Friday, December 31, 2010

Comics of the Year

Best Comic Series of the Year

*Tie* Sweet Tooth and Chew

When I got to thinking about which comic series has stood out the most to me this pat year, my thoughts were instantly drawn to Chew and Sweet Tooth. I feel indecisive in saying that these two comics tie, but I really cant say that one stands above the other. It is a special week when I have an issue of Chew or Sweet Tooth waiting for me in my pull box. If they ever happen to come out on the same Wednesday, I might just keel over from excitement. Aside from being totally awesome, the two comics share some common traits: Both comics are consistently entertaining. Both feature fantastic writing a great art. Both follow a consistent publication schedule, (when reading a story in small episodes, it is really nice to not have to wait too long to see what happens next). On top of all that, they consistently leave me wanting more.

Aside from the adherence to high quality that both titles share, the two comics are quite different from one another.

Sweet Tooth takes place in a post apocalyptic world where most everyone is dead and the newborn children are born as human/animal hybrids. The story follows Gus, a hybrid child and Jeppard, a man trying to survive in the changed world. I don't want to give too much away for people who haven't read the series, but I will say that Writer/Artist Jeff Lemire manages to make his characters unforgettable, the story deeply moving and emotional, and the art moody and cinematic. Sweet Tooth is a dramatic, tense story that unfolds slowly and always leaves me wanting more.

Chew on the other hand, is a comedy at heart. The story takes place in a world where an avian flu has killed millions, causing a chicken prohibition. (Some food lovers could argue that a world without chicken dinner is also apocalyptic...) Our hero Tony Chu, is an FDA agent with a secret. He's cibopathic, meaning he gets psychic impressions from the foods he eats, which makes him a damn fine detective. Too bad his FDA boss hates his ass and sticks him on the strangest, most bizzare cases. This comic features the talented creative team of writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory. Keeping the story fresh, and fun seems to be their priority, oh yeah, that and putting poor Tony through the wringer whenever possible. I always get a good laugh out of each issue, but this ain't no one trick pony. Chew features some solid mystery and sci-fi elements as well, and Layman certainly seems to have a good idea as to where he wants the series to go. Excellent stuff.

I can't say enough good things about these two comics. I wouldn't be surprised to see one or both of these titles in the same spot next year.

Best Single Issue of the Year

The Unwritten #17

Yep, I flippin' loved to read Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid. I would read one of those bad boys until I had achieved nearly every possible scenario the book offered, then read it again. When I heard that the folks behind The Unwritten were going to make a comic in the Choose Your Own Adventure style, I knew I'd have to own it. Keep in mind I don't read The Unwritten, and wasn't a fan of the first trade. So a single issue from a comic series I've ruled out has to be pretty special, but this one had the power of nostalgia backing it up. Of course, the issue could have totally sucked, and they could have flubbed the concept. But they didn't. The creative team really made this issue amazing. Not only do they pull off the CYOA concept but they also manage to include a great story in the process. This one was lots of fun, and hands down my best single issue of the year.

Honorable Mention:

Neonomicon #2: I'm still having nightmares from that one.

The Sixth Gun #6: The most awesomeness packed into one issue.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Album of the Year

Welp, enough thinking about my year-end "Best Of" lists. The time has come to actually start writing about my favorite stuff for the year...So, without further ado, I give you ALBUM OF THE YEAR!

Snakes for the Divine by High on Fire.

I'm starting out with Album of the Year, because its a no-brainer. I only bought a dozen or so new albums this past year, and I had the feeling there was something special about this one when I reviewed it back in March. Simply said, this album rocks. From the opening song, to the final seconds, this album is a pleasure to my ears. Overall, Death is this Communion is still my favorite High on Fire album, but from a musical skill stand point, Snakes is a better album. It is always nice to see a band evolve, and get better. That's definitely the case here. There is a larger variety in their sounds, and each song stands out individually. Also, Matt Pike's singing/growling got a bit better as well. I can see how his singing style might be a turn-off for some listeners, but there is a slight up-tick in the listenable-ness of his growl.

High on Fire is typically a thrashy, aggressive band, and I think the times when they mix in other elements like long, repetitive riffs, and more melodic songs like Bastard Samurai is when they stand out from other bands of their ilk. Even though this album has some progressive and stoner moments, it still manages to be a powerful, heavy, and loud metal album.

Unfortunately, I never got to see High on Fire play live on tour for this album, as that always adds to my enjoyment of an album, but hopefully they'll come through Seattle again soon. If you are into metal music, and you don't own this one yet, get your hands on it. Turn your speakers up to eleven and enjoy.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Some Vacation Pictures

I'm officially back from my vacation in New Mexico. Technically, I was back yesterday, but I was pretty fried from a long day of late night travel, so I was more or less useless yesterday. I thought I'd share a few photos from my travels.

I took this picture after spending a day in Santa Fe. I didn't run into GRRM, but I did see some cool Native American jewelry, and eat a delicious thing called Frito Pie.

Albuquerque boasts the world's longest tram which climbs to the summit of the Sandia Mountains. The views from the summit are quite spectacular, and the amount of snow at the summit was a trip. I wasn't expecting the freezy temps nor the blustery wind, but my weak ass did brave the elements long enough to snap a photo of one of the trams making the climb up to the summit.

The vacation crew and I did some sweet desert hiking on Christmas Eve. The great thing about hiking in the desert is that trails aren't essential. We pretty much just picked out a spot in the distance and went there. The company, the weather, and the location all combined to make this one of my all-time favorite hikes. We even made it to the top of the big mesa you can see in the back ground of this photo.

Just a photo of your friendly neighborhood blogger while taking a photo of a massive rock wall.

This cool looking rock formation is called a "hoodoo". We came across about a half dozen or so of these on our hike.

The Petroglyph National Monument site just outside of Albuquerque was probably the biggest disappointment of the trip. The government was a bit slow in protecting this site, and as a result there is a shit-ton of lame graffiti, often right next to the art the site is trying to preserve. There were a few nice petroglyphs to see, but the massive amount of graffiti was pretty disheartening. We did hear a lot of coyote howls, and later saw one of the coyotes, so that was pretty sweet.

All in all, it was a great vacation, and I still have a few more days off before school and work crank back up.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"BEST OF" Posts

It's the most wonderful time of the year! And I'm not saying that because it is the Holidays, though the Holidays are pretty awesome. I'm saying it because it is the time of year that bloggers from all around the internet start posting their year-end "Best Of" lists.

I pretty much cant afford to buy newly released books, nor am I cool enough to get free reading copies, so I sorta live vicariously through other bloggers through the year, reading their reviews, and filtering out the books I most want to read in the future, and then buy 'em when they come out in soft cover format. One great way to discover the hot new reads that I'll be reading once they cool off a bit and cost less is to read the year-end "Best Of" posts that cooler, more talented bloggers put out this time of year. Now, I realize not everyone on my blog roll has created such a list, but I've compiled a list of those who have. These are people who's blogs I devoutly follow, checking in whenever they post new stuff, and I really value their opinions so I think their "Best Of" posts are definitely worth taking a look at.

I'll kick things off with one of my favorite bloggers, The Speculative Scotsman. This dude consistently cranks out solid material at his blog, and his year-end lists are solid too. His "Top of the Scots" lists include movies, and games as well as books.

