Sunday, July 31, 2011

He's Back...

It's about time some more Rafael Grampa art hits the shelves!

I stumbled upon this stunning piece of art at the Vertigo Blog a while back, and thought it would be worth sharing.  It turns out this sweet piece of Rafael Grampa art is the cover to The Unexpected, a one-shot horror anthology that will hit stands in time for Halloween.  Here's the Vertigo Blurb:

Just in time for Halloween, Vertigo will publish an anthology containing nine tales of horror, suspense, and or course, unexpected twists. Written and drawn by both comic industry legends and up-and coming talents including, Dave Gibbons, Brian Wood, Jill Thompson, Joshua Dysart, Emily Carroll and more!

If you enjoyed STRANGE ADVENTURES you’re bound to enjoy this collection.

Yeah, I'll be buying that.

Though the cover is amazing, I'm hoping that wont be the only bit of Grampa goodness connected to this comic.   The guy is one of my favorite artists in the business, but his material is too few and far between for my liking.  Either way, hopefully this will at least gain him some recognition so that he'll start getting more work.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Feast Your Ears on "The Devil's Orchard"

On September 20th, one of my favorite bands, Opeth, will release their new album, Heritage.  Opeth is one of those bands that grows and mutates with each album, so I've been anxious to hear a sample of what their new material sounds like.

Well, my wish was granted.  The second track, "The Devil's Orchard", from Heritage can be heard over at

Sadly, I can't say I was that pleased with my first listen.  It is definitely not the heavy, melodic Opeth sound I love.  It has more of a jazzy feel to me, which isn't the "feel" I want from Opeth.  Don't get me wrong, musically it is intricate and cool sounding, with their usual pinpoint timing and changes, but I prefer their heavier material.  I'm also not thrilled to hear that the entire album will feature Akerfeldt's "clean" vocals.

After a couple more listens the song grew on me, so I'm thinking that might be the way the whole album goes for me.  Not love at first listen, but it I might have to spend some time with it to fully appreciate the musicianship.  The solo towards the end of the song is fucking amazing sounding though. 

I can't complain though, this album will be better than most anything else coming out this year...even if it does put me out of my Opeth comfort zone.  Go give it a listen and share your thoughts in the comments!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Battle Hymns' 2011 SDCC Highlights

So, the San Diego Comic Con was this past weekend.  SDCC is the Big Daddy of comic conventions, and it is when all the comic makers like to make big announcements about big things that are coming up.

I tried to follow the highlights of the con as best I could, and I've rounded up what I consider to be the coolest, most interesting news coming out of the con.  So here are my SDCC highlights:

2011 Eisners:  The Eisner Awards are like the Oscars of comics, minus the pampered, dysfunctional insecure actors and actresses.  So, way cooler than the Oscars.  You can see the complete list here, but I'll go through a few highlights:

Best Continuing Series  went to Chew, which I think is well deserved.  The comic won Best New Series last year, so this is a move in the right direction for the comic.  Joe Hill pulled in an Eisner for Best Writer, and Darwyn Cooke, deservedly took home the Best Writer/Artist for his adaptations of the Richard Stark Parker novels The Hunter and The Outfit

Nate Simpson won the Richard Manning Promising Newcomer Award for his one issue of Nonplayer.  That might seem like a very small body of work to go off in order to give such a fancy award, but believe me, Nonplayer is stunning, and Nate Simpson totally deserves the accolades. 

The Underwater Welder:  From the looks of things (Thanks Multiversity Comics!)  it would appear that Jeff Lemire's next graphic novel, The Underwater Welder, will make its debut at next year's SDCC.

Lemire made this announcement via Twitter, so there isn't a lot of detail to tell about it. Other than that little tid-bit I know that it is written and illustrated by Lemire, so in my book, that means it'll likely be pretty fucking awesome.

When I spoke to Lemire at the Emerald City Comicon he said that out of all his work in comics he is most proud of The Underwater Welder, so that right there is a pretty good endorsement.  I'm looking forward to it.

Image Announces Some NEW* Comics:  When the Image Comic announcements came out I was particularly interested to see what they were promoting because, well frankly, they are putting out the best comics right now.  So, I was totally surprised to see that they were pimping a fucking MacGyver comic.  Yeah, that MacGyver.  I'm pretty sure this is seriously gonna be a comic. I look forward to giving that first MacGyver issue a flip-check.

Another cool announcement was that Kurtis J. Wiebe, who has been continuously impressive on both The Intrepids and Green Wake will have a new comic titled Peter Panzerfaust which will hit shelves sometime in 2012.  I wish there was more information about it available, but so far, just a cover image

It also looks like the current Witch Doctor mini-series will be followed up with a one-shot in December, and another mini in March of's nice to see Image will still be bringing the thunder well into 2012.  (Props to Comics Alliance and Multiversity Comics for their information!)

