I took a break from my Manga-Fest to catch up on some American comics that had been building up. I find I tend not to read most of my comics as soon as I get them. Instead, I like to read five or six issues of a title at a time, to get a better angle on the story. (I’m not a very careful reader, and often I find myself forgetting what came before.) This is one reason why I think I’m turning more towards trade paperbacks. Anyway, here’s my thoughts on some recent purchases.
Queen and Country (Oni Press) – I’d been hearing good things about this book, so I decided to pick up the first TPB of it. It hooked me. It’s a modern day tale of spies for the British government, but not James Bond. They don’t have fancy gadgets, they don’t have amazing cars, they just have themselves. The characters are well done and the conflicts are very real. I also like the art style. I’ve since bought the second and third TPBs (I enjoyed the second one, haven’t read the third yet.) This is a new favorite title for me.
Ruse (Crossgen) – This title started strong and then went up and down. It’s the story of a Sherlock Holmesian pseudo-Victorian detective (“pseudo” because the book takes place on a different world that is close to but not quite just like our late 19th century) and his female assistant, Emma. The problem with writing a Holmesish character is that he’s much smarter than everyone else, and often that simply is achieved by giving him access to things only the writer knows. Sometimes this seems like a bit of a cheat. The fantastic elements in the story (including Emma’s magical powers, which are never explained and I assume are tied to the Crossgen universe as a whole) actually weaken it. There were good characters and stories here often hampered by silly plots. But now Crossgen has canceled it, and the end could not have been weaker and more disappointing. It’s a shame. Hopefully someone will pick up this type of book and give it a good treatment, because it really could be fun.
Love Fights (Oni Press) – I’m a shameless Andi Watson fanboy. I’ve enjoyed Skeleton Key, Geisha, and all his other miniseries and one-shots. Picking up this title was a no-brainer. It’s another entry in the burgeoning sub-genre of “stories of regular people in a superhero world”. What should we call this genre? I propose: “subhero”. Anyway, some folks may be turned off by the artwork: Andi is sparse with his lines and despite his efforts to prevent it, it’s sometimes hard to tell who is who. I had that problem the first time I read the first issue, but when I re-read it along with the next four, I didn’t have that problem. Like Andi’s other work, all of which I recommend, he captures characters very well, giving them a lot of depth and emotion with very little effort. I think he’s one of the best writers working today, and I’m enjoying this title.
Tokyo Storm Warning (Wildstorm) – Man, it must be nice to be Warren Ellis. Not only do you get fanboy adulation out the ying-yang, you can also get anything you want turned into a comic book, including this poorly-executed half-idea! I like Ellis okay, but this three-issue miniseries could have easily been done in ten pages by a different writer, with no loss of quality. What we’d lose instead would be panels and panels of meticulously detailed machinery and rubble, all doing…something. Since the big robot-on-monster battles are so poorly done, an epic fight becomes just a series of indistinguishable splash panels. (James Raiz and Andrew Currie are the artists here.) This is a blockbuster summer movie in three parts: there’s gorgeous visuals that completely fail to tell the story, a plot that’s paper thin to start and stretched thinner (opening up the holes wider: so Tokyo experiences these events that often for that long and isn’t just a heap of rubble?), and cliched characters being trotted out as though they’re completely original. (Ohh! The American’s tough as nails! These Asians are so inscrutable!) As a bonus, issue #1 features an incredibly awful cover. Pass.
