Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Written by CC Colbert; Illustrated by Tanitoc
First Second; $19.99
Growing up in the South, my friends and I were rather conflicted about the Civil War. On the one hand, there was a lot of geographic and cultural pride. We joked about the War of Northern Aggression (at least, most of us were joking), made proclamations that “the South will rise again,” cursed Yankees, patriotically ballyhooed the Confederate flag, and loved The Dukes of Hazzard. On the other hand, we knew that the right side won that war, that slavery was evil, and that racism was unacceptable. We absolutely revered Abraham Lincoln, and we thought that John Wilkes Booth – what little we knew about him – was the Devil himself.
Since then, I’ve always wondered about Booth. Why he did what he did. Who he was working with. If even Southern boys like us hated the man, who could be evil enough to support him? What kind of hood-wearing, baby-murdering secret society did this guy have to be in to want to assassinate the most beloved president this country’s ever had? What can I say? I was young.
I didn’t wonder any of this enough to do my own research, mind you, or even to crack open a book on the subject. Deep down, I probably suspected that the answer wasn’t nearly as exciting as I’d made it out to be in my imagination. But when I saw that First Second was publishing a comic about Booth – written by historian Catherine Clinton (Mrs. Lincoln), no less – I was eager to see what it revealed. Sure, it’s publicized as a fictionalized account, but this was the perfect opportunity to satisfy my curiosity about the notorious Booth, and in my preferred medium.
How it did, after the break.
Written by Jane Yolen; Illustrated by Mike Cavallaro
First Second; $15.99
Foiled is an appropriate name for Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro’s story about a teen-aged fencing student. The pun works on a couple of levels. Not only does it describe the heroine’s efforts at handling her first crush; it also described my ability to predict where the story was going.
That can be good and bad. We want unpredictability in storytelling, but it can be a bit off-putting to think you’re reading one type of story and find out later that you’ve actually been reading a completely different one. Shutter Island is a good example of that. I won’t give any details in case you haven’t seen it yet, but it’ll suffice to say that something happens towards the end of that movie that makes you realize you’ve been fooled. In the group I saw it with, there were a couple of reactions to that. Some of us were thrilled by it. We’d suspected, if not exactly predicted, the real story and – thanks to the skill of the filmmakers – completely bought into it when it was revealed. Others of us didn’t like the new story so much and preferred to re-write it in our heads so that the original story was still the real one. Foiled operates in a similar way, but it’s not just the plot that tricks you. It’s the entire genre.
At this point, I need to include a spoiler warning. I’m not going to give away the ending, but I do need to talk about the shift in genre. While I was one of those who loved the twist in Shutter Island, I was thrown and distracted by the one in Foiled. In this particular case, I think I would’ve been able to enjoy the story much more had I been able to see a little better where it was taking me. In hindsight, I enjoyed it a lot. As I was going through it though, it could be frustrating.
After the break: Why it’s nice to know what genre you’re reading.
Time again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for interesting new adventure comics.
Cavemen in Space – You don’t really need to know anything past that title, right? Okay, how about that the main caveman’s name is Washington? This is AdHouse, so it’s likely to be thoughtful, but that doesn’t mean it won’t also be awesome.
Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #1 – It’s a little disappointing having to be patient for the next “real” installment of the series, but getting fill-ins done by Jeremy Bastian (Cursed Pirate Girl), Alex Sheikman (Robotica), and Ted Naifeh (Courtney Crumrin, Polly and the Pirates, The Good Neighbors) goes a long way towards softening the wait.
Thun’da, King of the Congo Archive – Three words: Frazetta Jungle Comics.
Tarzan Archives: The Jesse Marsh Years, Volume 6 – This may take a bit more selling, but that preview art of Tarzan and the Waziri’s rushing an army of giant, hairy-ass spiders will do it.
Hellboy in Mexico (or, A Drunken Blur) – Hellboy vs a vampire luchador and an evil turkey? I’ll take twelve.
BPRD, Volume 13: 1947 – The next installment in the awesome BPRD collections.
