reviews

Superfuckers

Superfuckers by James Kochalka One of the highlights of my trip to Comic-Con was getting to meet James Kochalka, who was first introduced to me several years ago, when he was donating the proceeds from Fancy Froglin's Sexy Forest to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Fancy is one of the creepiest, funniest, most childish, and strangely cute comics you'll ever read, with its completely innocent take on absolute perversity.

Two Sisters

Two Sisters by Matt KindtI finally got around to reading Two Sisters by Matt Kindt, one of my favorite artists/authors currently working. I don't know why it took me so long, since I have immense respect for his work, and I love the fact that he writes so much in the spy/espionage genre, which is among my favorites.

Anyway, I should have read it sooner, because it's a fantastic comic with beautiful art and an interesting and compelling story worthy of the author's considerable talents.

The main story arc consists of the story of Elle, how she is recruited, trained, and eventually sent on missions working for British spy services during the second world war.

Slightly less depressing than his earlier book, Super Spy, but only slightly, this book really delves into the interior lives of the people who participate in this most unusual career, the pasts that drive them there, and the nature of their work. It's a huge, gorgeously illustrated book filled with gadgets, intrigue, special missions, and regrets. A must-read.

Sneaky uses for everyday things

Sneaky uses for everyday things
Tiny Librarian went to Washington, D.C., and in order to make me infinitely jealous, she went to the International Spy Museum. While she was there, she got me some secret stuff (which I shall never divulge), but also this super cool book that takes me back to the old days, when I wanted to be a spy: Monday and Tuesday, most recently.

Cy Tymony's "Sneaky uses for everyday things" is the first of a trilogy of books which tell you how to do very interesting things with stuff you find around the house, from foil and string to milk and vinegar.

Within this slim volume are nifty tricks for security, surreptitious listening, broadcasting, and even survival. Imagine a slightly more urban version of the Boy Scout Manual, and you're on the right track.

This book is a great read and full of fun projects for anybody who likes DIY, espionage, or just knowing things that you aren't supposed to know. I read it cover-to-cover in a couple of hours, and I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to make use of some of the tips it contains.

Kafka - By Crumb and Mairowitz

Having been a Kafka fan since I was merely a brilliant teenager, and a little bit of a Crumb fan as well, I was excited to see this cool title at the comic shop. From a quick glance through the pages, I could see instantly that the art was great, but close inspection revealed that, in some ways, this book diverged from the markedly exaggerated style that Crumb fans might expect. Just as importantly, Mairowitz's contribution to Kafka Studies is both entertaining and important.

Readers may be surprised at just how deep the analysis of Kafka and his work goes in this fairly slim volume. More than just another biased academic work bent on shoehorning Prague's finest into some category or genre, this Kafka simply tries to show him as the man he was.

From close readings of his work, interviews with people who knew him, and evaluation of his letters to friends and family, Mairowitz paints a full picture of a man, warts and all. In all of its humor, sadness, intrigue, and general bizarreness, this well-written book tries to take us into the mind of Franz Kafka, a man who was many different things to many people, and frequently nothing to himself. Rather than make a hypothesis which they then try to prove through art and prose, the two creators of this must-read graphic literary biography simply present the important facts surrounding the life of a man who defied understanding, and ask us to make our own decisions about what his works really mean.

The stark world of early 1900s Prague, a place just as inhospitable to Czechs as it was to Jews, is revealed in careful detail by Crumb at his moodiest, who thoroughly engrosses us in the life of Austria-Hungary's most influential Jewish Czech. In his sometimes-funny, sometimes-agonizing depictions of Kafka's life and work, with wild detours into period art styles and frequent forays into realistic art, we perhaps see the hand of a kindred spirit.

(Note: The version pictured uses an exceptional binding method -- signature sewing through the saddle, then perfect-bound. A very tough binding that will easily withstand perhaps hundreds of readings. Normally, when you get such a thick perfect-bound graphic novel, particularly one that uses a thick paper, it's just a matter of time before the pages start to fall out. This version is basically immune to this problem.)

Chew Review - It's true.

Cover of Chew v1I'm terrible about managing my singles. I used to do the subscription thing, but it gets out of control, and eventually they always cancel me. Plus, when you're on subscriptions, you start to see that you're making the shop owner's car payment.

As a result, I am constantly picking up ish Ones and ish Twos, falling in love and completely forgetting what I'm collecting and where I am the next time I hit Meltdown. Luckily, so many titles are coming out in trade/graphic novel format as soon as they hit ish Five that I have some small chance of staying kind of current.

