Category Archives: Reviews – Miscellaneous

Of Gods and Monsters

Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Tom Scioli
Publisher: Random House/Ten Speed Press imprint
Price: $28.99 US/$38.99 CAN

My introduction to comics came in the late 1970s, and I was a DC kid from the start. As such, my first exposure to the work of Jack Kirby probably didn’t come until I saw his covers on the Super Powers comics tying into the toy line featuring DC heroes in the mid 1980s. I wasn’t impressed with Kirby’s style, as I was far more enamored of the work of such artists as George Perez and Jim Aparo. It was only later in life that I came to understand the depth of Kirby’s influence on American comics as a whole, and today, I can clearly see that influence at play in Perez’s dynamic and bombastic action scenes, for example.

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Postcards From the Edge

Sincerely, Harriet original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Sarah Winifred Searle
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group/Graphic Universe imprint
Price: $11.99 US

Sincerely, Harriet is an unusual book, one that’s difficult to pin down. It’s something of a mystery story, but also a ghost story of sorts. It subtly explores psychological and physical challenges, while also espousing the wonder of reading. Ultimately, it’s a quiet coming-of-age story that’s unlike those you may have read before. Honestly, I was a bit confused by Searle’s writing and art at first, but the more I read, the more vested and interested I became in Harriet’s story. This reads something like a Raina Telgemeier graphic novel filtered through the lens of film director David Fincher, instilling it with a little more tension but maintaining the grounded, relatable qualities that makes it such a pleasure to experience.

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Flea-Market Finds: Shoplifter

Shoplifter original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist//Colors/Letters/Cover artist: Michael Cho
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Price: $19.99 US/$23.99 CAN

Michael Cho has probably best known in mainstream comics in the past couple of years as the talent behind some striking variant covers on super-hero titles from both DC and Marvel. Sadly, I was well out of the loop and didn’t realize that his skills are far more profound and striking than I originally thought, and I have a recent purchase from my local comic shop’s discounted graphic-novel rack. I sped through this 2014 book, not because it’s superficial in any way, but because it’s so powerfully but quietly compelling. Cho offers a thoroughly relatable vignette of life in one’s 20s, and it’s illustrated in a simple style that nevertheless conveys a depth and realism that brings Corrina’s corner of the world to life vividly.

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Textbook Examples

How Comics Work
Writers: Dave Gibbons & Tim Pilcher
Cover artist: Gibbons
Editor: Angela Koo
Publisher: Wellfleet Press
Price: $24.99 US

While best known as the artist on the landmark Watchmen series (though most commonly read as a graphic novel collection for years now), Dave Gibbons has had and continues to enjoy a decades-spanning career, not only as a comics artist, but as an accomplished writer. He’s worked with and learned not only from the best writers the medium has known, but also from the best inkers, colorists, letterers and production people. So who better to guide readers through “how to” book on the craft of comics. The title of this paperback is a bit deceptive. While Gibbons and co-writer Tim Pilcher do touch on how the medium works overall, this book could have easily been titled How to Make Comics. It’s like a textbook, or even a manual on how to put a comic book together from scratch. From the first glimmer of an idea for a story to the printing press, Gibbons and Pilcher take us through the process. It should appeal not only to someone just starting out in the world of comics, but longtime fans of the medium.

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The Ascent of Consent

What Does Consent Really Mean? original hardcover graphic novel
Writers: Pete Wallis & Thalia Wallis
Artist/Cover artist: Joseph Wilkins
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers/Singing Dragon imprint
Price: £14.99 GBP/$21.95 US

The significant swing of the social pendulum on the massive problem of sexual assault and harassment in society, driven chiefly by the revelations of allegedly abusive behavior on the part of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, is a powerfully positive force for societal change. It also comes as an opportune time for the creators behind this British graphic novel, which delves into such issues and chiefly what constitutes consent — and more importantly, what doesn’t.

What struck me right away about this book as I delved into it was the fact that I’m most definitely not the target audience for the book. And I don’t mean because I’m a man. This was crafted with teens in mind, even ‘tweens, depending on their level of sophistication. It’s an interesting read, offering mainly a discussion of sex and consent and dispelling myths. At first, I thought it was mainly designed to be informative, but as one progresses through the book, one discovers the characters develop their own little story arcs that resolve satisfactorily by the conclusion.

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Preschool Princess of Themyscira

Be a Star, Wonder Woman! hardcover children’s book
Writer: Michael Dahl
Artist/Cover artist: Omar Lazano
Publisher: Capstone Publishing/Capstone Young Readers imprint
Price: $15.95 US
I was provided with a digital review copy of this incredibly cute and timely Wonder Woman book for kids. While I didn’t have a physical copy, the nature and layout of the story and art led me to believe this is what they call a “board book.” It skews to a very young reader (the little Wonder Girl is depicted as being kindergarten age), so I would expect a heavy, cardboard-like stock would be the most likely medium for this quick read (Capstone’s website refers to this book as being “paper over board”). It’s wonderfully charming and cute, both visually and in terms of the message it offers its young audience. While the motif here — juxtaposition of super-hero action with the daily endeavors of a little kid, trying to learn and develop — is far from original, it’s certainly effective.

