This is easily one of the most interesting superhero graphic novels I have...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5 of 5
This is easily one of the most interesting superhero graphic novels I have ever read.
First, a little history... the 1940's were considered a Golden Age for comic books. A new format, cheap, pulp paper, and a wide-ranging readership gave birth to a variety of stories and titles and characters. Some would live on and many others fade in to obscurity. There has been a bit of revitalization in 'obscure' super heroes and crime fighters (see my review of Masks which revives The Green Lama, Black Terror, The Spider, Black Bat and others)lately, and it's actually kind of exciting to see the creativity of the '30's and '40's come to life.
The Shadow Hero brings back the first Asian American superhero ... the Green Turtle. He might also be the first Kung-Fu superhero. Born without any super powers, he is pushed in to super-hero-dom by a domineering mother (she was saved by a superhero [the Anchor of Justice]) and decides it would be a nice career for her son. Hank doesn't want to be a superhero (what kid wants to do what his parents tell him to?), but fate and fortune come together for Hank to put on the raggedy, homemade costume and for a Chinese spirit to enter in to him and grant him one wish, and the superhero is born.
Although the domineering mother become more than a little annoying as I read this, I otherwise really enjoyed the rather simple, but active story. Author Gene Luen Yang puts a slightly modern stamp on this creation and offers up a number of explanations to some of the biggest question marks surrounding the original Green Turtle character. It all blends together quite remarkably. The art by Sonny Liew is perfect for the story.
I'm not Asian, I'm not a huge superhero fan (though don't you dare try to keep me away from any Marvel movies!), I'm not even the biggest of comics readers, but I really enjoyed this book. I even had concerns when I first started, thinking..."Ho-boy...a Chinese superhero from the 40's... why did I choose to read this?" But there's a gentility, a simplicity, and even a universal attitude in this that really appeals.
In addition to Yang's really nice story, is a known history of the character (not much), some supposition about the character, and even a full copy of one of the complete Green Turtle comics. It is really fascinating to see this book after reading about the book, and after reading the up-dated version.
Looking for a good book? The Shadow Hero is a MUST for any comics fan, superhero fan, or student of pop culture.(less)
I feel like I've been beating up on a number of graphic novels lately, and...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5 of 5
I feel like I've been beating up on a number of graphic novels lately, and I definitely had my concerns going in to this one (look at that cover illustration and tell me you don't think it will have that objectifying women portrayal!). But as I'd just finished Grimm Fairy Tales: Code Red, which I felt bordered on having a really strong story, and in which Robyn Hood makes a guest appearance, I decided to read through this volume, which has been sitting in my ARC queue for a little while now.
Robyn Locksley is street smart. Out of necessity she steals medicine for her mother. She fights every day ... sometimes with an addict father, and sometimes with a rough group of high school peers. It is from this fighting that she loses an eye. And then Robyn is transported from her earthly life to medieval England, the city of Bree in the land of Myst.
Here, Robyn learns that she can fight back in ways that she couldn't when she was in our own time... and she does fight back, killing without remorse, and perhaps enjoying this taste of bloodletting. In order to get back to her own time, Robyn must lead a revolt against King John.
This tactic of changing Robin Hood into the female Robyn works very well, and having her origins begin in our own time is also a nice twist to the legend/mythology. What author Patrick Shand creates through the blending of the histories is a strong YA character who becomes quite adept at killing without remorse, which even she wonders at. This is some nice story-telling.
As for the art... yes, we have the much-too-typical overly-busty female running around kicking butt. Fortunately, the strength of the story surpasses the art's intent to capture teen-boy attention. Too often, in these sorts of graphic novels, the Barbie™-fied females are all that is drawing attention to the book. Fortunately Shand has been working hard to create a strong story, which is part of a larger story arc, and more importantly, the interior art actually doesn't typically over-emphasize Robyn's figure. She tends to be mostly dressed in jeans and a jacket. It is the cover art that suggests something more.
I liked this book, and I liked the potential in the Red Hood book I reviewed the other day, and I think publisher Zenescope may actually be on to something. Now...if the art could be drawn just a little more realistically, instead of preying on teen-age fantasies, we may have something worthwhile!
Looking for a good book? The gender-bending twist in this Robin/Robyn Hood story works very well and sets up a stong character in a story that is worth reading. (less)
Little Red Riding Hood...er...Britney Waters, aka Agent Red, works for the government on special assignment with the Realm Knights. They managed to get their hands on a precious red stone (referred to as the Cyclops Eye), the properties of which they don't fully understand, other than that it potentially holds special powers. As Red heads off for some training excercises, the government facility comes under attack by a horde of ... creatures ... one of which has the ability to hop from body to body (refering to them as 'meat suits'). Red is charged with protecting the Cyclops Eye until back-up arrives. Back-up first comes by way of Red's friend Robyn Hood, and later by more military might. But when Red decides to take the action right at the horde, she gets more than she bargained for.
Oh...and Red is a werewolf who has the ability to control her changing and fierceness, though it takes much effort.
The first two books of the five comic book issues collected here were captivating. I was actually quite involved in this idea of Red Hood working for the government as a bit of a loose cannon agent. Her fierceness. Her abilities. Working for the government? Yeah...this seemed really interesting.
And then Red went off to fight the horde and she battled ogres and a were-panther, and things just went downhill for me. This delved in to a monster-vs-monster battle with expendable 'redshirt' military men to act as casualty-fodder. Once it became a monster-fest, I completely lost interest. Even Red Hood was no longer interesting. Ivory (the were-panther) spent what felt like an entire issue trying to bring out the werewolf in Red. Who cares?
Even the potentially interesting 'bad' character who has the ability to hop from body to body was easily captured, then easily dispatched (gone, but not forgotten). It simply became one battle where the big bad guy threatens to kill Red quickly or slowly, her choice, after another. Let's try for something a little more original, shall we?
I can see where this story is going, and I'm not sure how keen I am on finishing it. There was so much potential here for something unique.
The artwork. Sigh. It's the typical overly-exagerated female body art. It's not quite as provocative as some I've seen lately, but it is totally unrealistic. These women make Barbie™ look flat-chested. Oddly enough, it didn't bother me at all when I felt that there was a story to be drawn in to, but once the story seemed to fall away, the female bodies seemed to get more pronounced.
Clearly this 'style' (if I may use the term loosely) must sell books or it wouldn't continue. But as I've matured, so has what I look for in a book ... which is story.
Looking for a good book? Code Red Volume 1: Age of Darkness has a lot of potential but falls back on some traditional 'dark' monster themes instead. (less)
This graphic novel, Stumptown, Vol 2, features a young woman, Dex, who has...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5
This graphic novel, Stumptown, Vol 2, features a young woman, Dex, who has her own detective agency in Portland, Oregon. She gets a wonderful opportunity when rock star Mim Bracca arrives looking to hire Dex. Mim's special guitar has disappeared and Mim doesn't want to go to the police. Complicating things is the D.E.A. who question Dex, and a gang of skinheads who are also looking to get their hands on the guitar.
The plot is pretty straightforward, with just enough clues for those who like to challenge themselves to be able to solve the mystery before the plot is resolved, but not so overly complicated that it's impossible to follow. The characters all strike me as real and rather ordinary. In some ways this is a nice change of pace, but it also then borders a little on dull. Having a rock star and skinheads in the story certainly helps to liven it up a bit. And the art conveys the 'realness' of the characters and the world.
I really like the idea of a comic/graphic novel that isn't about superheroes or fantastic fantasy creatures, or even something set in the future. This is, to put it very simply, a detective mystery that is illustrated. A graphic ... novel. Yeah, like the genre descriptions implies.
But this also creates some other challenges. When we rely on art to convey the action of the story, we tend to lose out on the descriptive motivation and thought process of the characters. This works in many cases, and is more challenged in others.
I don't really know who Dex is, even though she's the 'star' of the series. I don't know what's motivated her or what keeps her interested in this work. And because I don't know her, I rely on plot only to keep me interested. And the plot, as I say, is fairly simple.
This is a nice concept all around ... story, theme, art ... and I will read more (I'd definitely like to go back and read the first volume), but it isn't a 'must read' yet.
Looking for a good book? The graphic novel Stumptown, Volume 2, is a realistic mystery story set in modern-day Portland and features rock stars, skinheads, a smart female detective, and DEA agents and is a fun read. (less)
The premise for this graphic novel/comic series is really wonderful. A tea...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.25 of 5
The premise for this graphic novel/comic series is really wonderful. A team of scientist have developed a dimension-traveling machine. It works well, except that they can't control where it will take them. We start the first book right in the thick of things, with two dimension-hoppers running for their lives from some very unusual looking creatures. One of the travellers doesn't make it and we know right away that this isn't going to be your ordinary book where everyone survives each new threat that comes their way.
