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Friday, June 28, 2019

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom Vol 4 (Superhero) (Graphic Novel)

by Paul S. Newman (Author) & Frank Bolle (Artist)

Publisher: Dark Horse (January 18, 2008)

Hardcover, 240 pages

Who is Doctor Solar? Why he’s the Man of the Atom. A scientist accidently gets trapped in a nuclear testing chamber and absorbs exactly 550 rotogens of radiation, transforming him into the Man of the Atom with the ability to transform his body into all sorts of energy. He is a living nuclear battery. No longer dependent on food and water – in fact, no longer having either a heartbeat or a human metabolism – he obtains the energy he needs by exposing himself to nuclear radiation.

This volume collects issues 23 through 31 of the Dell series, along with a rare crossover issue where Dr. Solar meets with another Gold Key title, The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor. There is a nineteen year break in the series between issues 27 and 28. The reason for this was that in the 80s, Gold Key withdrew from distribution to newsstands and began publishing comics under the Whitman Comics imprint. These were distributed to retail stores in packages of three issues. Thus they began churning out a few more issues with the original creative team to shore up their ranks.

There is a definite shift in the tone and action between issues 27 and 28 (as one would expect there to be), and these reflect the changing styles in the comic industry between the 60s and 80s. First there is more character development in the 80s issues. The 60s comic are all about action, action, action. A problem occurs, Dr. Solar needs to fix that problem, he does, end with a smile. In the latter issues he broods over his fate. That not needing to do basic human things like sleep and eat and emitting massive doses of radiation causes a strain in his relationship with other people. Thus his beautiful assistant pines for him, but he dare not return her love lest he accidentally hurt her. None of that was in the first 27 issues.

Also in the 80s issues, the covers change. One thing Dr. Solar had for it were all of those wonderful painted covers. Simply beautiful, but that was scrapped for the last 4 issues. In fact, they were pretty bad covers (or at least forgettable) even for the time, but then they were being sold in bags of three. However, the interior art becomes much better, reflecting the increased skill of the illustrator after two decades. So take your pick on which you prefer.

Going along with this trend, the villains change also. In the 60s, Dr. Solar is exclusively fighting against the evil genius Nuro who has transferred his mind into a robot and been re-christened King Cybernoid (I’m sure it sounded cooler in the 60s). This villain appears only once the in the 80s issues and he sure acts differently. But in all of them, Dr. Solar beats them with an excellent combination of brains and bizarre energy power.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

American Widow (Autobiography) (Graphic Novel)

by Alissa Torres & Sungyoon Choi   

Publisher: Villard (September 9, 2008)

Hardcover, 224 pages

“I welcomed the grief in the screams of my hard-earned labor. I invited you into each one, mourning you each time as I had not done previously. So badly, I now wanted these moments of unfettered noise that I didn’t have to explain. As I screamed, it felt like sex. I invoked you in my mind as the contraction rose to my lips. I remembered your physicality upon me as I rode each wave of pain. My first intense physical sensation in fifty days. It recalled that world of lust and body I used to inhabit, now made manifest only in grief, with each thrust of life.”

This is an autobiographical graphic novel about the aftermath of 9/11. The author’s husband began his second day of work at a finance office located in the World Trade Center. He was an illegal immigrant who had difficulty finding a job. She was pregnant and the pair had had an argument the night before, from which she was still angry. Then the towers fell and she was left to pick up the pieces and deal with emotions left dangling in the wind.

She is barely a newlywed and is pregnant when her husband Luis died. The story covers the tower’s collapse, the fears, the devastation, the initial support from various agencies (Red Cross, other charities, and eventually the federal government). After which the attacks against the families of (specifically widows) of 9/11 began in the leftist media. The high point of which occurred when Ted Rall published a cartoon mocking the victim’s families and implying that they were all now happy their family members died.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District (Humor) (Graphic Novel)

by Ben Katchor  

Publisher: Pantheon (August 12, 2003)

Hardcover, 120 pages

The extension fallacy is when an arguer takes a statement and exaggerates the parameters so much that it becomes completely ridiculous idea. This perfectly defines the humor in The Beauty Supply District. The strips revolve around the nuances of city life. Much of them are concerned the variances of architecture in a New York City-esque environment. The constant raising and destruction of buildings, as depicted in this book, paints a picture of a city landscape that drifts back and forth like an ocean current, where the occupants try to find stability and meaning in a chaotic ever shifting concrete jungle.

