Category: library of doom


A while back, I reviewed Exit Wounds, a great indie book about a young man with emotional problems trying to get a handle on life as he searched for his possibly deceased father.

About the same time (I’m a bit delayed here), I got a review copy of Shortcomings (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95), by the well regarded illustrator Adrian Tomine. Strangely enough, it’s also about a young man with emotional problems trying to get a handle on his life.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketNotice the difference in those descriptions, though. Exit Wounds had the drama of the missing father to power the poignant plot (alliteration!) along. Shortcomings lives up, or rather down, to its title by suffering from a severe case of the Indie Comics Problem. In other words, we get lots of conversations, lots of moping, lots of depressing slices of life. Just nothing resembling a plot.

This book, and the many like it that come out every year, seem to delight in not having a plot, as if such a “false” structuring is far from real and far from worthwhile art. Maybe those predisposed to such thinking will like this book, but anyone (and I’m speaking of the vast majority of humanity here) who understands that people view the world through stories will be bored out of their minds by this book. Thankfully, it’s at least not very long.

Grading Shortcomings on art alone, I’d give it a B+. But everything else sinks the ship, so the overall grade is a D-.

Doctor 13: I was wrong

Back in the day, I wrote a Worst to First and mentioned a Tales of the Unexpected purchase and how much that book sucked. I said:

And the back-up story, which I’ve already forgotten the title of, was just piss-poor. Some annoying guy and some vampire are in a cave and have a stupid conversation about pointless crap. The end.

In part thanks to Devon at Seven Hells, but moreso because DC sent over a review copy, I now know that the backup story was called Doctor 13: Architects and Mortality. More importantly, I now know that this story is really, really good.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIn my defense, I caught only the second part of the story, and that part was easily the weakest. What really hurt, though, was missing out on a bundle of jokes because I’d missed the set up in the first installment. Much like Arrested Development, Doctor 13 strings gags along from the first moment onward, continually building to ever better punchlines. Just read it, and thank me when you get to the banana.

Jokes are great, but a book has to be more than funny. And this one is, as Brian Azzarello takes a 180 from his typical work and strings along the most improbable story possible. In short, Doctor 13 and a motley assemblage of DC character chaff face annihilation from the Architects, who are actually DC writers that want to erase these crummy old characters. Think Grant Morrison’s Animal Man meets Jeff Parker’s Agents of Atlas.

Though probably unintended, the story points to a serious flaw with DC’s editorial staff: that they care more about continuity than they do about characters (though how well either is managed right now is certainly debatable). Azzarello shows that even the lamest characters can be great, as long as the writer cares about them.

Exit Wounds

By Rutu Modan
Published by Drawn & Quarterly, 2007. $19.95

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Plot: It’s been years since Koby, a young man who drives a cab in Tel Aviv, talked to his father. Suddenly, a stranger tells him she believes his father is the unidentified victim of a suicide bombing. The two start on a hunt for the truth, forcing Koby to dig out all the paternal animosity he’s held onto most of his life. He also begins to learn more of the secret lives his father led, including as boyfriend of the young woman helping Koby. Ostensibly a mystery, Exit Wounds at its core is one of the best “personal journey” graphic novels in years.

The Good: The book focuses mostly on Koby and his female friend, but what makes the book so enjoyable is how Modan uses even the most inconsequential characters in crucial ways. People who only appear in the comic for a couple pages (or just a couple panels) still have fully developed personalities that shine through with pitch-perfect dialogue and Modan’s Tin Tin-esque artwork. (I should note, her art is similar to Tin Tin with solid outline drawings and strong colors, but it varies enough as to not feel derivative.)

You may recall my past diatribe about the indie comics problem (in short, indies are often absent of plot). Exit Wounds strives for a lifelike feel, like many indie books, but it has a plot that chugs along constantly, leading Koby and others in a hunt for the truth. This is to say, there’s a story here, and a darn good one at that.

The Bad:

The Grade: A You may have noticed the “bad” section is blank. I know it’s hard to believe for me to not have anything bad to say, but I honestly don’t. This year has been an epic one for non-superhero comics, and Exit Wounds stands as among the best of the best.

The Salon

By Nick Bertozzi
Published by St. Martin’s Press, 2007. $19.95

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Plot: Georges Braque, Erik Satie, Pablo Picasso and other artists form their own dysfunctional version of the Super Friends in order to stop a string of deaths amongst the art community. Their detective work leads them to an artist’s wife who has developed super powers and bloodlust after drinking too much magical absynthe. The blue elixir allows people to enter paintings, a literal interpretation of the ongoing philosophical discussions between the artists about how best to capture reality on the canvas.