Grant, who tends to be the leader of the group, is traveling with his children. Given the dangers of this dimension-hopping, I'm not clear why it was that the kids were ever permitted to go along. Of course the danger will be heightened when children might be in trouble.
The device use for hopping is referred to as 'the pillar' and it becomes clear that the pillar was damaged, sabotaged, which is why they can not control the destination or the timing of the hops.
The book moves along a little too quickly for me, with each comic book (this graphic novel collects the first six issues of the comic series) basically taking up one unique story. This gives it an episodic feeling, much like television shows like Land of the Lost or Lost in Space (this could be titled Lost in Black Science). I think that if I were buying the individual issues on the comic stand, I'd probably appreciate this quality, and it would certainly make it easier for someone to pick up a current issue and not feel as though they'd missed out on too much. Unfortunately, that has a less than positive effect on reading the series as a longer story in a graphic novel. Here, as the issues went on, I thought to myself...okay, what are we going to get this time? And sadly, nothing was ever as intriguing as the world and creatures we encountered with the first few pages!
There is, of course, the overarching story of the pillar, its invention, and the sabotage, that we haven't fully investigated, and hopefully, in future issues of the comics and graphic novels, more of this will come out, rather than spending so much time escaping each new dimension's baddies.
Whereas the story leaves a little something to be desired, the art is beautiful. Matteo Scalera and Dean White have teamed up to create something really spectacular to behold. While the character's aren't in the utmost realistic mode...a bit on the caricature side...it works really well here. The colors are stunning.
The book has as many possibilities as author Rick Remender can imagine, and that limitless quality can really be an asset. I only hope that he doesn't try to burn through all his ideas in just a few issues. Give us, the reader, a little time to digest the locations and the implications of the locations. It can also mean that we'll meet some characters, other than the scientist team, that we might come to appreciate.
Looking for a good book? Black Science, Volume One is an original series concept of dimension travelling, with gorgeous art, and promises to be a strong series.(less)
This is not a graphic novel, but the first issue of a new comic series. Set in the not-too-distant future when an alien race arrived, made no direct c...moreThis is not a graphic novel, but the first issue of a new comic series. Set in the not-too-distant future when an alien race arrived, made no direct contact, and planted some extremely large pillars, or trees, across the globe. Some were struck through the middle of cities, spewing a toxic waste, initially. Now...they just seem to be 'there,' with people living and working around them. But of course things have changed. Life has changed, government has changed, all because of the trees. It's an intriguing concept and I look forward to more.(less)
It will surprise some people that I'm very very new to the whole Dresden Files...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0/5
It will surprise some people that I'm very very new to the whole Dresden Files stories. I have not read the entire series, and I have not watched any of the television episodes. What I have read, however, has been truly wonderful and I want to dig in to all the books (but I'm still way behind on my ARC reading, so it'll be a little bit). So when I saw the opportunity to read a graphic novel based on Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, I thought this would be a great chance for me to get in a little bit of everything I enjoy.
The story is fairly straight-forward for someone who deals with ghouls and vampires and werewolves on a daily basis. Harry Dresden is called to a small town by a deputy sheriff to investigate some unique deaths of family members. The sheriff doesn't want Harry Dresden around and isn't happy with his deputy. However, the deputy is correct ... there is something supernatural going on and Harry reveals a curse on the family from a long time ago. There are battles with supernatural creatures and all sorts of the usual Harry Dresden dry commentary. All in all, a fun, visual Harry Dresden story.
One of the most difficult things about doing a comic book or graphic novel of existing literary characters is drawing what we readers have imagined in our heads. So rarely will any two people have the same idea as to how someone looks. Occasionally a visual format will appear so well that it becomes the commonly accepted representation. Look at Conan the Barbarian. He will forever look to me as Frazetta and Buscema have imagined him. The hobbits of Tolkien looked only the way the Hildebrandt's have painted them, and now the way Peter Jackson has put them on-screen. Will Sookie Stackhouse look like anything other than Anna Paquin? Will Alice ever really look like anything other than the drawings of Sir John Tenniel?
But for every literary character that holds a common visual appearance, there are hundreds more who are constantly drawn or depicted but aren't accepted as 'the' look and Harry Dresden is one of the characters for me. I haven't seen the Harry Dresden yet who appears quite how I imagined him based on what I've read. The covers by Ardian Syaf are very very close, but the interior art, by Joseph Cooper don't work for me at all.
As a story, I am very happy reading this and could have read it as just a story in a magazine or collection, without pictures, and been very content. But as it's a graphic novel, the art is important and can't be ignored.
There's some technical mastery in the work, with some solid inking, but the art is generally a bit too 'cartoony' for me, for a story that is dark and devilish. The faces are a little too exaggerated. Harry looks like a caricature of who he should be and I have difficulty taking him seriously most of the time in the book. There are pages, or at least panels, where he looks true and serious, and I like these (page 33 of my digital edition [which may include the cover as a page] looks very good -- as if it wasn't even drawn by the same artist!). The monsters Harry fights are foppish, Scooby-Doo-like creatures rather than frightening ghouls and goblins.
It's become commonplace for graphic novels to include 'bonus material' and this book is no exception. There are sketches of the characters, character descriptions, and sample pages of the script.
Looking for a good book? It's fun to read a new Harry Dresden/Dresden Files story, but the art in this graphic novel doesn't live up to Harry's stature.(less)
When the Fables books first started to come out, a friend of mine told me abou...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5/5
When the Fables books first started to come out, a friend of mine told me about them, suggested I’d like them, and so I bought the first few issues. My friend was correct…I did like them. I thought (and think) of them as one of the best concepts for a comic book/graphic novel series that has come forward in a very long time.
For those who aren’t familiar at all with the concept, the series takes existing characters from myths, fables, and fairy tales and puts them in the modern world, with all the knowledge of their ‘other’ lives.
This book actually contains two stories. The first, which takes up one-third of the book, is titled “A Revolution in Oz.” This story is told in three page increments which I suspect means it was a short tag-on story at the end of each comic. The art, by Shawn McManus is wonderfully ‘odd’ – I’m not sure what is a better way to describe it. It comfortably captures the strangeness and frightening aspects of Oz. The story is definitely suitable for a tag-on story in a comic series, but I will admit I grew tired of it before it ended. The story here is that tiny Lily Martagnion leads some friends, including Jack Pumpkinhead, on a mission to rescue her boyfriend, Bufkin (a monkey), Prince of the Revolutionaries. Parts of the story were quite fun, such as the Lollipop Killed sequence.
The rest of the book is taken up with the Snow White story, in which Prince Brandish appears, making a legal claim as Snow White’s husband, and ensnares her in magic. Snow’s current husband Bigby Wolf fights for her release and some terrible things happen. Snow does get free from the magical ensnarement (thanks in part to her sister) and she faces off against Brandish herself.
It’s a well-plotted story, though it does seem to take a little more time than seemed really necessary, but I was definitely hooked and wanted to read it all the way through. The art is strong and appropriate for the genre.
In my ARC version, the Oz story came first in the book, and because it went on quite long (one-third of the book) I wondered if we were going to get to the ‘real’ story. Anyone not familiar with Fables may struggle to get through the Oz story.
Looking for a good book? Fables is a great concept for a graphic novel and whether you’re a long-time fan or this is your first look, there’s a lot to like in this volume of the book. (less)
Not long ago I reviewed a graphic novel written by Chris Roberson titled Masks, in which some masked crime fighters from the late 1930's worked together. Now, Roberson has stepped in to the future (from the 1930's) to the late-1950's-mid-1960's era. If you think about the fact that masked crime fighters were the popular media figures from the 30's, what might you think of as popular in the late 50's? Action/adventure spies!
Roberson here writes a nice homage to the James Bond era with this book, Codename: Action, complete with sexy femme fatales and numbers instead of names and criminals of the egghead variety on remote islands!
We start with new agent (called "Operatives" or "Operators") 1001 teaming up with legend Operator 5 to figure out who is replacing world leaders with doppelgänger, and why (presumably to start the next world war).
Roberson manages to include The Green Hornet and Kato, as well as a costumed superhero called The American Crusader. Both are very appropriate to this era as The Green Hornet made the cross from the pulps to radio to television, and the costumed superheroes began to make their appearances at about this same time. Together, these three types of crime fighters blend together to create what the superheroes become, a topic which Roberson weaves in to the story superbly.
The artwork by Jonathan Lau is quite nice and captures the mood and style of the period.
