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.

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