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REVIEW: Snowpiercer (Vols. 1 and 2)

Snowpiercer vol.1Writers: Jacques Lob (vol.1) & Benjamin Legrand (vol. 2)

Artist: Jean-Marc Rochette

2014, Titan Comics (originally published in 1984 by Casterman, France)

Filed Under: Graphic Novel, Sci-Fi

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 7
Art...... 6/9

Snowpiercer, a series of graphic novels by Jean-Marc Rochette, Jacques Lob, and Benjamin Legrand, has only just been released in English thirty years later, but its critique of late capitalism remains potent. In fact, the optimism of the premise – that humanity would find some way to survive a climate disaster, even in a compromised way – seems quaint today. Rochette, Lob, and Legrand seem to have intended Snowpiercer as a warning, but reading it now it feels more like a lament.
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REVIEW: Marada the She-Wolf

Marada_Cover-FINAL.jpg.size-600Writer: Chris Claremont

Artist: John Bolton

2013, Titan Comics (originally published in Epic Illustrated magazine #10-11; #12; #23-24)

Filed Under: Graphic Novel

Marada

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 6
Visual Style..... 10

Marada the She-Wolf, recollected and remastered by Titan Comics this year, is an episodic sword-and-sorcery adventure tale, distinguished from similar comics by John Bolton’s gorgeous artwork. Originally published in Epic Illustrated, Marvel Comics’ non-CCA approved, mid-80s magazine, Marada has the blood and sex (or, at least, intimations of sex) that are sometimes synonymous with “mature” comics, but it’s neither arty nor entertainingly trashy.  At its best Marada is well-plotted, with beautifully realized action sequences and a warm mother-daughter bond; at its worst, it’s a Robert E. Howard riff that wishes to subvert patriarchy while perversely reinforcing it.
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Best Books of 2013, Part 4

[Find individual posts from our Best Books of 2013 series here, or find all our favorite books from 2013 on this single page.]

 

The Fifth Annual Aaron Block Awards, Celebrating Excellence In The Comics I Read This Year, Presented By Aaron Block

When I began assembling this year’s ABs, I noticed that my selections sounded…familiar. In fact, three of this year’s winners appeared in last year’s slate of books. That’s at least partly due to a pause in my comic reading early in the year (a consequence of unemployment), but I think it also says something about how both the industry and my tastes, have changed in the past year. I’d be wary of repeating myself if the books themselves hadn’t changed significantly since last December, as well. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.


“Best Comic I Won’t Shut Up About” – Hawkeye, written by Matt Fraction, drawn by David Aja, Javier Pulido, Francesco Francavilla, et al., colored by Matt Holingsworth, lettered by Chris Eliopoulos

Hawkeye #11

Fourteen issues in, Hawkeye is still the most interesting superhero book on the shelves. 2013 saw the book extend beyond the hard luck/heart of gold off-hours hero story with a whole issue dedicated to Hurricane Sandy, a wordless issue told from Pizza Dog’s perspective, art turns from Javier Pulido and Francesco Francavilla, and a heartbreaking death. For sheer variety of narrative concepts, no other creative team can touch what Fraction and his artists, particularly David Aja, have done in this title. And if that doesn’t convince you to read it, check out the most recent episode of the Page Count Podcast in which I try to convince C4’s own Marc Velasquez to quit stalling and just read the damn thing.

(Side-note: the other day on the bus I saw a guy wearing a hoodie with the purple bullseye Hawkeye logo on it. That’s the first time in the history of clothes that someone wore Hawkeye-branded attire, and it’s entirely because of this comic. What more convincing do you need?)


“Best Comic That More Than One Of My Non-Comic Reading Friends Reads” – Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Fiona Staples, lettered and designed by Fonografiks

Saga #10Saga has accrued a dedicated fanbase (evident in the sometimes painfully twee letter column in the back of each issue) a load of awards, and plenty of critical praise. As comics go, it’s a phenomenon. But comic book phenomena rarely find traction with anyone not already initiated into the medium (movies are, of course, another story altogether, as ticket sales have never reliably translated into more readers.) That Saga has found its way into the reading habits of friends of mine who don’t regularly read comics (among them C4’s Nico Vreeland) proves it’s something special. Vaughan and Staples’s story of a young family’s first steps in a war-scarred universe is perfectly paced, colliding nightmarish action sequences and comedy, with room for quiet, thoughtful moments throughout. All of that plus Vaughan’s knack for crafting tense cliffhangers makes Saga one of my most anticipated reads every month.
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REVIEW: Message to Adolf, Part One

Author: Osamu Tezuka574022-message_to_adolf_large

2012, Vertical Inc.

