Monday, December 31, 2012

The Best of 2012

 Here you go...the eagerly-awaited "BEST OF 2012!!!" list. This list consists of book that I read in 2012, not books that were published in 2012. So there's no rhyme or's just the best stuff I've read all year. The cream of the crop.

In no particular order......

The Stuff of Legend, Book 2: The Jungle
 Amazing, heartfelt, and unforgettable.....A young boy is abducted by The Boogeyman, and his toys follow in an attempt to rescue him. It's TOY STORY via Tarantino and Spielberg, and one of those rare books that make you count the days until the next installment.

Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers
Comic-book shop owners should have stood outside of screenings of THOR and THE AVENGERS selling copies of this gem. Perfect art, perfect story, and the perfect encapsulation of the Thor/Loki sibling rivalry. This should have won an assload of awards.

Proof, Book 4: Julia
PROOF was a real mixed bag, but when it was firing on all cylinders, was hard to beat. This is absolutely the highlight of the series. We find out the secret of Proof's lost love, and the root of his rivalry with his "Brother". Throw in a sideshow, Victorian London, and Springheeled Jack, and you're got an unforgettable story.

Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths
Yeah, you heard me! A GODZILLA story in my Years Best list....Great stuff. This book really had the feel of the best of the Godzilla films. Imagine your favorite GODZILLA movie, spliced together with HARD BOILED. Sounds crazy, but it works beautifully.

Courtney Crumrin, Volume Two: The Coven of Mystics

I was happily surprised by the first volume, but Volume Two is where the story really kicks into high gear. I thought this would be a HARRY POTTER ripoff, but I was very wrong.

Baltimore: The Curse Bells
I'm a huge Mike Mignola fan, but I was very disappointed in the BALTIMORE novel. The first comic-book was better, but THE CURSE BELLS was the BALTIMORE story that I had been waiting for. And if Mignola isn't drawing, then Ben Stenbeck is the next best thing.

Who would have guessed that Blair Butler could write? Let alone write a story about a mid-level Cage Fighter? Probably the biggest surprise of the year.

Grandville Mon Amour
Bryan Talbot's hard-boiled anthropomorphic Detective thriller is a lushly-illustrated, beautifully written piece of work that also features one of the nastiest villains this side of The Joker. Every serious comic-book fan needs to read the GRANDVILLE books. (There are three so far, with more to follow, if there is any justice.)

The Sixth Gun, Book 3: Bound
Cullen Bunn really caught me by surprise with THE SIXTH GUN, a Weird Western/Horror/Adventure/Action/Romance that's almost impossible to describe. I must not be alone in my admiration of his writing ability, because he's currently one of Marvel Comics' go-to guys. This is a not-to-be-missed series, and Bunn, with Artist Brian Hurtt, have yet to disappoint.

 I reviewed this yesterday, so don't expect me to write more about it now. Page down and read yesterday's entry, ya lazy so-and-so!

Wow, considering that I read nearly 300 books this year, having only ten "Perfect Ten" books seems kind of sad....But it's cool that I created a top ten list without purposefully setting out to. I hope you folks will check out some of these books, and share your thoughts on my list, if you're so inclined. I hope you all have a very happy 2013.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

SKULLBELLY, by Ronald Malfi

 Ronald Malfi has been my discovery of 2012. So far this year, I've read THE NARROWS, THE BOY IN THE LOT, and THE MOURNING HOUSE, all of which have been excellent. Add to that list SKULLBELLY, which was absolutely phenomenal. Malfi delivers a fast-paced novella, which finds a Private Investigator looking into the disappearance of a trio of teen-agers. Their friend was found wandering in the woods, terribly wounded, and covered in their blood, and has since been in a vegetative state. The investigation into just what happened in the woods is riveting, and  the end came too soon for this reader. I closed the book (Well, it was an e-book, so I didn't have a book and I didn't close it, but that sounds better than "I shut off The Kindle....") thinking "How the hell did he do that?" I won't say what exactly it WAS that Malfi did, but I will say that SKULLBELLY featured some extraordinary literary sleight-of-hand, and it's cemented Malfi as one of my favorite "New discoveries" of 2012. Highly, highly recommended.
Tomorrow I'll post my "Best of 2012" list.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

TRIO, by John Byrne

 I've been a John Byrne fan since I was a little kid, and I still think he's one of the all-time greats. His latest, TRIO, is a return to old form that is sure to please fans of his stellar FANTASTIC FOUR run. The main characters are a variation on the FF theme, and the plot puts them through their paces against thinly-veiled versions of Namor, Galactus, and Doctor Doom. Fun, fun stuff. My only beef, and here there be spoilers.....

