Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Special Announcement

As of July 1st, I will no longer be updating this blog. I am merging it with its secret sister blog, the Geeky Librarian over at wordpress. As time has gone on my other blog has begun to veer into review territory as well (under the guise of collection development) so it no longer seemed practical to keep these two separate. So please point your browser over there, where there will be almost daily updates (I've managed to average 6 posts a week).

So to anyone who has been reading this page, thank you for coming and I hope to see you on the new and improved Geeky Librarian.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy is the comics debut of My Chemical Romance frontman, Gerard Way, and as it turns out the man can write. This is an utterly original, hugely ambitious book the succeeds wildly at everything it tries.

The story revolves around a dysfunctional family of super-powered siblings who are reunited at their foster father's funeral. Throughout the course of the story they eventually unite to prevent the end of the world, at the hands of a killer orchestra. This book is edited by the ingenious Scott Allie, and the tone of the story bares a strong resemblance to the moody humor found in his other Dark Horse books, Hellboy and the Goon.

And much like those books there's a general (somehow believable) wackiness to the world in the story. Besides the orchestra the book also contains such sites as alien squid wrestling, a killer Eiffel Tower, and more talking monkeys than any other book in recent history. The art from Gabriel Ba (along with the best coloring I've ever seen from Dave Stewart) sells every insane moment, and I could not imagine another artist capable of pulling this book off. Between this and Casanova last year Ba is my #1 artist to watch.

This would have been a shoein for my book of the year, if Iron Fist didn't come out at the same time. It's definitely a good time to be a comics fan.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Coffin

The Coffin is the first of Phil Hester and Mike Huddleston's psychological horror collaborations, and it's really good. The publicity for the book markets it as being a Frankenstein story, in which the scientist turns himself into the monster. That's a bit simplistic but not too far off. The plot involves a scientist working on a suit capable of trapping a soul in a corpse, allowing the soul to control the body after death. An attempt is of course made on his life and he is forced to test the suit on himself. A fairly ordinary revenge story follows.

However, what makes the story interesting is the toll on the protagonist's psyche. He is trapped in his own corpse, while his soul is constantly trying to tear itself away (despite the fact that he seems bound for hell). This makes for an interesting vengefull ghost story on top of the typical mad scientist tropes.

And then there is Huddleston's art, which elevates the story the story even further. Huddleston is an incredibly atmospheric artist who is able to greatly modify his style to fit any given scene. And it probably helps that Hester is a decent artist in his own right, and thus someone who really knows how to write for an artist, making for a pitch perfect collaboration.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Born on the Battlefield

Dark Horse's current Conan comic has the distinction of being the only Conan adaptation that has ever matched the greatness of the original Robert E. Howard stories. More than one reviewer has actually said that they're better (they're very close to my mind). The comic regularly features gorgeous art from Cary Nord, and Kurt Busiek's writing is an unbelievably faithful take on the Conan mythos.

And scattered throughout the ongoing story have been a series of tales from Conan's youth, featuring the amazing Greg Ruth on art. I had trouble with these comics originally, Ruth's art was a huge departure from Nord's, and the idea of an ongoing story that was only progressed every half dozen issues or so drove me nuts. Fortunately they have now been collected together into Born On the Battlefield, and I think it's now my favorite arc the series has had. Highly recommended.

O.M.A.C.

O.M.A.C.: the one Man Army Corps, was the last of Jack Kirby's DC work, and it was also by far the strangest. The story takes place in "the world's that coming" (a line that never seems to get old), in which Buddy Blank has been molecularly altered by an intelligent satellite named Brother Eye into becoming a one man peacekeeping force. Together with the Global Peace Agency (comprised of legions of faceless (in order to appear raceless and thus completely neutral) they battle legions of super rich gangsters.

The concept gives Kirby lots of room to let his imagination fly, and the result is a sort of stream of consciousness wonder that I don't believe was matched until Grant Morrison came along (Kirby was a huge influence on his work). OMAC confronts subway mutants, pseudo people, and in my favorite issue an entire city that is rented out as a deathtrap.

The only fault with the book is the way it ends. After 8 issues, Kirby finally ended his time at DC to return home to Marvel (where he worked on Captain America, Black Panther, and the Eternals). And since the sales weren't that good on the book (it was far too ahead of its time), DC changed the final panel so that everyone randomly explodes. It's very surreal, but not in a good way. Otherwise I think I actually preferred this book to much of the Fourth World books Kirby worked on during the same period.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Immortal Iron Fist

As a follow up to finishing the Essential Power Man & Iron Fist I read through Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction & David Aja's newest take on Iron Fist. What this team has produced is a nearly perfect comic. The writing is strong and the art is gorgeous, but what really sets this book apart is the scale of it.

Iron Fist is a billionaire martial arts expert who was raised in the otherworldly city of K'un-Lun. This basic premise was always a bit ridiculous, essentially merging Batman and Kung-Fu. But what Brubaker and Fraction have done to make the idea brilliant is to give the whole thing some history. Iron Fist is now merely the most recent person to hold the title, and the presence of all the previous ones are strongly felt in the series. Most especially Orson Randall, the immediate predecessor to the current Iron Fist, who led a group of pulp adventurers in the wake of WWI.

The resulting story from all this spans 8 worlds and a millenium of history. There's also tons of action and the introduction of Fat Cobra to seal the deal. This is essential reading for all comics fans.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Monster Zoo

Doug TenNapel is back with Monster Zoo, his third graphic novel in the last year. The title pretty much sums up the story this time, a group of teens are trapped in a zoo in which the animals have been turned into monsters. But because this is a TenNapel book it's much better than that might sound. He is just a master storyteller who combines a hyperactive imagination with expert storytelling skills and the best brushwork in comics. And he makes it all look so effortless.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Deadpool Classic

Deadpool is the most recent major comic character that no publisher knows what to do with. He's currently about to make his 3rd attempt at an ongoing series, not counting when he was sharing the lead of Cable/Deadpool or when he temporarily lost his own comic to Agent X for a year. There are two main reasons for why these various attempts never last. First of all the Merc with the Mouth is a simply bizarre sort of character for a heroic lead. And second, Deadpool has been living in the shadow of the Joe Kelly run on the title ever since Kelly left.

Which finally brings me to the first volume of Deadpool Classic. As I've just said the only classic Deadpool stories were the Joe Kelly ones, only the first issue of which is in this collection. This issue launched the careers of both Kelly and artist Ed McGuinness and lead to one of the best runs in recent Marvel history, which will hopefully get collected in a future volume.

The rest of this book is made up of Deadpool's first appearance in the New Mutants and the two mini-series that predated his ongoing, written by Fabian Nicieza and Mark Waid. The Nicieza series was an enjoyable enough action story, but was largely forgettable. The Mark Waid follow-up was a bit more interesting as it advanced Deadpool's character quite a bit by setting him up as a killer with the potential to become someone better. These are all good reads, but all this book really does is make me want the second, all Joe Kelly volume.