Over at the Mad Hatter's Bookshelf, there's a Long List edition of his best reads for the year. Which has me hoping for another, more detailed list in the future. One cool thing about this post though is that there's some interesting stats to check out.

Magemanda from Floor to Ceiling Books took a somewhat different approach to the typical year-end list, handing out awards in 20 Categories. Probably the coolest awards post so far, who else is gonna hand out an award for "best kiss"?

Pat from the Fantasy Hotlist released a list of his Top 10 Books for the year, plus an additional ten runners up. This is a horribly dull list post, but I'm sure he'll kick it up a notch when he hands out his year-end "Hotties" awards.

The Wertzone has long been a steady source of book recommendations for me, so I wasn't too surprised to find that Adam's Wertzone Award for best novel of 2010 post featured a bunch of novels I'll be reading sometime in the future.

The folks at Speculative Book Review are one of my favorite team blogs. The reviewers there have a nice variety of fantasy tastes, which overlap with my own preferences plenty often. Their The Year's Best post reflects the diversity of preferences presented by their reviewers.

Last up is the Fantasy Book Critic. the Top 25 Novels post there comes complete with a fancy little cover collage. There's also links to the reviews, if you want more information.

That's all the "Best Of" posts for now, hopefully the other folks on my blog roll will put their "Best Of" lists up soon!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Comic Quickies

Strage Tales II #3: The Strange Tales mini-series, where some of the biggest names in indie comics write in the Marvel Universe, wraps up with this issue. This final issue features some big names from the indie realm: Terry Moore, Dean Haspiel, Alex Robinson, and Kate Beaton, who all feature stories in this issue. The interesting thing is, aside from the two great comics by Kate Beaton, I was more entertained by artist/writers who were unknown to me. Young People by Michael Deforge which featured Spidey, Jubilee, and Iceman was pretty damn funny and With a Little Help from my Friends by Eduardo Medeiros which featured Spiderman, Juggernaut, The Thing and a sweet little old lady was not only funny, but had some cool artwork as well.

The standout story for this issue was easily the story simply titled Silver Surfer by James Stokoe. Not only was the story cool and engaging, but the artwork was absolutely gorgeous. Check out the first page splash:

Pretty pretty right? Me likey.

Dracula The Company of Monsters #2: I liked the first issue so much that I went back to my local comic shop and picked up the other two issues they had on hand, so this is gonna be a Dracula-centric installment of Comic Quickies.

In this issue, Evan, who has been working around the clock on a super-secret project that even he doesn't know all the pertinent details about, enacts some ancient spells, and brings Dracula back from the dead. The idea of extremely powerful corporations is scary enough, but one with Vlad the Impaler/Dracula in their thrall is pretty much pants pooping scary. So it should come as no surprise that Evan, the Everyman caught up in this mess, is appropriately stressed and worried about the ramifications of resurrecting such a beast. The guy is sort of stuck, since the corporation he works for also happens to be the family business. Bringing Dracula back from the dead is just phase one of this nefarious plot, and it is hard to say what Evan's Uncle, Conrad, the company CEO has planned once Dracula is fully awake. This was definitely an issue that left me wondering/excited to see where the hell things are heading.

Dracula The Company of Monsters #3: This issue introduces a new set of characters to the story. In the opening sequence, we meet Emil Stefanescu, his daughter, niece, and third cousin, who operate a small family business: Vampire Hunters. The group is scouting out the site of a slaughter which also happens to be where Barrington Industries, (those guys who resurrected Dracula), unearthed Dracula's bones.

In the meantime, back at Barrington Industries' high security lab, Evan has created an ingenious version of the house-arrest ankle bracelet. This device, created to keep Dracula in check looks a bit like a conquistador breast plate, complete with vials of holy water, spring loaded stakes, and shielded crucifixes. Despite these precautionary measures, Dracula claims to be harmless since he is in Evan's debt for bringing him back from the dead. Evan has to decide if is Dracula genuine, or simply an extremely manipulative bastard.

Another great issue of this series, which seems to get better with each installment.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas!

Hey hey! It is officially the big day here in Nuevo Mexico. I hope everyone has a good Christmas, (if that's what you celebrate), I'll be busting out some impromptu carols throughout the day. I've got designs on some holiday cooking and baking, with long stretches of chillaxing mixed in. Have a cup of cheer everyone.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Review: Ex Machina v1 The Frist Hundred Days

Michael Hundred was once a civil engineer, but a strange accident near the Brooklyn Bridge gifts him with some amazing powers: the ability to talk to machines and mechanical items. Hundred used these powers to become the world's first, and only, real-deal super hero. However, he eventually tires of doing nothing more than maintaining the status quo, so he gave up the crime-fighting gig, and turned to, what else? Politics. Cashing in on his celebrity status, Hundred wins the NYC mayor election in a landslide, kicking off a political career full of drama.

Hundred has his work cut out for him as he must deal with his eccentric staff, assassination attempts, a PR disaster thanks to a controversial exhibit at an art museum, a crippling blizzard, and a crazed serial killer who's topping the city's snow plow drivers.

I know the plot synopsis I just gave doesn't do justice, but let it be said that Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days is a truly special comic. There are multiple layers at work here; the politics, the characters, and the super hero stuff, all work together to make this really special. First off, you have the characters, who are incredibly fleshed out and nuanced. Comic characters can sometimes come off as over the top, but writer Brian K. Vaughn avoids that easily and creates a unique cast that not only stand out, but stand on their own as interesting individuals.

Obviously, politics play a major role in Ex Machina, so if you aren't into that sort of thing, well, go read Spiderman or something. Guess what though? A comic about politics isn't boring as shit! As a nice touch, Vaughn ties in a few real life news items, like the painting of Lincoln with the "N" word written across it, to add some flesh to the political turmoil plaguing Hundred's life. Aside from the major news worthy stuff, Vaughn mixes in lots of the nuts and bolts daily bullshit that a mayor would have to deal with which made me feel like Hundred actually was the mayor.

Maybe I shouldn't have scared off the Spiderman fans so soon, because there's some super hero action in Ex Machina as well. Vaughn layers in a bunch of flashbacks to Hundred's old super hero days which craftily gives you his back story, and sets up the pertinent history for the series. These scenes are all well done, and play an important role in the overall tapestry of the story. I get the feeling that if a regular guy actually ever did gain some super powers, his crime fighting days might look a lot like Hundred's sloppy, trial and error, fly by the seat of your pants crime fighting style.

Not only does The First Hundred Days feature some top-shelf writing, but the art is equally amazing. Tony Harris was more or less an unknown to me before I read this, I knew he had an epic run on Starman, but I'd never read a book with his work. Simply said, he is amazing. Every single aspect of this book looks stunning, but Harris shines when drawing the people that populate this book. I haven't seen any artist nail facial or body expression like Harris. Yeeeeah, there are a few times that the facial expressions look overdone, and the body language is too much, but most of the time it is spot on, and amazing. Harris' skill at capturing facial and body expression/language adds another layer to the already great characters.

Overall this is a fantastic comic. You have a creative team that is on their A game working on a great title. Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days is definitely one of the best graphic novels I've read this year. Without a doubt I am sucked into this series, and it looks like I'll be spending more time with Mitchell Hundred, and his political staff in the future. Definitely worth a read. This one easily gets the Battle Hymns seal of awesomeness.

