Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Chaos Edition with the Girls of St. Trinian's and Nemesis the Warlock

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

No, wait, forget what I said about America. Right here, this is the reprint book of the year, the book to beat. It completely surpassed my expectations, giving 176 pages of Ronald Searle's gleefully demented, mean-spirited drawings of little hellions murdering each other and passing out drunk. And only a few appear to be teenagers like in the films and the book's cover (she is a recurring character called Angela Menace), for the most part, the gags center around little kids who've transformed the school gym into a torture dungeon, take baths in the Trevi Fountain and catch fairies on flypaper. St. Trinian's was never a recurring strip or panel, and there are probably far fewer of them than readers might think; like Charles Addams' single-panel comics, they would appear as sidebar illustrations in magazines and occasionally readers might recognize some recurring characters or places in them. It's very like The Addams Family, in fact, only done with even more gusto and eye-popping shock. Highly, highly recommended... especially if you're that family of Mike Huckabee supporters across the street from me or that bunch that's afraid of Doctor Who behind me, because you're needing this badly.

In three large books, Rebellion has compiled the entire run of Pat Mills' Nemesis the Warlock. This last volume includes three long-form stories with art by David Roach, John Hicklenton and Henry Flint, along with supplemental art by several others, including Kevin O'Neill, who was working on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in late 1999 and was pulled away for the series' final episode, and Chris Weston, who contributes a fascinatingly ugly color story about the evil Torquemada's long-suffering wife Candida. This is all great stuff, free from the confusing "time loop" business that made the second book a bit of a head-scratcher, and Rebellion did an excellent job restoring the several color pages and reprinting them along with the black-and-white stuff. It must have been a production nightmare to put this volume together! Nemesis has aged very well, and depicts a "hero" whose contempt for his enemy isn't much like anything else in comics, and I certainly can't name two opponents who are each guilty of murdering the others' children. On the other hand, you don't often get the sense that Torquemada has the upper hand, but underestimating his power, and his hold over the bigotted, hateful, stupid human race depicted here is a mistake that Nemesis makes a time or two. Highly recommended.

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

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Action Philosophers and America

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 certainly got spare time for Ryan Dunlavey, who was very encouraging and helpful back when I was doing GMS Legion and he was doing Tommy Atomic, even going so far as to send me a sketch of my two-panel character Head Pop-Off Boy. Action Philosophers is a very silly comic he does with Fred van Lente, telling the tales of various great thinkers and their idiosyncrasies and hypocrasies, in little biographies, sort of like those great Big Book Ofs that DC put out in the nineties. It's nice to see icons deconstructed in such a loving, silly way. The definition of "undergraduate humor," this is recommended for anybody who likes Monty Python.

One of the most acclaimed series in either 2000 AD or the Megazine, America explored the concepts of freedom and liberty in Mega-City One, from the perspective of Bennett Beeny, a songwriter, and America, the daughter of immigrant parents who finds the underground talk of violent revolution too persuasive to ignore. The original 62-page story was expanded over time as the characters were revisited. This is genuinely some of the very best work on Dredd, with Wagner and MacNeil focussing on how normal people are impacted by the totalitarian world of the judges, and it is completely brilliant, from start to finish. Certainly on the short list for reprint book of the year, this is highly recommended.

(Originally posted April 26, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Golgo 13 and Doom Patrol

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

NO WAY. And this was first published in 1975?! Here's what I think: the first 150 pages of this book comprise a police procedural that starts with a multiple murder in 1946, moves forward 15 years, and then goes straight to HOLY FUCKING SHIT LAND. There are 26 stories to be found in the 13 volumes of Golgo 13 published by Viz. At least 22 are downright excellent, and then there's "The Serizawa Family Murders." Damn!! THANK YOU CARL HORN for getting these published. Now will SOMEBODY OUT THERE license the rest of these stories? I WANT MORE.

