Friday, September 30, 2011

Leave it to Chance, Volume 1: Shaman's Rain

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Adventure (Top 10)
Contains: Leave it to Chance #1-4
Year: Originally: 1996; This volume: 2002
Publisher: 1996: DC; This volume: Image Comics
Writer: James Robinson
Art: Paul Smith (Art)
        Jeromy Cox (Colors)

Hey, gang...

Well, provided I finish this post without spontaneously combusting, falling asleep from the toll of the work week, or otherwise keeling over, I think I've met my goal.  That was to get three "sets" (of five; each of which included four "Best of the Rest" books and one "Top 10" book from 500 Essential Graphic Novels) done before the end of September so I could steal yet another idea from my brother (who does a film blog similar to this one at ) and do a sort of end-of-the-month round-up for September.

And any of us could spontaneously combust at any time, so let's get to it!

We begin Leave it to Chance, Volume 1: Shaman's Rain with young Chance Falconer staring proudly at her father Lucas Falconer who is a practioner of the occult and protector of their town of Devil's Echo.  Lucas is giving a press conference after having just defeated a giant demon threatening the town and all the press want to crowd around, praise him, and ask questions.

Chance may be more enamoured with what her father's actually just done, though, rather than Lucas himself.  You see, Chance has just turned fourteen years of age.  The age when young Falconers undergo their first trainings in occult protection.

Chance's father doesn't share her excitement.

He's been scarred by his trade, losing a wife as a result, and besides...  Chance is a young lady.  Lucas Falconer wants a strong male heir to carry on his magicks.

The young, exuberant Chance won't seem to take "no" for an answer, though...

And here we begin the story...

This volume, which has had mountains of acclaim heaped on it, been nominated for Harvey and Eisner awards, and to which Mr. Kannenberg gives a weighty five stars in 500 Essential Graphic Novels leaves me with a simple one word question: How?

The work is an all-ages book that's seemingly perhaps geared at young ladies. I give it some accolades on that front.  Young ladies need their heroines and there's probably a shortage of good ones.  Chance is a fine one.  It's said to have found fans among males and even older readers, too.

As far as me, myself: I can't even say that this book isn't my cup of tea when just a few reviews ago I was raving about how Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic was an awesome journey through many a magical wonderland, exposing fantasies and daydreams come to life on the page.

We've got a bit of that here, but we've also got an oppressed contigent of goblins who've been drugged to attack sewer workers (?) and too many politics of a mayoral race for me to think that this might be enjoyed by a young girl.  That politics bit took me out of it.  I wanna see more crazy creatures from other worlds, not a rerun of evening CNN programming.

Speaking of what we did see, though, the artwork by Paul Smith and Jeromy Cox was nice.  It was fittingly cartoonish, but beautiful as the characters, dragons, beasties, and other fun things jumped off the page.

I don't know, maybe I've lost my youth and can't get into something of this nature.  Maybe this one just wasn't for me plot-wise.  I really expected an all ages story to pack more adventure and less politics, thugs (though they were cool-looking monsters), and fictional media coverage.

Bottom line from this reader: A fantastic young, little girl protagonist who just won't quit, but in the end too much real-life clutter and not enough escapism for this thirty-something dude to be carried away by.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 5 out of 5
My rating: 2 out of 5
15 down, 485 to go

Join me (hopefully and probably sometime within the next 24 hours) next time as I run down the month of September and give a final word on our first 15 readings here, folks.

I'll also give you the scoop at that time on the next five books we'll delve into as we begin October and hopefully get at least one of those reviewed this weekend, as well.

I thank all of you who have even glanced upon this page and invite each of you to start any discussion you'd like by commenting. 

Until next time... Be good, be well, and take care...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I Love Led Zeppelin

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Non-Fiction (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Various comics from Ellen Forney's career
Year: 1994-1996, 2004 (This volume published 2006)
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Writer: Ellen Forney (w/ various others)
Artist: Ellen Forney

Hello, readers.  I've actually gone back to check and this actually makes three nights in a row, not last night (for those of you keeping score or who care).

Anyway, let's not waste any time and we'll get right into I Love Led Zeppelin.

As I suspected (and as I mentioned last night), this book really had little to do with the band Led Zeppelin at all.  Sorry if you've come here wanting to read about them, but maybe stick around anyway, huh?  It'll be fun...

Actually, the only mention writer Ellen Forney makes to the band is in a hilarious strip called The Final Soundtrack, in which she discusses what would be the coolest music to have playing in your cracked up, bad-ass muscle car as you die after running it into a tree.  She also fears having certain other music play...  Really good.

However there are multitude other things in this slim, yet text filled volume.

The whole thing starts out with a series of "how-tos" on seemingly random subjects.  They actually look to be factually accurate and meticulously researched, though.  "How D'ya Sew an Amputated Finger Back On??", "Old Glory: How to Fold the Flag and Present it to the Next of Kin", and "How to Fuck a Woman with Your Hands!!" (not kidding) are all fact- and hilarity-laden, offering concrete safety, tact, and procedural tips.

These are followed by short, mostly one-page strips chronicling some of Ms. Forney's travels and experiences, various sex tips, and even a list of Seattle's erotic landmarks!

At the end, we see some of Forney's earlier, more lengthy strips as she collaborates with some folks and focuses on the artwork side of things.  There are stories of odd meetings that were supposed to be dates but never happened, various parties and sexual escapades of all sorts, and even lengthy discussions about the importance of your hairdo and the state of Courtney Love.

If you hadn't put it together already, this book focuses a lot on sex.  Sexual identity and orientation, gender roles, first times, erotic (and hilarious) photo shoots, forays funny and factual.  Forney takes an unabashed look at all things sex and many other things besides.  One or two of them are her own experiences left bare for all the world to see.  Some are collaborations with others and we get to see how sexy, triumphant, or awkward they felt.  Above all, this book is a celebration of all of the things you might come upon in life and emerging being yourself (no matter who likes it or doesn't) and being happy with that and proud of it.

