Category Archives: Reviews – Miscellaneous

Cooke Book

Retroactive: Darwyn Cooke 1998-2008 hardcover
Artist/Cover artist: Darwyn Cooke
Publisher: Brandstudio Press

One of the hottest items at this past summer’s Comic-Con International San Diego was Darwyn Cooke’s new art book, Retroactive. It’s my understanding that the print run was limited to 1,000 copies and that Cooke sold out of the 500 copies he brought with him to the convention. I was unable to attend the San Diego con this year, but I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy thanks to my local direct-market comics retailer. I’m not usually one for comics art books. I tend to be more focused on the stories and characters in comics over the visuals. I’m a huge fan of Cooke’s work, though, so I decided to plunk down some extra cash for this retrospective of past projects and gallery of unseen or little-seen work. Retroactive is only 48 pages long, and I worried I might not feel as though I was getting my money’s worth when I decided to pick it up. Those concerns quickly faded as I began to thumb through its pages.

I was expecting the book to consist mainly of unpublished work — concept art for pitches that didn’t fly, rough sketches for better-known work and early efforts perhaps seen only by a select few. That didn’t prove to be the case entirely. There are a number of images I found here with which I was quite familiar, such as Cooke’s recent Heroes Con poster and covers for small-press books such as Spellgame and Comics Festival. Still, the oversized nature of this hardcover encourages closer examination of these images, and their inclusion didn’t lead to any kind of disappointment.

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Every McCloud Has a Silver Lining

Zot! 1987-1991: The Complete Black and White Collection trade paperback
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Scott McCloud
Letters: Bob Lappan
Editor: cat yronwode
Publisher: HarperCollins
Price: $24.95 US/$26.95 CAN

I missed out on the original run of Scott McCloud’s Zot! comics, but I’m not a stranger to the concept. I picked up a cheap trade-paperback edition of his early Zot! color issues a while back, but this new HarperCollins edition of the subsequent black-and-white run of the landmark series is new territory for me. To suggest I was enthralled by McCloud’s pop commentary about hope and beauty in the world would be to embrace understatement. Zot’s adventures and the relationships among him, Jenny and a circle of friends from two sides of the same mirror are vastly different in tone but equally well crafted, entertaining and even challenging. Clearly inspired a great deal by Osamu Tezuka’s work, Zot!, at first glance, seems like Astro Boy with a human in the main role of the boy hero. But there’s a lot more to Zot!, and it’s apparent early on in the book. Ultimately, it’s a parable about the importance of hope, innocence, kindness and joy. The energy that jumps up from the page is infectious, and that’s really what the book is all about: encouraging others to see the beauty and goodness all around them.

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A Valiant Effort

X-O Manowar: Birth hardcover
Writers: Jim Shooter, Steve Englehart, Bob Layton & Jorge Gonzalez
Artists: Barry Windsor-Smith, Sal Velluto, Mike Manley, Mike Leeke, Steve Ditko, Joe Quesada, Bob Layton, John Holdredge, Mark Moretti, Tom Ryder, Kathryn Bolinger, Ted Halsted, Ralph Reese & Jimmy Palmiotti
Colorists: Chrysoula Artemis, Rob Ruffolo, Anthony Castrillo, Jorge Gonzalez, Paul Autio & John Cebollero
Letters: Jade, Ken Lopez & Sorah Suhng
Cover artists: Sean Chen & Bob Layton
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Price: $24.95 US/$26.95 CAN

Flashback 15 years, and Valiant Comics was riding high in the comic-book industry. It was a boom time for the business, and Valiant threw its hat into the ring at just the right time (but ultimately, at just the wrong time). Valiant is back, and to mark its return, it’s published this collection of X-O Manowar comics from 1992 and 1993. I’m not sure why Valiant Entertainment opted to turn to X-O as its coming-out party, though I suspect it might have something to do with the fact that one of the issues collected here featured early work from artist and now-Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada. (Correction: I’m told this volume was preceded by a Harbinger hardcover.) I’d never read an issue of X-O before, and I was surprised to find a truly novel and fascinating premise at the core of the storytelling. Unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired, which comes as a surprise, given some of the stalwart creative names involved in the crafting of the story. The plotting lumbers forward, often without bothering to provide key background information or logic, and the art is inconsistent at best.