The Good: Bertozzi does so much right here that it’s hard to single anything out. His art, of course, is gracefully efficient and leans more toward comic strips than comic books. Though he includes plenty of works from the Modernist masters, he doesn’t so much mimic it as incorporate it into his own style. Like Frank Espinosa, Bertozzi uses limited colors per panel, giving each page a strong emotional feel.

The story is just as strong. It walks the tightrope between an homage to famed characters and a farce aimed at lampooning them. More than anything, Bertozzi gives mostly accurate depictions of the characters and fits them skillfully into his narrative. The book is funny, introspective and surprisingly tense.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Bad: It isn’t so much that there’s anything wrong with this book, but there is one area in which it could be better. The layouts are bland: four panels in every horizontal page, without variation. That comes from the book’s original online publication, and it doesn’t really hamper the reading.

The Grade: A It’s not too often I’ll give out such a high mark, but this book is just that good. It’s a must have for anyone with an interest in art history and further expands the realm of what a graphic novel can be. As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think it seemed like the type of story the Coen brothers would make into a movie: quirky, filled with oddballs, fun, beautifully shot, hilarious and thoroughly memorable.

The Black Diamond Detective Agency

By Eddie Campbell
Published by First Second, 2007. $16.95

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Plot: It’s near the turn of the century. The last one. A mysterious guy is living out in the American wilds. He rides up just as the big new train is pulling in to much fanfare. “The train was bang on time,” Campbell writes. And, with a huge explosion and the theft of a safe from inside the train, we’re off and running with a cross country hunt for the robbers (and killers) who managed this heist. There’s struggle for control of the investigation between police, feds and the titular investigators, and the tale of this mysterious man from the beginning and his even-mysterious-er love story.

The Good: There’s a pretty damn good chance that First Second will earn publisher of the year honors come December (or whenever we finally get to awards). They’ve pumped out a ton of great stuff since coming on the scene last year, and this book is another hit.

Campbell’s art here makes me wonder why his previous Alan Moore collaborations have been so mediocre (I just always thought the guy’s work was mundane). Here, he uses what seems to be a combination of oil paints and pastels to infuse warmth into a story of cold blood. Campbell also mixes up the page layouts, spinning anarchic structures that feel like memories floating along the ceiling.

His writing is particularly sharp in the realm of dialogue. The characters are a pretty assorted bunch who constantly spew forth the mix of dire warnings (more…)

Rocketo: Journey to the Hidden Sea (Vol. 2)

As I mentioned before, a great recent week was highlighted by the release of the second collected volume of Frank Espinosa’s Rocketo, the future-set adventures of famed mapper Rocketo Garrison. If you read the interview I did with Frank when volume one released, you know that the second volume was set to be published in vertical form, instead of the horizontal setup of volume one. This was apparently because Image said it couldn’t do a horizontal printing. Not sure what happened between then and now (I’m going to ask as soon as I get a chance to chat with Frank again), but the second volume is indeed horizontal.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketI’m very curious about this because all promo images for the second volume were vertical (see the Amazon link below), so I had to snag this screen image from Espinosa’s site. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic that the book is horizontal, because Espinosa’s wild, sprawling art needs a cinematic outlet. And, man, does he deliver in this second half of the Hidden Sea storyline.

By Frank Espinosa and Marie Taylor (W) and Espinosa (A)
Published by Image, 2007, $19.99

The Plot: Picking up right where volume one left off, Rocketo and his co-adventurers have hit the fan while exploring the mysterious lands around the Hidden Sea. Just as all seems lost, they’re rescued by a lost civilization that resides deep in the land and know its secrets. Beyond that, Rocketo learns the true history of how the world fell to pieces, and what the path is to restoration. At the same time, he’s trying to recover his mapping ability, which was stripped from him years ago as the Lucerne government used him to conquer much of the world. The evil Scarletto, an agent of Lucerne who’s also penetrated this land, slowly amasses a force to try and topple the secreted kingdom and use its power to further spread Lucerne’s grasp. It leads up to an epic battle between the two sides, with only Rocketo to save the day.

