Archive for the ‘Reviews’

HEROES REVIEW: GOD AND SCIENCE: RETURN OF THE TI-GIRLS

July 31, 2012 By: Andy Mansell Category: DISCUSS, Opinion, Reviews

We all know that Comic readership is essentially divided into two camps–the mainstream adventure genre devotees who hang out on the north side of the store and the Independent comic readers who huddle in the south-east corner under the shade of Manga Mountain.  Granted, there is a significant number of readers who saunter back and forth between the two enemy camps, but the majority of us prefer to stay put in our comfort zones.
Now I don’t read superhero stories very often.  I was once a huge fan in the mid to late eighties; then I ventured outside the Superhero Universe and into Indie Island.  Occasionally, some good folks recommend (insist actually) that I dip my toe back in the deep end of the spandex pool and suffice to say, most times I find the water quite refreshing.  So I want to see if I can return the favor to all you dedicated Cape and Mask folks out there.
Now on any given day and twice on Wednesday, we Indie folks do our evangelical best to get everyone and anyone to read Love and Rockets. It really is a great, great book, but perhaps a comic about the day to day struggles of an over-weight middle aged female apartment superintendent and her friends and ex-lovers is not for every taste.
But what if the talented Love and Rockets cartoonist, Jaime Hernandez, created an absolutely delightful superhero story filled with adventure, fun, and lots of pretty girls with tons of super-powers?

God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls is that book and it is one I wish every DC, Marvel and Image super-hero fan will pick up and read.

Now only a fool of a critic would describe a comic in such hyperbolic terms as “every single panel of every single page is chockful of artistic delights and clever storytelling”.  But you know me, so all I can say is, every single panel of every single page is chockful of artistic delights and clever storytelling.
In addition, God and Science spotlights one of the top five most attractive female characters in comic history*, Penny Century, as she struggles with her newly found super-powers and searches for her two missing (super) children.
The story is fun, exciting, fast paced and way over the top, but it is not a satire of superheroes. The difference between Jaime’s work and a genre parody is one of tone.  God and Science is a genuine love letter to super-hero comic books.
The theme of the book focuses on the importance of comic books in our lives, and Jaime drives this home by suspending our disbelief and taking us on a whirlwind ride.  It is a pure delight and I cannot recommend it any higher.

So for all you who are willing to give this little masterpiece a try, I’d just like to say (in advance)  …You’re very welcome! Enjoy!!

*--The other four most attractive characters are Dave Steven’s Bettie Page from The RocketeerJohn Romita‘s Gwen Stacy (or MJ), Darwyn Cooke’s Silk Satin and Steve Rude’s Sundra Peale from Nexus. Any list you come up with might equal, but can never beat this list.
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HEROES REVIEW: THE UNDERWATER WELDER by JEFF LEMIRE

July 09, 2012 By: Heather Peagler Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

Reading The Underwater Welder brought several new experiences to me.  Not only was this the first time I’ve read non-superhero  comics by Jeff Lemire, but this was also my first digital graphic novel reading experience.  While I found Lemire’s art stunning on the screen, I can’t help but think the hard copy format will provide an even more poignant experience.

The Underwater Welder is the story of Jack and Susan Joseph, parents only weeks away from welcoming their first child into the world.  Jack takes a rather unusual course in preparing for the birth of his child and heads off to an oil rig for an underwater welding job instead of remaining home with his heavily pregnant wife. A seemingly supernatural occurrence on the ocean floor ends his assignment early, but furthers his distance from his wife and unborn son as it launches him on a journey of self-discovery tied into his relationship with his own father.

Lemire takes his readers on a strange and beautiful journey that will pull at your emotions regardless of your relationships with your own parents or children.  Within the pages of The Underwater Welder a black, white and gray world is created, adding depth and weight to the relationships of the characters and their surroundings. My words cannot do justice to the beauty of Lemire’s inks.  There is literal and figurative depth here, but also subtlety when it is needed.  As I mentioned, I haven’t read Lemire’s non-superhero comics before, but I’m curious to see how he’s grown over time, and where he might go next.