Well, it's a strange day indeed when the final issue of Doom Patrol, arguably one of the finest single issues of anything Grant Morrison has written and the conclusion to one of the two or three best American comics of the 1990s, gets knocked down cold-cocked by a thirty year-old Japanese book, but them's the breaks, Grant. Doom Patrol is sublime, surreal and surprising at every turn, but I think Vertigo really had their work cut out for them, as the last ten issues of the book formed one long continuity and there just wasn't any place to break it without making book five abnormally thin. As a result, this book starts one-third into an apocalyptic scenario without giving new readers a chance to catch up, lacking even a "story so far" page. The series is a work of complete genius and should be read by anybody who likes comics, but Vertigo's production really has been slapdash of late, hasn't it? They don't do the introductory essays and creator credits like they used to anymore. (I know what the great Sean Phillips is up to, but where the heck's Richard Case these days?) I'm willing to forgive any chance to get the final "Empire of Chairs" issue, both heartbreaking and life-affirming in equal measure, into readers' hands again, but they could have done just a little better on these editions, I think.

This book also includes the silly Doom Force Special, a needle-in-the-eye parody of Rob Liefeld's labored X-Men comics of the early 90s, full of intentionally awful anatomy, constipation faces, agonizing soliloquies and villainous ladies who wear next to nothing. Doom Patrol itself is absolutely recommended, but while you could pick up any of the first five books and get hooked, this one is best saved until later.

(Originally posted April 23, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Filth and some old Batman newspaper strips

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 reviewed this three years ago for my old Weekly Comics Hype, but this time around, I was not as engaged by Morrison's weird world than I had been. The narrative is occasionally very frustrating; I got lost wondering where some of the bizarre encounters with the Hand and its agents actually happen, and became aggravated by the multiple layers of the story. On just one level, it's one of Grant Morrison's very best stories, but it's too obscured by too many odd things to really resonate. On the other hand, some of the actual incidents are still pretty damn amazing, including one of the best death scenes ever, when Slade's fight with an assassin results in a neighbor getting... well, I shouldn't say. Chris Weston's art is amazing. Recommended if you like The Prisoner.

Oh, this is fun stuff. Originally published in 1990 by Kitchen Sink, Sterling Books last year reissued this in a low-priced hardback edition. It's the complete four-year run of Sunday Batman and Robin comics from 1943-46, back when the character was a detective adventurer for children, free from angst and the continuity of modern comics. Most of the stories are told over the course of two to eight dense pages, with lots of fun old art, mostly by Jack Burnley. Other contributors include Bill Finger, Dick Sprang and Bob Kane. The stories play like shorter Dick Tracy cases, and Batman's periodically lighthearted encounters with his foes are quite refreshing. They're not all whimsical, however. A great case where a "fortune teller" is murdered on a live radio show, only to curse his four killers with his dying breaths to cruel deaths of their own, is about as good as kids' entertainment can get. On the other hand, the old-fashioned art was an instant turnoff to the Hipster Son, who didn't stick around long enough to see Batman and Catwoman fight on the steps of the Parthenon in Nashville's Centennial Park. Seriously! Recommended for nostalgic readers.

(Originally posted April 22, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mr. Amperduke and ABC Warriors vol. 4

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 close to two years, the Judge Dredd Megazine included a "small press" spotlight feature, giving indie creators a shot at a wider audience. Most of its content was pretty good, but the best by far was a six-page story by Bob Byrne about a strange man named Mr. Amperduke, and the creepy goings-on in the little Lego village in his basement. So when the full Mr. Amperduke graphic novel was finished - 160 dense pages without dialogue, the story told in pictures and sound effects - I was on that sucker like a shot. I'm very pleased with it; it's a wild story of a mad insect let loose on the Lego village and the resulting carnage, while Mr. Amperduke tries to make his way back to help. It may not be for everyone, but the collision of "cute" and "grisly" probably has an audience among those of us who enjoy dark humor.

