“One of the great fallacies of our time is that the Nazis rose to power because they imposed order on chaos. Precisely the opposite is true – they were successful because the imposed chaos on order. They tore up the commandments, they denied the super-ego, what you will. They said ‘You may persecute the minority, you may kill, you may torture, you may couple and breed without love.’ They offered humanity all its great temptations. Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” (John Fowles, from The Magus)
I’ve never been a huge fan of Stephen King’s, mainly because I’m not a big fan of horror and when I was growing up, that’s basically all he did. I’ve read The Stand, which was pretty good, and Eyes of the Dragon, which I loved, and The Dark Tower, which was pretty good but which I haven’t followed up on by reading the other books. I’m just not all that inclined to read his books – I’ve seen more movies based on King’s books than I’ve read books of his. However, his time traveling book about a man preventing the JFK assassination seemed like a good bet, because it wouldn’t be horror and a lot of people thought it was pretty cool. So I picked it up.
In case you don’t know, the story is about Jake Epping, who finds out that a owner of a local diner (the book starts in Maine, because it’s a Stephen King book) discovered a time anomaly in his storeroom that leads to September 1958. The owner, Al, explains that whenever you come back from the past and then go through again, everything resets to the way it is the instant you step through, so if you prevent an assassination, for instance, you can never use the “time machine” again or it will get reset. Al is dying, so he convinces Jake to go into the past and save JFK, because he can live there for five years and prepare to stop Oswald. Easy-peasy, right?
Well, this being King, things go sideways. Jake first attempts to save the life of a janitor at his school, who wrote an essay about how his father killed his entire family and gave the janitor brain damage when he was a kid. This leads to complications, but he manages it. Then he spends years in Texas, trying to make sure that Oswald acted alone, and while he’s there, he falls in love with Sadie, a librarian at a school in the rural town where he settles. Of course he does. So he’s not sure what to do if he prevents the assassination – stay in Texas with Sadie, go back to 2011 alone, or take her with him. Meanwhile, as he reminds us a lot, the past doesn’t want to be changed, so things keep happening to stop him from doing what he wants to do, with increasing danger to him and those around him. It’s a fairly exciting book, as Jake keeps coming close to solving the problems the past keeps throwing at him but the past keeps responding. He also discovers that Al didn’t really understand what he was doing to the past and the future, so there’s that. Things go pear-shaped a lot, of course, but Jake keeps it in the back of his mind that he can always go back to 2011 – you always return two minutes after you left – and “reset” everything, although that is also not the wisest course, as it turns out.
It’s a fun book to read, but it’s also, like most King books, heavily dependent on the plot, so if the plot falls apart, the book does, too. And the plot falls apart at the end, even though I don’t want to spoil it. Let’s just say that King takes 800 pages to get to a point where countless short stories have gotten in far less time, and if you’re not going to say anything original about time travel changing the past, what’s the point? I mean, Jake’s romance with Sadie is well done, and the book ends on an extremely charming note, but it’s frustrating to read something and kind of suspect where it’s going and know it’s nothing you haven’t read before and then, when you get there, think “Yeah, that’s what I thought would happen.” I don’t mind similar plots in stories, because of the fact that there are so few plots to go around, but like a lot of television shows that rely on plots, this feels like empty calories. It relies so much on the plot that even the charming parts, like Jake’s life in the Texas town, are rendered essentially meaningless. Jake doesn’t seem to learn anything except what is forced on him, and therefore he’s just a plot device. It’s frustrating reading this book, because King knows how to zip through the plot, and his books tend to be fun to read, but the others I’ve read by him seem to be meatier. Or maybe I’m misremembering them.
Anyway, this is a perfectly fine book to read, but it’s kind of forgettable. As usual, since he became famous, King eschews editing, but the book does fly along, which is nice. It’s just disappointing that a creative guy like King couldn’t come up with something more memorable for his time travel story.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Royal City #6-10 by Jeff Lemire (writer/artist) and Steve Wands (letterer). $19.95, 118 pgs, FC, Image.
The second arc of Royal City isn’t as good as the first one, because Lemire falls into an insidious trap that many writers can’t help falling into. In the first arc, he introduced this family, all of whom were dealing with their own kinds of despair, and showed how none of them had ever really moved on from the death of the youngest son. It was raw and painful, and it was fascinating. But then Lemire decides to go back to 1993 to give them “origin stories,” and blah. Writers think we need origin stories, but we really don’t, and someone as smart as Lemire should know better. It doesn’t help that he uses every cliché in the book, so even though it’s not a total loss, simply because Lemire writes actual conversations so well and his art, as usual, is excellent, it’s still a slog. Tommy is a 15-year-old with some kind of problem in his brain. He gets medication to help him, but the doctor warns him not to drink or do drugs. So does he submit to peer pressure and drink and do drugs? OF FUCKING COURSE HE DOES!!!!! His mother is lonely, so does she meet an old flame and flirt with him, with the implication that things will go further? Does Tommy’s father, who has just been promoted at the factory, feel bad because he’s no longer friends with his old co-workers and has to be a tough guy? Does Patrick, Tommy’s brother and the nominal protagonist of the book, take a job at the factory just because he’s not ambitious enough to write as he wants, and does one of the older factory workers Ben Affleck him into quitting? Does Tommy’s sister, Tara, get pregnant and say she’s not going to have the baby because she doesn’t want to get stuck in town? Does Tommy’s other brother, Richie, act like a douche a lot and pressure him into drinking and doing drugs? Does Tommy have a mad crush on Carla, Richie’s quasi-girlfriend? If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, congratulations, you’ve seen every single work of fiction about blue-collar folk in existence, and you’ve also read the second arc of Royal City. Only Tommy’s weird sensibility about what’s happening to him makes it interesting, and, as I noted, Lemire’s good naturalistic way of writing. But the plots? Blech.
