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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Groo Vs. Conan (Fantasy) (Graphic Novel)

by Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, & Thomas Yeats

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (April 14, 2015)

Softcover, 104 pages

Groo versus Conan an impossibility that had to happen. From the pencils of Sergio Aragones of Mad Magazine fame.  Here we have the two unconquerable barbarians of comics fame. Well sort of famous. This book ranks up there with other great vs comics such as: Archie vs. Predator, RoboCop vs Terminator, Stormwatch vs. Aliens, and Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula (called Scarlet in Gaslight).  
I'm sure Conan the Barbarian needs no introduction here. The creation of Robert E. Howard in the 1920s and first published in pulp magazines like Weird Tales, Conan has been a part if the American zeitgeist ever since conquering many mediums. From print, then to the comics (Marvel brought him back in the 70s to great success), then to films with Arnold Swartzenegger, cartoons, games, and so on. 

Groo on the other hand never made it past the comic page. He began as a backup feature in one of my favorite old comics Destroyer Duck. Then moved onto his own title first published by Pacific Comics before that company went under, then went to Epic (a Marvel imprint), then Image, and most recently Dark Horse- who put out this volume.  

Groo is an idiot who never stops causing trouble, is ridiculously violent, kills hundreds of people, and never quite understands what's going on. He’s less a protagonist than a force of nature personified. And as he was created to be a parody of comic barbarians like Conan. Naturally the two had to meet. 

The story is framed in an odd manner as it all exists in the drug addled head of Sergio Aragones after he is beaten up a drugged in the hospital. As such there is a strong Don Quixote aspect to the story. As parts of Groo’s saga mirror me check of what the artist is experiencing.  

As you might expect a tale such as this is surreal beyond the norm. The parts of Conan are drawn by Yeats in an entirely different style. It creates an Alice in Wonderland mixture of delusion and seriousness. 
The books is a fun ride, riddled with self effacing comments on the comic and industry as a whole. A homeless bum mentions that his company published Groo before going under. Aragones loses his portfolio and his partner states that it would take him a whole hour to redraw all the pages. Plus everyone confuses him with the Hispanic who created Spy Vs Spy. 
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Waters of Deadmoon (Magazine Serial) (Science Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Patrick Cothais & Philippe Adamov

Published: Heavy Metal Magazine (1990 - 1992)

Softcover, each issue 45 pages of story, plus additional material. 

My Comic Shop listingsHeavy Metal #126: 1990 May, 
Heavy Metal #128: 1990 September 
Heavy Metal #132: 1991 May 
Heavy Metal #134: 1991 September
Heavy Metal #140: 1992 September 

Volumes 6-10 are only in French- Amazon France Listing 

This story is arguably the best series ever published in Heavy Metal magazine. That publication remains the story’s only printing in English, hence the individual listings up above. But if you want one of the best dystopian science fiction comics ever put together, then you will want to collect these issues. Unfortunately, only the first five volumes were published in the magazine. There was a total of ten, so I’ve included a link above for those who want to purchase the second half in French.
The world of Deadmoon is in the throes of the Age of Ashes. There are no more countries, only city-states. Communication with the world beyond one’s fief is nearly impossible. Deadmoon was once the city of Paris and is ruled by a decadent prince, who is 107 years old but looks 20. Society is one heartbeat from being destroyed. And with it, comes some good old fashioned end-of the world debauchery.

That last sentence brings me to the one point of caution I have to give about this story. There is a proliferation of penises drawn in this story. It actually outnumbers the amount of vaginas shown. if that’s something which will bother you, do not read. Most the nudity is due to the lack of clothes available to the general populace.
The story takes place in an indeterminate time in the future after all some great, unnamed calamity, where the pollution has blotted out the sun, the oceans have evaporated into the atmosphere, and nearly all other life forms are extinct. This calamity takes place after a giant leap forward in science. Genetic engineering was commonplace and still available to the mighty, but this is the last generation before all fails. Many humans are bred to fulfill a function in society or as transport (now that horses are gone). Other sentient species, accidental creations of humanity, have sprung up to take the dominant role once humanity has died.

