Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Sandman: Endless Nights and James Bond: Shark Bait

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 never got around to buying this, but Marie has a copy, which promptly made its way onto the top of my nightstand pile before I shelved it with her other books. Released in 2004, this sees Neil Gaiman and seven artists new to his universe telling seven short tales about his Endless family. They're not all successful - Frank Quitely brings brilliant, beautiful imagery to a story that tells us nothing new about Destiny, Bill Sienkiewicz's messy, challenging layout ends up obscuring a very nice story of Delerium, and I gave up on Barron Storey's "Fifteen Portraits of Despair" entirely - but the four where everything clicks are genuinely wonderful additions to the Sandman story. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I liked the Milo Manara story a lot - I should probably reread all those Manara books outside of young eyes; it's been a while - but best of all is a great tale of Destruction, hanging out at a very strange archaeological dig. I've said before that Gaiman's short stories are more entertaining and fulfilling than his longer tales; don't let Endless Nights' position as "apocrypha" to the ten-book Sandman story encourage you to overlook this!

Speaking of books that should be read away from young eyes, well, the Bond newspaper strips of the 1970s weren't shy about a little T&A, but the first two strips in this collection are just full of Horak-drawn nudity, especially the title piece, in which Bond's KGB nemesis spends pages in just a pair of panties. I wasn't pleased with the previous volume and its implausibly outrageous stories, but things are considerably more believable in these three tales, which are much more grounded in rough seventies espionage. "The Xanadu Connection" and "Shark Bait," from 1978-79, were the last from the original series of strips which dated back to 1964 and never actually appeared in UK newspapers. The series resumed in the pages of the Daily Star in 1981 with "Doomcrack," which was drawn by MAD's Harry North. Overall, a very good volume, and, I must point out, it's got another great essay about James Bond comics, this time highlighting Dark Horse's troubled run and a tale never completed, written by Alan Porter, who knows a whole heck of a lot about 007's long, strange career!

(Originally posted February 28, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Golgo 13 vol. 12 and Adam Strange: Planet Heist

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

Man, I'm behind again. The 13th and final edition of this series came out last week. Anyway, you know the drill, or you should. Two incredibly intricate stories in which fiction's ultimate blunt object is contracted to rid our world of some obnoxious annoyance. The second story is rather eye-popping, and very 1970s, and the sort of thing that you could never imagine an American creator concocting: since the word is out that a Japanese man is gunning for a southern politico with the local police in his pocket, Golgo 13 changes his skin color. Recommended if you enjoy having your jaw hit the floor a time or two.

DC Comics has created a huge science-fiction universe to surround its Earthbound stories of superheroes, and this 2004 miniseries by Andy Diggle and Pascal Ferry plays with about a dozen different characters and alien races as it tells the story of some force abducting an entire star system, but don't let continuity let you shy away from this great story. Everything is presented as though it's the reader's first time. It's a loving throwback to larger-than-life 1950s heroes with rocket packs and teleporters, gorgeous alien women, heroic adventurers and crazy super-technology. It's huge fun from start to finish, and a fitting tribute to Adam Strange's long comics history. Recommended for all ages.

(Originally posted February 25, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Peanuts 1965-1966 and Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 09

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

Among the treats in this eighth collection: the debut of Peppermint Patty, who's even more confident in her cluelessness than you remember, a never-before-reprinted sequence about Snoopy journeying off to be the keynote speaker at a Daisy Hill Puppy Farm convention and not arriving, and the first several sequences with the World War One flying ace. Probably recommended higher than any of these other super volumes, really.

Oh, there's a whole bunch of great stuff in this collection of 50 episodes from 1985-86, featuring really great art from all those names you see below in the tag. It starts with "Midnight Surfer," one of the all-time greats, and ends with the breathtaking "Riders on the Storm," Brendan McCarthy's first Dredd in the way-out style he's known for. Recommended!

(Originally posted February 21, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Perla la Loca and Super Spy

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 pretty sure I've mentioned how much I love these new reprints of the Love & Rockets line. Well, this is the third of three paperbacks which collect all of Jaime Hernandez's stories of Maggie and Hopey from L&R volume 1, and it's completely wonderful. You really need to go buy this and The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. today, and Fantagraphics needs to announce plans for the next books in this line. I've said plenty about these stories already; click one of the tabs below for more. Highly, highly recommended!

Super Spy is one of those rare books that I finished reading and then returned to the bottom of my "to read" stack, rather than shelving. Twice. So I've read this three times over the last few months and finally feel like I've absorbed enough to be satisfied with it. Each read, I felt there was plenty that I missed, and couldn't wait to connect. On the one hand, I'm really not pleased with Matt Kindt's faces and bodies. There's good reason for his large cast to look anonymous and nondescript; they're spies in 1940s Europe and shouldn't draw attention to themselves. But it makes it awfully hard to follow characters when you're not sure whether you've seen them before.