He finishes the book with a cliffhanger, as well as a handful of dangling plot threads, and I'm afraid that there won't be a book go out and buy TRIO, and let IDW and Mr. Byrne know that you want more. Please.
Pretty please?

DANGER GIRL/G.I. JOE.....Ummm, wait. No, I guess not.

 I had originally intended to run a review of IDW's DANGER GIRL/G.I. JOE collection tonight, but it looks like that's going to have to be put on hold for a bit. IDW has a maddening habit of sending out incomplete review copies, and sure enough, the review copy they sent me only has four of the five issues that the collection will contain. I popped over to Comixology, since I thought the four issues that I read were good enough to make me want to read the conclusion RIGHT NOW. (Maybe that's IDW's strategy.....get the reviewers hooked, and get them to spring for the rest of the story.) So, of course, the fifth issue isn't available digitally yet. It may not ever have seen print (REAL, hold-it-in-your-hands PRINT!) yet.
So fuck it, now I have to wait to read the conclusion and review it.
I will say this: DANGER GIRL/G.I. JOE is the best DANGER GIRL story I've read since J. Scott Campbell jumped ship. I think his art must have provided about 80% of the fun, and once he was gone, it didn't take long for me to drop the book. John Royle provides the pencils here, and they're as close to Campbell as we're probably ever gonna get again, and it's close enough. I had a damned good time reading this book, aside from the fact that, you know, IDW didn't let me read the end. Now I have to keep a post-it note on my desk that says "GET DIGITAL DANGER GIRL/G.I. JOE #5 THIS WEEK (?)!!!!"
How the hell am I gonna fall asleep tonight, when Storm-Shadow and Snake-Eyes were just about to throw down?
IDW provided a review copy. (An INCOMPLETE ONE!)
(Just as an aside to the folks at IDW that set up these review copies.....The "Leave out the last issue" strategy has brought mixed success, at least in my case. In three cases (STAR TREK/DOCTOR WHO, THE CAPE, and STAR TREK/LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES) I knew the review copy was incomplete, so I read the first chapter of it, found it to my liking, and stopped reading, opting to just buy the collection. In another case (John Byrne's TRIO), I bought the missing chapter digitally, after reading the entire (Incomplete!) review copy. Usually, I see that the review copy is incomplete, get pissed off, and if it's not a book that I'm willing to spend money on, there's no review. I'd bet you're losing out on quite a few reviews, and potential sales spurred on BY those reviews, by providing incomplete copies to reviewers. I'm a big IDW fan, and I'm happy to beat the drum for books that I like, but I can't in good conscience recommend a book that I haven't read in full. Just something to think about.........)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Joe R. Lansdale's FREEZER BURN

 Is there anyone else on Earth that can write a sentence like this?
"The old gal had been right enough and mean enough six months earlier, but one night, after watching Championship Wrestling, perhaps due to an excitement over a particular heated contest, or an overly vigorous inhalement of gummy bears, which she stuffed into her bony body as if they were the fruit of life, she had gone to bed and hadn't gotten up again."
The fruit of life.
Is "inhalement" even a word? Because it is now.
FREEZER BURN is hilarious, shocking, touching, heartfelt, and heartless. Redneck noir at it's best.
Highly recommended.

Friday, December 21, 2012

SEAL Team 666, by Weston Ochse

I've been a fan of Weston Ochse since his early days in the small press, with titles such as SCARY REDNECKS and SCARECROW GODS, so I was both surprised and delighted to discover that he had a new book coming out from a major Publisher. Kind of a "Small town boy makes good" feeling....I always get a kick out of seeing someone who is primarily known for small-press books get a crack at the big time. Then you cross your fingers and hope that they don't drop the ball.....

Well, Weston didn't drop the ball. In fact, he held onto the ball, scored a touchdown, did a little celebration dance, and then spiked the ball right through my head. SEAL TEAM 666 was the most fun I've had reading a Horror novel since Christopher Farnsworth's BLOOD OATH.

Everyone's heard of Seal Team 6, but are you ready for Seal Team 666? These are the guys Uncle Sam calls out for Supernatural threats to truth, justice, and the American way, such as a Demonically possessed Osama Bin Laden, who they take down in the opening chapter. The book follows ST 666's new recruit, Jack Walker, as he's thrown headlong into a world of Demons, Sorcery, mythical beasts, and word-conquering madmen. Ochse carries the action away from the predictible (Muslim terrorists), and instead give the reader a totally unexpected, but no less deadly, enemy. I won't give any spoilers, but I will say that I was very surprised by his choice of villain, and the history and mythology that he gives as background information provides a very entertaining, educational backdrop to the more real-world aspects of the book. The technical points of the team's missions are absolutely fascinating, and provide just the sense of realism that you would expect when the Author has made a career in the Military.