The Waters of Deadmoon revolves around the children of the local butcher, Pancras - who serves mostly cats and rats, along with the occasional mutant. The eldest is Volhaine, a prostitute who the Prince of Deadmoon becomes obsessed with. The other is Nicolas, supposedly a deaf-mute, who has the ocean in his eyes. He has some rare ability to visualize the evaporated ocean and then project that stimulus into the brains of any who hears him play music. As the last human powers in Deadmoon gear up to destroy each other, Nicholas’s visions are the only source of hope.
As you can see from the samples provided, the artwork is absolutely incredible. Clear crisp lines, definitive characterizations, an astonishing amount of detail, rich vivid colorizations. There is a not a missed step in this series. I would say Adamov’s work for these albums easily rivals that of Mobius for one of the greatest French comic artists. Unlike the latter, not much of his work has hopped the pond and I think we are all the lesser for it.
Now, even though we English-only readers just have the first five albums, it does have a definite ending. In fact, it wasn’t until a decade and half later did I learn that there was more to the story. Quite frankly the ending presented in these issues was a satisfying enough one. From what I can understand from the French, the fifth issue here was meant to be the last one, but the creative team came back and did five more later on.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Talons of Blood: The Survivors vol 1 (Graphic Novel) (Science Fiction)

by Hermann

Publisher: Fantagraphics (1982)

Paperback, 48 pages. 

In typical me fashion I am reviewing all of these books backwards. This is volume one of the series called Jeremiah, but was first published in the US as The Survivors. Two volumes by Fantagraphics in the 80s. I had previously reviewedbook two, but now have stumbled across book one and decided to give my two cents on the volume.
This sets the scene and tone for nearly all of the volumes of this comic. After various racial wars and a limited nuclear exchange, the United States is broken into smaller racially segregated pockets. Gasoline production is gone, so civilization has reverted to a more homesteader style of life. Everything is produced by hand and while people are still living off the scraps of the old world, they still are building new structure as people will do.

This issue shows how Jeremiah becomes separated from his community and meets his friend Kurdy. Here they come across a crooked warlord who is selling his own people as slaves to an Indian reservation. An orgy of violence is the result.
It is the creation of Hermann Huppen, just known as Herman, a Belgium sci-fi comic artist. Jeremiah has been published all over, beginning with Metal Hurlant (Screaming Metal) magazine and Spirou (the comic anthology which gave us the Smurfs). The art is detailed and fiery. A grim visual feast that stains the eyes with bleak violence and a desire to stay alive. Every line screams it.
As of now Jeremiah has had thirty five volumes published over four decades. Only a handful, maybe twelve, have been translated into English. They are worth a look if you can find it for the right price.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Shoplifter (Graphic Novel) (Drama)

By Michael Cho

Publisher: Pantheon (September 2nd, 2014)

Hardcover, 96 pages

Now we have a selection from a relative newcomer (to me at least), but by no means is he an amateur artists. Shoplifter was a low-key joy. A restrained tale of the explosive nature of life after college- the time when all of your dreams fall to shit and our protagonist is no exception.
The heroine is Corrina a creative personality at an agency. Her life isn’t hard, the best way to describe it is “comfortably numb”, but she isn’t happy. Her current situation is a job she fell into, because a literature degree doesn’t lead a person to many other options. I’m sure many people can relate to her situation; being stuck in a job she doesn’t believe in, laughing behind her hands at the “corporate philosophy”, with no satisfaction beyond the paycheck. She is in an emotional limbo- nothing to live for, nothing to excite her… except her occasional bout of shoplifting.

The color scheme is what captured me the most. Rose red is the primary color, a visually ironic setting to a life that is anything but rosy for the main character.  While she has a job that many would kill for, a rosy situation, it isn’t enough for her and her ennui grows with each panel. What struck me most was the amount of detail rendered in all of the cityscape images. The city feels alive, feels real, and ready to bustle past our protagonist. The visuals perfectly encapsulate the sensation that the heroine is just one step from the disappearing into the background.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Bamboo Horses (Science Fiction)

by Hugh Cook

Publisher: (August 5, 2005)

