Posted tagged ‘Reviews’

Review: Scalped: the Gnawing

June 3, 2010

I’ve raved about Scalped a few times here and now I’m starting to run out of new ways to praise it.  It’s the best crime comic written today, and quite possibly the best ever.

The Gnawing is the latest tale, in which undercover agent Dash Bad Horse is tasked by Chief Red Crow to find the rat in his organization.  And if that isn’t bad enough Dash also has to attempt to keep a witness to a murder perpetrated by Red Crow alive long enough to testify.  And Red Crow has his own problems after inciting a war with his casino’s financiers.

The ensuing conflict is one of the most brutal stories I’ve ever read.  This is an epic tragedy, with no happy endings.  In fact, the saddest part of the book is the news that a character is pregnant and that the pain and suffering endured by everyone in the story is about to be extended into another generation.  It’s heartbreaking and ingenious writing that somehow made a great book get even better.

Review: Secret Six: Depths

June 2, 2010

The newest collection of Gail Simone’s twisted super-villain series, Secret Six, is the first misstep she’s taken since writing the first mini-series featuring the characters.  Her grasp of the characters is as strong as ever, and the first two issues in this collection, which are both one-off tales, are excellent.  However, the main story in this volume is a ill-conceived team-up with Wonder Woman, which pretty much just exists because Simone was also writing that book at the time.

The Six are hired by a group who has forced a band of Amazons into slave labor in order to construct the world’s greatest prison.  What exactly the six are hired to do, is never really explained, nor is it explained why the would be warden has made a deal with Grendel.  Then there’s the problem that Wonder Woman and the Six don’t mesh together at all.  Oh and there’s also that this makes back to back stories in which the Six turn on one another and then somehow make up afterwards.

The book’s almost worth it for the first issue, being the most awkward date comic in history, but the rest is just a mess.

Review: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

June 1, 2010

Seth Grahame-Smith became a publishing sensation with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but managed to somehow do it without a great deal of recognition for himself.  He spawned a whole publishing movement of weird classics adaptations, but none by him and all published as if they may as well have been, including a prequel to his own book.

So, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is his chance to prove he’s more than merely a publishing gimmick, and he mostly succeeds.  There’s not really a whole lot needed to explain this novel beyond the title.  It’s written as a biography, based upon Lincoln’s secret diaries, and Grahame-Smith puts a lot of effort into researching Lincoln’s life to blur the lines between history and fantasy as finely as possible.

This isn’t a great book, but its a very fun book, which is all the more impressive in that Grahame-Smith plays it totally straight.  It’s also the only vampire story I’ve enjoyed period since the current Twilight/True Blood/X-Men vs. Dracula, etc… fad made me sick to death of the subject (I picked this up because I have kind of a thing for silly Lincoln stories).  If you like the idea of the title, you will love this book, for everyone else, it’s very skipable.

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.

Review: Audition

May 7, 2010

I’ve been waiting years for an English translation of Ryu Murakami’s Audition to be released.  I became familiar with it through the Takashi Miike film, which has picked up the reputation of being one of the greatest horror movies ever.  That’s pretty well deserved too.

So I came into the book with certain expectations, and found it to be a bit less terrifying, but a better example of horror.  Now this is a book that can’t really be described without a spoiler, but its one that is pretty obvious based solely on the book jacket so I’m going to go for it.  

The story is told from the perspective of Aoyama, a widowed single father who has just decided that he is ready to remarry.  In order to find a wife he joins forces with a friend at a video production company to hold an audition for a film that will likely never be made.  That way he can come in to the casting sessions as a producer and hopefully find the woman of his dreams amongst the runners-up.  The plan works, and he becomes hopelessly infatuated with Yamasaki Asami, a former ballerina with an unknown past.

All of Aoyama’s friends warn him away from her throughout the book, but he remains blinded by her, and as this book is told in the first person, so is the reader.  It’s a nice approach to take for the story, which makes the famed torture scene at the end of the book all the more horrifying.  But unlike the film which gets its terror from the unexpected story twist, the book relies on the Aoyama’s inability to comprehend the situation to achieve its horror.  And this works admirably!  Murakami takes love, which lets face it, can be pretty incomprehensible at times, and twists that into the sort of horror usually found in a Lovecraft story.  Well done.

Review: Captain America: Reborn

May 6, 2010

After 50 issues (of which the title character has been dead for the last 2 years worth) Ed Brubaker has brought things to a conclusion in Reborn.  It’s not a bad summation to the story (or of Captain America’s history for that matter), and it does accomplish its main goal of resurrecting Cap without resorting to too large of a deus ex machina, but it does have a pretty major plot flaw.

So, two years ago, Captain America was shot and killed by girlfriend who was being controlled by minions of the Red Skull at the time.  As it turns out what actually happened was that Cap became unstuck in time (slaughterhouse-five style) thanks to Dr. Doom’s time platform (which to be fair, had been introduced into the story before then).  And now in this book the Red Skull has launched his master plan, to bring Cap back to the present and take control of his body.

As master plans go, not so original.  And furthermore, this doesn’t really make sense as it was established pretty well in here that Cap’s time traveling was an accident because the time platform was broken.  So, after all this time Brubaker’s master plan for the Skull was this, despite tons of villainous monologuing from both the Skull and his allies about how nefarious his plan was and how people would be astonished when it was unveiled.  Yeah, not so much.

