Sunday, February 05, 2012

Graphic review

Time for one of my infrequent graphic novel reviews. Nothing quite like a nice batch of them showing up from Chapters to put a smile on my face. And just so that people aren't completely lost, I'll mention whether or not I think they're suitable for general readers or the more dedicated fan. They're also not going to be huge, lengthy reviews...more of a general overview.

1. Captain America: The Trial of Captain America - When it's all said and done writer Ed Brubaker's run on Captain America is going to go down as one of the best the character has ever had. Well plotted out, dramatic, espionage with a ton of action and good use of supporting characters. Aside from massively overblown events like the Death of Captain America, the series has held up pretty well.

But it's been struggling for awhile now, pretty much ever since the Reborn (when the original Captain America got better after being dead. It happens) series. It's just not felt as tight. As if Brubaker had a story in mine, completed it, but is still sticking around. That coupled with the inability to keep a regular series artist is really dragging it down. I'm collecting the series on momentum as much as anything else, and that only carries you so far.

I can't really recommend it, for either hardcore of casual fans.

2. Wolfskin: Hundredth Dream - I'm a huge Warren Ellis fan and will buy anything he writes. Having said that, Ellis does misfire from time to time. Welcome to one of the misfires.

This is his take on Conan the Barbarian. But since it's an original character - meaning he doesn't have to worry about what the copyright holders think - and he's with an small independent publisher, the violence is completely over-the-top. Which is fine because I knew that going in. It's when Ellis tries to wedge in conversation about the changing of the world and the harsh realities of technology into the mix that it really goes off the rail. It actually feels clumsy, which Ellis never is.

I love his work, but his heart wasn't in this and it shows. Not recommended for casual or hardcore fans.

3. FreakAngels, Volume 6 - It's the sixth and final volume of the FreakAngels series, so if you haven't been reading it, I'm not sure I can recommend buying this one book. But I do recommend going and getting the series. And in case you weren't sure if a series about 12 strange British kids who destroy the world (or think they do) and what happens next, you can actually read it online, for free, here.

This really is Ellis in better command of his considerable storytelling abilities. It's fun, clever, has plenty of laugh out loud moments and Paul Duffield does a good job on the art duties. I recommend the series for both casual and hardcore fans.

4. Jim Henson's Storyteller - For those of you with a good memory, once upon a tim Jim Henson did a network TV show involving puppets trying to tell classic stories. It was quite good and entirely too smart for network TV, which promptly cancelled it. This book is a collection of stories and fables with the Storyteller recounting the stories to his dog.

Like any anthology, there are hits and misses. For example, I have big crush on Colleen Coover and her artwork, so her story "The Milkmaid and her pail" is simply gorgeous and a ton of fun. "Puss in Boots" by Marjorie Lui and Jennifer Meyer is beautiful and touching. But others fall kind of flat. But for the most part, it's still a fun little book, pretty kid friendly and reasonably priced. Recommended for casual and hardcore fans.

5. Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne, Volume 1 - With a title like that, how can this book be anything other than awesome? I picked this book on a lark after reading some online reviews. Good move on my part.

In the 1920s, under mysterious circumstances Nikola Tesla created a robot with an artificial intelligence who then proceeded to have all manner of adventures over the decades. Including fighting Nazis. One of the book's blurbs said imagine taking an Iron Man suit and sticking Indiana Jones inside it and you have an idea of what the book is about. I'd throw in a bit of Hellboy for flavour. Oh, and the art is lovely too. A perfect match for the kind of swashbuckling action/adventure story being told.

It's just a hellacious amount of fun - Nazis, giant Nazi robots, giant ants, wandering pyramids and an explanation as to why Stephen Hawking is a bastard. Irresistible. Go and buy it now.

6. Hitman: Tommy's Heroes - This is volume 5 of 7 for the Hitman series, so buying this book alone is going to leave you just a touch confused. But the series as a whole remains one of my favourites from the 90s. Tommy Monaghan is, well, a hitman. Kills people for money. But this the DC Universe, which means he has super powers (x-ray vison and telepathy) and he'll only kill bad people or super-villains (and the occasional escapee who gains powers from the nearby nuclear power plant).

