Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chance in Hell, Emma vol. 5, Golgo 13 vol. 11

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

I'm not sure what I went into this one expecting. In the Love & Rockets universe, one of the characters, Fritz, is a B-movie actress. This is the adaptation of one of her first films, a comic book version of a movie that never really existed. So it's a stand-alone graphic novel where one of the minor characters looks like a different Gilbert Hernandez character.

Man, it's bleak. It's not as explicit as some of his other material - I guess it was "cleaned up" for the screen or something - but it's even more patently adult in content and tone, with terrible fates befalling unhappy people. It's a really ugly world which I didn't enjoy visiting, but I was nevertheless caught up in the story and cared what happened to Empress, the strange, lonely girl caught in ugly situations. Recommended with a pretty strong mature readers advisory.

Much, much better. The previous volume of Emma had me deeply annoyed with both protagonists for their very stupid decisions and actions. This time out, Emma and William are recovering from what they'd done, Emma is actually interacting with her fellow staff and not being so uptight, and William... well, I think book six is going to be pretty interesting now that we've met this Viscount fellow. Best of all is an exchange of letters between the two which is, quite unexpectedly, the hottest thing ever. Oh, the passions! Oh, these Victorians! Recommended!

...but it's not recommended half as highly as this baby. This is one of the best of the English-language Golgo 13 books yet. The bulk of the volume is given over to a captivating little political study called "Okinawa Syndrome." You probably never gave a thought in your life to how Okinawa's exchange rate with the US affects its ability to attract manufacturing business, but such minutiae fuels a remarkable story of an attempted military coup. Golgo 13 doesn't even show up until halfway through the story, and, in a break with the series' conventions, you have no idea what he's doing there and whose side he's on.

Possibly even more entertaining is the short story which follows, in which somebody gets mistaken for Golgo 13 and comes to the inescapable conclusion that he has made a genuinely horrible decision in passing himself off as something he's not. Then again, he accepts his fate with such engaging, infectious good spirits that you can't help but chuckle, and the climax is the most unexpected thing you've ever seen. Highly recommended!

* * *

(Originally posted November 29, 2007 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

James Bond: Death Wing

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

For their latest collection of the James Bond newspaper strip, Titan bafflingly jumped ahead from the 1975 stories into 1977 for the last one to appear in the UK, and the first two which never appeared in British papers. Perhaps sales for the series are down and they wanted to promote the "never printed in England before!" angle? Whatever, I wonder whether the reason the Express cancelled James Bond in the first place was because the plots were getting increasingly ridiculous. I wouldn't want "Sea Dragon" in my newspaper because it's really stupid, although "Death Wing," if you can swallow the missile/glider thing, does have an exciting climax.

I know this next bit is going to read as forced given the above, but I would like to point out that Alan Porter contributes a nice essay about the history of James Bond in American comics, and it's the best thing in this volume. This is only recommended for completists, but Bond afficionados might enjoy the essay. I'd kind of like to read that 60s issue of DC Showcase with the Dr. No adaptation myself!

(Originally posted November 23, 2007 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

The second time was the charm, as what began as a very good story reveals itself, by way of so many incredibly intelligent allusions, foreshadowing and narrative puzzles, to be utterly sublime, like a comic version of House of Leaves. The main story is as remarkable as you expect from the Moore and O'Neill's prior work. Remember how, in volume one, M turns out to not be Mycroft Holmes and it's the greatest cliffhanger ever? That happens about six times here. I was totally comfortable with the Dan Dare/Gerry Anderson world that's replacing Big Brother's England, and adding the entirely dissimilar Quatermass Experiment to that world was a masterstroke, just dropped in for a penny-drop gag in one panel.

The use of the supplemental material from the dossier itself is amazing, subtly revealing facts with casual ease, and silently passing notes to the reader on the back of jigsaw puzzle pieces. I did complete The Crazy Wide Forever, although it's likely I won't perform well if quizzed upon its narrative, and liked the unbelievably kinky Fanny Hill sequel best, even better than the thrilling picture story The Life of Orlando. The Wodehouse pastiche had me in stitches, though I think even a dark god like "Cool Lulu" should know better than to mess with Wooster's Aunt Dahlila. Highly recommended for mature readers with ample time to dissect and play with the material.

(originally posted November 22, 2007 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dr. Slump Vol. 13

Here's how this works: I finish reading a comic collection, and I tell you about it, and I try not to go on too long.

