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Monday, September 22, 2014

Arata: The Legend - Betrayal

I read Arata: The Legend, Vol. 19

I posted a review at the ComicBookBin, which is seeking donations.  Follow me on Twitter.





Sunday, September 21, 2014

I Reads You Review: GRENDEL VS. THE SHADOW #1

GRENDEL VS. THE SHADOW #1 (OF 3)
DARK HORSE COMICS with DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT – @DarkHorseComics and @dynamitecomics

WRITER/ARTIST: Matt Wagner
COLORS: Brennan Wagner
LETTERS: Michael Heisler
COVER:  Matt Wagner with Brennan Wagner
VARIANT COVER: Matt Wagner
48pp, Color, $5.99 U.S. (September 2014)

Acclaimed comic book writer, artist, and creator Matt Wagner has been producing work that is unique and inventive for just over three decades.  His signature creation is Grendel, which Wagner debuted back in 1982 in the black and white comic book, Primer #2, published by COMICO The Comic Company (or simply Comico).  The most popular iteration of the character is the novelist, assassin, and crime lord, Hunter Rose, the original Grendel.

Recently, Wagner has been writing The Shadow: Year One (Dynamite Entertainment), a miniseries that depicts the beginnings of The Shadow and his war on crime in New York City.  Now, Wagner brings Grendel-Hunter Rose and The Shadow together in Grendel vs. The Shadow, a three-issue miniseries from Dark Horse Comics.

Early in Grendel vs. The Shadow #1, Hunter Rose obtains a mystic artifact, an urn of Chinese origins.  Inside, he finds a scroll, upon which is written the “Eternity Codex.”  Reading the codex somehow causes Rose to be transported to 1930s New York City, and he almost immediately decides that this is a new world to conquer.

Meanwhile, in a crime war brews with news of the impending demise of Don Carlo Luppino.  The “Five Families,” which rule NYC crime are trying to decide who will take over Luppino's operations, and crime boss Lorenzo Valenti sees this as an opportunity to become more powerful.  Meanwhile, The Shadow is trying his best to stop a crime war from happening after Luppino dies.  Into this power keg steps Grendel, a grim reaper slashing his way through mob foot soldiers and lieutenants.  He is sending a message, and The Shadows knows he must stop this mysterious new killer before his actions start a gang war more vicious than any imagined.

I have been a fan of The Shadow for longer than I can remember, probably as long as I've been in love with the Hunter Rose Grendel (and I loved me some Hunter Rose).  Matt Wagner does not disappoint.  I really like this comic book.  Strangely, it seems more like a Shadow comic book than a Grendel comic book or even a Shadow-Grendel comic book.  It is as if Grendel is a guest star in The Shadow's world of pulp-noir violence.

I had planned on reading the first issue and likely not reading the other two issues.  Now, the Shadow knows I plan on reading this entire three-issue, prestige-format series.  Besides my love of the title characters,  Grendel vs. The Shadow is simply a fun comic book to read.  As a kid, I probably would have “creamed my pants” to see this on the table of the little comic book store where I once shopped.

A

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux


The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for syndication rights and fees.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: THE VISITORS by Sally Beauman

THE VISITORS
HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS/Harper – @HarperCollins

AUTHOR: Sally Beauman
ISBN: 978-0-06-230268-7; hardcovcer (July 8, 2014)
544pp, B&W, $27.99 U.S.

The Visitors is a 2014 historical novel from New York Times bestselling author, Sally Beauman (Rebecca's Tale).  The novel is a re-creation of Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter's hunt in Egypt's Valley of the Kings, which eventually led them to Tutankhamun's tomb.  The search is seen through the eyes of a preteen English girl who is visiting the Valley of the Kings.

The Visitors opens in January 1922.  Eleven-year-old Lucy Payne has been in a Cairo for a week with her guardian, Miss Myrtle Mackenzie aka “Miss Mack.”  Lucy is recovering from typhoid, which killed her mother, and Miss Mack hopes that seeing the wonders of Ancient Egypt will stimulate Lucy and help her reengage with the world.

Through her friendship with Frances Winlock, the daughter of an American archaeologist, Lucy enters the inner circle of George Edward Stanhope Molyneaux Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, aka Lord Carnarvon, and Howard Carter, the English archaeologist in charge of Carnarvon's excavations in the Valley of the Kings.  She also meets and befriends Rose and her younger brother, Peter, the children of the beautiful divorcĂ©e, Poppy d'Erlanger.  Through these friendships, Lucy becomes a first-hand witness to the intrigue, politics, and passions surrounding Carnarvon and Carter's quest.  Lucy also forms the intimate bonds that will help her survive childhood and later, adult heartbreak.

