Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Fade Out: Act One

I am a HUGE fan of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Their first collaboration, a combination of superheroes and espionage, Sleeper, was followed by Criminal, a series of  hard-boiled crime tales. Since then, they have created all sorts of crime series, like Fatale, where it was mixed with mystical horrors, and Incognito, where there were superheroes involved with the witness protection program. In The Fade Out, they turn back to a straight noir tale.
The narrative here is set in post-WWII Hollywood. It involves a drunken screenwriter, a dead starlet, a blacklisted screenwriter, a crazed director, and shady studio executives. The drunk screenwriter is privy to information that what was reported as a suicide was actually a murder and that there is a cover-up. Of course, there are multiple interested parties (suspects?) and the entire situation is as clear as mud. One of the strengths of this book is that the plot is extremely intricate and the characters are types of a sort but also intriguing because of their circumstances. I am trying not to spoil things and doing a poor job of describing just how great this book is. I should just say that if you are fan of noir, murder mysteries, or classic Hollywood, you should check this book out.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been glowing. Publishers Weekly concluded by calling it "a strong beginning to a serial mystery that offers a fresh spin on the genre." The reviewer at Comic Bastards summed up, "you should come to The Fade Out for the plot and the atmosphere, stay for the characters, and never think about McCarthyism the same way again." Sean M. Thompson wrote that it was full of "great characterization, excellent pacing, a great mystery, and brilliant art and color."

The Fade Out was published by Image Comics, and they have more information and previews available here. There are violence, sex, and nudity in this book, so it is suggested for mature readers.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Demon, Volume 1

Jason Shiga is a comics creator whose works I seek out. They are interesting in a cerebral way, as he often includes puzzles in his stories. I thought Bookhunter, his hard-boiled librarian yarn (who thought that would be a thing?), and the peril/escape story Fleep were both great pieces of action and intrigue. I was very much taken with the choose-your-own adventure tale Meanwhile, in both book and app form, and his sort-or-love-story Empire State was very well done. What is pretty funny to me is that the star of those last two books, Jimmy Yee, a sweet, naive character, also stars in Demon, but in a very different vein.

This graphic novel is the tale of a man trying to kill himself in various ways. He checks into a motel, writes a note and then hangs himself, only to awake in the same motel minutes later. I am not going to spoil what is going on, but after multiple further attempts at suicide, he figures out what is happening and then the story really goes into some depraved territory. Jimmy does not really care about his life, or the lives of others it becomes clear, and a spree of violence ensues. Of course the authorities take great interest in these events, resulting in a clever cat and mouse game. Jimmy is wily and tough to trap, they find.
I found this book to be completely compelling, well-plotted, and enjoyable, even as it revels in its depravity. Jimmy is a surprisingly dark but hilarious figure, and I found myself rooting for him in sort of the same way I rooted for Light in Deathnote. He's despicable, but his resourcefulness is quite admirable.

All of the reviews I have read have lauded this book for its smart, humorous, and dark features. Rob Clough praised various elements of the book: "There are clever action setpieces. There are mysteries within mysteries. There’s squirm humor that gets its charge from violating social norms and expectations." Greg McElhatton wrote, "Don’t get fooled by the simple nature of his figures; Shiga really knows what he’s doing here and he’s a genuine talent." Lauren Davis opined, "While Demon has a much more morbid—not to mention violent—tone than Shiga's recent work, it still has that pleasantly mind-bending quality that makes Bookhunter and Meanwhile so much fun."

Demon, Volume 1 was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here. This series was first published as a webcomic, but now only the first chapter is available online. The entire story will be published in what will be a 4-volume series.

It contains a lot of violence, some profanity, and some sexual content, so I advise it for mature readers.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Richard Stark's Parker, Book 1: The Hunter

I am kicking myself for not reading this one sooner. Richard Stark's Parker books are among my favorites to read, and I have long admired Darwyn Cooke's comic works, especially New Frontier and his version of Catwoman. He had won multiple comics awards, including the Eisner, Harvey, and Joe Shuster Awards, but he died of cancer at the young age of 53. Now, maybe it was just an assemblage of big expectations, but I keep thinking I would just be disappointed by this book, because of all my admiration for the source material and the creator. But boy was I not disappointed at all. This book is fantastic, and I cannot wait to read the other three adaptations in the series.

The title character in this book, Parker, is not a nice guy. He is a thief who trusts no one, well almost no one. But that trust is mislaid, and his wife Lynn betrays and shoots him during a heist gone wrong. Years later, he escapes prison and goes out for revenge on those who wronged him. He is a violent but calculating man, and nothing could satisfy him except laying his hands on Mal, the man who led the scheme to double-cross him.