The stories take mundane aspects and illuminate them to ridiculous heights. From tours of a shop that had been vacant since 1964. To a group of men at an office obsessed with their fire extinguisher. To a rich man who owns a private vintage bus and, for kicks, drives along an actual route picking people up. To the longer story of The Beauty Supply District, where many obsessions collide in a bizarre manner.

These strips were originally published in various alternative and indie magazines and newspapers across Canada and the US. Katchor draws the strip in a loose, sketchy pen-and-ink style overlaid with a gray watercolor wash. The backgrounds are detailed and drawn from a wide variety of shifting perspectives. A typical strip is made up of eight or nine panels captioned with crooked, hand-lettered boxes. The captions and drawings often follow independent narrative threads, sometimes with ironic effects, with the captions contradicting or reinforcing the visuals. The dreamlike strip displays a nostalgic tone for New York City, and its Jewish heritage in particular. The strip's city is populated with small businesses that had never existed and that are often implausible, but reminiscent of a New York in the days of large numbers of immigrants before the dominance of large corporate chains

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Classics Illustrated: The Secret Agent (Crime) (Graphic Novel) (Fiction)

by Joseph Conrad (Author) & John K. Snyder (Adaptor)

Publisher: NBM (July 13, 2013)

Hardcover, 124 pages

Here we have a classic from yesteryear by one of the greatest writers in English literature, Joseph Conrad. Secret Agent, while far from his best work, is a classic in its own right and made infamous for being the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski’s, favorite book. Perhaps even inspiring him into his favorite pastime of blowing things up.
Joseph Conrad is the author of many deep classics that appeal mostly to males, Lord Jim, Nostromo, and Heart of Darkness- which was the inspiration for the seminal film Apocalypse Now. If you haven’t heard of any of these please get a library card and liberate yourself from illiteracy.
Author Joseph Conrad

Originally published in 1907, the story centers on Adolph Veloc, a leading member of an anarchist cell (the modern equivalent of this would be Antifa) and a paid agent provocateur of a foreign power. A rather indolent man, whose cover identity is selling pornographic items and other bric-a-brac out of a small shop, he is ordered to bomb a public building to stir the populace against the anarchist. Veloc is your typical anti-heroic Conrad protagonist forced into circumstances well beyond his ability to cope with.
There are no heroes in this novel. The police and other authority figures are mostly concerned with their own personal advancement and stab each other in the back with regularity, while the anarchists are even worse. Petty leeches, who complain about the system, but are unable to take care of themselves and live off of women that they dupe. They are seen as ineffectual big talkers who are incapable of anything except fraud and self-indulgence. Which is pretty accurate for your standard “activist”. I think Solzhenitsyn wrote it best when he said "activist" is just a synonym for “big mouthed loafer”.
The art is good, somewhat different, but meant to express emotions as much as action. I would characterize it as a sort of cubist art deco.

The problem I have with this book is that it really is geared for younger readers. As the presentation concentrates primarily on the dialogue between disparate figures, the action is muddled. Perhaps this wasn’t intended to be read by younger people as was the first incarnation of Classics Illustrated in the 1940s, but the confusion might reach out to older readers unfamiliar with the novel. Having read the original prose novel I understood what was happening, but the graphic novel has a habit of jumping character perspectives (as did the original) without any transitions and the semi-abstract illustrations would cause momentary confusion as to who was talking.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Private Beach (Humor) (Graphic Novel)

by David Hahn

Publisher: Dover Publications (July, 20, 2016)

Softcover, 180 pages

I’m shifting here slightly from my current trend of reading obscure 80s indie comic titles to reading an obscure indie comic from the early 2000s. Private Beach first began being published in the 1995 with seven issues swiftly following, before (like most indies) ending on a cliffhanger with no resolution. Now decades later, all of the issues have been collected and a thirty page ending given. Also included are various shorts staring the characters and set in the same universe.

While I never read the comic while it was first published, I always like when creators are allowed to go back and wrap up old series like this, as Alan Moore was able to do with Lost Girls. For those who might be interested, the ending here does not wrap up all the oddities neither does it explain the mysterious weirdness crawling behind the scenes of the series. It is simply an ending. One which will probably not satisfy, but does leave the door open for future stories in the Trudyverse - should there be any demand.

