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Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips Vol. 2 (1936-1937)
by Roy Crane; edited by Rick Norwood
Fantagraphics Books, 156 pages, $39.99
Roy Crane may have been one of the progenitors of the adventure comic strip, but he stood quite apart from those who followed in his wake.
While the people who picked up his torch — folks like Milton Caniff, Hal Foster, Burne Hogarth, Alex Raymond and the like — shared a fondness for the same genre trappings — exotic locales, tough guy leading men, crazy cliffhangers, bursts of fisticuffs and pretty girls — those artists were devotees of a highly illustrative, almost photo-realistic style. It was a style that quickly became one of the most predominant in the medium, at least where melodrama was concerned, as folks like Raymond influenced folks like Joe Kubert, Alex Toth and Neal Adams, who then influenced folks like George Perez and John Romita Jr. and so forth and so on, until we end up at Rob Liefeld on one end and Greg Land on the other.
But unlike all of those folk, Crane was a cartoonist of the big foot, “plop” pratfall school, less interested in perfectly capturing than in giving a guy a funny potato nose or having stars appear in circles around someone’s noggin after getting whacked upside the head with a bat or broom or even a walking cane. He was just as interested in a quick, and maybe even occasionally cheap, laugh as he was at chronicling the rip-roaring adventure stuff.
By Roger Langridge
Roger Langride, writer of the Muppet Show comics and Thor: Mighty Avenger, set the bar pretty high when he decided to use Lewis Carroll’s characters, the Walrus and the Carpenter, in his new comic, Snarked. Carroll is a tough act to follow, and there’s a big risk that the new characters will fall flat compared to the original.
Langridge has succeeded admirably, however, in not only making an enjoyable comic but making one in which his story is both an original creation and true to its roots. Carroll’s walrus and carpenter use witty-sounding conversation as misdirection while they lure unsuspecting oysters to their dinner plates. Langridge’s characters, cast as lovable swindlers in some vague past, fast-talk their way into the palace to steal some food from the king’s kitchen, but unlike in the poem, they wind up with empty stomachs after all.
Snarked #0 is a tease, a one-dollar prequel to the series, which launches with issue #1 in October. This comic features an eight-page story, plus some special bonus content—puzzles, a fake diary and newspaper that relate to the story, and all of Carroll’s poems “The Hunting of the Snark” and “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” with the original illustrations.
Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 1: Race to Death Valley
by Floyd Gottfredson; edited by David Gerstein and Gary Groth
Fantagraphics Books, 288 pages, $29.99
It must seem difficult for younger generations to fully understand just how integral Mickey Mouse once was to the Disney franchise. While at one time his smiling, three-circle face was the iconic symbol for the company, today that image has been shoved aside to make room for Cinderella’s castle. The Disney bread is now officially buttered by a bunch of divas and Buzz Lightyear. These days Mickey is relegated to stalwart supporting cast member, fit for entertaining the preschooler crowd on daytime television, though efforts like the recent Epic Mickey video game show an interest in making him a viable player in their stable once more.
Even for my generation (that’s Gen X for those of you keeping score), understanding Mickey’s appeal was a tough proposition at times given how bland he seemed to appear in various cartoons and other products we or our parents were expect to shell good money out for. Everything about him stank of goody-two-shoes pitchman. No wonder he eventually faded from the limelight.
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.
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.
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.
Pepper Penwell and the Land Creature of Monster Lake
Written and Illustrated by Steph Cherrywell
I hope it came through in my review of The Incredible Change-Bots that what I liked most about it was its ability to lovingly kid the things that Transformers fans like most about that cartoon while at exactly the same time successfully reproduce those qualities. That’s so difficult to do, which is why most of the time we see skewering, Mad Magazine-style parodies of things instead. As rare as it is though, lightning struck my reading pile again when I got to Pepper Penwell.
I wasn’t much into the kid-sleuth genre as a youngster, other than Hanna-Barbera’s Legion of Meddling Kids. I had one Hardy Boys book and a Tom Swift, but my childhood heroes were mostly grown-ups: James Bond, Sherlock Holmes; Hercule Poirot. It hasn’t been until my adult years that I’ve experienced much interest in stories about child detectives. Maybe it’s an attempt to re-experience childhood; maybe it’s just a search for great literature for my son; maybe my wife – a big Nancy Drew fan – is starting to influence me. Whatever the reasons, I’m finding myself drawn to stories about tween or teenaged detectives and titles like The Clue in the Crumbling Wall or The Case of the Mysterious Handprints.
