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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Vulcan's Forge: The Adventures of Yoko, Vic, and Forge vol. 1 (Science Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Roger Leloup  

Publisher: Catalan Communications (February 1, 1989)

Softcover, 48 pages

This is one of those sci-fi driven comic albums, called bande dessinée, translated from French. Like Valerian and The Waters of Deadmoon, it demonstrates how much great material there is in other languages which desperately needs to translated in English.

Granted most of the companies that do this don’t seem to last long, and only Heavy Metal magazine continues to grab stuff from the Old World and still have staying power. The Adventures of Yoko, Vic, and Paul runs twenty six volumes in the original language. Catalan Communications had published two translated, while Cinebook has translated at least fourteen as of this listing, under the title Yoko Tsuno.

The first thing I noticed is that it is obviously not the first album in the series. The protagonists meet a group of blue skinned subterranean dwellers, who came to earth from another planet generations ago and built cities deep underground. But the characters had already met these people before, had friends among them, and fought against the villain. It was sort of like watching The Empire Strikes Back without knowing any reference to Star Wars. It’s possible, but not as enjoyable.

This is a fast paced book, filled with lots of technical jargon and hard science, which made it a very intelligent read on top of the all of the action. If you ignore the extra-terrestrial material, a lot of what is going on seems somewhat plausible. The aliens are redirecting magma under the ground to force up a new landmass which they will colonize and begin having communications on equal terms with the human population. It was rather good.

If the art seems a little familiar it’s becuase Roger Leloup began by drawing detailed backgrounds for Herge’s Tintin, then collaborated with Peyo (of Smurfs fame) on a lesser known project Jacky and Célestin. In fact much of the first material for this series was published in the same illustrated magazines as was the other two, Spirou. While working on Jacky and Célestin he created a female character that became the inspiration for the protagonist of this series.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Bad Company 3: The Bewilderness (Science Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Peter Milligan (writer) and Brett Ewins (illustrator)

Publisher: Titan Books (1988)

Softcover, 75 pages

From the pages of Britain’s 2000AD comes the future filled violence fest that is Bad Company. Originally this series was planned to be a spinoff series from Judge Dredd. The initial premise was a disgraced judge in a prison on Titan, one of the moons of Jupiter, is forced to captain a prisoner army in a war. That quickly was stripped away and what we have is a human race on the brink of extinction.
Earth had been destroyed and the remnants of humanity exist on a handful of inhospitable planets. A new dominant life form, the Krools, has engaged in a war against humanity. In this volume, the war is over and humanity has lost. The last survivors of Bad Company struggle to find a purpose in life. They take on some mercenary work with the human resistance and fil lots of trouble and an old friend.

This is part three of a many many part series. All of the various volumes of Bad Company have been compiled into a rather expensive book, which I have linked up above. For those who really really want to read it.
Essentially this is typical 2000AD fare. Weird sci-fi filled with extreme violence. Anyone who’s read Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Rogue Trooper, Halo Jones, The ABC Warriors, etc. etc. etc. knows what to expect. There isn’t any growth to the characters. The hero is not on an arc where he is fundamentally changed by his experiences on the hero’s journey. Just good old fashioned guns blazing ultraviolence.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Mighty Tiny: The Mouse Marines (Graphic Novel) (War)

by Sean Sullivan  

Published by Antarctic Press (1992)