Essentially, it is the story of Trudy and her semi-hipster pals making their late Gen X way through life with wry observations about life, dead-end jobs, with some sinister weirdness creeping in around the edges of the page. The characters are likeable and most of the action is light, in that breezy style common back in the day (perhaps popularized by Preacher) where the overall plot was almost considered secondary to the characters realistic interaction with each other. This might be just as well, as the resolution will probably not satisfy.

Despite that, the book is very enjoyable and blends art with text and story beautifully. The only criticism is that two of the characters are so similar looking, I got them confused occasionally. The author has gone on to more mainstream work, as well he should, his talent certainly deserves to be spread about.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Viz: The Sausage Sandwich (Humor) (Graphic Novel)

 by Chris Donald (Editor), Various artists and writers.  

Publisher: John Brown Publishing (October 10, 1991)

Hardcover, 128 pages.

This is a collection of five issues of Viz magazine, an “adult” comic magazine from England, which shot to fame and prominence in the 90s. It is still around today, albeit, the magazine's heyday is long since past. The term “adult” in this case means a large number of sexual jokes and profanity (large for when it was first published at any rate. By modern standards it’s all rather tame). If you are actually mature much of the material will seem tedious and juvenile- luckily I am not mature.
The material is this book is very uneven, going from hysterical to lame to boring. With so many different people producing material, so many cooks in the stew, they can’t all be masterpieces. However the ones which fall the flattest are those who indulge in topical humor (making fun of forgotten politicians and celebrities of the day)- nothing goes stale faster than topical humor. Second on the fail are the photo-strip stories, where photos are taken and plot bubbles added. I’ve never found these funny. No one has done them well. Not Weirdo, not National Lampoon, no one. They are inherently not good. Finally, the third lamest ones are all of the newspaper parody, fake adverts, and “funny” letters column. The time people laughter in these was long and dry. The Onion they are not.
Where does that leave us?  With the strips which were funny- which is at least 65% percent of the book (I only paid three dollars for this hardcover, so I am content. Had it been more, I would’ve felt ripped off). Most of the running strips are pretty good, Roger Mellie ( tv personality who is always doing the wrong thing on a show) , The Fat Slags (two entitled overweight whores who fuck and slum their way through life), Millie Tant (a social justice warrior type- before the term was even around- who bitches about everything that SJWs bitch about now), Spoilt Bastard ( about the worst kid in the world- I think this would’ve found it funnier when I was a kid, now I just want to wring this little fuck’s neck), and Billy the Fish (a fish with a human head becomes part of a soccer team). The rest of the one-shots were all hit or miss, but mostly on the funny side. The ones which got me were those whose names were funny off the bat- Speckly Twat, Terry Fuckwit, Sid the Sexist and so on.
Viz never really made it across the pond, hence this being my first exposure to it despite collecting for several decades now. I can’t say that I hate it or love it, granted I would have to look at modern material to judge, but this stuff originally printed in the early 80s doesn’t have much of a punch left. I’m sure when it came out it was very edgy, but the edge has moved considerably.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Roachmill: Framed (Science Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Rich McWeeney, & Tom Hedden 

Publisher: Dark Horse (1988)

Softcover, 125 pages

Roachmill is an 80s and 90s comic which started off on the lower end of the publishing world and eventually made semi-good. But you’re probably saying, “It can’t be that good if I haven’t heard of it, can it?” But then you’re hearing right now, so what does that tell you? Probably nothing. The five issues collected here were first published by Blackthorne Publishing- the firm famous for their 3-D comics and who went out of business by acquiring the rights to do a comic on Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, a comic which nobody bought. After Blackthorne, Dark Horse (still an unsteady entity at the time) picked up the series and ran it for another ten issues, until it was scrapped.
This is a sci-fi adventure in a future where Earth is part of a vast connected group of planets tied by trade routes. The problem is that many of these alien races come from very violent backgrounds, and thus the job of exterminator has expanded to include the destruction of aliens. Roachmill, a grim-jawed Clint Eastwood type, who has extra two cybernetic arms-hence his name, I suppose, is one of the most famous exterminators about. In this case he is framed for an unlicensed killing and has to figure out who laid the trap for him and why. 
The problem with this story is that there is no set tone. It varies wildly back and forth between serious sci-fi, satire, and even some slapstick - making it overall an unsatisfying read. Neither fish nor fowl. For a story to have a lasting impression it must stick with a tone and quite frankly (apart from Red Dwarf) humorous sci-fi, especially ones revolving around a grim-faced killing machine, never work out.
Red Dwarf is the exception because it is primarily character driven, with the humor deriving from the flawed character’s reactions to circumstances. When, as in the case of Roachmill, you have a character devoid of almost any personality, then what is there to work with. The grim faced fighter who can beat the shit out of anything is almost the biggest cliché in comics. Very rarely is it memorable or interesting.
The only thing which recommends this book is the extraordinary art. Black and white, it is crisp, clean and highly emotive. The artist plays with shadows excellently to create an excellent noir atmosphere, or would have if the story didn’t try to be “witty” or “clever”.
 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Changes: A Psycho Visual Novel (Science Fiction) (Graphic Novel)

