Thursday, June 30, 2011

At Last, Sexism is Dead

If there is one thing that drives me crazy about comics, it is the fact that many of the women who populate these tales almost always have giant, kick-ball sized boobs, tiny waists, and round butts.  Of course there are exceptions out there, but flip thorough almost any comic published by the Big Two and you'll find many examples of what I just described.

Luckily, I wont be seeing that shit anymore, because Sexism is over.  At least Kate Beaton, the genius behind Hark A Vagrant!  says so.  Her latest update features a collaboration between herself Carly Monardo and Meridith Gran, which pokes pretty good fun at "Strong Female Characters".  It's pretty hilarious and definitely worth checking out.

Stop by Hark! A Vagrant to see the art that I wasn't savvy enough to figure out how to post.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: Ironweed

Ironweed is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by William Kennedy.

The novel follows Francis Phelan, a bum, who has just recently returned to his hometown of Albany, New York.  Its been about twenty years or so since Francis was last in Albany, and he left on the some pretty bad terms after accidentally dropping his infant son, who died from the fall.  In the years that followed the incident, Francis has been a professional baseball player, wino, murderer, and most recently, gravedigger.

His return to Albany is anything but special.  He's forced to sleep on the streets, work a shitty job collecting other people's junk, and look after Helen, his lady-love of the past few years.  Francis is also haunted by the ghosts of his violent and deadly past, while he tries to muster the courage to confront the family he left behind.

What struck me as immediately compelling about Ironweed is that it is a book that pulls no punches.  Francis and his other transient friends are by no means the romanticized down-on-their-luck heroes of say an Horatio Alger novel.  There'll be no pulling oneself up by the bootstraps.  Shit, Francis doesn't even have boots, let alone bootstraps.  Francis, Helen, their pal Rudy, and the other transients that populate this tale are truly tragic; downtrodden, nearly broken humans.  Their lives are full of heartbreak, and violence, and this novel provides an unfiltered view into their world.

For me, the most impressive quality of Ironweed is the fact that Kennedy was able to make me feel like I knew Francis, his past, present, and future, inside and out, despite that fact that he is a person so unlike myself.

As a middle class white guy who grew up in rural Maine, and now lives in a quiet neighborhood in Seattle, I've had very few experiences interacting with bums/transients/homeless aside from giving them some spare change or some restaurant leftovers.  However, with Ironweed, Kennedy has made me feel like I understand these people to a certain extent.  By letting the reader walk a mile alongside Francis, Kennedy makes Francis' life and his experiences come to life on the page, which is an amazing talent, but not only did they come to life, but I feel like I understood those experiences and why Francis acted the way he did in certain circumstances. 

Ironweed is a great read and provided me with a nice little break from my usual fantasy/comic reading.  It is unlike most anything I've read due to the characters in the novel and their lives.  Filled with gallows humor and bleak horizons Ironweed is not for the faint of heart, but most definitely worth a read.  This novel put me out of my comfort zone in a good way, and I'm glad I gave it a chance.  If you are a lover of the "literary" stuff, than Ironweed is worth a read.

Grade: B

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Review: Ex Machina v5 Smoke Smoke

In this 5th volume of Brian K. Vaughn's and Tony Harris' Ex Machina series, Mayor Mitchell Hundred has recently committed a political blunder; he admitted to having smoked pot in the past.  This admission sparks a long series of debates and creates a lot of unnecessary political drama that distracts Hundred from issues that are actually important. 

The first pressing issue is that someone has been posing as a New York City firefighter in full on official fire fighting gear to do some serious assault and robbery hits on New York citizens.  Adding even further distraction is the fact that a women committed a rather flamboyant act of suicide on the steps of City Hall by lighting herself on fire.

Amidst all the confusion and chaos, Hundred takes on a new intern, January Jones, who is the sister to his recently deceased intern Journal Jones.  From the little clues that this story arc provides, it looks like she has it in for Mayor Hundred and is looking to cause some damage to his political career.

As usual, mixed in with all the political drama, Vaughn interweaves some of Hundred's earlier adventures/misadventures as The Great Machine.

I've started to notice a trend with the Ex Machina series.  Each story arc will present a set of political dilemmas that Hundred has to face, combined with some related issue that has to do with the safety and security of New York citizens.  Though I feel like it makes for content that is slightly predictable, so far, the stories have been good enough that I don't mind the overall predictability of the Ex Machina formula.  Hopefully this will hold true for the second half of the series.

