Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mars Attacks, Volume 1: Attack From Space

 Once again, IDW seems to almost defy anyone to review their books....If you read my review of IDW's DANGER GIRL/G.I. JOE crossover, you're aware of my beef with how IDW handles review copies. This one was the worst yet. On the whole, I'd give MARS ATTACKS, VOLUME 1: ATTACK FROM SPACE a solid 7 out of 10. It would undoubtedly have scored higher if I had been given a single copy of the book that I could read in a normal fashion. Instead, I got a bad copy that was missing the first two issues, and contained a ton of blank pages, and then issues 3-6. (I'm not even sure if issue 6 is included in the actual print collection....Judging from the page count listed on, I don't think that it is.) I sent in a request for a corrected copy, which was never answered, and after a few weeks, tried downloading the review copy again, in case IDW had fixed it and not said anything. The new review copy they had up contained only issues 1-4. I had really been looking forward to reading this book, and I was tempted to just delete both copies and buy a hard copy for my collection, but then I thought that if IDW can't be bothered to send out decent review copies, I can't be bothered to pay for a copy of this book. And that's too bad, because I probably would have enjoyed reading a hard copy much more than I did flipping back and forth between two digital files. (I will never fully acclimate to reading digital comics, let alone messed-up digital comics.)

 The story, by John Layman, is just what you would expect: Mars attacks Earth. It's nothing to write home about, but it's much better than his overrated CHEW, which I despised. John McCrae brings the comical-looking gore and destruction, and it's worth a look just for his art. I especially enjoyed seeing Dougie and Ivor, of the Ennis/McCrea DICKS series, fleeing from the Martian destruction of Belfast. This was a good enough read that I'll be back for Volume 2, and I'm really looking forward to seeing The Martians tangle with IDW's licensed properties, such as Popeye, KISS, Ghostbusters, and The Transformers. But please, IDW...get your act together with the review copies. If you expect reviewers to go out and beat the drum for your products, at least give us a readable copy......

Friday, February 22, 2013

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

 This is one hell of a book.

  I grew up reading Stephen King...literally grew up. I read NIGHT SHIFT when I was seven years old, and quickly moved on to CUJO, 'SALEM'S LOT, and THE SHINING. King has always been a favorite of mine (At least until the last three books in the DARK TOWER series, but don't get me started on that....), and perhaps the best thing I could say about NOS4A2 is that Joe Hill gave me that old-school Stephen King feeling. And I'm not saying that because he's Stephen King's Son, I'm not saying that because it's anything like any book King has ever written....I'm saying that because it took me back to the lean, purposeful, razor-sharp books that King wrote in his heyday. NOS4A2 is a massive book, but it's an intimate epic. Hill tells a huge story that revolves around a handful of characters, and those characters became so real to me that, as I approached the end, I struggled with balancing my need to find out how it was going to end with my desire to pace myself so the book wouldn't end so quickly.

 In NOS4A2, Hill creates two of the more memorable characters in recent years, "The Brat", A.K.A. Victoria McQueen, and Charles Talent Manx, the titular Nosferatu. We first meet Victoria (Vic) as a spirited little girl, just as she discovers that she possesses an amazing talent: She can use her bike to "Find" lost riding her bike across a condemned bridge near her house, and concentrating on the item she wishes to find, she can come out on the other side near the thing she is seeking. The ability to cross over comes with a price, of course, and each "finding" trip ends with Vic severely weakened and bedridden. As she gets older, Vic decides to find someone who can tell her more about her abilities, and she meets an odd young woman who can use a bag of Scrabble tiles to divine answers to any question she asks. And it's here, talking about other strangely gifted individuals, where Vic first learns of Charles Manx, a strange old man who prowls the roads of America in a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith, abducting children and murdering their parents, with the assistance of "The Gas Mask Man", Bing Partridge, a simpleminded lunatic who longs to join Manx and his victims in "Christmasland" a bizarre, otherworldly amusement park of Manx's creation. Vic is warned to steer clear of Manx, but it isn't long before she rides out to "find" one more thing (She literally rides out "looking for trouble"), and finds herself face-to-face with Manx and his latest victim.

 Most books would have ended there, but that's just the beginning of what Hill has in store for us. Vic, Manx, and Bing are all changed forever by their first encounter, and not for the better. Vic marries and has a child, and becomes a famous Children's book Author/Illustrator, but remains haunted by her meeting with Manx, and struggles with addiction and mental illness. (Or so she thinks, having convinced herself that the trips across "The Shortaway Bridge" and the chilling phone calls from the children of Christmasland are all figments of a sick mind...) Vic spends some time in an institution, Bing spends some time alone, pining away for Manx and Christmasland, and Manx spends some time in a morgue, but the three are eventually drawn together again when Manx comes for Vic's Son, Wayne, planning to take him away to Christmasland, where every morning is Christmas, and where Wayne will join the hundreds of Manx's other eternally young victims....