Anne Freaks, Volume 4
Written and Illustrated by Yua Kotegawa
ADV Manga; $9.99
I’ve told the story before about how I was once madly in love with this girl and how I dodged a bullet by not ending up with her. She had all kinds of issues that I wasn’t prepared to deal with, but I romantically and naïvely thought that I could be the one to fix everything and make both of us happy. It was a powerful fantasy and – in hindsight – explains a great deal of my attraction to her.
That wasn’t the only time that’s happened either. The need to fix is strong. Off and on throughout my pre-married life I found myself attracted to some really needy women. I wanted to be the Knight in Shining Armor that rode in and fixed everything. Of course I never could, but man, the idea was addictive.
Ever since I’ve figured that out, I’ve never criticized women who always fall for Bad Boys. Most people want to be the hero and fix someone. At its root, it’s a symptom of poor self-esteem (we get to ignore our own problems in order to work on someone else’s, plus there’s always the remote possibility of an esteem-building success), but it would be awfully hypocritical to point fingers at women who do it when I’ve been guilty so often myself. This is also why I totally get Yuri in Anne Freaks.
The deal with Yuri (and the rest of us) after the break.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold
Written by Matt Wayne and J Torres; Illustrated by Andy Suriano, Phil Moy, and Carlo Barberi
I usually steer clear of DC and Marvel here, because Tom and Carla have those beats well-covered, but Batman: The Brave and the Bold is exactly the kind of fun, high-concept, adventure comic that this column was created to talk about. It may just be the best superhero comic currently made (though that’s a race with the Marvel Adventures line that’s too close to call).
I’ve got to confess that I’m not a superhero fan. Not in the sense that I like all – or even most – superhero comics in the strictest definition of the genre. If we’re going to include characters like Hellboy and Atomic Robo, then I’ll back off that position, but when it comes to people with extraordinary abilities dressing up in outlandish costumes to fight crime, my interest begins and ends at DC and Marvel. That’s 70% nostalgia for characters I grew up with and love; 30% overexposure to some really horrible knock-offs from other publishers. There are of course exceptions (Hello, Incredibles!), but for the most part my eyes glaze over when I see announcements of new comics and movies with superheroes I’ve never heard of. Once you’ve had Batman, it’s pretty hard to settle for anything else.
Of course, once you’ve had Batman, it’s sometimes hard to settle even for more Batman. What I mean by that is that there are some interpretations of Batman that are so iconic; so cool, that your run-of-the-mill, month-by-month Batman comics are dull in comparison. Every Batman story can’t be Strange Apparitions or Year One. I’m going to argue though, that Batman: The Brave and the Bold is. Although its roots are firmly embedded in the Silver Age, it’s an exciting, original vision of the character that never feels quaint.
Gorillas, dinosaurs, and Vikings after the break.
Olympians: Zeus, King of the Gods
Written and Illustrated by George O’Connor
First Second; $9.99
When I was putting together my picks for What Looks Good for April last week, I left out a book. I probably left out a bunch of them – that’s the nature of that kind of column – but one that I know I left out was First Second’s Olympians, Athena: The Grey-Eyed Goddess. I hadn’t started reading Zeus, King of the Gods yet and didn’t know what to expect from the sequel. Should’ve known, because it’s First Second and I’ve never disliked anything they’ve published, but I erred on the side of caution and left it out. And err I did. Having read Zeus now, I can’t wait for Athena.
At the end of last year, I talked about how Demons of Sherwood revived my love for medieval adventure. There’ve been a few projects like that lately that have reminded me why I used to love something as a kid. George O’Connor’s Zeus has done that for Greek Mythology. It perfectly walks the microbe-thin line between faithfully retelling the myths and embellishing them for the sake of entertainment. As much as I appreciate books like Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, they’re pretty dry accounts of these stories and rely on the inherent adventure in the tales for most of the excitement. At the other end of the spectrum are countless books and movies that just take the characters and tell new stories with them without any regard for the originals. Those are fun, but they’re not mythology, you know?