The 6th Gun TV Adaptation:  It looks like one of my favorite ongoing comics, The Sixth Gun will be getting a TV adaptation soon.  The Syfy channel will be handling what looks to be a six episode mini-series that will cover the events of the first arc.

I have mixed feelings about this adaptation business.  Brian K. Vaughn said in a recent interview that "Comics should be the destination...not the blueprint" and I agree, but I also find that I enjoy seeing live action adaptations of my favorite stories...though I never enjoy them as much as the source material.  (Thanks to Comics Alliance for the pic and the information!) 

DC Plugs Their New "Dark" and "Edge" Titles:  This stuff gets a mention because a fairly big chunk of the DCnU stuff I'm looking forward to checking out fall into these two categories.

Jeff Lemire talked about his two titles Animal Man and Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. 

It looks like Animal Man is gonna be more of a horror book rather than a super hero book.  Which is a relief to me, since I'm not so sure how excited I am for this comic, but had planned on checking it out simply for the fact that it is written by Lemire.  That it will be a horror comic makes me more excited.

Frankenstein is gonna be more about balls out action, and the art for the series looks to fit that description quite well.  I guess there'll be some one-shots, with guest artists, mixed in which will explore Frank's history through the various people whose bodies were used to create the monster. (Once again, Comics Alliance with the info and art!) 

Jonathan Hickman Announces Two More Image Titles:  The heading pretty much says it all.

Hickman is a big name in comics, thanks in large part to his work with Marvel.  However, I'm most interested in his creator owned material, so it is good to hear that after he completes his current creator owned Image series The Red Wing he'll be moving on to more creator owned stuff.

My perusal of the Multiversity Comics blog tells me that the first one will be titled The Manhattan Projects and will about the men who created the nuclear bomb, and the second, Secret will be a corporate espionage story.  Hickman said that both titles will run longer than his usual mini's and come in around fifteen issues.  All around good news.  The comics both sound pretty interesting, so I'll be looking forward to them whenever they come out...

Brian K. Vaughan's New "Saga": So, I saved the bestest, most excitingest piece of news for last:  Brian K. Vaughan, the writer of Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina has announced that he'll be kicking off a new ongoing "balls to the walls" sci-fi comic.

The story will follow a family during their struggle to survive an intergalactic war. The art will be handled by Fiona Staples, who, judging from the teaser image, is a great choice for the comic.

There isn't a lot of information available, but once again, Comics Alliance delivers the news, and scores an interview with Vaughan where he talks a little bit more about the comic. 

I'm particularly excited about Saga for the fact that it is written by Vaughan.  Y: The Last Man is one of my all time favorite comic series, and Ex Machina, pending a solid ending, will be right up there too.  So, yeah, I have high hopes for this series.  You can bet I'll be updating information on this when more info is available.

So, that's all the news that I found particularly interesting coming out of SDCC 2011.  There were oodles and oodles of other announcements and promotions, but for my money, the above is what I consider to be the coolest stuff.

Once again, I'd like to thank Comics Alliance and Multiversity comics for their amazing coverage of the con.  I would be mostly ignorant of the SDCC happenings if not for these two sites, and for sure, this post would be a joke without their professional coverage.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review: Cannery Row

Every now and then I get a craving for some John Steinbeck.  There's something about his ability to instill a sense of time and place that draws me to his novels.  I know from past experiences with his work that I can expect interesting and engaging characters and an enjoyable read.  Cannery Row is no exception.

Set in Monterrey, the story follows a cast of characters that vary from prostitutes, to Lee Chong, a grocery store owner, Doc, a Marine biologist, and Mack, the leader of a group of moneyless, family-less, ambition-less men in search of food, drink and contentment.  

Though the story covers a variety of themes such as friendship, contentment, and prejudices, in many ways the story is simply about throwing a really great rollicking party. 

Mack and his band of buddies have been squatting near Cannery Row for quite some time, getting by with what little money they can scrape together from odd jobs, and such, wheeling and dealing with Lee Chong for steaks and pints of "Old Tennis Shoes" their choice brand of cheap Tennessee whiskey.  When they can, they like to help Doc, the local marine biologist and resident nice guy, collect various lab samples, which, being the nice guy that Doc is, pays them quite handsomely for.

One day Mack and the boys get it in their heads to throw Doc one hell of a birthday party.   However, in order to fund such an event, they'll need to acquire some sort of paying gig from none other than Doc himself, all while keeping the party a surprise. 

