Tuesday, March 29, 2011

For What It’s Worth #6 - Brass #s 2-6

Brass is a six-issue WildStorm miniseries from the early 2000s. John Arcudi wrote it and Carlos D’Anda drew it. Each issue has a cover price of $2.50.

The cover to the second issue. I think there's too much going on there. The design is too cluttered.

Sadly, I couldn’t find the first issue of this in the quarter bin. I’ve had some experiences before where I scored an entire six-issue miniseries from a quarter bin, and it’s hard to match the elation I feel knowing that I spent a buck fifty on a complete series when the trade paperback itself likely costs at least ten times as much. Yup… I’m addicted to cheap comics. It almost doesn’t matter what the series is, but if I can find a decent chunk of a run of something in the quarter boxes, I’m probably gonna pounce on that.

Which is pretty much why I took a chance on these issues of Brass. I guess Brass was some early ‘90s Image superhero crap that was unreadable in its original incarnation. Brass is this dude who was infected with (or maybe injected with, via a government experiment) a techno-virus from another planet in another dimension. The virus makes the dude, Herschel, transform into this mecha warrior techno-knight. D’Anda’s art on this miniseries still has a lot of that Image sensibility, but at least Arcudi’s writing is decent.

Even though I started reading with issue 2, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything crucial. The premise of this miniseries is that the alternate dimension aliens whose world was the origin of Hershel’s Brass virus need to infect themselves with it (it had previously been eradicated) so they could fight a war against some enemies who had been ravaging their world. They kidnap Herschel so they can get the virus. The catch is that the aliens are all cultural pacifists, and even after a small group of volunteers gets the Brass virus, they still have no idea how to wage war to defend their loved ones. Thus, Herschel has to stay in their dimension to train his small group of Brass warriors and lead them to victory.

What makes this readable is that Arcudi writes the whole thing with a tongue-in-cheek tone. There’s some light humor in all the proceedings, and that somehow tempers the scenes that are meant to be more emotional as well as the scenes that are balls-out action. The dialogue is brisk, there isn’t a whole lot of text to bog it all down, and it’s paced well. Best of all, Arcudi doesn’t end it after the aliens defeat their enemies; that’s almost beside the point. The latter part of the story is more about how the volunteer Brass aliens have been corrupted by their newfound bloodlust.

Arcudi never probes too deeply into this, but it’s still entertaining nonetheless. The weakest part of this comic is definitely the art. Like I said, D’Anda’s art in this definitely has a big Image influence. There’s a lot of unnecessary hashmarks on his drawings that add nothing. His panels tend to be cluttered and a lot of his pages would be challenging to decipher if the words weren’t on the page. His figures are also unattractive, especially their anatomy. His characters also have weak facial expressions and there’s no real understanding of body language in Brass. On the upside, I kinda liked the mecha designs of some of his Brass soldiers.
Ultimately, I got a kick out of this series even though it had pretty weak art. It was a great comic to read on the toilet—it wasn’t too deep or anything, so I didn’t really have to think, and there weren’t a whole lot of words (and the art wasn’t worth lingering over) so reading an issue was about the right length of time. I wouldn’t say this series is worth going out of your way to seek out, unless you happen to be a big Arcudi fan. For what it’s worth, a quarter a pop was definitely a feel-good price for these issues.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

For What It’s Worth #5 – Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #7 (1997)

Nice design work on the cover
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #7 was originally published in 1997. It has a cover price of $3.95. It’s a 52 page story entitled “I Am a Gun” written by James Robinson and drawn by two artists, Steve Yeowell and Russ Heath.

“I Am a Gun” (fantastic title, by the way) is one of those timeless Batman stories that, surprisingly, doesn’t feature any of his prominent rogues. Rather, it’s an inspired tale about Batman using his detective skills to solve a murder. Batman, using a variation of his Matches Malone identity, goes undercover at an air circus to solve the mystery, which is tied into the story of Steve Savage, a World War I fighter pilot. The story is divided into three chapters, with Yeowell drawing the first and third ones and Heath drawing the middle. The middle chapter is a flashback scene (from a biography that Batman reads during the course of his investigation) of Savage’s exploits during the war.

