Thursday, June 30, 2016

Dark Corridor

I am a big fan of Rich Tommaso's comics, from his noir, historical, and horror comics under his Recoil imprint to his more mundane, character-driven works like Pete and Miriam. I have always liked his art style, character designs, and the architecture he draws in his stories, not to mention his gripping storytelling, inventive layouts, and interesting plots. Dark Corridor is his latest collection and it follows the exploits of a motley array of characters. The short, episodic chapters ping-pong back and forth, focusing alternatively on some crooked grifters:
and a league of female assassins out for revenge against organized crime families:

I hope I am not spoiling too much by revealing that eventually all their paths converge, resulting in violence, death, mayhem, car chases, and lots of drama. The characters are all boldly depicted, and although they might be considered stock types, I felt they were all very well employed in telling a strong and satisfying story. I really enjoyed how those different narrative strands were woven together, and I feel that fans of crime comics, detective stories, or just plain good old fashioned adventure yards will really enjoy this book.

The reviews I have read for this book have been mixed, some lukewarm and others more positive. Matthew Garcia called it "a thrilling and intense book delivered through some excellent cartooning." Ross Johnson included this "unique crime drama" in Barnes & Noble's Best Comics & Graphic Novels for June, 2016. Rob McMonigal praised the "top-notch noir storytelling from a fan of the genre who understands that there's more to that part of the crime world than just making it dark" and called it a "must-read for anyone who enjoys reading about terrible people."

This collection contains all 7 issues of the series and was published by Image Comics. They have previews and more information here. The book does contain some nudity, profanity, and violence, so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

I just saw Rich Tommaso at HeroesCon in June and learned that we have growing up in a family that owns a pizzeria in common. He also drew a commission sketch for me of a character from his newest work, She-Wolf, a horror series about werewolves and the people they attack and change. I think he is a great guy and a great artist, and I hope y'all go out and get some of his works.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Compass South

Compass South is an adventure story set in the 1800s, but it also strongly resembles a fairy tale. The plot follows a pair of twins, Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge, who were orphaned and came to be raised by one of their mother's old flames. When he mysteriously disappears and is taken for dead, all they have to their names are two items passed down from their mom as their legacy: a watch and pocket knife. So the siblings join a gang of juvenile criminals and try to live by their wits and ill-gotten gains.
After they run afoul of the law, Alexander and Cleopatra decide they are going to try a new grift, passing themselves off as a pair of long-lost twins.This new plan entails Cleo having to pretend to be a boy and also some stowing away to get to the west coast. There are complications, however, one of which is running into another pair of red-headed twins with the same intentions they have to defraud an unwitting family (what are the chances?!?). What makes this book really work is how far off track all of their plans get, as well as the inventive ways that the story unfolds and reveals some interesting twists. It is chock full of action, humor, heart, nautical intrigue, and mystery, and I think it will be a popular book with many YA readers. I very much enjoyed it, and I am looking forward to its sequel (and maybe more in a series?).
Compass South was made by writer Hope Larson and artist Rebecca Mock. The Eisner Award winning Larson has created a number of graphic novels, including an adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time and the young adult story Chiggers. She is also writing two comic book series, one about a teen detective Goldie Vance and the other a run on DC Comics' Batgirl. This is Mock's first graphic novel, and she was a co-organizer of  the Hana Doki Kira anthology. Larson speaks about this book and her various comics projects in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book give it praise. Kirkus Reviews summed it up as "Complex, engaging, and sure to please a wide audience." Publishers Weekly spoke highly of the book, especially Mock who "adeptly captures the changing relationships between the twins—especially the gender-bending awkwardness that accompanies Cleo’s stint as a boy." Sarah Hunter from Booklist gave it a starred review and called it "A gorgeously executed, lively caper."

Compass South was published by Farrar Straus and Giroux, and they have a preview and more info available here.

I met Rebecca Mock recently at HeroesCon, and I was glad to buy a pre-release copy. She was gracious enough to also draw a picture and sign a book for me. Thank you!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Copra, Rounds One & Two

I bought both of these books at HeroesCon last summer but only got to read them very recently. Oh man, I am glad I finally did.
What can I say about Copra? It is not quite a superhero book, though it features lots of super-powered individuals. The stories follow a secret government project that employs powerful criminals, sending them on covert, highly dangerous missions. Those who make it back alive received reduced sentences, but they are not really reformed. If anything, they are encouraged to keep on being rotten people.

