Monday, March 21, 2011

Once again, real life caught up with me last weekend, and I didn’t get time to write a blog entry. And while I’ve got a couple of things I want to write about eventually, I’m feeling a bit of pressure this week as well.

Plus, I’m pretty happy with how my previous entry, about the Rocketeer, came out. It’s the sort of thing I really want to do with this blog: talk about things that I love. I don’t want to write reviews, or detailed, well-researched retrospectives. I just want to talk about things that mean a lot to me, and why that’s the case.

But, like I said, I’m not feeling like I have the time to do that really well this week. So it’s going to be another quick recap of stuff that made an impression on me recently.

This past week was the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo, or C2E2 (not, as one might guess, the name of a supporting droid on Star Wars: Clone Wars). Not a lot of “news” coming out of the con impressed me at all. In fact, only two bits of news that I read made any real impact.

First, I was excited to hear about IDW’s Doctor Who comics being available digitally on the IPad. It should come as no surprise that I read these comics. I buy them as they come out monthly, then get them again when they’re collected into books so I can easily reread them and store them on my bookshelf. So the idea that I can dispense with buying paper copies of the serialized version, and just read those digitally as they come out is pretty cool.

Then there was the announcement of Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley working on a creator-owned comic, Brilliant. Again, I’ve made no secret of my preference for creator-owned comics. I became a fan of Brian Bendis through his early, independent crime comics, and still follow his creator-owned stuff. (His mainstream Marvel stuff is just fine. In fact, when I read it, I think it’s great. But I just don’t want to read Avengers or Ultimate Spider-Man or any of that, and because he does enough of his own stuff, I don’t have to.)

Mark Bagley, I remember from my youth as being the guy who broke into comics through the Marvel Try-Out Book. In 1983, Marvel published this thing as recruiting tool, giving prospective artists, inkers, letterers, colorists, and writers sample pages to work on, and send in to Marvel to show what they could do. Bagley was the winning penciler, so he was the first potential new comics superstar whose work I saw from the very beginning.

Most of Bagley’s work through his entire career has been for Marvel Comics, so I haven’t always gotten everything he’s worked on. But he always stayed on my radar. And now, apparently at the age of 53, he’s finally working on something he can own. So, obviously, I’m going to support that.

Anyway, here’s the books and comics I read over the last couple of weeks that I thought worth talking about:

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Aaronovitch wrote the Doctor Who story Remembrance of the Daleks, which is fantastic. He also wrote a couple of Doctor Who tie-in novels that were favorites of mine. This is his first original novel, about a London cop who ends up assisting the detective-inspector/sorcerer whose job it is to deal with supernatural crimes, and it’s also fantastic.

My joke is that it’s a novel set in contemporary London, featuring a cop solving crimes involving magic, but it’s not an Urban Fantasy because the cover doesn’t feature a chick in leather hot-pants poking my eyes out with her boobs. Seriously, though, it reads like a contemporary crime novel featuring magic, and that’s what makes it work. Aaronovitch seems to be building a world here, but isn’t caught up in shoving the clever details of that world-building down the reader’s throat. There are crimes, they involve magic, and there are rules to how that magic works. But it’s all in service of the story.

It’s also funny as hell, and a story that draws very deeply on its setting. Whether dealing with the history of Punch and Judy, or the geography of the London river system, it’s not a story that could be easily transplanted to another setting.

The sequel is already out, but I haven’t read it yet. Hopefully, these are just the first two in a long line.

Carbon Grey by Hoang Nguyen, Khari Evans, Paul Gardner, Mike Kennedy, and Kinsun Loh

It seems like a lot of creators, but Carbon Grey is the brainchild of video game designer Nguyen, aided and assisted by friends and colleagues who he says are better writers and artists than him. It’s a fantasy/sci fi/action comic set in what appears to be an alternate version of the First World War. I ordered it because the idea intrigued me, and the art samples I saw looked pretty cool.

In this first issue, he dumps the reader right into the world, without a lot of setup. This is a risky thing, and I’ve read more than one review chastising him for being too confusing. Me, I think I was able to follow the story, but I don’t feel like I’ve got the whole picture yet. That’s fine; it’s only the first issue, and if all my questions were answered already, I wouldn’t need to come back for the next part.

Having said that, I’m conditionally recommending it, because there’s always the chance that things won’t get clearer. In the meantime, though, it feels like Nguyen and his team are deliberately setting things up to be explained later. So I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Weird Worlds by Kevin Van Hook, Jerry Ordway, Aaron Lopresti, and Kevin Maguire

DC Comics’ new anthology, Weird Worlds, seems to be getting next to no attention, and that’s a shame. It features three serialized stories: Lobo by Kevin Van Hook and Jerry Ordway, Garbage Man, created, written, and drawn by Aaron Lopresti, and Tanga, created, written, and drawn by Kevin Maguire.