Robinson’s writing is very good in this comic. It’s well-plotted and feels worthy of being an extra-length feature in an annual. Robinson also does a great job of setting up the premise and introducing all the elements for the mystery, including the various characters Batman meets. I also enjoy his characterization of Batman. Here, he’s a hardened and veteran crime fighter, but he’s also emotional and not afraid to smile once in a while. The middle chapter of the comic hearkens back to old-school war comics, and Robinson does a commendable job with helping us empathize with Steve Savage and his larger-than-life exploits and his tragedies and triumphs. (And in a nice shout-out to dedicated fans, Robinson even ties in this character with his Starman series, which is probably what he’s best known for. He also throws in a few references to Hans von Hammer, the Enemy Ace.)

Perhaps best of all, Robinson gives us a story where Batman’s mind helps him accomplish his goals, although the climax still features some pulpy, swashbuckling action.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful art that brings Robinson’s tale to life. Yeowell’s a talented draftsman, and he does everything pretty well. His storytelling is clear, everything looks the way it’s supposed to be, his environments look livable, and his people are great “actors.” Basically, his world looks real. I also like the way he inked his own work. It looks like he used a brush on some parts, and it adds a nice, somber tone to the art.

Russ Heath is a legend, of course, and his section of the comic is amazing. His linework features much thinner inking and certainly looks more like the Golden Age style of artwork, which is perfect for the story. His facial expressions are fantastic, and he really sells all the emotions that Steve Savage experiences in this flashback. Digital Chameleon’s coloring really makes Heath’s work look pretty.

This annual is practically two quality stories that intertwine to make one fantastic adventure. I only paid twenty-five cents for this comic, but for what it’s worth, I honestly wouldn’t have minded paying a dollar more than its normal cover price.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Quick Reviews 2

It's time for some more Quick Reviews. Here's a round-up of some stuff I've read recently.

Sean Phillips illustrated one of the  best Two-Face profiles ever

Batman: Jekyll & Hyde by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee and Sean Phillips – I feel like Jenkins has written some absolutely stupendous stuff, a bunch of average comics, and some genuinely bad ones. Jekyll & Hyde is close to being in the upper tier of his work, but I think it has one deep flaw that hurts quite a bit. I just hate it when the bad guy has the good guy in his clutches, chained up and drugged, and promises to kill him, but fails. That’s some James Bond, kinda lazy, kinda implausible stuff most of the time. Unfortunately, Jenkins has Two-Face do that with Batman in this book. Other than that, this could have been a defining Two-Face story. I’m still hard pressed to think of one off the top of my head. It’s very psychological and the action that does take place feels all the more significant because of it. Jae Lee draws the first three issues and Sean Phillips draws the last three. Both of them are top tier artists and this is just a gorgeous looking book all around. Their shadowy work really brings Jenkins’ psychological thriller to life.

Eric Powell (The Goon) illustrated the covers for the individual issues

Arkham Asylum: Living Hell by Dan Slott and Ryan Sook – I think this and his little-known Spider-Man/Human Torch miniseries (with Ty Templeton) are Dan Slott’s finest works. Living Hell, a six-issue miniseries about Arkham Asylum’s inmates, benefits from some dark comedy and some clever and twisted origin stories for some of Batman’s minor rogues. Ryan Sook’s art is perfect for the tone of the story as he expertly varies his style from dark and menacing to wry black humor.

Sadly, this iBooks edition is likely out of print

Honour Among Punks by Guy Davis with Gary Reed – I mentioned in my last trade paperback round-up that Guy Davis is one of my favorite creators. Honour Among Punks: The Complete Baker Street Graphic Novel, is one of his earliest works. It’s a Sherlock Holmes pastiche set in an alternate universe London where punk is a dominant subculture. I like Davis’ writing but it’s his art that truly shines and sells the stories he writes himself. Not every artist is a good writer, but I think Davis does a great job creating a grimy punk version of Sherlock Holmes’s world, and the characters, from Sharon (the Holmes analogue) to Sue (the everyman, point of view, Watson-analogue) feel well-developed and grow from their trials. I liked seeing Davis’ art evolve over the course of the series. The first couple issues are rather cartoony but his art eventually begins to resemble more and more of the type of linework we’d witness in Sandman Mystery Theatre. He’s a fantastic designer, with characters who wear legit clothes and fashions, and architecture that makes his world look like a place worth visiting. Definitely recommended.