The political issues tackled in Smoke Smoke are kinda silly, but I guess if you are gonna do a story about a politician, you gotta do something about drugs.  The things I found most interesting in this story arc were January Jones' introduction and the little hints as to what Hundred's old buddy, Kremlin is up to behind the scenes.  I get the sense that these two will be key players in what the series is building up to, so I'm looking forward to not only seeing if my predictions are right, but also just what those two are all about.

I've praised both the writing and art of the Ex Machina comics before, and the writing and art in Smoke Smoke is par for the course...that is to say, exceptionally good.  Added to this collection is a standalone story titled, err...Standalone about Rick Bradbury, Hundred's bodyguard.  It is essentially his "origin" story, but it is pretty fun, and provides some good insight into the character. 

Now that I've reached the halfway point I feel like I'm fully invested in the series.  At this point I feel like I wanna read through the remaining trades in fairly rapid succession so that I can find out where everything is going.  Even though I thought Smoke Smoke was one of the less entertaining volumes so far, big things to come are hinted at and I wanna see what is up.  I own all but the final volume, so more Ex Machina is in my near future.

Grade: B-

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Comic Quickies

Screamland #1:  I really thought Screamland had a lot of promise; A comic starring Pulp-style movie monsters who are out of jobs thanks to green screens and CGI, forced to try and make a buck by hitting the convention circuit...Seems like it would be in my ballpark.

Well, I was wrong. 

Apparently at the height of their fame, during an epic Hollywood style party, (think: pool, hookers, blow, alcohol, etc.) these movie monsters, who include a wolf-man, blob, swamp creature and robo-brain, made an orgy porno.  Flash forward to present day where they are all down on their luck and hard up for cash.  The Invisible Man decides he's gonna release the porn, and try to drum up some publicity.  Oh, and some monsters die.

That's about it.

Even though the plot is razor thin, I could have at least made it to issue #2 had the characters been anything more than caricatures of what we already expect from these pulp creatures.  The Wolf-man snarled a lot, the robo-brain was a Nazi prick, the Blob just wanted people to be his friend.  There just wasn't anything that jumped out as unique or interesting about this comic, and the decision to not pick up another issue was pretty damn easy.

 Green Wake #3:  There's comics like Screamland, and then there's comics like Green Wake.  The former is a total let-down and the latter just manages to creep you out, tug at your heart strings, and leave you dazed, confused and itching for more.

To say that Green Wake is a slow burn style story is a bit of an understatement.  Writer Kurtis Wiebe has done a knock-out job of feeding teeny-tiny little nuggets of long-lusted after information at just the right moments.  Not only that but he's created an incredibly intriguing murder mystery tale, and placed the whole story in a town that is a huge mystery in and of itself, aaand filled that town with characters with mysterious pasts.  That's a lot of mystery.

Riley Rossmo has gotta be one of the most unique comic artists out there.  His art is not immediately the most accessible stuff, but it is work that rewards close scrutiny.  Because there is a lot of plot packed into each issue, and I'm usually incredibly anxious to see what burning questions get answered in the issue, I have to force myself to slow it down and really cover each panel.   As great as Wiebe's writing has been in this series, Rossmo's art has been crucial to setting the atmosphere that makes Green Wake breathe with life.  Taking the time to really enjoy the art makes Green Wake all the better.

Blue Estate #3:  First off, the covers for this series have been some of my favorites of the year.  Shirtless Uzbek drug dealer sitting in a zebra skin chair?  That's a winner in my book.

Blue Estate is starting to feel like the comics version of say a Cohen Brothers or Guy Ritchie film.  Large cast of characters, most of them shady, desperate, or ruthless, a plot with lots of ins and outs, great dialog and a mix of violence and comedy.  So far I've been enjoying the ride.

Lucky for me things started to click for me this issue.  Though I enjoyed the last two issues, I sorta felt lost in all the events that were going on.  In this issue I started to make the connections between specific characters, and what they are up to, and how they fit into the grand scheme.

I think the art mash up that happens each issue is at least a little bit responsible for my confusion.  There's been a gang of artists that attack each issue, and during the issue, the artist can switch at any given moment, which means characters can look at least a bit different from one page to the next.  The slight alterations have given me a bit of a challenge, but I think my learning curve is starting to level out.  Definitely a comic that'll require a straight read through once the whole arc is out.

 Mystery Men #'s 1 and 2:  These issues were a total impulse buy at the comic shop this week.  I was nearly out the door with my weekly purchases, when another customer asked me if I had checked out Mystery Men.  I hadn't, which meant I had to at least give it the flip-check.  The in-store description I got was 1930's era Marvel Universe with pulp style heroes.  Going on that description, and a flip-check that revealed some sweet interior art I made the plunge.

