Search This Blog

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Walter Keonig's Things to Come (Science Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Walter Koenig (author) & Juan Baez (illustrator) 

Publisher: Bluewater Productions (October 20, 2012)

Softcover, 96 pages

Yes, the Walter Koenig here is the famous one who played Chekov on the original Star Trek and (my favorite) Bester on Babylon Five. If the people who produced this thought that because he was in so many science fiction tales (the bulk of his work actually) that meant he would be able to write a good one, then they gambled wrong. If they thought his fame would result in good sales, they were wronger still - I know it's not a word, I’m using it anyway.
Two storylines entwine in this post-apocalyptic tale. One dealing with vampires stalking the land in a world trying to restore civilization, the second is about a group of human who had to retreat underground due to the air outside becoming too poisonous and now, after three generations below, they must escape back to the world. The two storylines eventually join in a confusing and uninteresting manner. By the time all the dots were connected, I really didn’t give a damn. I was just pushing on to the end of the story.

While pacing and character development are a problem in this tale- it jumps in a haphazard and jarring fashion and you often don’t learn much about a character beyond their name- the real problem is the art. It is muddy and indistinct and often you have difficulty distinguishing one character from another. And while it looks beautiful at first, the style is not pleasant for long-term viewing.
There seems as if there was a lot of unstated backstory in this tale, which was badly hinted at along the way. The problem, similar to many new writers, is that he’s trying to be subtle and understated, but only succeeds in telling half a story. Many characters, which may be important, come across as inconsequential and results in a large muddled mess of a story.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

G. I Joe Vol. 20: Dawn of the Arashikage (War) (Graphic Novel)

by Larry Hama (Writer) & Netho Diaz

Publisher: IDW Publishing (June 26, 2018)

Softcover, 128 pages

       As some people know, I veer more towards the independent or off-beaten path in my reading (especially comic readings), but I still have my fanboy moments. And the greatest of them all is G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero (At least the one where Larry Hama is writing- everyone else can go suck it). I’ve been reading it since I got my first paper route, so I could buy comics, and have collected every single issue. Hell, I quit comics shortly after G.I. Joe’s series was canceled at issue #155 during its initial run. 
       Or I should say that I quit mainstream comics around this time. They had also just kicked Chris Claremont off of X-Men and that to me signaled the death-nell for the second golden age of comics (at least for Marvel). So, I focused on other literature. However, when IDW announced they were picked the original series backup with the writer who had made the series great, I jumped all over it. And here I am greedily wolfing down every stinking morsel pumped out. 

        Or I should say that I quit mainstream comics around this time. They had also just kicked Chris Claremont off of X-Men and that to me signaled the death-nell for the second golden age of comics (at least for Marvel). So, I focused on other literature. However, when IDW announced they were picked the original series backup with the writer who had made the series great, I jumped all over it. And here I am greedily wolfing down every stinking morsel pumped out. 
         This issue clears up a lot of background details and problems I had with the ninja factions and the Arashikage clan in the universe of G. I. Joe. Namely that the one clan seems to be the only one in existence. Even their “rivals” the Red Ninjas were outcasts from the Arashikage. The explanations given here were satisfactory. A brief history of the ninja clans and the Arashikage clan is given. And it seems all the surviving ones into the 19th Century, except the Arashikage, was absorbed into the Japanese Secret Service to act as spies, saboteurs, and assassins. 
A lot of old history is brought up here from the ninja storylines- the assassination of the Hard master, the death of the Soft Master, Zartan being the killer, and a final confrontation with Snake Eyes in Dawn’s body against the leader of the Red Ninjas - The Faceless Master- aka Firefly. An equilibrium is reached and, going forward, there are now two Snake Eyes.  
Snake Eyes is dead. Long live Snake Eyes.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Herbie Archives Vol. 2 (Humor) (Superhero) (Graphic Novel)

by Shane O'Shea (Writer) & Ogden Whitney (Illustrator)

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (December 23, 2008)

Hardcover, 256 pages

Herbie is perhaps the most surreal comic of all time. Technically listed as a humor comic, it is eschews the typical 1960s humor of manic characters and stupid puns, and delves into the psychological bizarreness of a young boy who secretly is great at everything, but his family cannot see the truth. Many contemporary (to the 1960s) and historical personages appear and call him by name, adding to the oddness.