Forney touches upon sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, survivalism, ettiquette, cooking, travel, humanities, dating, art, pop culture, parents... with truthfulness and, above all, fun.  These comics may be filled with facts about a wide variety of things and stories of real peoples' joys and longings, but Forney makes them hilarious and fun to read along most of the way.

Mr. Kannenberg had this volume categorized under the "Non-Fiction" category, and the strips are just enough like the real world experiences we've all had to be believably true, but I think this one would have worked under the "Humor" category just as well, having been easily the most laugh-getting book I've read in all my efforts here thus far.

Funny, sexy, smart (all words that introduction writer Sherman Alexie didn't wanna use when doing the intro, but why shy from cliche when it's true?), these comics are all that.  They feel real and you can easily discern that Forney and the other writers have experienced these things and come out to be awesome folks on the other side.  The book screams, "This is who we are, this is what we've seen, here's what we love." and we've got no choice but to become empowered, let our freak flags fly, and love life right along with them.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 3 out of 5
14 down, 486 to go

Be here next time as we move on to our third "Top 10" pick thus far: Leave it to Chance, Book One: Shaman's Rain. 

I hope you'll all be back and be well until then.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: General Fiction (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Sshhhh! (Orignal Graphic Novel)
Year: 2002
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Writer: Jason
Artist: Jason

Whoa!  Here we are back here again, faithful readers!  Is this the third day in a row?!  No, I really don't know...  Is it? 

Anyway, I wanna try and keep the blog going on a daily basis because I wanna try and do a sort of summarization of all the books we've looked at in September come the end of the week or this weekend.  If I get two more done this week, we'll have a sort of three set thing going on.  And by that I mean three groups of five that all ended with a Top 10 pick from the 500 Essential Graphic Novels book by Gene Kannenberg (click the link on the top right of the blog to buy) that I'm working my way through.

Now then, before I get started...  I've doled out thanks in the past and it occurs to me that I've forgotten one very special one.  I'd like to thank the Bridgeville Public Library and the Allegheny County Library Association for running smoothly enough that I can get books to review on here so easily.  If I were to want to do something like this and didn't have them, it'd be a LOT slower-going and I'd have to spend countless dollars on the books (something that I'm already probably going to do in finding things that I love from this list I'm going through). 

So anyway, a big thanks to all who make the Bridgeville Public Library and the Allegheny County Library Association do what it does.  You all have been courteous, timely, and just fantastic.

Let's get into Sshhhh!, shall we?

I'm going to try and get as long a review out of this one as I can.  There's really not much to talk about.

Let me start by saying that this is the only book in our little efforts here that I've read twice so far.  I did so because it only takes about twenty minutes to get through the book's some 120 pages.

But let's break it down for you like I usually do...

The book opens with the main character, an anthropomorphic cartoon crow character (in fact, I think ALL the characters in the book are anthropomorphic animals), sitting on the street playing a recorder-type-instrument and panhandling for money.  He gets a coin thrown into his hat, buys a hot dog, and soon retires to his nest to go to sleep.

This troubled character awakes the next day, walking the streets and feeling sorry for himself, seeing other upright-walking animal characters who have all found and are spending time with dear romantic loves.  He walks and walks, gazing at his feet, down and depressed, until he comes to a bridge where he decides to throw a rock into a stream underneath.  When he looks up, there is a lady crow staring into his eyes...

And we pretty much go from there, folks.  We go with this central crow character through all sorts of things.  He finds his love, loses her, is followed around by a skeleton character, meets more lovers, has a son, and so on and so forth...

You might be saying to yourself right about now, "Hey, pal! I thought you read this book twice! What's with the "central crow character" and "lady crow" and "skeleton character" bit?  What are their names?"

And, dear readers, I haven't the foggiest...

You see this entire book has not one word in it.  It's all pictures.  As I say that, I see the "DRRRRR" of the electric razor in the above panel, but aside from that (that's a sound effect anyway, smarties)...  There's not one bit of dialogue between the characters.  When they do speak...  For instance, the crow is at a cafe and he wants a cup of coffee.  There is a word bubble with a cup of coffee drawn in it, signifying that he's asking for a cup.  No "I'll take a cup of coffee please, sir."  No dialogue.

This is really a very interesting book being that it's in that format and for so many other reasons.  It kind of reminds me of Pop Gun War (which I reviewed on this very blog not too long ago), but it's nowhere near as obtuse in terms of plot.  The plot's there.  You can discern for the most part what's going on, but I don't think that means that this one isn't up for a bit of interpretation.

Could all these tales of our little crow be a metaphor for the life a human man and all the things he experiences, fears, goes through, endures, and thinks?  Could they be the dreams of the crow character after he climbs into his nest to sleep in the very first sequence?

I couldn't definitively tell you, friends, but what I will impart is this:  I had to go back and read this book a second time.  I had to experience all those things with the crow character again, especially since it was only going to take me another twenty minutes.  Those of you who know me know that I love to puzzle strange stories and films out and this one is definitely ripe for that.  And it compels you to want to do so.

Also, I couldn't stop thinking about the life and times of this little crow all day today as I went about my business.  There were events in these pages that were truly sad and touching, events that deserve pondering, events that will stay with you, even though there are only little cartoon animals in this book.

Could the plot be a little more overt? Sure, but then again, that may take a little bit away from this artistically.  And speaking of art, the artwork here is perfect for such a tale.  At once cute, strange, unique...  It fits.

Mr. Kannenberg says in his book as he reviews this work that it "leaves a deep impression".  Whether you love or hate this thing, I don't think it can be said any finer.  You're going to ponder this one for a while...

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 4 out of 5
13 down, 487 to go

Next time: "I Love Led Zeppelin" which, I expect, has little to do with loving Led Zeppelin.

Have a good one until then, guys...

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Books of Magic

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Fantasy (Best of the Rest)
Contains: The Books of Magic #1-4 (Mini-Series)
Year: 1990, 1991
Publisher: Vertigo
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artists: John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, Paul Johnson (One issue each)

Hello, faithful readers...