If you order this book through the link above, you not only get your copy autographed, but Byrne includes a panel from the original art. I've got the big mean bug with a rocket trail above its head!

This is the fourth collection of ABC Warriors, reprinting a tale from the mid-90s. It honestly works better than some of these tales, which are often a little continuity-heavy, as a stand-alone story, a really imaginative science fiction epic with the robot soldiers once again warring against human oppression, using wild ideas and inventive plot twists to thrill readers. I actually like this one a lot better than the previous volume. Amusing characters, wild plots, beautiful painted art by Kevin Walker... what's not to like? Recommended even for readers who've never read the Warriors before.

(Originally posted April 16, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Beauty Supply District and Essential Avengers vol. 6

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 first told you about the remarkably strange Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer back in February, and told you then that I owed Bizarro Wuxtry a purchase of another Ben Katchor book. Actually, I've bought two now, but this was the first one I finished. It's a collection of another eighty-odd Julius Knipl strips and a new 24-page story, and it's absolutely wonderful, more tales of the city, if the city is sort of like New York and its businesses include Macedonian Coffee Shops and its museums are devoted to the minutiae of unimportant people. It's absolutely captivating, and while it might take you ten or twelve pages to figure out the strip's beat, I'm sure you'll be truly sucked in. Highly recommended.

Ben Katchor was interviewed last month by the New Jersey Jewish News. Click the image below to read!

And then there's this.

To understand my disappointment, I must explain that as a middle schooler in the early 80s who'd only recently discovered Marvel Comics, I kept reading references and footnotes in their stories to certain "classic" epics of the past, yarns like "The Kree-Skrull War," "The Avengers-Defenders War" and "The Celestial Madonna Saga." Since Marvel had no reprint program of note back then, and since I really couldn't afford the back issues, these all went unread until Marvel's Essentials line got around to them.

In short order, these supposedly classic tales were instantly revealed as damp squibs, but I don't know that any comic has had its reputation so unjustly inflated as the unbelievably stupid Celestial Madonna storyline, which weaves in and out of ten of the 27 issues reprinted here, and might just be the most tedious thing I've ever read. It's some grandiose plot involving the arch-villains Kang, Rama-Tut and Immortus, all of whom are different incarnations of the same person, and it involves no fewer than four flashbacks of ungodly length. I mean, the whole book is a disappointment - it's almost painful, watching Steve Englehart insist that the reader care about characters as flat and unlikeable as Mantis, the Swordsman and Libra - but I found myself flipping past giant chunks of this thing. I simply do not care what the mysterious, secret connection between the Vision and the original android Human Torch is, partially because Englehart never gives the readers any reason to. Do we get proper red leather jacketed Wonder Man getting drunk with the Beast in volume 7 at least? Not recommended.

Mention of Bizarro Wuxtry reminds me: I provide links to Amazon or some other source in these reviews for your convenience, but I strongly encourage everyone to support their local businesses and comic shops. There's a whole pile of comic reviews in this blog that you can read by clicking the "what i just read" tag below which you can try out, and while I love the 40% off coupons at Borders as much as anybody, you'll be doing your neighborhood right by visiting somebody local and picking up some good reading. Credo!

(Originally posted April 14, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mutant Bounty Hunter edition with Strontium Dog and Durham Red

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

Absolutely triumphant. There's a reason this is one of the Eagle Award nominees for best reprint volume of '07: it's absolutely the work of three creators at the top of their game, telling brilliant stories with a mix of lighthearted wit and downright mean energy. Wulf Sternhammer's death really was a shock at the time; what's even more shocking in retrospect is the impact it has on Johnny Alpha, who becomes a taciturn, vengeance-driven monster for many episodes thereafter. The revenge he takes out on Max Bubba is the sort of thing that superhero funnybooks just wish they could get away with. Highly recommended!

