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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Lifelike (Drama) (Graphic Novel)

by Dara Naraghi & various artists.

Publisher: IDW Publishing (January 8, 2008).

Hardcover, 108 pages 

A series of illustrated vignettes, each by a different indie artist from around the world. The author provides a brief annotation before each story. Many are semi-autobiographical in nature.

We begin with “The Long Journey” drawn by Brazilian artist Iranipan Ruiz. It gravitates about an Iranian refugee in the U.S. who escapes from the horror of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980. Trapped between the squabbles of two demented dictators, he takes a third way and runs off.

Next is “Imaginarians”, drawn by Ohio based artist Tom Williams. It is a simple and insipid story of the importance of “the power of imagination”. A children book writer goes on a talk show and the two argue. There isn't much to this one and it ends with Hallmark greeting card level of wisdom.

“Double Cross at the Double Down”, the third installation, is drawn by American artist Marvin Mann. A fence meets a petty crook in a run-down bar and things get bloody. The dialogue is a little stilted here, as if the author wanted the characters to sound hard but had only learned American tough-guy talk from bad PG movies.

The fourth story is “Art/Life” drawn by Neil Errar. This is a great tale about the nature of art, or rather “good art”. As tastes vary so does the love of art. A man draws superhero comics for a living. Is he wasting his talent?

Number five is “Remembrance” drawn by Jerry Lange. It is beautifully illustrated on watercolors, quite frankly it is probably the most beautiful story in the collection. It is about the nature of death and a dog's connection to her master.

The sixth is “Punishment” by South Carolinian artist Steven Spensor Ledford. It's a weird revenge tale, dealing with crime and punishment. Maybe a little too black and white for my tastes.

Seventh, we have “Intermission: drawn by versatile artist Andy Bennett. A banal story without much point, except maybe it's supporting people who don't fit in being the really best people in the world while ordinary people are evil, or something. Whatever the point is, it's dull.

Eighth is “Crush” illustrated by Jerry Lange. A lesbian affairs ends and the two meet again at a bar. One of them half hoping to hook up again. Ehhhh. Lesbians are no longer edgy.

Ninth is “Comeback”, drawn by Tim McClurg. A decent story of a washed up actor with a love of cars who tried the only route left in his egotistical head to make it big again.

Tenth is “Smoke Break”, once again drawn by Marvin Mann. A smoke break outside of a hospital turns into a crash scene. One of the better stories here, it plays with some nuances between life and death. And on how one simple thing can change the trajectory of your life forever.

Eleventh is “The Routine” by California based artist Steve Black. A stale story about mental illness and acceptance and all of that. If this were part of a larger story, it might be more interesting. But this tale feels like a subplot, a b-story, than a full one on its own.

Twelfth we have “Rooftop Philosophy” by Adrian Barbu, a Romanian artist. Very well drawn, it's a story of two small-time crooks that plan the “perfect crime”. A decent story, even if you see the end a mile away.

Unlucky thirteen is “Skin Deep” by artist Tom Williams. Again, another story hampered by a short run time. It revolves around a man with some sort of voyeur tattoo fetish who is trying to convince a friend of his to get one. I'm not sure why, there sure seems to be a sexual undercurrent to the whole thing. Not bad, but not great either.

 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Palookaville Twenty-Two (Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Seth

Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly (April 21, 2015)

Hardcover, 120 pages

This is the penultimate (maybe) issue of the independent series, Palookaville, published over twenty years by Canadian artist Seth. Much of what I have to say will be a bit repetitive from my last review of Palookaville Twenty, but I don’t anticipate this being a long review. So take your pick, read this or the last one, both or neither. C’est la vie.

Again, the reason I am covering a single issue is that the series moved from a bi-annual (more or less) standard comic format of 25 some odd pages and a glossy cover to an expanded hard backed semi-annual edition of over one hundred pages.

Those who actually pay attention will notice that I jumped from a review of issue 20 to one of issue 22. The reason is that I find most of my books in sales bins and discount racks. I found issues 20 & 22 in a half-off bin in Queen City Comics (the only decent comic shop in left in Buffalo, NY). Issue 21 wasn’t there, thus I did not buy it. Straightforward? Damn straight.

