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Robot Reviews | Bake Sale and Anya’s Ghost

Bake Sale

Bake Sale
by Sara Varon
First Second, 160 pages, $16.99

Anya’s Ghost
by Vera Brosgol
First Second, 224 pages, $15.99

As insufferably precious as Sara Varon’s comics can seem at first glance, they’re frequently suffused with a melancholy that belies their outward cutie-pie nature. Most of her books deal with the tricky nature of friendship, both our essential human need for connection and companionship and also how we often define our own identity through our contact with others. She rarely sugarcoats these relationships, either — Robot Dreams had a rather nasty betrayal at its focal point after all. That all can seem like heady stuff for an all-ages book, but Varon smartly refuses to delve too deep into psychology blather, preferring to keep the actions and visuals as simple and self-explanatory as possible.

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Comics A.M. | Details on DC’s Aug. 31 midnight releases

Justice League

Publishers | DC Comics have released details on the midnight release of Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1 on Aug. 31. The publisher is offering a free over-ship of Flashpoint #5 for retailers who order 125 percent of their order for Flashpoint #1, and the publisher has noted that that these are the only two DC titles shipping that week that can be sold at midnight. The promotion is only available to U.S. and Canadian accounts; due to the Aug. 29 bank holiday, the midnight sale option will not be available to UK retailers. [ICv2]

Legal | Michael Dean looks at the recent ruling by New York federal judge Colleen McMahon that the family of Jack Kirby has no claim to the copyrights of the characters he co-created for Marvel. Dean notes, “Some legal observers were expecting Marvel to be the second major comics-publisher domino to fall when Toberoff filed on behalf of the Kirbys, but there is a key difference between Kirby’s comics work and Siegel’s: It was well established that Superman already existed as a full-blown character concept before Siegel and Joe Shuster pitched him to DC, whereas Kirby, who died in 1994, did most if not all of his Marvel work on assignment from the publisher. In the case of work for hire, the Copyright Act defines the instigating employer/publisher as the Author of the work.” [The Comics Journal]

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Comics A.M. | Charlaine Harris’ new graphic novel; the origins of Epic

Charlaine Harris

Publishing | Charlaine Harris, author of the “Sookie Stackhouse” novels on which HBO’s True Blood is based, says that after she finishes the last two “Sookie” books, she plans to work on a graphic novel with Christopher Golden. “I’m very excited about that. It’s called Cemetery Girl with Christopher Golden, and it’s a very exciting opportunity.” Harris had mentioned wanting to do a novel called Cemetery Girl back in 2009, about “a girl raised by ghosts in a cemetery,” but put it on hold when she found out the plot was similar to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

Based on the description in the news report, it sounds like the story has been tweaked, as it says the graphic novel “centers on a woman who finds herself living in a cemetery with no memory of her past but a clear sense of a mysterious threat hanging over her.” This isn’t the first time Harris’ characters have found their way into comics, as IDW publishes comics based on HBO’s True Blood, and an adaptation of her Grave Sight novels has been published by Dynamite. [NBC San Diego]

Publishing | Former Marvel Comics editor and Transformers writer John Barber has joined IDW Publishing as a senior editor. IDW also announced the promotion of Tom Waltz to the company’s first senior staff writer position, in addition to his duties as editor, and the expansion of the company’s book department with longtime IDW employee Alonzo Simon becoming an assistant editor. [press release]

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Comics A.M. | The Walking Dead bookstore streak; Parker delay

The Walking Dead, Vol. 14

Retailing | Although the 14th volume of The Walking Dead wasn’t released until June 21, it still managed to secure the No. 2 spot on BookScan’s list of graphic novels sold in bookstores that month, behind the 51st volume of Naruto. It’s the ninth consecutive month that at least one volume of the horror series has appeared in the BookScan Top 20, a run that began as marketing geared up for the AMC television adaptation. [ICv2.com]

Publishing | Darwyn Cooke has announced that the release of Parker: The Martini Edition will be postponed for a few months, and takes full responsibility for the delay. The book is now scheduled to debut at the Long Beach Comic Con in October [Almost Darwyn Cooke's Blog]

Publishing | John Jackson Miller looks at the history of comics numbering, which he traces back to dime novels of the 19th and early 20th centuries: “Comics are anomalous in American magazine publishing because most comics don’t use volume numbers and issue numbers that roll over ever year; rather, the numbers keep on going. In that, our numbering is much like that used for the cheap, disposable fiction of the earlier days.” [The Comichron]

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Green Lantern: Not quite lord of the ring, but not an emerald yawn

Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern

The big-budget adaptation of Green Lantern is a fairly entertaining popcorn movie with a stentorian beginning, a strong finish, and a middle section which feels about a half-hour longer than it actually is. That’s not entirely unwelcome, because GL’s leads are charming when they need to be and engaging otherwise. Ryan Reynolds makes a good Hal Jordan, Blake Lively comes across pretty well as Carol Ferris, Mark Strong stands out as Sinestro, and Peter Skaarsgard plays Hector Hammond effectively as a misfit-turned-skeevy-sociopath.

