Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Tasmanian Library, A Stack of Books, and I

Just to show how busy I’ve been keeping myself lately, here’s a pictorial demonstration of my recent reading material.

Chugging right along in my quest to read everything relevant from ten years ago, I’m thoroughly enjoying Sandman, and I got a healthy dose of “coming of age” while reading Stuck Rubber Baby and Blankets at the same time. Some of you more observant readers out there might notice something missing from my stack…I’ll give you a hint. It starts with M and rhymes with arvel (I don’t think any real words rhyme with Marvel). I guess I’m just hard pressed to think of any Marvel stories I feel compelled to catch up on. Plus my local library is a little Marvel light. I’d love to read the Garth Ennis / Steve Dillon Punisher run, but that’s not in the cards. Here is a link to the Tasmania State Library. If anyone can find me a Marvel book in the library’s catalogue worth reading, I will enthusiastically take up your suggestion!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Classic Recommendation: Concrete The Complete Series

It is rare, but certain comics can make you feel like you’re reading history in the making. Issues of The Walking Dead can carry that kind of excitement. But will this zombie comic ravenously consume future readers as it does today? With hoards of enthusiastic fans picking it up on a monthly basis, it’s easy to be convinced to read it. Trying to encourage someone to pick up a trade of your favorite finished series is a little trickier. Those comics will never be read or appreciated in the same light as the folks who picked them up issue to issue, and the urgency to read them fades with the years (until a movie or television series goes into production).

Elf Quest. Nexus. Grim Jack. Fritz the Cat. Groo. Cerebus. Next Man. Bone. Concrete. “Yeah, I haven’t read it, but I know what it is. Kind of.” These are just a few of the notable independent series that are known mostly by name alone to younger comic book fans. To help encourage new readers to seek out these notorious titles, I’m going to do some classic recommendations. I’m rediscovering these series the same way most folks do: by trusting a long history of fans that have kept them relevant to current comic book readers. Also, many libraries the world over recognize the importance of comics and have complete collections of both new and well-established series. Libraries are hip like that these days! Here's the first of many classic recommendations to come. 

Concrete (1986-???)
Publisher: Dark Horse
Author: Paul Chadwick
Artist: Paul Chadwick
If you like... Adventure tales, Sci fi, comics that explore social issues and relationships, Stephen King tales (of the un-supernatural variety)

I went into reading this series blind, having no previous knowledge of its background or content, and without having some one to hold my hand along the way to tell me how amazing it is. Let me be that person for you! This book has more heart in each issue than most series can hope to have in an entire run. That’s saying a lot considering the main character, Ron Lithgow, is a man whose mind has been transplanted into a stone body of alien creation.  The audience gets to see Ron (known more affectionately as Concrete, post body swap) both benefit from and struggle with his new-found super abilities. The alien body is strong, needs little maintenance, and also gives him telescopic like vision, but it essentially makes a normal life impossible. The alienation and fame that comes with his transformation affect him in a uniquely realistic way. It is Concrete’s efforts to lead a normal life while fulfilling his altruistic desires that make this book stand out amongst the “average Joe gains super strength” premise. Each arc follows Concrete as he searches for ways to put his body to use, whether it’s helping the disadvantaged, testing the limits of his body to accomplish remarkable feats, or taking odd jobs to pay the bills. Accompanying him on his adventures and daily trials are his assistant Larry, a young man who helps Concrete with once simple tasks, and Dr. Maureen Vonnegut, a scientist who shares Concrete's passion for discovery. Both characters' roles grow in importance throughout the series, and serve as a way for Chadwick to explore issues about relationships and the very idea of what it is to be human. (See above image to view Concrete & Co.)

The mini series "Fragile Creatueres" is particularly entertaining, showing Concrete work as a stunt man on a film (as stated in the trade paperback of the same name, the story was partly inspired by Paul Chadwick’s own experience working in the film industry). Concrete devles into the world of radical environmentalism in "Think Like A Mountain", resulting in some stunning visuals. You can really see Chadwick's passion for nature illustration in this arc. "The Human Dilemma" shows Concrete confront his inability to procreate, as he decides to become a mascot against overpopulation. You’ll be hard pressed to find these subjects approached in other comics about characters with superhuman abilities. Following Concrete as he tries to find his place in the world, you soon forget you’re reading a book about a man who is essentially abducted by aliens in his origin story. In other words, expect the unexpected.