I’m very much looking forward to picking this book up in hard copy so that I may appreciate the splash pages the way they are meant to be enjoyed, side by side in their full glory.  Lemire puts so much soul in a what seems like a simple panel of a diver viewed underwater from afar.  He also accomplishes seamless transitions in both time and place as he progresses the story with a well-timed pace.  One of Lemire’s more striking pages combines images from our protagonist’s past and present as air bubbles surrounding a clearly panicked diver.

It’s always exciting to discover a new comic that manages to be a moving work regardless of how much or little you might know about the subject matter.  Comics like this provide a great opportunity to introduce non-comic readers to the potential of the medium.  Here’s a story about life experiences that most anyone can relate to, moving beyond the tights and capes that many non-comic readers struggle to overcome in their feelings about this medium.  Not only will The Underwater Welder be occupying a space on my shelf in August, but Lemire’s latest novel has inspired me to go back and read his earlier tomes as well.

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A LOOK BACK AT COLLECTED STRIPS IN 2011

January 10, 2012 By: Andy Mansell Category: DISCUSS, Opinion, Reviews

It’s me! Your erstwhile Comic Strip and Golden Age fanatic reporting to you live from the Poorhouse.   I find myself in these somewhat Dickensian straits thanks to the quality and quantity of must-have reprints that were published over the past 12 months.  I tell ya, I was like a kid in a Comics shop–oh wait...

Whilst preparing this article I calculated that I had purchased 46 Collected editions over the course of the calendar year and 33 of them were Comic Strip collections.  All 46 books are gorgeous–they look great on the shelf and they are a joy to read and re-read and they function as text books of comic technique.

I realize the World Economy–like the Chicago Cubs– is in another “re-building year“, so in good conscience, I have reviewed all the reprint books I purchased & devoured this past year and I have listed below the creme de la creme–this is the stuff you really have to have:

  • Mickey Mouse Vol 1 and 2 Race to Death Valley/Trapped on Treasure Island
  • Walt and Skeezix Volume 5
  • Carl Barks Donald Duck in Lost in the Andes
  • Pogo Volume 1

But why these four?

Hyperbole is all but redundant on any Best-Of Lists.  Any apropos description– fantastic art/great pacing/fabulous cast of supporting characters/marvelous storytelling– comes off as tired and cliched.  I have spent the last two weeks trying to figure out why these four are the best of the year–why they mean so much to collectors on a gut level– here goes: (more…)

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A LOOK BACK AT INDIE AND NON-SUPERHERO BOOKS IN 2011

January 04, 2012 By: Seth Peagler Category: DISCUSS, Looking Ahead, Opinion, Reviews

If superhero books in 2011 largely focused on both sweeping company-wide changes and numerous relaunches, what can we say about indie and genre books of the recently past year?  A few years ago the industry was rightly blown away by the genius work of David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp.  2011 didn’t necessarily have a single book that was hands down an instant classic, but if you had to choose one book that impacted the industry, it was Love and Rockets: New Stories volume 4Jaime Hernandez has been telling the story of Maggie and her friends in real time for over 30 years, always entertaining us with how he has chosen to develop his characters, always impressing us with his ever-focused art.  Volume 4 was one of the first times I can remember where creators and fans were open about how emotionally moved they were by a comic.  This is a tribute to Hernandez’s ability to tell stories that are not only practical and appropriate, but also unafraid to themselves be actively emotional in an unforced way.  If you’ve not experienced Love and Rockets before, you are doing yourself a great disservice.  This is genuinely one of the finest comics of 2011.

Elsewhere in “Indie” books of 2011 we saw the long awaited release of Craig Thompson’s Habibi.  A book nearly 8 years in the making, Habibi was a powerful statement from an artist who has spent his career constantly pushing his own boundaries and the boundaries of the comics form.  Standing tall at over 650 pages, Habibi exemplifies the work of a still hungry artist who is not content to fall into repeating patterns.  While Habibi was rightly controversial, any person would be hard pressed to walk away from reading the book without a greater sense of respect for Thompson as a creator and the potential of comics as a whole.