As simple as that may sound, that is pretty much the story in a nutshell.  A bunch of semi-drunk, totally broke, yet effortlessly content guys planning a party for a genuinely nice guy.  I guess that might sound a bit popcorn-ish, but Cannery Row is a great story.  Steinbeck is most known for his darker, tragic novels, but Cannery Row certainly doesn't fall into that category at all. While Cannery Row is set in the same time frame as Steinbeck's most famous works such as The Grapes of Wrath, and Of Mice and Men this novel doesn't have the strong sense of tragedy that is in those novels.  I guess the best way to put it is that Cannery Row is like, Steinbeck-light.

It was nice to read a story about regular people who genuinely love life, and are content with what they have, and don't crave more.  The strength of this novel lies in the fact that Steinbeck presents some interesting concepts, but doesn't hit you over the head with them, and instead fits them nicely into the story in an organic way.

If you are looking to read some Steinbeck but are daunted by his "darker" works, then allow me to un-daunt you.  Cannery Row is a great read.  It features many of Steinbeck's signature traits, and skills, minus the tragedy...ok, a bit of tragedy, but of the comedic sort.  Plus, it is a story about a sweet party written by SteinbeckYou can't really go wrong here.  Lots of fun, some good laughs, and engaging characters make this a great read. 

Grade: B+

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Comic Quickies

The Red Wing #1: This is one of those comics that at soon as it came up in the solicits, I knew I'd be buying it.  First of all, it is written by Jonathan Hickman.  I know that's a name that I haven't mentioned yet around here, but his reputation for writing original, imaginative and ground-breaking comics was enough to get my, I have technically read his stuff before (The Nightly News), I just haven't reviewed it yet. (Soon!)

Second, this is a comic about time travel...I've been a sucker for time travel ever since I saw Back to the Future.

Third, the art, handled by Nick Pitarra, (a dude who was a total unknown to me prior to this comic), looks like a beautiful blend of Geoff Darrow, and Frank Quitely.  Which is to say, the art is wonderful. 

So, does it all come together to make a decent comic?  YES!  The story is told in a non-linear fashion, and the first issue mostly serves as a means of introducing the characters and the world.  Basically, from what I can tell, it looks like humanity is at war with an alien race, and that war takes place all through time thanks to time travel.  So far the comic has a bit of an Ender's Game meets Wing Commander meets Star Wars X-wings.  But is probably even better than that sounds.

Mystery Men #3:  When I think about this issue, I have to let off a bit of a sigh.  After the first issue, (despite a catch-a-bullet-in-the-teeth scene) I had high hopes for this comic.  The second issue was pretty solid too, and further buoyed my hopes, but this third issue...well, those hopes got a bit deflated.

In this third issue, we learn that the evil board of directors, who have manipulated millions for their own profit, have created a couple more enemies thanks to meddling and back-stabbing done mostly by The General.

One such guy is a country doctor, whose home gets burned down after he gave medical aid to a striking miner.  Deciding to get revenge, this normally mild-mannered Doctor becomes The Surgeon.  The transformation from country doctor to slasher who deals cheesy one-liners like: "You need to remain still for the operation.  But don't will feel everything."  was a bit of a stretch.  The character just felt way too forced, and I don't see why he's in the story.

The other new character, who'll also very likely definitely become a team member and help fight The General is an archeologist who gains the powers of Achilles complete with shield and roman style sword.  The issue centered almost exclusively around these two new characters, and they were both pretty lame. 

The writing didn't seem on par with the first two issues either, though the art was still high quality.  Hopefully the next issue can get back to what made the first two issues worth reading: noir-style setting, that is light on the over the top super-hero antics and cheesy elements like shitty dialog and goofy action.

Sweet Tooth #23: Not much to say here except: Holy Fucking Shit!  I did NOT see that ending coming.

Um, so yeah, total shocker of an ending in this month's Sweet Tooth issue.

I realize that every time I do a write-up about Sweet Tooth I mention how I absolutely can not wait for the next issue because of some sort of cliff hanger ending.  Well, this issue has the mother of all cliff hanger endings, and I've never not been able to wait for the next Sweet Tooth issue more than right now.  If Jeff Lemire doesn't give me at least one major coronary by the end of this series, I'll consider myself lucky. 

Seriously, if you read my blog, and I haven't sold you on Sweet Tooth yet, I don't know what to say.  With this epic issue, I think Sweet Tooth just nosed ahead, and is no longer tied with Chew as my favorite comic. 

Green Wake #4: Another fantastic issue of Green Wake.  This issue delivered some long awaited reveals about the characters, their past lives, and Green Wake itself.  It was good to get some answers to a few of the mysteries that have been swirling around since the first issue.  From the looks of things, the next issue should be an exciting end to the first arc of this comic.

This is probably my favorite Green Wake issue so far.  There's some slick detective work, some gristly horror-action, and some interesting psychologically thrilling moments.  Rossmo's art was great too, I feel like he captured each scene quite well.