The first issue is sort of the "get the team together" issue.  Which could come across as shitty, but it was actually well handled.  Dennis Piper, AKA The Operative,  is a Robin Hod style cat-burgler who steals from the rich to help out the poor, and oppressed during the depression.  His lady, Alice Starr is an up and coming actress who thinks some guy calling himself "The General" will help connect her with some Hollywood directors.

Unfortunately for Alice, The General, who runs a board of rich and powerful people who plot to oppress millions for their profits, kills her in a sacrifice to some sort of demonic creature that has promised to grant The General great powers.

The General, who has some crooked cops in his pocket attempts to pin the murder on Dennis Piper.  While eluding the police Piper discovers that Alice has a sister who might be the next victim.  As Piper attempts a rescue, which turns into an ambush, he and the sister, Sarah, get rescued by a mysterious guy who named The Revenant.

I will say that I enjoyed these first two issues, but there were a few things I could have done without: The Dirty Harry style catch-a-bullet-in-your-teeth shit was not cool, the cheesy ass way The Revenant speaks is kinda lame, and Sarah being essentially a female Rocketeer seemed a bit cheap.  The Revenant's style of speech turned out to be a plot point and now I'm fine with it, but the other things bug me a bit.  Still, I think these are worth checking out, and I'll be on board for the 3rd issue.

Rocketeer Adventures #2:  It is pretty much a guarantee that a week with Rocketer Adventures in the pull box is an automatic awesome week.  So far, this comic has amazed me.

Yes, this issue is awesome for the great Darwyn Cooke story and art.  Yes, it is awesome for the 8 pages of Gene Ha art.  As amazing as those two things are, and believe me they are amazing.  "Betty Saves the Day" by Cooke is a true gem, however they pale in comparison to the absolutely fucking ridiculously gorgeous pin-up by Geof Darrow.  (I couldn't find a picture of it anywhere on the interwebs, I'm sorry.)  Seriously, that double page spread is the coolest thing I've seen in comics this year.  I really hope it'll become available in poster-form some time in the future.  I wants it.

Anyway, all gushing aside, Rocketeer Adventures is great.  Each issue puts together an all-star cast of writers and artists that crank it up to eleven.  You don't need to have read the original Rocketeer material (I haven't, but I will sooner or later) to enjoy this comic.  It is simply great writers and artists doing some of their finest work with a really cool character.  Check it out!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review: The Listener

The Listener, a graphic novel written and drawn by David Lester, follows an artist named Louise who creates political sculptures.  A man who was inspired into action by her art dies while trying to hang a protest poster from a tall building.  Feeling a strong sense of responsibility for the man's death, Louise travels to Europe in an attempt to escape her overwhelming guilt.

The trip to Europe signals a change for Louise.  Instead of using her art as her voice, she finds herself now as a listener; listening to the stories and tales of the people she meets while traveling around Europe and visiting art museums.  Through these people and places Lester imparts a wealth of interesting information about art, artists and the regions in which Louise travels. 

The most important people Louise meets while on her travels are an elderly couple named Rudolf and Marie.  Rudolf and Marie are originally from Lippe, a small state in central Germany.  During the early 1930's Rudolf and Marie were part of the DNVP or the German National People's Party, a political group that squared off against Hitler's Nazi party during a pivotal 1933 election.  Marie and Rudolf share the story of how Hitler and his party utilized aggression, fear mongering, shady political deals, and propaganda to solidify party power in the country.

The Listener is one part travelogue/art history lesson, one part German History lesson, and one part a look at how people process guilt.  From reading this graphic novel it is extremely clear that Lester is man who has done his research.  His knowledge of art, various art pieces and museums lent a great deal of realism to Louise's travels through Europe.

I appreciated the level of detail and information Lester presented about the 1933 parliamentary election in Lippe.  Lester managed to present the information without making me feel like I was reading a history text.  Instead, he neatly fit the history pieces into his narrative without breaking the flow of the story.   Lester used a few nice tricks to accomplish this, but my favorite was how he used actual quotes in his speech bubbles.

The Listener flits between Louise's travels, her conversations with Marie and Rudolf, and flashbacks to Hitler's scheming.  These roving view points create a well paced narrative that kept the story going at a nice clip.  A hangup that slowed down that pace was the dialog between Louise and other characters, which at times felt pretty dry and unnatural.

Lester was able to cover up some of the clunky dialog with some solid art.  There were a couple conversations, one between Louise and a man she just met where Lester only shows their feet and one between Hitler and Eva Braun, where Lester's art only depicted their hands.  Brilliantly, Lester was able to portray the awkwardness, tension and emotion of these conversations through small changes in the positions of the hands and feet. 