The first arc bought a lot of goodwill, though. I think we return to the present in the next arc, and I really hope the book gets back on track. That would be nice.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Beautiful Canvas by Ryan K. Lindsay (writer), Sami Kivela (artist), Triona Farrell (colorist), Louise Fitzpatrick, Alberto Hernandez, Holley McKend, Lauren Perry, Richel Tagyamon, YesFlats (color flatters), Ryan Ferrier (letterer), and Dan Hill (editor). $14.99, 88 pgs, FC, Black Mask Studios.
Ryan Lindsay is an interesting writer, in that he comes up with clever ideas but seems to have a short attention span when it comes to writing about them. He mentioned writing short stories in an issue of Chum, his noir tale set on a tropical island, because he’s concerned about cutting the fat off of stories, but as anyone who cuts the fat off of steak knows, occasionally some of the meat goes with it, and that’s what seems to happen with Lindsay’s stories. They feel like they could be a bit longer – not too much longer, but just enough to fill some things out a bit. Beautiful Canvas could easily be five issues, because it’s close to being a great comic, but there’s just a lot to take in at the breakneck pace that Lindsay writes. An assassin is hired by a very rich woman to kill a woman, and when she does, she finds the woman’s son in the house. She doesn’t kill him but takes him with her, which is a mistake as her employer wanted her to kill the boy, too. Meanwhile, the assassin’s girlfriend is pregnant, and she’s kind of worried about how that’s going to change her life. Oh, and there are a bunch of people running around with superpowers, which kind of comes out of nowhere. This isn’t the “real” world, it’s a slightly odder version of the real world. Lindsay introduces this in a fairly interesting way, in that he doesn’t make a big deal about it – they just show up, shifting the expectations of the story into something more fantastical but also, in some ways, more relatable. Why does the rich woman want the boy dead? Before the superpowered people show up, it makes no sense. After that, it begins to come into focus a bit better. Lindsay does a pretty good job with Lon and Asia, the two main characters, and their story is the most interesting in the book. He does less with the other characters, so the boy, Alex, who should be the emotional fulcrum of the book (he represents Lon’s fear of being a mother pretty obviously), isn’t as developed as Lon and Asia, so his journey isn’t as interesting. Similarly, the villain of the book, Milla, should be far more fascinating, because Lindsay has her doing some pretty nasty things but she also shows that she’s not completely a monster, but those moments are overwhelmed by the nastiness, so she comes off as more one-dimensional than she should be. It’s frustrating, because you can easily see that one more issue could have fleshed these characters out quite a lot. In cutting fat, Lindsay cut just a little bit of meat away, too.
Kivela is a pretty good artist, but on this book, he goes up a notch. The book is absolutely beautiful, with nicely delineated drawings that make the fantastic fit well into the mundane world, well done characters, interesting special effects, and softer pencils (and a more watercolor look from Farrell) in some places that indicate a dream, which is neat. This is a crowded book, with panels packed into small spaces, but Kivela makes it easy to read and interesting to follow. An early example: when Lon kills Alex’s mother, we see the macro – the two women standing in the same room, with Lon firing a gun and Alex’s mom throwing a carrot in desperation toward the assassin – and also the micro – Kivela overlays smaller panels on the bigger ones to show the bullet smashing through the carrot on its way to the target’s head. It’s a neat device, and Kivela does neat stuff like this throughout the book. It slows us down, making us appreciate each page and take in all the subtleties of the art, and it’s clear that Kivela knows what he’s doing and should be getting higher-profile work in the future.
I enjoyed Beautiful Canvas, because Lindsay is a clever writer and he knows how to get the reader hooked, while the art is a big factor in making the reading more enjoyable, but I do wish it had been one issue longer. Lindsay, it seems, is capable of making his comics more emotionally affecting, but he chooses not to. That’s his choice, of course, but I have a feeling that his books would be truly excellent if were able to weld his interesting ideas to a stronger emotional base. But that’s just me. This is a fairly insane comic full of gun fights and superpower fights, with loving lesbians and a horrific villain. Maybe that’s enough for you!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Destroyer by Victor LaValle (writer), Dietrich Smith (artist), Joana Lafuente (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer), Chris Rosa (associate editor), and Eric Harburn (editor). $19.99, 132 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.
I’ve never heard of Victor LaValle, but apparently he’s a big enough name that this is technically called “Victor LaValle’s Destroyer,” but I have a long-standing policy of not appending names to titles, and I’m not about to start now. Anyway, LaValle is writing a Frankenstein story, and parts of this are really good. He has the original monster, driven mad in the Arctic and now just a killing machine (it’s a bit shocking how LaValle creates a sympathetic character early on that we think might be more important to the book and then just has the monster kill said character after a few pages), heading toward someone he thinks can help him destroy everything. That would be Dr. Josephine Baker (yes, really), a descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein, who was working for a shadowy government organization whose head wants to figure out the key to immortality. Dr. Baker was fired when she got pregnant, but then her son was killed (I’ll get back to that) and she rebuilt him, Vic Frankenstein-style. So the head of the organization wants to know how she did it, she wants revenge on society (I’ll get to that!), her ex-husband turns up in an unexpected (but totally expected, once you know a tiny bit about what’s going on) place, and the monster that Frankenstein built is approaching. Is there a shit-ton of violence in this book, leading to an apocalyptic ending? Oh, you know there is!