Concrete is currently available in 6 volumes, and the order of the trades is mostly chronological, with some issues and short stories arranged by theme. Because there were often years-long breaks between Concrete minis, you get a chance to see how Chadwick’s writing and artwork evolve. Most comics attempt to keep characters static, providing fans with comfort in knowing what they're gonna get. Peter Parker and Marvel editors will forever be fighting the manchild persona. Concrete truly has a character arc, a rarity in comics, and one that gives the character a unique depth. Chadwick's line work is fantastic throughout the whole series, but it’s quite noteworthy in the last arc, "The Human Dilemma". The series also boasts one of the most haunting stand-alone stories I’ve ever read, which is “Orange Glow” originally published in the Dark Horse Presents Annual 1999 (click image below to see it larger). Reading Concrete offered a few occasions where I got a bit teary eyed, and that is rare! Lots of public outbursts of laughter, many “whoas” and “no ways” from my comic book reading, but I can name the books that have brought me to tears, and they are far and few between.

Reading this series, and then having found several issues in the 50-cent bin was lucky for me, yet heartbreaking to see how devalued this book has become. We may be lucky enough to see another Concrete story in the future, as the last one was from about 5 years ago, but don’t wait until then to discover this series. I’ve read a lot of blogs lately about readers getting “burnt out” on the current comic book scene. Well just cause you aren’t happy with what the Big Two are putting out lately is no cause to lose faith in the medium. We all need the occasional reminder of what comics are capable of accomplishing. Pick up Concrete Volume 1 and it just may restore your faith in comics.

Images provided with permission from Paul Chadwick’s Blog. You can go there and read about his exciting new projects on the horizon!

Friday, January 15, 2010

There Be Pirates! And Not The Good Kind!


32 PAGES, 2.99

At long last... they arrive. But will things get better... or WORSE?

Coming to a shelf near you January 27th

So. Freaking. Excited.

On a side note, I saw this book being advertised on a comic book store website (Third Coast Comics one of the many Chicago stores I have yet to visit...) and thought I'd do a little write up, saying how freaking excited I am for this issue, and I always like to link the images I use to the original publishers website when I can. I naively thought Image Comics' website would come up first; boooooy was I surprised.

(Click on above image to see it LARGER)

I know how desperate one can be to get a The Walking Dead fix, but damn! This book hasn't even come out yet and there were no less than 10 links from different file sharing website. That's such a friendly term, file sharing. Let's be clear here, unless you are borrowing a book from a friend or library that paid for it, you are in no way contributing to the creators of that work. I can see how downloading movies could sometimes be justified (tickets are exorbitantly priced, a lot of movies aren't worth getting off the couch to go see, etc) but comics? And I'm not talking about books like Miracle Man by Alan Moore that won't see the light of day in trade paperback form, that's different.

When I worked at a comic book store, we could read pretty much anything we wanted for free. But there are some books that even if people gave you, you wouldn't give it the time of day. Take for example, the last year's worth of Amazing Spider-Man books. My co-workers would argue that reading as much as possible would keep them informed as to what was happening, and as employees of a store that makes sense. But for the guy that comes in every week and reads books cover to cover off of the new release shelf and leaves after 2 hours without buying anything, if it's not worth buying, it's not worth reading.

I have a budget, too, don't get me wrong. But The Walking Dead is one of the best books being released today, if you don't think it's worth shelling out $3 per issue (or $2 per issue if you read it in trade paperback) or renting it from the library, borrowing it from a friend that bought it last Wednesday,  then you honestly don't think it's worth it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Dwindling Shelf...

I haven’t read a “new” comic in about two months now. Don’t think that means I’m not reading – oh contraire! I’m reading more than ever! Just not of the “recently published” variety. I have been doing a wonderful job of rationing the comics I brought with me from the states – namely, I’m so enjoying Blackest Night and all of its space battle-y epicness! I’ve got enough two page spreads to last the blog for a long while (coming in the near future). Though I currently can’t write about enjoying comics from the new release shelves, I can tell you all about what I have been reading, which is a lot of well established series that I should have read by now. Here’s a look at the trade paperbacks I’ve picked up, and a little bit about why you should check them out too, even if you have access to new books:

Sandman Volume 1
Publisher: Vertigo (DC)
Writer: Neil Gaiman
If you like… House of Mystery! Hellblazer! Gothic tales that can sometimes be disturbing, the darker side of DC, brooding gentleman that slightly resemble a young Alan Rickman (mmmm….)

The Sandman (left) and his big sister Death

I brought this with me from the States in anticipation of the comic book prohibition within Launceston, Tasmania. I’m picking up the additional volumes from the local library and hope to finish the series while in Australia. So far it has been a chilling introduction to the Sandman as he works towards first escaping imprisonment by cruel and careless mortals, then reclaiming his kingdom, the land of dreams. Along the way he encounters the House of Mystery, John Constantine (in his first appearance ever), and several random DC villains that are shown in a more diabolical light than they've ever been seen in a standard DC title. In regards to why you should pick it up – well you probably already have. I must be the only female comic book fan that hasn’t read this book. Expect a series review when I have completed it!

