Saturday, October 14, 2017

ASTONISHING X-MEN OMNIBUS by Joss Whedon

I've never been a big Joss Whedon fan-boy. I've never really understood the hype. But after reading this...man, he can write a mean X-men story! It can be tricky writing for the X-Men, especially these days, with tracking so many characters and trying to keep it fresh and interesting, but Whedon does an skillful job here in this 25-issue run that he had with the heroes.

Whedon shows a real love for the characters here, and the book features some of the most creative sequences I've seen in an X-Men tale. Whedon takes these well-known characters, consolidates all of their best attributes, and lets it all fly in this epic story. He not only has a great sensitivity to each X-Man's personality, but he takes their specific powers and explores all of the possible ways to showcase them, leading to massively entertaining sequences. One great example is the way the book shows how powerful skilled psychics can be, especially in the amazing sequence in the third volume, Torn, when the mansion is attacked by the Hellfire Club and telepathically manipulated by Cassandra Nova and Negasonic Teenage Warhead.

You can also tell the love that Whedon (as with many other writers) has for Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat). She has many fans but Whedon really showcases all of the aspects of her powers here and it's all very fascinating. What happens when Kitty has an orgasm? One of the reasons why the X-Men are some of my favorite heroes to read is because of the specificity of their individual powers, so I had a blast with all these little moments. And the book also features one of the coolest character entrances ever with the appearance of Colossus.

And of course the witty dialogue and entertaining  set-pieces that Whedon is known for is on full-display here, showing that he might be one of the best candidates to tell superhero stories, which he's proven here, and with his popularity with the big superhero movie franchises. And with this book run, he set a good standard for X-Men storytelling!



GRADE: B+

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

BLANKY by Kealan Patrick Burke

Kealan Patrick Burke has rocked it again with his latest novella and lands an effective balance of sadness and terror in this story about a man who loses his infant daughter to crib death and struggles to move on. But things take a darker turn when his daughter's blanky reappears, the blanky that was buried with her.

Burke takes one of the most horrific things that can happen to a parent and punches it up even more with the idea that there might be something much darker behind it all. And like most of the writers I love, his writing is deceptively simple, where you believe for a while that you're reading a simple horror tale because it has all the regular trappings, but then Burke sneaks up and punches you in the nose with genuine emotion and you realize that you're reading something else entirely. It also works in the reverse as well, where you think you're comfortably reading simply a well-written melancholy novella about the loss of a child, but then Burke turns your head and shows you something that creeps the crap out of you.

Can't wait to read even more of his work.

GRADE: B+

Monday, October 9, 2017

THE LAST WHISPER IN THE DARK by Tom Piccirilli

"You're a killer Terrier  I don't know who you've murdered but I can see its taint on you. You're my kind. We know about the disappeared, you and I. We know where the vanished are hidden."
I'm so happy I discovered Tom Piccirilli. It's so awesome when you discover writers who seem to write work specifically for you, books that are exactly what you want to read. 

This novel, which I believe was his final full-length one before his death, takes up several months after the events in The Last Kind Words, and features cat burglar Terrier Rand coming to terms with his actions in that book while still struggling with his place in his criminal family and still pining for the woman he abandoned. 

While the plot here isn't as focused as The Last Kind Words (he cast a wider net in this one, focusing on a number of different plot threads), Tom Pic outdoes himself here in his prose. He's a real writer's writer and has an almost perfectly-honed way with words that's really impressive to me. This is a crime novel more about the characters than about the crimes themselves and the book continues to effectively illustrate Terry, his family, and the rest of the supporting characters in a way that sets it apart from so many novels of its kind.  

In both this book and its predecessor, Terry struggles with avoiding the burden of his family's reputation and legacy but must confront the possibility that he must come to accept it, like it or not. One of the most interesting ideas is that his whole family is fucked up in a variety of ways, but the only one that seemed to be completely at peace was Collie, his late brother from the previous book that gave up the struggle fighting his urges and went on an unapologetic killing spree. Is that the answer...that Terrier just has to give in to his nature to finally be at peace with himself?
The underneath called to me and begged me to fire, to murder, to die. It promised me the end of anguish and a proper understanding of purpose.
It's not a feel-good read at all, so stay away if you're looking for something lighter. But as usual the author really knows how to nail poetic and powerful catharsis and like most of Pic's work it is a melancholy look at loss and a heritage you just can't shake. 
He had organized a hundred escape routes before, but now when he needed only one more, there weren't any left for him.
GRADE: A- 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

THE SEVENTH by Richard Stark

*Book 7 of the Parker series*

The Parker books have no business being this good seven books into the series. The stories are so simple that one would expect them to be too formulaic and repetitive. But with plot master Richard Stark at the helm, this is not the case. He's always so effortlessly creative when it comes to weaving a plot and he makes this book the best Parker novel so far in the series.

