Birthday book: Arrowsmith

September 16, 2009

arrowsmithHey, it’s Kurt Busiek’s birthday! He’s written a lot of comics that I’ve really enjoyed. He’s responsible for the last pleasant memories I have of Avengers comics, so I could recommend something like this. His first dozen issues of Thunderbolts were great, too, but I can’t even seem to find collections of those on Marvel’s web site. There’s always Astro City, that sideways glance at shared super-hero universes. I have a lot of respect for Busiek’s ethics of scripting super-hero fiction, I really do.

But for this edition of Birthday Book, I’m going to recommend something a little more obscure: the collected edition of Arrowsmith, written by Busiek and illustrated by Carlos Pacheo. This is one of those stories where actual events are reframed with an insertion of fantasy elements. It’s basically a world war with magic added, and it’s a very successful example of that genre. A small-town boy goes to war and becomes one of the military’s fearsome group of dragon wranglers. It’s a neat idea executed very well by all parties.


Upcoming 2/18/2009

February 17, 2009

Time for another quick look at this week’s ComicList:

It seems like it’s been an awfully long time since Dark Horse released the tenth volume of Hiroki Endo’s Eden: It’s an Endless World! Since the book is dense with character and event, it would behoove me to undertake a quick refresher course before I dive into the eleventh. I’ve got no problem with that kind of homework, as Endo’s comics lend themselves to re-reading. Anyway, for those of you who’ve forgotten: a weird virus has decimated the human population, and after things settle down on the epidemic front, everyone starts scrambling for power. Now, the virus seems to be staging a rather nasty comeback. Should be fun!

My refresher course might have to wait just a little bit, as Viz will be delivering two new comics from Naoki Urasawa of Monster fame. 20th Century Boys promises “a gang of boys who try to save the world.” Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka is Urasawa’s re-examination of one of Osamu Tezuka’s most famous Astro Boy stories, “The Greatest Robot on Earth.” (If you’d like to read Tezuka’s original, Dark Horse can accommodate you.) I bought these at the bookstore over the weekend, because they were there and I have no impulse control. So far, Pluto is kind of like Law & Order: Criminal Intent, but with robots, which lands it right in my comfort zone, with the added bonus of no overacting by Vincent D’Onofrio but the loss of Kathryn Erbe’s enchanting way with caustic skepticism.

People have said nice things about Mysterius: The Unfathomable (Wildstorm), written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Tom Fowler. I liked Parker’s Agents of Atlas (Marvel) mini-series a lot, so I’ll possibly pick up the first two issues if there are any shelf copies at the shop. If not, I’ll just pick up the trade eventually.


Young, old, and underemployed

April 3, 2007

Aside from some books that were scheduled to arrive last week but took some extra time to make it over the Appalachians or across the Monongahela or whatever, it’s a relatively manageable week on the ComicList.

The ranks (and variety) of manga princesses continue to swell, this time with Sekihiko Inui’s Murder Princess from Broccoli. I wasn’t crazy about what I’ve read of Inui’s Comic Party (Tokyopop), but the promise of “the strongest and most violent princess in the history of the kingdom” is kind of tempting. She’ll smash that glass slipper against the bar and gut you like a trout with the pointy heel!

Welcome to Tranquility (DC – Wildstorm) gets another opportunity to move off the bubble with its fifth issue. It’s one of those books where everything just about coheres but doesn’t quite, but I’m still intrigued enough by the premise and Gail Simone’s storytelling to stick around for a bit.

The third issue of Maintenance (Oni Press) promises more warped workplace comedy from Jim Massey and Robbi Rodriguez. Not to minimize the potential charms of this week’s arrival, but I’ve heard rumors that the fourth issue features zombie kitten attacks. Perhaps it’s wise that they’re holding off on that, as it will be hard to top.


Quick comic comments

December 9, 2006

Welcome to Tranquility #1 (DC – Wildstorm): The premise for this series sounds a bit like an arc from Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, which is never a bad starting point for a look at the margins of a super-hero culture. Writer Gail Simone has set a murder mystery in a retirement community for “maxis,” powerful heroes and villains living together in relative peace during their twilight years.