Unlike Thompson, Dan Clowes is an artist who has regularly released new comics every few years.  2011 was one of Clowes’ most prolific years to date.  Following up 2010’s acclaimed Wilson, Clowes offered up Mister Wonderful, which can be seen as a bookend of sorts to Wilson, or perhaps the flip side of the Wilson coin.  In addition to Mister Wonderful, Clowes released a deluxe, expanded version of his classic The Death-Ray, which contains one of the most interesting explorations of the superhero genre we’ve seen from a non-superhero artist.

Big Questions was finally released in a single format this past year.  Collecting all ten years and 600+ pages of work from Anders Nilsen, Big Questions is a great example of an artist’s development over a decade.  It’s also one of modern comics finest examples of the employment of fable as a commentary on humanity.  Nilsen’s magnum opus was always well received as it was released in single issue format, but there’s something about seeing and experiencing the completed book in a single published volume that makes you realize how significant the book is to comics of the past decade.

On the non-Indie genre side of things, one of the biggest stories of 2011 was the success of AMC’s Walking Dead t.v. series.  What does a t.v. show have to do with comics in 2011?  Suffice to say, the television adaptation and reworking of Image’s Walking Dead comic brought lots of new readers into comic shops, many undoubtedly for the first time.  I’m still surprised when someone comes into the store to buy a gift for a niece or nephew, sees a Walking Dead collection, and remarks ‘Wow, they made a comic of the show?’  Numerous people who realized the comics came first have subsequently made return trips to the store to continue reading Robert Kirkman’s monthly comics.  The Walking Dead phenomenon has brought up some interesting prospects for television and comics, and how the two mediums can work together to inform new audiences.

One of 2011’s other significant genre happenings had to be Mike Mignola’s decision to kill off his ever popular character Hellboy.  While Hellboy will continue in 2012 in the Mignola-penned and illustrated “Hellboy in Hell” storyline, the creator has spoken about how important it is to allow characters and stories to develop, change, and grow over time.  He has always made a point of stating that when characters in his books die, they stay dead.  It’s a testament to Mignola that he works hard to eschew creative stagnation by allowing ideas and themes to run their course.  One need only look at Mignola’s numerous other properties like B.P.R.D., Lobster Johnson, and the Amazing Screw On Head to see that his work always operates within this dictum.  Fans have been clamoring for more Amazing Screw On Head stories,but he won’t make them because he feels that he already achieved what he hoped to within the one book.  These books are also exemplary of how Mignola surrounds himself with quality storytellers and lets the characters progress in their natural state.  When a creator cares more about staying true to his characters and stories than he does about regurgitating material, the industry is all the better for it.

As with my post about superhero comics in 2011, there were just far too many indie and genre books to talk about here.  Many others made a big impact on readers and the industry as a whole.  So, what indie and genre books from 2011 really impressed you?  Did you discover a new creator whose works you’ve gone on to seek out?  With 2012 just starting, are there any big indie or genre books coming out this year that you’re excited about?  This is your blog too, and we’d love to hear your thoughts!

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ANDY MANSELL’S CHRISTMAS VACATION

January 03, 2012 By: Andy Mansell Category: DISCUSS, EVENTS, Opinion, Reviews, Slice of Life

Santa must have been some-what disillusioned or at the very least pre-occupied this Holiday season, because I landed quite an unexpected haul this year.  My stocking runneth over with all kinds of comic book goodies.  Here is a just a brief summation of my first official time on the Nice List:

Marvel Masterworks The Inhumans Volume 1— a gorgeous reprinting of the Lee/Kirby Inhumans back-up series for Thor, followed by the short but fabulous Kirby and then Neal Adams(!) runs from the gone-but not-forgotten Amazing Adventures.

The Late, Great Joe Simon.