The book is an exciting read because Kindt rearranged the chapters from their chronological sequence into something else entirely. You can read the book in the order he's laid it out or work out the actual order from the dates on the contents page. I've done both, and it makes some material really stand out. There are occasions, for example, where you're following an assassin and see him dispatch some poor soul, and then, chapters later, you're following some guy and then are shocked when somebody jumps from the shadows and knives his throat -- the same incident from two perspectives. Recommended for readers who enjoy unconventional narratives and literary puzzles; if you liked House of Leaves, for instance.

(Originally posted February 17, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Dr. Slump vol. 14 and Enigma

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

Have to say, this one was done on the cheap. The first half of this book wraps up the really long scrap with Dr. Masahirito and his "Caramel Man" robots which originally ran for about five months in the pages of Shonen Jump in the early 80s, but there isn't any recap or helpful information for anyone stepping into the middle of this. It's all kinds of nutty and odd, but I recommend anybody curious pick up volumes 13 and 14 together!

I reviewed Enigma for my Weekly Comics Hype back in 2005 and made a complete hash of it, honestly. This was one of the mini-series which were selected to launch the Vertigo imprint in 1993, a murder mystery about sexual identity, 1970s comic books and flying lizards. It's remarkable in many ways, and frustrating in others, but it's a singular, fascinating story and one of Peter Milligan's best stories. Recommended for mature readers.

(Originally posted February 17, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Saga of the Super-Sons, Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock

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

And then there was the time that Superman and Batman got married in the 1950s and had kids. Clark Jr. and Bruce Jr. grew to be teens in the mid-70s and had to totally deal with their square parents, who were just were not with the scene, man. And because Superman Jr. was only half as powerful as his dad, the old man was always laying down the law and saying he shouldn't get involved with either criminals or chicks. Talk about a generation gap! Didn't these relics understand this was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius? Sometimes a cat's just got to do his own thing, you dig?

DC actually published this lunatic stuff for years in the pages of World's Finest Comics. One month, you'd have Superman and Batman in a traditional team-up, and the next month, you'd have their otherwise unmentioned teenage sons riding around the country on motorcycles having bizarre, quasi-socially relevant adventures. The Super-Sons were quietly shelved after Bob Haney moved on to other titles, apart from an odd, unnecessary retcon published a couple of years later. Every Super-Sons appearance is reprinted in this collection. Recommended for nostalgists and completists.

Oh, it's Robert Kanigher again.

This isn't quite as much of a slog as Kanigher's other 1960s titles, but it's still very repetitive and very uninspiring. Actually, the principal draw is Joe Kubert's artwork, but you won't believe the shortcuts he chose to take to get all these pages turned in. There are countless panels with nothing but explosions or helmets flying, or close-ups of rifle barrels.

DC wasn't entirely like this in the 1960s - the TV show era of Batman, for instance, is silly and inventive and fun - but Kanigher's books display an amazing sense of malaise and a lack of imagination. They weren't made to be read one after another, and the total absence of any continuing subplots or storylines mean that you can put this book down at any time, not missing anything. I hoped Rock would have aged better than this, but it didn't. Not recommended.

(Originally posted February 13, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Doctor Who: Voyager and some Andrew Clements novels

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

This book's flawed to an aggravating degree, because while the plots are pretty solid, the stories are entertaining and John Ridgway's art is fabulous, at no point does the main character appear anything like the Sixth Doctor. There's a good reason, or excuse, for this: because the producer of the Doctor Who TV series wanted all the ancillary merchandising to reflect Colin Baker's Doctor from the moment he first appeared onscreen towards the end of the 1984 season, the first chunk of episodes in this book were written before his character had been seen. And then he was seen in a story shown across two weeks which depicted him as delusional after his stressful regeneration, so all the rest of the episodes (twenty in all) were written with only a vague idea how he should be portrayed. So Colin's Doctor - the loudmouthed, egotistical perfect children's hero, railing at maximum volume - isn't present here at all. They're still good enough stories, and a long arc of episodes dealing with an ancient, insane Time Lord criminal who's trying to escape the attentions of an Eternal called Voyager, are periodically brilliant, but the uneven characterization and the insanely high price tag - $32 for 170 BW pages - make this a recommendation only for collectors.

I've been remiss in telling my fellow parents about Andrew Clements. I've been very fortunate to have children who enjoy reciprocating the reading they've uncovered on their own with me, and about two years ago, when I mentioned that the plot of Frindle, in which a schoolkid demonstrates the foolish, arbitrary nature of words by coming up with a new name for what we call a "pen," sounded like a neat idea, the Hipster Son asked if I wanted to read his copy. Since then, he's checked out or bought five other Clements novels and passed them to me when finished.

There's a degree of repetition in Clements' basic plots - an elementary schoolkid finds some reason to question the status quo - but there's an incredible variety in where the stories lead from there, making these perfect reads for later elementary and early middle-school students. Sometimes the young heroes earn major victories, but sometimes, as in The Last Holiday Concert, their victory doesn't change an inevitable, downbeat reality. In others, like The Janitor's Boy, there's little to change beyond the understanding that sometimes even parents can have their souls crushed by inevitability.