Grade: A+

Monday, December 20, 2010

On Vacation

Hey all,

Close observers and stalwart Battle Hymns visitors may have noticed the recent lack of book and graphic novel reviews around these parts. The reasons are pretty simple; between going to university full time, working part-time and volunteering a few hours a week at a local head-start preschool, my reading time has been greatly diminished over the last few weeks. Of course, all of that business is on hold for the moment as I am happily on vacation in Albuquerque for the Holidays. Not the most luxurious vacation destination, but my brother lives here, and he is more than willing to put me up for a few days.

So far, aside from a sketchy/scary bus ride featuring some gang tensions, the trip has been pretty good. I'll try to get some pics of the trip up here once I get some worth posting. I also have a some review material to post as well, including a strong candidate for graphic novel of the year. Speaking of "graphic novel of the year", you all can look forward to my year-end lists coming towards the end of the month. So, rest assured there should be some good stuff on the way. Until then, I hope everyone has a happy and safe holidays.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Comic Quickies

Sweet Tooth #16: Its all out war in this issue as the crazed tribal army storms the militia compound where Gus and the other hybrids are being held. Writer/artist Lemire perfectly captures the frenzied chaos and destruction of battle as the fence crashes down and the armies collide. Jeppard's plan has worked up till this point, but he must avoid the clatter of death that surrounds him and rescue Gus before it is too late.

This issue had me on the edge of my seat as the bloody events unfolded. Sweet Tooth seems to get better with each issue, and the trend continues here. The whole time I was reading I knew that even the smallest delay could keep Jeppard from rescuing Gus, and when that delay comes, as I knew it would, it was way crazier than I expected. The next issue is gonna be insane.

Skull Kickers #3: I haven't been the biggest fan of this title since the get go, and that right there should have been good enough of an indicator for me to spend my money elsewhere, but I'm a stubborn bastard at best, so I stuck around to see if this one would get any better. Well, it hasn't. I can't directly point to one thing that sticks out as the defining factor as to why this comic isn't my cup of tea, it isn't that it is a terrible comic. Far from it. It just doesn't engage or interest me on any compelling level. I don't feel invested in the characters, I don't feel invested in the plot, I don't care where the story is going, and I don't instantly crave the next issue as soon as I have finished reading the current one. Basically this comic is the polar opposite of Sweet Tooth. So, I won't be reading Skull Kickers any more. It just isn't for me.

SIDE NOTE: Kudos to the creative team for the cosmically-trippy double page spreads in this one!

Doorways #2: GRRM is back with another installment of Doorways. I wonder how much he is really involved in this comic? It doesn't feel like I'm reading a comic written by GRRM. Maybe they are just working off his old TV scripts and someone else is adapting it. Anyway... this issue is fairly similar to the first; lots of running, gunning and explosions. The cool thing about this issue is we get a taste of the bad-guy, Thane, who Cat, the traveler between worlds is running from. Yeah, he's a tough bad-ass. One thing I can't figure out is why Thomas, the doctor fellah who is caught up in all this, continues to let himself be caught up in all this business. His motivations are murky at best. There are a lot of unanswered questions, and there are only two issues left, so I'll probably stick around to see if they get answered.

Dracula The Company of Monsters #1: Yeah, I know, reeeeally cheesy cover, but it's whats on the inside that counts and Dracula The Company of Monsters is pretty damn great on the inside. First off, its created by Kurt Busiek who's been a successful comics creator for years. Secondly, it is written by Daryl Gregory, the dude who wrote Pandemonium and Devil's Alphabet two novels I read, reviewed and enjoyed earlier this year. Thirdly, I got recommended this one by a trusted source, so I decided to give it a shot. Definitely worth it.

The comic follows a guy named Evan who works for a powerful corporation. He's been given the task of deciphering some archaic scrolls and spells, which his Uncle, who also happens to be the company's CEO, wants to use to bring Dracula back to life and use as a tool in the company's corporate schemes. The issue weaves in some historical flashbacks which introduce Vlad the Impaler. Vlad used the spells Evan is trying to translate to further his reign of terror and to also become Dracula.

I liked that Evan, despite working for the family business, is simply caught up in the flow of events, and is just a regular guy who is in way over his head. Just when I thought I had reached vampire saturation, this comic comes along and delivers a nice twist to the vampire genre. The first issue has great writing and some fine artwork as well. A great first issue, and I look forward to reading more.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: Supergod

What would happen if there was a super-human arms race? That's what Warren Ellis wonders in his latest take on superhumans.

The argument here is that humans are hardwired to create their own gods, and have been doing so since the dawn of time. So when various countries around the world start to craft super humans during the Cold War era, it should come as no surprise that these super humans take on god-like qualities and abilities.

In this Warren Ellis comic, the English were the first in space, which resulted in some cosmic entities mixing with the astronauts, creating a three faced, mushroom spore producing deity. From there, other countries around the world begin to ramp up their own super human projects, with varying results. India's super human turned Pakistan into nuclear rubble, creating a world-wide nuclear winter in the process. Other super humans from places like Iran, China, Russia, and the good ol' U.S. of A. begin to crop up and start to converge on India.

The events of Supergod are narrated by an English scientist who worked closely with the English super human. He appears to be one of the only remaining humans left after the conflagration of super humans in India. The guy clearly has a few screws loose, and maybe isn't the most reliable narrator, but he's all we got, and his explanation for why the whole world is in shambles seems to be as good as any.

For me, there wasn't a lot to love about Supergod. If you want to see a lot of shit get blown the fuck up, then this is probably for you, but if you like plot, and characters, and strong dialog, then stay away. Ellis is usually a go-to guy for great comics, he seems to be full of ideas, and at the heart of Supergod there is a good idea, that of "What would happen if there was a super human arms race?" But the good ideas end there, and the execution is dull at best. Normally Ellis creates some memorable characters, and splashes some strong, snapppy dialog in there as well, but there really isn't any character interaction happening here at all which made this one fall totally flat.

The artwork by Garrie Gastonny was pretty solid. His star shined brightest in terms of drawing the super humans; a few of them were really cool looking. The backgrounds and settings were all done well, and overall this was a strong effort, but one thing bothered me: The regular folks. All the non-super humans looked pretty plain and dull, and their faces were pretty much inexpressive. This generalizing of humans occurred when he drew people of different ethnicities as well. I particularly noticed this when he drew Indian people; it sort of just looked like he drew generic people no matter what the ethnicity. The lack of diversity in the art didn't really match the diverse locales of the story.

Overall, not my favorite art, though there are some great moments...BEHOLD CTHULHU!!

Because there weren't any interesting characters for me to take interest in, this comic fell flat. Aside from the occasional pretty looking art, there isn't much to like here. I'm sure Avatar will eventually collect this in Trade format, but I think there are much better Ellis titles out there to read.

Grade: D-

Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Fevre Dream

Abner Marsh was once a big name in the riverboat trade. However, after a harsh winter freeze wrecked all but one boat in his fleet, he's now just a name that gets associated with bad luck. His luck changes one day in April when he meets with Joshua York, a wealthy aristocrat who wants to partner with Marsh and revitalize Marsh's riverboat business. Never mind the fact that it is an investment that wont reap profits for years, York has his own, private reasons for wanting to ply the waters of the Mississippi.