There was a notable ebb in this title's madness between books 8-11. By the twelfth, Toriyama had clearly found his groove again, and by this one, he had surpassed himself. This collects 13 episodes of the longest of the Slump storylines, which continues in the next edition. The evil, and stupid, Dr. Masahirito has built a rival for Arale, a dimwitted robot kid named Caramel Man 004 who looks like a bizarre cross between Arale and Astro Boy. Arale doesn't quite catch on that Caramel Man 004 is out to destroy her, even when he throws her into outer space, and is pleased to finally have a friend as strong as her. Then Caramel Man 004 falls in love with her. Utter fucking lunacy follows. Highly recommended!!

(Originally posted November 21, 2007 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Judge Dredd: Origins

Here's how this works: I finish reading a comic collection, and I tell you about it, and I try not to go on too long.

Well, it turns out that the big tomb of Judge Fargo, unbeknownst to everybody but the most senior judges, is empty. Fargo was the original chief judge, the fellow who was put in charge of Justice Department back when there was still a United States, back before Robert Booth, the country's final president - the one who led the country into nuclear war - was first elected. And when a severed hand shows up, a DNA match proving it came not only from Fargo but from living tissue, with a ransom note attached, Judge Dredd leads a team into the badlands to find out what is going on out there...

It's an excellent story, but I fear it might be lost on new readers. Highly recommended for people familiar with Dredd; other readers may want to dig into a few of those Case Files first before giving it a go.

(Originally posted November 20, 2007 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Best of Josie and the Pussycats

Here's how this works: I finish reading a comic collection, and I tell you about it, and I try not to go on too long.

Well, here's the deal: I bought this because I knew the Hipster Daughter would like it (turns out she didn't), and you know, the pre-1980 material has aged amazingly well, and is every bit as entertaining as it was when I was a kid, which is to say, spectacularly. The rather hopeless, quaint naivete displayed in the post-MTV era Pussycats makes for apalling comics, however - contrary to thought, rock bands don't just ride around in a limo until they find a location in which to shoot their new video - and whoever the heck was writing these things after the group's 1970s heyday had no clue what they were doing.

What really chafes is that some early panels were "touched up" with some horrible computer-generated backgrounds, and while the cover art by "Rex W. Lindsey" - notta lotta non-Archie Google hits for that name - gets a credit, not one other artist or writer earns one. Shain and Dave, y'all won't mind if I let Miss Cooper field this one, would you?

Recommended only if, like me, you find actual 1970s Josie comics difficult to find.

(Originally posted November 16, 2007 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Human Diastrophism

Here's how this works: I finish reading a comic collection, and I tell you about it, and I try not to go on too long.

I don't know how many times I've read these stories in other collections, but I keep buying new editions - I may pass some of my earlier configurations on to new readers at some point - and I keep tearing up at the climax of the central story, which features just about the saddest and most moving death scene I've ever read, and I get all choked up when the violence starts at the end of "Chelo's Burden" as well. I found myself following Guadalupe more closely in this story than I had in previous reads of the material in other versions; the cast is so enormous that you can very easily read these stories dozens of times and find new motivations and new points of view each time. Absolutely perfect in every possible way and brilliant from start to finish, this gets the highest recommendation I can give anything.

(Originally posted November 16, 2007 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Golgo 13 vol 10, Houdini: The Handcuff King and Showcase Presents Batgirl

Here's how this works: I finish reading a comic collection, and I tell you about it, and I try not to go on too long.

"Wasteland" is a nuclear-scare story from the early 80s, which really has not aged as well as the other stories in this series of reprints. On the other hand, the story does a stunning job depicting the absolute desperation of a team of engineers trapped in a nuclear plant, and the solution, using Golgo's unerring accuracy to find a way to shut everything down, is very clever. The second, shorter story, "Route 95," is more engrossing, and places our "hero" amidst a murder mystery, only to learn that he has a nasty, secret reason for being in the wrong place at the wrong time... Recommended for readers who've sampled some of the other volumes.

Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi (The Salon) look at a day in the life of Houdini, preparing for and executing an event in Cambridge. It is an entertaining and detailed little story, which weaves elements of Houdini's life and mythology in and around the spectacle, but in the end, I felt that the price point was awfully high for a story so slight, and was actively aggravated at myself for spending as much as I did, even with a generous discount. $16.99 might have been fine for a life story in 96 pages, but, and this may be the plot-heavy 2000 AD fan in me talking, there's an awful lot of space given over to scene-setting at the expense of story. Not recommended without a pretty substantial discount.

