Posted tagged ‘graphic novel’

Review: The Unknown

May 19, 2010

The Unknown is the start of another high concept mystery series by editor-in-chief Mark Waid.  And much like Potter’s Field, which I reviewed last week, it’s a great idea for a series, that’s just in need of a slightly greater case to make it work, hopefully in the inevitable volume 2.

The Unknown focusing on Cat Allingham, a Sherlock Holmes by way of Warren Ellis figure with an insatiable need to prove how the world functions.  Only problem is she has an inoperable brain tumor that will kill her within six months, and which is tormenting her with constant hallucination, making her deductive skills useless.  Thus she is forced to rely on James Doyle, an ex-bouncer with a knack for picking up on the tells of those around him.

This book chronicles their first case together, as well as the start of Cat’s obsession with investigating the possibility of an afterlife.  The object of their case is a scale developed by a pair of quantum physicists that may be precise enough to measure the existence of the soul.

The story doesn’t really provide any answers however, which shouldn’t really be surprising given the title.  This proves to be a mystery story about mysteries and not about solving them, which is an approach I like a great deal.  All in all a decent start to this series and I expect great things in the future.

Review: The Bronx Kill

May 13, 2010

The Bronx Kill is Peter Milligan’s best comic in years, as well as being one of his most atypical.  He’s done some truly phenomenal books in the past (The Extremist, X-Statix, Shade the Changing Man) and has been writing a pretty good Hellblazer run for the past year, but generally he’s fallen flat every time he’s attempted a slightly more mainstream story (such as his runs on X-Men and Elektra).

So now we have a fairly low key missing wife story this is absolutely brilliant.  Martin Keane is an author whose sophomore novel was just released to scathing reviews.  But he has a new one in the works that has absolutely nothing to do with the family of policemen he comes from, or his grandmother that walked out on the family, or his great-grandfather who was murdered in the Bronx Kill for that matter.  He has spent his whole life trying to distance himself from his family’s legacy, and now he finds that its become his main source of inspiration despite his attempts to combat it.  Then when Martin’s wife vanishes one night he gets pulled into his family history even further, especially once he becomes the chief suspect.

Milligan here has created the first book that really justifies Vertigo’s new line of crime comics.  It’s also one of the best pieces of modern noir I’ve encountered.

Review: Madman Atomic Comics Vol.2

March 29, 2009

Mike Allred continues his artistic evolution in the second volume of Madman Atomic Comics.  There’s not another artist in comics willing to push himself in the way that Allred does in this series.  In the first volume he began using a new pencil shading technique, took his writing in a metaphisical direction, and spent an entire issue highlighting his influences.

I’m ecstatic to see that Allred was not content to rest with that.  This time around he’s begun to play with cel shading.  And in one of his biggest experiements he attempts a comic with a single panel (the pages can be lined up end to end to form a single image).  The story’s pretty good too, mainly focusing on my one grievance from the last volume, which is handled in a truly unique and unexpected way.

Review: The Night Witches

March 9, 2009

Garth Ennis has always been at his best when writing war comics, a genre he’s spent some time away from recently (with the exception of an occasional flashback in the Punisher).  Fortunately he’s returned with a major project, a series of mini-series entitled Battlefields.  In scope this is very similar to his two runs of War Stories that were published by Vertigo a few years back (The D-Day Dodgers from that ranks in my top ten for best single issues), and actually he’s using many of the same artists this time out.

The first of the Battlefields books is the Night Witches.  The story focuses on the Russian front in WWII where the German infantry is on a collision course with Russia’s newly formed female bomber squadron (who give the book it’s title).  Ennis does a decent job of showing both sides of the conflict, although the Germans only have a single sympathetic character.  It’s not his best work, but Ennis does not now how to tell a bad story and this one is no exception.

The art on this comes from Russ Braun, who I’m only familiar with as the back up artist on Jack of Fables.  He does a wonderful job here, reminding me a lot of Darrick Robertson’s work at times.  From what’s on display here he deserves to have a much higher profile.

So, all in all the Night Witches is a welcome return to form for Ennis and it’s definitely whetted my appetite for the next Battlefields series.

Review: Jack Kirby’s the Demon

December 6, 2008

DC comics might be going down the toilet at the moment, but their collected editions program is awesome enough to make up for it.  Their latest must have book is Jack Kirby’s complete run on the Demon.