Though there were times when I really enjoyed Lester's art, there were also times when I struggled with the art.  Though I was impressed with the hands/feet scenes, there were times when I felt character's faces and bodies failed to impart meaning and emotion on behalf of the speaker, which is definitely a reason why the dialog felt flat to me.

Unlike some comic artists out there who rely on tried and true methods, Lester experiments with some unique ways of depicting the story, which was sort of hit or miss with me.  Lester evoked a very haunting feel when Louise visited a concentration camp, a situation where the art told told the story extremely well.  There were other times, like when the figure of Hitler was drawn in shards during one of his speeches in Lippe, where I felt like I wasn't quite "getting" all that Lester was trying to get across in that scene.

I may have been  a bit warm and cold with the art, but its important that I mention I've never really encountered art like that of The Listener.  It is by no means the art I've come accustomed to in my other comic/graphic novel reading.  Much of my hit or miss enjoyment of the art likely comes from me getting used to a new style.

Though I enjoyed The Listener for the history it presents, the level of craftsmanship and research that make the story breathe with life, and the challenge provided by the art, I did find the story lacking in tension.  This comes from my own lack of connection with Louise, the primary character.  For my money, the story needed more focus on her struggle to overcome guilt and regain her artistic voice.  I never really felt like I was engaged by the character or her struggles.  This created a lack of tension in the story which made Louise's struggle, and the overall experience less engaging. 

The Listener is a definite divergence from my usual reading in the comic medium and I enjoyed reading something that felt fresh.  Lester was able to tell a fairly interesting story in The Listener and excelled in providing an interesting look at a piece of German history as well as provide an art lesson. People looking for a break from their usual graphic novel reading will find that The Listener can provide an interesting, and thought provoking read.

Grade: C+

Friday, June 17, 2011

Review: The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl is a Multi Award-winning novel by Paolo Bacigalupi.  The Windup Girl is set in the near-future Thailand in a world where the oceans are rising, technology as we know it is mostly kaput, and the world's food supply is in the control of massive "Calorie Companies" who use biotechnology to create seeds that are temporarily resistant to the many bio-engineered plagues that decimate food supplies and populations across the globe.

The situation in Thailand is slightly different than most of the other countries that still thrive due to the fact that they possess a vast seed stock of non-bio-engineered seeds that can resist the various plagues for more than one growing season at a time.  This makes them largely independent from the various Calorie Companies that more or less reign supreme in other parts of the world. 

The Windup Girl is a character driven story that features a number of point of view characters that all have different aspirations and motivations, yet all play a role in the overall plot.  Anderson Lake, the first point of view character we encounter in this novel is a calorie company man working undercover in Thailand attempting to discover the Thai seed bank.  Lake owns a factory that produces springs that can store energy, but he largely leaves the day to day operations to his assistant, a displaced Chinese refugee named Hock Seng. Seng is  a former successful business man himself with designs on regaining his lost glory. 

Working sort of on the opposite end of Lake's desires is Jaidee, a captain of the "White Shirts" a group who acts as a trade enforcement police force.  Jaidee, his lieutenant Kanya, and the other White Shirts are seen as heroes to some in power and nothing more than terrorists to other government factions. Jaidee and his White Shirts walk a fine line between righteousness and corruption. 

The final principle point of view player in this novel is Emiko.  Emiko is a windup girl, an artificially created human.  Abandoned by her Japanese creators, Emiko finds herself working as a sex slave at an exclusive sex-club.  Since windups are illegal in Thailand, her pimp/controller bribes away the authorities and subjects her to nightly sexual humiliations.  It is during one of her nightly sexual assaults that she gleans some valuable information from a customer; information which she soon imparts to Lake who has become one of her regular customers.  This information sets in place a series of events that will bring about abrupt and deadly change for Thailand and it's inhabitants.

For my money, Bacigalupi's strength lies in his ability to describe the setting and give the reader a very strong sense of "being there".  There were many times when I felt like I could feel the oppressive humidity, smell the odors of the dingy streets, or the aromas of food vendors.  This quality of his writing gave an added amount of intensity and realism to the story and I fully appreciated the effort.

The plot was well planned, paced and filled with some solid twists and turns. However, I had one major problem with this novel.  Bacigalupi was never able to make me care about what was going on.  I couldn't relate to or sympathize with any of the characters and as a result, didn't give a damn about what happened to them.  This made me pretty detached from the narrative and I mostly just felt like I was going through the motions of the story.  I don't want to give the impression that I think Bacigalupi's character building skills are poor, they aren't.  It is clear he took the time to craft and develop them and give them some layers, they just didn't jive with me.

