Sunday, September 30, 2012

Incognito, Volume 1

Incognito is a wonderful mash of noir, superheroes, and pulp fiction. It has evil mad scientists who grow creatures in jars, villains who wear domino masks, and heroes who drive flying cars. The plot revolves around Zack Overkill, a former science villain who has been placed in the witness protection program. He has turned evidence against his former boss, Black Death, and has had his powers chemically removed as part of the program. Unfulfilled with his boring lifestyle, Zack turns to recreational drugs, which he finds out counteract his power-dampening meds. Given the chance to exercise his powers again, Zack takes to clandestine nighttime jaunts around the city, with his old lifestyle luring him to his former habits.

Much like the series Sleeper, Incognito is a fascinating take on the superhero/villain dichotomy. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continue to co-produce excellent and enjoyable comics. They are both Eisner Award winning creators and frequent collaborators on series such as Criminal and Fatale. Brubaker talks about Incognito in this interview as well as this one. This series was optioned to be made into a film or TV series, though it seems to be in limbo.

This trade paperback collects the first 6 issue mini-series originally published in 2008-2009. All the write-ups I have found about it online have been full of praise. Esquire's Eric Gillin called the series "a refreshingly post-adolescent fantasy, filled with bad guys and even-worse guys, a witness-protection plan for super-powered snitches, and damsels who repay heroes with a roll in the hay." The Los Angeles Times' Geoff Boucher praised the noirish plot and Brubaker's "fantastic touch with dialogue." The reviewer at Collector's Paradise called this book Brubaker and Phillips' "third Masterpiece."

Incognito is published under Marvel Comics' Icon Imprint. A sizable preview is available here from Comics Related.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Resistance Book 3: Victory

In Victory we see France in the last days of World War II, and the effects the long war has had on the Tressier family. The son Paul is pushing more and more to be an active member of the resistance, drawing more attention to himself and placing himself in harm's way. His older sister Sylvie is still dating a Nazi soldier, but she seems unsure if she should regard him an enemy anymore as she gets to know him better. Youngest daughter Marie is frustrated by her limited role in any "important" work and fearful about the fate of their father. Also, she also has to deal with her brother's insults and dismissive manner. Ultimately, she finds a worthwhile task in hiding and nursing a wounded soldier in the village.

All the while, the family still has to deal with the prying eyes of their Nazi-sympathetic aunt as well as the increasing attention of the occupying Nazi soldiers. The leader of the troops especially seems to notice that the family is hiding something. This volume more than the others has more of an impending sense of doom. Not all things are as they seem, it turns out, and death awaits some of the characters. Also, the desperation of losing has driven the Nazis to lash out, and even when peace seems all but inevitable, great violence lurks and the hard work of rebuilding and reconciling must be done.

This third book in the trilogy is the product of Carla Jablonski, an accomplished YA author, and Leland Purvis, an illustrator who makes webcomics and other graphic novels, such as Pubo and Vox. He also drew the graphic novel biography Suspended in Language and the Turning Point series about American history.

The reviews I have read about this book have been very positive. Terry Hong praised Jablonski and Purvis's abilities to "present wrenching, dangerous events with urgency, insight, and plenty of humanity; their completed trilogy offers even stubborn young readers a worthy, engaging alternative to learning difficult history." Publishers Weekly wrote that "the authors do a good job of making it clear how bloody and morally messy even the most noble fighting can be." Alex Baugh also offered a positive review of this volume, stating that it "is every bit as exciting, informative and well done as the previous two volumes," and that it "is full of intrigue, adventure, danger, and suspense."

A preview is available here from the book's publisher, First Second.

Click here for reviews of books 1 and 2.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Just 4 days left in Top Shelf's Annual Blow-out Sale

Every year Top Shelf has a huge sale to clear out their inventory. They have insane deals on great works for all different age readers.