The Positives: The first thing anyone will notice when looking at Rocketo is the art. It is unavoidably different than most comic book art, with little flicks of solid black line accumulating into swooping forms, all tied together with broad swatches of colors. When you first look at a page of Espinosa’s work, often a second will pass before the abstract splashes coalesce into the full image. But that’s not a drawback, as each page is so delicately crafted that it’s no problem staring at them for a half minute or more. I was reading this book on a recent flight and nudged my half-asleep wife to show off a particularly exciting page. Though she’s no comics fan, her eyes widened and she said, “Wow.” There is unceasing movement in Espinosa’s art, and it works especially well because he has such a mastery of his characters that with only the smallest details its easy to follow who is who.

The writing is nearly as remarkable and unique. Espinosa’s twists on the conventions of sci fi and fantasy and so many other genres spin out into something very new. And the broad cast further gives the story a deeply original feel (Spiro, as usual, is lots of fun as he paces and spouts about “grand swag”). This is one of the most imaginative concepts in comics, top to bottom, and it just shouldn’t be missed.

The Negatives: There are two very minor things I didn’t like about this book. First, there’s a love story that’s a bit rushed. But it’s hard to imagine what to cut out to fill that out more. Also, romance in adventure stories usually isn’t given a ton of room. The other thing is that the limited use of colors (while great most everywhere) is a bit drab in the first chapter, when there’s little color except yellow and slate.

The Grade: A Did it seem like I was really searching for something to criticize? Well, you called that one. This is probably the most fun comic book out there, and the art is heads and tails beyond anything else you’ll see. I’ve run out of superlatives. Just go read this and come up with some of your own.

The Other Side

Howdy there, our little Doom Patrollers. I know you’ll all be crestfallen, but I’m going to be out of town the rest of the week and have no time for the weekly Worst to First roundup. To make up for it, I have a review of the new graphic novel The Other Side, a Vietnam tale that’s out this week.

By Jason Aaron (W) and Cameron Stewart (A)
Published by Vertigo, 2007, originally as five-issue series. $12.99

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Plot: A story set in Vietnam, how original. That’s what you’re thinking, right? While the source material for thousands of movies and books has been well covered, The Other Side manages a somewhat fresh take by creating a dual narrative, with Pvt. Billy Everette on one side and soldier Vo Binh Dai on the other. It’s clear from the get go (the intro is very Full Metal Jacket) that the two stories are heading toward a head, and much of the interest lies in becoming invested in these two characters and wondering who will live and who will die. Along the way, Aaron and Stewart show a nitty gritty view of America’s ugliest (for now) war as their two main characters begin to see ghosts and hear voices, so traumatized are they by the insanity and violence consuming them.

The Positives: This might sound quite strange for a book that’s very action-heavy, but the Vietnam movie this book reminded me the most of was the documentary Fog of War featuring Robert McNamara’s ramblings on the colossal screw-up he assisted with. In that movie, McNamara slowly unveiled that the major lesson he learned from Vietnam was that the two sides had absolutely no idea what the other’s ambition was, and that the whole effort was essentially a waste of thousands of lives. In The Other Side, that message comes not from the bureaucrats, but from the soldiers. The focus is on how all the atrocities ordered by McNamara (and others) affected those who undertook the operations. That message comes across as especially relevant now, during another war that might not be Vietnam’s peer, but is at least nearly as misguided.

Beyond an engaging and worthwhile message, Aaron’s writing is poetic and haunting. He deftly slides between the two narratives, using the structure to his advantage, where so often multiple viewpoints only muddy the writing. Stewart, who traveled to Vietnam to research the book (more…)

Superman: Peace on Earth

By Paul Dini (W) and Alex Ross (A).
Cover price $9.95. Published by DC Comics, 1999.

Plot: Superman realizes that there are lots of hungry people in the world, so he decides to try to deliver a bit of food to everybody in the entire world. From what I can tell, he’s delivering either rice or just plain ol’ grain, which, y’know, to a famine victim is like a steak dinner with all the trimmings. Regardless, the plot is that he flies around the world and delivers this food to all sorts of different countries, runs into a few spots of trouble when warlords don’t take kindly to his efforts, and eventually realizes he needs to show people how to “fish” rather than provide “fish for a day.” Yes, this entire story hinges on a simple cliche, and I’d be a downright jerk-off not to feel all warm and sentimental after reading it. Right? Well, I am a jerk-off, and I don’t feel that way.

The Good: I have really enjoyed everything that Paul Dini has done on “Batman: The Animated Series” and his recent run on “Detective Comics.” That’s the nicest thing I can say about this.