And while I like what Roberson has done, creating new-but-recognizable characters and given us a glimpse at how our crime fighters have morphed from one variety in to another, this particular story felt lacking to me. The story got just a little out of control (although, in retrospect, it's still in line with the 'wackiness' of the era and the whole atomic age) as it reached the climax and when it finished I thought..."that's it?" While it clearly opened the door to future stories (or a future series), this was a self-contained, concluding story, which I greatly appreciate.
The book concludes with the script for issue #1 of the Codename: Action comic and a cover gallery and a character guide for the artists. These sorts of bonuses are becoming fairly common in graphic novels.
Looking for a good book? Codename: Action Volume 1 is a solid, steady graphic novel that honors the period of spy movies but doesn't quite rise above the mediocre plotting of those same spy films.(less)
In the graphic novelWill o' the Wisp, young Aurora Grimeon is sent to live wi...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.25/5
In the graphic novel Will o' the Wisp, young Aurora Grimeon is sent to live with her estranged grandfather after her parents died from mushroom poisoning. The grandfather lives in a creepy old house in the backwater/swamps of Louisiana, where hoodoo is a natural way of life. The superstitious people of the isle fear that Aurora may have brought back luck down upon them. With the help of a hoodoo priestess (Mama Noonie) and a pet raccoon named Missy, Aurora goes to solve the mystery of strange blue lights that are appearing in the swamp, along with the disappearance/murder of some of the locals.
It's a moody, atmospheric piece that reaches right out and pulls the reader in to a fantasy/horror/mystery story that is perfectly rooted in the mythology of the deep south.
While the story is interesting and moves along well, with characters that have just the right amount of creepiness to them, it is the art that draws me to this book the most. And above and beyond the art, I can't tell you how appealing the color is in this book. That's right...the color.
Megan Hutchison is the illustrator, and her work is phenomenal. I'm not quite sure how to define this art. Aurora has a slight anime style to it, but she would be the only one, which makes her stand out among the characters. The art is not über-realistic -- it contains fascinating angles and shapes, while still giving the impression of realism. It is so different from anything I've seen in a comic/graphic novel before, and I'm completely blown away by it.
Now...take Hutchison's art and give it a color scheme like that of Adam Guzowski's, and this will take your breath away.
Color in graphic novels/comics is one of those things that a reader generally doesn't pay attention to unless it doesn't work. Fortunately this is one of those pleasant instances when it is noticed for its fabulous enhancement. Even when the scene is a drab and dreary swamp at midnight or inside and old and decrepit structure, Guzowski has found a way to pump up the colors, with shadows and highlighting (and even patterns such as on the ancient wallpaper). The attention to detail here is meticulous. The edge of a table in one small panel has no fewer than seven discernible colors or shades. This is 'necessary' and wouldn't likely be this way in any other comic, but clearly these artists have a passion for what they do and are putting their all into it. And I, for one, really appreciate it. I will remember these names, Megan Hutchison, Adam Guzowski, Tom Hammock (author) and I will happily pay money for whatever they put out next.
Looking for a good book? Will o' the Wisp is a graphic novel of Louisiana hoodoo mystery with art that will impress. Highly recommended!(less)
I couldn't say when I last read an Aquaman comic or graphic novel (if, in fact, I ever have), but I would say that this was a wonderful start. Under the helm of writer Geoff Johns, we have here a story of high drama, enriched by strong visuals in the art of Paul Pelletier.
Author Johns knows how to work a story and what makes ideas and concepts 'big.' A story reaches us, the readers, when we can relate to it, and we tend to relate to stories about people. This is fully a story that is relatable. People; men and women looking to restore what was once theirs.
But the story reaches out to big concepts and themes because the people here are kings and queens and possibly even gods. While their desires are often the same as ours (restoration of things lost and peace and comfort and happiness), the battleground is larger (in this case the seven seas). It is a powerful talent that Geoff Johns has, to take grand stories that encompass all the oceans (or all the galaxies -- as was the case with his work on Green Lantern) and still tell stories that touch the fiber of what it means to be human.
In this story, Aquaman (Arthur Curry) learns a bit about his claim to the throne. He is not, it would seem, heir to the throne of the seven seas ... that claim belongs to Atlan, who makes a return visit to try to gain the throne back. Also appearing is Arthur's brother, Orm (aka Ocean Master), who is portrayed as extremely loyal to the throne and becomes a very sympathetic character.
Complicating the story even further is a foe called The Scavenger -- a very appropriate title given recent news that junk from the surface has reached the depths of the ocean that is only just being discovered by scientists.
As the story builds and Aquaman faces these foes as well as fighting for and against the surface dwellers for peace, he has to rise above the petty fights to maintain the sense of decorum that his role as king demands.
The art of Paul Pelletier, Sean Parsons, and Rod Reis is absolutely gorgeous. The full-page and double-page spreads are worth the price of admission here and truly enhance the story. Having grown up on the comics of the 1970's and '80's there's been a sense of power missing from many comics and graphic novels lately. While the art is often slicker and more detailed, it often has not felt 'right' to me. This has that right feeling. I've already gone through, just to thumb the digital pages, to soak in the art some more.
I do tend to think that a graphic novel, an accumulation of comic book stories telling one major story arc, should be conclusive, and this one isn't, quite. There's a cliff-hanger here, making sure we'll pick up the next book. Given the quality of the story and the art, that cliff-hanger isn't necessary. We'll buy the next one just to get more of what we've been through!
Looking for a good book? Geoff Johns' story and the art of Pelletier, Parsons and Reis in Aquaman, Vol. 4: Death of a King are spectacular. If you've ever wondered what the fuss is all about with super-hero comics, then this is a great entry. If you already enjoy graphic novels, this one is not to be missed! (less)
I'm a sucker for anything 3D, I admit. While I received an ARCdigital...moreThis review originally published in the blog Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0/5
I'm a sucker for anything 3D, I admit. While I received an ARC digital edition of this through NetGalley, I had no problem with the 3D effects as I have my own collection of 3D glasses:
**photo included on blog**
I think this book is mostly a concept book. Clearly the 3D is a major portion of the concept, but if we take that away as simply a gimmick, what else do we have? We have a story that is simple. George Joyner is a mid-level businessman in the future. While he's not particularly successful as a businessman, he's less so as a husband and father. He hopes he can 'man up' by being a bit of a savior to the attractive babysitter, and this takes him on a journey.
The story is very simple and I'm not convinced that it would stand up on its own and be a strong story without any art.
The art is also very simple, though this simplicity, within the frame of the story, comes off as 'efficient' and helps define this futuristic world. Simplicity doesn't mean simple. This is austere and lovely.
The 3D is a nice enhancer. The sense of depth in a traditionally 2D format is always appreciated by me when it is done well, and this 3D conversion is solid. I did have some issue with some of the word balloons which did not seem to be incorporated in to the conversion process and sometimes it interrupted lines and created an incorrect break in the depth.
I enjoyed what I had here, but I wasn't committed enough to the project that I'd have to be sure to get the next book in the series.
Looking for a good book? This 3D graphic novel has some really nice, efficient and austere art, though the story is a little bit wanting.(less)
Oh foolish, foolish me. For some reason, I had hoped we'd moved beyond graphic novels where the women were so busty and thin-waisted they make Barbie™ look flat-chested. But apparently, judging by this collection of tales from the land of Oz, that is not the case.
"Reboots" are becoming common, and it's no surprise that someone has taken on the idea of re-booting the Oz stories. This particular collection of tales gives a new look at the beginnings of the Tinman, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and even Toto. The reboot is more than just their appearances (those changes alone are quite dramatic). The history of how they came to be is different than L. Frank Baum's stories. Let's start, as the book does, with the Tin Man....
Our human-looking woodsman is out chopping wood for the witches. It's his job, though he's pretty lonely. Suddenly he sees a woman nearby. She is creating little spirit life from nothingness. And though she just appeared to him, she is attacked by a local beast and on the verge of death. And also, though he hasn't spoken even a word to her, he is immediately in love with her. A love so pure and binding that he'd do anything for her. He takes the near-death girl to the witch and begs that she be saved. because she showed magical powers, the witch is interested and takes her in, saves her, and trains her as an assistant. But of course the girl is also in love with the woodsman. They run off together, are caught, and the woodsman looses his heart (literally) to the witch and is transformed in to the robotic-looking Tin Man.
I'm not sure how we're supposed to believe the true-love story when there isn't any time for any sort of relationship to develop. Certainly he's physically aroused by the girl...she's probably got the most incredible body ever drawn in a comic book... but 'true love'? That one is hard to swallow.
The Cowardly Lion's story is a little more interesting. Here we have brother pitted against brother. One a warrior, one a poet, but the female lion chooses the poet even though she's been promised to the warrior. A battle is fought, the poet wins, though he wonders if it might not be true that he is, in fact, a coward.