Be sure to check these deals out before they go away!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Killer: Long Fire

There are plenty of stories about assassins out there, and this series attempts to stand apart with its psychological exploration of a cold-blooded killer as well as the intriguing twists his life takes. The unnamed protagonist of this series has to deal with the tedium of waiting for his targets to surface, the uneasy realization that he himself might be stalked prey, as well as the struggle to maintain his edge when it seems his faculties are slipping. This series feels like a compelling international spy/intrigue tale, only the "hero" is a nameless, reptilian, calculating, murdering mercenary.

The Killer: Long Fire collects the first four issues of this French comic album series translated into English. Originally published by Casterman, a Belgian company that is best known for being the home of Tintin and that publishes comics from France and Belgium, this series is published in the U.S. by Archaia. The writer speaks at length about this book and the series in this article. Also of note, this series has been optioned to be a motion picture directed by David Fincher.

The Killer is a collaboration between writer Matz (an alias for Alexis Nolent) and artist Luc Jacamon. Matz is a writer best known for his work on video games from Ubisoft such as Prince of Persia, the Assassin’s Creed series, and various games based on the work of Tom Clancy. Jacamon won an Alfred Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival in 1986, and he is best known for his work in commercial art. The two have also collaborated on the sci-fi series Cyclops.

This series has been coming out since 1998, and this particular volume won Best Indy Book from IGN in 2007 as well as an Eisner Award nomination for Best U.S. Edition of International Material. Reviews I have read about this volume have not been too kind. The reviewer at Publishers Weekly found the story "slight and a little disjointed, relying too heavily on self-consciously 'cool' narration and abrupt flashbacks to pad out a by-the-numbers plot." Tersely, Carrie Try Harder found the book sexist, "predictable and boring." Offering a contrary opinion, Erik Hinton called the book "maddeningly enjoyable" and likened it to a fast-paced video game.

Personally, I enjoyed the plot , though in all honesty I found myself struggling to remember much specifically about the book when I sat to write this review/summary. Still, I was struck with a sense of disappointment when I found that the story was not totally resolved in this volume, and that I want to read more is a positive sign. In sum, I think this book is best described as a suspenseful distraction, much in the same vein of entertainment as a summer action movie.

A preview and more information is available here from the book's US publisher Archaia.

This is also another book I read from Comixology on my Kindle Fire. E-comics are definitely growing on me!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Black Diamond Detective Agency

The Black Diamond Detective Agency follows the exploits of John Hardin. This unfortunate soul is present at a huge, devastating train explosion and is framed for the bombing and subsequent robbery. He spends much of the rest of the book figuring out who framed him and also trying to find his wife, who has mysteriously gone into hiding. As he discovers a convoluted plot and encounters people with all kinds of agendas he is pursued by the eponymous detective agency and the US Secret Service.

This book is the product of artist Eddie Campbell and author C. Gaby Mitchell. I have been a huge Campbell fan for years. He has been making comics for decades now, from his Bacchus stories based in Greek mythology to his autobiographical Alec tales. He has long been interested in comics history and doing many period pieces. He is best known for his collaboration with Alan Moore on the Jack the Ripper epic From Hell. Mitchell is best known for his screenplays for the movies Blood Diamond and Get Low. In fact, this book was based on one of his unproduced screenplays.

I enjoyed reading this book and found the action and mystery aspects compelling. There were parts where I was confused by the sequence of events or who characters were, but I was drawn in by the expertly painted art. I enjoyed the twists and also thought some of the situations seemed pretty typical of movie cliches, for example the obligatory tease of a love interest, the hero rescuing a woman from a ledge, and the official agency embracing the outlaw loose cannon.

Reviews I have seen for this book have been mixed. Kirkus Reviews called the book "a visually stunning graphic narrative with all sorts of complicated plot twists." Andrew Wheeler was slightly disappointed by the book, and he wrote that "Campbell’s loose line did sometimes make it difficult for me to keep track of characters, though, especially with a lot of men in somber suits and facial hair. Other than that, the art is dynamic and carries the action well, with panels varying in size and position from tight grids to loose frameworks, depending on the scene." The reviewer at First Panel was not impressed with the book despite it being a period piece and concluded, "The story was alright, the visuals were alright, but I wouldn’t put it on a must-read list." Douglas Wolk gave the book a B-.