I greatly enjoy Ben Templesmith's style

Criminal Macabre: A Cal McDonald Mystery (Volume 1) by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith – After reading 30 Days of Night, I decided to give this another try. (I had it lying around in my collection after picking it up for 3 bucks at a used bookstore a year or two ago.) I actually read this once before, probably at least 5 or 6 years ago. I remember enjoying it back then. After rereading it, I still liked it, but not as much as I remembered. Still, it’s a far more entertaining comic than 30 Days of Night. Cal McDonald is sort of a cross between John Constantine and Hellboy, only with far less gravitas. He’s a stereotypical hard-boiled, hard-drinking private eye who specializes in dealing with monsters and other accursed creatures of the night. In this story, he’s embroiled in a plot by a monster alliance who want to infect the world. Templesmith’s art is fantastic, of course, but Niles’ writing seems to work better in this story than 30 Days of Night because this seems like it’s intentionally comedic and light-hearted. The story still doesn’t feel like anything particularly deep, but as pure entertainment, it did its job.

Last Train to Deadsville: A Cal McDonald Mystery (Volume 2) by Steve Niles and Kelley Jones – I liked the second book in the series more than the first, though Templesmith is replaced by Jones here. Jones draws some creepy monsters, especially ones with skull-ish faces and external spines. Sometimes his work is undermined a bit by Michelle Madsen’s rather garish color choices, which surprises me because their work together on Conan: The Book of Thoth was remarkably strong. Volume 2 was shorter than the first one, and maybe because of that it feels faster-paced. I still feel like there isn’t very much character development, but for a rip-roaring action adventure with a few choice one-liners, this is a fun read. On a sidenote, I still don’t think I can consider these Cal McDonald comics “horror.”  Just because a comic has monsters in it doesn’t automatically make it a horror story. That’s just lazy marketing on someone’s part.

Add caption

Jonny Double by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso – I finished reading all of 100 Bullets the other week and it put me in an Azz/Risso mood. I dug out my Jonny Double TPB for another read. It’s even better my second time reading it. Though this is one of Risso’s earliest American comics, he was already an accomplished artist before he began this work. As such, the art looks about as good as you would expect. Similar to what Peter Milligan did with Human Target, Azzarello takes an old, obscure DC character and Vertigo-izes him. Jonny Double is an old-school, hard-boiled but down on his luck private eye (in San Francisco!) who ends up teaming up with some young slackers on a heist. Of course, they get embroiled in something beyond them when they realize the money they stole belongs to someone they didn’t expect. This is a riveting noir with a satisfying payoff. Definitely recommended.

The cover to the TPB
Issue 3's cover
Batman/Deathblow: After the Fire by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo – Azz and Bermejo have gone on to a few other notable collaborations (Lex Luthor: Man of Steel and Joker) but I think this was their first. With WildStorm’s tragic demise, I don’t know how widely available this book is, but it’s well worth tracking down and owning. I also think this could be the best intercompany crossover to ever see the light of day. Bermejo’s compelling layouts are complemented by his realistic, darkly detailed style. I also love the premise of the crossover: the two title characters never meet each other, because Deathblow died ten years before this story begins. You have to appreciate Azzarello’s ballsy approach to a superhero crossover. Instead, Batman has to solve a crime related to Deathblow’s only failed mission. It’s all very well done in a grimy, noirish tone. It’s a heavy-hitting tale, but it’s subtly heavy, if that makes sense. Definitely recommended.