Scooter Girl (Oni Press) – Like Chynna Clugston-Major’s other main work, Blue Monday, this six-part miniseries takes place on an alternate world where American teenagers still listen to British bands of the 80s, decorate their leather jackets with “Rude Boy” slogans, and ride mopeds. The book involves Ashton Archer, a pompous womanizer who is on top of the world and any woman he wants — until he meets Margaret, the Scooter Girl of the title, who confounds his universe time and time again. Of course, this only makes him want her more, despite the consequences. It’s fun and since I dig on the kind of music all the characters dig, I enjoy seeing the tunes Chynna picks for the “soundtrack” to the book (I usually download the ones I don’t know and have picked up some really good stuff that way.) There’s a bit of a problem with the story being told from Ashton’s point of view, since he’s such an obnoxious ass. Everyone else, including Margaret, is somewhat of a cipher, which I think hurts the story — four issues in I should know a lot more about her than I do. Also, the book takes a bizarre and quite over the top turn at issue four. But I’m enjoying it and will stay along for the ride.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol 2 (ABC) – Why did it take me so long to finish this, when I love it so much? Issue six came out after we moved, but had already come in at my old comic shop, so I waited until all my orders there were done before having Dave T. ship the stuff to me (thanks again, Dave!) What can be said? I loved the first one and I love the second one. Ain’t no one can touch Alan Moore when he’s at the top of his game, as he certain is here. The disparate pieces from various literary works mesh together and run like beautiful clockwork. Kevin O’Neill’s artwork took a while for me to get used to in the first volume, but now it’s second nature to me. If you haven’t read either volume (the first is now in a trade paperback) you are missing a great book.
Quimby the Mouse (Fantagraphics) – On first glace, Chris Ware’s oversize book seems to be simply a sprawling, disjointed collection of doodles. On second glance once can start to discern the hint of actual content, but the tiny, simplistic pictures that pepper the page seem to defy the reader to make sense of them. The patient reader, though, will be rewarded with a bittersweet collage that does indeed tell a “story” (though it is Chris Ware, so it’s a story of death, disillusionment, and loneliness.) Ware is simultaneously lauded as a genius and damned as an overrated hack. I personally lean towards the former in my opinion of him. His books are gorgeous, no doubt, but they also capture the heart as well as the eye. Any creator that can make you ache for the disembodied head of a cat is no mere hack. Quimby, a collection of earlier works, seems to journal Ware experimenting with the comics form, seeing how he can play with it, and even in these beginnings there is a great deal of skill and talent. If you enjoy comics as an art form, this is well worth checking out.
The Walking Dead (Image) – Yes, yes, yes, the beginning of this book is almost identical to the beginning of the movie 28 Days Later. And frankly, the part after the beginning isn’t completely different either. Let’s face it, if the world were overrun by zombies or zombie-like creatures, it’s pretty obvious what the surviving humans would have to do, and the movie and the comic both look at that. But the comic does get a chance to explore its characters a little more fully, and will, presumably, have more chances for plot twists (though there was one plot detail that was resolved a little too quickly for me). It’s only on issue three so far, but it’s already a regular pull for me. If you like zombies, it’s a worthwhile read. It’s from Image, though, so I wouldn’t get too used to it coming out.
Amy Racecar, vol. 1 (El Capitan) – David Lapham does a book called Stray Bullets that I’ve never read. In that book he introduced Amy Racecar, the most dangerous woman on Earth. Amy is a gangster, a murderer, a robber, and an anarchist, and she’s talked to God. During this trade paperback, which I bought based solely on the blurb in Previews, she destroys the Earth at least three times (one time she doesn’t really destroy Earth per se, just humanity). These stories are like Tarantino films – fun, wildly over the top, and clearly not set in our world (they’re set in “the future” and the dates on the newspapers are seemingly random, or Amy and the world are reincarnated over and over). The book’s a hell of a lot of fun, and now I want to check out Stray Bullets itself.
Kane: Greetings From New Eden (Dancing Elephant Press) – Paul Grist is doing a comic for Image now called Jack Staff, which I’ve picked up and sort of enjoy. Thing is, it’s a continuation of an earlier series, so I don’t follow some of it. Fortunately they’re collecting the previous Jack Staff stuff in a TPB, so I’ll get up to speed on that soon. Meanwhile, this is another book from Grist. Kane is the story of a cop, Kane, who had a bad run-in with his partner, resulting in him shooting the partner. He’s been cleared of wrongdoing, but the other cops still don’t trust or like him. Meanwhile he tries to go about his work in the city of New Eden. It’s not bad cop drama stuff, but the artwork is a little too sketchy, and it’s difficult to tell characters apart (there was a wrinkle in one of the plots I didn’t catch at first because I could tell who a character was.) There are other Kane books that I might get eventually, but for now I think I’ll hold off.
So that’s some of the other stuff I’ve been reading lately (at the expense of non-comic books). Hopefully it’s enough info to give you a good idea of what they’re about and whether you might like them as well.