 Hill has created some memorable characters here, and he uses every one of NOS4A2's nearly 700 pages to great effect. There were times when I thought the novel may be getting away from itself, but by the end I was convinced that there was nothing that could have been trimmed. There's no fat...It's all in service of the story.
Hill fills the book with tropes that will be instantly familiar to Stephen King fans: The child with strange powers (FIRESTARTER, THE SHINING) , the dim-witted lunatic who becomes thrall to a greater evil (THE STAND, IT), the recurring motif of bridges and tunnels (Larry Underwood's trip through the Lincoln Tunnel in THE STAND, The Oatley Tunnel in THE TALISMAN), the "Evil Car (FROM A BUICK 8, CHRISTINE, MILE 81), which no doubt contributed to the massive old-school King vibe I described earlier, but Hill's story is it's own beast....It's a powerful Horror/Fantasy that stands proudly alongside Hill's other epic, the Graphic Novel series LOCKE & KEY, which he references a few times in the course of the story. (He also references King's IT, which will no doubt send fans into a full-on geekout. Yes, I geeked out when I read the reference.....sue me!) I wasn't crazy about Hill's last book, HORNS, but he really won me back, and then some, with NOS4A2.

 The book also contains a pleasant surprise that I was totally unaware of until I started reading it: It contains illustrations by Hill's LOCKE & KEY collaborator, Gabriel Rodriguez. I've become quite a fan of his art, and he's doing the same kind of gig for the Subterranean Press edition of THE SHINING that's coming out later in 2013. His work here was good enough to convince me to pull the trigger on ordering a copy.

 I'm really going to be beating the drum hard for this far, it's the best book I've read in 2013. I realize that the year is young, but I've read almost 60 books already, and nothing else has come close. I've heard other people whose opinions I respect say that this book just didn't work for them, and I kept waiting for Hill to drop the ball as I read, but it never happened....NOS4A2 is a brilliant piece of Horror Fiction, and will, I predict, be hailed as a classic in the not-too-distant future.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Marvel Premiere Classic, Vol. 93: Cloak & Dagger: Crime and Punishment

 Man, do I miss the Marvel Premiere Classic hardcover line....Marvel recently ended the line, and although it seems to be living on as an unbranded line of trade paperbacks (See the recent FANTASTIC FOUR: REUNITED THEY STAND collection, which has the same interior design as the Premiere Classic hardcovers.), it's just not the same as having a beautiful hardcover collecting issues you read as a kid. I was especially crazy for the Direct-Market variant covers (See pic above), which were limited edition runs. This particular collection was limited to 360 copies, which really appealed to my collecting mania. All good things come to an end, I guess....

 This volume collects the debut of Cloak & Dagger in the pages of PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, and features issues 64, 69-70, 81-82, & 94-96, as well as MARVEL TEAM-UP ANNUAL #6 and MARVEL FANFARE #19. The bulk of the book is written by Bill Mantlo, who, despite writing almost everything that Marvel published in the 1980's, is really not a very good Writer. (I know that's not a very politically correct thing to say, considering Mantlo's current condition, but there you go.....I've returned to a lot of Mantlo's work recently, and it was all a chore to get through. That said, Mantlo thrilled my younger self multiple times per month, with ROM, THE MICRONAUTS, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and may other books, and I guess that was the point. He was writing for the child of the 1980's, not the man-child of 2013.......) It's a CLOAK & DAGGER-centric collection, so it skips around a lot. A LOT. Don't expect any kind of resolution to the various sub-plots (Deb Whitman discovering Peter Parker's secret identity, Peter flunking his classes, Aunt May's money woes, what Flash Thompson is doing at night....look elsewhere for these answers, because they won't be found here. Nor will the in-between-the-panels moments from THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN that are constantly being referenced.) So if you're looking for a sit-down-and-read-it Graphic Novel, this isn't it. If you're interested solely in the Cloak & Dagger issues, then you'll be in Heaven. The art is standard 1980's Marvel...I've always had a soft spot for Al Milgrom's big, chunky lines, so this brought back a lot of fun memories. (I find the nostalgia these books evoke to more than make up for any story shortcomings....I can remember accompanying my Mother to her monthly trips to Franco's in The Bronx to get her hair done, and she's always let me get a coimc to read while I waited. More often than not, that comic was PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, for some odd reason. I sometimes have a hard time remembering my own phone number, but reading this book brought back so many childhood memories that I was amazed....I remember buying all of these individual issues, where I was when I read them, who I talked about them with at school....if that's not worth 30 bucks, I don't know what is.) Plus, Ed Hannigan is one of the real underappreciated artists of my lifetime....Go and Google some of his covers to check out his unique design sensibility. Great, great stuff. It was great to see a little bit of his work here.