And then to the Scarecrow... as a man (named Bartleby), he confronts and bargains with the witches to save the people of the villages. For their (witches) promise to not harm the people, the man promises that he will get them to be supportive of their wicked leaders. But as he goes from town to town, trying to rally support he is horrified to learn that the witches' army is slaughtering villagers all about the countryside. He hurries back to his wife, who has managed to survive, only to be instantly killed by the witches as Bartleby is transformed in to a mindless scarecrow.
And finally to Toto... well, I think you get the picture by now, that this Oz is not the Oz from the original stories, and certainly not the Oz from the famous flick. Toto, just as similarly, is not the cute little dog you might think (just as Dorothy is not the innocent little farm girl...she's more in line with Daisy Duke here).
Mostly I found the stories disappointing. All three major characters are changed because of a love for a woman. We couldn't come up with anything just a little different? Two are physically changed by the witches themselves. And the women for whom the males characters have lost everything ....? They're simple pastiches of every average female in comics. They're nothing but sexy bodies. Even the witches, who could be interesting characters, are more about looking sexy in their flimsy faille gowns than they are about being something.
Although the women all look exactly alike except for the clothes they almost wear, I actually liked the artwork. There was great consistency and realism with just the right amount of fantasy-appearing-differentness to the art. The lions looked quite remarkable, though I was a little bothered that the looked like humans with lion faces and legs (walking upright with six-pack abs) more than lions. Even so, the artwork is to be admired. I wish the stories could be, likewise.
Looking for a good book? This graphic novel, Tales from Oz, reboots the Wizard of Oz series with teenage-boy-fantasy-looking women and love-struck-dumb males, but with not much story. (less)
Three is a thoughtful, well-researched graphic novel quite reminiscent of the...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5/5
Three is a thoughtful, well-researched graphic novel quite reminiscent of the book and film 300, but choosing to look at the vainglorious, down-fall years of Sparta.
The book is told from the viewpoint of the Helots. The Helots were the slaves of the Spartans, and like many slave-owners, the Spartans failed to realize that it was often the work of the slaves that supported them, economically, at least. The Helots begin to realize their own power just as the Spartans begin to lose theirs.
This story has a group of Spartan soldiers enter a tavern and decide, as is their wont, to slaughter the Helots within. One Helot, a cripple, decides to fight back with the help of two others, including a woman. One Spartan makes it out alive and reports to the king what has happened. The king sends 300 to put an end to what could be an up-rising, and the three are hunted throughout the book.
During the hunt, the Spartans take out one of their own, for failing to live up to their own code of honor and glory. It's a nice set-up to their own down-fall...the failure or one to be honorable, and the failure to respect leadership.
The ending is not super-heroic, but certainly worthy of respect.
The art is really quite nice for this book. There was a 'classic' 70's feel to the book which I felt leant well to the classic nature of the story.
The Helots did seem to be a little stronger than I expected them to be. For three, barely armed slaves to take out a squad of Spartans, even if they did have surprise on their side, seemed super-human, and their language and manners certainly didn't make them appear as slaves. But what we do get, is a sense of humanity. The Spartans were not gods, but men, capable of failure and a down-fall. And the Helots were not animals, but men (and women) capable of over-coming their lot. I don't recall reading a graphic novel that identified the human condition this well.
The last thirty pages or so of this book include a page-by-page historical footnote; a 'conversation'; a sample of the layout and design of the book; and bios of the three responsible for the bulk of the book (writer, artist, colorist). I found it mostly interesting. The historical footnotes definitely lend credence to the amount of research that went in to the book.
Looking for a good book? Three is a historical fiction graphic novel that speaks to what it can mean to be human during a turbulent time of a once great civilization. (less)
I've never read a Judge Dredd comic or graphic novel before this, so I come as...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0/5
I've never read a Judge Dredd comic or graphic novel before this, so I come as a truly blank slate.
In a future or alternate reality, mega-cities employ "judges" -- police officers who have the power of judge and jury (and executioner) to uphold the law. Dredd is a Judge fresh out of the academy and immediately he finds himself involved in a case of epic proportions. Juveniles have developed a strong psychic ability which makes them feel invincible. Dredd, already with a prejudice against those with psi-powers, does not want to have to deal with the problem, but as the first Judge on the scene, it's his problem. A good lesson for a recent grad ... you're going to have to deal with things you'd rather not have to deal with.
During his investigation Dredd goes through a vortex and finds himself in his mega-city but in another time (or alternate reality) in which the juveniles have run the 'helmets' (as the Judges are affectionately known as) underground and taken control. Dredd gives an inspiring speech to some older, underground Judges and gets them motivated again to take back control of the city. The fight to take back control is dispatched quickly and Dredd returns to his own time and with the knowledge of how the juveniles were controlled, the Judges will hopefully be able to stop the attacks, now and in the future.\
I liked what I learned about the Judges and the society that would employ such a force. Dredd does not come off as a recent academy graduate, but a seasoned veteran with a chip on his shoulder. If this is Dredd in his first year, I can't really imagine what he's like with some experience under his belt.
The juveniles with psychic abilities was a really interesting concept, but it's never developed. The entire story could easily have been expanded and retained reader attention for four more comic book issues (this story was a four-issue arc). Dredd and the future Judges make such short work of their foe it's hard to imagine that they ever had enough power to run the Judges off in the first place, and if you accidentally turn two pages instead of one, you'd probably miss the entire encounter.
I felt cheated by the brief story. Not having read a Judge Dredd book before, this doesn't turn me off, but it doesn't entice me to want to read more, either.
The art is really fabulous...it has a style that's hard to define, but feels very appropriate for this futuristic setting.
Looking for a good book? You may feel a little cheated by the simple, easily-resolved story in Judge Dredd: Year One, but for Dredd fans, it's nice to see a story of a new Judge, and the artwork is superb.(less)
After reading the "Blackest Night" series, I wondered how anyone could possibl...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0/5
After reading the "Blackest Night" series, I wondered how anyone could possibly maintain a strong sense of drama with obstacles and goals in te Green Lantern series. I felt that anything would pale compared with the high drama of the "Blackest Night" series. Author Robert Venditti manages a valiant effort!
In Green Lantern, Vol. 4: Dark Days we have a disaster of another sort. We start with Hal Jordan now the head of the Green Lantern Corps. This is not the smooth, rather honorable Hal Jordan of his early days in the series, but the Hal Jordan with an attitude. Hal starts with a strange attack by an Orange Lantern who seems to only want some shiny toys. Really? I just about stopped reading early on just because of this strange weakly-motivated attack. And worse yet, Hal and what's left of his corps can't handle the attack very well, so Hal makes a judgment call and sends out the rings of fallen Lanterns for new recruits. (Clearly I've missed something as I don't know why the rings hadn't gone out before.)
The only thing that kept me in the story was that all the rings suddenly, inexplicably lost power. Had it been just the Green Lantern's, I might still have stopped, but the power-outage was across the spectrum of rings. This was potentially intriguing! Even the minor relationship squabble between Hal and Carol was simple and stupid.
Finally the real story develops. A figure by the name of Relic appears. Relic is the discoverer of the powers behind the spectrum and he is awake to preserve the power of the light. Every time a Lantern uses his/her ring, energy is drained from the ultimate source. Relic, therefore, is there to protect the power of the lanterns and Hal, in his new, egotistical, macho mode, essentially say to heck with it...it's worked for hundreds of years, it will work for hundreds more.
Clearly there are some parallels with our own worldly views on energy, the oil crisis (or lack of crisis, depending on your view) being one of them. But why does our titular hero take the opposition view? Ah...well therein lies a major source of conflict, as some of the Lanterns under Hal's charge think that they should be more conservative with using the rings' powers. And the potential for using up a major universal energy source sets this story in the high drama stage. Unfortunately, it's all treated rather immaturely. Relic is fought off quite easily and the new knowledge of the rings' limits isn't treated with the respect or concern it should. There is, however, another disaster of epic proportions which over-shadows the new knowledge of the rings, but this disaster, too, comes as a bit of second-hand information, rather than the culmination of an epic story.
I've always enjoyed the Green Lantern series, and I used to be a fan of Hal Jordan, but this new Hal, is not heroic or leader-worthy, and while there's a lot of great potential in the stories, there is no focus.
The art by Billy Tan works well. There is nothing extraordinary here, but nothing embarrassing either.
Looking for a good book? Green Lantern, Vol. 4: Dark Days introduces some great themes and plots, but none of them is built to their potential.(less)
The Green Hornet has been mostly absent in my life since I was maybe eight years old and making Green Hornet rings and plastic hornets with my classic...more The Green Hornet has been mostly absent in my life since I was maybe eight years old and making Green Hornet rings and plastic hornets with my classic (then new) Mattel™ Goop Thingmaker® , which was one of my most favorite toys back in the 1960's!