Simon and Kirby Library: The Superheroes-– this book– by itself– is a must have for all comic fans, The complete Fighting American, 3-D man and Stuntman (whoa!) are worth the price of admission.  But my copy was signed by the late, great Joe Simon, by our pal and series editor Steve Saffel (Happy Birthday, Steve!) and also by Neil Gaiman who wrote the Intro. Dang–I hope Santa isn’t on the Heroes mailing list because if he reads this he will realize his mistake and make a surprise January visit to replace this gem with some socks or maybe a nice scarf.

The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all-time.  This book is the result of a poll taken by over 1000 professional cartoonists.  It is a great book!  I have spent the last few days scouring Netflix and amazon in search of these celluloid classics. (#1 is What’s Opera, Doc)   Thank God that Heroes is the kind of Comic Shop that offers a variety of books like this in addition to their ample stock of Usual Suspects!

An Iron Man Spatula from Williams-Sonoma.  It makes Waffles that have Zero Trans(istor) Fats. Also, Captain America/Spider-man/Hulk Head cookies from Sur Le Table. My wife (a civilian!) claims all three cookie heads tasted the same, but I know the Cap Cookies were the tastiest!)

Christmas is always so much more fun when you get Comic related gifts!

So my question for Heroes United (sounds like a Soccer team doesn’t it?) is–

Share with us:  What did you get this Uncanny X-mas???

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A LOOK BACK AT DC AND MARVEL IN 2011

January 02, 2012 By: Seth Peagler Category: Comics Industry, DISCUSS, Looking Ahead, Opinion, Reviews

It recently dawned on me that I’ve written almost every Spotlight on New Releases column since July of 2010.  That’s almost a year and 1/2 of writing about new comics every week for readers of our Heroes Blog.  The biggest lesson I’ve gleaned from this experience is the idea that as a comics reader and critic it’s really important to maintain one’s joy and passion for our industry and hopefully encourage the same in our readers and customers.

Every week there are hundreds of books released, and there won’t always be something groundbreaking or revolutionary hitting the stands.  However, there are always books throughout a given month that entertain us or encourage us to think beyond the scope of our personal experience.  As readers it’s no crime to comment on things we wish were better in comics.  In fact, if you’ve been reading a title or following a character for a few decades, you have a lot invested in comics and should speak your mind.  Let’s remember that we all participate in a truly unique medium where on a weekly basis the opportunity still exists for us to be reminded of the inherent joy that exists within the pages of a comic book.  So with that thought, here are a few things about DC and Marvel comics in 2011 that I believe warrant reflection.

It would be wrong to talk about 2011 without first mentioning the DC reboot.  A gamble on many fronts, DC really took a chance when they decided to restart all of their titles.  The reality of the situation is that DC needed to do something different to try to increase their sales after years of turning in numbers behind Marvel.  They did garner lots of national media coverage for their event, and we did see many new faces excited about comics find their way into our store.  There have already been some concerns about how DC would be maintaining the quality and regularity of creative teams and storylines, but that’s to be expected.  Like it or not, the company did manage to refurbish some of their properties, and whether or not you agree with the strategy or enjoy some of the books, some really entertaining comics were produced.  In Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, Justice League brought two fan favorite creators to the biggest of books and did so with a wide-reaching effect. Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman reminded many of us that this is a character who deserves to have talented creators working hard to tell her stories, and that when they do, good comics are inevitable.  Other books like Animal Man and Swamp Thing found a nice balance between horror and mainstream comics, and continue to build toward memorable stories.  The goal for everyone is to see DC do well, have strong creators on titles, and bring in new readership.  If this happens, everyone can benefit.

Marvel Comics had a bit of an unusual year.  DC clearly grabbed the most headlines for their reboot, but Marvel always seems to have a longterm plan, and certainly has multiple film properties to capitalize upon.  Like DC they offered up several new #1 issues with the goal of reaching new readership.  In some cases, as with Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, and Marcos Martin’s Daredevil #1, Marvel found a solid creative team who managed to tell some great stories by steering the character away from his typical grim and gritty fare, and back toward some of his more swashbuckling roots.  No, this isn’t a reinvention of the wheel, but it is a good, fun comic that more and more readers are starting to enjoy.