The selling point of The Visitors in its recreation of the hunt and discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb and the aftermath, and much of the novel is about that.  Beauman's account of the hunt for King Tut is, of course, based on history, but some of it is fictional.  Some of the characters are actual people, such as Carter, Carnarvon, Carnarvon's daughter (Lady Evelyn Herbert aka “Eve”), and Frances Winlock and her family.  Other characters are entirely fictional, and these include Lucy, Miss Mack, Rose and Peter, among others.

Still, both the fictional and nonfictional characters are wonderfully drawn.  When book lovers and critics use the term “rich characters,” they are talking about the kind of characters that fill The Visitors.

In a way, The Visitors is also like a girl's adventure novel, with Lucy as the curious and adventurous girl who meets all those wonderful people.  We follow her into Egypt and into the Valley of the Kings, a journey that is atmospheric and offers moments that are intensely spellbinding.

The rest of the novel is set in different time periods.  Some of it is set in 2002 in Lucy's home in Highgate, as the 90-year-old Lucy recalls her Egyptian adventures for an American Egyptologist working on a television documentary about Carnarvon and Carter's search.  The last section (or chapter) of the book, “Part 6: The Book of the Dead,” runs for just over 100 pages.  Here, Lucy of 2002 recalls her life from 1931 to the early 1940s.  In this period of Lucy's life, Beauman creates this book's most poignant storytelling and profound drama.  The rich characters offer the richest character drama in this last part of the book

Sometimes when I read The Visitors, I felt like I was reading three books.  This book is one of those novels in which there are layers of drama and subtext between the lines.  Beauman engages her readers and demands that they see past the surface text.  It is as if she offers us the chance to imagine the story beyond the one we are reading.  The highest recommendation that I can offer for The Visitors is that I did not want it to end.


A

www.harpercollins.com

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux


The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for syndication rights and fees.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: TIME KILLERS - Short Story Collection

TIME KILLERS
VIZ MEDIA – @VIZMedia

CARTOONIST: Kazue Kato
TRANSLATION & ENGLISH ADAPTATION: John Werry
LETTERS: John Hunt, Primary Graphix
ISBN: 978-1-4215-7167-6; paperback (September 2014); Rated “T+” for “Older Teen”
244pp, B&W, $14.99 U.S., $17.99 CAN, £9.99 U.K.

Born in Tokyo in 1980, Kazue Kato is a female manga creator, writer, and illustrator.  Time Killers is a single-volume, standalone, paperback collection of manga short stories that Kato produced in the first decade of her career.  Time Killers is published under VIZ Media's Shonen Jump Advanced imprint.  Time Killers contains 11 manga short stories, mostly in black and white, but there are 13 pages of color manga and art, as well as a fold-out, full-color gate-fold poster.

The stories are whimsical, fantastic, realistic, and genre-bending.  Some are like fairy tales, while others can best be described as “shonen manga.”  “The Rabbit and Me” (a shonen-type tale) introduces Shuri Todo, a teen hit man and assassin who wears a rabbit-eared cowl/mask.  He meets high school student Taira Futamura, a boy who becomes attached to Shuri.  Before long, that connection strengthens in the worst way.

“Tomato” features anthropomorphic animals.  Usakihii Usa, a rabbit guard, and his human partner, Sasuke Futamura, are hired on by Mrs. Oka-no-an, a stout, older female rabbit, to protect her precious tomato farm.  The arrival of thieves reveals connections between the guards and their employer in surprising ways.  In “Astronerd,” 16-year-old Yoshio Fujiko is an “astronerd,” a nerd who loves astronomy.  Now in high school, he has abandoned that in order to fit in with the other kids, but the new girl in school and also an alien invasion will force Yoshio to face the truth.

The story that closes out Time Killers is “The Miyama-Uguisu Mansion Incident.”  Knight No. 387, a demon hunter of the Knights of the Blue Cross, arrives at Miyama-Uguisu mansion to save Monaka Miyama-Uguisu, a young girl who has “the spittle of a demon on her.”  No. 387 is drawn to Monaka, so he tells her the story of a demon who became a demon hunter so that he could protect a young girl who helped and then, befriended him.

I have read a few manga short story collections from a variety of genres (including adult yaoi manga).  The Time Killers manga short story collection is one of the best that I have read, and it is not just because of the variety of genres this collection offers.