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Beyond Belief

Beyond #1
Writer: Ron Marz
Artist: Edison George
Colors: Parasuraman A.
Letters: Sudhir B. Pisal
Cover artist: Luke Ross
Editor: Gotham Chopra
Publisher: Virgin Comics
Price: $2.99 US

Though unfortunately sharing a title with a recent cosmic super-hero adventure published by Marvel Comics, this new Virgin Comics property — created by self-help guru Deepak Chopra — is an oddly grounded story about loss and desperation, with touches of mystery and spirituality to keep the plot moving along. After reading this first issue, I honestly have no idea what’s going on, but Ron Marz’s script is effective enough that I want to know and am eager to discover what happens next. Artist Edison George’s work is new to me, but his storytelling is solid. There’s something of a Twilight Zone riff at play in the story, and like many other Virgin releases, the script and plot also immerse the reader in Indian culture, fortunately in an accessible, gradual manner. Virgin’s comics have run hot and cold for me, but after sampling this introductory issue of Beyond, I’d have to say it’s the one of the publisher’s stronger offerings, second only to the recently relaunched Dan Dare.

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Truth For Dare

Dan Dare #1
“1: Under an English Heaven”
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Gary Erskine
Colors: Parasuraman A.
Letters: Rakesh B. Mahadik
Cover artists: Bryan Talbot & Greg Horn
Editor: Charlie Beckerman
Publisher: Virgin Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN

Dan Dare is a British sci-fi/adventure property dating back to the 1950s, and from what I can gather, it’s as beloved over in the UK as DC and Marvel’s super-heroes are in North America. I know Dark Horse offered up something of a revival a few years ago, but since I didn’t read it, this new Virgin Comics incarnation is my first foray into the world of the “Pilot of the Future.” What really drew me to the book, though, was Garth Ennis’s participation in the project. The Irish writer has been a standout in the comics industry for more than a decade now, and I’m a fan. His efforts here are as strong many others to have come before it, but nevertheless, it’s a much different sort of script than what one normally expects from Ennis. There’s a softer side to his writing here, less edgy and harsh, but just as engaging. The property and premise may be one revolving around science fiction and a war in outer space, but the real content is about idealism and tradition — and how those concepts have been lost or twisted in the 21st century.

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Wham Bam, Thank You, Bram

Graphic Classics: Bram Stoker trade paperback
“Dracula” – adapted by Rich Rainey/illustrated by Joe Ollmann
“The Vampire Hunter’s Guide” – adapted by Tom Pomplum/illustrated by Hunt Emerson
“The Judge’s House” – adapted & illustrated by Gerry Alanguilan
“The Bridal of Death” – adapted & illustrated by J.B. Bonivert
“Torture Tower” – adapted & illustrated by Onsmith Jeremi
“The Wondrous Worm” – adapted & illustrated by Evert Geradts
“Lair of the White Worm” – adapted by Tom Pomplum/illustrated by Rico Schacherl
Cover artist: Mark A. Nelson
Editor: Tom Pomplum
Publisher: Eureka Productions
Price: $11.95 US/$14.50 CAN

From the late 1940s through to the early 1970s, kids discovered classic literature through comic-book adaptations in the long-running Classics Illustrated series and specials. Eureka Productions has picked up on that tradition and is attempting to carry it on, but it’s approached it in a different way. Instead of focusing on a single story, this series of trade-paperback anthologies features comics adaptations of a classic author’s work. Bram Stoker is the star of this seventh volume. I’ve read Dracula but was largely ignorant of the gothic author’s other writing, so on that level, this book was informative and eye-opening. Overall, I think the editor of the volume made a misstep in the choice of artists. Those handling the line art in this book perform well; I take no issue with their craft. But many of the artists — who boast simple, indy-press approaches to comic art — have styles that don’t pair well with the dark, eerie tone of the stories.

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I Want to Wake Up In a City That Never Weeps

In the Shadow of No Towers hardcover collected edition
Writer/Artist: Art Spiegelman
Publisher: Pantheon Graphic Novels (Random House)
Price: $19.95 US

I picked up this graphic novel a couple of years ago. If one has an interest in the medium of comics, Art Spiegelman is a must for one’s bookshelf, and Sept. 11, 2001, was the defining, tragic moment my generation was (unknowingly) waiting for, the kind of historical and cultural milestone that hadn’t been seen since the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But while I had purchased In the Shadow of No Towers, I hadn’t yet cracked it open to read it. With the sixth anniversary of the attacks looming, now seemed as good a time as any to examine Spiegelman’s storytelling and to revisit a horrible moment in time.

Spiegelman approaches the subject matter in a number of ways. He shares his own memories of that day, his small part of a terrifying experience in lower Manhattan. He shares his fear, paranoia and bemusement about what it meant, what it could mean and how it affected his neighbors and his government. Spiegelman relies on political commentary, self-deprecation and social criticism to vent as best he can about the event itself and the far more horrific aftermath.