Marvel probably grabbed their biggest headlines with their controversial decision to kill of the Ultimate version of Peter Parker/Spider-man.  Regardless of what you think of this decision, the idea that they then introduced a new Spider-man who might reach a wider range of readers is an exciting prospect.  If comics can’t reach a new, young readership base then the industry will continue to change in increasingly dramatic ways over the next decade.  The effort to gain new readers is also a reason for this year’s breaking of the X-men into two separate schools of thought.  With a lineup in Uncanny X-men consisting of darker, more villainous characters like Magneto, Namor, Emma Frost, and a Juggernaut-powered Colossus, and a younger, more lively bunch of mutants being headmastered by Wolverine in Wolverine and the X-men, Marvel has offered up two distinct X books for readers with very different sensibilities.  The latter has also given us some of the year’s most entertaining superhero comics, and has offered writer Jason Aaron an opportunity to explore a different kind of book than he has previously written.  By the same token, with Uncanny X-force Marvel has maintained and grown a steadfast audience for a mutant-centric book that doesn’t quite read or look like X-titles of the past.

Whatever you might take away from comics in 2011, it’s worth noting that like with almost anything in art there can be strong, entertaining possibilities if you look hard enough.  If you find a comic that moves you or offers up great escapism, support it by buying it and encouraging your friends to give it a try.  If you’re unhappy with a book you might have read for a long time, don’t be afraid to put it down for awhile and look for something new.  There are plenty of  books well worth your time and money.  The important thing to me is that we all do our best to try to be positive about our industry, encourage new readership, and support writers and artists who are focused on producing quality comics.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg.  Both companies had plenty more worth mentioning this year, and we’d like to hear from you about what you think.  What DC or Marvel books really impressed you this year?  What book did you buyon a whim and then proceed to pick up every month thereafter?  What are some things in 2012 that you’d like to see, or might be looking forward to?

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HEROES REVIEW :: SNARKED & SERGIO ARAGONÉS FUNNIES

December 14, 2011 By: Andy Mansell Category: Heroes Aren't Hard To Find, Reviews

So what are the two best comic books on the market today? How the heck should I know? I only read a handful of monthly titles.  However, there are two that are out and about that you may not be reading, but you really, really should!

First up is SNARKED by our good friend from down-under (that’s New Zealand, not Greenville) Roger Langridge. This is an on-it’s-head retelling of the adventures of the Walrus and the Carpenter characters from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. In addition to being a well paced, fun, exciting comic adventure–it has something to do with a missing King, an eight year old Queen and of course, a map! Langridge is a master craftsman who is incapable of drawing a panel without adding a ton of funny details. Even the letter page is a hoot-and-a-half.  The Walrus is the best comic scoundrel since J. Wellington Wimpy and believe me, that is saying something! You’ve been hearing us rave about Roger for years. If you missed his version of The Muppets, or his Fin Fang Foom or his vastly underrated Thor the Mighty Avenger, please give SNARKED a try. You won’t be sorry.

As a cartoonist, Langridge is a tough act to follow, but I know of one other cartoonist who can. Sergio Aragonés, the man responsible for MAD Marginals and of course Groo the Wanderer, displays all of his comic talents in the monthly Sergio Aragonés Funnies. This is a great comic artist still in his prime. Each issue is packed with jokes, skits, puzzles and some surprisingly moving stories from his rather picaresque past. Five issues have been published so far and I can’t tell you which is my favorite.  It is a five way tie for first! You can pick up any issue and read it in any order. Please do so, you will be glad you did.

PS–Did I mention that Sergio will be at HeroesCon 2012?? To quote Syndrome (arch enemy of The Incredibles) “Oho man, this is just too good!”

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HEROES REVIEW :: AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #1 & #2

December 12, 2011 By: Justin Crouse Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

Comics have changed drastically with the new millennium. The industry’s embrace of digitization has elevated the contributions of letterers and colorists to heights heretofore unseen. And while it has made these historically downplayed positions finally recognized as the arts they truly are, programs like Photoshop have also borne amateurish, ugly trends. Motion blurs. Digital inking. Stock fonts, typos, awkward balloon placement; foibles that are all the more obvious in context of the progress that enabled them.

