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Graphic Novel Friday: This Weekend's Other Space Opera

While I forge my way to the Canadian wilderness for vacation this summer, I will be unable to see The Guardians of the Galaxy film, Marvel’s latest comic book blockbuster. With me, however, is another space epic: Twelve Gems by Lane Milburn.

When the cover art was first revealed, I imagined it had been lifted from the backdrop of pinball machine located in a dingy cantina somewhere in the distant cosmos. A three-headed, horned monstrosity floating above space lava and encircled in glowing lights? Yes, I found my summer read. A copy recently arrived in the mail, and I diligently put it away so that I could save it for my trip. Only now my flight is delayed, I’m stuck in Denver and missing a day of vacation, and Twelve Gems is my only hope—and it’s delivering.

Part Heavy Metal, part Infinity Gauntlet, part progressive metal band's vinyl LP artwork, Twelve Gems offers a space opera send-up that reads like a serious good time. Writer and artist Milburn begins with an eccentric scientist, Dr. Z, who enlists three heroes (Furz, the heavy; Venus, the beautiful warrior; and Dogstar, the talking animal) to find the legendary twelve gems—what they do once collected, no one knows. All that matters is that Dr. Z wants them and he’ s willing to share in the reward, whatever it may be.

Across the stars, the three heroes (who aren’t so heroic) encounter robots, monstrous aliens, and more monstrous aliens, all of whom want the twelve gems for themselves. Dogstar develops a crush as Venus’ outfits only get tighter, and Furz keeps upgrading his murder weapons. It’s absurd how much fun this is, with double-page chapter breaks that would not be out of place on the side of a black van driven by two dudes wearing bandanas. Milburn’s throwback style, the heavy-lined and dense pages are only matched in goofiness by his dialogue: “You who wander this kaleidoscopic cosmos, who possess the mirror-trick of consciousness…speak!” 12Gems_panelAnd the crew can’t seem to catch a break even when they stop at a local space-bar--wherever they go they encounter thieves and assailants. “What?! We don’t get a moment to relax,” Venus bemoans as she readies her battle pose. “This galaxy sucks!” Furz agrees as they both hop into the melee. 

This is exactly what summer blockbusters should be, only Milburn’s is a singular vision. He exploits clichés by embracing them, and he busily captures hyperspace hilarity, while the black and white pages never feel overwhelmed by the dark backdrops or Milburn’s detailed designs. This compact paperback comes with Fantagraphics’ usual high quality paper stock and attention to detail, and I’m so glad it’s here with me—my vacation may have stalled but Twelve Gems gave it a warp core boost regardless.

See also The Comics Journal’s extensive interview with Milburn.

--Alex

Graphic Novel Friday: Happy Birthday, Batman!

Batman_75Happy Bat-Birthday! The Caped Crusader turns 75 this year, and to commemorate, DC Comics will release two 400-page hardcover collections chronicling the adventures and darkness surrounding the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker. Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years and The Joker: A Celebration of 75 Years release next week, featuring 75 years of stories by Bob Kane, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Denny O’Neil, Greg Rucka, J.H. Williams III, Scott Snyder, Paul Dini, and many more.

Until those tomes hit the shelves, we put our cowls together and identified our five favorite Batman stories-–not a “Best of,” please note! Want to tell us your favorites, Omni readers? To the Bat-comments!

5. Batman: Son of the Demon by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham: Batman falls for Talia al Ghul, the beautiful and dangerous daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, one of Batman’s greatest villains. Their romance leads to a strange alliance between an often shirtless Batman and Ra’s—and its decades-old consequences lead directly into Grant Morrison’s Batman & Son storyline, proving that great stories are never forgotten. [Note that this particular story is contained in a new collection with two other related stories.]

4. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola: Mike Mignola! Victorian-era Batman! Mike Mignola! Jack the Ripper! Need we exclaim further? This self-contained story is revered among fans for its artwork and clever, creepy storyline.

3. Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale:  Batman must face his entire rogues gallery in a murder mystery that spans 12 months. Loeb and Sale’s portrayal of Batman is both classic and contemporary: smart, determined, and muscle-bound. "I made a promise to my parents..."

2. Batman: Nine Lives by Dean Motter and Michael Lark: Say what? This Elseworlds tale (like Gaslight) may be new to readers, but it’s an atypical look at Gotham, where familiar heroes and villains are turned on their heads andBatman_bm reinterpreted in inventive ways. It also involves a murder mystery, and it's a doozy.  [Note: this collection is out of print and available via our third party marketplace.]

1. Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder, Jock, and Francesco Francavilla: Perhaps the greatest Batman arc in the past decade, The Black Mirror houses two very different stories—both of which trouble Dick Grayson. Yes, our #1 pick is a Batman story without Bruce Wayne! Grayson assumes the mantle and takes the Batman character in a different direction, one worth reading multiple times for how often Snyder gets it “right.” This collection is sure to influence Batman writers for decades to come.

Disclaimer: We excluded any Frank Miller stories from this list, given their importance and length of the shadow they cast over any Bat-list.

--Alex

Graphic Novel Weekend: Interview with Max Brooks

This weekend variant edition of Graphic Novel Friday arrives with an exclusive interview.  Hope everyone had a great July 4th holiday!

Author Max Brooks continues to re-think and refine the zombie phenomenon.  From World War Zthe blockbuster novel that led to the blockbuster film, and the follow-up/send-up The Zombie Survival Guide his name is cemented in the zombie canon. This month, he launches a new graphic novel with Avatar Press that takes another wild look at zombies (and vampires!) in The Extinction Parade. Mr. Brooks nicely took time to answer a few questions over email:

Q: You have two new collections out this spring, The Harlem Hellfighters and The Extinction Parade. What’s your comics origin story—what first inspired you in the medium?

Max Brooks: I can’t remember how old I was, but it was a time before the Berlin Wall fell. We used to spend our summers on a little strip of sand off New York called "Fire Island." I fished and swam and rode my bike everywhere, but one thing I didn’t do was read. Being dyslexic, reading was a real chore. And then I found ROM: Spaceknight at the general store and I recognized it from an action figure I had. It was the first king sized annual. I hadn’t intended to read the whole thing, but before I knew it, I was on the last page. That was the first time in my life I’d ever voluntarily read something, ANYTHING cover to cover, and I still own that exact issue.

Q: The Extinction Parade began as a short prose story. What led to its translation into comics? What aspects did you have to re-think when converting it for Avatar Press?

Max Brooks: Converting from prose to comics is no easy task. For one thing, you can’t ignore any information. In prose, I don’t have to describe anything that’s not integral to the story. Out of sight, out of mind. A comic book is visual. The reader sees everything. I have to pay attention to clothes, hair, architecture, every detail I want to be accurate. Because The Extinction Parade takes place in Malaysia, where I’ve never been, I have to use 3D satellite images to show the artist where our characters are and what we, the readers, would see in the background.

Q: The Extinction Parade is filled with storytelling, from character-to-character moments to detailed narration boxes. What is your method of scripting comics? Are you more hands-on or hands-off in terms of page layouts and character designs?

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Weekend: Interview with Max Brooks" »

Graphic Novel Friday: New Reads from Old Boxes

The best part of moving is unpacking all the new books you had to regrettably box up before you could read them. I spent several weeks unboxing (see also: avoiding), organizing, and then reading a few spectacular comics that published as I changed homes. Here are three that I packed at the top of my stacks:

 

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (First Second):  Be still my nostalgic heart. This dreamily crafted tale is one to treasure for all seasons. Rose and Windy meet every summer at their respective families’ vacation homes, but in this snapshot the summer threatens to wilt under a long shade. Rose’s parents show signs of strain; Windy’s usual playful nature now grates; and the local teens have graduated from young adult to very adult. Along with perfect dialogue and strong character designs, the narrative is complemented by multiple ready-to-frame double-page spreads. Reading This One Summer is just as rewarding as looking at it. Watch for this on Best of the Year lists.

 

 

 

 

I Kill Giants: Fifth Anniversary Edition by Joe Kelley and JN Ken Niimura (Image Comics):  I was unprepared for my emotional response when I reached the end of this incredible story. Joe Kelley introduces Barbara, a young girl who lives in a fantasy world where she is a giant slayer who wields a mythical hammer. Of course, this fantasy belies a troubled real world from which she seeks escape; one where something dark lurks upstairs in her home. Once the truth is revealed (and after an admittedly clunky first chapter), beware the tugging of heartstrings.