Filed Under: Graphic Novels

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 7
Visual Style..... 9

I picked up part one of Vertical, Inc.’s reissue of Osamu Tezuka’s Message to Adolf solely because of its striking, disconcerting presentation. A bright orange close-up of Adolf Hitler’s face takes up the entire front cover, and the title, bright yellow across a lime green spine, is written in what I believe to be High German font (font nerds, please correct me). The garish, pop art design promises irony, even as the actual images suggest a more sincerely terrible read.

In fact it’s neither. Manga godfather Tezuka seems to grab at genres and narrative styles and bundle them together, such that his tale is a conspiracy thriller, soap opera, coming of age story, history essay, and slapstick comedy all at once.
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Why Aren’t You Reading: Young Avengers

Young Avengers 

Who Made It? Kieron Gillen (w), Jamie McKelvie & Mike Norton (a), Matthew Wilson (c), and Clayton Cowles (l)

What Is It?: One of the most beloved comics of the 2000s, relaunched under the Marvel Now! banner by friends/frequent collaborators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, with the excellent Mike Norton on inks. Young Avengers follows teenaged heroes Wiccan, Hulkling, Hawkeye (Kate Bishop, the young, female Hawkeye), Noh-Varr, Miss America Chavez, and Kid Loki as they try to stop an alien parasite from using them as bio-batteries.

Why Aren’t You Reading It?:

  • You hate “teen” books
  • Like my personal podcast pals, you laughed at my description of Gillen and McKelvie’s excellent Phonogram and its sequel, Phonogram: the Singles Club
  • You’re too cool or grown-up for superhero comics
  • You’re a jerk

I can’t help you with that last one; you’ll have to work it out on your own. Probably it’s best to begin with therapy, or a support group for jerks, something like that. Your other objections, however, are much easier to address.

While Young Avengers does follow the exploits of teenaged heroes (or not-quite teenaged, in Loki’s case) who are grappling with romantic relationships, the awkward balance of fun and responsibility, and disapproving parents, it’s no more a “teen” book than Avengers is an “adult” book. In fact the first issue of Young Avengers addresses sex with a maturity and humor that many comics, mainstream or otherwise, can’t manage. Yes, Gillen is unabashedly writing about the experience of being young, but he takes that experience seriously. Which isn’t to suggest that the book is a grim trudge through “realistic” problems – far from it. Young Avengers is thick with the writer’s dry wit and obsession with pop music, and is on the whole a fun read every month. But underneath the humor is a genuine interest in the lives of young people.

I came to the book at a time when I’m doing everything I can to avoid stories about teenagers having fun; they just end up reminding me that my own youth was underwhelming and dull, spent fearing life instead of embracing it. Much as I enjoyed it, I had a hard time reading The Singles Club for that exact reason. Young Avengers is easier to take because it feels much less plausible (the magic in the Phonogram books is all just meant to be figurative anyway, isn’t it?) but I still feel that pang of regret when I read it. No amount of vivid superhero action can cover up the consistency and clarity of the characters’ voices.

A strong, emotionally honest narrative is crucial in making a superhero comic cool. But design consciousness is in, and no superhero comic can be cool without a distinctive style. Look at Hawkeye: the striking covers, the palette heavy on purple, the minimalist title page – all provocative design decisions, and all frequently cited as reasons why readers and critics love the title. Young Avengers isn’t as overtly against the current as Hawkguy, but Jaime McKelvie’s attention to fashion and the expressiveness of his and Mike Norton’s clean lines aren’t commonly seen in superhero comics. For example, the schematic/splash page of Noh-Varr’s fight scene (complete with key to identify important moments in the choreography) is not only a novel depiction of action – maybe the only thing that comes close is Frank Quitely’s and Chris Burnham’s depictions of Damian Wayne’s acrobatics in Batman and Robin and Batman, Inc. – but also a neat bit of pop art. That’s probably not everyone’s idea of cool, but it’s aimed at the young and hip – the rest of us get to congratulate ourselves for being savvy enough to catch on.

Finally, Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley implicitly endorsed the book by providing a great alternate cover for the first issue – if nothing else convinces you to try it out, that should.

Where You Should Start: There’ve only been four issues so far, and a number of reprintings, so you should be able to pick up the entire run so far from your local comic shop. And if you don’t have a local comic shop or just prefer to read digitally, every issue is available through Comixology. There’s also a trade paperback collecting the first five issues scheduled for release this September, but why wait that long?