In this one, rather than detailing the setup of a complicated heist, we begin after the crime, as Parker holes up with the money and a woman he can bone until it's time to split the take. But when he goes out to get some beer and comes back to find her stabbed to death with a sword and the money stolen, he sets out to track the thief down and make sure he gets his cut. One of the things that really makes this one standout (aside from having an even faster pace than the others) is the fact that some of the obstacles that push the story forward is caused by Parker's mistakes. Parker is usually shown as an efficient, emotionless man who's always right and is always the one with the best judgement. But he fucks up a couple times here and it's interesting seeing him dedicated to fixing the situation.

So far, Stark's Parker novels are pretty dependable and enjoyable and The Seventh is the best one so far.

GRADE: A-

Saturday, September 23, 2017

THE SNAKE HANDLER by Cody Goodfellow and J. David Osborne

"I could never repent, because that was not my role, any more than it's yours. Heaven needs Hell. And Man needs a scapegoat for all the lies he tells himself."
Although the narrative lacked the momentum I was hoping for, this book is nowhere near safe or formulaic. This story of serpent handling evangelist preacher and small town drug dealer Clyde Hilburn being forced to confront his sins after he's bit by a snake someone put in his mailbox is still pretty memorable and has lots of things to say about sin, God, and morality. The tone of the novel really works to parallel Clyde's slow succumbing to the snake venom that he should be used to by now. I loved the writing and the fact that it's written as a prayer to God. It's an unflinching and savage collaboration between two great authors. And the redneck shootout in Walmart will probably go down as one of my favorite scenes in any book this year.

This is yet another brave and unique piece of work from Broken River Books, one of the best publisher's out there.

GRADE: B+

Monday, September 11, 2017

BEHOLD THE VOID by Philip Fracassi

One of the things that's very apparent in every story in this collection, and with all of Fracassi's work, is the intense focus on developing character. Some might say that it's even too much and not necessary for the short scary stories he writes, but I would respectfully disagree and it's an aspect in his work that I really appreciate. Good horror, to me, is inherently linked to character, and even more so here. Yes, these 9 stories feature occult horror, ghost stories, and cosmic horror, but the thread that really runs strong through most of them is the horror that has its roots buried deep in broken family relationships and parenthood.

Fracassi takes his time with each story, setting up it's world and characters, making the payoff that much more rich by the end. The best examples of this are in the standout stories "Mandala," "Fail-Safe," and "Mother," a story that packs the most stunning prose I've read so far by Fracassi.

And to think, the guy is basically just getting started.
Common sense assures us of the invalidity of demons and sharp-clawed creatures of the night, but we still can't help wonder if there's something there, waiting to drag itself toward us and slide it's cold wet claws around our neck, empowered because we gave it what it needed. We gave it the dark.
GRADE: B+ 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

ROUGHNECK by Jeff Lemire

Many of you might snicker at the fact that I've been reading comic books lately. Or at least just straight-up ignore the reviews. But those serious readers of rural grit lit authors like Daniel Woodrell, Benjamin Whitmer, and Ron Rash would definitely do well by checking out this recent graphic novel by the inimitable Jeff Lemire.

This multi-faceted work of art is a focused and personal drama focusing on Derek Ouellette, a disgraced hockey player turned violent, lonely drunk, and his efforts to reconnect with his estranged drug addict sister after she stumbles back into his life.
I'm so damn impressed by how much Lemire can do with so little. One of the things I LOVED LOVED LOVED the most about Roughneck was its lack of any narration, which is a convention used in almost every comic book/graphic novel I've read, and is mostly used too much as a crutch to help convey backstory and inner thought, since prose is usually not an option. But Lemire doesn't take the easy route and gives us just the amount of info we need through dialogue, expressions, and most important: imagery. It was so refreshing. And speaking of the imagery, Lemire really knows how to tell a story in visuals. There are great motifs here and the Canadian landscapes are rendered in cold, gray/blue tones, only broken by elements of memory, the past, by the things that haunt the characters, all depicted in saturated color.