Ahhh...  At last we've reached another one of my favorite creators and authors.  Mr. Neil Gaiman.

It had been ages since I'd read any of his stuff.  Even longer since I wasn't rereading something that I'd picked up that he'd written.  When I decided upon The Books of Magic and came to it in my little reading order I've got arranged for the blog here, I couldn't wait to dive in...  Especially given the premise.

We open with four DC Universe practitioners of magic and the occult (a man in a black coat, John Constantine, Dr. Occult, and Mister E.).  We flash back and forth between shots of these mighty wizards and a young, rather Harry-Potter-on-a-skateboard-looking young boy.  The magicians are discussing the young boy and how "he has the potential to become the most powerful human adept of this age."

Their task, and the premise of this volume, it seems, is to approach the boy (whom we come to know is named Tim Hunter), show him things of the world(s) of magic, and then present to him a choice.  Does he want to have anything to do with magic or not?

Each of the four mages get their turn with Tim (one in each issue, each illustrated by a different, very gifted artist), showing him different realms, explaining to him the histories and nature of magic, and guiding him through all sorts of varying experiences hoping to get him to make the right decision at the end of all their ordeals.

These four issues were simply stunning.

Gaiman takes young Tim from the beginning of time to the end of the universe with these four mysterious characters, touching upon everything from the Judeo-Christian version of the creation of the universe to druidic magicians draped in animal skins to the Egyptians to Merlyn to various practitioners of sorcery from the DC Universe (besides the four guiding Tim) to the absolute end of everything.  The ride itself, as we turn every corner with the young protagonist, is truly something special.  I've never seen such a study of so numerous and varied myths concerning magic.  Gaiman handles each as if he were a grand master himself.

And these various journeys that the guides take Tim on...  Amazing.

We are led through diverse landscapes in plot and artistry as Gaiman makes each issue so unique it could stand on its own.  The artists, though using a similar style to one another throughout, each put their own benchmarks on their art.  They lead us through near psychedelia, dark urban landscapes, faerie kingdoms, and massive cosmic wars.  A breathtaking exhibition...

Another amazing thing about this volume is that this was only the beginning, the warm-up, the getting started...  Tim hasn't even made his choice whether he'll wield the forces of magic yet and Gaiman and the artists wow us again and again in what was basically an introduction to a character that ended up getting another 75 issues to take similar journeys.

We've not seen the last of Tim Hunter here on Best Comics Quest!.  The first volume of the actual ongoing series entitled The Books of Magic: Bindings is here on the list in Mr. Kannenberg's book, as well.  If it's half as good as this one, we're gonna be in for a treat.

This book was a great read and certainly the best of the last few that I've read.  It was also a great return to Gaiman's work for me and something that's got me excited to potentially check out the entire run of The Books of Magic.  If you're even a slight Gaiman fan, are intrigued by the occult, or just down for a great adventure with all sorts of fantasy elements, you'll definitely wanna pick this one up.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 5 out of 5
12 down, 488 to go

Next time: SSHHHH!

I'll whisper at you then.  Be well, all...


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fun With Milk and Cheese

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Humor (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Milk and Cheese #1-4
Year: 1991-1993
Publisher: Slave Labor Graphics
Writer: Evan Dorkin
Artist: Evan Dorkin

Hello, fellow comics questers.

Again, it's been a good few days since I've posted here.  The work week got away from me and I had a couple of busy and stressful nights this last week and wasn't able to get any reading done.  We'll try and keep on a more regular basis from here on out.  I've got over ten books borrowed from the library to review for you guys, so I'd BETTER keep it going!

Anyway, we've come to the second entry in the "humor" genre of 500 Essential Graphic Novels in Fun with Milk and Cheese

Our two main characters here, despite looking cute and loveable enough to get my girlfriend to say that they were some of the cutest little things she'd ever seen, are very, very bad.  After all, that cover does read "Dairy products GONE BAD!"

Milk and Cheese are pretty much what they look like on the cover: a carton of milk and a block of cheese who run around everywhere!  Despite their cuteness, you will notice that on the cover that Cheese is holding a broken gin bottle rather menacingly, as if to glass someone with it.  That kind of sums up their behavior.

These two, when they're not sitting around watching and poking ridicule at TV, get drunk, overdose on sugar, run about the town, find seemingly anyone, and beat the living hell out of them while making some irreverant joke or another all the while.

Their violence isn't limited to one sort of person, religious group, social stratum, or type of bludgeoning.  They simply accost the first person they come across, whether that be a Hari Krishna, an infant, a cop, a hippie, a person of no distinction at all, and either burn, bludgeon, stab, beat, vomit on, or otherwise violate them.

It's a bit funny in some parts, and Dorkin does make some valid social observations even though we're viewing them through the exploits of walking, talking dairy products, but after a few of these one to three page adventures, if you're not one of the folks who find these comics "pants-crappingly funny" (as one blurb posits on the back of the volume), they're going to get old for you real fast.

I've got to admit, a tiny part of me not getting back here to the blog was me not being able to imagine sitting down and reading more of the belligerent escapades of a carton of milk and wedge of cheese.

I realize that a lot of this is for comedic fun and not to be taken TOO, too seriously, but one can only take so much vivid depicting of heads being smashed in, baby carriages being torched, and burning of people and cityscapes.

Mr. Kannenberg said in 500 Essential Graphic Novels that these comics were entertaining and funny in small doses.  Perhaps I should have taken his advice and not plunged through so quickly.  I can imagine maybe reading one of these a day on a website or something and finding maybe one or two days a week good for a laugh, but to sit and read a bunch of them in one night does kind of get old.

Dorkin does have a nice, busy, impacting art style.  I'd be curious to see his other work if it's in any sort of different vein or other subject matter.  His work is sometimes so busy it seems to move as your eyes dart around the page to see another panel of meticulously drawn work.