This book was published by First Second. They have a video preview posted here.

The Black Diamond Detective Agency does contain some brief nudity, a sex scene, and some scenes of blood and violence, so it is more suitable for more mature readers.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Case of Madeleine Smith

Nowadays, if someone wants to break up and not get married, she might just tell the guy in person, on the phone, by email, or, most impersonally, via text message. She probably would not resort to poisoning. In 1857 Scotland, prospects were not very good for an upperclass woman who wanted to be married respectably when she had an affair with a lowerclass gentleman, and so Madeleine Smith allegedly did treat her amour to some arsenic laced cocoa. Apparently Emile L'Angelier had an inkling about what was happening, and he began keeping a journal about his life and health. He also kept every letter she ever wrote him, more than 190 in all. Those letters, his journal, along with the sensational newspaper accounts of the events offer up much fodder for this adaptation.

As with many of Rick Geary's works, this volume in his Treasury of Victorian Murder series is meticulously researched and detailed. It offers a fascinating look at the courtship practices and legal procedures of the day. It also offers a compelling murder mystery narrative and also balances the tale out with journalistic and encyclopedic accounts. Geary's ability to simultaneously entertain and inform is on full display here.

The Case of Madeleine Smith has received many positive reviews. Andi Shechter praised Geary, writing that "in a relatively short work, he tells a richly layered story in a new way." Jason Sacks admits this is not his favorite book in the series, but he does still conclude that "in its depiction of class and morals and interesting people, this is an interesting and entertaining volume." Nicola Mansfield offered a more positive opinion, briefly summing up that this "book in Rick Geary's fabulous series is no less supreme than the others."

The book's publisher, NBM, offers a brief preview here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Kevin Phenicle is a slight, nerdy adolescent who gets picked on by his peers and who lives with his grandmother. He does not look like much of a threat to anyone. But as "Boingthump," Kevin gets into all kinds of mischief and mayhem. He copies and sells pirate versions of popular computer games. He scams the phone company so he can make all kinds of free calls. He gains access to classified databases. He rigs phones so he wins radio station contests. He invents computer viruses and worms. As a hacker, he finds himself the target of FBI sting operations, ends up imprisoned multiple times, and spends much of his life on the run from the authorities.

Boingthump is a fictional amalgam of a character, with attributes of many famous hackers. He is based mainly on former fugitives Kevin Mitnick and Kevin Poulsen, but he also runs some famous scams perpetrated by legends like Cap'n Crunch, Captain Zap, and Phiber Optik. He even gets credited for an infamous TV jamming scheme. Although Boingthump perpetrates many criminal acts, he appears as a sympathetic figure in this book. It is difficult not to root for him when it seems he is really trying to infiltrate and hoodwink monolithic authorities. Having the support of a friendly radio DJ advocate helps make him seem less unsavory, as does the stark contrasts with an oily TV newsman who capitalizes on Boingthump's notoriety and the thuggish figures who antagonize him, embodied by federal agents and prison inmates.

The contents of this book first appeared serialized as a webcomic, which is still available online. Creator Ed Piskor is best known for multiple collaborations with Harvey Pekar on American Splendor as well as The Beats: A Graphic History. A prolific modern creator whose style is reminiscent of underground comix, he is currently working on a Hip Hop Family Tree webcomic. Piskor talks more about his work on this graphic novel in this interview with IFC.

This book definitely has much to add to the discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of technology hacking. Reviews of it I have read have been very positive. Wired Magazine's Steven Levy called this story "a delight, wryly rendered and packed with dead-on details of the hacker life." Comics Should Be Good's Sonia Harris wrote that "the book is beautiful, a lovely experience to read, made with much love and attention to detail" and well worth buying. The Onion's A.V. Club Comic Panel concluded that Piskor's "passion for the subject jumps off the page, making Wizzywig both an entertaining read and a powerful argument-starter."

A preview and more can be found here from the book's publisher Top Shelf.