Random Reviews 9-6-10

These are more library reviews. Usually, that would mean rolling the dice, but I actually had some things to say.

The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur LeotardThe Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard by Eddie Campbell and Dan Best

Between its short length and ever-shifting art, everyone should read this book. There isn’t much I’d call a plot; this is mostly short events, called “Episodes” or “Épisodes.” Each includes the titular monsieur and his circus pals and their adventures, including the sinking of the Titanic and a jailbreak.

Watercolors, newspaper clippings, musical notation, Campbell uses anything that will help him tell the story. It makes a unique read that is never boring.

Unwritten: The Tommy Taylor and the Bogus IdentityThe Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

I have to say, this book was exactly what I expected. Which isn’t a good thing. I got the first issue for free last year at Fan Expo Canada and was not impressed. Reviews all over the internet were glowing, so when I saw the trade, I had to give it a chance. It still didn’t connect. In my head, I like metafiction. But too often, when I read a book or see a movie that is meta, I don’t like it.

Here, Mike Carey has written the story of Tom Taylor. Tom’s father wrote a Harry Potter-esque Tommy Taylor book series (not the difference in names, Tom [real world] vs. Tommy [book world]). As the series begins, Tom’s identity is called into question. And some of Tommy’s enemies have appeared to confront Tom in the “real world.” An interesting idea, nothing that hooked me.

The best word-of-mouth had been for issue #5 “How the Whale Became.” It was even nominated for the Eisner for best single issue. But it ended up being my least favorite. With the exception of the final page, it dropped the main storyline for a narrative of Samuel Clemens and Rudyard Kipling finding motivations for stories. Sounds like something I would enjoy. I was bored.

Peter Gross turns in some nice art though. He tweaks his style when we leave the “real world” for scenes from the Tommy Taylor novels, but for the most part, this is Vertigo art. I never of Vertigo as having a style, but Gross would not have been out-of-place if he filled in for a few issues of Y: The Last Man or American Virgin. Hell, Lizzy Hexam could be Dr. Allison Mann and Mathilde Venner could be Mamie Chamberlain.

Not for me.

Final Crisis: Legion of Three WorldsFinal Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds by Geoff Johns and George Pérez

Five issues and almost none of this made sense to me. I just read the Wikipedia synopsis. It sounds like a good story, but reading it was gibberish.

When people talk about impenetrable mainstream comics, this is exactly what they mean. I am not a Legion expert. I’ve maybe read Legion five stories, but as I said recently, I’ve always enjoyed them. As a basic point of the plot, this book involved too many characters. I understand who Braniac 5 is, but I can’t look at three Braniacs and tell you what universe each is from or their differences. And Despite all of Johns’ exposition, the scenes didn’t flow together. A group was sent to find the last Green Lantern, but I didn’t understand why. Kid Flash and Superboy were resurrected, but I don’t understand why. Braniac wanted the unite three universes’ worth of Legions, BUT I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY. If he just wants allies, why not summon three Justice Leagues too? Three teams of Titans?

My problems with the story aside, George Perez is a god. He easily draws over a hundred characters in this book. Panels are packed with information. No one else in comics could have drawn this story.

Another question: What did this have to do with Final Crisis? Darkseid and the Anti-Life Equation were never mentioned in these pages. Did this launch out of Final Crisis? Or was it just a marketing ploy?

The Stand: Captain TripsThe Stand: Captain Trips by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Mike Perkins

In high school, we read a few short stories by Steven King. My favorite was “Night Surf.” It tells the story of a few kids, trying to deal with a plague that is wiping out the world. That plague, known as “Captain Trips,” is the one featured in King’s The Stand. The Stand is one of those books I always want to read, but get intimidated by. The 1000+ page novel is heralded as one of King’s best, but it’s just daunting. I was mildly impressed with the Dark Tower comics, so when I saw this I had to grab it.

This hardcover includes only read five issues, around 110 pages, but King and Aguirre-Sacasa have introduced their main players, hinted at their greater conflicts and managed to show the sheer scope of what the story entails. Very impressive.

I dig it. Not having read the original novel, I can’t tell what’s missing, but Aguirre-Sacasa’s adaptation must cover chapters worth of material in mere pages. That being said, I never feel like the scenes aren’t long enough. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love to have these scenes extended, but it doesn’t feel that they need more info.

Mike Perkins delivers solid art, though his characters’ faces can be wonky in places. It looks to me that Perkins has modeled Larry Underwood after Bruce Springsteen and his Stu Redman looks an awful lot like his Steve Rogers. That’s not a complaint, those models work as a shortcut to the characters’ personalities.

I will definitely continue this series. Who knows, I may even pick up the novel.

GoldfishGoldfish by Brian Michael Bendis

It’s not the differences between Bendis’ earliest and recent works that are interesting; it’s the commonalities. Goldfish educating two pool players about the significance of the title of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly strikes the same chord as Hawkeye and Ant-Man discussing their “Can’t Haves” in Avengers #500. Two-page spreads that feature only a handful of small panels, the remaining negative space holding only dialogue was a technique used again in Alias. (I assume Bendis had as much a hand in that as Michael Gaydos.)

Goldfish is a nice, easy to follow crime story, not unlike something you would find in Ed Brubaker’s Criminal. David Gold is back in Cleveland after a 10-year hiatus to collect the one thing of his an ex-girlfriend still has. I could tell you what (and the back cover will spoil it for you), but it was a nice moment to stumble upon.

You can tell Bendis was still finding his voice years ago. His start, stop, interject dialogue on the first few pages of this book had me scared, but it quickly morphs into something more readable. It’s never a true problem, but his dialogue is much more slick these days.

Of course, Bendis also drew this story. The black and white art is not bad, but it could use more subtlety. As with many a crime story, characters are often bathed in shadow. Here, with gray-tones a rarity, faces are partially spotlighted, partially blackened, leading to lost facial expressions and inhuman appearances.

Worth a read. I just hope I can find Fire, Jinx and Torso somewhere nearby.

Stuck Rubber BabyStuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse

In the list of great graphic novels, I’m amazed that this book isn’t mentioned more. Released in 1995, smack dab in the era of big guns, big muscles comics, this is an expertly drawn, realistic, emotional story. Stuck Rubber Baby tells the story of Toland Polk, growing up gay in the racist 1960s American south. It’s staggering to think that events like those in the story happened in our country only 50 years ago and continue today. Cruse tells this semi-autobiographical story as a flashback, so we also get the benefit of modern-day Toland’s commentary. As comics memoirs go, this deserves a place right next to Fun Home. I would say it even surpasses Bechdel’s story.

Cruse uses some of the best comic tricks I’ve seen the side of Los Bros Hernandez, including weaving text through the images and placing images within a characters head to show what they don’t or can’t say. He really understand the medium.

The art is cartoony, each person with their own identifiable look. Skin color is always a hot topic in comics. It can be too easy to only change someone’s skin tone, ignoring physical attributes. Case in point, when was the last time Storm looked black instead of white with brown skin? That Jubilee looked Asian? Cruse’s black characters look black without resorting to cruel stereotypes. The art is black and white, but Cruse’s panels are packed with expert crosshatching. Not the brash linework of Jim Lee clones, it is properly used to show shape and texture. Truly impressive.

As I said, this book came out in the heyday of crappy 90s books. Hunt it down, it’s a masterpiece.

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