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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron (Humor) (Grapic Novels)

by Daniel Clowes  

Publisher: Fantagraphics (February 24, 2015)

Softcover, 144 pages

Amazon Listing 

This story was originally serialized in the first ten issues of the author's indie Fantagraphics comic Eightball. I own all the issues, yet decided to buy a copy of this book anyway (albeit at a heavily discounted price) which should tell you about the quality of the story, me being naturally cheap.

To say the story is odd is putting it lightly. There is very little rhyme or rhythm to it. It seems perfectly clear the author was making it up as he went along and tied it all together in the last chapter- sort of. Despite this there it is a compelling take that I couldn't put down, despite having it read it before.

Ostensibly it is about a man named Clay who sees his former wife starring in a bizarre BDSM porno. Still being hung up on her, he tries to find out who made the film and discover why she left- all with a semi-tragic conclusion. The narrative is designed to not make sense. The end here is not the important part, it is the journey through a wasteland America populated exclusively by ugly maniacs, deformed madmen, deranged substance abusers, weird gender bashing cultists, pipe smoking children, dogs with no orifices, and gay psychotic policemen.

Nearly every page, every character, has some oddity to them. That’s all who populate this nearly empty world. The only normal one is our protagonist, which is why his wife leaves him. It is a place where normal people cannot exist or thrive, which isn’t until the brutal end that Clay finally finds a place in the world.

The effect of the narrative is doubled with the author’s nightmarish style and zest for grotesque caricatures. You can feel the loneliness, desperation, the idiocy, the hate in their faces. If there’s one thing Clowes does well is create memorable and horrible faces.  And they are all over this vaguely early 1960’s esthetic universe.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Complete "Omaha" the Cat Dancer: Volume 2

by Reed Waller, Kate Worely, & James M. Vance

Publisher: NBM Publishing (January 1, 2006).

Softcover, 128 pages

Amazon Listing  

Volume two the “most controversial series in comics”. Included in this book are issues 2 through 5, an introduction from the main writer who passed away in 2005, and a parody of the Twinkies ads that used to run in comics back in the 1970s and early 80s- only those who remember them would see the humor in it, otherwise it’s just bizarre.
As Kate Worley takes over most of the writing duties the Omaha world begins to take shape. One-dimensional characters begin to be fleshed out and a racy storyline unfolds. The sex scenes, while still at least one per issue, take a back seat to the drama. Unlike previous issues, and similar types of books, the characters are not just about sex- it is simply one normal aspect of their everyday lives.

The soap opera ramps up. Charlie’s death by apparent manic-induced suicide catches his son and Omaha off guard. Suddenly their future plans fall through and the pair begin to drift through life. Charlie discovers that there is no death certificate recording his mother’s demise and a mysterious possible half-sibling emerges to challenge her brother over Charlie’s estate. Plus everyone gets laid- even the paraplegic girl.
The artist had now refined his style. Gone is the bigfoot line and splashy ink, now it’s all crisp clean lines well ordered. The style is a sort of comic realism in a similar vein to Milt Caniff’s style- the characters are done in an exaggerated style, anthropomorphized funny animal, but everything else is drawn straight and serious and with deliberate realism.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 


Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Complete "Omaha" the Cat Dancer: Volume 1

by Reed Waller, Kate Worely, & James M. Vance

Publisher: NBM Publishing (October 1, 2005).

Softcover, 128 pages

Amazon Listing 

During its time, Omaha was the most controversial comic of its day. Not for its frank depiction of sex- of which there is plenty- but because the sex is a by-product of the story. Thus, the literary merits of the comic was always under debate. Before that there had been plenty of sex comics put out by underground commix publishers, but these had been almost exclusively juvenile in nature (despite being an adult topic), lots of sex coming out of nowhere, rape fantasies, with the coherence of a porno. Done more to shock than titillate, with definitely no narrative. Most come across like a child being able to swear for the first time and trying to shock mommy and daddy.

