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Sean T. Collins
This is a bit of cheat, because I didn’t read the books in question over the past week; instead I polished off one YA fantasy favorite, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence, and started revisiting another, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles. But with the HBO adaptation Game of Thrones on the way and some of my friends asking what the fuss is all about, I penned a spoiler-free run-down of why you should read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series — fantasy books I think just about anyone will find enthralling. If you’ve heard of the books but aren’t sure if they’re worth taking the plunge, give the post a read and see what you think.
And oh yeah, comics — click the links for full reviews!
A Drunken Dream and Other Stories by Moto Hagio (Fantagraphics): This long-awaited collection of stories from shoujo manga pioneer Hagio is a thing of unearthly beauty and surprising guts.
FUC* **U, *SS**LE by Johnny Ryan (Fantagraphics): The fourth and final Blecky Yuckerella gag-strip collection by the cartoonist now best known as the force behind the action-horror sensation Prison Pit makes me regret there won’t ever be a fifth.
Monster, edited by Paul Lyons (available through PictureBox): The big Fort Thunder reunion anthology looks great — with contributions by Brian Chippendale and Mat Brinkman and a killer cover by editor Paul Lyons, how could it not — but it’s not necessarily a document of how vital the legendary underground comics collective’s work, and that of their Providence peers and heirs, can be.
I read Ultimate Captain America #1 and I just want to go cook outdoors and change a tire. Maybe even spit. Jason Aaron writes these amazingly gritty, masculine books that brook no quarter and punch you in the face. Here, Captain America is a blatant American special forces operative facing down a man in a mask and international terrorism! I didn’t want to read another Captain America book because Brubaker’s been the gold standard and, let’s face it, the Ultimates line hasn’t been a smash hit like they used to. So that’s why I’m only getting to it now… and now I have to read the whole thing. There’s just something about the way Aaron presents a story that is so realistic, but yet not too real. Like a Tarantino film without all the artsy hoopla, maybe? I don’t know, but he’s certainly in a class all his own.
I also read Tiny Titans #36 because that’s how I roll. I may be a Marvel Zombie, but boy howdy do I love the Tiny Titans. Normally, it’s the first book I read the week it comes out and keeps me in giggles the whole month through. In this issue, people eat hot dogs and there’s a girl dinosaur. YEAH! Man, it is so refreshing, fun and unique that it makes reading books where people get their throats slit open enjoyable again. You can’t eat meat and potatoes all the time, sometimes you need a little candy.
Lastly but certainly not least..ly, I read Thor #619 slowly and lovingly. Every page was basked in and dialogue bubbles were read out loud in as big and booming a voice I could muster. And if I couldn’t do it, I’d get the Mister to read aloud some dialogue because this is the kind of story you have to narrate. Or at least share it with someone. I know Mr. Fraction’s new run may not be for everyone and with Journey Into Mystery coming up, this might seem like a vote of no confidence in his run. Personally, I don’t care. I don’t care if the internet hates this book and wants to form an angry mob about it. Sometimes, a book is written just for me. Sure, I do love sharing comics I like with as many people as possible (BLOODCOLOSSUS!!), but Pasqual Ferry’s art is so beautiful, dreamy and wide-scope and Matt Fraction’s voice for the Norse gods is so booming and mythic, I honestly don’t care if people don’t enjoy it anymore. I’m enjoying it enough for the whole Nine Worlds.
Will Davis’ Dawn Land is an odd, interesting graphic novel that deals with a topic and culture rarely covered in comics. Adapted from a novel by Joseph Bruchac, it’s a story set in North America long before the Europeans’ arrival, about a young hunter — literally called Young Hunter — who goes on a lengthy quest to stop a tribe of giants that have been ravaging the countryside (and also happened to kill his parents) armed only with a super-special secret weapon that I wouldn’t dream of revealing. Obviously there’s a good deal of archetypical mythmaking on display here, enough to give the book a familiar air, despite being set in an unfamiliar (to me anyway) time and place. The book is at its best when it delves into the specifics of early Native American culture and mythos. Davis’ black and white, charcoal washes keep the story moving at a decent clip, but also give the book a subdued quality that I’m not sure jibes with the material that well. For all that’s at stake for the Young Hunter, Dawn Land feels like a strangely quiet and overly calm book. Still, for those who have an interest in or are curious about the subject matter, it’s worth checking out.
Somehow I missed seeing that Chris Roberson and Jesus Merino’s Superman/Batman arc was only two issues. Not only was I expecting it to go past this week’s issue #80, I was hoping it would too. Call me a slave to nostalgia, but setting the bulk of the issue in the early ’80s, when Robin/Dick was still leading the pre-“Judas Contract” Teen Titans and Batman hadn’t quite gotten so scowly, really pushed a lot of familiar buttons. The climax, featuring World’s Finest teams from across the millennia, was similarly effective.