Unfortunately, this is not director Martin Campbell’s best genre film, falling short of both the brisk, precise Bond reinvention Casino Royale (2005) and the clever, nimble Mask Of Zorro (1998).  Even so, Green Lantern is an ambitious attempt to bring the comics’ fusion of space opera and Earthbound superheroics to a general audience, and for the most part it succeeds.

SPOILERS FOLLOW…

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What a bunch of poozers: A review of Green Lantern: Emerald Knights

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, the latest foray in Warner Brothers’ collection of straight-to-DVD animated movies, is a tired collection of military cliches interspersed with some impressive fight scenes. Words like honor, sacrifice and bravery get batted around like a well-used hacky sack at a Grateful Dead concert, but to little effect, other than to remind you that there’s a big screen, live-action movie starring Ryan Reynolds that will be coming out in theaters any day now.

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Robot Review | The Tooth

The Tooth
Written by Cullen Bunn and Shawn Lee; Illustrated by Matt Kindt
Oni; $24.99

Equal parts Hellboy and Hulk, The Tooth is the story of a young man named Graham Stone who inherits a spooky old estate from his grandfather, Ezekiel. While looking over the place, Graham discovers a room full of “occult esoterica,” a collection of dangerous artifacts that Grandpa Zeke spent a lifetime accumulating. Unfortunately, Graham doesn’t understand how unsafe the stuff really is and grabs an amulet designed to control a mystical, yellow tooth.

Who does understand the significance of the collection is Caleb King, evil mage and one-time arch-nemesis to the late Ezekiel Stone. But when King gets rough with Graham, the supernatural tooth forms a humanoid body and grows to fightin’ size in order to protect his new… well, “master” doesn’t seem like the right word, but the relationship between Graham and the Tooth is hard to define.

Graham doesn’t command the Tooth, but it is attached to him, sometimes quite literally. In between battles with King’s monsters, the Tooth shrinks down and implants itself in Graham’s gums. Graham acts as a reluctant host for the creature who in turn defends the young man. The relationship between the mild-mannered protagonist and the uncontrollable monster brings classic Hulk comics to mind, while the Tooth’s occult origins and the evil wizard who seeks to exploit them are reminiscent of Hellboy.

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Robot Reviews | Garden

Garden
by Yuichi Yokoyama
Picturebox, 320 pages, $24.95.

It might seem odd at first glance to describe Yuichi Yokoyama’s work as dynamic, given his minimalist, antiseptic style that edges ever so closely to outright abstraction without ever crossing the line. Yet a close inspection of his work, particularly his latest book, Garden, shows what an utterly apt adjective it is. Nothing of significance ever happens in Yokoyama’s world, at least not in the sense we think of it when talking about narrative. There’s precious little plot per se, no threats or crisis, and no character development to speak of. Yet everything is in constant motion, in constant flux, if not already transforming then ready to be transformed into something else or at least be moved about. No one stands still in Garden, and their actions are depicting in tight close ups, off-kilter worm’s-eye-views or panoramic vistas. He’s Jack Kirby without the bombast or violence.

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Robot Reviews | Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths
by Shigeru Mizuki
Drawn and Quarterly, 368 pages, $24.95.

Disclaimer: At the request of the publisher, I wrote a letter of recommendation when they were applying for a grant from a nonprofit organization to aid in the publication and promotion of this book.

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is nothing less than a spit in the face of militarism, war and feudal attitudes. It is an angry book, but it doesn’t shriek its indignation, though the temptation certainly seems to be there. There are few histrionics on display or scenes of outright, explicit condemnation. Rather, the book is content to let the general inhumanity on display speak for itself.

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Robot Reviews | Planet of the Apes #1


Creating a comic book version of Planet of the Apes is a proposition fraught with danger. It’s been a long time since Mr. Comics’ Revolution on the Planet of the Apes, so I don’t remember if I quit reading it because I didn’t like it or if I decided to wait for a collected edition that never came. I do remember liking Salgood Sam’s art on it, but being disappointed that it was a bridge between Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the two films in the series that I’ve never seen. I haven’t seen them partly because they’re not generally regarded as any good, but also because – as prequels to the original PotA film – they cover a time period that I’m not all that interested in. While intellectually I’m curious to see how the world of PotA came to be, I’d much rather see adventure stories set in the world of the first movie.

BOOM!’s new series doesn’t do that exactly, but it gets awfully close and ends up presenting something that I didn’t realize I wanted, but really do. Set long after Battle for the Planet of the Apes, BOOM!’s comic shows readers a time in which apes and humans are technically equal, but bigotry towards humans and an imbalance of power in favor of the apes have created a tense situation. That doesn’t sound all that different from the last couple of movies in the series, but it is in at least one important way. Where Conquest and Battle were set more or less on then-contemporary Earth (or that’s the impression I gathered from reading Revolution), enough time has passed between then and the new series that the world’s starting to look something like the original movie.