Softcover, 530 pages

A disappointing book from one of my favorite fantasy authors. Hugh Cook is listed as a “cult” fantasy writer, meaning that his work never sold a lot, but he had a dedicated fan base. The base is dwindling over time as pretty much all of his books are out of print and none are available as digital copies. This one, for example, was print-on-demand and cost way too much for what the book is actually worth. It seems his estate isn’t interested in keeping his work going. For those who are interested, try reading Chronicles of an Age of Darkness for some truly different fiction.
The central story of Bamboo Horses revolves around protagonist, Ken Udamma, trying to sell his ancestral land to an international business consortium. The family business, animating bamboo horses, is about to go bankrupt and the majority of his extended family are scroungers. This then introduced several suspicious deaths, attempted fraud, an-oddly underplayed supernatural element, and, finally, a violent ending
It’s difficult to describe the genre as it seems to be a modern day world (at least by 2005 standards) with some mystical elements tossed in. It is a fictional world and in a fictional country, but the differences seems to be in name only. The world is developed backwards in the novel. The differences are mostly related slowly at the end, rather than up front where we can get a sense of it. And the fact of it is there are many little details which crop up about the world with explanation. Each character has an inner and outer name (which sometimes is confusing) and they eat with scissors. But these interesting details are few and far between.
Author Hugh Cook

  If you feel that your world doesn't need much development, then that's fine, but you have to at least make up for that with character development or a plot which flows. This story has neither. Not to say that Cook was incapable of creating a character arc, but that didn't happen in the five hundred plus pages in this text. All the characters are flat, just names with no personality to put them apart.
It reads as if he were making it up as he went along. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Many writers begin a story with only a vague idea of how it will end, but part of making this work is going back and editing, adding polish, and taking out what redundancies. He sure didn’t do this here. There are entire chapters that simply rehash what went before without adding anything new to the story. I don’t know if he actually wanted to write this book, or lost interest halfway through, but it is rushed. I understand that going back and editing your work can be an interminable process, but it is one that simply has to be done.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Kill or Be Killed Vol 1 (Crime) (Graphic Novels)

by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips 

Publisher: Image Comics (January 24th, 2017)

Softcover, 128 pages

Normally I don’t review mainstream comics as they usually get enough press on their own. Preferring instead to focus on independent or at least forgotten mainstream comics from decades ago. Basically those stories which probably need more exposure. However, I have always been impressed by the collaborations between Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips- Fatale, Criminal, The Fade Out, & Incognito- so I decided to give this story a chance. And I was not disappointed. It is an urban revenge fantasy, and also a deconstruction of the genre.
The action revolves around a depressed twenty-something who drunkenly attempts suicide by jumping off his apartment building. Miraculously, he survives only to be haunted by a demon that claims the hero owes payment for his life. One person a month must be killed at the main character’s hands or else the protagonist himself will die. He resists until the very last day, growing sicker and sicker, until he caves.

One of the interesting aspects of the story (and I have not read the other volumes, so I have no idea how it plays out) is that the demon might all be a figment of a mental disorder. After all, the protagonist had just hit his head before the creature shows up. Is he crazy? The best indication is that he begins to feel better once he’s thought of a target, not after he’s killed the man. This aspect works best, in my opinion, as the demon insists that Jon kills “bad people”. What qualifies a person for this criteria is up in the air, but my first question in this story is why would a demon really care what sort of person was offered up to it?
The first volume at least is not incredibly violent, focusing more on the protagonist’s slide into casual killing and how he begins to track his victims. I enjoyed the note that, unlike most films and comics, one does not normally witness crime. Thus running about, riding on the subway ala Death Wish, hoping to stumble upon an evil doer wouldn’t work for him. He must learn to find the enemy and then destroy him.

As always, Sean Phillip’s art compliments Ed Brubaker’s grim script perfectly. The world is a dark and snowy abyss of bleakness and human despair, mirroring the hero’s soul. Even before he attempts suicide, the character suffers from a sense of meaningless in his life. This new direction, which he resists at first, becomes his all. His raison d'etre. But unlike Charles Bronson, The Punisher,  Remo Williams, Mack Bolan “The Executioner”, we get a much deeper character examination. He is with us, explaining his life, all the way- warts and all.
This is all shadowed against the odd romantic triangle between the hero, his roomate, and his best friend- a girl whom the hero thought he wanted and is the reason for his attempt to kill himself. But once it becomes possible for him to actually get the girl, that is almost immediately overshadowed by his new life. The dreams of the fantasy girl is tossed aside by dreams of revenge.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Tetris: The Games People Play (Non Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Box Brown

Publisher: First Second (October 11, 2016)

Softcover, 256 pages

The history of everyone's favorite mindlessly additive game. Tetris! The game that's harder than Siberia. A game I used to play so much that I would see little floating blocks in my sleep. A female friend of mine was so addicted that she once played it for sixteen hours straight. Eventually she had to go cold turkey and get rid of her copy, otherwise she would probably still be sliding blocks together.

