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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.
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.
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 …
Return of the Dapper Men
Written by Jim McCann; Illustrated by Janet Lee
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.
The Zabime Sisters
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.
FX2: The Lost Land
Written by Wayne Osborne; Illustrated by Uko Smith
In FX2, Wayne Osborne takes analogues to various superheroes and other adventurous characters and archetypes and then mashes them into a story so packed that it may just include the kitchen sink as well. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but I suspect that readers will have mixed feelings about it. I certainly waffled about it a few times.
If we re-replace the FX characters with the ones they’re standing in for, the story’s about Green Lantern and Spider-Man’s attempt to rescue a bunch of high school kids from the Mole Man. The villain has appeared from the ground in the middle of a football game and taken his captives back into the Earth. Among the kidnap victims is Mary Jane Watson, who’s transformed by Tyrannus into the Hulk (she becomes too dumb and uses the word “smash” too much to be a She-Hulk analogue).
The characters don’t stay in the caves forever though. When the Hulk disappears, the heroes follow her to the Savage Land where they meet up with Ka-Zar and learn the horrifying truth about what the bad guys are really up to. There’s far more at stake than the lives of a few kids.
Comic strips | Tribune Media Services has announced it will cancel the 70-year-old comic strip Brenda Starr rather than find replacements for writer Mary Schmich and artist June Brigman, who have decided to end their lengthy run. The final installment will appear on Jan. 2. Created by Dale Messick, the flame-haired reporter debuted in The Chicago Tribune on June 30, 1940, and later appeared in comic books and movies, and on merchandise. Messick retired in 1980, and has been succeeded on the strip only by women, from Ramona Fradon to Linda Sutter to Schmich and Brigman.
Kiel Phegley offers commentary, and catches a series of tweets from writer Dan Slott, who relates that his great-grandfather’s sister championed Brenda Starr at The Chicago Tribune. In related news, Tribune Media Services is partnering with Hermes Press on a multi-volume hardcover series titled Brenda Starr, Reporter by Dale Messick: The Collected Daily and Sunday Newspaper Strip. The first volume will be released in June. [press release]
When DC announced it was shuttering the Wildstorm and Zuda imprints back in September, after having announced the shutterings of the CMX line less than six months ago (and only two years since they canceled the failed Minx experiment), all eyes started moving uneasily towards Vertigo, the first and final imprint DC had left. It didn’t help that DC had also announced they were going to be absorbing certain Vertigo characters like Swamp Thing back into the superhero fold. Add to that the recent cancellation of such series as Air, Unknown Soldier and Greek Street, and many ended up wondering not just if Vertigo was being sized up for the chopping block but when the ax would fall (I’ve got $20 in the office pool down for May 2011).
Mark Oliver Frisch aside, we don’t have access to DC’s actual, total sales numbers, however, so it’s nigh-impossible to tell exactly how well Vertigo books are selling and how essential the line is to DC as a publishing and licensing entity. Perhaps the only way we can make any assumptions at all about the health of the line is to look at the comics that Vertigo has published in the past few months. Which is exactly what I plan on doing after the jump.
Beasts! Book 1
Curated by Jacob Covey; Written and Illustrated by 95 writers and artists
Beasts! stretches the definition of what a comic book is, but we’re adventurous folks, right? At first glance, it’s an art book. Ninety different artists each depict a cryptozoological creature in the style of his or her choosing. There’s also a paragraph about each by one of five different writers, but that sounds like the kind of thing you’d flip through once and then stick on the coffee table. It certainly doesn’t sound like a comic. There’s no story and that’s what comics are. They line up pictures to tell stories.
Except that this book does tell a story. Not a very conventional one perhaps, but it’s there.
The first clue is Jacob Covey’s title. He didn’t edit the book; he curated it like a museum exhibition. The book’s Introduction further reinforces that notion. It reads like a program, with a definition of Cryptozoology and notes about the artists, the creatures they selected, and the approach the curator took in putting the collection together. It also shares interesting facts, points out easily missed elements of the book’s design, and even suggests the best way for “the enthusiastic reader” to experience what’s to come. In other words, it’s not only a program; it’s a tour guide. By the time I was done reading it and ready to turn the page, I genuinely felt like I was entering an exhibit. Not just an art show, but a fascinating trip into The Study of Hidden Animals.
Boneyard, Volumes 1-7
Written and Illustrated by Richard Moore
Published by NBM
I’m trying to figure out how to use the words “Monster Decadence” to describe Boneyard without sounding mean about it. It’s a wonderful, fun, involving series, but there’s an element to it that reminds me of the problem with having Speedy beat crooks up with a dead cat or Guy Gardner vomit blood all over the cover of a comic. I’m not suggesting that Richard Moore’s done anything wrong – it’s his series, he created it; he can do whatever he wants with it – but on its surface Boneyard appears to be simply a cute story about an unlucky everyman who inherits a graveyard full of funny monsters. There’s something very Bone-ish about the concept and kids would love the creature designs and giggle at some of the jokes. But it’s not a kids’ book. At all.