Hellblazer in all of his crusty lovable glory.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1
Publisher: America’s Best Comics (DC)
Writer: Alan Moore
Aritst: Kevin O’Neill
If you like… Mystery tales of the “who dunnit” variety, fanciful conspiracy theories, alternate realities of literary characters, an explanation for why Sean Connery was ever persuaded to star in that dreadful movie, and of course late 19th century English lit

It’s a real travesty that until now I had only seen the “film adaptation” (the only resemblance to the comic is the title). The book is both a visually and conceptually dense read. If your regular superhero books are like junk food (delicious pizza and candy I wouldn’t think twice about accepting), then LOEG is like eating at a gourmet French restaurant. Like most of the finer things in life, it does come with a price. To be blunt, reading this made me feel like a dullard. I’m really rusty on my 19th century English lit (thanks art school!) and though I’m familiar with them, I haven’t read many of the books whose characters grace the story (Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo). It is rewarding when you do recognize famous literary characters that make cameos such as Dodger, leader of the orphan gang in Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist. Alan Moore weaves a tale that can be enjoyed by any readers (of adult age - what’s with this guy and attempted rape?), but I could see how this would definitely give more kicks to fans with a thorough knowledge of the original books. It is a rich mystery / adventure tale that would surely make some of the characters’ original authors proud. Additionally, you could spend hours analyzing the art, in particular the highly detailed background scenes. I have no doubt it was intended by O'Neill, but I found myself looking at every background player and thinking, “What novel could they be from? Will they play a larger part later? Did those two characters in the background just break up in between panels?” It’s like a “Where’s Waldo?” of literary heavyweights. Even looking at the cover image of the book, I wonder who the girl in the mirror is; perhaps Alice Through the Looking Glass (see above image)? Another library loan, I’ll be reading LOEG Volume 2 as soon as my loan request is met.


Superman Chronicles Volume 5
Publisher: DC
Author(s): Jerry Siegel
Artist(s): Joe Shuster and the Superman Studio, Paul Cassidy, Fredy Rey, Jack Burnley, Wayne Boring
If you like… Classic superhero comics of a simplistic nature, Superman, general goofiness

This was a trip. I will admit I only read about half of it before I started skimming, but it was worth checking out. These series of reprints showcase every Superman book published, and in chronological order. This volume contains issues of Action Comics, Superman, and World’s Best Comics. Within the issues are short, self-contained action tales, and all of them contain wacky narration that gives it the tone of an old newsreel or radio show. It’s refreshing to see Superman tackle issues like gambling rackets and crooked carnies. But only a few short years after the character’s creation, and there’s already repetition within the plots. In this collection alone there were three separate scenes with Superman “burrowing” (apparently an overlooked talent today), and countless opportunities for Supes to both save and humiliate Lois Lane (Is she fearless or stupid? Neither, she’s just a woman!) The stories are simplistic, and at times the language is archaic, but you won’t fail to be gob smacked by the bizarre moments these issues offer.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Audience Participation – Holiday Variant Edition

My efforts to bring you more posts this month are being foiled by the desire to enjoy my recent Christmas and birthday gifts. What better way to yield to these opposing forces than by combining them? Here’s a little snapshot of the nerdiest gifts I received this holiday season:

Angel: The Complete Series
Having recently begun my new obsession with everything Buffy related, my boyfriend got me the perfect gift – Angel: The Complete Series. Since Angel season 1 starts at the beginning of Buffy season 4 (where we are conveniently up to in Buffy) it’s been great watching the series side by side, as they were originally aired. The crossover action has made this Christmas present the best and most timely gift.

Buffy “Feature Length” Episode VHS’s
Who else got videos for Christmas…and was happy about it? Technically this was a birthday gift (my 20-something birthday was a few days ago). Check out that sweet videocassette design! Not only was this great because it’s Buffy, but it includes some classic episodes, including the pilot (in all of its mid-90’s glory) and Innocence, the memorable episode where Buffy and Angel’s relationship goes from ill-advised to downright tragic.

Buffy: The Quotable Slayer
Another birthday gift, this is exactly what it sounds like. A collection of the most memorable lines from Buffy, owning this makes me feel like an even bigger nerd than before (I’ll have to start watching Stargate or Babylon 5 to get to that next level of social awkwardness). I haven’t really gotten a chance to read it thoroughly, as it covers all 7 seasons of Buffy, so there are definitely spoilers in this book. Also, kudos to my Australian friends for having found this book AND the Buffy VHS’s in the same thrift store.

