REVIEW: Supergods – What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human

By Grant Morrison

Spiegel & Grau 2011

Grant Morrison is a decisive subject in comics. Many love his work. Many love to hate his work. Many just don’t know what to think of him.

What Morrison delivers with Supergods is a unique text about comics. It is part history, part deconstructionist analysis, part personal memoir, part reflexive view of his own work. It is a varied and interesting book that provides some fascinating insight into his ideas about the superhero.

The book follows a basic chronological structure that is divided along 4 ages: Golden Age, Silver Age, Modern Age, and Renaissance (starting the late 1990s). He deconstructs covers of famous comics such as Action #1, Detective #27, and The Dark Knight Returns #1. Certain key characters and stories are reflected on. It is not really any unique ground that is tread as far as the history of comics is concerned, were it not for Morrison’s uncanny intellectualizing of the materials in a way that augments their historicism with a psychological attention reflection on the material. Continue reading REVIEW: Supergods – What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human

Review: Culture Vultures

By Tom Roberts and Jim Siergey
Iconografix 1993

I was in a comic shop in a small town outside of Madison, Wisconsin, digging through the back issue bin when this caught my eye. It cost me a whole 50 cents.

Culture Vultures is a black and white comic published in the comics high tide year of 1993. I’ll spare you a capsule review and just quote the propaganda from Caliber Comic’s Website: Continue reading Review: Culture Vultures

Review: Alan Moore’s Neonomicon

Written by Alan Moore.

Illustrated by Jacen Burrows.

Avatar Press, 2010.

This book is several things.

It is a kinky H.P. Lovecraft worshiping Cthulhu Mythos pulp story, with endless name checks.  It is a raw, meaty slab of new Alan Moore story.  It is a meta-narrative that discusses the possibilities of linguistic based psychedelic experience.  It is some high concept, dark science fiction short story.  It was a piece of work made to pay off Alan Moore’s tax bill.

In my opinion all of those statements are true.  This is an example of why Alan Moore is a master craftsman.  The panel layouts, pacing and dialogue are top notch.  Burrows’ art is excellent.  The ideas that are at work here are intellectually rewarding and inventive.  The stories mirror the Weird Tales formula that they are based on, down to the morbid endings that push the indescribable horror by just showing their effects, their aftermath. Continue reading Review: Alan Moore’s Neonomicon

REVIEW: Joe The Barbarian

Written by Grant Morrison.

Art by Sean Murphy.

DC Comics/Vertigo, 2011.

Grant Morrison is a decisive writer in the comics form.  Many people do not like his more experimental works, especially when the narratives get characteristically dense or abstract. Final Crisis anyone? Many people don’t enjoy when he incorporates more esoteric ideas like chaos magic, ceremonial magic, occult philosophy, media theory, surrealism, dadaism, William S. Burroughs, psychedelics, alien abductions, etc. Invisibles reads like an incredible mess if you are not familiar with some of those topics. The same could be said of Doom Patrol. Some of his work doesn’t traffic with these outre ideas or experiments in the form though, and Joe The Barbarian is an example of such a work.

I hate to say that this book is an example of a “restrained” Morrison. What Morrison did was write something that appeals more to the Neil Gaiman fan than the Robert Anton Wilson or William Gibson fan. The pitch mashup I would use is The Goonies meets The Never-Ending Story. It’s a self contained eight issue miniseries that has been published in a nice hardcover. Continue reading REVIEW: Joe The Barbarian

REVIEW: Johnny Cash – I See A Darkness

Written and drawn by Reinhard Kleist.

Abrams ComicArts, 2009.

This book is part graphic biography and part lyrical interpretation.

There were two major pieces of media that I enjoyed that had a strong impact on how I experienced this book. One was the 2006 film Walk The Line. The other was The Man In Black: His Own Story In His Own Words, his autobiography published in 1983. Cash would later revisit the autobiography, but Man In Black ends with the acceptance of sobriety, quitting smoking and returning to his Christian background with renewed faith.

I See A Darkness overlaps material from those two pieces. It deals mainly with the early years of Cash’s career, climaxing with his performance at Folsom Prison. There is some material set after the death of June, his wife, in the last year of his life while he is recording an album produced by Rick Rubin.

What this book offers is some interesting visual interpretations of Cash’s songs. Of particular note is Cocaine Blues from the Folsom Prison performance. The story of the song is played out over several pages, the lyrics recounted as text that weaves through the panels. The song A Boy Named Sue is also developed with this method, and to great effect. In a way it was able to do things which a song could not by providing images to accompany the text of the lyrics. In a way it Continue reading REVIEW: Johnny Cash – I See A Darkness

REVIEW: Orc Stain

Created, written and drawn by James Stokoe.

Image Comics, 2010.