So yeah, it has it's deeply silly moments. But it also hits on writer Garth Ennis usual themes of loyalty and friendship. This volume features Tommy and his friend Natt dealing with the fallout of a screw-up when they were soldiers during the Gulf War (accidentally killing SAS is a bad idea), an attempt to go to Africa to try and do the right thing (and make money) and a bit of an origin which is, of course, quite tragic.

It also has, no kidding, one of the best Superman stories ever written. Go figure. Recommended for hardcore fans.

7. X-Factor: Scar Tissue - This is volume 12 of the series and it's buried in X-Men storytelling, so really, if you're not already reading it, or the X-Men titles you're going to have a hard time understanding what's going on.

Having said that, it's still a fun little title. Writer Peter David is one of the most unappreciated writers in Marvel's stable. All he does is consistently write a good book, come up with clever ideas and juggle a large cast. It's good enough that I have all 12 volumes of the series at least. Recommended for hardcore fans.

8. Chase - I bought this because it was one of those cult classic series of the 90s that DC launched and promptly cancelled. It's being reprinted now because the co-writer and artist on the series is J.H. Williams, who is one of the hottest writers and artists being published now. This came out when he was new and relatively unknown.

Wish I could recommend it, but it's a clunky series and you can see flashes of what Williams ended up becoming, but he's not there yet. And while the character of Chase - an investigator with the Department of Extranormal Affairs which monitors super hero activity - is interesting, the stories do nothing for me. The whole book is kind of all over the place. Not recommended.

9. Batgirl: The Lesson - Let us ponder for a moment, the general idiocy of DC Comics editorial decision making policy. This trade features a new Batgirl, Stephanie Brown. She's had a trouble past, what with being the daughter of one Batman's villains, became a super hero called Spoiler, became Robin, died, then came back (it happens) and took over the role of Batgirl, an identity that everyone opposed her assuming, including the previous Batgirl, Barbara Gordon.

Yet the series was tremendous fun. She's smart, determined, trying to make amends, occasionally screws up, but learns from her mistakes and tries to do better. And the dialogue just crackles, no other word for it. Barbara Gordon acts as her mentor, also known as Oracle. She's in a wheelchair, yet is also smart, determined and highly dangerous. The series was beloved by many, but especially women, who loved the two leads. It was a girl friendly comic. It was a comic that showed people with a disability can be strong and make a difference.

So naturally DC cancelled the series during it's massive reboot last fall, got rid of Stephanie altogether, cured Barbara and made her Batgirl again, succeeding in pissing off just about everyone.

sigh The Lesson is the third and final volume of this series. Buy it after you've bought the other two. Enjoy this fun little book. Then curse DC. A lot. Highly recommended for casual and hardcore fans.

10. Batman: The Black Mirror - Speaking of weirdness, there's a couple of things off the top you need to know. First, Batman is in the story, but not Bruce Wayne. At the time, he was dead (he got better) so this Batman is Dick Grayson, formally Robin, stepping into he breach. Second, it features a character I have literally wondered what had happened to him for 25 years - Commissioner Gordon's son, James. And third, this is quite possible one of the best Batman stories I've read in years, if not decades.

What we have here is several stories - a broker selling Batman villain gear to the rich, how a killer whale got inside a bank, a Joker story - all mixed together with the larger story of who is James Gordon and is he as dangerous as some people think he is.

Scott Snyder puts together a hell of a story, ably assisted by Jock and Francesco Francavilla (Jock is going to win awards for the cover he put together featuring the Joker). It's the easiest thing in the world to not expect much from this story. It's not the "real" Batman, it's as much a character piece for Commissioner Gordon as it is a Batman story. But it's a hell of piece of work. Christopher Nolan, if he was doing a fourth Batman movie, would rob material from this. It's that good. Highly recommended for casual and hardcore fans.

Last Five
1. Nutune - Drive
2. I was meant for the stage - The Decemberists
3. Panama - Van Halen
4. Hallelujah (live) - Leonard Cohen *
5. Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) - Arcade Fire

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