Taking most of its material from Hesiod’s Theogony, O’Connor’s account tells the story of Zeus up to his overthrow of his father Kronos and the foundation of the Pantheon on Olympus. Zeus actually begins much earlier than that though, starting with the creation of Gaea, the world, and following her creation of her mate, Ouranos, the sky, and the birth of their children, the Titans, including Kronos. I’ve always glossed over this story in my readings of the Greek myths. It’s too big; too epic. The characters – the earth, sky, and time itself – are too inhuman. I always skipped ahead to Zeus’ arrival. A lightning-hurling, shape-changing king of all the gods … that I was interested in.
The redemption of Time and Cyclops after the break.
Time again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for interesting new adventure comics. I know it’s only been a week since the last one, but that’s ’cause I’d gotten behind.
Black Coat: Or Give Me Death – It took a while, but the second collection of my favorite Revolutionary War-era monster-hunter’s adventures is finally arriving.
Robin Hood – I’m a little nervous about Antarctic’s take on Robin Hood, but I’m encouraged by their publishing Richard Moore. I’ll give this a “shot” (ba-dum CHING!).
Cold Space #1 – Celebrity comics aren’t exactly known for their high quality, but Samuel L Jackson is a smart, talented man. I’m taking the bet that he’s a pretty good writer too. Plus: space men.
Time again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for interesting new adventure comics.
Chip #1 – Thanks to comics like this month’s Twilit (a stoner parody of the easiest target of the decade? no thanks) and The Governator (timely!), I’ve almost gotten to the point where I just skip past Antarctic’s section of the catalog. I’m glad I didn’t this time though, otherwise I’d have missed Richard Moore’s comic about a tiny gargoyle out to prove that he can be scary too. If you’ve read Moore’s awesome Boneyard, you’re as excited about this one as I am.
The Killer: Modus Vivendi #1 – Whoa, this is going to be a great month for Archaia. I haven’t completely caught up on The Killer, but based on how it was when I switched to trade-waiting, I can’t imagine this being anything but more, excellent Euro-spy comics.
Okko: Cycle of Air #1 – Like with The Killer, I have catching up to do on this series, but Cycle of Water was a fast-paced, gorgeously illustrated adventure in a fantastically realized world. I’m glad it’s finally being continued.
Secret History, Book 8 – I’m even further behind on this one, but the concept alone – four immortal siblings shaping history throughout time – makes me intensely curious. This volume gets them up to WWI and has them searching for a mythical, desert city.
Hollow Earth, a Viking goddess, the Russian X-Files (with gas masks!), and more after the break.
Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer
Written by Van Jensen; Created and Illustrated by Dusty Higgins
Before now, my experience with the story of Pinocchio is limited to three adaptations. One is the Roberto Benigni film, which I don’t remember much about other than the feeling that it was a lot darker and weirder than I was ready for. My surprise was probably because the only other version I’d seen up to then had been Walt Disney’s typically charming, but watered-down one. This past Christmas I bought a collection of Christmas specials on DVD that included Rankin Bass’ stop-motion Pinocchio’s Christmas, which, story-wise, was surprisingly more like Benigni than Disney. While all of these present fairly dark stories (especially in comparison to Disney’s traditional output), none of them prepared me for Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer.
And I’m not just talking about the vampire-hunting part; I’m talking about the three-page summary that catches you up on Carlo Collodi’s original tale. Jiminy Cricket – I know that’s not his real name, but I can’t stop calling him that – dies in his first encounter with the puppet-boy, but returns to haunt him as a ghost. Pinocchio isn’t just tricked by the fox and the cat, he’s hung from a tree by them (but not before he bites off the cat’s hand). He’s imprisoned, tied up outside a doghouse, gets his feet burned off, and of course there’s the stuff where he’s turned into an ass and gets swallowed by a giant fish. Basically, his life sucks. But not as much as it sucks (get it?) after Collodi’s story ends.
Higgins and Jensen apologetically pick up where Collodi left off, begging the dead author that “if he ever rolls over in his grave and rises, bloodthirsty, that we be spared.” While it’s true that their graphic novel may not be faithful to the tone of Collodi’s and they fill it with fun retcons (offering, for example, an explanation for all the talking animals), it’s also true that their story could have been what happened next. If, you know, a coven of vampires had moved into town, killed Geppetto and a whole bunch of other people, and Pinocchio grew a thirst for vengeance.
