Sunday, October 9, 2011


Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Crime/Mystery (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Silverfish (Original Graphic Novel)
Year: 2007
Publisher: Vertigo
Writer: David Lapham
Artist: David Lapham (w/ greytones by Dom Ramos)

Well, here we are already, faithful Comics Questers!  What's it been?  A little over 12 hours?  I'M BACK ALREADY!!!

That's due in part to the fact that I couldn't put the sensational work that is David Lapham's Silverfish down.  So, let's not waste any more time with nonsense before we tear right into that sucker...

It all starts as good fun.

Mia Fleming is not too fond of her stepmother, and that's putting it lightly.  But her father and stepmother are headed off for a weekend with some friends, leaving Mia and her asthmatic little sister, Stacey, at home.  Mia decides to call some friends of her own and begins venting to them how much she dislikes her stepmother.

They decide to go rifling through Suzanne's (that's the stepmom) things.  The friends decide to start making prank calls to some of the numbers in Suzanne's address book.  The replies they get arouse suspicion.  They look through more of the belongings of this lady who calls herself Suzanne and find large sums of cash, a knife, and all sorts of evidence of a double life.

Finding out this much dirt on ol' "Suzanne", the kids just couldn't leave well enough alone.  They continue making more silly calls.  They may have found the reason that Suzanne seems to be hiding in Daniel, a man that one of the girls taunts and continues to call.  Little does she know that she's probably stumbled across the sickest, most sadistic individual she's encountered in her life...

My experience with this book reaffirms the old adage: "Never judge a book by it's cover."

I didn't want to read this one.  I wasn't excited at all about it.  I looked at the cover and was thinking, "Look at this cover.  Looks like a mom and her child running away.  It's all pink and weird.  It's probably just some mom and her kid running away from some tripped-out... thing and the plot's probably so buried I'll just smash myself in the head with this book after finishing until I die..."

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Coming in at a relatively short 160 pages, this may be the perfect graphic novel.  Lapham gets in, establishes the characters' motives and desires and then grabs the reader, hanging on until the very last panel and never letting go.

The story is, contrary to my anticipations, actually not complicated at all.  The story starts off with just the right amount of intrigue, just a few pages.  Then we shift to getting everything set up as the kids begin finding out numerous things about Suzanne, making the reader more and more uneasy as they begin to flirt more and more with disaster.  Lapham also conveys the insanity of the character Daniel with some very psychotic and disturbing images, but doesn't go over the top with it.  Just right.

The art style is heavy and gritty against black panel borders, the perfect feel for this work in which even the few light-hearted moments are tainted with a sort of uneasy feeling.

In fact, how else can I say it?  What else can I say?  Slim, quick, sharp-hitting, suspenseful, dark, memorable...  Perfect.

I may have already said too much and I'm not gonna spoil any more of this one for you.  If you have any interest at all in crime fiction, graphic fiction, or an absolute suspense story thrill ride, stop what you're doing and go get this now.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 5 out of 5
19 down, 481 to go

Next time: We've worked our way up to another Top 10 pick from Mr. Kannenberg's book!  Join me (though I should have done it about a month earlier) as we take a look at The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation.

Stay well until then, folks...  :-)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Black Hole

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Horror (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Black Hole #1-12
Year: 1995-2004
Publisher: Kitchen Sink/Fantagraphics Books, Collected Edition: Pantheon Books
Writer: Charles Burns
Artist: Charles Burns

Hello, readers...

Sorry it's been a few days.  I probably could have finished Black Hole sooner, but I wanted to wait until I had a good opportunity to finish it, have it still fresh in my mind, and be able to sit down and tell you all about it.  It's listed in the "Horror" section of the book and I know the spooky stuff always goes down good for me in the month of October, so let's get right to it, shall we?

Let's start by taking a look at that label that's been slapped on this one. Horror...  I really don't know if I'd call this one horror.  It's got a bunch freaky looking kids running around and some parts of it are pretty eerie...  It's even been said that creator Charles Burns wanted to evoke 1970s horror films with the whole feel of the book...  But for me, it's still maybe a bit of a stretch to call this one out-and-out horror.