 

 

 

Afterlife with Archie Book One by Roberto Aguirre-Sagasa and Francesco Francavilla (Archie Comics):  This is no joke, folks! I initially expected a goofy Archie + zombies comic—one to read, chuckle, and then forget. What this does, however, is retool the Archie universe into a nail-biting, horror tale for adults. Much of this is thanks to Francavilla’s Halloween-tinged colors and artwork that discards any previous “house style” regarding character designs. The gang’s all here, but they’ve never looked this good, contemporary, or bloody and bloody scared. See also our Top Ten Reasons to Read Afterlife with Archie feature over at Kindle Daily.

 

 

What’s on your to-read comics list, Omni readers?

--Alex

 

Graphic Novel Friday: Miracleman Returns

Holy hiatus, Batman! The Graphic Novel Friday feature has been MIA for a several weeks, and I apologize. I recently moved, and my comics were all packed away in (too many) boxes, but one new collection stayed with me throughout the process: Miracleman Book 1: A Dream of Flying.

In the early 1980s, well before the gritty deconstruction of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or Alan Moore’s Watchmen, the latter creator took to lesser-known 1950s United Kingdom hero, Marvelman, and did what he does best: utterly dismantle everything fans knew and rebuild the hero from a grim foundation. After decades of legal issues resulting in the name change to “Miracleman”—and even Alan Moore’s own dismissal of the project (he is now only credited as “The Original Writer”), Marvel Comics brings the out-of-print-run, with later contributions by Neil Gaiman, back to the bookshelves everywhere—and in celebratory fashion.

In Moore’s revamp, alter ego Micky Moran (ha!) has forgotten his superhero identity and slumps in middle age, in a lackluster marriage and job. His dreams haunt and hint at a greater calling, but everything is tinged with darkness, until a moment of panic forces Micky to utter the magic word that eluded him for so long: "Kimota!" And with that exclamation, Alan Moore changed comics forever.

This first volume includes a pre-Moore issue that leads directly into the deconstruction, and the overall story features all the sinister narration, disturbed villains, and pull-the-rug-out-from-under-the-hero origins that would later make Moore such a force in the superhero industry. It’s a revelation to read this story for the first time, to see the comics wizardry take form in an origin story of its own. It’s complemented by artwork from Garry Leach, whose classic lines give characters a subtle lurch. Midway through, an early Alan Davis joins the project, and his artwork, while hemming closely to Leach’s, is still his own—smooth and meticulous. The supplemental section is hefty, with a “Warpsmiths” story that will eventually tie into the larger storyline, and plenty of alternate covers—new and old, sketches, and more.

Welcome back, Miracleman. (Book 2: The Red King Syndrome releases this October!)

--Alex

P.S. GNF will now return to its regular bi-weekly schedule. Kimota!

Graphic Novel Friday: Comic Magic with the Rat Queens

I’m an easy mark for a great cover. So when I saw Fiona Staples’ jaw-droppingly action-packed, expressive, and funny cover to Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery, I had to give it a chance. The good news: writer Kurtis J. Wiebe and interior artist Roc Upchurch (great name alert!) craft one heck of a cast of fantasy characters. The better news: there’s more story on the way. The bad news: ha, there is no bad news!

The Rat Queens are a close-knit band of “battle-maidens” who take the odd assassin job or two...or three—heck, they’ll kill anybody if the price is right. But they have dangerous competition from similar assassin guilds like elves, dark mages, giants, and—you get the picture. The fantasy tropes are all here, but Wiebe spins them into a funny frenzy that never stoops to parody. The characters are full of motivation and personality instead of being stock cardboard spoofs.

Betty the elf, for example, isn’t a snooty, aloof elitist, rather she’s the type of friend who packs “candy and drugs for dinner” when she and her fellow Rat Queens go on a hunt. Dee, the beautiful cleric, is part of a “blood drinking, squid-worshipping sect of Nrygoth,” but she’s lost the faith. Add a Rockabilly mage and a battle-ready, hipster dwarf and these queens are fierce, sassy, and…sassy—it’s worth repeating that they are all very sassy.

Upchurch’s artwork does not disappoint, either, as he catches these characters in quiet, expressive, and sword-swinging moments. When the Queens quip, Upchurch captures their smirks, wrinkled lips, and sneers; his jagged edges highlight Wiebe’s sarcastic script, and the fight scenes? Crisp and easy to follow, which immensely helps when the pages are so fun to flip to get to the next laugh or blood spillage.

Rat Queens is one to watch and read, and it’s the sleeper pick in April’s Best of the Month selections for Comics and Graphic Novels. Don't let them catch you napping.  

--Alex

Graphic Novel Friday: Hellboy Turns 20!