Anne Freaks, Vol. 3
Written and Illustrated by Yua Kotegawa
ADV Manga; $9.99
“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”
– Michael Corleone
I know how you feel, Godfather. I enjoyed the second volume of Anne Freaks, but it suddenly became a very different series than the one promised in Volume One. A rapid invasion of new characters took the focus off of Anna, Yuri, and Mitsuba and the psychological drama that had been developing between them. Sure, new dramas were coming into play, but I missed the tense, claustrophobic world inhabited by the main three characters. It bothered me as I was reading it, but by the end of that volume I thought I’d gotten past it. I obviously hadn’t though, because after I bought the third volume it sat on my bookshelf for a while before I finally decided to give it a try. I’d lost the excitement and figured that this might be the last one for me. But then I read it.
Though the cast is still large, it doesn’t grow any bigger and I get the feeling that all the major characters are now onstage. In a story as twisty as this one, it’s comforting to have that feeling of consistency. It’s also nice that Anna is back to wicked form after sitting out most of the second volume. Yuri and Mitsuba split off from her in that book in order to infiltrate the terrorist organization they’re all trying to bring down, so we don’t get any more scenes of her manipulating them.
But in watching her with her friend Moe and the mysterious priest, we get to see her manipulate grown-ups instead, which is almost as good. It’s more fun when she messes with Yuri and Mitsuba because there’s also an element of romantic tension. The stakes are raised for the two boys in a way that they aren’t for the men, but Anna takes a different approach with Moe and the priest that’s also entertaining. With them, she’s just plain nuts. As Anna, Moe, and the priest make their own plans to attack the terrorist group, Anna’s obsessive determination drives the effort in a way that’s unsettling to the other two. Though the men don’t like it and would love to change it, it’s very clear who’s in charge.
Connie: Captives of the Space Pirates; Master of the Jovian Moons
Written by Harold Godwin; Illustrated by Frank Godwin
Pacific Comics Club; $11.95
One of the highlights of 2009 for me was spending some time with Flash Gordon comics by both Alex Raymond and Al Williamson. Until I get my hands on Volume 3 of Checker’s Raymond reprints though, I’m done with that. Fortunately, Pacific Comics Club has been reprinting Harold and Frank Godwin’s Connie and that’s filling the void nicely.
Connie may not have a spectacular name, but the strips reprinted here are very much in the style of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. According to Don Markstein’s Toonopedia, Connie Kurridge (rhymes with Courage) began her comics career in 1929 as an adventuring aviator. Wikipedia quotes The World Encyclopedia of Comics as saying that Connie eventually went on to become a reporter and start her own detective agency. And of course, she also went to space, which is where this particular volume picks up her story.
If these strips are representative, Connie is the kind of comic that They don’t want you to know about; “They” being the Straw Men who claim that strong, independent women didn’t star in adventure fiction until recently. Connie does travel with a man, her friend Hugh Alden, but he’s about as useful to her as Dale Arden was to Flash Gordon. He comes through in a pinch, but Connie never has to rely on him to save the day, either physically or mentally. Nor is Connie the only powerful woman in the strip. The Dr. Zarkov of the group is Hugh’s mother, Dr. Alden.
Space dinosaurs, mushroom forests, and walrus-men after the jump.
I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to talk about this week. Not that anyone’s called me on it yet, but I usually talk here about stuff that I enjoy and I know that that can give the impression that I like everything, which simply isn’t true. In fact, I just read a book that I didn’t like so much and contemplated talking about it instead, if only for variety’s sake. But is criticizing a mediocre, small-press book really how we want to end the year? As Tim O’Shea reminded me when I expressed my indecision on the subject, there’s a lot of bad material out there. Why spend a whole column focused on that when there’s good stuff that can use a larger audience? Mouse Guard may not exactly be an underground comic, but until it hits #1 on every Best Sellers list in the world, I’m considering it under-read.
The first thing you’re struck with by Mouse Guard is how beautiful it is. I was reading Winter 1152 in public the other day and a woman stopped and asked me what it was. As much as I try not to make assumptions about people from their appearances, I’m guessing that this immaculately-dressed businesswoman doesn’t have a large comics collection at home. But she saw David Petersen’s highly realistic, stunningly detailed, and lushly colored artwork and was attracted by it enough to want to know more.