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Drinking Games

The Naked Artist: Comic Book Legends
Writer: Bryan Talbot
Artist/Cover artist: Hunt Emerson
Publisher: Moonstone Books
Price: $11.95 US

One of my favorite memories from the Comic-Con International San Diego in 2003 was sitting on the balcony of the hotel room I shared with Randy Lander, drinking dirty rum, reminiscing and telling stories. I thought back on the times we worked for a couple of different website companies together, talked comics, talked about women and laughed about it all. That con also saw a couple of unusual incidents (mostly alcohol-related) that will no doubt serve as future balcony-conversation fodder. The Naked Artist is a collection of the kinds of stories that comics professionals tell one another and recall together, no doubt over fine food and drink. This prose collection of true stories and false but fabulous myths is made up of short essays and even shorter snippets of a few well-known but many unknown yarns about the trials, tribulations and terrors experienced by creators whose work comics fans adore.

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Sleepless Knight

Doktor Sleepless #1
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Ivan Rodriguez
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Cover artists: Ivan Rodriguez/Jacen Burrows/Raulo Caceres
Editor: William Christensen
Publisher: Avatar Press
Price: $3.99 US

Though I’m a fan of some of the writers it publishes, I don’t usually venture into the realm of Avatar Press, as I’ve found the art doesn’t match the quality of the writing talent at times. But with Doktor Sleepless billed as being in the same vein as Ellis’s landmark Transmetropolitan series, I had to check it out. Ellis’s script doesn’t disappoint, as it explores the notion of the future, namely, perceptions of what the future should be and when it should be. Once that theme is revealed in the middle of the book, the story takes on a stronger direction and focus. Ellis has set his story in the not-too distant future but fills it with references to the tech of today. He lectures on the crossover of technologies and ideologies, ultimately condemning mankind for its laziness and lack of imagination. The art by Ivan Rodriguez services the story well enough, but it rarely rises above the level of simply standard comic-book art. When one is used to see the work of such artists as Darick Robertson, Bryan Hitch and John Cassaday bringing Ellis’s visions to life, Rodriguez’s art pales in comparison.

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Home Is Where the Art Is

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Alison Bechdel
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Price: $13.95 US (softcover) / $19.95 US (hardcover)

It may seem like I’m late in the game when it comes to reviewing this award-winning and much-lauded graphic novel, but given the recent release of the softcover edition of the book, it merits some extra attention now anyway. Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical exploration of her dysfunction family dynamic, her father’s repressed sexuality and the parallels she sees in her own sexual awakening during her youth is a challenging read. It’s also enlightening with the information the author provides and impressive when it comes to the depths of her honesty. Earlier chapters are certainly stronger than those toward the end of the book, as the creator becomes mired in literary parallels, but ultimately, her matter-of-fact narration and sense of personal isolation make it surprisingly easy to relate to her and her odd upbringing. Her cartooning is remarkably effective at establishing the dreariness and quiet of small-town existence as well. Perhaps what’s most encouraging about this project is how it has reached out beyond the traditional niche comics market and demonstrated the power of the medium to an audience that’s not so obsessed with super-heroes and swordsmen.

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Blue’s Clues

The Blue Beetle Companion: His Many Lives from 1939 to Today
Writer: Christopher Irving
Cover artists: Cully Hamner (front) and Tom Feister (back)
Editor: John Morrow
Publisher: TwoMorrows Publishing
Price: $16.95 US

The Blue Beetle seems like an odd choice of character to have his own “biography.” At his most popular, he’s a B-list super-hero at best, and the rest of the time, one could view him as a C-lister or worse. Fortunately, this volume isn’t so much a study of the character’s history but of two businesses that published his adventures in the Golden and Silver Ages of Comics… and of the men who kept the Beetle machine ticking for decades. Irving’s history — derived not only from interviews he conducted but from other sources as well — is more comprehensive the further back one goes in time. The Blue Beetle Companion could have been a tedious read, but Irving uses the personalities of the real people behind the paper protagonist to bring drama and humor to the factoids and timelines that serve as the skeleton of this project. Ultimately, this book will appeal to a limited niche market, but that’s the bread and butter of TwoMorrows publications in the first place. With any luck, younger, newer readers who are fans of the newest incarnation of the Blue Beetle might be drawn to this volume, and if so, it will open their eyes to the wonder and weirdness of the medium, not to mention a weasel or two.