Roughneck is about the choices you make: the choices in the past and the ones in the present, how they're intrinsically related, and how the time will come when you must come to terms with them. Pimitamon, the name of the fictional town where the book takes place, is the Cree word for "crossroad." Jeff Lemire seems to basically is in a class of his own in the comic book world and shows everyone else how to do it.

GRADE: A

Saturday, September 2, 2017

BLOOD'S A ROVER by James Ellroy

*Book 3 of the Underworld U.S.A Trilogy*

Ellroy seems like he's running out of steam here. Story-wise and stylistically, this novel fits right in as the final book in the Underworld USA trilogy, where he documents his own version of the history of this country's turbulent '60's, with this book pulling us from the MLK and Bobbie Kennedy assassinations and into the early 70's with the Nixon years and the Black Power movement. But it's a far cry from the quality of his masterpiece American Tabloid, and surprisingly, I even liked it a little less than the disappointing A Cold Six Thousand. While those two previous books had solid structures that moved on a path to their respective inevitable events in history, the historical material here doesn't provide such a trajectory, and much of it started to feel really repetitive. Even though it's an easier read than Cold Six, the main characters here were barely engaging. The book's best character by far, the fascinating FBI/Black Power Movement double agent Marshall Bowen, is relegated to mostly journal entries, where the book would've been so much better if he was a POV character!

I still love Ellroy's work in general but in this one, he  either run out of interesting material to fill an epic novel, or the good stuff that he did have was misused.

GRADE: C-

Monday, August 28, 2017

BLACK HAMMER VOL. 1: SECRET ORIGINS by Jeff Lemire

Wow, I really enjoyed this one. Just when you think you've seen everything in the superhero genre, it's awesome that a writer like Jeff Lemire can come along with an original story that feels fresh.

You know in superhero comic book universes when a big epic crossover crisis happens because the publisher wants to reset continuity and get rid of particular characters that won't fit into the new mold? When a God-like being threatens existence itself and some of our heroes sacrifice themselves to save the universe? Well, this book speculates on what happens to those characters post-event. After sacrificing themselves for Spiral City in a Crisis on Infinite Earths-style event, six Golden Age heroes find themselves on a farm in a quiet rural town, inexplicably unable to leave. Some are content with their new existence, while some are aching to find a way out.

If you're looking for big, epic superpowered action, you won't find it here. This story is a quiet, character-focused tale, as we watch the group try to deal with their new lives, hide their unique superpowers, and search for purpose now that they aren't heroes anymore. I love these characters and each chapter in this volume focuses on each person's history before the crisis and parallels the past with what they have going on in the present on the farm. While Abraham Slam and Barbalien are both trying to find their place in this new life while also finding new love, my favorite character, Golden Gail is having a much harder time. Her powers cause her to turn into a superpowered 9-year old girl, but after the Crisis, she is stuck in her little girl form. Being a 55-year-old woman (with all the accompanying thoughts and desires) stuck in a 9-year-old body can cause anyone to be bitter, so who can blame her for wanting a cigarette or a drink or three in the afternoon?

This book is a fascinating, spirited love letter to classic Golden/Silver/Bronze Age superhero comics (with obvious send-ups to known heroes Captain America, Swamp Thing, Mary Marvel, and Martian Manhunter), featuring detailed world-building and lovingly realized characters. Can't wait to see where this goes.

GRADE: A-

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

THE BLACK HOOD VOL. 1: THE BULLET'S KISS by Duane Swierczynski

Over the years, there have been a number of iterations of the superhero vigilante The Black Hood, who was introduced during the Golden Age of comics as a corny-costumed crime fighter. But writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Michael Gaydos takes the Hood and grounds him in tough ultra-realism, using the story to touch on violence and crime in his native Philadelphia.

Greg Hettinger is a Philly cop who gets involved in an altercation that not only leaves the original Black Hood vigilante dead but also leaves Greg's face hideously scarred by a shotgun blast. While recuperating and struggling with speech therapy and a painkiller addiction, he finds a purpose when he dawns a black hood and stalks the streets at night.



