Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Small Press Expo Awaits

SPX - The Expo

I'm heading to SPX this weekend! Sweet.

Here is their programming schedule. I'll be there Saturday, and I'm going to try to see the Critics' Roundtable at 1:30, then head to the "Background, Setting and Subject" panel at 2:30, which I'll probably leave early to see the Bryan Lee O'Malley Q+A at 3, and then I might still be around to see the Kramer's Ergot 7 panel at 4, but I might turn into a pumpkin at that point.

Hopefully I'll be able to grab some of the books that Dick Hyacinth tossed out as "best of 2008" candidates, or perhaps get my hands on a few of Tom Spurgeon's 50 Things That Every Comics Collection Truly Needs, or maybe I'll just get those early issues of Solar: Man of the Atom that I always wanted back in 1993. Nothin' beats Solar!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Review: Love and Rockets: New Stories #1

2008, Fantagraphics Books, 100 b&w pages, $14.99

Never read anything from the Love and Rockets series before? Feel like you should, since it and its creators, the brothers Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, regularly receive the top accolades from comic critics? At the same time, feel kind of daunted because this thing has been running for several decades and has a ton of history and multiple ongoing storylines?

Join the club, brothers and sisters. I'll fess up: until this week, I hadn't read a single page of the Hernandez brothers' work, even though I hold myself out as somebody who knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

Well, Jaime and Gilbert (with a little help from brother no. 3 Mario) have just the item for me (and you, too): the recently-released Love and Rockets: New Stories #1, the first in a new series of annual graphic novels. The book is very accessible to new readers (although I am sure the longtime fans will get more out of it), since the stories are self-contained and give you everything you need to know to follow along. And you happily will follow along, as this book is both a lighthearted piece of entertainment and, as befits the Hernandez brothers' status in the industry, a master class in comic book storytelling.

Jaime writes and draws a two-part, fifty-page story about a group of superheroes who attempt to stop the crazed rampaging of Penny Century (she's the one pictured on the book's cover). It's pretty much old-school superhero antics, but refreshingly stars a group of people who don't typically show up in main roles in old-school superhero comic books:

(click to enlarge)

Just to point out two, in particular: on the far right is Angel, a self-described "fat ethnic chick" who has no superpowers but does have a lot of courage under fire, and second from the left is Espectra, an elderly Hispanic housekeeper/superhero with ghost powers. It is all too rare in pop comics to see elderly and/or fat and/or minority women leading the charge to save the world, which makes this book stand out all the more.

This story is just plain fun, and Jaime's cartooning skills really help move the action along. Check out this sweet sequence:

(click to enlarge)

Good stuff.

Gilbert contributes seven different stories/strips. Unlike Jaime's section, Gilbert's artistic style and choice of subject veer wildly from one story to the next. My favorite was his tale of two Vegas crooners, Duke and Sammy, who are whisked off to another planet where they encounter alien lifeforms, newfound superpowers, and death without losing their senses of humor or mussing their perfectly-styled hairdos:

(click to enlarge)

I didn't love all of Gilbert's stuff -- there's one experimental piece that didn't do much for me, and the story that Mario wrote is a little silly -- but I must say that I am happy that both Jaime and Gilbert are involved in this series. On their own, these stories might have felt a little slight, but the collection produces something greater than its parts. The brothers' love of comics shines through in this book, and you can't help but enjoy the ride.

You can buy this book here, and Fantagraphics even has written a helpful guide on how to read the rest of the Love and Rockets series.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Superhero Minimalism: X-Men: Fatal Attractions in Six Panels

This is the third in an ongoing series of posts where I attempt to provide a summary/trailer for comic book series using only one panel from each issue of the series. See the first post here and the second here.

Let's turn the clock back to late 1993: the comic book industry is booming, Image Comics is a shining new star in the firmament, and four new Supermen have taken the place of the recently-deceased Superman. Over at Marvel Comics, writers Fabian Nicieza and Scott Lobdell put together Fatal Attractions, a six-part crossover running through X-Factor #92, X-Force #25, Uncanny X-Men #304, X-Men #25, Wolverine #75, and Excalibur #71.

Here's my attempt to retell the story in only six panels, one from each issue (spoilers):

(click to enlarge)

What do you think? Should I have used a panel that more explicitly showed what happened to Wolverine? Did the issue of Excalibur add anything to the story? After re-reading Wolverine #75, I still think it was one of the best single issues of any superhero comic book from the 1990s. Do you agree? Finally, does the line "That the difference between his goal and that of Xavier's is nearly identical in intent if not in execution" make any sense? Shouldn't it have read something like, "That his goal and Xavier's goal are nearly identical in intent if not in execution"?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Review: Johnny Boo: The Best Little Ghost in the World!

My three-year-old son loves Johnny Boo: The Best Little Ghost in the World, and he should: author James Kochalka tested out each chapter by reading them to his own three-year-old son as bedtime stories.

The book tells the story of Johnny Boo, the Best Little Ghost in the World (!), and his pet ghost Squiggle. They have a short adventure where they encounter an Ice Cream Monster and use their special ghost powers. That's pretty much it, but for what Kochalka is going for, he's on the money.