I’ve always been wary of “colored pencils”, where pencil art skips the ink stage altogether – digital or analogue – in favor of colors filling the space, achieving the depth and mood of the story’s setting. This approach has yielded practically nil in enjoyable comics. Without the bold, dynamic lines of proper inking, the energy inherent in comic art is lost, leaving soft figures, muddied page layouts and set pieces. So then, I was also wary of Avenging Spider-Man #1. Joe Madureira + Spidey = no-brainer, but when I heard that the book was skimping on the inker, I was understandably skeptical. Mad’s work had always popped kinetic, but then his turn in Ultimates 3 was a far cry from the lushness of Battle Chasers. Color me unimpressed.

That is until I read Avenging Spider-Man #1.

Okay, even the title wasn’t so encouraging, but with an open mind and an appetite for something fun and easy, I read AvSM #1, and I felt like a kid again. The book’s team-up tack is a potent catalyst, conjuring a vibe akin to the old Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends TV show. Clearly, Joe Mad is (excuse the pun) the big draw here, but Zeb Wells is a workhorse writer, too, crafting simple, sensible plots and writing punchy, unobtrusive dialogue. His idea-man approach is perfectly suited to Madureira’s wild imagination.

It would seem Madureira is putting a little more elbow grease into his pencils this time out, too. The only spots that don’t play well are the lightly filled blacks, which could stand a little darkening somewhere along the line. Otherwise, colorist Ferran Daniel does an excellent job in maintaining the integrity of Madureira’s lines, adding shades and hues that enliven each and every page. His strong sense of texture roots his flashy palette in four-color reality, too, the solidity that was lacking crucially in Ultimates 3.

With issue 2, the story has clearly revealed itself as padded, but not in a negative way. Guest star Red Hulk is given plenty of scenery to chew alongside Spidey, and their character interplay is infectious, just like watching a couple of old pals argue. The involvement of J. Jonah Jameson is similar, and while it may seem repetitious or old hat, the plot’s simplicity is its charm. Nothing story-wise is overdone or overwrought; this book’s not here to make you think. Actually, quite the opposite: it’s pure entertainment, the kind of comic you read once, then again, then flip through languidly for another half-hour, basking in the afterglow.

Issue #2 ups the stakes by really playing to Madureira’s strengths as an artist. He and Wells’ variation on Mole Man and his Moloids – the Immovable Ra’ktar and the Molans – and the environs of Subterranea make Avenging Spider-Man look a bit like a Marvel crossover with Battle Chasers. These new villains are bulky and earthy, complete with chunky armor adorned in spikes and skulls (they speak in runes). Madureira was always billed as manga and anime influenced, as far back as his star-making days on Uncanny X-Men, but that’s always been somewhat overstated. It’s there in his proportions, his sense of motion and perspective, but the fundamentals of Mad’s work are as indebted to the likes of Jack Kirby and Art Adams as they are to anything from the Land of the Rising Sun (unless you wanna count video games).

Avenging Spider-Man is a perfect gift for any superhero fan, and a great book for new or young readers. With the holidays rapidly approaching, issues one and two of this exciting new series would make an ideal last minute gift idea, or just an extra stocking stuffer (but PLEASE don’t ROLL ‘em!) Each issue also includes a free download code, officially making it the gift that keeps on giving. If you’re in the market for good old-fashioned superhero fun, unencumbered by dense continuity and needless exposition, Avenging Spider-Man is the book for you. And the first two issues are available in ample supply at your friendly neighborhood Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find…whenever you’re ready…

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HEROES REVIEW :: SPACEMAN #1

November 07, 2011 By: Justin Crouse Category: DISCUSS, Opinion, Reviews

I admit it: I’ve never read 100 Bullets. I’m a casual fan of the crime genre, and have a bad habit of trade-waiting with long running, highly acclaimed series. Given its status from even its earliest issues, 100 Bullets would always be available, so the urge to be current was never insistent. But the team of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso is rightly celebrated, I know, from their Batman work in both Batman: Black and White and Wednesday Comics. Now, Vertigo launches a new Azzarello/Risso collaboration, a perfect gateway for the uninitiated such as myself: Spaceman #1.