The future that is envisioned in The Windup Girl is quite frightening.  Bacigalupi's imagined future that bears the effects of global warming and fully diminished carbon based fuel is a potentially accurate portrayal that lends a large degree of credibility to this novel.  Bacigalupi was able to rise to the challenge of creating a world that takes some of the major issues from current times, and extrapolating them a couple hundred years into the future.

All told, The Windup Girl is a novel with strengths and weaknesses.  This novel features some qualities of a great novel, but for me lacked engaging characters, which led to an overall lack of engagement in the story.  Bacigalupi has the skills for a successful career in writing, but there is also some room for improvement.  This is a read that will present some thought provoking ideas, but for my money didn't fully deliver as a story.  The Windup Girl is worth a read if you are an avid science fiction reader looking to catch an up and comer on his way up.  There was enough good here for me to have an interest in Bacigalupi's other/future works, but The Windup Girl mostly failed to wind me up.

Grade: C-

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Coming Soon: Essex County the Movie

I'm a bit late in getting this news up on the blog, but it is worth mentioning even if it is late.  Jeff Lemire, who is easily one of my favorite comic writers and artists, announced on his blog last week that his Tales from the Farm story which can be found in his award winning graphic novel, Essex County, is going to be made into a live-action film.

Tales from the Farm is a story about a ten year old orphaned boy named Lester who moves to the farm to live with his uncle.  The relationship between the boy and his uncle is strained, to say the least, and the boy's only real friend is Jimmy LeBouf, the town's local gas station owner, and former pro hockey player.  Together they play pond hockey and play imaginative games like super heroes and alien invaders. 

I don't usually get too excited over film adaptation announcements, but this makes me quiver with anticipation. 

Lemire is a master of nailing down stark imagery and delivering on the emotional front, so this could definitely be an interesting film.  It is also quite a lot different than the usual shit Hollywood squirts out these days, so this film might be a nice breath of fresh air.  The scenes where Lester and Jimmy play in their fantasy world should be pretty cool to witness on the big screen, and will require some nifty special effects. 

At this point I'm optimistic this will be a movie worth checking out, but this could just as easily be a total flop if it isn't handled well.  Until more details surface, my fingers are crossed. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Look at the DC Relaunch

DC comics has a massive relaunch set for September 2011.  In an attempt to attract new, younger readers, and make their hallmark comics easier for readers to jump onto, DC has decided to reset or kick off 52 comics at #1 in September. 

In some ways I can see this being a good plan.  As a relatively new comic reader, one of the reasons I've steered well clear of many of the popular DC and Marvel titles is because I would feel pretty damn lost picking up a random Batman issue and trying to figure out what has been going on with the character since I last read a Batman issue back when I was twelve.  In that sense, by DC relaunching all these titles, It would be much easier for people like me, and young readers to jump on and hypothetically become life-long readers.

Taking a look at the list of writers and artists working on the 52 new titles, it is pretty clear that DC is playing for keeps and putting their best writers and artists on the titles they really want people to read.  They've got Grant Morrison on Action Comics #1, Scott Snyder on Batman #1, Geoff Johns on Green Lantern and Justice League to name a few of their big titles.

I'll admit, I have a pretty high level of nostalgia for a lot of the DC characters, and I'll also admit that I'm intrigued by a few of these titles.  I could definitely see myself reading the Action Comics trade, and maybe some trades of the Batman titles, but what really interests me are the comic written by guys who are currently working creator owned material.

Nathan Edmondson has been kicking serious ass with Who is Jake Ellis? and I had a feeling it was only a matter of time before one of the big two scooped him up.  Edmondson makes his DC debut with Grifter #1, a book that might have some potential.  From the looks of things it has a bit of espionage, a bit of the supernatural, and plenty of action, all areas in which Edmondson excels. 

Jeff Lemire, of Sweet Tooth notoriety, has two comics he'll be penning in the DC relaunch.  The first, Animal Man looks like it might call upon Lemire's ability to deliver some writing that'll punch you right in the emotions. 

His second title, which I'm actually pretty excited about, is Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. Hmm...Frankenstein battling monsters even more ridiculous than himself?  And it's written by Jeff Lemire?  Sounds pretty awesome to me.  That cover looks pretty damn promising too!  Gattling Gun? Check.  Broadsword?  Check.

Even though from my standpoint I see some positives for this relaunch, I still think it could be a blunder by DC.  It seems crazy to me that they would reset some of their long running, well-read titles like Batman and Action Comics.  I'm pretty sure Action Comics is up around 900 issues so far and it seems crazy to reset that comic to #1.  That's like 75 years of comics!  Crazy I tell ya.  It just seems disrespectful to their long time readers to make such huge changes to titles that already have a readership.  Perhaps an Ultimates style approach would work better here, and have a separate universe for their big characters and get new readers on while still maintaining their long-running titles. 

