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.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review: The White Tiger

As a book lover, I hate being forced to read things. So with a large degree of trepidation, and the need for five more credits to round out my quarter, I signed up for a Post Colonial Literature course, knowing it would most certainly make me do that most dreaded of all dreadfuls: read something because I HAVE to. Luckily, the book list is nice and short, and filled with some cool novels. The White Tiger is one of 'em.

In this debut, Booker Prize winning novel by Aravind Adiga, we follow Balram Halwai, a low caste villager trying to make it big in India. Balram is from a tiny village called Laxmangarh, a village deep in the "darkness" of rural India. As a child, Balram was declared a "White Tiger", a once in a lifetime genetic specialty that is destined for great things, by a visiting education inspector.

The novel is told in a series of letters which Balram writes to the Premier of China. The letters, written over a course of seven days and seven nights tell of Balram's journey from a lowly sweet maker, to the slightly more lofty, and better paying job of professional driver for rich young Indian aristocrat.

The White Tiger is a transfixing novel. The letter to the Premier narrative style is a pretty unique one, and it made the story roll along at a great clip. Reading the letters, Balram comes off as a slightly neurotic guy, but he is definitely a guy you root for regardless of his sarcastic demeanor, loose morals and crafty ways.

Balram suffers many degrading and unjust moments in the service of his employers, from foot massages, to being framed for vehicular homicide; all of which serves to illustrate the brutal class struggles that still exist, and persist in India today. This book doesn't just explore the issues of class. Through the eyes of Balram, we also get a look at the rapid globalization of India, the tensions between Hindus and Muslims, and the continued struggle for national identity in the wake of Britian's colonial "enlightenment".

The theme of Light versus Darkness was a theme kept popping up often in this book. The villagers are often described as being from the "Darkness", Balram makes a reference to hiding from the police, who searched for him in the darkness while he hid in the light, and many others which struck me as Adiga's way of addressing the "white man's burden" goal of enlightenment that served as one of the key justifications for colonialism. Make no mistake, while this book has a darkly comic veneer, it is very much an angry shout at the colonial powers and the greed, corruption, class discrimination, and racism that effect modern India.

The White Tiger was a nice surprise. The book tackles some very interesting and complex issues, and gave me lots to think about. Overall, the book is a fast, more or less easy read, but it is filled with some heavy material, that Adiga somehow, masterfully, managed to not bog the narrative down with. This is a great read, and well deserving of the Booker Prize it won in 2008. This is a powerful book that is accessible to everyone, an amazing achievement for any book. I highly recommend it.

Grade: B+

Friday, November 5, 2010

Comic Quickies

This edition of Comic Quickies is brought to you by the letter S.

Strange Tales II 1 of 3: First of all, take a moment to drink in that gorgeous ass Rafael Grampa cover...Mmm, MMMM! That is pretty! Stange Tales is probably the coolest thing happening at Marvel these days. Basically, they let a bunch of indie writers and artists run wild with characters from the Marvel Universe. Brilliant idea, and the results are pretty brilliant too. The cover artist, Grampa, also has a great Lucha-Wolvie story that kicks this issue off. In it, Wolverine battles Deadpool in a no holds barred style death-match. This comic short is bloody and gruesome, but has a nice, soft touch to it as well. Great stuff.

Kate Beaton also has a hilarious Kraven the Hunter story, where he's on the hunt for a prom date. There's lots of other great stuff in this issue to, you really get to experience a lot of cool indie creators, and the stories they crank out are all pretty solid. Pretty much a value deal despite the hefty $4.99 price tag.

Skull Kickers #2: The first issue didn't exactly BLOW me away, but it certainly didn't blow either. So, with a small measure of trepidation, I approached the second issue. The opening pages are action packed, as the two still unnamed mercs whoop ass on some grave robbers, but I didn't find myself enjoying the action too much. It wasn't until they hit the trail of the recently escaped grave robbers, hung a dude over a fire and basted him like a turkey so he'd spill information, and wrecked a horde of goblins, that I really got to enjoy things. However, that being said, the whole issue is pretty much one action sequence after another, which isn't a bad thing, but it doesn't say much for the story.