Despite Marsh's lingering suspicions, he takes York up on the offer and the two become partners. Being the savvy riverman that he is, Marsh knows he shouldn't look past York's bizarre behaviors, and strange rules, but partnering with York means getting a shot at achieving a dream; building the fastest, prettiest steamboat on the Mississippi. To Marsh, it appears his luck has changed for the better, until the Fevre Dream's maiden voyage where he slowly starts to realize that his new partnership could turn his dreams into nightmares.

George R.R. Martin might be best known for writing epic fantasy, but he's no slouch when it comes to horror. Though Fevre Dream was published over a decade prior to A Game of Thrones, many of his strengths as a writer are present here. One thing that struck me as incredibly well done was how Martin makes the riverboat culture of the 1850's come alive. The individual boats, the cities that line the shores of the Mississippi and the river itself are all vibrantly written. Martin creates a setting that brings that bygone age back to life.

The characters of Fevre Dream are also brilliantly rendered. Each character, particularly Marsh, and York leap off the page. Martin's character building doesn't just end at the principle characters, like some other authors, instead he brings life to the entire cast. As a result, I found myself more invested in what happened to the characters, whether it was Marsh, or the galley cook. From reading Martin's other works, I know that no character is safe, and the same can be said for just about everyone in this book as well.

Another similarity to Martin's other novels that I noticed in Fevre Dream is his fine attention to detail. Martin has a knack for bringing inanimate objects to life through rich description, and that is certainly the case here. There were times that I felt like I could feel the softness of the carpets, the strength of the steam engines and even smell the fresh paint on the Fevre Dream. Not to mention all the times the guy made me hungry from his extremely detailed descriptions of the food Abner Marsh ate.

One thing that initially made me an undying fan of Martin was his ability to shock and surprise me. His A Song of Ice and Fire series has delivered a lion's share of jaw dropping moments. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case with Fevre Dream. Through the reading, I always felt I had a good idea of where the story was going, and how things would turn out. I guess I may have unfairly expected surprises given my history with Martin, but there weren't to many here.

Fevre Dream is an extremely well written vampire novel, probably as good as they get, but not quite on par with his other writings. Even though this one isn't as mind-blasting as Martin's other works in the realms of epic fantasy, it is still a damn good book, and easily one of my favorite reads of the year. I highly recommend this to all Martin fans, and anyone else who wants to read a sweet vampire novel, minus the sparkles and eye shadow.

Grade: A-

Friday, December 10, 2010

Review: Killer of Demons

Killer of Demons is the story of Dave Sloan, he's a junior account executive, and a regular-ass guy, except with one pretty big difference...he can see the demons that have infiltrated our world. Shit, he even has a little cherub angel guy that helps him spot, and kill the demons. Which he does, with bloody and deadly results. Usually with a sword, axe, or gun. There's just one problem, all the demons that Dave sees also tend to be people that annoy him; co-workers, dudes with leaf-blowers, and fast food restaurant employees, to name a few. So is he really doing the work of God, or is he just totally insane?

The premise of Killer of Demons is pretty great, and it is handled in a very light-hearted manner. It's nice to read a something every now and then that doesn't take itself too seriously. This is essentially a bloody, demon-death filled romp that manages to be pretty damn funny as well.

The writer, Christopher Yost spins the tale out at a nice, speedy clip, and doesn't waste too much time between demon slayings. The plot is fun, and the characters are all good for a laugh or two. Especially Dave's MMORPG/FBI Sex-crimes investigator brother who just happens to have a vast collection of sharp, pointy, bladed weapons and an arsenal of pistols, shotguns, and automatic weapons in his basement. The main character, Dave is great too, and his constant questioning of his own sanity can be quite entertaining.

The art of Killer of Demons is where I found things a bit lacking. The artist, Scott Wegener does a pretty good job with the action and fight scenes, but some panels just fall a bit flat, and aren't that interesting to look at. The art gets the job done, which is fine, but it doesn't stand out, or catch the eye. There weren't any panels that really impressed me, or made me stop and stare for a bit. Those moments where I just stare at a page, taking in all the details of the artist's skill is one of my favorite things about the comics medium, and that just didn't happen here.

Killer of Demons is more or less perfect if you are looking for a short, yet fun, light-hearted read. The trade only collects three issues, so it is a light read in more ways than one. Still, despite the low page count, and the less-than-stellar art, Killer of Demons is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face as it has some pretty great moments of hilarity. This one is definitely worth a look if you are in the mood for some mayhem.

Grade: C

Monday, December 6, 2010

John Layman in Seattle

Yesterday the city of Seattle had a cool visitor from the comics world. John Layman, the writer of the Eisner Award winning comic, Chew stopped by one of Seattle's great comic shops, Comics Dungeon, (where he was once a box-customer), to sign books and talk to fans about his work.

I arrived on the scene early into the event, and was surprised to see that the place wasn't all that crowded. Maybe everyone was too busy watching the Seahawks game or something. Either way, it worked out for the best because the small crowd created a great laid-back atmosphere where folks could just hang out and chat it up with one of the most creative minds in comics.

Everybody seemed to want to know about a Chew TV show. Which I've covered before, but just to keep you updated: Circle of Confusion, who packaged The Walking Dead show and shopped it around to cable networks, has done the same with Chew, they've got a writing staff to do an episode or two, got a director, and basically now just need to go to some of the cable networks and say: "Hey, we've got this sweet show all packaged up and ready to go."

It was kinda crazy how nearly everyone asked him if there would be a Chew TV show. I don't really understand why people have such a desire to see things get adapted to film or television, I prefer art in the medium it was created in, but I guess I'm a fucking weirdo or something. Anyway, I must have heard Layman answer this question at least a half dozen times. The cool thing is, he didn't seem to mind and was more than willing to answer people's questions.

There were a few other cool nuggets that I picked up as well.

Layman also discussed how he and Chew artist Rob Guillory split the money on the floppy issues, basically Rob gets 75%, and Layman gets 25%. The reason being that the work load for artists is a lot bigger at this level, hence the big chunk of the proceeds. However, they split everything else, like sales on trades, 50-50.

Layman also told me that just for special, folks who buy the single issue floppies will get a nice little treat after issue #18. Instead of the next issue being #19, they will instead drop issue #27 in there out of sequence, and then the following month pick back up with #19. That way, folks who buy the single issues get a little sneak peek at what's gonna be happening in the series a year down the road. HOWEVER, if you are a trade waiter, Issue #27 wont be collected in the 4th trade, instead the trade waiters will have to wait until the 6th trade comes, only like a wait of like, a year or two...

Another cool nugget: Also for those who get the single issues, Layman mentioned that like with issue #15, which was the 1/4 mark for the series, they'll be cranking out some special-special covers for the half-way point and the 3/4 mark. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for some scratch-and-sniff!

I was pretty happy to find that John Layman is a totally cool guy, and damn easy to talk to. Hopefully he'll make it to the Emerald City Comicon this year. If you aren't reading this great comic yet, do it. Now is an excellent time to jump on as you can get totally up to speed just by buying the first three trades.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Kill Shakespeare for FREE! (Limited time only!)