In the end, though, to say that this is something that is an essential read of the medium would be, for me at least, a bit of a stretch.  It's a work all its own and you're probably not going to see such dynamic, violent food products anywhere else, but for this reader, it's a bit over the top.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 2 out of 5
11 down, 489 to go

This book was the first out of four books that will lead us to our next "Top 10" pick in 500 Essential Graphic Novels.  Here's what we've got on tap in the coming entries.

-The Books of Magic (Fantasy, Best of the Rest)
-Sshhhh! (General Fiction, Best of the Rest)
-I Love Led Zeppelin (Non-Fiction, Best of the Rest)
-Leave it to Chance, Book One: Shaman's Rain (Adventure, Top 10)

I hope you'll all be back for those and remember: tell your friends, and ANYONE can comment no matter what your opinion of my thoughts!  Let's discuss!

Be well until next time, readers...

Monday, September 19, 2011


Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Crime/Mystery (Top 10)
Contains: Whiteout #1-4
Year: 1998
Publisher: Oni Press
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Steve Lieber

Hello, faithful Comics Questers.  Sorry it's been a few days.  I had a rather lazy weekend, then got wrapped up in (fantasy) football, napped, and battled a headache.  But anyway...

Here we are at our second "Top 10" pick of Mr. Kannenberg's great book and the first I've reviewed labelled "Crime/Mystery".  Let's take a quick look at Whiteout.

We open at the "Bottom of the world. Antarctica."  Tortured U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko, whose husband passed from cancer less than a year after they were married and who killed a violent prisoner once upon a time, has come here to perhaps forget all those awful things.  She is, after all, though, an agent of the law and will continue to come upon her share of violence.  As the story opens, she's crouched over a dead body.

As you can see, the body is intensely frozen in the arctic ice and the face is mutilated.  We come to find out that the killer is one of five males in hundreds on "the Ice" (which is what the folks who live here call Antarctica).  Marshal Stetko begins investigating, but it seems everything and everyone may be against her.  Attempts at killing her and seeming double-crosses keep her hands full as she seeks her suspect.

Writer Greg Rucka has penned a good, solid story with compelling characters here.  U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko is a great character, dishing it out to those who'd stand in her way and struggling with the memories of her tormented past against a backdrop that matches her cold demeanor.  We never know whether the characters that she's interacting with are ultimately plotting to help her or to hinder her and Rucka (along with Lieber's art) keeps the tale taut and exciting.

Lieber's art is gritty, cold, dark, and sets the perfect mood for this mystery in Antarctica.  He goes into great detail about how the art came to fruition in a bit of extra material in the back of the volume, giving a bit of insight into the tools of the trade of making artwork of this caliber. 

As I said, the story is good and solid and I really loved some of the characters, especially Carrie Stetko.  She was tough, funny, mouthy, and relentless in the search for the killer.  A truly realistic and memorable character.

In the end, though, plotwise, this one isn't really all that groundbreaking.  We've got pretty much your run-of-the-mill murder mystery, only with very interesting characters.  Despite the very fine points that both creators have worked in here, the end result may not be something I'd deem "essential" and certainly not at the top of that heap. 

And with that, a short volume gets a short review. 

My final opinion: Even sensational characters, fantastically visually represented yet interacting in a run-of-the-mill plot equal middle of the road for this reader.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 3 out of 5
10 down, 490 to go

Come back next time when we'll have a little "Fun with Milk and Cheese".  Be well and we'll see you then.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Identity Crisis

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Superheroes (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Identity Crisis #1-7
Year: 2004, 2005
Publisher: DC
Writer: Brad Meltzer
Art: Rags Morales (Penciller)
       Michael Bair (Inker)
       Alex Sinclair (Colorist)
       Michael Turner (Original Series Covers)

Well, kiddies...  To touch briefly on what I was talking about last post, "Crecy" did not arrive at the library so I could pick it up for review.  With the "Superheroes" genre being one of the more dominant ones in Mr Kannenberg's book and in my collection, I decided to head back in that direction and pick up "Identity Crisis".

I thought I had read this entire book before.  Like the insane person that I am, I went back to consult the list I keep of every book I've read since college.  I didn't finish it...  Which baffles me because having just finished it up within the last hour, I honestly don't know how I could have begun this magnificent story and not read through to the end.

We open with two lesser known members of the Justice League, Elongated Man and Firehawk, sitting atop a tall roof staking out some sort of weapons deal.  The two are discussing some things about members of the league, some myths, things such as that...  Firehawk's just a youngster and Ralph Dibny (Elongated Man) is a longtime member of the league.  She's sort of intrigued with all he knows about the more legendary members.

The conversation shifts to Ralph's wife, Sue.  Firehawk wants to know how they met, how they got together, all the romantic, magical, beginning-of-the-perfect-relationship stuff...  And it is perfect.  As Ralph tells the story, we can see how he fell for her, how adorable they were together, how much he loves her, always has, and always will.  He recounts the tales of their love with a sweet smile on his face.

But, as we might have anticipated it was going to, fate and plot would have it that this beautiful thing is going to come to an end.  Ralph gets a frantic call from his wife, Sue, the lady-of-his-dreams that he's just finished telling Firehawk about, and he panics and races to get home to her.

He's too late.

Artist Rags Morales gives that above image of what Ralph finds when he gets there.  His dear wife severely burned and murdered.

The best murder mystery superhero comic since "Watchmen" begins.

Identity Crisis was truly stunning.  It's been quite a while since I've seen a superhero story that portrays the characters as human as it does.  I mentioned "Watchmen" above.  It's likely since then.

In fact, they're so human that you may forget you're reading a superhero comic at some points.  I mean, it's very important to the whole concept of this thing that these people are superheroes, but it's just that: These PEOPLE are superheroes.  Meltzer's smooth characterization and dialogue coupled with the art of Morales, Bair, and Sinclair put me in the discussions that these characters were having and transported me into their world...  More fully than I have been for a long time.