The setting is Seattle, the 1970s and I guess it kind of does open like a horror film.  We've got a couple of kids in a biology class, some freaky images of a girl shedding her skin, some other kids smoking dope in the woods.

The premise of the story, I guess, is to examine the lives of high schoolers.  They have their parties, go to their classes, gain and lose loves on a weekly basis, but there's one rub.  There's some sort of sexually transmitted disease going around.  It doesn't seem to be very debilitating and the kids aren't dying from it, they're just getting pretty disturbing-looking mutations and disfigurements.

The strange alterations of appearance are different for every kid.  One has a tiny second mouth on his throat, you can see the girl above with the tail, they can be as mild as some bumps on the skin of the chest or as severe as total facial disfigurement.

As I said, I think I'd file this one under more of a general fiction label.  There aren't any rampant killings, no monsters chasing people around, just a focus on three or four of the high schoolers as they try to get through their late formative years, but now they've got the issue of worrying about getting this disease that might turn them into a freak every time they choose a lover.

Burns examines and makes us care for his characters.  He doesn't kill them off one-by-one like expendable archetypes.

This was another one of those books that I was dying to read.  I'd seen it in bookstores for the last five or so years, heard acclaim heaped by the shovel-fulls, and really, it just looked intriguing.  I thought this would be nothing short of an absolutely stellar five-star read.

Though Burns' art is absolutely stunning, after reading about these kids for a while, it becomes just a bit redundant.

They lament the woes of their teenage lives, party, screw, lament, get high, run away from home, screw, lament, and so on and so forth.  Some moments were really unforgettable, memory-provoking (especially if you weren't the most popular kid at high school), and beautiful.  Maybe the further you get from high school, the harder it is to relate but while liking this book, it wasn't one that I was itching to get back to time-and-again as I made my way through the 300+ pages.

Bottom line, I guess: This book is visually stunning and unforgettable, but one (this reader at least) can only take so much high school drama, awkward sex, and drug trips before it becomes unexciting.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 3 out of 5
18 down, 482 to go

Join me next time as I get back to yet another Vertigo comic in David Lapham's Silverfish. We'll then move on to our next Top 10 pick in Gene Kannenberg Jr.'s 500 Essential Graphic Novels with The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation.

I'm then going to to another set of five books in the same format I have been, with four Best of the Rest picks from Mr. Kannenberg's book building up to a Top 10 pick.  After that, I'm kicking around the idea of doing five or six horror books in a row to celebrate Halloween.  I love reading spooky stuff all during the month of October and I figured that'd be a good way to share some more of my own tastes and habits with you guys.

So anyway...  Come on back if you like what's on the horizon there and take good care of yourselves in the meantime.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Shade, The Changing Man: The American Scream

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Superheroes (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Shade, The Changing Man #1-6
Year: 1990
Publisher: Vertigo
Writer: Peter Milligan
Art: Chris Bachalo (Penciller)
        Mark Pennington (Inker)
        Daniel Vozzo (Colorist)
        Brendan McCarthy (Original Series Covers)

Back again, fellow Comics Questers, and this time I've done an unintentional Vertigo two-fer!  I didn't realize when putting these in order to review (which, in truth, is kind of random, anyway) that I had two Vertigo titles in a row!  That's definitely good as I tend to enjoy Vertigo stuff.

Anyway, let's delve into the madness that is Shade, The Changing Man: The American Scream. (You may scream at this point before reading the review, if you'd like...)

We open with a girl walking down a street clutching a bottle of alcohol to her chest.  She's narrating and we find that her name is Kathy and that she's bugshit nuts.  We can discern this from all the insane, swirly, astral beings floating around her as she continues her walk.

She gives us the reason that she's so crazy by recounting a bit of her past for us.