I know many people have stronger opinions on this than me, but whatever happens, it'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.  In the meantime, it looks like I'll be reading some cool comics.  I'm sure they already thought of that, but still, DC should hire me. 

For more information on the DC relaunch...well it's just about everywhere on any comics site.  For the sake of this post I referred to the coverage at Comics Alliance

Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: Buddy Does Seattle

Way back a few months ago at the Jet City Comic Show I picked up a $20 off coupon for Seattle's very own indie comic publisher Fantagraphics Books.  Since I'd never been there, but heard good things, I was pretty excited to check out their shop.

I made two purchases that day, one was Castle Waiting, which I loved, and the other was Buddy Does Seattle.  I'd heard Peter Bagge's, (pronounced "Bag"), name mentioned as a great indie writer/artist and figured that his graphic novel about life in Seattle during the early 90's would be a great place to start. Especially since I live in Seattle, and have an affinity for the Seattle grunge bands of the early 90's.

 Well, it turns out that Buddy, the titular character who the graphic novel is centered around, hates grunge music...Along with just about everything else in the world, which makes sense given that this graphic novel collects the Buddy Bradley stories from Bagge's Hate Comics.  

Even though there wasn't cool shit about grunge bands in this comic, there was a lot to love.  The story follows Buddy Bradley as he lives his life as a twenty-something slacker in Seattle.  Buddy's life is filled with a low paying dead-end job, slacker friends, druggie friends, neurotic girlfriends, and bitter micro brewed beer.  Buddy's life is eerily similar to my early twenties in Seattle, except he had a girlfriend, and my friends are far less slacker-ish. 

At times Buddy Does Seattle can be down right hilarious because the shit that happens to Buddy is so excruciatingly familiar.  Anyone who has gone through their twenties, or is going through their twenties could definitely find plenty to relate to in this story.  The story of Buddy isn't just a comedy though.  There's plenty of tragedy involved, as well as a generous helping of raunchiness.

The best thing about Buddy Does Seattle is that you get a pretty strong idea of what Peter Bagge hates, via Buddy's life.  You can tell Bagge hates grunge when Buddy winds up managing a shitty, sleazy grunge band called "Unsupervised Existence".   When Buddy gets a booth at a comic convention to hawk his "collectibles" you get an idea of how Bagge feels about the convention circuit and the vendors it attracts.  I felt like the story was at it's best when I could sense the hate flowing through the page.

Bagge's cartoon-style artwork is no less impressive than his writing.  I was impressed by how he was able to portray the inner thoughts and feelings of a character through their facial expression and body language.  I think the most fun aspect of his art is that everything is slightly, sometimes completely, over the top and over exaggerated and it makes for some hilarious panels.  When Buddy is shit-faced drunk his body slumps over at ridiculous angles.  When Buddy is relaxing in a hot tub, his body literally drapes over the edge of the tub.  Bagge's ultra-expressed art makes the story and art work together well, and keeps the story pace going at a nice clip. 

All told, I really enjoyed Buddy Does Seattle.  I understand that it might not be for everyone, and there's definitely some stuff that a non-Seattleite might not fully appreciate, but despite that, there is plenty to love.  Bagge's interpretation of what it's like to be a twenty-something in the city is spot-on for any city and still relevant today.  In fact, almost all the shit about the Seattle region and the people is still spot-on today.  That timeless quality is a real strength, and one that makes this graphic novel something that anyone could enjoy. 

Grade: A

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Opeth's New Album Cover Art

Ok, so this is a few days late, but Opeth, one of my favorite bands, has a new album coming out in September, and they recently released their album cover at their website

Overall, the cover is pretty sweet, I like the art, especially the two-headed devil guy and the burning city.  I will say that I'm not such a huge fan of the band member's heads up in the tree.  I think it looks a little goofy. 

Still, this is definitely one of the most unique metal album covers ever, given that most metal album covers tend to be predominantly black, with some sort of dark imagery. 

I'm definitely looking forward to this album. 

If you wanna see this great band live, you can see their tour dates here.  They hit my town, Seattle, on October 15th.  Should be an awesome show. 

Stay tuned for more Opeth related posts in the coming days...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Comic Quickies A Mixed Bag of Greatness

Rocketeer Adventures #1: This amazing ode to Dave Stevens' Rocketeer is a glorious comic that should be owned by all.  This issue features stories and pin-ups from some of the biggest and most talented artists and writers in the field.

