I’ve ever read.  The protagonist is a former sentatorial speech writer who gets turned into an neigh-invulnerable rocky beast with fantastic eyesight.  However, this is a real world story.  No villains, no battles, no real need for someone with Concrete’s (aka Ron) abilities.  

Unable to think of what to do with himself, Concrete goes on the Late Show and asks for suggestions.  And so he finds himself helping explore the oceans, searching for lost hikers, and bodyguarding a rock star.  Each story is a stand alone tale, and all of them are fantastic!  Concrete is a deeply simpathetic character, tragic but never morose.  Instead these are stories about someone who always wished he could lead a life of excitement, finally given the means to do so.  

It’s an approach that is disapointingly unique in comics, but fortunately Chadwick has filled that void.  Highly recomended.

Review: Grandville

November 8, 2009

Grandville is Bryan Talbot welcome return to the sort of storytelling he made great in his Luther Arkwright books.  This is one big ole s.f. tinged, very British, adventure story.  But of course this being a Talbot book there’s more to it than that.

The book is a tribute to the works of French illustrators J. J. Grandville and Albert Robida, winding up with a Steampunk, funny animal political thriller with a bit of Sherlock Holmes thrown in.  The result is a gorgeous book, possibly a lesser work from Talbot, but only because he’s clearly writing this for some fun after the tour de force that was Alice in Sunderland.  

The tone of the book is fairly dark, but he casts Snowy (the dog from TinTin) as an opium addict!  Not to mention throwing random tips of the hat to works like Maus and Omaha the Cat Dancer.  This is Talbot at play, and that’s wonderful to see.

Review: The Goon: A Place of Heartache and Grief

June 4, 2009

I have been waiting sooooo long for this book to come out.  For the last year and a half Eric Powell has been writing a single epic into his ongoing series, and for some inane reason Dark Horse decided it was a good idea to wait until it was done to publish the first (of 3) volumes collecting it.

But fortunately it was worth the wait, as Powell continues his streak of brilliance.  The Goon has always been a unique comic, somehow living in the area between Jimmy Cagney’s gangster films (there’s even a version of the Dead End Kids from Angels with Dirty Faces in here) and the horror/comedies of Peter Jackson’s early career.  If you ever wanted to see a fight between Atticus Finch and a giant, rabid, transvestite then this is the comic for you!  

But what’s always made the Goon a great comic (besides the amazing art) is the more serious tone imbedded just behind the gags and scenes of pony’s being mauled by bears.  From the last issue in this collection it’s clear that heartbreakingly bad events are in store for every member of the cast, and yet somehow Powell still manages to leave the reader with a smile.  It’s a balance I’ve neven seen another writer nail so perfectly.

Thank God the next volume will be out a little faster than this one.

Keeping Current with Comics

August 30, 2008

Yesterday I tried to remove whatever collection development credentials people thought I had.  But I did say that the one area of particular expertise I might actually possess is in comics.  So I figured I’d take a shot and do a batch of brief write ups on current comics libraries should be aware of.

Secret Invasion: For the past decade at least the Summer has been the time for large scale comics events and crossovers.  Actually for the past few years the events have all kind of blended together to the extent that some fans are complaining of event overload.  Secret Invasion is Marvel’s entry this year, and it concerns an alien invasion of shape shifters who have been posing undetected as some of Marvel’s most well known characters (in some cases for quite some time).  The book has received decent reviews overall and I’ve been enjoying it, but there are accessibility issues for those who haven’t been following the last few years worth of Marvel stories.  In the end it will probably prove more significant for the effect it has on the Marvel line to come than for the story itself.

Final Crisis: Final Crisis is DC’s answer to Secret Invasion.  It’s being marketed as the day evil won.  The writer on this one is Grant Morrison, a personal favorite but someone who’s more eccentric writing tendencies don’t always lead to clearly told stories.  Final Crisis has also suffered from poor editorial control (the story did not match up with many of the details from the books that led into it, including the death of a major character).  Again I fear it’s going to become essential reading because of its effects (notably the return of the Silver-Age Flash, Barry Allen) and not because of its own merits.

Final Crisis: the Legion of Three Worlds: The Legion of Three Worlds is a pseudo-spin-off of Final Crisis (because the worlds Final Crisis are in the title), and so far it’s shaping up to be far superior to its parent book.  The story, crafted by the workhorse Geoff Johns and drawn by George Perez at the top of his game, is an attempt to redefine the Legion of Superheroes, one of DC’s best loved but most muddled books.  Early reviews have uniformly praised the book and it is becoming a series I am greatly looking forward to the ending of.