Brad Meltzer employs all of his talents as a mystery and thriller writer and applies it to a superhero setting, as well.  There are several characters looking for Sue's killer the whole time, clues being dropped, and susupense being stirred up all the while.  This was the perfect superhero story for a writer with his skills to do and this mastery, paired with and matched by the art team, combined to make a great story and a great comics series all-around.

And while we're touching on the subject of artwork, Michael Turner's (rest well, sir) artwork on the original series covers was nothing short of absolutely fantastic.

Look at that cover (to issue 2) above.  Have you ever seen Hawkman look more bad-ass?  Wally (The Flash) look more sorrowful?  Ollie (Green Arrow) and Hal (Green Lantern) look more intense?  And what lovely ladies in the front there...

Yes, as I said, I don't know how anyone could start this and not finish.  It was absolutely great.  It's left such a mark on me that I've now got a new superhero comic to recommend to so many of my friends who aren't into the medium.  I think it might even be better than "Watchmen" in that capacity because perspective readers would see some characters that they recognize and instantly grow close to them, feeling their loss, pain, sadness, and humanity.

I really can't fathom anyone not finding at least SOMETHING that they'd like about this book.

My utmost recommendation to comic geek and non-comic-reader alike.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 5 out of 5
9 down, 491 to go

Please join me next time when we'll get into "Whiteout", the second "Top 10" pick from "500 Essential Graphic Novels" that I'll be reviewing.

Be well and I'll see you then!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pop Gun War

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Fantasy (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Pop Gun War #1-5 (plus new material)
Year: 2000-2003
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Farel Dalrymple
Artist: Farel Dalrymple

Knockin' out the reviews for the third day in a row here, folks.

Before we get started, let's see if I get any response with just a bit of a teaser.  I posted a while back (I think before that week or so long break I took) that I'd not spoil what was coming up.  Well, a person whom I know reads the blog said that maybe if I gave a little "coming soon" type deal, it might entice readers who are fans of or maybe had wondered about the upcoming works.

I'm gonna kinda go 50/50 on you guys with that whole theory because I honestly don't know what the next book will be.  I requested Warren Ellis' "Crecy" from the library and it still hasn't been shipped from the OTHER library sending it to my local one.  So when I get the chance to sit down and read the next book for the blog, I'll probably just grab something I already have here in my own collection, provided "Crecy" doesn't arrive before that.

Following that book, we'll have our second "Top 10" pick out of Mr. Kannenberg's "500 Essential Graphic Novels" in a book that I've wanted to read for a LONG time called "Whiteout", which some of you may be familiar with even if you're new to sequential art, because a feature film was made from the work a few years back.

So there's (an idea on) what we've got coming up.  Hope you'll check back and that you're enjoying everything thus far.

And now...  Pop Gun War...

This strange tale begins as a sort of monk-like-fellow steals a toy from a child, wins a glasses-wearing, large floating fish in a game of cards, and then gives a bunch of children on the streets stolen toys.  That's a sort of prologue.

Then we see an apparent angel, though he's all rough-looking and tattooed, crash-landing into a building and then paying a construction worker to remove his wings with a chainsaw.  He then throws them into a trash can, where the seeming protagonist of the story, a young boy named Sinclair, fishes them out of the trash, runs home, and attaches them to his back.

If you and I are of the same mindset, you're thinking, "Man, that's interesting.  And that art's strangely beautiful...  But it's a bit odd."  And the story only gets more strange from there, readers.

This story, as far as I can see, doesn't follow any traditional means of a plot.  I even flipped back through the work after I was finished to see if I was too tired or dim to get what was going on.  Satisfying myself that I hadn't really missed any key points, I resorted to the trusty interwebs to try and get some sort of explanation of any veiled concepts or anything that I could have overlooked.

I found nothing substantial except for a couple of folks comparing Farel Dalrymple to David Lynch. 

If any of you take an interest in film or stuff of a strange nature, you may be familiar with David Lynch.  I myself am a big fan of a few of his films after that fateful day my brother sat me down and showed me what I consider to be the masterpiece that is "Mulholland Dr." 

The thing with Lynch's films is that while absolutely entrancing and beautiful at times, you'll smash your head against the wall, loving them though you might not be clear on what all's exactly transpiring as you watch. 

I'd say that the people who compared Dalrymple to Lynch are pretty much spot on.

There are absolutely beautiful and disturbing moments in Pop Gun War.  Dalrymple's art is inspiring and (though I know I've been saying this a lot) like nothing I've ever seen.  There are grand scale sequences of pure artistic genius.  There are long snatches where you just scratch your head.  But it can't be denied that Dalrymple, here in what is his debut work, has created a thing of sheer magnificence in terms of what is VISUALLY portrayed within these pages.

The plot, though, if there is one, at least for me, is nigh impenetrable for now.  We see recurring characters in different manifestations, characters who seemingly can only be seen by certain other characters, images like the floating fish, talking disembodied heads, and all manner of other things that make us pinch ourselves as though we might be dreaming.

The lack of a plot, or at least one that may be flying completely over my head right now like Sinclair with his pilfered wings, is going to lead my knee-jerk reaction to this work to be one of mediocrity.  The art may be absolutely stunning, but I'm at a loss as to what may or may not be going on within this seemingly disjointed plot.

Who knows?  Curiosity may lead me to research and eventually find something more about what's taking place here.  Maybe I'll never find it or maybe the author intended an unconventional plot.

I hope to pick this work back up one day and, like that moment when my brother enlightened me to what was going on in "Mulholland Dr.", smack my head and say, "OHHHH!"

'Til then...

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 3 out of 5
8 down, 492 to go

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hell Baby

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Horror (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Hell Baby (Kyofu Zigoku-shojo) (Original Graphic Novel)
Year: 1989 (Original); 1995 (Translation)
Publisher: Blast Books (Translation)
Writer: Hideshi Hino
Artist: Hideshi Hino

Hey guys!  Back already!