The artwork in these books is exceptionally gorgeous, and the storytelling taut and action-packed. For fans of comic books, particularity those from the 1990s, there are fun riffs on Dr. Strange, the Punisher, and the Reavers, as well as the obvious Suicide Squad framework that structures the whole narrative. Even though the characters are homages/tributes/analogs of some familiar characters, the costume and figure designs are outstanding. A lot of the commentary I have read about these books talks about it being "superheroes on acid" or something like that, but I think that description sells short just how imaginative and eye-catching the designs are.
Exhibit A

I have to say that these are some of the best action-oriented comics I have read in a while. Most of the chapters start in the middle of some scene, and there is not a whole lot in the way of exposition, but I think that is a great thing here. Part of the fun for me was figuring out what was going on and then how the protagonists were going to get themselves out of multiple tight spots. Also, not really knowing what characters' motivations were made me have to really wonder what they were up to, which created some sense of confusion as well as intrigue. These are not simple comics, but they really reward multiple re-readings.
Exhibit B
Copra is the work of Michel Fiffe, a comics artist dedicated to self-publishing the best, most beautiful comics on the market. He sells most of his work through his Etsy store, and he also has another series called Zegas. He speaks about his works and career in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about these books and the series as a whole have been full of praise. Chris Sims wrote that it contains "genuinely masterful storytelling that engages the reader on every level." Brian Nicholson called it "a comic built, refreshingly for some, around action sequences, with the visual artist pushing himself to experiment and find an approach for each that feels new and worth the reader’s dollar." Matthew Meylikhov summed up by calling it "a pretty fucking awesome comic."

These collections of Copra collect 6 issues each, so I read #1-12 here, and they were published by Bergen Street Comics Press. These books features lots of violence and swearing, as well as some of the best comics storytelling I have seen in a while, and they are suggested for readers who can handle all of those things.

I just saw Michel Fiffe at HeroesCon this past weekend, and I picked up Round 3. I won't wait a whole year to read it, let me tell you. Also, Round 4 will be published soon, if you are interested...

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer

Something I can reveal about this book, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer, is that the stories in here are for the most part not real but they are constructed from some excellent research, facts, and historical events. It follows the exploits of an unusual duo, countess/mathematician Ada Lovelace and mathematician/grump Charles Babbage. In reality, these two met and had a great friendship/collaboration that resulted in the invention of two machines, a difference engine and an analytical engine, precursors to what we now recognize as computers. But, neither machine was actually fully built in either of their lifetimes. What is more, Lovelace died pretty young, so their collaboration was rather short-lived.
 
From those bits of reality, this book follows a narrative into a pocket universe where Lovelace and Babbage's lives played out differently: they both live longer lives, build their machines, and use them for various adventures. Along the way they meet major figures of the day, including Queen Victoria, the Duke of Wellington, and author George Eliot. These episodes are full of wit, humor, and well explained footnotes. The artwork is very expressive and vital, and the entire enterprise bursts with personality and energy. This is probably one of the geekiest books I have ever read, and I rather enjoyed it. I don't know if this quite a book for every reader, but it would certainly be a hit for those who like Victorian era antics, computer science, and/or sophisticated humor.

Sydney Padua is an animator and illustrator who began working on this project as a webcomic, just for kicks. It clearly has grown into something much larger, a bonafide graphic novel. She speaks about her work on this webcomic and book in this interview.

This work has received two Eisner nominations, so it was no surprise that all of the reviews I have read about it have been very positive. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and made it a special selection, summing up, "Permeated by delightful illustrations, obsessive foot- and endnotes, and a spirit of genuine inventiveness, it’s an early candidate for the year’s best." Maria Popova called it "layered and wonderful in its totality." Dr. James Sumner wrote a more academic review, and he remarked that "Padua’s work is, in fact, rather better researched than certain more solemn texts on Lovelace and Babbage."

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage was published by Pantheon Books, and they have more info about it here.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Brobots and the Kaiju Kerfuffle!

Brobots and the Kaiju Kerfuffle is a bright and colorful book aimed at an audience of younger readers who like robots and monsters. As an older reader who likes robots and monsters I was intrigued to see what this book was like. I found it pretty enjoyable, if a bit slight, because the book ended so quickly. But maybe that is a good thing because it left me wanting more. And I hope there will be more volumes forthcoming. I mean if they gave it a #1 on the cover, they must have more in store, yes?

The story specifics here follow a trio of brother robots on a fishing trip. One of them uses radioactive bait, with disastrous results. Just see:

The rest of the book features their adventures as they battle and learn to deal with this creature. Also, the plot has a couple of surprising twists that elevate the proceedings above a typical smash-'em-up fight book. Plus, there are lots of corny jokes that I am sure that younger readers would enjoy. I know I love a good corny joke myself, and this book tickled me a few times.

This book is a collaboration between writer J. Torres and artist Sean Dove. Torres is a veteran comics writer who is known for his work on Teen Titans Go! as well as his own series The Mighty Zodiac and Power Lunch. I also really enjoyed his work on the Jinx books from Archie Comics. Dove is a successful artist, illustrator, and art director who has done lots of high profile work in comics and commercial art over the years. Torres speaks more about his work on this book in this interview.

I had a tough time finding any reviews of this book, but the one I did find was positive: Alyssa Vaughn summed up by stating, "Brobots is adorable, and it’ll definitely be in the stack of comics I give my nephew for his birthday."