I’ve also been picking up the “Big Time” issues of Amazing Spider-Man, in part because I like Dan Slott and because the book seems to have gotten past all of that “diabolical annulment” baggage. This week’s issue #652 kicked off a new arc (featuring the Spider-Slayer) with a new artist (Stefano Caselli). I like the fact that Slott has filled out the supporting cast with a lot of appealing characters, but this time the issue felt a little crowded. For example, I didn’t recognize Glory Grant until much later than I probably should have. Anyway, I do like the balance the book has struck between character moments and superheroics, and I thought the climactic scenes of Spidey trying to save John Jameson were very well-executed.
Finally, I was quite impressed with the debut of Supergirl‘s new creative team in this week’s issue #60. I know this was co-writer Nick Spencer’s only issue, but I’m optimistic that co-writer James Peaty is up to handling the book by himself. New artist Bernard Chang turned in a typically good issue, managing character elements (mostly
involving the new villain) and action sequences equally well. I thought Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle did a great job of “normalizing” Supergirl, after years of the book trying to figure out what it was going to be, and I’m hopeful that Peaty and Chang can build on that. This issue was a very promising start; and if it’s any indication, Supergirl‘s future could be very bright.
Jacques Tardi’s It Was the War of the Trenches is pretty brutal. Almost everyone in the book dies, but before they die, Tardi gives you just enough of their story to make them seem human. Then boom, they get blown away right before your eyes. His clear-eyed view of the cruelties of war is also brutal, from the discomfort and indignity of life in the trenches to the truly grotesque, such as a man falling elbow-deep into the entrails of a corpse, to the morally repugnant, such as an officer killing his own men because they fail to do the impossible. It’s one thing to read about the brutality of trench warfare, another entirely to experience it in the way Tardi details it here. This wasn’t an easy read‹I alternated between anger and horror the whole time — but it was a good one.
Much easier, and ironically, less grim, is The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics. Despite the cheesy sounding title, this book really delivers the goods, and the fact that the publisher kept the price down by printing the whole thing in black and white doesn’t hurt it a bit. Editor Paul Gravett really knows his comics, and he provides a bit of context for each of the 25 short stories in this book. Many of the stories are classics — there’s a Will Eisner Spirit story, a tightly written con-artist story by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and one of the original Secret Agent X-9 stories by Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond. And he includes a nice selection of comics from other countries as well, including one illustrated by Tardi. I picked up this book on a whim at Barnes & Noble and just a quick flip through it convinced me that I was going to like it — and I do. At $17.95 for 480 pages, it’s as easy on the wallet as it is on the eyes.
I just finished reading the newly released first volume of The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt. This supernatural Western odyssey is fresh and exciting with a richly textured mythology all its own. With each chapter you can see the synergy between writer and artist getting stronger as they build up an impressive cast of rogues and wild west freaks. I’m excited to see where the story progresses from here and am glad that Oni Press is continuing to broaden their offerings across so many genres and styles.
My good friend Jim Demonakos just sent me the advance proof for The Silence of Our Friends, a graphic novel he co-wrote with Mark Long that’s illustrated by Nate Powell. It’s coming out early 2012 from First Second and I was thrilled to get an advance look at it. Let me be first out of the gate to say that this book is going to knock people out with its quality and emotion. It’s a reflection on race in America during the late 60’s that grips you from start to finish. Even with the natural biases that come from looking at work from a friend I could not have been more pleased with it. I foresee this book getting quite a bit of mainstream attention and praise.
Although I’d purchased them quite a while ago, I finally had a chance to sit down and read Absolute Sandman. Having the series remastered in such a fantastic archival format is a real treat. It’s not like anyone needs my recommendation to check it out, but it really is a tent post of quality and depth in this industry. Anyone who considers themselves a comic fan that hasn’t read Sandman has a hole in their understanding of the medium about as big as these books.
Back on the Image home front, Chris Yost and Scott Wegener’s Killer of Demons landed in my read pile over the holidays. It has one of those high concepts that’s easy to pitch yet still has layers worth of depth underneath it – an office drone has visions of demons and may be a slayer of evil destined to save us all, or he’s just a delusional psychotic justifying mass murder. As ugly and morbid as that sounds, Scott’s wonderfully expressive artwork and Chris’ snappy sarcastic script keep it rolling with black-hearted humour. Given the right exposure I could easily see it being another Chew or Preacher.