This belongs in your collection

Batman: Broken City by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso – I wasn’t kidding when I said that finishing 100 Bullets put me in an Azz/Risso mood! For my money, I’d put Broken City right up there with the finest Batman stories of all time. I get that Year One and The Dark Knight Returns are untouchable totems, the very pinnacle of Batman stories; but Broken City at least deserves to belong in the same tier as those two. I feel like most great Batman stories tend to inhabit one of two milieus: crime or balls-out superhero fantasy. Year One is emblematic of the former, while DKR and Grant Morrison’s ongoing Batman magnum opus certainly embody the latter. Broken City is definitely in the vein of Year One. Batman stalks the shadows, intimidates thugs for information, does some actual detective work, and solves a crime while trying to remain coolly detached, only he’s Batman and he can’t help but care too much. Fascinating. It’s a story that epitomizes everything important about the Batman. Top it off with some great appearances by some undervalued members of his rogues gallery (Killer Croc, the Penguin, and the Arnold Wesker Ventriloquist & Scarface) plus a chilling and well-used Joker appearance. Azz and Risso even do their part to introduce a duo of new rogues into Batman’s world, Fat Man and Little Boy. And if that’s not enough, the story even has something great and new to say about Batman and his origin. A fresh take on a classic? Oh, yeah, baby. I can’t spoil it if you haven’t read it. This gets my highest possible recommendation.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Thoughts on DC's June 2011 Solicitations

Peter Milligan's writing a one-shot set to be released this June. A Flashpoint tie-in, it's called Secret Seven. I don't really know what Flashpoint is all about beyond something to do with alternate realities (or maybe it's alternate timelines), and I guess I don't really care to go out of my way to learn more about. But a new Milligan comic is a new Milligan comic. From the cover, it looks like there's some sort of crossover between the Ditko/DC Universe Suicide Squad-era Shade, the Changing Man and the Milligan/Vertigo version of Shade.

George Perez is drawing this one-shot. It should be out on June 1, 2010, for a cover price of $2.99.

That looks like DC's Enchantress in the background
 Also of note is the Flashpoint: Batman - Knight of Vengeance one-shot due out the same day from the 100 Bullets creative team. Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso doing an alternate universe Batman? I'm there.

Dave Johnson's cover is delicious

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

For What It’s Worth #4 – Action Comics Annual #12 (2009)

Action Comics Annual #12 was originally published in August 2009 and carries a cover price of $4.99. It’s 40 pages of story by Greg Rucka and Pere Perez.
I definitely wouldn't have given this fine comic a chance for 5 bucks, though

This one-off issue features the origin of Nightwing and Flamebird. It’s a space opera type of story about Krypton and Kandor. I think this annual would be more interesting to readers who had been following all the Krytpon stuff that had been going on in the Superman titles a couple years ago. I haven’t really read that stuff, so I feel like I’m missing some of the allusions.

Nonetheless, this is quite an entertaining yarn. Rucka does a good job of creating a narrative tangentially related to Superman. Even though I may not grasp the significance of Nightwing and Flamebird, this story presents me with all the information I need in order to understand the world these characters inhabit. The overall structure of this story is satisfying because Rucka gives enough characterization and development through conflicts, and it’s easy to see how the main characters grow through their tribulations. Perez’s art is in the DC house style, but it’s pleasant enough and shows the potential of the skills he would later display in some of Grant Morrison’s Batman books.

The thing that most fascinates me about this comic is that it’s a space opera, but Rucka wrote it. In a way, it somewhat reminds me of Ed Brubaker’s Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire in Uncanny X-Men from several years ago. While this annual obviously can’t compete with the sheer scope and ambition (and number of pages) of Brubaker’s 12-issue epic, I find it fascinating that both writers, who are known for their crime comics, have done their own space opera superhero stories. In fact, there’s something about Rucka’s third-person narrative captions in this annual that remind me of how Brubaker structured and wrote some of those Uncanny comics, particularly those Vulcan issues. There’s something matter-of-fact in the tone that reminds me of pulpy science fiction.

This was a fun one-shot that’s worth reading on its own. I can only imagine its entertainment value would increase the more familiar one is with the other Superman storylines that were going on at the time this was published.