Herbie Popnecker is a short rotund boy with thick glasses whose one passion in life is the consumption of lollipops. He seemingly can do anything. He walks on air, talks with animals, is well known throughout time and space (he calls in a favor from J. Edgar Hoover in one episode), and when he “bops you with his lollipop” you won’t be getting up. He talks in a terse, stilted style, leaving out superfluous words. It is rumored that Alan Moore mimicked the character Rorschach’s, from Watchman, speech patterns after Herbie.

His father, on the other hand, looks like the model of a 1960s junior executive. Well dressed and handsome, but is really an arrogant braggart and complete idiot. He routinely puts his son down for not conforming to the athletic norm (calling him a “fat little nothing”), while blowing all of the family's money on get-rich-quick schemes and bad stocks.

It is almost impossible to describe the oddness of these stories, so I will simply give you a synopsis of one. From Herbie # 6, the story “A Caveman Named Herbie”. Our titular hero argues with his teachers over how smart cavemen were. He is then offered the ultimatum to prove his theory that cavemen were intelligent or apologize to her. At home, Herbie’s father has a new job selling lumber and plans on selling a lot of it to a Hollywood studio. He takes Herbie along as an educational journey. As they enter, Ava Gardner comes up and asks for Herbie’s autograph. While Father is talking to the studio head, Gregory Peck comes up and asks Herbie to stand in for him in a scene. His gorgeous starlet, kisses Herbie on camera and passes out in ecstasy. Herbie’s father is successful in the sale, and the studio head shows Herbie a lot where a new caveman movie is being filmed. Herbie insults the lead, claiming the man doesn’t look like a caveman and the star then refuses to act anymore.

The sale now in jeopardy, Herbie decides to prove his point. He takes a time lollipop, climbs into a grandfather clock, and travels back to the past. There he meets a cavemen and his sister, who is Herbie’s female duplicate and falls in love with him. Then a group of dinosaurs (wearing helmets to protect them from the cavemen’s rocks) attack. Herbie grabs them by the tail and throws them across the planet. The cavemen accept Herbie and his female counterpart, Ticklepuss, smashes a giant club over his head and drags him off by his hair. Herbie flies away and heads back to the grandfather clock, only to find Ticklepuss’s brother waiting for him. He takes the caveman back to 1965 and shows him off to the studio head. Delighted, the man doubles his order. Father then brags what a great salesman he is. Herbie then brings the caveman to see his teacher. After the caveman answers some historical questions accurately, the teacher falls in love with him and is dragged off by her hair to his new cave.

As you can see, completely insane. But what adds to the surrealness of the story and sets it apart from other “funny” comics at the time, is the art of Ogden Whitney- the sole artist on the series. A veteran of the golden age of comics, Whitney's style at this point was more commercial realistic than fantastic, so everything is drawn as realistically as possible. Thus when an odd event occurs, such as Herbie air walking away, it becomes all the weirder.

This volume collects issues 6-14 of the series, originally published by American Comics Group (ACG). ACG was a large publisher of low-rent and forgettable comics. Their range included all stripes Western, Mystery, Horror, Adventure, Science Fiction, War, Romance, and Humor. WHaat’s missing from that line up? That’s right, no superheroes.

Our costumed heroes had been out of fashion (with the exception of Superman, Batman, & Wonder Woman) since the comics collapse of the 1940s. But an upstart company, Marvel, had recently scored several hits with Fantastic Four and Spiderman, so management sent down the word. Make a few superheros. The results were mixed. They created Magicman, a magic based superhero, with a green turban- ala Zatarra, and Nemesis, a man who returned from the dead with superpowers, to right wrongs- ala Deadman.