Brobots was published by Oni Press, and they have more info about the book here. Comic Book Resources provided a preview here.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Trees, Volume 1

I just signed up for Comixology Unlimited, a service where multiple titles from certain publishers (not Marvel or DC, but some big name ones like Image and Fantagraphics) are available to read for a single monthly fee. One of the first things I read on my Samsung Galaxy tablet using this service was this book, Trees. I bought the first issue when it came out from my local comic shop, but I decided to wait for the trade. Apparently I lost track of when it came out, but I am glad I got to catch it here and now.

This book collects the first 8 issues of the series, but I have the say the whole thing reads more like a graphic novel. I seriously did not realize when I was reading it when one issue ended and another began, because the story just transitions so smoothly.

The narrative is a science fiction one, focusing on the mysterious appearance of giant alien trees in a number of urban areas worldwide. Their presence caused great destruction initially, but for the next ten years they seem dormant. Over the course of this book we get to see the effects of the trees on three specific, very different areas. In China a "special cultural center" has sprung up in the shade of the tree; in Italy a fascist gang runs the town, and in Norway a research team studies the alien life. Much to their surprise, they learn that the trees have not been dormant all along and that some sort of change is imminent.
 

What I enjoyed most about this book was how it followed three compelling scenarios that were populated with complex, interesting characters. The narrative bounces around a little, but in a short amount of space I felt I learned much about each context and its players, and what is more I came to care about what happened to them. Perhaps most impressively, even though those three locations are distant, still the events in each combine to portray the big picture of what is going on in the world. In the end, this book ended up being more human drama than sci-fi adventure, and I am very interested in seeing where this series goes.

Trees is a collaboration between writer Warren Ellis and artist Jason Howard. The multiple award winning Ellis writes both novels and graphic novels, and his comic credits include Red, Fell, The Authority, Planetary, Global Frequency, and a recent run on Moon Knight. Howard is a relative newcomer to comics compared to Ellis, but he is known for his co-creation SuperDinosaur as well as his work on The Astounding Wolf-Man. Both creators speak about their take on this series in these interviews: Ellis & Howard.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly summed up that it was "A fine addition to the tradition of SF that exaggerates tomorrow’s problems to better paint a picture of today." John R. Parker called it "an intelligent, magnetic, and challenging debut." Michael is a big fan of Ellis's work, but also added that here he "has once again teamed up with the perfect artist for a project. Howard’s sketchy lines give the pages and what they depict a rough, lived in world with a vibrant kinesis."

Trees was published by Image Comics, and they have previews and much more available here. This book contains extreme violence, sexual situations, and some profanity, so it is recommended for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Batgirl Volume 1: Batgirl of Burnside

Honestly, I have checked in here and there with DC Comics over the past five years. There has not been much attractive about their books since they rebooted into the new 52, and I find most of their books too dreary and depressing to take much stock in, because they seem to have equated gratuitous violence with maturity. But I have heard a lot of good things about this Batgirl book, so I decided to give it a try.

Now, I know Batgirl has a long and convoluted history. This version of the character was created in conjunction with the 1960s Batman TV show, and Barbara Gordon has been a librarian, a congresswoman, and eventually a paraplegic computer genius over the decades. Here, she is re-imagined as a hip 20-something living in the trendy Burnside area of Gotham City. She is still a vigilante, but one who spends her days studying computer science as a university student. So, this book looks at Batgirl as much as a person with a bunch of new relationships and tech-savviness as it does as her playing the superheroine role. Just look at this sequence:
 
 

Overall, I found a lot to like about this book. It was fun, colorful, and it features some good character work as well suspenseful plots. I would not say it's the best superhero comics I have ever read, but it is certainly well crafted and enjoyable. And I did like that it was a very contemporary book. I do not know if it will age well, but in this moment this book is one of DC's top 3 publications (which is faint praise, at least coming from me, sorry). I would recommend it without hesitation to anyone who wants to read accomplished and entertaining superhero comics.

The creators behind this book are Cameron Stewart (plot and breakdowns), Brenden Fletcher (plot), Babs Tarr (finished art), and Maris Wicks (colors). Stewart is an Eisner and Shuster Award winning artist/writer who has worked on a number of different comic book series as well as his webcomic Sin Titulo. Fletcher is a veteran comic book writer, and Tarr is an illustrator who is relatively new to comics. Wicks has written and drawn a number of science themed graphic novels. These collaborators speak about their work on this series in this interview.

The reviews I have read about this book cover the full spectrum from praise to dislike. Matt Santori-Griffith wrote that this book "takes the mythos of Barbara Gordon and expands it even further, giving rise to a new chapter in her history," showing that that Batgirl stands alongside Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman as one of DC’s premier heroes." Etelka Lehoczky called it "pretty good"  on the whole, especially the artwork and the story's take on digital identities. Dustin Cabeal wrote that he found this book too trendy and wrote, "This Batgirl is written and created based on public opinion and that’s terrible because public opinion shifts all the time"

Batgirl of Burnside was published by DC Comics and they have more info about the series here.