While Omaha seemed to start out this way, it quickly took a steep narrative turn. There is a solid story here. The art is great. The characters grow and develop, with arcs that flush out even the minor ones. Then they throw sex in between two loving characters, or characters that are horny, or drunk and make a mistake. However you spin it, sexual imagery aside, there is more to this story than a porno comic. Whether Omaha crossed the line is what caused so much debate in the years it was published.

This collected Omaha is being published in chronological order as it occurred in the comic’s timeline. Several of the short stories in the beginning were written years later, so there is a very noticeable jump in the quality of art between some stories and in the quality of writing. At first it was all written by artist Reed Waller, but eventually Kate Worely took over the writing duties. We only see her hand in a few short stories, but the difference is noticeable. Aside from many short pieces, Omaha the Cat Dancer issues 0 and 1 are also included in this book.

Here we see the origins of the cat dancer. As you can see from the illustrations the characters are anthropomorphized animals, but that is the only connection to the animal kingdom. They act like regular people otherwise. Omaha becomes a famous stripper and rises to become Pet of the Year in some Hustler equivalent. Then her life is threatened when the mayor goes on a morality crusade and shuts down all the strip joints in the city. From there she and her boyfriend Chuck become involved in an underground club run for rich people, in which a riot breaks out. We have murder, violence, blackmail, and a mysterious figure behind it all. It only gets better from there.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero - Silent Option (War) (Graphic Novels)

by Larry Hama, Ryan Ferrier, Netho Diaz, & Kenneth Loh 

Publisher: IDW Publishing (April 30, 2019)

Softcover, 120 pages

Amazon Listing Here 

God, I hate the character of Agent Helix. If there was ever a Mary Sue injected into the G.I. Joe, it is this character. She first appeared in video game of the second G.I. Joe movie, The Rise of Cobra, which should tell you the quality of craftsmanship right there. Then she was ported into the IDW Joe verse, which was an alternative running of G.I. Joe comic, while A Real American Hero remained the original continuity, not connected with any other series. Now after the other comic tanked, they’ve decided to port Helix into the Real American Hero storyline.
The character is given a new background- troubled of course- and the Joes are sent to find her and bring her in as she shoots her way through a human trafficking ring, only to find that Firefly and the red Ninjas are also part of the organization. Bang, bang, bang, stab, stab- they are no match for Agent Helix. Why are the other Joes there? Their sole story function seems to marvel at her skill and ability and brooding nature. Even with Larry Hama writing, the story is terrible. I hope they don’t use her much in the regular series, or at all. Hopefully, this shitbag character is dropped completely.
This image is the best part of the book. So now you don't have to buy it. 

I know the term Mary Sue is dropped a lot, but I will prove Agent Helix is one through the story as presented in Silent Option. Here are the characteristics of the Mary Sue:
Personality: None beyond her abilities. Now this is common in G.I. Joe characters, but since she is good at everything she tries. It goes above and beyond with her.
Loved By All: All the other Joes just follow in her wake as she kills everything. They are all in awe and still love her even after she acts like a total cunt to them. No matter what she does, they still want her to respect them, instead of expecting the opposite.
Dark and Troubled Past: Check. She was trafficked by Eastern Europeaners and had to be tied up because she was so violent towards them, but was rescued by Snake Eyes who instantly loved her and got her back to the states.
Flaw that is No Real Flaw: She has problems connecting with others because of her dark and troubled past and doesn’t like to be touched. But that just means the others have to try harder.
Skill Without Trying: Her adopted mother was an MMA champion who taught her to fight and her adopted father was in special forces who taught her to shoot at a young age. Again this is not unusual for a G.I. Joe character, but they also added in that she possesses some kind of “photographic reflexes” like the Taskmaster, so she just has to see someone doing something once in order to copy it perfectly. Thus she doesn’t really need to train more than once to do something perfectly.