But then they gave the superhero treatment to Herbie and in issue 8, after flunking out of Superhero School, he dons some red flannel long johns, makes a mask out of a burlap sack, sticks on plunger on his head, and becomes The Fat Fury. Obviously Forbush Man ripped him off slightly.  For some reason Herbie is clumsier as The Fat Fury and reminds me of the protagonist from The Greatest American Hero. He actually does a team up with Nemesis and Magicman in the last issue of this volume. It is only notable in that fact that two literally come out of their respective comics and then are ushered back in. It is easily the weakest story in the bunch.

Actually all of the Fat Fury stories are lesser-than when compared to the regular stories. Probably because editor-in-chief and writer for the series, Shane O’Shea (a pseudonym for Leo Rosenbaum) disliked superheroes and felt the genre has been played out. Luckily the Fat Fury only appears for one story (there were two per issue) every other issue.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Palookaville Twenty (Graphic Novel)

by Seth

Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly (October 12, 2010).

Hardcover, 88 pages  

Normally I don’t review single issues of a series, but with issue 20 of Palookavile the format of the comic changed. Moving from a bi-annual (more or less) standard comic format of 25 some odd pages and a glossy cover to an expanded hardbacked semi-annual edition of over one hundred pages. For me, that qualifies it for a review.
The comic is the playground of Canadian cartoonist Seth, the alter-ego of Gregory Gallant. It’s won awards for this and that and is loads of fun if you like off-beat stories of people suffering from depression and loneliness, and protagonists who can never quite fit in with society- an illustrated Kafka if you like. All of these are some of my favorite themes.
Of course, this might not the best time to jump into the series as the primary story is part 11 of his Clyde Fans series. It is the ongoing story of two brothers (one an introvert, the other an extrovert) as they watch their electric fan business go under in the face of competition from the air conditioning industry. Strange as that sounds, it is a compelling and very human look at the failure of life and how people emotionally deal with it.
Along with this is one of his confessional auto-biographical pieces where he explores his Kafkaesque journey through life, not understanding how others fit in so well and hating those that do. It is a commonplace piece among his fellow Canadian cartoonists Chester Brown and Joe Matt. Like most of his work, it is well drawn and expertly paced, and certainly made me feel better about how I relate to society.
Added to it, maybe in order to pad up the length, are a number of faces and names from his sketch book and an expose of model city (called Dominion City) he constructed and has been on display in various art galleries. In his essay, he explains that the city was originally intended as the backdrop for a story, but he grew to be more interested in the city and its development than the characters. Eventually the people were dropped, pages and pages of material on the city was produced and Seth began making models to go along with it, just so he had a sense of proportion as he kept adding to it. Somewhere along the way, he states, it moved from hobby to artistic endeavor.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Troll Bridge (Fantasy) (Graphic Novel)

by Neil Gaiman (Writer) and Colleen Doran (Illustrator)

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (OCtober 18th, 2016). 

Hardcover, 64 pages. 

Based on a short story by Neil Gaiman of American Gods and Sandman fame; and drawn by Colleen Doran of lesser known A Distant Soil fame. While not initially intended as a graphic novel, her incandescent art blends perfectly with the tone of the original text.
In his standard technique of taking old legends and putting a modern tint on them, we have the dark fairy tale story of a boy who drifts away from the world (or to a strange part of it) and encounters a troll who demands payment of “eating his life” in exchange for the boy walking across the troll’s bridge.

The boy, Jack, is no helpless protagonist. He attempts to trick the troll several times and finally manages to put him off until a later date. Very often in these stories, the monster is a dunce and easily deceived, but there’s something else going on here. What Gaiman does is take the story beyond its confines and stretches it out to its natural conclusion decades later. Here Jack, always the snarky trickster, has ruined his life before meeting the monster again.
And for those who do pick up this book the unexplained phrase “fol rol de ol rol” is used twice in the text. It has two meanings. The first is an noun meaning a gaudy trinket or piece of jewelry having little actual value. The other is a nonsense phrase used in classical folk music, like tra-la-la or sha-na-na.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Desperadoes (Western) (Graphic Novels)

by Cromwell & J. Ruffner

Publisher: Heavy Metal/Tundra (1992)

Hardcover, 86 pages

An over-the-top pseudo-western about three women desperadoes, The Prickler, Bertha Lou, and Razorblade, on the run from a motorized bounty hunter, Anatasia Fokoff, and her pet hyena. As you can tell from the names this is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek tale, but with a lot of violence attached as well.
The trio of heroines are violent representations of the three furies of Greek Mythology. Aged appropriately apart, they tear a bloody swath through an American West that never was. They fight everyone in their path to gain the mythic pot o’ gold of the West- the great train heist where a million dollars of gold is being shipped.

