Friday, February 29, 2008

I Am America (and So Can You)

I think I have a new record holder for the book that's taken the longest time for me to finish. I began reading Stephen Colbert's I am America the day it was released, that was roughly 4 months ago. I've been reading the book in single page chunks every other day or so. I don't think this was quite the intended way to go through this book, but it held up even in my staccato reading of it.

If you're already a fan of Colbert's from his show, then this book is not going to surprise you in any way. The entire book reads like an extended one of Colbert's Word segments, with footnotes filling in for the show's graphics. If you weren't a fan previously then this book serves as a superb introduction to his brand of razor sharp satire. Just be prepared because Colbert doesn't spare a single potential target for his mock-conservative sense of humor. But if you're willing to have everything you hold sacred ridiculed (and brilliantly at that) then you will love this book.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Madman Volume 3

It took years to get all of the issues, but I've finally been able to finish reading Madman. Of course now Mike Allred has started writing it again so so much for that, but at least I'm current.

Anyway the third and final volume of Image's reprint series has the lead tracking down his former mentor turned giant star traveling brain, entering into a tie-in with the G-Men from Hell movie (not so good but it did have Robert Goulet playing the devil), and meeting Mr. Gum who goes onto the spin-off book, the Atomics. There's also a thinly veiled guest appearance by Robert Rodriguez.

The stories are Allred's usual blend of fun adventure and pop surrealism and his art keeps improving with every issue. The G-Men from Hell arc is a little odd in that Madman is essentially written out of his own book for 4 issues, but is a decent story in its own right. Mostly these tales just further my already incredibly high opinion of Allred's talents

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Dragons of Babel

I'm not sure what it says that we're not quite two months into the year and I've already finished what I considered to be my most highly anticipated novel of the year, Michael Swanwick's the Dragons of Babel. This book is a pseudo-sequel to Swanwick's masterpiece, the Iron Dragon's Daughter. That book was one of the few classic genre novels to emerge from the 90's. This one doesn't quite live up to its predecessor.

The faeriepunk (somehow I doubt I'm coining that term here) world Swanwick created is perhaps the most original fantasy setting to date. And what the Iron Dragon's Daughter touched upon is much more fully explored in this novel. However, while that is the books greatest strength, Swanwick gets a bit carried away with sub plots that serve this function over furthering the plot. It's no surprise that many sections of the novel were released as short stories previously, and thus the novel never seems to fully cohere the way it ought to, and it just feels a bit too disappointing because of it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Adam Strange

Oh Adam Strange, the most redundant of all the heroes in comicdom, but also one of the best.

Here's how an Adam Strange story works. Adam speeds to some remote destination on Earth in order to intercept a Zeta Beam that will transport him to the planet Rann (he always makes it with seconds to spare). The love of his life Alanna greets him on Rann, at which point the planet is attacked by some sort of invulnerable menace. Then Adam, armed only with a jet pack and ray gun (that never works) wins the day with some sort of science macguffin. Finally Alanna tries to reward Adam with a kiss, only for the Zeta Beam to wear off, sending Adam back to Earth. Every story then ends with Adam (or occasionally Alanna just for a bit of variety) staring up at the stars and longing for the next time the two will meet.

Yes the stories are hokey (in one issue Rann is attacked by giant fireflies), yes the solutions are a bit forced (Adam once has to lecture an entire planet of scientists on how magnets work), and yes the formula gets old quick. However, these stories are also the purest example of golden age pulp s.f. that you could possibly find (did I mention the jetpack?).

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Essential Captain America Vol. 4

I think I've spoken of my love of 70's superhero books here before, particularly the era when a small group of writers (namely Steve Gerber, Denny O'Neil, and Steve Englehart) began to use the medium to explore various social issues. The height of these stories were Gerber's Howard the Duck, O'Neil's Green Arrow/Green Lantern, and Englehart's Captain America, now collected in the fourth volume of the Essential Captain America.

The stories in this collection are considered by many to be the highest point in the character's nearly 70 year career. This was the first time in which the Captain was portrayed as having different values than his country and this fundamental change to one of the most iconic pop culture characters out there made him something he never had been before, relevant. Combine that with a handful of other lasting additions to both the character and the Marvel Universe (the first appearances of Moonstone, Baron Zemo, and Roxxon as well as the Falcon's wings), and this book becomes a key piece of comics history.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Last Musketeer

Another year, another beautifully understated book from Jason. This time it's the Last Musketeer, in which an apparently immortal Athos attempts to save the Earth from a Martian invasion. But in typical fashion the story is mostly focused on misunderstandings between the sexes and ennui. Oh and is imbued with the driest sense of humor of anything you're likely to see this year.

Doom Patrol

I just realized that I have yet to write a post about a Grant Morrison book (52 doesn't really count since he was just one of four writers). Fortunately Vertigo has just released the final collection of his revamp of the Doom Patrol. Granted it's not exactly his best book, but how can you not love something that features a sentient transvestite street (the hardware stores have lace curtains) as one of the main characters.

Morrison is a truly unique writer, with a talent for coming up with so many brilliant ideas that he can afford to throw most of them away in his books. There are seriously pages from some of his comics that could form the basis for another writer's novel. The downside of this brilliance is that he can occasionally get a bit carried away by his imagination. And the Doom Patrol can definitely fall into that category.

The Doom Patrol was originally conceived of as a team of misfit characters. When Morrison took over the book he decided to accentuate the oddness of the concept and gave the team a mandate to investigate strange occurrences. This led to stories featuring such things as the Brotherhood of Dada, Crazy Jane the heroine with 64 personalities, and in this collection the Candlemaker, the embodiment of mankind's fear of the bomb. Unsurprisingly these sorts of stories can be a bit inconsistent to say the least, but the good more than makes up for the bad. And even at the times when the story fails, at least it never lacks for ambition.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Scalped

It takes some real guts to write noir taking place on a Native American reservation in which you name the protagonist Dashiell Bad Horse. It's an action akin to throwing down a gauntlet, and before doing it you had better be damn sure that the story you're writing can back up such a proclamation. Fortunately Jason Aaron's Scalped succeeds at this task.

The book is Vertigo's latest attempt to distance themselves from the dark fantasies that their name became synonymous with thanks to books like Sandman and Preacher. The imprint has been in a bit of a slump lately, with a number of under performing titles (Testament, Exterminators, and the one I really wished people could start a campaign to save, Crossing Midnight) and its highest profile book, Y the Last Man, reaching its conclusion this week. Scalped is exactly the sort of thing they needed to get out of the doldrums.

Aaron is writing an incredibly bleak crime drama of an FBI agent who's "undercover as himself", or at least as the person who he used to be. The book is about trying to go home again, it's about racial tensions, it's about life in a place where the life expectancy is 15 years lower than the national average, and in only five issues it's had more twists than Vertigo's other ongoing crime masterpiece, 100 Bullets. Jason Aaron has just become my new author to watch.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Escapists

In the Escapists, the always reliable Brian K. Vaughan has created the perfect outlet for espouses his opinions on the comics industry. The ultimate moral of the story is that people should spend more time creating their own stories instead of contributing to preexisting ones. However, the book is also a follow-up to Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, the Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay. Thus at its core, the premise is a bit undercut.

Fortunately, this is Vaughan we're talking about and the man is incapable of telling a bad story, and this one is clearly one he feels passionate about. And as a bonus he's backed by a foursome of excellent (and generally underutilized) artists, Philip Bond, Steve Rolston, Jason Shawn Alexander, and Eduardo Barreto. Alexander in particular shines here and I truly hope to start seeing more work from him in the future.