Spaceman is another genre turn for the pair: science fiction. Like crime, sci-fi can offer scope within its very clear limitations. As a writer, Azzarello seems to understand these limitations, and deftly avoids them. Rather than dwell on expository schema of the world and times of Spaceman, Azzarello simply implies them through the dialogue and backgrounds. This does result in a somewhat disjointed first read, but upon closer inspection the frustration turns to intrigue. The entire issue is borne of a complex intelligence that is serviceable, not flaunted. It’s nearly impenetrable, but highly inviting.

Luckily Risso brings with him a rare chemistry, matching the script beat for beat with mood and atmosphere. His style exhibits wonderful flashes of Mignola, Ba and Fegredo, while maintaining an identity all its own. Virtuosity is eschewed in favor of storytelling, with nice layout variance and a solid underpinning of the story’s futuristic set pieces. Risso’s art sidesteps the cliche gloss that a lot of sci-fi yarns get sprayed on them, too, achieving a grit that roots the fantastic in realism, reminiscent of another genre cousin, the western.

Spaceman wouldn’t be as appealing without the contributions of colorists Patricia Mulvihill and Giulia Brusco. Their palette straddles the fine line between muted and vibrant, filling the linework in an attractive way that conveys the necessary chilliness. Even the reds seem cold. Ace letterer Clem Robins ties everything together with his expert, organic approach, lending this fresh, modern comic the timeless design it deserves. A Dave Johnson cover never hurts anything.

Overall, Spaceman is an imposing book, from its grotesque protagonist (a dead ringer for Mr. Hyde from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) to its bizarre slang (a la the Mutant gang in Dark Knight Returns). But what the best writers and artists in comics seem to do is take these familiar tropes, and twist, and pull, and stretch and beat them into something that seems wholly new. That’s exactly what you’ll get from Spaceman, if you have the patience: a new take on an old favorite. Whether it’s the genre or the talent, the hooks are there, deliciously baited.  So don’t wait…cashiers are standing by!

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REVIEW :: CRAIG THOMPSON’S HABIBI

September 19, 2011 By: Seth Peagler Category: Comics Industry, DISCUSS, Reviews

As part of our recent trip to this year’s Small Press Expo in Maryland, I had an opportunity to pick up an advanced copy of Craig Thompson’s eight years in the making new book, Habibi.  Thompson has had something of a meteoric rise to fame, with an acclaimed first book Goodbye, Chunky Rice, and his next book Blankets becoming a nationwide phenomenon and Eisner Award winner.  Blankets was a rare comic, a 500+ page original graphic novel memoir that went on to sell thousands of copies and inadvertently become a gateway comic for countless new readers.  Thompson followed Blankets with Carnet De Voyage, a much shorter work that was more travel journal than distinct narrative.  It has been known that Thompson’s newest book Habibi was being worked on for the better part of a decade.  Fans and critics alike have been curious about what kind of book Habibi will be, and whether or not it could live up to the subsequent hype created by the success of Blankets.  Once we got back from Maryland I took it upon myself to read Habibi and post some thoughts about it here on the Heroes blog in hopes of giving you all some idea about what you might expect from this massive book.

The first and most obvious aspect of Habibi is that it represents Thompson’s continued interest in creating long form graphic novels as opposed to serializing longer stories in the same way that creators like Adrian Tomine or Chris Ware typically might.  Thompson admits that there are positives and negatives to this publishing ideology, but the fact that he now has two 500+ page original graphic novels in his catalog is indeed an impressive feat, especially when you remember he’s only in his mid thirties.  These hefty works demand a great investment from readers, but if you see that a creator has put so much time and energy into a work, the book seems to offer a substantial potential for gravity, depth, and hopefully a high degree of entertainment.