A recent acquisition, thanks to the help from my well-connected and much-more-talented better half, allowed me to find out what happened with Tony Chu, whom I last remembered eating a decaying finger several months ago. Fresh out in trade paperback, issues one through five of Chew, by John Layman and Rob Guillory, are now available for your perusal and enjoyment.

I can't be adequately adulatory concerning Layman's creativity. He's taken the CSI genre to new heights (maybe depths is a better word here) by inventing an entirely new superpower: Cibopathy - The ability to tell everything about a food's history just by tasting it. Set in an alternate America, where the FDA has banned poultry, and the war on Foul has made them the most powerful government agency, Chew is not only a satire of the conspiracy genre, it's also a clever send-up of the crime drama and the supernatural hero.

Guillory is definitely a name to watch, as well. His artwork is vivid, original, and absolutely perfect for this project. It rests on the knife's edge separating comedy from drama, and in one frame can show violence, fear, slapstick and the visions of a psychedelic freakout all at once. His exaggerated proportions, mixed with deft draftsmanship and impeccable motion work create a very strong pairing with Layman's imaginative scenario. The book simply wouldn't work without Guillory's inventive viewpoint.

In short, Chew is an essential graphic novel purchase for 2010, and belongs on your short list next time you hit the comic shop. It's funny, disgusting, exciting, and completely unpredictable.

Grandville review

Bryan Talbot's Grandville is the kind of comic I end up liking despite myself. Based in a weird Steampunk world where animals are in charge, humans are a recent hairless ape mutation, and Napoleon retired undefeated, this crazy graphic novel is full of things I hate, but still I loved it.

Having spent a good deal of time talking to Cutey Bunny creator Josh Quagmire about the "funny animals" genre in the not-too-distant past, I guess my head is always in the gutter when it comes to anthropomorphism. I get a little weirded out by critters acting like people, and it's particularly difficult to snap out of it when they're doing something more than just being cute.

And there's nothing cute about Grandville! The central storyline is a gritty Sherlock-Holmes-meets-Philip-Marlowe detective story featuring the ass-kicking Detective Inspector Archie LeBrock of Scotland Yard, a certified bad-ass badger who looks suspiciously like Robert Irvine, the impossibly buff chef from Dinner Impossible.

In an action-packed thriller of a book, he follows the clues to the upper echelons of the French government, and with his rattish Watson, Roderick, makes a last-ditch effort to prevent an international conflict.

The graphic novel features top-notch art and compelling, exciting storytelling that really creates a genre all of its own. Talbot's genius is in creating a narrative that is completely unpredictable, never relying on animal stereotypes to push forward, and somehow pulling us into a world that at first seems completely preposterous but which eventually feels as normal as anything. One of the coolest books I've read in a while, and I'm really hoping that he creates a sequel.

Solomon's Thieves

Based on the strong recommendation of my personal reader's advisor, big-mouth librarian, and graphic novel maven, I took the time today to read Solomon's Thieves, by Mechner, Pham and Puvilland, a truly engrossing and beautifully illustrated title that gives a new variation on the story of the last days of the Knights Templar.

History is rich with stories of the persecution, deserved or not, of the Templars, but this short graphic novel, told from the point of view one honest man of the Order, gives new life to the legend and shows modern audiences that theirs was a tale worth telling.

Solomon's Thieves is the story of Martin of Troyes, who, after returning from his duty protecting the Holy Land, finds himself in a bad situation. Regional leaders in both France and England have turned on the order of the Templars, imprisoning them, taking their property, and eventually torturing and exterminating them. He is left with the dregs of a once-proud brotherhood, the desire to right a wrong, and vengeful-yet-pious need to protect the treasure of the Templars.

Written as an exciting three-part historical fiction, with strong characters and plenty of action, Solomon's Thieves is more than worthy of the attention that it is getting. And the detailed art style is both vibrant and moody. I highly recommend it.

Boneshaker

Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest, was one of the best-reviewed sci-fi titles of 2009, and it was even nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards. It has become a much-beloved title in such a short time, and a gateway book into steampunk for a large number of people who would never have considered the genre before. When it finally came out in a low-priced paperback, I was very excited to read it.

However, I just can't say I was as thrilled with it as I expected to be. After reading a few reviews by others, I really thought this book was going to be something revolutionary, so maybe I was cursed with the weight of unreasonable expectations.

Boneshaker is the story of a family on the edge of ruin, haunted by a past that has left them pariahs in the worst sense, a mother and son living in the unforgiving world of the Seattle area in the late 19th century. In an effort to clear his family name, Zeke Wilkes, or Zeke Blue, depending on who you ask, embarks on an adventure into the most dangerous area imaginable -- the desolate walled city that was sealed because of his father's alleged crimes; a place where even the air brings death and despair.