The next issue should wrap up this story arc, so I'm excited to see if Wiebe can bring everything together and deliver an ending that is as great as these past four issue have been.

  Popgun vol. 3:  So, I haven't read the first two Popgun volumes, but it doesn't really matter.  For those not familiar, Popgun is a giant comic anthology (467 pages!)  that collects a wide variety of short comics by a huge variety of comic creators. 

As you might guess, like most anthology collections, you gotta take the good with the bad here in Popgun vol. 3.  There were times when I was reading this that I was totally absorbed into many of the comics and times when I was completely underwhelmed by the content.  That being said, there is more good here than bad, and some of the stuff is really cool.

As far as anthologies go, I say this is a pretty damn good one.  There is literally something for everyone in here, and thanks to it's giant size, there is plenty of material, so you get to experience a whole bunch of different creators.  Worth checking out if you are unsure of what kind of comics you like and want to experience a wide variety of stuff.  Did I mention Popgun offers variety?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Review: Horns

After a remorse-filled night of drunkenness, Ignatius Perrish awakes the next day with a brutal hangover, and two horns growing out of his head.  

Although Ig initially thinks the horns are just a hallucination - part of the depression and grief he's been dealing with for the past year - he soon discovers that the horns grant him strange abilities:  When anyone finds themselves in the presence of Ig, the horns cause them to admit their darkest, most evil desires. 

Ig has spent the past year or so in a state of deep emotional grief after his long-time girl friend, Merrin Williams, was brutally raped and murdered.  Ig was the primary suspect in that murder, but was never convicted of the crime, nor proven innocent, because the evidence collected at the crime scene was destroyed in a fire that ruined the police lab.  To this day, Ig remains a "person of interest" in the case, and in the public opinion of his small New Hampshire town, Ig will always be guilty, and only able to get away with murder thanks to his wealthy family and their connections.

Since all of the people who once loved Ig; his family, his friends, the community, even his church,  seem to have turned their back on him, and his only company are his inner devils, it seems fitting that Ig is "gifted" with the horns and their dark powers...powers he plans on using to find some answers about the death of his beloved Merrin, and maybe even get some revenge.

Leading up to my reading of Horns I felt like I'd been in a bit of a reading slump.  Even though I've been enjoying a lot of my recent reads, I had started to feel like I was getting a bit of burn out on the fantasy genre.  I think I just needed something that felt vastly different than the standard good vs. evil of The Keep, and the dark, grittiness of Best Served Cold.  I'm happy to say that Horns provided me with a read that felt fresh and revived my energy for the fantasy genre just in time for the release of A Dance With DragonsHorns delivered in three distinct ways, which combined to make this story pretty awesome.

First off, Horns has a great murder-mystery element to it.  From very early on, the rape/murder of Ig's girlfriend, Merrin Williams plays a big role, and the details of that night, are slowly teased out.  The pieces of the puzzle can be put together though flashbacks seen from various character's points of view.  For me, this was probably the most interesting aspect of the story, and Hill does a great job of crafting a great murder mystery. 

Now, I'm not generally impressed or overly entertained by love stories, but there is a great romance element to Horns as well.  Hill handled this element of the story in a way that felt genuine, and believable.  I thought Ig and Merrin's love story hit the right notes, without being overwhelming.  In order for the present version of Ig to be believable and compelling, there needed to be a strong love story included in order to make Merrin's murder important and so we know what makes Ig "tick".  Simply said, this aspect of the book was wonderfully done, and as a result, made the story stronger.

Lastly, there's the supernatural/horror element of the story.  Horns excels greatly in this department.  The horns on Ig's head make for some great character interactions, and create some extremely creepy situations.  When I read a horror novel, I want it to suck me in, keep me up reading past my bedtime, and give me bad dreams the whole night through.  Not only did Horns hit all those notes, but it added in a healthy dash of paranoia as well.  What I truly appreciated is that Hill never over-uses the supernatural or horror elements in the book, but instead deals them out in timely chunks that deliver a greater impact when they do occur.

When blended together, the murder mystery, romance and supernatural/horror elements create a unique reading experience.  For me, Horns felt different from my usual reading, and refreshed my love for fantasy. Lately, I find myself drawn to fantasy novels that blend in a healthy dose of horror, along with some other elements to create a tasty genre-blending sauce.  The non-linear approach to telling Ig's story was also a nice touch that added to my enjoyment. 

This is only my second Joe Hill experience, but I think I'm officially a fan.  Horns is one of my favorite reads of the year so far, and after reading this I only want to read more of what Hill has to offer.  Horns is a dark and sad novel with some great elements at play that make it stand out from the rest of the Horror crowd.  This might sound crazy, but there's a chance this Hill fellah is a better writer than his dad.  Yeah, I said it. Read this and see for yourself.