New Super Mario Brothers for Wii (Not Pictured)
Technically this was not a birthday or Christmas gift for me; rather, I got this for my boyfriend for Christmas. However, I have been getting plenty of enjoyment out of it whenever he takes a break. Anyone who sold back their Wii’s to buy new Playstation 3 games (you know who you are), you really don’t know what you’re missing. It’s possibly the best (and one of the hardest) Mario games to come out since Super Mario World for Super Nintendo. It’s insanely fun to watch other people play, unlike Call of Duty 4. No one wants to watch you play that game! So stop breaking it out in the middle of parties.

Here comes the audience participation part: what nerdy gifts did you receive this holiday season? If you send me a picture of you enjoying your favorite gift I will even add it to this post.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Review: Noir - A Collection of Crime Comics

Publisher: Dark Horse
Artists: Eduardo Barreto, Stefano Gaudiano, Rick Geary, Paul Grist, Joelle Jones, Kano, David Lapham, Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba, Dean Motter, M.K. Perker, Hugo Petrus, and Sean Phillips.
Writers: Brian Azzarello, Ed Brubaker, Alex De Campi, Matthew & Sean Fillbach, Jeff Lemire, Ken Lizzi, Chris Offuit, and Gary Phillips.
Lettering: Ryan Hill, Tom Orzechowki, and Clem Robins
If you like… Criminal, Mister X, 100 Bullets, Stray Bullets, if you take your noir black, no sugar.

2009 was clearly a good year for noir. Enter this black and white compilation of short crime stories  released by Dark Horse back in October. I’ve only recently finished the 13 tales of betrayal, seduction, violence, and of course, crime! Just glancing at a few of the creators involved made me pick this up without hesitation. Here you’ll find noir for every mood: classic, always with a twist ending; stories with confrontational subject matter; morally ambiguous characters galore; the ever elusive tech noir; and a few tales that are impressively layered for their short format.

Jeff Lemire’s “The Old Silo” (pictured at right) was one of the more simplistic takes on noir, but easily stood out as one of the best. Centered on an old farmer down on his luck, he faces eviction while taking care of his invalid wife. Lemire masterfully leads you in one direction only to leave you in a much darker place at the last panel. It’s an impressive feat when an author can introduce a character in nine pages of sparse dialogue, and still make their actions surprising. Another noteworthy and straightforward account is Rick Geary’s “Blood On My Hands”. Enter a sad middle-aged married man who finds his wife may be losing interest in their lust less marriage. This discovery, in conjunction with his decision to stop taking his medications, leads to a tragic and surprisingly comedic end. The Brian Azzarello penned “The Bad Night”, drawn by twins Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, is equally well written as it is drawn. Again, the simple premises in this book packed the most punch. The ending to this one may not seem too surprising, but it has larger implications within the world of comics. “21st Centruy Noir”, the piece put forth by Criminal’s Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, is well told, and Phillips’ artwork is as moody and sexually charged as ever (see below). The story is told from three different perspectives – a young lover, the married woman he is having an affair with, and the husband. Despite being a top-notch noir tale, I found myself a little distracted since this tale shares similarities to a short from Frank Miller’s Sin City called “Daddy’s Little Girl”, minus the incestuous twist (the reprint can dslfasbe found in Booze, Broads, and Bullets).

David Lapham’s “Open the Goddamn Box” should be mentioned, if not just to give the audience a fair warning on the content. It is told from the perspective of a young girl, a character from Lapham's Stray Bullets, who is held captive by two boys that plan to rape and kill her. Having it as the first story in the volume feels sensationalistic, and frankly, reading it first put me off the book a bit. Whether or not you find this tale disturbing, it really would have been better left in the middle or second half of the book.

In all, the book has enough top-notch noir tales to make it worth your time. And at $12.95, you definitely get your money’s worth. I do think this volume had one too many “Scooby Doo” endings to be a truly great noir collection. You always expect that final twist at the end of a noir story, but no one gets extra points for challenging the limits of plausibility (here’s a hint: one ending involves a hologram). And at least two stories were downright confusing to follow. One thing is certain; this book put me in the mood for more noir. I would be more than happy to see this became an annual compilation for Dark Horse, but I won’t hold my breath, seeing how this one was supposed to come out in July. Regardless, I’ll continue to read about bad men, the women who love and betray them, and how we all get what’s coming to us in the end…or do we?