Category Archives: Getting Graphic
Liberty Meadows: Eden (Book 1)
created, written, & illustrated by Frank Cho
Image Comics (2002)
I’ve always loved comic books, even if it was from far, particularly the artists. And one of the artists whose name I have heard repeatedly as one of the best in recent years is Frank Cho. So, I went out and tracked down a copy of this graphic novel that is a huge collection of Cho’s Liberty Meadows comic strip.
And it kind of goes to show how unfamiliar I am with most comic books, because I had no idea this was a collection of comic strips rather than a collection of 32-page at a time comic books. That being said, Liberty Meadows was a nice change of pace from the graphic novels I’ve been reading over the last couple of years. I don’t read comic strips like I used to when I was a kid. I couldn’t afford to buy comic books when I was a kid, so I got by with reading the comic strips in my parents’ newspapers and the Sunday Funnies.
Liberty Meadows, in case you’ve never seen it before, is set in a nature sanctuary and revolves around the day-to-day lives of some quirky, and some outright deranged, animals and the people looking after them. There’s Frank the vet, a bookish, buttoned-down kind of guy, and then there’s his unrequited love, Brandy the animal psychiatrist, who is way out of his league. The boy-meets-girl elements to the book are charming, and exemplify the whole nerdy guy idolizing a pinup girl, since Brandy looks like she stepped right out of a pinup calendar, though it’s her empathy and intelligence that are highlighted most.
The animals are the stars, though. There’s a retired circus bear who looks more like a feral koala, a hypochondriacal frog, and a lustful slacker pig. For me, however, the stars were Truman the duck and his best friend, a dachshund named ????. Truman’s naivity, deferential demeanor, and childlike wonder were absolutely charming. Frankly, I wanted a pet duck after reading this book … until I remembered what ducks were like in real life.
Sometimes, when you read and review books that are predominantly dark fiction, a light-hearted respite is needed from time to time, and this book fit the bill. A wonderful mixture of cuteness and mayhem.
The Walking Dead Vol. 3: Safety Behind Bars
written by Robert Kirkman
illustrated by Charlie Adlard
Image Comics (2005)
At the end of Volume 2, Rick Grimes and what remained of his get-along gang had left Atlanta in search of safer ground from the zombie hordes, and had discovered an abandoned prison. But, as Volume 3 begins, it turns out the prison isn’t entirely abandoned. Once inside they find four people remaining–prison inmates, no less.
Tensions mount despite the new barrier in place between them and the zombies outside, as one prisoner admits to murdering his wife for cheating on him. The group stays and starts to make themselves at home behind bars, sorting out supplies and bedding arrangements, clearing out the dead and undead from the unoccupied areas of the prison. Rick even travels back to the farmhouse they’d left to encourage Hershel and his family to join them and turn the prison into a community, pooling their resources.
But, threats loom.
Despite the iron bars, concrete walls, and barbed-wire fences, the zombies are still everywhere, and everyone has to stay on their toes since warm weather is returning and the things seem to be getting a little more active. Then there is the whole shacked up with convicts dilemma. Plus, Tyreese’s daughter and her boyfriend are still plotting something behind everyone’s back and see the prison as the perfect place to carry it out.
The characters ring true on just about every page, though some of the dialogue is tiresome with its exposition and info-dumping. The motivations and conflicts between many of the characters feel genuine, and once again the dread of bad things to come germinates with them rather than the shambling corpses that surround them. The backdrop of a prison has been used in a lot of different movies and books, but this had its own vibe and felt brand new.
But, holy moly, is it bleak. Robert Kirkman et al show no remorse and just when you catch of whiff of contentment or happiness, the rug is pulled and the horrors awaiting them are even more gruesome than the last time. I loved this book, and feel kind of guilty for it, because the story as a whole is still so depressing. The characters persevere, however, and I’m looking forward to what lays in wait for them in the fourth volume.
Irredeemable Vol. 2
created and written by Mark Waid
illustrated by Peter Krause
Boom! Studios (2009)
The world’s most powerful superhero ever, the Plutonian, has gone outhouse crazy and turned into the world’s most dangerous supervillain. But despite the ability to destroy the entire world and everyone in it, the damage he has caused hasn’t been total, and his former allies are still alive–most of them anyway–trying to evade his wrath and find a way to stop him. Good luck with that. The guy sank the entire nation of Singapore for crying out loud.
This second volume picks up the action as the Plutonians former allies, the Paradigm, are try to regroup after the shelacking they received during their last encounter with the Plutonian. Heroe are dead, others injured, and the mad scientist of the group, Qubit, has resorted to building android replicas of Plutonian’s arch-nemesis, Modeus, in an attempt to find the supervillain–the one guy on the planet Plutonian is genuinely frightened of.