One of the coolest things about the first film was that its version of Earth was a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. So much of what made it awesome was the look of it: the apes’ costumes, the buildings; the primitive humans. It was a world ripe for exploration, which is why it’s so disappointing that the films immediately went away from that in favor of traveling to the relative mundaneness of the past; our present. BOOM!’s series is back in the fantasy world, though it looks better than any that’s been presented on screen.

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Robot reviews: The Arctic Marauder

The Arctic Marauder

The Arctic Marauder
by Jacques Tardi
Fantagraphics Books, 64 pages, $16.99

Based on what’s been translated in English so far, it seems as though are two kinds of Jacques Tardi books. The first is the dark, grim and gritty type, best represented by books like the wonderful but harrowing It Was the War of the Trenches and the steely-eyed noir West Coast Blues. The second is what I’d dub (rather awkwardly, because I can’t for the moment find better terminology) his goofier, more tongue in cheek style, best seen in the Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec series (and, to a certain extent, the satirical You Are There).

The Arctic Marauder, Fantagraphics’ latest entry in their Tardi line, easily fits in the second category. It’s a wickedly sly take on classic turn-of-the-century pulp adventures that nevertheless manages to both tweak and evoke those stories. It is, in short, a blast to read.

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‘It all comes out right in the end’: A review of the All-Star Superman movie

All-Star Superman

Warner Bros’ animated adaptation of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman is so reverent and faithful toward the source material that the film, to a certain extent, feels like a pale copy of its inspiration.

That’s not necessarily a damning criticism. Bruce Timm and company took the right approach in attempting to get as close a conversion from page to screen as possible (to do otherwise would have pleased no one). But the comic itself is so rich in detail and episodic in nature that even a trim, streamlined version like this that still manages to hit a number of the right high points feels a bit flabby in comparison. Saying “the book is better” is a rather easy cheat for a critic — the book is almost always better, but I suspect that fans of the comic won’t be able to watch this without running a compare/contrast checklist in their head and find the film coming up a wee bit short. The good news is that those coming fresh to the material probably won’t notice anything wrong at all.

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Best Online Comics Criticism 2010

If you’ve made your way around the Interwebs at all over the past few days (or at least the comic-book derived portion of such) you may have noticed a couple of posts devoted to what’s being called the “Best Online Comics Criticism of 2010.” And, unless your memory is as faulty as mine, you may also recall similar lists being made around the same time last year, as this is an annual event created and overseen by the esteemed critic (and Hooded Utilitarian contributor) Ng Suat Tong.

Suat was kind enough back in January of ’09 to invite me to be one of the judges for this year’s round-up. the other judges consisting of Tim Hodler, Johanna Draper Carlson, Melinda Beasi, Derik Badman, Shannon Garrity and Bill Randall. I’ll go through this year’s winners, with my personal commentary in a minute, but if you’re the impatient type, you can see the final results here and here.

First, some brief observances …

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Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs | Return of the Dapper Men

Return of the Dapper Men

Return of the Dapper Men
Written by Jim McCann; Illustrated by Janet Lee
Archaia; $24.95

There’s a line in Finding Neverland that’s stuck with me. “Young boys should never be sent to bed. They always wake up a day older.” What I love about that movie (and stories like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland) is their celebration of childhood. They reflect a delightfully tenacious refusal to let something as mundane as growing up steal the joy of an imaginative life.

Of course, there’s a flipside to that perspective. A couple of them, really. The dreary one that’s most often cited by boring people is that you can’t stay a child forever. As a Grown Up, one has Responsibilities to face. As if meeting responsibilities and living a blissful, inspired, creative life are mutually exclusive activities.

There’s another response to the Peter Pan Syndrome though; one that’s just as special as the desire to hold on to childhood. It doesn’t belittle childhood as something to be put behind as quickly (and grumpily) as possible. It takes the best part of childhood and invites us to carry it with us into a more mature way of looking at the world. That’s the perspective that Jim McCann and Janet Lee introduce in Return of the Dapper Men.

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Robot Reviews | The Zabime Sisters

The Zabime Sisters

The Zabime Sisters
by Aristophane
First Second, 96 pages, $16.99

The Zabime Sisters follows a day in the life of three girls who live on the Caribbean island nation of Guadeloupe. That description will, I suspect, cause many readers to assume that this is a book heavy in political and social import, as we’ve become come to expect any graphic novel set in or focused on a culture that’s not specifically North America or Eastern Europe to be some harrowing tale of life lived under a harsh totalitarian regime, poverty, colonialism, or some other real-world horror. But Zabime Sisters is not that book at all.

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