Seth is one of the best artists out there. He is capable of expressing the depth of human emotion with a few brush strokes, even though most people say he seems like an alien in person. Even if he is, Seth’s observations on the human condition are dead on.

There are three sections in this issue. The first is the penultimate chapter in the Clyde Fans series.  It is the ongoing story of two brothers (one an introvert, the other an extrovert) who must deal with their emotional problems after the collapse of their fan company due to the rise of the air conditioning industry.
The Crown Barber Shop
The second story, if you can call it that, is an expose (with a fold out comic in the middle) of the author’s wife's barber shop, The Crown Barber Shop. Seth apparently designed it after a fictional place in his Dominion City model city (Where the story of Clyde Fans takes place).

The third is part one of an autobiographical retrospective of his childhood, his extreme awkwardness, and his developing love of comic books. It is an interesting look at an isolated (but not lonely) child making sense of the world- and never quite managing it.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Attu: The Collected Volumes (Science Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Sam Glanzman (writer and illustrator), Timothy Truman (introduction), Jeff Lemire (forward) Stephen R. Bissette (afterwards)

Publisher: Dover Graphic Novels (August 17, 2016)

Softcover, 160 pages 
For those who have never heard of Attu or understand why someone would collect the volumes, don’t beat yourself up about it. It is an obscure publication from an obscure publisher, 4Winds. Those of you who read some of the previous graphic novel entries may remember them mentioned from the reviews on Alvar Mayor: Silver and Death and Moving Fortress- both of them originally published in the South American markets and translated into English by 4Winds.

The company, founded on a shoestring and a dream, managed to produce two volumes of Attu before its collapse. Attu was different in that it was a wholly original work commissioned by the owners and created by a silver age great Sam Glazman. For those who aren’t familiar with the name, the bulk of his work was devoted to war and mystery comics in the 60s and 70s, along with his favorite Hercules by Charlton Comics. Perhaps his greatest work in the war arena are the semi-autobiographical U.S.S. Stevens and A Soldier’s Story- both which are still in print.

I was unfamiliar with most of his work (except for the two titles mentioned above) and his name didn’t immediately leap to mind when I thought of old comic greats, but as you can see from the credits above a lot of people who’s work I respect (Jeff Lemire, Timothy Truman, Stephen R. Bissette) respect the work of Sam Glazman- and that’s enough to make me look at Attu in depth.

For an old time artist who was used to everything he created being owned by the company outright, the chance to publish a creator-owned work must have been a dream come true. This book is a weird one. Ostensibly, it begins on Earth in 137 million BC (or BCE as they now call it) where cavemen and dinosaurs live together, but quickly adds many science fiction elements. Progressing at breakneck speed, our hero is quickly off planet and involved in interstellar intrigue. A lot of material, good material, is packed into this volume.

Also included in this Dover reprint are pages from the unpublished third issue of Attu. They are a little rough with a few spelling errors and, for some inexplicable reason, they rewrite Attu’s backstory. Still this is a chance to let a master illustrator work on a project and do whatever he wanted. The pages are beautiful. And let me give a little shout-out to Dover Graphic Novels who collected this edition. They publish (and republish) some great material and they are well work a look. Plug Dover Graphic Novel into Amazon and see what comes up.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Superf*ckers Forever (Humor) (Superhero)

by James Kolchaka

Publisher: IDW Publishing (September 5, 2017)

Softcover, 140 pages

The sequel to the cult hit Superf*ckers. One of the most insane  superhero comics ever written. Ostensibly it is about a group of superhero teens in their clubhouse (or whatever it is) who are supposed to be righting wrong. However, like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, an actual description of what happens in the story defies description. Fractured plots and dialogue written by stoners, abound. The Superf*ckers do nothing but bitch at and beat each other up.  It is filled with foul language and disgusting incidents, and is a hell of a lot of fun.
Some people might be put off by the seemingly simplistic and bigfoot lined nature of the art - I know they do, because they’ve yelled it at me repeatedly whenever I've recommended the previous volume- however it fits in perfectly with the stoner, slacker, video gaming heroes presented in these pages.
Super Dan, Jack Krak, Ultra Richard, and Princess Sunshine (among many others) live in a world of self-indulgence, arrogance, cliquishness, sexual adventure, and substance abuse. Almost exactly what you expect from a group teens with superpowers and no parental supervision.
The material transcends parody and becomes an object of pure surrealness. Neither the Marx Brothers nor Salvador Dali, could’ve done a better job with the material. It is the Duck Soup of the superhero genre.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 


Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Maximortal (Superhero) (Graphic Novel)

by Rich Veitch

Published: King Hell Press (December 14, 2017)

Softcover, 194 pages 

This is a part re-imagining of the Superman mythos, part retelling of the origin of the comic book in America.

The Maximortal is a somewhat confusing story of a super powered baby coming to Earth (sort of) and being adopted by Earth parents, before being scooped up by the US military. Sound familiar? Of course, it does. It is a redone origin of a character who will morph into the volume's Superman analogue, True Man.

The clever irony here being that Superman is a mythological ideal, while True Man reveals a darker nature to humanity, the yin and yang in concordance, which prevents the better angels of our nature from taking flight.

While in essence it is a retelling of the origins of Superman, it is a completely unique story and it raises one very important question. If a child has super strength, invulnerability, and heat vision, how do you discipline him?  How do you prevent him from destroying everything in a fit of childish rage? The age of reason is seven, that's a long time to put up with a superbrat.

It retells, with slight alterations, classic events such as the creation of Superman by Siegel and Schuster, them being screwed out of their fair due by their publisher, Walt Disney's rise to power based on his cartoon, the congressional witch hunt into comics, William Gaines crashing on speed while speaking before said committee, and the creation of the comics code authority- pushed by superhero publishers- forcing out the popular horror and crime comics. This is all done in the context of the advent of True Man.

Many have compared this (not without reason) to the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and have pointed out that Veitch's Maximortal preceded it by about 7 years. While this is true, they are just as different. The Maximortal being much more violent and almost mystical at times.

Overall, the story is somewhat lacking. It was wrapped up too quickly in the last issue with several hasty explanations. There certainly was more of the story to tell, but sales must've forced him to wrap up the series.

 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

56 Seconds (Horror)

by Dani Brown

Publisher: Independent Publishing (August 24, 2018)

Softcover, 107 pages

“56 seconds of nothing. Push. Strain. Stretch. Push. Lubrication. Honey. Head of a dead fly. River of dead flies floating on the toilet bowl. 56 seconds.

“Pain. Bladder screamed. 56 seconds of agony and the void that would never arrive. Each dead fly, paper skin, pushing out of a small hole. Each birth, 56 seconds. No void between. Constant flies. Not enough honey. Sweat lubrication. Wrapped in a chill. Cork in his pisshole.

“Hurt. He hurt her. His projected fit of silent rage, seething inside and expressed through cum landing on the sheets. Cum he wanted her to taste. Cum she never would. Lust/love/life on the sheets. 56 seconds lost to his total lack of social skills. Never to taste her tears washing away the industry.”

As you can tell from the snippet above, this is not your standard narrative with an easily identified plot heading towards a standard conclusion. That does not in any way mean it’s bad, it’s simply not your standard literary style. So, if you aren’t interested in anything new, don’t buy this book.

Similar to a William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, the story itself is almost secondary to the literary style presented. It is a series of short, staccato, sentences, one quickly overlapping the other.  It collects a mosaic of images, similar to a strobe light, which gives the reader a half-blind view of this world. 56 second snippets which piece together a narrative of undying love and hate, of scents and sensations, of sex and death- all on a fog filled dance floor, to the gyrations of a washed up D.J.

The narrative is best revealed if you read the story out loud at a rapid pace. Let it wash over you and all sorts of oddities are revealed. The nature of the 56 seconds, of all the actions which are possible in that time frame, revolves around the narrative like a pounding beat. I found this story intriguing in the same fashion as Virginia Woolf’s “A Haunted House”. A great, different, kind of read with an underlying menace throughout.