Yet for some reason, The Green Hornet appears to be making a come-back of sorts. With this particular graphic novel, The Green Hornet has been featured in at least three graphic novels that I've read in the past few weeks (Masks and Dark Knights).
Here, author Mark Waid tries to put a new twist on an old character, making him more human, if that's possible -- he's not a super-human or super-hero. He's a vigilante. He works to ingratiate himself with the underworld by appearing to be one of them ... a criminal. He does this with violence and threats, using the very means of the criminals themselves. So how does this separate him from the criminal underworld? Therein lies the question that Mark Waid uses to build his plot.
The Hornet is trying to find a mad bomber who has threatened the city. The Hornet uses strong-arm tactics that put him on the same level as the criminal underworld. This action creates rifts within his own world, the most severe of which is with his trusty servant/partner Kato. Most of this story is psychological as it follows Britt Reid's descent in to becoming just what he's fought against, risking his personal life and fortune as he becomes singularly focussed, and then his attempts to rise above the filth of the underworld.
Waid does this well and manages to build some suspense but over-all the plot seems quite re-hashed. The attempt to make our heroes (and superheroes) relatable and as human as possible, we tend to see them descend in to the world they fight against. It's a version of the Stockholm Syndrome, identifying and bonding with "one person (who) intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other." Is there a comic book character who hasn't gone through this is the last couple of decades? It just doesn't feel real any more. And Kato's 'leaving' never, ever felt like it was the end of the line for The Green Hornet or Britt Reid. Instead it felt like "stay tuned next month to see how they get back together!"
Waid's use of Citizen Cane as inspiration is wonderful. More so that he admits to it. If the book didn't have Waid's strong hand writing it, this would have never survived the storyline.
The artwork is fine. Daniel Indro's contribution is slightly stronger than Ronilson Freire's. Indro's is a bit more three-dimensional and realistic, while Freire's seems flat by comparison. Both manage to capture a gritty, violent world.
Looking for a good book? Mark Wiad's The Green Hornet Volume 1 brings our 1940's crime-fighter in to the spotlight, but mostly for his criminal activities. It's not a bad read, but isn't a book that is easy to recommend either.
**WARNING: SPOILER ALERT -- SPOILERS WITHIN THIS REVIEW**
You've seen the Star Trek: Into Darkness movie (if you haven't, I can't imagine any reason you would want to buy a Star Trek graphic novel) and whether you're a Trek fan or not, by now you must know that the 'villain' in the movie is the rebooted 'Khan.' It's Star Trek, so you also know that Kirk and Spock are going to save the day and probably come out ready for the next movie. But what happens to Khan Noonien Singh? Ah...to answer that, you need to pick up this graphic novel as it chronicles Khan's trial, which manages to chronicle Khan's past.
Star Trek is big business and all the books and all the comics give the fans the opportunity to live in the Star Trek universe nearly at will. I know...I'm such a fan. And a graphic novel like this makes use of the opportunity to explore a little deeper some of the issues that the episodes and movies touch on. For instance... What happened after Khan was caught? What was to become of Khan. And the most important question of all: why is Khan Noonien Singh a white man?
There isn't much to this graphic novel. It manages to fill 124 pages, but the story is bland (unless, I suppose, you are a huge Khan or Benedict Cumberbatch fan -- I am neither). The most interesting part of this is the trial itself, but we don't get much of the trial ... we instead get Khan's story. And even this could be interesting (am I the only person fascinated by the idea that Khan and his 'family' "assumed control of" the forty most advanced nations in the world and yet there is a "scarcity of information" from the period (beginning in 1992)). Perhaps there are Eugenics Wars novels set in the Star Trek universe -- I most certainly have not kept up with all the ST novels -- and while I'm not a fan of the Khan character, the idea of the Eugenics Wars is most certainly intriguing.
And while this book didn't do much for me, based on Khan's story, it did end very appropriately, acknowledging that because there's a lack of verifiable information, everything Khan has related could be self-serving, or simply fiction on Khan's part. That's just the sort of twist I like. It seems very appropriate in this Star Trek universe. Unfortunately, it takes 124 pages to get there.
The art by Claudia Balboni is appropriate. It is realistic and the characters are identifiable, and she's chosen some interesting, almost unique angles in some panels.
Looking for a good book? This Star Trek graphic novel picks up at the end of Star Trek: Into Darkness and gives a little more background to the villain. It's sure to be of interest to dedicated Trek fans, but likely won't appeal to many others.(less)
I enjoy scholarly studies on topics that I am interested in. But I believe it is...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 1.5
I enjoy scholarly studies on topics that I am interested in. But I believe it is a fallacy to think that just because something is 'scholarly' it has to be written in a dry, emotionless, passionless manner. Hannah Miodrag could learn from her subjects. Language in comics is brief and to the point. To clutter up the space that is shared with images is wasteful. To be concise and precise is preferred over excess verbiage. This reads, not even like a scholarly study so much as a thesis paper trying to impress old academics who look down upon comics.
Although the title of this book is Comics and Language, this is, as the sub-title refers, a discourse on critical writings about comics. A discourse on comic book criticism. A hot topic to be sure (and if this were a comic book, that last sentence would be in a word balloon with dripping sides, indicating sarcasm).
Early on, Miodrag puts forth her contention that:
Critics have tended to overreact to perceived slights against the medium, often at the expense of responding analytically to the exigencies of the corpus itself. *
I have to admit that I am not intimately familiar with comics scholarship or criticism, other than the oft-referred to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics, so I must accept Hannah Miodrag's premise that there is an over-reaction to perceived slights. But I am already confused...are critics defending the comic book medium (they are responding analytically to the perceived slights) or are they, as critics creating the slights by responding analytically? The former, I think... but let's move on....
In writing a little more specifically on language, Miodrag writes:
In language, speakers are always reusing preexistent signs, whereas visual signification affords scope for creating new ones.*
I disagree. While I understand and accept her points to this argument, I think that language/speakers do NOT always reuse pre-existent signs. New words/signs are brought forth quite regularly whereas our visual signification remains somewhat static. One common means to this is by mis-using a word, creating a new meaning for the word in use. Miodrag notes this herself just a few pages later when she discusses the "verbal eccentricities" of a character in a comic by Lynda Barry.
However, I digress. My job here isn't to agree or disagree with Hannah Miodrag, but to review her work. To that end, this book proves disappointing.
Unnecessary verbiage is still the key. Miodrag spends a fair amount of time discussing Will Eisner. Eisner, for those who aren't already familiar, was a ground-breaking cartoonist who invented, and re-invented the comic form, experimenting with styles and characters. Miodrag picks his work apart ("When Eisner really lets rip, however, the awkward grandiloquence of his extended bursts of prose veer towards the embarrassing..."*) until finally concluding: "To subject his sentences to linguistic analysis takes them out of context, for adroit prose is really not the point of Eisner's work."* So why did we just spend time discussing it?
From Eisner, Miodrag moves to Alan Moore, a writer/creator most noted for the Watchmen series that was quite the rage in the 1990's. Here, Miodrag notes:
"But to cite Moore as one of the comics form's best writers reveals the disinclination, within comics criticism, to tease out the difference between great comics and great language-in-comics." * (The emphasis is mine.)
While Miodrag cites a critical essay that refers to Moore as a "wizard at formalist exercises" to conclude her point, I'm not convinced that one or two essayists constitutes the wider range of "comics criticism" to which she regularly refers. And while it seems that Miodrag herself is critical of the literary merit of comics, she does say:
"Comics are not, of course, reducible to literature. They are a visualverbal (sic) form, and layouts, pictures, other visual devices, and plotting might justifiably take precedence over a well-crafted sentence. Language is just one of the form's elements, and may not be at the core of a particular text's aesthetic."*
So...tell me again why we just spent one-quarter of the book discussing the language in comics?
I could only laugh as Miodrag concludes Chapter Three with:
"Critics agree that the visual is vital to comics, but in acknowledging this we must not overlook the potential centrality of text—of material, graphic, spaced-out words—in shaping these visual works as much and potentially more than do iconic pictures."*
Critics agree that the visual is vital to comics?! Whew...I am relieved. But...there's a "but?"
The book drags on. There is a short discourse on whether or not single-panel cartoons should be considered as comics, just as strips and serialized comic books and graphic novels. Not surprisingly, Miodrag thinks that they should, whereas Scott McCloud (whom she clearly doesn't seem to care for) thinks that they should not. This, perhaps, is the crux of comic book criticism?
It strikes me that, in an attempt to be 'scholarly,' this book is profuse with verbiage. I read the following sentence aloud to my wife when she foolishly asked what I was reading.