This a a fun, FUN book, and one that cries out to be made into an ongoing series. (And a movie!) Seal Team 666 is highly recommended.

The Publisher provided a review copy.

Wild Children

I have no idea what I just read.

Literally, no idea. WILD CHILDREN reminds me of the worst of Grant Morrison's THE INVISIBLES, which was, at times, a brilliant series, and at other times, an incomprehensible mess. I could, however, assume that Morrison had a point, an agenda, that I was either missing or was going over my head, and there were always other aspects of the book to enjoy. I found nothing enjoyable about WILD CHILDREN, which, frankly, read like a half-formed mish-mash of ideas and concepts that ultimately signified nothing. By the time I got to the part where the Author TELLS YOU that all of this means nothing, I should have just stopped reading. I was hoping that it would all pull together in the end, but all I got out of WILD CHILDREN was that the Author really, REALLY likes THE MATRIX and THE INVISIBLES, and that he can't tell a story worth a damn.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Kirby: Genesis

Insanely Busy (Just Like The Mind of Jack "King" Kirby Himself!)

KIRBY: GENESIS is the latest effort from the MARVELS creative team of Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross. While falling (Far...) short of the brilliance they attained with the aforementioned classic, GENESIS is fairly entertaining, for what it is. Ross and Busiek have taken on the epic task of gathering up all of Kirby's unused/dormant creations, and throwing them into a big stew pot together to create God-knows-what. The end result? One of the busiest comic-books I've ever read, and that's saying something: I'm 41 years old, and I've been reading comics since I was 2. GENESIS is overcrowded to the point where it's easily a match for CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, as far as the sheer amount of characters and concepts being thrown at the reader. The difference here is that, unlike CRISIS, the reader is unlikely to be familiar with these characters, making Busiek and Ross work that much harder, as they have to not only tell an epic story, but introduce us to, literally, hundreds of disparate characters/concepts/settings. And considering the size and scope of the series, they did a remarkable job of not only reviving Kirby's long-lost characters, but of honoring the man and his artistic/creative stylings. KIRBY: GENESIS reminded me, at times of my efforts as a kid to combine my various toys into a cohesive play universe: How could the STAR WARS characters interact with my G.I. Joe's? Where did the oversized Mego's fit in? Somehow, I managed....and Busiek and Ross also manage quite nicely. I honestly couldn't give you a Reader's Digest version of GENESIS if I tried. I can,however, tell you that I had a good time reading it.  

Lost Dogs

                                Jeff Lemire's First, And Best, Published Work
 Jeff Lemire's work has been hit-or-miss for me.....I picked up the first volume of SWEET TOOTH, and while I thought it was good, it wasn't good enough to keep me interested long enough to wait for the second volume to be released (Blame DC/Vertigo's glacial trade paperback program for that one....). I thought THE UNDERWATER WELDER was decent, but went on for way too long. So I wasn't expecting much from LOST DOGS, and I was pleasantly surprised.

LOST DOGS tells the deceptively simple story of a hulking Farmer who loses his Family in a vicious, senseless act of violence. Seeing as how our protagonist is eight feet tall, you'd think it'd be easy to guess just where the story is going to go, but you'd have no idea. I'll avoid any spoilers, but I will say this: LOST DOGS is as poignant, touching, and heartfelt a graphic novel as I've ever read.
Not to be missed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Star Wars: Agent of The Empire, Volume 1- Iron Eclipse

Not up to Ostrander's usual high standards.....
 I've been a huge fan of John Ostrander since I first encountered his work in the mid-'80's, on DC's SUICIDE SQUAD. While my once-fanatical love of all things STAR WARS has waned considerably (Thanks, George Lucas!), my enjoyment of John Ostrander has not dimmed one bit. His STAR WARS work has been a real bright spot in the Dark Horse publishing schedule. So it is with a heavy heart that I must write that his latest creation, STAR WARS: AGENT OF THE EMPIRE, VOLUME 1- IRON ECLIPSE just didn't click with me.