I was killing time over at Coverless today when I stumbled across this post that links to free Kill Shakespeare issues.

Basically, iTunes has the first two issues available for free. Not too bad of a deal if you ask me. It's a cheap way to check out the series and see if you like it. The first trade came out a week or so ago, so this is great way to get an intro to the book without having to drop the cash for the whole trade, or shell out for the individual issues.

If you give it a shot, let me know what you think!

You can follow those links above or click this and go straight to the website they'll link you to anyway.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Review: Brave New World

Brave New World is one of those classics of literature I've never gotten around to reading. I know most people read this one back in high school or something, but my high school was a joke, and they let me read The Wheel of Time books instead. Well here I am years later, finally getting around to reading this classic.

I sort of feel like a plot synopsis is superfluous, but here's one anyway. Brave New World is set in the distant future in "the year of our Ford 632...or if you do the math, somewhere around the mid 2500's. In this super advanced society, people no longer give birth to cute, squealing babies, they are instead grown in laboratories, and bred to do specific jobs for their whole lives. Not only are humans split up into caste structures, they are also conditioned from birth to behave certain ways. On top of that, people are encouraged to take a hallucinogenic drug called "soma" that helps them feel happy. Essentially, the people of the future only do three things, work, play weird sports like obstacle golf, and have lots and lots of recreational sex. If you don't do those last two things, and do something odd, like say, spend time on your own, you are seen as an oddball or outcast.

The first few chapters of the book focus on building up the setting firmly in the reader's mind, then introduces Lenina and Bernard. Lenina is a perfectly normal promiscuous woman, and Bernard is a bit of an oddball. Though he is an Alpha-plus, he is smaller than those of his caste, and the ridicule he receives from his peers has caused him to do "odd" things like spend time alone, and think for himself.

For reasons that don't necessarily fit societies norms, Lenina finds Bernard interesting and they decide to travel together to New Mexico to visit the "Savage" Reservation there. As far as I can tell the "Savages" of this novel refer to American Indians. These "Savages" live on a reservation, and don't hold to the tenets of the mainstream society. They still have live births, and live off the land, and create the things they need to survive.

While on their trip, Bernard and Lenina meet Linda and her son John, who live on the reservation, but have interesting ties to the World State. It is when Bernard decides to bring them back to London that things really get interesting.

The book is cleanly broken up into three parts, the introduction, the visit to the reservation, and John's visit to the modern world. Things only really get interesting in the third part, as John reacts to the strange society. John is pretty much the ultimate outsider, and the only character of the novel that I could even remotely relate to. The lack of characters I found interesting or engaging made the first half of the book a bit of a drag for me. Bernard and Lenina are more like robots, and in many ways, only serve to move the plot to the point where Huxley could introduce John, thus having him be able to interact with the society the author had created.

That interaction between John and the World State society Huxley created was the greatest aspect of the book, and I think Huxley really nailed the pitch-perfect ending. Reading John experience life in the new world, and reading the people of the new world react to and experience John was a delight. I really don't see how things could have ended differently for John, and though it saddened me to read how his life turned out, I think it was brilliantly written.

Brave New World is considered a classic, but reading it now, over 75 years after its publication, it feels very dated. For one, nuclear technology didn't factor into the wars that led to the World State society being formed, and that really stuck out as an anachronism. Huxley's prose left me feeling a bit cold. Maybe that was deliberate, seeing as it would fit with the cold and empty society he created for this novel, but it made it hard for me to enjoy the reading experience. The characters also left me feeling cold, but that is because by their nature they were, more or less, empty vessels. Still, I prefer to like, or at least care about what happens to the main characters, and while that did happen with John, I found it hard to do the same for Bernard, or Lenina. Yes, I know they are just victims of their society, but still, it was hard to be sympathetic.

Though I didn't enjoy this read as much as I would say, eating ice cream, it is still very much a great read, and every bit a classic. I found the novel interesting and thought provoking. It was cool to look back to the early 30's and see what people thought the future would hold. If you are like me, and haven't read this yet, give it a whirl. It is one you don't wanna miss.

Grade: C+

Monday, November 29, 2010

Comic Quickies

Chew #15: Things haven't been going so good for our hero Tony Chu, especially since his girlfriend found a severed toe in his freezer. Maybe some family time will help...yeah... Thanksgiving dinner with his family doesn't seem to improve his mood either, maybe because they are all a bit crazy. This plus-sized issue packs in the awesome content. We get to meet Tony's family, complete with a MAJOR plot twist, and a crazy cliff-hanger ending that was set in motion way back in issue #4. Plus you get a flippin' sweet tri-fold cover. (blow that shit up to get a good look!) Totally awesome comic.

Kill Shakespeare #7: This comic has been slumping on me a bit recently, but issue #7 got things back on track quite well. The issue uses a cool three-act format to deliver the goods, and many pages feature double-page spreads, with smaller panels set against one large backdrop. Its really beautiful to look at.

The actual content is pretty sweet too. We learn a bit more about Lady MacBeth's wicked machinations, and a traveling stage troupe comes to Shrewsbury, the current hidey-hole for Juliet, Othello, Hamlet, and the rest of the prodigals. During the troupe's performance, Hamlet gets called on stage to play a role in The Murder of Gonzago, a play that strikes too close to the heart for his comfort. Fleeing the stage, Hamlet enters a trippy, mystical hall-of-mirrors type place. Hot on his heels is Juliet, and amidst the mirrors, they share their secrets, and form a bond...Wow, I made that sound way more cheesy than it was in the comic. Damn. Anyway, this was a great issue.

Superior #2: In every super hero comic, there comes an issue where the guy or gal in tights figures out all the cool new powers at their disposal. That's this issue of Superior.

That said, it was done quite well. Never has a hero had a harder time harnessing their powers than Simon Pooni/Superior. Superior has pretty much all the same powers as that Superman guy, freeze breath, laser vision, strength, and flight. But watching a kid, trapped in a super hero's body, attempting to do things he has only read in a comic or seen on a movie screen, was pretty awesome. Millar and Leinil Yu, the artist handle it quite well. Especially the flying bit, which was essentially a terrible fall up-wards. Millar added a nice, sometimes sentimental, sometimes cheesy touch of juxtaposing the powers against Simon's former struggles due to his Multiple Sclerosis.

Aside from that, nothing really happened in this issue, and I'm not sure where things are headed or what the conflict is gonna be. Maybe the final word bubble which contained the phrase, "What the fuck?" will lead to some sort of conflict next issue.

Doorways #1: Last but not least comes a comic debut from the pen of my favorite fantasy writer, George R.R. Martin! Apparently, Doorways was slated to be a network sci-fi show back in the 90's when major network ordered a bunch of scripts from Martin. For better or worse, (I say better), things fell through and Martin went on to write A Game of Thrones instead. Now, a bunch of years later, we get Doorways in comic format. Yay!