Softcover, 66 pages


Before mouse guard was Mighty Tiny: The Mouse Marines.
Another of my dumpster dives into the scrounging bins in the ass-end of comic books shops has yielded me the very independent black and white comic- Mighty Tiny: The Mouse Marines. I’m sure most of you haven’t heard of it, but there was a small movement around this comic’s publisher, Antarctic Press, in the late 80s - mid 90s. In the growing interest for manga style art in the United States, Antarctic Press produced numerous original titles done in the manga style. Perhaps its most successful title was Ninja High School- the collected edition of which is available for purchase. It’s written and drawn by Pat Duke, but based on characters by legendary manga writer Ben Dunn who's drawn and written the aforementioned Ninja High School, and Warrior Nun Areala.
This particular issue is rather expensive and Antarctic Press has put out a collection edition of the Mighty Tiny stories, the link to which I have included above. However I haven’t read all it, so I cannot vouch for its quality. My commentary will strictly be on the 66 pages initial story.
Mankind has destroyed itself, his civilization gone. Mice and rats are its successor and the two races, who once lived in peace, have broken out into a devastating race war which has all but ruined their civilization. It’s isn’t told exactly what killed off the humans, but it is suggested that they died due to neutron bomb attacks, as the human cities are still standing, but there are no humans left to dwell in them.
Mighty Tiny runs a rag-tag marine group that fights against the rats and discovers that the hated enemy may be on their way to discovering the use of radiation (thought this is never stated) and ultimately the creation of an atomic device. Tiny and his crew have to deal with traitors in their own ranks, while defeating this overarching threat.
The art is decent black and white manga. Straight-forward well detailed combat and equipment, solidly drawn with fluid action. While not as detailed as Akira, it is a solid military manga. The only problems I had with it are that, it was occasionally difficult to tell one character from another (though this was often countered by having character’s names embossed on their helmets). A minor point also nagged at me. The mice and rats are supposed to be their normal size, only now they’re bipedal, but the vegetation drawn is the equivalent as it would be on a human. A quibble, but the plants should be much larger, especially in the wild areas.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

A Handful of Smoke (Poetry)

by Jim Hart   

Independently Published

Softcover, 66 pages


“Amerika the beautiful
the fallen angel
the fixed beauty pageant winner
the homemade beauty blue ribbon housewife
with the West Point cadet
the back alley mugger
for your neighbor’s sixteen-year-old virgin
blonde skinned woman
of his rapist
the November honest politician
who got your vote
and had a numbered Swiss
come January
the technological minds
dealing US only
disposable lighters
blow-out ties and all the rest of the imitation shit
we feed on “

                              Jim Hart “Changing Neighborhoods.


An excellent collection of hard boiled poetry from one of the urban masters of the art. The capture an excellent array of emotions from the gutters of New York, from the very hopelessly hopeful to the cynical annihilation of all life and intelligence.
The titular smoke in this case includes a full range of activities - from the falling of the twin towers, to a random gunshot in an alleyway, to a burning house, to an upscale flambé, to a pot roast left too long in the oven. Like the smoke, each poem cascades over the others to create a mosaic of rain streaked cynicism swirling around the Big Apple. 
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Definition (Autobiography) (Graphic Novel)

by Ariel Schrag    

Publisher: Slave Labor Graphics (1997)

Softcover, 79 pages

Once again the back racks of some ancient comic book hole have coughed up rare gem that I was otherwise unaware of. I found this one buried deep in the back of discount graphic novels and for three bucks and thus I discovered an artist I have never heard of before.  Only 19 when she drew this collection of stories, yet the author has a depth of skill unusual for her age.

A collection of autobiographical stories from of the author’s awkward teenage years. They are a fun frank group dealing with the author’s sexuality, various creepy encounters in California, and the thrill of growing up in the latter half of the nineties/early 2000s. It deals with early seuxality and experimentation (both wonderful and terrible). Being a male, it’s interesting to see the perspective of such things from a different gender.

The black and white artistic style is one of exaggeration where the emotions of the protagonist are portrayed in bombastic style. The innocent girls, not knowing or unable to change the world, are shown as wide-eyed does threatened by an assortment of ugly and scabby individuals looking to use and abuse them. A little like Red Riding Hood the world is full of wolves wishing to devour their goodies.

