23 September 2006

The Illustrated Dracula

This isn't a comic, per se, but it IS an item of interest to comics fans and non-comics fans alike.
Penguin Books has published a new edition of Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula with illustrations by noted comics artist Jae Lee. The presentation is stylish and the illustrations are excellent. This book would look cool on anyone's coffee table or bookshelf.
Oh yeah, and the book ain't bad either...

Recommended for: Fans of classic literature, Jae Lee, and or White Wolf products, goths, book collectors.

Not recommended for: anyone who already owns a copy of this novel.

08 September 2006

The Exterminators: Bug Brothers

Premise: An ex-con gets hired as an exterminator, and lears that it's a dirty job on many, many levels.

Simon Oliver and Tony Moore have put together a sharp, funny, and twisted series that works on two levels. On one level, you have cheap laughs, unsettling visuals, a little bit of sex, and lots of explodo. On a deeper level, this is a satire that touches on subjects such as poverty, local politics, big business and human nature. The characters are colorful without being too broad. The art is vivid and evocative (penciller Moore is particularly adept at depicting LA as it really looks, not how you see it on TV).
On top of that, it's one of the least expensive paperbacks on the market, so give it a whirl.

Recommended For: people with a dark sense of humor; Southern California natives; fans of Repo Man, Men In Black, Training Day and/or Six Feet Under.
Not Recommended for: people who are freaked out by bugs.

08 August 2006

Detective Comics

Premise: The World's Greatest Detective starts acting like a detective again...

Detective Comics is my current favorite comic. Here's why.
First off, the covers are stellar. Simone Bianchi renders Batman in a style reminiscent of the 1920's German expressionist horror films that influenced the look of the original Batman comics. The above image is from last week's issue (#822).
Secondly, the scripts are being written by Paul Dini, former head writer of Batman: The Animated Series. The stories are intelligent and fast-paced, with healthy doses of black humor and a hint of sex (the S&M dungeon scene from last week's issue).
Finally, each issue is a self-contained story. During his time on the Batman cartoon, Dini proved he could tell an epic story in only 22 minutes. It appears that he can do the same in 22 pages. Each issue has a beginning, a middle, and an end, which is more than you can say about most of the comics on the market.
All that having been said, I highly recommend going out and gambling $3 on an issue.

Recommended for:
fans of mystery novels and detective shows; the poor (and/or the cheap).

Not recommended: people who don't find bondage at least a little funny.

28 June 2006

Superman Returns (and so does this blog)

You can't go home again... Or can you?

I write a lot about Superman on this blog for one very simple reason: He is the gateway superhero. Batman and Wolverine may be cooler, Spider-Man may be more sympathetic, and the Flash may be faster, but none of them have truly grasped the public consciousness like the Man of Steel. People who have never read a comic in their life can tell you what his powers are, what planet he comes from, what it says on his driver's license, and who he's in love with. He's been around for almost 70 years, and people still watch the movies & TV shows, buy the toys, sing songs about him, and laugh at all the jokes (two words: "mean drunk").

I think he's endured so long because his legend is more open to interpretation than any of the aforementioned characters. He's been used as a metaphor for the American dream (his creators were the children of Jewish immigrants). He's also been used
to represent what is wrong with America (Frank Miller's Dark Knight stories). Kingdom Come used Superman as the embodiment of the troubled comic-book industry of the mid 1990's. The TV series Smallville uses Clark's emerging powers and how he chooses to use them to represent the journey through adolescence into maturity. Finally, the films portray him as an allegory for the Judeo-Christian Messiah (a case can be made for him as both Moses and Jesus, as well as the promised Messiah that the Jews are waiting for).

The makers of Superman Returns built their film around both of these assumptions, and delivered a great movie. It wasn't bogged down with exposition, because we already know how Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, and The Daily Planet fit into his life. It has various subtexts that touch upon religion, family, love, and society. And it's got plenty of explodo to boot.

Recommended Reading:
(In addition to what was mentioned before)

All-Star Superman (bi-monthly comic)
: The two most imaginative men in comics, writer Grant Morrison and penciller Frank Quitely, pack each issue of this new title with the same kinds of crazy ideas that happened in the Superman comics of the 50s and 60s, while still taking the character and legend into uncharted territory. And each issue is self-contained, so new readers can just pick an issue up and enjoy.

Up, Up, And Away: This recently completed story arc (which will be collected into book form in a couple of months) explores similar themes to the film: In the comics, Superman went away for a year because he had lost his powers (Clark Kent continued to work at the Planet). This story concentrates more on Superman's reintegration into the heroic community, as well as what his enemies were doing during his absence. A great re-introduction to the mainstream Superman titles.

DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore: This collection of odds and ends by one of the most respected writers in the industry features two of my absolute favorite Superman stories:
  • "For the Man Who Has Everything...", where Superman learns what his life would be like if Krypton hadn't exploded (this issue would later be turned into an episode of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon);
  • "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?", a fitting ending to the Superman legend.

01 May 2006

It's A Bird...

Premise: A comic-book writer ponders the impact of Superman on his personal and professional life, as well as the lives of those around him.

Former Superman writer Steven T. Seagle draws deeply from personal experience in this painfully honest tale of a man who is offered the career opportunity of a lifetime in the midst of a personal crisis. Over the course of the story, he dissects all of the major elements of the Superman legend and thoroughly examines them in the hopes of finding something, anything that he can relate to. Unfortunately for the protagonist, as he struggles with his assignment, he is also forced to face problems with his family, his friends, and his girlfriend; problems that are only exacerbated by the creative pressures that come along with writing one of the most famous fictional characters of all time.