"All narrative forms can, analeptically or proleptically, override their diegetic sequencing, but as we have seen, only comics can potentially override textual progression."*
Miodrag defends her own writing as she concludes the book with:
"While it is something of an exaggeration to suggest that there is still a “dearth” of serious comics criticism, it is true that the theoretically sophisticated criticism that exists is too rarely distinguished from the theoretically inadequate, and this remains a particular problem for formalist conceptions. ... As comics criticism continues to strengthen its presence within the academy, it becomes ever more urgent that this kind of properly thoughtful scholarly criticism becomes the norm, not the exception, for if the seriousness of the field really does need defending, this can be the only viable strategy."
It makes me wonder if the medium really does need scholarly criticism. Certainly, I would argue, it does not need this particular style to become the norm.
Looking for a good book? A thesis review committee may enjoy this critical discourse on comic book criticism, but for the book-buying public -- be aware that this is a dry, passion-less look at criticism of comics.
*Please note: All quotes are from an Advanced Reading Copy. Language may have been altered or removed before final publication.(less)
Lazarus, Volume 1: Family is the start of what promises to be a dark, thrilling, not-to-be-mi...moreOriginally reviewed in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5
Lazarus, Volume 1: Family is the start of what promises to be a dark, thrilling, not-to-be-missed graphic novel series.
Author Greg Rucka has taken what might otherwise be a stale genre staple (a dystopian United States where sections of the country are run by war lords) and developed it in to an intriguing drama of power and family.
The reader is dropped in to the story in the middle of an action sequence, not letting us catch our breath for even a moment, forcing us to accept the fact that we have to learn as we go, trusting that all will become clear later. I love when an author can do this, and can do it well. I've seen it with Roger Zelazny, and with Philip Pullman, done very successfully. Rucka is equally as successful.
We drop in on Eve (a nickname for "Forever"), whom we discover is a 'Lazarus' -- a genetically created (cyborg) protector for the Carlyle Family -- as she is surviving, or resurrecting from a battle in which she is protecting the theft of family-owned grain. Each Family seems to have a Lazarus. Eve doesn't appear to understand her origins, only that she's a member of the Family and her role is as protector. This 'not knowing' looks to be a story-line that we will follow in future installments of the book.
The opening scene with Eve's resurrection/survival of an attack is a fantastic way to begin the series. It Captures the reader's attention, asks for our attention and willingness to wait for more answers, and tells us that this world is unlike what we currently know. It's a fantastic opening.
What makes this story work so well is that it is not a story about the devastation that has taken place to create this world, but it is about family and politics and what strange bedfellows both can be. Despite her power, Eve is not liked by all in her own family. The family patriarch sends her on a mission to deliver a message to another family, and while we are already confident she'll survive the mission, based on what we know of her, questions of potential betrayal linger in our thoughts.
While it seems clear that much of this book (the first five issues of the comic) is a set up for a much larger, on-going story, Rucka manages to not just use this first volume as set-up/introduction, but is able to tell a complete enough story that we don't feel cheated. There's plenty of conflict set-up (inner-family; other family; man vs nature; et al) that there'll be no shortage of story plots!
Art by Michael Lark is appropriately moody and realistic. It is perfectly suited for this book.
This book is one of the rare graphic novels that I've read that has actually left me wanting more. Often it just seems right, and if I don't read the next volume, I'm okay with it. But this one really has me salivating for the next installment.
Looking for a good book? The graphic novel Lazarus, Vol 1: Family is a wonderful set-up to a dystopian future with plenty of family intrigue -- it is highly recommended. (less)
A graphic novel for younger readers! In my mind, the age group that this book is...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.0
A graphic novel for younger readers! In my mind, the age group that this book is targeted toward, is the perfect age for graphic novels (8-12 year olds) -- build a story with structure, using both images and dialog, to help develop a love for reading.
Cleopatra in Space is a fantasy/sci-fi/adventure tale using the historically recognized figure of Queen Cleopatra, when she was only a teenager. The idea is wonderful, and Mike Maihack's art is a perfect blend of Cartoon Network, anime, and Scooby-Doo-style comics.
But what is the purpose of using a historical figure if you're not going to actually play on that history? Other than that she's waiting for her turn as ruler, there's nothing here that suggests that its being Cleopatra is important to the story (perhaps that comes in to play in the next book, which doesn't come out until next year).
The story is that Cleopatra falls into a time machine and is transported in to the future, where she is anticipated to be the savior of an up-coming battle. She still has to go to school (which she hated in her own time and isn't enjoying any more in the future) and be tested on her skills. Her test turns out to be more than a simple test, of course.
The pictures are beautiful and it's very nice to look at. There are a LOT of action/movement sequences without any dialog, but lots of "SNIK" and "SWISH" and other such onomatopoeic words. A few too many, so that it felt as though we were filling pages of the book rather than advancing a story. Depending on the target age of the reader, this is possibly appropriate.
Life in Ancient Egypt, and life in the future, is pretty much the same, except for the styles of clothing and weapons (and talking cats). I didn't necessarily like this aspect. Again...if we're going to use a true historical figure for the book, why not actually try to capture some of Ancient Egypt, and use it to contrast with how different the future is? Again...is it because the intended age of the reader is young enough that we're trying to relate to them on a social level only?
My biggest 'beef' with a book like this, is the treatment of behavior. We're clearly going for a young audience, one that will most likely be looking at the pictures primarily, and learning to read with the words. But the social behavior of our characters is not something we want to be teaching those same, impressionable readers.
Our heroine, Cleopatra disobeys are teachers. She drugs (albeit with chamomile tea) her tutor. And her best friend gets intentionally kicked out of class so that they can have a great adventure. Is this what our children want in their escapism literature? And what do our pair do once they are truant? They take target practice at a live, sleeping animal from their slingshots. The animal, while a lizard, still looks awfully cute, with the great artwork. A final shot brings a ton of stone crashing down on the animal. As fun as the adventure might be, this is not behavior I'd want my children reading about and admiring.
What is the purpose for a digital clock to read 5:68? If this is targeted toward children, regardless of whether or not we look at time differently in the future, should we at least try to make some things recognizable to our youth?
Looking for a good book? This book has beautiful art, and some interesting ideas for a story, but the execution of character and story are not appropriate for the target audience.(less)
Ghosted is a supernatural/horror graphic novel that really delivers.
The story follows Jackson T. Winters, a criminal currently in prison. Winters is busted out of prison by a female gun-for-hire at the orders of a wealthy collector. The collector wants Winters to steal something -- probably the most unusual object he's ever been asked to steal: a ghost. Without having many options, Winters agree to the job and puts together his own team and insists on his rules. Two members of the team (the gun for hire and the clairvoyant/medium) are sent by the wealthy backer. Others include a famous ghost-hunter team from a television show, a perennial doubter (who doesn't believe in ghosts), and a petty thief.
While it appears mostly a horror tale (just look at that cover), it really starts out as a noir mystery, and even though the setting for the theft is a haunted mansion, we're more than a third of the way through before we get our first glimpse of a ghost (and what a glimpse, and what a great set-up!). Even once we have ghostly encounters, the noir mystery remains, it simply adds another level, the ghost story. It's quite a brilliant bit of plotting and writing.
The end comes as a bit of a surprise in the last portion of this graphic novel, but it's a sweet sense of retribution; the perfect ending for this story. My only real question ... how can there be a volume 2?
The art by Goran Sudžuka and Miroslav Mrva is perfect. From the banal prison sequence, to the noir collector's home, to the eerie haunted house with swooping ghouls, I couldn't have asked for a better collaborative graphic novel. This drew me in and with every panel I looked at and read, I enjoyed my stay. I most definitely want to see what else is in store for Jackson Winters, or for the Ghosted title.
Looking for a good book? This noir, ghost story graphic novel is the perfect blend of story that will keep you interested, and art that will draw you in. Recommended!(less)
This is an unusual, unorthodox graphic novel that, in graphic novel format, gives...moreThis review originally printed in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.75
This is an unusual, unorthodox graphic novel that, in graphic novel format, gives the illusion of multiple formats (newspaper clippings, book excerpts, etc.). The concept is high, it is grand in scope, but tight in execution.
Imagine if the Beatles weren't musicians, but scientists, still able to draw crowds to follow everything they do and people would buy in to whatever scientific concept or discovery or invention they produced. This is the very basic premise. Like most groups, and certainly like the British pop band, this group of scientists split, going their separate ways to work on their own projects. Friendships remain, friendships dissolve, some achieve greater success than others. What if we followed scientists the way we follow musicians?