Now, the Demon Etrigan is just about my favorite character to have come out of DC’s long history.  He’s just like nothing else from any of their other books.  As the name implies he is a demon from Hell, but a usually benevolent one due to his having been bound to Merlin.  He also shares a body with Jason Blood, an immortal demonologist who spends most of his time in Gotham City.  Oh and since the mid 80’s he only speaks in rhyme (or occasionally blank verse).

But this is back when he could still speak like a normal person (relatively speaking, it is a Jack Kirby comic after all), and these early tales are some of the King’s best work.  Although derivative at times (there are both Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein stories here) every page here is a masterpiece from Kirby at his peak.  And when Kirby does try for something totally new, the book soars.  The highlight here is without a doubt the Demon’s two encounters with Klarion the Witchboy, an unbelievably creepy Puritan sorcerer from another dimension that is totally unlike anything seen elsewhere.

Of course the one problem with premise this odd is that it’s really hard to carry it as an ongoing series.  Thus the book died after a mere 16 issues, and Kirby’s time at DC was nearly over.

Review: Joker

November 19, 2008

The Joker is Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s follow up to Lex Luthor: the Man of Steel, and taken together the two books form a very interesting contrast.  Luthor was all about getting into the mind of a villain, the Joker on the other hand is all about showing how impossible a task that is.  

The story focuses on a low level thug named Jonny Frost who decides to work for the Joker in an attempt to build his rep.  He swiftly becomes the Joker’s pupil, and learns to regret that decission very quickly.  But while Jonny may be the story’s protagonist, the title character is of course the focus of this story, and in this book he is written better than I’ve seen since Alan Moore penned the Killing Joke.  

The portrayal here is fairly close to the one from the Dark Knight (including Bermejo’s character design), although DC has insisted that the movie was not an influence on this book.  The Joker here is terrifying, there’s no gimmicks and no jokes, just a brilliant and insane monster out to bring down the world around him.  The one awkward thing in the story is it’s role just outside of Batman’s cannon.  This version of the Joker could be made to fit, but some of Batman’s other rogues are also on exhibit here in forms that have no resemblance to their other appearances.  This does work to ground the story in some sense of reality (for example Killer Croc is a thug instead of a man-eating lizard-man), but it is a little jaring if you’re coming to this after reading the latest issue of Detective Comics.

As for the art side, this is a beautiful book and it just makes me hate even more how little interior work Lee Bermejo does.  He’s an incredible artist, and he’s perfectly in synch with Azzarello here.  As I said earlier, the Joker is supposed to be completely alien here, but the times when the reader gets a slight glimpse of what is going through his head it’s almost entirely due to seeing the character’s eyes (which incidentally are masked on the book’s cover, given a hint of what to expect within).

Azzarello and Bermejo have formed an amazing creative partnership, which has reached maturity in this, their third collaboration.  I dearly hope it will not be their last.

Review: Essential Incredible Hulk Vol.4

November 15, 2008

Of all the superheroes out there, the Hulk is probably the one I like the least.  The concept of the character is decent, Mr. Hyde essentially, but it’s not one that I’ve ever felt could support a series for the last 46 years.  The writer’s involved with the series at various times seem to struggle with the same basic issues, which is why the character has never had a firm status quo.  From month to month he’s grey, or green, or red; smart or stupid; unwilling to hurt a fly or working for the mob in Vegas.  

He’s also too damn powerful to be interesting.  Every fight he has ever been in has amounted to waiting for the Hulk to get angry enough that he becomes invincible.  Thus his battles are never very interesting (and let’s face it all the Hulk is good for is hitting things) and his enemies come off looking completely incompetent (which is doubly awful when his arch foe is the US army).

So by that standard vol. 4 of the Essential Hulk is actually decent.  Of particular not is when Steve Englehart takes over the book and starts a long running sub plot in which Betty Ross finally gives up on Bruce Banner and marries someone else.  Of course this being a comic she swiftly gets widowed, institutionalized due to her grief, brainwashed by everyone’s favorite giant head M.O.D.O.K., and turned into giant, green harpy that shoots “Hellbolts”.  And this was nearly 20 years prior to the women in refridgerators debacle.  

There’s also one of my favoite bits of science gone wrong in a comic, the Infra-world of Captain Omen.  Omen is a mad scientist who decides to claim the ocean floor as a soverign nation.  His plan hinges on breeding a race of men adapted to life at 5,000 fathoms (somehow accomplished through evolution in a single generation) and using them to plant underwater flags across the world.  Omen himself seems to take the underwater pressure fine, simply developing a hunchback.  The Hulk gets involved, inspires Omen’s undersea race to rebel, and then everyone goes to the surface where the swiftly explode due to their incredibly high blood pressure.  Oh and this all occurs in the course of a single issue.  Gotta love 70’s comics.