She once was happy with her boyfriend.  She tells of a time where they set out to visit her mother and father, stopping along the way in a field to make love and stare at the sky.  It's the last time she was truly happy because as they conclude the trip and arrive at her parents' place, she sees them brutally murdered.  If this wasn't enough to drive the poor dear insane, police assume that her boyfriend (apparently because he's black and this is the South) is the one that had broken in and killed her parents.  They shoot him dead before her very eyes.

The killer was a man named Troy Grenzer.  We get a peek into his story next.

Troy is all tough in his last hours.  He's to be executed for killing Kathy's parents.  In the final moments, though, Troy's tough exterior cracks.  They pull the switch to electrocute Grenzer and he doesn't die...  because Shade, The Changing Man has taken up residence in his body, the first body he could inhabit when travelling from his dimension to Earth, to fight an ever-growing madness called The American Scream.

This book is weird...  And I come to you telling you this as someone who unabashedly revels in and often enjoys weird things.

It's got explicit killings, JFK conspiracy theories, the delusions of insane folks, spillings-in from other dimensions, psychedelic imagery, and all sorts of crazy things.

When we get right down to it, though, I think we can see where Milligan and crew are going here.  We Americans are going mad.  Mad with violence, mad with substance abuse, mad with film stars, mad with examining the things that cause our madness.  Mad with everything that we will let madness get the upper hand with.

This madness spun into a being, although a scary, trippy, crazy looking thing, is the American Scream.

Shade, Kathy and several supporters and detractors dance around with the American Scream in this book, fighting it, eluding it, reveling in it.  Kathy's madness is the insanity brought on by the murder of all her loved ones.  A character named Duane Trilby's madness is the poring over every bit of information he can find about JFK to find his assassin and also the dealing with the death of his little girl.  Pieces of society go mad on TV... 

Really, that's what I get from this book.  It's seemingly an examination of America and everything that we obsess over, worship, kill ourselves with, indulge too much in and addict ourselves to...  to the point of madness.

Shade has come to battle against all that.

The artists handle this whole vast and strange concept magnificently.  Bachalo and crew's work pops when an electric chair comes alive into a snarling demon, when a giant stone bust of JFK tears through the pavement and begins asking questions, when Shade transcends dimensions.

The original series covers are pretty sweet, too.  From psychedelia to horror to iconic superhero cover, cover artist Brendan McCarthy brought his A-game.

While a work that didn't have me blown away as I turned the last page and sat it down, even an hour later, upon further reflection, I'm beginning to realize how many levels it works on and wanting to go back and study it more.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 4 out of 5
17 down, 483 to go

Hey kids, it's October, so come on back next time and join me for a work that's listed in the "Horror" section of the book with Charles Burns' Black Hole.  It may be a few days, cuz that sucker's huge, but I'll try and come back as soon as I can for all you faithful.

Be well until then, guys. :)

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Originals

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Science Fiction (Best of the Rest)
Contains: The Originals (Original Graphic Novel)
Year: 2004
Publisher: Vertigo
Writer: Dave Gibbons
Artist: Dave Gibbons


We're 16 books into this thing and this is only the SECOND book in the science fiction genre that I'm going to review?!  How did that happen?! I rather like sci-fi!!!

Let's get to it, shall we?

Actually, as we begin, let me just say that if you're not a fan of sci-fi (I know at least one dear reader of this thing who isn't), you'd have little to worry about in reading this.  Really the only thing that's sci-fi about this book is the hovering scooters and motorcycles used by the rival gangs...  But you have no idea what I'm talking about that with any of that yet, do you? 

Let's fix that.

The story begins as protagonist Lel is walking through a city that's eerily retro and futuristic simultaneously.  As he narrates, he talks about finishing school, about all the stuff that grown-ups and teachers tried to shove down his throat, and about he and his buddy Bok really wanting to become Originals.

The Originals are nothing more than a glorified gang, smartly dressed, loving music and fashion, popping pills, and hovering around on their floating scooters.  They absolutely detest a rival gang which they call "The Dirt", who look like a crowd you might see at any modern day biker bar, wearing leather, swilling beer, and riding what look like (also) hovering Harleys.