This month, Hellboy turns 20 years old. Dang! Mike Mignola’s red, big-armed, trench coat-sporting, smoking, one-eyed, sometimes-horned savior/destroyer achieved what few indie comic creations have: household name status. With two feature films (directed by luminary Guillermo del Toro), 14 (or so) volumes of comics and six oversized “library editions,” two animated films, video games, and countless pieces of merchandise, Hellboy grimaced his way into the social consciousness.

To commemorate this milestone, longtime publisher Dark Horse Comics partnered with Mignola to publish Hellboy: The First 20 Years, a deluxe hardcover with over 120 images—some iconic, some esoteric—of the man who wields the Right Hand of Doom. After 20 years, Hellboy’s design remains unique: an antithesis of the superhero with slumped shoulders (although they began quite broad), tiny wrists, a wrinkled coat, and those mismatched arms.

The new retrospective features covers from B.P.R.D., Witchfinder, Lobster Johnson, The Goon, Abe Sapian, the titular book, and more—along with convention prints, line art, unfinished work, watercolors, and the first drawing of Hellboy from 1991.

HBYEmeraldCityCon_clr HBYWONDERCON07_clr

He’s come a long way, baby, but not even this book could contain it all. Dark Horse nicely shared two exclusive images that were not collected in The First 20 Years—the first [above, at left] is a print from Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon, featuring Hellboy standing in front of the Fremont Troll, a local landmark, and the second [at right] is a print from Wondercon 2007. Click both for larger versions. 

Happy Birthday, Hellboy! Fans, be on the look-out for Hellboy events in your city this Saturday, March 22, dubbed “Hellboy Day.”  Celebrate all weekend long with more from Mike Mignola—see our Omni interviews with the candid creator here:

--Alex

Graphic Novel Friday: Hidden Gems with Cliff Chiang

Once I saw that artist Cliff Chiang was the latest subject of TwoMorrows Publishing’s Modern Masters series, it did not take me long to geek out. Now on its 29th installment, Modern Masters is a line of oversized books (usually topping 100 pages) that spotlights iconic artists working in the field of comics. In an original long-form interview, they chronicle an artist’s career, technique and process, influences, rare art, and lesser known works. The Cliff Chiang volume does not disappoint—especially in the latter, and it led me down a fun rabbit-hole.

Comic fans will be familiar with Chiang’s work thanks to his breakout effort on Wonder Woman with writer Brian Azzarello. The duo continue to produce one of the best superhero comics on the stands, the go-to book in DC’s New 52 initiative, and a character-defining run for the sometimes maligned Wonder Woman. Chiang’s bold, deceptively simple lines frame the Amazonian with strength and nobility, and the book is never short on action panels. What his Modern Masters story revealed for me, however—besides his refreshing loyalty to DC—was his first-ever collaboration with Brian Azzarello on the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it series Doctor 13.

Dr13Originally serialized in Tales of the Unexpected in 2006 and 2007 and later collected in Doctor 13: Architecture and Mortality, the story follows the titular protagonist and a very kitschy band of weirdos as they battle even stranger threats. Fans of D-list heroes will appreciate seeing Infectious Lass, Anthro, Andrew Bennett (from I, Vampire), Haunted Tank, and others battle Nazi gorillas and break the fourth wall to confront DC writers like Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid. Unfortunately, the trade paperback is out of print, but I scored a copy from Amazon’s third party marketplace and read it in tandem with Modern Masters.

Hidden gems like Doctor 13 make comic collecting so rewarding. Finding an unsung first collaboration between two marquee creators recalls rifling through a longbox at a convention. I love that Modern Masters led me there—and it’s not the first time! Comic readers are encouraged to seek out this great series (recommended: the Art Adams and Chris Sprouse issues) to learn more about artists they admire and do a little longbox digging of their own.

--Alex

Graphic Novel Friday: Guardians of the Galaxy

This week, Marvel revealed the trailer for their 2014 summer blockbuster effort, Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a gamble for Marvel, a studio that previously relied on names like Iron Man, Captain America, and the Avengers to carry their comic-to-film adaptations, while Guardians features C-list heroes with names like Drax, Star-Lord, and Rocket Raccoon. Audiences may be unfamiliar (think the Avengers in space, only with more attitude), but the trailer is high on humor and action, and soon-to-be fans can climb aboard with a rich history of source material—a sampling of which follows below.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1: Cosmic Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli: Relentless hitmaker Brian Michael Bendis delivers the Guardians to fans both new and old, bringing everyone up to speed on origins and what lies beyond the stars for this disgruntled group. It’s an accessible read, primed for its big screen debut, and features sharp, detailed artwork by McNiven and Pichelli. Vol. 2 is also available (and a better arc, I think!). [Demand is so high that our retail site is temporarily out of stock--but more is on the way!]