These stories are the inspiration for Steph Cherrywell’s Pepper Penwell and the Land Creature of Monster Lake, a book about a genius girl detective who’s kicked out of her posh boarding school for uncovering so much crime at the institution that parents are beginning to pull their kids out. Having nowhere else to go, she visits her police inspector father in Monster Lake, a quiet village in the English countryside where he’s investigating the disappearance of a young girl. Pepper’s looking over the case files before she even arrives.
As Transformers 3 draws inexorably nearer, I find myself dreading the conversations I know I’m going to have.
My friends will ask, innocently, “Have you seen Transformers 3, yet?”
“No,” I’ll reply, hoping they’ll lose interest and change the subject.
“Why not? It looks great! I thought you were into all that sci-fi, comic booky stuff.”
At which point I’ll either have to lie and say that I just haven’t gotten around to it yet (a tactic I’ll feel horrible about later), or tell the truth about hating Michael Bay movies and come off sounding like a complete snob. Which of course I am, but nobody likes defending themselves against that, especially when it’s true.
You see, my friends just don’t get it. If it’s big, if it’s blockbustery, if it’s got giant robots and it’s based on a popular cartoon from the ‘80s, they’ll go see it regardless of how crap it is. “I know it’s not great,” they’ll tell me, “but come on. It’s fun!” I could argue that last point, but by now I’m tired of the conversation.
I know I’m going to get this because I went through it two years ago with Transformers 2. I don’t want to go through it again. Fortunately, this year I have something with which to deflect the conversation into a positive direction. I have Incredible Change-Bots.
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.
I had been wanting to read Parker: The Outfit, Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of the Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) novel, but this is the busiest time of year for me, and I hadn’t gotten a review copy. So there I was, with my best-of-the-year list due the next day, with no copy of a book that I was quite sure deserved to be on the list. Fortunately, IDW, which publishes the Parker books, has just decided to put its graphic novels in the iTunes store as standalone apps, and Parker: The Outfit is available for $9.99.
In general, I think $10 is too much for an e-book, which is essentially an ephemeral thing. You don’t really buy e-books, you rent them, although it’s more of a long-term lease. I still have books that I bought 30 years ago; the same will not be true of my e-books. That said, ten bucks for the Parker book is better than a 50% savings off the price of the print book. And it’s Darwyn Cooke, dammit. So I bit.
Best ten bucks I ever spent.
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.
The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories
Edited by Craig Yoe
IDW, 176 pages, $34.99
When I was a kid, the word “treasury” promised delights beyond measure, and Christmas was the time when treasuries—of comics, fairy tales, Christmas stories, and other delights—showed up under the tree.
Craig Yoe’s The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories is a throwback to those days when a big, fat, colorful book was the centerpiece of the Christmas swag. It is very much a baby-boomer book, chock full of colorful stories from the 1940s and 1950s, but most of the material has aged pretty well and there are some solid classics in there. Of course there are some clinkers, too, but that’s the way of anthologies.
Most notable among the good stuff are several stories by Walt Kelly. His Santa tales are a far cry from Pogo, with a massive, good-natured Santa surrounded by cherubic elves, while his winsome animal stories are more familiar but all sweetness and no bite. The most imaginative of his stories is “The Great Three-Flavored Blizzard,” a classic fairy-tale type story in which weather problems threaten Christmas (no snow, no sleigh) until an elf and the Easter Bunny solve the problem by using ice cream for snow.
By various authors, edited by Ian Brill
BOOM! Studios, $14.99
CBGB is a graphic novel anthology of short stories about the legendary punk nightclub CBGB and the people who hung out there. The music of the era plays a huge part in the stories, especially the introductory tale, but overall the book is really about the things that went with the music—drugs, sex, ambition, rebellion, being young and living in New York City—and most of the characters are on the floor watching the music, not onstage playing it.
For an anthology about punk rock and New York life in the 1970s, CBGB is remarkably colorful. The art leans more toward neon colors than the blacks and grayed-out colors one might expect, although there is quite a range of styles and story types.
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.
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.