Lel and Bok finally do get into the Originals by helping existing members locate and fight a group of Dirt louts.  They'rs invited to an upscale dance club that the Originals party in called The Place and they ascend to becoming full-fledged Originals, both scoring their own hovers (which is how they refer to the hovering scooters) and Lel beginning to sling pills to dope heads for Ronnie, the seeming leader of the Originals.

Lel meets a girl, tensions between the Originals and Dirt rise, and we go from there...

As I said above, despite its inclusion in the "Science Fiction" portion of Mr. Kannenberg's book 500 Essential Graphic Novels, this really doesn't feel like a science fiction read.  Again, the only thing sci-fi about it are the hovering bikes and scooters.  The rest feels...  If I had to put it into a phrase...  A post-apocalyptic mob flick.

The way that the whole dance club is set up, the way the boys are trying to get into this elite fraternity, the way they pander to the leaders of the Originals...  Yeah. It feels like every mafia movie or show I've ever seen except with another sort of edge.

It's also been said that these groups, the Originals and the Dirt are patterned to resemble the Mods and Rockers of 1960's Britain.  Lel even has Roger Daltrey's circa 1960 haircut, pops pills, and loves his tunes. 

However you want to look at it, though, this is a story in some future about a boy who wants to gain entry into a group, does so, and then gets maybe a bit more than he bargained for. 

The work is nice, short, and solid, bringing you into Lel's narrative nicely, enveloping you for the time that you need to be there, and then panning back out almost where we met him.  We see the character develop, smarten-up, make that transition from a boy to a man almost right before our eyes in a read that takes less than a half hour.

Gibbons' art, left in the black-and-white style, is perfect for giving this a sort of timeless feel.  We see the hovering bikes and such, but we also see the clothes, the manners, memories of the past.  It's hard for the reader to pin down when this might take place.  It's obviously the future with the hovers, but why does it feel so much like the past?  A fine quality of this work.

The book shows how markedly we can grow up in so short a time and does so against a backdrop of a world that's not overtly strange, but is like an odd memory of the future.  A brief, good read by Gibbons that any fan of his, Anglophile, or fan of gang or mob stories should check out.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 3 out of 5
My rating: 3 out of 5
16 down, 484 to go

Join me next time for a return to my beloved superhero comics with Shade, The Changing Man: The American Scream.

Keep well until then. :)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

September Roundup

Alright, guys...

The Best Comics Quest! blog has been in existence for a little over a month and I'd like to make it accessible for all who would come to check it out.  That means if someone new happening upon this blog doesn't want to sort back through all the posts so far but wants a summary of what I've read and what I thought of it, I'd like to give that to them.

Also, regular readers can check out a summary post like I'm about to do and perhaps recall books that they may want to check out or buy.

So here we go with a roundup of all that I took in for the blog in the month of September.

Let me first clarify that the first book that I looked at, WE3, was actually reviewed at the very end of August, but I'm gonna include it here for neatness sake.  That means, if you've been following the format I've been doing this thing in, we've got three little sets, each containing four "Best of the Rest" picks from Gene Kannenberg Jr.'s book 500 Essential Graphic Novels, and then working up to one that he has listed as a "Top 10" pick.

I'll list them all by my rating on a scale of 5 stars, with 1 star being bad, up to 5 stars being amazing.

So here we go...

The Best Comics Quest! September Roundup

5 Star Rated
 -WE3 - A cute little dog, kitty, and bunny are turned into animal weapons for the government.
 -Blankets - An autobiographic tale from creator Craig Thompson about growing up in a strict Christian home.
 -Identity Crisis - DC's heroes in a thriller/mystery after Elongated Man's wife is brutally murdered.
 -The Books of Magic - Young Tim Hunter is approached by four of the DC Universe's practitioners of magic and guided through the entire history of magic in attempt to recruit him to wield mystical powers.