On the surface, this is perfectly fine. However, LaValle makes a crucial mistake, and that’s that he tries to turn this into social commentary. Baker and her husband are black, and their son was killed by a policeman who didn’t realize the kid was only twelve and wasn’t armed. Okay, so LaValle wants to turn this into that, which is fine on the surface, but it never gets past the “Mom hates the world” phase. Dr. Baker rebuilds her son so that he can be the weapon she points at the racist society in which she lives, but of course things don’t go as she planned. It leads to a bit of a kum ba yah ending (which I won’t spoil, besides writing that) that doesn’t feel exactly earned. LaValle might want to write a biting commentary on society, but he also wants to write a monster story, and in the end, the monster story wins out, which makes the social commentary feel shallow. I get that LaValle wanted to sneak the social commentary into this so that people who wouldn’t be interested in that would get it to read the monster story, but when the social commentary doesn’t go beyond “racism is bad,” it’s kind of hard to take it all that seriously. I mean, yes, of course racism is bad. The kind of people who disagree with that probably aren’t going to read this comic anyway, because they’re illiterate.
Smith does a decent job on the art – he blends his pencil work with Photoshopped backgrounds quite well, and both his monster and Dr. Baker’s son are sufficiently weird, although he does a good job making the stitched-up monster look scarier than the stitched-up 12-year-old. He gives Dr. Baker frizzy hair and a white streak, not unlike Elsa Lanchester, which is neat, and does nice work with the action scenes, which is always a plus. Smith doesn’t set the world on fire, but he’s a good storyteller, and he complements the script well. The colors are a bit dreary, but they’re crisp and not muddy, so it’s not as bad as it could be. It’s a decent-looking comic.
Destroyer is a pretty good comic, but it falls short in an important way, and it kind of colors how the rest of the book reads. I don’t know – maybe LaValle could have made it less obvious, or he could have really explored the racist angle better, but the half-measure he takes doesn’t really do much. But hey, it’s a nifty Frankenstein story!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Layman and Kieth have worked together before, so they must have a good relationship, as they bring us the story of an unusual art thief and her bird. It’s a Layman comic, so it’s a bit weird, and it’s a Kieth comic, so it’s a bit weird, and together, they just make weird comics. But it’s also quite good, as Eleanor steals paintings by one particular artist, who turns out to be far more evil than we expect, which of course makes us wonder what’s going on. Eleanor’s egret, which talks, helps her commit the crimes, and then … well, I don’t want to get into what happens after Eleanor steals the paintings, because it’s part of the overall plot, and it’s a pretty interesting plot. Meanwhile, a detective, Gilbert Belanger, is investigating the crimes, and he has a crush on Eleanor, which makes it a bit more uncomfortable when he figures out that she’s the thief. There’s plenty of hijinks, but Layman is a good enough writer that there’s some sadness, too, which makes Eleanor’s quest, as goofy as it might seem at the beginning, much more tragic by the end. The book is about who owns art, what is art appropriation, what’s appropriate when things don’t go as the artist expects, and the perils of the creative urge in general, and Layman does a nice job not showing his hand too soon and keeping things subtle. It makes the story resonate better, and the goofiness masks the underlying seriousness of it all until Layman is ready to unleash it on us. It’s a good trick – spoonful of sugar and all that – and Layman does it well.
Kieth is a terrific artist, but occasionally, either he’s pressed for time or he just doesn’t care that much, and his lines get sloppy. Here, though, he’s at the top of his game, his whimsical nature matching Layman’s script, and his odd designs doing a nice job placing this in a timeless era (it’s set in the present, but a great deal of it looks like fin de siècle Paris), and Kieth has a lot of fun with that. Kieth has always been good at designing a page, and he uses fluid panel borders to move the reader’s eye nicely across the page, turning the pages themselves into nice little works of art. Kieth always has a good time with the people in his comics, and he does here, from Belanger’s effeteness to Eleanor’s cute girl frumpiness to the strange nature of the villain, and his egret is superb. Layman needed an artist who could match the strangeness of his script but still get the down-to-earth aspects, and when Kieth is engaged, he’s very good at that sort of thing.