With staying up half the night last night to finish reading and blog on "Terry and the Pirates", I might have two entries here dated September 12th!  Ah, well...  That's OK.  You faithful had a bit of a wait between the previous two entries.  And while we're on the subject: anyone who counts themselves among the faithful readers of this blog, I THANK YOU!

I know that my dear brother Andrew (who does a film blog which was a major inspiration for this blog at always leaves comments on things and Mr. Mike McLarty just tonight showed me a little retweet love on Twitter. (By the way all you comics nuts should follow Mike if you're on Twitter, he's @MrDystopia.)

I thank and respect you both.  If anyone else is out there and wants to comment, whether you love or hate, wanna praise or curse, or just get ANYTHING off your chest about the reviews here, PLEASE COMMENT! 

We won't bite, we promise. (*shudders at the thought that someone may be saying to themselves, "Hey... Your BLOG bites, pally..."*)


Hell Baby...

It's a dark and stormy night...  Only we're not crouching over Snoopy's typewriter, we're at a hospital in Tokyo.  As rain pounds the window and lightning sporadically lights an office, a doctor tells a young father that his twin daughters have been born.  As the doc leads the new daddy through the eerily dimly-lit rooms, he says, "As you can see, your first-born is perfectly normal..." 

But the doctor struggles for words as he leads Dad into the room where the second daughter lay.  You see, she's not "perfectly normal".  She's...  Well...  Take a look below.

As you can see, she's pretty grotesque. 

Fearing for his family's honor, the father decides to keep the beautiful normal twin girl and asks the doctor to lie to his wife and everyone else about the existence of the hideous second child.  He then ties it up in a garbage bag, takes it to the local dump, and pitches it next to a heap of trash.

The vengeful journey of Hell Baby begins...

Here we have the first bit of manga on the blog and I was anxious to get into some of that, having read a little before, but not enough to have any working knowledge of it.  This book had to be read backwards and right to left.  I dug that.  Some of the original Japanese characters were still there and simply had English translations next to them.  I thought that this helped maintain the authenticity and feel of the work.

The story itself was a bit strange. 

Sometimes we had four or five panelled pages with very artful prose, almost as though we were reading an illustrated poem.  There were beautiful, meaningful panels here and there that left me staring, seeing perhaps something of a transcendant image, despite Hino's visceral art style.

But sometimes Hino embraced the gore.  Limbs and heads went flying, blood splashed walls, fluids of dead animals were supped upon...  He certainly picked some places where he didn't pull the punches.

As a whole, though, in my opinion, the whole thing was a bit slow.

I suppose we could view Hell Baby's journey as an extended metaphor for life, some of us being born viewed as ugly by unwanting parents, tossed into the garbage dump of existence, clawing our way through the dump and struggling on...  Even then, this would fail to excuse the relatively slow pacing of the plot.

There really were some touching, humorous, and shocking parts in this little book and Hino's art is like nothing I've ever seen before (even in my limited other readings of manga), which is cool.  But taking this one, sitting with it and visualizing it as it plays out leads to little more than the entertainment value of a B-rate horror film.  And remember, those can be LOTS of fun, but would you showcase them among the films that changed your life?

Hell Baby is a unique work with its own atmosphere, but by the time I get to novel 100 of this thing, I'll probably strain to remember any real impact it made on me. 

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 3 out of 5
My rating: 2 out of 5
7 down, 493 to go

The Complete Terry and the Pirates, Volume 1: 1934-1936

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Adventure (Best of the Rest)
Contains: All "Terry and the Pirates" comic strips, 1934-1936
Year: 1934-1936
Publisher: Originally: Newspapers, This Edition: IDW
Writer: Milton Caniff
Artist: Milton Caniff

Here we are back at it guys, after a bit of an unintentional break.  This volume was massive, containing two years worth of material and coming in at 300+ pages!

Our adventure begins when Terry Lee, a young American boy, arrives in China with a map supposedly leading to his grandfather's fortune in treasure.  He comes with friend and adventurer Pat Ryan and the two soon meet with a fun little Chinese chap named George Webster Confucius, who joins them and who they affectionately begin calling "Connie".  The trio meet with all sorts of broads, toughs, pirates, savages, and the like as they set out on their adventures.

I'll be the first to admit that I've not read many comic strips as opposed to comic books, maybe aside from the occasional Garfield or Peanuts from time to time.  When I set about serious reading of sequential art, they don't strike me as entertaining or captivating as the traditional comic books, with the latter having their superheroes, often more serious subject matter, and themes that simply more often interest me.  We do have to admit, though, our beloved comic books have their roots in this sort of art and when I set out to do this blog, I wanted to cover it all.

Whatever the case, Terry and the Pirates was not as hard to read as I thought it would be before cracking the covers of this huge tome.  Despite a bit of a racist tone toward some ethnicities, the strip seemingly tries to make up for that with the loveable Connie, the Chinese adventurer who's always there to help out Pat and Terry, make us laugh, and who's always cast in a good light as a tried-and-true confidant to the American adventurers.

When I was able to look past that drawback, I got a story that was, despite my expectations, readable.  Me being used to comic BOOKS, as I said, leads me to have the thought that these two years of material could have been wrapped up in about 4 to 5 atory arcs in today's comics, but there were parts that were full of excitement and adventure, making the book hard to close at some points.

We can see Caniff coming into his own through the course of this volume.  The tales get more taut and exciting as we move through the work and the characters develop and we, as readers begin to get edgy about their safety, cheer their battles, and care for them.

Caniff pens and draws what I've come to accept as a great genesis to one of the most hailed adventure strips in the history of the medium.  And though I'll not be beating down the doors of the library or trolling Amazon looking for further volumes, this stringent reader of comic BOOKS was entertained enough to say that this definitely is a strip worthy of research if you want to broaden your horizons in the history of sequential art.