So what is this about? Well, the story opens with a woman getting teleported right into the middle of rush hour traffic. She promptly blows up an oncoming truck, and gets herself knocked out in the process. She wakes up in a hospital, attempts an escape, maims a police officer, and is saved from some serious police brutality by Dr. Tomas Mason. It doesn't take long for the government to find out about her advanced fire power and mysterious wrist-gauntlet thingy. So, like any good government agency, they abduct the shit out of her. Luckily, Dr. Mason is allowed to see her, and thanks to his trustful bed-side manner, he gets her to spill the beans about her gadgets, and about why she is on the run. Turns out she killed some sort of Darklord, and is being pursued by some evil minions. Seems like some entertaining stuff to me.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Review: Midnight's Children

On the stroke of midnight, at the very same moment India was gaining its independence, Saleem Sinai was born. Midnight's Children follows Saleem's life, as the events in his life mirror those of his nation.

Midnight's Children was an extremely complex book, and a rather difficult read for me. The Author, Salman Rushdie, deliberately confuses, addles, and misleads the reader as his narrative twists and turns with the growth of his protagonist, and the growth of an independent nation. In many ways, this book is a family saga, as it follows not only Saleem, but a multitude of other family members, servants, and some of the 1000 other "Midnight's Children".

While Saleem is inextricably bound to the events of his country, his is also bound to the other "Midnight's Children". All those born in that initial hour of independence were born with extraordinary gifts, some with good powers, some with not so good powers. Saleem's power is the ability to be telepathically linked to the other Children, and to converse with them.

Saleem is also the narrator of the novel, despite the fact that he discusses some events that take place long before his birth. Early on, we learn that Saleem is telling his life's story because he believes he is falling apart, quite literally, he thinks he is cracking apart from the inside. His narration style is, to say the least, very non-linear. He jumps around a lot, and uses a stream of consciousness story telling style that at times drove me nuts as it was hard to keep focused on what exactly he was talking about.

The major theme running throughout the novel, is the parallel between Saleem's life and the status of India as a nation. These two aspects run on a very similar trajectory, yet a reader could easily miss this nuance if they are unfamiliar with Indian history dating from their independence up until the mid to late 70's. Like I said earlier, this was a novel that I really struggled to get through, and not knowing the history involved will only make it harder. Luckily, I was reading this one for a college English course, so much of the historical context was explained. However, I do recommend a wikipedia search or something if you choose to embark on this one.

For me this wasn't a book that filled me with that old familiar joy of reading. At best this was a slog for me. The tricky, jumpy, confusing narrative style, and ever-changing cast of characters, and the ever-changing natures of the characters made this really difficult to digest. However, the level of skill and craftsmanship involved in this book is quite high. Though the style didn't tickle my fancy, it is brilliantly done. My troubles don't stem from the novel being stylistically a broken concept, or from it being poorly executed; I simply found the challenge of digesting such a complex narrative at odds with my enjoyment. With that said, I do think Midnight's Children is one of those books that would get better, and make more sense with a reread, but I'm not sure I'm willing to test that theory.

This is certainly not a book that everyone will enjoy, but I think the novel has its merits, and it tackles some very interesting topics that may be obscure or unknown to the average Western reader. If you are in the mood for a challenge, or looking for a change from the usual, Midnight's Children might fit your bill.

Grade: C

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Sixth Gun

I just read the 6th issue of this awesome ongoing comic series the other day, and it is easily one of the best single comic issues I've read all year. The sixth issue wraps up the first story arc and will be collected in trade/graphic novel format soon enough. I thought I'd give folks the early heads up and do a review of the first arc before the graphic novel version hits shelves.

My love affair with The Sixth Gun started waaay back in May on Free Comic Book Day. If you click the link, you can tell, I didn't have any idea how awesome this comic would be. The first issue opens with a group of Pinkerton detectives reporting to the mysterious and evil looking Mrs. Hume. The Pinkertons had been looking for some mysterious artifacs, namely "The Sixth Gun" which once belonged to Mrs. Hume's husband. Working alone, Drake Sinclair is also searching for the sixth gun, and his search which culminates at a ghostly gallows tree reveals the name Montcrief and a location.

The Pinkertons have had their eye on The Montcrief farm too, and after a deathly ambush, young Becky Montcrief comes to be bonded to the elusive sixth gun, yet is captured and taken away by the Pinkertons. In the meantime, the Mysterious General Hume, original owner of the Sixth Gun, has been released from his grave/prison by a group of four fearsome men, who all possess an enchanted six-shooter of their own.

Becky is eventually rescued from the clutches of Mrs. Hume and her Pinkerton lackeys by Sinclair and his dual-shotgun wielding friend Billjohn O'Henry. The trio narrowly escape after a brutal gun fight which brings them barrel to barrel with General Hume and his four henchmen. Reunited with his wife, General Hume and his company set out in search of Becky, Sinclair and Billjohn, setting in motion a deadly game of cat and mouse that culminates in an epically amazing showdown at The Maw.

The creators behind The Sixth Gun are Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt. These two consistently deliver awesome material in this comic. It is the perfect mash up of western, horror, fantasy, and a bit, but not too much, zombie killin'. What struck me about this comic from the get-go was how it easily managed to suck me into its world. When I read that first issue I instantly wanted to know more about the characters, more about what the hell was going on, and of course, I wanted to know more about the guns. That sense of mystery and intrigue still flavors the series, as more characters are introduced, and more is revealed about the principle characters.

Art is an important aspect of any comic, but Hurtt's art is especially important to this series as it deals with multiple genre's all rolled into one. Hurtt draws ghastly beasts, dusty western towns, zombies, and explosive gun fights with equal skill. Where he really shines though is his ability to draw atmosphere. I know that sounds like a load of shit, but I mean that, he draws scenes which depict creepy graveyards, raucous saloons, lightning filled magical incantations and brings them to life, and makes you feel like you are there. Basically, Hurtt is a great artist working on top of his game.

The Sixth Gun is one of those rare comics that has something for everyone. While a lot of the stuff on the shelves only appeals to certain audiences, this one delivers on multiple levels. Guns? Check. Not into guns? Ok, Swords? Check. Magic? Check. Fantastical Beasts? Check. Explosions? Check. Mystery? Mayhem? Check, check. Ok, so no sex, and no love story...yet.

The 6th issue wraps up the first story arc, so those of you who wait for trades can pick up the first trade soon enough. Which I strongly urge you to do. According to Comixology, it'll be out on January 12th. Hopefully it'll come sooner though. Simply put, The Sixth Gun kicks ass.

If you still are in need of further convincing, check out the cool video trailer:

Grade: A

Monday, November 22, 2010

Review: Top 10 Book 2

Picking up the story from where Top 10 book one stopped off, book two continues to follow Neopolis' finest in their mission to serve and protect.

Following a lead on a drug delivery, King Peacock travels to Grand Central, a parallel universe where the Roman Empire still reigns supreme. Though he is supposed to be following a lead, he unwillingly gets drafted into an inter-precinct gladiatorial tournament that pits him against super-cops from other dimensions. Meanwhile, back at Top 10, the crew is trying to keep their suspected "libra killer" under lock and key, while they tidy up shop in preparation for a visit from the commissioner.

While busy with housekeeping they also must contend with the Seven Sentinels, a world renown super hero team, who aim to free M'rrgla Qualtz, a former porn-star, and former member of the Seven Sentinels...however, around Top 10 they just call her the Libra Killer. To further muddy the water, Slinger and Smax investigate the suicide of a former pop-prince who also may have ties to the Seven Sentinels.