Grade: A-

Friday, July 15, 2011

Review: Ex Machina v7 Ex Cathedra...AND Ex Machina v8 Dirty Tricks

I figured that at this point in the Ex Machina series, people are either all aboard because they love what the series has to offer, or not reading the comics anymore, thus making my reviews of the latter part of series sort of an exercise in futility.   However, I want to do justice to what I feel is a great comic series, so I'll share my thoughts about the final 4 trades in shorter chunks and double up the reviews by doing two at a time.

Ex Cathedra: In this 7th volume, Mayor Mitchell Hundred wakes up one morning at 5 am to find his intern at his bedside delivering him hot coffee, and his chief of staff awaiting him downstairs. Clearly, there's some news to deliver. It turns out that the Pope has requested a private audience with Hundred, so the Mayor who, thanks to his powers isn't usually allowed outside of the US, hops on a plane for his first ever travel abroad.  

A meet and greet with the Pope seems simple enough, but Hundred's life is ever the complicated one.  An assassin, with access to some crazy remote-controlled-cyborg-rat technology has plans on making Hundred's visit with the Pope a deadly one.  This mad-science style technology uses computer programming to interact with chips placed in the rat's brain to control its movements and actions.  When used on Hundred, who already has some strange machinery working in his body, the assassin hopes to remotely manipulate Hundred into being the tool of the Pope's demise.

Now, I'm generally a sucker for some sweet mad science, so Ex Cathedra was particularly exciting for me, but I have a weak spot for some cool, trippy art too, and there is a sweet dream/divine intervention sequence that made this 7th volume all the more awesome.  Aside from hitting a couple of Ryan's-favorite-stuff home runs, Ex Cathedra is an important volume in the series, because it provides a clear direction of where the series is headed coming down the stretch, and I like what I see.

Grade: B+

Dirty Tricks: The 8th volume of Ex Machina delivers a four-part story arc sandwiched between two stand-alone stories.

In the opening stand-alone, Mayor Hundred is haunted by the ghost of a long dead slave.  All while he tries to decide whether or not to let the Ku Klux Klan hold a rally in Central Park.  Hundred must find a way to put a soul to rest, and properly deal with a group of assholes.

In the Dirty Tricks story arc, President Bush requests to hold the 2004 Republican National Convention in NYC.  Hundred deals with the security issues of hosting such an event, the political ramifications of seeming to support one party over the other as an independent politician, and a Great Machine look-alike/copycat who keeps performing wild, attention grabbing, republican damning stunts that threaten the safety of the convention and certain politicians. 

It is amazing how often the ghosts of Hundred's super hero past come back to haunt him in his new life as Mayor.  This is a pattern that has held true through out the entire series, yet a couple of the really big ghosts that have been teased and hinted at have yet to come into play, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them popping up in the next two trades.

For my money, Dirty Tricks was somewhat lacking compared with other volumes in this series.  There was less character development and story progression happening and it seemed like Vaughn was trying to sexy up the story for some reason by adding a biker chick with some big tits.  Little was done to move the overall story ahead, but if the last line of the Dirty Tricks story arc is to believed, hopefully this truly is "where the end begins" and from here on out the story will deliver.

Though this one wasn't up to the standards of many of the other volumes in the Ex Machina series, I have high hopes for the final two trades.

Grade: C

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: The Outfit

Richard Stark's The Outfit is the author's third novel featuring his harder-than-hardboiled criminal, Parker.  I read the first Parker novel, The Hunter, last August and found it to be right up my crime alley.

Since the events of The Hunter, where Parker claimed some past-due cash from a powerful nation-wide crime syndicate, he's changed his face and his name, hoping to live out his days soaked in liquor, with the company of a fine woman, but when The Outfit makes an attempt on his life, Parker realizes his cover is blown and it's time to get even.

Of course when Parker "gets even" it really means that he really and truly fucks some shit up.

Parker decides that if The Outfit is gonna try to take him down, then he's gonna take down The Outfit, or at least their boss.  To go about this, he enlists the help of some friends.  In Parker's line of business his "friends" tend to be fellow criminals, so with a few letters he's got people across the country hitting The Outfit with heist after heist, leaving the mobsters reeling.  The chaos created by the heists presents Parker with a golden opportunity to teach The Outfit a deadly lesson.

The Outfit is one extremely fun novel to read.  I think I devoured this one in about three sittings.   Once the ball gets rolling and Stark describes some of the heists that get put on various parts of The Outfit's many illicit sources of income, I couldn't put this book down.  What really sucked me in was the art of each heist.  The people pulling off the heists are professional criminals, and they handled their jobs like pros: nice and clean.  I really enjoyed reading how they planned out the job, and carried it out.  The descriptions of how the illegal rackets functioned, and the way they were so professionally knocked off made me wonder if Stark had a past life in organized crime.  That sense of realism is what makes these Parker books so great for me; I feel like I'm getting an insider look at the crime underworld.