A worthwhile work of an oft-mentioned creator whose name us scourers of the medium will come across more than once.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My Rating: 3 out of 5
6 down, 494 to go

Monday, September 5, 2011

Checking in & Improvements

Hey gang,

I know it's not even been 24 hours since the last post, but I wanted to check in to tell you that it may be some time before I post again.  I'm making my way through a massive book for the blog here and it may take some time to get through it.  If you're curious as to what it is, hit me with a comment or something and I'll let you know.  I know that if I was making my way through a blog such as this, I might want to just be surprised by checking in and seeing a new work had been reviewed, not knowing previously what it was going to be.  But, anyway...  If you're the impatient type or don't care about the surprise factor, hit me up and I'll let you know...

Also, I've tagged the entries more extensively for your browsing pleasure.  You'll now be able to scroll down the right side of the page and find out which genre the work reviewed was labelled in the "500 Essential Graphic Novels" book and also find the books that I gave the highest of ratings (5 stars) to with greater ease.

Stick with me, guys...  I'll come upon some big works while doing this thing, but I'm excited about it and I'll get back here with more reviews as frequently as I can. 

I hope all of you taking the time to read have enjoyed it thus far.  I know I've enjoyed seeing some of the different things all of sequential art has to offer and having an excuse just to sit and read comics all day.

I hope this finds you all well and PLEASE DON'T HESITATE TO LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU'RE THINKING!!!



Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Non-Fiction (Top 10)
Contains: Blankets (Original Graphic Novel)
Year: 2003
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Writer: Craig Thompson
Artist: Craig Thompson

Well, here we are, gang. 

As outlined in a prior post, I'm going to do a "Top 10" pick from the "500 Essential Graphic Novels" book every fifth book.  This is review number five, so here we go...

With the last couple entries wrapped up, getting little satisfaction out of those books, I began to despair.

Was this first trip to the library picking up a load of graphic novels gonna be a bust?  Maybe I could only enjoy graphic novels of a sci-fi, horror, or superhero nature!  Am I so short-sighted that anything I read in the medium that's outside my comfort zone, I'll automatically pick apart?

These questions and many more plagued my brain as I began to worry about its future not even five books into this little project.  Then I picked up Craig Thompson's "Blankets".

It's a semi-autobiographical work about Craig Thompson (yes, the same guy that wrote the thing).  Unlike Seth in "It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken" (which I previously reviewed), this tale is actually about the author and truly autobiographical.

It primarily tells the tale of Craig Thompson growing up in a strict Christian home, but also touches upon so much more.  The chapters of the nearly 600 page work also show us Thompson's childhood, school life, his relationship with his younger brother, some very unfortunate events of his youth, his first love, his passage into adulthood and multitude other things entwined within the aforementioned.

I'd heard people rave about "Blankets" in several places, picked it up and taken a peek at it in bookstores, and seen the awards that it had piled up.  I'd been skeptical that such a book could ever win me over.  Me, with my love of mind-bending multiple read epics, my love of superhero comics and sometimes explicit horror...  Could a book with this subject matter or this art style hook me?

Oh, man, did it ever.

This book is excellent.  Craig Thompson says he wrote it from the simple premise of what it feels like to sleep next to someone for the first time.  He takes us on a journey in these pages.  The journey travelled seems to be important pieces of his entire life up until the time the book was published laid bare, the beautiful with the visceral, for all of us to marvel at.

This wasn't the first book I reviewed for the blog that used a black-and-white style that was more cartoony than the superhero style artwork that I'm most at home with, but this book and Thompson's work are just on a different plane.

With a relatively simplistic approach, he takes the reader to atmospheres and mindscapes that in hindsight just puts me that much more in awe of the work.  No color, no flashiness, no art team...  Just Mr. Thompson and his sensational work to strike straight to your heart and give you something that you'll likely carry with you for some time to come.

This book was well-deserving of a "Top 10" spot in Mr. Kannenberg's book and may be the best thing I've read for these efforts here on the blog thus far.  A true thing of beauty that gets my utmost recommendation.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 5 out of 5
5 down, 495 to go

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Why I Hate Saturn

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Humor (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Why I Hate Saturn (Original Graphic Novel)
Year: 1990
Publisher: DC/Piranha (reprinted under Vertigo)
Writer: Kyle Baker
Artist: Kyle Baker

After stepping outside the ol' comfort zone with "It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken", I decided to keep going in the same direction with "Why I Hate Saturn".

Protagonist Anne is a New Yorker.  She writes for a little-read hipster magazine called Daddy-O.  She's lazy, belligerent, a bit of a slob and seemingly has no luck with guys.  She's prone to hanging out with her best friend Ricky at less than authentic Mexican restaurants and scrutinizing the other denziens of the Big Apple.  Despite her general laziness, she's landed a book deal based on the relative success of her column in Daddy-O.  She's yet to begin writing said book.

As if she didn't have enough to worry about, her sister Laura shows up late one night with a gunshot wound.  To add even further difficulty into the mix, the gunshot wounded Laura also believes that she's Queen of the Leather Astro-Girls of Saturn.

This sets the stage for a very different kind of adventure...

While the book was said to bring nonstop laughs, I don't think I once laughed out loud.  Some of the gags might have brought a smirk to my face, but the bulk of this book brought characters haggling about things that I really couldn't care less about.  Relationships, dive clubs in New York, the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of a living space, etc.

The art style was like nothing I'd ever seen before, more akin to comic STRIPS than almost all my other experience in the medium, but with its scratchy lines, less-than-flashy black-and-white style, and overall cartoony take on things, it left me wanting a bit more.

Some of the jokes were funny.  Commentary on pop culture, the way society pigeonholes things, society in general...  Some of the stuff was clever.

But, all things considered, this work left me (after having just read "It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken) with two books in a row that were decent, but not works that I'd call "essential" reads representing the medium. 

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 5 out of 5
My rating: 2 out of 5
4 down, 496 to go

Saturday, September 3, 2011

It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: General Fiction (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Palookaville #4-9
Year: 1993-1996
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Writer: Seth
Artist: Seth

So, I've reviewed works by my favorite author and stayed in my comfort zone a bit with looking at a superhero book in Ultimate Spider-Man with the second review.  Here, I wanted to go outside what I'm used to a little bit.