His loving mother Briar, a woman of considerable grit, must save him from a world of peril, including ruthless mercenaries, poisonous yellow fog, the zombie-like rotters, and, maybe most importantly, the truth about his birth and lineage.

I found the book quite enjoyable, but I felt the middle was almost unbearably long. Priest's prose is perfect for a certain type of reader who loves vivid, lengthy descriptions of items as meaningless as the patterns in the wallpaper and the texture of a cavern wall. But, for me, that kind of writing acts as little more than a tease, pushing back the meat of the plot further and further. It builds tension without contributing to story, and feels like unnecessary padding.

I'm sure that some people will call me a Philistine for even saying that, but, to each his own, I guess. I felt the book started well, with a fully-realized world that is both strange and familiar, and it ended with well-developed characters, interesting plot development, and memorable action sequences. I just wish it had been a little tighter, and more quickly paced.

Incognito is bad-ass. Just face it.

I finally got around to finishing Incognito, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. It's not that it was slow going, or even remotely boring. The main problem was that I couldn't ever get my hands on the single issues before the trade paperback came out. I think I own 1-4, but it took me most of a year to get even those. Even at Meltdown LA, which probably sells more comics than 95% of comic shops in America, that title generally sold out within hours of being stocked.

Man, was it worth the wait, though. The combination of these two rare talents succeeds once again in creating a new perception of superheroes and villains that never relies on clichés or stupid genre tropes. Brubaker's rich character development elevates the superhero comic to a place that many may think is not possible. By focusing on crazy things like motivation, internal conflict, and the duality of man, he breathes life into a world that is generally so stale and boring.

And Phillips adds amazing emotion and understanding to the panels. By using a more impressionistic art style, influenced more by Noir film than Stan Lee, he manages the difficult task of leaving something to the imagination. The character on the page stays vague somehow, rough, despite being visually exceptional. I don't know what their process is like, but there is a reason that Phillips and Brubaker sell comics on their names alone. They consistently create comics that elevate the medium.

Incognito takes place in a near future where the government has taken steps to eliminate the presence of superheroes, both good and bad. Those that cannot be reformed are forced into maximum security prisons, while those that they feel can be reintegrated into society are put on power-draining drugs and forced into menial positions, such as the protagonist's gig as a file clerk.

Although we may have seen this in well-known projects such as Watchmen and even The Incredibles, it is done with such nuance and creativity, with such a different vibe, that it almost seems unrecognizable. By focusing on character instead of the constant obsession with action sequences, the story feels full and rich, and the characters seem very real.

As we follow the story of the Overkill Brothers, we quickly fall completely into a new world of drug use, failure, despair, longing, vengeance, where the only disappointment is that it eventually ends.

Although I definitely have enjoyed the Criminal series by this fantastic pairing of artist and illustrator, Incognito is the first series I've read that is as satisfying as Sleeper, which, in my opinion, is one of the best comics I've read.

The Investigation

Picked this one up on a whim while I was at Skylight Books in Los Feliz. They've created a nice section for "speculative fiction," that is filled with intellectual sci-fi. I assume that this book was crammed in there because Lem made a name for himself with science fiction. But, this is more of a weird detective story.

The story concerns a Detective Gregory of Scotland Yard who has been assigned to a bizarre case by his equally bizarre chief. It seems that corpses have been disappearing, or at least attempting to, from the mortuaries in London's neighboring villages. Sciss, the statistician assigned to assist him in cracking the case only confuses things with his seemingly nonsensical ramblings about things as meaningless as cancer rates, ambient air temperature, and recent UFO sightings.

By the end of the novel, it's really impossible to figure out what is going on, and the reader is left with this odd feeling that, like Gregory, he has been manipulated by a higher power. The book's overall sense of the unknown is constantly compared to the low-grade paranoia inherent in almost all of Kafka, but, to be honest, I believe it finds a closer cousin in the X-Files, where a cop with the best of intentions is misled by the people who are on his side, confused by the best evidence, and eventually left lost because of the hard work he's put into the case.

As a bonus, he has recently rented a room in a house where the landlords would be equally well-loved in the works of Monty Python or David Lynch.

All-in-all, I really liked the book, and was quickly drawn into the mystery aspect of it. Discussions of topics as unimportant as mutually assured destruction, the Gaussian curve, and the possibility or resurrection make for fascinating intellectual exercise, but not for great mystery fiction. It's not Raymond Chandler at all. It's something both worse and better.