Now, the plot of this book would seem to be pretty apt stuff for a noir novel, but what really makes it work is how spare and direct the prose is. An expectation of losing that voice and tone was why I avoided this adaptation for as long as I did, but I am happy to report that the artwork does much of the heavy lifting in terms of conveying the narrative, with the net effect of a story that is still brutal and impactful.
Other parts of the book rely on some of the prose from the novel, but paired with the pictures they still pack quite a punch. This book is a masterful retelling of a great novel.

All of the reviews I have read have praised this adaptation. The reviewer at The Violent World of Parker fansite called it "a bravura performance." This article by Geoff Boucher sheds much light on Cooke's process of creating this book, calling it "a meticulously faithful adaptation." Douglas Wolk called it "a near-perfect match of artist and character."

The Hunter was published by IDW, and they have more info about it here. This book contains some sex, nudity, and violence so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Lady Killer

Lady Killer is a comic series about  an assassin turned housewife set in the 1960s. Josie Schuller is a wife and mom, trying to maintain a marriage, raise her children, deal with her busybody/nosy mother-in-law, all while secretly working as an assassin. One of the themes of this book is trying to strike a balance between home and work, and there are a few clever plays on this trope in how she uses various roles to get close to her victims (e.g. pretending to be a cosmetics seller or cocktail waitress).
Avon calling!
Complicating her already complicated lifestyle are her bosses at work, who think perhaps she is losing her edge. They also wonder if she is threatening her cover and their secrecy, which leads to some pretty hairy situations where she has to defend her family. I feel the book is an interesting mix of drama/satire/social commentary.
They don't always go quietly...
And as you can see from the excerpts here, the action sequences and artwork are superb. In the end, this book is a delight to look at.

This book is a collaboration between writer Jamie S. Rich and artist Joëlle Jones, and I have to say that while I enjoyed the story, the real star of this book is the artwork. It is full of energy, detail, and emotion, elevating the whole enterprise to another level. Industry experts echoed my view, as Jones was nominated for a 2016 Eisner Award for Best Penciller, while the series was nominated for Best Limited Series. This is her first ongoing comics series, but she is a sought after cover artist who has worked for a few companies. Rich has written a good number of comics series for multiple publishers, and my favorites have been Madame Frankenstein and The Double Life of Miranda Turner. Both creators speak more about their work on this series in this interview.

The reviews I have read about this comic series have been mostly positive. Craig Neilson-Adams wrote that it was "an utterly captivating read from start to finish, both in terms of concept and execution." RJ Casey was more critical of the book, concluding that it "excels when Jones’s art distances itself from the bad stiff shit genre that is often Dark Horse’s bread and butter, but it still can’t slice and dice itself from the rest of the chaff." Greg McElhatton remarked on its "darkly comic tone and a huge amount of potential."

Lady Killer was published by Dark Horse, and they have a preview and more info available here. There is a lot of blood and violence in this book, and it is intended for mature readers.

Friday, September 30, 2016


Mooncop is the latest book from Tom Gauld, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite comics creators. He excels at drawing in deceptively complex manner that simultaneously ends up conveying great dramatic weight and comedic potential, which is an amazing ability. Past works like Goliath and You're All Just Jealous of My Backpack also reflect his great craftsmenship, and I highly recommend you check them out.

Mooncop is a dark comedy/slice of life tale set on a lunar colony in some (not-so-distant?) future. It is the kind of comic Stanley Kubrick might have made, only by which I mean it shares a similar matter-of-fact sensibility about science fiction as well as an overall devotion to impeccable detail, craft, and style. The goings-on revolve around our titular police officer, whose job is not so fantastic or demanding as it might seem. There is surprisingly little happening on the moon, and the people who are there are law-abiding, so mostly we just see his daily routine.
Still, there are some pretty cool things on the Moon, like therapist-robots, automated donut dispensers, and neat, modular buildings. And the monotony is broken up by a few episodes, such as looking for a teenage runaway, dealing with a broke-down car, and helping find a lost dog.
This future is pretty bleak though, and more and more of the lunar population leaves to return to Earth because life on the Moon is pretty humdrum and drab, a bright future turned  disappointment. Still, the ordinary actions of the Mooncop are still quite compelling, if mundane. There is a sort of dignity in his endeavors, matched by the somewhat ridiculous ways technology affects his life. In the end, this book reads sort of like 2001 meets American Splendor, and that is actually quite a wonderful combination. The humanity and emotional life of the cop shine through all of the sci-fi trappings.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have sung its praises. Michell Buchman called it "a fun, clever meditation on what it means to be human." Greg Hunter wrote that it "may be best appreciated as a retro sci-fi tone poem, big on feel in its depictions of loneliness and depression but short on insight." Oliver Sava remarked, "Gauld is known for his minimalist aesthetic and deadpan sense of humor, and these two elements work wonderfully together to bring levity to the emotional crisis in these pages."