REVIEW: The Private Eye #1

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artists: Marcos Martín & Muntsa Vicente

2013, The Panel Syndicate

Filed Under: Graphic Novel

Find it at The Panel Syndicate

The Private Eye #1

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 7
Visual Style..... 9

Last Monday the comics rumor/journalism site Bleeding Cool linked to a few teaser images that were posted to Spanish-language comic blogs announcing a new series from Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martín, who previously collaborated on Doctor Strange: the Oath, a mini-series for Marvel in the mid 2000s. The images were intriguing, and the names involved suggested a good read – Vaughan is the fan-favorite writer of Saga and Y: the Last Man, among other other celebrated titles, and Martín is best known for his work on Daredevil, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Batgirl: Year One. I anticipated learning more about the book in the coming weeks or months, the plot points and art from first issue gradually teased out in interviews and previews, dulling the surprise but confirming that it’s worth the three or four or however many dollars. That’s how comics are marketed today.

Then it was Tuesday, and suddenly the book, titled The Private Eye #1, was available, for however much I wanted to pay, through The Panel Syndicate (a new digital publisher started by Vaughan, Martín, and friends). All the excitement about The Private Eye was generated by its mere existence, and by the distribution method. Digital-only comics are nothing new, and neither is the “tip-jar” payment model (Radiohead’s In Rainbows is probably the most famous example, but there are many more across all mediums) but the two in tandem, and employed by high-profile creators, is novel, as is the minimalist promotional “campaign.” Vaughan and Martín trusted their audience to generate their own hype, something mainstream comic readers haven’t had to do very often in the past decade or so.
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REVIEW: Seduction of the Innocent

Author: Max Allan Collins

2013, Hard Case Crime

Filed under: Mystery

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 5

Popular depictions of the comic book industry tend to focus on awkward, unwashed readers, hyper-vigilant defenders of their chosen realm of escapism, and the perpetually scoffing retailers who feed their habit. Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, the cast of Comic Book Men, Dave Lizewski from Kick-Ass; not exactly an intimidating lot. And to the extent film and television depict the writers and artists behind the comics, it’s more of the same stereotypes, but with thwarted ambitions added in.

That pervasive, if inaccurate, image of the subculture would seem an unlikely setting for a murder mystery. But anyone who’s studied the history of comic books, read Gerard Jones’s excellent Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book, and Alan Moore’s excoriation of the industry as founded on vice, knows better. The origins of the medium more closely resembled White Heat than The Big Bang Theory.

Seduction of the Innocent, from Hard Case Crime, is the third in Max Allan Collins’s trilogy of mysteries set in the comic book industry and featuring protagonists Jack and Maggie Starr. As the title alludes, it takes place in the mid 1950s, when Fredric Wertham’s alarmist book of the same name was published, shortly before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority and the bankruptcy of EC Comics. Collins covers the history in a gossamer thin veil – Werner Frederick stands in for Frederic Wertham, Bob Price for Bill Gaines, Hal Feldman for Al Feldstein – then twists the narrative by having the controversial doctor murdered in his hotel room, setting off an investigation that peeks into the turbulent lives of those very real artists.
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REVIEW: The One Trick Rip-Off + Deep Cuts

Author: Paul Pope

2013 (reprinted), Image Comics

Filed under: Graphic Novel

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 8
Art......... 10

Paul Pope has never been prolific. But in the past decade or so, as he’s moved away from serialized storytelling to stand-alone works like Batman: Year 100, Heavy Liquid, and 100%, Pope’s comics output has reached “event” status – even a five or six page story in an otherwise forgettable anthology is worth celebrating. So the nearly 300 pages of material collected in The One Trick Rip-Off + Deep Cuts, from Image Comics, is almost an embarrassment of riches.

A little less than half of the handsome hardcover volume is devoted to a reprint of The One Trick Rip-Off (digitally recolored by Jamie Grant of All-Star Superman fame) and Dominic Regan, which was originally serialized in Dark Horse Presents in 1995 and 1996. The other half is a kind of memoir-bibliography, gathering together short stories that originally appeared in iconic 90s anthologies like Negative Burn and Dark Horse Presents. They’re arranged roughly chronologically, and represent Pope’s work as he moved from Cleveland to Toronto to Tokyo, and finally to New York City, where he lives today. The most recent of the “Deep Cuts” dates back to 2001; this is a younger Pope, the art a bit looser and more overtly manga-influenced, but no less compelling than his contemporary work.

Thematically, there is little difference between the Popes of then and now. The misadventures of youth, cityscapes with accompanying grime, and the vacillation between beauty and violence remain prominent in his work, and dominate “The One Trick Rip-Off”. The story follows Tubby and Vim, young lovers who plan to rob Tubby’s gang, the One Tricks, and run away together. Naturally, their plan gets contorted, and they face a violent climax that ends in a quiet, poetic pull up to the stars. There’s also a sci-fi/magical realist flavor to the story in the One Trick gang’s ability to distort anyone’s perception of reality using language – their one trick. The plot draws together spaghetti westerns, Donald Westlake’s Parker novels, and manga. It’s operatic, particularly the scenes between Vim and Tubby, and the heightened emotion makes the quieter scenes of Tubby wandering the desert, after being betrayed by his gang, all the more stunning.
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Not Quite The State Of My Pull List, Issue 0.1

In November, things looked grim for comics and me; I was unemployed, and making weekly visits to the comic book store had become an irresponsible expenditure. So I bid comics farewell, promised I’d be back when I’d found work and gotten back on my feet, and walked away.