As you can see the character doesn’t fit into a team series like G.I. Joe as she can just do it all herself, and with no character development she becomes boring after her fiftieth kill. The only good parts of this book are when she isn’t in it. But as the point of this series is to prop Agent Helix up, all the characters can do is talk about her and wonder at her skill. Ugh.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

G.I. Joe vs The Six Million Dollar Man (War) (Graphic Novel)

by Ryan Ferrier & S. L. Gallant 

Publisher: IDW Publishing (August 21, 2018)

Softcover, 96 pages

Amazon Listing 

At last we have the crossover that we never asked for, but strangely always should have. G.I. Joe vs The Six Million Dollar Man is a violent tribute to the seventies action star, Lee Majors who fits strangely easily into the G. I. Joe universe.

For those who are unaware the Six Million Dollar Man was a TV show that ran from 1973-1978 starring Lee Majors. The premise was a NASA astronaut Colonel Steve Austin crashes an experimental plane and is rebuilt using new bionic parts. His right arm, both legs, and left eye are replaced. These new items enhance his strength, speed and vision far above human norms: he can run at speeds of over 60 mph (97 km/h), and his eye has a 20:1 zoom lens and infrared capabilities, while his bionic limbs all have the equivalent power of a bulldozer. He is then recruited by the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence) as a secret agent. This was all loosely based off the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin.

Fans of The Venture Brothers will note that this character and OSI- only in the Venture universe is called the Office of Secret Intelligence- is part of their main lore as well. In fact Austin and his most memorable opponent, Bigfoot (originally played by Lou Ferigno), appear in the series as cross-species lovers. Both OSI are plays on the original OSI, or Office for Strategic Services, which morphed into the CIA.

In this variation, Cobra has captured and brainwashed the Six Million Dollar Man into their service. They then take over a small country, rich in resources, and begin to play havoc. The Joes are sent in to stop them. Violence ensues, a secret weapon is deployed, and I’m sure you can guess the end. Light, fun, and all your favorite Joes in a big bundle.

The only bone I have to pick is that they writer didn’t go far enough. This is obvious a one-shot deal, so kill a few characters. Whack a Joe or two. In a self-contained story it’s perfectly acceptable, makes it even more interesting. Another quibble is that the writer seems to make the same mistake everyone but Larry Hama does when writing Snake Eyes. Being a ninja is about stealth, misdirection, and silent action. It doesn’t mean you’re invulnerable and can run at four guys with automatic rifle while wielding a sword and still beat them - as happens in this comic. Snake Eyes has never been above using a gun once he’s been spotted.

I have to give this book credit for not only bringing in the Six Million Dollar Man, but reintroducing the character of Mike Power, the Atomic man. A little more history here. In the 70s, Joe Colton, the original G.I. Joe, character was changed to more of an adventurer type, since the military was in disfavor among the media, and companions were added to help him explore. One being the Atomic Man, who was essentially Six Million Dollar Man rip-off. The toy came with transparent mechanical arms and a red flashing atomic eye. This was an awesome twist. It has been long established that Joe Colton was part of the G.I. Joe verse, so slipping this guy in was a no-brainer.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Ultimate Collection Vol. 6

by Peter Liard & Kevin Eastman 

Publisher: IDW Publishing (January 5, 2016)

Hardcover, 256 pages

Volume six collects twenty nine short stories dealing with the Turtles and their universe. All of them hail from the 80s when the creative talent was hot. The previous two volumes come from the 90s and, in comparison, the later issues seem to have lost their mojo. Whether they ran out of steam or talent, the energy, the momentum, is just not there. These amazing stories just punctuate it.
They are collected from the back pages of old comics, exclusives for the TMNT Role Playing Game (again this was the 80s- RPGs were at their height of popularity), benefit stories, and a few crossovers- kind of- with the Puma Blues, an indie comic near forgotten today.