The most attractive thing about these stories is that they have heart.  Kazue Kato makes them mean something beyond mere escapism, fantasy, and fantasy-hues.  “Tomato” starts as if it is just going to be a “yojimbo” tale, but Kato takes the characters on a surprising journey of spiritual growth and healing.  There is enough material to turn it into a graphic novel.

“A Maiden's Prayer” is like a beautiful poem that is also a fairy tale.  “A Warrior Born of the Red Earth” could pass for American-produced Western fiction.  “Master and I” is a convincing and effective cautionary tale.

Some may mistake “The Miyama-Uguisu Mansion Incident” as a precursor to Kato's hit shonen manga, Blue Exorcist, but according to the “Author's Note” section at the end of the book, it was produced from unused material for the hit manga series.  In fact, Kato fills her author's note/afterword section with lots of interesting back story about these short stories.  She makes Time Killers a worthwhile, complete collection that has both excellent manga shorts and rewarding extra material.  By the way, the title is a reference to “killing time,” as these stories could be read as pass-times – enjoyable past-times


A-

www.VIZ.com.

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux


The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for syndication rights and fees.



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: Charles Burns' SUGAR SKULL

SUGAR SKULL
PANTHEON BOOKS – @PantheonBooks @AAKnopf @doubledaypub

CARTOONIST: Charles Burns
ISBN: 978-0-307-90790-5; hardcover (September 16, 2014)
64pp, Color, $23.00 U.S.

Charles Burns is the American cartoonist and illustrator best known for his graphic novel, Black Hole, which was originally published as a comic book series, first by Kitchen Sink Press, and finally by Fantagraphics Books.  His comics short stories have been collected in such book collections as Big Baby and Skin Deep.

His most recent comics work is a graphic novel trilogy that began in X'ed Out and continued in The Hive and now, comes to an end in Sugar Skull.  The long strange trip of a guy named Doug comes to an end that is both mind-bending and heart-wrenching (or pathetic, depending on how you look at it).

In X’ed Out, Burns introduces Doug, a photographic artist who has a head injury of some kind.  One night, he awakens and sees his cat, Inky, who is supposed to be dead.  Doug follows Inky through a hole torn in a brick wall, where he discovers a place called The Hive.  This place is likely an alternate reality that has been induced by the trauma Doug experienced and by the prescription medications he uses.  In the Hive, Doug's persona becomes that of “Johnny,” a version of Nitnit, his performance art alter-ego.

In The Hive, Doug begins working in that nightmarish alternate world as a lowly employee who carts supplies around the Hive.  He also strikes up a friendship with a breeder named Suzy, and that new relationship is almost like another Doug previously had.  Meanwhile, back in reality, Doug slowly transforms from an ambitious young artist into a guy who merely drifts through life, bereft of his hopes and dreams.

As Sugar Skull begins, Doug-as-Johnny is back in the the Hive.  After a troubling encounter with a sow-life creature and her thing-lets, he reunites with a his Hive-chick, Suzy.  However, she is about to undergo a bodily function that disturbs and freaks-out Johnny.  Meanwhile, back in reality, Doug is now fully a lost and ambivalent man, but he lives with Sally, a woman who clearly loves him

Doug has regrets and questions.  What does the Hive represent?  What happened to him? Where is his former girlfriend, Sarah?  As he digs for answers, he seeks out Sarah, who has a surprise for him.  We also finally learn how Doug received the head injury that has put his reality into a crazy, mind-bending, dream/nightmare loop.

I have enjoyed Charles Burns' trilogy of graphic novels.  [I don't know whether to call this “The Hive trilogy” or the “X'ed Out trilogy” or even the “Nitnit trilogy.”]  I like the publishing format for these comic books:  hardcover, large-sized at 8.9 x 11.8 (which is similar to a French album or graphic novel), with a cloth-covered spine and beautifully illustrated end papers.

I found X'ed Out to be especially intriguing and captivating; I could not help but be taken in by the mystery and reality-warping, which seemed straight out of a David Lynch movie.  The Hive was vague and sometimes seemed like filler material, which can be a problem with the middle installment of a trilogy.  I was somewhat frustrated with it.

Four years after I read X'ed Out, Sugar Skull rewards my patience.  Suddenly, the answers pour forth, and they will break your heart.  For all the surrealism of much of story prior to the final volume, this ending is surprisingly human.  Burns depicts the melancholy nature of a promising life that has decided to settle for the mundane.