I'm a fan of Swierczynski's novel writing and I think it's pretty cool that he can jump back and forth so successfully between prose fiction and graphic fiction with his popularity on Marvel's Iron Fist and Cable, and DC's Birds of Prey. His sensibilities and talent is on display here to good effect, producing a graphic novel that turns the story of the Black Hood into something absolutely unrecognizable as a superhero story and much more of an urban crime noir about a man with serious issues and weaknesses finding the one way he feels he can redeem himself.

Gaydos's artwork really adds to the tone as well, feeling both painterly and rough around the edges, very similar to Alex Maleev's work, with the simple, unobtrusive panel layout work you can also find in Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's work.

I wish that the book ended with the great finale of the fifth issue because the last issue was awkward and felt totally out of place. It felt that it should have just been included in Volume 2. But it's still pretty good work overall!

GRADE: B+

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

CRIMINAL VOL. 6: THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT by Ed Brubaker

Here we go! The final full-length volume of Brubaker and Phillips's Criminal series is the bitter/sweet cherry on top of an awesome anthology that provides some of the best examples of noir writing in the sequential art form. It's pretty difficult to stand next to the other books in this series, which are consistently rad, and this one really holds it's own, taking a step away from Center City as the primary backdrop, which connected all of the stories in the series, and follows Riley Richards, a man who seems to have it all but is deeply unhappy and pines for his hometown, obsessing over the mistakes he made there.

What's really cool about The Last of the Innocent is the innovative artwork that contrasts the present day and the flashbacks by illustrating Riley's present-day world in Sean Phillips's trademark rough edges while presenting the nostalgic past with the softer, simpler art that many would recognize from Archie comics. I love it when artists use the singular strengths of their respective mediums to tell the story and the way Phillips uses the comic medium here lends a great effect!



At first, I thought the similarities to Archie were just a stylistic thing, but then I realized that there's much more to it than that. It's exciting to see that the story is essentially a speculation of what might happen if Archie married Veronica, moved to the big city and then got all fucked up. Dead ringers for all the Riverdale characters are all over this story, with pretty blatant Jughead, Reggie, Moose, and Betty analogue characters. But it's also a great tale on it's own merit, touching on simmering regret and resentment, and the lengths that you might be willing to go if given the opportunity to fix your discontent.

Brubaker and Phillips wrapped up this series of stand-alone noir tales with real pizzazz in this great volume!

GRADE: A-

GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH by Geoff Johns

I really enjoyed Green Lantern: Secret Origin and I think it was a great place for me to start: a simple origin story for Lantern newbies but still introducing cool mysteries and high concept science fiction. But I thought the real test was going to be this book, a tricky rebooting of a high fantasy cosmic saga and the return of the greatest Lantern, years after a number of other humans have taken up the mantle. Was I going to be lost and confused jumping into the middle of years of canon? Would ithe story just seem like a cheap trick to try to bring back a beloved character?

Well I admit that it wasn't as tightly crafted and easy to understand as Secret Origin, but I'm happy to say that it was still exciting. I was a bit lost with the the backstory of what happened to Hal Jordan before this book (there's something about him going bad and then bonding with the spirit of fear and the spirit of vengeance as they war for control of his mind). But I think that Johns did a relatively good job at catching me up and I was surprised by how much I understood and appreciated it all. There are lots of Justice League and Lantern Corps cameos as Jordan's friends band together to try to free him from both spirits. I'm not a big fan of all-powerful heroes, but what I enjoy about the Green Lantern is that although a Lantern's ring is the most powerful weapon in the universe, it's potential is only as strong as the willpower and imagination of the person using it, and in one of the best scenes in this book, I love how you see the struggle that Green Arrow goes through when he tries to use the ring.

There are some really great moments and and well-drawn action, especially in the rousing finale where all the heroes have to fight Parallax, the embodiment of fear. Even Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are out of their league and have to take a step back and let the Lanterns do the damn thing! I actually felt like cheering after the final fight and the triumphant return of Hal Jordan, which is pretty surprising given the fact that I wasn't very familiar with what happened before. There's some great world-building and a surprising amount of thoughtful character work. I especially loved the conflict between Green Lantern, a man with no fear, and Batman, a man who's biggest weapon is intimidation.