For what it’s worth, I think this comic is worth a solid buck or two. I’m just glad I found it for a quarter.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

For What It’s Worth #3: The Batman Chronicles #19

Yeah, I found a trio of these Batman Chronicles in the quarter bin the other day, and took a chance on each of ‘em. Issue 19 is definitely the best, as we’ll see. It was published in Winter 2000 and has a cover price of $2.95. The stories in this issue are “Got a Date with an Angel” by Steven Englehart and Javier Pulido, “Rapscallions” by Joseph Harris and Eric Battle, and “The Penny Plunderers” by Graham Nolan.
What a delightful cover by Pulido... Delightful, I say!

I’ve got to say that the issue is worth it for “Got a Date with an Angel” alone. Though the story takes place between the panels of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, it doesn’t rely on its timeframe as a gimmick. This is a well-written, superbly illustrated gem of a Batman story.

It starts exactly three days after Bruce Wayne donned his cape and cowl for the first time. He’s still adjusting to his return to Gotham and getting his feet wet as far as his life’s mission is concerned. He has a relationship with a woman but he’s having trouble staying committed to her due to his busy nights as Batman. Something’s got to give, and although anyone who knows anything about Batman knows how this story ends, it’s no less tragic for our protagonist, and Englehart and Pulido do a great job in making us feel for a character who typically isn’t known for emoting.

Englehart, of course, is perhaps most well-known for his brief but influential run of Batman stories from the ‘70s. He also wrote a bunch of Marvel and DC comics over the years. I can’t say I’ve got any sort of particular affinity for his work, though I do appreciate his Batman work and his Silver Surfer comics. Often, I worry that writers who were known for doing their best work in the ‘70s or ‘80s have their best days behind them, but “Got a Date with An Angel” doesn’t feel dated at all

It’s a great coincidence that Javier Pulido happened to draw this story. He’s pretty high on my list of most underrated and under-appreciated artists. He also did some fantastic work with Peter Milligan on Human Target. His style here is fittingly reminiscent of the style David Mazzucchelli used in Year One, though perhaps not entirely as spot-on as J.H. Williams’ flashback sequences from Detective Comics a couple years back. Pulido certainly has great talent in channeling other artists’ energy. Back around 1998, he drew Joe Casey’s run on The Incredible Hulk and there his style paid tribute to Jack Kirby. Still, Pulido has his own voice as an artist, and even his early work, like this Batman story, has plenty of evidence. Some of the action sequences, with their great sense of movement and force, as well as the impressionistic last three pages of the story are hallmarks of his style.

“Rapscallions” isn’t a very good story, though. Written by Joseph Harris, whom I’ve never heard of, it’s a generic Huntress story that I couldn’t get into because of the horrible art by Eric Battle. He draws in an overly rendered style that’s got its roots in ‘90s Image. His Huntress’ breasts are the size of large melons.

The story is about Huntress getting tied upside down by a gang of prepubescent orphans and then trying to protect them from the drug runners who take advantage of them. It could make for an embarrassing after-school special if not for the silly premise of little kids beating up the Huntress and then tying her upside down.
Battle also doesn’t draw the kids very well. Their proportions are weird and they don’t look like kids. Instead, they look like small adults. It’s this sort of amateurish effort that makes it even harder to take the story seriously. He seemed to spend more time focusing on drawing blood, bullets, and Huntress’ tits than on any sort of important storytelling.

Ultimately, it’s an empty, navel-gazing sort of story that has nothing to say that isn’t about the Huntress. (Though I think it was trying to make some sort of deep statement about regret and second chances.)

The final story, “The Penny Plunderers” is written and drawn by the esteemed Graham Nolan. It’s fun little ten pager about a small-time crook who aspires to be a big-time rogue in Batman’s city. It also features a giant penny, a silly twist at the end of the story, and an intentionally bad pun. Nolan’s crisp art looks very nice here, with some satisfyingly thick ink lines and great facial expressions.