AGENT OF THE EMPIRE tells the heavily James Bond inspired adventures of Jahan Cross, who is as close to a 00 agent as Emperor Palpatine cares to get. The book is a straight-up espionage adventure, more Bond than STAR WARS, as Cross attempts to find the secret behind an installation known as "Iron Eclipse". The ultimate reveal of Iron Eclipse's true purpose was underwhelming, but the wide-screen finale, complete with a typical last-minute Han Solo and Chewbacca rescue, made up for the book's flaws. I'm not really a big Espionage fan, so that might explain why I found AGENT OF THE EMPIRE so hard to get into. Dark Horse has already started serializing a new Jahan Cross adventure, and my love of Ostrander will probably get me to give that one a try when it's collected. Despite the occasional misstep, he's earned my loyalty for the decades of reading enjoyment he's given me.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fables: Werewolves of The Heartland

 I've been a fan of FABLES creator Bill Willingham since his aborted COVENTRY series back in the dark ages. (Also known as the 1990's.) I loved FABLES, and studiously bought all of Willingham's other DC Comics work, but quickly discovered that ROBIN, JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA, SHADOWPACT, etc........well, they all sucked. It seemed like Willingham was saving his magic for FABLES, and almost everything else was work-for-hire that didn't warrant his special attention. (He was full-on with PROPOSITION PLAYER, though, another DC/Vertigo book that I highly recommend.) As you read this Blog, you will learn that I am years and years and years behind in my comic reading. I try to read new stuff, so as not to fall FURTHER behind, but the oldest comic sitting in my "To be read" pile is over eight years old. The point of that digression is this: While I loved FABLES, I haven't read very much of it. Yet. I own it all, I just haven't gotten past issue 20 or so.

 I hope the 100 issues I still have in the pile (To say nothing of 50 issues of JACK OF FABLES, the first collection of FAIREST, and 3 issues of THE LITERALS....) don't all suck as hard as FABLES: WEREWOLVES OF THE HEARTLAND did....

 Before you say "He hasn't kept current with the series! Maybe he didn't understand it!", well....True, I'm NOT current with the series. But in the time-honored standalone graphic novel tradition, F:WOTH (I'm far too lazy to type out that whole title Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is acting up!) features a hazy connection to the continuity/timeline, and serves up an adventure that starts and ends here, and will never be mentioned again, unless it's as an in-joke. ("This is almost as bad as that time when I had to fight a town full of naked Werewolves!") I'll get to the naked Werewolves in a bit....

 Anyway, the plot finds Bigby Wolf looking for a new place for The Fables gang to call home. He finds a town filled with Werewolves.They talk a lot, then he savagely (and hilariously!) kills a ton of them, before saying "Kumbaya", and leaving them in peace as he walks into the sunset, like a Lycanthropic Bruce Banner. (Cue the piano music!) Aside from a bland, toothless (Ha ha!) plot, the art ranges from OK to atrocious, and the coloring is so dead and flat it looks like it came from a 1970's Charlton comic. And HOLY SHIT! Remember when DC refused to publish a thoughtful, well-crafted Rick Veitch story where Swamp Thing met Jesus? (Which they STILL haven't published!) Well, rest easy, because thanks to those First-Amendment pioneers at DC/Vertigo, you can now publish page after page of Werewolf cock!


 Yes, there's also Human cock, but you've seen that before! But have you seen Werewolf cock? Bet you haven't! Well, cross that off of your "Bucket List", because DC delivers!

 They also continue their decades-long streak of delivering almost totally unremarkable original graphic novels. This is a real disappointment, and seeing as how it'll have no bearing on continuity (I think! I could be wrong, I suppose....), it's probably safe to take a pass on. Unless, you know, you really want to see Werewolf Penis. If that's the case, go for it! DC/Vertigo provided a review copy.


 Don't be fooled by the Sci-Fi trappings, SPACEMAN is pure Noir. Creators Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso (Aided and abetted by Cover Artist Dave Johnson) tell the story of Orson, a genetically-engineered Human created by NASA to withstand deep-space travel. After the media breaks the story of their creation, NASA is disbanded, and Orson and his "Bradahs" are left to fend for themselves on a devastated Earth. Orson makes his living salvaging scrap from the flooded remains of a ruined city. His life takes an unexpected detour when he stumbles upon Tara, a young kidnapping victim. (Tara is one of the stars of "The Ark", a truly twisted reality show in which multinational orphans compete to be adopted by a Brad-and-Angelina-like celebrity couple.) Orson saves Tara, setting the stage for an adventure reminiscent of Luc Besson's film THE PROFESSIONAL. Orson and Tara are pursued by Cops, killers, gangsters, and Tara's own Reality-TV producers, as well as one of Orson's fellow Spacemen, a hulking Bounty-Hunter named Carter. As I said above, this is pure Noir.....take away the futuristic setting, and this could have been a 1940's movie.