I’m not sure why this is “volume 1,” as there’s not really anywhere for the story to go from here. So in this volume, you get a complete story, charming and thoughtful, and also starring a wise-cracking egret. That’s not bad value at all!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I like Terry Moore’s comics (although I still haven’t read Strangers in Paradise – it’s very daunting!), and I like Motor Girl … with some reservations. If you’ve read it, you probably know what my reservations are, and if you haven’t, I really don’t want to spoil it, because you might really like the book, and I don’t want to color your reactions. It’s the story of Samantha, a Iraq War veteran now living and working at a junkyard in the Nevada desert. One day the woman who owns the yard, a surrogate mother to Samantha, gets an offer on the place from a mysterious businessman, but she feels like she should run it by Samantha first. Then things start to get weird. I mean, you see the gorilla on the cover, right? So you already know it’s kind of weird. One thing Moore does quite well is make his comics exist in as “real-world” a setting as possible, then introducing weird elements that upset that world. In this book, Samantha is working in the junkyard with Mike the gorilla, having a nice conversation with him, but we learn very early on that, of course, he doesn’t actually exist. Okay, that’s fine. Then the aliens show up. Yep, this book is partially about aliens and their encounters with humans. Meanwhile, Samantha is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but in the grand tradition of fictional tough guys, she doesn’t want to do anything about it (the gorilla, naturally, is a major symptom of this). The book moves along, with the aliens as a metaphor for the Americans in Iraq, Samantha reliving the horrific events that brought her to the Nevada desert, and things getting more and more out of hand. It’s exciting, sad, and very funny in places, and as it got closer to the end, I could not figure out what Moore would do to wrap it up.
And then … he did the dumbest thing he could have. Again, I’m not going to spoil it, but the ending almost invalidates the entire book. It’s so cheap, and maybe even obvious to smarter people than I (I never figure out twists in stories, because I’m never really looking for them). It makes me mad just thinking about it, to be honest. Just … no.
I don’t know. It’s a good comic until the final few pages, and even then, right before that Moore does such a nice job showing us why Samantha is the way she is and what she has lost, that I just can’t hate the book. I hate the ending, but it’s hard to hate the book. Man … I don’t know. I’m done.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ (It would have been 8 without the ending!)
This is one of the more depressing books I’ve ever read, because it’s all about the idiocy of the United States for well over a century, and things aren’t really looking up in the decade since this book was published. It’s a fascinating book, to be sure, but when you read it, you wonder if anyone in the government has any brains. We’ll be safe during a zombie attack, at least, because the answer seems to be “no.”
Kinzer goes over the many, many times the U.S. has either fomented unrest in other countries or just flat-out invaded them because they didn’t like the regimes in charge. Shockingly, almost all of them can be traced back to the almighty dollar, as corporations have been running American foreign policy for a lot longer than many people think they have. Kinzer begins in Hawaii, where a small group of businessmen in 1893 decided things would be a lot easier for them if the monarchy was abolished and if the States annexed the islands. He goes through events you might know about – the acquisitions after the Spanish-American War, the plots to overthrow Iran’s and Chile’s democratically elected governments – and ones you might not know about – the overthrow of the “most formidable leader” Nicaragua has ever had in 1909, the attack on Guatemala in 1954 – and details how the U.S. got involved, what they did, and the aftermath of each incident. It makes for depressing reading.
One thing that is most depressing is our leaders’ willful disregard of history. George Bush Two was famously proud of not knowing history, and it seems our current Baboon-in-Chief feels that way, too. But it’s not just them, as presidents and other high-ranking members of the government ignore what has happened in the past and keep doing the same thing for eerily similar reasons. I get that when the U.S. got involved in, say, the Philippines, they might not have realized what a clusterfuck it would turn into. But after 50, 70, 100 years of this sort of thing happening, you think other leaders might have gotten the message. John Foster Dulles, for instance, was a rabid anti-Communist, and he authorized the coups against Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala simply because he thought they were Commies, even though pretty much everyone in the government told him that the men weren’t Communist and the Communist parties in Iran and Guatemala were so tiny as to be insignificant. Dulles didn’t care, though, because he saw Commies everywhere that someone thought that maybe American capitalism wasn’t the best way forward for their country (back in the days when you could be wildly racist in public, a British diplomat shot down Mossadegh’s point that the British had nationalized their coal and steel industries by basically saying that the swarthy folks didn’t know what they were doing, but the good white Brits could nationalize their industries because they were smarter than the Iranians). Fifty years later, George Bush ignored every single member of his government telling him that Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction because he wanted to make his father proud by “finishing” the war George Bush One didn’t (how much shit in history happened because insecure men had daddy issues to work out?). Dulles didn’t listen to anyone, and neither did Bush. And thousands, if not millions, of people, including many, many Americans, suffered for their idiocy. Similarly, many, many people on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan told Reagan and his government during the 1980s that maybe they should arm the Afghan rebels who weren’t fundamentalists, because those dudes might have been fighting the Soviets at that time, but they had no love for America. Reagan and everyone else ignored them and armed everyone, so years later, the terrorists were able to strike at the United States using weapons they got from … the United States. It’s one thing to use hindsight to say we shouldn’t have done something, but experts at the time were telling Reagan it was a bad idea. Why have experts on the ground if you’re not going to listen to them?
This kind of history never gets taught in school, and it’s too bad. The United States is a pretty good country, but it’s certainly not perfect, and reading this book, while depressing, is also a good reminder of that. Of course, these days reading a book like this might be treasonous, so maybe you shouldn’t tell anyone I did!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Atomic Robo and the Spectre of Tomorrow #1-5 by Brian Clevinger (writer), Scott Wegener (artist), Jenn Doyle (inking assistant, issue #5), Anthony Clark (colorist), Jeff Powell (letterer), and Lee Black (editor). $19.95, 110 pgs, FC, IDW.