I’m not sure I can really recommend this collection besides as a decent representation of what the Hulk was like for his first 20 or so years.  During that era it’s probably one of the better runs, but it’s still suffers the same faults as nearly every Hulk comic, there’s not much that can be done with the character.

Review: The Immortal Iron Fist Vol.3

October 25, 2008

The book marks the end of one of the best collaborations in the history of Marvel comics.  Together Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja have managed to take a b-list 70’s character and elevate him to greatness.

Volume 3, collects a series of stand alone tales under the title, the Book of the Iron Fist.  These stories are focused on the history of the Immortal Iron Fist, so named because the title is transfered to a new inheritor upon each Iron Fist’s death.  The first story tells the history of Wu Ao-Shi, the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay, who was the only woman to have been the Iron Fist.  Next up is Bei Bang-Wen, who used his skills to defend China from the British in 1860.

But the real highlight of this book is Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death, which is worth the cover price alone.  Orson Randall, the previous Iron Fist to Danny Rand, has appeared throughout the series as the last of the pulp adventurers, which gives the creative team tons to play with.  The issue contains four chapters from throughout Orson’s career, with the presence of the John Aman (a recently revived character that can be traced back to 1939) as the connecting thread.  But really the book is just a chance to tell a bunch of stories the likes of which are rarely seen nowadays.  Nick Dragotta & Mike Allread illustrate the first portion dealing with a stage magician, followed by legendary artist Russ Heath for a western tale, then it’s Lewis LaRosa for a brief battle with Frankenstein, and finally Mitch Breitweiser for the redemption of the Prince of Orphans.  This issue was my favorite story to be published last year and it’s an enormous shame that Matt Fraction will not be writing another like it anytime soon.

Which brings me to the final story here, which wraps up the Brubaker/Fraction/Aja run on the series and serves to hand it off to the next creative team.  It’s a great touch that Marvel decided to collect the series in such a way that the stories about the character’s history are bookended by one dealing with his future.  It’s a nice story, but a very odd note for the creative team to end on.  One which only makes sense when you read the follow-up by Duane Swierczynski and Travel Foreman, which thankfully has maintained both the high standard for this series so far and its pulp leanings.

Review: The Eternals Vol. 2

October 18, 2008

The second volume of the Eternals marks the abrupt end of the series, and the end of Jack Kirby’s second stint at Marvel (and pretty much his career as well).  The book itself, is not very good.  Volume 1 was typical (albeit recycled from the Fourth World) Kirby, epic in scope and gorgeous to look out.

But everything falls apart in volume 2.  Nothing of any significance happens in this book, unless you count a pointless 3 issue fight with a Hulk robot.  And then the book just stops.  I can’t even complain about it not having a satisfactory ending, as it didn’t actually feel like there was much of a story to be concluded.

Review: Essential Man-Thing Vol.1

September 1, 2008

I just finished up another Essentials volume so I guess I’m sticking with the comics review theme for one more day.  The first of two volumes of the Essential Man-Thing covers the (unfortunately named) character’s earliest appearances and the beginings of Steve Gerber’s run on the book.  Now Man-Thing is a very strange book, in that it features a swamp creature (it’s worth noting that Man-Thing appeared a few months before Swamp Thing) who is nearly mindless and who has no means of communicating.

Thus the burden of the story is placed upon a rotating assortment of random supporting characters who serve as the foil for Man-Things adventures, and on a slightly overbearing omniscient narrator.  Fortunately, most of these stories are by the great Steve Gerber (who reader’s of my old book review blog will know I obsess over), who manages to take the rediculous premise and built it into a set of oddly poiniant morality plays.  He also throws in a few of his trademark touches of absurdity, this book does contain the first appearance of Howard the Duck after all, not to mention the ever so slightly over the top Foolkiller.

Somehow this all manages to come together to create Marvel’s second best horror book after Tomb of Dracula.  It’s really a shame these stories have mostly gone down in history the awful name (particularly due to the five “Giant-Size”  issues) and the corny catch phrase “whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch”.  Granted the stories here haven’t aged particularly well (this is the era of Marvel where every book had to include an evil biker gang at some point), but they have enough substance to be worth a read if you can get past the window dressing.  Oh and there’s some lovely Mike Ploog art.