The Bad: Pretty much everything else. Superman plays Santa Claus. And, as much as so many people enjoy his work, I really can’t stand Alex Ross. Let me insert a minor caveat. The only poster in my apartment that’s hanging up is a collage, painted by Alex Ross of the entire DCU, promoting the Crisis on Infinite Earths. And, no, the ladies don’t mind it. One time, a girl I brought home from the bars asked me to name as many characters as I could, and my response was, “Whaddya think I am, some kinda f-in nerd?” Jokes aside, though, he cannot capture motion in the least, and everything he paints has a static, boring feel to it. As for the writing? It’s over dramatic, self-important nonsense, and I felt insulted while reading it. A common complaint of Superman’s character is that he’s boring. This is the perfect example.

The Grade: F. It may have only cost ten bucks, but, seriously, there are so many things you could spend ten bucks on other than this. Please, please, please, don’t spend money on this. A good friend of mine lent me his copy, otherwise I’d be so inclined to give this an F-. Completely and utterly without worth.

Annihilation: Book One

By Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (W)
and Mitch Breitweiser, Scott Kolins, Ariel Olivetti and Kev Walker (A)

Published by Marvel, 2007, $29.99

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Plot: In the storyline that fans forgot, the dread villain Annihilus returns from the Negative Zone (I think) and sends a wave of mean-looking robots across the universe to destroy as much as possible, scavenging for any power to increase Annihilus’ strength. In this first part of the mega space opera, many fall before the Annihilation Wave, including all the Nova Corps except Richard Rider. He then is left to pick up the pieces and try to find enough teammates to end the threat while preventing further mass deaths. The book contains the Annihilation: Prologue, Drax 1-4 and Nova 1-4.

The Good: To evaluate this book, you almost have to separate out the three parts, because each succeeds and fails in its own way. Overall, this introduction does a good job of establishing the level of danger. The Wave wreaks terrible havoc, which we get to see up close and personal. That’s all shown through the eyes of Rider (I’ll just call him Nova), who takes on all the power of the Worldmind, which held all of Xandar’s knowledge and force. If I had read this event, I definitely would not have been as surprised by the sudden emergence of Nova as a respectable superhero and his title as a quality read. Abnett and Lanning can flat out write. They’re clever, they know pacing, they know character development. It’s all there. Key is the interplay between Nova and Worldmind, with Drax later coming in as a sort of mediator/Obi Wan.

Another big plus is the bounty of massive space battles. They’re written and drawn well (especially the team-up between Nova and Quasar), and it’s fun to look in the back and see how things developed from Giffen’s sketches. Kev Walker does great work in the Nova mini.

I also would be remiss to leave out the art in the Drax mini, courtesy of Mitch Breitweiser. Mitch happens to live in the same city as I do and we’ve talked a few times (expect an interview eventually). He’s a really cool guy and beyond that a very talented artist. His work has a clean but edgy feel that fits in with the Michael Lark/Steve Epting feel that Marvel has brought to a lot of its books. If you like his work here, I’ve seen some of his work on his next project (which hasn’t been officially announced yet) and it’s really great stuff.


By Alex Sheikman
Published by Archaia Studios Press, 2006. $19.95

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Plot: “Far future…” Begins Robotika, the steampunk/samurai/western/sci fi tale. The world is reminiscent of that from the films A.I. or Bladerunner, a melting pot of androids and humans and bastards caught somewhere between the two. But forget the science; it doesn’t make any sense and matters less. This is the story of a mute samurai who does as ordered, and how he comes to see life beyond the simple code. This hardback collection of the series’ first four issues (more are supposed to be on the way this year) takes Niko to all ends of the world as he meets deadly cyborg Amazons and strange forest spirits. It has the healthy dose of existentialism that all indie comics do but manages not to lose sight of the plot.

The Good: If I were to make a checklist of stories I’m a sucker for, samurai, western and sci fi would list way up there. So, combining them is pretty much guaranteed to leave me tickled. Of course, I still like books to actually be worth a damn, and Sheikman’s tale comes through there as well. The writing is sturdy for a guy who lists comics as a hobby (little flourishes, like an android that speaks vertically, help a lot). While the premise is pretty basic, Sheikman’s highly detailed and Heavy Metal-esque version of the future are enough to engage throughout and, in fact, often steal the show.

It’s a bit hard to comment on Sheikman’s art, because it’s alternately very good and then much less so. The guy is clearly talented, because when his work is “on” it’s excellent. His style doesn’t look especially like that of Mike Allred’s, but the two have some similarities. Like Allred, Sheikman uses crisp linework with limited shading. It manages a stark, high-contrast and somewhat abstract feel while maintaining a liveliness and fluidity.