Library Reviews 9-27-10

The library lets you take as many books out as you want. You just bring them back in three weeks. So, I read a lot of crap. Luckily, this batch was quite good.

Astro City: The Dark Ages, Book. 1: Brothers and Other StrangersAstro City: The Dark Ages, Book 1: Brothers and Other Strangers by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson

That’s a long name for a book, huh? I’ll give you a shorter one: “Today’s Best Hero Comics.” In the intro to first Astro City trade, Busiek basically says “This is why we deconstructed heroes in the 80s: to learn how they work and how to make them work better.” From cosmic clashes to the idea of family legacies, Busiek has covered many aspects of heroes and always treated them interestingly and with the respect these modern gods deserve.

Much he did in the classic Marvels, Busiek often uses the point-of-view of the average citizen, living as a human in a world filled with superhumans. In most comics, where you only follow the heroes, you lose the scope of the events, the sense that these are extraordinary happenings. Exploding planets and Nazi gorillas become common-place.

This tale of two brothers, one living a life of crime and one a life of fighting crime, shows how regular people live with the incredible world around them. When a battle trashes an apartment building, lives can be ruined. We saw one mother’s reaction to the events that started Marvel’s Civil War, but what about after that? Those people have to live with what happened for the rest of their lives. That’s what this specific story is about.

“Two minutes before he arrived in Astro City.” I bet you didn’t get chills reading that sentence. But I did. To explain it would spoil the story. Though I rarely worry about things like that, I will here. These are comics I would recommend to anyone. Especially you, reader.

Batwoman: ElegyBatwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III

For the nine months or so this team worked on this book, it was the best on the stands.

When people talk about storytelling in comics, they basically mean how well you can understand the story without reading the words. Can you properly read emotions? Do the events take place in a logical, natural order? Those “people” includes myself of course. When talked last week about Frank Quitely’s work on Batman and Robin, that’s what I was discussing. But with his Batwoman work (originally published in Detective Comics), J. H. Williams truly helps tell the story. His art takes multiple styles, sometimes even on the same page. The simplest example being the use of one style for Batwoman activities, similar to the J. H. you know and another for Kate Kane, her civilian identity, almost a John Paul Leon look. One on page, Kate, at a formal fundraiser, has an epiphany of Alice’s (the story’s antagonist) true plot. The next panel, the art changes to the “Batwoman” style. We don’t just know how Kate’s mind reacts to the news, we see it: she immediately switches to Batwoman mode. It’s just brilliant. But Williams art would not be as impactful without colorist extraordinaire Dave Stewart. As the pencils change, so do the colors. Stark black, white and red for the intro pages,. Flat colors for flashbacks time. Minimal rendering for civilian time. Full rendering for the Batwoman/Alice battles. There’s even some watercolor work in here, which may be Williams’. These artist put thought into every choice and it shows.

Together, this team (including writer Greg Rucka) proved that comics don’t need to use regular panels to be legible. They don’t have to be an artist reproducing a known character in his/her style. They shouldn’t strive to be fine art, ready to hang in a museum. They should be art, and sometimes words, that tell a story. They should be COMICS.

Some critics have said that Rucka’s writing pales in comparison to Williams’ art, but it doesn’t. Rereading this series, I saw how well Rucka was planting seeds. The biggest twist of the story is hinted at multiple times. And that’s just looking at the main plot. You can’t forget that Rucka has fleshed out a believable character who happens to be a lesbian. It’s not a defining characteristic, it’s just part of her. It’s a serious matter, which leads to her separation from the US military, but not she, nor anyone in her life treats it as a flaw. It was nice to read about a character coming out to her family and not have it be treated as a crisis.

I could go on and on, but I’m saying nothing new about this series. I loved it. Though Rucka has moved on, I can’t wait for Williams’ upcoming Batwoman book.

Fables: Legends in ExileFables: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham and Steve Leialoha

Some friends in college were wicked into this series. I read the first two trades then, but it never grabbed me. The idea is super interesting, but I never cared to continue. I would hear review after review praising it up and down and would always dismiss it. But when I saw it on the shelves, I figured I could give it another shot.

I enjoyed it a whole lot more this time, though I’m still not 100% interested. Perhaps hearing what the series has done in recent years, I’ve realized who some background characters were, giving me more investment. I’m want to read more, and that’s really what matters, right?