While this is a fun story, I have been looking through the author’s other works and see that all of them are simply collections of stories of her growing up, indicating that the author is limited to just talking about themselves.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Cortez: And the Fall of the Aztecs (History) (Graphic Novel)

by Brent Traux (Author), Mitch Waxman, Daniel Riveria, Russ Braun (Illustrators)

Publisher: Caliber Comics (December 31, 2016)

Softcover, 70 pages

“The Aztecs had little time to celebrate their victory. Military analysts agree that if the Aztecs had continued their pursuit of the Spanish, Cortez and his men would have been eradicated. But the Aztecs didn’t pursue, much to the surprise of Cortez. There was a new enemy that attacked Tenochtitlan and it was far more devastating than any weapon of Cortez...smallpox.”
It’s amazing how much interesting and good history is packed into such a small volume. This book describes in detail the history of the two peoples, Spain and the Aztecs, and both empire’s subsequent rise to power. These were both warrior cultures where the ability to destroy the enemy was a person’s highest prized trait. The Spanish domination eventually came down to superior firepower and armor, disease, and religion.
Primarily the background deals with the legend of the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl. The coincidences between what the legend of the God’s return foretells and Cortez’s arrival are staggering. It’s almost enough to make one believe in time travel, and that someone from the future planted the seeds for Cortez’s arrival.
While the book primarily deals with Cortez and Montezuma, it also has a detailed list of other conquistadors who discovered for the Old World various parts of the now-well known world. From Amerigo Vespucci who discovered that South America was a separate landmass and not Asia, to Ferdinand Magellan, possibly the first European to sail on the Pacific Ocean. Additionally it gives a certain time to discussing the Olmecs, the first race to built the impressive ziggurats and buildings which every other South American empire copied.
The art is detailed, passionate, and bloody- without being too gory or exploitative. It accurately depicts the passion, the ferocity, the joy and sorrow, which must have been prevalent during that monumental time in history. An excellent primer for those unfamiliar with the era.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Talk Like Jazz (Autobiography)

By Joseph Cooper

Publisher: Weasel Press (March 18th, 2019)

Softcover, 268 pages 


“Because I visit the Remedial Center, I automatically equate my attendance there with stupidity. Hey you stupid stuttering faggot a jock says before pushing me into a locker. Another knocks books out of my hands. Girls cover the laughter in their mouths. It never before occurs to be that I might be stupid or even what stupid means. Only now that I have to speak more slowly thinking intensely of every word I speak and how I intend on speaking it I cannot help but question my intelligence. I only know that for the first time instead of being anonymous or invisible I’m an outsider. See you after class fuckhead another jock shouts. I collect my books and turn the knob hearing fractals of sound collide with silence.”
This is collection of vignettes from the author’s life. The title refers to his lifelong struggle with stuttering, a theme which dominates the text, spiced up with various sexual material. Like many people with similar afflictions he channels his frustrations and humiliations into his artistic endeavors.
Author Joseph Cooper
          In a sense, this book is a typical coming-of-age story of a young boy growing up in a savage town. What sets it apart is the episodic manner that the story parcels out the story. It gently leads you through his various stages of life - from naive early age, to the slap-in-the-face realization that he is different, to the irrational shame one feels in adolescence, to him embracing his differences- all the while still doing all the stupid shit a young man gets up to.
The style is “grammatically light”. The author, known mostly for writing poetry before this autobiography, eschews all apostrophes, commas, quotation marks etc. If you’re one of those anal retentive types that flips out over every misplaced comma you might wish to spare yourself some aggravation. The use of periods means that the disorientation is only mild, a slight bout of linguistic vertigo, rather than a full blow attack as you have with McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, where the lack normal grammar creates a surreal mental landscape.  It reminds of me more of Raymond Federman’s casual conversation style as in Double or Nothing or Smiles on Washington Square.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Lady Killer (Crime) (Graphic Novels)

by Joelle Jones & Jamie S. Rich 

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (September 15, 2015)

Softcover, 136 pages

This won’t be a long entry as there isn’t much to say on this graphic novel about a housewife that moonlights as a paid assassin. Or is she a paid assassin who is masquerading as a housewife? Therein lies the mystery. That was it. Pretty much the entire story in two sentences. As I was perusing the story arc, I realized that I had read it before. Well, not exactly it, but a damned close approximation. Warren Ellis’s Red comes to mind.