Well, two out of three ain’t that bad. I would have paid cover price for this comic, partly due to the two quality stories and partly due to my scholarly interest in Pulido’s work. For what it’s worth, I’m glad I found it for 25 cents.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Quick Reviews

Here’s a quick rundown of stuff I’ve read/reread recently. I guess you can consider these capsule reviews or just general thoughts on those comics.
Guy Davis needs more love

The Nevermen, by Phil Amara and Guy Davis – The Nevermen is one of those pulpy, science fantasy comics that kind of defies genre pigeonholing. It’s got kind of a pulp noir tone, but also has monsters, mad scientists, and superpowered crime fighters. Davis, one of my top ten favorite artists, definitely shines in this collection. He’s got to be the best monster/creature designer working in comics. His architecture and cityscapes are also top tier. In all honesty, I felt that the story was basically a vehicle to showcase Davis’ imagination. Frankly, I’ve got no problem with that. It was breezy, fun, and full of pulpy weirdness. I’d imagine anyone who digs Hellboy or B.P.R.D. (which Davis also illustrates) will dig this!
I took a chance on this 'cause it was 3 bucks

Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries by Christopher Mills and Joe Staton – Like The Nevermen, Femme Noir is another pulp-influenced comic. Like the title implies, this is a hard-boiled (female) detective pastiche. It’s an homage to that era of storytelling, and most of the stories in this trade pay tribute to a different branch of that tree. (There’s a story where the protagonist, Blonde Justice, fights a science villain, a gangster whose mind has been transplanted into a robot body. Another story is a send-up to those throwback jungle-girl comics.) Joe Staton’s art is excellent here, and his inkers do some appropriately heavy, thick lines to emphasize the noir aspects. The stories themselves feel kind of inconsequential, as there’s no real character development or continuity.
I quite liked this after my fourth time reading it

Switchblade Honey, by Warren Ellis and Brandon McKinney – This short original graphic novel is basically Warren Ellis taking the piss out of Star Trek. He says as much in his introduction. Ellis is someone I would consider to be a giant in the field, one of the best writers working in comics today, and this comic from 2003 (published by AiT/PlanetLar) is likely one of his more obscure works. This is probably the fourth time I’ve read this comic since it came out and I think my opinion of it has softened over the years. When I first read it, I thought it was terrible to try and drag out a simple joke into a whole graphic novel. As I’ve grown more and more familiar with the rest of Ellis’ bibliography over the years, I’m starting to see more humor in Switchblade Honey. Ellis essentially transplants his favorite archetype, the chain-smoking British bastard, into a Star Trek-like setting. It’s still nowhere near the greatest thing he’s ever written, but it’s funny enough and entertaining. The art is clear and makes this an easy read.
I liked this less after my fourth time reading it

Green Arrow: The Archer’s Quest by Brad Meltzer and Phil Hester & Ande Parks – I’m kind of torn about this one. On one hand, it’s got a cool premise: Green Arrow, freshly returned from the dead (this was the storyarc that came out right after Kevin Smith finished his run) teams up with his former sidekick to track down artifacts from his past. Hester & Parks’ artwork is excellent, as well, with an attractively cartoony, angular style. On the other hand, I’m not really a fan of Brad Meltzer’s writing. I have a low opinion on his Justice League of America run and I have to say that I am not a fan of his much-lauded Identity Crisis. (You could call me an anti-fan, in fact.) Possibly the best thing of his that I’ve read was one of his prose thriller novels, The Millionaires. The Archer’s Quest isn’t a bad comic, though. It’s solid superhero fun. My problem with it is that it feels very shallow. Although I feel it aspires to be a little deeper than the average superhero comic, touching on the themes of legacy and trust, I don’t think it succeeds entirely. I think its main failing is that it ultimately doesn’t feel like it’s about anything beyond Green Arrow. I remember really liking this the first time I read it, years ago. Rereading it now, I’m starting to feel that it hasn’t aged very well. I don’t necessarily regret buying this hardback, but I’m not proud of myself, either. I could live without this in my collection.
I doubt I'll ever bother watching the movie