GRADE: B-

DOPE by Sara Gran

Sometimes, if you've been unlucky enough to find out the truth, you're better off forgetting it. Especially when there's not much you can do with it.
For a while now, I've been pretty over reading standard detective mysteries. I've begun to find them terribly boring, mostly featuring a slightly flawed investigator running around asking the same questions for most of the book; it gets pretty tedious and repetitive after a while. These days, I'm more interested in dark crime and noir stories that are a little more creative and substantial. So I'm not sure why I expected something different when I cracked this open.

The thing is, author Sara Gran really creeped me out with her previous demonic possession novel, Come Closer, impressing me with her matter-of-fact, conversational prose. So I really wanted to read more of Gran's work. But Dope doesn't offer much more than most of the other usual crime mysteries. It really is mostly just about ex-dopefiend Josephine Flannigan stalking around Manhattan searching for a missing girl. Gran does give us a bit more with her exploration of Josephine's past and her fight to stay on the wagon. Other than that it was all pretty forgettable. There's nothing inherently terrible about Dope, I just found it unremarkable. But hey, it might just be me and the way my taste has been changing.

GRADE: C

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

HARD SENTENCES: CRIME FICTION INSPIRED BY ALCATRAZ edited by David James Keaton and Joe Clifford

Broken River Books is one of the most exciting publishers out there, with great taste and a knack for finding interesting material. This is one of their latest releases, a collection of short fiction inspired by the country's most infamous penitentiary, from a group of great writers: folks like Jedidiah Ayres, Les Edgerton, Nik Korpon, Johnny Shaw, and Gabino Iglesias, all with different styles, ranging from Iglesias's bizarre shadow terror to the Cronenberg-sequel body horror style of Glenn Gray. 

The anthology does a good job of telling stories from different points of view surrounding Alcatraz. Sometimes they're about people intimately familiar with the place and sometimes the island haunts the stories' events from afar. We get tales from the points of view of prisoners, their relatives, children of prison employees living on the island (what a strange childhood that must have been!), and there are even some ghosts, demons, and historical figures like Capone, The Birdman, and Johnny Cash being awesome as usual. I wish there were more stories from the POV of the guards and other employees though. 

And although not every story is stellar, there are some great pieces here, like Ayres's "Clean Shot," Leah Rhyne's melancholy "The Music Box," Iglesias's hard-hitting "Creep," Rob Hart's punchline, "The Gas Chamber," and Matthew McBride's dynamic "A Broken Window." And all of the stories together serve to weave an inspired tapestry illustrating the undeniable notoriety of The Rock.

GRADE: B

Friday, July 28, 2017

PAPER GIRLS: BOOK ONE by Brian K. Vaughan

After falling in love with his Saga series, I wanted to branch out to other projects written by Brian K. Vaughan, and that led me here! The Paper Girls are Erin, Tiffany, Mackenzie, and KJ, pre-teen kids living in 1988 Cleveland, who meet on their respective newspaper routes early in the morning after Halloween, and find themselves dropped into an epic fantasy adventure.

This adventure of the Stranger Things/Goonies variety happens to be a bit of a mind-wreck filled with parallel timelines, multi-verses, dinosaurs, giant maggots, and futuristic soldiers.

Oh who am I kidding, it might not be about that stuff at all; I would be lying if I said I understood everything that was happening here! The comic lets it's secrets out on its own terms and it can get a little frenetic and confusing but the interesting thing is that I didn't really care. I enjoyed the characters and their budding relationships so much that I could watch them do anything. Plus, I'm a sucker for time travel so I'm down to being patient and seeing where it all goes! The second volume in particular is a rollercoaster of crazy-ass ideas that are sometimes hard to follow, but I'll be holding on for the ride.

The two volume included here in this deluxe edition are also available in cheaper single editions.

GRADE: B

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

BATMAN: DEATH OF THE FAMILY by Scott Snyder

Scott Snyder jump-started his run on Batman by putting his own stamp on it, Introducing a compelling new antagonist of his own original creation in the Court of Owls, and putting his own spin on Gotham mythology. It was well-received but many were bummed that he didn't include more popular and established Gotham villains in the first year of his run. But, after wrapping up that story, he goes full bore by utilizing the ultimate Batman villain. And man, does he! The product here is one of the most disturbing depictions of the Joker ever.

Snyder's Joker is even more of a complete madman than you would expect, not only allowing his face to be sliced off and put on ice, but then tying that face back onto his head like a mask before he embarks on an elaborate scheme to rid his favorite buddy Batman of his silly distractions, his closest allies!