But looking past that flaw, the story’s pretty good in a widescreen action way, which isn’t a surprise with Bryan Hitch on art duties.  The man is the #1 go to guy for illustrating enormous super hero battles, and Brubaker gives him plenty to work with here.  And it does make for a pretty satisfying ending, but it is also a bit at odds with the more intricately plotted sort of espionage stories that Brubaker had been telling up until now.  Brubaker can do better, but Cap still remains one of Marvel’s best books.

Review: Captain America: Road to Reborn

May 3, 2010

Ed Brubaker treads water a bit in this volume of the ongoing series.  I suspect a lot of that is publisher interferance though, and Brubaker makes the most of the situation, but it is what it is.

The problem is a pair of scheduling debacles.  First of all there’s the slightly contrived back-to-back anniversary issues.  This volume collects issue 50 of the current series, and which point Marvel reset the numbering to its original system, giving us issue 600.  So we have an issue dedicated to the history of Bucky (the current Captain America), and one dedicated to remembering the death of the previous one.  Both are good, but both are also filler.

Scheduling problem two, Marvel decided to take the next major story arc, in which the original Captain America returns from the dead, and pull it out into its own mini-series in an attempt to boost its prominence.  This move left the series with an extra issue to be used up, so more filler it is.  This time its an unused annual Marvel had lying around that has become Cap 601.  The issue is really meant to be a tribute to Gene Colan, one of the legends of the industry.  And on that level it works, letting the Dean come back to draw a double sized issue of Cap battling vampires, elements from two of his signature comics.  And his art is as wonderful as it ever was (although he could make do with a better colorist).  However, this is also the third issue in a row that doesn’t advance the story, and enough’s enough.

I’m being pretty harsh here I realize, and none of these comics are bad issues.  But you can pretty much skip this whole book and not notice a thing, and that’s got to matter.

Review: The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular

April 29, 2010

Amelia Rules!, the best all-ages comic you’re not reading has made the job (kind of) to graphic novels, and it’s just as fantastic as ever.  I’ve seen quite a few comparisons between Jimmy Gownley’s series and both Peanuts and Ramona, both of which are totally apropos, but I really think Gownley manages to surpass them both.

This marks Gownley’s longest story to date, and he uses the extra space well in this story.  Amelia McBride and friends have just entered the 5th grade, and before too has to endure the worst day of her life.  One which ends with her dressed in a space suit and chased up a tree by an angry mob composed of most of her classmates.  This event leads her on a journey into the mysteries of what it takes to be popular, and if those sacrifices are worth the effort.

This is an adorable book that ough to have a huge amount of appeal to younger readers, while still being great for us elders who can appreciate the skill on display here from Gownley.  He’s one of the best cartoonists I know of, and has never written a story that hasn’t left me grinning madly.  This one is no exception.

Review: Something Rotten

April 25, 2010

Something Rotten is the culmination of the three prior Thursday Next books.  It’s a pretty damn satisfying read for someone whose read all of those, but I can’t imagine anyone understanding a word of it coming in cold.

In this book Thursday decideds leave the fictional world and return to reality in order to bring her husband back into existence, and to return the fictional would-be tyrant Yorrick Kane back to the book he came from (if only she knew which one that was), all while trying to find reliable (or at least non-gorilla) childcare for her toddler.  And that’s just the loose ends from the prior books.  For new challenges she  has to avoid the ace assassin the Windowmaker (name due to a typo on her letterhead), smuggle 10 trucks of banned Danish literature into the socialist republic of Wales, figure out why 13th century saints have begun to be reborn en-masse, keep Hamlet occupied while she tries to avert a hostile takeover of his play by the Merry Wives of Windsor, and somehow stop the apocalypse by ensuring Swindon wins the croquet championships.

So yeah, more typical chaotic fun from Jasper Fforde.  I still don’t know how exactly he manages to hold the whole story together, and I’m actually half convinced he doesn’t and just manages to hide that fact behind a mask of gleeful abandon.  But whatever, this book might not be a great one, but I’m just had too much fun reading it to care.

Review: 30 Days of Night: Dark Days

April 23, 2010

Dark Days is easily the worst book I’ve read in months.  It’s the sequel to 30 Days of Night, a vampire tale with two things going for it, Ben Templesmith’s art, and the unique setting of Barrow Alaska (where there are in fact 30 days of night).

But now writer, Steve Niles, has moved the action to LA, and the art, while still gorgeous, is just not enough to help this train wreck.  So “the plot” 16 months after the prior book , the widowed Stella Olemaun has written a book about the vampire attack in Barrow and has reinvented herself as a fearless vampire killer in the hopes of using her book tour to lure out her victims.  

That’s okay except that her plans totally fall apart when the media fail to accept her story as fact, and she gives up instantly.  And then starts a romance with a vampire who, a few pages earlier, admitted to desecrating her husband’s grave.  WTF!?!

This book didn’t have much of a reason to exist in the first place as the original story is much better without a sequel, but there was a little room for a halfway decent tale despite that.  But this is not it.