Lobo is a character that I thought was fun at first, twenty-some years ago. Since then, I have lost all interest in the indestructible, bad-ass biker intergalactic bounty hunter, and this series is doing nothing to change that. However, Jerry Ordway, who should be doing higher-profile projects than this, draws it beautifully.

The other two series are what have me continuing to buy and read this comic. It’s not very often that DC or Marvel tries to introduce new characters into their universes. (To be fair, it’s because fans don’t want to seem to want to read about new characters, but there you go.) So the fact that these series do introduce new characters makes it something I want to support. Plus, each is the vision of a single creator, each writing and drawing his own creation.

Garbage Man, by Lopresti, seems to be a man-turned-monster horror story in the vein of Swamp Thing or Man-Thing. (Though I suppose Garbage-Thing wouldn’t have been a good choice for a title.) The art is nice, and the story is fun, although I wish the story felt less like a single, long, serialized origin story, and had instead presented more relatively self-contained segments. As it is, I don’t really have a sense of what a Garbage Man story will be, once the origin is done, and consequently don’t know if it’s a series I would want to see more of.

According to Lopresti,
"The Garbage Man saga is much more involved than can be handled in six nine-page story slots. Most of the story will pay off in the second six-issue "Weird Worlds" series."

This, of course, is a bit frustrating. One would hope that he would focus on making the first story a satisfying read, because if it isn’t there won’t be a second one. (How hard is the whole serialized story thing to understand?)

Kevin Maguire’s science-fiction hot chick story, Tanga, is more of a light-hearted romp. He has said in any number of interviews that he’s having the time of his life doing this story, and it shows. And that sense of fun is infectious. I’m hoping Weird Worlds does indeed spawn some sort of follow-up series for Garbage Man and Tanga. (And if I have to take more Lobo along with it, I’ll cope. Especially if it’s drawn by Ordway.)

Savage Beauty by Mike Bullock and Jose Massaroli

Mike Bullock wrote the Phantom comic for Moonstone Books, based on the classic newspaper strip. He placed the character (a costumed hero based in the African jungle) very squarely in contemporary Africa, dealing with modern issues like genocide, ethnic cleansing, and child soldiers. When Dynamite Comics took over the Phantom license, creating something that was almost but not entirely unlike the Phantom I know and love, I was disappointed. Fortunately, Bullock seems to be exploring the same themes through this surprisingly intelligent updating of the classic Jungle Girl concept.

I highly recommend this comic, but with some reservations about the publisher. Moonstone announces and solicits a lot of comics that catch my attention. Too often, however, they either never come out (or come out very late), or they end up not really being comics. I was very excited about their Return of the Originals line of comics based on old pulp characters. However, so far, the two books released in that line have been illustrated prose stories, not comics (and one was clearly being promoted as a graphic novel). And none of the other stories have managed to make it to stores yet.

However, Savage Beauty #1 did come out, and it’s the comic that was described. And it’s as good as I had hoped. The story is (sadly) relevant and topical. It’s not just about some leopard-skin-bikini-clad white chick fighting poachers or jewel smugglers or gun runners. The art has a nice European or South American feel to it. And there’s a fun reprint in the back, for folks looking for more of a classic Jungle Girl comic to balance stuff out.

I guess my biggest concern is that this is coming out from Moonstone, who do produce good comics, when they actually come out, and are actually comics. I know my local comics store regards them as wholly unreliable, and that’s not an entirely unearned reputation. Personally, I’m hesitant to order stuff from them not knowing if I’m getting a comic or something else. However, if they can keep putting this series out on a regular schedule, I’m happy to talk it up for them.

Buz Sawyer 1: The War in the Pacific by Roy Crane

One of those longer blog entries I’ll eventually get to is my passion for old newspaper comic strips. I had heard of Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy strips, but Buz Sawyer was new to me until the King Features web page started running it as part of their (wonderful) vintage strips program.

Now Fantagraphics has started reprinting Roy Crane’s work, starting with the Captain Easy Sundays and the Buz Sawyer dailies. This volume reprints all the Sawyer wartime strips, and they’re great. They totally demonstrate why Crane has the reputation that he does amongst comic strip fans.

The stories are pretty much a product of their time. As stories about the war published in mainstream newspapers during the war, they’re straightforward patriotic adventures of American heroism and ingenuity pitted against the menace of Japan. They’re not particularly introspective, nor are they politically correct by today’s standards. (Although, given recent comments I’ve seen online about how the Japanese earthquake and tsunamis are somehow “payback” for Pearl Harbor, I’m not sure if that’s really as true as I’d like to believe.)

However, they are fast paced, dramatic, and exciting. Personally, I don’t think the characters and plots are as deep or complex as those found in Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, but they’re pretty close. (Plus, I’m totally biased.)

More to the point, the artwork is gorgeous. I’m not familiar with any other newspaper comics artist who uses duotone craftint anywhere near as extensively as Crane, and it gives his work a very distinctive look. Plus, you know, gorgeous women.

I also just finished the first volumes of Little Orphan Annie and X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan from the Library of American Comics. Both great, so I’ll probably be talking about them more in the future.