All kudos need to go to the art work, which is superb. Every line is done to perfection, with mid-20th century (when the story takes place) color saturation in style and panache. It faultlessly captured the mythos of the early 60s. Every page brings a new visual gift to gaze over, whether that be in fashion or in a well-paced fight scene. These visuals are the only reason to read the book. In fact it might be better to ignore the word bubbles and substitute your own more original tale to go with the graphics.

In comics there is a long tradition of a protagonist leading two separate lives, but this tends to stretch the limit of belief of the main character, Josie, being a cold-hearted killer and loving mother of two. But that is beside the point, the man action lies in her trying to pull away from her old life and become a full time mom. So, the unidentified “assassin company” decides to terminate her. All of this comes across like a retro-update of La Femme Nikita- which I recommend people watch instead of reading this comic.

However a sequel to this book has been published for those who are interested. Unless I get it a very cheap price, I won’t be reviewing it.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Children of Yesterday: The 24th Infantry Division in the Philippines (War) (Autobiography)

by Jean Valtin  

Publisher: Battery Press (March 30, 2014)

Softcover, 354 pages

“During an island raid in the Sibuyan Sea I saw a Japanese prisoner tied to a tree and tortured to death by guerillas. The censors refused to pass this not uncommon truth about the war in the tropics. They also stopped an account of Mindanao guerilla groups fighting on the enemy’s side, and a story about an American officer who “built morale” among Moro volunteers by having them mix fresh Japanese blood with hot G I coffee; or an account of the Tacloban brothels where soldiers stood in queues two blocks long in the hot sun with military police allotting no more than five minutes to each man. The censors were sensitive, too, about the unprotested practice of robbing Jap corpses of money, watches, and fountain pens; of the occasional killing of Jap wounded to save labor of nursing and feeding them; about the mere mention of the effects of tropical diseases on our troops; about casualty figures; about the fact- long known to everyone-m that enemy cadavers, if ever buried, were dumped into shallow trenches dug out by bulldozers, or about an Army chaplain who during the burial of an American soldiers was forced by snipers to jump into the grave atop the dead man and fight back. However in a story of an infantry division’s deeds, these are minor details, significant only in their accentuation of the two-sidedness of the misery and the graceless brutality of war.”

This is the follow up biography to Jan Valtin’s Out of the Night where the author described his indoctrination into the Communist party in 1920s Germany, his disillusionment with the authoritarian Leftist policies and their rank hypocrisy, his capture by the Gestapo and being forced to work as an informer for the organization, and his eventual escape to the United States. The previous book was also the first one reviewed on this blog.
Author Jean Valtin aka Julius Krebs

Jan Valtin, as has been since discovered after his demise, was the pseudonym for Richard Julius Herman Krebs. After he resettled in the United States, he published the first book, a best seller, which was later on cast into doubt in certain claims he made in the book. The New York Mirror called it, “A huge literary hoax”. Others defended it. Whatever the case, Children of Yesterday is cut from an entirely different cloth.

Being drafted in 1943, Valtin was deployed to the 24th Infantry in the Philippines to defeat invading Japanese forces. Perhaps mindful of the claims against his last book, which lambasted the lack of official documents to back up his statements, Valtin writes his accounts hand-in-hand with excerpts from the Division Record of the Infantry’s movements. He adds more flavor and color to each action, he was involved with by personal accounts from the men involved in the fighting.

24 Infantry Division
In fact, this barely is an autobiography and is more of a military journal, accentuated by official records and the anecdotes of his fellow fighting men. After the first chapter, he barely mentions himself at all. The results is an excellent, blow-by-blow of the divisions’ actions in the Philippines, the bloody tool it took, and personal snapshots of the men who died to defeat the enemy, from October 1944, until the Japanese surrender.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.