I've never really been a fan of Brian Azzarello's Writing, and SPACEMAN still hasn't converted me. The ending didn't quite pull together in a satisfactory way, and the pidgin language that most of the story is told in was very distracting to me. Risso's art is outstanding, though, as are Dave Johnson's covers. SPACEMAN is a chunky read, clocking in at well over 200 pages, so it's a real bargain at this price. The book collects all 9 issues of the mini-series, complete with covers, as well as the prologue from STRANGE ADVENTURES #1. DC/Vertigo provided a review copy.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Green Lantern, Volume 2: Revenge of The Black Hand

 Tossing aside my numerous questions about DC's "New 52" initiative, I do have to admit that I've enjoyed the majority of what I've read so far. (What I've read so far being: Justice League Volumes 1 & 2, Animal Man Volumes 1 & 2, Green Lantern Volumes 1 & 2, and Swamp Thing Volume 1.) Geoff Johns has done an admirable job of expanding the Green Lantern mythology during his long run, and he pushes that expansion even further with GREEN LANTERN, VOLUME 2: REVENGE OF THE BLACK HAND, as we begin to see The Guardians plot the destruction of The Green Lantern Corps, even as they start to build "The Third Army". (I especially enjoy the way that Johns' universe-building extends in both directions, with The Third Army pointing the way toward an uncertain future, and the mysterious "First Lantern" stretching back into pre-Corps days.)

 REVENGE OF THE BLACK HAND picks up where the previous volume, SINESTRO, left off: Hal Jordan has been kicked out of The Green Lantern Corps, and replaced by his greatest enemy, Sinestro. Sinestro has used his ring to create another ring, which he gives to Hal, and the two embark on an Intergalactic version of 48 HOURS. When Volume 2 opens, Hal and Sinestro are taken prisoners by The Indigo Tribe, one of many different groups of ring-wielders whose powers I just can't understand. (As long as Geoff Johns understands them, it's cool, I guess.) The Indigos want to convert Sinestro, Hal disagrees, much fighting ensues, we learn the origin of The Tribe, and Black Hand gets loose and returns to Earth for the traveling roadshow of BLACKEST NIGHT 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO. More fighting ensues, but this time it has Zombies.

 For Super-Hero fans, this is fairly above-average stuff. Johns makes the most of his small page count (More on that later...), and actually manages to include a teensy-weensy amount of supporting character stuff, something that is sorely missing from most new comics. (Old Man speech time: "When I was a kid, comics were FILLED with supporting characters! Now it's all just fight, fight, fight! Feh!) I am not a fan of Hal Jordan at all; I thought DC's decision to get rid of the boring, fuddy-duddy duo of Hal Jordan and Barry Allen was a great one, and Kyle Rayner and Wally West were vibrant, dynamic replacements. Then Johns and DiDio decided that, yes, the world was indeed crying out for boring old white dead guys to come back. Feh. But Johns has made Hal tolerable, and his interaction with Sinestro is just priceless. In fact, I wouldn't mind a bit if they just killed Hal off and legitimately committed to having Sinestro be THE Green Lantern. (Never gonna happen, but let a guy dream, right?) The art, by Doug Mahnke and Ethan Van Sciver, is absolutely tremendous.

 Now to my "New 52" issues......The DC Universe was rebooted after Flashpoint. Except for the parts that weren't, I guess. Because "New 52" GREEN LANTERN VOLUME 1 picks up right where the previous ("Old Universe") volume, WAR OF THE GREEN LANTERNS, left off. So where is the reboot? Did Geoff Johns create a reboot that applied to everyone except him? This is hardly new-reader friendly stuff....New readers will be wondering:
Who is Black Hand?
What was The Blackest Night?
Who are The Guardians, and why are they so fucking crazy?
Why did Hal get booted from The Corps?
Who the hell are these other colorful Corps that keep getting mentioned, and where did THEY come from?
Who is Abin Sur?
I could go on and on......Old-timers, like myself, will have no problems. The oft-fabled "New reader", if they exist, are on their own. And the decreased page count is just insane....20 pages per issue! It seems like the issue has barely started, and it's already over! I'm glad that I stopped collecting monthlies and moved to trades only. There's no way I could justify 20 pages of story and art for four bucks.....insane.

 Overall, GREEN LANTERN, VOLUME 2: REVENGE OF THE BLACK HAND is a solid, entertaining read. The book clocks in at a beefy 192 pages, and contains GREEN LANTERN #'s 7-12 and Annual #1, complete with all variant covers. DC Comics provided a review copy.