by Matt Howarth  

Publisher: Tundra Publishing Ltd (1992)

Softcover, 95 pages

Many of you may not have heard of Matt Howard, but he has been writing about the residents of Bugtown and the Post Brothers for close to four decades now. This particular volume introduces us to his standard parallel dimension shifting protagonists, the Post Brothers. These stories were originally serialized in the early issues of Heavy Metal magazine. I own several of them, I discovered, but did not remember this serial- primarily because those early issues had up to five different serialized stories at the same time, some of which were not actually continued in the next issues (you might have to wait two or three issues for the next instalment). Which is why those early issues of Heavy Metal always seemed to be a perennial dick tease.

The back of the book describes this graphic novel as gonzo science fiction. For those youngsters unfamiliar with the term, and many think this is somehow related to the Muppet character, according to Miriam-Webster gonzo is a “style of journalism marked by a lack of objectivity due to the writer's immersion in the subject and often participation in the activity being documented.” How does this relate to the graphic novel? It doesn’t. Thus we have to extrapolate a different understanding of gonzo in relation to this book.

This story should have been described as more postmodern than gonzo. Its thin plot is embellished by an often bizarre black-and-white visual style meant to confuse. Essentially two dimensional shifting brothers kill a man in exchange for a snort of “astral cocaine” but are double crossed with demon coke, sending them on a violent ride across hostile dimensions.

In typical postmodern style the events are more an emotional reflection of ideas, rather than a concern with plot or character development. The quality of the art shifts from episode to episode with the style correspondingly as random as well- befitting the story. It varies from bigfoot thick lines to very detailed pointillism drawings. This book will be either a love it or hate it default for each reader. If you want your standard graphic novel beat-em-up fare, then give it a miss. If you want something different, it’s definitely worth a look.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Astro City Vol 17: Aftermaths (Superhero) (Graphic Novels)

by Kurt Busiek (Writer) & Brent Anderson (Illustrator)

Publisher: Vertigo Comics (May 14, 2019)

Hardcover, 160 pages

Say it ain’t so. This is the final volume of one of my favorite comics of all time. The authors claim that Astro City is not finished with the completion of its Vertigo series. Instead, they plan to revert the comic back to its earliest formula of graphic novels and short series. Here’s hoping, but I’m afraid I will never again see into a world I’ve grown to love.
Most of the stories collected here deal with the pain of loss, amid the sacrifice of a person who died for the greater good. They are incredibly well drawn and plotted and, at times, heartbreaking in effect. Exactly what we expect from Astro City.
The first story deals with a thief who steals a magic amulet that accidently bonds him with his pet corgi to become G-Dog (as in “good dog”). This bonding between adds an extra weight on the criminal’s conscience and forces him to give up his crooked ways. All is well until the dog begins to feel ill and the owner realizes just how long dogs live. We also see the return of the pet patrol, unseen for fifty issues, with Rocket Dog, Kittyhawk, Dr. Monkey, and Ghost Ferret.

The second story, and the worst of the bunch, is a short one about a journalist trying to track down her activist scientist father. She is convinced that his disappearance is connected to a new force called Resistor, who manifests in protests when things are about to become violent. Random people are transformed and keep the peace. She eventually discovers the connection and the price to be paid for peace.
The third story returns to one of the most tragic figures ever shown in Astro City. He last appeared in issue #6. After a Chrono-Crisis with the heroes fighting across time and space, certain events are altered and a man begins having dreams of woman he believes is his wife, but whom he has never met. It turns out she was erased from history, and he now memories of living two lives. He now works at a survivors group for those who have lost people during supervillain attacks. But once his story comes out, then the others in his group begin to doubt him.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.