Top 10 book two is a continuation of the awesomeness that got started in the first book. I wasted no time in digging into this concluding volume, as I was totally hooked after reading book one. Top 10 has the feel of a great crime TV show along the lines of The Wire, yet with a science fiction twist. Moore does a great job of building up the case, and showing all the hard work and dedicated police work that it takes to break open a major case.

It was cool seeing "super heroes" use their brains as well as their powers to try and defeat the bad guys. Moore blended the super power aspect and the meticulous, painstaking attention to detail aspect of detective work well in this volume and the end result is another great graphic novel.

Top 10 is a two book, 12 issue, graphic series, so the story line gets completely wrapped up in this volume. Though this volume only contains five issues while the previous volume contained seven, there is no skimping on greatness here. The characters that I came to know and love in the first volume get further developed here. Moore adds in a few unexpected twists and character traits that add layers to many of the characters. Though Moore took time to develop each character quite well, I always wanted to see more of them, and learn more about their powers and what makes them tick. I think that constant sense of interest and intrigue was a large part of my enjoyment of this series.

Again, the artwork was great. The art team of Zander Cannon and Gene Ha prevail again. They skillfully filled each page with cool looking art, and brought the city of Neopolis and the world of Top 10 to life. A city filled to the brim with super heroes, robots and monsters would be a weird and strange place, and Cannon and Ha do a great job of crafting a bizarre, yet futuristic and fancy city that fits perfectly with the story.

Top 10 is an awesome cop/crime drama, and the science fiction twist is a great one. It never comes off as a cheap gimmick or a lousy mash-up of two tried-and-true genres. The world of Top 10 mirrors our own in many ways and thought it contains a heavy dose of the fantastic, it never loses touch with reality, and that is what makes it so special. This is a great example of how great comics can be. I strongly urge you to read this. You've been urged.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Review: Top 10 Book 1

Imagine a city, that is completely populated by folks with super-human abilities; From the lowliest bum all the way up to the highest of high rollers. That's the city of Neopolis. It's a city where everyone has some sort of special power, and a costume and alter-ego to match. The city was built by the world's greatest minds, as a place to house the burgeoning amounts of super-powered people after World War II. A city full of supes is eventually gonna be in need of some serious law and order, and that's were the folks of the Tenth Precinct, AKA Top 10, come in.

This well crafted graphic novel follows the day-to-day lives of the cops who work at Top 10. Though there is no true "main character" in this story, we first follow new recruit, Robyn "Toybox" Slinger as she starts her first week on the job at Top 10. She's met with cold indifference by her partner, the massive, blue-skinned Smax, as they investigate a homicide. From there Slinger, Smax, and the rest of the diverse group of police at Top 10 investigate a series of crimes, murders, and evil scientists that all seem to be strung together somehow. While putting the pieces of the current mystery together, they must also deal with the return of a serial killer know only as the Libra Killer, and an the Ghostly Goose, an invisible specter fond of fondling unsuspecting women.

Top 10 is a fantastic crime story with a nice sci-fi twist. It's easy for superhero stories to cop out and not deal with reality at all, and serve simply as an escape to a fantasy world where good and bad stand out and the complexities of real life are swept aside. Top 10 is not that kind of superhero comic. In Alan Moore's Neopolis, robots, and monsters face bigotry, prejudice, and inequality and serve as a clear allegory to real world minorities.

The police that serve Top 10 are a diverse group and utilize a wide range of skills and strengths to keep crime at bay. There's King Peacock, a Satan worshiper who can find and exploit any weak-spot, Irma-geddon a one woman arsenal, the nigh-invincible, power-beam shooting Smax, electo-zapping Shock-head Pete, and many others who make up the team. Initially, it was somewhat difficult to keep track of all the characters, but since, as the reader, you initially follow Robyn Slinger on her first day, you get the experience of feeling like it is your first day at Top 10 as well. Eventually, the characters come to be familiar faces, and Moore fleshes them out quite well. Moore cleverly shows the reader the human side of his super-powered characters and through that I got to know them as people. This served to make them not only easy to relate to, but also quite interesting, and very memorable.

On top of being written by Alan Moore, Top 10 features an all-star art team up of Zander Cannon and Gene Ha. Cannon did the "layouts", and Ha was the "finishing artist" for this graphic novel...Since I'm pretty much an idiot, and I'm slowly learning about comics as I go, I'm gonna guess that Cannon penciled everything out, and Ha inked it. Does that make Ha a... tracer? I don't know.

What I do know is that Top 10 is pretty glorious to look at. Each panel is exquisitely detailed, and nuanced. Not only that, but there's a bunch of little references to other comics stuff in the art. Great art, and a great compliment to the wonderful story.

Top 10 is easily one of the finest graphic novel's I've read this year. So far everything I've read by Alan Moore has been a hit with me. In fact, I loved Top 10 so much that I instantly started reading the second book immediately after I finished this volume. So be on the look out for that review soon enough! While you're waiting, go out and pick up Top 10 book one.

Grade: A+

Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: Preacher: Alamo

All epics must come to an end, and Preacher: Alamo is the final tale in the story of Reverend Jesse Custer, Tulip, Cassidy, Herr Starr and the rest of the cast of characters.

After months of searching for God, Jesse, a Texan at heart, hatches a genius plan, and decides to end his whole ordeal at the Alamo. A fitting location given the task at hand. Though Jesse might want to square things with God, Jesse's old enemy Herr Starr has given up on his original plans of making Custer into a modern Messiah, thus bringing about a global apocalypse that would make Starr Supreme Overlord of Earth. Since it was a complex and convoluted plan at best, Starr scraps that plan in favor of a new one that is much more simple in concept, and involves only one step: Kill Jesse Custer.

Before any of that whole reckoning with God stuff can happen Jesse needs to settle things with that wanker-bastard Cassidy, cut a deal with the Saint of Killers, oh, and keep Tulip safe in the process. Sound like the set up for an epic ending to an epic story? It is.

I'm always a little hesitant when finishing off a long series that I've really enjoyed. I worry that the ending wont live up to my expectations, and I think a part of me just doesn't like to see a good thing come to an end. Well, Preacher: Alamo is just about as perfect of an ending as I could ask for. Not only is the ending entertaining, but it also was pitch perfect in regards to the the story. It fit very well with the tone of the series, and its conclusion was rather satisfying as well.

After reviewing the previous eight installments, it is hard to say much of anything about Preacher that I haven't already gushed about. All told the Preacher series was 66 issues long, with a handful of one-shots, that flesh out the series to nine volumes in graphic format. That's a hefty chunk of material, and what I find remarkable is the level of consistency that Ennis and artist Steve Dillon maintain throughout. Preacher is pretty much always awesome, all the time. Basically, if you are reading this, and you haven't started in on reading the series...DO IT!

Over the course of this year, Garth Ennis's Preacher has been a steady source of entertainment. This is a landmark story in the world of comics, and is a must read for comics lovers. But really, Preacher is awesome enough to entertain those who might otherwise disregard the comic medium. You can't go wrong with a story about a bad-ass Reverend who is a cowboy at heart, who sets out to make God answer up for all the terrible bullshit that goes on in the world. What the hell are you waiting for? Read Preacher!