Not only are the exploits of Parker a hell of a lot of fun to read, but it should be noted that Richard Stark is a talented writer.  He is a true stylist.  He imparts an attitude and hard nosed demeanor to the novel which gives it a great gritty, noir feel.  Style is something that is missing from a lot of author's repertoires these days so it is nice to read something by a master of style.  

Though the Parker stories are sequential, I don't feel like I missed too much by skipping over the second novel a jumping right into the third.  Stark provides a nice, short description of the pertinent events from the first two novels to catch a reader quickly up to speed with what has been going on with Stark.  For that reason, I feel like you could get away with reading the Parker novels out of order and be more or less fine.

Thanks to these Parker novels, and some great crime comics I've been enjoying I find myself becoming more and more a fan of the crime genre.  I love me a no nonsense hardboiled crime story, so if you are like me, (awesome),  these Parker novels are great.  Highly recommended.

Grade: A

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review: Ex Machina v6 Power Down

The sixth volume of Ex Machina is aptly titled Power Down as it covers Mayor Hundred dealing with the massive 2003 blackout that had much of the eastern seaboard out of power.

The loss of electricity isn't Hundred's only worry, as the blackout appears to have also taken away his ability to speak with machines.

Both situations might have something to do with a strange guy in a strange outfit named Zeller, who might be from the future, or maybe just a different version of earth.  (I never was quite sure...)  Anyway, Zeller has turned up, and taken certain members of Hundred's family hostage, claiming he has a message to deliver to the Great Machine.  As usual, Mayor Hundred is pulled in bunch of different directions as he's forced to deal with multiple issues at the same time.

Also featured in this issue, finally, I might add, is the back story of how The Great Machine saved the second World Trade Center on September, 11th.  Its been known from the very first volume that he had used his powers to stop the plane from crashing into the second World Trade Center, but the how's have been only hinted at, and I've been anxiously waiting to see how it was done.  Well, I don't have to wait any longer.  It is pretty awesome, and worth the wait.

Again, consistency has been a hallmark of the Ex Machina books.  Once again, the writing and the art is at a high level and there is very little to say that I haven't already said.  Simply put: great art, great writing.

I know from experience that the middle of any long series of stories can often be a tad dull, but that isn't really the case here. The story told in this volume is pretty interesting, and Zeller was such a wild card that he spiced up the story quite a bit.  After reading this I feel like I don't have a totally firm grasp of what his appearance was all about, or what he was intending to accomplish, but I feel like it will be important later on.  I wouldn't be surprised if I have to reference back to this volume later on in the series so I can figure everything out.

My one let-down about Ex Machina: Power Down is that it only contains 4 issues worth of comics.  To flesh out the volume they include some extra material about the process Tony Harris goes through to create the covers and interior art.  It turns out he often uses live models to nail down body language, and facial expressions...two of the best qualities in his art for my money.  This is pretty interesting stuff, but I think I'd rather have the volume include a 5th issue. 

So, yeah, more high-end comics stuff here.  As I said, Brian K. Vaughn's writing is great, each story arc has been interesting and well written.  The art by Tony Harris is very high quality, and steadily some of the best I've seen so far in the comics medium.  This team can seemingly do no wrong for me at the moment, and I'm excited to move ahead in this series.

Grade: B

Friday, July 8, 2011

Comic Quickies: Westerns and Witch Doctors

The Sixth Gun #12: The first arc of The Sixth Gun was awesome, and it seemed like if they stopped there, that would be a fine end to an awesome story.  Yet, creators Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt carried on and delivered a second arc that wasn't as awesome as the first, but still quite good.  With this 12th issue, they kick off the third story arc, so without any delay, let's jump in.

Drake Sinclair and Becky Montcrief, who, between the two of them hold 5 of the 6 guns of power, are on a train heading west.  Along for the ride are  The Swords of Abraham, a religious order who are preparing for some sort of supernatural war.  Missy Hume, holder of the final gun of power and one of the many fine villains from the first arc, discovers that the train is transporting the chained body of her husband, General Hume, a man who cannot truly die.  With the help of a sinister looking fellah named Eli Barlow, she sets up an ambush that turns deadly.

If the opening pages are anything to go by, this arc shows a lot of promise. The train ambush was completely amazing, full of action, drama, and plenty of shit getting blown up.  It looks like some of the principle baddies from the first arc will be back in this one, along with some new foul villains too.  I'm interested to see what this Eli Barlow character turns out like.  This was an awesome issue, and I'm very excited to see where things go.