It’s always wonderful to read another Atomic Robo mini-series, and this one is no exception, as Robo gets in a neighborhood fight with Richard Branson and then steals his plane, creepy bad guys from the past show up, and there’s plenty of double-fisted action. It’s also kind of a strange series, though, not quite as balls-to-the-wall as most Robo series, and much more reliant on prior knowledge than most of the series. Clevinger always links the series, true, but he also always makes sure they’re discrete enough to be enjoyed if this is your first Robo story, but perhaps, after several years of that, he’s slowly moving the story into a more serialized structure. This calls back to several older series, and while Clevinger does a very nice job bringing us up to speed (new readers and dumb ones like me, who tend to forget things), there’s also a sense of the history of the series coming to the forefront in a way that is usually absent. I don’t mind that at all, but it’s something to be aware of.
Robo, especially, seems to be changing, and not necessarily for the good. He’s obsessed with his new project, and while that leads to him to bad guy and helps him save the world, it’s also alienating him from the rest of the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne, which may or may not play out in the future. Clevinger’s script is still very funny and clever, but he’s adding some depth of emotion to the stories, and it will be interesting to see how this affects the characters going forward. Will Robo wear out his welcome? Is he right to ignore the mundane details of running Tesladyne because something more important is attracting his attention? Despite the fact that we get a complete story (two, actually, if you count the machinations of Richard Branson and the scientists’ efforts to thwart him), it does feel like it’s part of a bigger narrative, especially with the cliffhanger ending. The next series, if Clevinger and Wegener stick to their plan, will be set in a different time period, so we might have to wait a while.
Wegener is great, as usual. Did you think he wouldn’t be?!?!?!?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Lobster Johnson: A Chain Forged in Life by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Troy Nixey (artist), Kevin Nowlan (artist/colorist/letterer), Peter Snejbjerg (artist), Toni Fejzula (artist), Stephen Green (artist), Ben Stenbeck (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), Clem Robins (letterer), Shantel LaRocque (associate editor), Scott Allie (editor), and Kath O’Brien (editor). $19.99, 110 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.
In many ways, the fun of reading the Mignola-verse is to see who he gets to draw the stories, because they’re not exactly the most complex, especially the ones featuring the ancillary characters (those with Hellboy are a bit more meditative, those with the B.P.R.D. a bit more epic, but the rest are much simpler). Lobster Johnson stories, for instance, usually end with our hero shooting someone in the head. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; they’re very fun to read … but who draws them is usually the highlight of the story, and Mignola has the chedda and the cachet to get some really good artists. So we get Nixey doing a “Christmas Carol/Assault of Precinct 13” kind of story (with the Lobster as the assaulter), and we get to see Nixey’s wonderfully weird art. Snejbjerg does a zombie story that is actually relevant to the time period, as it deals with the legions of homeless of the Great Depression. Fejzula’s use of shaded shapes in his art makes him a great choice for a tale of glass sculptures. Green and Stenbeck don’t have the visual style of the first three artists, but they do a nice job with a voodoo-flavored story (although we’re assured it’s not voodoo) and an Asian mystery. Lots of neat stuff.
The other reason to enjoy reading books in the Mignola-verse is so that when you get them all together, you can figure out a chronology. I know that doesn’t mean much for this particular volume, but it’s still another brick in the wall of the vast universe Mignola and his collaborators have built over the past 25 years! So that’s neat.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
This is a fairly silly sex romp, as everyone in it is wildly attractive and willing to shed their clothes at the slightest provocation, and while there is plenty of sex, it’s still pretty chaste, as we never see genitalia of any kind, just lots and lots of breasts and butts. The main character, Gary, discovers that his two (male) roommates are in a relationship and they’re moving out so they can share an apartment, and through a strange set of circumstances, he ends up rooming with Suzi (whom everyone calls Zii) and Désireé, whom everyone calls Didi (she’s the large-breasted woman on the cover, while Zii is the punk chick). Of course, they have many misadventures, and everyone seems to bang or want to bang everyone else (Gary’s ex-roommates, who he didn’t know were gay, end up broken up because one of them slept with a woman, Zii is obsessed with Didi’s boobs, Didi has a string of boyfriends, one of Zii’s ex-girlfriends shows up – it’s all very convoluted), with the exception of Gary, who’s a virgin. The reason I’m not terribly sure how long this book can last (I know it’s lasted a while, but I mean as a viable story) is because it does seem predicated a lot on Zii trying to get Gary laid, and once that happens, will Gary no longer be a convenient foil for all the sex-crazed shenanigans happening around him? The story is funny because Gary is so hopelessly virginal while no one around him is, and while that’s not the only thing the book has going for it, it seems like Legacé and Lumsdon lean into that a lot. By the end of the book, they’ve done a lot to build up the other characters, but I wonder what will happen if you take the central conceit away. Because, let’s face it, Gary is going to get laid eventually. He’s attractive in a geeky sort of way, and he’s a swell dude. Someone is going to want to bang him soon!
Anyway, it’s a fun and funny comic. Legacé’s art style is definitely manga-oriented, but it also could easily fit in an Archie book, too. She gives the characters a wonderful, fresh-faced innocence (which is hard to do when they’re banging all the time) and she has a terrific way of making the nudity feel perfectly natural, even though women like Didi only exist in fantasies. As I am a prude, I thought the fact that everyone wants to or is having sex all the time is a bit of a stretch – people don’t actually act the way the people in this comic do – but in the universe of the book, it’s fine. The book is a trifle, but it’s a very fun trifle. And you can read it online, if you don’t feel like buying the book! But that would be mean, don’t you think?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl volume 7: I’ve Been Waiting for a Squirrel Like You by Ryan north (writer), Erica Henderson (artist), Rico Renzi (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer), many, many other artists, Caitlin O’Connell (assistant editor), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $17.99, 119 pgs, FC, Marvel.