4 Star Rated
 -Sshhhh! - This wordless work follows a central anthropomorphic crow figure through events in his life.

3 Star Rated
 -Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol. 1: Power and Responsibility - The first volume of the revamp of everyone's favorite wall-crawler for Marvel's Ultimate line.
 -It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken - This faux autobiographical tale follows main character Seth as he becomes obessed with a 1940's cartoonist named Kalo and his work.
 -The Complete Terry and the Pirates, Vol. 1: 1934-1936 - This mammoth collection of strips follows our adventurers through China in search of a fabled gold mine.
 -Pop Gun War - A young boy, Sinclair, pilfers a crashlanded angel's wings and flies through the surreal dreamscape of this tale.
 -Whiteout - In the desolation of Antarctica, a troubled female U.S. Marshal investigates an unsolved murder and wrestles with her demons.
 -I Love Led Zeppelin - Part how-to and part chronicle, this book examines creator Ellen Forney and her collaborators' escapades in sex(ual things of all sorts), drugs, and rock 'n' roll, among MANY other things...

2 Star Rated
 -Why I Hate Saturn - Anne is a New York writer for a hipster magazine when her sister Laura shows up with a gunshot wound claiming she's the Queen of the Leather Astro-Girls of Saturn.
 -Hell Baby - A new father of two girls is shown his new babies. One is normal, one monstrously hideous. He discards the freakish one. She has her revenge.
 -Fun with Milk and Cheese - A drunken carton of milk and wedge of cheese beat the hell out of everything and everyone for laughs.
 -Leave it to Chance, Vol. 1: Shaman's Rain - Young girl Chance Falconer wishes to follow in her father's footsteps as the occult protector of their hometown of Devil's Echo.

1 Star Rated
No books were rated 1 star.

So, there we have it.  I reserved my opinion of the books to simply listing them under the appropriate star rating.  I wanted to give any newcomers to this blog or the books the freedom to make their own judgement calls here.  If you want more of my two cents, all of the reviews are posted here in previous entries.

For the sake of just a few words of reflection, though...

I think I'd probably stick to my kneejerk reactions on most of these books, perhaps with the exception of moving Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol. 1: Power and Responsibility and I Love Led Zeppelin up one star.  Thinking back on those ones makes me remember some parts that I really enjoyed and leads me to believe that maybe they should have rated a little higher.

My very favorite ones were, of course, the five star rated books, but forced to pick only one that I enjoyed the most and that I think will stick with me for a long time, I'd probably have to go with Identity Crisis.  My penchant for superhero comics and the love of Ralph and Sue Dibny make this one very special for me. 

The biggest letdowns for me were probably Whiteout and Leave it to Chance, Vol. 1: Shaman's Rain, wherein I went in to works that had been highly acclaimed, wanting to love what I found there and was met with what I felt to be mediocrity.

So there we have it, loyal readers.  A month, 15 books in and a nice little recap for those wanting a brief revisit to those books I've read.  Also, a nice starting point to just a taste of my opinions if you're new to the blog.

I again urge everyone to comment here.  Please feel free to say whatever you'd like.  Do you like what I've done here?  Do you agree or strongly disagree with my opinions?  Is there anything you want to say?  Please let me know.  In my little world, there can never be too much discussion on the fantastic realm of comics and sequential art.

With that, I hope you readers that have come have enjoyed my thrown-together ravings, I welcome anyone new, and I hope this post finds all of you well.

Oh, and before I go, how about a little preview of what books are upcoming as we get into October?

The first set of five will be as follows (annotated with how they're listed in 500 Essential Graphic Novels):
 -The Originals (Science Fiction, Best of the Rest)
 -Shade, The Changing Man: The American Scream (Superheroes, Best of the Rest)
 -Black Hole (Horror, Best of the Rest)
 -Silverfish (Crime/Mystery, Best of the Rest)
 -The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation (War, Top 10)

So, there you go, guys.  I hope to get back to you sometime before the weekend concludes with the review of The Originals.

And with that, I promise I'll go now. :)

Be well...