Being a person of intelligence and sensitivity, Simone largely resists the urge to ridicule the citizenry’s mental and physical decline. Being a writer who thoroughly explores the scenario at hand, she can hardly ignore it. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but I think she does a nice job. Not everyone ages into an AARP commercial, and when people start with the kind of faculties possessed by the citizens of Tranquility, the results can be kind of frightening when they start to lose them.

Simone tells the story through the eyes of someone in her prime, Tranquility Sheriff Lindo. The character has her own tricky balancing act to pull off. She’s protective of the citizenry in several ways – she’s responsible for safety and order, which can require taking a hard line, but she’s also sensitive to their dignity and respectful of their accomplishments. It’s the sandwich generation conundrum through the eyes of law enforcement, and her handling of the conflicting demands makes Lindo immediately sympathetic.

The down side of having such a well-developed protagonist is that there perhaps isn’t enough time to take full advantage of the setting. As Lindo grudgingly baby-sits some visiting reporters, readers get glimpses of Tranquility and some of the people who live there, but the supporting cast can pass by in a bit of a blur. Introducing marginal characters in strong, specific ways is generally one of Simone’s strengths as a writer, and she succeeds more often than she fails, but the crowd can get a bit daunting.

It seems to overwhelm artist Neil Googe as well. Tranquility itself looks appealingly Rockwellian, but character design can be iffy. Googe is better at rendering action and motion than acting and emotion, so Simone’s script isn’t served as thoroughly as it could be.

But the book has definite potential. I like the underlying premise, and I’m a sucker for a murder mystery, so I’ll stick around and see where it leads.

*

Crossing Midnight #1 (DC – Vertigo): This is another series off to an intriguing if not completely satisfying start. Writer Mike Carey introduces readers to twins Toshi and Kai, born and raised in contemporary Nagasaki. Their thoroughly modern parents indulge their paternal grandmother, a survivor of the atomic bomb who insists they offer a prayer to the family shrine during the pregnancy. What harm could it do?

Mom and Dad would have been better off sticking to their principles, as the act of appeasement has unexpected, decidedly unpleasant consequences. Toshi, the younger of the twins, evaded the eye of the sonogram and surprised her parents with her arrival. The surprises continue as she finds she’s immune to physical injury. Carey takes an interesting direction with Toshi’s emotional reaction to her “gift” and does a nice job illustrating its impact on the family dynamic.

The story is nicely structured, but there’s an underlying detachment to Carey’s writing. The events of Crossing Midnight are never quite as urgent or intense as I think they should be. The book feels at times more like an artfully rendered case study than an organic story, more impersonally observational than visceral. (As an example, I generally hate the device Carey uses to establish the extremity of the menace Toshi and Kai face, but it just kind of rolls past here.)

I do like Jim Fern’s pencils, which are detailed and precise. It’s clean, clear rendering with some nice flourishes of imagination, and Fern’s work gets solid support from inker Rob Hunter and colorist José Villarrubia.

In the end, though, Crossing Midnight is kind of chilly, which keeps it from being very chilling.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

*

Hero Squared #4 (Boom! Studios): I’m starting to wonder if Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis aren’t intentionally embodying the indie-spandex divide in their appealing super-hero parody. Sure, Captain Valor is a morally monochromatic Superman archetype, but I’m finally picking up that Milo is just as much of a pastiche of the common stereotype of the artcomix protagonist, so neatly summarized by Shaenon Garrity.

It’s probably taken me much longer to realize this than it should have, but it tickles me to think that Hero Squared is offering equal-opportunity mockery.


Batten down the hatches

December 5, 2006

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of interest in this week’s ComicList, but it does have its pleasures.

I think my initial lack of enthusiasm comes from the fact that I hardly ever buy floppies any more, but there are two this week that I’m eager to read. I’ve been enjoying Hero Squared (Boom! Studios), and the fourth issue arrives tomorrow.