Again, I’m not faulting Moore. He’s got an appealing, humorously animated drawing style, but it would be foolish to suggest that he should tone down his writing because of that. On the contrary, it’s very cool that he’s been able to create such a grown-up story with such attractive, endearing characters. And as much as I kept thinking, “My son would love this if only…,” Boneyard is a whole different creature from “adult” superhero comics.
This is ironic since Boneyard is a monster comic, but it’s nowhere near as bloody or violent as the Superhero Decadence crowd of books. What puts it out of kids’ reach is mostly its playfulness about sexuality. There’s plenty of cheesecake, but nothing graphic; just good, naughty fun.
Acme Novelty Library Vol. 20
by Chris Ware
Drawn & Quarterly, 72 pages $23.95
(Note: I shall endeavor to be as spoiler-free as possible, but obviously if you’re the sort who would rather dive into a book like this knowing as little as possible then you may not want to click on that “continue reading” link.)
Acme Novelty Library #20 is about an asshole. The book’s main character, one Jordan W. Lint, is a bully, a coward, an adulterer, a drunkard, is frequently callous and cruel to friends and family, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In some regards he is an outright monster.
And yet, Ware manages to make us not only care, rather deeply, about this unlikeable figure but also sympathize and, to a surprising degree, understand his plight. Without condoning or excusing his behavior, Ware manages to offer a portrait that is nuanced enough to make us reflect upon our own foibles and fears. If that’s not the mark of a great artist, I’m not sure what is.
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse isn’t a travesty, the way the previous Superman/Batman animated film, Public Enemies, was. It wasn’t an affront to my sensibilities or a 80-minute cringe-fest. But it’s not a particularly good film either, and bears a multitude of sins on its shoulders, including clunky exposition, poor to downright confusing characterization, inane dialogue and some surprisingly sloppy animation.
Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites
Written by Evan Dorkin; Illustrated by Jill Thompson
Dark Horse; $19.99
I know we’ve been talking a lot about comics for kids lately, so I’m going to give that a rest for a bit (except to point you to Nate Cosboom and Skottie Young’s latest thoughts on the subject). Fun and awesome comics don’t always have to be kid-appropriate. Beasts of Burden is an excellent example of that. Monster-hunting dogs and cats sounds particularly good for children, but not when the monsters are this scary. Your kids may be different from mine and more power to them if they are, but my eight-year-old would have nightmares if this was his bedtime reading. Doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy the hell out of it though.
As you may know, Beasts of Burden began as a recurring feature in the Dark Horse Book of… anthologies. There were four volumes – Book of Hauntings, Book of Witchcraft, Book of the Dead, and Book of Monsters – and one of the highlights of each was always Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s story about five dogs and a stray cat who get pulled deeper and deeper into the supernatural.
The Animal Rites collection includes those four stories as well as the four-issue Beasts of Burden mini-series. In the spirit of anthology tales, each of the eight stories stands by itself. There are no cliffhangers; no To Be Continueds. But there’s a larger story taking shape as the pets learn more and more about the paranormal and begin to figure out that the recent weirdness in their quiet, little, wooded community is being orchestrated by a single intelligence. What that intelligence is remains to be discovered by the end of Animal Rites, which is fine by me. There’s a slow build moving towards that revelation and I don’t want Dorkin and Thompson to rush it. Besides, I want more of these stories and it’s comforting to know that there are plans for that.
Continue Reading »
Digital comics | Following more than two years of complaints, Apple has given developers the guidelines it uses to determine which programs can be sold through its App Store, and relaxed some restrictions on content and tools. The company recently was criticized for forcing the creators of a comic adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses to remove nonsexual nudity from some panels — Apple later changed its stance — and for initially rejecting an app from Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore because his animated political satire contained “content that ridicules public figures.” Alan Gardner notes that the revised guidelines specifically exempt “professional political satirists and humorists” from a clause prohibiting defamatory or offensive material. [The Associated Press]
Comic strips | After 60 years with United Feature Syndicate, Peanuts will move in February to Universal Uclick. The news isn’t totally unexpected, as Iconix Brand Group partnered with the heirs of Charles M. Schulz in April to buy the rights to the comic strip from United’s parent company E.W. Scripps. The $175 million deal was for the entire United Media Licensing division, which includes Dilbert. [Comic Riffs]
This week was marked by the debut of a new Wolverine series — it’s at least the seventh, by Douglas Wolk’s reckoning — in which the hirsute mutant goes, quite literally, to hell. Or at least his soul does. His body, meanwhile, is on Earth, possessed by demons who have nefarious plans for the fleshy vessel.
The premise undoubtedly leads more than a few readers to cringe, at least until they consider the creators behind the storyline: writer Jason Aaron (Scalped, Wolverine: Weapon X) — it’s based in part on an idea he pitched for Hellblazer — and artist Renato Guedes (Superman, Supergirl).
“It’s my ‘Heroic Age’ story of sending Wolverine to hell and watching him grapple with this sense of hope and faith and what’s really more scary to him: more of the same old dark, pessimistic Logan he’s always been, or him actually thinking that there is a chance things can get better and wonder where he fits into that,” Aaron tells USA Today.
Here’s just a sampling of what people are saying about Wolverine #1: