Vertigo – Read About Comics http://www.readaboutcomics.com Where to find out what's really good. Mon, 16 Nov 2015 17:36:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.10 Fairest #1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/03/09/fairest-1/ Fri, 09 Mar 2012 14:00:46 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2189 Written by Bill WillinghamPencilled by Phil JimenezInked by Andy Lanning32 pages, colorPublished by Vertigo

The idea behind Fairest, the new spin-off from Fables, seemed simple enough. The back cover declares it to be about "the fairest flowers in the land" and in interviews creator Bill Willingham has talked about it being a place to tell [...]]]> Written by Bill Willingham
Pencilled by Phil Jimenez
Inked by Andy Lanning
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo

The idea behind Fairest, the new spin-off from Fables, seemed simple enough. The back cover declares it to be about "the fairest flowers in the land" and in interviews creator Bill Willingham has talked about it being a place to tell stories about characters like Snow White, Rose Red, Cinderella, Rapunzel… in other words, the female characters of Fables. So why is it, then, that Fairest #1 is starring Ali Baba?

To be fair, Ali Baba is hiding on the back half of the wrap-around cover for Fairest #1 (along with twelve women), and nowhere does it say point-blank that this is solely a book about Fables‘ female characters. I actually see the merit in occasionally mixing up Fairest by throwing in a particularly good looking male character. But doing so right off the bat feels like it’s sending the wrong message, that whatever you wanted Fairest to be, you’re not getting it.

A bigger problem with Fairest #1 is that even if this had just been an issue of Fables, it’s an awfully dull story. Ali Baba and a bottle imp named Jonah Panghammer are within the ruins of the capital city of the Empire, with Ali Baba being promised to get taken to where Sleeping Beauty awaits a prince to wake her from the slumber that brought the Empire to its knees and saved the residents of Fabletown. It’s not a bad concept, but both Ali Baba and Jonah are distinctly uninteresting characters. As a sidekick, Jonah comes across as irritating rather than funny, and Ali Baba is full of himself in a way that is annoying rather than entertaining (like Prince Charming was in Fables). Neither of them can carry this first issue, which in many ways has the same fault that the earlier spin-off series Jack of Fables did; the creators think the main character is clever and charismatic but never actually give us that.

It also doesn’t help that in terms of plot, it feels like the events of Fairest #1 are mostly a throwaway. Open the book with the final page, give a brief summary of Ali Baba meeting Jonah a page or two later, and you can move forward with the first issue at least having Sleeping Beauty as a co-star, if not the outright lead. This comic feels like a huge amount of padding, and when you consider that this is only issue #1, that’s a bad sign.

The saving grace for Fairest #1 is the art. Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning rarely disappoint, and this is not one of those moments. Their two-page opening spread of the ruined capitol city looks gorgeous in its devastation, with intricate pillars and stairways alongside charred vines of thorns and ashes. And while I’m not a fan of Ali Baba being the star of this opening story, I will give Jimenez credit in that he draws a quite attractive man. The pout when Ali Baba says, "No wishes?" is great—a good remind of how much the art can help tell the story—and in general we get more characterization from Jimenez’s poses and postures that he places Ali Baba in than the actual dialogue.

Fairest is fortunately an anthology title, with each new storyline being from a different creative team, and to that I say, "Thank goodness." Jimenez’s pencils are amazing and the Adam Hughes cover is beautiful, but at this point I feel fully prepared to wait until the next storyline kicks off. Who’s the fairest of them all? Not this comic.

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Unwritten #24 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/04/18/unwritten-24/ Mon, 18 Apr 2011 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1762 Written by Mike CareyLayouts by Peter GrossFinishes by Al Davison32 pages, colorPublished by Vertigo/DC Comics

Where do story characters go when their series are over? Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s series The Unwritten has over the past two years explored the between-the-pages lives of fictional characters, secret societies that manipulate the written world, and the [...]]]> Written by Mike Carey
Layouts by Peter Gross
Finishes by Al Davison
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Where do story characters go when their series are over? Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s series The Unwritten has over the past two years explored the between-the-pages lives of fictional characters, secret societies that manipulate the written world, and the strange relationship between a story and the real world. One of the most memorable issues of the series, though, was The Unwritten #12 where Carey and Gross introduced us to Pauly, a human transformed into a rabbit and trapped inside a thin analogue of the Winnie the Pooh universe. Now he’s back, and this time he’s going to drag all the other characters into hell with him.

Set on a possibly-infinite staircase that winds up and down between worlds (slightly similar to the Dark Tower, also drawn by Gross, in The Books of Magic), Carey’s setting is one of hope amidst despair. It’s interesting to look at the way that the characters trapped and looking for an exit to the real world interact with one another, versus with the real-world refugee of Pauly. Without the intruder, the characters are locked into the core of their initial creation; Quark Maiden (who bears more than a little similarity to the Snorkmaiden from Moomins) is hopeful and full of dreams, Badger is slightly gruff but an impeccable leader, and so on. Their never-ending quest is to the outside observer just that, but they push on with enthusiasm and determination.

Then Pauly appears, and once again he’s the bad apple that ruins everything. Conflicts and death, abandonments and abuses, it’s nothing good when it’s attached to Pauly. He’s in many ways the anti-Mary Sue; inserted unwillingly into a fiction, he’s everything negative and disastrous to the characters around him. With his destruction of the staircase behind them, he’s both figuratively and literally keeping the characters from retreating to their own worlds, to revert to what they were. And so, as the climb continues, the party shifts and changes. It’s a sad, slightly grim story, even as it’s intriguing in terms of the greater cosmology of The Unwritten. Carey’s proven (both here and in other stories) that there are no throw-away moments or characters, and sooner or later I wouldn’t be surprised to see follow-up. Perhaps in The Unwritten #36?

Gross is aided this month with finishes from Al Davison. While they’re both excellent artists in their own right, this mixture of their styles is a case of the sum being greater than the total of its parts. Gross gives us the feel of the dizzying staircase, branching and twisting from level to level and the hordes of sentient animals marching through its confines. With Davison, though, there’s a softer edge to the art than we normally have from Gross. It helps disarm you as a reader, seeing the cuteness of the creatures and making some of the scenes that much more jarring. Davison helps make sure that Pauly looks especially creepy here, with his red eyes, snarling expressions, and a generally ragged appearance. He might be a rabbit, but he always feels slightly out of place with the rest of the storybook characters, as he should.

The Unwritten #24 takes a snippet of what could be an infinite journey for characters, and makes it simultaneously satisfying and ominous. Carey, Gross, and Davison end the comics (and presumably the upcoming Volume 4 collection) on an uneasy note, a statement of hope being laid next to an image of impossibility. The story might be a one-off moment, but it’s a chapter of The Unwritten that regular readers of the series—myself included—will remember for quite some time.

Purchase Links (Vol. 1): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books
Purchase Links (Vol. 2): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books
Purchase Links (Vol. 3): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books
Purchase Links (Vol. 4): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/04/08/how-to-understand-israel-in-60-days-or-less/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/04/08/how-to-understand-israel-in-60-days-or-less/#comments Fri, 08 Apr 2011 12:00:27 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1744 By Sarah Glidden208 pages, colorPublished by Vertigo/DC Comics

It’s hard (although not impossible) to find someone who doesn’t have a strong opinion on Israel and Palestine. Sarah Glidden is no exception to that rule, so when she got the chance to go on a Birthright tour of the country, she was skeptical even as she [...]]]> By Sarah Glidden
208 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

It’s hard (although not impossible) to find someone who doesn’t have a strong opinion on Israel and Palestine. Sarah Glidden is no exception to that rule, so when she got the chance to go on a Birthright tour of the country, she was skeptical even as she signed up for the experience. Her opinions of Israel and Zionism were well constructed by this point in her life, and she figured nothing that she saw or experienced in Israel could change her mind. What she found? Well, it was meaty enough to result in her graphic novel How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less.

I first encountered Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less a few years ago, in its original black-and-white, chapter-by-chapter mini-comic format. Or rather, I encountered the first few chapters; before Glidden had finished serializing the book in that format, the book was picked up by Vertigo and that meant waiting for the completed work. Reading the finished work, though, I’ve shifted from merely enjoying Glidden’s story to becoming enthralled. Maybe it’s because in the earliest chapters, Glidden is on the offense more times than you can count. She doesn’t try to hide the fact that she isn’t happy with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and her fears that she’s going to be exposed to massive amounts of propaganda while on her tour. And in those early chapters, she’s at her most rigid; constantly questioning their tour guide Gil (who is remarkably patient, although it’s no doubt neither the first nor last time he’s gone through such a situation), and muttering asides to her friend Melissa. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Glidden portrays herself as unlikable, it is true that Glidden comes across as someone who is finding it exceedingly difficult to do more than pay lip service to what she’s hearing.

But of course, that’s one of the central threads running through How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less. Glidden several times confides that both she and her boyfriend are afraid that she’ll come back with a completely different viewpoint on Israel, and that she in essence will be brainwashed by her trip to the Middle East. It’s an understandable fear; the Birthright trips are designed by their very nature to present the best side of Israel for the young Jewish people from around the world getting to see the country for the first time. You know what you’re in for the second you sign up for the trip. And of course, like any potentially emotional experience, it’s one thing to make a decision from afar, another to be dropped right into the center of the country. As Glidden treads cautiously through her tour of the country, it’s interesting to see her reactions and her internal debates on what she’s viewing.

One of the many things I found fascinating about How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less was that part of the tour’s attempt to put a shine on everything, the areas visited included the Golan Heights (land captured from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967), and the Negev Desert (formerly occupied primarily by Bedouin tribes). It’s in visiting these locations that Glidden is given some of her more difficult moments to digest; even as one side is presented firmly to her and her fellow travelers, debates roar through her head, filling in the opposing viewpoints. It was the Negev Desert area that struck me the most, though; perhaps because (unlike the Golan Heights, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip) it’s not an area I knew much about. Glidden’s comparison to it as being a missing section of Epcot in Walt Disney World sounds funny at first, but it’s Glidden’s thoughts about the people that live there and what their lives are like that quickly turns it into a sobering story. It’s one of the strongest pieces of storytelling in all of How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, and I think the chapter that will stick with me the most.

I greatly appreciated that in How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, Glidden always makes clear (without over-emphasizing) that her opinions are her own, and that she’s not necessarily right or wrong. She shows us portions of self-doubt throughout the book, and times when she fails to mesh with the people around her. While it’s never self-deprecating, it keeps her somewhat humble, and more importantly human rather than someone there to lecture us. She shows us her missteps, her fears, and calls herself out on decisions that don’t necessarily match with what she’s felt earlier. How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less was clearly a learning experience for Glidden, and I appreciate that she doesn’t brush over that hurriedly.

The art in How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is especially interesting if you ever saw the mini-comics, which were attractive black and white line drawings. For the graphic novel, Glidden’s gone in with watercolors, and the end result is startling. While I liked those early incarnations of the comic, now that I’ve seen her working in full color I must admit I would be sad to see her not do so in the future. Glidden’s colors give her art an added depth, with the yellows and blues and greens blending together in a way that feels naturalistic and easy on the eyes. Looking at the end of chapter two, where the sun rises over the Sea of Galilee, it’s now hard to even remember what it looked like before. Just gorgeous.

Of course there’s more to the art in How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less than just Glidden’s watercolors. Her characters are at a glance simple sketches, but the more you read the book, the more expressive you realize they are. You can see Melissa’s frustration over Glidden repeatedly mentioning that it’s Melissa’s first trip abroad, or the confusion on Glidden’s face when everything comes emotionally crashing down around her. Glidden has some fun flights of fancy with her art, too; the courtroom scenes set inside Glidden’s head in particular stick out as an entertaining way to illustrate her mental arguments, for example, and Glidden climbing down a ladder as the ancient structure of Tel Aviv’s many layers is equally fun. And of course, while I can’t say I’ve been to Israel myself, based on photos I’ve seen of the area, Glidden does a good job of bringing its many different environments to life.

Even if viewed solely as a travel diary, excluding the discussion of the political scene that exists there (admittedly not an easy thing to do), How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is surprisingly thorough. With stops on the tour itself including the Golan Heights, the Kinneret, Tel Aviv, the Negev Desert, Masada, the Dead Sea, and Jerusalem, there’s a lot to take in. It’s Glidden’s self-journey, though, that ends up being the centerpiece. Even if you don’t view Israel any differently upon reading How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, Glidden certainly leaves with a slightly different viewpoint than her arrival. Watching her reach that point is engrossing from start to finish, and I’m pleased to have been allowed to take that journey with her. I may never travel to Israel myself, but reading this book made me feel for a brief instantly like I got to do so.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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iZombie #11 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/03/14/izombie-11/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/03/14/izombie-11/#comments Mon, 14 Mar 2011 12:00:48 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1713 Written by Chris RobersonArt by Michael Allred32 pages, colorPublished by Vertigo/DC Comics

With iZombie on the verge of wrapping up its first year (and with its first collection due this month), it seemed like a good at time as any to check back in with Chris Roberson and Michael Allred’s zombie series. Of course, it’s [...]]]> Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

With iZombie on the verge of wrapping up its first year (and with its first collection due this month), it seemed like a good at time as any to check back in with Chris Roberson and Michael Allred’s zombie series. Of course, it’s not really a zombie series. In fact, Roberson and Allred seem to be delighted in taking everyone’s expectations for iZombie and then throwing them out the window. Do I approve? Of course.

Right from the start, iZombie seemed to have a simple enough premise; a zombie girl named Gwen can keep her own brain intact if she eats the brain of a deceased person once a month, but in doing so will temporarily gain the dead person’s memories. Her best friends just happen to be a ghost and a were-terrier, and the three are in some ways their own little Being Human trio.

Except, as it turns out, iZombie is much more than that. The book instead quickly expanded its cast to all sorts of supernatural beings (mummies, vampires, the Bride of Frankenstein) and while Gwen still has her own little memory problem to deal with, it’s hardly the only (or even main) thread moving through the comic. Rather, as this issue illustrates, iZombie is a rambling, never-ending soap opera of the supernatural, and I say this in a positive manner.

iZombie #11 marks the end of the second storyline ("uVampire"), or at least that’s what it claims. Like the previous storyline, though, nothing is really finalized or wrapped up in any way, shape, or form. Rather, both storylines seem to "end" only because there’s a one-off focus issue around the corner. The first time it felt slightly abrupt; this time, knowing that it’s how Roberson is writing the book, I’m feeling rather good about it. Like real life, things don’t just magically wrap up overnight, and so that’s how iZombie rolls. Gwen’s love life is still problematic, Galatea’s plan looks extremely dangerous for the entire universe, the vampires and the monster hunters are both still running around town, and that’s not even all of the main characters accounted for. We’re getting a mixture of human drama (or should that be un-human drama?), mystery, and eldritch horror, but it works. I like that Gwen’s recently acquired batch of memories hasn’t brought her to some sort of great turning point, but instead is giving her new fodder to wrestle with. She’s not able to magically make a difference or solve family issues that were dangling over her head. And yes, sometimes when we get that super-important phone call we end up too wrapped up in our own affairs to notice. iZombie may star a multitude of "monsters" but it’s a remarkably human book.

It helps, of course, that Allred is the artist for iZombie. He’s one of those artists who can draw the fantastic and the mundane side-by-side and the two mesh together perfectly. So one minute we’re getting Gwen trudging through a lovingly-drawn suburbia, the next minute it’s a close personal friend of Cthulhu trying to rip through the fabric of the universe and devour us all. Characters have beautiful expressions, from depressed to gleeful, and the way he draws their body language is part of the reason why I’ve been a fan of his ever since first picking up Madman #1 from Tundra Publishing. And of course, one can’t forget about Laura Allred’s colors, which know when to pop off of the page and when to go for a more muted, subtle approach. Something as simple as the deep reds and purples on Gwen as she walks through the brightly-colored neighborhood works so well; it makes Gwen not only stand out on the page, but in her setting as well. She doesn’t fit with her surroundings, an extra visual shorthand for the overall story.

Vertigo’s had several top-notch books launch over the past two years (The Unwritten, Sweet Tooth, and American Vampire all leap to mind) and iZombie also belongs in that category. Between Roberson and Allred, this is a book that both reads entertainingly and also looks great. So sure, the official story breaks are somewhat arbitrary. But you know what? It’s part of the book’s charm. I’d love to see this series keep rambling along its merry way forever.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Northlanders #35-36 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/01/24/northlanders-35-36/ Mon, 24 Jan 2011 13:00:49 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1636 Written by Brian WoodArt by Becky Cloonan32 pages, colorPublished by Vertigo/DC Comics

With the temperature well below freezing in the DC area, it’s nice to pull on some blankets, eat a hot bowl of homemade soup, and get down to an afternoon of reading. But ironically, the idea of reading about warm, sunny destinations gets [...]]]> Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

With the temperature well below freezing in the DC area, it’s nice to pull on some blankets, eat a hot bowl of homemade soup, and get down to an afternoon of reading. But ironically, the idea of reading about warm, sunny destinations gets old before long, so it seemed like the perfect time to give the latest Northlanders story, the two-part "The Girl in the Ice," a whirl. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder that while it may be cold in my neck of the woods, it could just as easily be distinctly worse out, and not just because of the advent of modern heating.

The shorter storylines in Northlanders always feels like a bit of a gamble. Some of them (like "Lindisfarne") have ended up in the realm of favorite stories, while others never quite clicked. With "The Girl in the Ice," it’s a strange story in that it feels like in many ways we’re only scratching the surface of something much larger that we never get to see play out. Set in 1240 Iceland, Jon Jonnsson is living a quiet life until the day he discovers the body of a girl under the ice, preserved by its frigid temperature, but from there it becomes an obsession even as he knows the longer he keeps her above the ice, the greater the chance is that someone will discover her and think that he’d killed her.

Once things get moving, though, the book quietly seems to shift focus as we start seeing more of the outside world. As the world around Jon starts to catch up with him, in some ways the story seems to hit its conclusion before we know it, the resolution being told to Jon even as things elsewhere are winding down. It’s an interesting storytelling decision from Brian Wood, in many ways mirroring the real world. Things come to a conclusion but not in an easy or simple manner. There’s no moment where Jon tells his story and everyone rallies around him, no turning point where everything is going to work out. Instead Wood creates an atmosphere where as soon as the ice first cracks, a certain amount of doom and inevitability has escaped along with the body of the dead girl. And so, pieces of the story like the warriors massing end up being in some ways just a part of the setting, a mild catalyst for the rest of the story. It’s not their tale, though, and so Wood lets them fade back into the background, unresolved.

Fans of Wood’s work with Becky Cloonan on Demo will be happy to see the pair reunite here, this time in full color. Cloonan’s art is expressive as always, but there’s something slightly different in my eyes on how she’s approached the art in Northlanders. I love that Jon’s bearded face sometimes looks more like an ancient engraving than anything else; it evokes that sense of earlier times and places, and helps set the scene even more than her drawings of Iceland’s snow covered landscape, barren and freezing. Her art keeps a tight focus on her characters, showing us a pair of hands, or a wary face so that your eyes focus right on those specific moments. Toward the end of the comic, she also uses the shadow of that part of the story’s setting to her advantage, making it almost as if the faces are sliding out of the darkness, before retreating back out of sight. It’s an attractive looking book, and I’d like to see Cloonan return to Northlanders again.

"The Girl in the Ice" was an interesting comic in part because it doesn’t feel quite like any other Northlanders story. It doesn’t go quite in the direction one would expect, and its conclusion feels almost muted in its low key, downer of an ending. It’s an interesting diversion, but certainly not the sort of road one would want to go down every month. Fortunately, in the case of Northlanders, its ever-changing nature is one of its draws. It’s not one of the strongest stories in the book to date, but as a quiet and small drama it succeeds in its goals with ease.

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Fogtown http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/11/24/fogtown/ Wed, 24 Nov 2010 07:00:54 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1590 Written by Andersen GabrychArt by Brad Rader176 pages, black and whitePublished by Vertigo Comics

After several initial disappointing releases from the Vertigo Crime line of books, I pinned a lot of hopes on Fogtown by Andersen Gabrych and Brad Rader. I’ve loved what little art of Rader’s I’ve seen in the past (most notably on [...]]]> Written by Andersen Gabrych
Art by Brad Rader
176 pages, black and white
Published by Vertigo Comics

After several initial disappointing releases from the Vertigo Crime line of books, I pinned a lot of hopes on Fogtown by Andersen Gabrych and Brad Rader. I’ve loved what little art of Rader’s I’ve seen in the past (most notably on an early Catwoman story written by Ed Brubaker), and his animation pedigree has shown him to be an expressive and inventive artist. And while I’d never read any of Gabrych’s stories for DC Comics, having two openly gay men working on a crime thriller in 1953 San Francisco certainly held a lot of potential. What I actually found with Fogtown, though, is a book where some parts of the greater whole fail, while others try and pick up the slack.

Fogtown is a book where Gabrych tries to keep the reader on their toes, reminding us time and time again that not everything is as it seems. We get a quick reversal of this upon meeting Frank Grissel and Loretta Valentine; in their first page together, Frank squirms away from Loretta as she tries to clean off the bruises on his face, shouting, "God-bless it, Loretta! You’re my secretary, not my mother." No sooner do we get the relationship Gabrych is establishing here—Loretta cares for Frank but it’s strictly a business relationship for Frank—than he tears it down. It’s on the next page, three panels later, that Loretta states (after some silence), "You didn’t come home last night." Then again, the turnabout moment is almost a cliche in crime fiction, and Gabrych isn’t afraid of adding the cliche into the book. He admits as much early on, with a psychiatrist noting that, "it’s not every day you meet a true-blue cliche," in this case referring to Frank himself. It’s something that holds true throughout the book, and while the characters themselves note it time and time again ("Ah, Christ, lady, that old routine? Trust me? You don’t even know me.") it’s still hard to shake the feeling that the plot is slightly recycled, and serves only to service other aspects of the book.

Gabrych’s script in Fogtown appears to be more interested in exploring the double life of a closeted gay man in 1950s San Francisco than the actual murder storyline. Frank’s sexuality is a plot point that is hard to miss even as the book plays coy with it on numerous occasions. From lines such as, "How many other secrets you got in that closet, Frank?" to "It looks like you have some gentleman callers," the innuendo drips freely and blatantly. It’s when Gabrych’s script gets a little more subtle that it becomes interesting, like Frank’s tentative flirting with the military men until they find out that he’s not one of them, for example, or Loretta’s "Kiss me Frank, just this once," after they have sex on top of his desk. Still, for every quiet moment there’s one that goes back to blatant; how else can you describe the large African-American sex god being given the name of Bone? It’s too bad because if you took out the innuendos and double-talk there’s a spark of a good idea here—it’s ultimately the best part of Fogtown—but it never quite goes far enough.

It’s Rader’s art in Fogtown that ultimately kept grabbing my interest even as the script failed. It’s a dramatic and expressive art style, a reminder to me that we get far too little of Rader’s work in comics. From an early page that echoes a murdered prostitute’s pose to that of a passed out Frank, I found myself impressed with how much he was able to pack into those two panels; a damaged body that is as unsexual as they come even while dressed up in a typical seductress outfit, and then Frank’s own battered body with a rough, raw sexuality that oozes off the page.

It’s that sexual nature that permeates the entire book; there are few other books where the art has you unsure if a scuffle between two men is a prelude to a beating, or the start of a dangerous game of foreplay. Sex and violence work well together in Fogtown, and Rader’s successful pairing of the two are what will make people remember the book above all else. Even Rader isn’t afraid to dip into the cliche well at times, though; the interior of the Black Cat bar looks like it was populated solely by characters from Tom of Finland’s iconic drawings, for instance. Still, with such great art from start to finish (aided with gray tones by Rivkah), this is a sharp looking comic.

"I’m a shit detective," notes Frank toward the end of Fogtown, and that’s unfortunately another correct assessment that doesn’t do a good enough job of hiding the problems with this book. This is a book where secondary characters perform most of the connecting of the dots, and the book ultimately comes to a climax around Frank rather than because of anything he did proactively. I’d hoped for much more out of Gabrych’s script, even as I reveled in Rader’s art.

This is a book that could have been so much better, but in the end I can’t help but feel that it succeeds on some level despite the script rather than because of it. Buy this because you’re a fan of Rader’s art, or for steamy (but PG-13 at most) homoerotic comic art that manages to go beyond almost anything you’ll see in a DC or Marvel book. But just know that in the end, the string of cliches that they’re drawing just isn’t up to the same level.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 8: The Blackhawk and the Return of the Scarlet Ghost http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/08/23/sandman-mystery-theatre-vol-8/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/08/23/sandman-mystery-theatre-vol-8/#comments Mon, 23 Aug 2010 07:00:31 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1470 Written by Matt Wagner and Steven T. SeaglePenciled by Guy Davis and Matthew Smith, with Daniel TorresInked by Guy Davis and Richard Case, with Daniel Torres224 pages, colorPublished by Vertigo/DC Comics

Reading a new collection of Sandman Mystery Theatre is a guilty pleasure, but not in the way one normally uses the phrase. Having stopped [...]]]> Written by Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle
Penciled by Guy Davis and Matthew Smith, with Daniel Torres
Inked by Guy Davis and Richard Case, with Daniel Torres
224 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Reading a new collection of Sandman Mystery Theatre is a guilty pleasure, but not in the way one normally uses the phrase. Having stopped buying the series during its first year due to finances, there’s a certain amount of guilt now that shows up alongside Sandman Mystery Theatre, that nagging thought that once I had a little more money I really should’ve started reading the series again. Still, when all is said and done, it’s not a bad thing to read it now via collections. If anything, I think some of the slight flaws in the book are better mitigated when read in a large chunk.

Collecting eight issues of the title, the first storyline is "The Blackhawk," with guest artists Matthew Smith and Richard Case. By this point in the series, Matt Wagner and Steven T. Seagle had started sneaking in some other DC Comics characters, like Hourman and the Mist. Here, Wagner and Seagle bring Blackhawk on board, which makes perfect sense. Even though within the Sandman Mystery Theatre internal chronology the United States hadn’t entered World War II, it’s already raging across Europe and it was just a matter of time for this fighter pilot to make an appearance. "The Blackhawk" is easily the stronger of the two stories, and in some ways it’s one of the darker ones from the series. While many other stories in Sandman Mystery Theatre dealt with much more grim material, "The Blackhawk" is a story with a dark final message, that sometimes not everything is going to work out. Even Wesley Dodds himself makes a huge mistake or two in this story, and in many ways the underlying feeling of this arc is the failure of the heroes. Not all of the "good" characters get happy endings in a lot of Sandman Mystery Theatre, but for some reason "The Blackhawk" struck me as slightly darker than most.

Smith’s pencils in "The Blackhawk" are a great choice for this story arc. While I love Guy Davis’s art (which we’ll get to later), Smith manages to much better visually convey the idea of the strong-jawed, dashing airman that is needed for "The Blackhawk." Janos is supposed to be in consideration for movie roles, and you can absolutely see it here; Smith and Case provide crisp lines and uncluttered faces in this arc, and their panel-to-panel transitions are strong. A lot of Davis’s visual tricks (circular panel close-ups on faces, the wide two-page top panel that opens each chapter) are at play here, too, and it provides a good visual continuity.

"The Return of the Scarlet Ghost" is next, set among the early comics industry and its slow shift from the pulp genre to superheroes. It’s a a peculiar story in that while the main action felt a little too straight forward and uninteresting, it’s the character beats throughout the issues that kept my interest. I think that’s actually one of Sandman Mystery Theatre‘s strengths; by this point in the series, you care so much about Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont that the pair of them can easily carry the book no matter what else happens. Dian’s interest in writing for the pulps is probably my favorite part of "The Return of the Scarlet Ghost," and while I found myself unable to care what happened to the actual publishers and bad guys, her journey through this story is one of her stronger moments in the series.

Davis returns as the artist for "The Return of the Scarlet Ghost," and his detailed lines and rich backgrounds are always welcome. Davis’s art always feels much more intricate, with its lined bookshelves, bustling streets, and tiled bathrooms. Davis immerses the reader in a world not quite like anyone else out there, and while his art is a little more staid than most, it’s a rare example of an artist being the perfect choice for an ongoing series. Looking at the extended dream sequence towards the conclusion of "The Return of the Scarlet Ghost," it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing that strong a job at making it thoroughly creepy. Daniel Torres draws the comic-within-a-comic for Sandman Mystery Theatre #50, and his clean and vigorous art was a nice surprise. His drawing the original Sandman and Sandy duo is a funny in-joke to comics readers, and a cute way to celebrate the anniversary issue.

My one big complaint has a bit more to do with DC’s collections department than anything else. At this point in the series, Sandman Mystery Theatre is more heavily referencing the events of Sandman Midnight Theatre, a one-shot by Wagner, Neil Gaiman, and Teddy Kristiansen that took place between issues #36 and 37. So of course, it was never collected within the Sandman Mystery Theatre volumes. Sure, readers can head over to Neil Gaiman’s Midnight Days to find it, but what seemed like a strange omission at first is now becoming glaringly obvious. Likewise, at this point I’m assuming we’ll also never see the Sandman Mystery Theatre Annual collected, which was published several years earlier. (I suppose it could be slipped in at the end, although it would be slightly out of place in terms of the internal chronology.) It’s a shame these two stories might end up left out of this series of collections.

Still, when it’s all said and done, Sandman Mystery Theatre Vol. 8: The Blackhawk and the Return of the Scarlet Ghost is a keeper. If you haven’t been reading the collections, don’t let those strange missing stories scare you away. It’s been an absolute pleasure to pick up the new collection each year, and this one is no exception. It’s easy to see why so many people were upset when the series finally ended; Sandman Mystery Theatre is a jewel in Vertigo’s publishing history crown.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Northlanders #30 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/08/09/northlanders-30/ Mon, 09 Aug 2010 07:00:22 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1465 Written by Brian WoodArt by Ricardo Burchielli32 pages, colorPublished by Vertigo/DC Comics

Brian Wood and Ricardo Burchielli are known for working together on their series DMZ, also published by Vertigo. So when I heard that Burchielli had come on board to draw a story arc for Wood’s series Northlanders, I was intrigued. Ancient Viking settlements [...]]]> Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ricardo Burchielli
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Brian Wood and Ricardo Burchielli are known for working together on their series DMZ, also published by Vertigo. So when I heard that Burchielli had come on board to draw a story arc for Wood’s series Northlanders, I was intrigued. Ancient Viking settlements are about as far from a war-torn wasteland of Manhattan, but at the end of the day there’s no need to worry. This ends up being an entertaining first chapter in the latest Northlanders storyline.

In some Northlanders stories, it’s the Vikings who are the enemy, letting us see their destructive side. Here, we’re getting a nice flip of that situation, with the Vikings being slowly destroyed by the arrival of Christianity and the money used to convince them to change their ways. It’s an interesting contrast, seeing these warriors that we’ve been reading about for two and a half years now have an enemy that presents itself as a friend even as it whittles away at their core. That’s not to say that there isn’t a physical fight in the new Northlanders (there is), but it does beg the question of just how effective those fights can really be.

Erik is our new protagonist, and so far I’m not entirely sure what to make of him. We first meeting him being rebuked for incompetence, and there’s little in the way of excuses or explaining from Erik on the accident that nearly killed three Vikings. Erik’s a proud and tough guy, which is a good character trait for a protagonist, but it’s also hard to avoid the thought that he’s not necessarily the brightest of people. As Erik blasts his way through the second half of the book, one gets the impression that he hasn’t truly thought through his actions and the consequences that are going to follow. It’s part of what makes me interested in reading more, to see the fallout of Erik’s acts of violence and destruction that rage across the pages.

It’s fun to see Burchielli drawing something about as far from DMZ as possible, and so far it’s working out rather well. Some of Burchielli’s best work in this issue is over the small things, like Erik sitting with his face in shadow as the issue opens and he’s being chastised. Over the first four pages, we see him his face slowly start to surface from the shadow, letting us see first just his nose, then his forehead, and finally his eyes glinting through the darkness. It’s an effective slow reveal of Erik. I also like that Burchielli doesn’t overly glamorize Erik, for that matter. He’s got a big thick head like a potato, and a nose too big in comparison to his eyes. He’s an unattractive (if powerful looking) man, and Burchielli brings him to life excellently. It’s a mix of cartoonish and realistic throughout the issue, and hard to forget. The big details work well too, though; the image of the village with the mountains in the background is beautiful, and colorist Dave McCaig does his part too with a beautiful pattern of color on the surface of the water.

Northlanders is a series that over the past couple of years has turned into an eagerly anticipated book; the new characters and setting for each story is something to eagerly await, seeing just what Wood and company are cooking up for us. For those looking for action, "Metal" is promising a lot of death and destruction. And for those looking for a slightly more philosophical bent, well, that appears to be on deck too. This month, Northlanders is bringing the rock.

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iZombie #1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/05/10/izombie-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/05/10/izombie-1/#comments Mon, 10 May 2010 08:00:26 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1334 Written by Chris RobersonArt by Michael Allred32 pages, colorPublished by Vertigo/DC Comics

Over the past decade, Chris Roberson’s come seemingly out of nowhere to carve himself a career in comics, books, and publishing. Originally part of the Clockwork Storybook collective of writers (which included Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges), he’s gone on to have novels [...]]]> Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Over the past decade, Chris Roberson’s come seemingly out of nowhere to carve himself a career in comics, books, and publishing. Originally part of the Clockwork Storybook collective of writers (which included Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges), he’s gone on to have novels and short stories published, as well as start his own MonkeyBrain Books. He’s also started to crack comics, his first major project the Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love mini-series, and now his first ongoing series iZombie. And while iZombie #1 reminds me a bit of some other creations out there, on the whole I’m pleased to see that Roberson’s rising up through the ranks in no small part because he’s a strong writer.

iZombie isn’t the first story out there to mix groups of supernatural characters into a single narrative, after all. What makes Roberson’s first issue stand out is the little tweaks behind the basic ideas, and the way that the dialogue flows as you read the issue. So while at first you might find yourself nodding at the idea of a zombie gravedigger and a ghost living together in an old crypt to be a pretty basic idea, Roberson quickly starts mixing it up. I love that instead of a werewolf, Roberson has inserted a wereterrier into the group of characters. And as for the whole idea of zombies eating brains, well, Roberson has his own particular take on that old chestnut as well. The differences set it apart and let you start to enjoy the comic’s strengths in their own right.

As the lead of the book, Gwen (our resident zombie) is a slightly sardonic if interesting character. Her transformation to zombie having happened in the past, while she’s clearly still not thrilled with her status in unlife, she’s gotten used to her day to day routines and plans. She might slightly mock her friends Ellie (a ghost) and Spot (the wereterrier) but at the same time, she clearly knows enough about them and their foibles that on some level she enjoys being around them. Roberson’s not afraid to show some of Gwen’s weaknesses as well; trying to avoid people who knew her when she was still alive makes perfect sense, after all, and her love of Dixie Mason, Action Girl dolls is a fun and cute touch. There’s a lot of set-up with Gwen, like her low ego when it comes to her paintings, and Roberson seems to be promising a payoff down the line.

Roberson also has a gimmick to keep iZombie from being just a simple "day in the life of a monster" series, with the hook of how eating a brain affects Gwen. It’s a smart idea, and it pushes Gwen out into the rest of the world, something one gets the distinct impression she’d otherwise avoid entirely. While I think a slice-of-unlife series would work just fine as is, adding this extra plot wrinkle gives Roberson additional plot possibilities. While it’s something that can drive specific storylines, at the same time it isn’t absolutely necessary for it to appear the whole way through the series.

Michael Allred continues to be one of my art superstars. When you buy a comic drawn by Allred, you know exactly what you’re going to get; smooth, clean lines, great understanding of the human form and anatomy, and expressive faces. Something as simple as Gwen and the other gravediggers hanging out before a job is drawn with care. No one’s in the exact same pose, even while they’re all in general states of readiness. As Gwen watches the funeral, you can see a wistfulness in her eyes, the perfect match to Roberson’s caption on how her old life was over and she had to start a new one. Allred never has to go for over the top layouts or attention-grabbing techniques to pull the reader in; he manages it just fine on his own.

iZombie #1 is a good start to the series, and a $1 introductory price tag is an added bonus. I find myself wishing the title of the series hadn’t changed since first being announced (going from I, Zombie to iZombie) but when that’s the biggest complaint I could find, that’s not a big deal at all. iZombie is definitely worth taking a look at for yourself. I think you’ll agree it’s worth coming back for the next installment.