Meanwhile, secrets are bubbling to the surface that offer the real reasons behind Plutonian’s betrayal and atrocities. An especially disturbing discovery is made when the group finds his secret lair, which is not totally unlike Superman’s Fortress of Solitude–though Supes didn’t keep an BDSM shrine of his unrequited love, and a female supervillain serving as a sex slave so she may be spared death. Yeah, dude’s lost it.
The revelations and inner turmoil among the members of the Paradigm are all very engaging, and I’m officially on board the bandwagon for this series. Sometimes recommendations from people really work out, as I discovered this series thanks to listening to a podcast interview with Brian Keene and Mary SanGiovanni on Snark Infested Waters back in July, where the host mentioned one of the comic books he had recently been reading and enjoying. Good stuff, indeed.
Irredeemable Vol. 1
created & written by Mark Waid
illustrated by Peter Krause
Boom Studios (2009)
What if the world’s greatest superhero decided to become the world’s greatest supervillain?
That’s essentially the question posed by Mark Waid in this stark exploration of a Superman-esque hero’s fall from grace.
The Plutonian is a clean-cut, All American type of superhero: he can fly, he’s strong as all get-out, he shoots radiation beams with his eyes, he can hear a whisper on the other side of the planet–oh, and he’d indestructible. For years, he’s protected mankind from the evils of the world, man-made and otherwise, but this story kicks off with him already turned to the dark side with the blood of millions on his hands. And he’s has every other superhero on the planet shaking in their boots.
He is blatantly reminiscent of Superman, and I was never a fan of the Man of Steel. I think those hokey cartoons from the sixties and seventies, like The Super Friends, are to blame. So, in a way, seeing the ultimate superhero turned into the most despicable person on Earth strikes a chord with me. I ended up relishing this villainous side to such a goody-goody.
The story is presented as a bit of a mystery though, rather than seeing the Plutonian’s heel turn. As the story begins, he’s well on his way to destroying the world, one city–and one superhero–at a time. The guy is ruthless. In a game of cat-and-mouse, his former allies have banded together to figure out how to stop them, while also doing what little they can to save their own lives. Meanwhile, the supervillains have banded together, scratching their heads over just what is going on–and trying to save their own necks as well.
It’s brutality wrapped up in that golden age style, which makes for an interesting dichotomy. Given these are all newly invented character though, the lack of connection and emotional investment to any of them creates a bit of a road block, but the story does what it can to make you care for them, and fear the Plutonian.
As a guy with only a surface level appreciation for comic books, I’m not familiar with Mark Waid’s work, but he comes highly recommended it turns out, and I’m definitely looking for more from him.
The Walking Dead Volume 2: Miles Behind Us
written by Robert Kirkman
illustrated by Charlie Adlard
Image Comics (2004)
After reading the first volume, Days Gone Bye, in the wake of the fanfare over the TV series, I came to appreciate Kirkman’s approach to the Romero-esque zombie, even though I didn’t find the story to be terribly different from other zombie tales I’ve read or viewed. In the series’ second volume, Miles Behind Us, it becomes more clear how Kirkman is differentiating his franchise and how it is shaping up to be a genuine gem. In other words, I find myself hopping on the bandwagon.
Rick, the sheriff who woke from a coma in the first book to find himself hip-deep in a zombie apocalypse, has been reunited with his wife Lori and their son Carl. The bad news is that they, and the motley crew of survivors they’re traveling with are getting low on supplies and need to move on from the outskirts of Atlanta to find a safer place to make camp–possibly to call home. The nerves and emotions are already frayed on most everyone in the group, especially after Rick’s best friend went homicidal, after starting a relationship with Lori in Rick’s absence only to see it disintegrate once Rick returned.
To make matters worse, it’s winter, and I wouldn’t have guessed Atlanta to be a place that attracts much snow, but they sure have a fair bit to contend with while trying to traverse the roads and stay warm at night in their crowded RV. A lot of twists and roadblocks, both literal and proverbial, are thrown in their path, but all of it feels organic, not the least bit contrived despite the fact they are in a wasteland of the walking dead. They are joined by a trio of stragglers, Tyreese and his teen daughter and her ill-tempered boyfriend. Their presence throws a whole new dynamic into the mix, and seems to setup something surprisingly ominous in later volumes.
The mere story of wandering a zombified Georgia landscape is enough to satisfy the most ravenous readers, looking for zombie action, since there is plenty of them to shoot, smash, and slice. But it’s the whole interplay and development of each character and the relationships that grow between them that is where the real draw for this series resides. This second volume exemplifies that, and I’m officially a fan of the series now, eager to sit down and watch the televised adaptation (should be able to borrow the first season on DVD relatively soon).