Seagle is ably assisted by artist and frequent collaborator Teddy Kristiansen, who renders the story in a variety of artistic styles. From understated watercolors to four-color pop art, his pencils, Kristiansen does an excellent job of switching the tone of the story with his art in a way that is not jarring (unless it's supposed to be).

Recommended For: people who wonder why adults still read comics; people who appreciate symbolism; people at a crossroads in their professional lives; anyone who has ever lost a loved one due to disease.
Not Recommended For: people who are not approaching middle-age;people who aren't interested in the creative process and just want to see Superman save the day.

24 April 2006


Premise: Elliot Ness hunts for a serial killer in 1930's Cleveland.

Comic-book creators and Cleveland natives Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko originally conceived this thriller as a screenplay (their attempts to pitch this film to studios is amusingly chronicled in Bendis' Fortune And Glory). While waiting to see how successful the pitches were, Bendis wrote and drew this comic, which is a taut, gripping piece of hard-boiled detective fiction based on actual events. The characters speak in a 1930's lingo that is almost poetic. The art is spare and stark. Characters are rendered simply, and shadows are used to great effect. At times, he uses actual photos taken from archives, but this effect is used sparingly.

Of particular note is Bendis' portrayal of Ness. Over the years, he has become an almost mythical figure. Here, he is seen as a good man who may have bitten off more than he can chew. Bendis does an excellent job of humanizing this historical figure while at the same time taking nothing away from his accomplishments.

Recommended For: Fans of Seven, Silence of the Lambs, The Untouchables, and/or James Ellroy novels; history buffs; people who are fascinated by serial killers.

Not Recommended For:
the squeamish.

18 March 2006

Comics vs. Cinema: V for Vendetta

Premise: A totalitarian British government is menaced by a brutal vigilante with a flair for the theatric.

I saw V For Vendetta a couple of nights ago. It was a mostly-faithful adaptation of the comic, and possibly the most courageous film to come from a major Hollywood studio in recent years. Hugo Weaving is the perfect choice to play V, and manages to convey emotions while wearing a full face mask that never changes expression. Natalie Portman is pretty good as Evey, although she did have a little trouble maintaining the English accent. Stephen Rea gives what is sure to be an underrated performance as Inspector Finch, who, for good or for ill, uncovers the truth about V. The Wachowski Brothers did find places to add their signature brand of action, with mixed results.

I had originally planned to discuss the changes in greater detail, but after re-reading (okay, skimming) the graphic novel, I believe that most of the changes were cosmetic. The comic is a work of greater subtlety than the film, but, as a work of fiction serialized over the course of a decade, it can afford to be. Also, the central characters were made more sympathetic than they appear in the original comic. In Alan Moore and David Lloyd's original story, V was even more ruthless, Evey was an underage prostitute, and Finch's obsession with finding V put tremendous strain on his marriage. Finally, Moore's original comic was a commentary on Thatcher's Britain, and while there are similarities between what happened there in the 80's and what is happening in America now, some changes were necessary for the work to maintain relevance.

Recommended For:
people who thought the movie felt a little rushed; people dissatisfied with the Bush Administration; people who believe that history repeats itself.

Not Recommended For: people who enjoyed the film for its action and explosions; neo-cons.

15 February 2006

Supermarket #1 (of 4)

Premise: No money, mo' problems...

There's a lot to love about Supermarket. First off, the setting is completely original: a nightmarish near-future where consumerism runs rampant. The artist known only as Kristian manages to make the brightly-lit suburbs seem melancholy and alien.
Next, the protagonist: Pella, an affluent teenage girl who's life changes forever by the end of this issue. Writer Brian Wood has created a fully-realized character that could have easily become a caricature (she is part "trust-fund commie", part spoiled brat, but never veers too far in either direction to become unsympathetic).
Finally, the twist. I don't want to talk too much about it (and there are a few interviews where it has been spoiled; Google those if you want), but at the end of the first issue, I could not wait to find out how the hell Pella is going to get out of this situation.

Click the cover to read the first five pages online:

Recommended For: fans of Blade Runner, American Beauty, and/or Heathers; Socialists; people who know all the words to Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone".
Not Recommended For: economics majors; the well-to-do.

12 February 2006

Fallen Angel

Premise: A mysterious woman protects innocents from being preyed on by the dark forces that inhabit a shadowy city.

Acclaimed writer Peter David blends elements of film noir, southern gothic, spaghetti westerns, Voodoo, and Kabbalah and ties them together in one of the most unique and atmospheric comics on the sheves. He paints a vivid picture of life in the city of Bete Noire, a city that seemingly becomes Hell when the sun goes down. He also creates an enduriong heroine in the form of Lee, a literal "fallen angel" who can be as cruel as the monsters she fights at times.

This series was cancelled by DC a while ago, but has recently been restarted by IDW publishing (as of this writing, two issues have been published).

Recommended for: fans of Raymond Chandler, Anne Rice, the Angel televison series, or Supergirl comics.
Not recommended for: people who prefer more clear-cut divisions between hero and villain

01 January 2006

Revolution on the Planet of The Apes #1

Premise: Last night, the apes took over San Diego. Is America next?

This six-issue miniseries takes place between the fourth and fifth films in the Planet of the Apes series (Conquest of... and Battle for..., respectively). The story by Joe O'Brien and Ty Templeton is very much in the spirit of the movies and is packed with social and political commentary. Salgood Sam's art is uneven, but it is very much in keeping with the cold, sterile art design of the fourth film. The backup story by Templeton and Attilla, which introduces the antagonist of the miniseries, is excellent. And for people who haven't seen the movies, the first few pages contain a timeline that sums up the events of the first four films.

Recommended for: Fans of the Planet of the Apes films; people who like political allegory in their science fiction.
Not recommended for: people who absolutely refuse to take stories with talking monkeys seriously.