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Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Batch O' Reviews
American Virgin: Head by Steven T. Seagle, Becky Cloonan and Jim Rugg, published by DC/Vertigo While Becky Cloonan's art in this book, collecting the first four issues of the Vertigo series American Virgin, is quite nice to work with, it's a shame it's attached to a story that manages to be both smug and insincere. It's as if Seagle wants to talk about the hypocrisy and short-sightedness of the American Evangelical movement, but he's afraid to make his main character either unlikeable or too obviously a pawn of others. And then the issue is dodged by transplanting the story rather hurriedly to Africa, where it becomes a revenge story with unimaginative anti-American terrorists as villains. The end result is a muddled, and frankly dull, book that wants you to think it's as important as it thinks it is.
Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham and others, published by DC/Vertigo Of the current crop of adult fantasy comics, Fables is my favorite, and arguably the best. This new hardcover of original stories is set in the early days of the Fabletown community whose story the monthly comic chronicles, and in it Snow White, held captive by a villainous sultan who plans to murder her, staves off her execution by relating stories from the pasts of the various characters making up the cast of the regular comic, in a parallel to the story of Scheherazade. The stories range in tone from tragedy to comedy, and most of them relate either the "origins", if you will, of the characters, or relate how they came to Fabletown. The centerpieces of the book are two stories about Snow White herself. The first provides several significant clues about one of the running jokes in the comic, namely why you should never mention the dwarves to Snow White, while the second tells how Snow and her sister Rose Red first met the wicked witch, Frau Totenkinder, which itself contains a lengthy flashback to the witch's history, revealing her to be a far more significant element of the Fables world than had previously been suggested. The art styles for each story range from classical illustrations to more contemporary styles, by a large variety of some of the best artists working in the comics field today. There isn't a bad bit of art or an unentertaining story in this volume, and at $20 for an original hardcover, the package as a whole feels like an excellent value for either fans of Fables or of beautiful comics illustrations.
Mad #471, by various, published by DC Comics I try very hard not to over-sentimentalize the things I enjoyed as a child. So, when reading through the latest issue of this long running humor magazine, I tried to avoid direct comparisons to the version of the magazine I read as a kid. Viewed on it's own, the current Mad is something of a disappointment. It's not that the humor is too transgressive, or too kid oriented. No, it's more like the humor is something that an adult thinks a kid would find transgressive. Flipping through it, I don't see very many things that kids would relate to. But, at the same time, the jokes are a little too dumbed down to really be appreciated by adults. When I compare it to the Mad I used to read, the current edition is even more of a mixed bag. In general I would say that the quality of the art has improved, while the quality of the writing has gone down. This new version seems to do a lot of talking down to its audience, something I don't really remember the magazine ever doing in the past. The features also seem very short, and many pages are crowded together with multiple features on the page. It bespeaks a presumption of a short attention span in the audience. About the only thing that's consistent between the two versions is a creepy preoccupation with borderline homophobic gay jokes.
Rock Bottom by Joy Casey and Charlie Adlard, published by AIT/Planet Lar Joe Casey's story of a man slowly turning to stone is his best work yet. Thomas Dare is a musician going through a messy and complicated divorce, while dodging the phone calls of his now pregnant mistress. He soon discovers that, through some unknown, but apparently hereditary process, he is slowly and painfully turning to stone. His condition tests his friendships and relationships, while exposing him to a kind of freakish fame he never wanted. Soon, everyone wants a piece of him, literally, and it his story becomes one of a man seeking nothing else but to die with dignity. It's a moving and emotional examination of mortality, friendship and the human spirit. It's remarkable that Casey is able to pare down the story and touch on all the major themes he raises in such a compact and quickly moving story. Charlie Adlard is one of those artists I've always thought to be criminally underrated. He works in a stark black and white here, the only tones being the gray of Thomas Dare as he slowly succumbs to his illness. It makes for a visually arresting experience that highlights the story that Casey is telling in an exceptional way.
Seven Sons by Alexander Grecian and Riley Rossmo, published by AIT/Planet Lar This retelling of the Chinese legend of seven brothers, each with remarkable powers, moves the story to the American west during the Gold Rush. The events of the story play out more or less in the same pattern as in the traditional folk tale, but the new context that Grecian and Rossmo put that story into allows them to play with additional themes, such as racism and xenophobia, as well as good old fashioned fear-mongering. It makes for an interesting read, and a nice example of a stated theme within the book itself, that the best stories grow and change. The art in the book is a slight distraction. It has a visually distinctive style, but it often looks too rough and a little unfinished or broadly inked, and in some sequences that makes it difficult to easily determine what is meant to be happening. It is by no means bad art, but slightly more clarity could have assisted in the storytelling.
Tag #2, by Keith Giffen, Mike Lieb, Kody Chamberlin & Chee, published by Boom Studios The second issue of this zombie comic builds on the premise set-up in the first issue: that becoming a zombie is a strange curse bestowed on you during a supernatural game of tag. The history and "rules" of the curse are investigated in this issue. The premise works remarkably well. There's a creepy internal logic that's compelling. The art, done in moody gray and green tones adds a lot as well, accentuating the surreal nature of the predicament the characters find themselves in.