I can think of few books that match Orc Stain in the sheer level of raw creativity, fun, perversity, and originality. Stokoe has embarked on a program of world building worthy of an off-duty cultural anthropologist competing in a science fiction/fantasy pitch contest where the ideas are so daring they cannot be implemented in a medium other than an independent comic book (albeit one published and distributed by Image).

Orc Stain is the story of a lowly orc named “One Eye” who has a talent for being able to see the structural weakness in any container, building or edifice. Whether this ability is supernatural or is based on more normal perceptions is not really explained in the first volume. What it does do is allow him to do something which other orcs are not very good at: figure out solutions to problems that do not involve punching or stabbing. Continue reading REVIEW: Orc Stain

REVIEW: Signal To Noise

Written by Neil Gaiman

Art by Dave McKean

Dark Horse Comics, 2007 (New Edition)

Originally serialized in a magazine called The Face (United Kingdom) and collected into a single volume in 1992, this book represents some early usage of digital manipulation, photographic collage and highly expressionistic Dave McKean artwork. Dave McKean has an ability to use a Canon laser photocopier the way many traditional illustrators use pen and ink.

The narrative is essentially about millenarianism. Being written a decade before the year 2000, this book was also accurate in its predictions about how the millennium would result in the changing of more or less nothing. The presaged view of the ten years in the future may not be the most exciting depiction of pre-millennium tension that I have ever read, but after the fact and with the element of hindsight it is probably one of the most accurate. Unlike other works which tie into the Y2K cultural experience, this book manages to transcend such a time-dependent experience to capture the feeling of impending futurism mixed with dread and presents the more rational, grounded view which we experience with our mundane memories of that millennium event. Continue reading REVIEW: Signal To Noise

REVIEW: Whatever Happened To The World Of Tomorrow?

Written and drawn by Brian Fies.

Abrams Comic Arts, 2009.

Growing up in Kansas we took several school field trips to the Kansas Cosmosphere, a science museum devoted to space exploration. The exhibits devoted to liquid rockets, Robert Goddard, the Space Race and the lunar landing were extremely fascinating. Brian Fies shares some of that fascination with space exploration (and the attendant futurism) and applying his talents of science writing toward those subjects created the graphic novel Whatever Happened To The World Of Tomorrow?

This book begins with a young boy and his father as they are spectators to the scientific advancements that progressed from the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, where the first glimpses of the future are laid out by the awe striking exhibits to a very young main character. The book is divided into decades after this and the events of progress in space exploration (as well as its effects on terrestrial technology) are described through the end of World War II in 1945, Cold War fears of mutually assured destruction in 1955, changing social norms in 1965 and disillusionment with the orbital based space program in 1975 (after the high water mark of the manned lunar landings). Continue reading REVIEW: Whatever Happened To The World Of Tomorrow?

REVIEW: Infinite Kung Fu

Written and drawn by Kagen McLeod

Top Shelf Productions, 2011.

The buzz around this book has been damn strong. When books have been praised as highly as Infinite Kung Fu it can be difficult to not be disappointed by the actual reading experience when the enthusiasm fails to take hold of you. Kagen McLeod deserves that praise though, because this is a beautifully rendered, fun page-turner.

At 400+ pages in black and white, one might think that this is a North American product of manga inspiration. That is not really true. Though the subject is of Eastern origin, namely a love letter to Shaw Studios’ kung fu films, the execution is not. The story was originally published as serialized comics in 2002-2003, of which this book is a collection. The art style is more greyish ink wash than the defined black line style common to manga.

Continue reading REVIEW: Infinite Kung Fu

REVIEW: Smax

Writer: Alan Moore, Penciller: Zander Cannon, Inker: Andrew Cannon

America’s Best Comics, 2004.

This trade paperback collects issues #1-#5 of the miniseries Smax, which was spun out of the Alan Moore created Top 10 series. The story follows the character of Jeff from the Top 10 police force, who returns to his home world/dimension to attend a funeral. Robyn accompanies him and Jeff tries to pass her off as his wife. Robyn is none too happy about this, and it is a waste because no one really believes Jeff. It seems that Jeff is a bad liar and he didn’t even go to the trouble of securing fake wedding bands. It seems that Jeff is really scared that he will hook up (sexually) with his twin sister Rexa.

Moore approaches Jeff’s home world with a humor that is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett.  The series does defiantly compare with the magical realism found in the Discworld novels.  The world is a spoof on the fantasy genre but Moore incorporates some real cutting satire. Jeff’s recounting of his ogre father’s abuse to him (physical) and his sister (physical and sexual) keeps the story from being a light and airy satire of Dungeon and Dragons campaign cliques though. There is a dark side to the relationship between Jeff and Rexa that involves their disturbing prior incestuous couplings.

Continue reading REVIEW: Smax