For those who haven't had the joy of reading The Sixth Gun yet, but want to, this issue would serve as a great jumping on point.

 Jonah Hex #69:  I've never read a Jonah Hex comic before, and I don't know anything about the character, but this was a must-have issue for the fact that Jeff Lemire handles the art on this one.

When a gold prospector strikes it rich, some local thieves plan to waylay him once he's mined all the gold.  Jonah Hex catches wind of the situation, and follows the thieves to stop the theft but is seemingly too late to save the miner who is gut-shot.  It soon comes to light that the miner, and Jonah share a past, and Jonah Hex is all too happy to watch the man die.

Overall, this was a pretty great story, and Lemire's art is definitely awesome.  His sparse and rough style works really good in a western-style setting and each page is awesome to look at.  Lemire is one of my favorite comic artists in the business, so this was a nice treat for me.

I guess each issue of Jonah Hex is a stand-alone story, and they get different artists to work each issue.  Next month's artist is Ryan Sook, so I'll probably check that one out too.  In September, due to the DC Relaunch, Jonah Hex becomes All Star Western with art by Moritat, who is another fine artist, so I wouldn't be surprised to see more of this character popping up around these parts.  

Witch Doctor #1:  I've been eagerly anticipating Witch Doctor ever since I read an article about the comic at SFF World.  Since then, the comic has gone through some changes and altercations, but though the road to print has been a long one, Image is finally putting a four issue mini-series of Witch Doctor out.

The first issue hit shelves a week ago, and it was worth the wait.

The first issue is a stand-alone story that pretty much sets up the who's who and the what's what of the comic.  While investigating/diagnosing a possessed child we meet Doctor Vincent Morrow, his assistant Eric Gast, and his anesthesiologist Penny Dreadeful.  We also get a mini tour of his clinic/lab, and a run down of his job - He's a specialist in supernatural medicine...I want that job.

For my money there was a bit too much information being dropped right off the bat, but really I cant complain too much because it was all about demonic possession, which is well, awesome.  Not the greatest first issue, but a solid introduction to the story, and I'm interested enough to check out the second issue which'll begin a 3-issue story arc. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Mastodon Album Cover Art

Sometime soon, I don't know when just yet, there will be a new Mastodon album this year. 

Thanks go out to Justin  for the hot tip, who sent me a link to Pitchfork, where they put up an early view of the new album cover. 

The Hunter looks pretty bad-ass. 

If you are like me and lusting after some new Mastodon material you don't have to wait for the album.  There's an adult swim video of muppet-chaos set to "Deathbound" a previously unreleased track.  The video is pretty amazing. 


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: Best Served Cold

In the mood for a tale of brutal revenge?  Joe Abercrombie's standalone fantasy novel, Best Served Cold will quench your thirst like a cold beer on a hot summer day.

Monza Murcatto is a soldier of fortune, and her mercenary company, The Thousand Swords, are the best in the business.  For the last few years, she's been winning some key victories for Duke Orso of Talins as he conquerors his way towards a crown.  Murcatto's many victories have made her popular with the common folk...too popular.  Fearing Murcatto will launch a coup and overthrow all that Orso has worked for, the Duke stages a slick betrayal that leaves Murcatto's brother dead, and herself stabbed, chucked off a mountain, and left for dead. 

Murcatto escapes death, and after some serious mending is left with a broken and rickety body.  The mental and physical pain of the ordeal is nothing compared to her all encompassing thirst for vengeance, a thirst that can only be slaked by the blood of the seven people responsible for her betrayal.

In many ways Best Served Cold is a simple novel; Seven sections that detail the efforts to slay one of the seven people responsible for Murcatto's betrayal.  Sure, that would be an accurate way to describe the novel, but if Best Served Cold was just about Murcatto killing off seven dudes, it would feel like a shitty action flick.  Luckily, Abercrombie is one of the best in the business and he fills his tale with some highly memorable characters.

The seven people responsible for Murcatto's betrayal are seven of the most powerful people in the country and it would be silly to think that Murcatto could knock them all off by herself.  In need of assistance, she assembles an entertaining collection of rogues and villains to help her achieve her bloody goals.  While all these characters are very interesting and well developed, I found Friendly, a former convict who is obsessed with numbers, and Nicomo Cosca, Murcatto's former general who she betrayed in order to steal his job, my two favorites.  

All the characters in Best Served Cold have some dark pasts, and along the way it seems that many of them would change due to the events of the story.  I found the progression of the character arcs to be one of the more interesting qualities of the book, though the results make me wonder what dark visions of human nature Abercrombie possesses.