The Joker's plan is gleefully depraved and the plot development is well thought out by Snyder. I had to keep reading to see how far The Joker would go and how it would all end. I've never been a fan of the whole Bat-family idea though. I feel like the Batman character works best as a solitary hero. I don't mind a small number of dedicated non-vigilante Gotham allies like Alfred or Jim Gordon, or even sometime reluctant partners like Catwoman, but do we really need Robin, Nightwing, Red Robin, Red Hood, and Batgirl? It just seems silly after a while. And The Joker monologues a little too much here, even for him!

But if you want a creepy, nasty story featuring one of the most iconic villains out there, check this one out. It'll probably go down as one of the most insane, dangerous versions of The Joker to date.

GRADE: B



Saturday, July 22, 2017

PECKERWOOD by Jedidiah Ayres

Man, I really wish I liked this more than I did. Jedidiah Ayres was one of my favorite author discoveries of last year. So I was excited to read this one: his debut novel and a release from Broken River Books, probably the coolest publisher out there. But although I didn't have a problem finishing the book, I realized that that reason I kept reading was due to Ayers's stylish prose and his true potential rather than much engagement in the characters or what was happening. It read a bit like an early draft, with hints of really great characters and noteworthy moments that never really reach their full potential. It felt like all the elements were turned to 50 when I feel like everything should have been hitting closer to a 100 to be truly memorable to me.

Now, it seems like I might literally be the only person who feels this way, so there's a good chance that others would love it, but I didn't feel like it matched the same quality as his fantastic novella Fierce Bitches, or his tough and creative stories in A Fuckload of Shorts. But I believe Jed Ayres is ultra-talented so I'll jump on his next book.

GRADE: C

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

SEX CRIMINALS VOL. 2: TWO WORLDS, ONE COP by Matt Fraction

Our favorite couple has narrowly escaped Kegel Face and her Sex Police and now they want to lay low, settle down, and just be a regular couple. But like any new couple, the honeymoon phase fades and the real struggle begins!

The fun is over in Sex Criminals and in some ways, I thought the shift in tone was interesting. But it did mean that I enjoyed this volume a little less. I really wanted more time-stopping sex and CumWorld criminal hijinks but instead I got hefty doses of relationship woes and dealing with depressing mental health issues. Although it wasn't as fun, Fraction does do a great job with pushing the further development of Jon and Susie and the rest of the supporting cast.

It's still lovable and and comical (that porn parody of The Wicked and the Divine...hilarious!), I just wish that the plot momentum was consistent with the last volume.

Good stuff.

GRADE: B+


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

SEX CRIMINALS VOL. 1: ONE WEIRD TRICK by Matt Fraction

This is the kind of book that's pretty mandatory to read in a physical form, if only to read it in a public place and have the decent people of the world give you weird glances after they look twice at the title.

The book's concept leaves room for so many possibilities and loads of entertainment. Jon and Suzie are a young, everyday couple, but they both share one special gift: they have time-stopping orgasms. No really, they literally stop time during the cum-down after sex. So once they hook up, they do what anyone with that gift would do, they decide to rob some banks! Let the games begin!



There are a couple of things in this series that elevates the concept above being merely juvenile and made it something distinctive. The first are the characters, who are relatable and charming if not fully likable, both endearing and multi-faceted enough to make me want to read much more about them. The second is Chip Zdarsky's artwork, which is colorful and witty, working perfectly in tandem with Matt Fraction's writing and a great fit for this fun romantic comedy. I also really love the light-streak effects that visually cue the time-frozen Cum World/Quiet. The lovely art is sometimes a character in itself, through it's attention to detail and it's subtle in-jokes that make you truly study the art on each page.

The whole thing is a great premise for a romantic comedy and it's a great way of looking at a new couple exploring sex and relationships and all their complexities.

GRADE: B+

Saturday, July 15, 2017

SAGA: BOOK TWO

We pick up again with our heroes as they try their hand at living a normal life on the planet Gardenia, with Marco taking up stay-at-home-dad duties while Alana wins the bread as an actor in shitty tv shows on the Open Circuit. Oh and Hazel is a toddler!