Another gripe I have is that in one panel the two mercenaries are overlooking a lush verdant valley, when they decide to steal some approaching horses, then on the very next page, seem to be in a dusty,dry, desert locale. Maybe this is just supposed to be yet another gag, but it bugged me. Still on the fence.

Vertigo Resurrected: Shoot: Way back in the late 90's, ancient history for some folks, Warren Ellis started what many hoped would be a long run on Hellblazer. However, he quit after only 9 issues because Vertigo wouldn't run his issue titled Shoot which dealt with recent school killings in the U.S. Then the Columbine shootings happened and Vertigo decided that it wouldn't be the best thing to run the issue without some major changes. The changes were drastic enough that Ellis, as a writer, couldn't support the changes to his material, and quit writing Hellblazer. Shoot had never been available until now.

I guess if you'd been waiting since like, 1999 to read this one issue, it would be really fucking awesome to finally read it, but I bought this not just for the Shoot story, but also for the other great re-run short comics by some of the best in the industry. Some of my favorite writers and artists have comic shorts in this gritty, heavy read. Every story is a bit dark and twisted. As an anthology, they all work pretty well together, and they are also pretty good representations of each creator. Not a bad way to sample some of the biggest names in the biz, if you are just getting started on comics.

The Sixth Gun #5: Is it possible for a Western/Horror/Fantasy to be a comfort read? If you are me it is. The sixth gun is pretty much all the reasons I read comics rolled into one. Great story, great art, cool characters, great setting, cool shit happens, crazy shit happens, when the issues is over, I instantly want more.

I don't want to gush too much, but I really think this series gets better with each issue. The good guy team of Becky, Drake, and BillJohn balance the scales a bit in this issue, but General Hume and his cronies still have some pretty diabolical tricks up their sleeves. The end of the issue sets up what I expect to be a pretty god damn amazing showdown at The Maw for the next issue.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sneak Peak at Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars

I recently got my hands on a PDF of the first chapter of Beau Smith's upcoming graphic novel, Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars.

The first chapter starts out with some strange happenings near Mount McKinley in Alaska, as two US Marshalls meet gruesome, bloody deaths in the snow. The only clue of the killer is a giant footprint in the snow.

Meanwhile back in California, US Marshall, Wynonna Earp leads a strike force against a secret lab that is creating human/animal beasts. The science lab is run by the slippery Dr. Robidoux, a man with connections to the mysterious Immortals Consortium, and, who of course, manages to escape to the icy safety of Alaska.

Thanks to the data from the sting, Earp gets the go ahead to put together a team, and chase after the baddies.

As far as first issues go, this one was pretty solid, though not mind-blowing. The assault on the secret lab was pretty cool, and the human/animal creations were pretty cool once they got turned loose. I felt the action was pretty standard and straight forward, not all that dynamic, and lacking in intensity.

One thing I look for when reading the first issue of any comic series, is some sort of hook that really drags me into the world of the comic, and leaves me craving for more once that final page is turned. Great characters, an intriguing plot, and hints at bigger and better things to come are just a few of the hooks that have gotten me in the past.

So how does Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars measure up? Well, from just looking at the title and I expect some explosive action, which I generally appreciate. The plot of the first issue hints at deeper layers to the story. I think where this preview fell flat for me was the characters. I didn't really get any kind of sense of the title character Wynonna Earp. Sure, I can see that she's tough, and can handle herself, but I didn't see anything to set her apart from all the other tough female leads we see in comics, tv, film, and literature these days. As far as other characters go, Dr. Robidoux gets very little attention, yet seems important to the story, and a fellow Marshall, named Smitty seems to play a larger role in the future as well.

Like I said earlier, a solid effort, but I'm not totally convinced. Truth be told, I am firmly on the fence. I actually wish that this one was serialized before being collected in a graphic novel, so I could buy the first couple issues and get a better sense of the story.

If you are interested, you too can get a free PDF of the fist chapter. Just check out Beau's weekly column at CBR, and email the man asking for a PDF. Or just wait until December when the graphic novel hits comic shops. My thanks to Beau Smith for sending me the PDF.