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Holmes Inspection

Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook #1
Writers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Raymond Obstfeld
Artist: Joshua Cassara
Colors: Luis Guerrero
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artists: Joshua Cassara/Rod Reis/Rob Farmer/Paul McCaffrey
Publisher: Titan Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I’ve been critical of what I call “celebri-comics” in the past, projects that see the light of day mainly because someone famous from outside the industry has become involved in some way. That being said, NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s association with this comic is one of only two reasons I bothered to read this debut issue (the other being that the publisher provided a digital review copy as well). But it wasn’t Abdul-Jabaar’s involvement in the book that piqued my curiosity, but the rather the complete disconnect between the subject matter and one’s perception of the noted athlete. Victorian adventure and mystery aren’t exactly what come to mind when Kareem’s name is considered. Other such celebri-comics too often place a star in the role of protagonist and often come across as a pitch for a movie or TV series. There’s no such vanity aspect to Mycroft Holmes, which further engaged my interest. Ultimately, while this debut issue is fun, it’s also rather unremarkable. It’s competent, genre-comics fare, but little more.

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Dead Mag Walking

The Walking Dead Magazine #1
Contributors: Dan Auty, Stuart Barr, Tara Bennett, Bryan Cairns, Dan Bura & Jay Bonansinga
Editors: Toby Weidmann & Martin Eden
Publisher: Titan Magazines/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $9.99 US/CAN

It’s not often I’m sent review material under embargo, but given the huge success of the Walking Dead TV series, the property has become something of a mass-media powerhouse, and the contents of this magazine were meant to be hush-hush until this week. After perusing its pages, I’m really not sure why there was such an emphasis on secrecy, because this magazine dedicated to The Walking Dead in all its forms (and produced by its co-creator) really doesn’t offer any insight into the stories or the pop-culture phenomenon. It doesn’t feature any spoilers of note for upcoming episodes of the TV show or comic book. Its purpose here seems fairly clear: to continue fuelling the money-making machine by celebrating and spotlighting every single piece of merchandise infected by the zombie-genre success story.

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Within the past couple of weeks, a pair of new publications hit the stands primarily (and perhaps exclusively) in comic-book shops. Both were the same size as comic books, but they’re purposes was something other than that. Bleeding Cool Magazine #0 and Creator-Owned Heroes #1 debuted this month, and they can really be described as magazines more than comics (even though the latter features two comics stories). In an age when online media seems to dominate material about the world of comics, it was interesting to delve into print publications trying to do the same. Both carry with them a lot of promise, but the execution is a bit off to varying degrees.

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How I Read My Mother

Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Alison Bechdel
Editor: Deanne Urmy
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Price: $22 US

Considering Alison Bechdel’s previous graphic novel was the critically acclaimed Fun Home, which is about her father, and this new project focuses on her mother, comparisons are unavoidable. As such, I won’t even try to avoid them, even though the two books are significantly different in tone and approach. Given the strength of Fun Home and the apparent similarity in subject matter, I really looked forward to delving into Are You My Mother?. Now, I thoroughly enjoyed Fun Home. When considering the experience of reading Bechdel’s new graphic novel, “enjoyment” isn’t a term that leaps to mind, but don’t misunderstand me: it’s a worthy creative endeavor. Are You My Mother? is more of a challenge. It demands a great deal from the reader, and it sticks with the reader. While I wasn’t as engrossed in Bechdel’s exploration of motherhood and her own insecurities, I found the book made me think. I thought about it. A lot. And not just when I was reading it. At work. Lying awake in bed. As I drove. It’s as much an exploration of the written works of thinkers and authors she enjoys as it is as examination of her relationship with her mother, and while I found the many text excerpts halted the flow of the narrative, I appreciated the book for how thought-provoking it is.

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I Feel Like a Neuman

Mad #511
Writers/Artists: The Usual Gang of Idiots
Cover artist: Charles Akins
Editor: John Ficarra
Publisher: E.C. Publications
Price: $5.99 US/CAN

I was first introduced to the world of comics back in the late 1970s thanks to a particularly nasty arm fracture that required me to be hospitalized for a couple of days. My brother and two neighbor friends brought me a comic book each to occupy me in my hospital bed, and by the time I finished Batman Family #19, I was hooked. Which brings me to October 2011, and my most recent hospital stay (which explains why there were no updates to Eye on Comics from Oct. 6-14). Among regular visits from my wife and son was a quick one from a friend at work, who dropped off other material to pass the time: a Sudoku book and an issue of Mad. It’s been years — decades, really — since I’d read an issue, and my colleague, who’s aware of my love of comics, clearly thought she’d try to tickle my funny bone and appeal to the imp in me. It was interesting to delve back into the world of Mad again, if only to see how much the magazine has remained the same over the years… and how much it’s changed.

