Complete Bloom County Vol. 1

By Berkeley Breathed
288 pages, black and white, plus color
Published by IDW

In the 1980s, my two favorite newspaper comic strips were easy to identify: Peanuts and Bloom County. The funny thing is that especially at an early age, I think it’s fair to say that a lot of Bloom County went over my head. Even as I approached becoming a teenager, I didn’t get a lot of the political humor that Berkeley Breathed infused into Bloom County. So a joke about Cuba sailed right past me, to say nothing of references to various politicians. The thing is, even then, there was always something that would make me laugh. I might not know who was being parodied, but I got the punch line none the less. Now that I’m going back and re-reading Bloom County, though, it’s a very different experience.

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not simple

By Natsume Ono
320 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

I think a lot of people have a fixed idea in their minds of what all manga looks like. Depending on the person’s age, it’s probably something like Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, or Akira Toriyama’s Dragonball Z. It’s almost certainly, though, not anything like Natsume Ono’s not simple. I think it was the incredibly distinctive look of not simple that initially attracted me to the book, but the more I read it, the deeper I was pulled into the book. For a book that starts at the conclusion and then jumps into the past to explain how everything got to that point, not simple manages to hold the reader’s interest quite well.

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Filthy Rich

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Victor Santos
200 pages, black and white
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Vertigo’s new Vertigo Crime imprint launched with two books, Dark Entries and Filthy Rich. Dark Entries seemed to miss the point a bit, publishing a straight horror Hellblazer graphic novel with a Vertigo Crime label slapped on the side. I had higher hopes for Filthy Rich, though. I suspect that author Brian Azzarello was at least partially responsible for the Vertigo Crime label, with his series 100 Bullets being an out-and-out crime series that flourished at Vertigo. If anyone could push the line forward, I’d decided, it would be Azzarello. What I found between the covers of Filthy Rich, though, was a curious throwback to earlier crime comics.

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Children of the Sea Vol. 2

By Daisuke Igarashi
320 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

I’m finding myself continually loving Viz’s new online IKKI magazine, serializing all sorts of off-beat and different Japanese comics for free. As time goes on, though, we’re eventually seeing collected editions of these comics hit stores. It’s a pleasure to see Children of the Sea already on its second volume, because it and Saturn Apartments regularly vie for the title of my favorite IKKI comic. Chances are, it’s whichever just released a new chapter. And while not overtly full of environmental themes (or at least not yet), its looking towards the ocean in this day and age seems particularly timely.

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Unwritten #8

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

So often, a new title starts with so much promise and then slowly drains it away. With The Unwritten, it’s refreshing to have a series where the first issue made me eager for more, and has continued to build on that momentum in great leaps and bounds. I’ve enjoyed how Mike Carey’s scripts not only are about the mysterious world of books and what lies beyond them, but about the effect these characters have on the real world as public opinion goes into an uproar over the real-life Tom Taylor’s actions. Here, though, The Unwritten takes a side trip into two children and how their obsession over the Tommy Taylor novels affects them. It’s a smart way to show off not only the moment of obsession, but just how powerful these books are to their readership. In another writer’s hands an interlude showing why Tom Taylor’s current nemesis (Governor Chadron, the head of the prison) hates Tom so much might have felt like it was cheating, giving such an aside to a minor character. With Carey, though, it actually feels like an integral part of the story, seeing just how Chadron’s two children are affected by the imprisonment of Taylor.

It’s also nice to see that even when given nothing fantastical to drawn, Peter Gross is able to deliver in spades. Sure, some scenes set in the prison play to what you’d expect from Gross’s art; lots of stonework and sharply constructed buildings, even amidst doom and gloom. I like the quieter moments that Gross draws here, though; Cosi at the therapist gives her a strange mix of resignation and faith about her, and watching Chadron interact with his children makes him feel that much more human as you see the conflict play out on his face. If you aren’t reading The Unwritten, the first collection is due out in early January 2010 and it’s well worth your while. Easily one of the best new series of 2009. Check it out.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

Dark X-Men #2

Written by Paul Cornell
Penciled by Leonard Kirk
Inked by Jay Leisten
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel Comics

Having greatly enjoyed Paul Cornell, Leonard Kirk, and Jay Leisten’s collaboration on the short-lived Captain Britain and MI-13 series, it was nice to see the proverbial band get back together for Dark X-Men. What seemed like a shameless attempt to try and mix two best-selling words at Marvel ("Dark" and "X-Men") has turned out to be a pleasant surprise, almost a cross between Suicide Squad and Thunderbolts. Cornell mixes the pitiable, pathetic, and putrid characters into a dysfunctional team that in just two issues is on the verge of exploding, but in such a way that you can’t automatically assume that either they’ll get solidly back together at the conclusion, or lie scattered about in ruins. It’s strange and unpredictable, and Cornell’s clearly having a blast with the book.