Published by Heavy Metal, the illustrated magazine. This was one of a series of graphic novels put out by the company in the 90s. The art is cartoons, but still grittiness enough so that the violent action still has impact. But the color palette is the biggest visual draw. It perfectly blends to create a muddy, bloody atmosphere.
In the style of Mad Marginals, at the bottom of each page is a silent vignette of people moving across to the West. Their travel begins light and quickly becomes more cab more desperate. On the opposite page an ever growing collection of vultures looks on and licks their lips at the carnage.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Shanty Irish (Autobiography) (Crime)

by Jim Tully, Paul J. Bauer (Introduction)

Publisher: Black Squirrel Books (June 2, 2009).

Softcover, 320 pages

“A wife, six children, two cows, a hog, a blind mare and a sense of sad humor, where my Father’s only possessions.  We lived in a log house, in and out the windows which the crows of trouble flew.

My Father was a gorilla-built man. His arms were long and crooked. The ends of his carrot-shaped mustache touched his shoulder blades. It gave his mouth an appearance of ferocity not in the heart. Squat, agile, and muscular, he weighed nearly one hundred and ninety pounds. His shoulders were early stooped, as from carrying the inherited burdens of a thousand dead Irish peasants.”

Jim Tully, along with Dashiell Hammet, was the creator of the hard-boiled style of American writing. This style was later picked up and refined by Ernest Hemingway, H. L. Menchen, and Raymond Chandler. But Tully stands out from all these others in the fact that they simply wrote in the style, while he lived it.
Author Jim Tully
Originally published in 1927, Shanty Irish, like the other novel of his I reviewed, Beggars of Life, this is an autobiographical tale of his life before writing. While the other book dwelled on his life on the road, Shanty Irish, is about the author’s growing up dirt poor in a log cabin in the late 19th century Ohio.

The term Shanty Irish is a derogatory term for poor and uneducated members of the race. As opposed to the Lace Curtain Irish who rose in power, education, and prosperity in America. The equivalent today would be the pejorative “white trash”. Of course, even being educated didn’t stop the old world of America from looking down on the Irish, as the old joke goes-

Q: “What’s the difference between Shanty and Lace Curtain Irish?”

A: “Lace Curtain Irish move the dishes out of the way before they piss in the sink.”

Like many of the old time autobiographies, the author gives a statement of facts as he saw them, but rarely offers any personal emotional insight or comment of his own. This is him relating stories from the past as he saw it, not a pity party for himself. It's what differs this book from Angela's Ashes, Tully offers no pathos for his own childhood.

The author with Charlie Chaplin. If you don't know which is which, punch yourself in the face.

Central to the action is the clan patriarch, his grandfather, Old Hughie Tully. A large boisterous alcoholic who spent most of his later days telling tall tales in saloons in exchange for drinks. Tully's own father was a cold-eyed distant ditch digger. Horse thieves and fraudsters polluted both sides of the family. Poverty was their bumper crop. They were so poor that after his mother died, Tully was placed in an orphanage for six years. All of it potentially heartbreaking, but Tully is a man about it. You would never have known it affected him at all.

Now as to how accurate the book is. That's difficult to tell. Nothing obvious sticks out as false, but Tully was six during the first half of the book, then went to the orphanage and didn't emerge until he was twelve. Thus he had to rely heavily on other's memories. So, a touch of exaggeration, a smidge of the big fish story, was bound to slip in, but that does not mean this isn’t a worthwhile look into a long dead America.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.