First off there's the beautiful cover by Alex Ross, plus a story written and drawn by John Cassaday, a Mike Mignola pin-up, a story by Mike Allred, and another story written by Kurt Busiek...along with many others.  Along with the field of wonderful talent comes a few great Rocketeer stories.  It was cool to see each creator's unique take on this classic character.

Despite the bevvy of talent I was most taken by the art of Michael Kaluta, a guy who was an unknown to me prior to this comic.  His artwork on the Dear Betty story was nothing short of amazing and his Robo-Squid and Samurai Gorilla were wonderful additions to a couple of sweet black and white panels.  One of the most entertaining and high quality comics I've read this year. I highly recommend picking this up, along with the other three Rocketeer Adventures issues that are forthcoming.

Strange Adventures #1: First things first, I'd like to point out how awesome that Paul Pope cover is.  As much as I like looking at it, the actual copy of the comic I own is not nearly as pretty to look at due to a GIANT Green Lantern movie banner that runs across the top cover.  Thanks DC.  Why the fuck would I want to look at Ryan Reynold's face when I'm reading a Vertigo title?  Keep your lame DC hero movie ads on your lame DC titles please. Ok, moving on...

Strange Adventures is a collection of sci-fi themed short comic stories.  I openly admit that I pretty much only picked this up based on the fact that I knew there'd be a Jeff Lemire story in it.  His entry Ultra the Multi-Alien  was pretty wonderful.  Like all great Lemire stories it was tinged with a heavy dose of tragedy.  In the span of eight pages the guy nearly had me in tears.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Lauren Beukes had a story in here also.  All the Pretty Ponies was pretty damn good, and I'd love to see her idea get fleshed out in greater length.  Of all the stories, the Lemire, and Beukes tales stood out as the best, and I was pretty underwhelmed by the Brian Azarello and Eduardo Risso story Spaceman which gives readers a first look at their new series.  I don't think I'll be diving into that one anytime soon.

 The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde #2: The plot thickens in a big way here in this second issue as we see Detective Adye team up with Dr. Jekyll in hopes of putting Jack the Ripper in cuffs.  There's some incredibly tense and nerve wracking moments as the two work together and get into and out of trouble.

I was happy to see Dr. Jekyll get some more page time, as he struck me as a very interesting character in the first issue.  Jekyll more or less stole the show in this issue, and looks to be a major player in the next two issues.

Somehow Cole Haddon, the writer, manages to pack plenty of story into one issue.  I definitely feel like I'm getting my money's worth.  The art of M.S. Corley is also quite good again, and I'm definitely looking forward to the next issue.

The Intrepids #'s 3 and 4: I know I'm way behind on my comic reading/reviewing when I lapse and have to double up on one of my favorite comics.

I'll try to put this simply: The Intrepids is one of the most entertaining and fun comics out there.  I'm pretty amazed by how many awesome/crazy ideas Kurtis J. Wiebe has managed to pack into this series so far, and I get the sense that the best is yet to come.  Scott Kowalchuk's artwork continues to be some of the most unique and visually interesting art in the business.  I truly believe he's the perfect guy to draw Wiebe's mad science imaginings.

As this story progresses, I find myself getting further invested in the characters.  Most of the character development attention is given to Crystal, the team leader.  My only gripe with the series is that I wish there was more attention given to Doyle, Rose, and Chester, the other team members.  Still, even though they don't get as much character development, those characters still have unique and interesting qualities that make them stand out and add more depth to the story.

With only two issues left, I'm starting to feel pretty depressed that The Intrepids is coming to a close.  I know I've gushed about this series before, but I highly recommend it, as I think its an accessible and high quality story for just about anyone out there. 

Green Wake #2: Kurtis J. Wiebe's other comic effort is the dark mystery story Green Wake.  This comic takes a definite slow-burn approach that fits the plot well, and I personally really enjoy.  In this day and age of instant gratification this drawn out style of story telling may be a turn off for some readers, but I think it makes the mystery element of this comic more intriguing.

Though things move slow, and important information is kept obscured, hidden and slowly revealed, there is some important reveals and clues in this issue.  That being said, there's a plenty of further mysteries and questions that result from those little nuggets that are revealed.

Green Wake is another example of great story telling and art in the comics medium.  Each issue so far has demanded my full attention and I've had to force myself to take my time with Rossmo's art which can take some adjusting to.  I'm looking forward to the next installment which hits stores today.

 Who is Jake Ellis? #4: Rounding out this mixed bag of comic awesomeness is the latest WiJE?.  I've discussed the hallmarks of this series before but I'll reiterate: if you like fast paced espionage action and a story that is paced perfectly with a clean no-frills, no-waste plot this is your comic. 

