Tuesday, February 21, 2017

VELVET by Ed Brubaker

Well color me impressed!

Brubaker once again creates a graphic novel that can be used to show people that comic books aren't just all about flying superheroes and aliens, and this is his best work that I've read so far! This time, the story is about Velvet Templeton, secretary for the head of the elite international spy agency ARC-7. After one of their top agents is killed and she finds herself framed for the murder, Velvet must use skills that no one expected she possessed to clear her name. You see, Velvet used to be one of ARC's most skilled field agents before retiring to a safe desk job in secret. But it turns out she's still got the juice!


What follows is a fully action-packed spy thriller in the same vein as the James Bond and Jason Bourne thrillers, balanced with a lot of the same espionage intrigue as John Le Carré's stories. So if you have even a passing interest in any of that stuff you'll love this. Even if you don't you'll probably still love this.

It took me a while to read it not because it was slow or boring but because I kept taking ridiculous amounts of time to gaze at every page. It has some of the most gorgeous artwork I've seen in a graphic novel yet. I'm not super knowledgeable with the ways comic book production works so I don't know who to credit for the lighting in comics. Is it the colorist? If so, kudos to the MVP, Elizabeth Breitweiser, and her stunning lighting and colors here, in conjunction with Steve Epting's detailed drawings. Every page is lovely and filled to the brim with texture.


I read the story in its three individually released volumes and each chapter becomes more exciting than the next, with exhilarating set-pieces, a plot that moves so fast, if you blink you'll miss it all, and characters with shady intentions. And it's all grounded by Velvet herself, a resourceful secretary who can kick anyone's ass and hold her own against fellow badasses like Bourne, Jack Bauer, and Chuck Norris. This is the best work I've read so far by Ed Brubaker, this time working outside of his partnership with artist Sean Phillips, collabing with Epting instead, the artist from his Captain America run, who provides slicker edges to the art than the down-and-dirty Phillips, and seems like a better fit for this world of international spy-work. You can read it now in its cheaper three part releases, or wait until this deluxe hardcover edition, which will undoubtedly have a bunch of cool extras!


GRADE: A-

Saturday, February 18, 2017

WORD: STORIES by Edward Lorn

Consider this one a sort-of Lorn Literary Sampler!

Edward Lorn is mostly know for his work as a horror storyteller, and while this book can be seen as a departure by some and is a collection of stories that aren't horror at all, several of the stories definitely can qualify as horrifying, with one about a man dangerously taking part in a 30-pound burrito eating contest, and another about a dude obsessed with masturbating and spreading his man juice all over things that people will likely touch.

Each tale in the collection is different in terms of story and concept but the through-line here is the same talent that you can find in Lorn's other work: the general verve and maturity with the way he approaches story, characters, and themes. Almost all of the tales were pretty enjoyable, with the exception of the last one, "glamis" (which I found a bit tedious and boring). But none of them particularly blew me away. The closest was "lounge," a story of a varied group of survivors drinking away their sorrows at a bar in a war-torn American city. Don't start with this as your first book by Lorn, but definitely give it a go once you get into his work.

GRADE: B-

Sunday, February 12, 2017

THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR by Angel Luis Colón

This novella doesn't waste time with set-up, exposition, introductions, prologues or any other bits of literary lollygagging. It jumps right out from the first paragraph at a full sprint and never stops until the end. Someone has stolen Polly, Blacky Jaguar's beloved 1959 Plymouth Fury. It turns out that Blacky is a crazy Irish badass and he'll stop at nothing to get Polly back and give the thieving bastards a right proper beatdown.
"I ain't beyond a little old-fashioned revenge."
It's a simple plot that's punctuated with Colón's economy. His writing is immediate and unadorned, much like Blacky himself. Well, maybe Blacky is a bit adorned, he does drive a Plymouth Fury and wears his hair like Elvis. Blacky is a difficult protagonist because he's a total villain. He's a fully unrepentant criminal that is willing to kill or maim to get what he wants. But you get a sense that he has a code and he works because Colón makes him so damn charming and fearless.

GRADE: B+

Thursday, February 9, 2017

BATMAN: I AM GOTHAM by Tom King

This first volume of DC's new Batman Rebirth relaunch comes out the gate starting with a bad stumble, a one-shot hand-off issue where it seems like literally nothing happens. It's totally a throw-away story. What follows is a six-issue arc that sports an interesting concept but this story also falls a little flat. Two new heroes have risen in the city, Gotham and his sister Gotham Girl, who really look up to Batman and have Superman/Wonder Woman-like abilities. But they might not be ready to be heroes themselves.