Kirk and Leisten’s art is almost as I remembered it, but with some slight changes. On the bright side, they’ve still got a solid sense of layout and basic character structure. I like how Kirk never loses track of these being both superbeings and every-day people, giving them full wardrobes and every day objects. On the other hand, the number of old-looking, wrinkly faces in Dark X-Men is a little odd. I don’t recall Mimic looking like he’s in his mid-50s, so I’m not sure what’s going on here. Still, Kirk and Leisten nail the really important scenes, like a massive brain composed of the bodies of psychics, or Omega’s momentary anguish as he wonders if he’ll remember his new-found resolve.

If you’re like me, you’ve gotten sick and tired of all the various "Dark" titles being published at Marvel and are eager to see them all go away. That said? If there’s still a group of characters to return to, more Dark X-Men would be a treat if it’s Cornell, Kirk, and Leisten on board. This is more than a simple, one-note concept in their hands.

Lobo: Highway to Hell

Written by Scott Ian
Art by Sam Kieth
64 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

I have fond memories of the original Keith Giffen, Alan Grant, and Simon Bisley Lobo mini-series being published. I ran out and bought every issue as they showed up, with its ode to too much violence and general insanity. While the character has been subjected to diminishing returns over the years (although even at the height of Lobo’s over-use, he seemed to always get a good deal in L.E.G.I.O.N.), I’ve never found myself actually flinching away from the character. Any good will I had built up towards the character thanks to 52, though, is now gone courtesy Scott Ian and Sam Kieth.

Lobo: Highway to Hell is a two-issue mini-series that manages to shoot its credibility on the first page. How else can you talk about an opening line of, "Head feels like Motorhead is raping it," after all? Between that and mentions of the television show Lost (no, really), it’s the first sign that something is slightly off. From there we get unfunny jokes stretched out into dozens of pages, and an entire second issue where Lobo in Hell is supposed to be funny, but it’s really just the reader in Hell because the issue never seems to end. Kieth’s heart doesn’t appear to be in this either; I understand that sometimes Kieth deliberately devolves his style, but Lobo: Highway to Hell looks like it was drawn on a napkin more times than not. This comic is embarrassing for DC Comics as a publisher. Don’t fall into the same well of regret that I’m currently floundering in. If you haven’t made that mistake already, avoid this book.

Moyasimon Vol. 1: Tales of Agriculture

By Masayuki Ishikawa
240 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

I love when publishers take a chance on slightly strange and out-there books, and I think that’s a category that Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture certainly falls into. After all, books and comics about brand-new university students are a dime a dozen, no need to do more than bat an eye over them. On the other hand, take that idea and then add in the extra twist of the protagonist being able to see microscopic germs as cute little animated beings that talk to one another? Well, now we’re going somewhere sufficiently odd.

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Year of Loving Dangerously

Written by Ted Rall
Art by Pablo G. Callejo
128 pages, color
Published by NBM

Ted Rall is probably best known for his political cartoons, and his travel journalism in books like Silk Road to Ruin. When I think of Rall, though, one of the works that always jumps to my mind is his autobiographical My War With Brian. That’s probably why I was intrigued when NBM first announced Rall’s autobiographical The Year of Loving Dangerously; Rall wasn’t afraid to lay out his past in an unflattering way based on My War With Brian, and Rall’s new book promised to do just that. What I found, though, was a book that gets oddly defensive in places that you’d have expected otherwise.

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Invincible Iron Man #20

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Salvador Larroca
40 pages, color
Published by Marvel

There’s a lot of attention directed—justifiably so—towards the cover of The Invincible Iron Man #20. Redesigned by Rian Hughes, it’s eye-catching and beautiful, looking absolutely nothing like anything else on comic racks right now. But with all of the talk centered around what’s on the outside, hopefully people won’t remember what’s on the inside as well. Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca are continuing to craft a comic that enthralls, without throwing a single punch.

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