I’m also looking forward to a comic by Gail Simone that isn’t in the thick of DC’s mainstream super-hero titles. Welcome to Tranquility sounds like fun, and I like both revisionist super-hero stories and murder mysteries.

For whatever reason, the paperback version of The Case of Madeline Smith from the Rick Geary’s A Treasury of Victorian Murder series showed up at my shop last week, but soft and hardcover versions seem to be arriving everywhere tomorrow.

Viz’s releases function more as a reminder that I’ve fallen behind in my reading list. How did Aishiteruze Baby get to its fifth volume when I wasn’t looking? And Crimson Hero is at volume four? The reason this sort of thing happens is that I keep getting distracted by charming new series like Beauty Pop, which is at volume two.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what’s going to dominate Bookscan graphic novel sales for the next couple of weeks, I’ll give you one guess.


I want a bean feast

September 30, 2006

The latest Previews catalog has me in a Veruca Salt kind of head space.

David Petersen’s splendid Mouse Guard (Archaia) concludes with issue #6, but the solicitation text describes it as “the first Mouse Guard series,” all but promising there will be more.

I hadn’t noticed that Housui Yamazaki, who provides illustrations for the excellent Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, has his own book, Mail, also coming out from Dark Horse. This demands further investigation, particularly since the protagonist from Mail will apparently cross over into KCDS. (I don’t like typing “cross over” when discussing manga, but I’ll reserve judgment.)

As I like Hiroki Endo’s Eden: It’s an Endless World!, and I’m also a fan of collections of shorts, chances seem good I’ll also like Endo’s Tanpeshu, also from Dark Horse.

DC – Wildstorm gives me the opportunity to enjoy a comic written by Gail Simone without having to try and wade through seventy-three different crossovers with the debut of Tranquility.

DC – Vertigo revives a book I enjoyed a lot, Sandman Mystery Theatre, with a five-issue mini-series, Sleep of Reason. Based on the pages shown in Previews, I’m not entirely sold on the art by Eric Nguyen, but I love the protagonists in this series.

Do you like Masaki Segawa’s Basilisk? Del Rey gives you the opportunity to read the novel that inspired it, The Kouga Ninja Scrolls.

Evil Twin Comics unleases another Giant-Sized Thing on the comics-reading public with the second collection of Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s excellent Action Philosophers!

Dave Carter notes that the singles of the second volume of Linda Medley’s marvelous Castle Waiting (Fantagraphics) series aren’t doing that well, despite strong sales of the beautiful collection of the first. Fantagraphics gives you the opportunity to correct this sorry state of affairs with the December release of the fourth issue.

Go! Comi rolls out its seventh title, Train + Train by Hideyuki Kurata and Tomomasa Takuma. (In the future, all manga publishers will have a book with “train” in the title.)

I’ve heard a lot of good things about SoHee Park’s Goong (Ice Kunion), a look at what Korea would be like if the monarchy was still in place.

Last Gasp, publisher of Barefoot Gen, offers another look at life in Hiroshima after the bomb with Fumiyo Kouno’s Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms.

If Marvel’s current efforts at politically observant super-heroics make you roll your eyes, you might find respite in Essential Defenders Vol. 2, which includes mosst of Steve Gerber’s mind-bending Headmen arc. It strikes me as idiotic not to include the entire arc in one place, which this book just misses. It has Defenders 15-39 and Giant-Size Defenders 1-5, but not #40 and Annual #1, the conclusion of Steve Gerber’s deranged masterpiece of deformed craniums, clown cults, and women in prison.

NBM offers two books that go onto my must-buy list. The first is the paperback edition of the eighth installment of Rick Geary’s superb Treasury of Victorian Murder series, Madeleine Smith. The second is Nicolas De Crécy’s Glacial Period. De Crécy contributed a marvelous short to Fanfare/Ponent Mon’s Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, and I’ve been hoping to see more of his work in English.

Oni Press rolls out Maintenance, a new ongoing series from Jim Massey and Robbi Rodriguez. I reviewed a preview copy earlier this week; the book looks like it will be a lot of fun.