The idea of new heroes in Gotham is interesting and the idea of having them corrupted was also cool but the execution is a real missed opportunity and very forgettable. I would've loved to see Gotham's desire to see justice done grow to extreme vigilantism, which is what causes him to kill, leading to Batman having to put him down, but instead he goes bad because a new throw-away villain with the power to control emotions brainwashes him? Meh. Boring.

And we never really got a sense of how powerful Gotham and his sister truly were, so I didn't buy it at all that he defeated every member of the Justice League single-handed like they were just random thugs. That would be kind of a big deal! It just feels like the book wasn't fully conceived to it's full potential and filled half-ass ideas. And what's the deal with Batman always wanting an partner? I've ALWAYS hated that idea.

Oh well, the upcoming second volume has a pretty cool plot and it seems to feature Bane, so I'll check that out and I hope it's better.

GRADE: D

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I HATE FAIRYLAND VOL. 1: MADLY EVER AFTER by Scottie Young

Imagine Alice in Wonderland if Alice was stuck there for 30 years and in that time turned into a crazed, homicidal maniac.

You see, once upon a time there was a cute little girl named Gertrude who, like any little girl, dreamed of going to a colorful land of teddy bears, rainbows, and powder puffs. She's able to get her wish but in order to leave Fairyland, she must find the magical key to unlock the door back to the real world. How hard can that be right? Well, fast-forward 27 years later and not only is Gertrude still looking for that fluffing key, but she's also a 40 year old woman still stuck in a toddler's body. AND she's kind of gone a bit insane. Wouldn't you go a bit mad too if you spent nearly 30 years seeing pastel colors and eating sugar puffs every fluffing day?
This first volume in this most-definitely-not-for-kids series is downright hilarious. I laughed with every turn of the page, as Gert, along with her battle ax and her guide Larry (a chain-smoking fly who's seen some shish), cut a bloody swath all across the magical kingdoms of Fairyland in search of the magic key. Scottie Young's baby-art style is the perfect foil for this subversive adult material. You'll find yourself rooting for the bad guy in this one, and eager to see what happens next with Gert and her adventures.













GRADE: B+

Monday, February 6, 2017

THE CHAOS WE KNOW: STORIES by Keith Rawson

You ever been thrown off your game by a surprise headbutt to the face? I have. And that's what reading this book is like. There will be many decent, morally-sound human beings that probably won't like this one, but if you're like me and enjoy reading dark stories about self-destructive, morally reprehensible assholes, then this one will float your boat. Almost every story in this collection left me reeling at the end, not only by the deplorable subject matter but also by how impressively precise and assured Rawson's style is in the crafting of each tale.

These are true short stories, each one being an average of about 8 or 9 pages, with Rawson truly in command of the characters and the language. His writing is great all around, punchy and profane.
Pauline and Christy, they were both in their twenties but the warzone world of gash for cash had turned them into something resembling squeezed out tubes of toothpaste.
There's a theme to the structure here too, where each tale opens with the main character in the middle of a compromising situation, and then the twists and surprises lie in what got them to that point.

Although I really enjoyed it, I wouldn't recommend this to everyone; it may be hard for some readers to take. There are almost no redeemable characters in this at all, the whole thing is filled with meth addicts, crooked cops, mass murderers, adulterers, etc. In fact, one of the minor weaknesses of the collection is how repetitive it feels at first, especially in the first third, where it seemed like every story starred someone strung out on drugs. And another reason why I didn't give it a perfect score is because of the plethora of typos. That's usually not a big deal for me but it got a bit ridiculous. That aside, I really enjoyed EVERY story here and I was never let down. I dare you to read "Memory Lane," "The Referral System," "The Clipjoint Romance," "Three Cops," or "Hide and Seek" and not want to read every story that Rawson has ever written.


GRADE: A-

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

ALL-NEW X-MEN VOL. 1: YESTERDAY'S X-MEN by Brian Michael Bendis

The X-Men comics were my favorites when I was younger, and I wanted to jump back into reading them with a more contemporary story. The X-Men have been around for a while, embedded in our zeitgeist with many different iterations, and sometimes it feels like they've told every story they could. Not only that but one big critique that many people have is that the universe has gotten too big, with too many characters, and it can get a bit overwhelming. That's why I think that this story arc in the debut volume of All-New X-Men is so cool. Bendis not only was able to find a fresh, clever idea, but with this idea, he was able to bring the focus back to the basics: a core, familiar group of mutants, the original five!