Although the early portions of this book have a 1960's-70's feel, we are clearly in an alternate universe, where much is the same, except for our interest in science. This isn't too radical a thought as science was certainly at the beginning of an incredible revolution.
One huge, HUGE difference between musicians and scientists, however ... when music is done 'wrong' or badly, it's crap and no one listens or buys the work. When science is done wrong, or badly, it can have the power to kill or destroy. When four scientist, who were an unstoppable marvel together, split, the tendency is to try to outdo one another. And sometimes that leads to not-so-smart choices.
The art is not overwhelmingly great or poor... it is workman-like. It serves its purpose to tell the story. What is fascinating and greatly appreciated, is the effort that went in to creating all the incidentals. The apparent 'photocopies' of books, the newspaper pages, etc. The detail that went in to making these look appropriately like what they represent is quite remarkable.
To me, this is a new format of graphic novel. It is more than just story-telling with art representing the characters and locations of the story. This art represents a whole lot more. It is a wonderful blending of story and art, as only a graphic novel can do.
The story itself jumps around a bit, in time, and I never fully linked in to one person or group of people among our fab four. This made it hard to get in and care about the characters. I am definitely curious where the nowhere men go from here.
Looking for a good book? This graphic novel pushes the medium to be all that it can be, and has at its premise an incredible opportunity. The story suffers just a little, but still worth recommending and reading! (less)
John Byrne is one of those solid comic book/graphic novel artists/writers that you can alwa...moreOriginally reviewed in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.75.
John Byrne is one of those solid comic book/graphic novel artists/writers that you can always rely on to come through for you.
This book of Byrne's, Doomsday, hearkens back to the 1970's when Byrne was arguably at his peak ... an in-demand (at least from my point as a reader) author/illustrator. In fact, this is apparently a bit of a re-boot of some of his earlier creations.
The story: a massive solar flare is about to hit the earth, burning to a crisp all but one small section of the planet. Only that area furthest from the sun at the time of impact comes away without immediate annihilation; an area of the southeastern United States and northeastern area of Central America. Our story follows seven astronauts on the international space station making plans for an emergency evacuation and intending to stay ahead of the flare as it wraps around the earth. Those astronauts that survive this initial emergency then must face the devastation on the planet.
The book is put together in classic 70's style... each comic title that is makes up this graphic novel, is essentially a complete story within itself. There is the broader story arc of the Doomsday survivors exploring and learning to live life in a new way, but the individual stories are fairly well self-contained within a comics' pages. There's the discovery, capture, and escape (for some) from a Texas prison. There was the submarine story. There was the priest in South America story. To be honest, I've missed this episodic story-telling in graphic novels (in novels, in general!).
Also, this was pure science fiction ... no horror/fantasy (other than the horror of a devastated planet). There were no mutant vampires or zombies or beings that have developed strange powers from solar radiation. This is pure sci-fi adventure, not unlike Zelazny's Damnation Alley, or James Cameron's Terminator, or ... well, this is the one problem with the book. The story's been done and done and done. What's different, perhaps, is how doomsday has arrived, but the struggling survivors, trying to make sense of a new and terrible world... I haven't seen anything to set this apart just yet.
It's nice to have heroes of ordinary character, and not unrealistically ripped or endowed men and women, or the super-moody, psychologically damaged heroes of the superhero trades lately. Here too, though, our ordinary characters are almost stereotypically 70's in feel. Big, burly, hairy Russian man. Skinny, frog-eyed Frenchman. The extremely polite Canadian.
I'm definitely intrigued enough and enjoyed Byrne's work enough that I'd like to read more. I actually really like and respect the artwork of much of the comics in the 1970's. Byrne, Buscema, Perez...these were just three of the 'greats' from the 70's. Many of our illustrators today could stand to learn from these artists.
Looking for a good book? This graphic novel is straightforward sci-fi, written and drawn by one of the greats in the industry, The throwback in story and art to the 1970's comics works extremely well. (less)
I am, admittedly, new to this Spera world, and have to admit that I was lost, much like our...moreOriginally reviewed in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.25
I am, admittedly, new to this Spera world, and have to admit that I was lost, much like our young heroes seemed to be.
Spera, appears to be about a pair of princesses, Lono and Pira, who wander around the country side eating everything they can, and getting sick on it. Well, okay, that's not what the story is about, but it sure is what happens in this particular book. Wander with them is Yonder, the most fascinating of the characters, a fire spirit that is sometimes a very large dog that they can ride upon, and sometimes an older, bearded man. And their cat Chobo.
I had to work at understanding who the characters were. Perhaps because this is a volume three and I was not already familiar with the set up, but it took me quite awhile to understand that the fire spirit was both the dog and the man, and that both Lono and Pira were female!
In this book, Yonder is beset by a spell and shrunk down to small fire dog size (without the ability to turn in to a small man, apparently). The group of travellers are off to find a spirit who can restore Yonder. In addition to this longer story, there are a number of shorter "side" quests with this unique group of adventurers.
Josh Tierney is the creator and author behind this series and the artwork is done by a different artist for each comic-book-issue portion of the story. I really appreciate Tierney's desire to engage multiple artists and to see the effects different artists have on a story, but the idea can certainly backfire if the art is not captivating, as I found to be a problem within this book. At no time did I feel the art was so incredible that the entire book should have been done by that one artist, but there were times I felt the art was a true detriment to the story. Still... kudos for the attempt, and I rather like the idea of supporting this variety of artists.
One thing ... you never think much about the lettering in a comic book/graphic novel -- until it doesn't work. There are pages here where the calligraphy gets in the way, making it hard to actually read the story because we're busy deciphering the words. This shouldn't happen. Points lost for this.
In some cases, I found the side stories to be more interesting, more captivating than the longer story arc of the book. This might be, in part, because I was finally familiar with the characters.
This is a difficult book to recommend, but at the same time, hard to steer people away from it. I think it might truly be a case of needing to start at the beginning before getting to volume three.
Looking for a good book? Spera is a very unique experience, with unusual fantasy characters and with a different artist on different portions of the story. Try starting with volume one.(less)
Not too long ago I really enjoyed the graphic novel Masks, which featured The Green Hornet and The Shadow, so I was looking forward to this book, featuring a match-up with these two, different, crime fighters again. Unfortunately, this one didn't have the magic that Masks had.
The Shadow and The Green Hornet are very similar masked crime fighters ... both wealthy gentlemen in their daytime personas, bent on cleaning up the world, one criminal at a time. Among their differences, however, is the fact that one won't kill, and the other leaves behind a trail of bodies. This could be an interesting team-up. But instead of really working this obstacle in their partnership, the book instead chooses to show off the history knowledge of the author.
The story: Shiwan Kan (The Shadow's arch nemesis) is manipulating world politics in order to obtain a powerful artifact. The world is on the verge of war, and Kan's manipulations will likely push it over the brink. President Hoover calls in Kent Allard/Lamont Cranston and Britt Reid, asking for their help, philanthropic and otherwise, and hints at knowing their alternate identities. Laying out the problem, The Shadow and Green Hornet go in for the sting.
Along the way, Cranston and Reid are slightly side-tracked by love interests. This attempt to root the heroes in romance is unnecessary and bogs the book down, even if slightly. And Kato is subjected to racial profiling such as was common at the time.
It was evident throughout that the author, Michael Uslan, had done his research and even had a passion for World War II era history, and when the end of the book includes a page by page historical diagnosis of facts from the story, it became clear to me why the story never developed enough for me as a story. The story was secondary to the history. The action rarely seemed to build ... it just skipped sideways, from moment to moment, grinding historical accuracy into each passage. Even the ending was less a relief of built up tension and excitement and more just another moment.
Keith Burns' art is fine. It was suitably noir-dark, but like the story, didn't excite me terribly either.
I really love the old pulp heroes and would choose to listen to an old Shadow radio show over just about anything else, today. And unlike some other titles I've seen, at least our graphic novel team hasn't destroyed who and what our characters are and how they operate within (and above) the law. For this, I would give them another shot. But purely on the entertainment value of this particular read, I am less than impressed.
Looking for a good book? Plot is sacrificed for historical accuracy in this World War II-era graphic novel featuring two pulp 'stars' -- Green Hornet and The Shadow.(less)
I get the feeling that there is an awful lot going on here that I don't have a clue about. And that seems to be okay.
Let me start by saying how gorgeo...moreI get the feeling that there is an awful lot going on here that I don't have a clue about. And that seems to be okay.
Let me start by saying how gorgeous this book is. The artwork by Nick Dragotta is really fine. It is very stylized and different from most of what I've seen in graphic novels lately. I don't think I was immediately enthralled with it, but as I got further in to the book, the better I felt about it, and now I can't imagine this being done any better way.