I really try to avoid gushing like a depraved fanboy around here, but shit, Who is Jake Ellis? is really fucking good.  The writer, Nathan Edmondson does a great job telling the story, but I also appreciate how he'll let Toni Zonjic's art take over at times and do the heavy lifting.  These two guys seem to work really well together, and it shows in how flawless the connection between the art and story is in each issue.

There's a great twist/plot reveal at the end that'll probably have me pulling my hair out until the next issue lands in my pull box.  Really great stuff, and so worth checking out if you haven't done so already.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Review: The Keep

I guess I must have been hard up for some constructive conversations about all things fantasy and science fiction last month because not only did I partake in the SFF World SF book of the month Blackout, but I also sunk my teeth into the fantasy book club book of the month, F. Paul Wilson's The Keep.  (If you are interested, you can check out the discussion here, but I warn you it is slightly spoiler-ific.) 

At first blush, and certainly through the first stretch of The Keep, this novel  appears to be anything but your standard fantasy fare.  Set during World War II, the story initially follows a group of German soldiers who are stationed in a small castle in the Romanian Alps.  Aside from hundreds upon hundreds of unique looking crosses set into the walls, the keep seems benign.  That is, until the German soldiers start dying, one per night.  There is nothing natural about their deaths either, which prompts their captain to send a desperate message to command simply stating that "something is killing my men". 

The Nazi command decides to send in an up and coming SS Lieutenant and his extermination squad to solve this little problem. However, when they are met with similar results, and a rising tide of fear and panic, they decide to enlist the help of an expert on local folklore and history...a man who also just happens to be Jewish. 

I was pretty well taken with the opening chapters of this story.  There were a handful of elements that you don't often see in fantasy.  For one, I found the traditional bad-guys, the Nazi's, in a somewhat sympathetic position, which is a likely a tall task for most any writer. There is also a strong, smart woman at the center of the narrative, and she immediately stood out as a remarkable and very interesting character.  I was also quite intrigued by the mystery element of the novel.  Something not someone was killing the men, and I really wanted to know more.  Also, adding the Jewish historian, and his daughter, into the mix made the plot thicken up nicely with some strong promise.

Unfortunately, the second half of the story failed to live up to the opening pages.  I fear spoiling too much so I'll say that what started out as a very interesting and engaging non-standard contemporary fantasy story ended up devolving into a very standard and mostly disappointing well-worn fantasy cliche.

I do want to add a bit of an aside to that critique though....The Keep is a pretty solid fantasy novel.  It is stylistically well written throughout, and features some engaging characters.  What made this novel disappointing for me is the fact that the second half didn't live up to what I saw as the potentially great story it could have been given the circumstances of the opening pages. 

Even though I wasn't a fan of The Keep, I can still see it as a book that would please many readers.  Those who are a fan of ancient evil, and the struggle between good and evil, will feel right at home in the pages of this novel. However, if you are like me and hope for something a little more from your fantasy, something that feels new and fresh, then you'll likely be disappointed, though moderately entertained, like I was. 

Grade: C-

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Thirty Flirty and Thriving

This past week something pretty fucking epic happened to me. 

I turned thirty. 

For much of the past month, I've lived in fear of that infernal number, however, the day came and went and shit doesn't seem that different. 

I did have a sweet party.  One filled with great friends, great food, a awesome pinata, and an epic amount of cornhole.

Lucky for me, I have some very awesome people in my life, and many of them were thoughtful enough to hook me up with some sweet gifts.  Getting an entire fancy beer, pie and cake on your birthday is hard to top, but I also got a big ass stack of metal CDs loaned to me from a friend for listening and iPod uploading purposes.  My busted air hog got replaced with a shiny new one.  (Pay no attention to the suggested age appropriateness...these things are super fun!)  My brother sent me walkie-talkies which come in handy when some of your buddies live just up the street. 

The gift that takes the cake though came from my very thoughtful and loving lady.  Using some crazy stealth/stalker techniques she conspired with Intrepids artist Scott Kowalchuk on a commissioned sketch of a sweet Adam West Batman taking on Scott Waggoner as the Shade.  (That's the sketch up in the corner!)  The sketch is also the featured post at Scott's Snazzy Sketchblog at the moment, a site worth checking out if you wanna see what one of the great up and coming artistic talents in comics is up to. 

Oh, and P.S. or whatever...I know things have been sorta slow post-wise around here lately, but I'm on summer break after tomorrow, and my "stuff to review" pile is loaded with, well, stuff to review.  So things should pick up around these parts.  Peace!