This trilogy operates on so many levels and layers, and Doug and perhaps a few other characters exist in different persona.  Time, symbolism, and metaphor exist in multiple layers.  Sugar Skull is more grounded than the other books.  It forces reality and consequence, even in the alternate reality.  A “sugar skull” or calavera is a representation of the human skull made out of clay or sugar and is used in the Mexican celebration, Day of the Dead (which takes place over three days beginning on October 31st).

Is Doug dead?  Is he an unreliable narrator?  I don't think that Doug is a deceased character, who is narrating the last of his life.  Rather, he is forced to confront the truth about himself, and that can be more painful than a blow to the head.  Sugar Skull justifies this entire enterprise undertaken by Charles Burns, and it proves that Burns' stories may be strange and intense, but they are not impersonal.  They are unique depictions of the human condition, and, as Sugar Skull shows, they are deeply personal.

A

www.facebook.com/pantheonbooks
www.pantheoncomics.com

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux


The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for syndication rights and fees.



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

DC Comics from Diamond Distributors for September 17, 2014

DC COMICS

JUN140296     ASTRO CITY THROUGH OPEN DOORS TP     $16.99
MAY140398     ASTRO CITY VICTORY HC     $24.99
MAY140322     BATMAN AND ROBIN FUTURES END #1     $3.99
MAY140323     BATMAN AND ROBIN FUTURES END #1 STANDARD ED     $2.99
JUL140212     BATMAN ETERNAL #24     $2.99
MAY140316     BATMAN SUPERMAN FUTURES END #1     $3.99
MAY140317     BATMAN SUPERMAN FUTURES END #1 STANDARD ED     $2.99
APR140256     BATMAN UNWRAPPED THE COURT OF OWLS HC     $39.99
MAY140328     BATWOMAN FUTURES END #1     $3.99
MAY140329     BATWOMAN FUTURES END #1 STANDARD ED     $2.99
JUL140276     FABLES #144 (MR)     $2.99
JUN140267     FOREVER EVIL ARKHAM WAR TP (N52)     $16.99
JUL148008     GODZILLA AWAKENING TP     $12.99
MAY140344     GREEN LANTERN NEW GUARDIANS FUTURES END #1     $3.99
MAY140345     GREEN LANTERN NEW GUARDIANS FUTURES END #1 STANDARD ED     $2.99
JUL140227     INFINITE CRISIS FIGHT FOR THE MULTIVERSE #3     $3.99
MAY140278     JUSTICE LEAGUE FUTURES END #1     $3.99
MAY140279     JUSTICE LEAGUE FUTURES END #1 STANDARD ED     $2.99
JUL140190     MULTIVERSITY THE SOCIETY OF SUPER-HEROES #1     $4.99
JUL140191     MULTIVERSITY THE SOCIETY OF SUPER-HEROES #1 BLACK & WHITE VA     $4.99
JUL140208     NEW 52 FUTURES END #20 (WEEKLY)     $2.99
JUN140283     NEW TEEN TITANS TP VOL 01     $19.99
MAY140336     RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS FUTURES END #1     $3.99
MAY140337     RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS FUTURES END #1 STANDARD ED     $2.99
JUL140232     SCRIBBLENAUTS UNMASKED CRISIS OF IMAGINATION #9     $2.99
JUL140222     SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #2     $3.99
MAY140314     SUPERGIRL FUTURES END #1     $3.99
MAY140315     SUPERGIRL FUTURES END #1 STANDARD ED     $2.99
MAY140306     SUPERMAN WONDER WOMAN FUTURES END #1     $3.99
MAY140307     SUPERMAN WONDER WOMAN FUTURES END #1 STANDARD ED     $2.99
MAY140371     SUPERMAN WONDER WOMAN HC VOL 01 POWER COUPLE (N52)     $24.99
MAY140274     TEEN TITANS FUTURES END #1     $3.99
MAY140275     TEEN TITANS FUTURES END #1 STANDARD ED     $2.99
JUN140285     TOE TAGS FEATURING GEORGE ROMERO TP (MR)     $14.99
MAY140298     TRINITY OF SIN PANDORA FUTURES END #1     $3.99
MAY140299     TRINITY OF SIN PANDORA FUTURES END #1 STANDARD ED     $2.99
JUN140310     UNWRITTEN TOMMY TAYLOR & THE SHIP THAT SANK TWICE TP (MR)     $14.99
JUL140284     UNWRITTEN VOL 2 APOCALYPSE #9 (MR)     $3.99
MAY140302     WONDER WOMAN FUTURES END #1     $3.99
MAY140303     WONDER WOMAN FUTURES END #1 STANDARD ED     $2.99