Friday, April 30, 2010

April Comics Post

Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day, when fine comic shops nationwide will be giving out samples of the good stuff to all comers. In its honor, today's post is a flying tour of the comics/graphic novels I've been reading in the last few weeks and months.

Y: The Last Man, Volume 7: Paper Dolls
by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Pia Guerra (artist)
I've been working my way through Vaughan's magnum opus slowly for a while now. By Volume 7 the plague that killed (almost) every male mammal on earth is old news, and the implications of a women-only society are playing out in unpredictable ways, while Our Hero Yorick Brown tries to find his girlfriend and help find out how to bring back the other half of the species. Despite the occasionally annoying fact that in an all-women world the hero of the comic is still a dude, Vaughan's writing and Guerra's art always make for good adventure storytelling, and a bit of food for thought afterward. Imagine the implications for Israel, for example (women soldiers) or the Republican party (few women leaders but lots of political wives) or the Catholic church (no women in power but lots and lots of nuns). I'll add my voice to the chorus that says this is one of the seminal graphic novel series of our time. And it's often funny, too.

Air, Volume 2: Flying Machine
by G. Willow Wilson (writer) and M.K. Parker (artist)
This series was hand-sold to me by Amy at my great local, Bergen Street Comics, and it's a winner. With a unique premise (the technology for flight powered by thought, developed by the ancient Mayans and sought after by all kinds of powers) and a cool heroine (Blythe, perky enough to be a believable stewardess despite her fear of heights, and brave and bewildered enough to be a believable heroine), not to mention an affecting romance/mystery and a resonance for anyone who's ever been nervous on an airplane, it's got a lot of cool, original stuff going for it. I liked the first volume a bit better than the second (as the concept of "hyperpraxis" flight gets explained it becomes a bit less believable), but I'm on board (get it?!) for this series, and delighted to find a new creative team with such great storytelling mojo.

Freakangels, Volume 1
by Warren Ellis (writer) and Paul Duffield (artist)
Another Bergen Street Comics purchase, this one was actually a result of reading Ellis' comic serialized for free online. There are superpowers, yes, but the kids holding them are unlikeable and screwed up to varying degrees, and they seem to have brought about the end of the world and also be preventing it somehow. The British dialogue is cheeky and evocative, and while the Freakangels are sometimes kind of scary like a group of teenagers on the sidewalk, I'm intrigued by the post-apocalyptic Steampunk vibe and the potential for this story. (And yeah, I prefer reading it in book form.)

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt
by Mike Mignola (writer) and Duncan Fegred0 (artist)

I love Hellboy. (So much so that I always stock Mignola's comics in the bookstore, even though almost no one seems to buy them.) He's a working man's hero, doing his job well with a foul mouth and shoulders sagging with fatigue, and always trying to transcend his origins (i.e. as the son of Satan). And Mignola's depth of allusion to world mythology makes for both great, accessible storytelling and something you could spend years mining. This stand-alone volume tells a couple of stories related to the recurring legend of the hunt in the sky (for a stag, giants, a herd of cattle, whatever) and how Hellboy gets mixed up in them, and what they may imply for the future of his world. It's dark and moody and heartpounding, and I read it twice.

Jack of Fables #44
by Matthew Sturges & Bill Willingham (writers) and various artists
My love of the original Fables series by Sturges and Willingham has extended to this spin-off, where the ne'er-do-well but lucky hero of many fables, Jack, sets off on his own and has very weird and funny adventures. The series has now left the original Jack behind for a while and is following his son, Jack Frost, a more heroic (i.e. less selfish and amoral) character, which is kind of a relief -- but it's also still silly, which is nice. I wouldn't recommend starting here -- the Jack series has started to comic out in trade paperback form -- but this is one of the few series I buy in the $2.99 single issues whenever it comes out.

Cowboy Ninja Viking #1
by AJ Lieberman (writer) and Riley Rossmo (artist)
Come on, tell me you could resist buying a comic with a title like that?! It's a ridiculous but inspired premise: a shady organization has recruited dudes with multiple personalities, and taught each of them a different martial art. The dialogue is cleverly rendered with icons for each of our hero CNV's three distinct personalities, as he wreaks havoc and tries to figure out who is on his side. I'm not sure whether it will end up paying off as a story, but I'm in at least for issue two, when CNV takes on PGO -- Pirate Gladiator Oceanographer.

That's my comics reading lately. What comics have you been reading that you'd recommend?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Sheriff of Yrnameer by Michael Rubens

The Sheriff of Yrnameer
by Michael Rubens
(Pantheon, August 2009)

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In a bit of a cheat today (come on, I've got to get outside in the sun!), I'm pasting this review in its entirety from an email I sent to a colleague in the book industry. I read it more or less concurrently with Old Mr. Flood, and it provided an entirely different set of pleasures.

I read The Sheriff of Yrnameer on my lunch break at the bookstore over the course of several weeks. To be honest, I picked it up because I eat lunch in the back room with the galleys, and it had that funny name and a brightly-colored cover. Lucky me that I picked up the one book from the piles likely to keep me enthralled in small doses for so long (and sometimes the lunch break ran long if I was at a particularly exciting bit.)

The Sheriff of Yrnameer reads like The Magnificent Seven as written by Douglas Adams, with Han Solo as the hero. It punches all the right buttons for a space opera / romantic comedy / postmodern sitcom / satire on commercial culture. The recurring gags become like inside
jokes with old friends, and the ending, though I expected it to be enjoyably predictable, was genuinely (and enjoyably) surprising. It also shares with my favorite book of last year, The Gone-Away World, an underlying critique of inter-galactic corporations that is pleasantly affirming to a small indie business owner.

Though I did once or twice rue the wisdom of reading it while eating (some lunches are not made to go with descriptions of insectile bounty hunters), I was thoroughly delighted to make such a discovery: a book both warm-hearted and irreverent, morally high-minded but not above the appeal of the gross-out, silly and sexy and secretly serious all at once. And the author is a Brooklynite -- of course. I can't wait for the paperback (which comes out in August of this year) so I can handsell the heck out of it to everyone who asks "Don't you have any FUNNY books? With a happy ending?"