Seven Seas unveils another licensed title, Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl, a gender-bending comedy by Satoru Akahori and Yukimaru Katsura. If you’ve been waiting for some shôjo-ai to come your way, now’s your chance.

Tokyopop – Blu promises that Tarako Kotobuki’s Love Pistols is “too crazy to be believed.” Human evolution isn’t just for monkeys any more, people.


This week’s stack, part one

June 10, 2004

I’ll be going through the stack in two parts this week, as one of the shops I use didn’t get their shipment in yesterday. Still, plenty of books to make it worth an entry.

AQUAMAN 19: This title has improved vastly since the end of the incomprehensible and overlong Waterbearer/Thirst arc. While this issue is basically a chat with the architect of San Diego’s destruction, it offers some twists to that formula. The antagonist of the piece views his actions as a necessary evil, difficult choices serving a heroic aim. He’s also clearly withholding a lot of details, and it’s nice to see the protagonists figure that out fairly easily. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it is a solid chapter in the ongoing story. And the Alan Davis/Mark Farmer cover is predictably gorgeous.

BATMAN, DEATH AND THE MAIDENS 9: Maybe it’s the extended gap between this issue and last, but the concluding chapter of this story is somewhat anticlimactic. It seems more like an epilogue than a finale. Still, the story as a whole has been an interesting character study while shaking up the status quo of Ra’s al Ghul, his daughters, and his organization. It also positions Nyssa as a promising new addition to Batman’s roster of enemies, vastly more interesting than Hush (not that that’s saying a great deal, but I mean it as a compliment). When time permits, I’m going to have to read these issues at once, as I suspect they’ll work better as a collection.

FABLES 26: The citizens of Fabletown try to fend off the attack of an army of disturbingly polite wooden soldiers. Essentially an issue-long battle sequence, it’s a lot richer than other stories of its kind. Filled with character moments, plot twists, politics, and sacrifice, it’s a standout entry from a consistently fine title. There’s also a preview of THE WITCHING included in this issue, which didn’t do anything to make me want to pick up that title. It looks competent, but the characters aren’t particularly vivid, and the art is kind of a queasy blend of cartoon and titillation.

FALLEN ANGEL 12: Peter David heads back in time to the first meeting of the Angel and Doctor Juris. Angel tracks a criminal to New Orleans and runs into Juris on his yearly day off. It’s a perfectly competent story, but I didn’t really learn anything new about either of the protagonists. It’s a decent stand-alone issue, though, and if you’ve been curious about the book, this would be a good chance to give it a try.

GLOBAL FREQUENCY 12: This is the last issue of the series of stand-alone action stories written by Warren Ellis and illustrated this time around by the very talented Gene Ha. The lack of any ongoing narrative from issue to issue doesn’t really make for much analysis, and the formula – mysterious threat to the public, creative and aggressive response by Global Frequency agents – is solidly in place. It’s been a good title, finely crafted entertainment. If it’s all a bit inconsequential, there’s nothing really wrong with entertainment for its own sake.

GREEN ARROW 39: The crisis in Star City concludes in a grimly predictable manner. The point, once again, is that Oliver is a success as a hero and a failure as a person. That’s been established pretty well by now, and perhaps we could move on to some slightly different subject matter? No? Okay, just asking.

IDENTITY DISC 1: I’m a big fan of Robert Rodi’s novels, and I want to like his work in comics, but he still doesn’t seem to have found his stride in the medium. His novels (particularly Fag Hag and What They Did to Princess Paragon) are tightly plotted screwball comedies that are grounded in very recognizable human emotions. You’d think that skill set would translate better to comics than it does. While he manages to humanize some of his characters – a mixed bag of villains blackmailed into pulling off a convoluted caper – it doesn’t hang together very well. (Continuity buffs will also wonder how the events square with any number of other Marvel titles, too.)

NIGHTWING 94: The spotlight is still locked on the truly repellent Tarantula, as Nightwing continues to be completely ineffectual. This book is grim far beyond the point of dramatic, and this is the last issue I’ll be buying for a while.

More to come tomorrow.