Squirrel Girl just keeps trucking along, being an absolutely phenomenal comic, with more jokes per page than you can shake a stick at. North continues to find interesting ways for Doreen to use her powers, and in this arc, she and Nancy head to the Savage Land and end up fighting Ultron-as-a-robot-dinosaur, because of course he is. It’s as awesome as it sounds, and North does a nice job with it. More fun, though, is that Nancy gets a crush on Stefan, a dude from Latveria, and North does not only a very funny job showing how brainwashed the Latverians are, but how simple communication can overcome years of doctrinal education. The conversations Nancy and Stefan have are heightened by comedy, true, but they’re also very well done. North has done this for the entire run, but it’s always nice to see. Other than that, there’s not really much to say about this trade. It’s exciting and fun and funny, and while Henderson is never going to be my favorite artist, her style generally works for a comic like this. The “all-star jam issue” that is #26 is fun, with several cartoonists providing nifty little short stories, including a Galactus story by Garfield creator Jim Davis, who seems to put more work into his two pages than he has into 40 years of Garfield. So yeah, it’s just another excellent trade of Squirrel Girl. I know, shocking!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Nelson tells a standard superhero epic in a compelling and fairly clever way, which is all anyone should want out of superhero epics (there aren’t many stories to tell, unfortunately). In Supernaut (it’s volume 1, but I can’t really see how there can be a volume 2), Nelson gives us a regular man who found something on the moon in 1968 and was transformed into a superhero. That’s pretty lucky (of course it’s not luck!!!!) because God is preparing to destroy everything and start over, and a few rogue-ish types, including our new superhero, have to stop him. Now, of course there’s a reason why God doesn’t simply snap his fingers and wipe out existence, but I’m not going to get into that now. The group has to acquire some items to help Stephen – Supernaut – fight God, and much of the book is taken up with their quest and with exploring Stephen’s backstory. In issue #1, Nelson tells the story backward, with brief scenes every few pages and then a “previously,” going back to an earlier incident. It’s a clever way to do it, and it gets us deep into the story quite well. Ultimately, Stephen fights God, and while the resolution is nifty, it’s not the most original one, either. But that doesn’t matter, because Nelson’s storytelling is very good. He tells the story in a disjointed fashion, even showing one scene twice from different perspectives to show how it works. For the rest of the team, he adds pages that resemble the old DC Who’s Who, which is fun. The story is perfectly fine, but it’s the way that Nelson tells us that makes it fun.
His art, too, is quite nice. It’s certainly rough, with his figures often looking blocky and not “moving” as well as in more experienced artists, but his designs are wonderful, and his universe is a weird, alien place. He uses colors well, too, with the present looking vibrant while Stephen’s past in 1968 looking more drab, as befits his pre-superhero life. This is a very wordy book, but Nelson uses text in clever ways, and despite the weirdness of the story, Nelson makes sure the art is always legible, so we’re never confused. He uses digital effects very well, and despite the relative blockiness of his characters, he does nice fight scenes, mainly because he uses interesting perspectives and places his characters in the right situations. His lettering is nicely done, too, with different characters using different fonts that reflect a bit of their personalities. It’s a neat way to build on what we’re reading and seeing.
Supernaut is a strange book, but ultimately it’s a well done superhero battle. As I like well done superhero battles, this is a cool comic. Nelson has an interesting future in front of him if he can continue to stretch the boundaries of stories like he does here. We shall see!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
This is the first Kipling I’ve ever read, except for a few of his poems, and it’s pretty good. Kipling has a keen eye for details, so the world of 1890s India is extremely vivid in this book, as Kim moves from Lahore to Lucknow to Simla to the Himalayas and back again. We get wonderful descriptions of the places and the people, as Kim, a white boy who has lived as an orphan in Lahore for years and is therefore almost completely “Indianized,” moves between several worlds – most notably between the Indian and British – we relative ease. He leaves Lahore with a Tibetan lama, who’s wandering India looking for enlightenment, and the book is strange amalgam of this quest and Kim’s gradual recruitment as a spy for the British. The book really doesn’t have much of a plot; yes, it has those two, but neither of them is all that compelling nor even examined in-depth. The lama’s spirituality remains on the surface, as he rarely speaks about Buddhism in anything more than clichés – “Just is the Wheel,” he says innumerable times. Kim’s spying is also rudimentary, as he’s only 15 or so when the book ends, so it’s not like he can be the most important spy in Her Majesty’s Service. He does accomplish a few important things for the British, but Kipling doesn’t even get into that too much, either. Basically, the book is enjoyable because Kipling’s writing is enjoyable. It’s lively and clever, with interesting shifts from the vernacular to English and back (Kipling signals these occasionally, but not always, even though it’s not hard to tell when it’s happening), a sense of the chaos of Indian life, and fascinating practical conversations about the world, even if the religious aspect gets left behind a bit. It’s not a slog like a lot of “classic” novels can be, as Kipling simply seems to want to entertain. So it’s nice that it was entertaining!
