Thursday, March 27, 2008

Rogues in the House

For a while now Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord, in the pages of Dark Horse's latest Conan revival, have been telling the best stories ever to feature the character, not actually written by Robert E. Howard. Well as of the fifth collection, Rogues in the House, Busiek is gone and Timothy Truman has been given the inenvious task of following one of the truly great runs in modern comics.

Fortunately Truman is without question the right man for the job. The quality of the writing continues the high standards Busiek set, while still remaining remarkably faithful to the source material. Furthermore it is clear that Truman adores the character and his history. I came very close to not picking up this book due to Busiek's departure, but I am enormously glad that I changed my mind and I eagerly look forward to the next one.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

DMZ: Friendly Fire

The latest volume of Brian Wood's DMZ, Friendly Fire, is the best one yet. The two creators have managed to take their story of an embattled New York City and turn it into what is the most challenging morality tale in recent history.

The basic premise is that an American soldier is being tried for participating in a massacre of civilians. What ensues is an incredibly in depth look into what happens when wars go wrong. In this story no one, whether they be killer, victim, or observer, is innocent yet everyone is entirely justified in their actions. This book has risen from being one of the best comics today, to being something important.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Darkly Dreaming Dexter is the first novel I've read by Jeffry Lindsay, and it will surely not be the last. It's simply fascinating to follow along with the title character (a self-admitted monster who just so happens to be a forensics expert) both in his novels and in the series on Showtime that takes some surprising departures from the novels.

The actual plot is fairly straight forward, and even a bit dull. There's an ingenious serial killer on the loose in Miami and the police are helpless to stop him. That's really about it. But the character of Dexter elevates the basic police procedural into something new. He's someone who walks through life pretending to be a human being, all the while trying in vein to understand the motivations and behaviors of those around him. Oh and every now and then he'll go and cut someone into pieces. And just to warp things a tad more the novel has a bit of a humorous edge to it that makes the whole story even more disturbing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Unknown Soldier

The Unknown Soldier is probably the darkest of DC's classic war comics (at least when David Micheline took over). The great Joe Kubert originally conceived of the character as the ultimate American soldier. In each story he would assume a disguise and then accomplish some suicide mission. The high concept being that because of the disguise anyone of our soldiers could turn out to be him in disguise, thus elevating our entire armed forces, just painfully patriotic, fortunately this was a WWII comic so that's ok.

And then the writer changed and suddenly the Soldier was transformed into a broken man who was only sent on the army's most reprehensible missions. Instead of bolstering the morale of the entire army he would have to assassinate a priest. Both interpretations of the character are present in the Showcase Presents edition, and both of them provide for many excellent stories. But it is incredibly jarring when the switch occurs.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Phonogram

I'm going to keep this one short because I've already written it once but technical difficulties on my end is forcing me to rewrite this and I'm tired. Anyway Phonogram is a mixed bag sort of comic from Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. It's essentially a tribute to the authors' love/hate relationship with Britpop. There's also a lot about magic, changing one's identity, and a subplot about resurrection Britannia after Kula Shaker killed her inadvertently.

The book is a blast if you're someone like me who still hum along to Blur on occasion and overuse Elastica tracks on mix tapes, but anyone else is going to get lost.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Resurrectionist

I think there's a really good novel to be had in the Resurrectionist, but the author isn't quite able to realize it's potential. The plot's of both of the books narratives are fascinating. The prose is excellent and I found myself hooked instantly. And the ultimate moral of the story is one I whole heartedly endorse.

Now here's the but, or buts actually. First and foremost is that O'Connell doesn't quite manage to sell the world in which the story occurs. It's clear that the two separate stories our linked in some way, but this idea never seems fully realized. Furthermore the antagonistic atmosphere of the lead protagonist's story, that the reader is meant to interpret as being reality, comes off as such a strange place in its own right that it feels like fantasy, and this takes the reader out of the story.

I also hated that the author O'Connell had to explicitly state that not all stories require endings. This is true, but making it that apparent just makes the non-ending feel like it was merely an attempt to cover for an unintended absence. And furthermore, while endings may not be required, resolutions are, and that's a bit lacking here as well.

While that all sounds harsh, I actually do recommend reading the book, just with some reservations is all. It's still the first novel in a long time in which the very first thing I did upon finishing it was look up what else the author had written.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Captain America

It's probably fairly obvious at this point, but I read a lot of comics, far more than I ever have the time to review here. I've tried to limit my write ups to collected editions, which means that I've skipped anything I'm reading on a monthly basis. However, I feel I must speak up a bit about Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's current run on Captain America.

This book is unquestionably the greatest superhero book being written today, and is probably the best one to be written in the time that I've been a serious comics junky (I started in 91). Brubaker was always an incredibly good writer, or at least he has been on his creator owned books. But this book just brings him to a whole different level.

Every issue to date has been thrilling, ballsy, and at the same time true to the history of the character. Killing the lead character and continuing the story without him would have been enough to prove Brubaker's fearlessness as a writer, but he doesn't stop there. Resurrecting Bucky, who a few years ago people would have been listed along with Spider-Man's Uncle Ben as a sacrosanct death in comics history would have been enough. Reviving Cap's paltry rogues gallery by somehow making the crew of misfits (including Doctor Faustus, a super villain based on Freud and Arnim Zola, a mad scientist who decapitated himself and now has his face appear on a tv screen in his stomach) both menacing and genuinely fascinating to watch, would have been enough. Put together the book has become a work of genius, and the best part is that the story isn't over yet.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Fledgling

I finished listening to the audiobook of Octavia E. Butler's Fledgling today, and now I'm just upset. Butler was one of the most important genre writers of the last few decades, and her sudden death was nothing short of a travesty. And now that I've read her final novel I just feel a bit disappointed.

Butler's was an astonishing talent, and this was a horrible note for her to wrap up her career on. While not a bad book, it is a bit uninspired, featuring an amnesiac, teen aged vampire. Butler's focus seemed to be on the sociology of the species in the book, and the protagonists amnesia was a method for introducing the reader to this alien culture. However, what winds up happening is a gigantic info dump that's thinly disguised as a novel. Butler has put a lot of effort into creating this world, and there is a lot of love for her creation on display, but something isn't right when I'm in the car listening to nothing but exposition for over an hour.

The biggest shame is that this book was intended to form the first chapter of a trilogy. Given that the flaws in the book are a little more excusable since I would eagerly read the next two parts now that the info dumping is over. But since those books are never going to happen I can't help but be annoyed by the structural problems in this novel, especially since Butler can do better. Her Parable novels are two of the tightest written s.f. novels I have ever read (as well as being the bleakest dystopian stories of all time). It's just wrong that someone so good had to end with this.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Essential Avengers vol.6

Here I am with my second Steve Englehart book in a month, I must be stuck in a run. Anyway Vol. 6 of the Essential Avengers covers the bulk of his run on the book, and it is one of the odder periods in the history of the comic. The majority of this book is taken up by the Celestial Madonna saga, in which Vietnamese heroine Mantis is told she's the Celestial Madonna and the Avengers spend the next year trying to work out what that means. Highlights from the story include the Avengers being led around by 2 talking sticks for three issues and Mantis eventually marrying a tree.

It's not all that odd however, and quite a lot of truly fun Avengers stories are included here as well. The Vision and the Scarlet Witch marry, the Legion of the Unliving is created in order to live up to its name and the time traveler Kang attacks incessantly in three different incarnations (some of which fight each other). So the book has all the fun of a typical mid-70's Marvel comic, but I really have trouble getting around a year long story that ends with someone marrying a tree.