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy by Abnett & Lanning: The Complete Collection Volume 1 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier, and more: The Guardians may be riding high now, but it was this book that brought them back into the spotlight a few years ago. While the ideas behind the team have always been humorous (a talking raccoon with a machine gun?), Abnett and Lanning introduced a sense of fun to the space opera.

[Releasing this August.]

 

 

 

Rocket Raccoon & Groot: The Complete Collection by various: Mark my words: the breakout stars of the new film will be the least human—Rocket Raccoon, the talking space raccoon, and his buddy Groot, a talking tree/action hero whose vocabulary is limited to “I am Groot.” This collection features stories involving the two pals with a wide range of artists and writers, including Mike Mignola(!), Keith Giffen, Jack Kirby, the aforementioned Abnett and Lanning, and more. It’s absurd stuff and therefore essential.

 

 

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy by Jim Valentino Volume 1 by Jim Valentino, Al Milgrom, Ron Lim, and more: In the 1990s, this revival by Jim Valentino was my first exposure to the weird team, which features a very different roster than the above collections. These Guardians exist in Marvel’s far future, the 31st century! Occasionally, the heroes would cross paths with future versions of other Marvel characters, like Ghost Rider, or go on missions to find Captain America’s long-lost shield—or turn their space opera into a space soap opera with often overwrought romance.

 

 

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow's Avengers - Volume 2 by Roger Stern, Len Wein, Jim Shooter, David Micheline, Sal Buscema, George Perez, David Wenzel, John Byrne: I may catch some heat for doing this, but I am purposefully including Volume 2 instead of Volume 1 from this classic Guardians run, which, like the Valentino book above, is a very different sort of Guardians of the Galaxy than the film or newer titles. But it’s worth a look, because the contributors can’t be beat, the stories are more engaging (than Vol. 1), and it’s here that the present-day Avengers cross paths with the 31st century heroes, making for a lively battle then team-up.

 

--Alex

Graphic Novel Friday: Guilty Pleasures No More!

I’ve harbored a secret since May of 2013. It’s nothing to be ashamed of—more like a guilty pleasure—but I didn’t advertise it to my comics reading friends. I’m ready to come clean: I read both Avengers Arena and Young Avengers (and I’m in my mid-30s).

Avengers Arena is The Hunger Games meets Avengers sidekicks (note the Battle Royale homage cover pictured at right), an infectious, jump-in-and-read soap opera where the stakes are life or death—and sometimes both. The premise is thin, and yet this comic is more readable, funny, clever, and addictive than most marquee books.

Writer Dennis Hopeless (don’t let the ominous name dissuade you) smartly assigns visible life meters to each character, and they deplete with each act of aggression. It’s a great way for readers to keep powers and character fights in check amidst the explosions, shape-changers, and killer tidal waves. Hopeless doles out the love triangles, and artist Kev Walker supplies jagged, frenetic lines to everyone and everything—giving it all page-turning momentum. All three volumes are now available and tell one heck of a complete and satisfying story.

No less addictive but much headier, the restart to Young Avengers introduces a young Loki to the team along with Ms. America (I didn’t know her, either). The former addition proves to be writer Kieron Gillen’s winning formula, as Loki’s mischievous, know-it-all attitude gives the book its funny backbone. Rejoining the team are series stalwarts Hawkeye (Kate Bishop, who’s also co-starring in Matt Fraction’s sublime Hawkeye), Wiccan and his boyfriend Hulkling, and Marvel Boy. The longtime romance between Wiccan and Hulking has always been the lynchpin of the team, and here it is tested thanks to Loki’s boss-level scheming.

The villain of the first two arcs (a monster mom!) could have quickly run aground, but Gillen keeps the narrative upright by dropping meta-sized plot bombs onto the team, resulting in a book that is full of young adults but reads like a crossover drama. Jamie McKelvie’s art is a pleasure, all clean lines, distinctive character designs, and believable expressions.

My secret’s out, and it seems silly to have kept it so. These are great books that deserve wider recognition. Join me on the rooftop. I’ll be the one shouting.

--Alex

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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