 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Abe Sapien Vol. 9: Lost Lives and other stories (Horror) (Graphic Novel)

by Mike Mignolia and various ilustrators

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (June 17, 2017) 

Softcover, 144 pages

This is a collection of various short stories which appeared all through various other titles connected to Hellboy. They are not part of the Abe Sapien series, the last issues of which were collected in the previous volume. As most anthologies go, they are fun, but uneven in their quality. If you can get it cheap, this book will fill an hour of your time with fun.  
“The Land of the Dead” sounds as if it is going to be a descent to face ancient Mayan Gods, but in fact delves into the Hellboy universe’s lore of vampires. The Hellboy series has always had a love/hate relationship with vampires. They don't seem to fit very snugly into the Hellboy cosmology, but are ever present, just behind the scenes. This story does slightly tie into the vampire tales from Hellboy: Wake the Devil. My only complaint is that the short reads like a Hellboy tale with Abe Sapien as a stand-in. Too much hitting, not enough thinking. 

“Witchcraft and Demonology” gives a history of Sapien's often unseen nemesis from his solo series, Gustav Strobl. Mixing old satanic folklore, including the underused Black School of witchcraft, we see his attempts to find a position in the army of Hell before the Armageddon. He was the last Man standing once Hell had been extinguished and seeks a new life, but his past is full of darkness. Probably the best story in the bunch.  
“The Ogopogo” takes place in the 1980s, teaming up the titular Sapien with Hellboy again. The Ogopogo is British Columbia's answer to the Loch Ness Monster, a supposed sea serpent creature that attacks tourists. Abe and Hellboy stumble across a killing possibly related to monster, but what they actually find subverts their expectations, in typical Hellboy fashion. 
“Subconscious” is very short, even among a collection of short stories, but is easily the most beautifully illustrated one of the lot. It deals with a dream of Abe Sapien where he delves into a sort of Rime of the Ancient Mariner wreck and meets something very off.  

“Lost Lives”, the lead story, deals with a time before the Hell on Earth maxi-series of BPRD, after Abe discovers part if his origin as a Civil War era scientist Langdon Caul. As the rest of the BPRD works around him, Abe tries to take in this information about a life he had no memory of. Throughout the story runs the subject of how much if our personality is our own invention and how much is influenced by others. Many characters who have died run in and out this story.  
Icthyo Sapien” is the final story. Its lead is Abe Sapien’s previous incarnation Langdon Caul, who joins the Oannes Society and becomes part of an expedition which butts heads with its rival organization, the Heliotropic Brotherhood of Ra. Violence erupts, blood falls, and a few mysteries are revealed. A good addition to the Abe Sapien mythos.  
 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Abe Sapien Volume 8: The Desolate Shore (Horror) (Graphic Novel)

by Mike Mignolia, Max Fuimara, & Sebastian Fuimara 

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (February 17, 2017)

Softcover, 168 pages

Collecting issues, # 32 - 37, the last of the regular series of the Abe Sapien solo series. This volume finally heralds the end of Abe Sapien's eternal crawl across the United States, looking for his true self in a sort of Lovecraftian Easy Rider. This is just as well as the series had become rather tiresome with the constant addition of adding new characters which no one cared about. That, along with Magnolia's seeming fear of killing off any female characters, leads to a boring “running man” trope.  
Abe Sapien eventually reaches the end of his travels and discovers his true origins. Ironically his investigations lead him back to the beginning, by raiding the offices of Trevor Bruttenholm and uncovering a cache of hidden audio tapes on his origins. His journey spans back and back, connecting an incredible number of previous Abe Sapien , BPRD, and Hellboy stories.  

Like Hellboy, Sapien has been confronted with the possibility that he was created to be the great agent of Armageddon in the world. Hellboy was supposed to be the messenger of the Devil, while Sapien thought he might be an accidental antichrist or creature of the Hyboreans. What he eventually finds is much more interesting.  
The antagonist who has been shadowing Sapien for a dozen issues, finally makes his move. The necromancer Gustov Sobel was cast spiritually adrift after Hellboy died, destroying all of Hell as he did so. Now he finds a new purpose. He planned to ride in as one of Hell's Generals, but becomes the Bannerman for the Seven Headed Dragon, the Ogdru Jahad, by altering himself to become Abe's counterpart, Ichthus Sapian
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.