The first part here is really great as we really focus on the relationship between Alana and Marco and I thought it was a wonderful look at how doubts, trust and insecurity can strain a marriage even outside of the fact that the two are star-crossed lovers from enemy alien races. But just when the relationship is at it's lowest, the past catches up and the story is off again on an intergalactic adventure that's even more action-packed than before, involving new alliances, space heists, and a dangerous quest for dragon jizz. 

It's once again addictive, imaginative, and exciting, with characters you care about, proving once again why it's considered one of the top comic series being published right now. 

GRADE: A-

Friday, July 14, 2017

THE FORCE by Don Winslow

This is the the type of great book you don't see everyday; that you might go all year without reading. A book where you simultaneous want to see what the hell happens on the next page but also want to slow down your reading because you don't want it to end. A book that on one hand is crazily entertaining but also makes you hit Google and read articles to learn more about its timely issues.
Hell isn't having no choice. It's having to make a choice between horrific things.
At the risk of this sounding like hyperbole, Don Winslow takes a crooked cop story that's a combination of The Shield and The Wire (yes, it's just as amazing as that sounds), and crafts: 

1) One of the best books I've read this year

2) What might have to be considered the Best Cop Novel, perhaps ever.

3) The best Richard Price novel Richard Price never wrote.

This is the third book by Don Winslow that I've given an A grade to. The guy really does have a talent for slinging stories that are both heavily engaging with a lasting effect and also very researched and informative. A great storyteller that should have the same success as the most popular authors. One of the things that really impressed me was how awesome Winslow's attention to detail is and how EVERY SINGLE THING matters by the end. Everything character, every idea, even every setting connects in important ways and it always excites me to see an author so dedicated to making that happen. 
You tell yourself what you gotta tell yourself to do what you gotta do. And sometimes you even fuckin' believe it.
The story of Manhattan Task Force Detective Denny Malone is the epic tragedy of a crooked city cop at the top of his game slowly losing his grip on his kingdom. Throughout the novel, it's mesmerizing to witness him struggle to keep control and to get his head out from under the slowly rising waters of corruption, lies, dirty deeds and violence created by both he and the system he's a part of. 
All cats are gray in the dark.
Trust me, this will be seen as one of THE books of the year.

GRADE: A

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

BATMAN: THE CITY OF OWLS by Scott Snyder








This second volume of Scott Snyder's Batman run concludes the well-conceived clash between Batman and the Court of Owls, a shadowy cabal who have secretly ruled Gotham for centuries. The story was a bit more disjointed in this one (what was up with the intriguing but totally random Mr. Freeze story in the middle?) but the ideas continue to be great as Snyder goes all out with creating his own Batman mythology, as if it might be his last and only time ever writing a character he's always wanted to tackle. I applaud him for that. But damn, what I don't applaud him for is falling into that superhero comic trap of constant, non-stop dialogue during fight scenes! The opening attack on Wayne Manor was creative, dangerous, and engaging but damn, some of the other scenes (like the fight with the final Talon) were confusing and the chatter went on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on………

GRADE: B-

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

THE LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME by Rick Remender

This is the case of an otherwise decent graphic novel being nearly ruined by its artwork. It has a great concept in the premise of the country essentially making street crime obsolete, making paper money worthless and switching to electronic money, and the group of old-school criminals trying to hit the one last score that can set them up for life after the switch-over. The book had a lot of double-crosses and some bits of great dialogue as well but I kept getting taken out of the story my the mushy artwork by Greg Tocchini. I had a difficult time telling the difference between characters because of the lack of recognizable facial detail, and I thought that the action scenes were terribly rendered. I kinda wish that the cover artist Alex Maleev worked on the whole book! I've been curious about Remender's LOW series but I'm having second thoughts because Tocchini draws that one as well.


GRADE: C


Friday, June 30, 2017

PEEPLAND by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips

Peepland is the best of the graphic novels that Hard Case Crime has released so far as part of their new line of hard-boiled crime comic books. The book is written by acclaimed crime authors Christa Faust and Gary Phillips, and the story was spawned by Faust's experiences in her past career working in the New York City peep booths back in the day. It takes place in 1986 NYC and is about Roxy Bell, a peepshow artist working a booth at Peepland in Manhattan, who, after agreeing to stash a VHS tape for pornographer Dirty Dick, finds herself caught in a conspiracy that turns increasingly more dangerous every day.