30 Days of Night by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith – I finally got around to reading this. A few months back I lucked out and found a copy of this for three bucks at a used bookstore. I really like Templesmith’s art. I also remember liking the duo’s collaboration on Criminal Macabre, which came out some time after 30 Days of Night, probably one of the comics most responsible for reviving the horror genre this past decade. I wanted to like this, because the artwork is fantastic, and the premise is simple but clever. Something was lacking in its execution, though. I think the problem is that for a horror comic, this isn’t scary at all. It’s exciting, it’s got vampires, it’s got blood and guts, it’s got action, it’s got people being hunted out in the middle of nowhere… Basically all of the elements for horror, but without the psychological aspect. Perhaps this is a limitation of the medium – being able to stare at and analyze still pictures kind of robs them of the surprise factor that is so inherent in horror movies. And in prose, the best horror comes when the writer breathes life into the characters so that you, as the reader, actually care about what happens to them. Niles doesn’t really devote any time to character-building here, which robs the horror story of its actual horror. This comic actually feels like a failed movie pitch. Niles has a reputation as being one of comics’ finest and foremost horror writers, but I don’t think his style of horror is to my taste. I’ve his Batman: Gotham County Line and that was just insultingly bad. To be fair, his early ‘90s comics adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend is excellent. That adaptation was probably one of the best adaptations of anything in any medium I’ve ever encountered, and possibly the best “horror” comic I can think of off the top of my head.
The Vertigo Crime brand has been a stamp of quality

A Sickness in the Family by Denise Mina and Antonio Fuso – I’ve been enjoying the Vertigo Crime line of original hardbacks. I haven’t read every single one that’s come out, but I’ve read a good number of them and none of them failed to entertain me. My favorites thus far are The Bronx Kill by Milligan and James Romberger and Area 10 by Christos Gage and Chris Samnee. But like I said, I’ve liked all of the ones I’ve read so far. A Sickness in the Family didn’t disappoint me, either. It’s an entertaining, dark story about a family whose members keep getting murdered. Denise Mina is a writer whose work I really enjoy. She had a 13 issue run on Hellblazer that I liked quite a bit, but she’s really known for being a crime novelist and a proponent of the tartan noir subgenre. (I recommend starting with her novel Deception, which is one of my favorite crime novels. It’s a dark, bleak, romance of a crime story.)
A classy book design for one of the most important indie books to rise out of the '80s

Zot!: The Complete Black and White Collection by Scott McCloud – Go out and hunt this down. McCloud is best known for Understanding Comics, one of the most important books about comics theory and art. Before Understanding Comics, there was Zot!, one of the best comics of the ‘80s and a sterling example of one darn fine creator-owned series. This is a distinguished collection; it features plenty of commentary from McCloud himself, and he provides a good amount of insight into what was going on at the time he originally created these stories. Zot!, the series, starts off as a type of light-hearted superhero escapist fantasy but gradually evolves into telling more realistic, poignant, slice-of-life stories (without completely ignoring its science fantasy roots). It’s excellent storytelling all around, a work grounded in both realism and fantasy as well as angst and maturity. Ultimately, though, it’s a work centered around the concept of hope, and how hope and optimism are not silly or foolish notions. One of the most genuinely uplifting comics I can think of, I’d definitely give Zot! my highest possible recommendation.
Definitely a better comic than I would have expected from a media tie-in

Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel by Jordan Mechner, A.B. Sina, LeUyen Pham, and Alex Puvilland – Yeah, a comic book based on a videogame. I never really played the games other than the original side scroller back in the day. I had no expectations coming into this comic, but I was pleasantly surprised by the artfulness of the craft of it all. I should have had more faith in First Second, the publisher. They usually put out some good stuff. I don’t know how close this hews to the world of the games, but the comic features two intertwining stories (one past, one future) based upon Persian myths and legends. It’s a mythology I’m largely unfamiliar with, but I enjoyed this comic, although I didn’t fully understand it. I think this is one of those comics that I know I liked, but I’d have to read again to make more sense of it so I could better explain why I liked it.
An artful adaptation

Coraline by Neil Gaiman, Adapted and Illustrated by P. Craig Russell – I have to admit I haven’t read the original novella. (I’ve seen the movie, and I liked that. It has some differences with this comic, though.) Knowing Russell’s penchant for adapting other literary works into comics, I would assume this comic is fiercely loyal to Gaiman’s original text. Russell’s art is delicate and graceful, and his storytelling skills make this a wonder to read. It doesn’t feel as richly detailed or as intricately rendered as some of his other comics, but I think the clearer style he adapts for this project makes it appealing for wider audiences (and, hopefully, kids will enjoy this for years to come). This was good stuff.