But Mouse Guard is about more than the pictures and the seasons in the title dictate more than just Petersen’s color palettes. There’s a deep, compelling story at work with human characters – mice though they may be – and powerful themes that reflect the time of year they’re set in.
The Good Neighbors, Book Two: Kith
Written by Holly Black; Illustrated by Ted Naifeh
When I reviewed Book One of The Good Neighbors back in the day, I was struck with the maturity that Black and Naifeh brought to their story. Black’s known for The Spiderwick Chronicles and Naifeh’s known for all sorts of kid-friendly stuff like Courtney Crumrin, Death Jr., and Polly and the Pirates. The Good Neighbors, on the other hand, is about a college girl named Rue whose mother is missing and whose father is a suspect in not only Mom’s disappearance, but also the death of one of Rue’s schoolmates. I was impressed with how dark and serious the story was, but how at the same time Black and Naifeh kept the characters lively enough to prevent it from becoming oppressive. They continue that balance in Book Two.
At the end of the first volume, Rue learned that her mother was a faerie; the daughter of the Faerie King who was won in a bet by Rue’s human father. But one of the conditions of the prize was that Rue’s mom would return to her people if Rue’s father were ever unfaithful, which he was. Which explains Mom’s disappearance. The dead student was a related, but tangential casualty of another faerie-related matter. As it turns out, Rue’s paternal grandfather is planning a takeover of Rue’s town and the local faerie activity is getting out-of-control as a result. The trouble is that no one but Rue – thanks to her mother’s heritage – can see it. In Kith, Grandpa’s plan takes a huge step forward as he demonstrates how far he’s willing to go to achieve it. And those who oppose him demonstrate how far they’re willing to go to stop him.
So, I don’t know how you feel about faeries. They’re rarely near the top of my list of Things That Are Awesome, but I think that’s largely because of what Disney’s done to the concept. Not that I hate Disney, but they’ve turned faeries into Things That Are Quaint. Read the original tales – or, say, Mike Mignola’s take on them in Hellboy – and you remember that these can be malicious, scary creatures. Those are the kinds of faeries in The Good Neighbors. They’re intelligent, scheming, and utterly inhuman in their priorities and motivations. Black gives us the first hint of this in Book One when a flashback reveals the complete inability of Rue’s mother to relate to or comfort her daughter. When Rue comes home in tears because her friends laughed at her at school, her mother’s response is was to smile coldly and say something like, “How nice. You made them laugh.” Maybe it’s the parent in me, but I found that chilling.
Demons of Sherwood
Written by Bo Hampton and Robert Tinnell; Illustrated by Bo Hampton
I apologize for the lack of art with this post. My computer decided that it doesn’t recognize my scanner anymore. You can see all kinds of art for Demons of Sherwood though at ComicMix. I’ll be over here deinstalling Snow Leopard. Update: Buh-bye, Snow Leopard. Hello, scans!
There were two things that always got me excited as a kid: pirates and medieval stuff. Whether it was King Arthur, Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, or something else, I always thrilled to tales of chivalry, plate mail, and yew bows. But then I found Star Wars and everything else didn’t seem as exhilarating anymore.
Well, now I’m grown up and Star Wars has lost nearly all its shine. Jack Sparrow has rekindled my love for swashbuckling scoundrels of the seas, but so far nothing has gotten me excited about castles and wizards again. Not until Demons of Sherwood, that is. Bo Hampton and Robert Tinell’s webcomic turned graphic novel has everything a good medieval story needs: knights, damsels (sometimes in distress; sometimes rescuing distressed fellas), merry men, spooky woods, noblemen of questionable trustworthiness, holy relics, and enough of the supernatural to make things interesting without turning the whole thing into a fantasy tale. It’s also very grounded in reality.
I’m not talking so much about research or historical accuracy, though it may have those things going for it too as far as I know. What I mean is that the art and the script have weight to them. The story reads as if it’s happening to real people, in spite of the utterly fantastic things that are going on around them.