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American Vampire #1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/03/22/american-vampire-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/03/22/american-vampire-1/#comments Mon, 22 Mar 2010 08:00:43 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1276 Written by Scott Snyder and Stephen KingArt by Rafael Albuquerque40 pages, colorPublished by Vertigo/DC Comics

Lately, Vertigo’s launched their new series with a gimmick of a $1 cover price for the first issue, to try and pull in new readers. I’m amused that they didn’t feel the need to do that for American Vampire, although [...]]]> Written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
Art by Rafael Albuquerque
40 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Lately, Vertigo’s launched their new series with a gimmick of a $1 cover price for the first issue, to try and pull in new readers. I’m amused that they didn’t feel the need to do that for American Vampire, although I do agree with their assessment. After all, when half of the issue is written by Stephen King, who needs a lower sales point to grab attention? The funny thing is, though, of the three main creators to work on American Vampire #1, I think I’d probably place King as only the third best in this comic. That’s not so much a slam on King, though, but rather how well Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque do.

To me, the biggest star of American Vampire is Albuquerque, who provides the art for both Snyder and King’s stories. At a glance, you might think there’s a different artist, or at least inker for the two. Instead, Albuquerque deliberately varies his style for the different stories, which makes sense; Snyder’s "Big Break" is set in 1925, while King’s "Bad Blood" jumps back to 1890. The lead story, set in the glamour of the early motion picture era, is more crisp and defined. I like to think it’s a commentary on how the movie camera has come into prominence, capturing glimpses of the world to be viewed over and over again. By way of contrast, "Bad Blood" is a story being recounted by one of the other characters to the reader, and far away from a Hollywood sound stage. Its edges are slightly blurry and nebulous, with Dave McCaig obligingly making the coloring for this story also more dreamlike as it almost smears from one panel to the next. What Albuquerque and McCaig bring to both stories, though, is a strong group of character portraits and settings that leap out to the reader. From a wildly intricate movie set, to a train winding through Colorado, Albuquerque makes each place distinctive and as a result memorable. His people are great as well; when the titular vampires finally appear, it’s a particularly menacing scene. From the cluster of vampires smiling hungrily, predatorily, while drenched in a dull red glow, to their visual shift to black and white silhouettes that spring through the air, this is a fantastic looking book. Even cheerier scenes has him use a similar trick; with the studio lights shining on Pearl and Chase to block out their features from us, their outlines as they move closer together become sensual through the lack of details, their profiles standing in for every couple inching towards a kiss.

Regular writer Snyder tackles the main story in American Vampire #1, and he had my attention instantly as Pearl recounts to a friend how A Trip to the Moon made her want to become an actress, overlaid over a particularly chilling scene hinting towards her fate to come. From there, the book jumps back three days as we follow Pearl and her friend Hattie as they try to make it big in Hollywood while struggling to pay the rent. The basic plot itself is an old and familiar one, but Snyder makes it work by creating in Pearl a character that I actively want to see more of. It’s hard to define what it is about Pearl that makes her an instantly likable character; maybe it’s her down-to-earth attitude, perhaps it’s her eagerness to try and become a star. Even when Pearl makes a decision that the reader will know could prove to be deadly, you still want to see her succeed and survive rather than cheer on some sort of "punishment" for making such an elementary mistake. My one complaint with Snyder’s script is some particularly clumsy captions to show the passage of time. When the first caption (and scene) is set in 1925, seeing the second scene’s caption as "3 days ago" made me briefly wonder if Snyder meant three days earlier to the first scene, or if we’d suddenly jumped into modern times. (As it was the former, perhaps "3 days earlier" would have worked.) Other captions are even less successful, with a "Later…" at the start of an extremely obvious scene change, or "That night…" as a new page has shifted from broad daylight to dark night. Hopefully in future issues, Snyder will learn to trust Albuquerque and McCaig a little more (both of whom make almost all of the captions unnecessary) and use less of these captions.

I was surprised but intrigued when American Vampire was announced with King writing a story over the first five issues that would give some additional back story to the series. Up until now, King’s involvement in comics has been primarily limited to offering up a plot outline, or having his books adapted by another creator entirely. Here, we see King jump into the world of a full comic script, showing us the state of vampirism some 45 years earlier. King falls into the trap of cramming a huge amount of dialogue into his early pages, and at first I was worried that we were going to end up with a comic where it was a script with illustrations trying to peak out from behind it. As the story progresses more, though, King gets his exposition out of the way and he lets Albuquerque tell his story instead. As mentioned earlier, the art looks fantastic, and while there aren’t any characters in King’s story that I found myself instantly drawn to like Pearl in "Big Break," it’s the overall setting and story that makes me interested in more. On its own it might not have drawn me in quite as easily, but as part of the greater whole of American Vampire I’m sold.

Vertigo’s been bringing out several new series over the last year, and American Vampire is one of Vertigo’s strongest debuts. American Vampire has got a killer first issue—no pun intended—and a strong style in both script and art to make a great impression. Vampire mania seems to be running rampant these days, but American Vampire is so far managing to steer clear of all of the obvious traps, instead bringing its own special take on the concept. Definitely take a look at American Vampire, you won’t regret it. Highly recommended.

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