Because the X-Men can't figure out how to handle Cyclops, who recently broke bad and is now modeling himself as a mutant revolutionary with Magneto and the White Queen at his side, Beast has the dumbass genius idea to go back in time, gather up the original five teenage students of Xavier (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Angel, and Beast himself), and bring them back to the future to see if they can talk some sense into mean Cyclops and show him how far he's fallen. What could possibly go wrong?


So this first volume isn't exactly jam-packed with mutant action but focuses more on fleshing out the cool concept and it's ramifications. How would the act of bringing the past versions of the X-men to this time affect the time/space continuum? How would the younger versions feel with seeing what their future lives entail? How would today's Cyclops react after seeing a younger version of himself and Jean Grey, the wife he's lost? And speaking of the young Jean Grey, she's the real star of this show who provides the book's heart. She begins to develop her telepathic powers and it's not the easiest thing, especially under the circumstances. I'm excited to see what happens next, and I think it would be awesome if Bendis used this time travel incident and tied it into established X-canon. For example, it would be so interesting if, by going into the future and developing her abilities there, that's the way that the Phoenix Force was initially able to tap into Jean Grey, jump-starting the popular Phoenix Saga? So many possibilities...

GRADE: B+

DESPERATION ROAD by Michael Farris Smith

Michael Farris Smith's second novel is a graceful character piece that explores a steady collision course in the lives of a handful of damaged souls in rural Mississippi.

The book moves at a deliberate pace and takes it's time, but this is all in service of the real standout, which is Smith's command of character. With thoughtfulness and an elegant precision, he paints a canvas of characters who are individually beautiful in their flaws, but even more engaging as an ensemble.

There's Russell, who, released after spending eleven years in prison, has discovered that the world he knew has moved on without him, Maben, who was born under a bad sign and searching for some way out of her hard luck life, and Larry, who's desperately looking for someone to blame for all of his problems.

It's a powerfully written novel about repercussions, tragic coincidence and owning up to mistakes in order to move forward. I read an Advanced Copy of this provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review and I definitely recommend it.

GRADE: A-

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

KILL OR BE KILLED VOL. 1 by Ed Brubaker

Dylan is a depressed grad student and kind of a pussy, pining over his best friend Kira. He decides to end it all by jumping off a building and  then miraculously survives, with a whole new love for life. But then he realizes that in exchange for his life, he's sold his soul to a demon who demands that he kill one deserving person every month, as rent for living his own life.

The whole idea of the Faustian deal with the demon felt a little lazy and contrived, but what it leads to, a young man forced into reluctant vigilantism, is really engaging. How do you decide who is deserving of death? How do you handle dealing with a gun for the first time? How do you keep your secret life hidden from your friends? How do you handle it when your victims fight back? These are a few of the questions I found asking myself while taking this ride with Dylan.

This is the latest on my adventures delving into Brubaker's work with artists Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser, and this, his most recent series, has lots of potential to grow in different ways as the series goes on, and I'm excited to be there to see it.

GRADE: B

Monday, January 23, 2017

BATMAN: ZERO YEAR - DARK CITY by Scott Snyder

While it's a bit uneven, silly and confusing at times (where the hell did the Bat-Blimp come from?), and doesn't flow as well as I would have liked, there are some really good ideas in this sequel to Zero Year - Secret City, which is Scott Snyder's take on the introduction of Batman to Gotham City. There's a nifty little Dark Knight Rises-style idea of Batman struggling to save a slightly dystopian Gotham taken over by The Riddler, all while in a soiled t-shirt, army pants, and cowl, riding a beat-up dirtbike.

While James Gordon was barely in the previous book, he has much more of a presence here, and Snyder has a great new take on his character, that might feel controversial to some. Not only is there a hint that Gordon's past as a cop might not be as straight and narrow and idealistic as you might think, there's also the idea that he and Bruce Wayne have a history dating back to the deaths of Bruce's parents, with Bruce growing up blaming him along with the other bent cops in the city for the violence that lead to his parent's deaths. It not only provides a past that Gordon has to overcome, but also a grudge that Bruce has to overcome as well. In Zero Year, Bruce is a cocky, angry 25-year-old who, throughout the two books, has to learn to put aside the anger, learn that the only way to really save the city is with the help of others, and become a true symbol of hope that Gotham needs.


GRADE: B-