Grade: A

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: Conqueror's Shadow

About two decades ago, Corvis Rebaine, the Terror of the East, damn near conquered the country of Imphallion. He did everything right. He enlisted the help of the mighty Ogres, purchased the skills of thousands of mercenaries, harnessed powerful magics to aid his quest, and through skill, smarts, and ample use of scare tactics, had easily crushed most of his opposition. However, on the brink of ultimate victory, Rebaine gave it all up, and fled into obscurity with Tyannon, a noblewoman he took captive to assure his escape.

Now Rebaine is a simple farmer and family man, married to the girl he once took captive. He seems happy too, having shed himself of his former visions of glory and grandeur. If he had things his way, he'd simply carry on living the farm life, but too bad for Rebaine, the real world intervenes on his cute little pastoral existence, and shakes things up.

The political events of Imphallion have been more or less steady since Rebaine was last seen, but a new threat has arrived, and it has a familiar feel. Audriss, also known as the Serpent, has set out on the path of conquering Imphallion, and he's doing it exactly like Rebaine did seventeen years ago. When assassins hired by Audriss try to capture and kill Rebaine's daughter, Rebaine decides it is time for the Terror of the East to ride again, and deal with this new threat.

There is something almost comforting about reading The Conqueror's Shadow. This book manages to merge two popular fantasy styles into one...a gritty, quest-style fantasy if you will. A comforting, well known and well liked, sub-genre mixed with some grit to get those adult readers excited. Hey, it got me to buy the book. The author, Ari Marmell, did a pretty good job of it too, telling a captivating story filled with interesting characters, but there were some flaws that took away from my overall enjoyment.

The main character, Corvis Rebaine was hit or miss for me. I had a hard time accepting the contrast of young Corvis the brutal, no mercy conqueror to that of the old Corvis, the gentle loving family man. Marmell fills in certain details, and fleshes out characters in flashback scenes, and through those we learn of Rebaine's past exploits. From these flashbacks I learned that Rebaine was one uncompromising son of a gun who would do anything, including killing innocent women and children, all to achieve his aims of glory. Then, when I eventually found out Rebaine's reason for abandoning his quest for conquering, it didn't seem to fit with his style of how he got to that point. I get that Marmell was trying to make Rebaine seem very flawed and conflicted, but he was oftentimes so contradictory that it was annoying.

I think the problems I had with Rebaine also led to me not being even remotely convinced by his love story with his once captive, Tyannon. A convincing love story isn't necessary for my enjoyment of a novel, but in this case it just didn't work for me at all.

My biggest gripe with The Conqueror's Shadow is the excessive use of sarcasm. Now I am a fan of the lighter touches in otherwise serious stories. I think humor can really add to a story and help break up the serious moments and add another thread to the tapestry. However, Marmell took things a touch too far. The problem was that everyone, by everyone I mean nearly every character in the story, was overly sarcastic nearly all the time. It wasn't just one character that had a sarcastic streak, it was everyone, the ogre, the witch, the wife, the kids, the bad guy, shit, even the demon was sarcastic, and that sarcasm was a defining character trait of them all. It really was too much, and it made the dialog annoying to read after awhile.

Despite the flaws, there were a couple of things that I did like. Warning: it is about to get dorky in here.

First off is the Kolben Shiar blades. Sure, they are kinda your basic magical weaponry; Super sharp! Impossible to break! Enhanced with runes! But there was a cool twist: they shape shifted into the ideal weapon for whoever was holding it. So Rebaine's Kolben Shiar blade was a mighty axe, while Audriss' blade was a dagger.

I was also impressed by the fact that Marmell was not afraid to bust out the POWER CRYSTALS! I'll admit, I am a sucker for power crystals. These ones had demons trapped in them and the demons gave the power crystal owner magical powers! Ok, so that is kinda generic, but I liked that it added an extra element to a couple of the characters.

Unfortunately, the flaws far outweighed the positives, and my enjoyment suffered for them. I think Marmell has ample room for improvement, but that the foundations for a strong career are there. He has a knack for telling a good story, but just needs certain other elements to come up to that level. The Conqueror's Shadow is a decent debut, but weak in too many areas for me to fully enjoy.

Grade: D+

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Comic Quickies

Bulletproof Coffin #5: The first thing I noticed about this issue was the extra heft to it when I picked it up...extra pages! I was hoping the extra thickness was due to a pop-out section or something equally sweet, but the extra pages were a preview of writer David Hine's earlier work, Strange Embrace. So, really it was pretty much the usual stuff from Bulletproof Coffin. By "usual" I mean, weird and wild stuff on each and every page.

Over the course of the five issues in this six issue series, there has been lots to love. Shaky Kane's art is always a visual pleasure, and the story itself is quite awesome. I think my favorite touch is the comic-within-a-comic that occurs in each issue, and how they tie into the overall plot of the series. Great stuff. I've been waiting for the Red Wraith comic, and I finally got it. I can't wait to see how this one finishes up.

Kill Shakespeare #6: This sixth issue wraps up the first of two story arcs for this twelve issue series. In high school, I always secretly liked it when it came time for us to read a Shakespearean play. I loved the characters. Now along comes a comic that takes a bunch of the Bard's most famous and lesser known characters, pulls them out of their given narratives and plops them down in a fantasy world where Shakespeare himself is an elusive, all powerful wizard.

The first three issues or so were quite good, pitting Hamlet as the central character, exiled from his homeland, wrecked at sea, only to wash ashore on the lands controlled by Richard III. He soon undertook a quest to kill the mysterious wizard, but in the process things become jumbled as he meets folks like Falstaff, Juliet, and Othello, who operate a rebellion against Richard III. However, I the plot has slowed down a bit, over the last couple of issues, and I'm hoping this one gets back on track soon.

Strange Tales II 2 of 3: Yet another awesome, and hilarious Strange Tales cover! More great Marvel stuff by indie creators here. There's some great gems in this issue. My favorite was Love and the Space Phantom by Jamie Hernandez, which follows the Space Phantom as he tries to crash a sexy marvel-babes beach party.

There is also a great X-Men story by Jeffrey Brown, a great stressed out Spidey tale by Farel Dalrymple, and capping off the issue, Crisis in the Lair of MODOK by Jon can't really go wrong with any story starring a Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing.

Sweet Tooth #15: Last but not least comes one of my most favorite ongoing comics. It is amazing to me how Lemire manages to keep building and building the tension issue after issue. I think the pacing might drive some people crazy, but I love it. little, yet very important things happen every issue, and those little things add up to make this one extremely compelling story.

After reading this issue, its pretty plain to see that Singh, the Doctor who has been experimenting on the Hybrids has a pretty large role to play in the overall plot of the story. It looks like he'll be trying to figure out just what the hell Gus' "Dad" was up to by reading his journals. Meanwhile, Jeppard seems poised to wage war on the Militia.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Check This Shit Out

Just thought I'd share a really great web-comic with everyone today. Hark, a vagrant is a pretty hilarious website. Kate Beaton got on my radar after reading Marvel's Strange Tales II and it turns out she has a web comic that is loaded with tons of great material. For instance, this Wonder Woman comic:

Kate doesn't just do super heroes though. Her extensive archives mostly focus on historical folks, which is definitely worth a look. There's some other funny stuff as well. Check it out, but don't be surprised if you cant stop yourself from reading more.