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Finders, Keepers

Gamekeeper #1
Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist/Colors: Mukesh Singh
Creator: Guy Ritchie
Letters: Rivikiran B.S. & Nilesh S. Mahadik
Cover artists: Neelakash K. (regular) and John Cassaday & Greg Horn (variants)
Editor: MacKenzie Cadenhead
Publisher: Virgin Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$4.25 CAN

It certainly doesn’t seem as though Virgin Comics — with its celebrity endorsements, big-name industry talent and East Indian culture influences — certainly doesn’t seem to have set the world of comic books on fire. There has been potential in the concepts, characters and craft, but of the titles I’ve sampled, none have really hooked me or set tongues wagging in fandom circles. This latest Virgin offering caught my attention thanks to two names. One is on the cover — movie director Guy Ritchie’s manic action/crime movies are a lot of fun, so I hoped for the same from this book. And writer Andy Diggle, best known for Losers from DC/Vertigo, is a consistently strong talent in comics today. Do they add up to a winning combination for a new comic-book property? Well, only in part. The atmosphere is engaging and the pacing of the plot interesting, but ultimately, Gamekeeper comes across as somewhat derivative in nature, eliciting easy comparisons to some well-known Marvel properties.

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That Yang Thang

American Born Chinese original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Gene Luen Yang
Colors: Lark Pien
Publisher: First Second
Price: $16.95 US/$22.95 CAN

American Born Chinese was released a few months ago, to much acclaim. It’s garnered praise and awards in a way that’s rare (though fortunately not unheard of) for an original graphic novel. I’m running a bit behind schedule when it comes to giving this landmark book a read, and apparently, I’ve been depriving myself of a fascinating, fanciful and frank story for months. Creator Gene Luen Yang’s story is made up of three different plotlines that converge surprisingly well and seamlessly. Yang’s storytelling focuses on matters of racism and culture shock, but it also deals heavily in matters of self-esteem. That makes for characters and circumstances to which the reader can easily relate. Yang’s artwork is charming with its clean simplicity, but the slightly muted colors bring a grounded quality to the visuals as well. This slice-of-life/fantasy story actually reminds me a great deal of another great graphic novel released last year: Mom’s Cancer. The subject matter and storytelling approaches are radically different, but the personal and down-to-earth tones of the two books, as well as the lighter look for character design, make them seem like companion volumes in an odd way.

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Let’s Talk About Sex

nEuROTIC graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: John Cuneo
Editor: Kim Thompson
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Price: $19.95 US

Note: This review of adult material and should not be viewed by underage readers.

Fantagraphics Books is one of those publishers in the industry that’s difficult to nail down. It was once propped up by a profitable porno-comic line, but it now also produces a number of important works, notably archival ones such as the new Peanuts and Dennis the Menace hardcover collections of decades-old, classic comic strips. This book — named and oddly capitalized to capture the surreal and sexual tone of the cartooning within — lies somewhere in between. This book — not a graphic novel, really — is a sketch collection of unpublished artwork by noted U.S. cartoonist John Cuneo, whose recognizable style has appeared in a wide variety of publications, from the cerebral New Yorker to the more accessible Entertainment Weekly. It’s an interesting look inside the mind of a creator with a twisted bent. Cuneo’s work will seem familiar, and this book allows him to cut loose and transgress the taboo. To say nEuROTIC is pornographic is completely off the mark, though. This book does not titillate. It’s occasionally depraved, sometimes challenging and often funny. This is a coffee-table book for those who delight in shocking people, who see offending material as a means to enlighten rather than frighten.

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EC as One, Two, Three

The EC Archives: Shock SuspenStories Volume 1 hardcover
Writers: Bill Gaines & Al Feldstein
Artists: Jack Kamen, Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, Graham Ingels & Wally Wood
Colors: Marie Severin, Anna Bolhis, Cory Dunnihoo, Joshua G. Jones, Tracy L. Morris, Leona D. Cahoj & Liz A. Rost
Cover artist: Wally Wood
Publisher: Gemstone Publishing
Price: $49.95 US

There have been a number of online comics news reports lately spotlighting Gemstone Publishing’s decision to scale back its offerings, specifically its line of Disney comics (featuring both new and reprint material). However, I certainly doubt that translates into a doom-and-gloom forecast for the publisher, especially when it’s now offering material such as The EC Archives. As other publishers have found in recent years, there’s a clear demand for high-end reprints of classic stories and art from the industry’s past, and one would be hard-pressed to find material that suited the term “classic” more than the crime and horror stories of EC Comics of the 1950s. As a testament to the importance of this material, this inaugural hardcover volume of Shock SuspenStories — featuring the first six issues of the original series — comes from filmmaker and Hollywood mover and shaker Steven Spielberg. The stories found within this attractive, oversized collection can be predictable and clumsy, but they’re nevertheless entertaining, and not just on a campy level. Perhaps what’s most interesting about the storytelling is how it paints a picture of Western society from half a century ago.

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