Enter: It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken.

This was the first work I've ever read by the creator simply called Seth, the first publication I've read by the publisher Drawn & Quarterly (I think), and the first work I've read (as I came to find out) heavily based on comic STRIPS rather than evolved from comic BOOKS. (I guess they all evolved from strips if you get right down to it, but you know what I mean.)

We have a story by a guy named Seth about a guy named Seth.  It's gotta be autobiographical, right? But it's in the general FICTION section of "500 Essential Graphic Novels"!  That's because it is fiction, my friends.  Turns out it's a sort of feigned autobiographical piece.

The protagonist Seth is a guy who says that cartoons have always been a big part of his life, but not "Disney or Warner Brothers or that kind of stuff. I'm talking about newspaper strips, gag-cartoons, comic books."  Seth seems a rather lonely fellow whose chief activities include raiding old books stores for old comic strips and magazines, cartooning, and hanging out with his cat Boris.

Upon finding an issue of The New Yorker with a cartoon by a man only named as Kalo, he becomes obsessed, determined to find more of Kalo's work (of which there seems to be a shortage) and even going on to trying to track down the man himself.

The book itself is even said to be drawn in the style of old NewYorker cartoons and does provide an appearance that, while quite cartoony can give quite a sense of atmosphere to the reader.

The whole work, for me, is kind of tough to pin down as to the fact of whether I truly enjoyed it or not.  There are these moments of great introspection in the book.  Moments of great thought, as Seth pours out what he's thinking in the narrative while taking long walks. They're profound, philosophical, and melancholy... The sort of thing that's usually right up my alley, to be honest.

But the character of Seth is sometimes so critical, so miserable that it almost becomes hard to put up with his complaints.  He often shuts other characters out of his life as he goes on the grand quest for Kalo and it's almost as if he nearly shuts the reader out, too.

This work is something that I'll not soon forget.  The intrigue of wondering whether this, maybe even small parts of it, is something Seth (the creator) has experienced even knowing the story is fiction is something I've never felt when reading a comic before.  The search for Kalo and all the mystique that Seth builds up around him is nothing short of fascinating, either.

All-in-all moments of absolute greatness were brought down for me a bit when reading as I felt moments of absolute tediousness along with them.  We'd get a great thought about how different it felt to return to your hometown after growing up or how life is just a series of expectations and disappointments... and then it would all be shattered by something that was a bit of a lull to read.

I guess if you take positively stunning work and throw it in a blender with tedium, it comes out average and that's kind of what this one was like for me.  A one-of-a-kind work with a some dull spots.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 3 out of 5
3 down, 497 to go

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man, Volume 1: Power and Responsibility

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Superheroes (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Ulitmate Spider-Man #1-7
Year: 2000-2001
Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis (w/Bill Jemas)
Art: Mark Bagley (pencils)
         Art Thibert & Dan Panosian (inks)


So now that we've got the first entry out of the way and I've shown you that comics can be more than just musclebound lugs in tights, let's show you a... well...  He's not a lug...  But Spider-Man's definitely a superhero.

In the spirit of the recent DC relaunch, Marvel Comics (in 2000) wanted to try making their characters younger and hipper again.  They wanted to (much like DC in this recent reboot) give readers who'd never picked up a comic before a chance to get in on the ground floor with characters whom they probably knew by sight, but that also had years of intimidating history behind them.

This effort to breathe life into the old characters began with Spider-Man in Ultimate Spider-Man #1.

The book we're taking a look at here is the first seven issues of this long-running series (which lasted until 2009).

So, a note in the front of this book reads, "Based on the orignal story in Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko."  And that's pretty much what we get here.  If you know the story of Spider-Man (which many now do with the films and such out), you're really not going to get any surprises here.

The mild-mannered Peter Parker, your average science nerd, is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains super strength and agility, gains the ability to cling to walls and climb around like a spider, and uses his noodle to put together the web-shooting contraptions that he'll later use to swing around the city.

Many of us know the story of Spider-Man, but how many have ever read Amazing Fantasy #15 and the story where the wall crawler swung into existence?  Despite having read comics for 20 years, I haven't.  I could, I suppose.  It's reprinted out there somewhere and easy to find.  How much would it hold my interest, though, having been written in 1962?  How much would it hold a teenager's?

That's one of the things that's great about Ultimate Spider-Man. It's new, it's fresh, it looks like today's comics (especially from the perspective of a teen in the year 2000), and it's got all that legacy, that history, that moral that Stan Lee was trying to get across almost 40 years prior... And it's in this spiffy new comic helmed by a writer who became a legend and a damn fine art team.

Ultimate Spider-Man, Volume 1 gets you right in there.  You don't have to have even seen Spider-Man before.  You experience the fear, the bullies, the high-school life, the discovery of having superpowers right there with Peter Parker.

Bendis' usual wit comes through and he finishes up the book with and action sequence that made me flip the pages so hard, I almost tore 'em out.  A great, stylized, re-imagining of the myth that most of us know, but have never experienced quite like this.

Mark Bagley was no stranger to having drawn Spider-Man at this point either.  The art is dynamic and exciting, yet also conveying deep emotion when needed.  Let's face it, being a teenager is gonna involve a lot of that.  Bagley and crew come through, *ahem* amazingly, whatever the situation.

It was probably no small task to streamline and modernize some of these characters to get that whole "Ultimate" brand rolling.  It was one of the things at least I, as a reader of several "Ultimate" books, have always looked for when picking them up.  It's always cool to see how the new incarnations of the characters are gonna look.  There's no shortage of cool here as they take the Green Goblin from this:

to this:

All-in-all, this one was a fun, exciting, humorous superhero romp, just like we've come to expect from most Spider-Man books and Brian Michael Bendis, and definitely worth at least one flip-through.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 3 out of 5
My rating: 3 out of 5
2 down, 498 to go