The annotations are interesting because Kevin Eastman writes a page to a page and a half on each story gushing over the layouts and the art. Peter Liard, on the other hand, often writes two sentences claiming to not remember anything about it, seems completely uninterested, or just points out some minor flaw. I'm not sure if this is true, but he comes across as a little bitter. Don't know about what, but he put almost no effort into his contribution here.
There is a volume 7, but it's a collection of covers and sketches and other crap I'm not interested in. Even at half price it's not worth the money to me. Maybe I'll try out one of the turtle's clones like: the Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, the Pre-Teen Dirty Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos, the Naive Inter-Dimensional Commando Koalas, Mildly Microwaved Pre-Pubescent Kung Fu Gophers, Geriatric Gangrene Jujitsu Gerbils, Adult Thermonuclear Samurai Pachyderms, Immature Radioactive Samurai Slugs, Cold Blooded Chameleon Commandos, and the Genetically Modified Punk Rock Pandas.  
These are all real. Check them out.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Volume 5

by Kevin Eastman & Peter Liard 

Publisher: IDW Publisher (December 23, 2013)

Hardcover, 204 pages

Volume 5 collects the final collaboration between Eastman and Liard (so far) on their signature creation The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Issues 56-63, the second half of the “City at War” storyline, which deals with the legacy of The Foot Clan and The Shredder, and seems to be a sort of last hurrah for the group.

The Turtles agree to hunt down the last of the Shredder’s elite guard who are loudly destroying all of the other factions of the Foot in New York City. The Japanese representative of the Foot recruits the Turtles, telling them that the Foot would forgive all past grievances and not hunt them were they to succeed in killing these men. Thus allowing the Turtles to forge their own destiny. Simultaneously Casey Jones, April O’Neil, and Splinter are traveling through their own journeys. Casey now has to deal with being a single mother. April is looking for some kind of direction without much success. While Splinter is on a dangerous quest for spiritual fulfillment. None of them go where they expect to.

As before, the art is crisp and clean, making for easy and fast reading. The violence is off the charts here. One thing that the creators always stressed is that the ninja turtles are not superheroes. Their mission isn’t to “fight crime”, most of the time they’re just defending themselves. At that mentality is certainly shown here- probably why the comic is still so popular. No moralizing on killing, no bullshit. They have their goal, they get in a kill the enemy. Just like most people would do.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Volume 4

by Peter Laird & Kevin Eastman 

Publisher: IDW Publishing (April 23, 2013).

Hardcover, 248 pages 

Volume 4 collects the “Shades of Grey” two-parter, and the first half of the thirteen issue “City at War” storyline. This consists of issues 48-55. If you’ve read my previous blog you’ll notice that this “ultimate” collection has skipped twenty seven issues and rushed ahead to the next big collaboration between Eastman and Liard. I understand that these are considered the “essential” issues, but they also bring in two characters from the missing issues, the villain the Rat King, and the masked vigilante, Nobody. Both have had encounters with the Turtles before, which do not appear in this collection, but the editors assumed that you would already know who they are.
Things have become fractured in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle household, Casey accidentally kills a kid, Splinter has lost his mojo, April is feeling constrained, and the Turtles are trying to deal with the rest of the Foot. With the death of the Shredder, an internal power struggle has erupted between various factions causing a mounting death toll. The Turtles insert themselves into it, only to realize they might be out of their depth and without a clear target, they’re simply adding to the chaos.

One thing I’ve noticed in these later issues, as opposed to the first ones, is how little dialogue there is now. In the first issues huge sections would be devoted to exposition and backstory. Not there is almost none. Most of the issues have little interactions beyond combat and the dialogue is minimalist. This fits with the art, which has now morphed into clean, black and white lines that are easy on the eye and incredibly fast to read. There is less to stop and look at now.
Also I think the publisher, IDW, got a little greedy here. They could’ve easily published the “City of War” story as one large volume, rather than split it in half. I mean I didn’t pay full price for the damn thing, but if I had, I’d be a little pissed off.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection, Vol. 3

by Peter Laird & Kevin Eastman 

Publisher: IDW Publishing (October 2, 2018).