There is a great pseudo-cliffhanger to the end of the book, which has me keen on diving into the third volume and seeing where this lot ends up–and who will survive.
Preacher: Book Three
written by Garth Ennis
illustrated by Steve Dillon
DC Comics/Vertigo (2010, hardcover)
Available via: Amazon
Preacher is shaping up to be my favorite comic book series, over Gaiman’s Sandman series. It’s been that damn good so far.
It’s been quite a few months since I read the second volume, so I’m not sure if I missed something, but it felt like I had missed an issue or two by the way this hardcover started out with its main story arc. Still, I was able to dive right back into this universe and fell in love with its characters all over again.
The book started off with an origin tale for the Saint of Killers, the hard-hearted gunslinger who is hunting down Custer and his friends, apparently under the orders of God himself. It was even more brutal and tragic than I expected, and in a sense I came away rooting for the guy. I mean, he had his life and family torn apart–and blew the Devil’s brains out. Not too shabby.
From there, Cassidy the Irish Vampire took center stage with a romp through New Orleans that had him meeting up with a poncy bloodsucker and his band of groupies. This was a fun one, with plenty of humor directed at the gothic vampire crowd. I can only imagine how Cassidy would react to the Twi-hards these days.
Once those two stories got out of the way, it was back to the main story with Reverend Jessie Custer, with his girlfriend Tulip and Cassidy, hot on the trail of the Almighty God who has gone into hiding. The story got a bit winding and still with a fair bit of contemplation, rumination, and even a soap opera style fiasco for good measure, as opposed to the previous two books and their breakneck action and suspense. Still, the characters were spot on, and I was unable to put the book down come the end of the night. The nature of this little trinity changes over the course of this book and really has me eager to see what happens in the next volume.
I can’t say a bad thing about this book. It was damn near perfect. I think the only thing that would have made it better is if the bald-headed bastard, Herr Starr, who is trying to hunt Custer down and make him a martyr had a larger role in the book. As it was, his pent-up rage over the new scar on his head courtesy of Custer, which gives his cranium the odd resemblance to a penis, was hilarious.
|Even if you don’t read graphic novels or comic books, I think you’d be doing yourself a favor by tracking down this series through a shop or library, because it’s been a treat so far, in my humble opinion.
Issue #1: The Ghost of the World
written by BarryNapier
illustrated by Luis Puig
independently published (2011)
While I’ve read my fair share of self-published novels and novellas over the last year or two, Birdwatching from Mars marks the first time that I can recall reading a self-published comic book. Given the precarious nature of finding quality work in the morass of self-published books for sale, I usually start reading such works with both naive optimism and well-earned wariness. Fortunately, I’m already familiar with Barry’s ability as a storyteller, so I was put at ease from the get-go.
Birdwatching is a high concept piece of work that deals with an end of the world scenario that’s quite familiar, yet offers its own fingerprint on the genre. We see the ravaged world through the eyes of three characters, years after an asteroid on a collision course prompted the evacuation of Earth to a settlement on Mars. Dante, a battle-tested survivor with a makeshift machete; Frank, a starved wanderer on his way to Utah; and Colonel Stone, an overwhelmed protector of a select batch of survivors in the underground Utah bunker that is attracting Frank, Dante, and others; they each try to make sense of a world long collapsed, haunted by ruins, cannibals, and it would seem a new predatory creature at the top of the food chain.
In about twenty-two pages or so, Barry and Luis offer the introductory glimpse of this world and basically set the stage for whatever they have cooked up in the succeeding issues of this comic series. There’s very little dialogue from which to get a sense of these characters, aside from a couple of private conversations between Colonel Stone and the lone senator inside the compound. Instead it is the visuals, along with a fair amount of exposition, that the reader must use to grasp how dire humanity’s situation really is. For those in the safety of the bunker, resources are perilously low and risk a riot if the truth is revealed, while the few survivors above ground who haven’t abandoned their civility forage for what little is left as they are drawn to the Utah installation out of some remnant of hope.
All while a new civilization on Mars is presumably being built–and watching Earth’s dying days play out.
It’s not an earth-shattering, jaw-dropping debut, but a more forlorn unveiling. You basically read through and watch Barry and Luis set the chess pieces on the table, left to wait as future issues set those pieces in motion. I’m conditioned the graphic novel, which compiles several issues into one compilation and gives a fuller reading experience, so for me I feel like I’ve gotten only a taste of this story. Still, I am interested enough to see where this story goes in future issues.