The Unwritten - Inside ManThe Unwritten: Inside Man by Mike Carey

Perhaps in a few years, I’ll come back and enjoy this series more than I do now, as I did with Fables. The fictional vs. reality ideas just ran too thin for me. When I cared more about the prison warden and his children, rather than the stars of the series, I knew something was off.

There’s nothing wrong with this book, it’s just not for me. You can’t say I didn’t give it a try.

Summer BlondeSummer Blonde by Adrian Tomine

I’ve talked about Adrian Tomine on here before, reviewing 32 Stories and Shortcomings. I’ve also read Sleepwalk and Other Stories, the first collection of his Optic Nerve issues. The problem with that volume, and not this one was their stories’ endings. Stories would end abruptly, without closure, and with twists that came out of nowhere. This is also the reason I don’t like JD Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” The writer defines a character, sets up their conflict (if they have one) and then takes a left turn to end the story.

Sample plot (“Pink Frosting” from Sleepwalk): “Oh man, look at this birthday cake … I hope she likes it … Oh man, that car almost hit me … Aw, I just got curb-stomped like American History X.” What?

The argument can be made that these are character pieces, slice-of-life. In that case they have too much plot. They aren’t simple, every day events. These are important moments in people’s lives. The abrupt ending can be a story-telling tool, but if that’s the idea, the tool has been dulled by overuse.

You know what? I’ll take the blame. I probably “don’t get it” or “see how significant these ‘arbitrary’ events are.”

The art is perfect, but Tomine was yet to reach the heights he would later find in Shortcomings. That story’s longer length allowed him to tell a story to its actual conclusion rather than an arbitrary event suddenly given false import by the words “The End”.

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Roll of the Dice Reviews 8-14-10

I take a lot of books out of my local library and read them rather quickly. I’d like to get some thoughts on them down, but haven’t gotten into them deep enough for a full analysis. Which leads us to Roll of the Dice reviews.

Step 1: Read books
Step 2: Roll a six-sided die twice.
Step 3: Write a review for each book with a word count matching the numbers rolled. E.G. A 2 and a 6 means a 26-word review for each book.

This weeks rolls: 5 and 5 – 55 word reviews! Go ahead, do a word count.

Powers - Who Shot Retro Girl?Powers - RoleplayPowers, Vol. 1: Who Killed Retro Girl? and Vol. 2: Roleplay by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming

Pure, uninhibited Bendis. He prides himself on characters that speak in unique ways, but they don’t. They’re all clever and quippy and clash with other writer’s interpretations. Here, he defines the characters from the start, which means they’re truly special. These are serious cop stories, with Oeming’s cartoony art to stop it from getting grim.

Lost at SeaLost at Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Yes, Scott Pilgrim is hot right now, but O’Malley’s been exploring themes of asshole friends, emotional baggage and teen alienation for almost a decade. Here, he also experiments with what a book can be when completely created by one person. It doesn’t have the depth or action of SP, but it’s well worth a read.

Super SpySuper Spy by Matt Kindt

30-something short stories all focusing on spies on every side of WWII. I find espionage fascinating. The ways people transfer info in this book are unbelievable: morse code in laundry, hidden in comic strips, choreographed dances. A very interesting, quick read. Another example of one man in control of all creative aspects. Definitely unique.

Moving PicturesMoving Pictures by Kathryn & Stuart Immonen

More WWII goodness. Not a complex plot, but I did have trouble piecing the timeline together. It’s interesting to go from books like Super Spy or LAS to something that doesn’t use comics’ tricks. The black and white, six-panel grid keeps the book easy to read, and makes the writing that much more important.

De: TALESDe:TALES by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá

This teaches visual storytelling better than anything I can remember. You see girl on tip-toes, you know she’s kissing. You’re in love after four wordless pages. This is brothers telling stories they want to: about “bars and drunk people,” “fairies and talking birds.”  I love Umbrella Academy and Daytripper. Give me more of this.

32 StoriesShortcomings32 Stories and Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

These books represent Tomine’s earliest and most recent works, respectively. Much of 32 isn’t the art style you’re expecting, but the tone is. Shortcomings, though, is a masterpiece. The art has the consistency of Watchmen. The story is relatable, yet feels fresh. Tomine does slice-of-life better than anyone out there. Check these out.

Wow, that was hard. But fun. Expect more in a week or two.

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