I never have too much to say about these classic novels, simply because you’ve probably already read them and so much has been written about them already by smarter people than I. But Kim is a good read simply because it immerses us in a world that’s gone, and does so with a good deal of empathy for the people (Kipling indulges in stereotypes a lot, but not too cruelly and, it could be argued, in a satirical way) and in a witty way. Plus, the fact that Dean Stockwell played Kim in the 1950 movie will never not be funny and awesome.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Captain Kronos is a vampire hunter in the 1600s. He has two companions, an old scientist named Grost and a comely young student named Carla. They hunt vampires. That’s about all you can say about this mini-series, in which Abnett revives the old Hammer property and gives it a fun spin. Kronos comes to a town in Eastern Europe, the town elders want him to kill the vampire they have living in the town, everything is not what it seems. Abnett has Kronos say something pisses him off at one point, which seems wildly anachronistic, and Carla, of course, is a feminist and is underestimated by everyone except her two traveling companions, and we have some fun with the fact that the trio doesn’t like to use bad language and constantly reminds the others if they do. It’s a fun, quick, exciting read, and wouldn’t be much if Mandrake hadn’t drawn it. It’s not the only reason to get this, but it’s the biggest reason by far, as Mandrake is so good, especially at horror, and he doesn’t disappoint. There’s a liberal amount of blood, as Kronos and his team find imaginative ways to kill the vampires (they have different breeds, so some are susceptible to holy water, and some are not, for instance), and Mandrake uses “special effects” well to add a foggy sense of gloom to the town … unless that’s added by the colorist, who is Mandrake’s daughter. The colors are actually quite nice, too – Mandrake doesn’t overdo the darkness, so we can see her father’s excellent line work, but she makes sure that we know it’s a dark and gloomy place, using a lot of grays and browns and dark blues. It’s a beautiful book, and Mandrake makes Abnett’s fairly standard plot and makes it worth a read. Mandrake is getting old (he’s 62), but he can still draw circles around most comics artists.
So this is an artistic treat. Plus, there’s a few pages in the back about the movie and how it got made, which is kind of fun. It’s not the most necessary comic in the world, but it’s entertaining, and that’s not a bad thing.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
I don’t know if Retcon sold well enough to continue (I don’t think a fifth issue has been solicited yet), but I hope it does, because it’s a fun, clever series. This arc is basically about a failed attempt to save the world, but the title explains what happens – those fighting to save the world can shift to a different timeline and move backward, so that they can prepare to save the world in a different (and, one hopes, successful) way. We begin in confusion, as Brandon Ross, part of a top-security military team, is ordered to kill an ex-soldier who’s revealing a bit too much about the paranormal activities the United States engages in. But the book is not about trying to keep these things under wraps, and Ross is someone completely different than he thinks he is. He has a demon inside him, but he can control it to a degree thanks to a network of tattoos on his body, and that’s what’s important. Nixon leads us through a clever story about alien invasions and how it’s almost impossible to stop what’s coming, but the people that Ross meets keep trying, and he’s one key to their potential victory. It’s interesting because every character throughout expresses this nihilistic viewpoint – they know they can’t win, but they think they can learn something from this time and use it in the next attempt. Ross and the cop who helps him don’t believe that at first, and part of the arc is their struggle to accept the inevitable defeat. It’s an interesting way to present a series, and it keeps the story moving along nicely.
Cypress is a fine artist, and his weird design style gives this book a bizarre, off-kilter feel, disorienting us as Ross and the police detective are disoriented. Cypress has to draw a lot of weird, supernatural stuff, but he’s up to the task, and he draws the creeping horror of the villain really well. His colors are terrific, too, as he makes a lot of bizarre color choices to heighten the strangeness and create a nice contrast with the villain, who’s a fierce shade of red a lot. Cypress’s art isn’t the “prettiest,” but he digs deep into this odd world and makes each page a pleasure to examine. If the series continues, I hope Cypress will continue with it.
The nice thing about this arc is that it really is a complete story, even though, of course, Nixon has many plans about where to go. It’s only 10 dollars, so there’s very little risk, and it’s a cool comic. Check it out!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Sink #1-5 by John Lees (writer), Alex Cormack (artist/colorist), Lisa Moore (colorist), Colin Bell (letterer), and Shawn Lee (letterer). $19.95, 118 pgs, FC, ComixTribe.