 The Marvel Premiere Classic hardcovers are things of beauty...they look great, feel great, SMELL great...(Yeah, I smell my comics....)...they also lie flat when opened (Or the chunkier ones do, of which this is one....), so you don't have to hold them down to read them. The issues contained in this volume have some odd errors (Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime, is called "Wilbur"...BY HIS OWN WIFE!!!!), and Mantlo's street slang is hilariously old and white: Drug Dealers are named "Shallacko", "Mouse-mutha", "Candyman", and "Pillsbury", there are white junkies who sport bright green mohawks, and such classic gritty dialogue as "We tol' yo' when yo' joined this gang that you TALK to NOBODY--and yo' SELL to EVERYBODY! We is equal-opportunity DRUG PUSHERS!" Even as a kid, I cringed at that dialogue.

 This is by no means a classic, but nostalgic children of the '80's could do worse......

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom

 I wasn't exactly thrilled to hear that IDW was going to be publishing new Rocketeer adventures. Dave Stevens, the character's creator, passed away in 2008, and I couldn't imagine what anyone else could possibly add to the foundation that Stevens had laid down.

 Boy, was I wrong.

 ROCKETEER ADVENTURES, VOLUME ONE was as close to perfect as it gets, and although I haven't read it yet, VOLUME TWO just landed on my doorstep this past week, and it looks every bit as good. And here comes IDW's first original story arc, THE ROCKETEER: CARGO OF DOOM, by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee. Mark Waid is one of those old favorite creators that never seem to go out of style, and for good reason: He's a talented, solid storyteller, and he totally nails Cliff, Betty, and Peevy, as well as the whole Dave Stevens vibe in general. The story is a glorious mash-up of pulpy high adventure/espionage/fantasy, as Cliff goes up against thinly-veiled Doc Savage villain John Sunlight in an attempt to stop a deadly, mysterious cargo ship from making it to Manhattan, where it's deadly payload will be unleashed. I won't say just WHAT this ship is carrying, but I will say that it's previous port of call was a place called Skull Island. If that's not enough to get you to buy this book, then I don't know what is. The art, by Chris Samnee, is absolutely perfect. It's the polar opposite of Stevens' photo-realistic style, but it fits Waid's story perfectly. Here's hoping this isn't the last time we see Waid and Samnee together on THE ROCKETEER...the ending just cries out for a sequel!

IDW provided a review copy.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Batwoman, Volume 2: To Drown The World

 Man, was that a disappointment.
Over the past two days, I've read BATWOMAN: ELEGY (It was ok...), and BATWOMAN, VOLUME 1: HYDROLOGY (It was great!), and now I'm wrapping things up with BATWOMAN, VOLUME 2: TO DROWN THE WORLD, and, I hated it.

 First off, I think a lot of the allure of the book is due to the art by J.H. Williams III, which is nowhere to be found in this collection. The art chores are handled by Amy Reeder and Trevor McCarthy, both of whom are fine artists in their own right, but they're not in Williams' league. As for the story....Volume 1 finished with Batwoman defeating La Llorona, and vowing to find the children that she had kidnapped. Volume 2 picks up with Kate attempting to do just that, and picking up some payback for her Cousin Bette's hideous injuries, sustained at the hands (Actually the hook...) of another anonymous Gotham City weirdo.The story unfolds in numerous flashbacks, and is told from several points of view, including Batwoman (Kate Kane), her Father, her new girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer, Agent Chase, and the Villain of the piece, a weirdo named Maro. The story would have been better served had it played out in a more linear manner, and a lot of that has to do with the art. Williams has the chops for this kind of story...Reeder and McCarthy do not. It's also a frustrating read because the story arc that TO DOWN THE WORLD collects doesn't really have an has a stopping point, but it leaves the reader almost exactly where they were when it started. I was really high on BATWOMAN after reading HYDROLOGY, but this volume took all of the wind out of my sails....I've pretty much lost interest. (I did feel invested in the Bette/Flamebird subplot, and that might get me to come back for Volume 3, if it's followed up on in  big enough way.) Williams needs to return as BATWOMAN's Artist, or this book will not be long for this world.

DC Comics provided a digital review copy, which was maddening to read, due to all of the double page spreads and artwork that loops around all over the place. I love e-books, but I hate reading Comics digitally. Give me a nice hard copy any day of the week.