This is the last of a three-volume series telling the story of what happened to the sexy vampire bounty hunter Durham Red several centuries after she was last seen as a supporting character in Strontium Dog. It never really sparks, suggesting it would have worked better as two books rather than three, although Mark Harrison's art is never less than interesting.

What really makes this collection shine is the inclusion of the seven episodes of "The Scarlet Apocrypha," in which Dan Abnett reimagines the character in seven very different scenarios, with seven very different artists, throughout history and fiction. Only one doesn't work - Steve Kyte's Japanese animation parody is just stupid - but some of these are downright excellent. John Burns really shines depicting Red in the setting of a 70s Italian horror film, and Enric Romero has fun putting her up against Count Dracula. Steve Yeowell, Frazer Irving and Carlos Ezquerra also contribute great installments before Harrison returns with a fascinating, dense and fun story drawn in a completely different style from his standard - an imitation of Mad's Mort Drucker! - and set at a science fiction convention in a world where Durham Red movies have been sci-fi staples for decades. It's very fun stuff, and, packed as it is with background notes and production artwork, it's a package I have to recommend, even though the lead story left me a bit cold.

(Originally posted April 11, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Science Fiction edition with Leatherjack and Star Wars

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

Leatherjack is the story of an assassin, working thousands of years in the future for a disgusting crime lord and employed to retrieve a book which unlocks human consciousness, and which is in danger of being destroyed, along with all the other books on a library planet, in a galactic war.

It sounds agreeably engaging, but it all somehow fails to gel. We never get to know any of the characters, but those we do meet just seem like templates from John Smith's playbook - depraved dictators, foppish killers, observers watching from the sidelines seeing events spiral out of control and saying "no no no no." Add in a climax in which an ancient power rises to wipe out the technology of the warfleets that threaten it, and the whole thing feels like a longer, shallower incarnation of Smith and Marshall's earlier, excellent Firekind. And what are we to make of the comedic Spinster Empire, and its space-faring censorships, who are amusing, but seem to have wandered in from an entirely different strip altogether? Not really recommended.

I guess everybody over the age of 32 remembers that period before The Empire Strikes Back, when George Lucas was licensing out the job of telling Star Wars stories to just about everybody. Even if you don't recall the details, you remember how you could follow the adventures of Luke Skywalker and company in Marvel Comics, in novels like Splinters of the Mind's Eye, on TV in The Star Wars Holiday Special, and in a syndicated newspaper strip.

Frankly, I'd forgotten about the strip until I found a used copy of this at the Book Nook and realised that the unusual panel layout inside had to have come from reformatted newspaper comics. A little research at a Star Wars Wiki (called [groan] Wookiepedia) informs me that the strips in this book were written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Al Williamson, and originally ran from Feb. 1982 to Jan. 1983, and which were later colorized, reformatted and run by Dark Horse. This comic series was called Classic Star Wars. This, "The Rebel Storm," is one of at least five books which compile those many Dark Horse reprints.

The strips themselves are great fun, classic space adventure very much in the Flash Gordon mode, without all of the ponderous Jedi mythology that would later weigh the films down, and without all the overanalyzed counting-Stormtrooper-helmets debates on milporn and "canon" that makes the fandom so off-putting. These are just darn fun stories, told by a veteran like Goodwin who really made the characters shine and came up with some very clever situations. Also amusing, in retrospect: the presence, however tame, of a Luke-Han-Leia love triangle also totally shows up Lucas's claim that he'd always known Luke and Leia were siblings.

I'd totally buy a proper collection of the strips as they originally appeared. You'd think that in a world where you can buy geegaws ranging from every possible remastering of the movies down to short stories about those bounty hunters in Empire that didn't actually do anything beyond standing around posing for the action figure people, you could get some nice hardback collections of the strips like Titan does with British newspaper comics, but these bastardized, reformatted versions are all that's available. Recommended for people who enjoyed the colorized version of Casablanca.

(Originally posted April 09, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)