Hardcover, 292 pages

The "golden age" of the turtles was over and with it the focus began to drift. The Shredder has returned and the Turtles have retreated to rural Massachusetts. Eastman and Laird took turns writing and plotting on the subsequent issues and the quality definitely suffered.
Volume three collects issues 12, 14, 15, 17, 19-21 and also includes annotations by Kevin Eastman and Peter Liard. Silly me, I thought the "ultimate" collections would include all of the issues, but apparently it means only the ones worked on by the creators. I don't know if this is to the comic's detriment or benefit.
Before each story blended into the next and it seemed like well plotted tales, now each of the issues are throwaway bullshit tales that don't build the mythos or the world of the turtles in any respect. These stories weren't much fun and some we're quite a chore to get through. In fact issue 15, which deals with the return of some old time superheroes, has some of the worst art I've ever seen in a professional comic. I have xeroxed comics done by teenagers with better looking art.

But it's what you have to wade through in order to reach the "good" story at the end of the book, “Return to New York”, and the Turtles confrontation with the resurrected Shredder. How the character comes back is a little silly, but no more so than how any other comic hero or villain returns, so it's easy to forgive. What interests me is the lack of regard the creators had for their signature villain. The one who is most closely defined with the Turtles, granted this is mostly becuase of the popularity of the cartoon, but I was surprised when I read Laird’s views on the Shredder,
“In truth, though many TMNT fans who became fans via the first animated series see Shredder as a REALLY important part of an ongoing, long-running battle with the Turtles, I don't think Kevin or I ever did. Yes, he was an important part of their history, and they probably would not have come into existence without his involvement in their world (or more accurately Splinter's world)... but that's about it. Other than bringing Shredder back for "Return to New York" (and the few issues preceding that set that arc up), I never missed him in any of the other TMNT books I worked on.”
The action, and it is almost all action, is some of the best in the comic's run. Brutal, fast, no quarter given to the enemy. All three issues, despite varying in layout, flow together like a waterfall of violence and revenge.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection, Vol. 2

by Kevin B. Eastman & Peter Liard 

Publisher: IDW Publishing (April 24, 2012)

Hardcover, 272 pages

Back gain, back again. The foundations for the 90s indie hit are laid out before us. This book marks the end of the golden age of TMNT. After issue 12 the two creators took turns creating working on issues due to creative differences. As a result, the stories after this don’t flow as well until we begin the “Return to New York” storyline.
This volume collects issues 8 - 11, plus the Michelangelo, Donatello, and Leonardo one shots. After each issue are notes and annotations by the creators of the series. Here we begin to see them considering stepping back. Their brand was growing and with that came a whole flood of new work and opportunities beyond writing and drawing the series.
Issue 8 is the famous crossover between the turtles and Cerebus the Aardvark (all of the stories of which I have discussed in their own section)-  This is a return to Cerebus’s barbarian days, which the comic had actually progressed beyond, and involves the turtles being transported into another dimension and forced to storm the castle of a necromancer with Cerebus. The two art styles mesh together perfectly and none of the characters act differently than in other issues. The only drawback is that the dialogue is way too jokey and riddled with bad puns. It drags down the story.
For me issue 10 marks a turning point for the original series. The stories had gotten increasingly more fantastical and over-the-top. Magic, science fiction, aliens were all mixed up in the story. And the overall tone of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was threatened to be bogged down by silliness and bad humor. Then comes the Leonardo one-shot that leads into issue 10. The return of The Foot Clan. The return of the Shredder- albeit a new man inside the armor.
We see a much more serious story as the turtles return to the themes of their origin. That of familial duty and revenge based on the actions of people long dead. We see here the pendulum of this cycle of violence swing back to hit the turtles. The tone is darker, serious, with hints of the deadly conclusion that might occur. A hero story is only as good as their villain, and the turtles were beginning to lag without one.
The Leonardo one-shot is probably the most masterfully put together turtles story ever. The juxtaposition between the violence of the ninja action and the rest of the turtles joyfully trimming the Christmas tree - perfectly shows the two elements which drew people to the series in the first place: Playfulness and deadly action.  I think it’s their best work.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.