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Generally Speaking

Two Generals original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Scott Chantler
Publisher: McLelland & Stewart Ltd.
Price: $24.95 US/$27.95 CAN

My wife loves History Television (Canada’s answer to the History Channel in the United States), but I like my TV to be more amusing or escapist in nature. When she’s watching it, I sometimes tease her for watching “Nazi TV.” While I’m familiar with the broad strokes of the history of World War II, I’m not all that keenly interested in learning more. At least, I thought I wasn’t. While my interest in that period of history (and many others) is limited, I’m a big fan of the work of writer/artist Scott Chantler, so I didn’t hesitate t pick up Two Generals when it hit bookshelves in stores. Chantler’s quite comfortable with historical fare when it comes to his storytelling. Most of his work — Northwest Passage, Days Like This and Scandalous, for example — is constructed around history. But Two Generals stands apart because this is Chantler’s foray into real history, not historical fiction. It’s also an incredibly personal story — that of his late grandfather — but Chantler doesn’t seem to embellish or elevate the man. He just tells his story, opting to leave melodrama aside and let the facts speak for themselves.

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Economics Comic

The Adventures of Unemployed Man original graphic novella
Writers: Erich Origen & Gan Golan
Pencils: Ramona Fradon, Rick Veitch & Michael Netzer
Inks: Terry Beatty & Joe Rubenstein
Additional artists: Benton Jew, Thomas Yeates & Shawn Martinbrough
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Thomas Mauer, Clem Robins & Tom Orzechowski
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Price: $14.99 US/$16.99 CAN

This super-hero fable about corruption in politics and commerce and about a country immersed in a recession is a surprisingly effective review of recent American history and economics, though clearly left-leaning in its perspective. The writers manage to maintain a simpler, Silver Age quality in the storytelling but at the same time they avoid dumbing down the complexity of a tenuous socio-economic situation. The book is also succinct in its approach, which is a wise choice, as the blend of super-heroes and social commentary in the form of gag characters has the potential to wear thin in a hurry. Fortunately, it never got to that point. But what I really enjoyed the most about this book was the artwork. I was impressed with the array of experienced comic-book industry talent that’s associated with this book. Honestly, I was expecting an awkward, clunky combination of super-hero cliches and ham-fisted social commentaries, but instead, I found an effective and amusing graphic novella that’s already garnered more mainstream media attention than probably any other comic book this year.

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A Tour Through Terror

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation
Writers: The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Artist/Cover artist: Ernie Colon
Editor: Sid Jacobson
Publisher: Hill and Wang
Price: $16.95 US/$21 CAN

I purchased this graphic novel a couple of years ago but never got around to reading it until now. Given the approaching anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, this seemed like a good time to delve into this piece of documented history. Perhaps what surprised me the most about the book is how it’s about a lot more than that dark day eight years ago. It’s about the political and cultural decisions and developments that led up to the attacks — what motivated them and what made them possible. It also covers the chaos and heroism that arose at the sites of the attacks, and what’s happened (or more importantly, hasn’t happened) in the years since. Still, for those looking to be touched, saddened or inspired by the amazing and heart-wrenching personal stories that arose as a result of 9/11, this is not the book for them. There’s an appropriate tone of detachment throughout most of the narrative in this graphic novel, and since this is an adaptation of an official government commission report, that’s how it should be. This isn’t storytelling, it’s documentation.

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Future Perfect, Past Tense

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Brian Fies
Editor: Charlie Kochman
Publisher: Abrams ComicArts/Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Price: $24.95 US/$27.50 CAN

I don’t know what it is about Brian Fies’s projects, but I always seem to find out about them well after their release. I was late getting on the Mom’s Cancer bandwagon but was thrilled with what I found after I finally got my hands on a copy of the hardcover collected edition of his touching webcomic. And for some reason, this second project flew under my radar for a couple of months as well. As soon as I saw it, though, I grabbed a copy off the shelf at my local comic shop, eager to delve into what I expected was more personal storytelling. I did find that to a certain degree, but Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, while exploring emotional reactions to a history of 20th-century American technology and innovation, lacks a more resonant, personal tone. Helping to maintain that barrier between the reader and the main character is Fies’s meticulous detailing of the history he clearly wants to share with and impart upon his audience. It’s a shame that the execution here falls a bit short, as Fies experiments with content and even production values to great effect. This is an interesting book, but perhaps its biggest problem is that it gives away the entire premise and the moods to be found within with its very title.

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