The best of the Clements novels I've read is the one I just finished, The Landry News, in which a girl starts an underground newspaper and finds a surprising ally in the teacher against whom she spoke out in an editorial. Alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, it's a great story told exceptionally well. If you've got kids, or if your friends do, I can't recommend Clements highly enough. Your kids will eat these stories up, and if you've got a spare hour, you'll read right along with them.

(Originally posted February 10, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Shazam! - The Monster Society of Evil and The Losers vol. 5

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've done a little bashing of the corporate superhero comics in this journal lately, and frankly, they've had it coming, because neither Marvel nor DC have published a superhero title one-tenth as entertaining as this in years. Not one advance word about The Monster Society of Evil caused a single skeptical eyebrow with me. I chose to wait for the collected edition, which was promptly snatched by the Hipster Son. When I finally got a chance to read it, it proved itself worth the wait in spades, an upbeat, age-friendly title that requires no backstory or understanding and explodes with charm and love for the medium's potential on every page, told by someone who really knows how to tell a story well.

Put another way, when the Hipster Son saw that it was finally on my computer desk last night awaiting shelving, he shouted "You read it?! What'd you think?! WASN'T IT AWESOME?!" For a title about a sixty year-old property to still inspire that much enthusiasm from today's kids, you know it's something special. Highly recommended, especially if you have younguns.

Younguns are not the target audience for this globetrotting tale of espionage, stolen nukes and triple-crossing conspiracies. Told across three years of monthly issues, collected in five thin paperbacks, this really was a stunning, impossible-to-drop series. The Losers was a beneficiary of DC's policy of letting new talent - in this case Andy Diggle and artist Jock - run riot on a trademarked name, just to keep that trademark active. The original Losers was an old war comic; this one is about a special ops team which, as Mission: Impossible might say, was "disavowed." While working their way back to find the agency mole who betrayed them, they stumble on a really big series of ugly secrets, and it looks like the Losers might have to die twice...

The only thing I don't like about The Losers, which routinely made my end-of-year "top three" lists while it was being published by Vertigo, is that these five little no frills 6- and 7-issue collections are just too thin. Maybe if that supposed film version ever gets launched, they'll redo these as three books full of supplemental material and sketchbooks. Volume 5 isn't recommended without having read the others first, and while $10-15 each isn't bad, you don't get enough of a "satisfying chunk" to make them worth it at retail price. Shop around and plan to be impressed.

(Originally posted February 06, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Emma vol. 6 and Watchmen

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 "dark" installment, where everything hits the fan. William finally stands up to his old man in an intensely cool sequence with the two of them shouting at each other for pages. On the other hand, Emma's quiet passivity is really grating this time around. The art's sumptuous and beautiful, but I don't understand what William ever saw in her in the first place. Backbone, people! Spine! Moxie! Recommended with reservations.

What was this, the fourteenth or fifteenth time I read this? It remains a masterpiece of construction and foreshadowing full of genuinely great characters, but it satisfies a little less each time I read it. I don't read all the pirate stuff every time, but I realized this time the main reason I want to skip them is because those damn captions are the most turgid, overwrought things in the book. It might make a good movie, but I don't know that a contemporary audience is going to buy the almost immediate armistice the way we did twenty years ago. Recommended, but not for younger readers.

Incidentally, whatever happened to that comic book with the Art Adams promotional art with Batman punching Rorschach? Did that come out yet?

(Originally posted February 03, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer

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

One of my favorite Stanley Kubrick films is The Killing. As Sterling Hayden is assembling his team, he visits his friend, the large, almost unintelligible muscle, who spends his days at a second-floor business in that strange urban center where men pay to play chess all day. I've always thought that was the oddest little business. So imagine my surprise to find Ben Katchor's strange little timelost, dreamlost New York, where that chess establishment would have fit right in.

Devlin at Bizarro Wuxtry, America's finest comic shop and a place too ordinary for Knipl's excursions, recommended this book some time ago, but a couple of pages didn't sell me. I didn't understand it, couldn't find the sort of characters I enjoy or a plot to follow. But a $4 copy at Book Eddy, that remarkable bookstore in Knoxville I simply will not stop talking about, sold me as worth the risk for the price. And it still took me several pages - much of the book is collected from a weekly strip that runs in NYC's The Forward - to figure out this book has nothing to do with character or plot, but setting.

It's a city populated by incredibly strange businesses, newspapers and professions. Citizens suffer umbrella-related eye injuries, or try and avoid sleep at the Stay-Awake-Atorium. They give themselves amnesia by drinking Oblivion, and prove their love to a beautiful woman by shoplifting jars of cherry tomatoes from every deli in town. They go on vacation and visit the Pygmy Penitentiary, they hire licensed expectorators to avenge trivial slights. It's a city of dreams, and I was not entirely surprised to see that the book concludes with a lengthy storyline about a daily newspaper which reports the dreams of citizens as though they were newsworthy, all of these stories told in a casual, there's no other word for it, dreamlike manner. It's a remarkably strange book, but very compelling. I need to see whether Bizarro Wuxtry has more Katchor in stock next time I'm in Athens.

(Originally posted February 01, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)