A pretty typical Showcase offering, about 550 pages which reprint every Batgirl appearance from her 1966 debut into the early 70s. For a time, she was a recurring guest character in the Batman stories before getting her own monthly series in Detective Comics, with a long stretch of two-part eight-page adventures. The character was semi-retired around 1971, and, in one of the most credibility-straining ideas in DC's history, Barbara Gordon was elected to represent Gotham City in the US Congress, which didn't leave her very many opportunities to break out the cape and cowl. There's some pretty good artwork by the likes of Don Heck, Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane in this volume, but the stories are pretty slight and not particularly engaging. Not recommended.

(Originally posted November 12, 2007 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Monday, November 5, 2007

The War That Time Forgot

Here's how this works: I finish reading a comic collection, and I tell you about it, and I try not to go on too long.

This isn't the entry I thought I'd write.

This Showcase volume collects seven years of The War That Time Forgot, a 15-page strip that ran throughout the 1960s in the pages of Star-Spangled War Stories. It has the greatest premise ever - WW2 GIs battle dinosaurs, giant apes, undersea beasts and hundred-foot tall Nazi robots on a South Pacific island - and it runs it completely into the ground. This is not how it should have been. This should have been the best book ever. It's not.

For about 100, 150 pages, this was a tremendously entertaining read. But these stories were not made to be collected in a 550 page volume, where the amazing repetition of the scripts are exposed. Robert Kanigher was writing these for eight year-olds who wouldn't follow a war comic for seven or more years, but I have to wonder whether he wasn't driving them away by using the exact same plot structure in every story! Seriously, if you've read one War That Time Forgot, you've read them all. A fresh-faced GI, who narrates the events from after the fact (confirming he'll survive it), is assigned a suicide mission to pick up where another mission fails, and his transport either gets torn out of the sky by a pteranodon with a wingspan greater than Rodan's which cracks a B-29 in half, or his ship gets sunk by a tentacled horror. If he's in a submarine, it's going down, too. He and his surviving fellows all speak with exactly the same New York lingo and jargon and refer to the monsters as, alternately, refugees from "the age of nightmares"/"the Ice Age"/"the late-night horror show," repeatedly. The GIs will be able to see underwater without a mask, and they will invariably throw hand grenades at the dinosaurs and call their weapons "pineapples." They will either obtain the Macguffin assigned by the brass, who will never believe this story, or they will destroy it so the Japs can't obtain it. Every strip is the same.

This happens about eleven times in this book. I'm serious.

From time to time, some recurring characters will turn up for not more than three or four strips. Among these are the most annoying characters in all of fiction, Morgan and Mace. Mace was responsible for the accidental death of Morgan's brother before the war; Morgan is convinced Mace is a coward and can't wait for him to turn yellow so that he can gun him down for failing to complete the mission. We know this because, in an average 15 page story, this is explained at least six times. I am not kidding. Then we get a flying baby dinosaur called Dino and a kid named Caveboy, and, DAMNATION, THIS BOOK SHOULD BE BETTER THAN THIS.

You do get some rare art by Gene Colan, Russ Heath and Joe Kubert in its pages, and Kubert actually did a little research to see what dinosaurs were thought to look like, as opposed to "whatever the fuck he felt like drawing." But the overwhelming majority of the pages are by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, who can draw helmets and trees and tommy guns all right, but nothing else. Certainly not dinosaurs. Not recommended at all. Dammit.

(Originally posted November 05, 2007 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Emma Vol. 4

Here's how this works: I finish reading a comic collection, and I tell you about it, and I try not to go on too long.

I'm afraid this really starts to lose its way in this collection. I guess there's too much modern mindset creeping through, but in this collection, we meet a really fantastic new character called Monica, who is assertive, confident, demanding and engaging, and about whom, frankly, I'd rather read. By comparison, Emma's complete lack of assertion, down to the point where she just does not talk to people, really, really grates in a few scenes in this book. When the rest of the staff are flat-out asking you about your time in London, just TELL THEM about your previous position. Damn, it's annoying. And William! What the hell are you thinking, dude? As a whole, not really recommended as much anymore. In fact, I've got book 5; I'll refrain from either recommending or not based on whether things improve in that book.

(Originally posted November 05, 2007 at hipsterdad's LJ.)