I wrote about the first issue of Sink back in July, and now the entire series has come out, so I’m going to write about the entire thing! Lees has shown that he can write very good horror stories, but the great thing about Sink is that it’s not really a horror comic. Some truly horrific stuff occurs, sure, but it’s not horror for horror’s sake. At the very end of the series, Lees writes about the people of Glasgow and how they should stick together because the whole world thinks they’re trash, and in issue #3, one of the characters says the same thing, basically, so in one way this is a love letter to Glasgow, in all its ragged glory. But it’s also stories about regular people (for the most part) caught up in horrific situations, and what they try to do to get out of it. The first issue is about a guy who gets stuck in Sinkhill, the neighborhood where the stories are set, and can’t get home in the middle of the night, and what happens to him. It introduces us to some of the players in the series, from the dude who wears a fox mask and carries a shovel (as seen on the first cover), to Si McKirdie, the kingpin of the town, who remains an unseen presence in the book until issue #5. It’s a bloody issue, too, as our main character, Allan, finds out that you really don’t want to wander around Sinkhill at night. Allan is a bit of a douchebag, but the others in subsequent issues are actually quite interesting people, whether they’re trying to do good or not. Lees also introduces the idea of Sinkhill as a black hole, allowing nothing to escape its gravity. Allan is punished because he doesn’t live in the neighborhood but thinks he can co-opt it to a certain degree, while Emma, who’s as much of a jerk as Allan is, is rewarded to a degree in issue #5 because she lives in Sinkhill. In issues #2 and 3, we get Sharon, a cleaner who dreams of leaving on a boat she has fully stocked on the Clyde River but knows she never will (this isn’t a bad issue by any means, but the idea of someone trying to leave a place but always getting drawn back in is a cliché I wouldn’t mind getting rid of); and then we get Florence, who moved to Edinburgh a decade ago but is drawn back to Glasgow when the kids of an old friend ask her to come back when their father is murdered. I don’t want to spoil what the deal is with Florence, but issue #3 is pretty cool. In issue #4, four kids try to find their missing friend and end up getting more than they bargained for, while in issue #5, Emma is searching for her missing dog (lots of things go missing in Sinkhill, apparently), and she ends up meeting Si McKirdie, which goes rather strangely. Lees makes sure all the stories stand on their own, but of course everyone is connected in these stories, so the dude with the fox mask shows up a few times, Florence shows up a few times, a dude wearing a condom on his head (yes, really) makes a statement in issue #5 that’s fairly ironic given what we already know about the series, and the clowns are always lurking in the background. Lees shows us the dark side of Glasgow, but the series itself offers small moments of hope, which is a nice way to save us from total despair.
Cormack is quite excellent, too, considering all the violence he has to draw. He’s very good with the creepy stuff, and when people have to get violent, he goes a little nuts, but he also does nice work with the characters, as they feel like real people with real quirks and personalities. Even someone like the fox dude, who gets one panel at the end of the book that is mostly black, but which Cormack makes gripping, is visually fascinating and “real,” for lack of a better word, because Cormack is so careful with him. Cormack makes the people look like they’re living on the edge, which is a subtle part of Lees’s scripts.
Sink is a terrific series, and Lees promises more of it, because the Kickstarter to launch it was so successful. I hope there will be a trade, but who knows. If you can find the issues, do so, because you never know if this will be collected. Lees was a good writer before this series, but this takes him to another level. I’m looking forward to what he does next!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
This post is late, because as I shift away from single issues, I naturally get more trades. This could have been longer, as there were a few trades I just didn’t feel like discussing. I’ll have to figure out if it’s worth it doing these posts, because they take up a lot of time. I’ll come up with something, I’m sure.
I don’t really have much to say about life right now – the political situation continues to be crazy, my conservative friends on Facebook are really upset that their ability to hoard guns might be slightly limited but they have no problem with the common sense curtailing of the First Amendment we have in this country (what’s up with that, conservatives?), and I’m fighting with my insurance company and a medical provider over a chair that my daughter really, really needs. Regular stuff! So let’s check out the Ten Most Recent Songs On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):
1. “Dreaming While You Sleep” – Genesis (1991). “If I had another chance, would I do the same; would I still deny that it was me”
2. “Dark Side” – Kelly Clarkson (2011). “It’s hard to know what can become if you give up”
3. “Way Down Now” – World Party (1990). “She took us by the hand, hell was the promised land”
4. “When Midnight Sighs” – P.M. Dawn (1993). “I put on hooves, horns, and an attitude and nonchalantly find I’m alive”
5. “Power” – Marillon (2012). “You think it’s kind of sweet – the stammer and the tremble in my voice; but don’t mistake it for weakness”
6. “Lavender”1 – Marillion (1985). “They were singing a song for you, well it seemed to be a song for you, the one I wanted to write for you”
7. “Buzzcut Season” – Lorde (2013). “I live in a hologram with you”
8. “One More Minute” – “Weird” Al Yankovic (1985). “And I burned down the malt shop where we used to go
Just because it reminds me of you”2
9. “Hymn 43” – Jethro Tull (1971). “If Jesus saves, well, He’d better save Himself”
10. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”3 – Wham! (1984). “You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day”
1 Double-necked guitar FTMFW!
2 Most people, I seems, prefer Weird Al’s parody songs, but his originals are just as funny, just so you know.
3 Who doesn’t have this song on their iPod? Commies, that’s who.
I got a new iPod for Christmas, as my old one had 16 GB of memory and I had crammed 1763 songs onto it and couldn’t fit any more. My wife wanted me to get a phone, but I wanted an iPod because they’re cheaper and I like going out and about and not being connected to the internet (my cell phone calls and texts, and that’s it). So she got my an iPod with 32 GB of memory, and I started adding songs. One would think I could add another 1700 or so, but I got to 2500 songs and my memory was used up. Apple put all these apps on it, some of which I can’t delete, and that’s just the way it is. I deleted some of the apps and managed to get as many songs as I currently want on the iPod, but if I get any more music, I’ll be SOL. I guess I was crazy to think that an iPod with double the memory of my last one would hold double the amount of songs. I mean, that’s just crazy talk!
Anyway, as this is so late, I don’t have time to add gifs and such. You’re just going to have to …
Have a nice day, everyone!