Green Lantern: Another Geoff Johns book.  Johns relaunched Green Lantern a number of years ago now, bringing back classic ring bearer Hal Jordan and focusing on crafting a true mythology for the character.  Having succeeded at his initial goals he has worked to steadily up the ante on the action in the story.  Last year he gave us the Sinestro Corps War, in which a Universe wide battle broke out involving most of the villains from the biggest events in DC history.  Since that time he’s been steadily building to The Blackest Night, a story which probably has more buzz going for it than anything in comics at the moment (including the 2 current events).  Keep an eye out for it.

Batman: RIP: In a similar bit of character redefinition, Grant Morrison has been steadily working on a deconstructionist take on Batman for awhile now.  His run has met with mixed reviews so far, albeit with a few standouts to date (the League of Heroes collaboration with J.H. Williams was one of my favorite comics last year).  But the culmination of his approach to the character is in the current story arch, in which Bruce Wayne suffers a massive psychological break and all of the events that led to the creation of the Batman are thoroughly reexamined.  It’s been a riveting story and it seems pretty certain that the Batman coming out of it will be different than the one that went in to it.

The Punisher: Garth Ennis has just wrapped up what has been by far the best take on the Punisher in the character’s history.  Make no mistakes this is an adult comic, in which the Punisher is portrayed as a near mythical force of nature.  It it grim, it is tightly plotted, the art is gorgeous, and it left me never wanting to read another Punisher comic because everything else can’t help but come across as a disappointment after this.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8: Exactly what it sounds like.  Joss Whedon has reassembled a large portion of his writing staff from the classic show along with a number of comics writers with tv writing experience and has crafting a follow up season.  And it’s really good.  If you were a fan of the show or know someone who was make sure to pick up this book as it has lost none of what made the Buffy great to begin with.

The Umbrella Academy: Easily the most enjoyable comic last year.  My Chemical Romance’s front man Gerard Way has crafted an entirely original take on superhero comics (or is that dysfunctional family stories).  The art from Gabriel Ba is perfectly suited to the material (I don’t know of anyone else who could nail something like a robot zombie Gustave Eifle with such wild abandon).  The sequel launches next year.

Criminal: Criminal is a show case for Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips to tell the sort of crime stories they love.  Besides the story each issue (which have consistently been the most well crafted comic of each month) the comics contain a wealth of interviews, reviews, and letter columns concerning the history of the crime genre.  The book is nearly as good as a reference resource as it is for the stories.

Collections: The last few years have been a great time for collected editions.  Bookstores and libraries have opened up to nicely bound editions and the major publishers have been doing a great job of dusting off their back catalogs.  A few archival projects are of particular note.  DC has been republishing some great hardcover editions of James Robinson’s Starman, Grant Morrison’s JLA, and everything Jack Kirby did for them in the 70’s (The Fourth World Omnibus’ have a place of honor on my bookshelves).  Some other recent highlight are Image’s collections of Mike Allred’s Madman, Oni’s new editions of Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country, and another personal favorite, Marvel’s recently released omnibus edition of Howard the Duck (which really is an essential read, albeit a pricey one).

Spotlight on Joss Whedon

July 26, 2008

This post is probably a bit unnecessary since you’d pretty much have to be living under a rock not to have heard of Whedon by now.  The man created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and the upcoming Dollhouse.  He earned an Oscar nod for Toy Story.  He wrote what is one of the only two seminal X-Men runs since Chris Claremont left the book back in ’91.  He recently created a web based phenomenon, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, in an effort to prove that the writers strike was justified in wanting a cut of online profits, only to have the server overloaded by all the traffic it got on its first day.  And just yesterday he won two Eisner awards, one for best new series with Buffy: Season 8, and one for best webcomic with Sugarshock (found on MySpace Dark Horse Presents).

The man is talented, prolific, and fully understands his fan base.  He’s one of the most prototypical geeks out there really, and he truly embraces that part of himself and injects it into all the stories he comes out with.  He routinely creates characters based on the X-Men’s Shadowcat and only recently pulled off a love song revolving around a freeze ray.  Now if only he could find a way to bring back Firefly.