This book is perfect if you want to introduce your pre-schooler to comic books. The story is simple and entertaining, with only the three characters. The art is bright, cheery, and easy to follow. It's not scary or violent, but fun and light-hearted. And it zips by: you can read the entire forty-page book to your kid in under ten minutes.

(click to enlarge)

I highly recommend the book to any parent looking for a fun, age-appropriate, and well-crafted comic book to read to his or her young children.

Johnny Boo: The Best Little Ghost in the World costs $9.95, although right now you can buy it for $7.95 at publisher Top Shelf's website. (Here is a five-page preview.) And be sure to keep an eye out for Johnny Boo: Twinkle Power, due out in December 2008. I know that my son will be happy to see more of Kochalka's bedtime stories.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Reviews: Uncanny X-Men 501, Jonah Hex 33, Scott Pilgrim Full-Colour Odds & Ends 2008

Uncanny X-Men #501

This should be one of the best superhero books on the shelves right now, but it isn't. Writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction and penciller Greg Land continue to put out fairly average work on Uncanny, which is a shame considering the caliber of writers and the rich history and potential of these characters. I'm not exactly sure why this isn't clicking -- Land's art is not terrific, so that doesn't help -- but one problem is that the stories in Uncanny since the Messiah Complex crossover simply have not had real weight. This should be the most important time in these characters' lives, what with the near extinction of their race and the sole newborn mutant recently arriving, but everyone is just kinda hanging around. Angel complains about being a wealthy businessman, Nightcrawler plays teleportation tricks on Wolverine, and Emma Frost talks about using their private jet to go shopping. Don't the X-Men have better things to do with their time?

One other note: as many people know, the X-Men recently left their long-time digs at the Xavier Mansion in Westchester County, New York, for San Francisco. Initially, I couldn't understand why this could matter -- who cares where the X-Men live, after all? Why should this be the most important thing to happen in issue 500? But there is a point, and you see some of the results in this issue: the move from suburban/rural Westchester to urban San Francisco provides the writers with a much better launching point for new stories. So many more opportunities for adventure are created by moving the setting to a city: we've already seen the X-Men go to an art gallery opening gala (leading to a confrontation with Magneto) and, in this issue, an X-Man gets attacked after a night out clubbing. And there are more chances for neat little throwaway moments like this:

(click to enlarge; notice the nice way that penciller Land has Angel's arm break the panel, making it feel like he's flying right out of the page)

Hey -- I love Westchester County, but I gotta admit it's kinda dull when compared to San Fran. Again, the potential for this comic to be great is there. The writers just have to step up and perform at the level that we expect from them.

Jonah Hex #33

This one came out a couple of months ago; I managed to snag it the other day from my new local shop. I didn't get it when it first appeared because I've never followed Jonah Hex and didn't know that this was a one-shot story with art by Darwyn Cooke.

It's worth tracking down, especially for people who like Cooke's art. This guy can draw -- he has a deceptive style that feels simple, due to the clean lines and slight cartoony look, but actually contains some terrific character work and some of the most dynamic storytelling around.

And colorist Dave Stewart really outdoes himself here (although he always turns in excellent work), taking advantage of a story set in the snowy Canadian forest by giving us a mostly white background and making the other colors pop.

Together, Cooke and Stewart's work is outstanding. Check out this panel:

(click to enlarge)

Notice how the art makes your eye move through the panel, first seeing the snapping trap catching this poor guy's leg, the blood spurting out, following his leg up his body to his anguished face to read the word balloon, and then to his hand grasping his son's scarf, and then to the boy's shocked face. The panel feels like it takes place over several seconds instead of being a snapshot. And the RED! That blood red shows up in several places in the book, and it's always put to good use to jolt the reader.

But I must also recommend this story for the writing, which is excellent. Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti turned out a wonderful done-in-one story with good characterization and dialogue. And they really make you feel for this boy, suddenly thrown into a terrifying world. Plus, Jonah Hex is one bad ass dude. So yeah, go find this one, if you haven't already.

Scott Pilgrim Full Colour Odds & Ends 2008

This thirty-two page compilation from writer/artist Bryan Lee O'Malley is just a little less heavy than Jonah Hex #33, thankfully. It's got one long story, a two-pager, a one-pager, some pinups, and then a four page story about Kim Pine that effectively gets across what it feels like when you live with jerks.

All the stories are fun, and if you haven't read Scott Pilgrim before, this could be a relatively cheap way to check it out and see what all the hubbub is about. (But don't expect too much, and know that it doesn't advance the story of the ongoing series.)

I particularly enjoyed the one page story about sushi.

(click to enlarge)

Previously you only could find this at conventions, but publisher Oni Press recently made it available for purchase on their website here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Superhero Minimalism: All Star Batman in Nine Goddamn Panels

This is the second in an ongoing series of posts where I attempt to provide a summary/trailer for comic book series using only one panel from each issue of the series. See the first post here.

Unlike All Star Superman, All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder is much more difficult to summarize because writer Frank Miller and artist Jim Lee spent the first nine issues setting a mood rather than telling a story. Things happen, but the overarching plot of the series seems to be inching along. That said, here's my best shot (spoilers):

Let me know what you think. And make sure to check back next Monday for the next post in this series -- I'll be heading further off the beaten path on that one.