This book does such a great job of dropping you into the world of pre-Guiliani 80's Manhattan (filled with porno theaters, pawn shops, and graffiti) and the people who roam the island. In their own way, Faust and Phillips touch a lot on what was going on in the society in that era as well, like the Central Park Five or the AIDS epidemic. The art by Andrea Camerini is effective and playful, with the saturated colors that we've come to expect from 80's stories.

There seems to be a real command of the story here. It's confident, well-structured, and a bit addicting actually. I found myself really caring about the characters in a very short amount of time and wanted to see where their story went. I loved the way the story developed in a way that all the lives surrounding Peepland were affected by this interconnecting plot. The dialogue is great, and each character was memorable and efficiently developed. And most important, despite its downbeat ending, the book is lots of fun to read. You can really feel the passion behind it all. By combining Faust's  knowledge of the time and place from her past life, Gary Phillips's experience of writing for comic books, and both of their solid crime fiction sensibilities, Hard Case Crime rocked it with this great release!

GRADE: A-

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

REVOLVER by Michael Patrick Hicks

This fierce, punchy novelette is is what we would get if Richard Bachman was still writing today during our social media age. It's reminiscent of his classic work in it's dystopian critique on society today. Hicks paints a picture of a world that's uncomfortably possible, where religious zealots and a rich family essentially take over America persecuting women, minorities, and homosexuals and where the masses morbidly watch poor people kill themselves on national primetime tv. It's passionate and well-written, and I love how it all took place in one room but you still got a sense of society outside. Using the increasing mob violence in the outside world really upped the tension. Good stuff.

GRADE: B+

Monday, June 26, 2017

SIN PIT by Paul S. Meskil

One of us would die. For the other, there would be Grace. I didn't know what she meant to him but, to me, she was worth all the risk.
Sin Pit was one of those cult pulp paperbacks that were notoriously difficult to find. But Automat.Press has come along and valiantly made it available again in e-book format, so I was stoked to get a crack at reading it! I was disappointed though to find that the book is more of a hard-boiled mystery than the sleaze noir that I hoped for. As a crime mystery, it's fairly enjoyable but at the same time, much of the developments and twists unfortunately were still pretty obvious. I could've done without much of the lagging bits featuring our unlikeable hero Barney Black pounding the pavement looking for clues and instead more of the interesting psychological touches of Barney confronting his hatred for women and himself, and how his infatuation with the aptly-named Randy Harding emphasizes it all.
A tiny warning bell sounded somewhere in my mind —the bell that had always meant danger. This time, I ignored it and told myself nothing mattered but this strange, catlike girl with the midnight eyes.
GRADE: C+

Sunday, June 25, 2017

BATMAN: THE COURT OF OWLS by Scott Snyder

With his first volume in the New 52 Batman rebranding, Scott Snyder brings the Caped Crusader back to the basics! I'm normally not a fan of the Batman stories that feature him going up against monsters, aliens, or other super fantasy bad guys. I gravitate towards the stories that are more grounded. So I really enjoyed Snyder's take here. In this story, Batman goes up against a secret society that has ruled Gotham from the shadows all the way throughout history. It's an organization that exists with the citizens as a myth, especially with Bruce Wayne, who seems to refuse to believe that there is a villain that has eluded him all these years, and still manages to rule his city.

I love that the story really focuses on Batman being what he started out as, a detective, going into deep investigation mode to track down the people responsible for a series of mysterious deaths in the city. I really enjoyed the focus on Gotham's history, the legacy of the Waynes, and their relationship with the Court, building more levels on the Gotham City mythology. The fact that the shadowy Court is, for the most part, grounded in reality but still feels like they could be a major threat to Batman, really sets a level of tension that really works. There are some cool ideas here and let's see what happens in the sequel!



GRADE: B+

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

SOUTHERN BASTARDS: BOOK ONE by Jason Aaron


This surprising crime story starts as a country noir tale about a man returning home and finding it difficult to escape his legacy, and it ends with a look at the desperate actions that some people take for their passions. This can stand right up there with some of the best of contemporary grit lit. 

It has a genuinely shocking plot twist/redirection at the end of the first volume that had me reeling, and after that I knew I was in good hands and that I should never expect anything formulaic from this series. With its hefty doses of violence, generational hate, football, dogshit, beer, and BBQ, Southern Bastards feels like a love/hate letter to the deep American South, and a series that's a must-read.


GRADE: A-