While large comics do signify the creator’s dedication to story and craft, they don’t necessarily mean they are always good, entertaining comics.  How does Habibi stand on its own merit?  Habibi is quite an accomplishment because, if anything, it clearly shows how much Thompson wanted to grow and progress in his art after Blankets.  It might’ve been tempting to churn out a follow up to that story and tell another autobiographical story, but Thompson went to an entirely different well for Habibi.  It’s a Middle Eastern story that owes as much to Islamic history, poetry, art, and symbology as Blankets did to Thompson’s own Christian upbringing. Thompson isn’t Muslim, and didn’t necessarily grow up with an understanding or appreciation for cultures outside of his own, but his attention to detail is beyond meticulous.  Every pattern and example of calligraphy, though based on existing examples of Islamic art and history, was painstakingly reproduced by Thompson’s brush.  The fine adornments, chapter fronts, and panel frames weren’t cut and pasted from a computer, but drawn by hand.  To me this exemplifies that Thompson not only wanted to push himself as a cartoonist, but wanted to be very respectful to the traditions and forms that inspired this book.

Beyond Thompson’s clear motivation to make Habibi an accurate and appropriate Middle Eastern tale, it’s worth noting that there are several entertaining chase scenes and action sequences in the book.  I’ve heard from some who didn’t like Blankets that they thought it was too emotional, and not necessarily a story that demanded a visual interpretation.  Habibi reminds us that Thompson is acutely aware that comics are a visual medium, and that he understands and enjoys crafting pages filled not just with fine adornment, but with fluid movement.  The characters of Zam and Dodola are often in life-threatening situations, and that sense of danger is clearly evident, especially in the way Thompson depicts their faces and body language.  While Blankets was very much about individuals growing up in a strict fundamentalist environment, Habibi deals with characters maturing and changing amid a place of relegated status where their lives are often threatened.  For that reason the stakes seem dramatically higher in Habibi, and thus considerably more heavy in their global sense of relevance.

Somehow amid all the danger, Thompson maintains the thread of Habibi’s love story.  Blankets also had a love story, but while its focus was on young people still discovering their identities, Habibi’s love story exists between two very scarred individuals who allow themselves to know love in spite of their tremendous personal struggles.  While we see the characters age from young children to adulthood and witness their individual tragedies, we see them come to terms with their respective scars and still accept love in spite of their pasts.  The characters truly seem to need each other in order to fully realize their own true selves, and that necessity doesn’t come across as contrived or forced.  This feels like a story that could have already or may yet happen.

Habibi gives us plenty of evidence that Thompson has matured in his storytelling and his cartooning.  There is perhaps no better example of that than by simply noting that Habibi is a comic of layers, where symbolism and parallels exist amid the characters and scenes, but are also made more resonant by their reflection of Middle Eastern numerology, spirituality, and philosophy.  Blankets was in part about Thompson’s struggle to accept his fundamentalist upbringing and find his own voice amid that belief system.  Habibi is set in an equally fundamentalist culture, but here faith and the hope it brings act as a buoy for the characters.  Faith is something that the characters have even when everything else is against them.  The characters’ understanding and use of their faith is exemplified by the numerous inclusions of Islamic symbology, and while they give us a better sense of the characters’ identities, they are also a smart method Thompson uses to incorporate themes and symbology he wanted to illustrate in this story.

As with any creator who has a huge commercial and critical success, all their subsequent works will inevitably be measured against that previous work.  It wasn’t hard for me to read Habibi as its own story, but it is hard for me to talk about it now that I’ve read it without noting that this was made by the same guy who created Blankets.  While the stories have some similarities between them, Habibi stands out as a much denser, detailed, adult story reflective of an older, wiser cartoonist at work.  There certainly are some darker, more mature elements to Habibi, but they aren’t included gratuitously.  Thompson carefully researched Middle Eastern history, art, literature, and spirituality, and with Habibi adds his own mark to those centuries old stories.  Regardless of how you react to Habibi, I doubt anyone who reads this book can experience it without at least respecting the continually refining craftsmanship of Craig Thompson as a writer, cartoonist, and storyteller.

 

 

 

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