Sunday, December 30, 2007

Madman

I really, really love Mike Allred, however I still have not read all of his most well known work, Madman. Fortunately, Image comics is currently rereleasing the entire series in some beautiful editions.

This series is great fun, and plays to all of Allred's strengths, both as a writer and an artist. It's clear that Allred just had a blast in the creation of each issue. Madman, an amnesiac, acrobatic, precognitive, lab assistant and sometimes superhero, is just a bizarre character with tons of story potential. The world which he inhabits is equally brilliant, allowing for mad scientists, G-Men from Hell (the inspiration for the movie), puke monsters, and tons of robots who all seem like mundane parts of Snap City. The only thing that detracts from this is that at the time these were written, then publisher Dark Horse, decided to have all of their pseudo-superhero character inhabit the same world. Thus this book contains a glaring cameo from Mike Mignola's Hellboy (little more than a visual gag), and a slightly more fitting one from Frank Miller and Geoff Darrow's Big Guy. But the book as a whole lives up to it's subtitle, "the world's snappiest comic magazine!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fourth World Vol.3

That's 3 volumes of the Fourth World down, with one to go (apparently I neglected to review the previous one), and my love for these stories has not faded in the least. The dialog is still hokey, the stories are still tainted by editorial mandates (such as launching a Deadman revival in the Forever People), and Jimmy Olsen is still an oddly physical character (he actually punches out a robot this time around), but none of that matters.

These stories are pure in a way that few can ever hope to be. It's just a shame that the characters have more or less languished (and are now being killed off) every since.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Shazam! the Monster Society of Evil

Captain Marvel is an immensely important figure in the history of comics who is often overlooked. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that his name cannot appear in the title of his own books due to a trademark settlement with Marvel. But a larger reason is that DC has had a lot of trouble figuring out how to use him correctly after making the decision to incorporate him into the same world as their other characters.

Marvel is a magically powered God, who shares his body with a child, and who lives in a largely cartoon world. He's partnered with a talking tiger and his two biggest foes are a nearsighted dwarf and an alien caterpillar with glasses. Thus putting him next to Batman never worked all that well.

Which, made it very strange that DC took this long to publish a story that takes the character back to his roots. But this relaunch could only have been pulled off this well by Jeff Smith, possibly the best cartoonist currently working in the medium. The Alex Ross intro probably says it best, the book is charming. The only fault with it is the story feels a bit like an introduction to a larger story, that doesn't and probably won't ever exist (Smith is starting work on a new self-published book).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sun of Suns

It's been sooo long since I've seen an author take a real crack at telling a true hard s.f. space opera. These can be tricky to write, requiring a story with a great deal of momentum, some strong characters, thorough world building, and a technical background. Happily Karl Schroeder has pulled it off in Sun of Suns, the first book of his Virga series.

This book just does everything right. It's full of some absolutely brilliant ideas (the book takes place in a contained, artificially created galaxy without any land), every character evolves throughout the course of the story, and there are even a few battles with air pirates thrown in for good measure.

It's been a long time since a book has left me this eager for the sequel.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Black Dossier

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill's third League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book, the Black Dossier, took an extra year to come out, but I'm glad to say that it was worth the wait. This book is something truly unique, being a sort of literary collage, even more so than the previous two books about a covert ops team comprised of various fantastic characters from British authors.

Of that team, only two remain for this volume (Mina Murray and Allan Quartermain). The bulk of the story takes place in a post Big Brother 1958, during which Alan and Mina are on the run from James Bond, Emma Peel, and "Bulldog" Hugo Drummond after stealing the Black Dossier (a history of the League commissioned by Harry Lime).

The rest of the book is comprised of the entries in the Dossier, largely prose pieces written in styles ranging from a Shakespeare Folio (featuring Prospero as an analogue to John Dee) to a Tijuana Bible (based on 1984 of course). There's also two different Cthlulu Mythos stories (one tied into On the Road, the other, in the book's most brilliant portion, to Jeeves and Wooster).

All of this is also filled with so many blink and you'll miss it easter eggs that it's pretty much required to read the annotations provided by the great Jess Nevins. Just for a few examples, Monsieur Zenith is wielding Stormbringer, Edmund Blackadder can be seen fighting alongside A.J. Raffles at the Somme, and the Pancake XL-4 rocket is blown up to make way for the Fireball XL-5.

The book is not perfect by any means. A few portions of it (the Lovecraftian Beatnik poetry clearly comes to mind) are almost too difficult to read. And the parts of the book don't necessarily form much of a unified whole. But those parts are largely brilliant.