Mooncop was published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they have a preview and more information available here.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mystery Girl

This book collects the first four issues of the series Mystery Girl. So far, I am not sure there will be further issues, but these were certainly very enjoyable and fun to read, so I hope so. The plot revolves around Trine Hampstead, a young woman who lives in London, England and has a very unique ability. She knows everything. Almost everything actually, because she does not know how she got her abilities. But she can solve pretty much any mystery you have, no matter how mundane or extraordinary, and that is how she earns her keep.
As you can see from the excerpt, she comes into contact with some colorful characters, including strippers, police officers, sleuths, rich folk, and assassins. Much of the fun of this book is getting to know those characters and seeing how Trine interacts with them. Also, there is a lot of intrigue as she embarks on an adventure to find a lost expedition that was searching for live woolly mammoths.

The story is a typically jaunty, joyful affair by Eisner Award-winning author Paul Tobin. He has worked on a great many comics I have admired, including Bandette, Gingerbread Girl, and a long run on various Marvel Adventures series. Here, his story is accompanied by playful, colorful artwork by Alberto J. Alburquerque and Marissa Louise. Alburquerque has worked on the series Letter 44, and Louise has colored a number of comic series, most notably licensed properties such as Escape from New York and Robocop. Tobin speaks more about Mystery Girl in this interview.

Most of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Jesse Shedeen stated that it first contained "more laid-back character study than high concept drama, though it has its flashy moments." Jennifer Cheng was more critical of it, writing that "Tobin’s script has one twist after another, each of them fanciful and offbeat, but the cost in believability might not be worth the charm and the unpredictability." Chris Sims remarked that "the book moves so fast and so well that it all comes together beautifully."

Mystery Girl was published by Dark Horse, and they have previews and much more available here. There are nudity, sexual situations, and profanity in this book, and I suggest it for readers mature enough to deal with those things.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Angel Catbird Volume 1

The first volume of a trilogy, Angel Catbird is a superhero comic by way of The Island of Doctor Moreau. It is a compelling, if a little strange, narrative in that it is peppered with service announcements for Nature Canada, a charity which here targets the well-being of cats and birds.
Otherwise, the story reads like a classic superhero yarn from the Golden Age of comics, with an evil scientist and a couple of work colleagues who seem attracted to each other. The artwork is certainly indicative of a superhero story, with bold colors and strong action and costume design. Where the story veers into a different direction is that there are all kinds of animal characteristics at play, so territorial posturing and other biological considerations loom large.
Also, matters quickly dive into a fantastic realm of cat-people, bird-people, and rat-people. Entire hybrid societies are exposed and explored, and there are many fun features in seeing how they live, party, and function. I have to say that I found the whole thing peculiar in a good way, and I may just have to check out what happens in the next two volumes.

One of the most remarkable things about this book is that it was written by Margaret Atwood, a well-respected and awarded author/poet known for the novels The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin. She includes an interesting essay at the beginning of this book that detail her unlikely decision to get into making comics. The artwork is by Johnnie Christmas and coloring by Tamra Bonvillain. Christmas has worked on a number of comics series, including Firebug (appearing in  Island) and Sheltered. Bonvillain works on many comics series such as Rat Queens, Wayward, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. Atwood speaks more about her ideas about this book in this interview, and Christmas talks about their collaboration here.

All of the reviews I have read have praised this quirky, strange, and fun book. Etelka Lehoczky wrote that Atwood was "so busy exploring the possibilities of her interspecies world, she neglects to have her hero fight crime. But that's no shortcoming; actually, it may be the smartest way to deal with her themes." Oliver Sava remarked on the beautiful art and coloring and added that the "moments of humor are when Angel Catbird most strongly distinguishes itself from other superhero stories." Scott Stewart summed up simply, "I absolutely loved this book, and can’t wait for volume two to arrive in February 2017."

Angel Catbird was published by Dark Horse, and they have a preview and more available here.