Since Murcatto decided to take her revenge one person at a time, the story had a bit of the ol' caper feel to it. The only difference being that they would set up an elaborate plan to kill someone rather than snatch a bunch of jewels.  As I read, I found myself thinking of other caper tales like the Ocean's Eleven movies and Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, except Best Served Cold is bloodier, ballsier, and better. 

My copy of Best Served Cold weighs in at a hefty 880 pages but the book never felt like a slog because the story plows along and more often than not left me gasping for air with all the goings on.  This wasn't like other fat fantasy novels where it feels like the author needed a better editor.  Despite the size, the plotting is nice and crisp. 

After having read and loved Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy I had a feeling he was heading for fantasy writing greatness. Best Served Cold pretty much cements the fact that Abercrombie is one of the best in the business.  I can easily say that Best Served Cold is one of my favorite fantasy reads of the year so far.  I highly recommend this one.  Abercrombie  is rapidly becoming one of my favorite fantasy novelists, and I'm looking forward to when I can get my mitts on his most recent effort, The Heroes.  If you haven't gotten around to Abercrombie's works by all means, get to it.

Grade: A

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review: The Photographer

The Photographer is a graphic novel that chronicles Didier Lefevre's first major assignment as a photojournalist.  His task is to document a Doctors Without Borders mission into Cold War era war-torn Afghanistan. 

This oversized graphic novel is told in three distinct sections.  The first part tells of the preparation for the journey, and the trek to northern Afghanistan where the doctors would set up their temporary hospital.  The second section is all about the patients and the treatments they require.  The third and final section chronicles Didier's journey back to civilization. 

The Photograhper is a unique form of graphic storytelling because it uses both Didier's photographs from the journey and graphic illustration to fill in the gaps so that the story is coherent and not just a coffee table photo book.

Of the three distinct sections in The Photographer, my personal favorite was the third section that chronicled Didier's journey back home.  On the way to the village where the doctors set up their field hospital, Didier and the doctors had traveled together, relying heavily on Juliette, one of the doctors, and de facto leader of the group.  Juliette had strong connections with local leaders which helped the group achieve smooth passage.

The same would have held true for the journey back, but Didier wasn't a fan of the itinerary which took a two week detour to supply another doctor outpost.  Deciding that he was ready to get back to civilization, Didier chose to make a solo journey back and save himself the two weeks.  His account of his journey back is harrowing, intense and full of twists of fate.  If not for his pictures, many of the events would seem like the work of nightmares rather than a real life account of true events.

For me, the greatest aspect of The Photographer is how the photos allow the reader to become fully immersed in the events that take place.  They say pictures say a thousand words, and that idiom has never been more true than in The Photographer.  Without a doubt the photographs make this graphic novel what it is.  Which is a good thing because the artwork isn't that special.

Its possible that the art would seem underwhelming due to the fact that it is juxtaposed with some great photography, but I don't think that's the case, and more often than not, it left me wanting more.  The people were drawn with thick lines that got the job done, but didn't stand out as something compelling.  The panels themselves were often devoid of  environmental detail and often simply depicted static talking figures.  While this worked form a story standpoint, serving the need to fill in gaps left by photos in order to properly tell the story, it didn't do much from an aesthetic standpoint, and only detracts from what is usually a very dynamic part of the comics medium.

All told, The Photographer is a provocative story and though it covers a Doctors Without Borders mission that went down in the 80's, many of the issues the story discusses are still pertinent in present times.  In many ways this felt like a Joe Sacco graphic novel in the sense that Lefevre told his story with brutal, straight forward honesty.  The art was nothing special though and took away from the overall quality of  the graphic novel.   If you are in the mood for some engaging non-fiction graphic novel reading, or are a fan of history, this one is worth a look.

Grade: B-

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Song of Ice and Fire Comic Adaptation News

Winter is coming, but first we get September, which is going to be a ridiculously epic month for comics.  As many people know, September is when the DC relaunch goes down, but my daily perusal of Comics Alliance tells me that the A Song of Ice and Fire comic adaptation will also hit the shelves that month.

I envision myself poor, and up to my neck in comics come the end of September.

For those of you who don't know, Daniel Abraham will be handling the scripting of the comics, and the interior art will be handled by Tommy Patterson, a guy I've never heard of, and all I have to go on so far are a couple of Tyrion and Jon sketches Comics Alliance has up for view.  Alex Ross, who has been delivering some sweet, sweet covers for the Rocketeer Adventures comics, will be handling the cover art duty.

The Ross art they are soliciting so far (seen above) isn't exactly spectacular though.  Abraham seems capable enough but Patterson is an unknown entity.  I'm hoping the comic adaptation will do justice to the source material.  Its kinda crazy though, after 5 years of nearly nothing ASoIaF related, in one year we get a TV show, a new book, and comic.  I hope it isn't possible to get A Song of Ice and Fire overload...