The story ... okay ... it's confusing, to say the least. This is an alternate world, sci-fi story in a western setting, with a biblical apocalypse theme. That's right, the Four Horsemen of Revelations have returned (War, Famine, and Pestilence). Except one of them is missing, and they don't really want to talk about it. Death has two new associates, Crow and Wolf, and he, now a western gunslinger, is busy on a mission of vengeance and he's piling up bodies along the way.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the seven nations of the U.S. have business with Death.
It's a lot to follow, and it does get confusing. And while I don't generally care for books that are not complete (you know that, right...from reading these reviews?) graphic novels do follow different rules, and for some reason, I trust that author Jonathan Hickman is in control here and has a plan. Why? I don't know. I can't say that I'm at all familiar with Hickman or any previous work, but you don't start something that seems this ambitious and this ... convoluted ... without a greater plan. At least I hope not.
Still, I can only rate this on what is here, not what it isn't or what it might become, and at this point, the book is just a lot of confusion and info-dump. And gorgeous art. Look at
In the DC Comics world, I've always been a fan of the 'Greens' -- Green Lantern and Green Arrow. This may have come from reading those great, topical,...moreIn the DC Comics world, I've always been a fan of the 'Greens' -- Green Lantern and Green Arrow. This may have come from reading those great, topical, relevant Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics in the 70's with the fantastic Neal Adams art. But whatever the reason, I've periodically picked up an issue here and there to try to keep up with the stories.
This particular graphic novel seems to feature a rebooted Green Arrow, which is more in line with Arrow television show on the CW channel. And yet...it's not quite the same as the television rebooted character, which is a little distracting if you, like me, are familiar with both.
The Kill Machine's Green Arrow works in a dark, gloomy setting, wonderfully illustrated by Andrea Sorrentino, which evokes shades of Batman. But Arrow/Oliver Queen is very much not Batman. This Green Arrow is immature. He suffers some from the little boy syndrome in that he is living and fighting in the shadow of his father. Ollie loses control of the industry his father built. Throughout the novel, he is surprised by information he learns about his father and his family. He is bested, time and time again. His aim is off, and he gets beat up by a ten year old girl. This is not a mature, super-heroic Green Arrow.
And yet this is a nice beginning, a nice reboot, to a Green Arrow that actually has growth potential. As much as I liked the golden, cloven goatee'd Oliver Queen, starting over allows the reader to share in the growth of a character. However, based on what we have in this book, we're living in a dual world... readers are likely to buy it because of familiarity with the established character (old world), yet he has hardly any of the skills or maturity to actually be a superhero at this time (new world). I don't believe in the Oliver Queen of "Killing Machine." I don't see the drive, or the know-how ... only the slightest bit of skill. Certainly a reboot needs to build a character from the ground up, but this character, in this book, shouldn't become a super-hero.
The art, as I said earlier, is beautiful. The brooding darkness fits the story well. Sorrentino uses small, rectangular 'targeting' panels to emphasize a drawn moment. This is interesting at first, but I grew bored with the effect by the end of the book. The psychedelic sequences were tremendous, and the two-page spread is like something pulled from the 60's and worthy of taping to your bedroom wall.
I'm clearly torn with this book. There is much to like here, but it's almost as though the character isn't ready for his own book yet.
Looking for a good book? This graphic novel re-boots the Green Arrow character with wonderful art, but the character himself seems a little immature to have his own title. I'd wait a bit and check in on him again when he's grown some.
Ah, sweet nostalgia. Reading this took me back to those geeky middle-school days, when I scoured the rack of over-sized comic books with their black a...moreAh, sweet nostalgia. Reading this took me back to those geeky middle-school days, when I scoured the rack of over-sized comic books with their black and white artwork that somehow felt a little racy because it was black and white (and certainly the subject matter was intended to be sexy).
I read (or looked through) only a handful of Vampirella books back in the day (the covers were just a little too provocative for me to purchase them and have my parents ask me what I was reading!), but I have absolutely no recollection of the character of Pantha. She looks almost exactly like Vampirella, but with a slightly different looking, revealing outfit. Still, the style of the artwork, the very 1970's look and feel to the characters and the settings just set such a warm nostalgic tone for me. I really enjoyed it!
Pantha is Sekhmet, an Egyptian high priestess to Ra. Ra gave her the power to change in to a panther or half-panther, but Ra later condemned Pantha (for crimes against humanity) to walk the world forever, never knowing a home, or peace. This is the stuff great mythology is built upon! And the fact that she is super sexy doesn't hurt!
This book features the following stories (thank you www.comicvine.com for this listing):
Re-Birth - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #30
Family Ties - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #31
Black On White - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #32
Childhood Haunt - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #33
Straw On the Wind - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #42
Changing - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #44
Eye of Anubis - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #90
Encore For Anubis - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #93
Druids On 54th Street! - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #94
Reflections In Blood - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #95
Night of the Cat Goddess - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #96
A Night Full of Zombies 1 - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #96
A Night Full of Zombies 2 - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #97
A Night Full of Zombies 3 - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #99
A Night Full of Zombies 4 - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #101
A Night Full of Zombies 5 - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #102
A Night Full of Zombies 6 - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #103
Death Snare - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #104
On the Trail of the Cat - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #106
Circus Monstrous - Originally printed in Vampirella Magazine #108
This collection really gives the reader a taste of who Pantha is, and the dark and supernatural adventures that she is embroiled in. The stories and writing are not super-stellar, but they mostly move along nicely. At times, Pantha seems quite wise, but others she is timid and curiously innocent. Some of the seventies' 'free love' sensibilities here are actually distracting from the story-telling, though make perfect sense within the context of the times. So, too, the look of New York's 42nd Street, with its pimps and pushers, which is a far cry from today's Disney-fied theatre district.
The artwork is also nearly all gorgeous. Only one story had a much more stylized art that was distracting and not up to the standards I was enjoying. The art here actually feels like art. You can sense the devotion behind the artist's pen. Too often I've looked at graphic novels lately and you can only tell who a character is by the clothing they are wearing, and not the consistent appearance of the characters. This is not a problem here! Mine was an electronic review copy, but I'd really like to hold a paper book in my hand just to better enjoy the artwork.
I didn't know what to expect before reading this book, I've had some quite varied quality of graphic novels lately, but I truly enjoyed this, as much for the nostalgia as for the art and stories.
Looking for a good book? Modern readers my not enjoy the 70's sensibilities here, but the stories and art are strong and worth giving this book a read.(less)
I've never been a fan of 'manga' so I'm not sure what drew me to this particular book. Perhaps it's because it's not quite 'manga' but it definitely h...moreI've never been a fan of 'manga' so I'm not sure what drew me to this particular book. Perhaps it's because it's not quite 'manga' but it definitely has hints of the manga-style of artwork. And yet it's not completely that manga-style. This is hard to define, and I suspect that's what's drawn me in.
Cyborg 009 is actually a re-boot of a comic by Shotaro Ishinomori from the 1960's (which had what I consider the typical 'manga' look) with a more 'modern' look to the artwork and story-telling. This is a very attractively illustrated book. The art (by Marcus To and Ian Herring) really is a beautiful homage to the original works while managing to be contemporary in appearance.
The story (by F. J. DeSanto and Bradley Cramp) is a bit simplistic -- a very sappy, 1960's sci-fi romanticism: Joe wakes up on an operating table to discover that he is a cyborg. Number 009. His first assigned task is to destroy all the attempted cyborgs before him (001-008). Unfortunately, those other cyborgs have banded together and kidnap Joe and help him find the human part of himself. Of course we discover that the cyborgs are 'good' but the reason for their creation is evil, so a battle is likely. And somehow, despite Joe's so recent awakening and task, there are already other cyborgs being created to combat the first nine.
There is a strong internal struggle, in the writing, with an adolescent simplicity of characters: we have a stereotyped variety of cultures trying to be represented, and a relationship triangle that is hinted at but not defined on either side (boy likes girl 'A', girl 'A' ignores boy, girl 'B' likes boy, boy doesn't seem to notice girl 'B's' interest). This has a great sense of a 1960's innocence that feels almost quaint today.
It also amazes me that no one ever questions the obvious... if the cyborgs are created to be soldiers, why do they all have different capabilities. Is it not possible to be fast and strong and shoot rockets and flame? Why does everyone have to have a different capability? Of course it makes for more interesting story-telling and the need for a team to work together, but it doesn't make practical sense.
Although relatively simple, the themes of understanding what it means to be human, to love, and to fear, as well as the greater theme of good versus evil, are all nicely delivered.
Although I can't say that I'm hooked on reading more Cyborg 009 stories, I will say that I really enjoyed my diversion here.
Looking for a good book? This re-booted graphic novel has wonderful art and a sweet, well-told story.