I had heard that there was a kerfuffle about rights when it first emerged, but I was in ignorance of the full drama behind the scenes and the political struggle that framed it all. It almost seems to be a comedy of errors, culminating in a huge battle in an international court. This story demonstrates fully the differences between a free market and the illiteracy and evil often present in the communist/socialist state. The fact that one of the negotiators was in danger of being imprisoned, possibly executed, for not getting the right result from the court case shows the evil mindset of the leftist agenda.
Box Brown frames the story as part of the classic tradition of mankind. That  the creation of games is part of the fundamental nature of humans. And that the games we play is a reflection of society and the human mind. In the old days, they played physical games to prepare for a life of physical labor. Now the electronic ones prepare us for the online world we are increasingly spend more of our lives in.

As usual, Box Brown’s minimalistic style parlays expertly into the subject manner. It focuses everyone’s attention on the bigger picture developing and makes for a riveting read. Well worth the time to read this book, especially anyone who has wasted hours of their life fitting the boxes into place.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Hero Alliance: End of the Golden Age (Superhero) (Graphic Novel)

By Kevin Juaire & David Campit 

Publisher: Pied Piper (1986), Innovation (1989)

Softcover (46 pages)

Settle in because the history on this comic is all over the place. Hero Alliance’s first issue was published by Wonder Comics in 1987, after which the company folded faster than a house of cards in a hurricane. The other comics produced by this publisher where cheap attempts to horn in on already successful titles. They had names like G. I. Rambot, and Terraformers.
The series then moved onto black and white publication publisher Pied Piper comics in the late 80s. Pied Piper also was blip on the indie charts (one among many that year) which lasted from 86 to 88. I reviewed another one of their books, The Beast Warriors of Shaolin, last year. Unlike that title however, this one went on to have a bit of a future.
Like a few of the other Pied Piper comics, such as Ex-Mutants, the Hero Alliance graphic novel (because that’s all it was at this point) was picked up by Innovation Comics and finally spun into a regular series. Innovation lasted slightly longer than the rest, mostly by relying on adaptations of other properties as its bread and butter. They put out comic book versions of series such as Dark Shadows, Quantum Leap, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and various Anne Rice novels. But in 1994 they folded, like many other small houses at that time, and the series ended at issue 17.
This is the actual cover of the copy i bought. Apparently it was a rebound and signed run, but it still ended up in the three dollar discount rack. 

This book is the initial graphic novel, End of the Golden Age. The title becomes a play on words when we discover that the premier superhero team, the Guardmen (an Avengers/Justice League analog) was founded by the Golden Guardsman, who dies in the beginning of the story. Symbolizing an end to innocence and simple answers as was presented in the Golden Age of Comics.
The protagonist, Victor, a Superman equivalent, is forced to try and reforge a team with members whose morals are very different from his own. While the old teams falls apart, Victor must forge a new one from the ashes. He does so reluctantly, question in his ability to lead at every step.
Often people cite Watchmen as the moment when superhero tales took on a dark edge, where a grittiness entered the stories and the heroes become tarnished. And while that's true, there was still the idealism in the tales and we see it here. When the intentions of the heroes are good, their methods and abilities are in question. Superman always seemed to be emotionally confident enough to be Superman. Victor on the other hand, despite his power, is wracked with self-doubt and that causes him to make costly mistakes.

Thus we see the beginnings of a very interesting series. Perhaps not the most outstanding superhero stories, but well-crafted and with compelling characters. Even the villain, while a tad over the top (as supervillains will be) is interesting. The major flaw in the book is that the writers tried to jam too much material into a short space and it sometimes feels rushed.
For an independent comic, the art is superb. Well fashioned and flowing, there is an energy to it that crackles in every page. And unlike most indies, this story is in full color. After reading this, I'm considering picking up the full run of Hero Alliance – They are all available on and Mile High Comics.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.