Now it’s February, two months later, and I…am still unemployed. Well, underemployed. And definitely not making enough to subsidize my monthly reading. But while I may not have a steady job, I do have incredible friends and family. My Christmas and birthday were fraught with gift certificates to Crescent City Comics and invitations to share Comixology accounts, gifts from loved ones who thought a little more Batman in my life might be just the thing I needed. They were, of course, 100% correct because more Batman makes everything better.

And if I’m reading comics, then naturally I also want to write about them. This won’t be a standard Pull List column because I’m not quite there yet. Instead, I want to run through the comics I’ve kept up with, highlight the good, and brush aside the bad (of which there is little – budgeting makes me a savvy reader.)

Hawkeye #6

Hawkeye

My favorite comic of last year, Hawkeye, is already shaping up to be my favorite comic of this year, too. Javier Pulido filled in for regular artist David Aja for issues four and five, and the slight change in tone helped highlight exactly what makes this book so special. Pulido’s art is flatter, yet more expressive, than Aja’s, and reading his issues I was reminded of watching Ralph Bakshi’s Spider-Man cartoon from the late 60s. That looseness accentuated the humor beats of the story, while still allowing for exciting action sequences. Pulido, who doesn’t employ Aja’s bravura layouts, still connects us to the heart of the story, Clint and Kate’s relationship and the risks one is willing to take for the other.

Aja returned for issue six, which has Clint attempting to juggle his personal life, his responsibilities as a landlord, and his duties as an Avenger. This is easily writer Matt Fraction’s best issue so far – he fractures the narrative, juxtaposes absurdity with a serious threat, and ends the issue with a panel that’s almost a mission statement for the entire series.

In issue seven Fraction tells two stories, one each for Clint and Kate, about the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. He and editor Stephen Wacker assembled the story shortly after the storm hit, and tapped two fill-in artists – Steve Lieber and newcomer Jesse Hamm – to complete the issue. It’s sincere and heartfelt, in a way that almost no other mainstream comics even strive for. But this is Hawkeye, which hasn’t been like other mainstream comics since its first issue.
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REVIEW: Flash Gordon – The Tyrant of Mongo

Author: Alex Raymond

2012 (anthologized), Titan Books

Filed Under: Graphic Novel, Sci-Fi, Other

Find it on Goodreads.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 5
Art...... 10

The only newspaper comic strips I read regularly or cared about were funny strips, like Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts, or one-panel gag comics like The Far Side. I hated the soap opera and adventure strips. In fact, the only adventure strip I read consistently was The Amazing Spider-Man, and then only because it featured a character I already knew from the comics. And still I hated it.

Funny comic strips began and ended within the span of those three to five panels. They’re like a fractal storytelling – part of the whole, and yet the entire concept exists within a single unit. The dramatic strips offered only the briefest fragment of a story, and never enough information to usher new readers into the plot. I never felt guilty skipping Prince Valiant, Apartment 3-G, or any of the others. But Flash Gordon: The Tyrant of Mongo, the second volume of Titan Books’ reprints of the original strips, has me reconsidering my clean conscience.

The Tyrant of Mongo collects the color Sunday strips drawn by Alex Raymond and co-written by Raymond and Don Moore from 1937 to 1941, each fully restored by Peter Maresca. The restoration is stunning – the palette shifts effectively between the muted earth tones of the planet Mongo and Flash’s bright costumes, and Raymond’s careful line work and shading are preserved. A disclaimer on the edition page asks for the reader’s patience with variations in quality considering the condition of some of the original art, but any differences I noticed were minor, and never distracted from the reading. And as each strip takes up a full page, the panels blossom to reveal the fine detail and control of Raymond’s art.

Raymond earned his place in the cartoonists and illustrators pantheon, along with Milton Caniff, Hal Foster, and Will Eisner, with his work on Gordon (not to mention Jungle Jim and the detective strip, Rip Kirby) and his influence on Golden Age comic book artists, most notably Jack Kirby, is evident in every strip. And the intricately designed machinery, fantastic clothes and costumes, and use of dynamic close-ups and panel composition on display in the Flash Gordon strips continues to define the look of comic books. And while Raymond’s art could be considered stiff, particularly in contrast to that of Kirby or any number of contemporary cartoonists, it’s just as compelling. Consider that Raymond was producing strips of this caliber on a weekly basis for close to a decade, and the resulting quality is all the more impressive.
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